POMEGRANATE by Rachel Nevada Wood

Adonis was a painting. Or rather, he was a boy, but his limbs and lips looked as though they were made of artistry and creamy filaments of paint. It is no wonder, then, that Venus loved him. She kept him pillowed in her lap, far from the wars and deaths of heroes, and whispered him stories, her warm breath travelling across his lips. On days she was forced to leave him, Adonis made love to the forest instead, exploring it slowly, deliberately. On one of these days of absences and longing, a wild boar came across Adonis and gutted the canvas of his torso from stomach to collarbone. When Venus returned and found his broken body, she discovered the shape of heartbreak. Distraught, she made the spray of his blood bubble into hard teardrop seeds. And so, nourished by the blood of the most beautiful man to have ever been loved, the pomegranate blossomed into existence.

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BEAUTY IN ELEVEN ENCOUNTERS by Ollie Dupuy 

BEAUTY IN ELEVEN ENCOUNTERS by Ollie Dupuy  i could blame it on the culture of america, korea, science, but i boil it down to being the first korean word i learned, yeppuda yeppuda rolling off the tongues of halmonis and imos and echoing around the room like a bullet: beautiful beautiful. they flap sun-spotted hands to my sister’s and my hair, our flat stomachs, our long legs, and the only word i could understand was yeppuda. i begin to think of it as a science, as a fact, a ledgehold in the vast canyon of earth and universe. sun is yellow. clouds are white. i am beautiful. yeppuda, yeppuda. it takes a little time but i discover tragedy backwards, and suddenly i’m a victim of a crime i didn’t even know existed and i can’t stop thinking about my mother crying into the golden light of a therapist’s office. (no … chop! chop! read more!

THE OUTLINE OF EMPTY SPACES  by Angelique Stevens

I discovered a near-limitless capacity for patience on my parents’ back porch, hiding out, eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and reading Richie Rich comics. I was skipping school, biding my time until the end of the afternoon when I could pretend to come home. That first morning, I had slunk down behind an old green aluminum chair and sat in an upright fetal position, knees to chest, arms swaddling legs. I counted the boards on the floor, twenty-five. The rails along the side, forty-eight, and 360 holes in between the crisscross side rail, 250 yellow leaves on the porch, 423 reds, five points in this yellow leaf, eight in that red leaf. I counted my fingers and my toes and every letter in the alphabet, and then, when that was done, I made up a new game. I spelled out every letter:, A, AY, B, BEE, C, SEA. I spelled my name: Ay, En, Gee, El, Eye, Cue, You, Eee. I spelled out whole sentences. “Angie is skipping school today.” “School sucks.” It wasn’t long before I was bored.

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EXIT STRATEGIES by Lise Funderburg’s Id as told to Lise Funderburg

Holiday party season is once again upon us—a time of dough-forward cookie trays and ornamental cabbages, of feigned interest and conversational quicksand. This year, why not ride the crest of incivility that has taken our nation by storm? Say what you mean. Say whatever you feel like, then get the hell out of Dodge. Examples follow…

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EXCERPTS FROM SISTER ZERO by Nance Van Winckel

The slow snow first and then the hard snow with left and right men shoveling, cars swerving, stalling, spinning out, and drip by drip the icicle daggers sharpening, waiting to descend as we women lug logs up the porch steps and the dogs slink off, shivering, tails between their legs.

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HANGINAROUND by Dan Morey

Play. It’s 7 a.m. in Erie, Pennsylvania. Two young men sit at a bus stop on East 6th Street across from a paper mill that closed the previous year (2002). One young man, Dan Morey, is recently returned from a West Coast university, where he earned a master’s degree in English. When people ask him what he’s doing now, he tells them he’s “considering a PhD.”

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BAKERSFIELD by Mickey Revenaugh

We rolled into Bakersfield in 1968 the way the Okies did in The Grapes of Wrath — with everything we possessed packed into a creaking car and trailer, kids stacked on top of each other and no place yet to call home.

Following a dust-devil down Highway 99, leaving my dad and his other wife at the Sacramento end of the Central Valley, my mom strangled the steering wheel of the Belvedere wagon until it and the U-Haul came to rest, hot and ticking, beneath the cement awning of the Capri Motel. Piling out, we could see the yellow arch across Union Avenue spelling out Bakersfield in bold black letters. Tall desert palms spindled the endless, empty sidewalk while sun-spotted traffic coursed by the motels and take-out shops and liquor stores. It was May and already close to 100 degrees.

