Baptism by Ahja Fox

Remember kissing those knees soiled in May?

Statues were pointing at bodies, windswept,
as we sat idle at the door of a bone church.

We cupped tomorrow in girlish hands
our intrepid hearts resin-soaked, jeweled;
reincarnated fetish priests dragging
our generation by their strange throats.

Cherry springs rotted,
                became flesh-eating children

        and I promised you an edifice
        that would split blue,
        touch Centaurus—
        a prayer closet smolder.

We ate lake seeds, tongued dirt
until those bodies         were no longer heavy.

 

Ahja Fox is a poet obsessed with bodies/body parts (specifically the throat). Her tagline is “#suicidebywriting” and her muses are dead things found among the living. Ahja can be found around Denver reading at various events and open mics or co-hosting at Art of Storytelling. She has published in online and print journals like Five:2:One, Driftwood Press, Rigorous, Moonchild Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, SWWIM, and more. She has also recently been included in the 2018 Punch Drunk Anthology. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @aefoxx.

Breast Roulette in Utero by Jennifer Todhunter

At 3am, two nights before her double mastectomy, my twin sister dances on a table at the only bar in town. She twists like the straws we sucked chocolate shakes through when we were young, slips down, down, down, like she did when she showed me how to give a guy a blowjob. There is a sweetness woven into the filth of this bar, and I wonder if she’s holding onto that. Holding onto it before everything becomes antiseptic and bleach.

Last call isn’t a thing here. Booze is served until you leave or pass out. My sister and I slouch against a jukebox that’s been fed so many quarters it’ll play AC/DC well into next week. A disco ball casts glitter across my sister’s chest. She is exhausted, has been exhausted for months, but we are having a night. That’s what she said when I said it’d be better to stay in and rest: fuck that, let’s go and have a night, goddammit.

When I was born, a deep hemangioma protruded from my chest like a third breast. Its center was the same color as the beets our dad canned every summer. I used to worry my sister would grow only one breast, that I had stolen the other from her in the womb. Now I am torn between guilt and relief that we split the breasts the way we did.

Tonight, my sister pokes at her left breast with the olive pick from my half-drained martini. Softly at first, then harder.

She’s wearing a low-cut shirt and the pick depresses her skin in a matching deep vee before piercing through. We both inhale when her blood pools at its point. I’m taken with how it resembles the blood that spilled from her knees when we were kids, by the thought that her disease may have made her blood different somehow. Darker, maybe. Thicker. Rancid.

She thrusts the pick with force again and it sinks much deeper this time.

Stop, I say, grabbing her hand. It’s shaking. Her whole body is shaking.

Do you remember the time you fell out of the tree and bit a hole through your tongue? she asks.

I nod.

Do you remember how mum ran out and thought you were dying because you were winded and couldn’t tell her where the blood was coming from?

I nod again.

Do you remember what that was like?

Being winded? I ask.

Looking at someone who thought you were dying.

I shake my head.

It’s the worst, she says. The absolute worst.

I look at her and she smiles.

Yup, just like that.

For the record, I don’t think you’re dying, I say, but part of me knows that’s not true.

Did you think you were dying? she asks.

I shake my head. I just wanted to get back up that goddamn tree.

Exactly, she says.

 

Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She was named to Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2018, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at http://www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.

The Visitor, or Not Quite Flesh by Alex Smith

I never thought you existed. You were a fight
in another room, a moon landing, someone
else’s problem.
But now you’re here. Recumbent flotsam
gone sour on our sofa.

And now, it’s like you’ve been here
the whole time, crouching behind
lonely larder tins, nesting in the
plaster cracks. You make us into you
and your
not quite flesh.

I’d offer you a drink,
coffee I suppose,
but the cups are full with
blister packs.

You were in our bed this morning,
muddying the womb of the place,
warm and
heavy as a sleeping child.

You’re in the strangest places.
I know you’ve watched me in the shower, squeaked
love hearts on the frosted glass, grabbed ringside seats
at our love making, left
popcorn kernels for naked feet to tramp,
each its own
little death.

I’ve caught you in mirrors, whispering
imagined infidelities in her ear,
retuning guitars an octave low, breaking all the
major keys.

Uninvited, you leaf through
books, records, trip trap fingers delicately
dripping scorn
for still-faced ornaments, pronounce our poverty,
pick your teeth with cutlery as she cries
on vinyl floors.

Sometimes, I want to
kill you. Pitch you on your back,
push
a thumb each side of

your pitted windpipe, squeeze
the life and pulse until you
pop
gift air
incontinent
like a skin balloon.
But what’s the point?

