WHALE WATCHING by Lisa J. Sharon

by Lisa J. Sharon

Katherine’s father wanted to get out of the city. “We can hike and star gaze,” he said. “I want to show Katherine the whales.” So, early in the morning they packed the car and locked up their townhouse. Katherine climbed into the back seat, and her mother tucked her stuffed dog into the seatbelt with her. As they started down the driveway, her father stopped the car, “Where’s that photo album? The one with Phillip?”

“In the attic with your parents’ things. You’re not going back for it?”

“I’ll just be a minute.”

He returned with a large brown photo album. Katherine’s mother moved to the driver’s seat, “I’ll take the first shift,” and her father settled in the passenger seat with the album on his lap.

They headed north over roads that thinned from six lanes to four. “Goodbye, Massachusetts. Hello, New Hampshire,” they said together. Katherine’s parents talked about the cabin. Would there be cleaning supplies or should they stop in Portland and buy a mop and Lysol? Katherine’s mother sang to Simon and Garfunkel. Her father flipped through the pages of the photo album. He reminisced about Phillip their seed-spitting contests and the time they knocked down the bees’ nest in the wood shed. He turned to Katherine to tell her about the time, when Phillip was seven and Katherine’s father five, Phillip got the ladder from the shed and the two of them climbed the red maple tree along the path to Jackson Ridge so they could peer into the nest of the barred owl. “He had no fear,” Katherine’s father said, wiping his hand across his eyes. Between stories he’d fall silent. Katherine gazed into the passing woods of jack pines and aspen and saw Phillip riding between the trees like a cowboy on the back of a whale.

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A Now for MENAM by Orkan Telhan

A Now for MENAM
by Orkan Telhan

The Middle East. North Africa. The Mediterranean. Asia Minor and the Levant. These refer to inexact geographies. It is hard to tell where each begins and ends. As names, they may take on different meanings when they refer to people, languages, belief systems, and politics, all of which constantly negotiate their identities with respect to one another. As places, they may bring together a series of disjointed lands unified as an imaginary cultural construct, yet whose presence lives everywhere, whose lands have produced many diasporas around the globe. Today, someone from Little Syria, New York, uses the same recipe for hummus that a grandmother uses in Syria. And it tastes different; taste belongs neither here nor there, and changes every moment.

It is often an oriental gaze that renders these uneasy, tenuous connections. This is a gaze that comes both from the desire to belong to a place and the fear of its possibility. Thus the Middle East, North Africa, or the Mediterranean always exist as mediated elsewheres where only others can belong. Or where we belong as others.

Making sense of all of this today is an art. Is opinion really in the eyes of the beholder? What is there to look at when our interpretation will always be skewed by what is selectively mediated for us? Where or whom do we belong if opinions are already others’?

“A Now for MENAM” is an artwork that responds to these questions. It reflects on our habits of looking and making meaning out of what is thrown at us by media. It proposes a different kind of interface—perhaps a less complacent window or mirror—that tries to present the other in its fluidity; with enough room for fact and fiction.

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by Chelsea M. Harris

She told you she was driving to the bridal store to shop for dresses with the girls she used to babysit before you were born since she knew she’d never see you all wrapped up in a marshmallow mess surrounded by floor-length mirrors, asking questions like How does my ass look? and Do you think he’ll love it? your cheeks glowing in rose-colored blooms, eyes done up in sugar-coated sparkle, pupils wide, sipping down those strawberry cosmos, fifteen dollars a whack because you’re at fancy place with silk curtains and shimmer walls dripping in white, dripping in the things you ask your daddy for because that’s a man’s job and why’s he even living if not to pay for you to marry one under a string of Jell-O lights, your twinkle toes strapped into nine-inch heels, a thread of crusted diamonds kissing your chest, and whose to say you even love this guy with the charcoal mustache, with the beady smile, telling you one night when your twisting underneath him that he’s done a whole lot of fucking, a whole lot of banging pounding knocking nailing

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GIRL ON THE MOON by Andy Bailey

by Andy Bailey

College kid this time. Loud, heard him soon as they got out of the car, warbling like someone too comfortable with his own voice. Badly fucked up or bad at faking: had to be a college kid. Blue-collar guys handle their booze and don’t have to be loud to prove a point, and professional types bug out when they see our shithole. She even brought a black guy back once, the only one who introduced himself, cooked us eggs before he left.

Must’ve gone to the dives near the college, had her pick of beer-soaked frat boys blue-balled from staring at tight Mormon asses all day. Knew it was going to be one of those nights, fucking knew it, but I’d stopped taking Tylenol PM the month before, giving my liver a well-earned retirement, and had to spend each night wrestling my thoughts and gripping the mattress so I wouldn’t get up and do something stupid. Should’ve put more shit up in the room to distract me, lava lamp or aquarium or those squirmy little sea monkeys. Shit, probably should’ve moved rooms in the first place—hate and hurt seeped into the walls—moved rooms, moved houses, moved cities. But time gives a fuckall about your plans.

