Lawdenmarc Decamora

Shoegaze + Suburbia

Slowly there’s a scene that celebrates itself,
              holds high office of shame, shoplifts grace
from grocery stores and tomorrow’s tin can mess.

It’s a scene standing in pride, unfazed by the murmuring strong-styled
              neighbourhood
              believed
to be energized out of concentrated flowerpots.

The suburb sprawl is a basement of employment
              hopes, like Monday walks looking for dream pop
              and bizarre poetry recitals  
along the pavement.

Looking for friends who musically trepanned themselves
              with shadows of 1994? Insecure shoes often
obscuring the walls, the sonata of chemicals likens

heads to garage tires you’ve spared for cool
              household principles. I bet you look down,
look down so hard to catch the open light

unfurling, like a beef falafel surprising
              schoolchildren from Bandra, Mumbai
I earn a living by re-counting poetic lines

and make them smell of cardamom.
              Carton-shroud livelihood makes a statement.
To live comfortably is to fall in love

              with euphoria: 100%. Sweetheart of lies—
all right you pay my fines
              as I’m down on my knees to defend

my eighth-month research on the theory
              of shoegaze and how hair cascades
from a culture of unpredictable weather

              sweated for heaven and death wishes. And if
it’s going to be the last time you cut your losses,
              stomach the sound of distortion pedals,

I’d party up again
              and call friends of friends of friends
‘till no grass is spotted
             at the edge of the tarmac.  

Swamps

If dad could turn into a feather furor,
under the melting
sun stares cauterized by the yester-letters

of history, my dad would still be the long
uh-oh sound
of all untrodden wetlands

warbling for a mother roost. And now

the dumaras1 conquer this land,
what the heck,
what the quack! What aches the space?   

I wish dad were here tilling the nouns
of greater yolked fellows:
uninterpreted swamps and Mt. Arayat.

Birdwatchers bird-watching…

and then the beast of history,
my dad after some crumbs of memory.


1Wild ducks in the native lexis of the people in Candaba, Pampanga in the Philippines.

Lawdenmarc Decamora holds an MFA in creative writing and is presently completing his MA in literary and cultural studies in the Philippines. His literary work has appeared in Kitaab International, The Ilanot Review, Kartika Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Columbia Journal (honorable mention), Poésie Bleu Souterrain, Papercuts, The Opiate Magazine, Eunoia Review, Spittoon Literary Magazine, The Peacock Journal, TAYO Literary Magazine, WE ARE A WEBSITE, The Pangolin Review, LONTAR, AAWW’s “The Transpacific Literary Project,” Rambutan Literary, Shot Glass Journal, Mad Swirl, Chrome Baby, New Southerner, In Between Hangovers, Panoplyzine, The Cadaverine, and many others. He teaches literature and humanities in a prestigious university in Manila.

Kate Doyle

Grace says, Not me, I just like hitting things with my squash racquet.

Cinnamon baseball coyote

In the middle of a fight when she is 10 and Grace is 6, Helen writes I hate my sister and puts the piece of paper in her desk. Three months later Grace finds it, while Helen is taking a shower. Helen with her wet hair wrapped up in a towel says, Well I wrote it a long time ago, Grace, and why were you looking in my desk! Their father, intervening, has been frowning. He says, Are you saying you forgot you had this, Helen? Grace is crying excessively, wiping her tears and nose on the pink sleeve of one bent arm. Helen says, I knew I had it, but I don’t mean it anymore. I only kept it because I meant it once.

In their home there is a no-hitting rule, observed without exception, but their mother’s sister could not possibly know it. This is why Helen, in the back seat of Aunt Eileen’s car, on the Pennsylvania interstate, reacts with startling, thrilling physical violence to Evan’s singing. One flat palm slapped across his upper arm, she says, Stop it that is not a real song, you are making that up, be quiet.

Age one: impossible to remember. Their parents have Helen, and on her first birthday put her in a blue dress with smocking around the ribs and chest. There is a picture of it, framed, and they keep it hanging in the stairwell. One Christmas Eve, in college, Grace is dressed for dinner and, descending, pauses on the stairs. She says, unprompted, I do like this picture, Helen, but I feel like there are better baby photos of you.

Evan is born. I am a sister now, joyful Helen tells the neighbors, famously.

Grace is born. Evan, age 2, tells their father, Now I have two of these.

On the one day of winter break when it snows, Grace says with a small nose-wrinkle of distaste, These two are the artsy ones in this family, not me. Helen feels annoyed but Evan is fine. He just laughs and opens the fridge and looks around for milk, saying, We actually think Grace could be an actress, if she tried. Helen says, I disagree, she’s too purposely not caring. Grace says, How dare you, I was great that time you made me be your Peter Pan, remember how convincingly I cried? Grace’s squash team friend is there—I’ll have you know I wept, Grace tells her. The squash friend sips her glass of water. She says, I’ve never been artistic myself, but of course I have to admire it. Grace says, Not me, I just like hitting things with my squash racquet. And she thumps one palm down hard on the countertop, which makes the nearby toaster give off a tinny, wild shudder.

Their parents meet just after college, in a bar, and it’s raining. Later, their mother gives up her career to be at home with them. In middle school, Grace becomes incredible at squash. Of the three of us, says Evan over sushi one New Year’s, Helen is most doomed.

Evan’s plan is not to make the kind of mistakes Helen makes.

Pick yourself up, says her father, gently.

Helen cannot sleep all night and calls out sick from the coffee shop. This is not what people do, says her mother. What people do is, they go to work.

The three of them try to remember an alphabet book they loved as children. S is for Serious. T is maybe for Timid, but they are not certain. Evan is trying to find the Yankees game on television. T is for Tearful, he says. Grace, flung out on the sofa, wearing one of their mother’s old college sweatshirts, elaborates: T is for Tearful, like Helen is.

In high school, their dog gets old and dies. Her gums turn very pale and her small heart races, visibly beating under the skin. They and their parents take her to the vet, where they sit around her on the floor and stroke her until she falls asleep. The part of her Evan can reach is the small, warm armpit. They leave before she has the injection that will euthanize her. This is what the vet recommends they do.

The ground is too cold to dig into, and so, for now, their parents keep their dog’s ashes on a shelf, next to their mother’s lightweight spring sweaters.

Evan, in elementary school, often tries to get a look at the top of his head. He thinks if he looks up quickly enough, he’ll catch a glimpse. He stands in the family room and tips back his head, repeatedly.

When they first get their dog they are children, and argue incessantly about what to name her. Evan says, I am going to pull your hair. Grace says, I hate you both. In the end, the name is a kind of mash-up of their disparate suggestions.

College icebreaker: My name is Helen, and a fun fact about me is, my dog was named Cinnamon Baseball Coyote.

They are children, and their father is taking them with their Christmas present racquets to learn the game of squash. From the front seat, turning off the engine, he says, You all are going to really like this. Helen presses her face to the clouded glass of one window. Snow circles from the white sky, accumulates like pale moss on the asphalt. Under his breath, Evan is singing a made-up song. Grace says, Fine but if I don’t love this, Dad? I am not ever forgiving you, ever.

Kate Doyle’s writing has been featured in No Tokens, Meridian (Flash Fiction Award winner), Pigeon Pages, Bodega, the Franklin Electric Reading Series, Lamprophonic, and Sundays at Erv’s. She lives in New York and received an MFA from NYU.

