Jellyfish by Josh Sherman

Sorry I couldn’t stay any longer
Had to remove any sign that I had been there
That a misplaced can might upset you
I didn’t want a misplaced can to upset you

So I collected all the cans that might upset you
and straightened all the chairs and arranged them
to make sure everything was on right angles
I find comfort in 90 degrees and straight lines

Because after a hurricane you clean up
You emerge from a wood-planked place
and you set forth to collect the debris:
a chair wedged in the sand, a refrigerator in a ditch

But watch out for the jellyfish
thrown from the ocean by a cyclone
that traced an arbitrary path
like the one that led to you

 

Josh Sherman is a Toronto-based journalist whose poetry has appeared in Back Patio Press and Neutral Spaces Magazine. His fiction has been published online in Hobart and in print in the Great Lakes Review.

Wetted Appetites by Molly Gabriel

We date for three months before I agree to go the farm to meet his family. I hesitate because he calls his parents by their first names. He says, “Grey and Judy want to meet you.”

I agree because he cooks for me. Well, dehydrates. Elijah dehydrates vegetables, presses and pulverizes until they almost pass for pasta.

* * *

We arrive at their front door after noon. The air is warm and thick with precipitation. He rings the bell then kicks the door. A teenaged boy wearing a bandana and muslin shorts answers.

“Judy is counting the seconds,” the boy says.

“Blame it on her—she got her period on the way here and had to stop. Twice.”

Elijah moves through the door. My face pinks in embarrassment.

“You’re Amelia?”

“Yes.” I try to collect myself.

“My brother calls you?”

“Lemon.”

“Bo,” he says. He reaches, takes my overnight bag from my hand. “Don’t call me Bowie.”

“Okay.” I follow them through the hall to the living room.

Elijah calls, “Ready?” And throws open the double doors to the farm.

 

An enormous tent flanks the house, looms over their garden. Grey and Judy lounge at a cast iron table at its center. On the table, a tea set stands on a large, handcrafted wooden tray. They’re each beautiful. Serene. Butterflies land and launch from Judy’s hair. Grey’s face is lined from effort and intellect. I believe he seduced many women in his heyday.

Judy rises and rushes to us. She puts her palms at his face. Squeezes.

“The prodigal son,” she says. His eyes drift to me.

“Lem.” He says, still in her grasp, “This is Judy.”

Her hands drop. She turns to me. “Amelia. I understand I have you to thank for the visit.”

“I can’t take credit,” I say. Her glance moves to Grey. He stands to greet me, turns first to his son.

“I thought we agreed you’d call when you got close.”

“No, sir,” he says. “You agreed.”

Bo appears again at the door to the house. “I’m ready.” Grey turns again to me.

“I think it’s time we all ate.”

 

Judy produces a plate of leaves I’ve never seen. No one moves to touch or eat them right away.

“We hear you’re a poet.” Grey says to me. Bo watches hungrily, as if preparing for a hunt.

Judy rearranges the leaves into geometric patterns. The plate takes new life with each configuration.

“She writes hybrid forms,” Elijah corrects. I grab his leg.

“Oh. What about?” Grey asks me.

“My tongue,” Elijah says. He laughs. Grey’s eyes move to me.

I let my hand fall from his leg. “I actually just wrote a series about containment.”

“Containment?” Judy’s eyebrows raise.

“Responses to entrapment—the physical, the self, the soul.”

“How interesting,” Grey says.

“Lem likes to examine feelings of suffering at the hands of others,” Elijah adds.

His parents’ gazes slide to me like sighs.

“That’s true,” I say.

Though, I almost hate him now.

 

A purple and yellow butterfly—a species I’ve never seen with wings the size of hands—flutters softly to the plate. Lazes on the leaves. Blinks its wings open, closed, open.

Judy puts her fingers to its wings. She works her hand over, carefully, then quickly crumples the wings. She lifts the destroyed life to her mouth. She bites. The purple wings stain the open hole of her mouth as she chews. She closes her eyes. Savors. She wipes her lips with a napkin, smiles, reveals teeth stained the color of a bruise.

Below the table, I grab his hand.

Grey continues, “Have you always wanted to study poetry?”

Another large, yellow-purple butterfly hovers around us. Bo snatches it from the air and rushes it into his mouth. He chews vigorously, crunching and snapping.

“Poetry,” I clear my throat. I watch two more butterflies drop onto the leaves, “always excited me.”

Grey picks up a butterfly by the wing, works it into his mouth. Judy plucks another, pinches its wings between her fingers. The body resists, flails. Then it’s gone.

