The streets smell like fried dough and there’s the carnival sound of an outdoor mic, a tinny crackle that makes him think of Little League games and awards day at summer camp. It sounds like the end of summer. The locals are celebrating something, the patron saint of clam cakes. They’re selling raffle tickets, but he’s not buying chances. The sky is dark blue, but he’s not watching the sky. The café door is open, inviting him to a darker world of scratched wooden floors and mismatched tables and hard metal chairs: the world of Latte Girl, whose sweet smile is only for the locals, whose cups she graces with sailboats and dragonflies and long-eared dogs, while his foam never holds more than an indifferent swirl. There’s a line—there’s always a line—but he doesn’t mind. He likes to watch her tamp and pull; he likes that everything is done by hand on one old espresso machine; he likes that they are her hands, small and plump, still childish, with chipped black polish on her short fingernails. As often as he tries to touch those hands, she pulls back. Leaves the change on the counter, slides the coffee card across. But today it’s the end of August, his coffee card is full, and when she punches his last hole Latte Girl will know he’s no tourist; he’s here for the long haul.
WORM DIRT by Rachel R. Taube She found me digging up worms in my backyard. Just plopped down beside me and started wriggling herself when I found one in the freshly turned soil. Later, her mother was angry about the worm dirt on her dress, but she came back the next day. “My name is Mara,” she said this time. What a pretty name on her lips, she smiled just a little on the “ar” and I saw her dimples. Her lips were pink like a worm. “This one’s name is Cara-Beth,” she said, pointing. She named each worm we found: Mariel, Nathaniel, Courtney. She wouldn’t touch them, but demanded I house each in a plastic cup, which we then placed in the shade. Digging them up, they dry up. When one died, she would say, “Poor Cara-Beth” and hand me the emptied cup, ready for the next worm. If …chop! chop! read more!
GARY’S SISTER by Max McKenna The same way we didn’t know, way back when, that mom and dad couldn’t stand their “friends, ” so we didn’t know that Gary’s sister wasn’t interested in either of us, which starts to explain why she kept mixing up our names last Saturday night in the busted stretch limo that cut through the grey-blue soup of Pacific Avenue, with the winding path of a rocket about to be decommissioned, after she pulled us into the back of it where she was already singing along with the radio and pounding the ceiling that snowed bits of dried-out upholstery on our heads and where her skirt kept flying up—though, yes, you were right, there were three other guys in that limo with us; it wasn’t in the cards; and weighing it all out now, we did do the right thing to leave and drive the forty-five …chop! chop! read more!
LIFEBOAT THEORY by Katherine Higgs-Coulthard I FIRST HEARD ABOUT LIFEBOAT THEORY WHEN TINA TOOK ECONOMICS. She stayed up late arguing with Daddy about it. The way she told it, this guy—Garrett Hardin—used it to explain why rich countries couldn’t bail out the poor ones. He said rich nations was like lifeboats full of rich people, with the poor people in other lifeboats. As the poor fell out of their overcrowded lifeboats, they tried to get into the richer lifeboats. Hardin said that created something called a moral dilemma, which is when the people in the rich lifeboats gotta figure out what to do about the people in the water. Daddy said Hardin’s fulla shit, that he don’t see what Lifeboat Theory has got to do with real life. And I thought it was over then, ‘cause most times when Daddy says something’s fulla shit, it is and that’s that. But …chop! chop! read more!
AND WE SLEPT IN A WIGWAM by Darlene P. Campos Getting kicked out of my house wasn’t a surprise. It happened to my ancestors, my parents, and to me several times. I lost count pretty quick. The landlord left minutes before Javier came back from his latest job search. He saw me standing in the middle of the street with everything I could carry from our former place. “Kicked out again,” I said when he pulled the truck up to me. “But we asked the landlord for two more weeks,” he said. “It’s been two weeks,” I reminded him. Javier helped me into the truck. He gave me a kiss on my cheek and we went to grab some food. We split a Navajo taco from Joe and Aggie’s Café. Our stomachs were still grumbling when we were back in the truck, but we learned to deal with it …chop! chop! read more!
