Categories
2021 Poetry

Jaz Sufi

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.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Rita Mookerjee

ELEGY IN AUGUST TOWN

The taxi man asks how I am coping with the recent incidents
on Hermitage Road. When I ask what happened he says violence

and before he tells me about the young man, I already know exactly
what happened. He says violence and the word bursts from its skin,

a word that leaves more words in its wake, almost always the same:
recent string of    teenage    investigation     pavement     unknown.

Back home, when the news says BREAKING, I hold my breath and wait
for the picture, which is usually a school photo. People tend to keep

those on hand. Here in Kingston, the boy’s aunt doesn’t have one.
It is her face in the paper instead, caught mid-speech with a clenched

hand and jaw to match. You can tell she is saying enough because 13 years
ago, her son was shot, then her daughter, now her nephew who was making

his way back from the market with yams, okra, and Scotch bonnets, his
Tuesday ritual. The paper reads DEATH STALKS AUGUST TOWN but I

know that this plague is not unique to the island. Against my will, I have
lost count of the dead back home. I have forgotten too many of the names

belonging to black bodies left too long on asphalt, many gone before
they grew facial hair or learned to drive. This too is an act of violence

of which I am guilty. The taxi man’s name is Rondell. He mistakes me
for an islander—Guyanese or Trini. He sighs, what has happened to us?

He doesn’t know that I’m just an import. Just a brown Yankee nerd in her
tortoiseshell glasses who hoped that things would be different here, that

black boys could jog home after rugby, bend to knot their shoelaces, grab
Ting from the gas station and make it back from the market. When I look

at the paper, at the aunt’s fury, I know that black boys in a black country
are not safe in the way I imagined. As Rondell turns onto the college campus,

a student bolts onto the road to jaywalk. In an instant, Rondell stops. He lets
the student cross. With a guilty smile the young man waves in gratitude.

He looks like a first year, maybe the same age as the boy who was killed.
Rondell waves back, calls from the window, muss protect the next generation.


LESSON FROM THE ORACLE WHO HAD SEEN TOO MUCH
for R.J.

For a time, my professor Regina was one of the lost
women trudging up and down Broad Street. You’ve
seen the type: an ageless person in a black down coat
too hot for the present weather. The type that prays
out loud to lost gods for a fix or even just a lemonade.
The type that screams as if waking from a nightmare.
The type you avoid eye contact with on the subway.
Regina kept pace during the day and slept in houses of sex

and crack after dark. But past the broken bottles and plastic
cups, up the rotted stairs soured with piss and butane,
she laid in dank rooms and thought of greater things. She
considered the pyramids and how they aligned beneath
the stars. She scrawled prayers to Tehuti on gum wrappers
and dropped them in fountains across the city. She channeled
Queen Nzinga leading her troops to battle the Portuguese.
She dreamt of James Brown onstage camel walking, euphoric.

Regina and the Broad Street walkers saw Philadelphia
grow wicked: scores of cops leering on side streets, cuffing
panhandlers, pulling out batons to bust protestor knees.
All this before the bombing of the house on Osage Street.
In her fury, with time, Regina found like minds. They wore
leather and rolled their hair with wax. But for all the big guns,
raised fists, and dreads, the Panthers were a brotherhood, not
a coven, and she still had many questions hanging in the air.

Regina stays in that broken city as a protector, a keeper
of stories light and dark. She won’t talk to cops, but the media is
the specter she hates the most. She once told me in a voice like
bent steel never to watch the news before bed, that it leaves foul
residue in the mind. Leaning close, she said do not take that filth
with you into the dream world. If you do, it will live in your body
and grow like a sickness.
Though I do my best to listen, with or
without the news, all day and all night, poison swims in my mind.


Rita Mookerjee is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Iowa State University. Her poetry is featured in Juked, Hobart Pulp, New Orleans Review, The Offing, and the Baltimore Review. Rita is both the Sex and Poetry Editor at Honey Literary as well as the Assistant Poetry Editor of Split Lip Magazine, and a poetry staff reader for [PANK].

Categories
2021 Poetry

Sean Cho A.

