“Time Under Water” by Roy Bentley

“Turtle Territory” by Lori McNamara, oil on archival board, 2011.
(See also “Hatchlings” by William Woolfitt.)

When I swam away from Gloria Regalbuto the catamaran captain
was watching from the stern as I thrashed about with leg cramps
and waved and began my stop-and-start swim back to the boat.
It was summer. He had anchored off the North Shore of Oahu
and now he was smiling, reaching out as I grabbed a ladder.
Maybe I would have done anything to leave behind the aahh
of her loved mouth and a longing so hot it kept singeing me
and searing the air. Onboard again, I flopped awkwardly
in a corner. Leaned against a great deal of brightness.

I heard dolphins voicing, their fins whipping up
wingtip-white vortices as they raced the catamaran.
My time under water had flashed with starburst fishes
stock-still in the currents and reef as if what they were
was backdrop for a mirror of North Shore blue. I heard
someone treading water and scented a brine of ocean.
Planes of island light broke apart and reformed as if
vanishing and now revealing someone who waited
in the trough of a wave by the rocking catamaran.



Roy Bentley 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.


“Convalescence” by Billie Tadros

squash curl
“Squash Tendril” by Jenn Rhubright.
(See also “Rose” by Dylan Landis.)


You can contract the prosthetic

hold, the bad news:
I’m bandaged down to your donor

tissue. The puncture was about finish

lines. Someday maybe I’ll get there
return to my body wondering why

I run, beautifully
I crashed.



Billie Tadros is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her M.F.A. in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her first book of poems The Tree We Planted and Buried You In is forthcoming from Otis Books in 2018. She has also published 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, and she has also published work in the anthologies The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014), Bearers of Distance (Eastern Point Press, 2013), and Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013).


“Mei Lei” by Alena Dillon

Photo Collage by Matthew Chase-Daniel, 2010.
(See also “Garnet” by Anne Colwell.)

When I was a girl, my father played paper dolls with me every evening after work, and when he cut out the dresses and hats for my little paper girls, he worked cautiously around their edges so they’d be just right. His eyebrows bunched together like two hairy caterpillars. His scissors closed slowly, millimeter by meticulous millimeter. He worked like he wasn’t a New York taxi driver who shared his cab with his terrible older brother and two other Russian men in our apartment building who smelled of gasoline and borscht. He worked like this was his living. He was a paper tailor—and a good one.

I was careless. Too eager to get past the tedious preparation and down to the business of playing. I sliced through an abdomen without looking, or cut off a sleeve. And when I realized what I’d done, I’d collapse against the kitchen table and wail. (I was an excitable child. This was before I learned too much emotion was a disadvantage to survival.)

Zolotse,” my father would say, his hand on my back. “My gold. Don’t despair. You’ve done nothing that can’t be undone.”

With those reassurances in mind, I’d push myself up from the table to watch him repair my mistake. Because he was not just a paper tailor. He was also a paper surgeon.

He’d mend the wounds with precisely measured bits of scotch tape bound to the backs of the dresses so the stitching would be invisible. When he was finished, they looked as good as new. He was a paper miracle worker.

My mother watched us from the stove where she prepared food to satisfy both of their palates. Hot and sour soup for her, whose chili oil made my father’s eyes water just from sharing the same room as its powerful essence, and Olivier salad for him, a far blander mound of hardboiled egg, peas, and potato slathered in mayonnaise. Then there was always a third dish, one they could both sample: sautéed carrots and beets coated in soy paste. I still don’t know if this is a traditional Chinese dish that happened to incorporate elements of my father’s Russian heritage, or if my mother invented it, after she listed herself in a catalog, agreed to marry a man she’d only seen in a photograph, arrived in the United States two years before I was born, and was relieved and so very grateful to discover she could love the stranger that would be her husband. Grateful to be a wife in America, to be cared for. Grateful enough to cook and eat beets.

“You spoil her. You fix her mistake over and over. She never learn. She never do well herself.”

“You’re right, my love, lyubov moya,” my father answered. “Of course you’re right.”

But he was my paper friend. He continued to fix my mistakes, over and over again. Until the day he died.

Uncle Yegor moved from his apartment into ours the day after my father’s funeral. I was fourteen then. “Ivan wouldn’t want you alone,” he said. “I’ll watch over you. Keep you safe. For my brother.”

He slept on the couch that night, and the night after that. When he was still in our living room a week later, drinking Moskovskaya out of my mother’s porcelain teacups, she said, “Yegor, you been so good to us. But you don’t have to stay here no more. We’re fine. I have Mei-Li and she have me. We do okay.”

