Ekphrasis for “Gathering of Women” by Tamara Adams

            I dream of celebrations
an outdoor wedding in the spring,
And     running barefoot in my wedding dress,
Sunflowers And Daisies hanging from mason jars on Sycamores,
(the only time life has been beautiful when suspended by a branch)
And     my mother is nineteen again,
all penciled eyebrow And brown lip-liner,
all cigarette smoke And navy blue flannel,
And     my great-grandmothers are here again,
all young And sap-smile,
all proud enamel,        all busied over me
with their hands in my hair,
pulling the strands And saying:
            This is the Cherokee,              And This is the Blackfoot,                   This is the Aztec,                     And This, the Georgia Peach,
until my head was a map of braids,                crown of freedom,                  to be feminine And
unafraid in my grandmomma’s arms,            big, black women,               And no one spoke
hushed here,                      all black woman cacophony,
And     my great aunt smiled And pulled amber from the gap in her teeth,
an heirloom,
And     there were hands on my belly until a heartbeat was pulled beneath the fingertips,
And     someone said,             Your baby is dancing
And     so was I,
            were we,
And     everything that spilled from my mouth was laughter And song.
                        Light,
                        Love
Endures,          Forgives,         Rebirths.
My ancestors prayed for me by name. So I am fluent in love.
to love as resistance or to love as defense or to love without loving against anything at all or to
love because it is hopeful and hope is the closest thing I have for religion or to love for everyone
who is gone and for everyone who will ever be or to love because I deserve.


Cheyenne Avila is a Black and Mexican poet and spoken word artist from Southern California. She has three cats and a perpetually messy room. She is a chillona who hopes to use poetry to help marginalized people heal and tell their stories.

Photo credit: J. Carter

Photo credit: J. Carter

Neoliberal Appetites

My stepfather zipped my lime-green vest to the dock handrail where I left it while running barefoot in the muck below. Seven, rain-drenched, digging at my braces with my tongue, I tried to loosen the zipper down. I soon found that it was stuck and abandoned the vest for the handle of my plastic bucket of water and freshly dug clams. Later, a raccoon ate the clams on the house deck one by one with dexterous baby-fingers while Shasta, the retriever, barked and smudged her nose all over the glass door. The raccoon picked each blue-grey clam up, pried it open, and slurped it down while looking into our eyes.

My ducks are missing feathers. Their naked bellies remind me of greasy skin exposed for a slice of butter. A chef’s pinch of herbs. I gobble-quack at them so they know I’m coming and call to my daughter, asking her to drag over fresh bedding and the old grill so I can scoop out spent ashes and sprinkle them in the coop to deter the mites. Dandelion and Madeline waddle the yard, consulting one another with complaints. My daughter runs over in flip-flops and opens the grill to scoop out ash. Instead she finds four yellow jackets building their papery castle.
“Let’s kill them,” she says.
“They’re beautiful,” I say.
“No. They’ll sting you when you’re sitting there. For no reason.”

I have heard this story many times. Her stepmother minding her own business when a wasp stung her for no reason. I return to shoveling the coop while my daughter skips around, talking to me, inspecting grass and dandelions and looking at the sky.
“They don’t do anything” she yells.
“What?” I yell over my shoulder. “They’re beautiful! Look at what they’re doing. Building a home for the queen.”
“They’ll sting.”
“They won’t bite.”
“They don’t bite. They sting. For no reason!”
“So what?” I say, snapping my t, while taking a wood panel out of the coop and hosing it off. “So what if we get stung?”
Bickering now.
I admire yellow jackets. Feet moving rhythmically. Musically. Focused. Feeding babies with insect meat. I wonder if we are bonded species. Me as one. Them as them. Colonies and swarms. Organized. We have met before.

I was four. My mother and father together. Me in patterned culottes and a red shirt with white hems and little pearly buttons—details I recall—wandering along a dead grey-brown hillside near a stream. Shasta beside me.
Abruptly, memory shifts to my body resting against fine grit on cool porcelain. A baking soda bath. Raised bumps on my arms and legs that look like volcanoes. Bits of skin hang off the top of each one, exposing a red lava middle. A doctor friend, a kind man. Tall with a mustache and a soft voice talked with my parents outside the door.
My mother later tells me Shasta stepped on a hive. My father scooped me up. We drove through dormant autumn hills to see the doctor.
After that I carried a self-injecting needle tube. My mother’s mantra, Always remember your bee-sting kit, echoing, a sing-song in my brain. I wore an allergy bracelet locked on my arm with a snake-y red symbol. A defect. A miniature steel handcuff.
My mother searched for an antidote until she found an experimental program with regular injections of anti-venom. I watched intently every time a pasty medical student pulled the needle from a package, sucked liquid from a glass container, flicked it, stabbed my arm, returned some blood, and pressed down.
“How can you watch?” my mother would ask. Every single time.

Eighteen years later I met a wasp again. South America with another twenty-year-old, blue-eyed blonde who winked at our jungle tour guide, obtaining an invitation to an indigenous wedding. We hiked through deep slippery mud over winding roots and under flowers and foliage in too-short dresses, with wooden beads dangling down. Arriving at the clearing, we encountered steaming pots covered in banana leaves where women stirred and checked cooked monkeys, bent grotesquely into fetal position as though they were asleep. We sat in a circle on logs with banana leaf placemats and swallowed fermented drinks out of a gourd passed along. An old woman walked around the circle distributing small servings of dinner. I picked up a piece of meat and found that it was the thumb of a small monkey and the whirled print looked just like mine. I moved the food around a little and adjusted my stance to keep my short dress from sliding up my legs. It didn’t protect me from the wasp on my thigh. A burning sting intensified and swelled into a baseball. I hadn’t remembered my bee sting kit. I sat on the log looking around at the people laughing and talking, smoking and sharing their food. Would my tongue swell? Would my breath cease? I’m only a primate. I could die in the jungle like our dinner. I watched as my leg grew redder. I could hear Quechua conversations and laughter through my anxiety as I monitored the sting. My friend danced and laughed, imagining her glinting smile to be the light of the party. The sun went down and the swelling slowed and stopped just as the sounds of the jungle rose up around us.

We are preparing for the Fourth of July BBQ. In the front yard, a handsome neighbor tells me he killed the disruptive groundhog who had been carefully interrupting our mowed lawns with piles of fresh dirt.
“I stuck a hose in one side of the hole, washed it out, and shot it,” he grins and tilts back a can of beer.
“Why didn’t you relocate her?” I ask.
“Groundhogs are worthless.”
I go to retrieve the grill. More wasps gather. Maybe I should remove them so they don’t sting my daughter. Protect my family. Plug the holes with a glue gun. Light a fire. Put a bag over them. Burn them with the blow torch I use for perfect strawberry crème brûlée. Later, a storm floods out the party and the grill fills with water. I’m certain the queen will drown but when the rain subsides there they are. Building. Focused. I leave them to their work and go inside.


Lisa J Hardy is a medical anthropologist living in northern Arizona with her daughter and their dogs, chickens, and ducks. Her creative work appears or is forthcoming in Riggwelter and Writer’s Resist.

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Wicked Cakes and Chai

“Foreign cakes and wicked cakes”

you call them, and you call them sweet sirens
that glory in quantities of cream and
chocolate and tooth-deep frosting.
I, too, took
my Darjeeling in ice-blue China once,
dear Helen, with hot paratha and sweet cream,
did some wicked reading under the jujuberry:
Kipling’s words like pistol shots ringing through
my verandah—menagerie, I recall, 
the word he used for my city, and for
its glory of faces: weasels, dogs and swine.


I see a sepoy sipping tea

with Rudyard Kipling, and wonder as I
view them, Enfield rifle in hand, what year
I am in, and what kind of tea their bubbling
Samovar has, and being certain Kipling
was born years after the “mutiny,” the
sepoy is likely my male alter-ego.
Tea with a native! Shoo, figment, shoo! We
float away like dandelions to the
sound of the military band. I wake up
bleeding from the wound of a fountain pen.


“four dirty little cakes of the coarsest flour,
about the size and thickness of a biscuit…”

the English magistrate writes with India ink,
examining (with a sudden knot in his
stomach) the chapattis on his Chittagong
Mahogany desk—what secret message
was kneaded in the native dough? How were
the watchmen passing the bread, turban
to turban, reaching across the country
faster than British post? And the meaning
of a lotus wrapped in bread: Deflowered
India writing history in salt and flour?


Tea Fetish

Fetish (from the Portuguese feitiço)
is “a human-made object that has power
over others.” Fold the faces of the dead
in newsprint: It’s half past three, everything
stops for tea
. A homesick princess had a
sinking feeling once—it stopped all the
clocks from Bath to Bengal. Look how a woman
belongs to power, her fetish hangs everywhere:
wedding patios, barbed asylums, office
deals, marbled parlors, memory-dribbling deathbeds.


