Volume 1 Issue 2

A Letter from The Editor

      Once again, the From Whispers to Roars community has stunned us. With over 350 submissions to Issue 2, we are forever thankful for your trust and the chance to read and view your creative work. 

      As a publication, we know that we have a great responsibility. We aim to provide a forum for budding and established writers and artists, and also to encourage those voices who may be hesitant to share their work just yet. We know how vulnerable the artistic experience can be, and strive to be your cheerleader, resource, and editor. 

Volume 1 Issue 2 Cover

     Writers and artists, thank you for sharing your work with us and with the world. We are so proud to provide a platform for you to share your talents.

     Readers, thank you for supporting off-beat art and literature. We wouldn’t be here without you! 

     A huge thank you to all of the people who support From Whispers to Roars behind the scenes. Friends, family, editors, baes, and the creative squad, thank you!. Special shout out to Samm Mammoser for sharing her editing talents and marketing passion with us!

     Issue 2 is entertaining and the work is representative of a talented body of artists and writers. I am confident you will enjoy this provocative rollercoaster of an issue – buckle up!


Rachel R. Noall 



“Soulstream” by Nathanael Hueso

What is in your bloodstream?

Download my spirit to a drive And store me with care.

Flesh-felt torment forms


Soul-striking sorrow seeps Into me.

Binge-purge poisonous chemicals

From veins clogged and cut.


Out the soft spoken cancer.


The castle with no walls.


The message with no carrier.


Songless frequencies. End

All stagnant avenues.

What is in your soulstream?

Upload all my red

And share

My bone-breaking story.

Paste the groans ((Words written on my rib cage)).

Sink the salivation.

Kill sanitation.

Spread the life-giving virus.

Cause a sickness for renewal.

Infuse truths with our terror.

Separate the parasitic from the song.

Cure the healthy of their sight.

Implant the eyes of the blind

Into their sterilized skulls.

Their wellbeing is hellbeing

For the offspring who sing.

Our song is shunned

And wisdom wrung.

Reconstruct the record

Lost in the noise.

Stream it on all channels.

Channel all our soulstreams

Into remorseless daydreams.

“Blue” by Alexis Kowalcyk 

I’m blue

But not sad



My shoes, suede

I’ll blow my horn too

Although I’m not a little boy

Listen to my rhapsody

The birds of happiness sing it

Stop standing alone

Under that moon

This pale blue dot is ours

And like a bolt

It’s true

I’m blue

“I am transparent” by Ana Martínez Orizondo

I woke up tattooed by a fairytale not of rabbit holes and white horses or

talking mirrors and hunchback saviors, but of cellular Oneness and grace. I

woke up barefoot in heaven tickled by cold grass

and awakened by the aroma of fertility. Of guayava and mamoncillo

as they procreated the earth and moved to the rhythm of son raw

and ripe until they flexed the spine of Time and birthed a placenta

of water. 

Transparency is my name. And

I walk among you

unnoticed by the eye of the so-called Beholder,

but I exist in children’s laughter, bark

and root of purpose and meaning.

I exist when you close your eyes and float in forgiveness, I exist where you rarely seek because

it would take courage to find me. 

I am transparent, yet if you held out your hand, you

would find me. 

“The Key” by Christopher Morse 

A life in my hands, like the fragile egg of some rare exotic bird, concentrate,

focus, breathe, squeeze the trigger,


Bright blood slips through dirty fingers, like a broken

yolk, slowly staining the hot desert sand.

Fast forward-

Raindrops explode in puddles on pavement slick, and black like the wet fur of some primal beast,

your face reflects a thousand times in the blinking glare of crosswalk lights.

The deep red of arterial blood-

I want to scream; save me before I come unwound, and wash away in pieces down the gutter,

hold me tight and tape my soul back together just one more time. 

On some sunny sandy beach-

Far away from this dark place I shuffle through, haunted

by the demons of deeds both done and undone,

A prison I built with a heavy door and no windows to see the sun. Please,

help me find the key.

“Conversations Worse Than Sex Ed” by Anna Bohleber 

Fifteen and evil. Like some supervillain. 

I bet when he was five he dressed like Spiderman

And now he is fifteen feels this, feels that, 

Feels heavily and feels hard.

Wants to be “hard” like his dad says Be a man.

You just need your knob-slobbed.

You just need a job, you just need to get over it

Get on, get off, get tough, get some. 

Wild accusations of Manhood.

Like a cure that is really just vinegar and water

Maybe some laudanum, add something for color. 

Then leave and leave them with hope.

And it will crash

Bodies to the floor, confusion because “I thought” It

would work. 

They’ll want to hang this wandering charlatan And

he will be easy to blame

Because he is long gone now. 

They will say he lied and we should have known. 

But maybe some part did know, had heard, had seen

Some symptom of sickness. Its face rears and lays waste

Breeds and dies and comes back. But

“You don’t need anything, you’ll be fine.” There’s

nothing wrong. It’s all talk, all for attention. 

To feel must be proven. 

A sign will be given, of course and they won’t like it.

They will get a large sign. It will embarrass them.

Bold letters, front page, pictures of smiling martyrs, candles

Outrage, shock. Somehow these things will be shown And

there will be no talk of talking. Telling. Or listening. 

Somehow at fifteen you can be evil.  You can’t just ask, “Are you going to hurt yourself?” Anymore.

“Soundless Sketching” by Clara Roberts 

Shrouded by layered fading shadows

She is muted by the vanishing light

And foggy shades

Of darkness that have wound her into Threads.

The self-control that she covets is crumbling,

Crumbling into slick white dust,

Fading as the corroded clocks chime And as each piece of nail polish Chips.

It is not the pale face waiting  To be caressed.

It is the refusal to dive into Raw swollen Skin.

You never needed days

In a perpetual sequence of tragedy and confusion.

You now see that it is dangerous to scratch the make-up

Of your habit’s pulsation,

Quivering as though drunk from your swollen failures And

the dispirited words you hold onto every time.

Words haunt and leave images,

Images that provoke beauty

And leave you forever Silent.

“Are You A Feminist?” by Coral Kendall

He asks me, Are you a feminist?

‘Cause I swear I’ve heard this same shit before

about mistreatment and inequality and just more

whining than you could imagine and I freeze up like

the new kid the teacher called on what am I supposed to say, no?

cause that would be a lie

As a little girl I always knew I could play with ‘boy’ toys

when I was 5 I rode my kiddie blue monster truck around 

like I owned the whole block when I was 8 I was labeled

as a tomboy 

and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be a girl

When I was 13 my body started changing

and I got real excited ‘cause 

I thought that meant finally I’d be

respected for the woman I was

but instead I just got 

uncomfortably stared at by men

I got laughed at by boys my age 

telling me how I should act

harassed by my girlfriends  for

wearing baggy clothes  and

cutting my hair short for liking

girls like a guy should

A year later I wore cute little skirts paired with makeup tutorials

I grew my hair out and wore push-up bras because that’s what

guys would like, right? First day of school I wore a red tank-top 

it covered 3 finger lengths of my shoulders and I got called slut I’m told,

put some clothes on, and my ‘friends’ tell me I’m asking for it, yet a boy

smiled at me for the first time so I continued to play the role

A lot of it was such a lie but more

people started talking to me and a

lot more guys did notice me but

that stuff gets tiring to keep up

trying to look different all the time 

was a WASTE of my time cause

now my body’s fully grown and I

don’t know what to do with it I

have to wear a bra ‘cause if I don’t 

I’m seen as a horny girl begging

for attention

begging to be touched begging to be handled with ‘not so

much’ care must shave my legs cause what would people

think? What would they say ‘bout the girl who’s always

trying to be “One of the boys”?

Well guess what world? 

Guys aren’t that great anyway

I’m tired of all the lies

I am woman hear me roar

I can wear my jersey with these hot stilettos I will wear

as much eye shadow as I see fit not worrying about

what kind of ‘message’ that gives off cause believe it or

not, ma’am, I want a new message!

How ‘bout one to send to the guy who dares to ask, Are you a feminist? I’m mailing in my response ‘GO FUCK YOURSELF’ and licking the stamp not giving a shit about being lady- ‘like’, lady-ish, lady-enough for you

“A List of Preparation for my Funeral” by Sarah Saltiel 

  1. I will never die

2. If I die, I will die beautiful, but I repeat, I will never die

3. Cremate me

4. Give me a Tibetan sky funeral

5. Freeze my head and send it off into outer space, I always wanted to be an astronaut and— 6. Bury me, just fucking bury me, bury me in green so that in my next life
I can become the sea, bury me in green so that if I come back, when I come back,
I won’t look like I just came from somebody’s funeral

7. Bury me before my mother

8. Bury me before my grandmother

9. Bury me before my mother because I have yet to forgive her, bury me before my grandmother so I don’t have to feel guilty for every email
I didn’t have time to respond to/bury me after my mother because she has yet to be forgiven, bury me
after my grandmother because she shouldn’t have to see her granddaughter
buried, but I repeat, I will never die and there is time, there is so much time, bury me in the seas of time

10. Tell my brother that I love him and that he should rethink being a Republican

11. Tell him I’ll haunt him

12. Don’t tell him that but tell him I love him, don’t bury me in a cemetery 13. Don’t bury me in a cemetery, bury me like a favorite pet out back of your childhood home and plant sunflowers or a tree
over top, come read to me sometimes until you have to sell the house and move away and the new owners won’t know why or what it means, but when they’re having breakfast one springtime morning,
one of them will turn to the other and remark how bright the sunflowers are, bury me— 14. Bury me by the ocean

15. Bury me in the mountains

16. Bury me in my bed because I do not have a god but in life I have worshipped sleep and sex and rest and anguish all at the altar of my bed

17. Bury me, but do not bury my poetry with me because here’s a reminder that I will never die, instead read them out in the streets, leave pieces of them hidden away for people to find and I— 18. I will never die

19. When you bury me, if

20. If you bury me, go to each person and touch their hand and call them by name, do this for me because I cannot, there is no time, there is never enough time and tell them that I’m sorry tell them

21. That I forgive them, that I love them that I love them, that I have loved them more than once, tell them that they are not dead and tell them that I will never die.

“The Wren” by Caleb Scott 

The shadow of you here bent solemnly at my knee became a wren today

flash of wing, a wren with all its ways of being:
the Flutist hidden

to see, the Thrush-like the Cactus perched on my bones their chosen fencepost staccato voices sounding out stories of courage, blind flight through clouds

who would not choose to be chosen by such a loud and easy intimacy
But the Eurasian wren is there too and she

in the shallow pool she is not afraid of drowning, she feeds so quickly so

And the Giant and the Marsh “chupahuevo”
they sometimes call her, she is waiting, her eye denying this specific hunger for
my hand

to open, expose the frail thing
I have been holding

there; and her beak is a hammer, and the others, whether they’ve chosen this place in party or pair
they let her strike, for all must eat and the heart chooses
the food it

When they are done, the wrens now kings of these smallest spots: the knee the elbow the neck’s delicate slope,
their wings

flash again, explosion the color of grass past its green, and they leave

me, my parts all buzzing my hand open and cleaned of the courage that unfolded it.
I bend toward the tree to cut me with a steadier shadow

“In the Dream #1” by Kit Alloway

“In the Dream #1” by Kit Alloway

“In Flight” by Finola McDonald

I’m going to tell you a

you won’t escape the crows,

either– their wings like

headlights ravaging an


you should know, the

thing about birds is that

there is never

just one

asking for whatever is in your pocket, something



you – at first– might like to watch them speed for

in the parking lot after the beach, in the

supermarket, high on the piping they always

seem to reach,

when you get off the train, or the

bus, or into the cab that takes

you back to bed

their diesel soaked feathers stick

your wrist, or linger on the tile

floor, guests on extended vacations,

and when you try to clean they

watch you on the fire escape

calling out to

the rest…

when you dial your mother on

a Friday, she asks you why

you’re afraid.

its only

an animal.

