Learning to Leave Home

I

That spring
I counted hydrogen ions, followed waste
through porous membranes
into silent bio-soups,
waited for the nucleus
to wake.
It was
late in the last century: pale
blue moons and sugar cereals,
Baghdad statues coming down,
anti-aircraft tracers
loverly in the amniotic night.

II

Can you guess
where I’m calling from?

The county jail? A last station on the edge
of the last desert? Are you not

a friend of my youth, and is this
not the end of all things?

So I visited him in the hospital.
We read a story by Le Guin together.

The doors had no locks, not here.
Fishes and eels swarmed in pencil

on the table top between us.

III

The summer came. I learned
words I was ashamed not to know
already: apocrypha, Septuagint.
Even now these taste of barbecue
sauce, scraped from drive-thru plastic.

IV

By August,
the cheapest burger barn
had closed.

There were rumors.
The franchise owners
were forced out—

Saddam paranoia,
Texas sized. Even now,
the lot is grass-

groped, blank
as leeches sluggard
in the furnace jar.

V

All weekend I drove round town,
taking photos. Every shot stilled
a heart.

Tastee Treet, Sizzler
husks, dread Mobil chems.

The night before I left,
cops came to the door,

demanded
my cameras,
wiped the record witless. Wished me well.

 

James Miller is a native of Houston, though he has spent time in the American Midwest, Europe, China, South America, and India. He has published poetry in Riversedge, the Houston Poetry Fest 2016, Sweet Tree Review, Lullwater Review, Burnt Pine, Boston Accent, Plainsongs, Cold Mountain Review, The Tishman Review, The Maine Review, Bird’s Thumb, Straight Forward Poetry, Gyroscope, 2River (forthcoming), After the Pause (forthcoming), Main Street Rag (forthcoming), and Lunch Ticket.

LUST-LETTER TO ONE OF THE REGULARS

“look, we don’t know each other, but we don’t have to—”

just give me your careless, normal hunger—
i know we saw each other on that gay app
we won’t ever mention out loud irl—

i’ve served you the coffee breath that lives,
sometimes, in another man’s mouth—
you’ve seen me bloodshot and rude—

maybe you think it’s cute that i’m broke,
or maybe the tufts of hair i miss while
shaving my head turn you on, or you’ve

found me shallow and wounded on
the internet—you learned my name
and remembered it and milked it for

answers—none of this changes how
i feel about you, customer-i-have-a
crush-on. i still want to watch you

quiver under moonlight. i still want
to feed you your own soft wail until
we are feeling again. i still want

a man’s throat to hold my whole
religion, for him to struggle
my shirt off my lying chest

and still fuck me as a boy.

Linette Reeman (they/them) exist on the internet at LINETTEREEMAN.NET

S/c/h/i/z/o/p/h/r/e/n/i/a/ & American Boy Shares Death Metal with His Abuelo

I never think of my uncle as a man with rabid mouths burgeoning inside his skull.
I’ve never seen him draw his teeth like burning hatchets or pull dead wolves out

of his head. I’ve heard the stories; man leaves the hospital door ajar & wakes up
peeling mothwings off a hospital floor. Man removes a bouquet of thorns
from the back of his eye & he feeds them to blood-thirsty locust. Call it myth

or magic or madness, name him what you need to keep him living.

But whatever the diagnosis, know that what matters to me is this man
once walked me through the Los Angeles arboretum to share the mythos of trees:

sometimes, their seeds stay dormant for years. Trees are so patient—
they can wait out the seasons, the axe, any man who thinks himself king.

My uncle paused often as we stood before each birch & field of fringed lavender.
He watched the moths take flight, mirrored their path with his hand, like waving farewell
to someone he’d known his whole life. We stopped before a trunk shrouded in silk & bramble.

The Maya believed this tree was the pillar of the world,
a bustling road shared by the dead & their gods alike.

He pulled a hollowed thorn from the bark & hid it inside my pocket.

Something to remember this by: urn with a sharpened edge,
proof the earth is full with voices, remarkable, unshakable voices. 

 


American Boy Shares Death Metal with His Abuelo

 

after Turn Loose the Doves by It Dies Today

what did you call this again, mijo?dead metal?metal devil? can you turn
it up? can you turn it into the sound of somethingother than la caballeria set loose
on children crossing a river?¡híjole!there is a butcher trapped in the
drum beat or is it men tearing into each other?or the thump of doves
shot dead?this sounds more like mutiny than music maybe the sorrow &
misery are honestbut what of all the ways a song can heal? it’s a marvel
how often grief wears the mask of rage how a man can stand at
the mouth of a lake & still burnI understand better than most I know their
anger must be a country they refuse to abandonbut sometimes flight
is the only way to reach the skyor survive yourselfI can’t imagine sitting with
the violence done to a body & trying to name it melodythere is enough fractured
in this world without someone pretending an axe is a songbird with silver wings

so how can you call this music?there’s no joy! no grito!no ra-cha-cha that makes you turn
your body into a cathedral makes you worthy of worshipthe way your bones come loose
mijo, what good is music if two people can’t dance their last first dance to it?the
truth is—every day since I met your grandmother has been a songchorus of crimson doves
I’m not saying it’s been perfectI’m saying I know it’s lovebecause I hear maracas &
become young againwithout historyat home in the hands I want to bury melisten
please understand I cannot hear the word metal& not think weaponI want to
explain what anger does to men like usperhaps one day I’ll tell the
story, for now I’ll say if there is violence in this familylet it die with meno mourning
no funeral a quiet exit& I hope the next time you hear a chorus
that reminds you of all you’ve survived you’ll start
to understandhow good music ferries you into
a future where heaven is so close there is no choice but to sing

 

Brandon Melendez is a Mexican-American poet from California. He is the author of home/land (Write Bloody 2019). He is a National Poetry Slam finalist and two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion. A recipient of the 2018 Djanikian Scholarship from the Adroit Journal, his poems are in or forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Muzzle Magazine, the minnesota review, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston and is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.

