DOG MEMORIES by Doug Ramspeck

by Doug Ramspeck

It must be the stillness of a morning sky, the repose of grass in a field beyond a fence, or maybe the kitchen floor where my father is forever dying of a heart attack when I am five, fat doves singing outside the windows of our rental house in rural Ohio. It seems possible to remember the half-life of light on a leaf outside my childhood bedroom window in dead summer, to construct an impression from the mud of the river or the black clothes of the mourners, to dream an open maw of earth. My memories of my father are as imprecise as footprints filling with snow, though I do recall, a few months later, a bulldog coming toward me—after we were evicted from the rental home—on the porch of my grandfather’s house, the creature lunging then hovering above me. In my vision the beast snares me with his great teeth pressed against my neck, though years later my mother claims the dog was simply exuberant with friendliness and knocked me down. But if I close my eyes, I feel the animal heat of breath against my skin, the sharpness of teeth. Or maybe, it sometimes seems, memories transform to living organisms, evolving or devolving, breathing and letting go, asserting whatever volition they can. I am eleven when my mother’s live-in boyfriend begins locking our German shepherd in the basement, which is a sign, we know, that he plans to beat one of us, or maybe both. The basement, as I remember it, is small and low-slung, with bare cement and a naked light bulb, cobwebs having their conversations with the hot or cold air breathing through the vents. I remember blood oozing from my mother’s nose, the swollen baptism of an eye, the dustiness of memory growing more opaque yet powerful with decades, as though the past becomes a dust devil swirling its magic in August, rising from the dry earth to make itself into a living being. We are homeless, then, residing in my mother’s car, the cold winter air a judgment. Once my mother is given a frozen turkey at a food pantry, and we bring it back to the Ford, uncertain how to cook it. I remember how heavy the turkey feels when I hold it in my lap, and I recall—digging deep into memory—building a fire from sticks and discarded newspapers and whatever dry wood we can find at the roadside. And then a skinny man with a white beard and a voice like a rabid dog is stopping his motorcycle by the bar ditch and stealing the turkey from us before we have even found a way to place it above the flames. Blood trails its offering down my mother’s forearm after the man lunges at her with a box cutter. And now, rising in my vision, is the man racing off on his motorcycle with our turkey clutched like a sleeping infant in one arm.

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by Samuel Hovda

Step out of the cave of my mouth.

Wear your golden earrings
like snakes eating.
Put on your

purple eye shadow.
The daggers

have mostly withdrawn,
green of the vipers fallen off.
A few stray villages at night
with stones,
palm-sized and ready,

but you’re the robin
in the morning

unaware of the innards
of their dark bedrooms.

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by Cal Freeman

Dear historical ambling
in that souped-up Ford, dear steel
gaze hidden behind tinted glass,
keeping these hours, everything
is a question of before
or after dawn. Your briefs spell out
blank descriptions of men
whose retreating shadows have been glimpsed
at the scenes of nearly-executed crimes;
not sour breath, red-eyed, and wandering,
but black male on foot, possibly armed,
suspicious. Before dawn,
those hours between bar
and liquor store, when the nerves pull taut
and the birds start with their racket,
crepuscular hours no do-gooder is awake to bless
when the dreams of the civic mind
grow skittish with wild imaginings.

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FUCKED & THE INNOCENT by Marc Harshman


I. Fucked

He is deaf from the whining scream of the chainsaw, and is sweating under a thinning, November sun. There must have been some way to avoid this hellhole in the Middle East. When he had seen the pictures on the screen last night, something had knotted in his belly. But here, at least, this morning, the work felt good, the bright, interior heart of the tree exposed like this. Fuck politics. There were wormholes. Some people liked them in their furniture. Antique. He was fifty-nine years old. And lately it felt old. Antique. Christ, what he wouldn’t give for a beer and a chance to get laid by that girl at Tommy’s. She was a bright thing. He’d vote the bastards out of office if any other bastards would do any better. The white house down below had rung the cops once about his chain-sawing on Sunday. Fuck the neighbors and their Sunday. Fuck the neighbors and their lament about the old elm. Fuck everyone. What was it his son had said in that poem. “Fuck was a strong word, an Anglo Saxon word, a good word that gets the job done.” He was sharp, that boy of his, despite his politics. Funny how the kid could be so sharp and dumb all at once. How anyone could believe in those sissy liberal assholes, but worse, he began to think, how could anyone believe anything at all? Maybe all he needed was to introduce his son to Sheila down there at Tommy’s. Maybe that was all anyone ever really needed. It was worth a try. One more cut and he’d have the hour in and enough firewood for a month. It felt good. But, Jesus, those little kids. That was what bugged him. Little kids, parts of their bodies just strewn across the ground like windblown trash. And our boys did this? Something was fucked—big time.

II. The Innocent

The iron gate opens into a field of snowmen lively with sticks and carrots and their button-eyes of coal. No one asks who put them there, so eager are we to mingle, to get acquainted. A crow older than the far mountains calls to us in his misery. It was not his choice to stay behind here where color holds for him no advantage. The sun has been told to stay away by this army of cold warriors whose stolidity brooks no compromise. It obeys according to the terms of a treaty made when the old was new and far away. We walk further into this stage set for a December pageant of badly dressed and skinny children, orphans and waifs from Basra and Tirkut, Tamil Nadu, Aceh, Kobane, Bethlehem, children whose lives are to be cut short—of this we are reminded in this white garden beyond the black gate. Perhaps it is the cold. Adam lived in other forests besides Eden. Somewhere beyond the Tigris it is snowing even now. And on a beach somewhere in Turkey that little boy—

