I write a letter by Elisabeth Horan

Dear Dr:

it’s embarrassing
to request
accommodations
for a life
on hold – unable to
make phone calls;
go outside;
hold one’s own.

I lick the envelope
it’s sweet / it’s permanent
the blue box
will swallow it
no turning back now

Dear Dr:

it’s embarrassing
my mental health
deteriorating
please sign
this form which declares me

unable unable
to function –
make phone calls;
go outside
smile at the neighbor

I turn the key
set off an explosion
makes moot
my letter

the blue box
still chewing
on the fodder
I fed it

Good Dr:

shrugs; sighs,
it is permanent
I suppose – her mental
impairment; it
seems she
missed her
appointment

not the least bit
wondering if
I am already
dead

the blue box mangled;
metal feet hold tight
to the pavement

unable unable
to function
without her hinged
mouth &

iconic half-dome
USPS
head

 

Elisabeth Horan is an imperfect creature advocating for animals, children, and those suffering alone and in pain – especially those ostracized by disability and mental illness. Elisabeth is honored to serve as Poetry Editor at Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, and is Co-Owner of Animal Heart Press. She recently earned her MFA from Lindenwood University and received a 2018 Best of the Net Nomination from Midnight Lane Boutique and a 2018 Pushcart Nomination from Cease Cows.

The Redwood Table by Kaylie Saidin

I was eating cereal when Elon Musk launched a car into space. The milk was going bad soon, three days past expiration, so I shoveled spoonfuls of lucky charms and sweet and vaguely curdled liquid into my open mouth. On the television across from the redwood table, I watched the event being discussed by a grinning anchor and a gray-haired scientist who did not look like my father but could have been.

I couldn’t hear them over the sound of the cereal fragments and marshmallows squeaking over my molars. I was sure I had cavities. I had asked my mother for braces a year earlier and she had said no, my teeth were fine. And my teeth were fine, but I wanted braces anyway, to pretend I wasn’t born with straight teeth, to pretend I was born with enough money to pay for a full set of braces, to pretend I wasn’t born lucky.

My mother and I lived in the woods below San Francisco when this aeronautical miracle happened. The television cut to Him, the man who put the car in space who looked a little more like my father but could not have been, I told myself. His face was square, lips thin and pursed, and he said,

I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.

The cereal slid off my spoon and onto the redwood table. The table was my great grandfather’s, who’d lived in the tail end of the Old West, who’d been one of California’s first park rangers, who’d helped build the now-historic county store. Redwood was the only kind of wood that didn’t get eaten by termites, my mother said. Sometimes I counted the rings, the looping pattern that expanded beneath he finish, trying to see how old the trees were here, how ancient the land was.

Later that day my mother came home after sitting in her office way up on Nob Hill, the highest hill I’d ever been on. From her office you can see the businessmen scurrying around clutching briefcases, the tourists clamoring on the cable cars, the junkies and their dogs laughing, young men who just got hired at Google smoking legal weed in the park. Once, I went to her office, and that was what I saw. But my mother told me most of the time it was foggy, and she never saw anything but the tops of skyscrapers, pointed and flat, and sometimes the glisten of the Bay far away. I had just gotten lucky that day I visited.

She put her coat on the coat rack and saw I’d left the cereal spilled on the table. She asked me how I could treat an old thing with such disrespect, and my teeth, ridden with sugar, ached.

Then she talked about her day at work, and all I could think of was ancient redwoods.

I thought of men in overalls hauling lumber, laying down railroad tracks, rust and gold dust, earthquakes and bank robberies, ruins of a burned down bathhouse on the unforgiving coast, Janis Joplin and Grateful Dead and skinny houses that go farther back than you think. And then hills and valleys of silicon, buildings with every wall and floor and ceiling made of clear glass. The house I lived in, the house Elon Musk lived in, the hands that built them, and how different were they than the hands that built the redwood table?

