Volume 1 Issue 3: The Climax

A Letter from The Editor

The Climax, our third publication of the year, marks the end of our first year in existence.

In the last year, I have been incredibly humbled by this community, and am forever thankful for all of our contributors, readers, and everyone who calls themselves a fan of From Whispers to Roars.

No longer am I surprised by receiving hundreds of submissions, or crying when I read a piece of work that hits my heart in just the right spot. I am continually in awe of the talent we lucky enough to  provide a platform for.

The body of work represented in this issue is representative of the quality of work we strive to publish forever. From the deeply meaningful and profound to the witty nature of poetic prose, we continue to hear you all roar. 

Thank you all for being with us this year.

The writers. Artists. Photographers. The ones who submitted their work to a publication for the first time. 

We love you.

In 2019, you can expect us to continue to grow and provide resources, host prompts, and yes, begin printing our publication. Keep roaring, you talented humans.


Rachel R. Noall


Contest Winners

“The Unknown” by Hannah Kontos

“The Unknown” by Hannah Kontos

 “Faulty” by Mateo Lara 

            —Lynchburg, VA

            I listen to the serpent in my sleep—it says: linger.

            And                             I                                   Do.

            When I took you to Los Angeles, a city of sinners   

            I waited at the gates, I waited at the shore, watched

            You leave onto that airplane, rummaging every last

            Piece of flesh you didn’t take—or took when I wasn’t

            Looking, I’m bloated & laughing as I stare out

            At the Pacific Ocean looking for your plane

            I called you wolf, I let you herd all my sheep.

            No one doubts these dreams, sticky with semantic fuckery

            All joyous at your foreign throat, a Croatian damaged boy

            Never loved anyone but himself, I let cigarette smoke

            Into my lungs & cough it out—little pull to God now here in hills

            No one imagines what wires do when you aren’t looking

            This static is a dysfunctional ghost, lecherous beauty

            Come into me with wet pulse & metal whirring through humidity

            This is how you break a machine down. The steel-traps

            Are all misused & rusting in this damp embrace, I hear

            Your laughter stalks another nightmare, I pace & pull

            Back your foreskin in the front of a café, I break down

            As this buzzing thing breaks down, putrid stench of

            Our lives, a brown boy under the spell of another white

            Savior, I cannot tell who loved who more. I cannot

            Wither in the embrace when more of us queers are dying

            Or going missing or without homes, I—shook to the core

            Of this last mechanical network of you or I or—


Aishi smirks at the reflection in his computer screen as he presses the power button. Bewitching eyes. Marble-smooth skin. Plush lips that many have described as ‘to die for.’

Behind Aishi, the single piece of furniture in his apartment accents the plaster walls like a throne. It’s a king-sized bed with a built-in bookcase. Spellbooks and economic textbooks squeeze together on the bleached-white shelves, themed around a single question:

What greater magic is there than the beating of a human heart?

Ninety-six years ago, sorcerers and economists collaborated on a project to commodify the human heart. After their monumental success, heartbeats became the currency of the era. They can be bought, sold, and exchanged in all corners of the world by anyone equipped with a microchip and a wireless connection.

Aishi’s computer hums to life. The black screen blinks awake, replacing his reflection with the bold, red aesthetic of his inbox.

Some people market their life away for luxury, some for safety, and some for a taste of the world’s lesser magics. And then, of course, there is Aishi; many people market their lives away for a taste of him. He’s the sandman of carnal dreams with his meticulously sculpted body, unwavering charisma, and keen attention to detail. In the first two domains, there are others like him, competitors, but none can put the finishing touches on a fantasy with the same finesse as Aishi.

He scrolls through his email beginning with the newest offers.

[Escort to a charity gala – 21,000B.]

[A moonlit stroll on the beach – 9,000B.]

[Living as husband and wife for a month’s duration – 150,000,000B.]

Aishi ignores any offer of less than a thousand beats, as well as any which don’t at least double the amount he’ll have to invest in the job. His physical fitness keeps his heart rate low, yet even fifty heartbeats per minute averages out to three thousand beats per hour. Aishi knows the value of his time and won’t waste a second of it without the promise of reward. 

He’s an artist of lust, his control of every brushstroke unparalleled. He can afford to be picky.

Aishi considers his options with academic detachment. Finally, he selects his next commission.

_ _ _

They meet in the park next to Lovers’ Lake, on a morning when the forecast predicts a hundred percent chance of rain. Mornings like this one are plentiful enough during the monsoon season. On a sunny day, the park would teem with couples, but on this boggy morning in February, it’s vacant except for Aishi and his client. The verdant leaves and perfumed air belong exclusively to them, set pieces for their romantic tryst.

Or so the illusion goes.

They stroll hand-in-hand through soggy plum blossoms to the edge of the lake, where Aishi unties a Swan Boat. He’s presented his boat to innumerable clients before this one, but for her, he pretends she’s the first, that this day is more special to him than any other day, because they’re together and because he’d never settle for an imperfect fantasy.

Raindrops churn the plum blossoms on the water as Aishi paddles out to the middle of the lake. A pale miasma of mist and rain shrouds the Swan Boat, composing a jeweled curtain against reality.

Aishi kisses his morning paramour. Raindrops slicken his lips, lubricating the slide of his mouth across her ear and down her neck. Her clothing poses little obstacle, but he will not broach that barrier yet and lick down the luscious expanse of skin below her collar. 

He’s an elite artisan, his every work a masterpiece. He can’t afford to get sloppy.

He kisses his client with one hand tangled in her wet hair, another pressed softly to the small of her back. Water pools underneath them. When it rises too high, the boat’s buoyancy will be compromised, but it’s a calculated risk. Aishi ran the math this morning and concluded the volume of rainfall shouldn’t be a problem, at least not before their time is up.

For now, the accumulation of rainwater gentles the floor of the Swan Boat, making it a softer, more receptive bed for Aishi’s commission. She moans eagerly into the rainy, perfumed kiss. Their body heat chases back the February chill, adding to the immediacy of the illusion. She gets all that she paid for and more. Aishi wouldn’t tarnish his reputation with anything less.

One article at a time, Aishi undresses her. Undresses himself. Soggy clothing piles on the floor of the Swan Boat. The silvery illumination brings out the color of his lips as Aishi devours her, beat after beat.

At last, the boat rocks beneath them, casting ripples across the lake. The ripples come steady and rapid like a pulsing heart.

_ _ _

Their encounter ends as it began, with rain.

Aishi stands on the shore, dripping from head to toe. His hair, his lips, his perfect skin; everything is wet except his eyes. Those are dry as he dresses himself first and then his victim.

Thirty-one million, five hundred thirty-six thousand heartbeats.

It was a good offer, but not exceptional. It was also steeper than she could afford to pay. She was nineteen, barely more than a child. 31,536,000 beats should have been an affordable sum for her age.

Ah, well.

Aishi hesitates over the corpse which no longer resembles his client. There is no passion in her eyes now, no sweetness to the fold of her hands. She looks neither young nor old but vacant, an empty, heartless doll.

Truly, Aishi muses over the lifeless body in front of him, what greater magic is there than the beating of a human heart?

He soaks the Swan Boat in kerosene from the nearby boathouse and pushes it out onto the lake.  Accidents happen, but not with Aishi. So he tosses his lighter and ignites the boat. Red flames surge beneath the blanket of rain, empty heat in an empty park with no one to remark upon the blaze.

Aishi leaves the scene with wet clothes, cold eyes, and a dead girl’s heartbeat thrumming in his chest. One year closer to immortality.

Greencards are Red by Zahida Hafeez

     At an age when many college-age kids are preoccupied with deciding a course of study, I was concerned with finding home. It was the spring before college, and I was torn about leaving yet another country, yet another home. The choice was made difficult by two envelopes that arrived in my grandparents’ slate-colored mailbox early that year, not many days apart from each other. An orange manila envelope carried an interview date for the U.S. immigrant visa or “greencard,” – a final stage in the immigration process. Meanwhile, a small white envelope contained an acceptance letter to a medical school in Pakistan. The orange envelope promised a dive into an unknown American life with my open-minded, open-hearted, albeit absent-minded father, whom I had only seen once in five years ever since he came to live in Chicago. The white envelope assured a career as a doctor, and by virtue of staying back in Pakistan, a pressure to marry early.  These choices were confounded by the question of home. 

     “Where is home?” I asked myself, placing the orange and white envelopes side by side under the whirr of the fan one afternoon.  As I thought about these two choices, I came to realize that the home I considered mine all these years, was not the blue and white villa we left behind in Dubai where we lived for a decade in the 70s and 80s, nor surely the one in Chicago, which I had yet to see, and from where my father occasionally called I assumed. My home was right here, in Pakistan. 

     My grandparents’ home, built a year before I was born, was the home of my very first memories, the home where weddings took place of aunts and uncles and of my sister.  It was the home my mother died in, the home where during summer vacations, my mother bathed me and my little brother in the open air of its courtyard, filling it with laughter and giggles amid the chirping of sparrows.  Its courtyard became my place of solitude, of comfort in later years when my mother got ill with breast cancer. Now, it was the home where on most evenings, we sat in the coolness of its garden for tea, among the potted ferns and spider plants as my grandfather tended to his flowers. This was the home of which I was wholly in charge now. My leaving it would put the lives of its two remaining inhabitants – my grandparents – in disarray.

