THE BADGER DEN by Erika Seshardi
string me along to your badger den
with that subterranean
fiery glow, born of sparks
from yellowed teeth
gnashing at the latest news
I’ll perch on my regular chair,
woven from reeds and ivy vines
and watch intently
as your slackened jowls
swing with gossip—
to and fro
to and fro
while I sip my gooseberry tea
(sugar, two lumps, please)
I nod as your furred lips drip lies,
for as a guest I dare not be rude
then I thank you for having me
and give you a hug
(while your mind is quilled,
your pelt is quite soft)
as I crawl back to my life
above ground, and cleanse
under blue skies and sun
I’m filled with gratitude
that my mama didn’t raise
Family Therapy 1: Bassist Son by Fletch Fletcher
My watch fell off
in the living room. (10)
The band was too tight,
strangling, and it finally
I know I’ll never find it (12)
Last night I checked my empty
wrist; it said (13) it was time to go.
10 This skin was bare and pale and
unaccustomed to light
11 Like a snake’s skin
12 newly added
13 I wanted to stop and hold your hand,
wanted to cry again, remind myself
what it felt like to cry for this bond
Well, Isn’t That a Pretty Picture by Danielle Ryle
When we are in bed together, I sound like a startled pigeon amplified
in the belly of the overpass. Imagine that wild eye, that bright ring
rising up my neck. At the meadow-edge seven sand-brown deer
curled like the stones to ring a fire or the fur to edge an opening.
Because I am an artist and a woman, in every self-portrait I’m naked
and cannot forget you are looking.
I Know You’re There by Akiva Israel
I cannot find
back, along the banks of the river Arno,
Via dei Castellani,
to the cool shade of the Uffizi.
Who shall kiss me?
my broke mouth
unnoticed amid loquacious vendors
in Piazza de San Firenze.
I pass untouched
yet smell lampredotto
my navel still tastes
like roasted olives
in another mouth.
My shadow comes up hard
against the iron lips
at the base of
my dolent duke.
The History of Kingship by Rebecca Pyle
Crushings of shiny brown oiled roasted beans, coffee, the crushedness of gravel, the horror and the majesty that no two of these crushings, particles, were alike; that the world had been formed by the whirl like the whirl of a spoon in a bowl, a Scotsman at Highland games lunging out a rock he first whirls, then dispenses, that life can depend on warm garments or a fire or a handful of water. That a crop could be ruined by too much sun. That a certain boy could be remembered in the marrow of your brain or bones by the color darkest navy blue. That a favorite pair of shoes could change your luck in the world; then they are gone and your luck is gone. That liars shock you. That television is only majestic when it takes you into the past. That the gravity of fate and place determines almost all. In fact, no exception.
That he could have been a king, but everything prevented that. That she could imagine his kingship. Kingships were meaningless without strange brilliances, brilliances not to be found in any other person. That he despaired of all relationships. That he could admit fears, when it would
have been better not to admit to anyone—those fears. That she could not nominate him. That death was near.
She would have to imagine his kingship. It began with his hands, woodsman’s hands, quick to draw away or lean forward (but only for a second). His choice of sitting half in light and half in shade, whenever he could, which would turn to garden parties, and his having to be taught again
to dance, now with a silken sash which ceased to seem extra on his person when you realized his turns and the expressions on his face were a rank above all others’. Shakespeare the only example: he who had to hide, under false name. Whose fury became like an axe, sharpened and sharpened after each use, then used again, with laughter between blows.
The bed we slept in soft as crushed feathers but also a strong unbreakable barge. Wine every night just before rolling into a bed, from a bottle a servant brought, the color of blood or spring strange leaves or urine. Music every morning till we told them to stop. Then later we started new
music which we let tour our brains. We talked often of what made musicians’ sounds: metals, wood, bamboo, rubber, the insides of cats, humans’ stretched and suffering throats. The way animals in fields would come to someone who played music for them. The innocent animals who did not know yet that their care preceded their slaughter, who thought the world was a wonderland of care, people loving them.
The fury that was in him which was similar to how an animal might feel if it knew of the slaughterhouses and its hours of transport and its hour of cornering and death.
