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.
THAT STRING, REMEMBER?
Tied to plastic-cup rims
we pressed to our ears. How far
apart we could stand then and still hear
each other’s secrets? Remember playing
cat’s cradle? How the single strand
became many, moving weightless
from my fingers to yours, each shape
a spider web, a snowflake, a fallen
house? Remember how I couldn’t sew
or knit or braid, but you knew how to stitch
all things together and return buttons
to their rightful place? You told me to hold
a piece of thread between my teeth.
Keep it in your mouth, you said, working
the needle around my wrist. This will keep
your memories from being stolen. Remember?
How far apart we could stand then, connected
only by thread, the fear of not remembering?
WHY SCARRED AND SCARED SOUND SO ALIKE
Skin can hide neither. I got you, our son says,
squeezing our dog’s ear like the worm
he severed bare-fingered or the hatchling’s neck
he hasn’t yet. She takes it, the pressure
of his grip, the delight at holding her so
completely. I kicked the door of his nursery
shut one night, our cat screamed
human, screamed abandon, Egypt
when they took her first-born sons.
The cat’s tail caught between the hinges—
wall, wood, rust—skinned fur clinging
to white paint like a souvenir.
Its tip, all bone, like a newborn’s,
an emaciated finger. No scar, just scared
of what comes next, our son’s wailing, louder
than the animals’. Shaking, the dog—claws
studding her shredded ear—is a split
of black silk, is the tattered wing
of crow or raven, is deaf augury. And we
won’t know their healing, their missing
flesh, frayed cartilage, bleeding
on the hardwood at my bare feet.
Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother, winner the Wick Poetry Prize (Kent State University Press, 2019); Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize, and 40 WEEKS (YesYes Books, 2021). Her poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. Julia is the editor of Construction Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philly with her two kids, two cats, one dog, and one husband.
AFTER READING THE NORTH CAROLINA LAW THAT SAYS WOMEN CANNOT REVOKE CONSENT ONCE SEX HAS BEGUN I HAVE AN UNEVENTFUL DAY
I fill myself with the heat of a large
overpriced airport coffee.
Log the calories of my overpriced
airport bagel into the calorie counter
app taking up space on my phone
because I’ve been told so often that I shouldn’t take up space,
that my body to be lovely
must be small, that I’ve started
to believe it.
Flat stomach tight ass tighter
pussy breasts large but not
so large they sag or stretch—
my body must be constructed
by an impossibility of shapes.
A woman walks by with a man.
I don’t know if he’s her lover
but he grabs her ass and when
she slaps him he laughs,
not unlike last night when
at a bar in Atlanta I was so polite
to the man who came inside
behind me, followed me
because I’d been walking
downtown at night a woman alone,
that the bartender asked him
what we’d be having to drink.
I realize I left my headphones
in the taxi so I buy an overpriced
new pair before they call to board
my flight and then I board my flight.
Yes, that’s it. Is this not the poem
Is this not what you wanted me
The peaches turned
before I could pick them.
I told them, Fuzzy stars,
I envy you, flesh safe
from my father’s teeth.
I left the grove
with all the harvest
baskets empty, kept only
for myself a single
I held it close to me
for days, brought it to bed
with me each evening,
pressed it to my chest,
shared my warmth until
it felt like another body—
one I thought I could love
No. It wasn’t my father’s
teeth that needed fearing.
I ate that rotten fruit
and it was sweet.
Raye Hendrix is a doctoral fellow at the University of Oregon studying Poetics and Crip Theory. She earned her BA and MA in English from Auburn University and her MFA from the University of Texas in Austin. Raye is the winner of the 2019 Keene Prize for Literature and the 2018 Patricia Aakhus Award given by Southern Indiana Review, and she has been an honorable mention for poetry in both AWP’s Intro Journals Project in 2015 and Southern Humanities Review’s Poetry Prize Honoring Jake Adam York in 2014. Raye’s work appears or will soon appear in 32 Poems, Poetry Northwest, Southern Indiana Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Shenandoah, The Pinch, Cherry Tree, and elsewhere. She is originally from rural Alabama.
I was inspired to stage and shoot the series “Let’s Eat Baby!” after my labmate, who was originally from Louisiana, brought a King’s Cake to the office for Mardi Gras and left the small plastic baby out of the pastry, thinking that ignorant Texans would freak out. I thought that one baby wouldn’t be so alarming, but a plethora of babies, distributed evenly and liberally through a food item? Nauseating!
