Variety Pack: Issue IV

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Editor’s Note Not only is this our first issue to usher in 2021, not only is this our fourth issue, but it has also been one year since our first release! Now, I’m going to be real with you all, 2020 has been brutal, from start to finish. Yet, even in the scenery of catastrophe, we have done our best to get through it, any way we can. Our editors could not find a better way to celebrate a new year of hope and turbulence than with jam packed issue of amazing writers and artists!

From a heartbreaking review-essay by Ben Lewellyn-Taylor, to socially-conscious prose by Zahirra Dayal, to helpful tips by Jemima Gosmore, to heartbreaking short fiction by Kevin Finnerty, to poetry from a consortium of talented voices all across the globe and country such, Khalisa Rae to MICHAEL CHANG to Moses Chukwuemeka Chimeremeze, as well as art ranging from the mixed media masterpieces of Kristin LaFollete to the Graphic brilliance of Fabio Sassi; we are kicking the variety in our pack up a whole other notch!

A Special thank you to all of our amazing contributors, submitters, and readers around the world and back at home who make this possible. And a special thank you to Muhammad Zaman for this amazing cover for our fourth issue. Enjoy the read and be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as we have some super important updates coming to in the next month or so!

Sincerely, J.B., Skyler, Ben, Ian, Zarnab, Asela, Dior, & Dana


Short Fiction/Novelette

Flash Prose

Kevin Finnerty

Jason Fox

Nancy K. Dobson

Ashley Pearson

Joe Baumann

Zahirra Dayal



Brianna Boyse

Moses Chukwuemeka Chimeremeze

Jemima Gosmore

MICHAEL CHANG Yuan Changming

Camille E. Colpitts

Colin Lubner

Khalisa Rae

Jennifer Fliss

Linda M. Crate

Wing Yau

Alex Gurtis

Danmi Lee

Angeliki Ampelogianni Mandira Pattnaik

Sidney Dritz

A.R. Salandy


Visual Art

Kalyn RoseAnne

Kristin LaFollette

J.C. Reilly

Edward Michael Supranowicz

Shannon Wolf

Edward Lee

Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

Fabio Sassi


To Remember, To Forget

A Chance


Out of the Beyond

A Forest of Love


Patrick and Phillip had been fighting for a week when the Sideshow arrived. “Looks busy,” Patrick said. The parking lot, its edges a collection of empty Big Gulps, condom wrappers, crushed soda cans, and discarded fast food packaging, was nearly full. The tent sat at the edge furthest away from the strip mall that housed an out-of-business feed store, a jiujitsu studio, frozen yogurt bar, and office supply company. A fireworks stand had closed up shop just two days prior, in the exact same spot. Phillip managed to find a space close to the empty feed store, whose doors reflected the tent so that it loomed large and imposing in the glass. Phillip reached for Patrick’s hand, whose fingers were limp and unresponsive. He was squinting toward the tent, whose white stripes burned like sunlight in the dark. Their red counterparts seemed to move, as if made up of millions of fire ants. A couple ahead of them went inside, peeling back an invisible gap in the canvas. Smoke-fog, a near-translucent blue, spewed out, as if they were marching toward a caldera that was desperate to release its fiery steam. The canvas snapped shut behind the couple as soon as they were inside.


The argument centered around what they should do when their lease was up at the end of September. Phillip wanted to buy a house; Patrick liked where they were. Phillip hated that they were still paying rent, an investment in nothing. The discussion had become a debate that had become a fight when Phillip made the mistake of saying, “Why don’t you want to invest in something long-term with me?” Patrick, a child of divorce, looked as if he’d been slapped. He’d marched away and slammed the bedroom door behind him. Phillip slept on the couch for two nights before finally slipping into bed on the third. In the morning, Patrick slid out to get ready for work without a word. Phillip’s was the steadier work, tech support at the nearby private university. He made far more than Patrick—the university’s enrollment was undergoing a surprising boom, and people like him were recruited with sizable paychecks and strong benefits packages so that they wouldn’t be poached by other parts of the private sector—but he tried not to let this become central to the argument about their living arrangements. Patrick worked as a baker’s assistant at a donut shop not far from their apartment, and he came home smelling of yeast and glaze, aromas that Phillip loved catching. Patrick always showered right after his shifts and laundered his dirty uniforms—he owned four of them—twice each week, ignoring Phillip’s exhortations

that he liked being able to take in the scents of fresh bread and sugar and butter.

* The Sideshow’s interior was gloomy. The smoke, which was tasteless, but made Phillip cough anyway, had no discernible source, and gave everything a gray haze. The only thing he could see was a small counter in front of them, behind which stood a teenager in all black.

“Welcome,” the teen said. Phillip couldn’t discern the kid’s gender; their hair was slickered back and curled around their neck like pointed snakes, and their voice was neither high nor deep. He searched for sign of an Adam’s apple, but the teen was wearing a turtleneck that reached up to their chin in layers of puffed fabric. “It’s nine dollars per person.” Phillip produced a twenty. “Enjoy The Sideshow.” “What do we do?” Patrick said. “You enjoy.” The kid gestured toward the space beyond, which was still obscured by the fog “I don’t understand.”

“I think we explore,” Phillip said. When the kid nodded, Phillip led Patrick around the counter’s left. The smoke dissipated as they plunged into the space. The center was bare, the parking lot’s painted lines still visible. Along the perimeter sat stall after stall, like one might find at a craft fair or food and wine festival. These stalls, however, bore no banners or accoutrements designed to draw the visitor’s eye or convince a potential buyer to come check out any wares. They were all dark wood, whose slightly-rotten smell permeated the tent, which was packed with spectators hovering in small clusters in front of the various attractions. Phillip could hear his feet as they slid across the concrete. They approached the nearest stall as a group of teenagers, hair spiky with gel and clothing too loose for their frames, moved off. Up close, the light somehow changed, illuminating the stall’s interior. Inside, the stall looked no less rundown than its rough-hewn exterior. If anything, the planks that had been nailed together to create the tiny space looked worse for wear, splotches of rot decorating the walls like Rorschach marks. The only thing inside was a stool on which a woman perched. Her face was an oval of pure white skin, so translucent that veins and beating blood were visible beneath the surface. The woman’s eyes were gigantic, as if she was a cartoon character yanked from manga. Her hair, a red bouffant, looked aflame. And instead of fingers she had knives. “Whoa,” Patrick said.

The woman didn’t seem aware of their presence, which made Phillip more uncomfortable than if she’d glared at them or smiled with salacious welcome. Instead, she simply looked about at the walls of her enclosure like an animal only beginning to discover it has been imprisoned. The knives clacked against one another, making metallic noises like a gruesome wind chime. Phillip watched them clatter against one another. The blades fit seamlessly into the flesh of her knuckles; the skin wasn’t abraded or swollen with infection or injury. He expected to see scars of some kind, sutures, but the metal slid right out from the stumps of her metacarpal bones. The knives glimmered under the unnatural light as if they were brand new. * Their fight had really begun several weeks ago, when the House, as they both called it, went on the market. The House was a rundown two-story that had obviously been unoccupied for a long time, the grass weedy and high, the driveway cracked. At least two of its double-hung windows had been shattered by rocks or other vandalism, and the front porch slouched with rot. Phillip’s father was a general contractor who had been flipping houses since before everyone in the universe had an HGTV show doing the same, and he had spent many afternoons teaching Phillip about good house bones and ideal location. Phillip had spent ages listening to his father talk about how you had to consider school districts and proximity to public transportation and what kinds of retailers

were nearby. That knowing the local comps and making sure you were ready to create something equal or better was key. Stay away from mold issues, crappy roofs, and rewire jobs. So Phillip knew that the House was a mess, even though its brick was still bright red and, while in need of a serious paint job and some new spindles in the rail, it had a second-story balcony that stretched along its entire front. Even without going inside, Phillip could see that it was a gut job, the kind of investment no bank would go in for, the sort of project where some five- or six-figure problem would rear its head only after purchase and planning was already complete. And yet, for reasons he couldn’t exactly articulate, Phillip had seen the FOR SALE sign as they drove home from a dinner out one night and said, without thinking, “We should buy that.” Patrick was silent for a long moment. As they idled at the next stoplight, Patrick said, “The House?” Phillip turned to look at him. “Yeah, the House.” “Why would we buy the House?” “Because it’s for sale. We could refurbish it.” “Like, rewire the House ourselves? I’d get electrocuted.”

“I know how to do demolition. I can pick out countertops.” Patrick said nothing as the light changed and they left the House behind.


They slid away from the knife woman fast. The man in the next stall looked normal until he opened his mouth to reveal a maw of carpenter’s nails. Then there was the woman wearing a bikini that showed off a stomach whose abdominals and belly button had been replaced with a picture window that showed off the darkness of her internal organs. She, unlike the first woman, made eye contact, rubbing at the glass as if she was pregnant. When they arrived at a pair of conjoined twins, Phillip felt a bit of relief: this, at least, he had expected. This was something familiar. They were connected at the hip, so they stood cheek to cheek, the one’s right arm and the other’s left contorted into a braided thickness of flesh. Sandy-haired, they looked like they belonged in an Abercrombie catalogue. They curled their mouths into wet leers at the same time. “It pays well,” the one on the left said. His voice was a deep baritone.

“And the health benefits,” said the other. His voice was a trill, like something from a bird. They both laughed, their broad shoulders bouncing. They were wearing the same outfits, tight corduroys and white t-shirts that barely hid their musculature. Phillip wondered how they dressed and lifted weights. “We have a good seamstress,” the deep-voiced one said. “And special barbells.” “What are they talking about?” Patrick said. “We’re answering your boyfriend’s questions,” they said at the same time, their voices in perfect harmony. Patrick stepped closer. “You’re fortune tellers?” “Mind readers.” “Telepaths.” “Body language experts.” “Psychics.” They both laughed. “What am I thinking?” Patrick said, putting his hands on his hips. “You’re worried,” the deep-voiced one said.

“About the future,” the other said. Patrick scoffed, but Phillip could hear the shear in his voice. “Who isn’t?” “Let’s see what else there is,” Phillip said, his voice a whisper. The twins spoke as one again. “You don’t know what you want the future to be.” Patrick frowned. “Does anyone?” They slid their gaze toward Phillip. “He does.” “Patrick,” Phillip said. “Please.” He felt like he might throw up. Phillip rubbed at his face with his fingers, which felt numb. For a long moment he left them there, pressed to his closed eyes. He rolled them, felt his pupils roving, out of control.


Truly, the fight began when the letter arrived, stuffed between their screen and interior doors. “It’s a notice about our lease,” Phillip said when he opened the envelope. He and Patrick were eating dinner, bowls of steaming udon noodles. “With a renewal form, if we want to sign it.” Patrick nodded, blew on his noodles. “Not much time to decide.” Phillip ate. He’d tossed the noodles with pork and cabbage. “I know.”

Patrick stared at him as he chewed and swallowed. “I know you don’t like it here.” “That’s not exactly true.” “I like stability.” “I know that.” Patrick took up another bite. He nodded, but he said nothing more. * They passed a boy with feathered arms. A girl who took a knife to her arm and sliced off the meat of her triceps without so much as a wince, the flesh immediately reforming itself. A woman floated toward the top of her stall, bobbing in the air like a balloon; she had tethered herself to a stool with a thick rope. “That’s a shitty form of flying,” Patrick said, but she didn’t respond. None of them did, staring off into space as if suspended in time. Phillip tried to imagine hearing the noises of the world and not responding to the ticks and moans and shrieks. They completed their lap of the attractions. At the last stall a man, grizzled and ancient, wore all white, a turtleneck sweater and jeans, his beard the same color. He was shaved bald, his pale skin the only thing not snow-blared. He did nothing, his only movement the slight accordioning of his chest as he breathed. The man looked as though he was posing for a portrait, his gaze long

and afar, so centered and calm that twice Phillip turned to glance over his shoulder to see what the man was looking at. The only thing in his line of sight was the entrance. “What do you do?” Patrick said. The man didn’t answer. “Nothing?” Phillip wanted to leave, but something wouldn’t let him. Every time he was about to say something to Patrick, to tug at his arm and say they should go, his tongue felt fat and his throat felt dry. His muscles didn’t want to cooperate, his fingers heavy, plumb weights keeping his arms sunk at his sides. Patrick tapped his foot. “You’re doing this,” Phillip said to the man. Patrick glanced at him. “What are you talking about?” Though Phillip’s arms wouldn’t let him yank Patrick away, they cooperated when he tried to point at the man, whose lips were set in the faintest whisper of a grin. “He’s the one not letting us leave.” “What do you mean?” Patrick said. “We can go.” “I don’t think so. Not until he lets us, right?” The man still refused to look their way. “Absurd,” Patrick said, and with no effort, he turned and started walking toward the entrance. Phillip felt something break inside, as if his hips had been snapped, and his feet were freed.

The grizzled old man smiled and folded his hands over his stomach. Phillip, turning, could feel his smirk, the rictus like a hot beam against the back of his neck, and it took all of his will power not to glance back. When they reached the counter where they’d entered, the person whom they had paid offered a little half-bow at the waist and said, “I hope you enjoyed The Sideshow.” The lot was frizzy with bugs that descended toward their faces in cloudy heaps. The oppressive humidity was like stepping into a bathroom whose shower had been pounding out hot water for an hour. The sodium lights flashed off rear windshields and driver-side mirrors. Phillip glanced at his phone. “We were in there for two hours. Does that sound right?” “I don’t know.” Phillip extracted his keys and clicked the fob. Several rows away, still, his car let out a bleep of noise. He could see the quick blink-flash of the brake lights.

They found the car and climbed in. Everything felt foreign to Phillip, as if upon exiting the tent he’d stepped not into the world he knew but some slightly altered version, where the steering wheel was smaller, the gear shift an inch further away, the arm rest lower. He couldn’t get comfortable, and he jostled his weight, shifting his hips, the seatbelt cutting across his waist.

Patrick, slumped low in his seat and staring out the passenger-side window, didn’t seem to notice. Phillip tried to say something, but his throat was clogged again. He wondered if he would ever feel unstuck. * “They passed me back and forth,” Patrick had said about his life after his parents’ divorce. They were eating dinner, huge platters of pasta, the table dressed with cracked pepper shakers. A plate smeared with olive oil sat next to a basket of steaming rolls. Violin music was pumping in through invisible speakers somewhere. Their server had left them alone, nodding and brushing her hands against her floor-length apron when they confirmed that everything was fine. They’d been on a dozen dates. Phillip drank one glass of wine too many and pushed his glass away. His elbows dug into the linen tablecloth. When he speared his rigatoni, the tines of his fork scratched against the ceramic. “It was weird,” Patrick said. He was wearing a yellow tie that made his cheeks bright in the low light. “It was unstable but stable at the same time, you know?” Phillip nodded. “There was a pattern.” “Yes!” Patrick smiled and leaned back in his seat. “Even though I was shuffled from one

place to another, I always knew where I was headed.” “Sounds bumpy though. “I did get to have two bedrooms.” “Two video game systems?” “Two computers.” Patrick drank, finishing off the pinot noir. It was thicker and dryer than Phillip liked, but when Patrick had suggested it, he shrugged and went along. “More?” Phillip should have said no. But Patrick was glowing in the candlelight, so he pushed his glass forward and said, “Of course.” * As they passed The House, Phillip slowed. “The sign. It’s gone.” “What sign?” “The FOR SALE sign.” Patrick turned to look, but in the dark only the outline of the house was visible. “Oh.” “Someone actually bought it.” “That’s probably what it means that the sign is gone.”