 

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Raena Shirali

we don’t belong      :

in rooms with family spirits / central on blueprints

near rivers where one could be caught / submerged

with our teeth sunk in thighs

with our thighs visible to a flash of teeth

licking milk off our mouths’ edges

near gold / paint / pearls or oysters

straight-backed & sure

close to the horizon / drop-off point

in classrooms / learning about the end of the world

contemplating heat

dipping ring fingers in turmeric & slaked lime

asking about symbols / patterns in sand

asking but do we worship the violent goddesses?

calling each other queen like it undoes the fact of their stares

next to our husbands

together in rivers

baring our teeth at the stupid sun

calling it blood lust killing us across oceans

blessing durga’s foot on her man’s neck, tongue thrust out—

                                      even our idols were made to feel shamed

  

daayan after a village feast

any way to the bottom of a bottle is one the men
             will pioneer. moonlit paths through the pale green
                         growth. they trade tea leaves, tobacco, ghee. they trade

what we women toiled. naturally, we sneak sips, dilute
             the remainder like kids—slinking on packed mud, careful
                         not to step too heavy. i’m the only one who takes

full flasks like this. that’s not why they want
             my pasture. they don’t know their own skin
                         glows amber—we all sweat it out the same.

our teeth slump against gums & all our bones
             whittle down. maybe they feel bright yellow
                         in their lungs, the unsung chakra, & think it’s my fault

their feet slur the dirt. they pull me in with spindly
             arms, kiss me flat on the forehead, brandy
                         breathing their half-lie : how capable they are

of love. moments before the blackout, all their limbs
             ablaze, the whole world must seem possible & warm
                         & fused. it must be intoxicating to survive.

they pass out unarmed, sloughed against fences,
             & i slip bottles from loose fists, tuck them into our
                         baskets. we become mist, shift groveward, flee.

  

Artist’s Statement

Since before the publication of my first book, I have been researching the ongoing practice of witch hunting in India, generating poems engaging with that landscape, and with personae and myths associated with the treatment of women in Jharkhand. The two poems featured here engage with that subject matter uniquely. “daayan after a village feast” is written in the persona of a daayan (a woman accused of being a witch). While our daayan’s particular voice is imagined, the scene this poem paints is not, recalling some of Jharkhand’s present-day systems.

If “daayan after a village feast” engages traditionally with persona writing, “we don’t belong : ” subverts it, asking more broadly: how do antiquated and existing norms surrounding female mysticism in India inform this culture’s treatment of women? This poem derives its grounding lines from anthropological research related to the politics of accusation; the poem’s first line refers to the superstition that women are more likely to become (or be called) witches if they enter the rooms in a home where family spirits are thought to reside, where there are altars, or in rooms that happen to be in the very center of the dwelling. The poem juxtaposes the way women are allowed to move through that (& this) world with imagery grounded both in Indian and American culture.

Finally, “we don’t belong :” refers to patriarchal interpretations of Hindu mythology surrounding the goddess Durga, often depicted with her tongue stuck out, presumably in shame, as she accidentally tramples her husband while killing demons. This notion—of shame from denying our “domestic duties” while manifesting and experiencing raw power—is central to discussions about women’s “safety,” and what women are at liberty to do in public spaces.

Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), winner of the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. Shirali’s honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University’s Stadler Center for Poetry, and poetry prizes from Boston Review, Gulf Coast, and Cosmonauts Avenue. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she is a co-organizer for We (Too) Are Philly—a summer poetry festival highlighting voices of color. She also serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine, and is on the editorial team for Vinyl. Find out more at raenashirali.com.

 

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torrin a. greathouse

On Re-lacing My Shoes

i.

           when the officers first return my shoes, laces tangled beside them, i
           realize i never learned the pattern of their threads. struggle to cross
           the twine under itself to form an orderly set of bars.

ii.

           i am Googling common+shoe+lace+tying+patterns
           & most+efficient+shoe+tying+pattern
           & average+tensile+strength+of+shoe+laces
           & average+length+of+time+for+suffocation
           & why+did+prisons+first+start+using+safety+glass+cells
           & suicide+statistics+in+US+prison+system
           & transgender+suicide+in+US+prison+system.

iii.

         excerpt from therapy journal

        new symptom: since confinement i’ve struggled with the feeling that
        my shoes are too tight, laces pulled taut, bones so close to snapping like
        a lock’s mouth.

iv.

          list of institutional euphemisms:
          special housing, protective custody, adjustment center, safety housing,
          administrative segregation, softie tank

          read:
          solitary confinement

v.

          plexiglass cells were first integrated in prison corridors to give guards
          easy access to prisoners, the visibility of each cell preventing escape       
          attempts. there are a series of openings near the ceiling which allows     
          guards to administer capsicum spray without endangering officers.

vi.

          excerpt from therapy journal

          new symptom: extreme sensitivity to light, creating migraines & visual
          hallucinations. in solitary, the lights never go out.

vii.

          official explanation:
          this ensures officers are capable of observing prisoners at all times.

          institutional euphemism:
          this is a safety measure, meant to ensure the health & well-being of
          prisoners.

viii.

          deprived of human interaction, prisoners begin to experience anxiety,
          depression, panic, insomnia, paranoia, & increased aggression. after 72
          hours of sleep deprivation, even prisoners without a history of
          psychosis will begin to experience distinct hallucinations. these effects
          are more pronounced in those with preexisting mental conditions.

ix.

           excerpt from therapy journal

          new symptom: i have forgotten how to tie my shoes. i can visualize the
          pattern, like my mother taught me. the rabbit circling the tree, diving
          into its warren. i remember every step. but each time it comes out a
          noose.
  

Aubade w/ Autoimmune Disorder

“the parts of the plant where the sperm is received is called the stigma” -sam sax

+ the stigma is also a marking of disease
a red X across the door     of those infected w/ the plague

        [how once HIV was called the gay plague]

perhaps then the word faggot     too is a stigma
when it marks a door     or body

        + aren’t these both places where something is received

how when the older man     face sunken as damp earth
invites me over     feeds me drinks + the promise of money

        i stigma my lips into entrance to receive him

he slips off the condom     cums across his chest
[he will not let me taste it   + i wonder again if he is dying]

        his seed sprouts a bandolier of orchids     blooms his palms into funeral bouquets

years later i find him on Facebook     read about the drugs that keep him alive
pinioned in my cellphone’s blue light of dawn     i stroke myself

        to the memory of his arms   + the bills stained red w/ ink     

weep + cum in my own mouth     hold it there miracle
of my virus-free blood     dissolving like honey

-suckle     candied petals across my tongue

  

Apologia for Snapchat of Birdless Wing

forgive me     given half a chance
i’d shake the jar of fireflies

hoping to coax more brilliance from their fear   
sweat sieved like bath water     in Midas’ hand

watch the little glints rattled
loose of light     jar smeared with sunstains

tear the snail from its geode
-curl of a shell     its back peeled as half-ripe fruit

expecting some glittering secret inside
i’d take scissors to the rabbits ear

snip bloodless     velvet from its skull   
i’m so full of child’s arrogance

that any beauty     sufficiency dissected
could be made my own     i’d tear the dead star

-ling’s wing & pose it     for a picture
limp omen     spread like knifed fingers

i’m sorry     i’ve forgotten
which of these stories are true

& which i’ve invented to upset you
i’m marveled at the slaughter

of my hands     at the voyeur
sitting naked in the back of my eye

how they hunger     for the fracture
of such soft things     how gentle anatomy

is undone     & how any veins are so alike
in their unbraiding     bronze-blue

alchemied to common rust     forgive me
my first thought of any body     is how it empties