     When I came to live with my grandparents at age 15, my grandparents were the ones in charge of me. In a mere 5 years, I marveled at how things had turned around. I was the one taking care of them now.  My grandmother was in her 70s and suffering from diabetes and other ailments, depending on me for her daily care. I gave her baths, took her to the doctor, awoke in the middle of the night to assist her with using the bathroom, cleaning up if she had an accident.  I also managed house cleaning, cooking, laundry and ironing.  I no longer felt overwhelmed by my duties. I had grown up I felt, thanks to my grandparents. They had taught me so much about patience, endurance, generosity and strength. They had sorted out the messy side of me.  I owed it to them to stay, I felt, but at the same time understood that while they were at the twilight of their lives, I was just beginning.

     Following the interview at the U.S. embassy in downtown Karachi, I went to my grandfather’s office, which was close by.

“So, how did it go?” my grandfather asked as I entered. His old and wrinkly, but still handsome face always lit up when I visited him in his office, and he would often get up from his chair and walk around his desk to hug me. His office was windowless with blue walls and tan mid-century sofas with tufted backs.

“It’s all approved,” I said plainly, showing him the piece of paper with the embassy’s stamp.

     “That’s it? That’s all the Americans wanted from you?” he said, trying not to look too disappointed, his smile fading a bit. He patted my face lovingly. The actor Christopher Plummer in old age always reminded me of my grandfather.  As usual, he was dressed impeccably, in a light grey suit and maroon tie that I picked out for him that morning, a flower in his lapel. His voice carried my mother in it. It had a faraway feel to it. He also spoke Urdu in a crisp, clear way that was a pleasure to the ears. Even his “that’s-its” and other banalities would carry weight and made people pause and listen.

     “Well, yes. That’s it,” I responded as I started tearing up. My words probably went unnoticed by random people, but never him. The person, who was so revered by everyone around him, stopped to listen to me. That always gave me strength.  He moved over from his desk and sat beside me on the sofa, putting his arm around me. He called in for tea and his favorite cookies to be brought in.  

     “I don’t want you to go either,” he said, mistaking my tears for reluctance. “Stay back and go to medical school.”

     His reading of my tears wasn’t correct, however. It wasn’t that I was reluctant, but it was that the longing for my father and siblings and for the time before we were all scattered, that longing never stopped. I couldn’t share this with my grandfather, thinking he’d feel hurt so I stayed quiet and cried.  Also, the promise of “A journey to a destination” enshrined in the slogan from Singapore Airlines in print ads of the Reader’s Digests that had entertained me on hot summer afternoons, beckoned, and I felt guilty about this. 

     My grandparents and their simple lifestyle had pushed me to lead an existence similar to that of a nun.  It was an austere and very structured life, involving a rotation of domestic tasks and study and reading. I had become accustomed to an internal bell going off in my head like the bells at a convent – my grandfather’s voice, summoning me through various activities, my grandmother calling me to prayers.  I came to appreciate this certainty and structure to my life. I felt like I had time for only meaningful things.  But now, it was time to move on. 

***** ***** *****

     Once I arrived at O’Hare, I was led back to be interviewed by an immigration officer, a burly man in whose presence I felt so small. He curtly asked me a few short questions, and then he left the room. After a long wait, he returned to say he needed to take my picture, which followed another wait. Then, he came into the room again and handed me a card with the words “Resident Alien,” and said, “Welcome.”

     Up until now, this card that awarded me the status of a lawful resident of the United States of America, was known to me as a “Greencard.”  To my surprise, it wasn’t green, the color of nature that symbolized growth and calmness, the color of the Pakistani flag, and a color even considered holy in Islam, my religion. The card was red, granted not a flaming red, but a pinkish red, but nevertheless, it was red. Red was the very opposite of green, the color of fire that symbolized anger and passion, a color a Pakistani bride might wear, the color of sin, even unholy in Islam.    I tucked the card into my green Pakistani passport and proceeded towards the baggage claims area, trying to recall O’Hare from my last visit here as a 9-year-old, when at that time I had easily spotted my uncle’s brown face among the crowds behind a Plexiglass screen. Now, it would be harder to spot my father’s brown face because there were so many more such faces. Also, I hadn’t seen him in four years. Would he look the same?

     My luggage came and I flagged a porter for help. I looked and looked behind the glass screen. Did I miss him somehow when I was helping the porter identify my luggage, I worried? When I asked the porter if I was looking in the right place, he asked me who was coming to pick me up and said comfortingly, “I’m sure he’ll be there.” And we waited some more. I asked the porter to wait with me. I felt like I trusted him. “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere,” he said. And then he suggested that I call my father, pointing me to a pay phone. I had never used one in my life. I exchanged a dollar bill for some quarters with the porter, and slowly dialed my father’s number, written on a piece of paper in my grandfather’s handwriting, same as my mother’s hand.

     When he answered, he laughed. “You are here!” He tried to make light of his lateness, as he always did.

     “I’ve been waiting, Abba, for a long time, and I was worried I missed you.”

     He said, “Oh Ho!” the equivalent of “Oh no, I’m sorry,” in Urdu. He said he was leaving soon. I was a little mad, but relieved to hear my father’s voice, and if there was any anger left that he was late, it melted quickly. I decided to let the porter go, tipping him as generously as possible, but saving a little bit for an emergency, my grandfather’s advice echoing in my head. 

     Past the customs line, I waited by the windows of the International Arrivals area. I looked out to the parking garage and saw cabs being hailed by eager looking passengers, and wondered why I wasn’t feeling as great as I thought I’d feel. I missed my grandfather so much. I looked at the “Departures” sign with the arrow pointing up in front of the escalators and wished I was headed back, on a plane to Pakistan.

     It turned out that my father was two hours late for a meeting that was four years in the making. The nostalgic images I had of him were at Dubai airport. I remembered the dull gold cufflinks on his silk shirt that peeked from beneath this Austin Reed navy jacket and even the Cartier perfume as he lifted his arms to give me and my brother a tight hug.

     I now saw him walking towards me, but I never would have recognized him from afar if it hadn’t been for his manner of calling me.

     My father looked so different – shoulders slouched, eyes red and the skin around them more wrinkled. We hugged awkwardly. As his half-sleeved shirt brushed against my face, I tried to ignore the smell of sweat and tiredness. I tried not to stare at his worn-out shoes, their edges rimmed with dust. And then, at the sight of a tear that shone around the new wrinkles, I finally saw my father, the one I knew. I broke down into tears.

     I helped him load my luggage into a maroon Dodge Daytona. The car was a borrowed one to replace his own car that had been hit by two teenage drunks near his place of work, he explained.

     “Did you get hurt?”

     “Yes, but I am okay now.”

     We didn’t talk as much as I thought I would.  He was half-focused on me, looking at me from time to time, with a smile on his face, but he didn’t say much, the other half of him was focused on the news. The WBBM radio announced clear skies and temperature in the 90s. The traffic report sounded gibberish to me, but my father understood every word of it. I was impressed. We took the freeway to Mannheim Road, and then made our way to the suburb of Franklin Park. 

     Driving from O’Hare, my worst fears about life in America that I had seen in Hollywood movies like The Outsiders came back to life. My father’s laundromat was surrounded by low-income tenements. Today, more than 13 percent live below the poverty line in this suburb, but back then it was worse, and it seemed to me that all of the poor were clustered around the area of the laundromat.

     I thought a lot about my grandparent’s house on my ride to the laundromat and dry-cleaning shop, as I stared out at the repetitive image of strip malls and rundown tenements, one after the other, one after the other, I felt a little hypnotized. I thought of the sedate and secure life I was eager to leave behind in Pakistan to come to America. I soothed myself now with thoughts of the courtyard at my grandparents’ house, the image of my grandfather walking among his potted plants, tending to the nasturtiums, where on summer monsoon days, a rain-filtered air swept in a delicious freshness. I had gone from one extreme to another in a day’s physical journey, and I wasn’t so sure if I was strong enough to tackle the opposite of my safe and confining life in Pakistan, if I was prepared for the unexpected life in Chicago, which would later on prove to be dangerous as well.

     Still, I had greeted Pakistan with similar feelings of ambivalence at age 15 as I was now greeting America at age 20. It would all be okay, I told myself.

     When we finally got inside the laundromat, my little brother was sitting by the cash register, and we ran to hug each other. He had the same round glasses, and at 18 years of age he had filled up a little since I last saw him three years ago.

     After greeting some clients in Spanish, my father excused himself, however, saying we could go to lunch after he got caught up with some work, and with that he moved further and further into the gut of the laundromat. I was curious and asked my brother for a tour.

     The gut of the laundromat and dry-cleaning shop was claustrophobic. It contained metallic furnishings and machines that worked when they pleased, my brother joked. Two metal antique sewing machines stood next to the cash counter amid a row of coats and jackets – some claimed by their owners while others seemed like they had been collecting years’ worth of dust over the laundromat’s last owner’s hard work. My father had only owned the laundromat for less than a year. 