A pair of headlights loomed behind them. “I just didn’t think it would ever happen.” “Unless we bought it.” “I didn’t actually think we’d buy it.” “Seemed like you wanted to.” Phillip sighed. His eyes hurt, the contact lenses he’d worn all day burning like they were tiny pebbles rubbing against his pupils. “Wanting’s different than actually thinking something will happen.” At their apartment, Patrick led the way up the stairs. He paused at the front door, searching for his keys. Phillip set his neck on Patrick’s shoulder. He could smell sugar and fryer grease but didn’t say so. Patrick took his time opening the door, leaning back into Phillip as he turned the key. He was in good shape. Despite his early mornings and his eternal exhaustion, he pushed himself through workouts in the apartment complex’s fitness center, a small box of a room with enough machines for him to exercise his entire body. When the weather was nice enough, he swam laps in the pool, going in the morning when he didn’t have to work so he could avoid the kids that splashed and ran along the concrete borders while their parents drank

daiquiris from plastic cups and ignored their children. Phillip was tempted to wrap his arms around Patrick, the back of whose head grazed his shoulder for just a second. But before he could do anything, Patrick leaned forward again, turned the knob, and opened the door, disappearing inside. * Two days later, Phillip went back, sneaking out after Patrick was asleep. The night was brutally warm following a day that had hit triple digits; he’d spent the afternoon inside while Patrick put himself through several laps in the pool, claiming his body was itchy with disuse. Phillip didn’t point out that Patrick spent eight hours on his feet most days, hauling heavy trays of baked goods from oven to cooling rack to display case, churning butter and rolling out dough. If the shape of his arms was any indication, Patrick didn’t need the laps, especially not with the effort it took to navigate around snotty children in their water wings or armed with their obnoxious toy guns they pointed at one another. Phillip paid the entry fee. He forced himself to stare at the woman with knives for fingers, committing the sight of the metal splitting the skin of her knuckles to memory. He took mental snapshots of the other bodily grotesqueries. He saved, as on his last trip, the old man for last. Once again, he was in pristine, prismatic white clothing that matched his beard, combed straight with nary a hair out of place. The man

made no indication of having noticed Phillip staring at him, his gaze square on the entrance to the tent. Phillip, walking right up to the edge of the man’s stall, felt his saliva go metallic. He clenched his jaw and curled his lips inward, biting them shut. He decided he would stare at the man for as long as it took, even though he wasn’t sure what it was. People slipped around Phillip, looking at the old man, turning to trace his gaze. Then they moved off, laughing, and curling into one another, discussing plans for late-night drinks or what they should have for breakfast or discussing plans for the coming weekend. How easy it was for them to move off, back out into the world. Phillip could feel the man planting him there, stony immobility reaching up into his feet. He let it continue to course through him, like a hot liquid pulsing up his veins, past his knees and into his thighs, then his hips and groin and lower abdominals. Phillip took in a tight breath, tried to make as little noise as possible. When the feeling reached his chest, he said, “I’m not afraid.” The man kept staring past him, a coy smile curled at the edges of his lips. “I’ll stay here forever,” he said. “If that’s what you want to do to me.” The man said nothing, but the feeling began to seep out of Phillip’s body, pooling out through his toes as if they’d sprung leaks. A cadre of teenagers appeared behind him and guffawed at the old man, wondering aloud what kind of freak he was.

“Getting old is freaky, but it doesn’t make you a freak,” one of them said in a high whine. Phillip glanced back at them. They all had black hair streaked with green and were thin, their tshirts too tight and threadbare. He wanted to defend the old man when they snickered, a quartet of unattractive, bovine laughs. Phillip waited, wondering if any of them would be jarred by a sudden loss of control, an inability to move the way they wanted. But they kept laughing and snorting and, eventually, bodies stumbling against one another, they moved away, their leader saying, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” Through all of their bluster, the old man remained still. If not for his breathing and the slight turns of his mouth, Patrick would have wondered if he wasn’t a statue. Phillip gave him one last look. “Thanks,” he said. At the exit, he stopped and asked the attendant, “How do you find people?” “Find them?” “How do you get people to join you?” The attendant smiled. Phillip noticed that their teeth were sharpened to fangs. “The Sideshow has its ways.”

“What if I wanted to join?” The attendant laughed. “I’m sorry. It doesn’t work like that.” “Why not? Who makes the rules?” “We don’t have a manager.” “There’s always someone in charge.” “Out there, maybe. Things are different in here.” Phillip looked around. The odd mist had enveloped everything. He looked at his feet and saw familiar, pebbled concrete. “Yes,” he said. “You’re right. They are. They really are.”


To re-jig the opening of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the world is in a bit of a mess right now. Everything can be compared to one dystopian novel or another and I have referenced Albert Camus’ The Plague far too often. I have, in fact, been hit around the head with it by a family member (who even tried hiding the book so I could not absorb further passages). The content of my Netflix account has also been poor, with Pandemic finding its way to the watch list – it’s like riding a hideous roller coaster, you don’t want to buckle into it (and when you do it’s with gritted teeth) but you want to know what it’s like either way.

Soon I became exasperated with these bleak absorptions of content – why did I even google Black Death stats? – and decided to shake things up a little. Firstly, I took government health advice and recreated the morning routine. I now walk the kitchen, coffee in hand, headphones in, listening to a podcast. Admittedly, there are changes here – I used to start the working day with blaring music to get the blood pumping on London’s stuffy underground – but listening to historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook debate whether cruel King John’s relationship with Europe is on par with Boris Johnson’s Brexit has been a much more enjoyable morning pick-me-up. (See their terrific show, The Rest is History.)

It was a podcast like this which made me reflect on my consumption while cooped up at home. Rather than become a flu documentary recluse, I found a few ways to keep myself topped up with content which is both varied and enjoyable – but pandemic-proof. My definition of pandemicproof is a loose one, and there is much room for flexibility, but I think it generally means that I gain some insight (insight, of course, being a broad term) and, as is most important, fun, from it. In fact, many of my lockdown recommendations touch, tenuously, on topics related to Coronavirus but do not shout in my face about impending doom.

And so, some suggestions. First, you will need a dash of escapism. For this fix I have combined fantasy novels (try Leigh Bardugo’s brilliant adult novel Ninth House or a Stephen King classic) with a dip into Greek mythology. Ancient Greece is a perfect destination at the moment: if you want to make sense of the world, why not try a tackling tragedy in translation like Aeschylus’ Oresteia (which, I promise, is easier than you think), or for an easier, romantic read about the Trojan war, seek out authors like Madeline Miller or Natalie Haynes. For a good laugh, I revisited the BBC TV series Atlantis (historical accuracy very questionable, humour in abundance) and I even watched Boris Johnson defend the Greeks in a curious debate with Roman champion Mary Beard. Once you open the crack of the ancient world, the content keeps shining through the

crevice. And, if you want to see how the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius coped in a pandemic visit the (positive, I promise) Instagram account DailyStoic.

To keep the clogs of my brain turning, reading (and re-reading) poetry has become a pleasurable lockdown activity. I revisited T.S Eliot and W.H Auden for some mental exercise, but when I wanted to keep it on the lighter side, I fell in love with Frank O’Hara: a great recommendation for those who secretly enjoy a bit of Milk and Honey and want to expand horizons. Try the poem ‘Having a Coke with You’. And, if you wish you could read some more romantic words, head back a few hundred years to John Keats, read ‘Bright Star’, and then cry/swoon/sigh at the poet’s letters to lover Fanny Brawne. If you like your poets a bit brasher, you could try Romantic peer Lord Byron. Listen to historian Greg Jenner’s brilliant podcast series, You’re Dead to Me, where he details Byron’s heartthrob status, which is also included in Jenner’s fantastic book, Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity.

I have also spent time re-defining my taste in the classics. I am not suggesting you tackle War and Peace, but for pacey, accessible reads, try Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey. This might have you wading into dark academia – an indulgent trend whereby one inhabits the aesthetics, and reading, of the arts often attributed to prestigious academic institutions. Again, this is a Pandora’s box. You will soon be dressing exclusively in blazers and wishing you picked up Latin at university. Books like Dead Poets Society, The Secret History and A Separate Peace are all now considered ‘dark academia’ on Good Reads and they had me gripped enough to consider donning my old university gown. Decolonize your reading too. I once again picked up Peter Abrahams’ fantastic Mine Boy, read Audre Lorde’s Sister, Outsider (which was one of the best decisions I made in 2020 and, if you take anything out of these lists, it ought to be this one), and listened to Joe Morton narrate Malcolm X’s autobiography.

From these lists, it is clear to see how I have dipped into worlds far from 2020 (and 2021) during the pandemic. These stories, thoughts and ideas have kept me engaged, fascinated, and better interacted with friends (often the best content advisors out there - for personalized recommendations, anyway). I would love if you gave one or two of them a go. For now, I am turning into my latest content hole after The Crown – which, I am afraid to say, is Camus (minus The Plague).

FRAGMENTING: A FREE SONNET IN INFINITIVES by Yuan Changming To be Or not to be

a matter when there’s no question a question when nothing really matters

To sing with a frog squatting straight On a lotus leaf in the Honghu Lake near Jingzhou To recollect all the pasts, and mix them Together like a glass of cocktail To build a nest of meaning Between two broken branches on Ygdrasil To strive

for deity Longevity and Even happiness

To come

on and off line every other while

To compress consciousness into a file, and upload it Onto a nanochip. To be daying, to die

THIS IS A SONG FROM ME TO MY LOVER by Moses Chukwuemeka Chimeremeze Nné m, because we run this country with our corpses we know that tomorrow is always a hypothesis when I try to hold your hand I can only touch static. But we are used to this: Anyị enweghị ike ịbụ ọkụkọ na-arogoro ite onu, our love language is dis(re)membering the violence this border wroughts on our bodies

Because we are from this place that takes everything from us, even our sorrow. Forgive me if I do not know how to love with restraint: Aha gị bụ agụụ na-agụ m n'ure m Forgive me if I am holding you too tight: Anya gị bụ ìhè na-echekwubem Forgive me, because I cannot promise you tomorrow

Memory is a function of space and time, it cannot not contain us I will hold you like this place does not exist: Ị bụ ndụ na edubem I will make you a home between these screaming bullets We will recede into that space the clock's hands forgot to sweep Like a farewell suspended between the two rays of sunlight

Translation: + Nné m My mother (a term of affection)

+ Anyị enweghị ike ịbụ ọkụkọ na-arogoro ite onu An allusion to an Igbo proverb: Okuko na-arogoro ite onu, chetekwe mma gburu ya. Which means the chicken is fuming in/at the pot, forgetting it is the knife that killed it.

+ Aha gị bụ agụụ na-agụ m n'ure m Your name is a hunger on my tongue.

+ Anya gị bụ ìhè na-echebe m Your eyes are the light that shelters me

+ Ị bụ ndụ na edubem. You are my reason for living.

Note: The poet, Chris Abani inspired some Igbo phrases with a poem in his book Sanctificum.

FOSSILIZED LIGHTNING by Khalisa Rae for Freeman Beach, the first Black-owned beach

I came to see the neon sand castle into glass, to taste the salt and brine my skin in the grit. I watch the curve of the wave wash regret from the night. Standing at the edge it’s hard not hear a crowd cheering for you to dive, questions striking, curling into shards. I know how this ends— the daybreak and mourning. No one wants that. I turn toward the crescent casting on the tide, listen to its white noise drown out the truth. The memory fading and crystalizing against the crisp air. This was ours once. This was all ours.

ARTWORK by Kristin LaFollette Color you Red

(2015) - Acrylic, original photography, and lines from an original poem ("A Kind of Sympathy") on 9 x 12 in. multimedia paper

The Daughter

(2020) - Acrylic, paper, original (Polaroid) photography, and lines from an original poem ("On Being the Daughter") on 7 x 10 in. multimedia paper

But You Moved

(2015) - Acrylic, Harter's images, paper, original photography, and lines from an original poem ("Tyler") on 9 x 12 in. multimedia paper

MICRO REVIEW: “LARARIUM” BY RAY BALL by Kalyn RoseAnne Variant Literature, 2020. 44 Pages. 12.00 Ray Ball’s ability to weave many subjects into one brilliantly cohesive work is nothing short of remarkable. In Lararium’s pages you will find mythology, grief, memories of childhood, scorpions, and melting glaciers—all wrought with tenderness. Ray writes with amazing precision, allowing the words she’s kept on the page to cut right to the heart of each piece. What initially appears as a simple poem about a dog or a Pilates class ends having folded a much deeper meaning into its lines, and these messages linger long after you’ve closed the book. Tucked into poems about snakes and spruce beetles are arresting lines that feel like poems in their own right. Biologists and poetry readers alike will find much here to love, but be warned: once you’ve left Lararium, it will beckon you back again.

PROXIMITY By Kevin Finnerty

I reluctantly opened one eye when the phone rang. I saw light entering my bedroom from underneath the shade. The black box that was my clock radio informed me I was still due another twenty-nine minutes. I turned away from the three-foot high particle board nightstand on which the phone and alarm were set and closed my eyes once more. I figured only an idiot would call before 7:00 a.m. until I heard Dad’s voice come through the answering machine. “John . . . it’s your father . . . I’m calling because of what’s happened in New York . . .” He spoke deliberately, though I’m not sure whether that was to convey the solemnity of the call, to keep his emotions in check, or to give me time to answer in case he correctly assumed I was in bed. Whatever Dad’s reasoning, his tactic eventually compelled me to lift the receiver. “Hello.” “John?” “Yeah.” “It’s your father.” “I know, Dad.” “Were you sleeping?” “Yeah.” I wanted him to make the point of his early morning call known so I could get back to sleep. Even fifteen minutes seemed precious. “So you don’t know the news?” “What are you talking about?”

“A plane hit the World Trade Center. Your brother called. He said he’s okay.” I imagined a small, propeller jet clipping the seemingly impenetrable structure in which my brother worked, an event that surely would have harmed the wayward flier more than the building or its occupants. But that didn’t explain why Dad would have called. “But . . .” “But what?” “A second plane just crashed into the other Tower.” “What?” “Maybe you should get up and put on the T.V. I’ll talk to you later.” Dad abruptly hung up the phone, something he never did. I don’t know what I expected to see. Two accidental crashes in one morning seemed extraordinarily unlikely, but before September 11, 2001, I would have thought that outcome more probable than the true explanation. I turned on the television hoping to learn whatever Dad was failing to tell me. I now think he knew this was something one had to actually see, because the brain – at least the brains of average Americans at the time – couldn't otherwise comprehend.

I sat on the edge of my couch in my dirty T-shirt and boxers and used the remote to flip among news stations -- ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX – waiting for someone to provide me with more information about those who were working on the floors above the ones in which the jets entered.

Were the stairs operable despite the smoke and fire? Was the city planning to rescue anyone from the rooftop? Had anyone from the top floors made it out alive? No one addressed my concerns, so my imagination took over. I pictured Tommy covering his face and racing past the fire or climbing to the top of the roof and waiting to be rescued. The longer I waited for something to happen, the more absurd my musings became. I even imagined being with him and the two of us running and jumping from one building to the other. Then The Towers collapsed. And I stopped hoping anything good could happen. I just hoped it already had. I called Dad. “Have you heard anything?” “No.” “He only called you the one time?” “Yeah, he said he was all right then.” “So he wasn’t hurt by the impact?” “Right.” “What did he say exactly?” “He didn’t know what had happened exactly. Over the loudspeaker, they were told to stay put.” “Stay put? Why?” “I don’t know.” “Why would they tell everyone to do that when they knew there was a fire? And I didn’t see anyone trying to put it out or land a helicopter on the roof.”

When Dad didn’t say anything, I wondered if he was getting annoyed with all my questions. I softened my inquiry. “Do you think he did?” “What?” “Stayed put.” “I don’t know. Would you?” “If I didn’t know better, I guess I’d trust . . .” Later, not that day, not the days that immediately followed, but sometime later, I became aware of video clips of people jumping from The Towers. I couldn’t watch them. I didn’t want to see Tommy. I didn’t want to know what my brother thought, what horrible decision he might have had to make once he realized the directive to stay put, the one he and his co-workers had been given and presumably followed, had been something other than helpful. When did he realize no one would rescue him? That nothing was coming except smoke and fire? What did he choose – smoke, fire, or a leap? I didn’t want to know. I still don’t. “Did he get in touch with Vanessa?” I asked. “He told me he called her right before he called me but couldn’t reach her. All of the cell phones went out shortly after we spoke because the Trade Center is the main source of cell reception in the area.” “What are you doing now?” “There’s nothing to do. Vanessa came here. She’s still crying and shaking. I'm trying to calm her down. People are walking back to Jersey from the City. Your cousin’s husband Cal got his boat and is giving rides across the river to people who are injured.”

