What Lilith Bestowed by T.M. Thomson
pomegranate ovaries held by scarlet
serpents, mouths open wide, eyes
glossy with the effort
wire-hard tendrils unfurl fleshy
walls, reveal a cosmos
by diamond stars & aureole
pale yellow leaves wave
in a celestial wind
beyond the reach
of snake & word
angel & sword
yoke & whip.
opal crescent curled
into horns kisses
~inspired by Jennifer O’Toole’s “Snake Uterus Lilith”
A History of Fishing by Matt Prater
A fact it helps to understand
is that for many years we used whiskey
as a sex drug and anesthetic for amputations.
The fire only burned so long and was often made of dung.
Winters were long and candles rancid.
The rich shat in buckets, too.
we also mustn’t exaggerate. There were often
long lives in cool valleys, and Istanbul
had its arts district. In India
and in Mexico and the Dogon lands,
there was leisure to measure the stars.
In a few of the Eclogues and Georgics, in fact,
a few descriptions were almost true.
Ghazal to a Harbor Seal by Laurel Benjamin
The blood couldn’t stay inside
the seal, picked by vultures inside
their full-fledged beaks, carrying on a sweet
romance of pink patches forming. Inside
our room, we missed the inexorable arrival to
shore, couldn’t see out our tall windows, inside
separating outside, where high breakers bashed against rock.
What could the seal do with fin-shaped feet, considerations inside
as thick fat-blanketed organs suddenly leaked.
On the night beach, no passersby to see inside—
clouds covered it, rain pelted it, while rhythm sounded
on the roof. A game for mammal insiders.
No access to absent stars, absent moon.
And meanwhile incessant thrumming inside
so we couldn’t hear the delivery
from the ocean, deep moan sliding in.
Morning light revealed the gift
to the vultures’ red wrinkled throats, out and in
beaks like knitting needles, the big prize,
two at a time, without guilt bidden
in the same radius,
connected at shore where women
jogged along the boardwalk
and with binoculars looked inside
the one hundred pound pinniped,
life cut on the short side,
where fish undigested waited
tangled in the stomach’s high tide.
Skyping You/Me by Tom Laughlin
I lean instinctively closer in fullscreen mode
the image of your face and the laptop’s 16-inch LCD widescreen
nearly perfect, nearly full size is at its native resolution:
the amber-chestnut sparkle through lashes 1366 x 768, with a density
the curve of your mouth starting a smile of 100.45 pixels per inch
Pink, lush, Monday morning lips speaking gamma and white point have been calibrated
to me at this Sunday night vigil color depth set to true color:
(13 hours and a spinning globe between us) 24 bit (16.7 million colors)
of last night’s Han river dreams with 72 hertz refresh rate
(me swimming smilingly beside the boat) and integrated GPU piping
and yesterday’s gravesite rituals incoming data to the display
Hypnotic S’s whispering audio transmitted via Voice over IP protocol
through white teeth with end-to-end encryption,
intimate red sheeted rememberings raw video stream encoded with
private promises copyrighted lossy compression codecs
for the future to conserve bandwidth
Alchemical Wedding by Maria DeGuzman
From Red Velvet
Upper left profile, prominent chin. You would
know it anywhere, godfather who gave her away,
down an aisle of serpentine carpet, at the foot
of a baroque altar, the burning eyes of the bride,
red lips of a mouth beneath black pupils
—in those photographs—fixed on something others did not see,
unblinking eyes, not diverted downwards or
closed in prayer, hers and other lives flashing before her,
among the chancel flowers and altar candles.
Stricken by a rotten appendix,
barely able to eat a morsel of wedding cake:
Here I almost died, but I didn’t.
The priest intoning,
“Cordero de Dios, you take away the sins of the world.”
The tapers melting, the carpet swirling, the pain rising,
the June evening whirling onward toward night.
Then, from out of the black pupils
of the nearly dead bride, there comes
a horse’s skull with an eternal flame and beneath it,
or beside it, or as part of it, a qubit,
a young chestnut horse springing into the light,
strong corded neck, head half turned,
one eye transfixing the observer.
Room Service by Kat Stubing
I sink my canines into the brain
Suckling the blood, the pus
Grinding the cerebellum to
Bits with my pearly molars
Tasting the memories, emotions,
The dreams of what could be
Your mama’s floral laugh
Your pop’s empty promises
I think of you for a moment while I
lap the milky spinal fluid off the bone
How excitedly you purred after
Picking up the landline phone
My scarlet whisper on the other side
Never pausing to consider whether
The fairer sex could mean you harm, whether
Your body was for my consumption this time.