ACCORDING TO

science I Should be dead
but as a boy I was told
the story of the man
who lived a week
or so inside
the stomach of a whale
and you still wonder
why I’ve been careless
Six months ago
you found me
with nicotine patches
stuck to my temples
yelling at the Gods
What else can you expect
from me With a face
like that how could I tell you
about the months
I spent in rehab gambling
hair ties and mouth-favors
with people I never knew
I begged at God
and you found me
I use to believe
my landlord would find
my body a week into July
and call my father
He’d cry over the long-haired
vodka-soaked liver
With my casket closed
he’d talk about the son
I use to be He’d speak
of heaven as if we’d
be reunited there
not knowing God
already answered
each of my ugly demands


Sean Cho A. is the author of American Home (Autumn House 2021) winner of the Autumn House Publishing chapbook contest. His work can be future found or ignored in Copper Nickel, Pleiades, The Penn Review,  The Massachusetts Review, Nashville Review, among others. He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of California Irvine and the Associate Editor of THRUSH Poetry Journal.  Find him @phlat_soda

Categories
2021 Poetry

Ross White

TENDER OFFER

Nothing in this world is ever what it sounds like.
Not the northern shrike, an aggressive mimic,
a predator resembling prey, who in summer keeps
silent, in winter opens throat to resemble
smaller songbirds, luring eager passerines

to the source of the song,
nor the prospective acquirer,
who during a hostile takeover may propose
a tender offer, the premium over market price
wriggling like a worm to lure shareholders
who inevitably acquiesce to the hunter,

admiring the blood on his snout.
Perhaps no offer is ever tender, in the ways
we hope for tenderness, and every kindness
is shrouded like an orchid mantis
atop a stem, its flowering jaws ready to clamp.


Ross White is the author of Charm Offensive, winner of the 2019 Sexton Prize, and two chapbooks. He is the director of Bull City Press, an independent publisher of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and the editor of Four Way Review. He teaches creative writing and grammar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the associate director of The Frost Place Conference on Poetry. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry Daily, Tin House, and The Southern Review, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswhite.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Kathleen Gullion

I CAN SHOW YOU HOW

They could be talking about anything. I’m only paying attention to whether or not I can picture their fingers in my mouth. But they’re giving me a history lesson about Bridgeport and they have been for the past fifteen minutes. The gangs. The best shaved ice at 31st and Halsted. The Daleys. We’re tucked away in a booth. Robin sits across from me in black overalls and a black button-down. When we met here fifteen minutes ago I told them they looked like a business casual farmer. I think they thought I was negging them. But really, it’s a good look. 

Colleen’s is an Irish bar. Wood-paneled, the occasional shamrock. The only other patrons are here for the White Sox, slumped over High Lifes at the bar. 

There are so many characters, they say. Even the liquor store guy, okay, the liquor store guy. He always talks to me about his cat’s psychic. Apparently the cat used to be a dog in a past life. Why do I know this?

That’s funny, I say. 

All I have to do is let them talk and say things like, oh wow, yeah?, and that’s so funny. Whatever to keep the conversation light so we don’t slip into personal territory and become betrayed by some horrible information that would make it hard to sleep with each other. We’re doing a good job. Draining our drinks and learning nothing about each other, other than the way their hands wrap around a glass, and how my lips look parted in surprise. 

Something good must have happened on the screen because the men cheer and bang their fists on the counter. I look up and see all of them running. 

Robin watches me watch the men. I went to a Sox game last month, I say. I play with my bra strap. This guy in the front row got hit in the face by a fly ball. 

Now it’s their turn to say it: oh wow, that’s crazy. 

It really was, I tell them. It was like this. I lean across the table and form a fist, then pretend to hit them in the nose. Pow. They grin placidly. 

You’re supposed to say ow, I say. I’m slightly annoyed they aren’t playing along. 

Ow, they say, clutching their nose dramatically, and I forgive them. 

Exactly. Guy broke his nose. There was blood everywhere. Anyway, are you done with your drink? We should leave. 

As soon as we do, they slink their arm around my waist, the night air giving them the permission Colleen’s wouldn’t. The gesture is proprietary and I like it. They live just two blocks away — that’s why I suggested Colleen’s, they explain as we walk, don’t think that’s a haunt of mine — and we practically skip down them. I feel like a kid out past curfew, even though it’s only 8:30pm. This is how I always feel on dates. Defiant, giddy, slightly guilty. I almost don’t want the walk to end. 

