ASK JUNE: The Hopelessly Distracted Bibliophile and Impossible Best Friend

When I try to read in bed, I fall asleep. When I try to sit in a chair and read, I usually lose my concentration, or remember something else I should be doing. When I listen to books in the car, my mind wanders and I have to keep replaying stuff until I am out of patience and just switch to music or a podcast. I tried setting aside some time in the morning before work, but that was a bust because I cannot survive without checking my email and other media as soon as I wake up, and once that happens I am gone—all caught up in emailing my coworkers, reading a link to some story about the latest presidential scandal, making an angry call to my senator, playing Solitaire to calm down, etc. I feel as if I have lost a whole world, and a part of myself. Any ideas?

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PLAINSPEAK, WY, poems by Joanna Doxey, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck

Plainspeak, WY is impressive in its attention to detail and draws clear connections from matters of the earth to matters of the soul—and back again, repeatedly. The poet’s central obsession is depicted, in fact, somewhat subtly, on the cover of the book as a topographical map. Atop a cool, arctic blue, several thin black contour lines unevenly work their way around one another and connect to make shaky targets that reveal the gradual shifts in Wyoming’s terrain, formed largely, of course, by the glaciers that have so ensnared Doxey’s imagination. Plainspeak, WY, ultimately, is about the inevitable erosion of the human heart, as mirrored by the slowly eroding landscape of the northwestern United States

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HOW TO DESCRIBE SAN FRANCISCO TO STRANGERS, a Travel Essay by Katie Simpson

When people ask you about San Francisco, you always get stuck on the way you sense it. It starts with the smell. Wherever you lived before here, it didn’t smell quite like this. The pot is open, lingering around parks and sidewalks, not just your brother’s basement room. It’s hand rolled joints after work. It’s chocolate covered blueberries eaten at the movies. Pot in San Francisco is beer in Berlin: commonplace and open. If anything, pot knows this city better than anyone who lives here.

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THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES, a novel by Catherynne M. Valente, reviewed by Ansel Shipley

Catherynne M. Valente’s most recent novel, The Refrigerator Monologues, exists in an odd space between novel and what could be called a pseudo-parable. Valente’s six protagonists and her interconnected narratives clearly parallel famous female comic book characters and their narrative arcs. Each of them, in fact, exhibits numerous traits that link her to a specific DC or Marvel property, ensuring that nothing is lost on the reader.

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ASK JUNE: On Upbraiding Bullies and Chastening Chatterboxes

I got more and more upset—and when the dad slammed his fist down, some other customers started shaking their heads and raising their eyebrows at one another and so on. Finally, without really thinking much about it, I stood up and told the couple that corporal punishment is against the law in our state and that if they made good on their threat I was going to call the police. And I added something about how nobody wanted to hear any more of their abusive language, but by then I had started to trail off…

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FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS, a novel by Rebecca Entel, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

“The narrator of this book is a Caribbean woman. You may have noticed that the writer of this book is not,” Rebecca Entel notes in a preface to Fingerprints of Previous Owners, her novel set at a resort built on the nettle-choked ruins of a former slave plantation. Alluding to her research and credentials as a scholar of nineteenth-century American literature, Entel does more than attempt to deflect criticism for cultural appropriation. She declares her investment in this story, as well as her intention to free her characters from a colonial narrative frame.

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THE PIETA, a poem by Samuel Son, Featured on Life As Activism 

charred, acrid smell of gunpowder

smokes from the holes in Philando’s body,

which carries the stigma(ta) of

all things dark,

lead from the muzzle

to the flesh, three wounds enough

to steal the soul, four more

for good measure

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MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, a novel by Julie Lekstrom Himes, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader 

Julie Lekstrom Himes’ novel, Mikhail and Margarita, imagines the love affair that might have inspired The Master and Margarita. This is Himes’ first novel, following the publication of several short stories and essays. Himes is a physician in Massachusetts; interestingly, Bulgakov was also a physician. In an interview with the literary website Eye 94, Himes describes reading Bulgakov’s collection A Country Doctor’s Notebook (reflections on his early years as a doctor) and identifying with “the fear and regret and self-questioning” of a young doctor. Identifying with Bulgakov’s “voice” as a doctor encouraged Himes to try writing from his perspective, to imagine what compelled him to write one of the canonical Russian texts of the 20th century.

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ASK JUNE: The Greedy Cardiologist, the Discomfiting Barbecue, and Introducing LA WALLY!

