issue 7 · spring 2018
In 1635 John Wise established himself · Henry Wise
Warning: Hollow Sidewalks · Mignon Ariel King
from his cradle on the Boston Common
outrages the citizenry. Down the street
at Copley, gnarled wood, carefully twisted
and shellacked by human hands, forms
an arch to protect in-season bouquets
for sale. This chilly spring in Back Bay
and Chinatown, neither twiggy cradles
nor elaborate displays remain, just
delivery men blocking cab stands.
The neighborhood’s fashionistas step
over a grey-blanketed obstacle to walk
caped, pedigree pugs down chic alleys
that have names. It’s no big deal, really.
She’s only another daughter of God.
The Pickle Factory on Columbus Ave. · Mignon Ariel King
before it was abandoned, boarded up,
before the mayor caught a glimpse of it,
signed it up for conversion to low income
She hadn’t been in Boston long,
just needed a part-time college job,
so she stood two weeks, hip-high
in the icy, briny liquid with metal-barrel
Then the supervisor said he admired her spunk,
but she really needed a different job
before she got pneumonia – such a skinny girl
He gave her a reference and a number for cheap
Dancing with Anne Sexton on the Charles · Richard D. Houff
settles into its comfortable advantage
we must move forward
and gain a foothold
this will lessen the shock
of falling back
and since we have been nurtured
to face sacrifice
is nothing more than a short-lived
we know it’s all a big fix
with an endpoint
and this is called truth:
a double-edged sword
– something you can always count on
Drinking at the Raccoon grille · Julia Carlson
on the jukebox at the Raccoon Grille
but not today.
He ought to be sitting with
the regulars at the Raccoon Grille
but not today.
Light should be dim at the Raccoon Grille,
and today it’s gray, shadowy.
At least that’s right.
One sign over the bar says
“If the wife/husband calls,
I’m not here”.
The other, “ERA = Earned Run Average”.
Baseball trounces Equal Rights.
Things are still the same
& it’s true, they are.
Those signs have been up there for 20 years,
they’re not coming down anytime soon.
Don’t know if that makes us happy or not,
sad or not, but that’s how it is.
We don’t do feelings at the Raccoon Grille.
Stirring the red plastic stick in his manhattan,
he says maybe it will be his last one
but I know what a liar he is,
how much he’d regret not being able
to stab a maraschino cherry from time to time.
He knows as sure as death comes for everyone,
so long as the sign says “I’m not here”,
he will be here,
drinking at the Raccoon Grille.
No Choice · Jeff Weddle
and the flowers gone
and gold lies useless
on the ground
when the earth is cold
when space contracts
and even god is finished
I will remember you
Breakdown · Steven Deutsch
On that endless day in February –
when I found out
you wouldn’t be coming home,
I hitched a ride to Lewistown
in a car so beat up
it might have been lifted
from a junkyard on Route 220.
The delinquents that drove it
were thoroughly stoned
and moved in fractal time –
abruptly, like mechanical dolls
wound for infinity.
We took the grade
down Seven Mountains sideways
laughing at fuck knows what.
They tossed me out
at the train station
just over the river –
a place so desolate and cold
the vegetation that grew there
could not be found
anywhere else on earth
I sat on the icy asphalt
and cradled my backpack,
as if the contents –
some ludes and librium,
two nickel bags,
rolled sweat socks,
and a stuffed dog named Lucky,
could save me from the setting of the sun.
The train rolled through the heartland
of tarpaper shacks
lit by a macabre moon
made orange by train windows
crazed by the cold.
Outside, packs of hounds
hunted and howled,
prey and people fled
and at the service plazas –
little Meccas of civilization
in the wind blown wild –
the wretched of the earth
sobbed in the artificial light.
a G.I., in full battle gear,
sat down beside me,
stinking of blood and jungle,
his right leg lopped off
just above the knee,
the bone whiter than fresh snow.
A chest wound
the size of Ali’s fist
bled on the seat.
What was left of his name tag
read PFC Deuts.
He smoked weed and told stories
of little towns in the Mekong
he had blown away,
in a voice as green and sweet
as honeyed tea.
In Philly, he shot out a window
and left the train
through the gaping wound.
My brother met me at Penn Station.
Sturdy and sure,
he was dressed as a Hassid –
payot graying around his ears.
He knelt on the grimy station floor
to the beat of a hit song
as ugly as 1968.
With prayers as mechanical
as the patter of
a ventriloquist’s dummy,
he sold peyote
and cheap copies of the New Testament
desperate to get high.
That Boy (didn’t speak since his death) · Polly Richardson Munnelly
screamed, reddening silted bed,
Rivers flowed winters gush.
The moment on Sundays in rooms
eyeing walls, glazed,
Sugar sugar through the static, he sat
suspicious minds echoing her hall ways.
Never meaning to
8 track cartridge wearing Johnny’s boy sue-paused.
