- Counting breath
Far away from Fifth Avenue,
its tiny needle heart
No more falling earth.
No more trains bound by time.
No more hours in the gut of the city.
I unlace my breath,
count the times
I felt like a highway
in the middle of the afternoon,
stone hard wind
against the street sign:
- The hospital bed
- next to grandmother
- her final breath
- it hurts
- Following breath
When I’m down on my knees, uprooting the worn ground, scraping weeds from the side of the house, I try to catch my breath, a firefly on the run, but end up following it to the earthworm’s body as it writhes under the lawn bag.
It’s almost lunchtime, but I feel the need to stay and help it back to the dirt, return it home.
I pinch its middle and throw it towards the end of the garden, far away from my hand hoe, its slick body pulling itself through the damp earth.
Past the haze of my own desire to finish, to uproot the bare-limbed daisies, I follow earthworm, let out a low hummed breath, again and again, a sentimental ode, a mindful elegy for the impossible weight of our shared life.
- Measuring breath
Hold him tighter, mom. The vet pricks Brutus’ back with the IV. His eight-pound body squirms against my chest.
This will all be over soon, and I’ll get you ice cream, I whisper in his ear. His brown eyes bulge with fear.
How could I make him understand that everything is temporary, that even right then, as I held him I was already thinking of the after, the two of us, heads in the ice cream bowl of the future?
After 10 minutes, he’s hydrated enough to go home. The doctor prescribes him some antibiotics for the kennel cough, and says he should start eating and drinking.
He tilts his head towards mine, and we share a private smile under the cold, white lights of the infirmary.
With whatever strength consumes him, his tail sweeps my stomach, and he pants against my warm cheek.
Barely balancing, he lifts his head and pushes off, puts four paws to the tile.
Nose up, he walks out of the exam room, his fuzzy tail bouncing behind him as he leaves a trail of urine.
All hail, King Brutus.
I stand and watch him, his unrelenting presence, his refined face lowered, a heavy bloom sigh in a garden of daisies.
- Breathing outward (or dying breath)
From time to time, without knowing why, I watch the moon alone. Her moonshine face, a slick red bucket left in the rain, peels away the darkness.
Gasp moon crater.
Gasp virgin moon.
When I was a child, I’d watch her from my bed, through my moon window, through my moon heart.
I wish I were a moon river, a rock in her back, gravity in her throat.
Breathe out sparrow heart,
Breathe in hollow bone,
go on calling me
from outside the closed window,
under the shade of my roof,
as I call back to you,
as I declare my presence,
as I let my words form a breeze,
go somewhere I’ve never been.
LAST DAY ON EARTH
There have been so many nights of listening, yet not enough doing:
A vortex of nothingness in my notebook, the unopened mail and the unmade bed. On my last day on earth, I might let these things slide. I’ll be imperfect, write the crappiest sentence I can think of: I feel sad enough to sink a ship. In the evening, I won’t wear makeup or tie my hair. Instead, I’ll swivel in the thick of my chair, naked as a cat, the small electric bulb swinging above me.
And when the light grows less, I’ll start a new sentence. Something like: It was a dry summer. The trees starved for rain. Almost all the season was a bare rose, promising complete darkness, and nothing but sleep.
I want your heartache, pricked thumb, blackened dirt, tangled weed, little razor.
Make a hill out of me, a pile of chicken bones.
Loren Kleinman has published four full-length poetry collections: Flamenco Sketches, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, Breakable Things, and Stay with Me Awhile, and a memoir The Woman with a Million Hearts. Her personal essays have been published in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Seventeen, USA Today, Good Housekeeping, and The Huffington Post, while her poetry appeared in The New York Times, Drunken Boat, The Moth, Columbia Journal, Patterson Literary Review, and more.
I flinch from the sparks.
Everything is blurs and ashes.
Once in a while, a cloud separates
and breaks from the herd
crowding the sky above me.
This lets a star,
like a brilliant mistake,
* * *
Night is a buzzing flail.
The moon’s rising
makes the raccoons drunk.
The smell of wet fur
from mating skunks
is a cold, sharp odor.
fill in my cracks
Everything around me
feeds in the night
and sleeps in the day.
* * *
The seasonal melodies of the geese have ended.
The wind plaits straw grass into ugly hats.
Like a predictable bout of insanity,
the snow begins.
* * *
I have lived through a string
of dry, thirsty weeks.
The rain is such an amazing,
* * *
Put down roots.
Speak only with green lips.
Listen with wooden ears
then pretend you’re deaf.
Cover your heart with bark.
Your sap is a secret.
Keep safe your twigs.
Pruning is not an option.
John Barrale is an avid hiker and a jazz aficionado. His poetry has been published in the Paterson Literary Review, Red Wheel Barrow (Volumes 1 – 8,) Poetalk, NJ Journal of Poets, The Lullwater Review, California Quarterly, Tiger’s Eye Journal, The Penwood Review, The Aurorean, The William and Mary Review, Narrative Northeast, City LitRag, Instigatorzine, Unrorean, and East Meets West—American Writers Review.
If you care,
it’s a lot easier than you hear.
All you need to know is Still Point.
Find the Still Point in every breath.
Then exhale on Still and inhale on Point.
Still Point Still Point Still Point
The fricative st starts the exhale,
and the p and diphthong comes
from the pit of the gut.
Watch the Still Points roll on.
The West flexes the chest,
but the East watches
Actually it’s easier than that.
You don’t need language.
Just exhale until the inhale
bounces off your diaphragm.
Push your breath away until
it comes back naturally
(like Mickey Rooney
teaching young Liz Talyor
to ride a horse
in National Velvet.)
Jim Klein has published more than 100 poems in publications including The Berkeley Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Joe Soap’s Canoe, Oxford Magazine, The Plastic Tower, Onthebus, Pulpsmith, Gandhabba, and many times in The Wormwood Review, including a Feature Section. He has also published articles in The Christian Century, James Joyce Quarterly, College English. He started two literary magazines, Lunch, at Fairleigh Dickinson, Rutherford, in the seventies, and currently The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow. Blue Chevies, his first book, came out in September, 2008, and To Eat Is Human Digest Divine in 2009. Trinis Talk Like the Birds, a chapbook, is on the online magazine Muse-Pie this month and be available in hard copy soon. He has been leading a workshop of Red Wheelbarrow poets in Rutherford for the past six years. He edits The Red Wheelbarrow literary magazine. He reads regularly at The Williams Center and Gaineville Café in Rutherford.
After the lions,
by the tattered aviary,
we can’t help but try it —
peering up and sneering
at the unapproachable sky
like clipped birds of prey,
hopping left, then right,
then left, then left,
then right again,
zigzagzigging our way
up the patrons’ promenade
in the general direction
breathing in the exotic
aroma of fate fenced —
trying hard to shrug off
the unspeakably slow
thickening of sorrow.
