Foliate Oak April 2019

Fiction

Stuff Like That 
By Michael Johansen

"Coat-racks!"

That was Stig talking.

"What?"

That was me.

"Coat-racks!" Stig was adamant. "We can sell 'em as coat-racks."

"Sell what as coat-racks?"

Stig was always trying to sell something as something else.

"The old hydro poles by the railway line."

"Hydro poles? They'd make pretty big coat-racks," I said.

"Not the whole thing! We take the cross pieces with all the insulators, turn 'em sideways and mount 'em on a wall. Two hundred bucks, easy. We sell loose insulators for 20 bucks a pop down in the city and add five bucks if it's still got a peg poked up its ass."

Stig had his thinking look on his face.

"You know, we could roll up the wire, 'cause there must be all copper inside them, what?"

What nothing. For once Stig's idea wasn't so stupid. He was right about the wires. There were miles and miles and miles of them alongside all the tracks. They must go right across the country. They used to turn switches and stuff like that, but the railways started using satellites instead. They let the wires go dead. They let them rot, too - just letting the poles fall down any way they like: easy pickings for a fellow like Stig.

He was right about everything else, too. I've seen myself how much people charge for old glass and that wasn't even in the city. I thought his coat-rack idea could work. Slap on a bit of paint, or call it rustic. Some'll pay good money for stuff like that.
That's how Stig got me out on snowmobile. I followed him way the hell back off the trail. I pulled a bobsled - better, he said, for the cross pieces. He had an ordinary box sled and said we'd toss the loose insulators in there. He said he'd already found a spot. We just had to follow his old tracks. The spot was perfect, he said, because none of the poles had fallen down along that stretch. They’re still fresh, he said.

He was right about that, too. There was a whole long straight row of poles and none of them were down. All the insulators looked ripe for picking, all the wires still strung between them all the way down the stretch.

"You sure they're dead?" I asked.

Stig ignored me.

We had two chainsaws with us, but Stig wanted to make the first cut. I didn't care. He said he wanted to do it just right, so we left the snowmachines down the line where the bushes would keep the railway folks from seeing them. We walked and Stig picked the pole just about in the middle and started up his saw. I stood back. He cut out a big wedge on the side where he wanted it to fall – away from the tracks – and then tramped around in the snow to make the third cut on the other side.

"Get ready!" he shouted when he was just about through, stepping back when his saw bit air.

Nothing happened.

Stig let the motor stop and then gave the pole a push. It teetered a little one way and then back, but it stayed upright. It looked like the wires were holding it there.

"We'll need to take another one down," Stig said.

Five poles later and they still wouldn't fall. I've never seen Stig so pissed off. I was thinking I should take the chainsaw away from him. He was hardly even taking any care any more, just hacking through the pole as fast as he could, no wedge or nothing. When it wouldn't go down he just cursed it and stamped to the next, attacking it like all the others. I was glad when his saw ran out of gas and sputtered off by itself. He cursed that, too, and it looked like he was going to throw it, but something caught his eye and he just cursed that instead.

"That's it," he shouted at me and pointed. "That's what's doing it: It's that tree!"

He was right again because a few poles past us there was a big tree had fallen across the lines and was pinning them down, pulling them really tight. It sure looked like what was holding our poles up and I wondered how we were going to get it off. I wanted to think about it some more, but Stig already had the answer.

"I'm going to pull that son of a bitch down," he said and stamped to where we left the snowmobiles.

He didn't say he needed me for anything so I just had a smoke. It really was a nice day – sunny and not too cold. Without the saw running I could hear birds in the trees and wind and stuff like that – and far away I'm pretty sure I heard a train. It was a good smoke.

Stig started up his machine and drove towards me along the poles he'd just cut, but then he did a little loop in the woods around me, coming out not too far from the big tree. He had me take a rope and go back to tie it as high up as I could, so he could drag it off.

It was a spruce, so it wasn't too hard to climb, especially as it was laying down pretty straight. I was still thinking about everything and I wasn't sure if his rope was good enough for the job and I was thinking he should maybe cut the tree first, before he pulled it, but I climbed up it and tied the rope and got down again and Stig never gave me a chance to say anything. I was walking back to him where he was gunning the motor and he couldn't hear me. He couldn't wait so even before I got to him he took off fast, spraying me with snow, 'cause he must have figured the faster he pulled the rope tight the easier the tree would come down.

Well, he was right about that, too, but I was right about the rope. When the rope came tight the tree kind of bounced and the snow machine bounced too and the tree came over sideways, but then the rope was tight again and it snapped. I could hear it and then I could feel it because I was right beside the rope and it wrapped around me and jerked me off my feet. I just had time to grab the rope myself so at least I'd be dragged frontwards and I yelled at Stig to stop and for once he heard me and stopped, looking back to see what I was yelling about. I rolled over onto my back so I could get the snow out of my nose. That way I could see Stig had been right about the tree holding the poles up. The tree was down and the first pole was starting to teeter, first one way and then the other, and then it started to fall. The second pole was right beside me and I knew where it was going to come down.

"Go on, drive!" I yelled. "Go on, man!"

Stig couldn't hear me though, 'cause suddenly there was this train running right alongside us and blowing its horn. Stig must have seen the poles coming down anyway because he booted it, jerking me on the end of the rope and dragging me backwards. First I was too busy to notice anything else happening because I was watching one pole after the other slam down right behind me, the coat-racks pounding themselves deep into the snow right where I'd been seconds before, but then I saw these faces staring out at me from the train windows – a few little kids with these shocked little expressions on their faces seeing me almost get clobbered by those hydro poles. I tried to give them a smile and a wave – let them know I'd be all right so they shouldn't be afraid – but Stig had come to the end of the trail and had to veer around the sled he'd left there. The rope hauled me clear into the air and then let go of me. Lucky for me I didn't hit anything except a thick drift of snow, but I sank into that pretty quick. It took me a few minutes to dig myself out. The train was gone and Stig was looking at all the poles. They'd fallen just like they were supposed to, but the wires had wrecked all the insulators, shattering them when they pulled tight and snapped.

"Barn boards," Stig said.
"What?”

"Barn boards," he repeated. "We take the broken insulators off and sell the cross pieces as barn boards. You know how much people will pay for stuff like that?”

​Michael Johansen is an award-winning Canadian author and journalist who has reported for television, radio, online and print media. He has three published books, the most recent entitled The Boy Who Walked. He is currently an editor on Indonesia's English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Post.

* * * 

The Neighborhood vs Janet
By R.F. Mechelke

I remember the day Janet and her family moved into the neighborhood as vividly as I remember the time my mother lanced my first boil. Janet, as far as looks, wasn’t all that bad. She was pretty in a plain sort of way. Certainly not off-putting in appearance.  Nor was her family a strange looking lot either. To anyone, they would look like any normal family. It was not the way she looked that was alarming. She seemed okay with her kids. At least they weren’t a brutish brood. Her husband, James, was a good sort of fellow, too. When after meeting Janet and James, no doubt everyone would walk away thinking, Geeze, how did that happen? Sympathy was a word that would seem to come to mind for James for anyone meeting Janet for the first time. Yeah, it was certainly a mystery.
 
We were a tight bunch, and we were all concerned about Janet. They moved into the second largest house on the street. Our little neighborhood was one of the older ones of the town. We took pride in our expansive trees that seem to reach toward the moon on clear, bright nights. We had a little park at the west end of the street; unfortunately buttressed up next to James and Janet’s house. The park was the place everyone in the neighborhood always ended up in the evening, where our children played dodgeball, baseball, and hide and seek, or whatever else the kids like to play. It was a wonderful place to sit on the benches along the walk that formed the perimeter of the park, sipping our iced tea and lemonades, giving advice about yard work, our kids, or anything else we cared to talk about. Together, we lived through hard times and bad times. We laughed and cried together. We cheered each other on, when it was called for, and we lent an ear or shoulder when it was needed. Like I said, we were a tight knit group.
          
Sarah and I lived in the largest house of the neighborhood near the center of the street. We had a large patio with a fire pit, where we loved to share evenings with our friends. We would sit around, opening bottles of wine, one after another, as the night air chilled our faces and the darting flames drew us all closer.

Sam, Linda’s husband, broke the silence on one of those evenings, leaning toward me, and asked. “Did you meet our new neighbors, James and Janet?”

Just hearing Janet’s name, made me visibly wince.

Sam grinned, and said, “Oh, so you have,” while lifting his cigarette to his lips and taking a long draw. I watched the embers at the end glow and fade against the black backdrop, and he let loose a cloud of smoke, and added, “Quite a lot to take in with that one, don’t you think?”

“I am not sure what to think about James’s wife. Never met anyone like her before. Do you know what I mean, Sam?”

Sam took a gulp of his wine, with his face turning a bit serious. His grayish dark hard hair and height gave Sam the appearance of authority, when in reality, he was a timid man. Maybe timid is a bit harsh. At any rate, he was not an aggressive man. I was never really sure what Linda had seen in him. Anyhow, he was a good man though. He was a lucky man, too. Linda was a real looker. But at this moment, he looked a little uncomfortable.

“You know Sam,” I said. “They will likely be here for a while. I mean really, who would want to leave? Not sure how to come to grips with that idea.”

Sam leaned back in his chair, and crossed his legs, and took another draw of his cigarette, and opened his mouth to speak, and closed it again. This was typical Sam. He took another gulp of wine, and focused his eyes on my face, with the turning down of his eyebrows, and surprised me, saying, “I don't think we have to do anything.”

At the time, I wasn’t really sure what to make of what Sam said. He may be a little hen pecked, but he’s a smart guy. What happened after that night, still has me flummoxed.
 
