Brackish by Eshani Surya

On a catamaran, I think. At twelve, I knew nothing of boats, but I knew my father’s new wife minded being my new mother. Shoving off from shore, we ordered goldenrods of French fries, rimmed with salt and served with pillowy mayonnaise. I ate a full plastic basket while, on an open sea stop, the family snorkeled among the silver fish shoals. The family: my father, his new wife, and a friend’s daughter they’d brought along too. She deserved a trip, my father’s new wife said, this gapped tooth, vivacious girl, smarting from her mother’s newest love affair. My father’s wife didn’t mind playing mother to her.

The captain brought me another basket of French fries out of pity. I ate one after another, trying to dull my cramps with fats and salts like I’d heard helped. My pad chafed, wet against my baby pubic hair, but no one had taught me much of tampons. My father’s new wife said I could use one if I wanted. It was an option. But mine slid in and then out, slick with remorseless blood. So I would not swim, even for the sea turtles and the stingrays in ominous drift and the fields of defiant coral, because I imagined the blood from my pad dissolving into the water and into shark nostrils. I imagined myself bitten and sinking, my pad an anchor in my suit, dragging to me the sand to be embalmed. It frightened me.

On their return, my father and his new wife shared a beer with a lime stuffed into the top. My father’s new wife’s new daughter dabbed salt off her lips once she’d stolen one of my fries. I wondered who’d taught her to be a woman already, as she tanned expertly with my father’s new wife and complained about a chipped manicure and commanded my father’s attention with her complimentary jokes. Seeing the empty fry basket, my father ordered another one, but somehow it didn’t feel like it was for me.

After the catamaran my father was sullen with me for being sullen all day and all night. In bed, I stuffed the blanket in my mouth and cried. The salt stung my skin. The blood in me stung the way only resentment can, with the pounding recognition that a person’s suspicions were right the whole time. My father’s wife left the room, but my father dragged the blanket from between my teeth, the spittle leaving long silver tentacles of grief in the air. He said, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, and then said the same for years afterwards.

 

Eshani Surya is a writer from Connecticut. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in [PANK], Catapult, Paper Darts, Joyland, and Literary Hub, among others. Eshani is a Co-Flash Fiction Editor at Split Lip Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Find her @__eshani or at www.eshani-surya.com.

In Which I am Dreaming About My Ghosts Again by Beth Gordon

The ones who stand as tall as windmills: who glow like wolf breath across the field: the ones with runners’ bones & beating hearts as loud as a parade. The ones without constraints: embalming fluid: marble names: the ones who speak the language of television without hymns poisoning their veins: my ghosts who never died. My ghosts who never died: the ones who escaped the cemetery of my heart: the ones who packed a suitcase with photographs sliced in half & left my eyes behind: my ghosts who meet in dark bars. My ghosts who meet in dark bars: the ones who floated in my womb like goldfish: like stars: like hurricanes in a coffee cup: like zinnia seeds swept downstream: my hungry ghosts: my hungry ghosts. The ones as full as a pantry: the ones who swallow good bread & ripe tomatoes & sugar as sweet as a train: the ones who smash plates into blades: the ones who carry bouquets: the ones who twirl like ceiling fans: the ones with my love on their lips & fingertips. Daisy chains: my ghosts: my ghosts: my necessary ghosts.

 

Beth Gordon is a poet, mother, and grandmother currently living in Asheville, NC. Her poetry has been published in The Citron Review, Passages North, EcoTheo Review, RHINO, Barren, Pidgeonholes, Pithead Chapel, and others. Her full-length poetry collection, This Small Machine of Prayer, was published in July 2021 (Kelsay Books) and her chapbook The Water Cycle was published in January 2022 (Variant Lit). She is the Managing Editor of Feral: A Journal of Poetry and Art and the Assistant Editor of Animal Heart Press.

Ornithology by Jocelyn Royalty

I saw the Yellow-crowned Night Heron for the first time when I was on bedrest. I’d come down the stairs too fast because Cupcake had been pulling me like she always does, and I fell hard on my leg. My knees aren’t what they used to be. The doctor gave me a big brace and told me to lie down for a week, and the girl next door had to come walk Cupcake for me. She’s real nice—all “good afternoon Ms. Davis,” and “is there anything I can get for you?” But there is nothing she can get for me.