Brown Memsahib Masquerade

In a sari spun by silkworms spilling
their guts against a gold-edged gossamer
lullaby—her forgetting begins: brown
memsahib on sofa, maid on floor, chai
and sweetmeats on the trolley, remember
your bungalow going up in smoke? The cuts—
soldiers grinding names between teeth? “In the
brown sandwiches are: thinly sliced cucumber,
cream cheese beaten with a few chopped chives, smoked
salmon…” Serrated pages. Book, a hungry saw, a scream.


Shadab Zeest Hashmi, a Pakistani-American poet and essayist, is the winner of the San Diego Book Award and the Nazim Hikmet Prize, and has been nominated for the Pushcart multiple times. Her books include Kohl and ChalkBaker of Tarifa and Ghazal Cosmopolitan: The Culture and Craft of the Ghazal

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To see something in a new light

Call it by its proper name
Know its substance and particulars
Plants matter
Names matter
Spell my name right
Joan, not Jean, June, Joanne
And not Joan d’Arc
Say my name right
Know my name
In all matters
Note the curvature of the peach
Slightly asymmetric cheeks
Perfectly named
Freestone: Red Top, Elegant Lady
Clingstone: Santa Rosa, Red Beauty
Perfectly named, as a matter of fact
As the Walking Stick, Praying Mantis
Or Morning Glory, Zinnia, Cosmos
Hold a bouquet of them
Spread them across a table
Press them between pages
Of a book that matters
Examine their essentials
Imagine the savor of their nectars
Like the hummingbird 
Who might have tasted
The juice of the nasturtium
Instead she saw her self reflected
In the window pane and now lies
Sideways eyes closed
Thin tongue extended 
Reaching from a beak itself
Elongated threadlike extrusion

Name it: filament 
And she: Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Born in a nest of spider silk and plant down

Faultless, I defy nature
By touching the crumbled hummingbird,
Let its lifeless weight sway
For a mere moment to hang
In air unlike ever in its life—
A singular dart in lightness
Or a mid-air hang on fierce wings—
To bring it into my palm to lay its slight weight to rest:
The least to offer it.
I desecrate its plumage by my probe and tug
My bony fingers spread its transparent wing parts
To form a half-moon span:
A declarative of beauty, I relish its examination.
Twisting and turning its limp whole,
With paired thumbs to index
I pinch the wings wide open.
Such a complexity of feathers run, tilt, then fan—
Folding like origami, wing parts perfectly slide against
And into each other to align like a mechanism
Of fine watch innards,
A filigree engineered to propel and hover.
An articulation of framed light,
Formed for speed and endurance.
A kaleidoscope of feather
I can barely take my eyes away from.
Its black eyes stare back, glistening.

She said his eyes were the last she wanted to look into.
When he held her death with his eyes,
Is this what it felt like? To hold the passing
Of a warm featherweight of pristine,
A spectacle of repose:
An afternoon’s unexpected aftermath.


Joan Hofmann serves on Executive Boards of Riverwood Poetry and Connecticut Poetry Society and is Poet Laureate of Canton, Connecticut. Her poems are/will be published in various journals/anthologies, including Rumble Fish QuarterlyJuniperBird’s ThumbSpaces, and Freshwater, and in two chapbooks: Coming Back (2014) and Alive (2017).

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A Freekeh Story: Of Love, Loss and Threshed Wheat

Sahtain.
I place the demitasse of thick coffee on the small table. Its steam curls up in soft wisps, seeking out and carrying my salutations to the land of the dead, in the spirit of burning incense in ancient Egyptian temples. My words are a silent prayer, invisible tendrils that stretch from my mouth and into the shadows of afterlife that hover nearby and palpable, in the days that followed my father’s death.
Today it is coffee. Tomorrow it may be a small plate of aromatic rice and chicken with pine nuts, or semolina cake with rosewater. On very bad days, when grief sits sharp and heavy like a rock in the pit of my stomach, these cups of strong coffee with cardamom are the only thing which binds me to the person who no longer is—who is now referred to only in past tense. Wary of explanation, I hide these small gifts away in the corners of rooms, under chairs and tables, tucked out of sight. I do it often enough that sometimes I forget them and am surprised to stumble upon their greyish, tepid remnants days later. Even then I am fiercely protective of the liberty they provide me: the unforgiveable sin that is not letting go.
My father’s spirit or soul, roh in Arabic, was extinguished in the early hours of a summer day in June. His physical form was reduced to ashes several days later. All this I witnessed and understood to be true. What I could not accept and had not anticipated was the fact that his death would in time absorb all memory, wearing away even the echo of his heavy gait on the stairs, the resonating timbre of his voice when he spoke my name, leaving behind a vacuum that weighed heavy in the space around me, threatening always to pull me in.
Before sickness wasted his body and quelled his appetite, my father loved to eat. And the dish that he missed the most from his childhood was freekeh, a kind of green wheat which is roasted then threshed. It is sturdy, coarse and filling. The first time I tasted freekeh was in Palestine, where my mother-in-law, prepared it with fragrant spices in a broth with chicken. When cooked, freekeh has a texture somewhere between brown rice and barley, but its flavour is nutty and more complex. It is considered “peasant food” because of how cheap and easy it is to prepare and because a bowl in the morning will keep your belly full well into the afternoon.
After my father died, there were days when I was consumed by a brutal and merciless sense of guilt. Among my many regrets was the fact that I had never learned to make freekeh. While he was alive, I never felt the need for anything more to bind him to me than his presence. Once he was gone, I yearned for anything that might bring him closer—if not back—to me.
There is a recipe for freekeh in a cookbook I own. Food from the Arab World was published in the 1950s and is a loving testament to the friendship between an American woman and her Lebanese friend. The cookbook captures a sentiment that seems impossible nearly seventy years after it was written: that of a Middle East that is relatable and human, if not somewhat exotic. The tone of the book in its explanations of traditional cooking techniques and the cultural rituals which surround them is approachable and strangely intimate. When I read it, I picture the American woman seated on the floor of a small, tiled kitchen, feverishly taking notes while her Lebanese friend, hair tied back with a scarf, pauses in the middle of filling marrow squash with rice and lamb to ensure that the author has correctly captured the balance of spices in the stuffing, or the thickness of the tomato slices which line the bottom of the pot.
The connection between food and the dead is well-documented throughout human history. In ancient Rome, family members were known to honour their deceased ancestors by visiting their graves and leaving offerings of cake and wine during the festival of Parentalia. The Mexican Dia de los Muertos, which predates Spanish conquest and is traced to an ancient Aztec ceremony, similarly involves the commemoration of the dead through food and drink. And in modern Vietnam, many family homes have an ancestral altar, where on the anniversary of the death of a loved one, generous offerings are made in their honour. I can’t say that my cooking was inspired by these traditions, but somehow I seized on the idea of food having the potential to close the space between me and whatever residual fragments of my father’s being were still floating around in the universe.
It took a good amount of time to perfect the recipe, and my experiments reflected the complexities of Levantine regional cooking. Over the course of many months—adjusting and omitting ingredients, knowing what to roast and when—my grief slowly became less dependable. The world of the living in the form of work, appointments, and children, stubbornly and persistently intruded on the soft shroud of mourning that surrounded me. Soon it seemed like there was less and less time for the cooking of intricate and unfamiliar dishes. Weeks went by without touching the cookbook, even as the gaping hole inside me grew smaller. My grief was still discernible to me, a dependable presence that moved with me through the daylight hours, but by the time a year had gone by, I no longer had the energy to sustain its demands. My offerings became smaller, less frequent.
This summer marks the tenth anniversary of my father's death. From time to time, the void that he left behind still demands offerings and I, for the most part, obey. Most recently, I made ma’moul: I mixed semolina, butter and rosewater together then filled the coarse dough with pureed dates. When they came out of the oven, I dusted them carefully with confectioner’s sugar and left two on a plate in the kitchen with a demitasse of coffee, this time unhidden.
Sahtain: its literal translation is double health, but its meaning is subtler. In the tradition of Arab hospitality, sahtain is a gracious wish for good health and a long life. It is a blessing on the person who consumes the food, but also on the person who cooked it, in that they have the pleasure of seeing the happiness of their guest.
When they go, our dead leave us behind. We remain in the land of the living, left to contend with the searing hunger of our loss. My small offerings started out as a way to bridge the distance between life and death, to selfishly prolong my father's passage into the afterlife. Now, ten years later, the demitasse and the ma’moul are the physical manifestations of my memories of him. Their fragrance, their taste of sweet or bitter or sour is a reminder of the space he once occupied, that no amount of thick, black coffee can fill.


Else Khoury is Palestinian by blood and Canadian by birth. She lives in Niagara, Canada, where she scribbles fiction, non-fiction and poetry at night and consults on privacy compliance during the day. Her work can be found in Sukoon, The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post, Full Grown People, and Dragon Poet Review (Fall 2018).Her twitter handle is @yaffawiya.

