Tortured Artists: Volume 6 Issue 1


We are excited to share the work of 27 amazing artists and writers in our first issue of 2024, Tortured Artists. We think this issue will resonate with you, and may, perhaps, inspired you to create.

Thank you to all of the amazing people who submitted their work. We are humbled by your trust.

We have big plans for 2024. Our team is working aggressively to expand our resources and is working on new sections of our site (like the Contemporary Artists and Writers sections) in order to better highlight the folks who make our community great.

Is there something you want to see from us? Reach out!

Donation Announcement:

A part of our mission includes expanding creative opportunities to others. We do this by regularly donating a portion of our submission fees to nonprofits whose causes bring art, poetry, and writing to communities around the United States. We’re thrilled to announce that with the publication of this issue, we’ve made a donation to Street Poets Inc..

Street Poets Inc. is a 501(c)3 based in Los Angeles, CA. As stated on their website, their mission is to:

Street Poets harnesses the healing power of poetry and music to build community and inspire our next generation to write, rap and dream a new world into being for us all.

We encourage you to learn more about this amazing organization!

Meditation on a cliff edge by Kayleigh Chapman

It’s more than the late nights or the addiction to being addicted.

It’s the hollow in me where fire burns the forest down.

Mostly, I squash it – the will to fall endlessly, the bloody seppuku given thin names by doctors.

But sometimes I let myself vanish from all the predictable disappointments, smearing the background
as the answers in the mirror come into focus.

In this way, they say, artists become legends in their echoing wreckage, but this isn’t about anyone

I let my body lead the way, hear the final song of the wind, and find out if they were right about the light.

chiaroscuro by Fiona Rose

i’ve heard it said by those much older and those who want to appear wise beyond their years, that all life is cyclical. if I am unhappy today, maybe it will be different tomorrow. and I have lived enough to appreciate this in small ways. 

on a rainy day in dublin recently, a fortune teller had told me that i was someone who had “paid my dues early in life”. asking her to elaborate, she told me that i had already gotten through a large portion of my share of hardships early on and now, i can move forward and enjoy the benefits of my hard work. i don’t know if what she said is true, but i have no reason not to believe her. 

the contrast of my life is evident as i grow into an adult. like a figure in an old painting, the chiaroscuro of past and present is clear as night and day…. 

“clear as night and day”-another expression i have heard over and over, but fail to find truth in. does day not slowly fade into night as the sun sets? can anything on a spectrum be considered a clear contrast? 

then again, others might consider this “gray area” as life is also apparently not black and white. do the people who say these things believe them? or just want to believe life can be simple and therefore try to categorize things into what is and isn’t to try to convince themselves that they can. is anything simple? 

Nobody is Coming to Save You by Jesus Cortez

Nobody is Coming to Save You by Jesus Cortez

Steep by Jenny Bates

If I had to be say, a tea bag

for a day

I’d hope to be only a three

minute steep so,

just before I drown you 

could rip me open 

mix me into the earth in 

your garden

I’d let all the rustles and

screeching so close or

so far up ahead move me,

pierce me from now on

You said flat out —

I don’t think you’re damaged

wow! as I riffle through your

fingers, you patting me down

sounding more and more 

like a rabbit digging.

Those words you said, I 

won’t repeat on a day I felt

like horse droppings instead 

of tea jasmine, green 

and sweet

strictly speaking, I signal

to you from the yard about

how I’m feeling now

though, our clear shared

sound and language gone

this isn’t goodbye

this is goodbye for now.

Waste Management by Jenny Bates

ever since I gave a card of thanks
and Christmas cookies to the
old woman who works at the county dump —

she knows my car, makes sure
she comes to the window to wave
and smile

anyone who can work there at the dump —
not an unpleasant experience for us
citizens except, the Animal Shelter is

there as well — so you pass by you see
and hear the dogs outside and they see you —
and you pass by, damn you anyway

She thinks I’m kind, that old woman
maybe the only person ever to say thank you
for your service

to our stinking garbage and the dogs
you have to hear … thank you I say
breaking my heart like the empty wine bottles

I drop in the bin.

This Human Trait by Cleo Griffith

What is this curiosity that twists us
through the earth of life,
the need that sends us to seek
questions and answers,
why do we, of all creatures on earth,
obey this need, this vital need,
missing in other species?
Why do we grow is not asked by wild grasses.
Where does the sun go at night is not asked
by baby fish.
What is our meaning is not asked
by one wolf of another.
But we question and question,
seek more mysteries,
drown in the morass of unknowns,
never satisfied, no more than we are static
with each other’s art, politics, beliefs.
And as the growing need spirals,
out-of-control, why must we struggle
to make of these mysteries
something beautiful?

Black Butterflies by Rick Christman

When I was young,
Dreams were vague,
Images moving from body to body,
Like science fiction movies.
Dreams slipping away,
Like clouds
Breaking in the sun.