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WE ARE MEANT FOR GREATER THINGS by Jen Julian This girl, she’s one of those people you hear about nowadays, living her life for the second time around. She’s a slack-faced, dream-eyed sister, born—twice now—at the end of a gravel road outside town, a stone’s throw from the slaughterhouse. She abides with a skittish mother and two large black boxer dogs, and she knows that one of the three will die suffering from a snakebite, hopes she can stop it when the time comes, but she doesn’t know when it’s supposed go down, or if it’s still supposed to go down at all. The girl is Birdy. Birdy Brightlane. Sunny name for such a sad body. But I don’t judge her, it’s part of the job not to judge her. You’d be sad too, is what I tell myself, after fifteen years at the institution, and besides, these are often … chop! chop! read more!


by Erin Jones

We had forgotten the dank
mushroom farms,
the deer
peppered across route
for a full mile. This one’s fur
is patching the highway
like fresh moss, its rib cage
in the median.
This is different than
the hardboiled
bodies of armadillos.
yolks made us queasy,
but this one
is intimate.
In the distance
we can hear
the birds stir
for carrion.
In the distance we
can hear
the other meat, its
fearful hoof clicks,
the blood
still beating.

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by Douglas J. Ogurek

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” – John 4:29

I got no rabbits’ feet on today. But the sledders don’t know. Cuz I got my jacket on. There’s the whistle, and there goes Kinkly. Kinly and the other racers. Right down the hill, right? Thoom. Kinkly’s the fastest. Those rabbits’ feet? They might be real. And Kinkly and the other Rabbits got them on. I got seventeen at home, but they might be real.

I’m all kinds of wrong. Like Bucket, right?

The Rabbits got rabbits’ feet. All these different colors. Yesterday Gushy turned around and said they’re real. But I don’t know how they got those colors. Gushy says they use dye. Gushy’s only got one thumb.

There’s red stuff in the snow. It says, “Gushy is fog.” That’s just silly.

Red’s one of the colors I got. My rabbits’ feet, right? So’s yellow, and orange. I got six reds, but they’re not on now.

Gushy’s standing on the bench up here. He’s holding his sled. Way over his head. That sled says something. Big letters: “” I ask him.

“It’s Help Our Oceans.” He points down at the road. “I want the people in cars to see.”

He’s missing a thumb, and he’s got a silver jacket on, and a silver hat. Shiny.

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by Chua Yini

He spots her from afar because of the turquoise dress that contrasts with her tanned skin. She is walking along the colonial streets of Phuket town, her sandaled feet treading on tiles embossed with traditional Chinese designs. As a matter of fact, so is he, but at that moment he forgets where he is. He is overcome by a peculiar floating sensation and forgets that his feet are grounded safely on earth.

Newton postulated the theory of forces to explain gravity, and Leibniz criticized it as action at a distance—a mere miracle, utter nonsense. The distance between a falling object and the center of gravity is of small importance: the falling speed is the same. She is about sixty meters away from him, approaching closer every second, and he is falling swiftly.

He reads philosophy and his mind is jumbled with ideas—he gets a notion that gravity is love itself, a force enacted at a distance without physical contact between two objects. Why did Leibniz make it sound like a bad idea, he couldn’t for his life remember when she lifts her eyes and looks at him. Eye contact and gravity, both compelling forces that draw one object to a throbbing epicenter of a great lovin’ tsunami.

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by Grace Singh Smith

Now the day has dawned and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out. A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.—Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali.

It was Fate, Maya thought. Fate who got her married to someone she did not quite love, but maybe, she would learn to love. In the beginning, she woke up feeling as though he was her baby, this engineer husband her parents had carefully selected. She remembers the ad they placed in the city’s best newspaper, The Shillong Times. The classified had described her as “wheatish in complexion” and “respectful of traditional values.” These, and other important details like: caste (Kayastha); languages spoken (Bengali, Hindi and English); height, weight, body type (average); and the occupations of her parents. Her father was “ex-Army” and her mother was “homemaker.” And she was also a Capricorn.

According to the pundit, Fate aligned her with the perfect match—Rajeev Majumdar—and the events that followed became in her memory like the pages of a book turned fast. All the rituals flowed into one another until she could no longer distinguish what had happened when. Did she fast all day after she ate doi first? Did she get smeared in turmeric paste next, eating bits of rasgullas and kaju barfis from many unknown hands that thrust themselves into her face, one quickly taking the place of another? So many rituals, so many people, so many days, so many people, so many rituals, so many days…

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A LITTLE HANDSY by Susannah Betts

by Susannah Betts

whisper: you’re my Jurassic juice
when you suck my
neck and that will be the word
and the word will be With God
and on the third date
we will with hesitant hands

like just-pubescent lesbians, hands
stained of bleeding polish, juiceboxes
sucked dry, save the date,
my invitation, my
the words
birthday party, the words
hope you’ll come, translated through hand
in hair, eyes to God’s
kingdom and heaven-sent nectar
all mine.
On the third date
presunrise and pre-carbon-dated
light fall and swell the word
(hopeful you meant it) my
sense dulled by improper forging, lubrication
dripping through cracks in the warriors’ hall, fists
clenching drinks, where toasts to Valhalla and prayers to God
Above and God Below and Gods
as versatile as army knives woo + crush + date
+ shag + marry + I’d like a glass of juice
while we’re keeping our words

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STONE FOOD by Alex Vidiani

by Alex Vidiani

My food was stones from
a stone tree spoon-fed to me

stones in my mouth slurring
my speech so I couldn’t say

love you couldn’t say daddy
only stones I wonder

if my father was also fed stones
during a snowstorm in February

I wonder what he thought
as he smoked stone cigarettes

before seeing me for the first time
the only time I wonder how I felt

newborn in my father’s stone
hands marble-carved from winter

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SALLUIT by Sarah Marshall

by Sarah Marshall

The snow tongue has no country, and no voice.
It only knows the tread of boots and barefeet
and the dirt-tough paws of animals
and the urging on of wind.

