Categories
2018 Poetry

Karisma Price

THINGS I SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF BUT AM NOT 
after Erika L. Sánchez

The only woman I trust in New York is the pharmacist who hands me my Pristiq.

For the first time, I told Adam I loved him and meant it.

I like white male soul singers.

My father thought I’d marry a white man.

I don’t know any words to the Negro National Anthem.

I think death is nothing but a forgotten life.

Jazz funerals show me otherwise.

I did not cry at my father’s funeral.

I was God when I burned every ant with a magnifying glass.

I watch Addams Family Values until I’ve convinced myself Gomez Addams is my father.

I stole a toy beeper in front of a nun who complimented my name.

I’ve stopped trying to hide the fact that I did not cry at my father’s funeral.

I’ve never been on a date with someone I liked.

I have to check the stoves three times until I can fall asleep.

I do not check on my older brother because he never checks on me.

My pastor says depression is nothing more than a demon.

The congregation applauds until their palms bleed.

I go to church on communion Sundays to be a cannibal.


Karisma Price was born and raised in New Orleans, LA and holds a BA in creative writing from Columbia University. She is an MFA candidate in poetry at New York University where she is a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow. Her work has appeared in Four Way Review, Narrative Magazine, Wildness, Glass, Cotton Xenomorph, and elsewhere. Karisma lives in New York City and is a reader for Winter Tangerine. Along with Kwame Opoku-Duku III, she is a founding member of the Unbnd Collective.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Erin Slaughter

It’s strange, the things / that make you want to live

The night you didn’t kiss me I felt inexplicable
urgency to finally / make that eye doctor appointment
              There’s something here / about blindness
as metaphor / Sometimes what people love
more than being in love is feeling
              like part of a story / I want to write something
so beautiful it will make me believe / in pizza again
I want to write something with false
& monstrous wings / that has never known you / I wrote
              you a letter & quit my job
              to rewrite it / I wrote you a letter
              & then forty years later forgot
who you were / Your eyes are so blue in a way
              that doesn’t even matter / You looked
right through me like you were harvesting / ice or uncovering
a well / Well, it’s easy to be selfish
              when you’re not standing / here like so many flutterings
of atmosphere / By selfish, I mean wanting / when there are so many
              other ways to be / What great weariness
              all of this is / I could not be empty if I tried


Erin Slaughter is editor and co-founder of literary journal The Hunger, and the author of two poetry chapbooks: GIRLFIRE (dancing girl press, 2018) and Elegy for the Body (Slash Pine Press, 2017). You can find her writing in Prairie Schooner, Passages North, F(r)iction, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. Originally from north Texas, she is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University. Her first full-length poetry collection is forthcoming from New Rivers Press in 2019.
Categories
2018 Poetry

Katie Berta

A BODY IS A THING YOU HAVE,

an object you own
rather than a thing you are,
                            supposedly.
Confounding, then:
the aches, pains, the persistence
of experiencing them
                            and then
the opposite of that—
the body of the cat
hit by a car and left in the road
speaks for itself.
The mouth yawns and the eyelids cover, flaccidly,
the emptying that’s happened beneath.

It’s hard to put that next to
a body on the beach, a body
in a bathing suit
that bends toward a shell,
abdominal muscles
coming clear
through their sheet of skin.
The woman who owns this body
only feels what it is to be it
until it becomes an image.
In a mirror, she separates
                            herself
                            from herself,
each matching the other’s gaze,
gesture, shrug. That which
is separable
is separated out.
That which isn’t remains—
in the woman’s brain, “soul”?
She places a hand on a hip,
                            just so,
to see how that
rings around the room.
Her image places,
                            just so,
a hand.


Katie Berta lives in Phoenix, Arizona where she works as the Senior Editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. She has her PhD in poetry from Ohio University and her MFA from Arizona State. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Kenyon Review Online, Washington Square Review, Blackbird, The Laurel Review, BOAAT, and Forklift, Ohio, among other journals.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Erika Goodrich

CONTEMPLATING EVENT HORIZON ON THE WINTER SOLSTICE IN FLORIDA TWENTY YEARS AFTER MY MOTHER WAS DIAGNOSED WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA


[1]

In a room north of here my mother rocks on the edge of a bed. Every hour collapsing
into the next.

[2]

Around my mother: ash falls like stardust.

Beside her: an ashtray of cigarette butts
become dashes
                             that mark passing hours.

[3]

Against my window, a winter sun presses its palm.

Against a window, my mother presses her palm.


[4]

Her diagnosis, like snow that falls
in summer. A crocus

frozen beneath the bloom.

[5]

            As darkness rises & the moon muscles its way into existence,

Stars flower
& flame:

            little
                        elegies.

But brief moments of being.

IF NOT THE BODY, THEN


what does a woman own? If not her name.

If not the prayer nailed to her tongue. If not

the hours of submission. If not
the bones grown inside her like a city

of glass. If not the sky. Or the shadow
-s cast by the sun. If not, then—

Under night’s cathedral, I kneel.
Next to the roses & rhododendrons

wisteria wilts in the garden. Water
moves through me, empty as wind.

Lord, I never asked for this.
I never asked for my body to be a petal

bent at the mercy of unforgiving
winds. For rain to rise

in my throat. Lord, why
did you make me to ache, a naked

stem? A woman. Why did you make me
your pilgrim with iron-wings?


Erika Goodrich is a graduate student at the University of South Florida. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Nashville Review, CALYX Journal, Juxtaprose Literary Journal, The Pinch Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others. 

Categories
2018 Poetry

Brandon Thurman

AUGURY

Half-asleep & listening to the dark, the woman couldn’t shake the image of the ceiling fan rattling itself loose & chewing her to bits. The heater was grumbling. The refrigerator droned. Underneath all that white noise, she could hear what was keeping her awake: a sound like a caged thing battering itself against its bars. She looked over her shoulder & saw her husband’s shirt fluttering over his chest. Out of the dark, then, he yelped. She jumped & jerked her head back around.

“The light bulb.” It came out as a moan. “The key!”

“Sweetie?” She peeked over at him.

His eyes were stretched into a wide glare. “The key!”

What key?”

He groaned. “The light bulb! In the garden!”

Just as she realized what was happening, consciousness drained from his eyes, & his head clunked back onto the pillow.

She rolled over & stared at the wall, wide awake, counting the clicks of the fan.

                                                                             ~

The next morning, she tried to joke about it as they cooked breakfast. “You were talking in your sleep last night.”

“Mmm? What did I say?”

“I don’t know. Something about a garden.”

“Huh.”