Michael Brosnan has published in various literary journals, including Confrontation, Borderlands, Prairie Schooner, Barrow Street, New Letters, The Moth, Into the Teeth of the Wind, Rattle, and Ibbetson Street. At his day job, he works as the editor of Independent School, an award-winning quarterly magazine on precollegiate education.
Running sprinting antelope
twisting avoiding lion
turning breathing moving eyes
forward around trees over stream antelope
lion leaps claws dig bite—
the Antelope remains
Wayne L. Miller lives in Northern New Jersey. His work has been published in Arc Poetry Magazine, Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, Great Falls Anthology, Turtle Island Quarterly, The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow, theEEEL, The Long-Islander (Walt’s Corner), Instigatorzine, and Edison Literary Review. Visit him at: waynelmiller.info
You are becoming more and more comfortable with the routine of your therapy sessions. The office with the white walls, chipped paint, some outdated magazines. On the wall across from your seat there’s a generic-looking landscape painting. You sit on the chair, legs crossed, flipping mindlessly through a National Geographic from 2001. The white noise machine in the waiting room masks the conversation in your therapist’s office, droning on eternally.
When the patient before you leaves through the other exit, the one in the office, so that nobody will see her, your therapist pokes his head out through door of the waiting room, and you follow him into his office, plopping yourself down on the couch, no need to be asked.
You don’t even really believe in therapy, but the other shoe has got to drop eventually, right? Somehow, some way? You’ve already tried everything else. You’ve tried yoga and meditation. You quit smoking, drinking, and eating meat, all in the same week, which might have backfired, but still. You’ve tried quitting social media and ditching your smartphone. You’ve tried cutting off all your hair (“but make it look feminine!” you told the hairdresser, and she knew what you meant). You’ve tried sleeping with strangers. You’ve tried sleeping with no one at all. You’ve experimented with sleeping on the floor after reading a blog about “minimalism as a lifestyle.” But none of it has worked, and now you’re here, and even though you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing here, in this tiny office with that dreadful waiting room outside, you come every Tuesday and you continue to get nowhere. And so you’re not even making an effort anymore really. Instead, you’re sitting there, and you’re saying:
“I’m a gay man.”
And your therapist—Dr. Friedberg—says, “
Let’s talk about that, Emily.”
You don’t know what happened, and that’s the problem. This idea, that if you just flap your jaws enough, that eventually you’ll be “cured”—who came up with this idea? Because a cure does not seem at all imminent, as far as you can tell. Instead you sit there, and you either make jokes or you speak earnestly, except that when you speak earnestly, by the time you’re through, it feels like you’re talking about someone else, someone not in the room. The feelings that you describe are not your feelings, and then your therapist will say something about “progress,” and you will leave, confused.
And so now you’re saying:
“What’s to talk about? I’m reading Leo Bersani and I’ve practically had my head shaved. There’s no way I’m not a gay man.”
What you want to do, what you’ve tried to do, is to say that you’re just going through a bad breakup. Last year, you met someone, and the sex was good, even if the conversation was dull, and you got along well enough, and eventually you moved in together. Then in April he splits, says something about going to the Alaskan wilderness.
And now your therapist, a strained smile on his face, is saying:
“Emily, I can only help you to the extent that you let me help you. If joking around like this makes you feel better, then that’s fine, but if we’re going to make any real progress…”
The problem with pinning this state of yours, this stale un-feeling, on the breakup, is that in truth it wasn’t the breakup that depressed you. When he left, you were relieved. Your small one-bedroom was a claustrophobic nightmare with him around, and a small tinge of despair hit you every time you found a pair of dirty briefs on the floor, or every time he left the toothpaste uncapped. Seven-hundred-fifty square feet had never felt so spacious as when he finally left and you were sitting on your couch, almost reveling in the quiet of his absence.
But if not the break-up, then what? The other day you spent an hour looking out the window of your apartment, your eyes glazing over as the traffic crept by. Maybe you’ll start jogging, you think.
So you go to work at your job at the call center. You will be fired soon—most employees, you learned soon after they hired you, are fired in the first two weeks, but that’s okay. You never were looking for a “career” anyhow, just a way to make money until you figure out whether or not you want to go to graduate school. Your quota for the end of the first two weeks is five sales. You have made zero.
The first fifty calls either go straight to voicemail or hang-up on you while you’re delivering the monologue you’re supposed to read off the screen of your computer. You sigh, slip off your headphones. You listen to the buzz of the call center. Dozens of people failing to execute dozens of monologues. You pop an Advil. Slip the headphones back on. Call number fifty one picks up.
“Hi, this is Emily, calling from… Are you happy with your air conditioning? … Low prices, quick installation….”
The man on the other end of the line has a thick Indian accent. Your computer screen says he is from Amarillo, Texas. That makes sense, you guess. It’s hot in Texas.
“Um,” he says.
You say: “…85 percent customer satisfaction rating… Your money back guaranteed.”
“85 percent,” he echoes. “That’s pretty good.”
The Advil has not yet kicked in and the dull ache in your temple is making it very difficult to sell air conditioners with the kind of conviction a good air conditioner saleswoman ought to have. It will kick in soon, but not right now, and meanwhile the customer has, as your supervisor says, “gone off script.” You do not know what to say, so you say:
“Yes. It’s pretty good.”
The man on the other end of the line says nothing, but you know he has not hung up on you yet because you can hear him breathing.
So you say: “Are you interested in purchasing an air conditioner today?”
“Um,” he says. “I don’t know. I have an air conditioner.”
“But ours is better,” you say, dubious.
“Hm,” he says. “Maybe. Do you recommend it?”
And now it is your turn to say, “Um. I guess.”
And suddenly you have to choke back this urge you woke up with this morning, the inexplicable urge to cry. Today is not the only time you’ve woken up with this feeling, that you might start crying immediately upon waking and perhaps never stop, but usually it goes away with the morning coffee. But today it lingers, and in your emotional state, you are finding it difficult to sell this Indian man from Amarillo an air conditioner. So you almost manically start reading off your script again:
“…two-way air direction system distributes your air coolly and evenly…”
You read the sales pitch as though you were delivering bad news to a stranger: delicately, uncertainly. You want to want to Believe in Your Product, you want to want to be a Good Salesperson, but you can muster neither a coherent strategy nor any of the professional pep you really need.
“Huh,” he says. “Hm. I guess… I guess I’ll buy it.”
But he, also, lacks a certain pleasure that people who buy things are supposed to have. He doesn’t really seem to want this air conditioner at all, and the idea that somebody would buy an air conditioner over the phone when he already has one that works perfectly well, and when it isn’t at all clear that he really even wants to buy it—it’s all enough to bring a certain moisture to your eyes.
