“Noon” by Nur Nasreen Ibrahim


The Arabic letter n​oon​ looks like a woman’s breast. It is a half broken bottom of an egg, hanging from a stretched taut hidden rope, without the cracks showing. In the center is a dot, the nipple. Sometimes the n​oon ​sags, like my grandmother’s breasts, soft and brittle against my cheek as she holds me against her chest. Sometimes the nipple is too far up, the noon transforming into a perky breast by an invisible push up bra. Sometimes I forget to dot it and it becomes silent, a shape without a center, a piece of loose flesh. Sometimes, while writing, I dot the nipple so hastily it looks more like a dash, and my n​oon ​is pitiful and flat. Like the scar running across my mother’s breasts, flattened shapes against immaculate sanitised white pages.

Noon​ is a moan of pleasure from a mouth curved into a soft O​.​It touches your tongue and slides off easily, relying on thin gusts of wind to send it floating into the air, a musical note that ends as quickly as it began. It is a circular sound, like its image.

I am told my breasts are precious and must be hidden from view. Yet, they are groped at in crowded dark rooms, where beating drums send trembles through them. They are brushed against on train platforms and I wonder if they take up too much space. They are fondled in quiet moments in public bathrooms. But my breasts are odd shapes, one is larger than the other, with dark brown nipples that have ill­defined borders. They are clotted ink splashed across my skin, hastily growing in an attempt to catch up with my body. They are surrounded by dark hairs, scratches from a malfunctioning pen. They are full and heavy and I walk with my shoulders hunched forward.

The first time I show my breasts to a man, I hold my breath. He touches them lightly and then hard, pulls at my nipples and kisses them as if he is praying. He traces the splashes of ink with his finger and I feel unfamiliar tremors. My mother always said I needed to work on my handwriting more, I never get the curve of the n​oon​ right. After it is over, he disappears.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a literature lover and journalist. Uprooted from Lahore, Pakistan, she graduated from Harvard University and is currently living, journaling etc. in Washington DC. 

“Name her brown” by Naima Woods

Name her brown

I haven’t seen one like you before dressed up in calico, you like a fig but inside out, little bread bit. I’d like to see you up close, up under you know what up under, just to check in on your particular markings, your particulars.

Have you ever seen a big man like me, my tiny strange garnet, don’t you want a little twirl of my finger inside your ear? Come a little closer I’ve been saying, come up and let me check you from the inside.

I thought that’d you be joyful I’ve been saying. I thought that you’d smell like butter cream but darker, you know and heavier in my mouth you ungreased dimple, but you’re not over here enough and too over there even though I keep saying come closer.

Look at my door wide open just wide open for you like a door that’s never wanted to be closed because I’ve never seen one like you, spit-slick and wilting. Doesn’t it look cool here closer here let me see what you’ve got what you’ve gotten.

Naima Woods is a poet and educator living and working in the countryside of Southern New Mexico. Her work is concerned with black bodies, particularly women’s bodies–how they are seen, what work they are expected to do and produce, the dangers and intricacies inherent in living in one. She is currently pursing her MFA at New Mexico State University. Her work can be read in Nepantla, Blackberry: a magazine, Broad! and elsewhere.

“Sauda” by Ryane Nicole Granados

My mother’s best friend died today. Today, Tuesday at 4:11p.m. she died. Her husband called the house but Grace wasn’t home. The waiting was the hardest part. What do you do while you’re waiting to tell your mother that her best friend in the whole world is dead? I can’t cry, even though I feel I’m supposed to. Her husband cried so loud he sounded like a symphony of sorrow.

Her name was Sauda, which means dark complexion in Swahili. Sauda’s name is the only name on our street that makes sense. She was the brownest black person in our entire neighborhood. I’m the brownest person in my family and everyone says I get that from my father’s side that I never get to see; but Sauda was the brownest person I’ve ever seen. And she was pretty. Her skin was stained a chestnut brown with copper bulbs that highlighted her cheeks. Crimson streaks would surface in the heat of the day and ebony rings circled half moons around her eyes. She looked as if she’d been dipped in ink and covered in thick brown glaze. Curvy but not fat with clothes that tied her up like brass ribbons. Sauda was the brownest black person in our neighborhood, and she was the prettiest person I’d ever seen.

Grace says Sauda was born in Africa but moved to California when she was just a little girl. Her father was a doctor back in Kenya but when they came here he could only get a job as a janitor and then a factory worker. Sauda’s only daughter Imani is two years older than me and she once claimed that she was a direct descendant from royalty because she had true African blood in her. She said my blood was mixed with white people’s blood because my hair was too fine to come from pure black ancestry. I told her to shut up because I’m the brownest black person in my family due to my father’s side that I never get to see. If I wasn’t black how come my hair crinkles up like a curly fry when I forget my umbrella in the rain and how come when I wash it, it shrinks two inches each time like the old people in the nursing home the sixth grade class has to visit at Christmas? And so it was settled. We were both African Princesses. We pricked our fingers and mixed royal bloodlines to make official our nobility.

Many evenings Sauda would invite us into her den to drape our heads and shoulders in bright kente and elegant silk. We listened to jumbled fragments of African tales told by Sauda’s father who came to live with them when he got the disease that makes you forget things, sometimes even who you are. We played dress up on Fridays although we never really looked the part, but Saturdays were our day of redemption. Saturdays were our dance days, which revealed a stirring of the soul like bare feet on the hot sands of the Sahara.

Sauda would choreograph elaborate routines and all the girls in the neighborhood would practice until we got every turn synchronized and every count right. Even Lisa next door, who couldn’t dance at all, would play a part in our Soul Saturdays. Sauda declared that dancing is a device of the heart and not the body. So Lisa, full of enthusiasm but rhythmically hopeless, was designated by Sauda as our dancing muse. Before every performance Lisa would run around us in circles flailing her arms and rotating her hips as if balancing an imaginary hula-hoop on her tiny waist and buckling knees. On the fourth Saturday of each month we would perform for the old ladies who sit on porches, coughing, cursing, and swapping bible verses while smoking Camel’s and sipping gin. When we finished they would clap and high-five each other talking in a virtual scream about, “back in the days” when their hips would spin out of control. We took them back to a place where they can only reach in their minds, but for us we were pirouetting forward, twirling our way to a better life.

Sometimes during the summer when the nights seemed hotter than the days and we slept in tanks and underwear with windows open and thin sheets for covers, Sauda would sit on her porch strumming the strings of her guitar and singing poetry into the damp night. Her voice was almost hypnotic, drawing us out of our homes and onto her front lawn. Young girls with babies of their own would rock them to sleep to the tune of Sauda’s sonnet. On these nights Grace would dig out her old poems. She kept them in a box in the top of her closet that suggested don’t touch even though she never told us so. On these nights Sauda would sing Grace’s poetry and Grace would become free. No bills, no collection agents, no cleaning, no scoldings, no homework to check, no lectures to give, just Sauda, Sauda’s Spanish guitar, Grace’s don’t touch box and freedom. On these nights Sauda’s husband would fall in love with her all over again. On these nights he wouldn’t drink after work, and he no longer wore the look of a man whose dreams had disappointed him. On these nights he would look at Sauda and soak in the beauty we all saw each day. His eyes would squint as if trying to awake from a dream and his lips would inevitably curve into a grin so unfamiliar to his face.

Today my mother’s best friend died. It’s 5:30 and Grace won’t be home for at least another hour. I’m waiting to tell her and I suppose I should be crying. Prose cried for over an hour and is now sitting under the dining room table with her face swollen like her cheeks are filled with an entire pack of Bubblelicious gum. Imani is away for the summer visiting her cousins in Arkansas. I wonder who will tell her. I think about Imani and I want to cry for her. Sauda died of cancer, but we wouldn’t find that out until later. She just couldn’t breathe in life anymore. She gave in or she gave up. I wonder if Grace will be angry. Grace hates quitters.

Grace will now be home in about 25 minutes. I want to turn on the television but Sauda died today. I shouldn’t want to watch TV. Instead I stare out the window. Two boys are kicking rocks up the street while laughing and punching each other cheerfully. Sauda’s husband is sitting on the front porch hugging the acoustics of his wife shaped guitar. Lisa is on the sidewalk practicing her arm movements. I feel like I should tell her we won’t be dancing anymore, but I don’t. Marcus from up the street comes careening around the corner blowing his horn and swerving back and forth. He’s holding something out of his window.  As he approaches I can tell it is a cigar. He’s screaming, but I can’t make out the words. I open the window and swing my legs over the sill waving in his direction. He speeds as if headed directly for the house and screams, “It’s a girl, Zora. It’s a baby girl!” Marcus’ girlfriend had a baby girl today. Tears finally roll down my cheeks.

Ryane Nicole Granados is a Los Angeles native and she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She received her BA in English from Loyola Marymount University, where she also earned the Nikki Giovanni writing award and the honorable distinction of Valedictorian for her graduating class. Her work has been featured in various publications including PaniK, On the Brink, Dirty Chai, Gravel, Role Reboot, For Harriet and The Manifest-Station. Additionally, she teaches English at Golden West College and has authored a student success manual entitled Tips from an Unlikely Valedictorian. She is best described as a person who laughs loud and hard sometimes in the most inappropriate of circumstances. As a result, she hopes the completion of her first fiction novel will inspire, challenge, amuse and motivate thinking that cultivates positive change.

“Kynda’s Cat” by Thadra Sheridan

I was fifteen years old
the day that Kynda’s father
threw the cat against the wall.
He threw it against the wall, then
yelled at me and Marti to leave.
We weren’t doing anything, just
standing there,
watching Kynda be a brat.
But he wanted to yell at her proper, and
we were in the way.
So he stabbed his finger at us,
then swung it to the door,
But not before he threw the cat against the wall.
It made this sort of
sound, then
slid to the floor.
And I felt sorry for it,
and glad that I didn’t live in this house,
where mothers are insane,
and fathers throw pets.
I mean,
my dad chased me up the stairs,
and threw my brother against the refrigerator, but
in front of company.

Thadra Sheridan is a writer, performer, teacher, and humorist from Minneapolis, MN. Her work has appeared in Rattle, Moxie Magazine, on Button Poetry, Upworthy, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, and in several anthologies. She is the recipient of the Jerome Foundation’s Verve Grant for spoken word and a weekly columnist for Opineseason.com. She is currently working on a memoir and a series of short films based on her poetry.

Two Poems by Stacy Skolnik


It was a whiskey kind of night and by dawn
I was in the bed of a man 20 years my elder.
He was handsome despite being covered in hair
everywhere except his head.

We didn’t talk much, which could have been
because he didn’t speak English very well,
or because we didn’t have much to say.

He really knew how to kiss though, and had a quick
soft tongue that slipped around mine like a wet little tornado.
He was very tender in the way that only Italians can be tender,
groping and gripping like it was his last night on Earth.

His bed was comfortable and I slept well
under the weight of the blanket and all that booze.

As I hurried out of bed in the morning, he woke up.
I slipped out of his white shirt, back into my black tights,
black dress. It was quiet, too quiet, and he was staring at me
with the eyes of a man who wanted something.

Lacing up my boots, unsympathetic, I asked,
“Do you know what the best thing about America is?
Diners. You know what a diner is?” “No, what?”
“It’s a place where you can get breakfast all day,
every day. Anything you want.” “Oh,” he said.

“How do you like your eggs?” I pushed.
“Someone once told me you can tell a lot about a person
by the way they take their eggs.” He shrugged,
“I don’t know. Any way.”
God dammit. I slept with a bore. Another total fucking bore.

When I got home there was one egg left in the crate.
What the hell, I thought to myself,
this’ll never leave me satisfied. I cracked it open anyway
and it landed in the pan with a “Tssssssssssssss”.
I poured myself a tall glass of orange juice and watched
as the egg sat and sizzled in the pan for a minute or two,
crying like hell inside its own grease.

Then I flipped it. Over,
easy. Just the way I like.



I find the most private
spot on the platform

and piss there. My shoes get wet,
and my panties, too. I can feel it

when I pull them back up.
The trick used to be:

say “unicorn, unicorn, unicorn”
to distract myself

but it never worked. I’d be running home
from school, feeling a small stream

of urine leak into my underwear
with every heavy step I took.

Unicorn. Unicorn. Unicorn.

Now I take short cuts,
find privacy in public places,

piss on the platform.
I was wet then

like I’m wet now.
Some things never change.

Currently pursuing an MFA from Brooklyn College, Stacy Skolnik works in publishing and is a volunteer at the Bowery Poetry Club. Her poetry and criticism can be found on various sites such as the KGB Bar Lit Magazine, Josephine Quarterly, the Poet in New York, and others.

“The Girls In My Hometown Made Do” by Meagan Maguire

The girls in the small town made do. The girls lived far away from each other. Their homes were small and cramped.  Their homes were surrounded by the lonely wilderness. Jagged pine trees loomed over them year after year. The girls had to squint to see their nearest neighbor’s house, if they could see it at all. They didn’t have cell phones. When something terrible happened they were all alone.

The girls made do when something terrible happened. They hid under beds, in closets, in dark basements. They hid in unheated sheds where they held weeping younger siblings and tried to stay warm as snow drifted in under the door. They repeated the names of warm things under their breath: the sun, the Bahamas, hot chocolate, Florida.

The girls in town worked eight hour shifts after they got out of school. They worked packing apples, processing fish, mucking manure, waiting tables, and cleaning houses. They made big pots of store brand mac n cheese with their earnings. The girls scooped a mound of orange noodles into a bowl and gave it to a sibling, who ate it greedily.

The girls in town barely slept. They bought a Red Bull from the convenience store before school and again during lunch. The girls in town had to make a video project for school and didn’t know anyone who owned a video camera. Teachers handed them bad grades without even a sigh of disappointment.

They lived in houses where most the paint had peeled off. They lived in houses repainted with streaks of spray paint, which is cheaper than house paint. They lived in houses that were uneven and sagging because the foundation was rotten. The girls lived in narrow metal trailers that smelled like cat piss. They lived in houses cobbled together with plywood and scrap lumber and sheet metal. They lived next to barns that were on the verge of collapse. They lived next to abandoned houses still stuffed with junk. The girls in town didn’t have glass windows, just plastic sheeting kept in place by staples from a staple gun they kept on their nightstand. They stuffed towels under the door to keep out the draft. They shared bedrooms with cousins and grandmothers and little sisters.

They’d walk around in the woods for hours. They had hidden places in the woods where they would go to be alone. They’d scrawl out their secrets in gel pen and hide the scraps of paper in a coffee can hidden behind a rock or under some leaves.

The girls were bored. They’d bike for miles in the rain and snow to see a friend. They mixed milk and juice and soda and ketchup together and dared a friend to drink it. In summer they scurried up pine trees and got pitch all over their bare feet. They got together and watched dumb horror movies rented from the Redbox outside the convenience store. They bought chips and Little Debbie Cakes and gorged until they were sick then gorged some more. They fished out half-smoked cigarettes from public ashtrays and smoked them together.

Some girls in town drove cars with no heaters. They smoked weed between classes and had a pile of Red Bull cans on the passenger side floor. On the weekends they’d take their car mudding or drive it down to the river and smoke more weed.

Some girls in town didn’t have cars. They slept with boys who did, even though they didn’t like them. The boys would drive the girls wherever they wanted. When she got where she wanted the boy would fuck her in the backseat. While getting fucked she’d would think about this and that. The girls knew it was wrong to trade their body, but sometimes they felt like they were going to die if they stayed home one more minute. They’d goad the boy to drive faster and stick their head out the window to breathe in the night air and get a notion of what freedom felt like. Some of the boys they liked. Some of the boys they loved. Some of the boys they had babies with.

The girls meant it when they said they had to get out of the house. At home there were screaming matches. There were intolerable older siblings who lost their jobs and moved back in. There were stepfathers and uncles and fathers who stuffed thick-fingered hands down girls’ pants or “visited” their bedrooms.  There were beatings and drunken fights. There were holes in the wall from fists. There were heads smashed against TVs and anger that the TV got broke because someone couldn’t shut their mouth. The girls in town shot guns at tin cans and knew exactly who they wished was on the other side of that barrel.

Sometimes there were sanctuaries. There were friends who could give shelter. There were older boyfriends with houses of their own. There were days parents passed out drunk early and left them alone for the night. There were kind but frail grandparents. There was a Wal-Mart open 24 hours where you could wait until Dad had calmed down. There were days you could delay going home by going to detention.

The girls said I love you to their parents. They cleaned up mom’s vomit and helped her to bed when she’d drank too much. They gave mom their paychecks so she could pay the electric bill or prevent her car from getting repossessed. They gave their dads homemade cards and mowed the lawn without being asked to.

The girls in town knew what heroin looked like from a young age. They knew what OxyContin looked like and God help you if you tried to rip them off by trying to sell them aspirin with codeine instead. They’d shoot up in the bathrooms at school. They’d snort mashed Oxys off the back of the sink. They’d try to eat their free or reduced lunch while barely able to use their fingers. They would pass around sticky sweet Starbursts and eat them in greedy handfuls.

The girls were still bored. They snapped their gum. They swam in the pond but wore a shirt over their bathing suit because they felt fat. They gossiped. They ate ice cream out of Styrofoam cups down at the Dairy Joy. They drank warm beer. They pooled their money to rent a room at the Ramada Inn so they could use the hot tub.

The girls got angry. They bit and hit other girls. They called people whores and fuckers and douchebags. They keyed cars and threw Big Gulps as their enemies sped off.

The girls talked frankly with each other about the situation at home. One girl in town got her stepfather to buy her a new winter coat and boots because he’d raped her. They talked blankly about being choked by their boyfriends and how they hadn’t eaten in two days. They talked unemotionally about beatings and alcoholism and molestation. They never talked about how they felt. Was anything going to change if you cried about it? What right do you have to feel sorry for yourself when everyone else is hurting too?

The girls in town never complained. The girls in town made do. They got older and older and until one day no one called them girls anymore.

Two Poems by Yvonne Strumecki

‘A’ Train Bound Home

I hate being the odd piece,
an extra Long Island limb
that doesn’t quite fit
with the other eight
million interlocked in
city pride. Stifling

my voice, raising
nothing but my own
alarm against what I know
to be right in my Second
City head. I am not

meant for this Big Apple
traffic, unreasoned pounding
of horns and feet against
concrete. Noise

I wish I could join,
a flocking chorus
shifting from nine
to five each day,
full of togethered
loneliness we share
on clacking trains.

So I sit, not looking
for another to share
this trip. I am weathered
in a westerly wind
I used to know. But this mid-
Manhattan breeze is
not as cold. No

hood for me to hide
in. My labored breath
gusting from my chest
as I heave myself up
from the tunnel taking me
to my new Heights

Me Gustaría Hablar
1. My shirt keeps hiking up as I walk down these summer streets, my backpack rubbing me the wrong way. A new neighborhood filled with tongues I cannot speak to, accents thick with que, quieres, and como. Children run rampant across unmanicured lawns, toward the tinkle of Paletero bells. I cross the street, away from these braised-skin old men hawking their icy wares.
2. I smell sex coming from windows as I walk through the neighborhood heat; eerie, late afternoon silence thickly hanging in aftermath. No signs of movement or muffled moans to distract me. These garden apartments should come with warning labels or at least a vent fan.
3. Her dogs bark for minutes each time I pass by the door, no matter the time of night; twin terrors with coats of charred black. They’ve already attacked another neighbor–bullet-like, off-leash they ran; our hallways no longer a safe space to congregate.
4. Awake in the darkness. Six pops, I think. But it might have been eight. Calibers too close for comfort; distance no longer an issue I can pretend to ignore. I close my eyes and wait for sleep that will not come, praying tomorrow to not hear of pérdida.

Yvonne Strumecki is a singer and writer currently living in New York City. She’s sung on two national tours (South Pacific and Man of La Mancha), and received her MFA in poetry from Roosevelt University in Chicago. Her poetry has appeared in Fearless Books’ anthology “Touching: Poems of Love, Longing, and Desire” and Another Chicago Magazine’s Issue 50, Vol 2.

Three Poems by Maggie Shaheed

“Tha flood is ovah
tha ground is dry
why you wear yo’ pants so high?”


He’s got no rhythm, just the blues
stringing him along
cocktails of gin and schizophrenic meds
reduce him to a long sobbing song
weeping openly at the bar
startling the faces of grown men

“Do the boogie woogie
and turn yo’self around
dat’s wat its all about”


after the blues man came home
laid his harmonica and guitar down to rest
the weary blues became a treacherous playground
pus and blood between him and his woman
easter morning saw the sore split wide open
silhouettes of couples clenched in love
spilling over from last night’s show
erupts punctured lung
splattering reality on listening walls
fighting to find a place between there and now
sending forth dull points of light
dissipating like dust from bricks
never to resurrect in him again

“Now Ah lay me down to sleep
Ah pray the Lord mah soul to keep”


he thought it best he go back down south
let trouble whittle down to a memory
we grow old and forget
after a night of drinking at the bar
accused of touching the breasts of his teenage cousin
while she slept in the old lady’s shoe
darkness made him do it
not enough rooms or beds mingle dreams
years before time stolen with her mother
behind the garage hands uncertain and curious,
went all the way every summer
when grandma first heard the news
she covered her ears, gagged her mouth
swept the talk of incest out of the house

Maggie Shaheed is a community poet, writer and teaching artist. Her chapbook, Mosaic (NightBallet Press 2013) is in its 16th printing. Shaheed has published poems and fiction in Essence Magazine, The Mom Egg Review, Black Magnolias Literary Journal, Blackberry Magazine, and Femficatio.

“Soft” by Fred Pelzer

He says, “I remember warmer nights.” This is a land of the indigenous refugee, a population of unemployed high school dropouts. We’re standing outside on the back porch and he’s smoking a cigarette. Tomorrow is for job searching, tonight is for burning.

My legs dangle from the railing, jeans brushing against the unfinished wood and the side of his thigh. My one cigarette for the evening went out long ago and now I’m just waiting for him to finish his so we can find some other entertainment but he’s refusing to finish.

His mom’s inside asleep and I snatch the bottle from her. She ignores me whenever I come around, so I don’t feel too bad about it. He’s still talking outside about old times. I sit down and drink straight from the bottle, lip to lip. His mom’s snoring.

“Jenna’s back in town,” I say more to get him to shut up than anything else. It works. He thinks it over, rolling the cigarette round about the corners of his lips. I wait and drink and wait.

The horizon’s gone spectacular, out here in a graveyard of stone giants. Between the granite legs and torsos the last remnants of the distant sun fade away in purples and oranges. The wind’s been blowing for a long time now.

He walks over to the truck. I follow, bottle still in hand.

The drive goes silent, him pouring out smoke like his own tail pipe. At Jenna’s he bangs against the front screen door. It rattles in its spot. Jenna appears behind the screen in just her underwear, hair pulled up on top of her head. “Knew you’d be coming around,” she says to him, me I’m not even there. “What kind of trouble it’ll be tonight?” I sip at his mom’s bottle again.

I follow him in. I put down the bottle. It seems polite. Her dad’s not around. He’s out with his own kind of trouble. Her mom waves. “Hello boys,” she says. “You haven’t been around in a while.” I nod and he mumbles something. “How about some pasta? I got some spaghetti here, still warm.”

“We’re heading out ma,” Jenna says. Wearing jean cut-offs and an old class t-shirt. Everyone’s name signed in white ink. Hers and mine and his stacked on top of each other.

“Good to have you boys around again,” her mom says.

I sit in the middle in the cab of the car. Him driving, Jenna shotgun. Me rattling in between. A tight crew.

At the bar we let Jenna talk. She talks about old times, the only thing left in this town. She talks about the jobs we don’t have anymore, how bad they were. She talks about grad school. He says the occasional word. I wait.

When they close the bar down, he’s the one who suggests the high school.

It starts off with us circling around a few times. The school looks the same. It smells like a long time. We park the truck and climb out.

The door is locked by someone smarter than us. We shake a few windows, but none give. Too many robberies. Too many pawned computers from the year of our birth.

We stop at the usual spots, the back corners and hidden alleys where you could smoke. Where Jenna would talk and we would listen, the words still echoing in the bricks. Where the two of them had made out a few times, me keeping look out. And after Jenna left, our familiar silence became the only company we needed. After, we made a different kind of conversation.

Jenna shakes her head. “The worst,” she says. We nod yes. Jenna grabs his lighter and flips it open. “The worst,” she says again. There’s a wicked gleam in her eyes but that’s nothing new. It’s how we pass the time here in the land of the dead.

Much later we’re down in county property, in the rusted bed of the truck. My head is by his boots, thick and mud crusted, and Jenna’s boots, cowboy boots made for sidewalk. None of us talk, the taste of smoke too thick in the mouth. I stare up at the lightening sky.

Jenna sits up. “Mexico?” she asks.

He sits up also and flick cigarette number one thousand out on the grass. “Don’t go starting another fire,” she says. He jumps out and stomps on the remains.

Her butt inches down my way. Truck bed ridges carved into her bare thighs. “You boys made things bearable around here.” She throws her arms around me. He stands by the truck, hands in his back pockets watching us. The sun peeks up over the ridge and bathes us in gold. We’re like a jeans commercial. Some of Jenna’s hair gets in my nose. She smells like a hotel. “I miss having somebody to talk to.” She puts her head on my shoulder. “I miss my soft boys.”

He doesn’t say anything. He’s looking away. He’s smoked his quota for the month in one night. He’s smoking like a seventies hero or a nineties villain. I want to push Jenna off and hop out and punch him. I want to shove her out of the goddamn truck.

In front of us the sun comes up. Behind us the black smoke of the burning school, winding up into the sky. Her soft boys. I never said anything to her about it. Did he? Her soft boys. Did he tell her about us? Her soft boys. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say, but she does, she does.

Fred Pelzer lives in Chicago and is a co-founder of Cloud Gate Productions. His chapbook collection Static: Stories can be ordered through Etchings Press. Other things he’s been blamed for can be found at www.fredpelzer.com or @fredpelzer.

Two Poems by Ilan Mochari

Industrial Park

Not truly an oxymoron, no
more so than amusement park
(according to my dictionary)
and not without its virtues:
diverse modes of transport (road & rail,
air & sea) all nearby; risks
of commerce ghettoized into one
vast infrastructured kingdom –
towering silver structures within
walking distance of nothing.

Yet to call it a park feels like a
blasphemy to seesaws, swings
& slides; i wonder: do new-age priests
& rabbis view these clusters
as hubristic displays like Babel’s
tower? do bold, untenured
sociologists claim that only
a generation weaned on
Lego could imagine & erect
such paint-by-number eyesores?


slow swimmer

surface caress
dint of toenail farewell
tomorrow, i say
(i am here everyday)

(it helps me get away)

a body joined my lane today
but when a free lane opened
crossed the buoyant partition


(she was faster than i)

i used to stroke harder
when someone threatened
to pass me by, by

today i just let her pass, pass

yet my arms ached
like they never did
when i was younger

Ilan Mochari is the author of the novel Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press, 2013). Kirkus Reviews calls it: “A powerful debut with Dickensian touches.” Booklist says: “This wry debut novel takes on the classic coming-of-age saga, and it makes the reader rethink common assumptions about how young people get from here to there.” 

Ilan’s short stories have appeared in Keyhole, Stymie, and Midway Journal. Another story was a finalist in a Glimmer Train competition. He is a contributor to Cognoscenti, the online magazine for Boston’s NPR News Station. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University. He used it to wait tables for nine years in the Boston area.

“Burn” by Ah-Keisha McCants

I’m on the mend

Fixated on things that don’t burn

I threw out my lava lamp just to be safe

In the course of three weeks

My skin has rejected my spirit

The inner workings of corroded grease from Popeyes

Fried my Natural

Delusions of cinders

Tug on My gender ensconced in altruism

One of the finest modes of duress is dressing down

Soaking each and every comfort til the methane stinks the room

Pouring from my night sweats

Leaking through my panty-less bottoms

Searing ash wafts from my disarmed smoke thrower

In a rage like a faux martyr I inhale the CO2

Curiously bonding with pink oil

The friction of flint and steel rips the cloth on my headscarf

Brittle hairs flare but I

Break away within silent spaces

Putting away the wool

Shame dulls my locks as if the tender spit against the coal were its highlights

But I’m on the mend

Turning a corner

Across the street from sobriety and it’s close enough dammit

To cause a six alarm

But I don’t own matches

In my recovery I simmer on a gas flattop

You can see the riding heat

You can turn down the nozzle

But it’ll take some time

Ah-Keisha McCants is an award-winning writer living on the east coast. She has been featured in Source Magazine, Backstage, Courier Post, and the Village Voice. Ah-Keisha is currently Senior Editor of Duende, a literary journal of the BFA Writing program at Goddard College. Follow her at www.kindredwisdom.tumblr.com

“Freedom from Freedom” by Kevin Tosca

Jonathan had gone three times before leaving the house. Three times should be enough. It wasn’t. He realized so in the métro, far from any friendly toilet.

Where are they? he thought. The toilets?

He had other things to do and think about, but this is what it came down to, thinking about toilets as his train puttered along.

BHV, the superstore across the river, had a good one, a big and clean one, but it was on the fifth floor and too far away. Boulevard St. Germain had one of those free gray bunker toilets planted on it, close to the métro’s exit. He had seen it, registered it, as he has learned to do.