“What about Tommy? Are you and Vanessa going to go into the city and look for him?” “You don’t understand. We can’t. There’s no way to get into New York even if we wanted. Vanessa’s trying to get in touch with Mike Hannigan, you remember him? He’s a member of the Hoboken police force. We’re hoping he has some connections and can find out something.” “I should come back.” “Of course you should, but they’re not letting anyone fly today.” Nor would they during the subsequent days, which left me stranded on the left coast. On the morning of the thirteenth, I called Dad and told him I’d drive to Jersey. “No, you’re not.” He’d used his paternal voice. “I’ll get there faster at this rate.” “No, you won’t. And I’m not having you drive 3,000 miles by yourself in the state you’re in.” I wondered what state Dad believed I was in. I didn’t know what state I was in, other than California. I just knew I was frustrated by my inability to learn what had happened to my brother and what was happening in the New York City area, and by the inability to travel to be with my family, even though for a number of years prior to 9/11, I'd consciously chosen not to live near them. Still, I hadn't ever imagined the possibility of being denied the opportunity to return to the East Coast to be with them if and when I wanted. Family was family -- the door was always open. Yet here I was in September 2001 following the most significant episode in my lifetime and I found myself unable to go where I wanted to go, where I needed to go. At a time when most Americans, even those who hadn't experienced loss directly, sought and found comfort being with

their closest relatives, I had to live with the unintended consequences of decisions I had made. I was alone.

On the twelfth, the courthouse where I’d only recently begun working as an appellate clerk reopened but I stayed home. My co-workers brought Chinese takeout to my apartment at the end of the day. Caring people made inquiries. Every American wanted to feel connected to the events in New York and Washington. I was the source of that connectivity for those in Pasadena. But I had no greater insight or explanation. I asked questions of those back home that no one could answer and then repeated those responses to those who knew me in California and who asked me the same questions without answers. It all circled around and around in the air with futility but to speak about anything else seemed disrespectful. Even ridiculous. On the thirteenth, I went to work to occupy my mind but contributed nothing. Late in the day, Dad's travel agent arranged for me to take a flight from L.A. to Newark by way of Dallas on September 14. When I informed the Judge, he told me to take whatever time I needed, that my coclerks would share my work responsibilities until I returned. One of my co-clerks drove me to the airport the next morning even though we’d only known one another for a couple of weeks. “Any news yet?” I shook my head. I didn’t want to speak. I just wanted to get on a plane, close my eyes, and land in Jersey.

“There’s still a chance. You hear all sorts of things on the news.” “That’s why I have to get there.” “I know.” “I’m sorry. I . . .” “It’s okay. I can’t imagine. Please call me with whatever news you hear.” I told Sydney I would but wanted her to understand to get news to share I had to get there. I had to get to the airport. I had to get on a plane. And I had to get to north Jersey. Syd drove more slowly than I would have liked, especially given the historically light traffic. Even in L.A., hardly anyone took the roads leading to the airport. 3,000 miles from Ground Zero, people were afraid. When we approached the entrance, a number of officers greeted the few vehicles that ventured inside. A large man in a navy jacket held up his hand as a signal for us to stop a considerable distance from the terminal. When we did, he stared intently at both of us. “You two flying out today?” His voice was appropriately serious and deep. “He is, I’m not.” “Got your ticket?” “Yeah.” I fumbled with my book bag in which it was kept. When I found my e-ticket, I handed it to the officer. He looked back at me when he saw where I was flying. “You’re not going to make it there.” “I have to, Officer.” I suppose he understood without my needing to speak any further. He returned the ticket to me and tapped the car as an indication that we could proceed. “Good luck.”

The next officer we encountered didn't make any personal inquiries. He simply waved a baton and gestured at the place where he wanted Syd to park her Civic. He then pointed at me. “You going out?” “Yeah.” “You’ve got 60 seconds.” I understood the warning was given in all seriousness even as the officer walked away. I hopped out at once. Syd rushed around the side of the car to be beside me, leaving the motor running. “I wish I could go with you. I can’t imagine . . .” I grabbed my bags. In addition to my book bag, I’d packed a small travel bag. I hoped I wouldn't have to check either of them. “Keep it moving up there!” In the nearly silent world surrounding airports in mid-September 2011, the officer’s booming voice sounded as if he were directly beside us rather than fifty feet away. Syd pulled me to her and squeezed. “Call me, okay? Anytime, day or night. I’m serious. Let me know what’s going on.” I nodded. For a few seconds, I allowed myself to wonder why Syd was being so kind – whether she'd already decided we'd be great friends during our year clerking together; whether she was attracted to me and wanted something more; or whether tragedy simply brings out the best in people. Under other circumstances, such thoughts could have occupied most of my day’s mental activities. As it was, I quickly set them aside. I didn’t want to think. Not about stuff like that

anyway, not about anything remotely Seinfeldian. I just wanted to be on a plane and I wanted it to go very fast. Fortunately, the officer returned to our vehicle and said what I couldn't. “Time’s up.” As I pulled away, Syd let her hand slide across my cheek. I sighed deeply and turned to enter the terminal. “Stay positive.” I followed Syd’s advice as best I could for as long as I could. When I entered LAX on September 14, I still hadn't convinced myself that my brother had died. I kept imagining scenarios in which he escaped and survived as I boarded my flight to Dallas. I again pictured Tommy rushing down the stairs and escaping into the street just before his Tower collapsed, being covered in ash, rubble, and debris. Dirty and disoriented but definitely not dead. Passengers occupied only a quarter of the seats on the flight to Dallas. Once it departed, no one made a sound until we landed. Even the pilots and flight attendants appeared afraid to speak. The young woman alone in the row across from me raised both of her arm rests and spent the entire trip curled in a fetal position. I arrived in the Lone Star state with plenty of time to make my connection to Newark, but somebody canceled it along with every other flight into the Metro New York/New Jersey area. Worse, no one could say when I'd be able to go home. On September 14, I was stranded in a strange city where everyone was a stranger.

I spent the night in the Dallas airport. I suppose I could have found a nearby hotel but leaving the terminal would have seemed like taking a step backwards, and I believed I needed to keep moving forward. And Eastward. Remaining at the airport allowed me to imagine I was still headed home. I walked around the practically deserted facility a few times that evening. I'm not sure how active the Dallas airport normally is, but I don’t think I saw a single flight come or go after 6:00 p.m. All the shops closed early too. I wasn’t sure if this was due to the lack of business or just a general aversion to being inside airports at that time. I would have been more upset about this had I any appetite, but I couldn't eat any more than I could sleep. I hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours the previous nights in my own bed, so it didn’t surprise me I couldn’t do so at the Dallas airport on furniture not designed for slumber. I reclined on chairs and benches, shut my eyes and tried to recall happy times playing ball with my brother, but the images of 9/11, the images I'd seen over and over again on television – the planes crashing into The Towers, The Towers crumbling, the people fleeing, and the city covered in soot – kept invading my mind. I tried to read, but the words blurred, looked incomprehensible, like some foreign language. I stared at the same sentence for five minutes, the same paragraph for fifteen. Even then, I couldn't understand what had been written before 9/11. Be it a novel or a brief, the words penned prior to the attack made no sense.

“Most people are afraid right now.” A somber ticket agent offered her explanation the next morning when I mentioned how deserted the airport had been. “The only people flying are those who absolutely have to. Mainly people who got stuck somewhere when the President shut down all flights on 9/11. And a few people like you.” I hadn’t seen anyone who looked like me as I walked around the airport the prior evening. No other solitary individual with an expression of helplessness. No other idiot without a cell phone. Prior to 9/11, I'd taken pride as possibly being the last attorney, and last person in Los Angeles, not to own a cell phone. I didn’t feel so clever when I was forced to rely on pay phones at the Dallas airport to make a series of collect calls to Dad to inform him of my situation. When I called after the cancellation of my flight into Newark, he was already aware that all flights into the New York City area on the fourteenth had been canceled. His travel agent booked me on a 9:30 a.m. flight the next morning but informed him there was no guarantee that one wouldn't be canceled as well. Shortly before 9:00 it was. This time a few of those trying to get back to New York expressed their annoyance with the airline’s lack of information regarding everything from when flights would resume, to which airport in the New York region would reopen first, to which passengers would have priority to any available seats. I listened quietly as airline representatives stated the carriers were only following orders and would comply with all federal directives. I called Dad to find out if he was aware of any alternatives. “We can get you to Atlanta. One of your cousins is willing to drive you from there.” “That’s a whole day’s drive.”

“I know.” “If you go non-stop.” “I know.” “Okay, put me on . . .” “All right, the flight is . . .” “Wait a second.” In the background, over some distant loudspeaker, I heard some reference to flights into the New York area. “I gotta go,” I said. “Wait . . .” “I can’t, I hear something. I’ll call you back.” Upon racing back to the gate where my flight to Newark had been canceled, I saw a fiftysomething airline representative in a pressed navy suit with perfectly applied makeup and nail polish standing in the center of a haggard-looking group of travelers. The airline rep told the wannabe passengers that she believed a plane would fly to West Point in an hour. Even though I'd spent almost twenty years living in the metropolitan New York area, I only knew two things about West Point: it was where the military academy was located and it was somewhere in the State of New York. The latter fact meant no matter where the West Point airport was located, it had to be much closer to New York City than Atlanta was. I determined I would be on that first flight into the New York area, but others apparently had the same thing in mind and clamored for the representative’s attention.

“I’ve been away for a week.” The man’s pinstripe suit was so wrinkled I wondered if he’d been sleeping in it. “I’ve had to cancel all sorts of plans.” The woman with unwashed hair had three large suitcases at her feet.
 More chatter, more stories of unhappiness, followed, but I didn’t hear anyone mention my tale, so eventually I spoke up. I pulled out my wallet and took out my brother’s business card, which, of course, listed a World Trade Center address. “Excuse me.” The airline rep quickly flashed her eyes at me and my modest attempt to gain her attention before re-focusing on the more boisterous members of our group. “Listen,” I said more firmly when I believed I was being ignored, “you guys at the airlines said you'd give priority to family members of victims of the tragedy.” I held out the Cantor Fitzgerald card toward the agent, who looked at it and then at me. Those nearby quieted immediately. “We will.” “Then make sure I’m on your first plane, all right?” “Of course.” I nodded before looking at the floor, embarrassed that I'd been forced to insinuate I had a greater right or need to board the plane, because I understood it to be a terrible time for everyone in our country, especially anyone away from home. I found myself unable to meet the eyes of those around me, partly because of my assertion of priority status and partly because I felt if I saw pity in their eyes, I might break down. I waited to hear others speak as a sign that perhaps they

were no longer staring, but the chatter didn't resume until I began to walk away. I crossed into a neighboring gate area and sat on the floor even though almost all of the seats were unoccupied. I looked at my brother’s card for a few minutes before putting it back in my wallet. In the end, I didn’t take anyone’s seat. When we took off an hour later, the plane was still a quarter empty.

I hadn’t dared to leave the boarding area or the airline representative once I'd been told about the flight to West Point. I figured it would be much safer to call Dad after landing in New York than risk missing perhaps the only plane allowed into the region all day, but I never had to make the call. Two of my cousins greeted me as soon as I exited from the gate area. Jimmy was my age, Jackie a year older. When we were younger, our families said Jimmy and I looked more alike than any of our own siblings. I don’t think anyone would have suggested as much as adults, given that he now outweighed me by at least fifty pounds. Former tomboy Jackie greeted me with a hug for the first time in my life. “Your Dad made the airport tell him what flight you were on.” Jimmy nodded his head quickly a number of times. “They didn’t want to, but he wouldn’t let up.” “We said we’d pick you up because I've been here once before.” With her red hair, fair skin, and considerable freckles, Jackie looked more like the stereotypical Irish lass than any of her eight siblings. The rest of my cousins, including Jimmy,

had brownish hair that had once been blond and a build and demeanor made for surviving life's economic and mental challenges more than its physical ones. I sat quietly in the passenger's seat of Jackie’s car for most of the ninety-minute drive from the airport, which actually was located in the town of Newburgh, to my old Jersey home. I listened to my cousins tell stories of the events and aftermath of 9/11 while looking at the region as if for the first time. “You’ll see it soon.” Jackie was right. As soon as we reached the top of a hill, I had a clear view of New York from some twenty miles away and saw a skyline I'd never seen before. The Empire State Building and the other Midtown skyscrapers were still there, but The Twin Towers no longer occupied the prominent spot on the southernmost point of Manhattan. Instead, a massive cloud of smoke hovered over that part of the horizon. “Holy shit.” Jimmy slid up from the backseat and rested his chin behind my headrest. “It’s incredible it’s still that way after four days.” “It all stands out because it’s so clear.” “That’s how it was on Tuesday. As clear as it’s ever been. So everyone in the tri-state area could see everything from miles and miles away.” During the years shortly after I left the East Coast and first moved to California, before I attended law school, when I had dreams but not a career, I'd sometimes imagined returning to Jersey in triumph. Long, lost soul makes good. In my dreams, I always imagined a day like September 15, 2001: a perfectly clear, spectacularly sunny day. An L.A.-type of day without the

smog. But on the day of my actual return, the clarity just made the devastation all the more visible. Upon exiting the highway, we passed through the town of Lyndhurst in a matter of minutes before arriving at my father’s house, the home in which I was raised, in North Arlington. The product of earlier generations’ feisty spirit of independence, my hometown, like most in the surrounding area, was only about a single square mile in size but nevertheless contained 15,000 or so inhabitants. If one eliminated the towns' borders and examined the area from a perspective consistent with the rest of the United States, the older Jersey suburbs that were close enough to have New York’s skyline in their backyard contained a few hundred thousand people practically on top of one another. Jackie parked in the one open spot on the block – directly in front of Dad's place, as if it had been reserved for us. Dad stood inside the doorway. The tired look he wore failed to indicate whether he had been standing there for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. He embraced me after I traversed the seven steps from the curb to the stairs and then climbed the four stairs to reach the navy structure with white trimmings. “I’m glad you’re finally home.” “Me too.” Over his shoulder, I saw Vanessa. I hugged and kissed her next. Half-Italian, half AfricanAmerican, Vanessa was a natural beauty who’d always looked attractive with or without makeup, in formal attire or a T-shirt and sweats, but on the fifteenth, she looked the way I felt: battered, bewildered, and exhausted.

She tapped my shoulder a couple of times before ushering me into the living room, which was filled with relatives and friends, many of whom I hadn't seen in years. Like most homes in North Arlington, which were built in rows with tiny front lawns and backyards and even less space on the sides between the houses, Dad’s place was small. I suppose it was the right size now that it was just him, but it had been far too small when I lived there with Mom, Tommy, and him. It felt tiny now that the living room that normally contained only a couch and a recliner — into which I’d been dumped — was filled with all of the hard dining room and kitchen chairs so visitors would have places to sit. Even so, there still weren’t nearly enough seats for everyone, or space to place additional chairs had more been available. I felt as if I’d been drugged while I listened to questions directed to me and conversations taking place nearby. The words seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to travel from the speaker’s lips to my ears and even longer to go from my ears to my brain. “Have you been sleeping?” Dad’s voice came through more clearly than most. “Not much before and really nothing last night.” “It shows. You want to take a nap before church?” “Church?” “Yeah, there’s a service in Oradell tonight at Vanessa’s and Tommy’s church.” “I guess so.” “Or do you want to eat something first?” Aunt Alice, one of Dad’s sisters, sat beside Dad on the couch with her hands on his lap. “We have a mountain of food,” Dad said.

I walked around the wall separating the living room from the tiny kitchen and saw the entire table covered with plates of cold cuts, boxes of desserts, and breads of all kinds. The small counter between the microwave and stove was similarly loaded. “There's a lot more in the refrigerator.” I could feel Dad right behind me. I turned and shook my head. “I don’t think I can eat anything right now. I’d rather try to sleep.” “Go ahead.” Upstairs, there was a bathroom and three small bedrooms -- one my parents had used; one Tommy and I had shared until we were teenagers; the other was the guest room I confiscated during high school. Dad had converted our old bedroom into a study, so it no longer had a bed. That left the queen in the master bedroom or the twin the guest room. I chose the smaller room and fell asleep immediately upon hitting the pillow. Dad knocked on the door, which I hadn't even bothered to close, a couple of hours later. “You should get ready.” I did as instructed. I showered, shaved, dressed, and went downstairs. Only Aunt Alice remained. She kissed me again when I came into the kitchen. “I just wanted to stick around long enough to say goodbye. I won’t see you again tonight, but we’ll be by tomorrow. Take care of your father. And have something before you go.” She tapped my tummy. “You look like you haven’t eaten in days.” I inspected what was available. I grabbed an unopened bag of rye bread and held it out towards Dad. “Go ahead. I put the meat and cheese in the refrigerator.”