“Let’s Eat Baby!” is about how we, as a capitalist society, eat our young. As much as I dislike intergenerational conflict, it is undeniable that a certain generation has left subsequent generations with a bereft economy and unstoppable climate catastrophes, all while normalizing abundance and excess as commonly accepted standards of living. Being on the receiving end, I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to illustrate the disturbing humor of the situation, so here we are!
Grace Sydney Pham is a self-taught photographer and second generation Vietnamese American based in Fort Worth, Texas. She enjoys shooting digital photos as well as medium format and instant film, and looks to photographers Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, and the late Ren Hang as major influences. Visit her website here.
as an arrangement, between
algae and fungus. An understanding –
sea foam spreading high up on a bare walnut tree.
Three crows go screaming by,
dive at a red-tail and alert the pine squirrel who darts off now.
Trillium will bloom and the march brown mayfly too.
This is maybe as close to quiet as I can get
before my brother’s bleeding eye
is a shadow spreading at the base of my neck
like a fat brook trout in the creek
and I have to ask myself again
if that is something I want to catch.
Elizabeth Leo was a poet, teacher, and gardener. She received her MFA in poetry from West Virginia University. A Philadelphia native, she lived in West Virginia until her death in 2019. She has poems forthcoming in Radar Poetry, Poet Lore, and Moon City Review.
I say: I’m here. You say:
looking at you
through water, pressing
your hand to my chest.
picture to oneself.
What an intimacy— to form
of my body,
across your mind.
It is un-speechable
to see what I see.
I shimmer. I am always
If you could touch me,
imagine the hard
undertow of our love—
destination. The swell
of being known. An oar
smacks the water: tension,
tension, then relief. Yes,
imagine our closeness then.
I move through this city—
an eternal disruption. The air
shawling and pewter and wet.
The catalyst is always the body
in motion. I move as a tear,
as in terror. Interrupt
into rupture. I I I false pillar
of history. I admit: I’m tumbling.
There was a time this meant
to dance with contortions—
it’s fond to think that way—
history, a simple epic memory:
contorted and queer and yours.
waiting for grass to puncture
a face too soft to bear. Verbal
cues and car windows create
thy form so flaccid and false,
or faulty— I should say.
I was afraid
and I was always that.
Trapped in what could be
and never was.
Cattails frill a childhood.
Seals bark in the nighttime.
The soul— a slippery fish. A thought
so mighty that it surmounts
my wild grasp.
I saw something live,
it was a beautiful thing—
and easy, like a bluejay shimmering in the light.
I stood there in the buzzing snow—
her eyes glaucopic as she sang
into the silence.
We were living together
in this place. We shrugged
off all other truths.
It was hard at first—
the blankness, the wanting.
Then it was all I had.
I stood still in the buzzing snow—
playing the hum of a copper opera in my mind.
What if I unknot what I need to say,
and still cannot say it?
An extravagant lack of an extravagant thing.
S. Yarberry is a trans poet and writer. Their poetry has appeared in Tin House, Indiana Review, The Offing, Berkeley Poetry Review, jubilat, Nat Brut, Sixth Finch, miscellaneous zines, among others. Their other writings can be found in Bomb Magazine and Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly. S. has a MFA in Poetry from Washington University in St. Louis where they now hold the Junior Fellowship in Poetry. They currently serve as the Poetry Editor of The Spectacle.
My body stood full
of blood at the Christmas pageant.
I spent the night awash in a man’s borrowed gown
years before anyone would
tell me the northern stars are dead
and will someday eat my family.
The next week, kicked in the chest by a mare
and held accountable in the frozen barn,
chained machinery leaking oil into my hair.
I did abide in my youth, pirouette toward sugar,
and joyride at night.
I fell through the elm, wore its limbs like a king.
Alone, I asked how to touch
the many mansions rising for me,
even if a fire was there to dim its jaws on the walls.
If I stared into the flat eyes of the fish
thrashing on the ice
before I tried to gut it, alone.
Skyler Osborne received an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, TX. His work has most recently appeared in Best New Poets, Narrative, No Tokens, and elsewhere.
Originally from Rome, Georgia, Alicia Wright has received fellowships from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her poems appear in Ecotone, West Branch, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, Flag + Void, and The Southeast Review, among others. At present, she is a PhD candidate in English & Literary Arts at the University of Denver, where she serves as Poetry Editor for Denver Quarterly.
*The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapters 47 and 48: (47) Wise instruction about the purity of spirit in this work, explaining how a soul should reveal its desire in one way to God and in the opposite way to human beings. (48) God wishes to be served with both body and soul, and will reward us in both; and how to know when all the sounds and sweet sensations that are experienced in body during prayer are good and when evil.
BANQUET, SIXTEENTH OF SEPTEMBER
to Régina’s boys—Paul, Raymond, and René Magritte
What a thing, to see
the sun in front of the oak grove.
You test out new words, dealing—
a new bed and no longer
afraid to sleep at night.
The moon in front of the tree
and the mind, unknown.
The image, too. Memory—
a bell ringing, a drying flower.
To have seen what you could not have seen—
the way a body breaks itself in mercy.
All love is unrequited to a degree, which is to say
there is no there there,
at least not in the sense of space.
No matter what she promised.
MY FATHER’S ASHES IN THE ATLANTIC
I cannot get the cloying taste of saltwater taffy out of my mouth.
—Anger is a second emotion,
lying over the first like a lover.
My mother tells me to take her
to the top of a mountain,
leave her to the bears.
Nothing left but bones, then ash—
a dash thrown into the ocean like raw sugar in my tea.
Isabelle Shepherd is a poet from West Virginia. She now lives in Wilmington, NC, where she received her MFA from UNCW. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, The Journal, Ninth Letter, Redivider, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. More of her work and upcoming reading dates can be found on www.isabelleshepherd.com.
Not Inside or Outside, but Quietly There
On the third floor of the boy’s house, white picture frames line a long hallway. Each frame holds a photo: the boy, his father, his mother, his sister, his brother. No dust lingers on the frames or glass. The boy’s father hires women to clean their faces; absence of dust signifies wealth, or attention to detail, or both. No nannies appear in the photos, though nannies have looked after the boy his entire life, including me. They sometimes told me, as a compliment, that I seemed like family. Because a simile highlights difference, this phrase created a separation between us.
As the riddle goes, “what lies neither inside nor outside the house but no house would be complete without it?” A window, of course. A nanny, like a window, completes the family. And, like a window, you can choose to ignore it, focusing instead on what you see through it: sloping lawn behind your house and the fountain, where water comes out of a jug held by a clay cherub. Not inside or outside, but quietly there, the window does invisible labor; you will see no nannies in Keeping up with the Kardashians, not even picking up toys or wiping a child’s nose, not even in the corner of the frame.
When I was one of the many windows in the boy’s house, my value lay in my glass-like qualities: spotlessness, transparency. This self-effacement began with the agreement I signed not to talk about my experience, an agreement I am breaking right now. Good windows, like good nannies, stay invisible; only the bad windows, scratched or dirty or warped, are noticeable. “Has he been a good boy today?” His father asked me every day, knowing only one answer.
Insert Image: I am dipping my hair into a bucket of soapy water to
clean the minivan. My hair, dark and thick, covers my face. The car says
“wash me” on the back windshield. I wipe the words away. Dirty water
drips down my neck…
Sometimes, however, in a startling moment, you can’t help but see the window there, being looked through. Or you notice it after the fact, when you close your eyes and a photo negative of the frame imprints against your closed lids. At her death in 2009, the now-lauded photographer Vivian Maier left behind hundreds of thousands of images, negatives, and exposures: street photos, architectural subjects, and lots of self-portraits, striking self-portraits reflected back in a standing floor-length mirror in the window of a pawn shop, in a rear view mirror, in the reflective sheen of a hubcap, in the theft prevention mirror.
One of the most-discussed details of Maier’s life: she worked as a nanny for over forty years. One of the children she nannied later remarked, “I don’t think she liked kids at all really. I think she liked images. When she saw an image she had to capture it. ” Critics can’t figure out 1. How could a nanny also be such an accomplished artist? 2. How could such an accomplished artist choose to nanny, if she didn’t like kids? The idea that a woman would choose to nanny for economic, rather than emotional reasons, confounds those who work outside of the care professions. The window never asked to be a window, but how many of us desire what we later become?
In fact, I always hated the word “nanny, ” partly because it sounds ugly, and partly because it made me a nanny-goat, tits heavy with milk, kept on hand to mother the lambs when the sheep mother rejects her young. The human nanny, likewise, serves as a facsimile parent—”like family. ”My tasks included giving the boy the good night kiss he asked for before bed. I slept at the house often, and I watched him fall asleep, watched him sleep the heavy sleep of a ten-year old, and watched him wake up, a level of attention I have paid no one else and hope to never pay anyone again.
I am typically an observant person, but the quality of my gaze intensified by a job that hinged on watching over, watching out for, looking after, looking at, keeping eyes on. I spent so much time watching the boy that I had little attention left to give to anything else. I underwent a crisis of looking, the way that a word becomes strange when I write it too many times, or my face in the mirror when I stare too long. I spent so much time looking at one thing that my own life became a shadow I walked through. What else did I do during that time? Outside of him, I have few memories.
