Categories
2020 Poetry

Forrest Rapier

PANTHERA

The river makes people go crazy—
I’m from a hurricane alley
where weather comes home angry-drunk,

& crushes the fishing pier like it’s a popsicle stick
model of a spinal cord I built for the science fair.
When I brought the glued-wreckage to class,

six-hundred strange teeth laughed at schooldesks,
& I misspelled ‘nationalism’ in the gymnasium.
Where I’m from, neighborhood

avenues have street fruit names, an asphalt canopy—
Orange, Cherry, Lemon. Glen died at Seawalk Pavilion,
& Danyelle shot her neck off in a Queen

bed near Egret’s Bluff—I know Glen paints light
over Panhandle forests while Danyelle climbs
sanity’s cliff. Haloed-zero friends of mine

spacewalk moon pistils, & tongue nectar
with alien hummingbirds on Neptune’s abandoned
beach—we fly flocks of V’s over frozen oceans.


Forrest Rapier is a recent MFA graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the recipient of a University Poetry Prize awarded by the Academy of American Poets. His work appears in Saw Palm, The Greensboro Review and Best New Poets.

Categories
2020 Poetry

Maeve Holler

WHEN I WAS FOUR

to be seen & not heard

When I was knee-bruised and exploding like yellow from my mouth. When my body was all punches and stiff kisses. When my belly started to feel like a hill to climb. When I wasn’t ready for the rain to come. I was at arms, living for combat, and he taught me the alphabet of silence. At first, I thought it was a game, a hide-and-seek—I spit my words out backwards, my throat spellbound & tangled. I stopped asking questions. Instead, my fingers grew toward a creation of answers: the sky wasn’t blue, the walls all had headaches, there weren’t any trees. Colors existed only on paper, only to be whispered between me & whatever figure of God I was taught to love. That world was like underwater, like a chamber of safety, free of gravity, of noise. I swam alone. I washed my face in that type of wilt—all my new scars were absorbed into that chamber. The game became an exercise in consumption. I ate my words. But I wish I could tell him now: If you cut out my tongue, I will write you a letter.* I wish I could tell him: an animal’s thoughts don’t spill like logic, the magic of coral can’t be undone. I am not seasonal, I cannot drift out to sea like this.


Maeve Holler is a poet from Shelton, Connecticut. She is currently the Managing Editor for the literary magazine Sinking City and a third year MFA candidate at the University of Miami. She received her BA in English and Gender & Sexuality Studies from Tulane University in New Orleans. Maeve’s work, which focuses on depicting working-class experiences and retelling familial folklore, has appeared in LevelerScalawagThe Cardiff ReviewWildnessMantra ReviewLotus-Eater MagazineT.NY’s The EEELBroad! Magazine and elsewhere. Her in-progress manuscript won GASHER Journal’s First Book Scholarship in June 2019.


*line from Tory Dent’s poem “The Murder of Beauty / The Beauty of Murder”

Categories
2020 Poetry

Emma Aylor

SOUTHERN CROW

Where I live for now they
say the crows are smaller
overall; bill also small—
these
our mythmade familiars,
harbingers of
the devil’s own luck. I see
them and think
of mountains, younger
hikes in the shortest
days among brittle
limbs and lichened
slabs left like so
much midden: the Priest,
Devil’s Marbleyard, Harkening
Hill. The long grasses whose
color stole along
with the gone sun, leaving
a two-dimensioned
bright.
There the black
angles roosted stickily, calls
ragged as the dry grass
leaving burrs at our ankles.
I learned lately
that crows may not
mourn
exactly, but do
learn places associated
with conspecific
death, learn the people
they must associate with crisis, learn
the masks volunteers
had to wear,
as controls, as charms
against being too
poorly remembered.
On my last
trip home from back
home one eyed me from slack
wire beside the gas
station, seeing my wild
face more closely
than I may
myself, wary of
risk; planning
to remember a version
of being I’ve made
plans plain to waive.


Emma Aylor’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in PleiadesPoet LoreSixth FinchBarrow StreetSalt Hill, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. Raised in Bedford County, Virginia, she currently lives in Seattle.