FREE COFFEE FOR ATHEISTS by Michelle E. Crouch When we built the church, my son was fifteen. I knew him then. He was clear-eyed and steady, sawing and sanding the wood for the pews with confidence. He played football up at the high school but he didn’t think it made him god’s gift to teenage girls. He just liked the feeling of his muscles working like a machine and the mathematics of the plays, like chess at high speed. I knew these things because he told me, and I was so pleased he would talk honestly to his father that I didn’t think to ask who taught him chess. I only ever knew checkers. The church was a simple structure, just posts and beams holding up a roof, no walls. The pews were more like benches. Our house was on the side of the road, and on the other side …chop! chop! read more!
ON LUX by Austin Eichelberger Janine stood watching the swing of the burnt-out light bulb that hung in the unfinished laundry room of her empty little house, the pull-chain that released volts into the socket clinking against the bulb’s brittle glass with each sideways motion. In her left hand, she held a new sixty-watt light bulb, one which could replace the one still hanging, and solve all the problems she’d been having lately with her laundry: when she accidentally dropped a single red shirt in with all her whites, which dyed her work blouses, socks and white dress pants a dull pink; or when she folded clothes together because she could not see that she held both a pair of jeans and a t-shirt in the dark warmth just in front of the dryer, and then searched for half an hour before unfolding and refolding everything in her drawers; or, more …chop! chop! read more!
PERFECT COMPANION by Rebecca Entel HOLLIE THOUGHT OF THIS AS A CONTRACT. She and Dana had promised each other they’d be the type of people who remembered things could always be worse. They toasted the tragic. “To James Dean!” “To Princess Di!” “To JFK!” “To RFK!” “To MLK!” “To Elvis!” Still, it was a bummer when their favorite restaurant didn’t have a wheelchair ramp. “Well,” he said. “Let’s go somewhere with a ramp.” “Let’s go somewhere expensive with a ramp,” she said. She was proud of her husband, his tough mouth. If anyone stared at him, Dana glanced up and unholstered his thickest Philly accent: “You shoulda seen the other guy.” It was like the old joke about the grimy Schulkyll River, Hollie told people: if you fall in, don’t bother getting out. The car that hit her husband’s amid the Schulkyll Expressway’s slick March traffic had plummeted into the …chop! chop! read more!
GOING RINGSIDE by Keith Rebec Elmer was in the kitchen fixing himself two eggs over easy when he heard shouting outside. He turned the burner down, went to the window. Out near his mailbox, where the children gathered to board the yellow bus, two girls argued. Elmer waited. He tried to decipher the voices and gauge the threat. It sounded like one of the girls said you bitch. At first the spat seemed normal, natural. But when the girl in the pink dress struck the girl in the blue dress over the head with a tin lunch pal, Elmer’d seen enough. He stepped out onto the cool concrete, barefooted. “You girls end it right now,” he said. “Or I’ll come down there.” The girls had dropped their lunches, and each now clutched a fistful of hair. With locked bodies they jerked, cussed. Then they both fell to the grass and wrestled, …chop! chop! read more!
SUBJECT by David Schuman You’re scrubbing grout in the bathroom when the old guy next door shouts through the wall. Wants to know if you’ll come over and see his paintings. He’s been bugging you ever since you moved in, convinced you’ll understand what he’s getting at. It’s ten minutes before Maritza may or may not arrive. The tub looks clean, even around the drain. The old guy opens his door and you’re hit with a whoosh of stewy air. He’s got about twenty canvasses, some hung, some leaning against the walls, all of his little dog. Pepé. My muse, he says. Pepé, a dishwater Chihuahua, peeps from a mound of newspapers behind the sofa and yawns. The paintings are crude, with colors right out of the tube. Pepé as a circus ringmaster, a pizza chef. Pepé behind the wheel of a red blob you suppose is a sports car. …chop! chop! read more!