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CAPTURING THE ESSENCE OF THE STRANGEST CITY IN THE EAST, a travel essay on Portland, Maine, by J.A. Salimbene

Portland is where the nice go to be nice, where the humans go to be human, and where everyone goes to eat lobster. So yes, it’s a wonderful and liberating city to create in, but regardless of where you are or the tools at hand, it’s important to recognize that you can achieve that kind of creative liberation in all of your travels as a photographer or a tourist. A good photograph tells a story that allows the viewer to fill in the blanks or complete the story themselves. Keeping this in mind while you travel is vital to travel photography. Don’t just take snapshots, because you want people to be as stimulated as you were when you felt the moment needed to be captured. The images you make on your journey say something about yourself and the nature of your experience, so seek out the frames that will capture that essence and make them immortal.

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FIVE THINGS by Victoria-Lynn Bell

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

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LITTLE BLUE BOX by William Scott Hanna

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

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MAZE OF THE GIANT HEART by Allegra Armstrong

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

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MY FATHER’S HAIR by Sara Schuster

He took about a week to consider.

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

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DIARY ENTRY, by Arden Sawyer, Featured on Life As Activism

The year is 2017, and it is still young. Yet already it has managed to make me very concerned about how it will turn out as it grows older.

At present, I’m staying with my aunt Rebecca in her house in San Francisco, California, under the wing of her charity. The back of the drought has been broken by a glut of rain. Every night Rebecca watches the news. She watches the news of her own will and choosing, and I am simply there for it, experiencing its noise and light because I am in the same room while it plays. Rebecca is an American, by her own identification, and lives in America. I am simply here in it, situated physically in this spot on the earth, borrowing space in other people’s lives.

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THE SONGS OF MY YOUTH by Nancy Hightower

Facebook has had one of those circulating memes, the ones that ask you to make lists that somehow make you feel nostalgic for a life you’re not sure you ever really had. The latest: list ten albums that influenced you as a teenager. Then: list ten albums that influenced you before you were a teenager. I do not make a list. Instead, I read your list, the choices that betrayed your rebellion or geekiness or prescient cool factor. I want to make my own list, but your list is better. I want to make my own list, but my throat catches as I hum songs I once took great pains to forget, songs that betray a disjointed yet emotionally accurate soundtrack.

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BROTHERS, BOYS, AND WHAT CAN I DO By Shannon Cothran

That afternoon at home, I am straddling my little brother, his arms pinned under the strength of my thighs, and I am spitting in his face while he screams. I let the spit drip slowly from my mouth onto his face, a long string of it, so he can see it coming. My mom sees it coming too and pulls me off him, sending me to my room. I get talked at for an hour by her and then another hour by my dad. You’re almost five years older than he is, they say. Someday, he’s going to be bigger than you, they say. What will you do then?

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ALARM by Sandra Shaw Homer

When it became clear my grandmother could no longer live alone, I was the one who took the initiative to find a place for her, and I wanted it to be near me. She refused to go to the only facility in Albany, where she lived, because there was a patient there she intensely disliked, and she loathed the idea of going to Florida, near her two sons, so we found a “life-care” facility in a pretty, rural area outside Philadelphia. My sister, also nearby, handles our grandmother’s affairs while I visit and occasionally deal with the staff. This division of labor falls to each of us naturally, and I’m happy with my share.

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BARYCENTER by Sydney Tammarine

Last night I found you huddled in the corner of our bedroom, wide awake and shaking. This was similar but not identical to that time one year ago when I broke down the bathroom door with a hammer to find you curled in a C-shape on the tile, the way you perhaps had slept in your mother’s womb. Both times, you said you were sorry. You had lain surrounded by the glass of a shattered fifth of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, and 27 acetaminophen 500mg/diphenhydramine-hydrochloride 25mg pills, which I scooped into the sink to count and subtract from the number on the packaging (100) to estimate the intake (73, or 36500 mg, with an error margin of 5-10 pills that I might have missed laying under your still, silenced body). It’s not the diphenhydramine-hydrochloride that will kill you. It’s the acetaminophen, and it’s slow. I didn’t know that part until later.

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FIRST, UNCLOAK YOUR COLOREDNESS, an essay by Rachel Yang, Featured on Life As Activism

Two weeks before Election Day, I took a new job at a private high school in Minneapolis. Faculty passing by in the hall poked their heads through my doorway and asked, “So, are you the New Asma?”