  

On Discovering my Gag Reflex, an Absence

how to tell the story? therapist says
you bury trauma in shock value; no,
that’s a lie, therapist is withholding
judgment; this makes one of you;
this story is about sex; but
it’s not; but maybe, it’d be easier
that way; his hand clenching; like
teeth; on the back of your neck; your lips
pressed to the stiff curl of fur; skin
linoleum white; how a story turns
in on itself; how fingers find the back
of a throat; attempt to reframe body
in its emptying; fail; saliva curling down
your palm like handwriting; therapist scrawls
dysphoria in her notes; saliva pools
w/ tears on white linoleum; this story
is about sex; but not how you assume
it is; words load themselves like a gun;
i say gag; you are already imagining
the scent of sweat; the sound of one body
choking on another; instead i mean
the desperate of one body to empty itself
into change; instead i mean disorder;
ketosis; acid stained teeth; how the words
do all the work for you; reframe the story;
so it tells itself; before you even
open your mouth

torrin a. greathouse is a genderqueer trans womxn & cripple-punk currently haunting the greater Boston area. She is the author of boy/girl/ghost (TAR Chapbook Series, 2018) & winner of the Peseroff Poetry Prize, Palette Poetry Prize, & the Naugatuck River Narrative Poetry Prize. Their work is published/forthcoming in POETRY, The New York Times, Poem-a-Day, Muzzle, Redivider, BOAAT, & The Rumpus. When she is not writing, her hobbies include awkwardly drinking coffee at parties & trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.

 

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Spencer Williams

Rumination on a Mother//Sister Tongue

                         My girlbody
        tangled in
           yolk strings
                    aside my
            sister.

                                   We
                                   pulled
                                     an embryonic
                                                           distance
                                              between us
                                                         through a
                                                          thick of reeds
                                                                 grey as
                                      assigned              biology.

                                      I think about this
                                           often:
                                             our mother’s womb
                                          like hands
                                                  digging out
                                          the fleshy core
                                         of pan de muerto.
                                                     
                                                             In her, we grew
                                                                                   towards
                                                                  the outer rim
                                                          of flimsy paper womb
                                        so           muted
                                           in pink as to
                     appear bashful
     or embarrassed
        by           borders,
           by the
           cruelty
                     to which our
                     faces
                        would eventually
                                                       turn
                              on the outside,
                     invisible even
                              when facing
                                           each
                                                other.

                                                                              •

                                                    Towards             the edge
                                                           a plate
                                                                  scatters
                                                      off white
                                                               skin
                                                        and weeds
                                                  black
                                                           with lust,
                                                                           drawing
                                                              full recon-
                                                figuration:
                                                                 body
lines
                                                   spirals
recede
                                                against
knots
                                               blood
arteries
                                                  umbilical
rivers
                                                      tubes
indistinct
                                               like siblings
                                                          with countries
                                                                                      at war
                                                                                        with
                                                                                            each other’s
                                   stained
                                           particles
                                                             ligaments
                                                   chunks of
                   internal          bleeding
                in pieces
                in                                          water
                            salt dissolves
              remains
       a border

     wet with
              
                           mother’s
                                        organ
                                 entrails
                                            leaking                               cursive
                       over both
                                          our                                                   names.

                                                                                •


In a reoccurring dream,      we are bulbous
                                                                                              shapes                                 floating
                                                                                                       stagnant
                                                                                            muddy                                   and
                                                                                         sheltering                                    flies
                                                                                in                                                  upended
                                                                                 creek beds.

                                              I believe my                                     sister
                                                 told me

                                                                                         never give
                                                                                               name to
                                                                blood
                                                                                          as if to
                                                                                                  share it.

                                                                                                            I still
                                                                                                            have siblings
                                                                                                   I’ve never met
                                                                                              rooting
                                                                                                      deep into
                                                                                                                 my girth.
                                                                 If                       they are dead,
                                                                    then I am buried                 too and
                                                                    the lot of us are
                                                                                        pale spots
                                                                           of land                       floating
                                                                   like an
                                                                            archipelago
                                                                                                   beneath                  the ground.

                                                                           •

                                              It is no use.
                                                                          If my blood sister’s
                                                                        fingertips
                                               betray reflections
                                                 of my own,
                                    they are cursed
                                                         to stain
                               every surface
                 with oil.
                                                                          For though I outlived
                                                                                the salt
                                                                                         burn of my birth,
                                                                            I remain
                                                                                     uncertain
                                                                                         of the month
                                                                    my sister came,                       only
                                                                                    that it happened,

                                                                                                           that it is as factual
as the name I
                                         give myself.

                                                                                                      And if my blood
                                                                            sister’s mouth
                                                   resembles
                         in          shape
                 my own, her
                           tongue remains
                           a stranger
                   unghosted by
                                            familial                    misinterpretation,
                  meaning she
          must know
this feeling too,
                  can spell it out
                                             in ways I
                                                             cannot translate.

                                                                               •

When
                        Carol,
my adoptive mother,                travelled
                                                     to Beijing
                                                                  with Carl
                                            to bring home
                                        his adopted                    daughter,
                                                         Carol too brought
                                        back a dish                                  of red
                                               paste for me
                                                                    to stamp
                                                                     my name
                                                            in Hanzi with.
                                                                                My name thus
                                                     became
                                     an imprint
                                       on every
                                                 bedroom wall,
                                                             a wound
                                            unbandaged
                                     and                                                              breathing.
                                                                                                   My fingers
                                                                                               dragging
                                                                                     softly              my name
                                                                                           into the chalk
                                                                                   white,
                                                         the blood of it
                                         fading like
                                         a mother
                                                 tongue buried
                                                            by generation.

                                                                            •

            The papers say the two of us
are not                twins
                                                              even as I do
                                              not reject
                                                           the idea
                                                                        that we are,
                                                                        in some
                                                                              psychic way,
bridged                                                                                   by thread
          at the
hipbone.
            Us two        (then three,       then four siblings)
                           uncut from
                the same
tired cloth,
              torn
                       like a handful
       of loose hair,
a scab
           browning at
the knee.

       Sister,             where
              do                        you                                                                           reside?
  
When                              I                                                                                              pull
           hairs             from                                                                                         my
      face…                are                                                                                                 you
there in the wound?                            Is this you
        you          threatening                     to
                                        bleed                                           me?

                                                                              •

In sleep,
            I see birth mother
floating
                    above                   me,                                                                                bright
  pink                      and
            naked
   as                              a                                                                                 prophecy.        She
                          chokes down
                     my body until her
                                      mouth
                                      floods with
                                 cells and       opposition.

                                                                    On the night I was conceived,

                         Mexico
tangled
                                                                   birth mother’s hair                            into canals
                                                                             of blood.
                             Seven months later,
and I entered grave
                           and
                      unpronounced.
                                                         How                                         to name
                                                                                                 a dying breath
                                                                            something other than quick,
facile.
                                          How to trace
                                    the blood
                                        back to a mother
                   I have one
                   photo of, who
                                           does not know
                                      I am not what
                                         they first called
                                     me.
          
           How many ways
                                     to call me “sir,”
                                             “him,”
                                     “tranny faggot”.

                                                                  How many
                                                  ways to deduce
                                    whether or not
                     mother’s addiction
                                             inflicted upon me
                                    my penchant for
                     the dangerous, as in

how                                       many men
do we now                                              share between
  us.
                                                              How to
                                           to carve birth mother
                                               out like
                                  a stone wedged
                                                  into my naval.
             
