At night I imagine the coyotes by Gion Davis

Laughing together
On the swing sets
At the empty school up the road
The city is finally theirs
I’d laugh too if it was me
Who was I?
My star chart says I was born
To be an employee
When I always felt I should be
A planet myself
Trudging through the universe
As a gigantic lonely eyeball
Leave it to heaven
To tell me how I should
Exist on the ladder
As though it wouldn’t be more
Cost effective for me to drop dead
Abandoning the pizzas I’d pick up
With all the boyfriends I’d have
The tattoos and birthdays
And paying for water
What is it like
To be an unstructured animal
As innocent as Jupiter
And twice as beautiful

 

Gion Davis is a queer poet from Española, New Mexico where they grew up on a sheep ranch. Their poetry has been featured in Wax Nine Journal, SELFFUCK, Tilted House, and others. They have received the Best New Poets of 2018 Prize selected by Ocean Vuong. They are the editor of Rhinestone Magazine and their chapbook Love & Fear & Glamour was published in 2019. They graduated with their MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2019 and currently live in Denver, Colorado. Gion can be found on Twitter @gheeontoast and on Instagram @starkstateofmind.

The Curtains We Bought by Sheila Mulrooney

We ordered curtains from a second-hand furniture shop. They said shipping took nine weeks, but we agreed that two months of naked windows was better than funding Bezos. I remember how we murmured this to each other as we fell asleep, like a lullaby. You in your boxers, me in my t-shirt, both thick with sweat. I didn’t tell you, but I was scared those nights, unable to sleep with the glare of streetlamps on our drywall. I felt like the whole city could see us. They were watching, laughing at our poverty and love.
 
~
 
They came wrapped tightly in plastic and crinkled with static. The white polyester was blotched with purple lavender, a synthetic pattern repeating itself like cars on the highway. You shook them out and immediately the room smelled of something processed and unclean. I wished we could afford nice things, like linen curtains or cotton bedsheets. You took four quarters from our Mexico Vacation Jar and left for the laundromat. I saw the static shock you as you turned the doorknob.
 
~
 
You picked them up after dinner, along with two six-packs. We were slightly drunk when you plastered them against the glass and said look, we can finally do it with the lights on. This reminded me that I wanted to string Christmas lights around the rod, then drape the curtains over them, creating a gauzy purple glow. Kinky, you said. So we fished out a string of lights, untangled them, then looped them around the curtain rod, singing Deck the Halls and spilling beer on our jeans. What I wanted to say was we are so happy, we should die so we don’t have to be scared and unhappy tomorrow. But I didn’t because I knew doing so would bring tomorrow anyway.
 
~
 
The next morning we tried putting up the curtains hungover. I think you were ashamed of our silliness the night before. You clipped your movements so they were angular and sharp. The stitching is already coming apart, you said as if the low quality disgusted you. Again I wished we were rich and spent our Sunday afternoons shopping instead of bartending and writing blogs for start-ups. You would choose beautiful curtains and we could be happy in this life that we share.
 
~
 
The curtains did not fit over the Christmas lights. We tried for forty-five minutes before stripping them from the iron rod and letting them fall into tangles.
 
~
 
We abandoned the apartment for the afternoon, the curtains a pile of soft purple on the floor. We went to Tops, bought heaps of ramen, eggs, and vegetables, planning an enormous stir fry to fight the hangover. You needed shampoo and I remembered toothpaste. By the time we checked out, the bill was $77.93, almost $30 overbudget. We walked home deflated, knowing we spent too much but could not take it back.
 
~
 
It is sunset, dinnertime, when the curtains are finally up. In the flutters of evening wind, they seem both mysterious and adolescent. Like a symbol in a coming-of-age movie, where a female protagonist will lose what her parents call her virginity to the wrong boy. This will be the greatest hardship of her affluent life, the only plot point bourgeoise screenwriters can produce. I imagine the actress as wispy with thick eyebrows, and I resent her and her fictional ilk. I stand there hating her, wanting to be her, until you yell food’s ready, come and get it. Then I shut the window and return to you.

