“Final Exam\Fall 2018” by Hananah Zaheer

Painting by Anna Rac.

Q:        What is decomposition? Use examples to illustrate your answer.

A:        Decomposition            is simple                                                         

            AB → A + B

It’s a change of direction a reconstruction of atoms         see         heat breaks down bonds or
you break down in a grocery store aisle         to enter rot you attach to pieces          love is no longer a drop of water      Hydrogen and Oxygen separately can’t reason       the two can’t breathe                  not together not alone either         it tastes a little like ache            like closing
the gates no more customers today
on the page it looks like this:

                        H2O→ H2 + O

Break               open an apple for example slice its heart slice again your unpracticed hands destroy it easy like a cake you never learned to bake like the jasmine that fell too soon grief wants to grow branches              parasites attaching to blood no one can see deep in the earth dripping from the ceiling making you dead cold in ways you didn’t even imagine                    it is a reaction         people say compose yourself and by that they mean dig up your bones     
cover that grief with dirt not          six        feet      under   but             two because decay happens so much easier in the shallow or perhaps think of it like this: in the shelves of a grocery store there are many things dying a pack of bagels for example meant for a family of four a smoothie never bought                                        a man holding his wife while the ambulances arrives molecules shift shapes when heated the same                 two look different when holding on differently                          like Hydrogen Peroxide

                2 H2O2 → 2 H2O + O2

two shelves over from the floor where she fell the same bottle they emptied in the aisle take my answer say it was a whole a promise and then something dispersed what I mean to say is
                 everything decomposes
                 even people
                 even words

Hananah Zaheer is a fiction editor for Four Way Review. Her recent work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review where it won the Lawrence Foundation Literary prize for 2017, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gargoyle, Moon City Review, Westview and Willow Review, among others. She received a 2016 Pushcart nomination from Moon City Review and has been awarded fellowships by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) and Rivendell Writers’ Colony.

“Stitches” by Hananah Zaheer

Painting by Anna Rac.

The day before I bury
             her                   I
measure her     in negatives
they have removed everything
heart lungs      her
                         liver     her                                           
sinks    my home
hollowed by someone’s hands
she was opened        she
smelled sweet
and sometimes
bitter    her
hands bathed me  
from when I wipe
her chest          she is
              sewn shut       jagged
cuts across       I hold
her hair
It still looks the same

Hananah Zaheer is a fiction editor for Four Way Review. Her recent work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review where it won the Lawrence Foundation Literary prize for 2017, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gargoyle, Moon City Review, Westview and Willow Review, among others. She received a 2016 Pushcart nomination from Moon City Review and has been awarded fellowships by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) and Rivendell Writers’ Colony.

[Yes, but …] by Devon Balwit

Painting by Anna Rac.

Why don’t you…? people offer,
meaning well, not knowing the hole
its murk and depth, its rootedness, the soul
rot-riddled. To watch another suffer
distresses, brings out the fixer. Dis-ease,
alas, is not so easily fixed, the brain
stubbornly attuned to its frequency of pain.
Sure, one can medicate, finding one’s ease
in the cat-grab of pills at the nape,
but then one’s paws spin above the ground,
the world distant, both sense and sound
muted. —Better the feces-throwing ape
that hoots in the head’s cage. Do you see
the dilemma? Hamlet’s to be or not to be?

Devon Balwit‘s most recent collection is titled A Brief Way to Identify a Body (Ursus Americanus Press). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, Fifth Wednesday (on-line), apt, Grist, and Rattle among others. For more on her book and movie reviews, chapbooks, collections and individual works, see her website at: https://pelapdx.wixsite.com/devonbalwitpoet

“Apology in the Sand” by Kyle Laws

Painting by Anna Rac.