                                     How to find
                                     her teeth
                                  nose         eyes
                                             in a week’s worth
                                  of Facebook searches.

                                      How to tell her
                                          I am not
                                       her son, that I am
                                                                     barely
                                                           her daughter.

                                                 How many ways to
                                say “daughter”
                                                            “hija”
                                                   “girl”
                                                             “perra”
                                                        “mija”
                        
                                                            “tranny faggot”.

                                                                             •

                                      In a dream, I address my
birth mother,
                ask her
                           to guess
                                           how many
                                                              faces
                                                                         I see
                                              in the mirror
                                                                     each day.

                                                                        Ask her to
                                                              tell me
                                                          the number of
                                                                       siblings that
                                                                        know
                                                                     I
                                     am                  here.
                                            Ask her to
                                                  point
                                                          me to
                                                                  the spot
                                                               where my birth father
                                                                  touched her      ferocious
                                                             and summoned               me.

                                                                             •

The description provided by the Tate and National Galleries website regarding Louis Bourgeois’
“A’L’Infini” series deduces
that the title,          “into infinity”      is
suggestive
of both
an unmapped
expanse
and a life
cycle.


                                                                              So then.

                                                                                           At the end
                                                                                           of life, there
                                                                                           are still

                                                                                                       borders to
                                                                                                       be crossed,

                                                                                                       bodies
                                                                                                       averse to
                                                                                                       location and
                                                                                                            thus preserved
                                                                                                                              by their
                                                                                                                              unknowability.

                       Perhaps, this
                                                                                                                        is most accurately

                                                       how I think
                                                                 of you,
dear siblings:
                                                                                                 In portrait.               As borders
                             struck down

by
                                                                                   recognition.

                                                                  By this, I mean
                                                                                          I know you
                                                                                   best
                                                                                by the homes
                                                                         that won’t lay
                                                                                         claim to me
                                                                                         in full.

                                                                         When I
                                                                                 close my eyes
                                                         there is not one

                                                         thing that
                                                         owns me.

                                         
                                        Thus, my branch
                                   among the
                  oyamel does
             not know
of its
             address, is
             blind to
                         the other branches
             waving beside it.

                                                                              •

                       Roots, we are
                                  so many
                            bodies between
                                    us
                                        both here
                                           and not here.
   
                                                In Chula Vista,
                       
                        I                 climb the hill towards         my house          each morning.
                                                        When            I reach          the top,

                                               the border plays                     catch with

                                                                            my                    body
                                       and feeds me
                     to the sky.



I Explain Dysphoria to my Older Sister

Perhaps my biggest error is located in the assumption that I was built to live as
long as you, our mother, our father. I look up for a door to swim through in the
sky and find it—the door—shaped like the weightless center of a guitar. Behind
the door, I play soft mouth music. In the grey space, my tongue gyrates softly
against the ass of my teeth. I spit into the hollow and there is blood, a seed, a
sprouting limb. I have an error of a mouth, a friend remarks. On any given day, I
enter a room and count all the men I can identify—I mean—I count confidence in
waves, through heat, beyond doubt. Lipstick is an occupation—I do mean chore.
If there is a gun in the room, then I am already sucking down the barrel. If there is
no gun in the room, then I have brought one into it. Relief is a door in the sky
with chemtrails. I suck the lines, birth conspiracy—as in, am I woman, am I not?
Perhaps my biggest error is located. Perhaps my biggest error—woman, not. On
any given day, I look up and see nothing. I look up and hear no music. In my
mouth, the barrel gyrates against the ass of my tongue. If there is a gun in the
room, it is you. It is our mother, our father remarks. If there is no gun in the room,
then spit. Then limb confidence. Then sprouting doubt. Then seed heat— music
shaped like a lipstick sky. Already, I birth my weightless relief. The door beyond
is chemtrails. I can identify all soft meaning. I count and play guitar teeth.
Occupation is woman sucking down grey space. I enter men and swim through
the blood chore.

Spencer Williams is a trans poet from Chula Vista, California. She is the author of the chapbook Alien Pink (The Atlas Review Chapbook Series, 2017) and has work forthcoming from or featured in Hobart, Cosmonauts Avenue, Alien Mouth, Potluck, and others.

 

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Chloe N. Clark

We are paying for our sins, the writers declared as if they were street preachers in apocalyptic movies.

Bound

The lake looked beautiful that time of year. Trees swooned in towards the water, heavy with leaves and fruit, and algae bloomed the color of liquid emeralds. I watched the wind send shivers across the water’s surface and each hint of breeze filled the air with the smell of catalpa flowers—so pungent that the scent could almost be seen. I breathed in. I breathed in. Somewhere, behind me, I heard something call out. But maybe it was only a bird.

  

Years before, I listened to a different kind of water: the recordings of the Mariana trench. Shrieks and moans from the deep. They sounded so disembodied, so alien. Rahul walked into my office. “What is that?”

“The recordings from the Mariana Trench. It’s how things sound underwater: listen you can hear ships way above and whales. Even the earth moving.”

He leaned over my shoulder, reading the text on the screen. “It sounds like outer space does in movies. You know when someone’s on a planet or something?”

So close to me, he smelled of peppermint soap. “It makes me kind of sad,” I admitted.

“Sad?” He turned to me. Our faces near enough that I could count his eyelashes.

“That even so deep into the earth, there’s still so much sound. It’s like you can’t escape from noise.”

He smiled. “That should make you happy. Even in the darkest, you can still hear life.”

Often, I went back to this memory, searching through it for signs that the world would end. I wanted to know if even then things were shifting around us. But, mostly, all I see is Rahul smiling. The color of his eyes, the shape of his lips.

  

Anna Moritz was the first I watched die. It was the second year of the plague and things were already going to hell. We’d worked together for years. She was my friend. I sat there as she lay dying, watching her body shake and jolt and I couldn’t do a thing to help her.

“Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god. I can see them in my blood, Rissa! I can see them in my blood! Such tiny teeth they have!” Her voice was so high-pitched, so breathy. She gasped for air between every word.

I held her hand. They always said not to touch the sick, but she needed someone and nothing I’d done so far had gotten me sick. She needed some grasp of life.

“I loved him so much and I never told him it was our fault,” she said. Her moment of clarity. All the sick got one moment. I’d noticed it over and over. They didn’t, maybe, know it was clarity, but I saw it. Anna’s eyes cleared and she stared up at the ceiling as she said it. I wanted to ask her what she meant. Then she returned to gasping, moaning, muttering.

In the last moments, she dug her fingernails so deep into my palm that she drew blood.

  

I was twenty-seven when the plague began. I worked in a laboratory, studying plants. My degree was in ethnobotany and I wasn’t truly one of the scientists, more of a glorified researcher for the company. Mostly we were looking for the medicinal benefits in plants that had not yet been fully studied. An Emerson quote was framed on one of the walls: What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. However, sometimes, we helped out labs that were less well-equipped: studying contaminant species and the like.

I was there on the day they brought the samples back. A kind of algae-like bloom spore that had been found in a lake in the Pacific Northwest. People in the neighboring town had started getting sick. At first it was headaches, then fevers that brought vivid hallucinations, then pain, pain, and finally death. Everyone thought it had something to do with a chemical company on the edge of the town or possibly some sand blasting going on nearby. Then they found the algae. It slicked the top of the lake, like an oil spill, glimmering and tinted blue. I’d seen pictures and it looked like nothing I’d ever seen before.