“Kind of,” I replied.

But, I am not the New Asma.

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PHOTOGRAPHY FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Activist by Lena Popkin Featured on Life As Activism

When I got home that night, I plugged my camera into my laptop and discovered that the images I had shot—without any clear intention—had captured the heartbreaking intensity of the crowd. My photos—reminiscent of the images of the 1963 March on Washington that I had recently studied—made me feel as though I had done something valuable in documenting the first breaths of resistance, and as if they might give me a voice. After posting the photographs on social media, I was surprised to discover that they served as balm for many now politically-disillusioned viewers. They felt reassured that young people, in particular, would fight back.

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THE DAY AMERICA DIED, AGAIN… by Joel L. Daniels Featured on Life As Activism

shhh…

this is not an essay. no, this is not that. not a poem. not a bomb. not hydrogen. this is not blackface. not a pledge to a new allegiance. there will be no cotton picking. there are signs – a cross stump stuck in a lawn, a flag burning. there may be a march, some spring uprising to coincide with fall palettes and patterns, of bodies being flung to concretes, red pastels overshadowing the grainy elements of white hoods floating in the background.

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WELCOME HOME by Michael Fischer

For 23 years you’re free. Then you go to prison.

You arrive in an orange jail jumpsuit, thin and see-through as a dryer sheet. You sit in a cage until a correctional officer calls you out. State your full name. Any aliases? How tall are you? Yeah you wish, how tall are you really? How much you weigh? Hair color? Eyes? Any scars? Any tattoos? Where? Of what? What size shoe you wear? Pants? Shirt? Get back in the cage.

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THE GRAVITY OF JOY by Charles Green

Recently, I ruined someone’s moment of mundane joy. The hallways of my campus building were bare—students were taking exams, or locked away in the library and various study nooks they’d marked as their territory, or sprawled on the campus greens. The end of the semester was nigh; my step had a lilt.

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TINY’S HEART by Sam Brighton

For weeks the slush had been drying off the sidewalks, leaving trails of salty white mist, and still I hadn’t seen Tiny, not since Christmas when he tried to kiss me and said he’d teach me to cut white people hair. During warmer months, Tiny hustled past the social services building most mornings around nine. “There he goes,” somebody would say. We would stop tapping on our keyboards, lean a chair beyond the cubicle wall, and stretch the coiled phone cord to watch him go. Tiny was somewhere in his nineties and barely taller than the corner mailbox. He zipped by, en route to his barbershop, his gait just as steady as any of ours. Most people on my caseload were shut inside their houses forevermore and inched around their kitchens one step at a time. Tiny was my only employed client, although I wasn’t sure how officially employed – I didn’t ask, I didn’t want to know. He always wore a fedora, a necktie cinched tight into his collar, a long cardigan draped off his hunched bony shoulders. Tiny was always impeccably groomed and appropriately dressed for the weather, engaged daily in cardiovascular activity. I nearly finished my functional assessment just watching him haul ass.

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CARDIO, LIGHTBULBS, AND A FUNERAL by Rick Bailey

The day of the funeral I’m on the treadmill at the senior center.

A guy named Gordon I haven’t seen in a while stops next to me and points. I shake my head, What? He points again. So: I guess my limp is noticeable. I took a minor tumble on some stairs, more sprawl than fall. I’d rather not go into it right now. I’m listening to Ray Charles sing “Oh what a beautiful morning” on my headset and watching Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan on one of the four TV’s hung on the wall. But Gordon stands there, smiling. I pause the Ray, pop out an earbud.

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TEACHING REFUGEE CHILDREN AFTER TRUMP, an essay by Daniel Miller, featured on Life As Activism

Throughout the election season, I noticed that some of my students seemed uneasy. After Donald Trump’s election, true fear had taken hold in many of them. A Congolese boy, who I had never before seen without a big smile, asked me why he would have to go back to his country. His village did not have enough food, he told me. People were very sad and hungry there. A second grade teacher showed me a picture one of her students had drawn. It showed two men with Crayola guns standing over a woman, scribbled red.

“This is my aunt,” the girl said. “Please don’t make my family go back.”

When I took this job, I knew that I might have to console students who were going through rough times: moving, divorce, the death of a beloved pet. I never imagined I would have to have a discussion with elementary students like the ones my college professors had with us after 9/11.

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BENEATH US ALL THIS TIME, an essay by Angelique Stevens featured on Life As Activism

Everywhere I went in Sudan, people offered me things. I was the foreigner in their country and they could tell the minute they saw me that I was different with my lighter skin and my long hair and my rounded body. They understood that it was me who needed their help. They knew that my system wasn’t used to the extreme temperatures, that I had not sufficiently acclimated to bacteria-ridden water, that my skin was too soft for hard work, my eyes too sensitive to the dust.

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THE ART OF TRUMP, an essay by Dustin Pearson, featured on Life As Activism

In the aftermath of the election, I overheard a phone conversation my housemate had with his friend, a conversation that was casual enough to be had while he was on the toilet. He explained he was bummed that Trump had been elected president but that he was also excited. He had plans to go out and buy a gun. He’d always wanted to play out a survivalist scenario, even if he would hate it when it finally came.

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LOVE OF MY LIFE, an essay by Cody Smith, featured on Life As Activism

I am watching the election results with a friend that I’m kind of in love with. He texts me after the first polls close. I join him at the Women’s Center where they are holding a viewing party, a nonpartisan event in name only. Early numbers look bad, and then they begin to look dangerous. People leave the party visibly upset. The Friend and I decide we need a drink. I call a local Mexican restaurant to ask if they’re showing the election results on any of their televisions.

One girl suggests we come with her to a fraternity where they are watching CNN. The frat has hard liquor, and we could buy mixers on the walk over. I bite my tongue. I don’t want to come across as judgmental, but I have always hated boys’ clubs. And besides, I want to be alone with The Friend.

“The love of my life is in that fraternity,” he says. “Just kidding.”

The Friend continually cycles through moments of revealing (if exaggerated) honesty followed by sham retractions. We continue to discuss specifics.

“Do you want to go, Cody?” he asks.

“I’d be willing, but it’s up to you,” I say.

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THE LIONS’ MURDER BALLAD by Melissa Wiley

There is always a cruel sister. There is always one more beloved than the other. There is always a stronger who kills the weaker, in life as in the murder ballad “The Two Sisters,” versions of which have circulated for centuries across continents. The older sister cannot help being the uglier, making her the murderer.

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WHO’S IN CHARGE by Shelley Blanton-Stroud

The dining room windows of Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers beam light onto the last cars in the lot—a pale-blue Pinto, a red Camaro, and a gray Buick Riviera, floorboard littered with Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Earth, Wind and Fire eight tracks. The Buick’s mine. I’m the manager. In two weeks I’ll quit to go back to college.

I squirt hospital-sweet cleanser over gluey catsup congealed onto the salad bar Formica, scraping with my finger through a rag. Then I head to the kitchen, snack on the last batch of fries and try to balance cash against receipts. Eighteen-year-old Fat Danny washes dishes and sixteen-year-old Nina mops.

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DIARY OF A HOUSE by Laurie Blauner

Every room is safe and dangerous. Ghosts squirm into action and wander, reenacting what made them ghosts. Words spoken in an empty room reverberate, returning to the speaker. In Medieval times people had only one space for everything. I, the bedroom, am nestled within a house that is nestled within Seattle, a subtle city. No sun comes through my two windows, only a frozen gray sky, a giant’s sigh or a sad exhalation.

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WHAT BETSY WAS by Bruce Bromley

For years beyond counting, she lived far under water among the green things, their shine like that light before the storm comes above ground, as if seen through the veins of a new leaf, held close to the eye in a time so distant that its tale must have been whispered in her ear by a voice she no longer recalled how to speak back to. She’d look, in daylight, at the angles of the rocks that jut up from the sand below, whose bottom she was afraid to find. She’d float over the sunken ferns, the stems many-leaved and waving, watch the fish nestling there whom she called her scaly sisters, their shared kin as much a mystery to her as her own name. She thought that the moon, when it came, rose from and hovered a little above the surface of the water. That surface was the sky she knew. She’d see her hair drift ahead of her, the color of a tongue after it’s licked an apple for too long, though apples were things that she forgot, every day, except one.

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ELECTION NIGHT by Lisa Rowan

I could feel his eyes on me, even though he was watching the road. “That’s private,” my father said quietly. “I don’t tell anyone who I voted for.”

He was fifty and I was on the edge of nineteen, and he was spending his night driving me back to my dorm room three hours from home. I had shown up at his door six hours prior, with almost no notice.

Earlier that day, I had paid $45 for a one-way Amtrak ticket to my tiny Philadelphia suburb. I had walked to my voting center from the train station. I had walked to my father’s house after I voted.

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UNSTEADY ON by David Wolf

Youth felt crooked then and feels crooked now. Not in the way that New York City (once home) is, was, and will remain crooked. In various ways and perhaps none, all depending on our expectations, asinine and understandable all at once. I sought to intensify my views on life as early as I could, as soon as I grew dimly aware of what that meant, jogging into the grey fuzz flying off the newly baseless conceptualizations, concentrating on a decaying tree here, a coarse cluster of beliefs there. Some of my strengths wane, some wax and those are some facts, I guess. These are patient reflections, awaiting sufficient ice to form on the semi-frozen pond of non-narrative, waiting for the body to give way to a story or two. I have encountered/endured many approaches to treating the great textbook themes: innocence and experience, conformity and rebellion, culture and identity, love and hate, life and death, given my line of “work” as a writer and a teacher of literature. “Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do,” said Voltaire, who used the word sturgeon at least once in his writing to my knowledge and likely stood at a window one morning watching the rain, thinking, I mean who hasn’t?

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BREAK A LEG by Lisa Romeo

I was doing grunt work at the stable, filling water buckets, dropping bales of hay from the loft, cleaning grungy tack—and shoveling manure.

Kate and I—lone teens among the adults who rode at the small barn—cleaned stalls while horses were turned out to run around the ring, bucking, snorting and galloping, rolling in the August dust. She’d attack one stall, I another, our shared wheelbarrow in the aisle, both of us sweating, smelly, proud to be trusted with real work of horse care.

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ON PETER ADAMYAN’S “BLACKFACE BARBIE MINSTREL SHOW” by Tracy Jones

Want to say “nigger” without taking the chance of getting beat the fuck up? Are you a white liberal tired of white guilt? Feeling a little transracial? Does everything about you seem black, but your skin? Do you sketch self-portraits using a brown crayon, instead of peach? Find yourself tweeting #blacklivesmatter, but still getting bussed to the #alllivesmatter side of town? What about that blackface frat party you always wanted to throw? Want to get shot for no reason? Can’t take advantage of affirmative action when applying for college? Is your blackness too hip to be down with that wigger shit?

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ATLANTIC DYSTOPIA by Ray Scanlon

Halfway through my seventh decade I realize I have gained in modesty, at least in the sense of exposing skin. It is partly because I have a clearer vision of my nerd body’s attractiveness. My face is a thing of no great beauty. My dear Cheryl refers, affectionately I believe, to my toothpick legs, and my cardiologist told us that my sunken chest added risk to the standard rib-cracking heart valve replacement procedure. There is little danger that the sight of my body will be inciting lust in the general public. But, mostly, I keep it well-covered because I’m a contrarian crank playing Canute to our post-modest times, in which a twerking Miley Cyrus thrives.

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MEMORIAL by Peter Tiernan

My girlfriend Jackie and I came across the memorial in a cemetery near our house in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a slanted stone slab low to the ground with two plaques on it. The smaller described a 1956 midair collision over the Grand Canyon between a TWA Constellation and a United Airlines DC-7 that killed 128 people. The larger listed the names of the sixty-six who were buried there: three Maags, four Kites, two Crewses, and so on. My eye found the groups of matching surnames, and my mind turned them into stories.

It seemed odd that this sunny patch of grass, tucked away in the aspens, looking more appropriate for lawn chairs and bocce, would be a memorial to decompression and falling and terror.

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DESTROYER by Gretchen Clark

Canned laughter sounded from the television, but no one was smiling in the kitchen where I faced my mother, our dog’s metal chain cold against my palm. She was close to six feet tall, and I was only eight, but I narrowed my eyes and glared at her. “I can hit you,” I said. “I can kick you all I want.”

She looked at me, her green irises bisected by the deep lines etched in the bifocal lens she wore. “Go ahead,” she said.

I whipped the chain forward as I sprung up in my shiny Mary Jane shoes. It was a clumsy attempt; I barely grazed her shoulder. I swung again. And again, stopping only when the chain connected with my mother’s glasses. I didn’t break them, but they hung askew on her shocked face.

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RABBIT PUNCH by Lynn Houston

I will tell you the first part of this story backwards, because that’s how I remember it. Starting with the fight. The chocolate is always an after-thought.