 

Sheila Mulrooney has an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of journals including White Wall Review (forthcoming), The Wayfarer, Rejection Letters, and others. She is at work on her first novel.

Shadows by Ruth Lehrer

It’s a good thing to know who your enemies are
That’s what they say when they start worming
into all the holes of your life
tracking your diet your loves your mindset
analyzing meaning in your patterns of poop
what the wrong type of tea can do to your tooth enamel
scribing all your failures
in a chart on a spreadsheet in an app
dictating a memo to all your exes and past librarians
checking all the books you have left on your shelf
for more than six months without cracking
and taking away a donut and six Oreos
for each rhyme you left unfinished

You try to keep your nail biting a secret
but it’s typed in Helvetica on the bathroom wall
in red paint against the tiles blue.

 

Ruth Lehrer is a writer and sign language interpreter living in western Massachusetts. She is the author of the novel Being Fishkill, the poetry chapbook Tiger Laughs When You Push, and many other poems. You can find her website at ruthlehrer.com.

After 70 Years in the Ice, Steve Rogers Visits Whole Foods by Emily Capettini

I.

The first time, he never makes it past the fresh produce section.

Steve stares at the leafy greens ivied against the far wall, radishes like low-slung suns through smoke. He recognizes the cloudy marbles of cabbages, tucked in with purple twins. Knuckles of ginger root and seven kinds of apples, piled high like pirate treasure. There are packages of fruit slices nearly as green as that liquor a grateful woman in Belfort had insisted they take. They’d known it, too, was a treasure excavated, cellar dust layered thick on the bottle.

One of his men had thrown up in a field later and Steve thinks that field must have grown lush since ’44, plants gone to seed decades-thick over where his boots sunk. How many ghosts layer there like impression fossils. Then, Steve had hoped to press his own mark on history, leave something for another to find.

Now, he fills his basket with fruits and vegetables bright enough to hurt.

 

II.

Steve goes to the far side of the store next time, back set against the lure of produce. He finds himself in front of a long case heaped with cheese like rubble. Steve rests his hand just inside the glass, the cool breeze a modern marvel he expects will never fade to ordinary. There are things that stay fixed, even in this new century: summers are still sticky in New York; a body still sweats.

He picks a few wedges of cheese, soft-rinded and dimpling under his gentle grip. They’d always been his favorites, even before hard cheeses disappeared overseas.

There was a day not long after Steve hung up that prop shield when he had to dart through a farm field gone fallow. He ducked into a cave, tried to remake himself small. Steve brushed against rough wood and found on top a cool surface that dimpled under his touch.

The search for him crossed back and forth in front of the cave, and Steve slivered off pieces of the cheese, letting each melt on his tongue until dawn or death found him first.

 

III.

Everyone gives him a double-take when they see him texting, as if a full keyboard would be any trouble after a telegraph. Steve sighs, wishing for the luxury of being unremarkable. The problem with imagination, he thinks, is it only looks forward.

If anyone ever bothered to ask him what he liked best about here, he’d say coffee. Not the lattes and specialty cafés that remind him he ought to see Rouen or Paris again, but the bins lining the aisles here, each tracing an origin that spirals somewhere else. He buys more than he can really drink, stacking it inside cabinets until his whole kitchen smells like coffee.

When he and his men were able to save up enough coffee for full cups to go around, they used to wish for another tomorrow, blowing away steam like birthday candles. Steve remembers the odd splendor of rest. The comfort of sitting squeezed together in whatever shelter they’d found or made. He never made his own wish, too aware of his still-new body’s mortgage.

There are thousands of tomorrows between him and those scraped-together evenings, now. Sometimes, Steve wonders if those wishes had been rationed out like the coffee, and his share is what finally pulled him free of that long sleep.

 

Emily Capettini is a queer fiction writer from the Midwest who loves a good ghost story. Her work has most recently appeared in places like Middle House Review and Lammergeier, among others. Her chapbook, Girl Detectives, is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press later this year. Find out more about her at emilycapettini.com.

Last Seen Leaving by Laura Ring

Stay off the back roads, Beynon says.
We do not listen. We eat the roads
and the roads eat us – swallow us
like a gullet so we forget.

We want to ride the velvet maw forever –
brushed by bronchioles of northern pine,
the muscled tongue of riverbeds. We are blind
to landmarks: Molly Supple Hill, Bear Swamp

ghosted, empty of reference. We press
our cheeks against granite molars, cool,
carved out of mountains. Lick the water
that falls like tears off lichen-patched rock.

The Folk will try to trick you, he says.
With fruit trees, or a bird with a broken wing
and you’ll be lost.
The road is a marrow bone.
We suck in mile after reticular mile.

Stripped of street signs and last names,
we are innocent of home. The road swirls us
under its nose. How gladly we dance,
like wine legs on the curved bell of a cup.


Laura Ring is a poet, short story writer, anthropologist, and librarian. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in
Dream Pop Journal, Ethel Zine, and RHINO, and she was a recent finalist in the DIAGRAM, Sundress, and Tiny Fork chapbook contests. A native Vermonter, she lives in Chicago.

The Blob by Karissa Venne

I was chopping onions when the blob materialized in my kitchen.

I turned, and the blob was there, tucked in a corner by my fridge. I yelped, dropped my knife, and backed into the counter, its edge rocklike against my spine.

The blob didn’t react. It stayed in its corner, pearly and jiggling. Its amorphous body was opaque, like a giant egg white. It was as small as a basketball or a toaster or a Maltese dog. Every few seconds, I thought I could spot a pair of eyes or a mouth, but then it would shift, and the features would fade. It was a bleached-out Flubber, a mercurial creature of my very own.

A normal person would have shooed the blob away, attacked it with bleach, called their landlord or animal control. But I wasn’t normal, or at least, not in a normal stage of my life. I was 21, newly graduated from college, and I lived alone. I’d metamorphosed from a fledgling surrounded by warm, laughing bodies to a solitary and apathetic adult existence, the stuff of nightmares. There were days when I didn’t talk to a single person unless I ran into one in the office bathroom.

So I welcomed the blob. I cooked an omelette and ate it, studying my new houseguest. Before leaving for work, I filled a bowl with water and left it on the floor, figuring all creatures need hydration. Eight hours later, I found the bowl drained and the blob sporting a lovely translucence, like liquid soap or plastic wrap.

The next morning, the blob was opaque again, and though I’d struggled through high school biology, even I could figure this out. I left out another bowl of water and that night, the blob was clear again. As I fell asleep, I wondered how it drank. Did it have a mouth I couldn’t see?

Days passed. The blob huddled in its corner, its jiggling mass a comfort to me. It was always moving, but never getting anywhere. I watered it every morning and evening, the routine cemented like teeth-brushing. The blob was always translucent now.

I tried feeding it. I offered it sliced banana, spoonfuls of yogurt, handfuls of cereal. I experimented with kale, salted cashews, a chicken breast. I even tried a poached egg, figuring it might appreciate the egg’s blobbiness, remind it of itself.

The blob didn’t touch any of it. In my cubicle, instead of compiling spreadsheets, I’d Google things like, “what to feed a frog” because it felt like the pet closest to my blob. My blob. Somehow it had become mine.

That was when I wondered if my blob was like a plant, and needed photosynthesis to survive. If that was the case, I was worried, terrified really, as my blob had chosen the darkest corner of my kitchen to habitate.

That night, I dragged a cushion from my couch to the kitchen floor, sat across from my blob, and ate with my plate in my lap. After a few nights of this, my blob jiggling in agreement as I complained about my day, I finally touched it.

It was wiggling like usual, the movement even lovelier up close. I lifted a single finger. As I reached, my blob jiggled faster, almost vibrating.

My finger brushed the blob’s surface and it was exactly as I’d imagined: cold, smooth, and pliable, like gelatin. Our contact filled me with confidence. I moved to grip the blob with both hands, imagined pulling its entire body toward me. But instead, it shuddered and flattened onto the kitchen tile, trying to hide.

My blob was scared of me.

I woke up the next morning optimistic: I’d proven my blob could move. That day, I placed its water a foot away.

At work, I was filled with a jittery anxiety, as if I’d downed four coffees instead of three. Was I right? Would it move? I ached to leave my cubicle.

That night, I found my blob in its corner, but with the bowl of water drained. I congratulated it, and it jiggled faster in response.

Each day, I moved the water bowl further, and my blob drained it and returned to its corner. After a week, I placed the bowl in front of my kitchen window, sun streaming through the panes. I bounced out of my apartment and spent hours daydreaming about my blob. No one at work noticed. That was the problem with my life then, nothing I did made any impact.

I imagined my Blob, capitalized in my mind now like a true name:

Dragging itself to the window, slurping its water, and finally soaking up the sunlight it craved.

Transforming into a small doughy person, greeting me with open gelatinous arms each night, and talking in a gurgling language only I could understand.

Evolving somehow, infusing color into its viscid insides, dashes of bright pinks and purples, dots of yellows and oranges, bursts of blues and greens, like one of those bioluminescent sea creatures in National Geographic.

So convinced I was of this fantasy, that what happened instead took a moment to register. The Blob was indeed in front of the window when I returned home. But something was wrong.

It was a puddle on the kitchen tile. Completely still, no jiggling, not even a quiver. I rushed to its side, placed my palm against it, and felt a warm, hardened, plastic-like surface. It smelled acrid, wrong.

Peeling it from the floor, I held the flattened Blob to my chest, its hard edges poking my arms. I waited for the Blob to rouse and transform into its usual lump, prove it was hiding like the last time, only faking, what a great joke.

But my Blob didn’t budge. I’d coaxed it toward the sun, overheating its innocent goo body, liquefying it. I’d reduced my beautiful, effervescent Blob into an object.

And I was alone again.

 

Karissa Venne (she/her) is a Digital Resource Development Editor at Oxford University Press who lives in Western Massachusetts with her soon-to-be wife and their epileptic kitten. She received her MFA from The New School, has a story published in F(r)ictions Dually Noted, and one forthcoming in Pure Slush’s Lifespan Vol. 2: Growing Up.

Meeting Octavio Paz on the Planet Jupiter by Jose Hernandez Diaz

I met Octavio Paz on the planet Jupiter last fall. He said he’d been living there since his death. Myself, I was on vacation with my family. When I first saw Paz, I paused and asked myself, “Should I go up to him, he’s won the Nobel Prize?” I did. I introduced myself as a comic book writer and illustrator and that it was a pleasure to meet him. We shook hands. I didn’t want to talk about writing with him, so I asked his favorite soccer team. “Pumas,” he said. Later, he asked me what was the name of my most famous comic book so he could get a copy. “The Magician,” I told him. It was getting cold on Jupiter, so we called it a night after that. I never forgot his calmness, though, his class and elegance.

 

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). He has been a finalist for the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, the Colorado Poetry Prize, and the National Poetry Series. He lives in Los Angeles County where he is an educator and editor.

