Amy Sailer

2021, Poetry

On a plaster cast of my father’s teeth

Your mouth is now a monument,
a stone henge,
the four incisors you had, like slanted

monoliths, surround the shallow descent
where your tongue once rose & spoke, enchanted

afternoons with inside joke & anecdote.
Dad, forgive me as I soliloquize,

holding the model of your teeth, & dote
(poor Yorick’s skull), & memento-morize,

but we both knew (indeed, it was implied)
I’d write a poem to lavish praise on

your teeth, if you left them to me after you died.
Even a Shakespeare or a Sidney blazon

dismembers the body it wants to touch.
I’m sorry—
you never liked my poems much.



DEAD CHRIST

When the Carracci in proposition of their virtuosity
contrived for a painting of Christ after His Deposition,

they arranged the corpse to be seen from below
alone, spread across cloth on a marble slab

without ceremony, without Cross, with neither
mourners nor tomb, receding instead into shadows

of the shallow space, the only context
two glinting nails, pliers, and the crown of thorns,

the implements of the crucifiers’ trade,
and so His body, thus foreshortened, is made strange:

Christ approached from the soles of His feet, filthy, each toe
massively sculptural in the depth of relief, upwards

to His legs, too short, contorted by perspective, drawing
our gaze too much to the painting’s center, the juncture

of his torso and legs, where modesty’s cloth has been laid.
On the stone beside, a wrist hovers above the hand

to suggest lift, that He might still breathe,
but the body, propped, is a pale canvas for blood, caught pouring

from fresh wounds, slow scarlet across the chest haloed
in disembodied light for rounded musculature. All of this is achieved

on a quickened line, the body’s rising pose, the fabric’s deft ascent
streaked face-ward in folds, but then there it ends

at the head, swoops to an eyebrow, jaw, and cheek,
a tenebroso mouth, daubed white to hint teeth in a grimace,

but with the eyes closed, a truncated gaze, so instead
we gaze on the feet and instruments included and arranged

as self-assuredly as tools of the artists’ trade;
if it weren’t for those—and the light, guided by the artists

so His body flaunts their mastery of chiaroscuro—
this would be a body in a dark room.

And so the artists painted what now is Baroque
with oil, linseed, casement, crushed root.


Amy Sailer’s poetry appears or will soon appear in Cincinnati Review, Hotel AmerikaNew South, Meridian, and Sycamore Review, where it won the 2020 Wabash Poetry Prize. She’s a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah and a teacher at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp.

Jasmine Khaliq

2021, Poetry

CONSUELO GALLO AVILA

aj I don’t know how to say it.
any day soon my grandma will die.
I am scared to see her face
easter-yellow and going.

aj I’ve never had full faith in heaven.
aj I’ve never wished more that I could.
you did back then, so you do here:
what is it like to know it real?

aj how does light crumple and spin
off heaven when you hold it in your hand?
you could hold it in your hand.
you do more than shoot horses.

and you have a face
enough to speak to. my own
in the window stranger
than ever now save my

cupid’s bow hers too
softer than ever
now aj what do I do?
if I opened

this window—
if a baby cried—
if I could be solaced—
if roosters flew by—


HALAL (permissible)

into bathtubs I vomit
myself waxy, gutted
pumpkin ripe for carving
a new face I flirt

over the counter with a butcher
for the best cuts hang me
upside down already drain
me wan and white

knowing my eyes will give
me away but as long as I eye
steaks through glass packed like NICU babies
we pretend I am the prized pig stupid pink and I am

when my ammi compliments my nose or how I’ve stayed
inside all summer like her sick bird in its cage hooked
on the porch under shade, the wild outside just dangling
under its beak, above it, all around it, and my dad’s
beaknose is always peeling now, orange rind

you can split me same as fruit
with your thumb down the middle
or maybe more like cattle would
you saw through the backbone?

my imperial nose twitches
at stars of iron and bleach

in my dreams I lay on patios
the butcher likes me medium well


Jasmine Khaliq is a Pakistani Mexican poet born and raised in Northern California. Her work is found or forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Black Warrior Review, The Pinch, Poet Lore, phoebe, Raleigh Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from University of Washington, Seattle and currently is a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, serves as Assistant Editor of Quarterly West, and reads for Split Lip Magazine.

Sarah Ghazal Ali

2021, Poetry

ANNUNCIATION

My pillaged body
not as interesting
as my virginal sister’s,
I know. Your books
efface me, dismiss me
as naturally lacking.
So my hair has long
since greyed, cropped
short, held back
under a matronly veil.
So I sent my husband to bed
another woman—I’m more noble
for it. I allowed a slight
to get the ball rolling.
I gambled my marriage
for a covenant.
By moonlight I grieved
the perpetual
blood marbling red
& black down my thighs.
They visited me first,
you know. God
& two angels came
with glad tidings,
announced I would flower
with a boy. But
all you remember
is what came next—
I hung my head & laughed.
When God at last
conferred my body
with fruit, the angels
raised their yellow wings.
They broke bread.
I listened until I heard
a great humming.
A child, a ripe boy
I would mother. The hive
coming to me
after all I’d done—
what else inside
to offer at the moment
of absolution but a flash
of sound? I knew
I wasn’t favored
but damned. My whole
long life I’d been groomed
to unfurl for the coming
of bees. I knew
when I passed he
would go back to her
& you to your Mater Dei,
your lily among thorns.
After all this, knowing
I’d be written
over, a vessel forgettable
but for a moment of sonic
lapse, tell me—
what would you have done?