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On This Particular Morning

Two birds were arguing with each other
as I walked, half asleep
to nowhere
lovers in a drunken quarrel
dancing on the bar top for all to see
I say this because it was loud and
boisterous
rumbling above the other sounds
above the noise of my own footsteps
above the rattle of the coming train
and the booming airplane engines
in the sky
they were in two separate trees
on two separate streets
the air was cold
the kind of cold that settles into the bones
and makes its home for days at a time
with no intention of leaving
the sun was coming up
as it had been doing so earlier and earlier
and I could tell just by staring into it
how it reflected from every branch
in the spider web of trees
how everything was lit just so
spring would soon be here
the sunrise had that look to it today
sometimes in the Fall as well
but this sunrise doesn’t come with a
sadness
the awareness that every living thing
will start to wilt and crumble
but instead be born again
so they argued
in the naked branches
of the separate trees
unaware and indifferent
to the idea that I was listening to everything
I pulled my coat tightly around my neck
adjusted my hat for the hundredth time
felt for my house keys
stepped over a tree root
squinted from the sun
and walked on
letting them continue their disagreement
I let the wind blow through the branches
I left the squirrels to forage
stepped aside allowing the waking life
to reach up to the rising sun
watched the feral cats prowl
watched it all fade behind me
until everything was silent once again
except for the sound of my footsteps
thumping in tune with
my own beating heart


Ken Tomaro is an artist and writer living in Cleveland, Ohio. His work has been published in several literary journals. He has also published three collections of poetry, available on Amazon. His work centers around everyday life with a heavy dose of depression.

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Cars My Father Has Bought, Working Back to the Dawn of Time

A PT Cruiser, sloped forward like
a forehead, with no power steering.
Sunroof leaks. A Dodge minivan
his German shepherds can climb into.
We drive it into town the afternoon
before Easter, silent. Behind us
both dogs smack their lips in the heat.
He fiddles with the checkbook half
risen from his shirt pocket, and then
the radio. He says he won’t take long.

A Dodge pickup off a lot in Texas.
Another Dodge, its bumper cracked
into a stuttering apology
in a traffic accident, was the last
car his mother rode in. A wine-red
pickup before that recalled three times
in the year he owned it. Mirrors,
seat belts, brakes. Traded for the van.

Sometime before that a Cadillac
more brand name than car. Threw oil.
A string of Lincolns in the Nineties.
He drove a hundred miles to work each day.
Crown Victoria, a Caprice
my grandmother once drove off a hill,
through a pasture, and home again.
I once coaxed a girl into its backseat.

An Oldsmobile with worthless seats,
given to my mother. A Chevy
dually that never stopped pushing
air through its vents. He covered the dash
in masking tape, ruined the finish.

And before that a yellow F-150
I know only from photographs:
parked in a field behind him, a newborn
calf at his feet. My mother
in bridal white, on his arm, smiling.
A tailgate picnic, the three of us
bundled for winter in a driveway
long since behind us. He drove me
into life, delivered me quietly
to childhood. He looks from the window.
Out there somewhere the asphalt ends.
We don’t acknowledge it.


Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems) and Tall Tales from the Ladies' Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming). His work recently has appeared in Kenyon Review, Wigleaf, Split Lip, Juked and elsewhere. He resides in Southern Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.  

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One Eye to Heaven

A stray dog wandered into our yard one day, scaring the chickens into a real tizzy. They clucked and squawked like they were under attack. Daddy ran out to the porch to see what the hell was going on, and we followed close behind, my sister and me. We saw the mutt right away, and it was a strange one, though he wasn’t after the chickens at all. He’d pushed his way through an opening in the fence surrounding our empty doghouse, sniffing around like he’d found his home at last. We’d lost our last litter of pups to parvo, and Daddy said the virus lived in the ground there, all around the doghouse. We tossed everything out that could have been contaminated, like the bowls for food and water, a couple of chew toys, and a tattered old blanket. We took our little terrier and moved her to a new home, out near the shed. Daddy was still trying to decide what to do with the old doghouse.
Rubbing his stubbly chin like he often did when thinking something over, he glanced down at us for a moment before returning his gaze to the dog. “Tell you what,” he said, sensing our excitement, “you two get rid of that dog, or I will. Got it?”
“Yeah,” my sister said, clasping her hands together. “We’ll chase it off.”
“You better,” he warned. “You ain’t gonna like it if I have to take care of it.”
I watched my sister take off, ready for the challenge. She looked gawky running through the yard, her legs and arms like toothpicks. Not that I was any different. Both of us were long-limbed skinny things, about the same height, each with straw-colored hair and eyes as blue as the sky above our heads. Some folks mistook us for twins, but my sister always corrected them, huffing and puffing that she was older than me—one year and eleven months, to be precise. We didn’t look much like our parents, especially since they both had dark hair, but Mama said that’d change soon enough. She guaranteed our hair would darken over time, though I had my doubts.
Up at the dog lot, we stopped to assess the situation. My sister was more the animal lover than me, doting on any creature that happened to cross our paths—the baby bird that fell from its nest, the rabbit our cat half-killed the previous summer, or a turtle we found near the creek. As we stared at the dog, I asked her if she thought it had rabies.
“Nah,” she answered. “Poor thing’s just scared.”
Considering he ran behind the house away from us, whimpering, she was probably right. The dog was fat for a stray. His fur was black, though he had some brown splotches here and there, mostly on his face and paws. He’d come out, only to retreat behind the house again. I worried that the scuffed-up spot on his backside might have been mange. My sister started sweet-talking him, but it didn’t do any good. He maintained his distance, keeping his tail tucked between his legs. When my sister leaned over the fence, holding her hand out, I warned her that he might bite.
“He ain’t gonna bite me,” she scoffed. “Come here boy, c’mon.”
She managed to get him close enough to sniff her fingers through the fence, but he kept backing off. He’d go inside the doghouse, come out and circle it, then approach us again, right before backing away. Frantic and full of energy, he couldn’t seem to sit still. He wagged his tail some, like he wanted to play but wasn’t quite sure if we could be trusted. My sister decided to try a new tactic. She walked over to the part of the fence that wasn’t attached to a post, pulling it back as far as she could. “Here, hold it open,” she told me. “I’ll scare him out.”
I did my part, watching my sister make her way to the back of the pen. She picked up a stick and beat it along the fence, yelling the whole time. “Go on, get! Get outta here!” That stupid dog didn’t get, though. He ran inside the doghouse to hide from all the noise.
“Now what?”
“I don’t know,” my sister said, staring down at our house, worried. We didn’t know what Daddy would do if we didn’t succeed. He was as unpredictable as a hurricane, and sometimes just as destructive. He could be nice and sweet, and though he was always sorry the next day, we didn’t know what he might do when he had too much to drink. He yelled at our mama about all kinds of stuff, and sometimes he hit her too, all while we watched, the two of us lined up like dolls, unable to stop him. Unable to move at all.
“Should we try to pull him out?” I asked.
“Maybe,” she answered, grabbing the fence with both hands. She pulled it back and forth, nervously. “Yeah, I’m going in.”
I watched her pull the fence down and hop over. She took a hesitant step towards the doghouse, bending down towards the entrance. The dog watched her the whole time. She tried more sweet talk, but he wouldn’t budge. If only that damned mutt hadn’t been so stubborn. She got closer, reaching out with one hand, but the dog suddenly snapped at her. She jumped back, scared. “Be careful,” I warned.
She shot me her special fed-up look before walking around to the back of the doghouse, giving it a good hard kick. She kicked it over and over again, making such a racket the dog finally jumped out. “Go on, get outta here!” my sister yelled, approaching him. When the stupid thing started growling, she jumped back over the fence to join me. At least she’d gotten it out of the doghouse.
Just then, we heard the screen door creak open. There Daddy was on the porch, rifle in hand. “Get down here right now!” he yelled. We did as we were told, knowing better than to argue. As we got up on the porch, Daddy stepped down. We kept our eyes on him, praying he wouldn’t do it. “I told you,” he said quietly. “I warned you both.” After taking a few more steps, he held the rifle up and took aim. Knowing it was too late, we turned away, covering our ears.
But nothing could muffle the sound of his gun exploding when he pulled the trigger. I felt an intense rupture of pain, like a deep, jagged fissure opening inside my head, splitting it in two–before and after. The first thing I saw when I turned around was Daddy lowering his rifle to the ground. He’d done what he said he would do.
My sister and I looked past him to see the dog stumbling around in circles, yelping desperately as some smooth, glistening organ slipped out from the gaping wound. The dog twisted its head back, sniffing at the newly formed hole in its side, at the things falling out. There was a surprising lack of blood. For such a fatal wound, one would expect more blood.
My sister made a strange hiccup noise and ran into the house. I wanted to follow her, to run to my room and bury my head beneath the pillow, shutting out the echo of that single gunshot, but I couldn’t. With the sound of my father’s boots stomping across the porch, I knew the world would go on like nothing had changed. He opened the screen door. “It was just a mutt,” he said, leaving me alone.
As I walked up through the yard, I watched as more of the dog’s innards came tumbling out, trailing after it. I felt so dizzy, like the world had been turned upside down, knocking me loose.
By the time I got up there, the poor thing was losing steam. Panting, each breath came slower than the one before. I knew it wouldn’t be much longer. After dragging itself around in one more slow, tortuous circle, it slumped over, giving up at last. With one eye to Heaven, its head rested against the ground. I couldn’t stand what I was witnessing but couldn’t force myself to look away. I knew I had to stay with that dog until the end. I bent down on my knees and gripped the fence. For a moment, its eye shifted over and took me in—the last living thing it would ever see. When that eye returned to the sky, I imagine it saw something else, something beyond Heaven and Hell.
And then it was over.
With a trembling hand, I reached out to make sure, rubbing its snout. I closed my eyes and reached further, feeling the warm, sticky blood around the wound. Startled, I pulled my hand back and jumped up. I stared at the black blood covering my fingertips, mesmerized. After taking a deep breath, I rubbed it across my white shirt. I had never been so scared in my life. I looked down at our red house and could have sworn I saw my father’s shadow in the window, watching me. He’d done this awful thing, but it was more than that. Terrified, I realized I didn’t know him at all, this man called Daddy.
Something new was born inside me that day—something warm and slick like an organ, filled with the darkest desire. I clenched my fists together, wishing I could make him pay for all the things he’d ever done—to me, my sister, my mother, and the dog. I wanted to march down to the house and take the gun from the cabinet, lifting it up in his direction while watching him squirm. But I knew it wasn’t possible. I wasn’t big enough to handle that gun, and I didn’t feel sure I was ready to pull the trigger.
Not yet, anyway.