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by Hannah Allen

A word is flung into the dark from the sidewalk behind me, but I don’t recognize the voice it belongs to. What did he say? Tighten my scarf around my neck, hold my umbrella a little lower, scan the approaching expanse of parking lot for other students leaving campus. Night classes let out an hour ago, parking spaces vacant.

“Slut!” The word, clear and hard, snaps against my ears. I sidestep a sheet of ice. Fingers involuntarily fumble in my coat pocket. Is he talking to me? I meant to sew up the hole in my jacket, the one that sucks change, lighter, and keys deep into the lining. Too late now. My fingers can’t make sense of the mess. Slow down to feel out my keys. Mom’s voice in my head: You should already have them out, dear.

“SLUT! HEY SLUT!” The voice, closer. Coming from the right but from how far back, I’m not sure. Never been good at depth perception. It’s near enough that I forget about finding my keys. Why did I leave work early? Only had ten minutes left. Head down, I march towards my old Buick at the far end of the empty lot. Rain, lashing below the umbrella, blinds me. Already a slack bun gathered at the nape of my neck, my hair works free. Sharp, wet edges slap at my face. Tears gather at the corner of my left eye. I think of my boyfriend. Wish Drew would’ve answered my fucking call. Pull my phone from my slacks and try again. Voicemail.

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ALINA by Svetlana Beggs

by Svetlana Beggs

When I was young and living in San Francisco’s Sunset District with a roommate, I had a job selling underwear at Neiman Marcus. If I were to speak of this job with more reverence I would say that I sold “intimate apparel.” But “underwear” is more honest and also closer to “undercover,” because that’s what I was, an incognito undergraduate philosophy major, covered up by a lot of expensive underwear. I had to be a good salesperson to an occasional businessman who came in to grope La Perla panties (at $130 apiece). These men would ask, in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, “Where is the nearest restroom?” And I would say, “Straight and then left, next to the children’s department.”

One late night I was working alone and had to close the register. I was putting bras back on their hangers. When I looked up, I saw a very attractive woman who dared to examine underwear a few minutes before the store had to close.

She was a rare beauty, likely in her mid-40s, her body alert, her movements self-aware, like an actress or dancer. She was wearing simple dark slacks and a tan-colored, v-neck sweater and had the polished look of wealth that signals unattainable dignity. Her jet-black hair was long and wavy, her lips full and her dark eyes calm. Her make-up was heavy, but tasteful. A wholesome beauty—it was as if she were created from a single cloth, showing no seams. She looked a bit like the Italian actress Monica Bellucci, who had had recently appeared in the movie The Matrix. To meet Monica on my night shift amidst underwear seemed itself akin to a trip into some kind of Matrix.

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by Gregory Djanikian
for Wendy Glenn

Of course, death, how it wore
its outsize black hat to slice the day.

The mysterious abyss
of the body failing again,
falling into another body.

Not so much of resurrection
though it was spoken of, the oxen kneeling
in the straw, the stone rolled away.

The first death that had no likeness.
The earth that hath opened her mouth
to receive thy brother’s blood.
After which the history of departures
required a history of common prayer.

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PILLS by Eliza Callard

by Eliza Callard

Every day, I consume many colors–white and blue, pink,
translucent as a pale winter sun. Some I could crush
to a powder, some I could puncture and watch thick
red ooze smear my hands. Fat in the middle, round
like a flat earth, capsules you could shake like maracas.

I have ingested the weight equivalent of an adult male gorilla
or an anoa, from Indonesia (similar to the water buffalo).

I have swallowed one for every resident of
Copenhagen or the South American country of Suriname.

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STAYING ON TRACK by Ori Fienberg

by Ori Fienberg

Like his father, whenever he voiced a new idea a steam-engine-run train emerged from his mouth. It was possible to spot the idea coming, as his throat would glow and the area around him rumbled slightly. Specialists assured him there was no cause for alarm; it was a mysterious nuisance, but hereditary, and besides, the trains were quite small.

School discussion posed some difficulty as well. Fortunately, it was a well-documented condition, and so accommodation could be made; each room was equipped with a circular track, and he was given extra time to articulate particularly in-depth ideas, which could lead to additional cars, or a tiny, overly-energetic conductor, repeatedly pulling the train’s whistle. Some ideas were like that.

It could get overwhelming: all those ideas: all those trains to maintain, or to find bearing down on him in the night. The trains kept irregular schedules, returning the next day, or much larger, years later. His father insisted that one day the trains would take him someplace, though he was vague on the exact details of the location.

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by Diane Payne

The dogs and I walk to the neighborhood park and there are four cars in the parking lot; usually there are none. My first thought: Damn it, they’ve all killed themselves.

That’s what happens when there’s been a week filled with suicide.

Years ago, I remember walking to this park with my teenaged daughter. We noticed a car that appeared to be empty, yet moving. Curious, we peered through the window. The dogs started barking. The dogs were smarter than us. Embarrassed because they were classmates, my daughter took off running.

It had been too long for me, and yet never happened for she. Screw the words. This is one of those times when the universal bark of a dog says it all.

