Read the nominated pieces below:
Melanie Unruh, “Triage”
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.
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).
ODE TO NURSES, LOVE HOTELS,
AND MARILYNS ON THE COVERS OF PLAYBOY
I see two nurses kissing at the gay club,
their latex dresses and Florence Nightingale caps
and white heels straight out of my childhood
dreams of being like Hello Nurse
from Animaniacs, that blonde bombshell
sex goddess cartoon with cleavage stacked
like bookshelves and red lips even tastier
than the pizza she nibbled on in that scene
when Yakko and Wakko sing about her 160+ IQ
and multiple PhDs, but you know what
they were really drooling over,
leaving seven-year-old me to wonder
what place a little Asian girl has in this world
of ’90s Marilyn Monroes running in slo-mo
on the beach wearing red swimsuits,
their nipples perking up on primetime,
or fair-skinned sex kittens on the covers of
Playboy, Hustler, and whatever men read
“for the articles,” girls-next-door
with baby faces and bare bums,
while twenty-five-year-old me thinks
about getting a guy who can “do both,”
because the kissing nurses are two blond pretty
boys with just enough muscle, and oh,
how every time I’m attracted to a guy,
I think about what he’ll look like in a dress,
because I refuse to be the only one with
feminine wiles, and it’s funny how we’re
turned on by the simplest things,
how love hotels in Japan have “Under the Sea”
themed rooms, and what woman wouldn’t
want to get fucked dressed as a mermaid
and “In the Space Station,” a ’70s James Bond
romp in the golden sack, then of course,
the Victorian rooms and the hot tubs
surrounded by Roman pillars, and the red
bird cages for a little midnight dance,
but what if I’d rather play doctor than
nurse, or teacher than schoolgirl,
or fly you rather than ride you? Or why can’t
we have a go on the carousel
in the middle of the funhouse, surrounded by
carnival mirrors, because I like you a little scared
riding that horse, wrapped in my arms.
ODE TO SEXPOTS AND MY MOTHER’S RED STOCKINGS
All my mother wanted as a little girl was a pair
of red stockings, her childish version of elegance,
the way scarlet would pop against her clothes,
and I think about this when she sends me a package
of fishnets, because I like things a little sexpot,
a little oh honey, it’s not what I did, but what
I can do to you tonight, and how my mother wanted red
so bad it gave her a fever, because she grew up
with three siblings in a closet-sized Hong Kong apartment,
my grandmother running the pajama stand downstairs,
my grandfather working in HR, bringing life-size dolls
with glass eyes from Europe and watches from Sweden,
but never anything a girl wanted, and I see this image of my mother
at fifteen at the dinner table: she and her sisters rush
through Grandfather’s noodles so they can run downstairs
to the candy store before closing time, and let’s face it:
my grandfather’s never been the best cook, and my mother’s stuffing
her face with vegetables when my father walks in—
he’s twenty-nine, a friend of my grandparents and that weird age gap
between being too young to be their friends and too old
to date my mom, but I know the way she’s looking at him,
the movie star of her apartment, like this could really be
something, but boy bye, I need to buy my chocolates first
before closing time, and we’ll have a year to get together.
ODE TO SUSHI, SASHIMI, AND THE EELS IN THE TANK
My father hates sushi,
and that’s the Chinese tiger in him talking
at the rotating sushi belt restaurant
in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong,
as I grab a slab of sweet corn nigiri,
my dreams of eating corn on everything
since the day I was born, now coming true,
and Dad sticks to his grilled hamachi,
dumplings, and the sake we’re chugging,
wondering why I craze over fatty tuna
belly and scallop and striped bass and sweet
shrimp, because to him, it’s just hunks of raw fish
atop rice, made to look pretty,
not to taste good, but if he only understood
chewing a piece of squid forever,
or tasting the sponginess of tamago egg
just as sweet as it is yellow,
or taking a lesson from The Three Bears:
sashimi that’s not too thick, not too thin,
and behold foie gras sushi,
nigiri with mango cubes—
ahhhh to all the wonders of mackerel,
the beauty of the shrimp head,
the chirashi bowl, like a garden of flowers
from Wonderland, complete
with cucumber centerpiece,
and seaweed salad that looks like mermaid’s hair,
but when the unagi on rice bed comes,
I’m three again, remembering
the times we visited the wet market together,
looking at the eels in the tanks,
me hiding behind him,
my shield, my knight, the tiger that
growled at the water snakes jetting their heads
out the tanks, as I begged to leave, crying,
wanting ice cream instead of this erotica:
eels necking each other,
trying to neck me in, suck on me,
and Dad would grab my hand,
buy me a strawberry cone, a red bean cone
for him—on the walk home, a cone
in one hand, a bag of lychees and cherries
in the other, he’d stop to buy me
the stuffed gorilla with the big nostrils
I pointed at outside the toy shop window.
Dorothy Chan is the author of Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, forthcoming March 2018) and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared in Blackbird, Plume, The Journal, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, The McNeese Review, Salt Hill Journal, and others. Chan is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com
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.