Apollo, plastic sat motionless
pointing east, man in moon.
Mind whispers flared inner nova’s
not in tongues
nor devils claw
but lightening bugs illuminations,
And the hooves
And the hooves,
corralling his silence, hearing volumes,
catching it in each tail strand swished.
December in Erie, PA · Matt Borczon
Meeting · Robert Beveridge
of Lake Erie, wings stutter
against the wind. Every once
in a while, a splash.
First Friday Hanging · Breea Schutt
“Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” – James 1:15
At lunchtime, my best friend will be hanged in town square. It’s okay, though. Hank deserves it.
The moron took a stone and shattered the front window of Miss Gilette’s pawn shop so he could steal the 32” TV he’d been eyeballing for weeks. His dad got rid of his when Mr. Mulle called and told him Hank, more than likely, wouldn’t be passing 12th grade algebra. Which freaked Dr. Harrison the hell out, considering he’s a doctor and all, making education right up there with Jesus. So no more TV for Hank.
It pissed Hank off. I know because he told me several times. “Dude, I’m so pissed,” is how the conversation basically went. “Like, what the hell has TV ever done to my old man? Don’t those damn documentaries he watches all the effing time mean anything to him? My games are not why I’m flunking, you know that, right? You believe me? You should be pissed, too. No more online campaigns till the foreseeable future. Come to think of it, maybe you’re better off. You might be tired of getting your ass handed to you.”
I thought that’d be the end of it. I thought he’d take out his frustration on me like he’s always done, from fourth grade on, and then talk about something else – like all the different ways he’s pictured Annie Jean naked, or how he can fit a whole orange in his mouth. (Not an orange slice; an actual, whole orange. The Cutie type.)
I never thought he’d come knocking on my second story window at eleven at night – an hour before his eighteenth birthday – asking me to slip on some black clothes and help him rob Miss Gilette.
“We’ll be killed, y’know that?” I hissed through the tiny slit at the bottom of my window. That’s all I would give him, a tiny slit. I didn’t want him stomping around my room. Evidence is evidence, and I didn’t know how much the police could actually backtrack.
“You’re not eighteen for another four months, and I’m not eighteen for another hour.”
“Still damned for trouble.”
“Maybe, but I can’t live out the rest of senior year without a TV. That’s torture.”
“And the noose is just a waltz through a meadow on a warm summer’s day?”
“Hanging’s a cinch. Confinement in one’s bedroom for long periods of time, staring at one’s wall or, even worse, unfinished history report, is a form of prolonged torture. Yeah, you heard me, prolonged–freaking–torture. Besides,” he continued, waving a black bandana that he was intending to be mine, “Miss Gilette is, like, half-blind. She probably won’t even know it went missing.”
Anyone else would’ve said Ha – just kidding! by now.
“Hank . . .”
“Relax, would’ja? This is my last chance to do something like this. Go big or go home, amiright?”
“Go home, Hank”
“Don’t worry, I’ll call you from the police station before I’m dead. Don’t answer, though, ‘cause I’m gonna leave you one of those sappy voicemails that you can play over and over to remember the melodious sound of my voice.”
I slammed my window shut and went back to bed.
I heard about the robbery on the news the next day. I hate the news. Always have. I hate when the weather man tells us there’s only going to be a chance of scattered showers when it’s obviously already pouring outside. I hate sports and everything related to them, probably because I’m a bitter soul who always secretly wanted to join some sort of league but never had the mad skills to do so. The only thing semi-interesting is the updated list of criminals who’ll be sentenced to death the beginning of next month – at the First Friday Hanging. Some people you expect, some you don’t.
The morning the news announced the pawn shop robbery, I waited for Hank’s name to be listed somewhere amongst the death row-ers. If they had caught him, if they had immediate evidence, it would still take at least a few days before he was an official row-er. Because, y’know, juries and trials and all that freedom stuff we’re allowed. Still, three lone Fruit Loops became soggy in my spoon as I held it, hovering, in front of my mouth. Waiting.
“Anyone you know?” my little sister, Jess, asked as she hopped onto the countertop, picking the blueberries out of a packaged blueberry muffin. She fixated her gaze on the TV, too, kicking her scrawny legs against the cabinets.
“Has there ever been?” I asked, dumping the spooned Fruit Loops back in the bowl with a milky plop plop plop.
Jess plucked out three more wrinkled blueberries, setting them next to the other four resting on a paper towel. “Did’ja hear Katie Peterson’s sister’s ex-boyfriend’s aunt was on there a week ago? Protest attempt. Tried to rile up a crowd two towns over. Something about how tax fraud wasn’t a good enough reason for a death sentence, or something.”
Jess is only twelve (and a half). She shouldn’t have know anything about protest attempts or tax frauds. She probably still doesn’t. Probably only heard it thrown around by Katie Peterson’s family.
