to eat the sleeping sky, whole by Ashley Cline

“honey, you’ve got to know your name was always in bloom on
that tongue—one way or another, love makes a garden of us all.”

[your mother, after the funeral]

i.

i bet i could swallow the moon, you say & smile. such a simple
& magical thing, & how easily i believe in this yawning fever;
in such grinning hunger, gentle. how easily i believe—

ii.

that mouth, without arrogance or question. that mouth, which i’ve
watched drink from the sky & come up for air twenty feet beneath
rolling waves of sycamores & still, offering yet more of itself—

spilling & gasping & swearing & filling & asking for no more than
it can carry home, easily. that mouth, that was not built from gilded
things, but rather, found: in peach stones & nerve endings &

half-wild things; in match strikes & clementines & two-for-one bargain
bins—& still, how it shines like karats left on the halcyon vine: summer-
drunk & overripe & full of every season we’ve tried to name, but

settle on home, instead. that mouth, with its crescent laugh & pendulum
tongue: swinging & swinging & swinging—always—towards north or
nostalgia or the karaoke bar over on 9th & isn’t it funny how they’re

all the same, really? it’s just that we’ve taken such care in calling our
happiness by anything other than her name: a practice borrowed of
indigobirds.
that mouth, & how it stretches philosophy into

bubblegum pop, how it flexes & fashions new mountain ranges
from my favorite song stuck in its throat in late-June; how it
calls my name, & even the tides turn to shore.

 

An avid introvert and full-time carbon-based life-form, Ashley Cline crash landed in south Jersey twenty-eight years ago and still calls that strange land home. Most often found listening to Carly Rae Jepsen, her essays on music and feelings have been published by Sound Bites Media, while her poetry has appeared in 404 Ink, Third Point PressSidereal Magazine and, most recently, Lychee Rind Zine. She graduated from Rowan University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, and her best at all-you-can-eat sushi is 5 rolls in 11 minutes. Twitter: @the_Cline.

The Chorus in My Walls by Elisabeth Ingram Wallace

Honey I say, honey, I think we have bees, listen I say listen: he freeze frames and listens, and there’s an unmistakable thud behind the chipboard; Badgers?, he says, or rats, or a ghost, this is our first house and we have no fucking luck he says, of course it’s fucking possessed, No I say, no it’s bees, look at the electric socket, and he does, he sees the gold gloop splooging down the eggshell blue, my choice, Shit he says, do you think this will be like France, when we had the millipedes?, no I say, thinking of how the black walls would scatter scuttle under the floorboards when we flicked on the ampoule to eat le souper Lidl, and the night he’d said “maybe we should have a bit of time apart?,” not fucking likely I’d said, and we slept in the car, then I called an exterminator and put it on my credit card and said it was only 200 Euro but I still haven’t paid it off, God I hope not he says, definitely not, I say, I think it will be more like the time I dropped the crystal champagne glass in the kitchen on our wedding day, and it shattered into a thousand billion splinters, and a full six months on my bare feet will occasionally catch one and bleed profusely, then hurt profusely because crystal cuts they go deep and go black blood hard, and I will not “just put some bloody shoes on” and I will not pull the splinters out either because each time I step-hurt I remember you, that cloudy cold day, the beach the rain the arduously selected Non-Denominational master of ceremonies who turned out to be a religious nut job and rambled about The Judgement Of God for thirty minutes while my mascara ran and you squinted rain and shivered like a puppy and then on the way home my ring disappeared, but I only noticed after an hour after we’d wondered around the town drunk like eejits, and you paced up and down the streets all night looking for it, even up streets we hadn’t ever walked down, didn’t even know existed, because I was crying and you wanted to make me smile.

 

Elisabeth Ingram Wallace is the winner of the Mogford Short Story Prize, Writing the Future, and a Scottish Book Trust “New Writers Award.” Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, Flash Frontier, and many other journals and anthologies, including Best Microfiction 2019. A founding editor of “BIFFY,” the Best British and Irish Flash Fiction series, she is currently Submissions Editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, and Senior Editor for Flash Fiction at TSS Publishing.