“I asked what you were talking about. You yelled at me.”

“Oh.” He cracked an egg. “Sorry.”

She tapped her foot unconsciously, debating whether to bring it up. “Your heart was making an awful lot of noise.” There was a long pause. She decided to try. “Can I take a look?”

He began to over-scramble the eggs.

From behind, she eased her arms around his waist & tucked her hand under his shirt. “I love you, you know. You have the most beautiful heart.”

He turned to reach for the bread, wrenching his torso out from her arms. “I love you, too,” he grunted, slamming down the toaster lever.

                                                                             ~

As he brushed his teeth, he scowled at himself in the bathroom mirror, dumpy in his boxer briefs, his shirt still on. The shower curtain snapped open, & in the reflection, he saw his wife step out of the shower. He averted his eyes, then peeked quickly back. Feathers were drifting through the bars in her chest, falling to the bathmat beneath her feet.

“He’s molting,” the man pointed out.

She grimaced at him, the sparrow in her chest slumped on its bar. “I guess breeding season is over,” she quipped, wrapping the towel pointedly around her chest.

He frowned over his toothbrush & looked away, brushing his teeth harder.

“You’re going to brush your enamel off,” she snipped as she left the room.

After he had closed & locked the door behind her, he stripped off his underwear & then, after a moment’s hesitation, pulled his shirt over his head. He didn’t look in the mirror but stepped quickly under the scalding water, into a blur of steam.

                                                                             ~

That sun-bright day in the basement, he ran manic, his heart squawking, a child. What had he been playing? Trapped in the Bermuda triangle? Chased by mutants? Olympic ice-skating? He dashed & twirled & leapt gracelessly, his sweat spattering the air. Peeling his damp shirt off, he sat at his mother’s old electric organ. At first, he played as a mad scientist, rampaging along the keys, but he ended quietly, his fingers pirouetting out a soft melody.

From behind him, a curt clearing of the throat.

He whirled around. He hadn’t heard his mother come down the stairs. She was staring at his chest with the strangest look, as if being shown an x-ray of a useless bone broken beyond repair.

He looked down & saw the bustle of color: ruby, turquoise, gold. His cheeks went hot, his mother’s odd stare flooding him with a familiar pang of awareness. Every other boy’s heart he had seen had been female, their feathers subtle shades of brown & gray, but the doctors had confirmed it: his heart was male.

His heart stilled. Its ludicrous tail-feathers drooped out from the cage. His mother stared it down, & it let out a low mew.

“Put your shirt on, young man,” she snapped, stomping back up the stairs.

                                                                             ~

Sexual dimorphism. It was dark outside, past midnight—too late for the boy to be up—but he couldn’t sleep. He rubbed his finger over the word in the dictionary, then down through the definition: the phenotypic difference between males & females of the same species. There. His heart’s brilliant plumage, spelled out in black-&-white. He closed the book softly, like a sacred text, & slid it back into its empty spot.

                                                                             ~

“I do,” he was saying. He pulled out the Kleenex his friend had stuffed into his pocket (“You’re going to need this”) & dabbed at his eyes.

Across from him, his bride was crying too. His father, officiating the wedding, indicated that it was time to exchange the keys. The man took his key & clunked it into the keyhole in his ribcage. With a turn, the lock clanked into place, & he handed the key to his bride. Her eager heart opened its mouth & slurped the key right down its throat.

Sniffling through a broad smile, the woman locked her own chest & offered him the key. His stubborn heart clamped its beak shut. Gritting his teeth, the man worked his finger into the sharp yellow stub, wrenching it open & forcing the key in. The audience applauded.

That night, still panting from their clumsy love, he collapsed onto the pillow as his wife went into the bathroom. His heart’s beak fell open, & out toppled the key. The toilet flushed. He yanked his bedside drawer open & fumbled the key in.

His wife came back to bed, slipping under the covers beside him. He clenched her tightly, his belly pressed against her back.

“You’re hurting me,” she giggled.

He went slack. “I just love you,” he whispered. “I do.”

                                                                             ~

Stress twisted every muscle in his shoulders & neck into one unsolvable knot. He pulled into the garage, slammed the car door shut—a little too hard—& tramped inside. His wife was standing in the kitchen, beaming, her smile a kitschy halo radiating out from her head.

What?

She looked hurt for a moment, then said, “I found it.”

“Found what?”

“Look!” On the table lay an old reference book opened to the Qs. He saw queasy, queer, quarrel, quarry, quirk, quiver, question. Then he saw the picture. His heart. He read the caption:

Resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus moccino), a bird in the trogon family.
Found from Guatemala to western Panama. Well-known for its colorful
plumage
.

He stared at her.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” She was almost hopping, her heels twitching against the floor. “Let me see!” She grabbed for his shirt & began to tug it up. He leapt back, & she slipped, crashing to the ground.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He scrambled to help her up. “I’m sorry.”

She held her lips so tight they quivered. “Why won’t you let me? I’m your wife.”

He tried to look anywhere but her eyes, but she stared him down without a blink. Giving in, he reached down & grabbed his shirt at the hem, pulling it over his head.

He had been dreading the dumb look of pity she gave him then. “What happened?” she asked.

He didn’t say anything, but she knew. She remembered the nights she had heard it hammering itself (even now, she couldn’t bring herself to say himself) against the bars. The one & only night she had heard its cry, crackling into something like static. The bloodied feathers she had found in their bed sheets. She looked at it now: its feathers sparse, skin mottled & scabby. She remembered something she had read earlier in the evening: …indeed it was noted for usually killing itself soon after being captured or caged.

He tugged his shirt back on, & they stood staring at each other from across the room. She handed him an envelope. “I bought these for you.” She left the room.

Working the envelope open, he paper-cut his finger & cursed. Inside were two tickets for a cruise to Central America.

                                                                             ~

“When the conquistadors came,” the Mayan tour guide was saying, “they asked the Mayans what this land was called. The Mayans answered in their native tongue, ‘Ma’anaatik ka t’ann.’ ‘Ah,’ the Spaniards said. ‘Yucatán.’ But what the Mayans had really said is, ‘I do not understand you.’”

The man did not understand how the conquistadors could have heard Yucatán. He wondered if the tour guide’s story was true. The bus was bumbling along the road inland from Merida, bumping over rocks & potholes. The man’s head banged against the window. His wife’s head banged against his shoulder. “Ouch,” they said.