Brazilian Portuguese Lesson by Adam Davis
In her breathy, quavering voice,
every phrase a different melody,
Larissa teaches me saudade.
It’s a tricky word to translate,
but she tells me it’s the thirst
for something from your past.
For many years, I’ve known her:
those Neptune-colored azure eyes,
the twilight samba of her sigh.
We’re waiting for our coffee,
and I feel like reminiscing,
so I pluck some tender
memories: the cedar pencil
scent of early autumn classrooms,
the caramel-corn zephyrs
of the Ocean City shore,
Grandpa’s steady breathing
when we fed the wild ducks.
She tells me how she pines
for her mom’s smoky feijoada,
the sizzling mirth of soccer crowds.
And then she gently says,
“You can also feel saudade
for something that you never had.”
I think of all the cobblestones
my soles have never
trod, all the hotel pillow
mints my teeth have never
bitten, all the women from my past
where timidness defeated grit.
Larissa slips her fingers
through her waist-length hair,
rests her left hand on the table.
Her lips are gilded by the dusk.
The sun glints, almost longingly,
off her wedding ring —at me.
Mercy by Ruth Mota
Come into my kitchen - listen
to acorn bowling, nail scratching,
secrets whispered behind walls – see
tucked in the dark alley by my fridge
three gnawed tangerines, a blue scouring sponge,
chewed foil glittering like starlight.
When the tea water whistles, that dark snake slithers
again in my belly and my mother appears enveloped in steam
clenching her shovel. Bang, bang
like our screen door in the wind, the pointed tip
decapitates a pink litter of curled mice - dumped
from their fluffy nest in a copper kettle onto cold stone
and the Afghani child - ribs rising like railroad tracks -
stares into space, her body a flaccid kidney arranged
on a blanket, gasping for mercy.
LXXVII. A Bout of Nostalgia (546) by Peter Grieco
Portions of infantile experiences
like the bacon bits & green onions
of a Spanish omelet may re-emerge
within the scrambled eggs of dream content
as a result of the attraction which
memories couched in visual form possess.
The deep blue color of the water,
the brown emitted by cigar
smoking ship funnels, the dark brown
& red buildings of the picturesque port
of Isonzo beyond the green lagoon
of Carso—are all traceable to visual stimulus—
not just the vague traces of my recent trip
to Italy but those traces lit up
in the sun of other afternoons
glinting off the box of colored bricks
& the fancies I made of them
on the vanished shores of distant youth.
Defining a Weed by Kirsten Meehan
Unloved things have only two options —
Either they don’t know they are unloved,
and cartwheel through overgrown
road-side fields, dotting them with a yellow
never meant for this side of the ocean,
they raise their flowers like the opposite of white flags,
they paint themselves riot-beautiful
and dare the world to call them otherwise —
or they do know they’re unloved,
and fold their flowers down into neat, dry petals
the color of doctor’s office waiting rooms,
curve themselves into simple leaves and stems,
push, all proper-green, into the world like an infiltration.
They duck their heads and beg no one notices
they shouldn’t be there.
I wonder if a dandelion knows it is a dandelion —
if bindweed knows it is both unnative
surviving in a stubborn state of desperate unbelonging,
all sidewalk cracks and borrowed time.
Hellebore by Wendy Yim
It’s time to refresh what remains of last year’s garden. You’ve had other gardens, but what has grown these past two years is different: starts and seeds and containers bought while wearing a mask; soil turned in a virulent new world. You’ve trauma-bonded with these plants unlike those of previous seasons. But, the temperature’s rising, and it’s time to transplant and cultivate hope. There’s an urgency to it because, like your flowers, the world trying to open. Your schedule is filling.
You spend a precious hour digging new holes for old plants. You’ll move the salvageable and dividable. You prepare the dirt. It’s a happy reunion with earthworms. A beetle skitters out of the way; you and your shovel mean business. By evening, you’ll ache pleasurably, satisfied by the day’s efforts. You are a gardener, and therefore, a planner.
Many of last year’s plants still look nice: the primroses rode out winter’s storms. Elegant, black mondo grass sprouts between leggy, bi-colored huechera. Nestled in the middle is a thoughtful hellebore, that wonder of winter who generously extends itself well beyond obligation. Transplant it and you’ll have a shaded yard-full of them next year, a reminder of the way you bore-up when you didn’t think you could.
