break/through by Cara Waterfall

“And see how the flesh grows back / across a wound, with a great vehemence, / more strong than the simple, untested surface before.”
                        ~ Jane Hirshfield, What Binds Us

call it unlovely,
a wanton blotch,
an undone stitch

call it a raw blossom
garish as a flare

call it the reef’s
clamour seething
to the surface

a scorched line,
heat clawing its way
out of my body

call it reptilian,
webbed & thickening —
a mottled seam

call it my
skin’s frayed hymn,
my body’s scripture

what’s left,
but the gnarled root of memory,
raking its debris,
with metal teeth
over me

what dark wounds
we are made of,
how they wreck & remake

I eulogize my younger skin
& all things young, but
I will never disown this —
revision, souvenir, script,
seal? — this gilded asymmetry,
of what was.

We heal ragged
even on the inside, pain inlaid
like an everlasting nacre.

Still,
praise what was salvaged:
the self, ravaged
now rising.

 

Ottawa-born and Costa Rica-based, Cara Waterfall’s work has been featured or is forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry, SWWIM, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Fiddlehead, among others. She won Room’s 2018 Short Forms contest and second place in Frontier Poetry’s 2018 Award for New Poets. In 2019, she was a finalist for Radar Poetry’s The Coniston Prize and shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. Most recently, she won the Editors’ Prize for the 2020 Magpie Award for Poetry. She has a Poetry & Lyric Discourse diploma from The Writer’s Studio at SFU, and a diploma from the London School of Journalism.

My heart has given me the slip again by B. Tyler Lee

But if you’re searching for real, you’ll likely find him by the railroad tracks south of Settlement Road. Don’t tell the other organs. He’ll have his breakfast—which is also his lunch—wrapped in a handkerchief and tethered to the tea towel he uses as a bedroll. (Dinner is moonshine, always moonshine.) He’ll have his scruffy little dog with him. He named her after Daisy Buchanan: “Her bark is full of money,” he said. But it isn’t, and that’s swell, too. She’s made of tenacity and wire hair and lays down next to him like an ace girl should.

You probably haven’t heard over there in your land where amber waves and Washington’s cherry tree and equality all smell kinda genuine, but my heart’s a goddamned folk hero now. He’s the Johnny Appleseed of affection, the Doc Holliday of delight. He’s hard-boiled Casey Jones—he breaks instead of brakes. They say he doesn’t shy from donnybrooks, but that’s only because my heart seeks out injustice, and sometimes words can’t right a wrong. But he’s never bloodied a body who didn’t earn it.

My heart’s a true American. But not American like Babe Ruth and frankfurters. American like he won’t visit a doctor until his aorta practically smells of gangrene. American like he’d rather amputate his vena cava than admit he couldn’t find due west in the dark.

My heart has never read a Steinbeck novel because he’s the paradigm. (Also, he doesn’t have eyes.)

By day, my heart harvests blueberries three at a go, or he wields doll-sized picket signs and pummels the toes of anti-union goons. It’s all the same, in the end. By night, he sings Woody Guthrie ballads around a campfire to a different half-dozen hobo colons in every Hooverville. And when the bathtub bourbon surges inside him, he rubs an artery across his thimble-cup and thinks of you. No one knows but Daisy, but she’s always there, aware of how his months spent on Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway are really just the warp and weft of him running from you.

Even the ocean is treacherous, though: sometimes the Pacific will waft toward him, and he’ll remember the time you kissed us under the water in Atlantic City, how we rose after and felt you surface and dive, surface and dive, over and over like a mermaid, luring us toward that false realm of yours—bursting with stripes and stars, bootstraps and melting pots—we can never inhabit. This you know. This you knew. And sometimes he can’t tell one ocean’s perfume from another, the way you can’t tell an organ who loves you from one who doesn’t—but maybe he needs that reminder now and then, too.

Look, it’s true. My heart’s been avoiding you and me both. But you should also know that he’s only stolen once his whole life—the Widow Barker’s pocket pies, off her windowsill outside Duluth. Daisy lay starving, her fur patched away by an empty belly and the wind. Ravaged himself, he took two pumps and fed the rest to Daisy, ventricle to dying mouth, until she could roam and fight once more. And even after all this time, everywhere your beliefs have taken you, he’d still shatter his internal compass again like that if it meant he could save you, too.

 

B. Tyler Lee is the author of one poetry collection, With Our Lungs in Our Hands (Redbird Chapbooks, 2016). Her hybrid essay “●A large volume of small nonsenses” won the 2020 Talking Writing contest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 32 Poems, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Puerto del SolJet Fuel Review, HAD, Acting Up: Queer in the New Century (Jacar Press), and elsewhere. She teaches in the Midwest.

sorry sorry (sorry) by Kora Schultz

sorry i can’t come to the phone right now,
my body is 1000 hedgehogs in a trenchcoat

& loud noises make them nervous.
            & soft noises make them nervous.

i pay my carcass rent with stillness.
even the life rafts make thunder of
my limbs.             the critters know this.

they keep score when my muscles can’t.
baby,                 i’ll have to call you back.