And so you tell this man the only thing you can tell him: “You don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to. You don’t seem to want it, or need it, really.”
And again the sound of his heavy breath takes place of a reply for a while, before he says, “What?”
“I’m just saying,” you say.
“I’m confused,” he says.
And so, with a sigh, you say: “Me too, man.”
And then you hang up on him, and slip the headphones off again, and close your eyes for a minute, trying to will the Advil to finally start working against your migraine. When you open them, you feel your supervisor standing behind you and he’s saying:
And you turn around to look at him, your eyes still a little wet, even though the tears haven’t yet fallen. You wish these crying-ish spells would stop. But right now you are on the verge of tears, and you are looking at your supervisor, Ben, who never really seemed to like you in the first place and certainly isn’t shy about that right now.
And you say: “Oh. Hi.”
Back in the therapist’s office, again. He sits back in his chair, legs folded, hands clasped on his lap. Where does this go? What’s the point? You think of the things you could buy with the $100 a week you’re paying Dr. Friedberg.
You say, “So I got fired.”
He says, “Hm. Tell me about that.”
So you tell him about the Indian guy, how he didn’t want the air conditioner, but was willing to buy one anyway, and how inexplicably sad it made you, and you say, “I felt like I was, I don’t know, saving him, or something. But afterwards, when I turned and saw that my supervisor had been listening in on it the whole time, I just felt stupid.”
Dr. Friedberg says, “Hm.”
And you shrug and say, “Yeah.”
A moment passes and, because you are the type of person who isn’t comfortable with silence, you say, “I feel like crying all the time.”
“Because of your job?”
“No. Just because.”
He frowns and says, “I can recommend a good psychiatrist.”
You sigh and say, “I don’t want pills.”
So at the end of another impossibly long week, you drag yourself—more out of habit than desire—to the comedy house to watch the Open Mic Night. One evening several years back, you were walking home, slightly drunk, after a lousy date, and you wandered in here, hoping to be cheered up. And you were cheered up, though not in the way you’d expected. The jokes the comics told weren’t very good, and you didn’t laugh all that much, and there weren’t that many people in the crowd that night. But what made you feel better that night was a certain energy behind it all: here were a group of people who were trying, in earnest, to do something with themselves. To make something original, and worthwhile, and maybe even meaningful. Many of them were failing to do so, of course, but, as you came back, week after week, you noticed that so too did the failing comics come back, fine-tuning their jokes, making another sincere go of it.
Yes, there was magic here, in the beginning. Or, you thought, if there was going to be magic anywhere, it might as well be here. There was something incredibly moving and promising in these people, something you had not found anywhere else. So you kept coming back. Some of the comics got better, most did not, and the latter, by and large, started to come less and less, until they disappeared entirely from the scene, and faded from your memory, like a pop song you once knew by heart but had since forgotten. A few of them went on to have careers, and you would watch their HBO specials and feel happy for them when you did. And those who burned out were replaced by strange new faces, also filled with promise, and when you went, you would see how much this mattered to them, you would see how badly they wanted to make you laugh, and how comedy might be a stab at the kind of unique connection that great literature used to facilitate. And sitting there, you used to smile.
Lately though, not so much. You come because you have been coming for years, and there isn’t anything else to do anyway. You don’t have very many friends, and the ones you do have you prefer to see only occasionally. So, even though this place has long since failed to bring a smile to your lips, here you are, and you sit down and you see your waiter, Jim, who you’ve known since he started working here a couple of years ago. Jim is a tall man, a few years younger than yourself, with nice, short, black hair and very light emerald eyes, and when you first met him you thought he was flirting with you, and you planned pretty quickly on sleeping with him, but nothing ever came of it. In retrospect, he was probably just being a good waiter. But he’s still friendly, and he’s become something of a fixture in your Friday nights here, and so when you sit down at the table, there he is, with that smile.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hey Jim,” you say, sounding more tired than you wanted to.
“How’s it going?” he asks.
“You know. Same old. I got fired the other day. But you don’t want to hear about that. I’m sorry.”
“Oh shit,” he says. “No, I’m sorry.”
You purse your lips in lieu of having anything else to say, and he stands there, still smiling. Jim was always smiling when he worked. Sometimes you want to say to him, can you cut that out? People who smile all the time make me lonely. But you never do.
“So, can I get you anything?” he asks.
“A beer?” you ask, uncertain.
“I thought you quit drinking,” he says.
“Well, you know…”
Jim raises his eyebrows, up and down, real quick. And he says, “What kind of beer you want?”
And you say, “Surprise me.”
Jim comes back a couple of minutes later with a glass of Budweiser.
“It’s hard to surprise people,” he says as he sets it down. “We only serve Bud and Corona.”
You shrug and say, “Budweiser is fine.”
He smiles, still, and he says, “Let me know if you need anything.”
You thank him and watch him walk briskly away, to attend to other customers. The Open Mic Night hasn’t started yet.
There are regulars, others like you, but for the most part, you don’t know them. Almost all come with friends or family, except you and this one other guy, a bit older than yourself, Fred or Frank or what’s his name. He tried to hit on you one night about a year back, came up to you a bit drunk, spouted a garbage pickup line, and you made it apparent that you weren’t interested. He hasn’t spoken to you since. There’s a couple whom you’ve never spoken to, beautiful and youngish and well-to-do-looking. You’ve never spoken to them but you’ve imagined lives for them. They’ve been married for about a year, and he’s a lawyer and she teaches mathematics at a community college. They don’t have any kids yet, but things are looking good and they’re trying to start trying soon. There’s another couple, septuagenarians, who are quite friendly and who talk to you all the time before and after shows. Larry and Linda. You just now realize that they’re among the select group of people—inside the comedy club or not—that you genuinely enjoy talking to. You’re not sure how to feel about this.
The host takes the stage and welcomes everybody to Open Mic Night. The club hires somebody to host it each week, and you’ve seen this particular guy a few times. It’s the host’s job to introduce each comic before he or she comes on stage, and this host likes to make fun of the comics who have an especially hard time of it, and you, in turn, have grown to kind of loathe him. But anyway, he only says a few words before the show starts, and you sit back, you sip your beer, already slightly buzzed since your tolerance has gone entirely away after you quit drinking.
The first couple of acts are okay. It’s an election year, so there’s a lot of political humor, which is not your personal favorite, but the crowd seems to be enjoying it, and nobody is bombing. In between the second and third act, while the host is in the middle of a lame one-liner, Linda finally sees you and gives you a smile and a wave. You nod your head, and suddenly it almost feels good to be here again, and to be a regular. Almost.
