affection/affliction – andrea dreiling

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She sat on the torn sofa and finally glued the last bone in place.  She would write on the black, cardstock backing with white gel pen when she labeled the different bones.  Just like in 5th grade, when her whole class received owl pellets, each containing a single mouse-skeleton to reassemble.  After everything she had been through over the last year, it felt good to pin down what was left of it and label it in clear, scientific terms.  Who knew, maybe as time passed, she would grow fond of the display.  Maybe she would hang it on her wall and imagine flesh for it.  She had a memory attached to each bone, a story to write for them…

 

Innominate

 

In a split second they become so obvious, the two things that I realize.  The first is that I’m pregnant, the second is that I don’t know how it happened.  I hook up with the same couple of people sporadically and I hadn’t been with anyone for a long time.  Through the bathroom window the sky bares its teeth at me. Loneliness calcifies.  I could tell someone else but I’m not sure I can pretend to be happy about it, or if I even have to.  I remind myself that my body is well equipped to handle this.  I thank my wide hips.  What if I never love it?  What if it’s not even mine?  When you try to find answers where there are none, the nature of the task drives you mad.  You know you will lose even before you know that you will never stop trying.  I become a caged animal.  I try to escape because I knew I can’t.     

 

 

Sternum 

 

I grew up Catholic and left the church without regret.  I imagine the people I knew as a teenager and what they would say if they knew me now.  I imagine the way they would touch the rose gold crosses hanging around their necks, as if to remind themselves that they are not like me. I would ask them, Couldn’t there be a second Mary Magdalene to usher in the second coming?  I would ask them, Do you think you can have an immaculate conception even if you’re not a virgin? Why not? Besides, those celibate preachers had us touching the lean skin between our breasts while we murmured the son during every mass.  What could they teach about a woman’s body?

 

Mandible

 

All food has become tinny and dry.  I struggle to take care of myself, I couldn’t feel less maternal.  I call my friend Atticus, the King of Last Night.  We get drunk together.  It is horrible and necessary.  I play the pinball machine at the back of the bar where my face becomes a distortion rolling on the surface of the silver marble.  I remember how my mother ate so much liver when Oli, my baby sister, was born.  So much liver, I can feel its grain between my teeth now.  I clench them to crush the sensation away and wake up in one of my nightmares.  The one where my teeth are crumbling with such violence that they are choking me, making it impossible to tell my mom, who’s on the phone, that my teeth are crumbling.  My teeth are crumbling, and it’s all blood and bone falling into the bathroom sink.  One of the fragments becomes lodged in the bar of soap.

 

 

Metacarpals

 

In my inertia I stay in my tiny apartment, forgetting that my future child will take up space.  If I could, I would scratch a new home for myself in the face of the Earth.  I would wear my fingers down, leaving all ten fingernails inside the tunnels I create, burrowing.  The overripe drip of the summer sun will go on without me.  The flowers, rooting far above my reach.  When the bathroom door is open, I can see every corner of my apartment from the couch in the living room.  In the winter, when the window’s always shut, the dust moves in accordance with my breath, my movements; I like it that way.  If I ever left, I would crawl to the center of the Earth, as far away from heaven as I could be.

 

Sacrum

 

The lonely pregnancy is an anchor dragging me to the bottom of the ocean.  In the silence every word is amplified, every interaction a raggedly inhaled breath.  I visit Anne, a friend from college.  She will have kids someday soon, it is written in her five-year plan.   I sit on her couch gingerly, worried that the leaden weight of my body could break it; like I could crash, tailbone first, into her cellar.  If I relax for even a second, I could come undone.

