Categories
2018 Poetry

Dāshaun Washington

BLOSSOM

I.

I once felt the sun in the hearth of my mother’s
bosom, burning like maple
in winter’s eve –

Her fragrant embers kissed my nose
and tucked me in with a sheet
of night upon my eyes.

She told me a tale of the sacred flowers called women,
which bloom in spring and bear fruit
from autumn to fall.

I learned the delicacy of a flower’s mellow touch
and dreamt to dare possess
such pleasure.

II.

I picked my first flower seven springs ago –
his petals against my lips felt like the divine
caress of satin and silk.

The nectar of his kiss tasted of juniper
and jasmine, but the saccharine dew
of his honey-tinged skin smelled
of forget-me-nots.

He savored my kiss upon his lips and smiled,
as I used to after a bite of my mother’s
sock-it-to-me cake –
maybe my lips taste just as sweet.

III.

It’s been too long since I’ve felt the sun’s embrace
upon my skin and my eyes have yet to meet
the lull of night, again.

Of all untold things from my father’s mouth
to cross my mind in the still of eventide,
I’ve wondered most of which season
men bloom.


Dāshaun Washington is a Massachusetts native and Dallas resident. He is the 2018 winner of the Robert Bone Memorial Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Raleigh Review, Borderlands, Tinderbox, Reunion, Bluestem, among others. Dāshaun is currently pursuing a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Categories
2018 Poetry

J. Bailey Hutchinson

J. BAILEY HUTCHINSON TAKES PLAN B IN MARSEILLE

styled after Christian Anton Gerard

One of last night’s dark corners: J. Bailey Hutchinson palmed keys
into her roommate’s pocket, in the club, the taxi—or maybe
the alley where she knocked the bark clean off her knee. I knocked

the bark clean off my knee, J. Bailey Hutchinson crooned into a tall
man’s neck, & he held her, thumbed the run in her tights & gentled
the bruise blooming there. J. Bailey Hutchinson didn’t believe herself

beautiful enough for this man who loomed her out of the bar, who said,
I will get us a hotel. Anywhere. Anywhere. Please stay, angel. Last night,
they found a room by the port & J. Bailey Hutchinson didn’t know

a man’s thigh could be so smooth, or how it felt to be poured-over. You are
my little angel,
the man told J. Bailey Hutchinson, & when he slipped into
another language she read his body: blushing neck & darling, hair slick

to the root & lovely, tightly angled waist & want. Now, leaning against
her sorbet-orange door, sea-air & sleep-grease slick on her scalp,
J. Bailey Hutchinson has ten euros & an Amex. No keys. Now,

J. Bailey Hutchinson has to ask a neighbor oú est la pharmacie? & he points her
towards a green neon cross, squat and lineated. Inside, J. Bailey Hutchinson
approaches the counter, wipes her upper lip. S’il vous-plait, she says, low,

shame a hairless foot on her chest. In her mouth. Je voudrais plan B.
She says bee, not beh, & wonders if the woman behind the counter has a daughter
old enough to let a man lug her into the shower. Huit euro, the woman says, but

J. Bailey Hutchinson doesn’t move because she is convinced this
is supposed to be difficult, so the woman repeats, ate urr-os, please.
Mer, says J. Bailey Hutchinson. Merci beaucoup. Later, J. Bailey Hutchinson

will receive a postcard fat with stamps & cricket-leg lettering. I am telling to people
how I was kind of in love with the American that I pass a amazing and magical night
and day.
Today, J. Bailey Hutchinson uses her last two euros to buy a coffee

& undresses the blister-pack. So small. No bigger than a screwhead.
J. Bailey Hutchinson places it in her mouth, deepens it into the soft
sublingual flesh of her tongue. With espresso. Swallows.


PONYTAIL ODE

Blessed be my ponytail, o holiest of cables
for its baring of my skull-shape—

whose structure I once named loathsome

             I have been known to say “because I look                                           sick,”
             when asked how come;                                                                “because my strands are thin
                                                                                                                        because my hairline is an arid coast
                                                                                                                        because                          it bares

              a forehead that is readably      textured;
              because I remember lying on my back                                     in my mother’s bed, my head a uvula
              between her hands, her grip a loom

as she gathered me into a point,                      gathering, it felt,                       more hair than I even owned,
hauling even my eyebrows           to a higher place
before tying me                              into the tight mouth of a rubber band,

              all day my teachers crooning                                                        oh, honey,           don’t you look excited!

—but this morning     it felt right to be high-hiked,

               the back of my head       a serpent       no thicker than thumbs but       mine,

               the dark straight spill on my shoulder                                                 like a wire of ivy, or a hand I let be there.

What we say is                             the bigger the hair, the closer                                        you are to god,

and what I have is a one-lane-road

                                                      on which I am the only driver.

                                                                                                  I paved the goddamn road.

                                                                                                          I will take me where I please.


FOX SONG

Clung up in the Cumberland Plateau
we do our best at no-sleep-needing.

Hoverfly unperturbable. We
miracle the porch—reading

poems. Eating whiskey. A friend
said she saw a fox there,

hoped the same for me.
In four days I have seen

every living skink. Seen,
also, a man’s very full

short-leg. I love the look
of that. A door of any make

at capacity. I wonder.
How me might fit there.

Night here a good
thin blanket and breathable.

Are you sure, I narrow-eye the stars,
the spuddy half-moon, you did not

knit thisfor me. But the reservoir
is deep, and the reservoir is

deep. The bed not mine. I cannot
touch that thigh. Do you remember

the lake? How we couldn’t see
no one in the dark. Just two dozen

bodies. Voice. I wasn’t there, but
given the lightlessness

I could say I was.


