Sophia Galifianakis

2016, Poetry

THE STAGE

I knew nothing, bent above the river
I’d stepped in again and again, but never
to get wet. A fallen cause of crimson,
this dawn, too, was a tragedy of light over

the crook of a day that arrived, knowing
nothing. It appeared as I did, donning
a script of gestures grander than its sight,
compelled by a stage for its showing,

I suppose. It painted itself a new sky,
featuring a cast of glimpses that denied
existence, a cloud of angels divided.
My perspective: vertical blinds of light.

I swung into my lines like a sailor—
drunk and seeking the favor of a lover
I’d met on a corner. I whined. The heavens
applauded and cried with the laughter

of those who know the story, who delight
in the knowing. Then dawn gave a sign,
exited bowing. And I waved and threw
kisses as if across a crowd of smiles.

And I’ll tell you, despite all the beaming
and heartfelt feigned goodbyes. Despite
the curtain call, flowers, ovation of night,
I never noticed this river was dry.


CLEANING

You know the metaphor too well: dishes
stacked in yesterday’s jam, hardened bread,
eggs smudged on the counter, waiting. Your son’s
clothes forever unseamed, holes in the laundry,
holes folded into holes that open and shut closed.

Your daughter yawns events at you, too tired
to yawn back, to gape at the same picture
that stays at the same table that changes plates
and scents and textures and never strays
from where it grows. You know how you nod

when people talk, think I should know
what I’ve heard, but the phrases are lost souls
in a yawn of vowels. You nod I understand, and
someone asks, are you even listening? I am.

_______________________________

Currently, Sophia Galifianakis teaches at the University of Michigan, where she received her MFA in poetry. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Plume, The Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other journals, and she has received scholarships from West Chester Poetry Conference, Poetry by the Sea, and Vermont Studio Center.

 

Amanda Huynh

2016, Poetry

Before I was born

my  dad   died   in    an
accident    except      it
wasn’t an  accident at
least  that’s what   my
brother  says  he   was
twelve at the time but
he  said   my   dad  was
shot     in    the    fields
while  working  maybe
over           drugs        or
something    but   they
shot    him  then   they
turned  his  tractor  on
let    it   run    over   his
body       brother     said
there   were    a   lot  of
gashes   on   my   dad’s
face  too you could  see
them    at   the  funeral
service that’s  what  he
says  I  wasn’t   there  I
wasn’t   born    yet  but
there    are     nights    I
dream    those   gashes
feel     like     the    field
I  work  in    every   day

WHEN I ASK MY BROTHER ABOUT OUR DAD

             Like I told you

I don’t remember
                                          much. Our dad
              was just a mean man.
                                          If he wasn’t working,
he was drinking. The cerveza
                           bottle became his left hand.

              One time I tripped over his boots
                           as I stood up he hit me
against the wall,
                                          brushed his boots
off.
                            I lost my first tooth then.

When mom found out he had   another
                                        family—
                                                      she kicked him
                                                  out
               and when he asked if I wanted to go
with him
                            or stay,

                                        I stayed.

_____________________________________

Amanda Huynh is a native Texan living in Virginia. She attends the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. She was a finalist for the 2015 Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize and recently was one of eight poets to receive an AWP 2016 Intro Journals Project Award. Her work is published or forthcoming in the following journals: Tahoma Literary Review, Muzzle Magazine, Huizache, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and As/Us: Women of the World.

E. Kristin Anderson

2016, Poetry

Between 50 and 64% of rats will self-administer diazepam

                 So I have to imagine a rat on valium
and how she might lap up that nectar, roll over,
breathe, and find a modicum of peace in home.

How home is more habit than locale—a ritual
with scheduled meals and a nurse calling you honey.

I am also belly-up. My vein is open. And the rat waits.
Wails. And I wait. Our breaths slow and suck at beige.
Gloved hands reach in to touch.

Look, how her eyelids droop, some dream a tremor
in her feet. I avoid the mirror, wait for a friend
to promise there is color in my cheeks again.

No, the IV. Always the IV. It burns;
take your hand and push. My sister rat and I
have had enough of hunger and shallow headboards.

_______________________________

E. Kristin Anderson is the author of seven chapbooks including A GUIDE FOR THE PRACTICAL ABDUCTEE (Red Bird Chapbooks 2014) PRAY, PRAY, PRAY: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press, 2015), 17 DAYS (ELJ Publications) ACOUSTIC BATTERY LIFE (ELJ 2016), FIRE IN THE SKY (Grey Book Press 2016), and SHE WITNESSES (dancing girl press, 2016).  She’s currently a poetry editor for Found Poetry Review and also edits at Lucky Bastard. Her work has appeared in Juked, Hotel Amerika, [PANK], Asimov’s Science Fiction, and is forthcoming in Folio and Red Paint Hill. She grew up in Maine, lives in Austin, Texas, and blogs at EKristinAnderson.com.