 

Metatarsals

 

When men stub their toes they howl like baby wolves.  They revert to childhood somehow, or pull their yelps from some layer of their ego that exists without expectations.  They forget that they have to be tough.  It makes me feel closer to them when I witness it.   I also have toes that are often stubbed, and I don’t howl, but I pinch up my face, and sit on the floor and take a moment to revel in self-pity.  If someone is in the room with me, I expect them to ask if I’m ok, even though we both know that a stubbed toe is both ok and not ok at the same time.  At any rate, there is no cure for a stubbed toe. But there is a remedy, which is to momentarily lose yourself in the pain, to howl, or pinch up your face, to sit on the ground and be asked if you’re ok. I stub my toe on Anne’s coffee table when I stand up from her couch, preparing to leave.  She does not ask if I’m ok this time, she is too worried about the other parts of me.  A toe is just a toe.

 

Vertebrae

 

I try to go to a yoga class for the first time in my life, a special one, just for pregnant women.  Compared to the other expecting mothers, I am made of ash.  I do not glow.  I follow along during meditation, trying to roll a ball of light up and down my spine.  It should float gently, a paper boat on a placid lake, but it does not work this way.  Instead, I feel my ball of light swirling violently down towards my abdomen.  My bulbous belly wants to capture the light and snuff it out.  The last of my hope drains through an umbilical cord, I leave the class quickly, before anyone can ask me when I’m due.

 

Ribs

 

Starla lives in a world populated by possibilities.  I don’t know where I met her, I pulled her from the twilight.  I’m endlessly thankful for her company.  Starla’s the only one I can stand to be around as I head into the seventh month of my pregnancy.  We smoke herbal cigarettes and contemplate the possibility that I am carrying a baby pterodactyl.  At times I could believe it, because whatever is in my womb seems intent on pressing against my ribcage, winging its way up into my chest cavity as though my belly is not enough for it.  I suspect that what I have to give will never be enough for it.

 

Skull

 

The contractions come on all at once, as though someone is wringing my guts out like a sponge.  Something is wrong and I know it right away. I call no one but a taxi.  At intake I give all the wrong answers. They just started? And they’re how close together?  It’s like the nurses want me to make sense of it for them.  Finally, I’m taken to a hospital room with horrible yellow wallpaper- the color hurts my eyes.  I feel everything, including something beating against my pelvic wall.  The small fists turn to claws and it is pulling apart my flesh- burrowing its way out.  My screams are disembodied and go unanswered by the nurses.  My distended belly button opens-a new eye.  Finally, some doctors rush in, but they freeze when I rip back my sheet and show them the hole in my stomach that is opening up.  Inside I’m just black, no blood.  Whatever is pushing out of me is doing so without the benefit any natural lubrication.  It’s dryness scrapes through every inch of my insides and I pass out- missing my pillow and banging the back of my head against the wall.

 

Humerus

 

I’m dragged from my sleep by a blood pressure cuff squeezing my upper arm.  The nurse that is taking my vitals will not acknowledge my consciousness.  Hey… I begin but she cuts me off, The doctor will be with you shortly.  An IV drip runs into my other arm, just above the elbow, I bend my arm to feel the catheter burrowed into my vein.  I realize now, that I should be cradling a baby, and for the first time I really want it.  I want to look into its filmy eyes and rest it’s clenched up fist against my chest.  Hey, I want to see my… The nurse whisks out of the room before I can finish my sentence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scapula

 

I arrive at my apartment with the bundle of dead matter that the doctor forced into my arms.  No one had an explanation to offer, the only thing they would tell me was that my health was stable, that I could go home.  I toss the prescription for Valium that the doctor gave me into the trash. The fear and anger and confusion is a rubber band stretched to breaking point between my shoulder blades. I can’t breathe or sit. I try to take a hot bath but I sink to the bottom like a petrified piece of wood. I finally unravel the blankets to look at the dusty heap inside: a ball of yarn made from human refuse, hair, teeth, nails and bones.  I sink my fingers into the repulsive mass and begin separating the bones from the hair.

 

Wishbone

 

As I complete the gruesome task, I find myself hoping that there is a wishbone amongst all the tiny bones and filaments.  I know that most creatures don’t have wishbones. It doesn’t matter now if the wishbone would have caused a deformity.  The child didn’t have a life to live, deformed or not.  If I found a wishbone, I would set it aside- the only bone that I would not glue onto the black, card stock backing.  I would grip both sides of the wishbone myself, so that my wish would come true no matter which way it broke.  I would wish for a baby, a soft, living one filled with the novelty of breathing. I would close my eyes and pull.

Appendix:

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Andrea Dreiling is a writer and artist from Denver, CO.  She has been featured in literary magazines like Teeth Dreams, Birdy and Stain’d.  Follow her shenanigans on Instagram @dread._ofbunnycauldron. 

the washing machine sang – jane-rebecca cannarella

dollhouse

All of the appliances in Jen’s apartment sang. In her grown-up home with central air and functioning gadgets, she’d asked me to watch her mature cat — mature as in mellow, not aged – while she was away on a trip, like the ones actual adults take. “A mini getaway.”

It was the day after her departure. As the sun changed the sky into soapsuds of color, the washing machine glittered upon start, spin cycle, and finish. A jaunty sweet song like the plastic teeth of a Fisher Price record bleated at the end. Matt and I had been watching a TV show about magicians and were startled out of a static reverie. Matt ran a hand through his long dark hair and said the machine was probably singing the song of its father, which sounded very theatrical.

I’m going to put the songs of washing machine forefathers on a playlist, or at least put the task of making this playlist on my radar– just like how paying my loans is on my radar, and not taking every single emotion so seriously is on my radar, like how getting quarters to take my laundry to the laundromat on 43rd and Chestnut is always on my radar.

While the washing machine sang, I turned the sound up on the TV to drown out the lullaby. I ran my own hand through Matt’s dark hair.

My appliances don’t sing, but I don’t have any modern-ish appliances to begin with–not even a microwave. People always ask how I live without a microwave. I say something cavalier about using the oven, but really I just eat food that is cold or raw. I don’t care – I honestly don’t care – until sometimes I do, like when I’m staying at Jen’s and everything is merry and melodious. Even her microwave twinkled music as I made ready-to-eat chocolate mousse from a power packet I found in her cupboards along with her leftover milk – not even past its expiration date. I marveled at the microwave’s friendliness. My envy is not contained in small ways, it is the flow of the chocolate-y pudding under a silver skin that forms on top after staying out too long.

Throughout my stay, I drank all of the vodka in the freezer. The refrigerator beeped because I kept the door open too long, pouring from the bottle into my mouth, glugging like a fish. In the freezer, there was an ice cube tray she’d bought that didn’t just come with the place. I have never thought to do that. Buy an ice cube tray. Hers was rubber and blue, and the ice popped out easily, and I envied that too.

***

A day earlier, before she left, Jen had bought us cheesesteaks and cheese fries and we’d drank too much. Jen put away the leftovers but chucked the fries because “fries aren’t good reheated.” The next day, with her gone, I lay in her bed in my underwear watching reality TV on my phone. I ate the cheese fries with my snail fingers, having fished them out of the garbage. Matt said he couldn’t show up until later, so I waited. Sometimes I called, “pss-pss-pss” for her cat to come out and join me, but he never did. He never even made a sound.

The only things that make noise in Jen’s home are the robots.

***

Then later, Matt came over, and there was the music of the appliances. And we had pizza, and new fries, and magicians on TV, and really bad sex. We tried our best, but he wasn’t hard, but we attempted to do it anyway with limited success. And when it was all over, I apologized, and he left, and I took out the load of laundry from earlier and replaced it with the soiled sheets. I cleaned the apartment. The washing machine happily launched into a song to announce that the sheets were clean. I thought about Matt’s joke from earlier, about the washing machine’s father’s song and it made me angry. Where do we learn how to commit to pain? It’s pointless to kick a washing machine because it doesn’t get your hurt – it’s too busy making music to feel anything.

