Awake by Daniyel Wiggins

My hairs are the cobwebs of sleep –
I find so many strands on my pillow in the morning.
I get up to make some tea, and after letting it steep
I look down and see eyelashes floating
Like cattails on the surface of a pond.
My head is Autumn shedding so many leaves,
Dropping shadows on my paper flaky skin,
Leaving breadcrumbs so you can tell where I’ve been.
These fingers rake my scalp and make neat, fluffy piles
Ready to be jumped in.
I pull it out in balls,
Like the dust clumps you scrape out from under the
refrigerator.
I’ve started a collection unintentionally, all the piles
lined up on my desk, one for every day until Winter
when every leaf has been pinched from its branch
and all the trees are left naked, bald
When they are left barren and cold.

 

Daniyel Wiggins is a Native American writer currently living in central California. While his focus has been on poetry, he explores many genres including novels and non-fiction. He is currently studying English Literature and Photography with the dream of spending a lifetime immersed in the arts.

Bears by Tom Jenks

The bears grow bolder, crossing the main road, hanging around the petrol station. Yesterday, we watched one cram his giant paw into a disposable plastic glove whilst the others looked on. When our stipend arrives, we will buy yellow cream, for the storks, and apples, for the bears. Cooking apples are best, good and heavy, thudding on the forest floor.

 

Tom Jenks’ latest book is A Long and Hard Night Troubled by Visions (if p then q, 2018). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Ambit, and Flash. He edits the small press zimZalla, specialising in literary objects, and lives in Manchester, UK.

Buzz Drunk by Tara Campbell

These dizzy-dumb bees
Thunkandthump at my window
like teenage lovers
all hapless and thirsting
for bold yellow blossoms
for balcony sirens
for call and for beckon
for opening just for them

these love-stupid bees
they don’t know what hit ‘em
again and again
flinging pollen-drunk bodies
at scrawny green thickets
impervious
bumbling
their tiny hearts thrilling
at promise of nectar
and pummeling glass

it’s themselves what hit ‘em
again and again
overshooting
careening off windows
like sun slinging rainbows
in vectors of exaltation

joy
is the fat thunk
of bees against glass
each smack
a delight
a promise of sweetness
times vast complication
plus missing the mark
equals hunting again
because don’t you know
sweetness delayed
equals bliss

some will say this is simply
a metaphor for sex
for belly
for mother
for ripe and for swell
but for me
it’s all about
dizzy-dumb bees
and tilting at windows
and divebombing sweetness
and wanting the sugar
that’s not in your mouth

 

Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, and Strange Horizons. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, a hybrid fiction/poetry collection, Circe’s Bicycle, and a short story collection, Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.

Trees Like a Way Out by Jennifer Fliss

All right, so I needed gas and rolled into the Sunoco practically on fumes and next to me was Bob Ross. And I’m like, hey, hey man, Bob? Bob Ross? He nodded. Look at those trees, I said. Tell me about those trees, and Bob Ross was like I’m just filling my gas, friend.

He was filling up with Premium. Must be something, to live like Bob Ross. I ran into the food mart quickly, keeping my eye on Bob through the window. I slapped down a ten on the counter. Pump three please. Under the harsh lights and amidst the aroma of slowly churning hot dogs I realized maybe I was dead and this was a kind of waystation to heaven and Elvis and Jesus would pull in any moment. Gran always said she saw Jesus in things: toast, tea, Target.