Across the canal, at Higbee’s Beach, paths wind through
a sanctuary of seabirds and water fowl. A ferry I do not board

backs into a November night, backs through the remains
of horseshoe crabs laying eggs on shore. I reach an apology

in the sand, find the stick used to imprint it; sand clogs
the end. It smells of low tide, a single strand of woman’s hair

caught against the rim of bamboo. If I had stayed, I would
not have closed the future of you, but picked up the child’s boot

from the debris of tide, wrapped it up with the entanglements
of seaweed and saltgrass, brought it home on another road. And I

will think of you years hence, of your foot in a rubber boot
trying to catch flounder from the bay, pole stand dug into

the last sandbar, small hand winding the line in, slow click
and turn of the reel, the sand shark you almost wrestle

to your feet, the empty hook, your surprise at how just before
the last hitch of the reel it slips away, how you will never

really learn to fish, to catch anything other than what has to be
thrown back in.

Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press), and Wildwood (Lummox Press). Ride the Pink Horse is forthcoming from Spartan Press. With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.  

“your dog slept on the floor of your” by Alex Chernow

Painting by Anna Rac

your dog slept on the floor of your closet every day after you left.  your family tried to coax him into the yard, entice him with long walks, hold palmsful of deli meat at the bottom of the stairs, but, when left unattended, he’d retreat back to the closet to curl himself into a bed of clothes that still smelled like you

1. piles of unwashed clothes

and your mother, who doesn’t know how to move her body anymore because this is not something mothers are supposed to do      your mother, who hasn’t eaten anything off the plates of casseroles we’ve brought to her side table in endless parade          your mother, who is on her knees again and we don’t know if she’s praying or if she’s too weak to stand

2. so many science fiction novels with spines splayed open and dog-eared corners

which I know you loved but we never talked about them      and I know you used to write but none of us have figured out the password to your laptop, not your team or your dog’s name or your sister’s

3. your elementary school yearbook

and we can’t stop flipping through it saying what a beautiful child you were     and your third grade teacher came and told us how once you got in trouble when you and another boy showed each other your penises in class     and said “maybe I shouldn’t have told you that”     and she cried and kept saying “this is wrong this is so wrong”

4. bottles of lithium, with no pills missing

you’d said in the midst of all the appointments and scans that someday you would donate your brain to science and now it’s at johns hopkins, and everyone said to your parents that of course you found a way to to help others, even now, so like you, and it doesn’t make your parents feel any better

5. a syringe, which no one knew you had or used till    after

6. birthday cards from your grandmother you never threw away

all your family came, your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and all your friends, friends you hadn’t seen in years, and your parents’ friends and your brother and your sister and all their friends and the guys you worked with at the bar and your ex-girlfriend who couldn’t stop crying and the kids you coached for the last five years missed football practice to sit around the living room in black and tell your mother no when she said it’s all her fault and on the night of the funeral so many people came they couldn’t fit through the doors and we could tell it made your dad proud, in a weird way, and your parents said it was the party they get to throw for you since they’ll never get to throw a wedding

7. every album by the band your best friend started

and you used to drive an hour and a half to see his shows, every one,    and he wrote a song for you the night it happened and your family listens to it every day

and your brother takes care of your dog now and mixes his food with the bone broth you had made and left in the freezer in hopes that he will eat but even or especially your dog knows this is wrong this is so wrong


Alex Chernow is a poet, nurse, and birth doula currently residing in Baltimore, MD. She holds degrees from NYU and Johns Hopkins University, and was the winner of Boulevard magazine’s 2014 Contest for Emerging Poets. Her poetry chapbook It wouldn’t be called longing if you only did it for a little while is forthcoming from dancing girl press.

“bird bodies” by Alicia Bessette

so frail when they faded down that corridor.
no use crying out—the mask
swallowed my mouth. besides,
only the metal bed had ears.

dreamed of brother guzzling air from buckets.
sister swinging high, shoes flying.

woke with wormy scars, pecked, not knowing
forge or forget


they watched me binge
and didn’t say stop

or okay or someday
you’ll miss blood

because it’s bright and
if nothing else, yours.

after, i lay on mealy
ground, one eye closed

making my fingers feathers
that floated over chimney

beyond sky. how else to
escape a belly so like

mouth, emptiest when full?
choice and demon both,

the eating. maybe. but my own
fingers blamed me. still do


wings trace loops;
sculpture shows me.
its streamers, frozen
above grass, tip and
slide me through.

