Sarah Crossland likes to write poems about dead people, holiness, roller coasters, and love. The recipient of the 2012 Boston Review Poetry Prize, a 2013 AWP Intro Journals Award, and the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize, she is currently working on a book about disguises and forgeries called Impostress. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and you can read more of her poetry at sarahcrossland.com.
J. Fossenbell’s poems are hanging around at Short, Fast & Deadly, Whole Beast Rag, ILK journal, Everyday Other Things and Wazee Independent Journal; essays and translations can be spotted at Radioactive Moat, Delerious Hem, Parabasis, Cerise Press and The Word magazine. Originally from Colorado, J. currently lives in Minneapolis and attends MFA school at the University of Minnesota.
Lately, J. has been having dreams about mammals. In the daylight they seep out as furry, milky poems. J. loves stacks of things, word noise, and being related to gorillas. J. was born in a pigpen, then again under a juniper tree. There may have been singing and jet engines involved.
A WOMB IS LIKE A SOUFFLE
yeah, i’ve been slinging that disco wand around like it’s no big thing but look at my toes
i’ve been cloned twice but still all three of me want to go the same wheres, so i ate them
i don’t consider it cannibalism if it’s eating yourself, but i could see someone calling foul
i can’t go on,
i’ll go on, if i must
i’ve got your god particle
right here, if you know what i mean
i’m literally bottomless and i mean that, literally
i do not end
INSERT: (where someone says something about punching something)
(where i’m standing in a cranberry bog full of liars)
(where my watch is ticking backwards so i never live another new second)
I HAVE BEEN COLLECTING ALL YOUR THOUGHTS IN MY HEART
Lauren Hunter is from North Carolina and lives in Brooklyn. She received her MFA in poetry from The New School and works with the team at Telephone Books as their Managing Editor. Lauren is the co-founder/curator of the Electric Pumas, a reading series/revolution in New York City. Her chapbook, My Own Fires, was released by Brothel Books in 2011.
E. K. Gordon
If Gay Marriage were Legal I’d be Divorced
Twice, at least, and I’d have a House
Celia, you know I would have gone down on one knee
and given the four chambers of my heart to you
in a setting made of the circle of all my years
and you would have said no and I would have known
sooner. I should have let you give me
the VW, should have given you
the cat. You know my family never asked
What happened to that Celia?
Five years. Did your father ask about that shiksa
who blushed so easily? I still have
the little Yiddish he gave me, still have him.
Diane, I know you loved me. In Colorado,
when we lay on that house of a boulder watching a summer storm
cross the plain like a ship of lightning
you might have asked what could not then in any state
be asked and I would have said no
and you would have known
sooner. Thank you for teaching my brother
to use your camera.
Thank you for sending the pictures
when he died. Thank you for the picture of him
you keep in your mind.
Kaki. Six tiny diamonds from my great aunt Helen’s ring,
three to each silver band to unite us in the holy
river of our state
park campground where the current
knocked us nearly over. A job
the years completed. I call you X,
call you often, call you friend.
Not long ago I had a great blue heron
inked into my back, for a big birthday
I thought, but the blades of grass,
meant to show the heron hunting in a marsh, came out
an X over and through that heron’s heart,
divorce papers from a universe that knows
we were married. I don’t do commitment
very well I guess but maybe if I’d had
the decorated hall, the layered cake, the guts
to ask or be asked, to say no, yes, wait, change . . . .
Oh what does it matter?
Marriage equality comes too late for me.
It’s a summer storm I watch
alone on a boulder, calculating
not distance but the alternate universes
that keep remorse so busy.
E. K. Gordon lives in New York’s Hudson River Valley and teaches writing in the online division of Northampton Community College. Recent work by her has appeared at Salon, Moonshot, Viral Cat Press, and IthacaLit. Her nonfiction narrative Walk with Us: Triplet Boys, Their Teen Parents and Two White Women Who Tagged Along won an Indie Book Award. “Love Cohoes,” her first full collection of poetry, is due out in spring 2014 from CDD Books. As elizag, she regularly dons the persona of a slam poet. Her poetry has “won bouts” at Women of the World Poetry Slam, the International World Poetry Slam, New York City’s Urbana Slam and elsewhere. For more, ekg3.com.
Five Amulet Stories
To Ward Off Poverty
The islanders rejoiced when Terry arrived on Kharis with an amulet to ward off poverty though the Kharisians never considered themselves poor and were unsure why they were rejoicing since they were happy living simple lives. That was before Terry, a charismatic trickster, convinced them that money would make them even happier. Immediately, dollar bills sprouted like weeds. Bank notes grew on trees. The money was fake. But to islanders who used only seeds for trading, counterfeit currency was as real as the seeds they now trampled underfoot.
To Ward Off Regret
What’s that? asked Horace. Sally held in her outstretched hand a piece of nothing. At least, that’s what Horace would have called it if he had called it anything at all. Throw that away! You can’t just pick things up off the ground like that, he said. But she just stood there staring at it. They were about to announce their engagement on the island of Kiobo. But since the night she saw this amulet in a dream, she had her doubts. Throw that away! he said again, as her palm closed around it.
To Ward Off Confusion
No one was particularly concerned when Celeste put her pajamas in the refrigerator. But when she cut her napkin with a knife and fork during lunch at a fancy restaurant, the inhabitants on the island of Siroca took notice. After the meal, they strode in a group to consult Consuela, the Wise One. Sure enough, she gave them an amulet to ward off confusion. If you give this to Celeste, she said, she will be fine but her confusion may spread to all of you. What can we do to avoid that? they asked. Give it back, Consuela replied.
To Ward Off Worry
The islanders of Tivi Velu were worriers. They worried about their families, their health, their finances, their friends, their futures, the weather and every possible catastrophe–even those they had yet to imagine. One day a pelican arrived on shore and held in its beak an amulet to ward off worry. Some islanders worried that it might not work, others worried that it would. What would they do if they didn’t worry? While the pelican waited, a debate ensued, so heated in fact that no one noticed the bird fly off with the amulet still in its beak.
To Ward Off Aggression
Savoy, the island spokesman, was engaged in the new culture of tourism on the island of Nilow. But what does Nilow have to offer tourists? asked the newscaster. We have snorkeling and diving, guest houses with ceiling fans, good restaurants, beautiful beaches. What about crime? the newscaster asked. He had heard about drugs, burglaries, murders, rapes, satanic cults and beheadings. That doesn’t happen on our side, Savoy said. The clan on Nilow who catch sea urchins to sell and live in huts by the water still practice “primitive” rituals, he said. What’s that you’re wearing around your neck? the newscaster asked. Savoy touched the chain with the amulet to ward off aggression. That’s how we keep the peace, he said.
Roberta Allen is the author of eight books, including two short short collections, a novella-in-shorts, the novel, The Dreaming Girl, reissued by Ellipsis Press 2011, and Fast Fiction, the first guide to writing short shorts. A visual artist as well, she has exhibited worldwide, with work in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum. She runs private writing workshops. www.robertaallen.com
They concluded that Ran Manville had shimmied up the maple tree, crawled across the one low limb, and heaved himself onto Gwendolyn Lutz’s roof. As to why, no one had a good answer. It didn’t make much sense—a guy like him perched on a roof and singing “Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello” so the whole neighborhood could hear. Granted, he was a little touched, in Tommy Pahl’s words, but Ran Manville didn’t seem like the type to express himself in such an outward manner or shimmy his way up anything. Helen Wheeler claimed it was some kind of romantic gesture. Calvin Sumner blamed the humidity—unprecedented soupy air that had been hanging around for weeks. Muriel Wonsettler called it a ritual of some sort. Her husband dismissed that out-of-hand and argued that not everything has to be a ritual. “Some things,” he said, “are just what they are.” And Marigold Holloway blamed it on liquor. “Everyone just accepts it nowadays,” she said.