“Guess she had it coming,” I said.
“Guess so.” Jess plopped down off the counter and carried the blueberry-filled paper towel over to me like a stork delivering babies. “Eat these.”
I took them. The death row list concluded and the station skipped over to its next segment: Puppies currently up for adoption. One had a charcoal circle around its eye and yapped every time the reporter gave it kissy faces.
It’s almost lunchtime. Mom has the checkered picnic blanket smoothed across a patchy section of grass, one of those sections that has rocks you can feel but can’t find. There are vendors stationed around the square, selling overpriced fried-things on sticks. One of the merch booths sells various trinkets commemorating today’s row-er lineup – like t-shirts that parody touring musicians. We bring our own food to avoid overspending; Dad sets the basket on the blanket and starts unloading our roast beef sandwiches (turkey for Jess), bottles of Gatorade (Jess claims the blue flavor), and many, many, baggies of snacks.
We have a great view.
Hank joined my family’s grocery shopping trip on his birthday. He did that often, unless he was deep in a video game match or grounded. Mostly it was the latter.
“Get the white,” Hank said as Mom put a loaf of wheat bread in the cart. “White keeps preserved longer.”
“Yeah, ‘cause it’s filled with preservatives,” Jess muttered.
“I like white,” I said. Hank gave me a thumb’s up.
“Why don’t you three go pick out snacks you’d like,” Mom said, sticking a loaf of white in the cart next to the wheat. “My treat, for the birthday boy.”
Initially, Jess tagged along with Hank and me. But when she turned down our suggestions of Cheetos, Cheese Puffs, and Cheese Balls (because powder cheese will give us “cancer,” apparently), we ditched her in the cereal aisle before she could ask us about our granola preferences. Instead, we made our way toward the candy, stopping only for a moment to check out the latest game releases in the electronics aisle. (“New TV works fantastically, by the way,” Hank mentioned. “Hooked it up in my closet. Happy birthday to me.”)
Candy had always been a friend of Hank’s and mine. We used to dress up on Halloween but, instead of going door-to-door, we went grocery store-to-grocery store and bought jumbo bags of fun-sized candy. Like, the kind that’s marked half-priced prematurely. Usually, it was the garbage stuff, like candy corn and those hot red candies old ladies keep on their coffee tables next to AARP magazines. But sometimes we got lucky and scored the Twix/Snickers/Kit Kat mix bags. We didn’t do that this year. This year we nuked marshmallows in the microwave and watched B-rated zombie movies.
Hank still brought over a bag of candy, though. The good kind. I don’t remember if he said Dr. Harrison bought it at full price, or if he smuggled it past management in the pocket of his hoodie. I’ve slept since then.
Since Mom was paying for our treats this time, we took full advantage and gathered bags upon bags until they towered in our arms and scratched against our Adam’s apples.
“Aw, man! Lookie here!” Hank said, jabbing a bag resting on the bottom shelf with the toe of his sneaker. It was one of those cheap-o, knock-off candy bags, generically labeled Gummy Bears. “Mom got me these all the time when I was, what, maybe five? Six?” He maneuvered around the candies already in his hand to try and grab the bears, dropping a bag of pixie sticks in the process. “Yeah, yeah. Sure thing. These are them, alright.”
“My mom got those for Jess and me, too,” I said. “Only once. We sucked on ‘em, then threw ‘em on the ceiling fan. Dad was the one who flipped it on first, and they went flying. Took years for Jess and I to find all those. The clear ones were the worst. Heck, a month ago I was sitting on the couch when I found one of those damn things still in the cushion crack.”
“Why the hell were you sticking your hand down the crack anyway?”
“That’s what she said.”
Hank rolled his eyes. “Did your mom ever make hanging bears?”
I reached for a bag of Tootsie Roll Pops. I don’t even like Tootsie Roll Pops. I just like counting how many licks it takes to get to the center of them. “Hanging bears?”
“Yeah, y’know, hanging bears? Like, you take a strand from a Twizzlers and wrap it around the bear’s neck? Mom used to send them that way in my lunch bag on First Friday Hanging days.”
I saw the Twizzlers from where I was standing, but I didn’t pick them up. “Hey, Hank?”
For some reason, I thought of checking out. Of going up to one of the self check outs with my family and Hank, and looking straight into the camera that makes us appear on the screens above the conveyor belt. “Nothing.”
He hated it when I did that. “Shut up, asshat.”
“Do you want me to ask about what I’m actually thinking about?”
“Does it have to do with my birthday?”
“About the TV?”
“Then, no. Unless you’re asking me to kick your ass in a tournament tonight.”
“Why did you break Miss Gilette’s front window? Why did you do the most obvious thing possible?”
Why are you an absolute moron?
Hank shrugged. “The back door was locked.”