 

Latex Ball, 2001

I nearly die laughing
you’re a hunter in costume—Eckō Unltd.
Pepe Jeans, Timbs with the tag
an official member of the House of Decoy
in the cab you’re pungent—consumed by the
Michael Jordan Cologne I gave you
inching close, you affirm you’ll
shield me from the freaks

two tabs of Love dissolve under
my tongue—it will make the confusing
environment tolerable
straight boy first time at a Ball
the hall is electric with illusionary guile
beauty masks hardness, Escapism hugs me
saying your Pedro’s friend right
my head spins a nod
straight boy first time at a Ball

after watching the histrionics the House of Ninja
versus the House of Mizrahi
I cling to a folding chair, my tongue
in desperate need of respite
closing my eyes for
a minute I see you striding
towards a sea of glistening
brown flesh

hours later I’m tapped awake by
a custodian who looms over
shaming me with pleas to
get right with Jesus

 

Victor Alcindor is an English teacher at West Orange High School in New Jersey. He completed his undergraduate studies in English and elementary education at The College of New Jersey, taught middle school English for four years, and currently teaches American literature and creative writing. He has a master’s degree in criminology from Rutgers University and a doctorate of arts and letters from Drew University. Alcindor resides in South Orange, New Jersey, with his wife and two children. Alcindor has a forthcoming book of poems titled Stand Mute, set to be published by Get Fresh Books in early 2018.

Mother Tongue

Lengua de mi madre, have you forgotten me
+++++in greenness of your green
Havana palms, in your thousands of orchid
+++++blooms, in woven shades
of your mango trees, flamboyant trees stretching
+++++like a brocade or aged fishing net?
When did I lose what I never received from you?
+++++Some part I’m missing or some part
++++++++++that missed me. Perder:
+++++to lose or miss an object or a thing
like keys or time, but not the same, as to say
+++++I miss you: te entrañjo.

Perhaps you haven’t forgotten; perhaps,
+++++you merely passed over me
as when saying los padres when la madre is there,
+++++her singular identity erased
even if she’s in a crowd of madres and there’s one
+++++padre among them: one father
or many parents. My anglo father learned to speak
+++++with an accent, proof of how long
++++++++++you’ve been here, vestige
+++++of the power you wielded in mouths
of conquistadores. And the few who survived, los pocos
+++++spoke a pastiche—a bastard tongue.

I can’t know more than las historias: the histories
+++++that are passed down to us,
the same as when you mean to say the stories—
+++++a homonym I discern only
from context or pattern of where it states itself.
+++++The lineage is everything.
I’m two steps away from holding you as if always
+++++my own. I’ve listened to you, rhapsodic:
++++++++++the way my mother speaks
+++++at home, the way mi abuela spoke
in this world. And when I was confused, I fused
+++++a flesh from your sounds.

 

Sara Burnett’s poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Mother Tongue, is forthcoming (Dancing Girl Press) in 2018. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland and an MA in English literature from the University of Vermont. She is a recipient of Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarships to support her writing. A former public high school teacher, she also writes on education equity and designs curriculum. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter and blogs at writingwhileparenting.blogspot.

this is an offering

prayer-plump oranges, old wine & incense
at the altar, children ply family ghosts
for advice & good luck with boiled eggs
at the altar — give thanks! — a single boiled egg
for your birthday, egg waffles, egg tarts,
dried plums for car rides, car rides for cousins
& plane rides for grandparents.
children forget to call grandparents
except on New Year’s, forget the Cantonese
for Happy New Year, forget everything our parents
taught us to say, forget to mean it when we say
I love you, I mean, I forgot we never say I love you.
we love each other with food & forget
how to write our own names.
change our names for immigration
papers, change our names for paper-skinned tongues,
we great great grandchildren of paper daughters
& paper sons always trying to be better
daughters, better sons to our parents
who shunned MTV for tape cassettes of teresa teng
singing about the moon, or was it their hearts, or some other
bright, soft thing we could never touch?
good thing we learned to forgive, thought we learned
to forget until even the most brightly dressed
apology couldn’t make us forget immigration acts
& head taxes, couldn’t uncasket thousands of railroad workers,
our men by the thousands from an island owned
by the British, original model minority built a railroad
to help someone else’s land get stolen by the British
& our apology still hasn’t come, my people
we are nothing if not stubbornly
naive, we believe it possible to chart our destiny
by the proper arrangement of furniture,
name places not for what they are but what we believe
they could be, Gold Mountain, Lucky Seafood Restaurant,
Home. true, we are not wanted here but still
we make do, we make rice, we make bad TV
comedies, we make light of our new names, chink exotic
esl anchor baby. our flag, our fortune the colour of blood
before the wound, we become our own ancestors.
we, the grandmas practicing tai chi
in the public library, we the aunties gossiping
over mahjong and tea, we the pacific mall karaoke
queens, we the tender queer who finds self care
in astrology, stakes their dreams on something bigger.
we the kid who crosses out her poetry
so she can become a doctor.
an accountant. a bridge for her parents.
who will still become an artist. become Grace
Lee Boggs. Kai Cheng Thom. Maxine Hong Kingston.
my people, my family this is not a complete history
this is a hand-drawn map
of home & this is an offering
I am still trying to deserve
& this is a survival song & an invocation
& this is a love story this is a love story
this is a love story this is a love story
this is a love story

 

Jody Chan is a community organizer and writer based in Toronto. Her writing explores family, queerness, and mental illness. She is a 2017 VONA alum, and her poetry has been published in Ricepaper Magazine, Minola Review, and Ascend Magazine.

