Manila Folder by Alejandro Ruiz del Sol

During a
very important business
meeting, I excuse myself

Excuse me They mock
I say in earnest. I walk
away – take the elevator down,

unbutton my blazer, find my
manila folder I keep hidden
behind the trash receptacle.

It contains the leaves
of my childhood. Buses
and bills. Roads and

nights. Smells of
maple syrup and bread,
chili chicken and pinesol,
clay, gasoline.

I can be a businessman and
keep this here a secret. I know

I didn’t waste my life.

 

Alejandro Ruiz del Sol is a Floridian who is thriving as an MFA candidate at New Mexico State University, where he is Assistant Poetry Editor for Puerto del Sol. He has been previously published in Barren Magazine and The Shore Poetry.

Misunderstanding and Misinformation in the Recorded History of Identity Storytelling by Pat Foran

Like It Is

At a funeral, a man is spinning yarns about the many funerals he’s attended. There’s the one about the helicopter, the FAA, and a misinformed truant officer. The night the organist went rogue. That time a gun moll with a book deal made a mess of things.

Now, the man’s telling the one about the three women — sisters, the man believes — who approached the widow of this guy they were having a service for.

The three sisters asked the widow if they, the three of them, could go up to the casket — “it’s open, mind you,” the man says — and sing to the deceased.

“That’s sing to him as in sing right into the coffin,” the man says, sliding into the characters’ voices.

“What song?” the widow asks.

“‘Had You Told It Like It Was It Wouldn’t Be Like It Is, Oh No — Not Like It Is’ by The Rationals,” the sisters say.

“Okay,” the widow says.

 

Like a Bird

I’m in Monterrey, Mexico, to write a story about a company that’s in the process of “reimagining” itself. A young woman is driving me to my next interview.

She tells me she’s being groomed to be the first woman engineer in this company’s history. She keeps her eyes on the road, driving into the silver-gray day in this steel-belted-radial city.

She turns on the radio. A Nelly Furtado song is playing and the engineer-to-be hums along.

The sun peeks out from behind the silver-gray and the engineer-to-be starts to sing, softly, stopping when Furtado reaches the chorus:

I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away
I don’t know where my soul is 
I don’t know where my home is

“Almost there,” she says, her eyes on the road.

 

Ghost Town

At dusk, a bunch of us went to the local ghost town. We packed up our things and took the dirt road as far as we could take it.

When we got there, we saw broken houses with broken windows. A broken car on the side of the road. A broken weather vane. Broken glass broken flowers broken sky. We saw a man who was broken, too.

“Is this the ghost town?” we asked.

“This is the sundown town,” the man said, frowning at a broken dog. “The ghost town’s south of here, a couple towns over.”

We took our things and headed south.

 

A Tapered Thread

I had long hair, the longest in school, and my Mom took me to the barber for what I thought would be a trim.

Want it tapered? the barber asked. I didn’t know what “tapered” meant and I wasn’t good at talking to people and I panicked — Okay? I said — and he started tapering. Soon, my hair in the back was tapered, razored, gone.

I slid down from the chair and zombied over to where Mom was waiting. That looks … nice. You okay?

I put on my Oakland A’s cap, pulled it down as far as it would go, ran to the car and skidded into the front passenger seat.

On the way home, I tried to focus on the guard rails and the mile markers and the red-wing blackbirds, but I saw a reflection of my face, no longer framed with a longer-than-a-mop-top mop of hair, in the window: This is me? I touched the razor tingle on the back of my neck.

 

The Certainty Promise

I opened an email. It was a press release. Something about a company rolling out a new brand identity.

“We now deliver integrated solutions that ensure certainty of outcome,” the company’s executives said in the prepared statement.

The executives said they were excited about the new direction and the new opportunities on the new horizon, adding they were proud of the new position the company would hold in the firmament of new brand identities.