Besides the dust, you’ve dislodged
other things,
embryos
we hoped buried.

We keep the kids out now. And other guests as you are
a shy intruder. You hide in petticoats
so they’d never know.

You’re a secret bruise, a
cuff pulled down on
red raw wrists, weak
eternal canker, the moment just before
a door
slams
shut.

We know you will never leave.

What discord then,
that we endure your tremendous
vacuum,
file your teeth
and castrate you
with acceptance.

I wonder,
if we were to
take the shards of us and
carve and mould
some other selves,
would you remember us
and come again?

 

With a foot firmly each side of the Irish Sea, Alex Smith was raised in troubled Northern Ireland during the Eighties. Educated in English and Spanish, his work has taken him to some of the most socially deprived schools in England. His stark poetry has been published in Twyckenham Notes, Tammy, Clear Water Poetry, Bonnie’s Crew, Abstract: Contemporary Expressions, Ink & Voices, and Coffin Bell. He edits at ABC Tales and has a collection entitled Home coming soon through Cerasus Poetry.

Clapping by Sarah Salway

It started where it shouldn’t but it always does, with his lips fastened on home, the sweetness filling him and all he has to do is be a baby.

“You’re too old for that.” A sharp slap followed by spoonful of mashed potato he’s not allowed to spit out, the spoon waving towards him like an aeroplane. He’s no longer mummy’s boy. He’s a good boy, a hungry boy.

Other things form in his mouth, called words, the way sounds began to fit together to bring him everything he wants now he’s a talker.

Playing in the garden, when, shhh, a cousin calls him over to a hole in the hedge. Stay silent as he watches the couple moving like music, like a waltz, or was it war? He watches open and dry mouthed as they form words between them that he knows he’ll understand too if only he can stay there a little longer. Voyeur, they call out, and it sounds so pretty, so sweet, a peeping tom.

The world’s a pantry cupboard left open and he’s a scavenger on the spice shelf, putting tastes together just because he can. He’s working his way from Aniseed to Zatar until one day, he unscrews a top open without thinking, stops thinking as he loses sense, fills with every sense.

The splinters in his heart means to hold his body a certain way increases the sharpness of the pain, to let his mind wander causes a dull throb. He leaves people behind to concentrate on art, allows the stream of invoices to plug his gaps, and he listens, fingers steepled, as others call him a connoisseur.

External is all. He cheers up the drabness he feels with potted plants, builds bridges around his world so no one is sure whether he is coming or going, he calls everyone darling, and although he reserves his fondest strokes for the wine bottle – a drinker? Not him.

She’s dabbing his forehead when he wakes up. “Can I call you nurse?” he jokes, but she doesn’t smile but says yes, it’s her name. He shouts it out across wards, and corridors, and theaters. Rings bells to get her to come running. She’s a hole in the hedge, sweetness and words waltzing, she’s bottles knocked over and treasures hunted down, she’s bunches of grapes and everything he wants. “Your name, your name?” He wants to taste it in his mouth to see how they fit together. Now she’s his darling, he’s happy to be patient.

 

Sarah Salway is a writer based in Kent, England, and has just completed her fourth novel. Her previous novels have been published by Ballantine Books, Bloomsbury, and Harper Collins. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry London, PEN International, Financial Times, and many other magazines.

last will and testament by Amy Kinsman

of the northern white rhinoceros

i leave you this: a parting gift of ivory,
and task you make for me an urn
fit to hold the ash. carve it with unicorns
and aurochs, mastodons and my woolly-haired
compatriots. set it with ammonites and amber;
stand me upon the shoulders of great pearl
elephants and play me out of kenya on
antique piano keys.

this was meant to be easy, just close my eyes and drift,
but didn’t some of you make it so hard?

make me a myth: tell them a hundred warriors
could not slay sudan the great; say i slumbered
upon mountains of diamonds; claim one tear
could heal, or a drop of blood might raise the dead.
i go to palaeontology. i’ll tread softly through
the dreams of children, let their open palms
smooth over grey, wrinkled flesh
and grant for them a wish.

for them i’ll always be a story.
for them i’ll never need exist.

 

Amy Kinsman (they/them) is a genderfluid poet from Manchester, England. As well as being founding editor of Riggwelter Press and associate editor of Three Drops From A Cauldron, they are also the host of a regular poetry open mic. Their debut pamphlet & was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2017.

Holiday Party Etiquette for Insects Recently Transformed Into People by Ashley Memory

Greet your host enthusiastically. Rather than flick your eyebrows —they are not antenna—extend one of your hands and gently shake the hand of your host. Offer a small gift, preferably something you have bought or made, rather than foraged from the Burger King dumpster. Put on the reindeer ears that she gives you  the little bells and flashing lights will remind you that you are now a mammal.