I opened the bag, breathed in the fresh rye smell, and again felt light-headed. I carried a plate loaded with all sorts of deli meats and cheeses from the refrigerator. I consciously avoided the ones with Jersey-sounding names – pastrami, salami, baloney – and made myself a roast beef, ham, and American cheese sandwich. I squeezed mustard onto the sandwich from a small, plastic package that had been in the center of the plate. “Need anything to drink?” “Milk, maybe.” “There’s lots of that too.” “You eaten already?” “No, I haven’t been hungry either.” Dad studied the plate I’d taken from the refrigerator for a moment, then grabbed a plastic fork. “Maybe I’ll have a little turkey before we go.” Dad made himself an even simpler sandwich than mine. Just meat and bread. We ate in silence for ten or fifteen minutes until it was time to go to the church.

My devout Catholic parents raised me to be a devout Catholic. For most of my youth, I presumed the majority of the country practiced Catholicism because almost all of my childhood friends and their parents did. Only as I traveled and lived elsewhere did I realize our nation and the world are much more diverse than the tiny environment in which most of us are raised and presume accurately depicts the people and places we haven’t experienced. As a young Catholic, I tried to live my life according to the Church’s teachings. I attended Mass every Sunday, as well as all holy days. I believed certain acts were sinful but also that there

was a loving and forgiving God. I tried to remain true to two basic commandments: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. I abandoned my faith when I was in college because Catholicism couldn’t answer to my satisfaction some essential questions: Why is there so much pain in the world, especially that inflicted upon innocent babies and good people, if God is all-powerful? How could there be a Hell if God was all knowing, all loving, all forgiving? If God were the First Cause of the entire universe, how did God come into being? Apart from a couple of weddings, I hadn't stepped foot inside a church during my years living in Los Angeles, but while in New Jersey after 9/11, I frequently found myself attending services of some sort or another. Initially, I went because Dad and Vanessa asked me to join them, but it wasn’t long before I saw the comfort the church provided people during that trying period. It calmed believers and gave them a strength I didn't have. Dad and Vanessa maintained their poise and thanked their friends and neighbors who approached them as they stood outside the church, but I found myself sobbing whenever someone I'd formerly known expressed their sympathy. I liked hearing priests tell me that those who died on 9/11 now experienced peace and that someday I'd be reunited with my brother, but I couldn't forget that those who killed Tommy and thousands of others believed they did so on some God’s behalf. I ultimately concluded whatever good faith provided in comforting some for their losses had to be weighed against religion being one of the motivators for the horrific event for which people needed comfort. Still, I continued to attend services because I appreciated the hour it gave me to reflect on the world and my place in it.

Not that the other 23 hours weren’t quiet enough. Dad, Vanessa, and I hardly spoke. To each other or anyone else. Those around us would, but we simply listened and observed. After a week, Dad stopped me in the kitchen and asked how long I would stay. “Don’t know.” “Stay as long as you’d like.” “When do you plan on going back to work?” Dad chuckled for the first time since I’d arrived. “I hadn’t really thought about it, but I’m in a very different position than you. The world’s not going to miss one more middle manager.” Dad had been middle management my whole life. I asked what he meant by that one time when I was ten. Even then, even when I didn’t understand his answer, I could tell Dad wasn't happy being middle management and that it wasn't something to which I should aspire. “Anything you want to do while you're here?” “I want to see the site sometime.” “All right, they just reopened the Lincoln Tunnel. We can go tomorrow if you’d like.”

I always hated driving in New York. If L.A. traffic tests your patience, New York’s tests your mettle. In New York, you can expect bumper-to-bumper congestion; narrow roads made narrower by double parking and delivery trucks; taxis that accelerate and dart in front of you without forewarning; hidden directional signs; honking horns and angry gestures; plus the unexpected.

When I'd lived in Jersey and wanted to go into the City, I'd taken mass transportation to the Trade Center -- either the PATH train that stopped beneath The Towers or the ferry that docked behind them. Neither option was available after 9/11, so Dad drove us. We didn't say a word to one another between the time we got in the car until he was ready to park forty minutes later. Driving along Route 3, we passed Giants Stadium and focused our attention on the midtown skyline and the Empire State Building instead of the absent Towers. Traffic near the tunnel was much lighter than I remembered. I presumed most people still weren’t ready to return. The two-mile dark hole always was a portal that transported people from one state to another, but this especially appeared to be the case when we made the journey in late September. We emerged in midtown and I watched people gather at street corners, waiting for the light to change, some taking a few steps off the curb, taxis honking at them while they raced to make the light. Only in New York would there have been such a mix of pedestrians as men and women in suits, guys in T-shirts without sleeves, women wearing spandex, teenagers with hair dyed pink and green, and a host of people of varying ages and ethnicities, all waiting at the same corner, amid the same pack. “I think this is about as close as we’ll get.” Dad had pulled into a small parking lot seven or eight blocks from the site. “Is it okay with you?” “I can hoof it.” We walked towards the Trade Center or at least where The Towers used to be. I don’t know what I'd been expecting – a huge hole in the ground, rescue crews at work, or a mound of

rubble? Maybe I just wanted to see something that would tell me, definitively, that what I'd observed on television 3,000 miles away a week and a half earlier had actually occurred. Police barricades blocked off a four-block radius around the site. Officers patrolled the area to keep the perimeter secure. When it seemed we wouldn't be able to get any closer, Dad explained our situation to one of them, an imposing figure in his thirties. “I wish I could help, but to be honest, it’s better you don’t go there.” “Is it that grisly?” Dad asked. “It’s not that. Actually, there’s very little to see. Just twisted metal, chunks of rock, and ash.” The officer didn't make eye contact, but instead kept looking over our shoulders or between the two of us to maintain his vigilance over the area. “But the reason you shouldn’t go there is it’s just not safe. You have to be careful where you walk and wear a mask if you’re anywhere closer than we are now. I’m very sorry about what happened to you guys, but I hope you understand.” “We do,” I said. “Then if you’ll excuse me, I have to attend to a few things. We’re all working at least 12 hours a day here.” He moved along the blue-and-white barricade that separated us. Once we knew we wouldn't be able to get any closer, Dad and I walked the perimeter, glancing down each street to look beyond the barricades towards the site of The Towers from different vantage points. In the distance, I saw rubble and remnants, smoke and soot, machines and men, but no bodies. Not only was no one being rescued but remains weren’t being retrieved either. The Trade Center was now a mass grave without corpses. Thousands of people who'd lived, worked, and breathed with and on top of one another suddenly no longer existed. Not only had their lives been taken but the physical embodiment of their existence as well.

I’m not sure what I thought I'd learn by going into the City, but it turned out the most memorable aspect of my visit was what I didn't see and would never see. Tommy was dead. I understood that. But I wouldn't ever see Tommy’s corpse. It didn’t exist. Nor did The Towers, the mammoth structures that had been constructed the same year as I. Talk was the terrorists had targeted them as symbols of the excess and arrogance of the United States. I always equated them with a new generation, my generation, and a modern way of thinking, to be contrasted with the Empire State Building and an earlier way of life. Their destruction was almost as profound and personal as Tommy’s. I'd expected The Towers to outlive all of us humans and occupy a permanent position in downtown Manhattan and the New York City skyline. Like Tommy’s, their short life seemed incomprehensible. I'd never known life without Tommy or The Towers, and even though I was living some 3,000 miles from both of them on September 11, I always expected to be able to count on them being in the New York City area. A group of nihilist men, an organization with ruinous plans, and a couple of airplanes changed that. After we'd spent an hour and a half near the site and seen all we would be allowed to see, Dad put his hand on my shoulder. “Had enough?” “I guess.” For the first time I wondered how hard the visit might have been on Dad and if he even wanted to be there. After all, unlike others who had relatives and friends working in the Trade Center on that day, he hadn't chosen to go into the City in the days immediately after 9/11.

“I didn’t need to go, I saw it happen,” he said during our drive home. “I was standing on the street in Jersey City after Tom called and was watching the flames from the first Tower when the second plane hit. That’s when I called you.” “I thought maybe he could have gotten out.” “You wouldn’t have thought that if you saw what I saw and knew he was above the fire line.” “You didn't tell me that on 9/11.” “I wanted one of us to hold out some hope.” Dad didn't appear to be looking at the road before him, but at something he'd seen in the past, while he drove. He gripped the steering wheel so tightly it rattled noisily as we made our way back toward the Lincoln Tunnel. With his slight frame, physical strength is not an attribute one normally associates with my father, but at that moment, I truly thought he was capable of breaking the wheel off and sending us along without the ability to change our direction. “That's why I didn't become one of those people you saw on T.V. wandering aimlessly through the City, wondering if their loved one was dead or just hurt. I already knew.”

The next morning I found Dad wearing his worn robe, sitting in silence while staring into his cup of coffee at his tiny kitchen table. I filled a mug and sat beside him. “I have to go back.” “I know.” “I’m not sure whether I should move back here when the job ends at the end of August.”

“That’s your decision. I'm not going to interfere.” “It wouldn’t be interfering. I’m asking for help in deciding what to do.” “I can’t. Sorry.” Dad still hadn’t lifted his head. “I killed your brother by doing that.” “What are you talking about?” “He wanted to leave Wall Street. He said he was unhappy despite all the money he was making. He didn’t like feeling pressured to do things he wasn’t comfortable doing.” “So how's any of this have anything to do with you?” “He wanted to do something different. Teach high school. But I told him to stick with it. I reminded him he was married and he wanted kids. And that all jobs had their unpleasant components. I told him to stay at it a little while longer and bank a few dollars.” I hadn't known any of this about my brother. I'd never been interested in Wall Street because I couldn't imagine making money as the sole purpose of my job, so I hadn't inquired about the details of Tommy's day-to-day work. I hadn't known he'd felt conflicted and sought Dad's counsel. What I knew was even if everything Dad said was true, he didn't kill Tommy. I wanted to relieve him of that notion and the feelings of guilt he apparently housed. “Dad, have you ever heard of Helen Palsgraf?” “No.” “She's the woman at the center of one of the most famous legal cases in history. Ms. Palsgraf was standing on a platform waiting for a train when two men began racing to catch another train as it pulled out of the station. One of them made it easily enough, but this other guy who was carrying a package had trouble reaching it. He eventually jumped and landed on the last

car but when it appeared as if he would fall, the guard who'd held the door open for him leaned forward to grab him while another train worker sought to push him on from behind. Sometime during this process, the guy dropped his package. Turns out, it contained fireworks, which exploded when they hit the rail. “The interesting thing about the case is that the woman who sued the railroad company, Ms. Palsgraf, wasn't a passenger on the train or even someone near the action. But when the fireworks exploded, the shock they created caused this large scale near Ms. Palsgraf to fall and injure her. The case concerned whether the railroad was liable to Ms. Palsgraf.” I waited for Dad to offer his thoughts or make the connection, but he remained silent, so I resumed my story. “In a famous opinion written by Judge Cardozo, who later became a Supreme Court justice, the court held the railroad company wasn't liable to Ms. Palsgraf because any negligent act its employees may have committed in trying to get one passenger on board didn't proximately cause the injuries Ms. Palsgraf sustained. Therefore, even if Ms. Palsgraf wouldn't have been injured but for the scale falling on her, which was the result of a vibration caused by the explosion, which resulted from the falling fireworks, which may have occurred because of the action taken by the two guards who tried to get the would-be passenger on the train, the railroad wasn't liable for Ms. Palsgraf’s injuries.” I was proud I'd remembered most of the facts from the case I’d studied in Torts during my first year of law school and thought I would have succeeded in alleviating Dad's concerns, but he got to his feet and dumped his coffee into the sink. “The law’s not the only way to look at the world.”

At that point, I don't know if I continued to try to help Dad, defend my profession and the way I had been taught to examine the world, or my own actions. “Dad, the terrorists killed Tommy. If you want to blame anyone else, you might try whoever issued that stupid message telling him and his co-workers to stay put and await their deaths. Or how about airport security for letting the terrorists carry box cutters on board or the airlines for not having the cockpit more secured so hijackers couldn't bust their way in so easily? Or how about Bush for not acting on intelligence warnings that such an attack might occur?” Dad turned and looked at me with great disappointment, as if my years of study and achievement had been a waste of time. “I don't care about any of that. I don't care who's responsible for the thousands of other deaths. I could have saved my son but didn't.” “But how could you have known? You're not responsible in any way.” Maybe my last words were meant for me as much as Dad, because for the next day-and-ahalf, prior to my departure, I found myself wondering what role I played and how lives might have turned out differently had I not left Jersey when it seemed like the easy thing to do. I realized life didn't require proximate causation. We are all responsible for all our acts and the consequences of them. The law is a human construct, like money and private property, subject to arbitrary rules and always capable of change as different individuals and groups come to power. Human existence just is and places a greater burden on all of us. We cannot help but be responsible.

THE SWING by Zahirra Dayal You are 10 years old and your hair is being fixed. Sundays smell like burnt hair and rotting eggs from the Dark and Lovely straightener your mother pastes onto your head with a paintbrush. The smelly concoction makes your scalp itch. “You have to keep it in for 20 minutes, so don’t fidget,” she says. 20 minutes is an eternity and you perch on the uncomfortable wooden stool, your eyes chasing the hands of the clock on the wall. Now your head is bent over the bathroom sink and she is washing out the mud. Specks of black splash against the white wall and you screw your eyes up trying to identify the amorphous forms. After your mother roughly towel dries and combs your hair to untangle the knots, she starts to blow dry it with an angry face. You make her angry most of the time because you are guilty of so many inexcusable things. You sit with your legs open. Your hair is wild and untamable. You play in the sun which makes your skin an unacceptable shade of brown. “Keep your head still!” she barks , the smoke from the blow drier mixes with the smoke from the cigarette that sits between her lips. You watch the smoke rise, sashay, and disappear. Your head is yanked from side to side as she pulls and aims the blow drier like a gun at close range to each small section of hair. You sit frozen to the stool blinking back tears. Because of the precarious state of blow dried hair, when she’s finished, she divides your hair into two and rolls each side into a ball, pinning it down tightly with triangular hair pins. Any kind of moisture, even the slightest hint of rain could attack and make it curly again, so you’re not allowed to unpin the two tight balls on your head.

At the sound of the car hooter, your mother finally releases your imprisoned mane, and it falls to your shoulders in silky waves. “That’s better, now your hair is presentable,” she says, her eyes gleaming with self-satisfaction as she surveys her work. Your mother has bought a chocolate cake which she’ll tell the guests she baked, and she’s spent all morning dusting corners, shining spoons and polishing the floors to make everything look perfect. You go outside with your mother to greet the visitors who are parking their car in the back yard. “Ahh, look at how beautiful she is, come here my Ameera,” says your mother with lit eyes and sugary words as your cousin Ameera gets out of the car with her frilly purple dress, and purple shoes. You watch, half-hiding in the doorway as your mother holds your cousin close to her chest. Ameera means princess in Arabic. Your cousin has emeralds for eyes, straight, shiny black hair and fair skin; everything your mother wishes you had. You are invisible because your aunt, uncle and cousin file passed you in the doorway without noticing you and settle on the sofas in the adjoining living room. ‘Ahhh how is your new school Ameera?’ asks your mother with envy laced tones. “She’s doing so well,” beams your mother’s sister, “she’s the top of the class and it’s a private school you know.” “Beautiful and brainy hey,” replies your mother, squeezing Ameera’s soft cheeks with her fingers. ‘”Don’t do that Beena, her skin is very fair and delicate,” chides your aunt, pulling her daughter possessively towards her. Your mother’s fawning makes your aunt uncomfortable.

“‘Layla, come and take Ameera outside to play on the swing. But don’t push her too high, be careful with her, she’s not used to rough play,” says your aunt, her eyes piercing right through you. You obediently guide your young cousin out of the living room into the garden. You choose the long muddy route to the swing in the backyard and watch your cousin’s shiny purple shoes turn dirty brown. You like the way the mud caresses the soles and climbs up her shoes. You feel her warm soft hand in yours and see the trust dripping from her green eyes. She can’t reach the swing, so you gently lift her up onto the wooden seat. Your nose is so close to her skin, you smell the Johnsons Baby Powder. Her little hands clutch the two ropes, and you go behind her to push the swing. The seat glides forward and her purple frills lift slightly. ‘’Higher Layla, higher”’ your cousin shouts excitedly. You use more force now and her whole dress flies open, revealing purple tights that you didn’t see before. ‘’Higher Layla.’’ And you obey. You keep pushing and watch her flying through the air. Then you hear a small voice say, “‘Stop Layla. It’s too high now, please stop,” but you keep pushing hard on the edge of the seat , with both hands now. You want to see it touch the sky. The louder the screams get, the more distant they feel for you. You are terrified and excited. Then you see your mother, aunt and uncle run towards you, you see six panic soaked eyes. They struggle to bring the flying swing to a halt but eventually manage to bring your terrified cousin down from the sky. “What were you thinking Layla?” asks your aunt through angry teeth.