He was standing in front of the apartment door when I got home with groceries. My fiancé Francis was not yet home from work. The door to our apartment in Switzerland was at the end of a narrow hallway. Two could barely pass. Francis had said not to let his brother in when he wasn’t there. Francis had left the number to call the institution to come get him. His brother wasn’t supposed to get out, but every couple weeks he did. Francis had said his brother had killed their mother, but then he took it back. It was probably really the cancer. He repeated, probably. He’d left his brother alone with their mother and he’d pushed her, breaking her ribs. She never left the hospital. Francis’ brother was standing at the end of the very narrow hallway when I got home.

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CUTTING CORNERS by Marya Zilberberg

For a butter knife it was sharp. My grandmother must have had it for a long time. Its blade was truncated by a fracture, rust collecting at the end of its one-inch length, at the site of the break. I was never sure if she kept it because of some sentimental attachment or a deep-seated sense of Soviet scarcity made more acute by the still fresh memories of the deprivations of the Great War, which was only two decades behind her. I was attached to my distorted reflection looking back at me from its heavy silver handle.

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NOT EVEN A GLASS OF WATER by Judy Bolton-Fasman

NOT EVEN A GLASS OF WATER
by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Think of this as an old movie. Black and white and crackling.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1959, while the businesses along Chapel Street in downtown New Haven were emptying out for the glittering holiday, the staid New Haven accounting firm of Rosen & Rosen was receiving an unexpected visitor. The receptionist was gone for the holidays and one of the partners, my father’s cousin David Rosen, got the door for a young woman in a state of great agitation. An old woman, the girl’s aunt, trailed nervously behind fanning herself with a train schedule. The pair had traveled from Grand Central Station.

The older woman was there for the younger one, her niece Matilde. And Matilde was there for Harold Bolton. Three weeks earlier Harold had left her at the altar in Havana.

Matilde screamed in a thick Cuban accent, “Where is he?” She was carrying a B. Altman shopping bag that ripped as she extracted a crumpled white silk gown. The gleaming silver that followed registered as a butcher’s knife.

“Hijo de mala madre,” Matilde said over and over until she had no more breath. “Dio de la Zedakades—God of righteousness,” the aunt, la Tía Ester, muttered in Ladino.

Harold emerged from his office at the sound of the commotion. There was Matilde smoothing the handmade wedding dress against her body. This was just the kind of erratic behavior that was among the reasons he had backed out of their wedding at the last minute—that, and his appalled parents’ reaction to his intention to marry a Cuban girl almost half his age. A girl who didn’t know a salad fork from a dinner fork. I imagine her Latina volatility was part of her allure for Harold—a sturdy only son of Jewish immigrants born in Ukraine who insistently cultivated an American identity. But that afternoon in the offices of Rosen & Rosen, Harold had no doubt that Matilde was capable of cutting herself or even of stabbing him to death.

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THE BABY TRAIN by Bryanna Licciardi

THE BABY TRAIN
by Bryanna Licciardi

The question is anything but casual. In this society, it more or less translates to I’m judging you! It’s always asked shouldering the answer, because everyone wants children, even if only “someday.” As a woman who has never enjoyed the company of children—who in fact has been known to hide when she hears one coming—I’ve found it easier to just evade questions like this with humor. Because the question is anything but casual. In this society, it more or less translates to “I’m judging you!” And it’s always asked shouldering the answer, because everyone wants children, right? Even if only “someday.” However, this was a serious decision I was about to make, so I answered truthfully. “I’m not much of a kid person.”

“Do you mean infants? Toddlers? Young children?” the therapist asked.

“All of the above?”

“I see,” she said, writing something down in her yellow notepad. “And I’m assuming you’re not married?”

Assuming? “Yes, I’m single.”

“Why do you think you’re single?”

What kind of question was that? Because men suck at dating me? Because I suck at dating them? Because I’ve become an expert at not dating?

Instead, I said, “I’m a virgin. And guys tend not to know what to do with that.”

Her face was priceless—mouth open, eyes crooked and bugging. She looked stunned, like she’d just discovered the missing link. “Virgin…” she mumbled. “And you’re 24?”

I nodded.

She leaned forward, pen pressed hard onto her notepad, and spewed out textbook clichés trying to unlock the secret: was there a history of trauma; was I controlled by the church; had I any daddy issues? But alas, as hard as it was to believe, I was a virgin simply because I’d never had sex.

