dreambody by Casey Smith

My dreambody’s first incarnation could have killed me and itself,
an irony too clever for fiction: dreambody as fail-deadly,

and to think I did all that for skinny thighs and clear piss,
but no one warned me when I let my dreambody go

that it’d leave a vacuum, and now I want to aspire to be something again.
My dreambody could be anything now: could be fifty feet tall

and made of shatterproof glass.
Hey, are you awake? Be honest: if I woke up fifty feet tall, would you dump me?

I would sew a dress from sheets of kudzu,
and use red clay for cheek rouge,

and the national guard gets called in,
but all their bullets do is crackle my surface. Just by standing in the sun,

I make the city disco ball glimmer,
and people wander onto their balconies to feel the flashing heat of me.

The hitch: I would miss peach fuzz and being held and hangnails
and everything else that hiccups life’s rhythm.

I’m making a point to remember: all I have to do is stay alive,
and I could grow old enough to feel an entire thunderstorm in my kneecaps,

and that’s my dreambody now:
I want my hair to tinge silver and grow past my ass like a cape.

I want to get so brilliant, even my skin starts to look like a brain,
and I want my voice to thin and then begin to tear,

straining under the weight of everything I know now:
the best way to astral project, the best way to kiss,

and in the dream, everyone’s leaning in to listen.

 

Casey Smith is a poet from South Carolina. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Her work is published or forthcoming in Passages NorthSICK MagazineBoothperhappened mag, and others. 

I’ll Allow It Maybe Just This Once by Jeff Chon

Brett Lamonica had long feathered hair like Bon Jovi. He was three years older than me and his black denim jacket smelled like baby powder and Lucky Strikes. I used to see him smoking with the other metal kids off school grounds, spitting brown tobacco flakes off his tongue.

He wasn’t the first person to call me a Chink and far from the last, but he was definitely the only one who’d made it matter. It might have been the way he smiled, like he wanted me to think he was joking, even though he wasn’t. He’d put his arm around me when he said it, pulling me into a headlock, or he’d slap me on the back like it was supposed to be good-natured. But he wasn’t fooling anyone—not even himself. I’d once asked him to stop, and then he asked me what I was going to do about it, and that was the last time I asked him to stop.

I used to see him after school, bent over the boy’s room sink, making sure all the eyeliner was gone before he went home. He’d clench his eyes shut and scrub pink powdered soap into his eyelids. It looked so painful, the way he’d squint at the mirror, his bangs sticking to his cheeks.

* * * *

He once came over with his dad so he could apologize for squeezing a ketchup bottle down my shirt. He said he was sorry and then went home, and his dad and my dad smoked on the porch. I don’t know what they talked about, but I do remember getting hassled for making another boy’s father feel sorry for me. A couple days later, I was enrolled in Taekwondo, where a stocky, middle-aged man yelled at me in Korean and told my dad how sensitive I was. Other than that, nothing much changed. Brett kept hooking his arm around my shoulder, and the little fourth-graders never tired of snickering at my pathetic front kicks.

* * * *

Brett was the lead singer of Vendetta, a hair metal band he’d formed with these guys who were always telling him to lay off of me. I’d once heard them perform “When the Children Cry” in his garage. It was one of two times I’d ever thought about fighting back, about rising from the bicycle seat and pumping the pedals harder and harder as I barreled toward his bewildered bandmates, about leaping off the bike, crashing into him as my ten-speed crashed into one of the amps. But instead, we locked eyes as he held the mic against his lips and sang about a world healed by tears, and I rode away.

Looking back, Vendetta was a pretty good name for a band.

The only other time I thought about fighting back was when he crimped his hair. The only reason I didn’t was because he’d changed it back to normal the next day—at least that’s what I told myself. He also had a fat lip, which at the time looked really funny. I remember laughing at how dumb he looked, his eyes bloodshot from the pink soap, the water sliding off his overhanging bottom lip like some kind of drooling idiot.

