“In Which Sasquatch Moves to the Desert” by Rachel Maggio


“The Overseer” by Jean Banas, Acrylic on canvas, 38″ x 47″.

i. they say the Sasquatch has never been killed
because the face is too human
that hunters looking into the eyes become struck with the fact
that they too are monster;
that Sasquatch have an affinity for chewing tobacco and bottled water
sneaking it from the packs of hikers, careful
so as not to wake the children

ii. the sightings of donovan are rare
perhaps on thanksgiving or christmas
but when he is present the room is alight
the air hangs in earthquake weather
this time the medication is working
this time dono drives a bus
this time he drives us all in the bus to see the christmas lights
this time i bury my head in my mother’s shoulder the whole time
too afraid to look up
this time the air is alive and elektrik

iii. Sasquatch speak their own language
a cohesive language they all understand of grunts and moans
and guttural calls, even the young ones
(they live in close family groups)
speak this language, based on the cries of the young
so the species adapts to speak to babies,
understood from birth that the innocence we all carry
may in fact be our saving grace
not the other way around and the Sasquatch
presumably have their own bedtime stories told in these grunts and moans
and the young presumably grunt and moan
for them to be told again

iv.they move to the desert
my grandma tells me the desert, has more extreme highs
and lows and maybe the sunshine and nature is what
the two of them need
and we go to the desert to see them
past the plaster dinosaurs and donovan rocks a new baby in his arms
to sleep before he disappears

v. the great Sasquatch of the pacific northwest
can communicate with the conscience
and maybe that is why it has never been killed
the great Sasquatch of the pacific northwest often attempt to bring home
the hikers kind enough to bring them chewing tobacco and bottled water
not realizing this is not appreciated
seeing into the greater conscience(but never to the surface)beyond the fear and thinking
instead about the need to escape to nature, but these hikers
cannot see into the greater Sasquatch conscience only to the surface of their own, and therefore
are limited to their fear

vi. when they find donovan’s body
hanging in the garage
my brother deciphers the news through my sobs
and asks me if i remembered to take my medication
wondering if i too will run away into the woods 

vii. offering Sasquatch food ensures your survival
while crying seems to aggravate the creatures
who will punch in your jaw and run at the sight of tears
but apparently no one has told this news to my grandmother
and aunt because there is no food at the funeral but there is
plenty of tears and
in the true Sasquatch spirit,
punching to follow suit

viii. donovan rode his skateboard down pch
to watch monsterquest with me and my brother
and his guttural laugh at the skeptics shown
makes us only more sure of ourselves
Sasquatch live among us
he leaves before the episode is over
and before Sasquatch are found

ix. the Sasquatch’s humanoid face
may in fact be proof that they are real
our cousins in fact
early wanderers who once
fed up with this world’s treatment
fled into the woods,
and spoke a new language of guttural groans
and chewing tobacco
and never came back

 

Rachel Maggio is a freelance writer and student in the English program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

 

“Gone Sister” by Dion O’Reilly


“Carriage House” by Jean Banas, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 52″.

She never fell from her frantic
mare as it reared and twisted
in the mustard fields.
And when she drove high speed
in her ‘67 Karmann Ghia,
she didn’t plummet
off an unexpected cliff
at the end of Swift Street
as she flipped out on acid.

She survived her wild childhood,
divides her time
between three western states.
Summers in Coos Bay, visits in the fall
with the willing men of Kanab,
winters spent
floating across borders,
visiting boneyards of the old days
in this dirty California town,
where she learned the ways of wayward surfers,
smoked dope downtown with strangers,
searched the Boardwalk
at four in the morning
for some stringy-haired boy
to bring home.

Bull-whipped child grown bold,
cast out by her parents at seventeen,
her violence aimed back to them,
when she tipped the table,
stood, suddenly screaming
at Christmas.
Even my father’s fists
slamming her face,
my mother sending her into the streets
in tight lime-green pants and torpedo bras—
none of it killed her.
Without family she’s alive,
sixty-six in a jet-black wig
and Grace Slick bangs, the same
as when she was eighteen
and I was twelve,
her big dark eyes inked with liquid
eyeliner, her plump mouth
shiny with pale gloss, open,
as if calling out.

 

 

Dion O’Reilly has spent  much of her life on a farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She studies with Ellen Bass and Danusha Leméris and attends an MFA program in Creative Writing at Pacific University. She has worked as a waitress, barista, baker, theater manager, graphic designer, and public school teacher. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in Rattle, The Sun, Canary Magazine, Spillway, Bellingham Review, Atlanta Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Porter Gulch Review, and a variety of other literary journals and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for Pushcarts, the Intro Journals Project, and was a semifinalist in The Folio Literary Journal Poetry Contest.

 

“Grade School Fashion Faux Pas” by Optimism One


“Moving Through Space” by Jean Banas, acrylic on canvas, 46″ x 47″.

We had gone running early that morning but cut it short, stopping after three and half miles.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Cortney said, and started to walk.

“Big potty?” I asked, trying to be delicate, speaking her third-grade-teacher lingo.

“Yes.” Her cheeks reddened under the lamps that lit the trail.

“You can poop in my hat,” I said.

“No. I wish I had brought some toilet paper. I’d go in the bushes.” We were on the Virginia Corridor Trailway, a two-lane paved path that replaced a dormant set of train tracks and bisected neighborhoods to the west and east. I pictured the doggie pick-up bags in dispensers and shuddered at the thought of cleaning up after her. Thankfully, I kept my mouth shut. Thankfully, she didn’t want to crap in my favorite fitted running beanie.

I had to go, too, but I was more used to running through the urge.

Ten minutes later, back at her apartment, Cortney rushed to the bathroom. I started making a smoothie and heard the shower. Since there is only one bathroom in her apartment, I held it and got her lunch ready. The relationship was pretty new in those ways.

~

Cortney was running late for work. She had already left the apartment and walked down the stairs to her car but rushed back in. “Have you seen my cell phone?” The force of her words pushed the door open as much as her hands.

