Poetry

Once, I glued my feet to the floor by Emily Perkovich


It wasn’t malicious
I just wanted to step out of my skin
Maybe it was malicious
I glued my feet to the floor
It’s easier to unzip when something’s holding you
It’s never easy to watch the viscera strain


When you glue your feet to the floor, the floor holds on, but your skin holds on too, and
crossing your body’s threshold is honestly disgusting, think of blood-snot, the bones don’t mind
so much as the muscle does, you keep walking out of yourself, and the floor has a firm grasp on
your feet, but your body has a firm grasp on you, you might want to float away, but it won’t be
like that, it won’t be a dissipation, it won’t be an ethereal letting of the ghosts, it’s like the
slinky clots on a heavy day of menstruation, but it’s everywhere, and the way it congeals will
probably make you gag, and then if you haven’t peeled yourself apart in the past, if you haven’t
spent much time excavating your insides, if you’ve never held back bile, never used yourself to
push out bile, you’ll probably clench your stomach, probably tighten your throat around
yourself, but it won’t be enough, and then you’ll be vomiting all over your feet, but they’re
glued to the floor, and you’re already only a demi-person, half in, half out, stepping out, so
you’ll just have to leave the mess, and continue pulling away, it won’t be a relief, unless the
sight of the gluey insides relieves you,


But, if you were born a mortician
If you were born a grave robber
If you were born lungs full of embalming fluid and mouth full of mud
Then this is the part where you’ll dry heave


Once, I glued my feet to the floor,


Science is rarely exact, rarely a neat study, the floor held my feet, but my body held me, and the
tearing sound made me gag, but I’ve learned to empty before a ritual, so it was a dry heave,
and it was disgusting for a minute there, but really the way the light danced on the slick mucus
between me and my body was actually a symphony, was actually a harp chord, a piano wire, a
violin’s string as the meat fell away

 

Not Like She Forced Me by Magnus Singer

This is what I thought it would be: dark alley, sharp blade, dirty man.
But it wasn’t. Her dorm room was pink like a half-faded blood stain
on a wedding dress. I couldn’t resist; she was in pain, I’d done it before,
             I always did it.
The many times she made me say yes went like this: long hair
over her breasts, fingers deep inside her, guilt filling my own hole.

When we broke apart, I scrubbed myself like I could rid myself of the grime.
             Who would believe me?
She was sick, was weak, was soft-spoken. A snake that shed pink silk.
And I, the dirty man who had touched her, who scooped her insides like
cantaloupe guts, who scraped his skin off to get clean.

When I speak of it, I say: she didn’t even touch me. I say: it’s not like
she forced me. I say: if I didn’t want it, I wouldn’t have done it.
The
words come out like rotten fruit, but I still chew them.
             This doesn’t happen to men.

 
 

The Love Poem I Didn’t Know to Write as a Teenager by Kate Polak
               for James Blackwood, who still feeds the raccoons as his wife asked


Will you feed the racoons for me when I die?
I will feed them for you, as you well know,
my abstraction can never be reminded
to draw the bungee cord across the trash

where they feast nightly on whatever parings
I’ve left, ruining the yard, making yet one
more chore for us both. What our days bring
both predictable and surprising: what

we’ve meant to do making more things we must.
Those days I didn’t take the kitten out
to play in the yard, days of vague roustings
and lists, sometimes jolted into relief.

I’m worried that you will forget those things
by remembering, that if we do not forget
sometimes, we will not remember those small kits
edging carefully around the house in twilight,

that baby skunks won’t emerge from beneath
the porch, that those goddamn deer, who I have chased
barefoot down the street will not eat the peaches
off the tree. Our garden was always already gone.

But you will be an old man one day, and there,
you can either be looking out your window,
with scotch, shaking your fist at the creatures
that need what we leave: not what I imagine.

Or you can sit on a snow-covered bench,
doling out bulk hot dogs for their small, thumbed,
grasping hands, and that sovereign joy makes me
disappear. I do not believe I’ll outlive

you, love. And that is fine, because it’s me
the neighbor chickens wait for. It is me
that plants the fruit trees. I walk underneath
my favorite sycamore, and see the glint

of eyes in the wood. They are waiting for me.