“You’ll see in the ruins of Chichen Itza a very old carving,” the guide continued, “in the form of a bearded man.” He paused for effect. Someone yawned; a baby screamed. Disappointed, he added, “The Mayans have no facial hair!” He let a woman in the front row rub his face: smooth, it couldn’t have been him. The woman nodded with wide eyes. “Our stories tell us that the Mayans heralded this bearded man’s arrival as the coming of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent King, Giver of Time, the Morning Star…” He paused. No one bit. “…the virgin-birthed symbol of death & resurrection!”

“Ahhh!” The North Americans nodded in appreciation. Now they saw where he was going.

Leaning conspiratorially over to his wife, the man whispered his suspicion that the Mayans had gotten their myths mixed up when Cortez showed up with his Bibles & his beard. She smirked. The tour guide continued emphatically, as if sensing dissent, “Carvings of the bearded man are scattered all over the earth—everywhere there are hairless people!”

His wife whispered, “Sounds like ol’ Quetzalcoatl was showing off.”

The man snickered. His heart rose & pecked at his shirt.

The tour guide was finishing in a hushed, over-dramatic tone. “…but no one remembers what the Morning Star said.”

Remembering dark, starless Sunday nights, the man wanted to say, “It’s the same where I come from,” but he kept quiet, staring out at the foreign landscape. From the fields, stones cried out in every language, but were still misunderstood.

                                                                             ~

The man stood at the bottom of the pyramidal temple, his neck craned back to see the features as the tour guide pointed them out.

“The Mayans were brilliant architects,” the guide raved. “They built temples upon temples upon temples like a Russian nesting doll. They designed this one so intricately that, on the equinox, the shadow of a serpent will slither down its staircase—” He wriggled his hand through the air for effect. “—& listen to this!” He clapped his hands, & the man’s heart cried out.

Ooo,” the tourists purred. They all began to clap their hands, & the sky burst into birdcalls. The man’s heart perked up to join in, & he realized it hadn’t been his own heart calling in the first place.

“The Mayans designed the acoustics of this temple to transform their handclaps…” He clapped again, twice, briskly. “…into the song of their sacred bird. The quetzal was thought to be the god of the air, symbolizing goodness & light.” The man’s wife shot him a self-satisfied half-smile. He stared back blankly, unable to make sense of the words. “Mayan kings wore extravagant headdresses sewn from their colorful feathers.”

Everyone had stopped clapping by then, but from somewhere among them, a sacred bird sang.

                                                                             ~

“Be back at the bus by 1:30, or we will leave you,” the tour guide said. He pointed to the sky, to a cell tower blinking red. “Follow that tower back to the lot.”

The man wandered off into the ruins of an ancient ball court, remembering how the guide had told them that the winners of the ballgame had, as their prize, their heads cut off. In the middle of the court was a carving: a headless man, a tree blooming from his wound.

His wife came up beside him, wrinkling her nose. “Come on.” She pulled him into a web of trails lined with Mayan vendors peddling souvenirs. The vendors bantered as they walked past, “Almost free! Almost free!” The man’s stride turned into a slight skip, & a stupid smile creased his face. Everywhere he looked, there were quetzals: sculptures & headdresses & bright stray feathers.

“One dollar, one dollar, one dollar,” a vendor babbled, a feathered headdress in his hand. The man made eyes at his wife & walked over, grinning, holding out his dollar bill. The vendor took it &, with a flourish, pulled a piddly charm out from behind the headdress, presenting it to the man with a sneer.

As they walked on, the man began to see how everything duplicated: the same masks, same carvings, same calendars. The men sitting alongside their booths chiseling were a slight-of-hand, he realized. Everything was mass-produced here.

He checked his watch—1:20—& grabbed his wife’s hand, leading her back towards the bus. “I think it’s this way,” he nodded, but he could hear the uncertainty in his own voice. He scanned the horizon for the blinking tower, but trees blotted out the edges of the sky.

“There!” his wife pointed. A sign: Salida. They followed the path deeper until they came to an unfamiliar resort with tourists sprawled all around. Behind the resort was a parking lot full of tour buses. None of them were theirs. The realization slapped them in the face, too late: they were lost.

The man looked at his watch. 1:30. He saw dread wriggle into his wife’s eyes & started to walk faster, resolved to stay calm for her, to fix his mistake. A dignified-looking old man stopped them, whipping a cane into their path. He leaned forward on the cane & asked in slow, molasses-thick English, “What are you looking for?”

“The buses!” they wheezed.

He gestured with one hand—calm down—& pointed behind them with a patronizing smile. “The buses are right there.”

Exasperated, the man & his wife ran, gripping hands. From the corner of his eye, he could see her heart fluttering in panic behind her tank top. He remembered two things at once: the tour guides words—We will leave you—& that he had left his ID on the ship. He imagined being nameless, stripped of identity, stranded & stared down by the masked Mayan gods.

His watch read 1:40.

He ran, holding back the tears stinging at his eyes, ran past dozens of vendors looking concerned, pointing this way or that. Panic scrambled the elementary Spanish from his brain. (¿Dónde está el autobús?) The words ran in front of him, squirming just beyond his grasp.

—& then there he was, hairless face stained blood-red with fury: the tour guide. He was muttering, “They’re going to kill me. They’re really going to kill me. I’ll lose my job for this.”

Hunched over, hand on his heaving stomach, the man grabbed a twenty-dollar bill from his pocket & slipped it into the tour guide’s hand.

The guide’s fury slid into a sly smile, & he led them proudly back to the bus, a merciful priest, sheathing his knife.

                                                                             ~

Back at the bus, the man & his wife were met with bored faces. They slumped into their seats & listened to the tour guide lecture all the way back to Merida about human sacrifices, describing in gleeful detail the way the priests sliced open their victim’s hearts & kicked their bodies down the temple steps. The whole bus quaked & shivered. Nauseated, the man closed his eyes, feeling his heart peck mindlessly at itself.

At the port, men with military guns slung over their shoulders demanded to see the man’s ID. He tried to explain that he had forgotten it on the ship, but they just shook their heads & adjusted their guns, irritated by the dumb tourist who left his identity behind. They patted him down & shook him up, but eventually let him through.

Once he had boarded the ship, he made his way to the slot machines for no particular reason. He had given the last of his money to the guide, so he just sat & watched a disheveled man pull the lever over & over. He fixated on the slots spinning like an ancient Mayan calendar towards the end of time, closing his eyes. He imagined himself headless, a tiny sprout slithering from the gore, imagined himself a Mayan ruler with a pompous feathered headdress, ordering new temples to be built over the ruins of the old.

He grinned, stroking his stubbled face. Below his feet, he felt the ship rumble to a start, disembarking from the Yucatán, the land of misunderstanding.