I popped my head out from the kitchen at a 45-degree angle, shaking my hands toward the sink. “No, I don’t think so. Is it by the b—”

She reached between the cushion and the arm of her reading chair. “Oh, here it is. Okay, gotta go. Quick kiss.” She walked and puckered as I met her in the living room.

In unison, we exaggerated, “Muah!”

“I’ll walk you out to your car,” I said.

She sped through the door and hurtled down the stairs. “Don’t lock yourself out.”

“I won’t,” I said, closing the door behind me and rushing to catch up. Suddenly it felt like we were working out again, running down bleachers at the track, head and eyes down, intent on each step, a mixture of concentration, caution, and exertion. At the bottom and on flat ground, we jogged the twenty yards to her car.

“Okayhaveagreatday,” she said.

“You, too. See you this afternoon.”

I stood in the mini parking lot like I was waiting for her plane to take off, not wanting to turn around until her car had disappeared from my sight. I watched her pull out in reverse. The gravel in the alley crunched under her tires. She drove away after we gave our final waves, metronomes from elbows to fingertips, and blew our final kisses.

Floating back upstairs, belly full of butterflies, I glowed with the thought that I was an attentive, exciting boyfriend.

The front door was locked. I gripped the cold, gold handle and shook it like I was trying to tear it off, as if I would somehow overpower the locking mechanism with brute force. The windows rattled.

“What the fuck?” I said out loud, knowing Cortney was already down the street, out of sight, zooming to work fourteen miles away and two towns over. Knowing I didn’t have my own cell phone on me. Knowing I didn’t know her phone number anyway.

I walked around the wrap-around balcony to each hand-crank window, hoping that one had been left cracked open, digging my fingers into the gaps on the sides to pry loose the old, rusted frames.

What the hell am I going to do? I had rented out my house when I went on sabbatical and was crashing at Cortney’s before I went traveling again. Everything I needed was locked inside of her place.

I started to get cold in my running tights, running shoes, and form-fitting, long-sleeved running shirt.

~

Now I was stuck outside without a key to my car, a phone, money, anything. The morning air added an extra chill to my smoothied bones. And, still having to go big potty, it felt like I was going to mess myself.

I thought, Maybe Paul is awake and I can borrow one of his cars. I walked the five blocks to my friend’s house, reliving the scene in Up in Smoke when Cheech coaches himself: “Cheeks stay together.”

Paul was already gone, so I returned to Cortney’s porch, shaking the same door handle, pulling at the same windows. I looked across the street to my college. It was still before 7 a.m. on a Friday, a non-teaching day. I could wait until the secretaries arrived and call my mom’s house. But what I wore left very little to the imagination. One glance at my crotch gave a clear outline of everything.

Plus, having just spent too many weeks on the road eating crappy food, I looked like I was pregnant and just starting to show. My pecs, too, seemed more like points since I hadn’t done a push-up in weeks. I felt like Mr. Fatness more than Mr. Fitness. This was fine for running in the dark before most of the world awoke but not walking around in broad daylight at my place of employment. Still, the specter of squatting outside to relieve myself overtook all ego.

Where do the homeless go to the bathroom? I wondered.

The science building, otherwise foreign to me, sat close to the road. I slipped into a bathroom with an outside entrance. Warmth, gratitude, and relief consumed me so much that I considered staying until Cortney got home at 4 p.m. But picturing myself pacing back and forth in a bathroom or sitting all day in a stall, hiding and hoping no one would walk in, motivated me to think of other options, like running to my mom’s house three and a half miles away.

The run would keep me warm, allow time for my mom and stepdad to wake up, give me access to a car, and provide the option of putting on some lessrevealing clothes. An added bonus, which I didn’t anticipate, was that the run would give me time and insight to work through my tendency to blame others for anything bad that happens to me.

I knew that Cortney locked the door as she walked out, an unconscious movement from the two years she had spent living alone in that apartment. I noticed her doing it a week before when she almost locked me out, and I had thought several times that I should get an extra key made to stash outside. But I didn’t. And now I wanted it to be her fault that I was stuck outside, stranded, resourceless, and practically naked.

Deep down, I knew better. But it took this extra run through Modesto to figure it out.

~

My mom opened the front door, her face pixilated through the security screen. “What are you doing here?” she said.

“I’m locked out. I need your car.”

“What? Where’s Cortney? Is she already at work?”

“Yeah, I walked her out to her car and didn’t realize that she locked the door out of habit.”

“Do you have your license with you? You can’t drive my car without your license.”

“Mom, are you serious? Look at me. I don’t have anything. All I have is what I wore to go running. I’m not going to get pulled over.”

She chuckled in that nervous way that conveyed she meant what she said but wasn’t comfortable being challenged about it. “Yeah, I’m serious.”

Dan, my stepdad, still facing the too-loud TV, said, “I’ll take him.”

“Okay, thanks, Dan. But Mom, do you have some sweats I could wear over my running gear? I can’t walk into Cortney’s school looking like this.” I would have asked Dan, but he outweighs me by at least 100 pounds.

She soon displayed a series of matching sweatsuits in pastels and kitten-soft material not meant to go past the front door.

“No, Mom, what about that matching blue Adidas track suit you wear all the time? Can I wear that?”

“Oh, yeah. Let me see.”

Meanwhile, I said to Dan, “If I’m not being too needy, can I borrow one of your baseball caps? My hair is a mess.”

“You bet.” He followed my mom down the hall but turned left to the spare room cum storage closet.

My mom returned with another wrong set of sweats. “This?” she asked. I began to get flashbacks of being in the third grade, shopping for school clothes at Mervyn’s with my mom. She had seemed intent on ensuring that everybody I ever encountered would not only dislike me but also openly ridicule me.

“No, you know, the track suit with that material that makes that swishy sound when you walk and it rubs together? Swish, swish, swish,” I said, embarrassed that I tried to mimic the sound certain clothes make.

“Oh, okay. I think I know what you’re talking about.”

“See if this fits,” Dan said, walking past my mom. “If it does, you can have it. I didn’t realize it didn’t adjust when I bought it, and my head is so big you could put a wine barrel on it and it’d still be tight. That thing’s not even close.”

I squeezed it on, getting an instant headache, but I just wanted this kitchen fashion show to be over. “It’s perfect,” I said. “Thanks.” Meanwhile, I wondered who I could give it to after it served its purpose.

My mom walked into the room holding another set of warm-ups like she was carrying a baby at a distance, one hand on the hanger-hook, and one hand under the legs of the pants. “This one?”

“Yep, those are the ones.”

I heel-pushed out of my running shoes and pulled the pants on over my running tights, then the jacket over my running shirt. My mom’s waist and torso are bigger than mine, so I looked like a kid who wore his big brother’s sweats and his little brother’s hat. To top it all off, the legs came up a little short to show my bare ankles, what kids called “high waters” back in the day.

~

Walking onto the playground in elementary school was always terrifying. Actually, junior high and high school were no different. It was like playing “Marco Polo” but on dry ground. I just knew someone was going to yell “fish outta water!” and identify me as an outcast, an oddball, the one who wore his big brothers’ hand-me-downs, the one who still wore Toughskins while everyone else had graduated to Levi’s, the one who wore Kinney shoes while K-Swiss ruled. It didn’t even matter that I was generally pretty popular. I didn’t feel like I fit in.

Thirty-five years later, I thought I had grown out of that, but the perfect confluence of mishaps brought it all back.

~

I swished into the elementary school office wishing that I had shaved in the last three days, that I wasn’t sporting my stepdad’s too-tight baseball cap, and that I wasn’t wearing my mother’s clothes. But I was desperate.

“Oh, you’re Op,” the secretary said. “Nice to finally meet you. Just sign in right there and you can walk to Cortney’s classroom. Do you know where it is?”

“I think so. That way, right?” I pointed in a direction I hoped was south.

“You got it.”

Exiting the back door of the office, I saw miniature people, maybe kindergartners, lining up outside. One of them appeared to ask his friend, “Who is that strange, scary man walking with his head down?”

I sped up my pace, which only made me look more creepy and suspicious, I’m sure.

When I approached Cortney’s third-grade classroom, I heard her voice and suddenly realized I hadn’t considered what I would say. I just stood in the doorway, watching her read to her students in “Library Corner.” The light from behind me made me a silhouette.

She looked up, and her brow tightened over her eyes, defensive and alarmed. “Can I help you?” Twenty-seven tiny faces turned my way.

“I’m locked out.”

She registered my voice and unclenched her jaw. “Oh, no. Come in, come in.” Then her teacher voice returned, a few decibels higher than normal conversation. “We-were-just-read-ing-a-stor-y. Let-me-in-tro-duce-you-to-ev-er-y-bod-y. Class, this-is-my-boy-friend, Op. Op, this-is-Kay-la, Lu-is, A-lex-is, O-mar–”

“Baby, I’m sorry, but Dan is waiting outside. Can I meet everybody at a better time, when I’m not wearing my mom’s clothes?” The kids all giggled, either titillated that I had called their teacher “baby” or looking closer at my get-up.

While Cortney retrieved her keys, the kids still stared at me, so I addressed them like a robot speaking to a group of semi-deaf, developmentally-delayed children. “I-look-for-ward-to-meet-ing-ev-er-y-one-of-you-real-ly-soon. Good-bye-now,” and waved like Ronald McDonald.

As I did this, I kept thinking, Is this how I’m supposed to communicate with third graders? This can’t be right. I was used to teaching adults at the local junior college.

In a chorus, Cortney’s students said, “Goodbye,” unaffected by my self-consciousness, my attire, my mannerisms, or my syncopated speech.

~

Now, with the key to Cortney’s apartment securely zipped in my pocket, I strode back over hopscotch outlines and basketball courts while two bottles of post-run water pushed for release. I wondered if it’d be okay to slip into the little kiddos’ john to pee. But just then, a waist-high poster boy for cuteness stepped out of the bathroom entrance while still buttoning his pants, and I got a clue. No way was I going in there, especially looking like a forty-something stalker-predator who still lived with his mom.

I didn’t want to add another challenge to my morning of playing Survivor: Central Valley, so I held it again, trying to find the lesson in all this. Like before, what I desired remained just out of reach — a bathroom, my living space, a vehicle, an inconspicuous set of clothes. But really, these were all temporary, and it wasn’t like I was actually homeless. My so-called problems were small in comparison.

I also had to look at my fault-finding. Since I was no longer a kid, I couldn’t just blame others for whatever predicaments I got myself into. Still, I didn’t shit or piss my pants or die from colon blockage, kidney failure, hypothermia, running too many miles, or embarrassment from wearing goofy clothes. Yes, I did have to relive all the anxiety I felt as a kid about what I wore and how others perceived me. But just like when I was in the third grade, I didn’t get laughed off the playground. I lived to learn another day.

 

 

Optimism One‘s essays have been published by In Fact Books and The Normal School, among others. He earned his MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sierra Nevada College and teaches writing full-time at Modesto Junior College in California. He’s currently working on a memoir called Goodbye, Suicide. His blood type is B+ (be positive).

Homepage Winter 2018


“Slipping on Chippewa Street” by Pat Zalisko, Acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 88.”

Happy New Year! And welcome to our January 2018 issue with the theme of “UNSPOKEN.” Putting together this issue has been a wonderfully transformative experience and I’m thrilled to share the results with you.
But first, a personal story.

For most of 2017, I questioned whether or not I should keep publishing r.kv.r.y.—there was the smaller question of whether I had it in me to continue shouldering the workload that publishing a journal requires, but also the larger question of whether or not its existence made any sort of appreciable difference in the world. But I’m stubborn, so…partly to keep my own interest high and partly because I was behind in securing an illustrator, I decided to illustrate this issue by reusing artwork from previous issues. Another form of recovery, if you will, and a way to create more connections in an increasingly disconnected world. As I searched through past issues, it became clear how much wonderful work we have published in the past nine years and how many exceptional artists we have been able to feature. That in itself was encouraging—seeing the scope of what we have done. (Consider this your reminder to occasionally look behind and not only ahead when feeling discouraged.) It was also incredibly interesting to see the tendrils of connection that form between two pieces of writing with the same illustration. Fascinating! And inspiring, arriving at a time when I was greatly in need of inspiration.

