meditations on a night swim by Stephanie Neuerburg

Hunter and Hannah watch me from the shore
except they do not watch me,
they watch each other
and I watch them watching each other

my feet don’t reach the bottom here

I swim out to the end of the pier and then
back to the shore,
where Hunter and Hannah still watch each other,
then back out, past the pier
and wait

I don’t dunk my head in, either,
not this time
just let the green-blue Chihuly waves
caress my neck and press against me
green-blue from above
green-blue from the sides
green-blue from below and between my legs

being touched often feels like
waiting for something to be taken away from me

here in the water where its only request
is to float or go under —
whichever
I prefer
— the touch of the cool wet gargantuan glass
feels like a responsibility
gifted to me by God

I dream of water passing through
my lips, my eyes, my ears
all my orifices
and my orisons
filling my throat and my stomach
until it presses through the tips of me and back out
into the lake where it belongs

ripping right through me,
a swimmer
drowning in the cool wet arms
of a body that knows how to hold me

 

Stephanie Neuerburg is an actor, playwright, and poet based in Chicago, IL. Her work has been featured at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Oregon Fringe Festival, Ashland New Plays Festival, and Seattle Public Theater, among others in the Puget Sound, Bay, and Chicagoland areas. Her original play Science Night was a national finalist for the John Cauble Outstanding Short Play Award in 2015. Stephanie holds a major in performance and a minor in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry from Southern Oregon University, and has worked with award-winning playwright Anne Washburn, Tony Award-winning director Bill Rauch, and poet K. Silem Mohammad. For more information visit www.stephanieneuerburg.com.

Jumping the Shark by Jennifer Wortman

We’d come to the point in our marriage where I’d forgotten my husband’s name and I barely remembered mine. He was husband. I was wife. I’d been reading spiritual teachings that lauded the virtues of boredom, and when my husband and I stared dead-eyed at each other across the dinner table, I took deep breaths and tried to connect to my vibrant essence. “How was your day?” my husband would ask. “Oh, you know…,” I’d answer. He did know! He could have easily summarized my day for me: I had two or three possible days I cycled through and he knew them all. This familiarity made us strangers. “How was your day?” I’d ask him. He’d say exactly what I knew he would say, and we’d gape at each other.

One night, after once more failing to connect to my vibrant essence, I said, “I want a divorce.” The words just sprang out, like a scroll from one of those joke guns. In the early days of our marriage, we used to demand a divorce as a running gag: You don’t like black olives? I want a divorce! It was funny because it wasn’t true. This time it was true, or not patently false, but my husband laughed anyway. I joined in the laughter and convinced myself I’d spun comic gold.

A few days later, he came home straddling a motorcycle. “How the hell did you pay for that?” I asked.

“It’s a Triumph,” he said, as if that were an answer. “Like Fonzie rode.” He knew of my childhood love of Fonzie, the chaste fantasies I’d concoct to help me sleep, where I’d hoop my arms around Fonzie’s leathered trunk as he zoomed us through the sexy Milwaukee streets. Oh, to be whisked away from my fighting parents! Their every word, gesture, action had significance, was some sort of act of war. Or every so often, a call for peace. But nothing was neutral.

“You looked up Fonzie’s motorcycle?” I asked.

He nodded shyly. “Want to go for a ride?” How could I not? I climbed on.

We drove through the unsexy but not unpleasant streets of our nondescript lower-middle-class residential neighborhood. My husband showed surprising facility with the bike, and I enjoyed the deep leans of our turns, the brief surrender to gravity only to flout it. We returned home exhilarated and holding hands. I let the grim matter of money drop. If feeling alive meant more debt, so be it.

The next day, when my husband came home in a black leather jacket and beckoned me with a flick of his head, I skittered right over and followed him outside. He’d done something different to his hair: a slick substance molded it back, lending his trim Anglo features Mediterranean oomph. I leapt onto the bike, donned my helmet like a pro, and off we rode.