                                                                             ~

She had been watching. His beard grew out into a burning bush, a bright orange flame contrasting with the bruised purple deepening around his eyes. One night she woke up to find him sitting by the bed, his knees pulled tight against his chest. He was rubbing something metal between his fingers. She didn’t want to see what it was. She watched him drop it back into his bedside drawer, curl up on the floor, & fall asleep. His body looked fetal, she thought. She imagined it spiraling, a dying galaxy.

Sleep did not come for her. She drifted in & out of the dim visions that bled through from her dreams, taunting her insomnia. In them, she was trudging through the night, wandering through the garden from a book she had read as a child. The plants were withered, crumbling beneath her feet. A labyrinth of stone walls stretched out around her. There were no stars above her, no moon. Through the thick ink, she could feel a black hole tugging on her from behind the stone, crushing the light in its gravity fist. It dragged her into the maze, her fingers scraping against brick & stone, searching for a handhold to grasp onto, for some loose brick’s forgotten secret. Then everything toppled, & she fell into a blank black sky. Her ribcage hinged open, & a sparrow flew out, holding an orb in its beak. At its core, the bulb began to spark & glow. Gravity changed its mind, & she plunged back into the stone maze. By the light of an electric moon, she saw a misplaced brick & wriggled it from the wall.

She blinked awake & found herself standing over her husband, his bedside drawer open, her chest’s key in her hand.

                                                                             ~

He woke up on the floor, his whole body sore. Had he heard someone yell? What time was it? His bedside clock was blinking—12:00, 12:00, 12:00. Outside the window, the sun punctured the horizon like an open wound. Was it rising or setting? He remembered his mother’s aphorism: Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. She had shown him in her Bible: Jesus had said it. The words themselves bled red.

He wandered out of the bedroom & called his wife’s name, but there was no answer. Opening the back door, he saw her in the distance, at the tree line across the yard. The mountains’ shadows loomed over her. The rising red light seeped closer. As he started to walk out to her, he had the surreal thought—but couldn’t place why—that she looked like an ancient priestess, half-shadowed, half-lit in red. Then, seeing what she held in her hand, he broke into a run. When he reached her, he was gasping for air. “What are you doing?” The cold dew numbed his feet. A knife was dripping in one of her hands; in her other, she held something still. She dropped the knife unceremoniously & held that hand out to him.

He shook his head and muttered—nope, nope, nope—but reached out anyway to take it: his key, tacky with blood. He saw her sparrow wrapped loosely in her other hand, how its chest bloomed red, & dug his nails into his palm.

She dropped the dead bird & took his hand. For a moment, he thought she was going to hold it, but she just peeled back his fingers one-by-one, prying the key out from his fist. She lifted his shirt, eased the key into his chest, & opened the cage.

Nothing happened for a while then. They stood there, eyes locked, the cold prickling their skin into goose-bumps.

Then his heart left his chest. It wobbled off on weak wings towards the mountains. They watched as it made a drab bow across the sky & disappeared behind the trees.

The man opened his mouth to say something, but the woman turned & walked away from him, warming her shivering arms in her hands.

Above her head, he saw an alphabet of black birds, flying to the south, blurring in & out of words from a language not meant for him.


Brandon Thurman is the author of the chapbook Strange Flesh (Quarterly West, 2018). His poetry can be found or is forthcoming in Nashville Review, Ninth Letter, The Journal, RHINO, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and others. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas with his husband and son. You can find him online at brandonthurman.com or on Twitter @bthurman87.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Jessica Morey-Collins

TO QUANTIFY EXPOSURE

Zone everything. Prohibit the over-cold, the low-laying
and vulnerable. Buffer each tendril of the watershed
and buffer your loved ones with great care not to
buffer your love. When thinking of the tundra
                                                      rest your mind
               on successively less desperate organisms—
polar bears may only hold your attention
for so many seconds, lest the Arctic’s
greening and the musk of unfrozen mud
work its way up your ankles.
Do not think of albedo. Do not think
of life as a succession of leavings. Draw
flow diagrams—land’s hazards curve
with the earth’s contours, land’s hazards
have their own gravities. Prohibit the over-dry,
the eroded coast. Build back from the cliff face
                                                      and factor beauty
               as a colluder with risk. Do not list your lovers
or wonder pointedly whether they think of you; do not
drink away your fear of dying alone. Do not think
about sunk costs, or how ponderously the man-
made habitat has expanded around you, how
roadsound hums you, now, to sleep.


EXERCISES IN FUTILITY

We wanted to feed
every mange-crusted mutt

in Rosarito until so many licked
our greasy fingers

we knew
we’d have to feed them of ourselves
if we were to ease

any hunger at all. I came
into your life already proclaiming
myself difficult to love

betraying my belief
that love is difficulty.


Jessica Morey-Collins received her MFA from the University of New Orleans, where she won an Academy of American Poets award, and worked as associate poetry editor for Bayou Magazine. Her poems can be found or are forthcoming in Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. She currently studies hazard mitigation in the University of Oregon’s Masters of Community and Regional Planning program. Find her at www.jessicamoreycollins.com

Categories
2018 Poetry

Nicole Connolly

DX: FOREDOOMED

Nostradamus   knows   the  stars,  too,  get  ill.  He  asks,  how
many  jackals  congregated  in  the  parking lot during   your
birth?  I  live  because Death knows if  she  takes me,  it   will
super  my  nova  &  she  wants  to   savor   its   once.   Like   a
common lover, she pretends to let me walk away. He asks,  if
you sucked all the  blessing out  of the baptismal water,  how
many  babies did you condemn to purgatory? Today, each  of
my      entrances       rouses       goosebumps,      constellations
un-perfecting  your  skin. To map a planetary  distance  is  to
convert   a   million   miles   into   a  yawning  centimeter;  we
couldn’t   be  together,  because  I  couldn’t  wait  for  you    to
change.   He   asks,  did   taking Saint Francis’s name strip his
consecration? Today, my childhood is a constellation in that I
know   a  few  things & make up the rest.  Without a telescope,
it’s  mostly  so-called   darkness.    Read:   first-grade   journal
entry—Neighbor   boy   threatens   to   baseball  bat  my  mom.
Read:   my   palm—supernova  by   suicide   or   medication?   I
chose this lipstick for its bullseye.


Nicole Connolly lives and works in Orange County, CA, which she promises is mostly unlike what you see on TV. She received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, and her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in such journals as Pretty Owl Poetry, Flyway, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Big Lucks. She currently serves as Managing Editor for the poetry-centric Black Napkin Press.