J. Bailey Hutchinson is a poet from Memphis, Tennessee. She is currently pursuing her MFA at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where she is Poetry Editor for the Arkansas International literary magazine and Assistant Director of the Open Mouth Reading Series. Hutchinson is the winner of New South‘s 2018 Poetry Contest, and her work has appeared in Salamander, LIT magazine, Beloit, Nimrod, and more. Full publication and contact info is available at www.jbaileyhutchinson.com

Categories
2018 Comics

Kayla E. and Laura Bullard

Blasphemy, no. 1 by Kayla and Laura
Blasphemy, no. 2 by Kayla and Laura
Blasphemy, no. 3 by Kayla and Laura

Blasphemy is a loosely autobiographical comic about a nun named Charley and a witch named Petra. It is largely nonlinear, loosely narrative, and entirely true except for the parts we make up. 

Kayla E. and Laura Bullard live together in a small town in North Carolina. Despite what the woman down the street thinks, they are engaged to be married and are neither “roommates” nor “sisters.” Kayla is an artist and designer and serves as editor in chief of Nat. Brut, an art and literary magazine. Laura is a writer and fact-checker and works as nonfiction co-editor of Nat. Brut.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Bailey Cohen

SYMBIOTIC

Somehow it happened I was drinking
from the same river you bathed in you were busy
with a beautiful woman she was burning
the hairs off your leg with nothing
but an empty glass bottle and sunlight
what was it that you called her it was pretty
girl it was tough chin it was purple neck please
I am begging like something stray don’t say that
to someone who is not me to someone with legs
hairless as a shoreline instead talk with a mouthful
of my own hair whisper to me as gently as you would kiss
a lover’s closed eyelids use the language
our parents spoke that we have since
forgotten I’ll be the first to admit it
I’ve had fantasies of surviving
beside you like a remora to a shark instead
of slobbering over your jawline like rain
of course I find whatever distinction is present
unremarkable of course I remember your biting
into an apple red as an old photograph’s
overexposure how could I forget when I traced
your teeth marks with my finger-
nail I found the seeds and crushed them
into a powder so fine I could breathe it
in without even coughing I’m ashamed
to say that this was my best effort that
I knew something would grow inside of me
before it did what I didn’t know
was how loudly it would be birthed
we were sitting at the kitchen table
you were writing on a blue notepad
I was saving an apricot from rotting
by devouring it then somehow it happened
I was coughing up pieces of bark
a whole apple tree then a whole forest
even the animals you had no idea
how to act were wondering how all this would fit
into our apartment you were so concerned
with everything except my throat until one
of the birds that flew out of my eyes
landed on top of the refrigerator
hopped over to your shoulder
looked into your irises and gleefully
chirped out your name in perfect Spanish.


HAVE I EVER BEEN WICKED?

I have never broken
the wing off of something

delicate enough
to fly. What I have done is flock

like a shivering welp
to sharp things and blue-

hearted women. I miss you.
The way you would walk

into a room
as if you could lick

the words from another boy’s
throat. I can say more than you

of this—that I have loved
every woman

I have told that I
love

and touched none
of the men

I wanted. I’ve gazed
at other boys, with skin the color of

summer, wearing nothing but pity
and gold. What other secrets

can I tell you? That in all of my poems
I want everyone

to be winged? I know I act
like I can only be happy

when noticed,
that if you were lost

in some dense night,
I would spend

my days trying to swallow
the pink

of sunlight
just to glow beside your warmth.

If you can believe
in all my passivity, then you can trust

in all of my rage. Have I ever been
wicked? Just enough

to become a cruel and distant master
of a flame

and blow
a sword, its blade

made only of glass. Like a magician,
you hid

all of my labor
beyond your teeth, surrounding

what I made
with your body. I’ve never wanted more

than to be a ghost
and reach through your chest

and grab the shatterable thing,
only to forget

what I cannot touch. Like so many
sharp things, I know

I couldn’t stand to watch myself
disappear into you.


Bailey Cohen is a queer Ecuadorian-American poet studying at NYU. The founder of Alegrarse, the Associate Editor for Frontier Poetry, and a Best of the Net nominee, his work appears in or is forthcoming from publications such as Boulevard, Raleigh Review, [PANK], The Penn Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Cotton Xenomorph, and more. Bailey can be found across most social media platforms @BaileyC213. He loves everyone Latinx.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Philip Schaefer

HOW TO LICK A KNIFE

First a certain friend must die
too young in the middle of the night. Then spend
a dragonfly’s entire afterlife ironing a tablecloth, a tuxedo
filled with moths, the unfamiliar rivers flooding through the farmland
on the back of your hand. Then slide a blade through the brain
of a cantaloupe and scoop with the convex mirror of a spoon
until what’s left is succulent flesh, a bad appetite
for a failed desire you feed again and again. And when your friend is good
and gone long enough for you to fill your head with blood
roses, the names of old lovers who wanted to leave you months before
you had a clue, take the cue: everything you touch
is serrated. Everything you drink grows needles. You must learn
to become a cheap microphone in a cardboard box
or a trinket tucked under the janitor’s pockmarked desk. The dullest robin
who never found a mate. These days it’s always getting late
so plant birthday candles in the yard until it’s an orchard
of unfulfilled wishes. It’s possible to be culpable, too capable of yourself.
Think hard enough and the tongue is a machete cutting through
the velvet sun. Now close your tombstone eyelids and walk
until a warmth fills your mouth with halloween
butterflies. Swallow them until you’re as light as a battery
on the stomach of the ocean. Hum a gas station hymn then hum it again.


