Read the nominated pieces below:
Melanie Unruh, “Triage”
SELECTIONS FROM INSTEAD OF DYING
Instead of dying, we take you in — sick, alone, confused — and
start a series of healing regimens. For the first week you drink
only water infused with lavender and vinegar. After the new
moon, we begin to feed you base elements: cream of tartar,
kombucha, filmjölk, carrots. When the visions subside, we start
the physical routine. The air is still cold as we start your lake
swimming cycles — twice across & back the length. You hear
robins like ticker tape through the branches of April. Your
mood improves. We cut out bread, cereals, muffins, milk. We
cut out gumdrops, taffy, milkshakes, wheat. Your hair calms
down, your fingernails are trimmed. Instead of dying, you start
jogging, in a zip-up track-suit, early in the morning, sunlight a
disco ball across your face, lawn-sprinklers starting up all over the
Instead of dying, you build an elaborate village out of
plumbing. Even the plumbing has plumbing. You tell the
community that this construct of vital passageways is indicative
of microcosms within the geodesic loop. You tell them that
space isn’t space without unfilled vessels. You explain how the
pipes are not the actual substance of the village’s construction
— it’s the air that the tubes go through. Ignore the pipes, you
say. The real plumbing is the space in-between. This is the true
disposal system. This was the way the universe is flushed & refilled.
Lauren Haldeman is the author of the poetry collections Instead of Dying (winner of the 2017 Colorado Prize for Poetry, forthcoming from Center for Literary Publishing 2017), Calenday (Rescue Press 2014) and the artist book The Eccentricity is Zero (Digraph Press 2014). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, The Colorado Review, Fence, jubilat, The Iowa Review, and The Rumpus. A comic book artist and poet, she has been a recipient of a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award and fellowships from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. You can find her online at http://laurenhaldeman.com
VIEW. MAGIC MOUNTAIN, VALENCIA, CALIFORNIA
Joe Deal, 1977
what you can’t readily see:
a man in a white shirt on the right
underneath the roller coaster’s main drop
facing away from the camera
fucking someone wearing
a barbie head ball gag
WE’RE REALLY HAPPY. OUR KIDS ARE HEALTHY, WE EAT GOOD FOOD AND WE HAVE A REALLY NICE HOME.
Bill Owens, 1972
i meant to say cats not kids
we only have the one
kid i mean we have twenty
cats & they’re all in great shape
i worry about the kid though
he always makes this fist
& only eats creamed corn
he’s quiet never cries or blinks
it’s honestly unsettling but
look at those eyes it’s not so bad
i guess would you like a grape
i’m just kidding these are fake
but don’t they look so real
don’t you want to feel them
in your mouth don’t you want to
taste the dust sometimes i stand
at that window facing the field
of electric pylons & pretend
i’m in some kind of sci-fi movie
i hear ice clinking
feel the sweat from jim’s
old fashioned glass soaking
skin through my sweater
i hold my breath & brace myself
& one of the cats starts hacking
& he tells me clean the puke
before it stains the carpet & i do
the kid watches from the counter
never cries did i tell you that already
we’re so lucky
Sally Burnette was born in North Carolina but now lives in Boston. Their poetry has appeared/is forthcoming in Reality Beach, BOAAT, Winter Tangerine, Nat. Brut, and others.
CRACKING THE EGG
I scramble the egg
until it does not resemble
egg—no longer the globe
a body bore into
the world for a purpose
entirely other. First I scraped
from the albumen—trace
of its potential, of what
reminds me of me,
life force hidden
in the viscous clot.
When the speckled hen
grew listless and drew her head
to her puffed chest,
I quarantined her
in a crate lined with soft
where she could suffer alone.
Two days later, when I entered
the dark garage,
her carcass, as she stiffened,
had pushed through the crate’s
as though she’d tried for escape.
Her eyelids made a final
It was like
scooping a dead wasp
from a windowsill, or
freeing a bloodied mouse
from a sprung trap
as I lifted her body
into a plastic garbage sack
and placed it
in the trash: So much
for that one. Not loss
exactly, but more notice
than I give the ova that slip
my body when the moon
shifts from sliver
to smudge, simply
with what there’s nothing
to be done with. I
have seen the self’s
wriggling with need
a misplaced parcel,
wrapped and left
in a bureau drawer.
I wake, it’s with
such relief to be
alone with morning, which
the way it
repeats itself, its hunger.
And the Lord said let ants be fed
from the egg-caps of walking stick
insects that hatch disguised as ants.
Let impostors pass undetected
from a subterranean nest. Let fur-bound
beasts carry exoskeletal beasts from one
hinged continent to another, and let land-
bridges break. Let humans break land
and build bridges from elements dug
from the land. Let rats unhinge ribs
from spines and climb through pipes
invented by humans to keep our
shit and nakedness away from
the shit and nakedness of rats.
Let humans set poisoned traps.
And thus I tell you: an erroneous vision
of heaven and hell shall come to you
in books, and this will divide you.
Some will say it’s possible
for a child to die and come back
from death having seen the realm
of God. But some will say what
does it matter when earth is a lonely
chasm where children die unnoticed as
we sharpen our knives and whiten
our teeth and tighten our skin and
implore our screens to refresh.
Kathryn Smith’s first poetry collection is BOOK OF EXODUS. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, The Collagist, Bellingham Review, Redivider, Carve Magazine, and elsewhere.
BODIES LIKE PAN DULCE
black & beige chairs
hugged our black & brown
skins, smiles galore
limp cocks full grown
& you were mine
& I was yours
& heat rose like dough
Luis Lopez-Maldonado is a Xicanx poeta, choreographer and educator, born and raised in Southern California. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California Riverside, majoring in Creative Writing and Dance. His poetry has been seen in The American Poetry Review, Cloudbank, The Packinghouse Review, Public Pool, and Spillway, among many others. He earned a Master of Arts degree in Dance from Florida State University and also a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame, where he was a poetry editorial assistant for the Notre Dame Review, and founder of the men’s writing workshop in the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center; He is currently co-founder and editor at The Brillantina Project. www.luislopez-maldonado.com
LAST FULL MOON IN IOWA
Sirens in the east, moving towards some tragedy, and
who would commit a murder under a moon like this?
Who would break anything, a window, a skull, knowing
she was watching from above? I have bronchitis
again—too many smokes and nights not knowing
what color socks you’re wearing, whether
you remember my smell. Hours wheezing, wondering
what bad jokes I’ve been mumbling in my sleep.
Do dogs howl at the moon or to each other?
Did you know how much I love you is why
I wash my hands? Someday when I’m better
I’ll read you a list of things you became to me:
runway, poltergeist, mourning dove, splint, in hopes
you’ll kiss my sternum, crack the same ribs as before.
Jackson Burgess is the author of Atrophy (forthcoming, Write Bloody Publishing) and Pocket Full of Glass (2017, Tebot Bach), winner of the Clockwise Chapbook Competition. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has placed work in The Cincinnati Review, The Cimarron Review, Rattle, Colorado Review, and elsewhere (jacksonburgess.com).
PORTRAIT OF EL JEFE
after Robin Coste Lewis
You were supposed to be only a photograph
on a wall. You were supposed to stay
in the frame until someone called your name, El Jefe,
until someone wrote the date
en La Era de Trujillo, summoned you
from a textbook or grave, chiseled out the bullets in your chest.
You are not art.
You reigned for 31 years, your face
in every living room above the mantle,
or watching families eat dinner, their faces
in bowls of rice. They didn’t meet your eyes
as they chewed, throats
already bruised from the inside out.
To say history is to name the flavor
of rust, the sound of perejil
on a Haitian tongue, the border
between teeth and tip.
I wasn’t born.
I was somewhere in my mother,
her 7-year-old body, my egg-face
hidden in the inner folds of skin. I was somewhere
in her hand, when she stitched together
a hole in the white tablecloth,
my grandmother’s back turned to your face.
I was somewhere in a finger prick,
when my mother rested the needle
on your wooden frame, thread
landing in air. I was her mouth, when she sucked
the blood, a tang of oatmeal and iron.
History was that she liked the taste, savor of a fat
hand. History was my grandmother,
when she saw the needle left behind. History
was the slap on my mother’s thigh. I was not
her tears when she heard you were killed.
I was not the bandaged
finger she used to wipe her eyes. I was not
the ground that refused your blood,
soil swallowing ipecac to vomit you out.
Diannely Antigua is a Dominican American poet and educator, born and raised in Massachusetts. She is currently an MFA candidate at New York University, a Squaw Valley Community of Writers fellow, and Associate Poetry Editor for BOAAT. Her book Ugly Music, forthcoming from YesYes Books, was chosen for the 2017 Pamet River Prize. Winner of the Bodega Poetry Contest, her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her poems can be found in Day One, Vinyl, Split Lip Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. Her heart is in Brooklyn.
DISCUSSION ON DROUGHT
My breasts fresh
boast unwarranted pride.
They have no reason to be so heavy
except because they are
so heavy and full
there must be a reason.
Is being woman enough?
Am I allowed to grow
for the fuck of it become more me
like that without small mouth
to put to nipple?
This isn’t a question of self-love.
Of course I am allowed
because fuck anyone
who says I’m not. What
about fact: the deepest me
wants to become
the sun for someone else.
Here I am shining
with no one to see.
Yes I see it. Yes
technically that is enough
doesn’t soil want nothing more
than to mother
(A FEW) REASONS WHY I MIGHT BE STRESSFUL TO WORK WITH
This rage is a place
they say we have no right to visit.
Be silent, still, untrembling.
Unclench fist. Remove
hard glisten from eyes and smile—
look how far you’ve come.
Look at all the power we have,
in control of our own destinies—
and didn’t I go to college?
Aren’t I so lucky
things have changed?
If my boss tells me
Look as diverse as possible
and to wrap my head in a scarf
for the presentation
it’s because my skin and name
are finally in fashion—
I should embrace the tools I have
for every advantage.
At work I am told
to not be so serious.
My quiet anger is an observation
which draws comment, yet
the vigil for the boy slain
by police just 30 minutes away
is not a conversation for the office—
and when a coworker asks
if I’ve yet seen Beauty
and the Beast I do not say
I could not be paid to see it.
I do not speak
of the beasts walking among us,
handing out lies like candy,
showing teeth when we don’t
want to eat what is offered.
Its walls are said to bring peace.
Go to your dentist or bank and see
how you are made to feel at ease
When Blue makes music
it is not of peace—
Black snake crawling in my room, feelings of
walking shoes clean off feet
This is called balance.
Blind Lemon Jefferson bought gin
in Deep Ellum
where once was Elm.
Names change according to who speaks.
Lead Belly left space between his but
the world had its way, made it all one word.
When my father says my name it is music.
The world refuses to try, does not care for tongues
to make new shape, adds stress to the wrong place
and says it is strange, exotic.
But where are you really from?
America does not believe she birthed me,
continuously renames me something more palatable,
less percussion beneath full moon,
They say it is the most guttural, real
The blues was the first time we were allowed
to show pain: call it entertainment
and let it move you.
Maltese Cat, Happy New Year, Oil Well, Empty House, Dynamite, Eagle Eyes.
Sing it until the good Lord brings daylight
and make Lord a woman
and give her skin like cinnamon
instead of milk
feel your chemistry change.
And the Lorde rejects the master’s tools,
says taking down that Big House requires new
models of thinking. When the tools of racist patriarchy
are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy
see how water stands
Mammy brought back time and again,
Strange Fruit in new forms
so that there is no current,
just the illusion of waves,
just the illusion of change,
just the lie
that the blues are dead.
Fatima-Ayan Malika Hirsi is the founder of Dark Moon Poetry & Arts, a monthly series which spotlights the creative feminine and non-binary energies of North Texas. She can often be found on sidewalks using her typewriter to birth poems for strangers. She has been published in Entropy, Anthropology Now!, Bearing the Mask, and elsewhere. Her work has been featured by WFAA, KERA, the Dallas Morning News, and others. Her chapbook, Moon Woman, is forthcoming from Thoughtcrime Press. Her favorite things outside of poetry are family, cats, and trees. Find her at https://fatimaayanmalikahirsi.com/
THE ART OF LYING NEXT TO EACH OTHER
It turns out Americans are making less
love, which make sense since even in
the imaginary privacy of our own bedrooms
we hate what we’ve become. There is a kind
of truth that’s true whether or not you believe
in it and a kind of truth that’s true because you
repeat it and one lives without you and the other
needs permission. It turns out the past is its own
country to which you can return again and again
each choral grass blade trembling, sky the color
of sky before the prairie dog enters its rut.