“to the 14-year-old writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction” by Andrew Sutherland

red hair resting on a lover’s

shoulder, feet floating high

above the ground; a bullet

through the back, black-eyed and

bleary, each night a little later,

adolescent webbing

threading through

your screaming dreams, slash

pairings bursting forth, the

lonely heroics of private

school, first kisses, the pale- boy

education you consume.

and still to come, your fresh

held hands, Sarah McLachlan

tears, wide-mouthed stone men,

grasping at swords –

“take all that away, and

what’s left?” when every

lengthening year your own

big bad is growing; new wars

against your hollow self.

and how many re-runs

does it take to know

oneself? since in time

the hopes you hold

will be less, though

perhaps each one may

bear a strength, an undead heart of fiction,


“When I Left Your Place that first time” by Chris Connolly

dressed in darkness

and in silence so as

not to wake you,

I left a note smudged on your mirror (back

before technology outmoded analogue

romance) reading: fun night, call me, x. I was

driven up the walls for three full days and

nights waiting for a call that didn’t come, until

it occurred–– I hadn’t lipsticked a number, just

a dumb, pink message. Later you would admit

to being driven up the walls yourself by my


though your coolness when I returned in person

already yours entirely three days later was a

masterclass in nonchalance.

But when I left your place that last time

dressed in darkness of a different sort

shrouded in silence of a different kind,

words no longer any use, all that was

left in your mirror was

the defeated face of a person you maybe possibly might have fallen in love with but in the end did not.

“Pause” by Stathis Antoniou

I open the wooden door behind the clouds
I enter a dark room and lie on soft silence
This is the place where time secretly closes his eyes and sleeps
Nothing matters here. It’s the empty space between spaces
But darkness is quickly covered by the void of expecting the void The realizing that time might be dead
and there’s no guarantee the play button will ever work again Or, the realizing that sometimes
we must learn to sleep with nothing

“Over the Music” by Kit Alloway

I want to be a dark horse running through a

dark night black as lost time

black shiny cars kissed with chrome under teal

and fuchsia lights drinks in frosted glasses

and women in seamed pantyhose.

I want to wear heels and be stalwart untouchable

and begging to be touched.

The American Dream is simply to be desired desirable

desireless and elite

as soon as we get it we want something else.

To indulge contradiction is the American Dream.

Go to the club every night be tiger

mom career woman vixen rich and

famous and simplify your life

get deep and slow down

We want what they tell us to want

We can’t hear anything over the music.

“In the Kitchen” by Jacob DeCroce

Tattoos like garnish
Apple seed aura
Floating in a field of raspberries
Floating in a field of therapy
My belly hurts

If you were a fruit I’d be an orange
And taste over ripe.

I could eat
Hope don’t lie in A drawer of last night’s corner light

“The Middle Hours” by H.A. Callum

The light of perception casts short rays

that delineate reality beaming from the

sun to belittle our senses.

Vibrant colors exist to wash light

bathing days bled to dusk,

fearing its departure, but neglect

to realize darkness falling is just another shade

of that same light transmitted via

ultraviolet spectrum to our tired eyes

ingrained with the sands of fitful rest,

it stings, lament lacing the facial

plane in salt laden strands scarring

the cheek, seasoning the mood, emotional

umami on the tongue

unpalatable to the wary mind,

emphasize that day tugs inked

felt draping the eyes rolling

back to night-time.

“New Life” by Jennifer Lothrigel

“New Life” by Jennifer Lothrigel

“Storefront Windows” by Geoffrey Gray

when i was a doll they kept me warm with swaddling blankets so i was unharmed when i was a puppy i urinated on the floor unraveled creations and then asked for more when i was a puzzle my pieces spread out on a table of promise or a table of doubt when i was machinery buttons and oil my surface so damaged by nicks, lacks and flaws when i made a mannequin they pointed and laughed behind vacant stares i plotted the aftermaths then i was a flower i just didn’t know how to be pollinated by someone like you so there i waited and bent towards the ground until i resembled the shape of a horseshoe once again they pointed and laughed back to the dirt failed to graft hold the phone there may be an answer all it might take is a reason to ask her
to look in another storefront window
at the ring because in her mind i wasn’t a thing
to be bought or implied like a glance in that window i’m no longer inside shall a chance which is taken be qualified? a small velvet box
a ribbon tied a day of forever so happy i cried and then a kettle drum
instead of a piece of sugarless gum

“Chance Encounter (or a Kinder Use of Bullets)” by Joyce Wheatley

• Serendipity o lovely luck o chance encounter o good fortune
• Rippling waters o boats touching o gentle bumping o line fishing
• First meeting o leaky crafts o sinking ships o S.O.S.
• Shared oars o climb into yours o you into mine o languid time
• Vessels patched o rowing far o far from shore o rhythmic strokes
• Love encountered o on this lake o brief joy o serendipity with you

“the anatomy of sound” (to piper and owen) by Edwin Marquez Smith

throw your voices to the wind. the systematic evolution of the ear’s

fiery beat soaked consumption  the viral whizzing guitar riffed

dreams floating above like stars  dissipating our souls into the

ether of life.  sounds are the only true world.  even the words i

love so much are manipulatable 

sounds are all that’s free. 

the clouds flood in like a canopy.

our inconspicuous existence levitating illuminated,  moving

unconstrained to the whirling streams of sound 

the explosive seraphim of all our deepest dreams 

dreaming of sound – the fucking nightmare of this 

our fragile beings sitting on the forefront reflecting through

the inaudible whole. 

we sense the sky, the clouds in our eyes such

winds, such trees, the greenest greens we’ve ever

seen wind pushes ripples through the grass the

enchanted dance binding air to the leaves to a post

rain harmony. 

we sit on prolific stones, 

stagnant with the inexhaustible patterns of something unknown to us 

us with children eyes, silently contemplating the grandiose marquee

of our existence 

the smell of dreams heavy as the smell of rain in the wind, moving

as fast away as it arrived in our subtle minds.

we look to the skies, 

everybody leaves  

if they get the chance  

we calculate our time 

this is our chance.  

we hear the water fall lulling our minds, congruent beats in the

night water falling, weaved within the rhythm of our

mortality,  flooding to some blackened bottom – it’s night

after all. 

sleeping on the stones in Tennessee car lights

peek through the trees we watch the lights go

out in each other as it has for ourselves it’s the

twenty-first century.  

nothing else to do except lay beneath the universe, making sense of rainbows

 “Pray” by Charnjit Gill 

She was paper thin

He was ripped

They had paper cuts in all the right places 

“Frostbite” by Matt Miller 

What has compassion given me?

Grief. Heartbreak. Anger. Loneliness.

I became weaker when I tried to strengthen others.

But the curse of compassion has blessed me with a cold heart; an internal winter where

summer can no longer exist.

The frostbite is comforting.

“Kingdom Come” by Elizabeth Chung 

It’s over.

Looking at the sullen rainy skies

at the pavement striped,

water beating at the scratched up glass,

beating like my tiny elated heart It is


“Let the rain wash away, all the pain of yesterday”

My mantra,

“I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiven my mistakes” My

fierce young conviction.

I didn’t know her, my

apparent mother. Defiant

and foolish still, flirting

with the ‘maybe’. But

there was no maybe

where she was.

I know not who I’d be

at 60 in a car crash;

whether I’d still be a 

slut for risk. If I

hadn’t rejected her

would I be in a car at all?

It is


A humbled, heartbroken homecoming

An elated, euphoric entrance I

care not for my mother anymore.

“Grandma’s Garden” by Kayla Branstetter

“Grandma’s Garden” by Kayla Branstetter

“Wishes” by Rebecca Meier 

I wish I was small enough to fit into the palm of a child and be crushed;

To fold myself in between flower petals and drown when it rained;

To nestle next to a lightbulb and be slowly burnt to a crisp;

To swim in a puddle and be demolished by dancing rain boots;

To nap between the pages of a book of a library that goes up in flames.

Every dandelion fluff that I puff into the wind breeds

weeds in my neighbors’ yards;

Every birthday candle that I successfully extinguish

sets off panicked sprinklers and smoke alarms;

Every shooting star that blinds the night sky hears a

wish full of spite before it ever hears mine.

The universe is too vast to ever clasp onto my trivial wants.

I am sick with my body, my existence, my wishes — much too





I can feel my well wishes slip between my fingers,

slick with selfish desires to retire to a life of 

small, small, small, small.

“Single Black Mother” by Katerina Canyon 

Always stand tall        Stand broad 

Resistant Sequoia tree 

When I left

I knew he was gone 

You have to kill a mountain lion 

To get him to unclench his jaw 

You are a hummingbird

Whose wings warm with the sunrise 

Santa Ana winds         Pushed me south 

Held the spirit of my mother 

Forest fires burned 

Across the grip of his 

Wedding ring 

The California condor

Endangered  Flies unseen by predator eyes 

Nightmares of my father 

Kept me fleeing

Like a roadrunner 

Across hot desert sand 

Race every mile

Sprinkling his memory like dust 

You flew back to your tree 

When your eggs are crushed 

You learn to protect your nest 

“Heartbones” by N.E. Langston 

Just lie here and hold me

And we’ll lie here together

We’ll pretend that you didn’t 

Just spit out little bolts of lightning

To strike me down

Like you didn’t just tell me this is the last time

After the umpteenth time

I’ve opened myself up to you— Because, as you say, something better

Is out there waiting

And that something could never be me

That cracking sound you hear is nothing—

Just the dying of the embers before The

room goes dark.

The thing that bleeds is beating, unseen In

the pitch blackness, the thing you never

Asked me for.

It’s thin as paper, as wishes, and encased in tiny bones

Embedded in the muscle shaped like a fist

A map of all things said and unsaid and felt

A cage for a little red bird

All that lives, fights for that life

I know that now

I will live and grow

New wings again. Fly strong little bird, never you mind.

Don’t listen to those snapping sounds

They’re not for you

It is just the last gasp of the fires— The

embers are dying!

The wind through these bones will Turn

them into chimes.

And my heart has more than one note— You,

your words, and those embers be damned.

“Shameless Survival: Seamless Monster” by Ailish NicPhaidin

Seamless monster

Tired raven

Spilt milk

Glorious haven

Beneath the rocks

Of smoldering gold

And frankincense and myrrh

To bring new life

And swarms of bees

That laugh with honey  At Haiti on its knees.

To breathe new life into

Whatever is begotten, born or dies.

With a glass of chardonnay

“in the morning dew” by Martha Nance

“in the morning dew” by Martha Nance

“I Don’t Know What Poetry Is” by Andrew Posner

…but I want to change the world

I don’t know what poetry is. At

33, I’ve read very little, And

written even less.

At school, on the other shore

Of the salty void

That separates the child from the adult,

Poetry was obligation, beauty 

Hanging in frames,  Words as real as cubes of ice

That hurt to chew, and left me thirsty.

I don’t know what poetry is.

At work, poetry is an acid,

In it, the walls are stripped bare,

Clothes are stripped bare,

Teeth rot,

No suits, no smiles, no awards 

For running a small nonprofit.

At 33, I am married. My wife is pregnant.

We love each other and our Beagle.

Have a home, a mortgage, a yard.

Don’t worry about money. 

Are happy. 

