2020 Poetry

Cecilia Savala


Fit: archaic, from the Old English—Circa AD 888: a poem in
sections, a part. In pieces, to be tied. Canto. To dance. Fit: to do lists
esp. in January. A holiday verb: to fit into yoga pants, to lose 35
pounds, 30 inches, to fit in a workout. To fit in: one of the nameless
masses. Buff. Shredded. To weigh in on a suitable quality, standard,
type. AD 1325: Conflict. Struggle. Fit: market psychology’s consensus
of the condition of being physically well. Strong. Powerful. Healthy,
esp. by regular physical exercise: to be the right shape. Muscular.
Tough. To fulfill a particular role: i.e. fit to be a mother. To meet the
required purpose as set forth. Impersonal, to agree: obsolete, late 16th
century. To make fit, to render as competent, to force. The prescribed
formula: three times per week. Mass times the force of gravity: to
determine a particular position or place. Vigorous. Trim. To fit: to
occupy a specific size, shape, or number. Fit: appropriate and
correct. Worthy. Except: to have a fit.

Cecilia Savala is a student at the University of Central Missouri where she is majoring in English Education and is the Editor in Chief of Arcade Magazine. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Barrelhouse, and Mangrove Journal, among others.

2020 Fiction

Dustin M. Hoffman


Pike told me, over lunchbreak burritos, how him and his old lady set the bedspread on fire again last night. Second time this month, tenth time this year. I kept a secret tally, marked in orange paint, inside the work trailer’s wall. I expected Pike to die any day. It’s not like I wished him and his old lady dead. It just seemed a matter of inevitability, like painting jobs drying up in winter, like the fact that my back would give out if I kept doing this gig.

Pike licked sour cream off his index finger, which ended at a nub middle knuckle. He never told me that story, how he lost it. Maybe his old lady bit it off. He never shared the stories I wanted, just over and over again how he woke to smoke, thick and black and tarry from the synthetic weave of his comforter. No flames, he claimed. Instead, heat smoldered against their naked bodies. Always naked, of course, because that’s how they lived, naked and smoking, their asses bared for fate.

They were both disgusting specimens. I was reminded of this every day as I witnessed Pike’s crooked teeth, yellow as corn kernels. His hair hung thick with grease, his face pinched into a constant grimace, his whole body an act of twisted compression. And she showed up on site often to visit Pike, to demand he hand over his pack of cigarettes. She’d practice her sport of harassing him while he rolled out walls. Pencil dick, she’d say. Bent-cock motherhumper. Always kissing your boss’s asshole, she’d chant at him, and he’d look strangled, turning purple with shame, but he’d never return an insult.

Every night, they returned home to join their hideous nude bodies in bed, where they’d smoke. Their commitment to doom was unbreakable. Here was love, a promise to burn in your partner’s secondhand fire, while I returned to my pair of cats who mostly hid under the bed.

At work, I’d finish cutting the wall, finish painting the room, fold up the drop cloth, lock up a house transmuted by a fresh skin of blue paint or wheat-yellow or throbbing white. I’d drive my truck away with clean tools, drive right to my beautiful boss proffering a final paycheck, wishing me good luck in life, wishing me better than him and Pike, and then I’d move to better jobs sitting behind glowing screens. Better jobs, better jobs, I’d whisper to myself. In my head, Pike and his girlfriend have married. They keep growing younger, gorgeous and vital. She’s pregnant. Pike’s finger grew back. Their teeth have gone white, their hair silky and full. Their bed blazes, flames flashing every color we ever painted, and every color we never could dream.

Dustin M. Hoffman writes stories about working people. He’s the author of the story collection No Good for Digging and the fiction chapbook Secrets of the Wild (Word West Press). His first book One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist (University of Nebraska Press) won the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He spent ten years painting houses in Michigan before getting his MFA in fiction from Bowling Green State University and his PhD in creative writing from Western Michigan University. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior ReviewAlaska Quarterly ReviewPuerto del SolMasters ReviewWitnessQuarterly WestThe JournalWigleafThe Adroit JournalFaultline, and a bunch of other neat places. He lives in South Carolina and teaches creative writing and literature at Winthrop University.

2020 Poetry

Jose Hernandez Diaz


“Arboles de la barranca
Porque no han enverdecido
Es que no los han regado con agua del rio florido
Me puse amar a una mujer con la ilusión de amar….”

-Mexican Ranchera.

My American friends think I’m too Mexican.
My Mexican friends think I’m too American.
My Mexican-American friends are my road dogs.

Mi gusto es escribir poesía toda la noche
y toda la mañana.
Mi gusto es escribir poesía toda la noche
y toda la mañana.

I don’t like my chile too hot; I like it just right.
I don’t like my chile too hot; I like it just right.

When I’m drinking on the weekend,
And I play “Arboles de la Barranca,”
It doesn’t matter whose singing it,
I feel 100% Mexican—those trumpets, damn.

I put ketchup in my breakfast burrito;
I put ketchup in my breakfast burrito:

Con la ilusión de amar.

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Bat City Review, Cincinnati Review, Gigantic Sequins, Huizache, Iowa Review, The Nation, Poetry, The Progressive, Witness, and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011. His chapbook of prose poems, The Fire Eater, was published on 2/14/20 with Texas Review Press. He tweets at @JoseHernandezDz.

2020 Poetry

Emilie Menzel


Not recognizing my personhood has been problematic to me in the past, but my savagery is genderless and sleeps my body into exhaustion. Not everything we touch must touch the high holy. Not all nights are undrugged sleep. Bathing is a way to feel small inside a soap dish. Bathing is a way to practice your folding.

A sweet little savagery, he tells me, you exhibit, my lips licked. I leave my gloves folded tidy at the edge of the sink, turn to face him. There’s a too large dose of his first person crowding my consciousness lately. It is a bizarre little body, but we keep it as a specimen, a lab rat pet. And what is a speed of want?

She builds a ladder from the roof, climbs the sky like a bird. But have you heard of a bird needing a step stool, slowly the spilling swallows: torsos reared, mouths ready to bite, it’s feeling freshly horrored, it’s in the dream my mouth gaping, crowding with carapace, with trees.

​​Emilie Menzel is a poet, writer, and finder. Her writing has appeared with Black Warrior ReviewMichigan Quarterly Review, and Tupelo Quarterly, amongst others, and she is the recipient of the Deborah Slosberg Memorial Award in Poetry (selected by Diana Khoi Nguyen) and Cara Parravani Memorial Award in Fiction (selected by Leigh Newman). Emilie is the curator of The Gretel, a contributing editor for The Seventh Wave, and a children’s librarian in-training. She lives in wooded North Carolina.

2020 Poetry

Kim Sousa


You were the size of one of the snails I used to race
in Tio Pedro’s backyard. Raised like livestock in miniature
in a small wooden hutch. Here, I made a hutch for you,
split it from myself:

a uterine sac.

The doctors insist, but I cannot be blameless in this.
I have pulled snails from their shells and run them through herbed butter.
I’ve sopped them up with crusty bread. Alone in France,
trying to shape my loneliness into something fashionable—an aperitif.

Home in Brazil, I have broken
so many chicken necks, plucked so many feathers, seen the cuy

split open, stuck through
and flattened onto spits at the feira. I might reach for a papaya, instead,

but the gaze has its own appetites.

They would not call yours a death, Little Snail.
Instead, a loss. I could not keep you.

Now, a pain pill lulls me to sleep.
The curtain between us flutters

somewhere out of reach.

Go / Stay.

If life does not begin at conception, death does.

I made a death.

I am the screaming steam loosening flesh from spiral shell.
I follow, cloaked in my grief.

I am the scythe.

Unwitting blade.

Kim Sousa is a Brazilian-American poet and open border radical. Her work can be found in Poet Lore, Rogue Agent, Apogee, Blunderbuss and elsewhere. She has poems forthcoming in Pidgeonholes, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and Duende, among others. In 2019, she organized Pittsburgh’s all-Latinx chapter of Christopher Soto, et al.’s “Writers for Migrant Justice” nation-wide protest collective benefiting Immigrant Families Together and co-edited the benefit anthology of immigrant and first-generation poetry, No Tender Fences, which donated 100% of its proceeds to RAICES Texas. She is currently at work on her first full-length manuscript and at home again in Austin, Texas with her two senior pugs and her familiar, a black cat.

2020 Poetry

Mackenzie Kozak

prayer without crescent-shape

lord, now i am one to quarrel. 
once pristine, a trope to keep 
replaying, figment furrowed 
in the curtain. how i was full
of quivering and you stunned 
me stone. then i began to keep
away from surfaces. but now 
if i hear dismal, doomed, 
and leak my orchid, which 
finesses me. if i relish in 
that injury. then i am one 
to watch the sky for voltage, 
which was promised me. 
or an answer like a surgery 
removed from breath. i heard
withhold. i drew a charcoal 
rim, another. clasped the eyelets 
up my length. you want to give 
and take away when i am 
heavy with beckoning. taken 
in a trance, having given up. 
i wait for something stern 
to medicate me. or a hell 
set into motion, swallowing me. 
it never comes. there are other
arrivals, dewy. you did insist. 

when my love is not a subcontinent 

often you inhabit only a small strip of land 
upon which you pitch and decay 

how, meandering further into the beyond, 
a rattling ensues 

you could say that what is primal in us 
perpetually sheds itself, making room

or glows so sharply in the night 
the whole island trembles 

tell me about the need for nuisance, 
and, when it comes, the stench

or tell me you have found a new surface 
to stain with breathing

or tell me you have found yourself forlorn,
marooned at the thought 

of exile, and press me open, a landing, 
your sounds sharp with sand 

Mackenzie Kozak is a poet living in Asheville, NC. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry Journal, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, jubilat, Poetry Northwest, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. Mackenzie serves as an associate editor at Orison Books and Asheville Poetry Review. Her manuscript, in place of a mouth & far-flung, was a finalist of the National Poetry Series.

2020 Poetry

Kelly Grace Thomas


I empty the day
like a bottle. Toss, try
and truce this body
mine. Ours. Body,
you, a river, I name
and rename. Last year wobbles
on her soggy bones. Tonight, I spill

for you. Confess my father
was a heavy pour. He raised me
in song. Our family, a vine
still weeping towards sea.
We couldn’t drink
the body out
of us. And isn’t water
another way to say
body? I practice tender
in the mirror. Quiet
my hips, curved
like a quotation mark.
Bless, bless, bless
these elbows
and anxiety. All these bones
and brackets.

Body, I walked to Arkansas
to say I’m sorry
for the distance and the diet
pills. I’m sorry for the silence.
Maybe I just needed to write you
from somewhere new. To thank you,
my quiet parenthesis.
To promise: keep me
and I’ll keep you.
My steady
grammar. Listen,
this rain needs a bed.


Outside my window a crow
circles what it can get.
I’m three nights from love.
Always between here
and home. Six service
stations past self help
stereo hum. Omid
means hope. I’ve never told
a prayer that. Out my car window,

the wheat fields kneel
for water. We learn
landscape. Trapped
inside. Today I read
the most important thing
a father can do
for his children
is love
their mother.
This is not that.
Not the prayer
where I help myself. Not
the prayer where someone
says sunrise and I talk
story. Not the prayer where I know
what to do with silence
besides pass it
on the left. Maybe

one day. For now
I measure the distance
between the men I’ve loved
like a country
still thirsty
for rain.

Kelly Grace Thomas is the author of Boat Burned, released by YesYes Books. Kelly’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in: Best New Poets 2019, the Los Angeles Review, Tinderbox, Nashville Review, Sixth Finch, Muzzle, DIAGRAM and more. Kelly has received fellowships from Tin House, Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, Kenyon Review Young Writers’ and more. Kelly is the Education and Pedagogy Advisor for Get Lit-Words Ignite, a youth poetry nonprofit. She is the co-author of Words Ignite: Explore, Write and Perform, Classic and Spoken Word Poetry (Literary Riot). Kelly is also a screenwriter and novelist. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Omid.

2020 Poetry

Matt Mitchell

when warren zevon appeared on the letterman show in 2002, he knew he was going to die soon

babe, protect me while i press my lips 
against the handle of an unlocked door,

afraid of what dust cradling my 
expired electricity lies on the other side.

as warren walked into the belly 
of shrapnel the autumn equinox left him,

he knew even the darkness could yank
the last breath from his lungs.

i have taken every moment i let you 
breathe into my open mouth for granted. 

there are so many ways to repair the ribcage 
of our home all the love spilled out from. 