“We know who we are, and we are prepared to deliver on the certainty promise,” the executives said. “We’ve never been more filled with wonder and never been more certain that there’s a crying, desperate, yip-yip-yipping need for all we provide for our clients, who conduct themselves honorably, invariably and with a sense of style across four continents, 17 countries, nine military outposts, six unincorporated townships, three dead-letter offices and one polar ice cap. They toil in an array of market sectors, including search engine optimization services, off-the-power-grid energy consulting and innovative bowling alley solutions for this brave new world.”

 

If We Were Okay

I answered the phone. It was my Grandmother. Arthur? Arthur? she said, no she didn’t say it she screamed it. Arthur is my Dad. I gave the phone to my Dad.

Something had happened to my Grandfather. My Dad left in a hurry to go to my grandparents’ apartment.

Everybody said my Dad took after my Grandfather. Everybody said I took after my Dad. I didn’t think my Dad took after my Grandfather, but I wasn’t sure.

A couple hours later, the phone rang. Mom answered. Dad told her my Grandfather had died.

That night, my Dad poked his head into the bedroom I shared with my younger brother. He said he’d been worried about us. He asked if we were okay. We’re okay, I said.

I didn’t ask him if he was okay and I didn’t know if I took after my Dad. I thought about why I didn’t ask him and I thought about other things.

 

Hurricane in a Pimp Glass

The man had chained himself to a beam in the nearly torn down Isaac Hayes Night Club & Restaurant in Memphis.

“This man won’t leave,” the building inspector said.

“This man has to leave,” the wrecking crew foreman said.

“This man is going to leave and he’s going to leave now,” the policewoman said.

The man had done a good job chaining himself to that beam.

“Care to explain this?” the policewoman asked.

The man said he’d had a first date here, the first with his future fiancé. Here, they sampled Isaac’s herb-roasted chicken, tasted the sweet potato pudding, and shared a hurricane cocktail in a Pimp Glass.

“We used the same straw,” the man said. “It was the happiest night of my life.”

“For your wife, too?” the policewoman asked.

“The two never married,” the man said.

“Gladys despises me — ‘Fuck you and everybody who looks like you’ is what she tells me every chance she gets,” the man said. “But for a moment there, a moment here… ”

 

Probably Possibly Maybe

I started to write a letter I was sure I’d probably possibly send to you. Probably possibly maybe.

I started the letter this way: I don’t know how to love you but I do. As in: I do love you, but I don’t know how to love you.

I’m aware I was confusing the lyrics of two songs: “I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do” by Clarence Frogman Henry and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” the version Yvonne Elliman sings. Not unlike if I were mixing metaphors. Which I do, I know I do that. I know I do it a lot.

And, yes, I took the “why” out of one of the titles and put in “how,” even though that really doesn’t work, either. But it’s absolutely not about why it’s never been about why it’s never ever about why. Yes, I could give you a list or something, but that wouldn’t tell you why.

Why and how and probably and possibly and maybe and I don’t know. I never thought I’d come to this. That we would. That it would. “What’s it all about?” Sing it, Yvonne. Sing it pretty.

 

Mistakes Made Interesting

A musician talks about a mistake she’d made.

“One time during a session, I played the wrong chord,” she says. “This other musician played some notes that somehow corrected my mistake. She made things right. To her, my mistake was interesting.”

“As long as the chord resolved,” one of the musician’s students says.

“As long as it was interesting,” another student says.

 

If It Could

We named our city If It Could and we talked about it on Effin’ Twitter.

We said: Our city is high enough to make fun of the Damn Yankees’ song “High Enough” without us worrying about hurting anybody’s feelings. It’s wide enough to preclude ogling. Deep enough to welcome neo-Panamax ships.

We said: We’re a city of prayers. We pray for things. Sometimes we see ourselves praying for things in a booth at the Pizza Hut down by the cove. Or in a glass bottom boat in a sea of green. Or at the bottom of the sea.

We said: We try to do things in If It Could, we really do try, and sometimes we can’t get them done. Maybe it’s because we can’t make sense of things. Not always and not right away. Not in this city. But we believe we can.