Categories
2020 Poetry

Kathryn Merwin

BECAUSE THE OCEANS CANNOT MIX


I have thrown stones into the river

        just to watch them sink without struggle. I have

made a sea of knives around my house. I can see you,

       uncolored, spying through the black trees.

You don’t know it, but my arrow is aimed

         at your heart. I imagine letting the wind undress it,

coaxing the night between us apart with one bend

          of my finger. Because the oceans cannot mix,

I watch you from the sand. Your foam slides

         through my fingers: you recoil at my feet.

This is the terrible truth. I only love you

when you are disappearing.


Kathryn Merwin’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Cutbank, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Rumpus, Sugar House Review, Prairie Schooner, and Blackbird. She has read or reviewed for the Bellingham Review and The Adroit Journal, and serves as co-editor-in-chief of Milk Journal. She holds an MFA in poetry from Western Washington University and currently lives in the District of Columbia. Connect with her at www.kathrynmerwin.com.

Categories
2020 Poetry

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

THAT STRING, REMEMBER?

Tied to plastic-cup rims
we pressed to our ears. How far

apart we could stand then and still hear
each other’s secrets? Remember playing

cat’s cradle? How the single strand
became many, moving weightless

from my fingers to yours, each shape
a spider web, a snowflake, a fallen

house? Remember how I couldn’t sew
or knit or braid, but you knew how to stitch

all things together and return buttons
to their rightful place? You told me to hold

a piece of thread between my teeth.
Keep it in your mouth, you said, working

the needle around my wrist. This will keep
your memories from being stolen. Remember?

How far apart we could stand then, connected
only by thread, the fear of not remembering?


WHY SCARRED AND SCARED SOUND SO ALIKE
 

Skin can hide neither. I got you, our son says,
squeezing our dog’s ear like the worm
he severed bare-fingered or the hatchling’s neck

he hasn’t yet. She takes it, the pressure
of his grip, the delight at holding her so
completely. I kicked the door of his nursery

shut one night, our cat screamed
human, screamed abandon, Egypt
when they took her first-born sons.

The cat’s tail caught between the hinges—
wall, wood, rust—skinned fur clinging
to white paint like a souvenir.

Its tip, all bone, like a newborn’s,
an emaciated finger. No scar, just scared
of what comes next, our son’s wailing, louder

than the animals’. Shaking, the dog—claws
studding her shredded ear—is a split
of black silk, is the tattered wing

of crow or raven, is deaf augury. And we
won’t know their healing, their missing
flesh, frayed cartilage, bleeding

on the hardwood at my bare feet.


Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother, winner the Wick Poetry Prize (Kent State University Press, 2019); Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize, and 40 WEEKS (YesYes Books, 2021). Her poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. Julia is the editor of Construction Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philly with her two kids, two cats, one dog, and one husband. 

Categories
2020 Poetry

Bethany Breitland



Bethany Breitland has worked as a barista in California, bouncer in Boston, a high school teacher in the Northeast and in the New South, tutor, researcher, and a florist. She has worked and continues to work as a mother, a partner, and an activist. Currently living at the end of a dirt road, her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best New Poets, and has been published by the Apeiron Review, Up North Lit, Forklift, OHIO, Helix Magazine, and deLuge.

Categories
2020 Poetry

Sarah Bates

FEMALE #450

I’m watching the second episode of Planet Earth when he finally messages back, earthy colors are great! This is the part in early spring where the hatchling emerges, vulnerable. This is the part where the Himalayan snow leopard adapts its body and its behavior in order to survive. My mother keeps telling me to download a dating app in order to join the others at sea. I can’t hear her over the snakes missing their chance, more baby iguanas finding their way onto the flat ground. Because I, too, want a little corner of Madagascar to myself. I, too, want to be like everyone else at 27 who seems to be getting on with it. Part of the reason why I love the color blue is because it is always letting our bodies go towards the way of our fears. Like men studying rats, bees gathering the tops of mulberry trees in order to dispose of them. Last night I allowed the ants to teach me something new about the waxing gibbous, a shadowy peace asserting itself like a person. I’ve been trying to figure out the color of the car while we were in it, the sound of you balancing my body on top the metal, the rust, a beating heart beside a brown paper bag. I never told you how I had to stop in the middle of Highway 56 to see the dead coyote in the gutter, to bury its milk jaw, its gun-broke hip joint. I knew you had never seen pictures of the Blue Ridge in October, the baby iguana outrunning a racer for the second time. I knew that in the last five minutes, the seeds would disperse and the danger would be gone. The pressure of growth is in every part of every living thing.