ONYX by Rebecca Entel Raised voices hush a room, lower eyes. But the sound of skin hitting skin. But a slap. The sound, an air-thickening sponge, slogged from one room to the next. It stilled the action in each. Heads looked away from the TV; hands paused lining the table with silverware; mouths at the door stopped saying hello. After a few minutes, our hostess came back downstairs. Her eyes were the slightest bit red. But she smiled. “Time for dinner, everyone.” We followed her into the dining room. Our host came in quietly while we were shuffling about, finding seats. He sat down at the head of the table. We avoided eye contact with both of them. Soon dinner began and was busy. Our hostess spoke and smiled; tension drained from the room. We all eased, slumping in our chairs like unclaimed marionettes. Drinks slipped through chattering lips. We …chop! chop! read more!
THE CURATED HOME by Michelle E. Crouch When maintaining the curated home, one must behave much as if were one were employed at a museum. The collections management database, however, will not exist on a computer or even on yellowed paper files. You will have to create the catalog in your head. It may help to invent a mental taxonomy. For instance: “memorabilia, rare” – which consist of anything from a guitar signed by Rod Stewart to vintage Russian film posters. This would be a distinct category from “collectibles,” consisting of say, a matching set of Le Crueset cookware. Or the cookware might be filed under “status symbols, functional.” The point is that creating these specific categories will help you to remember each item and its location, which might be helpful when you are trying to arrange the Moroccan throw pillows in proper formation on the sofa after vacuuming. Remember …chop! chop! read more!
CORMAC by Martha Cooney I was kicking my football along the road in our estate, timing my kicks to each time the curbstones changed color. They were painted in the Ireland flag’s green, white, and gold, just to let anybody foolish enough to get lost in North Belfast know they were in a Catholic estate. I turned into the alley and kicked the ball ahead, prepared to chase after it past imaginary defenders, but stopped short. Standing in front of the rubbish bin halfway down the alley was Cormac Devaney, from my year at school. He was holding a teddy bear, not even looking my way. He laid the bear on the edge of the bin and held it down with his elbow while he lit a match. Then he picked up the teddy, pressing the light against its fat stomach and dropping the ball of flame into the bin. …chop! chop! read more!
EVERYTHING MUST GO by Elizabeth Mosier “Here’s what you do,” a friend said to my husband, eyeing the dreck on our front porch, residuals from a previous sale: the single chair, incomplete set of plates, fancy dolls our daughters never played with, battered sleigh they had outgrown. “You go to the bank. You get $200.00 cash. You pay someone a hundred bucks to haul this shit away. You give your wife the other $100.00 and tell her it was a huge success. Nobody wants stuff you don’t want.” How I wish my husband had done it, though I’d insisted on the sale. When we’d moved to the suburbs twenty years before, we’d paid for a vacation by selling “antiques” we’d spent years collecting in Germantown. These things filled our imagined future, but didn’t fit in our new house. Nor did the wedding crystal I’d been carrying from the basement when …chop! chop! read more!
INTERIORS by Frances Brent 1. I’ve been thinking about the fish in a glass bowl–loneliness, silence, wasted beauty. The fish appears in my imagination, passes through the reef hole, travels here and there—weightless and random cartridge. I watch its inch-long vanishing spur. The pimento spark hurts my eye. 2. Inside the skin house: lift an iron shoe onto the wooden riser. Shoulder and torso harnessed. Then swing back, back and forth, from here to a speck of myself in the parachute of myself. Frances Brent is the author of The Beautiful Lesson of the I (May Swenson Poetry Award) and The Lost Cellos of Lev Aronson (Atlas & Co.).
ENCOUNTER WITH THE DEVIL by Thaddeus Rutkowski You dirty rat,” I said. I was talking to the devil himself. I spoke without trepidation, even though I was addressing a creature with horns and a pointed tail. “You don’t have a monopoly on evil or sin,” I said. The earrings he wore started jingling. “I wish it would snow sometimes, here in hell,” he said. “Not in this circle,” I said, “or in any circle of your infernal underworld.” “I made my fortress strong,” he replied, “to keep out twerps like you.” I could feel my neck starting to burn under my collar. Maybe I was on fire, but that was impossible. How would I get out of here—could I find a handcart and drive myself out of heck? I doubted that mode of transport would get me very far; I’d still be a rat in a maze. The prospect of …chop! chop! read more!