My husband had an obnoxious habit of leaving lights on, but that night, not only did he turn off lights upon exiting rooms but he did so by punching the wall with the side of his fist. Within days, our sex life exponentially improved. It was like back when we first met and each touch a was a new weather, flouting forecast.

I continued with my self-paced spiritual studies and practices. Long ago, someone had told me that marriage was like meditation: the key was, come what may, to hold your seat. So each evening, I’d plop down on my meditation cushion and observe my breath, the rise and fall of my chest, the cool wind entering my nose and the warm air that emerged.

One night, I experienced a sensation of rising from the floor. I chalked it up to spiritual wooziness. But the sensation increased: the beige carpet dropped down beneath me. I’d never aspired to levitation, but now it was just happening: had I achieved a true magic, a transcendence beyond the Fonz?

I sensed something behind me and turned. My husband held his thumbs up, pointing outward, the classic Fonzie stance.

“Put me down,” I snapped. But he was so enamored of his own powers he didn’t hear me, or didn’t listen. “Put me down!” I repeated.

“But it’s amazing. A miracle.”

I’d thought those same words once, about us. Our love had been the Fonz: it was cool and fiery; it fixed broken things; it walked in a room and people cheered. Maybe not: but it felt like that, that together we were enchanted and enchanting. As my husband lowered me, I felt the letdown of our lives.

“Didn’t you like it?” he asked. I did. In fact, the second my hips touched the floor I felt a loss I couldn’t measure. But it was just another trick, and, worse, a trick played on me instead of by me.

“No,” I said.

“But I did it for you. I thought you liked magic men.”

“You’re not magic,” I said, channeling my parents’ habitual antagonism. “And I don’t like you.” All these years I’d kept it down. Most of the time. But being miraculously lifted and lowered shook it out of me.

I locked the door to our bedroom and tried to recreate the levitation on my own. I knew trying wasn’t the answer, but neither was trying not to try. I had to accept the trying without trying to try or trying not to try. This required a lot of failing, which I also had to accept. These conundrums humbled me, and I felt ready to apologize to my husband without making things worse.

I found my him hovering high in the living room, his denimed legs tucked in a full lotus, a position I could never achieve. His half-closed eyes saw nothing but his own bliss.

I wanted him to teach me. We could do this together. I’d rack up debt with my own bike and leather gear. We’d sit on air side by side.

“Hey,” I said. “I’m really sorry about before.”

Nothing. He was lost in the ether, I thought, but then his face, as if painstakingly adjusting itself to lower realms, registered my presence. “I want a divorce,” he said, his legs uncrossing as he drifted to the floor.

I spat out a laugh, but the croak that emerged only punctuated my foolishness. He didn’t crack a smile. My husband, who, if I was honest, had always looked a tad ridiculous as The Fonz, suddenly looked 100 percent not ridiculous. He’d become the Fonziest Fonz there ever was, his white tee a beacon of everyone’s dreams, his jacket a sheath for the blade of his greatness, his coif a plush arrow to heaven.

“Please,” I said. For what can you say to a god in desperate times but “please, please, please”?

He shook his head, and I knew all was lost. I ran outside, and there was the motorcycle poised at a fetching little tilt. I jumped on and rode through our little streets, waiting for a sign from a different god: one that hadn’t failed me; one I hadn’t failed. I should have been meditating, but I was done not trying. I needed a higher power, not an earth-bound cushion. And there, in a corner backyard, was a homemade skateboard ramp, a shallow “U” that if entered right would harness my horsepower and shove me aloft. Though I was barely controlling the bike as it was, I somehow ascended the skate ramp beautifully, launching over tangled backyard grass, a yellow whiffle-ball bat, an abandoned rake, and for a moment—let’s call it a very short eternity—before the humiliating crash, before the endless convalescence, before my husband sold the wrecked bike for parts and lost the leather and became my same old husband again, I soared.