Categories
2018 NonFiction

Angela Youngblood

NAVIGATION BEFORE TECHNOLOGY

Tucked between small mountain ranges, you’ll descend like a bird of carrion to my childhood home. Redwood Valley is a blink of an eye, easy to navigate. A right at the house with a red barn off of E. School Street, where on dewy mornings children stand at the stop sign, wait—wait—waiting for the bus, you will find Pinecrest Drive.

The house I grew up in is on the left. Down the road a bit. Before asphalt disappears into dirt, just before a copse of Redwood trees. If you reach a steep hill of dirt and gravel where I once fell and cut my lip because my bike forgot how to brake, you’ve gone too far. Go back.

As you pull into the gravel drive, please note it is not the first house on the right. Alta lived (lives?) there. If you see a small Native American woman who used to train wolves and caught rain water in abalone shells to water her plants, please give her my regards.

My house is the larger ranch style just past hers. Maybe, too, you will come the same epiphany I came to at the age of six as your feet crunch rock on the path to the door, “Oh! Now I get it! The lights are on but nobody’s home!”

Rerouting…

                                                                                 ***

I was always struck as a child when I came across books with flowers or clovers pressed between the pages. Something once living, dried, now, an image. Was this not the purpose of ink on page? Pressing words to paper?

One image: Where the irises grew, I learned of beauty in gentle folds; feminine and bearded. Bulb plants the color of fresh bruises, resilient and still blooming. If you gently pull back the flesh of a petal and let it catch the light, just so, an intricate network of veins is exposed. The spiky green leaves, the cartilage backbone of each stem, do not bend in the wind or under the weight of the bloom, they quiver gracefully for their one to three weeks of unabashed flowering. With little to no tending, they will bloom again.

What do you call the bowl of a tree where the branches take off from the trunk? The basin at the divergence, the catcher of rain, fallen leaves, and debris? Rot pot. Decaying stew. Organic. Childhood.

Search results: Unable to find image.

                                                                                 ***

The absence of. I feel like my life has taken up this mantra. I feel an unremembering. No recollecting. The collection is a scattering. Flash in the pan. Fools gold. Triggers; bang! Bang!

I remember a fence of wood and squared wire. Imposing. Insurmountable. But there seems to be more questions than memories. Scientists say black holes follow all the laws of physics, including gravity—especially gravity—that everything becomes so dense hurtling toward this one point, not even light can escape. My thoughts are following physics, and I am helpless in the pull.

Another image: My mother’s hands seemed slender, elegant, otherworldly, juxtaposed to the soft doughy flesh of the rest of her. Her hands took on a life of their own, little birds chopping vegetables, cool hand to fevered forehead, fluttering monarchs of maternalism. Almond shaped fingernails and a bulb shaped callus from years of meticulous grocery lists and budgeting. Duality. These hands closed latches, brandished a fire poker, locked the bathroom door for two days. These hands said, “KEEP OUT!” in their futile quest to keep it all in.

Redirecting…

                                                                                 ***

When I was in college I read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I became obsessed with Wemmick. Wemmick was a colleague of Pip, the main character, but to me, Wemmick was the meat and potatoes. I thought about him constantly, wrote an essay entitled “On Wemmick and Human Battlements,” and walked around town looking for houses that had the facade of a castle tower; there are three houses in the town where I now live that I found in my obsession. He permeated my consciousness, slipped into my dreams. I felt a kindred spirit in Wemmick. A man who lived in the heart of a dirty and bustling city, separated by a moat and drawbridge. A home, shielding a cozy domestic bliss behind physical battlements. There was a work-Wemmick and a home-Wemmick. Each domain was compartmentalized. Separate. Safe.

I started imagining people walking around like their own castles, some with cannons, others with algae-thick moats 10 feet wide, a few with crumbling mortar. I felt a bit like the last castle—rocks askew, ready to fall apart.

Error. Please try again.

                                                                                 ***

Crows are known to have episodic-like memory. They have to add “like” to the end of episodic, because there is currently no way of knowing whether a crow’s form of remembering is accompanied by conscious recollection, which is a key component in human episodic memory. Episodic memory is the who, what, when, and where of memory. Autobiographical. A collection of personal experiences that occurred at a certain time and place. Data.

Input: early childhood memory

Pages fell like snow, almost lazily, to the ground. A too-soft juxtaposition to books being ripped from their spines. Whiskey. Another flying book. Thud. Paper, gently drifting to meet the living room floor. Funny, that my dad built the shelf the books were coming from. Stained the wood. Something he created with his hands. These same hands were also capable of undoing, ripping the threads that bind, tearing things apart. I kept my eyes on the paper, tried to find beauty in the rage. My mom kept pushing the books back on the shelf. She never looked so much like a bookend.

When we moved out of my childhood home we had to wash the walls. Blank canvasses, lighter patches of paint, now hung where pictures once had. Squares and rectangles of wall surrounded by layers of nicotine. Where Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want had resided over the dining room table, the serene image of a family being served a bountiful Thanksgiving meal, nicotine had exercised creative license—precise, hard lines containing a hollow space. Ten years of nicotine wrung out in the Pine Sol and warm water, staining my thirteen year old fingers, erasing histories.

My parents had hired a man to clean up the yard, tame the jubilant growth of the plants, take down the squared and wired fence on the left corner of the property. At what point do cages need not be physical? I watched him, first, remove the chicken wire, a later add-on to keep things in, that slightly tilted in at the top of the fence. Then he methodically began removing staples from the posts and rolling up the heavy squared wire of the enclosure. Next he unhinged the latched gate. Lastly, he pulled the posts from the ground. He made it look effortless. Funny, that that space still stands in my mind, just as tall and sturdy as the day it was built, despite me seeing it torn down.

                                                                                 ***

External link:


More and more, with the building and removal of physical barriers and walls, psychologists are grappling with how these structures have impacted the human psyche. Since the seventies, a decade after the Berlin Wall went up, psychologists have been theorizing about the effects of physically imposed isolation. “Mauerkrankheit” translates to “wall sickness,” describing the malaise that accompanied living with the Berlin Wall. This term was coined after the fall of the Berlin Wall when mental health specialists saw a rise in despondency of those who lived near or within the confines of the barrier. Gritta Heinrich, who lived up against the Berlin Wall in Klein-Glienicke said, “It was this real feeling of narrowness.” Despite the wall being torn down 30 years ago, many people who live in East and West Germany still experience “Die Mauer im Kopf,” or “the wall in the head.” In Israel and Palestine, where The Separation Wall still exists, they have only just begun studying the psychological implications of the barrier. The barrier that separates Pakistan from India is called “The Line of Control,” a double-row of fencing and concertina wire, electrified and motion sensored. The small area of land between the double fence is covered with thousands of landmines. As with Israel and Palestine, surveys and studies have only just begun to measure the psychological ramifications of these partitions. All studies show an increased number of individuals with distress, anxiety, and feelings of displacement. Each fence, line, barrier, wall, enclosure—keeping things in, keeping things out; signifying other.

