The Recluse by Jose Hernandez Diaz

A writing residency, at my kitchen table, where I wake up at 4 a.m. because of insomnia from meds, and write a poem about a skeleton in a maze, and no one is around to say it’s cliché, so I publish it in a book called: One Hundred Days of a Recluse.

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is from Southern California. His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Huizache, Iowa Review, The Nation, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Southeast Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of a collection of prose poems: The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020).

Freckle (A Haibun) by Julia Gerhardt

The towel has moved from the innocent huddle over my shoulders to the firm knot between breasts. I want to drape the towel over my shoulders again, as if I am able to protect myself from strange and desirous things, but I won’t. I’m too big now & it would show too much of me. The bareness of my body reminds me of the emptiness in my belly & since I am hungry all the time now, I eat. I bite, crunch, lick, swallow. There is a spot on me I swear is a freckle until I lift my arm to my tongue & taste it. Something I thought was so very much a part of me is gone. When I realize its impermanence, I shower again. I bathe, clean, lather, suds. As I reach for the towel once more, I am no longer bothered by the way I position it, but instead

                                                                                        I am saddened by
                                                                                        the chocolate stain I mis-
                                                                                        took as a freckle.

 

Julia Gerhardt is a writer from Los Angeles, now living in Baltimore.  She was nominated for the Best Microfiction Anthology 2020 and Best Small Fictions Anthology 2020. She has previously been published in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Umbrella Factory, The Airgonaut, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Cease, Cows, Literary Orphans, Rogue Agent, Flash Fiction Magazine, Monkeybicycle, and others.  Her work is forthcoming in the Eastern Iowa Review, fresh.ink, Moonpark Review, Sea Foam Mag, and Club Plum.  She is currently working on her first novel.  You can find her at https://juliagerhardtwriter.wordpress.com/

Elusive Shadows by Steve Castro and Daniel Romo

My shadow left me on occasion. At times, he did so to visit his favorite haunting grounds. He once left me to cohabitate with a creature of the night. Why are you always sneaking off? I wondered. I posted an advertisement in the local paper for a new shadow last week. Sadly, my old shadow, the only shadow I ever knew, died of a heroin overdose two weeks ago. Last week, I bought a Pet Rock from Costco. I named her BetterThanAnyShadowCast, a constant (night or day) not dependent on the sun. There’s loyalty placed in an object not needing to copy your every move, an independence embedded in simply sinking to the bottom of a pond. Thursday night, I think I swore I saw my shadow with another man, a burly lumberjack the color and scent of Montana. Friday morning, I ran my hand back and forth across my new pet and remembered how demons and death stalk us all. I’m getting used to the chill across my neck that I believe wants to be adopted. Sunday morning, and still no one has replied to my ad.

 

Steve Castro’s debut poetry collection, Blue Whale Phenomena, was published by Otis Books, 2019 (Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California). His poetry has been published in Plume; Green Mountains Review; DIAGRAM; Forklift, Ohio; Water~Stone Review; etc. Two prose poems he co-wrote with Daniel Romo are forthcoming in Hotel Amerika. Birthplace: Costa Rica.

Daniel Romo is the author of Apologies in Reverse (FutureCycle Press, 2019), When Kerosene’s Involved (Mojave River Press, 2014), and Romancing Gravity (Silver Birch Press, 2013). He lives, bench presses, and rides his folding bike in Long Beach, CA. More at danielromo@wordpress.com.

Underwater by Bojana Stojcic

When did I last eat? I know I masturbated. I don’t recall eating, though. I threw up. I remember that. But I didn’t eat. No, no, I didn’t eat. I think I went to bed yesterday morning. It’s getting dark. I got up once to pee. Then I felt sick. The winter sky swallows the colors of the visible spectrum fast, and reflects none to my itchy eyes. I don’t need the light to see. I refuse to accept black is not a color.