But the real question was how to get Ran down. He seemed beyond conversation. And even if he wasn’t revved up on Jacob McComby’s hooch, which was most likely the case, he’d always been the faraway type—the kind of guy who looked untethered and floating way out there in his own affairs. He’d been a calm boy and then a handsome teenager—dark marble eyes and a razor jaw. But in his twenties, something happened. His face expanded. He took on cumulus dimensions. By thirty, he was a mass. The dark eyes receded into a field of cakey flesh, and the thin-lipped smirk that had given him an aura of vitality in his teen years turned into a dunderheaded smile that made people reach quick conclusions. It was clear that he’d dropped out of school not because he had some other destiny but because his brain was tied up in business that made him unable to read and write. “Not a quite a retard” is how Calvin Sumner put it.
Sheriff Douglas pulled up around 11:00. They watched him sit in the patrol car, study the roof, put on his hat, and get out. He nodded in their direction and walked up to the front porch where Gwendolyn Lutz met him. They couldn’t hear the back and forth, but the conversation didn’t seem like a good one—plenty of head shaking and staring at the porch floor.
The sheriff went around back, and Muriel Wonsettler brought up the fact that there’d been an accident out on 576 already that morning—that a couple of kids were racing and drove each other into a ditch, which was probably why the sheriff was so late on the scene and pretty haggard. And then Murray Wonsettler brought up the Ronnie LeCroix situation from the spring before. Everyone knew the story—how Ronnie got himself drunk, went out to the Gregorys’ pond, and announced that he was repossessing it on behalf of his ancestors. The sheriff had to intervene not only to keep Mr. Gregory from using his shotgun but also to pull Ronnie LeCroix from the water after he’d jumped in and sank. Granted, there was currently a 250-pound man perched on a roof, singing, and probably—almost certainly—drunk. But the sheriff had seen worse. Everyone agreed on that point.
Even though they couldn’t see Ran from the grass, they knew he was way at the top—not on the mudroom, but the main slope, a good forty feet up. Gwendolyn Lutz’s house was one of those brick two-stories with a full attic, made at the turn of the century—back when people built toward the sky.
“Especially out here on the flatland,” Murray Wonsettler said.
“Especially out here,” Calvin Sumner said. “Anything to get away from the ground.”
And Muriel added they wouldn’t be able to strong-arm Ran if it came to that. The slope was too much. Someone would fall.
By noon, the sheriff had conscripted the Wonsettlers’ ladder and climbed onto the mudroom. He stood with his face at the lip of the main roof trying to communicate with Ran, but it was a one-way channel. From the grass, everyone could see the top of Ran’s head and how he was scuttling away—casually scooting off like those pileated woodpeckers that know, somehow, exactly where your vision ends. That’s how Tommy Pahl described it. And everyone nodded or kept thoughts to themselves because they could hear movement—Ran’s shoes or pants scraping the shingles as he made progress along the peak. And then he appeared, his whole girth finally and fully visible, now resting against the chimney. He held the jug of hooch, sure enough, and stared out over the houses, oblivious to the huddle on the lawn below.
The sun crested over the two giant cottonwoods on the east side of the street and shone on Ran’s body curled up against the bricks. Marigold brought up heat stroke. “Someone,” she said, “had better get up there and pull him down.” Frank Mallard agreed. “They wait too much longer and they may as well get a gurney.” Calvin Sumner wondered why they wouldn’t get the fire department—the cherry picker or even one of those trampolines. Tommy Pahl said they should let Ran fall asleep, which was bound to happen, and then roll off because quite often people don’t get injured if they’re entirely limp. The impact, he said, goes right through the skeletal system and into the air. Helen Wheeler thought they should bring out a couple of semi-truck trailers and park them on either side of the house. Muriel Wonsettler said they’d never get Mrs. Lutz to allow such destruction to her lawn and ceramics. And Frank Mallard said someone with authority had to end this foolery even if it meant getting out the handcuffs and billystick. “You have to take control,” he said. “That’s a sheriff’s job.”
