Caitlin Cowan


gown the tremoctopus gathers
around her in the sea’s dark. Iridescent,
and for once it’s the perfect word: her skirt
glows like a burning opal. She delights
in herself, six sinuous feet long. Her mate:
a walnut-sized afterthought whose arms
aren’t long enough to hold her down,
unlike some males of some species.
She does as she likes, posing for deep sea
paparazzi once every few years. Her mystery
makes each tentacle shimmer: a magic eye
painting that resists every shape
you long to see. Smart as a whip,
she’ll rip an arm from a man
o’ war: her clever weapon. Look
but don’t touch unless I ask, in which case
please. Touch me like a watercolor
that still isn’t dry. I contain everything
I’ll ever need. And if not the rainbow
blanket octopus, let me live again
inside a question: not why does she exist
but why are we built for beauty. What
is her purpose, they’ll wonder. And I’ll blink
the moon-white coins of my eyes.



The fire has a woman’s face:
holds it in its liquid teeth. Tangerine:

it wrinkles into ember, into anecdote,
as it will someday or already has.

The fire needs constant tending,
starved for transformation.

What does your tattoo say? asks every man
who burns his body into my bed.

The fire leaves its own mark, an altar
of what was joy: ash and memory.

Like men, a good one needs less tending,
has tinder enough to last. It says

the fire lives inside me, in words,
in what has come before.
If you let me

share your heat, I’ll scorch you. Smoldering,
ready: every kiss is wild as gasoline.

The fire dies down. I blow it back to life
or try, like my women have always done.

That’s cool, the man says, not knowing how hot
I run. Wand in hand, I can’t quit prodding

the fire: the warmth of two fools,
booze-blazed on what might be. Like the magazines

I feed the flames, good love catches quick
in a woman’s hearth. I remembered

the fire is all I am,
I don’t say. Out of the ash
they’ll pull me, dry brush gripped in my hands.



They’ve invented a dress
that holds the heat of unwanted
touch, men’s hands fingerpainting
our hips and cruel breasts. Beautiful,

and not enough. We can’t stop
our fear by seeing it: the spider
tests the lucid walls of its prison.
We are fools to think we’ve solved
its grasp, its ceaseless hunting,
if we don’t end it while we can.

When you live alone, you have to kill
the bugs yourself. Helping hands
are hard to come by. But it’s in there.
And it’s so, so hungry.


Born and raised in the Midwest, Caitlin Cowan’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Pleiades, SmokeLong Quarterly, Entropy, and elsewhere. A finalist for the Levis Prize in Poetry and the BOAAT Book Prize, she has won the Littoral Press Poetry Prize, the Mississippi Review Prize, and a Hopwood Award. She holds a PhD in English and has taught writing at the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University, and Interlochen Center for the Arts, and serves as the Director of International Tours at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Find her at




Cassandra J. Bruner

What Swanplume Boy, through the Stall Floor,
                                       Hears the Chorus from THE SOIL

THE SOIL,                             Before we even knew how to pronounce murder, we wept over Abel’s stonebit
RAIN-GLOSSED                   corpse. Our aquifers, even now, kiss his bones to opaldust. Trust we will sound
                                                 the same lament, build the same plumdark for you.

                                                                They’ve plucked my feathers to famine. How now will he preen

THE HAWKMOTH              Hived in plagued heifers, we read the signs inscribed across their intestinal lining,
LARVAE                                 dimlit & peeling—

                                                 We know what traceless hands are reaching for you with declawing blades. With
                                                 bladder wash. With chemical castrators.

                                                                   me to a mockpearl crest, taste & know

THE LOCUSTS                      Listen, we understand. Though coated with an asphyxiating foam, we still eat
TRANSLATING                      the silver underfuzz of leaf–
MICE                                        Understand fault lies not with desire & its objects, but rather with its intercessors,
                                                   hiding behind their padlocked crucifixes.