DEAR BJ

Birds roll down my sleeve like Mississippi rain whatever
that means. Lately everything smells like my neighbor’s late
night morning breath, styrofoam coffee, this fat stack
of how-to gardening magazines. Makes me want to cut a duck
out of the cardstock sky, dance in satin, deliver the mail.
They say when she’s gone she’s gone but still I wrist-trick
the cat by wearing her bra and lipstick. Flick my hair apocalyptic.
Overall it’s still The South up here and no one’s growing older.
So I sniff a stiffer glue, consider what it would feel like to attend
a youth group service. You know, stand in the back with crossed arms
until some baby Jesus shark asks if it’s my first time which it always is
with gum in my cheek. A raw joke, a sutured truth. And you,
down in Hy-Vee Kansas City, licking the stickers off discount fruit
for a glimpse of salvation residue, give god a new kerosene name
to pull out of a top-hat and light on fire. There’s a little bit of Julie
in all of us, isn’t there? Something pure therefore ignitable. On the radio
this morning a dog fell off a roof and died. I suppose there are no mistakes
in nature.


BUYING THE FARM

Even sleep has its own curfew, water
its own pearl coffin. Starfish,
on that glittering neon beach, cough
through the heavens the way
my friend Colin even on his best
behavior is still without his wife.
It kills me all this stopping
and starting again. A nod
to the maker of time.
A quick flick head gesture
to the greatest imposter ever.
Yeah, God, we’re in this together
or forever or forget I said anything
at all. I miss my brothers
but will never tell them, and I am
certain this is the rotten core
of the bitter gold apple
of who we all are: losers
in the olympics, closers under
the lights but the game ended years
ago. I toss my hair like boring innings
across the sky. I get so ridiculous
with this living. Last week
I decided to open a business
called the tree of forgiveness
but no one was invited.
Here, lord, take my delicious red
chest. Paint a target and forge
an arrow. I want you to call me Jonathan
or Newton. Whistle out your best
shot then whistle it again. Then kiss my sins.


Philip Schaefer’s debut collection of poems Bad Summon (University of Utah Press, 2017) won the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, and he’s the author of three chapbooks, two co-written with friend and poet Jeff Whitney. He won the 2016 Meridian Editor’s Prize in poetry and has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and in the Poetry Society of America. Individual work is out or due out in Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Thrush, Guernica, The Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill, Bat City Review, The Adroit Journal, Baltimore Review, Redivider, and Passages North among others. He tends bar in Missoula, MT. 

Categories
2018 Fiction

Alex Ebel

CLOSE TO HIM

Brady modeled in his underwear. Flexing alone in his bedroom mirror, he contorted himself into the eighteen signature poses required of competitive bodybuilders. He’d release a deep breath at the end of each pose, naming the next out loud to himself before sucking in another gust of air. Bodybuilders give wild, toothy grins when they hit their marks on stage. Brady had yet to master this, his face swelling instead into a constipated purple grimace. Digging his toes into the carpet, feet turned slightly outward, he sucked his navel into his spine and bent forward. He made fists and curled them up to his sternum. Crab pose, BAM.

He propped his phone against a stack of magazines on his desk and flicked the camera awake. Brady led himself backwards after tapping the record button, standing between the camera and the door on which his mirror hung, his back reflected behind him.

“This is for you, Tiffany,” he said as he began to run his palms over his shaved chest and down his stomach, sloppily working his underwear down to his ankles. He whispered to the camera, to Tiffany, telling her how hot she was making him, though in truth, Brady was more aroused by his own dwarfed image in the camera. He practiced a few of the more sensual poses he knew. Poses he’d seen men make the week before in the conference room of a Howard Johnson, where he and Jason, his boss at Vitamin Village, had attended the Birmingham Area Bodybuilding and Yoga Symposium for Health Instruction and Training, or as it was quietly known around town, BABYSHIT.

He liked to imagine himself in the future, his body trained to a level suitable for competition, posing before a line of judges below him, writing notes in their legal pads and nodding approvingly to one another. The kid’s got amazing glutes, he imagined someone saying as he strutted across the stage.

Brady’s knees began to shake, he winced. Oh fuck yeah, Tiffany, he whispered. The rapping of this mother’s knuckles came quickly at the door before she turned the knob and tried to push her way into his bedroom.

“Brady, your chicken is boiled!” she called cheerfully as the door swung open. The hanging mirror approached Brady quickly from behind before bouncing off his back.

“Get out!” He shouted, snatching up his underwear.

Jan didn’t need to guess what she had interrupted. She had seen the magazines sprawled open, scattered across his floor. Tan, shirtless men in skin tight underwear on every page, flexing, gazing into the camera with an alarming intensity. Men possessing the kinds of stares she imagined seeing behind plexiglass partitions in prisons. My poor son, she thought, my poor, secretive, repressed, gay son. Embarrassed on his behalf, she pressed a loving hand against his closed door, murmuring gently, “your chicken is boiled.”

Brady didn’t go downstairs until he heard his mother’s bedroom door shut. He sat alone in the kitchen, reading articles about macronutrient ratios and ketosis while he spooned dry brown rice into his mouth. His daily carbohydrate allowance, 30 percent of his total caloric intake. He bit into the pilled white chicken breast and swallowed without breathing so he wouldn’t have to taste it. Clenching his fists as he chewed, he watched the tendons in his forearms undulate like legs moving under a blanket. He didn’t like how deeply his veins were buried beneath his skin. I could be more vascular, he thought, standing up from the table. He emptied the container of rice into the trash, he felt bloated.

*

A hard-boiled egg sagged in Brady’s shirt pocket the next morning as he drove to Vitamin Village. A plastic tray of cold cuts, his school lunch, rested in the seat beside him. Jason would already be at work, he arrived hours before the shop opened to lift weights in the back room. He liked to get a good pump, as he called it, first thing in the morning, so the fabric of his Village polo would hug his chest and biceps a little more snugly. He told Brady it motivated customers, or at the very least, it intimidated them into believing they needed every powder and pill Jason recommended. Brady could hear music playing from the sidewalk outside, the Sorry, We’re Closed sign still hung from its hook, vibrating against the glass door with the rhythm of Jason’s soundtrack.

The bell above the door rang as Brady let himself in. Jason emerged from the back room, shirtless and panting, pumped, a white towel draped over his shoulders like a derby winner’s garland.

“What are you doing here so early?” Jason asked.

“I needed some more pre-workout,” Brady said, taking the egg out of his pocket and cracking it on the counter next to the cash register. “And maybe a different protein powder,” he added, “the stuff I’m using has too much sugar I think. I’m looking for something non-dairy, I’m bloated.” He pulled a stamp-sized salt packet from his pocket and sprinkled it over the peeled egg.

“It could be the protein powder,” Jason said. “But that salt isn’t helping either.” He took the egg from Brady’s hand and wiped it off with his towel before taking a bite.

“Come on, man,” Brady said as he took half his egg back. “I’m already having trouble getting enough protein as it is.”

“Maybe your problem isn’t ingestion,” Jason said, a look of sage wisdom in his eyes. “Maybe it’s absorption.”

“What?”

“I’ve been doing some research online,” he said. “According to certain forums, your body only absorbs about 20 percent of the protein you ingest when you swallow it, but some people suggest there’s a way of of bumping that number up to more than 80 percent.”

“Some kind of new supplement or something?”

“No, they say it’s not so much what you’re supplementing with, but how you’re getting it in your body. These guys have been taking all of their stuff as suppositories.”

“What does that mean?” Brady asked.

“It means they’re sticking supplements up their asses.”

*

Jan sat at her kitchen table and wandered through Youtube in search of new “It Gets Better” videos. Over the last few months, she’d slowly been working on a playlist, one she would inevitably send Brady a link to after he came out to her. She had been working on a game plan, imagining the whole teary-eyed scene for hours on end. Brady’s tears, not hers, she would be strong for her son. She would show him that he had nothing to be ashamed of. “God doesn’t make mistakes,” she would say as she reached across the table for her weeping son’s hand, “I accept you,” or possibly “to me, you are perfect.” She had yet to decide on the final phrasing, but the pressure was on, she knew how important a parent’s reaction to their gay child’s big reveal really was. Say the wrong thing, and you’re cut out of their lives forever.

Often, in the midst of one of her imaginary speeches, she would mouth the words as she recited them in her head. The phrases rising out of her in loops repeatedly, endlessly, like a catchy theme song or a radio jingle, her mouth and tongue silently practicing the shapes they would make.

A kettle howled on the stove and Jan stood to retrieve it. She poured boiling water over a mound of instant coffee flakes that swirled and dissolved at the bottom of her mug. She sat back down at her laptop and added another video to her playlist, this one from the cast of Glee. Despite her attempts at steering him towards the show, her son had never watched it, or even shown an interest in it for that matter. Such a shame, she often thought, so many valuable lessons. It wasn’t uncommon for thoughts to cross her mind involving her son and the children she saw on television. She imagined his days in school to be as vibrant and lively as they were onscreen, and for that matter, just as socially volatile. Less singing was involved, obviously the show couldn’t be entirely accurate.

“It’s going to happen soon,” Jan said into her bluetooth later that afternoon as she drove to Jamba Juice. “I can tell, he’s going to do it soon.”

“How are you so sure?” Her sister asked. “I still don’t understand how you can be so positive he’s gay, let alone how you can tell he’s going to talk to you about it.”

“Maternal instinct,” Jan said. She pictured her son’s empty bedroom, just as she had explored it earlier that morning. The coppery, nearly naked men in those magazines, the smell of sweat, the unexplainable appearance of a multitude of hand towels. She felt there was something under the surface, some emotional trauma bubbling up inside of him every night when he closed himself up in his room away from her. He was growing distant, spending more time out of the house, going down to his job at the supplement shop hours before he needed to be at work, and staying late for reasons she couldn’t pinpoint. Why else would he monitor his diet so diligently? What seventeen year old boy buys self-tanning lotion? Gay. He had to be gay. And if he wasn’t ready to admit it, she was going to be sure he knew that when he was, she would be the picture of acceptance. “A mother just knows,” she said.

Jan was waiting for Brady at the kitchen table when he arrived home from school. Two styrofoam cups sweat on paper napkins beside her open laptop. Surprised, Jan snapped her computer shut when she saw her son.

“Hi Angel,” she said. “I got you a smoothie. Do you want to sit down with me and catch up? It’s been a little while since we’ve had a nice talk.”

“I can’t right now mom,” Brady said. “I have to get to the gym before it gets too crowded and all the squat racks are taken.”

“What about just a quick chat? At least drink your smoothie with me?” She lifted the cup from the table and tried to hand it to him. He waved it away.

“I can’t mom, that has too much sugar.”

“But it’s your favorite, come on,” she pleaded, his self-loathing must have been more severe than she thought. “Razzmatazz!”

Brady carried his backpack upstairs to his bedroom, where he gathered his clothes for the gym, his shoes, his headphones, and finally his supplements. He went into the bathroom.

That morning Jason offered to special order the same products the men online used as suppositories, but also suggested that filling empty capsules with powdered supplements would have a similar effect. Brady ordered a case of 500 empty gel caps online, and would make do with improvisation until they arrived.

He stripped in the bathroom and looked up an article he’d found in third period. It was about celebrities on cleanses taking coffee enemas each morning as a way to jump-start their detoxification rituals.Brady shook a bottle of neon green liquid taken from work that morning. Even with his discount, it had been overpriced. Primal Rage the label read. The stylized image of a preposterously muscular caveman clutching a spear sprinted across the bottle. Exxxtreme Lime Flavor! Power-packed with paleo friendly, dairy-free protein. Enhanced with exclusive energizing pre-workout enzyme formula!

Brady unscrewed the cap as his mother crept up the carpeted stairs and waited at the end of the hall, listening for signs of distress. Brady didn’t yet have the supplies the article suggested he use, but the neck of the bottle itself was slender. Cautiously, he squatted down, exhaling deeply as he carefully tried to insert it into himself, to no avail.

He stood and covered the lip of the bottle with hand lotion, then lay on his side, his mother’s plush bath mat below him. He did a little more research on his phone, guilt on his face as he searched different combinations of words. It might seem like the wrong thing to do, one forum advised, but if you push out, if you bear down on the object, it’ll slide in easier. Brady tried to picture himself growing larger; outgrowing his clothes, outgrowing Birmingham, outgrowing his life. He would find one of the hyper-tan, ripple-bodied women he’d seen photographed beside some of the men in his magazines. He saw himself storming down a beach beside a faceless model, the two of them pounding craters in the sand with their sinewy legs, flexing and grunting for each other in the exotic grapefruit haze of the Carribean sunset.

Green liquid spilled onto the bath mat as the bottle made its second approach. Brady pushed, and as the bottleneck slipped inside him, he let out a moan of discomfort.

Oh, my god, Jan thought as she stood outside the bathroom door. He’s hurting himself.

Brady took deep breaths as he climbed to his feet, steadying his weight against the sink, holding the bottle in place. He bent forward, touching his toes in an attempt to make gravity aid the liquid’s drainage into his lower intestine. He waited to feel the energetic rush of the drink’s primal power. He reddened as his face and neck filled with blood. He waited, bent at the waist.

“Brady?” Jan called cautiously from outside the bathroom door. Her hand jiggled the knob. “Brady, are you okay in there?” Her son snapped up, his vision blurred. White specks drifted and multiplied across his line of vision, the room grew dark, his heartbeat pounded in his temples. He lurched forward to block the door, and in doing so his bare foot slid across the tile, still slick with extreme lime flavor.

Jan heard the heavy thud of her little boy, a fully grown man, hitting the ground. She heard the sound of glass shattering.

“God doesn’t make mistakes!” she screamed, slamming her body into the bathroom door, harder and harder, until it hurled open. She found her son unconscious, naked on his side, covered in liquid the color of antifreeze. She saw no blood, only shards of a broken bottle glittering across the tile floor between the two of them. Brady stirred, and began to slowly collect himself on the floor. It was then that Jan noticed the neck of the bottle, spiked shards of glass, emerging from her son like a light bulb broken in its socket. Brady felt it still inside him, panicked, and began to sob like a child startled by a popping balloon.

Jan rushed frantically through the glass and collapsed on the floor, pulling her crying son into her lap. She felt then as though she could leave herself, a bodiless spectre, floating above the mess, viewing it from some place beyond the room.

Soothing him, combing through his damp tangles of hair with the fingers of her free hand, she reached down to retrieve the ring of glass from inside Brady’s limp body. It came out in one piece, followed by a quiet sputtering of murky green liquid. She continued rocking him gently, tears of relief in her eyes. It felt good to be close to him again. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “I know. It’s okay.”


Alex Ebel is a queer writer currently living in Boston, where he received his MFA at Emerson College. His work is featured or forthcoming in The Southampton Review, The Maine Review, Hobart, Barrelhouse, The Rumpus, American Chordata, and Hello Mr., among other publications.

Categories
2018

FALL XXIX

from Blasphemy by Kayla E. and Laura Bullard

POETRY

Graham Barnhart
Bailey Cohen
Dorsey Craft
Michelle Donahue
Khaleel Gheba
Sam Gilpin
Brandie Gray
Heather Hamilton
Rage Hezekiah
J. Bailey Hutchinson
Denise Jarrott
Michael Marberry
Philip Schaefer
Dāshaun Washington



COMICS

Blasphemy is a loosely autobiographical comic about a nun named Charley and a witch named Petra. It is largely nonlinear, loosely narrative, and entirely true except for the parts we make up. 

Kayla E. and Laura Bullard live together in a small town in North Carolina. Despite what the woman down the street thinks, they are engaged to be married and are neither “roommates” nor “sisters.” Kayla is an artist and designer and serves as editor in chief of Nat. Brut, an art and literary magazine. Laura is a writer and fact-checker and works as nonfiction co-editor of Nat. Brut.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Khaleel Gheba

AGAINST ITSELF

The dead bird’s body, gah, seems
a broken toy, its neck misaligned
by factory error, and this description
is obvious and pointless, contributes
nothing. The dead bird’s body feels

light, as if emptied out, which it is
of course, those straw bones
and paper feathers, which is lazy
to paint such a thing that lived, that
died suddenly, against glass it could

not see, as surely as I cannot see it
for itself, a creature beyond knowing
like my mother or my boss or you,
unknown reader, eyes but human. So
holding the bird body with man hands,

I can’t imagine the coloration of treetops
rushing in splotches, or what angle felt
best to climb, or how a worm squiggles
under a beak’s tension, or what a beak
sounds like under the thwack of rain,

is it like rapping fingers on a desk,
how I wouldn’t know what that is or
a poem or anything but lift and bite,
the fear of each moment and whatever
joy a bird can feel in between. Nearby,

the ice cream man is parked and playing
every free song in a medley, every old
and tired tune for milk, for sugar, their
cold union. The moment holds like the stupidest
fucking metaphor because I demand

it does. I require this blunt notion,
completely obtuse and loud as a bat
to a windshield, I need the object in scene,
the occasion for the poem. When I throw
the body in the dumpster, it rings like a bell.


PHOTOGRAPH OF MAN, VOMITING

for Calgary

Potential energy seems so nice:
a thing poised for physics, for
the fall or rise. A perfect gift of
mother matter, father fate, so slow
and then so late. Consider ice

in stillness, preparing always
for a vessel, an engine, a vase.
In any case, here is cascade held
in place. He squints; no one reacts
yet, each smile a forgone crater.


Khaleel Gheba received his MFA in Poetry from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2014. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Redivider, Bayou Magazine, the Bellingham Review, Split Lip, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Maryland, where he works as a public librarian.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Graham Barnhart

UNPRACTICED

Walking outside after, I stepped on a snake
and thought copperhead. The way I think
every insect droning is a cicada.
But it did look like a dusty string
of penny shavings even if it was dead.
I remembered back in training, a soldier
squirming in the dirt. Shot pretend-dead
in a fictional ambush. When he fell, he fell wrong—
found a little copperhead with his hand.
I’ve heard the babies can’t control themselves.
All the poison. All at once. Who can say
if that the snake went on to starve
for lack of venom. If one drop more
than it intended, bled. But if I come to anger
like that. Without practice. Without saving
anything to live on. Don’t forgive me.


Graham Barnhart is the author of The War Makes Everyone Lonely forthcoming from the University of Chicago Phoenix Poets series (Sep/2019). A current Wallace Stegner Fellow, he was educated at The Ohio State University, and Allegheny College, and served in the US Army as a Special Forces medic. He has been awarded The Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans, The Chad Walsh Poetry Prize, a scholarship to The Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and a fellowship to Writing Workshops in Greece. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Adroit Journal, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, and others.

Categories
2018 Fiction

Raina K. Puels

GREEN ETERNITY

I never thought I’d work with dead bodies. When I went through beauty school, I pictured working in a salon with big windows and lots of gossip. I thought I’d sweep floors until I could afford to rent my own chair. Then the fancy cemetery opened. Fancy isn’t the right word. Different, yes. Expensive, definitely. People from all over the country pay to have their corpses shipped to our town, Penn Hills, Pennsylvania to be buried at Green Eternity. Before that Penn Hills was only known for coal. Then we got famous for having the first ever natural burial ground: no caskets, no pesticides, no chemicals, no headstones. Only acres of wildflower fields.

Green Eternity pays good money to the half of the town who work as gardeners, pest management, gravediggers, publicists, gift shop workers, morticians, ministers, and refrigeration experts. Then there’s me. The cemetery recruited me from beauty school to cut their clients’ hair, trim their nails, shave their faces. Hair grows even after you’re dead. Well, not exactly. When you die, your body gets all dehydrated, so it shrivels and more hair becomes visible.

It used to make me feel weird that I groomed people who couldn’t tell me how they wanted to look. But I got used to it. I had to if I wanted to keep my salary. With a dad who got crushed in a collapsed shaft the summer before I left for college, and a mom who died of a heart attack from diabetes, I was the only person who could take care of me.

Before I worked at Green Eternity, I could barely pay my bills, on account of having spent all of my dad’s life insurance on two years at Penn State—his dream for me. But one night of partying at the wrong fraternity house and I couldn’t stay there. When I saw the brothers in my classes and in the dining halls, all I could do was shiver. So I moved back to Penn Hills and enrolled in beauty school. It was a practical way to make money. Except that I had to pay my tuition and buy scissors, rollers, makeup brushes, blow dryers, combs, cleaning solution—the works. And then, flipping through catalogues for classes, I would see things I needed. Like a fast-heating straightener to tame the unruly waves coming out of my head, a heat-resistant mat to lay it on so I wouldn’t burn my trailer down, and miracle repair cream for the damage it would do to my hair. The only way I could afford it all was with credit cards, so that’s what I did. Taking a job with a good salary would help keep the creditors off my back. So that’s how I ended up working with dead people in a windowless basement.

At least I had Deb, my only friend at Green Eternity. She was the only female gravedigger and could make a grave in half an hour, twice as fast as the guys. She got into construction young; she had to make money after her parents disowned her after she burned all of her church dresses on the front lawn and chopped off her waist-length hair. She still wears it short. We met at my beauty school when she came in to get a cheap cut. After we bonded over being orphans, we became friends who watched three or four movies in a row and ate bags of chips and frozen pizzas and pints of ice cream and candy bars and finished those off with Kahlua milkshakes and brandy. Then she started dieting, so we stopping seeing each other outside of her monthly hair appointments. It also could have something to do with the fact that she would always put her arm around me and I’d fold into her, but as soon as she tried to do more, I’d freeze and make excuses to leave. But ever since we started working together, we were friendly again.

She almost died from laughing when I told her about a body I prepared last week. The guy was 40, one of those big shot financial guys in New York City who had a soft spot for the country. After he made more money than god, he planned to retire young and move somewhere without any asphalt, or so his sister said during his service. But then he had Chinese takeout one too many times and his arteries couldn’t handle it. That’s how he ended up on my table. He was pretty okay-looking: blue eyes, high cheekbones, pretty pink lips. Except that he had an awful, scraggly beard. I needed to get rid of it. I took my straight razor and zip, nip, clip—it was gone. He went from a five to a seven, just like that.

Then I noticed Charly, the assistant director, watching me from the stairs—she never came all the way down. She was a dumpy woman who never wore makeup or brushed her hair, all because she was too busy taking care of her geriatric mother and reporting to Green Eternity’s real director, who lived in New York City. When she saw my shave job, she gasped and put her hand on her chest like I had been the one that killed him:

“Temperance, did you consult his sheet?”

“I looked at it, but I didn’t read it. Didn’t need to. I knew how he’d look the best.”

“His sister specifically requested that we leave his face alone. It’s all in the notes. He’s had that beard for twenty years. It was a slice of the countryside he had with him every day in the city. He’s having an open-casket funeral in two days. If he doesn’t have a beard by then, you won’t have a job,” she said and mounted the stairs back to her fifth-floor office that gets more natural light in one day than I see in a week.