And so the talk turned to Sheriff Douglas and his particular reflexes. There was the problem a few months back at Shorty’s Grill involving the group from Indiana who felt like they could push some locals around and then come back the following week and do the same. And there was the situation with Greta Stenson two years prior. She’d announced plans to kill her husband—explaining her intentions and charting them out to everyone within earshot. And rather than intervene, Sheriff Douglas let it happen. “I can’t stop a woman from telling stories,” he said. So like Greta promised, she pierced Michael Stenson through the abdomen when he tried to mount her without asking. The weapon—as most people had heard—was Michael Stenson’s own scaling knife.
By late afternoon, nearly everyone in town who wasn’t working had gathered on Avondale Drive to listen for Ran Manville’s voice—how it would blather out another line or two from that same song, the one he’d been singing in arrhythmic starts and stops for at least six hours. It had become sloppier, like he was arguing. In the lapses people nodded their heads, agreeing that he’d finally succumbed to the liquor and heat. But then a warbling tone would start up and roll out over the lawns. Marcus Jennings explained that Ran had surpassed normal human tolerance for heat. The Wonsettlers, who had a daughter in medicine, agreed. Ran Manville was plenty beyond what a body could take. There was some kind of endurance stored up inside him.
Not everyone remembered seeing Ran grow into the thick and loafy creature above them. But Marigold Holloway said what a few others were thinking. Little Randolph Manville was one of those kids from the Church of the Nazarene, the one that Lorna Ferrick cursed with a bucket of river mud. It had been twenty years. Plenty of people never knew about the curse in the first place, and plenty had let it flutter away. There wasn’t any proof. No one could say for sure that Lorna Ferrick did what some said. But it was hard not to see a pattern—how the Polk kids flamed out early, how the Housmans withered away, and how the other Manvilles went crazy or off to jail. And it wasn’t hard to look at Randolph, the youngest in the family, and imagine that something unnatural had happened. There was a deep kind of trouble in all that flesh.
As the sun carved its way toward the fields, Gwendolyn Lutz joined the huddle, which had moved further into the grass where the Wonsettlers’ house created a valley of shade. There was lemonade. Frank Mallard brought a flask and sweetened things up for anyone who wasn’t offended. And Mrs. Lutz explained that the sheriff had finally made a decision—that he could no longer hope for a natural resolution. Marigold said it was about time. Calvin Sumner agreed. He said that getting hurt was a risk you take for coming around and terrorizing a single woman, a widow for that matter. “That’s the risk of birddoggin,” he said.
Muriel Wonsettler asked Mrs. Lutz if she intended on pressing charges. Marigold Holloway answered for her, saying she’d better get something on the books or else Ran’s excursion to her roof might well turn into something else, like, according to Marcus Jennings, an excursion into the living room. No one asked Mrs. Lutz why Ran had climbed up there—if she knew why, if she had a guess, if she wanted to offer one. No one asked but everyone watched the back of her head while she studied her own house. And Frank Mallard took the opportunity to get an eyeful—standing, as he was, behind and a little to the east where he could see the silhouette of hamstring—until he caught Marigold Holloway’s eyes watching his.
Calvin Sumner decided he’d had enough standing, said so, and then walked off to join the sheriff. Twenty minutes later, they both came walking up the ally dragging a bare mattress, which flopped, resisted, and tried to pour itself free as they shoved it upward and onto the mudroom roof. From the ground, everyone understood the plan. They’d drag Ran to the mudroom. If he got too squirmy, they’d muscle him on down, let him flop the five or six feet and land, at the least, on some cushion. “It’s not like that ape’s made of glass,” Frank Mallard said.