And if I knew what poetry was, I’d say:

The diapers I wore and soon will change;

The homework I refused to do

Because I was a Romantic

And Romantics don’t do as told;

My two years wearing all white

Because I wanted to be pure

And knew no other way;

The implausible ambition that 

That these words outlive me like a mineral,

That my work overcome injustice

The way barnacles scuttle ships;

And the pool of blood in which

All human longing swims, alone,

Wrestling currents…

Still I seek that other shore

Where I can meet myself

At last

And unload the cargo of my potential

Before all goes dark and nothing matters anymore.

“Norco high” by Gerard Sarnat 

educates me

every night. 2 weeks post


new hip

this year, 

I’m aware  that 1/3 of 

us end up

not stopping

opiates so I

allow me

only 1 per.

These days

I’m a 9-5

sleeper or

at least I try

to stay

awake till 9

& then in

bed till 5. 


start w/ max

Celebrex +

Tylenol +


— a trial of

Ambien left

me groggy in

the AM— &

don’t think


fill Rx for 

Trazodone my

PCP emailed 


Cool room,

crisp sheets

& case for a


pillow w/


socks off,


round of ice

packs or



my ritual.





urine jug

hooked to



need to 

use latter  t

o risk  

getting to bathroom



Thus after much

much more

detail than you



when I’m


from pain


side to

back to

side like a

chicken on





1130-1; at

last it’s NORCOTIME

which is a

real treat.

Clear as a

bell but

quiet – I

lie there as

hot aches

melt away.

Marijuana is

great for

pain but too

arousing &

I haven’t

got the hang

of CBD yet.

Some combo

of dreams,


meditation &

cuddling get

me thru till


Her own

new hip


(one knee



my wife says w/ 

all our


after back fit

as fiddles,

we should

set up a joint

replacement B&B


“Stepping Stones” by Ana Martínez Orizondo

“Stepping Stones” by Ana Martínez Orizondo 

“Forgotten” by Christopher Osswald 

I see your motionless body

laying in the doorway,

bottle by your side, chaos

in your mind.

I see your cart before

seeing you behind the tall

pile of shit you call


I see you standing on

the corner, holding

your can out to all

who pass. Blessing

us whether or not we

give…a damn.

But I pretend not to see

you forgotten friends,

sons and daughters right

in front of our faces, and

you, the epitome of

Jesus’ children, will get

into heaven before me.

“Vandalism” by Riley Henderson 

Who paints the


I know the man

who bakes my



I know the girl

who walks my

neighbors’ pit


I’ve seen the couple,

who take on dawn to

capture the mornings’


but who is the genius behind

the bricks?

Who bears a soul, though



by the spots

and the stripes, and

men on ropes and

landing craft?


by a string of

concrete notes, a


saxophone, and

subtle words,

encoded in spoons

of heroin;

of love, of

anger, of



in the tell-tale stroke of


Seen, though

invisible, in the

careful scheme

of the cacophony,

In the seamless,

borderless fabric of

the fire escape.

Ordinary, everyday,


Who is this  fever-dream?

Who is this poor

man’s nightcap?

Who is this soothing




the walls?

“A Kite” by Oak Ayling

I held a gypsy baby today

Held him in my arms

Redheaded traveller

Same history as me

But my roots got buried in centuries

While this little bird 

Is still off flying free

And I wanted to hold him

As long as I could

I felt like I knew

There was a balance there to be struck

Some pull some pressure

Some natural vacuum

Greater than the compulsion

Of age and instinct

There was the ache for trade

A little lift

For a place to stand

And we stood quiet staring

Eyes building bridges

Both of us

Looking for the haven Suspended between

A kite and an anchor.

“Window” by Alec Lewis

“Window” by Alec Lewis


Putin’s Friend’s Favorite Desk by David Olsson

     A guy bought a new desk for his home office. But once he laid his hands on it, he was stuck. Wood and skin mixed. The doctors strongly advised against surgery. Besides, they didn’t know where the desk ended and the guy started. Actually, they weren’t sure if he was a real person any longer. He became an attraction, a freak. An oligarch bought him for 400 million U.S. dollars. ”Kill me,” he asked the oligarch’s daughter one brisk summer morning. She slit his throat. And the strangest thing happened. A mouth opened in the middle of the desk and drank the blood, all of it. A low buzz. The guy opened his eyes and raised his head. His throat had healed instantly and the blood had been pumped back into his veins. The girl’s father, the oligarch, watched the scene from afar. From that point onwards, he never missed a chance to showcase his invincible desk-guy. His closest business associates were invited to have a go themselves. Vladimir Putin once chopped the guy’s head off with a sabre. It rolled right back on. He never died.

“Folds” by Andrea Coates

“Folds” by Andrea Coates

How to Teach a Child to Share by Caitlin Jill Anders

     The first time you try to get her to share she will cry. In fact she will not just cry, but throw the biggest temper tantrum you have ever seen from a three-year-old. She’ll start by telling you no in her high pitched voice, and the more you insist the more she will say no, until her no’s turn into screams, screams and little balled fists pounding on the nearest things she can find — dolls, carpet, plastic blocks, the couch, your brand new curling iron sitting on the kitchen counter, unplugged thank god. Hot tears rolling down her cheeks will soon accompany her screams, making her angrier. She hates to cry, and therefore hates anyone who causes her to. She’s pretty self-aware for a three-year-old, which is why you can’t figure out why you can’t get her to share — she knows her behavior is wrong. Her anger is boiling on her pudgy cheeks, and her screams become louder and more frequent. 

     Once she has calmed down, you tell her in your quiet, understanding mom voice that all you want her to do is share her talking Carebear with her little sister, only a year younger than her and thus entitled to all the same toys that she is. The Carebear is bubblegum pink and probably one of the uglier things that has ever come out of a focus group. She tells you that it’s her toy, just as everything lately has been deemed hers. The house, the toys, you, daddy, it’s all hers and her little sister is just getting in the way. You tell her that she’s going to have to learn to share because her little sister isn’t going anywhere, and at that she stalks out of the room with the coveted bear under her arm. You tiptoe by her room not long after her dramatic exit and hear her talking soothingly to the bear. She tells the toy that it’s ok, they don’t need mommy or dumb little sister. They’ll go live in Carebear Land where everything is happy and no one ever has to share. You wonder if she knows there’s a bear called the Sharebear. The bear she’s holding probably loves to share. You make a mental note to buy her a Sharebear. She squeezes the bear’s tummy and it responds with an “I love you” in a loveless, electronic voice, and somehow that’s enough for her. 

     When the girls are six and seven you still have trouble getting them to share, and the younger one has taken it as a fact that older sisters always get what they want. This is not because you want to give the older one what she wants; you’re honestly a little afraid to say no. You try to break through this and make it not true, but your oldest daughter is stubborn. You swear to everyone she gets this from her father, but then notice that you refuse to believe you’re wrong when the man working the desk at the bank tells you that you’ve forgotten to sign the check you just gave him. You wonder if it’s possible that she’s rubbing off on you and not the other way around. 

     When you first had the younger one you nicknamed them Big and Little, because you thought it was cute. Big sister and little sister, best friends forever by blood and, hopefully by choice. As you grew to know them, you realized the nicknames fit their personalities too. Big, like the sound pots and pans make when you drop them. Big like the way you feel when you accidentally crush ants under your feet. Big like a hurricane. Big like a canyon, so big that your voice disappears inside of it, and you can never be sure if you were actually heard at all. Little, like the sound an almond makes when it falls on the floor. Little like the way you feel when someone important is talking down to you. Little like a seashell. Little like a mouse. 

     You never imagined it would turn out that way. 

     When you sit the whole family down for dinner one night Big complains that Little got more mac and cheese on her plastic Disney princess plate than she did. You try to assure her that you made certain they both had the same exact amount of cheesy goodness but she won’t believe you. She puts her nose right up against each plate and then declares that you’re wrong and scoops some of her sister’s food onto her plate, at which her sister begins to whimper and her daddy begins to yell, and you begin to get the same headache you get every night around dinner time. Daddy is still yelling and finally tells her that if she doesn’t learn to share right that minute then she won’t be getting any dessert, and so that night Big goes to bed with no sugar in her stomach and still no concept of what it means to share. 

     When the girls are eleven and twelve you have to tell them that Dad lost his job and you all have to move, not to a new town, which you hope will reduce the blow, but just to another house, a smaller house where they will have to share a room. The word share still does not go over well. Big immediately objects, using the ever popular “not fair” to describe having to share a room with her little sister, even though by now she is old enough to know that there are people in the world who are starving or sick and that not fair should be used to describe those people and not her. Not fair should be used to describe the fact that her father was probably the most talented man in his field and yet had still been laid off because there wasn’t enough money anywhere anymore and nothing was fair. If anyone should be able to use a phrase like not fair it should be Little, because you know what the older one is like. In fact, you agree that the room sharing won’t be fair, because you know your youngest, your baby, is going to get tormented by another human that you created. That is unfair. 

     Unfair, is probably also the fact that you have a clear favorite child. You try to convince yourself that it isn’t your fault, that you can’t help it, but at the same time it is all your fault – after all, she came from inside you. 

     On the first night of the dreaded room share, you and your husband wake up at three in the morning to the screams of your eleven-year-old angel. You dash down the hallway faster than the nurse from Madeline, half expecting there to be blood. Instead you find hair, your younger daughters long locks laying in clumps on the floor. Big is holding scissors. You and your husband don’t really speak at first before the yelling comes. It’s just so incredible. Your husband is yelling and Little is sobbing and Big still has not let go of the scissors. When you finally find the strength to speak again you manage, why? 

     Big shrugs. Her hair was making her breathe funny, I think. 

     She thinks. 

     It is now almost four in the morning and you have your baby on your lap in the bathroom, assessing the damage. Eleven is just old enough to start feeling judged by the rest of the world, and she sobs at her now lopsided reflection. You tell her that tomorrow she can skip school and you will go together to your hairdresser and she can fix it, but that just makes her sob harder. You let her sleep in your bed that night, while daddy hides all the scissors in the house and then falls asleep on the couch, defeated. When you can’t sleep you go into the girls room and watch your first born sleeping, a peaceful smile lingering on her lips. When she was a baby and you saw that sleepy smile, you felt so proud, and so alive. Now you can’t help thinking that she’s a bitch. That’s the moment you know you’re going to hell. 

     Over the years, the torment only gets worse. Borrowed sweaters that come back with strategically placed stains. Favorite stuffed animals that mysteriously disappear and show up in the neighbor’s dog’s mouth days later. It never stops. You wonder what would have happened if you had only had one child. Who would she have tortured then? Would she be an angel if it was only her? Was she simply just jealous? You wonder if there’s something wrong with her. You wonder if there’s something wrong with you. 

     When the girls are thirteen and fourteen, you get them a therapist. The older one is so mean and the younger one is probably traumatized — you don’t know what else to do. Little is hesitant at first, but soon she opens up, and what she says breaks your heart. The therapist relays their sessions to you, explains how Little doesn’t understand why her sister is so mean. You listen to the therapists coping suggestions eagerly, because you need them too. The therapy idea was of course mostly for Big, but therapy doesn’t work on her because she doesn’t care. The therapist asks her why she thinks she might be so mean to her sister and she says, because. I can be. The therapist is troubled by her, but doesn’t suggest much in terms of a solution. You have a feeling she knows that the harder she tries, the longer she will have to continue seeing the emotionless girl. You’re pretty sure the therapist you hired, who was recommended by everyone, is terrified of Big. You kind of are too. You stop making her go to therapy after thirteen weeks. It just isn’t worth it anymore. Little never stops going. 