NUDE

that first August, blood dotted linoleum
an apple bared its wayward stench

I sucked my finger & tested
a clipped word on my tongue then a blush

a kitchen performance an approximation
of American freedom can anything private be vulgar?

then what use of my feckless mouth?
God simmered below the limen of sight

even the apple brought here by force & forced then
to fit malus domestica the domestication of sin

I lived briefly unwitnessed
touched only by evening shadows

my silhouette caressing the door


Sarah Ghazal Ali is a Bay Area poet and Editor-in-Chief of Palette Poetry. She obtained her MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she was a Juniper Fellow and MFA Fellow. Her poems appear in or are forthcoming from Pleiades, Narrative, Waxwing, Tinderbox, and others. Find her here and on Twitter @caesarah_.

Aeon Ginsberg

2021, Poetry

AM TRANS OR TRANS AM?

Popping the clutch will shock load the driveline, making breakage a real possibility, and generally shortens its life

If so much of my makeup isn’t self-made, how am I even me?
Am I dissociating or astral projecting myself to myself.
The difference between doctors and mechanics are blurring.
I make so little money body mechanics don’t know what to do.
Lay me onto the gurney that will raise me on high.

What’s a gurney called for people who aren’t considered people?
I know I’m trans and that’s all I wish to pass as
but if you can see human in me too that’ll do.
My gears have been shifted intentionally;
I know that I have popped clutch often to maintain myself.

I have ruined the parts of my locomotion to maintain momentum.
Track the damage across my muscles, my pistons, my ligaments, my gears.
My gears, my lamentations – I don’t know what I would do
with a car but run myself down with it.
Did you know they’re installing microchips into people

to track currency and populations?
I’m afraid that lojack will be installed in my body
during gender reassignment surgery.
I’m against microchips embedding my body, embedding any body,
but I so wish for the auto to inhabit me.

The body self-replicates throughout its decomposition,
so how do I hack the body to replicate the estrogenetics I inject.
Prices spike on girl fuel and there’s a need for ulterior sources.
Canary in the tail pipe. it works until it doesn’t,
until it dies: it works until the results are needed.

Let me be mobile long enough to become stationary by choice;
to station myself above a plain and call it a junkyard or grave.
I’m not saying I’m an autophile, but I want a mechanic to dig a hole through me.

What’s a surgery called on a vehicle but a repair?
Repair my system into something new, something feminine, automatic mobility.
My body moves and I move with it, intentionally or not – am I not in motion already?
Am I trans or am I Trans AM? My body shifts gears slower then the world shifts them;

will I suffer electro-shock therapy or undergo electrolysis?
How do I hack the body to become my body?
I need a jump from another mecha-femme, from the bio-mechanics.
How do I give myself the sentience I deserve;

to know how to exist in myself.
Sentience isn’t something you teach yourself
but gets thrust into your arms – I am a conduit for gender to un-assimilate.
To know sentience, I need to get comfortable becoming myself –

shock and all.


Aeon Ginsberg (ey/em) is a transfeminine agender bitch from Baltimore City, MD. Eir book Greyhound was the 2019 Noemi Press poetry prize winner, as well as a finalist in transgender poetry at the 2021 Lambda Literary awards.

Joe Baumann

2021, Fiction

BEFORE SOMETHING ELSE IS GONE

Clai turns off the television, where a newscaster is reporting that over fifty new cases of people waking up without left arms have been reported in Florida.  Leonard is in the shower, his clothes dripping a trail from the end of Clai’s bed to the bathroom, where hot water is sending steam curling out in a seductive mass.  He has left the door open, which Clai reads as an invitation.  Through the blur of frosted glass he can see Leonard’s smooth swimmer’s armpits as he lathers shampoo against his scalp. 

He pushes the shower door along its track.  Leonard’s eyes snap open and he smiles.  Water runs rivers down his pecs and across his lips like he’s in a commercial or a softcore porno.

“Good morning,” Leonard says.

Clai fits himself into the shower, knocking his heels against the jutted shelf where Leonard has helped himself to a squelch of Pert, the shower filled with its beachy scent.  The water is just shy of scalding.

“Morning,” Clai says.  Reaching out his hands, he smooths them up each of Leonard’s well-shaped biceps.  He thinks of the people in Florida waking up without a limb.  What a shame it would be, he thinks as he touches Leonard, for the world to lose one of these arms.