 

Jennifer Wortman is a National Endowment for the Arts fellow and the author of the story collection This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love. She lives with her family in Colorado.

Portrait of a Womb as Painted by Flies by Ashley Dailey

My doctor tells me I am as full
& empty as a window.

Actually, what she says is polyps.
I imagine mushrooms growing

along my insides,
delicate umbrellas glowing in the dark.

I am forest floor: network of one thing
but not another.

On NPR, I hear a story about maggots
used to clean wounds.

They eat dead or dying skin,
prevent the spread of disease.

A woman nearly loses
her feet to July’s sunbaked asphalt.

She says, I have a high tolerance for heat.
She describes the tickle

of maggots rolling beneath skin,
she host to hundreds of babies.

The heartbreak when they are excavated—
smashed garlic on a scalpel.

Home smells sweet & rotten.
I peel soft bananas off the counter, replace them.

(my self is the only thing inside myself)

Each afternoon sunlight finds my kitchen table between
the hours of not long & enough.

How do flies get in?—there is a maggot-sized gap
dividing wound & womb.

Flies pepper the window,
my fingers—sticky with what they want.

 

Poet Ashley Dailey is an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she is a poetry editor for Grist Journal and host of the virtual reading series Chiasmus. She is the winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize and has most recently been published by Peatsmoke Journal and Oddville Press

Pot Roast by Alyson Mosquera Dutemple

My son rubs the lamp and a fairy godmother comes out. It’s not supposed to happen like this. My husband is mad. The genie’s been misplaced again, and he hates that fairy godmother. He fumes at my son. Put that lamp back down where you found it. Stop messing about! Behind my son’s head, the fairy godmother sheds a little glitter. I go for the vacuum cleaner, but by the time I lug it out of the closet, my son has applied sparkles to his eyelids and my husband is muttering his way out the door.

Why do you put up with that? the fairy godmother asks me, peering through the kitchen curtains as my husband paces the yard. She’s getting bored waiting for my son to figure out his heart’s desires. It’s always like this. She’s supposed to offer him input, sage advice, but she rolls her eyes when he takes out a pen and starts another list. I lean over his shoulder to whisper my own two cents. It seems so obvious, infinite wishes, but he waves me off with a small hand before I can even suggest it.

Seriously, though, the fairy godmother gripes. What choice do I have? I scream over the pressure cooker. A thick meat cloud wafts through the kitchen. Ooh, is that pot roast? the fairy godmother wants to know. She grabs the handles, tries to pry the machine open. I think about warning her to be patient or else she’ll blow us all to bits, but just then my son shoots out of his chair, eyes ablaze. Eureka! he says, and I hope that means he’s got it. That this time, he’s figured it out. A way to capitalize on the small handful of wishes this life would offer. 

Just outside the window, my husband’s footsteps grow louder, loafers crunching up the drive. Mealtime in our house is serious business, meat and potatoes and clockwork, but tonight my son is climbing the table instead of setting it, waving that tiny list high, as if inching all his future happinesses closer to the clouds. I squint up at that knot of jumbled letters there, try to make sense of what he’s written. But it is a tangle I cannot unravel, and, for a moment, I can only marvel at the maze of his heart.

In the doorway, my husband’s shadow looms. The pressure cooker sings. The godmother blows the hair out from her eyes. Here goes nothing. She flexes her biceps, gives a final yank on the handles and pow. Pot roast like ticker tape, gristle like rain.