He went. Hors de service. Out of order. Typical. And because it was typical, he hadn’t let down the vigilance, hadn’t prepared for release. Like a prude’s thighs, he had kept the insides puckered shut.

Where next?

He considered the cafés, the abundance of modern and ancient toilets gloriously unoccupied, but he was shy, his French was poor, his accent atrocious, and it was only ten o’clock in the morning, not exactly the best of times to make inconspicuous dashes for the little boy’s room.

He could order a coffee, but believed he shouldn’t have to pay for this. Plus he only had a fifty-euro bill in his wallet, and the French make an issue of making change for the un-rich.

Doing a little dance on the sidewalk, he considered his options. He knew of another public toilet on the way to Montparnasse. A fifteen minute walk. What choice did he have?

He hustled and tried to disregard the strolling faces. If he looked, he tried to hide the envy and contempt. No, that’s not true. He hid nothing. Couldn’t. He whimpered, he scowled, he let self-pity and anger fuel his furious legs.

Halfway through the gardens, he cursed himself. Should’ve just bought a sandwich and a beer. He wasn’t hungry or thirsty and he hated that kind of waste, too, but that was what he should’ve done—paid the price—gotten it over with.

What if something happens? What if he lets go?

He imagined that lumpy, wet weight and remembered when he was a boy on a baseball field, the day he soiled his pants. He couldn’t remember why that had happened, but it had, and he remembered the coach’s sympathetic face as he led him to his car, the disgraceful and disgusting wait for his mother. Fast forward five years. He was twelve and his family was driving from Florida to Boston for the holidays. In a Virginia rest stop a black man, underwear around ankles and sad, desperate look on face, stood in front of the brown buckshot splattered in his stall. Jonathan couldn’t help that man, but he has never forgotten him. Continue forward to when Jonathan was twenty and sick and woke up next to his girlfriend in his parents’ house and smelled what she would soon discover, what he had painted her with. It wasn’t the last time he would make that humiliating dash to a washer, the sheets carefully balled.

Jonathan walked and squeezed and used mind magic to keep his bowels in check. He kept everything solid, kept thinking about stride and goal, tried not to think about stomach and gastrointestinal history and shame and loathing. Eventually, he thought about slaves and masters, but not for long.

As he neared the odd shelter he saw them, a line of them, Japanese girls chatting and giggling and having a fine time. Happy tourists about to see where Hemingway drank and Baudelaire is buried. Not one of their faces twisted like his.

After each session these toilets clean themselves. It is not a quick process, so Jonathan gave up. He went into the nearest café and ordered a Camembert sandwich and a small Kronenbourg beer. He controlled his voice and shimmied his thighs and asked the barman in the cheap black vest where the toilets were. In the basement, the man said. The French knew where shit belonged.

Jonathan wound his way down the spiral, wooden staircase. He had lost, wasted eight euros.

He opened the door and saw one of the old Turkish toilets with the ogre’s serrated foot stands and the hole. He squatted and evacuated. Felt unbridled relief.

He stood up, made himself pee, too. You never know.

As he walked back up the stairs toward his unnecessary snack, he thought about the waste and how it was all worth it. Something benevolent and expansive happens after such release, not unlike the Zen calm that comes after vomiting or the false high after attending funeral.

Then he thought about all the things he still had to do, all the things he had been thinking about doing before being so heinously interrupted, and as he was on his way back to the suburbs after having done them, back to the house where the friend he was staying with lived, he saw a man across the tracks in the Nation métro station. Two trains were coming but they were coming in slow, so he had time to see the man squatting against the wall, his sweatpants around his knees.

He was near the stairs, this man, in plain view of everyone. It was three o’clock in the afternoon.

People passed and didn’t look. If they looked, they quickly looked away. Jonathan stared. He was dumbfounded, riveted. He could clearly see what was happening, the little sculpture taking shape below the man’s hairy, rounded flesh.

Then the man stood and turned. He was facing the wall now. Urinating. This man was a revelation. Jonathan felt shocked and awed, felt that this man must feel this, must feel his eyes if not his interest, and it was true, for the man turned toward him. He hadn’t finished urinating, but Jonathan could see his stubbly beard, his too big and stained polo shirt, the paleness of his skin. He could see the man’s penis in his right hand and the arc of sparkling water.

The man’s face?

He was staring at Jonathan. The man was grinning, staring, free.

This, by God, Jonathan thought, is a man!

The trains stopped. Jonathan entered a compartment and sat down, and as his train pulled away he thought he finally knew something, something about freedom, something he would never, ever, want.

Kevin Tosca’s stories have been published in Spork, Cleaver, Full of Crow, Bartleby Snopes, Vine Leaves Literary Journal and elsewhere. He lives in Paris. He and his work can be found at www.kevintosca.com and on Facebook.

“Night Train” by Lia Mastropolo

It seemed new the first time–I had no claim to any property

and of all the times for a tidal wave of ice blue sky

this wasn’t right, the forest had been lit by glowing insects

since before I learned to recognize the thing I’d really wanted–

to ride the giant L of the subway from morning until night

with the other happy people, faces pressed to the filthy pane

dreaming the underground caves alive with creatures–

pale-eyed, deaf from the roar–who could love this city

from its flickering towers to its crumbling homes along the elevated rail

where somewhere princes steep instant soup in coffee mugs

and vampires pare their nails into the clogged plumbing

what this place means isn’t something figured or reduced, but rather

layered wallpaper over sheetrock that upholds a roof

in a manner of speaking an insect whose burning makes its own light.

Lia Mastropolo writes from Philadelphia. Mastropolo’s poetry has appeared in various print and online publications, including decomP, Squalorly, the Berkeley Poetry Review, and Full of Crow. 

“Postcard to My Friends Uptown” by José Vadi

(July 3rd, 2014) 
“What’s really amazing is how often a human can think about sex in a day. Somehow I’ve never had sex in New York City. I write this as a baby cries in the shitty apartment with balconies behind me – and why do all hellholes have balconies? I was driving from LAX to Orange County’s John Wayne Airport in a rental van that had previously housed seven kids from around the world who now were all fed and on their way home, and it was at that time finally alone with my thoughts and my hometown engulfing me that I counted how many women I’ve slept with. I want to find some type of infographic of the number of men in America who have done the same using race, region, age, height, dick length/shoe size, sexual/gender preference, political affiliation, favorite DMX song and dietary restrictions as determining factors. It’s all about establishing boundaries – which I hate – but are helpful in art, let alone sex. Relationships. I make a lot of buttons now for a small press. I wonder if this is how Too Short felt selling tapes out the trunk. This trip to LA and the KDAY 93.5 FM hits of Dre and Quik made me realize what a stupid LA kid I am sometimes: prone to making many U-Turns, parking far and calling it exercise and enjoying driving around aimlessly. I’ve been professionally flexing recently and feel like I’m mot productive in the summer. I told Nathaniel I actually pay for pornography now and we both agreed I’m growing up. I’m looking forward to increasing the MexiRican population of 149th & St. Nick with you jerks later this month in Sugar Hill. Today is July 3rd and I feel crazy. Drinking a mundane and necessary coffee at this kitchen table that, the day I got it, I assembled and sat at for hours like a dual trophy case and anchor to my adulthood. I skate every night for exercise and am debating leaving the country. I got a good lady. The anti-immigrant protestors in Murrieta, CA remind me history is the most missing element to today’s culture. I’m happy y’all are killing it in NYC and not the other way around. Long live the buffalo and Nelson Mandela.”
José Vadi is a writer, performer, and educator living in Oakland, California. He is currently the inaugural director of the Off/Page Project.

“Until We’re Lost” by Danielle Bukowski

It takes a solid five minutes to drag my group of friends through the crowd, using my elbow as a wedge to pry apart other bodies, stepping over shoes to have to rub my legging-clad thighs against other people’s thighs. We had clasped wrists to form a chain and when we finally reach a table, our torsos torqued at awkward angles to try and fit our bodies into spaces too small for so many of us, I realize that my hat is gone.

I don’t like losing things. In fact, I panic, whenever I lose any object. It only lasts a few minutes. So as I pat my coat and check the floor and my head and my pockets and pat my coat again, panic spreads from my chest to numb my hands despite the aggressive heat of the room. Suddenly claustrophobic, I need to get outside. But I also need to find my hat.

“I lost my hat,” I shout at my friends, and turn around quickly so they can’t tell that I’m upset.

“Maybe someone tossed it up on the bar,” a friend shouts languidly.

I try to return back to the bar from the path we took but it is blocked by so many more bodies than before. I take a longer route, cutting through the bathroom line and stepping up and over a chair. I push against heavy-coated backs with my best helpless-girl “excuse me” voice to get to the long counter of a bar. By this point I can’t see people clearly for the pounding beneath my eyes.

As I blindly push forward to look at the bar, catty voices insult me for trying to cut through their bartender-attention line. I abandon my counter-sweep and train my eyes to the floor, searching for a flash of red beneath snowy boots and heels better suited to Miami than upstate New York.

It is gone. I push back to my friends, not bothering with the excuse-me’s this time, and abruptly announce that I am leaving. In their third-drink states they register this slowly, assuming I’ve been invited to another party.

“If you see my hat, please let me know.”

“Ok,” they shout back.

When I was young I worried about the fallen leaves. Where would they go when the winter came? I knew that they fell, then snow fell, and then the spring rose up with new leaves. But the old leaves were the ones I worried about. Rational mother tried to explain that they would be taken away and pulverized into fertilizer, to nourish new buds, but that only caused me to panic more. I had to save them. They would die unless I saved them all. I ran around the backyard in scatterbrained circles of terror, gathering up every red and orange and burnt-yellow-brown leaf on the lawn, bundling the stems into frantic bouquets until my tiny fingers could stuff no more beneath their creases.

I took them inside and carefully pressed each one within the pages of stacked coffee-table books before transferring them to a special pressed-flower book. They were neither dead nor alive, a limbo in wax paper.

Five minutes after leaving the bar my panic has subsided. I remind myself that losing the hat was just an accident, a mistake without fault; not every object and friend and lover that has left is gone because I was not good enough. Her running off shortly after I stopped calling on Friday nights wasn’t causation or correlation, as they told me repeatedly over the phone. Sometimes, things just need to leave. I regret the fact that I will have to tell my therapist about this incident.

My grandmother had knit the hat for me.

She’s still alive, and could easily knit me another one. If I brought her the skeins of yarn she’d have a hat back to me in a week, maybe sooner if she knew that I’d been walking around campus with my hair out in the cold because I lost my hat. Her hat.

Mine no more.

At this point I realize that I, too, am lost, and curse myself for walking into such a dumb cliché. I consider walking around aimlessly until I collapse on the streets of whatever town is next to this one, miles from home, exhausted. I imagine a confused paper delivery boy finding my chattering bones in the morning.

And then I take out my iPhone and plot a route back to my dorm.

By the time I return my jaw aches with the cold. My scalp tingles as I walk into the heated entranceway and I regret how short I’d cut it, in an evening of drunken hysteria, when they called to tell me they didn’t know where she’d gone but that she’d been gone for days. I stand in the lobby for a moment with my hands over my ears until I can feel them returning rosily to life, then start up the stairs.

I was teased, the autumn that I was compelled to save the leaves. But I was teased most autumns and the other seasons besides. By the next November I had forgotten about the incident, and it was bookmarked by my parents as the humorous precursor to my community service work, the “touchy-feely” classes I took in college. When she was a kid she even tried to save the leaves!

I turned the saved leaves into a Martha Stewart-worthy wreath that still hangs beneath glass in my parent’s living room. When visitors admire it I feel ashamed.

Once, she had sent me a link to a similar wreath in an artsy DIY blog, and I told her I could make her a better one. I wish now that I actually had.

By the fifth flight of stairs I am fully warmed. Maybe instead of watching TV until I pass out I’ll try to teach myself how to knit—a friend down the hall has needles and yarn. I could make myself a new hat and it would truly be mine. At the very least I promise myself a reward of microwaved mac-and-cheese and some time spent with my aching head beneath a pillow. My hallway is littered with party debris and I groan when I notice that something is stuck on my doorknob.

Although partially flattened by a muddy boot, my hat hangs snuggly from the knob like a cradle.

Danielle Bukowski is not related to Charles but has many other odd relatives if you’d like to hear about them. A reader, writer, and unreliable narrator, Danielle is a Vassar grad living in New York City.

“Homesick” by Samantha Holman

I miss those long summer nights
in our first apartment; there was no air conditioning,
and the thin layer of film on the hardwood floors
would melt and suck my flip flops off
in a heat wave.

I still think about the filth sometimes,
left over from house parties you convinced me were
my idea too—
it was the kind of grime my mother
warned me about, the kind she thought only existed
in those low class hotels along the highway.

Sometimes during an Indian Summer
when my feet stick to an overlooked apple juice
spill I think of you and miss the feeling of being there,
in our sticky apartment, where my flip flops would
thwack, thwack, thwack when I came through
the door and the beer bottle you would open
for me would hiss and sigh.

Samantha Holman grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and attended Albertus Magnus College, graduating with a Bachelor’s of Arts in English Literature. Currently, she is continuing her education at Albertus working towards a Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing, specializing in poetry. A bookkeeper by day and poet by night, Samantha is currently compiling her first book of poetry. She lives by the ocean with her escape artist dogs and spends most of her free time writing, reading, or baking.

“Captcha” by Kevin Brown

You said you would give me a second
chance, not two days after you left.
You were not where you were supposed
to be the day before, so people called

me, unaware of what had happened.
I was worried, tried to find you,
but couldn’t. You found me, agreed

to meet the next day. You came with
a long list of changes I must make,
all or nothing. I said okay. You
misunderstood my meaning.

The only difference between computers
and humans, we’re told, is the ability
to recognize speech patterns. If
I say to a computer, “I can recognize
speech,” it might type, “I can wreck

a nice beach.” When we send articles
or comics to friends, computers ask
us for random words or phrases
to prove our humanity. We met

at the beach we had walked not a year
earlier. I hurried through sand to keep you
from leaving, told you my okay meant
yes, not no. It didn’t matter. You called

two days later, left again, less dramatically.
I still had sand in my socks and shoes,
shook them off the back deck time
and time again, but grains clung

tenaciously, glittered against the
dark of my insole, would rub my feet
raw for the next few weeks.

Kevin Brown is a Professor at Lee University. He has published two books of poetry–A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press) and Exit Lines (Plain View Press, 2009)–and two chapbooks: Abecedarium (Finishing Line Press, 2011) and Holy Days: Poems (winner of Split Oak Press Chapbook Contest, 2011). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again (Wipf and Stock, 2012), and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels (Kennesaw State University Press, 2012). He received his MFA from Murray State University.

“Amusement Park” by Dylan Pyles

The girls dress in interesting clothes and wear their hair in interesting styles. Maybe a little extra eye shadow or blush, or just a bit of glitter. It’s about brighter colors, something so the boyfriends will feel a significance about the night, setting it off from a school day. The lights are everywhere and they dance. They dance with the glitter on the girl’s cheeks and on the tops of their heads while they wait in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl. Some girls loosely hold their boyfriend’s hand in their own, playing uninterested; others drape themselves all the way over, giving themselves up right away. They act in ways their mothers would find inappropriate, whether it’s mere hand-holding, draping, or the tying of their blouses tightly under their blooming chests, so that the skin of their bellies shows, the humid night glistens under the dancing lights, seduces the boys.

Before the lights come on, before the sun goes down, the park is dead. The Tilt-a-Whirl tilts the same, goes the same speed and all, but you don’t really get dizzy until the bright lights are there to spin you, to blur and flash and confuse you about where you are until you have to close your eyes and try not to think about where’s where. This is, we think, part of why kids want to come at night.

Their parents drop them at the gate where they can pull right up without paying anything for parking. This is where the girls wait until their mothers are well out of sight and tie their shirts up before they go in. Perhaps the parents will drop young lovers and say to them “You kids have fun tonight.” And say it with a kidding wink or smile that means something they don’t really want it to mean, but it does. Then they drive off and wonder about the reality of hand-holding or draping or bare bellied daughters. This all happens at dusk, like an age-specific religious exodus; even more in September and October than the summer months because the park is only open on weekends in the fall and the sun goes down earlier and it is cooler. Maybe they all go out to eat before they part ways, maybe there is a bond between the nuclear family that is deeper than we think.

Inside the lights are already warmed up and glaring with maximum energy. The energy spills over out into the grounds of the park and drowns it. The atmosphere fills thick with this energy and the kids are a spark that ignites the whole place with an inexplicable fire and they all burn strong with this fire for at least three hours, maybe all the way until closing time at midnight, where even the most timid of hand-holders become drapers and all of the bellies are exposed whether they want to be or not, and little boy hands are tickling those bellies in the dark behind the restrooms. The minds that control the hands wish the lights never existed at all, no matter how much more fun they made the Tilt-a-Whirl or the Screaming Eagle, wish it was all dark and hands might tickle more interesting areas.

There are certain types whose parents don’t come back for them until closing time, and those moments after the initial fire is burnt out and before the curious pubescent fire is promptly doused are so precious to them. You can tell who comes back every week and stays all night because they find ways to get their shirts off without anyone knowing. So you can’t really tell. But you can by the looks on their faces when they pop out of nowhere, suddenly rematerialize under the lights and the boy walks a certain way and the girl walks a totally different way but they mean the same thing. You know shirts had come off. Say a blouse was tied before and isn’t now. That’s because there isn’t any reason to show the belly anymore. Or maybe there is and it’s just an accident.

The Screaming Eagle is the most frightening attraction at the park and the line leading up to it reflects the popularity of fear, the intrinsic genius in the use of fear as a commodity. It is at the back of the park, so the sundown crew doesn’t usually reach it until late in the evening. By this time few are still holding hands. There is holding, sure, but it has evolved. It’s around the waist; heads on shoulders, fingers in back jean pockets. God knows what sort of atrocities being whispered into ears. On occasion, you may get in close enough to hear a sample. Maybe “I would like to see you without these clothes on.” or “Press it against me.” Dig, it isn’t just the boys whispering or the girls. It’s just, what else is there to talk about while waiting in such a long line as the one at the Screaming Eagle? “Would you look at these bright lights”? “Aren’t we having fun tonight”? This is more inappropriate than what is actually said. Inventiveness is key, is what makes the scene.

The Screaming Eagle was the first roller coaster in the state to make a loop. To go upside down. The first few years it was open, the park made more money than it had in the entirety of its existence before. People came from everywhere, some all the way across the country, just to go upside down, to make the loop. You feel like you might fall out, but you’re going fast enough that you’re forced back into your seat right when you think you really will. There is also a full shoulder harness that secures your upper body, instead of just a seatbelt and lap-bar like on the ones where you don’t go upside down. There are obvious extra safety precautions to be taken, on account of you make a loop instead of just going up high and down real fast. You take these precautions to ensure your safety. Four years after the ride was built, some wiseass kid squeezed through the harness and tried to climb into a different seat right before the loop. He didn’t do it all fast enough, and fell out during the loop and fucking died right on impact a hundred feet or whatever it is underneath. The park closed for the rest of the year and most people were afraid of the Screaming Eagle, too afraid to ride it, for a year or two. Most of the kids in line for it now probably don’t even know that story or think it’s just a myth.

By the time they get back here, they have already done the Tilt-a-Whirl, where they held hands; the Scrambler, where they kissed, if just a peck; the Zinger, where they draped; the Wolf, where they grabbed ass maybe; and now the Eagle is where they put it all together, work out different combinations. Most of them really go through it like this. It plays out this way because the Screaming Eagle is the longest wait of any of the rides, and most will agree, the most worth waiting for, the most thrilling. Besides, a lot of the kids would probably tell you that waiting in line is a necessary part of the fun. Just watch them and you know why. Watch close, for the grabbing; listen close, for the whispers. Look at the fun being had, waiting in line! How much more simple can it get? Some of them like waiting in line so much that as soon as they get off of the ride they get back in line to do it all over again. It may be speculated that they don’t even do it for the ride, for the two-minutes-and-fifteen-seconds of tension and excitement, or for the loop; kids these days, maybe kids any day, do it for the line, for the anticipation. The anticipation is what makes the release what it is. What makes excitement exciting. You have to wait, you have to so anything is worthwhile.

Some of the kids don’t though. Some kids get down to the Screaming Eagle and have been draping since the Tilt-a-Whirl and grabbing ass since the Scrambler. Maybe grabbing ass since before they even got to the park, at dinner with their families, underneath the table. They believe that the Screaming Eagle ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. They’ve been there and done that and it bores them to tears just to think about riding the thing one more time. And they’ve got nothing more to whisper to each other so they don’t even care to wait in line anymore.

On the far side of the Screaming Eagle, on the very back edge of the park, there is a sort of den created by the final stretch of the tracks. The den is in the middle of this stretch; there is a place where the structure of the ride splits at its base in about a two foot gap between the base and the ground. The tracks run in a circle here, and the idea is to get underneath and into the middle of the circle, where the risen tracks will then cut off all outside vision, and if you can get under you might find the only true privacy in the park. The riders in their shoulder harnesses might see you as they come around the circle at the end of the ride, but only if they look very closely and by the time the kids start going in there it’s far too dark out to see anything anyway.

This is the only area in the park where pants might come off along with shirts and where all of the kids will eventually go to lose their virginity. A lot of them already have there, and they go back sometimes and try it again. The kids who go there have a sort of club, they act superior and jaunt right past the whisperers and the line lovers into their cave and sometimes there is even a line for the cave itself. These are the truly progressive ones. The ones who got tired of waiting in line and had to go ahead and find something more instantly gratifying. But then it gets to the point where one girl tells another about what she did down there or a boy tells a buddy about what you could get away with down there and there is a little flock that forms, and they begin waiting in line to not wait. There are probably thousands in line for the Screaming Eagle now, if you were to look. And maybe eight or ten for the hidden circle, where sometimes the girls will even put their hands into boys’ underwear while they wait.

What’s interesting to see is how many of them get off of the Eagle, moderately satisfied but still hungry, and start back toward the line again without even thinking that there might be something more, something that really satisfies fully. Then something catches the corner of their eye. Maybe a group of couples standing around the final stretch of the ride in the dark, in no real formation, whispering and touching and all that, and they think, hey that looks like a bit of fun over there, and maybe that’s something we ought to go ahead and give a try, and so they will ask, what’s up over here? and none of the couples will respond, but they will see a brave pair emerge, crawl out from underneath of the clearing out of the den and they know what’s happened and what everyone is waiting around for, and they decide it might be something they ought to go ahead and give a try, and damn it, they get right in the back of the line and start whispering and you can guess that the girl will put her hand in the boy’s underwear before it is their turn.

Of course, there are the kids who might get a shirt off behind the bathroom and call it good, or are even fine with cutting it off at the draping; actually that is most of them. The den crew is a very insignificant number in ratio with the whole of the crowd, but not insignificant as an entity, as a study. As mentioned, these are the progressive ones, the ones who really make the difference. And on top of that they are gaining momentum, because at least once a week a young couple such as our friends from a moment ago come draping off of the ride and they get hip to what’s going on. That’s really just one more boy to tell his buddy what he convinced her to do with him in there and one girl to tell another what she tried on him in there. These are the seed spillers, the ones who plant the crop that feeds this place: inside the circle, where fruits and vegetables blossom and multiply freely, and they don’t always think about the safety precautions. The shoulder harnesses, even the lap-bars.

Females menstruate because they are not pregnant. If you’re a male, or even if you’re a female, you may not know exactly what goes on here, or why it goes on. Menstruation happens only when the ovum that is released by the ovary (sex organ) does not get fertilized. If the ovum does happen to be fertilized, it hides itself away and begins to grow, and there is no menstruation. If the ovum is not fertilized, what happens is it dies and the ovary itself ceases to produce hormones. This causes a spasm of the endometrial blood vessels, which breaks the uterine lining, which has thickened greatly in preparation for harboring the ovum. The endometrium begins to sort of fall apart, disintegrate, and is then sort of pushed off and out and discharged along with a lot of blood. The endometrial tissue begins to reform and the whole thing starts back over, all to prepare for the possibility of impregnation. Maybe the most remarkable thing about it all, the damnedest thing even, is that after the ovum is initially released by the ovary, it is only capable of fertilization for two days before it dies and is disposed of. Two days before menstruation starts and tells you for sure that the ovum has indeed not been fertilized by semen.

There is a fearlessness that comes with those two days, it seems.

There is a fearlessness that comes, but is a fleeting fearlessness and goes just like that. Probably gone before they tuck themselves in later that night, when they still have that feeling like they’re going up and down a roller coaster, like they didn’t ever get off. And maybe it even gives them bad dreams, and they wake up with that feeling like they’re falling and their legs buckle. Up and down, the riding never stops, haunts them.

But do you think they think about the night to come or next week or nine months from now or any of it? That’s sort of the point: that they don’t, because they quite frankly aren’t themselves for a minute and we can all say that we’ve been there, where we aren’t ourselves and we just kind of lose it all in the moment or whatever, but that we took care of ourselves still and made it out of there just fine. The fact is that a lot of us didn’t, most of us may have, but a lot of us didn’t. And a lot of them don’t, and their lives are changed no matter what. They come out from underneath the Eagle, from the ride of their lives, and they don’t really know what’s happened, if it was good or what, or what could be happening inside of them, and they hold hands but it’s definitely awkward between them now because things will be different from this point on and they get back in line and she tries to drape and he tries to whisper into her ear but it’s just not the same and it’s frustrating as hell.

Maybe some of the park itself gets in them, too, or when the girls spread their legs the Eagle sneaks itself in, and what they really get pregnant with is the thrill. The product is half-human, half-roller coaster. The birth is excruciating. Everyone a mile around feels the pain together and the screams resound through the park in the early summer months. “That ride was the shit,” says the boy to the girl with her hands in his underwear. But the screams aren’t from thrill-seeking anymore. The thrill has already been sought out, and it’s turned into something they never wanted it to be, something they never even imagined; this thing, this monster.

This monster that splinters with old wood and everyone thinks it’s supposed to be a child. But it’s a grievance, filed by the children’s parents to park management because they let such a thing happen on their watch, after they had left them in their care, trusted them, but they have to know that the kids were going to do it anyways, right?

But a new line always forms at the opening near the bottom of the Eagle, where they come when they finally hear about it and want to find what the thrill is really all about at last. It consists of some newcomers and some seasoned pros, but it doesn’t consist of the unlucky ones who have to live with the consequences right there in their arms all day and all night. The little monster. No, the unlucky ones forever wait near the exits, dressed in rags with dark circles under their eyes, clutching the monster and presenting it to the kids as the park closes, saying “You really shouldn’t be like me, don’t be like me or do what I did”, but God knows they aren’t listening, wouldn’t even listen if they could.

The noise is too much, even if they see her lips move they don’t get the message. As they leave, a song plays through the sound system. They try to sing along but don’t know any of the words except the part that goes “Tramps like us. . .”

And they believe that they were born to run, and they were. And they do, without any real thought of consequences.

Dylan Pyles is a recent graduate of Truman State University, a small liberal arts college in Missouri. He has been seriously pursuing the art of writing for a few years now, and has a recent publication in the Atticus Review.

“Invisible Girl” by Jennifer Pashley

From the New York State Thruway, Montezuma Wildlife Refuge is a wasteland of wet mud, filled with dead trees stuck like forks in the ground. Eagles, vultures, and hawks circle in the treetops.

As a kid, in the backseat of my parent’s Escort wagon, I crouched with my girlfriend over a black tape recorder, leaning into the one speaker, listening to Duran Duran as low as we could. It was before the days of shared earbuds. I had parents who hated rock and roll, even when they knew that we secretly loved it. Outside, the highway turned from trees on either side, to a black expanse.  It was exotic on its own, a literal refuge for wild animals that might not survive anywhere else, who were drawn to a spot and then protected. And then they found a body there. A woman. It was all we could think about, and the only association we had for that place from then on.

Scientists had found her in a ditch, half covered, half exposed. Where the sun had hit her bones, they were white, bleached and beautiful. There were no remnants of muscle or skin. Of what makes you beautiful when you’re alive. The organs go first, leave the cage of bones with a thin covering. No one could tell yet what had happened to her. Only what had become of her.

At twelve, we wondered what it would be like to have women’s bodies with adult desires, instead of the awkward longings of adolescence. We wore bras and makeup, but none of it was real yet. What I knew of how to put on make up, I’d learned from Nick Rhodes and David Bowie, not my mother. We knew little about ourselves, about what was happening to us, and what was coming. What would happen, if in the midst of that angst and confusion, you let the wrong person talk to you? Or worse, touch you?

Girls could end up in the swamp, or in the back of a van, lured in by a man who wants help finding his dog or to ask directions. A girl might be found with nothing left on her but the bones, a few stray hairs, the skin of a covered knuckle. No one ever speculated who the men were, only what had been done to provoke them. A short skirt. A smart mouth. A loose attitude. Nothing was safe.


My home was a conspiracy of non-talking. Later, I learned it’s a pattern common to many abusive households. No one says Daddy drinks too much; they say he works hard. For us, it worked on many levels. No one said my brother was an addict, they said he was social, or nervous, or in pain. If no one talked about abuse, about long nights of screaming, madness, or even rape, it never happened. Those things simply didn’t exist.