“Do you really think it could be algae making everyone sick?” I asked Rahul. He leaned against the wall next to me, drinking a mug of coffee, and watching three of the lead scientists crating a box of samples into one of the labs. Our shoulders touched.

He shrugged. “I suppose if it got into their drinking water. During a bloom, cyanobacteria can be quite toxic.”

One of the scientists pulled out a glass sample container, filled with water and blue tendrils of slime. It was no algae I’d ever studied before.

Next to me, Rahul shifted forward. He stared at the container with a mix of fierce concentration and worry. “Something’s not right.”

  

Two years later, in the car as I raced to get to somewhere safe even though I knew no such place existed, I saw a man walking alongside the highway. His clothes were ragged and his hair disheveled, but from behind, I thought I knew him. Something about his walk, the steadiness of his pace. I slowed the car, begging my vision to be right.

Please, please, please, my mind said over and over. The man turned to look at me and it wasn’t him. Just a man, dried blood under his nostrils, and a look on his face so close to madness that I pressed my foot onto the gas pedal and sped past him in a blur.

  

“What did they say?” Anna and I were eating at the deli we often went to. They made their own bagels and spread them thick with avocados and fresh goat cheese.

“Nothing they’re willing to tell me,” Anna said. She was a lab assistant. Two years younger than me, but already ahead in most “adult” aspects: she had a husband, a mortgage, and plans to start a family in the next couple of years. Her husband would die before her. She’d scream his name when the fever first took hold of her.

“Rahul said they looked worried,” I said. Taking a bite of the bagel, avocado filled my mouth. The taste was so rich that it seemed wrong with the conversation, with a town dying only a few hundred miles away.

“Rahul is a worrier. It’s why you’re so perfect for each other,” Anna said.

“I’m not a worrier.”

“Exactly, he worries and you’re the voice of calm, of reason.” Anna pulled the edge of her bagel off, popping it into her mouth. “What is he like in bed, by the way? He seems like he’d be either good or gentle.”

“He can’t be both?” I thought of Rahul’s hands, of the way he’d run one up and down my thigh, almost absentmindedly, as we watched something.

Anna laughed. “Not in my experience.”Only later would I realize that she’d been changing the conversation on purpose, that the scientists had told her more than she said. She’d admit it to me one night, a year later, as we watched bodies being taken away from the street in vans. They knew, Rissa, they fucking knew so much.

  

The town was quarantined. The situation has been contained, newscasters reported. The lake sanitized. The death toll was in the hundreds. A shocking number, but the word “contained” made us feel safe.

At work, I noticed more meetings going on than normal. Once a scientist brushed past me in the hall, and I turned to apologize, only to see that he had tears in his eyes.

“Are you alright?” I asked. His name was Dr. Perrin. I never knew his first name, but I remembered that he had a daughter who liked horses and Pixie Stix. The facts that stick in our mind are sometimes astonishing.

He shook his head. “Tell everyone you love them.” He hurried past. I hoped his daughter was fine. I hoped it was nothing serious.

  

The first time I met Rahul was my third day of work. I was lost in a back hallway of the lab, trying to find a man with a sample of a prairie grass that he wanted me to look at. I saw a man coming out of a side room. He was tall, thick dark hair, and wore sneakers the color of the sky—a soft blue that seemed incongruous paired with his white lab coat.

“Are you looking for something?” he asked me. His voice was soft.

“Prairie grass?” I responded.

“Maybe try Iowa?” he said. His tone not mocking, just playful.

“So, you are not the prairie grass man, then,” I said.

“I’m mostly the lake weeds man, but people often call me Rahul.” He extended a hand. His shake was firm, but not pressing.

“Rissa,” I said.

Once, later, Anna asked me if I’d known right away that I’d love him. I shook my head, said I’d been attracted to him, yes, but no one can know love right away. She had laughed, relieved, and said that she hadn’t loved her husband for months and she always wondered about it. If it was something wrong with her, with her relationship.

The truth was, though, that the minute I’d seen Rahul, I had thought something strange. I’d thought: one day, I’ll want to remember this. And, at that point, I hadn’t known why.

  

A month after the quarantine, another town became sick. The river running past it was thick with algae. The news stories did slow pans over the water. In the sun, the algae seemed to glow, pale blue as sapphires.

As we watched the news, Rahul shifted next to me. “It’s not algae, Rissa. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not algae. I looked at it, under the microscope. It’s something else, the spores, they’re mutated or something. I think someone may have tampered with them. It seems engineered.”

I turned to him, he looked so scared. “We’re going to fix it. We have the best lab in the country, top scientists. We’re going to fix it.”

He stared at me for the longest time before saying, “I want to believe you.”

Later, in bed, his body pressing into mine, our breath fast, he said that he loved me. I wanted to believe me then, too. I wanted to believe that everything would be fine.

  

One night, when the nation had first gone into a state of emergency, I woke up to my phone buzzing. I picked it up.

“Hello?” I whispered, not wanting to wake Rahul.

The person on the other line didn’t say anything at first, but I could hear them breathing. Gulping in air, as if they’d been crying.

“Hello? Who is this?”

“Jesus, someone, someone, they burned it down,” Anna said. Her voice shuddering and shaking.

“What?”

“The lab, Rissa. Someone burned it down,” she shouted the words. “All that work. We could’ve found a cure. I mean, we . . . ”

I never knew how she’d finish the sentence. She hung up.

In the morning, Rahul and I drove to the building. Its carcass still smoking and the remains so charred that it had to have been burned with something fiercer than gasoline. I walked as close to it as I could without being overwhelmed by the smell. Someone had spray-painted something on the sign that used to hang over the door, but only half of it was now visible: Gui. Just the three letters and nothing else.I walked back to Rahul, who stood staring at the wreckage, and I didn’t tell him what I saw. I didn’t say, I think it must have said ‘Guilty.’ At that point, I thought that the arsonist had just meant that we were guilty of not being able to help.

  

It only took months for it to be most places. Some of them cities that weren’t even near bodies of water. The newscasters warned us not to panic. The CDC said that it was now an illness, spreadable through contact with the sick.

Stories ran on blogs about how this was not sickness but a cleansing. We are paying for our sins, the writers declared as if they were street preachers in apocalyptic movies.

  

A few months after the State of Emergency was declared, after the rioting and the burned cities, I took shifts volunteering in one of the makeshift hospital tents that were set up wherever people could find space. There was no cure, there was just an attempt to ease suffering, to keep the sick contained where the bodies could be easily rounded up after death.

Walking through the beds, looking for anyone in need of more pain meds, I recognized someone. Doctor Perrin, from the lab. He looked so hollowed out, so fragile.

“Dr. Perrin,” I said.

He looked up. “Rissa, you’re still you.”

I wondered if he meant still alive. “Yes, I am.”

He coughed. “I thought you left, went under the sea with some of the others. God, it’s probably so dark and cool there.”

“Under the sea?”

“You know, where it came from, right?”

“What? The algae?”

He shook his head, wincing. “No, dear, the algae came from us. I thought everyone knew that. It was supposed to eat, eat, eat up all the output. You know we put so much into our water and we needed to get rid of it. Clean the water. We were going to be helping. Helping. Funny word, really, that helping has hell in it.”

“We did this?” I whispered.

Dr. Perrin smiled at me, as if I were a student who had gotten the answer to a particularly challenging question. “Did I tell you about the sea? No water. No not water. No, I meant the cure. It’s under the sea. No, not the sea,” he said. Then he coughed again, harder, and blood speckled the sheet he was laying on. “The lakes. It’s in the lakes.”