*

They eat eggs over-easy along with granola and skim milk at Clai’s dining room table.  His tabby cat Methuselah bounds up in a single fluid motion from floor to chair to table top and mewls for food, bashing his snout against Clai’s chin.  Clai rubs at the cat’s throat and the backs of his ears, then scoops him up and plops him on the floor.

“Busy day today?” he says.

“Tomorrow’s worse.  Copy deadline tonight, so all I’ll have to manage today is fluttering reporters.”

“Got a good concept for this week’s crossword?”

“I’ve got the names of Greek gods arranged backward throughout the puzzle.”

Leonard, in the absence of his dreamed-of best-selling novel, works as lead copy editor for a small newspaper that has, through the support of a small but devoted and generous list of subscribers, survived the mass emigration from print to digital.  He’s also gained a certain amount of fame for the crossword puzzles he writes each week, filling them with devilishly difficult themes and patterns, his most challenging the one where every clue whose answer included ‘ie’ had to cram the two letters into a single square.  His notoriety is gossiped about on crossword puzzle blogs (“Yes,” he said when he told Clai, “they do exist”).  He spends his days waiting for error-riddled and poorly-researched articles to come across his desk, filling in his empty hours by crafting witty clues and solutions; the first time Clai tried to solve one—Leonard leaning over him like a terrifying teacher watching him fill out an exam for which he was deeply unprepared—he managed to suss out about half a dozen of the answers before throwing in the towel.

“Dinner tonight?” Clai says as he clears the plates and bowls.

 “Sure.  My place or yours?”

 “Whichever.”

 “How about here?  I think my A/C is on the fritz.”

 “Again?”

 “Again.”

 “Maybe you should move out.”

Leonard blinks at him, wiping at a crust of yolk hardening at the corner of his mouth.  “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“I’m just saying you should maybe move out.”

“Right.”

“You’re the English major.  You’re the one who reads between lines.”

“Okay.”  Leonard kisses Clai, his mouth tight but warm.  “I’ll think about it.”

*

The first chance meeting: Leonard backing into Clai at a bar, sending Clai’s draft beer sloshing against both of their shirts.  Leonard spinning, apology already forming on his lips, Clai doing the same even though he’s committed no wrong.  A startled look on both of their faces.  Leonard breaking into a smile first, all sense of apology vanishing.  An offer to buy a new beer, instead.  Sitting together, hunched close, next to one another on rickety bar stools that provide good excuses for their shoulders to regularly crash into one another.

If not for those shoulders touching, Clai thinks.  If they were gone, what else would be?

*

Esme answers on the third ring.  Clai can hear the whir of her oven’s exhaust fan and the sizzle of bacon.

“Hello, Clai,” she says.

“How many fingers are you holding up?”

 “I’m armed with a spatula and my cell phone at the moment, so none.”

“How many could you hold up if you wanted or needed to?”

 “Ten, still.”

 “And Brian?”

“All nine.”  Esme’s husband lost a finger years ago in a hunting accident involving a bowie knife, invisible tree roots, too much bourbon, and bad luck.

“And the kids?”

“We’re a ten-arm, forty-nine-fingered household.”

“That’s good.  And you’re not worried?”

“Well, what would we do to stop it anyway?”

This is true.  No rhyme or reason or pattern has been observed by researchers studying the disappearing limbs, the cases scattered throughout Florida: a smattering in the panhandle, dots across Orlando and Tallahassee, a vaguely-seahorse-shaped pattern hustling down toward Miami. 

“How’s loverboy?” she says.

“You mean Leonard?”

“Unless there’s a new one.”

“Nope, still Leonard.”

“Then yeah, of course him.”

“Then why can’t you say, ‘How’s Leonard’?”

“Of course I can say that.”

“But that’s not what you say.  You always say loverboy.”

“Jeez, what’s cranking your chain today?  You called me, you know.”

“Sorry.  How are the kids?”

Esme sighs.  “Dylan has decided to start stripping off his PJs at night and take shits on the bed, and the girls have fast-tracked to the stage where they pretend Mommy doesn’t exist.  They keep asking Brian when Uncle Clai is coming back.”

“I made quite the impression, huh?”

“Your fifty-dollar gift cards to Hot Topic did.  Apparently they’re gold to ten-year-old girls, and they think you’re El Dorado.”

“We’ll try to come down sometime.  Maybe Christmas.  Have you talked to Brian about you going back to work?”

“We did the math.  Daycare for Dylan would be so expensive that the increased income would hardly cover the cost.”

“For your own sanity, though.”

“Are you saying I sound crazy?”

“I’m saying you sound ragged.”

“And work will fix it?”

“You could always dip into the fund, go on a trip.”  Their parents had been solid investors, and at their deaths, he and Esme shared a meaty inheritance.  Not enough, by any means, to allow them to wander off into the life of the luxuriously unemployed who spend months at a time in Aruba or the Maldives, but plenty that they can afford week-long vacations to Brussels or Cancun.  Clai took Leonard to Maui last winter, where they’d bloated themselves on Mai Tais and probably given themselves skin cancer.

“You know we’re saving for the kids’ college,” she says.

“Okay, okay.  Well, if we come, we promise to give you guys a few nights out.  Leonard’s great with kids.”

“Mmm-hmm.”  There’s a pause, followed by a soft crashing noise, and Esme begs off the phone, telling Clai she’ll call him next week.  He says okay, even though he knows she won’t.  He always does the dialing, all of the waiting.

*

While he arranges his mise en place to prepare dinner—red lentil soup with garam masala; his bag of spice is threatening to turn into a useless brown brick—Clai imagines all the things he could no longer do without his left arm: chop zucchini and bell pepper, drive fast, type, swim—which he took up at first to impress Leonard but then saw the way his body started to transform with muscle and sinew and now keeps at for himself—play the trumpet, knit or sew (not that he’s ever done either).  Dozens of other things he’s missing, he’s sure, crumply things like rolling on a condom with one hand while the other is busy elsewhere. 

He has the news on high volume in the living room so he can hear the latest updates: the first cases of lost arms have eked into Georgia, and more—another hundred overnight—have hit the Sunshine State, spreading through the Keys and Jacksonville.  Jake Tapper is interviewing a bewildered doctor from the CDC when Leonard walks in.

Clai loves the intimacy of Leonard’s entrance, his non-knock, the familiarity that invites Leonard to traipse right into the house, doffing his shoes on the doormat, unwinding a scarf and tossing it onto a high shelf in the coat closet amongst gloves and a trio of plain black knit caps.  Leonard is armed with a bottle of Syrah that he presents with a flourish, purple lizard label forward.  He sets it on the kitchen island.  Clai hands him an onion and knife and they slice and simmer in tandem, boiling water and tossing spices in by the handful. 

When they’re seated in their usual spots, bowls steaming and rich, Methuselah splayed on the other end of the table with his legs poking out like a pair of stacked pork chops, Clai says, “Have you thought about what we talked about?”

 Leonard blows on his soup and says nothing while he takes his first careful spoonful.  After he swallows, he plucks up his wine goblet.

“Well?”

“It’s a big thing to think about.”

“I know.”

“I like my space, Clai.”

“I know that, too.  We could turn the guest room into your office.”

“But there’s already your office.”

“We could each have one.”

“Who has two home offices?”

“Probably people with lots of rooms to fill.”

“You’ve only got three.”

“And I never have guests.”

“What if Esme and the kids visit?”

“Oh, please.”  Clai slurps his soup.  It needs more salt. 

“You know how I am.”

“Of course I do.”

Clai’s phone buzzes.

“It’s Esme,” he says.

“Go,” Leonard says, waving.  “I’ll still be here.”

Clai does not want to go.  He does not want to answer.  Something hard and sure tells him that if he answers, Leonard will vanish, not just one arm but all of him.  But Leonard shoos him away as he takes another spoonful of soup, so Clai shuts himself in the bedroom.  He can almost smell the warmth, the chlorinated odor that comes from the backs of Leonard’s thighs and the crook of his back.  When he answers the phone, Clai has to steady his tongue, his breath.

Esme is frantic: “Mandi’s arm vanished, Clai.  I don’t know what to do.  She’s only a kid.”

“Breathe,” Clai says. 

“Clai, she’s missing a fucking arm.”

“Did you take her to the hospital?”

“They sent us away.  They took one single fucking look and sent us away because they said they can’t help.  They don’t know what’s happening.  They wouldn’t even check her in, admit her, whatever the hell you call it.  The nurse barely looked up.  Like we were nothing.  Might as well have been sacks of flour.”

Clai pictures his niece, with her bobbing blonde hair she refuses to have cut, so it sways in tight pigtails that reach her hips.  He can hardly imagine the empty sleeve.

“Please try to calm down,” he says.

“Easy for you to say.  Your kid isn’t armless.”

“Does she seem to be in pain?”

“She’s terrified.  She’s a little girl who woke up without an arm.”

“Lots of people live really fulfilling lives without all their limbs.”

“How is that supposed to help?”  Esme is screaming now, her voice scratchy.  He can picture the purpling of her throat, the ruby color pulsing in her stretched, tight cheeks.  When they were kids and he stole her Barbies, tangling them together by the hair, she would chase him and wail, her face turning the flushed color of amaryllis. 

“I’m sorry.  I don’t know what to say.”

Esme lets out a long breath.  “Okay.  Okay.  Sorry I yelled.  I just don’t know what to do.”

“Tell Mandi it’ll be okay.  That you’ll all figure it out together.”

“I just—Clai, I don’t want to lose my arm, too.  I don’t want anyone in my family to lose anything.”

“I know.”

“We’ve lost plenty, don’t you think?”

