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

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

moon

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

Photo: Naomi August

cutting bones – morgan leathem weiss

bone

They cut bones
while their lover saws coconuts.

Lining them up against the brick wall,
there is nothing for the sun to bleach.

Tinny, tenacious shrieks
pierce the air and emit an aria.

Metallic, it leaves a poor taste on the tongue,
the kind of putrid fur no scraper can peel.

The sound of bones primordial
against a backdrop of bold, fuzzy shells

hangs over human heads,
calculating, ruminating, no other than a bored specter.

One person struggles to find meaning,
but is left with the other cradling the saw.

Trapped within the jungle’s fury,
even the bones are not themselves.

moon

Morgan Leathem Weiss is a writer and folklorist from the Midwest. Her poetry has appeared in The Raven’s Perch, Really Serious Literature, Ghost City Review and is forthcoming in Clockwise Cat, while her essays have been featured in Jadaliyya and Folklore Thursday. When she is not interviewing archaeologists, she enjoys podcasts, experimental film, and exploring ruins. She splits her time between Oaxaca, Chicago, and the forests of Connecticut.

Photo: @zellersamuel

struck horse – ron burch

Struck Horse

Coal-black mare. Solitary in the darkened field, its crooked, broad teeth grasping green strands. Gray clouds heaped upon one another, a thunder inside, one strike, two strikes, the mare on its front knees, slow-motioning as it tilted on its side, thick muscles shaking as the large body smacked the wet earth, mouth open, singed, a thin drift of smoke rising from the trembling haunches, tongue out, eyes wide.

A lone farmer ran through the field toward it, yelling its name. His green hat flew off in the rushing wind that embraced him with arms of rain.

The farmer dropped knees-down, wrapping his long arms around the mare’s head, its eyes all white. Spittle dribbled out of its agonized mouth.

“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t die.”

The horse rested in his arms, breaths like unanswered questions. The eyes returned to their normal state, the eyes of the mare meeting the eyes of the farmer, firmer breaths as the farmer’s hands stroked the dark horse head, until the mare asked, “What the hell just happened?”

The farmer, astonished, stuttering, “You, you, you were struck by lightning.”

The horse, whose name was Mare, leaned back its large head, the nostrils flaring, “Did you just talk to me?’

The farmer, more astonished, “You talked to me first.”

“Holy fuck,” replied Mare. “I guess I did.”

Once the miraculous had been accepted by the farmer, his immediate thought was, naturally, commerce. With this in mind, the farmer approached the mare who declined his offer of public performance.

“I wouldn’t like that at all,” she said.

“It’s no different than the conversation we’re having now,” the farmer protested. “You just have it with other people.”

The mare neighed in response, saying, “Other people may not be as kind as the farmer.” The farmer laughed.

“Nonsense,” he said, “I’ll be with you the whole time.”

Using his phone, the farmer recorded a short video of he and the mare discussing the weather while standing in the farmer’s north pasture. The video lasted less than 30 seconds and the mare completed three complete sentences and expounded on what she believed tomorrow’s weather was going to be like – crappy again. The uploaded video went viral, making the major social media sites, with ongoing arguments from the viewing community as to whether it was really a talking horse or not.

To confirm, the farmer and the mare were invited to one of the national televised morning shows, followed the same day by visits to two late-night shows. One of the late-night shows had on what they were calling a “Talking Horse Expert,” some guy dressed like a country rube with a straw hat and a pitchfork, a joke until Mare unmasked the man as someone knowing nothing about contemporary farming. The actor dropped his pitchfork realizing that the horse was actually talking.

Mare’s fame exploded. Her likeness was put on coffee mugs, t-shirts, plates, and hundreds of other trinkets. Even her own calendar. Crowds greeted her at the events she attended whether it be the opening of the local county fair to television shows. She was even asked to do the play-by-play for the national horse-racing derby, which she turned down, citing that she believed that humans racing horses for money was wrong. The derby representative, a stern, pasty old man who was a local politician, complained to the farmer, who apologized but felt the same way.

She didn’t understand why she had to do a dog-food commercial. “I don’t even eat dog food,” she said. “Do you?”

The farmer shook his head and said that it was just for the money. Mare complained that too many humans only cared about money. The guy holding the boom said she didn’t know any better because she was only a stupid horse. Mare cantered over to the boom operator, backing him up against the wall and said that if it wasn’t for humans and their slaughter of innocent animals to feed their overweight, smelly bodies, that this world would be a much better place.

You could hear the hum of the background lights.

They finished the shoot but the atmosphere was tense. As the farmer led out the mare, she said to him, “I’m only telling the truth.”

The farmer nodded his head. “I know.”

Later, that night, someone leaked a shaky video of Mare’s comments from the commercial. The comments were excoriating, and the farmer didn’t see the need to tell the mare about it. This was bad press and perhaps, the farmer considered, that they had made enough money to live happily for a number of years.

In the living room of the farm house, where Mare was now living, he told her it’s time to retire.

“Thank god,” she replied and nuzzled his neck as she once did when she was much smaller.

They still had one more talk show to do and decided together that it would a great way to say goodbye. The farmer would say that the mare woke up silent again, and she would merely stand there while the camera pushed in on her face.

Minutes before she was to go on live television, the farmer couldn’t find her in her assigned dressing room. He asked a couple of the people backstage if they’d seen a horse but nothing. He heard a shot – he knew it was a shot – he was a hunter, he knew. He ran toward the direction and out an emergency exit. A white car pulled away. She was on the ground behind the building, crumpled across two parking spaces, her body broken on the cement dividers, her mouth bound with white rope, her blood, from a gunshot, pooled around her mane. He held her still head in his arms and even as the grief broke across him, he refused it, so it would feed him for a long time, never letting him forget.

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Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, New World Writing, PANK, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. 

Photo: Erin Dolson

midwestern meditation – adrian s. potter

Stephen Radford

Having never been to heaven, I can’t conceive of hell. But when I consider it, I see yellow crops crowding a flat expanse and everything tinged with ochre – even our incendiary expectations. During our road trip, we solve the riddle of boredom by inventorying the silos, smokestacks, and silence that populates the prairie skyline. Everything we say sounds like an echo of something we said earlier. But in your eyes, I witness truth: brown of soil, green of grass, gold of grain, gray of tornadoes. Still, I dream of foreclosed fields and dying cowtowns, and yours the only living soul, a specter in reverse.

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Adrian S. Potter writes poetry and short fiction. He is the author of the fiction chapbook Survival Notes (Červená Barva Press, 2008) and winner of the 2010 Southern Illinois Writers Guild Poetry Contest. Some publication credits include North American Review, Obsidian and Kansas City Voices. He blogs, sometimes, at http://adrianspotter.com/.

Photo: Stephen Radford

they are under my comforter of stars – promise clutter

redwoods
there will be an October surely,
my love,
suspended in fog
spiced with bark
& trapped beneath a canopy of mules
blocking the heavens from knowing
which way the wind blows
i do not catch in the chill
nothing here brings me to you
i see love in the gold glint on green
in the heat of the day
at night, the dogs hear
my mournful howls
i am not for you
as the redwoods are
i shed my leaves
before the first frost
i think you are the only one
to have ever seen the moon,
my love,
with candied cheek awe
trimming back eyelashes
exposing lakes of arcane calm
it is silent in comptche
we shuffle across dirt paths
i grab our elbows
to make us stargaze
they too are under
these lights
when you shine on them
won’t you send my love?
i grew accustomed to living without you,
my love,
here where the candlewax waves
crash against the stones
& the crow’s caw pierces my heart
my heart that aches for you
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two poems – ghost #218