But then we get to their apartment, a three-flat. That’s mine, they say, pointing to the second-floor window, which is framed by string lights hanging inside. Looks cozy, I say. We disentangle our arms and grow quiet as we walk up the stairs. I hang behind as they unlock the door in the dark hallway. No one looks sexy unlocking a door, and I don’t want to see it.

Sorry, it’s messy, they say, tossing their keys on the table by the door, which is piled with papers, dishes, a tangle of cords. The living room is a gray futon and a wooden chair piled with jackets. A few cardboard boxes stacked by the window. 

New apartment? I ask.

No, why?

I shrug.

I try not to look around as we walk to their bedroom. The mattress is on the floor and the black sheets are covered in a thin layer of white fur. Was there a dog I missed? Across from the bed there are some books stacked on top of a large plastic tub. There are no decorations except for a pothos in the window whose tendrils are so long they sweep the floor even though they’re draped over the curtain rod, creating a frame of green. And next to the bed, on the nightstand, are a collection of candles, some fat and white, some thin and green, some reduced to wicks in glass jars, clouded black. 

They sit down on the bed and I join them. I glance at the door before I sit, half-expecting a sheepdog to push through it and bound towards us, white fur fluttering from it as it runs.

A soft hand cups my cheek, and there are their eyes, intense under half-closed lids, and their lips. At first it is all wrong, their mouth wide and tongue probing, but I use my lips to teach theirs subtlety, about small kisses that turned into bigger ones, of tongues that trace instead of thrust. 

They pull away, out of breath. Heavy breaths turn into an open-mouthed smile, then their eyes dart to the head of their bed. Can I tie you up? They ask. 

Oh. Sure.

They crawl toward the head of the bed and stick their hand between the mattress and the wall and pull out two long black straps, which are attached to the bed somehow. Take off your clothes and lie down, they say, and I do as I’m told. I undress slowly. Their gaze makes everything grander. Gives elegance to fumbling with shoelaces and shimmying out of jeans. I leave my bra and underwear on. They are lace and expensive. When I’m down they’re on top of me, legs pinned to my sides. They wrap the straps around my wrists, securing them by velcro. I think the last time I wore velcro was on these Cinderella sneakers I had in kindergarten, and I almost laugh. But when I try to move my arms, I can’t. I’m really restrained. 

They turn off the lights. Pale moonlight gives contours to the objects in the dark, and I can see the edges of them illuminated at the foot of the bed. They stand there for a moment, larger in the dark, and I feel like something wild, a creature tangled in a shrub. My heart beats between my thighs. 

They walk to the side of the bed but don’t get on the mattress. They hover over me, and produce a matchbox. Friction makes flame. They light one of the skinny black candles from the bedside table. In the dark, the candle disappears beneath the flame, and all I can see is a tiny fire and their face changing shapes as it flickers. 

Their eyes hold mine as they bring the candle in a position over me. Wax pools under the wick. With a quick tip of the candle, a few drops of wax spill onto my stomach. I shudder at the quick blast of heat. The wax quickly cools and congeals on my skin. They repeat the gesture — pool, tip, pool, tip, pool, tip — and the wax droplets collect on me like moles. I’m not sure if it feels good or not. It feels medieval. I try to pretend we’re in a church on the moors, while monks chant in the distance. But I can’t make it stick. I could never get into all that roleplay stuff. They drop more wax on me. I decide it feels good, not for the heat, but for the way it feels when it cools. 

They place the candle in a holder and it casts a warm glow over us. They look down at me. I look down at me. All golden and lace, made delicate by the low light. I never feel delicate, but now, especially against the rough denim of their overalls, I do. From above I must look like string stretched between fingers for a game of cat’s cradle. 

Then they’re pressing and thrusting themselves into me and I remember that I’m not a string but blood after all as I’m filled with it and how suddenly words are so useless. What I want is not harder or faster or gentler but to have my edges obliterated, for a merging. My desires swirl in my head like black wind. 

