Tennessee Warbler by Emily Banks

The bird is brave to stop
in Atlanta. Her name is Tennessee.

She only wants to taste the big city.
From my balcony, she tries to see

the skyline through the trees,
but it’s so hard to hold her eyes open.

I think she’s dying.
I don’t know whether to give her water

or poke her with a stick.
Sometimes a girl just needs a little rest,

I tell myself. Too pretty—
how her yellow feathers accent neutral tones.

I worry that she ate a poisoned wasp.
If she dies here, it must mean

the worst for me. At a highway rest stop once,
I used a bathroom with the sign “omen.”

I was migrating too. I offer water
in a bottle cap. I tell her she has to fly away,

that if you stay in one place too long
you’ll be taken for dead.

 

Emily Banks lives in Atlanta, where she is a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University. She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland and a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals including storySouth, Cimarron Review, Free State Review, Muse/A Journal, and Yemassee.

Dead Bird by Todd Dillard

You swung the chainsaw through the rosebush,
lopped off its top, and found,
tucked in fang and bramble,
a nest of juniper twigs. Inside it,
I waited, dead since last season,
curled like a dropped dishcloth.

You worried you were a terrible father.
You worried your sunblock-slathered daughter,
splashing at the water table across the yard,
would totter over and thump you
with a question shaped like me.

You worried too, briefly,
if I was a blunt omen
when you didn’t believe in omens.

You placed my nest and I in a grocery bag
as if you’d just come back from the store,
a quick errand to pick up a little death
because you’d run out
and who knows when you’ll need some more
to sprinkle on your pillow or morning cereal?

You knotted the bag,
and gentle as laying a babe in her crib
you placed it in the garbage,
unhitched another worry from your throat.

In the dark I listened to the chainsaw growl.
I imagined you holding it over your head.
I imagined you thinking: I am trying to be a good father,
bringing the chainsaw down.

 

Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Crab Creek Review, Longleaf Review, Nimrod, Superstition Review, and The Boiler Journal. He was a finalist for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology, and has been nominated for Best of the Net 2018. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter, and can be found on Twitter via @toddedillard.

Prey by Christine Taylor

He bounds down the back steps:
my dog has caught
the scent of prey.
From under a lawn chair,
a bunny sprints
for her life,
dashes in sharp S-turns to thwart
the husky on her trail.
She reaches the fence
unforgivably low,
and when she can’t slip underneath,
she leaps into the air–
a valiant attempt
to escape
into the rest of her years.

The dog leaps too
catches her struggling body
just as it falls from the apex
of her last grasp at life.
Her bones crunch
between the strength of his jaws,
and he savors every bit of her–
head, belly, limbs.
The ravenous moment passed,
he lies down in the grass
satiated
panting
his head raised to bask in the sun.

I want to say I’m horrified, but
I have, after all, witnessed
the event as a bystander
who hasn’t moved
from her spot
on these steps
who hasn’t rushed to wrest
the dog away
to save
hasn’t at least called out Stop!

I stumble down the steps
fall into one of the Adirondack chairs
watch finches escape the feeder.
Thunder comes to sit
at my feet
a drop of saliva
lands on my shoe,
and I can’t help but pet him
bury my fingers
in that downy sable fur.

 

Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She serves as a reader and contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, wildness, and The Paterson Literary Review among others. She can be found at christinetayloronline.com.

+ by Rebecca Kokitus

little symbol, little opposite
of emptiness
the first name you’re given
and the last

little larvae, little tadpole
knocking against the walls
of my bowels

little bee sting, little parasite
suspended in your
bloated blood cave like a bat
—you never blink

foam at the mouth,
spit up rabid water
mourning sickness
I’m mourning you, you sense it

sense the morning
you’ll break like a fever,
nothing but roadkill guts
in my underwear

and I’ll mourn you then, too.