“You two must be famished,” she says. She holds it to us—to him.

Elijah hesitates. His eyes linger on mine before moving away.

“Mom,” he says.

“It’s one.” She holds it closer. Softens. She whispers, “I know you’ve missed us.”

He looks away from me. Opens his mouth, allows her to press it in. He chews slowly.

I let him go.

“Amelia?” Grey says. “Can we get you anything?”

“No. Thank you,” I say. Butterflies descend and drift towards us from the bushes like music notes. “I’ve brought my own snacks.”

I pull the book from my purse. I tear out the first page. I rip pieces the size of butterfly’s wings. “I’m vegan,” I say.

I lay a piece on my tongue. I can feel the acid of the page dissolving. And I shiver.

 

Molly Gabriel is a writer and poet from Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Hobart, and Barren Magazine. She is the recipient of the Robert Fox Award for Young Writers. She has been selected for flash readings with Bridge Eight Literary Magazine and the Jax by Jax Literary Festival. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband and toddler. She’s on Twitter at @m_ollygabriel.

Elusive Shadows by Steve Castro and Daniel Romo

My shadow left me on occasion. At times, he did so to visit his favorite haunting grounds. He once left me to cohabitate with a creature of the night. Why are you always sneaking off? I wondered. I posted an advertisement in the local paper for a new shadow last week. Sadly, my old shadow, the only shadow I ever knew, died of a heroin overdose two weeks ago. Last week, I bought a Pet Rock from Costco. I named her BetterThanAnyShadowCast, a constant (night or day) not dependent on the sun. There’s loyalty placed in an object not needing to copy your every move, an independence embedded in simply sinking to the bottom of a pond. Thursday night, I think I swore I saw my shadow with another man, a burly lumberjack the color and scent of Montana. Friday morning, I ran my hand back and forth across my new pet and remembered how demons and death stalk us all. I’m getting used to the chill across my neck that I believe wants to be adopted. Sunday morning, and still no one has replied to my ad.

 

Steve Castro’s debut poetry collection, Blue Whale Phenomena, was published by Otis Books, 2019 (Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California). His poetry has been published in Plume; Green Mountains Review; DIAGRAM; Forklift, Ohio; Water~Stone Review; etc. Two prose poems he co-wrote with Daniel Romo are forthcoming in Hotel Amerika. Birthplace: Costa Rica.

Daniel Romo is the author of Apologies in Reverse (FutureCycle Press, 2019), When Kerosene’s Involved (Mojave River Press, 2014), and Romancing Gravity (Silver Birch Press, 2013). He lives, bench presses, and rides his folding bike in Long Beach, CA. More at danielromo@wordpress.com.

10 Facts About a Winter Day, 2021 by Hallie Nowak

On this winter day in 2021, there were many things happening.

1) Bees were officially classified as extinct. The final bee’s body was being kept in the museum of All the Things That Died and Could Never Be Born Again. The last bee’s wings were pinned with care in a small glass case. The glass case was labeled “The Beginning of the End: Here Flies Forever the Final Bee of Planet Earth.”

2) Although it was winter, it hadn’t snowed at all. In fact, not one fleck of snow had come down. This was the first time in the history of the Northern United States that the temperature stayed above 50 Degrees up until December. No one could predict if it would actually snow or not. Most people assumed it wouldn’t. Many people didn’t care or pretended that they didn’t.

3) A girl was born with no face. She was born in North Dakota. Her parents wept not out of sadness, but out of frantic elation. At one week old, the faceless, nameless girl was shipped from North Dakota and placed in a glass box with two holes in it. The box resided in the same museum as the dead bee. Her face was labeled, “Do Not Touch Me.”

4) Hannah sat and drew a picture of her best friend with her skull cracked open and her brain exposed. She was careful in drawing the thin, pink membrane that peeked beneath the fractured whiteness of her best friend’s head. This was not unusual. It was based around the lyrics to a Radiohead song. There was no other reason that she would have done this.

5) A human body is capable of surviving three days without water and three weeks with no food. After her small, fluttery veins rejected the IV drip keeping her tiny body lukewarm and alive, the girl with no face and no name died two weeks into her exhibition at the museum. Nobody knew how to feed her.

6) There was no funeral for the girl, but if there was, the only person who would’ve wanted to come was the janitor of the museum. After hours, he would place his weathered hand against the cold glass of her box and watch what looked like faceless slumber.

7) When Hannah was seven years old, she often swung on her aunt’s swing set. On a winter’s eve several years before this one, she wandered out into the rare snow and swung. The hornets that miraculously survived winter fell onto her lap in a heap, still in their nest made of holes. As a result of the stings, Hannah couldn’t open her eyes for two days. She didn’t cry.

8) The night before this one, Hannah had a dream that bees were crawling into her mouth. This dream was also in close succession to her losing her virginity. She woke and wondered if the two things were somehow related. She wondered if this is how it felt to be in love.

9) After a very short intermittent period of emptiness, it was decided that the empty box of the faceless girl was to be filled with all of the found carcasses of dead bees that civilians had collected per government-issued command. The bee box was a sold-out spectacle. Everyone who had taste went to see the big bee box. One small boy, who pressed his rosy face to the glass, even suggested that each bee should have a name. All the other little boys agreed and their parents laughed in agreement.

10) At this moment, some ways away, Hannah hangs the portrait of her best friend on her bedroom wall. Hannah didn’t have plans for her life, and that was okay. It was okay, and she told herself so. Isn’t it possible to make things happen by simply telling yourself so? She turns off the lights with the flick of her wrist and leaves the room.

 

Hallie Nowak is a poet and artist writing and residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she is in pursuit of her undergraduate degree in English at Purdue University Fort Wayne. She is the author of Girlblooded, a poetry chapbook (Dandelion Review, 2018). Her work can also be read in Back Patio Press, Honey & Lime, Okay Donkey, and Noble/Gas Qrtrly where her poem, “A Dissected Body Speaks,” was awarded runner-up for the 2018 Birdwhistle Prize. You can find her on Twitter: @heyguysimhallie and on Instagram: @hallie_nowak.

Just Visiting by Alana Saltz

I employed a molten owl
to deliver my braids
to mailboxes

all along the street
where you lived.

As you watched, foxes jumped up
onto your shoulders—

delicate and wild,

shining fur waving
from the wind.

There are fragments I remember
like costumes
under clothes.

Tell me there’s more to life
than you
and trees.

The trouble is confusion.
I’m always waiting to stay.

This mouthful of years tastes
too sweet.

We built a fort behind the stream,
held down with sticks and rocks.

I wonder if it’s still there.

Pieces of it,
anyway.

 

Alana Saltz is the Editor-in-Chief of Blanket Sea, an arts and literary magazine showcasing work by chronically ill, mentally ill, and disabled creators. Her poetry has appeared in Occulum, Five:2:One, YesPoetry, LadyLibertyLit, and more. Her debut poetry chapbook, The Uncertainty of Light, was released in February 2020. You can visit her website at alanasaltz.com, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alanasaltz.