 

Kora Schultz (they/them) is a queer Wisconsin-based poet, writing student, and assistant editor with Juke Joint Magazine. By day, they work with folks experiencing homelessness. Their work has appeared in various literary magazines, poetry journals, and on their partner’s fridge. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter at @oatmilkmom.

Night Feeding by Lindy Biller

I unbutton my nightshirt and discover them: tiny fire ants tracing the rosary around my nipple, each goosebumped pore and coarse dark hair a prayer bead. 

I don’t have any offerings to give. No crumbs, no crust of sugar for their squirming, hungering children. Mandibles pinch and release, testing ripeness. I brush them off and stomp the ones I can reach. The rest of the colony melts into hiding places: the cracks in the headboard, the chasm between wall and baseboard, the open-mouthed sockets. Do ants notice when fewer of them return? I touch my breast with one finger. Round and hard as a bowling ball, skin stretched tight. Your father is asleep in bed and there are no bites on his face, no dark pixels crisscrossing his skin. 

In the hallway, my hand misses the light switch a few times. The pump waits in the closet, top shelf. I grab all the parts and force them together. There is dried milk on the plastic shield, air bubbles in the tubing. There is mold growing in the first bottle I grab, and I can’t find another one. No time. I am moments from bursting, like the parable I was supposed to teach for Sunday school. New wine, old wineskins. If you mix them, both the wine and the skins will be lost. Isn’t that how the story goes? Your father, still snoring, would know. I’m not sure. I skipped church and took the stale communion bread down to the river and tore off pieces for the ducks, and even they knew better than to eat it. 

My skin prickles beneath the plastic shield. I pump the handle as though I’m spraying Windex on grimy windows. Nothing comes out and my breast is on fire and the rhythmic mechanical gasps make me think of heroic measures in intensive care units, though I’ve never been inside one. No time. The paramedics thought you were probably gone within half an hour of when I laid you down. I didn’t kiss you before I tiptoed out—you were in a deep, warm sleep and it seemed too risky. When we found you in the morning, your father did chest compressions: two fingers pressing straight down, dead center between your nipples. I sealed my mouth over your face and sent small puffs of air inside, inflating you like a balloon. If I could’ve blown my own life into you, I would have.

One drop falls in the plastic bottle. Two. Then the milk gushes. Everloving fuck. Soon I am past the one-ounce line. Soon I’m past two and three and four and I need to switch to a new bottle, except there isn’t one. I fill two cereal bowls and a confetti-glazed mug and the glass pitcher my mom filled with lemonade when she stayed over, doing laundry and cooking dinner and sitting next to my bed, rubbing my back until I fell asleep. She did the same thing the week you were born, except it was your back she was rubbing. Her visits like bookends. 

I break the seal with my pinky and set the pump aside. I am empty. Deflated. Fire ants emerge from the darkness, probing the sides of my mismatched vessels for something to grip.

I should donate my milk to someone who needs it. Next time I will. But for now, I carry the mug and bowls and pitcher outside, milk sloshing over. There are ant mounds sprawling along the back step, bathed in moonlight. I empty the pitcher into their tiny, gaping mouths. Maybe they’ll be satisfied and stop biting me awake. Maybe they’ll drown. Either way, an improvement. There are poppies growing along the fence, buds closed like small fists, and I pour the rest of the milk over them. Maybe when they open they’ll smell like your skin, that yeasty maple syrup sweetness, maybe I’ll hold the blooms close to my face and whisper your name to the soft, milky petals.

 

Lindy Biller is a writer who hails from Metro Detroit and now lives in Wisconsin. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming at SmokeLong Quarterly, Heavy Feather Review, Pithead Chapel, and Apparition Lit. She works at a small game design studio, crafting stories and concepts for online learning games.

Tendrils by Rachel Brown

I have a kidney bean blooming beneath my jeans.
As a child I feared watermelon seeds, but never kidney beans.

I can feel new growth, leaves entangling between my vertebrae
tender sprouting between by ribs,
a lattice of light green climbing up
my skeletal walls, coaxing the sunlight
out of my skin, glowing beneath my fingernails,
turning me green.

There is a delicate balance, as it
grows brighter, stronger,
larger, and I grow tired feeding
relentless nature with joy and self-made sunlight.

I never wanted to grow kidney beans between my breasts
and beneath my nerves. I do not know how
to remove roots, repot or nurture to maturity
the glowing inside me.

But now I have a kidney bean whose tendrils
caress my neck and help me find sunshine
and relief.