three phones
Dirge
Let’s wonder how awkward it is not just for us,
the ones standing around up-skirted ground,
but how spine splitting it must be for the man who never met her
yet now finds himself here super gluing the container for her remains shut.Let’s talk about her virtues.Let’s attempt to ray trace our memories
and recall instead why we don’t have steady hands.Let’s strand ourselves shaking and lonely
in a room full of her, and our, dearest friends.Let’s tell each other stories we’ve heard before.Let’s try jokes if that’s doesn’t work.Let’s all stand around and stare at the dirt.Let’s find it strange that they don’t play sad songs at a funeral.
Let’s think it a denial of truth
but in retrospect admit that nobody really needs another reason to cry.Let’s talk less about the woman we lost
and more about the God who’s said to have taken her from us.
Let’s remember that’s most of the reason why I hate Catholic services.Let’s carry the unpleasant of our world squarely at the base of our throat.
Let’s feel the swelling.
Let’s feel like a snake having eaten an elephant.
Let’s not like the taste in our mouth.Let’s tell each other it will get better.Let’s watch her husband and two sons
with their heads bowed inward
forming a lopsided triangle
with no corner to it’s lips.Lets let them be silent.Let’s voyeur ourselves into its center.Let’s miss her.Properly.I don’t like the taste in my mouth.

Let’s still have to work on Monday
and say to our manager
“I’m well, how are you?”

Let’s recall how artificial a funeral is.

Let’s regale our friends with stories
of a woman they never met

and never will.
Let’s miss her.Let’s write this poem from a collective perspective
to distribute the trauma away from ourselves,
to disguise our self obsession,
to emphasize the fact that all grieving is valid,
that my grievances with her service are small,
that I wasn’t the one who knew her best,
that I’m not the one who misses her most,
that I still miss her all the same.Let’s miss her all the same.
Let’s feel the guilt in tandem.
Let’s not like the taste in our mouths.Let’s miss her all the same.

Reprise

In my coat closet you’ll find no Narnia,
only the gained crop of past lovers lost.
On the bottom shelf you’ll find a dust crusted box
stuffed with knickknacks and old box office tickets
politely labelled “in case it doesn’t work out.”
Beside that you’ll find an old waitstaff hat
and a note that claims some semblance of perspective.
I suppose I might go back.
Call it a second first act,
and act content.
After all, not everyone is meant to be loud,
and shouting matches rarely spark healthy fires.So let’s say
“ぜんぶ人 c’est la vie.”
We’ll make a shitty mix-tape.
Call it the Fall in love with a stranger EP.
We don’t have to agree
on what predicates celestial value,
or what rhetoric to apply
in each other’s eulogy.
Just —
Tell me
I’ll be ok.
Please.
SBGS December

bag of eyes – david rawson

When I took Holly to the waterfront, she told me I was destined to be a father.

“You’re going to have a girl,” she said. “And you’re going to raise her alone.”

Holly and I had been hanging out a lot the last few weeks, staying up til 4am walking around her neighborhood. One night we laid down in the middle of the street at the end of the cul de sac. No cars came. And if they had, we would have seen them coming. As I curled up in one of the blankets we had brought with us, Holly climbed up a tree that the cul de sac had been built around. It stood surrounded by pavement on all sides. I had to look down as she climbed because small leaves, twigs, and dust fell from where she rustled. I protected my eyes, and even though nothing had gotten in them, I felt them swell and water.

This trip to the waterfront was my attempt to expand our relationship, to begin to define it. I was nineteen and barely knew myself, let alone how to date this beautiful independent woman who, although she was my age, had secrets in her eyes I could not begin to uncover. She was a lion. She had an unruly mane of hair that she was always trying to move out of her eyes. She was looking out at the water. We barely spoke. I did not know how to respond. I knew I did not want kids, but I never told people I dated what I really wanted. I didn’t want to scare anyone off.

“Yeah, I haven’t given it a lot of thought, to be honest,” I said. “It all depends on the person, you know?”

But she had already decided I would be alone. Whoever the mother would be was already gone, unreachable. Although Holly was a few feet away from me, she could have been a sea away.

We sat on the rock by the waterfront on the same blankets we had used in the cul de sac. She was telling me she hated her nose. She said she thinks it is too big. She didn’t look at me. She looked at the water. I didn’t know what to say. It was a big nose if you isolated it, if you took it out of context and held it in your palm. I imagined holding her nose in my hand. She looked down at her stomach.

“I’m going to get a nose job my last year of college. And I’ll probably have my stomach done.”

She did not mention her eyes. She loved her glasses. The way she stroked the frames gently with her index fingers. The glasses framed her eyes perfectly, and she knew it. The nerdy infatuation I felt for her intensified every time she tilted her head down and looked up at me, when my world became those eyes perfectly framed.

The whole time we were talking, I had been watching two brothers, no older than twelve. Their father was nearby sitting down in a chair he had brought with him, a retractable one he had brought in a bag slung over his shoulder. He had a simple fishing rod that he held loosely in his hand. Every once in a while, he brought up a fish. His two boys were doing something on a bit of pavement down from us, near the cooler the father was placing the fish in. They were quiet, looking down at the pavement, doing something with their hands, like tracing something out deliberately.

After the boys left with their father, Holly and I stood up to leave. And we could see down the way to the pavemented area, and we could see what the boys had been doing so meticulously. Twenty-three stiff fish bodies laid rotting in the sun. The father had not taken any of the fish to eat later. It struck me in the gut as a waste of life, to catch and discard on hot pavement. It was death without a function. And then I saw what the brothers had been doing so meticulously. They had taken out the eyes. Forty-six eyes altogether that they had cut out together, as a team. The eyes were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they kept them. Somewhere there was a bag full of fish eyes.

I attempted to move the dead fish off the pavement into the water. I picked up two big sticks and attempted to move one, like I was using enormous chopsticks. Holly halfheartedly followed my lead. She said nothing. I could not measure her discomfort or shock. She would not look at me.

I got one fish into the water, but it floated vertically, its mouth open, holes for eyes.

When I dropped her off at her car after a silent drive back, she hugged me and looked up at my eyes for the first time that day. It became clear. We were not going to talk about the fish.

“You’ll probably name her something like Penelope. She’ll draw on your walls with crayon, but you won’t care. You’ll pick up a crayon and draw right along with her.”

I laughed a hollow laugh and nodded. “You can always wash a wall,” I said.

In the reflection of her car, I saw Penelope, but just for a brief moment. She was wearing a summer dress and ballet slippers, and the Robin’s Egg Blue crayon was tight in her hand as she drew a vertical line from as far as her arm would reach above her head to the moment she can feel the touch of her hand against her toes.

But then just as quickly as I had seen her, she was gone. And without consciously trying, another image flooded my brain: a small Ziploc bag full of fish eyes, in an underwear drawer somewhere, covered in t-shirts and boxers, a testament to a productive day.

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David Rawson is the author of A Jellyfish for Every Name and Proximity (ELJ Editions).

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glen canyon dam – ghost #909

We’d traveled hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of miles into the deepest recesses of the desert land to see the Bottomless Pit of Babies for ourselves. We all peered down into the abyss, my father holding me up over the edge for a better look.

“See, look over at those ones. They’re trying to climb out. Isn’t that the cutest?”

We all peered down into the seething, teeming bowl of fresh babies–mewling, crawling, naked, red, and raw, faces scrunched and fists balled, crying out for the mothers from which they’d be ripped away, screaming at the fathers that let them go.

Yeah, it was a bottomless pit of babies. That was for sure. And we all saw it. Paid for the pleasure, even.

Oh, and they even set one up for display up there. So we could all see what they looked like, up close.

But it was just a baby.

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so what’s left – john grey

after the parades die down
and three hundred million of us
are left with nothing to do
but pick up trash from the sidewalk:
take down the signs

as troops are dispersed
to go home
and look at themselves
in the mirror

and the presidents and senators
and colonels and capitalist
are secure in their counting houses

and it starts to rain
on flagstone on brown boot
on hair and bald head
on whatever flesh dare expose itself
even on a faded tattoo of a heart

and on rusted auto of course
dead junco live pigeon
even all over two people
who cross themselves
in a flamboyant Godspeak
then quote the desiccated Gospel of love

and rats tinkle bells
like old Rita’s cow
and ancient tongues speak
a diffused paranoia
and the young stir their names
in the muddy ground
with the last of the slicks
made of broken limbs
from trees once everywhere
now shipped in from elsewhere

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John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in the Homestead Review, Poetry East and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Harpur Palate, the Hawaii Review and North Dakota Quarterly.  

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