Through the shimmer of debris, I think I can see my son leaping from the table, think I can catch a glimpse of his trail as he wends his way through the kitchen. A pair of shoes skidders past, and I sit right down on the filthening floor. I watch as my boy goes skipping contentedly on his way. And when I can no longer see him, while everything else is still falling, falling, I close my eyes. I cross my fingers. I hope he doesn’t stop forever and ever and

 

Alyson Mosquera Dutemple is a writer from New Jersey with an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel, Pigeon Pages, Empty House Press, and The Middle of a Sentence, The Common Breath’s short prose anthology. She is an Editorial Consultant for CRAFT Literary. Find her at www.alysondutemple.com and on Twitter @swellspoken.

aubade/alba by Isaura Ren

before the dusk shrugs off its
            velvet, let me wrap us up.
you understand some moments must
            be private, clutched so tight the
tendons tremble. others may lay bare
            their naked faces to the sun—
not us, not quite yet. not with you
            in me in you, hand on hand
on pillow. never mind the threat of
            day that’s spilled along the sill.
never mind the neighbors, the glare
            of their headlights. where
curtains fail, our blankets never will,
            this silk cocoon our kingdom.
knight me. make me a body worthy
            of flight. i’ll draw my wings
against the coup of dawn, a shield
              for you and me. like this,
we’ll flit from room to room, moths
              on the wrong side of the glass,
fleeing its eastern rise and languid
              western fall. let’s soar past
hallways and laundry, avoid the
            cold of open doors, let in no
ghosts but each other. you could stay
            forever if we time this right.

 

Isaura Ren (she/they) is a poet, writer, and the Editor-in-Chief of perhappened mag. Her poems have appeared in After the PauseKissing DynamiteSea Foam Mag, and more. She would do anything for love, but she won’t do that. Find her on Twitter @isaurarenwrites.

Tchaikovsky by Peter Krumbach

It was when I scrubbed that hideous yellow rug that I found him under the bed. Surprisingly odorless, considering he had to have lied there for all those years. He was so small. Maybe a shade over five feet, a teal cravat still tied under his chin. Pyotr Ilyich? I said, wishing he’d open his eyes and exhale some Saint Petersburg haze. But he just lied there with his brown shoes and hands tucked into his waistcoat. I picked him up and carried him to the kitchen. Why was he so light? Had the bulk of death long been sucked out? I sat him in the chair and tapped on his chest. The tip of his tongue slipped through the beard. I ran to the bathroom to fetch a brush. I wanted to comb his hair before taking him to the station. But when I returned, he was under the table, face down in a puddle of milk. Still no pulse. I mopped, then remembered the thick roll of butcher paper and twine in the pantry. Wrapping the head first, I swaddled him down all the way to his feet. We got on the trolley at Prudhomme and Main. The conductor charged me extra for the swordfish under my arm. By the time we got to the station, he’d become heavier. I leaned him against the wall outside the restroom. It felt good to splash cold water on my neck, then on the mirror, study my warped reflection in the droplets gliding slowly toward the center of the Earth. I listened for their music, but only heard the soft ringing in my ears. When I stepped out, he was gone. I circled the hall for a while, lighting a cigarette, peeking under benches, then bought two tickets to Trenton and headed for the Lost-and-Found. The clerk dipped beneath the counter and produced an umbrella, a set of dentures, and four unclaimed hats. I could hear the train pulling into the station. The announcer coughed over the loudspeakers and as I ran, it felt as though the deceased and the unborn were watching me from afar. I could almost see them, in black and white, the distance taking away their faces. Out on the platform, the cars stood quiet, sooted, the windows redirecting light. I thought about the restroom mirror, how it was wide enough to leap through, if I were that kind of a man.

 

Peter Krumbach has work in or coming from Beloit Poetry Journal, The Citron Review, Copper Nickel, jubilat, The Massachusetts Review, New Ohio Review, Quarter After Eight, Salamander, Wigleaf, and others. He lives in California.

Fehler by Lauren Parker

I know from all of the work around poems that they are supposed to mean something. Even if that something is yelled with coffee breath at someone else as you bang your fist upon the table of a writing workshop that you saved up to go to and you’re going to make the most of dammit. So let me start by saying this poem is about rain falling.

The rain fell as I counted six large rocks I kicked with my right toe before I tried a rock too big for my toes and too sharp for my feelings and despite being angry already and being angrier still, I felt all the fire go out of me.
I change my mind, this poem is about sadness. Sadness is just anger you had already that wastes your time and the toes of your shoes.