And then the third act comes on, and you know more or less on sight that it’s not going to go well. He’s a kid, for one, no older than twenty-two, and kids, generally speaking, come to Open Mic Nights to fuck up. It’s a rite of passage for comics, bombing is, and if the act in question is worth his salt, he’ll keep coming back. It’s true that you don’t come here for the talent, you come here for a certain spirit, a certain sense of resilience and almost stupid optimism that you haven’t found anywhere else, but still, when a comic bombs—especially a young comic, like this, for whom it’s probably his first time—your heart breaks, just a tiny bit.
The kid on stage is as pale as a slice of white cheddar, almost moon-skinned. His face is acne-scarred and he wears those tragically un-hip round glasses, like the kind your father wears. He’s got on a Misfits t-shirt and a pair of black jeans, and he holds the microphone as though it were a delicate explosive. Your heart sinks before he’s even said a word.
And then it starts.
“Hey everyone,” he says, in the squeaky, off-kilter voice that belongs almost exclusively to the adolescent and the fatally nervous, “I’m Michael. How are you guys doing tonight?”
The crowd gives him a lifeless hoot, and he nods.
“Very nice. Very nice.”
It’s silent for a moment and, as you finish what’s left of your beer, you quickly signal Jim to bring you another round. You’re hoping that this kid will surprise, or that he’ll at least do alright, but right now you can see his knees wobble from your seat, and you’re not at all confident he’s going to do well.
“Lots of couples out in the audience,” he says, with a smile so forced that it can barely be called a smile. “Lots of couples. Look at these guys,” he says, gesturing to a fairly non-descript couple seated up front, who both look about your age, maybe a little older. He’s wearing a green sweater and she’s wearing a baggy skirt, and they both seem happy enough. “You guys married?”
You hear the echo of the “yes” that the woman gives Michael.
“How long have you been married?”
“Three years! Right on, right on.”
There’s another pause, and you can feel the crowd start to get slightly restless. Usually, people understand it’s an Open Mic Night, and that their expectations should be managed accordingly, but every once in a while, the crowd doesn’t get the memo, or has a bit too much to drink, or simply won’t pay attention to the act, electing to talk amongst themselves over the various jokes.
“I just got out of a relationship myself,” he says.
You don’t like where this is headed. Not at all.
“We met in college. Junior year. And there’s nothing like your junior year of college, you know? You’re not an underclassman anymore, you’re all settled in, you’re not stressed out about managing your time or whatever. But so I met her at this party, and, long story short, we wind up dating for like a year. And you know, I’m me,” he says, gesturing towards his body with his free hand, waiting for a laugh that doesn’t come, “and she is just—she’s fucking incredible. She’s like one of those girls who all the other girls hate, you know? Because she doesn’t have to make much of an effort to be as good-looking as she is. Just like no makeup, she likes a ponytail, you get the idea. And this whole time, I’m worried—I mean, like, cosmically worried, just anxious with every fiber of my being—that she somehow missed something, and doesn’t realize how much better she could do. And like, sure, everything is great now, I mean, are you kidding me? But there’s a clock ticking in my head the whole time, counting down to the day when she wakes up, looks over at me, and she’s just like what the fuck, you know?”
At this point, you’re slightly less nervous for Michael than you had been when you first saw him. Nothing he’s said is funny, and he’s still very awkward and obviously uncomfortable, which probably explains the audience’s discomfort that you sense, but he tells his story with the cadence of a joke, which is sometimes enough. Maybe he won’t bomb after all, you think. You take a deep breath and listen to him go on.
“But okay, so everything’s going great, otherwise. So summer of that year she says, ‘we should get an apartment together, move off campus.’ And the voice in my head is telling me, like really screaming at me: No, don’t do this, you fat, ugly fuck, don’t do it, she’s gonna leave you and then you’re gonna be homeless, don’t do it don’t do it.’ But I’m also falling in love with her, and you know, of course I’m going to move in with her. There’s no real reason not to. So I move in the start of the next semester—”
And suddenly, here it comes: some guy, middle aged, a few days’ beard growth, baseball cap, sitting alone in the back corner of the club, is cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting, “Tell us a fucking joke!” Like anything else, it only takes one before all the others turn, and you want to turn to the guy and tell him to shut up, but you don’t. You sip your beer and hope it passes.
Michael, interrupted, pauses briefly, winces just ever so visibly, and ignores the comment, pressing on.
“I move in, and right away, you can just tell something is weird. Like, you know that feeling when you’ve been living with someone for a while, and you’ve just woken up—it’s like six in the morning—and you stumble, you know, like a drunk or something into the kitchen, searching for coffee or whatever it is, and you open your stupid eyes and there she is? And you just get irrationally angry, like, how could she do this to me? How could she exist?”
There are few things worse to feel than the full-body cringe you get when somebody tries to make a joke that falls flat. The middle-aged guy in the corner boos again, and Michael’s voice begins to shake a little more with each passing phrase.
“But yeah, so there’s that, and then also there’s still all the stuff with her being out of my league or whatever. But you know, I still do love her, at the end of the day, and nothing is obviously wrong, so some months go by and I think maybe some of the weirdness is going away but who knows. And then, I come home one day from a night class that let out early. And I see somebody’s car parked in the parking lot of our building, in my spot, and I know right away, well, that’s it. But, like, in a really fucked up way I’m also kind of excited about it, you know? Because I get to be the guy now! I get to be the guy who’s like, ah I’ve caught you! You’re a bad person! J’accuse! Which is way better than her sitting me down and, you know, oh honey, I love you, but there’s someone else.”
The middle-aged guy has shut up, at least for the time being, but Michael still hasn’t gotten a single laugh. Still, it doesn’t appear as though he’ll be booed off stage or anything, and ultimately, it could be going worse.
Why are you so invested in this guy? What is your motivation here? It’s not even like you’re rooting for him to succeed; you just want desperately for him not to fail. You’re praying for mediocrity, basically. And where’s the magic in that? That isn’t what keeps you coming back here. You start to feel depressed and you take a generous sip from your pint glass.
“So I walk up the steps to our apartment—and it’s a sixth floor walk-up, so there’s a lot of steps—and I’m just huffing and puffing, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to say. Like, I’m already at that point visualizing what I could say to her, and I want it to be something that’s just soul-crushing, you know? Something that just eats her heart up and makes her want to, like, evaporate out of shame. So finally, I get up to my apartment, and I’m out of breath, but I’m too caught up in everything to care, and I jam my key into the lock, and I fling open the door and I’m practically running to our room—I can hear them, and they clearly haven’t heard me come in—and I barge in and I open my mouth to say something but—”
There’s a pause here. You think, this might be good storytelling but it’s not comedy. You think, this pause is too dramatic. You think, poor kid. You think, if the magic has gone from this place, I’m not sure where the hell else to look for it. You think, oh fuck.