Today I take a long look at the parked cars. Not one car has a hose hooked to the window. No blood marks on the windshield. I don’t know why they are just sitting alone in their cars, not outside enjoying the park.

At least they are alive.

After finishing our walk through the neighborhood on the other side of the park, I notice the cars are still there. I check out the cars one more time, relieved to not see any dead bodies. Oddly enough, they all seem to be alone. No shaking cars. No hoses. No blood. Just four people sitting in their cars.

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STEALING THE BOOK by Leonard Kress

by Leonard Kress

What happened to my signed first edition of Auden?
Stolen, I suspect, though I lack any evidence.
An abomination–even medieval monks
formulated byzantine book-thievery curses:
For such a sin, let book worms and mites ingurgitate
broth brewed fresh from his hell-incinerated ashes.
But I am not full of vengeance and I wish no pain
on fellow bibliophiles, only that their hands do
quake and tremble, so that words squirm beyond discernment
when they read, that they become their own antonyms, that
sentences invert to palindromes, so star becomes
rats, straw becomes warts, and so that my book in their hands
is transformed into an altogether different book.

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ROOTS by Helen Park

by Helen Park

You never realize how impoverished the soil is, how exhaustive the journey, for vineyard grapevines—how much they are forced to withstand to simply sustain themselves. Bob, our vineyard tour guide, explained in a hushed, deferential tone how large pieces of shale and rock are intentionally buried right underneath the roots of the grapevine so that they have no choice but to strain and stretch to painful lengths in order to reach the meager sources of water deep underground. The soil itself is as nutritionless as gravel.

“This is what must occur so that the grapes remain small and tight. If they were to be fed in abundance, watered with the generosity given to other crops, they would swell and dilute in flavor, intensity and depth.” Bob wagged his finger, “If you want to make great wine, the grapes must suffer.” He presented these facts with the utmost respect.

My brother and I had traveled to Northern California for a weeklong holiday and stayed for a few nights in the Mission District of San Francisco before driving up to Napa Valley. We were able to stay over a close family friend’s house while in the city. Our friend’s mom was an on-call nurse who was about to start a 12-hour shift at midnight that very evening, and although we arrived around 10 o’clock with very little notice, an enormous Vietnamese feast of jasmine rice, stir fried pork, steamed bok choy and tofu awaited us.

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ESTHER FRIEDMAN by Michelle Taransky

by Michelle Taransky

There is always someone
Whose job it should be
To advise you, even if you don’t want to know:

No girl dreams of being proposed to
With a ring from the Shoah

Look to your mother
She cares so much it hurts

If you don’t want to have to describe
To your lover how
You want to be loved

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PICK by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

by Mitchell Grabois

You want me to hit you with a stick, but all I’ve got is a guitar pick. (Lou Reed)

The gorilla, conscience of the world, sits and broods and ignores the humans pressed against the glass.

The old is dying, the new cannot be born. In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms.(Gramsci)

A splintered pick. Is it wood or some unfathomable synthetic? That’s the same question I ask about life. Are we God’s joke? Can I play guitar after my gall bladder surgery?

The gorilla stuffs hay in his mouth. A little while later he lights himself on fire, using a pile of hay as accelerant. Where did he get a match? What cruelly sympathetic zookeeper conspired with him, or at least aided and abetted him?

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by Samantha Memi

The real estate agent pulled at the hem of her skirt. In the shop she had thought it too short but her lack of inhibition after a couple of lunchtime drinks swayed her decision.

—I like your skirt, said the girl wanting a one-bedroomed flat.

—Oh, thank you, said the agent. —I got it at Reddy Teddy. You don’t think it’s too short?

—No, not at all.

—You need to be careful in this job. You don’t want to seem too available.

—I’m sure you don’t.

—The flat isn’t far. Beaumont Avenue. Do you know it?

—No, I don’t.

—It’s very nice, Edwardian. Quiet. It leads onto Baron’s Court Road, close to West Ken tube.

The two women left the agency and walked down Fulham Broadway. The agent, Marilyn, had recently divorced after fourteen years of childless marriage. She didn’t want another relationship. Her client, Jane, had just returned from Spain where she had been teaching English, and she was looking for a place of her own as she was staying with plastic friends at the moment and her life was overcrowded.

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THE VALLEY by Nick Kolakowski

by Nick Kolakowski

My father’s hair is a tuft of wolf fur; his clothes and body, a grimy rag wrapped around a charred bone; his arms, a stick tied crosswise to the bone with sinew. My mother is a dirt-stuffed sock topped with a tangle of red string, in a dress cut from an old skirt. My younger sister Edna is a shard of bark with a face drawn on it, in charcoal. My older sister Joy is an empty doll’s smock, because she is dead.

Edna hums to herself as she pieces together the last figurine from twigs and twine, packing the head with muddy cotton for a scraggly beard: me. The likeness is striking. We are too thin and dry and knobby, my effigy and I, and neither of us can move our legs.