Now, dreams are
Stark, well-defined.
A dog barks,
A loud, gruff echo,
As if I am in a canyon.
He runs to me,
His tongue lolling,
Licks my hand, cool and wet,
Whimpers with pleasure,

A lover from my past
Appears close up,
About to be kissed.
She stands more beautiful
Than I remember.
I feel her essence,
Taste her mouth of lemon grass
And cilantro.
She wears a golden Ao dai,
I feel the silk fabric run
Through my fingers,
Like cold water.
The dress hangs to the floor.
Painted black butterflies flutter
Around her feet.

The steel of a 38
Alongside my head.
I smell gunpowder.
Fear clutches me,
Grips me like a tightening noose,
Jerks me up.
A unit of soldiers
Move toward me,
Firing, firing.
The man behind me with the 38
Twists his head,
Turns toward me,
His mouth stretched to the right,
Like a long bird beak,
Just as a hawk flies overhead.

I will sleep forever.
My dreams will go on and on,
From one vivid, colored,
Complicated scene to another.
Where everything is true,
Where nothing is true.
The red sunrise,
The red sunset.
Until dreams are
All I know.

Opposite Seats by Charlene Moskal


This is for the child who saw skeletons
sitting opposite from her
on plastic seats, blue or orange
or earlier still, wicker.

When they rode to the beach
the subway rumbled through tunnels
and she thought of them all dead.
She thought of herself dead.

She was fascinated by shadows cast on faces,
how features were obscured, eyes darkened,
how light moved from fluorescence
then into Summer bright morning

and magically returned the person,
gave back flesh to faces.
until the next tunnel removed them
as if marking the passage of eons.

There was always the glimmer of fear
that would grow larger than her heart
if she thought too hard,
if she concentrated on her own bones

or that of her mothers’, who sat next to her
with towels, a blanket, peaches, plums
and water in an oversized bag
unaware of the dark that inhabited the child.


On the number sixty bus in Winter
going to Central Park, with her father
ice skates in mittened hands.
He always the hero of the winter’s day

even as she looked at who was sitting
opposite from her
and saw the flesh fall away;
as buildings shadowed the morning sun;

where there was a nose
now two perpendicular holes,
the face that wore over-sized glasses
became an anonymous skull.

She thought about the child,
the boy held close to his mother
enveloped in her fur coat,
protected from the cold.

If he were to die right then and there
perhaps suffocated, he would dissolve,
lost without any bones to be found,
his skeleton too fragile for dirt and worms.


These visions, dark thoughts
were the child’s secret.
No one, absolutely no one knew
the stygian depth inside her;

they would not know what to do about it.
Her nightmares given credence in the day
as she rode the subway, the bus
laughed in the waves at Coney Island,

happily held her father’s hand
as they skated in Central Park’s Wolman Rink
on ice she imagined was the same color
as the white of bones.

Lonesome Desk by 
 Jeremiah Gilbert

Lonesome Desk by Jeremiah Gilbert

The Injustice of Under-Read Poets by Thomas Willemain

Just as physicists know
it’s turtles all the way down
So poets should expect
nothing but trouble
all the way down.

Isn’t pain supposed to be
the source of our success?
Shouldn’t we the under-read
transform our bitterness into
passionate poetic fervor?

Should we not glory in those
few who do read us?
Laud their perceptiveness, their
nose for slightly postponed
commercial success?

Can we not transcend self-doubt
and pity the never-read,
those without even a web site
to lure the incautious?

Might the never-read
in their turn pity
the never-written?
Poets who haunt open mics
then just slip away?

Let’s celebrate being under-read
for building character,
part of learning the craft.
Perhaps even accept it,
and call it justice enough.

“The injustice of under-read authors prompts passionate readers to evangelize about obscure loves.” – Nicole Lamy, “NY Times Book Review”, 8 April 2018, page 9.

Underwater by Lauren Stevens

I never
forgot to blow the air
with force out of my nose whenever
my head was abruptly submerged underwater
exhaling to keep my lungs from filling up with
the cold ocean that stings my eyes and
the little cuts from my
razor blade
wading past our knees to
see if the waves could knock us over
that time we jumped off the bridge from Jaws on the Vinyard
Except now I am the one creating
waves that knock me over filling
my lungs up my head deep

JOMO by Gary Thomas

I missed the play because electricians didn’t install
a ceiling fan in time for me to attend. Call it joy.

I was late for a medical procedure because I’d marked
the wrong time on my Google calendar. Call it joy
of the sort you find by being wrong and still released.

I didn’t make it to a party due to a dark and stormy night
more dangerous than this cliché. Call it joy of missing
a chance to see friends drink too much, share too much,
make it home only by the grace of GPS and no traffic.

I spent the day not thinking about the moments I could
have reveled in near escapes from those with voices like
cheese graters. Call it joy of missing out on memories
that crippled any courage I might have wielded then,
as this day allows me pleasure of presence, of cardinals.

They Say Healing is The Easy Part by Rachel Wylie

Dimensions of shattered echoing aspirations
Dragging me into the depths of a hell I’d do anything to escape from
Losing sight of all ambition
My lungs are collapsing from silent screams
Misshapen shaking hands echo fears from the unknown

The irony of us is soaked in kerosine
Why are you the one who gets to hold the match

They turn to you
As they shutter at my attempts to scream
Pain is echoing through my spine
Your talons strangle my sanity
I can’t breathe

Why do you get the privilege of the last laugh
As I’m forced to carry on, keep calm

You love to dance with fire
Yet try to convince everyone around you
You’re just cradling innocent air

My exterior’s inescapably hardened
I’ve gone down an octave because of you

You dance with demons delicately blue
While my weary eyes are lost in space
Deconstructing poems in forms that don’t have a clue

Monk See Moth by Dave Sims

Monk Sees Moth by Dave Sims

Silence by Jason Melvin

I walk along the shore
only sounds
the crash of tiny waves
some distant chittering
in foreign languages

I often think I crave
for everyone to just
if only for a little while

But I think what
I truly desire
is silence
not the deafening kind
absent of noise
where the brain searches
where anxiety lies

The kind where
I don’t feel the need
To react
To speak
To listen
To participate

just background
of no importance
enough to keep
the brain engaged
but insignificant enough
to not create

Culling by David Walsh

The maple has been strung
from a crane, broken into pieces,
dropped without ceremony on my
neighbors’ front lawn. Chainsaws
shred rings to leave age uncounted,
years of growth unmarked, future unmet.

The oak grew too close to the house,
worn arms pushed holes in its shelter.
A chipper sounds like a machine gun.
Limbs torn from limbs lay in its path,
pulled into the line of fire.
Wood mulch results from the battle.

Acorns scatter and rattle shingles with every
shake of rope that pulls down trunks.
Leaves fly from the scene, lost in noise.
I am not the trees. Four trucks dismantle
seventy years of life. Dust to dust.

Beyond The Casual Solitudes by Samuel Gilpin

one :: noise & weather

boiled eggs in bowl,
polka dot dress,
your legs of asymmetry through
cover of dusk:
clustered instincts
of a body
in motion,
in drawn light,
born of an emptying out:
vista fleeing through retina:
layered over gray burnt into edges
like scrapings of rust:
like a cast bell cast into image

two :: fault line

about sound.
about symmetry.
about our increasing
we’ve read
in the negative spaces
between the verbed branches.

its all just a
quiver of nouns.
an indifferent winter
shivering across your pores.

through pupil
the viscous
combinations of cumulus
and nimbus thick
with mania and distraction.

this determining
to make sense
with what has been
washed out in paler
shades of blue.

three :: air against limbs

no metaphor for
the stall of speechlessness
sewn and resewn
through your lips

Close Your Eyes by Samuel Gilpin

wet leaves stuck to pavement
honeysuckle and ragwort and wild carrot
the wind violet against the metallic chime
dividing lines of sight
where sky meets horizon

Thoreau: nothing in nature makes sense

translation of the slow light
into dusk
blue shadows lingering
even though the sun cannot



You adore the smell of pencil shavings
so much, you feel you could eat them as cereal.
This is crucial since the money you make
from poetry will not afford you the luxury
of buying much in the grocery store.


You’ve learned to accept the fact your mind
operates like a round, silver pinball,
bouncing off the walls in unforeseen directions,
bells and lights going off with the excitement
of random pings creating mind-boggling metaphors.


You enjoy hearing yourself talk, as well
as listening to other voices in your head
and have not yet been diagnosed with any
mental disorder. This is crucial for
writing brilliant first person persona poems.


You use, napkins, matchbook covers,
any impossible writing material at hand
to scribble in poetic thoughts. You think
in stanzas. All of life, friends and foes,
nature and the unnatural, are fodder for poems.


You know a graduate degree in poetry
will not guarantee you fame and fortune
but will provide a pile of tony rejection letters
over which you will lament then tear up
until one acceptance finally declares your brilliance
to the world.

Circles by Christopher Rubio-Goldsmith

Because of the pandemic you notice the gatherings
at city parks. People with their own chairs. The different
colors and styles arranged create circles in the grass
usually under the shade of a big tree. Most hold thermoses,
a few carry blankets and backpacks.

Who wandered their house alone late at night? Opening and closing
the refrigerator door. Flipping through the
channels: Perry Mason, Magnum, Virgil. Maybe some know
what they need but have no clue about how to ask for it.