* * * *

Sometimes, you realize your hands aren’t clean and you tell yourself it makes you sick, but that thing you’re feeling isn’t anything like sickness. It’s something else you can’t name, even though not naming it means you’re either stupid or cruel. And then you shrug and tell yourself there’s nothing else to really say about it, but you know that’s a lie.

* * * *

Brett graduated and I didn’t see him again until my senior year, a couple months after he’d been kicked out of the Navy. He asked if my parents were home, and I told him they weren’t. Then he told me he was here to fix the sink, and I told him I knew that.

So you’re working for your dad now? I asked. He didn’t say anything.

We walked into the kitchen so I could show him what needed work. You look different, he said. I told him I’d been working out, and he gave me a weird look because how else do you respond to that? He crawled under the kitchen sink and I went back to the living room to unpause Road Rash 2.

He finished up and I gave him the money my mom had left. I stood on the porch and watched him walk to the van.

Remember when you crimped your hair? I said.

He stopped, and chuckled, asked why the hell I’d bring that up, so I told him he looked like a fag. He took a breath and shook his head.

Yeah man, he smiled. My dad said the same thing.

He slammed the door and turned the ignition. Guns N’ Roses was in the tape deck. We locked eyes as he backed out of the driveway, and I wanted him to call me a Chink again, just one last time, like maybe he’d be the only person I’d make an exception for.

 

Jeff Chon’s most recent work has appeared in Juked, The North American Review, and The Portland Review. His novel, Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun, is forthcoming from Sagging Meniscus Press. 

Hush by Nicholas Holt

Look outside, it’s noon and the trees have hands
        and someday they’ll have bikes & knee caps
        but for now we enjoy their hard oak fingernails
        and the way they can palm the truck tire that swings

from its branch and how they shoot three pointers
        through the hoop of the yellow house across the street,
        the one where we hear the fighting, and I don’t mean
        bowls-and-plates-being-shot-by-shotguns-fighting, it’s softer,

like ducklings following a blue body across a foggy
        lake, like a gentle brook of I-can’t-take-it-anymores,
        like human blood, sloshing around in a yellow fly’s
        stomach, like shooting off a signal flare during

a fireworks show. Look outside. Their leaves are so
        shaggy and they’re playing with the squirrel curled up
        in their belly button. Hug them, this scene is so
        quiet. They’re looking right at you. Look outside.

 

Nicholas Holt has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Florida State University. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award. His work has been featured in or is forthcoming from The Kudzu Review, The Shore, and Peatsmoke.

Stones My Mother Carved from the Mountain by Noa Covo

As children, we would speak to the giants through the pipe that snaked up the mountain and blossomed into an ear trumpet miles above us. We never really had anything to say, so we resorted to niceties. How’s the weather up there? Seen any good birds recently? The blueberries are lovely this year.

I could never understand why we bothered doing it, why we leaned our heads into the massive, rusty pipe at the foot of the mountain and hollered sentences, just to hear them echo against the craggy peaks above. Our mother told us we did it because it was good manners. She’d take us by the scruffs of our necks as little ones and yell up into the pipe. She’d yell her baking tips, and her thoughts about chickens, and her opinions of our neighbors. Then she’d make us say something too, about nice rocks we found, about something we learned, about ourselves. We’d rest our little heads in the waiting crescent of the sun-warmed pipe, years later, we still had silver scars ringing the bottom of our chins.

The giants never replied, or at least, not in words we’d understand. My mother said they replied in other ways, in storms, in avalanches, in blessings. When her stomach billowed for a fourth time, she said it was thanks to the giants. When it collapsed back in on itself, she didn’t say anything at all. I stopped listening to what she told the giants after that. I told myself I was too old for pretending, but truth was, I was angry with the giants, and I was angry with my mother for forgiving them after what they did to her.

Our mother died on the longest day of the year, and sent the three of us back to the foot of the mountain to a grieving father and an open grave. The mountain had never left us. The three of us had tried to plant ourselves in willing soil, convincing ourselves we were just saplings waiting to grow. We would never grow, I thought, running dust through my palms, because we had never been alive, just stones our mother carved from the mountain. Our breath was nothing more than the heat of day slowly surrendering itself to the dark sky.

We buried our mother in the shade of the mountain. My siblings left the next day, claiming they had things waiting in places where the sky spread unchallenged. I stayed. I stayed and sat in the yard between the chickens, loss ballooning in my chest and pressing against my ribcage. My father came out to the yard as well. He had no hand in making us, I realized, and he did not know what to do with our shards. He looked to the top of the mountain, to the pipe snaking its way through the side. Someone, he said, raising his eyebrows, has got to tell the giants.

I went alone the next morning. I walked up to the waiting pipe, and then I continued, taking the winding trail that followed the pipe up the mountain. I walked until the sun was low in the sky, and only when it began to set did I reach the part where the pipe curled into a rusty flower. I looked around the mountaintop. It was empty, just like I knew it would be. There were no giants here, nobody to inform of my terrible loss. I tiptoed towards the ear trumpet. Looking down, our house seemed years away, not hours. I leaned against the ear trumpet and closed my eyes. On a mountaintop devoid of giants I heard the wind whistling in the pipe. I imagined it was my mother’s words crawling out of her mouth, slithering up the rocks, not for the giants but for her stone children, the ones she knew would day climb up the mountain that overlooked their childhood and try to remember all they had once ignored.

 

Noa Covo is a teenage writer. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Jellyfish Review, Waxwing, XRAY, and trampset. Her micro chapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow Press in July 2020. She can be found on Twitter @covo_noa.

Making It by Cate McGowan

The stilts were necessary. If I’m being honest about it. Sure, in most settings, they were goofy, but Liz, they made me taller than you and your bully friends. The summer after Dad died, I begged our next-door-neighbor, Mr. Hansen, to fashion them. The old man took pity on me, and I lurked outside his garage workshop, listened to his circular saw whine as it chewed through two thin railroad planks he then painted sea-foam green, the color of lunchrooms from the 80s.

For days, I used all my free time learning how to walk on those stilts. I gripped the splintery handles, planted my heels on the wedge footholds, hoisted myself up. My first attempts were a disaster. I’d invariably lose my balance and tumble ass over teakettle onto our driveway, raspberrying my knees and elbows. But I persisted. Soon, I rose nimbly in one swoop, and my new appendages became extensions of my stubby legs. That season of slanting shadows, folks in the neighborhood stood in their front lawns and cheered me as I scuttled up and down the street. Sometimes, I even moonwalked or braved a herkie jump. Wow, would you look at that!

But when it got cold, I abandoned my precious stilts down by the creek. Kids are like that, I guess, leaving important things behind, moving on to master something new. Anyway, no matter how many jokes I made, no matter how many tricks I learned or how tall I was on those stilts, Liz, all the adults liked you, not me. They were stupid.

Years of ballet and tap followed at the Fleetwood School of Dance. But Mom loathed the other stage mothers and stopped paying for my lessons. My dreams of sugarplum fairies were dashed, so I aimed my sights on the school talent show instead. I made do with what I had. For my costume, I dusted off the old stilts I pulled from the basement. Then, I blacked out a tooth with a crayon, plopped on a hat like some Minnie Pearl hick. Donned a red gingham shirt. Overalls.

I was the last to take the stage. The velvet curtain parted, and the first notes of “Mr. Bojangles” crackled through the speakers, and from center-left, I romped to the song’s banjos, the spotlight following me. All the Sacred Heart of Mary School kids, first to eighth grades, egged me on. Go, Annie! Go, Annie! GO!  They clapped at the chorus, and I transitioned from boring shuffle-ball-changes to wild antics, slapstick, strategic slips. A herkie jump. A moonwalk. Go, Annie! Go, Annie! GO!  On the front row, Ryan Richards, perfect like a comet in that dark auditorium, laughed. He thought I was funny. They all thought I was funny.

