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Nodrophobia* by Joan Mazza

No matter what we eat, what supplements
we take and track, no matter how many miles
or steps we walk, we’ll never be younger
than we are today. Our bones become more
fragile, our fillings loosen, and teeth decay.
The roofing shingles rot, paint peels,
and the cats get older, unable to jump
on the bed. We’re on a moving walkway
toward the end of the line, the final exit,
no way to step off or reverse direction.
We have no idea what’s ahead—meeting
those who’ve gone before or oblivion
without awareness, memory, or longing.
We keep this fear tucked away, just beyond
consciousness as we take our cars
for maintenance and our dogs for rabies
shots. We don’t want to talk about insurance,
wills, or our last wishes and instructions.
Even now, the roots of the nearest trees
are finding cracks in foundations, carrying
fungi to leave their spores to germinate
when conditions are right. The universe
is expanding. The sun is using up its energy.
This hourglass can’t be turned around.
*noun. The fear of irrevocable actions and irreversible processes.
From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig.
Pronounced “noh-droh-foh’-bee-uh”

At the risk of being misunderstood by Rachel Stempel


my god is every suicidal rexie wanting this
Turing testament to empathy
it’s a gun that’ll never go off
at some point
you need to learn to breathe
without reminders
you can’t trust your body to diet herself to ego death
she’s ad-libbing              she’s god-modding      fuck it
she’s doing it
the difference spills meaning
you can’t catch unheardofs with daffodils & still
be moonsick runt of the liter & still
running like I could really hurt you
the hush hum of the radio is enough to language
your way out of seeing my god is it sick
pattern over self like
a good female chauvinist


Frightening by Ronald J. Pelias


To think you’re losing it,
a body collapsing into a mole
soft as wet bread, waiting
for its removal, a mind
slipping over memories
as if on ice, as if getting
from one place to another
was paved with nails.


Pink Eye by Karen Schnurstein


When I was ten and eleven
I lay awake every terrible night,
afraid my eyes would be crusted shut by morning,
swollen out
like croissants.

Like croissants
I dropped on the patio once,
fresh from the sheet—
a whole, buttery,
that split to shards
over my bare feet.

It was Mother's favorite bowl,
the inside like some Indian drew it
with his slippery, turquoise finger —
the outside, a twilighty blue, ripening
as it steeped to the lip —
and the bottom, the gray plum of a storm cloud's stomach.

              Oh, Mother, I remember the afternoon
              the sky really looked like that —
              early August, the day the beach closed
              because of the cold,
              and we went anyhow.
             The day the dry sand let loose
             to swarm at us
             and we nested down on our blanket
             behind some beached sloops.
             The day you told me
             I'm beautiful
             like some lover would,
             and somewhere out in the bay
             that purpling cloud hunkered toward us,
             belching onions,
             and I

Mother's favorite bowl
she bought in college, at the Ann Arbor Treasure Mart —
signed by a real artist —

“real art.”

“I'm so sorry,”
I said.

My brother smirked out with his shoes on,
brushed the dirt off one croissant.
Then Mother leapt up from the pantry,
and all she said, after seeing, was:
“Lambie, are you cut?”


Dear Beans and Rice by Esther Sadoff


I never knew any ancestral food, any ancestors really.
I don't know if my face truly looks like all the people
who have ever fallen in love before me, because I'm not sure
I look like any of them. I don't remember my grandmother's cooking.
I only know she would make beans and rice.
Beans and rice, my father said. I never had them until I met your mother.
Now he can't stop singing the praises of beans and rice.
My mother has even purchased a rice cooker.
My father becomes exuberant when my mother twists off the lid.
Last night my mother said she was craving beans and rice
the way her mother used to make it — something I never heard her say before.
Don't you see? We make a promise when we are born.
We make a promise over and over again.
I don’t know what the promise is but I am swearing my life against my own life,
vouching heart against heart in earnest prayer for a past I’m not sure exists.
How many meals do we need to return to travel backwards?
How many moons must leap backwards, suns somersault through empty skies,
babies rocked backwards through time until we go back
to my grandmother first stirring a steaming pot?
How many times am I born again and again into my own skin
in just this very moment at the kitchen table, spoon to my lips,
and in my single hand, the blurred motion of a thousand arms
scooping rice and beans into the promise of a single hungry mouth.