Elegy for Don Lalo’s Gold Tooth

The streets near abuela’s would crumble with
each step so we’d run the two

blocks to Don Lalo’s bodega, where
we’d snatch tamarindo and Rancherito’s

from plastic shelves within our reach and pay
with smiles and small-handed pesos. He’d smile

back, his gold tooth a flash
of every hissing summer we’d spent

chasing frogs around the nearby lagoon. We never
knew the deepness of those waters, only that the surface

would break easy with the flick of a rock. Eventually
we replaced his sodas with our cousins’

beers. Still, he’d ask when we’d return, gifting us
with dulce, our American hands taking whatever

little he could offer. He never made us feel
little, our foreignness a bridge he’d cross

borders with. One year we visited and his family broke
the news about his burial. The streets seemed to blister

with potholes that night. How we’d only wanted
to run our route to abuela’s rooftop and eat

our candy, the awkward chewing before a gospel
of cavities hymned themselves from our mouths.

 

Alan Chazaro is a high school teacher at the Oakland School for the Arts, a Lawrence Ferlinghetti fellow at the University of San Francisco, and an alum from Poetry for the People, the arts and activism program founded by the late June Jordan at UC Berkeley. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals, including BOAAT, Huizache, Public Pool, Borderlands, Juked, and Iron Horse Literary Review. A Bay Area native, he can be found wearing a Warriors jersey and listening to West Coast throwbacks.

Selecting

I stand in the closet choosing
which of my father’s belts
my mother will beat me with.

Bridle, latigo,
braided or smooth.
His tastes contain
so many fashions.

Night cow hanging
on top of the hill
breaking grass—

when they come for you
do not give your skin.
Countless children depend
on your escape over the moon.

 

Lauren Davis is a poet living on the Olympic Peninsula in a Victorian seaport community. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and her work can be found in publications such as Prairie Schooner, Spillway, and Split Lip Press. She works as an editor at The Tishman Review.

Reiteration

My mother is an assembly line of mirrors:
my too borderless hair, my two-handful hips,
all the parts the mannequin would not hold.

If you subtract one mother, how many are left?
This problem is called adoption.

My mother is a locked file cabinet. No,
my mother is the one who put my mother
inside the file cabinet. Who spreads her hand

over mine like a lighthouse lantern,
a circumscription of white:

come home, I only want to grow
anchors beneath your skin.
Who never meant to raise an ocean.

Paraguay, I’m told, never touches the sea.
I get good at never touching what I cannot hold.

My mother is Google tip Search for English results only,
my mother is US Citizen & Immigration Form I-600,

my mother is nineteen. Which is nothing,
(now that I am old) except touching and the touch
steals into her womb and puts a ghost inside her.

They say all I did was look and sleep, sleep and look
as if watching the world hard for someone to appear.

After the exorcism, I like to imagine we stood
envying the river beyond the hospital curtains,
their rippling twin, its gleeful mud-brown joining,

and her or my small dark hand rocking us,
two dice inside God’s slowly opening fist.

 

Ana Maria Guay was born in Asunción, Paraguay, and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing and translations have appeared in Catapult, The Toast, Asymptote, and Shot Glass Journal, among others. She holds an MPhil in classics from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Gates Scholar, and a BA in the same from the University of Michigan. She currently lives in Los Angeles as a graduate student in classics at UCLA.

I Wasn’t One & Pressing Comb

I Wasn’t One

(Inspired by Yehuda Amichai)

I wasn’t one of the stolen.
I wasn’t one of the many million
who had once only known
the sweetness of the sea.
I wasn’t confused cargo
stacked like the bricks of Babel
in the belly of a wooden beast.
I wasn’t shackled to my skin,
forgotten in my filth,
a prisoner of fear and promises.

I wasn’t even among the survivors,
spit up from a big fish
on the shores of a new Nineveh.
I was not bathed in unholy waters,
shaved of my nappy roots
or tinted with appearances.
My wounds were not anointed
with auction oils
by the slick palms of plunderers.

I wasn’t one of the broken;
one of the obliterated oracles
and extinguished identities.
I was not severed
from my lineage and language,
sold and seasoned like venison.
I was not stripped of my will and skin,
tombstone spine branded
with the calligraphy of alien tongues.

I wasn’t even among the 11 million
rising with the whip of dawn
after sleeping on tattered soil;
back bending beneath the grunts
of grueling work and grimy massas.
I wasn’t sodomized by bitter sugar canes
nor did I drink the pus of blistered memories.

And I wasn’t in the 100,000
who escaped Egypt
with pharaohs and idols
pointing guns at their backs.
I did not stand at the crossroads,
holding what was left of my breath
waiting,
praying,
hoping
that either liberty or death would find me.
I did not wander Kadesh.

I wasn’t amongst the burglarized,
dignity pried open by Jim Crow bars,
pride pillaged,
scraps of the sacred scattered
between picket fences and lynching trees.
I was not cast aside
by systems of apartheid;
washed in ashes because of my dirty skin,
left to dry in my own blood.