I watched from where I was doing my homework at the kitchen table. I knew she wanted him out, but was tiptoeing around everything she’d learned. Family honor. Patriarchy. Meekness.

His stare didn’t waver from the television, where the American soccer team struggled against South Africa. Yegor loved to see Americans lose. “I’ll stay,” he said, his voice gruff, almost threatening. “It wouldn’t be right to leave two women on their own.”

My mother gripped her hands at her waist and smiled in a way that scared me. “No, it’s okay. Really. We be fine. Mei-Li is smart girl. And I’m strong. We take care of each other. And you live close. If we need anything, we find you in no time. But you can go home. Don’t be uncomfortable for our sake.”

His gaze slid toward her. The darkness in his eyes made me put my pencil down. “Now Fan, you don’t sound very hospitable.”

My mother chuckled and shook her head. “Oh no. You misunderstand.”

Yegor shot to his feet and whacked my mother upside the head. It wasn’t forceful, but the sudden cruelty of it caused me to gasp. “Don’t you talk back to me. If I say you are being inhospitable, you are being inhospitable,” he said, and then he returned to the game as if nothing had happened.

Violence in our home was so foreign, so strange, neither my mother nor I knew how to react. I couldn’t see her face from where she was standing, but her body was rigid. After a few frozen moments, she turned on her heels, walked down the hall, and closed her bedroom door behind her. The announcer’s voice hummed in the background, but I couldn’t focus on his words. I could hardly even breathe. Yegor didn’t look back at me. He sloshed another helping of Moskovskaya into my mother’s teacup, one of the few items she’d brought with her from China, and when the American team scored a goal, he screamed, “Otva`li, mu`dak, b`lyad!” and hurled the cup against the wall where it smashed.

As I brushed my teeth that night, he walked down the hall and into my mother’s room. The brush stilled in my hand. I caught a glimpse of her sitting on her bed, a photo album open in her lap. When he appeared, her eyes widened in surprise, and perhaps in fear, but she said nothing to stop him. He closed the door.

Instead of going to bed, I gathered the shards of my mother’s teacup and laid them on the kitchen table. As Yegor’s grunts and my mother’s whimpers drifted through the walls, I hummed to myself and tried to glue her precious keepsake back together. But this time what was done could not be undone. It had been broken into too many pieces to fix.


If I ever have a daughter, I will give her a male name. Something like Jaw-long, meaning: like a dragon. Boys get names like that in my mother’s country. Jianjun: building the army. Lei: thunder. Huojin: fire metal. Yingjie: brave and heroic. Girls are defined by their grace, their compliance. Baozhai: dainty and loving. Luli: dewy jasmine. Renxiang: benevolent fragrance.

My name, Mei-Li, means beautiful. But what good did beauty ever do me?

It took a year from that first awful night for Uncle Yegor to come into my bedroom. Perhaps I should be grateful for that.

My mother went through the motions of stopping him. She tugged on his arm. She moaned. She asked him to come back to her room. But her words were hollow. Formalities. She knew she couldn’t stop him. Her name is Fan, which means orchid. Orchids are delicate flowers. Any sudden change in weather will cause their petals to drop. It doesn’t take much to wither their stems. What she told Yegor the year before about her being strong, capable of surviving on her own, wasn’t true. She wasn’t like a dragon. Or thunder. Or fire metal. She was an orchid, plain and simple, and he knew it.

Although my mother wasn’t putting up much of a fight in my defense, Yegor still wrapped his thick hands around her neck and squeezed until her eyes bulged. He wanted both of us to know he was capable of killing us. We only lived because he let us. He was the god of our universe.

Or maybe he wanted my mother and I to understand, if one of us left, if one us so much as said a word against him, he could kill the other. That was his leverage.

My mother sputtered. Her fingers clawed at his unrelenting noose.

“Stop! Do whatever you want to me. Just stop,” I cried.

And he did what he wanted. He was going to, anyway. He alternated between my mother and me for the next two years.

One day, when my mother was sick with the stomach flu and Yegor wanted beef stroganoff for dinner, I brought home the wrong cut of meat. He walked me down to the corner grocery store to show me exactly how stupid I’d been.

That’s where I first met Sister Loretta. She stole glances at Uncle Yegor and me, and I don’t know how she understood so implicitly, but when our eyes met, she recognized something in me. I felt it. She saw me in a way nobody else had—not my neighbors, not my teachers, not Yegor’s sister, Aunt Antonina. Or perhaps those people did see that thing in me, that broken thing, but they chose to look away because it was easier, safer. Sister Loretta didn’t look away. And neither did I. I saw something in her too.