Cameron L. Mitchell grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. His work has appeared in
Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Queer South Anthology, Literary Orphans, Coffin Bell Journal, and a few other places. He lives in New York and works in archives at Columbia University. Find him on Twitter: @CameronLMitchel.

Photo Credit: Ryan Mendenhall

Photo Credit: Ryan Mendenhall

To the Foxes

"I just came to warn you,"
the neighbor said, "foxes have moved in
since your father’s been gone. We've seen

two prancing down the street. Kittens
and small dogs have disappeared. At night
they return to your father’s backyard. Look,

look, there in that hole." She spins
me around, points to the bushes. "I'm afraid,"
she says, her voice low. "My poodle

is afraid. He doesn’t want to go outside.
Make sure you leave no windows open. Foxes
will invade your home." I check

the cedar hedge, search the vinca, part
the tangled Virginia creeper curtain. Nothing
moves. No glittering eyes, no sharp teeth.

Fifty years ago the prairie was my backyard.
Lured by the meadow lark and the wild blue sky,
I played pioneer, safe in the smell of sage.

Cottonwoods long gone, strip
malls and suburbia silenced
the prairie. I too am afraid.

To the foxes, I say, "Go ahead,
eat a few poodles. That's the
least we can offer you."


Erika D. Walker’s writing has been published in Literary Mama, Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, and American Baby Magazine. She co-authored Denver Mountain Parks: 100 Years of the Magnificent Dream which won a 2014 Colorado Book Award. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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Oblivion

So we’re walking home from the high school after meeting with Principal James and it is muggy, like eighty-five degrees, which feels wrong, considering it is Halloween and the streets are blanketed with orange leaves and vampires and punk rock stars, when I say to my wife, Caroline, that I wish I was the Lord, or, at the very least, a prophet, which prompts Caroline to turn around, apparently expecting an Old Testament trick-or-treater behind her. No, I explain, I don’t want to dress as the Lord, I don’t even need to be worshipped, although that would be nice. I just want some clarity on how we got here and what to do because it’s like trying to put a shattered egg back together, right?
Yup, just like Humpty Dumpty, is her response, but she’s distracted, her hazel eyes staring straight ahead, not bothering to look at me or the cracked-vinyl-sided homes plopped in the middle of weedy lawns. She must think I’m talking about Josh, who, it’s true, is unraveling, but I’m not really talking about our son, I’m not really talking about his only friend, Thomas, who is a pyro, and I’m not really talking about Principal James having just labeled Josh a “troubled young man” with a “tendency to resolve conflicts by force.”
Caroline always blames herself for Josh’s problems, but my wife is patient, a woman of few words, who lets me talk and listens well. Take, for example, right now: we’ve just walked by a mother strolling her daughter, who’s sporting a Teletubby costume, looking like what I imagine an alien looks like, so I start talking about Fermi’s Paradox and possible answers, such as advanced civilizations always destroy themselves, and that might be why you and me and Josh are in this mess, but this is the world, I say, and we must play by its rules. Do I smother her? Do I? No, I do not, because, as I said before, she listens well and chooses her words carefully, and she says right then, it’s like those dead brown leaves on that oak hanging on for dear life, and I smile because sometimes she gets me.
It is true that occasionally she gets mad: broken plates, bent silverware, a shattered window, that sort of thing. But those events are rare; she’s like a volcano, usually quiet, erupts every so often, and when she does, we assess the damage and move on.
Her eruptions make her think she’s the reason Josh comes home with bruised knuckles and chipped teeth, and I fail to convince her otherwise. The thing is, I can’t bring myself to tell her what I know to be true: Josh is not angry. He is, like his father, scared of so many things: his big nose, pretty women, aggressive boys. How do I know this? It’s his sweat, which smells like mine, sour and unholy, and when he comes home from school he stinks to high heaven, his odor like that of a cornered animal. I want to help him, but how can I when I am the same?
The sun is getting low, streaming into a gaggle of costumed pre-teens gathered outside the Margolis home, known for their jumbo-sized Butterfingers and zombie lawn decorations, the children extending their gangly limbs in all directions, relieved that for this one day they are not themselves and that the competition—amassing a superior candy stash—is a low-stakes affair where they benevolently trade and stuff their faces and toss wrappers that fall to the driveway and do not move in the hot, windless evening.
We’re five blocks away, and I need to be straight with Caroline before we get home because Josh is inevitably coding and chugging Monsters in his room, upset that Thomas canceled on him (he probably went to burn down a forest or something) even though they had purchased matching Steve Jobs costumes and started calling themselves the Steves. But I don’t know how Caroline will react and I chicken out.
We’re now passing the park, which consists of two rusty swings and a rusty bench, where I’ve spent the last three days sunbathing, listening to the empty swings creak, coming to terms with my loss, my job loss, that is, the fact that after nineteen years I have been relieved of my duty as the Customer Development Manager of Hogs Gourmet, the fact that I had worked hard, really hard, to sell over one million hot dogs consumed by thousands of satisfied families, the fact that I had lost Alex’s account because he wanted to go with organic-cased rather than non-organic skinless, the fact that cleaning out my office—sifting through musty boxes filled with invoices yellowed from time; sticky notes with my harried, now faded, handwriting; a customer service award in thick, typewriter font; a coffee-stained user manual for MS Office 97—made me feel like I was dying, like my life consisted of a pile of useless, soon-to-be-discarded relics.
When I look over at Caroline, though, I think maybe I can be reborn, transformed into something better, and I ask Caroline to wait in the park and she furrows her eyebrows, but sits on the bench. I start running, my feet smacking the pavement, sweat pouring down my face, and I enter our house and run up to Josh’s room to get his costume and he is not coding. Instead he’s flicking a lighter and staring into the flame, goddamn Thomas, and I ask him where the costume is and he points to his closet and tells me I smell. I want to help him, I do. He is my blood, my child, but I can’t slow down, I can’t stop myself.
I am overheating in the black turtleneck, the rimless eyeglasses are bouncing off my nose, and the restricted, rubber-smelling air inside the mask—which is equipped with a receding hairline and gray stubble—is making it difficult to breathe as I run back to the park, where I find Caroline, who stands and faces me. Through the eyeholes I can see wrinkles forming at the corners of her mouth and I think, please embrace me, please embrace me. I know how this looks, it is strange, it is pathetic, but I need to be someone else, someone successful, and the point is, I need to play by the rules, but as I begin to speak I just want to disappear in her arms and burn it all down.


Mike Riess lives in New Jersey with his wife, Jen, and daughter, Madeline. He works as an attorney and started writing fiction a couple of years ago. His work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Typehouse Literary Magazine, and Cleaver Magazine.

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Midwestern Shed, Box of Miscellany

Something tells me the meaning
to a life is here. Not my own but close
enough to brush up with resolution.
Somewhere in this flexed lung, dust-choked,
an artifact hidden in the museum of another’s
epidemic. So I scrimmage old spider webs,
collide with grandfathered timber bowing like
a monk. The search continues, predicament dizzies,
dust motes start drawing lines in the dirt floor.
I expected as much when I arrived, and so use my
pocketed drawbridges to suture the gap. As soon
as I’m across I mistake phlegm-dried cashews for
teeth plucked from a scrapbook. I move slow now,
in the red zone where danger is in relocating someone’s
leftovers: the catalogue of rusty wrenches still hanging from
their nails, an obelisk bolt threatening a bare foot,
a shriveled moth in the center of a boot print.
         Something tells me to close my eyes, call this tiger
pace home, call this swollen hive in my belly ache.
But this expedition began with a dishonest map, and
I swore the day I was born I’d see it complete. Not even
the slants of vesper light faking my own stripes keep me from
prowling down to the last plank, thinned with termites,
where clues are the shape of shed snakeskin. Wanting only
to know what I mean when I say the name “Chief,” the title “Origin”
written now on the ceiling in that last predator ribbon of dusk,
“Anonymous History."


Ethan Phibbs is a poet born in central Illinois. His verse has appeared in Off the Coast, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Unbroken Journal, Eunoia Review, and elsewhere. 

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Upper Gronant Near Where They Came From

When we went up the hill I imagined Taed
riding his three-speed along the coast. I saw mother
as a child, working her way up into the world.
I heard gran in the kitchen, her voice
an indicator of past time. I never saw her eyes
but still smelt the cigarette smoke from the front room.

Our job up here was to strip away the growth of bramble,
nettle, cleavers, dock leaves, cow parsley, hogweed.
The hill was crawling to the ground below and we aimed
to stop it. With every scythe swipe, lopper snap, scissor kiss
with hedge trimmers, the sky grew above, and the sea,
the sea, the sea. I wanted to fall back into their beginnings.

See how they came to giving me life. What had triggered them
to leave the waves and find brick stillness. The stories
I grew up with settled like rhizomes in the land I walked.
Popping up memories as I moved further away.


Gareth lives in Wales. He has his first collection by FutureCycle Press, called The Miner. He hopes one day to achieve something special with the pen. 

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Saving Adolf

This is not how my mother told the story. In fact, she wouldn’t have told it at all if my nephews, after Sunday breakfast, hadn’t asked to see old photographs, then wondered why the corner of their great-grandfather’s family portrait had been cut away. It was my father who said the picture-clipping most likely happened on the day when Adolf wouldn’t drown. My mother, Anna, was five at the end of World War II. We all laugh when Dad describes how she fished the family’s hollow plaster wall plate of the Führer from the pond grandma had thrown it in—inexpert iconoclasm foiled by a kindergartener’s innocence. We laugh because my grandmother laughed when, perhaps two decades later, she told my dad how she had to bust up Hitler with a hammer. We laugh because laughter forestalls terror, turning my grandmother’s frantic desperation in the hours between one army and the next into a funny anecdote. We laugh because we’ve never dared to cry.

