The vet returned my call as I was rolling the last wineglass in bubble wrap. In counterpoint to my curt hello, he sounded upbeat, even jovial. He explained that when Mags had been spayed last month, the operation had sent her hormones haywire. “That’s why she’s behaving like she’s pregnant,” he summed up. “It’s a textbook case.”
The “textbook case” was curled beside the stove in a cardboard box she had commandeered during my week of packing. She’d stuffed it with laundry from the overflowing hamper. Each time I approach, she whined.
“It’s all in your head,” I told her, shoving the phone into my pocket. “Snap out of it.”
Her eyebrows twitched. Then she sighed, wriggling deeper into the mound of dirty tees, her silky muzzle resting on her paws.
Alex returned with the U-Haul around one. After much hemming and hawing on both sides, I was making the move to his place. I updated him on Mags’ condition. In the several hours since the vet’s call, she had whelped. At her swollen teats were Alex’s favorite Nikes that she’d dragged from under the bed.
I remember hearing the beating of God’s heart. Th-thump, th-thump th-thump. I swore it to be a holy thing. My father held me tight and said let that rhythm guide you, son. Cha-cha-cha. Th-thump, th-thump th-thump. The living room spun into hallejulahs as he swiveled and swayed his hips, hand on stomach, eyes closed. Lips easing into a smile. Lawrence Welk crooned from the television to keep those toes tapping. My father listened, sashayed though life hips, pressed against my mother, my friends, my daughter. It’s a holy holy thing, son. Cha-cha-cha. I shut my eyes, prayed for the beating of God’s heart to drown out all other sounds.
When Lucy and me go down by the river the moonlight in her long blonde curls. You can’t trust no one near no shining hair like that I tell her no one should touch them long blonde curls. She laughs at me I’d be mad but for the sound of her laugh at night like when the sun and the moon sit in the sky at the same time. She laughs she holds her hair between her lily white fingers she says I can touch it. I want to.
Go ahead go ahead go ahead. Touch it touch it touch it she won’t quit sayin it, I got to look down at the ground No one. No one should touch. If I don’t look she can’t make me touch. My fingers twitch. She says she wishes I. would do. Something. She says it like that stops between her words I hear the air.
She called me into the front room and told me to sit down in the comfy chair and then she leaned over and kissed me and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she kissed me again and then she straightened up, took a step back, rubbed her sore lips and then she said: “Now your story has more kisses than all the kisses in the books by Jane Austen.”
Saturday at Zumba there was a new song, one with a thumping electronic beat. Marie hated when there were new songs. She still had difficulty learning the routines they did every week, mastering such simple moves as simultaneously throwing her right arm in the air and kicking her left foot up. The instructor, Sierra, bopped around at the front of the room, clapping her hands together.
“It’s a new song, ladies! Time to jive!”
Marie could feel sweat sticking to her back underneath the big white t-shirt and loose black capris she wore. She’d found them on sale at Marshall’s, next to the racks of bright athletic clothing and spandex. Lenny had bought her a gym membership, insisting she stay active. She’d protested, but he used his trump card, said, “I want my kids to know their grandma for a long time, Ma” and she gave in. Now she watched the young girls dancing in their sleek running shorts and wished it were possible for her to feel less unappealing. She imagined them whispering about her, the fossil in the back row wearing all the clothing. Three rows of girls in front of her, and no one wore capris. But they were tan and toned, and she’d surrendered her legs to cellulite years ago. She eyed Sierra’s pink spandex tank top with envy.
“Get into it, ladies!” called Sierra, pushing her butt from side to side. “Let’s see those booties pump!”
When she wears the bangle she feels so fucking good. Just look how it hoops her wrist like one of Saturn’s rings, how it knocks back and forth as she waves her hand, points at things. She’s hot shit when she wears the bangle.
She was wearing the bangle when she met the boy and hooked the boy and used him and used him and dropped him. He looked so small when she dropped him, like she’d shrunk him in half, like she was Saturn and he was some little moon. She’d been the moon a million times before, but now she has the bangle. She likes the way it slides to her elbow when she raises her hand and likes the way it hurts when it knocks back down. There are little marks around her wrist, little tiny bruises, little puckers of color. She pushes them with her thumb when she’s bored or anxious or when Dad gets loud downstairs.
