Spring Issue – (Spring 2018 / 18.1)

Spring Issue – (Spring 2018 / 18.1)

Last Chapter by Fabrice Poussin

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, San Pedro River Review and more than 300 other publications.

***

Kate Lutzner

Capable

Once, in childhood, I got caught in the generous
bloom. There are many limber districts. The body
is only one of them. Underneath my hand, something
rushed and died. Were I capable of despair.
After God, abandonment and shame. The beauty
of not knowing gets distilled by your readiness.
there is no question of love, only need.

Kate Lutzner’s poetry and stories have appeared in such publications as The Brooklyn Rail and Mississippi Review. She has been featured in Verse Daily and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. She also has a novel, The Only One who Loves You, on Amazon Kindle. Invitation to a Rescue is her first chapbook and can be purchased here.

~

Jacqueline Doyle

Checkmate

I’m sorry I made you cry when I won at chess. We didn’t know each other well, it was our first match, and we played on a small wooden travel chess set that we’d just bought in Thessaloniki. The tiny chessmen had wooden pegs that fit into holes on the checkered squares and the board folded in half and became a box to store them. I was a pretty good player back then, that is, quick and impatient and incapable of planning ahead more than one or two moves but with good instincts. I must have cornered your King, maybe swooped in with my Queen. I didn’t crow triumphantly or laugh when I checkmated you and I couldn’t understand why you cried. Or maybe you didn’t cry, just wiped away a tear. We were on a worn red plaid blanket in the shade of a gnarled pine tree, camping on an empty white sand beach in Greece. The sky was so blue, the ocean turquoise, the air warm and gentle. I was lulled by the soft, rhythmic plash of the waves, the faraway cries of seagulls. I’d never been to such a beautiful place. You were 27, I was only 19. You left your girlfriend behind in Germany to meet me for a month’s vacation in your pale green VW bus. I don’t know whether you apologized to her. And then you followed me back to the US and lived with me my junior and senior years and I apologize for suggesting that you return to Germany a couple of months early so you could get a head start on finishing your degree while I finished mine. If I hadn’t suggested that, you wouldn’t have had the affair that you hid from me until we were in the Pyrenees on a motorcycle trip from Germany to Morocco with her and some other friends. I guess you apologized to me and I know I took you back after the trip I’d left so abruptly and I apologize for my mistake because I should have known it would happen again but instead of planning ahead more than one or two moves, I settled down with you in Germany where I liked being a foreigner and then married you five years later and I apologize for going back to the US and embarking on a PhD in a university town in upstate New York where the only job you could find was checking students’ backpacks at the library for stolen books. I was crushed when we broke up over your affair with a girl at the library, and I apologize for feeling relieved as well, and maybe I should have apologized for not taking you back six months later, but really I was out of apologies at that point and certainly didn’t believe yours. I should have realized when you took getting beaten at chess so hard that none of it was going to work out, probably I should have thought more than one or two moves ahead back at the beginning when you left your girlfriend behind to vacation in Greece with an adventurous American girl who was just passing through. I’m sorry I didn’t know that but the sky was so blue, the Aegean so turquoise, the air kissed my skin and it all seemed very romantic to the romantic nineteen-year-old I was and I’m not going to apologize for her or for beating you at chess after all.

Jacqueline Doyle’s new flash fiction chapbook The Missing Girl was just published by Black Lawrence Press. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online at www.jacquelinedoyle.com and on twitter @doylejacq.

~

Rita Quillen

Grounding

When Dad stepped out the backdoor
he met Clinch Mountain’s majestic face,
her specter changing from green to gold
to gray and black and back again–
reference point eternal
as year after year clicked faster by.

To his right, he could see
through trees’ bare winter arms
the home he was born in,
the pasture where he ran and cried
when first his father,
then his grandfather died,
leaving him alone in a house of women.
He could see his cattle
grazing up there now, unaware
of any tragedy, peacefully breathing
under the mountain’s shadow and wind.

To his left, the church
that centered his days, built on land
deeded by great-grandfather,
cornerstone dragged
from that same mountain mother.
Its organ and piano rang,
rang through his days
just like the big bell
on its steeple overhead
his family had also helped hang up there
had prayed under, mourned under,
that often brought a smile to his face
with its noon tune as he plowed,
planted, pulled and hauled in his garden
merely yards away,
smiling at this life in the shadows
of all he was or could be
living where everything had happened that mattered–
everything that mattered had happened–
he could see it all right there
on that one little spot so small
invisible even to the heavens.

But to say it was a small life
is to misunderstand.
What profiteth a man to rush about,
live big, move off to hostile climates,
losing sight of that long arc
of loss and longing and love.
It is a special gift to bloom
where you’re planted,
grown in the fine sand
of blind luck and whimsy,
the tiny cosmos of root, stem, and vein.

Rita Quillen’s new full-length poetry collection, The Mad Farmer’s Wife, was published in 2016 by Texas Review Press, a Texas A & M affiliation and was a finalist for the prestigious Weatherford Award in Appalachian Literature from Berea College. Her novel Hiding Ezra, released by Little Creek Books, was a finalist for the 2005 DANA Awards, and a chapter of the novel is included in Talking Appalachian, a scholarly study of Appalachian dialect published by the University of Kentucky Press in 2014. One of six semi-finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, she received a Pushcart nomination in 2012 and 2015, and a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. Read more at www.ritasimsquillen.com.

~

Ben Berman

Sorts

At first, we sort of liked the way he asked questions that roommates normally kept to themselves, made extra pasta in case anyone else was hungry – but after he lost his job, he grew more and more out of sorts, resorted to sitting on the couch all day, watching soaps and eating cereal with orange juice.

            ***

We thought things would just sort themselves out – he would apply for a new job or actually call that girl he was always talking about. But then one day we came home from work and found him nearly naked in the living room, making piles with all our stuff, arranging all our food and clothes, books and dishes entirely by color.

            ***

After the cops came and helped him into the ambulance, the three of us didn’t say a word – we just started sorting through the piles, separating beans from socks, putting our college textbooks back on our own shelves, spent the rest of the night silently trying to recreate some semblance of order.

Ben Berman is the author of two collections of poems, Strange Borderlands (Able Muse Press, 2013) and Figuring in the Figure (Able Muse Press, 2017). His new collection of short prose is forthcoming from Vine Leaves Press. He teaches in the Boston area, where he lives with his wife and daughters.

~

Marvin Shackelford

Arcane

I shift slowly. For days I’ve traveled
in the hollowed belly of a wasp,
indigestibly conveyed
to the mountained city where sky
escapes the soil. I’ve learned to breathe
deeply, wetly. I’ve searched streets
lined by the homes of all monsters
and peoples, stores serving fiends and saints,
the governance of gods and mankind.

Your shop door opens unexpectedly.
I arrive to your blue skin, a gasp
or chatter drawing your lips between
smile and frown indistinguishably.
Your long fingers draw runes of love.
Only then I taste the snow
blown from lower altitude, the weak
sun on your windowsill.
We haggle in terms of gold, gemstones,
blood, hearts, steel from deep within an earth
farmed by blinded, blackened creatures.
I ask if all beauty is evil.
Your body spells wonders to me.

Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems, Urban Farmhouse Press) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming from Alternating Current). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in Kenyon Review, Southern Humanities Review, Recommended Reading, and elsewhere. He currently resides in Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.

~

Rob Walton

Cairns

Francis is dressed entirely in shades of green and he is building a cairn. We each bring a rock or stone and Francis builds. He has a knack of finding a place close to the town that is memorable for us, but has little risk of being found by others. There are now only four of us – Simon and Matthew now live their lives virtually – so Francis thinks very carefully about placement and balance and proportion.

We come from what people perceive to be an unfashionable town, and we meet in other supposedly unfashionable towns whenever we can. We eat, drink, walk, talk and build.

Today we are in a place maybe three hundred miles from our hometown. We have a five hundred mile limit but this is the furthest we’ve been.

Francis builds and we talk about bad stuff that’s on our minds. Becky read a story in a local newspaper about a hit-and-run that she can’t get out of her head. I talk about my relationship with Michael, which wasn’t my intention, but one sentence follows another and there’s nothing nor nobody to stop me. I talk about hurting Michael emotionally and about a time I wanted to hurt him physically and it’s all very confessional and I almost cry.

Helen smiles and takes her stone away from Francis. She holds it between her hands as she talks of This guy who came up to me in a bar on Saturday night, and offered to buy me a drink, but I said from where I was standing he looked like the biggest mistake anyone could make. I smile at her. She smiles back, drops her stone and walks away.