ZAHRA by Nahid Rachlin When Shamsi and her two small children moved into some rooms in my aunt’s house, they looked very poor. My aunt, the owner of the house, took pity on them and reduced the rent by 30 toomans a month. Wherever Shamsi went her children followed her. One of her daughters, Zahra, the smaller of the two, was blind in one eye and her other eye could only see vague shadows of things. In the mornings her eyelashes were covered with pus and the whites of her eyes were lined with red veins. No one knew how Shamsi suddenly began to acquire new possessions. She bought new clothes for herself and her children. She bought copper pots and pans which she polished every day. And a faint smile began to light her sullen face. Then Zahra disappeared. No one saw her in the mornings or at any …chop! chop! read more!
SONATA FOR CLAVIER AND VIOLIN K. 526 (September 2008) by Samuel Thompson The day of playing with Mr. G.’s transitional bow– yes, the one that they used in Mozart’s time– is fresh in my psyche as I work to taper and bloom, stepping away from the vertical and the punctuation-marked strokes made with the extended index finger. Winner of a Participation Prize in the 2011 Padova International Violin Competition, violinist Samuel Thompson has established a career that spans solo, chamber music and orchestral performance, interdisciplinary collaboration, and arts journalism. In addition to performing regularly with the Delaware, Roanoke and Harrisburg symphonies, Samuel has been presented in solo, chamber music and interdisciplinary performance throughout the United States, Canada and Italy. This is Samuel’s first poetry publication and he shares very deep thanks both to his friend Deborah Needleman Armintor for her advocacy and support and to Jorja Fleezanis who encouraged him to keep …chop! chop! read more!
THE GAME’S LAST BREATH by John Grey Transfusions come and go like players off the bench. This drip is offense. This pill is defense. He’s sleepy in the middle of the day. Why speak to visitors, when a coma’s on offer? For the longest time, he’s nothing but breath. Let others trace it to his life. He’s content to just let it wander through the body. If it’s bored, it can leave. People huddle over him. He’s not the quarterback. He’s not about to call the next play. He’s not in the game. With his brain closed, he’s not even spectator. At best, he’s the ball. Quietly, he lets the last of the air out. John Grey is an Australian-born poet who works as financial systems analyst. He has been published recently in Bryant Poetry Review and Tribeca Poetry Review and has work upcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Osiris.
WAKING by Michael Neal Morris The straps at the top of the mask cut a little into his forehead. The top of his skull seemed to be burning, and for a silly moment he wondered if he had any hair left. Of course he did. The taste of the air blowing on him said something was on fire. He fell asleep then, and dreamed his dead father had come over to help him work on the car. When he woke, his wife, shaking his arm, was talking to him. He unclasped his CPAP mask, and tried to look at her though his headache made him wince. “Your machine is out of water,” she told him. “Why is the humidifier set so high?” “I don’t know,” he said. And now free of the device, he didn’t much care. He said thank you and touched her hand. It was cool, comfortable. He …chop! chop! read more!
SCRABBLE by Beth Kephart I said it would be nice (look how simple I made it: nice) not to be marooned in the blue-black of night with my thoughts, I said the corrugated squares of the downstairs quilt accuse me, I said the sofa pillows are gape-jawed, I said there are fine red hairs in the Pier 1 rug that will dislodge and drown in my lungs, I said I can’t breathe, I said, Please. It wasn’t hard. But you were asleep by then, west to my east, uncorrupted by the plain and the soft of my imagination, the occasional and wire whipped and cruel: you couldn’t be touched; you wouldn’t stir; you. I broke and I climbed out and I climbed through and I climbed down into the blue black red threads and sat until a fat clack cracked the hollow between the walls and I knew that it …chop! chop! read more!
