Categories
2018 Poetry

Dāshaun Washington

BLOSSOM

I.

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

III.

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

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


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

Categories
2018 Poetry

J. Bailey Hutchinson

J. BAILEY HUTCHINSON TAKES PLAN B IN MARSEILLE

styled after Christian Anton Gerard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PONYTAIL ODE

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

whose structure I once named loathsome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and what I have is a one-lane-road

                                                      on which I am the only driver.

                                                                                                  I paved the goddamn road.

                                                                                                          I will take me where I please.


FOX SONG

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

Hoverfly unperturbable. We
miracle the porch—reading

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

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

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

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

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

Night here a good
thin blanket and breathable.

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

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

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

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

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

I could say I was.


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

Categories
2018 Comics

Kayla E. and Laura Bullard

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

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

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

Categories
2018 Poetry

Khaleel Gheba

AGAINST ITSELF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PHOTOGRAPH OF MAN, VOMITING

for Calgary

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

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


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

Categories
2018 Poetry

Bailey Cohen

SYMBIOTIC

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


HAVE I EVER BEEN WICKED?

I have never broken
the wing off of something

delicate enough
to fly. What I have done is flock

like a shivering welp
to sharp things and blue-

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

into a room
as if you could lick

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

of this—that I have loved
every woman

I have told that I
love

and touched none
of the men

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

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

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

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

when noticed,
that if you were lost

in some dense night,
I would spend

my days trying to swallow
the pink

of sunlight
just to glow beside your warmth.

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

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

to become a cruel and distant master
of a flame

and blow
a sword, its blade

made only of glass. Like a magician,
you hid

all of my labor
beyond your teeth, surrounding

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

than to be a ghost
and reach through your chest

and grab the shatterable thing,
only to forget

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

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


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

Categories
2018 Poetry

Philip Schaefer

HOW TO LICK A KNIFE

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


DEAR BJ

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


BUYING THE FARM

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


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

Categories
2018 Fiction

Alex Ebel

CLOSE TO HIM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“Some kind of new supplement or something?”

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

“What does that mean?” Brady asked.

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Categories
2018

Dorsey Craft

WILLIE LEE’S WOMAN SPEAKS

after Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues”

You had the dark eyebrows I was hankering,
       and a voice plodded along like a mule cart

and my thighs bounced with your drum, remember
       spreading their velvet vast on the edge

of your bed, the sink of mattress soft as felt,
       my heavy curls traced your lips and theirs:

five worshippers of upper arms pressed wide
       against the body, harmony of flesh on flesh.

The Lord’s mercy is a slip of green silk to sing
       the auburn, skin that clings to belly-fold

and down-turned breast. My apology from you
       is a whistle from the nose, fast beat songs

struck against the side of our bed, and you
       could kill me every night and never take

my perfume from their budding tongues, never
       steal the whisper of my powder from between

their fingers. Your oil slick black throat bubbles
       and hacks the gravel around my graying ear,

that concrete screech in the red behind your throat
       enough to wake a woman shot down.


Dorsey Craft holds degrees from Clemson University and McNeese State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Massachusetts Review, Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, Rhino Poetry, and elsewhere. She is currently a Ph.D student in poetry at Florida State and the Assistant Poetry Editor at The Southeast Review.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Graham Barnhart

UNPRACTICED

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


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

Categories
2018 Poetry

Rage Hezekiah

SIAM DELIGHT

You’ve nodded out at dinner again,
having just used or needing more
the shell of you collapsing. I want to trust
your alphabet of lies, my denial a cardigan
pulled over brown shoulders. I console you
like a mother, I know, love, I know.
At the Thai restaurant, I push
slippery noodles and steamed vegetables
around my plate, watch you bob
a broken machine, your slow-motion hand
torpid towards your fork. You can’t
seem to find your mouth so I
flag down our waitress, who pretends
not to notice you’re boneless. She presses
our leftovers into neat, white boxes. Outside,
August marinates our skin, evaporates
my compassion. I stand under streetlights
in a yellow dress, fling expletives at you,
wet artillery rolls off your shrugging
shoulders. You are enemy, slumped
into yourself, an accident. I want to push you
into traffic, make you disappear
until I remember you want that too.


Rage Hezekiah is a New England based poet and educator, who earned her MFA from Emerson College. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The MacDowell Colony, and The Ragdale Foundation, and is a recipient of the Saint Botolph Foundation’s Emerging Artists Award. She is a 2018 Vella Chapbook Award Winner, and her chapbook Unslakable is forthcoming with Paper Nautilus Press. Her debut full-length collection, Stray Harbor (Finishing Line Press) is also forthcoming in 2019. You can find out more about her writing at ragehezekiah.com.