     After the therapy fails, you decide to send them to your mother’s house for a weekend. Your dad’s been dead for five years and your mother hates the dog, so you figure it’ll benefit everyone. Maybe. Your mother has always been big on tough love, and if anyone can handle this shit, it’s her. Big doesn’t want to go, shocker, but before she can call her best friend’s older brother to come and save her you’ve already packed her favorite yellow bikini and a centuries worth of snacks, and you’re sure she notices when you practically shove her out the door. Little hugs you for a solid minute and a half. You whisper into her hair that she’s going to have so much fun, but you can feel her heart watching her sister through the front window as she slams the trunk of dad’s car shut with all the force of the Huns from Mulan. You let her hug you for another minute more. 

     You and your husband don’t really know what to do with the girls gone, except have a lot of sex and pray to God, Buddha, and Oprah that this trip will help. You don’t hear from either of them or your mother for the entire weekend. When they finally arrive home, you hold your breath. 

     Big comes home with brochures for boarding school, and Little comes home with a nervous knitting habit. On Monday your mother calls you, takes a deep breath and says, that husband of yours has one hell of a gene pool. You consider taking up knitting, too. 

     When the girls are sixteen and seventeen, you start to wonder where you went wrong. Did you go wrong? All of the self-help parenting books tell you that she will grow out of her selfish behavior, but to you it seems as if she has simply been growing into it, bit by bit, more and more every day. All of your friends talk about their younger one being spoiled, but your youngest is teaching kids to write poetry on her weekends and begging to do the dishes so that you can have a break. She’s everything that sixteen isn’t usually, and it’s almost as if her sister is twice as much a teenager just to make up for it. Just to cause you more grief. 

     When you found out you were having a second daughter, you had visions of them being the best of friends, inseparable. Now, you’re just thankful they’ve both lasted this long sleeping in the same room. Big is weeks from graduating and as defiant as ever. She really hit her stride in her senior year, and seems to be the social director of the senior class. Every weekend night a different party, always pitched to you as much different than it turns out to be, and never something she makes it home from on time. Your husband insists you both should keep scolding, keep trying, but you’ve sort of lost the will. They say parents shape their children, but you’re pretty sure your window for shaping Big into what you’ve always imagined has come and gone.

She is what she is. No amount of grounding or phone-withholding is going to change that.       One night though, she surprises you. She says she’s been invited to a party, and she was wondering if just maybe, you’d be ok with letting Little go, too. You have no idea what to say.

The only time she ever even acknowledges her sister is when she is accusing her of stealing her things only to later realize she had simply misplaced them. Little would never be so dumb as to cross her older sister. You consider this proposal carefully. This could be the moment you’ve been waiting for. This could be the night she finally decides to change. You know this could also end very, very poorly. You decide to take that risk. 

     Little seems confused but also overly eager. She accepts Big’s proposal clumsily and then sheepishly. Big notices. She helps her little sister get ready, and even puts some of her own blue glitter eye shadow onto Little’s pale lids. To make your eyes pop, she says. You watch from the hallway, through the crack in the door, trying not to smile and not daring to be seen. You don’t want to get excited yet, but your dreams have been filled with moments like this. You never thought dreams actually came true. 

     You know very well that there will be drinking at this party, but an unfortunately large part of you does not care. Your husband is away for the weekend and the girls are smart. The pay-off could be worth it. 

     Two boys come to pick them up, and you watch as one of them watches Little. You have second thoughts for a moment but shoo them away. You’ve gotten good at ignoring your conscience over the years. You don’t have to wonder what that means. 

     Two hours after curfew, your girls come stumbling through the front door, reeking of mistakes. You watch from the stairs as your oldest daughter practically drags her sister into the house, not looking concerned at all. When she sees you standing there she simply says, she had a lot to drink. 

     Little can barely stand. Her makeup is smudged and her eyes are struggling to stay open. This is your fault, and that’s the main reason you are angry. 

     Without saying a word you run to Little and half carry, half drag her to a kitchen chair. She slowly turns her head up towards yours, her eyes fluttering, and lets out a drunk giggle. Sorry mama, she pleasantly mumbles, and your heart nearly explodes from conflicting feelings. Big follows you into the kitchen, silent. When Little seems stable enough in her chair you turn around and face Big. You think about her nickname. The big one, the bigger one, the biggest one. The biggest problem. The biggest mistake. You are shaking. 

     Before you can really yell she looks you straight in the heart and says, why are you so angry?

I was just sharing. I thought you’d be happy.

     You’re not sure if this is supposed to be the moment that you’ve failed. 

     You want to tell her everything you’ve been thinking all these years, every moment of thought about her sharing habits and her selfish words and her casual hatred. Instead you stare at her until you can see her confidence breaking, and then you say, “I love you anyway, and I always will.” That is what you have to say as a mother. That is what you have to feel. Instead of getting emotional or having some change of heart epiphany, her confidence bolts back into her eyes and she smiles. Smirks. She pities you. Her smile is telling you that you are weak. Her smile is daring you to hate her. 

     You realize amidst this standoff that the child that actually loves you is still slumped in a chair, obliterated. Her flat hair is sinking into her lip-gloss, and those lips are quivering. You abandon the standoff to tend to her. As you carefully help her up the stairs you can see Big out of the corner of your eye, still standing in the kitchen. She might have stood there all night, just to make a point. 

     You find out later that the only reason she’d invited her sister in the first place is because the guy she wanted to get with that night had a friend who fancied Little. You wish you still had the ability to be surprised. 

     When she leaves for college, you are so relieved. You don’t even care anymore about how bad that is. Eighteen years you’ve pretended that her meanness doesn’t get to you, but it does, and once she’s gone you stop lying to yourself. You don’t even go to move her in. It’s a long drive, and there’s not much room in the car for all of her stuff let alone more than two people. Her dad is better at long drives and not trying to make awkward conversation, so he volunteers, and you remember why you married him in the first place. On the morning of move in day she is standing in the driveway, taking selfies on her phone. She didn’t say much of anything to anyone that morning, except to yell about what was hers and what was coming with her. Little tried to stay out of her way, avoiding their shared room like she’d been paid to do so, and honestly you considered it. Now she was standing on the steps leading up to the house, watching her big sister text friends and boys and probably strangers, more invested in their lives than the lives of her flesh and blood.

     When the car is finally stuffed to bursting, Dad smacks the side of the car and says, ok, time to move. He gives you a quick kiss and then climbs into the driver’s seat, bracing himself for six hours of no talking and Katy Perry. 

     Your oldest daughter turns to look at you. She is exactly your height, and has your smattering of freckles across her nose. She has your eyes too, but you’d like to think yours say more than hers. The depths of her eyes say nothing, have always said nothing, and she looks at you now, with her soulless brown eyes, emotionless as ever. You know she won’t call. She’ll call her dad if she needs money or bail. You know she won’t call and she knows it too, and as you stare at each other in the driveway for what seems like years, you realize you have reached the final stand-off. Years of yelling and pleading and all of the tries, now you’re here. You think your knees might be shaking. She is so calm. Finally, her lips part. 

     I’ll call when we get there, she says. 

     To her sister she says close to nothing. She gives her a wave with promises of a Thanksgiving reunion, and you can tell Little is conflicted. She wants to hug her. You can see it in her eyes. After all of these years, after everything, she stills loves the beast. This is when you know that your youngest daughter is a better person than you. She’s going to be just fine. 

     Half of your family is finally buckled into the car and driving away. Little moves to where you are standing and links her arm through yours. She leans her head on your shoulder and starts to cry, and you know why. Neither of you say anything as you stand arm in arm in the driveway, watching the pain drive away. 

     Months later, Little is nominated for an award for one good deed or another, and you and your husband attend the ceremony. You marvel at her as she walks across the stage. She looks so much more like her father than you — stick straight hair, smooth complexion, a calmness you never quite mastered. She accepts the award with grace and a sparkle you’ve never seen from her before. Beaming, she flashes a smile into the audience, and in that moment you’ve never loved anyone more. 

     You meet her in the lobby of the school afterwards, and she makes her way to you through a crowd of friends and teachers. A photographer for the yearbook is there taking pictures of the award recipients, and he asks if he can photograph your family. The three of you agree, and you quickly bunch together, shoulders brushing, pride dancing among you. 

     When he is finished the photographer says that you are the perfect family, and as you pose in the sunlight, arm and arm, you look at the other two heads beside you and know that he is right. 

“Transitory Space, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, October 2017” by Leah Oates

“Transitory Space, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, October 2017” by Leah Oates

July 23, Cloudy by Melanie Czerwinski

     Luca Heyde looked out the window from his position on his hotel bed, reclined like a François Boucher nude. The tacky peeling wallpaper greeted him, edges flapping against the air vent. It was the first good morning message he had received in recent memory. He could smell the rancid scent of his own sweat, covering him from head to toe. The air conditioning in the motel was shot. The clouds cloaking the sun did little to suppress the heat in the tiny room, as did the drawn curtains.

     The carpeting was rough on his bare feet as he dragged himself to the bathroom. Opening his eyes after a long yawn, the same familiar dark mass was present behind him. His eyes were bloodshot, and stubble was beginning to form on his chin. Drool was caked on the side of his cheek and his hair stuck out in every possible direction. He washed the dried and peeling saliva from his face and ran his fingers through his hair—the only tasks he had energy for. A full shower would be too taxing. The figure behind him stood watch.

     When it had first manifested, he nearly fell on his ass in shock. One second, he was the only being in the mirror, but when he closed the medicine cabinet after grabbing his toothbrush, a dark fog was present above his shoulders. He spun around to face the presence, but his eyes only met the dingy shower curtain hanging from yellowed plastic rungs. He spent the next few weeks trying to catch a glimpse of this ghost with his own eyes, only for it to flee from his view before it so much as entered his peripheral vision. Still, it appeared in every reflective surface he faced.

Even sitting naked in the chipped bathtub, he could see a black cloud hovering behind his head.      He sat back down on the damp sheets of the motel bed and covered his face with his hands, elbows rested on his knees. A party from a nearby room was making their way out, the sound of plastic wheels rolling across concrete and flapping flip fops slipping underneath the door and into his solemn chamber. The only light in the room came from a slit in the curtains and his phone, which lit up with a message. Julie are you ok?

                  Yesterday, 8:34 PM

     He moved his index finger from his eyes, peering past his middle finger and staring at the screen long after it went dark. His last communication with his best friend was the day before at 11 in the morning.

     Luca told her it was urgent, that he needed someone to talk to. She was quick to text back, telling him he could come over at any time, and she’d be home.

     Julie had offered him coffee, but he simply sat at the kitchen table, his leg shaking in his anxiety. This was the only person he had to turn to. The only person he trusted. Everyone else had already left him. No one wants to be around someone like this, he had reasoned with himself.      Since the ghost had materialized, he was increasingly on edge. He told no one of its presence, simply assuming everyone was aware but chose not to bring it up. If that were true, it only made him feel worse. If they wouldn’t say anything to his face, they still must be thinking about how odd it is to have this entity following him. As his anxiety mounted, more and more people fell out of contact with him. Luca lost the ability to reach out to anyone. Except Julie.

     Her apartment was small, but elegantly decorated. The furnishings were mainly black and white, with accents of green from her myriad plants and red from a rug in front of the couch. To

Luca, it felt almost sterile, reminiscent of a doctor’s office, but it put him at ease.

     “You’ll hear me out, won’t you?”

     She set her own cup down and eased herself into her seat. “Always.”

Luca made shapes with his hands as he spoke. “There’s this… thing following me. A ghost.

It’s always here. It’s here right now.”

     Julie’s nose scrunched up at Luca spoke.

     “I feel like it’s taking everything from me. My energy, my friends, everything. Every time I look in the mirror it’s right behind me. You have to believe me. You know I wouldn’t make something like this up.”

     “I know that, but…” She wrapped her fingers around her mug and shook her head. “There isn’t anything there.”