Elizabeth Johnston

2016, Fiction

EVERYTHING BITTER

“One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.”
—Proverbs 27.7

Dan must have scrambled for the last parachute a minute too late. Katie imagined the helicopter exploding, those boys like kernels, popping out burnt and blackened, others melting and stretching shapeless to seats, caramelized.

She had been eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when the knock came. On the front step, an officer from the Buffalo reserve unit and a military chaplain. Of course she knew what they were going to say before they spoke, had watched this exact scene in the movies, so she swung the door wide and called to her mother in the kitchen. Then they stood side by side in front of the officers like awkward partners at a junior-high dance while the officers told them Dan’s unit had been lost somewhere southeast of Kabul. Shot down by enemy fire. A missile, perhaps. They couldn’t say more. A team had recovered his remains and shipped them to Dover. Her mom and dad could collect him there if they wished.

When her mother collapsed, Katie did not reach for her like a good daughter should. Instead, she fled to the bathroom, knelt at the toilet, and puked. She watched the chunks of her sandwich circle the drain like debris from a shipwreck, saliva forming a rope bridge between her mouth and the water. Since then she’d been unable to eat. Not real food, anyway.

Two mornings later, her parents left to meet with the funeral director. Her mother hadn’t wanted to leave her alone, but Katie insisted she needed the quiet and her mother reluctantly acquiesced. Katie watched their car pull from the driveway, then wandered into the kitchen where she opened and closed cupboard doors. She took a box of Cheerios from the pantry, poured it into a bowl, splashed milk over it. But the floating cereal reminded her of life rafts, so she dumped it down the garbage disposal. Through the window over the sink she could see the dilapidated shed her father had been threatening to tear down. Behind it, a row of dense pines and a chain-link fence.

Although still in her pajamas, Katie opened the door to the backyard, crossing the lawn in her bare feet. Turning her head instinctively to make sure no one was watching, she walked around the side of the shed toward the back. The shed was flanked on both sides by lilac bushes; Katie wiggled past the branches to a small clearing between the rear wall and fence. Hidden on all sides, it had been a favorite hideaway when she and Dan were children. Once they had even run away together there.

Dan was probably eight, Katie five. He had been sent to his room for some typical misdeed—throwing eggs at the cat or pouring flour into the sink to make quicksand. While her parents watched TV, Katie crept to his door and softly pushed it open. He was on his knees next to his toy box cramming Army soldiers and matchbox cars into his book bag. “I’m running away,” he had told her, his cheeks wet with indignation. Emboldened by love, she had tiptoed to the kitchen and stolen three Swiss Rolls from the cupboard. She returned, flushed and tingling, and held them out. “Want to go with me?” he had offered, and Katie’s heart triple-beat. She had raced to her own room, shook her pillow from its case and replaced it with a bathing suit, pink windbreaker, clean pair of underwear, and her new roller skates. Together they snuck downstairs, pausing at the backdoor to pinkie swear they’d never return. Then they slipped across the backyard, her pillowcase and his backpack slung over their shoulders, their shadows beneath the motion light stretching before them like a pair of cartoon burglars.

At the perimeter of the yard they stopped. “Let’s stay behind the shed for tonight,” Dan had suggested. “We’ll leave when the sun comes up.” They set up camp, spreading the blanket he had brought and propping themselves against the shed wall. They unwrapped one Swiss Roll each, peeling the chocolate shells from their spongy middles, eating slowly and deliberately. “It might be awhile before we find food,” Dan advised, pointing his flashlight into his book bag at the remaining roll. Katie nodded bravely, and he zipped it closed. Hours seemed to pass. Crickets chirped from the shadows, a cat yowled in the distance, unknown things moved around in the grass and rustled branches. It was still warm, but Katie put on her windbreaker anyway and huddled into it. She thought of how her mother’s hair smelled like lilacs. She wondered if her parents would adopt new children; if her mother would name her new little girl “Katie,” too. She started to weep, quietly at first, but then in breaking sobs. Dan jumped to his feet. “For Chrissake, you little baby. Let’s go back then.” He grabbed her pillowcase and his bag and marched across the lawn to the house before she could protest. Inside, the microwave clock blinked; it wasn’t even nine. Their parents hadn’t noticed their absence. At his bedroom door, Dan dropped her pillowcase and reached into his bag, held up the remaining Swiss Roll. “Next time I’m leaving you behind,” he growled, pressing his nose to hers and narrowing his eyes. Then he closed the door between them, Swiss Roll still clutched in his hands.