“But the cameras–”
“Are all fake. She’s never had them installed. They’re just duct-taped on the wall to make cheap jackasses piss themselves.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because the place is as old as her. Duh.” He grabbed one more bag of peppermints by his teeth. “I’ll be online at midnight,” he said through plastic. “Unless you can’t stay awake, meaning you lose by default. Which just makes you my bitch.”
We didn’t play a tournament that night. Instead, Hank was taken into custody. Because those cameras sure as hell were not just duct-taped to the wall. And the time-stamp on the tape said 12:01 A.M.
Mom and Dad have both found people to chat with amongst the crowd – AKA: the population of our city, packed together in a limited amount of grass and concrete space. Mom talks about sports bras with her yoga instructor, and Dad explains the difference between “weather” and “climate” with someone he may(?) have gone to school with. Weather is the brief state of the atmosphere; climate is its long-term behavior.
Jess doesn’t trail far, even though her friends wave at her from the distance. She smiles and waves back, then plops down next to me; the blanket crinkles underneath her. At first, we don’t say anything. She drums on her bare knees and tries whistling something I don’t recognize (probably because it’s off-key). Then, she says, “You doing okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh, I dunno. Maybe because you’re about to lose your video game buddy you’ve had since the fourth grade?”
“He’s a moron. I told him he’d get caught.”
Jess smirks. Sometimes her smirk looks innocent, sometimes onery. Today it’s the initial, and for some reason it makes me feel sick but in a word-vomit sort of way. Like I want to tell her all these life lessons I have no business telling her. Like don’t mack on people you don’t know, and don’t have premarital sex, and don’t get drunk, and don’t harbor people who’ll get you in trouble, and get good jobs so you can pay your bills, and just be good – for the love of all that’s good and decent in this shitty world – just be good. I mean, dammit, it’s not difficult.
“Did he tell you why he did it?” she asked.
“He wanted a freaking TV.”
“I think it’s kinda unfair.”
I give her a side glance. “That he broke the law?”
“That he’s being tried as an adult.” Her smile softens. “Remember when you guys were eleven and I was five and Hank sprayed Febreeze in my face and I pretended it made me go blind?”
“Yeah. I guess to me he never got older than that. Even I’m older than he was at the time, and I still think of him as the boy with the Febreeze bottle who got belted in the front yard.”
“Like the second brother you never had?”
My phone rang the Friday before today, and I knew it was him. I knew it because I saw the caller ID, saw it was the number for the police station, saw that he had called me instead of his mom or dad – which would piss them off immensely, considering he was about to tell me his final words. To me. That moron.
I let it go to voicemail. He didn’t leave a message.
When I went to my first downtown hanging, Mom had brought an afghan for our picnic blanket, and I watched the entire event under that thing, peeking though one of its many, knitted holes. Now, I watch full-on. Of course I do. Most kids grow out of the initial shock and the But where does he/she go after the swing ride? conversations by the second grade, if not sooner.
I invented a game for myself to get over this young fear. Every time I thought the shrieks were too piercing, or the smell of wet rope and wood during hangings in rainstorms were too pungent, or the imagined taste of blood – when a victim’s mouth pooled over after biting their tongue – was too sour, I’d imagine something different. Instead, it was a yo-yo that lost its momentum. Or a fish too heavy to be reeled into the boat. Or, my personal favorite (not to toot my own horn), a skydiver whose parachute got stuck in a tree; that one’s the more humorous one. I even pretended they were kicking and squirming. Get me out of this confangled contraption, they might’ve said.
When I was Jess’ age, I watched my first rapist hang, and I didn’t play that game anymore.
I thought Hank’s name would miss the deadline of this First Friday Hanging. But he made it on the death row-ers list right before cut-off, right behind a marijuana dealer, drunk driver, and a man who siphoned gasoline from a Mercedes Benz.
The marijuana dealer is first, name and crime announced by a woman wearing a swimming, ebony cloak, and holding a chunky manuscript with a ratty spine. The Death Row Manuscript, is what it’s usually called. Some simply refer to it as The Judgement Book.
I can’t help but wonder how Death Row workers become qualified for this job. Like, who goes to college with the idea of, Gee, I can’t wait to rope people’s necks once a month. Like, what do they do for the rest of the month? Practice? The guys who shove the dealer’s head through the noose seem pretty skilled in what they do. They even double-check to make sure the wrists and ankles are still manacled firmly together, though I don’t see how anyone would be able to loosen them beforehand. Those things are sturdy.
A prayer is said, and the floor drops from beneath the dealer. Polite applause ensues. Polite applause is reserved for the petty crimes. We cheer and give standing ovations for the really bad crimes; the ones who we can’t forgive.