Likewise, if no one talked to me about sex, even its basic machinations, I would never do it. Case closed.

In a way, it worked. It was a long time before I had sex with a guy. When I did, I was nearly twenty-one. I’d over-thought it, over-feared it, over-theorized and rationalized everything. But then, at twelve and thirteen, I was already underway, a work-in-progress, working out my desire with my hands, my mouth, with a girlfriend.

Sex with a best friend is safe. A sleepover, the simplest excuse ever. We fell into the pattern that had already been carved out for us and kept it a secret. And if we didn’t say anything about it, nobody would. We remained invisible. Sealed inside our own adolescent longing. For each other.

We used to bar the bedroom door and dim the lights. I’d wear a pair of knock off Candies from a Hill’s discount store – a shoe with a wooden heel and a black X of straps that made me four inches taller. Outside that room, I was more concerned with Chuck Taylors, with dress shirts and blazers with fedoras. It was the eighties, and I’d become my own dime-store knock off John Taylor. I bleached my bangs with peroxide, and lined my eyes. I kept a red sash and a silver shirt that mimicked what he wore on stage. I learned to play bass. I stayed lean and kept my chest bound in flattening sports bras. In my dark bedroom, lit with a red bulb or a black light, a stereo with Blondie or Bowie going, it was enough for her. And in the four-inch heels, leaning over to tip her face to kiss her, it was enough for me, too.


The girl in the swamp that summer was Julie Monson. She had disappeared in 1981, driving her parents’ red Chevette at three am. She had last been seen with a man. We knew immediately what that would mean for us. Other than the obvious threats of kidnapping, of rape or killing, we would never drive our parents’ cars by ourselves. Would never be out at three am. And no one would tell us how to defend ourselves, or how to be smart about it. They would just lock us inside, and never mention a word.

When you teach girls about their own sexuality, you run the risk of opening Pandora’s box. You might give them the power to own their sexuality, or to enjoy it. And if they enjoy it, they might seek it out, bold. They might become the women that men don’t want as wives. They might become women.

We had never even kissed each other out of the characters we’d created in the dark. I was always the boy, JT, tall and cool. And she would stay too ashamed to address what seemed so real to me. That desire, at least at that time, wasn’t mine to own.


Julie Monson had been stabbed to death. Even though she didn’t have skin, there were holes in her bra and her deteriorated sweater, that indicated four or five stab wounds. No one knew whether or not she had been raped. There wasn’t any tissue left to examine. The scene of that crime had become invisible, disintegrated into the muck of the refuge. Post trauma, her vagina had erased itself.

Eye witnesses suggested that she got into a car willingly. The accused was an ex-boyfriend. There were more lies than there were facts, accusations about Julie, about where she’d been and who she had been with. The only fact was the body. The plain sight of a dead girl, her bra full of holes the size of a knife blade.


My sister had been raped. I knew this only peripherally. Like family folklore, it remained unspoken, unbelieved, like something supernatural. People were more apt to talk about ghosts, or near death experiences, than something that supposedly actually happened. What I knew I had gleaned by eavesdropping, by simply being present, yet unseen. In the backseat of the car, I was invisible. They said he was a hitchhiker, and like Julie Monson, my sister had willingly let him into her car. The rest of the story, the part that mattered the most to me, was that no one in my family believed her.

It was never discussed with out the disclaimer: well, that’s what she says happened.

She had taken the hitchhiker to her apartment, where he raped her. This is what she said. Which I came to understand, did not make it true.

The underlying logic was that she consented when she let him in the car, or into the apartment. That as a woman, you didn’t own your body. You body became someone else’s once he formed expectations about you. If you allowed anything – with a smile, a ride, a kiss – you allowed everything. The job of a woman was never to let anyone form expectations about her. Which also carried the double standard of being labeled frigid, or a bitch.

The most terrifying part of the story to me – because I couldn’t imagine the rape – was that saying it didn’t make it true. Telling wasn’t enough to make it real. It wasn’t just us. My parents never believed anyone. If a neighborhood kid said his father hit him, the kid was a liar. If a girl said a boy harassed her, she had asked for it.  No one was ever to be trusted or believed. Inside our house, it further set the precedent of non-speaking. After that, anything could happen, anything at all, and no amount of speaking, of crying out in the dark would make it true, would make anyone believe you, would make them rally around you because just you belonged to them. Because you were theirs. Nothing was safe.


It took me years to identify as a woman. I wanted to be John Taylor. I wanted to be my brother. A rock star guitar player. Funny, always holding a glass of vodka, a bottle of Heiniken. I wanted my best friend to love me, to find me irresistible, a different kind of rock star, with a bass guitar and blonde bangs. With the small hands of a twelve or fourteen year old girl, stretching around the neck of the bass.

I had one conversation with my mother about it. She had found a love note, and had gotten a call from my girlfriend’s mother, who said she’d noticed we’d been a little “close.”

I was on the stairs, on my way up to the dark bedroom that was my solace, where I relished in non-talking. My mother just handed the note to me, and my cheeks began to burn, the top of my head on fire with shame and guilt. Then she told me about the phone call, and I told her we were only kidding, playing out a story, like we had, with Barbies. It was a game. Just a game.

Well, that’s what I thought, my mother said, accepting the denial. Perhaps she was pleased that I had learned so well to not talk, to not admit. That I had swallowed my truth whole and kept moving, comfortable in the silence we’d created.


I didn’t find myself, couldn’t see myself as a woman until years later, by then, pulled up out of the muck and refuge of my own life, bones exposed, heart full of stab wounds, and the rest of me – my desire, my swagger – gone, dissipated into the mud, and picked at by exotic birds.

My girlfriend moved the summer I was fourteen. The new house was close, still in the same school district, but just far enough, and in such a congested area that my parents refused to drive there. It was handed down like a sentence: we’re moving. When my parents nodded at the address, I knew it was over. I would see her only in the crowded halls at school. Never in a dark bedroom. Never in the back of a car. Maybe it should have built character in me, but in the heat of that summer before ninth grade, I fell apart. Heart full of holes, gut filled with bile.


What was terrifying about what had happened to my sister, or Julie Monson, wasn’t the randomness of it. That should have been frightening – the idea of a man suddenly upon you, threatening with violence, with death. But it wasn’t. It was the reaction of the public, and the response from our own families. It was easy to blame a woman for what happened to her, because of where she was, or what she wore, because of who she was, or who she knew. It meant that if you were the girl who got in the car, or the girl who walked into her own apartment with a man, whatever happened to you – even when it was as extreme as death – was your own fault. Because you did it willingly.


I couldn’t stop throwing up. After my girlfriend moved, I developed an illness that kept me nauseous all the time, for weeks. My family had tried to travel to Virginia for a vacation, but I spent the entirety of the trip in bathrooms. In the hotel room, in restaurants. I shook a lot and couldn’t stop. I was sweaty and vomiting, couldn’t eat, and slept poorly. I had lost fifteen pounds.

That same June, I had tickets to see Duran Duran for their 1987 tour. They were seventh row seats, on the left side. John Taylor’s side of the stage. Close enough for eye contact. For recognition. I was dying for someone to see me.

After pointless days in an Econo Lodge in Fredericksburg, my parents agreed to abort the vacation and drive home. My father told my mother I was faking. Like most conversations, it was not directed at me. No one asked me what was wrong. He only told her I was trying to control him.  That I was worried about getting home in time for the concert, which he would never actually commit to arriving in time for. He left it hanging over me the whole time. Maybe we’ll be back in time. Maybe we won’t. It was his favorite game to play, to let us have something and then take it away, or threaten to take it away. To drive you to the brink of denial, and then, when he handed it back to you, the thing you had already earned, you were supposed to thank him for being so kind. It was a game that repeated for all of us, my sister, my brother, me. Back home, the concert was cancelled. I got there in time, thinner and paler than ever, and then had nothing to go to.


My body was so racked with grief that it shrunk in on itself. When I went to the doctor finally and they confirmed that no, I was absolutely not pregnant, the diagnosis was officially nothing. No one asked if it was anxiety, or depression, or grief. The mourning over a lost first love that had never existed in the first place. The illness was invisible. A silent worm, eating me from the inside. The illness was invisibility.

How do you heal from something that never happened to you? How do you heal a wound that isn’t? You carry your hurt in your gut like a black rock, like a cancer that slowly caves you in, thinner and thinner.

How do you recover from a rape that wasn’t? What happens to your body, years later, having carried it for around, that punch in the most vulnerable place, the invalidation of what you thought was yours, and yours alone?

You eat it. Drink or smoke it, and perpetuate the silence of addiction, and never met the hurt head on, with an honest heart, a clear head. It becomes the monster in your closet, under the bed of your life, threatening to surface at any time. The wound nests inside your skin, deadly. And if you’re unlucky enough to end up dead, the only things left are your own ribs, carried off by marsh animals, picked up and flown off, by eagles, into their nests. An exotic wind chime for birds of prey. You become the remnant of what was, a ticket stub kept years later, or a relic of sacred bones for new girls who seek recognition, but are left only with the magic of your bones.


We never met eye to eye. When I attended her wedding, or saw her again, years later, she acted as if she were staring into the sun. I was something to be averted, for her own safety. Never looked at directly.

When I met John Taylor, he was fifty-two. Tall, thin, sober. He’d met his pain with a honest heart, had cut away the dead wood of addiction, insecurity, hurt. I might have tried to mirror him then, still, walled up in a fortress of someone else’s identity, but I was just me. Soft from children, nearly forty. I waited in a line of other versions of me, women approaching middle age, women who were waiting for a glimpse of their girlhoods, while I stood waiting to confront my boyhood, face to face, honest. I handed him a copy of his book to sign, and he said my name. We made eye contact and took a picture together. Someone behind me said it was like being fourteen again. But I knew better. It was like being thirty-nine, right then, in my own skin.

Jennifer Pashley’s fiction has been published widely in Mississippi Review, Los Angeles Review, PANK, Carve Magazine, and her stories have won several awards. She is the author of two story collections, and her first novel, The Scamp, will be published by Tin House in August 2015

What’s New in 2015 for Specter

First and foremost, I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year! 2015 will mark four years since Specter first went live with Issue Zero. Over that period of time, this literary project has taken many shapes, and has been touched and innovated upon by many different people.  And one hopes that within four years, a publication gets better, becomes stronger, and continues to improve. I think Specter will do so and much more as we plan out 2015.

One of the biggest changes…and perhaps the biggest change in Specter’s history…is to our editorial staff. There has never been one “editorial” voice for Specter; our editors have always enjoyed creative freedom and independence with respect to selecting the work that was ultimately accepted or rejected.

Over the summer, we regrettably saw the departure of Kameelah Rasheed, who helped shape Specter’s visual aesthetic and broadened our literary appeal with her in-depth writer interviews. Rion Scott and Brett E. Jenkins have been tremendous in developing the fiction and poetry “voices” for Specter, and as editorial advisors, they will continue to provide advice and assistance when needed.

So as we enter 2015, I have taken on full editorial responsibility for Specter, selecting the fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and artwork that is submitted to our queues. This transition, which has quietly occurred over the past four months, represents a huge shift for Specter. I’m forever thankful for everyone who has helped edit Specter, yet I’m excited and eager to take on this personal and professional challenge. I’m also happy to have on board three excellent readers for our fiction and poetry queues; Diamond Sharp, Jean-Luc Bouchard, and Tom Bardwell have been invaluable additions to our staff and I can’t thank them enough for the work they’ve done thus far.

We have a lot planned for Specter this year, including themed issues, the relaunch of our blog, the return of regular contributors, and more (perhaps a podcast or two). In the meantime, I’m looking forward to continuing to publish the kind of entertaining, provocative literature you’ve come to expect from Specter.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me or find me on Twitter.


mensah demary, Editor


Five Poems by Kamden Hilliard

Why I Hate Sarah McLaughlin 

lets see some abused animals again

really    see em   get all throat lump

fuck the ASPCA[SSHOLES]   i dont want

anything to be saved            let the world be terroristed

so theres something to sift:           shiv of light

and terror which terror?   if nothing explodes everything is exploited

but the thing      with bonerubble:     burnt blonde and shatter   and leftover

there is always something   dying among the dead

there is something to save there are more words      to need

so how about some  rib breathing cats and dogs fought

what about malnutrition and mutilation?

what im trying to say:  what hope is there for salvation

if we are built     to make it?

and does anyone want it?      think of the bored firemen

longing for a cat splayed through a tree

consider the dog catcher forty old englishes into

a useless friday morning swinging an empty

net at the setting moon



take a hand handful of salt     or drink an ocean

of boys or swallow             another boy

the throat the tunnel the throat the tunnel the throat the tunnel

the tunnel throating and versa viced everything even dinosaurs

ends in light but why end when there’s always more?

think:eventuallyin the event of emergencyRSVP promptly

and break the glass but avoid the flutes/highballs

dont you see? the point is the point and pointing

even salt can heal         the boys heeling and drunk down me

rattling among my pipes for some pipe and even that word

some how is it done? it doesnt sound enough like mine

to seem  doable or did all i know of stasis

is what i know of need what my brain knows of theory


in which rape could be worse

[inside of me                                  he is a balloon

unrubbering   outward

and all i can think is god

thank yes     even under him           and unwilled

there wont be a left over small mistake

parasiting my body     that id have to name

and auction      to a willing white couple

or even worse:] mr.speaker the school

has some              concerns       about little

léäñd£®’s imagination what do you mean

exactly?      well his assertion about

the aliens in his “brainhole”

may make him  popular on the playground

but ah i see       do you really? really?


Three-Mile Boy

We stumbletouch in the dark, or rather, the getting-dark, the way

I already know how we, will end. Headlights brush our blunt bodies.

The yard: bruised bottles of vodka strangle bluebells, two pairs of shoes,

one punching bag. After a montage of latex and rhythmic flailing

a lock clicks, brakes squeak—we come up for air:

      oh fuck                  he says                         i think my dad is                                      home 

          put your shirt                              on                 grab your shoes                  and shit just sit

       sit           over there and shut up                     and                                                  help me fuck just stay 

stay                                       here here.

He is panicked: manic and melting. The father speckles our universe

abusive, we are his medium: expectant fallout. We wait

five minutes, twenty, forty minutes. It’s okay, ya know. No sound. I take

his waist and he crumbles. Like a nesting doll, I pull him open and he

disappears under all that sweater. Those skim milk shoulders

glow with welts. I am late, or rather, too late, the way radiation is a quiet

massacre—hollow dawn on empty country, trees dusted from their bark.


variation for body

tomb of corners; what is never perfect; prefect of the slitherers and skies– the prayers and their destination; aerobic paws; torso &wiring; what is broke; what is fixed; blooded scarecrow; crowl of assorted nations; organic struct-ure quelling the swole fracture;reducing/reductive/reactiv; agent of the abbreviated world; ese meat; water and stuff; stuffed with shadows and bile; light; trunk&rings ringing; atoms; adam’s an ahole; yonic universe; a varicose opening; narcissistic parasite; cited source; blighted torque; tl;dr: grapes squished under scarred foot and joy–all that is yes is known.


Bio: Kamden Hilliard studies writing and social theory in New York. He does alright. A poor sleeper, Kamden is also the recipient of  fellowships from Callaloo and The Davidson Institute, a contributor for Elite Daily and an avid hiker. Kamden just finished his first chapbook “Distress Tolerance” and is looking to publish it in the near future. His writing has appeared (or will appear) in Requited Journal, *82 Review, Bodega, Blue Lyra Review and other journals. If Kamden wasn’t writing, he’d be very sad—or a scientist. Catch him on twitter (thisduderitehere?).

Excerpt of “Planet Blue and Green,” A Novel by MP Snell


My name is Kate.

I live in a rent controlled apartment.

The Hells Angels are across the street.

They have metal and wings and deep voices and beer.

I paint the floor black.

I keep the phone in the refrigerator.

The sound of engines takes over the block the angels protect me.

I live above the door you have to kick to enter.

I hear every buzzer every intercom every conversation.

I have menial jobs and vague artistic endeavors.

I don’t notice the passing years.

I meet Jake.

I meet Jake and fall into Jake.

He is a hole to escape into.

I am ten years younger than Jake and ten years older than anyone he has ever been with. His last girlfriend had a breakdown while getting her teeth drilled. She was put under and screamed throughout the procedure. Her yells cleaned out the waiting room. Jake told me she walked out of the dentist’s office with the most beatific look on her face.

“I want to do that again,” she said.

She asked him to go to a club she wanted him to fuck her while people watched. Jake broke up with her the next day.

I wonder about his taste in women and what it says about me.

Jake takes photographs. He is a photographer.

Jake knows everything about light. He knows how to angle a lamp for a longer face, deeper cheek bones, and finer skin. He learned Photoshop during a long winter on coke.

I talk to him about twins who take photographs. Twins tearing images apart, putting them back together. I talk to him about photographs of an overgrown tricycle, a shrunken house, a sea of lawn.

I show Jake my German box camera that bleeds light creating flames on every image.

I throw myself on Jake.

I move into his 200 square foot apartment where he has lived for years, before the area became a high end department store. He kicked all previous girlfriends out after two days. We survive the proximity. A plant that is always about to die sits on the fire escape, a half fridge and stove is in the living room; appliances we never use.

Jake takes taxis, eats out, makes and spends money.

He is prepared to live the rest of his life like this.

One ex had an abortion he never thinks about but will.

Others wanted children he said no.

When I ask Jake how he feels about me he says he doesn’t know me well enough to answer this.

You have to know someone well to answer this? 

There is either something missing, or he is mature in a way I am not.

I leave for India because I don’t want to spend the turn of the century with a man who is not sure he wants to be with me.

I have no time to waste, although I have wasted so much.

I am going to India on a ticket through Pakistan.

I am a woman who lives cheaply then travels far.

I see blind cows.

I drink orange Fanta.

Green shit flies out of my body.

I am brought to a hospital on a rug salesman’s motorcycle.

He ties a Red Cross sign to the handle bars.

A wild boar stares at me from outside my open door.

I line up bananas on the floor.

The male nurse puts a needle in my arm the blood sprays all over the place.

He apologizes.

I say “Namaste” to the woman scrubbing the bathroom with her hands, she replies “Namaste Namaste all the time Namaste.”

The doctor visits me at three in the morning, drunk, and offers to have my child.

I consider it.

“You are Indian, very Indian he says.”

Women above me give birth on thin cots; the surgery room is a wooden table with three knives.

Everyone is given an IV with sugar water. The mothers. The babies. And me.

I am also given little brown pills wrapped in newspaper.

I hear the man next door to me moan. He is dying. No one is disturbed by these sounds it is in the air.

I leave the hospital and watch little paper boats with lit candles float down the Ganges River.

A skinny naked Sadhu pulls me to him and says “I have never lost a drop of semen.”

I am left wondering why this stranger shared this particular piece of information with me. And what he wants me to do with it.


MP Snell  has published short stories in various literary magazines. (No Tokens, Best of Ducts, Nerve Cowboy, Specter.) She often performed with Ridge Theater, and in venues such as Lincoln Center and The Guggenheim Museum. She can be heard on the Point Music/Philips Classics Recording of John Moran’s Opera ‘The Manson Family’ with Iggy Pop. She has recently completed her debut novel, “Planet of Blue and Green.”

“Acquiring Joshua” by DeMisty Bellinger

She had started spreading over to Joshua’s side of the bedroom. A little at first: a pair of earrings one day, a compact mirror and a couple of business cards she collected the next day. Once, he’d come home to find her horizontally on the bed, one arm on his pillow. Her panties and pantyhose were on his side of the floor. Her blazer draped over his chair. Monday morning, he found that his men’s size eleven feet fit comfortably inside of her women’s size seven shoes, which he found beneath his side of the bed where his topsiders should have been. With no other shoes nearby, he wore them to work. He marveled at the height they gave him, how the heel points made him walk straight—his back a perfectly erect ‘T’ and his feet following one in front of the other with each step. People noticed him that day. Stood when he entered the room. They answered his questions and fulfilled his requests immediately.

Thursday, at 11:22, he was in the bathroom reapplying a coat of raisin red lipstick. Peterson was in the bathroom, too, and watched him don it. “Looking good, Joshua.”


“You know, Rogers is retiring. You should go up for his position. Time you made vice president of something, right? Only one way to go, Joshua. Don’t think about the other way.”

That night over dinner, he noticed his wife’s five o’clock shadow. She ate a burger and a half with two servings of mashed potatoes and a huge salad. Joshua had the salad and the burger patty, no bun.

His wife dropped him off at work. She wore a tie that could be considered spiffy. He recognized the tie. “I bought this for you,” she said. He smiled and fingered the buttons on her shirt. “Going up for this promotion,” Joshua said, “makes me hot.”

He wore an Anne Taylor suit with a cute satin extension at the hem. Gold earrings with tear-shaped pearls dangled from both lobes. He tried not to, but he kept playing with the charm around his neck during the interview, but the board loved all his answers. “It would be nice,” he heard Peterson say, “if we could get some diversity in the upper ranks, right gentleman?”

That night, Joshua and his wife made love. When they finished, they could not separate. “It’s our love,” Joshua said. “I love you so much.” The epiphany made him weep. He felt his wife’s vagina envelop him more and instead of going flaccid, he grew into her.

“It’ll be hard to go to work,” he said.

“We’ll go to work,” she said. “You worry so much over everything.”

Sunday, at church, Joshua felt a kid’s eyes on them. A kid of five or maybe six years old. He couldn’t help but to feel judged by this child, a dark haired boy with dark eyes, lashes long as falsies. Joshhua scratched above his left ear, but found his wife’s cheek there instead, which was slightly fuzzy even though she had shaved. He realized he hadn’t shaved his own face in a week, but he had shaved his legs and armpits. The hair in these places, though, thinned considerably.

He saw the child’s mother admonish the child for staring. He read the word “abomination” on her lips. He thought that they should go, that he didn’t feel comfortable in the church. He wanted to tell his wife that they should leave, but she already knew. They rose together. They talked as they walked out, not saying a word aloud, but saying, to each other, how alone they felt from that world inside the church and that condemning word.

“There is always work,” he said aloud once they were outside. “They like me at work.”

His wife tried reaching into her pocket for the car keys, but instead grabbed their penis, which is where her right pocket would have been.

“Here,” he said. He put his free hand around her shoulder and pulled her closer to him. She pushed into him. The sensation was similar to unpleasant but obligatory sex.

“How do you think we look?” his wife asked. “Like how our child would look,” he said. “We can never kiss again,” someone said. “We are kissing all the time,” someone said.


DeMisty D. Bellinger teaches creative writing at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. She has an MFA from Southampton College and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in many places, including Kalyani Magazine and Driftless Review. Her short-short “Tiger Free Days,” published in WhiskeyPaper, is on the Wigleaf’s Top 50 Short Fictions of 2014. 

“Horserace” by Michael Ward

I’m putting a grand on Lickety-Split. Should pay about five-to-one. If I win, I’m still in to Ortiz for another two. But it’ll give me some more time. Lose? I win a trip to Mexico. Deep Mexico. The kind of place where the scent of sewage burns the cartilage in your nose and the roof-top roosters cackle through the night. The race is this evening. Come on, Lickety-Split.

Daryl’s got her arms wrapped around me, and she’s still asleep. It’s part suffocating, part arousing. Her body is a smooth, warm anchor that fits to mine in all the right places and pulls me down into the bed. I have a hard on, and I can’t breath. I know some people do this sort of thing for fun, but I just imagine sinking deeper and deeper, drowning in cotton and skin. It tastes like salt and my mouth feels like paper.

Time to get up.

Heavy morning light oozes through the blinds. Last night’s shrapnel litters the carpet. Beer cans and a liquor bottle. A Runners World torn to shreds. The hookah we got from our Lebanese friends lays on its side, its hose sprawled across the floor like Liston in ’65. Toast. Orange juice. Breakfast of champions. I gulp it down and get ready to run.

The neighborhood’s like forgotten swimming pool growing algae. It used to be a street with a bunch of cars meant middle class. A third of the cars on my street are on blocks. Everyone knows a mechanic, and nothing gets fixed. Half of them don’t even bother to weed eat around their trucks, so by September the F-150s look like they’re wearing grass skirts. Sometimes I wonder if I ran fast enough, could I escape the neighborhood’s gravity. We should move out of this place, move somewhere else. I think anywhere would be better at this point.

Must be eighty degrees out by now.

I make it to Juan’s by nine. Juan used to be my dealer when I was into that. Now he’s a friend. He’s still a source, too, in some respects.

“Ortiz is not happy,” he says. He sits on his orange pleather couch in his driveway. He pulls the couch out on weekends and chills out like that. He’s got water waiting for me.

“I know.”

“Oh, you know? It’s good that you know, you know? Because when Ortiz isn’t happy, I hear about that shit.” He looks up, raises his eyebrows and says, “Sabes?”

I told him I’d have five grand by this weekend. This is assuming my horse comes through, but he doesn’t know that.

“Two grand short,” he says.

“Oh, so you did finish high school?” I say.

An armada of Spanish hurtles toward me. El’s and la’s whip my ears. He does that when he gets angry. The words have a weight to them and stick to me in this heat, cling to my shirt and my head. I don’t need any more weight.

“What’s the problem?” I say. “The juice is running. If anything, he should thank me. The longer I take to pay, the more he makes off me.”

“If you pay.”

Now I wish I could mutter something in Spanish. I know enough of the language to get me in trouble but not enough to get me out. In my mind I go through the conjugation of the verb “to live” and make it all the way to nosotros before I realize I’m conjugating “to see.” For a second, I imagine a life south of the border. A life that, even with my money on a five-to-one favorite, has become suddenly more real.

I wipe some sweat off my face and look around. Two girls on red and blue bikes zoom past us. No cars on blocks as far as I can see. A lawnmower drones in the distance, and the whiff of cut grass flits by. I think about moving in next to Juan, being neighbors. Then where would I run?

When I get back to the apartment, Daryl’s still asleep. Her legs slip out from under the sheets and her auburn hair is a tangled mess spilling over the pillow. I glimpse the Maori tattoo that wraps around her ankle. That’s when we had money to travel. That’s before things went bad and then worse.

I finish in the shower and find Daryl sitting at the kitchen table. An old shirt of mine drapes her creme-colored skin. I can’t see her face, but I smell the coffee. A cigarette is burning somewhere. I start to say something, but her hand floats up. No talking. I get it.

I squint because the ringing in my ears is back. Daryl pulls some of her hair off her face. Darkness swoops down under her jade eyes, and she looks like she might puke. She doesn’t look at me. Nothing has happened between us. That’s the problem. I think she may be seeing someone else. Things change and you don’t even notice it. Your past is like a fuzzy collection of stills that make no sense alone and together appear inevitable.

* * *

My dad takes me to my first horserace when I’m twelve. We put down fifty dollars on Jackson Five. A trumpet screams out the Call to the Post. Jackson Five struts out with a jockey clad in purple diamonds on light blue silks. His coat is the color of ancient ink. The starting gate closes, and Jackson Five bucks against the metal. He whinnies and tries to jump, thrashes the gate. They close the door behind him, and he calms down.


The gate flies open and the horses spring out. Thunder across the dirt. I watch as their muscular bodies become smaller and the crowd grows louder. Jackson Five is four lengths behind the chestnut Three Pair coming into the final turn. He’s closing in. Two lengths now. The rumbling shakes my stomach. They’re getting closer and closer. One length. Jackson Five and Three Pair are so close, I can’t tell who crosses first. My dad jumps up and yells. Cold beer slops onto my jeans. The announcer howls that Jackson Five wins by a nose. My dad grabs me and gives me a shake. I’ve never seen him so happy. We walk out of the track with ice cream on our minds and a few hundred dollars in my dad’s pocket.

We roll over to Mel’s. Mel’s owned this place for years, my dad tells me. The place reeks of salt and wetness—an indoor beach. Animal carcasses hang on hooks on the other side of a plate of glass as big as a wall. Mel’s belly hovers over his waste like a beach ball. My dad gives him a brown envelope as thick as a wallet. Mel takes it and looks over at me.

“So what y’all been up today?” He favors his left leg as he hobbles over to his desk.

Mel, my dad told me later, took part of a shell at Khe Sanh and lost a few toes, gangrene nearly took the whole leg. My dad missed that lottery.

I tell him we were at the races. I feel like a man because I can say that. I’m excited.

Mel unlocks his desk drawer and takes out a white envelope about half as thick as the one my dad had.

“Your horse win?” he says.

His glass eye wanders to the right. I follow it, ending up for a second back at the floating carcasses. I nod.

“Well, this is where they end up,” he says, handing the envelope to my dad, “when they lose.”

I don’t want to lose. Ever.

Now my dad drinks rat poison to save his life. It’s a drug his doctor gave him, but I looked it up once. In low doses it prevents blood clots; in high doses it kills rats. My mom died a few years ago.

* * *

“Fore!” Ben yells out to a group of retirees on the fairway. He’s hit into them. On purpose. Because they’re slow. My ball was too short.

Golf’s a gambling man’s game. Sometimes we play skins, other times we pay per stroke. Ben’s a doctor without a medical license. That makes us friends. His chiropractor boss thinks he dropped out of med school. Now he takes seventy-five an hour to crack backs.