Sarah Bates has an MFA in Poetry from Northern Michigan University and currently teaches at Southern Utah University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Fugue, 45th Parallel, The Rumpus, Meridian, Best New Poets 2017, American Literary Review, Seneca Review, The Normal School, Rattle, RHINO, and Hotel Amerika, among others. Her manuscript, O-Six, was a finalist in the 2018 Saturnalia Poetry Book Prize. Her manuscript, Tender, was a finalist in the 2018 Bateau Press Chapbook contest.

Categories
2020 Fiction

Sarah Mollie Silberman

SURVEY

You have been selected to complete a survey. The purpose of the survey is to gain information about your health and wellness. Your answers are confidential; they are used only for policy research and to better understand the health challenges Americans face today. Participation is voluntary. There is no penalty if you decline to complete it. You can learn more about the survey, and the work of our federal agency, on our website.

*

“Do you have any questions, Mr. Rivers?” says the phone interviewer. She has a warm voice, the voice of someone who uses the word hon a lot.

You ask how long the survey will last.

“About 35 minutes,” she says, “depending on the size of your household.”

You tell her you are the only person in your household.

“About 35 minutes, then,” she says. “Any additional questions?”

35 minutes is not an insignificant amount of time. You could, of course, decline to participate, but the truth is you have little better to do. It is 3:27 pm, and the only things you have done today are work on the 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle scattered on the kitchen table and ignore your sister Madeline’s phone calls. She knows you are ignoring her calls; her response is to call at 20 to 40-minute intervals. She also texts various emojis. So far, these have included: the orange angry face, the telephone, and, for reasons that are unclear to you, the pineapple.

You put your phone on speaker and set it on the table, amidst the scattered puzzle pieces. You run your tongue over your teeth, which can best be described as fuzzy. You have not yet brushed them today, and your mouth still tastes like the Coke you drank in lieu of the coffee you ran out of, because who has the wherewithal to go to a store and buy coffee? Truly, you would like to know. You would like to shake their hand. “No additional questions,” you say.

The interviewer starts by asking for basic demographic information.

You tell her: white, non-Hispanic. You tell her your date of birth and confirm your age, which is 27. You are unmarried, without children, and have lived at your current residence for six months or longer. You tell her your occupation (waiter) and that your employer does not currently provide health coverage.

A text message appears on your screen. It is from your sister Madeline: the snail emoji. A minute later: Maybe answer your phone.

“Do you currently have health coverage?” the interviewer asks.

“No.”

“What are the last four digits of your Social Security Number?”

Here, you pause. You wonder if the survey is an elaborate ploy to steal your identity. For one thing, a telephone survey seems odd in the age of the internet. But then, you are not overly troubled by prospect of identity theft. You question the wisdom of anyone who chooses your identity, of the billions of identities, to steal. If you were to steal someone’s identity, you would give it a lot of thought beforehand. You tap a puzzle piece against the table and decide you would steal Tony Danza’s identity. He has a shitload of money and a relatively low profile, which means not a lot of people have thought to steal it.

The interviewer clears her throat. “Sir?”

“Why do you need my Social Security Number?”

“We use it to link your answers to those of other respondents.”

You provide her with the last four digits of your Social Security Number, clicking a puzzle piece into place. To be clear, you are not a puzzle person—you are actually something of a social animal. The puzzle belongs to your mother, who found it in her closet two or three months ago, before she died of pancreatic cancer. The box was still wrapped in plastic when she pulled it from the shelf. “I have no idea why I bought this puzzle,” she said. She was sick then, but not as sick as she was going to be. She still had some meat on her bones. “I never opened it and now it is one of a million things I’ll never do.” It sounds morbid, but your mother was not a morbid person. She was having a low moment, on account of the cancer. In the meantime, you have discovered that assembling the puzzle is the right kind of mindless activity. The wrong kind of mindless activity, such as drinking a glass of water, or brushing your teeth, leaves you feeling inexplicably blank.