Because now something has happened to the kid’s face. The emotion, that kind of jokey energy he had before, has simply left his being, sizzled up like water in a frying pan, and he’s now somehow even paler than before, and you can tell he’s committing the cardinal sin of comedy, as far as your lay-knowledge of comedy is concerned; he’s lost control.
“And I see them,” he says in a suddenly quiet, distant voice, affect flat as a pancake, “and she’s startled, her eyes are bulging and she’s covering her tits… whatever. And then I see him. And he is hideous. He’s got this bowl cut, a soul patch, and a lazy eye, and a scar running down the side of his left cheek. He’s a little bit overweight and, I’ve never had high self-esteem, but I think, I’m better looking than this guy.”
The room is just dead silent, and you’re not sure whether or not that’s a whole lot better than being booed. You’ve literally never heard it this quiet in this room before. And something else you’ve never seen before: the kid on the stage, who just a second ago was frowning at something on the floor, is now crying. Balling. And in between sobs, he’s saying:
“This whole time I was worried… This whole time I was worried that… Oh god… Oh shit.”
And then a week later, you find yourself once again in your therapist’s office. You sit there not knowing what to say, and he is looking at you both patiently and expectantly, the way people sometimes look children whose babble they’ve decided to indulge. You are in no hurry for a conversation to get underway. You look to your left, at his wall, on which hang a host of certificates and diplomas, all hanging inside nice, neat little frames.
And then you realize that you’re paying by the hour, and you say,
“I decided to quit quitting drinking.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”
And you say, “I thought if I made all these drastic changes in my life, something would give. This—I don’t know—this quagmire or whatever that I seem to be trapped in… I thought maybe if I just started changing a lot of different things about my life, the way I feel about my life would change. But it hasn’t. So I drank.”
He asks, “What kind of change did you envision?”
You open your mouth to say something, but find that there are no words. You sigh, and your eyes turn back to the Wall of Diplomas. And you’re saying,
“You don’t look that old.”
He smiles a little, cocks his head to the side.
“You have all those diplomas on the wall, but you don’t even look old enough to have been in school for that long.”
At which he shrugs. “You didn’t answer my question.”
And so you say, “I don’t know.”
“Sure you do.”
“No I don’t. I wish I did. I want to know what to want. But I don’t. So I can’t even begin to answer that question.”
There’s another silence, and you’re thinking that this whole thing is just a complete waste of time and money. Maybe your problem is that—for whatever reason—you want to feel miserable. Why else work at a call center with a college degree? Why else date someone for the better part of a year, despite never having loved him? Why else drag yourself, every week, to a comedy club that you no longer take any joy in?
And then you’re saying:
“Sometimes the world feels as though it has the rhythm of a joke, but then the punchline never comes.”
And he looks at you, giggles quietly, and says, “You know, people go to therapy for that.”
Corey Isaacs is a writer from Palisades, New York, just over the state line from Bergen County. He is currently an MFA candidate at George Mason University.
He’s inside the clock in the airport. Only the hour hand is painted in. The man dips his brush in the paint can and traces a long black line, uniting the center of the clock with the figure 12. Now the clock has a minute hand.
He’s tall and handsome, although I can’t see his face. He cleans the glass surface with
a squeegee. Oblivious to all the passengers, he bends and washes a rag in the bucket.
Up again, he wipes off the black minute hand he just painted. The passengers look at each other: what is this guy doing inside the clock? And why did he wipe off the minute hand?
The man washes the rag in the bucket. If you ever wonder where does time go, well, let me tell you: it’s in the white bucket. He notices a spec left on the clock’s surface and cleans it up with his sleeve. Unhurried, he loads his brush with black paint and slowly paints a new long line from the center to the right of the figure 12. It’s one minute after 12.
The passengers are captivated. He ignores everyone and makes sure the black minute hand is perfect, with no wavy edges. He’s taking his time—he’s a perfectionist, that’s why. Then, with quick moves, he wipes the line with the squeegee. What happened? It wasn’t straight enough? What a waste of time. The man next to me returns to his paper, mumbling.
I get up and circle behind the huge clock. No one is there. There is no stair, no door.
The clock is so thin no one could fit inside. Back in the waiting room, I take my seat and look up: there he is, absorbed in his task, painting another minute.
Claudia Serea’s poems and translations have appeared in Field, New Letters, 5 a.m., Meridian, Word Riot, Apple Valley Review, among others. She is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada, 2012), A Dirt Road Hangs From the Sky (8th House Publishing, Canada, 2013), To Part Is to Die a Little (Cervena Barva Press, 2015) and Nothing Important Happened Today (Broadstone Books, 2016). Serea co-hosts The Williams Readings poetry series in Rutherford, NJ, and she is a founding editor of National Translation Month
In the courtyard of a temple where an ancient tree blooms
an old woman is waiting to greet you.
She locks her fingers. You step into her hands.
Lengthen your body. Your feet on her shoulders.
Another woman (not much younger than you) climbs
over your bodies, plants her toes on your shoulders,
for the next woman, younger, skinnier, growing hips.
She helps the younger children board the human rope,
almost toppling, if not for the old woman at the base,
Up in the leaves. And the two-year-old, just learning to walk,
dangles in the middle cluster of teens, who offer their long arms
and cupped hands. Because the two-year-old is carrying
the baby just born. The others tell her not to cry
while she presses her face to the baby’s cheeks.
Go up the six-year-old says. Up here! says the five-year-old.
The toddler above plops the thumb out of her mouth,
offering her hand, another presses her sweaty palms to the bark,
reaches for a branch. But the old woman trembles at the base,
and breathing heavily, drops to her knees. The tower collapses,
your foot stuck under roots growing through the stone floor.
All the girls fall—some even cling to the boughs—but the baby.
Somehow the baby found a nest on a branch.
Later, when the old woman begins to disappear, you tell her
you saw the tree lower its branch,
to catch the falling cry.
We decided to ask for our money back,
we women of color.
So we wrote a formal letter to the league of straight white men.
I can’t remember exactly what we said
but it was like filing a complaint to the manager
about some sandwich we ate,
the poor quality of a show
we had anticipated seeing for months
only to be disappointed. But it was something
more serious, like collateral.
I half-expected the straight white men to ignore our request,
if not take a whole year to reply,
or perhaps never get our letter in the mail
or even better, lose it
—denying having ever received it.
The straight white men wrote back immediately,
though it wasn’t the main person we addressed, who wrote back.
It was his roommate or some friend sleeping on their couch
whom they lazily assigned this task.
Wasting no time, they gave us a Visa gift card of $5 from Target,
to reimburse us for the damage done.
And their letter was way more formal than ours,
with the proper, stuffy language
and copyrights of things I didn’t even know we were talking about,
their words full of legal accuracy and politeness.
What’s more is that they made the mistake of calling us
“Women of Color, Inc.” as though we were an organization.
But this was unnecessary
because we didn’t call ourselves that.