 

Some Other by Esther Sadoff


In my grandparents’ apartment I was propelled
by the fear of my wet bed, the fear of waking
alone in a new place with all the lights on.

I stood shivering in the bathroom,
pondering the anathema of my clinging clothes.

I didn't see my grandparents' eyes,
didn't ask for help, adults like shadows trading places.

My fear was a doll in my arms,
the brittle fan of her eyelashes creaking wide.

I could only see the galloping lights,
the carpeted hallway gaping and bright,
my grandmother's armoire with elegant key,

folded silk scarves backed by darkness,
her table of dolls, Baby Blue with blue dress
and squiggles of hair I drew with a pen.

I heard words like angel, sweetheart, honey,
mutterings to some other person —
a lifetime to find if that someone was me.

Yarn Bird by Jose Varghese 


You sit next to the bedside lamp
and stare back at me
on the nights when I wake up
from bad dreams. You’re
the blue sea that claims me on its
lap as I float and regulate
my breath. Your invisible breath
dries off the sweat on
my neck before it drips down to
the pillow. Your eyes
carry no emotions; they are by
no means capable of
pacifying a troubled person, and
there’s even some
mischief in them, but they’re
the kindest when light
tears off darkness like paper, to
reveal you like a gift
in a box that you once were. On
other normal days, as
I wake up and allow my eyes to
get used to the sunrays,
I look away from your blood-red
beak and feet, and the dead eyes.

 
 

WITHOUT RETURN FARE by Stephanie McConnell

It was cavernous and complicated,
an inner ear, where he lived.
He knew my brothers were big
as bears and mean as goats, but he
drank red wine, read Oppenheimer’s
diaries, collected postage stamps and
girls like me. I watched the moon pinball
between rain gutters and church steeples.
Without return fare, I had to sleep there.
I was afraid of cities. And death. Of falling
from the tightrope. It was all
the same to me. Our faces bloomed
white in the night
like echoes in alcoves.
I was some other child entirely.
This he noticed in me mostly
by the way I held my fork and knife,
so provincially.

One Poem by Jones Irwin
After Frank O’Hara


Well now, hold on, maybe
I won’t go to bed at all
And it will be a fabulous all-nighter
Or else the opposite
And I’ll collapse from an overdose
Of pills on a rug at a stranger’s house
Or no – third option – I’ll be off to Portmarnock
Swimming in the nip and not giving a fuck

 

Variations on a Rainy Morning by Ray Ball

                   I.
It was as though God had taken
His dick out and was enjoying
a good long piss first thing
in the morning. Maybe He wanted
to blot out the sunrise’s salmon and orange,
to silhouette and shroud greening
trees and hide the mountains
with mist. Maybe He wanted the clouds
to become creatures braided together:
the nebulous basket of an ark.


                    II.
Magpies chatter in protest
against the downpour, presumably.
But maybe they object to me
in the warm house with my mug of tea.
They hide their ill-gotten plunder
into muddy caches.
My dog will dig them up
like she is seeking buried treasure.
Her digging is why I have not
buried the tin of your ashes
even though I keep promising
I will. I will plant a boomerang lilac
on top of your makeshift tomb.


                    III.
A few years ago, it rained
21 days in a row, and I wept
every day that contained
the letter t. I kept
waiting for clairvoyance
or at least acceptance.
My shoulder ached.
Maybe I longed to see
the dog star back in the sky.


                    IV.
It was as though God
exhaled in gusts
against the dripping eaves
and the remaining trees
in my sodden yard.

 

                    V.
Magpies dissolve
into graying wind.

 
 

Love You to The Beach and Back by John Wojtowicz

reads a sign in a beach house
two blocks from the beach.


I’m burnt out on expressions of love
that warm but don’t enflame.


I love you to the moon and back
may, at first, seem an infinite expression


but these days a trip to the moon
and back takes less than a week


with the added bonuses
of auto-pilot and satellite television.


Where’s the sign that reads:
I love you from South Dakota


to the Atlantic Ocean
in a 1999 Ford Windstar


loaded down with three kids
trading off peed pants and carsickness.


I’m awaiting that return call
from Hallmark.