She and Dan hadn’t gone to the shed together in a long time, but for years it had been the place they met to commiserate about their monarchial parents, plot ways to foil school bullies, or plan their slurpee business. It was here she and Dan had cowered when her father was throwing cans from the kitchen cabinet and the police had come. It was here they had devised their secret three-fingered handshake. And it was here they had buried her hamster, Iggy, and, later, his goldfish, Steve.

But by the time Dan entered junior high, a kid sister was more an embarrassment than an ally. Plus Dan had an easy way with people that Katie never possessed. In high school he had run track, tested into AP classes, was even voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” Katie, on the other hand, felt swallowed up in crowds. Her own yearbook pages were blank. She had assumed Dan stopped visiting the shed, though she went there herself several times a week to read or draw. One spring afternoon, the year before Dan graduated and left for boot camp, she had pushed the branches aside and was met with a flash of skin and hurried rustling of clothes. Get out of here you creep, Dan had snapped, swatting at her through the brush. Although she was already retreating, Katie glimpsed his girlfriend, Angela, giggling and hiding her face in his shoulder.

Katie had never cared for Angela. Not her doughy, Muppet face. Not the way she said Dan’s name, hanging onto it like a kite. Not how she jumped up to help Katie’s mom with the dishes– like she was auditioning for something. Angela had been one of the first to show up at the house after the news, blubbering at the kitchen table, mascara inking down her cheeks, snot bubbling from her nose. As if Dan belonged more to her than to them. When Angela reached for her hand, Katie didn’t care if she was being rude; she had waved it away and excused herself to her room.

Now she tried not to think about Angela and Dan’s bodies pressed together in this space. Or about Dan in his fatigues when they dropped him at the airport, how clumsily he had hugged Katie, his hand patting her back like he was burping her. Instead, she squinted up into the sun for as long as she could without blinking. When her eyes watered, she lowered them and counted the freckles on her arm. Then she tried counting a line of ants trickling along the fence. When they moved too quickly, she turned to the small, white flowers dotting the grass around her. They reminded her of the candies her mother used to buy in Wegman’s baking section that come glued to cardboard sheets. Katie’s stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten since the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Gently, she placed a flower on her tongue. It had a slight grassy taste. She chewed and swallowed. She ate another. Then another. When she had eaten all the flowers within reach, she crawled from behind the shed and began to move, methodically, across the lawn–the way a search team files across a field when someone’s gone missing—picking flowers and popping them into her mouth. When her parents came home, she told them she was full.

In the hours after the news, Katie’s mother had started cooking. She was like Betty Crocker on speed. Like Dan’s entire battalion was coming to the wake. She lined up whole Thanksgiving dinners. Peas piled like helmets. Mashed potatoes moated by gravy. She roasted a turkey. A fleshy ham. Three kinds of pies, crusts swollen and bleeding. Katie knew it would all go to waste, rot in Tupperware behind the milk. Leftover, like things unsaid.

There was some comfort in knowing Dan preferred to be cremated. “If something happens to me over there,” he had told her after their grandmother’s viewing, “don’t stuff me in a box like that. I don’t want people seeing me. Or bugs making meals of my eyes.” As it turned out, what was left wasn’t enough to bury anyway. The officers who turned over his remains told her parents the recovery team had dug at the dirt for days. Katie pictured them like farmers raking soil, plucking and tossing into their buckets fingers like carrots, toes like mushrooms. She imagined one pausing, bending, then dusting from the ash a perfectly preserved, pink Potato Head nose.

Katie was seven and Dan ten when he’d stolen her Mr. Potato Head. She found Dan at the table, napkin stuffed into his collar, knife and fork poised over the doll. Grinning, he snapped off its little pink nose, popped it into his mouth. He didn’t mean to swallow, but when Katie lunged, smacked him in the chest, he gulped the nose down whole. Dan was rushed to emergency. He turned out fine, but Mr. Potato Head’s nose was a goner. Since then Katie had imagined that nose bobbing around in his stomach like a buoy. When her parents brought home his ashes, Katie had to resist the urge to upend the urn. Part of her was sure she’d find that nose in his charred remains like a crackerjack prize.

Now Katie stood in the archway to the kitchen watching her mother and thinking of a reality show about a woman who ate her husband’s cremated ashes, rationing his remains by the teaspoon. Katie wondered what a body’s ashes would taste like. Perhaps like burned toast. Her mother’s back was turned, head bowed over a mixing bowl, beaters churning, hair streaked with batter. Her shoulders began to shake silently and Katie knew she was weeping. She wanted to go to her mother, hug her, whisper some kind of words. Instead, Katie trudged the stairs to Dan’s room, sat next to his bed, ate stuffing from a hole in his mattress.