warren painted his whole body into a 
suit the color of soon stretching itself 

around the teeth of an entire year & 
imagined his god as a sandwich

he’d never learned to savor. no one wants
to pray to a slice of air crammed in-between

two bruised walls. i feel heaven’s weight 
in the touch of every postal worker’s 

hand that delivers one of your postcards 
to my mailbox in the vanishing morning 

of summers. in a few months, i will have lived
in three different decades, & too frequently

i’ve awoken to the knuckles of my back
burning & breaking against a grave

of a mattress & feared my fourth decade
would crawl into a dead body’s mouth.

i have lived in-between the teeth 
of a year & imagined soon as god,

soon as the drive along the ohio turnpike 
i make just to fall asleep in your arms.

the ides of march

i have never written about shooting 
a gun before,

because the closest i have been to
an exploding barrel was when my father

taught my mother how to shoot
in our backyard a decade ago.

my uncle drank a fifth of angel dust
on his parents’ patio in 1985

& shot himself in the head
with a twelve-gauge rifle.

my father still hears gunshots at night
when he is asleep. 

he has never read any of my poems.

my other uncle goes to west virginia
every november to hunt 

& bring back dead things for his wall.

every march 15th, my father takes
his brother’s portrait off the mantle
& stands in the same spot where 
he died. he slides his feet over 

the recarpeted floor, says this could 
be a poem,
& knows he would never read it.

Matt Mitchell is a gluten-free, heartbroken, intersex writer from Columbus, Ohio. He is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, The Neon Hollywood Cowboy (Big Lucks, 2021). Find him on Twitter @matt_mitchell48

2020 Poetry

Lindsay Illich


Something Christmas. Moss.
Out of nowhere, an orange.
A fan blade. I’m stealing
this next one: the cathedral
of a half lemon. Halved.
The small glass heart you carry
with your pocket change.
Revenants. Attention. An
uncalculated gesture towards
something. A staircase going
somewhere. The snow before
the snow, before you know
if it’s really snowing. The
crescent-shaped tears in a peach
from your thumbnail. Drawer
pulls. White towels. Rowdiness.
A good belly. And, oh hell,
I’m gonna say it–the moon.
But also your bright face.
In the light of it.


Gray-muzzled dawn, her airplanes
& alarms, the daughter gone,

the grayscale slipshape of her bones,
the between the blinds beginning

to glow. Seconds then minutes & hours
then days, until a whole body of not

her grew like the seam that inched
from pubis to belly. Blessed is the morning,

its gray matter, its cinnamon and once
in New Mexico at the hot springs

we pulled off all our clothes
in broad daylight, bright poms of marigolds

floating in the water, cedar waxwings
high in the branches, a milk sun

burning across a thick pan of clouds.
I knew nothing of her then

& for days I’ve wished for that
same innocence. The blank snow,

the bad reception I gave her, the day
here already. I ache for summer.

Lindsay Illich is the author of Heteroglossia (Anchor and Plume, 2016), Rile & Heave (Texas Review Press, 2017), and Fingerspell (forthcoming, Black Lawrence Press, 2020). She teaches at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts.

2020 Poetry

Stephanie Athena Valente


strung around my throat like
a love song, not just stones, they’re
power gems, blue orbs pulsating
from my ribs, my feet hitting hot
summer sand for the first time,
my body is meant to be here, no
i’ve never been in this land before,
only dreamed it up like kids in movies
even though i lied through my teeth,
even though my ancestors called
each night in potions + apparitions,
every grain of sand, sea foam bead,
polished rosary chain, lemon-perfume,
lost summer wine is me, i am here:
in this space, fleeting but forever,
being Sicilian is a poem.


this saturday, i’m on my back staring

feeling all of the nebulas, green flecks in your eyes
i could say that i want to wrap you up in small stars
to wrap you up in something that is dead
by the time is comes here, it’s nothing

i’m with you so i don’t have to think anymore
no, love, there is no point because,
we are inherited ghosts living on borrowed time

i am currents, galaxies, i believe
like it means something b/c i want it to

the feeling is being awake while i’m sleeping
i can’t move, so i’ll suck you off instead
all pearly skin, iridescent sex, magic on, in us

if you could make me come, the planets just collide
everything circles, my lips are still on your chest.

Stephanie Athena Valente lives in Brooklyn, NY. Her published works include Hotel Ghost, waiting for the end of the world, and Little Fang (Bottlecap Press, 2015-2019). She has work included in Reality Hands, TL;DR, and Cosmonauts Avenue. She is the associate editor at Yes, Poetry. Sometimes, she feels human.