She sleeps, and in the night wakes
to dreams of nails tearing at her throat—
wolves’, their slashings as keen
as their lightless voices—
and finds she has torn her nightgown apart

as those stolen too soon from the lightful world
once did
(or so she has been reading tonight
her books’ gentle faces still open
beneath her hands).

This riding is full
of that kind of story—
the men who scraped lichen from the sides of rocks
admiring the miserly veins of their colorless reaching, the efficiency
or their bare and unbroken life

and the men who looked out at the slope and glisten of an ice heave
and could see only the curve of a woman’s neck

and the men who found themselves eyeing she-bears—the stock
in their hands already fingered
as they searched for the glistening
bunch-petals, pinkening
under tobacco-yellow fur.

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by Adam Shafer

She handed me a gift. It had heft and permanence and was wrapped tight in a way I could never recreate and so I opened it with proper reverence. It was a second edition of Huck Finn, but I already owned a first edition. And she knew that. I had only brought it out at every party we threw for the first three years of our marriage. She’d promised me the gift of a lifetime and I’d gotten my hopes up. Again. She told me to open it, still beaming, still excited, still blind to my disappointment. There, scrawled on the flyleaf in blotchy ink, was Twain’s signature. I looked at her in shock. It was extraordinary. She was extraordinary. Well past midnight, after she’d fallen asleep, I compared the autograph to authentic images I found online. I hated to do it, but I had to be sure.

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WHY DRAW TREES by Laurel Hooker

by Laurel Hooker

Before I went to art school, before I decided to become a painter, before my work and classes carried me far away into the world of fine art, all I really wanted to do was draw. I drew the way a lot of teenagers do–carefully, self-consciously, and often. I drew unaware of the complicated realm of critical analysis, ego, sophisticated processes, and expensive materials that would soon emerge in the form of my higher education.

When I was a student at the Tyler School of Art, drawing nice pictures was the farthest thing from my mind. In that four-year whirlwind of studio classes, I roved quite far from simple drawing. I took glassblowing, ceramics, on-loom weaving, and clay-figure modeling. As a painting major, I took drawing classes, but they were secondary to my painting classes. After graduation, I went home to my parents’ house in east Tennessee. where I listened to the drone of the cicadas in the evenings and slept until noon. For the first time in four years, my life slowed to a walking pace. I made a couple of paintings; I carried a small watercolor kit with me as a way of keeping in habit. I was doing something I hadn’t done in a long time: I was looking. Namely, looking at things that I didn’t get to look at during the years I was living in North Philadelphia: Trees. Grass. Flowers. Mountains. Rivers. The ground at my feet, even.

Had I ever really looked at the ground? Had I tried to separate pebble from milkweed with only my eyes? Or greeted the challenge of a matrix of blades and buds, clustered and sprouting, snaking in ribbons, spurting from muscular stalks? What about the trees? Had I ever tried to see every leaf? Had I tried to follow the entire narrative curl of a single branch into its stems?

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THE BUSINESS OF BODIES by Gwendolyn Edward

by Gwendolyn Edward

Late on the fourth of July my friends arrived home to find their house on fire, everything blackened and damp from firehoses, their two dogs and cat lost amid the scorched remnants of their home. Early the next day a mutual friend called me. We don’t know what to do, Anna told me over the phone, about the bodies.

She’d called me specifically because I’d worked in the veterinary industry for years. Everyone had heard the story about the time I had to decapitate a cat we feared might have rabies. She assumed, I think, that I’d be one who might know what to do. But I didn’t know what to do; I’d never dealt with a situation like this either. When I called the emergency vet I was told they would charge at least two-hundred dollars an animal for disposal: an impossible immediate expenditure for our community of still-struggling ex-college students.

I’ll go get them, I told her, and keep them until tomorrow, a Monday when the regular clinics would be open again and we could dispose of the bodies at a more reasonable price. No one else, wants to, you know… Anna said. What she meant was no one wanted to look at broken and burned bodies of the pets we knew. No one wanted to house those bodies either, dead pets in the garage. I asked if we knew anyone with a deep freezer. No one wanted to share their space for food with corpses either.

Years ago when I had to decapitate the cat I learned a bruising lesson about practicality and death. We needed to send the head to the veterinary school at Texas A&M for rabies testing; it seemed awfully inhumane to cut an animal’s head off, to wrap it in plastic and put it in a cooler, but that’s the way things are done.

The clinic I was working in was new and didn’t have all the equipment we needed. A scalpel, no matter how sharp, will most likely only cut through skin and muscle, not bone. I was sent to the grocery store for gloves, heavy yellow ones used for washing dishes, and I also bought a large cleaver. In the clinic, we hacked at the spinal column, and when the head finally came loose, I thought its neck looked like a Christmas ham, and afterwards was so sick with the imagery that I dry-heaved in the bathroom while the other employees packed the head for shipping. We wrapped its body in paper towels and plastic Kroger bags and put it in the top section of our refrigerator next to microwave meals; we didn’t have the money to buy a deep freezer either.

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STORM by Paul Crenshaw

by Paul Crenshaw

My daughters had wandered too far ahead when the storm came up suddenly in the mountains so I ran through the rain to find them. Thunder rattled off the sides of the saddles and rolled down through the draws like the announcement of some end. The girls were tiny things then, no more than 5 and 8, and each sharp crack sounded loud as the last hour of the earth. I ran past clefts not deep enough to be called caves where crowds huddled out of the rain, and I must have looked wild as the wind still in the tops of the trees as I came out of the curtain and stood scanning the small knots safe beneath the dripping rock, then disappeared again into the downpour. The mountain stream had grown fierce as the uncertain future and wide as the world our children walk around in. The air stood stacked with ozone and if there is a greater fear for a father than the loss of a child it can only be the loss of two, so I kept going along the mud-slick trail, up the wet stones carved into steps, crossing the seething stream on footbridges no larger than Legos, higher and higher into the hills until finally finding them standing in the storm beneath an overhang where water fell on their heads clear as comfort. They stretched out their arms, mouths wide as mountains, their laughter loud even over the deluge.