Bill Murray Terraforms Mars by Robbie Maakestad

When Bill Murray sets foot on Mars, he sets to work terraforming straightaway. That’s not to say he doesn’t first look up at the stars, bright spots of light arranged afresh within the celestial void, radiating down upon Martian meadows. After that briefest of glances up, Bill will deploy his terraform training—memorized and practiced these many years—but right now he’s still glancing up and thinking ever so briefly about how he wouldn’t have aced his terraform test, sped into space, and stepped out upon the red planet had it not been for his grandmother, Mary Agnes, who instilled industry and economy through the assignment of daily chores. If young Bill ever so much as protested his allotted workload, Grandma-Murray lobbed this axiom at his ears: “All play and no work makes Billy-boy a jerk.” And so young Bill had set about sweeping the front sidewalk, dusting between the banister rail-posts, and gathering trash from the bins about the house. On Mars, as Bill first hefts his terraformer while looking up at the stars—but before he flicks the “Grass” switch—Bill will think back to his grandmother’s finest qualities: her patience, her exactitude, her laser focus on the most banal of labors. Before he begins his terraforming, Bill will remember how her nimble fingers slipped the tiniest of colored beads upon her needle, how that silver barb dipped and rose, coursing with exactitude, and how she’d done her best to teach him to do the same. “Here,” she’d say, handing Billy a single bead of the bluest hue. “Look through the center hole and the world opens up on the other side. Stick the needle in one motion, and pull tight. Repeat, repeat, repeat. One motion, Billy. Creation requires the precision of minutiae.” And Billy had tried to be precise, really he had, but he’d always ended up with a Band-Aid on his index finger, a spot of blood blooming up beneath the gauzy pad, swirling outward, when pressed, like the arms of a galaxy. That single bead had stuck in Bill’s mind, though, for as he looks up from where he stands on Mars, before sweeping his terraformer, before turning arid regolith into fertile loam, before sprouting green grass from red rock, Bill’s eyes will affix upon Earth—that tiniest of blue beads stitched up within the patterned heavens—and only then will he understand his grandmother’s lesson.

 

Robbie Maakestad is a Senior Features Editor for The Rumpus and an Assistant Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. He is writing a biography of place about Jerusalem’s City of David archaeological site. He has been published or has forthcoming work in Boulevard, The Normal School, Essay Daily, and The San Diego Union-Tribune, among others. Follow him @RobbieMaakestad.

My Last Summer with Narcissus by Jozie Konczal

Saw us wither beneath the brazen
haze. Listen: I tried
to keep him
from starving. He carried
pocketsfull
of water just for himself, never-
mind the thirst I acquired. When
the pool dried up he took dips
into my bed, beneath
the doting willow, which
too shriveled as summer
turned up her notch
on cruelty. I kept
the mirrors covered. Perhaps
he misplaced
his beauty in me—

I bristled beneath
the gazes of strangers but
turned languid
when gifted his glances.
Enchantment can
be shared. He held
my shoulders as though
they could wilt
beneath his hands. My window
let in enough moonspill
for him to find reflection in
the pale hollow of
my neck, the water
of my irises. I had only
a sliver of clouds to
drink from. Finally, they
grew swollen and broke
into rainfall. I followed
him back to water, he waded
waist deep
and I couldn’t harvest
the voice to beg him back.

 
Jozie Konczal is a freelance writer and poet with an MFA from the Jackson Center for Creative Writing at Hollins University. Her poems have been featured in Right Hand Pointing, Concho River Review, and Northern Virginia Review. She is also on the poetry staff of Cleaver Magazine, and is a contributing writer for EQ, a lifestyle magazine. 

The Cake You Bake Your Father is Not a Cake at All by Sara Torres-Albert

Writer’s tip: Panic-bake this story on your oven’s highest setting the afternoon after your dad’s birthday for best results.

INGREDIENTS:

Whatever dregs of groceries are left from last week’s haul. You have no time to shop.

PREPARATION:

Step 1: Bring your batter to a boil

Complete this step while beating stiff peaks into cream cheese like the froth of rabid waves. The kind that pitched your father’s stomach on the days he’d shell out a hundred bucks for two spots on a fluke boat and you’d dredge up nothing but barking sea robins as he floundered about the cabin, slipping the crewman a fifty to hook a fish on your line. The frosting will basically be meringue, and the toothpick you run through the yellow cake you pull from the oven will tell you it’s still soupy in the middle. The top will begin to burn. 

Notice your garbage bin eying your not-cake wantingly. Hurl your creation inside.

Tell yourself cookies mail better anyway. Cookies send a better message, too. Cookies say, See? I didn’t forget your 60th, and I totally didn’t blank on what to get you. Cookies are an act of love.