Lathered in shampoo, her hair became like sea foam embracing knotted driftwood, limbs exfoliating on the shore. Her flesh was turning pink from such long exposure to the shower head’s hot prick, and the moon’s white hot eye lit up with the glee of a voyeur, peeping through darkness at a celestial body in motion. Razor in hand, she mutilated every hair that dared leave its follicle inside her. She had no room in her life for hairy situations, and she inwardly thanked the shower for demanding that she curtain herself off from the world at least once a day. Sometimes she would pretend she was a pearl, safely clasped in the tub’s hard enamel shell. If she wanted free, she could slither out, never clammy but like an oyster—a moist, labial aphrodisiac to be swallowed up by tongues of towels. And yet she was afraid of water—the taste of it repulsed her. To drink it felt like subjecting her insides to a bath in which there was no soap, no sponge, no scented crystals, only a cesspool of phlegm and bile. She was glad when the gurgle of the drain proclaimed the downfall of moistness. Her feet were the only part of her whose allegiance to water made itself known in shapeless prints upon the floor, but even these did not stay fastened to her nails for long. She would sic her slippers on this part of her that someone had so aptly labeled ‘heel,’ and the sound of their synthetic soles when they slapped the floor for its insubordinate behavior would carry her forward, deliver her to drier ground. The mirror was the final frontier. At the face-off she knew to enlist an army of Q-tips to help her come clean completely—she’d plant their shafts so deep inside her ears, that drums of war would seem to sing and plead. Its head erect and seeing stars, the moon would watch and wax and shoot off comets at the height of heaven.
We were running through the Shepherd’s Woods down by Yalloway Creek and across from the schoolyard. We were running because Tony had said he wanted to and I had said that that sounded fine, and so we ran. When we reached the Gap, that’s the wide space between one side of the Woods and the other where the ground falls away and you can see the Creek squeeze through rocks at the bottom, I jumped over. Tony stopped and wouldn’t do it, so I said “C’mon Ton—! Don’t be a chicken!” And he hated when I called him that, and I suppose that’s what did it. And I suppose that’s why his mum won’t meet my eye when I look at her across the pew.
When I was a boy, my father told me the story of Agamemnon, King of Argos, peerless butcher of the Trojan War. Agamemnon was arrogant, which Dad considered a sterling quality for a man to have, so long as he backed that shit up with mighty deeds. Dad might have earned a degree from a good college and spent his life building a library of thick books, but sometimes when he drank his speech tumbled back into that crude pit from which nobody in our family will ever escape, dug by generations of pissed-off roughnecks with vicious tongues…
His Royal Highness was a tweaker who hung around outside the convenience store where we used to go to buy booze. He always had his hands shoved wrist deep in his pockets, and there was always a twenty four-ounce Miller Hi-Life in a brown paper bag sitting on the newsstand next to him. His face was covered in black, some mixture of sweat and ash that stuck in his stubble, and he wiped it often—long, greasy drags across his cheeks that left them dirtier than they had been before. The management let him stay because he gave them such good business.
MELIAI* by Heather Bourbeau He knew where to find her, amid the Spanish moss hanging from trees, along the creek the locals called a river. He knew she sought the sensation of being at once small and large. As a girl, she would paddle under the trees and pretend the moss was her hair—long, soft, tangled, and tender. She felt protected, wonderfully alone, even when he would find and bring her home. He knew that after the arrangements were made, the barely-used name shared and honored, the achingly small coffin lowered, she would run to hold moss, feel safe, mourn among her roots. *In Greek mythology, the Meliai were nymphs of the ash tree. Heather Bourbeau is a Berkeley-based writer. She was a Tupelo Press 30/30 poet, a finalist for the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize, and winner of the Pisk! Poetry Slam. Her journalism has appeared in The Economist, The …chop! chop! read more!
You fall down a cement staircase & your skin drops away. It comes off like a suit. You fold your skin up & carry it home & hang it in the closet. Then you wrap yourself in unfinished quilt tops made up of band tees old lovers once wore. It’s as good a skin as any. For the first few months, you lie on the sofa waiting to heal. Every morning you undress the bandages & smother yourself in antibacterial petroleum jelly. Then you put the quilts back on.