“The next few questions are designed to understand your health and access to health care services,” the interviewer says. She asks for your height and weight. She asks how frequently you exercise. “Do you smoke cigarettes?” she asks.

“No,” you say. It is basically true.

She asks if you could walk 100 yards, or the length of a football field, without difficulty. If you could walk 500 yards, or the length of five football fields, without difficulty. If you could walk up to three flights of stairs without difficulty. “Would you characterize your overall physical health as Excellent, Good, Average, or Poor?”

You stand, pick up your phone, and walk athletically to the refrigerator, where three cans of Coke and half a lime remain. You bought the Coke to mix with rum, but you ran out of rum before you ran out of Coke. Is that an indication of Excellent health? Probably not. You take a can from the shelf and crack it open. “I would characterize my health as Good.”

She asks if you have experienced arthritis (no), hypertension (no), asthma, (no), or diabetes (no).

Another text message appears on your screen: Maybe remember I have a key to your apartment, your sister writes.

It’s true: you are someone who loses keys on a regular basis—a trait inherited from your mother—and your sister is not. At one time, it had seemed like a good idea to give Madeline your extra set, but now you see how wrong you were.

“Have you ever postponed medical, dental, or vision care,” the interviewer asks, “because you were concerned about the expense?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen a medical professional within the last twelve months? Including a general practitioner, nurse, nurse’s assistant, urgent care or emergency room physician, specialist, or mental health professional?”

You tell her that, yes, you have.

“And was the purpose of your appointment for routine care,” the interviewer asks, “or to treat a specific problem?”

“In theory,” you say, “it was to treat a specific problem.”

Your sister was the one who scheduled your consultation with the therapist two weeks ago, a month after your mother died. Because you’re wandering around like a bored zombie, she said. She also used the word reeling at some point, though by that time you had pretty much tuned her out. Needless to say, you failed to show up for the consultation. Then Madeline scheduled another appointment, appeared at your door 45 minutes before it started, and escorted you to the office on the bus. The two of you waited in a small room with a (fake) plant, listening to the wall clock tick. You wondered what kind of therapist neglected to invest in a non-ticking wall clock.

She turned out to be younger than you expected, with the dark, unruly hair of someone with mental health issues of her own. She wore earth tones and clogs, and she seemed like someone who would brag about not having a smartphone. What brings you here today? she asked.

My sister, you said, even though you knew perfectly well what she was getting at. You glanced at the poster of Edvard Munch’s The Scream displayed on the wall, which seemed a little on the nose. Then the two of you sat across from each other, waiting for your grief to present itself in a neat little package, but all you were able to summon was contempt for the therapist and her museum gift shop art. And your sister, for dragging you there. Your sister, who had the temerity to schedule a second appointment (or third, if you include the one you skipped). That appointment is today. That is why she is calling. It is why you are avoiding her calls.

“And was the medical bill mailed to your home address?”

“Yes.”

“2201 Ontario Road,” she says, “Apartment 418?”

In the background, you hear a dog barking affably. “Is that your dog?” you ask.

There is a pause. “It is.”

“It’s nice you can work from home. Or can you bring your dog to work?”

The next pause is long enough you wonder if you’ve been disconnected. You glance at your screen; the call is still going. “I work from home sometimes,” the interviewer says. You had pictured her in a drab cubicle. In fact, you had pictured her existing in a drab cubicle, all day and all night. But of course she has a home. People live in homes, unless they are homeless. “What’s your dog’s name?”

“Bernadette.”