What differentiates the lovers
and the true loves—


is love that will sustain a twelve-block
walk to the beach


and back to a “seaside cabin”
that turns out to be a non-refundable


single-wide with a view
of a mosquito-infested crabbing pond.


Yes, there’s I love you
on a summer night-ers and there’s


I love you in a flea-ridden trailer

during a Nor’easter-ers.


And those who after the rain
can say: I love you


even when leopard slugs
lumber from the air ducts.


Yes, yes, still deeper they fall
slinging mollusks into the moonlight.

 

Like it Always Does by John Leonard

You faded away and the frost didn’t see it.
A bolt of lightning once carved your future
onto a sidewalk downtown. The sky lit up
just long enough for you to deny providence.
At the same time, earth worms and cicadas
were dying in the cold summer streets.
You read the asphalt passively, mistook
cracks in the pavement for the hand-stitched
lace of dragonfly wings. While you waited,
you wilted.


The summer turned sour mid-August,
pulled solar flares from your aching chest
and wrapped the sky with them. Evenings
simmered like fatherless children, nails
digging into palms—the humidity was
enough to bleed all the mosquitoes dry.


Meanwhile, Jefferson Lake was closed
and the dunes became collapsing sonnets.
The safety you found indoors filled your
lungs with silence, visions of ice
that crawled between your legs.


Your mother poured vodka by the gallon,
peeled your apples for you, and imagined
who would play her in a movie. Your father
built a stage in his tool shed and forgot
to warn you about blackberry thorns
and Massasauga rattlers...


forgot to show you the Madonna lily he discovered,
still growing strong in the storm drain.

 

Shrapnel by Melissa Evans
 

Trees are secrets to me—
all except a single pink blossom,
once full of cherries: obelisk
to my parents’ back yard.


I used to know us slipped beneath
its green plumage, spring down
bursting like bloodied snow along
its shoulders, then, gradually


drifting onto our bodies below.
We lay there every day we could—
cool petal shields across our faces
and knees, their scent somehow


stifling your sharp fury and my
acquiescence; freeing us to talk
about bands we liked or those we
didn’t, travels, lucky light things.


Then, in fruit, fine loops of linked
stalks, their burgundy orbs, would
clutter under its timber vault—ready
for prayers, eager tongues, aphid


teeth—ready for us to peer and
climb into and on our way up we
might listen, cheeks pressed to its
whorled scars: generations of


severance, insisting its trunk bend
into its bough. I had to touch it—
the way you press an ache to dull its
pain—needed to feel that large sharp


turn, only, truly visible in winter when
its branches’ bare matrix jags, glint
as lightning, against the dimmer sky.
During those three seasons, I would


press you too; hoping to dull your
ache, hoping to make you push back
and lessen mine. The fourth, when
you would have to leave, I climbed


into our tree alone and, even now,
above any other season, its nature
and yours still burn clearest to me
in fierce summer sunlight: cogged


bark striking, oddly cold, against
my fingertips—grey as shrapnel.

 

Costco by Mary Paulson

 

I can tell she’s thickening, thin

legs and arms giving way to plumpness,

early, early adolescence – breasts maybe

and that dress

clings to the hint of her hips.

Material ends mid-thigh, when she moves

the fabric rides up.

 

If you’re really looking,

like I am, you’ll see

unadorned peach skipping

through the parking lot, swinging hem,

squeeze of flesh. A fresh scrape

on her left knee

looks like it bled more

than it hurt— draws a crimson path

down her tibia. I like how

the curve around her lower leg shapes

the calf— how the muscle

flexes into a fist. If you’re looking

like I can’t stop looking, lost

in a cloud of so much pink, my whole

goddamn head swollen

with pink, my nostrils burning at the sight

of the band-aid over her thin

ankle bone, so slender it could

snap— then man, you got problems—

terrible, shitty problems.

 

Do you know there’s a rehab

for guys who cheat? Some field trip

out to the beach, communing under the stars,

chanting and Ayahuasca

then back home

to open arms and it’s all

forgiveness. Not for me.

There’s no place like that for me.

 

I look in the mirror sometimes and beg, scream into my own image, Stop

this bullshit! Pull yourself together.