Must be ninety out now, the air is still and spongy as bread. The ringing is back. Ben told me once it’s tinnitus. To me it just sounds like a distant emergency alert tone, the kind you’d hear over the radio if a storm were coming. I took a hearing test once when I was ten. They made me listen to sounds at different frequencies. I had to raise my hand when I heard one. It sounds like that. Just like that. Sometimes I see things too. But I haven’t told him that.

“You heading up to the track tonight?” he asks me. “I hear Ortiz is getting into racing too.”

I don’t want to see Ortiz until I have some cash for him. I definitely don’t want him seeing me at the track. That’s sends the wrong message, like maybe I’m not serious about paying him, like maybe I’m not good for it. But my mind turns back to Lickety-Split. Never will I have put down so much on a horse. My stomach tightens. I’m Richard III without a limp. Although given the wrong circumstances, I might be hobbling the next time Ben and I play.

“Look at ‘em,” Ben says pointing to the same group. “Jesus, you got an extra ball on ya?” he asks me. “Just ‘cause the course is public doesn’t make it a park.”

He grabs another ball from the cart, tees it up, and lets the driver rip. The ball flies through the air, a perfect fade around the slight dogleg right. Smacks into the ground about ten yards from the group and rolls right between their carts. One of the men gets out and raises his arms up. Forty years younger, this man would’ve charged us. I can see it from here. He wears his bitterness like a pair of shades. Now the old bull roams a different pasture.

“Sit down old man,” Ben seethes and stares them down.

The man is yelling something. Ben is as cold as marble, hand resting on the grip of his driver like the Sun King.

“Get me another,” he says without moving. There’s a callousness in his voice that makes me wonder why I still play this game with him. We’ve been friends for years, but it’s starting to take its toll.

“You can’t hit into them again,” I say.

“The fuck I can’t. Look at him. Standing there like he owns the course. Let’s see what he thinks about owning this.”

Another ball. Another tee. Clink.

Ben missed his calling. He could’ve been a pro. At least a pro-shop pro. He’s too edgy to tour, too erratic. The ball slams into the fairway to the right of the group, burns up the grass as it rolls another twenty yards. The old man grabs a club and shakes it in the air. He’s yelling something.

Ben swings around and laughs. “You see this shit?”

He heads back to the cart and smashes his club into the bottom of the bag. He slips off his glove and reaches around for his beer sweating in the afternoon heat.


He jerks his head into roof of the cart. Beer splashes over the seat. Down the fairway the old man is flipping us off as the group wheels their way down to the green.

Ben swaggers over to the ball that settled a few yards away from the cart.

“You playing a Titleist four?” he asks me, peering over the ball resting on the shaggy slope of the tee box.

I nod.

“That sucks, man. Looks like you’re playing from here,” he says. “Bad lie, too.”

When we finish the round, I cough up a wrinkled twenty in the parking lot.

* * *

The afternoon heats breaks, snaps in two and falls down all around us. In the distance I see a mushroom cloud and feel the surge of irradiated winds blowing away everything around me, melting parts of the racetrack before me and setting the world on fire. The weather says there’s a forty percent chance of storms this evening. It smells like eighty percent.

Madison winks at me. At first it was embarrassing that she began to recognize me. Like I had a problem or something. But then I started to believe maybe there was something about me worth remembering. Tiny canyons that radiate from her eyes betray her age. Too old for me. I’ve thought long and hard about that. Twice. Her eyelashes droop under the burden of mascara, but her smile. God, her smile. Passion and sex dance in those corners, and I’m looking for a partner.

I lean in to the betting window and tell her I want a grand on my horse. She looks shocked at first. She knows it’s a bet I shouldn’t be making, a bet I can’t afford, but she doesn’t know I’m running out of options. If I can’t come up with some serious cash soon, my number’s up. She types in some information but it seems to take her longer than usual.

Again, Mexico, flashes in my mind. It’s a refuge for the criminal and the lost. I’ve don’t break the law, but I lost my map years ago. I’ve decided for the coast. Pacific side. I’ll find a village where the novelty of my whiteness will fade as they realize I’m trying to put my own shit together just like them.

From my seat at the track, clouds amble up from the distance puffy as microwaved marshmallows. The breeze from the west carries on its back the scent of roasted cashews, arid earth, and oily pomade. I know this pomade. It’s Ortiz, the last person I want to see this evening. The last person who needs to see me.

I head to the only place at the track I know where I can lie low.

There’s a guy pissing in one of the urinals as I sneak toward the stalls. Three of them. I glance under to check for feet, then I pick the one furthest from the door. Outside I hear Call to the Post. The guy at the urinal flushes, zips up, and walks out.

I’ve never seen Lickety-Split, but I imagine the three-year-old’s glossy coat’s the color of caramelized sugar. The silks, red triangles against a blue field. He’s neither massive nor slight—

The door to the bathroom creaks just as the gates burst open. I can make out the hoofbeats rumble on the ground. Two people have walked in, judging from the footsteps. The lock on the bathroom door clicks. I slowly pull my legs up on the toilet seat, perched like an owl. And listen. My ears begin to ring.

Lips smack, soft moans, the dull rustle of a belt buckle. The stall door next to me flings open and the couple slides in. Lickety-Split is near the middle of the pack. There’s still time left.

Pants drop to the floor. Sweaty hands squeak across the stall looking for a grip. The moans grow louder, reverberating off the tile. Grunts come in quick succession. My eyes dart to the space between our stalls. At first I don’t see it, but then it comes into focus. A Maori tattoo wrapped around a creme-colored ankle. My throat narrows. I hear Lickety-Split has fallen behind.

The ringing is awful. I can’t hear a thing. I want to yell out, scream from the pain. I feel like I’m ten feet at the bottom of a pool and its sides are closing in. I see my little space begin to swirl, elongate. My ears are on fire, and I’m drowning in one high-pitched tone. If I can only get out of this, I think.

The toilet flushes next to me.The bathroom door unlocks, and again I’m alone. Outside, I can tell the race has ended.

I stretch my legs out and get up. I look at the betting slip, rub my fingers across its text, then rip it up, and flush it down.

I hear a few people talk about the race. Their chatter mixes with the patter of rain against the track’s roof over the gallery. A rumble of thunder. A coolness in the air.

I pass by the betting booth and hear a woman call out. “Hey!”

I turn and find Madison smiling at me. She says, “Looks like your horse came in after all.”

Above her an LED ticker displays the results. Lickety-Split, five-to-one favorite, wins. It takes me a minute to realize that I’m not upset. In fact, I’m happy. I start to walk off and Madison calls me back. My hand lifts up as my walk turns into a trot out to my car. Mexico doesn’t sound half bad. I can hear the roosters calling me now.

Michael’s work has appeared in BULL, Punchnel’s,GoMad Nomad, and Marco Polo, among other places. He grew up in Texas and lives (most of the year) near Cologne, Germany, where fall has nearly ended, Karneval season has begun, and the Glühwein is hot.

“Orion” by Anastasia Selby

At twelve years old I ran away. My mother and I were living in a pool house behind a mansion in Issaquah, WA. At the wealthy middle school, I was one of the only kids that wore cheap stretch pants and huge, body-hiding t-shirts. I listened to hip-hop and never took my headphones off. If I did, I would hear the other students whispering about me. “Look at her shoes,” they’d say. “She smells like cigarettes.” I’d only lived there for three months, and I hadn’t yet made one friend.

I hated the school, and I hated the pool house, which smelled of my mother’s cigarettes and didn’t have any real rooms. My mom left at seven in the morning, so there was no reason for me to wake up and catch the bus to school, where I would likely have to sit near someone who would whisper in my ear, “dirty,” or “white trash.” I’d spend my days watching daytime television and eating Top Ramen, imagining that some day I’d be able to live where I wanted, that somehow my life would turn out okay.

One afternoon, when I saw the white flash of my mother’s car pull into the driveway at 1:30, I jumped from my spot on the couch and crawled into the office partition that made up my half-room, hiding myself under my bed covers. I heard the latch of the door click, and the growl of my mother’s voice calling my name. My mother terrified me, especially when she was angry, and I could feel the rumble of her anger in my own chest.

“I know you’re here,” she yelled, slapping her foot on the linoleum floor, “fucking come out here!”

“I don’t want to!” I yelled from under the covers, my fingers curling the folds of my cheap comforter towards me.

“Well, if you had gone to school like you were supposed to, you wouldn’t have to,” she said. I could tell by the volume of her voice that she was now leaning over the partition, looking at the shape of my body under the covers. “Come out, now, or I’ll get you out myself.”

I didn’t answer her, and she hit her hand against the partition, walked around it, and grabbed the end of my comforter, pulling and yelling at the same time.

“Come the fuck out here!” She yelled, and I felt myself spin as the comforter was yanked from my fingers. I lay on the bed, facing up, and watched her fling the comforter across my room. It landed on my dresser, knocking over the small glass ballerina my grandmother had given me. Before I could get off the bed, my mom grabbed my ankles and pulled me. I slid from my bed to the floor. As she dragged me, I tried to kick my feet, but my mother had always been strong. Her limbs were short and compact, and she often beat men in arm-wrestling contests. She dragged me out of my room, into the living-room, where I finally kicked free and jumped up.

“I’m running away!” I screamed at her, making sure to back away so she couldn’t grab me.

“Oh, really?” She laughed, “I’d love to see that, I’d love to see you run away. I’d finally have some free time!”

“Fine,” I said, and started towards my room.

“Oh, no,” she said, pushing me back, “you don’t get to take anything of yours. In fact, hold on,” she held her finger up at me, turning to get her purse. When she had her wallet, she pulled out the money in it, throwing it at me.

“There’s thirteen dollars. It’s all the cash I have. Good luck!”

We both stood there for a moment, looking at each other. My mom was testing me; she did this every time I threatened leaving, and it usually worked. I’d never run away before. But this time I bent down to pick up the money, crumpled it up, and shoved it in my pockets.

“I have to get my jacket,” I said, and she let me go into my room, where I grabbed my jacket and emptied out my school bag, filling it with my journal, a book, my walkman, and my little stash of babysitting money. I walked out of my room and looked at my mom’s face. She was scared, I could see it in the whites of her eyes. But she wouldn’t back down, I knew, and if I stayed I’d have to go back to school. I walked past her, and shut the door behind me.


In downtown Seattle, I went to a Mexican restaurant and ordered chips and salsa. I sat there for hours, writing in the journal I’d brought with me. The owner eventually came up to me and asked me if I was okay, leaning his head, which was framed by a lacquered mullet, down into the yellow light that illuminated the table. I nodded, packed up my journal, and left the restaurant.

At Pioneer Square, I met a fifteen year-old kid who looked ancient. His Jnco jeans were dark with stains. He had a deep furrow that didn’t disappear when his eyebrows straightened. “My parents kicked me out because they caught me kissing a boy,” he told me. “You can stay at Orion Center, but you have to tell them you’re thirteen.”

At Orion, they logged me in and told me there’d just been an outbreak of scabies. I lay awake on my cot, the smell of bleach heavy on the sheets, as the two girls I shared my room with fought in the bathroom. One of them had slept with the others’ boyfriend. One had blonde hair and the other red. They were sixteen. When they were finished fighting, they both walked into the room, their bare feet sticking to the gray-painted floor. “I fucking hate this place,” the red haired one whispered, and she pulled her blankets over her.

“At least you’re not home,” the other one said.

“Shut-up,” the red haired one said, and reached over to turn on the clock radio. The Metallica lyrics floated me to sleep.

But I’ll take my time anywhere,

Free to speak my mind anywhere,

And I’ll redefine Anywhere,

Anywhere I roam,

Where I lay my head is home.


Three days later, I finally allowed the social worker that had been assigned to me to call my mother. I was ready to go home, not angry at her anymore. The thought of school felt almost comforting. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, maybe I would find a new place to sit, or dedicate myself to doing well. Things could change.

“Your mother’s on a business trip,” the social worker said when she came back into her office, where I was sitting. They had the same kind of partitions that made up my room at the pool house. “She can’t come pick you up.”

I was sitting in a plastic chair, and I felt the hardness of it against my back. “Okay,” I said, not knowing what else to say, feeling my anger rush back up into my throat, accompanied by something even more familiar, a pain that felt like my insides were disintegrating, or had vanished completely. I looked at the floor, a partition of carpet with worn edges that revealed the plastic strings weaved into the bottom.

“But,”she said, going to sit behind her desk, “we found your dad.”

“My dad?” I said, looking up quickly. The woman, I can’t remember her name, had straight brown hair. She seemed old to me then, but now I realize she must have been in her early twenties. “I haven’t seen my dad in years.”

“I know,” she said, “but we spoke with him.”

“How did you find him?”

“In the phone book,” she said. “He has the same last name as you.”

“I know,” I said, “but my mom said he doesn’t live here anymore.” Throughout my childhood, I had begged my mother for my dad. It wasn’t his fault he was absent, but hers. I was sure of it.

“He can come to pick you up, if you’d like that.”

I looked down at the carpet again. That last time I’d seen my dad was a couple years ago. He’d picked me up at the apartment I lived at with my mom in his gold Cadillac; he always drove Cadillacs, they were his favorite cars. I’d gone to the swap meet with him, where he seemed to know everyone, and bought me a cheap metal bracelet with fake abalone. I played with it when we stopped at a bar and he asked me to wait in the car for him, it distracted me from how hot it was, how wet the backs of my legs were stuck against the hot leather seats. I’d worn it for weeks, until the clasp had broken. It was in my little room in the poolhouse, in the ballet-dancer jewelry box. My mom had hated how much I loved the cheap bracelet, especially because, over the next two years, my dad had called me only three times, each time promising that he would come pick me up, and never showing. I would cry for hours, waiting for him.

“Okay,” I said. I wanted to see my dad, and now he had to pick me up, there was no one else to do it.


When my dad showed up, he looked the same. In my memory, he is very tall, a dark figure with peppery gray hair and a deep voice. My father was big, imposing, and didn’t smile easily. I’d been in the Orion kitchen, helping to make dinner, and my social worker came in and told me he’d arrived.

I was right, he was still driving a Cadillac, this one dark blue instead of champagne colored. It smelled the same, though, and a blue scented tree hung from the rearview mirror. He threw my backpack into the backseat and I climbed into the front. Maybe this was it, I thought to myself. Maybe he would finally love me enough to keep me. As if he knew what I was thinking, my dad turned to me as he started the car.

“You know this is only until your mom comes back,” he said, beginning to pull out into traffic. He was wearing a button down shirt with pearl colored buttons, and cowboy boots. “I’m living in a motel right now. That’s no place for a kid.” The way he said “kid” sounded weird, as if I were an inanimate object.

“I know,” I said, not really knowing. We drove to the poolhouse. He’d talked to my mom, he said. She was worried about me. According to other people, my mother was always worried about me.


My dad stayed with me for three days. All I remember of his stay is that I tried to make him coffee with Folger’s crystals, and I made it wrong. I’d never made coffee before, and we only had powdered milk to use as cream. He’d glared at me, and I realized that there was no out. He was not better than my mother.

I don’t remember anything about my mother getting back home. I do know that a few weeks later, I burned myself on our propane fireplace, and sat in our livingroom while pieces of skin fell from from my leg, waiting for her to get home. She’d told me never to call 911 if something happened, because the ambulance would be too expensive. I still have a scar from that burn, but when I see the scar in the mirror, in only feels like the physical manifestation of absence; a memory that had to be burned into me, to remind me.

Anastasia Selby is a writer of short stories and is currently working on her first novel. Her work has been published in The New Ohio Review, Ardor Literary Journal, The Atlantic, The Red River Review, and Metazen.

“Has Anyone Considered That We May Be Moving In Reverse?” by Jenny Erwin

A large machine
produced a cotton ball.

Plumbing made the drip that
made it denser
till it grew small
and less soft so

regrettably I was left with little.

I recall attempting to stretch my arms once
but I didn’t touch much but dust

which is of course just used dead skin and other dead things.

Love is a word I don’t understand
not because I’m sad
but I guess because everything is made of everything else:

we dismember it and then reconnect it with strange stitching and thumbtacks.

Terra and Theia smashed their heads together in an obvious
attempt to turn back into one thing and then
an organ played somewhere and its low droning sound led them to
rest their heads on nebulae and nod off.

Jenny Erwin lives in New York City. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing, works in publishing and has been a singer/songwriter for a number of unpopular bands. She used to steal whole cheeses from holiday parties and eat them in secret. She has never had a favorite color.

Two Poems by Darren Demaree


Beauty-cord, severed, there is no leak after the fear arrives, and what does spill out is merely trouble behind the cement door of our own visions. I have seen flowers mangled. I have seen human flesh tear away from human flesh. I see your face and I can only think of how whole you must have been, before the fear gave you this awful stasis…


He had begged enough to beg the ponytail to leave him be, and once the pummeling felt like applause I suppose his insides went confetti just to join the celebration…

Darren C. Demaree is the author of “As We Refer to Our Bodies” (2013, 8th House), “Temporary Champions” (2014, Main Street Rag), and “Not For Art Nor Prayer” (2015, 8th House). He is the recipient of three Pushcart Prize nominations and a Best of the Net nomination. He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

Three Poems by Junior Clemons

you can hold a newborn deer in your palm

if you place fluorescent light into the ground

you can find a chair on a busy street

and sit in it until ice forms all around you


you can wonder while walking under trees

if your pelvis and spine shine through.


you can view a list w/ milk cheese bread

and say aloud “this is our universe at its truest”


you can talk w/ the saddest ghost

if you stare at the mirror until it’s a painting


you can pretend to waltz w/ someone

and when you mess up describe it perforated


and if you soak your tongue in gold

you can save anything. yourself

(Away, March 19 2009, San Francisco)




i don’t want anything described as ‘sunsoaked’

i       want everything described as ‘sunsoaked’


suspended wrist


do not look for orphans

but the childless



i don’t want to be young

a spool of thread though some

remember a sword


what i’ve done to my body—


and the statue: a statue implies

something less than real / a star

brighter having known it

(After Carmen, September 23 2009, San Francisco)




and thinking of her

inner ear which is to say

that we are in conversation

w/ all of it and yes

it’s a cat / probably
but the list of things

that can appear outside

one’s window is infinite

and ‘sensual’
a word that is effective

without being absolutely


(Club House, December 14 2009, San Francisco)


Junior Clemons received an M.F.A. in Writing from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA. He received his B.A. from Pitzer College in Claremont, CA, where he studied English & World Literature, with a Writing emphasis. His first book of poems, SO MANY MOUNTAINS BUT THIS ONE SPECIFICALLY, was published by Carville Annex Press. He was born, lives and writes in San Diego, CA.

“Perfect Strangers” by Tom Connor

The words “formulaic,” “predictable,” and “hackneyed” were not in my vocabulary when I was five years old, so Perfect Strangers was one of my favorite TV shows. The sitcom was about an unlikely pair of cousins, one from the US, one from a Mediterranean island, trying to find love and success in 1980s Chicago. I liked Larry, the American protagonist, and his foreign cousin Balki was childlike and easy for a little boy to relate to. For five year old me, the show was a perfect storm of humor, black and white morals, and a guy with a funny accent. I was hooked.

My dad liked the show too, so it gave us something we could do together. That meant a lot – I idolized my dad, but because he was a carpenter and did physical work all day, he rarely came home with the energy to deal with a little kid. We didn’t spend a lot of time together, but Perfect Strangers was one of the few times during the week when he and I were guaranteed to hang out.

The show opened with a terminally 80s theme song: upbeat keyboard chords hopscotched over dramatic tom fills as a misplaced harmonica provided counterpoint. Then an expertly polished 4/4 verse, sung by a vocalist who took the song way too seriously, brought the viewer into the first exterior shot of the protagonists’ house. I always assumed that the theme of the show held hidden significance, and one Wednesday at 8 (7 central) it hit me as my dad and I were sitting on the couch.

“Dad, I know who does the theme song to our show!”

My dad was slumped comfortably in his normal spot. “Who.” He spoke flatly. We hadn’t been talking about the show, or about music. I had made a sudden little-kid gear change on him, and he was trying to roll with it.

“It’s Larry and Balki! Larry is the singer, and I think Balki is playing the piano thing in the beginning!” I had my theory all laid out. I felt confident.

My dad’s eyes were on the TV. He had an expression as if I told him I wanted to repave the driveway for fun. He couldn’t understand where I came up with the idea, or why.

“Who do you think is playing the drums?” I squinted at the screen, trying to imagine which of the supporting cast might be good at beating the hell out of a floor tom.

My dad’s eyes were still on the TV. “The characters aren’t the ones playing the song. They’re just actors.”

That made no sense to me. “Yeah but they do all kinds of crazy stuff on the show. They could be in a band too.”

My dad stopped and thought about that. “Were the guys in a band? Did they play that song in one of the episodes?” He was starting to question his stance, and I knew I had him.

“The song is in every episode, dad. They play it every time the show comes on!” Checkmate.

“No, that’s not-“ my dad trailed off as he rubbed his eyes, “that’s not what I meant. Did you ever see them actually playing instruments in the show?”

“Well who else would play it but them?” I thought Larry and Balki were pretty awesome, but I also had to admit that they were losers. It was the whole point of the show. I couldn’t imagine anyone else taking the time to write a song about them.

My dad shook his head. “Son, those guys are just actors, they’re not playing any song.”

I hadn’t counted on this type of resistance, but I was determined to overcome it. “I know they’re actors, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be in a band together!” I was getting worked up and I ran to the TV just as the opening synth bars of “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now,” the Perfect Strangers theme, came from the TV’s speakers.

I turned up the volume as the verse came in. “Listen to his voice! That sounds just like Larry! He can sing while Balki plays the piano thing!” I didn’t realize that where I was seeing two zany cousins who lived lives in which scoring their own theme song was entirely possible, my dad was seeing two actors constrained by their own talents.

“Turn the TV down and sit down.” My dad locked eyes with me as his brow sloped to a dangerous angle. The situation was deteriorating. We were both standing on principle.

“No!” I all but screamed. The chorus had just started. “Listen! That sounds exactly like Larry!”

My dad stood up. “I told you, the characters are not the ones playing the song, and I told you to sit the fuck down!” He took a step toward me.

At this point there are two things worth noting: one, when I was little I had a dangerous combination of stubbornness and volume, and two, my dad is the type of person to get in a shouting match with a five-year-old over a sitcom.

Behind us, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” was coming to the end, and I pulled out my last piece of evidence – two female singers that briefly harmonized before the song’s outro. I yelled, “Listen! Those girl singers are Jennifer and Mary Anne! It has to be the characters from the show singing!” Since Larry and Balki had their own band, it only made sense for their girlfriends to be there as well.

My dad looked at the TV in bewilderment. He may have been wondering if I was right, but at that point he was mad, and the thought of his kindergartener proving him wrong didn’t help. He lost his temper. As he turned to face me, his left hand, which moved so quickly I didn’t have time to react, caught me in the side of the head. I stumbled backwards and lost balance as another hand made contact with one of my shoulders, spinning me around. I managed to get my hands up to break my fall, but as soon as I hit the ground my dad grabbed a handful of my shirt and hoisted me to my feet. Leading me from behind, he marched me down the hall, shoved me in my room, and slammed the door. I stood there sniffling as I heard the first scene of Perfect Strangers starting in the living room right as my dad changed the channel.

A week passed uneventfully. My dad’s long hours and short fuse meant I was used to being smacked around, so that bothered me less than the fact we missed our show. I became determined to do better and keep quiet for the next episode, and when the next Wednesday at 8 (7 central) rolled around, I ran to get my dad, who was working in the garage.

“Dad, our show is coming on!”

He had his back to me, examining something laid across two sawhorses. He didn’t look up. “I’m busy right now. You can watch it if you want.”

“But dad, the TV said it’s a new episode tonight!”

“Ok.” His voice was disinterested. “I don’t think I want to watch that show anymore. You can put it on if you want.”

I was quiet. “What do you mean?”

“I just don’t want to watch that show.”

I tried to understand what I was hearing. “But dad, we always watch this show together.”

“You can still watch it. Look I have to work, go inside.” I waited until I was sure he was serious, then walked back into the house. I closed the door to our garage and stared at the TV. It was turned off. My mom asked if she should find Perfect Strangers for me, but I just said no and walked down the hall to my room. The scenario repeated itself next week, and the week after, and I finally just gave up.

My dad and I never watched Perfect Strangers again. Either our fight about the theme song had ruined the show for him (the thought of which made me feel bad), or he was never into it at all and decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore (which made me feel worse). Either way, the one real, consistent chance I had to spent time with him evaporated, and so formed the first clouds of a volatile, arms-length-at-best relationship that would last until I was in my 20s. We had reached a new normal.

Still, it just felt like a standard part of a blue-collar upbringing. Dad worked hard and came home exhausted, but so did all of my friends’ dads. I usually had to stay out of his way, but all of my friends had that problem with their dads too. Wasn’t that just what a father-son relationship looked like? I didn’t think to miss him any more than I missed the elaborate vacations that no one in my neighborhood ever took. I didn’t pine for steak over my Hamburger Helper and I didn’t think about the Louvre on weekend fishing trips, because I had what everyone else had. It was all part of a middle-income patchwork that blanketed everyone in our little suburb.

That changed when I left for college and met a whole new group of kids. I realized that most moms never had to work night shifts. I found out most dads weren’t asleep on the couch moments after coming home caked with sawdust, and most kids never bragged about how good they were at dodging incoming blows. I learned that some things I had taught myself to find funny made others really uncomfortable, and many of the experiences I took for normal were, in the words of a girl I dated, “unbelievably fucked up.” My experiences were so markedly different and negative that I feld like I had grown up in another country. I spent some time feeling angry and cheated, but over time I just decided to move on. Being happy helped me fit in with my new friends, and forgiveness is the best way to break a cycle.

A few weeks ago Perfect Strangers came up in conversation, and later that night I found myself on YouTube reminiscing about the show. I watched part of the episode where Balki and Larry marry their girlfriends and was severely disappointed to read that Bronson Pinchot had faked Balki’s accent. Before long I found the opening sequence and watched it several times. I remembered almost all of the words, and after my second or third viewing I felt a familiar hunch. Wikipedia and IMDB both told me I was wrong, but I don’t care.

I picked up the phone and called my dad. We talked briefly about the houses he was working on, and then I abruptly changed the subject.

“Hey, do you remember that show Perfect Strangers we used to watch when I was little?”

“Was that the one with Bill Cosby?”

“No, that was called The Cosby Show, and I don’t think we ever watched it.”

“Are you sure that’s the one he was on?”

“Why else would they have called it The Cosby Show? Perfect Strangers was the one with the American and his cousin from somewhere in Greece living together.”

My dad was quiet as he thought. “Oh yeah, I guess I kind of recall that. Why?”

“Well I just wanted you to know that you were wrong, and Larry is definitely the one singing the theme song.”

“What?” Confusion reigned on the other end of the line.

“Well, gotta go, talk to you later, dad!” I hung up before he could say another word.

Tom Connor’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Black & Gold Review, Ars Technica, and Where Y’at, among other places. He lives in San Francisco, and his dog wants to be friends with your dog. Tom tweets as @_TC_, tumbls at ilovefreude.com, and gives live readings all over San Francisco.

“Sock Hat Samurai” by Melissa Wiley

He said, “Hello, Miss Melissa,” after he said, “Goodbye, Miss Ellen,” when I felt my rib cage flatten into a fence because I was just another Miss, his new name for every woman who walked into his coffee shop without a full-grown beard. So as Miss Ellen turned coughing toward the door, I smiled, saying, “Howdy, Mister,” when he told me he’d lost his hat that morning in the snow. So I pretended to cough, a little more like Miss Ellen than perhaps I ought, and told him I was sorry though I was not. Because I thought maybe it was time he lost something too.

He had worn that gray patchworked paperboy a year or more now, and I was glad the wind had picked it off his head. But he loved that hat, he said while scratching his chin, asking what he could do me for. Then wanting to stop this talk of love, of things buried in snow or hiding hair forbidden to touch, I said the time for sock hats was drawing nigh.

“A sock hat, what?” he asked. When I explained it was a swath of cotton fitting like a sock around your head. That a brown or green or ochre one wouldn’t fly off like his other come a sudden torrent. That socks weren’t just for feet anymore. That all good samurai wore them beneath their helmets, the better to warm their ears. That wearing one was the closest to being a samurai you could come filling cardboard cups to the brim. When he laughed, almost a little too loud, because I’m a fairly funny girl. And because we both knew he was never going to wear a sock on his head. That he would return to the same patch of grass where he had lost his other and wait for the snow to melt.

Then he asked, “For real, what can I get you?” So I said a cup of lavender white tea please and a toasted PB&J sliced in fours. But some other Miss Somebodies had eaten all the sandwiches, so I palmed a limey apple with the one hand I’d ungloved then tossed it high in the air as I dared, asking when he was going to start stocking pork chops. Because I may not be hungry enough to eat a horse but I’d give some pony meat a shot. Then I caught the apple with the hand still sheathed within its glove, with tips I’d painted pink where my nails were naked underneath. And he smiled, because he and I both agreed: Apples are a boring fruit falling far and farther from their trees. Apple trees being too long of shorthand for too many Eves with too few fig leaves to be quite real. Apples growing as far deep down in the good brown ground as turnips for all I knew. This one without a stem, just to prove the point.