I picture the day my mother saved Adolf Hitler as filled with springtime sun, an outpouring of unseasonable warmth upon the villages of upper Swabia. Children—even those who do own shoes—run barefoot in the lengthening grass, buoyed by a rare reprieve from endless chores: after listening with grim intensity to the drone of the Wehrmachtsbericht emanating from the radio, mothers and grandparents on Otterswang’s two-dozen farms have exchanged silent glances then sent all kids to play outside.
The big children vanish in a flash. Little Anna pouts as she squints after them; her older sister Elfriede, delighted that for once she has not been told to watch either Anna or baby Alfred in his pram, has flown off with her friends from school.
Anna swallows hard. Turning her back on the road down which the older children have disappeared, she wanders alone among stables and sheds. The dairy cows have not been turned out to pasture after the morning’s milking. Balancing on the lintel to the byre, she watches whiskered jaws perform their grinding waltz on last year’s hay. Dark eyes gaze back at her, round and patient, but Anna remembers the wet rasp of their long tongues as they explore backs of knees or crooks of elbows for salty sweat; she will not walk down the stable aisle. When the cat drops down the ladder from the hayloft, his black body curling and uncurling itself into a descending triplet of musical notes, Anna backs away, her eyes fixed on the cat’s stiff tail. She turns and runs across the barnyard, averting any chance that he might rub himself against her legs.
At the big puddle under the weeping willow she stops then squats, watching ducks take their pretend-baths, the minuet of dipping bills and heads, the pearls of water spraying rainbows as they somersault along white-feathered backs and shaking tails. When the ducks re-group into a line, Anna falls in behind as they meander through the grass under the apple trees and out beyond the orchard to the pond. At the water’s weedy edge, they launch themselves on the still surface in a low-voiced cacophony of private chatter, conversations no more comprehensible than those of the adults at home. Anna’s gaze follows them—ducklings, unlike children, are born already knowing how to swim.
As they approach the middle of the pond, a flash of white hooks Anna’s eyes. Squinting against sparkling water wrinkled by paddling feet, she catches another flash then another. Whatever is out there with them is much whiter than the ducks. Whiter than paper, Anna thinks. Whiter even than bleached laundry flapping on a line. White as the stucco angels in Saint Oswald, Otterswang’s baroque village church. Of course it isn’t possible for an angel from Saint Oswald church to be floating in the pond. But what if it really is? The clarity of calcined white shines out again, stark and ethereal against the water’s green.
The first step from sun-drenched grass into the shallows feels cool but not icy, not threateningly cold. The next two steps wash chilly wetness up above Anna’s knees; she yanks her dress up with both hands. Is the white thing worth ruining her clothes? Her arms and legs shudder with the memory of slaps raining down on them—Mrs. Klopp’s punishment for mud stains and rips in the brittle, re-used fabric of children’s skirts. For many months Anna, Elfriede, and their mother shared a room in Mrs. Klopp’s house in the nearby city of Biberach with another evacuee woman and her children, before baby Alfred’s arrival. In Biberach there was no choice: all children dove into the dirt in mid-play every time planes thundered low and fast over the neighborhood. Sometimes bullets whined and thudded anyway. Nevertheless, Mrs. Klopp regularly spanked the children before she made them stand in her kitchen sink to sponge them down.
But there is nothing to be afraid of here, only another flash of white, as the drifting object bobs in the wake of passing ducks. Another step then another; Anna pulls her hemline up to shoulder-height as frigid water circles from her belly button to her lower back. Bunching fabric in one fist and stretching it high above her head, she steps again, her toes in search of purchase in the mud. She reaches with her other hand, inches the thing towards her with her fingertips.
Wading ashore, she squeezes it tight against her chest, wraps it in her apron as she stumbles towards the farm’s tiny annex house. There is no time to examine her catch. She needs to take it home, right now, to show it to mother, because mother loves beautiful things. Often—too often—she brings home flowers from the farm down the road where she works. Anna has to bite down anger on those nights; delight in arranging lupines, larkspur, or bobbing globes of peonies makes mother forget that the farmer once again showed his appreciation for her under-paid hard work by handing her a gift of something easily expended—flowers from an over-flowing garden bed—instead of giving her some food.
When he comes to visit from far-away Essen, Grandpa Wilhelm always spends his days in Swabia wandering from one village to the next, and each night when he walks back to Otterswang, his knapsack—emptied of cigarettes, extra sheets, and small items the family can do without—bulges with potatoes, bread, and eggs. But for mother, it is flowers, only flowers. And you can’t eat them; not even the sweet-smelling peonies, not even the lupines that turn to pods like peas after their petals drop. The white thing, Anna knows, will make mother exclaim with delight. It must be better even than the whitest rose, because the rose, after a few days, will droop and die. Angels last.
The stone tiles in the entrance to the annex chill Anna’s naked soles. A shiver runs along her spine as yet again she wonders if old Mrs. Lang, their landlady in Otterswang, might be a spirit now, lurking in the dark below the stairs. The few remaining village men carried Mrs. Lang’s coffin out the front door a week ago. Grandpa Wilhelm, looking after them, took off his cap with one hand and gave Anna’s shoulder a squeeze with the other. Only when the procession had reached the road down to St. Oswald church, he said: “They don’t know how lucky they are. Essen has no wood for coffins left. I sat with your grandma Sophie for five nights before I found one for her.” Anna still wonders why lack of wood might make grandparents sit up at night, but somehow it means that Grandpa Wilhelm, even though he left just yesterday, will be coming back to Otterswang to live with them for keeps. She hopes it will be soon.
The village women have aired and scrubbed old Mrs. Lang’s rooms on the first floor of the annex; soap and ammonia still tinge the whiff of mold and old potatoes wafting up the basement stairs. The wooden steps to their own two rooms on the second floor reassure Anna’s toes with roughness as she climbs. Having no hand free, she nudges the door to the living room open with her shoulder then stands, dumb-struck, in the unexpected heat.
The little pot-bellied stove blazes orange. The room’s small windows—one above the sofa, where Grandpa Wilhelm sleeps at night, and the other by the table, where they eat when mother cooks a meal for them instead of shooing them over to the farmhouse kitchen, where the cat inevitably brushes against Anna’s naked calves as they eat with all the Langs—gape wide to dissipate the scorching air.
But mother isn’t cooking. Anna can’t see what she is doing sitting at the table, hunched over a box and several fat books. As Anna walks towards the table, something smooth and sharp-edged sticks to the bottom of her foot. She tries to scrape it off, left sole against right shin, struggling to balance while she clenches the heavy, sodden thing against her chest.
Snippets of glossy paper blink all around her mother’s chair. Anna takes another step. Rip, go mother’s hands, dislodging a photograph from the album. Snip, go the scissors, setting another clip adrift from lap to floor. Anna inches closer, drawn by the forbidden scissors’ metal glint. Too well does she remember that day in Essen, long ago and far away, when she yielded to the scissors’ siren call. One by one, the fabric flowers fell from her parents’ bed spread as she maneuvered the blades around curved petals, cutting carefully between one printed blossom and the next. Mother had interrupted that day’s thrashing with the carpet beater only to hold the scissors up to Anna’ face: “Don’t you ever, ever touch these again.”
And Anna hasn’t touched them, not today. She also hasn’t broken anything! Not like the day in Essen when she found the hammer and brought it down on her parents’ bedside lamps—she had been angry then, though now she cannot quite remember why. At Elfriede, maybe, who said that Anna was too small to play? Or at Mother, who had grabbed the laundry basket and run down to the clotheslines in the yard, saying that she had no time to finish reading the story they’d just started in the basement, before the sirens sounded the all-clear and they all climbed back upstairs? Whatever it had been, it wasn’t like today. Anna wasn’t angry when she saw the angel’s whiteness beaming from the pond. And now its cool solidity against her chest and arms feels reaffirming in the heat. She has saved it, has brought it home for mother. She has not broken anything.
Sweat worms its way down Anna’s neck. She meant to present it with a flourish—look at what I found for you!—but now, her voice sticks in her throat. Slowly, she takes another step, lifting the wet package onto the table, next to her mother’s books and cardboard box. The snip-snip of the scissors stops. Without looking at her mother, Anna unwraps one apron tail and then the other, pushes the thing into the table’s center, steps away. The liberated fabric’s slap against her thighs chases waves of goose bumps up across her ribs and neck. In the dim room, the angel’s alabaster sheen dulls to a sodden gypsum gray.
“Oh no,” mother’s voice comes out beside her, sounding—not of carpet beaters—but also not at all like Anna has imagined it would sound. It is all flat, without a trace of lupine-purple joy.
“It was in the pond,” Anna says, licking her dry lips. “It was drowning!”
“Drowning,” mother’s voice repeats, with no tone at all.
For a moment, it seems that old Mrs. Lang’s ghost reaches a long arm from beneath the stairs, swirling must and tangs of ammonia against their ankles. Then Anna’s eyes follow mother’s, from the table upward to an empty nail on the wall above the stove, and back down to the table top.
“Yes,” mother says, still tonelessly, “I suppose I should have known he wouldn’t drown.”
Color rushes across mother’s cheeks as she shakes her head. Chair legs scrape against the floorboards; her steps quickly fade down the stairs.
Anna looks at the angel. She now can see that it is just a face, shaped from plaster in an oval plate, not an entire figurine. Its nose and mustache seem familiar. Her eyes wander back to the nail on the wall. She suddenly remembers that none of the angels down in Saint Oswald’s Church wear mustaches. Is that why this one has been banished from the church? Is that why father, when he visits in between surgeries in the military hospital, stands in silence, his arm in its plaster shoulder cast sticking out at an odd angle, and stares sternly at this angel’s face?
The baby moans. Anna glances towards the crib. Alfred’s arm, naked and moist with sweat, rises and drops back down, once, twice. Again, as Anna’s left foot tries to dislodge the something stuck beneath it, scraping itself against her shin, her eyes travel to the empty nail: Is the angel she found really the same one that used to hang above the stove? She knows they brought the other angel, the wooden virgin Mary in the bedroom, with them each time that they have moved. At night, Anna often drifts to sleep while mother and Elfriede talk to Mary in a low drone. But Anna can’t remember either one of them speaking to the angel on this wall. Except once—that time when mother’s voice sounded like ducks scolding the cat. Has this angel always been here then, like the stove? Or did it come with their furniture on the train from Essen, very far away, from where their old apartment now stands empty without window panes?
Footsteps creak back up the stairs. Turning towards the door, Anna’s eyes find the hammer dangling from mother’s hand.
“Step back,” mother says.
Will she pound in another nail? If the angel on the table is the one that used to hang here, then maybe one nail was not enough to keep it from flying out the window and falling in the pond? Anna takes a step backwards, her eyes glued to the plaster cast.
“All the way back,” mother says. “Get on the sofa. And put your face in the pillow.”
There is no give in the voice, no room for questions. It is the voice from long ago and far away; the voice that tells Anna to hold on and run as a hand yanks her from sleep and down three flights of stairs, the voice that knows the bombs are coming down. Anna does what it says. The sofa’s leather grabs her shins as her face prickles in the pillow’s velour.
The hammer’s smash is followed by the baby’s wail then, each time the baby pauses to catch his breath, the dull clink-a-clink of plaster shards and paper scraps, the swish of broom straw over unwaxed boards. Anna’s face turns from the pillow’s scent of grandpa Wilhelm’s soap and sweat towards the sofa’s back for air. Her fingers pry itchy curls from her damp forehead then scrabble at the stubborn cardboard triangle still stuck to her left foot. Peeling it off, she curls herself around it, her back a shield against her mother’s eyes. Cradling the snippet inside her hand, she tilts it into the sun slanting through the tiny window. It is part of a photograph, showing just the shoulder of a man, severed by the scissors’ snip. Above the dismembered shoulder is another picture, framed and hung upon the wall. The man in the framed picture wears his hair parted severely on the right. Just like the angel. And there, under the familiar nose, is the angel’s small mustache.
Behind Anna’s curving spine, the wailing baby draws a breath. Shards and paper skitter from the dustpan’s metal; the stove door jolts her body with its clang.

I’ve asked my mother if she cried when my grandmother smashed the plaster plate. She says she didn’t because her mother’s distress seemed so much bigger than her own. I’ve asked what she thinks my grandmother was so upset about. She says she didn’t know, but later thought it must have been because her mother realized how easily her daughter could have drowned. I’ve never pressed mom to imagine other possibilities, reasons why on this day her mother’s initial shock did not dissolve into relief, a hug accompanied by tears.
A five-year-old’s memories are fragments, a kaleidoscope of moments, not a logical sequence of events in which the Wehrmachtsbericht predicts when French troops will arrive in the villages surrounding Biberach and frightened women rush to destroy evidence that might incriminate the family. The details of this story—the landladies, the older sister who wouldn’t play, the stove, the sofa, the wooden stairs, the lupines, the scissors and the bedspread, the bashed-in bedside lamps—all appeared in snippets over decades of tea time anecdotes. By everyone’s accounts, my great-grandfather Wilhelm really did refuse to go to the basement for five nights and sat by the body of his wife as she lay on the sofa in their living room and bombs fell all around. But my mother, who refused to look at any films or books that touched upon the war, never connected finding Hitler in the pond to the storm her own mother saw brewing on that sunny day’s horizon. Instead of talking about soldiers, she tells me of the dream in which she drives over the black cat: her youngest grandson gets out of the car, picks up the cat, and lays it on the seat between them. She wakes herself screaming as its fur touches her skin.
The scientist in me pored over census data, weather records, maps, the movements of French troops through upper Swabia. But early childhood is coded not in words and dates but in sound and taste and touch, a clenching in the belly, a quiver in the knees. And so I found the curve of five-year-old Anna’ spine, the turning away from her mother as she curled around the picture on the leather sofa, not in her telling, but in the way she hung up the phone a hundred times, whenever my grandmother began to speak about the war: “Mother, I don’t have time for that right now.”
A generation of wartime children slammed down the phone’s receiver, refused to look anywhere except ahead. A generation of parents, having brought down the world in smoking rubble around everybody’s ankles, smashed the busts and burned the pictures, hid Mein Kampf behind the linens in the closet, and never knew how to explain. Only in Oz do munchkins dance and sing after the house has crushed the wicked witch. In Germany, the clang of the oven door left only silence to reverberate in children’s ears.
The farm pond, which my mother sought with then-inexplicable urgency when we re-visited Otterswang on a last trip with my grandmother decades ago, no longer exists: one of the Lang’s children told us it had been filled in soon after the war. If anything was discovered on the muddy bottom after it was drained, he failed to mention what it was.
And so, like a kindergartner clutching a necklace of sparkly beads, here I am, seventy years after my mother pulled Adolf Hitler from the pond, proffering this storyline I’ve threaded from the way in which she—the mom who picked up spiders by a leg to carry them outside, the mom who asked if she might pet the iguana at the reptile zoo—recoiled in horror when my sister and I brought her the homeless cat, and from the way in which the water always was too cold whenever we asked her to swim. “Look, mom!” I hear the kindergartener saying as her pudgy fist dangles sticky plastic trinkets, a half-dissolving string of pink and purple cows and ducks and cats, “look what I’ve made for you!”