 

Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. His work has appeared in Milk Candy Review, Little Fiction, WhiskeyPaper, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pdforan.

The Oxford Dodo by C. Line Beston

Used to be more than a shrunken head. The scientific specimen to crowd and measure and wonder. Bird-brain: empty skull extinct-ed by its own stupidity. Bird-brain dreams of waddling on velvet sand in a tourist’s snow globe souvenir. Wings, but can’t fly. Gorge on fallen rotten fruit.

Bird-brain has a nightmare: Tourists came on wood-ship cruises, scurvy included, no additional cost. The birds low-hanging fruit. Run but can’t hide. They took its body over the sea and stuffed it, cooked the plum-flesh in formaldehyde. And year by year muscles fall away: fruit left in the sun, on the beach. Flies drift in.

Daylight, daydream. Blue gloves take Bird-brain out, We keep it humidity-controlled here in the lab. Bird-brain imagines opening its beak, taking a small chunk of finger to taste it burst like a berry. We suspect that the bird was going extinct on its own; several travelogues support this theory.

Bird-brain hopes and dreams one beautiful, singular egg – almost soft-boiled from the sun, baking a new bird. If the academics peel back the leather fruit-skin flesh, crack the skull with the back of a spoon, a fledgling will emerge.

 

C. Line Beston grew up on the edge of the woods in northern Delaware and currently works and writes in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has previously appeared in Smokelong Quarterly.

you again by Monique Quintana

My mother’s dead uncle showed up to dinner. We thought death would have turned him bad, but he was as kind as ever. He brought us capirotada from the land of the dead. It’s late, however there’s still soup, my mother said. But when he ate, the carrots sliced our uncle in two. My mother hadn’t made it with love enough. Of course, she wasn’t expecting her dead to come to dinner and judge her soup.

 

Monique Quintana is a Xicana writer and the author of the novella, Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019). She is an Associate Editor at Luna Luna Magazine and Fiction Editor at Five 2 One Magazine. She has received fellowships from The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, The Sundress Academy of the Arts, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Her work has appeared in Queen Mob’s Tea House, Winter Tangerine, Grimoire, Dream Pop, Bordersenses, and Acentos Review, among others. You can find her at www.moniquequintana.com

Mine Own Will Toledo by Niyanta Patel

6:00 pm
                In a turn of events that surprises no one,
                I am already late, and Will says,
                                It’s all good.

6:01 pm
                Curls of skin are peeling
                                off Will’s lips.

6:15 pm
                Will Toledo looks best in a Target parking lot,
                                head on his car seat
                                on his carseat head
                                on his seat resthead
                                head car on his seat
                                car headrestcar seat.

6:16 pm
                Will forgot everything
                that happened three years ago.
                Will is a name from history.
                Will is something Roman and lovely and dead,
                                something aurum, imber, aequinoctium.

6:25 pm
                Will plays me a ditty he wrote
                in a Target parking lot
                                He pulls the tiny toy drum set from under the seat,
                                tiny toy hihats jangling

6:30 pm
                I watch him lick a forgotten
                french fry off the floor.
                                Sitting in the car, in the Target parking lot,
                                just me and Will Toledo.
                He tells me he misses my midnights with me.
                He crawls into my frontal lobe.

 

Niyanta Kunal Patel is an emerging Indian-American poet and artist from Nashville, Tennessee. She currently studies neuroscience, chemistry, and creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on twitter @temporalsplendr.

The Present Moment by Kim Magowan and Michelle Ross

“There is no such thing as the present,” the guy I’m sleeping with says. He tilts my head back as though my neck is a box he’s opening. He traces lines back and forth along my trachea, like he’s looking for an invisible latch.

We’re in my tiny apartment kitchen. I’ve just uncorked the wine he brought, poured our glasses. I’ve broken so many wine glasses now that I no longer have a matching pair. His glass is the large one with the very thin bowl. It’s my favorite glass, but it’s safer in his hands.

He says, “I am not the guy you are sleeping with. I am the guy you have fucked and the guy you will fuck again in the future.”

“But this moment,” I say. “Your fingers on my skin. You standing in my kitchen. This is not the past or the future.”

He smiles at me like my sister smiles at her little girl, Juney, when Juney insists something ridiculous, such as when Juney said she was going to marry their cat and give birth to a litter of half-cat, half-human babies.

He says, “It’s something I heard on a TED talk. I know it sounds crazy at first, but think about it. As soon as my mouth pronounces a word, that word becomes part of the past.”

I notice for the first time that his right eye is slightly smaller than his left eye, like my right breast is smaller than my left breast, and now I’m picturing his eyes as tiny gelatinous breasts, his pupils their smooth, Sharpied-on nipples.

I say, “But during the pronouncing, when your mouth is making the shape of a word, that is a present action.”

“Or, to use your other example,” I continue, “What if we go to the bedroom right now and start having sex? Then you are not just the guy I have fucked and will fuck. You become the guy I am currently, at this very moment, in the present, fucking. Because otherwise, every nanosecond of fucking is a separate fuck. If we fuck for ten minutes, we’d have to say we fucked a trillion times.”

That look of certainty shakes from his face. Watching it drop away, I realize that the reason I am, have been, and maybe will again sleep with the guy I am sleeping with has to do with that particular expression of assurance. When he first asked me for my number three weeks ago, back at The Lone Palm, he was wearing it. And even though he wasn’t really my type (he’s lean to the point of angular, and has messy, voluminous hair), I said, “Sure, okay.” And he had that same expression the first time we had sex, and I thought, wow, maybe I could fall in love with this guy.

I realize all these things— the existence of that expression, and that it had real significance in the past— only now, when I see that element that made him something more desirable than his essential self slip away. It’s my own philosophical mini-epiphany. I say, “Whoa.”

He says, “Actually, before we fuck, I’d like to drink some of this wine.”

I study his formerly-smug-and-now-uncertain face, trying to sort out whether he wants wine because he’s now not that into me, or because he has a drinking problem (now that I think about it, every time we’ve had sex he’s been buzzed), or because he knows I’ve exploded his silly “there is no present” pseudo-philosophy and he’s one of those dudes who needs to feel superior to the woman he’s sleeping with, or even creepier, because he was gaslighting me, and his claim that “there is no present” was merely the first step in a series of insane falsities that will eventually unhinge my reason and turn me into a madwoman.

I’ll grant him this: the present is as elusive as a good man. It’s difficult to be in the moment when I’m already seeing what lies ahead.

On the other hand, I recognize that this is the moment when I know that I am no longer sleeping with, and will not in the future sleep with, the guy I was sleeping with.

 

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source (2019) is out now from 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other journals. Her story “Madlib” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press). Her story “Surfaces” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2019. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapelwww.kimmagowan.com

 

Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Pidgeonholes, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other venues. Her story “One or Two?” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2019. She is Fiction Editor of Atticus Review. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. www.michellenross.com

A Buzzfeed Quiz Tells Me What Kind of Egg I Would Be Based On My Gender Identity by Hallie Nowak

This is the story of an egg being broken. The story of an egg being beaten, the orange aftermath of loss, of shame, the bitter eggshell crack, the small white sarcophagus. This is the story of the dirty fingernails stripping the hardboiled layers of flesh, digging deep for the center, the narrative of the un-voiced, pale-yellow core somehow begging to be ensnared between dull, filed down molars, sliced by incisors. Or maybe, this is the egg’s journey down the esophagus, untouched, swallowed whole, a sexless vessel for potential, down the throat of something human or maybe not, even. Do you think about all the dead things that have entered a warm body? The ghosts that nourish us? I lie in bed in the morning and worry about the eggs I’ve eaten, the pain that steams from my pointer finger when I place it in a sharp mouth. I wake up asking for it at least three times a week. I’ll leave it up for your interpretation. When I was an infant, I was dropped headfirst onto concrete. Miles of saran wrap connecting the sycamores. Women turning up naked in the Maumee River, their bodies bruised like a supermarket peach. This is the story. Women crawling through the produce aisle. I fall asleep in the most expensive cuts of red meat. This is the closest I’ll ever be to affording it, and there are at least fifty ways to cook an egg.