I almost order Edna to throw her playmates in the fire and find us some food. But if I open my mouth, the words might snap the weak thread that holds her mind to the living world, and I will lose her forever. So I sit on the dirt floor of the cabin, in my stiff cocoon of blankets, and watch as she transforms our family stories into a puppet-play, voicing each of us in turn.

Our parents settled in this valley long before we were born, and built a cabin beside the wide, cold creek at its bottom. My father collected berries and shot animals with an old revolver. My mother tended the garden and three children, once we came along. Their earthly possessions amounted to a cast-iron skillet and a kettle, a skinning knife, two knitting needles, and an onionskin Bible. My mother taught us how to read from the book, and to write words on a board with bits of chalk. Eventually my father ran out of bullets for the pistol, but we still used the grip to beat rabbits and marmots to death, after we snared their legs in traps. Every few weeks my father carved a spear from a long branch and disappeared into the woods above the cabin, returning with armfuls of bloody venison. He made a fire by the creek and pushed the burning coals into a shallow pit, skewered the flesh on the spear and let it sizzle in the heat. We sat on boulders by the water and tore into that crackling feast, joking and laughing as the juices dripped down our chins. My mother used to tell us that everything outside our valley was poison, and how lucky we were to live here alone.

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THE NUT KING By Necee Regis

By Necee Regis

Standing on the balcony on the twenty-seventh floor of a high-rise on Collins Avenue, the Nut King surveys his domain. The creamy-green Atlantic stretches flat to the horizon where it’s wedged against the cerulean sky so bright and hard—like the taffy you have to slap on the table to break—that the Nut King turns away, slides open the tall glass doors, and steps into the artificial air-conditioned coolness.

“Seen my sunglasses?”

Tracy shrugs. She’s applying the last coat of tangerine polish to her toenails and if she glances at him or gets up to walk around to look for them she’s certain to smear the third coat over the second to create a mottled mess more volcanic than smooth.

The Nut King shuffles over in his white bathrobe and slippers and plants a distracted kiss on the top of her head. His head sports a fuzzy ring of grey-turning-to-white hair around his balding pate, and his wire-rimmed reading glasses are pushed up on his forehead like an extra set of eyes. Otherwise he’s in decent shape for a man his age. At least he can get it up.

“Coming on the boat today?”

Tracy’s mouth contorts sideways, a cross between a pucker and a frown.

“I should go to the studio.”

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by Tania Moore

Tito Angelini was asleep beside his wife, Francesca, when a loud banging, accompanied by a claw-like shaking on his arm intruded on his dreams.

“What, what?” he muttered, floundering into consciousness as he freed his arm from his wife’s grip and blinked into what appeared to be floodlights beaming into their second floor bedroom.

“Wake up! There’s someone at the door,” Francesca hissed as Tito groped for the clock, knocking it to the floor, but not before he caught a glimpse of the time, two fifteen a.m.

He stumbled out of bed and grabbed his robe.

“Who is it?” he yelled, descending the stairs as quickly as he was able. When he reached the vestibule he peered through the frosted, oval window of the front door, but could only make out shifting shadows behind the glass.

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by Kamden Hillard

its about rhythm which is always about noise
because theres no better beacon
for all the revolution’s bodies

and because cable cant handle bass
it damn sure wont be televised

whats a hihat if you cant feel it rattle?
the tipsy thirst of rhythm? its about
reaching that soul and flirting it open
because if you havent been scalped
with sadness by a Four Page Letter
or welded to anger by Brenda’s Got a Baby

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by Brenda Butka

Cypress knees gather on the riverbank
like penitents. Rags of moss
banner overhead, anoint
bulrushes and pickerelweed.

Wings spread to preach, the anhinga sits,
skinny, untidy on his branch.
His hot blue eye pinions passersby,
bream shuddering in the shadows.

A double handful of alligators,
still cute in their orange-striped
baby suits, tumble slowly
in the sand.

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KITCHEN 1999 by Lisa Rowan

by Lisa Rowan

About once a month—not often enough, but still—her mother had taken a damp towel to the phone receiver. She pressed the threadbare cotton into the grooves of the earpiece, erasing the nights of sticky sweet teenage grease, still just a last bit innocent.

Long after she was gone, there were still signs of her all over the room. Scuffs on the rungs of the stool next to the phone, flakes of chipped nail polish, sloshed juice from plastic cups faded from the dishwasher on the linoleum, from nights of sitting in the dark because it felt more private. Footprints on the cabinet doors under the sink from soles propped against them while splayed across the floor on her back, feeling the cool tile. A weak cord that had been unspooled and rewrapped around fingertips a thousand times.

Theirs was the only house they knew without a cordless phone. Instead, a tether.

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by Nick Greer

by Nick Greer

The Ojibwa call it Animikii. The Tlingit call it Shangukeidí. The Kwakwaka’wakw call it Kwankwanxwalige’, for the way it makes thunder (kʷənxʷa) lightweight (kʷəs) by pounding (ləka). No matter the tribe, its description is the same: a bird so large it creates thunder when it beats its wings. Dîné myth claims that thunderbirds live on a floating mountain Tse-an’-iska’ (“A Tall Rock Standing”). They named the thunderbird Tse-nah-ale after the fashion in which they carry men to the top of the mountain and let them fall against it: tse (“rock”) + nah (“guide”) + ajei (“heart”). The hero Nayenezgami (“slayer of alien gods”) killed the thunderbird that preyed in their lands with an arrow made of lightning. As the bird fell off its mountain, smaller birds, what we now call bald eagles, flew from its wound.