“She didn’t mean it Bee. Ameera’s fine. No harm done. Let’s go in and have the chocolate cake I baked,” says your mother too quickly.

PARTURITION by Mandira Pattnaik when was the last time you saw a bud in the morning, bloom with the sun, a glowing face by dusk. was it before you saw your seed growing, cajoled by our trembling expectations, after three years and three failed cycles, and countless trips to the icy doc in a frigid clinic. you and i don’t hunt for answers, now all we see are everlasting blossoms. when you lay still, your hand on our hemisphere of togetherness, we listen to rhythms, quivering notes and exult each time my petri dish undulates. how what i avoided was now much desired. i see you morph your boyishness into one ripe with paternity! when you color the nursery fuchsia, i imagine a tiny fist in my palm, a heart within yours. we cling to the promise of a miracle. onto the fabric of my being, i thread a hymn and yearn for its fruition on a simple, incredible moment. she holds on too --- hope of life, woven with warps of joy and wefts of knowing, ensconced in the warmth of her mother.

WHEN GOLD LIGHTAN STOPS WEEPING by Wing Yau He goes to work like the rest of us. He locks silence in the garage; puts on his urban slim fit jacket and promises to return. His super alloy legs carry a mounting load of anxiety foreign to him every step of the way. His colleagues do not need to know the heartbox lodged deep in his metal ribcage was once an exquisite golden machine that keeps the Earth safe for kids like you and me. But it’d never be fixed again. Eight hours a day Gold Lightan hunches in his cubicle waiting to be kick-started with FYIs, emoticons, bad punctuations, or “as per my last email”. On his 10 minutes back, he sings his theme song in your voice. You miss your own child voice one that could never reach the low notes when singing theme songs of your favorite heroes. You remember the air kicks, the magnetic hand stabs straight into the heart of a personified catastrophe. A leap onto the sofa, fists pounding chest in triumph; that simple wish to be someone that is not too afraid of pain. You look at these robots sitting on your table now, limited editions unattainable in childhood. They watch you each night as you eat noodles with the world’s bad news. Gundam, Optimus Prime, Gold Lightan, oblivious in the dimmed light, busy with their own

mini crisis in colourful Lego blocks. They know being alone and hidden is a fine substitute For peace. You pick up Gold Lightan, always your most wounded and trusted, and brush dust off his shoulders. You bend his legs and extend his arms to restore his glorious pose in his prime days. When the sun pours it’s useless gold through that window again tomorrow, you know he’ll be the first to shrink back for his new role just like the rest of us.

ON THE NIGHT TRAIN By Danmi Lee at the end of every day, we go to bed and let something die. there is enough in the world to make us think we don’t have to protect anything but ourselves. lying sideways in this bed that feels as big as the ocean, the nights stare wide-eyed as i twist and try to shroud myself in thought to be unseen. i think back to when words flew among us in the air and we knew to see the world without pointing our fingers like constant accusations at loves that are now turned away. & i give thanks to my ex-lovers who’ve taught me and untaught me songs i’ve sung to myself about myself – this poem’s become my new best friend so quickly. i will not eat myself i will not run out of time in these few nights my eyes just got more used to them and don’t fight them anymore. i wonder if there’s stars in this one; if in this one the hero gets what she wants.

OUT OF THE WOODS by Angeliki Ampelogianni

Behind the old house with the red door, the woods whispering to the wind, and the sky above an aqua marine. It has been so long since we were whole, skin clear of bruises and the doors closed. Our house warm, a heavy carpet on the floor, everything in order. The washing has been done and is now drying, ready for the almond tree to blossom in the garden. Ready to breathe in again, after a long pause. In the woods we used to play hide and seek, all the trees stood in order for our game. We used to hold our breath, our aqua dresses mimicking the sea, overflowing the wild house of our ancestors. We would swim in the air, one whole movement towards the shore, and the house was whole again and safe. Hera’s daughters, how quickly we were ready to leave everything behind. The trees, the sun, the house. Time moves around us like a storm over the ancient woods of our childhood. Then, years later you find a dress in aqua marine like the one we used to wear. So you put it on, in order to remember what has turned grey in the messed up order of your memory. What came first, the woods, the whole milk we used to drink, the red door? What came after the aqua marine dresses, was it fear? We had those nightmares, us ready to set fire to those trees we loved. And that rain over the woods that blocked the roads. For weeks, no one came to the house as if in quarantine, as if the world was ending, and in our house we were the last to live, the last to die. This was a new order and we had to comply. We had to wash our hands after the woods, the dirt staining our nails. Did we actually eat cherries whole, even the pit? It was a challenge. So we knew we were ready to leave those ancient grounds with the stained glass and aqua marine curtains hiding conversations, hiding secrets found in aqua marine eyes. Remember, we used to build this blanket house in the living room and we would play war, all of us wild and ready to attack with pillows, teeth, and words. Artemis, how did we find order

after this? The house empty and cold, where it used to be whole. The back door loose on its hinges, weeds surrounding the woods of our childhood in shades of aqua and green. We left in order to piece together a house too broken, too old, fooling us the whole of our lives. But, did we actually leave behind the beloved woods?

SERENDIPITY by Angeliki Ampelogianni On a Thursday morning twisting in fresh white linen Sleep balancing A promise Thin rays of yellow between the shutters A glass of water half full and a pile of clothes on the floor waiting The loneliness leaving marks under my eyes in a magenta blue If only a word was enough to birth light Some softness on my skin and the promise of a quiet day for me to grow On a morning like that the promise of you and your arrival

DEFIANT BOW by Edward Michael Supranowicz

This is a digital painting done on GIMP. GIMP is free; Photoshop is not. The work was done in 2020 and is 8.5h x 14w, though size is variable. Basically I like to use bold colors for their emotional richness and immediacy.

NEON PLASTIC BRACELETS by Brianna Boyse “I cannot bear weight, but I can write.” A smile pours into the lines of Darlene’s face like fresh tar into cracked cement. She propels her wheelchair to the drawer beside her hospital bed and retrieves a pile of crinkled papers. “I’ve no real place to write them though. I’ve been using the back of the menu that comes with each meal, piecing my ideas together from breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” I run to bring her notebooks. “When I lie waiting for the nursing staff to get me out of bed, I plan the stories in my head. Lately, it’s a murder mystery set in a hospital. I haven’t sorted out the characters yet,” Darlene’s train of thought trails off as she thumbs through the fresh pages. I leave as the physiotherapist works to get Darlene walking on her fractured leg. *** Sometimes, leading bingo feels like a sermon, the fluorescent bleach-soaked dining room the chapel. My prize bin carries only dollar-store toiletries and cheap plastic baubles, but the patients grip them with urgency and protectiveness, no different than sacred relics unearthed. Perhaps more valuable than the flimsy combs and travel-sized tissues are the quiet, anticipatory moments before my next call–the moments brimming with a tangible yearning for what has yet to come. In this way, I am a preacher. “O66!” Chips clatter together: our holy choir. “B4!” Eyes close and hands clutch together, hanging onto my next call: a collective prayer. “Bingo!” One prayer is answered. Darlene carefully selects two neon plastic bracelets from the prize bin, tucking her own hospital I.D. band beneath the sleeve of her gown. There was a sense of lost dignity in wearing your name and birthdate on your wrist: a morbid little accessory, a reminder of our maimed flesh and bone.

“I’ve decided to give my spoils to Susie,” Darlene announces to the group. Susie, a tearful centenarian, will tell anyone who’ll listen how hard it is to outlive everyone you love. She tells me that her husband was a labourer, but he always worked slowly. This, she explains, is why he has yet to finish building her stairway to Heaven. The neon plastic-orange stars of Susie’s new bracelets seem to carry more weight than I know. *** At our next visit, Darlene opens her notebook. “I’m working on a new story.” She flips feverishly through her pages. “The bracelets, you know, they make Susie feel quite special.” Darlene winces from a forceful cough. I pretend not to notice. “Imagine a world where Susie is transformed into a superhero. Her powers come through her neon plastic bracelets. She can fly; she can shoot lasers! I can just see her soaring through undiscovered galaxies. I have yet to work out the exact setting. All I know is that she is far away from here.” Darlene, visibly fatigued, retires to her bed. As I’m leaving, I pass Susie’s room down the hall. She is half asleep, softly weeping. The bracelets, full of latent superpowers, hang limply on her wrists. *** Darlene is coughing more now; she is moved to isolation. From the doorway, she tells me, “I always get sick this time of year. This is nothing.” I urge her to write more of her story when she feels better. “Think of this as just a plot twist in your own story,” I offer as a platitude to hide my growing unease. Fevered and weak, Darlene falls asleep. Within days, her chapter ends abruptly. Before I can save her crinkled menus, her notebooks, her musings, everything is sanitized, erased. No whisper of Darlene remains in the now sterile hospital room. I cannot bear weight. ***

On behalf of Darlene, I need you to know that there once was a 100-year-old superhero named Susie who wore neon plastic bracelets that gave her the ability to fly. I would like to think that Darlene loved the supernatural world she was creating so dearly, a world where superheroes were no longer muscular, able-bodied men, but rather Centenarian matriarchs with atrophied muscles and mobility aides and failing memory. Indeed, this world made the Earthly one far too mundane, and as such, she decided it was best to leave this one behind. I have yet to work out the ending. *** In a flash of light, Susie soared above the comfortless hospital with her bracelets glowing neon. She had returned for an important mission of course, to rescue all her ill and forgotten hospital mates. Susie led the convoy of walkers and wheelchairs onto an ambulance-turned-spaceship so they could raise their weathered hands to trace the sky. “Orders, captain?” Susie shouted towards the front of the ship. Sitting there, like a familiar friend or a warm cup of tea, would be Darlene herself in the captain’s seat, offering a smile to her frail passengers. “Imagine your very favourite place,” yelled the captain. “That is where we will go!” Engines roar to life, bearing the weight of a thousand stories. “O78!” I would call, as in-flight entertainment was unquestionably a game of Bingo. And at that, everyone would go home.

帶⾛你的垃圾 TAKE OUT YOUR TRASH by MICHAEL CHANG After this year, as assured as ONJ is Australian, I’ll never look at certain words the same way again: “Q” . . . “Corona” . . . “Blake” . . . I avert my gaze in the face of uncommon beauty Simon says love me just a little while Sometimes I want you next to me, but not in a sexual way You’re the church with the most loyal followers so fiendishly devoted God takes a drag asks how’d you manage that? I tape a photo of Anna Wintour to my fridge so I eat less I want your shiny armor . . . your thigh gap your made-for-TV backstory . . . 8/7 Central You suck eggs & sketch nudes been alone so long your heart has bedsores Fill me up like FAFSA, bear me much fruit Gimme a tongue bath & thank me for it Apart from me you do nothing R u sure No ur straight Really I love it when you don’t make sense The last time I had arugula on a pizza you were still alive

男友视⾓ BOYFRIEND PERSPECTIVE by MICHAEL CHANG my arse poetica: challenging arse conventions ur a honey trap i spot a mile away u say i can’t tell if u’re actually trying to hurt my feelings u know i have a ⼑⼦嘴 • ⾖腐⼼ i am 好傻好天真 ur a weeklong bacchanal i am nervous twirling by myself: breakfast for dinner drink juice at nite u write the textbook on flirtation utilize premium seduction ur a work of art say u will hurt me i am immune to ur charms a pebble in ur shu u say u need space like a tree just make like a tree & leave u say i give it good better than the one in the ground ur exes don’t measure up say bye to her say hi to our future say yes cuz i never been wit an ugly dude i bet ur average size is stiff glow up since high school, i’ll give u that ur face shine like dawn remind me 刻板印象 the kind of boy who went to marist & did okay ur fish eyes not pearls let ur hunger set u free sometimes it’s freeing to love someone take off ur life jacket & plunge

COCKTAIL AND A STUN GUN By Nancy K. Dobson Stephanie would be more excited about buying a stun gun if it hadn’t been Rob’s idea. She read the Amazon reviews half-heartedly. It was between the Vipertek and the Sabre. Rob remained stoic about her decision to move out but predictably became animated about the dangers of her actually living alone. Stephanie bristled at the memory of him threatening to buy a stun gun for her. Typical. Their marriage might be over, but her husband was slow to relinquish his control over her life. She had sat outside on her porch to enjoy the sunset. It felt strange to be back in her hometown. Even if the house she shared with Rob for two decades was only thirty minutes south. The town hadn’t changed much in her absence. In the distance, she could barely glimpse the edge of the river bluffs where she’d partied as a teenager. Those were the days: no worry except making it home in time for curfew. She sipped her gin and tonic as she scrolled through the guns’ specifications. She liked the Vipertek VTS-99. It sounded dangerous, and it was pink. A silly detail, but she’d always been swayed by appearances. The description of the Sabre Compact 1.6 won her heart though, with its promise of emitting “1.6 powerful pain-inducing microcoulombs.” Stephanie had no idea what a microcoulomb was, but it said such a charge inflicted “intolerable pain.” If it was enough to immobilize a would-be intruder, then this was the weapon for her. She clicked through to buy it when a flash of the setting sun caught her eye. She looked up from her folding camp chair and took another drink. Every few minutes, the horizon had been a shifting scene of purple, orange,

and blush, as if the sky was the backdrop for a play. Her phone buzzed. She picked it up and was instantly annoyed at Rob’s text. Did you buy it yet? Stephanie frowned. What was he, her father? Six months, she told herself, and then she could change her name back to Miller. But the message nagged at her. They had two teenage daughters, a mortgage, and a million details to sort out. She would never be free of Rob. But maybe he would relax his hold over time. Like the sun, as it slid down over the skyline. It might be powerful, but it couldn’t reign over the Earth twenty-four hours a day. It had to give up eventually. She thumbed her reply, Yep. Delivery Thursday. She almost hit send then reconsidered. She knew Rob. He would want to know how she planned to protect herself until then. Still got my bat, she added, then she hit send. It was a lame argument, but at least it would put her one step ahead of Rob. She hadn’t bought the stun gun yet but would complete the transaction after she’d enjoyed her evening. She shifted in her camp chair and added patio furniture to her mental shopping list. Maybe a cute little bistro table and two chairs. The porch of this 1920’s remodeled bungalow was small, but inviting, edged by planter boxes with yellow and purple perennials. Rob had scoffed when she told him she was moving into an older home. At least he was agreeable about splitting up their possessions, but Stephanie had taken little; only her desk and her grandmother’s armoire. She wanted a fresh start in every way.

Another buzz. Good. Let me know when it arrives. I’ll show you how to use it. Dear God. The man never stopped. She rolled her eyes and thought about how satisfying it would be to try the stun gun on him. More than anything she wanted to call him and rail, bitch at him so he would leave her alone. But that would be playing the old Stephanie, the one Rob thought he could manipulate. She fired off a simple, Thanks, and put down her phone. She relished the idea of turning it off, or at least silencing it, but hated the thought that the kids couldn’t reach her. Having her own time was delicious, but she felt guilty about the girls. They would now be away from her fifty percent of the time. Half their lives spent elsewhere. Stephanie had broken up their family, as Rob liked to remind her. The least she could do was keep her phone handy. The air around her darkened as dusk settled. She would have to go in soon. It was a quiet street and her neighbors all seemed nice. At least the few she’d seen. No sex offenders lived on this block, even though it was close to downtown. She knew because Rob had checked. Not that she had asked him to. Did he think she would move into an unsafe neighborhood when the kids would be spending every other week here? She had to admit, though, that the street looked different at night. Murkier. It reminded her of being at the lake. During the day, the water glistened, but at night, unless the moon was full, just stretched into a flat, black emptiness. Five minutes more, she decided, then she would go in, as if this was a compromise in an imagined negotiation with Rob. When would she get to make her own decisions? Another thought nagged at her. When would she trust herself to make them?