I walk to Francis’s cairn and crouch down, and look to the horizon. From here I can see all the relationships I’ve ever had. It just about gives me the strength to start a new one.

I don’t know how Francis does it, but he does it every time.

Scunthorpe-born and Tyneside-based, Rob Walton has flash fictions in Flash Frontier, 101 words, Spelk, Number Eleven, Paper Swans Press, Popshot, Pygmy Giant, Paragraph Planet, Ham, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and others. He is a past winner and current judge for the UK’s National Flash Fiction Day. He also writes poetry for adults and children and has been widely anthologized.

~

DeMisty D. Bellinger

Brutal

I. It Was Brutal1

We see how tragic that life was
        with distance and time,
                the clearest vision,
and then it’s too late.

But we can ask with something
        like true curiosity and concern
                if any life is untragic
if anything can be just in time.

        Or we can ask,
                with something like
        desperate dignity
if any life is worthy of tragedy—

shouldn’t something as glorious as
        dying in multicolored plumes
                and staccatoed, even rhythms
be reserved for the revered?

Of course, we can emphatically
        bow our heads in
                reverence, with something like empathy,
lowered lids against the glare.

II. Close to the Brokenhearted2

The weapons and ammunition are all his.
The maids and hotel clerks, the loss of guests, of tourists, the glass, the gas in the cars, the ammunition of the cops, the cops, the EMTs and ambulances and gas in those buildings, the hospital and doctors and nurses, the coroner and morticians, the surgeons and undertakers, the casket makers, the lawyers and clerks and court fees, the calls home and to cellphones, the visits to houses in other parts of time, the witnessing of tears from people we do not know and cannot know
        —all that is ours.

Notes

1. Barack Obama regarding speaking to family members of Sandy Hook victims: “It’s the only time I ever saw Secret Service cry at an event. So, it was brutal”.
2. The 45th president of the United States quoted Psalm 34:18 after the Las Vegas Shooting: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” President Obama first used a version of this psalm in his speech after the Sandy Hook shooting in closing: “God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds”.
DeMisty D. Bellinger, a Milwaukee native, teaches Creative Writing, Women’s Studies, and African-American Studies at Fitchburg State University. She holds an MFA from Southampton College and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska. Bellinger is the author of Rubbing Elbows, (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Her poems appear in Helen, Necessary Fiction, Driftless Review, WhiskeyPaper, Boston Accent Lit, and Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers.

~

Jayne Martin

Blue Boy

I was born three minutes before my brother, slid right out they said, while Kenny’s struggle with the cord would nearly take his life before he’d drawn his first breath. Blue boy, they called him.

***

“Surprise!” They jumped out from behind couches, chairs, and tables loaded with food. So much food. My chest constricted as if in the grip of a fist.

***

“Kelly. Wake up,” Kenny shook my arm. It was still dark out.

At fourteen, Kenny had dyed his hair cobalt blue, and rarely left his room.

“Go away.” I turned my back to him and burrowed beneath the covers.

“Happy Birthday,” he whispered, and gave me a light kiss on my left cheek. Such a weirdo, I thought as I drifted back to sleep.

***

Someone took my coat and bag. Someone else handed me a glass of wine. My trembling sent it shattering to the tile floor like a scream.

***

Pancakes in the shape of hearts bubbled on the stove. A birthday tradition.

“Go rouse your brother, Kelly,” Mom said. Remembering Kenny’s nocturnal visit, I burst into his room preparing to leap onto his bed and extract my revenge. His feet floated above floor, bare and already blue.

***

Friends brought food. So much food.

Jayne Martin is a 2017 Pushcart nominee and the 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her work has appeared in Spelk, Literary Orphans, Five-2-One, Midwestern Gothic, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, Cleaver, Connotation Press, and Hippocampus, among others. She is the author of Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry, and lives in California. Twitter @Jayne_Martin

~

Piet Nieuwland

Occupying the Lifestyle Wars

On this island altar to the spirit of rain
The horizon is my home.
Down a green gladded dappled valley up to the near ridge
Beyond the next valley, river draining to a harbor lung
To the bright grassy ridge, to the next totara ridge, saddle, named peak,
Ridgelines beyond ridgelines
To Kaihu forest, Kikinui plateau too the sky,
The sky, sky in perpetual boogie woogie motion
Cielo, cumulo fractus, turbaned wind spun clouds,
Where the coordinates of our souls
Are etched, dug, scraped into the surface of the earth
The green cask that is our place
Where, as communities of successful rational pattern seeking mammals
In dynasties of sensibilities
We invent new vocabularies of diversity and inequality
Metaphors for communication pushing boundaries of the imagination
In a New Managed Democracy to keep the world safe for the free market,
A stable investment climate, where heights of success mirror depths of moral failure
And refugees are the price we all pay for a global economy of nation states
The people caged, the money freed
Blood on their plastic and oil
Blood on their silver
Blood on their gold
Blood on their plastic, oil, platinum, silver and gold
And we meditate, mindful
On the horizon.

Piet Nieuwland is a conservation strategist for Te Papa Atawhai in New Zealand. His poems and flash fiction appear in Landfall, Brief, Catalyst, and Poetry NZ in New Zealand; Pure Slush, Truth Serum, Otoliths, and Cordite in Australia; Mojave River Review, Lunch Ticket, and Atlanta Review in USA. He edits Fast Fibres Poetry and reviews poetry for Landfall Review Online.

~

Cathy Ulrich

Wobble of Ostriches

For the first few months after her husband’s death, the young bride wears the same black dress. Sleeps on the dining table under tattered cloth, knees curled to chin. The wedding presents unopened in the corner. She peels at the silver paper with her thumbnail, rubs the bows against her cheek.

The dress is a cheap dress. The young bride never removes it, showers in it to come clean. The black dye runs down her legs, down the drain.

The young bride doesn’t like that word, dye.

For the first few months after her husband’s death, the young bride wanders barefoot through the house’s empty rooms.

It’s a large enough house to be called a manor, a mansion, an estate. The husband came from wealth. He always just said house.

The young bride pulls the curtains open and then closed, open and then closed.

The ostriches are always still outside when she looks, dark-eyed, knobby-kneed. Their bodies look like fancy fans; they seem to always be scowling.

The husband said a group of them was called a flock, a troop.

A wobble, he said. Wobble of ostriches.

The young bride pulls the curtains, wanders from room to room, touching the walls, liking their texture under her fingertips. Eating stale crackers and cookies from the cupboard, brushing the crumbs from the pleats of her black dress.

Her friends used to call. They had been to the wedding, had seen her giggle when the minister said you may now kiss the bride, had gotten drunk on champagne, made kissing mouth motions at the brothers-in-law, at the groomsmen. Her friends had been at the wedding, and they used to call.

I’m mourning, she told them. I’m in mourning.

Her phone is quiet now; the house is quiet. Except the pattering of her bare feet through the hallway, the spiraling chirps of ostriches outside.

They sound, the young bride told her friends when they used to call, so much smaller than they are.

The husband, before he was the husband, liked to talk about ostriches, how their meat was considered a delicacy, how their feathers were used as plumes for hats, their skin for purses, boots.

A very productive animal, he always said.

The young bride would nod and pick at the nubs on her sweater, loose thread from the hem of her skirt.

We’ll have an ostrich farm, said the husband.

All right, said the young bride, rolling a ball of lint between her fingers.

After they were married, the husband carried the young bride over the threshold. She hadn’t expected him to, intertwined her fingers at the back of his neck, said honey, said husband, said darling.

Outside were the ostriches, chirping.

They sound so small, said the young bride, stepping onto the tiled kitchen floor. Don’t they sound so small?

The husband thought that was tremendously funny. The husband laughed and laughed, said I’m going out to check on them.

The young bride runs her hands over and over the pleats of her dress, drinks water straight from the tap, like a cat. Tugs the ribbon from one of the unopened packages, sets it atop her head. Her ghost reflection in the window blinks back and back and back at her.

Since her husband’s death, the young bride hasn’t left the house, the manor, the estate. When they tried to take her for the services, she screamed and fought and tore her tights, kicked the father-in-law in the shin. The husband’s family looked at her in distaste, in sympathy.

You poor thing, said an aunt-in-law, patted the young bride on the forearm when they left her behind.

It was one of the brothers-in-law snuck up on the ostriches after the services, picked one, killed it with a hammer.

It was the one, he said. Had to be. Had mean eyes.

He had its meat processed, brought it packaged to the young widow’s door.

For you, he said, when she didn’t answer his tapping. For you.