They waited. They felt an end coming, and it came in the form of Calvin Sumner’s body. They watched it spiral over the peak, tumble toward them, drop, and thunk onto Gwendolyn Lutz’s lawn. Other than Muriel Wonsettler’s outstretched right hand, an attempt, maybe, to grip the scene and twist it into something else, everyone stood like pillars. They watched the sheriff jump onto the mattress. They heard him yelling while he crashed his way down the ladder and ran to the Calvin Sumner’s side. They stood back because the sheriff’s hand was giving them the stop signal—shoving at them through the air. They didn’t turn away or move forward. They watched Calvin Sumner’s body stay bent and crumpled until the ambulance arrived, until two men in gray uniforms wedged a wooden plank into the grass and lifted him away. They watched the ambulance pull off, its sirens piercing the calm humidity. Marigold Holloway whispered something about the Sumner children—both so young. And before anyone could figure something else to say, they looked to see Sheriff Douglas already up the ladder, lifting himself onto the main roof, disappearing behind the peak. They heard three gunshots—a shot and then silence, another shot, more silence, and then a final shot.
John Mauk has a Masters degree in literature from the University of Toledo and a PhD in rhetoric from Bowling Green State University. His chapbook, The Rest of Us, was published by Michigan Writers. His forthcoming story collection, Field Notes for the Earthbound, will be available on Black Lawrence Press in 2014. He currently teaches at Miami University of Ohio. For more info, please see www.johnmauk.com.
You appear from the peripheral. You are nothing in focus, nothing substantive, you’re only the glimpse of a cat, running under a car or wingtip crooning, passing high overhead. You are not real because she does not see you. You have been eyeing her, tracking her for seasons now; she’s as real as it gets. You’ve been waiting for her to notice, but you remain nonexistent. If she were to remember you, she’d be remembering someone else. This truth is throwing its weight against your ribs, you are asking yourself, how do I become real to her, whom I want more than ginger or sleep? And if I’m not real to her, do I exist at all––does this matter––these eye-ticks, these clammy palm-lines? Yes, you want to dissipate, or melt, or drip into some kind of creature that exists for the subterranean, but you are freckled flesh and blood and you aren’t meant for smoke. Yes, this has made you head-dive into parking lot stains, made you bike so fast downhill, your tires burped and left the pavement, made you drink until such doubt could not find surface, it was ugly. You commit these acts of recklessness to convince yourself you are not just a pile, to remind yourself your behavior has repercussions, that maybe she will see you. She has not.
You cannot exist on your own. Your identity is formed from a series of parental stories spoken slow from the mouth and Sunday horoscopes and gossip you heard from other people about yourself—your identity emerges from this composite of outside perceptions, continues to with each body you meet. How people have thought of you, how they perceive you, it is the only thing that matters. You are no owl, no fox. You are pack wolf, you are hive wasp. You need affirmation, and right now, at this moment in time, right here in this garage, you are seeking hers. To become more than shadow: to become a sensation within her memory, this desire burns you. You want her to cut your name across her teeth. You want her to feel you like leftover sauerkraut on her tongue. Wanting doesn’t do shit. She does not know your name or your face or your scent. Your talons are sheathed. Stop skirting the edges. Hunt her down.
Katie Wheeler-Dubin, born and raised in San Francisco, enjoys collaboration, ginger, lucid dreaming, and film projects. She has been published in Sparkle + Blink, Poets 11 2012, Carry the Light, and TheNew and has read at numerous Bay Area reading series, such as Porchlight, Quiet Lightning, Portuguese Artists Writing Colony, LitUp Writers, and UC Santa Cruz’ Literature Undergraduate Colloquium. She won the UC Santa Cruz Deans’ Undergraduate Award (2011) and the San Mateo County Fair Best of Show (2012). She pays homage to all indigo children following their hearts.
This Week Is Not an Age of Compromise
For this is the age of election.
Much can be said but nothing is heard
that has not been agreed upon.
Still, we have to talk about the rabbit,
if there is one. Hung from the rafter.
You keep saying and Fox keeps saying
there’s a rabbit hung from the rafter.
But your rabbit isn’t my rabbit, friend.
Amy Eisner teaches creative writing and literature at the Maryland Institute College of Art.