I wasn’t even one of the 250,000
that marched with Rustin,
stood with Lewis,
walked with Farmer,
and sat with Murray
so their children would not have to
live on their knees.

I came to the Promise by hope.

And though I was not in that number
I still have within me
footsteps and undulating rivers,
darkness and immovable lights
that guide me by night and day.
I still have inside me
a longing for early sunsets,
for whispers and the secrets of freedom
stitched into the patchwork of stars.
I still have within me
the desire for crossing borders
and a perpetual search
for the pathways to freedom.

 


Pressing Comb

I was burned.
Repeatedly.

Healed with aloe.
Then burned again.

I’m tryna catch
and lay down them edges, girl,
she’d tell me
and resume her irreverent campaign
against nappy roots.

Back then,
she didn’t know
she was catching
the edges of a broken mirror,
laying down
the curl of my fist
and the rise of my flame. 

She only knew
that kinky hair
didn’t acknowledge
the Cherokee
in my cheekbones;
didn’t reflect
the diluting of my lineage
with White folk’s blood.
Kinky hair
didn’t give us credit
for the other two-fifths.
She couldn’t handle
the way my coarse kinks
destroyed any chance
of being good. 

But if she could see me now,
flashing my Africa,
curls,
rolled up tight
like bodies
recoiling from the sting
of water hoses
and nigga
but refusing to give in.
Naps that go where they want
and stand up
as blatant reminders
that everything
came from
the genesis
between my thighs,
she’d understand that
her old pressing comb
was nothing more
than a hot and greasy
slavery. 

If only she could see me now,
see my fro in all its breathtaking,
revolutionary
glory,
she’d understand
that like our edges,
Black girls
were never created
to lay down
and burn.

 

Roshanda “Sean” Johnson came to know poetry at a young age. She has performed spoken word and starred in plays throughout the country. In addition to her poetic endeavors, she is also a painter, teacher, rock-star auntie, and humanitarian. To date, she has been published in eighteen anthologies, published two chapbooks, Unpredicted Prophecies and My Name Be, and will be releasing her first full-length anthology, All My Heroes Were Assassinated, in 2018.

 

Pacific hypergirls go strut

Whispered messages dissolve in rivers of attention and glances
A long sigh exhales through the valley to Kaipara-moana

Molecules of sound emanate from luminous branches
A syntax of yellow leaves on black trees

Filaments of falling marked by fluid silvery drops
Accurate shapes, incarnate wairua exclamations

Hallucinations of glamorous echoing veils
Silky clay nostalgias, transgressions of moss

A ferment of revolution in the invisible temples
Vorticies of evaporation on the spidery skyline

Lightning on the fuse of your stare

The moon a flower,
White as a flight of doves

In the black balance
Of velvet night

 

Piet Nieuwland wrote conservation strategies for Te Papa Atawhai in Northland, New Zealand after training as a forester. His poems and flash fiction appear in Landfall, Brief, Catalyst, and Poetry New Zealand in New Zealand; Pure Slush, Truth Serum, Otoliths, Cordite Poetry Review, and Mattoid in Australia; and Blue Fifth Review and Atlanta Review in the US and elsewhere. He edits Fast Fibres Poetry and reviews poetry for Landfall Review Online.

 

You Steal the Butcher Knife

because you were never more
than hands to boil the deer skulls,

a tongue to lick the blood that dried
between the creases of his knuckles.

Just bones to grip and flesh to fuck
on whiskey nights when his apartment

stank of you. Only a bale of wheat
left out in late November frost.

You call yourself a shrine, all thumbs
and forefingers and knees that bend

and bruise. You try to pull prayers
from his lips and wipe Gun Scrubber

from his wrists. You are not bait
apples or salt, you say. You’re no wooden shack.

You are sandstone hips, a broadhead,
rawhide skin. A boat-tail bullet.

You do not throw corn. A dull blade
won’t prove it, but you take it anyway.

 

Alaina Pepin is a middle and high school English teacher in Gold Beach, Oregon. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Up the Staircase Quarterly, the minnesota review, and Dunes Review, among others.

Notes on an Empty Sky

for James Fuson (20 Years Reflections of an Empty Sky, Soft Sculpture Press, 2014)

from a prison cell window
seven inches of rectangular
blue
sometimes gray
or black, but no stars
the spotlights too glaring
once a month the setting
moon before dawn

he stares
pencil moves—tiny scratching
of the mouse’s scurrying
feet in the dead corridor
mixed with snoring
and rustling
occasionally a scream
immediately hushed

he writes haiku
the same
everyday
he writes haiku
again
another view of silence
boredom
inner voice dictating

he records the seasons
his yearly calendar
of leaves falling
somewhere else
new sun, hot days
not time
no clocks or bells
just alarms

there are no hours here
but the guards, food
cart, passing storms
rain beating him
on the chest
like memories of
infrequent visits
his mother gray
and stooped now
he doesn’t remember
what she looked like
before
there is too much time
here

he doesn’t wait—
for what?
a candy bar, warmth
new book
an hour to walk outside
the library
the gym
watching warily
careful of his movements
silent yet alert
more observations
on the typewriter
its old keys depressed
carefully
pages
fill
with more
haiku
now printed on cheap
paper, stapled, published

 

Emily Strauss has an MA in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college. Over 400 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the US and abroad. She is a Best of the Net nominee and twice a Pushcart nominee. The natural world of the American West is generally her framework; she also considers the narratives of people and places around her. She is a retired teacher living in Oregon.