WE ARE ALIVE AS LONG AS THE SNOW IS DEEP
by Ron Burch
You pound on the dirty living room window from outside. You want in and I leave the room. Bloodsucker, zombie, cannibal. You tell me that you will take me into the bedroom. You say you will make it worth my time. You just need a hit, a bump. I say I don’t have anything. Leave me the fuck alone but you beg. My phone rings. I get email. You seem to be everywhere even though I see your shadow blighting the soiled brown window curtains. You send me naked photos of yourself, on your knees, your face not facing the camera. You did not take the pictures. Someone’s fat thumb blurs the frame.
My father and I sit on the steps of the house, the house I grew up in, watching snow fall and melt. A scrim of ice laces the yard with white ribbons. The street throws back diamonds under the lamp posts. I’m cold and my father loans me his sweater, the sleeves too long, the chest too wide. I can smell the acrid reek of his cigarettes on the weave…
A REPLACEMENT by Ingrid Claire Wenzler On a narrow street in Berlin, all cobblestones, I remember turning, seeing first, the morning light on the rubble someone had swept against the curb and then, a child alone in a doorway. “What’s that you have?” our second lieutenant called out. The child, a little German girl with fine brown hair, looked over and in this sweet, sort of hesitant way waved. I have a hard time, even now, believing what happened after that. The lieutenant went over to the little girl and grabbed the doll she was holding. “I asked you a question,” he said. Then he threw the doll to me. I caught it and, without a thought in my head, tossed it like a hot potato to another soldier. It was a baby doll small enough to fit inside a hand grenade. I remember it was dressed in a baptismal gown with a …chop! chop! read more!
THE TERRIBLE SOFTNESS OF TONGUES by Chris Vola How has it come to this, he would think, watching the images that flickered, MRI-slow, from the screen on his blanket-covered stomach. Regardless of how hard I try, I can’t seem to keep my shit together. Fundamentally, he knew you couldn’t keep any kind of shit together. Everything was carbon and particles smaller than carbon and those particles were always corroding, breaking, collapsing against each other with the terrible softness of tongues. A rapid, infinite sequence of shifts that didn’t stop and were at once fragile and impenetrably brutal. If he felt a pang of irrational strength, he would try to fight the changes: he would dismantle his power cord, close the screen, his thoughts, his head, and for as long as he could, forget the events, faces, and hips that had come to define his particular disintegration. He would stay in one …chop! chop! read more!
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS IN A TOWN WITH A POPULATION OF 500
by Neil Boyack
In the flat, heavy heat, I was walking home from the Christmas dinner in our small country town with my wife. There was a cool change trying to affect the heatwave that had made everyone sweat and complain for the past week and as a result there were muscles of blustery wind, and random flashes of lightning tailed by crunching thunder; a thunder that really never ended, a continual electric sound like a large concrete ball rolling around on the wooden floor of an old Scout Hall.
Rowena moves the side of the Sharpie gradually down the bridge of my nose, taking a turn over my nostrils and across my lips. I pucker. The Sharpie glides around the bulge. I try to see the mark on the wall. “Don’t,” she commands, pressing my chin back into place so the Sharpie can complete its journey around my jaw and along my Adam’s apple. When the line ends, she lets me step back with her to look. My amorous silhouette graces the ladies’ room wall in Harp’s Bar. We’ve already done Rowena’s outline in the men’s room, beside the paper towel dispenser. I grin at her, I think, or near her. Her hair is orange lava. She frowns at me, concentrating, raises the Sharpie, zeroing in across the myriad quantum reaches of space, time, and chance, and Sharpies a big black dot on the end of my nose.
You cannot outrun it. Stand and wave both fists. Hide your palms. Speak softly. If it charges, curl up on your side, tuck in your head and project beach ball harmlessness.
Feel free to breathe. This is no respiratory contagion. But avoid open sores and exchanging bodily fluids. Maybe cancel your trip.
MACARONS by Shannon Sweetnam We were in the Clotted Cow when we got the call. “I found four thermometers, but they’re all rectal,” Dad shouted over the phone. “Rectal?” I asked, as I licked buttercream frosting off my fingers. “What do you mean rectal?” “Hold on.” There was a long pause. I could tell he was waiting for me to repeat my question. Our son was thirteen. Our daughter was twenty. We hadn’t had a rectal thermometer in the house in over a decade. I was not going to repeat my question. Jim and I were in Toronto for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We’d come to attend the annual TIFF Film Festival. The plan was to watch a lot of movies, balk at how skinny the actresses were at the premieres, eat five-pound lobsters at the oldest restaurant in the city, get drunk on Canadian beer, and, when the occasion …chop! chop! read more!