OH, BRIGHT STAR by Wendy Drexler

—image from the Webb Telescope


at the center of the Southern Ring Nebula, NGC 3132,

           you are sexier than a centerfold, your dust-busting lust,

your spooling vortex, your grade-school tomfoolery,

                        your firebox jewelry that makes me drool,

                                     your glossy blue stew swirling like a womb,

like a tomb, your boom-boom-boom careening roomlessly,

            no midnight or noon, why, in your baby photos

                                                   you are so young, you’d just begun,

                                       the unquiet eye of your no-end-zone

            so far away from me and my home, moaning

those lonesome all-alones, no mother tongue, and, like me, star flung,

            a dying one, lingering and glittering and quivering

                                     in the arc and the ache of our sun.


End-Of-Summer Giant Barbeque by Nadia Arioli

He wasn't doing anything when we found him,
in the backyard of the house behind the church on Main.
Just sort of standing there like a dumb flag pole,
looking at us like we mattered not at all.

At first, we thought that maybe he was a man on very tall stilts,
but the fastest boy in the neighborhood went up to his left
ankle and lifted the tweed to reveal

genuine giant-flesh above the tattered socks.

We thought the proportions eerie,
to have a normal torso and head but legs twice
as tall as the house he was behind. But we also thought,

Well, all the easier for us.

Some of the men grabbed their guns, but we decided
this wouldn't be right, so we just lassoed both his hands
—so small and ponderous—
and yanked until he fell over, gracelessly
and without ceremony, like a pool-noodle.

He fell on his face and squashed his hat
and jerked a little bit, but we carried him easily
until his head was facing over
the creek by the property line, body covering an
acre length-wise, being mostly those lean, hairless legs.

Someone got THE hacksaw by the firewood and chopped
cleanly until the giant was headless in all the right ways.

We left the head for the fishes and turtles, knowing better
than to waste or be greedy. The neighbors went home
for their little grills or coals or one of those firepits on wheels.

The men took turns chopping the legs,
and the women hurried about,
rounding up the children, calling their friends, getting the paper-plates,
making cornbread, macaroni salad, and good deviled eggs.

Then, it was a whole afternoon of it,
the end-of-summer, giant barbecue.
Then, the whole evening of it,
the singing and banjos and dancing.

We kept the bones until Thursday, because that's
when we were allowed to take big garbage to the curb,
and there weren't any trash bags big enough, but
the garbageman didn't seem to mind.

And we talked about that barbecue all winter,
when no one ventured much outdoors,
how strong the men were, how pretty the women
in their dresses, how no one got bloated,
how the children laughed and laughed.


Sonnet for Daily Compromise by Paul Ilechko

The rocks roll slowly back down the slope   past
the place where he stands with his crossbow   waiting
for a suitable target    his feelings once again confused
by the combination of the way the light moves across
the landscape    and the memories of that morning
the two of them over breakfast unable to come to
terms with the events of the previous    day and the way
her mother had once again infiltrated their lives
her white hair gleaming like the snow-capped peaks
that he used as a metaphor for what felt he needed to
achieve    not so much the killing    as the living
and a need for something triumphant to break through
the fog of relationship    and family    and the endless
compromises he needed to make to stay safe in her arms.