Everything is prepared and waiting. It’s time to relocate the hellebore and its neighbors from the patio planters. Shovel in hand, you kneel, prayer-like, in front of the first box. A little black and tan bird who has been hanging about the backyard scolds your invasion. You ignore it and start the urgent work before telephone or computer call you away. You angle the sharp tip of the trowel beneath the hellebore’s roots. You will coax and pull. You anticipate the tug of extraction, damp and earthy, grubs and bugs coming along. Your hand brushes a broad leaf, and there’s a flash of white at the base of the plant. Four eggs lay in a nest as perfect as the day on which you’re working.
A mouse-brown bird—the other half of the scolding pair—startles and flits from her refuge within the planter box. She flings a reluctant look over her shoulder at the clutch of eggs left behind. You inspect more closely: the nest is entwined in the stalks of the burgundy hellebore you are about to uproot. It’s the hellebore whose homecoming hole you have already dug in your yard.
The two birds watch from the trellis and chirp the losses. Postponing the renovation of the boxes does not fit your schedule. But you are a mother. Or, you know mothers. Regardless of gender or age, if you have a garden, you’re a mother. Not only to the plants within, but to animals, seen and unseen, who live within its boarders. You have unwittingly shared your plants with the birds, and have not only grown a garden, but a habitat—one you have relied upon the past two years. You have stood alone out here at night, silently thinking you’d die without your garden.
The planter box you created, in which two tiny birds have made their home, awaits your ministrations. Your destruction. There are holes and gaps in your front yard that need the hellebores. The primroses will look prettier elsewhere. The huechera will bolt. Untended, the contents of the planter box will wilt and go to seed over the nest.
You retreat with your shovel and fervent plans. Your pandemic garden will wait while the eggs are sat upon and the pair hatches four new Oregon Juncos. The plants and birds in this corner of your garden grow wild. The chicks learn to fly in your yard, then far beyond. They travel to places you can’t, and free your confinement. This spring, like you, the hellebores stay where they are needed.
Black Holes by Christina Sears
Can language become a lie? Leaving the house, we fall into a hole. This gap is tall enough for three men standing on each other’s shoulders. A chasm, you might call it. But, is it possible for language to fumble?
Scratch that. We didn’t fall into the hole. But, I nearly did.
The first time I encountered the hole, I was walking my dog Max. He’s a beautiful blue Weimaraner. Max was the dog I always wanted, since when I was a kid on Dean Street. In the city, there was no hope of bringing such a large dog into momma’s household. I waited many years for Max. His personality is off-kilter, which is a gentle way of saying he is challenged and neurotic as hell. A basket-case you might say. Well, that makes two of us.
Language is the lamp of truth. Or not. Can linguistics represent dissociative personality disorder through pronouns? We points to they, and they point to everyone. We are a morass. And one of us was fascinated by that hole. Betsy, in particular, noticed it that afternoon. Before we fell, or didn’t fall, into it, she was working at her desk. She called out “I wonder what’s up with that pothole.” You, who wear sensible shoes and matched socks, might say: “ Just walk around the hole, Betsy. Circumnavigate it. ” And, if I was a sailor, or an engineer, I might do just that. But, Betsy, though? She’s a different kind of gal. Pairs well with Max, if you catch my drift.
We check out the pothole. Max thrusts his muzzle close, even though we are in the middle of a crosswalk. Cars and trucks, and funeral processions speed through this intersection. Drivers are lawless in these parts. But now the street is empty of cars. Silent.
I gaze into the pit, considering the irony of this present moment. Language blurs the truth. I pull Max away, and walk on.
At midnight, though, dreams of the pothole flood me. In my dream, Betsy is stuck in the witchy-ditch and she’s yelling for help. Attempting to help Betsy, I fall into the hole and my leg is trapped. I feel a fleshy swoosh circling me. I have to find out what is in that hole; I have to let go of Max’s leash. He sits on the corner awkwardly, whining.
For some reason the blacktop is melting and falling off in great gloppy handfuls, and as it falls, my hands scramble for a hold. I can’t get a solid handle. As I struggle with the current conundrum, I holler “Go home, Max.” I hear his whimpers fade as he trots home, holding his own blue leash in his mouth.
