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.
beads of sweat lick
my sunburnt nape
paddle and soap dish in hand
off some nameless bank
I slip into the Colorado
the Rio del Tizon
the cool lifeforce
of this southwest desert
as easily as I do
into freshly washed sheets
(I’m still working
the Colorado, he/they and I
have rinsed ourselves
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
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
given back empty
at a cost
for tourist development
as a force that’s agreeable
and funneled, reshaped
efficient pools of labor
that’s not wild
and free and roaring
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
our downy stilt-
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
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.
It doesn’t take too much
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
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.
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
A winking silver coin,
She drifts below,
Sauntering to the deep,
To the black water,
No different than space.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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?”
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).