What does this say of the parent/child relationship? If boundaries are drawn for “protection,” does intent outweigh consequence?

As I am writing this my father is having open heart surgery. I feel a suffocation of fear. Fear that he may die, heart exposed, chest open on the operating table. Fear that I am exposing him with each stroke of my pen as I attempt to fill in cavities. I can imagine my mom, chain smoking and watching the clouds like a furtive dream, waiting for the call, “Everything went well. Everything is going to be okay.” I feel distressed. Displaced somewhere between anxiety and anger. Anger at he who built the cage. Anger at her who put us in it. Anxious that they’ll both die with unspoken answers on their tongues.
I want to know the shape of my time in that enclosure. Need to know the shape that has forced itself into every relationship I have ever had. Dividing. Drawing lines. Was it for a summer? A handful of days? Over the course of a few years? I ask my sisters; we are united in our unremembering. Like a bookmark pressed between the long unread pages of our youth, it leaves an indelible image of where part of ourselves left off and picked up another text.

                                                                                 ***

Unauthorized access…

I remember the playhouse. A one room wooden wonder my dad built with his hands. A-frame, shingled roof, exterior of white with yellow trim. Two windows for natural light. A counter on the wall without a window, fitted with a metal sink. No running water. How many times did I sweep that plywood floor? A door frame without a door, always open, beckoning, “Come on in!”

I called my sister and asked, “Which came first—the cage or the dog?” I could feel the distance through the phone as she shoveled buried memories. When she hit something hard she asked in turn, “Wasn’t our playhouse in there?”

I pulled out a shoebox of photos, scattered memories on the floor, in search of an image. A four year old me in front a swing-set. In the corner of the frame, our white and yellow playhouse inside the fence. Just as my dad had built the playhouse for us with loving hands, he had also built the cage for us, the cage my mother had locked us in on inattentive days.

                                                                                 ***

Image found:

Six feet of separation. A few hundred square feet of lawn. Playhouse in the corner. At the far side of the fence is where the irises grew. Through my wire latticed lense I looked out at wild flowers. Laburnum. Rhododendron. Ivy that draped in heavy vines off the massive oak. Before the chicken wire was added to the top, my sisters would climb out. I couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I felt that the cage was there for a reason. That I belonged in it.

I sometimes wonder what my mother did while we were locked away. Did she imagine us safe while she walked the narrow corridors of her memory? Did she crave the isolation she physically imposed on us, her three daughters? I remember a quiet, but ever present, hysteria closed around our childhood. The 60 Minutes clock always ticking; another child abduction, strangers luring kids to cars with candy, Polly Klaas kidnapped from her home in Petaluma, her strangled body found in a shallow grave 30 minutes from our home. While keeping these things out, they were keeping us in. Intent versus consequence.

Black hole: My sisters and I named that enclosure “The Kid Kennel.” An attempt to deflect pain, or any real depth of feeling, with humor. On the cusp, perpetually at the event horizon. But it is pulling me in. Dense. Denser still. No light memories can escape.

I have been smoothing the edges of this memory for years. Wearing the shape of the cage in my mind down to a more pocket-friendly size. A shape I can understand. Can carry with me, without consuming me. My favorite image of my sisters and I is this: A photo of the three of us. A day I don’t remember. Overcast at the beach. Grey waters bleeding into sky. A sea of infinite horizons. We are facing the waves, the three of us, ready to jump. Together. On the cusp. At the precipice of something.


Angela Youngblood lives and writes in a small northern California town. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from CSU Chico. Her prose has recently been published in Entropy. Amateur plant enthusiast, but not-as-vigilant-a-plant-caretaker-as-she-would-like-to-be, she tries to nourish things to grow. She sporadically posts on her nebulous blog youngofblood.wordpress.com.

Categories
2018 NonFiction

Melissa Wiley

LAND OF MILK AND HONEY

7:45 am

The last day of my life, I tried walking into someone else’s. I tried but couldn’t gain access a couple hours after having sex with my husband, when my thighs gripped his hips as he slowed his rhythm. After clearing his throat, he told me to spread my knees wider across the mattress. Only earlier in the week I pulled a hamstring that resisted healing and preferred staying shredded, likely because it realized my life had nearly ended.

Since dying and surviving the experience, I have stopped waiting for life to become a man whose cock is always hardened. Since discovering the afterlife harbors no more hell than heaven, I have stopped envisioning an eternity spent beside someone on a bed with no box spring beneath it, a bed cloaked by gauzy curtains. Yet I can still see traces of its edges as a fly buzzes through a hole in a nearby window’s screen. The time there is always late morning, and I haven’t had my coffee. Even in paradise, I was always waiting for someone to fill my cup with something missing.

8:30 am

Yesterday morning, I drank my first cup with milk inside my kitchen as I waved goodbye to my husband. I bought my second at a shop I used to frequent until its manager left my life entirely, when he decided to take another position. I walked inside the shop one last time regardless, hoping for if hardly expecting salvation.

The last time I saw him, several months before this, he mentioned he was born with a broken collarbone. In response, I suggested his bones were like sea star arms to comfort him. All good things grow back in the end, I said without believing it. Before his first birthday, his clavicle had fused itself into oneness. As an adult, he looked a ripe, whole specimen.

I can no longer clearly see his face in what has become a receding memory of my life before this. I only know that months ago, as I stood in front of him with my coffee cooling, I pretended to trip over a fallen napkin by way of demonstrating the further bones that could be broken were he to trip across some swath of cotton. Life lived too far away from a bed without a box spring risked more injury, I was trying to warn him.

Seeing him a couple times a week for a couple years on end almost made the gauzy curtains seem an option. Looking at him alone, I often felt as if I was staining the bed sheets with honey already. I often caught myself swatting the fly that wasn’t buzzing around me. Life is nothing, however, if not leaving those you love yet hardly know on a fairly constant basis. That was true before I died and remains true after. There is no heaven where anyone wraps his legs around yours forever. Leaving the coffee shop after confronting his continued absence, skies began to darken into as black a blue as the bottom of the ocean.