DEADBOLT by Alicia L. Gleason I always end up back at the apartment on 12th street. We moved in on a dim Saturday morning. Remember how you found that kinked key in the cabinet beneath the sink? A key someone before us had bent? You fell ill with interest in the house’s previous owners. In how they got in and got out, in where the key fit. You tried all the locks. You searched in the cobwebbed cellar while I soaped the kitchen floors. I’ll bet this was with a hammer, you said when you came out, holding the key with two fingers, a loop of red thread drooping from the hole at the top. Then you tracked dirt onto my clean floor. Or someone with a strong hand, you continued, your shoe prints bleeding into the suds. Or, I said, waving you off the floor, it wasn’t in the …chop! chop! read more!
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE LADY WHO ALWAYS REQUESTS TWO NAPKINS AT MY RESTAURANT by Melanie Sevcenko Dear Miss or Mrs., First off, although my hostess shift covers only the lunch crowd on a Monday through Friday basis, I am well aware that every day when you leave us at 1:30pm—after you request two cloth napkins, and after you swallow three bites of Today’s Special—that you will be back in five hours for dinner. And sometimes, forty-five minutes later, when you remember the dessert you ordered while you sit in the parking lot and reapply your lipstick to your muttering lips in the rearview mirror, until they come together to blurt “Dessert!” and you will come back inside to join us. And because I never see you when evening falls, and because I’d rather not discuss your potential thievery with my co-workers, I am left only to wonder if you …chop! chop! read more!
MAGIC TRICK by Circus He presses the deck of cards into her hands and says: Shuffle. As you shuffle, think about all the cards in the deck. Concentrate on a single card, but don’t choose one, just hand the deck back to me when you have the image clear in your mind. She does as he says. Her mind settles on the three of spades. She returns the deck to him. He takes it in one flat, outstretched palm and rests his other hand over the top card. He concentrates for a moment, eyes closed, then fans all the cards and, without hesitation, chooses one at random. He holds up the card. It is the three of spades. Is this the one, he asks. She nods, but it is clear she’s not impressed. Nice trick, she says, but I can do better. Prove it, he says. She smiles. She leans …chop! chop! read more!
LITTLE FEATHERS by Andrea Rothman The bird lay shivering on the lawn, their faces reflected dark and alien in his button eye. The other eye, the one on the left side of his head, was shut, or possibly gone. A clot of blood and barbs seemed to fill its place. The woman, called Anne, scooped him awkwardly into a kitchen towel and carried him across the juniper-bordered path to the house, her daughter Anne Marie skipping merrily behind her. Set against the hardwood kitchen floor, the bird perked up, flapped a wing and began hopping between mother and child. With only one eye visible he seemed to be winking at them, in some overlooked gesture of gratitude or appreciation. “He’s not going to die, is he, Mommy?” “I don’t know.” “Let’s keep him.” The woman stepped back, wishing she’d left the bird to die. Blood-encrusted feathers trailed behind him, feathers …chop! chop! read more!
THE TASTE OF OTHERS by Madeline Zehnder She walks gingerly toward the man chopping onions, who turns but does not shake her hand. Later she will learn this was politeness; right now she thinks he is rude. He criticizes the oil she picks for her salad dressing, causing her to cry and consider quitting. In May, she saves his menu with an asparagus dish so fresh and vital they cannot help but kiss for hours behind the stock pots. In June, he finds her cleaning knives at the sink and confesses that his estranged wife has returned. She hurls a cleaver and runs, leaving the other blades to rust. Another year, another kitchen. She is filleting sole when he walks in, his empty hands telling her everything. Madeline Zehnder received degrees in English Literature and Music from Smith College. She lives in Cambridge, MA, where she works for a Harvard …chop! chop! read more!
SMALL by Michael Head He stood staring out the peephole and waiting for the girl who said she’d come. She was three days late and he didn’t have a television so he mostly stood staring out the peephole and counting the seconds. It didn’t bother him that the power had been shut off for five days or that the rent was a full week overdue. He had twelve thousand dollars in a backpack and he was waiting for the girl who said she’d come. She would bring one thousand grams of Small and they might fuck and she would leave. He was thirsty and wanted to run to the vending machine down the hall but if she was on Fast she might come and go before he got back. So he stood staring out the peephole and waiting for the girl who said she’d come. He started getting Small when …chop! chop! read more!