My parents wrote up a will many years ago leaving everything to whichever one of them survived (it was mostly all joint property anyway), and then dividing the estate equally between my brother and me. But my brother is objecting to this, saying that my mother had been paying for his med school tuition and living expenses at the time of her death, and that the clear understanding was that my parents would always cover educational expenses for both of us until we finished school. (I have an M.S.W, and have no current plans to return to school, although the thought of a Ph.D. in the nebulous future is very attractive.) He is demanding that the cost of his next two years, until he gets his M.D. and starts his cardiology residency, should come off the top of the estate before it is divided.

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I CAME TO EXPLORE THE WRECK: AN EPISTOLARY ESSAY by Alexia Sereti Featured on Life As Activism 

Dear Fifteen,

I know you’ve gotten used to the catcalls and honks coming from passing cars. I’m proud of you for learning not to react outwardly. But here’s the thing, sometimes these cars will actually stop in front of you and provoke more than just a roll of the eyes.

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BARDO OR NOT BARDO, a novel by Antoine Volodine, reviewed by Amada Klute

Take the existential universe of Jean-Paul Sartre and pull his pants down around his ankles—this is the paradoxical narrative met with in French comedic novelist Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo. Volodine’s blunt, absurdist style illustrates a marriage between the profound and the comedic, using humor as a weapon to further investigate humanity’s most unanswerable questions. 

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T4, a poem by Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad, featured on Life As Activism 

A few hours in this room not much bigger
than a storage space, boxes replaced
with a teetering desk early this morning
and the heavy sound of uniformed men,
whose questions he has answered
as far as English carried him, wondered
why their eyes narrowed when he repeated his name
….read more

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EXPOSURE, short stories by Katy Resch George, reviewed by Rebecca Entel

The cover of Exposure, a short story collection by Katy Resch George, hints at the kind of stories you’ll find inside. The photograph of a topless woman on a beach with her arms tugged behind her is both intimate and distant, the woman exposed but also obscured by the translucent type of the title and, in the repeated image, wrapped around the spine of the book, also underneath type. The woman’s expression is blocked by George’s name on the spine and, on the front cover, hard to make out. Is she scowling at the camera? Pondering something beyond it? Seductive, angry, unsure? George’s female characters, especially, are exposed and obscured in this intriguing book.

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YOUNG WARRIOR ON HORSEBACK, a poem by Kaitlin LaMoine Martin, featured on Life As Activism

His back toward us, he faces history
and history is armed
with AR 47s, water cannons, grenades,
Andrew Jackson, and Natty Bumppo.
They myth of water is permanence.
The myth of war is purpose.
The myth of America is America,
spilling all over our computer screens,
soaking us to the root.

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THE GERMAN GIRL, a novel by Armando Lucas Correa, reviewed by Kellie Carle

The German Girl permits readers to enter the minds of two 12-year-old girls as their lives are shaped by the tragedies of the SS St. Louis and 9/11. Correa expertly combines fact with fiction, as he constructs and then deconstructs the lives of two young girls. He also illustrates the importance a family’s history and the need to pass down history through the generations. The story of the contemporary girl, Anna, is imbedded (as is her name) in Hannah’s and though this is the conceit of the novel, it is also a weakness.

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ASK JUNE: The Maligned Male Member and the Mansplained Name

Dear June,

Why does everybody think it is okay to use about a dozen informal names for the male member when disparaging men, but offensive to use the c-word , or the t-word, when disparaging women?

—Ticked Off in Teeterboro

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TWO POEMS by Leonard Gontarek, featured on Life As Activism

Philadelphia smelled like Vermont today,
after light rain. A fly buzzed
four or five clusters of crocus.
The sky draped with gray.

There are no stones in the Jewish cemetery
under the new president.
Our hearts are broken in half, evenly.
Lord, teach us how to care.

The branches are blurred like webs and ask me
to come in. I am only a poet. Am I holy enough?
…read more

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TRYSTING, fiction by Emmanuelle Pagano, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

Emmanuelle Pagano’s Trysting is an intimate romance among hundreds. This book of fictional fragments, each in the first person, features character after character—most of indeterminate gender, age, and history—falling in and out of love. The self-contained pieces range from one sentence meditations to several hundred word flash fictions. The shortest of these could be writing prompts, while others read as prose poems. Reading Trysting can, in fact, be like reading a book of poetry, and it benefits from slow, thoughtful study. You could linger over any one piece, reread it and taste the rhythm, the carefully chosen words.