Cryptozoologists were quick to connect these myths to reports of a massive bird: a wingspan up to 5.5 meters, indigenous to the more remote forests of North America, commonly encountered during storms. The most compelling and widely circulated hypothesis is that thunderbirds are the nearly extinct descendants of Teratornis (Greek, “monster bird”) merriami, thus explaining recurring reports of young children snatched from sandboxes. Fossilized “thunderbird” skeletons found in La Brea and Woodburn often circumscribe the skeletons of lesser animals, juvenile primates being most common.

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UNTIL GWEN by Tina Mortimer

by Tina Mortimer

The display flashed “Great workout!” and a sense of dread dug its claws deep in my belly. I stepped off the treadmill feeling like I was still moving, my heart doing that flutter thing again. I waited for the sensation to pass. It always passed, I told myself. Always. Hadn’t the doctor said staying active would help improve my mood? If it was supposed to help, I wondered, then why did I feel like I’d just been punched in the gut?

The bathroom stall was dark, but not so dark that I couldn’t see the contrast of red on white. A single drop of blood stained my underwear. It was a mistake to run. I should have kept it to a brisk walk. Or better yet, I should have done something else on my lunch break.

The nurse on the other end of the line sounded distracted. “How much blood is there?”

Was she joking? Was there any good amount of blood for someone in my condition?

“Uh, a couple drops, but I’m not supposed to be bleeding, right?” I said.

She assured me that some spotting was normal, common even, but I should come in anyway, “just in case.”

My husband met me in the doctor’s office waiting room. When the nurse called my name he squeezed my hand. “Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine,” he said.

Everything was not fine.

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by Michael Daley

We were speaking about the earthquake.
Some were in high school then, others on a farm,
one driving, a few forgot.
A big tv swung from a classroom wall.
Waves in the tulip fields, yellow and magenta,
we followed the trough and crest as one of us
rolled his hand above a plate of corn.
We have no tornados or hurricanes.
A blizzard’s an insult.
We have floods and fill sandbags—
for earthquakes, drills.

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PALMS by Sara Siegel

by Sara Siegel

Coe says that she reads palms, and we’re sitting over dumplings at a restaurant in Chinatown. Immediately I turn to her like a child, my fingers stretched out wide. She says that she can tell from the way that someone holds her hands if they really want their stories told. Most people, she says, shy away in fear. And those that don’t, those who open their hands to her, she says, would spend the night with her, and all she’d have to do is ask. But me, it’s not that I want to love her, or even for her to love me. Me, with my palms held open towards her, I want for her to give me to myself.

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by Megan Magers

As the water spilled through the spout overhead, she replayed the idea again and again. A constant rush of thought, unbroken and hot. Don’t worry. You got away with it. She imagined scattering herself across the bottom of the tub, letting the soap residue wet the jet-lagged parts she’d become, turn them soft. Let them slip down the drain, flood the pipes. But she could only breathe steam and listen to the whirr of the vent. Everything was being recycled right then. Time and life and fear and air.

She was there, staring at the shadowed, tiled walls and she was already gone, waking up in a world without herself.

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A SEA OF GURNEYS by Lisa Lynne Lewis

by Lisa Lynne Lewis

A line of parents was already waiting in the assembly room by the time school let out for the day. Diane made her way through the rows of gurneys staffed by workers from the local blood bank, past the PTA volunteers wearing matching T-shirts that said, “What’s your type?”

The posters publicizing the blood drive were all over campus. Since the accident two weeks prior Thomas’ face had been everywhere, his blond hair hanging shaggily across one eye as he smiled for the camera. He was in her daughter Leila’s fifth-grade class. They’d gone to school together since kindergarten and had played on the same soccer team during first grade, the two of them standing next to each other in their team photo. How quickly he’d become the poster child for every parent’s nightmare, Diane thought.

The information had seeped in from multiple sources, each update adding a new terrible layer of specificity, hard-edged details glinting like shards of glass. A crossing-guard out sick that day; a car that came around the corner too fast. Thomas, already halfway across the street, unable to move out of the way in time. He’d been thrown onto the hood by the impact and lacerated his spleen. At his mother’s request, the PTA had quickly organized today’s drive to support the blood bank that had been his lifeline at the hospital.

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APHORISM by Dylan Weir

by Dylan Weir

There but for the grace of
a gallon of vodka go I:
barleycorn barrel
rolling river roulette.
A hailstorm hitting the muzzles
of voiceless mothers watching
sons disappear. A cloud
of quiver hovering over
every bottle in the aisle
that follows me
to the checkout
counter cliff.

