one day when I become a museum by Juliana Chang

one day when I become a museum
little girls are gonna walk by
my mouth
and point with two hands.

they’ll tug on their mothers’ shirts
and ask
what’s that tongue
sitting all pretty like that for
and what’s that thing that swings
like cold honey
and is that the whole sun I see in there
and isn’t that where the water wants to go—

how come we let it be
just there
like that?

 

Juliana Chang is a Taiwanese American poet. She is the 2019 recipient of the Urmy/Hardy Poetry Prize, the 2017 recipient of the Wiley Birkhofer Poetry Prize, and a 2015 Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Medalist in Poetry. She received a BA in Linguistics and a MA in Sociology from Stanford University in 2019.

Weeds by Ivana Gatica

I felt you in my skin long after you left.
Under the dermis,
hair follicles growing out of me —

Thick and stuck just before reaching the surface.
I tried to itch you out of me.
Scratch you raw.
Pull you out with pincers.

The skin is the largest organ in the body.
You grew all over mine like a weed, a rash of
Dandelions,
Stinging nettle,
Crabgrass,
Pigweed.

I prayed you would bloom from within me in
soft petals and leaves
that I could cultivate come Spring.

 

Ivana Gatica is a Mexican-born, Chicago-based writer and a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has earned an honorable mention on Glimmer Train and has been published in the print and online issues of Fifth Wednesday Journal.

inarticulate by Angelina Martin

what a deep dumb hell it is to be
subjected to the storm of myself
violently flung about
by malicious memory
nearly drowned by my own
convictions
to crawl my way to the border of the surface
to gasp for air and cry for relief
that I did not receive the death I begged for
and when I try to warn
the clueless shore huggers
of the treacherous depths of pain
lurking in the vast wet dark
all that comes out
of my reckless child mouth is:
            “WATCH OUT! BIG ROCK!”

 

Angelina Martin is a writer, comedian, artist, waitress, and jock based in Austin, Texas. She has previously been published in Inconnu Magazine, Sea Foam Mag, and Be About It Press, as well as in the book Anthology: The Ojai Playwrights Conference Youth Workshop 2006-2016. Her stand up and poetry both repeatedly touch on themes of sexuality, loneliness, and the lifelong process of healing from trauma. Find her on Twitter at @AngelinaJMartin.

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.

What I Found Underneath Love’s Fingernails by Michael Grant Smith

I was conceived during a nominally romantic tête-à-tête in a public lavatory alongside the information superhighway. My two recollections of the occasion are a sound as of wind approaching and a chain of my ancestors receding into the dusk. A relevant detective story: when push comes to shove, stay away from cliffs. I’ve grown this big since you last saw me. Famished cats scratch at my guts and a slant of sunbeams divides my reasoning, stacks my moods, mangles my composure. Confidence-seeking missiles, aimed with creepy radar, intercept my heart — the small bullseye it is. My daily existence lacks dietetic gravity, the foundation of caloric justice. I eat food served only in pounds and ounces because I find the metric system indigestible. Sweaty walls scatter the chatter of rattling footsteps. My state of mind is aligned precisely with the room’s stainless steel fixtures, defined entirely by landscaped pictures, and maligned subsequently in briefcased scriptures. Narcissists rely on the secret handshake, “Hello, how am I?” Medication across the nation floats my boat on the shiny briny sea of glass as I cast myself into the shadow of the sail, the shade, the cool cunning hideaway whose décor must shutter the bright unkind mouse-eyed light that slices my life’s cake like paper cuts from the envelope containing the winning ticket to ride instead of driving my point home on the range of the target we attack at dawn.

 

Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, The Airgonaut, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, trampset, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit him at www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.

One Fist Holding by Dustin M. Hoffman

Matthew presented his fist to us. His small fingers curled into a promise. Here, each knuckle teased, right here, inside, awaits a witnessing. So, we huddled around Matthew in the back of Mrs. Lowe’s fourth-grade classroom, back by the duct-taped beanbag chair and the class guinea pig who dozed so as not to break our covenant.

I’ll show you, Matthew said, but you can’t ever tell no one.

It felt like church, the waiting, the forthcoming ritual, like communion, like prayer, as we bowed our heads around his fist. Our selfish prayers remained just as secret, just as fist clenched: new bike, G.I. Joe USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier, just one page from one nudie mag, just one kiss from any girl, a house we didn’t have to leave every twelve months.