So I looked around the shop and saw the other Misses and Misters had taken all the seats. When he followed my eyes then said there was an open table in a corner behind the wall. And I nodded, saying, “Okey dokes! That’s the place for me.” Then sat taking a book from my purse I’d rather not have read, because it had an ersatz postage stamp for a cover and stamps are almost as boring as apples.

So I yawned loud as a lion within a sepia savannah and stood to pour some milk in my tea, milk dispersed in three different cartons with three percentages of fat he’d returned to the refrigerator now that the shop was due to close. He asked what kind I wanted when I rolled my eyes back as far as they would go, because he knew I was above that business, that I took everything as straight and whole as it could come. “You’re a farm girl, that’s right,” he said, and I shook my head like, “Don’t you forget it, lover boy.” Though I haven’t been a farm girl for 15 years.

He asked if our farm had had any dairy cows, and I looked at him like, “Sure, I’ll play world’s stupidest question, but just because you’re cute.” But I only said no and coughed again, though I had yet to catch a cold. Then I offered that my dad had felt up his share of Holsteins when he was a boy. And my granddad before him and plenty of dads and granddads before that. All expending heaping portions of their lives with fingers wrapped around teats pink as raspberries with engorgement of blood. Then my dad had sold the poor squeezed dears once his hands got tired, and mine were soft as pillow slips.

“It’s hard on the hands, no joke?” he asked, pouring whole milk into my cup. “You bet it’s hard,” I shot back, though I’ve never milked a cow in my life. “Then 6 am and 6 pm every day of the week. No weekend rendezvous to water parks with slides slippery as birth canals.” When he said, “Really?” Like you could just milk a cow when you pleased and its udders wouldn’t explode with unpasteurized cream. Just the kind of logic you’d expect of a samurai not wearing his sock hat.

So I cocked my hip, a bow poised to make its arrow fire, and clarified: Female mammals produce milk to feed their young, not fill cereal bowls or cool anyone’s coffee or tea. Adding that the whole industry is one antic, Machiavellian maneuver and the cows get very little say. That to keep the trick going you have to milk at 12-hour intervals, no waterslide stops. “A trick, huh?” he said, raising an eyebrow, when I shouted, “It’s all a trick! The biggest one there is,” while bending down to pick up a stray straw rapper and baring some décolletage. Then I stood up sighing, saying he served his tea too hot. And he nodded like, “You’re telling me,” concurring milk took the edge off while pouring a little more than he might.

Seeing the steam rise from my cup in plumes primed to scald a uvula ready to keep wagging, I leaned my elbows on the counter and blew a cool blanket of air over tea cup’s top, saying, “I know I tell you too many stories, more than you want to hear.” When he waved his wrist in a wide, elastic ellipse, saying, “Tell me another, please.”

So I said my dad died in the same bed in the same bedroom with the same peacock walls in which he was born. That he fell unconscious for the last time while I sat squeezing my knees on the rug at his side, confessing I’d pretended to be a psychic chicken at recess when I was 9 years old. That I’d predicted my teacher would die and she was killed in a car crash three months later. Then, starting to bawk as I once was wont during the Pledge of Allegiance, his snore became a chainsaw crank that stopped cranking forever nine hours later.

I said that when my dad lost his hair to chemo, he wore a paperboy hat similar to the one he’d lost this morning. That it looked pretty silly too.

Then I sat down again at my table and pretended to read my book, until the pretending became too hard, even behind a wall without another Miss with another cough to fake. Where there was nothing to stare at except the spider-print wallpaper, which was not much better than drinking tea in a barn with a sheaf of napkins nearby. So I stood and zipped my coat and walked to the counter to say goodbye, with my regrets regarding the chapeau. When he shook his head like an ox under harness, grunting what a darn good hat it was. Saying he could wash it over and over and it never lost its shape. So I asked where he got it, and he said his wife had bought it at Kohl’s. When I thought, “There’s that perfect wife buying that perfect hat from Kohl’s again.” Now eight hours buried in a pile of snow. A little too perfect to be believed. Like his wife was some species of apple. The kind that hasn’t existed since the Garden of Eden, though. The kind that grows on trees, still with stems and all.

So I unzipped my coat and told him ten years ago at Boston Market I gave a woman $20 for a $5 dinner and she’d given me just $5 back. When I asked for the other $10, she crossed her arms into a Celtic knot, saying no way, sister, I couldn’t fool her. Like this was some kind of trick. Like I was just about to milk her and give up waterslides for good. I told him I’d cried myself a little river of volumizing mascara into my cheesy mashed potatoes because it was $10 I couldn’t afford to lose. But standing on a barren corner half an hour later, I watched a $10 bill waft gently within a slightly less gentle eddy of air. Then seeing no one else chasing it, I chased after it myself, pocketing it in an alleyway behind a purple couch propped sideways behind a dumpster with stickers of daisies stuck to its side. And I never ate at Boston Market again.

Then he smiled and said, “Thanks, I needed that story today.” And I waved goodbye, putting shoulder into it until my shoulder popped, thinking I had needed to tell him more. Should he need a certain Miss to think of when he found what he had lost.


Melissa Wiley is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicago flying her sailboat-shaped kite at close haul. Her creative nonfiction appears in Storyacious, Beetroot Journal, Lowestoft Chronicle, Tin House Open Bar, Great Lakes Review, and elsewhere. When not camping out on the Island of Misfit Toys, you can find her hula hooping at the odd surfer-space party.

“The Miller Family Reunion” by Dennis Milam Bensie

A heatwave engulfs the hometown pavilion. You’re uneasy as you park the car. About sixty relatives are already setting up the food on the picnic tables.

This is your new wife’s first Miller family reunion. She sits next to you in the car pensively biting her nails. It’s been a busy few weeks and she’s tired from packing up the apartment. After graduation at the community college, you’re moving to Chicago so you can finish your bachelor’s degree.

“Do I look alright?” she asks.

“You look fine. I like that blouse,” you answer. You know that she likes it when you throw a random compliment at her. She’s not used to compliments.

You make your wife carry her own covered dish to the event. What she made is a bit “white trash”: Twinkies shredded into vanilla pudding with Cool Whip topping. Hopefully nobody notices who brought it and passes judgment. Both of you hope to get through this day without embarrassing yourselves.

“Oh, you’re finally here,” your mom says.

The chit-chat starts. Waves of kin are swarming the picnic like flies.

“Why aren’t you introducing Julia to anyone?” Mom whispers to you.

You don’t answer. It’s glaringly obvious to your Mom that you have absolutely no intention of showing off your new wife. She saves her daughter-in-law from humiliation while you wandered over to the food table. You can’t help noticing the Twinkie dish is already a big hit.

“This is Julia ….Derrick’s new wife,” she says over and over to anyone who will listen.

“Welcome to the family, Julia.”

The day is slow and hum-drum until you see your cousin, Jeremiah, ride into the park on his noisy motorcycle. He made the five hour trip from Chicago to surprise his parents at the Miller family reunion. No one’s seen or heard much of him in the last few years.

Jeremiah’s mom and dad run to greet their leather-clad son at his motorcycle. His parents are overjoyed, but there are gasps from other relatives when he takes off his jacket and reveals he’s got a plethora of tattoos. Even your jaw drop at the sight of his new look. You are the same age, but he’s transformed himself into one of those alternative-types.

There’s mumblings from a few of your hateful uncles.

“He’s not a real biker, if you know what I mean,” Uncle Mic says under his breath. You cringe at his redneck comment.

“This is Julia, Derrick’s new wife,” your mom announces to your Jeremiah. “The happy couple is moving to Chicago in a few weeks.”

Your wife cautiously shakes the biker’s hand.

“I’m sure you will make a lot of new friends in the big city, Derrick,” Jeremiah says with a confident grin. His voice hasn’t changed a bit. He still sounds like the boy next door.

Your cousin has caught you starring at his sexy tattoos. They’re like a messy buffet arranged here and there on his chest, arms and even his neck. You can’t help but notice that some of them are pretty “gay”.

Jeremiah quickly fixes a plate of food for himself. More and more relatives arrive but he sticks closely to his folks and doesn’t mingle. Your wife nervously laughs when she sees a big helping of her Twinkie dessert on his plate.

Aunt Winnie, the obnoxious one, blows a whistle and the Miller family shift their focus to the far end of the pavilion for some boring family presentation complete with a podium and enlarged photos. You make your way to the park restroom and have a quick, secret smoke. Jeremiah’s the one who taught you to smoke back in middle school and you hope he will follow you there so you two can talk privately. Sadly, he isn’t following you.

Making your way back to the family, you notice that Jeremiah and his bike are gone. You’re disappointed and you take a spot in the back corner of the pavilion by yourself. Your wife’s sitting near the front of the crowd with your parents. She has no idea that you are not taking her with you to Chicago. This is definitely the only Miller family reunion she will ever attend. It may be your last one, too.

You notice that Jeremiah has left already. The rest of the family sits for over an hour in the hot park shelter and share happy memories. But nobody talks about how Aunt Lucy is a drunk, or how Bobby beats his wife and kids. Everyone knows that Grandpa almost divorced Grandma back in the early 1970’s but nothing like that is being said.

You still love the crazy relatives, but wish that someone had the guts to acknowledge that you, Jeremiah and your Aunt Linda are all gay. Everyone already knows the truth. It would mean a lot if someone spoke up at the family tribute and proclaimed that the three of you are all smart and worthy people. You’re just as good as anyone else in the family despite your sexuality.

Getting out of your parents house and marrying a woman seemed like the right thing a year ago. You didn’t know then what you’ve know now. The next step is to get a divorce and finish college so you can follow your dream in a tolerant city. You know you can’t be happy married to a woman and living in this small town. Hopefully your wife will forgive you someday.

After the family tribute is over, your mom puts a small piece of paper in your hand. There’s a phone number and email address on it.

“Jeremiah had to leave early, but he wanted me to give this to you. He said to be sure and let him know when you get to town and he can help you and Julia get acquainted with Chicago,” she says.

“Thanks, Mom. I’ll be sure to call him,” you tell her and put the piece of paper in your pocket.


Dennis Milam Bensie’s first book,  Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011″. The author’s short stories have been published by The Ink and Code, Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction, The Round Up, Fuck Fiction, Cease Cows, and This Zine Will Change Your Life and his essays have been seen in The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. One Gay American is his second book with Coffeetown Press, which was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.

“On the Shore of the Great Salt Plains Lake Near Jet, Oklahoma” by Nathan Knapp

The couple arrives at the mostly empty campground in the afternoon, when it is already blazing hot. The earth above them is a white-hot blue blaze, and the sky is nearly white. Barefoot, they climb out of their car through the high grown weeds and ragweed and walk down to the water, clutching towels and wishing they’d brought sunscreen.

At the water’s edge they see salt flies flitting in and over the surface. The water looks heavy. The young man puts his toes in, then plunges his foot deep into the sandy floor—as his foot sinks the water explodes with skittering bugs.

I’m not swimming here, says the young woman.

You’re not swimming, says the young man.

That’s right.

The young man proposes that they walk further down the beach, past the campsites. He has a motive. The woman knows this.

She walks behind him, the sand cooking her feet, and smiles.

She didn’t bring a swimsuit anyway.


In the woods beyond the shore, a boy is hunting through the brush, a .22 rifle in his hand. He is looking for birds and trying to work up the courage to shoot one. He’s killed a bird before—a wood thrush blown not so completely apart that he still regretted the destruction of its soft, still-warm underbelly.

He wants to be able to tell his father when he gets home from work—I killed a bird today! And to not have to lie when he does it. As he steps past the green briar and the tall, razor-sharp sand grass, though, he knows he won’t be able to pull the trigger at any living thing. Especially a bird.

A slight breeze brings slight relief from the heat and a taste of the saltwater lapping against the hard sand. He’s been here many times. Though he has no desire to kill a bird, he loves this place, this lonely beach at the edge of this lonely lake too shallow for boats and too lifeless to attract fishermen. He loves the sand bugs and the sharp edges of the sand grass. Especially he loves the deep shade beneath the willow trees, and the sound of the cicadas’ music in the sun.


The Jet, Oklahoma Recreational Area is marked by a rusted sign with bullet holes in it at one end of a dirt road off a desolate highway. The Rec Area itself, half a mile or so down this dirt road, is not exactly awash with tourists, although this is the only salt lake in the state (though, the young man will discover later, to his disappointment, man-made) and one of the only land-locked saline lakes on the entire continent.

As he climbs over a rock outcropping that juts into the water, the young man observes the next stretch of beach is just as abandoned as the one that he and his girlfriend have just traversed.

He grins and throws down his towel on the sand. The girlfriend lays hers down beside his and sits down. For awhile neither speaks, and they watch the gentle lifeless waves approach and fade, approach and fade.

It’s amazing how wide it is, says the woman. And it’s true: the trees on the other side of the lake are tiny green specks, and nothing more. The young man agrees with her. A trickle of sweat slides down his back. It feels good.

You could probably go naked here and no one would notice, he says, although this is unnecessary.

She doesn’t need to be convinced.


A male cardinal in his cross-airs, the boy ticks off the safety and wills himself to pull the trigger. The bird, perched on the edge of a blackjack branch, is perfect. In the scope he sees its crimson throat, watches it vibrate as it calls.

The boy lowers the rifle, hunts the ground for a rock. Can’t do it. He finds a good smooth stone and pitches it at the bird. He misses, of course. He’s as half-hearted at baseball—his father’s sport—as he is at killing birds.


She strips off her top. The breeze tickles her bare sunlit breasts, clammy with sweat as they are. For him, she wriggles out of her white cotton skirt—slowly—so slowly—pushing it down over her hips, bending down and letting it fall in a delicate collapse of fabric on the towel below.

There is a burning between her legs that is very different from the burning heat reflecting off the placid surface of the lake.

What’re you waiting on, she says. This was your idea.

He is always less eager to take off his clothes—he likes to watch.

Come on, she says.

He smiles, embarrassed now, and looks back up the beach, in the direction they came from. Still no one there. They’ve got the whole vertical expanse of the sand to themselves, and the vaster span of the lake beyond.

Off comes his shirt, and then, looking around once more, hesitant, his jeans. She can see his penis pushing against his boxer-briefs, a pleasurable bulge, and she knows he’s self-conscious to be already hard.

All of it, off! she says, and off comes his underwear. His penis flops out awkwardly, at a ninety-degree angle from his body.

He loves her for this, this urging, although it takes him a moment longer to lose the self-consciousness that comes with being naked outside, naked for the whole goddamn outdoors to see, and lies back on the towel facing the lake.

She kneels, and takes his penis between her lips, and gives it a small lick. Hi, she says.

The breeze feels good on her back, between her legs. For a moment, even the murky, lifeless water behind lets off a pure, salty scent with no traces of its sick saline lifelessness.


Through a break in the brush the boy sees the couple through the willow leaves. Stopped in his tracks, he feels his chest go cold, the same way it does when Jenny Mather in third grade looks at him for more than half a second.

He’s never seen anything like this, never even seen his mother naked. He saw some pictures on a friend’s computer late one night, once, but that’s it, and those pictures horrified him. What he had imagined to be a holy act—something that was, at the very least, serious—was made crude, animal, gross.

This, though, seems different, and he’s transfixed.

He doesn’t realize what he’s doing when he drops into the sand grass and levels the rifle at them.


She looks at him the way she does when her jaw is tired from giving head. In me, she says. Get in me.

He gets on his knees and tells her to turn around, which she does, facing the lake, her hands in the sand and her knees on the towel. Waiting for the warmth of him to enter her.

She tells him, again, to put it in. He does. In and out of her, never fully coming out, slowly at first, getting faster, like she knows he knows she wants him to.


The boy can see the whole thing through the scope. A wild beats in his chest, and he realizes he has an erection, too. Absurdly, at the same moment, he remembers his father’s admonition never to point a firearm at a person, but he does not lower the weapon. He imagines firing the firing at the couple. A shudder works its way through his belly. The thought is horrifying, and he watches the strange animal motion of the man, the increasing speed and violence of his thrusts, the woman’s breasts swaying back and forth, and the boy is suddenly thinking, those are tits, those are tits, those are tits.


The young man finishes faster than he means to, before the woman moans in the way that means she is getting laid, but he can’t help coming early—not here, in broad daylight, where the surface of the lake stretches so far he can barely see the other side. Still, he savors the last strokes as he comes, and comes, and comes, and slides out of her, and lays back on the towel, elbows in the sand, still hard.

Good idea, he says.

The woman pulls the towel up around her groin, wishes that he had pulled out. The reason for this desire, she tells herself, is because semen will be oozing out of her for the rest of the day, all the way on the two hour drive back home, and because she doesn’t want to get sand in her vagina from the towel. But there is another reason. A reason she secrets—or tries to secret—even from herself. She says nothing about this, a powerful feeling of nakedness floods over her, and she slides back on her shirt.


Already, she says, and pulls the cotton skirt back over her sandy knees, over her hips. She grabs her towel and takes off back down the hot sand toward the car, leaving the young man to dress, alone.

On the drive home the couple will argue over something that the woman said, or didn’t say—neither of them will be able to remember in the end. They will drive through the heat and the new corn growing in rows all the way to Enid. Their yells will fade as they turn eastward toward home.

And then, in the silence that persists in the space between them, both will wish to be back on the shore of the salt lake, unthinking, all-body.


When the boy emerges from the brush and crosses the expanse of wheat that borders his family’s yard and every other yard at the edge of town, he’ll open the back screen door, and avert his eyes from his mother’s, not knowing why he can’t meet her unsuspicious gaze. He’ll feel like the whole world is giving him a stern look.

Still later the boy will lock himself in the bathroom, climb into the shower, and, under the water, as he closes his eyes, he’ll take his own hairless manhood in his hand, and expel his own white-gray shot onto the shower wall.

Then, he will pray Dear God for forgiveness. A feeling he’s wholly unfamiliar with will well up his chest, and he’ll help set the table for dinner.


Nathan Knapp’s writing is forthcoming from or has appeared in Parcel, Frequencies, The McNeese Review, Sundog Lit, jmww, and other publications. He edits The Collapsar and lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma. 

“Pear” by Coop Lee

somehow all neighborhood tribes & tribe lords love you.
somehow you beat my score on the nickelcade spaced invaders.

we leap fences
in escape of party befouled
cops. crusaders
of mustache & veiny hate.

you rip your jeans
& lose your artifacts in the creek. into
convenience store warm lights
& makeout mixtapes.

“Dear Shirley” by Laura Miller

Dear Ideal Shirley (U.S.A. 1973),

What I want to do here is describe the scenery. The problem is—how? Maybe I’ll say that the sky belched shapeless white smears. Or that the sweetgum tree oozed and spat monkey ball fruits, unleashing a cloud of mustard pollen onto the driveway that smelled like pig shit and turpentine. But that wouldn’t necessarily be true. It feels true, though. That day of the garage sale it felt like we were all just pieces of candy corn in a giant nature turd. It was definitely hot.

Maybe I’ll try a simile: The people descended like a swarm of goddamn June bugs, wings clattering and bodies knocking into cardboard boxes and nightstands—setting everything awobble—their morning breath a ghastly fog. That might make it sound more like a hell than a garage sale. But there was that man with the purple shirt and pit stains. And the woman with the exposed midriff. Worst of all, the leathery guy with white cowboy boots mashing out a cigarette butt on the lawn. All this before I’d had a drop of coffee.

What I’m trying to do here is set the tone, you know? Cobble together a quality? What I’m trying to say is that certain events leading up to now have caused me to breech a threshold. I walked into the river, Shirley, and it was cold and my knees raked across the rocks. The world is a heavy, bloated thing with sharp teeth and tentacles, to use a metaphor. And I guess what I mean to say is that some things just don’t seem to matter all that much anymore.

Now it’s your turn. Instead of writing about your butterscotch ringlets or red-velvet polka dots, I think I’ll just ask some questions. How long did you nest in the top drawer of my dresser? Did you feel neglected? Did you harbor an unshakable thirst for transaction? Did my memories make permanent etches in your rubbery skin? Did you think they were yours to keep? What is a doll—Shirley—but a hollow imitation of another hollow thing?

Probably you’re thinking: the old it’s-not-you-it’s-me routine and wondering how it changes the fact that the man with the purple shirt and pit stains gave me five dollars and tucked you under his arm and carried you away. It doesn’t change that. But what I want to say is it’s not just me that’s unstable; it’s the whole damn universe. It’s tornadoes and tapeworms and small thefts and all of us pretending we have a modicum of control…

I guess what I mean to say is maybe you’ll find someone who feels rooted. I guess what I mean to say is so long.

Your friend,


Laura Miller has an MFA from the University of Arizona, is managing editor of Fairy Tale Review, and is co-editor-in-chief of Sonora Review. Miller’s fiction has previously appeared in Necessary Fiction and Spork Press.

A Conversation with Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is in the midst of receiving well-deserved, and long overdue, love for her literary talents: her debut novel, An Untamed State, is already taking its place as one of the best novels of 2014, to say nothing of the building anticipation for her essay collection, Bad Feminist, coming this August.

In our interview with Roxane, she shares her thoughts on the publishing process, how and what it means to explore trauma through literature, her prolificacy, and the boundaries required to straddle the line between the personal and universal in her work.

A personal note, or an explanation as to why I’m writing this introduction: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Roxane twice in person, and we’ve followed each other on Twitter—where I first met her—for four years now. As co-editor of PANK, she gave me the chance to contribute regularly to the magazine’s blog. (Full disclosure—this is also true for our fiction editor, Rion Scott.)

I’ve never asked Roxane to be a mentor to me, despite wanting to do so, but she has, in small ways, become one. Privately, she has offered kind words, stern words, encouraging words to me. She made it safe for me to believe in my work, in my voice. And while I don’t dare overstate my own importance in Roxane’s professional life, I do admit to understating her importance to my literary life this whole time. She helped me believe I can write, that my words matter, that it’s a worthwhile endeavor to publish and encourage the work of others.

Mensah Demary
Editor in chief
Specter Magazine


Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Senior Editor

At what point did you begin identifying as a writer? What is the first time you remember writing and what was it that you wrote?

Roxane Gay

I have identified as a writer as long as I can remember. I wrote my first stories when I was four years old or so, and would draw little villages on napkins and then write stories about the people in those villages.


And with that could you talk about your arc and growth as a writer — how is 2014 Roxane Gay the writer different than Roxane Gay the writer of 2000?


As a writer, the substance of what I write has remained consistent but I’m far less melodramatic with my stories and essays now. I’m far more willing to expose my own flaws and failings. I’m a better editor of myself. I’m more humble, I hope, and I certainly understand my small place in the world, and how to write from that place, far more effectively.


You write fiction and non-fiction. What’s your first love?


Fiction is my first love. I will always be, and willingly so, beholden to the power of a story.


The breadth of your writing is intimidating. When I was doing research for this interview, I toggled between reading your tumblr posts and the over 100 stories and essays. How do you manage to produce so much material?


I live in the middle of nowhere, I suffer from insomnia, I am ferociously ambitious, I don’t have children yet, I have a lot on my mind, I write fast.


What does your writing process look like? What anxieties do you have as a writer? Do you seek to resolve these anxieties or do they become part of your process?


I don’t have a process that would be recognizable as a process. I spend a lot of time thinking and working through a story or essay in my head. I do a lot of my drafting through thought. By the time I sit down to work on a given piece, the words are generally there as I need them to be. I am constantly plagued by the anxiety that I am not good enough. It’s really… hard to get past at times. I’m sure part of why I write so much is to overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy.


How has being an editor at several publications simultaneously, as well as being a professor, influenced your writing craft?


Teaching and editing always expose me to new ways of writing and thinking. As a teacher, I have to keep my game on point so I’m of good service to my students and frankly, they teach me quite a lot as well. I find them very inspiring and that only helps fuel my creative work.


As a professor, what has been your most enjoyable text to teach and why?


I love teaching Matt Bell’s “An Index of How Our Family Was Killed.” I use it in my beginning fiction workshop to introduce students to the possibilities of narrative and form. Whether students appreciate the text or not, they always have something to say about it.


How much of your own writing do you feel is explicitly pedagogical?


I don’t know if my work is explicitly pedagogical, I’m too close to it, but I do know my writing is taught a lot and that’s both flattering and intimidating.


As a professor of writing, do you feel the formal training in the craft is necessary? Or maybe a better question: in what ways have you seen writers nurture their craft outside traditional classroom?


I don’t. There are so many ways to become a writer and there is ample evidence of writers who have flourished without a formal writing education. I firmly believe in the value of education, not because you receive some kind of anointment with a degree but because of, in the best of circumstances, the diversity of perspectives and aesthetics you are exposed to.

Being able to disclose your truth on your own terms is an important space of agency. I am curious about how a writer takes that right back after it’s been taken from them.

The first step is to believe you have the right to dictate your own terms and that is, admittedly, the most difficult step.


You mentioned in other interviews that grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, visited Haiti, the home of your parents, and moved around a lot. You now live in rural Illinois. How does moving affect how you make sense of home and belonging?

In Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, he writes about how writers, like cartographers, lead readers through terrains and means to mapping blank space and the blank page.

In what way do you see yourself as a cartographer and what are you mapping? If you see yourself as a cartographer of sorts, where are you leading the reader or even what space are you creating for your readers to explore?


Moving so much has always made me long to truly find home and I certainly hope that happens for me someday. For now, as cheesy as it may be, I feel a sense of home when I am with my family and/or closest friends and in that regard, I am lucky to have a home not bound strictly to place.

I tend to believe all writers are cartographers and we are mapping human experiences. I tend to focus on mapping women’s experiences as well as mapping trauma and its effects. In doing so, I hope I am leading the reader, and myself, into places of greater empathy.


Knowing that you want to lead the reader to greater empathy, what do you consider as you are crafting the style and content of your writing?


I try to think about multiple points of view. I try to imagine how those with whom I disagree see the issues I write about. I try to respect those opposing viewpoints and consider how I might persuade them.


I am drawn to one story in Ayiti, “In the Manner of Water or Light” where you write,

“Everything I know about my family’s history, I know in fragments. We are the keepers of secrets. We are secrets ourselves. We try to protect ourselves from the geography of so much sorrow” and “The ugly details are trapped between the fragments of our family history. We are secrets ourselves.”

What role do fragments, family histories and official histories figure into your work?


Not as much as you might think.

When I’m writing fiction, I am certainly drawing from experience and observation, but I am telling fictional stories. My parents are actually not terribly talkative about their family histories. It is only in the past few years that they’ve started divulging more about their lives in Haiti. They are private people and I respect that.


Speaking of privacy, on your Tumblr, you wrote about how you are slowly letting your family into your writing world. What was your original hesitancy about your family reading your work? What prompted you to let your family in, even if cautiously?


My family is private. I am private. So often, my writing is just… a non-issue. They have other things they prefer to talk about, like my nephew and nieces, family gossip, etc. My writing is also where I am most vulnerable so some of it is, certainly, self-protection.


After reading The Danger of Disclosure, I am hoping you can share about how you deal with your reader’s sense of entitlement to know more about you as well as why you continue to disclose despite the danger you perceive?


I am getting much better about having and upholding my boundaries when it comes to intrusive strangers. I just don’t engage with unwelcome intrusions into my personal life. I continue to disclose because I get to do so on my terms and because I have things to say.


In your essay What We Hunger For, you wrote,

“Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.”

What power is there in remembering, and is there any power in forgetting?


In remembering, I allow myself acknowledgment that these things happened. They shaped parts of me. All too often, we don’t allow ourselves these kinds of acknowledgments and I find it so freeing to do so. In forgetting, though, I do think there is also a freedom to move on. I sometimes wish I could forget but I wouldn’t want to pay such a price.


As a kid, what stories in particular allowed you to lose yourself?


I loved stories about people who were nothing like me. I read lots of adventure stories, particularly set on the wagon trail. I was fairly obsessed with Little House on the Prairie, Sweet Valley High, the books of Judy Blume.


2014 is a big year for you: your debut novel, An Untamed State, is out now by Grove/Atlantic; your essay collection, Bad Feminist, will be published by Harper Perennial later this year. Can you talk a bit about the premise for both texts?


An Untamed State is a novel about privilege, family, betrayal, and class. Mireille Duval is visiting her parents in Port au Prince with her husband and young son when a man, who goes by “The Commander,” kidnaps her. She is held hostage for thirteen days because her father, a construction magnate, is unwilling to pay the ransom, on principle.

As you might imagine, bad things happen during the time she is held and when she is released, she has to make sense of the Haiti she thought she knew and the father she thought she knew. She has to be a wife and a mother even though she is a completely different person and doesn’t know if she will find her way back to herself.

Bad Feminist is an essay collection, pulling together a lot of my writing on race, popular culture, gender, politics, and feminism. I have opinions and, I have learned, I am not afraid to share them.


In your “Year in Reading” article for The Millions, you wrote in reference to Alissa Nutting’s Tampa, “The writing was so deliberate and satisfying, and I love when a writer fully commits to a premise.” To what extent do you feel your two upcoming books fully commit to your premise?