As I fell asleep that night, I saw the high-pixelated image burned into my skull, the sleek spaceship of a cherry-red vehicle rotating around the planet, floating in perfect suspense. Space was a vacuum, they said. I wondered if I cut open the earth’s core, could I count the rings? If I didn’t think any more about the way the land had changed, about the way the people had changed, would I be happy? Change was progress, they said. That was why the rest of our family had moved away so they could afford braces, that was why they stopped building houses out of redwood. But none of that mattered – the future was here.

 

Kaylie Saidin grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in New Orleans. She is an assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel. Her work has won the 2018 Dawson Gaillard Award for Fiction and has been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology. You can read more of her in Atlas and Alice, Jellyfish Review, Every Pigeon, and others at www.kayliesaidin.weebly.com.

They’re Grackles and Every Time I See Them by Patric Pepper

I scrawl my admiration in my all-weather birder book.
I don’t really have an all-weather birder book at all,
just the one in my mind, where I’m free to scratch.
The grackles cluck
to have their say, and I like that. Sometimes they swell
& hop & spread dark wings & perch on my shoulder &
have a look
in my birder book.

Which is to say they examine my self-assured scratch
with their ESP black eyes that chill the spine
with their golden-zero fat-chance good-luck pupils—&
then they double-cluck & flap & bolt pell-mell.
In my birder book

I make up little poems (not really) that point in all uncertain
terms to how crooked they’re not, & how they,
the grackles,
invented the spoon, the hallmark of genius tails that steer
them as they buck & bolt away from Homo sapiens insults
like: “Trash birds!” & “Not worthy of poetry!” & “Filthy!”
These misapprehensions
I also scribble
in my birder book.

 

Patric Pepper has published a couple of chapbooks and a full-length collection along the way. His work has appeared most recently in or is forthcoming from Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Broadkill Review, District Lines, Gargoyle, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, and The Northern Virginia Review. He prefers disorganized “religion” and misapprehensions of quantum mechanics to ersatz enlightenments. He lives in D.C.

Uprooted by Brianna McNish

The hair refuses to pull free from Fran’s flesh. It shivers and recoils against her razor blade, fearful of what fate awaits after being discarded into a trash heap among other equally long black hairs. It wants attachment, flesh, sweat. Seeing other hairs collected in her sink, in her tub, in her trash, only compels the single armpit hair to stay here longer, to remember a time when there were more of them. To Fran, its insistence is cause for concern.

Days later, she will receive a wax underneath her pits, above her lip, below her crotch. By the time it is all over, she is pink and cold and filled with ache. The hair, dejected and irresolute, still remains. In her apartment, she will lie in bed, her arms and legs splayed like a starfish while she tries to pluck the hair free between her fingers. Later, she will get her girlfriend to try, and though the hair finally relents under her touch, it’s still there and craves attachment.

“I don’t know why you need it off so badly,” says her girlfriend. “If a person can’t comprehend that women grow hair, then they seriously need to grow the fuck up.” She is fuzzy like a peach and soft. Tiny hairs sprout from her legs like weeds, waiting to be uprooted. Among other things about her, this is what Fran likes: feeling her girlfriend’s hair stand on end as their arms and legs brush against each other in bed. Feeling the hairs on the nape of her neck as she draws her into a kiss.

“You don’t get it,” Fran says. And she knows just by the look her girlfriend makes Fran disappointed her somehow, disappointed to find the woman she believed to be careless and inventive and all the things she is not, is in fact just as acutely aware of her existence as everyone else. “I can’t have the kids seeing me with this. They’ll eat me alive.”

“It’ll be a good learning experience for them,” her girlfriend explains. “They’re, what, like, eight or nine? They should understand, and if they don’t, then they’ll understand now.”

Fran wants to be the kind of teacher the kids find pretty and affable and memorable. She wants them to tug on her skirt, throw their arms around her, and cry, “We love you, Miss Fran!” Something about their affection, so open and unified, strikes her as the most authentic. Even now, weeks before she begins her position as an art teacher, she can envision her students returning back to her years later in high school, their voices several octaves deeper, stubble amassing under their chins, and arms long enough to wrap her into a familiar embrace. The potential memory is sweet, welcoming. A single hair, even tucked beneath her armpit, somehow disrupts the possibility.