Movement at the corner gas station caught her eye. Cedar’s nearest cross street was Alpine Boulevard, and though her place was only three houses up from the busy thoroughfare, it felt quiet to her, secluded enough to be private. The gas station was a constant hub of activity, and Stephanie had seen a few transients cruise by to reach it. A block south of the gas station was the river, a popular destination for vagrants this time of year, or the “bums” as Rob called them. Two blocks north of Cedar was a large park, which had seen more than a few tents pitched in the last few months. The proximity of these places made her new street a “superhighway for the homeless,” as Rob put it. This had been his main gripe about her signing the lease, and Stephanie knew it rankled him that he couldn’t stop her from living where she chose to. There may have been people walking by at all hours of the day, and night for all she knew, but none of them had ever seemed menacing. If anything, she felt sorry for them. She had just finished teaching her freshmen Of Mice and Men and she couldn’t help but think of the transients she saw as modern-day versions of George and Lennie, average guys down on their luck. Back in college, she and Rob had both loved Steinbeck, but it had been a long time since she had seen him pick up a book. She looked at these guys and saw characters who had good hearts but were rough around the edges; all Rob saw was rough. Tires squealing into the gas station, followed by a loud honk, startled her. Her body jerked in reflex. She wondered if an altercation was brewing, but it was just a kid who saw someone he knew. Stephanie could hear their voices, but the words blurred out. Evening was also smudging out the rich hues she’d enjoyed a few minutes ago, as if someone had dumped black paint over the tableau. Soon it would be dark. She picked up her empty glass when a figure on the other side of

the street caught her attention. She watched him for a moment. Another one of Rob’s bums. Probably headed to the river, or maybe the brightly lit mini mart. Her eyes narrowed as she watched his gait. There was something familiar about him. The man crossed over to her side of the street as if he was coming right for her. At first Stephanie smiled blandly, but inside, her belly clenched. She didn’t sense outright danger, but all she needed was to be spooked on her first night in this old bungalow alone, without the girls. Even if Rob never knew, it would still feel like he had won somehow. Stephanie brushed off the irritating thoughts. She was letting her mind get carried away. This guy was just ambling down the sidewalk. Walking in front of her house was no crime. There was no need to overreact. Then he stopped dead and looked at her. She thought of her softball bat under her bed. But that was in the back of the house. She wondered how fast she could run a hundred feet. Though half his face was obscured, there was no mistaking the voice. “Stephanie Miller?” It was an echo from another time, one she hadn’t thought about it in years. Her mind flashed back to high school—to a confident, good-looking blond boy with a wide smile. A typical skater kid who ditched class as often as he showed. He ran with a tough crowd, but plenty of nice girls had crushed on this guy. Girls like Stephanie. Stephanie heard her voice jump an octave or two. “Dale? Dale Harris, is that you?” She chided herself. Why should she be on edge? Dale was someone she knew.

As he edged into the light, she noticed time had not been kind to him. His face was weathered and weary, his hands gnarled, his gait hampered by a limp, and he dragged his left foot behind him. But he possessed a manic energy, a giddiness in the way he lifted his shoulders and moved his hands, and then she saw the old Dale again, the one who had made all the girls turn into flirty puddles of giggles. “Still here,” he announced, as if he was stepping onto a stage, with only Stephanie on her porch as his grand audience. He stretched his arms out wide, as if ready to embrace the thunderous applause she might give him. Stephanie laughed out loud, though a voice in the back of her head echoed a warning, stopping her from completely giving in to nostalgia. Dale was an old friend, but she hadn’t seen him in a long time. From the looks of him, he had lived a hard life. Drugs? Alcohol? Then Stephanie remembered her own glass beside her. She had to admit the cocktails went down pretty easy these days. “How ya been?” Dale asked, coming within five feet of her porch, but he stopped at the sidewalk, as if he would wait for her to invite him to come any closer. He put his hands on his hips and nodded, though Stephanie hadn’t replied yet. “Just moved home,” she said. “Oh yeah? From where?” “Oakdale.” “Ah, got an ex there. Didn’t know you lived down there.”

He twitched nervously and reached in his jacket pocket to retrieve a lighter and a cigarette from a dingy pack. Stephanie watched as he took the first puff and blew out. His movements were automatic, quick and oblivious. When they were kids, they had all tried smoking, she remembered. She was glad her own time as a smoker had been a passing, adolescent phase. She hated the smell of cigarette smoke now. Dale hit the side of his head with his palm and reached for his pocket again. “Where are my manners? You want one?” “Oh no,” she said and gave a small chuckle. She held up her glass and clinked it with her nail. “Got my own poison.” Now it was Dale’s turn to laugh. “Yeah, I had to give that up. Got into bad trouble with the bottle.” He took another drag and looked down the street as if the demons from his past were waiting in the shadows for him to trip up so they could pounce. “I’m sorry to hear that,” Stephanie said. “Nah, not your fault. It’s life, right? What about you? What are you up to?” “Well,” she said, “I’m a teacher. First in Oakdale, but I just got hired at Findlay to teach ninth grade English.” “Get out of here,” Dale said. He threw his head back, laughed, and pointed the cigarette at her. “Those boys are gonna crush on you.” He began singing “Hot for Teacher.”

“No, no,” she said. The topic made her uncomfortable. She didn’t want Dale’s thoughts to go in that direction. “I’m old enough to be their mother.” Dale shrugged. “Never stopped me.” Now she was curious. “You liked one of our teachers?” “Hell yeah,” he said, “Miss Dammers.” Stephanie’s mind flashed back to a young blonde woman with trim legs and beaming smile, the Spanish teacher. “I took French.” “Shit,” Dale said. “We gave her such a hard time, me and Jim and the boys, but we sure had the hots for her. Man, her ass was amazing.” Stephanie winced. As much at the thought of this version of Dale admiring any young woman’s rear end, as well as the horror of any of her students noticing her own. She decided to change the subject. “What ever happened to Jim?” “Don’t know. He moved to Reno about ten, fifteen years ago.” Dale scratched his head, while holding the dwindling cigarette. “Lost touch. He’s got a kid around here though, Brian. Looks just like Jim. I see him now and then.” Dale hummed and swayed side to side in the street. His shabby clothes caught Stephanie’s eyes. The back of one shoe was missing so that he wore it like a slipper. It slid on the street as he moved, and he nearly stepped out of it. How long had it been since he had new shoes or done

laundry? And then, a realization came to her. Dale lived on the streets. Or maybe he stayed at the mission, but he was one of Rob’s bums who strolled up and down her sidewalk at night. Stephanie wondered what happened to the other boys in Dale and Jim’s crowd. Alan was one. And she thought there was a Bobby, a gangly kid who always looked pissed off. The names were hazy, but she could picture them with stunning clarity, the bad boys. Way back then they had all seemed so cool and dangerous. Most of the girls wanted to kiss at least one of them. Or go farther. She remembered the challenge her friends, Cindy, and Barbara, had going sophomore year —who could collect the most hickies from the bad boys, as if they were stamps in a passport. The girls would sit around on the steps after school and gossip while the boys skateboarded in the parking lot and showed off their kickflips and ollies. She remembered Dale as being the skater to watch. Now she saw Dale and his friends for what they really were. She’d had students like them. Scruffy children with raging hormones and bad home lives, who hated school and clung to each other for survival. But they were still kids, behind the bravado and smoke, and when the smoke blew away, there was no toughness at all. “What about the other guys?” she asked, though if their fates had been anything like Dale’s, she didn’t want to know. “They’re still around. Alan’s got his own body shop. I worked for him awhile, but you know. Things change.” He threw his cigarette butt on the ground and stamped it out with the slipper shoe.

Stephanie didn’t ask what happened, but she could guess. Dale had probably burned that bridge. No doubt he had torched them all. He looked at her sheepishly as if he knew that she knew. “Well, it’s nice seeing you Stephanie. You look real good. Man, was I dumb.” “Why, why’s that?” Her voice pitched up again, as if she had sucked on helium. “Ah, you know. Shoulda seen you were the cutest girl at Findlay.” Stephanie’s stomach tightened. She thought of Rob. If he were here, he would dismiss Dale immediately. He would protect her. Make it clear she belonged to him. She felt scared of her old friend’s admission, then disgusted by it, which made her miss Rob, or at least his presence, miss the safety of a man, who by default would always be there for her. At least until their divorce became final. She hated herself for wishing he was here now. Silence filled the street. Dale coughed again, then let out a slow exhale. “Well, I gotta see a friend downtown.” His voice had a gravelly rumble to it, as if he needed to clear his throat. He grinned and it pained her to see gaps where he was missing teeth. She shifted in her chair and realized her feet were bare. The thought spooked her. She had never been able to run bare foot. It unnerved her to realize she was afraid of him, that if he came closer, she would bolt. “It’s good to see you, Dale,” she said. She meant it, but her voice sounded false, bright and artificial, like plastic flowers. “Take care of yourself.” She hoped the tone in her words sounded dismissive and final.

“Hey, I try. Still kickin’, right?” He threw his arms out again, and she could see, even in the dim light, how his hands were dirty and calloused, the edge of one palm rubbed raw as if he’d drug it over the pavement. Dale had never been tall, and he was slight. Downtown was not a safe place at night, at least according to the local news. She hoped he wasn’t a target but feared he had already suffered more than she would ever know, more than cautious chatter between old friends would reveal. He gave her a wave. “Take care, Steph. See ya around.” He smiled again but then he strode across the street before she could reply. She felt equal parts relief and rejection. Right back to “Steph,” with her braces, who wanted a blond, bold kid to notice her, to single her out and think she was special. An old pain nagged at her, even as her body relaxed. It was the familiar sensation of missing out somehow, not getting what she thought she wanted. The glass still clutched in her hand, Stephanie darted inside the door and latched the dead bolt. She drew the curtains but left the porch light on. She leaned against the door and pulled up Amazon on her phone. The stun gun sat in her cart waiting for her to complete the purchase. She pushed the button and heard the email notification ping her phone. Two days from now she could sit outside again. The thought of Dale returning flashed in her mind like a warning sign. Would he want to talk more? Expect her to invite him onto the porch? Into her life? Would he think there was a chance of reigniting an old spark?

Her stomach turned and she berated herself for looking down on Dale, for doing exactly what Rob would want her to do. There was no need to shop for a patio set; she would never sit on the front porch again, stun gun or not.


Variant Literature, 2021. 28 Pages. $8.00

British writer Alice Wickenden tries to make meaning of trauma in To Fall Fable, a chapbook. In a narrative engaged with the survival of sexual abuse, her speakers are all at once subdued, furious, and cautious, bouncing from densely-populated prose poems to couplets concerned with the silence of the page’s white space. Three poems are posed as parables that explore the Biblical character of Eve, beginning as a mere rib, and becoming a woman who kisses and uses the wings of birds as handkerchiefs. Wickenden writes: “They knew themselves to be of marrow and potential life. They supported Adam’s heart. They laughed a lot. When God told her what a wife was for, Eve said: but we already do all that.” Her prose poems are rife with allegory, but throughout she does not shy away from sexual or feminist themes. In “Before Paradise —”, the speaker “takes communion” with a friend in a tense tangle under a tree after a Scout meeting. And in the final piece “Crown of Sonnets”, which both recalls and cognizes a history of sexual abuse, the tangibility of language is postured as a lesson: “...the cavernous relationship, pulling everything in, tugging at your sense of gravity. the way that, finally, he taught you that friend and rapist can be synonymous the way that language folds in on itself. everything collapses.”

HAD TO BE EGG by Jason Fox I burnt your egg, how long ago was it now? I burnt your egg and you started trying to describe the look on my face as it black crizzle-ashed in the pan. Egg burn aroma clung to our clothes for hours, but it’s gone now. “Your face, it’s a shrugging field! No, that’s not it.” That was your first attempt.

“The begonia bush is dead! That’s how I know it’s been longer than a day,” I say. “Look, you have a beard, the time is really flying by.”

Had I not sat on this stool after shoveling your burnt egg remnant into the trash, I might be more inclined to go on like this forever, as you seem so intent on doing. But this stool, my back, it’s been ages. And you insist I sit still while you think about what my face looks like.

“That blue bird from Sesame street. Max the macaw? That’s your face in the aftermath of egg. Or...”


“No, that’s not it.”

Why won’t you let it rest? Let me rest, at least. My balance has cracked and is falling out my ears, pulling me to the floor. “No, face me, sit up,” you demand. I’m beginning to blend and fade,

darker near the top. After you craft a thousand spoken images of my face I can’t help but become some of them. A bit of all of them.

“Your face is a riverbed, and the egg is water undulating above.”

“Your face is a collage made of clippings from a discarded 19th century book on Greek mythology.”

“You’re a sun-drenched room. Is that it? Ugh, the egg obscures memory,” you say. I’m beginning to glean patience from your distress.

I spend a few minutes or a decade remembering that episode of Futurama where Fry’s dog waits for him to return from the future. He never returns because he can’t travel backwards in time.

We’ve spent so long in this sun-drenched egg of a room that I wonder if it’s too late to lure our own dogs toward memory.

“Use your imagination more,” I say for maybe the thousandth time. Your descriptions of my face have gone stale. The whole situation is stale. I’m fused to this stool. Your eyes have atrophied in my direction. “Use my imagination,” you intone.

There were three hundred times this year that the light came through the window in just such a way that you could see it with your non-wandering eyes. Happy new year to us. Each time, you try again. “You are the light... You are light slanting in through the window… You are an egg

yellow rectangle spilling onto the floor… Your face is a thousand motes of dust illuminated by the light slanting…”

How many ways can you describe me as light slanting through a window? Light does more than slant. Light ebbs, light waves, washes, rinses, and pools.

“Why couldn’t you have just put on a coat,” I say. “We’d have gone to brunch down the road. I wasn’t even hungry and cooking eggs, man, I hate yellow.”

“Your face is a letdown.” We laugh forever.

A BRIEF FIXATION WITH CHARLES BUKOWSKI by Camille E. Colpitts San Francisco made me more of a poet. I imagine Los Angeles had done the same for the writer, Charles Bukowski, may his soul rest in everlasting peace. Isn’t a man whose tombstone states, “Don’t try” destined for a certain sort of peace in the afterlife? If I were drunker, more womanizing, I too could be famous. Bukowski and his white-dude-misfit allure meant he could have his own translation of joie de vivre. Of course, Bukowski was not at all a happy man. What an asshole. Why must I angst in the shadows of such excellent mediocrity?! It is no doubt because I am surrounded by queens, Lorde, Morrison, Alvarez, Harjo: why bother saying anything? I am surrounded by words graced by contemporary literary angels, Whitehead, Vuong, Machado, and Orange. But Bukowski was German so I understand him too. I tell myself things like this. Bukowski didn’t makeup things, apparently. I think about how sarcasm is difficult to portray in writing. Bukowski was bullied and I think, Yeah, I get that. I think we are closer because our parents hated us. I’d walk just off the side streets of Broadway in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood and venture further from the strip joints but not quite into Chinatown to find a quiet corner with dim sum. Somewhere between the lost coasts is where Bukowski and I both found ourselves. Bukowski was unsuccessful too until he wasn’t. I work on an assembly line. The repetitive click-clacking an assembly line makes is a familiar beat. One could say it rings inspirational until the thousandth time and noise is just noise. Rarity makes poetics. Bukowski’s insides were bleeding at 35 and I know this must be it. Like my own bleeding and cancerous ovary was communing with the spirits of organ failure pasts. Bukowski could be bae. But, it was this problem of bloody cancer that trampled his last breath. Cancer doesn’t give a shit about you. Cancer does what cancer does best given the circumstances you know. Cancer takes cells and does a cellular thing too well. Bukowski said a lot of things about not trying to write. Fun Fact: you don’t have to try to get cancer.

Bukowski was 73 when he died. A psychic tells me I won’t die any younger than 76. He was born in Andernach, Germany and I grew up nearby in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. He liked to go to the race track and bet on horses. I play bingo. I like pretending numbers are important. Our bodies probably were similarly populated with carcinogens. A lot was intrusive about this past year. In 2020, I found my head burning in the beginning months, another bout of the ol’ depression. The cruel culprit. I lay awake thinking of better writers, wanting to drown the idea in whiskey. The idea that I know enough to write every day--a constant hangover. I cancel Bukowski at the first sign of snow in Minnesota. I need a blister of heat and the sound of my birthplace to get me through. Beyoncé, the Texan royalty, replaces Bukowski on my YouTube “watched videos” shortcuts. There’s Bukowski but then there is Beyoncé. And I don’t even have to try to figure out the anti-inflammatory benefits of Lemonade. I put down Bukowski, laying a volume of his letters to rest. I open my keyboard to begin typing. Beyoncé in the background, praying me to continue on.

