Kuchisabishii by Kathleen Hellen

pre-wired for the bliss that maximizes

pleasure
I motive toward the impulse
motive toward taboo—o,

little lonely mouth
opening and
closing

the self self
administering

M&M’s, double-chocolate chip
I oven nothing but
the comfort of

the silver fridge
that Jabbas like a hut
the Ben & Jerry’s—o,

little lonely mouth
transmitting

from febrile tongue
to hips
expanding

a theory of the
sex
without the sex

I feast
on the enormity of self

 

Kathleen Hellen’s honors include prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review, and her prize-winning collection Umberto’s Night, published by Washington Writers’ Publishing House. Hellen’s poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Colorado Review, jubilat, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, North American Review, and West Branch, among others. Her credits also include two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Hellen’s latest full-length poetry collection is The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin.

Undertow by Matthew Mastricova

Jeff wants to grows long enough to reach the moon. He’s been doing those stretches, where you grab on the gnarliest limb of a tree and let your body stretch down. Jeff says the neanderthals used to do it. He says one day he’s gonna get big enough to crush the moon between his palms. Serves it right for sitting up so close in the sky, causing tides and shit. His arms have grown like an inch or two. Or maybe he dropped his body so hard he unraveled something. I missed the first two snaps and have to settle for gawking at the rough fractal guts of his uncle’s maple tree. It was like looking at the inside of my own skeleton. I wanted to hurl. The last time I wanted to get sick so bad was when Jeff’s older brother pushed me off their back porch and I landed on my arm wrong and clean broke it. He was that kind of motherfucker.

The third time Jeff’s fat ass breaks a branch, I’m videotaping him to find the moments where gravity drags Jeff’s arms down beyond their limit. No one believes in Jeff but me. They don’t know how much spite is in that guy’s teeth. Venom can take you a long way if you let it, so even though Jeff’s hands are splintered to hell after the branch breaks, he doesn’t even wince. He’s been through worse. At his brother’s funeral, Jeff showed me the scar from where his brother sliced his stomach for hogging the xbox. He pulled me into the bathroom and said “Jody I gotta show you something” and he let me trace the shape of it and I swear to god I could feel it breathing.

Jeff gives me his hands and I get to work removing the slivers of pulp. I want to stick his whole fist in my mouth, suck out the poison that’s keeping him going, but I focus on the damage I could see. By the time I return Jeff his hand it’s swollen like a corpse. Another shot at vengeance the wild stole from him. Even with the dead hand he still plans on trying. He asks me if I’d come over next time and watch just in case something happens and the other hand goes, too. If I’d tie his hands to the trees, then. I say yes, of course I’d do that Jeff, but it’s only because I believe he’d figure a way to do it some other way. Jeff, one day he’ll crumble the moon between his fingers and banish the ocean tides, and then he’ll have nothing left to break but himself.

 

Matthew Mastricova is the fiction editor for Third Point Press. Their work has appeared in Catapult, Joyland, Redivider, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere.

At night I imagine the coyotes by Gion Davis

Laughing together
On the swing sets
At the empty school up the road
The city is finally theirs
I’d laugh too if it was me
Who was I?
My star chart says I was born
To be an employee
When I always felt I should be
A planet myself
Trudging through the universe
As a gigantic lonely eyeball
Leave it to heaven
To tell me how I should
Exist on the ladder
As though it wouldn’t be more
Cost effective for me to drop dead
Abandoning the pizzas I’d pick up
With all the boyfriends I’d have
The tattoos and birthdays
And paying for water
What is it like
To be an unstructured animal
As innocent as Jupiter
And twice as beautiful

 

Gion Davis is a queer poet from Española, New Mexico where they grew up on a sheep ranch. Their poetry has been featured in Wax Nine Journal, SELFFUCK, Tilted House, and others. They have received the Best New Poets of 2018 Prize selected by Ocean Vuong. They are the editor of Rhinestone Magazine and their chapbook Love & Fear & Glamour was published in 2019. They graduated with their MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2019 and currently live in Denver, Colorado. Gion can be found on Twitter @gheeontoast and on Instagram @starkstateofmind.