10 am

I walked across the street and inside a florist’s, where daffodils nodded from their stems, nodding as if in agreement with something I hadn’t said but they heard regardless. For a couple minutes, I lazed among a world perennially verdant rather than return to my apartment, where I had left a manuscript that I was being paid to edit. Work, though, makes less difference as life’s end approaches, while plants feel necessary.

I bent over at my waist to smell hardly any scent from several purple succulents. The florist had arranged them inside a suitcase whose leather skin reticulated into a web of veins and arteries. She had made a vase of a suitcase dating from the 1960s, because the beauty of things so old they might be dying always enhances the lesser beauty of the living. As I stayed there bending and staring, I remembered how in this life I was so soon leaving there was once a suitcase that contained an organ, the smell of whose leather casing once suffused our kitchen.

For years, its aroma lingered near our oven after my dad carried it up a hill every Easter morning. When opened, the suitcase revealed an inflorescence of organ keys that always reminded me of teeth blotched with coffee stains. With my dad’s fingers pressing them, the teeth sounded church hymns referencing a reality beyond the senses.

10:20 am

Perhaps the ghost of his old suitcase inside the florist’s was my dead dad coming to express his sympathy for my own death approaching. Only I never went with him to Easter sunrise service when he asked me. I always thought there would be more time until there wasn’t. With each passing spring, I saw the suitcase folded near the oven, yet I never saw him play what lay inside it.

The organ was too heavy for me to ever lift, much less carry, even inside our kitchen. When I asked him how he managed it, he only smiled, saying he did some huffin’ and puffin’. I hated, though, to think of him as a steam engine. Even now, I want to say this explains why I never climbed the hill with him—to avoid witnessing what must have been some pain in his exertion—but I know it doesn’t.

Given his heft, given all the extra weight he carried in his abdomen, I’m still half convinced my dad sprouted wings at these moments when I was never with him. I’ve pictured the same of everyone I have loved, however, when some source of hurt approaches from which I can hardly shield them. I have done this in place of offering any real assistance. From the florist, I bought a small bouquet of pale and pink carnations.

10:30 am

As I walked back to my apartment, rain began falling in fat, hard droplets. Brown birds perched on browner branches, not seeming to care or notice my crumbling carnations. Back inside my unit as I untied my shoelaces, I confronted a portrait I painted years ago of my husband. It’s one of a series depicting him winged and naked, which once seemed to me the obvious course of human evolution. I have since revised this theory after dying and remaining the same person.

I was less in love with my husband while painting it than in search of a good subject. I was attempting to depict a timeless beloved, while he remains timely and complicated. In each of the portraits, he flies over a sepia ocean with a full erection. Perhaps a kinder person then, I may have painted him with wings as compensation for some part of me knowing he would someday also realize there is no hell or heaven. In this way, I may have been trying to help him survive his own life’s end. His chiseled, handsome face I made yet more chiseled and more handsome.

For weeks, birds have gathered half a block from my apartment. They flutter wings smaller than those I rendered in the portrait of my husband. They crowd inside a bathtub then shake their feathers free of any dampness before flying higher to rest amid plastic branches. For months, I’ve assumed this is a pet shop about to open, but no sign ever announces its opening to the public. No other animals ever make an appearance. The birds are apparently not for purchase.

2 pm

The woman whose manuscript I’m being paid to edit writes about color theory with remarkable acumen, something she herself has often told me. I edit her findings for grammar and spelling, though I quickly lose interest. Each time I reread what she has written, she states again at the beginning that all color is the mind’s invention. In her eyes as well as those of science, color has no objective existence.

The human retina house three cones, she mentions early in her thesis. Once light strikes them, neurotransmitters convince the brain to interpret the sensation as hues along the visible spectrum. Without any cones in the eye generating this illusion, the world would likely have no florists. A colorless world would have little reason for flower arrangements. No suitcases disemboweled of their organs would hold any purple succulents whose odor they diminish.

Of color blindness much has already been written, for which reason this manuscript explores its opposite, reporting on women born with four rather than three cones inside their retinas, women who as a result see millions more colors than the average. Science to date reveals less about their wider color spectrum and more about language’s inability to accommodate a vaster array of perception. These 12 percent of the world’s women have no way of knowing how much more colorful their world is than that belonging to the rest. They are also invariably mothers or daughters of colorblind men, many of whom live out their lives believing they see the world the same as everyone around them.

As I trimmed some of my client’s sentences while formatting her references, I realized love and color were no different. You could love someone who had vanished, yet no one would know how vividly the love still shown behind your eyelids. Someone could tell you all color is a phantasm, but that doesn’t make scarlet flowers turn pallid. You can look all you like at a suitcase holding an organ, but this doesn’t mean you hear its music.

3:45 pm

My pregnant sister called to say she’d gone to the gynecologist to hear her baby’s heartbeat. Only the gynecologist told her she heard nothing, which meant my sister was having her second miscarriage while caring for two young children. The boy whom she and I had both sensed the baby becoming would soon filter from her uterus the same as any ordinary menstruation. She said she felt too sad for a long discussion, but she wanted to let me know so I didn’t buy any clothes or toys for the baby.

Her version of heaven had been growing inside her then suddenly stopped breathing. For the past month, her heaven had made her vomit each morning and gain some weight in her belly. In six months’ time, hers may have existed outside her body, wearing little hats and jackets, which neurotransmitters would have overlaid with color defying reality. I told her how sorry I was while wondering if tomorrow she too might feel dead while living, knowing nothing better was coming.

5 pm

My husband called to ask what we were eating this evening. He called knowing I cook only pasta or scrambled eggs if I bother cooking anything other than layering meat and cheese for sandwiches. I suggested we meet at an Italian restaurant down the street from our building, and we agreed to 6:45, which would allow us both to work a little longer. I decided I would wait a day or so before telling him about my sister. Sensing my own life ending by then, I didn’t bother trying to picture a fetus dissolving out my sister’s body winged and naked.

6:30 pm

Walking to the restaurant while the sun dropped behind the skyscrapers as its color deepened from tangerine to red and bloody, I stooped to pull some strands of grass growing between the sidewalk cracks. I bent over, probably looking as four-legged as a family living in rural Turkey who were featured in a documentary I watched the previous evening. The family crouched the same as I was doing in place of walking upright. Neither the parents nor their children were capable of standing for more than a few moments without losing their balance. To the camera, the father expressed his fears of them being compared to monkeys.