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5 a.m. by Carla Drysdale

5 a.m.
by Carla Drysdale

Inside the dream you wander shoeless
in supermarket aisles. Loneliness

opens its stone lid, invites you in. Even as they fly
birds trust in landings. In the right

tilt of rays you can become the silver thread
pinned to the eave,

the spider’s wide swoop over
hayloft in honeyed light. Things

spiral inward and outward
at the same time — lines

drawn on your fingertips
before you were born

— the scrawl of maps survivors carry.

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WORKS ON LOVE by Michelle Doll

by Michelle Doll

My work is about felt moments, both the visible ones as well as the ones that we aren’t able to see. I spent many years creating work about feelings of disconnect and loss. When I’d leave the studio, those feelings and the difficult emotions surrounding them became amplified. As a result, today both my life and my work is focused on love and connection, what I see as the root of intimacy.

Such moments exist as I go through my day. I find I am constantly searching for evidence of connections between people. Living and working in New York serves as a constant source of inspiration as I can absorb intimate interactions on the streets. I’m attracted to the physical and metaphysical energy that exists between individuals who share intimacy, the touch between a couple, the closeness between a mother and child. By scrutinizing and studying these innermost human feelings, my paintings attempt to evoke these same intimate connections of the mind, body, and soul only now through the physical substance of paint.

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Ten Years in Belgrade by Sara Alaica

by Sara Alaica

It had been ten years since I’d been to Belgrade and the first things I noticed were the billboards. The blasted-out skeletons of iron had been rebuilt, painted, and were skinned in colorful faces smiling down on the grey skyline. They seemed so oddly out of place, as if they had landed straight out from the sky.

I’d spent my childhood in the city, but I’d gone abroad and hadn’t been back since just after the war. The airport hadn’t reopened, so I had flown into Frankfurt, rented a car, then driven 120 mph in the slow lane of the Autobahn through the deep tunnels of the Viennese Alps. The highway linking Belgrade to Zagreb was empty, and the deep impressions of tank treads were still visible on the shoulder.

But now, ten years later, had been shown the ruins of Avala, the tower on the hill overlooking the city where I had gone as a child to see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was just a wet tangle of cables and rubble all along the slope of the hill, as if someone had pushed it too hard and it had fallen, exhausted, on its side.

But now, ten years later, it had been rebuilt, more beautiful than before, and everywhere that had once been rubble was now so new that I couldn’t recognize the turn-off to my aunt’s house, and I almost missed it.

I was meeting my sestra there, who had agreed to take me through the city and show me what had changed. As we drove back across the Danube she pointed out a hotel down by the water. It was yellow and gold, framed by old oaks in the traditional style of old Europe. Do you know what that is? I looked at the exit that led down to it and marveled at the change. That’s where that old decrepit factory used to be.

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TALENT SHOW by Nels Hanson

by Nels Hanson

The boy lowered his orange papier-mâché beak and his feathers cut from newsprint fell over the cutout eyes. He raised both brown wings, acknowledging the scattered, light applause, then hopped off the stage on clawed feet, past a stunned-looking Mrs. Waverly, his fifth-grade teacher, who had emerged onto the boards.

“Peter,” she called, “Peter, come back!” as parents and grandparents began to murmur and Mrs. Waverly stepped toward the bunched curtain. Principal Harvey stood from his front-row seat and hurried up the three stairs to backstage.

Robert Hamilton turned to his wife, Helen, who stared straight ahead at the empty platform, at its proscenium arch hung with white and red holiday bells, flanked on either side by three silver leaping reindeer, who appeared to have slipped their harness to escape Santa’s stinging whip.

“My God,” a woman behind the Hamiltons announced. “What on God’s Green Earth was that?”

“I’m not surprised,” answered a low voice beside her. “It’s what you get, not letting the kids pray at school.”

“You knew about this?” Robert asked Helen.

Her gaze focused on the trail of silver tinsel fallen from the previous actor portraying a skipping spruce, decked with blinking lights and ornaments.

“I only helped with the costume.”

“‘Someone is dreaming me’? ‘He likes it white and still’?”

“He said it was a secret, not even Mrs. Waverly knew. But I think she did – ”

“His teacher put this on? Without our consent?”

Helen shook her head, lowering her voice:

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by Michelle Lin

Here is a girl with a mirror. She is separating
her eyelashes with a safety pin. Her mother always said
that 1 out of 10 girls go blind looking at the moon,
and 1 out of 5, pierced by a needle. So, in the end,
how many girls lose their sight? I was never any good
at math. I don’t understand how lines are infinite,
how hair inches forever from roots, always growing back,
never ending or starting. I once flipped stones in my yard
to find what lay beneath. Worms and roly pollies,
white in the rare sun. Pearly scales writhing their bodies
into perfect segments—line segments, just as bad as lines.
They make the needle that salutes, barely pricking the skin
of my eyelid, the handle of the mirror casting light
into my gaze. The cabinet shelves in the hallway
where my mother placed wedding photos just

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A MIND OF WINTER by Dan Tessitore

A Mind of Winter

You knew before
you drew the shade

(before you shook
the dream of flying),

the silence saying
snow, saying

get up,
draw the shade,

see what you
know to be true.

And there it is,
the color of paper.


How many years
has the snow collected

the sun, returned
the sun as silver?


In the dream
you are young.

It is Christmas
Eve. You lie

beneath the tree,
gazing up

through lights,

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TORNADO by Mark Brazaitis

by Mark Brazaitis

She appears in my dreams as a tornado. The settings vary. A dusty plain. The downtown of a major metropolis. My backyard. Although I never see her face, I know who she is. I feel the wind in my hair. I feel the danger and thrill of her nearness. I feel so close to death I know I am alive. And always when I wake up I am disturbed by how still the air is.