She finds herself in a doctor’s office, lying against the paper-lined cot with her arms raised and pits exposed. Her doctor is a bespectacled man and forever sniffling, as if he is trying to exhale the world in a single breath. He is too old to be a doctor, she thinks. His trembling finger curls around the hair, testing its viability, its strength. Under his breath, he says, “Mmm,” and “Interesting,” and, “That’s nice.” Fran doesn’t say a word, even as his ink pen glides across his notepad.

“I’m referring you to a specialist,” says the doctor. “A good one. Laser hair removal. You’ll like her.” Teasingly, he pulls at the hair. “It’s nothing but a little growth,” he says. Then, his eyes narrow. This is the first flicker of expression passing over his face since she entered his office.

A little growth. That’s all, that’s it. Growths are simple, extractable. Later, in bed, as her girlfriend fingers the single hair, she tells her, “Later, there won’t be anything.”

“You’re making a mistake,” her girlfriend says. She goes on about how if kids can’t understand she grows hair, then they have to deal it with regardless. They’ll grow up to actually hate hair on women. They’ll grow up to skirt away at the site of fur, to question the presence of imperfection on a woman’s skin. All the while, she kisses underneath her pits and keeps the hair curled around her finger. Fran fears her girlfriend loves her body hair more than she loves her.

Later, when Fran finally finds herself sprawled on the surgical table, she admires the stinging sensation as the laser glides across her flesh, each zap bringing a dull ache and discomfort, each flicker of pain sending her whole body humming with life. She feels as if bees are sinking into her flesh only to remove their stingers and inject it again and again. She feels as though fingers are plucking weeds from her flesh, desperate to find flowers there.

When it is all over, she thanks the surgeon and studies the pink, blistered flesh. In this way, she is reborn. She is all naked and hairless and shivering. When it is all over, she goes to her girlfriend who sits in the waiting room flipping through Marie Claire, points at the smoothness of her flesh that no longer feels like her own, and says, “Do you like it?”

Together, they ride home in silence. Neither mention how there is one week before school starts, one week before Fran encounters her first classroom of eager, wide-eyed eight-year-olds who may or may not know what grows from flesh.

Fran tells herself she wants to be the teacher everyone likes, the teacher who allows children to dump entire containers of glitter onto their creations. After her first day of teaching, she is uncertain whether anyone fully likes her yet, but she remembers when she placed popsicle sticks onto the table for their latest activity, one pig-tailed girl deeply inhaled the sweetness of her grapefruit-scented deodorant and smiled at her. Normally, a moment like this would’ve made her buzz with validation. But Fran only wished she had something underneath to keep her warm.

 

Brianna McNish writes from Connecticut. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Moon City Review, Jellyfish Review, Pidgeonholes, Hobart, and elsewhere, including a Pushcart nomination and recognition on Wigleaf’s Top 50 longlist.

Baptism by Ahja Fox

Remember kissing those knees soiled in May?

Statues were pointing at bodies, windswept,
as we sat idle at the door of a bone church.

We cupped tomorrow in girlish hands
our intrepid hearts resin-soaked, jeweled;
reincarnated fetish priests dragging
our generation by their strange throats.

Cherry springs rotted,
                became flesh-eating children

        and I promised you an edifice
        that would split blue,
        touch Centaurus—
        a prayer closet smolder.

We ate lake seeds, tongued dirt
until those bodies         were no longer heavy.

 

Ahja Fox is a poet obsessed with bodies/body parts (specifically the throat). Her tagline is “#suicidebywriting” and her muses are dead things found among the living. Ahja can be found around Denver reading at various events and open mics or co-hosting at Art of Storytelling. She has published in online and print journals like Five:2:One, Driftwood Press, Rigorous, Moonchild Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, SWWIM, and more. She has also recently been included in the 2018 Punch Drunk Anthology. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @aefoxx.