Catharina Coenen is a plant biologist and first-generation German immigrant to Northwestern Pennsylvania, where she teaches biology at Allegheny College. Her creative nonfiction pieces are forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere.

Photo credit: River Branch

Photo credit: River Branch

Traffic Is Traffic, Everywhere

Beyond green hills, sheep placidly graze 
before going to slaughter. 

"Be kind," the Bath Abbey minister says.
"Megaphones are for presidents and politicians."

In the Frenchwoman's car, in the backseat, I touch 
your leg. Do you notice? Or do you ignore?

Bruised, I turn away. 

"Chevrons means goats," the Frenchwoman's 
husband explains. I remember the long ago 

pleasure of running up and down stairs 
as nimble as a goat—before I grew old. 

In our country, the man who calls himself President
has his stubby short fat finger hovering over the red button. 

Out the car window once more, 
fluffy white sheep zoom into view. 


Robin Michel is a writer, poet and non-profit consultant. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The New Guard, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Rappahannock Review, Star 82 Review and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in San Francisco, where they enjoy eating wild raspberries and welcoming the fog when it eventually arrives. 

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The dolphin

we were down
in kerry. it was
a pretty good
weekend. I'd been
tricked into driving. there were just
the two of us insured
and one of us was german
so he was a tourist
technically,
and needed
to see the country
in a way that I didn't.
we pulled in
slantways
to a beach
not known much
except by the locals
and opening the door
we got this strong smell
of rotten fish. a dolphin had died,
I guess on the beach, and someone
had pulled it up
to decompose
next to the carpark. you could walk over
and see
clear as pencil
a hole in its side and the teeth
where its lips had been pulled away. but who knows
if that was what happened
or just some seagull
spotting a shot at organs.
we stood around for a while
and aodhain said he'd come back when it was rotted
a little better
to take its jaw. not now though.
no-one felt
like digging through something's skin
to get at its bones.
we just went down to the beach.
I was the only one
who wasn't a geologist
and I remember
standing on my own
in the middle of the beach
and hearing the roar
of the sea
as it bore into the cliff rock.


DS Maolalai is a writer and poet from Ireland. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 with Encircle Publications, with his second forthcoming from Turas Press in 2019. He has been nominated for Best of the Web and twice for the Pushcart Prize.