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NAPOLEON’S LAST ISLAND, a novel by Thomas Keneally, reviewed by Nokware Knight

Based on the synopsis (conquered conqueror stuck on island hesitantly befriends by young native girl) and artwork (an ocean crashing into the bottom of seaside cliffs) on the book jacket, I expected in part to read the account of an aged, brooding, and isolated man pacing away his final days on an isolated rock, sometimes tolerant of, sometimes avoidant, sometimes thankful for his friendship with a young girl who lives there. For better, and for worse, I found something else.

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THREE SHOTS THROUGH THE WINDOW OF A SYNAGOGUE IN INDIANA, a poem by Daniel Blokh, featured on Life As Activism

Every bullet is aimed for sky.
the thin white one carrying my father and mother
only happened to be interrupted. The trajectory
was stopped by another home, a different country.
Here, no one would be turned away. Here,
every synagogue was more than a path
to an exit wound.
…read more

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COLLATERAL DAMAGE by Julia Gourary

For eighteen years Eddie’s bullet was like some forgotten organ—the spleen, maybe. His cousin Denny had his spleen removed a few years ago, and the same thing: it was all right until it wasn’t, until one doctor felt a distended lump beneath cool fingers and then a flurry of signatures and warnings about lungs that might or might not collapse. Eddie is thankful that his bullet stayed under the skin, innocuous and clandestine, like a roll of undeveloped film. He never even told his ex-girlfriend; he just said he had a shoulder injury. She was still careful with it, though, as if it were something sacred, and he found himself doing the same. Over the years, the bullet’s importance swelled until it was no longer a foreign object lodged in him, but a tangible memory all its own.

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THE DAY A LITTLE GLOOMY, SKY by J.C. Todd

The day a little gloomy, sky
not exactly low but grackles
higher than they ought to be,

their oily, boat-wake tails
dragging worn-out clouds.
And that finch song, isn’t it garbled,

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THE SPECTRUM by Merridawn Duckler

The mood of the river is to glitter
which also is a way to deflect,

if I had to name its surface,
I’d say it was the color of a sweaty disco tank.

Color is how we comprehend the length of light
and what constitutes darkness is not without controversy;

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YOU’RE ALWAYS IN MY HAIR by E. Kristin Anderson

I’ve seen the future and it will be
puffy-eyed. We’ll rise like an army
of teeth, you and me seeded in sick earth
to grow into what might be: strange,
beautiful shunned in this apartment
third from the sun.

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BLACK CHAMELEON, ORANGE DOG, YELLOW LIGHTNING by Max Sheppard

Ghosts ruined our party. We were a mess
when the lampshade began to shake.
I was so drunk on whiskey and salt and
the fluids of your body. A faux-Greek
vase on the table. Dead yellow roses.
A staple of our culture is to intuit
words before they are spoken. I raise
my body from the crouching position and
look through a small telescope to see
your deepest space. From a distance

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WHEN TWO BROTHERS ARE THE SAME AGE by Alex Eaker

We let our socks sear on hot concrete. Twelve laps around the pool then we jump in. We splash dead frogs onto each other and croak with towels around our bony shoulders, shaking like biology class skeletons. We put our pruned palms together, trying to align the ridges against one another. Connected by skin, we smile.

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NOVEMBER NIGHTMARE by Valerie Fox

My bag disappeared
with my passport, my keys
a little vial containing
a sliver of bone.

I was stalked by an ordinary man.

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CLEARING by mud howard

I walked alone at night inside the throbbing dome of men

who thought I was a man

and did not assault me

I found you bloated and glowing on the bed

you unscrewed my nipples to a Janet Jackson track until

a pile of warm jewels poured into your cupped palm

you thought I was a girl

I didn’t know what to think

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MARE TRANQUILLITATIS by Walter Bargen

I made it to the moon and nothing changed.
If I had something urgent to say nothing changed.
If I made it beyond the moon, lost in so much distance,
Space out of space out space, nothing changed.
Perhaps a fiercer loneliness.

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STILL LIFE WITH CARBURETOR by Christopher Rosales

Inside the Piggly-Wiggly, picking out beans, P-Nut suppressed the headache brought on by the bruise on the back of his neck. He’d gotten the bruise from the can of beans that his wife chucked at him, before it bounced off him and clattered into the sewer. So he walked away to fetch them the dinner of the can of beans. Was it the same can of beans that she would then chuck at him? He was losing track. But he knew this: Van Camp’s was the right kind. Hormel was not the right kind. The red stamp and the dent said so. The register blinked .79. So, .79 cents was the cost of magic beans.