The gap is wide enough for my whole body. I am already up to my waist, and the water is hot and bubbling, and smells like mushrooms. I must discover what is swimming against me. I kick my sneaker down and pin it. I reach down nervously and discover a long slippery body twining. It’s a lamprey. The beast is docile, but its movement against my leg makes me retch. I retract my hand and pull us out just in time. Betsy and I finally flop out. We crawl up the concrete curb. A tow truck whizzes by seconds later. I can almost hear my therapist scolding, “Just walk around the hole. Avoid trouble where you can.”
Two years ago, Betsy befriended a professional dog trainer in Baltimore, with whom she fell in love. The trainer, Frank, moonlights as a dogsitter. Frank’s gay, so the expression of their love was a little limited. They were tight and anytime Frank phoned, Betsy would drop whatever she was doing. And they got spruced up and went on dates: to the drag shows, to the cinema. They went to Macy’s, coupons in hand, on shopping excursions. Later, Frank-the-trainer got a boyfriend, Emmet, a handsome, well-built guy with a dark brown goatee and two earrings. The relationship between Betsy and Frank faded.
Lately, Betsy’s been moping, mourning Frank. She sobs and watches the Hallmark channel. She rolls across the living room carpet, acting hysterical. She’s eating Little Debbies mindlessly, even after I point out they are high in trans-fats and are probably contributing to the expansion of our figure. I show her the receipts for the elastic waistband pants I now have to buy for us to wear to Zoom meetings. She does everything but smite her head and rend her dress.
“Honey” I said, stroking her forearms, “ you are in the wrong body for that boy. He likes men. You can never be what he wants.” She only snuffles but she blows her nose and resolves to try harder.
No wonder I dreamed of Betsy swallowed up by that hole. She’s hard-headed. She’s been dug into her grief like a tick. We got a new dog-sitter, and her mood improved. Max’s new sitter’s name is Clarence and he leaves notes like this; “ Your fur babies are so sweet. It’s a delight to care for them. Let’s get together for Cosmopolitans.” We don’t go out for drinks, but it’s nice to be invited.
The next time I encounter the hole, in real time, not in dreamtime, there are orange cones all around it. The city must have received reports of a sinkhole. Probably due to the fracking over in Dexter. Now, whenever we see orange cones, we ignore the hole, and just walk around. Look up at the clouds, and turn up the 90’s retro playlist on Spotify. Oh, it's the Verve Pipe. We love that band. We slip on purple shades and toss our hair back. Betsy checks out. When I return to my desk, I lose hours researching black holes, but Betsy took copious notes. At the bottom of the notes, she’s written:
“Re: Black Holes: Just walk around the hole, honey. It’s easy to fall in, and hard to get out. Avoid, if possible, or circumnavigate.”
Pillow Talk by Dorothy Cornish
I've got to be honest with you.
I’d fancied this bloke since I was fifteen years old. We always had a sort of on-off, will they won’t they thing, but we never actually, I mean he was always seeing someone or I had a boyfriend or whatever. He was beautiful. Rugby lad, thighs like, I don’t know, rods of bloody iron. You know how things get connected with other things, right, like joined in your mind? Well, when I’d moved down and been here about half a year, there was a big poster for the Six Nations I could see from my little kitchen window, some Irish lad with the most, just, absolutely heavenly thighs. And obviously I’d look out at that, and you know, with my cup of tea and my wistful – don’t laugh – wistful look and sigh and think of Danny. I know I always talk about connections and that annoys you, but I just think I was here in north London working for shit pay and everything is sort of simultaneously glamorous and trashy, and home is so different, isn’t it? Especially when you’re from the north. And so I just think that, like, he represented that for me, this fight inside myself to admit that I wasn’t happy here and all the people I had maybe, on occasion, I don’t know, turned my nose up at, maybe they weren’t quite so bad. Maybe I missed them. I mean, didn’t you want to get out, when you were eighteen? Sorry, I forgot about your perfect life in the coolest city in the world, the only happy teenager in history. I did, I did want to get out. And I thought I was so smart with my John Updike paperbacks on the tube and fuck-me pencil skirts and getting free cocaine from these, well, wankers. I mean, what you gunna do?
But it was Christmas that it happened. I’d gone home and he was, he was actually seeing my best friend at the time. Well, childhood best friend. Lingering resentment, different paths, blah blah blah. You know the score. At the time we were still talking and I obviously get spectacularly drunk and I think, honestly I think I was wearing a fedora or something, with a feather. I stole it from some boy in the pub. Anyway, I get horrendously drunk and I’m making a fool of myself and playing the fancy girl who lives in the big city, going on some half-formed lecture about Paul Gilroy, something like that. He’s there, of course, because he’s with her, with Claire. And I’m kinda looking at him by not looking at him, if you know what I mean. The whole time, keeping him in the corner of my eye, feeling his presence, hoping he’s impressed by whatever nonsense I’m spouting. So we have this night out and we pile back to hers and I’m on the sofa and I pass out.
