2020 Poetry

Alli Cruz


I pour black beans
onto rice until my plate
is bathed in a black
lake. The first I swam by myself
was in the Philippines — a place called
Hidden Valley Springs. As we got into the car,
I asked my Tita Lisa
If it’s hidden, how will we know
when we get there?
How will we

a body?

Land linked only
to itself. I recognize myself—
body whole & connected—
in the nights Ma calls me from home;
her voice, a lullaby. Reconciling
disparate parts.

Alli Cruz is a Filipina-Cuban American poet. She is a Levinthal scholar, currently studying English & Creative Writing at Stanford University. Her work has appeared in Hobart Pulp and The Louisville Review.

2020 Poetry

Melanie Kristeen

associative thinking

both of my parents have been struck by lightning
Sean says this makes me incredibly lucky
or cursed—either way he’s in the kitchen doorway
blue jeans brown belt no shirt
& I’m clutching an heirloom for cutting—when
I think of lightning I think of my mother’s hands
thick fingernails unpainted—swollen at the knuckles
deep in dingy sink water under an open window
a bolt snaked through—up to the elbows
in cold electricity her arms wilted
starting at the fingers—my father played a game of
trust when we were young—would hold our hands
palm down against a table—spread fingers wide & stab
in between with a pocket knife—faster & faster—don’t move
Sean says—he hugs me from behind—I’ve got a blade in hand
& the tomato bleeds out—
I think of my body as the people who’ve been inside it—Edwin
thinks of me every time he brushes his teeth—I know for certain
he could not love me despite years of trying
to talk himself into it—I’ve got a tattoo in his handwriting
just above the knee on my right thigh—how I dream
of pulling sandpaper across that fucking ink
till blood swarms over—our first time Sean said he didn’t mind blood
so we threw a towel down & went at it—there was something
about his breathing—familiar & warm—a bayou with solace in it
& I should have said I love you
the moment I meant it—he’s leaning cross-armed like Byron
against the door frame—a repurposed sapling—when
I think of lightning I think of my father—
scrappy kid crashing dirt bikes in the orange groves
near his white trash trailer park home when
bright white clouds pooled around—a crack & a flash—it hits him
on his right thigh—leg goes numb & he comes crashing—through
the kitchen window I can see live oaks & South Austin—longing
or something like it—I’ve been quiet—
Sean kisses my forehead
with a mouth full of potato & bacon

Melanie Kristeen is filled with generalized anxiety. She tentatively thinks of herself as a radical feminist, poet and educator who hails from San Antonio, Texas. She just graduated with an MFA in poetry at Texas State University and is currently the 2019-2020 poet in resident at the Clark house in Smithville, Texas. She has been the recipient of a Damsite residency in New Mexico and has been published by University of Hell Press and Black Bough Poetry. She was also a commissioned, featured artist for Luminaria: San Antonio Arts Festival in 2017.

2020 Poetry

Liam October O’Brien


Come down to the river, come, where a boy up the mudbank canters:
find cover.
Crouched drinkers in the grassy water: sinkers. Armored.
A white skirt fills
and billows. Boy hard up in the shadows: the banked fir.

Come down here, conjurer—come eager watcher—filleter
the dusty minnows,
muscling fish, shelled copper fly on his funeral downriver, come
the gone caresser—

Liam October O’Brien grew up on a small island. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in the HIV Here & Now Project, New South, The Iowa Review, the Lambda Literary Spotlight, Electric Literature, and the Denver Quarterly. He completed his MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow. He is one of the founding editors of Vetch: AMagazine of Trans Poetry & Poetics.

2020 Poetry

Kathryn Merwin


I have thrown stones into the river

        just to watch them sink without struggle. I have

made a sea of knives around my house. I can see you,

       uncolored, spying through the black trees.

You don’t know it, but my arrow is aimed

         at your heart. I imagine letting the wind undress it,

coaxing the night between us apart with one bend

          of my finger. Because the oceans cannot mix,

I watch you from the sand. Your foam slides

         through my fingers: you recoil at my feet.

This is the terrible truth. I only love you

when you are disappearing.

Kathryn Merwin’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Cutbank, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Rumpus, Sugar House Review, Prairie Schooner, and Blackbird. She has read or reviewed for the Bellingham Review and The Adroit Journal, and serves as co-editor-in-chief of Milk Journal. She holds an MFA in poetry from Western Washington University and currently lives in the District of Columbia. Connect with her at

2020 Poetry

Emma Aylor


Where I live for now they
say the crows are smaller
overall; bill also small—
our mythmade familiars,
harbingers of
the devil’s own luck. I see
them and think
of mountains, younger
hikes in the shortest
days among brittle
limbs and lichened
slabs left like so
much midden: the Priest,
Devil’s Marbleyard, Harkening
Hill. The long grasses whose
color stole along
with the gone sun, leaving
a two-dimensioned
There the black
angles roosted stickily, calls
ragged as the dry grass
leaving burrs at our ankles.
I learned lately
that crows may not
exactly, but do
learn places associated
with conspecific
death, learn the people
they must associate with crisis, learn
the masks volunteers
had to wear,
as controls, as charms
against being too
poorly remembered.
On my last
trip home from back
home one eyed me from slack
wire beside the gas
station, seeing my wild
face more closely
than I may
myself, wary of
risk; planning
to remember a version
of being I’ve made
plans plain to waive.

Emma Aylor’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in PleiadesPoet LoreSixth FinchBarrow StreetSalt Hill, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. Raised in Bedford County, Virginia, she currently lives in Seattle.

2020 Poetry

Maeve Holler


to be seen & not heard

When I was knee-bruised and exploding like yellow from my mouth. When my body was all punches and stiff kisses. When my belly started to feel like a hill to climb. When I wasn’t ready for the rain to come. I was at arms, living for combat, and he taught me the alphabet of silence. At first, I thought it was a game, a hide-and-seek—I spit my words out backwards, my throat spellbound & tangled. I stopped asking questions. Instead, my fingers grew toward a creation of answers: the sky wasn’t blue, the walls all had headaches, there weren’t any trees. Colors existed only on paper, only to be whispered between me & whatever figure of God I was taught to love. That world was like underwater, like a chamber of safety, free of gravity, of noise. I swam alone. I washed my face in that type of wilt—all my new scars were absorbed into that chamber. The game became an exercise in consumption. I ate my words. But I wish I could tell him now: If you cut out my tongue, I will write you a letter.* I wish I could tell him: an animal’s thoughts don’t spill like logic, the magic of coral can’t be undone. I am not seasonal, I cannot drift out to sea like this.

Maeve Holler is a poet from Shelton, Connecticut. She is currently the Managing Editor for the literary magazine Sinking City and a third year MFA candidate at the University of Miami. She received her BA in English and Gender & Sexuality Studies from Tulane University in New Orleans. Maeve’s work, which focuses on depicting working-class experiences and retelling familial folklore, has appeared in LevelerScalawagThe Cardiff ReviewWildnessMantra ReviewLotus-Eater MagazineT.NY’s The EEELBroad! Magazine and elsewhere. Her in-progress manuscript won GASHER Journal’s First Book Scholarship in June 2019.

*line from Tory Dent’s poem “The Murder of Beauty / The Beauty of Murder”

2020 Poetry

Forrest Rapier


The river makes people go crazy—
I’m from a hurricane alley
where weather comes home angry-drunk,

& crushes the fishing pier like it’s a popsicle stick
model of a spinal cord I built for the science fair.
When I brought the glued-wreckage to class,

six-hundred strange teeth laughed at schooldesks,
& I misspelled ‘nationalism’ in the gymnasium.
Where I’m from, neighborhood

avenues have street fruit names, an asphalt canopy—
Orange, Cherry, Lemon. Glen died at Seawalk Pavilion,
& Danyelle shot her neck off in a Queen

bed near Egret’s Bluff—I know Glen paints light
over Panhandle forests while Danyelle climbs
sanity’s cliff. Haloed-zero friends of mine

spacewalk moon pistils, & tongue nectar
with alien hummingbirds on Neptune’s abandoned
beach—we fly flocks of V’s over frozen oceans.

Forrest Rapier is a recent MFA graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the recipient of a University Poetry Prize awarded by the Academy of American Poets. His work appears in Saw Palm, The Greensboro Review and Best New Poets.

2020 Fiction

Sarah Mollie Silberman


You have been selected to complete a survey. The purpose of the survey is to gain information about your health and wellness. Your answers are confidential; they are used only for policy research and to better understand the health challenges Americans face today. Participation is voluntary. There is no penalty if you decline to complete it. You can learn more about the survey, and the work of our federal agency, on our website.


“Do you have any questions, Mr. Rivers?” says the phone interviewer. She has a warm voice, the voice of someone who uses the word hon a lot.

You ask how long the survey will last.

“About 35 minutes,” she says, “depending on the size of your household.”

