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.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Brandie Gray

WHEN THE HEART SHRINKS

I heard my mother in the kitchen drying out the darkness.
Rasheda White, “A Shadow Beehive”

She knew the back of my father’s hand
like a morning prayer—this is why she
served breakfast without saying grace.
After meals he threw her back into the cupboard
with all the chipped & dirty plates. I knew her
years of ache like she was the wrong kind of strong.
But I still think of her as possible. She became
a cheap motel vacancy sign with a bedside bible
heart—no one told her happiness can’t be found
on the back of cereal boxes or in tears over kitchen
sinks. I asked her once what love felt like. She said,
it’s a swollen lip teaching the body forgiveness.


MADONNA & CHILD, REVISITED

When I meet my maker
I’ll tell him my mother tried

her damnedest & meant well
more times than I could count—

months behind on rent & late
on the electric—in & out of places:

the duplex in Southeast, a double-
wide down Jordantown Road,

in the neighborhood trap house
trailer, on a mattress in her boyfriend’s

basement. She spent nights silencing
cowboy killers in the empty spit-

swallow of Dr. Pepper cans
on a nightstand, where I watched

her powder her nose & chain
smoke in lipstick (kissing the mirror

all over) after asking what shirt
better showed her breasts before

a date. She always came home
smelling like a pool hall, stumbling

toward sex & more alcohol, but
my TV was never loud enough.

I’d rock & hum myself quiet in the early-
dark morning of my poor pretending,

like I haven’t spent most nights since
behind an eight ball or in bed with a woman

trying to find the wrong way to live
right, thinking I just might drive the distance

back to where shit went south. I want so much
to drift into the opposite lane & ride the other

side, to turn off the headlights, to trace
oncoming traffic until I decide to change

my mind—until nothing is absolute until
it is—until I decide. Dear Lord, I just might—


Brandie Gray is a third-year MFA candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University where she currently serves as the lead associate editor emerita of Blackbird. She is a featured Blackbird editor in an online interview with The Review Review, and her work is forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage. She is also a recipient of the 2018 Sewanee Writers’ Conference MFA scholarship in poetry. Gray earned a BA in English and creative writing with a minor in communication studies from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

Categories
2018 Fiction

Janet Dale

AFTER MOON

 

He’s probably already drooling on his pillow, Heather thought as she backed her car out of the compact parking space. The sky was dull, as if a jar of purple-black ink had tumbled off a celestial desk and crashed spilling its contents. The further she drove away from Michael’s apartment complex, the higher the moon peaked over the pine tops; casting an eerie glow.

“I’m just so over the moon,” Heather said to the empty passenger’s seat. Wait. Her words reminded her of a favorite actress’s first movie—the one where a young girl falls in love with a wrong boy during a sultry Southern summer. What was it called? Something moon.

“Blue moon?” No.

She had read somewhere earlier in the week this was going to be the brightest moon of the year or decade. She couldn’t remember which, and she didn’t care. They were over, and she wanted the world to match her mood; dark and sad, not shiny and bright.

And what were they exactly? Boyfriend/girlfriend? No. Friends? Once upon a time, yes. But now she cared more about his life (the one she wasn’t in) than he did about hers (the one he wasn’t in). Michael only texted when he wanted her, and lately that was often.

“Howling at the moon?” No.

Merging onto the highway, Heather thought about how long they had known each other. Four or five years? She thought about what they went through together when their relationship was easy to define; a colleague had been diagnosed with and had subsequently died from brain cancer. The shared loss gave them a comfortable silence to sit in together. Conversations only began to change after she was promoted and moved two hours away.

This was the fourth time in six months she had driven to see him. It was also the fourth time she left not satisfied, giving the 126-mile trip back to her house the opposite feeling of the trip to his apartment.

“Goodnight, moon.” No.

If one of her close friends had been in the same situation and had come to her for advice, she knew exactly what she’d say: Stop. No. He’s not worth your time. When was the last time he came to see you? When was the last time you, you know, came?

“Fuck you, moon.” Please.

The first exit sign she noticed, prompted her to glance at the gas gauge with its needle hovering near E. She would have to stop soon, no way around it. Tonight’s trip hadn’t been planned like those in the past. It had begun with an especially naughty texting session which somehow convinced her to ignore the work she needed to finish before Monday morning.

“Irresponsible, moon.”

Heather scanned the radio for distraction. A laid-back song helped until the chorus kicked in: “It’s such a fine and natural sight, everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight.” On another station a flamboyant preacher’s voice chided, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh…” Silence would have to do.

“Dammit,” she muttered, passing another well-lit exit.

A red warning light flashed and she knew she’d have to settle for whatever was at the next exit. What time is it? She had purposely stashed her phone in the back seat so she wasn’t tempted to text him. The clock on the radio glowed 3:04, but she couldn’t remember if she had changed it the previous weekend for Daylight Saving Time.

