To Dance Like a Peacock | Chitra Gopalakrishnan

Visual Credit: Gitumoni Talukdar, Copyright of image belongs to Chitra Gopalakrishnan

Neelesh lies motionless in a dusty, dark brown ground hollow, in a sand-silt-clay combined earth bowl, his soft, spongy body muddied, bloodied. His extended metallic blue-green plumage with its sea-foam undertone, and its multitude of eyespots, is all askew, spun-out. And, a portion of his exposed, bulging, flesh fizzes with insects, the bug sounds blurring into a long, whirring noise. A white noise almost.

Beside him, that is half of him, bright, yellow, mustard flowers, with their pale green arrow-shaped leaves, and tall, slim stalks sway, even as they release little clouds of nitrate. Pungent whiffs that sting the nose, and the eyes.

Neelesh’s head, and legs are missing.

From over the hollow he lies in, and from the slits in the mustard stalks, you can still see the zigzagged portion of his savagely-cut, bulbous jugular, made light with the loss of head, and blood. As his underside. Made bereft of its support, with his understory completely gone. 

It is hard to believe at this moment that his neck, once rich with iridescent blue, swung like a snake in dalliance or in quest for food. Or just like that. Just because he felt like. Or that his even-toed gait, and agile mating dance was admired by everyone who chanced on it. 

It is the cool month of February in 2021, at our farm, in Mehrauli, on the outskirts of New Delhi. It is the time when the sun cannot decide whether to dim its light with shadow play behind clouds or shine with a light impishness so as to reflect a mere suggestion of heat. This unlike its avatar in summer where it brazenly flays the skin of the earth, and certainly of people, plants, and animals. 

It is also the time when the land is vibrant with water-air-earth scents, with whistling birds who cannot contain their joy, with scurrying squirrels and chameleons, as with buzzing insects. 

And, it is most certainly the time when our manicured greens are plump with unruly flowers, gaudy-red poppies, pink petunias, white lilies, mustard marigolds, mauve roses, yellow zinnias, and indigo shoe-flowers, all of who grow in wild abandon. 

Ironically, Neelesh, our peacock, loses his life when the earth around us, here at our farm, on the capital of the country, moves uncomplainingly to the rhythms of a diverse life, to the interplay with the world around it. When everything around is so full of promise. When everything is lush with the covenant of growing. 

For us, Neelesh’s death is a grand absurdity. 

Over the month of January, we see Neelesh, our favorite and regular peacock visitor, ail with what we believe to be some kind of pox in his left eye. He barely sees with it, yet he tries to keep this eye-slit parallel to the grass. This for a prey-eye vision in the world he feeds from. Be it berries, flower seeds or the wiggly mass of worms that squirm in the soil. Ants, millipedes, crickets, termites, centipedes, and flying locust.

Neelesh comes more often than ever that month, every day and evening, his extended plumage and all, to demand his share of grain from our bird feeder. 

“I believe he is asking to be fed rather than be allowed to seek his feed because of his condition,” my cook, Reba, asserts.

She is the one who has named this peacock Neelesh, which translates in Hindi as blue, and is the one who feeds him grain on demand, as assiduously as one would feed a brawling baby on demand. She makes small balls of mashed up rice, and leaves it lying if ever he wants “a change of taste”. And, the large cement water bowl that he drinks off is always full, “in case he is wary of bending too low, and is scared of being caught unawares by marauding monkeys or menacing cats,” she says.

By the end of January, Neelesh finds it hard to fly to and fro from his perch on the tall silver oak tree, one among the many that lines our boundary wall. So mostly during the day, he plinks and puckers around our greens, gathers himself together into a ball to rest in sunny patches, frightened by everything other than us, and in the evening, when he eventually decides to rest atop the tree, he emits cries. We believe his screeches to be hollers of alarm, conveying to us his fear of being eaten up by stealthy predators who use the night to subterfuge their intent, and his sleep to complete their kill. 

