“In Flight Safety Card” by Lauren Eyler

Eve and the apple
“Eve & The Apple” by Elizabeth Leader, pastel on Fabriano paper.
(See also “The Undertow” by Katie Strine.)

While everyone is trying to cram their luggage into the overhead compartments, you take the benzos out of your pocket.  There are six because you are too addicted so less would be a waste of time.  You press your tongue against the roof of your mouth so you can place the pills beneath it. The drug eases through the capillary walls.  The sedative ducks the bile, the acid.  Immediate. Straight. It swims pure into your bloodstream.

As the pills dissolve, you pull on your hoodie.  You’ll be hot.  The air-conditioning doesn’t come on until the plane leaves the ground, but you suck it up.  You run the wires of your earbuds between your T-shirt and the hoodie’s fleece lining.  The benzos are still thawing as you place the buds in your ear and cloak your head.  This is all so the flight attendants won’t see you and tell you to turn off your music until the voice says, “It is now okay to use portable electronic devices.”  You’ve done this a hundred times now and the plane has never crashed.  This is the only rule you break while flying.  You always make sure your seat back and tray table are in their full upright position and you would never, under any circumstances, tamper with the smoke detectors in the restrooms.  It’s a federal law.  You take most federal laws very seriously.  Probably.

Before you shut your eyes, you take the copy of SkyMall from the seat pocket in front of you   and turn the pages until you find the steps you can buy your wiener dog so it won’t break its back jumping on and off the couch.  Once you find it and read the description and see that it still costs seventy dollars, you have a vague feeling of comfort, the kind like an itch has been scratched.

The plane begins to taxi. It means all the doors have been shut and locked, the one that has always been and the one that leads to the cockpit.  The flight attendants are in the aisle asking for your full attention as they demonstrate the safety features of the aircraft.  You can’t hear them because you have the volume all the way up, but your earbud slips and words creep in, “You will find this and all the other safety information in the card located in the seat pocket in front of you.  We strongly suggest you read it before take-off.”

Your finger brushed the laminate as you removed the SkyMall, but that’s as close as you come to taking their suggestion.  As a child you studied the card, saw cartoon people rowing yellow blow up rafts, sliding down inflatable slides.  Even then, you knew those slides weren’t the same as the slides at the park.  Nothing about those yellow slides was fun.  You have the card memorized.  It gave you nightmares.  Now there are other things.

But really that’s not the reason you don’t read it.  You don’t bother because you are in the after.  You never forgot watching the Pentagon burn from a friend’s row house or the planes flying too low over the campus.  And you’re still attempting to solve all the math problems that the too still water, that the too intimate thrumming engendered. What is the derivative of your anxiety in relation to the number of times you place your laptop in an individual container?  Can you determine the upper limit at which you stop visualizing a bomb in each bag without an apparent owner?  Is the square root of “Let’s Role” real or imagined?  Are the answers the fundamental theorem of life as it is now?

The benzos are wrapping tight around your brain.  You will feel lighter in three to four minutes.  The air you breath in will come without the strain of gravity.  And pretty soon the air will be free from the box cutter you used to rip through masking tape when you worked at a bookstore.  This oxygen will silence the image of a slit throat and the gurgling that goes with it.  And all the equations will sleep.

The music is humming to you.  Gentle lyrics speak of places you can go where your high won’t fade away, where the poets write in looser verse, where you can curl into the Olympus Mons.

You inhale.  The words, the drug, have wiped away the cartoons, the math, and the final piece lifts from your skin.  Understand, you don’t believe in God, but you can hear your preacher saying, “You either get where you’re going or you end up at your Father’s door.”  Until the plane touches down, that door is open.



Lauren Eyler is from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  She has been published in The Saint Anne’s Review, Bluestem, The Rumpus and other journals. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue.

“A Landmass of Birds” by Kyle Adamson

The North Pacific Gyre (Landmass)
“The North Pacific Gyre” by Elizabet Leader, Pastel on Fabriano paper

We live in a landmass of birds.
This is a poem about grief.
How the brackish water bleeds
into the poisoned orange glow.

How only in a glimpse
when the car whooshes
over a concrete bridge,
I see the island patrolled
by predatory beaks.
So inhospitable
& burning like whiskey
on an arid palette.
This moment lives
in the sour sand
between my tongue & cheek
& deep in my veins
with tidal malice.

It’s shore out of reach;
puddles are crusted, dry,
thirsty with rife.
How the rocks huddled together
like shattered television sets
with frail driftwood antennas.

So many that lay strewn
with vacant eye sockets.

I will only speak of winged cannibals.
How deafening the shrill,
how baron the skeleton trees.

The soil, putrid & foul
with shattered eggshells
like salt on a charred rib,
I wish this were a poem about apologies.
This is where we hail, we are.



Kyle Adamson is an MFA student at Bennington College and earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University. He is the winner of the 2010 AWP Intro to Journals Award in poetry and has been published in the Artful Dodge and Revolver and forthcoming in the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Water-Stone Review, and the Midway Journal. Kyle served in the Marine Corps infantry and deployed twice to Iraq. Kyle resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota.


“The White Buffalo and the Stone Vine” by Candice Carnes

Eve at the edge
“Eve at the Edge” by Elizabeth Leader, Pastel on Fabriano paper

Every woman carries at her core a ball of fire.

Most stories remain solid, a manageable system of change, barely perceptible in time, their experiences like erosion, slowly cutting through stone. But an ill woman’s landscape is full of tsunamis. Her stories, like violent waves so sudden and constant that there is nothing but the meta-memory of their aftershocks.

This is the myth of my own disease.

There was a mass of unknown origin wrapped around my right kidney. It looked like a jellyfish and its tentacles reached as far as my thigh until they squeezed my muscles and I had trouble walking.

Because this mass was gelatinous, no one could find it even with technology, which is expensive, but ordinarily reliable.

The mass gestated in my right side until it became so large that it shoved my kidney into my spine.

And then I couldn’t bend in the middle.

To save my body, my kidney sacrificed itself and grew a stone from the crystallization of calcium that in the beginning was tinier than a single grain of sand. This crystal grew in size,

sharp and jagged-edged, like a knife that cut me open as it reached out, attempting to assassinate the alien mass that had invaded my body.

In my dreams, this stone looked like a bone arrowhead. I saw a white buffalo shot with this arrowhead. The buffalo was bleeding, and then I was bleeding, and then I woke up drenched in sweat, unsure if I was in pain or just imagining that I was in pain. I couldn’t remember which one of us had been shot. Sometimes I thought I was the buffalo and the hunter had pierced me with an arrowhead, and out of fear I had ran away.

The white buffalo lived alone in flatlands that reached out to the North and to the South. Behind her, to the West, was red earth and mountain ranges. She was lonely, but I could never reach her. Sometimes I imagined she dreamed of me and wondered why we both lived in such different kinds of solitude. Sometimes I wondered if the hunter’s arrow was his love, which I had rejected, and that he was the one who ran away.

Sometimes I missed the hunter, but then I remembered how difficult it was to kill with a bow and arrow. If the hunter was anything less than precise, it took a long time to die from such wounds.

I was a wounded animal, dying slowly.

The stone grew from an arrowhead into a scorpion that perched on my kidney. Sometimes I could feel that scorpion reach up and pinch my heart just to make sure I was still alive. He was my child, my son, guarding my life along with his own. My body was a stone jungle— filled with stone beasts— like gargoyles holding back the gates of death.

The scorpion sprouted a leaf. The leaf grew into a stone vine that grew around my spinal cord like bone on bone. The vine grew microscopic buds that hung like poisonous flowers, symbolizing a birth—lily of valley—and I couldn’t tell if I was in the process of dying or being born.

When the surgeons retracted my ribs and removed the mass, my kidney had been shoved so far into my spinal cord that they had merged, like Siamese twins in the stone cage of the vine. Nothing that was embedded in my spinal cord could be removed, without paralyzing me. My side was sewn-up. The cortex of kidney and fragments of stone vine were left inside. The vine became calcified to the bones of my vertebrae, so that sometimes, even now, when I bend it  grates, bone against bone, stone against stone, like the plates of the Earth converging and subducting as they buckle and collide. Forever my movements will be slower, my body a force against its own inertia.

In the grind the jagged edges of broken parts slowly turn to dust.

The dust created by movement is re-absorbed.

But the body is still at risk.

Stone remnants can break away in chunks—like tiny new arrowheads that pierce through the sterile cavity of the human body, causing infection. I am prone to abscesses— a defense of the body— where healthy cells will harden like tiny soldiers, keeping the infection localized where it will grow in a self-contained bubble until it can be drained.

The constant work of erosion has presented itself as scars. My stories burrowed into its valleys. The stone pillar became my spine that grinded in place as movement forced through. It is the work of moving sculptures, of moving stones, of moving walls.

This volatile body,

is my body.

What does this say about me now that my insides have been removed and replaced, invaded and displaced? Where does one seek refuge from her own body when it has been taken over by such mysteries? A menagerie of beasts, vital organs too decayed to function, and the alien mass, which began it all removed by skill of the surgeon’s hand.

As the retractors split my ribs, I dreamt of the hunter and wondered if he was trying to kill the white buffalo or if he meant to save her. Was I that buffalo?

I bled-out.

A vascular surgeon was called.

A central line was inserted into my neck. It was threaded through the jugular vein that ran directly to my heart. Two pints of O-positive were pumped to my right atrium, but I kept bleeding. The surgery took eight hours, but in my mind it lasted much longer.

After months of watching the bleeding white buffalo standing alone, I saw her collapse while drinking water from a stream. She was too hot. The water was not cool enough. Would I ever wake up? Centuries passed while I sat next to the buffalo, stroking her skin with cool rags desperate for her to wake, knowing  my totem might die. The retractors were removed along with two of my ribs.

Confused, I believed I had almost drowned, and washed up on a riverbed where I woke up in the blazing sun.

I remembered the scorpion. How long had he been my guardian? And how was it that the leaf and the vine had invaded my body? What would life be like without them? And how long before this delicate balance would again be disturbed?