 

Hallie Nowak is a poet and artist writing and residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is the author of Girlblooded, a poetry chapbook (The Dandelion Review, 2018). Her work can also be read in Noble/Gas Qrtrly where her poem, “A Dissected Body Speaks,” was awarded runner-up for the Birdwhistle Prize in 2018.

Corrections by Charles Rafferty

She returns again to the Dali painting where the insects have only four legs each. She can almost forgive him these tiny ants, but even the grasshopper is missing the middle pair. Are four-legged insects the same as melting clocks and burning giraffes? The proofreader in her doesn’t think so. She waits for the guard to step away, and then she adds the legs in with a smuggled pen. It is no different than correcting the typos in one of Hemingway’s posthumous works, she says to herself. The world can always be improved. Just yesterday, for example, a storm toppled the trees around her house to tell her the stars still burn.

 

Charles Rafferty’s most recent collections of poems are The Smoke of Horses (BOA Editions, 2017) and Something an Atheist Might Bring Up at a Cocktail Party (Mayapple Press, 2018). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, O, Oprah Magazine, Prairie Schooner, and Ploughshares. His stories have appeared in The Southern Review and New World Writing, and his story collection is Saturday Night at Magellan’s (Fomite Press, 2013). He has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, as well as the 2016 NANO Fiction Prize. Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College and teaches at the Westport Writers’ Workshop.

I’m not saying my dog has fought in a war but by Deon J. Robinson

he is a veteran of something. The underestimated musculature
of his tail, a gatekeeper’s enlarged eye, his flailing jowl, those gravedigger
eyelids. Sleeps like a capsized boat

                                                  within watching distance of the shore.
Could blacksmiths have foreseen a world where
there would be a metal to join the collars of soldiers
but also, dogs? A cavalry of wind plagues each battlefield,

                                                                                         which makes the wind
the bloodiest spectator; wind was created as an aftermath
of the first beast’s joy and it has remained ever since.
He has use for his tail; but not his eyes. He has use for open air;

                                                                                                              but not freedom.
Despite the wall-bumping, touchy weeds, accidental leaps off-curb,
and protective barking at dogs he can’t even see; he still
dredges into the trench of imitating the woundless.

                                                                                          Innocence begins here;
the bravery by which one navigates the world
like it doesn’t hold the schematics for sharpness.
Everything that tethers him to this world—

                                                                                is artificially dangerous.
Granted, that is only the way of beasts. Granted,
who’s to say we ever stopped being animals?

 

Deon Robinson is an Afro-Latino poet born and raised in Bronx, New York. He is an undergraduate at Susquehanna University, where he was the two-time recipient of the Janet C. Weis Prize for Literary Excellence. You can find his work currently or forthcoming in Glass’ Poets Resist Series, Homology Lit, Honey and Lime, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, Occulum Journal, and Shade Journal, among others. Follow his misadventures and let him know what your favorite poems are on Twitter @djrthepoet.

Martin Moves In by Ellen Rhudy

It was the morning after their third date. Jenny woke with an odd heaviness on her stomach, as if someone were sitting on her. To stand she had to first roll on her side, levering herself towards the edge of the bed. A pinching at her crotch: a sheet of notebook paper rolled into a cigarette emerged, mucus stringing from one end.

Huevos coming, written in clumsy block letters she didn’t yet recognize as Martin’s. iPhone charger.

Jenny held the note a moment before laying it on the bedside table. She squatted with one hand on the mattress for balance. She bore down, imagining she could see with the pads of her fingers. This was not so different from recovering a stray tampon, she thought. She felt for a foot, for one of those damp hands that had grasped her own just the night before. Nothing emerged but another note: Nice try.