In both books, I commit passionately to the premise. In Bad Feminist, I have convictions and I try to articulate them with nuance. I hope sometimes I succeed in that. With An Untamed State, I really commit to exploring violence, trauma, and place. The writing is dark and explicit and at times, I made myself sick with the writing but I also knew that this was how Mireille’s story needed to be written. I could not be more committed.


When writing into a dark place like you did with elements of An Untamed State, how do you write effectively while also not reliving that trauma? Or must you relive a flicker of a trauma to write?


I did have to relive some of that trauma and imagine what it would be like in Mireille’s situation. It was hard, but it was the only way for me to write this novel the way it needed to be written.


And when the trauma is not fully yours — an inherited trauma of family or national history or trauma completely outside of you — how do you research to create nuance and empathy in your writing?


This is a great question. I try to read as much as I can about the circumstances that have given rise to inherited trauma. I listen to people’s stories. I respect their privacy and take only what I respectfully can to include in my own writing.


I asked Kiese Laymon a similar question: from your own experiences publishing these books, what have been the most challenging and most gratifying parts of the process? In what ways has the publishing industry worked to limit the scope of which voices are heard, and has the industry widened space for more voices?


Honestly, the editing process at both Grove and Harper has been outstanding. I heard all these horror stories about “big publishing,” and as of yet, they have been untrue. I don’t doubt those stories but I’ve been lucky. Both of my books have been really well-edited. Amy Hundley, who edited my novel, really worked with me to keep the story true to how I wanted to tell it. She has been so fierce but gentle with my words. At Harper, Maya Ziv has become, like Amy, a dear friend and confidant. She is always showing me how the essays can become better, more intellectually rigorous, and for that I am grateful. The challenging part of the process is how slow publishing moves. It’s kind of excruciating to someone who loves instant gratification, as I do.

Your second set of questions speaks to very big problems in publishing. Broadly speaking, publishing is a deeply capitalistic endeavor, not terribly willing to take chances. For whatever reason, the industry has decided that they won’t take chances on writers of color, save for an anointed few. They seem to believe that writers of color, queer writers, transgender writers, don’t have or can’t build audiences, and that’s a shame because this fear is keeping so many amazing writers from bringing their work to the audiences they deserve.

That said, some folks do get it. In addition to my publishers, who have been so supportive, Riverhead has a really fascinating and diverse roster of writers. Coffee House Press and Graywolf also do. These are smaller imprints at big presses who are independent publishers, so that means something too. Smaller organizations are more agile and can respond to change with far more dexterity than some of the behemoths. I also think that we have a lot of people now who are making it clear that a change needs to come. People are counting and pointing out the glaring, completely avoidable disparities. I am trying to remain optimistic.


Your optimism around the shifting landscape of publishing is a similar optimism around the possibilities of erotica. As I read your review of the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, I wondered if there is a such thing as writing feminist erotica and if so what does it look like?


I don’t know if there’s such a thing as feminist erotica because ask three feminists and you’ll get three different definitions of what feminist erotica should look like. There is erotica that treats women as sentient beings capable of critical thinking, women who, whether dominant, submissive, or in between, are empowered in their choices as they seek to satisfy sexual desires. There’s also erotica that treats women as mindless objects who exist for male pleasure. For me, feminist erotica looks like the former.


You are unapologetic about your affinity for pop culture. Your Twitter is full of witty commentary and many of your pieces on Salon (as well as in other publications) draw our attention to the nuances of pop culture. Can you talk about how pop culture figures into your work as well as the distinction between culture and pop culture?


I don’t find the distinction between pop culture and culture particularly useful because it’s all about the kinds of texts we produce and consume, and some have more gravity than others, but they are cultural texts worth talking about in one way or another. Pop culture figures into my work because I live in the world and I don’t want to turn my back of any of that experience.


What was your favorite pop culture happening of 2013?


My favorite pop culture happening was seeing people lose their minds over “twerking.” It was absurd.


Let’s play a game of interview tag. Which writer should I interview next and what are two questions I should absolutely ask?


You should interview Samantha Irby. You could ask her anything and the answer would be interesting. I’d be curious to know how she keeps her head up with all the stuff she deals with and I’m very curious to know what she’s working on because I loved her first book, Meaty, so very much.


You’ve written a lot but I am curious about what we have not heard from you. In Kevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, he provides a “brief taxonomy” of three types of shadow books — “a book that we don’t have, but know of that may haunt the very book we have in our hands.” He describes the unwritten book, the removed book and the lost book. What’s your shadow book?


My shadow book would be the unwritten book, one that chronicles my late teens and early twenties. So much of who I am now began during those troubled years.


Who are some of your favorite authors?


My favorite writers include Edith Wharton, Michael Chabon, Randa Jarrar, Catherine Chung, Saeed Jones, Ashley Ford, Carrie Murphy, and xTx.


One question I’ve noticed about your interviews is that you like to ask your interviewees, “What do you like about your writing?” so I want to ask you the same thing. What do you like about your writing?


I like when my writing makes people feel things, even when those feelings are uncomfortable.


You wrote that you want the reader to sit with uncomfortable feelings after reading your work. What is gained for both you and the reader in asking the reader to enter a place of discomfort?


Wanting to make the reader feel isn’t about me gaining anything, but it is about honoring the story I am trying to tell. In An Untamed State, in particular, I don’t think the story can or should be read dispassionately.

Artwork by Kalen Na’il Roach

Born in 1992, Kalen Na’il Roach is an artist/photographer living and working in Maryland, USA. He graduated with his B.F.A. in Creative Photography from St. John’s University in 2014 and is an alumnus of the International Center of Photography’s One-Year General Studies Program. Using photography, drawing, painting, video, and installation he is interested the idea of surface and how that relates to things such as everyday life, systems, relationships, and family archive. He is actively questioning these surfaces around him (physical, metaphorical, illusionary, etc.) and is interested to see how much can be extracted from them.

Two Poems by Cortney Lamar Charleston

“I Have Been a Stranger in a Strange Land”

after Rita Dove and not


And I forgot to rub in the cocoa butter
before leaving that morning like my
mother instructed me to do every day.

My knees, assimilated to blank paper
as though I genuflected in the ash tray
with all the cigarette butts Ma’ Collins

put out something like six, seven times
in one day, not that I ever really counted,
but what I do count is the large number

of folks who walk by me in the hall without
speaking. And that’s just the teachers. And
they are just kids, and I am just a kid, but a

black kid, with the way they pet my hair
so roughly, is really more like a goat: an
animal. And all of them are animals too,

in the way every human being traces
their roots back to Africa, but with me it is
not the same. It could never be: I didn’t

know rhythm could be put in curriculums
before coming here; I just knew how to
dance already, and besides, nobody was

going to teach anything otherwise about
me outside of a few cold days in February,
and that was just my peoples doing their

best to remember what they had done
their best to forget; ran out the house
without putting on some cocoa butter.




Not even the white pickets I had imagined.
There were no fences here. Where the word

neighbor was an inviting red sweater, still
relevant day-to-day, like saying the pledge

of allegiance or voting Republican; fences,
an electricity only dogs with special collars

knew. And I certainly recognized where my
plot ended, where another’s began, what it

meant to trespass, all the requisite lines drawn
by other means, other averages of expectation.

Status quo: do not disturb without invitation,
because the cops will actually show up, turn

our radio knob left, personally. Nowhere found
as they blast Jackson Browne, light trashcan fires,

forget to invite us over, walk through our yard as
if there was not a fence there, but I know better.

Cortney Lamar Charleston is an emerging poet from the Chicago suburbs, but currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. He is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and its premier performance poetry collective, The Excelano Project. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Lunch Ticket, Bird’s Thumb, Kinfolks Quarterly, Linden Avenue, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, among others.

“Unkept” by Jane Liddle

The Empathy Tree looked like a stunted monkey puzzle crossed with a Norfolk pine, reptilian and confused. Olivia, my sister, turned the potted tree as if it were on display. I thought about how life would be different, better, if my sister were the type who would enjoy going to the Christmas Tree shop or the outlet malls with me every once in a while.

Olivia showed me the tree’s nuts with an excitement of a scientist discovering a new species of bird. She said, “Chosen women have been taking care of this very tree for centuries, generation after generation, waiting for it to bear its nuts. When someone consumes the nuts, it is believed the person experiences a euphoric state best described as emotional hallucination.  But more important, the nuts are said to have healing properties, properties that heal the mind, that put a salve on the psychic wounds of social ills. It is believed the essence of the nut builds empathy, loosens compassion. It is a solution to patriarchal violence, to war, to rape. To greed, mostly. It satisfies. The person is left with a sense of love for all humanity and an increased sensitivity to others, like how LSD can shift consciousness, except the results are permanent.

“Throughout the generations there’s been a keeper of the tree and the keeper kept the tree with a heart full of faith. I’m the keeper for this generation. And the miracle is finally being realized.

“But of course it is a secret. There’s only one tree like this in the world. The others were destroyed long ago because the rulers and capitalists and white men didn’t want a populace happy with themselves and with others. War is a business, and masculine, and the nuts were looked upon as witchcraft that feminized…”

“We’re white.”


“You said white men destroyed the trees out of greed. But we’re white.”

“That’s not really my point. I’m supposed to keep this tree secret from everyone except for a handful of people because it’s unsafe for those who know about it and for the tree.”

“So why you telling me?”

“Because I want you to be the first person to eat a nut.”

She cupped a nut that was hanging from a branch like it was a fragile tree ornament that had been in the family for decades. It had a top like an acorn that was smooth, but the nut itself looked like it was a roughed-up planet. I wasn’t going to eat that.

“You going with me to visit Mom or not?” I asked.


“Fine then.”

That afternoon I went to see Mom in the home. I never liked going there since it felt so much like a hospital, with railings and linoleum everywhere and people talking in phony optimistic tones. It was a gloomy dead end, but also a solution that we could afford. Mom was having a good day and recognized me. I told her all about my sister’s tree and how she said it would save the world and Mom said that feminists ruined the world and we had a good laugh about that. One of my mom’s buddies approached us in the dining room and said how nice it was to see me. I said it was nice to see her, and I meant it. Dottie always had a perfect face on and a compliment to give. She complimented my hair, which I recently had streaked. I told her I liked her bead necklace. Then the curtain drew over my mom’s eyes and she started getting nasty with me, thinking I was one of her old friends from high school who had stolen some boyfriend of hers. She told me I would always be flat-chested. That’s how I knew she didn’t realize I was me. I took her to her room and wrapped the scarf my sister had knit her, the one with embroidered deer along the edges. Deer are my mom’s favorite animal, but of course she’s never had a garden.

I garden as a hobby. I have a vegetable garden, but I also have rose bushes.

Olivia is a botanist. And a horticulturalist. That’s two different degrees.

And if those two degrees weren’t enough, now she’s playing Jackie and the beanstalk, raising a magical tree.

I thought about it some more. Even if there were a magical tree, why would she be chosen to keep it? I’ve seen her walk into more glass doors than I could count. The whole scenario rank of Big Foot. I couldn’t tell if my sister was playing a joke on me or if someone was playing a joke on her.

A few days later I was raking leaves in my backyard. Well, more like raking branches since my neighbor had a willow that shed on my side of the property. But to be fair there were a lot of leaves from my elms too, and from afar the ground of my backyard looked like it was covered in sunflower petals. I stored the branches and leaves in black lawn bags and placed them way back by the property border next to a stone fire pit for burning that weekend. My neighbor’s kids eyed me wishfully, though they knew better than to ask if they could jump in the leaf piles. I didn’t let any neighbors on my property because I didn’t want to get sued in case someone got hurt. This was when Olivia called me. She said, “The nuts are changing color so fast now, I think they’ll be ready much sooner than I expected. And it’s so strange because I feel like the smell of the plant is changing too. It used to be just pine smelling, with maybe some cedar, but now there is a distinct nutmeg scent.”

“Maybe the nuts are the secret ingredient in Coke.”

“Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said? This is the only tree.”

Olivia had no sense of humor.

“When the nuts are ready I’d like you to come over and meet some of the other people I’ve been working with…”

“I haven’t agreed to any nut eating. I’m not a guinea pig, I’m a person and I don’t do drugs or eat poisonous nuts.” It’s true. I don’t drink either, not even the blood of Christ.

“I’m giving you an opportunity to be part of a revolutionary and amazing moment in the history of personkind. Literally amazing. We can do it together.”

“Why do you want me to eat a nut anyway?”

Olivia was silent for a few moments too long. That meant she was going to say something rude but in a sly way so I wouldn’t notice.

“I just feel like…you could benefit to connect with the world in a new beautiful way.”

“There’s nothing wrong with how I connect with the world.”

“I didn’t say there was. This could just be a new way, it’s not right or wrong.”

I didn’t say anything back to that because I knew that if she thought my way of “connecting to the world” was right than she wouldn’t be suggesting I needed a new way. It’s like how when me and Mom used to ask Olivia to go on walks and hikes with us for family outings when really we just thought she was getting too fat. People don’t just suggest stuff because they think everything is fine. I was just about to tell Olivia where exactly in her body she could shove those nuts when she asked, “How’s Nancy?”

“Well, you’ll be happy to know that her claws grew back.”

“I thought declawing a cat was a permanent procedure.”
“It is permanent. You’re not the only one witnessing miracles.”

That Saturday was Mom’s birthday. She was turning ninety. She had me and Olivia when she was forty-three and forty-four respectively, both accidents. She never sweetened the retelling with “happy” before “accidents.” She was confused by her luck, to have built a life around not having children, then to be burdened with two right when all her friends were ready to party again.

But she was a fair mom. Olivia disagreed.

I met Olivia in the parking lot of the home. The air had a fresh crispness to it, like raw celery, and there was a chimney smell from far off. Olivia had straightened her hair and wore it down and it looked pretty. I said, “I bet you’re gonna put your hair in a ponytail within five minutes.” Olivia gave me a strange look, took a deep breath, and said, “Are you ready?”

“Yeah.” I said it like it wasn’t a big deal, because it wasn’t.

Olivia got Mom a bathrobe. It was cashmere, but she was able to get a great deal on it from one of those overstock websites. I told her I doubted it was real cashmere. She said that technology had made cashmere cheaper than ever before so it was no longer only attainable for the rich. She quoted an article saying so.

I gave Mom an iPod already filled with Frank Sinatra and Kenny Loggins. She got the hang of the iPod quickly and sat on her bed with a big smile. This meant that she had the headphones on for the rest of our visit, not even removing them to eat the cupcakes I had brought (carrot cupcakes made with carrots I grew in my own garden). Olivia said something about why bother being there if Mom was just going to listen to her headphones. I pretended not to hear her.

As we were leaving Olivia invited me over to her place the next day for brunch. She said she needed some advice on her cauliflower. I admit I was too flattered by the fact she was coming to me for advice to recognize it was a trap.

Olivia’s house was only ten minutes from mine in the Catskills. Her house was a farmhouse from the early 1900s that always had a room in need of remodeling. My home was a 1970s bungalow that suited me fine.

When I got to her house she led me to the kitchen where two other women were sitting. They sat around that stupid tree like it was a sleeping newborn. Olivia introduced one of the women as Ronnie, who had her hair done in braids. The other woman was named Wind and she had her hair in braids too. I smirked at Wind’s name and I could tell Olivia tried not to roll her eyes at me. I noticed my sister had her hair done in a French braid. Wind said, “Nice to meet you, Sofie,” and Ronnie just nodded.

“The nuts are ready,” Olivia said. “And it would mean so much to me if you tried one.” There were six nuts in a medium-sized Pyrex bowl, the mint green one, next to the tree.

“Where’s this tree from anyway?” I asked.

“Mexico,” Ronnie said.

“I’m not eating any strange nuts from Mexico.”

Wind said, “This tree was born in Mexico but it also lived in Arizona, North Carolina, West Virginia, and now here. Native women and rebels have cared for it all this time and all for this moment. Today is a beautiful day.”

I found it strange to refer to a tree as being born. “Then why don’t you eat it?”

“We don’t need…”

Olivia interrupted Ronnie. “I’ll eat it with you.”

“You eat it first.”

“They have to be boiled,” Wind said. “Until a single crack appears down the middle. Then the cap can be pried off easily. Inside will be a substance the consistency of warm chocolate and the color of dark moss.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Oral history. We have an obligation to pass on this information as detailed as possible.”
Olivia already had the water boiling and dropped two nuts into the pot where she stood and watched. Ronnie joined her at the stove and put her hand on Olivia’s back. I wondered if they were lovers. Olivia never talked about her love life with me, always saying it was none of my business. But being a lesbian made more sense than not being anything.

I heard two popping sounds like popcorn kernels catching heat and Olivia spooned the nuts out of the pot and put them in a strainer.

Everyone was quiet. I said to Olivia, “Well, go on now.” I admit I was interested to see what, if anything, would happen to her.

She flicked the top part off the nut like it was a pen cap and stuck her pinky in, spooned out whatever was inside. “What does it taste like?” Wind asked right as Olivia put her finger in her mouth. Olivia smiled, closed her eyes as if she were eating something decadent. “Like Christmas.” Ronnie gasped. Olivia opened her eyes and looked at Ronnie, said, “I love you,” looked at Wind, said, “I love you,” looked at me, said, “I love you. I’m so sorry your mind goes dark like Mom’s.”

I didn’t know or care to know what she was talking about. I didn’t have dementia. But the smug looks on those two women’s faces combined with the pathetic needy expression on my sister’s as she held the second nut out to me made me hate everyone in that room. They acted like they knew more than everyone else when all they did was believe in an old myth.

I said, “Is that a coyote?” and pointed out the window. Olivia asked, “Where?” I picked up the tree, heavier than I thought it would be, and ran out the house. I heard Wind scream, “No!” like I had kidnapped her child. I threw the tree into my car and sped off, all three women chasing after me on foot, their long dresses picking up wind like they were young, all too slow-thinking to get into their own car.

When I got home I emptied the bags of leaves and branches into the fire pit, ripped the tree out of its pot, and threw that on the pile. I threw lit matches at all of it. The smoke of the burning leaves and tree smelled spicy like ginger tea, but the smoke was dark. I worried about a breeze carrying the smoke into my neighbor’s yard. I could hear her children playing, laughing. I remembered that there were four more nuts in the Pyrex bowl and wondered if a tree could grow from one. I felt something on my lower back, right in that intimate spot, and turned around to see a young deer nuzzling there.

Jane Liddle grew up in Newburgh, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Wigleaf, Two Serious Ladies, Heavy Feather Review, Thrice Fiction, and elsewhere. She has recently finished a collection of short stories. You can find her at www.liddlejane.tumblr.com or on Twitter @janeriddle.

“Place in the Sun” by Jean-Luc Bouchard

She was the best anesthesiologist in the business for the greater part of her career, earning the title “Ms. Anesthesiologist” five years consecutively and appearing more than once on the front of Wheaties boxes across North America. Her daily outfits sparked style fads in the New York fashion scene, and, at the height of her popularity, her parents were dug from their graves in Queens by order of the Governor and transported to a much nicer cemetery with a view of the Hudson. She had a rent­-controlled apartment in the Upper West Side guarded by a former Secret Service agent as her doorman and maintained by a former NASA engineer as her super. She was, by all accounts and newspaper editorials, the best. Until she was brutally murdered by a mad half­ Pakistani barber, sick of life in post ­9/11 America.

But before that, she was the best. Her office was located very inconveniently on the 89th floor of the Empire State Building; her waiting room had no chairs and her examination room was a permanent 33 degrees fahrenheit. That’s one way I knew she was the bestthe more inconvenient the specialist, the better, I’d been taught. And, more importantly, none of her patients had ever died. That was a fact. There was no need to print the statistic out onto a banner and drape it across the doorway of the office. There was no need for subway ads or magazine clip outs. Among those who were both in need of and could afford her services, it was known.

Her superiority was also demonstrated in the way she treated her patients, absolutely refusing to make arrangements for their travel to the hospital. Once you were out her door, sufficiently unconscious, you were no longer her patient or her responsibility; thus her spotless record. She merely did an expert job of putting you under, no more, and never for a second pretended to offer anything larger than this one service. And after the patient was knocked­ out and slumped against the hall outside her office door, it was up to friends and family to carry him/her into the elevator, down the 89 floors, through the lobby, into the street, into a cab hailed in the madness of Midtown, to the hospital of choice or of closest proximity, and into the operating room, hopefully in time.

She had, of course, lost many ex­-patients. In traffic jams, and botched surgeries, and post-­op infections, and incorrect diagnoses, and blood clots, and bumped heads on taxi cab doors, and the occasional total disappearance, the white slave trade being what it is in Manhattan at certain times of the day.

There was only one documented case of her bothering to escort an ex­patient to the hospital,
and that was herself. Having successfully put herself under while sitting at her own desk, she was speedily transported down the skyscraper by an eager young window washer on his rickety pulley platform, the washer having been promised a date and goodnight peck on the cheek out of the arrangement (to be fulfilled at a later, undisclosed date). Once on the sidewalk, she was whisked down the street via wheelchair, pushed by a NYU student (promised a recommendation letter for medical school), to the subway, where, after being securely settled into a seat wearing a sign around her neck reading “Deliver this women to St. Joseph’s Hospital and receive $5 by mail in 3­6 months,” was promptly swept up onto the shoulders of a cluster of Haitian cousins looking for work, who paraded her out of the tunnel and into the hospital, where she was immediately rushed to ER for the removal of her bursting appendix. (The Haitians were later arrested for not only stealing a hair scrunchy, half a cigarette lighter, and a Snickers wrapper off the sleeping anesthesiologist, but to have actually been Nigerians the entire time.)

The anesthesiologist was beautiful too, so so beautiful, with long dark legs and gently curved calve muscles and tight, trim thighs shaped like cartoon fish heads. Her hair was molded like licorice strips and smelled of cashews. Her eyes were large and complicated and fought for attention with her lips, permanently coated in blazing red lipstick. Her nails were long and bright and expensively manicured and unprofessional and often broke through the thin latex of her sterile work gloves as she played with masks and gases and needles. Her speaking voice was indistinguishable from her singing voice, full of vibrato and unresolved melodramatic tension. She spit in the pots of her plastic office plants when she thought no one was watching.

She never turned away a client because of race, her bestselling biography was sure to mention on the back cover. Ethnicity, yes, but never race. She detested discrimination and made it one of the core causes of her charity work, along with poor restaurant etiquette and nervous laughter in preteen girls. She was presented as a metaphor for honest, hard­working America by both parties’ National Conventions come election year; she neither denied nor confirmed rumors of a one­time threesome with Kissinger and McGovern.

Her laugh was high and nasally, in a good way. When she laughed, she threw her head back and I was rewarded with a rare and sensual view of her throattaut and veiny like a pair of dark panty hose pulled over a wheel of German cheese. She had a habit of touching me lightly on the shoulder as she passed me by on the way to the punch bowl, as though to say, “I’ll be back.” She was superhumanly talented at charades and endearingly abysmal at Pictionary; I often stood over her shoulder as she drew just to breathe in her modest laughter and hasty apologies.

She claimed to read a book a day, though I always assumed it was more like two. She spoke English, French, Spanish, and some Polish, having spent a year abroad in Poland as an undergraduate for no reason whatsoever except that it sounded fun. It did sound fun, hearing her recount stories of long bike rides to run­down school buildings only to learn via a note on the door that the professor had canceled class for the week, or trips to historic WWII sites where she fooled around with her host brother behind crumbling brick walls.

Her clients were many and varied, ranging from nouveau riche shlubs like myself to frontpage celebrities. A New York Daily headline once read “The Woman Who Knocked­Out George Foreman!” over a picture of the boxing champ drooling onto his suit against her office door. A well­known jokester, she would frequently put friends to sleep in public as a prank, making them appear drug­riddled, overworked, or both. She made national news after pulling this prank on friend Jane Dorsmoth, an accountant who worked in a windowless office on the 13th floor of a Garment District building which set ablaze as a result of a malfunctioning sewing machine five floors below. Dorsmoth’s funeral was covered heavily by cable news and attended by tens of thousands; the anesthesiologist herself gave final remarks and a reading from Corinthians 15.

I spoke to the anesthesiologist for the last time during the funeral’s reception, having been both a former patient of the anesthesiologist and a distant cousin of the late Dorsmoth. She patted my forearm and said “What a tragedy,” accompanied by a look from extraordinarily kind half­closed eyes. I agreed that it was. She asked how I was feeling since she last saw me. I said “much better,” which was true; the surgery probably added decades to my life. She was genuinely glad to hear it. She gave a little wink and said she was actually on the lookout for the punch bowl, she was parched, and then caught a glimpse of something and excused herself, walking past me with a brief touch to the shoulder.

Jean-Luc Bouchard is a writer whose short fiction has appeared in Umbrella Factory, Danse Macabre, Eastlit, and 100-Word Story. He is a graduate of Vassar College, where he studied English, Music, and Asian Studies. His work can be found at jeanlucbouchard.com

“La Guajira, Colombia” by Jesse Myner

We stayed at the home of her mother in the pueblo of Villanueva on a dry, sun-baked plain between two ranges of mountains. The trees grew low and wide on the plain and the cattle grazed slowly in the heat. Mototaxistas drove through the dusty streets and it was very hot in the sun and we did not leave the house until evening. Then, in the evening, it was cool and we walked through the streets greeting neighbors and cousins sitting outside the cinderblock houses, and we ate sweet pan de queso and drank jugo de lulo under the great trees of the plaza.

One afternoon the sky went black and it rained. There was much thunder and lightning and the streets of Villanueva ran with muddy water. When the storm passed it was bright again but cool and the people celebrated the rain and sat in chairs outside their homes until the sun went down. Her brother drove us through the pueblo and pointed out the discoteca and the vallenato pavilion and we made plans for Sunday, when he was not working in the coal mine, that we would drink whisky for the entire day. Aguardiente was too expensive. Whisky is preferred in La Guajira, he said. Yes, by God, then we will drink that then.

The next morning a mototaxista delivered her blind grandfather. His eyes were full of cataract and his skin papery and his fingers gnarled by the land. I sat with the old man on the porch and he talked to me of the rivers. His eyes were teary as he talked of the great Magdalena which ran throughout the country. I remembered to him that I had bathed in it once in the Cauca. The Magdalena was a fine river, he said, but there were still finer ones. The white cat rubbed against my leg and purred. The señora called me for a breakfast of yuca arepas and sweet coffee and I excused myself.



That afternoon it was very hot and we sat in the shade of the mango tree and drank chilled whisky. The whisky bottle was in a small metal pail filled with ice and we sat in a circle around it. There was a single shot glass and one of the men would stand and go around the circle pouring out a shot for each of us. Vallenato played loudly from the corner bar and the domino players smacked at the table and argued. It was very hot and after the first bottle the women pulled down green mangos from the branches of the tree and returned with the fruit in wedges and salted for us to eat.

All the men’s names began with ‘Rafael.’ It was a family tradition. There was Rafael-Andres, Rafael-Gregorio, Rafael-Miguel, Rafael-Francisco and two other Rafaels that I did not remember. They worked in the coal mine, working twelve hour shifts day or night four days each week. On their days off they drank whisky. Her father, who was Rafael-Gregorio, was the president of the miner’s syndicate. He drew up his shirt to reveal a revolver tucked in his waistband.

Los Guajiros son gente de la palabra,” he told me. “We are a people of the word.”

Three other Rafaels lifted their shirts to reveal revolvers. It is a necessity, her father explained. There was one attempt against his life and a cousin was assassinated two years before. It was some business related to his position as head of the syndicate.

“The assassin is still unknown,” said the one called Rafael-Andres.

“But we will know him one day,” said the one called Rafael-Miguel.

“Yes, we will. Por Dios, we will,” said the one called Rafael-Francisco and patted his revolver.

A mototaxista pulled up and a cousin I had been told about joined us under the mango tree. He was called Leandro and, true to what I was told, his head was abnormally large. At birth water had collected inside the cranium and swelled his head and stunted the growth of his brain. Leandro was now physically a man but had the mental ability of a small boy. He mumbled with his jaw clenched and he was not allowed the whisky, but he was good natured and even as the others made jokes on him he grinned happily.

We drank whisky under the mango tree all through the afternoon and into the night. When we said goodbye the vallenato had stopped at the corner bar and the domino players had gone home. We drank four bottles of whisky and we were all well drunk and happy and we promised to do it again.



That night in bed we made love carefully, to not disturb her mother. When we were finished a cool breeze blew in through the window. The cool breeze felt lovely.

Negro,” she whispered. “I want to make a home for us.”

I was looking at the door and the wooden cross that hung above it.

“In two years, cielo. I want to make our baby.”

“In two years?”

“In two years I finish the dentistry classes. Amor, I want to make a home for us in La Guajira.”

She pulled me close and kissed me. “But your heart is still of stone.” She kissed me again and put her head on my chest.

“What will be his name?” I said finally.

“Our baby is a boy?” She was smiling.


“What name do you like?”

“What is strong?”

Me gusta Geronimo.”

“In my country Geronimo was a great Indian warrior.”

“Do you like it?”

Es raro y fuerte. It is both rare and strong.”

“Do you like it?”

“Very much.”

Geronimo será un Guajiro, un hombre de verdad de verdad. He will have fear of nobody and nothing, nor death even.”