When I first met Hank, he convinced me to steal a glasses case from our classmate Holly Rich, who sat across from me and diagonal from him in home room. Hank didn’t own a pair of glasses, nor did he need them, but he told me Holly had it coming because she always insisted on being the goalie for their team in P.E. when he, obviously, was the better defender. It was the only time he ever convinced me to steal for him, and I only did it because I was new to the area, new to the school, and new at making friends. I didn’t have to make friends with Hank; he came up to me on the playground and introduced himself. He never thought about things; he just did them. I wanted to see what it felt like – to not care about the consequences.
It ended up feeling a lot like getting caught by Holly Rich, who squealed and got me sent to the principal’s office.
I only ever went to the principal’s that one time, but I heard the experience was the same with every student, every grade. You sat in a hard plastic chair and watched a documentary about the consequences of criminal behavior once you crossed that threshold into adulthood. No prisons, no varied punishments depending on the severity of crimes – no criminals mucking up society’s streets.
When the documentary ended, the principal asked if I had any questions.
I asked him about forgiveness. I wasn’t trying to question anyone’s authority; I was genuinely curious – thought it was Biblical, even. I thought I could forgive Hank easily enough, and I was hoping Holly Rich would forgive me, too, because I really couldn’t afford to let go of any potential friendships when I’d just gotten started.
“You can forgive people who have been hanged,” the principal said. “We’re not asking the living to be punished alongside the the guilty. Forgiveness is Biblical, yes, but so is our criminal system.”
Hank never asked me to steal for him again. Not until the television incident. Not until he realized his childhood was ending.
Hank never goes by his real name, so my heart knocks its head on my voice box when I see him step out onto the platform, manacled and sweaty, after the woman with the book reads, “Henry James Harrison,” into the microphone. (I think “Hank” was the name of his rambunctious great grandfather – a man who was also hanged for crimes Hank never told me about; but I can only assume his great grandfather’s genes skipped a couple generations and imbedded themselves into Hank’s DNA. But, who am I to rationalize things?)
And then Hank looks at me.
Out of all the people in this damn crowd, he finds me. And it’s so obvious because his eyes get wider and he doesn’t blink, not even when the death row workers shove his head through the noose.
Mom pats my knee. She pats it as if to say, Oh, look, there’s your friend! We should have his family over for dinner sometime! Hank’s family would probably love that, coming to dinner. Immediate families aren’t allowed to attend hangings, so they’d probably ask us all about Hank’s. I saw one of my third cousins hang in Oregon a couple years back for identity theft, but that’s as close as I’ve come to knowing someone guilty and watching them swing back and forth amidst applause.
Stop staring at me.
This is the longest prayer of my life. The woman prays for Hank’s forgiveness. He knows not what he’s done, but she prays he feels the weight. How can he not – he’s weighed down by the largest freaking manacles I’ve ever seen. I don’t even remember how he made it up those uneven steps, up to the gallows.
Why is he still staring at me?
It’s not like I didn’t warn him. It’s not like he should be shocked. This is what happens. He knew the price, and he told me he knew the price. He deserves it. He’s a moron who couldn’t just wait to get his TV back and he deserves it. You hear me, you bastard? You deserve this.
He’s gone so long without blinking that his eyes turn pink. When the floor drops beneath him, they turn red. They no longer stare at me. They stare through everyone as the body slowly creaks back and forth in the rope. Not yet dead. Everyone politely applauds. Perhaps he can still hear them.
Jess taps on my shoulder. I swipe at my cheeks to brush some stupid gnats away.
She extends the bag of gummy bears to me. “Want one?”
I nod and grab a handful after she does. We both stick one in our mouths, but neither of us chews it up right away. Instead, we suck on them like we used to do back in the good old days, and I pretend Hank is laced around a Twizzler’s strand, ready for his mother to place him in his lunch box.
Santa Ana · Mitchell Grabois
The Santa Ana winds shaped me
Their power sucked the cigarette from my fingers
and drove it deep into dry chaparral
The fire was preordained
I could have stayed in Hoboken N.J.
and the fire still would have blazed and spread
The law apprehended me
as if I were an outlaw
It was the wind that sucked
the cigarette from my fingers
It’s not like I tossed it
all cool and cavalier
The western winds overwhelmed me
blew my garage open
sucked my tuba into the road
dragged it down the pebbly pavement
Sparks flew from its brass
The wind drove the sparks deep
into the chaparral
This second fire was also preordained
My love of music
as my need for cigarettes
I was a gentle
with hobbies that didn’t fit L.A.
My skullcap flew from my scalp
How did God expect a silk skullcap
to stay on when the
Santa Ana winds blew?