FALL ON ME by Melissa Sarno I’m on a crowded subway, clutching a heavy book that requires two hands not one, but where to place my fingers? On the warm metal pole, or balance, maybe lean, against a door or a railing where the puff of a stranger’s sleeve already peaks through. I’m lost in rolling sentences, in the rain of words, and I am close, too close, to the tangle of her hair and the backpack strap slapping at my wrists, with my messenger bag smashed between an angry stare and the dull hum of his headphones. When she comes on, I’m pushed by someone else and then I’m flailing, slipping from the grip of memory where the period had nudged up against a space. I wonder which word had come before it, which might come next, because suddenly the page is a mash of words I have to puzzle …chop! chop! read more!
STEADY MOVE ITS OWN STILLNESS by Connor Towne O’Neill Of the seven septuplets that live in their grandfather’s grandfather clock, only the seventh—the blind one—spends time on the pendulum. While the others spin the balance wheel, study iambs to the slip-and-catch of the escapement, regulate heart-rates to the second hand, the blind seventh pendulums alone. Her weight skews time, oblongs the steady swing. The grandfather who sets the grandfather clock, dead-reckons it against high-noon in Columbia, PA, notices the loss of seconds daily. Using his grandfather tools, he recalibrates to the new-weighted sway of his granddaughter’s blind penduluming. He speaks softly, silently, to his daughter’s seventh blind septuplet and nods in time to her every response. In his winding he feels the lost seconds return, the plasticity of the moment congeals again. The sight of his seven grandchildren in his grandfather clock are themselves a grandfather’s clock. Now in time …chop! chop! read more!
KENTUCKY SNAKES by Shaun Turner Me and Dorsey worked with Gross Lumber down in the woods behind Viola Creek and we’d cut our share of trees. In the woods, not even Lloyd Gross cared how many beers we drank. All the loggers—usually men from McKee—would split a paper-bagged six-pack around noon and just relax. A bird-call would echo, and the foliage would brush against itself, and the insects would hum just behind the brush, and we would puncture our cans with a long metal churchkey in a way that felt smooth, natural. Two years ago, Dorsey was buzzed and he spotted this black rat snake coiled on a pine branch about five feet up. “If it were a copperhead, it could’ve bit me on the neck,” he said, pulling a piece of line from his pocket. “You place the snare where they least expect it,” Dorsey looped the wire into …chop! chop! read more!
PLATITUDES by Joshua Isard The only platitude anyone should ever offer is I love you. It is the only phrase that they know is true, that you know is true. You’ll be fine, you’ll be great, everything will work out—those phrases aren’t meant to make you feel better, only to forget the problem until you’re at a safe distance from the speaker. The only person who told me the truth was my boss. My boss who puts an away message on his email every night when he leaves the office and once looked at my phone and asked what I do with that glowing rectangle gizmo. He shook my hand, congratulated me, asked if it was planned—and then he said that anyone who doesn’t tell me how hard this is going to be is just slinging bullshit. He said that the happiness getting happier, that’s all true, but the other end, …chop! chop! read more!
GROWING UP by Devin Kelly She is naked save for pink socks, and her pale young behind squeaks as she slides, or inches, down the balustrade. The sound echoes off the wooden floorboards and she imagines a tiny creature screaming in short bursts. She cannot determine if the screams are pained or joyful. All things contain a little of both, she thinks. Twirling, orbiting around the living room, she laughs as only a child can laugh at the midnight hour when her parents are asleep and the dark, turning world seems to house a different sort of life. Pale moonlight filtered in slatted lines across the floor. A painting on the wall of a high-heeled woman in a red dress with legs splayed in mid-dance. She recalls something her dance teacher said just a week ago: “All life is a delicate balance between love and hurt.” She did not know …chop! chop! read more!
THE ACOLYTES, LIAR, AND BOX by Mercedes Lawry The Acolytes Somebody drowned the acolytes. They were not wee fellows so it must have been someone with plenty of muscle. Now an emptiness hovers like a bad smog burning throats and lungs. The professionals were involved at once but clearly, their training had been inadequate and they wrapped themselves in their worn bafflement, bowed their heads and retired to their tepid soup. The amateurs were all aflutter with the cleared field and began stacking hypotheses like wooden blocks, a bit too close to the haphazard and thus, doomed to topple. One lone wolf suggested linear thinking but he was chided and threatened with banishment with the buffalo. The soothsayers kept counsel behind their red doors. The clergy blinked and tucked their hands in their billowing sleeves and were as useless as ever. Many felt it was a waste of time to …chop! chop! read more!
