On the night my uncle dies i sing a little song by Alyssandra Tobin

I dance a little dance. I let the Jersey Devil talk me down. I listen for the sound of that big voice in my head and find it loud. I pray before the altar of see you laters. I scoop poison out of our rivers. I plant trees in our cities. I think it is no small thing to die and yet it’s also the most ordinary. And what of it. I click my heels and I’m in a smaller world again. One where fewer people who loved me as a child are still here to love me as a bigger child. It’s the vanishing I can’t stand. The sudden jolt of empty stair. The switchback to nowhere. All of it’s got to mean something. What if I told you I had an uncle once named Harry Tacelli? You don’t care. And why should you. I care tho. I’m gonna care until they finally get me. You know, the ones who get everybody, in the end.

 

Alyssandra Tobin is the author of PUT EYES ON ME NOT LIKE A CURSE published by Quarterly West in 2022. Her poetry can be found in Poetry Northwest, Bennington Review, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere.

Working for an Oil Company Conglomerate Will Get You Perks Like This by Cheryl Pappas

On a world-class submarine headed to what was left of the Azores, I had just taken one delirious sip of a 1929 Beychevelle Bordeaux when a drop of water plopped on my left shoulder; I watched the crisp cream linen of my shirt morph to gray and looked up: a leak.

The ceiling was 30 feet high, impossible to spot the source. I glanced at the others, drinking their wine and sloe gin fizz. No one had noticed. Alice twirled her shiny black hair while chatting with Rich from finance, her eyes droopy with dopamine. I knew she was sleeping with him now. Days later, Rich’s silken black tie would wash up on a distant shore, but in that moment his teeth held a lively shine, like they were plastic, which in truth they might have been. Another plop. The fairy lights on the upper balconies twinkled like Christmas; violins swooned their way into sleepy hearts; red, white, and blue streamers snowed down from the sub ceiling; children flush with sugar ran up and down metallic stairs. The girls’ dresses fluttered amid giggles and stomping, amid Mozart and a wine glass shattering on the marble floor. It was all very Titanic. I was the only one with the knowledge of what was to come. My vision blurred. I was drunk. I looked long at Alice’s parched lips remembering how soft, how deliriously soft they were when I kissed them under a cherry tree in the dark as I felt two more drops on my shoulder, then three. All the while, as some would find out later, two great whites were a mile away, their noses pointed toward the source of a steady, mellifluous hum.

 

Cheryl Pappas is an American writer living outside Boston. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Juked, The Chattahoochee Review, HAD, and elsewhere. She is the author of a flash fiction collection, The Clarity of Hunger, published by word west press (2021).

Any Other Person by Arielle McManus

sometimes I like to go on real estate sites & look at apartments for sale in cities other than my own & imagine the kind of person I’d be if I lived there like if I lived in Stockholm I’d have a red bicycle with a silver bell & short hair bleached white-blonde & I’d have a terrace to grow berry bushes & Queen Anne’s lace on & I’d either only smile or frown I haven’t decided which yet & if I lived in Berlin I’d have a neck tattoo & would sleep under a skylight always at the mercy of the weather always at the mercy of something bigger than myself & I wouldn’t think twice about the number of calories in a pint of beer but I’d still be so thin & god you’d be so jealous & if I lived in Paris I’d smoke Gauloises on an ivy-covered balcony & I’d look like some tragic heroine in a novel rated 3.7 stars by people on the internet who don’t know the difference between a prose poem & a lyric essay & I’d have a study full of philosophical books in languages I don’t speak & never will & I’d wear glasses even though I have 20/20 vision & if I lived in Porto I’d drink black coffee standing up in my kitchen tiled with the white & azure azulejos that I stole from the Porto São Bento railway station in the cover of night just me & a chisel & a masonic hammer under the star-needled sky I think I could hear the ocean if I stopped the clash of metal to ceramic long enough to really listen only I’m never quiet enough to hear the waves heed the warnings just skating by on whispered promises & maybe tomorrows mustering up just enough strength to see myself through each acrid dawn

 

Arielle McManus is a dual Swedish-American citizen, learning as she goes and writing from a tiny, sunlit room in Brooklyn. She is an assistant editor at Atlas & Alice, and her writing has been published by a variety of literary publications including Passages North, Entropy Magazine, and Cabinet of Heed, among others.