His refusal to have incense burned, for any reason, since the wildfires had started. The rampage of his sexual invasions, increased as he did not feel he had many years left. The way he described previous royals: gossips. They lived to appear smooth on the surface, when they were only a collection of remembered unfair indignities, and all the signs they had been given that those indignities were inevitable. The words he was writing which were like fires. Partly insensible, written very fast, and never changed. How I write them is how they stay, he said. His fondness of one pair of brown trousers and one red or blue shirt, his secret talents which only I knew, and would keep secret till it came time to urge him to show his talents, to set his enemies at bay.
At bay, he would repeat mockingly. At bay! The whole world is my bay, he would say.
And I would nod, and I wondered if royals and their consorts or spouses are given medicines which heal them toward death rapidly, so they do not suffer as animals do in loneliness and estrangement from the rest of their herd, while dying moves in on them, a conqueror who will win but takes his time, and will not come faster even if you beg him to come faster.
Beauty Queen by Emme Wright
Rose Evans woke up early on Saturdays, waiting to hear the high-pitched whine of Bella’s pale blue Bonneville. Not that Rose had ever actually seen the car. Her bed was too far away from the window. But Bella had described the boat-on-wheels to her. She could almost see the dent in the bumper from backing into a maple tree at the courthouse. The butt print on the hood—courtesy of ex-husband number two—that had started to rust, and the slightly yellowed soft top that Bella left down every summer.
Every week, Rose got up and stood at the window, watching for the blue clunker to turn the corner. Her nose pressed flat against the glass, her palms so damp, she had to wipe them repeatedly on her pants. The pinging of the approaching engine matched her rapid heartbeats. The car whined, brakes squealing as it bumped up the driveway and rocked to a standstill. Rose held her breath as the heavy door creaked open and one stiletto clad foot peeked out. Her eyes followed the high arch up past the softly curved calf. Bella Blue stepped out; black satin cigarette pants strained across her slightly rounded belly. Her perfect 36-Ds were encased in a fuzzy pink sweater. Rose longed to feel the material slide across her cheek. She wanted to bury her face in the curve of Bella’s neck. The heavy thunk of a car door closing pulled her back from her fantasy.
She was still in her bedroom with its butter yellow walls and white lace curtains. The queen-sized bed still monopolized the center of the room, sagging under its burden. She straightened her floral house dress over her pendulous breasts and struggled to hoist herself into a sitting position. Rose wished she had on the cute sundress from page twenty-one of the new Lane Bryant catalog. She imagined it would skim her waist and fall in soft, peach folds to her ankles.
"Good morning, Darlin'. Ain't you out of bed yet?" The honeyed voice came floating down the hallway towards her. Rose could feel the tingles starting in her toes. She held her breath as they worked their way up her doughy legs. She pressed her hands over her breasts, trying to contain her leaping heart. The object of her desire sashayed through the doorway. Today's ensemble consisted of white stretch pants and a red polka-dotted halter top with matching mules. Bella's short blonde hair was teased, broadcasting her Texas roots.
"Good morning, Bella." Rose folded her hands over her belly and smiled. She pressed down on her stomach nervously as Bella wheeled her mobile salon into the room. The locks on the pink suitcase snapped loudly, the lid creaking as it opened.
"Well now, that's what I like to see. That pretty face of yours cracking a smile." Her tongue curled around the words. "For a while, I never even knew you had teeth. I think you need to do that a little more. Pretty soon you'll be out on the town. And how are you gonna attract all
those boys if you’ve got a sour look on your face?"
Rose sat mesmerized as Bella's luscious lips formed around each word. Her crimson lipstick had leaked into the fine lines around her spectacular mouth. Bella plugged in the curling iron and rummaged through her case.
"Y'know who was asking about you the other day? The Mason boy. He stopped me in front of the bank and asked how you were doing. Said he heard I saw you every week and to tell you hello. Now, there's a boy to look forward to seeing. I almost didn't recognize him when he called my name. Why, in high school, he was nothing but arms and legs. He sure has grown up fine. All muscle and one hundred percent male,” she purred contentedly.
"I really don’t think I’ll get out of the house that soon.” Rose looked up through her eyelashes. She had read in a novel once about a woman flirting by doing that. She didn’t know if it worked.