Then, this is what I’m trying to tell you, I wake up and it’s really early and I’ve got this, ahem, nice feeling, um, downstairs. I look and he’s – Danny – is there between my legs. My legs on his shoulders, basically. Uh huh. Licking me out. You’ve got to understand that I thought, I honestly, well at least to begin with, thought I was dreaming. He realizes I’m awake and he takes his finger and sticks it inside me – flowing like the Ganges, by the way – and brings it up to his lips and says shhh. Then he sucks it, and carries on. Eye contact the whole time. My God. It was so, good. I don’t have the words to tell you how good it was. Like, well, you get the idea. Man knew how to use his tongue. I came four times. Afterwards, he just gets up and walks back to Claire’s bedroom, and I thought, I know this is silly, but I just thought he knew. He knew that I’d been thinking about him, that he’d played this important part of me coming to terms with who I was, my identity as a young woman, all that. Even if he didn’t, on the surface, well there’s just different ways of knowing and I believe to this day that he knew.
To just get up like that! The generosity of the man. You’ve got to understand, at this point, I was willing to do anything. On my knees for this man. And he walks off. Didn’t so much as see his cock. I guess what I’m saying, is that this for me was a profound erotic experience, because it brought together so many levels of my psychology and my physical desire and somehow, on a bloody settee at five in the morning, it healed me a bit. I carry things like that with me, all the time. I think most people do. Little secrets, not written down, barely even spoken. It’s not like I tell people, not at home. He’s still with Claire, actually, I think. But I have it, a tiny piece of magic that he gave me, and I know that when I settle down as I inevitably will, when it’s all KitchenAids and interest rates and a guy I can actually trust, I’ll still have it. Fuck, I’ll probably be fantasizing about it when I conceive my first child. It’s that, I don’t know, powerful.
Should we get out of bed? Make a cup of tea? What? No, you’ve had your chance. You think I’d be telling you all that if I thought we might still work out? I gave you three attempts, which is two more than other men get, only because you’re so sweet and a good listener. But if you can’t get hard you can’t get hard. We’re just physically incompatible. It’s fine, it happens. I’m a little insulted but I’ll get over it. What? Come on, don’t be so sensitive.
Ah, if only Danny were here.
The Queen's Cow by Travis Flatt
This morning, the messenger brought the queen’s ultimatum. The king will be abroad for two days, and I must build a wooden cow before he returns. I’m aware of its intended purpose; perhaps I should feel honored to be included within the circle of royal rumor. However, this doesn’t mitigate the frustration of my bondage.
Naturally, it didn’t occur to the queen to provide any supplies or specifications. For those, I am held solely accountable. No man in Crete is better suited to the task. This must be her thinking. Thankfully, in my workshop, I have found:
Papyrus, ink, and a pen.
Several pine planks.
A crude iron file–most of my other tools I was forced to leave in Athens after silencing my loathsome, braggart nephew, Talos. If this list is discovered, let it be known that I regret nothing.
Talos’s goddamned toothed saw that he was so proud of. Ironically, I kept it and now use it frequently.
A hammer and a handful of nails.
With only eight hours, I have no time to go to my windows, which overlook the grazing fields, and properly study animals for a model. Therefore, for my sketches I must conjure from memory the bovine specimen. Due to my long imprisonment here, I’m unsure if I can approximate the exact dimensions of a cow. I’ve used nearly all the papyrus and my drawings seem out of scale–most likely smaller than the actual animal.
What matters, however, is that the queen fits inside the wooden cow. Before they cast me out of Athens, they demanded that I build my nephew’s coffin. That was their idea of punishment. If memory serves, the dimensions of that coffin should accommodate the queen, crouching. Regardless, her comfort isn’t my concern.
I saw the planks down to size and nail them together: the only tricky part is the legs. I waste an hour deciding whether the thing should roll. I debate fashioning pedals so that she might drive it from within. I deem this all unnecessary and impractical: the noise would scare away her golden bull.
Instead, let her servants carry her. They can haul her out and set her down in the dewy grass, and then skulk away to watch her be humped by the beast. After, let them all go to hell for what I care.
