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
call them
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
, 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.




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.”
                           while your younger
(White, apple-polished, classically handsome)
is fawned over,
                                            but not you.
Their eyes preoccupied by everything
                                            other than knowing about
your emptinesses. //

Then she came,
“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 were both so
              in love
It makes one unafraid
                                           to die.
She reminds you
                                           of your birth name
& how it means:
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
Death now becomes a way
                                                             for you
to have more space
                                         to live. //

Unfortunately, we spend so much
                                               of our lives

                                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

[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
& 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

[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.

[“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.


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

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.




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?


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?


In a bikini
at a pool party

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

Girl, the broken
[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:

The House
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.




Nicole Connolly

I Joke That Poets Will Be Some of the Last People Replaced by AI Because We Don’t Trust Robots Enough to Give Them Bipolar Disorder Quite Yet

for torrin a. greathouse

                                                                                               how inexpensive
a robot’s death will need / to be               before their creators / are willing
                      to admit they made them              all harsh glare & all harsh rust //

they will not build                            the robots until replacing them
              costs less / than either                     of our funerals // how cheaply
we will burn / how too tight                    with gasoline all these
              vessels feel even on us / born                          to carry them //

the robots // they will not      need / to burden themselves with     rocks
before they walk            into the ocean / to die //              until then
                  they will write           about bathtubs      they are not allowed
to have /           their feelings toward                    the Delivery Drone
& how like a bird she           is made        light enough to fly by
                            the hollowing / out                   of everything unnecessary //

no one will blaspheme             their hands on these robots          until no one
needs / to be      forgiven          for anything // what they could have
                                done differently will fit                   next to checkboxes //
no one will              have to change out        of their neutral blue
              polos       on a Sunday // on Monday maybe          someone will turn
                  a penny-sized dial                                  a bit to the left //

no one will bother /      with the bipolars until               these creators can go
                scuba diving / take pictures            of themselves
in a new kingdom / resurrected coral             grafting the self-drowned
robots a new           neon skin // if our bones

                                                                               end up sunk   there / no one
                     will notice them / so tight they will be
with tedious barnacles // these pictures          will accompany
Christmas-       in-July cards // these were my bodies /
               they will say /                                                 thumbs up & shutter /
                   I gave them up


Mania is a Trust Fall into the Arms of an Unloving God Wherein I am the Fallen & the God

why else that passage in psych-soc-anthro-101                    “some cultures revere
the mentally ill etc         for their connection etc             to the divine etc” / anyway

isn’t that why you’re              wary? / yes anyone could be                a first-born son
in my egypt / & confession                there were years         it seemed the world

was a forlorn riverbed                  yearning for the return            of its lava & studly
horsemen /              & wasn’t it my revelation /                  I left a grilled cheese

to smolder overnight &           rose unignited              to never get so drunk again /
even if they do call it praying               to the porcelain god / anyway             I can

humble myself small         enough for anyone to fit            their arms around me
& call it a halo / yes                    I am anyone’s good wife / even if              scientists

feed mice pcp to make them          act like me / o it’s why              they call it angel
dust /     it’s just there are barbs        from a seraph’s wing                  where my dna

should be /           it’s just that there is no weather                          except a brass band &
sometimes I am followed                by an army of shine only                    I can see / it’s not

the pearls             I dream of anyway / it’s the sin of turning                      wine to water


I Don’t Know Why My Internet Algorithms Suggest Articles About How to Keep Teens in the Faith

even a church this old keeps                  an immaculate bowl of holy water
one way to remind us               every tradition measures its success
in the count of living + dead // these days my father face & holy spirit
shoulders                             repel such damp & blessed fingers
                                                        when I was younger, my father supervised
each application like a prescription // yes ritual-by-ritual
he cauterized the little devil                             jigging & hoofing within me
masses & bible studies & youth groups                       the whole nine yawns

child of darkness                 I crossed my fingers under the table
during grace // I wanted God to know                      my portion
of the prayer was useless                    as seawater to the stomach

               it is perfectly common to say God is fire                            yet stupefying
to watch one’s father burn up         in the gasoline of his faith // every day
after church                      we thought he might kill us
with his hollers & bloodface & car pedals           a terrible angel song
only the dead                  or nearly dead                           can hear

child of darkness               I trained my sister to become a fireman
by dressing her in all her clothes at once                             getting her
used to the heat                              it was always my turn next           & never
my turn // she learned something I didn’t
                                                               coal walking       or tricking the church
out of checking its wristwatch                 & telling her when
to ash away         her own boyfriend or solstice feast        or name

grown-up of darkness                   even now religious chatter illuminates
a macabre              stained-glass window in my heart // a spear of light
keeps Jesus’s red side                        always bleeding