When the night heron first tapped on my window, I thought I was dreaming. I’d never seen a bird that big up close, and never a heron this far into the city. He had a ragged mess of feathers, kind of like an ugly mop. He wasn’t pretty like he should’ve been. He knocked his beak against the glass, his head turned to the side to get a better look at me. I thought about opening the window, maybe letting him fly in but I’d heard about bird-borne illnesses, so I just laid there until he flew away. His wild and ancient body dissolved into the flashing lights of some pizzeria on Wooster Street.

As soon as the girl came to walk Cupcake the next day, I had her bring me the phone. It was a landline, because I won’t get a cell no matter what the service companies say, so she had to stretch the cord from the upstairs den to my bedroom. It just barely reached. I couldn’t breathe for a second when I finally got the receiver in my hand; when I realized there was no one that I could call. My mother was dead. My daughter was in Rhode Island with her new wife, and she didn’t want to hear from me. I had never had a husband. The apartment felt like a church that no one had gone to in a very long time.

I called Mara from book club. “Mara,” I said, “You won’t believe what I saw last night.” Mara didn’t know me all that well, but she came over right away. She brought her laptop and sat on my bed, and we researched herons together. That’s how I found out I’d seen a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

“Huh,” Mara said, pointing to an article from the Audubon Association. “That’s funny. It says they nest way up in trees. Over water, too. Not a lot of trees in downtown New Haven.” I heard a little doubt creep into her voice. Don’t say it, I begged silently, but the words were already coming out of her mouth: “Are you sure that’s what you saw?” I made her leave after that. I knew what I’d seen. It was impossible and that was why it mattered.

He visited me again that night. I put my hand up to the window and he craned his neck slightly to meet my palm. We were only a few millimeters of glass away. “I’m not crazy,” I told the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. He shivered in the smog. “You’re far from home, aren’t you?” I asked. I told him about when my daughter was in fourth grade, and she read only field guides. She could identify any plant or animal. We would walk in the park, and she’d pull me to where the knotweed lined gravel. “Persicaria,” she’d say. I remembered that one. It sounded like “precarious.”

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron visited me for the last time on the Fourth of July. I worried about him all day, about how the fireworks might scare him or set fire to whatever high-up nest he’d built in a storefront. But he was unscathed when he appeared at my window, his throat pulsing with the same mild anxiety it always did. The house was empty and I opened the window. Cupcake was still on the foot of the bed as the night heron stepped inside. The night heron laid down under my arm like my daughter did when she was very small and we watched TV together.

When I met my daughter’s father, I was only sixteen. He was a basketball player at the high school, and he knew every state capital and could hawk a loogie farther than any of his friends. He liked to throw stones at my window like we were in a movie, but it always woke up my parents. We snuck out a few times anyway and had a lukewarm summer fling before he left for college.

The night heron stood up. He took long, wide steps off my bed and towards the bedroom door. My bedrest had ended the day before, so I followed him, hobbling a little on my bad knee. He turned his head quizzically at the knob, and I opened it for him. We then walked downstairs to the front door together.

He stayed at my side, as we stumbled out the front door and into the heat-black night. The sky was red-white-blue chaos. I followed the night heron to Union Station, careful to keep my eye on him amongst the cyclone of mini-skirted girls and drunk men waving sparklers. He led me down the escalator, into the cool underground where a few people waited in line for coffees. There were no windows here. That had always scared my daughter. She said the domed metal ceiling made it her feel like the inside of a Xiphius gladius. I thought it was strange that he would want to go there, somewhere dark and subterranean. I followed him anyway.

He and I found the back corner the station, behind the caution-taped entryway to platform 10. All my life, platform 10 had been closed for maintenance. At some point, maybe, the staff had forgotten about it entirely, or they’d given up on it, and now it was in limbo: not demolished, not repaired. The Yellow-crowned Night Heron flapped his wings a few times. He glided upwards a foot or two, and I saw what must have been his nest. It was wedged haphazardly into the railing, a salad of telephone wires and newspaper bags and scraps of cardboard. I sat down under it, and he perched on my shoulder.

From here, we could just make out the shape of a girl who could have been my daughter. She was talking angrily into her iPhone as she climbed the stairs to platform 8. “It’s not that you didn’t listen just this once,” I heard her say through the fog of the robotic voice announcing the next train to Boston. “It’s that you never do. It’s like I’m walking through this world shouting and shouting, and you’re somewhere underwater or something. But calm down. I’m coming home.”

I stroked the night heron as I watched the woman’s patent leather boots click up the stairs, watched her depart into the mouth of the station. The heron wrapped his neck around my head, and I knew his eyes were closing. I could feel his feathered chest slow against my face. We were falling asleep.

 

Jocelyn Royalty is a junior in the creative writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington. Previously, she attended the ACES Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven, Connecticut where she focused on creative writing and interned at The Yale Alumni Magazine. Her work has recently been published in The Oyster River Pages, The Rockvale Review, Club Plum, and The Allegheny Review, and she currently interns for the Burlington Writers Workshop. You can find out more about her publications and awards at jocelynroyalty.blogspot.com.

Before Kaddish by Elisa Karbin

While you bucked and brawled
against the nexus of your last
near-morning, the feuding

cells of you were already in decay.
Under the always-on striplight,
diffused to a deep fade between

the poles of this world and the next,
the frenzy of division cut its last
course through you.

Your body practiced
calling itself forth. A dry run
of the inevitable—the soon-expected

specter’s reluctant rise
in the tongue-slacked
rasp of this blue-burnt hour.

While you were dying, electricity
melted from minutes,
an unruly volta of the last synaptic

symphony’s wild refrain.
This, the veil that lifts,
that invents itself for you.

 

Elisa Karbin is the author of the chapbook, Snare, and poems that have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Diode, CutBank, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, and West Branch, among others. She earned a PhD in poetry from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she was also a Tinsley Helton Dissertation fellow. Currently, she serves as a Visiting Assistant Professor in English at Marquette University. She has two cats. Find more info. at www.elisakarbin.com.

When Everyone is President by Maryann Aita

What if everyone is president except for one guy named Steve? And all the presidents would make executive orders and veto each other, and they’d spend so much time debating each other that Steve would get to live his life and eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches whenever he wants? All the presidents would be in charge of things like debt and healthcare and equal rights, and Steve could watch all the movies that were made before everyone became president. Then when he gets bored of those, he could make more movies. While all the presidents are busy arguing about being the most president, they’d approve his Arts grant so he could buy equipment and write a script and hire some of the lesser presidents to act in the movie for him. His landlord would be president now, and so would all the farmers, and grocery store managers, and people who trucked the food to the stores, so he wouldn’t need any money. But Steve is starting to realize he would have to convince some of the lesser presidents to go back to farming or he’d have to learn to farm, which really would get in the way of his peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich-eating. That’s not a life change Steve wants to make. All Steve wants is to not have to make so many choices all the time and maybe to not have to pretend to be happy all the time. But all the presidents wouldn’t make Steve happy either, and eventually they’d have to ask Steve about things like elections and that’s everything Steve doesn’t want: choices. Maybe what Steve really wants is a little bit less responsibility and places to be and reasons to wake up and reasons to shower. Maybe all Steve really wants is to just disappear.

 

Maryann Aita (sounds like ATE-uh) is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, NY. Little Astronaut, her debut essay collection, is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in Spring 2022. Her writing has appeared in PANK, which earned a Best of the Net Nomination, as well as The Porter House Review, The Exposition Review, and perhappened mag, among others. Maryann is the nonfiction editor for Press Pause, a journal with zero social media presence. She has an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College and lives with three cats.

Stop Asking Me How I’m Doing by Bear Weaver

I cough up a cancer poem so y’all will shut up
about writing as healing. Like there’s anything
romantic about your body breaking your heart.
My surgeon sends me to an oncologist he calls a
snazzy dresser. He means gay. My gay oncologist
recommends cannabis and I ask if he knows any
strains that stop time. A trauma survivor advises
me to integrate this experience with my sense of
self. I think I don’t know what that means but just
now my self was a lizard tucked under a rock in a
screaming hot tank, occasionally scuttling out to
bask on a log and hope the lamp fries it. My guts
and I are hollow. They blew up the seed bank so
there goes the last of my schemes to resurrect my
grandmother. Also, I lost all my nose hairs. Did
you want me to include that in the weekly update?
My dad doesn’t know how to regulate around this.
Surprise. He’s always forty-one flushing pills fifty-
one begging yet again for absolution. He’s burnt
himself down to the bowels a thousand times and
yet. I stare at this poem for twenty minutes and
finally understand survivor’s guilt. But he won’t
do either of us any good dead. Also, I love him.
Thanks for the money, folks, and most days I want
you and everyone else to fuck off. How’s this for
meaning-making? Everything I’ve ever written is
a love poem and so is this needle. Amanda, all I’ve
got for you is this: My sense of self says the guts of
me will always be seventeen and too young to die.

 

Bear Weaver was built by Florida’s Gulf Coast, as were their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. They are currently writing, residing, and cancer-surviving in southern New England, but can be found tweeting and lurking @WvrBear.