                                                                     the scar beneath shaped like a libation bowl

THE LYNX CUB,                     Some of you will die & be the bioluminescent stalks lining the country roads of
UNMOTHERED                      Sheol.

                                                                       emptying? I don’t know if he is.
                                                                                                                                 Closeaway, a dilation of time careens

THE WILD                                 Others will survive & be its unlanterned gatekeepers. Memory, a garter of molten
BLACK ROSES                          thorns pressed to your lips.

                                                                          through a mother’s car window, like a fruit of gods already weaned

THE STRANDS                          Remember how–come scythe, combine, or atrazine— we always reclaimed the
OF GOLDENROD                      prairies & hillsides. How we flashed our bare necks before the blades.

                                                                            worthless. She looks back & the minutes slow

THE HAWKMOTH                    It is already too late, forgive us. We have beheld the self described Perseuses
LARVAE                                       astride their carbonfiber carriages.

                                                                              to the stillbeat of a hummingbird her child holds,

THE LOCUSTS                          Already, forgive us, they’re delousing a bat-winged boy’s hide & power-washing
& NECK-SNAPPED                   his wings.
                                                                                wingbroke. Before the coming month of softsplint & birdfeed,

THE LYNX CUB,                        Already men in another room are heating the pliers, forgive us.
                                                                                a passing truck casts light over her beak

THE WILD                                  [Silent, corollas closed to the wind, they shudder.]
                                                                                 in the faint line of a grin.

THE STRANDS                          The prophets are whiskeydrunk & sleeping it off in the attic. The season of feast,
OF GOLDENROD                      forgive us, has ended.

                                                                                 Tell me, is the way I keep inventing lives a sin?

THE SOIL,                                    Forgive us, we must’ve not shattered our tectonic bones loudly enough, often
FLASH-FLOODING                    enough. Every warning, gone unheard—

                                                                                  Is each one, all rose-filigreed & streaked

ALL                                                O pleasure-nocked, O ensnared, O soonwidow—forgive us.

                                                                                   with sun, erasing the memory of him as it creaks
                                                                                   through? As if you might, or even could, remember his name, I listen


Swanplume boy’s testaments

Month 1, Day 7                   I’ve kept to ritual. Pruned the newborn tufts & shafts before even
                                                light can bear witness. & in witness,

Month 0, Hour 2                When I’m returned home, my mother keeps her hand, cane handle, silkspool
                                                tether tightened to me. Through tarslow, insomniac hours. She didn’t
                                                know my absence, nor the presences contained
                                                within. We’re both
                                                caught, then, in cocoons of silence.

Month 1, Day 7.5                 Sometimes, the puckered flaps of skin look like open mouths. Soundless, singing.
                                                 Throats stuck, protracted, on a stolen word—

Month -2, Day -19               The marsh harrier femme beside me has stopped talking.
Month 4, Day 14                  At the county lilac gardens, I saw the love who fled. He turned
                                                 away. A tiny bulge of muscle in his back, raised &
                                                 twitching, contained hours of conversation.

Month 13, Day 28                I walk into winter alone.
                                                 If I speak, the neighboring forests
                                                 could write answers into my fogged breath, their chill around my exposed

Month -2, Day -19.5            Unlit & picking at the moss clothing the baseboards, I consider
                                                  a folktale my mother once respun. Of a girl who escapes
                                                  her king-father’s advances by pasting & stitching
                                                  the sopping hides of animals over
                                                  her body, unseen. What

                                                  devices, what dresses will I need?

Month 0, Hour 4.5               Our bodies
                                                  have formed a parabola of unsaid I’m sorrys. Neither of us can see
                                                  the end.

Month 37, Day 17                 Name me the tendon threading spirit and body.
                                                  I’m done singing them as two,

Month -2, Day -19.45          Stillwind years in wilderness. The girl, gone foxish, dwells by a lake till
                                                  hunters encircle, march her to the country where she peels
                                                  off skins till nerves leaf with memory. Then

                                                  marriage & the promise of forever-soft
                                                  copper, kind aristocracy. Of romance dreamt in fresco.