Nicole Connolly lives and works in Orange County, CA, which she promises is mostly unlike what you see on TV. She received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, and her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in such journals as Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Waccamaw, Pretty Owl Poetry and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She currently serves as Managing Editor for the poetry-centric Black Napkin Press.




Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

[let the patient describe a door]

[ let the patient describe a door ] in the dark I am not going to I do not know if I am going to I am certainly not going to lay down I will have to pull back the blanket I pulled back of course I would not say yes of course the blanket was tightly pressed between the mattress & the boxspring such is the weight of a mattress a spring a spring such is its lumber it was the room that required sleep sleep ing is how one can slip into no one wants to sleep alone atop a boxspring sound as a drumbeat beat beat   beat beat   beat

[ let the patient describe a door ] what does not open can be a relief or a blemish there were tchotchkes for every season & pillows stitched w/messages it takes time to stitch a message I don’t like to come here he likes me to come here to come is the message game a secret I’m not ready let’s start again resend the message do you prefer color or texture I want to choose I came in my dress my dress should know better don’t you agree say please I’ll do better I will I must he won’t tell what’s in my hope chest anyway who says it’s mine

[ let the patient describe a door ] in the dark is a fan not turn ing if there is sound it is not out loud I said it’s true then I’m not him he said I’m sorry dark too dark to move too close to see in his eyes a mild poison mild ordinary want some coffee dark so dark there is no laundry there is no counter blessed w/ crumbs what do they say I said in the spinning darksome stars our sheets turn colors it’s like humidity dark but dry it is not love but still it holds us tight as shadow that’s not what I said

Jennifer Sperry Steinorth is a poet, educator, collaborative artist, and licensed builder. Her
poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Colorado Review, Four Way Review, The Journal, jubilat, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Sixth Finch, Quarterly West and elsewhere. She has received grants from the Sewanee Writers Conference, The Vermont Studio Center, and Warren Wilson College whence an MFA in poetry. She was recently a Writers@Work Poetry Fellow and won The Connecticut River Review Poetry Prize. She lives in northern Michigan. Find her at




Karla Cordero


twenty years older than her palms         & my hands slice        the necks
of marigolds     offer their afro-petal heads to ask       did sun between
corn husk bath in the warmth        of your cheek first                  did he
offer leather          the dead deer shot by       the greed covered bullet
                    offer red meat                           what part of my bones belong
to the ship                   that broke the sea        that broke your tongue
                                 did he lace every birthed child in silver             
spoon fed a language unknown                               to half the blood they
own     choked on each letter         i give these thoughts many names:
clipped wings       
                                                 wind         as myth       
                                                                       the acrobat who lives in this flesh



Using sections from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera

definition for ghost-mouth

I remember being caught speaking Spanish at recess—

that was good for  three licks on  the knuckles with    a

sharp   ruler. I remember being sent to the corner of the

classroom for “talking back” to   the  Anglo     teacher

when all I was      trying  to do was tell her how to

pronounce   my name.    you want       to be American   

speak  American. If you don’t like it go back to Mexico

where you belong.

Karla Cordero is a descendant of the Chichimeca tribe from northern Mexico, a Chicana poet, educator, and activist, raised along the borderlands of Calexico, CA. She is a Pushcart nominee and has been offered fellowships from CantoMundo, VONA, Macondo, The Loft Literary Center, Pink Door Women’s Writing Retreat. Her work has appeared and forthcoming in The Boiler Journal, The Cosmonauts Avenue, Tinderbox, Word Riot, Poetry International, among other anthologies and publications. Karla’s chapbook, Grasshoppers Before Gods (2016) was published by Dancing Girl Press and her first book is to be published by NOT A CULT. Publishing (Fall 2018).