But then we’re unmerging. They take off my underwear in a swift motion and perch over me and fuck me from that position. Their hand is like how their tongue had been at first: rough and probing. I wince. They readjust, but still it’s wrong. When I think of how to explain to them what I want it’s all black wind, so I just look away. For them, sex is probably about the wax, the restraints, the show. This part is probably obligatory. It’s probably an embarrassing necessity. So I accept that this isn’t going to be good, and will myself to end it quickly for their sake. I summon a rolodex of fantasies in my mind and somehow, I come, but the waves flow like stale honey. I hear moaning in the distance and realize it’s ours. 

The sound of velcro. The restraints are off, and Robin is by my side, wrapping their arm around my waist. They are still fully clothed. Shoes tied. Those damn overalls. I remember how I told them they looked like a farmer and it’s newly hilarious and I’m laughing and suddenly we are co-conspirators again, kids out past curfew. So I kiss them in my own way and unbuckle their overalls, preparing to straddle them, to show them I’m not just going to lie there and take it! But they gently grab my wrist and push it away. My hand freezes, a claw. In a soft voice they say, Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to. I’m more of a dom.

I look at the ceiling. I don’t feel like a co-conspirator anymore. I just feel like a girl. 

That was amazing, they say. They lean over me and light a few candles with a long lighter. Beside us fills with flickering. I’ve been studying something called relational theology in school, which says the divine can be found in the erotic.

That’s interesting, I say, and flick off a bead of wax. 

So sex is a method of attaining transcendence, of encountering the supreme otherness of God. And as queers, we’re a kind of otherness as well, so queer sex is even more of an encounter with the divine. That’s my thesis.

I look at them while they speak, and their eyes are wide, full of light. They’re so firm in their convictions. It makes me want to believe in something, too. Maybe sex isn’t just a way to fill the void. Maybe it’s a way to pass through the void, become intimate with the unknown. Maybe the two of us just didn’t get it right this time. Maybe there is something holy here. Maybe I just have to keep looking. 

You’re going to love this. I actually have a key to First Unitarian, and during the week it’s usually empty, so if you want, we could fuck there.

I see us ducking into the church, giggling and touching elbows. Mid-afternoon, sunlight streams through the stained glass, turning the dust in the air to glitter. They lay me down on the altar, and the wood digs into my shoulder blades — no, it’s surprisingly flexible wood, it feels fine — and where they should be I see an illuminated archway, through which I can plunge towards the divine. 

That sounds hot, I say. 

I had a feeling you were the kind of girl who’d be into that, they say, and kiss me with a lot of tongue. I close my eyes and try to focus on the archway until they pull away. 

My dad is a minister, and he actually came out after my parents divorced, and it was hard at first, mainly because I missed my mom, but if anything, it just showed me how queerness and faith are inseparable. Being gay and loving God are one in the same. 

You’re not trying to convert me, are you? 

They laugh. No, no, I respect all ways of interpreting the universe. I’m just telling you my story.

I’m relieved for a moment, but then I feel like the creature caught in the shrub again. The desire to scamper comes first, then the smack of betrayal. Where is this coming from? In the bar, weren’t we desperately trying not to know each other? Now I see that’s not what was happening at all. They were just waiting until I was vulnerable to spill their self onto me, and I feel sticky with it. I think of the way I acted: twirling my bra strap, letting them have their way with wax. It was only fake as long as we both understood it was an act. I see that version of myself as an outline in their mind, and even its existence there feels dangerous. I need to go. I have to go, I tell them. 

You’re not going to stay? Their face makes all the shapes of pout, arched eyebrows, wide eyes. I collect my clothes from the floor and dress quickly. I promise to text, confirm my excitement about the church fucking. They kiss me goodbye at the door and I nearly run down the stairs and into the clean outside air. 

No one is out but me. It must be later than I thought. I walk east towards the bus, hoping it’s still running. I walk past fountains that are shut off for winter. I walk past bushes netted in Christmas lights. I walk past windchimes, softly clanging. Past pink garbage cans, past cigarillo wrappers, past birds sleeping in trees. I walk past a sapling in someone’s front yard. Blue bottles have been placed over the ends of its branches. I stop and look at it. The bus comes and goes in the distance. I keep looking. The glass shines against the sky.