I used to think of myself as a black-maned horse running wild or a rabbit with large hind legs running away. They can survive on land. I am a whale, raising her young, living and dying at sea.

I force myself to open my eyelids heavy with day and night dreaming of the oceans in his eyes (how deep is their deepest part, I wonder) and his strong back against the levee before it breaks, leaving a big opening for my salty waters to flood his badly protected shore. We take turns opening and closing our mouths until pregnant colorlessness passes us down its throat and we start breathing air through a hole at the top of our heads.

 

Bojana Stojcic writes and bites, like a lot, so try not to piss her off. Her poems and flash pieces are published or forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Anti-Heroin Chic, Barren Magazine, The Opiate, Burning House Press, Down in the Dirt, Mojave Heart Review, Dodging the Rain, The Blue Nib, Foxglove Journal, Spillwords, The Stray Branch, Tuck magazine, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Nightingale & Sparrow and Visual Verse. She blogs at Coffee and Confessions to go.

THE PHYSICISTS ARE LYING ABOUT DARK MATTER! by Pablo Piñero Stillmann

Would Mr. Golding have let it fly if you gave a wrong answer with the excuse that there is so much we still don’t know? I’ve heard them, the physicists. I follow them around. “One poet,” said an associate chairperson, “took me to lunch to ask about the shape of speed.” Chest-ripping laughter. Rip-roaring laughter. They do nothing, these physicists. Should someone express doubt they send a PhD allegedly incapable of eye contact to talk their ear off about the decoherence of black hole superpositions, which is just something they made up. Why do you think all their conferences are held in bowling alleys? Out of the moth-munched sweaters, into those silly shoes. Though some just focus on the cheesy fries & plastic pitchers of Miller Lite. Then a professor emeritus fires a strike—which they don’t call a strike but an exogenesis—& does a celebratory shimmy. When they finally tire or run out of Miller Lite, the physicists hide their gear in leather satchels, puff up their eyebrows & randomly choose a victim to make something up re: the behavior of a new particle at the level of five sigma.

 

Pablo Piñero Stillmann has just ended a year as a fellow at Mexico’s National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA). His work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, The Normal School, Washington Square Review, and other journals.

The Oxford Dodo by C. Line Beston

Used to be more than a shrunken head. The scientific specimen to crowd and measure and wonder. Bird-brain: empty skull extinct-ed by its own stupidity. Bird-brain dreams of waddling on velvet sand in a tourist’s snow globe souvenir. Wings, but can’t fly. Gorge on fallen rotten fruit.

Bird-brain has a nightmare: Tourists came on wood-ship cruises, scurvy included, no additional cost. The birds low-hanging fruit. Run but can’t hide. They took its body over the sea and stuffed it, cooked the plum-flesh in formaldehyde. And year by year muscles fall away: fruit left in the sun, on the beach. Flies drift in.

Daylight, daydream. Blue gloves take Bird-brain out, We keep it humidity-controlled here in the lab. Bird-brain imagines opening its beak, taking a small chunk of finger to taste it burst like a berry. We suspect that the bird was going extinct on its own; several travelogues support this theory.

Bird-brain hopes and dreams one beautiful, singular egg – almost soft-boiled from the sun, baking a new bird. If the academics peel back the leather fruit-skin flesh, crack the skull with the back of a spoon, a fledgling will emerge.

 

C. Line Beston grew up on the edge of the woods in northern Delaware and currently works and writes in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has previously appeared in Smokelong Quarterly.