So, dear readers, in order to share those fascinating connections with you, I have added a “See also” link in blue beneath the illustration for each piece of writing in this issue. If you follow that link, it will take you to another thread in this vast artistic conversation that we all have a part in creating. May the process of making those connections bring you joy.

As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

“The Undertow” by Katie Strine

Eve and the apple
“Eve & The Apple” by Elizabeth Leader, pastel on Fabriano paper.
(See also “In Flight Safety Card” by Lauren Eyler.)

She runs toward the water and the sun holds tight on the horizon. It wants to watch. It wants to illuminate her as she makes her way into the water: ankles, knees, waist, and then she dives into the water. Her body swallowed, the feet flip up and flirt toward shore before they, too, disappear.

He’d like to submerge his body along with hers and feel the weightlessness of swimming and the excitement of sliding his legs by hers without being able to see beneath them. But he can’t swim, so he watches from the shore until she returns breathless.

She replaces her shirt and shorts. Darkened splotches appear throughout her clothes as the water seeps into the fabric. “Is that your first memory? You were three?”

He’s told her about his father. His memory of him throwing him into the water, teaching him to swim.

“Yea—yea, it is. I can recall a circle of the scene—not all of the background, not the entire setting, just like looking through a telescope, you know? Just a circle and there I am in my shark swimming shorts and there he is in a faded yellow polo shirt.” The childhood emotion returns. The pit of his stomach raw with it.

“Have you tried to swim since then?”

He shakes his head no. He has a tan complexion. Time in the sun. Hardened lines around his face. Once the season shifts to fall, she thinks his hue will lighten, but the structure will remain the same. There’s a certain vulnerability to those lines. His past present on his face.

“Fathers have a way of penetrating our futures, don’t they? Without even knowing it. Subtle choices causing distant effects.” She decides in that moment to take him home. Back to her small apartment, a place nestled at the city edge. She boasts its view of the lake, although at night, she confesses, it’s a blackened version of its former self.

He surveys the area: one main living space with a kitchenette, a bathroom and a bedroom. She has squeezed and fitted trinkets and treasures throughout the landscape. Oddities, she calls them. Collections from her former lives. The oddest of them all catches his eye—an entire presentation of false teeth sitting in an open box on her window sill. He bumps his fingers along one of its rows.

“My father was a dentist,” she says to his back. “He saved antique gear like that.”

“Was?”

“Was. Saved. It’s all in the past now.”

“What did you want to show me?”

She pulls a purple-and-blue dyed fabric to one side and motions for him to enter her bedroom. Along one wall someone has painted a seascape mural. An octopus drifts through coral and seaweed. He spies jellyfish, swordfish, and other urchins.

“You paint?” he asks.

“I dabble,” she replies.

A small lamp on a corner table is fitted with a blue bulb. She lights candles and a stick of incense. The smoke flows through the space. She hits play on a small radio on the dresser and it’s too soft for him to discern what band it is—if any—or what instruments are played.

She indicates for him to lie on the bed. When she straddles him, he tightens his eyes on hers. He thinks of her as a character. One with marbles for eyes that turn others to stone. A hybrid of mythology and reality. She dives in to kiss him and he thinks she tastes like seaweed. They wrestle about the bed in the blue light. He comes up for air periodically and spies the mural. He feels at ease with her. He feels the weightlessness he had wished for earlier.

They fall asleep, her hair kinked and splayed against the pillow.

He wakes at an uneven hour. A strand of moonlight bounces onto her collection and he stands and scrutinizes each piece. He asks questions about her through their weight, how each one feels or looks. One of the smaller items fits nicely in his palm. He carries it back to the bedroom and rubs at its glass mold.

In the morning, light crashes against the windows. The lake is now visible: placid, at peace with a mild mist at its lips.

“You’re like the undertow, you know?” He tugs at her and pulls her under the covers with him and they kiss, morning mouths and last night’s naked bodies.

Her back rocks against him and flutters with the sheets. She feels the glass object at her feet and nudges her big toe toward it. She recalls the motion as if searching the ocean floor for a sand dollar.

Pulling it out of the sheets, she eyes it. Wraps her fingers around its curves. Its shape cavernous to other worlds.

“Was it a gift,” he asks, “from your dad?”

She brushes back her wild hair, imagines each soft, existing memory of her father—a collage the expanse of a skyscraper—and sighs. She holds up the object which catches the sun’s ray and illuminates a yellow glow. When she finally responds, her voice hovers above a whisper and he hears seagulls in her throat. Distant and sad. She tells him, yes, it was a gift and a promise and a lie and a lesson and it was everything.

He wonders if he’s meant to respond, but has nothing to say. He pictures her dad. In this awkward silence he’s surprised to find himself imagining his face. Imagining what lines or curves of hers were other gifts of his.

When he leaves, an amalgam forms in his mind of her and the undertow. A raging beauty that seethes with some type of untouchable vengeance. A distance spreads between where she remains in the bed and where he descends. The space dark and exact but empty all the same.

 

 

Katie Strine tolerates life through literature and dark beer. She lives in the east suburbs of Cleveland with her family—husband, son, and dog—who accompany her on oddball adventures. Her work has been or will be published in The Writing Disorder, The Wayne Literary Review, Visitant, The Furious Gazelle, and BONED. Stay in touch via Facebook, @ktstrine.

 

Contributors Winter 2018

Sudha Balagopal‘s (Leaf Music) recent fiction appears in Ellipsis Zine, Spelk Fiction, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon and Whiskey Paper among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com

 

Gina Marie Bernard (this is not a love poem) is a trans woman, roller derby vixen, and full-time English teacher who has completed a 50-mile ultra-marathon, followed Joan Jett across the US, and purposely jumped through a hole cut in lake ice. She has written one YA novel, Alpha Summer (2005), and one collection of short fiction, Vent (2013). Her poetry has recently appeared in Mortar, The Cape Rock, New Plains Review, and Leveler.

Roy Bentley (Time Under Water) is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the National
Endowment for the Arts, and fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Ohio Arts Council. Books include Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama), Any One Man
(Bottom Dog), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine), Starlight Taxi (Lynx House); as well as Walking with Eve in the Loved City, a finalist for the 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize selected by Billy Collins and due out from the University of Arkansas Press.

Wanda Deglane (Christmas Lights) is a freshman at Arizona State University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and lives with her huge family in Glendale, Arizona. When she isn’t writing, she paints and spends time with her dog, Princess Leia.

 

Alena Dillon (Mei Lei) is the author of the humor collection I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean. Her work has appeared in publications including The Rumpus, Slice Magazine, The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review, and Bustle. She teaches creative writing at St. Joseph’s College and Endicott College and lives in MA with her husband and their dog. “Mei Lei” is an excerpt from Mercy House, a manuscript she’s currently shopping to agents. Visit her at alenadillon.com.

Lanier (Lane) Wright Fields (Fuel) is a southern transplant living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. Professionally, Lane has performed technology witchcraft, taught sociology, worked in a factory, and gone corporate. Besides poetry, Lane’s hobbies and interests include music and shows, leftist activism, veg*n cooking, straight edge and hardcore subcultures, video game history, philosophy and social theory, and spiritual development.

Jacqueline Jules (His Grey Hoodie) is the author of three chapbooks, Field Trip to the Museum (Finishing Line Press), Stronger Than Cleopatra (ELJ Publications), and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String, winner of the 2016 Helen Kay Chapbook Prize from Evening Street Press. Her poetry has appeared in over 100 publications including The Broome Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Hospital Drive, and Imitation Fruit. She is also the author of 40 books for young readers. Visit www.jacquelinejules.com.

Sarah Kunstler (The Imposters) is a criminal defense lawyer, documentary filmmaker, and lifelong New Yorker. She is a member of the Rumble Ponies Writing Collective. You can find her on Twitter at @skunstler

 

 

Margaret MacInnis’ (The Unspoken) essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Brevity, Colorado Review, DIAGRAM, Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, River Teeth, Tampa Review, and other journals. Her work has been distinguished by Best American Essays and Best American Nonrequired Reading series, and is anthologized in the 2015 Love & Profanity and the 2009 River Teeth Reader. Since 2010, she has worked as personal assistant to Marilynne Robinson, American novelist and essayist.

Sabyasachi Nag (Indian Rememdies for Tereusitis) is the author of two books of poetry: Bloodlines (Writers Workshop, 2006) and Could You Please, Please Stop Singing (Mosaic Press, 2015). His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in several publications including, Contemporary Verse 2, Perihelion, The Squaw Valley Review, The Rising Phoenix, Void and the VLQ. Originally from Calcutta, India, Sachi lives in Mississauga, Ontario with his wife and son.

Rae Pagliarulo (Chain Smoking) holds her MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Full Grown People, Ghost Town, bedfellows, New South, Hippocampus, The Manifest-Station, Quail Bell, and Philadelphia Stories, and is anthologized in The Best of Philadelphia Stories: 10th Anniversary Edition. She is the 2014 recipient of the Sandy Crimmins National Poetry Prize and a 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominee.

Ali J. Shaw (The Brussels Sprouts Rule) has Rocky Mountain air in her blood, but she calls the Pacific Northwest home. Her nonfiction has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VoiceCatcher, and the Dime Stories reading series, and was a finalist for the Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writer Prize. She is currently at work on a memoir. Ali is an editor who collects typewriters and rescue animals.

 

Billie R. Tadros (Convalescence is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She has published a book of poems The Tree We Planted and Buried You In (Otis Books, 2018) and two chapbooks, inter: burial places (Porkbelly Press, 2016) and Containers (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). Her poems have recently appeared or will appear in Crab Fat Magazine, Entropy, Lavender Review, pnk prl, and White Stag Journal.

Meg Tuite (Nobody Scars the Same Landscape)  is author of a novel-in-stories, Domestic Apparition, a short story collection, Bound By Blue, and won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging, as well as five chapbooks of short fiction, flash, and poetic prose. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, is a senior editor at Connotation Press and (b)OINK lit zine, and editor of eight anthologies. Her blog: http://megtuite.com 

 

 

“Fuel” by Lanier Wright Fields

god asks why (Fecundity, Expanse)
“God Asks Why” by Peter Groesbeck.
(See also “Fecundity Expanse” by Sasha West.)

I.

My father swears up and down
that, when he was thirteen,
he mistook an unmarked vat
of kerosene for water. In this
as in all things, he drank
with gusto. Everything burned
inside him for days.

II.

I cannot help but feel sick
superiority when I tell someone
I don’t drink. Vodka, whiskey—lesser spirits
might heed whispered invitations
to woozy, jet-propelled calamity. But each
shot of firewater is exactly that
to my guts: corrosion, all the way down.

III.

Walking down my street
past the liquor store, I watch
the neighborhood boys siphoning
gasoline to trade for nips.
Two teenagers hand the tube
to a younger one. They say, “Don’t worry,
everyone swallows some the first time.”

 

 

Lanier (Lane) Wright Fields is a southern transplant living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. Professionally, Lane has performed technology witchcraft, taught sociology, worked in a factory, and gone corporate. Besides poetry, Lane’s hobbies and interests include music and shows, leftist activism, veg*n cooking, straight edge and hardcore subcultures, video game history, philosophy and social theory, and spiritual development.

 

“Indian Remedies for Tereusitis” by Sabyasachi Nag

Fulfilled
“Womb” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.
(See also “Fulfillment” by Avital Gad-Cykman.)