Sheryl, Joe’s wife, was working in her yard while their kids were in school. Janet is a stay at home mom too. Actually, now that I think about it, all of the mothers in our neighborhood were stay at home moms. Anyway, Sheryl was planting annuals along her walkway. Janet was walking what we in the neighborhood have been calling, The Beast. It was an English Mastiff, or a small bull. It was brown, with what looked like a five o’clock shadow. You could smell it coming several houses away. One could say it resembled its owner not in appearance, but in the attitude such a large animal would exude. I can see why Janet chose Ralph. When I heard its name for the first time, I thought it was a ridiculous name. Ralph? Imagine saying that name in an affectionate way or with an angered tone or just calling out that name loudly to get its attention. Anyway, back to Sheryl. There she was, minding her own business until Janet came walking by with Ralphie Boy. Sheryl apparently was startled by Ralph. Really, who wouldn’t be startled by The Beast? Anyway, Sheryl, on her knees, wearing rather short shorts, as was her way, with her rear staring Ralphie in the face. Well, The Beast yanked on the leash, and with Janet being tiny in stature, probably around 5’2”, no more than a hundred pounds, Ralphie broke free, and with beastly glee, ran at Sheryl. Ralph was running rather fast, and bumped into Sheryl, hard, overshooting the proverbial target, as they say, and trampled all of Sheryl’s recently planted flowers. Sheryl was laid out in the dirt, with skinned up knees, bleeding and stinging, when Janet ran up and grabbed Ralph’s leash. Well, with Janet being Janet, she didn’t make the matter better. As Michael tells it based on what Cindy told his wife, Julie. Sheryl ran into the house after exchanging words with Janet, and then she had the nerve to continue her walk with The Beast.
 
Michael and I stood at our shared fence in the backyard. He shook his head after he told me what happened, and I was dumbstruck with a vision in my head.

I shifted my feet, and I asked, “So, she was kneeling down on all fours?”

“That’s what Cindy told Julie. She was wearing the really short shorts she has. You know the shorts. The blue jeans pair, with the tiny, thin folded cuffs. Not only that, Cindy told Julie that Sheryl was also wearing a very flimsy, tight fitting red top.”

I kicked the fence with my foot. “Yeah, I know that top. How Joe let’s his wife outside with that top and shorts, confounds me.”

Michael looked around to see if Julie was outside, and said, “Yah, and with the way she’s built, that top must have been a sight to see.”

Michael only said what I and every other guy in the neighborhood was very much aware of.

Michael could see the smile on my face, and asked, “Are you thinking what I am thinking?”

“If you are thinking about a pool party this weekend, then yes siree, I am.”

Michael turned to the house and saw Julie outside, and called out, “Hey, hun, could you get John and me ice cold lemonades?”

Julie was trying to untangle the kids from their bickering, and looked up, when it registered what Michael said, she put on a sweet smile, and called back, “Sure, sweetheart.”

Michael turned back smiling in turn, and said, “She’s a keeper.”

When Julie returned, Michael asked Julie to make the arrangements for the pool party this coming Saturday, and to make sure to invite Joe and Sheryl. Michael gave me a sly wink.

Julie nodded, and asked, “What about our new neighbors, Janet and James?”

I tried to hide my cringing, and Michael looked at me a little confused, and I felt the need to respond on behalf of Michael, so I forced a smile, and replied, “That’s an excellent idea, Julie. I think it is time we spend more time with our new neighbors.”

As Julie walked back to the house, Michael said, “Thanks, John. I was caught off guard a little there.”

“No problem. Who knows, maybe they already have plans.”

“We can only hope”
 
The day of the pool party, Sarah was scrambling around the house trying to get the kids ready. I had to shut the door to my study, so I could read my paper in peace. Boy, raising kids is such hard work. It was a fine day. The sky was blue, and the temperature was perfect. The guys and I were really looking forward to this. Everyone was coming, including Joe and Sheryl. I was bringing all the beer, which reminded me to ask Sarah to get the coolers from the basement.

When I finished my paper, I found Sarah in the living room wrestling with Johnny trying to get his shirt and shoes on, and as she saw me walk up, she pointed to the kitchen, and I saw the coolers already laid out for me, and I said, “Thank you, sweetheart. What would I do without you?”

I loaded the coolers with the ice and beer, and placed them in the Red Ryder Wagon, and stuck my head back through the front door, “I am leaving to Michael’s. I’ll wait for you and the kids there. Bye babe.”
 
All us husbands were seated around Michael’s patio table.

“So, Joe.” I said. “We heard what happened to Sheryl. Looks like she’s doing okay.”

We all turned to watch Sheryl prepare to jump into the pool. She was wearing a violet two-piece suit, with her blonde hair up. We turned back to Joe, who produced a proud smile on his face, and he replied, “She’s doing much better. Janet had felt so bad about what happened, she came back to the house to patch Sheryl up after returning her dog home.”

Michael and I looked at each other, and I turned back to Joe.

Joe continued, “I think James and Janet should be coming soon.”

I asked, “Have you spoken much with James, being he’s your next-door neighbor?”

“James? Oh yes, very nice guy. He’s a whiz with cars. He helped me with my carburetor just last week.”

As Joe was describing how James fixed the carburetor, James and Janet walked through the fence gate unto the patio, with their kids scattering toward the pool. Janet was wearing a white one-piece, with her light brown hair down. We all stood, waiting for Michael to greet them. As Michael was making the introductions, I snuck glimpses of Janet. Michael pulled out a chair for James, and as he thanked Michael, James offered the chair to Janet and he sat in another chair next to her. All us other husbands stood there, looking at each other, not understanding what was happening, so we just sat down with James and Janet.

I offered to Janet that Sarah would get her a glass of wine, and she replied, “You know John, I would rather have one of those beers you got in the cooler next to you.”

I must say, I was surprised as hell. I fished for a beer, and as I was about to pop the cap, Janet said, “I can handle that, John. Thank you.”

Janet skillfully popped the beer open and took a nice healthy drink from the bottle. She looked around with a satisfied smile, and said, “Wow, that’s good beer. Mighty fine taste you have, John.”

Janet saw Sheryl in the pool, and said to Joe, “I’m so sorry about what Ralph did the other day. I am not good with that dog. Thank God my brother picked him up yesterday. He and his family were vacationing in Florida for the past two weeks.”

James laughed, and said, “Not a moment too soon, right Janet? That beast was driving me crazy, constantly banging into things and tipping things over.” Again, Michael and I looked at each other.

Janet continued, “Oh my God, I have to tell you guys, I wanted to murder that dog. I love my brother, but he was real close to losing his so-called best friend.”

While I felt uncomfortable with Janet there, sitting and talking with all us guys, I have to say, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Janet laughed and talked just like she was one of us, and she was nice. It was nice. And I began to talk and laugh with her. Just like I said, I liked Janet and James the moment I met them.

R.F. Mechelke holds a B.S. from Marquette University and an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University. His short story, “The Blue Line,” will be published in the April 2019 issue of the Blue Lake Review.

* * *

The Tree Line
By Josh Rank

“Go back inside!” shouted David Collins. The wind whipped the collar of his split pea soup-colored coat against his throat. “Now!” He struggled to balance the shotgun in his right hand as the dog pulled on the leash in his right.
 
But Chase didn’t move. Even after the divorce, when he withdrew into himself, when his third-grade teacher called home with her concerns over his behavior in class, when he moved to the new apartment on the other side of town with his mother, he rarely disobeyed his father. He didn’t smile much. But neither did he argue. Tonight, however, Chase stood his ground.
 
Chase knew his father’s words were hollow. They stood near the tree line at the back of the property, where the orange glow of the light attached to the side of their house became more of a suggestion.
 
Chase wasn’t comfortable in this vague area of recognition, but he had grown accustomed to it. There were plenty of things left vague in the two years since he first visited after moving with his mother, Sammy. It was a warm and sunny afternoon and he didn’t understand why it was called a “visit” when he was just going home. Sammy had been calling the apartment their new home, but that didn’t make sense. They already had a home. It was right where they left it. There was no room for a new home and nobody visits their actual home; they just go to it.
 
It was on this visit home that Chase found another confusing thing: There was a dog tied up to the tree in the front yard.
 
“Whose dog is that?” Sammy had asked David, who then turned to Chase.
 
“It’s his,” he said.
 
“Oh David you can’t just go and—” Chase’s parents walked away talking to each other like always did now, but he didn’t pay attention. He sat next to the dog he would eventually learn to be a boxer. With its skinny legs and small waist, she didn’t seem like much of an athlete, but he didn’t name the breed. The dog itself, though, he named after something else he didn’t understand. He liked the word “Brexit” from the first time he heard it while his Dad watched the news. It stuck in his head and when David told Chase he could name the dog whatever he wanted, there was no hesitation.
 
“Do you know what Brexit even is?” asked David with a rare smile on his face.
 
Chase nodded. “It’s my dog.”
 
His father grabbed him by the shoulder with one of his giant hands. “It sure is.”
 
Three years old and already housebroken, Chase didn’t concern himself with teaching Brexit tricks. Whoever had her before had taken care of the basics. The story of how she arrived at the local animal shelter was unknown, but once David heard about the adoption fair due to overcrowding, the dog was soon introduced to the boy who would spend the next two years essentially attached to her neck.
 
“Dad, please,” said Chase at the light’s edge near the tree line.
 
“She’s sick,” said David. “You know that. She’s not going to get better.”
 
Chase was supposed to be at his new home, but he couldn’t stay away. They had agreed, his parents, that this was the best course of action and that Chase shouldn’t be around. Chase didn’t agree with either point.
 
“This is what the doctor is for,” shouted Chase. Tears invaded his nose which ran into his throat and made his words soupy. “They can fix her.”
 
“We’ve talked about this, said David. “It’s too expensive for just ‘a fairly good chance.’ You don’t want her to be in pain, do you?”
 
“No!” But Chase was talking about the pain she would feel that night and not in the coming months. He noticed the way she wouldn’t always get up to greet him. Or the way she would squeak a little when she jumped down from the couch. The problem was that she couldn’t explicitly tell him how bad she felt. It was up to him to interpret her behavior and his overwhelming attachment hadn’t allowed him to entertain the thought that the best thing for her was to be gone.
 
“Chase, honey—” His mother’s voice floated on the wind behind him.
 
“Why did you bring him here? Now?” yelled David.
 
“He just…I don’t know. I’ve never seen him like this.”
 
Chase stood between his parents. His mother looked like a dark ghost. The orange light from behind drowned her face in a shadow. She stepped forward and knelt down.
 
“Chase, things don’t always make sense. It seems like they should, but they just don’t. The hard part isn’t learning this, but accepting it. It’s different.”
 
Chase turned around and watched his father lean the shotgun against a tree before leading the dog away from the tree line.
 
“She’s young,” said Sammy. “It seems like only old dogs get sick, but that’s not true. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way it is.” She looked over Chase’s head toward David.
 
“Say goodbye, Chase,” he said.
 
“No.”
 