I want to deny you. In negative we see a positive
blue. I love you. This is how lightning strikes
without thunder. This is how you go to bed
and wake up in your neighbor’s garage.
The past appears like a candle in a room
and it lights the dark on fire until we see
the GPS map out our internal geography
and a different body sways into view.
I’m still troubled by words that contain
both time and space. I can finally express
what’s on the inside, s/he says. ‘Everybody
must have been a spy.’ It turns out you can
believe the world is flat as a basketball
court as long as you don’t run a space agency.
I’m searching for a corollary. I bit my lip eyeing
my neighbor’s field, but ‘here there are no cows’.
Nobody but us unwilling chickens. We move
in darkness. The gaps in the wall are windows
no one has made but the wind and the rain.
I’m thinking of adding a door, which makes sense
since I’m staring at one, but what’s beyond. It turns
out it’s closed. The district of the mind where
the rational country persists. So to speak
of a door of light with its religious implications.
I suppose this is the allure of the narrative
of nostalgia. There is no middle way unless
one discerns to be an extremist of love. It turns.
out our self-determination matters less
and less every day. It’s a paradox. I’m interested in
the way we can turn anything into something
else and back again before night falls with its swell
of unintended opal and finally we’re stuck standing
somewhere naked and in awe of each other.
Daniel Biegelson is the Director of the Visiting Writers Series at Northwest Missouri State University and Associate Editor for The Laurel Review. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Denver Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Jellyfish Magazine, Meridian, New Orleans Review, Spiral Orb and VERSE amongst other places. He hails from New Jersey—a fact that means more to him than it probably should.
When, in a flush of sweat, the neighbor boy began the task of dying, the whole neighborhood turned up—a congregation of down-turned, worried faces. I only recognized him by the port wine birthmark stretching from his brow to his collarbone. On his warm body it was now dull, muted. He was the only altar boy at Mass that I could pick out each Sunday. He usually delivered the chalice to the Priest. I used to do the same when I was an altar boy many decades ago, long before brick laying ravaged my knees. Though we’d only exchanged polite nods after Mass, I felt compelled to visit his mother as he declined. She smiled when I turned up, though she didn’t pretend to know my name.
The current had arrived for the child a few days earlier accompanying the storm that pulsed at our homes’ gutters. At the time I hadn’t known it was the current; the two of us were strangers then. Still I saw her coursing through him, felt her percolating below his bloomed skin and sensed her briny breath upon me whenever I sat near the child. Perhaps she’d found him through a spark of static buzzing in a doorknob, or perhaps he’d ridden his bike home in the rain, absorbing her then. She didn’t seem happy to be there, a bit bored if I’m being honest, but she clutched to his small body without flinching. The boy’s bed had been moved to the living room: a tiny brass frame tarnished with pocks of age. We layered wet terry cloth on his forehead and the mother rubbed the arches of his feet.
“To draw the fever down from his head,” his mother nodded, animating the chubby foot until it looked like it was pumping a pedal. Though the foot flapped, his little body was still, consumed by the vapors inside his caged lungs, the bubbles where the current thrummed in his veins. The mother prayed aloud, asking God why, but the current was unmoved. The whole ordeal felt a bit routine. The current surged on, oblivious to our attempts. She would take him soon, as she’d undoubtedly taken many before. I’d seen death before, on the blood-tinged axe at the chicken’s throat, the spider-webbed crack of a windshield, but the current had not been there in either case.
I lit candles for him at Mass, and prayed three days for his little life, but when I saw him on the mattress, dampening his sheets with that dumb look on his face, I knew he was very nearly gone. The current wouldn’t be dammed by our trifling efforts, and so with the moon lodged between her teeth and cheek she lapped him up.
Sometime in the night his mother’s wails confirmed the child’s turn. Kitchen lights flipped on, and lit boxes of helpless worry illuminated our block. The storm had passed, as well as the current with the child in her keep.
When I saw the current again it was many years later, just after my diagnosis. I found myself wanting for everything and nothing. I’d taken out the sailboat with no intention to return, because if I was going to die it would be at my own hand, not while waiting around to be snuffed out. The boat’s engine sputtered, gave a cough and whined like a bumblebee turned inside-out. I set out without destination, and steered my vessel toward the dark until the shore was a faint fissure of light. Lying down with my back on the boat’s deck I searched for stars between the clouds to little success.