Sometime in the night, Katie woke. She had been watching Noah’s Ark before she fell asleep and had dreamed of a sinking boat, zebras and elephants, dogs and parakeets, paddling past her two-by-two, grinning toothy smiles. Suddenly a giant whale had risen out of the churning sea, swallowed her whole, and she had slid down its tongue into its wet belly. In the dark, she beat against the slippery lining of its stomach, water lapping at her ankles, her shins, her knees—then, something grazed her leg; she felt around in the water and brought something small and hard to her face: a pink Potato nose. She woke soaked in sweat.

Unable to return to sleep, Katie crept downstairs to the liquor cabinet. She took a swig of Jack Daniels in the living room, then carried it upstairs to Dan’s room. Softly, she closed the door behind her, then opened his closet. The scent of cologne wafted out and she stepped back, blinking hard. Buried at the end of the row of button-downs and slacks was the jacket he had worn to their grandmother’s funeral. He had grown taller while he was away—as if boot camp had stretched him– and the jacket had been too small. He had looked like someone else in it. Not entirely like a stranger. More like someone she’d sit across from on the bus, someone she thought maybe she knew from somewhere.

Katie untangled the jacked from its hanger and laid it across his bed, stretching the arms wide. She picked some lint from its lapel and rolled it between her thumb and finger. Then she placed it in her mouth. It tickled and she swallowed it. Then she noticed one of the buttons was loose. She tugged it off. In her palm it looked like an M&M. She placed the button in her mouth, pushing it into the pocket of her cheek. She turned to his dresser, began to open each of his drawers. In the bottom drawer, beneath his soccer uniform, Katie found a cigar box. Inside, a stack of letters. She could tell from the fat, loopy handwriting scrawled across the envelopes they were from Angela.

Katie sat on his bed and opened them one at a time, sucking at the button in her mouth. Angela had written them while he was in training. Boring details about chemistry class at the community college or trying to house-train her new puppy. Every now and then some private moment would rise up from the page in glowing words like flesh and soft and naked, and Katie’s underarms would grow damp and her belly tighten. She lifted the bottle to her mouth, and with a long swing swallowed the button in her mouth. Then Katie lifted one of the letters to her mouth and nibbled at the edge. It tasted sweet. She tore off a corner, wadded it, popped it into her mouth like gum, and swallowed it with a swig of Jack. She ripped off Dear Dan, and ate it, too. She tore off roller-skating and milkshakes. Piece by piece, she consumed I miss you, don’t forget, and Love. Then she returned the box, put on Dan’s jacket, and crawled under his covers.

The next morning Katie woke to her father shaking her. He had the bottle of Jack in his hands. “Up,” he was saying, “Get up.” Katie groaned, the room spinning. “How much did you drink?” she heard him ask before a wall of nausea swept between them. She pushed past him and ran to the bathroom where she dry heaved, each retching gag an axe splitting her open. When the violence passed, she rested her cheek against the toilet seat, gratefully. She was vaguely aware that her father loomed over her. “It’s a good thing your mother is in the shower,” he scolded. “You think she needs to see you like this now? Jesus Christ. It’s your brother’s funeral today. And take that off before you get vomit on it.” Katie looked down and realized she was still wearing Dan’s jacket. She hoisted herself up from the toilet. “Sorry,” she mumbled, her eyes stinging, the room still swaying. But her father was already disappearing down the stairs.

They hadn’t been to church in years and Katie thought the new preacher, Pastor Dave, looked too young to be a minister, more like one of those pimply boys from school who made kissy faces at her. Above Pastor Dave’s head, Jesus hung on the cross. Crosses always made Katie think of vampires. When she was nine, Dan had paid Katie five dollars to watch Diary of a Vampire with him. Afterwards, he hid in the closet and jumped out at her. She had dissolved into hysterics and was plagued by nightmares for months; her parents grounded Dan for a week. “Baby,” he spat at her on his way to his room.

Now Pastor Dave began to read verses about eternal life, and Katie bent her head so that her hair fell around her face. Her armpits felt sticky and the backs of her knees were wet. When Katie heard her mom choke back a sob, she glanced up at her through her veil of hair. Her throat was throbbing and exposed, a cross around her neck rising and falling on her breasts. When Katie was a baby, she had bitten her mom while nursing and her mother wound up with mastitis. Her mom used to laugh that Katie was always so hungry, wanting more milk than her mother had to give. Dan, barely three, had been jealous, climbed onto their mother’s lap, pushed Katie out of the way. Katie tried to imagine her mother like that, holding babies to her breast. Like she must sometimes hold Katie’s father. Perhaps like Angela had held Dan.