Be a man. A normal man who

fucks the babysitter, stays out all night

at strip clubs, cares about

football and fantasy leagues.

 

There’s my girl again, hopping into the back seat

of the minivan, all the time talking,

chattering away at the grown woman only half-

listening to her. 

I don’t do the birthdays or

the school events. I’m at work

all the time! But goddamn it,

I should be able to go to Costco –

get paper towels, a tub of laundry

detergent, five-pack Tylenol, never-ending Jiffy jar,

socks for the boys and get home to Missy—

irreproachably of age, the nearest form

of pink I’ve ever allowed.

I should be able to go to Costco

without running back to my truck, gripping

the wheel, rocking back and forth,

shaking, sweating

over an LOL band-aid, little shoes

sparkling with glitter. Stop.

Don’t look, don’t dream,

don't for a moment think about

what she might feel like, taste like--

a pink ribbon of candy or a

fresh-from-the-bakery cream puff,

don't visualize her small hands gripping

your forearm, don’t

imagine her small silver voice

saying your name. For god’s sake,

don’t follow her home.

 

The Story My Brother Taught Me by Nichole Brazelton


Once, we were hummingbirds
chained to glacier walls.
We sang for everything
that looked alive –


foxglove and hyacinth,
strawberries and mint
knowing how easily
they could die.


Small windows between us
let in secrets that froze
shattered into pieces
easy for mother to sweep away.


Through clouded
picture frames, across
yellowed pages, we could
make out backseats and bathrooms,


houses and hillsides. All littered
with heroes and villains
who couldn’t remember
which they were. Every night


we were given the same
small blanket to share – a single
square, carefully measured.
But there was so much space


between the years
of six and fifteen, we
never figured out how
to keep each other warm.

Prose

Show Me Your Scars by Margo Griffin
 

           Just pick the damn thing off, I think, watching the boy sitting on the park bench gingerly
pick at his knee. What a frickin’ baby he is. I want to go over there and pull it off myself; it will
only take a second.

                                                                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
           “Marjorie!” my mother yells from the kitchen.
           “WHAT?!”
           “Get your ass down here, now!”
           Good. My mother sounds pissed off. It’s about time. I traipse downstairs as slowly as
possible, annoying my mother further.
           “Did you put this picture of your father on the fridge?”
           “Yeah.”
           “But why, Marjorie? Why would you do that?”
           “You always say, no matter what, he’s still my father,” I say, batting my eyes for effect.
           “But why this picture?” she asks, more softly now.
           I act like I don’t know what the big deal is about the picture. I profess my innocence and
say I forgot.
          “All you did was cut her out of it, but it’s clearly their wedding picture hanging on my
damn fridge.”


          My mother says she wants us to heal. But really, she wants us to forget. I had wanted to
see my father picked apart in court. But my father, avoiding exposing his shame in court, offered
my mother everything. And so, my mother accepted his bribe for her silence, pretending the
house, money, and cars could erase what my father had done to wound us.
         “What’s the big deal?” I ask.
         “Because it just is,” she says and walks out of the room.
         I can’t help myself sometimes. And I know if I keep digging, it only causes more
disruption on the surface. My mother wants everyone, especially my father and his new wife
Kim, to believe we are perfectly intact. But the façade my mother created is fragile.

        I look down and notice a hard, crusty scab reforming on my ankle and so, I reach down
and pick it off, exposing all its raw, pink flesh underneath.