Kathleen Gullion is a writer based in Houston. She earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her work has been published by Coachella Review, Esthetic Apostle, F Newsmagazine, and others

Categories
2021 Poetry

Jacob Saenz

SISTERS AT WORK

Mother’s first job consisted of dusting
& cleaning downtown offices of men
in starched suits while she & her sister
wore uniforms slightly stained & frayed

They wiped down phones & fax machines
w/worn rags, sucked up dirt on shag rugs
using Hoover vacuum cleaners w/cords
coiling on floors like slim, limp pythons

Sometimes when changing out garbage bags
they’d find tossed out food not found
in the pantry at home where shelves held
bags of beans & rice, potatoes & tortillas

They tired of eating the same meal night
after night while their mother knitted by
the light, her mind wrapped in the pattern
of chatter, of voices never ceasing to talk

In trash bins they discovered ruby red
apples almost whole, half-eaten sandwiches
made w/turkey & cheese, a slice of uneaten
pecan pie like a carnival prize they’d pick out

to share back & forth bites of a secret
sweet treat as they sat swiveling
in cushioned chairs & kicked
their feet up on freshly dusted desks


HALF THE BATTLE
for Jesse Silva

My cousin’s crutches lean
against the white wall
as we clutch GI Joes
while lying on the floor

I hold Snake Eyes
the silent commando
skilled in swordplay
& hand-to-hand combat

He clasps Storm Shadow
a Cobra-controlled ninja warrior
lethal w/a long bow & arrow
& clad head-to-toe in white

like the cast on cousin’s foot
except for Sharpie scrawls
of a rabbit’s head w/one bent ear
& the words Two-Six Nation

I’m twelve & don’t yet know
the bunny head beyond the logo
of magazines in my brother’s closet
nor the significance of 26th street

My cousin’s sixteen & won’t say much
about gangs & guns or running away
from shots that killed his best friend
& the bullet bound into his bones

We focus on play & make
our soldiers clink swords
& bang plastic limb on limb
We grip our toys like pistols


SADE CENTO

Crown you in my heart
king of sorrow
your kisses ring
hit me like a slow bullet
I know the end before the story’s been told
& it hurts like brand new shoes


Jacob Saenz is the author of Throwing the Crown, winner of the 2018 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His poetry has appeared in Memorious, PANK, Poetry, Tammy and other journals. A CantoMundo fellow, he’s been the recipient of a Letras Latinas Residency, a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship and a 2019 Latinx Scholarship from the Frost Place. He serves as as editor for RHINO.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Elijah Hayes

PRESSING ON TOWARD CANAAN

1.

I used to think I fell too far down a hole like an acorn and would never sprout, or would sprout backward, die young and unshaven, pot-bellied in the second bedroom.

The electrician tests the fire alarm, it’s hotwired so you know, she says.

No, I don’t know, I say.

We’re searching for the man who lost his face to something in the water, the anchorman on TV says.

The nurse presses a thumb onto the patient’s cyst, It’s like a mini volcano, she says.

The way I talked to you, you didn’t want to talk to me anymore. Birds shouting uh-uh, uh-uh.

Sergei says, I smoke three cigarettes a day to keep my heart rate up.

Like Moses stepping out of the bloody river, the nurse wipes a gloved hand down the length of her scrubs, Shit goddammit.

When someone drowns, you won’t hear splashing. The body becomes too focused on floating and breathing. People will die fifteen feet away from you, and you won’t hear a thing.

I promise to always keep the bathroom floor dry, so you don’t slip.

To make a room grow quiet, talk about your medicine.

Sergei asks if we’re going home, Are we in a boat? he says.

No, an ambulance, I say.

Are we in a plane? he says.

I want the deep olive fruits, mouthful of mist. Keep me simply smiling holding a bag-full of gold. There are bad moods that make us feel joy. Shadow I’m throwing long. I should be calling you, but it’s January and not yet snowed. The fool in me brighter.

2.

The doctor uses a sharpie to draw the incision lines on my chest. This is what we’ll remove, she says. She’s eaten a large breakfast and is truth worthy. Let’s get these off! she says, raising her arms into the air like her arms are celebrating.

3.

I visited the graveyard with Grandmother. She said, Here’s my father.

I used to think our minds should be playgrounds. Woods filled with moss and green. Woods piling into woods. My body no bigger than my bed. Could place myself anywhere, but I’m here.