“Chase.” His mother left his name to disappear with the orange light in the trees.
 
He sat in the grass. The dog turned toward him but didn’t move. Chase scooted forward and wrapped his arms around her neck. He said goodbye even though he didn’t understand. Even though he didn’t want to. Even though he wasn’t sure what that actually meant. Then he stood up and Sammy took him by the hand. His Dad led the dog back toward the shotgun and the tree line. His mother led him back to the house. His home. His first home.
 
It would be another ten minutes before David walked back into the house alone, but they didn’t hear him close the door because Sammy had turned the music up so loud.

Josh Rank graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and has had stories published in The Emerson Review, The Feathertale Review, Hypertext Magazine, and elsewhere. He currently eats sandwiches in Nashville, TN. More ramblings can be found at joshrank.com.

* * * 
Poetry

How I Think Up My Dead Mother
By Michael Akuchie 

she should be bigger than the framed photograph holding her
she shoukd touch me by mouthing the name with which she blessed my umbilical cord
until age 9, i always walked past the portrait nailed to the wall
turned my eyes away from the strange woman built into the parlour
until my brother's mouth started to foam with revelation
truth laced with shock installed nightmares inside this body 
i merge eyes with the only surviving ornament, break into a flood 
dust plaits my mother's face neatly as i ignore the resemblance
i climb up a stool & set her down for clearer examination
i introduce her face to my chest, draw her close enough
after school, i come home to intimate details of my day with her
i do not think my words are licked clean by empty air
i believe she hovers around my life fending off ghosts
that she is God which picks my prayers & washes me anew
that she soothes me with pretty stories till sleep takes control
that i do not have trouble bringing her inside my dreams
that she calls me son , & in so doing sets fire to the rain in my eyes
i am a boy who pools his life inside the wish pond & retrieves his mother
because i want to feel her breath's warmth pressed against my neck
because i want her scolding to tighten up childlike screwups
i rise to the rank of a ladder & replace her body on the wall
nailed once more as inglorious personal saviour to go unnoticed
this sour moment empowers a floor of tears to overrun my eyes
& i spill over the carpet sweeping emotion across the room
mother's absence visits in the grief of dreary weathers
i make the hurt fitting by choosing to unbreak my life
the bandage of this thought will heal the wound, prominent like my name

Michael Akuchie is an emerging poet from Nigeria. His work has appeared on 8poems, Kissing Dynamite, TERSE, Nitrogen House, Burning House and elsewhere. He is on Twitter as @Michael_Akuchie. He studies English at the University of Benin, Nigeria.

* * * 

Taliesin
By Amy Baskin

-“Tell everyone on this train that I love them.” - Taliesin
Namkai-Meche, Hollywood Transit Center, Green Line, Portland Oregon,
May 26, 2017.

In the seat next to you
sits a stranger,
shining brow, sweating

shirt stains evident
exhaustion palpable
like your own

for one moment, close
your eyes in trust
can you feel him

not his hands or
the side of his body
his heartsource

can you open
is your skin thin
enough

for his love
to permeate
you

could he be
your murderer? he may
have daggers within him

I have seen those who
have thrown away their souls
for nothing

could he be
your prophet? he may
be capable

I have seen those who
have given up their lives
and they are everything

Amy Baskin's recent work has appeared in VoiceCatcher, Cirque, and Friends Journal. She is a 2018 and 2016 Willamette Writers Kay Snow Poetry honorable mention recipient. When she's not writing, she matches international students at Lewis & Clark College with local volunteers to help make them feel welcome and at home during their stay.

* * *

Grown Apart
By Jordan Corley

the years are far too many
to validate my words and make
them seem any less insane
on paper than when they swirl
around inside my head,
so i'll pretend the years that've passed
are actually only weeks
and the you that i remember
is the one that lives today
 
because when years go by
and people grow up,
they change
into something different.
they become closer
to their end person
when the changing finally stops.
 
i am scared your end person
is not the same person i remember
when we were both still growing.
 
i am scared your end person
and my end person
do not fit together
with the easy we once did.
 
i am scared our persons have grown apart
over the years that have passed us by.
 
we have changed too much
to fit together, anymore.
 
an irreversible truth
that has taken me years
to accept.

Jordan Corley is a student at Penn State with a passion for the art of poetry and creative writing. She published her debut poetry collection, “battle scars”, in 2018 at the age of 19. She hopes that through her writing she can reach others dealing with physical and mental illness and spread the message that they are not alone in their fight.

* * *

You'll Know It When You Find It
By Chris Davis

I just can’t get past the grease-blacked hands.
Be nice if I could, though – be one of the family men.
My dad and brother, both holding their bologna-on-white-breads with
those same blacked hands.
Mine throbbing, jammed deep
into the cherry-red ’66 Mustang’s ribcage,
feeling for something I don’t know how to feel for.
 
Their minds turn the same gears –
cam shafts and spark plugs.
Mine on the music: Lennon (the “soft” stuff) and Hetfield (the “loud” stuff).
I ask, again, what it is I’m trying to fix,
and in one sentence:
“You’ll know it when you find it,”
My dad drains the little confidence I had left.
I toss a plea to my brother,
but my dad seals our communication:
“Let him figure it out on his own, Bryan.”
 
Face pressed against the air filter, fishing for the wrench I dropped into
its aluminum alloy muscles.
I can hear his eyes rolling.
My pounding heart echoes his tapping foot.
 
My fingers catch on a bolt, shaving a layer of skin off my knuckle.
“I think I found it!”
My dad’s reply, skeptical, rather than pleased:
“Do you think you found it, or did you find it?”
Turning the wrench, black fluid pools around my feet
in rainbows, bright as my tie-dyed shirt.
“I knew he’d screw it up. Go fix it, Bryan.”
As my brother shifts in to salvage things, I slip out,
sealing their relationship.

Chris Davis earned the title of “least prepared person to ever enter space” by NASA, farmed exotic guinea pigs in Peru, and was once bit by a goat. His interests include above-ground spelunking and writing fake bios. He recently graduated the fourth grade and owns over seven houseplants."

* * * 
​​
My Ex's Father
By James H. Duncan

casually monolithic in a Stones t-shirt
smoking on the back patio
in the haze of infinite Sunday
 
he never asked me what I saw in his daughter
he never asked me to treat her right
or get her home early, just tossed me his
keys and let me move in when she
was away at college and I was homeless,
talked humanist indulgence and
vinyl records, Long Island
summers, and when Zeppelin jumped
the shark or if they ever did
 
he bought weed off my friends
but voted Republican and traveled
with Phish and would ask me
to drive him to the supermarket
sipping a Corona in the passenger seat,
a smoke dangling from his
lips and he’d go inside and come
back with lotto tickets and a sixer while
never having put on shoes that day
 
I’d lay in my girlfriend’s bed and
when she’d come home her head would
fit right in the crook of my neck and
we’d plan out a dream house,
double-headed showers,
woodstove, a library with one of
those ladders with wheels that rolled along
the walls lined with books, and we wanted
a guest cottage for her old man
so he’d always be around, and that made
us both really happy, we’d just shut
up and stare at the ceiling, smiling
 
she loved him but I idolized him, and
I think the difference was she wanted
someone like him to always be in her life
and I wanted to be what he was so effortlessly
but I knew I’d never get there, it was out
of reach for someone so shiftless when idle
as Paul Westerberg would scream when I played my
car radio too loud fixing the taillights
with him sitting on a stack of old tires riding
my ass about my shit garage band music and
laughing, seeing me get defensive, making
me laugh too, and god damn I missed
him when it had to end, hated leaving him
behind almost as much as leaving her
but she had fucked just a few too many guys
out there in Chicago and so I had to
pack my shit car up and find somewhere
else to be until the next one came
 
when I saw his obituary a decade later
I almost reached out, but the obit
was two years old online and there
wasn’t anything else to tell her anyway
so I just drove to the supermarket without
shoes and bought a sixer of Corona
and drove to the river that night
playing early Zeppelin before
hucking the empties into the Hudson
River and hoping they made their
way to Long Island somehow,
little empty messages in bottles
sending my thanks homeward bound

James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review and the author of Nights Without Rain, Dead City Jazz, What Lies In Wait, and other collections of poetry and fiction. He also reviews indie bookshops at his blog, The Bookshop Hunter. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.

* * * 

Washed Away 2005
By Charlotte Hamrick

When a certain scent wafts on the wind,
it brings back those long summer days
- and the winter ones too -
when we all sat outside together
smoking and talking, laughing
at your stories. You were always
the funny one quick with a joke
 
and a smile, the glint of devilment
in your fathomless eyes. You beguiled
us all with your charming Cajun ways
talking about growing up on the bayou,
riding bikes in the cane fields where
you claimed you once saw a Big Foot,
how the older boys chased you
 
and hit you with brooms at Courir de Mardi Gras.
But then The Big One came and washed
us all away to Memphis, Dallas, Asheville,
and even to New York, scattered from our
ribbon cane murmurs and confidences,
our laughter and complacence. Washed away,
never to be the same again.

​Charlotte Hamrick’s poetry, prose, and photography has been published in numerous online and print journals. She is a Pushcart Prize Nominee and was a Finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize for her Creative Non-Fiction. She is Creative Nonfiction Editor for ​Barren Magazine and lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets.

* * * 
Serenade
By Jack D. Harvey

Root, poet,
in the clouds,
in the roses,
in the dirt,
root like a hog;
flog the memory
for the one forgotten lay,
for a flight of fancy,
for an open sesame
in your empty day.
 
Time flies,
a bolt of lightning
in the dark,
up-ending spike
riving mortal mast and
ship alike
and you are weary, wary;
what foam on the waves
leaves a trace?
Sunk beneath the shimmery sea
it's no use;
your muse
a muddy submarine
stuck in the deep,
a cold-hearted fish
out of favor
caught forever
in one time and place.
 
In the library
the sunshine dies on 
the western door;
little windowpanes frame
the snowy fields
in little pieces;
somewhere a faucet leaks,
a beam creaks in the attic.
Blank as the breasts of Helen,
the white walls seem to
look and listen;
the poet sits
in the gloaming
silent as the books
around him,
brooking defeat.
 
Flighty muse, artful goddess,
to your shrine
a pilgrim comes calling;
your light hurts,
your dark too
and the burnished sun
you gave me
burns still, sings
in the ruins;
an emblem of life,
a rebirth, 
a quickening.
 