The young bride watched him leave from the dining room window, after he set the package on the doorstep, rubbed at the dark marks on her legs. Listened to the sound of ostriches chirping, thought how very small they sounded. How very small.

Cathy Ulrich had some guineas when she was a child, but no ostriches. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Corium, jmww, Wigleaf, and Whiskey Paper.

~

Susan Terris

from Dream Fragments

Tonka

It’s midday, and I am walking on a beach. You’re sitting there in navy shorts and a striped tee, but, somehow, you’re only 5 with a head of blond curls. As I approach you continue to roll a metal Tonka truck back and forth in the sand. “Pay attention,” you tell me. “You must pay attention.”

Tea

A semi-famous tearoom and we are in line to get in. The cloths and napkins are dusty pink. We hear no voices, only the clink of silver spoons against china cups. But when it’s our turn, every place is taken. “Can’t you find one more table?” I ask. Instead, the host shoos us to the kitchen and flings damp dishtowels over our heads.

Cat

Seuss’s Cat breezes in. But his hat isn’t red striped. It’s black, more like crushed lambskin than felt. No bow tie either, and his shirt is black, too. Cat plops his long hat over me, and I’m trapped. Children are screaming. I hear a splash, a knife chop, smell fish cooking. I don’t move, am afraid Cat is you, picking tiny goldfish bones from between your teeth.

Moon

Midnight and we are on our backs on the dock watching the Perseids streak across the moonless sky. “My mother,” you say, “tells me I seem to talk to her from the dark side of the moon.” For a few moments I’m silent, watching meteors burn above our heads. Then I say, “Yes, sometimes you are present without being present. . . .”

Knife

We are on horseback riding across the moors, passing herds of wild Shetland ponies. In the pocket of my dress is a knife. It’s heavy, and I’m worried because you gave it to me without offering me tuppence. Bad omen. Bad luck. Is this your way, Mr. Rochester, of asking me to cut the thread that ties your heart to mine?

Proverb #2

“Save your shiny coins for a black day,” you tell me. As you are saving me for a rainy day? Where I am there are thunder clouds and cells of rain. I’m wearing my old loafers, each with a shiny dime where a penny should be. Here, near the streetcar tracks and Glaser’s Drugs, I’m searching for the last remaining phone booth, but I don’t know your number. You, however, have mine.

Session

Having been called back, we’re waiting for the second round of some contest to begin. This session is supposed to take 4 hours, but we do not know what’s going to happen or what we’re expected to do. “Can’t we just leave?” I ask. “No,” you tell me, “right now this reality is the only one we have.”

Work by Susan Terris has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Journal, Colorado Review, Prairie Schooner, Spillway, The Southern Review, Volt, Denver Quarterly, and Ploughshares. She had a poem from Field published in Pushcart Prize XXXI. Her poetry books include Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems, The Homelessness of Self, Contrariwise, Natural Defenses, Fire Is Favorable to the Dreamer, Poetic License, and Eye of the Holocaust. Her latest chapbook is Memos (Omnidawn). A poem from the book, “Memo to the Former Child Prodigy,” appeared in the Denver Quarterly and was selected by Sherman Alexie for Best American Poetry 2015.

~

Epiphany Ferrell

Floating

The woman is lying on the water, chin up, arms spread; it could be her legs are softly churning beneath the water, keeping her afloat. She’s limp on the waves. They roll her, lifting her in the swells, sliding her into the troughs. She could go out to sea that way. God knows what is swimming beneath her, circling.

My kayak is low, I’m sitting flush with the water around me. I can barely see her. I only noticed her when I was on a swell and she in a trough. I hear the humpbacks in the distance. I’ve traveled from the land-locked Midwest to see them.

I paddle out a bit farther from the safety of the long pier, feel the swell strengthen, feel myself lifted and dropped, and I can’t do it; I need the pier. It’s 50 feet down at least by the last pier piling. The water there by the pier is clear, turquoise almost. Then there’s the shelf break, a steep plunge to 500 feet, maybe more. From the beach, you can almost see it, where the water turns dark and meditative. The old guy fishing there, his pole dug into the sandy shore, showed me the sheepshead fish he caught, showed me its weirdly human teeth, told me there are submarine canyons on the slope off the shelf just past the pier. No one knows how deep, he said.

No one knows what is here. I paddle into the deeper blue, my kayak over depths of sea no one knows. The air is cooler here and so is the water.

The waves push me one way, then pull. I’m afraid to rest my paddle. I’m used to rivers, currents. I float, rising and falling. I look down, watching the ocean swallow the sun’s rays. It’s like looking into infinity. A fish swims below me, a sheepshead maybe. It swims past the sun, down into the blue. I think about what else is swimming past the sun, what might lurk in the submarine canyons. I’m a speck on the skin of the ocean.

I turn my head. I see the woman again, so still on the waves. She’s closer to me now, two swells, sliding closer still as she floats toward the open sea, toward the whales. She comes level with me and her face is pale and her hair is twined with kelp. She turns her head and opens her eyes. Another swell lifts her, gently. She looks to me like a maiden sacrifice in some monstrous story.

Then I hear it. I think of a fire-breathing dragon. I see it: a plume of steam, a dark undulation on the water. The whales. Just out there. Closer than I’d dreamed. If I paddled past the pier maybe 100 yards I might almost be among them. I back paddle instead, frantically, splashing like an amateur. The dead woman rides the same wave with me for a moment and then she glides past me, her eyes open, toward the horizon, toward the gentle whales.

Epiphany Ferrell writes in Southern Illinois at Resurrection Mule Farm, named for a mule that survived a lightning strike. Her stories appear in the Potomac, Ghost Parachute, Cooper Street, Prairie Wolf Press Review, A Quiet Courage, Corvus Review and other places. She is an editor at Flash Fiction Magazine.

~

Donald Illich

Inscribe

I draw myself in red chalk
on the white wall, becoming
a trail of blood, dripping,

ready to be washed off,
to have the crime scene
disappear, so lovers

can’t find my drawing,
which is really my body,
because when it’s erased,

I’m disrobed, and they lose
chances for a piece of heart,
a shred of kidney, anything hot

and fresh, like how I lick
ears, bite their lobes gently,
how I push my tongue down

their legs, how I leave no part
of them without attention,
and they’ll not give up on me,

they inscribe my shadow
on sidewalks, and when they
stand next to it I appear,

a summoned ghost, and they
can ask for a wish, as long
as there are places I can hide

from the janitor with buckets
pouring water over my head,
scrubbing me until I’m gone.

Donald Illich’s work has appeared in literary journals such as The Iowa Review, LIT, Nimrod, Passages North, Rattle, and Sixth Finch. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and received a scholarship from the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. He won Honorable Mention in the Washington Prize book contest and was a “Discovery”/Boston Review 2008 Poetry Contest semifinalist. He is a writer-editor who lives and works in Rockville, Maryland.

~

Annie Syed

Colors of Reincarnation

The Moon Doesn’t Like You Too

              “Get out of me! God damn you, get out of me!” I scream at the full moon. Another
              full headache. Bones don’t rattle this time. There will be a next time.
              You tell me to get help.

This Happened Before I met You; You Saved Me Later

              I awaken from an exhausting day in Prague and someone else is in the room. I
              push my legs out of myself to get out of the dream. I know it’s a dream. I also know
              it’s real. Something pinches my heart; a spike, a spear, a thorn, a needle. That’s
              how I know I am awake.

Love is Real

              My feet hurt from standing all day. The pain shoots from the middle of my heel
              all the way to my right hip flexor, igniting every nerve along the way like outdoor
              café lights. You touch my foot so gently that I snap. Out of the pain.

Past Life

              “You have beautiful feet,” the stranger said to me. I rolled my head back like a wave
              to laugh at the pick-up line. I divulge this story and you are not jealous. It becomes
              our inside joke.

In Another Life Together

              You are holding your camera and walking towards me. I am sitting on a dark rock
              so huge that three of me can sprawl on it without touching. It could be Big Sur but
              it’s not sunny so we know it’s not. You are so handsome in that black shirt. I know
              we live here. My hair is longer and whiter. Your hands hold the camera like a lotus.

Ace of Wands: inspiration, power, creation, beginnings, potential

              “You are my fortress,” you tell me.
              “You are mine,” I say.

I Share This Dream Later

              I am inside a souk outside Marrakech. There is a camel here that is supposed to
              disclose our fortune. You are okay that all of this happened in a dream about us
              even though we hadn’t met yet.

Lucid Dream

              “It’s just a dream,” you whisper and touch me like I am a startled cat.
              “I was there. I saw it all. I know I am not supposed to be here. I know it. Please,
              believe me,” I reply and the tears are real.