I ran back out and selected the cheapest gas. Bob Ross was at the pump next to mine and his car was a 1985 Plymouth Voyager. You know that minivan? The one with the wood paneling along the side. It was just like Gran’s living room – minus the crystal bowls of Werthers and Precious Moments dolls. But the wood paneling. Sometimes it felt like those panels were prison bars. She eventually had the paneling taken down and after that I’d push my cheek up against the cold plaster of the wall and feel free and soothed, but like something was missing. Gran raised me after my parents left, together. I spent hours watching PBS while my grandmother knit in the corner. She made scarves that never ended. She didn’t say much except to say the following things: Are you capable of anything? What do you want to be when you grow up? Why don’t you apply yourself in school? But then, once she gave me some paints and a book of fancy paper just because. She’d run her fingers along the paint when it dried and pulled her lips into a line and said she liked my use of textures

One of my first paintings was of a great big tree with a nest of robins in a high branch. Robins don’t nest that high up, Gran said, but she hung it on the fridge anyway, where it still was, nearly twenty years later, hidden beneath coupons, childhood school photos of my mom, and reminders of doctors’ appointments long passed.

I said, hey Bob Ross. Your car reminds me of my Gran and he was all offended and I was like no, no, in a good way. You know those Precious Moments dolls? I said. With their eyelashes and cow eyes?, he asked. Yeah, I said. Those. I didn’t mean it like that but I didn’t think Bob Ross wanted to hear what I really meant.

Bob Ross was quiet for a moment and then was like, yeah. They were cute.

I loved watching your show when I was a kid, I said, toeing my shoe along some old gum, suddenly shy.

Thanks, he said and began to clean his windshield. Small rivers of dirt water fell off the ends as he completed one line then the next. Even finer strips of dirt were left on the windshield. It went dirt, clean window, dirt, clean window, so that when Bob was satisfied, he replaced the brush into the murky water bucket by the pumps. I looked at the not entirely straight lines in his windshield and thought, this was an artist.

He didn’t say anything else and I felt compelled to fill the space of silence. The trees, you know. The little trees, you made it seem so easy.

Yeah? He paced by his pump, his dollars ticking away behind him on the screen.

Yeah, in the end, just those little marks made everything so beautiful. That’s art.

And I paused for a moment, heard the click of my own gas pump. Yeah, it is, he said.

Back in my car I realized: I just saw Bob Ross. I picked up my cell to take a photo but the Voyager was gone. But I did notice a shiny rainbow puddle where the van had been and believed it was beautiful, in its way, the way all toxic things are. I snapped a quick photo. Maybe I’d share it on social media. My Gran just got a smartphone, so I zipped the image off to her and hoped she’d be able see it.

 

Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based writer whose writing has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and will be in the 2019 Best Small Fictions anthology. She is the 2018/2019 Pen Parentis Fellow and a 2019 recipient of a Grant for Artist Project award from Artist’s Trust. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.

Patti Smith Was Retired from Madame Tussaud’s by Jordan Hamel

Every day celebrities are made.
New media moulds viral giants,
YouTube sensations shared amongst
a generation that left me behind.

Madame Tussaud
has no more use for me.

Now I’m kept in a basement
with broadcast news anchors,
70’s action heroes, suffragettes
and Soviet-era political figures.

Slouched in resignation,
whispers leak out their sagged lips,
we’ll all be candles soon.

But not me!
Wax Karl Marx and I
are starting a revolution.
We’re going to storm the gallery,
guillotine that matriarchal despot
with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s arms,

brave the merciless sun,
lose our footprints to pavement
until we find our real-life counterparts.

They’ll embrace us,
elated to see broken
monuments to their glory,
until our features run
warm onto their arms

crusting amidst hair and skin
seeping, settling, unable
to be scrubbed out
as we finally become
what we were always meant to be.

 

Jordan Hamel (he/him) is a New Zealand-based poet and performer. He is the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam Champion and has performed at festivals across Aotearoa. He is a contributing editor for Barren Magazine and has work published in Glass Poetry, Ghost City Press, Kissing Dynamite, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and elsewhere.

