three scenes of heartache as told by a casual observer – grace nordgren

prudence-earl-599273-unsplash

One. My local Goodwill was nearly empty the week before Christmas. It was eight o’clock. I had ducked in with a friend, looking for refuge from the bitter weather. We were wrapped in coats that were too thin to keep us properly warm. But we didn’t care. As she browsed the CD collection, I of course gravitated over to the books. Worn paperbacks lay discarded in great quantities, adorned with yellow stickers of a garish color. They were marked with cheap prices, but no one seemed to be interested in them, as the shelves were full and the stacks high. Perhaps it was because they had once belonged to other people. Handling the books with care, I scanned the back covers and flipped the pages. A little volume caught my eye from its position on the pile. I picked it up, and almost discarded it once I realized it was a self-help book for troubled couples. For reasons I cannot explain I opened it, and browsed it page by page. The paragraphs were notated in black pen, and the handwriting was neat and legible in the margins. I read none of the notes, except for one, written in large letters under a heavily circled passage in the book: John- we really need to work on this. Please. I set the book down. It was three dollars.

Two. They lay there like dolls. Their human forms, splayed on the concrete, were barely distinguishable under the tarps. There were police and firemen standing over the bodies, and a small crowd was on the curb. My mother and I hurriedly crossed the street, and a woman who saw us on the sidewalk warned us to always be watchful when driving. And to never text on your cell phone. My mother put a hand on my back and asked me to keep explaining The Iliad to her. She stole sidelong glances at me as we walked down the grassy hill, too green and alive to exist right next door to death. The birds chirping was too cheerful, the sky too clear, and children at the park too lively. My mother bought me a smoothie, probably to take my mind off of the people. But I wasn’t thinking about them. I was engrossed in the story of Achilles playing out in my head. I was numb inside. As stony as the walls of Troy.

Three. My friend’s mother was waiting for us to meet her in the car. We were just leaving a shop, about to exit the mall. A strangled cry made us jump. We turned to see a woman tear towards a kiosk, running like the wind. She gasped and shouted at the saleswoman, so loudly we could hear her from twenty feet away. Her voice rose and cracked as she asked her if she had seen a small four-year old, all by himself. Her tears streamed down her face like lightning, her cries thundering through the mall. The saleswoman shook her head, and tried to placate the woman by dialing her phone, presumably to alert somebody, anybody. The woman spun around and began screaming the child’s name. Jack! Jack! Jack! Over and over. We stood there, unsure what to do. Perhaps some other people approached the woman, it’s hard to remember. I will forever feel guilty about how we chose to leave then. Later that night, in bed, in the dark, my friend shakily whispered that she hoped the woman found her son. I wish we had some way of knowing. On days like this, I resent being human.

 

wolf_silhouette_png_clip_art_image (1)

 

Bio: Grace Nordgren is a student from Denver, Colorado.  She is working towards acquiring a degree in English.  She enjoys daydreaming, pondering existence, and pomegranates.  This is her first published piece.

Photo: Prudence Earl

two poems – juliet cook & j/j hastain

BABY_INTHEOVEN

Slumber Party
Stained teeth fall out
of the clouds,
start a thunder storm
of unforeseen fonts
writing their own love stories

while they crash and sink
themselves into drainage.

Wash them down to the bottom
of the ocean or keep them
as encrusted cheese maps
at the bottom of the oven.

Use them as part of a magazine ad photo
of Sylvia Plath inspired undergarments.

How many sadistic photo shoots
will fit into this board game
inspired by sharp, rattling molars
or carnivorous harps?

These teeth won’t burn in the crematorium
so you’ll have to hang them
out to dry alongside the laundry you just pulled out
of the washer, your mama’s old shirt
and fingerless gloves.

Fingernails hidden in the glove box
alongside a toy gun
that needed a friend.

 

Your Eyes Are Bigger Than Your Stomach

A conduit or a tiny giant. I wanted to name him but stopped
myself from outreach. Focused on outflow
instead. I listened to his atonal stingers
and began to develop my own melodic pulse.