The morning’s nausea flooded her again. “I need to go,” she whispered into her mother’s ear, standing and pushing past her. Her father tried to grab her hand, but Katie fled up the church aisle, not caring that Pastor Dave had paused, that everyone’s eyes were on her, that somewhere in the room Angela was sniveling in a pew. Katie pushed the doors open into the vestibule where she nearly knocked over the tripod that held Dan’s military photo. Quickly, she turned down the hall toward the fellowship room. Inside, the room was dark and the air cool and Katie’s nausea settled. Folded metal tables and chairs leaned against the wall. She remembered the Sunday potlucks the church had held once a month when she was little, the Styrofoam plates piled high with fruit salad and iced brownies, how she and Dan and the other kids would play capture the flag on the lawn outside while the adults drank coffee. Across the room was a door that led into the kitchen. She crossed the floor and pushed it open.

Dan was sitting on the floor, his back against the refrigerator. She knew it was him because he was wearing the suit he’d worn to their grandmother’s funeral. On his lap he balanced a communion tray of wafers, beside him another filled with thimbles of grape juice. He was tossing handfuls of wafers into his mouth like popcorn. He held out the tray.

She shook her head. “No thanks.”

He scooted over and she sat down next to him.

“What are you doing here?” He looked remarkably well. Not even a smudge of soot.

“I was hungry.” He tipped the thimble like a shot glass to his lips, then motioned toward the vestibule. “How’s it going out there?”

“Singing your praises like always.”

That please him. “Angela wearing that short little number she wore to Grandma’s funeral?”

“I didn’t notice,” Katie said, annoyed, but immediately felt guilty knowing he’d never be able to kiss Angela or slide that dress off her again. Suddenly he seemed smaller, his ankles and wrists thin and pale. A pinkish hue rimmed his eyes and nose, like he had been crying or awake too long.

“How are Mom and Dad taking it?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Bickering like usual. Arguing about your ashes. Mom wants to release them at the beach.”

Dan chewed thoughtfully. “And Dad?”

“National Cemetery.”

Dan nodded.

“I think they should put you behind the shed,” Katie offered.

Dan met her gaze. “I don’t care where you put me,” he said flatly. “I’m dead, dummy.”
Katie’s cheeks burned. She considered telling him she had eaten his letters. But then she felt guilty, not just because they were gone, but because she was certain he really was shrinking. Where moments before he was a head taller, now he came up just to her shoulder.

“Dan-,” she started to say, to warn him. It occurred to her that he might just keep shrinking. “Dan-” she said more urgently. Now he was the size of an urn and struggled beneath the weight of the communion tray.

Katie helped Dan slide out from beneath the tray. Then she put her hand on the floor, palm up, because by then he was so small he could walk right into it. She lifted him to eye level, feeling a little like King Kong. He was completely pink by then, and the size of a Mr. Potato Head nose.

He grinned and she thought if he wasn’t so tiny he would probably reach out to tousle her hair. “Ok, you big baby,” he said, “let’s get this over with.”

Katie brought her hand to her mouth. And swallowed hard.

____________________________________

“Everything Bitter” is Elizabeth Johnston’s first short story. Her essay, “Tackle Box,” was one of three finalists for Lunch Ticket’s 2015 Diana Woods Memorial Prize, her co-authored play, FourPlay, received honorable mention in Cahoodaloodaling’s 2015 In-Cahoots contest, and her poetry and plays have been nominated for two Pushcarts and a “Best of the Net” prize. You can read some of her most recent work in Excursions, Teaching English at the Two Year College, Veils, Halos, and Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women,  and All We Can Hold: Poems of Motherhood.  She is a founding member of Straw Mat Writers and lives in Rochester, NY, where she teaches writing, literature, and gender studies. To read more, please visit her website at http://strawmatwriters.weebly.com/

Ángel Garcia

2016, Poetry

STAMPEDE 

You             don’t know this horse.

That            what you love most doesn’t

have            a name, and runs wild.

Once           overcome by your guilt you

slept            in an empty field over the hill

naked          and hungry, committed the cold to

memory      how it bit into your body

one              mouthful at a time. That

night            all the small animals you’d

buried          in a shoebox, came

alive.             Told yourself, don’t be afraid.

I                     am no longer that man.

Laid               your head on the dirt

watching      as the grass begin to trill

hearing         for the first time

the                 beating in your chest—the

wild               animal beginning to gallop.


ANTIPODE II


Miles from here, in a field of cane there hangs
            a scarecrow

that resembles so closely a man that man could be
            mistaken

for your father. Or no one. Just the river crosser who
             for pesos

takes you, asking always, “why have you come back?”
             In the field,

beside the river, one summer, your father macheted
             through the stalks

to place on your tongue the first sweet thing
             you remember tasting.