As I watched the documentary, a bee had flown in through a hole in our window’s screen. My husband started swatting, but I insisted that staying frozen as corpses was our best option. He ran into the next room as I sat there motionless and shallowly breathing. While the Turkish family stood clinging onto chain-linked fences, the bee rested on my nose a moment. It traveled down to my lips as if tempting me to eat it. Its fuzzy body and fluttering wings made me ticklish. I closed my eyes, trying to convince myself I was only dreaming. When I couldn’t do this, I remembered that even when I opened my eyelids, the bee had no real color to its sting or body. Of everything that happened that last day of life still lived with a belief in a better one to come after, this felt most important, letting a bee trace the outline of my lips. Coming close to real pain rather than feeling the ache of something missing.

While we ate our platefuls of spaghetti and our waiter refilled our water glasses, I asked my husband if he remembered the bee last evening. He looked toward the restaurant’s windows and nodded. When I told him it had kissed my lips, he only shook his head, saying he didn’t believe me.

8 pm

Half a block from our apartment, my husband pointed at the birds inside what I was still unsure was a pet shop or wasn’t. Some lights were on, and a woman wearing a sweater with a cowl neck was sweeping the floor of fallen feathers. My husband tapped on the glass, when she waved us in. After we opened the door, the birds’ silence on the other side of the glass changed to screaming.

Most looked to be blue and yellow finches. Many were masturbating, using hard notches of plastic branches as phalluses that never went flaccid. Several had plucked some of their feathers from between their legs. They were all females, the woman practically shouted to be heard above their shrieking. She said they had grown aggressive because they wanted to be mating, something that her limited space prohibited because she had no room for their offspring.

She had rescued them all from an adoption agency and was planning to open this space as a form of community therapy, she explained while putting her broom away. She was also adopting several bunnies and wanted to provide pastries and coffee. People living in apartments without any pets, she added, could come and play with birds and bunnies gentler than humans.

Yet the finches’ needs seemed to me more basic than bridging the divide across species. As I looked at the birds pleasuring themselves with plastic, I wondered how she made her money to fund this project. After we left, my husband said he found her attractive. I too had noticed her beauty as well as a certain calm she radiated amid the finches’ screaming. Were my husband inclined to play with birds or bunnies, he might find his own land here of milk and honey.

8:30 pm

Inside our apartment, our bathroom ceiling was leaking. We would have to wait and call our handyman in the morning, I said, when my husband grew silent before mentioning that in the past few days I’d been smelling badly. I knew he said this now because the water falling from the ceiling angered him. For some time, though, I had been decaying. I had been dying for so long by then that I’d become inured to my own odor more than likely.

As the leak in the ceiling strengthened over the next hour, my husband began turning more against me. I had been the one to want to rent this cheap apartment, he shouted. I should be earning more money instead of staying home editing on a freelance basis. Our whole life would be drier now if only I lived a more normal existence. In response, I screamed instead of saying anything. I screamed while wondering if when he came close to me he smelled a suitcase organ, which was always a little musty. Perhaps inside me there also lay some latent music.

10:50 pm

After he came to bed with his hair wet and matted from the shower he takes each evening, he asked what I’m really doing while he goes to his office and I stay home and edit. I’m wrestling with color theory, I didn’t bother explaining. Only because I am not the daughter of a man with color blindness, I can see no more colors than the average.

In the darkness of our bedroom, all the world’s colors then dissolved into grayness. Shapes alone arrest the retinas after dusk descends. I closed my eyes and imagined a broken collarbone fusing itself into wholeness. The vision resembled the act of mating though was quickly finished, never to be repeated.

11:45 pm

Unable to fall asleep, I left our bed and walked inside our kitchen. I poured milk into a saucepan, turned on a burner and watched its blue flames surging. Never before have I drunk warm milk to put myself to bed, but this once I opened a jar of honey and began stirring an amber string into liquid begun bubbling. I yawned, my feet cold from the floorboards. After draining the cup to its bottom, I lay myself against a warm, familiar body. I lay awake for most of the evening while watching spring snowflakes begin to twitch before landing on the sidewalk and melting.


Melissa Wiley is the author of Antlers in Space and Other Common Phenomena (Split Lip Press, 2017). Her creative nonfiction has also appeared in places like The Rumpus, DIAGRAM, Phoebe, Entropy, Waxwing, The Offing, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Juked, Noble / Gas Qtrly, and PANK. She lives in Chicago.

Categories
2018 Poetry

Ashley Roach-Freiman

REFLECTION ON WHEN I HEARD YOU WERE SOBER

That tiny shower
in the carriage house
behind your parents’ You shed
concert shirt and jeans
gave me a sweaty beer
I didn’t want Get in
you said God’s gift I waited
by the vanity steamed-up
in my clothes Thought I should
You were the kind of poet
to equate a flower to a bruise
Purple writing Glad you’re sober
He got a girl who fucks weird
My friend said You didn’t call back
What did that mean
the first time you crawled into my bed
Pulled your clothes off Put your no-taste
mouth all over me Said love love love I thought
This A kind of power Texted me
on your wedding day Sounded pretty drunk
say things about your life hello? u up?
Fifteen years I haven’t thought much
about you What kind of person bruises so easy
Flowers in panic Fucks uninvited
Texts drunk on his wedding day
how are things I remember
I boot-crushed a can on your front door
You were fucking some not-me girl weird
You know I never liked
your fat mouth your hairlessness your absent smell
You know what you did You wrote a poem
about me that got me alone
You tore the condom off when
I let you fuck me violently They call that assault now
I had a lot of bruises not flowers
I smelled weird that night I left confused
and sore I went to where I worked
to feel safe I was alone
You didn’t call You got married
Stopped drinking I hear
how is your life u r awesome
Why did I continue to let you tug at me
Soft spots on my body
I even seemed
to want it If not you
In October the ginkgo drops berries
repulsive to crush Viscous stink
With the heavy heel of my boot I press
until one lances Inhale until I can’t
Is that power I have


JUDITH BEHEADING HOLOFERNES

Imagine, for a moment, that I rose
from myself, sleep-heavy, liquid

with bourbon, bottom-shelf. Held-down, pinned.
That I had elevated from my bed, and fisted the hair

of the man who, in darkness, had made claim
to what I had teased (my relative ease),

but not offered. How good that feels, to think
of it now. His arrogance, the stink

of his loneliness. His patchy beard. Imagine,
my most private self, staking claim, instead, of his head.


Ashley Roach-Freiman is a librarian and poet with work appearing or forthcoming in Bone BouquetTHRUSH Poetry Journal, The Literary ReviewGhost Proposal, and Nightjar Review. The chapbook Bright Along the Body is available from dancing girl press. Find out more at ashleyroachfreiman.com.