It was one of the many cats that slink around at night on the farm that got Neelesh. At least, we at the farm believe this to be so. We have our suspicions on a tom cat we have named Bagadbilla because he is wild, grumpy, and smelly.

In this month of March, we are still trying to deal with the aftershocks of our experience as we are struggling to pull peacock Neelesh’s story in. It is a fluid feeling. We still grieve for his smell, and fear of death before succumbing to its abyss. For his loss of dignity and privacy in death, that, maybe, we denied by becoming spectators to it. And, for our inability to respond effectively to his beseech for help, for our failure to save his life.

My ex-colleague from a green organisation I worked for, Shoma Arun, who rushes to comfort us, says this, to us, and to Reba in particular, “There is no world in which humanity exists apart from the natural world. It is clearer than ever that our fates are intertwined, that our world should be a circumambient one, one that sees and accommodates the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of living species. So take comfort in the fact that you have tried to cherish, and help a creature as much as you could, and as long as he lived. That you have played a role in nature’s orchestra, not that of an imperious conductor who believes he can control fates or nature’s design, but that of a contributor.”

“Why does the earth pull in a creature’s story thus? Why are we all just mud-marrowed bones in the end? Why do all our stories, human, plant or animal, end in dust-covered death?” asks an insistent, tear-stained, sixteen-year-old, Kunal, our gardener Nandlal’s son, who draws and writes verses in his spare time.

He does not understand Shoma’s words. Or believes that his question is different. I know he also asks because he has just recently lost his grandmother. His mother says to me that morning, “His tears still feel as if they come all the way from his toes.” 

None of us have answers for him. 

What we do know is that Neelesh’s brutal, abrupt death makes us confront ours. It makes us face up to the fact that death is part of our living.  It makes us confront the truth that death, and its aftermath, is frightening. And, that the idea of the oblivion at death being like nonexistence before birth is too scary to think of. To understand.

Days later, our psychologist friend, Leela Singh, brings some instinctive wisdom with her. “While we live in the present, with our brains that shield us from our eventual death with crafty ingenuity, we ingrain ourselves in biology, one that helps us live. We shut down predictions of death, believing that it happens to others, not us. It is called the escape treadmill. Yet death is a leveller. It will happen to every one of us,” she says. 

“How does one handle this eventuality, the finality of death, especially if one has no belief in the afterlife? If there is no belief in being absorbed by God or a higher power, realm or consciousness? That at this point we lose the journey’s map altogether? This even as I am a Hindu living in India?” I wish to know.

“You need to cultivate the capacity, and responsiveness to this eventuality across your lifespan. In essence, having a good death is about how you live a good life,” she says reflectively. 

Is this our answer then?

That death will come no matter what. In any way that it will. Like the rain that will fall. Like the sun that will shine. Like the wind that will blow. And that what we make of death, and how we react to contact with it will depend on us. It can be terrible, satisfying or seemingly merciful. It can be what we choose it to be. Just as we can choose what we make of our life. 

Is it up to us then to decide on how to confront death? To still the fear of dying, as rigor mortis waits to creep in, and before the pronouncement, “Pupils fixed and dilated. No heart sounds. No breath sounds. No pulse” is made?

There is no denying that despite these arguments, and answers, the mystery, and fear of death remains. 

I would say, for me, personally, though I have realized that true sorrow is the loss of life, not the state of death or the act of dying. 

More importantly, I have come to the realization that there is time to understand the afterlife. Who knows, if I do understand it, and gain faith in it, my fears of death may just fall away? The earth, land, water, and sky may turn alive with possibilities. Of our energies returning in altered forms and states.