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by Michael Chaney

She didn’t know how to tell her aging mother how they were doing it, James and his friends from the team. They were in the living room, snickering in their jerseys, going to that boy’s funeral—digitally. She was in the kitchen at a table with her mother and she knew she wouldn’t be able to convey to her the quadratic equation of the crash trajectory of a car in chrome and plastic, nor would she ace the quiz on tree ecology, about the way the chemical composition of bark repels beer swilling at 75 mph per square newtons of peer pressure per square Hyundai. At that rate, every pine is a Puritan, mad at machines and men and sometimes even cherubic goalies who whisper their prayers into push-ups every night and dream of one day visiting the Pacific Ocean. She didn’t know how to tell her mother why the boys had gone quiet in the other room, so that all you could hear was the periodic static of the waves, and how it probably started, the funeral they were at on the computer, the one they couldn’t afford to fly to in person.

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THREE FLASH PIECES by Mercedes Lawry

by Mercedes Lawry

Was there transposition?

Toby wondered why flies always died on their backs, or so it seemed. He had not conducted a scientific analysis or even done research on the suspect Internet. He was fully prepared to admit he’d made up the entire premise, simply because he’d observed a dead fly upon coming out of his bedroom, though he was pretty sure he’d come across other dead flies in this position. He had no idea, really, if the fly had died on that spot or elsewhere, say, the windowsill, where so many did, no doubt yearning. A stray breeze might have wafted it to the floor. A sneeze. Another fly tired of looking at the corpse. He felt fairly certain the fly had not been there when he went to bed last night but he would not have sworn an oath.

Could a coroner determine when the fly had died or if it had been a natural death? And what was a natural death for a fly, old age? Malnutrition? Did flies that inadvertently found their way inside have shorter lives than those who remained in the wild? Toby could certainly understand why someone might choose the fly as a compelling subject to explore. There were so many questions to be answered. He supposed, as in all fields of study, one question led to another and soon one might be inquiring about the pill bug or beetles. Should one become a generalist or a specialist and which was more rewarding, more intellectually challenging, which garnered more respect?

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BLACK WINGS FLAPPING by Shmu’el Bashevis Ben’yamin

by Shmu’el Bashevis Ben’yamin

I had the ingredients of becoming a perfect milksop, but it didn’t happen. Every day I carried to school an orange ball bigger than my head, and at lunch watched long-legged teenagers with patchy facial hair and funny white boots borrow the ball to put it through a bent rim. The ball was named after my uncle Wilson. I had found it buried under the yellow flowers of a California pepper tree. My hands itched all day after scrubbing it with laundry detergent, and my feet hurt when I kicked it against my aunt’s garage door.

The young men multiplied faster than tree rabbits. They started as two-on-two, then three-on-three. After a few more days, they played a full court press of five-on-five, hooped back and forth while other children picket-fenced the sidelines, waiting to be picked. Girls perched on top of an aluminum bleacher. They had wavy canary feathers for hair. They hardly paid attention and did not cheer. I sat on the bottom row and absorbed their singsongs without looking at them.
I didn’t speak much. I was immersed in ESL classes where Spanish became the lingua franca. That went on for several months before realizing that The Jetsons on television sounded foreign in English. I did well in Spanish and Mathematics. Everything else I failed that term.

I don’t remember the exact day, but for hours the sun’s sulfur carbonized our heads. No one really wanted to play except me. Sweat had already covered my body and dripped from my forehead before even touching the ball. On the court, I flew like a black-billed magpie among white storks, stealing the ball from Michael, dribbling between the legs of David, the tallest stork, lobbing it over Daniel, swish and score. I lost two kilos that day from being in the outdoor incubator, but it didn’t matter—we were the champ.

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LETTING IT BE by Stephen D. Gutierrez

by Stephen D. Gutierrez

They had reason to be in California at the same time, and loved the Central Valley, on the way to Yosemite, and us.

“They’re coming?”

“Yes, they are!”

“At the same time?

“How weird!”


“Yeah,” we said, on the phone. “You can come. We’re ready for you.”

We got excited about a nice meal in the backyard, a barbecue, with me in a chef’s apron I hadn’t used, a silly one, and a Weber, still virginal, and tidied up the house, and bought plenty of cheeses and crackers, and fluffed up the beds in the separate rooms – two true pals, they wouldn’t pad down the hall to a cracked-open door showing light inside, asking for a spare toothbrush or something, ah ha – and stocked decaf for one, and tea for the other.

“Boy, it’s almost time.”

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A MID SUMMER SOIRÉE by Emily Steinberg

A MID SUMMER SOIRÉE A Visual Narrative by Emily Steinberg Introduction by Tahneer Oksman     First sort through Emily Steinberg’s A Mid Summer Soirée in quick succession. Then go back and read it slowly. This appealingly energetic set of captioned images is a storyboard of sorts. Each slide displays a beguiling creature or character, and sometimes a pair, pictured just above a crisply worded sentence encased in a neat, if bourgeois, font. We are presented with a simple trajectory: the individuals, spotlighted in medias res, are about to attend, or are attending, a party. These experiences do not clearly build on each other: “He’d been out of circulation a while.” “They argued just before arriving.” “She rooted through her closet and was dismayed.” Trying to fill in the narrative gaps is part of the pleasure of the journey, as is, on the contrary, moving past those gaps in favor of … chop! chop! read more!