It is the strength, beauty, and frailty of the sick body that Frida Kahlo once called, a ribbon around a bomb.

I am none and all of these beasts at once.



Candice Carnes earned her BFA in creative writing from Goddard College. This essay is an excerpt from her book, An Incomplete Case Study of the Petrified Woman, a memoir of a traumatic, nearly fatal illness that cost her (among other things) a kidney at the age of 32. Most of her stories are informed by over a decade of providing hands-on patient care. She is the winner of the 2009 Leo-Love Merit Scholarship in fiction. Her work has appeared in Adobe Walls, Raphael’s Village, Apeiron Review, and in Mused (June 2013).


“The Catfish and the Top” by Sheila Meltzer

“Plastic Reef” by Elizabeth Leader, Mixed media on Fabriano paper

The catfish lay on her side, long slender whiskers drooping, head spinning like a polystyrene float snagged by a whirlpool. “I really caught something bad this time,” she moaned.

Her partner, hovering beside her, was beside herself. “I’ve had just about my fill of this bottom feeding,” she near-about growled. “You’ve been kept down here long enough, Dorita. Look up there at those manicured koi flaunting their glowing pink scales in the sunlight. That’s where we belong, that’s where I want to see my chickadee.”

“Might be the cast-off worms I had for my third breakfast.” Dora coughed delicately. “There’s something scratchy caught in my throat, feels like nylon fishing line. If you’d be so kind as to fix me a cup of hot sludge, I’ll be back to my old self in the flick of a minnow’s tail, you’ll see.” Forgetting that she didn’t have eyelids, the catfish bravely tried batting her lashes at the big brawny red-tail.

She remembered how her parents’ eyes widened when she told them of the engagement, how they clamped their fins close against their bodies and backed away, scandalized. “Sí, sí, red-tails are catfish too, but only distant relations. We cory cats are peaceful homebodies, scavenging close to our roots. Who knows where this kind wander, getting into who knows what business, eating who knows who to get so monstrously big.” Just the same, the fair femme found the dark, speckled upper body, the dramatic red fins and the cocky attitude irresistible.

Sucking on a bloated cigar butt she’d plucked from under a piece of driftwood, Bruna continued the opulent dream tucked behind her crystal eyes. “You’d be a fool to waste your life in obscurity, snout up to eyes in mud. I have connections in high places.  We’ll blow this pop stand, get you on a cleansing algae diet, and present you, my delectable confection, to the upper crust.”

Dora, hacking up the last of the nylon refuse, reflected on the good old days when you could feast on whatever dropped by, and grow contentedly fat to a healthy old age of five, surrounded by doting small fry. Pollution’s been so bad lately, even the breeders are doing nothing but brooding. The bottom, she regretted, was not what it used to be. Bruna spoke the truth; she was too beautiful a specimen to spend her life down in the dumps when a bright future twinkled above. So it was, that with a farewell sweep of her tear-soaked barbel to the estuary floor, she followed her lover where none of her clan had ever ventured before: up to the top.

Blinded by the sun, Dora’s first impression as they surfaced was of the foreign-tongued greetings that reached her ears. “Mm hmmm, I’ve never seen white look quite so good.” That crack earned one peacock bass a swipe from the blackfish at his side. “Marina baby,” cooed one trout to another, “let’s ask Dr. Gilles about some kinky whisker implants!” Even a pair of male ibises, sharing a banana on the shore, paused to urnk salaciously in her direction. The catfish blushed deeply, a spectacular vision on a pure albino. Would these be her high connections?

Soon the riffraff returned to their customary primping and pimping, leaving the new arrivals to make their accommodations. Bruna led her jewel to a vast viridian field, some kind of invasive plant that was skimming huge areas of river surface. “Just like I promised, there’s plenty more where this came from” and with a shower of puckers, a must-dart-off-to-see-about-something-important, and a no-need-to-trouble-yourself, she was off.

Off to the oyster shack, accepting accolades and favors, from piranhas and other predatory types, in return for promised introductions to their own pale, submissive and desperate bottom-dwellers.

“Is it true they’ll eat anything?”

“Do they keep that virginal blush even in the hot season?”

“Will they willingly go wherever you lead them?”

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Meanwhile Dora applied herself to the petrol-flavored plankton. She bumped against some of those glowing goldfish scales, in reality Brahma beer bottle caps.  She helped extract a handsome young milk frog from the grasp of a plastic six-pack yoke. Why hadn’t she thought before about the source of the debris that was invading her home mud? On the other fin, no root structures, no sunken trawlers to take shelter under.

Exhausted under the unrelenting glare of the sun, her skin began to blacken, her vision to dim, the truth to become clear.

It’s easy to be fooled by what’s on top—not all that glitters is gold, fish.



Sheila Meltzer holds a PhD in linguistics from the CUNY Graduate Center. She lives in Berkeley, hunts software bugs for a living, and dances, for joy. In weekly writing workshops she’s begun coaxing out a life’s worth of buried treasure. Her loot has appeared or is forthcoming in Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Lowestoft Chronicle, and The Citron Review.