The anger I had already burned me awake in the mornings, and I paced the floor of our shitty apartment with the dog piss seeped deep into the carpet padding so we couldn’t get it out, even though it wasn’t our dogs and it wasn’t our piss and it wasn’t our carpet. The stains were ours. The smells were ours. We paid for them.
Let me start again, this poem is actually about carpet maintenance.

The carpet is where every speck of skin I shed and you shed and we shed all landed to keep the ones from before company. The carpet was angry with skin cells, in that they were there before and would be there after us and would continue to collect until someone ripped up the carpet or burned the place down.
This poem is about loss, we lost each other and gained a carpet.

When we lost each other my life was brittle and vitamin deficient. The fire in my chest burned so hot I was molten while molting, a volcano shedding crust, journal entries were just lists of things you missed, bullet points of how I’d changed and you didn’t see them.
This poem is just a list.

The list is now my past. It’s a to-do of what I have done or has been done to me, grains of sand eroded and deposited and I’m now new current, new coral, new fish.
This poem is actually about the ocean, which I now live near.

I live near this ocean and I have only been once, waded up to my waist to forget some new old love, and feel the shifting of ground under me until I am just kicking against tide. I do not care that it is cold, I do not care that my toes are numb and have kicked six large rocks. My scratched skin angry and throbbing and the water soothes it.
This poem is about how cold kisses can be the best ones.

 

Lauren Parker is a writer based in Oakland. She’s a graduate of Hiram College’s Creative Writing program and has written for The Toast, The Tusk, Ravishly, The Bold Italic, Daily Xtra, Pulp Magazine, and Autostraddle. She’s the winner of the Summer of Love essay contest in The Daily Californian and the Vachel Lindsay poetry prize, and is the author of the zine My Side of Our Story. She produces a monthly reading series in the Bay Area called Cliterary Salon, and embarrasses her family on Twitter @laurenink.

There’s a Trick with a Knife by Meghan Phillips

The knife thrower picks her volunteers based on how they’ll look with their backs against her fake wall, their wrists restrained in little Velcro loops. How the man in the striped t-shirt will look with an apple on his head. How the girl in the sundress will look with a balloon in either hand. Their lips softened to a surprised “o.” A perfect little gasp when the apple slices, when the balloon pops.

She picks her volunteers based on how they’ll look tumbled in her floral sheets. How they’ll fill up her trailer at the night end of the midway. Mouths wrapped in a surprised “o” as she drags a tooth down their neck, drags a nail down their thigh. A perfect little gasp as she thinks: what if I slip just this once.

 

Meghan Phillips is a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her flash fiction chapbook Abstinence Only is forthcoming from Barrelhouse Books. You can find her writing at meghan-phillips.com and her tweets at @mcarphil.

 

Dear Kevin by Parker Logan

Your cologne smells like what my grandfather wore
to church on Saturday afternoons, sliding on, over his black dress socks,
his older-than-dirt penny loafers with a small
brown shoe horn, cornering in his foot with the gentleness
of an alligator easing it’s way from the cold waters of a river
to the warm muddy banks of a runoff pond.
He would leave us to go to church, then, which I was happy about
because it meant more time to myself
and the television and less time with him watching me do that.
I could be who ever I wanted, watching shows with superheroes
and scientists who bred their babies in a bottle.
He would be back in an hour and a half and complain
about traffic on I-4 before seeing me and my brothers in the living room
watching cartoons where the devil had claws
and was man in a woman’s gown, and he’d whistle and say
hey guys, let’s cut it out, meaning the TV, and he’d walk
to the remote and turn it off, throwing that too-strong-
to-take-deep-breaths cologne at us, the one that smells just like
your cologne does, Kevin, as you douse yourself at the foot
of our bunk beds and decorate the whole house
in an aroma of shut-that-gay-crap-off smell, that too-polite-
to-be-anything-more-than-stern waft. Under pretense of being the good guy,
the neighbor who takes care of his lawn, you’ve got claws
the sizes of wine bottle openers, wit like a brick
and a smell so keen it makes me want to throw up:
I don’t like you Kevin Avila. I don’t like you one bit.