     “What do you mean?”

     Luca looked behind his shoulder, directly into the being’s glowing eyes. Its constant silence unnerved him. He turned back to Julie, shooting her a pleading look. A far from alien feeling of dread seeped into him.

     “Maybe you should go back to therapy.” Her suggestion was from a genuine place of concern.

     “You really don’t see it, do you?” Luca asked, shoulders drooping.

     Julie said nothing.

     The ghost seemed to grow as he left the apartment, dejected and betrayed.

     Maybe only certain people can see it.  Luca tried everything he could think of, from Ouija boards to recording videos and audio on his phone to catch any voices or sounds. He pored over hours and hours of recordings, only to find nothing out of the ordinary. He was simply wasting time watching himself and his apartment in a horrid state. Dishes stacked in the sink, clothes strewn about the floor, food on the counters, and the bags under his eyes all stared back at him as if asking for help. After so many failures, his feelings of desperation turned to dread, morphing into despair. 

The Ruby Motel was about two hours away from town. 

At least, that’s what his research told him. It was in the opposite direction of the beach, meaning less traffic from tourists. He wanted to be alone as the ghost crept closer to him, an ever-growing shadow of himself. It watched him as he sat at his laptop, searching for any number of discreet locations where no one would notice him.

     Even as he drove, he saw a shadowy figure in his rearview mirror.

     The motel was almost entirely vacant, judging by the number of keys still on their respective rings behind the reception desk. The receptionist gave him the key to the room in the middle of the motel, and Luca hauled his duffel bag to his door. He felt as if he were opening the door to his cell in Hell.

     The entire room was dingy. The walls were a sickly patterned green, the comforter a red and blue floral mess. The gray carpet was covered in any number of stains, and the air was damp and musty. It was everything he had expected.

     The first night blanketed him in a visceral loneliness. Today, however, was more eventful than any day he could remember.

     He noticed a young man around his age frequently coming and going from a room a few doors down from him. He shot Luca an odd look the first time they passed by each other when Luca was wandering to the vending machine, and he couldn’t help but wonder if this man could see it too. It was the only hope he had felt in months, and he was desperate to chase after it.     

Hours later, while Luca sat outside his room smoking a cigarette, the young man came back with a plastic convenience store bag in hand. Through the bag, he could see a candy bar and a pack of Marlboros. The smoke from Luca’s lips swirled above his head, mixing with the ghost behind him in a black and gray hurricane.


The man hesitated, taking another half step before stopping in front of Luca’s door. 

     “Hey,” the man parroted.

     “You want a light?”

     He looked to the cigarettes in his bag, then to Luca. “Sure,” he mumbled, his hand rustling around in his bag as Luca held up a hand.

     “No worries. You can have one of mine.”

     The man nodded, cautiously taking the unlit cigarette from Luca’s hand. He pushed his chestnut hair behind his ear as he leaned down, allowing Luca to light his cigarette. The small gesture and bump of his wrist bone made something roil in Luca that he hadn’t felt in ages.

     “What’s your name?”

     “El.” El pursed his lips and let out a string of smoke.

     “That short for something?”

     “Yeah.” He didn’t elaborate. The mystery almost excited Luca, the shadow of feeling creeping up on him so foreign after months of apathy and detachment.

     There was only silence as they took two, three, seven puffs. Luca finished his cigarette first, grinding it into the concrete beneath him.

     “What are you doing here?”

     “Nothing in particular. You?”

     “I don’t know.”

     El chuckled, shaking his head. “I can tell.”

     Unsure of how to respond, Luca pushed his cigarette butt further into the ground until his fingernails scraped against the bumps in the concrete.

“You look lost.”

Luca nodded. “Pretty much. I feel like I’m in Ruby Motel purgatory right now.”

     “That’s what most people come here for. Time feels like it kind of stops here, doesn’t it? That’s why I come here, at least.”

     “You come here often?”

     “Yeah.” El rested his back against the wall and sunk down next to Luca, resting his forearms atop his propped knees. “Too much going on everywhere else.”

     “Yeah. I can understand that.” Luca slipped another cigarette from the carton and lit it.

     After a moment, El gave a small smile. “I wonder why I feel alright talking to you.”

     Was it because he appeared so terribly harmless? Like he was so fed up with the world that he had no strength left to fight back? Luca could only think of negative answers. He shrugged in response, watching how El’s lips wrapped around the filter. El focused on the oak trees across the street. They sat in silence as the sun threatened to set, going through multiple cigarettes and observing the desolate scenery.

     Luca decided to step into dangerous territory.

     “Do you want to come into my room?”

     El nodded and stood, throwing his cigarette and crushing it under foot.

     Luca’s room felt less empty with El in it, his hope that he found someone like him filling it to the brim.

     They kissed in the yellow lamplight of Luca’s room, but he still felt miles away from El. Even as El’s lips slid against his, it felt as if there was a barrier between them, separating them. Still, it was the most alive Luca had ever felt in his life, using the word loosely.

“Can you see it?” Luca asked after he pulled back. He stared directly into El’s eyes, desperate for reassurance. This was his only chance, his last chance. There had to be at least one other person on this God forsaken earth who could see what he saw.

     “See what?”

     Luca was silent for a beat as he stared at the ceiling, surveying the different bumps and grooves. He felt his hope floating up into those bumps, becoming caught in the ceiling and slowly dissipating.

     Maybe everyone was the same.


     El was the one to break the forthcoming silence. Luca’s behavior seemed to put him on edge, shifting nervously as he stood from the bed.

     “I should head back to my room…”

     Luca nodded, but said nothing. He seemed incapable of making any noise at this point.      After El closed the door behind him with a quiet thud, Luca fell back against the mattress, hard enough to knock the breath out of his exhausted body. El was only a passerby, more of a ghost than the thing attached to his back. He should have known better than to place all his hope into a phantom.

     Long after the sun had set, Luca finally decided he had to find the place he had been looking for all this time. Outside his room, he lit a cigarette and inhaled as the burning stench assaulted his nose. He surveyed the area. Across from the road was nothing but trees and overgrown grass.

     The motel, however, sported a pool behind its rooms.

It was a small inground pool, rarely used, based upon its color and muck floating at the surface like oil. With little hesitation, Luca lowered himself down the pool ladder, fully clothed.

He felt as if his soul separated from his body and joined that muck.

     The distinction between the muggy air and the warm pool water was nearly undetectable, as if passing between two invisible realms. His shirt bubbled with air beneath the water, shoelaces floating. In the distance, a chorus of frogs sounded. There was no sign of stars behind the thick clouds.

     Before he went under, he saw the figure behind him, ever present, waiting. He dipped his head under the green water with his back to God and waited.

“Sage” by Lisa Oakes

“Sage” by Lisa Oakes

AFTER by Charles Leipart

     To tell the truth, I hadn’t given it much thought. What comes AFTER. No, I was too busy trying to figure out how to balance the butt of the rifle on the end of the bed and still keep my thumb pressed to the trigger.

     This certainly isn’t what I expected. After the blast of the gun barrel and the hot tearing through my chest. Everything went snowy-gray-screen, like we interrupt this program. Then came the sound of a great rushing wind and the beating of wings. Really. Like an angel, or perhaps a demon, lifting and carrying me up and away. And setting me down here. On a hard, backless wooden bench in a vast waiting hall where no one has any conversation. Just a great hall of echoing silence. With perhaps a dozen roosting pigeons up near the ceiling—but they might be stuffed or made of plaster. The hall isn’t especially crowded. We all sit scattered throughout the hall, a goodly distance separating one from another. Everyone around me seems pre-occupied, head down, studying their shoes. A young girl chews thoughtfully on her hair. Poking them doesn’t help. They just rock back into position like carnival dolls.

     I walk about and no one pays me any mind. I am looking among the faces for Claire. Claire. My love, my life, the great achievement of my decidedly hot mess of a life. Loving Claire is the one good thing, the one worthy thing, l’ve done. Ask my friends, or the half-dozen self-obsessed alcoholics I used to drink with. But Claire isn’t here. There is no use calling out her name, no sound comes from my mouth. I expected Claire has been given priority placement—a V.I.P. soul lounge complete with palm trees, white noise of ocean waves and artificial sunlight. And an endless supply of mimosas. Claire deserves it. Especially after the mind-numbing last six months of her stomach cancer. I, on the other hand, for having off’ed myself, have been relegated to the Bad Girls section. Now there it is. This great nothingness. And sadly, my darling Claire is nowhere to be found. A poor trick on me. Daddy always said, “Firearms should not be in the hands of women!” Don’t worry, Daddy. It takes no great skill to shoot oneself. Holding the rifle the proper distance away and still keeping one’s finger on the trigger is much like trying to take a selfie.

     No, AFTER is just one vast waiting hall. Waiting for what or for whom, nobody seems to have a clue—but at least there’s no annoying trouble about checking luggage. We come as we are–or as we were. Yes, we must wait and make the best of it. Hi-ho. Ho-hum. Not a magazine to be had. Twiddle my thumbs and wait. Wait—what’s this? A pink rubber Spaldeen someone has left behind. Funny. With a note. “Bounce me. Become as a child again.” Interesting. Become as a child again. I remember now. The playground at Beale Elementary. After a spring rain. A Spaldeen bounces in a puddle, splashing my dress. Pretty blonde-haired Sally Jenkins bounces the ball and kicks her leg high, so she can show her lacy underpants. I see London, I see France. Worth a try. Bounce and catch, bounce and catch—This old man, he plays one, he plays knick-knack on my thumb, with a knick-knack paddywack, give a dog a bone, this old man comes rolling home; this old man, he plays two, he played knick-knack on my shoe…

“portrait of a thistle” by Martha Nance

“portrait of a thistle” by Martha Nance

A Love Story by Robert Fogler

Hello, my love. 

     Every neuron in my body quietly recited the phrase as I waited in line. Two more people and I would be at his window chewing on the inside of my lower lip to keep anything but innocent small talk from being expressed. It wasn’t the time for more. I knew when. Where. How. I had been rehearsing my part for several weeks. 

     I could almost make out the gold bars of his teller window through the curled grey hair of the woman in front of me. I shifted my weight to the right to try and look around her. Just more bars and the marble counter. One of disadvantages of being a man of only 5’9.” But it was also one of the reasons why we were perfect for each other. At the same height, we might not be able to see over people, but our eyes always aligned. 

     Matty, as I had nicknamed him, had started working at the bank during the summer. A sensible job considering he was going to college for accounting. He chose the nearby community college to start his associates, while his girlfriend went to the state college a few hours away. Her visits back were scattered and infrequent, giving me the opportunity to really get to know him.      It was down to the woman and me, and we got to move closer. The messy spikes of Matty’s chocolatey brown hair shyly peeked above her and teased me. My pores shed some sweat at their appearance. I glanced back down into the tangled forest of hair on the woman before me and tried to think of today’s topic. The weather? The pleasant September sunlight was still soaking through the windows. It was perfect Midwestern conditions, and I knew he would want to go for a run after work. Weather it was.

     There wasn’t anything else I could think of to talk about anyways. I never went to college, and I barely stuck with high school. I had always been good with my hands: fixing or building things. Never thought there was a need to further my education beyond the different types of lumber or joints. While people struggled to find jobs in the corporate world, there was plenty of work being the only handyman in Dainesville. Plus, most of the folks still used checks. So for four months, I had weekly reasons to visit the bank. I smoothed over my flannel shirt, making sure it was still tucked into my jeans. He had seen me in this outfit numerous times, but they were the nicest clothes I had, and I kept them that way. I checked my shoes for sawdust and snuck a quick whiff of my armpits.

     “Good morning, Mrs. Wells.” Matty’s feathery light voice ushered the woman forward.