Orchard Burning

This is the tree I had my first kiss—it was like a viewing,
gory and wet. Classmates in almond branches, watching
the wreck. Doing nothing to feign casualty. This is
the water tower I’ve told you of many times. Yes,
it was the drinking supply I swam in, naked. Yes.
I got a thrill, at seventeen, thinking of being
in someone’s coffee. I still do. My town is named
after a season, plural of the same, that I don’t favor,
but I love you all, driving us up the neck-y wind
of 93A, the old Ruggles’ orchard where the bark
is painted white to the waist—I’ve buried a fair number
of mean boy cats here, who’d gotten too mouthy
with the interstate, too big in the britches.
One summer, as a teen, at an orchard burning,
a half acre of dead peach in the field, barely panting
glows, I stood too close to the slow, sleeping beast.
My shoes burned quietly, I thought I might be stuck
to the earth, and was grateful for it. The wood,
neither useful nor accommodating anymore, festered
as wounding as making a decision. In the country, we know
how to call a dying thing. We shoot the moon over
when to plant and when to weed. We do the merciful thing.
I’d not been old enough to see how cities turn their backs
from this. City sky can’t do what burning an orchard can—
make a horizon go out of its mind, turn into a space
that used to be filled with the contents of the day, and now
sits empty. I am more country than most I know.
My town is the smallest. Perhaps this is why I boom
when I laugh, always pausing for the echo.

 

July Westhale is the author of Trailer Trash (2016 Kore Press Book Award), The Cavalcade (Finishing Line Press), and Occasionally Accurate Science (Nomadic Press). Her most recent poetry can be found in The National Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, RHINO, burntdistrict, Eleven Eleven, 580 Split, and Quarterly West. Her essays have been nominated for Best American Essays and the Pushcart Prize. She moonlights as a journalist at The Establishment, and her pieces have appeared in HuffPost. Learn more at julywesthale.com.

Journey to Iraq 1 (I try to visit in my dreams and am stopped on the tarmac)

in the dream that got me fired
The plane was just a stomach,
really.
I said, “eat me”
It insisted on retching

and language was like dry bread
cu-clut-clawing
at my throat.

clog
glug

we could just say it was the fault of the Security Clearance,
oh that agency is in the blood now,
lineage of martial-bureaucrat understanding,
lines tactical and quick …

LET’S say Iraq turns into a lifeboat

it’s a little country

the lifeboat needn’t be large …

it contains a stack of paintings,
stone tablets and manuscripts.
add Scheherazade’s stone hands.
no people, after all, this
was an imaginary place

the library colludes to have me believe
this country doesn’t exist,
garlands of holy books no longer even part carboniferous
when people ask me where are you from i’ll tell them
“i come from an imaginary country”
“i’m an ice pop made of frozen rosewater holding together thinly sliced tongues”

 

Noor Al-SamarraiNoor Al-Samarrai is a California-born poet and performer with Iraqi roots. She’s currently living in Amman, Jordan, where she is working on a book-length poetry project about life and love in mid-twentieth century Baghdad with the support of a Fulbright Creative Arts Grant. She believes that poetry is as much a relational and somatic practice as a literary one, and has had the pleasure of teaching and performing poetry to people of all ages and backgrounds. Her debut poetry collection, El Cerrito, is forthcoming in 2018 from Inside the Castle Press. You can follow her adventures at milkgirlblog, and listen to her music at dogmaw.bandcamp.

The First Checkup After My Mother Died

The doctor noticed me fidgeting with my ears
like a toddler, and asked if he could look at them.

Yes, I told him, they had been bothering me,
and I didn’t know why.

After the examination, he asked if I had been
through something traumatic recently—

a breakup, or a loss of a job. Yes, I told him,
not wanting to explain. How did you know?

Well, he told me, this type of infection
is most commonly among people who have

gotten in a pattern of holding back tears.
If you don’t allow those tears to drain the way

they are supposed to, they stay inside, cause a lot of pain.
Do you think this is what’s happening to you? he asked.

Yes, I nodded,
and held back my tears.

 

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the author of six books of poetry, most recently The Year of No Mistakes (Write Bloody Publishing, 2013), which was named TX Book of the Year for Poetry by the Writers’ League of Texas. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction, most recently Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine (Avery Books / Penguin, 2014), which was on The New York Times Best Seller list for three months. Her seventh book of poetry will be released this winter by Write Bloody Publishing. www.aptowicz.com

Swallow / Swallowed / Swallowing & Masturbating to Greek Myths

Swallow / Swallowed / Swallowing

swal·low | noun

1. a small oscine bird with a short bill, long pointed wings, & a deeply forked tail,
which feeds on insects caught on the wing.

swal·low | verb

1.  to take or receive through the mouth & esophagus into the stomach.
2.  to accept without question, protest, or resentment.
3.  to utter (as words) indistinctly.

example: i swallow my fear & it perches on the edge of this
city’s hungriest bridge / devours the sound of sunset &

disappears by morning.

example: we swallow each other’s names / supplication

quiet
prayers &

choke / on fistfuls of feathers

example: i kneel & bury him in the soft, wet
dirt/y of my mouth
like the mud plucks &
swallows our animal / bodies

how they tell us we choose this
burial / how a grave & i share

the same unclean throat.

example: the officer’s hand perches
on his gun / hands
up! [faggot] / & we must swallow
our razorslick tongues / or else

be swallowed or received
by the dirt or a jail cell

& by this i mean: we break / bird wings
off in the back of our throat

re-teach words / not to fly
before a nightstick or bullet re-teaches
our bodies / animal & sunset / flood
of red feathers pressed into the dirt

how the horizon opens
like wings [or a mouth] to swallow us

like a lover might.