Later, after college, I didn’t move home. You got Mom’s adoration; I got stand-up and bus tours and TV appearances. Last year, after your funeral, my manager, Mike, and I went to clean out your house, and I ventured out back behind the porch. Under the eaves, I found my old stilts tucked in a veil of cobwebs. With the clouds speeding above me, I hopped on, the plunkety-plunk of wood on the walk. I sang and danced to “Mr. Bojangles,” hamming it up, and Mike hooted—You’re a carnival freak, Miss Thang! We laughed and laughed, though there’s nothing funny about me.

 

Cate McGowan is the author of the short story collection True Places Never Are (2015), which won the 2014 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her debut novel These Lowly Objects is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press, and her writing has appeared in Flash Fiction InternationalGlimmer TrainCrab Orchard ReviewTahoma Literary Review, and numerous other outlets. Find out more about her at www.catemcgowan.com.

Learned Pig Writes a Poem by Ray Ball

For John Brooke and Ishmael Hope

The traveling circus
makes its way through the woods
where fallen leaves muffle
footsteps and the rattling of wheels,
and black flies swarm
swine and horse and man alike.

The learned pig
grunts twice and slips away
into forested freedom.
He roams alone
as much as his dad had.
His mama had once
eaten a newspaper
while she was pregnant.

Now there are no Italian fireworks
to light his way. No acrobats to leap.
No more audiences to astonish
and amaze. The sound of applause
rings in his ears then fades away.

He snuffles acorns and truffles.
He feasts in forested freedom
for an untold number of days,
but after a while he hungers
for more. He noses some twigs
into formation:

I have been
an abecedarian, fledgling
and elemental. In another life,
I might have been
Francis or Roger Bacon.

 

Ray Ball grew up in a house full of snakes. She is a history professor, a Best of the Net and Pushcart-nominated poet, and poetry editor at Coffin Bell. Her chapbook Tithe of Salt came out with Louisiana Literature Press in the spring of 2019, and she has recent publications in descant, Glass, and SWWIM Every Day. You can find her in the classroom, in the archives, or on Twitter @ProfessorBall.

Opossum by Michael Czyzniejewski

The day my dad moved in, he befriended the opossum that lived in our back yard. After he unpacked, he sat on the back deck while Marla and I watched TV, one fuck too many for his sensitive ears. Bedtime, I found Dad in a patio chair, an opossum the size of a lunchbox cradled in his lap. He said the opossum’s name was Benjamin. He asked if he could keep him.

Mom had just died.

Dad said he would feed his opossum, play with it, pay for inoculations. There was a kiosk at Walmart where he could get a tag made. He showed us five links on Google proving opossums couldn’t carry rabies, three videos on YouTube, families with opossums as pets. He said please. He sounded like me when I was in high school and I wanted a Gila monster. He told me no Gila monster. I told him no opossum.

* * *

Dad kept on us. He spent his nights in the yard, petting Benjamin, feeding him table scraps, talking baby talk. He said Benjamin lived under the bricks we had piled behind the shed. Benjamin ate a lot of ticks, Dad claimed. It was going to get cold soon, he hinted. We wouldn’t budge.

One day, Marla called me at work. She’d come home early, a gas leak at her office. She found Dad sleeping on the couch, the opossum twirled on his chest like soft-serve ice cream. I told her I’d deal with it when I got home. She replied, firmly, Now. I told my boss I was taking a half day. When she asked why, I said my house was on fire.

Dad and I had a talk. Benjamin had been living inside his room, he admitted. He showed me the bed he’d built in his closet from egg cartons and yarn. A stench smacked me in the face as he slid open the door. Dad put Benjamin outside, promised to leave him there.

Later, we heard Dad through the wall, bawling, all night long.

My mom had just died, Marla reminded me.

* * *

Dad’d had to move in after he burnt out his kitchen. It was the night of Mom’s funeral. He was heating a can of soup, the can, with the label, right on the burner. He’d never lived alone, never fended for himself. He’d blow himself up within a week.

* * *

Dad died three days after Marla found him and Benjamin sleeping on the couch.

He’d driven his car through a guardrail, off an overpass, into the river. No body, the police explained. Dad was heading downstream, downstate. He’d be found, sooner or later, maybe post-thaw. We held a funeral. A picture of Dad and Mom, sitting on their front stoop, rested on an easel in the place of a coffin. The mortician donated the time, no body to prepare, just use of the parlor for the wake. He considered it a two-for-one deal after we’d spent so much on Mom. He expressed genuine sorrow.

* * *

The night of Dad’s funeral, I sat on the back deck. I waited two hours for the opossum to waddle up. I offered chicken bones and a dish of rigatoni as bait. The opossum didn’t show.

The next night, the same, using better scraps, bacon and eggs. Nothing.

The third night, when the opossum didn’t come, Marla suggested Benjamin had been in the car with Dad. Wherever Dad’d been heading, he took his friend with him. It was a plausible explanation.

Still, I checked behind the shed. I used my phone flashlight to scan the bricks. I moved one brick, then another, then another, tossing them behind me. Twenty bricks in, I saw my father’s face, squinting in the light. There was a hole in the ground, a big one, sleeping bags lining the bottom. I moved more bricks and helped my father out of the burrow. Benjamin followed, curling at Dad’s feet. Inside the hole I saw protein bars, water bottles, and dad’s prescriptions. A black-and-white photo of Mom in her wedding dress leaned against an unlit lantern.

Dad looked well, considering, but smelled like his closet.

“You were dead,” I said. “That was upsetting.”

Dad said, “Sorry.”

“Mom’s not in there, too, is she?”

He shook his head. He began to cry. I joined in.

I ushered Dad back toward the house. He carried Benjamin in his arms. When Marla protested, I’d explain that my mom had just died. It was true: She had.

 

Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of three collections of stories, Elephants in Our Bedroom (Dzanc Books, 2009), Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions (Curbside Splendor, 2012), and I Will Love You For the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside Splendor, 2015). He is an associate professor at Missouri State University, where he serves as Editor for Moon City Review and Moon City Press. In 2010, he received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To the Western Fox Snake I Watched Unhinge Its Jaw and Swallow a Mouse Whole by Kate Wright

I’m sorry I watched—jaws spread, gentle
pink interior visible, contrasted against black
rodent fur—stared as you walked your lower jaw
closer to tail, curved teeth gripping, pulling
body back. I couldn’t help it, wondered how
it feels to unhinge, swallow something
so large, the strain and squeeze of muscle
visible beneath gold and brown scale
spotted exterior. I know you’re nervous,
in a vulnerable state—hidden behind paper
half-curtain taped to glass tank for privacy,
the illusion of safety. So, I avoided eye contact
until just the tail hung from your mouth—slurped
down throat, the lump muscled, squashed,
and moving through the body.

 

Kate Wright received her BA and MA in English from Penn State and her MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University. This poem was inspired by her time volunteering at the Iowa Wildlife Center, where she particularly enjoyed working with the reptiles. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from in Digging Through the Fat, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Rogue Agent, Ghost City Review, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @KateWrightPoet.

Eating Dandelions by Luz Rosales

The new girl can take her eyeball out.

The first time she does it, everyone is sitting on the carpet while Ms. Perry reads aloud from a book. The first one to notice is Benji, who never pays attention in class, but notices everything else, including her, in the back with her head down. He exclaims, “Look at Sharon!” even though her name is Shannon.

Her eye dangles out of its socket, attached to the nerve. She plays with it, batting it like a cat with string, twirling the nerve around her finger. When Benji shouts, she looks up, confused, and when she sees everyone staring back at her, she realizes what’s wrong.

“Oh,” she says as everyone jumps up and moves away from her. “I’m sorry.”

Even Ms. Perry looks sick. “You need to go to the nurse—”

“No, I don’t,” Shannon replies. “I’m fine.”

And just like that, she pulls her eyelid up and shoves the eye back into place. It pops into her socket perfectly.

To describe her classmates as bewildered would be an understatement. They are disgusted. Only Jake, who has pet roaches and once brought one to class, only for it to escape and end up in Ms. Perry’s coat, has anything positive to say: “That’s pretty cool.”

Bianca says nothing, but she keeps thinking about Shannon’s eye, wondering what it would feel like.

* * *

Shannon still takes her eye out. She says she has to do it. She can’t help it. No one wants to sit next to her, and even Ms. Perry doesn’t want to get too close, so Shannon sits alone, at a small desk in the corner, and keeps entirely to herself. Bianca watches her and draws her in the margins of her notebook.

The eye-popping is just one of Shannon’s many eccentricities.

Once, during lunch, Shannon reaches down her throat and pulls out a small, black slug, alive and squirming. She leaves it on the ground, and after everyone else has left, Bianca cradles it in her palm. She thinks it’s beautiful. She kisses the slug and pretends it’s Shannon’s forehead.

About lunch: Shannon never eats. Not a bite of her mac and cheese, not a sip of her milk. Martha says she once saw Shannon hiding behind a shrub, shoveling leaves and grass and flowers into her mouth.

But the really weird thing is how nonchalant Shannon is about everything. She doesn’t seem to notice the distaste everyone has for her. When she’s left on her own during group projects or field trips, she has no reaction. She never speaks unless spoken to, which in itself is rare, and never approaches anyone. Bianca isn’t sure if Shannon is naturally withdrawn, or if she’s just accepted that no one wants to be around her.

Bianca is the exception. She wants to be around her.

***

During recess, Bianca finds Shannon in the narrow space between one of the portable classrooms and the surrounding gate. There are four more slugs crawling on her legs.

“Hi,” Bianca says, the first word she’s spoken to her.

Shannon doesn’t respond. She plucks a dandelion growing from the cracks in the concrete and eats it.

Bianca squeezes in and sits next to her. Shannon doesn’t object, so she assumes it’s okay.

Neither of them talk. Shannon keeps eating dandelions. Bianca’s fingers itch with the urge to draw her. She’s pretty, Bianca thinks. Her eyes are a deep brown. Her black hair is always styled in two long pigtails and looks soft.

“Don’t you have any friends?” Bianca asks.

“I can make my own friends.” Shannon gestures to the slugs. These are thicker than the one from before. She pets one: a light touch, the kind of touch you give someone you truly love.

“What about people friends?”

Shannon looks at Bianca like this is the most preposterous idea she’s ever heard.

“I mean,” Bianca says, “slugs don’t talk. You can’t have sleepovers with them and stay up all night talking.”

Shannon shakes her head. Her pigtails sway. “That doesn’t matter. I like it that way.”

That’s when she does it: her left eye bulges far out. Even Bianca, who has seen Shannon do this many times, is surprised when she sees it up close, shocked by how suddenly it happens. Bianca leans back a little.

Shannon grasps her eyeball and eases it further out of the socket, until once again it’s dangling against her cheek.

“Doesn’t it hurt?” Bianca asks.

“Not at all.”

Bianca lifts her hand. “Can I…?”

A nod.

Shannon’s eyeball is firmer than Bianca expected. It’s moist and rubbery. The cornea squishes when she pokes it. Shannon doesn’t flinch or voice any complaints. Bianca is honored that she’s letting her do this. That has to be a sign of trust, right?

The bell rings.

Before Shannon can get up, Bianca says, “Wait,” and kisses her eyeball.

***

A few days later, Shannon moves away. The rest of the class is relieved. Bianca doesn’t mention what happened between them to anyone. She never sees Shannon again, and never finds out where she is, or how she’s doing. But Bianca treasures that memory, long after she’s grown up, and remembers Shannon whenever she sees a slug or a dandelion.

 

Luz Rosales is a nonbinary Mexican-American fiction writer fascinated by the dark and morbid. They are a Los Angeles native and are currently attending Mount Saint Mary’s University, where they are pursuing a degree in History. They can be found on Twitter @TERRORCORES.