     “And this coat,” my brother said, pointing to a fur-lined rockstar leather jacket, “Belongs to Cigra.”

     “Who?” I asked.

     “He is in jail right now, but he’ll be back for it one day,” he said.

     “What’s he in jail for?”

     “He stole from us, for which Abba testified, and he is accused of committing rape.”

     “What? You’re making this up, aren’t you?” I said.

     “No, I’m not.”

     “And you had to tell me this on my first day, here, in this place?” I shook my head.

     Our next stop was a small room with a metal coin counter and an old metal desk sat next to it with ledgers.  Past all of this, deeper into the gut and not visible from the cash register, across from an area filled with noxious detergents and a disorganized array of stain removers, stood the laundromat’s main machine – an aging, discolored steaming press. It looked like two ironing boards slamming against each other when a foot pedal was pushed.  My father was in the gut of the beast, hunched over the steam press.  As he pushed the pedal, puffs of steam were released compounding an already abundant supply of heat churned out by the hotter-than-usual Midwestern spring.  Rusty and old, this machine was responsible for keeping food on the table, perhaps. 

     Tears welled up in my eyes seeing my father hunched over the steam press.  He had never ironed in his life. In another life not too long ago, my father’s clothes, down to his undergarments, were dry-cleaned and laundered without him ever being aware of how the clothes made it to his neatly arranged closets. 

     Until that moment, I had kept feeling sorry for myself thinking that my father hadn’t given me even a day to adjust to living in poverty, bringing me straight to his shop from the airport. But my sullenness over his lack of sensitivity evaporated as I saw him now slouch over the steaming press now. His bifocal glasses perched on his nose, his face wearing a classic experience of concentration, which I recalled from his former life as one he wore unconsciously while reading books and newspapers. He put all his energy into meticulously ironing shirt collars and creasing pants “in the way of the English,” bringing to working-class immigrant America, one of the few things of his colonial childhood in pre-partition India.

     Seeing me cry, my brother started tearing up as well. I told my father to show me how to work the steam press.

     “Oh, but you have just arrived!” he said at last.


“What I Mean When I Say Woman” by Olivia Kingery

I’m talking about your babies.
I’m talking about your babies’
babies who are still sitting
in the palm of your hand
and you say here is the finest girl
of all and she will eat you alive, but you don’t know.

You don’t know the glimmer
of a streetlamp on my switchblade
as I walk my dogs when the sun
goes down, as the sun goes down
on my chance to stand straight spine
looking in the mirror and say yes,
here I am and I will eat you alive;
until you cut my achilles with my own
switchblade before I have the chance
to tell you my name.

My name in the shape of my keys
between my fingers, my fingers
in a fist, my fist clenched tightly
as I picture my crying mother
who once was your babies’ babe
and she will still eat you alive.
I’m talking about her hand
on my back saying hit those boys
straight in the chest, so every beat
of their heart will say your name
and they will know what it is like
to swallow a woman whole, to feel
her reverberate, feel her grow.

They will know what we mean
when we say woman. It is not
brittle or bone dry but it is pivotal.
You can feel it grinding your teeth,
you can feel it in the sway of your hips,
in the curve of your breast and yes,
we know we are damn fine,
                                            we will
eat you alive and wipe our mouths.

“Drop Foot” by AM Roselli

rising up from the traffic below

dark robes shadow her dead eyes

ashen skin flicked off the devil’s cigarette

   I now believe in failure

hollowed cheekbones sunken above concave ribs

where greedy fingers multiply and nest

prodigal creature turns painted toenails into broken shine

crutches made of witch-bone wait along the cinderblock

        tethered to the weight of private moments

their tongues speak animal language

I neglect the headlights coming at me in the dark

eyes close

latent images floating like sour candy

your drop foot like a brick on a pedal

“Ascent” by Laurie Marshall

“Ascent” by Laurie Marshall

“Let There Be War” by Lee Felty

topiary tanks

flower pistols

paper shrapnel

daisy petal logistics

poem grenades

mine fields are your fields

and all around us

dandelions being blown away

“Weary Spirits” by S. Elizabeth Sigler

Smoky tendrils of American Spirits
lit against the rain
rust past my bedroom window
in a hurry to meet the late night sky.
Swritling above all of us.

Part of me rises,
wading into a wave of deafening pain.
I swayed across your threshold.
A wavering group
of younger particles wait in the staircase,
where your hand could ask for the small of my back.

A sticky slice of me
doesn’t know better than to whisper words of want.
As if you’d still read my mind.
One dancing shard is claimed by the night we first
gave in to our bloodied, calloused feet.

The autumnal breeze
reveals one last unsafe space.
I saw you hide relief whenever I lost resolve.
Your warm smile waits patiently,
asking an odd shooting star
to help me catch up.

A wayward fragment
has luxurious amounts of time for this.
Braver scraps boast firm intent to write it off.
My feet take a soft half step
to the edge line of our desecrated globe.

My eyes peek from underneath those bangs.
Yours flash bright green in response,
laughing at my leftover cocoa cravings.     
Harsh weeks and months past are in agreement,
this strange dimension isn’t a place for us.

A hand forged token                                             materializes in your outstretched hand.
My breath is held tight to thirteen and a half
when all potential dissolves,
called back home by the wind.

“a ferocity/teal (they’ll know what this means)” by Oscar Vargas

before i lose the words

          already slipping away:

cigarettes and sweat interwoven into the smell of the earth

   is my clumsiness in
          mannerism and expression expressing

the rains and the rails and the sun over nine days

rough and what felt like an eternity
like the journey of the meteor into fiery dissolution and like the wishes
we managed to cheat off the night; for example

a harbor lit at night                                                                               a land struck anchor

       while i was scrambling for words slipping away
     i confessed that i couldn’t comprehend the chaos
           nor the star choosing to come to earth

(afterwards, you whispered: I understand the chaotic math of the universe. I know what happens next.)

“changing the moons” by Sydney Strickland

“changing the moons” by Sydney Strickland

“My Four-Year-Old Ponders the Boundaries of Existence” by Stephen Briseño

The question barged in
without warning,
drooping in the air
around the breakfast table.

What does it mean when you die?

Two paths laid plain before me so early on a Tuesday.


I don’t know, munchkin.
What do you think?

a​nd hope that my shoddy cop-out
would distract until her next wrinkle of whimsy.
(​What does it feel like to be a zebra? ​Or​ what do fairies eat?​)

Instead, I went down the second.
It’s when your body doesn’t
work anymore.
Your heart stops beating
and your mind stops dreaming.

You quit moving
you just

From her bowl of oatmeal, she posed
a follow-up:

Are there alive people like that?

“The White Women’s Pity” by Brache James

here tonight I would like to make a toast

to the white woman and her awfully wedded – did I say that right? Oops –

lawfully wedded misery. For centuries, they have made us wonder:

what is wrong with white girls? What is wrong with white women?

I think I’ve found that answer

some goofy white boy put her through bad sex and emotional neglect,

and some jackass white man made her feel like being a woman would never

mean more to these misogynists than a joke,

and while she was funny,

and she knew how to party,

and she wore the flirty fragrances

and put her hair in the ponytail the way he liked,

they are fools to think she would stay that docile.

And how do I know?

Because I am a woman.

And I know how it feels to have a man look at you as if he’s waiting for

the punchline,

as if when you were minding your business drinking with

WHOMEVER you were drinking with it was while planning to be in his bedroom

as if that champagne apple and honey fragrance was picked out by him

as if you even wanted to deal with the maintenance of keeping a ponytail up

as if everything you were supposed to want to do had anything to do with what makes

you happy. And that should matter because

we are women. It should matter that

white women are being played by the males that scorn women of color,

but we turn our backs on them


because we’ve been telling these bitches that

while we made “Bye Felicia” funny,

and our rappers are playing at their parties and in their cars

and we made coconut oil smell like tantric sex

and we put our hair in afros and braids and weaves and all kinds of coils

our men have been neglecting us – for various reasons we can get into if you really

want to – and we know she knows, even though she is a white woman. She should be

familiar with our own grief,

but you see, she has forgotten what it means to be a woman for women!

The white woman cannot identify with herself and she needs to be liberated!

so she starts dating a nigga and listening to Lil Kodak!

so she gets trashed every weekend to throw herself into the white man’s cesspool,

better known as a frat house!

so she becomes the mean bitch she feels every other white woman has been to her!

and they turn their back on us


because our melanin is a shade they could just never reach

and our fashion is a style that they just couldn’t pull off

and our men were dutiful fathers and dedicated lovers and all-around sensible human

beings. because they told us black was dirty and they loved their white skin

and crocs and fanny packs and mullets and corsets and Tom Cruise were all fashion

statements and our men preferred them because they made the most beautiful babies

meanwhile neither she nor I love ourselves and feel good every day in the skin we’re in

neither she nor I know what it feels like for our bodies to make love with our clothes

neither she nor I feel like we mean more to these misogynists than a joke.