Earth Witch by Christina Thatcher

How the dust never shakes off, even
after stripping, even after climbing
back onto the horse. How mud clumps
in the hair, smears on the cheek. How
everything is dirty, how she is always
dirty from heaving shit onto the shit
pile. How when it rains, cliff tumbles
into creek at her bidding. How she anticipates
the turning of her body into mulch
which will sink into the earth,
decompose and recompose,
and how she, then, can transform
into anything: a cottonmouth,
an oak, a man, another
girl.

 

Christina Thatcher is a Creative Writing Lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Her poetry and short stories have featured in over 50 publications including The London Magazine, Planet Magazine, And Other Poems, Acumen, The Interpreter’s House, and more. She has published two poetry collections with Parthian Books: More than you were (2017) and How to Carry Fire (2020). To learn more about Christina’s work please visit her website: christinathatcher.com or follow her on Twitter @writetoempower.

The Falling Baby by John Jodzio

I caught a falling baby once. He hadn’t fallen out of a high-rise apartment window or anything fancy like that. It happened at a birthday party where some people knew me from the horse track and some people knew me from selling them horse drugs. There was a trampoline. Someone set a baby down on the trampoline. Soon the baby flew through the air.

I caught the baby like a football before he landed on a concrete patio. No one gasped and only one person clapped. This was the 1990s and sometimes babies flew off trampolines and sometimes their parents took horse drugs that made them want to dig hundreds of holes in their yard or not move from their couch for a week.

The baby had dark hair and brown eyes. He wore a onesie with a green turtle on it. He was not crying, but he was certainly breathing heavily. Hey little one, I said, cradling him in my arms, maybe this will only be a tiny blip in an otherwise unscarred life? Hey little buddy, I said, maybe this will only make you terrified of trampolines and not scared of the entire goddamn world?

I walked around the party, asked everyone if this was their baby. Fifteen minutes went by and no one said he’s mine. Fifteen minutes went by and I couldn’t help but imagine a future where the two of us moved into a house near a river with a backyard that would occasionally flood, a place where I would not sell horse drugs or regular drugs or at least would only sell them to supplement his college fund. 

“Why is my drug dealer holding my baby?” a woman yelled out.

This woman had feathered blonde hair and light blue eyes. I did not remember selling her drugs because I sold a lot of people drugs and usually tried to not to look anyone in the eye unless they made me.

“How do I know he’s yours?” I asked.

“How do you know he’s not?” she said.

I turned the baby toward the mother. I wanted to see if there was any sort of joy or connection between the two of them when they looked at each other. Instead of recognition or happiness, the baby yawned.

“I saved his life,” I said.

“I gave him life,” she told me.

She held her arms out and stepped toward me. Instead of handing the baby to her, I tucked him under my arm and sprinted toward my car. 

I did not get far. Two men tackled me and the mother pulled the baby from my arms. Some people at the party wanted to call the cops, but most of the people there did not want to lose their connection for their horse drugs. In the end, I was kicked in the ribs a couple of times and told to leave.

I sat inside my idling car as the party went on. The mother was holding the baby now, watchful, bouncing him up and down on her knee. He seemed fine? Soon the two of them went inside and I watched people jump up and down on the trampoline for a couple of minutes and then I drove back to my apartment that was not by the river and would never flood.

 

John Jodzio’s work has been featured in a variety of places including This American LifeMcSweeney’s, and One Story. He’s the author of the short story collections, KnockoutGet In If You Want To Live, and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home. He lives in Minneapolis.

my mouth is full of words i don’t know by Monica Kim

like godingeo. full fish without the head, bones
still poking through flesh. americans like their fish
cleaned, served in bite-sized pieces you can pop
easily in your mouth, melting on your tongue and
swallowing with ease. we like the challenge
of the game: tongue working around a bone
the size of a hangnail, spitting it out onto
the plate, lifting a skeleton of bones with our hands
from the entire fish, making our own nonuniform
pieces with our chopsticks. what is godingeo
in english? i’ve never had to say it out loud
before.

before, i knew what this banchan was
in korean. now when my friend asks what
i ate for dinner the name sits on the tip of my tongue
but melts away before i can even recall
the letter in hangul. i don’t know the name
in english. americans don’t eat this type
of side dish, thin chewy strips of some squid
covered in a spicy sticky red sauce that coats
your tongue with tiny pinpricks. i can describe
it in english but i don’t know what
it is in either language.

when i eat i never ask what i’m eating. some dishes
i know, some i don’t. my mind can recall
the color and the texture and the smell and
everything else except the name. recognition
of food in my mouth but my tongue
unable to speak its name.

