Erin told me her face was falling. We sat on a motel bed in downtown Anaheim, each of us with stones inside our bodies where organs used to be. Hand to her face she placed her fingers at her jaw and said, it’s sagging. Like a landslide.
Our foundations were made from the gulfs created in the void of saltwater and sun; we were grown from the melting glaciers. Skeletons shaped from every piece of rock we had once picked up from the tongue of the shore because we thought it was pretty, replacing the bone until we were both ambling monuments.
In the motel in downtown Anaheim, we cracked geodes against one another with enough force to break them open to see if our guts were quartz. The same sort of rock scientists on playgrounds smashing stones to see if there were hidden crystals, only we were older, and our shared insides didn’t carry crystals…as we found out. Sharp fragments splintered and dented the cold bedcovers, rock people applying pressure as a kind of embrace.
And her face was falling like how Venice is sinking, and the world is impermanent, so we split our skin open to find anything secreted from the soft outsides. The shells of our exteriors thawed like those candles whose wax peels away to reveal tiny gems, but really, it’s just a trinket more like trash than treasure.
Structures like bones crease into putty like how memorials fall and become their own grave markers, and on a floral smoke-smelling comforter in a strip mall in Anaheim, I ease into the rock rain of my own face and the spring that found itself seeping out of the remains of my body. Our mingled landslide faces and surfaces liquified with only the memory of boulder bodies and gritted organs left in our wake.
Tomorrow we’d go back to carrying our stones.
Jane-Rebecca Cannarella (she/her) is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia. She is the editor of HOOT Review and Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit, and a former genre editor at Lunch Ticket. She’s the author of Better Bones and Marrow, both published by Thirty West Publishing House, The Guessing Game published by BA Press, and Thirst and Frost forthcoming from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press.
His name was Pietro Ludivicci, and he was in love with symmetry.
Those statues of his were carved with a delicate accuracy, angels and saints poised to bless or condemn, their pale faces set in expressions of aloof piety. That marble virgin of his was housed inside the chapel, the object of awe among the townspeople. For the sculptor had rendered the stone folds of her clothing as soft-looking as fabric.
The flawless beauty of Ludivicci’s creations was rivaled only by the appearance of the sculptor himself. With his tight curls, regal nose, cherubic lips, and mahogany eyes, it was as if he were the personification of the suppleness of youth. How lovely, this Pietro!
Of course, the young women of the town were hopelessly taken with him. Why, even the mayor’s wife fondly referred to him as her first love! A cacophony of tokens, flowers, letters, and gifts took up permanent residence outside his door. In the marketplace, women would tarry and stare, and those bold enough to proposition him always received the same answer: a curl of the lip, and a flat “I’d rather not”. You see, Ludivicci was a paramour of human beauty- and perfection his muse. How could he settle for anything else in a lover?
These harsh rejections were hard on the ladies of the town. Many would weep, and some would pull at their hair. Young Viola, who cleaned the sculptor’s apartment, witnessed countless of these spurnings. In the smoky bars, her father, the innkeeper, and the older townsmen would snidely remark that Ludivicci may as well wed one of his statues.
There came a day, as the harvest-season came round, that the sculptor unexpectedly stopped accepting commissions. For seventeen days on end, he vanished from the eyes of the community. Circulating whispers suggested illness, or even his death. Viola of course knew that the artist was not dead at all. He had thrown himself into his newest project.
Ludivicci the recluse remained shut up in his apartment, his door opening only to receive the bread and wine he paid Viola to purchase for him. During these visits, the girl caught glimpses of a form standing in the center of his room- a new statue, perhaps? Alas, she could never get a good enough look, as the sculptor would pay her what was owed and then slam the door with a force that made the frame creak.
The longer Pietro Ludivicci was in isolation, the more fanciful the rumors about him became. He had certainly lost his sanity, most agreed. Signora Columbo swore she had spotted him at the temple, worshipping the pagan gods! How could he have fallen so far? Poor Pietro! A red-cheeked and mortified Viola confessed to her sister as they lay in bed one night that she had caught the sculptor cradling what seemed to be the face of his passion project and kissing its lips!
