three stories – mathias svalina

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One.

A man wanted to travel to another continent, but he did not have a boat. He read about a series of holes & tunnels & caves that led to the continent to which he wanted to travel. He travelled to the beginning of the path, parked his car, & walked the mile or so to the first hole. This initial hole was filled with mud. He waded through the mud. The hole led to a tunnel of slime. He waded though the slime. The stink sickened him & he propped the neck of his shirt over his nose to try to dampen it, to no avail. The tunnel of slime led to another tunnel, which was dry & generally unremarkable. He walked through this tunnel easily. The dry tunnel led to cave in which there was a lake of fire. He could not pass this lake. Gathering many large rocks, he dropped one into the lake of fire. He stepped on this rock, then dropped another large rock in front of him. He from this second rock he dropped a third rock into the lake of fir & stepped onto that one. He dropped & stepped on another, then another, another. In this way he raveled across half the lake of fire. At this point he took a break. Carrying large rocks is very tiring. He sat on the last rock & drank some lemonade. Then he lay down & took a little nap. In his sleep he had a weird dream of falling upwards into a florescent light, buzzing & flickering. He woke with a bodily convulsion, knocking all his remaining rocks, which were to get him to the other side, into the lake of fire. The knocked-over rocks formed a small island. He tried to pull the rocks out but the heat had melted them together. This was as far as his journey would get him. He built a log cabin on the island. He grew a pleasant garden, both vegetables & flowers. He trained his hounds not to near the lake of fire. He e-lanced & paid all his bills online. On weekends he’d pack a little lunch, put a six-pack in the cooler & spend the whole day fishing on the shore. He didn’t care whether he caught anything. He had grown to love how the fire splashed & rippled when his sinker dropped, how the fire lapped at the stone shore, how little tusks of fire would sometimes pierce through the lake, only to dissipate in the air. But when he did catch a fish, if he could pull it in quickly enough, it was each time already fully cooked by the lake of fire, the flesh flaky & delicious.

Two.

My sister is a pilot. I am her co-pilot. We are preparing to fly a plane across the ocean. The plane sits on the runway as we wait for the air traffic controllers to give us our commands. A bunch of boys climb into the cockpit. They play marbles. They play kick the can. They play stickball with a rubber ball, causing the ball to bounce around the cockpit every time they hit it. One boy eats some sloppy spaghetti out of his cupped hands. He sits between me & my sister. As he eats the sloppy spaghetti, he toggles the switches. I tell him he can’t do that, but he does not listen. I offer him a bowl for his spaghetti. He ignores me. The ignition switch is covered with tomato sauce. My sister leans into the microphone & says We were cleared to take off. Her voice emerges from the speakers tinny & distorted. I flip the ignition switch on & start doing flying stuff. The plane rolls down the runway. It lifts into the air. It increases in speed, until are in full throttle. We reach cruising speed, but all this time, the plane has remained only ten feet above the ground, shaking the cars & trucks below us on the highway. I turn to my sister, the pilot. We are dead, aren’t we? I ask. This is how the dead live, isn’t it? I take my headset off & walk to the door of the cockpit, & look over the seats. Everyone in the plane is dead. All but one teenaged girl with long black hair. She is alive & seated next to my mother’s dead body. Sara, I say to the teenaged girl & tears roll down my face. I grab the boy eating spaghetti. He is a man now, his face covered by decades of dried tomato sauce. He is my husband & I am his. When I look at him again, he is old, his knuckles gone mutable & nutty with arthritis. I point to the girl with black hair, still teenaged, still the only one alive. O, I say to my husband. O, how our Sara has grown.

Three.

A woman could not tell the difference between babies & sticks. As her friends became adults & began to have babies, she became a popular party game. One friend would hold his baby in one hand & a stick in the other, then ask the woman which was which. Half the time she guessed correctly. One day the woman found herself ready to give birth to a baby. At the hospital the doctor ducked beneath the woman’s gowned knees to check on things. When the doctor stood back up, his arms had transformed into large plastic spray bottles, filled with blue glass cleaner. I do not want you to deliver my baby with spray-bottle-arms, the woman said. They will injure the baby’s pliable skull & glass cleaner will irritate the skin. Another doctor was ordered but at he did his doctor stuff, his arms turned into plastic mastodon dolls. I do not want you to deliver my baby with plastic-mastodon-arms, the woman said. They will scar my baby’s soft skin & make her afraid of the world she is entering. Again doctor was ordered. When this doctor stood up from beneath the woman’s gowned knees, one of the doctor’s arms had transformed into a good-sized stick & the other had transformed into a fresh & healthy baby, flecked with afterbirth & screaming. The woman looked back & forth from one arm to the other, trying to figure out which one was the baby. She made her decision & took that one home. She kept the one she took home in a crib & each morning she sang their favorite song as she changed their diapers & fed them formula. The song is called “Buffalo Stance” by the musician Neneh Cherry. It is a very good song.

 

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Mathias Svalina is the author of five books, most recently The Wine-Dark Sea from Sidebrow Books. He is a founding editor of Octopus Books & runs a Dream Delivery Service. 

Photo: Sarah Penney

three poems – j.c. reilly

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Tempest

On the pier at Hawley Arm,
their legs hanging over the edge,
the sisters watch a storm
punch its way from the west.

As the bruised clouds spread,
the air, thick and woolen all day,
shifts and trembles. The lake
blackens in response, while gators,

like logs, sink beneath the surface,
ripples vanishing almost instantly.
A pelican on a cypress stump
takes fright, takes flight, its white

feathers a momentary erasure
of the sky’s embittered indigo.
The sisters ought to go in; a storm
like that can bludgeon a body with hail

faster than they can run the quarter-
mile to the house, but they know
what they will find there: broken hearts,
broken hearts, faded magnolias.

A Syllable, a Dove

A dove drops from your mouth,
round and fat at my feet.

I pick it up, my hands a bowl
for its milk-white body;

it trembles but does not flinch
its gaze. Shell-pink beak sings

of what you could never speak:
your wish to find a sky

unspooling with clouds
of loss, of wind crystal time,

of desire that pelts like sleet.
Song complete, the dove lifts

into the air: your voice on wings,
Goodbye falling, a forgotten feather.

Proverb

In my dream, a bride visits
a blue crystal rotunda, where

an elephant lives in sequins and silks.
If it looks at her with its left eye,

her marriage will be happy,
but only as long as the reach

of wild lemongrass. If it stares
with its right, the couple’s first

thousand days will be as the endless
mangrove, thick with an underscrub

of despair. But should it fix her
squarely with both eyes, blessings

will fall like a shower of silver
rupees on the bride and groom

till they drown, drown—
and the elephant drowns, to bestow such joy.

 

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JC Reilly writes across genres and has received Pushcart and Wigleaf nominations for her work.  She lives with three cats, one of whom is a Communist. When she isn’t writing, she plays tennis or works on improving her Italian. Follow her @aishatonu on Twitter or jc.reilly on Instagram.

 

Photo: Luca Carrà

three poems – eric ranaan fischman

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Shelter

When I was a boy I learned
not to cry. I don’t know how.
I needed a wall, so I built one.
It was easy. Later I learned
that you can’t tell everyone
who you are. There are shapes
to fit in public places. Two walls
with a door. They told me
I shouldn’t sound so smart
if I wanted to make friends. You
have to drink, you have to have
fun. Four walls with a roof.

When I went out, I left myself
inside. I wore whatever costume
was expected of me. It was easy.
I learned to hide my anxiety, to
play parts. Bolts on the windows,
the shades drawn. What was
crying like again? I am a social
butterfly. I am a chameleon.
You will never see me bleed.
You will never feel the bruises
in my ribs. You will never even
make it to the front door.

 

Memory Rewritten According to the Way I Wish It Happened

Manhattan drives 18 hours through the night
from California to see me. I ask what’s wrong
and she tells me. She tells me everything.
We open to each other like doorways. We kiss
and the last two years melt away. It’s like
she never left. When we make love, our problems
don’t follow us into bed. There is no fear in
either of us, no hesitation. We wrap like vines
around each other’s trunks. We fall asleep.
The next day, we walk around the lake. She says
she never stopped loving me. She’s sorry and
so am I. If only we had been braver, if we hadn’t
run so far. That night we cook together and
the silence is so full of her eyes and lips that
I could die right now. “You don’t have to leave,”
I say. “Stay one more night.” She says, “Okay.”

 

Erasure of a Depressing Poem to Reverse Its Effects

Depression Poem

Every morning I wake up to an empty
bed, feeling rejected by the night before.
Every minute is a fresh heartbreak,
every sunrise an opportunity to burn.
It takes most of the day for me to
feel human again. My body whole,
my mind in its right boxes. But by then
it’s bedtime, and I lay down naked,
alone, in the darkest dark I can

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Eric Raanan Fischman is the incredible changing man. By the time you read this, he could be a bird, or an alligator. A faculty member at the Beyond Academia Free Skool, his work has appeared in the Boulder Weekly, Bombay Gin, and in the recent Punch Drunk Poetry Anthology. His first book, “Mordy Gets Enlightened,” was published through The Little Door at Lunamopolis in 2017. He is probably a chimney right now, but he might be a caterpillar, or a crane. He might be dust.

Photo: Zane Lee