As we approached the counter with a package of cubed round steak and a bottle of Yegor’s Moskovskaya, she appeared with a cart full of bagged groceries, a savior in an oversized sweatshirt. “Excuse me,” she said sweetly to Yegor. “I couldn’t get my shopping cart over that step in front of the door, so I left it out on the sidewalk, and now I need to transfer over all of these heavy bags. You’re big and strong. Would you help a feeble old woman?”

As soon as Yegor was out the door, she grabbed my wrist and her voice dropped into a lower, gruffer register. “35 Chauncey Street.”

“What?” I pulled my arm back.

“35 Chauncey Street. Mercy House. We can help you.”

Uncle Yegor had half of the bags in the outside cart now. Later that night he would describe his act of heroism to my mother as she shivered with fever. Because despite everything, sometimes it seemed he wanted her approval. Even beasts long to be loved. “Help me with what?”

She meant business and didn’t have much time. She leveled her stare. “You don’t deserve any of this. You need to get yourself out of this situation as soon as possible. 35 Chauncey Street. It’s the one with the angel doorknocker. Arrive any time. Day or night. We’ll keep you safe.” Then she turned to the Middle Eastern man behind the counter and nodded. “Sorry about the switch, Abdul. I’ll bring your cart back tomorrow.”


The next morning, before Uncle Yegor woke, I told my mother what the old woman had said, and that I wanted us to leave. She didn’t look up from where she diced cooked beets for vinegret. (She didn’t make anything but Russian meals anymore. Not Chinese, and never her hybrid.) “I have no work, no friends, no family. How do I survive? Where I go? Back to China?” Red juice pooled on the cutting board like fresh blood.

I asked her four more times. Let’s go to Mercy House. At least listen to what they have to say. But her answer was always the same. She feared Yegor, but she feared life without a man even more. And I couldn’t imagine leaving her alone with him. If I stayed, at least we had each other.

I resigned myself to this fate until the day Yegor didn’t like the tone I used to tell him dinner was ready and he put a knife to my throat. The steel was cool and sharp against my skin and his breath was warm and sour. His eyes were crazed, and his pupils dilated the way they did when he thrust himself into me. He was getting pleasure from this moment. It pleased him to have his way with my body, to have his way with my life.

That’s when I decided I would be more than just beautiful. I would be like the dragon.

I told my mother, when I left for school the next day, I wouldn’t be returning. And I wanted her to come with me, to meet me at Mercy House at 3pm, when Yegor had his shift with the taxi.

I waited on the front steps of 35 Chauncey Street for two hours before I gave up on her and lifted their angel doorknocker. Worry for my mother filled my stomach, my head, my mouth. There wasn’t room for anything else. I was afraid that if I parted my lips, my mother would spill out.

So I kept her in. I kept myself quiet. Because no matter how badly I wanted to be like the dragon, it couldn’t happen all at once.

Sister Loretta answered the door. “I’m glad you decided to come,” she said. And then she opened it wider. “Welcome home.”



Alena Dillon 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 about a gritty nun who goes against church doctrine to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. Visit her at alenadillon.com.


“Chain Smoking” by Rae Pagliarulo

The Disintegration of Adam (Matthew Gasda)
“The Disintegration of Adam,” oil on canvas, Darwin Leon.
(See also “A Poem for Today” by Matthew Gasda.)

We lay on an unframed mattress in the basement of his mother’s row home. He’s sick with something—walking pneumonia, I think—but keeps lighting one hand-rolled American Spirit after another. “Smoking makes me feel normal,” he says. I bury my nose in the sleeve of my sweater—I’ll have to wash everything I’m wearing as soon as I get home, as usual. If I put my clothes in the hamper after a visit, they contaminate everything else with the stale smoke smell and I can’t stand it. Here, the stink is everywhere—in the carpets, the couch, even the food somehow. No escape, so I give in and light up along with him, even as I cough my way through the first few drags. I lick my lips, still salty from his mother’s red gravy and something else, something wrong—ash.


“Eight months,” he says, when I ask him how long he’s been clean. “Oxy,” he says, when I ask him what he’s clean of. Immediately I remember a rule about not dating someone in recovery until they’ve been sober a year. There was a dumb movie about that, wasn’t there? I can feel my throat filling up with questions: did you snort it, or swallow it? How long did you do it? What made you start? Are you getting help, or going cold turkey? It’s only our first date, so I swallow the third degree and sip my second cocktail with heightened awareness.

