Bethany Lettington, “The Guinea Pig Pen”

Bethany Lettington is a graduate of the University of St. Andrews’ MLitt Creative Writing program. She currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she works as a copywriter. She was recently shortlisted for the Poetry Wales Pamphlet Prize.

orange line

The Guinea Pig Pen

You, owning double my years
and relishing the power that gave,
said it was a game
when you took me to the garden
and picked up the cage.
It strikes me now how trusting minds are at eight
and how frail a body is, tucked under wire,
but at the time there were no bricks
pinning the frame, just the weight of that childish desire
to be liked

So I waited.
Hidden beneath the blanket you had draped
with the last dregs of light dripping between fibers,

I remember how the sun set red,
and evening swallowed me whole, and nobody came.


Kimberly Dawn Stuart, “Resurrection Mid-Migration”

Kimberly Dawn Stuart is an MFA candidate at Syracuse University. Her work has appeared in Rust + Moth, Louisiana Literature, and Anthropocene, among others.

orange line

Resurrection Mid-Migration

During the apocalypse, the birds will feel it first.
They will grow dizzy mid-migration,
then the seas will screech still. Early-risers will get lost
mid-jog, mid-dog walk. When we are all left
floundering, without careers or working clocks,
and our lives are forced simple,
when chores have bundled themselves up
in jersey sheets and driven in cars to the river’s edge
to watch as the earth collapses,
as it sputters and jerks to a complete stop,
and there are no more drive-thrus,
no more bananas to buy, no more
religion and need,

the women of my family will eat together.
They will heap rice into mountains,
will crack eggs into daylight.
They will tease while they work.
They are good at coaxing laughter
from the scared, feral chests of their sons.
Outside of this house, their voices congeal into a hum.
This is how they have always mourned
the loss of millions.
This is how they stir in your bowl
all your tribulations,
a little sugar,
all the joy left to find.
Here is the wilderness in their creation.
Here are their still-soft hands.
You will not know you are in their lullaby.
Out of their singing, the world begins
again.


J. Eric Miller, “Be Happy”

J. Eric Miller’s short-story collection, Animal Rights and Pornography, was published by Soft Skull Press and has since been translated and published in France, Russia, and Turkey. Human Beast Productions has also purchased an option on the book, with the aim of developing several of the short stories into a film. Miller’s novel, Decomposition, has been translated and published in France, Spain, and Italy; a cinematic version is in preproduction with Fatcat Films. A number of his short stories have appeared in various journals, including: decomP, Semaphore, Starry Night Review, The Scarlet Leaf Review, eFiction, Pindelyboyz, Clean Sheets, Manera, Burning Word, Ink Pot, and Outsider Ink. One of them, “Invisible Fish,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “Be Happy” is part of a collection entitled Atari Baby.

orange line

Be Happy

         I’d chat with this fellow, Happy, in the gym, and then sometimes we’d go have a beer or two at the Twin Peaks Tavern across the parking lot. Perhaps the association with the television show of the same name was why Happy brought my father, many years dead, to mind. We had watched it together when I was in high school. It was one of the last things we did together. They did have a woodsy interior, walls of varnished-looking logs with woodcutter’s paraphernalia hanging around on them, but Twin Peaks was not a pie-and-coffee nostalgia business. Really, it was just a Hooters in flannel. I fell continually in love with the servers—that opening love, which is pretty much the same love you feel for a woman who won’t come back to you, the kind of love that is in all the songs. It didn’t matter. I was too old. That had seemed to happen all of a sudden. Younger, I would have been too young. It wasn’t the mid-20’s aesthetic of the women that worked there that got to me. It was just that they carried around all the beautiful possibility of youth. It was just that the opportunity to escape bad starts afforded them a certain kind of attractive innocence for which I longed.
         Other people were usually having early lunches, and though Happy might order onion rings or something like that, we were mostly there to drink and talk. Happy was maybe fifteen years older than I, with short gray hair going thin, and a bit of a paunch, gray lenses in his glasses, a smile that you could imagine was made of dentures. He’d been sitting oblivious on a machine I wanted to use at the gym, until, frustrated, I’d started pacing by and muttering. When he finally took note of me and smiled and rose, I was embarrassed by his graciousness. For our first drink together, I’d turn my head and mumble out a few words like it was a tic I had. You will have friends you don’t even like and who don’t even like you, but he was not one of those. I could admire him without feeling inferior.
         For a while, he was seeing one of the waitresses. The relationship was primarily business, but maybe it was more than that. She was a heavier, big-eyed woman, with a Gina Gershon smile. Happy had these advertisements in various places online and in the back of city magazines offering panties, guaranteed to have been worn for 24 hours by the good-looking woman pictured, who was, in fact the waitress. If you submitted twenty dollars, Happy, in the guise of the young woman, would FedEx the panties along with a photo of her from behind, glancing over her shoulder, naked save the panties. He’d buy them, the exact same pair, from Amazon by the dozen. What her cut of the money was, I don’t know, but Happy told me he insisted she put on each pair for at least a few seconds before he sent them to a customer. It was important to him to keep things as close to real as possible because he felt he was selling something akin to possibility. This struck me as a sign of integrity I imagined to be lacking in most people—probably even myself, and maybe often out of oversight more than anything else.
         Sometimes we walked around the park after our drinks. Once there were boys in their late teens or early twenties playing football. We asked if we could join—I don’t know why. They wanted us on opposite teams, an old guy for each. But Happy insisted we stay together. And I ran across the grass as fast as I could go. He threw the ball, a perfect arc. I wanted badly to catch that pass, but the football bounced off my fingers. I saw Happy smile slightly and look down, away from me. The most beautiful play of the day, maybe of the rest of our lives, busted. For a moment I was filled up with such regret and sorrow I felt I couldn’t face him. The best you can do is try to imagine such an opportunity will come to you again, but even in absence of that hope you have to walk on back to where the other players are gathered.
         We would sit among the antlers and the giant saw blades and talk, and I could smell the deep woods of my youth, when we lived like pioneers in a cabin alongside a river, perhaps the last generation of Americans to do something like that. My father was a company miner and a drunk, and my mother was a woman who read paperbacks and picked berries and wild greens, made rosehip tea, mushroom soup. They were flatlanders who had been freed by the hippie movement and come west with their youths. My mother hooked me once, whipping a hand-tied fly back and forth to lay it down in some specific place in the river where some poor fish would maybe rise to it and some fate it could not have imagined any more than you can imagine your own. I had snuck out of the cabin to watch her and saw the fly pass over my head like a little whistling woods fairy. It sank into the back of my scalp. I did not cry out. Trouble with my mother might carry over to my father, who often lay in the cabin groaning in his alcohol dreams. Dry years later, he was a calm and easy man, but things had to happen to him before he could achieve that. At that time, he was a mystery. There was no sure thing to do to please or displease him. The sun might go down in his face. He could be kind and gentle, could be so loving you felt love was the only true feeling in the world. Up the trail there was a cliff overlooking the river below, the rocks banks black with wet and wearing away second by second as they had through eons. He’d carry me up there on his shoulders and then tip me forward. I felt the emptiness beneath me, and I felt the solidness of his frame and the firmness of his grip. I shared all of this with Happy in time. Eventually, I would tell each of my stories to somebody or another. Maybe when you’ve said them all once or twice, you can figure out what all they add up to.
         Later, at a town party, my father fought with Shawn Shake’s father. All the country kids were there. We wandered among the legs of the drunk adults, and they tried not to trip over us. Warm with drink, some would pick you up or squat down to you. It was our world, and we wouldn’t have known to call it good or bad. My father and Shawn Shake’s father argued. Shawn Shake’s father knocked my father down, into a kiddie pool, and before he could get up, Shawn Shake’s father kicked my father in the stomach. He floundered around in the water. The women came forth, my mother among them. They meant to hold Shawn Shake’s father back, but he shoved them aside. When he pushed my mother, I was sure my father would rise in a mighty anger and destroy the man, but my father did not get up, and Shawn Shake’s father kicked him again.
         Happy listened to all of this with his face impassive, the way certain people do no matter the story you are telling.
         “It sounds like the first unbearable thing you can remember,” Happy said after a little while. When he was flush with panty money, he bought my drinks. Sometimes, he had to send them as far away as Japan. It was industrious. The things people could come up with continually amazed me, and I wondered what had been stunted in my own mind that it never had such ideas. It seemed Happy had continually adapted to the world, and I had probably already been left behind in some outdated version of it.
         “Maybe the most,” I said.
         This was one of the last times I’d see him. Soon after I told him this story, I would quit the gym and, and not long after that, the city, so that I could keep moving on in different directions that would all come to the same place. The waitress he’d been working with was no longer employed at Twin Peaks. Maybe she’d realized she did not need it, and that she did not need him either. “Now we’re on the outs in every way. I need to find somebody new.” He looked around halfheartedly. I knew how it was. You had a thing going that made sense and worked, but once it was over, you had no idea how to get back into its semblance.
I was then making love with a woman, but each time was probably the last. We had fallen into the time of mistakes, the kind you make when a relationship is slowly dying, and I was down about this cyclical thing and the way it could be seen as the shape of my life. Maybe because over the course of time I’d shared so much with Happy, or maybe because he somehow knew I’d soon be moving on, or maybe because of the way he himself had let others down at other times and so now wanted to lift somebody up, he gave me one of the last panties. I smelled it. It smelled like every woman I no longer knew, even the one who had not quite yet gone. The elastic had cut into the waist of that waitress. The fabric had cupped her buttocks. I closed my eyes pictured her, and maybe what I imagined is how she looked. She was going, and in some way, maybe she could take me with her. For a little while, I believed. Maybe that’s all it is fair to ever want.
         They say every time you remember something, you are really remembering the last time you remembered it. I don’t see how anybody could ever know that. But how can I be certain about these memories in that vision of diminishing returns, stories that fill themselves in around points that are as real to me as anything else, that are as real as what happened yesterday, this morning, what is happening now?
         “How did you get the hook out?” Happy wanted to know.
         I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember it hurting, either. I remember those woods, but not the trees. We moved on to town living when I was six. The wilderness was a wonderland with dandelion seeds floating around. My father might lie on the forest floor with blue jays hopping around and pecking delicately at cracker crumbles on his chest. They looked to me like sharply colored angels on a fallen giant.
         Now, it was time for me to go. “Stay happy,” I told him. I expected him to offer me some sort of wisdom. It had been that kind of afternoon, that kind of friendship, and everything seemed to have built to such a moment. But he had moved on in the day, in his mind. He was ordering his next beer. He was looking at the waitresses, wondering if any of them could be talked into anything like what he had been doing with the last one. He was concocting new and better schemes for living in a world that had changed right beneath him. I don’t think they were really anything alike, but he did remind me of my father. Happy didn’t have all that many answers, either. He told me to stay who I was. I couldn’t help it. I did.


Jacquelyn “Jacsun” Shah, “Dark Lady”

Jacquelyn “Jacsun” Shah has an A.B. English, Rutgers University; M.A. English, Drew University; M.F.A. and Ph.D. English literature/creative writing–poetry, University of Houston. Her publications include a chapbook: small fry; full-length book: What to Do with Red; and poems in journals such as Rhino, Blue Unicorn, Gyroscope Review, Plath Profiles. She was the winner of Literal Latté’s 2018 Food Verse Contest and has received grants from the University of Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance. Jacsun is an outlier, iconoclast, atheist, feminist, and pacifist.

orange line

Dark Lady

. . . saucy jacks so happy . . .
Give them thy finger[s] . . .
Shakespeare, Sonnet CXXVIII

Black as beetle-backs, her eyes and heart
that’s cankered to a pock; keen squad of glit-
terings, her brain; cheeks and lips are part
obsidian, part liver-brown. A pit,
grave throat, you dare not enter,
where deep down a twisted licorice string
of fiendish words is ready as a panther,
set––watch out!––to crouch   hiss   spring!

For centuries all comebacks were contained;
her rectitude, well-practiced as defined;
all movements in the sphere constrained.
She was the bard’s: mute   inert   kind.
Now note this––her breaking of a sound-
lessness, its winding sheet unwound.

No more lessness! Nothing but more   more
and even more sound. Dark, yes, but never ladylike,
the words that mean to arrow-streak and strike
with truths unspeakable, which will be spoken more and more.


Elizabeth Wilson, “Flurries”

Elizabeth Wilson is a tap dance enthusiast and chronic illness advocate, living in the North Carolina mountains. Her poems have appeared in 13th Moon, Asheville Poetry Review, and Cold Mountain Review. She is currently working on revising her first manuscript, This Flight in You.

orange line

Flurries

Each arm of each flake,
a happenstance radiating
independently,

longing for symmetry.
Precipitation so exact,
you don’t question

the origin. What’s wrong?
Your lover doesn’t ask
as if you could stop it.


Kim Zach, “At the Bird Market in Kabul”

Kim Zach’s work has appeared most recently in Bone Bouquet, Adanna Literary Journal, Genesis, and U.S. 1 Worksheets. Her poem “Weeding My Garden” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A lifelong resident of the Midwest, she is a retired high school English teacher who has found a second career as a book coach.

orange line

At the Bird Market in Kabul

She weaves her way over the sun-cooked
       path, in the heated shadow of her husband.
               His anger scatters rocks and dogs.

Vendors huddle in the narrow doorways
       of their tented stalls. Wood-frame cages
               dangle and twirl above.

Buyers search among the captive birds—
       a diamond dove, a desert finch,
               a red-fronted serin.

She observes the birds from behind the mesh
       grille of her blue veil. Like caged jewels,
               their marbled gaze beckons.

Her husband strokes his beard, brandishes
       his fist. But he surrenders the coins,
               like the bride price he paid for her.

He turns, the coveted pet in hand. His fingers
       snap, ordering her to follow. The songbird,
               wings tucked, is silent.

She hesitates as he strides away. He swings
       the cage aloft, churring to the bird. Still,
               her sandals hug the dirt.

Overhead, swallows circle in warning,
       then wheel towards the distant mountains,
               cool with mist and snow.

She struggles to breathe, dizzy with their
       whispers of good-bye, their long flight
               over the Caspian Sea.

Her pulse thrums inside the burqa. She clutches
       the fluttering folds, imagines unravelling
               the embroidered blue threads.


Michael Jones, “Sources”

Michael Jones has taught in public schools since 1990. His poetry appears in journals such as Atlanta Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Cream City Review, and in a chapbook, Moved (Kattywompus, 2016).

orange line

Sources

Baobabs’ ultra-thick trunks
are juicy. Elephants
chew through them like melons;

eat the fruit, too, pooping
seeds. Dreams of arid lands
a-greening say Paradise!

while dise‘s roots say garden
walls are fruits of labor:
daiz, from dhyegh, “to shape.”

Elephants are pachyderms;
baobabs are pachycauls.
Such improbable

cohabitations
shape happiness. Ancients
drew elephants with baobabs.


James Owens, “Aubade (1)”

James Owens’s newest book is Family Portrait with Scythe (Bottom Dog Press, 2020). His poems and translations appear widely in literary journals, including recent or upcoming publications in Grain, Dalhousie Review, Presence, Queen’s Quarterly, and Honest Ulsterman. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in a small town in northern Ontario.

orange line

Aubade (1)

I wake to the pitiless expanse of white bedsheet
and tell myself the bleak word gormless, dredged

from a dream where it was written in an English novel,
one of those lamed words that linger only in the privative.

Such a deflation after the delicate spill of your voice.
The gormless flush of songbird chatter without you in it.


Christy Prahl, “Reclaimed by the Ice”

Christy Prahl is a philanthropy professional, foraging enthusiast, and occasional insomniac. Her work has appeared in Peatsmoke Journal, The Blue Mountain Review, Ghost City Review, and others. She edited the literary collection A Construction of Cranes (Plastic Flame Press, 2020) and is at work on a chapbook, These Professions, which details her fascination with American labor. She splits her time between Chicago and rural Michigan among many unfinished projects.

orange line

Reclaimed by the Ice

When it snows I think of Nathan,
walking with assurance
over gravel and frost,
consuming whole the polar expanse of Iceland,
its green leas to its white-dusted mountains,
cracked clean, surrounded by sea.

His footing holds as a squall picks up.
A map suddenly erased of its landmarks.
North and south in matching jackets.

He is out of provisions for this walk that was to occupy an afternoon.
Layered in down, but only for daylight and not the frozen box
this place becomes by nightfall.

I think of him casually shaking his compass for answers,
imagining the coffee at the ranger station
and the story told through numbed lips, breathless
with dumb luck.

I think of the sun falling on the horizon
as he surrenders to spending the night here,
laboring to build an ice cave with the last of the air in his lungs,
calculating whether to continue
or use his reserves to stamp an SOS in the snow.

Fighting at first,
then settling into the clarity
of what is forcefully,
quietly,
happening to him.

I think of him retracing his footsteps to add a new message:
AT PEACE, which the snow will fill within the hour.

His professors planted a tree for him at Harvard.
It’s lost among the other trees,
as Nathan would have preferred it,
but tall enough to stand beneath
for shelter.


Ann E. Wallace, “Sounds Will Carry”

Ann E. Wallace, a poet and essayist from Jersey City, New Jersey, is author of the poetry collection Counting by Sevens (Main Street Rag). She has previously published work in Clementine Unbound, as well as in Crack the Spine, Riggwelter, Snapdragon, and other journals. She is online at AnnWallacePhD.com and on Twitter @annwlace409.

orange line

Sounds Will Carry

We have pulled at thin air and breathed
in the shallows, hungry, our hearts
and lungs ablaze, commanded ourselves
to breathe, and breathe some more.

Our breath sounds swallowed
by the wail of sirens, on and on, the fear
stuck in our throats has now crescendoed
into the guttural cries of a nation in grief.

But we have laughed
as we have cried.
And we will laugh
and we will cry some more.

And the sounds will carry us,
like calling cards of the lost and bereft,
across the bridges and through the cities
in search of each other.