Past sweet voices of angels,
past red-hot declarations
of devotion
I go like a shot;
striving for simple faith,
the intake of a divine breath,
my efforts betray me
like bad moves in games.
 
Is it enough for now?
In the reckoning
is it ever enough?
Strong hands reach
from far away;
lead me goddess,
in the hours of sleep
lean in and listen to my heart;
I am your child.

Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Bay Area Poets’ Coalition, The Antioch Review, The Piedmont Poetry Journal and a number of other on-line and in print poetry magazines. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies. 

* * * 

Three Poems by Mia Herman

When the Pregnancy Test Is Negative (AGAIN)

I want to wake him with good news--
 
tell him he’ll never sleep again
because our baby’s wail
will still be ringing in our ears
long after she turns eighteen,
 
and I want to warn him
that I must cut caffeine and alcohol
and raw fish from my diet so life
as we know it is totally over,
 
and I want just once to catch a fucking
glimpse of that mysterious glow
as I walk past
the bathroom mirror--
 
but the little blue line sends me back
to bed where I will implant myself
between the sheets and try like hell
to dream of good news.


Emergency Ultrasound
 
BabyCenter says I can expect my embryo
to be the size of a sesame seed
several weeks after conception
and I’m not sure why but I think about this
when the cramping begins and the crimson creeps
down the inside of my thigh until I finally reach
for the phone because panic has set in
and I am certain I can feel this little seed
scatter right out from under me
which I try to explain, hours later,
when the doctor is “sorry to report”
that he doesn’t see anything
on the screen and it suddenly feels
like a gust of wind has plucked me
from the ground and I am floating
away for good. 
 
What People Whisper
 
She lost the baby--
like I don’t know where it went.
Fucking stupid phrase.

Mia Herman is a writer and editor living in Queens, NY. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including the Bellevue Literary Review, F(r)iction, and Minerva Rising, and her nonfiction work earned an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Tom Howard / John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hofstra University and serves as the Creative Nonfiction Editor for F(r)iction as well as the Outreach Director for Brink Literacy Project. Follow her on Twitter @MiaMHerman. 

* * *

Two Poems by Linda Imbler

Bandaids
 
Remember when bandaids came in a tin box
instead of flimsy cardboard?
It’s as if the hurts
don’t need to be protected as much as they once were.
 
The glamour and illusion of safety
in childhood is today dispelled
 
whiskered chins
and palsied hands
offer no safekeeping
 
and the mitigation of unhappiness
is no longer a hope
 
the illusion of size to security,
shattered
 
falling is still an option,
but now it’s so much harder to get back up.


To The Dead, We Are Monotonous
 
The dead have no interest in being alive again.
 
They don’t hang out in cemeteries.
They go other places,
find more interesting locales.
 
They hold their cycle of conferences
and do all manner of deft plotting
with only their own future in mind.
 
There is no opportunistic uprising
being prepared by those gone cold
in order to wipe us out.
 
So, while the night wind croons
and we worry we will have visitations,
while our seamy superstitions
force us to light bulbs and candles
and wring our hands,
as these demonstration of our fearfulness
consumes our dark hours
 
the dearly departed stand apart,
impartial to our world.
 
They see us as monotonous.

Linda Imbler’s poetry collections include Big Questions, Little Sleep, Lost and Found, The Sea’s Secret Song, and  Pairings,,a hybrid ebook of short fiction and poetry. She is a Kansas-based Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Nominee.

* * *

Two Poems by Peycho Kanev

Afterglow
 
I had to do it—all of a sudden I had to eat the stars.
I was outside under the sky, drinking wine, eating bread--
But then, in the dark, I got things mixed up. I ate the stars.
Just when they tried to whisper something to me.
 
Then it became even darker. And I was completely alone.
Only the red drunken moon stayed with me. The empty bottle, too.
And the pain and my tears and the night. But at least I was fed.
My stomach was shining from the inside with dead time.


 So What Now?
 
Old fossil is what you are
deep inside the thin layer of rock
 
No sunshine, no wind, nothing
 
The flesh was all around you before
A heart like a hammer
 
You will never escape your rocky prison
just like us in our darkness
 
The chisels are at work under the sun
 
They are coming closer like moles
We are still blind like that
Can’t see the sun, can’t feel the wind, nothing
 
You can only wait like the stone that you are
 
We are digging our own graves
 
And very soon you will be out in the sunshine
just to die twice
 
Do not curse our curiosity
We are all made of stardust and dreams and destruction

Peycho Kanev is the author of 4 poetry collections and three chapbooks, published in the USA and Europe. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines, such as: Rattle, Poetry Quarterly, Evergreen Review, Front Porch Review, Off the Coast, The Adirondack Review, Sierra Nevada Review and many others. His new chapbook titled Under Half-Empty Heaven was published in 2018 by Grey Book Press.

* * *

Letters From My Father
By John Kaprielian 

Words were not just words
in my father’s house
they had weight
and character
and were not to be
placed on a page
thoughtlessly.
 
He thought about them
differently than I do
with a designer’s eye
not a poet’s
but
he loved them just as much.
 
Words and letters
serifs and sans
leading and kerning
bold
condensed
points and
picas
 
I was born into this.
my baby book was a
California job case.
 
When he died
his house was filled with
so many words
type books
old jobs
layouts
proofs
stats
and a bag of
wooden type
old and mildewed.
Mostly his initials –
Ws and Ks
with a smattering
of others
I guess he liked.
 
 
They used to live in his office;
a few I remember from walls or shelves
in the house where I grew up.
A tall and sleek J I always liked
rich with wood grain
sat dejected in the bottom of the bag.
 
I spent a good part of a day
cleaning my father’s letters
brushing and washing and oiling them
till they looked as I remembered them
so many years ago.
 
Despite the lack of vowels
they speak to me
murmuring stories from the past
a physical manifestation of
one of my father’s
many voices
frozen
in wood
 
backwards.

A natural history photo editor by day, John Kaprielian has been writing poetry for over 35 years. He has been published in The Five-Two Poetry Blog, Down in the Dirt, New Verse News, and Minute Magazine. He lives in Putnam County, NY with his wife, teenage son, and assorted pets.

* * * 

To a Friend Who Lost a Son
By John P. Kristofco

there is no word for it,
no noun to name the ‘person, place, or thing’
lessened by the loss of just one day;
not ‘widower’
or ‘widow’
to claim this empty space,
the wind gone from the tree,
bird sprung from branch;
the flesh embezzled from the word
to no more dwell among us,
sit across the table, on the couch,
footprints in the yard
sacrificed for memory,
an endless echo now,
north star of what might have been,
what was, what will never be
again;
this babble of the unsaid words;
something in her eyes forever changed
by  smile never to be seen,
the ears for want of voice,
hands now less for loss of just one touch,
this failure of the language one more time
as at sunrise, sunset,
the scent of rain through screens at night in spring,
this silence now in grass
along the hillside of these
rows of polished stones

John P. (Jack) Kristofco's poetry and short stories have appeared in about two hundred publications, including: Rattle, Cimarron Review, Slant, and Foliate Oak. He has published three poetry collections and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times.

* * *

Two Poems by John Leonard


Life Boats for Paper Dolls 
 
I still throw salt over my shoulder
because it makes the devil thirsty.


He drinks from an oaken bucket.
We can live our lives without him.

           *

I know an old tree in Pennsylvania.
A girl nobody saw leaned against
its moss every day after class.


She wrote in a journal while ants
crawled between her silent fingers.

The summer I turned eighteen,
she tried to hang herself from it--


the tree, not the journal.

It’s easy to get confused since
our words often feel like gallows.

           *

You never forget the first time you taste
sour milk; that feeling of time's betrayal.
 
But some things still have to be taken
on faith and not on expiration dates.


           *
 
Today, I spotted that girl at a book-
store in Duluth, Minnesota.

There is something beautiful
about rotting wood.


Divide the Days
 
A grain of sand…or whatever grabs
your attention. August started with
a gunshot, and bled into my grand-
father’s birthday.
 
On this day in history,
I stopped sending a Guatemalan child
twenty dollars every month, because
it was cutting into my beer fund.
 
               *
The Son of Sam found Jesus.
I’m still looking for my keys.
 
Divide the days between cloud
watching and watering a peace-lily
that will almost certainly die.
 
In my father’s house there were
many rooms, but only one gun cabinet.
 
Another piece of glass enters
my foot from a ballerina figurine
that was broken seven years ago.
 
My whole point being--
there’s always a little something left behind.
 

  •  

  •  

 
Joseph knew the same people I did. That’s why he fell
across the seminary gates and crawled through thorn bushes.
That’s why he swam trough all those brackish rivers.
 
It doesn’t have to make sense to feel it;
blood rising in an hour glass while my arms
erase the moon. Nobody is God enough for you!
 
Beseech me or leave a note on the fridge.
Either way, I need to be reminded to buy
milk and gather a handful of tomorrows.

John Leonard is a professor of composition and assistant editor of Twyckenham Notes, a poetry journal based out of South Bend, Indiana. His previous works have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Sheila-Na-Gig, Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Burningword Literary Journal.


* * *
 

From Bristol to London
By DS Maloalai

I'm tired - we've been
on the road since 6. it's England.
our car is rented;
we found ourselves
lucky
and got given an upgrade free.
we pace up the road,
steady as a kid eating toffees
and the motor
never slows below a groan.
at 10am
we stop for coffee - you need to pee
and I
need something hot and brown
to keep me going.
next to us in the service station
some cops are pulled in
doing the same thing.
I get nervous
the way you do around coppers
but they don't say anything
though I was drunk the night before
and would blow it
if they made me take the test.
when we pull out
they're still there,
chatting and eating their breakfast,
sitting on the bonnet of the car.
nobody's expecting any trouble;
it's Friday
and the weather continues holding fine.

DS Maolalai is a poet from Ireland who has been writing poetry for 10 years. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published by the Encircle Press, with a second forthcoming from Turas Press. He has been nominated for Best of the Web and twice for the Pushcart Prize.