If there is a buffet, do not whirl your head around constantly for fear that anyone behind you is going to squash you or steal food from your plate. It is okay to silently curse the loss of your compound eye, but don’t obsess about it. No zigzagging through the room. You now have only two legs and you must master the bipedal gait while holding a plate of food. Practice at home beforehand.

If there are poinsettias at your table, fight the urge to hold them up to your nose and taste them. Ingesting the blossoms might make you sick. And you are too big to bury yourself inside the petals and gather nectar. Unfold your napkin, put it on your lap, and use it to wipe your mouth during the meal, rather than continually licking your lips with your tongue.

If someone waves to you from across the room, do not assume they are from your former colony with a special message and start shaking your body. Just smile and ask: “How is the family?”

While eating, chew slowly and do not gorge. In your new life, there is no need to eat as if you might not ever see food again. And it’s best to avoid the eggnog. A tipsy former insect could be unpredictable. Instead, turn your attention to getting to know the others at your table through polite conversation. Safe subjects: Books. Warning! Try not to talk only of Kafka and how he got it wrong in The Metamorphosis. Movies: Ant-Man or The Fly would be acceptable films to discuss, but do not express a secret desire for a remake of Killer Bees where the bees actually win. Music: Great choice! Everyone loves music. If the subject turns to opera, however, don’t denounce Madame Butterfly for not featuring a real butterfly.

If talk at your table turns to New Year’s Resolutions, don’t share the goals you set during your support group about remembering that you can’t really fly or trying to wean yourself from your addiction to carrion. Instead, it’s better to just repeat what others say, such as “I hope to lose a few pounds next year,” or “Spend less time at the office.”

If, on your way back to the buffet for seconds, someone corners you by the mistletoe and tries to kiss you, turn your head to the side demurely, as if you are shy. Your instinct to bite is still too powerful to engage in kissing. Maybe next year.

Congratulations! If you make it to the Yule Log cake, you have survived your first holiday party as a human! Before you leave, be sure and thank your host. You might even offer to stay and help with the dishes. If nothing else, ask if you may take out the trash. You could stash it in your car, drive home, and just for old time’s sake, rifle through it later for a delicious midnight snack.

 

Ashley Memory is a former blue orchard bee living in the ancient Uwharrie mountains of Randolph County, N.C. She has finally accepted that she can no longer fly, but she confesses to gathering nectar wherever she can. Her poetry and prose have recently appeared in The Birds We Piled Loosely, Gyroscope Review, The Ginger Collect, and numerous other literary journals and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she is a two-time recipient of the Doris Betts Fiction Prize sponsored by the N.C. Writers’ Network. She is currently over the moon that in January 2019, Coffin Bell will publish “Orchard #9,” her narrative poem about a haunted cherry orchard.

If This Is a Death I Still Have so Much to Be Thankful For by Bailey Cohen

I’ve been so terrible
lately and so ugly too,
yet this has all so conveniently
provided reason
for my vanishing.
I start first with my left
hand, watch ash turn
into air, dispensable thing,
you were never as useful
as my right hand, which,
when it disappears, will be
much stranger and much
wiser than my left hand.
I do not yet know how this
will show itself, perhaps
as tiny miniature hands
straining their wrist-necks out
of my fingertips. Alternatively,
my right hand could be
more pruned, soaked
by the river. At this point,
the moon has only mostly
disappeared, and with it,
my left arm, up to my
shoulder. I am a miracle
of physics, balancing
effortlessly despite my
body’s fascination
with naught. It will
only cross my mind
when only my mind is left
that there must be something holier
than all this becoming
of a ghost. If this is a death,
I still have so much to be
thankful for, all of my atoms
harmonious in their surrendering.
For instance, my brother seems wholly
intact. Unable to see what is happening
beneath the surface of the water,
he sees only my floating head,
foolishly assuming there is more
to me than this. Across the bank
where we are swimming, I watch,
voicelessly, a bird leap,
then evaporate.

 

Bailey Cohen is a queer, Ecuadorian-American poet studying at NYU. He is the editor of Alegrarse Journal, a contributing writer for Frontier Poetry, and a Best of the Net nominee. Bailey’s work is forthcoming in publications such as Boulevard, Boiler Journal, and The Penn Review, and has appeared in Raleigh Review, The Shallow Ends, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and more. He loves everyone Latinx.