Breast Roulette in Utero by Jennifer Todhunter

At 3am, two nights before her double mastectomy, my twin sister dances on a table at the only bar in town. She twists like the straws we sucked chocolate shakes through when we were young, slips down, down, down, like she did when she showed me how to give a guy a blowjob. There is a sweetness woven into the filth of this bar, and I wonder if she’s holding onto that. Holding onto it before everything becomes antiseptic and bleach.

Last call isn’t a thing here. Booze is served until you leave or pass out. My sister and I slouch against a jukebox that’s been fed so many quarters it’ll play AC/DC well into next week. A disco ball casts glitter across my sister’s chest. She is exhausted, has been exhausted for months, but we are having a night. That’s what she said when I said it’d be better to stay in and rest: fuck that, let’s go and have a night, goddammit.

When I was born, a deep hemangioma protruded from my chest like a third breast. Its center was the same color as the beets our dad canned every summer. I used to worry my sister would grow only one breast, that I had stolen the other from her in the womb. Now I am torn between guilt and relief that we split the breasts the way we did.

Tonight, my sister pokes at her left breast with the olive pick from my half-drained martini. Softly at first, then harder.

She’s wearing a low-cut shirt and the pick depresses her skin in a matching deep vee before piercing through. We both inhale when her blood pools at its point. I’m taken with how it resembles the blood that spilled from her knees when we were kids, by the thought that her disease may have made her blood different somehow. Darker, maybe. Thicker. Rancid.

She thrusts the pick with force again and it sinks much deeper this time.

Stop, I say, grabbing her hand. It’s shaking. Her whole body is shaking.

Do you remember the time you fell out of the tree and bit a hole through your tongue? she asks.

I nod.

Do you remember how mum ran out and thought you were dying because you were winded and couldn’t tell her where the blood was coming from?

I nod again.

Do you remember what that was like?

Being winded? I ask.

Looking at someone who thought you were dying.

I shake my head.

It’s the worst, she says. The absolute worst.

I look at her and she smiles.

Yup, just like that.

For the record, I don’t think you’re dying, I say, but part of me knows that’s not true.

Did you think you were dying? she asks.

I shake my head. I just wanted to get back up that goddamn tree.

Exactly, she says.

 

Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She was named to Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2018, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.

The Visitor, or Not Quite Flesh by Alex Smith

I never thought you existed. You were a fight
in another room, a moon landing, someone
else’s problem.
But now you’re here. Recumbent flotsam
gone sour on our sofa.

And now, it’s like you’ve been here
the whole time, crouching behind
lonely larder tins, nesting in the
plaster cracks. You make us into you
and your
not quite flesh.

I’d offer you a drink,
coffee I suppose,
but the cups are full with
blister packs.

You were in our bed this morning,
muddying the womb of the place,
warm and
heavy as a sleeping child.

You’re in the strangest places.
I know you’ve watched me in the shower, squeaked
love hearts on the frosted glass, grabbed ringside seats
at our love making, left
popcorn kernels for naked feet to tramp,
each its own
little death.

I’ve caught you in mirrors, whispering
imagined infidelities in her ear,
retuning guitars an octave low, breaking all the
major keys.

Uninvited, you leaf through
books, records, trip trap fingers delicately
dripping scorn
for still-faced ornaments, pronounce our poverty,
pick your teeth with cutlery as she cries
on vinyl floors.

Sometimes, I want to
kill you. Pitch you on your back,
push
a thumb each side of

your pitted windpipe, squeeze
the life and pulse until you
pop
gift air
incontinent
like a skin balloon.
But what’s the point?

Besides the dust, you’ve dislodged
other things,
embryos
we hoped buried.

We keep the kids out now. And other guests as you are
a shy intruder. You hide in petticoats
so they’d never know.

You’re a secret bruise, a
cuff pulled down on
red raw wrists, weak
eternal canker, the moment just before
a door
slams
shut.

We know you will never leave.