“There’s a cure?” I wanted to keep him talking, keep him present.

He smiled. “God, you look just like my mother. You’re so pretty, Gretchen.”

That was the name of his daughter. I remembered it then. A girl I’d met once at a Christmas party. She’d been hiding in the corner, tapping a Pixie Stick against her hand, like it was a cigarette. She was years and years younger than me and looked like she’d grow up to be an elegant looking woman. The fever must have been deep at that point.

“Thank you,” I replied.

“Oh, love, you’re forgiving me, right?” He asked. Blood leaked from his mouth, tiny red trickles of saliva.

“Of course, Dad,” I said.

It took a year before the country was in ruin. Longer than I think anyone would have predicted.

  

It was a year and a half when Rahul never came back. I woke up and he was gone. A letter on the table, saying that he’d heard of something. A lab to the North. Right now, you’re safe here. I’ll come back to get you when I know it’ll be safe there, too. Always, I love you.

I wondered why he’d think I was so safe. Our doors had locks, but wouldn’t we have been safer together?

Outside, I’d heard rumors as well. Hushed voices saying that someone was going to cure us, that there was a place working on the cure. I’d never have been stupid enough to think there was truth there. I’d have never left him. Sometimes, I’d wake up from a dream that he was sleeping beside me, and find that he wasn’t there. I’d curse him. Yell every foul thing I could think of to the air, to the space he wasn’t.

  

When he first asked me to move in with him, he’d baked a cake. It wasn’t particularly good: dense chocolate with too-sweet frosting.

“I’m not very good at this,” he said. “I just wanted to see if I could even bake.”

My mouth was full of cake, I was trying to swallow it down, to assure him that it tasted good.

“If you move in here, I’ll promise to never bake again,” he said.

And I laughed and we left the cake uneaten on our plates. And years later, when I searched through empty cabinets and the city outside was dying and Rahul was gone, I thought of the cake. I could taste it in my mouth. Sweet and rich.

  

I found Anna again not long before her death. She was living on the street at that point, unable or unwilling to go back to the house where her husband died.

“He kept saying that he could see God. That God was a fish with sharp teeth,” she said to me one night after she came to live with me. “Like one of those Angler fish. God as some ugly-ass creature down at the bottom of the sea. That’s all he talked about toward the end.”

I didn’t know what to say.

Some nights Anna would climb into bed beside me. She slept in fitful bursts, whimpering sometimes and I would shake out of sleep thinking she was crying. It was only dreams, though. Probably nightmares.

  

It was almost three years after the plague began when I found what I needed. I moved steadily, unable to stay still. Loss hung over every place I went. I’d seen the man collapse along the side of the road and I went to him.

I poured some water into his mouth, hoping it was just the heat. But he pushed my hand away. “Too late for that, darling. I’m a goner.”

“How long have you been sick?” I asked.

“A week or so, longer than most get to stay.” He smiled. “Why are you out here?”

“I heard about a place near here,” I said. I wasn’t sure how much to say. I had grown cautious, grown to be someone who didn’t show their cards until I was sure.

A look passed over the man’s face, like he’d been looking for something in a crossword puzzle and then the answer had revealed itself. “The lake is real you know.”

“What?” I asked, studying the man’s face. He looked kind, like he was someone’s grandfather. The kind who’d keep coins in his pocket, just so that he could do the trick where he made one appear from behind an ear.

“To the North. Not far. That’s where the lab is. Isn’t that what you’re looking for?” He asked.

“How do you know?”

“Everyone’s looking for someone.” He frowned, pausing. “No something. That’s the saying, right?”

“But, how do you know about the lab?”

“I was there once, before all of this. Worked there. Sometimes, I go back and I watch them. From a distance. I never liked being locked away, though I think I see their point now.” He tapped his sweaty forehead. “Once you go in, they don’t let you out, though. Keep a strict eye. They want to keep everyone safe. They’ll have the cure soon. Maybe, even, they already do.” He smiled, again. Not happy but not sad either. Wistful maybe would be the best word to describe the expression on his face. I wondered if he was hallucinating. I found I didn’t care.

  

After Anna, I fled the city. Cars still went aways, if you knew what to do. I drove north because I didn’t know where else to go. Some nights I still dreamed of him coming back, but mostly I nightmared that he was dead. He died in so many ways in my dreams: killed by a looter along the road, of the sickness, of exhaustion. Sometimes, even, he’d die in the most normal pre-plague ways: car accident, cancer, slipping in the shower.

I drove until the car gave out. I passed graffiti-covered stores: It comes for us all, one store window stated in red paint. I passed the dead in piles and cars abandoned.

When the car finally stuttered to a stop, I got out and began walking. I wondered if I’d simply walk until I stopped.

  

The man gave me directions, as best as he could, between coughs, as his fever began to rise. His words began to lose meaning, but I had enough. In his moment of clarity, he looked at me and said, “my mother used to sing me that song. The one about sunshine.”

I sat next to him as he died. I sang, “the other night dear, while I lay sleeping, I dreamt I held you in my arms.”

My voice cracked, too long without singing. The words felt sharp, like a bruise being pressed. The man drifted into nothing. He was the most peaceful one I’d ever seen at the end.

  

“Look at this,” Rahul said. He stared into one of the tanks in his office. There were so many water plants, he was always adding new ones. I walked up next to him, leaned to stare into the tank. He pointed at a tendril of a green grass-like plant.

“What am I looking at?” I asked. “Isn’t it just water celery?”

He smiled. “Yes, but, it’s doing so much and we can’t even see it. Think of water, think of these systems set up naturally: everything working with everything else. It purifies the water, filters sediment, feeds the fauna. And it didn’t have to be engineered to do that, taught to do it. It just does it. What miracles the world has wrought.”

“How long have you been staring into this tank?” I asked, laughing.

He slipped an arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him. “When we’re old together, and we’re retired, and living somewhere warm, let’s fill a pond with life: fish, frogs, all the water plants of my heart’s desire. What do you say?”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to imagine us old. A life behind us instead of ahead of us. But I liked the thought of staring into water, of the sun glinting off of it, of Rahul dipping his fingers into the pond and splashing me. “Okay.”

  

The walk was long. It took me days and then I stumbled into a clearing and there was the lake. It was beautiful in the half-light of the rising sun.

For a moment, or maybe much longer, I just stood there. I breathed in the catalpa-scented air. I studied the water. The algae was algae: green and tendrily, but just algae.

Finally, I walked up to the surface. I bent down and touched the water. It was warm. I took off my shoes and stripped out of my pants and shirt. Stepping into the water, it felt like a nice bath, like comfort.

I walked in up to my shoulders. The algae smelled almost sweet up close. I dunked under the water, let my body still. I kept my eyes closed. It was just the dark and me. I couldn’t hear anything.

Then something. Someone calling out. Muffled, way above the deep, the sound filtered down to me. Even in the darkest, I could still hear life.

Chloe N. Clark’s poems and fiction appear in Booth, Glass, Hobart, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph, writes for Nerds of a Feather, and teaches at Iowa State University. Her debut chapbook, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is out from Finishing Line Press and she can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.