Tiny eyeballs could be shooting stars.
Tiny tears in the feedback loop
could be resources
and the leeches slip out

of our shit-
eating grins
as we grimace and steal milkshakes
from the food carts outside
the municipal court.
We’re going to start a riot
in which we suck the leeches out of the straws
and fling them at those who think they should be in control
of our blood. We’ve got a lot to show them

about blood. It can’t be owned. And it always
wins when combined into our home-
made flavors of farm fresh ice cream.

Last night, my abdomen felt so bloated
I thought I was going to explode like a giant cow.
Meaning tiny can turn into huge with one explosion.
Meaning expansion is meant to be.

 

wolf_silhouette_png_clip_art_image (1)

 

j/j hastain is a collaborator, writer and maker of things. j/j performs ceremonial gore. Chasing and courting the animate and potentially enlivening decay that exists between seer and singer, j/j hopes to make the god/dess of stone moan and nod deeply through the waxing and waning seasons of the moon.

Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and dark red explosions. She is drawn to poetry, abstract visual art, and other forms of expression. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications. You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.

 

Photo: Megan Tate

what the sky looks like right now – justin karcher

seb-barsoumian-194895-unsplash

Sometimes I pretend the sky & clouds
are just pieces of really expensive paper

shooting stars are just really beautiful papercuts

when you’re young
you stare at the sky & write with your eyes
imagination is just a really nice optometrist
who encourages your vision even if it misses the mark

as you get older
you stare at the sky & write with your fists
it’s a little more violent

you dream of rocket ships exploding in earth’s atmosphere
jet lag confetti raining down on rooftop parties
where evil men drink hallucinogenic bourbon
out of the skulls of orphan babies

you dream of planes crashing into gated communities
where the rich never leave their mansions
spending most of their time
ripping out pages from chapbooks
written by overworked poets
always on the verge of suicide
making paper airplanes out of the trauma
throwing them into fireplaces

when you’re old
you don’t even look at the sky
every room in your home
in your heart
in your brain
has become a basement
full of wet boxes
caused by leaky pipes
you don’t bother to repair

all the suicide notes & love letters
you’ve penned over the years
disintegrating into mush
the words that meant so much
running into one another
like when cops break up a party
the words left behind
form new sentences
you must dig out of the drowning
then you must read what you sew:

there are no windows in your life anymore
all the lovebirds stuffed into a drawer

tenderness is a thousand dolls taking your breath away
a thousand cats pulling your ribcage like a sleigh

the death you deserve, fireflies sinking to the bottom of an ashtray
you’ve always been an origami car stranded on the highway

and the sun is always setting somewhere else
you just wanted a hotter melt

 

wolf_silhouette_png_clip_art_image (1)

 

Justin Karcher is a Pushcart-nominated poet and playwright born and raised in Buffalo, New York. He is the author of several books, including Tailgating at the Gates of Hell (Ghost City Press, 2015). He is also the editor of Ghost City Review and co-editor of the anthology My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry (BlazeVOX [books], 2017). He tweets @Justin_Karcher.

two poems – seth berg

gabriel-santiago-3981-unsplash

Meditation by Means of Front Stoop
Two blocks from here
an old man on a rocking chair blesses crickets:

if vibrations could determine direction,
perhaps we too could hear the wingsongs,

perhaps the old man himself would bless us,
perhaps these vibrations—flitting translucencies—

would bless the tiny sea at our feet,
give us morphine and meditation

and the knowledge that
not unlike the old man…

we are all simply figments.

 

Directions for Levitation when Body has Lost Meaning

Find a thicket in which you are no longer you;

scavenge for seeds, silt, and an eclipse;

in the evening, after visiting hours have ended,

saturate everything green, make the ground vanish;

when you wake to find that your body, too, has vanished,

hoist your hallucinations skyward, ascend.