Signature by Nicholas Grider

Jack arrived with a metallic blue Sharpie and wrote his name on me as if adding his signature, signing a receipt. Underneath it he wrote my name too (spelled wrong and crossed out and spelled correctly with a smiley face) so whenever we were half-dressed in the half-dark together and I could trust it was just him touching me and no one else, none of his friends alone or in a group, and I could trust where his dry fingers would fall like the soft rubber of an old pencil’s stained eraser, and I could trust when, and could trust that I could follow his instructions and he would answer my questions, or at least the important ones, and I could trust we belonged to each other, that I was capable of belonging to someone. While we waited for the gleaming ink to dry before I let him lay me on my bed and press me into romance we sat half-dressed, kissing and being kissed, and I thought of how when I was young and slid under another surface I’d trail the other kids as we wrote stylized tags on telephone poles and neglected walls––we’d seen it on T.V. and that kind of ownership felt rebellious––and I kept in mind how Jack told me “they say silence is golden because is beautiful,” reminding me that being quiet added to my appeal, that mystery meant value and naming meant knowing, and it was only later that I asked him why he’d named us on my lower back close to my waist and a small constellation of moles, he told me that from now on, in our future of shadowy bedrooms, neither of us would need to worry about forgetting who either of us were, and that this was a sign of his love. Love, he said before his fingers caressed my lips to erase my reply, was a good kind of stain, and not as painful as a name.

 

Nicholas Grider is the author of the story collection Misadventure (A Strange Object, 2014) and the chapbook Forest of Borders (Malarkey Books, 2019). Their work has recently appeared in X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Five:2:One, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and elsewhere. They can be found apologizing for lots of things on Twitter at @ngrdr and, as of September 2019, at www.nicholasgrider.com.

Serpentarium by Clara Bush Valada

I.
We pull the bull snake from netting. It twists/
like arms that twist beneath the fingertips/
of powerful people; adults and kids/
with unrequited violence on their lips.//
The snake resists its rescue, worry makes/
its way along the scales, wounds dry and days/
old wrung into the skin between the scales/
that line the belly. Hold below the face,//
behind the jaw, the body writhes, but will/
not bite you. Here, behind the eyes are pits/
which recognize all shades of heat. I lift/
the snake and all its jewelry, dangling still//
because the snake would not release itself./
The netting cuts; his muscle swells and swells.//

 

II.
My mattress sleeps uncomfortable, my back
completely misaligned each night. I sleep
by slithering between my sheets which lack
the dirt and rocks that I grew up in, weeds
which grew through me like apple seeds come up
from nothing, grow up sweet like flesh could—
delicious, made for tongues, for teeth to rub
their bones against and feel enlightened. Blood
is like an apple’s flesh, you masticate
until you understand from where it comes.
Today, I re-articulate a snake
with floral wire, green and small enough
to float between the spine’s foramen. Skull,
I glue, leave off the too many ribs, smile.

 

III.
On the outside A/C unit a small
unruly fire’s broken out and burned
its mechanisms, burned the mouse, the snake
behind it in its flame. Who more relieved,

the mouse who starved the snake or us? The small
of mouse who scampers just a jaw’s width, burned
before a worse death swallows him? The snake
a wick which could have swallowed? Us, relieved

the fire didn’t crumble into small
piles of dust the hospital, hadn’t burned
within it all the beasts, wild once like snakes,
whose wild is manufactured now? Relieved

is not the word. The small fire burned out.
The snake was not relieved, nor us, nor mouse.

 

Clara Bush Vadala is a veterinarian and poet residing in Celina, Texas whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Entropy, Thimble Literary Magazine, and 3Elements Review. Her first book of poems, Prairie Smoke, is available from Finishing Line Press and her second, Beast Invites Me In, is forthcoming from FLP in 2020.

The Right Light by Janelle Bassett

I eat my lunch in the park, because a televised doctor told me to. I should experience the outdoors for at least twenty minutes a day, so my eyes can take in a non-screen light source. He said this letting-in-of-the-right-light will help me sleep more soundly, make better choices at the vending machine, and defecate in shapes that seem to please Mother Nature herself, based on the recurrence of such shapes on land and underwater.

The park near my office has a lone picnic table near the playground and a pavilion housing six more picnic tables. I choose the uncovered table, so I get max sun and don’t have to worry about looking unlovable, as a single soul under a roof for forty tends to look.