You tell her you are the only person in your household.

“About 35 minutes, then,” she says. “Any additional questions?”

35 minutes is not an insignificant amount of time. You could, of course, decline to participate, but the truth is you have little better to do. It is 3:27 pm, and the only things you have done today are work on the 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle scattered on the kitchen table and ignore your sister Madeline’s phone calls. She knows you are ignoring her calls; her response is to call at 20 to 40-minute intervals. She also texts various emojis. So far, these have included: the orange angry face, the telephone, and, for reasons that are unclear to you, the pineapple.

You put your phone on speaker and set it on the table, amidst the scattered puzzle pieces. You run your tongue over your teeth, which can best be described as fuzzy. You have not yet brushed them today, and your mouth still tastes like the Coke you drank in lieu of the coffee you ran out of, because who has the wherewithal to go to a store and buy coffee? Truly, you would like to know. You would like to shake their hand. “No additional questions,” you say.

The interviewer starts by asking for basic demographic information.

You tell her: white, non-Hispanic. You tell her your date of birth and confirm your age, which is 27. You are unmarried, without children, and have lived at your current residence for six months or longer. You tell her your occupation (waiter) and that your employer does not currently provide health coverage.

A text message appears on your screen. It is from your sister Madeline: the snail emoji. A minute later: Maybe answer your phone.

“Do you currently have health coverage?” the interviewer asks.


“What are the last four digits of your Social Security Number?”

Here, you pause. You wonder if the survey is an elaborate ploy to steal your identity. For one thing, a telephone survey seems odd in the age of the internet. But then, you are not overly troubled by prospect of identity theft. You question the wisdom of anyone who chooses your identity, of the billions of identities, to steal. If you were to steal someone’s identity, you would give it a lot of thought beforehand. You tap a puzzle piece against the table and decide you would steal Tony Danza’s identity. He has a shitload of money and a relatively low profile, which means not a lot of people have thought to steal it.

The interviewer clears her throat. “Sir?”

“Why do you need my Social Security Number?”

“We use it to link your answers to those of other respondents.”

You provide her with the last four digits of your Social Security Number, clicking a puzzle piece into place. To be clear, you are not a puzzle person—you are actually something of a social animal. The puzzle belongs to your mother, who found it in her closet two or three months ago, before she died of pancreatic cancer. The box was still wrapped in plastic when she pulled it from the shelf. “I have no idea why I bought this puzzle,” she said. She was sick then, but not as sick as she was going to be. She still had some meat on her bones. “I never opened it and now it is one of a million things I’ll never do.” It sounds morbid, but your mother was not a morbid person. She was having a low moment, on account of the cancer. In the meantime, you have discovered that assembling the puzzle is the right kind of mindless activity. The wrong kind of mindless activity, such as drinking a glass of water, or brushing your teeth, leaves you feeling inexplicably blank.

“The next few questions are designed to understand your health and access to health care services,” the interviewer says. She asks for your height and weight. She asks how frequently you exercise. “Do you smoke cigarettes?” she asks.

“No,” you say. It is basically true.

She asks if you could walk 100 yards, or the length of a football field, without difficulty. If you could walk 500 yards, or the length of five football fields, without difficulty. If you could walk up to three flights of stairs without difficulty. “Would you characterize your overall physical health as Excellent, Good, Average, or Poor?”

You stand, pick up your phone, and walk athletically to the refrigerator, where three cans of Coke and half a lime remain. You bought the Coke to mix with rum, but you ran out of rum before you ran out of Coke. Is that an indication of Excellent health? Probably not. You take a can from the shelf and crack it open. “I would characterize my health as Good.”

She asks if you have experienced arthritis (no), hypertension (no), asthma, (no), or diabetes (no).

Another text message appears on your screen: Maybe remember I have a key to your apartment, your sister writes.

It’s true: you are someone who loses keys on a regular basis—a trait inherited from your mother—and your sister is not. At one time, it had seemed like a good idea to give Madeline your extra set, but now you see how wrong you were.

“Have you ever postponed medical, dental, or vision care,” the interviewer asks, “because you were concerned about the expense?”


“Have you seen a medical professional within the last twelve months? Including a general practitioner, nurse, nurse’s assistant, urgent care or emergency room physician, specialist, or mental health professional?”

You tell her that, yes, you have.

“And was the purpose of your appointment for routine care,” the interviewer asks, “or to treat a specific problem?”

“In theory,” you say, “it was to treat a specific problem.”