Certain alpha hoopoes have the taste
For both, Philomel and Itys.
In India, they prey after dark when exhaust
From the beer factory gags the sky so tight
One can taste the malt in their wing pits.
Gods know. They respond by reforming
Believers into nightingales; into swallows.
Then they take a break from trying.
Conjure new Ovids, request new hosannas.

Certain ranting rebel birds—
They reconfigure into line-following photovores
You find, clung to guardrails
Or reflected on neo-colonial candelabra—
Their muscles pumped with plastic blood
Programmed to put them in auto reverse
Soon as they hit a wall.
Then they make walls, beautiful walls.

Then they take down the lights. Observe.
Those that repeat-fail clearly-laid rules,
They transform them into fire ants
You find, after a storm has warped the steel,
Taken everything.
Their arteries choked with moon-lather
That would put them on burn
Soon as someone touches them.

 

 

Sabyasachi Nag is the author of two books of poetry: Bloodlines (Writers Workshop, 2006) and Could You Please, Please Stop Singing (Mosaic Press, 2015). His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in several publications including, Contemporary Verse 2, Perihelion, The Squaw Valley Review, The Rising Phoenix, Void and the VLQ. Originally from Calcutta, India, Sachi lives in Mississauga, Ontario with his wife and son. He is an alumni of the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference and is currently a candidate in the Writer’s Studio at the Simon Fraser University. He works in education and human resources.

 

“The Impostors” by Sarah Kunstler

dahlias and hypodermic
Image by Dawn Estrin, 2010.
(See also “Shot Through the Heart” by Jim Ruland.)

“Trust me,” he said. “This stuff is imported, honey. You serve it at your next dinner party, their jaws are going to drop.”

The cheese/quince/cracker combo felt dry in her mouth. There wasn’t enough saliva to work it around, much less swallow it down. One mouse.

She coughed, politely at first, but couldn’t hold it back for long, the involuntary retching that followed as her body rejected the free sample. She put her napkined hand over her mouth, her hand closing into a rigid fist as she secreted the warm, moist mass inside.

“Thank you,” she said, and walked away, abandoning her nearly empty shopping cart, picking up her pace when she heard the man calling, “Hey lady!” after her.

She pushed forward, cart-less, whizzing past the Bakery and Deli sections before making a sharp left and ducking into Bulk Foods, taking deep breaths as she listened to the steady rhythm of shoppers scooping and pouring and scooping and pouring, measuring out portions of rice, grains, nuts, and seeds. Still only one mouse, but one always meant more than one. They were social animals. Everyone knew that. They were also fastidiously clean, a lesser-known fact, for sure, but one that filled her with relief. Things could be worse.

After a few minutes, she was ready to move on. The supermarket was like a maze, with bright orange arrows on the floor compelling shoppers to follow a single route through the store. But it was a maze she knew, and the predictability of the layout was comforting. She’d been coming here for years, since back when she was married and lived in the neighborhood. She walked along, finding herself in Breakfast Foods, picking up cereal boxes and pretending to scrutinize the ingredients with care, trying to blend, even though she knew she wouldn’t be buying anything. It had already been enough of a day.

When she reached The Butchery, she was careful to keep her head down. A wall of glass was all that separated the violence from the retail area. As usual, and for reasons she couldn’t fathom, a throng of shoppers gathered, craning their necks to watch the butchers break down the animals, carving their carcasses into choice cuts or feeding them into grinders, the blood pooling on the scratched and dented surfaces of metal utility tables before spilling onto the floor.

It hadn’t always been that way. When she first started shopping there, the aisle had been called Refrigerated Meats, and the wall had been solid. She had even bought meat there and eaten it, the sterility of the blue-Styrofoam-and-plastic-wrap packaging making it possible for her to enjoy her ground round.

And then one day, without warning, Refrigerated Meats was gone. Orange cones blocked both ends of the shuttered aisle. There were plastic tarps and polite signage. Please excuse our mess while we remodel to serve you better! And when it was all over, when they had taken down the tarps and swept away the debris, when she could finally see the bodies hanging from hooks through the pitiless, streak-free glass, there it was. Or rather, there they were. Thousands of tiny rodents crawling beneath her skin, scratching at the surface from the inside with their sharp, careless claws. It had taken weeks for the mice to subside, weeks more for her to find her way back to the supermarket. The trick, in the end, had been simple. She pretended The Butchery didn’t exist. Some days were easier than others.

Today, she kept moving, following the arrows pointing ever forward, hurrying by Seasonal Products, where lingering too long was like touching a wound, banking left into Household Needs, where she reminded herself to breathe. She had just entered Canned Vegetables and Ethnic Foods, when she heard her name. Melinda. She didn’t look up. Maybe she had imagined it. Or more likely, it was meant for someone else. A different Melinda. And then she heard it again.

“Melinda, is that you?”

She looked up from the floor. He looked familiar, but that didn’t mean anything. He was older, square-jawed, handsome, with kind blue eyes and salt-and-pepper hair. Like an actor playing a man whose virility had been restored, thanks to a miracle drug.

The actor smiled and she smiled back, feeling the muscles in her face stretch. He was a good actor, and she wanted to play along. When he stuck out his hand to shake hers, she held out her own.

“Yuck,” he said, pulling away. He opened his hand, staring at the masticated lump that she had forgotten she was holding. “What is this?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. She was ruining this, if she hadn’t ruined it already. More mice.

“Oh Melinda,” said the actor, dropping the napkin and wiping his hand on his jeans. “Don’t worry about it. Gosh, it’s been so long. You look … good.” He seemed nervous, and his nervousness made her feel calmer, more in control.

“You look good too,” she said. And meant it.

“Stacey has me doing Pilates.” His eyes searched her face. She smiled, hoping that was what he was looking for.

“I know, I know,” he said. “Who even knew that was a thing, right?”

“Not me.”

“Right?”

“Right.”

