Christmas Plainsong, or Several Near Apologies to My Son by David Wright

Not for the morning when my foot slipped a stair and you, infant boy, and I were in the air only long enough for me to crook your sweet skull in my elbow. We came down, together, on the hardwood. The tiny fissures in your head healed, they said. Not mine.

Not for the year in Disney when you and your mother could not breathe, though in the photos we look pleased, enough, catching sharp breaths together.

Not for the night-slide on glare ice when, somehow, we found ourselves facing forward and drove home. And not that other night when, below zero, we turned around and stayed inside all weekend with people we barely knew. Eventually, you went outside. I heard you singing in the shoulder-deep snow.

For this sweater, yes, I am sorry. Also, for the hawk I hit with my car and how you thought I’d killed an angel. I have never killed one, as I would be sore afraid.

But, no, I am not sorry for the year we made a tree of green construction paper and taped it to the sliding glass doors. My landlord was sorry, but forgive him. He was a small green grinch even a god could love.

And never for last year when our friend prowled us through the hushed streets of this little half-brick town and the college women threw you down a hill on a garbage bag sled and you broke no arms for a change and then did it again and I lied and said you had asked for a grown woman for Christmas. I was wrong. Also, I love you.

What I am, son, is oddly sorry for the hymns, Veni, Veni, and Stille Nacht and The Bleak Midwinter. How many I have made you listen to each year, even in your sleep, and how I make you sing along until candle wax burns your knuckles. It is not the singed skin I regret.

I am instead sorry for the branch, the rose blooming, the rod of Jesse, how deep they root and gnarl themselves through a boy’s chest, rise up in his throat even when he is a middle-aged man. Go ahead. Try and forget them when they also live in your mouth. Ask your sister, too, about this plain song she cannot lose.

And the story, the one about an infant god in the dark and the straw, how he keeps returning like a star. This will come to you when you righteously ball your fist and feel in your palm a thorn.

Listen, or don’t. Sing along or stay quiet. But once you have been in a room of voices like this, the lush hush right before the Pacem, the last Noel, the final Alleluia which has to be sung, you will find those little cracks at the base of your brain still contain a song much truer than you, or I, or anyone we know can sing alone.

 

David Wright’s poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in 32 Poems, Image, Poetry East, and Another Chicago Magazine, among others. His most recent poetry collection is Local Talent (Purple Flag/Virtual Artists Collective, 2019). He can be found on Twitter @sweatervestboy.

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.

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.

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.