I used to be young with scuffed church shoes, and it was fine that they were scuffed because I was young and healthy and meant to accidentally break things.

I had been so agreeable reflecting into ponds and ruined the afternoon when I spoke and hated the sound of my voice.

Yearlong rabbit under the bush feeling. Like crawdad in creek shedding guilty body under territorial stars.

I thought the world was the size of a marble and could be swallowed quickly. A fresh start. Jaw widening. Too many lost planets, pink and misty, floating in voids, excellently unraveled.

I know I’m a coward doing brave things cowardly. From a thousand rifles and behind the pine. Nothing special being relentless with the knife. These things are important. The stork does nothing for anyone but sun.

Give me soul. No longer tired and bored. I have been soft and unremarkable and clothed.

A whooping crane who migrated too early and found himself among the pelicans.

I’m removing my dumpy sweater. I clear the land of weeds and snakes.

I will be an old church pew creaking these young, bird drugged bones. Give me holy light, holy night, holy, holy niceties.

4.

I’m learning self-preservation. Been catching on well enough with the help of my rusty umbrella. But it’s missing. That’s why I’m here. To ask for it back. I’m balding and sad. Look how tortured I am feeding my hair to the gulls. I have only this paper bag and an apple. I can’t tell if your eyes are open.

5.

As if an animal is watching out for me when I peel back bark in search of honey. The gravel in the driveway speaking stupid sayings. What will I inherit like wisdom? Skin pulled back? And I’m a man? New man? Boundlessness? When the night is dumb and can only say night.

Let’s not try again, said the boy to the angel, and he became five hundred years older in a day, at once wise, and quite suddenly, a graveyard. That’s when I was born. Toadstool asking for more. But I’m being quiet about it. Like I just hid something behind the sofa. Like all my secrets aren’t easy to find.

6.

 I tie all my dismembered parts to branches after telling my doctor a lie. My face flushed red as the inside of my mouth. I lost my dignity, but regained it after I said I’m really interested in equality. All the lilacs in the world stuffed up my nose.

7.

Needle in my thigh. Weekly big grin. I slept in my face unknowingly every day a hematoma.

How’s forgiveness done the right way? The bedside lamp is on. The dog doesn’t know where to sniff. I leave one strawberry in the bowl. Another truck bed wet with rain. What part is the soul?

Here’s my arm, knuckle, earlobe. I’ll fall backward into yellow-fin, wahoo, marlin.

Sometimes my feet are containers for veins. Slivers of dumb horror. Other times my coffee. My milk and toast.

Wars in my temples. Sapped at the root. A shadow only a sea would keep. I know how to avoid any confrontation easily, diplomatically. My one, good eye twisting closed.

8.

The bumper sticker reads, THERE’S ONLY LOVE FOR YOURSELF, GOD AND BACON. Self-acceptance is terrible. There’s an attempt to make some things beautiful that shouldn’t be beautiful.

Sergei says, Don’t waste time on what isn’t in front of you. I don’t know. Someone past our understanding must pity our situation. Perhaps a great fish in the ocean.

I take out the trash. See a bit of moon. I used to wish for a big stage. I used to pretend the parts of my body were speaking to one another. I used to be spiritless, holy crawling chapel windows. I would have made a great southern wife. I know the wide, open fields. The pits where the eyes belong. A good, earthly sickness.

9.

Something is happening. There’s been a great revival. It’s all alone by the bushes. I hold sweet, southern butter role. Belly too full of fatback to find Jesus.

10.

The night we met again, I rolled my socks into one, neat pile as if I had always been organized. But there was a smell in my apartment, whatever I hid a long time ago and forgot about, and you of course found it, a man bobbing under the surface of the water. My sins under a deep stream.

How can forgiveness be given to someone so guilty? If I mean any act, what is it? Do I lie to myself by using words I don’t understand? Who will point out the treeline with my lost compass and smaller heart? Who will watch out after the parts I kill?

Just follow the disorder. I say these things, but I don’t know. The fridge is stocked: apples, ground beef, a bounding pulse.

11.

I don’t like to share. I’m dancing naked in my upright hut. Mull in me the green afternoon light. Me streaked yellow fresh goodness. In my head there is weather and weather. I’m reeling without pants by the bushes. They’re pink worms grabbing at air. I will kill this year. Drop it at your door. Make it your year.

12.

Sergie says, I’m not fucking with you, it took me fifty years of pain. I don’t feel self-important anymore. Now I only love me in the real way. Truth to get you high and not pipe high, you know, speaking truth . I can’t remember falling. I can’t remember I actually did that.

13.

The longer I’m quiet the closer I am to becoming a cathedral. Moon, lead me to the center of my stomach. I will pay you back with more moons and pond-full and brimming over and happy.

Evening soon. I consumed everything. All desire grinning. My soul cut rope. What would I sacrifice?

I’m looking for a still, grey puddle. I’m not sure what I’ve forgiven. Too much or little. As a girl I was down to the shin-bone with green delirium. Shame-faced stalking any good animal to eat. Now I’m lazy and far up the road. Blueness. A triple of days. Silently eating grapes. Years went by. Where was I? In the skin of a copperhead. Sneaking glances sideways skimming down a muddy river. Ensorcelled by my face. Smiling till epistaxis. Checking the clock for home.

14.

Your postcard arrives: Just wanted you to know, I’ve finally forgiven you.

I’m a part of something large and booming, cries a blue jay. Small birds I don’t know the name of flying. How can you forgive?

I’m wandering in a wilderness instead of pressing on toward Canaan. Sergei said, Live so that when you come to the close, all you have left to do is die. I might understand. I watch and am as a sparrow upon the housetops.


Elijah is a trans & queer man living in Alabama. His poetry and nonfiction have appeared in jubilat, Hayden’s Ferry Review, BOOTH, Cover Lit Mag, Cosmonauts Avenue, Queen Mobs Teahouse and other various journals. He is the author of the chapbooks There is One Crow That Will Not Stop Cawing (Another New Calligraphy, 2016) and Mad Dances for Mad Kings (Factory Hollow Press, 2015). He earned his MFA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. More can be found here.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Olivia Muenz

[Text is inside a square box that resembles a tv with "rabbit ears"]

entertainment from the sickbed is all static

suck me in to the tv you sucker

I am all bunny ears and showmanship

I will pull you out of my hat

await my glowing mouth to feed you nicely

in niceties here i am

the world as you know it now safely in a frame

of containably contaibables of somewhere else

FAMILY VACATION

1.

I’m hitting the road with jack…
We’re going to the grand canyon…
We’re going to feel grand…
We’re going to feel alive by looking at a gaping hole…
That’ll do it…
Should I tell you what my plan is?
I don’t have a plan…
That’s either my big problem or my big solution.

2.
Listen up…
We aren’t staring into rocks like we’re waiting for coffee to brew…
I’m climbing up that thing…
I’m getting you out of my pockets…
You’re the little stone in my shoe that won’t come out…
I’m commanding you nicely, please get out…
Would the tone of my voice make a difference?
Fine, I’ll say it louder.

3.
You are not at the grand canyon with me…
You are not even in the bath tub…
I’ve sucked you down the drain…
I was sorry to do it…
You were sorry to do it…
We exchanged greeting cards…
Do you know what a greeting is?
Can it fit inside my envelope?

4.
We could only get to New Mexico…
The older version is too far away…
We stretch our arms to go back in time…
What are we leaning towards?
We’re no better than a plant by a shady window…
All my plants do the YMCA…
I’ll burst this window wide open…
I’m thirsty for something good.


Olivia Muenz is an MFA candidate in creative writing at Louisiana State University. She received her BA from NYU and is currently the Nonfiction Editor for New Delta Review. Her work is forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal and Heavy Feather Review. @oliviamuenz

Categories
2021 Poetry

Fargo Nissim Tbakhi

INDICTMENT FILM
after Solmaz Sharif

and my mother playing me Fast Car
while somewhere my father tries to be
an animal somebody can tame
his hair thin as a wraith now and my mother’s
falling out in clumps like snow
and my hands caressing my own head
while i shave it losing my hair to be close
to my baba to be at peace with him to know
him beyond his own afterimage beyond
the indictment text even when it speaks
in my mother’s voice and this the only document
i can find of my family my baba only
defendant and never any tenderness to taste
and my mother whiter than poison tenderer
than brussels sprouts while i write towards
something, anything wilder than my self
towards some animal which won’t be
and my mother cleaning toilets and my father
blessed with unanonymity in eyes which won’t
see him hands that won’t touch his beauty
and i am asking for love in all the wrong pages
and i am a document of some tenderness beyond
any text of power my baba dying my mother dying
and all of us weeping and no one stops watching
and i am talking about a revolution sounds
like a whisper