The Curtains We Bought by Sheila Mulrooney

We ordered curtains from a second-hand furniture shop. They said shipping took nine weeks, but we agreed that two months of naked windows was better than funding Bezos. I remember how we murmured this to each other as we fell asleep, like a lullaby. You in your boxers, me in my t-shirt, both thick with sweat. I didn’t tell you, but I was scared those nights, unable to sleep with the glare of streetlamps on our drywall. I felt like the whole city could see us. They were watching, laughing at our poverty and love.

~

They came wrapped tightly in plastic and crinkled with static. The white polyester was blotched with purple lavender, a synthetic pattern repeating itself like cars on the highway. You shook them out and immediately the room smelled of something processed and unclean. I wished we could afford nice things, like linen curtains or cotton bedsheets. You took four quarters from our Mexico Vacation Jar and left for the laundromat. I saw the static shock you as you turned the doorknob.

~

You picked them up after dinner, along with two six-packs. We were slightly drunk when you plastered them against the glass and said look, we can finally do it with the lights on. This reminded me that I wanted to string Christmas lights around the rod, then drape the curtains over them, creating a gauzy purple glow. Kinky, you said. So we fished out a string of lights, untangled them, then looped them around the curtain rod, singing Deck the Halls and spilling beer on our jeans. What I wanted to say was we are so happy, we should die so we don’t have to be scared and unhappy tomorrow. But I didn’t because I knew doing so would bring tomorrow anyway.

~

The next morning we tried putting up the curtains hungover. I think you were ashamed of our silliness the night before. You clipped your movements so they were angular and sharp. The stitching is already coming apart, you said as if the low quality disgusted you. Again I wished we were rich and spent our Sunday afternoons shopping instead of bartending and writing blogs for start-ups. You would choose beautiful curtains and we could be happy in this life that we share.

~

The curtains did not fit over the Christmas lights. We tried for forty-five minutes before stripping them from the iron rod and letting them fall into tangles.

~

We abandoned the apartment for the afternoon, the curtains a pile of soft purple on the floor. We went to Tops, bought heaps of ramen, eggs, and vegetables, planning an enormous stir fry to fight the hangover. You needed shampoo and I remembered toothpaste. By the time we checked out, the bill was $77.93, almost $30 overbudget. We walked home deflated, knowing we spent too much but could not take it back.

~

It is sunset, dinnertime, when the curtains are finally up. In the flutters of evening wind, they seem both mysterious and adolescent. Like a symbol in a coming-of-age movie, where a female protagonist will lose what her parents call her virginity to the wrong boy. This will be the greatest hardship of her affluent life, the only plot point bourgeoise screenwriters can produce. I imagine the actress as wispy with thick eyebrows, and I resent her and her fictional ilk. I stand there hating her, wanting to be her, until you yell food’s ready, come and get it. Then I shut the window and return to you.

 

Sheila Mulrooney has an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of journals including White Wall Review (forthcoming), The Wayfarer, Rejection Letters, and others. She is at work on her first novel.

Shadows by Ruth Lehrer

It’s a good thing to know who your enemies are
That’s what they say when they start worming
into all the holes of your life
tracking your diet your loves your mindset
analyzing meaning in your patterns of poop
what the wrong type of tea can do to your tooth enamel
scribing all your failures
in a chart on a spreadsheet in an app
dictating a memo to all your exes and past librarians
checking all the books you have left on your shelf
for more than six months without cracking
and taking away a donut and six Oreos
for each rhyme you left unfinished

You try to keep your nail biting a secret
but it’s typed in Helvetica on the bathroom wall
in red paint against the tiles blue.

 

Ruth Lehrer is a writer and sign language interpreter living in western Massachusetts. She is the author of the novel Being Fishkill, the poetry chapbook Tiger Laughs When You Push, and many other poems. You can find her website at ruthlehrer.com.

After 70 Years in the Ice, Steve Rogers Visits Whole Foods by Emily Capettini

I.

The first time, he never makes it past the fresh produce section.

Steve stares at the leafy greens ivied against the far wall, radishes like low-slung suns through smoke. He recognizes the cloudy marbles of cabbages, tucked in with purple twins. Knuckles of ginger root and seven kinds of apples, piled high like pirate treasure. There are packages of fruit slices nearly as green as that liquor a grateful woman in Belfort had insisted they take. They’d known it, too, was a treasure excavated, cellar dust layered thick on the bottle.