* * *

A place for nowhere
By Terry Mulert

When the birds gather
in quiet places
behind the tall black trees
where rivers twist
and lose their shapes
to thirsty rising sand
tomorrow’s rain will bead
in pearls upon their
silky breasts
 
they will rise
like embers in the sky
and fly into the night
 
at the golden hour
I’ll walk alone to the path’s end
past the hole in the cottonwood
filled with darkness and air
 
clay will cake my winter boots
and I will search the flanking
cornfield’s silhouette
for shapes of sadness
planted in the dormant reeds
to feed my dreams
with evidence
and travel to another dawn.

Terry Mulert is a poet living at the base of the Manzano mountains along the Rio Grande. He has published in California Quarterly, The Madison Review, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Plainsongs (Award Poem), Texas Poetry Review: Borderlands, The Baltimore Review, The Hawai’i Review, Big Scream, The Chiron Review and others. 

* * *

Three Poems by Larry Narron

The first time I saw fireflies
 
I thought a wild animal, perhaps
Bigfoot, was blinking at us
not too far from our campsite,
squeezing his eyes shut each time
for as long as he could so
we wouldn't notice too many
sparks popping out from
the leathery slits formed                                            
by the wrinkling of their lids.
 
Even Sasquatch, I reasoned,
familiar as he must be with the trails
of Roosevelt National Park,
must worry about stumbling
blindly into the darkened
aluminum of a Weekend
Warrior slumped in a lot,
about squashing the toads
commencing their solemn
council at the door of the outhouse,
about barging in on the fragile
dreams of small children
by crushing too many
discarded beer cans
under his seven-toed feet.
 
You scoffed at the uncharted
wilderness of my mind
& tried to comfort me
by insisting there was
no such creature as Bigfoot,
that I should try not to blink
so I wouldn't miss out on
the spectacle of the lightning
bugs thumbing the wheels
of their miniature lighters,
holding them up as they relished
music only they possessed
ears small enough to perceive.

Illusionist
 
A squirrel picks
at a salad
of cigarette butts,
 
flings away
pine needle garnish,
makes a paper
 
napkin appear
like a scarf.
Then, bit by bit,
 
the scarf vanishes
into its mouth
right before my eyes.


 Icebreaker
 
I know the man who loves Cool Ranch Doritos
majored in Spanish at Swarthmore, that he was captain
of the Quidditch team there, that he led 
 
them to victory over Haverford, that he hated
all the rich kids who went to either school
& wanted to beat all their Trump-loving asses
 
with his broom, that he didn't. I know our new boss
might wear pinstripes & ties to the office,
but on weekends she likes to dress up
 
as a gargoyle, make stop-motion movies
of her prowling the rooftops of churches,
rewatch The Crow with her ex. I know
 
her ex-husband is gay, that she didn't know this
for years. No one else knows (except now we all do).
I know the janitor appreciates icebreakers
 
about as much as I do, that she roots for
the Steelers instead of the Eagles. I know
she's prediabetic, but who would've known?
 
Not even the analyst would've, who no one
would've supposed knows so much
about numerology, who gets tears in her eyes
 
when she writes down the dates of our birthdays.
I know everyone's read Harry Potter
but me, & so I have nothing to say 
                      
when they ask me, “Which house are you in?”
They tell me the icebreaker will help them decide.
Then I'll know where I belong.
 
                                                               for Olivia

Larry Narron is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Booth, The Brooklyn Review, Phoebe, Santa Clara Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, The Boiler, and elsewhere. They've been nominated for the Best of the Net and Best New Poets. Larry grew up in California

* * *

Reply
By Jonathan K. Rice

I run my hand
over the carved trunk
of a beech tree
 
my palm upon initials
within a jagged heart
 
I assume a young lover
who meant well
 
who wanted to
proclaim his love
 
who wanted it to last
at least scarred
in this forest
 
for all to see
from this trail
 
I explain to the tree,
the forest, the earth
that sustains them
 
that humans can’t
help themselves
 
we were taught
to subdue the earth
so some of us
take it to extremes
 
I apologize
 
quiet overtakes the woods,
the wind, the birds
even the insects 
 
for a moment
stillness
a silent reply

Jonathan K. Rice edited Iodine Poetry Journal for seventeen years. He is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Killing Time (2015), Ukulele and Other Poems (2006) and a chapbook, Shooting Pool with a Cellist (2003), all published by Main Street Rag Publishing. His work has appeared in numerous journals.

* * *

​Easy as 1234 50th Anniversary Commemoration by Gerard Sarnat

Gerard Sarnat MD’s authored Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes, 17s, Melting The Ice King (2016). Gerry’s recently published by Gargoyle, Oberlin, Brown, Stanford, Margie, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, Brooklyn Review, LA Review, San Francisco Magazine, New York Times. Mount Analogue selected KADDISH for distribution nationwide Inauguration Day. Work appeared in his Harvard reunion Dylan symposium.  gerardsarnat.com.

*archive unavailable
 
Fruit Tarts, Spiked
By Juliette Sebock

Cranberry was my favourite until the night of the flying saucer,
When an alien stepped in and stopped an overdose,
Let me sleep on his ship, in his bed. 
Who would have thought that Marvin would have a beard?
 
It would have stayed my favourite if it weren't for the comic book hero
Handing me another cup of tomato soup laced with vodka.
He'd later turn down Eliza's plea for sex in favour of a video game
—apparently Princess Peach was hotter. 
 
Then there was a vampire who replaced cranberry with strawberry
When fruity pennies met my lips,
Dripping red.
The bite was the least of my concerns. 
 
Later I'd find a cure over daiquiris with friends,
Solace in long stories and painful imaginings of beach-sides, Dublin, and Dwayne
Until a strawberry came back up, tied a knot in my abdomen with a cherry stem
And made cranberry sound good again.

Juliette Sebock is the author of Mistakes Were Made and has poetry forthcoming or appearing in a wide variety of publications. She is the founding editor of Nightingale & Sparrow and runs a lifestyle blog, For the Sake of Good Taste. When she isn't writing (and sometimes when she is), she can be found with a cup of coffee and her cat, Fitz. Juliette can be reached on her website or across social media.

* * *

Fragment From a Mennonite Journal
By Daniel James Sundahl

There's low ground fog in the hay fields;
Pheasants scratch for colored insects
This fine morning in September.
 
Last night an old woman saw an end to her suffering;
She'd been staring out her window for a week.
Her eyes grew large then bright then gave out.
Today she waits in her coffin;
Tomorrow her kin will gather.
We will talk about sleep and rest,
Winter's dark, the harvest, the love
That binds the weary bearing
Another body back to earth.
 
My neighbor replaces clapboards on his barn.
He stands on one leg on one rung of his ladder,
Leaning out, hammering, holding on, tentative,
Held at the waist by a rope.
I am giddy at such heights.
 
Today my wife brought home a load of honey.
The hives are hidden deep in the grove of sycamores,
Not far from the clover in the hayfields;
Its color is the color of sunrise.
 
Tonight she will sit beside me in a cane chair.
She will note how the morning glories are thick along the fence;
Tomorrow, after the burial, she will launder,
Sheets draped to dry on the lines.
 
She sleeps beside me, ending each day
With what we have, sharing the work,
Faithful to the ways that bring us together
PYRRHONIAN DOUBT
 
December 22nd, a day or solar stand still.
I go out to plant a stake in the ground,
To say "here," "now," an elliptic point
I measure carefully, thinking that in June
I'll do the same, certain of the inexorable
Geometry I'll have between the two stakes.
 
I read how an Eskimo will travel, stop
And build a high cairn of stone;  will travel
Till the cairn is almost out of sight;
Will stop and build another;  then on across
Moss and tundra hummock and build another.
 
I'm caught up with the idea that inside
These measured points there's a soft death.
Outside, angles arc and dip and fall
In artless suicide;  outside is to lie down
In flame;  inside is to know when and where
The sun will rise and set, will be to live
Like an anxious kid or hopeful god.
 
Between are the days when I reign and mourn;
Orion will rise just east of zenith, Arcturus, Pleiades.
Under cold snap and ice, summer heat,
I will point and say "here," "now," and believe
A glowing thing will ring my brain with fire.

​Daniel James Sundahl is Emeritus Professor in English and American Studies at Hillsdale College where he taught for thirty-four years.

* * * 

Worlds
By Ayşe Tekşen
 
He withdrew a world 
From within me 
And put another--
Spacious and uncontainable.
No, I am not cross, no! 
For flowers grew then,
And no more I am 
That old rag of bones
But a garden of the rarest 
And the cruelest vegetation.
Now when I close my eyes, 
I dream in colors instead of shapes--
Solid and outgrown and tedious. 
Everywhere there is color,
And I am a color, too.
The liveliest of them all.
Because I am alive. 
And I am a life.
I am life.

Ayşe Tekşen lives in Ankara, Turkey where she works as a research assistant at the Department of Foreign Language Education, Middle East Technical University. Her work has been included in Gravel, After the Pause, The Write Launch, Uut Poetry, The Fiction Pool, What Rough Beast, Scarlet Leaf Review, Seshat, Neologism Poetry Journal, Anapest, Red Weather, Ohio Edit, SWWIM Every Day, The Paragon Journal, Arcturus, Constellations, the Same, The Mystic Blue Review, Jaffat El Aqlam, Brickplight, Willow, Fearsome Critters, Susan, The Broke Bohemian, The Remembered Arts Journal, Terror House Magazine, Shoe Music Press, Havik: Las Positas College Anthology, Deep Overstock, Lavender Review, Voice of Eve, Dash, The Courtship of Winds, Mizmor Anthology, Mojave Heart Review, NōD Magazine, and Sincerely. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Straylight, Toyon Literary Magazine, Headway Quarterly, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Rabid Oak.

* * *

Stray
By Vivian Wagner

You arrived here like a
meteorite, shooting
through space,
landing on my deck,
eclipsing all else,
creating a pleasant black
hole in my daily routine.
You’ve become a
permanent part of my
constellation, or as
permanent as any of
us dying stars can be.

Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Slice Magazine, Muse /A Journal, Forage Poetry Journal, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, The Atlantic, The Ilanot Review, Silk Road Review, Zone 3, Eyedrum Periodically, 3QR, and other publications. She's also the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Aldrich Press-Kelsay Books), Making (Origami Poems Project), and Curiosities (Unsolicited Press).

* * *

Three Poems by Pui Ying Wong
 
            Today, It
 
Today, it will be chrysanthemums.
Not hers or theirs but my grandfather’s,
the ones he watered and pruned and sighed over
on a dismal day
---it’s been half a century.
They shall lift from the clay of memory
into the cay of these lines.
 