Months passed before Ludivicci was spotted in public again. He looked certainly worse for wear, with dark shadows underneath his eyes, an unkempt beard, and his shoulder-length hair hanging in an unruly tangle.
His sculpting seemed to be abandoned as a thing of the past, as he had emerged from his isolation with nothing to show for it. If one would catch him walking about in town or marketplace and inquire about his work, he would stare back with haunted, glassy eyes and mutter something about having more important matters to pursue.
No one quite knew where the woman had come from. The way the innkeeper told it, she had knocked upon the inn’s door late one night (the night before Ludivicci returned to society) and requested residence. Said her name was Giana Aldi. She had paid him handsomely for room and board from a fine leather coin purse that hung from her waist. She was a painter, this woman, who wished to work undisturbed within the rooms. Why is it that this town is the place of so many fussy artists? The innkeeper bemoaned to his wife and daughters as they, dazed and recently roused from sleep, stumbled to prepare a room.
Soon enough, the town forgot their fascination with Ludivicci in favor of the mysterious Giana Aldi. It was if she had been carved from marble, as such flawlessness seemed unnatural. Smooth dark locks flowed down her back to her waist, and large black eyes were framed by heavy lashes. They seemed to see into one’s heart, and one couldn’t help but feel naked and exposed under her gaze.
She was stern and dedicated to her art with a borderline religious fervour. Her neighbors took notice, with news of her traveling within hours. Who was she? Perhaps she and Ludivicci would be the perfect match for one another. Two kindred spirits, parallel in looks and practice.
Evidently, Ludivicci was enthralled by her as well. Every evening, he would stand at her balcony, wildly waving bouquets of flowers, imploring her to come down and speak to him. No one ever saw Giana Aldi do so much as open her window. Late into the night, the sculptor would cry, shout, and even sing love poetry! Poor Ludivicci was in such a state of ruin by the seventh night, yet he persisted. Having enough of this, the innkeeper accosted him on the street, ordering him to give it up at once! Ludivicci, likely emboldened by the wine running through his body, declared that he would never stop his pursuit until he heard word from the lady herself.
It is said, and there have been several witnesses to this, that Giana Aldi appeared on the balcony then. Leaning over its edge, raven hair spilling over her shoulders, her disdainful shout could be heard by all:
“I’d rather not!”
Gracie Nordgren is a Creative Writing student at the University of Colorado Boulder. She enjoys daydreaming and pomegranates, and would very much like to travel to Venus. Her work has appeared in Kalopsia Literary Journal, The University of Colorado Boulder Honors Journal, and Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine, among others.
Oh poets and their peonies! “As big as human heads” Jane Kenyon exalts, her pen heavy with extravagant language, enormous metaphors as big as life.
The perfume of such heady description smothers me, face-first in the reproduction of perfumed pistol and stamen. Yet it keeps the real makings of this craft at a distance.
Amongst poets, there’s a secret censorship of creation surrounding their beloved peonies— afraid too close they’ll catch the inner workings of such art.
Aware they’ll see, let’s be honest, the ants. Mary Oliver admits they exist. That something dark and alien spiders across this beauty.
She knows that a necessity for budding is this cutting, this eating. Knows that the cataract of leaves covering the bud must feed the hungry just enough. Must just hold back the swarm to unlock the flower’s form.
These thousand tiny bites release a poem as well. The flowering depends on it yet can also kill. So we unleash the ants but prevent such furtive legs from going too far within. Allow the justice of devouring so that the exquisite sweetness opens.
Inside any creation is a little taste of destruction. To pretend otherwise would be outrageous.
Amy Wray Irish (she/her/hers) grew up near Chicago, received her MFA from the University of Notre Dame, then fled the Midwest for Colorado sunshine. She has been published in Spit Poet Zine and Thought for Food; she has work upcoming in Progenitor and Chiaroscuro. Her third chapbook, Breathing Fire, won the 2020 Fledge Competition and is now available from MiddleCreek Publishing. For more information go to amywrayirish.com.
Along the cliffs of Ceann Sibéal herds of sheep graze, weighed down by crimped fleece.
Rough-hewn Celtic crosses, slathered in dust and moss, peek out from brittle underbrush.
A boat slices through still bay waters, inboard motor stirring up foam as the throttle is revved.
A gray dorsal fin approaches the vessel. With a barrel roll and flick of his flukes, Fungie the bottlenose dolphin launches
into the air, slips back under the surface, and reemerges to nuzzle starboard and port sides with his rostrum.
The Ring of Kerry is bathed in gold as Dingle’s red and white lighthouse guides Fungie back to the bosom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Sean Woodard (he/him) is a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Arlington. He also serves as the film editor for Drunk Monkeys. His creative works has appeared in NonBinary Review, The Cost of Paper Vol. 4, and Found Polaroids, among other publications. You may follow him at http://seanwoodard.com, Twitter @seanwoodard7326 and Instagram @swoodard7326.
Yellow suits April, with her tiny porcelain doll face, wispy blonde hair, and raspy voice. She looks so pretty in yellow. It’s a warm late summer afternoon. April’s yellow sundress flutters as we walk along the stone path through her mother’s vegetable garden. She’s wearing red plastic sandals that slap the path stones. Muscular tomato vines grow along the weathered privacy fence, with cracking red fists of tomatoes. Big zucchinis hang from a bamboo pergola like the legs of green giants. Things fly about, small dark birds and glinting insects; big blue flies knock into us; everything smells of tomato stalks and rotting tomatoes and snails.
Come, April says. Come with me. At the end of the path stands the peeling white garage with the broken door and its red roof softening like crayon in the sun. It’s cool in there, April says and takes my hand in her hand, waxy and warm. It is cool in the garage, but not that cool. It smells of gasoline and mown lawn. But there is no car. She shows me a red iron pump her father uses to pump air into the tires of his red bicycle. He rides the bicycle to his job at the steel mill about a mile down the road. My father used to work there. He worked there before the fire. We lived in a different house before the fire. I only remember it a bit, in little bits.
April and I play checkers. She beats me. She says that she never beats her daddy. I don’t say anything, but I think her father must be mean not to let her beat him now and then. What about your daddy? she asks. He died, I say, in a fire. That’s sad, she says.
She unfastens her right sandal, removes it from her foot, and shakes out a stone. Her foot is small and white and delicate. Her baby toe has no toenail. I smile at her. She puts her sandal back on, tightens the strap. We play checkers again. She beats me again. I don’t like losing, but I don’t mind losing to her. Winning makes her so happy. Do you miss your daddy? she asks. I tell her I don’t remember much of him; I was small when he died. I hope my daddy never dies, she says. We play checkers again. This time I win.
Her mother brings us lemonade. Her mother all bright and wearing white with red polka dots, red lipstick, white sandals, and toenails painted red. How you kids doing? she brightly asks. We’re fine, April says. That’s terrif, says her mom. That’s just dandy.
Mommy, April says, you know what I want? I want daddy to live forever. Aw, her mother says, that’s so sweet. I’ll tell daddy what you said, hon. Okay, now, you kids be good. I’ll bring snacks in a bit. Does your friend like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Do you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, little man? she asks me. I nod. I like them. I’m not hungry, but I like them.
Later, I tell April that her daddy will die one day. She stares at me with her small blue doll eyes; they look like little marbles. After a long moment she asks, Why would you say that? Well, everybody’s going to die one day, I say — but now I know I’ve made a mistake. The vibration between us has changed. I should not have said that about her father dying, no matter how true. I try to apologize, but she lowers her head and curls a hand to her mouth. Big tears drop from her eyes.
April, I say softly, I’m really sorry I said that about your father. But my words only make her cry harder. I’m afraid that if her mother comes out she will think I hit her daughter or hurt her somehow. I’m so sorry, I say again, but April makes a sound in her chest and points to the garage door. Out, she says. I want you out. Without another word I leave.
A week goes by and I don’t see April. I don’t try to call 0n her. I feel bad for what I said. I feel like a bad kid. I am a bad kid. I try hard to be good, but I am bad. My grandmother used to say I was born that way. She died. Now she says nothing. Then Mr. Ward next door tells me a dump truck hit April’s father while he rode his bicycle to work. He died immediately, Mr. Ward says. Poor bugger.