 


Masturbating to Greek Myths

i am searching for porn with bodies like mine
that are not made fetish / this word for image
to pray over / word defined by deviation
from a norm / my body made false idol

+ so i am masturbating to Greek myths + how they remind me
of my chimera body + how almost every monster was just
the best parts of other animals sewn together / how i am
stitching together the best parts of woman + what i was born with

i lay back against the sheets + charybdis
both this body’s hungry mouths / let my fingers
feel what wet wreckage / what good + greedy
breaking / these can make of any body

name this sometimes-unwanted part of me—hydra
how you sever the head of a snake / + it grows again
+ it grows again            + it grows again
like this blood-hardened body / reminds me of its presence

+ in this myth / woman is born from the severance of man
my hands slur semen + sea-foam / into one word / a sound
like i am born + drowning / in myself + these sheets
body breaking the surface / mouth gasping for air

 

torrin a. greathousetorrin a. greathouse (they/them or she/her) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their work is published or forthcoming in Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Assaracus, & Glass: Journal of Poetry. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin’s first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017. When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, and trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.

Out Along Rt. 154

Out where the streams etch away from Devil’s Head,
out of the bear’s coarse fur, shot in the back over in the bushes
in hours before dawn when we were afraid of the wounded,
afraid of this shape pulled down from the stars,
when we were neighbors on the road to Harmony,
up late every night, dragging the battery back to charge
so the TV wouldn’t go out, carrying our laughter in metal tubs,
in broken backed chairs from Isaac’s down the road,
cow barn full of cast-offs from long ago comers and goers,
the ones buried in hay fields from winters that beat and beat
cold fists against white drifts, tied tight to copper kettles
of clothes washed and dried, to babies crying in wooden cribs,
to burdocks caught in sheep wool, knotted and quick,
from raspberry thickets, witch grass, water-run ditches,
to logs twitched and cut, fires banked, days stacked
as tight as cords of wood, layered, as thick as grain,
borne with the lightness of twenty-somethings we came,
settled, our lives new stars throwing sparks in all directions.

 

Judy Kaber’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Eclectica, Crab Creek Review, Off the Coast, and The Comstock Review. Contest credits include the Maine Postmark Poetry Contest, the Larry Kramer Memorial Chapbook Contest, and, most recently, second place in the 2016 Muriel Craft Bailey Poetry Contest. She lives in Maine.

The Hunted & The Haunted

Visiting into the night, a dog found a buck
sprawled onto the back porch of her home,
lung pierced and bubbling a thick stripe onto its side.
A creature of this type usually dies in the woods.
Something about the leaves: they dance a soul to sleep.

Yet, somehow, this hulk of hide had found
a wooden deck in the crevice of West Virginia
more fitting for its gentle exit. Under a broken porch light,
the poodle sniffed to learn what creature had become
unraveled, its fierce antlers gestured to a distant moon.

And she stood by the heap of breathing; tail immobile,
perhaps in reverence, as the deer’s muscles began to loosen,
poised for a stiffening. She lowered her fluffed head,
ears up to the softening rattle of the buck’s last, tilting nod.
Should she bark?

The next morning, the poodle nudged the youngest of her family
outside to the deer—whose languid coat had, by then,
become an absent warmth, hushed of wilderness and stale
with a leafy stare. The girl retrieved a squirt gun,
then called to her mother for a picture.

 

Daniel Lassell is the winner of a William J. Maier Writing Award and runner-up for the 2016 Bermuda Triangle Prize. His poetry can be found or is forthcoming in Connotation Press, Hotel Amerika, Slipstream, Rust + Moth, and elsewhere. Recently, he received a Pushcart nomination from Pembroke Magazine. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. www.daniel-lassell.com

Photo by Austin Lassell

Kibitzing

There must be a Yiddish word for the birds
chittering in the bare bushes
ablaze with the life of their voices;
though their bodies blend with branches

their voices belie nothing. My mother’s
of course    I will         I want        sew themselves
through the fabric of
             well       but                          so
to fabricate the flag she flies whose body
suffocates me.                                   Just as

her mother’s vapid bites behind their ears
began that genetic         flutter in my bowels
every time a laugh chimes with derision

I’m feeling certain this winter Sunday
that the yentas kibitzing in the bushes know my name.

 

Emily LightEmily Light’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Bop Dead City, Amaryllis, Star 82 Review, and Ink in Thirds. She works as an English teacher and lives in northern NJ with her husband and son.

Inner City with Father

In our last conversation, he sat
on a milk crate, held the unlit

cigarette like a fountain pen,
and kept tapping the filter against

his weak heart. As if he wanted
to offer a final walkthrough

inside his chambers, dispose
the melted snow of Mt. Ararat,

wrap the warped Kamancheh of Sayat
Nova in rags, tuck Mama’s grape

leaves like love letters in the left
ventricle. Beethoven blocked

a coronary and a cadenza full
of sonnets pushed against his aorta.

That’s the ashen smoke of Beirut.
That’s the bloated bridge of Bourj,

and that’s you, he said,
my failing tourniquet.

 

Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena, CA, and the codirector of the LA Writing Project. He is the recipient of the Los Angeles Music Center’s BRAVO Award, which recognizes teachers for innovation in arts education. In 2016, Mankerian’s poem was a finalist at the Gotham Writers 91-Word Memoir Contest, and the Altadena Poetry Review nominated him for the Pushcart Prize. His manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at the Crab Orchard Poetry Open Competition, the Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Award, and the White Pine Press Poetry Prize.