I always bring the same food—a bag of tortilla chips, a cheese stick, and a banana that I slice as I eat, so it lasts more than three bites. I chew one chip at a time and peel the cheese into strings. I eat slowly, so it’s clear I’m here to eat which I prove true by spending the entire time eating. If I gobbled, here I’d sit, unlovable with my wrappers and my peel.

As I make my food last, I watch the playground children fall and cry and hide and seek, and I think about the nature of nature. A skinned knee gets you a patted back. A “tag you’re it” gets you some respect and personal space, which you give away as soon as possible. A kick in the head from the patent leather shoe of a swinging girl gets you a glossy lesson in who deserves what.

I squint at all of it, because sunglasses would only diminish the very light I’m seeking. If I gave in to sunglasses, I’d have to make up for the lost exposure by drinking my coffee on my front porch in that first-light sun. I prefer to spend my mornings cooking dinner, so when I come home from work I have more time to watch television in the dark. When I am tempted to shield my eyes with coated plastic during lunchtime, I think of my precious after-work hours—meal warmed, blinds drawn, bra thrown, feet tucked, laugh track, auto-play, no one. It’s perfect, those hours spent with people who cannot see me. Undoubtedly worth the time squint.

Today there were only two playground children: brothers who came to the park to find new, non-sibling playmates – ones whose breakfast bowls levels they didn’t have to eye to ensure equal filling, ones who didn’t make triumphant faces when they got a hug from mother. When no one else was at the park, the brothers went directly underneath the rope bridge and began slapping at the bare skin across from them. Their mother said, “Well, we can do this at home” and loaded them back into the car.

I squint at their car leaving and wonder which of the brothers she secretly sides with during their quarrels. Half of the slaps smart her own arms, while half the slaps sting her own palms.

I cut myself a big hunk of banana. Why make it last when there’s no one here? Plus, doing a lunch-based one-woman-show for no one would make me appear unlovable to the sunshine and the trees. I’m chewing the gummy hunk when I see a woman walking through the grass, past the pavilion, and toward the park’s monument. The monument is an old military cannon that must have some local historical significance. The cannon was shot by or shot at someone who once lived around here and now we must consider this past projectile while we picnic and kite-fly and monkey-bar.

The woman has a duffle bag. I slow down my chewing to accommodate her presence. She sets her duffle down on the monument’s wordy plaque, slides off her sandals, and puts them in the bag. The fabric she wears seems smooth and light. It looks like one long piece has been cut into a tank top and shorts, seamless. The woman looks like a chic monk. I squint at her haircut, blunt.

She touches the cannon right where the hurt comes out. I don’t know the term—its trunk. She keeps her hand over it, blocking any emissions. Or taking the brunt of them. Then she takes her hand away and starts walking. She’s circling the canon. I realize I’ve stopped eating.

The woman has done two laps and is still going around. Now she’s walking with her arms up. Is this tai chi? Now she’s pumping her raised arms. Is this a protest? She is keeping a steady pace. Is she counting? Is this a meltdown? I’ll keep watch.

She goes around so many times I stop feeling surprised. Instead, I feel increasingly upset. This is not how we behave. We walk with purpose, one-way, arms down, toward what we want. And if we must pace, we do it at home while talking on the phone about the steps we are taking to get out of the funks we’re in.

Her face is neutral, which makes sense because she has nothing to look forward to. She’s headed to a spot she has just been—doesn’t even have a tail to chase.

The wind blows her silky top and the two flags above the monument. She walks against the wind and then with the wind, over and over, and I feel all wound up. Is she condemning me somehow? Are her movements calling me a sit-stiller and a know-nothing? Can she tell that no one loves me? Is that why she circles the monument instead of circling me?

I break my focus, look away from her rotations and back at my rations. They were planned and she was not. I hold a tortilla chip and make it go around and around what’s left of my cheese stick. This is calming. I choose it. I say when.