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GREEN by Tina Barr

When I lift the lid of the compost bin
heat swells toward me, the first layer:
clippings from grass mown as soon
as the rain dries. Farley said, If you cut hay
still green it’ll set the barn on fire. When it
breaks down it’ll heat up and combust.
At the bottom, red worm slivers weave
intricacies in watermelon rind, husk

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BEGINNING by Shinjini Bhattacharjee

All the fruits bursting
with prophecies without
an easy way through the
branches of apricot tree.
Outside, the snow crowded
to drown the lives. My hands
a wet door that could never
hope for the faith of miracles.  

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FIVE THINGS by Victoria-Lynn Bell

The orange sticky-note is hard to miss—the corner peels off, pricks me as I pluck it from the headboard of my bed. Your handwriting is large and round. ‘I hope your interview goes well tomorrow. Remember to be yourself!’ I toss it into the garbage and get ready for bed. The next morning, I pause in front of the mirror and I dig the note out of the bin before shoving it into the pocket of my dress pants.

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ONE MINIATURE GAMEBOOK by Drew Knapp

Sylvia works stain into peeled orangewood counters while the sunset peeks in muted veil through kitchen window milk glass. The month of flowering is nearly finished and this barren women has a wedding to attend. Too stressed by her own state of affairs, she daren’t dream herself into any others—she for(goes/gets) the gift.

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AS IF IT ACTUALLY LOOKED THAT BLUE. by Gary Lundy

a sky reproduced in pixels. or oil acrylic. to match what then is believed seen. how our seeing displaces the thing itself. how our need to document interrupts the flutter of a heart suddenly awakened to a new love. that this kiss takes on more than what it is or might have promised. the same way your front teeth overlap. or your cheeks turn red when laughing bright loudly. that a white canvas opens immediately to comparisons. of a snow covered plain. or the smooth opening of your pale stomach.
read more

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THE SURFER by Claire Rudy Foster

The last time I saw my ex-wife, we were sitting next to each other on a faded picnic blanket in a field of daisies and late-spring grass so bright that I could feel my corneas crisping. She looked great, as always. She was wearing a pair of black cutoff shorts that she’d made herself, cuffed high enough to show the mermaid tattoo looping down onto her upper thigh. She was hot, the hot mom. A hot mess.

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THE CATALOG PEOPLE OF 1978 by Joshua Jones

It is August when her boyfriend, the pornographer, takes her to the beach with her two boys, one pale like her, the other dark. They bring beer and bologna sandwiches in a crinkled grocery bag, lay stolen motel towels out across the sand. The boys dart off into the surf, shrieking, laughing, ignoring the Pacific chill.

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FOR EVERY TOWN A WITCH by Kristin Bonilla

A burning witch on midsummer eve smells like campfire, like tobacco, like men standing in a circle as they smile and sing. She is only an effigy, a cartoon with her green skin painted onto her plywood face, her body a sack of coarse black fabric scraps stitched together and overstuffed with hay. She rides a broom and has a long warty nose that was carved by hand. The time it took to give her two warts instead of one.

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THE TOWNSPEOPLE by Emily Livingstone

It started gradually. First, little Michael was wrinkling his nose in a way he never had. Then, four-year-old Jessamyn across the street sprouted whiskers from her cheeks that were long, fine, and nearly transparent. Elisa developed a light coating of tiny hairs which were thicker than body hairs ought to be, and which turned gray within a few days. Paul was the first one to grow a tail. His tail was long, pink, and hairless, and at first he delighted in it, and used it to tap other boys on the shoulder when they weren’t looking. Then, he realized it was not coming off, and he wailed in his mother’s arms. His mother, for her part, tried not to cringe as his tail wrapped around her leg.

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LITTLE BLUE BOX by William Scott Hanna

I can’t remember how to breathe so the nurse hands me a brown paper bag along with the white jumpsuit and matching cap. Sixty seconds before that they wheeled my wife away, her belly bulging under the white blankets, in her belly, our baby choking. Sixty seconds before that, the room a flurry of nurses and someone saying, “We have to take the baby,” like there’s a place where they take babies and never bring them back. Sixty seconds before that the baby’s heart rate crashing and the pulsing alarm. Sixty seconds before that joking that I hope the baby gets born fast so I don’t miss the golf on TV later. That was four minutes ago. Four minutes ago everything was normal. Four minutes ago I assumed everything would happen as it did when my son was born. But this is different. This time I’m hyperventilating, thinking I may never see my wife again, thinking our baby girl might die, the nurse smiling, patting me on the back, saying how they always seem to forget the dads in these situations. It’s not funny, but she tries to be. Nothing about this is funny. My baby girl is choking. And this is real. And she could die. And we don’t know which way to spell her name. And I can’t remember how to breathe.