Month 4, Day 15                    I lied in half. I saw my ex when—before breath, before thought—
                                                  he spilled out my petname. A river, opening
                                                  on bare heights.

Month 13, Day 29                 Overnight camped beside the creekmouth. The point it feeds into
                                                  an unnamed lake. Its stillness a falsehood. Beneath
                                                  its thin transparent pane, schools of minnows circling around &

                                                  around the skull of a snapping-turtle. Alert, waiting.

Month 37, Day 20                 Funny how I’ve kept to this record, this practice of promising

Month -2, Day -19.4            Two weddings. Two runaways. A cloak of furs
                                                  & a handful of shorn quills. Why do so many narratives require these
                                                  cold symmetries?

Month 14, Day 30                 Outside my tent—a male marsh harrier wearing formel plumage. Small. Outside
                                                   my tent, bones which house all names. As it pecks away a snow hare,
                                                   the men passing above pay no mind.

Month 0, Hour 5                   Quilt, an illusion of safety. A resolution with no arc. Meanwhile morning deepens
                                                  its pockets. So I tell her a story. One she knows. & outside—
                                                  crickets, or are these thrushes now?


Noli me tangere

written as A., in memory

Say     because a man pressed her against a longhorn skull

                                            Say     then after    the surrounding acres mulched

                silent     Say       she was only a runaway     a girl

                                                       with a head full                     of thistles & hornets–

        Each rumor    a shorthand eulogy   siphoning my breath

                                / /

        St. Teresa envisioned God as the sweetness
                                of excessive pain                 a tongue of sun
                    whisking along every nerve–

What is desire but faith made flesh?

                                One body rising to another                 a mouth
                                                                        contracting in worship–

            how         stunt cock lashed around my waist                     I straddle
                                                                                             a man who again & again
                                        moans for his god.     Even Christ

                                                       felt the alure of Lucifer’s hips
                after forty days of caressing sagebrush
                             & whispering to locusts.                     Didn’t my father

                                    ache too, as he rubbed perfume into my mother’s wrists,
                                                                zeroed by illness–

                                / /

To long after         the dead is to long

            for the divine–                                     For a touch

                            which fills all absences or

            an absence which negates all touch

                                / /

I dream I kiss my mother back
            to life  as antlers fan from my back.

                            They snap off in a man’s belly when he yanks
              my nettled hair back.

        Upon waking                 coughs flecked with blood
a faint hoofmark at the back

                of my throat     meaning I don’t need
                                a clinic to tell me there’s no going back

All afternoon I spit a mixture of
                                                             chaw & pomegranate at the backdoors

                           of former friends                     knowing evening will find me
    curved like a switchback

                                                  on the shower floor.                 Hair whitening
in the heat     steam rising from the small of my back.

                                / /

     The gifts left at my doorstep:
                                          floral lotions    pink pastel wigs
                               bombshell push-up bras–

                    Ways to nudge the body
into its former shape       to conceal
                                        the hollows     the bone-flowering

                                         Face sagged like a bloodhound     the crust punk next door
                  hands me a choker     clasped with a thrush’s skull.     I wear it
                                                                                      till it slides lose into the well of my neck.

                                         Till my skin sheds all kindnesses.