Combine this feeling with the inability to connect to your womanhood- there is no

other state to be than piteous. It’s one she’s not good at dealing with,

which is why men do not respect her, and we did not understand her cry for

sisterhood, and why

it is broadcasted on our screens.

what a pity she can’t keep her business out of the streets.

“Everyone’s Mom” by Christopher Osswald

The cafe was offbeat
just off Christopher Street
in the village,
every chair, table, dish different
nothing matched
afternoon in the city
so happy she sings as we walk
lunch with my mom
“that doesn’t have shellfish?
Good, ‘cause I’m allergic!”
the food?
I don’t remember the food
I’m sure it was good
but lunch was awesome

It took her forever
“don’t rush me!”
we left late
I drove, she talked
with her hands
“Don’t forget, I’m old”
“It’s just a walk on the beach, Mom”
the weather?
I don’t remember the weather
I’m sure it was great
but the walk was awesome

A collage of memories
like a field of flowers
an eccentric Mom
but isn’t everyone’s Mom
a field of wildflowers?

“Sunrise in the City of ‘David’” by Han Jeon

“Sunrise in the City of ‘David’” by Han Jeon

“At The Edge” by Judy Taylor

Clad in overbite, pleated plaid and pink Keds,
she watches arms grasp bars, legs
pump seats high into the sky, 
and smudged balls thwack around poles.

She yearns to
hop on the chalked numbers, skip over
the twisted yellow ropes,
hear the giggly, sticky secrets
with the other girls so crisp
in their arching ponytails.

With stinging eyes fleeing
into the bushes,
a row of pink sequins
winks up at her, a cat collar
beckoning her
to imagine
the Persian princess
bereft of jewels,
white mane of clingy leaves,
green orbs reaching for, shrinking from
her lilted voice, hand outstretched

to the one who now might be
amongst the stacks
of amber, ebony, and ivory felines
trapped behind clanging crosses of metal,
their cries and eyes
scraping at the inside of her heart
like jagged shards of glass
spinning ferociously in a blender.

“Speechless” by Jason Youngclaus

Don’t call it inspiration —

Whether you see it as a well you delve into,

Or a signal you catch from an antenna,

It comes from the same place.

Whether it has always been there and you just couldn’t reach it

Or it shoots down like moonlight from a thunderstorm speaker,

It has always been there

Unlike you. 

To be inspired is cheap, like a QVC commercial

For a career in criminal justice

Playing inaccessibly through a 60 inch screen

Next to an ex-convict blacked out in a pool of it at 3 in the morning.

That same moonlight reflected through his puddle, no less.

This is a thought-feeling, this is magnetism through a midperipheral prism.

This is a resonance that we can tap. And we only have to drift

Downstream our very own

Hadron Collider tunnel.

All we have to do is lift a cold finger in the air and stand as still as we can.

Our very own Tesla Coil runneth.

Don’t jump, don’t dream, don’t think, don’t care

Don’t yell, don’t beg, maybe gently ask

But moreso request, in gratitude

Don’t beg, don’t kick, don’t chant, don’t destroy, much less create


Seek —- It will be created in front of you.

Grab it when it does. And listen. Just listen.

On a foggy day be speechless

Lean hard against every cornered window

Watch the curtain be drawn,

Revealing only spirit.

Let me know when you hear it.

Show me how you clear

Your lenses of brightless lights.

            Endear yourself to the season of elation—

          Cultivate the cure to the plights

          That mankind has wrought through our soil in the night.

Time passes, the new moon’s seed grows

Soon it’s right before morning, before

Yawning—its overcast, solemn and vacant

As Wordsworth’s Thames before dawning…

Simple and beautiful and resonating with uncorrupted potential:

Like the moment of birth, or any pure becoming.

  The deeper the void,

The bigger the bang.

And it makes me speechless.

“butterfly” by Joseph Verrastro

“butterfly” by Joseph Verrastro

“born to catch butterflies on her tongue” by Adrian Neibauer

With shooting stars in her eyes,

she waits for rain

to wash the day

out of her hair.

Sitting on a small, dry patch of grass,

she closes her eyes

and waits,

anticipating the flutter on her tongue.

As a child

she advised balloons

on bouncing and stretching.

She interrogated hens

until they told her

the truth.

When she tires, she closes her eyes

and shrinks to the size of a pea;

hides under a maple leaf

in the backyard.

She feels safe there

resting and dreaming

of a world filled

with butterfly wings.

“Collision” by Roberta McDonnell

(After Paul Muldoon)

There is fusion or fission.

But what about the tendency to repel-

            maybe it’s all in the genes.

Some say we’re a blank slate,

built, layer upon layer

            of cultural overtones.

My mother says

we’re all Dolly Mixtures.

Others are saying it’s a melting pot.

I say it’s an exotic salad,

            this humanity.

But what we do to each other;

            Now, there’s the eternal rub.

You could always go it alone.

You’d miss the new weather, though.

“It is Over” by Korey Wallace

Still wanting, though, removed from city and work.

The long way she wakes.

It’s boring watching breath.

No television. No phones.

Disciplined silence.

Possibly, there will be cheap wine since one portion of the retreat ends tonight.

Or conversations we caged.

Maybe, alone with the radio.

Twenty minutes to hear the world.

Still seeing what it is to reach

Find, feel, taste-

The sweep of black




Brush strokes echo


Honest holy distaste.

“3 am” by Dalton Brock

3 am and our dog needs to go outside.

I get up, sleep still stuck to me, and take him.

Outside our apartment is dark, pitch black, it usually is during winter.

The air is cool and I start to shiver as he walks around sniffing.

Then, a sudden


He’s looking up at the giant tree that watches over the complex.

I look up as well.

Two red eyes meet mine.

No head, no body, just two floating eyes.

Everything stops and fear takes over.

I’ve seen these eyes before.

They are the eyes that follow, that see to it that I’m unhappy.

Their color envelopes me in their misery.

I’ve tried to run away from them but they come again,

and again,



Like a devilish game of peek a boo they spring out and let me know they are here, and always

will be.

I come to, my dog licking my invisible scars, and the eyes have gone away until next time.

I gently lead the dog back inside and make a note to call someone about this in the morning.


    won’t forget about it this time.

“Kate Jenkinson” by K.K. Foster

“Kate Jenkinson” by K.K. Foster

“Change” by Elizabeth Bolton


(What, exactly, is my connection to the moon now?)

My swinging now follows an unfamiliar pattern. I had grown so used to the cyclical movement of things, whether my changing outlooks truly adhered to that shape or not did not really matter; all things in retrospect could at least be made to fit into it, that same figure of waxing and waning, that the moon does. All things either grew or faded and that was the whole of it. Nothing could be said to not belong, nothing, that is, besides standing still. The point of everything, the whole business of monthly life was the moving from part to part and back around again and at last, I had come to love it!

Now, I must resolve to die at the end of every day having just been born that morning. Now, I must swell in one place as nine moons spin above me, untouchable (where before I could have easily pressed a finger into their undersides and owned their spinning, as I might a basketball). Now, I must do nothing but expect, every day looking out from the same spot unable to see beyond the hour, the minute, the second itself. Desperately wanting to. (Sometimes, in dreams, yes, and in those she is a girl. A quiet, quiet girl.)

“the witch remembers” by RC deWinter

i never made it my business
to break hearts
collecting bits and pieces
of those broken puzzles
as my prize
although i will confess
that in devotion to my craft
i used the foolishness of men
to good advantage

in a brutal world
where women were enslaved
i forswore those chains
in favor of dark magick
it doomed me
to a life alone

but better freedom
in its cold austerity
than the choking warmth
of being owned as property

now sitting
ancient and untouched by man
for many years
i cast my memory backward
carefully re-stepping every crooked mile
of my journey
reexamining my choices
while i fondle fingerbones
collected from dead lovers

it is not without regret admixed with pride
that i see scattered
by the roadside of my days
the rusted shields and broken swords
of many brave contenders in the field

for i lived hard and lusty
and in my quest to own myself
left a trail of spent gladiators
in my wake


Lydia, 1918
by Brian Spitulnik

“It’s nights like this,” Lydia said.

     Louie waited. He wanted to know her. He wanted to examine her every thought, to stuff each dream and desire and prejudice of hers into his mouth, mash them to pulp with his back teeth, then swallow and make them his own. He wanted to feel the skin beneath her dress, peel back those starched layers. She was a Duluth girl, but he knew she had lived on the East Coast of the country for some years. Word down at the yard was that girls in the east never put up much of a fight.

     “Nights like this?” Louie said. “What is it about a night like this?”

     “Pardon?” Lydia said, her eyes, precise and indifferent, swiveled from where they’d been fixed on the black expanse of the lake to take him in.

     “You were saying,” Louie continued. “Nights such as this night.”

Louie saw that he had miscalculated. Perhaps she felt he was prying. Or, worse, perhaps his English had failed him and what she’d said was a thought, complete, and would have been understood by any American boy.

     “I only meant,” Lydia said. “Duluth in October. If it were always October.”

She ran the thumb and forefinger of one hand along the corners of her mouth, a bad habit of wiping away imagined spittle. Her mother would have swatted her hand with a tsk.