My mother goes to the funeral, but I don’t. She tells me it was very sad, almost as sad as my father’s funeral. Poor bugger.
I don’t see April for the rest of the year. Every day I think about her. I miss her. I miss her little face, her button nose, her small white feet, her blue doll eyes. I hear she’s gone to stay at her grandmother’s place for now because her mother is having problems. When I see her mother standing on her front porch she looks sad, so sad. Her eyes are dark; she’s lost a lot of weight. She doesn’t say hello to me. She doesn’t even see me. April must have told her what I said in the garage. Maybe she blames me for her husband’s death. I should have never said anything.
Angry with me once for talking back to her, my mother told me that I had started the fire that caused my father’s death. She said that I’d been playing with matches in the basement — after she had told me more than once to never do this — near a can of kerosene, and set everything on fire. Later she said it wasn’t true. But I believed her the first time.
Sal Difalco is a Sicilian-Canadian satirist and writer currently living in Toronto.
Agnes Vojta’s full-length poetry collection, The Eden of Perhaps, finds itself welcomed into a lineage of poets existing in liminal spaces. In an early poem in the collection, What If, Vojta asks the reader “what if the answer is not here/there, either/or, but both, between, and?” In our society, plagued by othering, perfectionism, and divisiveness, Vojta’s poems continue to ask the right questions all throughout the collection.
I believe it is often the work of a poet to consider grey space. This may feel contrary to what someone thinks of when they think of a poet, self-assured and convicted, preaching their gospel or anti-sermon to an enraptured audience, but there is often more truth when a poet brings along a healthy sense of humility. Poets like John Brehm speak to and curate collections on impermanence. In a 2020 episode of the podcast Between the Covers, Pulitzer Prize recipient Natalie Diaz encourages the acknowledgement of not understanding, or even misunderstanding. Ocean Vuong, in his poem Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong shares with the reader “the most beautiful part of your body/ is where it is headed.” Many great poets have learned to walk the tight rope of transition, to balance on the line of maybe.
I was particularly stricken by Vojta’s poem, Atonement:
Sometimes I wish I belonged to a religion that practices confession.
I can walk in the forest and confess to the trees, kneel by the river and whisper to the water, stand in the field and shout to the sky – but who will pronounce me shriven?
I have to prescribe my own penance, whip my body to exhaustion to drown out the mind’s self-flagellation,
and wait for the unpromised peace.
Being raised Catholic, I am no stranger to this attitude of religious penance that Vojta brings forth in the four short stanzas of Atonement, but though she mentions at times she longs for this space of confession, she ultimately settles, or unsettles, in the uneasy space of waiting “for the unpromised peace.” Vojta’s style at times reminds me of the beloved American poet Mary Oliver. An iceberg—in the sense that often below the surface of the deceptively simple words is ten secret tons of depth. Vojta is something of an iceberg herself. In Atonement, she seems to remind us that religion may present us some feeling of closure, but where a truth lies is in understanding that no peace is promised. These are the words that could shake a world free of the imprisonment of ignorance and return us to a shared experience of unknowing.
The book is brimming with bop after bop. In Seeds of No Return, Vojta, in a kind of magic, bans “the word never” from her mind. In Accomplished Hamster, Vojta manages to turn the cute allegory of a hamster on its wheel into a dark social commentary on hopelessness. Vojta’s poems are no stranger to humor, but they wield it like a knife. In Greeting Cards They Don’t Make, Vojta stands on her soapbox to announce the world’s lack of a greeting card that appropriately states inside “I hope the bastard rots in jail.”
It seems to me that Vojta must live her life as a student to poetry, often passing through the world with dreamer’s eyes. Finding compassion in the dying words of the Mars rover, Vojta creates a beautiful eulogy for a robot in My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark. Vojta hoists a feminist fist of dissent that RBG would applaud throughout the collection, including a disruptive reworking of such classic, albeit dated, fairy tales as Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty.
What’s refreshing about Vojta’s Eden of Perhaps is that it is, in fact, a collection. The poems are in conversation with each other, coming together like a multitude of seeds in the juiciest most pungent pomegranate you’ve ever eaten, unapologetically dripping all over the blueprint of a broken society.
Having read Vojta’s poems, I find myself more willing to say “I don’t know” as I move through my daily life, and while this may sound like some kind of defeat to some, for me it’s a nice walk through the garden in an imperfect Eden that feels more real than anything that they are trying to sell us.
The Eden of Perhaps was published by Spartan Press and is available for purchase here.
Yes, Florida’s also in the South. Yes, we’ve been there. Yes, we’re planning to go there again, maybe this summer; no, we didn’t know anyone in that school, but yes, we all know someone in that school.
Yes, the kids are safe…well, not really safe. I talked to M this morning about what to do: whether to wait in the first fire alarm, how to listen in hallways, where to hide if she needed to.
Then I sent her to school with her cello and packed lunch as if this were normal.
As if I should be talking to her about survival, instead of test scores and school dances. As if any of us know what 6th grade is like when you’re worried about making it home alive. Yes, I say, I realize this is not normal. Yes is to say, I know the rest of the world doesn’t understand, and neither do we. No, I say, it won’t make anything change. It won’t end America’s love affair with guns because we’ve seen that we’ll let children die over and over again and that’s what it means.
I stop and think and almost finish. We’ll let children die before we run background checks. We’ll let children die before we stop automatic and armor-piercing and the hard-on for the NRA.
But I realize all those are just conditionals to the central fact, and the fact of the matter is America let’s its children die.
We’ve been letting them die.
I remember Columbine; I remember Sandy Hook. I remember all the stories in between and all the schools since.
Yes, I say, America.
Keri Withington (she/her) is an educator, vegan, and pandemic gardener. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Wild Word and Blue Fifth Review. She has published two chapbooks: Constellations of Freckles (Dancing Girl Press) and Beckoning from the Waves (Plan B Press). Withington lives with her husband, three children, and four fur babies in the Appalachian foothills. You can find her in Zoom classes for Pellissippi State, trying to turn her yard into an orchard, or on FB (@KeriWithingtonWriter).
his lips were purple and his breath was gone after I tried to blow it back inside of him but it blew my hair up over my crying eyes as I listened for his heart and checked for his pulse, a man so full of life the night before, but a heart attack woke him long enough to reach over to my bed to wake me up so I could save his life. I remained asleep as we both fell out onto the floor in between our beds his dead body pinning me into a rug burn that did not heal for weeks after his life force passed through mine and left me standing there, gazing at him there in the middle of the floor– done and over with and never again–until I realized his life force found refuge in mine when I heard him laughing inside of me.
Kevin Ridgeway is the author of Too Young to Know (Stubborn Mule Press) and nine chapbooks of poetry including Grandma Goes to Rehab (Analog Submission Press, UK). His work can recently be found in Slipstream, Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy, Plainsongs, San Pedro River Review, The Cape Rock, Trailer Park Quarterly, Main Street Rag, Cultural Weekly and The American Journal of Poetry, among others. He lives and writes in Long Beach, CA.
a sketch of the 12 bar blues, approximate C major, central and key. now I play occasionally
in passing at a party – my close friends onto my limited repertoire but acquaintances somewhat impressed. especially since it seems I can improvise; just fiddle it a little with the left hand over pentatonic scales. that’s how you do it – learn how to play like it’s nothing. be casual – order in spanish and in french when you all go on holiday. know
how to wire a plug at the table. how to drive cars manual. spell certain words. play a little piano. how to write a poem about doing other things.
DS Maolalai (he/him) has been nominated eight times for Best of the Net and five times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, “Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press, 2016) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press, 2019)
Cipriano Ortega (they/them) has been fortunate enough to have their work recognized and shown both nationally and internationally. Cipriano strives to create works of art that probe the mind and make people question what they perceive as the normative. Whether that is shown in music, theater, visual art or some sort of culmination of all of the above; Cipriano enjoys blending all creative forms of expression. As a sociological artist, Cipriano deconstructs the worlds around them and observes it under a nihilistic perspective. As an indigenous POC, they also have no choice but to deal with colonialism head on by making it a daily practice to see the divisions we as a society create and continue to make the ‘normative.’