Unlike church, his ceremony would not lead to letdown. Dry breadcrumb cube, bitter grape juice, parting gifts to compensate for God’s silence. For when Matthew unlocked his fist, gold shimmered. There, gleaming wreath branches arced over a multi-colored shield, a code written in reds and whites and blues and chrome. A hood ornament, Matthew explained, but we already knew how our parents foolishly flaunted their most precious treasures.

Who could be so stupid, to bait our hands, Matthew’s hands, to bend back the golden crest and expose the delicate rubber binding that could be so easily snipped with Father’s knife? In a micro-second slice, we could dismember our parents’ pride. But, of course, we couldn’t. Only Matthew could, and he stowed the hood ornament in the front pocket of his denim cutoffs and lined up for recess, like it was so easy, nothing, like miracles happened every day.

 

Dustin M. Hoffman is the author of the story collection One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist, winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. His second collection No Good for Digging and chapbook Secrets of the Wild were published by Word West Press. He painted houses for ten years in Michigan and now is an associate professor of creative writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. His stories have recently appeared in The Masters Review, Wigleaf, Bull: Men’s Fiction, Redivider, and Juked. You can visit his site here: dustinmhoffman.com

The Prognosticators by Matthew Burnside

It occurred to all of us about the same time that our little brother could see the truth at the bottom of the well: how all fates entwined, triple-knotted and gleaming in their misery, held together by a wise but stubborn old snake named Mister Misty McRattly Tail, Esquire.

In those days we took turns dangling him by his dusk-colored ankles when we weren’t busy picking at scabs on the porch, or catching too-low clouds scudding overhead toward a big pink horizon of demise.

While it was my turn my sister Witch Hazel counted her splinters gleefully while Buck Owen tore apart a rocking chair and Salinger packed an ant pile into an old pie tin. “Look how big the peppercorns panic!” he hooly-hawed, before pouring it down the back of Zipperboy’s overalls.

“What’s baby see now?” yelled one of em again. I don’t know which.

“Getting closer” I reported, lowering the rope cinched round baby’s ankles as he giggled furiously into the void. “Good baby. Go go go!”

The game of it was just so: Noose up thine soft baby ankles and let descend. Get baby close enough to catch snake in mouth. Pull up for a prize. Most days it wasn’t about winning—just giving a name to our madness.

Soda bottle chimes clanked together strung from their limbs now. An owl peered out from a knothole. “What’s baby see?”

“Not quite yet” I reported, feeling sludgeblooded and starved for action. “First one to brick a bird gets to pet the spider!” one of em announced. I don’t know which.

Next thing I know the sky is thick with salmon dust and breathing is a chore. “Cut it” a neighbor hollered. They must had been burning; I could smell it in the air. Disinfected suds and gristle.

Then all were out wide in the yard equidistantly posed: one burning up the kiddy pool, one blowing black bubbles, one pinching mushrooms, one picking for nose coal. Deep diving.

“What’s baby see?”

“Almost almost,” I reported. Flung my attention down the hole and heard a rising whistle. Like fishhooks swirling around in a bowl made of molars. Glass clicking through its crooked lips.

Someone yodeled. Another yelled out a word we were taught never to say aloud.

Everyone fell down at once, crashing through the grass itch-riddled and red.

“What’s baby see?”

“Nigh coming up” I reported, feeling a sugar high. Sudden summer heat in my bones.

I could feel the future rumbling in my belly, like that pie tin full of ants. Could taste time and rain backwards. Throat full of dandelion parade…little baby bulbs and serpent skulls. Giddy and sad without knowing or caring to know the extent of my own edges.

“What are you children up to now?” said Mother, summoning us for dinner.

Inside, we dunked our heads, said grace, scraped our plates clean.

“So—” Father finally said, slurping his canteen. “How was your day?” In the distance hills were hiccupping; sirens sloshed around like wild bells drunk on panic. Our sheepheads tilted as night was coming on strong, guttering through the slanted board. Mother gnawed a cactus in the disposal.

“Everything is wonderful” I said as baby wriggled, laughing through the snake writhing round in its gummy maw. “Why do you ask?”

 

Matthew Burnside is the author of Postludes (KERNPUNKT), Rules to Win the Game (Spuyten Duyvil), and the hypertext novel series Dear Wolfmother (Heavy Feather Review). More work may be found at https://matthewburnsideisawriter.tumblr.com.

to grasp by Tyler Barton

Van could make this move easy: just pack the collection’s sixty-two thousand specimens into rubbermaid bins and rent a box truck. But instead he pitches a big museum shuffle.

“I smell local news!” Marianne, the CEO, says over the Panera she’s eating at her desk, the desk that Van will one day put his feet on, after he usurps her. “Vanny, pass me the dressing?”