What discord then,
that we endure your tremendous
vacuum,
file your teeth
and castrate you
with acceptance.

I wonder,
if we were to
take the shards of us and
carve and mould
some other selves,
would you remember us
and come again?

 

With a foot firmly each side of the Irish Sea, Alex Smith was raised in troubled Northern Ireland during the Eighties. Educated in English and Spanish, his work has taken him to some of the most socially deprived schools in England. His stark poetry has been published in Twyckenham Notes, Tammy, Clear Water Poetry, Bonnie’s Crew, Abstract: Contemporary Expressions, Ink & Voices, and Coffin Bell. He edits at ABC Tales and has a collection entitled Home coming soon through Cerasus Poetry.

Clapping by Sarah Salway

It started where it shouldn’t but it always does, with his lips fastened on home, the sweetness filling him and all he has to do is be a baby.

“You’re too old for that.” A sharp slap followed by spoonful of mashed potato he’s not allowed to spit out, the spoon waving towards him like an aeroplane. He’s no longer mummy’s boy. He’s a good boy, a hungry boy.

Other things form in his mouth, called words, the way sounds began to fit together to bring him everything he wants now he’s a talker.

Playing in the garden, when, shhh, a cousin calls him over to a hole in the hedge. Stay silent as he watches the couple moving like music, like a waltz, or was it war? He watches open and dry mouthed as they form words between them that he knows he’ll understand too if only he can stay there a little longer. Voyeur, they call out, and it sounds so pretty, so sweet, a peeping tom.

The world’s a pantry cupboard left open and he’s a scavenger on the spice shelf, putting tastes together just because he can. He’s working his way from Aniseed to Zatar until one day, he unscrews a top open without thinking, stops thinking as he loses sense, fills with every sense.

The splinters in his heart means to hold his body a certain way increases the sharpness of the pain, to let his mind wander causes a dull throb. He leaves people behind to concentrate on art, allows the stream of invoices to plug his gaps, and he listens, fingers steepled, as others call him a connoisseur.

External is all. He cheers up the drabness he feels with potted plants, builds bridges around his world so no one is sure whether he is coming or going, he calls everyone darling, and although he reserves his fondest strokes for the wine bottle – a drinker? Not him.

She’s dabbing his forehead when he wakes up. “Can I call you nurse?” he jokes, but she doesn’t smile but says yes, it’s her name. He shouts it out across wards, and corridors, and theaters. Rings bells to get her to come running. She’s a hole in the hedge, sweetness and words waltzing, she’s bottles knocked over and treasures hunted down, she’s bunches of grapes and everything he wants. “Your name, your name?” He wants to taste it in his mouth to see how they fit together. Now she’s his darling, he’s happy to be patient.

 

Sarah Salway is a writer based in Kent, England, and has just completed her fourth novel. Her previous novels have been published by Ballantine Books, Bloomsbury, and Harper Collins. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry London, PEN International, Financial Times, and many other magazines.

last will and testament by Amy Kinsman

of the northern white rhinoceros

i leave you this: a parting gift of ivory,
and task you make for me an urn
fit to hold the ash. carve it with unicorns
and aurochs, mastodons and my woolly-haired
compatriots. set it with ammonites and amber;
stand me upon the shoulders of great pearl
elephants and play me out of kenya on
antique piano keys.

this was meant to be easy, just close my eyes and drift,
but didn’t some of you make it so hard?

make me a myth: tell them a hundred warriors
could not slay sudan the great; say i slumbered
upon mountains of diamonds; claim one tear
could heal, or a drop of blood might raise the dead.
i go to palaeontology. i’ll tread softly through
the dreams of children, let their open palms
smooth over grey, wrinkled flesh
and grant for them a wish.

for them i’ll always be a story.
for them i’ll never need exist.

 

Amy Kinsman (they/them) is a genderfluid poet from Manchester, England. As well as being founding editor of Riggwelter Press and associate editor of Three Drops From A Cauldron, they are also the host of a regular poetry open mic. Their debut pamphlet & was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2017.