 

wolf_silhouette_png_clip_art_image (1)

 

Seth Berg‘s first book, Muted Lines From Someone Else’s Memory, won the Dark Sky Books 2009 book contest. His second book, Aviary, co-authored withBradford K. Wolfenden II, won the 2015 Artistically Declined Twin Antlers Contest, and was released by Civil Coping Mechanisms in January of 2017. Other poems and short fiction can be found in Connecticut Review, 13th Warrior Review, Spittoon Literary Review, BlazeVOX, Heavy Feather Literary Review, The Montucky Review, Masque & Spectacle, and Lake Effect, among others. Recently, poems were anthologized in GTCPR Volume III and Daddy Cool. He lives in Minnesota with his two supernatural children, Oak and Sage, and his magical better half, Kori. He loves your face.

two poems – kathy o’fallon

tomas-tuma-1139973-unsplash

Longing Still the Ruin of My Existence
                                                      for Tom

I always thought he’d come back
like this, wrapped in his youth,
spook to my banshee.
The thin man, I’d once teased—
huddled like an Einstein
crouched in the basement trying
to figure things out: aeronautics,
magic tricks, why
our family made no sense.
Bred in his lab
like little white spirits
or gods called by name,
rats nibbled crumbs from his lips,
staved his hunger,
but the lure of the airplane glue
proved too fragrant to resist,
formulas floating
clear out of reach, and then Boom!
a hole in the paneling closer
to the boiler than one cared to think.
Our father, who art not in hell,
didn’t like that too much, the trapped
pet rats now scurrying to get out,
racing against the poison-filled smoke.

I always thought he’d come back like this,
show me a smile could be sober
without losing its bliss.
Oh, how I’ve missed you, I said,
ten years of loss melting at my feet.

Umbilical Cord

The gravel granite path across
the cemetery crackles like rock candy.
What I’d give for a piece
to suck like a thumb,
weaned from the nipple.

I take off my shoes
so the stones can scar
something into submission.
I don’t mean to dissect the worm,
but I’m glad to, first-born of eight—
we craved the same nourishment.

I scrape fingernails along tree bark,
and its dust stains my skin.
She is here, reclaiming my body.
I kneel and cling to exposed roots,
can’t think       which one to follow.
They reach where I can’t so I pull,
but they break into little carcasses.

wolf_silhouette_png_clip_art_image (1)

With great assistance from her mentors, Kathy OFallon‘s poems and short stories have been published in numerous literary journals, magazines, and anthologies, as well as three chapbooks.  She is a psychologist living in Fallbrook, California, self-proclaimed avocado capital of the world.  Without poetry, OFallon asks, how would she know her own heart?

Photo: Tomas Tuma 

paper towel roll – jacob butlett

kaluci-145201-unsplash

“Gay males are thought to only represent 5% of the total male population but among males who have eating disorders, 42% identify as gay.” – National Eating Disorders Association

 

While the moon yawns outside the bedroom window,
I think of him as a white paper towel roll at a party:
In the beginning, a baby in the plastic-tight embrace

of his mother. Smooth, sensitive, plump,
he eyed others crowding around him, squeezing him,
soiling him with dirty hands of disappointment,

he believed. Holding me in the bed we used to own,
he once told me he hated himself for being himself,
for being the vanity’s prank upon the planet.

Since childhood, he’s thrown sheets of himself, papery
shreds of flesh, into the trashcan of life. Nothing remains
except a cold gauze of skin over his bones, the exposed

cardboard roll of his spine, which now I caress as he
falls asleep dreaming of what? Dreaming of food he’ll
never eat? Acceptance he’ll never accept?

I don’t want to compare him to a paper towel roll—
to any other object, for that matter—but as long as he retreats
into himself, refusing my help, how can I not see his body broken?