In these circles are they learning to understand their grief? The length of
their scars go all the way around their families, and friends. Thick ropes
connected to lead boxes, containers without labels, ruptured trusts
in front of everyone like a day at a favorite lake.

Lives are extraordinary. How they can comeback from rooms with no
lights or experiences in the wilderness of our isolation. Everyone’s confession
can become a mark on a rock that does not fade. Who else shares
a similar story? Who else sees themselves sitting across the grass?

No Drop of Moisture Comes from These Springs by Aaron Beck

No Drop of Moisture Comes from These Springs by Aaron Beck

Mathematics by Sarika Jaswani

The statistical analysis
Of my second grade teacher
Is that I am bad at mathematics

Drawings of stick figures in my math workbook
Determine through algebraic calculations that
I will be a colossal failure

The adults gather around principal’s office
To think on how to erase and undo my doings and
Through rules of inference conclude

On the number of black holes
Of my future

The bald eagle of my imagination takes flight
On the hillside of Kamath Basin
Feather by feather I, pluck on memories
Of all the old occurrences, In one

I, have failed my language test
In the other I, fracture my big toe
Trying to get better at doing a sport

One by one I, pull the talons of expectations that have built my identity
And break the beak of ego that established me as an echo of my accomplishments

Slow yet steady the calculus of my renewing feathers brings about an epiphany that the
Zero-sum of life is nothing but an acronym—
For order of operations – PEMDAS

No matter the number I add to the parentheses
I will always end the equation of life with subtraction

Today, as crows from past come to peck mid flight
I go to that sullen girl standing in the school corridor with drawings of stick figures in her math workbook

I quietly whisper in her ear
Your quiet elevation at this tender age is much higher
Than any trigonometric function of this world.

When it comes down to it, we prefer money to literature: by Jeff Burt

A $ symbol always has drama.
When people see a period, they prefer two digits to the right.
In a parking lot, everyone bends for a shiny coin. Few stop for a poem.
A play can grab the attention of a few. Money is universally interesting.
No one has ever burned a hole in a pocket with a short story.
Pink Floyd had a monster hit with the song “Money.” No one has had a hit with “Deconstructionism.”
Fiction does not make the world go round.
Poetry is not the root of anything.
You don’t get mo’ problems from a well-written paragraph.
You can’t throw flash fiction at problems and hope they go away.

A Piece of Me by Christopher Osswald

One day we’ll meet
over coffee
in a crowded cafe
and we’re the only ones there.
The conversation
will never end
and I’ll wish
the day wouldn’t either.
But it will
and a piece of me
leaves with you
and I’ll always be envious
of the piece
that lives
where I can’t.

Call me Pretty by Riley Henderson

Call me pretty
Call me sweet

Call me something
I’ll believe

Lie to me,
like the weather man

Call it sunny,
watch me dance

Dub me luscious
Swear I’m fake

Say I’m worth
all the time I waste

Lie to me
Say I’m fine

Hold my fingers,
I’ll be alright

Kiss my shoulders
Pull my hair

Don’t remind me
how sick I am

Lie to me
Lie like wine

Don’t try to catch me,
just this time

Tattoos by Nancy Lubarsky

The ink journeys down the arms of the man
on the beach; dragon wings, recently added,
wrap around his back, meet at his belly — the
landscape blurs over rolls of stretched skin.

At a summer business meeting, my neighbor’s
legs are trapped — black opaque stockings
cover sunflower vines; she regrets the
drunken dare in her last month of high school.

My former boss’s right shoulder is sculpted
with a butterfly in mid-flight, just above the
line of a strapless dress; her plan is to leave
her husband but he never looks up.

My friend’s son is haunted by his roommate’s
senseless death—random bullets in a Virginia
Tech hallway—a ribboned Rest in Peace
shields his back and finally frees him.

And my three dots, a triangled bulls’ eye, just
right of my heart, guided weeks of radiation
a darkened room, a cold steel table—one
mark still visible if I lean slightly forward.


Gold lingered on the horizon—
And the wind, taking with it
Your honeyed hair

A thousand rooms of
Uncompromising light
Permeating the doors in which
You often chained

How many lovers entered
Only to depart,
How many skins accumulated
In your closet?

I’ve lost count with the miles
We’ve travelled since those early days,
Which I don’t allow myself to revisit
As they are more evocative than the last—

Listening to the discography of
A band that’s now disbanded,
Our indelicate greens and blues
Conjuring faulty vows—

There was something beyond the haze
Which for all we knew, was simply life—
But I couldn’t be convinced then,
Of your aged soul

The hellish poems never slowed
And I observed you with the same gaze
As I do the addicts hunched over in the streets
Face down in their own piss—

It wasn’t that I loved you any less,
Some deaths you just can’t evade.

Watching Behind Doors
by Juanjuan Henderson

Watching Behind Doors by Juanjuan Henderson

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