***

I wondered who has loved just like this before in Jen’s grownup space. With computers as companions and even a faucet that chimes – are all trysts here mechanical? Or do hers turn out better than mine? Does love look better when you’re an adult who has their shit together?

I pulled the sheets out: a blue piped one, a bird patterned one, the white pillow cases where, earlier, I’d found a long strand of Matt’s dark hair and felt like even that feathering touch made the entire pillow unclean. I assume Jen’s love is more meaningful, made under the watchful eyes of tender electronics. The bodies she invites into her home power down to melodies of automata, consecrated with the sweat of responsibility.

Then, since there was no machine for folding laundry, I became the robot. And since I was the robot, I felt like I should sing. I hummed while collapsing the bedding into pleats, while fitting fresh blue sheets onto the mattress. Jen would be home in a day and then I’d be back in my non-harmonious, appliance-less shithole of an apartment.

I never could find her fucking cat anywhere.

 

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Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is the editor of HOOT Review and  Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit.  She was a genre editor at Lunch Ticket, as well as a contributing writer at SSG music. In her spare time, she is a candy enthusiast and cat fan. 
She received her BA and M.Ed from Arcadia University, her MFA from Antioch University, and attended Goldsmiths: the University of London and Sarah Lawrence College. When not poorly playing the piano, she chronicles the many ways that she embarrasses herself at the website www.youlifeisnotsogreat.com. Her chapbook of flash/prose-poems, Tiny Thoughts for Tiny Feelings, was published by BA Press, 2002 in 2011 – which she concedes is confusing. 

museum of lost things – howie good

lost things

Now and then a person in his or her fifties or even sixties walks into my little shop. The men in particular try to maintain a dignified demeanor, but the more they stare at the price list, the more obvious the desperate nature of their situations becomes. I operate a business that rents neckties and briefcases to job interviewees. Most of the customers are recent grads who never needed a briefcase or tie before. I may seem to care about how they’ll do in their interviews. I don’t. Why should I? They frequently return briefcases with the snap locks broken or with strange items left inside. Ant traps. Lace-trimmed panties. A blurry photocopy of an 11-page suicide note. And yet I can’t always bring myself to just throw the stuff away. In fact, I crowd more items onto the storeroom shelves every week. A chrome lighter engraved with the initials KKK. One child-size red mitten. The takeout menu from the Bowl O’ Rice Restaurant. It’s like I’m the curator of a museum of lost things. Minibar bottles. A losing scratch-off ticket. The musty remnants of a hundred surefire plans.

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Howie Good’s latest collections are I’m Not a Robot from Tolsun Books and A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel from Analog Submissions Press. 

Photo: Heather Zabriskie

the poet who keeps a stripper pole in her bedroom – michael brockley

to the girl
I am drawn to your poems about women in barfly Nirvana. Your fascination with rattlesnake tattoos on the arms of PCP-stoked men. And your lifelong feud against nuns: Sister Eleanor of the Lash, in particular. I stand in awe of your courage when you challenge her Inquisition zeal. Barbed wire encircles your ankles. A primitive rose winks above your right breast. I have your initials branded on my wrist. When you blow your harp, the blues man Deaf Persimmon Fillmore rasps back. You installed a stripper pole in your bedroom for your lovers. Added a Hohner tat under the Chinese character for paradise across your back. And studied with the masters. In The Lives of the Diva Poets, I read you never wear jewelry anymore. Or perfume. Just biker jackets over tank tops and ripped designer jeans. When Sister Eleanor reappears on Mulholland Drive armed with her ruler and the vengeful God of Revelations, you taunt her into a duel. Her tuning pipe against your Fuego Azul. She doesn’t stand a chance. I met you in your Lucky Strike year over a bacon-and-eggs breakfast in a town renowned for labyrinths. You autographed a book with “last call” on the cover. When you play the harmonica during poetry tours, frat boys sit in the front row. You advise them to deep ink Betty Boop on their biceps. They want to hear you say fuck. I want to hear you recite the poem that tells what women want.

moon

Michael Brockley is a pseudo-retired school psychologist who still works in rural northeast Indiana schools. His poems have appeared in Clementine Unbound, Third Wednesday and 3Elements Review. Poems are forthcoming in The Blue Nib Magazine. In regards to social media, Brockley can be found on Facebook.