Chitra Gopalakrishnan uses her ardor for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism.
Author profile: www.chitragopalakrishnan.com

Two Poems | Kate LaDew

Image: Jr Korpa

the worst place to store medicine is in a medicine cabinet

the worst place to store secrets is under the tongue
as they diffuse through the membranes, the capillaries,
bypassing the stomach, the intestines, the liver,
anything that could filter them, dull their potency,
tumbling directly into the bloodstream
filling up everywhere
the secrets that hurt, that bite, that claw,
are less painful than the one that could change everything,
could heal and mend and dissipate all the terrors we live alongside
the secret of loving those whom we do not tell


during WWII my german-born great-grandmother painted a WWI helmet red white and blue

stuffed it with dirt and flowers to match
hung it in her front window
next to the biggest american flag the neighborhood had ever seen
and dared anybody to doubt her
I think about her as I watch men and women
straighten their arms, stretch their hands flat
fingers that never held anything heavier than a cigarette
accusing people who live on the same street
of jobs stolen, livelihoods vanished
the country my great-grandmother held her heart up to,
dripping blood as red as anybody born on its soil,
is not the country I live in, is not, even, the country she lived in
all the things we caught by their tails, hate, injustice,
a constant confusing of equality with oppression,
only seem new to eyes socketed in white skin
a flag as big as the world can’t cover
a hate as deep as an ever-expanding universe
all the galaxies moving away from ours so quickly
no signal we fire, even at the speed of light,
will ever reach them
it’s just you and me, alone together,
and when we die, nobody will know but us


Kate LaDew is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BA in Studio Art.  She resides in Graham, NC with her cats, Charlie Chaplin and Janis Joplin.

I feared I was a werewolf | Jericho Hockett

Image: Markus Gjengaar
failed,                                     feral at best,	
stuck between               phases of moon,
my body out                of sync with time
I was                                  promised bliss
with one bite,                        but still I lie	

abed in honey               phlox, sleepless, 
joints aching                   to be shredded,
skin to burst                      as March ides	
march on to                  May’s full flower 
moon and past.                           I passed

for human,                   despite my howl,
the blood                                         curse,
even growling,                    lacking only
fur, claws, sharp            teeth. Reserved
in every form          except of judgment

for what I thought                a werewolf 
ought to be:                    a wound at best. 	
But the worst                        feature was 
my abject desire                   to preserve 	
human remains.                   Until I met

my werewolf’s ghost        carrying scent 
fresh human flesh     on spring breezes,	
in gradual degrees                 shifting my
dimensions                    under all moons,
full,                                                       dark.

Jericho Hockett‘s roots are in the farm in Kansas, and she is blooming in Topeka with Eddy and Evelynn. She earned her Ph.D. in Social Psychology at Kansas State University, but is a forever student. She is also a poet, teacher, and especially a seeker who is most whole in the green–whether in garden, field, forest, or heart. Her poems appear in Burning House Press, Snakeroot: A Midwest Resistance ‘Zine, Ichabods Speak Out: Poems in the Age of Me, Too, SageWoman, Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance, and Solidarity, and Touchstone, with more works always brewing.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sb-logo-1.png

This poem is from the Thought For Food anthology,
a poetry collection benefiting Denver Food Rescue.
You can purchase a copy of the book here.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

The Sound of One Howl Howling | Roseanna Frechette

Image: Tuva Loland
To hear the close distance,
your howl, when unable to find
one cold sliver of moon.

I opened warm window.
This frozen stuck body of me
shifting over to what it must be
in a house made of worry
and flammable things.

When survival is one hungry beast
lighting fires fast as
bear claws unleashed
in this box of a house, any house,
to find food, any food, feed
that soul hungry beast
eating sliver of moon
cooling fire on face of a moment
of hard-assed especially sweet stuff, any life.

I listen for line to connection.
Hear hot pulse of warm blood,
surprisingly bright, bursting
through like great wolf
shedding cloak of sheep's clothing
is this, yawping call I can't see, only feel
coming back like a boomerang self
to wild safety, close distance,
raw sound of one howl howling now.


Roseanna Frechette is a longtime member of Denver’s thriving bohemian underground. Spoken word performer and host as well as multi-genre writer, her work has featured at art galleries, rock stages, and festivals including Poetry Rodeo, Boulder Fringe, and  Arise as well as indie publications including Stain’d, Lummox, Semicolon, and Suspect Press. Former publisher of Rosebud Forum magazine, and one of Westword’s Colorado Creatives, Roseanna holds great passion for the power of small press and the beauty of literary originality.