THE GREAT WAVE CARRIES YOU FORWARD by Nick Kolakowski Marie’s husband Zachary passed away in early March, followed two weeks later by the dog. Marie would never confess this to anyone, but she missed the dog a little more than Zack. At least the mutt could stick to one bed. Marie would never confess this, either, but a deserted house can be pretty enjoyable. She took down Zack’s framed Bullitt poster from its prime spot in the living room and, with the help of an online art class, painted a giant wave crashing onto a skiff of Japanese fishermen. None of her friends knew it was a copy of “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa,” the famous Hokusai woodcut from the Edo era—they just assumed the pummeling whitewater was a metaphor for depression, a cry for help, and reacted accordingly. Her life filled with dinner parties; bone-crushing hugs arrived at random …chop! chop! read more!
AN EVEN, PERFECT BURN by Royee Zvi Atadgy Come here, he said. No, you can just watch me and then afterwards we’ll go to sleep and that’ll be the end of it, she said. You mean that we’ll go to sleep like it never happened. It never did, she said. In the glow of the single desklamp, yellow glow, onionskin, he watched her shed her black cardigan like a snake in the darkness, revealing first the shadowy bones of her shoulder blades—very thin and on the verge of falling out of her back like two ice shelves. Then it was the middle of the back, almost all spine and the shadows played on her disks as if they were small mountain ridges in a diorama. There were two moles he had never seen before and a scar, pink-shaded, about three inches long that lay diagonally across the bottom of her left …chop! chop! read more!
IN SEARCH OF DEATH by Olive Mullet Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for me. —Emily Dickinson —So why are you working at Hospice? Death is my thing. I’ve read all the books on it, most of them disappointing. Julian Barnes’ Nothing to be Frightened Of, for example. All he talks about is his fear of death, and he quotes philosophers on death. —You are not here just to give massages. No. I want to find out what it’s like to die. —So you ask the dying what they are feeling? Yep. (long pause) —And—what have you discovered? If the person was nervous in life, he’s nervous about death. If he was calm and accepting, he goes “gentle into that good night.” The fighters for life were fighters in life. Of course, they eventually lose. And maybe they did in life too. —And some may just …chop! chop! read more!
MARCH 5, 1953 by Robert Wexelblatt The funeral was flowerless. Every early spring bloom had been expropriated by the KGB for their boss. Scarcely forty people dared show up. Charged with counter-revolutionary bourgeois tendencies, tormented and shunned by the Composers Union, his wife and sons held hostage in Siberia, he composed wretched anthems to power plants and worse, Zdravitsa. It was a case of write our der’mo or die. Nevertheless, masterworks of “anti-democratic formalism” continued to pour forth. His meager stipend was cut; he very nearly starved. Given another decade and he might have sluiced out all that filth with a flood of new symphonies, freshets of ballets; but the tyrant outlived him. A stroke felled him and then, only fifty minutes later, with surpassing irony, the other. I like to imagine all those grief-stricken Muscovites in the grainy newsreels, ten deep on the ugly sidewalks, shedding their Russian tears …chop! chop! read more!
A SAD, LOGICAL CAPITULATION (after D. H. Lawrence) by Justin Nicholes The day a welding rod shimmied down Zou’s collar and combusted his shirt into singed tendrils, the same day my stomach caught traction in the scoop of his lower back and I knew I was in love, also the same day the building gave way, all of us died. It’s how these things happen, I guess. During our lives our bodies ricochet along until all we stumble into, all that’s rolled our ways, amasses into these blurred mirrors (I’m getting at corporeality here; I’m getting at ghosts). The building’s integrity flagged, and we all lurched ground-ward in common cataclysm. It sure did surprise us. I mean, we built this place. Just that morning we’d been gawking at Zou’s computer at an image he’d found. It was what the building would finally look like. Twilight purpled on the Dell’s loose-hinged …chop! chop! read more!