Veering off the dark off-ramp, she didn’t see any structure, let alone a gas station. When she came to a stop, she reached back for her phone to see 2:07. She asked her phone which way to the nearest gas station and then held her breath as she turned left.

Approximately 3.7 miles later, she pulled into the sleepy gas station. When she stepped to the back of her car, she saw the pump was old-fashioned with numbers that spun on a wheel to indicate price and gallons. Never having seen one in person, the pump fascinated her. She went inside the attached convenience store to prepay, and a bored-looking teenager behind the register was shocked to see her. He put down his phone, pushed his hair out of his eyes.

Heather handed him a twenty-dollar bill, and pointed toward her car. “I was worried you might be closed.”

There was no response, but he began punching buttons on the register.

She searched for small talk to fill the silence, “Have you seen the moon tonight?”

He finally looked up at her and managed a tight smile, “I heard about that, but haven’t really paid too much attention it.”

“It’s not that special,” Heather lied.

While filling her tank, she heard a loud continuous thumping. Looking around, she saw an army of insects hurling themselves against the large front window of the store, attracted to the artificial light. The sound of their exoskeletons crushing against the glass made her shutter. As soon as the pump stopped, she hurried back into her car.

Heather reversed directions and when she reached the highway, she tried the radio again. The slow strains of a single piano crackled through the speakers, and she relented, resting both hands on the wheel. The song was sad and slow, matching the way she felt. It wasn’t until her vision became blurry she realized tears were streaming down her cheeks. When she reached up to wipe them away, she could still smell his skin on her fingertips. There was a pause and the piano sped up; Heather felt like she was flying down the highway.

Several beats after the piano finally came to a halt, a male voice began explaining: “That was Annie Fischer’s rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, Opus 27, No. 2…”

“Oh, Annie, perfection.”

The male voice continued: “Recorded at the end of 1958, this piece is commonly referred to as the Moonlight Sonata making it perfect for tonight.”

With a flourish, she turned off the radio for bringing up the moon again. Then she realized it had been travelling alongside her the entire trip, and she was disappointed knowing she would associate this night with this beautiful moon.

“The man in the moon!” Heather shouted, startling herself as she remembered the name of the movie.

Fifteen minutes later, she took another exit, and when she came to the familiar Stop sign, she reached back and grabbed her phone. Heather sent Michael a text to let him know she had made it safely, and without waiting for a response she blocked his number. She tossed her phone back into the back seat and turned the wheel in the direction of her house.


Although she claims Memphis as home, Janet Dale lives in southeast Georgia where she teaches first year writing at Georgia Southern University and is always reading something (including submissions for Nightjar Review). Her work has appeared in Hobart, Zone 3, Pine Hills Review, Really System, and others.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Heather Hamilton

BODY POLITIC

It was as if the breath had stopped,
and the heart, poor engine, kept firing.
It was as if the meniscus had torn,
and, unable to turn,
we kept walking.

All our metal sockets failed us.
Sometimes, in a promised rain,
we suspected as much.

Our fillings registered signals:
We closed our mouths.
Our hair stood on end:
We bought magnificent hats.

We listed the organs
we could live without: appendix,
gall bladder, spleen. One kidney
was enough, then one lung.

We wrapped wolves in surgeons’
clothing, mailed them our incisors.
We offered up our best cuts, eager
as we were to watch them trim the fat.


PANTOUM FOR MEMORABLE YEARS

You can’t step into the same river twice,
unless it’s a marsh and you’ve nothing
but time to kill. Unless fishing
in an attic carpeted with maps.

(Unless it’s a marsh and you’ve nothing
to keep from falling through the bottom.)
In an attic carpeted with maps,
the instruments mostly play themselves

to keep from falling through the bottom.
The trunks collect velvet and heat.
The instruments mostly play themselves,
but sometimes they do impressions.

The trunks collect velvet, and heat
sees to the candles and photographs.
Sometimes they do impressions
of your less memorable years,

measured out in candles and photographs
and times, like this one, spent fishing
for your less memorable years
in the same attic, the same river, twice.


Heather Hamilton is a graduate of the PhD creative writing program at the University of Cincinnati, where she received an Academy of American Poets prize, and teaches at Penn State Harrisburg. Her chapbook, Here is a Clearing, is forthcoming from the Poetry Society of America, and her poetry has appeared in Subtropics, Birmingham Poetry Review, RHINO, Willow Springs, Southern Poetry Review, Third Coast, Poetry Northwest, and Verse Daily, among other journals.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Sam Gilpin

THE SMELL OF FUMES

brief sequence of stillness

driving south into woods

a map of tones
grinding through
strained air

I remember thinking your voice sounds strange over the phone

soft filament of stamen over soil

words are a surface like fixed carbon, like light fading away boring through
flattened landscape, a blueish, grayish ash in foreground

                      this idea of place hampered by cleanliness. what is irrelevant now.
                      the mayfly dies without eating. the field like burnt metal with
                      pines sharping above.

curve of voice distinguished from black bark

replace transparency of glass with aluminum


Sam Gilpin is a poet originally from Portland, OR, living in Las Vegas, NV, as a Black Mountain Institute Fellow Ph.D. Candidate in Poetry at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He received a BA in English from the University of Utah, and an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has appeared in various journals and magazines, most recently in Sonora Review, Mistake House, and Colorado Review.