One of his men had thrown up in a field later and Steve thinks that field must have grown lush since ’44, plants gone to seed decades-thick over where his boots sunk. How many ghosts layer there like impression fossils. Then, Steve had hoped to press his own mark on history, leave something for another to find.

Now, he fills his basket with fruits and vegetables bright enough to hurt.

 

II.

Steve goes to the far side of the store next time, back set against the lure of produce. He finds himself in front of a long case heaped with cheese like rubble. Steve rests his hand just inside the glass, the cool breeze a modern marvel he expects will never fade to ordinary. There are things that stay fixed, even in this new century: summers are still sticky in New York; a body still sweats.

He picks a few wedges of cheese, soft-rinded and dimpling under his gentle grip. They’d always been his favorites, even before hard cheeses disappeared overseas.

There was a day not long after Steve hung up that prop shield when he had to dart through a farm field gone fallow. He ducked into a cave, tried to remake himself small. Steve brushed against rough wood and found on top a cool surface that dimpled under his touch.

The search for him crossed back and forth in front of the cave, and Steve slivered off pieces of the cheese, letting each melt on his tongue until dawn or death found him first.

 

III.

Everyone gives him a double-take when they see him texting, as if a full keyboard would be any trouble after a telegraph. Steve sighs, wishing for the luxury of being unremarkable. The problem with imagination, he thinks, is it only looks forward.

If anyone ever bothered to ask him what he liked best about here, he’d say coffee. Not the lattes and specialty cafés that remind him he ought to see Rouen or Paris again, but the bins lining the aisles here, each tracing an origin that spirals somewhere else. He buys more than he can really drink, stacking it inside cabinets until his whole kitchen smells like coffee.

When he and his men were able to save up enough coffee for full cups to go around, they used to wish for another tomorrow, blowing away steam like birthday candles. Steve remembers the odd splendor of rest. The comfort of sitting squeezed together in whatever shelter they’d found or made. He never made his own wish, too aware of his still-new body’s mortgage.

There are thousands of tomorrows between him and those scraped-together evenings, now. Sometimes, Steve wonders if those wishes had been rationed out like the coffee, and his share is what finally pulled him free of that long sleep.

 

Emily Capettini is a queer fiction writer from the Midwest who loves a good ghost story. Her work has most recently appeared in places like Middle House Review and Lammergeier, among others. Her chapbook, Girl Detectives, is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press later this year. Find out more about her at emilycapettini.com.

Last Seen Leaving by Laura Ring

Stay off the back roads, Beynon says.
We do not listen. We eat the roads
and the roads eat us – swallow us
like a gullet so we forget.

We want to ride the velvet maw forever –
brushed by bronchioles of northern pine,
the muscled tongue of riverbeds. We are blind
to landmarks: Molly Supple Hill, Bear Swamp

ghosted, empty of reference. We press
our cheeks against granite molars, cool,
carved out of mountains. Lick the water
that falls like tears off lichen-patched rock.

The Folk will try to trick you, he says.
With fruit trees, or a bird with a broken wing
and you’ll be lost.
The road is a marrow bone.
We suck in mile after reticular mile.

Stripped of street signs and last names,
we are innocent of home. The road swirls us
under its nose. How gladly we dance,
like wine legs on the curved bell of a cup.


Laura Ring is a poet, short story writer, anthropologist, and librarian. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in
Dream Pop Journal, Ethel Zine, and RHINO, and she was a recent finalist in the DIAGRAM, Sundress, and Tiny Fork chapbook contests. A native Vermonter, she lives in Chicago.

The Blob by Karissa Venne

I was chopping onions when the blob materialized in my kitchen.

I turned, and the blob was there, tucked in a corner by my fridge. I yelped, dropped my knife, and backed into the counter, its edge rocklike against my spine.

The blob didn’t react. It stayed in its corner, pearly and jiggling. Its amorphous body was opaque, like a giant egg white. It was as small as a basketball or a toaster or a Maltese dog. Every few seconds, I thought I could spot a pair of eyes or a mouth, but then it would shift, and the features would fade. It was a bleached-out Flubber, a mercurial creature of my very own.

A normal person would have shooed the blob away, attacked it with bleach, called their landlord or animal control. But I wasn’t normal, or at least, not in a normal stage of my life. I was 21, newly graduated from college, and I lived alone. I’d metamorphosed from a fledgling surrounded by warm, laughing bodies to a solitary and apathetic adult existence, the stuff of nightmares. There were days when I didn’t talk to a single person unless I ran into one in the office bathroom.