It’s the closest they’ve come to talking about their parents aside from funeral arrangements and the closing of their accounts.  At their mother’s funeral, only four weeks after their father’s, Esme was the only one from her clan who came.  The kids, she said, weren’t ready to grieve their grandmother because they were still getting over their grandfather.  She flew home that same night, hugging Clai during the service and then once more at his house before jumping into a cab and jetting off.  Leonard steadied him through that night, saying nothing.  They didn’t kiss or fuck or talk.  Leonard was lying next to him, curled up with his knees against the backs of Clai’s legs. 

“I’m sorry to bother you with this,” Esme says.

“You’re not bothering me.”  Clai plops down on the bed, rubbing his eyes with his free hand.  “You telling me what’s happened to my niece isn’t a bother.  You know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t bother me, Esme.  Just tell me what I can do to help.”

“Just answer when I call, I guess.”

“Of course.  Any time.”

“Thanks.  Tell loverboy I said hi.”

Before he can say, Leonard.  His name is Leonard, she hangs up.

*

The dishes are dry and stacked, extra soup ladled into Tupperware containers.  Methuselah is bathing himself at the foot of the bed, one leg canted up like he’s a dancer stretching.  Leonard’s arm is threaded over Clai’s shoulder.

“We could both save money if you lived here.”

Leonard sighs, his triceps meaty against Clai’s back.  Trying to imagine that weight gone sends a tight shimmer through Clai’s chest like a dozen silver butterflies are batting at his heart.

“It’s a big commitment,” Leonard says.

“Most commitments are.”

“What if something goes wrong?”

“Nothing will go wrong.”

“I meant between us.”

“I know you did.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I can’t be sure nothing will go wrong,” Clai says, rapping on the hard jut of Leonard’s exposed hipbone.  “But I do know that certainty is not required.”

“It helps.”

“Should I propose to you, then?”

“Maybe not with those words.”

“What would you say if I did?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, don’t worry.  I do.  I know how you feel about marriage.”  Clai taps Leonard’s chest with his palm.  “How about this: what’s your worst personal habit, the thing that you think would annoy me the most about living in close quarters with you?”

“I collect lightbulbs.”

“What?”

“I have so many lightbulbs.  When one shorts out, I just buy a new box, totally ignoring the extras.  There have to be a dozen boxes next to my extra umbrellas.”

“You have extra umbrellas?”

“See?” Leonard says.  “I’d be horrible.”  With his deft magician strength, he flops himself up and over Clai, pressing his knees between Clai’s thighs.  “You’d hate it.”

Clai threads a hand through Leonard’s thick forest of hair, the other gripping at the ripple of his back.  He curls a hand around each shoulder, warm ball bearings.

“That,” he says as Leonard leans his weight down, “I find hard to believe.”

*

Clai dreams that he is armless, his torso wriggling and writhing to reach out and grip something, anything.  He stands in a dusky, blank room where the only thing he can feel is the cold, rigid gunmetal air.  When he comes to Leonard is holding him, steadying his thrashing arms, his fingers curled around Clai’s wrists like handcuffs, warm and alive.

“I had no arms,” Clai says.

Leonard blinks at him in the dark and clears his throat.  “Okay,” he says.  “I’ll move in.”

Clai turns to look at the clock: deep in the well of four in the morning.  His eyes are blurry, but he feels a pinching clarity.  He is fully awake, his fingers and toes curling.  

“Lightbulbs and everything?” Clai says.

“Oh yes.  I’ve seen how long you go without trading them out in your own lamps.”

“See?  It’s a perfect match.”

They buzz through breakfast.  Leonard texts Clai all day, asking whether he should pack up his frying pans, if there will be room for his couch, should he plan to bring his bed.  Clai says yes, yes, yes, not worrying about space or logistics or what to do with so many extra drinking glasses and another television.  He wants his life filled up with Leonard, for his aroma of chlorine and sandalwood to seep into every corner.

The migration begins that night, when Leonard marches through the door with his first box, a tumbled collection of t-shirts and underwear.  Clai has already riffled through his own clothing and made a space in his dresser for Leonard’s things.  They stare at the half-empty drawer, standing shoulder to shoulder.  Leonard turns and kisses Clai hard.  As they fall onto the bed, Clai feels the buzz of his phone in his pocket.  He knows he should answer but he doesn’t; in this moment, he can cling only to Leonard with his two arms and ten fingers and everything else wrapped up in a neat, hearty package, because in a day, a week, a month, it could be gone.  Some or all.  None, a little, everything.

Clai shoves the phone away and touches Leonard’s cheeks.  He smiles as they kiss, lets himself be anchored to the here and now, that which he is desperate to keep forever in his grasp.


Joe Baumann’s fiction and essays have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Iron Horse Literary Review, Electric Literature, Electric Spec, On Spec, Barrelhouse, Zone 3, Hawai’i Review, Eleven Eleven, and many others.  He is the author of Ivory Children, published in 2013 by Red Bird Chapbooks.  He possesses a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.  He has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and was nominated for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2016 and was a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction.  He can be found here.