Categories
2018 NonFiction

Christina Harrington

DRAGONFLIES BY THE DOZENS

The afternoon after my grandfather was buried, my mother and I sat at her crowded kitchen table and drank out of wine bottles left over from his service. My mother sipped pinot grigio from the slender neck of her green bottle; I gulped something red. We were trying to forget the morning, the rain and the mud, trying to artificially advance through the stages of grief until they were safely behind glass and observable from a distance. We drank until it was night.

I was hungover the next morning when I went with my mother to the funeral home. We paid the last of the bills with the professionally gentle funeral director. He gave us the photos we’d used at the wake, the shells from the 21 gun salute, the trifolded flag entitled to my grandfather as a veteran of war and a tastefully branded bag holding the last of his belongings. While we waited for the charges to go through–It might take a few minutes, my mother said, an apology caught in her throat, they aren’t used to me spending this much–I went through the paper bag branded with the funeral home’s understated logo. His bolo tie, his wedding ring, and, in a small red velvet bag, his wire frame glasses.

A shock went through me, like there was a static charge held by the glasses, just waiting for my fingertips. The plastic protectors wrapped around the end of the wire arms were yellow with age. The silver paint was worn in the spaces that would have rubbed against his temples; a tired brown peeked through here and there. The nosepads were filthy with grease and skin flakes.

My grandfather slowly went blind for the last ten years of his life. At the end, he couldn’t see my face, misrecognized my voice for that of my long-dead grandmother. I couldn’t remember the last time he wore his glasses, except for the day before when he was alone in his casket. I felt pressure build behind my eyes. Here was this object, indispensable to my grandfather, utterly useless now without him. Something so personal, now personless.

Oh, my mother said, when she looked over my shoulder, I wanted those to stay with him.

***

I was just shy of sixteen and we were homeless. After years of promising, my mother lost the house I’d lived my whole life in, the big, creaky place on Center Street. My older brother was away at college, so my mom, myself and my younger brother and sister found ourselves with nowhere to go, until Grampa agreed to let us stay with him.

My grandmother had died the year before, and the house on Wallace Row was now a cold place to visit. It felt changed the same way grandpa changed with her death. Where once there was cherry Jell-o and sugary cereal to indulge us with, there was now a leaking refrigerator and empty, moth-smelling cabinets. No Christmas tree was put up that year, and The Last Supper painting—no bigger than the size of a postcard—only hung on the kitchen wall out of habit.

I slept in the living room on cushions folded out from a chair my grandfather built when he was my age. My mother, on the couch. Sometimes, in the dead of night, I’d wake up to pressure on my shoulder, like someone squeezing it gently, only to find no one there, my mother gently snoring.

We weren’t allowed upstairs, where my grandfather slept alone. He was annoyed by our loudness, his grandchildren, laughing in the kitchen. But when the dog got out, he chased him down the street, up a steep hill, until he caught hold of his collar and led him back home. This was before the fall in the shower, the hip replacement, the walker and then the wheelchair. His persistent belief that he’d walk again. Someday.

The most tactile memory I have of this time is the lumpiness of the cushions from the old chair underneath my hips, how I’d toss and turn to find sleep. All I seem to recall is the old, matted shag carpet an inch from my face, how small the whole living room seemed, now that I was growing and growing. Most importantly, I remember the synergy of that moment—how I turned sixteen without a home, how I learned in that year to distrust the veneer of stability, how it can be pulled out from under you, quick as a trap door.

***

Eight months later, for the first time since we buried him, my sister and I visit our grandfather’s grave. It’s the hottest day in an already hot summer. We scatter wildflower seeds over his blank gravesite. We shake bottled water over the naked ground.

What the fuck, my sister says, voicing what we’re both thinking. In the direct sun, the graveyard is cartoon green, neon even. Except over where our grandfather lies. No grass has grown there.

We wander through the headstones, each engraved with consonant-crammed Polish names, looking for indignities similar to our own, finding none. The cemetery is almost beautiful, ringed like it is by a quiet stand of trees. The rich kids that I went to high school with lived out here with their in-ground pools, and sprawling lawns, and finished basements. If you pretend the headstones are statues, the graveyard looks like a park. There are dragonflies here, flitting from granite tombstone to marble plinth to anemic rosebush.