The queen is pregnant and willingly confessed the entire plot to Minos. Anticipating some monstrous child but unwilling to have his physicians terminate the pregnancy for fear of incurring the god’s wrath, he has sentenced me to draw plans for a dungeon in which to hide the child. His carpenters will build it after I’m dealt with. Initially, I was reluctant, but once they threatened to toss my son, Icarus, from the palace roof, I sketched out a system of symmetric halls. Really, anyone could have devised this simple solution.
I’ve learned that the dungeon is nearing completion. Today, guards came and seized me and Icarus and dragged us to Minos’s chamber where the king waited with two wooden contraptions covered in feathers.
Now, we wait on the roof of the palace. Wooden wings, which I’d years ago doodled in jest as a half-hearted means of escape have been strapped to Icarus and I’s backs. We look ridiculous.
Minos promised that we will both be thrown from the balcony at sunrise, and if the wings actually work–impossible–we may live out our lives beginning from wherever they take us.
I swoop and soar high above the city–I cannot believe the wings work. If Minos is sincere in his offer to let us live, I will sell this invention to his enemies. The wind is terribly noisy. Although it’s difficult to control the wings and watch my son simultaneously, I believe Icarus has a better knack for flight than myself. I call to him: “Icarus, land in the grazing fields.”
They’re the first place that comes to mind as I’d consider it a justice: the wooden cow is my greatest invention and should survive as my legacy.
Half Measures by Emmeline Teague
Ron Katterjen was a man of half measures. His feet were thirteen and a half, his ring size seven and three-quarters, his marriage half completed and on its way to extinction. Even his name was an only-partially finished construction; the nurse who was filling out the birth certificate had a heart attack and never finished the name. By the time they’d wheeled her downstairs, the ink had dried and Ron’s mother didn’t see anything wrong with the moniker.
The unfinished name bothered Ron, sometimes. He wondered if his life would have been different had he been Ronald. Ronald was a man who could be a professional, a man who led a sort of charmed life, and more often than not when asked his name, Ron wished that he had two to choose from rather than just the one. His middle name was Caesar, in reference to his method of birth, and he liked that even less and so couldn’t use that instead, leaving him with Ron.
“Just go by Ronald then,” his wife told him crossly one night as he picked at his dinner while he told her how it had happened again, how someone had called him Ronald and he had had to correct them. “Why does it matter if your name’s actually Ron? If you want to be Ronald, then be Ronald.”
“It’s not that simple,” Ron sighed to his peas. She wouldn’t, couldn’t, understand. Her parents had named her Cecilia and sometimes she went by Cece. She had the right. “I could go by Ronald, but I’m not Ronald. It would be like pretending to be someone I’m not.”
She chewed her mouthful of pork, watching him in bemused disbelief, and said nothing to that. Which, of course, she couldn’t. She had two names, two pieces of herself, and Ron only had one. She had to see that logic, so there was nothing more to be said.
Ron and Cecelia- or Cece, he often reminded her sadly, she was not one but two- had been spared the burden of having to find a proper name for their children due to the simple fact that Cecelia didn’t want them. He wasn’t sure if Cece wanted them or not; he had never asked her. Ron was never sure if he wanted them or not. It was a lot of responsibility to raise a child, and the terrible labor of naming haunted him. Choosing just the right name was a miracle, really, and Ron was anything but a miracle worker.
“Nathaniel,” Ron told his wife one Tuesday evening as she fixed her hair, getting ready for church. Ron didn’t care much for church. In addition to his half ring-size, his half shoe-size, and his half-completed name, he had only been halfway baptized before there had been a shootout in the little shop across the street and Ron and his parents had had to hide behind the altar with their trembling priest. Ron had taken that as a sign and stayed away from churches ever since.
“What about Nathaniel?” Cece- she was Cece today, she was always a Cece when she wore lipstick that color red- swept her eyelashes with the mascara wand again. “He’s late picking up the mail today.”
“No, I meant it’s a good name. Nathaniel. Nat, Nate, Nathan, even Hans or Haniel. Thaniel even, if you wanted.”
Cece looked at him from under the mess of curls she was pinning to the top of her head, eyes scanning him in a way he didn’t really like. Sometimes Cece did that- Cecelia was better about being nice to him than Cece was. “Then get a fish and name it Nathaniel,” she said, voice a little sharp the way it was sometimes, when she thought he was being a little too much. “I’m going to be late coming home from services today. There’s a big weekend trip we’re trying to put together.”
“Really?” He looked up from his shoe, which he had been turning over in his hands and checking for scuff marks. “To where?”