This moment will bother me for months, because I am confronted with this opportunity— to date an addict, just like I always thought I would, just like I knew I deserved—and I’m going to take it. He is charming and beautiful and strange, and he speaks with sharp words and has a dark wit. He is the kind of person I should be dating, besides this one thing that I’ve been running from my entire life. It has always scared me. But after all that running, I am now afraid it’s inevitable. That it’s the reason I’m still alone. If I just got with the program and realized I’m destined to be with someone in recovery, someone just like my father, I could finally be happy. Or at least, as close as I’ve ever been.


Once we settle on a Kelly Drive bench overlooking the water, he pulls out a bottle of white wine and two plastic Dixie Cups. “I thought we could have a drink and talk.”

It seems so rehearsed and cheesy, but I can tell he’s nervous. He wants to do something nice for our third date. So, even though white wine gives me a headache, I take a cup and raise it to him. Now that we know the basics of each other’s lives, we get into the weeds. What kind of stuff do you write? What kind of relationship do you have with your parents? What do you want to do with your life? The more we talk, the more I like him. He’s sarcastic, and esoteric. He’s also wounded and bitter. The part of me that always wants to fix people starts to stir, but I tamp it down. He’s not a project. He’s fucked up and fine with it—unlike anyone I’ve ever been with. Self-assured, sometimes even cocky. He owns his damage, and when the wine is gone and the kissing begins, I can’t stop myself from guiding his hand up my skirt. We giggle and writhe against each other while college students whiz behind us on bikes and roller blades.


“Not in a million,” I say, as he points towards the penthouse floor of a nearby building. Rittenhouse Square is surrounded by them: too-high buildings full of too-rich people paying too much money for tiny apartments.

He sighs and adjusts himself closer to me on the wooden bench. “Fine, we won’t live there. How about a box on that corner?”

I glance over to see a guy panhandling for change in this painfully ritzy neighborhood. “Yeah,” I laugh. “That seems much more our speed.” But then we move from apartments to furniture, talking about the antique stove he’ll restore for me, or the mismatched chairs and tables we’ll collect from estate sales. We talk about the separate rooms we’ll need for writing, and the spaces we’ll share, and suddenly we are kissing, and laughing, and I feel dizzy. I realize what’s happened a moment too late—as though in a fever dream, he blurted out a proposal, and I accepted.


He texts me a short poem. Something about water and waves? I know it’s a metaphor but I can’t tell for what. He asks me what I think. It’s nice, I text back. I don’t really get it, to be honest.  A few minutes pass.

I wrote it for you, he responds.

Everything I could say seems stupid now—oh, well now that you mention it, I really like it? It’s sweet?

The next afternoon, I walk into his mother’s house so the two of us can hang out in his basement bedroom. His sister stops me before I even hit the deco coffee table. “You gonna say anything about the poem?” I shrug. “Well, you better. He’s fucking devastated.”

“Because I didn’t understand the poem?”

She sighs gravely. “Because you didn’t like it…his work,” she says. I walk slowly towards the basement door, where clouds of cigarette smoke are wafting towards me. I steel myself before starting down, rehearsing apologies and explanations that feel strange in my mouth because I’m not actually sorry.


He and my dad have been out on the back deck smoking for an hour. “It’s a good thing,” my mom says. “It means Dad likes him. You know that.”

I do—but I don’t want Dad to like him too much. It’s not uncommon for my boyfriends to fall in love with my quirky, charming parents and spend more time kibitzing with them during family visits than with me. During dinner, watching them is like watching a really great first date—my dad taught at the same technical college that my new beau now attends. They both like working with their hands, construction and electrical work, but are ferocious autodidacts, too. And of course—recovery. My dad finally quit drinking after three decades a few years ago. They bullshit about the program, the meetings, the higher power, the fearless moral inventories, and at one point, I hear my dad call him strong. “To overcome something like that,” he breathes. I think about my dad’s rocky journey to sobriety, the pitfalls that waited for all of us on the way to better, and smile thinly at them both.


My mom and I walk along the water’s edge, looking for clearings in the brush, just beyond the white gazebo. It’s perfect, I think—I can already see myself in a vintage dress, him in suspenders and a jeff cap, the two of us quoting obscure literature against the backdrop of a man-made suburban lake.

“Your aunts will just love walking through this,” my mom says as she navigates through a patch of wet soil, overgrown with vines and roots.

“They’ll deal with it,” I snap back, more curtly than I intend. We settle back into silence, scoping out a good place to line up the chairs or put a huppah.

“I just want to make sure you’re thinking this through,” she says carefully. “You only met a couple of months ago. What’s the rush?”

I don’t know the answer to this, or to anything, but I tell myself that’s how I know it’s right. It doesn’t make sense, maybe it even defies logic, but I feel pulled in this direction. Like I have no choice. Like all the doubt filling my head is just proof that I’m broken, and I won’t let myself be happy for once in my life. I shrug and smile at her.

“I just want you to be happy,” she whispers, with an edge of something I can only identify as defeat.


It’s been almost a week since I heard from him. Usually, I’m fielding dozens of texts a day, asking how I’m doing, what I’m doing, what we’re doing later, how work is. He’s been acting weird, too, lately—not sharing as much with me, canceling plans at the last minute. Finally, I get him on the phone as I’m pulling up to my house after work.

“Where have you been? I was worried about you.” I hear television static and the crackle of a burning cigarette, then his scratchy voice, coming through in fits and starts.

“Don’t need you to worry about me… don’t want you to fix me… need time… leave me alone… told you… told you.”

“I just want to help,” I manage to interject.

In a full-throated howl he warns me, “I DON’T NEED YOUR FUCKING HELP.

I pull the phone away from my face, tempted to throw it out the car window. I slam my hands on the steering wheel over and over, trying to hit it so hard I forget to cry. But I don’t. I can’t hear him anymore. All I can hear is the voice in my head saying you asked for this, you asked for this, you asked for this.


Shit, I knew it was him. I came to this party with a friend, feeling strangely nervous about it from the start. Now I know why. He’s here. I haven’t seen or heard from him in over a year. A year I spent imagining all the things that could have happened to him, to us. When we lock eyes, he comes right over and asks if we can talk outside for a minute. He seems okay, I think. Lucid. Just as skinny as ever. When we reach the wet pavement outside the bar, he pulls a hand-rolled cigarette out of his tobacco pouch.

“You want one?”

I shake my head. It occurs to me that he has no idea I actually hate smoking. As he drags and exhales, I listen to him with my arms crossed across my chest. As I feared, he started using again.

“While we were still together,” he admits. “It got really hard to hide it from you. That’s why I disappeared. I didn’t want you to have to deal with all that.” I lower my head and sigh. He keeps going, seemingly unable to stop. “I just wanted to apologize to you. I’m so, so sorry.”

I recognize the sentiment: the ninth step. We made direct amends to persons we had harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. I look up at him and smile weakly. I am careful to be kind and distant. Keep myself out of the smoky haze that surrounds him.

“Water under the bridge,” I say with a shrug. Eight months. I should have known.


In the five years since our breakup, he will come up to me and ask if we can talk outside three more times. Each time I will ask him, “Why are we doing this again? You already apologized. We’re good.” Each time, he will insist that since he’s fallen off the wagon again, it’s important that he start fresh, not take shortcuts, go through the whole program. The last time it happens, on a busy side street, I’m tempted to invoke the conditional clause in the ninth step and tell him, “If you apologize to me one more time, you will be injuring me,” but I don’t want to risk that kind of vulnerability. When I loved him, I was sick on cigarette smoke. When I loved him, I was sure I didn’t deserve anything more. When I loved him, I ignored all my instincts and said yes. He’s gotten enough from me. So I bite my tongue, waiting until he’s done exposing his addicted heart to me in public. I watch him as he prepares for the walk home. His skinny fingers roll American Spirit tobacco shreds into a thin sheet of paper, working it back and forth until it submits to his design. I barely see his tongue flick out as he lifts the cigarette to his lips, sealing the seam. I’m distracted by the staccato shhtak, shhtak of his old Zippo, trying to light the end. The crackle of burning tobacco sounds like static from a television, the station turned too far to the left, barely showing a picture of what should be there.



Rae Pagliarulo 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. Rae works as the Writing Life column editor for Hippocampus Magazine, and as Development Director for a Philadelphia arts nonprofit.


“Leaf Music” by Sudha Balagopal

“Wooden House” Image courtesy of Dariusz Klimczak,
(See also “The 8th of May” by Daniel Nathan Terry from the Fall 2012 issue.)

Ruby’s grandparents, Nana and Papa, say, “Go upstairs and read,” before sliding into slumber on the couch. They nap several times each day.

Upstairs, she opens the window and shouts, “Mama, where did you go?” The wind carries her question away.

She digs her fists into her pockets. Mama would’ve cuddled with her on the couch. She would’ve made grilled cheese sandwiches shaped into little rectangles.