Squabble by Soidenet Gue


          I’d always remember that year—2009. We exited the main building before sundown after the new spring talent show. I won. I won big. But it was a more significant win, a triumph unlike any other for Mother and Father. I knew. I knew because they both agreed that my performance
was phenomenal. For a moment, I thought maybe, just maybe, I would not have to cast a vote anymore over breakfast or dinner or supper to be on either Mother or Father’s team. Even the vehicle that had chauffeured us to the school was a prolonged, stiff battle. When Father realized
he had had enough, he let Mother win, firing up her blue sedan.
           Soon, we stopped at the first traffic light, overlooking the big fat sign that said, “Atlantic Community High School”—one of the best schools in Palm Beach County. Mother congratulated me once more. Father clapped his hands and kept smiling in the passenger seat. I believed we were just about two miles drive from north Congress Avenue when I broke the exciting news to them.
           “A hundred bucks? He gave you a hundred bucks for what?” Mother asked with surprising glimpses in the rearview mirror with her hostile-looking brown eyes.
           I frowned.
           “What for, Eric? I’m listening.”
           “To write, I mean, compose something new for Jessica’s birthday party a week from now. Then, another hundred after the show.” In addition to my strict chemistry lab partner, Jessica happened to be one of the two prettiest girls at school I wanted to go out with before my senior year. But my imprudence in her pursuit—for instance, not signing up for sociology instead—had already cost me. Therefore, this musical overture was not just a gig. This was not just a gig because not only would I be able to impress my darling Jessica, but my desperate need for a scooter would also be answered. (I had three hundred dollars saved already.) “Oh, did I mention that other hundred after the gig?” I said, laughing. “That’s right. All I gotta do is make sure it’s even better than what I’ve performed today.”
           “Does her father even own a piano?”
           “No, Mr. Cutter owns a ping-pong table.” A pause went by as my smart sarcasm dried up faster than the swoosh of the red Ferrari that passed us. 

           “Okay. I won’t have to bring mine. I do believe Jessica owns a piano. Not first-rate, but it’ll do just fine.”
           “Hmm. Interesting.”

           Father scoffed at Mother’s tone with apparent ennui. He knew where this was heading. He knew because he had never forgotten that Mother and Mr. Cutter used to date before attending college together. Mother went on to study music and became a middle school teacher,
while Mr. Cutter had drifted away from the music to become an art enthusiast and critic instead.
           “Interesting,” Mother reiterated. “That lousy son of a bitch is doing it just to rub it in my face.”
           “Mr. Cutter? How?” I felt I had to ask.
           Mother fell silent. The cheerfulness on her face dwindled as she caught a glimpse over her shoulder at the silver-plated trophy cup that sat on my lap.
           It was Father who answered. It was Father who answered because he could not cope with the unbearable silence and tension in the car. Father explained that Mr. Cutter and Mother used to have terrible arguments about their respective tastes in music. Mother and Mr. Cutter used to frequent a place every weekend where aspiring string players had to compose and perform their own piece of music instead of borrowing one from Beethoven, Mozart or Chopin. However, Mother was always an exception. “Anyway, I think that’s what your mother’s getting at,” Father
said.
           I laughed. I laughed because Mother had not won a single award or trophy thus far throughout her entire career. “Doesn’t sound like a bad idea. It’s like getting a kick in the butt to be inspired,” I said. Looking over at Father, proud, I continued, “I like writing my own pieces of
music.”
           “Game on, Son.”
           Mother glared at Father a moment and said, “At least I’m not a quitter!”
           This did not sit well with me. This did not sit well with me because this bullet fired from Mother was rather aimed at Father. During the financial crisis, Father had his physical therapist license suspended over unethical conduct—a claim still unproven.
           “Dad didn’t quit his job, Mother. There’s a difference. You guys have been over this like a thousand times. Yeah. Day in, day out. Hell’s the matter with you?”
           At the next traffic light on Lake Ida Road, Father stormed out of the car to walk the last two miles home now in the sunset in his medium-gray suit. This was the last time he ever rode in that car with Mother, the last time until he walked out on us for good right before my senior year
started.