Van assembles hundreds of museum volunteers—snake-handlers, taxidermists, ornithologists, the assholes with the loupes, community services students, cleaners, fundraisers, pencil sharpeners, bee-keepers, artists, ten year old boys obsessed with for some reason caves, and those purple-lensed planetarium operators. It’s Monday and they’ve formed a long, winding line of hands leading from the museum basement to the loading dock of the Ex-Salvation Army on Locust Street. The TV crews arrive as hoped, as do print media, and even the museum’s dormant Twitter springs to life as the minerals start swimming down the line of gloved hands.

“Remember your training!” Van says, holding a clipboard. It’s one of the great joys of his job, the clipboard—how he can grip and wrench it and nobody but Van sees the stress leaving his body. The new museum, Van remembers for motivation, will be air-conditioned.

Nine minutes in, an envelope-licker drops a cow skull and its long teeth scatter into the street. Furious, Van hurries over, smiling, and invites the man to head home early.

“It’s the sun,” he says. “Just keeps coming in and out of clouds. It won’t happen again.”

“Good,” Van says, no longer smiling, “bye.”

Luckily obsidian is so hard, because no damage is done when it slips from the botanist’s hands and slams the sidewalk. Regardless, Van asks her out of the line. And pretty soon Van stops asking, and it becomes: Go the hell home! This isn’t practice, people. This is the game!

Each time someone drops a specimen, or is seen chatting to their line partner, Van ejects them. He doles out Adderall illegally and screams at people who look distracted. In this way, the line stretches thinner and thinner, until Person 1 has to lean to reach the outstretched hands of Person 2, which results in more drops—until Person 1 has to lightly toss the item across to Person 2, who does not always have game-ready hands, and the line becomes less dotted with volunteers, and the camera crews have all gone home, and the sun is blinking out, and Marianne has stopped waving her support from her corner office window, and it’s just Van and a handful of others with nothing going on in their lives but this, throwing specimens to one another across empty, ten-yard gaps, until it’s midnight, and the drugs haven’t helped anything, and Marianne is home in bed with a novel, and Van rolls up all 20 feet of the anaconda skin, tucks it under his arm like a football, and mounts the back of the Parasaurolophus. “Take us to the Salvation Army,” he whispers to the life-size though not-alive Dino model. They go nowhere. Parasaurolophus doesn’t have ears. It picked up sound via vibrations in the air. Okay, fair enough, then why can’t it hear the amethyst sailing through the cool dark toward Van’s face?

This is what happens in the coma: Van lives and relives and re-relives his first day on the job, the first time he said his boss’s name out loud, when he did not say his boss’s name, but in fact called her, “Marinara.”

 

Tyler Barton is a cofounder of Fear No Lit, home of the Submerging Writer Fellowship. He’s the author of The Quiet Part Loud (Split Lip Press). His work has appeared in Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, NANO Fiction, Paper Darts, and elsewhere. “to grasp” is one part of his connected microfiction manuscript, To Work, which focuses on the absurdity and dread of modern work. He lives in Lancaster, PA, where he works in a Nature Museum and teaches free writing workshops to residents of assisted living facilities. Find him @goftyler or tsbarton.com.

The Jackalope in Economy Class by Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom

The jackalope couldn’t believe she’d gotten a middle seat again. She had tried to book her flights early, but the WiFi in her Wyoming bungalow was spotty at best, and it took so long to get tickets that almost all the seats were taken. If she had been a Pegasus, she wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing. She could’ve flown to Scotland herself.

But she was stuck being small and terrestrial, so she dragged her suitcase to join the herd of irritable passengers waiting at the international gate. When the line finally moved, the jet bridge stank of airplane fuel that rose in hot breaths from the gap between the platform and the door.

The jackalope found her seat in the last row between a teething baby and a Bigfoot who was already snoring at the volume of a small chainsaw. The overhead compartment was full, not that the jackalope was tall enough to reach it—why can’t Bigfeet ever be awake when you need them? A flight attendant wrestled the suitcase out of her paws and stashed it away. Defeated, the jackalope flopped into the middle seat and buckled her seatbelt. She tried vainly to smooth her rumpled whiskers.

It was a nine-hour flight to Scotland, and the baby would not stop screaming. Judging by its robust size and lung capacity, maybe it was the Bigfoot’s child, but the jackalope was not an expert on babies. Thank goodness she brought earplugs. After a series of garbled announcements over the intercom, the jackalope dozed off.