GIN A JUNIPER SLICK by Katherine Fallon Gin a juniper slick, drain-bound, spilled by the wrist that meant it this time. The glass-floor desert, the sugared rim, glister in cloud-gauze sunlight. To win, to be as cold and lasting as the snow. Sometimes me, sometimes winter. Katherine Fallon lives and writes in Philadelphia. She received an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence and her work has recently appeared in Sink Review and Snake Nation Review.
THE ASK SANDWICH by Lynn Levin The TSA lady at Newark Airport had a nice touch, and Josie enjoyed the pat down. The blue gloves slid under her arms, along her sides, down one leg, then the other. They searched, discerned. They pleased with just the right amount of pressure. Josie thanked the TSA lady, who nodded back with very professional brown eyes. In bed last night in Robert’s apartment, it was their sixth time together, Josie had attempted the “ask sandwich,” something she’d read about in a woman’s magazine. First she told him how nice his cologne smelled and trailed her fingers playfully down his arm. That was the first slice of bread. Then she said she’d really love it if he rubbed her back. That was the sandwich filling. She would have praised him and reciprocated generously, which would have been the other slice of bread. Instead he …chop! chop! read more!
DEAR COUCH by Anna Strong Dear Couch, I want to zip myself in a pocket and watch baseball. You say sit down and stop moving the furniture around. A square of light hits my palm from the gap in the curtain teeth and I want it to fill my creases with more than skin. Despite spiders, my name is safe in your mouth. Grain by grain you’re putting salt on your tongue. The game ends, there are questions, outside it’s all purple and traffic. When you’re asleep on my knees and it’s just me and the crushed end of chips and the street below wide awake, I remember my first god was my mother, my second, the light switch. Anna Strong is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania originally from Haverford, PA. Her work has previously appeared in the Penn Review, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and is forthcoming in Peregrine. Currently she is working …chop! chop! read more!
BONES by Rachel Pastan Once, they’d read aloud to each other all the time: letters, menus, fliers posted on telephone poles along the streets. Missing dog, black, one white ear, answers to Shayna. For sale, stereo cabinet, some damage. Telugu lessons, $10/hour. Telugu, they’d said, maybe we should learn Telugu? Now, the sun streams in through the windows onto the stained tablecloth, onto the chipped cups and the tarnished spoons and the damp sugar in the saucer they use for sugar, and they no longer speak to each other even in English. She doesn’t even read him the headlines. ñShe won’t—can’t—read him the words banged out on her personal teletype machine, the banner that runs along the inside of her brain. Baby baby baby baby baby it says. But there won’t be a baby, and even her desire has been burned almost away, bleached down like the corpse of an …chop! chop! read more!
The Rise of the Selfie in the 21st Century by Blake Martin (bio) Click on any photo to see it at full size. Why do we take self-portraits? As someone who has always felt the urge to take pictures of myself, I don’t have a ready answer. For the longest time I felt shame for this urge to see myself through my lens. Blame it on the Christian ethos of original sin that shaped my early life, but this habit of posing for my own camera felt like an exercise in vanity. Up until the Instagram era, I rarely, if ever, shared my self-portraits with others. There is one self-portrait from 2001 that I printed and gave to a friend, but the image is out of focus, blurred and impressionistic like a Monet, and you’d never know I was sitting in the windowsill of the Rodin Museum in Paris basking …chop! chop! read more!
HUMMING by Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot Listening to Glenn Gould’s albums of Bach’s keyboard music, you will hear a noise in the background: the sound of someone humming. As a child I gravitated toward the Gould recording on the shelf that held my parents’ collection of LPs, everything ranging from the Bee Gees to Schumann, covers worn on the edges. Carefully placing it on the turntable, I dropped the needle on the vinyl, and then dropped myself to the floor where I would press my ear into the soft brown cover of the large speakers that were half my height, hold my breath, and listen as Gould’s voice periodically accompanied the Preludes and Fugues. Interpreting music is a creative process conducted through the medium of the body. It is a strange, mysterious sensation to intellectually conceive the idea of a sound, generate it through the mechanics of muscles and bones, …chop! chop! read more!