 

Monica Kim is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English. She is published in Stirring, and has an upcoming chapbook titled “An abridged medical family history & multiverse of selves” as well as a poem from the chapbook in the Michigan Quarterly Review.

American Movie by K-Ming Chang

She was born in Hefei but only wanted to watch American movies that took place on coasts where it snowed. She’d never seen snow and I’d never either, but we invented for each other its taste: I said sweat and she said sunlight. I said she was wrong, that snow was just a kind of dandruff, something to brush off our shoulders in the morning. We were literal with each other. I love you so wide, she said, and slipped me her fingers, my legs lended over her shoulders. I love you so lean, I said, when we couldn’t afford our appetites. At fourteen we were both in factories, hers for skirts and mine for shirts. We matched in ways we’d rather not, like how her father died in an electric scooter accident, struck by a minivan full of mushrooms, and how mine died eating a poisonous mushroom on purpose because he’d read about it in the newspaper, a listicle about common mistakes made by children, and he believed reports that it had been painless. It was determined later, though I didn’t know how, that he vomited until his lungs collapsed. We both believed we would not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. She didn’t ride anything with two wheels and I did not eat anything I touched. Instead she fed me, powdered my mouth with instant noodle packets, fitted my teeth with slices of peach. I only ate what she gave me. Every swallow a trust exercise. She said she used to believe Americans only wore jeans. At the factory, she made denim skirts and came home with fists strangled blue. One time she brought me a zipper with nothing attached to it, a zipper as long as my arm. She fed it to me, unfurled it to the bottom of my belly. I swallowed its whole cold length, waiting for something to unzip inside me. Wondered if this was the waiting my father did. He used to grow tomatoes in an urn full of soil, teaching me when they were ripe, just before their skins sauntered off, watered into waltzing. At night, she repeats the lines of American movies. Hands up. I love you. Drop your gun and kick it to me. She tells me again she’s getting in trouble for dropping buttons on the factory floor, fistfuls for fun. She likes the sound they make, like rain. We wonder if snow clatters when it lands, if it weighs anything in the palm, if it falls like a flock of birds when they’re shot down, talons snagging on the sky, a seam everywhere I see. Probably not, I say, and but she says it does, it does. We stand outside and do not touch. We wait for a snow of mushrooms or beads of light or spilled buttons. For something to make a sound of us.

 

K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her debut novel BESTIARY is forthcoming from One World / Random House on September 29, 2020. Her poems have been anthologized in Ink Knows No Borders, Best New Poets, Bettering American Poetry, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. More of her work can be found at kmingchang.com.

Keep Turning Over by E. Kristin Anderson

After HAIM

Here is my panic attack: I haven’t been out in days
and it’s painfully normal. So when I take my first breath

of the day I’m already trying not to feel. After all these
days inside, I have become proficient in the loneliness of

catching the sunbeam that sneaks past my blinds
and putting it back outside. I know it seems like I’m always

sleeping now, but late at night with my knees aching
I’m wide awake considering how my body will push past

the threshold of survivability. I make little promises to keep
from kissing the sickle and tonight is another night alone

in this apartment, screaming every word of “Landslide”
into the popcorn ceiling. I think I fell like a meteorite

into this timeline and I should have expected you to scatter
but I’m listening for strange angels on the roof. Dawn

approaches like a purple bruise and I’m pushing my face
into the pillow desperate for oblivion. I dream again

and again of old friends and I don’t have the energy
to harbor this anger, can’t ping enough cell towers to

triangulate all the words I’d need to say. But the dreams
are the same and I wake up wrecked. The panic of

continued existing is a swansong I carry in my pocket,
and when I shine it’s because the rain cooled me while

I stood outside watching the iron gate open and close
in a thunderstorm. Some things can’t change. I wait for

your reply with my heart cracked open at two a.m. and
in my loneliness I sip at the air I’ve kept for myself,

collect a week’s worth of mail, wash my face slowly,
press my hands against the wall as if I might find a door.

 

E. Kristin Anderson is a poet and glitter enthusiast living mostly at a Starbucks somewhere in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (Anomalous Press), and her work has appeared in many magazines. She is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky (Grey Book Press), 17 seventeen XVII (Grey Book Press), We’re Doing Witchcraft (Porkbelly Press) and Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press). Kristin is a poetry reader at Cotton Xenomorph and an editorial assistant at Porkbelly Press. Find her on Twitter at @ek_anderson.