 

Rebecca Kokitus is a part time resident of Media, PA just outside Philadelphia, and a part time resident of a small town in rural Schuylkill County, PA. She is an aspiring poet and is currently an undergraduate in the writing program at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. She has recent work in Moonchild Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, and Rose Quartz Journal, among other places. She tweets at @rxbxcca_anna.

A Wrinkle in Grief by Savannah Slone

whitewater rafting in molten silence,
a blunt abstraction
to distract yourself from your own humming of
insufficient hymns
melancholy was served as an appetizer
with a dirty glass later filled with water
with mostly melted ice cubes
that day
and it didn’t matter
because how could anything matter
when you’re mending your soul
lacerations with patches of anointed amnesia
sewn tight with silver seams but the
light still invades through the slits
since you’re not very good at sewing
wounds, your flux repairs an attempt worth giving up on

 

Savannah Slone is a queer writer who is completing her M.F.A. in the Pacific Northwest. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared in, or will soon appear in Heavy Feather Review, Boston Accent Lit, The Airgonaut, Ghost City Press, decomP magazinE, Maudlin House, FIVE:2:ONE, Pidgeonholes, TERSE Journal, Glass, and elsewhere. She enjoys reading, knitting, hiking, and discussing intersectional feminism. You can read more of her work at http://www.savannahslonewriter.com.

as a love story by Gervanna Stephens

I think I’m dying
for my heart forgets its job
to circulate blood.
There’s a fluttering in my chest.
An incessant flapping. Maybe
my heart remembers being a butterfly. Maybe
my heart remembers itself a false start
shooting off before the trigger
stalling along the way. Maybe
my heart remembers a past life
yearning for completion. Maybe
these butterflies will choke up
my throat, scrape pink
vomit heart from chest. Maybe
my heart sputtering is only
lack of use and not failure. Maybe
the ba-dum-dum-dum of my chest is louder. Maybe?
but I still think I’m dying
loneliness a persistent suitor
visits me every morning, reminds me
the sheets are cold
no one can fit in the house of my chest
laid bare a naked flame
ready to ignite everything
but my passions are dying
which are me right?
I think I’m dying
heart failing turned jelly
feet heavy but present
persistent in their opposing move
black goes first in this game
pawns protected by king’s castle
weak held dainty
toes after polish locked
skeletal to protect this path
this need to love, my heart
forgets I was once a martyr
dying. There’s a buzzing in my chest.
An untiring humming and drumming
a ba-hum-bug of forgetting. Maybe
my heart remembers being real
feeling and breaking down like a widow
old wood and weathered rock. Maybe
my heart thinks it’s dying
love an old cracked thing
weightless and priceless
flowing and steady.

 

Gervanna Stephens is a Jamaican poet and proud Slytherin with congenital amputation living in Canada. Her work has appeared in magazines like 8 poems, TERSE. Journal, WusGood.black, Whirlwind Magazine, Enclave, 12 Point Collective, and Anti-Heroin Chic. She hates public speaking, has two sisters who are way better writers than her and thinks unicorns laugh when we say they aren’t real. Tweets @gravitystephens.

Delayed Lightning by Benjamin Niespodziany

My parents bought me a ladder after I suggested a canoe. Offered to hold the legs as I climbed up their roof. The ceiling caved in last spring, a mean tornado, and they were proud of it, kept it open, wanted me to take a family portrait from up above. Something without me to frame on the wall. Grandkids and all smiling in the rubble, looking up through the wreckage of an Oklahoma cyclone. My brother-in-law said, “If you do this for us, I’ll pay for your guitar lessons.” I shook my head. All I wanted was a lawn chair or a burlap hammock, anything to make the treeless summers less frantic. “I’ll do it for free, don’t sign me up for anything.”