     “I been to New York City,” Louie said, hoping he had understood her this time. He leaned back, resting his elbows uncomfortably on the rocky beach and stretching his legs. “But I rather take Duluth every day of the week.”

     Lydia would have to endure people like Louie saying things like this for just a little while longer. She looked at Louie, at the large, irregular features jutting from the broad, open plains of his face. She considered, for a moment, lying down beside him, just to feel the stones of the shore through the layers of her dress and underclothes, to maybe lay there long enough to let the stones pockmark the skin of her back. Instead, she remained as she was, upright, and said,      “You’re the kind of person who prefers to be the place they are to the place they could be. That’s unusual.”

     Louie couldn’t tell whether or not Lydia was mocking him. Her words were so often spoken in a tone that implied she was quoting someone else.

     “I take Duluth every day,” he said again, less to Lydia this time, more to the clouds skulking low over the water.

     Lydia wanted to be more generous than she was. She could afford to be generous. The Duluth News-Tribune had run a column announcing her acceptance to the Martha Washington Seminary two years before, and then, upon her return, had asked her to pen an essay describing her experiences in the East. She knew the News-Tribune was only interested in her because she was, as Louie had said more than once that evening, the daughter of a big fancy steel macher. But whatever the editor’s primary motives, Lydia had received praise for her essay. Even her mother had admitted to finding Lydia’s sentences fluid and occasionally elegant. And Lydia had felt as though she’d walked through a door in her own home, a door she’d never before bothered to open, and discovered a room furnished exactly to her liking (she had begun to think in metaphor, as an exercise, even when she was without pen and paper, and she considered this door imagery to be particularly good). She imagined a future full of doors opening to rooms that opened to more rooms, each room exactly right for her life; a big life in which she would write her essays, then novels, then someday dramas for the stage.

     These were her plans. Duluth was not in her plans. Neither was Louie. There was no need to taunt Louie or to belittle the city. She wanted, and really could afford, to be more generous.

Lydia rose from the ground. She stood with her back to the lake, looking toward the aerial lift bridge, its network of cross-hatched steel beams etching a skeletal wraith into the low burn of downtown lights.

     “From here Duluth really is a lovely little place,” she said. “I don’t mind it so much from right here.”

     Louie reached up and took her hand. He gave it a tug, just the suggestion of a pull, so gentle it could have been excused as a reflexive squeeze.

     “Then,” he said. “Right here is where you should to stay.”

     She wouldn’t stay. She had seen, in Washington, just exactly how far a girl with brains and comportment and ambition could go. There, not here, was where she was headed. Louie had already gone where his ambition could take him, and where he had gone was Minnesota. He had left a life as a farmer’s son on a Lithuanian shtetl, traveled for weeks across the Atlantic, one deck below the transported cattle. Now he worked throughout St. Louis County, gathering hunks of bent, unusable steel ties and welded rails for his uncle’s scrap metal company. A scrap metal company was what Louie called it. Lydia knew, but didn’t say, that it was little more than a junkyard. Louie lived with his uncle’s family, among the Poles and Czechs and Russians and Slavs in West Duluth, all glutted together there, entombed in their dark clothes and the strange, feral smells of earth, of over-cooked meals, of things ancient and rancid and too sweet.

     Louie was content. He would stay exactly as he was, exactly where he was, and for this, Lydia pitied him. And because she pitied him, and because she could afford to be generous, she let herself be pulled down to the beach again. With the sense that she was doing what was benevolent and good, she turned her face and let the Litvak kiss her on the mouth.

“Searching” by Hannah Kontos

“Searching” by Hannah Kontos

Late Night, Deep in the Forest
by Alexander Jones

            . . . a furry lightning bolt flashes from nowhere.

            Your eyes widen, heart clenches, fingers dig tightly into the pliable steering wheel cover, and you stomp on the brakes, your quadriceps forcing the pedal down as far as it’ll go, and the heavy, heavy SUV swerves and fishtails and pitches you forward, rubber shrieking, but it’s too late. You don’t have enough time; the trees are too crowded, the night too dark, the deer too quick.

            You hit it.

            Not dead center—the bouncy thud comes from the passenger side, and the deer is thrown toward the side of the road as you pass it by, skidding to a halt maybe fifty feet in front of it.

            You’ve stopped.

            If you hadn’t come to a complete stop, you would just tap on the gas and go, leaving it. But you’ve stopped. If you hadn’t stopped, you’d have been way down the road by the time you decided you should have, and by then it would have been too late to bother.

            But you did.

            Here you are.

            The deer is moving around.

            You unbuckle your seat belt and yank open the door, the cold of the night blasting you as you are birthed from your climate-controlled womb, hatched from your snug cocoon out into the cold, dark night.

            The firmness of the pavement beneath your feet is unreal and supremely hard as you huff and puff your way to the deer, breath visible, coat on the backseat because the car was too warm.  There’s a smear of shiny inky-black blood leading up to where the deer lays on the side of the road kicking its feet, its front hooves beating and scratching irregularly on the dead grass beyond the shoulder. It’s screaming, screeching, crying, braying, beating its front hooves.  The back ones move only from the rocking of the front ones.

            Closer still, you see how damaged it really is. It had a nice set of antlers, but they’re cracked and broken, hanging halfway off its head, swinging around, tearing free of its skull.

There’s a loop of blue guts and an expanding, widening pool of oily blood beneath it; the side of it against the ground must have burst open like a popped water balloon, like a jar of tomato sauce dropped onto a concrete sidewalk back in the city, but you’re out here in the deep woods all alone, pressing your hands over your ears so you don’t have to hear this dying burst-open thing screaming as it dies. It’s not really so loud that you have to cover your ears, but you cover them because you don’t want to hear it. It hasn’t let up or quieted down or given in—it just keeps braying and yelling and shrieking at top volume and you’ve got your hands over your ears but you can still hear it anyway.

            Maybe it deserves to die in privacy, not with you staring as it beats and scrapes against the side of the road, the movement agitating its body, making that little loop of guts longer and bigger as more blood pours out.

            You run back to your SUV. Get in. Pull the door closed.

            Hands shaking, you grab hold of the steering wheel, but the shaking just vibrates up your arms to your shoulders.

            Now what?

            If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a noise?

            The deer is certainly making noise. It’s still screaming as you look at the space on the gearshift marked Drive, impossibly loud through the factory-smoked safety glass windows that a baseball bat couldn’t shatter.

            You surprise yourself.

            You surprise yourself by putting the SUV into reverse, twisting around to look out the back window as you press on the gas pedal, the seat belt reminder dinging as the engine roars. You reverse backward in a straight line up the straight stretch of pavement and hit the deer again.

The deer yields and crunches and squishes beneath both rear tires this time, followed by the hiccupping eye of the storm before your front tires roll over it as you continue backward, swerving to avoid the ditch.  It emerges from underneath your front bumper, both working headlights illuminating the deer.

            Crushed into peace.

“You Worry Me” by Oak Ayling

“You Worry Me” by Oak Ayling

Lower Avenue Look Away
by Jason Graff

     Sitting on the edge of the bed, the hotel sheets creased sharp against his thighs, he listens hard to the air conditioner. Tries to make music out of its hum. For a while, it sounds like nothing so he wraps his ears more tightly around the sound. And now, it does sound like music or maybe it’s all in his head. Things are so rattled and focus-fuzzed up there, he can’t really be sure of anything. He waits for something, what he doesn’t know, a sign that tells him it’s safe to leave the room, that there is no other version of him waiting somewhere in the near future to fuck things up. But he knows that version of him will never entirely go away. That’s the one fact his new “friends” seem most anxious to help him remember. Still, he needs a message from inside of himself that he’s steady enough to leave. At least, his hands aren’t shaking.

     If he were in his apartment, either room of it, he would be more at ease about the outside world. In finding a comfortable rut, he’d stumbled on a better way to deal with himself. This also was important or so his new friends had told him. He had to relearn how to manage his life because a big piece, a big ugly, dangerous piece had, thankfully, been excised. And he suddenly had all these lonely, lucid hours to fill. Listening to a clock or the blood tick in his ear were hardly the kind of activities to keep his mind occupied. So, he’d taken up walking.

     Naturally, when he’d lived in the city, he’d been a walker. But then it was a way to get from place to place, not a hobby. Besides, he’d hardly needed a hobby when he lived in Brooklyn. There was plenty to do, plenty of places to go. Too many, way too many. Out in Jersey though, his options were thankfully limited.

     Walking came to mind early on after moving there. He set off along the rabbit warren of cul-de-sacs in the sleepy neighborhoods where uncomplicated suburban folk lived their uncomplicated suburban lives. He envied them.

     The sidewalks were unreliable; often cracked and uneven or running out in the middle of a block for no reason but the streets were largely quiet, so he just walked along the side of the road. He rarely saw other people, which was a bonus. He’d yet to shake the feeling that strangers were still judging him for things he couldn’t remember doing.

     His favorite of those streets was one whose sidewalk ended after a couple of bedroom community blocks. There were only three different kinds of houses there. The homogeneous nature of the architecture was comforting. It looked like the kind of place where nothing unexpected ever happened. These were people who didn’t cause problems for themselves. That much seemed clear to him as he began to walk up the hill to where the biggest of those houses stood. There was a black-topped path between two of them rising along a gently sloped hill. It led up to the street on which his apartment complex sat.