              You have already fallen back asleep.

Annie Q. Syed is a writer who also teaches full time to inspire students to read and write. She has called many places “home” and currently resides in New Mexico. Her stories, Collection of Auguries, were published in 2013. You can find her at www.anniesyed.com or at @so_you_know

~

Jennifer Saunders

Corvus corone

All day crows land on my tongue
and ruffle their glistening black feathers

in the back of my throat. All day
I stand in the driveway and wait for rain.

Evening balloons around me
even as the late-blooming roses close.

Tonight the hen and I guard the weasels,
the fox chases away the hound.

In lieu of berries I gather silver bells,
mismatched buttons,

the blackened stubs of candle wicks,
and unfamiliar mushrooms

which one by one I place on my tongue.
My teeth darken and stretch

to a beak, feathers braid my hair.
I turn my face to the woods

and the gleaming crows,
a caw stuck in my throat.

Jennifer Saunders is an Illinois native currently living in German-speaking Switzerland. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Spillway, UCity Review, and elsewhere. Saunders holds an MFA from Pacific University, and in the winters, she teaches skating at a hockey school and drives her hockey-playing sons to many, many hockey rinks.

~

Salvatore Difalco

PELOTON

The weather accepts all strangers, even those feeling impotent. They
push against resistance, faces bent. In the end it comes down to
liking yourself and finding the courage to move forward.

She said, “How is it that you ride a woman’s bicycle?”

This surprised me. I could think of nothing. So I emptied my pockets,
turned them inside out.

“You are not successful.”

“No, perhaps not.”

But the weather grew more important to the story than was necessary.
We’ve all been there, lapping waves, catching beach balls, only to
find our crevices full of sand and wanting to do something about it,
warn the others, or make nice with the policeman in sandals boasting
the great tan.

“You said your name was?”

“I didn’t and why are we standing here?”

“Was gonna ask the same.”

We don’t have to be here longer than we need to be, like the flouncy
passing clouds. Leave it hanging then, like them. You thought it might
go on interminably, and maybe it should have. But someone has to take
charge. The armada won’t move without a push from the wee man
engineering the breeze.

“I should have worn a coat, or a scarf at the very least.”

“And when do you not? is the irony.”

“I need to think about that for a moment, do you mind?”

Even the man on the bicycle, wearing fuchsia cycling shorts, even he
has a destiny. He needs to find it himself. His time is now, as we
prepare our last impostures. You wish to sit nude, chin buried in your
hand. But I will mount the horsey breeze and ride it wherever it takes
me.

Salvatore Difalco’s work has appeared in a number of journals. He is the author of four books and splits time these days between Toronto and Sicily.

~

Jessie Janeshek

Madcap/Touch Up

      it’s all lies and bumps and you can see lumps
and I used to hate talking            but pills make it better
      I’m not always reflecting in red.
I stopped painting my nails because I couldn’t stand
            the lack of perfection
to lie without a topcoat            so much frankincense
      and am I being tacky?            It helps to go out
            but I should be grateful for the candle crown
                  sweet buns, extra light.

A dream is a wish you synthpop
      and were I in Amsterdam I’d wear fake braids
I’d pray for cameras every day
      avoidance behavior            one tacky dress
            as a dark woman knocked      at each door and window.

      I try to touch up my manicure
a week since the man etched you’ll die in the mud
            but I’m still alive so I’m super confused.

I wake up every day      a corpse flower at my most terrible
      chipped nails and a shot in the arm
      I put money where your mouth is
or I hide the money      in your underwear
      or since all crooners are sad      in your velvet poinsettias

      Harlow is rolling          her past in a rug
and selling her assets
      or Harlow is rotting
making too many films with titles like Bombshell
      knowing our futures will get us in noir
no matter how long our eyelashes are.

Note: The phrase that Jean Harlow made “too many films with titles like Bombshell” comes from the book Movie Star: A Look at the Women Who Made Hollywood by Ethan Mordden.
Jessie Janeshek’s second full-length collection is The Shaky Phase (Stalking Horse Press, 2017). Her chapbooks are Spanish Donkey/Pear of Anguish (Grey Book Press, 2016), Rah-Rah Nostalgia (dancing girl press, 2016), Supernoir (Grey Book Press, 2017), Hardscape (Reality Beach, forthcoming), and Auto-Harlow (Shirt Pocket Press, forthcoming). Invisible Mink (Iris Press, 2010) is her first full-length. Read more here.

~

Steve Carr

Tessie’s New Cart

In the cool of early morning, Tessie stood in front Brickmeyer’s Department Store and stared at the display in the window. Two female mannequins wearing ankle-length blended cotton and cashmere bathrobes and color-matched fuzzy slippers were each holding a glass of juice and an alarm clock. The clocks were set for eight o’clock. Their shoulder-length hair was perfectly coiffed and their snow white teeth gleamed between smiling fire-engine-red lips.

“Pft, no one looks that good first thing in the morning,” she said aloud.

She stepped to a spot where she could see her reflection in the glass and frowned. Removing her brown knitted cap, she placed it in a pocket of her army field jacket and shook her head. Her white hair had become mashed against her head and now poofed out into a tangled mass resembling a football helmet made of cotton. She took her brush from the other pocket and tried to comb it out. Unable to get through the tangles she gave up and put the brush back.

She was about to walk away when the front door of the store opened.

“Good morning, Tessie,” Rhonda said from behind the locked gate in front of the doors.

“It’s not that good,” Tessie said. “The wheel on my cart is broken.” She pointed to the wheel that had split in two, with one half now missing.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Rhonda said. “Are you able to get around okay?”

“As long as I balance it on one wheel,” Tessie said. “I might need to unload some of my belongings, though.”

“Wait right here,” Rhonda said, then dashed back into the store.

When Rhonda returned, she was pulling a new grocery cart – with a large red ribbon on its handle. “Consider this a gift from Brickmeyer’s,” she said as she unlocked the gate.

“Won’t you get in trouble giving this away?” Tessie ran her chapped hands over the cart’s smooth, polished metal.

“Not at all,” Rhonda said. “I’m sure Mr. Brickmeyer will understand.”

Tessie transferred her sleeping bag, a garbage bag filled with clothes, a small bag with toiletries, three dog-eared and yellowed paperback novels, two small pots and a torn brown paper bag with three cans of soup, a can opener and half a package of crackers into the new cart.

“I’ll be traveling first class with this,” Tessie said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Tessie. I’ll take your old cart and throw it in the dumpster for you,” Rhonda said. She picked it up and locked the gate and went back in the store.

A few blocks down, Tessie stopped in front of Romance Hair Salon and tapped on the window. When a man with a thick black mustache and a shiny bald head appeared, Tessie pointed at her cart. He smiled broadly then pointed to the door. A moment later he opened the door and stepped out.

“Is it your birthday, Tessie?” he asked.

“No, Damion. Rhonda down at Brickmeyer’s gave it to me. The tire on my old one broke.” Running his hand across the red bow, he said, “It’s fabulous, Tessie. Come in and let me shampoo your hair and clip off those split ends. You can’t go about town with a new cart and your hair not done.”

“What about your customers?” Tessie said.

“We have a whole hour before my first appointment shows up,” he said. “I can do your hair while you tell me all the gossip from the streets.”

Tessie placed the cart against the wall and followed Damion into the salon. “Old Milt said Jawbone was arrested,” Tessie said as she settled into the chair. “He was panhandling too near that private school over on 43rd.”

“You’d think he’d know better,” Damion said as he turned the chair around and tilted Tessie back, placing her neck in the smooth groove in the lip of the sink. He turned on the water and raised the nozzle and began to wet her hair with warm water.

“Molly’s moving in with her niece upstate,” Tessie said. “She said she can’t take being outside all the time anymore.”

“Well good for her,” Damion said as he squeezed shampoo in Tessie’s hair and began massaging her scalp until a thick layer of lather formed. He rinsed it out, then put in conditioner and massaged it into her hair, and ran the water over her head for a few minutes. He raised Tessie to a sitting position and wrapped a towel around her head, turning her to face the large mirror on the wall. “Look at that, your cheeks are glowing like a teenage girl,” he said.

Tessie smiled at her reflection as Damion combed out the last of the tangles with a brush and comb, then began clipping off the ends of her hair with a small pair of scissors.

“I used to get this sort of thing done all the time,” Tessie said. Damion smiled gently, then picked up the hand-held hair dryer and aimed it at Tessie’s hair. “You won’t need to wear your cap for a week after this.”