This poem is from the Thought For Food anthology,
a poetry collection benefiting Denver Food Rescue.
You can purchase a copy of the book here.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

After the rain | Sarah Russell

Art: “After a Rain” by Arkhip Kuindzhi 1879
clouds still roil, dark as wraiths 
who invade my sleep.  A shaft 
of light pierces their folds, brightens 

the field where cattle graze 
as though the storm never bruised, 
as though they never bawled, eyes flashed

with lightning.  They have forgotten, lower 
their heads for grass made sweet again,
while I still feel the drench, remember
 
how thunder crippled me with dread, 
how I flattened my soul against the earth 
to escape notice by the gods.

Sarah Russell’s poetry and fiction have been published in Kentucky Review, Misfit Magazine, Rusty Truck, Third Wednesday, and many other journals and anthologies. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. She has two poetry collections published by Kelsay Books, I lost summer somewhere and Today and Other Seasons. She blogs at SarahRussellPoetry.net.

The Uncertainty of Our Futures | Caleb Ferganchick

Image: United States Geographical Survey

sweltering hour
beads of sweat lick
my sunburnt nape
paddle and soap dish in hand
off some nameless bank
I slip into the Colorado

the Grand
the Rio del Tizon 
the Maricopa 
the cool lifeforce 
of this southwest desert 
as easily as I do 
into freshly washed sheets 

naked 
embraced
sweet surrender 

(I’m still working
on surrender) 

the Colorado, he/they and I
have rinsed ourselves 
our bedrocks 
of many a lover 
many a male admirer 
like John Wesley Powell
like the first time
I skinny-dipped kissed
the first boy 
I thought I loved

I don’t find it outlandish
to suggest the Rio del Tizon
branded flaming by colonizers 
is a he/they gay 

reject the stubborn American West
its invasive cis-het
white male explorers 
naming monoliths [ego]
bodies of water [conquests]
assaulting the feminine [recreation]

if the Maricopa
is to be called she
let it be by reflection
by her own accord
as he/they is with me
on this board
cutting through this spectrum
an exercise and practice
of self-love at once 

we try and keep things caszh
this river and I
too thin to plow
too thick to drink *
if you know what I mean 

we both know
this flight of fancy is seasonal 
an afternoon delight 
a summer fling
sure to wash out 

around this bend 
I look for coupling trout
whose rippled darts 
fleeing my invasion of their coitus 
promise the end 
of my own courtship 

I have always struggled 
with commitment 
even when I cannot tell us apart 
submerged in him/them completely 
there is peace I won’t grant myself 

as surely as my head
will break the surface 
I will eddy out 
return home to routine
to khakis and button-ups 
to commutes and spreadsheets
and plastic promotions  

he/they/I/we will be 
just another commodity 
to bottle
given back empty 
at a cost
as potential 
for tourist development 
as a force that’s agreeable 
when diverted 
and funneled, reshaped
into productive 
efficient pools of labor

into anything 
that’s not wild 
and free and roaring 
to California 
to an ocean of love 
that doesn’t know the meaning 
of binaries and borders 

the nature of our familiarity 
our temporal sojourn
privy only to that 
voyeuristic heron
our downy stilt-
legged fortune 
is not about the permanence
of our gender but

the uncertainty of our futures

* commonly attributed to Mark Twain (to “the Mormons” by Edward Abbey) but unconfirmed by this author 



Caleb Ferganchick is a rural queer, slam poet activist, and author of Poetry Heels (2018). His work has been featured and published by the South Broadway Ghost Society (2020), Slam Ur Ex ((the podcast)) (2020), and the Colorado Mesa University Literary Review. He organizes the annual Slamming Bricks poetry slam competition in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Riots and coaches high school speech and debate. An aspiring professional SUP surfer, he also dreams of establishing a queer commune with a river otter rescue and falconry. He lives in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Website | Instagram | Twitter