The barefaced current approached in silence. I felt her draw the boat to the south. Tugging with such force I suspected a whale was spinning me. I sat up. When I squinted toward her crest at the stern, attempting to discern her curves, it was as if I were moving in to kiss her, or look up her skirt—and with a small splash she bit me. It wasn’t so much that she was mad, but however benign the violence was, it made her eyes flicker.
Had she wanted to level me, to tip my vessel or submerge me she could have, but instead she came aboard, slipping from water to mist before finally becoming air. She raked her metallic fingernails through my hair, and her breath was cool on my skin. She told me she’d migrated great distances, skirted entire continents, plotted with the moon and the sun. Water was her medium of choice; she could manipulate it—the tides, waves, direction, force—it had all been her. She puffed when mentioning how she’d known malleable liquid morphed from crystallized flakes at the North Pole, and sighed over some drops she’d known who were mere degrees from a gaseous dissolution. She placed her head in my lap. She said other days she preferred to waft along as a breeze, sometimes she sought out diodes and other semi-conductors so that she might flow to predetermined destinations. She was electric when she didn’t want to think. For her it was boarding a train which traced the same path again and again; these were the days when she only went through the motions. Even then, depressed myself, she seemed quite sad.
She whispered that many looked to her for absolution, to trickle on the foreheads of infants in baptismal gowns. I realized she was flirting. She slithered over me, into my ears, along my brow and her silky tongue probed the gaps between toes. Parting my lips she teased and sucked my breath from me, but never the whole lot. She was careful to leave just enough.
I told her to stop, pushed her from my waist, but she whistled and only pressed further. She clung to me, wrapped my wrists with a grip so tight I thought she had rope. Then she told me of the men she’d swallowed, the suicidal jumpers thudding in her straits. She had a taste for the ones who fought it, who thrashed and clawed at her swells. She became excited. The current said there was water water everywhere, in every fiber of tissue, in the lazy eye of the tarot card reader, the damp cries of the sirens luring sailors beyond the stern. Once she conspired with the moon and snatched a whole village in one swig. Though when I asked her where these villages go all she could say was that they’re sent to the belly of the earth, somewhere beneath the mantle, near to the core.
I was weeping by then. After a string of wet hiccups clicked in my throat I asked her to swallow me up and stuff me toward the core. I stood and moved toward the bow of the boat, preparing to jump. But she rolled her eyes, slipped into the water, and shoved my boat back toward the marina. I suppose she realized that like the others I sought an end, and not her. The who of it mattered very little to me.
Tonight, my lungs fill with fluid, and my breath is labored, punctuated with a sporadic gurgle. It’s peculiar how a man can drown within his own body, miles from the sea.
The current has returned, but she’s now at the foot of my bed. With a flick of her hair in my periphery she ignores me, avoiding my gaze and pretending we’ve never met. A spurned woman is the least of my worries tonight. I want to tell her that many times I looked for her whorls along the sandbars, squinted, hoping I might find her tapping a weather vane, and one time I thought I recognized her murmur in the humming telephone lines. Apologizing for my rebuff would be useless now. I cannot abate her loneliness with false apologies. It won’t change the isolation of her duty.
The boy with the port wine birthmark sits beside her thumbing through old magazines. He wears his altar boy robes from Sunday mass. My eyes struggle to focus while battling the morphine. In lucid moments, I can see her squared metallic fingernails, her swirling hair so thick—I remember its coolness slinking across my shoulders in the boat. Tonight her bare feet are tucked beneath her in the chair.
When I focus too hard, straining, the nurse asks me about these hallucinations. I tell her nothing. Now I am swimming upwards. There’s a deafening compression on my lungs, and I can feel the current palpitating within me. While my eyes throb, and my nostrils burn with bubbles, she is my bedside companion. She spared me once, but again she is indifferent to my state and files her nails. I suppose even drowning can be tedious.
Jennifer Popa recently relocated from the interior of Alaska to the South Plains of West Texas where she is in her second year as a PhD student of English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories, some of which can be found at Grist, Watershed Review, Monkeybicycle and Fiction Southeast.