Your sister was the one who scheduled your consultation with the therapist two weeks ago, a month after your mother died. Because you’re wandering around like a bored zombie, she said. She also used the word reeling at some point, though by that time you had pretty much tuned her out. Needless to say, you failed to show up for the consultation. Then Madeline scheduled another appointment, appeared at your door 45 minutes before it started, and escorted you to the office on the bus. The two of you waited in a small room with a (fake) plant, listening to the wall clock tick. You wondered what kind of therapist neglected to invest in a non-ticking wall clock.

She turned out to be younger than you expected, with the dark, unruly hair of someone with mental health issues of her own. She wore earth tones and clogs, and she seemed like someone who would brag about not having a smartphone. What brings you here today? she asked.

My sister, you said, even though you knew perfectly well what she was getting at. You glanced at the poster of Edvard Munch’s The Scream displayed on the wall, which seemed a little on the nose. Then the two of you sat across from each other, waiting for your grief to present itself in a neat little package, but all you were able to summon was contempt for the therapist and her museum gift shop art. And your sister, for dragging you there. Your sister, who had the temerity to schedule a second appointment (or third, if you include the one you skipped). That appointment is today. That is why she is calling. It is why you are avoiding her calls.

“And was the medical bill mailed to your home address?”


“2201 Ontario Road,” she says, “Apartment 418?”

In the background, you hear a dog barking affably. “Is that your dog?” you ask.

There is a pause. “It is.”

“It’s nice you can work from home. Or can you bring your dog to work?”

The next pause is long enough you wonder if you’ve been disconnected. You glance at your screen; the call is still going. “I work from home sometimes,” the interviewer says. You had pictured her in a drab cubicle. In fact, you had pictured her existing in a drab cubicle, all day and all night. But of course she has a home. People live in homes, unless they are homeless. “What’s your dog’s name?”


You can picture Bernadette: a chocolate lab. Old and stubborn, with mournful eyes. She has a dog bed near a window, where she can bathe in sunlight for hours at a time. It takes a lot to compel Bernadette from her dog bed—an enticing bone, maybe, or the promise of a leisurely walk—in part because the interviewer has gone to great lengths to make it comfortable, lining it with soft blankets and vacuuming it regularly to remove fur and other debris. Probably, if you saw Bernadette’s dog bed, you would be tempted to lie in it yourself.

“How old is Bernadette?” you ask.

“Sir.” There is a hint of edge in the interviewer’s voice. “Let’s return to the survey.”

You take a sip of Coke, the carbonation fizzing in your mouth. “Fine,” you say.

“Now I am going to ask a series of questions about pain,” she says. “How often do you experience pain? Never, rarely, sometimes, a lot, or all the time?”

You tell her sometimes.

She asks if you experience pain in your head, neck, or shoulders (sometimes), or in your back, hips, or knees (sometimes), or in your hands or feet (sometimes).

“Is your pain ever so severe it prevents you from going to your job?”


“Is your pain ever so severe it prevents you from seeing your friends or loved ones?”

“That’s a dark question,” you say.

She clears her throat. “The questions are designed to gain information about your health and wellness.”

“You said that already.”

“Would you describe the pain as acute, or general?”


“If possible, can you pick one or the other?”

“I would describe it as acutely generalized pain.”

It takes the interviewer a few extra seconds to record your answer. “And is your pain more severe than your mother’s pain?”

You squeeze the Coke can. It buckles beneath your grip. “What?” you say.

“What?” the interviewer says, alarmed.

“Could you repeat the question?”

“Certainly.” She speaks more slowly, this time. “Is your pain manageable with the use of over-the-counter or prescription medication?”

You snap another puzzle piece into place, not answering. You have assembled maybe three-quarters of the 1,000 pieces, and the image is starting to emerge. It is a view from Park Güell in Barcelona: a curving overlook, a vibrant array of buildings, a piercing blue sky. Barcelona, you think, is another thing your mother never did. But she was a fan of views. Not vistas, necessarily, though she liked those fine, but views that were interesting if not beautiful. For instance, she loved the look of an industrial skyline with a water tower and various earth-polluting smokestacks. When she saw a view she liked, she would grab you by the wrist—she had a strong grip—and she would say, Look, and you would say, I’m looking, and she would say, Look harder. And she would stand there, holding onto your arm with her white-knuckled death grip, until she decided you had looked at it hard enough. That was the kind of person she was.