Under Pressure: Jessica Abughattas

2021, Under Pressure

Jessica Abughattas is the author of Strip, winner of the 2020 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize selected by Fady Joudah and Hayan Charara. A Kundiman fellow, her poems appear in The Adroit Journal, Best of the Net 2019, Tupelo Quarterly, among other venues. She lives in Los Angeles.

Interview

Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did working on Strip take, from conception to publication?

Jessica Abughattas: The oldest poems are four years old now, so in that sense, four years. In the sense of sequencing and conceiving of a manuscript, I started doing that early in 2018.

SHP: Where did you get your title inspiration from?

JA: I mined my manuscript for words or phrases and ended up staring at the word strip. I wrote a first draft of the poem “Strip” then, and months later rewrote it to resemble its form in the book. So the title came first. It’s a command. It’s something the book required from me. I like that it contains “rip.” It evokes place; both pleasure and suffering.

SHP: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you prefer?

JA: Film.

SHP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

JA: I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but Jenny Factor encouraged me early on to think of a book as an art object. It helps me not to over-identify with it, its praise or criticism. I’m not the book I published at 28 any more than I will be the one I’ll write at 40. I want to continue writing for a long time, so I try to counter self-limiting beliefs with the reality that I’m evolving. It doesn’t serve me to obsess over what I think I ought to have done differently.

SHP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

JA: Good pressure. Even when there aren’t deadlines, I impose them to help me generate. I still procrastinate to meet them, but that’s not the point.

SHP: Your book interrogates desire in many ways. Could you tell us about the power of desire, or the engine behind many of these poems?

JA: This book’s mantra is “I want.” Pleasure can feel empowering when you’ve been subject to states of disempowerment, whether it be due to dysfunctional relationship/family dynamics or persecuted identities. To own it, state it felt like something I was taking back. But desire, the craving and longing for pleasure, brings suffering (“It infuriates me that he’s good at living”). It is suffering, to ruminate on possibilities and lack. The speaker contemplates desire and pleasure, what of it belongs to the self. Ultimately, there’s pleasure to be found in what is. (“I love my misery. / I give thanks to it.”)

SHP: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night?

JA: Outside in nature, driving, in the middle of my work day, first thing in the morning. No sense of a pattern yet. While it’s a nice idea to wait for inspiration to find you, I prefer to be in the habit of writing all the time, even if it’s just jotting down a sentence that I thought of in the middle of a chore. A lot of my drafts begin in the Notes folder on my phone.

SHP: What advice would you share for those sending out a manuscript now?

JA: Let everything be up for negotiation, be willing to re-envision poems, titles, and sequences that have been considered “done” to you. Mess everything up and see if you still agree with your choices. When you solicit outside feedback, try everything on, but trust your gut above all else.

Facing rejection, remember your expression is your gift and you were meant for kindness. Let the mother archetype inside say “They are wrong” if that’s what it takes to keep going. Find close readers who appreciate you. June Jordan’s mantra “I will love who loves me. I will love as much as I am loved.”

SHP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?

JA: Spiritual practice, in any form, whether grounding myself with movement, visualization, or standing outside in the sun and noticing the sensory pleasures of nature in my yard. Even contemplative reading, or contemplating what feels tense or stuck in my body. Mind-body connection has been a healing force that has propelled my writing. When I was younger, I wrote from a place of panic, anxiety, and discomfort, but I’m learning to attend to myself rather than beating myself up to be productive. It’s not easy to do.

SHP: If you could describe Strip using a 3 song playlist, which songs would you choose and why?

JA:Perfect Places” by Lorde, because indeed, what the fuck are perfect places? “Scott Street” by Phoebe Bridgers for its sense of humor. “Lucky” by Britney Spears – self-explanatory.

Order Strip here

THIRTY THREE

2021
from Grunch in Bed by Jamaal Peterman

THE BOILER PRIZE

Selected by Kendra Allen

Winner: A. Shaikh
Runner-Up: Aimee Herman


ART

Jamaal Peterman has developed a highly encoded language of abstraction that ricochets inside of, between, and beyond the frame of the image. Peterman’s dazzling geometric abstraction illuminates an “absolute reality” in which color and form communicate hierarchies of space and movement as well as class and race. Central to Peterman’s landscape work is the artist’s reflection on how black and brown bodies navigate through urban space. Shades of black and brown encode certain elements in the paintings as representative of black bodies, communities, businesses, and ecosystems.

Lines of connection run between these forms, while their quantity and direction suggest routes of access and exclusion, at once making reference to flows of information, the design of a circuit board, and processes of redlining. In this way, Peterman’s visual symbols are designed to aid in marking the time, history, and spaces that black bodies have continually navigated and constructed. Resembling sidewalks, bricks, or building facades, textured sections of each canvas are embedded with expressionistic marks and symbols that act as possible cheat codes for entering the image. Just like a handprint or name pressed into sidewalk cement, these tactile details represent memory and the disappearance of physical identity.