 

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Khalypso

Women Are Easy To Love (Over The Internet)

& here i am again, slicing the corners
of my mouth, chasing the shame out.

here i am again, exposing my lack of unlearn
for fear, for the hot nights we share—sweet as
a bakery’s frosted walls—just to wake up
strangers & sticky & questioning.

let my hand go! i told you about that shit.
what if i come home and my mother sees
you     glimmering, audacious and honest,
on my skin? what if i enter your heart, a

pulsing persimmon-lipped lout & leave
it, a ghost? what of us then, huh?

tell you what! we shall marry & then
all shall answer itself. i will carry you
on my washboard shoulders, swiveling

my cracked face to kiss your honeyed thighs.
you will grip a tuft of summer hair for stability,
and trade the lemons we picked from

the pear trees for the black treacle cacti
the village boys toss between each other when
they would like to say what they dare not.

you will cook. i will support us. we will ride off
into a horizon of possibilities, swapping affection

for eternity. all will be well & far away & safe.

  

Jack Fumbles The Egg And It Splits Clean Open

you should not dangle things
in front of my face

my poverty does not make me special

i am hungry for shine too

i’ve becomes the boys i’ve mocked

dead & unkempt hair—a couple
curly locks escaping the tedium
of underwhelm

the places the oil touches

mysterious wrists—unseen &
boneless & twitching with fresh
red sandstone. grated & open.

dramatic assertions—greetings &
absurd happinesses. everything

archived in my fingertips. it’s a
pulseless, silent wailing distortion.

a disappointment and a prayer.
it’s terrifying. a nightmare.

  

You Really Seem To Think I’ll Miss You

and that’s true, kind of.

but never more than
the sound of my own voice.

never more than giving
all the things i love
about myself to a
more deserving husk.

once
i shouted down
an entire battalion of
carnivorous orchids.

they were like you—beautiful
& presumptuous

& arrogant

thinking
that because they
were pretty i would not
blow my indulgent breath until
they were but stem and root.

how do you think that turned out?

didn’t you ask me
why the summer field
was greenless & naked
as we drove by it?

Khalypso is a Sacramento-based activist, actor, and poet. They are fat, black, neurodivergent, queer, and an agender badass. Their work can be found in Francis HouseRigorous JournalBlood Orange Review, and Shade Journal, as well as a few others. Their chapbook, THE HOTTENTOT LIGHTS THE GAS HERSELF, was a runner up for the 2018 Two Sylvias Chapbook Prize. They are the 2019 Sacramento Youth Poet Laureate, a Leo-Virgo cusp, in need of more friends, and you can find them on Twitter at KhalypsoThePoet. If you’d like to support their work and efforts in activism and poetry, you can Paypal them here.

 

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Chaun Ballard

How We Are Made To Feel Small

I remember the feeling I had after September 11th, after seeing
a photo of Michael Jordan watching the footage of two buildings,
two planes, two worlds colliding into a mess of ash and rebar.
I remember it like the first time I relearned I was black:
It was summer of ‘91; I was ten. I was running through the apartment
complex looking for bad guys to fake shoot with my plastic gun.
I was Bruce Willis. The apartment complex was a scene
from Die Hard. I remember the feel of wind as it caught my shirt,
how safe it must have felt there, how my lungs trusted it, filled themselves
with it. My legs, cutting through it like propellers on a plane,
like spokes on the bike I did not need to apprehend my suspects.
I had a plastic gun, a fake badge. Together they were truth. Truth
was what they taught in primary school. Truth was when they asked us
what we wanted to be, and some answered president, fireman, police
officer. I never wanted to be president or a fireman, that’s the truth.
I wanted to be John McClane. I wanted to be Bruce Willis in a scene
from Die Hard. I wanted to save the city and sum up the day
in a catchphrase: Yippee-ki-yay, motha—before my mother called me
home. Outside LeBron James’ LA home, someone spray-painted
the n-word on his gate. LeBron’s response was, No matter how
much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how
many people admire you, being black in America is tough
. It was summer
of ‘91 when I learned this truth. Some truths are hard. Some truths are not
whole truths. Like the day my teacher invited the officer into our class-
room and told us his job was to protect and serve us. We believed her
because she was our teacher. We believed her because he stood there,
ten feet tall. I was ten when the officer stopped me, ten
when they stopped Rodney King. Wind was still filling my shirt,
my legs: propellers on a plane before he brought me to a full stop—
before he examined my plastic gun, before You better spray-paint an orange
tip on that
, before I almost shot you. My junior year in university,
a far cry from California, my Texas teammates banged on my door,
yelling, Turn on your TV, turn on your TV. What I saw was like the rebirth
of a phoenix un-ashing—afterwards, Michael Jordan (some basketball player’s
LeBron James today) staring into a TV screen, small, like the rest of us.
The summer of ‘91 was the summer I stopped carrying a fake badge
and plastic gun. It was the summer I stopped believing I was Bruce Willis.
It was the summer we turned on our TV screens to find Rodney King
clubbed into asphalt. It was a hard truth to come by, a hard truth to be woken to,
like the scene of a black child staring into the business end
of what I want to believe is a cruel joke—

 

How To Make The World Beautiful

Take the scent
of a chalk-lined morning.
Sift it into grains.
Grind them into people:
bring them back.
Stuff them in your pocket
when no one is looking.
Keep them on your person
(at all times).
Dig a hole in the dirt
when it is known
a village resides
at your hip.
Unname them
forgotten—
call them
gardens,
watch them grow.

Chaun Ballard was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and San Bernardino, California. His poems
have appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Chiron Review, Columbia Poetry
Review
, Frontier Poetry, International Poetry Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Rattle, and
other literary magazines. His work has received nominations for both Best of the Net and a
Pushcart Prize.

 

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Michael Pagán

Why I Can Understand Thanos’ Quest for the Infinity Gauntlet

“No one on Titan – be it you, our mother, or our father – understands who I am, Eros.” ~ Thanos (Earth-616)

Imagine if you knew you were
                                             a direct descendent
of the Eternals?
                              Yet despite this, you were labeled
a Deviant?
                               “To turn aside.”
Alienated,
                           while your younger
(White, apple-polished, classically handsome)
                              brother
is fawned over,
                                            but not you.
Their eyes preoccupied by everything
                                            other than knowing about
your emptinesses. //

Then she came,
                                 Death.
“That’s a feeling,” she says,
                                                        sounding like dreams
printed on card stock.
                 “Come stay with me,” she says.
“Stay with me like
                                               a long-distance train.”
This is what she tells
                                                   you
& you were both so
              in love
                                           then.
It makes one unafraid
                                           to die.
She reminds you
                                           of your birth name
& how it means:
                                    “Undying.”
How we all love
                                to believe
that no words matter.
                                         How we slightly rearrange them
with care,
                     in hopes of protecting our bodies from
the splashing mud & rocks
                               kicked up
& yet
                                     when the time comes to try & forget
reality, all we tend to remember
                                                                 is just the words. //

These treacheries of
                                           the body & how
the world, with its crowded
                                               rules, test the logic
of the body;
                               the body, which is
supposed to be a safe house,
                                                                now replaced by
something else:
                                  your skin, where they
only see darkness.
               Where they only see a dark room half-
filled with furniture,
                            a dark, bulging, throat-swallowing
of a room,
                      walls swallowing in big
swallows, in-retaliation
                                          swallows with
mouthfuls of appetite
                                        in the shapes of shadows,
shadows that do not smile
                                                     because they know too much
of the world.
                                Because you see everything when
the world never wants
                                               to see you. //

She tells you she knows.
                                                  “I know,” she says.
How your skin was designed
                                                          to capture & absorb all
the cosmic energies
                                          of the universe, all shining
& suffering.
                         She tells you about the imbalance in the fabric
of the universe: how there had always been
                                                                                        more people alive
than had ever died up to that point
(though you disagree)
                                            & how she’d like you to balance it
since it was she
                               who gave back to you
your life &
                       it was she who told you
about the gauntlet & its power
                                                               to make you a God.
“Love me,” she says. //

& how can anyone possibly resist
                                                                     something so powerful?
If Captain America’s shield
                                                                  can’t hurt you,
nor Thor’s hammer,
                                              nor Wolverine’s
adamantium claws, nor
                                              the Hulk’s brute strength;
if Tony Stark’s money can’t
                                                             just be thrown at you
until you’ve been grounded
                                                             down into dust
then a bullet can’t kill you
                                                             either.
Death now becomes a way
                                                             for you
to have more space
                                         to live. //

Unfortunately, we spend so much
                                               of our lives

chasing
                 death,
                                never realizing
                                                               that it was actually us
who gave birth to it.