It hits you suddenly. You experience it as you might a large wooden plank that is placed on top of your body and then pressed down upon, hard. “Oh my god,” you say. “My mother is dead.” The words hang there, ugly and gleaming. You feel a prickling behind your eyes, though you are not yet crying, and when you take a breath, a strangled sound escapes from your mouth. You wonder if the interviewer will mistaken it for a cough. “Sorry,” you say.

“Do you need a second?” the interviewer asks.

“Sorry,” you say, again. You are crying now.

She tells you not to apologize. She tells you to take your time.

It is hard to tell how long you take. You think, for some reason, about the week before last, when you went to the sauna at the Korean spa, and the only other person there was this old, non-Korean man, and when you sat down he looked at you with great sympathy. You look like you could use a good sweat, he said. It was hot in the sauna, obviously. Uncomfortably hot. But it was the kind of discomfort you could settle into, that you could curl up inside of. For a few minutes, at least, the heat of the sauna was the only thing you felt.

You swallow. You breathe in and out. “Okay,” you say to the interviewer. “Let’s continue.”

“Actually,” she says, “I have just one final question. What’s your mother’s maiden name?”

“That’s a strange question,” you say. You look at the picture of Park Güell, which is so bright and colorful, with mosaic tiles and trees and houses that look like something from a storybook, with spires and everything, that it is actually kind of frenzied. Overwhelming, even. You wonder how your mother’s maiden name could possibly be relevant to your health and wellness. You try to recall the listicle you read several months ago about identity theft. What precise information have you already provided to the interviewer? “What agency do you work for, again?”

“Sir?” the interviewer says.

“Your employer,” you say. “Who is it?”

The interviewer is silent.

The call ends the way most things end: without ceremony. It just ends. You do not even hear a click when the interviewer hangs up, since phones no longer click when people hang up. You watch as your phone switches to the home screen. The bright, neatly arranged apps have never looked less enticing. You place your forehead on the table, feeling several of the puzzle pieces adhere to your skin. You imagine the interviewer closing her laptop and calling to Bernadette. You imagine Bernadette rising from her dog bed, guileless, and meandering over, tail wagging.

Sarah Mollie Silberman’s stories have appeared in Booth, CutBank, Juked, Nashville Review, Potomac Review, and Witness. She holds an MFA from George Mason University and lives in Washington, DC. Find her online at

2020 Poetry

Sarah Bates


I’m watching the second episode of Planet Earth when he finally messages back, earthy colors are great! This is the part in early spring where the hatchling emerges, vulnerable. This is the part where the Himalayan snow leopard adapts its body and its behavior in order to survive. My mother keeps telling me to download a dating app in order to join the others at sea. I can’t hear her over the snakes missing their chance, more baby iguanas finding their way onto the flat ground. Because I, too, want a little corner of Madagascar to myself. I, too, want to be like everyone else at 27 who seems to be getting on with it. Part of the reason why I love the color blue is because it is always letting our bodies go towards the way of our fears. Like men studying rats, bees gathering the tops of mulberry trees in order to dispose of them. Last night I allowed the ants to teach me something new about the waxing gibbous, a shadowy peace asserting itself like a person. I’ve been trying to figure out the color of the car while we were in it, the sound of you balancing my body on top the metal, the rust, a beating heart beside a brown paper bag. I never told you how I had to stop in the middle of Highway 56 to see the dead coyote in the gutter, to bury its milk jaw, its gun-broke hip joint. I knew you had never seen pictures of the Blue Ridge in October, the baby iguana outrunning a racer for the second time. I knew that in the last five minutes, the seeds would disperse and the danger would be gone. The pressure of growth is in every part of every living thing.

Sarah Bates has an MFA in Poetry from Northern Michigan University and currently teaches at Southern Utah University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Fugue, 45th Parallel, The Rumpus, Meridian, Best New Poets 2017, American Literary Review, Seneca Review, The Normal School, Rattle, RHINO, and Hotel Amerika, among others. Her manuscript, O-Six, was a finalist in the 2018 Saturnalia Poetry Book Prize. Her manuscript, Tender, was a finalist in the 2018 Bateau Press Chapbook contest.

2020 Poetry

Bethany Breitland

Bethany Breitland has worked as a barista in California, bouncer in Boston, a high school teacher in the Northeast and in the New South, tutor, researcher, and a florist. She has worked and continues to work as a mother, a partner, and an activist. Currently living at the end of a dirt road, her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best New Poets, and has been published by the Apeiron Review, Up North Lit, Forklift, OHIO, Helix Magazine, and deLuge.