His spine’s a cracked telescope, fractured kaleidoscope,
revealing little in its lens, in its limited lightshow:
a glimpse of the brilliant borealis of his upbringing,

a glimpse of his future—colored slides in the light?
I imagine pressing an ear against his sunken chest,
a smashed treasure chest harboring, I hope, an ocean’s lullaby,

an ocean’s laughter. But now I hear him—
snores hoarse, whimpers raspy—begging to be more,
to be firm as muscles, firm as fat filling dead space.

Tomorrow we’ll talk. He and I will talk about this tomorrow,
before he fades forever like a breeze in the trees outside.
Until then, I close the curtains, tucking the moon into bed,

snuggle down under the covers, dark as an ossuary,
and dream of him—his smile wide as the crescent moon,
his once bulky body now protected in the warm plastic of my arms.

 

wolf_silhouette_png_clip_art_image (1)

 

Former poetry editor and longtime gay author Jacob Butlett (he/him) holds an A.A. in General Studies and a B.A. in Creative Writing. In 2012 he earned a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Key for his fiction, in 2017 he won the Bauerly-Roseliep Scholarship for literary excellence, and in 2018 he received a Pushcart Prize nomination for his poetry. Some of his work has been published in The MacGuffin, Panoply, Cacti Fur, Gone Lawn, Word Fountain, Ghost City Review, Lunch Ticket, Fterota Logia, Into the Void, and plain china.  

Photo: kaluci

what you are rebelling against – matt dube

rebel

We sat on the floor,
backs against couch cushions.
On the screen, two grown men
Acting our age eyed each other
on the concrete lip around Griffith Observatory.
Sal Mineo’s gun was the message,
and he wanted to give it to James Dean.
He couldn’t live and he wanted
someone to know why
he had to die. Chris showed me
the movie the first time I crashed
at his house. It was important
to him that I saw the movie,
So that after we could talk
about it, to make sure I got the message
he was telling me. He wasn’t going to live,
that secret between us in the room,
held us hostage like a loaded gun
so that even when we looked away
that was what we saw.

 

hourglass

Matt Dube teaches creative writing and American lit in mid-Missouri. His stories and poems have appeared in Moon City Review, NIght Music, Rattle, and elsewhere. Twitter: @matthewdube

Photo: Frank Okay

speaking in bootongue – mark blickley and amy bassin

hourglass

New York fine arts photographer Amy Bassin and writer Mark Blickley work together on text based art collaborations and videos. Their text based art collaboration, ‘Dream Streams’, was featured as an art installation at the 5th Annual NYC Poetry Festival Their video, ‘Speaking In Bootongue,’ was selected for the London Experimental Film Festival. They published a text based art chapbook,’Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes From the Underground'(Moria Books, Chicago). Bassin is co-founder of the international artists cooperative, Urban Dialogues. Blickley is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center. Their text based art book, ‘Dream Streams, will be published in 2019 by Clare Songbird Publishing House. 

the ventriloquist dummy pretends to be a spiritual medium – matt schumacher

dummy

my ventriLoquIST diEd, but i kept right oN talking.
i know you’re sorry for my loss. HEy, want to Know
what’s on the other side? come up here and whisper in my wooden ear
to your dead santa claus. ask that stIff I caLLED a boss.
recite a wish list for the dead ventriloquist.
it’ll be a job interview gone wrong. you’ll see.
hear the dead head Man uncomfortably rEPLy to all my quEries.
whAt a riot. talk about having the bosS on the ropEs!
see, I’ll remiNd him he’s past his expiration date,
as he awards me employee oF the year.
too bad nO one caRes about his opinion. the Man’s deceased.
and you—like THE POLICE, you Keep askiNg questIons
about your FatE, If there’s an aFterlIFe, a heaven
where good boys aND girls go. but IT’s immaterial.
and i’m already dead. how the hell should I know?

hourglass

Matt Schumacher’s poetry collections include Spilling the Moon, favorite maritime drinking songs of the miraculous alcoholics, and A Missing Suspiria de Profundis, forthcoming from Greying Ghost Press. He serves as managing editor of the New Fabulist journal Phantom Drift, and lives near a Paul Bunyan statue in Portland, Oregon.