BUYING LOCAL by John Keats

by John Keats

A beautiful mother crossed in front of my carriage, pursuing a chatty little girl up the cereal aisle. Familiarity and dread washed over me. Thirty years ago I’d talked to her almost nightly on the phone. The dread accompanied a swelling lack of clarity about why she’d disappeared. Aging in your hometown, if you’d disrespected innocence, could be hazardous.

I had been drifting toward the section for dented items beside the deli, but not to save a buck on a mangled can of green beans. Once the sell-by date comes up, fresh bakery goods, reduced to half-price, end up there. Poof! Natural expiration becomes illusion. Sub rolls and Scali bread get picked over fast, so you have to be aggressive. Sometimes I’ll even a do a little civilized hand bumping with a rich old woman from the east side.

No one was there to fight. I sacrificed easy pickings for Carla when I called out her name. She stopped. I had to identify myself. Maybe she hadn’t forgiven. Maybe time had ravaged me. After a fleeting, terrible expression of blankness, she gave me a sincere hug, but it was slack, bland. I felt insubstantial. I said I’d quit drinking. Over twenty years ago I’d called her a whore. She wasn’t. I was a drunk. Now we made small talk about employment, dead and sick parents, her husband. We didn’t say: once you mattered; you felt necessary; you were not a diversion on the way to real. Carla pushed her cart after the laughing, spontaneous girl. What you love gets away so quickly. I followed. One of us started the goodbyes. I turned around.

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ARLES by Autumn McClintock

by Autumn McClintock

It’s a good beard. Stop yanking it
like a strapless dress.
See what I did there? Fit
the last puzzle piece
and voilá, Starry Night!
You aren’t half as weird
as you’d like. In the morning,
you’ll drive me home,
sit in the coffee shop, wonder
what made you do it.

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SYNESTHESIA AND YOU by Charnell Peters

by Charnell Peters

I hang from the last brick of August, and cold is tolling. I don’t hear you, but I remember your summer breath, and you still feel like the softest blue behind my eyes.

The months we spent together sit catty-corner: June and July. July, bent in half, turns to face the other side of black space. Black hums, like the night under the chalk moon when we sweated and swatted at ants. I felt you for the first time, your blue warmth and dimpled back. June woke with us, orange and fiery on our skin.

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by Liz Breen

It was 1994, and she told you that you wouldn’t be ready until at least 1998, The Millennium if you were lucky. “The lyrics are way over your head. It’s not baby stuff,” said your sister, fourteen, cap turned backwards, still three months away from smoking her first joint, wearing a new sports bra under her faded denim overalls. She snatched the cassette tape from your hand, but you found it later in her drawer, tucked underneath the flannel shirt that Tommy Milner had given her, and you put it into the stereo, and you listened, enraptured but also frightened, haunted, frankly, by that quiet breath at the beginning of the track, by the guitar strings fighting against a vast and vacant space, by that bit about the kitchen chair; you couldn’t understand (your sister was right) and yet you listened a second time and a third, feeling something tugging at you, practically knocking you in the kidney, not knowing then that it was this:

The next time you hear this song you will be thirty-years-old, driving your daughter home from elementary school, divorce papers in the center console. “Sea otters don’t hold hands because they love each other,” she’ll say. “They’re just afraid to float away.”

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IN THE HEADLIGHTS by Agatha Hinman

by Agatha Hinman

When he first hears the baby is coming, that she is pregnant and already showing, he leaves second shift at the hospital early, and drives up the road thirty miles to Greeley’s bar where no one knows him, and if they do it’s probably too dark in there to see him. He downs two whiskey sours, takes the beer to a table for sipping. He sees through the plate glass a blue light blinking anonymously — he can’t see the neon sign itself. Up and down Highway 101 headlights blur in the drizzle.

He’s going to be a father, an “actually the real-father” as in “you know so-and-so is actually the real father.” A real-father says yes when asked if he has kids, because, dammit, he does. He’s heard lots of back-and-forth about who gets to call himself daddy later, when the kid is growing up, but he knows, and no one can take it from him.

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Excerpts from BOOK OF NO LEDGE by Nance Van Winckel

Excerpts from BOOK OF NO LEDGE
by Nance Van Winckel

As usual it starts with love. I had my heart set on the door-to-door encyclopedia sales boy. Maybe 18 or 19, he said he was working his way through college. He winked a turquoise eye at me and asked if I was the “lady of the house.”

Well, I wasn’t. I was 13-going-on-17 and vaguely trying to flirt. My mother came out on the porch to see who I was talking to, and NO, she said, we don’t need any books. She smiled, though, and wished him luck in school.

I followed him down the walk and told him to come back tomorrow after I’d had a chance to “work on” my mother. Sure, he shrugged, why not.

I could really use those encyclopedias for my school projects, I told my mother later. And so could Sally (my sister). My dad was suddenly behind it. His family had been a bit more “bookish” than my mother’s.