She woke to the sensation of the baby gumming her antlers and drooling onto her fur. At least it meant the screaming had stopped, so she resigned herself to being used as a teething ring. Her antlers had survived worse before.

All the jackalope really wanted from this trip was to take a picture with the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie was so popular you could book a whole vacation themed around her, stay in a charming cottage with lake views, ride a trolley painted with greenish-black scales, and go out on pleasure boats to hope for a sighting.

In comparison, what little fame the jackalope once had from tall tales had faded. She owned her bungalow in the Red Desert, but she could barely afford to pay the utilities with the dwindling royalties coming in from jackalope merch and the tell-all memoir she wrote in her thirties. She’d spent the last of her savings to book this trip.

What about other jackalopes? She was the last one, as far as she knew. The whole reproduction process for her species was pretty mysterious, something involving lightning strikes and clashing antlers, and she couldn’t remember ever having a mother or father. She had searched the internet, social media and message boards and dating apps, but every lead to find other living jackalopes turned out to be a fake. She’d stopped getting her hopes up.

But this time was different. It had to be. The jackalope fantasized that she and Nessie would hit it off. They probably had a lot of things in common besides being cryptids. For example, the jackalope’s favorite drink was whiskey, and Scotland was known for excellent Scotch. Maybe they would go out for drinks at a lakeside bar, someplace with a floating dock so Nessie would be comfortable. They would share stories about where they grew up, discover they were both bullied in high school, quibble over the best episodes of their favorite TV show. They would talk until they were a warm, euphoric kind of drunk. They would talk until last call. Maybe they would start to fall in love? No, that was the kind of thing that only happened in movies.

She hoped Nessie would invite her to crash for the night. They’d go out for brunch the next morning. Maybe, if things went really well, the lake monster would invite the jackalope to come on as a sidekick in the tourism gig. The jackalope would ride on the back of her neck so it looked like the serpent had a magnificent set of antlers. The visitors would eat it up. The documentarians would arrive in droves. The conspiracy theorists would flood their YouTube channels with annotated videos. She could see it all so clearly.

The jackalope didn’t know how to swim, but she could learn. She could learn anything if she tried hard enough. She would change herself to fit whatever the monster needed her to be.

 

Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom’s flash fiction appears in Jellyfish Review and CHEAP POP, and her other work appears or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Juked, PANK, and elsewhere. She’s a queer, disabled writer who was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Growth by Ben Segal

The tall guard who watches our building is growing. A few years ago he was unremarkable, but now he is enormous. He towers. Now he bends deeply just to shake hands or open a car door, as he often does for our building’s many guests

When I began to work here, the man was hardly memorable. He was a little gangly and his face was the kind of lean and acne-scarred that made one think, unfairly, of methamphetamines. His suits, already inexpensive, looked cheaper for draping his body. Yet there was something winning about him, a sweetness, a slight and almost pitiable magnetism.

He remains ungainly, but now he is impossible to miss. He grows perhaps an inch every three months and has just crossed to the other side of 8 feet.

I too am growing inexplicably. I gain almost a quarter-inch each year. It is not a noticeable phenomenon. Or, at least it’s not to most. I notice it. My mother thinks my posture has improved. For everyone else, the change is too slow to register.

But one day, when I am very old, I will be enormous. I will age into a stooped seven-footer and I will walk slowly past strangers who will imagine I was once a professional athlete. It will be nice, in that future, to lie about my feats of strength.

The guard, however, will not grow old. A body cannot grow like his and survive. His heart will swell and fail. He will die by nine feet, maybe a little past. This is a year away at most. He must know this, as we all do, but still there he is, opening doors, checking guests into the building. He is bending and smiling for pay.

We should not make him come any longer, I think. Surely it is a cruelty. Surely a building such as this – its teeming staff, its endless polished surfaces – can allow the man to stretch out peacefully on his own schedule.

Then again, why does the proximity to death make each hour worked that much more obscene? Perhaps it does not. Perhaps the entire bustle of this building is a slow atrocity. The same fraction of all our lives is wasted. The building is a stack of cruelty with clean bathrooms and packaged snacks.

I watch the giant pull open a glass door and can think only of a general strike. He holds the door open and we nod to one another. I ride the elevator to my office, and I am silent, and I am basically mostly good.

 

Ben Segal is the author Pool Party Trap Loop (Queen’s Ferry Press), co-author of The Wes Letters (Outpost 19), and co-editor of The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature (Lit Pub Books). His short fiction has been published by or is forthcoming from The Georgia Review, Tin House, The Collagist, Tarpaulin Sky, and Puerto del Sol, among others. He currently lives in Los Angeles.