if only arms spiraled into wings.
how i flapped at pretend edge
aching to belong.

now at real edge
i cup my hands
and whisper mending



Alicia Bessette’s poems have appeared in Anima, Atlanta Review and The Main Street Rag. Her debut novel Simply From Scratch (Dutton/Plume) was an international bestseller. Visit her website at www.aliciabessette.com


“space bodies” by Alicia Bessette

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

half my atoms: the violently
vented innards of ancient stars.

half of hurtling: hurt.

sometimes it strikes eons after impact.
like one random night—old slap still
singing, old gorge still gouging—i go
outside, gaze up, mistake bright chaos
for home.


inside my head: labyrinths.

inside labyrinths: crystals.

should trauma jolt them loose:
kitchen tilts. plates supernova
from shelves.


neptune sounds like breath
pulsing from ocean depth,

if nothing is never not hurtling,
then nothing is never not hurt.

no wonder i shout myself awake.

no wonder i rise and stand
before the window.

all those lights to swallow



Alicia Bessette’s poems have appeared in Anima, Atlanta Review and The Main Street Rag. Her debut novel Simply From Scratch (Dutton/Plume) was an international bestseller. Visit her website at www.aliciabessette.com


“I am Trying to be More Rock Less” by Emily Ellison

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

less crumble
gathered in my
less back of a back
hunched in longing
for the sandstone
skin      less
of my fissures
less atmosphere less
black less feather
less mouth

floating my ache as a sigh

less ache and ache and

like the wind
of two


less grain when returning
myself to myself
less conversion less

as dust
swept by
my own eyelashes weeping

less along the scuffled
grounds less
oh god
am I
this mess of



Emily Ellison is a second year MFA poet at Texas State University, where she also works as an Teaching Assistant for their English faculty. Her work has appeared in Southword, After the Pause, and Haiku Journal, and is upcoming in several places. Emily lives in San Marcos, Texas with two cats and an abundance of plants (withering at the moment).


“Impediment” by Stacey Park

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

I talk too mulch. Too mulch. I mean,
too much. Steeped in cheek blush,
synapses fire quick, in front of this
lovely listener. Message received,
on the way to delivered, altered
not by malfunction
devoid of me but sabotaged
by shadow-me. Tiny, troll,
shadow-me hanging on epiglottis,
throwing sticks between u’s and c’s.
So long I thought these impediments
were outsourced punishments
but these impediments are me
happening to me—can’t be cool
in front of this patient one,
this listening one, this precious one
I want to kiss. I will want to mess it up,
to make mulch of a too good thing.



Stacey Park is currently an MFA poetry student. Previously, she has worked as an adjunct instructor and holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. Her previous writing can be read in RipRap and Foothill.  


“Blue House” by Amy Alexander

“Karlen’s Vessel” by Kathy O’Meara.

She takes spider silk and oils from the next town over.
She takes flowers blue and deep black.

She dreams of sonnets and tries to get the words out.

She held the sprout of her baby, the tissues like a sodden desert bloom packed with unexpected rainwater, in her refrigerator for five days.

I’ve got a dead baby in my fridge, she thinks.
Out of nowhere she stifles a quick laugh: Inappropriate

She doesn’t know how to do this.
She examines the so-called “products of her conception.”
Looks for fingers or a spine.

The house is quiet, all the children in yellow, red or white houses and the man gone off to work.
She pours what’s left into the palm of her hand so she can hold it once. It stains her fingers like berries.

She shushes the slightly sick shame
Only say you looked at it, she reminds herself.

All the songs she would have sung feel stuck in her throat like soup cream.
All the diapers she would have hung in the sun flap in her mind and snap in the grief wind.

She promises not to mention them.



Amy Alexander is a poet and writer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has published work in Quarterly West, The Cream City Review, The Coil, Louisiana Literature, and many other journals. She was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship.