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.

Now March Melts | Cassie Hottenstein

A close-up of sage green grass and amber leaves glistening with frost.
Image: Herr Bohn

emerge from winter cocoon
into daffodil spring,
the cracking of bones & ice
and the slush slipping from pine—
the yawns & shhs emerge—
duckling dawn
earth cleans her scars this way:
lifting & washing under the folds,
fresh cotton flapping like a surrender
to the restarted zodiac,
to the irrational golden fleece of Aries
unshaven despite the warmth—
how the tides deliver a new salt to upper lips,
an emerging, a dusting out
of all coughs cooped by winter;
the pages aren’t clean, the pages aren’t even pages,
they’re still trees,
still grand along the yet-unbroken sky !
the pinnacle of her year
exists in cool mountain runoff
the blue dunk & minnows
along curious toes after a long creek-side stroll,
the relief of the stretch
and the new dogwood petals that ferry their way
to a better tomorrow,
to a brighter ocean shore.


Cassie Hottenstein is currently between Denver and Jacksonville, mountain and ocean. Her poetry and stories have been featured in magazines such as Boulder Weekly, the Talon Review, Every Pigeon, and the Tampa Review Online. When she’s not writing poetry, she’s probably playing Animal Crossing or doing someone’s taxes in exchange for money and tasty peanuts.

Three Poems | Michael Rerick

A brick wall with boarded up windows. On one of the boards, someone has written "KEEP GOING" with an arrow and an image of a raven perched above the words.
Image: Ricky Singh

History Storm | XI

Our east coast minister-philosopher leaves god at the railroad station in a brown satchel. Pandemic hikes are recommended, with caution, then canceled. The national state of emergency boards up restaurant, book store, strip club, theater, and bar amusement. The three sisters mountain peaks legend stands. We keep busy online, with books, at the liquor store, and in laundry rooms. Our gender flows like freshwater tumbling from moss.


History Storm | XII

The White House garden buds red and green peppers from Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) language debris. Yellow Post-its dedicate classic innovation to you. Dialectic court calls the whale out to the sacrificial field. The online devil agreement signature line is chosen. We have eaten Emily Dickenson’s grave squash flower. Death shrugs from a Hyundai.


Illuminati

Nearly a century of global economics, two world wars, a cold war, site specific global economic wars, and pandemics and there are still no masterminds, only groups of fumbling narcissists with resources.


Michael Rerick currently lives and teaches in Portland, OR. Their work recently appeared or is forthcoming at Clade Song, COAST|noCOAST, Epigraph Magazine, Graviton, Mannequin Haus, Marsh Hawk Review, and Parentheses. They are also the author of In Ways Impossible to Fold, morefrom, The Kingdom of Blizzards, The Switch Yards, and X-Ray.

To Fly Away From Iowa Springs | Carson Schulte

Image: Adam Przeniewski

I remember being seven years old and still loving Iowa spring, believing it to be all cheap gingham and wild onions sprouting. But as I grew I learned that to be a child in promised Iowa spring is to feel sentimental and uneasy. We would return to patterns marking the nurturing rhythm of time familiar: full brush piles, vinca vines blooming, cicada choruses at sundown, lilac bushes spilling over. And with these easy April lullabies came those subliminal spring hints, trailing towards adolescence, hidden in the blossoming, the ripening. Spring pushed childhood forward; we all became wiser when the monarchs returned north. When the soil thawed from months of winter frost, I would kneel in my garden, rusted trowel in hand, knees muddening while I ripped through roots, sent worms wriggling. Trying to dig a hole deep enough where I could hide from spring and remain a child forever.

One day while I was digging I spotted through the soggy loam a flash of moonwhite, smooth and still. It was a perfect stone of life, a bird’s egg whole and glowing. The egg remained cupped in my care for over a week, placed in an old shoebox under the lightbulb of a table lamp. Every day I checked on my dear April lullaby, waiting for it to hatch, and I announced to everyone the news of my beautiful egg, my baby bird-to-be. When I told my elementary school teacher, she invited me to bring my treasure to share with the class. I knew my classmates would be so envious of the springtime life I carried, and I so packed my little egg to bring to school with me the next day.

I wish I had known how fragile those little stones of life tend to be. It seemed that all the resilience of my bird-to-be was spent fully on its fall from the nest. Certainly not enough left to survive a ziploc bag inside a child’s backpack. When I went to my cubby to get my egg, I slowly unearthed a sickly yellow mess. I held my ziploc high to examine the moonwhite shards, jagged and crumbled, yolk lumping thick in between. I shoved it away and went to the bathroom to cry. To mourn. I had killed my April lullaby, my cheap gingham and wild onions sprouting.

Seasons don’t slow for a shattered bird’s egg. Iowa spring kept passing through; each year the monarchs would return north, and I would cry at their beloved homecoming because I didn’t want to get any wiser. Yet my body grew too big to fit inside any dug up garden holes. I could not stop the blossoming, the ripening; springtime would come to welcome my first training bra, my first kiss. The uneasiness of Iowa spring paired cruelly with the sweet smells of chopped lilac in the kitchen vase, a vision of childhood sentiment. And in the thick of that tiptoe towards adolescence I would think back to my precious egg, imagining a world where it had hatched. I dreamt of my bird growing radiant and strong, big enough to carry me away, so that we may leave spring behind and fly forever towards Iowa winter, chasing those months of still and freeze where life remains unchanging.


Carson Schulte is a senior at Luther College studying social work and Spanish. She grew up in Iowa and recently moved to Denver to complete her social work practicum. On days off from her internship at a child residential treatment center, Carson enjoys knitting, baking, and snuggling with her cat. She is an emerging writer in the field of creative nonfiction, with work forthcoming in the Oneota Review. 

Dreaming in the Kingdom of the Ants | Jason Ryberg

Image: Peter F. Folk
It would seem to me

             that in the vast
                            underground kingdom

              of the anthill, along
                                          with burrowing and
                       tunneling, heaving and
hoisting, fending off
                            outside invasions down
                      to the very last ant and

conquering rival kingdoms
                                    with no mercy (and all
         the various other assigned

   	     tasks and roles from the
       home office / H.Q. of
                                   the collective hive-mind),

   surely dreaming must,
                                     also, be an 

                      essential

                              civic duty.

Jason Ryberg is the author of thirteen books of poetry, six screenplays, a few short stories, a box full of folders, notebooks and scraps of paper that could one day be (loosely) construed as a novel, and, a couple of angry letters to various magazine and newspaper editors. He is currently an artist-in-residence at both The Prospero Institute of Disquieted P/o/e/t/i/c/s and the Osage Arts Community, and is an editor and designer at Spartan Books. His latest collection of poems is The Ghosts of Our Words Will Be Heroes in Hell (co-authored with Damian Rucci, John Dorsey, and Victor Clevenger, OAC Books, 2020). He lives part-time in Salina, KS with a rooster named Little Red  and a billygoat named Giuseppe and part-time somewhere in the Ozarks, near the Gasconade River, where there are also many strange and wonderful woodland critters. 

An Army of Frogs | Mark Blickley

Image: Frog Concerto, Mark Blickley

Image: Bobbie Oliver

 “I don’t want to go to school today, Ma.  I don’t feel well.” 

            “You felt well enough to stay over Lamont’s house two hours past your curfew, playing video games.  Now get up and get ready for school.  And I mean now, Gregory John Burton!”

            The boy jumped out of bed.  He knew that when his mother called him by his full name instead of the familiar Greg, she could not be argued with and was primed for the yelling that would most certainly alert his father and bring him into the conflict.

            As he scuffed his way towards the bathroom he thought about explaining to his mother why he had distracted himself to the point of disobedience at Lamont’s last night.  They were both trying to erase the fear and anxiety of what was sure to be the most horrible day of their seven-year education the next morning.

            His father flung open the bathroom door, his waist wrapped in a purple towel as he delicately dragged a large comb through his thinning brown hair.  “It’s all yours. How’s it going, Sport?” 

            “Terrible,” answered Greg.  “This morning we’re going to cut up a frog.  Yuck.”

            His father paused his grooming to put a hand on his son’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, Greg.  I remember not being too thrilled by the dissection my science teacher forced us to do, but he reminded us that we don’t kill the frogs, that they were already dead. And if we didn’t learn from their sacrifice, then their deaths were wasted. He also told us to pretend that we were surgeons cutting into a patient.  It turned out to be quite interesting.”

            “Yeah, well the only cutting I’d like to do is to cut class today. Dissection’s disgusting. I mean, there’s already enough violence in schools.”

            “I suppose you have a point, Greg.  I remember reading an article about that serial killer who cut up his victims and ate them.  What was his name?”

            “Jeffrey Dahmer?”

            Yeah, that’s him.  Right before the prison inmates killed him Dahmer gave an interview where he said that he became fascinated with blood and guts when his school gave him a knife and a dead animal to cut apart in biology class.”

            “Gee thanks, Dad.”  

            His father made a silly face, scooped him off the ground and tossed him into the air.  The squeals of delight coming from the boy temporarily made Greg forget about the brutal day he was about to endure until his sister Carol, hearing her brother’s screams of pleasure, trotted into the living room and demanded that her father also give her the chance to go airborne.

            Greg’s four and a half block walk to school took on the pace and enthusiasm of a killer being led down death row for a private sitting with an electrician.  As he turned the corner he saw Kostas, Selim, and Pascal climbing the steep steps leading to the school’s entrance.  When he shouted at them to wait up he thought that they, too, had a sickly look about them.  The four of them silently scuffed their way to the classroom.