I’ve seen Alice Maravicious—Alice Marvelous is her nickname—do scratch spins, lay-back spins, Biellman spins—the figure-skating equivalent of tornados—at the end of Learn-to-Skate sessions, for which I signed up my daughter, having failed to interest her in bowling and basketball. Alice’s spins are designed to show the young skaters she instructs what they, too, could do one day. During the actual lessons, Alice and her assistants skate between four- and six- and eight-year-olds, preventing them—and sometimes failing to prevent them—from falling. Some of the children fall so often Alice allows them to use walkers like old people would. They shuffle around the ice like miniature residents of a retirement home.

At Learn to Skate, Alice doesn’t wear the sleek, glittering dress she used in competitions. (Photos of her on-ice triumphs, including a fourth-place finish in the U.S. nationals, decorate the lobby of the Sherman Ice Arena.) She wears a Russian overcoat, like Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago. She could be in Red Square in winter. Often I imagine myself meeting her in a world apart from the heavy world I inhabit. She is twenty-five years old and I have more gray in my hair than black. I am old enough to be—I hate to consider the math and hope my calculations are off—her father. But in these worlds I envision, I am ageless.

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by Niger Alam

It was spring in Minnesota, and the winter newborn babies were entering the outdoor world for the first time. There were many in the park behind the senior center that day. Mothers cooed as they bent over each other’s jogging strollers, their cropped yoga pants stretching over the mounds of their well-squatted buttocks.

Christine watch ed from one of the few benches facing the playground. She turned her head away from the taut mothers and inspected the babies instead, the curled up little beings in the strollers. They were shaped like commas, but she knew they were much more than mere pauses.

One was parked facing Christine. The single front wheel of the stroller was pushed against her bench, and the mother, facing the other way, leaned her back on the handle of the stroller and laughed with the group that huddled there. Her hair shone golden and strawberry, waving left to right, as she shook her head at the incredulity of some joke.

The infant was belted, physically restrained, but its mind was scheming, wielding its power from behind glassy blue eyes on an egg-white bed. Its stare was unsettling, but at least this infant was not Christine’s affliction. She was free of binding belts and babies. She smiled, lifted her face to the sky and reached her arms out on either side, palms flat on the bench.

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BELLE FLEUR by Marie Manilla

by Marie Manilla

Belle Fleur was there on opening night thirty years ago. She doubts anyone remembers the skinny girl in the ill-fitting wig—a replacement for one of the hoochie coochie dancers who missed the train in Cincinnati.

“You can do it, Mavie,” her mother had said, already slipping her into the gypsy costume. “You’ve seen their act a thousand times.” Her parents were The Fire-Eating Royales. That night, Mavie adopted the stage name she’d been crafting her whole life, Belle Fleur, and posed with a dozen dancers while Mr. Waller mumbled his speech. Nobody booed, since he owned The Burlesque and paid for the acts that had arrived by train that afternoon. Belle and The Lovely Sisters and The Brothers Grimelda carried trunks two blocks to the theater. Mr. Peels, the chimpanzee wearing a suit, tipped his bowler hat to women and children as he’d been taught. Kids and drunks followed him all the way to the theater where the marquee read: “Suitable for the Entire Family!” The hoochie coochies would have to clean up their act.

Directly across the street was the hotel still under construction, but they likely wouldn’t have taken in the performers anyway. Not the right clientele, they’d been told in town after town. After setting up the stage and unpacking costumes in the basement dressing rooms, the thirty-odd performers settled in the boardinghouse run by Mama T, with a backyard, thankfully, for the dancing pony and jump-roping dogs, but not Mr. Peels, who refused to sleep outdoors.

Opening night, before the theater doors opened, the performers scattered like ants around the rococo-style house, caressing the orange drapes and seats, ogling the gold-rimmed balcony and gas wall sconces. The manager shooed them backstage when carriages arrived with the Waller family and other notables who lived in that stretch of stately homes Belle had walked by earlier with the knife thrower’s kids.

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KEYS by Kevin Tosca

by Kevin Tosca

The light was green but a woman was standing outside her car in the middle of the slow lane with her emergency blinkers on. She was surrounded by what looked like geese. Geese are everywhere in Minnesota. Geese aren’t interesting. Grace glanced left and saw too many vehicles hurtling towards her. She had to stop. After stopping, she realized what the animals really were, what this woman was doing with them.

Wild flapping of arms, shooing and yelling and exhorting, she was trying to get three wild turkeys to cross the road.

If this were a silent movie (and, stuck inside her car, it was), Grace would’ve said the woman communicated a fallen, flawed brand of earnestness, that her desperation was the trumped-up, righteous desperation of the undesperate. She looked like an enraged and foolish general.

Forced to wait, Grace focused on the birds. Having not seen wild turkeys since the winter she spent house-sitting for her uncle, Grace thought about her Maine winter and how she didn’t find the silence, solitude, or peace she thought she would have. Did they exist? She didn’t know, but she could still remember that flock and the magic when it appeared: fifteen big, plump, proud, beautiful birds that had tromped through snow and wood in search of the cracked corn Grace’s uncle had told her not to forget to scatter.

Grace watched them through a picture window. Some, after feeding, flew into the branches of the king pines where they perched like bleak-plumaged buddhas before moving on to wherever they moved on to. They were unspoiled, marvelous, natural. And they made Grace feel old, the wild turkeys did, though she was only twenty-seven at the time. More precisely, looking at beings that made the words “rare,” “endangered,” and “extinct” pop into her head, they made her feel that her youth was over, or that it should’ve been.

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DOMICILE by Franklin K. R. Cline

by Franklin K. R. Cline

My fellow Americans:
if you listen long enough
to anyone, you’ll hear something worth remembering. It’s

Monday. We are committed
to each other, we
share. We’re all in this together.

