Tennessee Warbler by Emily Banks

The bird is brave to stop
in Atlanta. Her name is Tennessee.

She only wants to taste the big city.
From my balcony, she tries to see

the skyline through the trees,
but it’s so hard to hold her eyes open.

I think she’s dying.
I don’t know whether to give her water

or poke her with a stick.
Sometimes a girl just needs a little rest,

I tell myself. Too pretty—
how her yellow feathers accent neutral tones.

I worry that she ate a poisoned wasp.
If she dies here, it must mean

the worst for me. At a highway rest stop once,
I used a bathroom with the sign “omen.”

I was migrating too. I offer water
in a bottle cap. I tell her she has to fly away,

that if you stay in one place too long
you’ll be taken for dead.

 

Emily Banks lives in Atlanta, where she is a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University. She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland and a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals including storySouth, Cimarron Review, Free State Review, Muse/A Journal, and Yemassee.

Song of the Dart Frogs by Diana Clark

Zarina was as gold as the Colombian sun and intended on staying that way. Her body like wax, shining hot beneath the heat. Beetles and ants trembled in her wake, long tongue unsheathed at her command. Princess. Warrior. Black eyes like the moon at totality. The floor of the rainforest damp and sweet beneath her toes.

When it was announced that King Midas was in search of his true love, taken from him by the curse of some Warlock, the amphibians of the forest gathered in panicked whispers. They always think it’s us, one said, black speckled body shimmering with moisture, blue skin sharp against the deep brown of the rainforest’s earth. I am not waiting to be changed. There is no better body to be had. The red-bodied frog with blue limbs raised herself in agreement. I do not want to be handled, she said. I do not want to be kissed by human men.

Zarina sat inside her new flesh. Listened. The most poisonous of all the dart frogs, the Warlock had told her. He had not hesitated when she called for him, came quickly without question to her aid. Your new body will have enough toxins to kill up to twenty men. She had not intended on putting that power to use, planned only to stay deep within the rainforest, surrounded by her new people. But it was time, that much had made itself clear. It was her duty. It was justice. It was the only way she knew how to end it. If and when King Midas arrives, Zarina said, let him think I am his lost lover. I will handle it from there. They argued for a while. Protested. They didn’t want to see Zarina hurt. But she reminded them of her poison, the toxins flowing inside her like small rivers, and so they eventually agreed.

When King Midas came, it was all show. Charm. Thick blonde hair combed back in waves. White pants, white jacket, white cape, white steed: gold harness, gold belt, gold buttons, gold hungry. Zarina felt her tongue curl back inside her throat at the sight of him, felt his open palm cover her once human mouth, his teeth clenched together in anger as he thrust forcefully inside of her, hissing, Be quiet, someone will hear. Zarina’s cries not of pleasure but of pleading, of her wanting him off her, of his refusal. The cold and the dark. The immediate end to everything Zarina thought she knew.

Now, Zarina sat at six centimeters in length. Waited. King Midas noticed her almost immediately, a nugget of gold in the forest. “Zarina?” he asked. He propelled himself off his horse with a flourish so practiced it almost made her laugh. “Zarina my angel, my porcelain dove. What has he done to you? That Warlock. There were rumors, Zarina, horrible rumors in the castle, rumors that you asked for this, rumors that you summoned him. But I told them, I told them my perfect girl wouldn’t do that, not to me.” Then his eyes dripped from panicked to dark, simmering cauldrons beneath the surface. “I told them Zarina knows better, knows what would happen if she ever tried to leave me again.”

King Midas moved forward. Reached down. Pushed Zarina onto his open palm. It took everything in her not to turn away, but she could feel it—sweet, sweet poison, the curdling of her new flesh—knew that she would never find another moment of peace if she didn’t do this now.

Zarina sat, landlocked on his skin, as his lips came crashing into hers. “In order to save you,” he said, and, “You’ll respect me now, won’t you, Zarina?” When his lips pulled away—puckered and chapped—Zarina felt herself smile, could hear only the Warlock’s voice in the back of her head: They will die, those who touch you. They will die in three minutes flat.

Zarina watched, eyes black and unmoving, as the body of King Midas began to tremble, turned cold, dropped Zarina when the shaking became too much. She landed perfectly on padded feet, stayed quiet in the cool earth as King Midas thrashed and kicked, his skin pale then blue then pale again. He reached out to her, fingernails scraping and clawing the dirt, until finally he exhaled one last time. Zarina had been counting: two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Oh, Warlock, she thought. The only human being I will miss.