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by M. Goerig

One day, you’ll wonder if you were even here. The moment will come back to you in snatches—that abandoned pair of shoes, ominous like a bleached-out goat skull in the desert; the line of heavens meeting earth, as viewed from the bottom; the vista from the top looking down, just before you all hurl yourselves into the bowl. It’s something you can never again duplicate. You wouldn’t even know where to begin, nor would it ever occur to you to try. But the three travelers standing one dune over? It will occur to them. The photo that one of them just snapped will live on for many years to come, and you’ll never know it existed in the first place. You’ll go home again and resume your ongoing soccer match with the computer; you’ll hop on your bike to ride down the street to your best friend’s house seventy gazillion times, and you’ll start school again and see that girl two rows in front of you and wonder how her hair smells, but these three strangers—they’ll still be staring at the image of you, frozen in a run, for a long time yet. Shaggy hair pressed against your head, mouth wide open, one arm forward, one arm back, legs kicking up poofs of sand: that’s you, and these strangers will study you and they’ll talk about you and they’ll try to figure out why they can’t look away.

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by Jacqueline Doyle

I crouch in the desiccated garden at the side of our house, my knees stiff. The withered tomato plants still have a few small orange orbs clinging to them, but the rest of last year’s plants are stubbly and brown. I’ve finally gotten around to pulling out the tomato cages to return to the shed, and now I wonder whether I’ll plant tomatoes again this spring. Newspaper headlines herald more drought in California. Salmon may not spawn this year. Riverbeds are parched and cracked. We talk about water use and precipitation levels and runoff from the Sierras. We check the weather predictions, hope each day for rain. Unsettled, I survey my dormant garden and hunger for something I can feel but not name.

I remember riding a bike in the rain in Northern New Jersey, many years ago, when I was a teenager. I was miles from home, pedaling with great effort up a long, steep hill, soaked and chilled by the sudden deluge, happy. Trees lined the road, intensely green, their trunks wet and dark. Sheets of water cascaded from the heavens and rushed in turbulent rivers down the stone-lined gutters at the sides of the road. Lightning flashed in the darkening sky. I exulted in every straining muscle as I pushed on the pedals, laboring to make the ascent. When I reached the top, I stood, hands on the handlebars supporting my upper body, feet on the pedals engaging the foot brakes. For a long moment I took in the freezing rain, the gusts of wind that buffeted the tops of the trees, the freshness of the air, the far off rumble of thunder, the flashes of light in the sky. Then I coasted down the long hill, still standing, triumphant, alone.

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YEARS IN THE MAKING by Dan Tessitore

by Dan Tessitore
for Graham Lewis

Frame the landscape with your hands. Pan,
slowly. See how every scene’s composed
mostly of the one before? And yet

this scene is unfamiliar. The best
are gone, or else no longer correspond.
The horizon turns its shoulder.

Still, I’ve always had this idea of myself —
always just a step ahead, in an idea
of a world I’m always just about

to step into. Now I know it isn’t true,
that it’s only the right hand that moves,
the same scene extended, the dead

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My dad always jokes that I can walk into a bar filled with 99 decent men and one scum-bag, and I’ll walk straight up to the scum-bag. Call it my one magic power. If there’s a loser in the room, I will find him. And even worse, I’ll probably fall madly in love with him.

Most of my ex-boyfriends have been reduced to anecdotes over the years. Bitter stories told over too many beers at closing time. Like my very first boyfriend – now universally known as the “two-stroker.” Because two strokes into losing our virginity to each other, he had a vision of Christ. And of course, immediately dumped my Jewish ass. Mid coitus. Then there’s my physically abusive upstairs neighbor who still likes to flush his toilet when I’m taking a shower. As well as the homeless guy who spent all my money. There’s the gambler who started dating my best friend one week after I got out of the hospital. And the the one who told me he wanted to marry me when we were seventeen. But supposedly he pulled a knife on his mother and got shipped off to a behavioral detention center half way across the country. Oh. And then there’s my most recent ex. I guess the fact that he had once murdered a man wasn’t enough of a warning sign.

Whenever my friends or family start shaking their heads, I tend to shrug my shoulders in retaliation. “What can I say? I suffer from l’appel du vide. You know, the call of the void? That inexplicable urge to jump off a cliff or jerk your steeling wheel to the left?” I usually try to be holding a glass of whiskey when I say this. And maybe wearing all black. “It’s just a bad case of existential angst. Or writer’s block. I’m bored, so I throw a stone into a still pond and look for ripples.” Because really, why else would an attractive, intelligent girl waste her time on such losers?

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by Lyn Lifshin

A girl goes into the woods
and for what reason
disappears behind branches
and is never heard from again.
She could have gone shopping
or had lunch with her mother
but instead has gone into
woods, alone, without the lover,
and not for leaves or flowers.
It was a clear bright day
very much like today.
It was today. Now you might
imagine I’m that girl.
It seems there are reasons. But
first consider: I don’t live
very near those trees and my
head is already wild with branches

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