Dragonflies are supposed to be the spirits of people who love you, Kate says. Oh, I say, watching a pair, the curve of their flight, how their wings blur invisible.

The church cut back on maintenance, my mother tells us when we call her on speaker. They just don’t have the money to make sure the grass roots. I guess I’ll have to come by and plant some on my own.

I think about the church, the stucco and dark brown wood of it, the meticulous lines of pews, the candle-smoke smell of the place, how my grandfather’s father built it. I think of the Pope, too. The Church, with the big C. His robes and red velvet slippers. The famous gold throne. There is no correlation between what the Pope can have and what my grandfather is not allowed to have.

I wonder if my mother hadn’t been back to the grave yet. If she’d only thought about it, pictured a carpet of green growing over the site. If she assumed everything was running the way it ought to run, for once, without her having to help it along.

I say nothing about this to my sister or my mom. Kate and I say nothing about the wildflower seeds, how they bounced across the brown earth, or the dragonflies we saw, by the dozens, or the heat in the field, baking down on us.


Christina Harrington is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College where she received her MFA in writing. While at SLC, she was the managing editor on LUMINA vol XIII. Since graduating, Christina has been pursuing her dream career in the comic book industry, first as an editor at Marvel Comics and now as the managing editor at AfterShock Comics. You can find her writing in Foliate Oak, Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, and forthcoming in Gyroscope Review

Categories
2018 Poetry

Michelle Donahue

PRESERVATION

The canyon delivered secrets: a small fish
aquarium, plastic dusty with cracks,

the baby snake Mother and I caught
that pleased until it rattled, countless

cats: flea-full & wild but bony enough
to turn domestic, bees turned calm from

smoke, content in their deep-hive bodies:
boxes to raise their brood, wild blackberry

bushes. We plunged our arms in those thorns
forgot to wash, inhaled the dust that had

settled on those soft bodies, juice staining
our fingertips like bruises. We collected

handfuls, buckets, added sugar, pectin,
stirred & then boiled until volcanic

dark-ink bursts, then jars, metallic tops,
our sealed-hot sugar for long winter.

The bees are dead again, their bodies husks,
shelled from too much snow, too little

honey. This should have been enough.
I calculated the food they’d need, counted

every woolly body: six leaving a minute,
360 an hour. What magnitude of leaving.

I tell myself I could not have known there
would be so many bodies, how perfect

those exoskeletons, how well preserved.


DOZENS OF BIRDS FALL FROM THE SKY

A morning that rattles
bones. Mom’s vase—

fine crystal, divine—fractured
on the floor. Morning

when my porch-stoop cat
stoops, yowls. Eyes closing, then

closed. Birds surround her
honeybee body. Bodies given up

mid-flight and a body giving
up. Closed-eye cat

in my arms. The vase was Mom’s
favorite, the cat

mine—karmic intervention?
What of the birds?

The grackle a cannonball
with a blue/black body

that glistens. Slim beak
stripped of song,

this lightness when—
a heart becomes glass

shards, black
bodies,

vase falling
then fallen,
fallen.


Michelle Donahue is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing & Literature at the University of Utah. She is fiction editor at Quarterly West and earned an MFA in Creative Writing & Environment from Iowa State. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming from Moon City Review, Bayou Magazine, Hobart, and others.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Michael Marberry

ELEGY

Final Fantasy VII

I know that I cannot save you.

I cannot save you, though I have

the necessities: a phoenix

down in my pocket, the new life

a green materia can give

like regret. I cannot save you,

though I have done so already

too many times to remember.

You were here; you weren’t here at all:

a small stone falling from your hair

like a plot-device for manhood.

You were the heaviest flower

I left to sink in still waters.

How many years must we carry

this sadness you sent all my friends

in passing? What hope did we have

to recover, awkward as tongues?

So like the great men we were taught

to be, we returned to slaughter—

sometimes forgetting what was good.


SUPER MARIO BROS.

We never appear together:

always one, always the other
distinct as an alter ego.

I was never good at playing
brother—preferring solitude,

prone to sudden turns of distance
like an antipode. I can’t say

if you deserved more; I don’t know
if you hate me. I remember

your birth a green light: suddenly
everything flag-bright and blooming.

(The future’s bleaker than boss-fights.)

I’ve known you all your life and now
how many years since we’ve spoken?

We pass each other like two ghosts
in a castle searching for coins—

stopping sometimes to consider
the stars, the shells of our childhood

home: a shadow in the corner,
the face we vaguely recognize.


Michael Marberry is the Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Emory University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals like The Believer, The New Republic, DIAGRAM, West Branch, Waxwing, and elsewhere and in anthologies like The Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best of the Net. He is originally from rural Tennessee. More of his work can be found at http://www.michaelmarberry.com.