Melinda’s face hurt from all the smiling. She started backing away, slowly, passing the canned beets and heading toward the jarred salsas. She was going in the wrong direction, against the flow, the opposite of where the orange arrows wanted her to go.

“I’m sorry,” she said, inching backwards. The mice were jockeying for position, clamoring for space when there was no space. She turned, intending to head back to the safety of Household Needs but misjudged her distances and collided head-on with a mid-aisle display tower of hard shell tacos. The tower careened back and forth before collapsing, boxes of taco shells blocking the aisle. She tried to clear a path, pushing and kicking the boxes out of her way, squeezing her way through any open space. She had had enough. Too much. There were just too many mice.

The man was right behind her.

“Melinda, just listen,” he whispered, his mouth by her ear. “I don’t know what dreamland you’re living in, but I can’t keep paying for this. I won’t.”

She closed her eyes, and covered her ears. Inhale, Exhale. Inhale, Exhale. She counted to ten—one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand—and then did it three more times for good measure.

When she opened her eyes, the man was still there.

“Melinda,” he said. And in that one word—her name—she felt the man’s anger, frustration, pain, tenderness, even his love. But she knew it wasn’t real. He wasn’t real.

“You’re a terrible actor,” she said.

The man’s eyes flashed and turned cold, not blue after all but grey, colorless, like stones.

“Get away from me!” She screamed. “Leave me alone!”

Everything stopped. Canned Vegetables and Ethnic Foods had ceased to exist. She was overrun, her body on fire, her blood thrumming in harmony with the writhing mass, clawing at her, drawing blood, struggling to break free. She wanted to cry, but knew that if she did, there would be nothing left, not even her. Instead, she closed her eyes and focused on her breathing, whispering I am here, I am here, I am here over and over like a prayer to herself.

 

 

Sarah Kunstler is a criminal defense lawyer, documentary filmmaker, and lifelong New Yorker. She is a member of the Rumble Ponies Writing Collective. You can find her on Twitter at @skunstler

 

“The Brussels Sprouts Rule” by Ali J. Shaw

gnome, ginger root
Image by Kristin Beeler, 2011.
(See also “Groceries” by Cathy Smith Bowers.)

I can feel the pink alabaster frog judging me even here, in the safe space of my reading corner at home.

“It’s rude to keep people waiting,” I hear it say in my father’s voice. I want to argue with it that my father has never been on time for me and, in recent years, has averaged not a few minutes or hours late, but days. Its stony eyes stay trained on me.

It was a gift from my father when I was a teenager. Until last month, I didn’t even realize I still had it, that it had followed me through more than a dozen moves, from trailers to dorm rooms to apartments to houses. I found it after the most recent move, away from the islands of Southeast Alaska and down to the desert of Southern California. When I brought a set of plastic storage drawers into my home office, I impulsively tugged on the handle of one drawer until it surged open like a toad’s tongue snapping for a fly. There sat the frog, perched on top of various forgotten art supplies, as shiny as the day Dad had given it to me.

I slid my thumb over its smooth skin until it landed on a pockmark. An imperfection. Surely, Dad didn’t know that was there. He might have said, “A perfect frog for my perfect girl,” when he gave it to me—he often professed lines like that. But he reminded me every day that I was not perfect, that I needed to try harder to be more like him. I dug my nail into the pockmark and then displayed the frog on my bookshelf, a reminder that I was making an effort to maintain a relationship with the man who’d brought me life—a resolution to forget how he’d left me questioning the value of my own existence.

Now I break the frog’s gaze and focus on my feet. I rub my toes on the carpet, trying to ground myself. Deep breaths. I tell myself I’m okay despite the fact that I can’t stop fidgeting with my phone, can’t break the frog’s echo of “rude,” and I definitely can’t slow my heart. It’s just your dad. Call him.

For years, no matter where I lived, this has been my routine every other Sunday. Wake up, drink coffee, have a panic attack, and call my dad. If I didn’t call, I’d be breaking one of Dad’s rules.

When I was growing up, there were a lot of rules, but they all boiled down to the same basic edict. I called it the Brussels sprouts rule: if your dad told you to like Brussels sprouts, you’d say, “Mmm,” and smile despite the gagging you couldn’t control. If you didn’t—I learned from watching my brother—you would be “restricted to your room” for the night, the weekend, or the week, depending on how much Dad was drinking. You might even be hit, maybe with a hand or maybe with a belt.

I always smiled and ate my Brussels sprouts.

The Brussels sprouts rule could be applied to anything. If an adult told you to vacuum, you smiled and did it. If you were told to go to bed at seven, when the sun was high in the sky and the neighborhood kids were still playing outside, you didn’t whine or ask why. You never questioned an adult, especially Dad. If you were told to let someone kiss you, you did it, no matter if that person made you want to cringe. Suppress it. Cringing would make the other person uncomfortable, and you could never let that happen.

And as a teen, when you wake up in a panic, in the fetal position, pushed as far against the wall as you can, briefly seeing your father tiptoe back out your bedroom door, you pretend it didn’t happen. Saying something to him, or to anyone else, might make him uncomfortable. Better to just roll over.

I don’t know who I would be now if it wasn’t for the Brussels sprouts rule. If I hadn’t been trained to shrink for men.

When I was twenty and studying abroad in Spain, I once went for a run and found myself on the deserted cobblestone streets during siesta. I slowed to savor the way my footsteps echoed off the stone walls in sync with my heartbeat, the way the sun was bright and hot on the top of the walls but down in the alleyways, the air was cool and calm. Then a man emerged from a side street and smiled as he looked me up and down.

Bellísima,” he called to me, his arms reaching.

Qué?” I asked. It’s bad manners to ignore someone who wants to talk to you—that’s the rule. He stepped closer, and my heart pounded, not just from the run anymore. I stepped back, only to find that I was already against the building. The narrow streets suddenly felt like a trap. I glanced around, searching for some other harmless stranger to intervene, but it was siesta. The whole city was sleeping off their sangría and paella.