“What can I do for you today?” 

     I don’t remember saying anything beyond “I need to cash these” the first time he ever asked me that question. That Thursday, when his hazel eyes slipped into my soul, I knew I had succumbed to a cliché: love at first sight. Since then, I kept every bank receipt in a mason jar on my nightstand. A makeshift crystal ball of our encounters. Each night, my heart dreamt better seeing each piece of paper Matty had touched. I had never considered myself a romantic before. Intimate human interactions couldn’t be constructed with plywood nor could breakups be hammered back together. But every progressing timestamp in the jar built our relationship. And

I’d have the final one soon.

     “Thank you so much,” Mrs. Wells said as she scooted away from the counter. 

     With our third-wheel gone, I could finally behold him. My pet songbird in his golden cage.

He begged to be set free. 

     “Sir.” Matty waved me to him. Although I probably had a solid 30lbs of muscle over his gentle frame, my whole body tingled from being bossed around. 

      I eagerly stepped towards him and the fleshy tones of his burgundy cardigan. The smell of his Apollo Axe body spray immediately reached out from the bars. My nose relished every moment of the scent’s flaunting, and I pressed myself even hard into the counter. Our bodies barely kept from embracing by the prudish barrier.  

     “What can I help you with,” Matty continued. 

     It was hidden, but I could hear the flirty undertone of his question. Matty was good at being coy. He wanted an answer I couldn’t give in public. My groin twitched against the cool marble, and I knew he could feel the vibrations on his side. 

     “I just need to cash some checks.” I grabbed the stash of checks and my ID from my pocket and slid them through the slot. My fingers loitered at the ends of the checks, hoping his would brush over them. 

     “No problem,” Matty said as he quickly snatched up my ID and inspected it. 

     He turned to his computer and began typing away. The profile of his angelic features became enhanced by the glow of the screen. Smooth lines. A dainty upturned nose. A carved masterpiece with a light peach glaze. Not a single hint of a past or future blemish. I rubbed the back of my hand across my scraggly beard; I could feel the bumps and sunspots underneath. 

     “Here’s this back.” He returned my ID and started processing the checks. 

     I turned to the windows and rolled my fingers rhythmically on the counter. “Looks like it’s going to be a nice one today.”

     The corners of Matty’s mouth formed a dimple as he half-smiled. “Yup.”

     “Might go for a run later if it stays nice.” 

     “Probably will.” 

He was always so optimistic, even when half-focusing on our time together. I wasn’t completely pessimistic, but I did fancy myself a realist. That’s why I couldn’t wait for us to be that couple. He would sit on my lap, and we would give examples on how our personalities just meshed. With sly laughter and worn phrases like “oh, you know…opposites attract.”      Matty finished counting out the money and handed me the stack. “Anything else I can help you with?”

     “Not right now.”  


     Matty was unknowingly predictable, which made my life easier. Every day I would watch him. Observe him as if he was an animal at a zoo; an endangered bird unaware that he could fly away with me. In the mornings, he would go to work or school. Come home afterwards, change, and if the weather was nice, go for a run along the trails. Usually it took him around an hour and a half before he returned. Glistening like a wet diamond. He would chug some water, make himself some form of instant dinner, plop onto his couch, and play video games. When it got late, he’d watch some porn, jack off, and then shower before going to bed. 

     On weekends, Matty was typically out with his friends at some party underage drinking. While I didn’t really approve, it gave me time to be alone in his apartment. To walk the same paths he did. A ground floor, one bedroom, off-campus apartment. Old and a bit dated for my taste. Windows with broken latches. Smoldering laundry living alongside molding dishes. I always had to resist the urge to clean up after him. Always careful not to disturb his natural habitat. Things would be different once we lived together. 

The night that Matty went to live with me in my cabin was a big step in our relationship. I had been in his apartment numerous times, but it was the first time we were in it together. I sat patiently in the corner of his closet and wondered why I hadn’t stayed before. He rarely opened his closet at night; I could have been on the inside watching him sleep instead pressed against the window. And despite the risks, being surrounded by a pile of his dirty clothes was calming. And also intoxicating. 

     His musk clawed at my nose and started to make me anxious; I needed him. Matty had been home for a little over an hour, but I wasn’t sure how long things needed to take effect. I went through my mental checklist, not wanting to miss anything. Not wanting to disappoint him. My cabin was painted blue: Matty’s favorite color. It was clean and stocked with instant noodles: Matty once said he could eat them forever. The plush quilt my grandmother had made me and some decorative pillows were in the trunk to make it more inviting.

     I crawled out of his closet and into the hall. The tacked pictures of family and friends cheered me on as I made my way to the living room. Rising up from behind the couch, I could see that the game avatar was frozen in place. Matty had passed out. I kissed his lips, our first of many, before sealing them away. After I prepared him for the car ride, I carried him out of the apartment. He let out a small groan as I placed him in the trunk of my car, but that was the only thing either of us said before I drove off.

     Our first night together was rougher than anticipated. Despite my meticulous planning, I wasn’t prepared for Matty’s sudden resistance and denial of our attraction. 

     “It’s okay.” I repeated, patting his head. 

We sat on the wooden floor for hours. I rocked him gently as he struggled to process his emotions. It was obvious he needed more time. Like my pass relationships, I couldn’t handle an emotional confrontation, so I left him to sort things out on his own. 

     After a few days, I returned in the early hours with flowers and chocolates. Ready to officially start our happiness. Matty was more receptive as I told him my plans for us. How we could get married right away now that it was legal. 

     “You broke up with your girlfriend right?” I tested his commitment. 

     “Mmhmm.” His eyes widened as he nodded. He was ready.

     I gave Matty an extra shot of compliance. And once he calmed down, I bathed with him and placed him in the bed. I slid in next to him. The pillow held his head as the sheets cradled us. They tenderly teased our bare skin with the purity of white silk. My rough, splotchy tan clashed with their heavenly quality. But Matty, Matty blended into them. A subtle shift in hue barely noticeable under the peeping daylight. 

     I placed my finger on his back, covering a previously unseen freckle. I couldn’t resist letting it trace along the roll of his shoulder. The rest of my fingers joined in to experience the softness of him, and I hoped my calluses would become ashamed of their intrusion and rub away.       He shivered, so I tucked one arm under his pillow and scooted closer. The tiny hairs on the back of his hands tickled my palms as I clasped them and pulled him into me. I folded myself around him and blessed him with my warmth. His heavy breaths filled the thin crease between us, causing beads of sweat to mingle together. My nose nestled under his ear, and I snuck in a quick whiff of his stubble. I craved more. I parted my lips and inhaled the air around Matty’s neck, wishing for a stronger taste of him. But his breathing intensified, and I got distracted. It urged me to keep tempo. I obeyed and placed my hand on his heart to feel the rhythm. 

Once we were in sync, I let my hand drift away with the beats. Down the crevice of his chest and lingered at the ring of his bellybutton. My pinky strayed slightly and begged to go lower. But his hips bucked at the advance. A few muffled tremors leaked out of the duct tape in eagerness. In respect, I brought my hand up and away from Matty’s temptation. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Not while God was watching. We’d save ourselves for marriage. I pressed harder into him, just thinking of the future of us. 

     He was mine. All mine. 

     I must have drifted off; time never bothered us when we were together. I rolled away from Matty and sat up on the bed. The TV was still on, and the news was rambling away. A local man had gone missing: Matthew Burdine. He would be nineteen tomorrow. They placed his picture across the screen. It’s was a great picture of him. He looked especially cute. Dressed up for something formal. Possibly a wedding or prom. His hair was longer, wavy, and slicked back. A classic style that I would have liked to have had, if I didn’t keep my head buzzed thanks to the thinning. 

     They posted another photo. Matthew was in a soccer uniform kneeling in some grass. A swift change, as he looked more serious and tough. A rough side I didn’t realize he had. I found it sexy. I could almost sneak a peek through the gap between his shorts and his thigh. They took the photo down and replaced it with some number to call if anyone had any information. I wanted to call and ask them for a copy of the photo.  

     The heat started to stink up the cabin. The woods kept the place quiet. But the heat. The heat stayed trapped in the trees. I kicked the covers off of me and continued to sit naked. The stuffy smell of warmed cedar fanned over my body. I took a sip from the glass on the nightstand.

Whiskey. Lunch. 

The morphine slowly wasted away with the heat, and Matty shifted, causing the covers to slip down. His thin and toned back. I smiled at his ass. His pale, plump ass. It would have been a better lunch, but I was firm about keeping his innocence until our wedding night. The news changed to some gameshow where the contestants were trying to win a dream vacation. 

     “We should take a vacation for your birthday,” I said to my sleepy man. 

     It was a stupid idea. Everything about the future of our union relied on discretion and drugs.

And the supply of both was depleting. I drank a little more whiskey. We would have to wait. Wait until everything went away and there were no more news stories. Wait until restraints weren’t needed. Wait until he loved me. 

.      “Love you, Matty,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t be able to wait. I took one more look at his body and pulled the covers over it. I leaned over and kissed the top of his head


     I pulled on the rope. “Just a little bit further.”

     “Where are you taking me?” Matty stumbled forward, circling his head around as if he could somehow see through the duct tape. Little red slashes adorned his skin from where the forest tried to grab him.

     “Go on.” I urged him to continue without me. 

     “I promise I won’t tell anyone if you just let me go.” 

     “It’s okay, Matty.” I tugged lightly on the rope. “Just keeping walking forward.” 

     He raised his bound hands. “Please.”

Matty had done everything he could to make our relationship work. Following orders. Following routines. He was the perfect partner, just like I knew he would be. So when he asked for something other than ramen for dinner, I was happy to oblige and to show him I was willing to follow orders too. But like always, I fucked it up. 

     That night as we cuddled in bed and watched TV, the news updated its story on Matthew Burdine. The police were now looking for a man shown using Matthew’s debit card at a local supermarket. They plastered a still from the security camera next to the usual picture of Matthew. And there we were, immortalized as a news story. Matthew with his crisp, handsomeness and me and my grainy nobody. 

     Even in his drowsy state, I could sense the fear in Matty. The shame. He had left everything to be with me, but he still wasn’t ready to be seen together. I had pushed too hard. I knew I had to be the one to end things. 

     “Go.” I dropped the rope. I needed him to leave me. Before they found us; they wouldn’t understand our relationship.

     The crisp scent of pine in the clearing chilled Matty’s bare body. He shivered as he shuffled forward. Spreading his feet apart as much as the rope would allow. He seemed to glide across the patches of grass and rocks. Just as he started to move faster, Matty stopped suddenly; his toes reached the edge of the cliff. 

     I came up behind him and placed my hands on his hips. “Isn’t it beautiful?” 

     The sluggish autumn air had flooded the gorge a month ago, and the forest had rusted under its care. Except for a few defiant evergreens that refused to fade, blotches of gold and copper wove together the landscape. Barren branches poked through the patchwork like loose threads.

They reached up to me, begging to be plucked from their limbs. Every now and then, they would flick against each other. It was if they were clapping. A standing ovation for our love. 

     “Please. Please just let me go.” Matty meekly leaned back into my grip. 

     “I am letting you go, Matty.” I gave his head a kiss before releasing him.

     As each fleeting breeze tousled my hair, I inhaled deeper to try and catch one. But my lungs only ever caught the dewy taste of morning. So I let them escape faster because exhales brought back memories. My lips held the scent of menthol from when I kissed the back of his head, and my breaths relived it. 

     Amongst the silence of the valley, I could hear the sun creep up behind me. It tickled up my spine. Crawling higher for a more scenic view. Secretly wanting to peek over my shoulder. My shadow slithered down the edge of the cliff and kept my secrets from the light. I wanted to be grateful, but I envied it. It got to stay with him. Hold him. Sing him to sleep. 