Around her, the soft hum of her sisters, the song of the dart frogs. Zarina’s body shimmered. The only gold she ever wanted. The only gold she’d ever need.

 

Diana Clark is an elephant enthusiast and an MFA fiction candidate at UNCW, with a special love for LGBTQIA+ literature, magical realism, and sci-fi. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Fat Magazine, Peach Mag, The Passed Note, Heavy Feather Review, Longleaf Review, and more. In 2015, her piece “Singed” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her reading about pirates in Wilmington, North Carolina with her cat, Emily D.

Dead Bird by Todd Dillard

You swung the chainsaw through the rosebush,
lopped off its top, and found,
tucked in fang and bramble,
a nest of juniper twigs. Inside it,
I waited, dead since last season,
curled like a dropped dishcloth.

You worried you were a terrible father.
You worried your sunblock-slathered daughter,
splashing at the water table across the yard,
would totter over and thump you
with a question shaped like me.

You worried too, briefly,
if I was a blunt omen
when you didn’t believe in omens.

You placed my nest and I in a grocery bag
as if you’d just come back from the store,
a quick errand to pick up a little death
because you’d run out
and who knows when you’ll need some more
to sprinkle on your pillow or morning cereal?

You knotted the bag,
and gentle as laying a babe in her crib
you placed it in the garbage,
unhitched another worry from your throat.

In the dark I listened to the chainsaw growl.
I imagined you holding it over your head.
I imagined you thinking: I am trying to be a good father,
bringing the chainsaw down.

 

Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Crab Creek Review, Longleaf Review, Nimrod, Superstition Review, and The Boiler Journal. He was a finalist for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology, and has been nominated for Best of the Net 2018. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter, and can be found on Twitter via @toddedillard.

Big Bad by Mary Hamilton

There’s this wolf outside my house. He’s tearing up trees. Throwing them over his shoulder. Making a mess.

He’s banging on the door. When I don’t answer, he pulls the sidewalk up like it’s tape on a cardboard box. He uses the mailbox post like a toothpick. He’s tearing this house apart piece by piece. From the right angle, it still has the façade of something whole, but there are holes. The roof is collapsing, the stairs are gone, rubble where there used to be flowers, music, a home. And now, I don’t know where I’d even begin rebuilding. My neighbors have all moved away. He ate their roofs, their lawns, their porches. It’s just the two of us now. Me and him.

He’s pressed up against the front door, his tongue licking the lock. I’m pressed up against the other side, holding everything together. I listen to him breathe. Listen to his dripping teeth and gums. The slurping saliva. The wheezing breath. I can smell it. Then he starts the scraping. That one claw at the door. Scraping in the same space over and over. Going deeper. Never speeding up, never slowing down. Just a consistent, slow scrape at the wood between us. I can hear his breath, his hair, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. I manage enough breath to say, “What do you want?”

“I just want you to be okay,” he says, as that one claw breaks through the last of it.

 

Mary Hamilton’s work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and the Indiana Review. She lives in Minnesota.

 

 

Prey by Christine Taylor

He bounds down the back steps:
my dog has caught
the scent of prey.
From under a lawn chair,
a bunny sprints
for her life,
dashes in sharp S-turns to thwart
the husky on her trail.
She reaches the fence
unforgivably low,
and when she can’t slip underneath,
she leaps into the air–
a valiant attempt
to escape
into the rest of her years.

The dog leaps too
catches her struggling body
just as it falls from the apex
of her last grasp at life.
Her bones crunch
between the strength of his jaws,
and he savors every bit of her–
head, belly, limbs.
The ravenous moment passed,
he lies down in the grass
satiated
panting
his head raised to bask in the sun.

I want to say I’m horrified, but
I have, after all, witnessed
the event as a bystander
who hasn’t moved
from her spot
on these steps
who hasn’t rushed to wrest
the dog away
to save
hasn’t at least called out Stop!

I stumble down the steps
fall into one of the Adirondack chairs
watch finches escape the feeder.
Thunder comes to sit
at my feet
a drop of saliva
lands on my shoe,
and I can’t help but pet him
bury my fingers
in that downy sable fur.

 

Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She serves as a reader and contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, wildness, and The Paterson Literary Review among others. She can be found at christinetayloronline.com.