Nana and Papa show her the kindness offered to strangers; distant, polite. She’s never known her father; she doesn’t know his parents now. They shuffle and repeat sentences, they wheeze and count pills. They don’t know she’s allergic, extend sandwiches oozing with peanut butter and jelly.

This stuffy house unsettles Ruby. At night, strange whooshing, clinking sounds keep her awake.

Again, she cries, “Mama, where are you?”

This time, an oak tree waves, beckoning from the forest’s edge. The branches spread like fingers.

Grabbing her coat—it’s small for her seven-year-old frame—she pulls the front door shut behind her.

One morning, Mama hugged her goodbye and didn’t return. After, women wearing suits put her on a plane and said, “You’re going home.”

This is not home. How can it be, without Mama?

Home is sitting in the middle of unfolded laundry and watching The Wizard of Oz; home is tomato soup and chocolate chip cookies for dinner; home is the crimson of Mama’s nails. Ruby feels a pain in her belly, rubs it like Mama used to.

The women in suits hugged her, said, “Just know that your Mama’s in a better place.”

Her ears catch the musical murmur of leaves overhead. In moments, the neighboring trees pick up the chorus, awakening the forest to familiar music—Mama danced to this song. Ruby stretches her arms, closes her eyes. moves to a rhythm Mama has taught her: one-two-three, one-two-three.

An orchestra rises: wind whistling through hollow trees, the strum of bare branches beating out the right notes.

“Come,” the forest calls.

She obeys, walking deeper into the wood where the music continues to allure.

Then, the orchestra falters, the fumbling conductor has lost his baton. She hears irregular rhythms, twigs crackling, the thud of falling logs. A distant coyote howls; her heart freezes.

Thunder claps overhead, lights wink in the sky, and a deluge releases.

She must go back to Nana and Papa. When she swivels to look behind her, the trail’s vanished. Puddles of water snake away from her in every direction. Panicked, she lifts her gaze up to the canopy overhead.

“Mama!” she cries.

Which way should I turn?

“Walk forward,” Mama urges in her ear.

“Where?” Ruby whispers.

“Forward,” Mama says. “Careful! Walk, don’t run.”

She doesn’t heed Mama. Heart drumming, she sprints, soggy coat clinging, shoes squelching in the mud.

She slides and hits her head on a tree trunk. The bang pounds, throbs, brings tears.

Then, Mama’s instruction. “Take the rope ladder.”

With the back of her arm, Ruby wipes the drops from her eyes. They widen.

A ladder dangles before her, inviting her into the tree house above. She gasps, clambering with numb hands and feet.

Do coyotes climb?

She rolls up the ladder and breathes: sweating, listening. The micro burst’s gone. There’s nothing now—only leaf music. She runs a hand over the bump on her head. That’s real enough.

From her perch, she can see the edge of the forest, the chimney of her grandparents’ house. They’ll expect her.


On the paint-chipped floor, an ancient patchwork quilt and a book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She pulls the quilt over herself.

Mama’s led her home.



Sudha Balagopal‘s 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


“this is not a love poem” by Gina Marie Bernard

Recovery ( At Rest)
At Rest, image by Karen Bell.
(See also “Recovery” by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish.)

because you return to our bedroom hours after you promised,
because you must steady yourself against the jamb, which means you’ve driven drunk,
because as your silhouette rides up the wall like an island drawn thin by river currents,
i sense the quicksilver pulse of your clenching need,
because your hands grope cold against my bed warmed breasts,
because when i turn away, your lips plant counterfeit baubles against my neck,
and when you ask me why i’m crying, you refuse to let me answer,
and murmur “I would never hurt you,” unaware your tense describes
things imagined but not true.

your breathing deepens and i imagine you’ve slipped into sleep,
but returning from the hypothetical, you roll me onto my back and pin my wrists,
where you imprint semicolons into the paper lantern skin.

beneath you, i too punctuate what must be done: the whites piled in the laundry room,
the dishes unwashed in the sink, hummingbird feeders full of drowned ants.

tomorrow you will awake late, and i will have put on my coffee,
and you may or may not remember tonight, a shadow passing over your face
as dark as the bruises smudging my inner thighs. but i won’t bring it up

because this is not a love poem,

but it is yours all the same.



Gina Marie Bernard is a trans woman, roller derby vixen, and full-time English teacher. She has completed a 50-mile ultra-marathon, followed Joan Jett across the US, and purposely jumped through a hole cut in lake ice. She lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, own the two halves of her heart. She has written one YA novel, Alpha Summer (2005), and one collection of short fiction, Vent (2013). Her poetry has recently appeared in MortarThe Cape RockNew Plains Review, and Leveler.