Monica Sok is a 2016-2018 Stadler Fellow at Bucknell University. She has received honors from the National Endowment for the Arts, Kundiman, the MacDowell Colony, Saltonstall Foundation, Hedgebrook, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and elsewhere. Her chapbook Year Zero was selected by Marilyn Chin for a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Narrative, and the New Republic, among others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. She is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.Read More »
If Life Is As Short As Our Ancestors Insist It Is, Why Isn’t Everything I Want Already At My Feet & Poem – Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
If Life Is As Short As Our Ancestors Insist It Is, Why Isn’t Everything I Want Already At My Feet
if I make it to heaven, I will ask for all of the small pleasures
I could have had on earth. And I’m sure this will upset
the divine order. I am a simple man. I want, mostly,
a year that will not kill me when it is over.
A hot stove and a wooden porch, bent under
the weight of my people. I was born, and it only got worse
from there. In the dead chill of a doctor’s office,
I am told what to cut back on and what to add more of.
None of this sounds like living. I sit in a running
car under a bath of orange light and eat the fried chicken
that I promised my love I would stray from
for the sake of my heart and its blood
labor. Still, there is something about the way a grease
stain begins small and then tiptoes its way along
the fabric of my pants. Here, finally, a country
worth living in. One that falls thick from whatever
it is we love so much that we can’t stop letting it kill
us. If we must die, let it be inside here. If we must.
Watching A Fight At The New Haven Dog Park, First Two Dogs, And Then Their Owners
The mailman still hands me bills like I should be lucky to have my name on anything in this town & I been here 14 months & all I get is paper telling me who I owe & when I owe them & what might be taken from me if I don’t hand over the faces of dead men & I love the electric architecture of noise on the corner of Chapel & State where the old dudes who drown their afternoons in warm liquid build porches from neon glass & yell I see you boy at the Yale kids who walk by dressed in salmon colored windbreakers regardless of whether or not the wind is present or asking to be broken & I, too, dress for the hell I want & not the hell that is most likely coming & at the fence outside the dog park my own dog pulls towards home & all of my dogs pull towards home & I am a leash sometimes & I send flowers to funerals from 3 states away now & I’m saying that which forces us to bare our teeth is all a matter of perspective & inside the dog park a game of fetch has gone awry & the dog that looks like a wheat field is circling the dog that looks like a melted ice cream cone & the wheat field is all teeth & the melted cone is a trembling mess & when the stakes are most violent I suppose we all become what we resemble most & what I mean is that the men on the corner are only drunks until the cops come & then they are scholars & I am from the kind of place where no one makes a fist if they aren’t going to throw the thing & when the wheat field lunges, the melted cone knows what’s what & sidesteps the glistening teeth with impeccable precision & I can’t believe that all of this is over a stick but I imagine that to a dog, a stick is an entire country & surely I’ve thrown hands in the name of less & the dogs have owners & the owners are chest to chest & yelling at each other about which dog started the fight that is a fight in name only, the wheat field dog lunging & missing & lunging & missing & I feel guilty when I start to hope that the dog owners throw a punch at each other just so I can remember what it looks like when a fist determines its own destiny & I haven’t seen a real fight since Chris from Linden mopped up some kid from the suburbs back in ‘02 outside of the Dairy Queen after the kid had one too many jokes about Chris’ pops catching 25 years on the back of some real shit & Chris knocked that boy out so fast he ain’t even get touched & we carried Chris home with his clean face & clean hands & so I really don’t have the time for all of the theater at this dog park & I am getting too old & I want only a good dog most days & I’m saying I want a dog that will never ask me to finish something it started & I’m saying I want a dog that will never make me clean its blood out of the streets.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism has been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, and The New York Times. He has been nominated for the pushcart prize, and his poem “Hestia” won the 2014 Capital University poetry prize. His first full length collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, is forthcoming in 2016 from Button Poetry / Exploding Pinecone Press. He is a Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow, an interviewer at Union Station Magazine, and a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine. He is a member of the poetry collective Echo Hotel with poet/essayist Eve Ewing. Additionally, he is a columnist at MTV News, where he writes about music, and fights to get Room Raiders back on the air. He thinks poems can change the world, but really wants to talk to you about music, sports, and sneakers.
Virtually, every Sunday, we gather
just the three of us: me, my sister,
the upper-right quadrant of our mother’s
face. It’s nearly impossible to take
a disembodied forehead, seriously, at face-value
which is why, when my sister reveals her girlfriend
has left because of the space sorrow rends
between them / the therapist / the raised dose
& mother you respond kids these days
are too reliant on our false little life-
boats, anyway, you’ll have to forgive
that we laughed & laughed, pealing
like so many bells calling the night home
to roost. Oh, mother. It’s been so long
since I was the girl in the kitchen
with the dull knife. So long mother
forgive me. It’s just funny, you
had two daughters & then
you didn’t & on the news or not
the world is ending / still / the world
of my kin not my kin & I can’t bear
knowing there’s a door & behind the door
a country that loves my sisters, that tends
their gorgeous lives & all they have to do is walk
from one dark into another endless…Mother,
like anyone, I need help raising the shroud
from my pathetic shoulders, though I do
get it: the pills / Big Pharma / sham
crystalline coats / so what
if that’s what lifts your children
here, fully to you?
BLACK FEELING 
There’s no logic to it, none
I can decipher.
I can pay attention,
pace around the internet
& nothing, no part
of my body
forces me to turn away.
On others, there’s a dial
stuck inside, always
bad news / smooth jazz
& I can’t turn it down,
the blinding static.
On the internet,
there are rooms
full of people
looking for a cure.
There are specialists,
a diagnosis: tinnitus
from, of course, the Latin
tinnire, to ring
as in: a telephone
but there’s no one home
to answer, no one
I imagine the hands
of whoever’s calling, godlike
in their persistence
down into my red
wiring — I’m sorry.
I don’t mean to sound
ungrateful. I am grateful
as a weathervane
this morning, again
the country ablaze
firework / gunfire / man
of music & I
alone in the manic dark, head
in my hands ringing
& ringing, faithful
goddamned blood alarm.
The cat wakes me up as always
rooting her head between my chest
& chin & failing this, licks the lacy crud
hardening in the corners of my mouth
with her darling tongue, which she lets hang
between her lips as though ponderous
or posing for the camera, at least
when she’s not using it to clean herself
from tail to toe to asshole & then my facehole,
which I know is a kind of favor—
after all, I’m hairless & ugly & too dumb
to lift my limbs from the bed & polish each one.
It’s been so long, a whole season of drought
& what? You think I need to lift my head & pray
for rain? You think I need to twirl
beneath the firmament, the bruising sky?
& maybe you’re right, or would be,
if I weren’t half-boy, half-beast. If I didn’t mark
these walls myself, slink around the furniture.