Insert Image: I am killing my houseplants by lying in bed. They die
slowly, over a long stretch of time, their leaves curling up and away
from the light. Time stretches out long like wet chewing gum. Each
hour seems the length of a whole day. I set a timer to remind me to
water the houseplants and when the timer goes off it sounds like bells.
I roll over to my left side.
At work, I watched the boy. I watched him at pool games, tennis games, soccer practice, soapbox races, the frozen yogurt store, the movie theater. I watched him destroying the rose bushes with a stick in the backyard, tearing up his sister’s drawings, chasing the black lab down the hill. I watched him open the automatic window in the car and yell out of it at people walking past. I watched him bathe. I watched him scream. I knew the micro-expressions in the corners of his eyes, changing from mood to mood, the jut of his jaw right before a tantrum, his teeth up close, his eyes up close, his mouth, his nose. I knew the details of his face better than my own, better than anyone I’ve loved.
It is pleasant to imagine that attention stems from love. Simone Weil: “Attention is the rarest form of generosity. ” Or, framed as a leading question in the film Ladybird: “Don’t you think they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Certainly, attention links to perceived value; as a child, no one watched me the way I watched the boy. But there are also things I love that I prefer to keep a little uncared for. Not looking—at a partner’s texts, at a friend changing her bra—is a form of trust.
And attention can just as well signal generosity’s opposite, as any woman who has had a stalker knows. I have kept a careful eye on many things that I certainly did not love, the boy among them. Once, he screamed in my face, “Leave me alone! Stop watching me!” I understood his feeling. I cover my bedroom windows with curtains. I delete my search history. I lock my social media accounts. The whole time I worked for the boy’s family, I tried to find the cameras littered throughout the house. I didn’t steal, but would I have, if I hadn’t been afraid of being watched?
Insert Image: I am sitting on the sidewalk, outside the school. School’s
still in session. I drop parts of my sandwich for the pigeon. She looks
straight at me with glossy, shrink-wrapped eyes. She does not eat.
“Constant and permanent visibility, ” to borrow Foucault’s phrasing, leaves us vulnerable. For the boy, I formed one side of the frame that surrounded him. For my part, I felt silently acquiescent, unable to shutter. And I, too, had power, over all of them in that house. I was there from morning till night, weekends, weekdays, in the house, outside the house. I knew more of them, though peripherally, than they ever knew of me. I knew the good, the bad. A window is passive, clear glass, but it can transform when the light dies outside, taking on a reflective quality: the insidious trick of your own reflection partially obscuring what you are trying to look at. Why force a non-disclosure except out of fear of what the window has seen, the fear of seeing yourself in it, as you really are?
But it is a vanity to presume that you are the object of another’s gaze, that they might want to expose you. In one of her many self-portraits, Vivian Maierholds the camera at hip height, looking down as she takes a photograph of her own silhouette in a museum window. She stands on the street; carved across her thighs and waist are the figures of two women inside the museum, contained within and obscuring the outline of her body. In another, a woman is talking on the phone through a window, the outline of Maier’s arms, holding the camera, barely visible in the shadow around the figure. She left behind no images of the children she was paid to watch.
After the boy fell asleep, I sometimes walked through his family’s house. I looked at the products inside the bathroom sink. I read the addresses on unopened envelopes and held them up to the light. I touched the fabrics of the racks of his mother’s designer clothes, took heavy dresses off the hangers, pressed them up against my own body. I snapped a picture of myself in her closet, as big as my bedroom. I still have that reflection of myself in one of the floor-length mirrors of the huge room, alone in the house, as if I owned it, as if I lived there, alone.
Insert Image: I stand alone in front of the door, the lock like a face
with a little nose where the key would go. I turn the deadbolt. It clicks.
Two beams come down the driveway, the night guard’s headlights. I
step back, noiseless.
The boy and I often watched Vine compilations on the little window of my phone before bed. Each video composed a little six-second loop, strung together into 20-minute videos, each individual loop a window into a moment. Each compilation had a name: Vines for when you are laying alone in bed at night. Vines for when you’re insecure and don’t know what for. Vines for when you’re lonely and forget who you are.
Erin Marie Lynch is a poet and multimedia artist. Her writing has appeared in journals such as New England Review, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, DIAGRAM, and Bennington Review, while her performance and video work has been featured at a variety of exhibitions and festivals. She is a former Hugo House Fellow and has been the recipient of support from the University of Washington, University of North Texas, and the Bill & Ruth True Foundation. Born and raised in Oregon, she is a descendant of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Currently, she is a PhD student in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California.