This is an act
in which the other is absent
They may or may not
be physically present
but always abstracted
David Leavitt leaves
the house next door
complain to you
of the static – your sex
jammed their headsets
and shocked their children
They would have you believe
what you did was not private
But did anything happen?
you ask yourself hopelessly
It was carnivorous
naming your feelings
seems almost an insult
to the other
when what is wanted
are acts of love
specific as dreams
Paula Bonnell’s poems have appeared in such periodicals as APR, The Hudson Review, Rattle, and Spillway, and in four collections, including Airs & Voices, chosen by Mark Jarman for a Ciardi Prize; Message, a hardcover debut, and two chapbooks: Before the Alphabet, a story in free verse of a child’s kindergarten year, and tales retold, as well as winning awards from the New England Poetry Club, the City of Boston, and Negative Capability, among others. www.paulabonnell.net
Rain and night, Minneapolis,
us, and four suitcases.
Greyhound and a city bus.
Clipped roll in the night. A fade.
Looking west from a pink bedroom
full of linens for a guest,
my eyelids sagging, colored
red from liquor and cinnamon sticks.
If it was noble
to correct the market
the unemployed would be given medals,
and we’d wear them.
Thrum of an airplane overhead.
Recall its low-flying drone again,
and my fingers guide the wind around her flame.
We are lonely in this manmade valley.
Teens clang and hang like bats
from the half-dome batting cage behind our backs.
The water table underneath permeates
the sheds that shake beside the lakes.
This common source of poisoning
affects all things that drink from me.
Here’s a tip for the welfare line:
a note on letterhead from the mayor.
*pieces of this poem were originally published as “Track 16: Half Light II (No Celebration) by Arcade Fire.” in Opossum
Matthew DeMarco lives in Chicago. His work has appeared on Poets.org and in Ghost City Review, Landfill, Sporklet, Glass, and elsewhere. Poems that he wrote with Faizan Syed have appeared in Jet Fuel Review, Dogbird, and They Said, an anthology of collaborative writing from Black Lawrence Press. He tweets sporadically from @M_DeMarco_Words.
In the dressing room, pre-photoshoot, the others start to strip down and change into their costumes. I stand frozen, clothes in my arms that I planned to change into in the bathroom, but now that everyone’s changing out in the open I feel prudish for seeking privacy.
I’m taken back to middle school, high school locker rooms—to changing rooms at the pool, and to sleepovers where I was the only one who seemed to be anxious about showing my body. The only one who seemed to think that bodies weren’t for flaunting, or even for being comfortable letting other people see.
I hear that old voice tell me: “This isn’t allowed for you, even if it’s allowed for others.” It’s the voice that tells me to lessen myself, to withdraw, to separate. (Be in the world, not of it.) It’s a childlike feeling, like when adults tell you to plug your ears and close your eyes because you’re not old enough to know what they know.
I was told my body was a temple of Christ, and though I’m no longer a Christian I’m alarmed to realize I still believe this. Not that my body belongs to Jesus like a temporary gift to take care of—but that it’s something to earn. I still believe the sight of my naked body must be earned. That I shouldn’t reveal it to just anyone, and that the people who do see me and touch me should feel privileged to do so.
Where is the line between vanity and self-respect?
The Church made me believe my body is nothing but sexual.
Standing in the corner of the room, awkward and quiet, I’m surprised and frustrated to realize I still have these inclinations toward body-shyness (especially since I spend most of my time at home in the nude).
It feels wrong to see the other women’s naked breasts, their butts. I try not to look, but can’t avoid it. But for them it seems like nothing, completely natural.
I think: Should I be just as comfortable? Is that really okay?
So I take off my shirt (facing the wall). I feel silly for my discomfort. (It’s no big deal, after all.) Maybe I’m worried I’ll be aroused, and that arousal is inappropriate. But it’s not that. It’s hard to reframe messages instilled when you are young. But now that I’m aware I can start.
Amanda E.K. is the editor-in-chief of Denver’s Suspect Press. She’s also a writing instructor and a longstanding member of the Knife Brothers writing group. Her work has been featured on the Denver Orbit podcast and on Mortified Live. She has work in Suspect Press, Birdy, Jersey Devil Press, the 2018 Punch Drunk Press Poetry anthology, and Green Briar Review. She’s currently working on a memoir about her sexual development while growing up in evangelical purity culture, and she is co-writing a television series. FB: /AmandaEK Twitter: @AmandaEKwriter Insta: @amanda.ek.writer
Grace Gardiner is a British-American non-binary poet and burgeoning intermedia installation artist. They are currently pursuing their PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where they live with their partner and one too many brown recluses. Find them online at pearlsthatwere.tumblr.com.
I ask my sons about dogs. Today, dogs in paintings: why a dark tail curls out beneath the monk’s robe as he strangles a dog. My sons don’t eyeroll, even the living one. They look at me the way dogs do, wet and directly.
My live son asks what’s inside a dog and my dead son says shit. No one nods because we’re now in a sculpture room. The dog’s pelt grabs little spaces. Maybe he’s a going-to-sea-dog: his nails scratch at a saint’s knees, shellish pelt wrinkling. My dead son asks for a spear and I say no violence. I lift an apple again or a pomegranate but it doesn’t go anywhere because stones aren’t hungry.
Outside in the city someone’s posed between wings –this time blue for the endangered scrub jay. They’ve stopped in the kitsch, shoulder-high thin spot. My live son says this is stupid but he’d do it for his child. My dead son says well that’s it for the bloodline. I stitch blue to each boy whenever the paint flecks.
Little mouths in a river tingle or twitch. Back in the origin myth I nearly fall down the same step. Someone asks why even go to term with an accident/ stormstrike/ deathray/ baby, but it’s always too soon to ask art.
I ask my dead son if he’s feral now. Because even cities get lost, even a toddler saint’s head except for one lone stone curl caught in St. Isabel’s dress. My live son knows about cutting because he’s needed transfusions. My dead son knows other things. Someone with a nosebleed leaves 6 votive kleenex.
The devil asks why he wants to be loved by boot on his belly or hand on his neck so much. Moonfaced and sad as he chokes? Call flat dog. Gut-wrenched around another stone boot? Try tide-coming-in dog. My sons hang “gone fishing” signs though one’s really out scoring weed. What’s up, asks a stair. This is the elimination round, scrub jays, so whistle whistle into the last blue city.
Terri Witek is the author of 6 books of poems, most recently The Rape Kit, winner of the 2017 Slope Editions Prize judgedby Dawn Lundy Martin. Her poetry often traces the breakages between words and images, and has been included in American Poetry Review, Lana Turner, Poetry, Slate, Poesia Visual, Versal, and many other journals and anthologies. She has collaborated with Brazilian visual artist Cyriaco Lopes (cyriacolopes.com) since 2005–their works together include museum and gallery shows, performance and site-specific projects featured internationally in Valencia, New York, Seoul, Miami, Lisbon, and Rio de Janeiro. Collaborations with digital artist Matt Roberts (mattroberts.com) use augmented reality technology for smart phones to poetically map cities and have been featured in Manizales (Colombia), Glasgow, Vancouver, Lisbon, Miami, Santa Fe and Orlando. Witek directs Stetson’s undergraduate creative program and with Lopes teaches Poetry in the Expanded Field in Stetson University’s low-residency MFA of the Americas. terriwitek.com
1500 miles from home ⎯ now the van was running funny ⎯ still a long way to go. Better not press our luck. A quick pause at a roadside rest stop told us all we needed to know. The long way got longer. I eyed the corn, into the shop with ye, Chevy.
We killed time in the best way we knew how, cold Cokes in the warm sun. Oh hey, an antique shop ⎯ let’s pop in for a quick look-see. Much cooler inside. Mom and I browsed while Dad chewed the fat with the old man. Dad was always up for a chat.
The room, perfumed in age… old woods, motor oil, tanned hides; filthy pine floorboards caked with grime; shelves amassed in knick-knacks of every kind; steamer trunks of a bygone time. Cobwebs clung to stacks of tobacco tins. In one case, a death’s head pin – how surprising to see such a thing. Spoils of war, collected from the corpse of a dead German – affordable for those who enjoy the souvenirs of sin. I imagined some middle-American named Bill or Jim telling the proprietor to “wrap it up with those Bakelite plates and that hurricane lantern.” How casually it sat, embossed with a rictus, that grin, a grim reminder to some, a display piece for him. No one else seemed to care. I pretended I didn’t either.
We walked out empty-handed and into the still-warming day. Repairs made, once more on our way… 1500 miles from home and double that back. One day I’ll return with my own children. Will the pin still be there in that case? And, if it were, wouldn’t it look better at the bottom of the river? We crossed over the mighty Miss. Onto Illinois and all points east.
Davey Adams was born and raised in Southern California to a family of actors. Lifelong student. Collector of Associates Degrees and part-time jobs. Writer. Poet. Singer. AKA The Good Doctor. You can find him on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp.
Sarah Jane Justice is a fiction writer, poet, musician and spoken-word artist based in Adelaide, South Australia. Among other achievements, she has performed in the National Finals of the Australian Poetry Slam, released two albums of her original music and seen her poetry and prose published in Australia and internationally. Find her at: on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
I got sick at Sunday School today—threw
up outside our portable building when
we got to that part in the Good Book where
Jesus raised up Lazarus from the dead.
I don’t want to die at all but when I
do I want to stay dead or I’ll scare Hell
out of everyone when I get up
on my feet again and all covered with dirt
and maybe blood and guts, depending how
I kick. And for breakfast all I had
was Tang and cornflakes and they came up all
over the spring-green grass where the spigot
leaks by the front porch, that’s as far as I
got before I vomited. If my dog
had been there he would’ve lapped it up but
I would’ve stopped him though still he’d try. I
asked Miss Hooker after class—she let me
sit on the porch while class was going on
without me sitting in our half-circle
(she’s my teacher and a lot to look at,
red hair and green eyes and freckles) if I
would go to Hell for getting sick in class
and she said, No, no, that I had gotten the demons out, meaning Tang and cornflakes
I guess, and I forgot the milk, maybe
it had soured, it came up, too. My stomach
was naked—empty I mean, naked is
a sin, I think, especially at church,
they don’t even bury dead folks that way.
I usually walk home but this time
Miss Hooker drove me after Sunday School,
it’s not far, a little less than a mile.
When we stopped in the driveway I got sick
all over again, but it was just love
that made me start to dry-heave and all that
came forth was air. Still, I got out of there
fast and barely said goodbye but I’ll get
my place in Heaven, Miss Hooker felt it
too, even if she’s 25 to my
10, and now I’m afraid to go back next
Sunday with her in my soul instead of
God but I think that’s how babies get made
and without them we wouldn’t have people
and no one else would ever rise again,
in Heaven at least, and live like angels
forever and never get hungry and
never hurl. And all because God hates us.
In Sunday School today Miss Hooker said that if
we have an enemy we should love him.
Or her. And if he wants to take our cloak,
to let him. Whatever a cloak is. Or
her. And to give him our coat, also. Or
her again. She says that Jesus said so
and He’s the Son of God. That’s good enough
for me, I guess. No wonder they killed Him.
They didn’t get away with it because
He rose from the dead. It took three days. Me,
if I had to rise from the dead, without
any help from God, I mean, I’d still be
trying to rise at the end of the world.
I’m small for my age. 10. Miss Hooker says
—and she’s our teacher and she ought to know
—that when I die my soul goes to Heaven
to be judged. She says that in our church that we
don’t think the soul just hangs around until
Judgement Day but that it goes lickety
-split to Heaven. I guess it hardly has
the time to know that it’s not still inside
a body. It shows up at God’s throne and
He asks an angel to pass Him the Book
of Life and the angel obeys, that means
he does what he’s told, or she, and God looks
through the Book and hunts up the name and if
He finds it you get to stay in Heaven
but if He don’t—doesn’t—you go to Hell.
She says it’s that simple. I wonder if
God wears glasses. He’s older than Father and
Grandfather and all the folks who’ve ever
lived and ever will. That’s powerfully
old. Miss Hooker says that we need to pray
everyday to be forgiven for our many sins. I don’t think I have many
but I’ve been wrong before, about plenty
of things. Like the one about the screen door
on that submarine to keep out the fish.
That made sense to me. It keeps out the bugs
at our house. But a screen door in a sub,
that’s short for submarine, would let the sea
Then the sailors would drown. They’re sailors
even though they’re underwater. Well, not
underwater all the time. But on land
are they still sailors? I rest my case. When
Sunday School’s almost over Miss Hooker
tells one of us to say the Lord’s Prayer
and we all say it along with him. Or
her. This morning was my turn. I stumbled
because I was thinking about the screen
door on that submarine. It might work out
when the sub isn’t underwater but
floating on the top. It would keep out birds.
Then there may be a fish who likes to leap
out of the water and back in again.
In that case he’d bounce right off it. Or she.
So I guess that I’m not entirely wrong, entirely means completely. Only sin
is entirely wrong, and I never pray
to be forgiven for being stupid.
If I die in being-stupid I won’t
go to Hell. If I die in sin, I will.
Someone might say that sinning is stupid
but they’re just mincing hares. Hares is rabbits.
Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Chiron Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, and many other journals, and has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.
Fate arrives in her mailbox. And with its arrival, a decision. Fate is a red matte lipstick, a special order that arrived for Nicole Masterton, the person who lived in 12A before Allie. Allie has lived in 12A for five months, and she still receives Nicole Masterton’s mail. Sometimes Allie takes the mail to the post office and leaves it. Sometimes she throws it away. The magazines and catalogs she keeps. She guesses Nicole must be a fashionable young woman with a formidable shoe collection.
She doesn’t generally open Nicole’s mail, except for she did open the heavy envelope, embossed, that turned out to be a wedding invitation. Allie doesn’t get invited to many weddings. The fancy envelope has been sitting on her end table for three weeks, the gilded RSVP card askew as if the person who opened the invitation to the nuptials of Sarah Jane Laux and Jeffrey George Bolingbroke couldn’t be bothered to hurry an answer.
Allie imagines Nicole waiting for a wedding invitation, wondering if she had been forgotten, if she should call and inquire, if she should just show up as if the invitation had arrived as expected. Or if she should be hurt, or angry. Allie has considered bundling it all back into the torn envelope – why hadn’t she used a letter opener? surely such an envelope warranted a letter opener? – and taking it to the post office with a murmured apology. Instead, the envelope sits there, silver-foiled and pretty.
And now Fate has arrived. Allie doesn’t think of herself as a red lipstick type of girl. But when Fate is delivered to your door, oughtn’t you to accept it? The lipstick is a good match for Allie. It complements her complexion. She wonders what Nicole looks like, if Fate looks as good on her.
Allie wears Fate on her lips and goes to Nordstrom’s. She walks through the women’s section, aimlessly trailing her fingers over the sale racks and she sees it, a dress red as Fate. A dress in her size, on sale so ridiculously low she’d be a fool not to buy it.
For two days the dress lays over the back of a chair, waiting, like the wedding invitation. But Allie has known since she held Fate in her hand that she was going to the wedding. She wants to see it, to see this wedding announced with such an elaborate invitation, sent to a woman with a chilly name like Nicole Masterton who buys a lipstick called Fate.
Inside the church it’s all flowers and tulle and crystal and candles. Extravagent. Allie doesn’t sit all the way in the back as she’d planned. Women with Fate on their smiles don’t sit all the way in the back. She sits on the groom’s side, looking on the bride’s side for someone who might be Nicole Masterton who surely came, who isn’t at home sad and angry, whose friends told Sarah Jane Laux about the lost invitation and she surely was sent another.
The ceremony is beautiful, of course. The bride could grace the pages of Vogue and maybe she does. Allie dabs her eyes, caught up in the couple’s first married kiss. She finds herself in the receiving line, and she hugs the bride, who glows with happiness, and she hugs the groom who says, “It’s so good to see you again, it’s been so long.” It has, she agrees, but he doesn’t really know her. She leaves a touch of Fate on his cheek. It’s ok, she brought Fate with her in the tiny purse she dug out of her closet from prom years ago (from prom! seriously!) and she’ll keep Fate with her all night.
Because of course she attends the reception. The tables are set with name holders. There are two tables for those who have not RSVP’d. Allie wonders if she’ll be seated near Nicole Masterton. She doesn’t catch all the names as introductions are made, but Nicole is not one of them. She gives her own name as Tiffany Smith and hopes she remembers it later, if necessary. When she’s asked how she knows the bride, she says she knows the groom, but it’s been a very long time, not since they were quite young and the blush that warms her cheeks at the lie makes her wonder if people will assume they were lovers. She imagines what it would be like to have been his first love. Someone clinks a glass and the happy couple kiss. Allie smiles with her Fate lips. The table she is at is far from the wedding table, this table reserved for those without reservations.
Allie leaves a mark of Fate on the cloth napkin, reapplies in the Ladies where every moment she expects to run into Nicole Masterton, whose invitation she usurped. Allie smiles at the mirror. Fate looks good on her. So does the dress of the same hue, the only one like it she owns.
She watches the couple’s first dance. She leaves traces of Fate on more than one champagne glass. It’s past 11 when she decides to leave. The reception shows no sign of slowing down, and Allie wonders if it will end at midnight or continue until the sun rises.
Allie walks past the cloak room, past the bathrooms on her way out the door. The groom emerges from the men’s room. “Wait,” he says to her. “Don’t leave yet. I’ve wanted to talk to you all night.”
Allie turns, smiling with Fate on her lips.
Epiphany Ferrell lives and writes on the edge of the Shawnee Forest in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in New Flash Fiction Review, Third Point Press, Newfound and other places. She recently received a Pushcart nomination, and has a story forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2020. She blogs intermittently for Ghost Parachute and is a fiction reader for Mojave River Review.