“You will be a very fine mother to him.”

En serio, amor? In seriousness, do you mean it?”

“In seriousness.”

Vas a ver, mi vida. Women of the Guajira are hogareñas. We cook and we clean. We keep a perfect home and we are the best mothers. For this all Paisas and Rolos want us.”

She pulled me closer.

“I will be like a lion to protect our home and our family. Neither the envidiosas, nor the bochinche, nor nothing will harm us, not ever. Te amo, negro. Te amo muchisimo. Con todo mi corazón, te amo.”



It was dark and very early when we left for the sea. We drove through Valledupar in darkness and passed the coal mine and then as the sky lightened the mountains appeared as a high black silhouette. With the morning sun came the first heat of the day and the road continued across dusty pastureland and sun-baked scrub and then, following along a river, it was green and lush and below the road were rice patties. We left the river and climbed a low pass into wooded country and through a village and dropping into the next valley the road was broken and pot-holed and her brother swerved and braked and it was very rough driving.

Passing us were convoys of pickup trucks with plastic barrels stacked high on their wagons. Her brother said they were smugglers bringing gasoline into Colombia from Venezuela. They had made their drop and were rushing back for the frontier.

The road forked and turned to dirt and broken asphalt and we entered a pueblo of rundown cinderblock homes. Pimpineros lined the roadside selling gasoline from plastic barrels We stopped opposite an abandoned service station and her brother negotiated for gasoline with a young man. Up ahead a team of men were breaking apart the asphalt with a jackhammer. The jack-hammering was very loud and the air was very dusty and the pueblo smelled strongly of gasoline.

It was late morning when we made the coast at Riohacha. The beaches at the north of the city were empty and said to be polluted and the sea broke in a long gray line along the sand. There were some Arhuaco men selling artisanias on the boardwalk and we stopped and got out to look at the mochilas and jewelry.

The Arhuaco were short and dark and long-haired and they dressed in white tunics and pants and wore a white conical hat called a tutusoma. They did not speak much Spanish other than the prices and they chewed at the coca leaves they held in their cheeks. Each man had a long-necked gourd called a poporo and, as they watched us, each dipped a rod into his gourd, covering the end in a white powder which he put into his mouth. Then they gently rubbed the rod, wet with saliva and powder, along the neck of the gourd.

The youngest of the Arhuaco tried to interest us in his mochilas. The bags were hand-stitched by Arhuaco women and each stitch represented a thought. He wanted too much for the hand knit bags. He refused to negotiate and we did not buy anything.

We left Riohacha and drove east across a long and arid plain. It was afternoon now and very bright and goats wandered the sandy scrub and crossed the road. To the left, through the heat-light, you could just make out the blue of the Caribbean Sea.

We drove another thirty kilometers and turned off onto a single-track road that led back to a Wayúu settlement along the sea. There were five Wayúu caserios and a boy ran out and directed us to park beside a thatch-roofed hutch on the beach.

The white sand was hot and blinding and we sat in the shade of the hutch at a wooden table and we ordered beer from the Wayúu boy. The sea was turquoise and there were fishing skiffs tied off in the deeper water. We were the only ones at the beach. The boy returned with the bottles of beer and we asked about lunch and if they had fish, but he did not know Spanish well enough to understand. We were hungry but the beer was cold and it tasted delicious in the heat.

Following a good five year run as a futures trader, Jesse Myner does what he wants and goes where he wants to. He has lived in Paris, Budapest, Croatia, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami. He currently splits his time between Bogotá and Alaska, where he goes for the salmon run and to hunt caribou with his Inupiat Eskimo friends. He is the author of the story collections Home Depot Profiles In Courage and Slime Line: Adventures In Fish Processing.

“I Didn’t Get The Memo” by Graham Shafer

I didn’t get the memo. Now I’m sitting here at the conference table feeling like a ninny. Dan grabbed me as I was on my way to get some coffee and said, Board room. Pronto. I didn’t even get the coffee. People are filing in. Everyone has a printout of what I assume is the memo. Not me. I’ve just got my fingers laced on top of the table. Again? Jenny says. I’m always forgetting to bring something to write with. It’s a problem. One time I asked Jim if he had an extra pen on him that I could borrow. You’re a lump in this company’s scrotum, you know that? he said. I didn’t really know what he meant so I just kinda laughed. Jim’s a jerk, but everyone likes him. He plays guitar at his desk and gets really mad if anyone else tries to play it. He sings the classics and some originals and sometimes the CEO will stop by and harmonize with him.

I wonder what the memo is about. I bet it’s about how someone keeps leaving pornography in the copiers. Not the originals, just the copies. It’s almost like they’re doing it on purpose. Or it could be about sales. Sales are always an issue. If we have a Fair week instead of a Good or Excellent week everyone freaks out and we have to start a new Project File and work late. Sometimes they’ll order dinner for us if we’ve been working several late nights in a row. That’s nice, isn’t it? But the tuna salad is always the first to go and I usually get stuck with the turkey which I can tell is the loaf kind. I hate turkey loaf. And I won’t even tell you what happens for a Poor week.

More people are coming in and there’re so many that they have to bring extra chairs in. Must be some memo. I try to sneak a look at Jenny’s printout but she catches me and covers it up. There’s a lot of whispering. I catch a couple bits like, Where’s his pen? or Such a doofus. Then I start to think maybe they left me off the memo email on purpose. Maybe Jim sent it out and took my name off the list. I could totally see him doing that just to embarrass me. I don’t play guitar but it would be nice if he asked me if I wanted to hold it and have my picture taken with it or something. Just as a gesture. What if the memo’s about me? Did I mess up a Project File which in turn affected sales negatively? Am I being reprimanded? Fired, even? Someone I’ve never seen before across the room looks at his memo, nudges the guy next to him and points at me. That can’t be good.

The HR person comes in and that’s when I really start to sweat. Not figuratively, like literally. My pits get really wet like they’re crying. Crying for me getting fired, if that’s what’s happening. And my brow too. All of my sweat glands are crying. Jenny notices and says, God, what’s wrong with you? It’s like sixty degrees in here. She’s right. I start to fan myself with my hand, but that only draws more attention to the sweating, which makes me more nervous, which makes me sweat more, so I stop. People are standing against the walls because there are no more chairs. There’s a woman standing behind me so I think maybe if I offer her my seat maybe they’ll see how chivalrous I am and won’t fire me. So, really loud so everyone can hear me, I say, There are no more chairs. You’re standing up and I am sitting down. Would you like sit down? And I motion towards the chair, but since I’m still sitting it looks like I’m asking if she wants to sit on my lap. She tells me to ‘eff off and everyone around us starts shaking their heads.

When is this meeting going to start? I should send out a memo about how it always takes too long for meetings to start. If I still have a job after this one, that is. That probably wouldn’t go over well though. Jim would respond with some witty comment like, Maybe if you worried less about when meetings start and more about sales we wouldn’t have had a Fair week. He’s real witty like that. He drives a really cool car. Way cooler than mine. I don’t even have visors in my car. Somebody stole them in broad daylight. Really wish I’d gotten that memo so I wasn’t sitting here literally sweating it. Maybe I’m freaking out for no reason though. It’s probably just about new Project File protocol or something. Or Spreadsheet Specs. We’ve needed to update the Spreadsheet Specs for God knows how long. Drives me nuts.

OK, here we go. The CEO just came in. He’s walking over to Jim. He’s whispering something in his ear. Jim laughs and looks in my direction. Now the CEO’s at the front of the boardroom. I assume you’ve all read the memo I sent out this morning, he says. Everyone holds up their printout. Everyone except me, of course. The CEO notices and says, What’s the meaning of this? Sir, I didn’t get the memo, I say. He pounds his fist on the conference table and everyone gasps. Jim, the CEO says, lock the door. We’ve got a maverick on our hands. And then I feel all the hands grab at me.

Graham Shafer is a graduate of the University of Kansas. He currently lives and writes in Los Angeles.

“The Ostinato Phrase” by Michael C. Keith

To my ear they had also a peculiar music.

Charlotte Bronte


Fierce March winds roared up Seventh Avenue causing pedestrians to lean forward to keep from being knocked over. Inside the entrance to a parking garage across from fabled Carnegie Hall stood a solitary figure playing a violin. Occasionally, passers-bye would drop a coin into an open instrument case at his feet. The unusually tall and slender musician would nod his approval while continuing to play.

The compositions he offered were his own, and therefore foreign to all those who heard them. Most were improvised and often with curious and unusual results. They were not without merit, but none had been published. Their composer was not interested in material recognition. He was content to play his music and cared little for the trappings of success or fame that might come from his innovations.

Late one afternoon as members of the New York Symphony streamed into the hallowed hall across from the obscure instrumentalist a melody he improvised caught their attention. It was something exceptionally unique and exotic, and it had an immediate and powerful impact on the musicians who heard it. Members of the city’s esteemed orchestra paused and peered in the direction of where the captivating descant originated before moving on through the stage door.

By the time the symphony’s members were tuning their instruments in preparation for that evening’s performance, the extraordinary musical phrase had embedded in their minds, only to manifest itself in the midst of a rendition of Beethoven’s Third Symphony. The intrusion was not spurned by the audience but rather enthusiastically embraced by it. Performed as an encore, it was soon the sole piece of music to fill the grand venue.

Those listening to the performance at home or in their cars were equally enthralled by the repeated musical strain. As the hours passed, the inexplicable effect spread. More and more people fell under the spell of the entrancing chords and were completely immobilized them. Normal activity across the city and nation and soon throughout the larger world ceased as the whole human race become fixated on the arresting notes.

As days became weeks, the only activity occurring on the planet was the mimicking of and listening to the prepossessing divertissement created by the lone Seventh Avenue street minstrel. Everyone had somehow been rendered incapable of engaging in anything else. Routine activities were abandoned. Basic needs were neglected and many people began to grow ill and die. Indeed, and over a far shorter amount of time than might have been expected, the human race perished from the earth . . . but the shard of melody that had caused it played on and on.


Recordings of the narcotizing musical phrase continued to fill the air as the planet was visited by occupants from another world. The benign aliens were responding to the Arecibo message broadcast into space in 1974 and were shocked by what they found upon arriving. The planet’s once dominant life form appeared to have simultaneously expired from some unknown cause. What further confounded the alien travelers was an ever-present sound pouring from an array of still-operating audio devices.

After searching the planet unsuccessfully for extant intelligent life, the foreigners departed to pursue the coordinates conveyed in another communiqué they had received from a different part of the galaxy. It was with great disappointment that the visitors moved on to their next rendezvous, since they had been very keen on making contact with Earth’s indigenous species.

Less than a light year away from the planet, the curious sound the extraterrestrials had encountered suddenly emerged in their own vast brains and took hold of their thoughts, supplanting all others. As had been the case with Earth’s inhabitants, the aliens found they could do nothing but listen as their spacecraft soared toward its next destination.

Michael C. Keith writes fiction and teaches college. www.michaelckeith.com

A Conversation with Daniel José Older


In 2012, Daniel José Older released his first collection of supernatural noir stories, Salsa Nocturna — thirteen interwoven magical stories with a distinctive cadence and rhythm that pull you in for a close dance with a half-dead detective, a portly jazz musician, an ancient collector, among others. Keeping up the momentum of a well-received first collection, in a few weeks, Older will be releasing Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, an anthology of short stories co-edited with Rose Fox that features the work of writers like Tananarive Due, Sofia Samatar, Ken Liu, Victor LaValle, Nnedi Okorafor, and Sabrina Vourvoulias. Committed to centering literary voices and lived experience that are usually footnoted, Older’s non-fiction work published in Salon and BuzzFeed explore a range of issues around agency and visibility.

The Brooklyn-based writer, editor and composer who also has worked ten years as a paramedic, performs with his band Ghost Star and facilitates workshops on storytelling, music, and anti-oppression organizing is currently at work on The Half Resurrection Blues, the first book of the Bone Street Rumba series released by Penguin’s Roc imprint.

In this interview, Older and I discuss music as a structural muse, the writer’s editing graveyard, writing in an authentic spirit, ghosts that conjure up memories and bringing new voices into science fiction literature.

– Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Senior Editor



William Faulkner is known to have said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” What elements of your writing have been difficult but necessary to cut and thoroughly edit? What do you do with the scraps and fragments of your writing that don’t make it into the final piece?



For short stories, my editing process is mostly a tweak and trim affair — it’s rare that I’d cut a whole huge chunk out a short story. Having said that, I chopped the second two thirds off my first novel (a YA that hasn’t come out yet) and reformulated the whole mythology of it and from the scraps of that mess, I did end up with a whole other book. Most characters that show up stick around and if they don’t get used in whatever I’m working on they’ll pop in somewhere else, sometimes years later.



Your process feels familiar. It also reminds me of an writer’s scraps graveyard. Sometimes you resurrect the dead pieces and make them live with new purpose. Your little ghosts.


You mentioned the post-writing editing but what about the editing you do as you write?



There is the editing that happens during the actual writing process – the words that never get written – and in that sense I’d say I skim the most on setting description. That’s because as a reader, my eyes tend to gloss over at descriptions (not a good habit), so my internal ‘oh dear’ meter starts going off, telling me readers are checking out once the information about what a place looks like starts to roll on. What’s funny about this is I do put a lot, a lot, of time into worldbuilding and context creating, to me that’s the primary mechanism for getting my point across. I think of context as place plus time plus power dynamics, and it’s usually that power dynamics piece that I spend a lot of my time fussing about trying to figure out how to let it manifest just so in the narrative without taking over.


Trying to “let it manifest” rather than laying a heavy hand is difficult because you want the reader to get the context but you don’t want to do all the work for them. I think there’s a similar approach with writing believable dialogue.


How do you approach writing dialogue?


I listen. Simplest way to put it. Being a great musician is more about listening than playing, knowing when and how to jump in, to be in dialogue. So with literature. Listening, internalizing. Folks speak rhythmically, of course; there are casual cadences and formal ones, small ticks of language let you know whether someone loves you or not, what kind of mood they’re in, how they feel about the weather. Dialogue can reveal so much, it then becomes a matter of putting it to use. I could just sit and write stupid conversations between people for pages and pages because it’s fun, but when it comes to a story, the challenge is how to utilize these tiny moments of humanity and milk them for all their worth in the service of plot and character development.



In Salsa Nocturna, it’s clear that you listen very carefully to both people and landscapes. You paint the New York City neighborhoods with such vibrancy and intimacy.

Just as you are deliberate about the dialogue, you are also deliberate about the point-of-view from which you choose to write.

In Salsa Nocturna, why did your write in first-person? What was the intended benefit for the reader and as a writer, what attracts you to this approach?



I tend to write in first person because my narrative aesthetic is rooted in storytelling.

I learned to write yes from books and at school and all that but also on the ambulance, trading stories with my partners, on the block, hearing about the comings and going of the neighborhood, in my family, hearing about what once was and won’t be again. All this is literature, often literature at its finest. It’s bawdy and complex, layered, imaginative, fantastic, courageous, uncensored. So, beyond Díaz and Morrison and Butler and Due and Mosley and Shakespeare and Homer, these voices are ones I look to for literary guidance.



All those writers have a recognizable rhythm and cadence to their writing. I am interested in the rhythm and cadence of Salsa Noctura.

How does music influence the structure of Salsa Noctura? And at a character level, what role does music play in the life of characters like Miguel and Gordo in Salsa Noctura?



On a basic level, there’s a Cuban song section called the montuno – it’s that part at the end of a song where suddenly everyone goes nuts, the drums get vicious and folks take turns soloing while the chorus repeats a few simple lines beneath it. This developed into mambo, but for a while it would give sharp contrast to an otherwise relatively chill song, a bolero or a son. Some of my stories will follow this pattern; folks trundling along their lives, some gradual escalation but nothing off the charts, then ghosts are coming out the woodworks, a train’s coming, the trumpet blares, evil dolls fall from the ceiling – beneath the chorus riffs on the same motifs we’ve been hearing throughout but there’s a new urgency, a hint of chaos like it all might collapse on itself at any second.

In another sense, a microsense, I love repetition, internal rhymes, the playfulness of language and sentence structure. Pauses. The power of silence. All these are musical qualities that I’ve learned to pay attention to both in melody and the written word.



Your discussion of music reminds me of Toni Morrison’s comments in a 1993 Paris Review interview on style and “structural entities” in Jazz. Morrison seems more focused on elements of restraint and improvisation but you both hone in on music as a structural muse to approach writing that leaves the writer as she puts it, “yearning for more.”

Beyond being a structural muse, what role does music play in the life of characters like Miguel and Gordo in Salsa Noctura?



For the folks in Salsa Nocturna, music smoothes out the treachery and drudgery of everyday life, it helps them process change and transition; for some of them, it’s their first language. Miguel, the taxi driver in Love Is A Fucking River, finds his way into an emotional state through pop-ass Bachata on the radio, Gordo uses music to stay in touch with his ancestors.



And many people know you as a musician. Talk a little about how you’ve integrated your band, Ghost Star into your readings.



As a writer, I find performing with the band behind me brings the stories to life in an entire new way.

I was reading the other day without the band and I could almost hear the music behind the stories anyway, which speaks to something that’s true of the writing process in general for me: there’s a musicality to putting words on the page, a rhythm, an interplay of silence and noise, a convergence of harmonies. So performing with the band feels closest to home, to what is storytelling in its most natural state.


Writing and music are both forms of storytelling with their own structures and languages. What is your first language?



Fiction is my first language. Music a close second.

Music is what will always be there, underneath, throughout, regardless, always. To me, it’s something beyond, there’s a depth to music that words can’t reach. I learned composition and theory because I was aware of the limits of language, to have an outlet to express what I couldn’t with words. Having said that, knowing the limits of language also draws me to it, we’re best friends, I feel most at home crafting stories. And they’re always connected.



Fiction is your first language but you also write non-fiction. What’s your first love?



Fiction, because it flows. I’m getting there with non-fiction but I’m still finding my voice. If you follow me on twitter you’ve probably seen me ranting and raving about it; it takes me twice as long to write half as many words. I love non-fiction too of course, and when an idea comes I always move on it, knowing it’ll make me batshit for a while, but I love the challenge, I love the straightforwardness of it, it’s a release.



It seems that the other life passions like music find their way into your work. I am curious about whether your day job has the same influence. You’ve worked for some time as a paramedic so I can’t help but seeing elements of engagement with the dead, nearly dead, and spiritually dead in your work. In what ways has being a paramedic influenced the content and intent of your work?



When you deal with the dead on the daily, it changes your relationship to death. I already had a pretty high level of comfort around death, for whatever reason – the first cardiac arrest I worked, shoot, I barely remember it. It didn’t faze me. But then there’s a new comfort you develop as time goes on. And that does play into the fiction, in the sense that all the protagonists in Salsa Nocturna are either dead or have a very easy relationship with the dead. This is a fun thing in fiction, a strange kind of friendship, but in life it’s also deeply related to my spiritual practice, the Lucumí tradition, which involves ancestor worship. That relationship is reflected in these stories. The dead aren’t to be feared so much as communed with. It’s a conversation, always.



I am interested in hearing more about Lucumí. When I was doing research of African and diasporic religions, I remember you telling me over twitter about being of Jewish and Cuban heritage. A few months ago on a bus back from Philly, our bus driver was on the announcer speaking and Yiddish and Spanish as he talked about being a Puerto Rican Jew. I was hoping you could talk a bit about your family specifically, but even more generally about Latino Jews and how Lucumí emerged in your life.



I grew up celebrating Christmas and Hanukah, we were Catholic and Jewish and overall had a sort of relaxed, inclusive approach to religion. Both cultures have taught me a lot about life and Spirit, but I ultimately found what I was looking for in Lucumí, which folks also call Santeria. It’s a faith I carry in the blood as well and it jumped into my life and put me on my path with a resonance that I’d never felt from a spiritual system before. I still honor the traditions I grew up with, that’s a part of who I am and Passover at our house is always a delicious mashup of matzoh ball soup and bustelo and rice and beans and salsa music.



I imagine Lucumí shapes how you understand life and death and the interstitial spaces between the two states. I want to go back to your point about ghosts and lingering spirits as entities to be “communed with” because you do some interesting things with the Council of the Dead and ghosts in your work that remind me of Avery Gordon’s work. In Avery Gordon’s Some Thoughts on Haunts and Futurity, ghosts are not these floating translucent figures, but this imperative — the past showing up in the present as a reminder for “the something to be done.” Specifically, she writes,

“Haunting always registers the harm inflicted or the loss sustained by a social violence done in the past or being done in the present and is for this reason quite frightening. But haunting, unlike trauma by contrast, is distinctive for producing a something-to-be-done. Indeed, it seemed to me that haunting was precisely the domain of turmoil and trouble, that moment (of however long duration) when things are not in their assigned places, when the cracks and the rigging are exposed, when the people who are meant to be invisible show up without any sign of leaving, when disturbed feelings won’t go away, when easily living one day and then the next becomes impossible, when the present seamlessly becoming “the future‟ gets entirely jammed up. Haunting refers to this socio-political-psychological state when something else, or something different from before, feels like it must be done, and prompts a something-to-be-done.”

Beyond the floating translucent figures, how do ghosts operate in your work?



Great quote. I think of ghosts as a personification of the intersection of life and death, the past and present (yes, very much like a city…). In this sense, the ghost presents amazing narrative opportunities.

A principle of social justice work and many spiritual traditions is the idea that the past always walks with us, whether in the form of ancestors or institutional memory or the stories we tell. History walks with us.

The Council of the Dead is the bureaucracy of death. It’s really a very human, living enterprise, to try to over-organize something as impossible as the Afterlife, but there it is. This is directly inspired by working for ten years in the confines of the real world bureaucracy of life and death, which is the medical field. It is complicated, has little or nothing to do with actual healing and everything to do with business, politics and Covering Your Ass. Which is a large-scale tragedy when you think about it, has very real costs in our everyday lives and has been that way for so long, it’s hard to collectively envision a more holistic approach.



I really like this idea of the past always walking with us because it creates a dimensionality to our experiences and the way we understand those experiences. The way you shape characters seems to carry that tradition of dimensionality and visibility of the exposed rigging that makes us human.

I remember my engagement with science fiction as a child being very alienating because there were no black people in these texts. I found the text to be aggressively saying, even if unintentionally so, in the future, there are no black people.

When you approached science fiction as a writer, what do you seek to do with both the narrative and the characters you craft? Is this any different than what you seek as a reader?



As a writer, I do approach sci-fi with a sense of reclamation, yes. I mean, I think most of us share that experience you describe in one form or another, and it’s frustrating as hell until you use it as an entrance point for creativity.

For me, I literally started writing my first book on the spark of, Well dammit, we need a Harry Potter that speaks to us. And it seems odd, to create in anger but it works once you then bring in all the other elements/emotions/magic etc. What I always say, what boggles my mind really, is that these conversations about race and gender and class, all these complicated layers of power and privilege, resistance and oppression, they’re exactly what good literature is made up of. Yet, folks tend to sidestep the conversation or fully block it out. Which, besides being awkward, racist and ultimately a disaster, is simply a missed opportunity. There are so many amazing concepts to explore with so much depth and emotion, and because of the blinders and consequences of speaking difficult truths, writers largely ignore them. Net result: as you said, it appears we don’t make it out of this century. Total erasure from the fantastic realm. Or we’re all bad guys. Fuck that.



In thinking about non-white characters being displaced from traditional science fiction narratives, I am also thinking about spatial dislocation as well — stolen bodies, involuntarily migrated bodies, etc.

In Mark Dery’s, “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose” (from Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, 1994), he talks about black people as the descendents of alien abductees. In what ways are marginalized communities like alien abductees and in which ways do they live beyond the confines of this label?



Alien abductees and marginalized communities…the common thread is displacement.

We talk a lot about white supremacy but don’t really discuss white culture, not in any institutionally meaningful ways I mean, and that’s a conversation that’s going to have to happen as we move forward: what is white institutional culture and what are it’s ramifications; how does it lead to white supremacy and how do we dismantle that? Instead, we talk about “institutional culture” because it’s more comfortable for people in power not to have to deal with the tragic complexities of race and power. In order to not feel like we’re completely insane, it’s important to be clear that the structures in place weren’t designed with a multiracial society in mind. In this sense, displacement is a very real experience, even for someone born in this country, raised here.



As a real experience, it demands space to be explored. Octavia Butler talked about how science fiction allowed her the freedom to create new worlds while also critiquing existing worlds in ways that don’t amount to an index of grievances.

In Salsa Nocturna, you deal with some weighty issues around immigration, gentrification, and cultural appropriation. There is a certain delicacy to the narrative. It’s there, but I am not necessarily ushered to the “big lesson” or hit over the head with a calculated and didactic expectation. What is your approach to writing about the rawness of what makes us uncomfortable?



Wonderful. That’s what I was going for – that delicacy. Had an epic conversation on twitter the other day about including political ideas in fiction and the general answer, the same one I hear again and again from writers, was that if you consciously include politics in your writing, it will become didactic and obvious. Which strikes me as odd. And by odd I mean, off. We are so committed to craft and decision making, we manage to fit all kinds of subtle deep layers into our stories, approach the human heart from 18 million different angles, employ foreshadowing, flashbacks, motifs, all these techniques and we can’t figure out how to be slide opinions in there without our subconscious taking over? No, man. We gotta do better than that.


In relation to your work, there is definitely currency to the late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ assertion that “the most successful of all political moves are ones that don’t appear to be ‘political’”.



As I mentioned earlier, for me, context is the answer. I put my rage and doubt and fear into worldbuilding, craft a context that speaks to the fires we live in and then deploy characters across it. But this is an ongoing conversation/process. The thing is to have it.



But there is always that point when someone is uncomfortable and they have the power to remove the text that makes them uncomfortable or calls normative systems of thought into question.

In my last interview with Kiese Laymon, we talked a little about writers and their relationships with editors and publishing houses. In your essay Another World Awaits, you write

“A few years ago, someone in the publishing industry crossed out a line I wrote in a novel. I’m pretty good with taking criticism; I don’t usually get gooey over the words I write, even if the stories are close to my heart. This line however, had to do with a Latina character feeling uncomfortable in a shnitzy part of Brooklyn because all the other women of color had little white babies and all the white people were looking at her sideways. The note beside the crossout said: “Doesn’t happen in this day and age.”

You go on to write not just about how editors have silenced and censored your writing but also how this has translated into your own self-censorship.

Can you talk about how you’ve navigated the publishing world — how you’ve managed to stay authentic to your voice or even situations where your narratives have been compromised?



Well, yes. All this. I fired that particular person and I struggle with that question all the time. There isn’t one answer, or rather, the answer lies in the process of finding one’s voice, which is a lifelong journey.



How do you balance a desire for marketability and a need for authenticity? In some ways this question connects to the first question around “killing your darlings” except the murderer in this case may not necessarily be you.



I think the balance comes when we’re able to have that conversation on the surface, with each other, with ourselves, to really sink our teeth into understanding how we’re silenced, how we silence ourselves, what this translation thing is all about. I wrestle with it, and I find a voice I’m comfortable in, tell the hardest truths I can and then actively seek out people in the industry that are ready to hear and publish my voice. They’re out there. I’ve been blessed to find an agent and editors who are brilliant and open to voices outside of what’s traditionally published. I believe the industry’s changing. Not fast enough, but yes, there it’s changing. Ultimately, I choose to replace the word “marketability” with “good storytelling,” and so challenge myself to hone my narrative craft while finding my authentic voice, which are two intimately related paths.



In finding your authentic voice, there is this question of how we write authentically about experiences that are not our own.

I was curious as to how your engagement with gendered realities outside your own influence how you craft the women characters in your work, particularly in Salsa Nocturna. How do we negotiate male feminisms predicated on protecting women with male feminisms that engage with dialogue and agency?



I think Junot Díaz said it best when he talked about how as men writing about women, the first step is always to admit we suck at it. The second step is the same thing I said above about dialogue: listening. It’s simple but so so undervalued and patriarchy teaches us that we already know everything or are supposed to act like, so it discourages listening. Listen: we know nothing. Not shit. So, I listen. To the women around me, my family, my friends, my elders, my ancestors. The challenge when writing the other is being honest about how the other sees the self…if that makes any sense?

Let me try that again.

What’s hard for men about writing women and, in fact, the world at large, is owning how much patriarchy has fucked up this place and our relationships. Straight, cis- men in particular have a very skewed sense of safety and comfort and privilege, mostly because we haven’t generally lived the experience of being targeted for our genders or perceived genders. Yes, there are exceptions, and sexual violence, for example, against men is a real thing, often turned into jokes or ignored all out, patriarchy sees to that erasure, and the same rules also tell us that it’s more acceptable for us to commit an act of violence than hug another man. This is rape culture, and it needs to end. And men need to figure out how to collectively be a part of ending it. That’s our responsibility.



In what ways do you feel that you struggle with or feel comfortable with shaping multi-dimensional female characters?



As for shaping characters, what happens is this: a character emerges, sometimes they bring a story with them, sometimes not. What matters is, can I hear their voice? If yes, the rest rolls out smooth, then it’s a question of storycraft, the mechanics of narrative. Sometimes there’s work to do, research, meditation, a walk, to get into the heart of it. I write characters across the gender spectrum. It is challenging and it is what we are here to do, tell stories, stories outside of ourselves and the ones within us as well. The work is melding them into something that resonates and then making it sing.