 
On a Lovely Spring Day in the Park
 
 
The teenage brother and sister approach me,
looking wholesome like breakfast cereal.
 
They hand me a note which reads:
Live Life to the Fullest.
 
I accept without quarrel, sooner or later
they’ll learn the truth.
 
 
Between
 
A crossed-out opening, on the other side: white,
  between them so much life---Ryszard Krynicki
 
 
Between them so much life
and so much death
 
Is that why the crumpled paper burns
on both sides of the same shadow

Pui Ying Wong was born in Hong Kong. She is the author of two full-length books of poetry: An Emigrant’s Winter (Glass Lyre Press, 2016) and Yellow Plum Season (New York Quarterly Books, 2010)—along with two chapbooks. She won a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Her poems have been published in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Plume Poetry Journal, New Letters, Atlanta Review, The New York Times, The Southampton Review, among others. She lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband, the poet Tim Suermondt.

* * * 
Creative Nonfiction

The Flying Boxcars
By Barry Price

My all-time favorite amusement park ride, ever, was the “The Flying Boxcars”. I think the official name at Gwynn Oak Park was “The Flying Scooters”, but they were always known to the local Woodlawnites as “The Flying Boxcars”. God only knows why. I can only conjecture that in the 1950’s pretty much the whole culture was influenced by the World War II generation, so maybe the local Woodlawn moniker had something to do with the famous Fairchild C-119 transport aircraft of the same name.
But whatever the origin of the name, it was the scariest, craziest, most dangerous, neck-snapping ride I’ve ever been on, then or now. This was a vehicle you could actually fly, like an airplane. And I don’t mean they steered like the bumper-cars, or those whip-dick aircraft training simulators with complex computer graphics and sophisticated servo-robotics that give an amazingly realistic, but simulated and perfectly safe flight experience. I mean you could literally, physically, whip these babies around through the air like a real airplane, from 3 feet off the ground when standing still, to 40 feet in the air when moving at full speed. Hell, in many ways, these things were real aircraft, capable of being put into a steep climb or a gut-wrenching dive, and if snapped around hard enough, could break loose from its cables and be flung over the horizon like a sling-stone. Or lashed into the pavement like a brick on the end of a bullwhip.

In fact, now I come to think on it, the things handled so much like real airplanes that they may have originated as some kind of primitive training device for student pilots, just like the merry-go-round was originally developed in the Medieval period to train mounted knights how to impale each other with a lance while riding a charger at full gallop.

I haven’t seen this ride in any amusement park or carnival, anywhere, since the early 70’s. Oh, well…there are a few weak, mewling, kiddie-sized offshoots of the ride still operating in amusement parks around the country. But nothing possessing the speed, size, and power of the original ride exists today, that I know of. So a brief description of the ‘Flying Boxcar Experience’ would be in order:

First, we bought our tickets at a special ticket booth, exclusively for that ride, and for that ride only. The price was $1.25, as I recall, twice as much as any other ride in the Park, and, back in those days, a truly capital investment in Terror. Then, tickets clutched in trembling, sweating hands, we ran to the entry gate.

The ride operator collected our tickets, and we gathered around the fenced-off perimeter, jockeying our way as close to the head of the line as possible, getting more cranked up by the nanosecond. Out on the gravel pitch, the preceding ride coasted to a halt, and the passengers climbed out of their bouncing, swaying gondolas and staggered for the exits. Once the area was clear, the operator swung the gate open, and we sprinted across the crushed-gravel to make sure we beat the crowd to our chosen vehicle.

The shiny yellow, eight-foot-long by four-foot-wide elliptical gondolas hung three feet in the air, swinging slowly back and forth from twin steel cables, quietly awaiting their next load of knuckleheads. We skidded to a halt next to the metal car, yanked open the preposterously tiny doors on either side of the vehicle and climbed aboard, planting one foot on the swaying steel floor, then lifting ourselves onto the flat sheet-metal seat using a grab handle located under the dashboard. Finally, after a quick pre-flight inspection of the front rudder, flapping it back and forth to make sure it was in good working order, we pulled the doors shut and strapped ourselves into the seats with the cheap chain-in-a-rubber-hose seat belts. These were provided by the management to keep the passengers from tumbling out of the vehicle like bombs during hazardous aerobatic maneuvers. Or hurled like bloody, cartwheeling meat-puppets through the shaded picnic groves. Of course, what actually held you in the seat during hazardous maneuvers were centrifugal force and a white-knuckle death-grip on the seat.

Anyway, we’re finally secured into our steel gondola, bobbing slowly up and down, listening to the big metal support beams flexing and creaking; feeling much like the Apollo -11 astronauts must have felt when they sat waiting, strapped into the command module, listening to the steel gantry tower screech and groan in the wind; feeling the mighty Saturn rocket tremble under them as it was topped off with its final thousand pounds of liquid oxygen.

I looked up again to check the four, two-ton capacity steel cables our little metal car swings from. They looked serviceable enough; coated with sticky, smelly black axle grease, and no frays or worn spots that might snap under the strain of violent aerobatics and slam us right through the cinder-block wall of the neighboring “Laff in the Dark”. My last-minute visual check then followed the cables up at 45-degree angles from our gondola’s struts to their anchor points at the ends of two of the ten, thirty-foot long, white, elongated triangular steel spars radiating out from the central drive hub like the arms of some gigantic, inverted metal starfish. This inverted starfish assembly sat atop a right-side-up conical metal base, also painted white and of equal circumference and starfish configuration; forming a kind of squat, truncated hour-glass shape. All ten gondolas hung in a fifty-foot circle from identical two-spar rigs, and, with the controls in neutral, swung outward at 45 degrees when rotating at full speed.

The operator, meantime, after making a final circuit of the staging area to make sure all passengers were secured in their seats, hurried back to his concrete control bunker on the perimeter. Then, confirming that all systems were ‘go’, he pushed the throttle up to full power. The big, war-surplus 500 hp electric motor spooled up, the clutch engaged the starfish-wheel assembly, the gondolas jerked forward, and we were off. There were three distinct jolts as the transmission shifted through the gears to accelerate us up to full speed. After a half a minute, we were hurtling counter-clockwise through the air at thirty miles an hour, ready to do some serious yanking and banking.    

Now, what made the “Flying Boxcars” actually fly came into play. These were two frame-and-fabric airfoils, made in the form of a ‘D’, standing vertically on the front and rear of each gondola - exactly like the rudders on the old frame-and-fabric planes, bracketing the gondola like a parentheses. The rear airfoil was fixed in place to keep the vehicle stable in flight, like the rudder of a conventional airplane. The front airfoil was hinged through its center on top and bottom pivots, and, using a big handle on the bottom hanging directly over the cockpit, could be rotated back and forth 180 degrees, causing the vehicle to swoop thirty to forty feet up and down at the ends of its cables, and in certain extreme maneuvers, created enough lift to make it fly. This flight only lasted a few seconds at a time, because the gondola was tethered by its cables to the big, rotating starfish structure, and could only swing with it around in a circle. But within that circle, the thing could dive, climb and bank like a stunt plane.

There were many creative and dangerous stunts that were regularly executed by skilled aficionados of the ride, but by far the most dangerous stunt, favored by all the local nut-jobs and bad boys, was a maneuver known as the ‘bounce’. This was executed by first whipping the rudder to the right, throwing the vehicle into a precipitous, nearly vertical climb, then, just as it shot to its maximum height, (about forty feet in the air), slam the rudder to the left, causing the gondola to stall in mid-air and then snap into a stomach wrenching dive. Then, screaming at breakneck speed towards the deck, as the gondola reached the bottom of its plunge, the rudder was whipped to the right again, flat against the wind. This brought the vehicle to a sudden halt for a split second, causing it to bounce about five feet into the air in a ballistic free-float, cables going slack in mid-air, passengers flapping around like rag-dolls and hanging on for dear life. Then centrifugal force yanked the cables straight again, causing them to slap together with a crack like a rifle shot. It was a scary thing to witness, even from the ground, and it was even scarier to be strapped into that flimsy metal box when it was being put through this spectacular and violent maneuver.

But we weren’t done yet. To make the stunt even more insane and dangerous, we would repeat this diving-climbing maneuver over and over again, climbing to ever greater heights, gathering momentum with each successive pendulum swing until the gondola was hurled as close as possible to the nearby trees, then lean out and snatch a handful of the overhanging oak leaves as we screamed by forty feet in the air. Finally, after landing safely back on our primitive airfield, we dismounted from our prancing metal steeds and swaggered over to the exit gate like victorious fighter aces, flourishing our boldly won oak-leaf clusters, (with acorns), to envious buddies and admiring girls.

Sadly, the “Flying Boxcars” were swept away with the rest of the Park in the floods of hurricane Agnes in 1972, never to return. Since then, in all my wanderings across this country, and around the world, I’ve never seen their like again. Too bad. They were a great ride, unlike anything you can find today. Maybe in the next life, eh?

Barry Price was born in Baltimore, Maryland, into a long line of story-tellers. Barry retired from professional show-business in 2001 to pursue a career in writing. The Journal of the Median Man – Descent is his first novel.

* * * 

Men, Women, and Children
​By Terah Van Dusen 

There is no synonym for pedophile.

I couldn’t call him Grandpa like everybody else did.

I couldn’t call him Great Grandpa, which was his relation to me.

I couldn’t call him Wayne either, perhaps the ugliest name one could imagine. And I could hardly believe when my own mother named my brother that. But my mother had no real bearing on my life—she was in and out of it—so when she named her third child Wayne Cloud, well it was just another sad little stone I swallowed. Some ironic little twist that nobody understood but me. Nothing new really.

Great Grandpa Wayne took my sense of family from me, my childhood innocence no doubt, and my trust in other people—mainly men. He took it from me and I live with that every day of my life. Most people in my life wish I didn’t. They don’t wish he didn’t, they wish I didn’t. They wish I’d have dealt with that already, likely so they wouldn’t have to butt up against it—this very ugly thing.