With her hair dry, Tessie looked at her reflection in the mirror for several minutes and turned her head from side to side admiring her new look. She patted her hair and smiled then got up from the chair and put on her jacket. “Thanks, Damion,” she said.

“Take care of yourself, hon,” Damion said.

Tessie left with a bounce in her step.

Her new cart was gone.

Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had nearly sixty short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. His plays have been produced in several states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and writes full time.

~

Darryl Price

Fragment found in a Memory Box

        Come and get your share.
                —John Lennon

They came chanting many dark things at us and wielding
an enormous bright white light which was an abomination to
heaven and God. Our color was the color of the
sun at the end and the beginning of day.
This began to crack and split and rain down over
our heads in dangerous shards cutting off loved ones from
loved ones. They came and nailed a million free butterflies
to a million writhing crying wringing trees. They cut their
innocent throats out with a simple slash of their fingers
and a spell upon their gray praying lips. Many are
still waiting to cry out just once for some mercy.
Some brave healers among us were somehow able to dislodge
a few of the captured souls who disappeared forever into
the other worlds of falling rushing dreams as soon as
they had dropped down. Life’s magical kindness began to crash
and burn into the saturated ground and the screams of
the searing earth mother herself were terrible to behold. They
came saying they were against our love for each other,
of the ancient forests, our love of the wild thistles,
of all animals, the guardian trees and even the clamoring
stars and the shy beautiful moon. They pointed their great
white light at us and accused us of blasphemy, of
being witches, but we knew better. We are people. Their
fruits of their smoke and song were bitter and tasted
of hate only. They had a poor holy ghost tied
up and staked to a wooden bed and beat him
and spit in his face until he gave them of
his timeless bloody power. This they used each, and every
time to oil the great white sword so that it
gleamed even more so and blinded any, and all creatures
good or evil who looked directly upon it. Those who
were left behind were immediately turned into slaves of the
great white light, branded as guilty from birth and given
eternity to be at last forgiven. But some of us
were still poets in our hearts. Musicians in our heads.
Farmers in our hands. Dreamers in our imaginations. Some of
us were still deep in love with life. And so,
we began to dance. We created a ghost dance of
our own, to talk to and comfort those who were
still so afraid to be themselves. It was and is
an act of real friendship. Which means it is alive
and always growing. Which means there is a thing called
hope. Which means you should not give up doing what
is necessary to be able to feel the joy that
is your true birthright, and home. Because it is yours
to share with us. Because we like you. The commander

Darryl Price has been a poet since the age of twelve when he was first published in his hometown newspaper. He is the author of over 30 chapbooks of poetry and has been published widely in small press magazines throughout his career. He co-edits Olentangy Review with Melissa Pirce, his wife.

~

Keith Nunes

He remains mostly likeable

“I believe I’m becoming less likeable,” he says, blue tie, white shirt, red underpants “and worst of all, I don’t think I can limit the harm.”

He pours tea from a Kandinsky-patterned pot, sips perfectly without a hint of slurp and I think he’s right, he is becoming pedantic and judgmental seemingly in tune with the months spent with Gardenia the transgender Croatian ambulance driver.

My grandfather – the fine art forger, the sex addict and former professional camel racer – boring at last although it is relative.

“Taking my side of the bed really soured things,” he says, “and that she refuses to paint my toe-nails, all my girls have been happy to do that.”

He fires a match flame into his pipe and draws in the marijuana, passes it to me and I copy him.

“What about chess Poppy, is she any good?”

“Too good!”

“And the sex, I must ask, how does she like it?”

“On the dining room table, her on top reciting Kim Addonizio poetry.”

He sips, sweeps the room with a concerned gaze:
“Do not allow yourself to get old,” he says as though he’s telling me to wash the dishes.
Gardenia enters in a cerise pin-stripe suit, lavender lipstick, pointed grey shoes, leans down and kisses me on the mouth, her billowing blood-red hair flicks my cheek.

She slides a hand under my grandfather’s jaw and softly strokes:
“Muffins!” and she sweeps out of the room.

“Completely without decorum,” he says, “and yet what magnificent presence.”

I pick up the book he’s reading – Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow:

“My gifts waned as did his,” he says pointing at the book, “it’s about Delmore Schwartz but it’s about me being greater than the weight of my baggage.”

His laughter trails off. “You know my favourite pastime these days is lying absolutely still in my head and picking apart the dark trying to find where the thread starts.”

He returns my quizzical look, stands and gazes out the closed French doors.

“This coast,” he waves his arm from west to east, “reminds me of a former lover, windswept and full of foreboding.”

I rise and stand beside him.

“I presume you mean my grandmother?”

“You never met her, of course, but I gather your father talks of her. When she was in the room everyone present mutually agreed she was the most important person there, nothing was said, all would watch and wait and she flayed them alive with wit and that voice, Garbo … and the unfurling of a mane so lush the room seemed forested.”

“You never married her,” I say.

“Piff! Marriage was of no import to her, she belonged to no-one and didn’t want anyone belonging to her, yes, in that way your father was illegitimate for what that’s worth.”

Later my grandfather unexpectedly set with the sun which had arranged to sink at 7pm, nothing Gardenia was trained to do would save him.

The rest of the evening she and I shared his dope and the dining room table and then she painted my toe-nails apricot.

Keith Nunes (New Zealand) lives beside Lake Rotoma where the two of them undertake a great deal of reflecting. He’s had works published around the globe, has placed in competitions and been a Pushcart Prize nominee. His book of poetry/short fiction, catching a ride on a paradox, is sold by the lunatic fringe.

~

Joan Mazza

Adolescence is

a tossed salad for every meal. Tomatoes are often
tasteless or too acidic, topped with hornworms.
You bite into a radish and it bites back. Always,
onions will make you cry. You’ve arranged
the orange and red to alternate in the bowl,
framed by the shades of green of Romaine
and iceberg, escarole and radicchio, visually
appealing, but not what you really yearn for,
which is a greasy, salty burger dripping ketchup,
bloody juices dripping down your arms that skin
can taste. We’re long past the era of Dick Clark’s
American Bandstand, past sock hops, when necking
was something to whisper about and everyone
tested the limits. Now you worry about AIDS, date-
rape, heroin, sex-trafficking, pesticides in that healthy
salad, because trouble has a way of blooming even
in winter. Here’s the shiny gift of youth. You think
it will last forever, a time of easy beauty, no wrinkles
or sags, and you obsess about a single pimple. It’s not
a salad. It’s an endless buffet of new experiences,
learning, a heartbreak a day. No longer groovy
or cool, life is awesome, effing awesome, really,
as you’re thrown from the crystal plate of passion
into the compost heap again and again. You get up
because you’re young and immortal, unaware of how
dumb you really are. Everybody lies and says, You
can be anything you want. You can be an opera
singer, a ballet dancer, a president! You reply,
I’m tone deaf without any sense of rhythm. I’ve
needed glasses since I was six
. Why let facts get
in the way of your dreams? In dreams you fly
without fear of crashing. A day will come when
you will fly. Maharishi says you deserve to fly,
to become beautifully invisible. Adolescence is a time
you should skip over, avoid like a cliché. Just stay
in a closet until you’re twenty-one. Oy, gevalt!
Are you trying to give your mother a heart attack?
The heart says it’s true, fluttering about like
it hungers to fly out of the chest. Or maybe the heart
just craves a salad with croutons and bleu cheese,
a small cup of ranch dressing on the side.

Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and has twice been a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Author of six self-help psychology books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam), she has had poetry in Rattle, Kestrel, The MacGuffin, Mezzo Cammin, Slipstream, and The Nation. For more information, visit her website.

~

Norman Klein

Johno’s Ghost

When we were kids Johno and I fished off the Stone Harbor Bridge always with the tide coming in, because the salt water was cleaner Johno said. He was always right about those kinds of things, the right bait, when it was going to rain, when it was time to quit. Everybody loved him. It was Johno who found his friends work, and did meals on wheels for the widows of fishermen lost at sea.

So, who could blame me for going crazy when Johno saved the life of the Captain of the HOLY MACKEREL but killed himself doing it?

That was ten months ago and God keeps messing with me, sending me Johno’s ghost to invite me to join Johno. Yesterday there I was fishing off the bridge with a bamboo pole Johno had loaned me. The blast of a horn turned me around to see the ghost driving Johno’s old Mercury convertible and tipping his hat to me.

I screamed after him then went over the rail and dropped thirty feet into the water. I didn’t bother to take off my shoes, so when I hit bottom they planted me in the mud, then spit me out of my shoes, then dragged me through brown ribbons of seaweed, all this time the ghost laughing. The next thing I knew I was standing on a foul-smelling beach watching my sleeves and cuffs drain, then I slogged up the back stairs onto the patio of The Red Lobster and cleaned up in the men’s room.

Coming out of the men’s room I was greeted by Tish Stanton the town librarian as she exited the ladies room. I hadn’t seen her in three years, and was amazed by what a head of curls had done for her.

“Oh, no, Carl Peters, is that you? What happened?” she asked.

“Somebody pushed me in,” I said.

“I guess they did. You should see your hair. Come on in here, and I’ll give you a quick shampoo.” she said.

And she did, using the liquid hand soap and a dozen of paper towels. She grabbed another dozen, stuffed them in her bag, saying, “You got to get those clothes off, Carl. I’ll drive you home.”

I watched as she spread out the paper towels on the passenger seat, the damned ghost laughing again as Tish started the car and opened the front and back windows. Five minutes later we were home, Tish opening more windows as I showered and dressed.

“I jumped over the rail trying to find Johno, but what were you doing in The Red Lobster?” I asked.

“I was hiding from my father trying to get drunk.” She said

“Why, Tish? What did your father do?”

“It’s what he won’t do. My mother’s seriously ill, and he refuses to take her to the hospital. I tried to take her, but she won’t go without his permission.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“Right, he wants me to bring home doctoring books, and find a cure for her.”

When I awoke the next morning Tish was gone. All went well. Her mother was operated on that same afternoon.

A week later Priscilla called to offer me a job running her father’s charter boat.

“Sorry, no can do. I sail on the PLYMOUTH ROCKY at 8:00 sharp tomorrow,” I said.

“Rocky pays only $70 a day and I pay $100,” she said.

“Who cares. Rocky’s boat was Johno’s favorite,” I said.

“No I was Johno’s his favorite.”

“I doubt it,” I said.

“Come out to the island, and I’ll show you the long list of things his ghost wants to tell you.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked out on her and went to find Tish at the Library and tell her about Johno’s first trip with Rocky, and how Johno had said, “Rocky is good people, Carl.” The same is true of Tish. She’s a giver, a sharer, and a friend. I was in heaven, bouncing around making good money in a lovely patch of warm weather, then suddenly in late October three storms in a row shut me down, but that was okay with me because that meant more time with Tish, buying little things like better phones, and making two long trips to Boston to buy a bed.

The more time I spent with her, the more I healed. I no longer woke up in the middle of the night in a diving suit trying to find Johno’s body.

There was a laughing sound on the stairs the night Tish and I decided to marry and have a child in a year or so. It might have been the ghost, but if it was, he was leaving.

Two Christmases later Priscilla moved to California, and Tish announced Samantha would be joining us in nine months or so.

“What if it’s a boy?” I asked.

“It won’t be, but if it is we can call him Samuel.”

“What if we have twins?” I asked.

“It will be twice the fun,” she said, holding me close.

Two years after that Tish was pregnant again and Tish sat me down to convince me we needed better jobs to survive as a family of four. I had never told her how dangerous it is work on small boats throwing and hauling in nets. Tish was right. It was time for us both to move on.

We ended up in Maine with Tish working two libraries, one for a small college, the other for a hospital. Meanwhile I’m splitting my time between a logging mill and a fish farm. Samantha loves fish and can identify the 28 fish in her scrap book, and little Johno loves singing with his mother, as they sing one another to sleep. When she’s not there he sings to his duck or hums to his bottle, and I smile to myself thinking he will never be a fisherman.

Norman Klein has an Iowa MFA and has published sixteen stories in litmags and anthologies in the last sixteen months. While in Boston he edited and read for Ploughshares, then moved to Chicago to teach writing and spend too much time in jazz clubs. Then chuck full of poems and stories, he settled down to live and write in the backwoods of New Hampshire.

~

Bruce McRae

Death Cannot Be Proved

It’s the hour of the wolf in a janitor’s closet.
February is waiting at the end of the hall.
Ghost-mice are performing a danse macabre.

Here, at the institution, everything closes.
We never mention the rooms inside this room,
the dust-defying gravity, the phases of the moon.
We don’t talk about the inevitable silences
or darkness pooling under a door.
We say little or nothing . . .

Established in the year Zed, the institution
is as dull as a morgue or an office meeting.
The air scarcely shifts, the files unmoved.
Our business is zero.

Now it’s 4 a.m., and the roaches hold rule:
tiny tyrants throwing terrible tantrums.
Whom the ancients regarded as very old souls.
Whom the gods embraced in their ruin.

Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician currently residing on Salt Spring Island BC, is a Pushcart nominee with over a thousand poems published internationally in magazines such as Poetry, Rattle and North American Review. His books are The So-Called Sonnets (Silenced Press), An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy (Cawing Crow Press), and Like As If (Pskis Porch), all available via Amazon. More here.

~

Heather McQuillan

This is How it Begins

This is not a swimming beach. Her father’s leather belt licked the backs of Maddy’s legs if she forgot and got too close. Once he’d grabbed a gutted eel, still slick from the river and slapped it across her bum. But the channels silted up and cut the eels from their breeding grounds, so now, while she lies on the edge, her father sits on a plastic chair and drinks beer in the morning sun because fishing is a game for losers — that, and the quotas. Her mother went fishing and found someone else, but he is her father and so this is how she spends her weekends.

A shelf drops down to where the sea rakes stones into its hungry mouth. Maddy sprawls at the edge, hot stones pressed to her spine between the waistband of her denim cut-offs and bikini top, their smooth smell in her nostrils. The fizz of yeasty beer deep in her empty belly takes off the rough edges. He won’t miss the can. It’s a Saturday and the weekend has just begun, snatches of an international cricket match from her father’s transistor broadcast across the salt air.

Maddy has been gathering agates, scooping up handfuls of stones and sifting them through her fingers to find the clear and onyx-banded, the milky and the sunshine-hued. Only the surface stones are warm. Those beneath are salty damp, as if the ocean seeps upwards. Her short’s pockets are filled with agates, so many of them to weigh her down.

Maddy rolls over the edge; dry stones skitter from her pockets into the chill of wet stones. She tumbles with the cylinder of surf and under. An eel swims into her throat to taste beer.

From the radio and her father come shouts, one after the other, “Howzat!”

Maddy stands on the edge; her head is dizzy in the sunlight, her pockets still filled with unpolished agates. She throws them in handfuls back into the foam where she must not swim. Her arms make freestyle strokes in the air.

Heather McQuillan is the Director at The School for Young Writers in Christchurch, New Zealand. Among Heather’s short and short-short story writing awards are nominations for the Pushcart Prize 2015 and 2017, winner in Best Small Fictions 2017, first place in both the NZ Flash Fiction Day and Micro Madness competitions 2016, and third place in The Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition 2016. She is also a winner of two Storylines Notable Books Awards, winner of the Tom Fitzgibbon Award and shortlisted for the Tessa Duder Award for her novels for young readers.

~

Lindsey Royce

Strawberry Moon Solstice

Breaking morning, the dogs wake blind
to a dead bat at my feet, that had hung on

the dormer yesterday; pure witchcraft
and mystery is now a pelt with holes

where eyes were, wings sarcophagus-tight
to fur sides. This is how I hold

my body in your absence, stiff as
the Matryoshka doll a child struggles to open.

I let you open me, break the lake’s surface tension,
dive deep as you liked into my undisclosed.

When you left, who knew water
would crave a particular swimmer,

who knew your hair would tangle
my mind’s clockwork causing time to seize.

Last night’s strawberry moon shone over crops,
an orb recalling this bittersweet I lick

with juice-stained fingers, chocolate melting,
as I fail to mouth sweetness alone.

And when I look out at morning’s magnificent greens,
see foothills soft as the dog’s cinnamon fur,

aspen leaves glisten like gamblers’ spun coins,
the lake skittering bat-winged light—

I don’t grieve, I postpone it,
this inevitable postcard traveling between lives

that has passed through the death of us,
Wish you were here. Wish.

Lindsey Royce received her Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. She also holds an M.A. from New York University and an M.F.A. from Brooklyn College. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Cutthroat: A Journal for the Arts, Poet Lore, and Washington Square Review. Her first poetry collection, Bare Hands, came out in September of 2016. Royce lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

~

Nod Ghosh

Echoes

Fewer people use the library these days. Every month I stare at empty spaces, making the sign of a cross under the counter. The monotony of existence cuts deeper than it should, especially on Mondays.

I seek comfort in the whispers of angels.

I’m the man who wears his best suits on the worst days, the one with economical language and kinetic leg movements. My days are filled with unsaid words from the end of arguments and the loneliness of being the nice-guy who’s too agreeable to want.

I file tomes as thick as my fist and feel the warmth of ancient printing presses, whilst angels echo in and out of my head. They keep me company and are a reminder that I’m more than a curator of knowledge. Their anesthetic voices rub against the breadth of my sorrows and the width of my detachment.

They are not all benign.

Some echoes have demonic overtones. I ask for keywords, but they walk away, leaving the taste of fear on the back of my tongue. Some bark like dogs, others hiss like feral babies, vulpine and calculating.

But on the whole, they are polite. They always say please and thank you. They speak in hushed tones and never run in the corridors. They come to the counter five minutes before closing time. They never leave empty chip packets or smoke in the toilets.

*

The day I heard the first echo, I lifted my palm from my knee. Something had brushed my leg. I was alone; the cloggy scent of a chip-fat lunch my only company. An angel? My belief in them is uncertain, though I’m certain they believe in me.

When the echoes began to linger, I didn’t know if they were real. I played my role, an actor in the film of my life. Unscripted. Unknowing. I carried on, as if those voices and shadows ought to have been there.

*

Now the voices are everywhere, a touch on my forehead, a breeze in my ear, panoply of words, the kiss of a nipple in the breeze.

I question my sanity, but it doesn’t reply.

I can’t dismiss them. The echoes are wisps of sentiment caught in closing doors, imaginary blackness in the periphery of my vision. They’re real. And yet they are not. Boolean operators cannot define their logic.

An echo finds solid form when I’m having a bad day. Although it’s behind me, the sound attracts my attention. I’m serving woman with a harelip, who is sullen and unappreciative. She fills her bag with murder mysteries, and I turn to see a man dressed in tweed. He crosses the space between the wall and counter. He doesn’t smile. He doesn’t speak.

Did you see that? I say, facing the woman again. Did you hear him?

The air behind me flutters, marking spider-pricks on the back of my neck. I look around. The man-in-tweed sinks into a wall, absorbed by the solidity of brick.

Did you see what he did?

No one replies. I want to shake the woman, but she’s walking out of the door, taking her split mouth with her.

*

Three days later, it happens again. This time there is a child with an earthquake grin. She lifts her hand to the counter, sniffs the air, taking in the sap-smelling crispness of my freshly ironed shirt. The child shakes her head and dissipates before I can ask for her library card. The light she leaves behind her is green. A cat howls in the distance. I imagine its eye being sucked out.

The wind calls like an abandoned child.

*

I don’t know if the other people in the library hear the echoes. I should ask, but know I never will. They might be reflections of other lives. I don’t know if they came before or after my own. Time is an illusion.

*

After everyone else leaves, I close the catalogues, lock all the windows.

Something whispers, come here. I’m not sure where it wants me to go. I tense as its body joins mine. My breath turns to stone.

We fold into one another for the final reckoning.

Nod Ghosh lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. Published work can be found in Love on the Road 2015 (Liberties Press), Landmarks (U.K. 2015 NFFD), Sleep is A Beautiful Colour (U.K. 2017 NFFD), Horizons2 (NZSA), Leaving the Red Zone (Clerestory Press, N.Z.), and various online & print journals. Further details at www.nodghosh.com/about/.

~

Daniel Lassell

Turn Points

I, on the hinge
         of hope.

I need to
but speak and my life
         takes its path

without me.

I but sleep
         and awaken

to darkness.

Look, nothing
moving. Ho! How we

daunt and skip golden.
This grin, I own.

This future so scary,

                  not welco-
                           me.

I know so

[small]

what I matter
         and
         what matters.

Daniel Lassell is the winner of a William J. Maier Writing Award and runner-up for the 2016 Bermuda Triangle Prize. His poetry can be found in Slipstream, Hotel Amerika, Atticus Review, Connotations Press, and elsewhere. Recently, he received a Pushcart nomination from Pembroke Magazine. He lives with his wife in Fort Collins, Colorado. Read more here.

~

Chauna Craig

A River Like This

From the bridge, I noticed faint circles on the river’s surface. Concentric circles that didn’t spread, but tightened and compressed. Then, what looked like a large fish rising or a sea bird emerging from a dive. What broke the surface amid bubbles, waves and a rising cone of water: a man in a suit. His hair was dry, windswept, defying gravity like the arrow of his red tie and the winged ends of a dark jacket as he rocketed up and onto the bridge. He climbed carefully down from the railing, paused to study the horizon, then backed up to a briefcase left on the walk. He stooped, retrieved it, and walked robotically backward, his blank, moon face receding.

I nearly dropped my ice cream cone. “Did you see that?” I called, expecting my parents to answer. But they were posing, snapping photos of each other, the city skyline as background. The sky was a blue ache, the traffic in the lane beside us relentlessly loud. My mother’s face was alive and playful when she slapped my father’s wandering hand. She tugged him into an embrace.

Ice cream slid between my fingers. I lapped it, searching for the man with the briefcase. But he’d melted back into the city, anonymous.

“Did you see that man jump out of the river?” I pulled my father’s arm, and he frowned at my sticky fingers. My mother rummaged in her bag for the wet napkin packets she hoarded from restaurants.

“Nobody jumps out of a river like this,” she said.

“Nobody would survive the jump in,” he added. My mother scrubbed his arm, handed me the wipe.

They walked in the opposite direction of the man with the briefcase and waved for me to follow. Their hands were wrapped, heads nodded together as they discussed, again, the mistake of never giving me a sibling.

My nose stinging from the wipe’s lemony astringent, my tongue sugar-numbed, I stopped to look again. What kind of loneliness would send a man into a river? What kind of loneliness might bring him back?

Chauna Craig’s work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, SmokeLong Quarterly, Flash Fiction International, and You Have Time for This: Contemporary Short-Short Stories. She is the author of the story collection The Widow’s Guide to Edible Mushrooms and currently serves as the creative nonfiction editor for Atticus Review and an assistant editor for Best Small Fictions.

~

George Moore

Bastard Ghazals for the Cactus Flower

I.

The flower here fades before it can be purchased, and the night is bought, refused, returned. Some say that the cactus has no purpose, but it keeps the night animals away. And like old myths that tend to resurface, out of the muck of trans-temporal memories, it lasts but a day. I too might live one night a year, and flower invisibly, but that would be just too damn poetic, and I’d rather eat weasel. There are none of those to be had, and the cacti keep us circling, much like the birds: crows, hawks, night owls, and tweeties. The flower is a rehearsal, and blossoms once a year at best, and then in the middle of the night, so bring a flashlight, for we turn back into a myth when morning crashes in.

II.

I cannot wait, knowing that not waiting might be a sin. But then we would have to believe, you and I, that picking a rare flower from its tree would be fraught with perils, if such couplets in unburied texts are to be believed, and the one who waits sees most everything, or enough to make a fair decision. Such are the Nagas, whether they arrive as snakes or men, for like the blossom they are equated with angels, the momentary, a blend of bad and good, or perhaps cream and coffee, in a contemporary sense. All things take two shapes, no good mending one or the other, or arranging what was a mistake as an action you render impossible by waiting until morning.

III.

Is it fair to end on a closing, light comes from the east, and then there is another year mending fences, an old metaphor for the hopes of dead stars or prophets. When, with the first notice of this magnificent unfolding, scientists invent a logarithm for the universe, we sat ourselves down and deciphered the key to suspended action. It could finally be divided by fractions, and so I waited for more of the flower to show before falling asleep at its feet. Some would say this was a kind of worship, but not everything is rooted in the earth; the rare and spiny beast, a bud of intense pink, a borrowed book on horticulture, and we are back to our shared beginning.

George Moore’s poetry has appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry, Stand, Orion, North American Review, and the Colorado Review. A finalist for The National Poetry Series, The Brittingham Award, and the Anhinga Prize, and recently shortlisted for the Bailieborough Poetry Prize, his books include Saint Agnes Outside the Walls (FurureCycle Press 2016) and Children’s Drawings of the Universe (Salmon Poetry 2015).

~

Claire Beynon

Coral Arranging

We’ll open today’s demonstration with the introduction of a single stem. Exotic, eight-tentacled Anthozoa Octocorallia are one of the more complex, decorative corals. They make highly successful stand-alone arrangements and lend themselves particularly well to Marine Ikebana.

One of our goals is to achieve a dramatic arrangement that’s pleasing to the eye, but it’s important to bear in mind we’re working with delicate creatures. Part of our task is to re-create a convincing sea-equivalent, a mini indoor reef; the bottom of your vase should be able to support a dune-bed with a depth of at least six-inches.