Looking back, do you see any shortcomings in how you crafted these characters, particularly in Salsa Nocturna?



The first clump of Salsa Nocturna stories all featured men. Straight men. A lot of that was because I was brand new at writing fiction and still feeling my way through it, like when you walk into a theater you’re going to perform in and you walk around a few times, taking it in. Carlos is about as close to my own voice as any of my characters – if you read my blog from the ambulance days, you’re reading the seed of Carlos’ voice. My editor at Crossed Genres, Kay Holt, who is magnificent, pointed out to me that the book was something of a sausage party, I don’t think it passed the Bechdel test even, and she challenged me to write stories from the point of view of women. So The Passing and Magdalena came out of that, and I’m really so grateful that she asked that of me.

There are characters I’d like to explore further. Janey for instance, has this whole arc with the golem they build, haven’t had a chance to really get into that or open up her journey. It’ll happen. CiCi of course has a whole life of stories, her own and other people’s that I’m excited to unravel more. Short stories give us this little glimpse of people. As writers, we try to reveal as much about them in that glimpse as we can and not feel like we’re cramming it all in. This both exciting and challenging as hell, it’s like when you meet someone and all you have are these few hours to get to know them, but you feel like you’ve known them for years. There’s no one answer for how to do this. The feedback I’ve gotten about the female characters has for the most part been very positive. A whole room full of folks read Magdalena and wrote me excited emails addressed to Mrs. Older, so that felt like I’d done something right.



Just as you released one big project, you were on to the next — Long Hidden. Can you share about the inspiration for this project and what we can look forward to in May?



Long Hidden was born from the same frustrations we spoke about earlier – it’s an answer to erasure.



What did you learn along the way as this project developed?


It’s been fascinating, this process, and definitely has taught me more about writing than anything I’ve ever done. At one point during the editing I was writing a bunch of essays about the same topics, the way scifi/fantasy has erased or mistold our stories, and getting trolls in comments sections and on twitter, and then I’d pause, shut everything down and go work on Long Hidden and you know, sometimes that’s the answer, to create something new, to usher in and clear the space for new stories, which are really very old stories, and be part of the platform.



I like the idea of creating something new and clearing space. Often times, we get trapped in writing as a reaction which continues to center those who perpetuate the erasure.

I am really interested in the internal structure of Long Hidden. How did you select the stories that would begin and end this collection?



Sofia Samatar’s story, Ogres of East Africa wowed me immediately, in that it brings this urgency and love to all these complex layers of race and mythology. It’s an adventure, a love story, a critique and a fantasy all wrapped into one and Rose and I felt like it was the perfect way to raise the curtain.  Sabrina Vourvoulias’ Dance of the White Demon, speaks to the whole book in its long look at history from the point of view of a tragic defeat. It’s so gentle and so painful and raw at the same time, and it really speaks to the power of myth and storytelling across centuries. Plus, it’s a great story.



I’ve been reading a lot about discursive programming and I am interested in generating opportunities for publics to engage with artists. What programming has been organized for Long Hidden?



Our book release party is at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on May 10 at 9pm and several writers will read and there will be music. We’ll have readings and a panel at Wiscon, a feminist science fiction conference in Madison and more at Readercon, another science fiction conference outside of Boston in July. Also, some folks are planning an LA launch party as well.



How do you balance more collaborative and editorial projects with your more individual writing efforts?



It’s not a role I’m used to but I’m so honored to be part of the project, to put my name on it. Rose Fox, my co-editor, is like a kindred spirit of literature – even when disagree, it’s in such an excellent and fascinating way I actually looked forward to our disagreements sometimes because I’d always come out of it knowing more, understanding deeper, thinking more clearly.



After Long Hidden, what’s next for you?



I just finished recording the audio book for Salsa Nocturna for audible.com which I am really excited about it. The spoken word is really for me at the heart of writing so being able to narrate the stories was a powerful experience. I’m about to begin edits on Half Resurrection Blues, which is a prequel to Salsa Nocturna and tells Carlos’ story. It’s the first of a trilogy and comes out in January 2015. We’re also wrapping up Long Hidden stuff, finishing touches and I just finished the first draft of Book of Lost Saints, a novel about Cuba, exile and revolution. I have two projects in their seedling stage, just a swirl of ideas and a few written pages – one’s an adventure story about princesses and the other’s a very messy, sordid YA about evil monsters in a Connecticut suburb – so I’m excited to see where those go. And more in the pipeline.

“Glass” by Michael Estabrook

For obvious reasons the first rule in any art gallery

or museum is don’t touch the art

even if the works seem to be behind glass


Is that really glass he asks the guard

we’ve never seen that before and we’ve been

to the Louvre in Paris and the Guggenheim in New York


Yes the guard says folding his arms across his chest.

It’s expensive but we had to do it

there’s a 1/8th inch space


Between the glass and the painted surface

especially critical if we ship them—

wow so that really is glass he interrupts


Suddenly reaching out tapping the glass with his finger

of course he knows he shouldn’t

be touching the art in any way but seriously


The guard is standing right next to the painting

talking to him how the hell

could he not tap the glass!


After 40 years working for “The Man” and “The Woman” Michael Estabrook is finally free. No more useless meetings in stuffy windowless rooms. He can concentrate instead on making better poems and on other interests: history, art, theatre, and his wife who remains the most beautiful woman he has ever known.

Three Poems by Holly Painter

Please Let Me Wonder

I’ve been idolizing you and fantasizing

About the relationship we might have

For a long time now


And that probably would’ve continued

But now we’re actually talking

And I’m on the verge of hyperventilating


But wait, don’t tell me how you really feel

Let me keep pretending you love me

As much as I love you


I based my college decision, career, and hobbies on you

Hoping we’d get closer if we had the same interests

You can’t imagine how much I hate artisan bread-making

My idealized love and my idealized you

Have become my life

And reality might kill me


So don’t tell me how you really feel

Let me keep pretending you love me

As much as I love you



When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)


My twenties won’t last forever

Someday I’ll be thirty

And it’s freaking me out



California Girls


Women from the East Coast dress well
Southern women have charming accents
Midwestern women are fully adequate
Northern women give arousing kisses

But I like Californian women best
If it were possible
I’d like all women to be Californian

West Coast sunlight results in marvelous tanning and
I’m into bikini-clad women on the beach under palm trees
I’ve done a lot of traveling and met a lot of women
But I’m always eager to return home to my preferred sort of females

I like Californian women best
If it were possible
I’d like all women to be Californian

Holly Painter is an MFA graduate of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. These poems come from “My Pet Sounds Off,” an English-to-English translation project of the Beach Boys’ top 40. Holly lives with her wife in Singapore, where she writes poetry for lovelorn people all over the world. Visit her at adoptapoet.wordpress.com.

Three Aerogrammes by Fayroze

Morocco Mon Amour,

I feel forgotten by you, but I can’t forget you. I can’t bury you in the cemetery of the past. It’s a hoax, this business of forgetting. J’ai interrogée mon cœur ce matin de l’architecture de l’oublier. I questioned my heart this morning of the architecture of forgetting. I think back to your near fatal car crash on the expressway from Casablanca, returning to the hotel room to be by my bedside then my deliberate attempt to get you intoxicated. My ill-advised instantaneous cure for when death flashed before you.  These near misses come to pass in life; quotidien and what of memory bliss is that to left to rot, left to decay along with that expressway – left forgotten, buried in the past. And, day by day, time puts a space between your memory and that love act, that expressway and all your left with is an old faded watercolour painting of Morocco, a violent haze of ochre and tangelo light if Turner had chosen those colours. That is all that remains now, a painting in my mind of a feeling of being scorched, of touch and go, a tortured twisted raging violent wind, of water and sky of life’s lived fury coloured in ochre.

I walked over the Harbour Bridge yesterday; it has a view of one of this city’s few saving graces, the Opera House. All I saw was six lanes of metallic and the roar of petrol but I’m comforted by the rattle of the train as it passes over the bridge. With work I feel like I pass the day in perpetual silence, chained to my desk, drowning in paper. My friend said, “It’s just a job… change your attitude.” I don’t know… I’m going to continue to write to you and I will not get a reply. It will cost you 89 centimes for a stamp. It seems too much to ask…

I want to frame those first three months I was in Paris with you, and that month last year in Morocco. I want to hang it next to the wooden clock on the wall above my bed. Those hot nights of waiting, talking, making love with our words on Rue D’Aboukir. Waiting for you to return to my fourth-floor apartment with ice cubes for the Martini Rossato and the loud love making that would follow next to paper thin walls where I could hear the neighbours cough. Paper-thin walls never mattered in that hotel room in Morocco. Calling out “Oui”, bent over the bed and the knock of the chamber maid on the door.

What to make of all those moments of ecstasy past? I want to unfold you again, not curl up in the misery of an unanswered phone, or worse, answered with a woman’s voice. I want to smear my lipstick all over your shirt collar with my lips. I want everyone to see you are for me, like yesterday, like before and for always. I don’t want to know another man’s touch or form. I want you to keep me; to make love to me in the mornings before work. To make love so loud the neighbours blush. Oh mon objet d’amour, I will return to you and your embrace. What to make of all these frayed threads of my heart …?

Je t’embrasse forte, (I kiss you hard)

Ta chérie



Allez-Roxy bébé,

Like a fucking tourist I was mesmerised by the view of the Eiffel Tower from the apartment. I believe it’s because I don’t have to walk the filthy-rotten streets or catch the stinking Metro hot with human-humidity to go see the beautiful lady. When I do venture out on the Metro I douse myself in parfum, GUCCI Flora to be exact, to protect me from catching some air-born Parisien virus.

From the seventh-floor balcony I can see La Dame de Fer—the Eiffel Tower—and La Meringue on the other side (Sacre Cœur). I feel like the two monuments are a tale of a woman’s l’histoire d’amour. It begins at the church, le Sacre Cœur; the wedding day is here and she is dressed all in white, towering high in her big hooped meringue. Then of course night descends and she is set ablaze by passion on her wedding night. She finds her man unfaithful and sets herself and her dress alight. She is burning, quite a spectacle to behold. Like her bridal waltz all alone, she is dancing—spinning around, drunk and dizzy. She lights up the night sky with her golden flames; for all of Paris to see the rage of her tortured memory each night.

The few times I’ve been to the Trocadéro, once with my lover Driss on his moto, we stood underneath at the foot of the big-skirted girl and I felt like a pervert standing there between her legs looking up at her cunt between her thick thighs. However, the first time I saw her I was with Renaud, an old lover, now a friend. I still recall what we argued about that night all those years ago. He made the point firmly that I was mistaken and that the old lady was in fact a man, who was lying back with his crowning glory, a big-phat-cut-cock with a long-hard-erect-triumphant-metallic shaft and adorned with a crowning glorious head. The nightly display a shower of golden sparkling champagne, like ejaculate all over itself, the revelling in its own ecstasy.

I thought maybe now in these austere dark days autumn in Paris, the lady is a junkie. The form is no longer a dress but a heroin needle injecting, giving her a nightly show of exhibitionism, like the Moulin Rouge. Vegas-lights-rock-light. Each and every night there is spectral, a display of exultation from her cocaine high.

I am tired of these beautiful-old-decaying-rotten-dirty-wretched streets and then I think of St Germain. It feels like another world, another life. Set apart, yet now contained within the ever-encompassing open slums of austerity that has crept in from the outskirts of town, la banlieue. The heroin addict has scaled the beige city’s walls. Not only les portes de Paris proper, but all of Europe. So the lady is a stripper, she does her nightly dance and at the end of her act, she burns her dress. She is left naked and in her short, mind-obliterating junkie high she trembles with the champagne-shower-ejaculate all over her body. Coming down hard from her drug addled heights, she has the banlieue bleues.

Walking up rue Marcadet to my apartment from the Metro Guy Môquet (my first mistake!), I asked the barkeep at the brasserie Christophe Colomb “if I could use the bathroom”. He asked directly “if I would be buying a drink?” I answered “non.” Then he replied directly, “NON!” How could a man deny a woman the use of a toilet? The French are fucking special, that is why Napoleon never had his victory march through the Arc de Triomphe and all that remains is just a cauchemar of a roundabout.

L’amour toujours dur… FUCKING L’AMOUR! What the fuck do I know about this emotion? Less than zero! Natta! Nix! Rien! Diddley-Squat! Zip! Zilch! I slept alone last night, yet again. There is always a reason, always an excuse: a motorcycle accident, sick siblings, a razor, a clean shirt, midnight meetings, or just plain old hustling. Me, I will sleep alone tonight like the two nights before. The wind blows, the rain falls, then darkness descends and I am left alone. Perhaps I too have the banlieue bleues?

It’s morning here and dinner time in Sydney… Je vais chercher un croissant… Last night’s candles snuffed out, empty wine glasses, his umbrella leaning against the bureau. I think to the Roman goddess Aurora; goddess of the dawn, she heralds a new day, carrying the flame to light the sun. She had a mortal lover as we all do, hers the Prince of Troy.

I would shake the colour off my skin for him and then for some reason I hope that he loves me always, down to my heart-beating soul. Oh, how I hope for la grasse matinée every morning together. He is here now in front of me and we will make love loudly, his heart-beating-pounding-body-and-soul on top of me, giving me what I waited for all night long in the lonesome sounded-out hours of the night before.

What to make of these moments of ecstasy, my happiness always fleeting, never permanent. Then it is my turn to leave and I no longer wait for him; I spend the days and nights without him.

Oh, how time marches on…

Keep well my, dear young friend Roxanne,

Bisous ton amie,



Bonjour Mon Amant—Salaam Mon Douceur,

Ooh Mon Driss,

Mon poulet d’amour, it was hot today with a bright blue sky, the sun hanging high way up the there. I have nothing left to keep me here. I have not readjusted to Sydney. I am home but do not feel at home here in my city. This may be my last summer here—I am tired of these hideous streets. One thing I recall from my university days is that aesthetics are ethics. Architectural form and settlement patterns are physically built modes of that society. If all that is true, this city is morally bankrupt and devoid of any ethical integrity. There is little value put on beauty, so it is left out of the equation altogether. I am upset; my job is at stake. I am burnt out from the office. I was in a sombre-indigo mood and now I am brooding—seething like the smoke from the stem of my cigarette.

FUCK this postcard town! I don’t know what I am doing here anymore or what I am holding on to. You are not here, always far…far from my gaze…far from my embrace…far from my bed. My mother is just a voice on the telephone. I am tired of life here more than anything. I can hear the buzz of cicadas and I know summer is here. But I do not know what the future holds for us. I have waited so long for you to be by my side under an Australian summer sun. I have hope…that is what I tell myself.

The world does not feel like it is opening up but closing in on me. I am thirty-one. I never imagined or planned past the age of thirty. I do not know what more there is…hoping to see you here…I dream of Tangiers, a city dressed in white. Sipping Rosé from Provence or French Champagne, a café Arabica, smoking le Marquise Menthol. The waiter dressed in a white shirt and black vest lighting my cigarette. Sitting at an art déco café—colonialist of course—typing away, brooding, sweating…wondering where you are in that city of white…with a refreshing breeze from Gibraltar cooling the air…ghosts of Jack Kerouac and Paul Bowles haunting every corner of those colonialist haunts—the cafés, bars and restaurants. I imagine they still remain intact down to the table and chairs from that WWII époque.

Where would we call home? What would fill my days? Would I write relentlessly back home? Then again, from where? My heart has no home…my homeland is by your side, à ton côté, à côte de toi, somewhere, nowhere, nulpart. Maybe Paris, trapped in the misery of a bankrupt middle class…or left to turn mad ‘folle’ with my Middle-Eastern sisters…or pay the high rents of Sydney, to catch a glimpse of water and spit from the coat hanger (Harbour Bridge). To be at the mercy of the buses and sip fine soy cappuccinos at bar Milazzo… prepared by my dear Italian friend Claudio or spray-venom-politique with the other expat paysano, Andréa or Giovanni.

Most likely, I extract myself from this place and start anew in Melbourne. Drinking small beers measured in pots, not midis—a Sydney term. Where there are no steep rigid inclines to climb, all the seasons in one day, no hard surf because the beaches are in a bay. Buzz around Fitzroy searching for old things in vintage shops, eating lentils at the Vegie Bar, buying flowers and putting my shopping in the front of my bicycle. Smoking clove cigarettes with arts students and to see my mother, an anchor for me in Melbourne. I am truly her daughter, of the same blood. Rent an old apartment above a federation style shop that has the original stained-glass windows. I would live near the station and welcome the ringing of the bells that the train was coming and the railway crossing closed. I can wait for you as I have now because I know how much I love you. I love you like my typewriter, an object I value more than others prize their diamond wedding ring.





…………………………………………….Typing from here to eternity……………………………………………..

……………………………………………Typing from her to Morocco……………………………………………..

………………………………………………Typing from here to Paris………………………………………………

………………………………………Typing from here to be by your side…………………………………………





The French waiter poured me a Rosé at The Spot. I am not sure what to make of drinking alone. I think it may be ill advised… my mind is still cloudy from last night’s cocktails and champagne. I cling to this shrewd, miserable city, crawling with the nouveau riche. Like a city wearing an expensive suit but making it look cheap; money cannot buy you taste. The women may be beautiful—I rarely notice as the 1970s backdrop renders everything ugly like a city bathed in blonde brick, concrete and bitumen sweating from the urban heat-island effect, sweltering bitumen underfoot. I miss you in the misère de Paris. Oh la misère de Paris. Colonialist-Imperialists: when they have been privileged for so long, there is a sense of entitlement and with “rien dans la caisse,” they are in the midst of a cold dark winter.

I want to be by your side, inside or out of any given city. Haiti if you prefer, or en Espagne with la pauvreté, we can start a samba line in the unemployment queue.

I am sweating. It is hot, stinking hot. My rusty metal fan hums in the background, the muffled tones of people talking on the radio. I am not here. I never arrived here back home in Sydney since last I saw you in Paris. My body is here but my thoughts are there with you in Casablanca. Will you ever leave? Come home to me and reunite my body with my soul and your body next to me, on me in an embrace. Not sure if you can cross the Pacific as you never have before. I darken with all the broken promises, with all your broken promises. FUCK I LOVE YOU! Tu le sais. Tu m’aimes? Je ne sais plus. Je ne sais pas si je peux continuer de t’attendre. I get so tired of an unanswered telephone. I get down. I live all the miserable jazz love songs I listen to on the radio. It makes this summer dark without you. I am still smoking, sorry to say… I am so healthy fighting fit when I leave for Paris and I return with my body devastated. I do not think I may see you again until I see you here in Australia. It breaks my heart to type those words.

J’ai dormie hier soir dans un rêve d’attente…I slept last night in a dream of waiting…I woke up doped out, breaking through to real life and reality comes flooding back to me first in sharp flashes and then I regain consciousness…I lie there listless…a cup of coffee…a dismal cigarette…I open up the sash window above the sink to let some light into the apartment…let in some air…I turn on the radio and it buzzes away without me, not caring about my dark mood…I look up at my wooden clock on the wall. It says it is 10.45am, but I know it is actually midday…The wind blows loudly, shaking my flat and I think to you maybe in Paris or Casablanca, trapped with your other compatriots. The metal fan turns. I know I have to rush. Someone is waiting for me somewhere in this city. I have to lift my mood…there is only some coffee left in the saucer now…

Long days of this wretched summer without you…I cannot escape the memory of you; I’m trapped inside it. Your words on the telephone, “envie de me voire,” the tears well up in my eyes. I think to that great Anglophonic leader, Winston Churchill. He called these his black dog days. I am in freefall. Falling off the edge of a building, hoping you are waiting at the end to catch me in your embrace.

If only you could make an escape route, a plan to my heart. I sat at a bar looking up the sails of the Opera House; a rare object of beauty in this far flung city. I was there at dusk, the sun setting, the buildings dark, only illuminated by the lights within. I hold on to that, trying not to think of your unanswered telephone…

I get so down…way down…down low now. In these shady days of summer, I hope you will return to my embrace. I do not think you will reach these distant shores…too far…too long…too distant…to see me. It is late now and my fingertips sound like hammers on the keys in the late hours. Long nights of summer. Alone. When I came home tonight, as I came down the stairs, I hoped to find you waiting at the bottom of the staircase. A secret wish…An empty dream. These days do not hold much promise. The clock’s tic-tok…The day truly over…nearing ever closer to the last day of the year. I smoke a secret wish to die…ever so slowly. I breathe out and smoke escapes…maybe blissful indifference?

At the beach today, I watched the seagulls dance and soar above the sunbathers, gliding on the breeze. I watched them against the cobalt blue, which turned that island paradise turquoise at the shore. I watched a man swimming against the break waters…Pine trees line the beach…I know this is an Australian beach, a Sydney one to be exact. Women, foreigners dressed in bikinis in all colours, red, blue, pink and polka dot. A naked white breast, burnt flesh and I am golden. The quiet hum of people dialled down by the easing wash and crash of waves. Even the sound of children’s laughter is rendered pleasant. The squeak and squall of the seagulls is high pitched. I still wonder where you are. Will you come find me in this city of five million? Find me sitting alone somewhere? The day gets hotter, the water calls like a spiritual ablution before I lay down in prayer once again on the sand.

I have vague ideas, ambiguous sentiments and thoughts of you. I feel like I burnt a cigarette hole through my heart. The lit end I put near my skin and I feel the heat of the glowing ember approaching, too cowardly to press it against my naked hand. Burn through skin, meat & veins—no brilliant flash of red. So instead I smoke continuously and endlessly to kill myself in a slow calculated death.

I’m not sure if I will ever see you again. To look upon you, your dark brown eyes, one with a tâche. Your coiffeur of swirling crinkled hair with flecks of grey. Your nose dignified and your lips, those two jewels, the bottom one sweet from your coffee. Je t’aime sans cesse, without falter. These long hot days of summer without you…to share my Australian summer with you, seulemente une rêve. I’m not sure where you are these long days, these long nights or what hours you keep.

I believe you will never see an Australian summer…too far…trop chér…trop de decalage. You will never set foot on my country’s soil, never set foot in my apartment. Never feel the scorching sun on your face turning your caramel skin bronze, then to dip into the strong surf in the icy cool waters and welcome the chill on your burnt back.

You will never step foot in my bedroom and lay down next to me on my queen sized bed. We will never make the bed bend and creak with our loud love making. Make love on every surface of my apartment; bless each surface with our naked passion. I sleep alone like yesterday, like today, like tomorrow and I am left alone with my dark thoughts turning wretched. I wished to spend the last day of the year alone. My friends will rescue me, armed with Champagne and Rosé. It may be ill advised for me to spend too much time alone. I can curl up in my misery, nurture it and stroke it. You may not know this about me…

I do not know if I have the strength or means to see you again in Paris. I know I will gather the force of spirit as I have done before somehow. I feel you are slipping away from me now. I may go somewhere; you will not be able to find me, but what difference would that make now? It gets me; down it makes me tired. I will fall asleep on the keys tonight, wondering where you are like yesterday, like before, like always.

I scowl…I skulk…I cry…Maybe you would prefer a women whose smile never cracks, whose eyes are always dry, mascara never running down her face. A woman that is not so maladroit who never breaks glasses or wishes to throw them crashing against the walls of the apartment. You would lift me out of this darkness, you could hold my shining soul up high, just with the ease of your calming voice. Deep, baritone & virile—the way I like. You call out while making love, or tell me to quieten myself whilst in the act, or lay down par terre, mouille, more, harder just for you. A well placed slap with your long fine fingers comme l’artiste. Your voice while I wax lyrical of beauty; your deriding sarcasm, then my laugh.

Lift me high into the scorching blue sky. Let my feet never touch the ground, wrapped up in your love. Dreaming of a time I no longer need to write you to be by your side, but by your side, typing to everyone else, longing for friends and my mother’s gaze. Take me far from here. Place me next to you. On top of you. Breathing you in…

Lost in love’s long embrace…

Je t’embrasse bien forte (I kiss you very hard)


“From the Ninth Floor” by Lex Bobrow

After I Could Not Imagine by Anton Marrast


we twist out of the window

, glass in DNAspiral about us

we are

drowning in air            we are



?          the glass furrowed our skin

on its way to plague the ground

but your naked body

sings the blood well

(in ribbons

) neatly twisting from your jaw

to the pinkyou

where we will meet

to the pinkyou

I reach             for


our redlife


on the people (

descended from serfs, they

, thinking us royalty, will shout

their throats


for us to come             down—

but we will not

we are not fountains



my index finger           reaches the pinkyou

and midflight,

you stop

to smile with

both sets of lips

(there are bits of glass in your hair,                lady,

there are bits of glass

in your hair)


as I press my


to your


Lex Bobrow is a writer fresh out of school living in south Florida. As a result, he writes a lot about hurricanes and citrus fruit, which makes him laugh at how Floridian he is. More than anything–at his core–he wants to be captivating and therefore powerful.

“I Saw The Devil” by Frederick Foote

I’m not a believer. I don’t deny the existence of God. I just don’t know. In my black community, that makes me something of a pariah. It’s tough to live like that, but I do.

On the other hand, I have read the bible at least ten times. I love reading the bible, the King James Version, but I don’t believe a word of it. I don’t share my opinion of the bible with many of my black friends. I need the few friends I have left.

I got no time at all for devils and demons and that nonsense.

It’s ten AM and it’s already 101 degrees, the fifth day of 100 plus degree heat.

I’m checking my agapanthus along the driveway. I just crack open the side gate to make sure Jake, my 100 pound red Doberman, has plenty of water. I have my hand on the gate about to block Jake from rushing out into the front yard when I feel this wave of fear hit me like a blizzard to the brain. I freeze in the triple digit heat.

Jake hits the gate like a bull out of a rodeo chute, knocks the gate right out of my hand. He’s making a noise, not a fighting noise or his cat killing noise something else… deep and fierce… ugly… disturbing.

Jake charges straight toward the street but there’s nothing there.

I glance down the street, coming down the middle of the street, a brother as black as the grave. Tall, too tall dressed in a suit the color of midnight madness, that’s even darker than he is. The suit jacket’s draped over his right arm. His shirt’s as white and as bright as new fallen snow on a bright day. The suit and shirt are in such sharp contrast that I have to look away. I look at him out of the corner of my trembling eye.

Feet must be size 18. His shoes are shining like onyx, like his bald head.

He covering half a block with each step. Fucking impossible!

Jake’s headed to where the man will be on his next step.

The man arrives. Jake leaps.

The thing don’t break stride or turn its head, glances at Jake, a slight side, long glance.

Jake crumples like he hit a brick wall at full speed. The impact knocks a brilliant squeal of anguish, a heart breaking sound from my dog. Jake hits the ground, claws his way back dragging his useless back half across the scorching, black, asphalt whimpering and shaking, moving as fast as he can, leaving a trail of hot shit to mix with the hot tar of the melting street.

I know it’s going to glance at me. I squeeze my eyes shut so tight my eyelids hurt.

I make my fist so hard my muscles knot up.

My vise jaws splinter my teeth.

A concussive wave knocks me on my ass. There is a soft squishing sound as I fall onto the driveway with my eyes still sealed shut.

I crawl into the backyard. I don’t open my eyes until I have closed the gate.

I clean up in the back yard. Put my soiled clothes in a garbage bag and the bag in the garbage can. I wash off with the garden hose.

I go in, take a forever shower, sitting on the shower floor washing away my tears.

I go check on Jake. He won’t come out of his doghouse. I pull him out by the collar. His back legs are OK now. He can stand and walk, but he just shakes like he got distemper or something.

And his eyes are hard-boiled gray, blind. My dog is blind.

I go in. I lock all my doors and windows, close my blinds and drapes.

I go to the back bedroom, the one furthest from the street. I turn on all the lights. I sit there with my Bible. The one I don’t believe a word of. I pray to Him I have doubts about to keep me awake. I know if I sleep, that thing, the devil, will open my eyes and his glance will fall on me. I’ll look into its eyes. It will be the last thing I ever see.


I was born in Sacramento, California and educated in a racially segregated elementary school in Vienna Virginia until I was twelve and returned to Sacramento’s economic and racial segregated schools. I served three years nine months in the USAF and retired from the State of California in 2001. 

I have been married for 46 years and we have two daughters. I started writing short stories in the spring 2013 semester in Dr. Silcox’s creative writing class at Sacramento City College.

My family, friends, instructors and my MeetUp group, Sacramento Pose and Poetry Writers, have tolerated me, encouraged me and inspired me to write and to improve my writing. I thank you all. You can also find my work at everydayfiction.com.

Artwork by Jamilla Okubo

Jamilla Okubo is a Kenyan-American artist and aspiring textile designer currently attending Parsons and majoring in Integrated Fashion Design. Collaging prints and paint, Okubo’s colorful illustrations are heavily influenced by her African roots and an appreciation of black culture. Okubo is constantly creating work exploring her self identity, culture, and history. She acknowledges the history, but similar to an upbeat song about heartbreak decides to shine a different light on the situation by claiming the story back for herself. For more information, visit Okubo at Vivaillajams.tumblr.com or view her portfolio at Cargocollective.com/jamillaokuboart.