“Columbus.” She gave a smile. “There’s a big sister-church there.”
“I’ll be gone all weekend.”
“Oh.” He thought about this. “When?”
She waved a hand airily. “Not sure, we’re going to go over that tonight.”
“Can I come?” They hadn’t gone on a trip in ages. He wouldn’t go to the church, but he could walk around Columbus. There were lots of names for Columbus, after all, and he could see all the different sides and-
“No.” She clipped her watch around her wrist and sprayed perfume. “It’s a girl’s trip.”
“Oh.” Well, he wasn’t a girl, so he couldn’t go. That made sense. “Okay. Well, I hope you have fun.” Maybe it would be good for her to go. She loved going to church and spending time with her friends. “Is Jane going?”
“Jane?” Cece slid on heels that matched her lipstick.
“The one who has the brother she lives with, who wears her brother’s cologne sometimes.” The man needed to learn how to moderate, really. Ron knew he usually wore far too much or not enough, but Jane’s brother wore so much that when Cece came back from just visiting Jane, she smelled like him sometimes.
“Oh, yes, she’s coming.” Cece gave her tights a smile as she smoothed them down her legs. Ron’s mother would have disliked Cece’s stockings, he had decided long ago; they always had lines running up the backs, or ribbons decorating the tops. His mother had always said only floozies wore things like that. She was wrong of course, but she had never met Cece or Cecelia and therefore never had the chance to have her opinion shifted. She had died halfway through Ron’s sophomore year and Ron had met Cecelia halfway through his senior year.
Cece stood and gave a flicker of her fingers that might have been a wave as she scooped up her purse and good mink coat, and she was gone. Ron watched one quarter of a football game and thirty minutes of a movie on television, and read two chapters of a book, but nothing held his interest so he ate half of a piece of pie from the fridge and fell into a sleep that only partly helped his strange mood.
When the police were called to the Katterjen house six months later, it was to find Ron seated at the bottom of the stairs next to Cecelia Katterjen’s still and bloody body. He didn’t fight when they took him in, and he listened calmly to the accusations leveled at him. He killed his wife and there was absolutely no evidence to the contrary, after all.
It made sense to be angry, the officers who brought him in muttered to each other; finding out that your wife was screwing someone on the side- especially when she’d told you that she was off at a church group with said man’s wife- would drive anyone crazy. But still. He’d hit the woman and let her tumble down the stairs, and the ME had determined he had probably just sat there and watched her go. That was cold as hell.
“It was the fall that got her,” Ron disagreed politely when the detective interviewing him allowed him to talk. “I just hit her in the head. I only did half the job.” His smile was a strange thing, lopsided and thoughtful as he watched himself in the mirror. He had seemed oddly fascinated with the reflective surface since they had come in.
The detective rapped on the table in front of Ron to get his attention. The perp was seriously irritating him now, and it was almost time for his shift to be over. If they could get a proper confession written down and everything, he could be home by dinnertime. “Mr. Katterjen, you killed Cecelia and-”
“I didn’t,” Ron said, looking up at him with clear, pitying eyes. “I hit Cece, not Cecelia. Cecelia wouldn’t have done that to me. I married Cecelia, she’s much nicer than Cece. Cecilia actually does go to church meetings.” He went back to looking at himself in the mirror, and the detective stared at him, flabbergasted.
“Mr. Katterjen,” he began sharply, and Ron smiled a little more at his reflection.
“I think,” he said lightly, “You can call me Ronald.”
THE POET’S GUIDE TO DEPRAVITY by Francis Flavin
I considered giving this missive an “M” for mature audiences. But then, I remembered a dinner party several years ago when I was enticed to play “Cards Against Humanity”. Being single, enticement in any form came easily. As luck and karma would have it, instead of being seated next to one of the several attractive women in attendance, I ended up seated between two girls; one eleven and one twelve. As the game progressed, I became increasingly nervous. Several of the distributed cards contained terms that were obviously salacious given the chirps and chuckles from the adults. I could not have been more clueless if they were written in Sanskrit. I thought it highly inappropriate that such obscure and lurid terms would be used around the young girls seated beside me.
Several rotations later, my fate was sealed. I picked up my card – “queefing.” I dropped it as if snake bit. Everyone was looking at me, so I gingerly picked it up again. “I have no idea what this means,” I said to no one in particular. The sweet, and ostensibly innocent, eleven-year-old peered over my shoulder and whispered in my ear. I could feel my ears burning. I was totally flummoxed.