            Everyone except Regina Boloff was inside and in their seat.  Greg didn’t think Regina would show up.  Every time Mrs. Worton would give a math or spelling test, Regina would wet her pants and cry.  When this happened, Mrs. Worton would send for the school nurse and Regina’s mother would come to pick her up and take her home.  The day afterwards Regina was always absent.

            As Greg settled himself behind his desk, he noticed Regina walking in.  This worried him.  Because of the terrible importance of the day, even Regina’s embarrassment couldn’t allow her to stay home, and she certainly had made a huge mess the day before during the math quiz.  But what really bothered Greg was that none of his classmates (or himself, for that matter) bothered to tease her.  The class looked as if their thoughts were a million miles away.

            Mrs. Worton strolled in and put on a big smile, even bigger than the smile she gave when the class presented her with a large, multi-colored paperweight, shaped like an egg, for Christmas.  Trumella  Austin’s father took the seven dollars and sixty-four cents the kids had raised and picked it out for the class from the stationary store he owned.  Greg thought it was a beauty.

            Behind his teacher’s smile Greg knew she was nervous too because she took roll call before the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.  Nothing was mentioned about what they had to do in a matter of hours. 

            For the first time all year the classroom hours sped by.  The clock read 10:30 when Mrs. Worton ordered them to lay down their pencils.  She then distributed  11×15 sheets of construction paper to each student and told them they were to use it to create a frog map that they would fill in as they dissected their frogs.  

     Greg raised his hand.  “What do you mean by a frog map?  I don’t understand.”

Mrs. Worton looked sternly at Greg. “Had you been turning in your homework regularly the past two weeks, Mr. Burton, you would have known that the handouts I gave out in class were to prep you for this project.”

“Why do we have to cut open a frog?” whined Regina.  “What’s the point?”

“The point,” said Mrs. Worton curtly, “is to satisfy national standards for sixth grade introduction to organs and organ systems.”

“I get all the info I need about organs and organ systems by sneaking on to my father’s Spice Channel website,” Hector whispered to Greg.  Both giggled.

“Hector, is there something you’d like to share with the rest of the class?” asked Mrs. Worton. 

 Hector shook his head.

“Very well, then.  As you cut away the layers of the frog’s anatomy, you will record your findings on your frog map.  Everyone draw an outline of a frog using the markers I placed on your desks before you arrived this morning.”

What followed was the greatest shock in a day already filled with much tension and apprehension.  The frogs that Mrs. Worton handed out to each student weren’t dead and pickled, but alive.

“Oh my God,” said Habib.

“Gross,” said Sophia.

“This is gonna be cool,” said Badra.

“Your frogs have all been anesthetized so they won’t feel any pain,” Mrs. Worton smiled.

“I bet,” muttered Greg.

Mrs. Worton heard Greg’s remark but chose to ignore it.   “The school paid extra so that we could observe the organ systems of a living frog,” she said rather proudly.   “Before we begin the actual cutting, please weigh your frog and measure its length from snout to vent and record this data in the lower right hand corner of your frog map.” 

Greg waved his arm. “What’s a vent?”

“Had you been studying like the rest of the class, you’d know that the vent is the cloaca.”

“The what?” shrugged Greg.

“It’s the ass, you ass,” whispered Badra. 

The moment Greg’s hand squeezed around his frog and felt it inhaling and exhaling, he wanted to run outside and set it free instead of lining up in the back of the classroom, waiting his turn to use the scale.  But he figured what would the point of freeing it be?  There aren’t any ponds around here.  It would just get squashed by a car or some punk would shove a firecracker down its throat.

After all the students measured and weighed their frogs and returned to their desks, Mrs. Worton pulled her desk to the center of the room to talk them through the surgery while slicing up her very own frog.  “Our first step will be to decapitate the frog with your special dissection scissors and then pith its spinal cord with the pithing needle on your tray.  The frog will twitch.  Pithing greatly reduces the incidence and intensity of muscle contractions, thus simplifying the dissection.”

Most of the class scrunched their faces with revulsion as they followed Mrs. Worton’s commands.  

“As you hold the frog’s head, “ continued Mrs. Worton, “squeeze it with your thumb and index finger to open its mouth for easier insertion of the scissors into the mouth.  Hold your frog against the tray with your palm as it may twitch while you are decapitating it.”

Greg did as he was told and placed the lower scissor blade inside his frog’s mouth while the outer blade rested on the back of the frog’s head.  Without applying much force, he was surprised how quickly the head was severed from the body.  His frog twitched and contorted so violently that it jerked out of his hand and fell to the floor, where it flopped about like an awkward break-dancer trying to spin into a finale.