You can picture Bernadette: a chocolate lab. Old and stubborn, with mournful eyes. She has a dog bed near a window, where she can bathe in sunlight for hours at a time. It takes a lot to compel Bernadette from her dog bed—an enticing bone, maybe, or the promise of a leisurely walk—in part because the interviewer has gone to great lengths to make it comfortable, lining it with soft blankets and vacuuming it regularly to remove fur and other debris. Probably, if you saw Bernadette’s dog bed, you would be tempted to lie in it yourself.

“How old is Bernadette?” you ask.

“Sir.” There is a hint of edge in the interviewer’s voice. “Let’s return to the survey.”

You take a sip of Coke, the carbonation fizzing in your mouth. “Fine,” you say.

“Now I am going to ask a series of questions about pain,” she says. “How often do you experience pain? Never, rarely, sometimes, a lot, or all the time?”

You tell her sometimes.

She asks if you experience pain in your head, neck, or shoulders (sometimes), or in your back, hips, or knees (sometimes), or in your hands or feet (sometimes).

“Is your pain ever so severe it prevents you from going to your job?”

“No.”

“Is your pain ever so severe it prevents you from seeing your friends or loved ones?”

“That’s a dark question,” you say.

She clears her throat. “The questions are designed to gain information about your health and wellness.”

“You said that already.”

“Would you describe the pain as acute, or general?”

“Both.”

“If possible, can you pick one or the other?”

“I would describe it as acutely generalized pain.”

It takes the interviewer a few extra seconds to record your answer. “And is your pain more severe than your mother’s pain?”

You squeeze the Coke can. It buckles beneath your grip. “What?” you say.

“What?” the interviewer says, alarmed.

“Could you repeat the question?”

“Certainly.” She speaks more slowly, this time. “Is your pain manageable with the use of over-the-counter or prescription medication?”

You snap another puzzle piece into place, not answering. You have assembled maybe three-quarters of the 1,000 pieces, and the image is starting to emerge. It is a view from Park Güell in Barcelona: a curving overlook, a vibrant array of buildings, a piercing blue sky. Barcelona, you think, is another thing your mother never did. But she was a fan of views. Not vistas, necessarily, though she liked those fine, but views that were interesting if not beautiful. For instance, she loved the look of an industrial skyline with a water tower and various earth-polluting smokestacks. When she saw a view she liked, she would grab you by the wrist—she had a strong grip—and she would say, Look, and you would say, I’m looking, and she would say, Look harder. And she would stand there, holding onto your arm with her white-knuckled death grip, until she decided you had looked at it hard enough. That was the kind of person she was.

It hits you suddenly. You experience it as you might a large wooden plank that is placed on top of your body and then pressed down upon, hard. “Oh my god,” you say. “My mother is dead.” The words hang there, ugly and gleaming. You feel a prickling behind your eyes, though you are not yet crying, and when you take a breath, a strangled sound escapes from your mouth. You wonder if the interviewer will mistaken it for a cough. “Sorry,” you say.

“Do you need a second?” the interviewer asks.

“Sorry,” you say, again. You are crying now.

She tells you not to apologize. She tells you to take your time.

It is hard to tell how long you take. You think, for some reason, about the week before last, when you went to the sauna at the Korean spa, and the only other person there was this old, non-Korean man, and when you sat down he looked at you with great sympathy. You look like you could use a good sweat, he said. It was hot in the sauna, obviously. Uncomfortably hot. But it was the kind of discomfort you could settle into, that you could curl up inside of. For a few minutes, at least, the heat of the sauna was the only thing you felt.

You swallow. You breathe in and out. “Okay,” you say to the interviewer. “Let’s continue.”

“Actually,” she says, “I have just one final question. What’s your mother’s maiden name?”

“That’s a strange question,” you say. You look at the picture of Park Güell, which is so bright and colorful, with mosaic tiles and trees and houses that look like something from a storybook, with spires and everything, that it is actually kind of frenzied. Overwhelming, even. You wonder how your mother’s maiden name could possibly be relevant to your health and wellness. You try to recall the listicle you read several months ago about identity theft. What precise information have you already provided to the interviewer? “What agency do you work for, again?”

“Sir?” the interviewer says.

“Your employer,” you say. “Who is it?”

The interviewer is silent.