They wished I’d already have packaged that nonsense away in a box with a neat little bow labeled done and dealt with. What they don’t realize is that it’s still mine and will always be there. I still own that pain, no matter how neatly it’s packaged. It will never go far from me, I fear. I can’t ship it away. And trust me, I don’t want it any more than they do. And when I say they, what I mean is my boyfriend, male friends, family members, and society in general. Pretty much anyone who is not equipped to deal with my reality, or can’t—due to lack of experience—empathize with me and other survivors. Sadly, I have found this to be a whole hell of a lot of people.

I didn’t tell my own family what Great Grandpa Wayne did to me and how many times he did it until I was 30 (I’m 32 now). And I get the sense that people already want me to rid myself of this thing—this very ugly thing. Is mine uglier than most? In some ways it is, and in some ways it isn’t. (I would know because I’ve been to group therapy.)
I fared better than the others, though. There were two other victims that I know of, not including the imaginary friend I dreamed up—a friend who was likely just a symptom of something called dissociative disorder. My imaginary friend’s name was Esther and I met her in the vegetable garden, she peeked out from a row of pumpkins to befriend me. “He does that to me too,” she told me. I just nodded, somehow grateful but also regretful that my family illness had leached into the neighborhood.

The other two women were Wayne’s very own daughters, my two great aunts. They had it a lot worse than me from what I’ve heard, and I only know this from my aunts moving their lips in quiet whispers when I was a child. It was clear that this was never to be brought up. Great Grandpa Wayne was the patriarch of our family and we intended to keep him there.
I kept quiet, but my ears strained to hear every word the women said. At that point, I wouldn’t dare say what he had done to me—I hardly had any words for it—and I saw how the women he’d abused were perceived as tainted, crazy even. We walked on eggshells around them. His own wife was the craziest of them all! She was in and out of institutions, and if only anyone ever knew why—well maybe then they’d see that he was really the crazy one! But no. Even though it was the 90’s, patriarchy ruled. Big time.

“That’s why Jessie has no hair and wears a wig” my aunt Julie told me one day, “She pulled it all out when she was a teenager. Nobody really knows why, but.”

People in our family ended sentences with but. We’re not the most educated bunch. We are loggers and farmers and waitresses at Chinese restaurants.

But. But. But.

My Great Aunt Jessie, Wayne’s oldest daughter, wore a black wig that made her look at times like Elvis and at times like Elizabeth Taylor. She hardly spoke to me growing up. I’d see her in line at the grocery store but she wouldn’t say hi to me. I didn’t blame her though. Maybe she didn’t see me. Maybe she was somewhere else altogether. Jessie, rumor holds, took the brunt of Wayne’s brutality. His very own daughter.

Trichotillomania.

That’s what they call it when you pull out all your hair. I imagined her doing this on the old front porch of the farm house—white painted peeling on the walls behind her. The smell of hedge plants and fig.

Our family was sick and twisted alright. No, scratch that: Great Grandpa Wayne was sick and twisted. Nobody else. Nobody else conspired to gut the family like he did—one girlchild at a time. We were not religious people but if we were one might ask “God, why put so many women in the family? Couldn’t you have produced all boys instead? Were you not watching out for us?”

Like I said, we were not religious people, so we never got any real answers. Just sucked it up. Drank. Used drugs. Became depressed. Never left town. And remembered Great Grandpa Wayne fondly, well everyone but me did. We even had a family reunion in his honor. I was twenty one years old at the time. I’m surprised I even went but I did. I drank the whole time and I’m not even a drinker. Jessie, the one with trichotillomania, showed up wearing a bright red hooded sweatshirt. I was wearing an identical one and I couldn’t help but wonder what all that meant: me and Jessie dressed identically, inside and out. Nobody noticing but me. More of the same. Everybody talking about Great Grandpa Wayne but none of them talking about what he was really like—just skirting the issue, burying it. He still ruled, it seemed—even when he’d been dead for over a decade.
Just this Christmas, a few short days ago, Dad was going on and on about Great Grandpa Wayne. “Grandpa Wayne didn’t wear eye glasses but he used a magnified glass to read. He was into rocks you know, geology. I guess that’s why he had the magnified glass.”

I nodded from my perch at the dining room table, going red inside from fury. Being a good girl and keeping my mouth shut—it wasn’t the answer I knew, but it was what I was conditioned to do. Plus I wasn’t in the mood to bring “it” up. I was however plain flabbergasted that even after I told Dad what I did two years ago, parked in front of the farm house crying, he would still bring up Great Grandpa Wayne fondly.

I vowed to let it out on paper, later, and I cleared the plates from the table and took them to the sink. I let the warm faucet water pour over my hands and my mind, I bookmarked the conversation with Dad for a later time. I just didn’t have the energy to beg for understanding that night. From my partner, from my father, on that first Christmas Eve with my newborn daughter. In the coming years, I hoped, the men might read what I had written. It was only in their understanding, I knew, that the world would ever change for the better. In the meantime I would healthfully shelter my daughter, to the likes that was never done for me. Her vigilant protector I would be, in a world that feels full of indifference. I would write their names out loud. Jessie. Bobbie. Faith. Esther. Terah. I would cross his out for good measure.

Terah Van Dusen is a poet and aspiring memoirist near Eugene, Oregon. Her personal essays have been published by The Manifest-Station, THRU Mag and Cool Waters Media. Terah is writing a memoir about her childhood off-the-grid in Northern California. You can read her work here or visit her on IG @terahvandusen.

* * *

Blue Elephant
By Kevin Richard White
 
“There’s no chance of this ever going away,” I overheard someone tell me in March 1997. I know they meant well, but it wasn’t going to change the fresh dirt, the death certificate, the breaking of a once full heart.
 
Kids treated me different after I came back to school. They still played with me, but it was with careful tiptoes. Quiet, don’t say anything to the half-orphan. He’ll start crying again. He’s getting out of all the Mother’s Day assignments, why does he have to get out of doing anything? It helped to create little words to block most of it out.
 
I think it’s why I write. I sucked at sports, anyway.
 
You try to tell your friends to appreciate what they have. Try to knock it in their thick dumbass skulls. They act like they know, but they don’t. It’s not worth saying it twice.
 
The death leaves a brilliant, tremendous void and you catch anything at all to hang up on your walls - anything to create a wall. You’re a fan of fortresses and you can’t stand the sight of paramedics’ lights, especially when they come at night. They started to pull her off the couch, you saw the sweat on her face, and the next thing you know, you’re grown up, not being able to see her there in the crowd during your big moments. She’s there but not, and you are too numb to even condemn anything. You can’t even tell yourself that it’s okay. Because it’s not meant to be.
 
She collected animal figurines, tiny pewter things. Your favorite is the blue elephant. You carry it with you in your messenger bag, sometimes even your pocket. You show it to no one because it hurts to explain, hurts like hell to hold it and say that it’s love.
 
Stars aren’t as bright and food tastes like shit. Your father, gone years later, writes you out of his obituary, really makes you an orphan this time. No phone calls are made and no condolences sent from Dad’s family in Virginia and Ohio. They think that you’re a piece of shit, and you think the same thing back because they definitely are.. Chances are you’ll never cross paths again. And that’s totally okay, one hundred percent fine.
 
Here’s the thing, what it comes down to: it happened. That’s it. You get by how you get by. You take the pieces of her that worked and you use them for your own. You become what you want, still, even when you hear her laugh in the hollow. Sunsets look different now, as does the headstone that bears her name. The whiskey tastes sweeter and the pictures of her just make you sadder, knowing she was smiling and having no clue she would be gone when she was only forty one. But maybe she left here to make you stronger. Maybe her love for you was just too strong for the thin world to hold. She left loving you so much, and could no longer, only to make you finally love yourself. That’s what you need to remember. That’s why you’re meant to live - because she knew she couldn’t.

 Kevin Richard White's fiction appears in such places as Grub Street, Hypertext, The Hunger, Barren Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Door Is A Jar, Crack The Spine, Lunch Ticket and Ghost Parachute among others. He reads fiction and nonfiction for Quarterly West, Vestal Review and The Common. He lives in Pennsylvania.

* * * 
Flash Fiction

A Cowboy Speaks
By Linda Harvey Brown

For once my underwear matches.  I see my Victoria Secret lacy black under-wire bra draped over the wash stand. The matching panties are beside the bed where I hastily threw them.  I know it’s still night or perhaps right before dawn, but time has been lost in a world of sensual seconds that felt like hours.  The moon can be seen through the open window.  The brightness of its Montana fullness softens the stark, bare room.  I stretch, arms extended over head, a moan of contentment escapes my lips; and quickly I roll to my side, snuggling deep into my pillow.  A sudden cool, crisp breeze ruffles the raised blind against the window seal, and I smell his scent.
 
I hear his light snore and know that the soft rumbling of his breathing will soon deepen and become a powerful song of long hard hours daily spent on horse back herding cattle.  Aching muscles, weary joints, and calloused weathered skin provide the melody to his nightly sonata.  I lie still, turned on my side, drawn to this musical seduction.  Only moments before, his heavy breathing had been alive with strength and purpose.  His limbs and mine quivered with desire, and now he lies still and snores.  I know he is tired.
 
I know, too, that soon I must leave him.  I can’t help but wonder what the start of each day will be like without his greeting of “Good morning, Sunshine.”  By the time he brings me coffee in bed he has been up for hours.  His old felt Stetson is already darkened by sweat, his spurs crusty with mud from the corral, his chaps smeared by the flicking tail of a nervous cow or kick from an anxious horse.  How can this man, whose life is so intertwined with the quiet inevitable change of seasons, the purity of the wilderness, the solitude of the mountains, find happiness in the noise of change, the contradictions of knowledge, or the activity of growth?  He can’t.  Soon, I must leave.
 
Carefully, as not to awaken him, I shift my position to look into his face.  I have learned the language of the cowboy.  He speaks silently with subtle movements, a nod of the head, a tug of the reins, a nudge with a spur, a flick of the bull whip.  The cowboy hears the call of the mountains, the laughter of the brooks, and the harsh demands of nature.  He has chosen his partner in life.  The “high timber” will forever hold him in her grasp till his dying day.  He was never mine, could never be.
 
I must leave.  I gently stroke the outline of his rugged face.  I am filled with wonder and gratitude.  His smile will forever warm my coldest days.  The memory of his touch will calm my restless nights, and his selfless love will keep me strong.  I have felt a cowboy speak.