                                / /

Don’t make me a saint—what I first say when my friend explains
she’s writing me. I know her love will cast me in stainglass,
resplendent & fragmented. Infused with roseate light &

flattened to a frail sheet. An art object. A thing to adore.
You understand? Don’t whore-with-a-golden-heart me. I liked the work.
I liked to fuck & be fucked
. What I leave unmentioned: How she only sold

her body out of abandonment, out of a need to unravel then recover.
Little icon of wreckage. How she hasn’t called in months.
When she phones again, we swap stories from the missed time—

Her sex toys, lost in transit out west. My partner’s proposal.
Her early months on estrogen & our bodies’ tandem pains, the way
she fills out as I winnow. The poem? I ask, & she admits

I’m still peeling off a few veneers. Describes layer upon layer she’s trimmed—
A pagan folktale overlaid onto mine, a girl who clothes herself
in dirt & animal hide to avert a kingdom’s gaze,

a litany of figures from my Catholic upbringing.
I’m not close enough yet she says. We’ve always comforted each other
poorly. You know I want to stay, right—more command than consolation—

but it’s not going to happen. Read to me or drop it. She starts crying,
cracks a dumb joke about how I won’t miss her handwringing.
Next call, she reads: “There’s no land left for the young & ill./

If St. Aloysius were to return, he would dissolve/into a pile of ruptured
condoms by a county road—” No—I cut her off—don’t you dare.
Don’t you dare leave me on my deathbed twice.

                                / /

            Carrying me over the bar’s threshold
my partner fantasizes about my ass         as if it weren’t
                                               twin nubs of bone.
                                       As if kisses alone don’t mean fatigue.

                                            I want her anger–
                                                                        an admission that lack flickers
                                                          through her     aching, that we’ve both
                                            cracked dry with famine.

                                            Swaying           I lean
                                      against her sternum–
                                                          an offering of air.


Cassandra J. Bruner, the 2019-2020 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow, earned her MFA from Eastern Washington University. A transfeminine poet and essayist, their writing has appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Muzzle, New England Review, Ninth Letter, Third Coast, and elsewhere. Winner of the 2019 Frost Place competition, her chapbook, The Wishbone Dress, is forthcoming from Bull City Press.




makalani bandele

after ect

august came in with the living room a killing floor.
the first day i painted the baby grand blue,
air soughed all around, an unrubbing

rubbed us all wrong. a warbler in the poplar
woodshedding second branch from the
top, a flutter about debussy. leaves didn’t catch

the light right, they didn’t twist easily in the breeze.
a courtship loud and wild in the treetops.
forecasted bach inventions dead in the center

of a ring of dope fiends. i come here every day in notes
to self-adhesive. i looked out when they closed down
the ferry to the land of intervals, there was no glow

about her through her lithe insignia. hard to anticipate her
timing in time.  she arouses in me: bouquet
of dead butterflies. at a place in my parabola, where every

instrument had its own room. my breathing played
with me. their charge and denials of discharge
chased all the clouds away that hide me from fulcrums.  
the fewer voices in the voicings, simpler.


étude op. 8, no. 2

(eight piano voicings of brutality)

skunky reefer with aspirin and whiskey chaser 
all the way home to keep bearings from winding out.

little sips of johnnie walker red on down the nice cop’s beat giggling. 

the night is philly and full of pigs’ whispers, razor promises—no good nigger.

remember april 

bloodied and splayed across whole tone scales?
civil defense sirens blaring between your shoulders, batons
 test the mettle of your skull. 

                                                          bits of face spilling onto some ground. 
this dissonant vengeance of disfigured 
back slaps, bootkicks to the ribcage, spleen, and pancreas, 

and you piss yourself. 

split-lipped, busted-eyed run 

of as much blunt force head trauma
the laws can get away with.


étude op. 11, no. 11

(last piano voicings of a monarch)

hard to keep him on the bench,
how loose are the bolts in the floor? nerves

raw as licks are rapacious, and lonely
hours between possessing all ears.

matter of fringe’s hortative verve, tempo:
chimeric. incite keys to riot out. but if he won’t come

down, don’t call the fire people who will send
the police, because they barely come to his block

even when it’s on fire. has a look in his pocket
that was through you and everything around

you, but what was actually seen was
for what it was somewhere else. heard that way,

too. a single note’s muffled thump like lone gunshot
reporting in the backwoods at night.