Tumblers by Sara Lippmann

When Geoff’s out of town, it rains through our ceiling. Plinkety-plink, the sound a direct hit, but it takes me a minute to place and another to rise because lately attention and effort are in short supply. Could be anything, I tell myself, leaky sink, ambitious toilet. Rain – it’s not where my mind is. I add ice to my glass. Geoff got all these tumblers for his birthday, Princess Lea, Chewie, Willie Nelson, like the collector sets they used to sell at Burger King to offset the paper crowns which tore through every coronation. Who doesn’t love stamped on faces? (Hand wash. Don’t run the machine unless you want melted images; there are levels to fragile.) I don’t do dishes when Geoff’s gone, so we’re down to lowballs, invisible Bowie. It’s a quiet rebellion. I chew ice. Kids! Crunch! Clink! They are in the shower, one after the next, which is reassuring: water comes from somewhere. I set out rain catchers in the form of buckets, sauce pots, a soup tureen, but the drizzle becomes a downpour, the crack widens, saturating the plaster, which starts to flake in puzzle-shaped chips, my ceiling peels like a boiled egg, a cranial dissection of fetal pig. There’s no keeping up. Any second my kids’ spongy feet will poke through the sheetrock. Turn it off! I holler. Household emergency! But they either ignore or don’t hear me. Teenagers shower for hours, and still, they smell ripe and alive like they do. That night, I dream of being swallowed by flood. In the morning the water has receded but the crack has gashed open; it’s Cesarean. I call Geoff who says call someone. There’s a breach in my ceiling, I say. Don’t worry, someone answers, and I feel marginally better; Ma’am, he says, and I feel marginally worse. Help’s on the way, but the way isn’t today, and tomorrow’s the weekend, so now my ceiling’s a crater. Piece of cake on the phone becomes holy mother of God in real life, which is often the case with me. We thought it would be easy, help says. Only it’s never easy. A hole this size? It’s going to cost you. I know, I say. You’re lucky the roof hasn’t collapsed. Can you still fix it? Can’t be sure until we go in; the damage may be irrevocable. How old did you say your house is? When they step out to their truck I pee with the door open because it’s urgent, because who can be bothered, which means I’m scrambling when they return with headlamps and tools and assure me there’s nothing they haven’t seen. That’s when the objects start dropping. Rusted flatheads, faucet necks, newspapers from the Carter administration, a wig of red hair (mermaid not clown.) Support beams snap like kindling. They shine their lights in the dark. It’s a burial ground up there, they say, bona fide, as if otherwise I might not believe them. Have you found the body? I deadpan. Holy Grail? Other shoe? But it’s not even cute. Excavation takes time. They need to locate the source. Can’t just slap a patch on the problem. Guitar strings, dusty maps, a bicycle pump, ceramic dog with a chipped hind leg, an empty bottle of quinine, carousel of smoking pipes, torrent of swirled marbles, first edition of Arabian Nights, my mother’s valise, my misspent virginity, the balloon I swallowed in Florida, a shissel of sand, set of clothespin people, a boogerish round of rubber cement, and a terrarium of sea glass, leaf litter and bitter root. All day I watch things tumble and fall. How graceful, their descent, like apple cores from a window. Like ballerinas without heads. When I first came to New York, I’d sit on my grandmother’s terrace listening to opera on public radio. Boats passed beneath the Verrazano-Narrows. Princess Di had just died and a sinkhole threatened to devour her street block. Never in my life, she said, but I was young, then, riding the express bus in my discount blazer and happy hour bloat. Before the ceiling broke, I tried telling Geoff about the decline of scent, a global problem, thanks to extinct perfumes, lost correspondence, ossified insect wings, how I read once they’re gone you can’t get them back. He said I’d be better reading the news. When the men break for lunch, my home becomes mine again, so I lie on the rug beneath the pit, sleep drunk, like a fat black cat curls into a favorite spot and waits and waits for the sun.

 

Sara Lippmann is the author of the story collection Doll Palace. She was awarded an artist’s fellowship in fiction from New York Foundation for the Arts, and her stories have appeared in Berfrois, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Split Lip, Midnight Breakfast, and elsewhere. She teaches at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and cohosts the Sunday Salon. Find her on twitter @saralippmann or online at https://www.saralippmann.com.

Self-Portrait as Season 1 of American Idol by Micaela Walley

When Kelly Clarkson won American Idol, she squealed
into a microphone and America felt that shit hard.

I am American, but more TV than reality.
I am more idle than Kelly. A cat hurls
his body over my own as I type and I squeal,
but it’s not the same. If I’m being honest,

there is no space at the judging table
when I’m around. I kick everybody out,
go on with the heavy business of singing
into an empty room.

A montage of every time I’ve loved someone appeared
as Daniel Powter sang you had a bad day, the camera
don’t lie and America changed the channel before I could
give myself any credit.

I am American, but I do not believe
in auditions. If you pause before you say my name,
I know you’re going to say it. I know
I’m never going home. I know home
is a stage with no exit left.

When Kelly Clarkson won American Idol, she sang
into a microphone some people wait a lifetime for a moment
like this and I didn’t believe her. Not for one minute.

 

Micaela Walley is an MFA candidate at the University of Baltimore. Her work can be found in HuffPost, ENTROPY, Gravel, and Oracle Fine Arts Review. She currently lives in Hanover, Maryland with her best friend–Chunky, the cat.

Stones Are Heaviest When Swallowed by Jen Julian

There is a girl who has ended up in the belly of a wolf. At first, she doesn’t realize that’s where she is, doesn’t remember the sequence of actions that led to her being devoured. She just knows that it’s dark and the walls are hot and sting-y and spongy, and they smell like blood and bog water. When she starts to figure it out, she’s more annoyed than anything. One minute she’s on her phone, wolfing down gifs and Riverdale fanart on Tumblr, the next she has been wolfed.

This wolf though, he’s not necessarily a bad person. Even though he’s a predator, it’s in his nature, and he really can’t help himself. Right now, he can feel this girl—nowadays, she’s a grown woman in her thirties, in case that matters—and she is heavy as a brick in his belly. She sits cross-armed and sulking in the folds of his stomach lining, and he can tell she’s going to be in there for a long time, like raw cabbage, difficult to digest. He tries reaching out to her. They might as well get to know each other.

“So you like Riverdale,” he says. “That’s a fun show.”