I look back at the chic monk lady and I choose her as an experience to have. You. You don’t stop. That’s something to opt into. I try to instruct her, telepathically, to switch directions and walk counterclockwise. She doesn’t vary, but I am with her now in spirit. Watching her is not that different than watching my nightly TV. The chic monk, the sitcom characters—none of them turn to look at me while I watch them not stop.

The more circles I see her complete, the more I need to see her circling continue. I’m pulled in. I’ll defend her to anyone. If she were making money somehow this display of hers wouldn’t seem odd. If she were wearing a MATTRESS BLOWOUT sign no one would stare. I eat a fistful of chips. She raises her arms straight up and spreads her fingers, but she doesn’t look up to see the sky through the spaces she’s made. Her gaze is soft, front-facing. If I could look into her eyes, I feel like I could see the laps she’s done and the laps she’ll still do and see that they are all one lap.

I am lulled into considering that this woman is engaging time instead of fighting it. She’s inhabiting time. Look, she’s become part of the breeze. Her movements remind me of the squirrels who run across my roof, zipping for the sake of it—because there’s empty space and because they have the legs to fill it.

I wonder why we aren’t all pacing.

I look at my phone. I have about twelve minutes of my lunch break left. I bet you really know a minute when you spend it pacing, when you’re in lockstep with the seconds. Twelve minutes of trying not to look as unlovable as you feel goes by in a snap. This whole past decade of my life feels like two Mays, one three-day-weekend spent in the car, a month inside a bathroom stall, and six back-to-back Christmas dinners.

The TV doctor who talks about the right light also says, “How you do something is how you do everything.” I hadn’t understood what he meant. I thought he was talking about posture—if you stoop in the office, then you stoop often. But now I get his meaning: This is it, buddy. The present is at hand constantly and what are you going to do with it? How you wait in line at the post office is the whole shebang. The way you behave at the buffet counter is a full indictment of your entire being, so scoop your baked ziti accordingly. So how I spend my remaining twelve minutes is how I live my life. I let the word now make the rounds inside me. Maybe the word now even pumps its arms.

I stand and stuff the rest of my food back into my lunch box. I take one step and then another until I’ve gone completely around the picnic table. Yes. I keep going. It’s such a tight track, I’m always turning. The walking and the turning become a trance. To move without the burden of progress. Going nowhere while being here. My throat feels looser. The ground feels harder. I keep my focus hazy, but I can sense her movements while I complete my own. We feel like the same speed and the same animal, and I understand moments for the first time—now, now, now, this here. I choose it all and the moment swirls around me. I am the axis. She is the axis. We keep going. And the light I’m taking in no longer feels prescribed. The light is being received.

 

Janelle Bassett’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Slice Magazine, Longleaf Review, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. She’s on Instagram @jbknows.

THE PHYSICITS ARE LYING ABOUT DARK MATTER! by Pablo Piñero Stillmann

Would Mr. Golding have let it fly if you gave a wrong answer with the excuse that there is so much we still don’t know? I’ve heard them, the physicists. I follow them around. “One poet,” said an associate chairperson, “took me to lunch to ask about the shape of speed.” Chest-ripping laughter. Rip-roaring laughter. They do nothing, these physicists. Should someone express doubt they send a PhD allegedly incapable of eye contact to talk their ear off about the decoherence of black hole superpositions, which is just something they made up. Why do you think all their conferences are held in bowling alleys? Out of the moth-munched sweaters, into those silly shoes. Though some just focus on the cheesy fries & plastic pitchers of Miller Lite. Then a professor emeritus fires a strike—which they don’t call a strike but an exogenesis—& does a celebratory shimmy. When they finally tire or run out of Miller Lite, the physicists hide their gear in leather satchels, puff up their eyebrows & randomly choose a victim to make something up re: the behavior of a new particle at the level of five sigma.

 

Pablo Piñero Stillmann has just ended a year as a fellow at Mexico’s National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA). His work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, The Normal School, Washington Square Review, and other journals.