* * *

Following my second guitar lesson, I tripped the pilled out musician when he invited me to the largest bar made out of chicken wire. “They call it The Phoenix,” he said, rising to his feet and wiping off his knees. After a few joints, he told me how his braids talked to him in swift whispers. “I can’t sleep.” I never saw him take a sip but he always described the size of his hangovers, told me one was bigger than a school bus engine, another “larger than a muffler.” During one of his lengthy bathroom breaks, I took his guitar case and filled it with used combs and bad poems. “I’m allergic to my car ride home,” he confessed after he swallowed gallons of water, spilled most of it on his chest. He resembled a shipwreck and I tattooed the word ‘Driftwood’ onto his lower back, apologizing to him for everything by cannonballing on his couch, a pounce that opened the floor where the rats surfaced, took over.

* * *

I’m a changed man now. More bow ties. More cheesecake. Saved and bought a kayak. I hold a telescope made out of jealous bones and shuffle cards at senior centers. Three cities over, I juggle four snoring jobs. To craft a happy ending is to sing on a green hill with a box of tissues. I twirl forgiveness, turn into sawdust, and healpatch the wounds of my enemies. It takes a typhoon to befriend a meadow sneeze. Once asleep, I examine the scabs of every oil tycoon through used microscopes stolen from a lab in Galveston. My arms are overgrown with vines and leaves but no one speaks on it. When my parents call, they say how the wind makes their skyholes scream. Sweet humid trees, I mail them palms and say to layer the roof when it rains. “Humid Trees,” my postcard scribbles again, “it’s what we’ll call the band.” That or Thunder Parade. Turn left right here. I know a camel that can show us the rest of the way.

 

Benjamin Niespodziany is a night librarian at the University of Chicago and is really bad at kayaking and playing the guitar. He runs the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas] and has had work published in Ghost City Press, Occulum, formercactus, Five2One, and a batch of others.

Eryx and Hypatius by Ray Ball

Before the stoning
before the council
condemning those who claimed
there was a time when He was not
as heretics, Hypatius
charmed a snake.
The serpent coiled in the emperor’s treasury
like a dragon guarding the royal gold.
The bishop of Gangra arrived,
wielding his staff as a weapon. Perhaps,
as the legends say,
he beat the snake, striking its mouth repeatedly, until wearied,
the giant reptile surrendered its free will
and slunk after the saint to be sacrificed at the pyre.
But perhaps,
that is only
a story we tell
ourselves
about good and evil patterned too simply to tell
wisdom from venom. The shape of the staff
matters when a holy man
comes to hook a snake, when the snake sheds
its skin in the marketplace
and winds on as if resurrected,
when something nearly extinct,
like the sand boa,
reappears.

 

Ray Ball grew up in Oklahoma and Texas and received her PhD in History from Ohio State. She is currently a history professor based in Anchorage, Alaska. When not in the classroom or the archives, she enjoys running marathons and drinking bitter beverages. She is the author of two history books and her creative work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Breadcrumbs Mag, L’Éphémère Review, and The Cabinet of Heed. She tweets @ProfessorBall.

Feral Genes by Ailey O’Toole

When I was a child, my mother
ripped out all my teeth to keep
me from destruction, hoping
to lead me away from the desire
to ravage myself. But the hunger
crawled its way through my body.
I ran right through myself, tendons
flexing with this newfound inhabitancy,
me hiding away in my own musculature.
Later, I am crumpled up in a
corner of myself, the rivers
of my blood coursing with
ruin. I was given this lovely gift,
this body, and I destroy it just
to prove I do not deserve it. I
thought I was different enough,
had separated myself enough to
not become all the things my
mother always told me I would be.
Just like her. Hunched over in
the infrastructure of my own spine,
I’m realizing that it was always
meant to happen this way. Teeth
or no teeth, the need to demolish
has been passed down to me from
womb to womb by generations of
wolf women. Hard as I try to delineate
myself from this heritage of
obliteration, this is who I was
always meant to become.

 

Ailey O’Toole is a queer poet and bartender who writes about feminism, empathy, and pain. She hopes everyone who reads her poems feels less alone in their struggle. Her work has previously appeared in The Broke Bohemian, After the Pause, Ghost City Review, Rising Phoenix Review, and others. She tweets at @ms_ocoole.