[Source] Bukowski, Charles. On Writing, Edited by Abel Debritto, Ecco, 2015. FLASH REVIEW: “BLACK WICK: SELECTED ELEGIES” BY SHARON KENNEDY-NOELLE by JC Reilly

Variant Literature, March 2021 (Forthcoming)

Sharon Kennedy-Nolle’s chapbook Black Wick: Selected Elegies is a heart-wrenching collection of poems that focuses on the drowning suicide of her son. But it also reflects on the ways in which aspects of his life seem to lead inevitably to this path, in the way hindsight illuminates clues we overlook during lived experience. The poems are spare, raw, aching with longing and loss. From them emerge two portraits: one, of a young man struggling with substance abuse and self-harm, who eventually embraces death as the ultimate act of love for self; and another, that of a mother who cannot fathom the loss and turns to poetry as her ultimate act of love for her son. Nearly all the poems are written as direct address, the speaker in one-sided conversation. The “you” is both the absent son, Patrick, and simultaneously the reader co-opted into the drama. Patrick, we discover, is deeply troubled throughout these pages, preoccupied with the possibility of amusement park injury in “Another Little Bastard;” chameleon-like and unknowable in “Case of Mistaken Identity;” and “drunk/on what you dreamed was easeful death” like Keats in “What to Ask of the Woods.” In “Slivers” we find out that he is returned “Home from rehab for just three hours” when he is already “slurring enough to let me know/something else is amiss”—So amiss, in fact, that the “you” attempts “to hang yourself” from the chandelier in front of the entire family at the “homecoming dinner.” In “Christmas Plantings,” the speaker’s “small talk” includes “wrapping up raw lies to hide” her son’s presence in the sanitarium. But her true concern is that unlike a Christmas amaryllis, which can regrow, she “[doesn’t] know how to re-root you.” It is this distance between them makes her “sink an inch deeper to a grave,/yours or mine/…I no longer know the difference.” As if the pain in those poems is not horrific enough, Kennedy-Nolle gives the reader no quarter elsewhere either. In “Missing Person,” she recounts her son’s disappearance as a list of

cold, unadorned facts, beginning with his missing person police case number, and including such details as a balance on a debit card, the “Negative results” from a “Blood hound search” and a description of his face as “fish-nibbled.” In “Safekeeping” all that remains of him is “a lock/of your hair the coroner cut. Later, “Inventory” coldly lists items found with the body, every-day objects anyone might carry: an iPod, a wallet, train tickets, a pen that “still writes,” and “twelve lousy dollars,” as if in the listing of the contents, something significant may be revealed. But what becomes apparent the longer the poem progresses is how little such ephemera illuminate a life. What is left behind is essentially meaningless—a theme that she continues in “Spillage,” easily one of the most powerful poems in the collection, where what is left behind are images of the body on the coroner’s table eerily compared to “canned cranberries wobbling on a serving plate” or “sushi rolled before the blade/ as they took you apart.” Yet, after all, “What I conceived and tendered”— a life, a son—she writes, is “slopped down the pitched floor drain”—meaningless bodily waste. Though the collection is excruciating in its relentlessly dark subject matter and trauma, the poems themselves are accessible and full of rich imagery, revealing Kennedy-Nolle’s exceptional poetic talent. This is a poet who knows her craft, who scaffolds the work intentionally, developing a narrative energy in poem after excellent poem, with nothing superfluous or out-of-place. Three standout poems appear back-to-back towards the end of the book, and include the titular “Black Wick,” a poem about attending a religious service for dead children where the speaker has to “keep running/outside” (presumably to take a break from the mourning), “Spring Break,” about the suicide of a teenaged next door neighbor, where the speaker sees the outpouring of love and the “parade of cars and casseroles” and asks “Am I bitter that our oddball family had no such thing/ when our son had done the same?”, and most especially “Glimpse,” about the speaker’s need to put food out “for the possum, raccoon, or whatever hungry/ cuts through the yard because I can’t stand waste/ and I have to save something.” An additional poem of note is “Poor Visibility,” focusing on the parents’ vigil on the death’s “approaching first anniversary,” whose second stanza is unforgiving in its barrage of questions to the “you”—questions the living left behind will never find answers to. In the end, Sharon Kennedy-Nolle’s Black Wick is not an easy book to read (elegies never are), but it is satisfying. Perhaps, because her work is loving without being saccharine, and her portrayal of Patrick is matter-of-fact rather than overly embellished and devoid of flaws, the honesty of this collection is what makes it so striking and compelling throughout. We feel real empathy, and that empathy is earned. Kennedy-Nolle allows us to view and experience her private hell—and oh, is this loss hellish, like any suicide—but the poetry is so good, we just don’t mind the despair.

Note: *This will not be available until mid-March 2021. So be sure look out for this forthcoming masterpiece closer to the earliest of Spring.


In December 2016, I started a tradition of reading a book about death at the end of each year. My grandmother passed away that October after a long decade of living with dementia. I had not initially remembered her death in connection to the beginning of this reading habit, but it came back to me when I stumbled upon an email for the obituary my uncle sent and looked back at my Goodreads history: one a manner of accounting for those we lost, and the other a manner of accounting for how I grieved. That year, I read Oliver Sacks’s Gratitude, followed in subsequent years by Cory Taylor’s Dying: A Memoir, Regina McBride’s Ghost Songs, and, in 2019, Marie Howe’s What the Living Do. I intended to finish 2019 with Marion Winik’s The Big Book of the Dead, which brings together her previous works—The Glen Rock Book of the Dead and The Baltimore Book of the Dead—into one large volume, now chronologically and geographically organized. Each entry is a tribute, all approximately 400 words, to someone in her life who died, including neighbors, friends, and figures in pop culture, among others. Not quite obituary, and not quite eulogy, Winik honors the complexity of the lives she uplifts by raising each cause of death as a question her memory might relieve, if only partially. At 288 pages, The Big Book of the Dead’s short pieces demanded not that I consume them in the last days of 2019 to complete a checkbox, but to really sit with each person whom Winik memorializes. I substituted Howe’s poems, but vowed to finish Winik’s collection, however long it took. Ultimately, the first months of 2020 were apt for Winik’s timely, subtle lessons on grief. In those months, the death toll amassed from the novel coronavirus reached 350,000 worldwide, and 100,000 in the U.S. alone. By the time this writing sees the light of day, these numbers seem comparably—and inexpressibly—small. On May 24, just days after I finished The Big Book of the Dead, the New York Times covered their front page with the names of 1,000 people who have died, accompanied by a short note about each. The subheading reads: “They were not simply names on a list. They were us.” Now, they would need far more than a front page to account for for the nearly two million of “us” gone worldwide. The issue, of course, is that it is hard to make the living see ourselves in communion—as a “we”—with the dead. When the pandemic took hold, many readers scrambled for a book that could explain this moment. In 2016, around the election of Donald Trump, I joined masses of people in reading Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here for the first time. I did not so much see it as a prediction— as some did—but rather a sign that fascism is capable of repeating itself throughout history. Now, Albert Camus’ The Plague started making the rounds as an eerie prophecy of the current dread. I ordered my copy and read it quickly, underlining line after line of chillingly relevant detail. What stuck with me the most, then and now, is a particular passage about how to make people absorb the severity of the situation.

Just after the mysterious disease that starts spreading between people is named a “plague,” the novel’s protagonist, Dr. Rieux, considers how his community does not seem to grasp the serious nature of the epidemic. Believing it will pass quickly is foolish, but not wicked, because acknowledging a plague “rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.” Even with a few deaths, Dr. Rieux notes, “the dangers still seemed fantastically unreal.” Given a choice between hopelessness and ignorance, people will choose the one that gives them bliss—at least for a time. Dr. Rieux mourns the people who will be lost because of this ignorance, and he tries to imagine a way to help them become clear-eyed and responsible. As with daily news of COVID-19 cases and death tolls, Dr. Rieux understands that “a dead man has no substance unless one has actually seen him dead,” so “a hundred million corpses broadcast throughout histoyr are no more than a puff of smoke in the imagination.” People will not understand death in words, but must see it for themselves, and perhaps, Dr. Rieux considers, that is just what they need: “Yes, that was how it should be done. You should collect the people at the exits of five picturehouses, you should lead them to a city square and make them die in heaps if you wanted to get a clear notion of what it means. Then at least you could add some familiar faces to the anonymous mass.” He entertains this morbid fantasy for a moment before trying to make himself come back to the “facts” of the situation. Of course, as Dr. Riex and all of us have come to learn, the reality soon resembles his imagined scenario, not exactly dying “in heaps” but in seemingly unstoppable droves. Months after I finished The Plague, the worst continues to come to pass, and the rising numbers do not reverse people’s behaviors, nor do they make the government take action to lessen the lives lost to the “anonymous mass.” In a country that has never encouraged public grieving, we need new models to learn how to mourn. In one of three introductions to The Big Book of the Dead, Winik writes, “our lives are so full of dead people that any sane way of living involves constant remembrance.” As many rightfully angry people—myself included—have criticized our national and local governments for treating these lives as “the cost of doing business,” we have yet to find a way to properly mourn the incalculability of the loss (to paraphrase the Times headline), the constant barrage of statistics that have names and stories apart from their grouping. Will they have a monument like the victims of the 9/11 attacks? Will I know someone on the list? The answer to the latter, then, was no, but now, of course, inevitably, is yes. As our entire way of life has shifted to social distancing, working from home, and job uncertainty, we understandably want to turn from more bad news. But death, Winik reminds us, “is the subtext of life—there is no way around it. It is the foundation of life’s meaning and value.”

Published in 2019, Winik’s book did not yet exist in our present reality, but it nonetheless probes death at personal and communal levels to bring some relief to its “senseless sense.” After an accidental overdose claimed two lives, Winik asks, “How do you say stop, enough?” She relents, “Right. You can’t.” In “The Graduate,” a one-time friend of her son dies on the night of his high school graduation in a drunk-driving accident. A week later, at her son’s own graduation, Winik is stunned: “I don’t know how the hell we go on, knowing what we know.” In both vignettes, the infinitely cruel causes of death all share a characteristic of shocking disinterest in meaning. Still, Winik’s sharp wit and keen sense of humanity do not allow death the final word in every essayette. In contrast to world-stopping deaths, she considers afterlives, like in “The Mother of Four,” where she attends a wedding for one of the four children eight years after their mother has passed: “Never have I seen more clearly how my world will go on without me.” In “The Grandmother-General,” Winik learns that the neighbor she only talked to about books had an entire life she never knew about: cross-country hitchhiking, reporting in Connecticut, running a printing press, working at Hopkins. “Now I picture myself,” Winik muses, “blathering on about Jeffrey Eugenides or Ann Patchett, thinking I’m the one with something interesting to say.” In these moments, Winik suggests that the act of grieving—beyond empty platitudes often repeated —can be a powerful means of remembrance. Last spring, as the coronavirus claimed the majority of the news cycle, word slowly spread about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery—who was jogging near his neighborhood—by two white men in Georgia this February. After I finished Winik’s book, news of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders at the hands of police gave rise to another summer of protests over the nonstop abuse of power. We were reminded once again that white supremacy continues to end lives, that a global pandemic does not stop other ills from their own methods of tragic devastation. Likewise, in “The Innocents,” Winik describes a two-page People magazine spread that covers mass shootings, sandwiched between celebrity gossip. Mournfully, she remarks, “I don’t blame People magazine for this. It is the news, it is what happens, right in the middle of everything.” Yet, Winik despairs, “This is too much to ask of us.” Amen, I thought, her lament ringing out of every corner of my social media feeds. It is all too much. In the summer, I read Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, her memoir about losing five men— including her brother—within a span of four years. “That’s a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness,” she observes, “and it’s a list that silences people.” Writing against that silence, Ward illuminates how racism and poverty in her Mississippi community linked their deaths in ways that many Americans (read: white) are not willing to see the connections between. “We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us,” she writes, “not with the world that made this mess.” As with the numerous and similarly relentless extrajudicial killings by police, Ward shows that death may be insensible, but in many cases it is not inexplicable, as white supremacy provides the logic behind so much of the death we see on our feeds. This year, Ward lost her husband to the

coronavirus, noting again the links between senseless death and systems of power in her poignant Vanity Fair article. In a low-starred Goodreads rating for one of the single collections of Winik’s vignettes, a reader remarks that while the book can be read in one sitting, all of the pieces start to “blur together,” the stories losing their individual character. If I had insisted on finishing The Big Book of the Dead in the waning weeks of 2019, I might have agreed. But we are not meant to grieve all at once: we must learn to mourn as a habit, to refuse to forget lives lost to the coronavirus, white supremacist violence, mass shootings, and beyond. In the end, The Big Book of the Dead took me five months to read. Mourning is a longer, unending process. Winik acknowledges, “Grief is socially awkward, if not all-out antisocial, difficult to accommodate even in one-on-one conversations.” We must learn not only to accommodate the awkwardness of grief, but to embrace its presence, to live into the continual process of mourning, in spite—or because of—its lack of resolution. I once told a friend about my habit of reading a book on death at the end of each year. I explained that I started this tradition in order to learn how to mourn the symbolic end of a year in my life. At the time, I had forgotten that in 2016, in the midst of one of an intense season of depression, I had lost my last grandparent—my Mimi—and I was in search of some relief. I had also lost an old school friend to suicide at the beginning of the year, but this only came back to me by patching together my memory of a year lost to mourning. Four years later, I have not stopped grieving these significant losses. Now I am not sure I am meant to. In a vignette for her own grandmother, Winik remarks that her father’s death “was something there is not a word for.” Later, in the piece dedicated to her father, she asks, “How many poems can you write about your father? Maybe one for every day of your life.” These seemingly contradictory statements make perfect sense to me: in death, there are never the right words. You can place them next to each other, like Dr. Rieux’s heaped bodies, and still we will not understand. But we must keep looking, to find ways to honor life as part of—not apart from— death. I ended 2020 with Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, her memoir of unexpectedly losing her husband, the late writer John Gregory Dunne. Unable to grasp the lack of logic in losing him so suddenly, Didion writes, “This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning.” And yet, words are what she uses to unspool the days and months and years leading up to and following Dunne’s death. To make sense of something is an active process, and in some ways, the sense made is toward a greater consciousness, but never a complete one. Powerless in the face of death, words are sometimes all we have. That’s what reading and writing do for me, as it seems to for Winik, Ward, Didion, and even Camus. Faced with the inexplicable, we try to make sense of it, to wring meaning from its heavy cloud. “I write these words to find Joshua,” Ward remarks of her brother,

“to assert that what happened happened, in a vain attempt to find meaning.” Learning to grieve means speaking into what seems like a distinctly American silence, resisting the forces that would have us grin and bear it, hold our heads high, and move on with “business as usual.” These are life-sucking forces, and they do not teach us to live and honor life after it ends. That we fail to make sense is only a failure in a nation that feeds on success stories like a parasite. We are left with an aching hunger for something more, something else, and we know it. Perhaps more of us know it now than ever, realizing that grief is countercultural in the face of empire. That we fail to make sense is a sign of true life, proof that we are still in the process of learning wholeness. Learning to grieve seems to me now a critical step in learning to take part in living. I have books and authors to thank for that. I have words to thank for that. My gratitude is immeasurable, and so is my grief. I offer them anyway.

THE PALINDROME AT THE END OF HUGHES STREET by Colin Lubner What is it that makes one stop? Cape May’s beach runs at most for six miles, three of these frequented. The Atlantic warms and swells and is replaced in my blood by a worse sort of salt. On my runs, I retrace roads we once cycled. I clear states—Maryland, Virginia—in minutes; I disregard homes that have grown in my time away. Idaho is a house, yes. It is also three summers of my life, a girl I once claimed to love, a grandfather long dead. The house at the end of Hughes is a childhood. Another’s, now, yes. For five summers, though, it was also my own. Eight and then nine and then ten. The early aughts. Built in 1881. Family and friends and what it once meant to be eleven, twelve. Clouds of sunscreen greasing herringbone bricks. Game Boy Advance cartridges leaking acid in the sun. One plus eight is nine. Nine times two is eighteen. Nine times nine is eighty-one. What is it that makes one stop? I am beginning to think it is the same calculus that compels one to move on. Eighteen, eighty-one. One, eight, eight, one. Time goes on. I’ve forgotten entirely what I was trying to say.