By “open-casket” she meant that the lid wouldn’t have been put on his cardboard box. At Green Eternity, our clients pay top dollar for a “casket” that biodegrades into a million pieces as fast as possible. They’re not afraid of maggots devouring their flesh or earthworms crawling through their eye sockets. The thought of that kills me—it’s my rationale for being cremated. Then I can bypass the whole decomposition thing and have my ashes thrown into the ocean. I can only imagine how vast and blue it its. The only body of water I’ve spent time around is the Allegheny River that winds through Penn Hills. Only a fool would swim in its murky, strange-smelling waters. Not even fish will touch it. It’s nothing like an ocean full of majestic creatures. I’ve seen TV shows about whales as big as three school busses and dolphins that sing. I’d rather have bits of me explode out of their blowholes than be chomped on by creepy crawlies with too many legs—or no legs at all.

Before the financial guy could meet this fate, I had to figure out a way to bring his beard back to life. That got me thinking about using some of his other hair to replace what I’d chopped. I took the cover off of his lower half and shuttered. Then I did what I had to do: I shaved him bald and found some super glue.

I spent the next couple hours dabbing bits of glue as small as pores onto this guy’s face and sticking his pubes to it. When I was done, all of the shiny bits of glue were hidden and the guy looked like he had a real beard. In fact, my beard was more aesthetically pleasing than his original one: it didn’t climb toward his eyes or scraggle down his neck. I ranked him a six.

I used to date a six—a quiet guy named Barry with a lot more going on in his noggin than you would ever think judging by his droopy eyes and the way he shuffled his feet. When we started going out, he was sick all the time; his lungs were so damaged from the mines that black came out each time he coughed. It was miserable to watch. Then, his mama found out she was dying because her tits were rotting off—his words, not mine. He had the option of leaving the mines to take care of her. None of his older brothers wanted to hold her hand while she watched Jeopardy, go to church with her, or to upkeep her garden. So I pushed him to do it. Hard. I thought that seeing the sunshine and breathing fresh air might heal him. And it did. After caring for his mama for a month, his cough went away.

Every summer morning, Barry went out to tend her garden. She said she made her own tropical oasis, because she never made it down to Florida. Her garden was the only splotch of color in the whole “mobile home community.” All the trailers were splotched with brown, their white paint having been too hard to keep up with. The whole park was covered in gravel, so at any time a family could plop down a new unit without having to worry about it sinking into the grass.

Barry’s mama pilfered dirt and flowers from the side of the highway and plopped them down outside of her bedroom window. Each year, the black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, and orange lilies came back. She taught Barry how to deadhead the lilies. At first he felt bad. Why would you cut the heads off of flowers? But then he saw that the lilies liked it. The more he chopped, the fatter and more orange the blossoms were. He practically skipped out to the garden every morning and sometimes even found himself telling the purple coneflowers to stop being so selfish and to leave room for the lilies.

But after a few more months of spending time with his mother all day, his eyes got dull and he barely spoke. Our relationship fizzled. He stopped asking me how I was doing and chose to cuddle with the remote rather than with me. When I told him things weren’t working between us, he nodded and left, without ever meeting my eyes. It made me mad that he didn’t try to fight for me. I would’ve tried real hard to keep me in my life if I were him—especially because I’m an eight point five.

The summer his mama was on her last legs was my first month of work at Green Eternity, not long after Barry and I broke up. He walked down to my basement and looked at his scuffed, brown boots. His wavy hair fell into his eyes and stuck up toward the heavens—it looked like he hadn’t touched it since we split. I already knew what he was going to ask, but I decided to pull it out of him anyway, on account of the fact I was still bitter that he picked Duck Dynasty over touching me.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“Well, my mama’s dying and I, uh, she wants…but…but, we can’t afford it,” Barry said, looking down.

“What do you want?” I asked again, tapping my foot.

“Wild flowers and, uh…” Barry bit his cuticles. “We can’t afford a normal burial, so, uh…”

I took a long, deep breath. When I expelled the last dregs of air in my lungs, he still hadn’t spoken. I couldn’t wait for him any longer: “If you want me to risk my job and help you bury your mother at Green Eternity then there better be something in it for me.”

“Tempy, I’m sorry. My mama’s got a mean streak…I couldn’t cook her cornbread right, read her the bible right, or even drive right. And she let me know it. Every day. After a while, I started to believe it. So, uh, I didn’t think I could do you right either. Now that she’s so sick that she can’t talk, I’m starting to feel a whole lot better.”

My shoulders slumped. Oh shit.

“I’m sorry. I had no idea she was so nasty. No one from this town can afford to be buried here anyway, so we might as well make a heist out of it.”

Barry looked up at me. He almost smiled. “Two fifty for you and two fifty for Deb?”

I nodded. Barry wrapped his arms around me: gasoline, clean linens, and wet earth. His smell didn’t make me giddy the way it used to, but it still felt good. Then, Barry pulled away.

“There’s something else I wanted to ask… After my mama goes, the last place I’d like to be is underground—even though all my brothers are there—and I, uh… Are there any open gardener positions?”

“I’ll talk to Charly. But she doesn’t like me.”

“Really? I thought women always did,” Barry said and looked up at me. Then he turned and climbed back up the stairs three at a time.

Later that day, during lunch, I walked toward the flower fields, sneezing from all the pollen. They were bursting with daisies, purple asters, and firewheels. From afar, I loved looking at Green Eternity’s grounds. But up close was another story. I couldn’t stand the feeling of bumblebees bumping my legs, the needy sound of crickets, or the way my ergonomic clogs flicked up mud that caked to the backs of my legs. Unfortunately, I had to brave it to find Deb.

She was on her lunch break on the opposite side of the field from the other guys. She sat in her dirty, yellow backhoe and picked at a salad. I hoisted myself into the machine and sat on the cracked leather. I looked at her round face and admired how clean it was. She never had to worry about scrubbing off eyeliner, or getting mascara stuck in her contacts like I did. Ever since I moved back to Penn Hills, I haven’t left the house without black lines around my eyes and red on my lips.

“That doesn’t look like much fun,” I said, motioning toward her lunch.

“I’ve been trying this diet: no carbs, no sugar, no alcohol. If I can stick with it for a few more weeks, it’s supposed to make all my cravings go away,” she said, and put a piece of lettuce into her mouth.

“Then I guess I shouldn’t have brought this for you,” I said, taking peanut butter cups out of my pocket—her favorite.

She eyed the candy and reached her hand out. I flinched it away.

“First, I have a proposition for you,” I said.

“Is it sex?” She looked at me and batted her stubby lashes.

“No, but you’d make two fifty for digging a grave after hours.”

“Whose grave?”

“Barry’s mama’s.”

“You want me to risk my job to bury your ex-boyfriend’s mom?” Deb picked up her fork, looked at the candy in my hand, then put her fork down. “I guess I could use the extra cash. The queer youth shelter in Pittsburgh always needs help… Now gimme those cups.”

I handed them over. She ripped the packaging with her teeth, peeled back the wrapper, and popped the whole cup into her mouth. She closed her eyes and moaned. It didn’t matter if she was in a gas station, sitting on a bench on the side of the street, or on the bus—if she liked what was in her mouth, she moaned. When she opened her eyes and saw that I was staring at her, she smiled.

“I missed watching that,” I said and climbed out of the backhoe.

The next morning, on my way into Green Eternity, I saw Charly leaving. The bags under her eyes looked like they could explode with ink at any moment.

“My mom fell again last night. I need to get home and change her bandages. Make sure to read all of the notes I left with the bodies. Please. Your last few haircuts have been sloppy, so you better fix that, too,” she said and disappeared outside.

“A-plus for encouragement,” I said and went into my basement.

The first person on my table was an old woman with firetruck-red hair and tattoos peeking out from the white sheet over her body, which definitely was not the 600-thread count she was used to. I recognized her immediately from the tabloids. She was a fashion designer-activist who spoke out against fur and leather. Her shtick were garments made from sustainable bamboo colored with dyes made from lichens. I bet she didn’t want to pollute the earth in a traditional cemetery. I also bet that she had no idea about the many years of toxins from the mines that had leached into the soil all over Penn Hills.

When I pulled her sheet down, I saw an ornate phoenix curve from under one breast, down her side, and around to her back. On her thigh, a topless mermaid posed underwater, hair flowing behind her. I wanted to be her. I wanted to be free to swim wherever I pleased and be uninhibited by everything happening above the surface. I stripped off my sweaty gloves. Before I could type tropical vacation into Google, my phone rang. It was Barry. His mama hadn’t woken up to see her flowers.

That night, the peepers went crazy with their songs like they knew something exciting was about to happen. When I got to Barry’s, he smelled like whiskey. His mama was still in her bed right where she died. Her lips and fingertips were blue. There was a puddle of vomit on the floor from when Barry must’ve realized she was gone. I wrapped her up in a sheet. He only came into the room when I called for him. I picked up her feet. He flinched before taking her head. She was much lighter than I expected. She made a smack when she hit the bed of his rusty truck.

When he couldn’t get the key into the ignition, I traded seats with him.

It was dark, but the big moon shed its silver light over us. Even though I wore long pants and bug spray, I kept slapping mosquitoes as we walked through the fields. When we got to the plot, we laid the body down on the long edge of the grave. The grass and flowers were so tall that Barry’s mama disappeared. Deb got out of the backhoe and stood with us in front of the hole. It was twelve feet deep, two times deep as regulation so she could put a client on top in the morning and no one would know there was someone underneath.

Barry swayed to the left, then overcorrected and swayed to the right. “I know you guys wanna kiss each other. Why won’t ya just do it?”

Barry turned and looked at us. I was great at buying things on Amazon I didn’t need like a shower curtain with a tropical underwater scene and neon fish, but I’d always been too afraid of following that impulse. I felt Deb’s warmth next to mine and wanted to grab her hand, but we both stayed silent and forward-facing.

Then Barry shrugged and said, “It’s time for a prayer.”

“Religious mumbo jumbo’s not for me,” Deb said. “I’ma go sit in the backhoe. Wave to me when it’s time.”

I stayed with Barry and watched Deb walk away. Her jeans fit real nice.

“God bless this earth where my mother lies. Let it forgive her bad breath and her ill temper and the way she used to beat us. I’m supposed to be sad, but, uh, really, I’m glad. Hey that rhymed,” Barry said and started to laugh.

He laughed until his body shook and he was speaking in tongues; the sounds coming out of him were half animal and half god. His face was all twisted and red and his cheeks were wet and his arms flailed. He gave a mighty roar from the back of his throat and bent his knee and shot out his foot and sent his mama flying into the hole like a soccer ball. Her body made a soft plop when it landed at the bottom. Then he waved like a maniac at Deb. The backhoe grumbled before its long appendage scooped up dirt from the large pile next to the grave and released it over the hole. Barry stood dangerously close to the edge as he watched his mama disappear. My hand made circles on his back, but he didn’t feel them.

On the way back to the parking lot, Deb and I linked our arms with Barry’s to keep him upright. He was catatonic when we loaded him into the back of Deb’s jalopy. Then we walked around to the front. Piles of wrappers littered the passenger seat. It smelled like chocolate. Even though it was dark, I knew Deb turned red before she pushed the candy carcasses to the floor. Her face looked soft in the moonlight. She was normally a seven, but right now she looked like a nine. I put my hand on her thigh:

“Will you teach me how to swim?”


​​Raina K. Puels is the Nonfiction Editor for Redivider. She leaves a trail of glitter, cat hair, and small purple objects everywhere she goes. You can read her in The Rumpus, PANK, The American Literary Review, and many other places. See her full list of pubs: rainakpuels.com Tweet her: @rainakpuels.