“Nobody Scars the Same Landscape” by Meg Tuite

Cover Image
“Body with Fire” by Laura Didyk, Sharpie on paper, 2015.
See also “Three Moons Over Maple Grove” by Susan Gower

Some days the planet is large as a splinter and Ronnie is gouging through it. She’s sucking down rum and cokes in the tropics and wearing some other girl’s bikini watching the sticky men at the bar with their speculum eyes already examining the prospects. She tromps through three continents in her head. Every photo she is in a bar. Her friend says, “Looks like you never left Toledo,” until she knocks her head when she heaves down the stairs at a party and everyone is speaking Spanish when she wakes up in a hospital.

Ronnie is back on a plane and then she is back on her porch again sucking down wine at noon. Her liver pillows her through another day of the same. Parties on the porch are epic. Anyone walking by is invited up.

One night after dancing with a cop, Ronnie falls backwards down the front steps and hits her head again. Her girlfriend puts her in an ambulance and they cart her away to a place that’s supposed to churn your brain cells back into neighbors and cut back the crust around your internal organs until they are brunching on cucumbers and shaking their thin limbs at what a typhoon looks like on a foundationless house.

When Ronnie gets out of rehab and back home she just about curls up like a hose in the yard and sits with rheumy mud flaps for a face. Minutes crawl over her in horrific ant stings. She scratches blood, sounds jump, and that porch cracks with her into something only mornings remember. Those mornings when the light shines in, lint-splattered, and Ronnie is in her rocker with coffee and vague moons that jostle her waxing and waning memories, just like every crooning moon before them.

There was a time when she could make it to one of those tropical places without taking the white pill and the blue/beige one just to get on the plane.

Ronnie and the porch turn into a still life. A psychiatrist guinea-pigs her with multi-colored medications that red pill her body into some hellish rash. She barfs, retreats inside herself, stops talking to strangers.

How many moons does anyone remember? Tell me you spent a day scrubbing money out of a computer and sucking it in to other peoples’ accounts. Tell me you spent it pulling a mortgage payment through the opening of houses drooling for piles of signatures, loans and down-payments. See yourself sitting on that patio having barbeques and drinking Moscow Mules. Yes, and yes, and yes sell humans cars and clothes and airline tickets so you can turn around and get a car, some clothes, and a trip to remember who you’re supposed to be. Or do you? How else can another day find you if you can’t find yourself in it? It’s a matter of who we are against the force of who we think we are.

So then, about Ronnie? How does she fare? Her girlfriend uncurls her by hiding bottles where Ronnie will find them, under cots and in cut slits of coat pockets. Soon broken men follow Ronnie back up on the porch.

The music kicks up and life reigns itself in again. Ronnie is swinging with a postman.

She and her girlfriend start adding photos to the album again. The neighborhood is raging with people and Ronnie captures each one on her Polaroid camera as they get talked into a drink or six on the porch.

Ronnie takes her pills and then gets on a plane with her girlfriend and lands in a place where it’s necessary to drink as much booze as you can. She finds a wicker rocker and stares out at the whitecaps. She holds her girlfriend’s hand and they smirk at each other. After all, they are back in Toledo and they are both tanked wearing half of the other’s bikini.



Meg Tuite (No One 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 work has been published in numerous literary magazines, over fifteen anthologies, nominated nine times for the Pushcart Prize, five-time Glimmer Train finalist, shortlisted for Bristol Prize, and Gertrude Stein award finalist. Her blog: http://megtuite.com 


“His Grey Hoodie” by Jacqueline Jules

Illustration by FINAL GIRL, anonymous street artist,
see also “God of Thunder” by Brian Kamsoke

Sundown at 5. Chill in the house. I open the hall closet for a sweater.

And I see it. Hanging between my red raincoat and his father’s blue windbreaker.

Our son’s fur-lined fleece hoodie. Grey, except for the Penn State panther in an oval on the right, just below the collar.

It’s been there for six months. Since the morning I washed the contents of the white plastic bag, marked “Patient Belongings.” There wasn’t much inside. Pajamas, slippers, boxers. And the fur-lined fleece hoodie. The one he wore that August afternoon in his 5th floor walkup. New York City. No air conditioning, yet he’s shivering with his hands in his pockets and the hood pulled over his wispy brown bangs.

“How can you be cold?” his father asked. “I’m burning up.”

Just like he was, except from a fever, not the weather.

There is no thermometer in the apartment. I race down five flights to the corner drugstore and back. Panting, I plead until he puts it under his arm.