So I welcomed the blob. I cooked an omelette and ate it, studying my new houseguest. Before leaving for work, I filled a bowl with water and left it on the floor, figuring all creatures need hydration. Eight hours later, I found the bowl drained and the blob sporting a lovely translucence, like liquid soap or plastic wrap.

The next morning, the blob was opaque again, and though I’d struggled through high school biology, even I could figure this out. I left out another bowl of water and that night, the blob was clear again. As I fell asleep, I wondered how it drank. Did it have a mouth I couldn’t see?

Days passed. The blob huddled in its corner, its jiggling mass a comfort to me. It was always moving, but never getting anywhere. I watered it every morning and evening, the routine cemented like teeth-brushing. The blob was always translucent now.

I tried feeding it. I offered it sliced banana, spoonfuls of yogurt, handfuls of cereal. I experimented with kale, salted cashews, a chicken breast. I even tried a poached egg, figuring it might appreciate the egg’s blobbiness, remind it of itself.

The blob didn’t touch any of it. In my cubicle, instead of compiling spreadsheets, I’d Google things like, “what to feed a frog” because it felt like the pet closest to my blob. My blob. Somehow it had become mine.

That was when I wondered if my blob was like a plant, and needed photosynthesis to survive. If that was the case, I was worried, terrified really, as my blob had chosen the darkest corner of my kitchen to habitate.

That night, I dragged a cushion from my couch to the kitchen floor, sat across from my blob, and ate with my plate in my lap. After a few nights of this, my blob jiggling in agreement as I complained about my day, I finally touched it.

It was wiggling like usual, the movement even lovelier up close. I lifted a single finger. As I reached, my blob jiggled faster, almost vibrating.

My finger brushed the blob’s surface and it was exactly as I’d imagined: cold, smooth, and pliable, like gelatin. Our contact filled me with confidence. I moved to grip the blob with both hands, imagined pulling its entire body toward me. But instead, it shuddered and flattened onto the kitchen tile, trying to hide.

My blob was scared of me.

I woke up the next morning optimistic: I’d proven my blob could move. That day, I placed its water a foot away.

At work, I was filled with a jittery anxiety, as if I’d downed four coffees instead of three. Was I right? Would it move? I ached to leave my cubicle.

That night, I found my blob in its corner, but with the bowl of water drained. I congratulated it, and it jiggled faster in response.

Each day, I moved the water bowl further, and my blob drained it and returned to its corner. After a week, I placed the bowl in front of my kitchen window, sun streaming through the panes. I bounced out of my apartment and spent hours daydreaming about my blob. No one at work noticed. That was the problem with my life then, nothing I did made any impact.

I imagined my Blob, capitalized in my mind now like a true name:

Dragging itself to the window, slurping its water, and finally soaking up the sunlight it craved.

Transforming into a small doughy person, greeting me with open gelatinous arms each night, and talking in a gurgling language only I could understand.

Evolving somehow, infusing color into its viscid insides, dashes of bright pinks and purples, dots of yellows and oranges, bursts of blues and greens, like one of those bioluminescent sea creatures in National Geographic.

So convinced I was of this fantasy, that what happened instead took a moment to register. The Blob was indeed in front of the window when I returned home. But something was wrong.

It was a puddle on the kitchen tile. Completely still, no jiggling, not even a quiver. I rushed to its side, placed my palm against it, and felt a warm, hardened, plastic-like surface. It smelled acrid, wrong.

Peeling it from the floor, I held the flattened Blob to my chest, its hard edges poking my arms. I waited for the Blob to rouse and transform into its usual lump, prove it was hiding like the last time, only faking, what a great joke.

But my Blob didn’t budge. I’d coaxed it toward the sun, overheating its innocent goo body, liquefying it. I’d reduced my beautiful, effervescent Blob into an object.

And I was alone again.

 

Karissa Venne (she/her) is a Digital Resource Development Editor at Oxford University Press who lives in Western Massachusetts with her soon-to-be wife and their epileptic kitten. She received her MFA from The New School, has a story published in F(r)ictions Dually Noted, and one forthcoming in Pure Slush’s Lifespan Vol. 2: Growing Up.