My grandfather’s fedora blew off his dead skull
His head was a block of grey clay
awaiting the pinch of my sculptor fingers
to create something new from
The Santa Ana winds swept through the cemetery
I was the only one there
the only mourner
The world had been trying to kill him for decades
almost since he was born
and now they’d done it
The clay was too dried out to work with
My cigarette was gone
my beret a Frisbee
a deformed sculpture
better than I could have made
with torch and intention
I ran down the boulevard trying
to catch up with it
but my tobacco lungs
couldn’t beat a tuba
in a foot race
a tuba that had played in marching bands
and New Orleans funeral processions
heavy going in
light coming out
At age twenty-seven
my grandmother reclined on a tree limb
holding the eternal flame
It glowed orange
in her hands
But then the wind blew her out of her tree
The eternal flame set the orchard afire
the apples and cherries hissed
and blew up
The wind blew carom boards
out to the ocean
They skimmed across the surface
on their way to radioactive Japan
I didn’t understand the meaning of youth
All I understood was the wind
I knew the wind would blow away
everything of value or lacking value
It would all end up stuck
on the branches of some bush
I didn’t need to go to school
The wind was my teacher
The wind would get fiercer every year
All human life would disappear
The wind blew
like it never did in Patterson New Jersey
The wind blew out the windows of our home
My father, the engineer, sat at his desk while
sucked open all his drawers
scattered his business papers
Those papers were his life
The wind turned coffee beans
Santa Ana stripped the tomatoes
the grapes from their vines
Italians and Jews cried together
Tumbleweeds became deadly weapons
and could never be identified
Hit-and-run tumbleweeds congregated at a local bar
next to the Veterans of Foreign Wars
along with plastic heads stolen from Jack-in-the-Box
In the future
recreational marijuana would be legal
but in the meantime
I was going to prison
My crime was
temporal and geographic
At least in prison
I would be safe
walled off from
An American Girl · Karen Friedland
that old men wore up high in those days,
while they sprayed pesticide in every crack
and swept up every last leaf, impenetrable.
The glee of the muddy, shouting girls
playing in the creek with sparklers,
back before they even knew
they had bodies.
And the tipped-ear,
smiling little reddish-brown dog,
who might live 14 or 15 years
if you’re lucky,
and they don’t give her away –
You’ll remember her kind eyes, always.
Bait Dogs · Karen Friedland
are usually female –
this one was left for dead
on a cold winter night by Turtle Pond.
She had more than 60 bite wounds,
some hand-sewn with purple thread,
others still fresh, infected.
Sixty flashing sets of teeth
tore at this dog’s flesh,
and yet she wagged her stump-tail
when her rescuers came.
She was harmless, helpless
and will need six months of quarantine
because they don’t know how many dogs bit her.
All I can hold onto is how grateful I am
for her rescuers,
for the all-night animal hospital they raced her to
and even for the t.v. newswoman
who reported this story
that made me cry pitifully for days.
Absences · FJ Bergmann
unseen sift quietly out of our exciting history
into the murky zone of revisionism.
b. All day long until dinnertime the axe ate trees,
ignoring the heartwood’s plaintive questions,
leaving a jackstraw ziggurat of logs praying for fire.
c. She felt her quivering heart tug away from him,
exultant pulse like the engine of one last train jerking
its rails tightly behind it toward the horizon.
d. A vexatious hole near the porch gapes in amazement,
like a religious statue taken aback to notice that its fine jewels,
as well as ornaments of a lesser quality, are missing.
e. It is an axiom that a dying brain cannot think of anything
but quaint trivia; attrition starts to gnaw it apart, an injury
dizzily flitting from now toward the distant past.
f. All over the planet there are holes shaped like quagga, oryx,
dodoes. The large holes (brontosaurs, whales) hold successively
smaller holes: extinct lizards, bugs, viruses, junk like that.
g. The exquisite delusions of jazz lament above bloody shards
on the pavement outside a bar in what was once a factory
so empty you can’t tell what they used to make.
h. It found a break in a zone aquifer, a place to conceal itself
extremely well. Its benign and jovial acquaintances felt
uneasy, but never noticed its disappearance.
i. Only you know what may be absent from your frozen heart.
You can leave the door of the queer closet ajar, relax or rush
around the clock, and never guess what that gap once held.
j. Behind his eyes, something weird and unsavory winked out.
He never quite admitted missing that part of his existence,
like a child’s fuzzy blanket infested with plague lice.
k. The farmer who spent his life moving blades
of grass from one damn place to another said he just quit
expecting anything decent in this crazy country.
l. Spongecake and other desserts we enjoy depend on frequent
interstices, expanding air, something to give the big effect,
greater size. Even ice cream uses this trick. May I have more?
m. Vainly he fired the bazooka until there were no shells left.
In the jittery, ringing silence which followed his panicked
outburst, he quietly executed himself.
n. Tulips, daffodils, roses, violets, jewelweed: a crazy-quilt
of all colors except blue. Poppies from the jagged Himalayas
mirror the sky, but grow elsewhere, far away.
o. They excavated deeply, revealing a unique basilisk, its femur\t
etched with jawmarks signifying an ancient frenzy, an unlikely
presence in the man-eaten parade. Its skull was missing.
p. The good stuff never vanished unless he was there at work.