Venezuela

in the 1960s

The name itself is a kingdom
brambled over in exotics,
where fish & birds read like orchids,
and an oil-flat sea’s gone dull
beside a land possessed of its own
drumbeat—fist to heart, a howled
& primal green. After all, Amazon
sounds more tribal than rivered.
Venezuela, its new language
an assignation of pleasantries,
and even color. Gracias. Azul.
It was all I could do as a child to count
in newly named values. Oleander,
my mother said, meaning danger.
It’s the gravity, she’d say, handing
me a comb. Venezuela on a map
was a cluster of grapes inside
a larger cluster of grapes—
that southern continent, feral & hemispheric.
Nat King Cole crooned from a needle
threading my father’s album on the turntable.
A circle un-brailling inward
until it bumped a shoreline of static.
Whole notes opening in concentricity.
Magnética. That was Venezuela.
The rain fell in seasons that cleaved glass
puddles from streets. Black flies
leaving ripples and chewing our calves.
What was the equator anyway,
but a line as thin as water skin
between ourselves looking in
and a mirrored sky; the same template
of tree and cloud, the same rainbow
hoisted like a banner from a distant
fiesta. Only here, in Venezuela,
the iguanas dragoned casually under
the coconut palms, and the thick rot
of frogs plastered the gullies.
Sun, a filigree loose across terrazzo.
Look up. You could bless yourself
on the Southern Cross between the monkey
bars. Whirlwinds reversing directions.
Epicentro. Every ceiling revolving
in fan blades—the slow tick
of shadow and stir. Always.
Even while you slept. Be careful,
said the mothers to the fathers,
home for siestas and lifting us children,
combed and giddy, into the current.
Roll your tongue when you say
tierra; yes, it means earth, niños,
but look how beautiful the swirl
of both hemispheres of stars.

 

Laura Sobbott RossLaura Sobbott Ross teaches English to ESOL students at Lake Technical College in central Florida, and has worked as a writing coach for Lake County Schools. Her writing appears in Blackbird, Meridian, The Florida Review, Calyx, Natural Bridge, and many others. She was named as a finalist for the Art & Letters Poetry Prize 2016, and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry chapbooks are A Tiny Hunger, from YellowJacket Press, and My Mississippi, from Anchor & Plume Press.

Ripen

Tree branches sneak into

my mouth errant like Christmas

lights strung across a house in July,

skies embrace and push —

suffocate the world’s radiant

lusciousness.  Leaves on the sidewalk

thrum and this is where I want

to share a bit of death every day,

peeling strips of joy from branches

that are about to burst forth

and blossom while the body

empties its cries.  Mother covers

a son’s shoulders while the dog on his leash

dances by: Hold my hand, feel it ripen

into yours and hope nothing rips

away my only tether to this very world.

 

Elizabeth von UhlElisabeth von Uhl graduated with an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She now teaches. Her work has been published in the Cortland Review and Cream City Review, among others. Her chapbook Ocean Sea has also been published by Finishing Line Press.

Porches

My wife asks me to leave
the porch light on before bed.
I ask if we are expecting
guests; she says it’s to keep
them away. There was a time
a flame in a window was
a welcome mat, a compass
in the dark. Tradition has
a way of unraveling the longer
it lasts. Think candles
to repel the moth; I wonder
how we learned to fear the light
more than its absence. When
I grab the banister and step
without flipping the switch on,
my memory is a stairwell, groaning
under shadow cast by porches—
neighbors inviting me to stay.

Geoff AndersonGeoff Anderson crosses the tracks, the bridge, the floodwall, and the overpass in Columbus, OH. His work is forthcoming or appears in Wherewithal, Outlook Springs, and Up the Staircase, among others.

Aubade in Los Angeles

Aubade in Los Angeles
               After Laura Kasischke

August 1981, and someone’s killing

couples from Santa Barbara
to Sacramento. A woman called Linda

sits with her boyfriend

beneath the buzz of a motel sign
drinking coffee in the yawning summer.

This is the year they drove the Pacific coast
through towns where men lay hobbled,
crockery balanced on their spines

listening to the treble clef of terror
in their wives’ throat
waiting for the sun to rise
like a final breath.

There’s a degree of separation
between everything we see here.
All I know

is what my father told me. How
he should have married Linda, how
he isn’t sure

why things fell apart,
the membrane of a college romance

worn away until it tore

revealing cigarettes, more souvenirs
than memories, and an emptiness
a little like walking the streets at night.

Megan ArlettM.J. Arlett is an MFA candidate at Florida International University, where she is the nonfiction editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. She was born in the U.K., spent several years in Spain, and now lives in Miami. Her work can be found in The Boiler Journal, Gravel, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and elsewhere.

Durling Avenue

Summer in its simplest colors
comes over Durling Avenue.

The sweetest invitations come
understated, the girl in the yard

barely lifts her eyebrows, the boy
shrugs his shoulders as if to say

I’ve been waiting, I can wait.
All we’re asked to do is recognize

the beckoning—the grass
splashed brown that will be cut

by dusk, the woman who’s placed
sun tea on her porch. She wears

the dress her mother wore,
lets it fall about her hips and pauses

because it’s Saturday, nothing
pressing in the news, the radio

turned to Frankie Avalon
and laughter, those days, that

handful of Pontiacs moving slowly,
making no dust. There are streets

in America that defend themselves
against time, streets of blackberry

and elm and clusters of boys
lining up to play stickball. I stop

the car and listen to their rules:
the phone pole’s foul, the hedge

behind the Murray house always
an inside-the-park home run.