Linda Harvey Brown is a 70 year old grandmother to six & great-grandmother to four. Over thirty years ago Ms Brown started writing stories for each of her grandchildren. She then went back to college and graduated with honors from the University of Southern Mississippi at the age of fifty. Ms Brown taught school for ten years and then retired so she could devote more of her time to writing.

* * * 

Josephine, Take Your Damn Shoes Off
By Mercedes Lawry

I’m used to being yelled at. In our house we call it parenting. An outsider might not see the difference between an angry yell and an ordinary yell. Of course, I’ve had loads of practice so I’m pretty much 100% on target. We live close to the bone which is the main reason for the yelling. When you have to think about money every single day of your life, it makes you edgy. Now here, you might assume I’d say something like, that’s not going to be my life. I’m going to make something of myself, become successful and have plenty of money, designer clothes, big house, fancy car, etc. etc. Except I know it doesn’t work like that. Oh, sure, some millionaires started out without a nickel but not many. The 1%, well those people want it to stay that way – even better if it’s .05%. It’s never enough unless you’re a saint or you’re lying. If I can live in a place that doesn’t have mold crawling up the walls like a scribble of snakes, I’ll be content. Ha ha. That’s bullshit. I’ll want a nice carpet without stains everywhere and a toilet that flushes every time and next thing you know, a Porsche.
 
I am named for my grandfather – my mother’s father who was Joseph and dead before I was born. I guess she loved him though my Uncle Jerome says he had a temper and a half. Mom has that too – quick to anger it’s called. She does make an effort to control it most of the time. It’s hard when she comes home tired after a day at work and wants to bite the head off the whole world. I have never known a boss who wasn’t an asshole, she says. Never, ever – it’s just a matter of degree – a Grade A Asshole down to a Grade D Asshole. It’s a prerequisite, she says, which is a word I had to look up though my guess was pretty close.
 
Tomorrow Mom has a doctor’s appointment. She had tests. She doesn’t know I know but not a lot gets past me in this house. I know she’s worried and trying to hide it, to act normal. I’m hoping her nerves keep her from noticing that I’m worried, which I think I’m good at hiding because I’m a good actress. It’s not just me that thinks that. Mr. Riley said it last year. I was in the play – not the star or anything but he said I had real talent. I don’t think he was just trying to make me feel good but who knows. I’m going to try out this year too, unless Mom is really sick which I don’t want to think will happen but we’re not the kind of people bad luck skips over. It finds us. There’s always worse, I know. There’s a girl in my class – Rosie – whose dad was just taken away by those ICE guys. He’s lived here 20 years and her mother has a condition and can’t work. What’s up with that? They must be the meanest fuckers around, ripping people away from families like it’s nothing. Rosie is crying all the time.
 
I have a younger brother – Kieran -- who, for better or worse, is a cheerful kid. He has no idea Mom is sick or worried and I won’t tell him, at least not before I have to. Childhood can disappear in a flash. Mr. Hardy, our old neighbor told me that a long time ago, before I had any clue what he was talking about. I thought he meant something like Clark Kent becoming Superman – swoosh! Now I see it not so much as disappearance as being pulled apart, stretched in unnatural ways, causing frayed thread and holes, so you can never go back to normal. I will try and stop that happening to Kieran as long as I can. If it turns out Mom is sick – seriously sick – I’ll have to tell him. And then we’ll make a plan.

Mercedes Lawry has published short fiction in several journals including, Gravel, Cleaver, Garbanzo, and Blotterature and was a semi-finalist in The Best Small Fictions 2016. She’s published poetry in journals such as Poetry, Nimrod, & Prairie Schooner and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize four times. She has a book forthcoming from Twelve Winters Press. Additionally, she’s published stories and poems for children. She lives in Seattle. 

* * * 

How To Handle Bullies
By Robert Garner McBrearty

Just because you asked, let me tell you about myself. I am sixty-three years old. Five-foot five and a hundred and fifty pounds of kick-ass muscle. Maybe I don’t have what they call a six-pack, my stomach muscles don’t show off like that, but they are strong beneath the surface. And the arms? Oh man, veins up and down the biceps and forearms. Incredible. 
          
When you are short, bigger people sometimes think that they can bully you. When this happens, I have several techniques I use, but one is something I picked up in the fourth grade from Sister Bernadette. I grab hold of an ear and start pulling as hard as I can. Big grown men cry for mercy as I lead them around a barroom and kick them in the ass and out the door. If they come back in, I go for the other ear. Another technique is to lie down on the floor and start kicking like crazy, at shins, kneecaps, the groin. Or I’ll spring off my toes and leap around a man’s neck, wrap my legs around his waist like a boa constrictor and bite the end of his nose. Sobers the biggest bully right up.
 
I don’t use weapons, not guns or knives. I hit Big Eddie in the head with a bottle once. We were at a party and Big Eddie got very out of line and was a danger to himself and others and so after he punched his wife, who was short and squat and wearing a long brown coat even though the apartment was hot, I picked up a bottle from a table and smashed it over his head. It was terrible. It was not like in the movies. He didn’t crumple up into a nice helpless unconscious heap on the floor. No. Big Eddie cried out, “Ow! Ow!” like a kid hurt on the playground and he went stumbling around the party holding his head while everyone stared at Big Eddie holding his head and lurching around and then all the party-goers were staring at me, the guy holding the bottle, and the blood started coming down over his forehead and someone asked, What happened to Big Eddie, and Big Eddie’s wife, who looked very wide and formidable in that long brown coat,  pointed at me and said with great venom, “Chuck hit him! Chuck hurt my husband!” And there I was with the bottle in my hand and suddenly Big Eddie was the victim and I was the bully. So I would never hit someone over the head with a bottle ever again. I don’t like being the bully. I love everyone, really. Even Big Eddie. Especially Big Eddie Can’t we all just love one another?  

Robert Garner McBrearty’s short stories have been published in The Pushcart Prize, Missouri Review, New England Review, North American Review, Narrative, Fiction Southeast, StoryQuarterly and elsewhere. He’s been a recipient of the Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award and fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and the Fine Arts Work Center. 

* * *

Dia de los Muertos
By Richard C. Rutherford

I’m listening to Christ screech on the cross. Crucifixions take a long time. I don’t mind, the longer the better. I’m here for the skull.
 
He’s trying to make eye contact. “You. Please. Get me down.”
 
I went to a stoning once. It didn’t go as planned. The crowd was sympathetic to the condemned woman. Three fat legionnaires brought her out, tied her to the stake, then read her charges and sentence. The first stone hit a legionnaire in the face and within minutes all three were mortally wounded, the bodies looted. The woman was cut free. I didn’t dare touch the legionnaires. I was hoping for a hand from the woman. Her crime was theft.
 
Christ is in way over his head. He continues, yelling, “I’ve changed my mind! Come back! Sir! Please!” I’m surprised he didn’t draw a larger crowd.
 
It seems to me that martyrs paint themselves into corners.
 
“I’m sorry, okay?” Listen to him. He was pure when he was carrying that cross, acknowledging the crowd while maintaining stoic distance. But his face changed when he saw the hammer and nails. His manner transformed from fervor to consternation. His look changed from determined-in-the-face-of-hardship to looking like he just shit his loincloth. Maybe he did. I know I would.
 
I was hoping he would succeed in removing our current oppressors from power. I am only a mason, but I have a vague wish to rise in society myself, get some curios I can keep, open a shop. It would be nice to keep something.
 
I could pull him down and finish him with a rock—a cracked skull provides intrigue—but I’m no fool. They’d be on me next. Yes, he could have done us all some good. But I’m willing to settle on providence.
 
The sun will be down soon. This is about the time most people leave. There will be no last-minute reprieve, no miracle, no horde of dedicated followers showing up howling and flailing. When the main attraction starts mumbling—then reduces to gasps and moans—he is no longer relevant. Maybe a cultish following will evolve. That could happen. Maybe someday someone like me will dig up the bones, use them as currency, create stories. But for Christ, he is spent and I am the last one watching.
 
Last week they had a hanging. The knot didn’t hold. The man fell and both ankles snapped. The hood muffled his screams as he flopped, hands tied, both feet at odd angles.
 
After a short conference, two legionnaires ran him through and left him to bleed. I took his penis and testicles. He was a rapist. I sold the penis that night. The testicles, I put in a jar and hid within a wall. I hope, one day, someone will find my jar and create a story to go with a pair of dry testicles.
 
My compulsive habit of writing a note worries me. This is a dangerous practice. I can’t keep my treasures for fear of reprisal, and the thought of being caught hiding these histories scares me. But I can’t bring myself to destroy them. So, I tuck them into jars, add the note, slip them into cavities while I work. Or I go out on dark nights and hide them in crevices. Maybe someday, someone will find my symbol on the things I write and wonder who I am. By then, the artifacts will mean nothing. By then, if I’m lucky, the stories will be about me.

Richard C Rutherford is previously published in The Writing Disorder, Hypertext, Fiction Southeast, Stone Coast Review, Catamaran, and many other fine literary magazines--both print and online. He has a large collection of stories. For thirty-seven years he raised cattle at the edge of the desert. He no longer cares for animals, just humans.

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Art

Photography by Elizabeth York Dickinson

Elizabeth York Dickinson received her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She has writing and photography published or forthcoming in Picaroon Poetry, Moonchild Magazine, Rhythm & Bones, Ghost City Press, Riggwelter, and Ink in Thirds, among others. She currently resides in Evanston, Illinois. Follow her on Twitter @aworldwandere










 
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Faces by Caitlin Gaither

Caitlin Gaither is a 33 year old artist from the Napa valley in California. Her work includes nightmarish self portraits and bizarre beasts painted in acrylic on canvas. Frenzied splatters of paint allow a peak inside her brain. With influences ranging from Basquiat to Caravaggio, her diverse portfolio can be viewed in multiple literary publications as well as her website.







 
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Watercolors by Martin Kiel

Marty enjoys painting from real life and less so from photos he has taken. He has recently tried watercolors after years of oils and finds the movement of the water invigorating. Thick oil goes where it is put and stays there. Watercolor is subject to gravity and capillary action, which transcends himself.



















 
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Glitch Poems by ​Rick Pieto

Rick Pieto is a college instructor who has taught at Georgetown University and the University of Baltimore, a visual poet and writer living in the Silver Spring, MD area. He received a Ph.D. in media ecology from New York University. He has exhibited his visual poetry at Rhizome DC and Pyramid Atlantic Art Center.














 
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