Place your faith in me, flakes
of sky streaming white and horizontal. The weather’s
wavy, worth mentioning.

I am energized and snowy
enough to speak for you, I am looking
out of a glass door that sneaks

in toe-biting cold. I haven’t
seen any flakes hit the ground but like a slow wham
snow keeps coming, becoming trustworthy.

Last Friday, before the snow, at his cherished watering hole,
Brandon steered his domicile, his body,
toward my booth; he spoke of piloting

what I think he thinks
of as a container down a road void
of street lights and there were stars, he said, he hadn’t seen

since he was a child. I like to see where I am going, so my thoughts
on that are at best conflicted. The snow’s
hightailing it, a million kamikazes pulsing sideways past

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by Robert Henway

I don’t know why I remember walking down the stairwell that day. It was a practical staircase and extremely boring, not the type that stays in your mind years after. Gray walls, with only the slight confetti of shredded posters to add any color, covered with words imploring us to check out various clubs or work opportunities. Some sign stubs were completely gone, leaving the remaining paper looking like a spent shotgun shell; others had hardly been touched, looking like a primed firework that was later discovered to be a dud. The students in their white and blue Polos, with matching khaki pants or plaid skirts, having only backpacks to supply a sense of individuality, came and went as they always did. That afternoon however, there was an obstacle in our path, a roadblock. This annoyed me greatly because I only had two minutes to get to my next class. Who was this outsider who did not realize the system? Who was this nonconformist who did not follow the protocol? It wasn’t until I was very close that I could see through the huddled bodies that it was a freshman on his hands and knees. He was dressed like us, but he wasn’t walking like us. I craned my neck to see his problem, what was causing him to inconvenience us so. Everywhere brilliantly bright green and yellow highlighters, vigilant red pens accompanied by the dull black and blue scribes of our time scattered and cascaded down the hard cold steps. A single glue stick bounded down, bouncing on each judgmental step. It was presumably not found again. All the while a set of pale frantic hands reached out, desperate to grab the remains. I wondered if his frenzy was because he needed the supplies to finish an assignment, or perhaps he was desperate not to lose any because his mother had bought them for him and they allayed his homesickness throughout the day. Most likely he just wanted to get out of everyone’s way as fast as he possibly could. The reason it was taking him so long was because coming out from the blue and white crowd were red Air Jordan’s, white and black Adidas, brown Sperry’s, and even soft gray Uggs, all kicking out, attempting to knock the supplies around. Unlike my predecessors, I did not give his supplies a kick with a grunt and a laugh, but I didn’t help him either. I continued on, slithering around the gray walls like a cold product on the descending factory belt, in this conformist institution we called school. We did not help people back then, for if we did, we would become them (God forbid).

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by Teniola Tonade

Think terrorism, my appetizer word,
and watch the slide-show of interminable woes.
For balanced main course, I’d serve you poor
then sad, and oh—there’s got to be
a drink—think blood. Your plate is full
of images you love? Still, my steward’s training
says I must serve dessert. So, think Africa; and
I say: dream America. I guess I’ll pack my plates
away, and leave you, as all men must be,
alone to your purging now.

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by Roy Bentley

Recall any moonlit part of an hour by a road’s edge:
the snow on the limbs of scrub pine, the silent falling
through night air beside miles of two-lane blacktop.

There is no equivalent to wanting someone that much.
If you think about it, the cop who stood in deep snow
to tap at the window was anything but rude, though

he did flashlight you. Turns out, it takes a uniform
to bring Original Sin into a space scented with sex.
And he did turn away as you wriggled into clothes.

In those days, the mat of beer cans was nothing.
And you got a warning and felt lucky to be young
in Ohio where the police knew your name, hers,

and followed in a cruiser to where you dropped her,
your Firebird or Ford Torino idling for a long kiss
in the driveway of a house with the porchlight on.

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by Emily Anne Hopkins

We have full run of the parlor. We chatter
amongst ourselves about the humidity, how
it pulls at our seams. We want to swoop down

for a peek through Norman’s peephole
while he is up the hill, switching in and out

for a peek through Norman’s peephole
while he is up the hill, switching in and out
of his floral dress and grey wig. But our plaques

are heavy under our talons. The light
from his windows— going on and off, on
and off— winks in our glass eyes.

We have all felt a knife between our feathers:
the girls at the bottom of the lake and us on our mounts,
heads cocked and beaks full of sawdust.

Norman says we are not like other beasts.
He means we are not like his mother, that in death
our mouths have not pulled back into a permanent,

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THE SECRET WORLD OF YAYO by Erin Victoria Bradley

by Erin Victoria Bradley

Vanessa’s loneliness beckoned her to the white room, where the ceiling vanished into a mist so fine that it melted into six suns and the sediments were of pink marble with flecks of orange and white. So white. Not everyone could make it there. Only those pure-hearted lonely few who still believed in magic could ever find the door, the white hot keyhole, and they remained in life like the unicorns, all but extinct. She had found it in her fifteenth year, when she had looked into a mirror and for the first time understood what it meant for a smile to not touch the eyes. Her key was a metal spoon, stolen from the kitchen of her dreary first life, and a bag of white powder was the sacred artifact that opened her eyes to the magic.

She escaped the monotony of the real world by pushing on the golden frame of the door and budging her way inside. The warmth crawling up her cheeks was instant and alleviated the sorrow knotted in the pit of her belly like thorny vines. Visiting the white room was riding a horse, playing the game she couldn’t afford, making love, having everything she was not to have at once.

She did it for herself. Her parents didn’t warn her about the secret world stashed in the walls of the white room because she hid it like all the sweet things that she had to hide, and they boasted on their perfect daughter as though she were invisible among them. Going to church and listening to the preacher in his cold polished suit did nothing to convince Vanessa that she should not visit the white room, breathe the white air, and warm herself with white. She listened each Sunday, her roaming soul more apathetic to the starch in the preacher’s voice. Her eyes sagged with a lost grace, and her face blanched white as her sin. No one noticed her change. She was surrounded by the blind.

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SHADOWS by Eliza Callard

by Eliza Callard

The “y” on my forehead from
the radiator. The early cooking accident
with the knife.

The shadow from the spark on
my hand when I was six.
It turned white and melted my skin.

The odd dent on my thigh from the time
I tried to impress a girl and fell
off a fence.

The teen wounds I made myself–
tiny white scissors scars;
the popped zits, faded to a soft brown.

And the big marks–the surgeries–
my belly a long road,
and the port pushing the skin of my left chest

like a short stack of quarters
hidden beneath,
like I may need them for the jukebox.

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by Larry Eby

A ribcage of snow with a beating heart, a west wind moving the cold front over us. The churches kept their candles burning. We stood outside licking at the air in our rain coats, rubber boots—our dogs trouncing in the blizzard. It began light and ended heavy. 4 inches, 6 inches, a foot by next morning. The days were overcast—thunder rattled a glass off a counter. We began to stay inside. Our lights hidden in the heaps of snow. We talked about death. Where could we bury anyone now? The electricity had gone out. 3 days. 4 days. A week. The whole town a field of white. The telephone lines seemed at ground level. We dug upwards, trying to reach some air. We were some type of animal, we realized it now. We saw it in our eyes. To kill or die.

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TEET’ by Soyini Ayanna Forde

I am at the orthodontist, getting photos taken of my mouth to be placed inside my file by the new dental assistant. My mouth widens, a pink chasm. She smothers a soft gasp, stifles it in her throat, but I hear it anyway.

“You have no molars below,” she says. “How do you chew?”

I look at her, wary. “I don’t know,” I say, “I just do.”

“So, you’re Caribbean?” She asks me during another appointment, with a smile that is too excited to see me, that I know cannot be real. Her teeth are impeccable, clean, pretty. I am convinced I’m the kind of patient about whom serious briefings are held before any appointment. She will already know the inside of my mouth well, its secrets and its deficiencies.

I’m not interested in any ol’ talk. I want to recline in the chair and stare quietly at the big lights overhead. I want to find a way out of appointments and money and teeth fixing and anxiety. I want to know why the tooth fairy only services children. Or doesn’t grant wishes. Isn’t that what fairies are supposed to do? I also want to tell her that “Caribbean” is not a kind of ethnicity, but of course, I don’t.

“Yes.” I say.

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POKEWEED by Lynn Levin

by Lynn Levin

In my deathwish days when I was young
I reaped the bitter from the field
and ate the poison pokeweed raw.
What did I know of boiling and washing
of throwing the bad soup out?
In my deathwish days, I never had enough
of wretchedness. A bird in the pokeberries
I drank the toxic wine and warbled
my bitter thoughts. Oh, I had lived a life
of deferment: of little I never had enough.
Then early one morning, sick of it all
I caught the wild perfume of the honeysuckle.
I heard the chorus of its delicate tongues.
I drew the stamens through the butter
and moon. I sucked the clear sweet drops.
I left my house. Dawn came up.

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TWO DOORMEN by Alexia Underwood

by Alexia Underwood

When the junk collector paused to adjust the hitch to his donkey last week, scattering old papers and dusty bits of plumbing among the potholes, he told Abd el-Majid that snow was on the way.

Rami, the Sa’idi who sold fruit from a wooden cart at the corner of Saad Zaghloul street, denied that it could ever happen.

“It’s a conspiracy, like everything else,” he said.

But then, it did.

Abd el-Majid was standing in the doorway to the Noor Mosque, waiting for the landlady to let down her blue plastic basket from the balcony. As he scraped the coins from the bottom to fetch her the daily papers, he felt something wet slide onto his cheek.

Snow. Gray. Not white. Fragile, dandruff-like particles. The flakes flickered silently in and out of the flame tree branches overhead.

Abd el-Majid settled down on his haunches in the doorway. All around him, others were staring at the mercurial substance. Women ducked and laughed, adjusting their hijabs in wonder. Children and grown men stuck their tongues out, trying to catch an aging snowflake, but they were always a little too late.

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TAKEAWAY by Donald Quist

by Donald Quist

The glass surface of the round banquet table buzzed. Outside, antigovernment demonstrations jammed the streets of Bangkok. Plastic whistle blasts and the call and response of a hundred megaphones echoed through the humid capital. Sounds of contention burrowed upwards through levels of concrete. The protests hummed between Nahm’s ears.

Nahm sat with Jason’s family in a private dining room on the fourth floor of the Iron Wok Chef. The entrance to the secluded dining area featured a tall red archway ornamented by carvings of spiraling dragons. A wall of windows opened out to a small balcony. Behind a short karaoke stage decorated with blinking Christmas lights, panels of full-length mirrors attempted to give a greater sense of space. But the mirrors reflected the opposite wall and a mural of a foggy Lushan mountain range, trapping dinner guests between dark summits and stirring Nahm’s anxiety.

To calm herself, Nahm narrowed her concentration on specific parts of the meal. She tried to identify the various flavors in the shark fin soup. She attempted to calculate the cost of each ingredient passing between her lips. Nahm had developed habits likes this selling mango and sticky rice with her mother in front of the headquarters for Kaidee Inter Auto Parts Co., Ltd. During those long hours she would stare down at one of the cracks in the grimy sidewalk and count the number of expensive shoes that passed over, or she’d look up at the tangled thicket of telephone wires running above her head and imagine where each line finished and began.

Every year Jason had pleaded for Nahm to attend the family’s Chinese New Year’s dinner, and she always declined saying she didn’t want to go anywhere she wasn’t welcome. But tonight she had finally conceded, and Jason hoped to make the evening enjoyable if possible.