Fargo Nissim Tbakhi (he/him) is a queer Palestinian-American performance artist. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, he is a Halcyon Arts Lab Fellow and works at Mosaic Theater. His writing has appeared in Foglifter, Mizna, Peach Mag, the Shallow Ends, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Dustin Pearson

A DIFFERENCE

I wish I could explain the danger that lies in a look
through a window. People will say, Why not
draw the shades? It’s a beautiful day outside.

Having seen, I’ll agree, but left alone with the view,
the beauty tugs so strongly on my eye that
the vessels inside it break, and so the beauty bleeds.
The sky stirs. Red leaks into the blue. The sky turns
purple marvelously, but the red keeps leaking until
there is only red, a red so rich so high in the sky,
and the wind blows. All the trees lose their greens.
The waters wash over the grounds, and then in the sky,
there’s lightning. It strikes in straight lines then arcs
and branches, then the branches become limbs
that swirl everything together. The window
I look through and the room I’m sitting in are fine,
and at some point, the world interrupts. This time
it’s my brother. I recognize his knock even if
it’s different. When I open the door, his hand
is a fist hanging away from his arm and himself
like a bird feeder, wrapped and bound by a loose
stretch of skin. It seems to swing a bit and twist as if
someone were giving it a gentle spin. It occurs to me
my brother used it to get my attention. He wanted me
to see. Had he experienced the day like I had, only
to this difference? His room was just up the stairs.
By the light up there, he’d also drawn the shades
and stared in. His wrist was broken, but he’d gotten
both of us away from it. He hadn’t said anything
and wouldn’t answer, even as I popped him in place,
even as I wrapped the bandages around him.


A SCHEME

My brother and I used to scheme
to make money. It was our way
of coping with the tiny allowances
our father gave us, a coping
he didn’t realize would make us
creative, my brother less so
because his allowance was always
double mine. Those days
were adjacent to digging for treasure
in our backyard, of looking into
a blue sky and dreaming of being
sailors discovering large chests
of jewels under the ocean.
The world had so many limits
back then, imposed by a man
who became a dad so the grudge
he held against his family
would pay attention to him,
but even looking at the perimeter,
the ordinary, localized possibilities
of a house whose backyard
was marked by a boundary
of gray wood, we became masters
of projection. We never sold
lemonade in the street. It was what
the other kids in the neighborhood
and the kids on TV were doing,
but perhaps they were happy,
perhaps they didn’t know selling
sweetened citrus in a Dixie cup
full of vital liquid for a quarter
or 50 cents was no amount of money
that could take them anywhere, perhaps
under their houses wasn’t a fire
whose fingers curled around them.


SOULS SIDE BY SIDE

My brother and I
had souls
to swirl
vast darkness.
To that debt,
we gave our dad
everything,
his hands locked
around our faces
until he left.
He’s come back
to two men
who can only move
to knife the other
who can only reach
to cleave.
He creeps
around us
pining
like he hadn’t died
when he first left.
Father, why
are you dying?
We killed you.
You should be dead.


Dustin Pearson is the author of A Season in Hell with Rimbaud (BOA Editions, 2022), Millennial Roost (C&R Press, 2018), and A Family Is a House (C&R Press, 2019). He is a McKnight Doctoral Fellow in Creative Writing at Florida State University. The recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, and The Anderson Center at Tower View, Pearson has served as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review and a Director of the Clemson Literary Festival. He won the Academy of American Poets Katharine C. Turner Prize and John Mackay Graduate Award and holds an MFA from Arizona State University. The recipient of a 2021 Pushcart Prize, his work also appears in Blackbird, Vinyl Poetry, Bennington Review, TriQuarterly, [PANK], The Literary Review, Poetry Daily, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere.