Richard Craven is an Anglo-Canadian Doctor of Philosophy based in Bristol in the UK. He writes long-form high-burlesque literary fiction, dystopian short fiction, and formal verse specializing in iambic pentameter. He has written four novels, 155 sonnets, including one in French, and a play, The Senseless Counterfeit, which he describes as a comedy of manners in the form of a Jacobean revenge tragedy. He is presently working on a fifth novel, Helix Folt the Conservative, and a second play, Sir Jawn’s Parasite.
When in despond I grind my jaws and crunch
the keyboard’s grinning rows of rotten teeth,
my wandering mind wonders what is for lunch,
and hates itself for being its own time’s thief;
wishing for focus and initiative,
it finds elusive others’ get-and-go
—the grafter’s craft, craftsman’s prerogative—
aspires to their estate, but falls below.
Then rogue conceit haply amuses me,
so that, as if some privy sluice, once blocked,
now gushes forth in rude fecundity,
the words, from in whatever recess locked,
burst from their sour confinement sore enraged
to stain with viciousness the virgin page.
Todd Mercer of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. Mercer won first, second, and third place of the Kent County Dyer-Ives Poetry Prizes. Recent work appears in: The Lake, Leaves of Ink, Praxis, and Six Sentences.
Ole Yeller as Empathy Test
cry like kids
in the theaters,
“It’s only a dog. Why do snowflakes cry over dogs?”
We can’t explain that we should care
to sharks in shallow
B. S. Dixon is putting together his first chapbook inspired by his work with those dealing with homelessness in Boston, MA. His newest work will be printed in upcoming issues of the Front Porch Review, Unbroken Journal, and Nine Muses Poetry.
You’re fifteen, you’re trembling. The only working street light flickers and omits an ominous orange glow. Everything else is dark–the night, the thoughts in your head, the gun in your hand. The car slows as you approach the corner. There they are, Uncle Joe whispers. Tonight you become a man. Sweat oozes from your pores and clots in the newly sprouted patches of peach fuzz on your chin, chest, pits and balls. You remember everything Uncle Joe taught you. You remember how he took you in when no one wanted you. You remember how he cared for you even though Vietnam left him “scrambled.” You’re thankful for Uncle Joe–and he scares the hell out of you. You put your finger on the trigger and raise the gun to the open window. This is it boy, he whispers. Just like I showed you. You notice how heavy the gun feels. NOW, he says, NOW. You’re frozen. You can’t move, but you feel everything. You feel your heart trying to leap from your sunken chest. You feel the cold barrel of a gun press against the back of your head. You feel Uncle Joe’s warm, wet breath on your neck as he whispers, Do it now or I’ll do them and do you next. Your thoughts evaporate. There’s the pop of shots. There’s screaming. There’s screeching tires. You hear none of it–only ringing in your ears. Uncle Joe puts a blade under your nose with a clump of white powder on the tip. Here you go, he whispers. You snort. The powder burns your nostrils and throat. Get all of it now–remember this–when you catch feelings out here, you die. When you catch feelings, you get rid of them. You got that, man?
You realize he just called you a man.
Robert Okaji lives in Texas, where he occasionally works on a ranch. He holds a BA in history, no longer owns a bookstore, but still finds himself surrounded by books. The author of five chapbooks, most recently I Have a Bird to Whistle: 7 Palinodes (Luminous Press, 2019), his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Panoply, North Dakota Quarterly, Kissing Dynamite, and elsewhere.
Love in the Time of Untruth
They look through us,
through the soil
of a neighbor’s lush garden,
saying “we do this for you.”
Uprooting plants, desecrating
history, palms out, demanding more
they exchange trowel
hoe for explosives,
concentrating on their return
Bewildered, we hold hands and watch.
Corey Mesler has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Five Points, Good Poems American Places, and New Stories from the South. He has published nine novels, four short story collections, six full-length poetry collections, and a dozen chapbooks. His novel, Memphis Movie, attracted kind words from Ann Beattie and Peter Coyote, among others. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart many times, and three of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. He also wrote the screenplay for We Go On, which won The Memphis Film Prize in 2017. With his wife he runs a 144 year-old bookstore in Memphis. He can be found at https://coreymesler.wordpress.com.
I’m sorry I wasn’t there in
your last weeks, your last days,
your last hours. You were
dying quickly. I was going slow.
The last time we spoke you
made a joke. I laughed in
astonishment. And right before
we hung up you said, as clear
as Christmas, I love you. Earlier
you told me we’d had a good
life. It makes me happy you
came to that because it took you
a fucking long time. At 94 you
found out something miraculous:
all the pain and despair were
worth it. Thank you for telling me
that, finally. And, finally, I love
you, too. I think you knew that
despite my absence, despite
that prickly angel above your bed,
transcribing the final final words,
again I love you, again I love you.