 

Parker Logan is a student at Florida State University and is the president of FSU’s Poetry Club. His work has been featured in The Daily Drunk, and is forthcoming in The Allegheny Review and Pretty Owl Poetry.

Satellite of a Satellite of a Satellite by Avra Margariti

It’s been fourteen days since my wife made good on her threat to launch herself into space. Locked in accidental lunar orbit, she spins around the moon and her own axis. Meanwhile, I’m getting tired of the stillness in our house. The silence.

I dial the moon base number I now know by heart. Ask the operator, “What’s taking the rescue team so long?”

Luna’s lone operator recites some excuse or other—construction accident in the asteroid belt, freighter lost in space, giant squid invasion. I picture the operator behind an old secretary desk, filing her nails in-between managing the call center.

“Put me through to my wife, please.”

The operator sighs. “She doesn’t want to speak to you.”

Her and her pride. I picture my wife going round and round, acting like she could come down any time she wanted.

“Will you give her a message?”

The operator hums her assent.

“Will you tell her I miss her?”

The call disconnects before I can ask the operator if my wife misses me, too.

I wheel my old telescope onto the balcony and watch my wife orbiting Earth’s satellite the way she used to orbit me. Her luminous skin reflects all the stars and spilled dust of outer space. The unknowable black holes of her eyes seem to swallow the matter around her. I’ve heard it’s cold, up there, and she freezes so easily, toes chilly at night, fingers twitching with minute shivers.

I call the operator again to say, “She likes soup. Can you send her some French onion soup?”

The operator exhales. Drawn-out. Long-suffering. I hear her clicking buttons.

“You want any croutons with that?”

The operator is perpetually exasperated with me. It makes a girl wonder. Is she lonely up there? Does she enjoy the solitude my wife and I have disrupted with our melodrama? All these days—wax and wane—and my telescope has never once caught her leaving her Luna-based station.

I realize the line is still connected, but quiet. Static-y with the sound of our syncopated breathing. That is, until the operator asks, “What was the fight about?”

“What?”

“When she left you. What did you two fight about?”

She didn’t leave me, I want to shout loud enough I’ll be heard in space. All I say is, “I can’t remember anymore.”

Hum. Click. Soothing, strangely.

As I wheel the telescope back inside, clutching the phone tight between my chin and shoulder, I am reminded of my mother. How she once told me adulthood means losing people more than you get to keep them. Later, I can’t help taking another peek through the lens of my telescope, the view obscured by the smudged window. The cream glob drifting toward my wife could be her favorite French onion soup. The bright glint on her face could be a smile. But meant for me, or for the operator?

“Do you talk to her?” I ask the operator some rotations after that. Her voice is all buttered toast and golden sunlight, at least when callers like me don’t irritate her. A good voice to hear in the cold and dark, I suppose.

“Of course. Days feel long on Luna.”

Days are long here, too. Such is the interconnectedness of satellite systems.

The landline’s cord around my fingers cuts off my blood circulation. “Do you talk about me?”

Silence. I hate her silences. The operator isn’t exactly friendly, but hers is the only voice I’ve heard in so long, sometimes it slinks and settles into my bones through the distance between us.

I go to bed—my wife’s side—and picture her and the operator chatting through their headsets while my phone remains silent. My wife explains how to pair wine with soup, then laughs as she and the operator ponder how aeration works in space. She admits, all soft and confidential, that launching herself into space, then being pulled into accidental orbit, was worth it.

Why? the operator asks. And my wife says, Because I got to meet you.

My dreams that night orbit them both.

 

Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Forge Literary, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and other venues.