The river so still now it looks as though the world
             is upside down.

You’ve come here because what you’ve dragged
             on that tow rope

with no where to anchor, thinking you were
              a better man

than him—house to house, city to city
              —is a fiery ember,

that finally, in a field of cane, will blaze into dawn.


A CantoMundo fellow, Ángel García’s work has been included in the American Poetry Review, Miramar, Verdad Magazine, and The Acentos Review. He currently lives in Los Angeles, CA and is completing his first collection of poetry.

Andrea England

2016, Poetry

THAT TIME OF YEAR

It begins with orange blossoms:
Their scent so strong it limns
the cough of rush hour traffic,
their petals so virginal, so ripe.

I hang a red tapestry
over my bedroom shades,
let the light redden as the sun startles
the birds and wakes me early.

This is when I smoke.
Cloves numbing my tongue,
patio pink and fading, cats everywhere,
and dogs barking after them.

I want to tell you of the taste.
It is a dimly lit room, where most
will agree the shadow favors them.
I want to tell you these exhalations

of the world: Love, smoke,
traffic coughing, cat-calls,
anything that hides the light of morning.
But it is the oranges I remember most.

When the oranges drop,
when the scent is found
only in the mind and on my fingers,
I buy the whole cloves,

use them for piercing orange-rinds
and hang these by strings in the kitchen.

 

THE HIGHER SHELF

           Watch the donut and not the hole

            —Burl Ives

The psychic tells me you are sorry

for not visiting more often, that you

still chant limericks like a crown

chants thorns. Now you know all

my secrets. Without, I’ve learned

the excess of living. St. Catherine

claimed she lived on prayer alone.

Last night I buried our ram. Last night

a weasel took all the hens’ heads. Now

the cat is missing. Your granddaughter

reminds me, it’s the circle of life.

Where you died for the last time,

is it where you died for the first?

_____________________________

Andrea England is the author of Inventory of a Field (Finishing Line Press). Her work is forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic, Sonora Review, The 3288 Review and others. Most recently she had the honor of being a Writer-in-Residence at Firefly Farms (SAFTA). She lives and works in Kalamazoo Michigan, where she teaches English and Creative Writing for various universities and organizations.

 

Patricia Clark

2016, Poetry

TRUCK FILLED WITH DEAD ANIMALS

Saw it on the interstate, open top cargo bed,
a hairy leg or two sticking up, a shiny hoof.
The name of the establishment painted, doorpanel,
was something like “Happy Ending Acres.”
Do they pick up road-kill, I wondered, or make
the rounds of farms losing an animal, helping cart
them away? Once I thought I wanted to embrace
everything, could take it all in, reading, studying
the news, crime, the worst details, that mind
and heart could mesh what seemed, at first,
to be horror. Blinker clicked on, I went curving
out to pass the truck, refusing eye contact, then
blending back into traffic, turning the radio down,
a glance sideways, no more, at shorn desolate fields.


WHERE RIVERS CROSS

Think leaf, maple of course—
or starfish clinging to the pier,
underwater, coral-red.

The hand goes on working
in light, darkness, chill—
yesterday swinging a hammer,
knocking in the post
to steady the young redbud.

At the park, the hand

double-gloved. Still,
it must flex to keep warm.

Asking questions of its
opposite—

Will you help add an equal force?

Can you sub for me on day’s
third shift so I can lie down?

The left works on

bicep curls, kickbacks.

Four fingers and a thumb
linked by a fertile plain—

Look where the rivers cross—

Count which ones make it
to the sea.

Even the smallest
tributary leaves a mark
in skin.

The flexible hand
remembers each
object held—

feather, shell, the apple
warm from a lover’s hand.


PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A WET LOG

The woods stand brown, slick,
and something from the sky
drips from their shoulders.

Do you fear, as I do, for the warming
earth, O sweet?

Beside me a half-tree,

pecker fretted with scabs of bark
hanging.

I can almost see my face

in your flank,
a shimmer of dream making me

pause, staring.

Let’s meld if we can,
let’s dance.

_____________________________

Patricia Clark is Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Author of four volumes of poetry, Patricia’s latest book is Sunday Rising. Her work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, also appearing in The Atlantic, Gettysburg Review, Poetry, Slate, and Stand. Recent work appears (or is forthcoming) in Kenyon Review, New England Review, Southern Humanities Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Coal Hill Review, Plume, and elsewhere. Her new manuscript of poems is called Goodbye to the Poetry of Marble.