Bella looked over at the woman lying on the bed. Her skin hadn’t felt the sun in years. It was perfectly porcelain. Her blue-green eyes always looked sleepy beneath their heavy lids. Bella felt inexplicably drawn to Rose. Maybe it was the way Rose looked at her, as if she were starving. She had to resist the urge to cradle Rose's face against her chest and rock the oversized woman to sleep.
“Honey, you’ve lost damn near 500 pounds. Why in the good Lord’s name wouldn’t you want to leave the house. Ain’t you sick of this room yet? You’ve been in here for, what? Three, four years now?” She spread out her hands and looked around the small bedroom. “Not one mirror to be found. Can’t even see much through the window except the house across the street.” She leaned on the windowsill, presenting Rose with a heart shaped view. Rose pressed her thighs tightly together and bit her down on her lip, wishing Bella would stay right there forever.
“And those old fogies aren’t much entertainment. He mows the lawn once a week and she inspects her flowers. Not even a good knock-down-drag-out fight for you to watch. That tiny little television in the corner doesn’t even get cable. All you see are soap operas and news. It’s a
wonder your brain hasn’t turned to mush. And those romance novels that you’ve read several hundred times. I don’t know how anyone can stand to read these things.” Bella ran her fingernail along the well creased spines on the bookshelf. “Life ain’t really like that. No man ever swept
me off my feet anyways. I know I’d go crazy if I was stuck in here as long as you. A woman’s gotta get out, you know?”
Rose watched her hips sway as she walked towards the bed. She lost herself in the rhythm of Bella’s walk.
“Yoohoo! Honey. You listening to me?” Bella waved her fire-tipped fingers in front of Rose’s flushed face. “Lord, Woman, you must be having one heck of a daydream.”
“Sorry. It’s not so bad, being in here. I’m used to it. Besides, I get to see you every week.” She tried to make her voice husky, the girls on the soaps made it seem so easy. She just sounded like she was choking. She cleared her throat and looked down at her sausage-like fingers. “You know, they said I was the heaviest woman in the world.”
“Who did, Hon?” Bella twisted Rose’s dark hair up and began jabbing pins in the mass.
“The record books.” Rose tried not to stare at the plump mounds of flesh squeezed into the halter top. Every time Bella took a breath, they trembled, threatening to spill out over the top. Rose wondered what would happen if she let her head fall forward, if she nestled her face between those exquisite breasts.
“That something you really want people to know? How much you used to weigh? That you’re proud of it?” Her teeth clenched around the metal pins. “Y’know, Hon. You’re getting skinny enough. I probably won’t have to come out here anymore once you lose some more weight. You can come to the shop and visit with all the other girls. You won’t be stuck with just boring old me. Y’know, you might like the new girl we got. Her name’s Abby. Not exactly my idea of a Christian name. But who am I to talk.” Bella looked down at Rose and smiled. “Anyway, she’s a whiz with hair. She can make even the orneriest strands curl up and stay put. I think you’d like her. Probably better than listening to me prattle on every week.”
Rose stayed silent. She thought about the turkey and whipped potatoes she was going to have for dinner. And rhubarb pie. The whole pie for dessert.
Firestarter by Emily Talvacchia
The dark figure that sits in the corner of my bedroom at night makes a low hum that fills the space between us. The first night I noticed the figure, it sat in a hunched-over position, balls of its feet holding them up, long fingers grazing the dusty old hardwood. The window was left
open, for even the sunless sky could not tame the heat of summer. If the figure has a face, it's clouded over by the pitch blackness surrounding it, the gentle glow of the moon casts a shadow below its chest. A stillness sinks within me; the bumping heart behind my ribs echoed in my ears, thick blood drowning out the sound of the wind clamoring onto the house.
The ticking of the clock, whispers filled with words I cannot discern, and then a falling into the deep. My dreams have been the same since that day one year ago. Daddy hung himself by the neck in the basement. I took a couple steps down the stairs when my innocent eyes saw legs dangling above a kicked-over stool. The next step revealed his favorite plaid button-up; the next step, his head tilted to the side, and then the proverbial noose around his neck. I didn't look at my father's stiff and swollen face when his body swung slowly towards me. Instead, my wobbling legs backed out of the basement and bumped into Mother. No words left my lips as Mother stared me down, then towards her dead husband, and the gentle swaying of static blood and cold flesh.