     I kicked a few innocent pebbles off. I wanted their echoing rattles to disrupt the intimacy, even if it was my essence lying next to him. But the pebbles didn’t make it far enough, so I had to wait. Wait until the sun separated them. The darkness of my shadow was forced to slink into the cracks of the rocks and boulders. It was finally ashamed of its predatory behavior.       Left alone, on top of the bed of jagged grey, Matty stayed scavenged. A smooth, ghostly contrast poised like a sculpture. From underneath his battered skin, blood scurried to the nearby stream. The sun held its spotlight on the scene while the trees continued to applaud. They welcomed his body as a fellow participant of the slow decay into winter. Only the shadows knew who I was. The one to be praised. I was the one that had been like Icarus. But with my gentle push, Matty had taken the fall. 

     Goodbye, my love. 

“Window Watchers” by Bruce Louis Dodson

“Window Watchers” by Bruce Louis Dodson


DARPP-32, I Forgive You by Tim Cummings

     I equate dogs with death.

     My father brought the family dog home from his firehouse in the South Bronx. The dog was lonely, tired, and hungry, abandoned in one of the worst neighborhoods in the universe, one rampant with crime, drugs, homelessness, and endless flames. I wish I knew how the dog befriended my father and why he eventually brought her home, because it was the most heroic thing he ever did, at least for me. We had no relationship. We fought bitterly. I never understood him.

     The dog, however, brought me extraordinary happiness. I was around 8-years-old when we became soul mates. She was a small, caramel-colored mutt, with a long torso like a dachshund, but taller and plumper. She used to wait for me at the gate to the schoolyard every day after school. One day, a few weeks after we’d acclimated her to her new home, my mom and I saw her leaping across the yard from the kitchen window. “Look,” she said. “She’s leaping. Like a deer.” In airy graceful arcs, she soared across the yard. “It’s Bambi!” And that’s how she got her name.      We frolicked through the neighborhood fields, she slept on my bed, and when she had her two litters of puppies, I was the only one she’d let near her while small, squeaking slime-loves in placenta sacks slid out of her. Her eyes were almond-shaped and syrup-dark, soulful and preternaturally perceptive. I loved her.

     Sometimes when my father stood in the kitchen or the garage or out by the pool, I would watch him: I needed to look at the man who had brought me home a dog.

     Seven years later, she was put to sleep. I was 15-years-old and devastated. I fought bitterly with my mother about it; she’d had Bambi put down due to incurable uterine cancer. I was neither given a say in the matter nor an opportunity to say goodbye to her.

“You’re horrible,” I yelled at my mother.

     “Probably,” she answered, “but letting her suffer is more horrible.”

     “You’re insane. You’re a terrible parent.”

     “Probably,” she said, and cried. “But I was trying to spare you from the pain.”

     Bambi’s demise had a snowball-death-effect: First, my mother’s diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer and her death a few months later. I was neither given a say in the matter nor an opportunity to say goodbye to her. Later, I lost two siblings, some friends, and eventually, my father, who died on my birthday.

     It was as if the dog’s passing was a metaphysical rabbit hole I chased her down, and have been stuck wandering through a Wonderland-in-Extremis ever since.

     During our years of doggie/human companionship—Bambi & Timmy forever!—I was very happy, yes, but I noticed more easily the things around me that were anathema to my good feelings. This included the cruelty of kids who appeared to live for one reason only: to call me a piece of shit faggot loser who was going to die of AIDS and burn in hell.

     “You should be murdered,” they would say to me, mashing cafeteria pizza into my face. “Just kill yourself.” Then they’d kick me in the shin.

     The other thing I noticed was the extraordinary anger of my father. He was a quiet guy, for the most part; tall, handsome, sometimes amiable. But then he would drink, and rail and his Irish begrudgery would rear its beery head. A mess of angry red clovers would encircle him like a deranged halo. He despised anyone with money—politicians, lawyers, doctors, anyone who was black, Latino, Asian, gay, or Jewish. His anger terrified me. If he got mad at one of us six children, he would blow a fuse: scream, jump up and down, fists raised, his face as red as blood spilled by the IRA. His voice would take on pallor and pitch that revisits me in nightmares to this day.

*     *     *

     Fast forward nearly thirty years.

     After my partner and I purchase a house in Silverlake, we begin the hunt for some little thing we can love and nurture. This fills me with both elation and dread: Is this, perhaps, the first step toward deciding whether or not I want to be a parent?

     After weeks of fruitless searching, we visit the kill shelter near Dodger Stadium and are surprised to discover a dog that looks like a miniature Golden Retriever (in actuality, she’s a ‘cocker-doxie’ or ‘docker’ but we find that out later). In an overcrowded shelter rife with abandoned pit bulls and sad Chihuahuas, this little dog is a diamond in the rough. We have to bid on her in a silent auction because many people want to adopt her. We win the auction and my heart drops: Shit. Wait—I don’t want this. I can’t do this. No, no, no, no… We’re walking across the lobby of the shelter toward the main desk to sign the paperwork and pay our fees: my mouth is dry, my hands are shaking, and beads of sticky sweat slip out the skin of my forehead. What is happening? Am I going to pass out?

     As the walls close in all around me, I am distracted by a sound…a familiar melody…and at the moment, the sound—a song—flicks on a light-switch in a dark room of my soul. I grab

Paul’s arm and he says, “What?” and I say, “Listen!” The PA system plays A-Ha’s 80s mega-hit “Take On Me”. It was my mother’s favorite song of all time. I only ever hear it when she wants me to hear it. “It’s a sign,” I say to Paul. My eyes glisten.

*     *     *

We want to name her after a sci-fi heroine. We consider Ripley or Newt from Aliens, Ellie from Contact, Scully from The X-Files, Neyteri from Avatar…. We land on Gertie, after the little girl from the film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial played by a young Drew Barrymore, because this little dog just owns that cuteness, that spunk, that golden innocence, and vulnerability. If you were to open this dog up, you’d find warm cream-puffs.

     Giddy as a kid in those first few days after adopting this wondrous being, something suddenly shifts, and my heart hardens. I have no patience for the lack of control that comes with the ownership of a new dog, and I begin to have an epic meltdown. When she won’t eat the food I give her, I nearly kick the refrigerator doors. When she won’t pee and poo in the early mornings when I walk her around our neighborhood, I shove my fist into the trunk of a tree. When she craps on the rugs of our new house, I feel my body literally quaking with indignation.

     Over the ensuing first days with the dog, I scream at her, fists raised. I jump up and down. My face is red as blood spilled by the IRA. The insolence of this dog! And this utterly adorable little creature bursting at the seams with love and cuteness looks up at me, confused and afraid, then cowers with sad eyes in a corner and trembles.

     When I jump up and down screaming my head off, on the verge of giving myself a stroke, I see a movie in my mind, a memory: my father, when he attacked me on the phone after I first arrived at NYU and received the first-semester tuition bill. He did not want to pay for my education. He called me a “stinking fucking son of a bitch loser” and screamed his head off on the other end of the phone.

     Another time, I am so enraged at Gertie for darting into the street to catch a squirrel that I lift a hand to smack her on the snout, but catch myself in the nick of time, “you’re having an

Exorcist moment,” I tell myself. In that green vomit of realization, I flash to the time that my dad brought down one of his golf clubs on my hands because I wanted to wear his Fireman’s coat and hat for Halloween one year. I couldn’t hold a pencil in my hand to do my homework for days.

     I try to breathe. I try to think. What do I do? What does this mean? I’m lost.

*     *     *

     We give the dog, temporarily, to our dear friends Stacy and Jonny and their 11-year-old daughter. (Stacy and I met at NYU and danced around the world together. If you ever want to know if you can trust someone intrinsically, dance on stage with them.) She says they will consider taking her if we decide not to keep her.

     Enraged, confused, and broken, I research the science behind anger, and whether it is an inherited trait. According to a Science News article called “Anger is in the Genes” that appeared in The Telegraph, “Isolation of a gene called DARPP-32 (dopamine-and cAMP-regulated neuronal phosphoprotein) helps explain why some people fly into a rage at the slightest provocation, while others can remain calm.” (Irvine, web)      My DARPP-32: isolated af.

     My worst fear come true: Have I become my father?

     No one knows any of this. I speak no words about my struggle with anger and the dog. Not to Paul, not to my friends, not to my therapist. I keep it hidden, a low dark secret; the scum-layer at the bottom of a puddle on a street in a slum.

     After we give up the dog, I burst into tears several times a day: in the car, in the bathroom at work, on the treadmill at the gym. My body, racked with deep, heaving sobs, will not let me sleep: How could you give that dog away? You stinking fucking son of a bitch loser. You should murder yourself, you worthless faggot AIDS-spreader.

Have I come so far in life only to tumble back down into that Wonderland of Mad-hatter horrors? My essence feels poisoned by my father’s anger, my bullies’ venom.

     And then, I get it: I equate the dog with death. With loss. Trauma. Fear.

     This golden little heart-melter, the most adorable dog in the history of the world, has transmogrified into a snarling colossus of existential misery. My subconscious is saying NO to the chasing of a White Rabbit down a hole of despair again. NO.

     And after about five days with this bull’s ballsack in my face, I find myself in a paddle-boat with Paul on Echo Park lake, the cold fountain spray misting our faces. I turn to him: “Let’s get her back. Right now. I can’t live without her.” We wipe away the water and paddle to shore.      Soon as she sees me, she runs into my lap, curls up in ball, and sighs. We all know then that she is mine.

*     *     *

     Gertie has dissolved the green-gray smog layer of anger for me. She is the cool air after a fresh rain. My DARPP-32 is regulated by dopamine again, not lost in a slithery Cheshire forest.

     I know, I know: you too have seen those cheesy bumper stickers that say, “Who Rescued

Who?” with a little doggy paw. It’s a total cliché. But…is it?

     I find it ironic that my father brought Bambi to me in the first place: she brought me love and happiness; then she led me through the gates of death where I wandered in the land of loss for years while my family was literally halved; later I felt the desire to own a dog, and that dog brought back anger, misery, and sorrow—conflicts I had to face in order to begin the process of gaining back the family I had lost by creating one of my own.

     Dad, I know you didn’t willfully choose to pass down isolated DARPP-32s. It’s not your fault, and I forgive you.

     I forgive you too, DARPP-32s.

     I had a dream recently, one that prompted the writing of this essay: I met a wizard in an indoor public swimming pool, and he said, “I’ll show you anything you want to see.” I answered, “Show me what I need to see”, and he pulled a waterproof fanny-pack up from under the chlorinated bubbles and unzipped it. He pulled out two photographs and smiled at them, then flipped them around and showed them to me: one was of Bambi, the other of Gertie.

     “Pictures of your father,” Pool Wizard said.

     Nodding, I said, “How true.”

“Midnight Glow” by Alec Lewis

“Midnight Glow” by Alec Lewis

Sardi’s Redux  by Cynthia Close

     Green neon letters stacked vertically, in a distinctive modernist typeface, stood out from their surroundings like fire-engine red lipstick ringing the once seductive mouth of an aging dowager that now only reveals cigarette-yellowed teeth.







     I’m dazed. Spinning in the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of Times Square, I don’t remember it being so clean, so family-friendly. Perhaps it’s reflective of the aftermath of 911. Yes, haven’t we all been a little bit dazed after 9/11? Or did the evolution start earlier – under Giuliani’s reign – part of the rebirth of NYC?  His clampdown on panhandling and the sex trade may have born fruit. This pulsating place once held the irresistible lure of endless possibility tinged with unknown dangers or unexpected luck. Now it seems tame, under control.