PIGEON by Thompson Mayes He was hot, too hot, walking on the sunny side of the hard stone streets through tourist stickiness of dripped gelato. He felt as wilted as the reddish-pink blooms that drooped out of the doorway, and he could smell the roach poison they must use here, wafting up from small dark gaps at the base of the buildings. He avoided the pigeons, suspected they were diseased, though he could hear their burbling as they waddled on the dirty streets. It had been churches today, and each of the dim, frescoed interiors had been a calm relief from the crowds and the heat. But the religious art had oppressed him. In the last church he had stared at an awkward painting of Mary Magdalene, blonde hair covering her entire body, ending with sharp points like the tongues of flame. And there had been another Crucifixion, the blood …chop! chop! read more!
ARACHNICIDE by Ray Scanlon An organ pipe mud dauber is building a nest in the ornamental tin-roofed wren house Cheryl hung by the door. I hear her stridulating at her masonry work, and see her carry a small ball of mud into the bird house, a first for me, even though I’ve casually watched her predecessors for years. Our paths are bound, by simple proximity, to intersect before long. One day she emerges just as I step outside, rockets up, appraises me, hovers motionless at point-blank range. I freeze. She stares me in the eye. I gain a more mature understanding of “in your face.” Iridescent steely blue-black, she—an insect—has goddamn presence. Even though I outweigh her by roughly 343,000 to one, I’m the one who backs down. I inch my hand up to make the Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign and will my body to slide backward several …chop! chop! read more!
ASSEMBLING AN ANATOMICAL LIFE by Laurie Blauner To Annie I labeled all the dancers’ body parts and told them how to use them. I prepared resonant music, a prescription for feet that kaleidoscoped from room to room. I described what I wanted, a mouth yanked upward, ankles and hands telling a phantom story, heads grouped into archipelagoes. I was the one going nowhere. I theorized, discussed, directed their bodies, which leaned against one another’s shoulders. “Arm?” one asked. “If you want one.” There was a movement of undressing and tiptoeing toward the unlocked door. They floated and spun, lifting themselves. The floor parked itself beneath them. Air congealed, then became inflamed by their motions. They rightfully absconded with my best advice. I helped strangers, reassembling them. At night boxes sheltered the dancers’ animal parts. Morning light combed their human hair. I knew what to hold and what to let go, correcting …chop! chop! read more!
LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY by Ivy Hughes I held the handset of the house phone to my ear, the dull tone providing a soundtrack for what was sure to be the most humiliating conversation of my life. From the sitting room, the three-foot oil painting of Shirley and Laverne hovered like consequence itself. Posed with pink and blue ring pillows in their mouths on the day of their wedding, the great white poodle and hyperactive Yorkie were the only children my ex-boyfriend’s mother and stepfather shared. My ex and his family were spending Christmas in California, an event I hadn’t been invited to because my ex had fallen in love. With someone else. I’m sure if my ex’s mom knew I’d recently put myself in the category of mentally ill, she wouldn’t have asked me to watch her precious dogs. But there I was, day three, daily check-in number four …chop! chop! read more!
TELESCOPES by Kristen Sharp In a dress with sequins the color of champagne, her legs like bone, she crouched on the beach and dug her hand under the packed wet sand. The New Year had been mostly Manhattans and whiskey-gingers and drunk finance hotshots from Murray Hill and Stuy-Town trying to buy girls out. The salt-cold wind blew grit down the face of the dunes. She drew her knees to her chest and drank vodka. People were getting engaged. But still she clung to her brick building in Morningside, to the holes in the walls where the electrical wiring had been gutted, to the hall light that was burnt out, to the bathtub where she’d bathed in two inches of water boiled in a pot on the stove, flopping around on her stomach like a beached whale to wash the suds off. She remembered being seventeen. As denim shorts and …chop! chop! read more!
LEXICON by Lori Lamothe I’ve forgotten the language of cities, of travel. I insert the room key upside down, stumble over a couch in the lobby, ride the wrong subway line, walk South instead of North. New York hems me in, surrounds me on all sides until I’m drowning in cigarette smoke, screaming horns, the kind of humidity that settles on skin and won’t wash off. The horizon is harder than the soft green sweep of home—stone and steel, mirrored windows that catch the sky and won’t let go. I’ve forgotten how to speak the language of strangeness. Years ago I drove up into the Himalayas at midnight, drank Georgian Cognac in Russia, photographed children in Peshawar. I ordered room service at Hotel de L’Opera and bunked on an old ship in Stockholm. I stood in Red Square in below-zero temperatures, allowed myself to be carried along by crowds at …chop! chop! read more!