Sanctuary by Molly Richmond

    At first, I was not aware of what was happening around me, as is often the way of children. Adults stood around, consulting each other, their voices undulating in low tones, their legs a forest of wool stalks for me to dodge through, lost in my own games. Had I been tall enough to see their faces, I would have noticed the quick and furtive glances toward the sheet-covered form down by the water. It was small and it was still. I knew enough of my Father’s job that when the figure was still, the adults were too, as there was nothing left to be done.
    It used to be once in a while, but now more often. We would arrive at one place or another in my Father’s large and slow car. Usually, he would tell me to stay put and not come out, but on this day he neglected to do so, so once his back was turned, I burst out of the backseat and began to run around on the slate of the beach, the sounds of the rocks sliding beneath my feet a delight to me. I held out my arms and spread my hands wide, so when I ran, each whole finger would feel the fresh rush of air.
    A group of men with somber expressions stood against the salty air, each not quite looking the other in the eye. One separated from the group as my Father approached and reached out his hand in greeting. They trudged down to the edge of the water and stood over the still person. My Father asked something of the other man, who nodded in response and slipped his fingers under the brim of his hat to rub wearily at his forehead. My Father nodded back, his face mirroring the solemn mood that was just communicated to him. He knelt on the wet shingle of
the beach and looked beneath the sheet only for a moment or two, then he lowered it again and stood, the knees of his trousers wet.
    He wouldn’t ever talk about his job much. I think his work had to do with some great unhappiness in our town, something that upset people and made them feel sad. I could tell because he didn’t talk about it with our neighbors, or even with my aunts when they came to the house to check on us, and bring us casseroles. It was only when he got a call from the town to come and look, that he could be among others who he would talk to, and would talk to him, about the still people.
    I had begun to inspect the ground for striped rocks, for they were my favorite. I crouched for a better look, careful to not get the back of my shorts wet. I liked that rocks didn’t need to be beautiful, and yet they were. I ran my expert eye over the pebbled landscape before me, my own
shadow creating a small arena for me to concentrate on.
    It was the still people who made everyone slow down. When someone was still moving or breathing, it was a different scene entirely. People would rush about asking questions, taking pictures with large-bulbed cameras, and arranging to have the person taken away to receive help.
When it was a still person, my Father was called in, and everyone became statues.
    The sea often bestowed still people onto this stretch of shore, but this one was different. This still person made everyone else share in its heavy quiet, in its waiting. Maybe it was because this one was small, just like I was. My father returned from the water’s edge and strode to where I was playing, smoothing his tie, his face drawn and dull.
    I thought he might be angry that I had left the car, but he was not. “I see you found some rocks,” he said to me in a gentle voice. I nodded emphatically, proud of my finds. The wind seemed to draw us very close together as he came down to my level. “It’s Wendy Penney. From
the storm last week. The sea has returned her to us.” My eye dodged to the still person under the sheet down by the water and back to my Father. He reached out and rested a hand on my upper arm, rubbing it slightly. “How about you come with me to see Mr. and Mrs. Penney. I know they
will take the news better with you there.” I wasn’t sure why this was so, but I agreed, liking to be needed.
    We piled into the car, me in the backseat once again, holding my pockets closed to keep my treasures from tumbling out onto the leather seats. The road took us away from the beach and through the town center. Soon we were passing the adjacent harbor where fishing boats, dories,
and sailboats clustered together along the main wharf, enjoying each other’s gentle company as they bobbed in unison with the movement of the water.
    I had driven with my Father enough to know that beyond the harbor lay the road that led inland, toward the farmlands. Toward where the Penney’s lived. Before the turn lay an interruption to the land in the form of a small peninsula which jutted out into the ocean, split down the middle a millennium ago and now filled between by a spear of water. One side of the peninsula undulated with low hills of rock, smoothed and rounded by the sea, while the other side lay flat and grown over with stunted grass, blown brown and brittle by the constant sea air. This was where the fishermen would hang their nets to dry. They hung there now, their ends tethered to the tops of tall wooden poles sunk into the ground, and stretched across to other poles so their lengths could be spread out against the wind.
    Instead of passing them as I expected us to do, the car shifted and rolled slowly to a halt at the side of the road. My Father got out, leaving his hat behind on the front seat. He came to the back door and opened it, looking down at me with a softness in his eyes.
    “Would you like to watch the nets with me, Son?”
    I smiled in answer and slid out of the back seat, careful of my rocks, and took his outstretched hand. Together, we walked towards the nets out on the peninsula. With no obstacle to reduce its power, the wind rushed about in cold sheets, playing with our clothes and our hair, and the grass all around. As we drew closer, the truly colossal size of the nets became clear. Like giant sea creatures from old tales. The thought of them submerged deep in the water gave me an uneasy feeling, like that of being urged to embrace an elderly relative I did not remember.
    We stood beneath the giant forms, looking up. They floated and swayed above us, billowing delicately until coming back to rest against the poles when the wind was spent, only to renew again and sail up into the granite sky as though they weighed nothing at all. Within their
lattice lay the beauty and breadth of cathedrals. And like cathedrals, they held something steady, eternal, and watching, belonging only to the air and ocean, and not to us.
    Perhaps it was their movement that my Father needed. For they seemed to breathe, like great webbed lungs. Unlike the still people, who breathed no more. My Father watched them inhale the sea air in a kind of trance. Perhaps Wendy Penney was there in the nets for him, giving
him peace.
    I stood beside him, watching him, understanding his wonder. The nets were beautiful, when they didn’t need to be. Just like the rocks I had taken from the beach. Instinctively I 
touched the bulges of my pockets, suddenly aware of them again skewing the set of my shorts with their weight. My skin pricked. It came gently at first, then became more forceful. It pushed outward from within, from behind my bones. A strange and overwhelming urge to give them back.
    My hands dipped into my pockets and withdrew the rocks within, the sound of them shifting among my small fingers earthy and pleasant. In unbidden ritual, I knelt and began to place the rocks one-by-one on the ground among the bristled grass. I rolled each one in my fingers before setting it down beside its fellows, studying the shape and color, acknowledging each one. My Father’s shadow covered mine as he crouched down beside me to see what I was doing. Observing the rocks, he patted my back affectionately and kissed my hair before standing again.
    “See you back in the car, Son.” he said. He turned and began to walk slowly back across the peninsula, the wind whipping his tie.
    Finished, I left my small monument where it lay, stood, and watched the nets for a moment more before turning and trailing after my Father in the distance. Soon we were both back in the car, my pockets empty. The car started and we pulled away from the curb and out
onto the road. Within moments we made the turn that headed inland, toward the farmlands.