     Looking down 44th Street I feel trapped, no, shielded as if in a virtual reality bubble. Is this a mirage, some brain hiccup that leaves me wondering if Sardi’s has always been where it now appears to be? Perhaps it moved since the first and last time I was there over fifty years ago. Those green neon letters accost me forcing themselves into my consciousness like my mother calling from her grave.

      I’m in New York City attending a writer’s conference, staying at the Algonquin. I’ll be steeped in the historical brine of The New Yorker–a magazine representative of an illustrious past–the epitome of Manhattan literary cool. The New Yorker is a rare bird, a survivor that has preserved a hard won history while maintaining an aura of desirability and classiness in the present. Being here makes publishing in The New Yorker seem tangible, within the realm of possibility, no matter how naïve that thought might be. 

     In my Times Square reverie it is the recollection of Sardi’s that grabs me by the shoulders, shakes me and I’m fourteen again. My mother, in a rare moment of independent thinking, bought tickets for Gypsy featuring Ethel Merman, my first Broadway show. Mom also made dinner reservations at Sardi’s just for the two of us for my 14th birthday. It was October 1959. We never ventured into the world of art and culture as a family, so, the fact that Dad or my little brother were not included was not surprising, but it was surprising that Mom took this initiative, as far as the evidence shows, completely on her own. 

     I have no memory how she orchestrated the situation. She must’ve driven us into the city from our modest suburban home in northern New Jersey. Getting her driver’s license was a recent achievement and Mom embraced driving with gusto. If we had taken the bus or train into Grand Central I surely would have remembered. I have no recollection of us alone together, going or coming back. I do know a hotel room was not involved. This incident was unique, an isolated event, a volcanic island that suddenly rose from the depths– only to submerge again – a result of climate change.

     Today, that long buried memory envelops me as I stand in Times Square. I feel rooted in this moment between past and present. A setting sun moves in fast, narrow streams, igniting 44th

Street and tempting me to walk on the emotional equivalent of fiery coals in my raspberry pink summer sandals, across more than half a century and down the two blocks to Sardi’s. Hesitation. Trepidation. It is the end of a long day. Intense workshops with other writers left me questioning my motivation to write and ended with a reading of an essay of my own at the Cornelia Street Café in the East Village. I knew I’d won the audience over when I heard their laughter devolve to a sympathetic silence then a brief explosion of applause at the end. I should just walk back and relax with a glass of wine in the lobby of the Algonquin. What is there to gain by revisiting a moment that went nowhere, an infertile seed planted that never grew? Where did that mother/daughter relationship go? Why is this the last remembered instance when my mother and

I did anything meaningful together? 

     I’m alone for the first time today. Which is true only if you disregard all the hundreds of people hustling around me, close enough to touch. I feel comfortable alone on the streets of NYC. Born in Queens, I am a child of the city. Ice-skating in Rockefeller Plaza at Christmas.

Eating at the White Turkey Restaurant off 5th Ave on special occasions with my grandparents. They quaintly served “finger bowls” between courses back then. When I grabbed mine to drink, my grandmother laughed, chiding me, and demonstrated how you were to delicately swish your fingers in the small bowl to rinse them off, before tackling your desert. These vignettes are etched with pleasure in my memory. Now, after six years of living in Vermont, the comfort I felt surrounded by millions of people of every shape and color speaking a babbling tower of languages only a few of which I easily recognized has been replaced with trees and cows, hunters and farmers, light and time that were strange at first but have grown to be my norm.

     The tug of Sardi’s on my consciousness can’t be resisted. I start walking. Passing the Shubert Theater on West 44th the marquee announces Bette Midler is staring in Hello Dolly, receiving accolades for her performance. The 71–year-old Divine Miss M is the new “Queen of Broadway”, gushes Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. He’s so over the top. I’ve never been a huge Bette Midler fan, but my god she’s my age and Travers has tempted me to get tickets. I know my mother would have loved it. She loved Merman in Gypsy too although the reviews for that show were decidedly mixed at best. The 1959 Time Magazine review was pretty scathing. 

“The show merely quivers on the launching pad. Its book is drab and uninventive; its songs are also-rans, though the trumpet-tinseled Merman voice is always in the winner’s circle. Jerome Robbins’ dance spoofs are designed to show how funny-awful vaudeville was, and by sheer glut and garishness turn pretty gaudy-awful themselves. A Mermanly try at playing up Mama’s spunk and jollifying her sadism fails when the script itself belatedly acknowledges that Mama is a bundle of neuroses and no fun to be with.” 

     I doubt Time Magazine would have swayed my mother. I was a teenager, just excited to be in the city. Being here, back then, felt like a clandestine act. My parents had moved to New Jersey having lived with my grandparents in Queens after the war. While it wasn’t Levittown, it felt like living in exile. Mom and I managed to escape our humdrum, one story home where the garage was it’s most prominent feature – to come to Broadway – forbidden fruit.  

     The sun has now slipped past the last visible edge of the building at the end of 44th Street. It must be close to 7 o’clock. I should be hungry but I’m not. My feet seem to have taken me to this spot across the street from the entrance to Sardi’s. It is an unseasonably hot night. Hovering at the curb I wonder if the place is open for business. It should be nearing the height of dinner hour but people are rushing past. The entrance is somehow the same but also nothing like I remembered. Now, it is grungy, easy to ignore. Although it had been October when we were there in 1959, it seemed like Christmas. The entryway glowed, warm and inviting. People were waiting in line to get in. Every table was occupied. We had reservations and walked past those folks standing at the door and spilling beyond out on to the street. The night felt special. We were special. Red leather booths hugged the walls and white linen cloths covered tightly packed tables surrounded by Bentwood chairs. Row upon row of caricatures lining the walls immediately caught my attention. I vaguely recognized a few of the faces and wondered if we might be seated next to someone famous. Breathless, my mom told me “all the theater people come to Sardi’s after the show.” How Mom knew that fact was a mystery. This was before People Magazine and we didn’t have issues of Variety or The New York Times scattered around the house where my mom might have followed the comings and goings of the rich and famous.       The only thing I remembered ordering was the shrimp cocktail. I’m sure I had a three-course meal but shrimp cocktail meant the height of luxury for me. It was often served on a bed of ice in a tall-stemmed glass with a big dollop of horseradish infused ketchup in the middle for dipping. Memory is so tied to smell and taste. Without eating, most of my past would have been forgotten.

     Current curiosity overcomes a desire to preserve that memory, moments recalled untarnished by the effects of time. I cross the street and enter the now empty and decidedly seedy main dining room at Sardi’s. Quiet. There is not a single person at any of the tables and I wonder if they are actually open for business. A robust gentleman – he’s wearing a suit but I size him up to be a bouncer of sorts, rather than a maître’d – almost blocks my way at the entrance. Is he there as a greeter, or, to prevent people from entering? I smile and tell him, “I am on a nostalgia trip. The last time I was at Sardi’s I was 14 but now I just want to look around.” He steps backwards allowing me to move past him and vaguely waves toward a dimly lit staircase and says I can go to the upstairs bar if I want. He assures me they are open for business.

     As I walk up the well-worn carpeted stairs, I begin to feel a little creepy, as if I have stepped into a horror flick and someone like Jack Nicholson in the Shining might suddenly leap out at me, grinning insanely, or perhaps the mood was subtly off kilter like the atmosphere in one of my favorite movies, Birdman. I loved Michael Keaton in that flick. He was a struggling show-biz has–been, not unlike how Sardi’s sadly appeared to me now.

     The upstairs bar is as empty as the main dining room. No one is sitting at the bar and no bartender behind it either. Maybe I’ve made a terrible mistake. I look around. Off to the side, at one of the tables by the front second-story windows sits a tired looking, middle–aged guy who may in fact be the bartender, eating his dinner. He glances up at me and I get the distinct impression he wishes I would just disappear so he can finish his meal in peace. Now that I’m here I decide to forge ahead. I’m ready for a drink. Didn’t the bouncer–cum maître’d–downstairs tell me the bar was “open?” I try to catch this fellow’s downcast eye and ask (almost shout since he’s seated a good distance from the bar), “Is it possible to get a drink?” He nods without saying a word. I apologize for interrupting his dinner and press him a bit. “Is it OK if I sit at the bar?” He shoves his plate aside, and while wiping his mouth on a napkin walks unhurriedly across the floor, steps behind the bar and not looking directly at me asks laconically, “What will you have?”       “Sauvignon Blanc, please,” I reply.

     As he pours, I try to make polite conversation, telling him why I am now sitting at his bar – revisiting the ghosts of my childhood. Feeling compelled to justify my being here I tell him I was born in Queens, and detecting some sort of accent, I ask where he is from? “Croatia,” he says, but pointedly reassures me he is an American. My question seems to agitate him. His voice raises an octave as he goes on to say he’s been in the country for years, and he’s been working at

Sardi’s for most of that time. I figure he came in the 90’s during or shortly after the Balkan War when Yugoslavia dissolved into a morass of ethnic cleansing. As I sip my wine, my curiosity gets the best of me and I try probing a bit about his past. It is my modus operandi. I should have been an anthropologist. I can’t help asking people about who they are. I try to be delicate, sensitive. I am truly interested, not just making chit-chat. He resists. Maybe he fears being labeled an outsider and launches into what can only be called an “America First” rant. He then informs me loud enough to fully comprehend his meaning that he “voted proudly for Trump.”      I took his in–your–face statement as a provocation, an invitation to engage in a jousting match. Don’t they teach you not to take a stand on politics or religion in bartender school? This guy must’ve been out sick that day. I question his position by asking how he feels about Trump’s immigration ban; after all, wasn’t he an immigrant? Didn’t he come here to escape a bad situation in his home country? How could he now deny to others that same option he took advantage of? Indignantly he tells me he came “legally” not like all those people who are “just trying to sneak in to take jobs away from true Americans.” I assume he means folks other than himself who also came from places like Croatia. I have to laugh at the absurdity, but I knew he meant it and that statement, incongruous as it may seem on the surface, was a pure demonstration at the heart of American strength. He had fully assimilated. He felt like an American, as if he had been born here, and he defended his right to call himself one.

     By this time the ghost of my mother has left the scene and the past that had pushed me down 44th Street is completely forgotten. Our discussion is getting heated. I am gesturing, pointing a finger accusingly at the bartender as I speak. So completely engaged in the moment I barely notice when a good-looking, youngish but grey-haired and grey-suited fellow looking like he just stepped off the set of Mad Men slid in on the stool next to me, leaving all the other stools empty. He could have sat anywhere. He probably figured this brouhaha between the bartender and me could suffice as entertainment tonight at Sardi’s. The “suit” orders an Old Fashioned, which I thought was coincidental, nostalgic, as it was my grandmother’s favorite drink, in vogue again. We exchange pleasantries and I relate to him the historical high points of my discussion with (let’s call him “Jim”) the bartender. “Jim” listens intently as he pops the maraschino cherry into the newcomers Old Fashioned. My goal was to gain the corroboration of my political stance with the attractive, grey-haired interloper. He smiles, deftly managing not to take sides without offending. He clearly is able to exercise restraint. I begin to feel self-conscious. A sign that I am fully back in my body, aware of my surroundings unclouded by memory and not carried away by the force of my own self-righteousness. 

     It is a fact that the Sardi’s I remembered is no longer that place. I will never be that 14-yearold girl again. My mother is dead and will remain an enigma. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.

     I settle back on to my stool, drain the last drop of wine from my glass, glance at the bartender and ask for my check. He smiles, his first of the evening, pours me another glass of wine and says, “this one’s on the house.” 

“Blue Orange” by Jean Wolff

“Blue Orange” by Jean Wolff