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NIGHT OWL by Carmella de los Angeles Guiol

NIGHT OWL
by Carmella de los Angeles Guiol

Nuit Blanche

I once loved a man who was a creature of the night. Like me, but more so. He slept through most of the daylight hours, his wily hair a halo on his satin pillowcase. Sometimes I stopped by his room between classes to curl up next to him and feel his dreaming body register mine.

One night, before our bodies had ever laid beside each other, before I’d ever run my fingers through his curls, before I saw that pair of women’s shoes outside his bedroom door, before I tried to push the door open and found it locked, we shared an email exchange that ended with this message: “Meet me at the memorial in fifteen minutes.” It was four in the morning when we stumbled down the hill and across the football fields, into the dark forest where even the crickets slept.

The crisp fall air kept us close. Half-bare trees guided our path, until thicket gave way to moon-soaked pasture. He dug a joint out of his pocket and we found a log where we sat, huddled close to the heat, watching stars streak across the silty sky, silent bursts of light in the still dawn. The grass glowed white with frozen dew; in a few hours, the ice crystals would seep down their spines, leaving the meadow withered with frostbite.

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HAMLET THERAPY by Maud Burnett McInerney

HAMLET THERAPY
by Maud Burnett McInerney

The last time I had seen a live production of Hamlet, I was a teenager, and I fell in love with the Melancholy Dane. He was beautiful and blonde and had one of those resonant voices, trained by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. I learned all of Ophelia’s lines—this seems disturbing to me now, but then I played her over and over again in the privacy of my bedroom.

Nearly forty years later, I saw Hamlet again on the very same stage at the Canada’s Stratford Festival. This time, I saw a different play entirely. I was no longer in love with Hamlet, I was Hamlet. Watching the play from the dark shadow of my own depression, I recognized myself on stage. I could taste the flavor of Hamlet’s every mood because his moods were mine.

Just to be clear, the precipitating cause of my depression was not that my uncle killed my father and married my mother. It was more mundane and yet horribly painful: my husband of over 20 years left me for a much younger woman, with whom, I eventually learned, he had been involved for some time. Not tragic, just sad and disappointing and commonplace, and yet, because betrayal is betrayal, I felt what Hamlet felt.

The second Stratford production was both stylized and extremely naturalistic, especially when it came to how the actors spoke. No one declaimed, no one used British-y accents, the words were clearly and rapidly delivered in ordinary Canadian tones. The characters spoke as you and I do but using Shakespeare’s words, and thus those words gained an intimacy they all too often lack in stagier performances.

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TRIP by Rheea Mukherjee

TRIP
by Rheea Mukherjee

The door that led into the house my parents owned in Denver needed an extra nudge for it to open. Once prodded, a bell attached to the knob jingled before you could set foot on the white tiles. This jingle, the thrust of the door, was a short prelude to the potent smell of mutton being fried in canola oil. The smell of curried meat, intense and intrusive, compared to the odorless winter air outside. Clumps of snow would fall from the sides my boots onto the floor as we took off layers of sweaters and coats.

For me there would be vegetarian dishes. My father always made sure of that. He wearing shorts that reached his knees, his elbow poking against the thickness of masala vapors, stirring his curry, a universe of flavors condensed into an offering of love. The TV in the living room was massive, reminiscent of the American suburban nineties. CNN or some other news channel would be blaring, and the house not yet warmed enough for a Colorado winter, would temper the spattering of oil.

This is how I remember of my father. Not because there wasn’t more. Not because I don’t remember other things. Like him driving his car, his head attached to a cell phone, bantering to clients in Hindi or English about real estate: houses, liquor stores, another closing. Not because I don’t remember vividly him telling us ghost stories when I was eight, coddled by pillows, in the backseat of our car being driven somewhere in Georgia, one of the many family road trips that entailed pit stops at gas stations and the endless tar of an American interstate highway. Not because I don’t remember him telling me that it was not possible I had gotten three C’s in Social Studies, Math and Science in 4th grade, I had studied too hard. Because I do remember him marching up to my favorite teacher, Mrs. Berks, who looked up my tests frantically and then realized that it was true. I had gotten straight A’s that year and she had made a mistake, a miracle I still can’t fathom. Only he knew.

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THE BUSINESS OF BODIES by Gwendolyn Edward

THE BUSINESS OF BODIES
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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Ten Years in Belgrade by Sara Alaica

TEN YEARS IN BELGRADE
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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THE INSIGNIFICANT REMAINS by Robert Henway

THE INSIGNIFICANT REMAINS
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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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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