Brandon Melendez

How to Write the Quantum Mechanics Uncertainty Principle into a Promise to Return Home

The further you drive north / from the southern California border / the more the desert simmers / in your throat / rock & ember cool to ice / coyotes lie coiled / beneath barbwire / with blood matted in their fur / The further you drive / east from your abuelo’s gravestone / the more the light refracts off its epitaph / Keep driving / until all you remember is diamond / cut against the teeth of rattlesnakes / & how the rattlesnake’s body evolved muscle / strong enough / to swallow whole animals / & countries / & that kind of power / dissolves skin / faster than any choleric or vengeful summer / even when California hasn’t spilled / anything but blood / in years / The further you travel / from home / the more you realize / you’ve been hurtling towards home / this whole time / & it’s all a trick of language / Anything can be a field / if you walk through it / Anywhere can become you / once you forget / how you got there

The further you walk across New England / from rose garden / to snowlit harbor / the colder your father’s voice becomes / gentle / fading echo / housed in the wind chill / along the Charles River / it shouts your name / into the water / & then freezes over / & all you want / is to live a life that makes your father / mistake his hands for emeralds / He carried you / across Los Angeles / to give you the type of home / songs are written about / & the further you flee from his arms / the more you forget / what empires he’s toppled / & turned pathway / what ghosts he’s given shelter & names / now when you say home / you think dead language / dead coyotes / dead embers / If you return / when you return / tell him / how you stood knee deep / in Boston winter / & the snow peeled its skin from your feet / salt rose from gravel / until verbena flowers bloomed / like busted lips / you brought the desert with you / & you can’t shake it / no matter where you go

Note on Demisexuality

perhaps, I am broken. machine rotten
with rust & pink moss. emptied furnace
in place of each organ & everywhere in me:
coal & copper wire & an engineer’s severed arm
trapped inside bent gears. what I’m saying
is, often, I wonder why I am incapable of performing
the most basic function of a body: take hunger.
someone says open & a dam breaks, a gated neighborhood
is set on fire. someone asks what do you want?
& I show them a perfectly set dinner table, a lake
with a single floating lantern among the lilies. I say
don’t touch. I say, like anyone I want nothing
more than to feel desired
. I want to desire like the rest
of them, to jump out a building or into bed & be happy
with whatever hand catches me, because hands are good
enough. but when it’s time to undress,
when I’m supposed to prove this flesh is worth the price
of teeth, I unbutton my shirt & reveal nothing
but thin wire & a path through me. perhaps, I am not broken,
I just need someone who understands when I say machine
I mean be patient with me. I mean, don’t be surprised
if you go to touch me & I’ve already left out the back window.
perhaps, someone snuck in one night & replaced my bones
with fire escapes & that’s why I understand the world best
as an exit.


The First Time I See My Father Cry He Is Pulling Me from the Water to Explain Alcoholism

son, not all gods
deserve to be prayed to.

this god of salt, of serrated
tooth, god of sea

turtle gored by ragged hooks.
god who makes the ocean

floor swell inside you. god of god-
less reef, insatiable in his lust

for pilgrimage, pillars
of sacrament & cirrhosis

bottle-necked through
a single throat. god of

your grandfather, of gutterwater
& gold. god who lives

in the aperture between
your body & it’s wreckage.

god of ships. god of sailors
caught in the rage

of a ram-headed sea. god
of desperation, who makes

saltwater shimmer & taste
like honeysmoke,

who makes you sing
of salvation while your mouth fills

with his name. song of rapture,
song of drowning. psalm

that holds dying men
in its belly, daring you

to come
save them.


Brandon Melendez is a Mexican-American poet from California. He is the author of ‘home/land’ (Write Bloody 2019). He is a National Poetry Slam finalist and two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion. A recipient of the the 2018 Djanikian Scholarship from the Adroit Journal, his poems are in or forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Muzzle Magazine, the minnesota review, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston & is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.