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ALOHA by Sean Flood

she plunged below the line of the ocean and
saw lava exploding into the emptiness she saw
sea become land when we came to this place
there were myths and shadows and people and
we joined them becoming lava exploding
into steps that a man could climb

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IN THE ARMS OF AN ELECTRIC EEL by Anna Keeler

Most people think electric eels are eels when they’re, in fact, knife fish. They’re solitary, shallow, made with enough electrolytes to kill a man.

“They can kill a man, but not themselves. Sometimes, they wish that they could.”

Cadence was always saying I never listened to her, when the truth was, I heard everything.

I listened while she rambled about the oceanology books she’d brought home from the library, her actual courses festering in her backpack. She’d cook me ramen or sprawl out on the floor with her sketchbooks, drawing herself into more contained circles. Indie music would flow through the apartment while she told me about the nine things I didn’t want to know lurked at the bottom of the ocean. If I spoke back, she snapped at me for breaking her concentration. Then moments later she would turn to me and say, ‘Hey Ezekiel, did you know electric eels can’t feel their own shock?’

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[ITS SHADOW IS HELPLESS HERE] by Simon Perchik

Its shadow is helpless here
festering the way your fingers
lean over the watermarks

not yet covered with paper
though left in the open
this wall could heal, the butterflies

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MAZE OF THE GIANT HEART by Allegra Armstrong

We took seats in the back of the planetarium. I glanced over at you, my face warm with anticipation. You leaned back and looked up. When the lights went out, would you cover my knee with your hand as a deep, slow voice described which stars we were seeing? Would I rest my head on your shoulder, at peace with the world and the universe, as Orion moved West, poised to shoot?

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JEROME IN THE WILDERNESS by Martha McCollough

In a God’s-eye
view all the edges
are sharp

Tiny but distinct
Jerome
picnics on a ledge
with his apocryphal lion
sunlight falling
on him in particular

does he wonder
if God might prefer him
unwashed
in stained starving rags

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BOTTOM FEEDER by Dylan Krieger

but nowadays your garbled barbles never tasted better. no matter how much your bog moss makes love to the gutter, you still wonder what’s next once you ditch the catfish trap house, with all its iridescent claws a-clash. not everybody can handle a bottom feeder’s garbage trundle, but me? i’m of another puddle. the ones who’d rather eat their demons than leave them to their own diseases. the ones who never lost that most primeval thanatoxic fever.

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WILD HARES by Hillary Leftwich

The girls never kissed the boys. The boys that walked down the hallway in packs, smelling of Cheetos and drugstore cologne. The girls never went to school dances, out to movies or late night pizza. They never wore jewelry. Never a spot of makeup, their skin fresh like new snow. If their mama caught them trying on her church heels they were beaten. They never showered with the other girls in gym class but they snuck glimpses of their breasts. How their nipples were large and not pink like their own. They wore plain dresses in forgettable colors: beige, olive, navy. Their hair pulled back into a bun. Tight. Uncomplicated.

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IKEA MAN by R.M. Fradkin

It started out as a joke in the warehouse. You could buy and build anything you needed for your home at IKEA, at least that was the corporate strategy behind all the useless knick-knacks that made it hard to pack the boxes. It was only a matter of time before they started doing people, they said. What good was your dream kitchen without a dream family to sit around on the INGOLF chairs you’d built yourself and praise your cooking? Surely IKEA could produce a model that was more durable, less flammable than your ordinary family, less likely to be annoyed when you let the jam spill over the side of the jar and then stuck it back in the fridge so that globs of fruit smeared all over the shelf.

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DEFT PERCEPTION by Hannah Thompsett

DEFT PERCEPTION Works of Porcelain and Paper, Plausibility and Pause by Hannah Thompsett [click on images to enlarge] We all accumulate knowledge of our world through experience. Unconsciously, we learn to trust our perceptions as truth. But when this truth is challenged, our trust falters. We’re suddenly aware of the malleability and subjectivity of each of our constructed realities, our beliefs and expectations. To explore and test the boundaries of that trust, I created Deft Perception: Allusions of Reality, a body of work in porcelain, paper, and photographs. When is something easily perceivable or believable? When do we need to take a second look to reassure or reevaluate our expectation of truth? To address these questions, I decided to slow down the process of visual perception by using constructed objects in spatially arranged situations. As an artist, I want us to consider the delicacy and individuality of our assumed truths … chop! chop! read more!

MY FATHER’S HAIR by Sara Schuster

He took about a week to consider.

I imagine he woke up Monday, warily shaved his cheeks and chin in his bathroom, then stared at his hair in the mirror. Tuesday, the same. Wednesday, with frustration. By Friday, disgust.

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