Star of Wonder by Kathryn McMahon

Down the street comes a trio of carolers, hymns swirling with snow. They leave each twinkling house and tip-toe up the next set of steps to wait. One song. Two songs. However long it takes. The door opens and out wafts the tang of chestnuts and rude bursts of log fire. Apologizing, the carolers push into the foyer where they stomp away slush. None remove their gloves. Eyelashes glitter with white as they smile at the daughter.

A caroler waggles her thermos at the girl. Go get some mugs, hon.

Her parents laugh nervously and protest, but the carolers say, No, no we insist.

Could there be a safer night to accept the generosity of strangers? Polite, the family take the mugs and sip eggnog spiced with cardamom and something more difficult to place. In divine sopranos and one transcendent tenor, the carolers’ mouthparts pull back and the trio begins to sing.

The eggnog is blissful; the music, serene. The family teeters on their heels. Won’t you come into the living room?

The carolers each take a hand. Well, yes, it has been a long journey, but one more song won’t hurt. They lead the family to the couch. Gloves gripping gloves, the carolers stand while the family sits in matching ugly sweaters, listening. Drinking.

Heads nod. Droop. Empty mugs tumble between the cushions. The logs are minor, popping volcanoes when the carolers refresh the chorus of We Three Kings, their favorite. Discreetly, they scratch the chapped scales under their gloves.

Lulled by the gravity of their bodies, the parents stretch out on the floor. The husband’s sweater rides up and the hair on his stomach mashes into the carpet. The wife slips off her heels, no longer self-conscious about the rich funk that leaks from the sweaty soles of her stockings. The daughter, meanwhile, sinks down and, even though she is not a baby, she crawls, making it as far as the Christmas tree where she grasps a green and silver box with her name on the tag.

In the warm room, the carolers’ eyelashes are still caked with white. They blink and clumps of roe drip to the floor. For a moment, nothing stirs. Melting, the eggs sacs glisten, and under the Christmas lights, the larvae shine blue and orange, pink and gold. Then, between pine needles and runaway tinsel, feelers rise from the carpet. They sense the heartbeats of larger bodies. With a hungry whine, their tiny jaws inch closer, closer towards a stomach, a leg, a small fist.

The carolers watch, proud, their cheeks ruddy with the success of the births. Satisfied, but quashing a sniffle or two, they shut the door behind them. As they select a hymn and tramp towards the next house, their eyebuds already trickle new yolk-jelly that crystallizes in the cold.

Hovering above, other eyes watch. Human. Venison. Boots and hooves test-tap the roof to make sure that none will fall through. The boot-wearer, a man roly-poly in red, squeezes down the chimney, and with a grunt and black puff of dust, he hops over the flames. From his sack, he extracts a bottle and spritzes the larvae with a potion of reindeer musk mingled with orange and clove. In death throes, the small, hungry bodies jingle like bells.

The girl rolls over and snuffles. Both parents sigh, and the one who would be most embarrassed to, farts. The man-in-red parkours up the chimney, chuckling at how very much like an orifice it is.

The family sleeps off the eggnog, and in the morning, the daughter wakes first. She winces as something pierces her sock. A pine needle? She pinches it. Maybe not. Stiff, it is old and dead. She flings it away, shouting for her parents to wake up, it’s Christmas! They groan and pull each other upright. Vacuum as they will, they’ll complain how the pine needles linger for weeks, how they should’ve bought a fake tree, how isn’t it a good thing Christmas comes only once a year?

 

Kathryn McMahon is an American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, Split Lip, FLAPPERHOUSE, Third Point Press, Atticus Review, and others. Her work has received nominations for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net and the Pushcart, and has been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50. She was recently a finalist for the first-ever SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction. On Twitter, she is @katoscope. Find more of her writing at http://www.darkandsparklystories.com.

My Animal Life: An Autobiography in 10 Parts by Sara Barnard

1. In the beginning, Lassie. That old mongrel. But the first death is just the first death. I cried more over Jane who ended up with half her body not working. The vet handed her back in a box, so we could bury her in the garden. Guinea pig doesn’t sound serious enough for such sobs.

2. The Russian hamsters – Rachmaninoff & Shostakovich – were not a great success. I won’t say more here, but I failed them. Twice.

3. I nearly had kittens, but another girl got to them first and it was hard to forgive. Tabby was adventurous; Polly feral, scratching skin to blood.

4. The best of times was Christmas and Christmas was for donkeys. Afternoon walks through graying streets, pockets clunky with chocolate coins, pink sugar mice.

5. My brother, grown to greatness, began the Christmas Rat Walks. I leave to your imagination the river’s path, the stones, the hilarity. Thus do traditions evolve.