Awakened by a sudden, throbbing pain that swelled up on my leg. My fingers trickle onto the fleshy interior of my thigh, meeting a ribbed and rough terrain. I sit up and turn my leg out, gasping at the rows of broken skin and dried blood. I lick my fingers and dress my wound in saliva, unsure of the cause.
When I'm away, it's difficult to know what is real and what is happening inside my head. Though, I don't see why that would make it less real.
Do I remember, or did I imagine, pulling back the skin of my legs, scraping and gnawing at the smooth terrain until it's a roughened mountain range that could be seen from space? The seeping, thick blood attaches to my fingers like paint, waiting to be given purpose. My fingers
swirl and slide across the walls the way waves effortlessly rise into peaks and then crash along the shores. Waves now filled with water rise above my head, breaking atop my head and soaking my body in their wake. My hands climb down with the rope as a guide. I'm pulled underneath the surface. Below the broken water line, my eyes follow the rope. To him.
I sink with him this time.
My feet hit solid ground, his feet dangling at my knees.
When I step back, I don't see my father's face plastered upon his lifeless body. I move closer, tracing the blotchy lines, the lack of air fogging my eyes and head. I am face to face with myself, hanging free and still. My father's daughter.
Sleep does not reach me tonight.
The figure hums louder now. It doesn't just sit in the corner anymore but appears in each crevice of my brain, humming into my ears. Covering my ears with my hands is useless, for it lies in the wake inside of me. Sometimes I can feel it crawling around under my skin. I know it's like when I lie in bed all night, staring at it, waiting to see who will blink first.
Awake, I lie, focused on the figure. My eyes attempt to shut, all of the nerves and fibers of my being aching for rest. Drooping slowly, eyelids waver, fluttering closed. They close for a moment, only one moment. I can feel myself giving in.
The figure's gone.
The girl blinks a few times, expecting the figure in the corner to reappear. And nothing. Deep breaths heave in her chest as lying awake has become painful. She turns to lay on her back. A shadow suddenly appears in the corner of her eye. The girl is unafraid when she sees the figure
crouched on the corner of her bed, arms dangling between their legs. Tangled, long hair drapes a hollow face, tickling knee bones jutting out. She stares for several minutes, shaping out the figure, still unable to glimpse their face.
Sitting up slowly, black splotches obliterate the girl's vision, and her head rushes to the humming sound. A smile unconsciously forms on the girl's face at that sound, tears pooling in her eye socket, ready to burst free at any moment. A warmness cascades off the figure, heating her
chilled bones. What was this thing before her?
The figure inched closer, using the tips of its fingers to crawl toward the girl. A rush of cold air entered the girl as it reached her feet, which were spread out in front of her. The girl knew what to do this time, for she had prepared for this night. Her legs drooped over the side of the bed, and
she stood up, her arm clutching the side table to avoid falling over. Turning back to the figure, she sees it standing up, peering down upon her. The girl takes a matchbox and lights a match, placing the end onto a candle. Fresh cotton. Staring into it for a moment, she wonders how fire
could be so beautiful but deadly for the unassuming.
She spun her head around, and the figure stood before her, darkness still consuming her. The girl brought the candle between them, a careful lightness to illuminate each other. They stared, as they have done for many moons, with its light not being enough to capture the image the girl
longed for. But she has it now, allowing droplets of tears to paint her cheeks with watercolor.
The other girl takes the candle and places it on the bedside table. Darkness consumes the girl once again, as it has for so long. The other girl wraps her dark purple fingers around the girl's neck. Squeezing, tighter, and tighter. The smile never leaves the girl's face, even as veins pop on
her face and breath struggles to escape her throat. Still, the girl's arms dangle at her side, and her eyes remain on the other girl. Right up until the end. A final tightening of her grip renders the girl's eyes plastered open and her mouth spread wide.
The other girl lightens her hold, letting the girl fall out of her grip onto the floor below. She takes the candle, staring at the girl one last time, before letting it go and hitting the ground. A blaze of fire engulfs the covers and the rug below the girl, wrapping its claws around her so tenderly.
Now she lays there, red and blistering, sickly flesh sliding off fresh meat and bones. The other girl's eyes swell with a profound release, watching herself being swallowed whole by the world that gave her life.
Heavenly Bodies by Jamie Willoughby
Don't Tell Me by Cristina Querrer