An hour later a GrubHub deliveryman arrived with an order of huevos rancheros, which Jenny ate. The next day an Amazon package addressed to a Martin Penderson, containing a phone charger and a pair of blue earbuds. Order pizza, said the note pressing into her underwear that night. Did my package come? Low batt. The block letters didn’t connect cleanly and it took her a few minutes to decipher his meaning.

You can have your package when you come out, Jenny texted. Order your own pizza. She appended a dozen dancing cat gifs and imagined his cries as his battery drained. Her back was so stiff that she felt as though her spine had been removed, knotted in two, and planted back beneath the skin.

She cancelled plans with her friends that night. Cancelled a date for the following day. Martin pummeled the inside of her stomach, his fists pressing against gleaming white marks shot across her skin. At times he settled on her bladder or pressed an elbow against her kidney; other times he went exploring, his fingers grasping for something he could never quite locate. He would come out when he was hungry enough, she thought, though a week passed with no movement.

When she’d used all but one of her vacation days she called her ex-girlfriend Sam, a doula. “Well fuck,” Sam said when Jenny opened the door to reveal her distended stomach, Martin’s elbow visible through her t-shirt. “You could try giving birth, if he were open to it,” she said as she pressed her palms on Jenny’s stomach, “but I wouldn’t if I were you.”

“You wouldn’t…?”

“It’s dangerous enough to have a baby, and he’s a full-grown man.”

Jenny stared at her stomach. She’d spent the morning laying on the hardwood floor, knees bent. She could feel her spine compressing into itself. “What about a c-section?”

A fist billowed against her stomach. Jenny watched Sam inspect its shadow. “There’s a support group for this,” she said before leaving. “Down the community center. That’s the best thing.”

That night Jenny tried to convince herself she wasn’t alone though she had not received a note in almost two days. She touched her stomach, felt the bulge of Martin’s head beneath her palm. She imagined the enveloping comfort of being inside a body that was not her own, of curling in the pliable constraints of a stranger’s womb. She inserted string cheese and slim jims as though they were tampons, then plucked free their empty wrappers with hesitating fingers. She snaked in the end of the iPhone charger and Martin pulled it like a lifeline, so fast that the square plug popped off and clattered to the floor. Jenny felt something like a bee sting, and ten minutes later her phone pinged.

I don’t like the cheese. As she stared at her phone a light began to dart across the floor, streaming from between her legs. Martin’s hands groped as though he was searching for some part of Jenny she hadn’t yet found herself. She emailed the support group leader, who wrote back, Yr body is a life-giving vessel, it is a home, you are a miraculous being. Hope 2 C U Wed at 8. She imagined this placid woman rubbing a gleaming parchment-thin stomach broken only by purple veins and the shifting contours of the body it held. On Wednesday night she jumped up and down in her living room, Martin laughing. She ran a bath and raised minor waves as she lowered herself, lay a towel across her stomach so she wouldn’t have to see his face pressing against her skin. Watching her limbs distort beneath retreating bubbles, she recalled reading that people loved water because it reminded them of their first lives.

Jenny took a deep breath and sank below the surface. Distantly she heard water splashing to the tiles. She waved her hands, stroked the smooth walls of the tub. She would have liked to turn over, to feel the rippled flowers on its floor. It must be nice, she thought, to float – to just float, and nothing more. To feel yourself held so secure. A damp bitterness would grip her when she emerged from the water to find her back still pinched, pain radiating around her left hip, feet crushed by the doubled weight of her body, but for this minute – she could have this minute. What’s the harm in her one minute, when Martin has all the rest?

 

Ellen Rhudy lives in Philadelphia, where she works as an instructional designer. Her fiction has recently appeared in The Adroit Journal, cream city review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and Monkeybicycle. You can find her at www.ellenrhudy.com, or on twitter @EllenRhudy.