I think you’ll agree the Octocorallia makes an elegant first statement? Time now to add a branch or two of plain whip coral, a couple of white gorgonians and clump of tall, bronze eelgrass. Sea lettuces are often overlooked but their fine, filigree-type foliage adds tonal depth and interest to even the simplest design.

Corals have surprisingly voracious appetites, however interest in a limited diet. They will require feeding two to three times a day. You’ll find there are plenty of wholesalers who keep generous stocks of microscopic plankton and flagellates, conveniently frozen and packaged by the mini-block.

If you’re diligent, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy the same coral arrangement for many years. And if at any stage you wish to add a little extra interest to your vase, consider introducing a small spiny urchin or ornamental slug. The latter is yellow, often misguidedly labeled ‘sea lemon’.

Claire Beynon is an artist, writer and interdisciplinary researcher. She works collaboratively on a diverse range of projects with fellow artists, writers, scientists and musicians in New Zealand and abroad. She is the founder-curator of MANY as ONE, an Arts and Peace Initiative whose purpose is to facilitate on- and off-line networks of creative exchange. Visit her website.

~

Susan Tepper

August, Paris

Across the café table a man is drowning,
my beloved, here I met, so help me.
Water had risen to the tops of his eyes,
not a miracle or sacrifice, nor
even simple tears but the springs
of who he was, before he formed,
who he would become, the eventual
suffering into later life.
It ripped me. In such a way as
could not be explained. Or rationalized.
I saw the light would drown him.
Grey over the coming winter into spring.
I sat perfectly still aging in a hotel mirror.

Susan Tepper has been a writer for twenty years. Her stories, poems, interviews and essays have been published extensively worldwide. An award-winning author, Tepper has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and once for a Pulitzer Prize for the novel. “Let’s Talk” her column at Black Heart Magazine runs monthly. FIZZ her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, has been ongoing for eight years. Before settling down to study writing, Tepper worked as an actor, singer, flight attendant, marketing manager, tour guide, television producer, interior decorator, rescue worker and more.

Siobhan Harvey

Blood and Water

This morning, beneath cumulonimbus, the Styx is the colour of tombstone marble. So dark, it reminds me of how it appears at night when, the Moon full, it captures her mirror-image and carries it slowly downstream.

But, of course, there’s no moon now, nor any likeness of her. She’s elsewhere, oblivious.

Regardless, the Styx entombs its ghosts. The calm water into which I peer possesses my reflection, as if the river’s black, liquid skin has imprisoned me for life.

Sharon of the Styx: that’s what my husband, Adrian calls me.

“Because you and that damn river are inseparable.”

I nestle my Spirit rowing skiff upon the river, climb in and seize the sculls. A familiar jag of discomfort troubles my stomach. There’s something about sitting so close to dark water that causes me to reflect upon my husband’s solemn voice the first time he told me of Anne’s infirmity.

“Mum’s test results are back. The cancer’s spread.”

“Spread to where?” I asked.

“Her cervix, ovaries, all over … Her oncologist says she’s got weeks left to live. Just like it was when Dad died.”

I pull upon the sculls, sense the tremor of my Spirit’s first movement. As I pull again and again, movement pulsing through me, another memory returns.

*

Last night in Ward 13, when Anne awoke, she peeked out at the world, as if half-expecting not to find it there.

“Oh, Sharon,” she murmured. “How long have you been here?”

“Just arrived.”

“I’m afraid I’m not very good company at the moment.”

“I didn’t come to chat.”

“I know. You’re a good sort.” Then, “Where’s Adrian?”

“At home, glued to the wrestling.”

Anne laughed. “Some things never change. And Kieran?”

Ah, my beautiful boy with his nut-brown eyes and hair streaked white from summer sun. “Asleep.”

Anne beamed. But when I told her of Dion’s imminent arrival, she barked, “Whatever for?! I’m not dead yet!” Then gently, “And Elie?”

I shrugged.

“Blood is thicker than water,” Anne snarled. “Ha!”

She coughed so violently, a small, plastic dish filled with her crimson bile. Again, she muttered, “Blood is thicker than water. Ha!”

*

As this memory fades, my Spirit nudges the banks of Elysium’s lawn. I alight and carry my Spirit into the garage.

Inside Elysium, I rush to the bathroom. There I run hot water into the sink, remove my clothes and scrub at a red stain that has flowered upon the inside of my shorts.

Clean again, I’m so tired the need to lie down is overwhelming. Sleep swallows me instantly.

*

In my dream, the sky’s black as a crow’s eye. My Spirit’s ebony carapace sits at the river’s edge. I step into it, take up the oars. Suddenly, a cloaked figure appears, hands me a gold coin and boards my craft. Only then do I feel the sensation of floating, the water carrying my Spirit towards the river’s heart.

In mid-stream, the stranger removes the hood of their cape, revealing Anne’s visage. Instantly, my Spirit slows and sinks lower and lower until water breaches its rim.

Sweating, my pulse racing, I awake to the sound of ringing.

“Mum’s slipping away,” Adrian’s voice is sanguine. “Come quickly; bring Kieran.”

*

In Ward 13, Anne’s body struggles to breathe. Her hair and skin are grey. Kieran kisses her.

The waiting room’s box of toys offers dominoes. I guard my son as he lines them up, then knocks them over. Suddenly, Dion arrives.

“Hi,” he says, as if the last time we met were days, not years. “This must be Kieran!” Dion awkwardly ruffles his nephew’s hair.

Adrian asks, tersely, “When’s Elie getting here?”

“Not sure. Tomorrow, probably.”

“Probably?! Her mother’s dying! Tomorrow will be too late; doesn’t she realise that?”

“She’s a midwife. She has obligations. There’s a woman in labour depending upon her.”

“Obligations!” Adrian hoots. “Distorted priorities, more like.”

Dione’s phone rings.

*

“That was Elie,” he announces, his mobile stilled, “wanting to know how Anne is.”

Adrian snorts. “How does she think Mum is?” He charges at Dion, causing the latter to flinch. “Give me your damn phone!”

What follows is deja-vu as Adrian accuses his sister of cruelty, whilst Dion and I bear witness, familial outsiders. Deja-vu, though the first time something similar occurred Elie was the antagonist.

The occasion was Christmas dinner at Elysium shortly after Elie and Adrian’s father, Robert passed away. Everyone ate in silence until, suddenly, Elie spoke.

“You didn’t come.”

Anne set down her knife and fork. “I came.”

“Not until Dad was in a coma! Was it too much effort to say goodbye?”

“Elie,” Anne said, “your father and I were separated. I said my goodbyes to Robert long ago.”

“He was family. Didn’t you owe him one visit before the end? After all, blood is thicker than water.”

“I didn’t owe Robert anything! He was your blood, not mine. I just had the misfortune to be married to him.”

“If Dad was so awful, why didn’t you leave him sooner?”

“Elie, you and Adrian were the only reasons I stayed. When you moved out, I went too.”

The next day, Elie and Dion returned to Auckland.

*

Leaving Anne before she wanes feels like betrayal: of her; of life. But it’s late and Kieran needs his sleep. So I hug and kiss her then, tearfully, take Kieran home.

*

Once my son is asleep, I slip into the garden to watch the Styx. I think of how, in the morning, I’ll wake Kieran and tell him of his grandmother’s death; then my son, my husband and I will navigate the shadowy landscape of grief.

I think too of this morning’s dream; of Anne and me rowing. But most of all, I remember yesterday evening when I visited the hospital and Anne spoke to me. Of blood and water.

One last time, I look into the Styx. As if by magic, the Moon’s reflection appears upon the water’s surface. Something fluid. Passing on.

Siobhan Harvey is a migrant author of five books, including the poetry collection, Cloudboy (Otago University Press, 2014), which won New Zealand richest prize for poetry, the Landfall Kathleen Grattan Award. She’s also co-editor of the New Zealand bestseller, Essential New Zealand Poems (Penguin Random House, 2014). In 2018, her essay “Sandal’s Songs” was named a notable essay in Memoir Magazine’s MeToo competition. In 2016, she won the 2016 Write Well Award, and was runner-up in the 2015 and 2014 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competitions. The Poetry Archive (UK) holds a “Poet’s Page” devoted to her work. She’s a Lecturer in Creative Writing at The Centre for Creative Writing, Auckland University of Technology and is the current President of The New Zealand Society of Authors.

 

***

 

About bluefifthreview

Blue Fifth Review, edited by Sam Rasnake, Michelle Elvy, and Bill Yarrow, is an online journal of poetry, flash, and art.
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