Tiger by Gary Moshimer

The man at the door wanted to paint my face. Five bucks. He was homeless and hungry. He could buy a burger. Or a salad, if today made him hopeful and he wanted to live longer.

Kind people like you, he said. What to be? A lion? A cat? A mouse?

Tiger, I said.

Good one.

He rolled his wagon in. The wheels squeaked. It was dusty with rain spots. Next to the paints a fedora with feather, bedroll, water jug.

I sat in my favorite chair by the window. My only chair. Now I lived alone, wife gone with son.

Very good light, he said. He was so delicate my hair tingled. It tickled, and I suppressed giggles. He hummed a tune and said it was the brave tiger song; did I ever hear of it? He sang it to his son. But now his son was a grown man and he didn’t know where he went. He thought he was with the tigers, brave in the face of something.

I know where my son is, I said. Sometimes I see him.

Thank god.

I didn’t tell him I didn’t believe. Why would god leave me so alone?

When he was done he pulled a cracked hand mirror from the wagon and said, Have a look. He told me to growl. I said, Grrrr…I was the real thing, alright. I scrunched my nose and bared my little eye teeth. We hummed the brave tiger song.

I shook his hand and gave him a ten. I watched him pull the wagon down the street. I waved.

I went to the upstairs hallway to look in the big mirror. I smiled. I pictured my ex standing over my shoulder shaking her head. Still such a child, she would say. Grow up now. From there I went to the mirror in my bedroom, tilted the lamp this way and that. And then I went to the dusty mirror in the basement, the one with my son’s baby fingerprints I could never clean. This one scared me; the fear and emptiness. I tried to smile it away. I did that for an hour.

Later I decided to go out. I was thinking about a salad from Wendy’s. I drove around first, showing strangers my face. They waved and laughed but I thought I looked fierce in the rearview. I growled at the Wendy’s drive-thru girl and she giggled. I told her it wasn’t funny. I was proud and to be feared. I ordered the salad with raspberry vinaigrette.

As I waited I scanned my territory. I saw the wagon by the dumpster, He was on his back next to it. I drove over there. Someone, or maybe a gang, had painted him like an absurd clown and bloodied his nose and mouth. His hair was smeared with red paint. He groaned. I helped him into the car. I got the wagon into the trunk. I went back through the drive-thru and ordered a Frosty. I hissed at the girl when she asked if I still wanted my salad.

Back at my house I dabbed his wounds with napkins, spooned the chocolate cold goodness into his mouth. We sang to our sons and watched the moon.

Afterwards he painted me as a mouse and himself as a cat. I crept around my big empty house and waited for him to pounce.

 

Gary Moshimer has stories in Pank, Frigg, Smokelong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and many other places.

Diagnostic Procedures by Taylor Kirby

I say I metastasize when asked about my body
image. I do not think
of the inverted cliff

of my FUPA or how a knife
held to my neck could excise
the soft biological shape

of my family. My body
is antiseptic.
I want to contour my face

with iodine’s thirsty glow.
That three-month ache
above my hips—

must be cancer chewing
vertebrae, my back a honeycomb
of bone sweet with sick marrow.

I do not fear germs or hereditary
betrayal, that double helix calculus
of past and present: bipolar,

Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic
evangelism. I don’t mind—really—
that my 90% of my body’s 100

trillion cells are not me.
I am a density of virus, bacteria, microorganism,
and self. It is my self, not my body,

& that is at risk of calamity. I fear
being told my diagnosis
is “It’s time to fight,” because

my image of the body is not one
of trenches. It’s the way air
hollows out between car alarm cycles

& the night and I hold our breaths
waiting for something to start or to stop,
whichever comes first.

 

Taylor Kirby is a writer from Denver, Colorado. She is the managing editor of Porter House Review, and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Cream City Review, Longleaf Review, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, Atticus Review, and more. Most recently, she was a finalist for the 2019 Indiana Review Creative Nonfiction Prize.