Stephanie Cawley

2016, Poetry

MY NOVEL

The first half of my novel will be a series of tedious first dates
i.e. squinting in a dark bar at pictures of waterfalls

on a tiny screen. The second half will be a long description of a party
from the point of view of a dead person i.e. punchlines

with no jokes attached and platters of half-eaten crudité.
The first half of my novel will be a catalog

of street signs that, if mapped, spell out the names of the dead
scrawled around the places they died. The second half

will be a long-winded speech about the dangers of going outside
i.e. skin cancer, loose shingles, mountain lions. The first half

of my novel will be a long description of a single cheese sandwich
i.e. a last meal, i.e. a grave. The second half will be in the voice

of a woman who has never seen the sea. The first half of my novel
will be a series of forlorn soliloquies and the second the same

words in reverse i.e. a return to the point of origin, i.e. a tape
played back suggesting an endless loop. The first half

of my novel will be a collage of lyrics to sad songs i.e. an accurate
transcription of the inner life of a white ceiling slept under

by a grieving daughter. The second half will be the same
lyrics with all the verbs taken out, i.e. love, i.e. hunger, i.e. gone.


WEIGHT, COUNTERWEIGHT, & TURN

                             Starring Joy Katz, Miley Cyrus, Donald Winnicott,
                             Mary Ruefle, and 28 Teeny Tiny Wild Mice

To bring a baby into the poem,
you must, the poet says,
introduce a counterweight
for all that cuteness. Whatever
the opposite of cuteness
is, she says, do that.

In class, the students discuss
the sentimental via the pop star’s
music video: teary close-ups
of a red-lipped trembling
mouth cut with shots of her pale naked
body straddling the heavy swing
of a wrecking ball.

I think about bringing a baby into
the world and what counterweight
I would prepare
to offer or suffer, the baby plopped
on one end of a seesaw, dense
and heavy as the universe
crammed in a nutshell.
On the other end: Big
Suffering, the beloved dead standing
on each other’s heads.

But the mother and baby balance
each other as not weight but
mirrors. In the psychologist’s
theories, the grim
tug of a frown starts the mirror
cracking. The problem is
how to look at anything
and let it be not-you, separate,
what it is and isn’t.

The kitten, in the essay,
for instance, which is, the poet
writes, of course, cuter
than its mother, eyelash whiskers,
nose a smudge of palest
pink, eyes wide and terrified
and hungry. But, she says,
it’s the cat we keep and not
the kitten, so which is worse, which
the true sentimental?

To put a kitten in a poem,
surely, even worse
than a baby. Or worse, the tiny mice
clinging to stalks of grass
in the pictures my friend sends me.
They grin and the smallest puff
of wind slicks back
their baby-fine fur hairdos.
To imagine a field mouse smiles,
the wind whispers, its own
sentimental, or not
sentimental, exactly, but failure
to see the clouds
for what they are, not horses
or houses, but water, in air,
holding its fragile shape.


THE GRASS ABOVE

                 
                    —after Galway Kinnell

There was you writing me
letters about glass
broken in Georgia dirt. You
in a dream with long hair, vines,
a veined stone at your throat.
Then a bullcalf dragged
from darkness—a dark
world and the born thing
broken out of it.

*

I’m useless as a locket—flat
oval of memory, a gold chain
spinning at my throat, the weight of—
a dead cow, a ton sunk
in mud. Black-and-white, blue
tongue, soft horns, wet
hooves. I am this lowing
towards nothing—sopping
with darkness—towards
some branchy trouble.

*

If I could make you, I’d make you
the stars, my body
grass. We are a we that goes on
going. Despite this
branchy trouble
I invite. You are this bird
in the throat. This sky
gone dark.

*

All this a way of not
speaking about—to take
the grass above a grave
out of the poem. Cow,
dung, man, anything
they want. Bark
and branch, leaves ground
into dirt, moss against
a mouth, the grass pushing up
after.

*

What’s beautiful
is dark—thorned hands,
smooth calves—to be
broken and held.
I should make you
the ground. Glass
in the dirt, and above—
grass, glittering

_______________________________

Stephanie Cawley is from southern New Jersey. She currently lives in Pittsburgh where she is an MFA student at the University of Pittsburgh. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in H_NGM_N, The Adroit Journal, Prelude, Phantom Books, The Collagist, Linebreak, and elsewhere.

Nicole Steinberg

2016, Poetry

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED MOVING SOMEWHERE ELSE?