Jamaal Peterman (b. 1990, Fort Lauderdale, FL; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) received his BFA from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (2014) and his MFA at Pratt Institute (2019). Most recently, he undertook residencies at MASS MoCA, Wassaic Project Residency, and Fountainhead Residency. Peterman has presented work in numerous solo and group exhibitions within the US. 

Jaz Sufi

2021, Poetry

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

after Franny Choi

What a gift it was, your dick inside me. Thank you
to the man who gave generously, saw my body
as a charity. I giggle when a new man tells me
an old joke and pulls a bouquet out from the trash
like a magician. Thank you for recycling.
Man who calls me his mother’s name, expects me
to wear her hospital gown to the altar. Thank you.
Thank you, hands that smooth my hair back
as I deposit the day in their bed. I appreciate
that I’m never so ugly your eyes avert themselves.
Always a parlor room to powder the other side of the bed.
Leave a chalk outline. Leave your fingerprints
on the water glass, thank you. Woman who returns
to her wife in the morning. Fingers that fill themselves
with other breasts, thank you. I’m so grateful
for the crumbs you left in my bed. I’m licking them up
like flowers at a funeral, all the colors blooming
like a manufactured season. Thank you. I don’t know
what I would do if no one offered me a fire escape
as I set all the stairs ablaze. I’m desperate
for an exit. I’m listening for your voice. It’s amazing,
how I can slice myself so small
a tree wouldn’t grow from my core. The forest
won’t have me. I’ve begged my branches to grow. Thank you.
I, too, humble myself before the photos I sent you.
I pin my smile to my skull in someone else’s favorite updo.
I’m so lucky to be chosen, with my own face
and this same smile. All of my clothes are re-stitching
themselves to my body, I want you so bad,
thank you. You make me so wet I rust shut, thank you.
I’m so lucky that you think you’re so lucky, I’m drowning
in this pot of gold. I’m a gift peering at its own teeth.
Thank you, I crack the frames you lock me inside of.
I’m wearing your future on the wrong face. I’m so grateful
for your gun down my throat instead of something
sharper. Even the balconies shudder beneath me.
Even the scrapings claim they’re from my skin.
I want to kiss your scraps and I kiss myself instead.
Thank you. I’m so happy to be seen. I’m so grateful
to be loved. For meeting my eyes with your eyes,
for apologizing, thank you, thank you for apologizing,
please, say you’re sorry, just one last time, again.


CONFESSION

I steal your coat in the dead of winter
and ransom back its pockets’ stones.
I defraud your knife of its edge;
your oven of its heat. I cheat.
I plagiarize your noose. I loot
your overdose for its pills. I kidnap
your children from their beds
and give them more gracious names.
With their father’s eyes, they hate me
for it. I embezzle blood from your bank
teller’s pen. I misappropriate the funds.
I withdraw more from my own account.
I run off with your wife. I marry
her when I meant to marry you instead.


THE OTHER KIDS USE THEIR HANDS

The other kids use their hands
to rain salt down on the snails
outside the church where we

don’t go to church. Our parents
rent the space out on Saturdays —
no Christ here today, no one

dying for someone else to be
forgiven. I’m not so furious
as I could be, but am I ever?

I’m furious. I’m screaming
Stop, so loud it’s another straws
tacked against the existence

of miracles that none
of the adults inside hear me
outside. You’d think you’d

be able to hear that kind
of pain — the snails, I mean,
you’d think each grain

of salt would sizzle as it
struck their fistless bodies,
their lidless eyes, unable

even to blink or look any
place safer than inward.
Can snails hear what happens

outside their shells? My
frenzied rage, the other kids
laughing, the clatter of salt.

Certainly not my brother,
gripping my hand in his and
crying so quiet next to me

none of us even noticed
when he wasn’t there at all,
ran inside the church to tug

at my mother’s sleeve
and beg her to come outside,
stop the salt, stop me,

and she did. Even after
we left, though, I couldn’t stop
telling the story the whole drive

home, over and over again,
couldn’t even buckle
my seatbelt for my hands

still shaking. Did you see,
I asked, Did you see?
Not Did you hear me?

or what my brother had said,
dragging her outside to witness
a wrong kind of worship;

whether he whispered or begged,
like a screaming snail
if a snail could scream.

Why, when she went back
and told the other adults
what happened, the parents

of no one had cared. Did you
see?, my brother’s palm
pressed against mine in the backseat,

both of them still sticky
with salt and sweat. I squeezed
too hard, and he made

a small sound, a whimper,
but I wasn’t listening,
Did you see? Did you?


Jaz Sufi (she/hers) is a mixed race Iranian-American poet and arts educator. Her work has been published or is upcoming in AGNI, PANK, Birdfeast, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow and National Poetry Slam finalist, winner of the 2020 Yellowwood Poetry Prize, and is currently an MFA candidate and Goldwater fellow at New York University.