Puffy Little Pink Heart by Hannah Grieco

It’s not you, it’s me. It’s not that I don’t feel this, it’s that how I feel doesn’t matter. It’s not that I don’t like you, didn’t want this to happen, didn’t plan to get that drunk and sit in your lap and, okay, maul you in a Burger King booth in front of that family with their four small children. It’s that I really am too old to do those things and also I have two small children of my own and a husband and I can still taste the fry oil in the back of my throat and it, and you, are giving me heartburn. It’s not that me sleeping with you was symbolic of who I used to be and the way I used to act, it’s that I’ve been trying desperately to not turn into something symbolic, something comfortable, something that fits easily on a key chain, something that everyone recognizes when they see it, something sticker-like and shiny, but not too shiny, like maybe a puffy little pink heart sticker on the back of a Mother’s Day card. It’s not that me sleeping next to you wouldn’t remind me of uncomfortable, brave, unrecognizable experiences and feelings, it’s that I don’t get to do uncomfortable, brave, unrecognizable things anymore. It’s not that you aren’t pretty, because you’re so pretty, so pretty I scooted next to you on that bench and asked for one of your fries, the only vegan thing on the menu, which was why we went there in the first place, and I’d been making fun of you all night for being vegan, but actually I find it so appealing, so beautiful that someone cares that much about anything anymore. It’s not that I wouldn’t cast this all away in a minute, because I would cast this all away in a minute, in a second, so fast my entire life would be an intertwined blur of the past rapidly decomposing and you and me driving down the highway in my runaway minivan, Indigo Girls and Dar Williams and KD Lang on your shitty old iPod shuffle, your hand on the back of my neck, my hand on your knee, above your knee, the part of your knee that tickles if I squeeze even a little. My hand on your knee and my heart in my throat.

 

Hannah Grieco is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C. You can find her online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter @writesloud.

Meeting Octavio Paz on the Planet Jupiter by Jose Hernandez Diaz

I met Octavio Paz on the planet Jupiter last fall. He said he’d been living there since his death. Myself, I was on vacation with my family. When I first saw Paz, I paused and asked myself, “Should I go up to him, he’s won the Nobel Prize?” I did. I introduced myself as a comic book writer and illustrator and that it was a pleasure to meet him. We shook hands. I didn’t want to talk about writing with him, so I asked his favorite soccer team. “Pumas,” he said. Later, he asked me what was the name of my most famous comic book so he could get a copy. “The Magician,” I told him. It was getting cold on Jupiter, so we called it a night after that. I never forgot his calmness, though, his class and elegance.

 

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). He has been a finalist for the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, the Colorado Poetry Prize, and the National Poetry Series. He lives in Los Angeles County where he is an educator and editor.

Cruelties by Richelle Sushil

A newspaper page. Mothwing thin. Translucent, in your grandfather’s shaking hands. The way the streetlight watches him through the window, never saying a thing.

The first tooth you ever lost. Swallowed.

Photographs laminated in yellowed scotchtape. The way the little cobweb faces smile from yesterday, ignoring you completely.

The lines under your mother’s eyes. How you drew them the same way you drew on the wallpaper at five years old, while she slept.

The first boy you ever loved – how he ran his hands over you like he was at the supermarket, trying to work out The Good Fruit.

The way anything, at any time, could so easily tear a seam in the night.

How all of life is punctuated by the pairing and unpairing of socks.

The worry that some of them are bound to get sucked up into the machinery of the washing machine.

The thought that you might be the washing machine.

 

Richelle Sushil is an Indian-Indonesian poet and literature student from Jakarta currently pursuing her MA at UCL. Her poetry has recently won the Cosmo Davenport-Hines Prize 2020, and is featured or forthcoming in Hobart, Wild Court, and Honey Literary, amongst other publications. She tweets @RichelleSushil.

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).