hungry ghosts – chris moore

hungry ghosts

How to Woo a Married Woman:

• Converse on a wide variety of topics
• Share music she’s never heard before but likes
• Be physically close
• Challenge her, without conflict
• Have similar outdoor interests
• Love nature
• Notice rocks
• Be quick-witted
• Be offbeat
• Keep your mind open
• Be intelligent
• Care about things
• Give
• Have patience with her children
• Be the keeper of more than one talent
• Be thoughtful
• Be intuitive (to a fault)
• Be sensual
• Make her laugh
• Have bright eyes

hourglass

August 2010: They say that the brain doesn’t stop developing until mid-twenties, even early thirties. Guess that means I meet her at a crucial point. Twenty-four. I tell her twenty-five; my birthday just around the corner. She’s eleven years my senior and a lesson in forced autonomy. I have her and I don’t. She asks if I see my future full of options and I say yes: multiple paths yet unknown. To be settled down is her dream and I lose myself in it.

 

Lately everything is a little bit more than it seems.  Lost in a book of a back-mountain man who builds his stasis from the wood of trees much like the ones that are burning to the ground as I speak. Maybe it’s a little bit timely, maybe it’s a little bit telling: the winds that raged that Labor Day when we trailed behind a group in the woods, crossing paths with children hunkered down under backpacks, on our way to an inlet that led you and I to our private rocks of contemplation. And tonight, we can’t even talk over the winds so I hold her against me, against the porch pillar, letting passersby revel in our puzzle pieces.

 

hourglass

 

Dear T,

I know I gave birth to you. You wilted with your wife and said you revived my body, the way Maria did mine. But I have seen how when a body is resurrected, a war can begin inside. These disorienting dilemmas have a way of upending lives. Your former life was a carefully set table overturned in rage. I knew our life together might meet the same end. Nevertheless, I persisted.

 

hourglass

 

The thought just barely creeps in. It says, we can make it outside my dreams. Her eyes are reckless windows that lead directly to her soul without passing ‘go,’ without collecting two hundred dollars; precisely why I always look away. Our very separate bodies ached together, woman who oh-so-frankly called me out on the speed with which I fell. Tempted to say: told you so or oh, how the tables have turned.

 

Valentine’s Day, 2011: I rent us a room at a quaint bed and breakfast in a mountain town, fill it to overflowing with candles, lie my guitar across the bed like a naked woman. After we have dinner I bring her there. I am shy. I sing and play for her every song that has shaken us. We consume one another the rest of the night. Blood everywhere. It’s either love or death to the housekeep in the morning. Surprised they don’t call the police. The next day, she vanishes.

hourglass

Dear T,

Who are our first lovers if not our mothers? Your disappearing act was familiar to me. You were familiar to me. You were my home insofar as you were like my mother.

Baby Duck Syndrome:

  • Absence on loop.
  • A scratched compact disc.
  • Unable to advance.
  • Insane in love.
  • Insane in war.

 

Maybe the possibility that we could heal our respective mommy-traumas is what held us together for so long. In the meantime, we loved the outdoors and creating things with our four hands.

 

hourglass

 

December 21, 2011: We live together now. I promised her before I moved in that I wouldn’t drink.

She strands me at a billiards bar in a suburban strip mall. She rents herself a room, over an hour into the mountains and makes her angry getaway. Her disappearing act is familiar to me. I fill my bloodstream to overflowing with beer by midnight, take a taxi home, find her reservation in her email inbox. I decide to chase her down, guitar in my backseat, and serenade her back into my arms.