They finally asked him to quit. It seemed like a bizarre jinx
until it recurred in his new job as a vacuum salesman.
q. Abstracting small valuable items had always diverted him,
but the cream of the jest was finding the missing trinkets
under a fez, and the poleaxed look on the face of the victim.
r. With a machete they attacked the tangled jungle foliage
until they had excavated enough space to tango jubilantly
to the quaint melodies of a zydeco band.
s. A quandary: product needed for war; machine cannot operate
without raw material; zinc cannot be obtained in wartime.
No victory. The jukebox played a forgettable patriotic hymn.
t. Her appearance deceives an onlooker who assumes some
sexy babe lives behind her kinky mask, given sequins, jiggling
cleavage, whip, harness, fur, her immersion in a porn magazine.
u. He had a habit of lazily spitting – expectorating, he called it,
minding his p’s and q’s – through the black maw of a lost tooth.
He chewed venison or beef jerky instead of tobacco.
v. Encouraged by silence, which she interpreted as jealous
admiration, she continued to play the zither, while hordes
of queasy folk-music fans staggered toward the back exit.
w. She quit her day job substitute-teaching. She feared
roll call, children missing; visualized hazy x-rated scenarios:
kids abused, tortured. ‘Not Present’ equals ‘Dead.’
x. At last no longer a virgin, he spent all night
jitterbugging squeamishly under the ginkgoes until dawn
cheerfully filled the sky’s azure bowl.
y. The azimuth flung its excruciating distance
against the void’s equator-ribboned petticoat.
The ocean was a bucket of vibrating blue-green Jell-O.
z. There was a perfectly good extra universe next door;
quite satisfactory as an adjunct to this one in spite of
our dark qualms. We began to abandon this one.
Migration · Hussam Jefee-Bahloul
what I’ve been told
is that I left Lattakia
in a mysterious way
some say I was smuggled
and aged wine aboard an old Suzuki truck
to Turkey, Greece, then Hungary,
and miraculously America,
some say who left was somebody else
somebody who bears my name
my ID and a fake passport
who has my eye color
my curly hair
and an irregular poetic period
whispering, others said
I stayed behind somewhere discreet
jumping roofs at night
a thief looking for love
in that schizophrenic town
cynics contrived other rumors
that I died
chocking on my tears
or dehydrated from excessive weeping
or overdosed on my pills and perished
a fortunate martyr
as they won’t pray for my corpse
the insightful bunch
claim I never existed
for my absence to make such noise
and all that happened
was merely a well-plotted dream
directed by Steven Spielberg
according to me
the protagonist of this anecdote
all I know is that I left the country
growing alone in a marble-floored apartment
on a seventh floor
with arrogant balconies
that cleanse the drought of the Mediterranean
and an endless thirst
in that land of holy…
Death exercises · Hussam Jefee-Bahloul
lying on grass
wearing a navy-blue shirt
buttoned with bullet holes
redolent of gun powder
In the background
a basmala in Yiddish
and some muffled
It was the spring of vivid details
the distinctive sting of wine
the vivacious chatter and silence
of the wind
the dope of disappointments
where the ball of flesh
running down a hill
picking up screws and nails as it goes
where air is routinely arrested
and dreams are held
Don’t ask him to dream, he who had his eyes gouged
Don’t hand him a trumpet, he with a punctured lung
Don’t expect affection of him, he who carries a bullet in his heart
It was the spring of vivid details
of his mother’s trembling voice
a hiccup in the amygdala
crossing the Mediterranean
alongside boxes, images, and faces
with a child’s voice singing:
“Oh Syria, Oh Syria”
he finds what he’s looking for
in a mom-and-pop
quirky coffee shop
people lose their carnage and their bread
in a country
vast as god
to him home naturally becomes
a daily exercise
to them the tiny obsessions of existence
become a muffled plea
to some living god.
Dear Yaniris · Susanna Lang
The letter you wrote your mother came to me instead
because you don’t know where she’s gone,
because in the photo you do have, her smile
is full of teeth and gums but is not full of you.
Because her mind and body are elsewhere
though her nose is as long as yours.
Whatever music she’s listening to, it is not
the song you’ve plugged into one ear, the other
earbud in a friend’s ear. Where is the bullhorn,
the boombox, the magic trick that will carry your voice
to her ears? Is your mother on Instagram,
on Snapchat, can you find her in the thickets
of your digital connections?
Photos have ears
but do not listen, have mouths but do not speak.
You can’t borrow a photograph’s earrings
or high-heeled shoes, can’t try on its dress, twirl around
with the girl in the mirror while the photo watches
the two of you dance. A photo can’t help you
with your homework in the late afternoon, can’t ground you
when you skip your chores. You can’t go to the grocery store
with a photo taped to the cart, can’t ask a photo
which cereal to buy this week. You can’t tell a photo
about the mean girls at school and the things they whisper
in the bathroom – or you can, but the photo
whispers things, too.