A Buzzfeed Quiz Tells Me What Kind of Egg I Would Be Based On My Gender Identity by Hallie Nowak

This is the story of an egg being broken. The story of an egg being beaten, the orange aftermath of loss, of shame, the bitter eggshell crack, the small white sarcophagus. This is the story of the dirty fingernails stripping the hardboiled layers of flesh, digging deep for the center, the narrative of the un-voiced, pale-yellow core somehow begging to be ensnared between dull, filed down molars, sliced by incisors. Or maybe, this is the egg’s journey down the esophagus, untouched, swallowed whole, a sexless vessel for potential, down the throat of something human or maybe not, even. Do you think about all the dead things that have entered a warm body? The ghosts that nourish us? I lie in bed in the morning and worry about the eggs I’ve eaten, the pain that steams from my pointer finger when I place it in a sharp mouth. I wake up asking for it at least three times a week. I’ll leave it up for your interpretation. When I was an infant, I was dropped headfirst onto concrete. Miles of saran wrap connecting the sycamores. Women turning up naked in the Maumee River, their bodies bruised like a supermarket peach. This is the story. Women crawling through the produce aisle. I fall asleep in the most expensive cuts of red meat. This is the closest I’ll ever be to affording it, and there are at least fifty ways to cook an egg.

 

Hallie Nowak is a poet and artist writing and residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is the author of Girlblooded, a poetry chapbook (The Dandelion Review, 2018). Her work can also be read in Noble/Gas Qrtrly where her poem, “A Dissected Body Speaks,” was awarded runner-up for the Birdwhistle Prize in 2018.

How to Love a Monster with Average-Sized Hands by Jules Archer

If I could marry a myth it would be monstrous, but not monstrous like frightening. Monstrous as in a monstrous love where I’d be prouder than a Phoenix in plumage, and hotter than a poker. I’d swing on Cthulhu’s feelers. Take a water-slide ride down the tail of Godzilla. I’d let a Wendigo eat my heart and put a ring on it and drive me out to our small town’s overlook where he’d insist I’d wear protection and let me finish the rest of my wine. Loch Ness monster, more like Loch Bless monster, because every night you come to me in bed is another day I fall in love. Instead of calling the cops, my father would shake hands with Cyclops, and call him the son he never had, because if your face were a little more lion and a little less wolf we’d have a magically monstrous love on our hands, but instead I am stuck with you, you, and you are no creepy cryptid but a mere under-the-bed boogeyman that sends me screaming only that’s what I get for having married a monster with average-sized hands and not looking out the front door before answering it.

 

Jules Archer writes flash fiction in Arizona. A Pushcart-nominated writer, her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, >kill author, Pank, The Butter, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. She likes to smell old books, drink red wine, and read true crime tales. Her chapbook ALL THE GHOSTS WE’VE ALWAYS HAD is out from Thirty West Publishing.

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.

whole foods rotisserie chicken by Chelsea Balzer

in the car in the parking lot of the brighton whole foods I dig my unpurelled hands into the flesh of a roast chicken. the legs are tied together. I lift the thing to my face and press its burnt skin into my teeth. I am not starving. I ate four hours ago. people walk by and look away. they are nosy but not brave enough to say so. their faces do the denial dance. they are muffled under dusty shields. nothing wild can reach them and this makes them old.

I’m wearing a new watch. we say that this way we can keep time. years ago I was vegan. being loud is not always a sign of courage. I remember those friends and wonder if any have bled onto rocks since I left. I have. I don’t think it’s silly to choose that life. we are all responsible for taking stock of our harm. but what use is pacifism when loving someone well can wreak havoc on their whole life? how can we choose which things are good when showing someone their magic strips years of safety away? and isn’t this good?

we cannot not hurt. even the mercy of the world is a danger to someone. brutal is a framework. a moral made way by resistance. the worst wrong we enact is not really the pain or even the killing but the taunt that gets lodged in the body. the threat we don’t know we lived through. we lose track of the pain then the pleasure and at some point each other. if we still dance we need to know why. we hunt when we’re not even hungry. we start to believe we have time.

 

Chelsea Balzer is a writer, musician, and therapist. A current fellow with the American Psychological Association, she can be found offering therapy at YOGA NOW in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, performing as one-half of synthpop duo Vital Organs, and leading The Big Feels Lab: a series of workshops on mental health and liberation. Her debut chapbook Fruit Diaries is forthcoming.