Bloom by Lorette C. Luzajic

after Tree of Hope, by Frida Kahlo (Mexico) 1946

The courtyard caught full sun in the late afternoons, when Rosa was desperate to soak up as much as she could. No one was ever in the garden at that time. Her body was exhausted from the school day, from the effort of sitting up straight in class and navigating the halls on her crutches. By the time she dragged her heavy limbs home, she liked to stretch out among the spilling sprawl of peonies and azaleas, to feel the elements against her skin.

Sometimes the touch of warmth and the vulnerable feeling of exposing her legs or midriff melded together in a different kind of heat. Rosa would wait for the bloom to come over her, quieting herself to perfect stillness, tilting her head back a bit, and concentrating on the secret spots of her
body. When the feeling came, she let it meander over and through her, river fingers from the sky and earth moving right into the centre of her. She imagined slipping her shawl and blouse away and freeing her tender nipples to the touch of the sun. She imagined living without pain, unfurling herself with abandon, opening to the world the way a dancer would.

Today, just coming down from her reverie, she saw the gardener under the arbor, almost obscured by the bougainvillea. He had a bag of peat moss in one hand and lopping shears in the other. The old man looked as startled as she was. Rosa felt an intense wave of something wild at her core. Manuel saw only a tenant sunning herself in their shared space. But for Rosa, it was much more. She had never revealed herself before. Only family and her doctors had ever seen her. She always guarded her body greedily, letting no eyes access the networks of crisscrossing cicatrices mapping her surface. She hated how they looked, even more than she hated her constant pain.

And now her threshold had been unexpectedly breached. Her heart was hammering against her ribs, trying to break free. I am sorry to disturb you, Senorita, Manuel said. She noticed his sweet lips and his soft silver curls. He bowed slightly in the way he always did, then hoisted the bag of
peat into the wheelbarrow at the stone fence, back to work, business as usual. Rosa observed his awkward gait as if for the first time- one of his legs was slightly shorter than the other. She also saw the dark muscles of his chest and arms, near the long wound on his neck that had never faded. She imagined touching it under a canopy of night blooms, hearing his voice share its origin story. She could feel his arms surround her, scars to scars.