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The Bicycle Theft

“I’ll pull yer fuckin head off!” a man shouts at the bus driver. The driver manfully shrugs, braced in the passive. The driver is powerful by reason of his seat’s height above the crowded tarmac and yet he is vulnerable, exposed to the bus stop’s swilling frustration. People push against the bus and unreason and reason push into need and we all wait under a thick sky of warm drizzle.
I need to get on that bus, is this the bus?
Cannot you not get more people on the bus?
I’ll pull yer fuckin head off.
If light should relate to shadow, and will my bicycle fit in the luggage hold?
Tide tugging at the flow, pulling at the river so that it can barely keep pace with itself, a band of salty mud gradually exposing itself on the far shore. Here there is a thick rampart for the town to sit behind; I lean over the wall and watch the river, waiting for a bus connection.
The cloud is tall and intermittently white, reflected on the broad surface. Reflections push against the billowing silt cumulus which swirls up from below. The water provides a thin film by which to separate these two weather systems, a tense expanse that rides the river’s body, occasionally sending cracks shearing across its surface. Vortices pull up into presence, folding surface and depth one into another, turning and turning and then releasing. Sky and churning river have mixed and separated in an instant and it would be hard to gauge their degree of intimacy. The twirling runs on like colliding galaxies, the silt a pulsing red plasma. As the cosmos mixes, so do these waters. The breathing of an ocean lung, river comes and river goes. Giant constant pull of water, and there is rain.
Of course there is rain. After discovering where I had come from, a fellow wayfarer said:
“O, where we get all our weather from.”
“O,” I said, “but I thought we got it all from you.” After that the conversation faltered.
On the last loop of road, nearing my first campsite, I saw in the field a crow crucified on an upright plank. Grim scarecrow to darken the evening. My tent poles snapped. The site owner was not much help apart from suggesting a hostel in town. Worrying at the budget, I cycled by the crow once more, bags of useless heavy in the panniers, and in due befuddlement I found the hostel. On the windowsill a manic toy clown grinned at me, threatening and possessive.
I showered, stowed my luggage, and walked out to inspect the late evening town. The main thoroughfare looked peculiarly one-dimensional beneath brightly painted frontages. Boys were crowding around their malicious boredom, flat shadows against the square expanses of primary colour. To one side I spotted a sports shop and thought of my broken tent. Everything was closed, apart from the pubs, and the shops would stay shut all tomorrow as it was a Sunday. When looking in the window, foolishly hopeful, I found no true interest in the goods but feigned it while desperately reciting the few lines that I could recall of the psalm:
I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even so, I shall not fear. You are with me though I walk in the shadow of death. You are with me. I shall not fear. I am in the shadow of death.
Turning aside from my exhausted-looking reflection, I walk by the snarly huddle of boys. And one boy does, it seems, snarl. Like an ill dog, his face white and contorted, a twisted and hissing grimace. Face angry, feral gnarl of mouth contorted as a submissive wolf in resentful abeyance. I blink: What had I seen? I keep walking.
Was he alright?
Cautiously I turn around, and yet now I see only listless, bored teenagers.
In the pub I find fellow cyclists, other travelers, and we all cling to pints; we all roll out a few tales. I do not tell of the crow, or the snarling boy, and I return to the hostel early where, beneath cruel joviality of the clown sculpture, I plot a route for tomorrow’s hike.
On my hood I can hear its intimate percussive pat, so it must be raining, but mostly there is an appearance of mist. I can see my boots, bright and shiny in the wet, stealing light from somewhere, and my soggy waterproofs also, as if gathering up all available light from the thick wrap of cloud. Their artificial hues dominate a fuzzy perimeter of four squelches in any one direction. Only fifteen minutes ago I was holding up a map by way of assurance and hurrying away from town; seeking out a sign for the footpath. Only that quick march across lumpy pasture and already noise is dimmed almost to nothing. I breathe. No rain now. This is silence then. A nearness to silence. A relationship to silence, an enabling of an inaudible something
inside a pause,
inside studied grey.
Gradually moving out from the sheen of clothing there is a close by astonishment: the chrome yellow of buttercup and purple clover bowing to each other. A stone wall is draped in lichen clumps, dressed in the archaic greens of antler and far distant tree line. From somewhere a snuffled baa, a sheep querying its fogged pasture.
Every sound is rolled toward me in large soft scoops of its own distance. My breath, heartbeat; even the whirl of my own listening becomes audible, and the body is delirious at meeting itself. I stump on up the muddy slope. Up is all that is required until one gets to the top. The sheep begin to notice me and I them. Some pound out of the way in a skittered bang of panic, whites of eyes whiter than their fleeces, the wool greyer than the mist. Other sheep raise their bog-stained muzzles and look. One animal trots in my direction. I say hello. Another sheep follows; I hesitate to be polite. Then, out of the invisible a tumbling of baas and bleating, an entire flock emerges. Sheep are running around me in a thickening and tightening spiral. They move as one as if grass touched by wind. The earth is reverberating to the drum of hoof. I move faster, they run closer. I change direction, they split, reform, hurry at me. A now large flock has formed, and also a horse, chestnut with a star streaking down its nose, another, dappled as if carved from the weather. And I am running amongst a hot-breathing tide of lowing cattle, bullocks pushing at a trot, sheep bouncing off one another, and horses throwing the water from their manes and strange guttural sounds. The herding clank of bells, an occasional shepherd whistle, dog barking, and shouts of huppa hup hup and then out of this bovine cascade I see camels. Tall dromedary lopes, their jowls hung with amulet, red bridles of knotted rope. They pass so close I can see the wet pearling hanging jewel–like on their showgirl eyelashes. To one side I see a flash of wall and I push through clattering goats, urging the beasts to move ahead of a trundling squad of black oxen, and making the wall, I jump.
Tufts of strong, waxy grass hold me just off the earth; breath geysers, subsides, and the grass gradually lowers me down. No other sound but a curlew’s piping lament.
As a gate goes bang squawk bang squawk at some strangely luminous point in amongst this hung grey, I stand amongst a steaming row of bloody spatchcock creatures and stare into the thrumming banks of smoke. Every moment of consciousness contains the whole of consciousness. A hacked open unconsciousness releases a hiss of awareness. It is all consciousness. Spit curdles on hot rock. For the completeness of my lostness I could get no more lost and this finally convinced me that I was not lost.
Then the path again, a pink ribbon of sand between black boulders. I stood on the rock to free myself from the heather and fern. Rocks stacked up into this grey, motile weather, a path trickling in between. The ascent had caught me by surprise and I was warm now, pulling open my jacket to let the cold palm my chest. An entire bank of cloud pushed against me, tricking me into stillness despite the laboured hike. At any moment the route may once again vanish, the fern’s prehistoric curls sinking beneath a graceful drowning skirt as the tide finally comes in. I remain standing on this stone, swaying, bones groaning demurely, an ark waiting to be tipped over by a returning dove.
Shepherds find the ark one day. They are surprised at how tiny it is. A few of them are certain that this cannot be true, for how could such a small tub, smeared over in hard uneven tar, have ever contained all the world? All the seeds of the world, say another. Look, one points out, I can pick it up. It fits beneath my arm. He can indeed pick up the entire ark; it does fit underneath his arm. He spreads his blue cloak over, instinctively sheltering it from the cold. But it is the ark, explains one, all of the world came from it. We, our animals, our pasture, and it witnessed the end of the world also. It rode on the back of oblivion; it is creativity buoyed up by death. I had better put it down, says the shepherd, gently replacing it amongst the heather. Only, how did they get in there? God sealed them in. Are they still in there then, because I cannot see a break in that seal? Yes they are still in there, how could anyone break open something sealed by God? Yet they came forth to be fruitful, look, the cairn over there; that is the first altar, where the rainbow rests. There’s a hole here. That is where the spirit blew, like a radiator bursting, after a year of incubation the pressure was too much. The dove shot out like a rocket, phnnnnew! The breaking of wind, they laughed. But it is said that sealed in the centre of the ark there is the Garden of Eden and the tree. With the bitten apple? No, that was fed to the pigs during the storm. What tree then? The God tree, the one with Him nailed up. That’s in Eden? Inside, inside. And on this hill, here? Aye. When the sheep bite down to the turf you can see the bone. And stamp on it, it sounds hollow, like my head, and it snores at night an’ all. It’s the caverns below filling with torrents. It’s said that the whole flood did not really go, it only got lost in Golgotha’s teeth and that’s what the dragon is. They reckon George was not meant to kill the dragon. He was only to pull it out so that Beauty could get close to it, for dragons are of course very shy creatures, but the benefits of them and Beauty getting close, you know, that is worth several lifetimes of questing. So George was only meant to winkle it out, as if pulling a mollusc from its shell. Whelks die like that, get eaten. To the dragon it would certainly seem like death. All transformation is a dying. The dragon keeps its free dragon nature of course, just as Beauty does not lose beauty by sharing it, so dragon meat bestows… all the weather and a thousand other transfigurations. George scoffed the dragon? He may have eaten some, he probably helped with the cooking, but the meal itself goes to his sponsors. Who? The town elders, the town, you and me. We don’t live in the town, and the elders don’t speak to us. But I don’t recall dragon, you’d hope to notice a menu like that. It hides in the lamb and in the mountain stream. And they nod and are silent. And silent they pick up a stone. They walk to the rock pile leaning over to place their stone, with familiar clunk, atop of the cairn’s risen breast.
I step over a stream and hesitate to watch the turbulence, listening to the all telling foam. In one whirl a large bubble sustains, twirling with certain elegance and taking in all of the sky as it opens and all that stands below the sky and then, the bubble rests, taking me in, absorbing me, it and I balanced in a deeply observant pause. All the river to come and all the river past; all the sea and the full community of cloud, and the delight of rain and the rushing through of streams stand in this moment’s rest. I look closer; all slides across the sphere’s knowing surface, and I can see myself reflected, stood astride it, one boot on the bank, another wobbling on a partially submerged stone. The stream is reflected in my eye. The bubble is in the reflection, I am reflected in the reflection in my eye and this myriad cluster can be spotted swirling on this water’s surface. It is all gone.
I am not sure who blinked first.
Having spent most of the morning looking for the mountain, I now realise I am on top of it. The mist has rolled away like a bald patch. Short trees reach up from the valley lip, ripping the cloud, dragging loose fistfuls that they let trail as ragged banners. I hear the gate, it is below me now and going creak clung! Creak clung! I think there must be other walkers nearby and squat down on a stone, eat sandwiches, and anticipate the cheery reassurance of a nod and a hello. But no one passes and the silence sustains its own ongoing quiet. The sounds of my mastication become unbearable.
I stand and get view of the summit and head upwards as fast as possible. There is now not even a hint of pathway and the ground beneath each footfall sinks into black, peaty abandon. Dirty rivulets of water seeping from the peak force brown cuts through the ground. Precarious tufts of heather are handholds and balancing points between leaps. Bog. Thick deep squelch. The sky fills with a storm rash of hailstone. Lightning bashes across, electricity seeded at nose level. The summit has vanished once more. My face becomes a cold, raw, sodden mask. I hide in a cracked rock, hunching into a ball to peek out at this sluicing wilderness. Each strike lights up the guts of the cloud so that the entire mountain is roiled up into a strangely internal space. The hail turns to snow and the aqua green air sizzles.
The madness of this mountain. I unfold my body and begin leaping, bog slithering in search of a route. A stream wriggled through, rubbing open a rib of brilliant white rock. Water and quartz dance a ladder down the hillside. I hop and scramble and laugh off the mask. The storm goes away after a few steps. Descending further my coat begins to steam as sun hotly breaks through. A whirl of small sandy birds flicking and chatting from the bustling turf: and my glee flings me from rock to rock to rock with preternatural surety of foot. The clouds are utterly stripped away, sharpening the landscape and showing me the little town. I spot my hostel. Full of admiration I pause to take in the wonderful distances, and I see now a tiny cluster of boys. Even on this teetering mountain edge I can hear their laughter as my bicycle is unhooked from its d-lock and ridden away. One boy rests on the handlebars, one is riding croggy, and he–the feral one–is pedaling, saying to the lad on the handlebars:
“Keep still now or I’ll pull yer fuckin head off.”


Recent prose by Nick found in Zeno Press, The Fiction Pool, Storgy, The Happy Hypocrite, Shooter, Epoque Press, and elsewhere. nicknorton.org.uk

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Climate Cubism

The sky splits into a thousand
riffs on inferno

as if Picasso’s ghost
decided to paint the face

of the world. In Florida
alligators swim past sunken

houses but here in California
the water has boiled off—

Earth an abandoned kettle
that sings volcano songs.

At the corner of the canvas
a man pulls off a highway,

coaxes a rabbit to safety.
In this landscape of edges

to save one soft thing
makes no difference

but sometimes it’s necessary.


Lori Lamothe is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Kirlian Effect (FutureCycle Press). Her poems have appeared in Blackbird, Cider Press Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Verse Daily and elsewhere

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hurricane florence

you: mother
a fury, splitting marrow
premeditation written in the
heartwood
stripped naked
in the wild night
if you’re not breaking ribs
then you’re churning the waters
a paper cut in
the rising pressure
begging benediction
intervention
confirmation that
there’s something here worth
dying for—tell me, what have we done
to deserve this?
temporal mother
exhaling rain like disappointment
if the sky had a
phantom limb i swear it would
be me but instead
this southern migration
without return
if you’re not breaking ribs
then never mind the dishes
the e minor depression carving
initials in the dock posts where
i’ve never felt so much like
drowning
soft mother of
cultivation, promises sewn into the
wounds she tears
raw hope; a grey dawn
addressed to you
water bugs pepper the surface
of this muddy swell,
catfish inquiring after the body,
not yet tucked in
to the dark mud beds
if you’re not breaking ribs,
how long ‘til you
come for us?
hungry mother
overturning tables & slamming doors
atlantic drunk & prone
to violence
this your birthright: denied,
left to someone else with
your name, watching
the water climb your stairs on channel nine
baby are you sorry yet
or need she stay longer?
the speedometer pushes red &
still we roar back, oh
mother
if you’re not breaking ribs
then you’re not doing it right
empyrean


d. drobnick is an amateur poet whose poetry has been previously published in Bone & Ink Press. she hails from a city she plans on leaving, somewhere hot & grief-saturated. her work can be found at www.whenstarsgodim.tumblr.com.

The World as a Narrative of the World

The story begins by the river
just north of the city. It is the city
where the author was born, and the river
is the river of his youth.

From the river there comes a plot
about the violence that man will commit
against man. There comes a theme
of latent misogyny, of colonialism,

of a hatred inherent
in the concept of human consciousness.

From the river there comes
no resolution. It goes on and on
and on. In the absence of finality
the author bids you find solace.


Eric Delp is a poet from Harrisburg, PA, and an MFA candidate at the University of Mississippi. 

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