Photo: Naomi August

remembering to dream – linda m. crate

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standing on the edge of love, i looked in but was always forced out; a false god stood in the temple of my family keeping me away from all those who loved me—i could not break his lies nor could he swallow my truths, and so we stood he and i; two different shades of fire unable to communicate—he misunderstood me, claimed i misunderstood him; people have always whispered that he is good but they didn’t have to kill his ghosts—they didn’t know how my feet trembled in fear of breaking egg shells or how hard it was for me to reclaim all that was lost, didn’t know what it was to be versed in silence so they could know the hymns of peace when they really wanted to war against monsters; they do not know the definition of good—but maybe that’s the point, no one really knows what they are saying, no one really knows; everyone thinks but no one knows until they see the monster how monsterous a monster can be—but i know, and i’ve seen, his fangs; he cannot feign innocence to me—sometimes monsters take the shape of people we love, and sometimes that means we have to kill nightmares so we can remember how to dream.

sbgs cowskull

Linda M. Crate’s poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has five published chapbooks A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn (Fowlpox Press – June 2013), Less Than A Man (The Camel Saloon – January 2014), If Tomorrow Never Comes (Scars Publications, August 2016), My Wings Were Made to Fly (Flutter Press, September 2017), and splintered with terror (Scars Publications, January 2018), and one micro-chapbook Heaven Instead (Origami Poems Project, May 2018). She is also the author of the novel Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018). TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK

Photo: Steve Shultz

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four hybrids – howie good

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Miss Plum in the Bedroom with the Candlestick

Crime was common back then, and the law itself often criminal. Nobody was safe from the thugs prowling the city. It took a constant and wearying vigilance to survive. If I happened to fall asleep, I’d wake up afraid. I think I was afraid she wouldn’t be there, peering out through a crack in the curtains. Why you here? I asked the first time she appeared. She just gave a fuzzy, fragile smile. The ambiguity was intentional. When you leave details out, it opens up possibilities for what can be – an ancient tree whose entwined branches support 34 brilliant candles.

Shredded

Private lives are now lived in public. That’s the problem with putting Velveeta on enchiladas. It’s only a matter of time before the celebrity chefs start to show up. I pedal away as if I have to actually get somewhere. Everyone I owe an explanation tries following me – sons, daughters, parents, co-workers, etc. We’re a wandering soap opera. “You can’t paint them trees,” protesters yell from the sidewalk. I just want some semblance of normality back in my life, some sort of quiet, and my heart to stop agonizing like a flock of gulls being sucked into a jet engine.

Shadowlands

When you look back over your shoulder, you see yourself looking quizzically back at you. You always assumed that you’d been given up for adoption. Now, more than 35 years later, you know. It’s night, and everything is also nothing, the dark howls and whimpers of women in search of their shadows.

The Later Years

Given a choice, I would want to be the sort of shrewd, goatish old man it’s said Rodin was, strolling about the boulevards and back alleys of Paris, while the work in marble went on nevertheless in his head and a young Russian-born French lady leaned lightly on his arm, and if her eyes were a little too wide apart, or if she didn’t actually read any of the books he recommended, he wouldn’t care, because it had just turned spring, and the air was like a mix of wine and brandy, and they were always at least somewhat drunk.

sbgs cowskull

Howie Good, Ph.D., a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of The Loser’s Guide to Street Fighting, winner of the 2017 Lorien Prize from Thoughtcrime Press, and Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements, winner of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry, among other books. He co-edits the literary journals UnLost and Unbroken with Dale Wisely.

Photo: @sweetdangerzack

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