Winter by Fiona Skepper


    I can remember what it’s like to be warm, sometimes. Sun gleaming down, people outside, everyone’s mood lifting. I remember it in a similar way to a holiday commercial, idyllic but fake. I see it gleaming with halogen lights, Photoshop touch-ups, and colour corrections. The contrast turned up just a little less than blinding. Other times I can’t picture it at all. It’s as though there has never been summer and never will be. The greyness, the wind, and the drizzle have always been and always will be.
    Colour in winters past was limited to the interior. Open fires in the home, with sweaters, scarfs and socks of vivid colours hung around them to dry, defying the grey. Do you remember us huddled on couches under bedding with crazy print covers, watching a big screen TV and talking? Even our coffee mugs had colourful patterns or tourist slogans from various, warmer, holiday spots that were echoed in sunny postcards on the fridge.
    For many years I kept the greyness out this way. Although we’d moved further south several times, from Brisbane to Sydney then Melbourne, edging closer to Antarctica, it didn’t affect what happened inside, other than an increase in the number of overcoats and dripping umbrellas that were kept near each new front door.
    My mistake was thinking I could keep everything dark out, that we were insulated, that we were invincible.
    It crept in, quietly, secretly: a small, cold draught only noticeable if someone was sitting in its path. It had found a place long before I noticed it. You started not getting home until it was dark, a little later every time. There was more work so there were longer hours, it made sense, and I was busy primping and curling our home as close to what I thought you wanted, as possible. I believed it mattered, that you cared what colour I painted the living room or what sauce I used on the meat. Everything looked good and was delicious you said. Did you even notice if the walls were green or purple or if you were eating chicken or tofu? I 
was skating only on the surface. Then cracks, cryptic messages, unknown callers on the screen, and muffled apologies when I picked up. I recall now that you were also concerned about the mail, always collecting it for me, especially the bills. Suddenly your computer had a password. Signs, that might as well have been in Sanskrit for all the attention I paid. I was
busy planning our next holiday, Greece or Thailand. I posted happy snaps on Facebook. I was out of date.
    Excuses papered over any cracks. I was grateful for all your hard work. Self-satisfied in our cosy existence, maybe I deserved damage.
    Things have a way of getting in. A life cannot be made airtight. Nothing could predict the radiator bursting, or me needing to call work when there was no answer on your mobile. Being told the time you’d left, the same time as every day. The house getting colder minute by minute as I sat waiting.
    You commented on the chill when you finally got home, amongst the standard excuses.
    My tongue seemed to be the first thing to freeze. I managed to nod.
    It thawed enough for me to be able to speak to the locksmith the next morning after you’d left. Then silence in response to everything else, including your waterfall of excuses then apologies, then banging on the closed house.
    Now I crawl around, scrapping the wall with a comb, accompanied by silent screaming. I know that this will not help me, but right now I want to send all ideas of ‘moving past this’, to the same place I want to send you.
    When exactly did you start choking? When did you open a window and let the weather in?
    These questions may be irrelevant to you, focusing on symptoms, not causes; dwelling on the negative or whatever the counsellor said, but I want to know, I want to dwell.

    After the locks, I changed my phone, and did not give anyone the new number. If a phone no longer rings, does it exist, or does that just apply to trees falling in woods? One of the philosophical questions I ask myself, along with exactly how stupid I am, while I sit in the dark, shivering. The cold fills every corner of the house. I rarely leave. My connection with the outside is now brief and digital, except for the mail, which I rush out and gather as soon as it appears. I no longer trust that it won’t be interfered with. I no longer trust.
     I’ve overhauled my wardrobe and décor into various shades of black and mud, as bright colours now make me nauseous. The difference between the interior and exterior these days is only a question of degree.
    All this seems to be what is required. I can’t see ahead right now. I don’t answer the door. I want you to stay out, at least for a while longer.




Circles by Keith Morris

00:00 / 03:44

All The Medicine I Need by Phil Coomer

00:00 / 04:26
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