The call ends the way most things end: without ceremony. It just ends. You do not even hear a click when the interviewer hangs up, since phones no longer click when people hang up. You watch as your phone switches to the home screen. The bright, neatly arranged apps have never looked less enticing. You place your forehead on the table, feeling several of the puzzle pieces adhere to your skin. You imagine the interviewer closing her laptop and calling to Bernadette. You imagine Bernadette rising from her dog bed, guileless, and meandering over, tail wagging.


Sarah Mollie Silberman’s stories have appeared in Booth, CutBank, Juked, Nashville Review, Potomac Review, and Witness. She holds an MFA from George Mason University and lives in Washington, DC. Find her online at www.sarahmolliesilberman.com

Categories
2020 Poetry

Raye Hendrix

AFTER READING THE NORTH CAROLINA LAW THAT SAYS WOMEN CANNOT REVOKE CONSENT ONCE SEX HAS BEGUN I HAVE AN UNEVENTFUL DAY

I fill myself with the heat of a large
overpriced airport coffee.

Log the calories of my overpriced
airport bagel into the calorie counter

app taking up space on my phone
because I’ve been told so often that I shouldn’t take up space,

that my body to be lovely
must be small, that I’ve started

to believe it.
Flat stomach tight ass tighter

pussy breasts large but not
so large they sag or stretch—

my body must be constructed
by an impossibility of shapes.

A woman walks by with a man.
I don’t know if he’s her lover

but he grabs her ass and when
she slaps him he laughs,

not unlike last night when
at a bar in Atlanta I was so polite

to the man who came inside
behind me, followed me

because I’d been walking
downtown at night a woman alone,

that the bartender asked him
what we’d be having to drink.

I realize I left my headphones
in the taxi so I buy an overpriced

new pair before they call to board
my flight and then I board my flight.

Yes, that’s it. Is this not the poem
you expected?

Is this not what you wanted me
to say?


BAD FRUIT

The peaches turned
before I could pick them.

I told them, Fuzzy stars,
I envy you, flesh safe
from my father’s teeth.

I left the grove
with all the harvest
baskets empty, kept only
for myself a single
bruising peach.

I held it close to me
for days, brought it to bed
with me each evening,
pressed it to my chest,
shared my warmth until
it felt like another body—
one I thought I could love
without consuming—

No. It wasn’t my father’s
teeth that needed fearing.

I ate that rotten fruit
and it was sweet.


Raye Hendrix is a doctoral fellow at the University of Oregon studying Poetics and Crip Theory. She earned her BA and MA in English from Auburn University and her MFA from the University of Texas in Austin. Raye is the winner of the 2019 Keene Prize for Literature and the 2018 Patricia Aakhus Award given by Southern Indiana Review, and she has been an honorable mention for poetry in both AWP’s Intro Journals Project in 2015 and Southern Humanities Review’s Poetry Prize Honoring Jake Adam York in 2014. Raye’s work appears or will soon appear in 32 Poems, Poetry Northwest, Southern Indiana Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Shenandoah, The Pinch, Cherry Tree, and elsewhere. She is originally from rural Alabama.

Categories
2020

THIRTY ONE



ART

I was inspired to stage and shoot the series “Let’s Eat Baby!” after my labmate, who was originally from Louisiana, brought a King’s Cake to the office for Mardi Gras and left the small plastic baby out of the pastry, thinking that ignorant Texans would freak out. I thought that one baby wouldn’t be so alarming, but a plethora of babies, distributed evenly and liberally through a food item? Nauseating! 

“Let’s Eat Baby!” is about how we, as a capitalist society, eat our young. As much as I dislike intergenerational conflict, it is undeniable that a certain generation has left subsequent generations with a bereft economy and unstoppable climate catastrophes, all while normalizing abundance and excess as commonly accepted standards of living. Being on the receiving end, I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to illustrate the disturbing humor of the situation, so here we are! 

ART

Grace Sydney Pham is a self-taught photographer and second generation Vietnamese American based in Fort Worth, Texas. She enjoys shooting digital photos as well as medium format and instant film, and looks to photographers Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, and the late Ren Hang as major influences. Visit her website here.