R.S. Powers

2021, Fiction

THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH

He gets down on one knee with a waxy smile. He pops an old glasses case and points at me a .22-bullet-sized inset that gleams like a blood-dark shard of church glass. I’ve seen the ring on his mom. Will you marry me? he trumpets and everyone outside Cinderella’s Castle begins to din and take videos I’ll see online for the rest of my life. I’m hearing a dirge that isn’t there—I’m outside myself murmuring: Yes. He bear-hugs my ribs and Mickey and Minnie rush over to help and I’m in the gummy jaws of coliseum lions, an entire metropolis roaring for gore. What am I doing? It’s Star Wars cosplay day—May the fourth be with you! I’m white-robe Leia, he’s fighter-jacket Han. I don’t know how to tell him we’re not getting married.

*

The only working channel in our motel is the porn one. He’s shirtless on the bed using my laptop to share proposal photos with our families. I’m on the little balcony over the parking lot, the dusk a deep bruise. I’m in my late grandma’s swimsuit with a pack of old cigarettes.

I could feed him tall boys, wait for snoring, take his car, leave my phone, but he’d get his cop brother involved. I could take my phone, taunt him when he calls, but he’d call my mom and she’d call his mom and together they’d preach about what a magnanimous angel I’ve been. This is fixable! my mom would say. Your many children will love you! his mom would say.

Get in here, he says, putting on a torn t-shirt. He wants me for a video he’s posting. I show the ring and say: Next stop Vegas! We watch and re-watch our first take. His smile is nowhere near mine. He must’ve known I would’ve said no. He needed the crowd.

*

Only a few days ago he and I were on a ragged Gulf beach watching the day die and buzzing on something cheap I’d bought at a gas station. He told me he’d likely be fired for kicking his construction job supervisor in the kidney over poker cash. He asked if we could move in together; I said we should go on a first road trip to Disney. I packed that night, thinking: We go, we return, we’re done, hallelujah. He pulled up at dawn insisting he drive all twelve hours. Almost right away, he called my mom about the rides he’d researched. You’re such sweetness! she said. Next, he called his mom: How I envy you two!

*

We nail his video on the fourth take. He shows me photos of the ask he got from passersby. You look so surprised, he says, holding the laptop to his face. Like you can’t believe it. I want to say: I can’t. I say: May the fourth—a date that will live in infamy! He holds my shoulders, says: I’m sorry I surprised you but we’ll be telling this story for the next hundred years. This is the first normal thing we’ve ever done. He drinks quickly and waits for me to bless him with forgiveness. I watch him talk Vegas chapel plans and our heading there tomorrow.

*

Everything about him once brought me an unfamiliar joy. We met a year ago in the Main Street coffeehouse where I freelance-edit technical manuals. He approached with a bag of sour worms and said he’d seen me eating them. He was weird-cute, pale with short dyed-black hair, shabbily dressed like in a bad band, dozens of little arm tattoos crisscrossed with scars. He’d been a marine, he said, in Iraq, and asked if I wanted to go see a new British aristocracy film. That afternoon we fucked in his un-swept bedroom like sad teenagers. I asked if he’d ever killed anyone—we were in our underwear, drinking boxed wine—and he said I wouldn’t believe him whether he said yes or no. When I found out he’d never been a marine, he said: I wanted you to know I could protect you, and he tried to punch through his bathroom door. He had me make a list of my passwords—social media, email, what-have-you. You’re older, my mom said on the phone. Mature him. When I met his mom, he took us for dinner at a Chinese takeout he used to work at. Afterwards, he and I were in my bed and he struck me on the fleshiest part of one of my bare buttocks. Naked, he stood over me and said he didn’t think I was strong enough to do the same: Hit me, Alice. Show me badness. Show me you. He first pretended to kill me after saying I should pay his entire electricity bill. Your deadbeat roommates should pay! I said and he shattered his cereal bowl in the sink. He grabbed my throat, shuffled me to the doorframe. You love this, he said, which was a little true. I spat in his face, raked my nails across his nipples. We belong together, he said weakly. A few weeks ago, we were in my car in an empty Walmart parking lot after he was fired from a telemarketing job. I bit his ear lobe and drew blood. He kept on sobbing: I’m nothing. I’m nothing. He’d never looked more broken. I realized then I’d only ever been devoted to how dangerous he might be. He won’t remember who we really were.

*

He falls asleep mid-sentence, something about an Area 51 honeymoon.

There’s nothing for me to pack. I take his keys.

On the little balcony the new night is alive with screams bouncing between the stucco buildings, a nearby boozy block party getting started. My USA flip-flops aren’t designed to climb down to the first-floor balcony and push through the wall of barbed bushes. I make a promise: When I remember today, I’ll remember the lacerated lines on my arms and legs. I’ll remember my midnight drive in search of revelers. The rest will have never happened.


R.S. Powers’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Sou’wester, Speculative Nonfiction, X-R-A-Y, World Literature Today, The Hunger, and other journals. He is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing at Florida State University.