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.