     He’d always loved shortcuts, ever since he was old enough to walk. It crept into his life in other more pernicious ways, especially when he was in the heaviest of his partying. His whole life then was organized around shortcutting his days to get to the nights. Getting done with work and to a bar or better yet one of his dissolute acquaintance’s places as fast as possible. There were never judgements there, just more shortcuts to get him out of the way he didn’t want to feel.

     He wishes he could shortcut his way through the day ahead. No longer in New Jersey but back in Soulsucking, Connecticut, at a roadside motel near where he’d grown up. Unimpressed by its music, he shuts off the air conditioner. The fresh quiet allows the whisper of the traffic passing by outside to slip under the door.

     And soon he’d be in his rental among it, which, at least, gave him something palpable to dread. It’d been years since he’d driven anywhere. So long that keys had apparently gone extinct in the interim. He could barely work the little bauble the rental car guy gave him well enough to get the doors open. Forget getting the trunk to work. He put his suitcase in the seat next to him. The ride from the airport to the hotel last had lasted almost as long as the flight. All those winding roads he kept getting rerouted on. So sure he was going to crash and die.

     The family would’ve been convinced he’d been drunk and probably forgiven him. If Mom’s death wasn’t reason for a relapse what was? But no, he’ll show up at the funeral home in his black suit, skinny and straight-line sober. He’s not a mess any more, not someone who needs so wide of a berth that people try to avoid seeing him.

     In the car, he encounters the same problems he had the night before. First he can’t remember how to get the car to start. Then, his phone doesn’t get loud enough over the engine for him to hear the lady’s voice giving him directions. The only thing she seems to say clearly or loudly enough is: Re-routing. Finally, a circuitous route along unfamiliar roads delivers him to Bock’s Funeral Home, a large Victorian house with black shutters and grey porch with sad looking wicker furniture that almost certainly has never been used. His dad and sisters are already there, their cars parked in a neat line right out in front. He drives around to the back and parks next to a dumpster, embarrassed that the little compact was obviously all he could afford and more than he can handle.

     They make no effort to hide the fact they have been waiting for him, each one stiff in his or her chair. As soon as he nears the little office area just off the entrance, their heads snap towards him impatiently. He wants to remind them that he doesn’t live there anymore and shouldn’t be expected to get around like he does but, instead, he just takes his seat. Enough excuses have been made already for his one life.

     Mr. Bock, a short man with eyebrows like a thicket of weeds, runs over the program for the day. There will be two viewings; one afternoon, one evening with a small service in between. He asks if anyone will speak and Dad says the girls have each picked a reading, then they all turn to him. Mr. Bock asks if he would like to say a few words. He would. His dad coughs and sisters sigh to express their uncertainty.

     They all go out for an early lunch afterwards in Dad’s Cadillac. They have to be quick. He offers to drive back if anyone would like a cocktail at lunch but his father informs him that no one needs to drink at lunch. He says it in a way that makes it seem like he means anyone having lunch anywhere at any time but also like it’s a retroactive repudiation for his wayward son and all the times he’d drank at lunch. And then kept on drinking until he didn’t know day for night. In this way, the ride in the car proves less than comfortable despite the Caddie’s roominess and Corinthian leather seats. His sisters in the back on their phones text back and forth, probably about him.

     For lunch, they go to a place on Gower Avenue where Mom used to like to go. Nothing at all special about it. Food’s average. Watered down cocktails if he remembers right. A pang nibbles at the back of his brain as they are shown through the bar to their seats in the back. There are a few daytime drinkers sitting proudly on their stools, sipping and watching the noon news. One of those stools used to be Ma’s. He can almost remember which one from when he was a kid and they’d come to meet her there.

     Back when he lived in the city, he used to love drinking while the rest of the world slaved away. Got into the habit at his very first job working at the hospital in Brooklyn. He’d call in sick, then head down the street and run up a bully of a tab. Once on the noon news, a story was breaking at the hospital. There’d been a shooting. Some fired doctor went nuts. Already a bit buzzed, he raised a glass in the air to Tommy, his usual pourer to salute his luck. Drank on the house that day. Got so drunk called in legitimately sick the next.

     Meg, the oldest, breaks down shortly after ordering but Carol quickly consoles her. He tries as well. Reaches across the table and pats her hand. Dad smiles at this. They eat in silence, which his mom would’ve hated. She would’ve noted that it must’ve meant everyone was enjoying their food just to hear someone agree. No one says that today, though. They just all go on chewing and drinking their water. Food and tears and no booze, any server’s worst nightmare.

     His dad waits until they are finishing to ask if he has something in mind, something prepared and written down. Winging it would be a bad idea, Dad thinks. He just wants to speak from his heart, to stand there in front of all those people, most of whom he hasn’t seen in years and say something true and real about his mom. Not the words of another. Not anything cribbed from a poet or the Bible. Mom hated contrived sobby-eyed bullshit. But he can’t say that, not really, not all of it. So he says yes, he has written something down, which is not a total lie. He has some idea, an opening, a funny story about him playing with her shoes, cleaning them in the toilet. It’s not something that most of them would’ve heard before.  Not quite something written down, not quite off the cuff either.

     When they get back to Bock’s, his dad gives him a box from his trunk. Stuff from mom, stuff from his room. Dad doesn’t know why but she asked that he have it. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to take it back on a plane but doesn’t complain either. He thanks the old man, even gives him a hug which is more of a half hug. It is not something anyone in the family has much practice at but he’s glad the old man tried.

     As he goes to put it in his car, he manages to figure out which button on the key thing works the trunk. It pops open, he doesn’t even have to lift it. Inside, he finds some devil has left a flask of vodka there, right out in the open. Supposed to clean these cars out before people get them. Aristocrat brand Vodka, the cheapest of the cheap. Wouldn’t even have drunk it if he were still drinking. He wants to just toss it in the dumpster but is afraid someone might see him. Wants to call the rental car company and complain. But how would that go? Hi, you rented a subcompact to me and someone left some vodka in my car and you see, I’m a drunk so this is very bad, would you mind sending someone to take it away because I can’t throw it out because someone in my family might see me and they’re all suspicious enough about my recovery.

     His dad asks holding open the back door if everything is alright. Probably came to check on him, make sure he wasn’t a glug-glugging back there. He puts the box on top of the vodka and shuts the trunk.

     The afternoon session goes well. Some people cry. All wish him well. He gets some hugs in line and notes he’s better at it then his dad or sisters. Lots of hugging in his world now, at both the beginning and end of meetings. Sometimes even during, if he admits to having a hard time. Hasn’t had to do that often lately, the walks have been saving him. He has surprisingly found that he likes being hugged. Maybe if he’d been hugged more as a child — no he won’t go down that road.

     His dad corners him coming out of the bathroom before the between-sessions service. Wants to see what he’s going to say. Standing very close, closer, he’s sure, than the old man would normally be comfortable. A well-worn tactic to see if he’s been drinking. To try and smell it on him. He says its private, none of his business. He makes sure to exhale heavily with each syllable with each response. Still his dad won’t give up, tells him he needs to see his remarks or he can’t let him near the pulpit. He just wants the chance, his last chance to say something true about his mother. He deserves it, after all he’s been through. And even if the old man doesn’t see the value in the work he’d done towards his own recovery, he tells him, mom would. His dad is tired of hearing about his recovery, he’s tired even of the word recovery. The old man can have a drink and not turn it into a week-long debauch, where’s his medal, he wonders. His dad needs to see what he’s going to say. Carol and Meg want to see it. He can see what they are going to read, if he likes. Why, he wonders, why do they all need to see what each other are going to say. Because, his dad says looking a little defeated, we don’t trust you not to fuck this up. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. You have a future, he tells him, but a past too and you can’t ask me to honor one and forget about the other. The old man seems sorry as he says this.

     It’s in my car, he says.

     Everyone waits for him, sitting on white folding chairs before the lectern with the cross on the front. Dad checks his watch and tries to smile, tries to make it seem like he’s not watching for his drunk of a son. Carol and Meg exchange bitchy looks. Finally, he comes swaggering through the door. The bottle of vodka in one hand, a look of bemusement on his face. He breezes by everyone, including Bock, sneering at his family as he does so. I was going to tell a funny story, he says to a room of gasped and hushed chatter but instead I want to talk about alcohol. He places the bottle of vodka on the lectern as he says this. It is still unopened.  I want to talk about what it did to my mother, he says, to my family.

“Deep Blue Inspiration (Photo of Sky)” Keith Moul

“Deep Blue Inspiration (Photo of Sky)”
by Keith Moul

by Joseph Davidson

     Two distinct tones sounded on his phone as Adam stood over the man’s body. He stepped gingerly out of the way to not get blood on his shoes. Customers tipped better when he was clean. He swiped right to finish his current delivery. Jenny’s eighth birthday was coming up and he didn’t want any other independents snagging assignments if he could help it. Jenny deserved only the best – but kids were fucking expensive.