“Nothing to worry about,” he scoffs at the number. “101.2. A virus.”

But it wasn’t. A year later, he’s living at home again. Like a teenager, not a thirty-year- old man. Chemo twice a month with a doctor neither one of us likes.

“Too blunt. No bedside manner,” he says, slipping a bone-thin arm into his fur-lined sleeve.

We leave that hospital in search of a second opinion.

And feel hopeful for a while. Until the morning he rises from bed too dizzy to walk. Faints on the way to the bathroom.

Waiting in emergency, he asks for his hoodie.

“I’m cold.”

We bring it to the 7th floor, Oncology Unit. It comes home, weeks later, in a white plastic bag.

And now it hangs in the hall closet, between my raincoat and his father’s windbreaker. Should it stay there? As if waiting to be worn again?

I put my fingers against the fleece. Remember all the hours he sat huddled inside it. Mostly on the couch watching Seinfeld or How I Met Your Mother. Dozing off at commercials.

For a brief moment, I regret burying him without his hoodie—no less loved than the tattered teddy he had at age three.

What’s done cannot be undone.

Slipping the soft fabric off the hanger, I raise one arm, then the other. The sleeves are a little long but it’s wearable.

I snuggle into his spot on the couch. Turn on the TV. A Seinfeld rerun.



Jacqueline Jules 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.


“Christmas Lights” by Wanda Deglane

Christmas Cactus.Sanctuary
“Sanctuary” by Suzanne Stryk 2007,
see also “Christmas Cactus” by Ann Goldsmith

Let me tell you about the Christmas that ruined
Every one that followed.
Let me tell you about the night I was eight, nearly nine.
I wore a red velvet dress, with white trim,
My hair half-up with a sparkly bow,
Ready to go to my uncle’s to celebrate.
The smell of ham that had been in the oven all afternoon
Called to me from downstairs,
Invited me to come down.
Let me tell you about my mother, and how beautiful she looked.
How she was downstairs already,
Fixing her smooth hair in the mirror.
She was frowning, nearly in tears,
But still lovely.
My brother and I raced to get to her, to the ham,
To the blinking Christmas lights below.
My father then, burst out of the study, a furious storm.
He rained on her with biting words and she trembled
As she reached for the garage door and whisked inside,
Trying to find her shoes.
Let me tell you how he came after her,
And the whole world came screeching to a halt.
How the door fell closed behind him with no one to stop it,
But I could still hear the sound of my beautiful mother screaming,
The crunching of blows, the thundering boom
Of her head, slamming the wall.
Let me tell you how I stood there and did nothing,
On the fifth step from the bottom,
The one that always creaked every day when I rushed downstairs,
Now held me grounded like quicksand. Let me tell you how I always
Used to cry about anything, but this time,
not a squeak came out, not a tear.
I felt nothing, and I did nothing, my legs timber logs
That weighed several tons. I did nothing. I did nothing.
The seconds crawled, as my mother came out weeping.
She charged up the stairs,
Scooping my brother and me in her arms,
And barricaded us in her room with her. Let me tell you how
She sobbed for hours after, whispering us comforts
Let me tell you how I clutched the hand-held phone in my shaking hands,
Staring at the digits that lit up back at me, and willed my brain to work,
For my fingers to follow and dial someone, anyone.
How my mother wrenched it out of my hand and cried,
“It’s okay, hija, it’s okay.”
Let me tell you how my father murmured apologies through the door,
And when she opened it, something inside of me boiled
That still burns and left scars. Let me tell you how she forgave him,
And we went to that damned party at my uncle’s, how
She screamed at me to smile
When my eyes looked a little too far away,
How we never spoke of it again, and the cheerful pictures
From the party only proved nothing had ever happened.
Let me tell you because I was made to never speak of it,
Because at nine and ten I wondered if I had somehow dreamt it all up,
If my mind had played some nasty trick on me, and at eighteen
The sight of Christmas lights still brings me back to those stairs.
Let me tell you because it’s the only thing I still remember.



Wanda Deglane 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.


Pushcart Prize nominations

It’s always so difficult to pick among our wonderful work each year for Pushcart Prize nominations, but we’ve finally decided. Our nominees for 2018 are:

“Robbing Pillars,” a short story by Sheryl Monks

“Write to Save Someone,” a poem by Terri Muuss

“Asha in Allston” a short story by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

“Science and Survival,” an essay by Virginia Chase Sutton

“Teeth,” a flash by Joe Mills

“Going Places,” an essay by David Marchino

Congratulations to those nominated and good luck!