ANOSMIA by Alex Gurtis Nothing prepares you for the loss of smell the absence of cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, the spice of opening presents and offering a smile made of icing and when you pour the London tea and only the warmth of steam tickles your nose, flavor seems so distant, as though each sip was an attempt to drown the Atlantic an attempt to shorten the distance between that looming ancient island and our tiny apartment How pine needles line your inner nose, dried, pricking the cast of cartilage, unable to lead down the dirt path leading to the springs and singing birds It now explains the kale in my sandwich on Saturday and why the sandwich tasted so bitter, so sad, why I couldn’t taste the sautéed mushrooms and garlic and how I can’t wait for us to taste your sautéed mushrooms and garlic again on the porch with our pot of tea.

AT SEA by Jennifer Fliss There are a lot of men with my father’s name. Some are living. Some are dead. Some are old. Some live in Germany. Some live in Pennsylvania. One is a photographer, has a published book of his seminal work. Only a few are my father. When I was young, my father spent days, weeks, probably months at sea. Drifting like a toy boat in a bathtub. It was those days the house smelled cleaner, the bottles of vodka disappeared and though my mother looked more tired, she also looked at ease, a dandelion allowed to go to seed. My father was in the Merchant Marine. We have a coffee table, that I have to this day in my own house, with wooden elephants as the base – the table sits atop their backs – carrying all that weight. It supposedly originated in Kenya from my grandfather’s Merchant Marine travels, but who knows. At sea, my father was far away from me, from us. Our tinny radio playing the lightest of easy rock. It’s funny how “at sea” and “at ease” use mostly the same letters. Are you seasick there father? Away from your family? Are you drinking more or less and are you missing us? These men are not marines. They are mariners. Like my chosen city, Seattle’s, baseball team. Sailors. Seafarers. Seamen. There are so many variations and so many alternative meanings to these words, I can’t help but read more into them. To search for answers in these words. My father’s father was a mariner too. I never knew him though, dead before I was born. These men of the sea move around this plane on their own schedule. By the time I could talk or understand, this life was behind him, my father. Moved onto working in computers before such jobs garnered six figure paychecks and stock options. The website says “A United States Merchant Marine Academy education is one of the great adventures of a lifetime. For half a century, young individuals like you have come to Kings Point to acquire the knowledge, experience, discipline, and skills that strong leadership demands.” This feels so distant. Was my father a young individual – borne of hope – ever? Ever, ever? Because I see him as middle age and sad, fat and ornery. Dangerous. Vile. Abusive. He was forty-eight when he died, which means he was in his thirties during most of his worst years. My worst years. He was my age now. I hope I make it past forty-eight. To spit on his grave, on his memory, and say I won. The website says “However, two things are certain: You'll have choices and you'll be prepared to make the most of them.” I wish I could tell him this now. In the dark cover of night when he

pulled out his weaponry and pretended to be a samurai, a ninja. When he drank glass after glass of vodka straight. Every night, mourning himself maybe? But what causes a man to… do those things. I had never been on a boat with him. He didn’t sing seafaring shanty songs, never talked of his travels. You know those websites that list your address and who your family members are for anyone to see? My father comes up. Lives in Scarsdale. Lived in Irvington. Lives in Harrisburg with an Annie. Works at a car dealership in Florida. He was/is sixty-seven. Thirty-four. In this liminal space of the internet he is still alive. Below that information is my maiden name, my mother and sister’s still names. But that name is not mine anymore. And he is dead anyway. In the real world. I am cleaning out my mother’s house. I find a thick envelope filled with my grandfather’s and my father’s discharge papers from the 1960s and 70s. Officially: Certificate of Discharge to Merchant Seaman. Each certificate allows that the person listed was aboard a particular ship at a particular time and is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, but each employer listed is the Mobil Oil Corp. My grandfather had been listed as second mate and second officer. My father, an oiler and a wiper. I look these things up. Oiler and wipers are entry-level positions. What was it like in the engine room? Was it hot? Was it lonely? Was it difficult? What did you think so deep into the ship’s bowels in the middle of the sea? Did he have any longing to follow in his father’s footsteps? Why did my mother save these? My search on the great internet sea has taken me to a job posting for a Marine Oiler for Seattle & King County, where I now live, but a continent from where I grew up, from where my father’ lived. Did I achieve escape to be so many thousands of miles away? There are a lot of ships here in Seattle, cranes and shipping containers. A lot of water – all around me. Good thing I can swim. It’s something I ensured my daughter was capable of from a young age. My uncle is still alive, would be nearing 80, he was that much older that his little brother, Freddy. He is on Facebook, but hasn’t been active on his page for a while. Found this: “Hey Bob, Anne Marie and Fran have been trying to get in touch with you. The numbers they have for you are either disconnected, not accepting calls or constantly busy. Give Anne Marie a call.” There is a portent here, but I’m not sure what it is. After my father’s death, his brother said things like: He was so proud of you and My little brother had no one. No one there when he died. I can’t be in touch with his brother. So we aren’t. I want to tell him I want to tell him all the things his little brother did to his family. To me. Did you know he raped his daughter regularly did you know he drank vodka like water did you know

he threw a butcher knife at his daughter’s foot and only narrowly missed did you know the police came and believed the stupid shit they said that were lies, lies, lies, lies, did you know his wife still has the stain of child abuse marked on her record and could not get it expunged and it was your little brother walking naked around the house with the cockroaches and the shame and the little girls lost cowering at his feet. This was your sweet little brother Freddy, someone’s son. Someone’s reckless fire set with nothing to put it out. All the water in the world could not put him out. Not until death. And even then. But his daughter. Turns out she’s buoyant. Notice how I say “his daughter” because I cannot yet say me.

SLIDE INTO MY DMS LIKE— by Sidney Dritz —Joni Mitchell was wrong; I never managed to make art out of how sad I was when you said goodbye, instead I just lay there in my sadness and also on the futon on the floor that I slept on back then, and “give a little to get a little” is the world’s oldest pyramid scheme, to give of yourself with the hope of reciprocation is a kind giving from open hands, and no quickness of fingers can snatch that feeling back once it’s left your grip.

POLLUTION by Fabio Sassi

Work is acrylic stenciled on a Wall Street Journal page

LIKE SEA GLASS by Linda M. Crate i remember standing in front of the ocean, begging her to cleanse me of the past; and she came rushing in to heal me— i sang her a song, and she gave me a promise that i am the daughter of the moon and the stars and the sunlight would never wound me again; the past sometimes jabs me but i know i shouldn't drag dead horses around— sometimes it is hard for me to know when to let go, and so the ocean rushed in and severed the ties that were more impossible for me; i have a new heart now that she whispered her pearls of wisdom to me— not the same broken woman i was when i came to her, i may always have pieces but they can be molded into something beautiful like sea glass.

LACRIME by A.R. Salandy Maldon salt melts worn hands As floured tiles lay bare and dampened As scrubbed they are cleansed of impurity, Dishonourable and staining, But crystal tears only serve to demarcate The tawdry existence that sits perched On the minds of all common folk, As flagrant segregation discriminates On gender ascribed, abhorrent, I’d say tiring still, But my domesticity is rooted in hidden tears Coated in disinfectant and overarched By false sentiment, Derived from social engineering And maintained through bonds Primordial some say, A nouveau agenda I say, Mass manipulation.

Note: *Lacrime means “tears” in Italian

CONTRIBUTOR NOTES Ben Lewellyn-Taylor Ben Lewellyn-Taylor (he/him/his) lives in Dallas, Texas. He is an MFA student in Antioch University's low-residency program. His work appears in The Adroit Journal, New South, No Contact Mag, and FreezeRay Poetry, among others. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @blewellyntaylor. JC Reilly Shannon Wolf Kaylyn RoseAnne Khalisa Rae Khalisa Rae is a poet and journalist in Durham, NC, and author of Real Girls Have Real Problems chapbook. Her poetry can be seen in Crab Fat, Damaged Goods, Hellebore, Terse, Sundog Lit, PANK Tishman Review, Occulum, the Obsidian, among others. She is the winner of the Bright Wings Poetry contest, the Furious Flower Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, the White Stag Publishing Contest, among others. Currently, she serves as Managing Equity Editor at Carve Magazine and Writing Center Director at Shaw University. Her debut collections, Ghost in a Black Girls Throat are forthcoming from Red Hen Press in April 2021 and White Stag Publishing Summer '21 MICHAEL CHANG A Lambda Literary fellow, MICHAEL CHANG (they/them) was awarded the Kundiman Scholarship at the Miami Writers Institute. A finalist in contests at the Iowa Review, BOMB, NightBlock, & many others, their poems have been nominated for Best of the Net & the Pushcart Prize. Their manuscript <big shot manifesto> was selected by Rae Armantrout as a finalist for the Fonograf Editions Open Genre Book Prize, & another was a finalist in the Diode Editions Book Contest. Colin Lubner Colin Lubner (he/him) writes in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his Twitter: @no1canimagine0. He is keeping on keeping on. Linda M. Crate

Linda M. Crate's (she/her) works have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies both online and in print. She is the author of seven poetry chapbooks, the latest of which is: the samurai (Yellow Arrow Publishing, October 2020). She's also the author of the novel Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018). Recently she has published two full-length poetry collections Vampire Daughter (Dark Gatekeeper Gaming, February 2020) and The Sweetest Blood (Cyberwit, February 2020). Alex Gurtis Baltimore born but Florida raised, Alex is a graduate of the University of Central Florida's Technical Communication program. A Learning Assistant at Valencia College, his pieces have appeared in Montana Mouthful, Indolent Books, the Garfield Lake Review and among other places. Angeliki Ampelogianni Angeliki Ampelogianni (she/her) is a Greek writer and poet. She holds a BA in English Language and Literature from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. She currently lives in Oxford with her favourite human and their favourite house plants. In her spare time she enjoys a few too many decaf coffees, and quinoa cheese puffs. Her work also appears in the Kindling Journal, Porridge Magazine, and Lucent Dreaming among others. You can find her on instagram @angel_de_la_vigne, and twitter @ampelogianni. Danmi Lee Raised in Germany by South Korean parents, Danmi Lee was fascinated by pens from an early age. She has moved on to use them for painting her world in words, particularly interested in the experience of space and the intimacy that grows within it. She lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Wing Yau Wing Yau is a non-binary Hong Kong-born poet whose work appears in Mascara Literary Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Eunoia Review, Ucity Review and more. Wing now lives with their partner in Melbourne Australia. Moses Chukwuemeka Chimeremeze Moses Chukwuemeka Chimeremeze lives and teaches in Lagos, Nigeria and absolutely detests the place.He writes uncomfortable social commentary, poems he does not understand and is a believer

in nothing but eloquent tragedies. He is an obsessive [deluded] recluse who was married to Jorja Smith (now on a break). He always, always got the blues. You can find him on twitter @thechimeremeze

Yuan Changming Yuan Changming hails with Allen Yuan from Credits include 11 Pushcart nominations, 9 chapbooks & awards, as well as publications in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17),& BestNewPoemsOnline, among others. Mandira Pattnaik Mandira Pattnaik is a poet from India. Recent poems have appeared in Feral Poetry, Kissing Dynamite and Prime Number Magazine. Find her on Twitter @MandiraPattnaik A.R. Salandy Anthony is a mixed-race poet & writer whose work tends to focus on social inequality throughout late-modern society. Anthony travels frequently and has spent most of his life in Kuwait jostling between the UK & America. Anthony's work has been published 120 times. Anthony has 1 published chapbook titled 'The Great Northern Journey'. Anthony is the Co-Eic of Fahmidan Journal. Twitter/Instagram: @anthony64120. His website is

Sidney Dritz Sidney Dritz (she/her) is (currently, constantly) reevaluating what to do with the rest of her life. Recent poetry publications include The Lumiere Review and Rejection Lit, and she writes about movies and television monthly at @dailydrunkmag. Follow her work as it develops on twitter at @sidneydritz. Joe Baumann Joe Baumann possesses a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he served as the editor-in-chief of Rougarou: an Online Literary Journal and the Southwestern Review. They are the author of Ivory Children: Flash Fictions, and their work has appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, Electric Literature, Electric Spec, On Spec, Barrelhouse, Eleven Eleven, Zone 3, and many others. They are also the founding editor and editor-in-chief of The Gateway Review: A Journal of Magical Realism and in 2019, were a Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction Writing. More information is available at Kevin Finnerty

Kevin Finnerty's stories have appeared in Eclectica Magazine, Me First Magazine, Newfound, Rathalla Review, The Westchester Review, and other publications. Nancy K. Dobson Nancy K. Dobson enjoys writing both poetry and fiction. She's been published in a variety of journals including Quince, Capsule Stories, and Madcap Review. Her perfect day includes yoga, a chai latte, and some cocktail jazz. Twitter @nancy_dobson Zahirra Dayal Zahirra is a writer and language teacher living in London. She has also lived in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates and draws from these diverse experiences in her writing. Her short stories have been published in the Fahmidan Journal, Ayaskala Literary Magazine, Small Leaf Press and in the forthcoming issue of Opia Literary Magazine. She can be found on Twitter @ZahirraD. Jason Fox Jason Fox is one of many Jason Foxes. His work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Riggwelter Press, and The Daily Drunk. He's on Twitter @JJFoxBox Ashley Pearson Ashley Pearson (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in Creative Writing and Biochemistry following the Pre-Med route at Knox College. She is 19 years old. She divides her time between Monmouth and Galesburg Illinois. Ashley can be found on Instagram @ashleynicolewrites and on Twitter @ashley___writes. Her work can be found in Catch Magazine, Ice Lolly Review, The Global Youth Review, The Hearth Magazine, BlueThings Zine, Paper Crane Journal, Oye Drum, Down in the Dirt, SouthChild Lit, and Melbourne Culture Corner.

Brianna Boyse Brianna Boyse (She/Her) currently resides on Treaty One Territory in the prairies of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Having achieved her Bachelor's degree in Recreation Management in 2019 from the University of Manitoba, she has since been writing about her profound experiences facilitating Therapeutic Recreation programs and advocating for older adults in a healthcare setting. Her therapeutic programs include a dementia-friendly book club and magnetic poetry exercises adapted for various abilities, as she believes in breaking down barriers so everyone can access the joy and therapeutic benefits of reading & writing Camille E. Colpitts

Camille E. Colpitts (She/Her) is a Black-mixed southern-born, queer-fem mother and writer living in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her writing centers on trauma, love, healing, and all the stuff in-between. She is committed to bettering her baby’s future. She is currently busy tinkering away at her memoir. Her work can be found in Electric Rail Lit. Mag., Nightingale & Sparrow, and Salt + Vinegar Zine online. She enjoys Andes Mints, preferably on pillows. IG/Twitter: @ofwafflesandmen Jemima Gosmore Jemima (she/her) graduated from Cambridge University in 2019 with a degree in English. Her particular interests were in Chartist literature and 19th century colonial writings. She now works at a London-based PR agency, copywriting for a host of accounts and blogging about communications for the company site. She can be found on Instagram @jemimagosmore and on Twitter @jemimag02. Jennifer Fliss Jennifer Fliss (she/her) is a Seattle-based writer whose writing has appeared in F(r)iction, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, including the 2019 Best Short Fiction anthology. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, Kristin LaFolette Kristin LaFollette is a writer, artist, and photographer and is the author of the chapbook, Body Parts (GFT Press, 2018). She is a professor at the University of Southern Indiana and serves as the Art Editor at Mud Season Review. You can visit her on Twitter at @k_lafollette03 or on her website at Edward Michael Supranowicz Edward Michael Supranowicz is the grandson of Irish and Russian/Ukrainian immigrants. He grew up on a small farm in Appalachia. He has a grad background in painting and printmaking. Some of his artwork has recently or will soon appear in Fish Food, Streetlight, Another Chicago Magazine, The Door Is a Jar, The Phoenix, and other journals. Edward is also a published poet Edward Lee Edward Lee is an artist and writer from Ireland. His paintings and photography have been exhibited widely, while his poetry, short stories, non-fiction have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll. He is currently working on two photography collections: 'Lying Down With The Dead' and 'There Is A Beauty In Broken Things.’ He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca

Collective, Lewis Milne, Orson Carroll, Blinded Architect, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy. His blog/website can be found at

Fabio Sassi Fabio Sassi makes acrylics and photos. He uses logos, icons, tiny objects, discarded stuff. He often puts a quirky twist to his subjects or employs an unusual perspective that gives a new angle of view. Fabio lives in Bologna, Italy and his work can be viewed at