The Photographer By Susan Phillips


           Had he arranged the rooms properly? James assured himself that he had. It was a small shop. How else could he have arranged it? Just inside the entrance were two rooms. To the left was a coatroom, with a curtain pulled across the back in case anyone wanted to change clothes or
use one of the costumes he kept neatly folded in a large open chest. To the right was the waiting room, with two small tables, several straight back chairs and a small divan. In back was the darkroom, with trays and chemicals neatly laid out. To the left of the darkroom was a dark storage area where he kept supplies. He had placed a cot against the left wall, in case he worked late or wanted a quick nap. The back door led to a tiny garden. In the spring he would plant flowers and shrubs for outdoor portraits. In between the two sets of rooms was his studio.
           He walked through the rooms once, twice, then went outside to admire the new sign again.
                                                                                                 James Porter, Photographer
                                                                                                 Portraits, Cartes de Visites
           There was extra space underneath the last line. The sign painter had objected. “Your name should be nice and large. But there’s room for me to paint something else and the sign will still be easy to read from down the street.”
           James shook his head. “No, it’s fine as it is. But you can make the top line as large as you see fit.”
           That had placated the man and James was satisfied with the result. Now he just needed to drum up some business. If he could make a go of it, he’d be able to rent the suite of rooms above the shop instead of sleeping in the cramped extra bedroom at his brother’s house. His sister-in-
law still smiled at breakfast, but James wondered for how long.
           He went back inside to the studio and checked the large backdrops, which he and his brother had painted two days ago: plain black; plain white; a sky with clouds floating high; a brick wall covered with ivy; a summer garden scene. In two corners he had placed tables. One
was square, with a pile of books, some writing paper, a pen and ink. The other, a round table, was covered with a lace doily. On top of the doily was a blue glass vase in which he had arranged violets he found at a nearby market. This room had four chairs and a small, light sofa.
He nodded his head as he looked around the room again. He could easily move chairs, sofa, tables when he needed to. His large camera stood in front, facing the back wall. Now, thought James, all I need is customers. He went back to the front of the store and sat at a small desk facing the windows, just inside the door He shuffled through some papers, trying to look busy. It would never do to appear that he had no business!
           Half an hour later a thin young woman entered the shop. She was dressed in a simple dark green dress with matching bonnet. Her dark hair curled over her forehead and on her shoulders.

           “May I help you?” asked James.
           “Yes, if you’re Mr. James Porter.”
           “I am.” The two were quiet, studying each other. White backdrop, I think, James decided.
           “You’ve come for a portrait?”
           “I have. My sweetheart will be leaving for a spell and I’d like to give him a portrait so he’ll remember me.” She blushed and turned to one side. “He’s a sailor and may be gone a while, so I thought—”
           “Of course, an excellent idea. A small photograph that he can take with him and remind him of why he must return to you.”
           As he spoke James led the woman into the studio, sat her on a comfortable chair, moved the table with flowers to her left and then arranged the white backdrop behind her. Within an hour she was gone, promising to return with payment in a week.
           The next few days were busy. James took photographs of a young engaged couple who kept staring dreamily at each other; of a mother, father and their four children; four families with three children each; an old couple who proudly announced they had been married for fifty years; several society ladies and gentlemen who requested cartes de visites. He shuffled the backdrops around, moved chairs and tables, arranged the families into different groupings. In the evenings and early mornings, he developed and printed the pictures, often working so late that he spent the night on the storage room cot. It was good that he had thought to bring clean shirts and linen and a bag of toiletries. He was careful to air out the darkroom, often leaving the back door open for fresh breezes. At times the wind was strong and chillier than he anticipated.
           And finally, here were all the photographs, ready for his customers to pick up. Before he put each set in its own envelope, he looked at them again to be sure he had printed them clearly and cleanly.
           The cartes de visites—perfect, every one of them. And most of the family portraits—yes, they looked just as he had imagined them. But in one print of the old couple he had to look twice, three times. Behind the man and woman, he saw a faint figure of a young man who bore a
resemblance to both of them. The young man placed one hand on each of the elders’ shoulders. James had not seen the man when he took the photograph. And in one of the family portraits he thought he saw a pair of pale, wispy wings sprouting from the shoulders of one of the little girls.
           He looked through all the photographs again Was there anything odd in more of them? No, the young couple looked as happy as he remembered them, and the other family portraits had developed just as he expected.
           But when he got to the photograph of the first young woman, he stopped and stared. There she was, sitting in front of the white backdrop, hands in her lap, a faint smile on her lips. Behind her was the ocean and a ship being attacked by three large whales.
           The next morning James called on the sign painter and asked him to add one more line to the sign. It now read:
                                                                                            James Porter, Photographer
                                                                                            Portraits, Cartes de Visites
                                                                                            Spirit Photography

 
 
 
 

Music

Time to Go by Martha Bourne

00:00 / 05:20

Good Light by Jamil Apostol

00:00 / 04:22