Nice butt, the charming sir
on the rickety bicycle says
so I curse a lot aloud & then
Alex is afraid he’ll circle back
to kill us. There’s nothing
to be afraid of, I say, though
of course I’m wrong. I could
get killed at any moment
for the things I want, like
a five-piece chicken nugget
combo deal or the reproductive
rights I thought I had or to be left
the fuck alone on the street
when I am walking & talking
with my lovely lady friend
who’s new to Philadelphia
& marveling at all the trash
on the street, something I barely
notice after all these years.
We keep on walking—an act
of dumbfounding defiance, pupils
darting every which way, the way
women train their tired eyeballs
to do—witnesses to the sudden death
of each other’s pleasant days.
It’s a windy Easter & it feels fake
aside from little girls who float by
in pink dresses, riding the same air
that ruins our hair, whips our nice
butts & urges us not to look down,
to walk around the trash.


LOCAL

My fears are local
—Anselm Berrigan

What do you mean
when you leave?

My grief is air — nostalgia
aphasia — a caustic party

How to retool this blunt day — edit it
to the room where you let me squeeze
your knuckles as the needle entered
my big toe

I do intimate shit next to ambivalent
vending machines — I’m a person
dotted with pushpins — a stain
that forms a path from bungalow
to hospital — veins cornflower
as the inner lives of squid

In the world of no you
I learn to drink coffee
I forget why I ever liked the subway
I don’t say goodnight — I’m scared
of night — but I have a TV

I live in a city of doctors and rats
until I leave


PIZZA IS CHEAPER THAN THERAPY

No one will mourn for my weekend,
which had the utter shit kicked out of it
& died at a pizzeria in South Philly.

The older I get the more people demand
my thoughts. At Weight Watchers &
on Facebook I’m required to weigh in.

My body responds to a fist with a pop
& a hiss. My therapist talks of self-care
as if I’ve never bought two jumbo slices

at ten o’clock at night or reblogged
pornographic GIFs of gooey, stringy
cheese—adorable & public love

notes to a lifelong hiding place. As if
at fifteen, I wasn’t already the queen
of the secret second dinner. As if

I’m not the starving marauder in
the background of my life, licking
greasy fingers as I eat myself alive.

_______________________________________

Nicole Steinberg’s poems have appeared in a number of journals, including H_NGM_N, BOMB, glitterMOB, Dusie, and Powder Keg, and her first full-length collection, Getting Lucky, was released in 2013 from Spooky Girlfriend Press. She is also the author of three chapbooks, most recently Undressing (dancing girl press, 2014) and Clever Little Gang, winner of the 4X4 Furniture Press Chapbook Award. In addition, she’s the editor of an anthology, Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens (SUNY Press, 2011), and the founder of Earshot, a New York reading series for emerging writers.

Robert Campbell

2016, Poetry

DISAPPEARING ACT

What sort of beast
will I make of myself?

On the rack: sea monsters,
wizards, glow-in-the-dark

bones, roman armor. Life,
friends, is unfair. The party

supply store is closing
now. Bottles of champagne

pose like onyx busts.
Bags of tinsel just

hang there. I want to pick
the cloak purple as scorn,

the hook-shaped hat.
Instead, I snatch

the googly-eyed black
glasses, thumbing quarters

in my pocket. If history
is the victor’s footprint,

the rest becomes
a pantomime, a drawn-out

disappearing act. Abra-
cadabra
I’ll say, then pull

white flowers from
my throat for a stranger,

for the elderly man
at the counter, held

too many times
at gunpoint. Alakazam,

I’ll exclaim, then vanish
into blue smoke.


DAVY JONES, AGE 29, DISCOVERS THE JOYS OF DEMONING

The office reeks of tuna: someone’s
awful lunch haunting the maze
of cubicles, the mauve dividers.
Davy opens the window, half-
remembers a line by Thomas Hardy:
What does this vain-gloriousness
down here? He mouths the word
vaingloriousness. He imagines
his co-workers typing at the bottom
of the ocean floor, his tie-choked boss
drifting gracefully among the mooneyed
fishes, heels dragging sand
like smoke, undisturbed even by eels
that shiver across his vested shoulder.
Davy is smiling big. His chest
feels wide as a ravine accepting all
travelers upon the gray-waved, lolling
deep of plastic push-pins, linoleum
halls, muzak. His socks feel wet.
Something wired in the back
of his head squeals joy. Vainglor-
iousnesssss, he croaks, now audibly;
What doesss thisss vaingloriousnessss
down here? He does not know
if he’s awake or dreaming, if the old
receptionist has become a mermaid
singing opera over intercom, or if
he really is clutching the boss’s tie,
lifting him off the floor by his hair
with the other hand, Davy’s rancid
death-maw widening with green
heat, teeth inching closer to
his throat, pouring black perfume.

________________________

Robert Campbell’s poems have appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, River Styx, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. He is currently an MFA candidate at Murray State University and serves as Reviews Editor at DIALOGIST.