The first time I watched Mami put on her peluca: A play in 3 acts

I
[She jokes: “At least I won’t have to show my dirty grey hairs
to the world anymore. & I can also stop thinking about men
]

& I ain’t know any better [Don’t use ain’t. No seas tonto, she says to me]
I didn’t know how vital a mother’s hair would be            years later
to a child’s memory      Which explains why I can’t          remember it
anymore          Just that cheap fucking plastic oscillating fan’s swinging back
& forth clicking its tongue like them schoolgirls on the block        distracting
the silence [Mami always wishing past the silence] of our single bathroom
because our apartment was always ¾ my mother       while the rest was everything else
we didn’t care about        like everything our bodies take for granted
like gravity & atmosphere & oxygen & body temperatures            & bones
All things once considered problems       by us          that needed to be
solved        forgetting there were still moving images of          our bodies living
across these walls         piece by piece            [“Bones without memory are
nothing more than bones hiding in the filthy corners of flesh,” she say
s]
& all we ever had to do          was just place          our hands up
against them & trace their outlines          before writing:
I can no longer see the fear in my breathing

II
[She slaps me after laughing at how her bald head resembles
a cheap, white opal ring. Her fingers are loud
]

[Quieres mas? She asks, thumbing her knuckles]      & she had no reason to defend
herself         she was woman still       even though part of her ancestry was gone
with her hair      the peluca lying at the edge of the sink looking      dead &
I wondered if I knocked it over      would it just float down to the ground?
[Questions are their own prisons, she says]
Wondered if I stole it & buried it in some secret place       would someone hundreds
of years from now think:      This      is from a woman who once lived       Who once
moved the way a dancer’s shadow moves inside a spotlight           while protesting her
death at every step       Who built things      Who healed      Who forgave       Our
very own bronze anthropomorphic god      Eyes like islands of explosion
though her last name was always      shorter than the island it came from     Tongue
her own mango tree      She who filled the roots out of everyone’s      lives
cojonuda enough to tell      God himself      to take his elbows
off el maldito table carajó!       & he’d obey        & smile because he’d already stolen
enough wick         & could no longer give it back.

III
[“Let me just put my hands on you,” she says. “Let me feel your pulse,
since we can no longer trust our mouths nor our memories
]

because the only things      we      really know are our mouths      & how
they only count       for us       For our yesterdays      For our tomorrows      For
that place where we get a chance to see     who we are     who we’ve never seen
before but always knew      was there all along     Waiting alone      Those same
hands that once shoed my naked feet      Her voice that tiny hotel:
“Dios te bendiga, mijo,” she always said       Are we all so predictable?       The way
we all crumble       in the exact same way?

[She places her hand inside my palm. & that’s when I notice the white ring
of skin around her finger after she’d pawned her wedding ring for rent money
]

“Mijo, men can’t live anywhere they only visit,” she said      “We’ll fix these things
after, but for the time being       just be       quiet now”      though it was all a lie
like a grave        just to keep me      here      standing like a scar      waiting
for the time after      her        where I’m left to only love a small, half-eaten piece
of when.

ghosts

In the United States in 1944, an experiment was conducted on forty newborn infants to see if they could survive without any affection or physical contact.
The experiment only lasted four months. By that time, half the babies had given up and died.

it’s strange. i think i see                   him
on the street.        sometimes.            even if i know
it’s         not him. but still.
i picture him.      with his gold anchor
chain      & all of that god         in his face
all of that          god         in his shoulders. all
of that         god       within the contours of his chest.
all of that          god-given talent         but couldn’t
make up for all that           emptiness        in his
guts.        hollower            than a winter rain
barrel.

even still.            i want to              talk to him.
about fathers          & sons           & how filthy
fathers can be             as gods         to their sons
& how we love them          still. because
the freedom to be        cruel           is one of man’s
uncontested freedoms.

///

when are you supposed to confess to someone that you’re haunted? should you tell them at all? in america, some states require a seller to disclose if their property has been “psychologically” or “paranormally impacted” in some way. but what if your scars originate from even before? before time’s arrow began its run? what if they began before america? before your time even knew of america? or does time move so fast that it eventually, inevitably, overtakes you? & we always the slower runners? always running. even though we’re free to run anywhere else? even if we’re not actually free? we still run to meet each other to deliver gifts. because no one digs out the dead unless they personally knew them from before.

///

which is why i feel the need to confess. why I came
here to confess: a need to ask questions. a need
to fuel dreams. you were television to me before
television when television was just a chair framed
by the light of an open window where wishes were
being made. where i held my tiny fingers high up
against that light like rye-colored knobs glad to be
alive. eyes squinted just enough to keep away the world.
turning that light into strings as if to say “i hope.”
& that’s how you ultimately taught me how foolish
i’ve been. not knowing at the time that loving you
was nothing more than the exuberance found in
the middle of “can’t seem to love.”

 

Born and raised in Miami, FL, Michael J Pagán spent four years (1999-2003) in the United States Navy before (hastily) running back to college during the spring of 2004. He currently resides in Lake Worth, FL, with his wife and two daughters where he continues to work on his poetry, short fiction and nonfiction. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University’s Creative Writing M.F.A. program, he keeps a running history of his published work at his blog, The Elevator Room Company, as well as across social media. He is also a co-founder of 100 Miles & Running – A Collective.

 

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Sara J. Grossman

House of Body

Girl, the ends of you
are dramatic—:

Listen, I’m not trying to be rude
but can I ask does it hurt?

It must be so hard to do
normal things, you know?

Girl, you’re so strong,
Girl, can I touch it?

Ok

watergrain
pacific-bleeding heart
rivulet               runnet                  driftwood tideway
body was all about the deadwood, bog—


shudder hour       nocturne of soot

arson of fawn lilies
bog of rust              hemlock cock
of another’s guilt and nettle—

in the backland, body wades half-sunken in the loam
radiated, limbless

where do you go, my one
now love, dressed
in throngs of bitter rock
to the empty station?

SCENE:

In a bikini
at a pool party

everyone will love you, Girl
Girl, you’re an inspiration

Girl, the broken
Girl
[hide the body]

nothing was said
to happen:

the boundaries of body were escaping
in lowlands unaware
so that the modest of lines would crumble fairly
without thought

weather of abundant appendages
I was never this remote:

how
The House
crumbles
for lack—

Sara J. Grossman’s poems and essays have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Verse Daily, Guernica, Louisville Review, Omniverse, American Literature, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Hedgebrook, The MacDowell Colony, and the Smithsonian. Her first book of poems, Let the House of Body Fall, will be published by New Issues Poetry & Prose, Fall 2018. She is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Bryn Mawr College and lives in Philadelphia.

 

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