If rain comes, the great, mournful
interruptor, we take lunch

to the pavilion at Memorial Park
and wait. Maybe Susie St. Claire

in her dress will bring sun tea;
maybe we can save the freckles

on her shoulders for later,
for bed, when all is cricket-sound,

the Erie train, our fathers holding
our church shoes under lamplight.

I was of and not of them,
inside their clothes and distant,

driving toward Broad Street
where the new light flickered red

(it was 1962, it was today)
at the Lutheran church, where I

married the day summer ended.
All the trees were yellow and I

in my gray suit lingered, laughed,
in time and far beyond it.

Carl Boon

A native of Ohio, Carl Boon lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at 9 Eylül University. His poems appear in dozens of magazines, most recently Burnt Pine, Two Peach, Ink In Thirds, and Poetry Quarterly. He is also a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee.

 

Alternate Ending with Beach House

This is what I wanted:
++++++++++++++++mug full of coffee each morning
++++++++++++++++and a walk to the ocean. Wind blowing sand
++++++++++++++++into the curtain hems
of your parents’ beach house where we wouldn’t pay rent
and you’d reprise your role as the good son who spent
the six months before I met you there, sober,
fixing the cherry red Cabriolet.
++++++++++++++++Garage full of oil spots.
Your face growing wrinkles from deep concentration,
stub of a Camel dangling ash from the crook
of your mouth. I wanted the floral apron, the chubby baby
on my hip, and the cold leftovers I’d eat alone in the kitchen.
++++++++++++++++I knew you’d never quit drinking,
++++++++++++++++so I worked it into the ending,
++++++++++++++++amber glow of lamplight
through Maker’s in the wood-panelled den.
++++++++++++++++But in my version, you’d drink moderately,
or at least from glasses, and we’d listen to the baby monitor
and make slow love, which I knew even then
++++++++++++++++would really be more like absent-minded fucking.
But that’s as far as I can picture of the alternate ending
because in this world, when you begged me to marry you
from the passenger seat of my Buick, I knew you were drunk,
++++++++++++++++and the pregnancy test
++++++++++++++++came back with only one line on it,
++++++++++++++++and I never even saw the beach house,
only drove the long flat road
++++++++++++++++toward it a half dozen times.

rebecca bornsteinRebecca Bornstein’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Slice, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Word Riot, Hobart, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from North Carolina State University and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. http://www.rebeccabornstein.com

The Only Star

Rolled up in my sheets,
marinating in nervous sweat,
+++++brain a flipbook:
speed-painted images, words, phrases
like ticker tape rolling on & on.

I watch the crescent moon
steadily sheathe its blade edge
in a neighbor’s chimney.
+++++Alarm clock says “4 AM.”
+++++Hypothalamus says “Fuck this.”

If I got out of bed now,
I’d be like a half-forged moth
hulled too soon from its cocoon—
stunted, wingless, crawling, soft
+++++meat for the world to devour.

++++++++++Now

dawn takes wing
+++++from its silver nest
+++++behind the eastern slash pines,
+++++plumed in slivers of
+++++misted pink glass.

+++++I do my best to hate
the sudden splendor
of this,
the only star of trillions

+++++that keeps me alive.

Jonathan DuckworthJonathan Louis Duckworth is an MFA student at Florida International University and a reader for the Gulf Stream Magazine. His fiction, poetry, and non-fiction appears in or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Fourteen Hills, PANK Magazine, Thrice Fiction, Cha, Superstition Review, and elsewhere.

Elegy for Sylvia

Stripped down to nothing
in the dirty river, my skin sheaved

like silk from corn. The things I did not say
grew malignant in my body. A cancer

of words & the sickness that spreads
from the inside out. By thirteen,

I tasted like war,
skin of wrought-iron

& chrysanthemum seeds. The snowstorm girl
who does not sing, a wind-petal body

she forgets & remembers. What light
do you keep inside your bones?
Break them in half.

See what pours out.

Kathryn Merwin is a native of Washington, DC. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Booth, Notre Dame Review, So to Speak, and Sugar House Review, among others. In 2015, she was awarded the Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize for Poetry and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She will begin pursuing her MFA in the Fall of 2016.

Black Sun, 1935

Levee workers,
Plaquemines parish, Louisiana

Fourteen Negroes wheel barrows
along narrow planks laid over mud.
They build a levee to prevent
flooding of land they’ll never own.
Fearing bites of cottonmouths,
copperheads, and diamondbacks,
they sweat in humid bayou heat.

Arrayed along a nearby ridge,
four white overseers look on
in the shadow of a black sun:
an overexposed disc in an archival print
from a negative mutilated by a hole punch.
Without being told, you and I can guess
we weren’t supposed to see this.

David OlsenDavid Olsen’s Unfolding Origami (80pp, 2015) won the Cinnamon Press Poetry Collection Award. Poetry chapbooks from U.S. publishers include Sailing to Atlantis (2013), New World Elegies (2011), and Greatest Hits (2001). His work appears widely in leading journals and anthologies in North America and Europe. A poet and professionally produced playwright with a BA in chemistry from University of California-Berkeley and an MA in creative writing from San Francisco State University, David was formerly an energy economist, management consultant, and performing arts critic. He has lived in Oxford, England, since 2002.