Mrs. Worton hurried over, responding to the many shrieks of disgust surrounding Greg’s desk.  “Didn’t I tell you to pith your frog?” she asked.

Greg just stared at her as she picked up his headless frog and dropped it onto his tray.  It continued to twitch.  She handed him a pair of forceps and ordered him to lift the skin of the abdomen with them before cutting into the skin, from left to right.  Greg made an incision with his dissecting scissors into the lower abdomen and then cut along the sides of the frog to make a flap of the skin and abdominal musculature.  He then lifted the flap back and cut it off, exposing the internal organs that his teacher called the viscera. The exposed innards of the frog were such an appalling sight that it made Greg want to heave his breakfast.

“Now cut off the intestine and urine duct from the hip to free the viscera from the body,” said Mrs. Worton.  “Be careful not to touch the nerve when cutting.”

Many nerves were touched in the classroom, and most of them belonged to the students.  As he snipped through muscle fascia, hemostats, and the sciatic nerve of his frog, Greg felt terrible.  He thought about the trauma he underwent weeks earlier, the day he had to get a stupid TB test. And that was simply a prick of his skin while his frog, who was alive and breathing when he first held him, was now dead and Greg was ordered to remove its skin because Mrs. Worton said the skin represented one of the ten body systems a frog needs in order to survive. One of the ten body systems they needed to expose and explore.  She called the skin the Integumentary System, but flaying the frog proved too much for Greg.  He lay down his scalpel and put a paper towel over his torn, mutilated amphibian. 

“Hey, Mrs. Worton,” said Victor.  “What are gonna do we do with all of these frogs after we’re done?”

“Victor, do you know what you call a group of frogs?”

Victor shrugged.” What do you mean?”

Mrs. Worton smiled.  “Well, a group of fish is called a school.  A group of geese are called a gaggle.  A group of birds are called a flock.  A group of horses are called a herd.  But what do you call a group of frogs?”

“Butchered,” muttered Greg. 

Mrs. Worton once again ignored Greg’s comment.  “A group of frogs are called an army. An army of frogs.” 


Mark Blickley  is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center whose most recent book is a text-based art collaboration with fine arts photographer Amy Bassin, ‘Dream Streams.’ (Clare Songbirds Publishing House).

They Tap Me on the Shoulder and Say They are Going to Ensure My Poverty Will Erase My Last Name and My Homeland Forever (But the Smiths and the Jones Will Live On) | Ron Riekki

Image: Moren Hsu

When I was in the military, we marched over the purple coneflower and milkweed and powderpuff and canna lily until they were dead from the war of our feet and later when they haze-crucified me I aspirated on my own vomit and saw death marching through the undergrass and he was a he and he was not as seismic as I’d come to expect and

when I was on the football team, they installed debt in my chest and they drove their trucks on the swamp conifers and carved encyclopedias into the pines and our homecoming king took a knife to his abdomen to spell the words MINING TOWN.

When I worked in the prison, they concreted everything so that the yard wasn’t, and the smell was of feces and lives frozen as poison and

when I worked in security, they put me in an isolated guard shack where there was no heat and no one else around for miles and I’d listen to the wolves and would wonder if they were coming from inside me.

When I worked on the ambulance, my partner would make fun of the patients as soon as the patients weren’t our patients and he would reenact their pain by holding his body in the distorted positions in which we found them and I’d go home and warn my parents that if they are ever on an ambulance to record everything because God can see everywhere but not inside the walls of piss and pus, and

when I was in middle school, they’d put us in lockers and light little pieces of paper, throwing them through the hole, telling us that we were going to experience what it’s like to be the sun and afterwards I’d go outside and stare up at it in the hope that I’d go blind forever and it didn’t happen because I could never take the pain and instead would go home and swim in the neighbor’s empty pool, me and a buddy, just moving our arms and walking in that big useless pit.

When I was in PTSD counseling, my counselor fell asleep so I decided to go to sleep too except I could see the helicopters on fire when I closed my eyes and so I just sat there, staring at him, watching him age so slowly, seeing the grandfather and the great-grandfather and the grand-corpse just begging to come out and

when I was in high school, we cheered the violence and admired the violence and encircled the violence and awarded the violence and moved back for the violence and watched the violence and the violence did its thing.

When I was dead, I realized that the earth was everything, that all there is is the earth, that the people on it are just dots, dips, dark, that we are spiders, that our arms are air, replaced so quickly.

But the earth.

But the earth.


Ron Riekki’s books include My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Apprentice House Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press).  Riekki co-edited Undocumented (Michigan State University Press) and The Many Lives of The Evil Dead (McFarland), and edited The Many Lives of It (McFarland), And Here (MSU Press), Here (MSU Press, Independent Publisher Book Award), and The Way North (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book).  Right now, he’s listening to Nick Drake’s “Northern Sky.”