Half the Joy by Ruth Joffre

After we agreed to a divorce, Ray and I continued to live together for weeks until she found her own place in town. Our apartment was a narrow one-bedroom barely bigger than a studio, with no room for a decent couch or a fold-out, so she and I continued to share the bed. At night, in those quiet hours between when we said goodnight and succumbed to sleep, I listened to her breathe and wondered how we ever made the mistake of believing we should be lovers rather than friends. One night, I confessed, “I always had a crush on Joyelle,” laying this information delicately beside her, like a blouse hung to dry on the back of a chair. Her head shifted on the pillow, just enough for her to trace my outline in the dark if she wanted.

“I knew that.” She turned again to the ceiling. “You didn’t hide it well.”

“Half of the joy of a crush is it being an open secret. Attempting to hide a blush. Knowing your friends can see through you. I wanted people to know,” I said, slipping momentarily into that old infatuated skin, indulging in the flush of my cheeks, the tingle of my lips, the sweetest ache in my tender chest. How many hours had I spent in high school surrendering to exactly this sensation? “I used to fantasize about what it would be like to press my lips right between her shoulder blades.” I lifted both hands, as if to frame the precise spot where the skin rippled with strength. “You know, because of all those tennis tournaments.”

Ray restrained herself from laughing. “She was like a foot taller than you.”

“That was part of the appeal! Didn’t you ever want someone who was so unlike you?”

“All the time,” she said, rolling onto her side, her back to me, though neither of us slept for hours. I pressed my hand into hers, remembering the night in senior year of high school when she dressed up as the lead singer of her favorite band for a Halloween party hosted by her neighbor, a theatre kid who attended a performing arts private school and didn’t know anyone from our class—how simultaneously delighted and petrified Ray was as she got dressed, donning a red wig, tucking for the first time. When Ray whipped her head around and lip-synced, “Come on, baby, be my bad boyfriend,” I was lounging on a bean bag chair, masquerading as a leather-clad bass player: aloof, indifferent, goateed. All night, I postured, practicing my guitar solos, encouraging Ray to sing, not realizing until we snuck back into her room and collapsed in a heap that this would be the night.

“You know how I told you I untucked because I had to use the bathroom? Well, that wasn’t the whole story,” she said, recounting how her neighbor, the budding thespian dressed as Elphaba from Wicked, waited on the other side of the bathroom door while Ray was untucking, then slid in when Ray opened the door and shut them inside together. “His cloak swept over the floor in an arc when he got down on his knees. He clearly knew what he was doing. I had to hide the green smears on my thighs from you the next morning.”

I hummed at the thought of a witch buried that deeply between my legs, willfully ignoring the fact that I was not the first person to feel Ray’s palm curve to the back of their head. Instead, I whispered, “I’ve always wanted to have sex in a theatre. Something about that velvet curtain.”

Ray understood this. “For me, it’s aquariums. Being surrounded by all that water.”

“And sea creatures,” I said, thinking of a turtle touching its flipper to the glass to say hello. What joy was in store for Ray when she at last fulfilled her dream. Every night after, we shared all our most carefully guarded fantasies, inventing lovers and alter egos that were braver, sweeter, and more limber than our true selves. In one of my alternate lives, I managed to charm a French pastry chef into setting aside her whisk, unbuttoning her jacket, and allowing me to pipe a line of bourbon whipped cream from her navel to her lips. In another, I accidentally got locked in a bookstore with a man on only our third or fourth date, and we spent hours reading our favorite poems to each other with a single flickering booklight before making love on one of the display tables.

“Which one?”

“Hardcover nonfiction.”

“That’s risky. You might end up fucking on a picture of the pope.”

“I’ll take that chance,” I laughed, because that was the future that lay in store for us: taking every chance for happiness, allowing ourselves to be pressed between two female bodybuilders or ravished underneath a giant redwood by a humble forest guide who knew exactly how to maneuver our bodies so we lay cradled by the ancient roots. We would plant gardens full of summer squash, beefsteak tomatoes, and nasturtiums. We would sip whiskey by the fire while working on an idyllic puzzle of ice skaters gliding through winter. We would do all these things and many more, and we would never feel betrayed or regret our wasted years, because now we were free, freer than we had ever been. This was our parting gift to each other.

 

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast, which was longlisted for The Story Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon ReviewLightspeedGulf Coast, Prairie Schooner, The Masters Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. She lives in Seattle, where she serves as the Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House and co-organizes the Fight for Our Lives performance series.