Observing my consternation, if not feeling my pain, one of the adult women peered over her cards – “A man of your age and experience should know what that means.”
Really? This is a guy who almost failed sex education in high school! I never could figure out how to make those stick figures procreate. My parents were too poor for a National Geographic subscription, and the pages with all the good stuff were torn out of the copies in the school library. I even had a skinny girlfriend, but she was of no help. I’m quite sure we were the only virgins in our graduating class. I blame it on my belly. I blame most everything on my belly. It’s an obvious choice. Anyway, she went on to become a model and I became a fat guy with diplomas. There are probably some body shaming mores I’m violating here, but I’m a fallen Catholic, and my mind is a quagmire of ongoing violations. Be warned!
If you have a poetic spirit you are halfway there – halfway to insanity that is. If you have read the Warning, you may have already figured this out. You’re getting advice from a lunatic; a drunken lunatic at that. But who better? The sane will offer encouragement – there’s money in it you see. There’s not much money in writing poetry, but there is good money in teaching people how to produce poetry and not make money.
If you are faint of heart, or have a fragile ego, don’t try to get published. I mean it! No matter how good your poetry is ─ don’t! I’m talking from experience here. I’ve emptied my wallet, done the workshops, read the manuals until my eyes bled, edited, re-edited, redacted, re-redacted and prayed. Do all this, and then you send your pet poem off into cyberspace, alone and forlorn, to be read by critics, cranks and the occasional clown. All you really have is hope. You know, as Emily Dickinson says ─ “Hope” is the thing with feathers.” In my case I need lots of feathers, a brace of swans perhaps.
Come to think of it, scratch the swans. I’ve found out they come in two varieties; whistlers and trumpeters. I’m trying to write a sonnet, for my own satisfaction mind you, and I don’t need any trumpeting or whistling distracting me from my literary masochism. The sonnet, as you may know, was a torture device created by an Italian sadist, aided and abetted by Shakespeare. The purpose of a sonnet is to bewilder the reader and drive the author deservedly insane.
All the experts, you know who you are, advise us to research a journal or magazine to be sure they are a good fit before we send them in for the requisite dose of humility and self-loathing. I recently found a journal that was in my geographic wheelhouse, and looked like a potential soul match with my inner demons. I then went to their website to see what they were looking for in content. After eloquently defecating on poetry of yore, and near yore, their guidelines stated they weren’t interested in poems about “your penis.” I’ve had considerable experience with this type of rejection, but had to wonder, how did they find out about my penis? Maybe there was a more rational and less personal explanation. Did they have a plethora of penis poems and needed to cut back? Was a penis by any other name equally banned? I mean what about bullies and bill collectors?
Still, my interest was piqued and I went online to read what they did publish. Lo and behold, the first poem I read was about a vagina. To be exact, the author used a more worldly term, but my heritage of yore has paralyzed my fingers and prevented its usage – this is a continuing debility. The poem was not a sociological dissertation in the vein of the “The Vagina Monologues.” Rather, it was more like an automotive review – “It was mine, so I took it out for a spin to see what it could do.” Quite a bit as it turned out. But I didn’t read the whole thing, mind you. I feared that “queefing” might arise in a later stanza.
Well that’s the long and short of it. If you choose to be a poet, I highly recommend alcohol ─ beer to inspire, wine to enlighten, tequila to embolden, and whiskey for the pain. Ah three more rejections; another round please! But wait, one of them states my offering hardly qualifies as poetry – a sure sign that publication is near. Lock up the firearms! Hide the booze! I’m going in!
Lucy by Paul Rousseau
When she vanished, panic flared. I scoured the fields and roadsides for days. I whistled, I shouted. “Lucy. Lucy.” Nothing. My hope dwindled. Then, one evening, a distant bark. I hurried home, a premonition she had returned. I scurried up the driveway. “Lucy, you here?” The haloed porchlight illumined an empty portico. Fat tears filled my eyes. I plopped down in our favorite chair, ruffled her blanket, and made a space. Every evening she would wedge herself beside me, and we would listen for the cries and yelps of coyotes. I drifted asleep, and awoke dew-covered and chilled. An unusual smell wafted from below. I peered beneath the wooden porch slats. There was Lucy. She had crawled under our chair and died. She had come home.
In memory of Lucy, the best “Daddy’s girl” dog ever
Nature Boy by Warp Trio
Ode to G.W. by Mark Rosalbo
Axiomatic by Rafael Rosa
Runaways by Trickster Figures