WHEN SANTA CAME TO CHERRY HILL, NEW JERSEY by DC Lambert You could hear the sirens blocks away, and if you didn’t know, you’d think it was a real emergency. Santa Claus had trouble keeping balance, so the fire truck took it very slowly as it crept around Cherry Hill’s subdivisions and rows of fifty-year-old colonials in need of new roofs, furnaces, windows; they could not be replaced, just now, in this economy. Perched on the truck, Santa waved and weaved past illuminated inflatable reindeer and whirling pink snowflakes projected onto garages, and families ran outside to catch a glimpse, shivering a bit in the brittle winter afternoon. This was probably the last year Local 2663 would sponsor Santa. It was time to cut the nonsense. It was time to trim the waste. People waved at each other, too, as befit the season of joy. “How yez doin’?” “Good, ‘n …chop! chop! read more!
CHRISTMAS 2009 by Catherine Mosier-Mills The family was crowded around the small white gazebo in the middle of the yard. There was a map, too, pasted on the corkboard floating high on the gazebo’s walls, confining the chaotic compound in abstract squares and rectangles. Ruth didn’t touch the peanut brittle, the haphazard compensation present from her middle child, the feminist from Philadelphia, who’d brought her two kids. The conversation was a facsimile of previous email exchanges that she’d intercepted from her late husband’s computer, carrying the buzzwords of a telltale worrywart: college search, apnea, bullying. Whenever Ruth tried to make her way in and say the words she wanted so desperately for them to hear—state’s coming to get me. I don’t belong here, Russ is having an affair—they all looked away, like she was some kind of contagion that would spoil their perfectly planned afternoon. And then she stared at the …chop! chop! read more!
LOOK, HERE by Lisa Piazza For this, I use my grandfather’s axe. Pull it carefully from behind the dead cat’s carrier in the garage, where it rests dusty and dull, subdued by seasons more or less come and gone. More because fifteen winters is a long time for a dormant blade—idle through fifteen springs and summers followed by fifteen hopeful falls glimmering with red-gold readiness. Less because it is only my bony fingers that inexpertly grip the heavy wooden handle ready to hack the camellias crowding the far corner of my backyard. Mine is a small job. I have hated these trees for years. Still—some warning would have been nice. A short note typed by my sensible grandmother, attached by thick garden twine to the long handled axe, stating: to clear is not to clean. Maybe then my breath would not have stuttered when two lops revealed a fibrous system pink …chop! chop! read more!
HOW A HEART by Sean Lyon Tricia the three-toed sloth started to slipper my hand into her undergrowth. “Wow,” I clickered, “I’m in love with this rainforest.” Then she maffled her tongue down some other toucan’s throat. How a heart emflampers under such circumstances! “O,” I lunkered, “The bananarama is cancelled, it’s over.” I clambered up the stairs, my beak petricuckolded, clorping like a gaunt gibbous moon against each step on my sweltering accent to smither canopy. Just then an ocelot corrustickered my eye, slimmering over her tree-house-porch card table and trucing me hence with her manicured claws. I wallifer-fluttered, with all the agility of a milk frog whose leg’s been snippered by a plurching boa, to this ocelot’s treetop abode. She enfolded me. How a heart carditisizes under such circumstances! “I’ve been at solitaire for too long, kid,” she volupurred, “Let’s get to know us better, what do you …chop! chop! read more!
If God looked for Yvonne would he find her? If God looked down, past stars and satellites, through storm clouds thick and grey as dryer lint, would he see Yvonne in a stolen van, Yvonne in a darkened shopping plaza with Ma’s Diner and A-1 Hardware, Crafts Basket and Pets Plus?
Yvonne is down on options, down on her luck. Listening to the sighs and snores of her dog asleep in the back seat, the beat of rain on the roof. Her world the smell of wet dog. Her face in the mirror, hair wild, curling in the damp. Everything about her seems high-contrast, vampirish. Face white, except for that bruise her cover-up won’t cover. Tired eyes. White eyeliner is the trick for that, Teena had taught her. No white eyeliner in Yvonne’s make-up bag. No black, either. Almost out of tricks. She pats more cover-up on her eyelids, feels the oils in the makeup separate.