Yesterday’s Return | Melody Wang

Image: Kenrick Mills
Languid clouds drift by in a fever dream's haze, unmoved 
by imminent trouble brewing overhead, anxiety
casting shadows on our pale, upturned faces
 
Below, cardamom pods             three lone messengers
release fragrant whispers of a bygone era
when innocence abounded, unquestioned. I awoke
 
from a foggy dream crudely imitating memory,
unwelcome specters from my past infiltrating
fortresses erected to withstand any disturbance
 
This damp unease seems to permeate my being 
at odd intervals, too often coinciding with this 
foreboding I have inadequately prepared for

Melody Wang (she/her) currently resides in sunny Southern California with her dear husband. In her free time, she dabbles in piano composition and enjoys hiking, baking, and playing with her dogs.

Editorial Notes | Emma Ginader

Image: Joanna Kosinska
It doesn’t take too much 
to forget: 

Leave the Bramble Cay Melomys 
out of the next dictionary. 

Those rats are already dead,
homes wiped out by rising tides. 
Not many know their name,

same as the Kittlitz’s Murrelet. 
No kid dreams of seeing 
the Murrelet’s mottled body blending 
into the sea spotted with sunlight. 

It’s safe to delete
them too. 

If the name’s not
in textbooks, postcards, or magazines, 
no one will know to search. 

Move the erasures 
more and more inland,
low tide dragging away
wolf spiders and honeycreepers, 
Sierra Nevada Blues and golden toads. 

Readers won’t learn
how far the damage’s gone—
just keep erasing. 

Afterall, people forgot
they once could be singular.
Victorians hid that 
under grammatical change 

so keep erasing
until nothing remains but
a white sea. 


Emma Ginader is a bisexual poet and editor from northeastern Pennsylvania. She recently graduated from Columbia University with an MFA in writing. Her poetry has appeared in The Moth Magazine, Vox Viola, december, The Rational Creature, and FU Review [Berlin]. She has work forthcoming in Mantis, Lavender Review, great weather for MEDIA, and They Call Us. Ginader previously worked as the online poetry editor for the Columbia Journal and as the social media editor & business reporter for The Daily Item newspaper in central Pennsylvania. Find her Twitter account, @EmmaGinader.

Two Poems | Cheryl Aguirre

Image: Will Turner
Vision

If a giant squid
Were to breach the waves
To observe the night sky,
Her eyes unaided
Could see past Neptune
To the dwarf, Pluto.
Not a corpse,
She is neither
Crushed, maimed, or compressed.
Her delicate skin
A shimmering silver, intact,
Flashes when she undulates. 
Her eyes, dinner plate big,
Her three hearts, beating
Slowly, restfully.
A winking silver coin, 
She drifts below,
Sauntering to the deep,
To the black water,
No different than space.


Mountain

I write you shorter.
I write you smaller
I write you fetal
I write you shivering
I write you intimidated
I write you alone
I write you into the background
I write you silent
I write you stunned
I write you fat
I write you tall
I write you muscular
I write you thin
I write you quiet
I write you stoic
I write you extroverted
I write you self-conscious
I write you at peace.

Cheryl Aguirre is a queer biracial poet based in Austin, Texas. You can find their previously published work in Ghost City Press, decomp journal, and The Whorticulturalist. You can follow them at @drowsy_orchid on Instagram and @Wheat_Mistress on Twitter. 

Not Human Hearted | Brian Rihlmann

Image: Glen Rushton
often, in the wilderness 
I recall the words—
not human hearted

a hungry mountain cat
stalks a lost child
vultures await the scraps

the horror of these
less-than-human hearts—
yet what of those?

unearthed shattered skulls and
the pages of history tell their story
even the good book drips

and before that, nothing—
a silence into which, like mothers,
we scream an Eden to life

Brian Rihlmann lives and writes in Reno, Nevada. His work has appeared in many magazines, including The Rye Whiskey Review, Fearless, Heroin Love Songs, Chiron Review and The Main Street Rag. His latest poetry collection, “Night At My Throat,” (2020) was published by Pony One Dog Press.