Step 2: Cream the butter until your heart aches

Settle on your go-to chocolate chip and leave three sticks of butter out to sit. Remember your mother won’t eat the cookies you send—not with her recent health kick. Notice the butter in its wax sleeve like a plaque-caked artery. If you know anything about your father it’s that his cholesterol has stunned three doctors and he’s compensated with fish oil and Alex Jones miracle pills ever since. Grate your teeth against the thought that maybe cookies don’t say I love you at all. Maybe if you really loved your father you would buy him an exercise bike or a juicer, an Apple Watch. At least you’d cut the sugar down by half. 

Step 3: Whip your flaxseed until it achieves egg-like consistency

The juicer you find on Amazon will be on backorder. Relent. Swap the butter for a vegan recipe by a mommy blogger with four and a half stars. Blend the wet ingredients first—the coconut oil and brown sugar, the vanilla extract. Check the yield and wonder what kind of lunatic writes a recipe that makes eleven cookies anyway. Mutter, The same kind of lunatic who puts flaxseed in dessert, under your breath. 

Tell yourself you’ve got to stop talking to yourself. Your father talks to himself and it’s always given you that fluke boat angry ocean churn, the same one you got on road trips when you’d finished telling a story and his twitching silence told you he was somewhere else, that he’d been somewhere else for some time. Stir over where it is he goes, where it is he’d rather be so badly he can’t help but beam up out of his skin without you. Your cookies will be a homing beacon—Earth to dad. Come in, dad. You’ve left someone behind.

Step 4: Mound your dough into generous golf balls

Admit you’ve felt weird toward your father since long before the abductions started, since half of every sentence your mother speaks to you became a dig at him after you asked if they were still in love at the movie theater when you were eight and she chewed the straw of her root beer through the previews and exhaled no. Swallow the fact that sometimes you’d like to tell her to shut up about him but you never summon the bile. So instead you let them wage their silent war tied up in birthday Apple Pays and holiday deposits, each extra twenty dollars that detonates in your bank account a declaration of who loves you more.

Think how fucked up it would be to send your father cash. More fucked up when you consider he just mailed your Christmas check. The money you’d send your father is a cash back guarantee. Plus twenty dollars? Plus fifty? Realize you don’t know how much you’d give him but you don’t know how to fucking bake either. Test your cookies to find that they are mineral oil and beeswax—food grade, sure, but better as table varnish than birthday treat. 

Say, Vegan cookies aren’t cookies anyway, talking to yourself again. Toss them out with the cake.

Step 5: No Guinness? PBR is fine

The post office closes in two hours, so find a nice beer bread recipe, done in forty minutes with prep. Recognize that your bread is a cheek gnawed with regret that your father’s not the type of dad you can grab a beer with. Fold in the protest—it’s not like you want him to start drinking. Just that maybe you’d have more to talk about if he did.

Step 6: If you can’t make your own salt, store-bought is fine

As you mix your ingredients, realize you haven’t spoken to your father in months. Guilt is the marrow that will weigh your bones before you remember he’s got your number too and you never know what to say to him anyway. Still, try him hands free and listen as the line cuts short. There will be no recording on his voicemail, the affectless beep alone. Your call will smack of the split lip you earned catching your face on the dining room table when you were five. Wonder if your father cries over you the way you’re crying now, whisking your salt into the batter. Wonder if he’ll recognize its tang.

Step 7: Season garbage with bread to taste

After twenty minutes in the oven, remove your bread to find the boule too sticky, your kitchen flourless. Feed your un-bread to the mass grave and buy an Amazon gift card for twenty bucks more than your father last gave you. Type, Happy belated, into the obligatory note space. I hope you buy yourself something nice.

Maybe he’ll get the juicer after all.

 

Sara Torres-Albert is a communication consultant by day, associate editor for the non-partisan youth vote initiative VoteThatJawn.com by night, and a fiction writer in the minutes in between. She lives in Philadelphia with her boyfriend and two cats.