I confess, the cat is right. I do need help
keeping my face clean. Downy, these days,
as a newborn. There’s a reason, you know,
we’re all writers or gone / missing
from the world like we never happened
to have a skin, only some unhappy wind
passing through. I’ve lost you, haven’t I?
But what can I say? I’m still right
here, haven’t moved all morning & who could
be lonely when there’s always this spectral self
to say hello to? Hello you. Darling you. Hello
sentry of my peace. Busy little tongue.
Cameron Awkward-Rich is the author of the chapbook Transit (Button Poetry, 2015) and his debut collection, Sympathetic Little Monster,was published by Ricochet Editions in 2016. He is a Cave Canem Fellow, a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine, and currently a doctoral candidate in Modern Thought & Literature at Stanford University.Read More »
You ask me why I did not
pin a star beside this city
or that, & my maps
are gathered in graphite
& not ink.
Perhaps I did,
& did not care
to rebuild that city
just yet for you.
I wanted to remember
a song curling up the vents
& bent over my ear
like the willow tree outside
rooted deep as basement:
Brother, or birds, now gone.
What between this city’s bricks
counts as mortar, counts as awl?
Perhaps you lift a stone,
& perhaps a snowplow
or chipmunk escapes,
tiny roar scraping asphalt
as it slips away among the lilacs.
Perhaps I lift a bonsai pot
or a hummingbird’s wing,
& perhaps all the names
gathered in my shirt hem
fall in handfuls as I work
& perhaps I don’t notice
until we finish, too late—
the deer come
swift toward this last bit
of rubble, & we are
wearing the wrong colors.
I don’t know your face
but I recognize you
as a man selling lemons
or limes in the rain,
or I don’t & you are
only membranes of light
between the palm
& its coin or another
palm never pressed
Are you a woman
who swallows rain
in the form of crushed ice?
Or a wolf-child
who sleeps in the garage
pooling so fast with exhaust
I can’t hold it all together
with one breath? & here
between you and you,
if I wipe the rain
from my eyes, then you are
both & neither & gone.
Let me step down, I said,
or I didn’t & wouldn’t
step down into the water
because it was everything
my body isn’t & was
ready to engulf my face
& steal its edges away
with its retreating
impression of me,
the version that was
just my face & maybe
a bit more or less.
Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is the author of Hour of the Ox, which won the 2015 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry (Pittsburgh, 2016), and has received poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the Knight Foundation, among others. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Best New Poets 2015, Columbia: A Journal of Literature & Art, december magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, Narrative Magazine, and more. She serves as cofounding editor for Print-Oriented Bastards and producer for The Working Poet Radio Show. www.marcicalabretta.com.Read More »
She mourns the soft, upturned earth of her own body; the failed harvest hangs in her
stomach like a sickness, the grave of the Unknown Soldier hidden under her own skin, her skin a thin cotton sheet over diseased wheat, her rough-spun shirt a funeral shroud of her own creation.
She is unstable ; the swells of her body have been followed by unmotion, like a sail caught
suddenly without wind, folding back upon itself: like the moon stretching out to a glowing orb, but stumbling upon its way and then only collapsing back to a sliver halfway. The earned softness of her body decomposes off her, leaving her bones thick and hard , and organs small , and bounded .
Alone, in the moonlight, she wanes.
Jacinta is a student studying physics and literary arts at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Her favorite emoticon is the winky face and her favorite pastime is Netflix. She enjoys laughing, dancing and green teas.Read More »
We loved Mr. Pasternak before we knew what love was. He was young and good-looking, and he was the only teacher we didn’t sense secretly needing the approval or friendship of us, his eighth-grade charges. His clothes didn’t fit — his button-ups hung loose on his body and his pants were cut too long — but he didn’t care if we thought he looked like a cool teacher, which made him a cool teacher. When he took over as the high school cross-country coach, he laced up his running shoes every afternoon and ran every mile along with the team. The former coach had just driven beside the team in his van, hanging back a little, allegedly to look at their butts as they ran.
We were not quite brave enough to forge lateness permission slips from our parents. We were ashamed to be seen in the outlet stores of our favorite brand names, and planned elaborate lies to explain why we were there in case we were ever spotted and confronted. We were confident in our knowledge of how sex worked, but still terrified of being able to perform it competently. We were worried about our parents divorcing. We were afraid that no one’s older sibling would ever like us enough to buy us beer. We were definitely going to try out for the team — any team — once we gained enough weight. Mr. P appeared at Gerald R. Ford Middle and High School when we needed him most, when we were skeptical that adult men came in forms besides our jowly, impotent dads and our self-important, stoned older brothers. He had a picture of his wife on his desk, and she was prettier than any girl we knew in real life. The girls said they heard they got married at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and we squirreled this information away to add to our nascent understanding of romance.
Our devotion to him transcended even our hatred for Derek, which was substantial. Derek was so frail and dweebishly irritating; it was annoying just to know that he was spending homeroom painstakingly sketching cartoon characters with big eyes and spiky hair. Looking at him was like an itch that could only be scratched by spitting into his food while walking by him at lunch, tripping him if a group of high schoolers walked by so that they would know that just because we were standing near him didn’t mean we were friends. But once Mr. P starting teaching World History, Derek wasn’t at lunch anymore — instead, he ate in Mr. P’s room with him. We could hear them talking from the hallway, and stung with jealousy. But we felt like we had to honor Mr. P’s tacit endorsement of Derek. We stopped performing imitations of his high, soft voice and making fun of his areolae when we changed for gym.
Not even Mr. P could make us excited about learning; not really. But we did care about at least doing okay in his class. Sometimes we had nightmares about turning in homework only to have Mr.
P shake his head and say “You didn’t try at all, did you?”
He taught us about the plague, and we learned about how fleas had changed the course of history. “But they didn’t know that at the time,” Mr. P told us. “In the 14th century, all they knew was that everyone around them was dying. They had no idea why.” He told us about the useless things people tried in an attempt to ward off death: cleaner air, better diet, prayer. We looked at engravings of flagellants wandering the countryside whipping themselves with musical accompaniment in an attempt to show God they were sorry. We tried to imagine what it would be like to live in a world that so profoundly misunderstood how people worked, what made them well.
Mr. P handed out worksheets about the hierarchy of the church in the 1300s and had us work on them in groups of three. As we huddled, he moved about the room, occasionally tapping a student on the shoulder and whispering, after which they got up and stood against the wall. By the time the class period was over, most of the class was standing to the side, and none of our worksheets were finished. “You’ve just experienced the black plague,” Mr. P said solemnly. “All of you —“ he swept his arm towards the people against the wall — “are dead.” Those of us still sitting beheld the deceased, trying to drum up a real sense of grief. We tried to call forth shock and sadness even for Derek, who fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. We couldn’t.