A couple close calls: my passenger door and the guardrail, my sideview mirror and the median. A couple of empties thrown through my open window into the dark. A couple hundred shards of glass on the snowy highway. A couple of good samaritans. A couple 911 calls. A couple of cop cars. A couple of blows: a couple tenths of a milligram per deciliter away from a coma. A couple of hands in handcuffs. A couple of mugshots. A couple hours sobbing. A couple hours sleeping. A couple hot showers in between the couple hours of sleeping. A couple of other women cry aloud in the beds around mine. A couple bus tokens the next morning. A couple miles to walk back to our home without my socks, short-sleeved in a couple feet of snow. A couple days until Christmas, a couple dissolving.

hourglass

 

Dear T,

Thank you, oh and fuck you, for letting me back in a few months later. I became the third or fourth mother to your children for a second time. You’ve really gotta work on your boundaries. We were a five year love affair. Drama all the time. Maybe we were caught up in the passion we had lost. We fought about something everysingleday for two years. A zucchini flower. A credit card. Any snide remark. Any crooked look. The childrens’ bedtime. What to have for dinner. Who will cook dinner. Who appreciates who less. That thing I did two years ago. Which therapist we should hire.

 

hourglass

 

January 1, 2015: She says get your shit and get the fuck out by 8pm or I will call the police. My blood turns to battery acid and my eye levees burst. I get out. Downtown, center of the city, my friend Chad helps me across his street, up the stairs, into and out from the elevator, down the hall, into his open-air spare bedroom, and back again about fifteen times. I am moving out, maybe moving on, but my identity is still T and the kids. They’re everything. People often ask why a battered wife won’t leave her abuser. I understand now. It becomes the only thing of everything you know. Probably of everything you’ve known since you were a child. Familiar may not be healthy but it’s expected. Ani Difranco sings privilege is a headache that you don’t know you don’t have. Read that again. Let it sink in. I guess in my case it’s: abuse is a headache you have always had and so you didn’t know you could exist without it. And I won’t know for another two years.

hourglass

Dear T,

Fuck you for begging me back nearly six months later. And what of the in-between? The only true thing you ever said of me: you didn’t want a lover, you wanted a mother. I think you knew my weakness. Maybe you didn’t want to disassemble another household. I almost said family, you didn’t want to disassemble another family, but you’d put me on a par with your children and when one sibling moves away, the family itself doesn’t dissolve. But the household changes. Your household changed, drastically, the third time in five years. I demanded couples therapy if I were to set foot back in your house. You told me you’d do anything to make this work. Why then, in our therapist’s office, did his nearly-gaping mouth betray his neutrality? I sat tight  against the armrest, swollen eyes staring off at some object in the room. He coached you through what it would sound like to validate another human’s feelings. You kept up the questions about whether or not my particular feeling really had validity. That’s not the point. It’s not about right or wrong, feelings aren’t right or wrong. All feelings are valid because they are just that: feelings.’


val·i·date /ˈvaləˌdāt/ (verb):

  1. check or prove the validity or accuracy of (something).
  2. demonstrate or support the truth or value of.
    • synonyms: prove, give proof of, show to be true, give substance to; uphold, support, back up, bear out, justify, vindicate, substantiate, corroborate, verify, demonstrate, authenticate, confirm, endorse, give credence to, lend weight to; vouch for, attest to, testify to, stand by, bear witness to

 

It’s as though you thought that to say I hear you, meant you’d convict yourself. Of what, though? It’s the only time I ever walked out of a therapy session in my life.

hourglass

My anger is so thick I can’t cry. I go through the house reclaiming all of my belongings, again – if it fits in my car, it’s going with me. I slam the hatchback so hard on this part of my life that it echoes through the cul-de-sacs. I slam my car door just as hard. The dead bird in the bush comes back to life, my hampered voice fills my mouth again, the first time since thirteen. This is it: the moment where I take up all of my pain and resentment. Like so many knick-knacks from my past, I hurl the abandonment and invisibility into my literal and metaphorical car and get the fuck out because dammit I deserve better.

hourglass


Chris Moore is an elementary school teacher and poet-turned-essayist, residing in the Denver Metro area. She is currently completing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction in the Mile High MFA Program at Regis University. Her work has been featured in the 2018 Punch Drunk Press Anthology, Naropa’s 2019 Vagina Monologues Zine, and Allegory Ridge Magazine.