     With tired, practiced fingers he pulled up the two separate apps on his phone, swiping right to accept the assignments with one hand and sliding his still-warm pistol back in the company issued holster with the other. It was all muscle memory at this point. Adam had been working for every rideshare and delivery app he could since the beginning.

     Uber paid good money for a while, but then every broke college student and bored, close-to-death retiree in town had signed up to drive, so Adam had to look for additional options. He’d done everything from delivering food to picking up office supplies for people, and he’d done it well. New companies trying to hop on the bandwagon had sprung up daily. He’d tried them all.

     The maps loaded up automatically on to his GPS as he slid behind the wheel of his leased 2018 Corolla. He queued up an audiobook, the self-help flavor of the week, and started mindlessly following the GPS’ directions. This newest company had contacted him two months ago. The email smelled a little fishy to him but of course he signed up because the bonuses were outrageous. Two days later his neatly packed company issued equipment appeared on his porch. That same night he had fumbled his way through his first assignment. He’d thrown up everywhere – contaminated the scene. Still, he’d gotten a decent rating, and he couldn’t argue with the money.

     Food deliveries were the worst. He hated how they stunk up his car for days. But, a fist bump with the restaurant owner and several sleepy blinks of his eyes later, a loud beep announced his first destination. Old house, older yard, even older woman at the door.

     “Come in love, I’ve got a tip for you in here somewhere.”

     Adam’s skin crawled at the thought of being in the strange old house, but the birthday thoughts brought him in. He handed her the sandwich. She immediately sat down to eat it, tapping at an iPad with extra-large font, her back turned to him. She talked with her mouth full, bits of onion falling from her mouth and finding a home in the wrinkles of her chin.

     “When you’re this close to death you don’t procrastinate with a sandwich.”
     Adam shuffled his feet. A second beep, deafeningly loud in the old house, rang out from his pocket. Both apps flashed the ‘confirm order delivery’ sign. He hesitated. He had never failed a delivery before. Bile rose. What would Jenny think?

     The woman’s lips smacked. A sigh of pleasure. She still didn’t turn to look at him.

     “That was a damn fine sandwich. There are two tips on the table by the door. Clean up when you’re done, would you?”

     It was all muscle memory. The gun out, the trigger pulled. Swipe right to complete your delivery. Two chimes confirming the finished orders. One more chime for the next job. Jenny deserved only the best.

“lotus garden” by Jay Alexander

“lotus garden” by Jay Alexander

What’s Hard to Forget
by Diane Botnick

     I REMEMBER FIVE and dimes: toilet water–that defining choice of Canoe or Tweed–candy-colored lipsticks, packets of rubber garters and the curious way those things worked, dangling off the bottoms of girdles. I remember when Dylan lived in the Village. I remember when milk came in nearly unbreakable glass and was delivered to the door in wire baskets you could keep but not own. I remember when movies were 25¢, when love was free, when gas jockeys did your windshields unasked. I remember every teacher, every friend, every pocket book, every lover I’ve ever had. I remember every movie, every incident involving blood, every moonrise I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember song lyrics, epidemics, the way to the airport, or the dates of presidents, but do remember hitchhiking, spontaneity, St. Joseph’s Aspirin for Children, and the pain of childbirth. I remember my father, the tallest person in the world, and how my mother, in her platinum French twist, would lean into him, their faces wide and smooth, us still ahead of them. I remember my grandmother using two spoons to make hamburger patties because my grandfather couldn’t stand the thought of her hands touching raw meat. I remember the boy who braceleted me for the first time, the weight of the silver chain on my wrist, his name etched across its plate. Andy. I remember him chubby and freckled and only going with him because my best friend, Carolyn, wasn’t allowed to go out with her boyfriend, Mark, unchaperoned, and I, for some reason, made everyone feel safer. And I remember the crush I had on Mark, who had green eyes and even after a summer playing ball remained freckle- free and never had to buy jeans in the husky department. I remember being proud that my family had resisted joining the Jewish country club and then suddenly joining the Jewish country club. And then having to have a crush on the pool boy whose name was Tyke … Tyke King. He was lean and athletic and his family belonged to the exclusive non-Jewish country club and his hair smelled always of chlorine, a reliable aphrodisiac still. I remember being able to use the bathroom on the second floor of Wilentz’s Bookstore, which was next door to the frame shop I stepped into my first night alone in the city trying to dodge two young men who’d started a conversation with me. I don’t remember which African country they were from, only that their accents were convincing, that one of them already had a date, that they asked me to join them for a drink, and that I wanted to go with them, but they were black, black as the African night they’d left behind and I was just out of the Midwest and chicken and, looking through the store window we were standing in front of, I saw this slender wisp of a long-haired white boy looking back at me so I told them I had to pick up a frame I’d ordered and they followed me into the store and the clerk, eyebrows hiked, very cleverly told me he was just about to close but he’d have it for me in a minute, if I could hang around. The Africans were dubious but went on to have their cocktails without me and then I remember following the white boy home, a long, badly lit subway ride to the Bronx, and me thinking all the way there why am I doing this why am I doing this, and I remember the jar of Vaseline by the white boy’s bed and me insisting that we didn’t need it and the sandpaper entry and the jar of Vaseline and waking up in the tenement and the glazed Bronx morning and my empty stomach and still wondering why am I doing this all the way home.

     I remember debuting stretch pants in the fourth grade–they were a snazzy kelly green, with stirrups, excruciatingly stylish and brought alllll the way from Chicago by my mother; the crinkled nose of a younger cousin sharing my bed for a night who didn’t like the smell on my fingertips after I’d satisfied one of those midnight itches thinking she was asleep; Mighty Mouse, how his top half was so much bigger than his bottom. I remember a college roommate, Jane, whose boyfriend on a fairly regular basis would go AWOL from the Navy to shoot heroin and be sick in our dorm room. And the boy I almost married and the time he hit me. I don’t remember the second time, only that it ended things but not in time to return the engagement gifts, all the peignoirs and stuff stowed at my parents’ house, things I never would’ve bought for myself, except for an acrylic salt and pepper shaker set that I did use for a long time after. I remember going to Cedar Point after the prom, not with my prom date but with a friend who liked to tell people he lived on laughter and who had ditched his date too, and stepping with him into one of those rides where you stand against the wall of a drum-shaped chamber which starts slow but spins faster and faster until the floor drops away leaving you stuck to the wall suspended there, and there I was, suspended, in a pair of summery culottes wedged up into my crotch and I remember him laughing his head off until the guy next to him threw up and he laughed at him instead, and all I was was relieved, which I never felt bad about until lying under him on a friend’s living room couch, years later, and wanting only to prompt the thing onward and over with, I made the mistake of whispering an overly earnest fuck me fuck me into his ear, and he laughed again.

     I remember a time when any plane flying overhead made me long to be on it. Until one, perforating its trail across the sky, suddenly made me think, what if it’s going to Vietnam. Or Oklahoma. I remember sea urchins, sweet and mealy just scooped from the Aegean by a group of Dutch kids rounding the tip of the Peloponnesus on their way to Afghanistan, and their energetic invitation to tag along, which I declined because I was still chicken, not of something bad happening in strange place with only strangers to turn to, but of all I might be passing by putting in with them. And later, when Russia invaded Afghanistan, I remember realizing, with a peculiar ache, that there were places on this earth I will never get to. I can’t remember whether I saw Ruby kill Oswald live or in re-runs but I can’t forget where I was the day an uncle was shot and killed in his store, because he’d survived Normandy and was the lightness at the end of every holiday affair and because after he died we could no longer pretend that people got what they deserved. I remember when out-of-state plates meant you could park anywhere in the city with impunity, when there were no leash laws and pets were regularly mowed down in the streets. I remember primitive, physical games and hot summer nights and seersucker pajamas and the Wyatt Earp theme song and the dreaded 11 o’clock news, incontestable end of the day. I remember bathing with my brothers, their baby dicks bobbing in the tub, harmless, friendly. I remember walking in on my father. I remember having to remember friends’ telephone numbers and strange scatological dares–one actually involving shitting in the shoes of a classmate whose only crime I can now fathom was of having foreigner parents. I remember mailmen, their first names, their cordiality, and their uniforms arriving at our door, like clockwork, every day. I remember the sand-bag density of my grandmother lying in her coffin dressed in a Chanel-style suit and silk coral blouse tied in a bow at the neck. I remember the smell of one summer rain on a newly poured asphalt driveway, going to Bellevue for free birth control, going back when it didn’t work. And every woman in that waiting room.


Holy Summers in Florida
by Kristen Gaerlan

     Rosary beads swung from my aunt’s rearview mirror as she pulled into the terminal at Orlando International to pick me up. Tita Amy was my mom’s pious older sister who hosted me every summer over the course of five years. Staying with her and my two cousins in central Florida was a pleasant distraction my parents had set up as they worked through their divorce. My older cousin JR would manage to bully his way up to the front seat whenever he had the chance to call shotgun. At the self-confident age of nine, being a year older than me was all the ammunition he needed to proclaim himself leader of the group. His brother Bello was two years younger than me and usually rode in the back without a seatbelt all the while screaming at his brother for hogging the front again. Their formal names were Noel and Angelo. Virtuous titles that struck the right balance between American pronunciation and Catholic references. However, no one in the family ever used those names. They were always JR and Bello. Two rambunctious Floridian hurricanes whose fighting sent my aunt into a spiral of foreign curse words, “Anak ka ng puta! Can you quiet your mouths? Leche!” They were the closest thing to siblings I’ve ever had.