seminar in still after echo. incognito
between sets, vinegar-bitten air was a walk

through a wall, a heavy dose, but also spoon-
cooking, blood drawn into barrel,

the plunge that loosens all holds, all cozy, friends don’t let
friends, friends that are users and not friends.

nobody knows about the raucous all taut
and entertained, ears color struck, these black tar apparitions,

fields of mauve and fluted caps, fields of nothingness,
withdrawn, withdrawal, and further withdrawal

from the grasp most people need to hold to.
how funky are his fits of lucidity? when

little sequences of consequences conference
there is subtle curling of the right hand slightly

as awareness come back more aware
of itself gliding along a light interrogative.

not unlike a monarch that knows to float
somewhere it’s never been,

arrive eager, predisposed, only then knowing
this was the destination all along.


étude op. 15, no. 03

(four for therapy)


makalani bandele is an Affrilachian Poets and Cave Canem fellow. He has also received fellowships from the Kentucky Arts Council, Millay Colony, and Vermont Studio Center. He attends the University of Kentucky in pursuit of an MFA in Creative Writing. His work has been published in several anthologies and widely in print and online journals. Most recently work from an unpublished manuscript, under the aegis of a winged mind, appears or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Foundry, 32poems, and North American Review. hellfightin’ is his only full-length collection of poems. Find him on Instagram: @makbandele.




Teo Mungaray


for MB


I’m thinking about how light has texture: falling
on a wall, sharp, and on carpet, fuzz-edged, frayed,
as if made of snow.
                                    And snow, which appears soft,
until compacted or until melted or until examined
under the eye of a microscope to see the edges of the crystals,
which, I think, it never meant to hide. They were merely small,
like many things are: viruses, powders, gestures, words.
The snow is sharp, like the light it refracts, but each edge is so fine,
so minute, that it feels like fluff, same as how a bed of nails
doesn’t puncture the skin, the iron spikes close enough together
to bear the weight of the flesh.
                                                          Then, like needles in their casings
which appear blunt, until the spring-loaded button is pressed
and the needle jabs in. The syringe, hidden underneath the safety
of flat plastic; the snowflake, hidden behind its minisculity; the light,
cutting through panes of a window, striking the wall in slats,
hidden behind its intangibility.
                                                           I am naming things to avoid the truth,
which I hardly know myself: that a sharpness in things lives obscured
until a condition is met, like how obsidian is a stone until chipped
to a biface; or snow, soft until magnified; or light, until it burns the skin;
or a white powder, nothing until dissolved, loaded into the warm needle.


Teo Mungaray is a queer, chronically ill, latinx poet. He holds an MFA from Pacific University of Oregon and is pursuing his doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a co-founder and co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph. His poems have recently appeared in or are forthcoming from Gulf Coast, The Shade Journal, Waxwing, Sycamore Review, Drunk Monkeys, and Birdfeast. He has a cat named Lysistrata.




Sara Ryan

Look What I Have Done

I welcomed you like a hood of antlers.

like bone broke down to velvet. like growth
and the wind that raised me. in my mind,

heaven is full of animals the earth didn’t get to keep.

nice things taken away from a shrieking child
with red cheeks. the do-do. the Tasmanian tiger.

the hartebeest. the passenger pigeon. inside me:

some goddess of war. maybe she carries a bow
and arrow. maybe she is sculpted of marble.

it is Friday, and I am swallowing the sun.

the rats in my parent’s backyard are so big, so strong,
that they take the traps with them. they snap

in the night, but the yard is empty. my womanhood

hibernates in the winter. blows shrill whistles in the damp
mornings. croons the dead birds into small funerals

of feathers. I must stay calm so as to preserve my wings.

you could destroy them easily, just like that.
with the bark of a tree. with a small gun.


Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). She was the winner of the 2018 Grist Pro Forma Contest, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Booth, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountain, and others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University. See more of her work at