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Pinto los Flores Para Que No Mueren
For Frida Kahlo

Revolution coincides with your birthday. You open fire, unbound.
Born of discontent, la casa azul leaves you no hope
but you find yourself longing for its pain.
Frozen disfigured limbs still look for love,
and he wants to give it. You search desperately for passion,
but none could be found among wilted flowers.

Splintered metal, your broken body lies in a field of wildflowers.
Blood pools freely; finally a part of you no longer bound
by the confines of your skin. Screams echo around you and you smile, hearing only passion.
In thirty-five parts, they try to stitch together your dying hope,
empty promises hang like bloody limbs on the canvas, no more love
left in your paintbrushes. No more pain.

You drink dreams in shot glasses, thrown back quick, pills for your pain.
Immobilized like you: broken stems and tired petals. You are fascinated by flowers;
kaleidoscope of colors and temporary love.
Your bed becomes your confidant, that most intimate lover to whom you are bound.
Consolation comes in the strangest of forms. Drips of hope
storm your bloodstream with liquid passion.

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MODALITIES by Robert Lietz


In Giant Latitudes

Another retired year and scrappy light’s chronology,
with suppertimes the neighbors ask you in or ask
themselves to, where swings and slides and rim-strung nets
imply a peace made casually, speeding
a fox through his to do, an owl to hers, so that Mercy
may be the faces that remind,
or, inches away, a new year’s mandevilla, its post-wrapped
tendrils and scarlet repeating puckers
climbing, repositioning, as the light decides, and
as the faces, reabsorbed, might seem
to us dissolving, as indecisive, say, if misremembered
frequencies, assuming themselves,
as wasps fly in, and set up under eaves, endorsing
the receptive atmosphere, and
as distractions come, prolifically, like
small minds obsessing, in
giant latitudes.

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THE DISABLED by Aimee LaBrie

by Aimee LaBrie

It is just past Thanksgiving, and they’ve already begun playing Christmas carols at the theme restaurant where Eleanor waits tables. The music streams from the speakers on the ceiling, like a curse from God, until her head feels stuffed with jingle bells and sleigh bells and holiday bells. She is so bloated with pre-Christmas spirit that she feels sick, as if she’s eaten an entire plate of Santa shaped cookies with an inch of frosting on the top. And yet somehow, the show must go on!

She has been living on her own in the Windy City for just under three months, lives in a shitty garden apartment with a leaky ceiling, and auditioned for zero plays. She can’t seem to find the time, what with all the old AMC movie watching she must do and the waitressing and homeless people to dodge and all.

Table two would like more ketchup in a white salad dressing cup, please. Table three would like several free refills of Diet Coke, some with a lemon and some with limes. Table five would like a new husband and in the meantime, will take her unhappiness out on Eleanor by sending back her calamari first as not warm enough and then saying the plate burned her fingers. Table 6 explodes with rowdy German tourists who will not tip and table seven is the angry wheelchair guy, a regular who purposefully juts his chair out in the middle of the aisle, making it difficult to maneuver around him, especially if you’re carrying a heavy tray of food filled with super fun holiday appetizers with sprigs of holly; as if he hopes to be doused by chili con carne. He also wants his food prepared in a very particular way and explains that if it’s not—if, for instance, the carrots interact with a peanut in any way—he will keel over and need an epi pen stuck in his neck which may spoil the lunch of the other patrons. However, he is also fiercely handsome with a square jaw and chiseled features of a 1940s movie actor of some kind.

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ECOTONE STRETCH by Diego Reymondez

by Diego Reymondez

A border between ecosystems is called an ecotone. It is a space where separate ecologies enmesh in a fade in and a fade out, and microclimates mingle. Wind and fur and legs can alter or transfer energy there and like a yin and a yang traces of each thrive in the other.

My stroll home intuits scads of these.

An apple falls from the canopy, brushing leaves down its way. When it arrives with a final thud against the ground I’m roused from a sleep where I dreamt of a proper bed.

A sluice carved in stone carries spring water to slip and break on pebbles. Oxygen’s forced into the pond. Foam to the surface. Bubbles pop and humidity rises.

A car horn carries from a distance.

When woods are only stressed, even in a thousand places, the whole always seems to stand. A boar tore away bark. Mushrooms ate the dead wood behind it. Enter insects to eat the living wood beneath it all. Then returned boar to eat all and perform the miracle of wood into meat.

Electric humming swells from down the path.

Underfoot, kudzu grows out of horizons of soil. Roots through humus, dirt and rock.

What seems a clearing is a ribbon of clear cut forest. Utility poles of Bolivian wood rising from the absence. While beneath the cords birds chirrup and make their way swift from tree line to tree line and the hair on my skin lifts on the slight breeze blown between the two woods. It will all lead back to town.

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MY FATHER’S ARMS by Betsy Campbell Stone

by Betsy Campbell Stone

At home, we covered up. Mine was a house full of brothers.

A closed bathroom door meant it was occupied. Occasionally I’d find the upstairs bathroom door ajar and push in, only to catch my father shaving. He always shaved nude. The long mirror over the two sinks was shrouded in steam except for the watery oval he cleared in front of his face. His bicep — round as Popeye’s — flexed as he swept the razor downward to reveal a stripe of skin. Like a drop of water that knows to leap off a griddle, I pulled the door shut.

Such squeamishness had disappeared by my father’s last year.

One afternoon, I heard a heavy thump while he was showering and ran into the bathroom. I opened the glass door to see him struggling like a beetle on its back.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“No, but I can’t get up.”

He’d fallen before, but on the thick carpet of his bedroom. I learned then that he didn’t have enough strength in his stomach muscles to roll over, much less to sit up. Fortunately, his leather belt made a good handle; I hauled up on it while he strained to get to his hands and knees. Then I coached him to reach forward and lean on a low chair before pivoting his bottom around to the seat. Those Popeye biceps were his salvation.

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