 

Rachel Brown holds Bachelor’s degrees in Creative Writing and English Literature, as well as a forthcoming Master’s degree in English Literature from Central Washington University, where she also teaches composition. Her creative work has appeared in Northwest Boulevard. She is currently reading, writing, teaching, and running in Eastern Washington.

What is Possible in This, Our Year 2021 by Kendra Fortmeyer

What is possible is loving. What is possible is not loving every person, but loving at least one thing about every person. What is possible is to remind yourself of this thing in traffic, in the grocery store, scrolling.

What is possible is to tell the people you love, and the people you almost love, and the people you love one thing about what it is you love about them. What is possible is to write it on postcards, on sidewalks, whispered into the pennies you press into their palms. What is possible is to linger a moment to see if they smile. If they turn the other cheek, and to what end. 

What is possible, though difficult, is to share the small gem of your love you have polished from the rock, and to have it tossed back through your window. To see your postcards and forests burned, your sidewalks flooded. What is possible is to watch the sun setting earlier and weaker, shadows collecting in the corners of your rooms as your love is returned with nothing at all.

What is possible is to save your love, lock it up in a small wooden box that still smells like the breath of its maker. What is possible, though not without copyright permission, is to hey, hide your love away. What is possible is to overthink, to retreat, to spinout complex calculi: whiteboards and footnotes and string theories of who is deserving of your love. What is possible to retreat to the internet! To publicly declaim, I offered the world my love and all I got was this lousy _____. What is possible to fill in that blank with anything, and preferably something that will get a lot of likes.

What is possible is to tell yourself that you are owed something on the merit of your love.

What is possible is to believe it.

What is possible — and, in fact, certain, according to the unmasked woman sitting in a pile of bags in front of the post office, gripping a tattered copy of the Farmer’s Almanac, and talking, talking — is that the winter ahead will be long, and hard.

The winter ahead will be long and hard.

The winter ahead will be long and hard.

* * * *

What is possible is that you will seal your house up tight. Treat yourself with wool and fleece, with clove and amber candles. Breathe clouds onto the chill windowpanes, and trace tiny hearts through which you glimpse, outside, the gray skeletons of the trees.

What is possible is that you could stay this way a long, long time.

What is also possible is this.

One day, when the shadows in your corners mass dark and deep, lapping at your toes, you’ll spy a girl moving down the street toward your house. She stops, bending on the sidewalk. Comes closer. Stops, bending. Now she’s at the house two doors down from yours. Now your neighbor’s. It is possible that a strange heat will rise in your chest. Hey, you think. They’d better not. Whoever it is. They’d better not. Not in my yard, they’d better — whirling tighter and tighter, until the heat and the pitch send you sweaty, reeling, toward the door. Mask and hat in your numb fingers.

And look — what is possible is that the girl is doing any number of things. Casing the neighborhood. Looking for her lost keys. Collecting acorns. 

It is, in fact, wonderful how many things are possible. And what is most wonderful of all is this:

The girl will be several houses down already by the time you come outside. It is possible is that, in her wake, the weak winter sun gleams on a bright copper penny shining right before your mailbox. As you watch, the girl pulls another penny from her pocket, brings it to her lips. Then stoops, planting it in front of the Ramirezes’ house.

What is possible is that you pick up the penny at your feet. All around you, the air sounds different than you remembered, unbounded. All that space.

What is possible is that, well, now you have a penny.

But this is also possible. What is possible is this: As you rub the coin between your fingers, the sharp smell of copper springs up sweet and strong. As if you can hear a whisper: Hello, and here is what I love about you.

What is possible is that tomorrow morning you’ll wake up, see the penny on your night table, and remember, fiercely, that there is a person in the world who believes in your beauty. Remember that you are loved. And you will rise, and try again.

Or maybe, the most wonderful of all possible things: You won’t wait. You won’t sleep on this love. What is possible is that standing there, penny in your fist, you’ll remember the same you accepted the embrace of a person you loved just one thing about. You’ll remember the gladness with which you both whispered, we are okay, we are okay, we will be okay. And what is possible, though it seems impossible now, is that you’ll take off running. You’ll fly down the sidewalk, past the Joneses and the Ramirezes and the Puris, pennies and whispers and wishes flashing beneath your feet. In your heart, you’ll be singing, It’s possible, it’s possible, it’s possible.

 

Kendra Fortmeyer is a Pushcart Prize-winning writer whose fiction has appeared in LeVar Burton Reads, Best American Nonrequired Reading, One Story, The Toast, Lightspeed, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and New Writers Project MFA program at UT Austin. Her debut young adult novel, Hole in the Middle, has been published in the US, UK, and Germany. Currently, she is the Visiting Fiction Writer at the University of Texas at Austin. She drinks too much tea, probably.