Minutes pass, and she sits there silent.

“That Jughead, what a dish, am I right?”

She gives him nothing. This wolf, who prides himself on having a generally charming personality, tries not to feel rebuffed and carries on with his day. But as he trots the shady, gravelly paths of the woods, his belly becomes bloated and pendulous. It’s hot out. He’s beginning to feel sick.

“I think they went off the rails with this latest season though,” he says. “Too many cooks in the writers’ room, you know?”

Inside the wolf, the girl is flushed and scalded. In the face of discomfort, she retreats into her head. She thinks in cartoons.

The wolf, by contrast, thinks in fairy tales. He’s remembering another story about another wolf whose stomach is sliced open and filled with stones and stitched back up, all while he’s innocently sleeping, and when he wakes he feels wretched, heavy, dry as dust, and when he drags himself down to the river to drink, he falls in, sinks to the bottom, and drowns. What a horrible thing to do to someone. Most fairy tales are horror stories to wolves.

By the end of the day, the girl still has not said a word to the wolf. Nor does it seem he has made any progress in digesting her. He gets home and flops onto the floor, exhausted.

“You know,” he says, “trying to talk to you is painful. Like pulling teeth.”

The girl has not had very strong feelings about the wolf until now. When she hears the accusation in his voice, she’s at first fearful, then resentful. She is digesting a little bit after all; her skin is turning lacy, little pockets of red jewels. One day, maybe tomorrow, she’ll no longer have skin. She’ll be fully undressed, down to the bone, and who knows what will happen to her then.

In light of that, she musters her courage and replies to the wolf with the chill and precision of an injection: “I don’t like feeling pressured. I only respond when I feel compelled to respond.”

“Well, that’s a bit selfish,” snarls the wolf. “Conversation goes two ways, you know, you selfish child.”

He wants to say something else, but a cramp seizes him. He moans and rolls onto his back, massaging his lumbar muscles, struggling for relief. The girl rolls back and forth with him, rocked in the cradle of his belly. Maybe I am like a child, she thinks, because this rocking feels very nice. After a minute or so, the motion calms her fear and resentment and sends her back into the cloudland of her mind, all bright colors and sparkling anime eyes. Even in the fanfiction she writes, there is virtually no confrontation.

The wolf, by contrast, boils with conflict. The ridges of his cavernous mouth are sticky and taste of tar. His throat burns with bitter acid. Outside his house and down the hill, he knows he will find a clean, bright river. He would like nothing more than to go down to the river and slake his thirst. But he doesn’t dare. Oh no. He knows exactly what will happen.

 

Jen Julian is a transient North Carolinian whose recent work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review, JuxtaProse, and TriQuarterly Review, among other places. She have a PhD in English from the University of Missouri and an MFA in Fiction from UNC Greensboro. Currently, she serves as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Young Harris College in the mountains of Northern Georgia.

What Jupiter wrote to Ganymede after years of separation by Satya Dash

Beloved, so much around us was remarkable,
I forgot to mention I was in love with you.
While fires rose in me and boulders exploded,
I mistook it for the tenacity of constipation.
My vanity, my bastion of resilience gave away
to white hairs & chalky scars when you left.
Besides, I only call it love to quarantine
the helplessness any ambiguity can cause.
It’s embarrassing to admit I have dreamt
about crashing your wedding, then eloping
with someone else. I know, I know.
It isn’t something I expected of me too.
There were days when news of you breathing
far far away was enough for me not to stop
breathing. At least not from my own
perpetration. I must tell you I’m coming to visit
this fall. For the liquids in my joints prefer
vulnerability only in a climate of moderation.
Even now shy seas of green celestial rot
claw at my shores every night a moon carelessly
disrobes. I have already made a note to hide a moon
in my underwear. Glowing like a ball of deep
goodness, trying to make the animals in me
worthy of you. Don’t you remember: how en route
to the Lord’s asylum, we strutted along, your hand
in mine. How the stars glanced at us, my neon
crotch. And in that moment I knew what
to do―from the light I compelled from their zodiac
lamps, I slanted into a shaft of brilliant pheromone.
But the planets never understood this― I only did such
a thing so that the stars wouldn’t look at you. Did you?

 

Satya Dash’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in Passages North, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Florida Review, Pidgeonholes, Glass Poetry, Prelude, amongst others. Apart from having a degree in electronics from BITS Pilani-Goa, he has been a cricket commentator too. His work has been twice nominated for the Orison Anthology. He spent his early years in Odisha, India and now lives in Bangalore. He tweets @satya43.