     The drive from the airport to their house was no more than half an hour, but if we ran into traffic, Tita Amy knew exactly how to pass the time while getting her boys to shut up. She’d signal time for prayer by holding her rosary beads in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. But this time was different. It was my turn to lead the prayer, which forced me to admit to my aunt that I wasn’t taught the rosary. From the rearview mirror, Tita Amy shot my mom a look to instantly rebuke her foolish younger sister. Mom always tried to step up her religion game after returning from a Florida trip. Her unyielding faith would be renewed, and for some time, she’d attend church every Sunday and say grace with closed eyes before each meal. But eventually, the single-mother emergency-room nurse in her would be too tired on the weekends and just wanted to eat already.

     Like my mom, Tita Amy is a single mom, a nurse, and a proud Filipino Catholic. Most of my family members consider themselves religious, but my aunt’s level of piety puts all of them to shame. Her two sons went to Catholic school and alter-served every week. Not only would she attend their scheduled Mass, but she would also make it to eight-o’clock services every day of the week. Merely going on Sunday was child’s play for this woman. In addition to that, she’d leave early each day to ensure her spot was the best seat in the house: the center-right corner in the first row of pews. There, she’d bask in an hour-long service and dedicate an additional half an hour to her own silent prayers. Thus, solidifying her ranking among parishioners as the first to arrive and the last to leave.

     That summer, my aunt taught me her beaded anthem until I knew each sequence and prayer by heart. That included five Joyful Mysteries, five Sorrowful Mysteries, and five Glorious Mysteries. After announcing them, it was your standard set of one Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and a Glory Be. You repeated that five times and concluded with two zealot-level prayers called the Hail, Holy Queen and the Prayer to Saint Michael. With years of practice behind them, my cousins could do all of this in their sleep. It wasn’t exactly a characteristic I envied, but when they turned prayer into a competition, I suddenly felt motivated to say the rosary to perfection.

     “Done! Less than 45 minutes. Beat that.”

     “You mumbled half your prayers.”

     “Well, you counted your Hail Marys wrong.”

     “Did not!”

     “Did so!”

     “Prove it!”

     These competitions propelled us to say the rosary and even complete it without adult supervision. Each of us wanted to win, and more importantly, no one wanted to be the kid who told Tita Amy they didn’t feel like praying. I dabbled with the thought of doing so as I mindlessly repeated the same prayer fifty times, but that route always ended with my aunt talking about the dangers of blasphemy and the stain of mortal sins. Her lecture would be a minimum of two hours. Longer than two rounds of rosary beads. It wasn’t worth it.

     One day, JR led prayer and for once he didn’t brag about his rosary skills when he finished. Instead, he slowly put down the beads and dropped his pious tone down to a whisper, “You guys wanna see something?” Tita Amy was at work leaving our half-deaf grandmother to watch us over us. So, while Grandma was simultaneously cooking in the kitchen and watching TFC, Bello and I tiptoed behind JR who led us to his mom’s bedroom. It was a vacant master suite with nothing more than a box television and a king-sized bed. I felt a thin layer of dust on my feet as I walked on the room’s seafoam green carpeting. Also a recent divorcée, Tita Amy hardly used the bedroom she once shared with my uncle. She preferred sleeping beside her sons or in the guest bedroom that was closer to them. The Catholic Church condemned divorce, but like my mother and all good Catholics, Tita Amy learned to bend the rules when she had to. Bello and I watched JR as he came out of his mom’s walk-in closet holding a cardboard box.

     “What’s that?” young Bello asked.

     We marveled as he carefully opened it revealing an oddly shaped electronic object wrapped in plastic. The device was white and about the size of my forearm. It came equipped with a handle that had three speed settings. At the other end, the object had a flattened head with a flexible base that allowed the head to rotate ever so slightly. Like kids marveling at our first dead goldfish, we scrutinized the object from every angle all while keeping a safe distance. As we wondered what the device was, I picked up the box from the floor and read its packaging: Neck Massager. What a find — I loved electronic massagers! All of us did. The vibrating chairs felt cool and ticklish. They were the best parts of going to the mall while our parents were busy browsing in Brookstone or some other high-end household electronic boutique where they’d never buy anything. I wasn’t certain as to why this discovery had to be kept to a whisper. Surely, we should be bragging about this. Our family owns a personal massager! Maybe that means we’re rich? But then, JR cued us in on the true benefit of this device, “I heard it feels nice, you know, down there.” Bello and I were taken aback by his gross fourth-grade knowledge. All of us believed in cootie shots and still possessed slight confusion around our respective down-there parts.

     “Ew. Are you serious?”

     “How do you even know?”

     “Shut up! I dunno. Everyone says!”

     We took a long look at the foreign device and put it back in the closet. The next day, I tried going back to the usual routine of SPAM and eggs for breakfast, a round of rosary beads, hours of Nickelodeon, and Grandma Connie’s chicken adobo for lunch. But my curiosity couldn’t be helped. The wonders behind the neck massager remained, so I took matters into my own hands quite literally. When my cousins left for altar-serving duty, I walked into Tita Amy’s closet, grabbed the strange device, and slowly unraveled its cord. I got under the covers of her unused bed, put the head of the massager over the blanket, and turned on the device over my down-there area. Careful to not make any sudden movements or loud noises, I kept the speed setting on low. At first, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It just tickled a bit. Then sure enough, after less than a minute of good vibrations, my eight-year-old brain immediately knew this thing was too good to be true. It was bliss. It was freedom. It was lightning in a fucking bottle. After daring to shift the speed setting to high, I finally understood why this revelation had to be kept to a whisper. This neck massager was the forbidden fruit. The discovery soon became a welcomed addition to my daily Floridian routine. An escape I didn’t even realize I needed. It gave me more joy than an autograph from Princess Jasmine, a ride on Space Mountain, and an express lane for Back to the Future combined. And I wasn’t alone in my newfound state of happiness. Every so often I’d see the massager’s cord wrapped differently from how I left it. The pattern was irregular and done in a slipshod way. The last person either lacked my attention to detail or didn’t care enough to conceal this secret. I put two and two together when I went back to watching Rugrats and saw both of my cousins taking mid-episode breaks.

     If children are asked to choose between rosary beads or an electronic device, they’ll more than likely go with the latter. Whether or not that device is a neck massager is but a minor detail. My cousins and I made our choice. This plastic device made us happy, and unlike the rosary, it didn’t feel like some rigid competition pitting us against each other. It felt like the common ground of an adolescent inside joke we were all in on. Our shared secret was gross at best, but neither of us knew what the hell we were doing. We were kids who had yet to have a birds-and-the-bees talk or attend a sex-ed class. Our young minds barely knew the proper vocabulary or what the term “masturbation” exactly was. However, my naivety did not prevent my guilt. Even before hitting my double digits, I had been Catholic for long enough to know anything related to my body that didn’t result in marital reproduction was sinful. Some dastardly, terrible thing that was off-limits for children. But I didn’t understand why, when this neck massager provided me with joy and even emancipation. While my reasoning could be attributed to child-like hedonism, I heard my mom and Tita Amy use the same defense when they explained their divorces. Their desire for happiness was never difficult to understand. What I couldn’t grapple with was why Catholicism forced them to choose between religion and contentment. I believed the two didn’t have to be mutually exclusive, so I continued to creep into the master bedroom and use the neck massager. Until one day when I opened the closet door and found nothing.

     When Tita Amy got home from work that day, I revved up for yet another rosary session. She seemed to be in a particularly good mood as she decided to give us a break and lead prayer. She sat up straight on the living room couch and held her rosary beads with pride, as if she had single-handedly cleansed her house of evil and restored her faith in the innocence of God’s children. As we prayed, I noticed my aunt’s modest shrine to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary hovering beside us. I looked up at the crucified savior and his wholesome mother as they silently watched me in disgust. They didn’t have to say one word for me to feel like a sinner. Once we finished prayer, I left the living room with my head cast down. I resigned to another mundane day with Tommy Pickles and whatever his dumb friends were up to.

     Back home in New York, I only told one other person about my secret with the neck massager. No family members. No friends. Only a nameless and faceless priest within my local parish. Still mulling over my disgrace, I felt the need to attend confession. I knelt behind the slotted screen and gathered enough words to explain my offense. My voice shook as I verbalized my sin. When I finished, there was a long silence. I waited to be scolded in the confession booth. I expected an ex-communication from the Catholic Church. Instead, I was absolved of my sins. The priest sent me on my way with a penance of two Our Fathers and eight Hail Marys. It was all the confirmation I needed to believe that masturbation wasn’t so bad. When I left the booth, I decided to take my chances and continue life as a happy, self-indulgent sinner. With a level of atonement like that, it was an easy choice to make. My penance was nothing, much shorter than a round of rosary beads.

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