It was a long time ago
that your mother left you in the snow,
on the stairs, hungry. More snow is forecast
for this weekend. You are still hungry.
Horses · Phil Montenegro
the stables, herself unstable
sweeping tarnish and sweat
from the saddle. How lovely
her hand presenting
a disfigurement of apple.
Quinta Del Sordo · Phil Montenegro
Almostina To Goya
Just then he took oﬀ his ears
and set them in the birdcage.
Routine had brought him to draw the curtains,
to enter silence the way water inhabits a freeze,
listening to the voices of his bones
shifting like garden tools in the uneven room.
His eyes sharpened without his raw ears
sometimes like nails in the birdcage,
sometimes like the owl’s unrepentant freeze.
The neighbors talked about him in the laundry room
with the stories they’d assumed from behind the curtains,
troubled that all he ate were shadows and chicken bones.
When he started to paint, the walls made him freeze.
His brushes swung defensively in the uneven room
and all he was given to settle his bones;
an insouciant wink like that of a cat between the birdcage.
The brush had to find one of the wall’s many ears
while the wind came whistling through the curtains.
And just before the wind parsed the curtains,
before the walls rattled their ears,
before the cat tuned its glare through the birdcage,
he, an old man, tightened up his bones,
blew out the candles in the uneven room
and imagined his hands rolling over an ancient frieze.
His hands understood, the way a field understands its hidden bones
something already there in the walls looking past the curtains.
Each room a stanza, each stanza a room.
Only a silence such as this that exalts and frees
could have allowed him to paint beyond his burred cage
and so, he began his assault on the barren plaster year after year.
Until all at once he lay down his brushes and made room,
a tired old man standing on the last hinge of his bones,
shaken by what had been wild and fierce, but taught to freeze
and still never froze, even after he’d tucked back the curtains
and disassembled the wicker of the birdcage,
waiting for the slow approach of wheat and its spike of ears.
By the end the walls were stark as bones
again and the old man left alone in his room.
The almostina does not follow the same rigors of the traditional sestina. Six end words are repeated, though not in the common lexical pattern, but instead placed where and when the author chooses. In addition, the envoi is shorter and does not contain all six end words from the preceding stanzas. In truth, theauthor messed up and invented a form to hide his mistake.
We are planting the babyheads by moonlight · Alan Catlin
baby heads, but plastic ones, found in
junkyards, burned out buildings,
foreclosed homes. Some damaged more
than others, their pried open eyes staring
at nothing now and the plastic sheets real
babies were changed on transmuted into
flesh for all the unseen creatures stumbling
about among the refuse, crawling on all
fours, crying out the way toddlers do to be
saved from everything let loose in the night.
We are planting the baby’s heads. Hoping
that with nurturing and with care, they will
grow into something fine that will be cherished
in a way that only children can be. The ones that
don’t, we will leave behind to become snowmen
and women, effigies that become scarecrows
in another life, in a field like this one, where
the moon is the sun and night, is day, where
all the old appliances go to die, you can hear
their coils heating, the incessant hum of the
refrigerators, the singing of the stoves.
I have always been daunted by curtains · S. Stephanie
True, it is a little about the light
they will let in
but it is also about parameters
The stuttering little tugs I will have to give
opening them a crack more
and the decisive sliding – closed.
The indifferent moments gazing
things caught in the corner
of my eye, or not.
All those conversations I will
have with myself later
in the fall, say
all the pointed questions.
Why these exact parameters
and given this window
what small scenes did I allow
in – or not – and yes
I suppose―how much light?
Epithalamium · Rich Ives
and the difference more than completes you as you wait
for another spilling over, in no hurry,
waiting for you to reach the end of your offer,
as if you had yet to realize where you were going, and
you’re right, I think, suddenly falling into that hole,
the one I thought I was holding open for you.
There’s not much here, but sometimes it sputters out a moment
so odd and amazing all the nothing in between gets swallowed in it.
You take the weeds away with meticulous attention,
as if there could be no question about what replaces them.
Bright and heavy as pocket change, you’re the return
on life’s investment, a promise of attention unto aging details,
all the way to the meadow that holds both play and restraint,
its clouds sponging clean the ceremonially passing sky.
Grand Finale · Renuka Raghavan
We were standing on a giant satellite,
the size of a yellow school bus.
How did we get here, you asked?
It was always the plan, I answered.
We’ve been preparing ourselves
for the past ten years.
our bodies locked. We were
buoyant and feather light, tethered
only to each other and the
The vast universe shining behind us,
was the canvas we painted in radiant golds and silvers,
en route to our destination.
We stood side by side,
hand in hand,
watching particles and rings fly by
as we barreled into Saturn’s glowing heart.
On this, Cassini’s grand finale,
we can be as we want, my love,
knowing full well we will
never again touch the ground.