6. Miggy, our funny Welsh collie. We loved you, even with the bellows, crossing fields like you had no home, and we took you home to the slate-strewn hills whenever we could, but maybe you just didn’t understand our tongue.

7. Herdwicks and heifers and little lamb who made thee asked mum every Easter, as we drove past daffodil-splattered fields. I heard those words even when the lamb was bloody, abandoned by a wall.

8. Trigger, Benji, Copper, Whisper: you held us, our growing legs wrapped round you. Racing and falling. You carried the coffin painted with sunflowers through the snow when we mourned more brightly than anyone had ever mourned before.

9. Are there more? I forget. But the dogs! So many hounds that jumped in and out of things while their owners will never be remembered apart. The un-dogged were barely complete. Sam, Trixie. Holly, Hunsa, Jack, Jen, Luca, Milo, Isla, Luna. I can’t find, now, all the names, but the smells, the hairs, the wellies at the doors. Walks in woods, so now every path has something missing. Murphy. You were so loved.

10. Then came the sea and the sea-held creatures. The ocean and its furies. The plankton-full swirling. The drifters, the jumpers, the soarers. Another world of lives to never fully know. Instinct takes over. We wait out the storm.

 

Sara Barnard is from the UK, has lived in Spain and Canada, and is now based on a sailboat (currently in Central America) with her husband, child, and laptop for company. The last few years have mainly been about parenting and PhDing. She recently has had work published in Bone & Ink Press, Glass Poetry Resists, Hypertrophic LiteraryInk & Nebula, and Anti-Heroin Chic.

Twenty-First Century Life by Sarah Freligh

We smoke out back on breaks because Mr. B. says it doesn’t look nice for a flock of angels to be smoking too close to the live creche or the people who line up to pay a buck to witness the miracle of Christmas. We smoke within whiffing distance of three sheep, two donkeys and the one spavined camel Mr. B bought for cheap off a him-and-her circus act that was divorcing. Everyone but Lydia, that is, who sits a ways from the rest of us and swats at the bad air. She’s barely two weeks late but claims she’s already sick as a dog, morning, noon and night. Today she actually pulls the pee stick from her purse for a little show and tell. Says she might tie a blue ribbon around it and present it to her boyfriend, Brett, but what do we all think.

“I had to pee in a jar, take it with me to the doctor’s,” Cherise says.

“You pissed in a jar?” Samantha says. “Jesus.”

Cherise blows a perfect smoke ring. “Peanut butter jar.”

“So, ribbon or no ribbon?” Lydia says.

We all look at each other. Personally I think it’s a bad idea to dress up a mistake and pass it off like it’s something you’re proud of, especially when you’re dealing with a here today/gone tomorrow kind of guy. Take it from me, I know the type.

“Seriously,” Jill says. “You really going to have the kid?”

We all look at her. In three weeks, Jill hasn’t said much beyond hello or nice day. Mostly she humps up her shoulders, slouches over to cover up how big she is.

“I cannot believe you said that,” Samantha says. “Seriously.”

“Why? We’re 21st century women,” Jill says. “We got options. Choices. You know.”

“It’s a baby,” Samantha says. “Not a menu item from the drive-up.”

Jill flicks the ash off her cigarette. “It’s a blob of cells. The size of a sweet pea.”

Lydia’s caged her hands over her stomach like she’s afraid Jill’s going to break and enter at any moment. “I swear I felt it move. Like the flutter of butterfly wings.”

Cherise laughs. “That’s probably gas, honey.”

Samantha tosses her cigarette on the ground and stomps it. “It’s a baby,” she says.

I have seen faces like Samantha’s on a sidewalk, crazy-eyed men and women with twisted mouths out of which fell the ugliest stuff: Murderer. God will judge you. Burn in hell.

The abortion was the easy part.

Some folks would say being single at forty with nothing but a couple of cats for company is a judgment of sort, but then I look around me. At women with wrung-out faces, the occasional black eye. At their men in the bars downtown flirting with girls just out of high school.

I got a life, though not the one I planned. Still, it’s a life. A twenty-first century life.

I check my watch. “Break’s over, kids.”

We stand and shoulder our wings, arrange ourselves in a wedge of angels, tallest to shortest. I reach out with an aim to straighten Jill’s wings, but she’s standing shoulders-back tall for once.

Only then do we fold our hands. Like we’re praying. Like we’re angels. Like we really might believe in miracles.

 

Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Sun Magazine, Hotel Amerika, BOAAT Journal, diode, SmokeLong Quarterly and in the anthology New Microfiction: Exceptionally Short Stories (W.W. Norton, 2018). Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.