The next week in homeroom, we watched a movie about a Simon Hutchins, a football player who had been injured on the field. The camera panned over yearbook photos that showed him grinning, with only mild acne, broad shoulders and a minimum of neck. When Hutchins addressed the camera directly, it was from a wheelchair; he had been paralyzed after a vicious sack. Someone made a joke about his penis not working, and we tittered until Mr. P glared. “Do you think this is a joke?” he asked. “Think about how lucky you are, to get to think this is funny.” He seemed genuinely mad, and we were ashamed, although we still wondered about the football player’s dick. After the video, Mr. P turned the lights back on. “Come on, line up at the door. Let’s go.” We were to move to the auditorium where Hutchins would visit his real-life presence upon us in the form of an assembly about disabilities.
Somehow it reached us while filing into the auditorium, leaning forward between the heads and shoulders of others to pass it along. Did we know that the reason this guy was here at all was because he had known Mr. P’s wife? Not just known her; they had dated. Even better — even worse — Mr. P’s wife had been his high school girlfriend, had even been at the fateful game when he fell to the ground and couldn’t get up under his own power. “That can’t be true,” someone said. “What, she broke up with a cripple in his hospital bed?” We weren’t ready to believe it either. But here inside the auditorium, where our eyes weren’t yet used to the light, there was Mr. P up near the stage. He was leaning over Hutchins with the same grave charm he used with us when looking over our worksheets. We were suddenly so aware of his body, of how functional it was — the legs that carried him down the sidewalk with the cross-country team, the arms that reached for his wife and looped fluidly around her waist when he stood. Because that was the thing; while Mr. P’s hanging out with the wheelchair dude might not have been suspicious in itself, Mr. P’s wife was standing off to the side, between the wheelchair and the stage. She was as pretty as her photo made her look, staring down at her hands instead of at Mr. P or Simon Hutchins. “Why else would she be here?” someone whispered, and we couldn’t find a reason. “He stole a cripple’s girlfriend?” someone else hissed.
We settled into seats with murmurs of indignation and protestation humming through the auditorium. “You’re making this up,” we heard Derek’s voice from a few rows over. “You don’t know that.”
We wanted more than ever before to dump an open can of Coke into his backpack.
The speaker’s wheelchair propelled him up a ramp onto the stage, where he joined the vice principal at the podium. Mr. P and his wife took seats in the front row, and we saw their heads lean in towards each other, and we wanted more than anything to know what they were saying. The vice principal laid a hand on the speaker’s shoulder and leaned in towards the microphone: “Today it’s my pleasure to introduce—“ But she had to stop and hold up a hand to block the wad of paper flying at her. “Excuse me!” she bellowed into the microphone, but three more wads of paper landed on the stage. “Hey!” Mr. P stood up and turned to look at us. He was hit in the face with what looked like a pack of gum.
Some of us were aiming at the speaker, some of us at Mr. P, some at his wife. A handful of us went for Derek, who got drilled in the back of the head by a hard plastic pencil case. Mr. P’s wife covered her face and the vice principal tried yelling into the microphone but we couldn’t hear her over the sound of ourselves hooting and laughing, our voices rising into a throaty shriek that sounded much bigger and more important than any one of us alone.
Rachel Kincaid is a Bostonian getting used to the Midwest. Her work has appeared in Forklift, Ohio; Threepenny Review; The Awl and is forthcoming in Paper Darts.
In the presence of heat, the air
palpable as breath, in there
the heart races, the thing is
waiting, a kind of skin trembling
waiting for something to come
on me, a thing that has no name.
When I think of the church
I cannot think of walls, I think
of the smell of wine, the sweet
intoxication of it, the thing
we sip as if somehow it will
reach deep into the stomach
and heal things, clear things,
my head wet with the idea
that I cannot walk away
from God, as if anyone can,
and how the fear of his de-
parture, his going away, fills
me with the despair of a
stone on an open dry field
under a dull sun, waiting,
waiting for the return of hope.
Kwame Dawes is the author of twenty books of poetry and numerous other books of fiction, criticism, and essays. He has edited over a dozen anthologies. His most recent collection, City of Bones: A Testament (Northwestern University Press) will appear in 2016 along with Speak from Here to There, a co-written collection of verse with Australian poet John Kinsella, and A Bloom of Stones, a tri-lingual anthology of Haitian Poetry written after the earthquake, which he edited. A Spanish-language collection of his poems, titled Vuelo, will appear in Mexico in 2016. He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and teaches at the University of Nebraska and the Pacific MFA Program. He is Director of the African Poetry Book Fund and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.
She was mid-sentence. Mid-bloom.
Her youngest voice emerged—a mustard seed
shoved deep in her throat—when the arrow
shot straight through her eye. The audience
finally heard her. Our hearts erupted when,
from behind, that arrow tore through an eye so gorgeous
a shade of green. I can’t look at the kelly crest of a fruit-dove
without grieving. A composite of queer survivor,
expunged. Her girlfriend was pregnant.
She was trying to be brave, to shuck away the skin
she still carried from her days inside the last room
inside the last trailer in the park. Dad’s shotgun
& its torrent of shells pelting the floor like a rosary
snapped in half, the beads scattering
way too fast while her mind flashed girl-on-girl
stigmata, repeating: this too shall pass. But this was
the apocalypse. End times stanched the guilt
& we watched her drag her body into the light
only to have a goddamn arrow force her
back down on the train tracks. Clutching a can
of orange soda pop, her story scattered,
unfinished. A moral compass pointing us
to our lifelong fears: coming out
of our torment is just a 360 turn
leaving us oedipal & buried
behind the church while the world
continues to roam.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
Right now, we aren’t
two neighbors, undressed
& tapping Morse code
on the wall that divides us.
A slab of ceramic is eggshell
compared to the osmium forest
ringing states between us.
There’s no pearl of glamour
in our distance, only silence
as I press my ear to the floor
& breathe, wishing it was
the channel between your neck
& clavicle. These days,
my icicle heart rushes
to thaw & I’m afraid of the
catastrophe you can see
in its pool. Fear is often absurd
you say. I should be able to share
my fears with you. So now,
I’m in the attic, mauling
old boxes, like: how could I
misunderstand what loving
someone means? This whole time
I just imagined my face
on the bodies of your monsters
& when I tell you this, you laugh
into the telephone because
you somehow think
no one has a face
quite like mine. I am 127
years old. I just discovered how
to touch my fangs
with fondness instead of
pleading for retraction, how
to smile in a photograph & let
springtime erode my snowy cage.
Jade Benoit’s poetry has appeared in Black Warrior Review, LUNGFULL! Magazine, H_NGM_N, Phoebe, Nashville Review, and many others. The poems submitted here are part of a larger project focused on horror.