He rattled off something in Spanish and then gestured to his lips. “Besos, besos.” As he leaned in, I could smell his breath, see the craters of his gums where teeth were missing.

Lo siento, I’m late.” I wanted to run, but I hesitated. Don’t be rude.

Es tradicion.” He persisted and leaned forward, kissing me first on one cheek and then the other.

The only part of my body that moved was my panicking heart, a jackrabbit in my chest. When he stepped back, I fled to the sound of his cackling.

Now I get up from my reading chair to look at the frog, straight in the eyes, ready to interrogate it. If I’d been raised with different rules, who would I be? Someone who kicked the Spaniard in the crotch and ran off? Someone who didn’t even stop? Someone who didn’t attract creeps in the first place?

But as usual, my anger quickly dissipates into self-flagellation and I sit down again. If it hadn’t been for my father, I wouldn’t know about the inner workings of an airplane, or the wonder of used bookstores, or countless other lessons he taught me. The carpet is matted down where I’ve been rubbing my feet, but no amount of grinding my toes in will make me feel grounded. It will only get worse the longer you wait, I tell myself. Just get it over with. Shakily, I scroll through my contacts and press Dial.

It hasn’t always been like this. I used to just do what he said without thinking about it. I devoured bottles of Tums, but as far as I knew, I wasn’t stressed about my relationship with my father, or with other men.

Dad asks me prying questions about my work, my boyfriend, my friends. I answer vaguely. “Oh, it’s good. Yeah, Tim’s good. He’s watching football. His team?”

My breath catches. How might my father use this detail to hurt me? Just playing the possibilities in my mind starts a crushing constriction around my ribs. He could start calling during every 49ers game, finding ways to put me on edge so when I hang up, Tim and I will fight. He used to do that when I was visiting my mom. “Oh, Tim doesn’t really have a specific team.”

Next he wants to know about my clients, which new books are coming out. I worry he’ll start showing up to their readings, waiting outside to confront me like he used to at my high school dances. I tell him there’s just a book about menopause and hope that scares him away.

I’m not sure when it dawned on me that my relationship with my father was not normal. That most women didn’t grow up fearing punishment for being late if track practice ran long, then worry that their fathers might not come home at all, both in the same night. But over time, those stomachaches turned into chest tightness, teeth grinding, rashes, heart palpitations, and chronic pain until I could no longer deny that something was wrong. I like to think my life would be drastically different without him. I like to think that I would be a strong woman who trusts her judgment and sets people straight when they bully her.

When I hang up, I think maybe I could be that person now. Maybe.

But recovery isn’t as simple as recognizing your childhood as traumatic and deciding to be different. I do speak up now, to other people, but only after years of therapy. I tell people when they’re rude, when they’re making unfair assumptions about me, when they’ve crossed into what is unwelcome personal territory. But it’s never without wondering if I’m overreacting, if the problem is really me. If I’m enforcing dysfunctional rules just like the ones that were once pushed on me.

I pick up the frog and heft it into the air, catching it again like a pitcher idly tosses a baseball. My body tenses with the dichotomy of it all. I want so much to be good, strong, in the right. I want to be intuitive and self-protective. But what if the offense I feel influences others to suppress themselves? I will never serve Brussels sprouts, but if I serve Greek salad and someone is upset about it, they should be able to say so, shouldn’t they? Even if I feel it’s rude?

I’m aware that things like this must seem so black and white to the functional adult. You put the Greek salad out as an offering. People can eat it or not. If they’re rude, you can say, “That was rude,” then you move on. You don’t dwell on it because it doesn’t matter. And you definitely don’t let a toothless man kiss you in an alleyway.

But for those of us who learned that following the rules to please others was a matter of self-preservation, this cognitive and emotional process is harder than rocket science. We must study it and practice it for years. We must talk ourselves through the story problems. We must take test after test and hope for a better score next time. We want to believe that at some point it will become second nature, but we know on some level that it will probably always be work. Hard work.

Two weeks have gone by since the last phone call. Tim and I get up, drink our coffee, and I go to my reading chair. The alabaster frog is still eyeing me, but I stare right back. I need a break, I tell it. I need to know what I’m like without him in my head. I’ve left my phone in the kitchen and brought a Psychology Today to my reading chair instead. I have a panic attack anyway, and by early afternoon, I put the frog back in its plastic drawer and go outside to garden. But I don’t call.

Four weeks later, I’m breathing easier. I’m letting go of rules and ignoring men who try to force their way into my space. Sundays still trigger me, though. On these days, the fears creep in. What if my father shows up at my house while Tim’s not at home, pushing his way in, interrogating me about why I’ve broken the rules? But with every day that that doesn’t happen, I start to relax. To live.

I want it to stay this way. If I picture having to let him in again, I cry. I repeat to my therapist over and over “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it” until she tells me I don’t have to. This can be my life now. Finally, I send him a letter to make it official: I’m going no contact.

After, comes the fallout. The calls. The letters. Stiff handwriting on envelopes made out to Tim’s and my new address in Oregon—the one I haven’t given to anyone for fear it would find its way to him. I recognize the gaslighting, thanks to Psychology Today. I bristle at the words “that never happened” and “your mother brainwashed you.” When I remember the alabaster frog, I dig through my boxes until I find it. Still grasping the latest letter in one hand, I clutch the frog in the other, wrapping my fingers around it and squeezing. It won’t give, no matter how strong I am, and I know in my aching bones that my father will never change.

The panic attacks come raging back, but they’re different now. Instead of crumpling under their pressure, I let the heart palpitations pump blood to my arms and legs and prepare me to fight. I drop the frog into a community garden bed and write back to my father with one simple message: No more.

Then…silence. Blissful quiet.

Two years later, my breath comes easily, my heart stays calm. It’s over.

 

 

Ali J. Shaw has Rocky Mountain air in her blood, but she calls the Pacific Northwest home. Her nonfiction has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VoiceCatcher, and the Dime Stories reading series, and was a finalist for the Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writer Prize. She is currently at work on a memoir. Ali is an editor who collects typewriters and rescue animals.