Your Body Is Gone but You Never Left Me
You’re the bird that comes to see me. The bird that perches on the power line above my letterbox and looks in. Your arrogant tweet pierces the air at random. You just watch me, stick your nosy beak into my private affairs as if I don’t know it’s you. I confront you, tell you I know who you are. You deny it. But I can see through your feathered cloak.
Who would’ve thought you’d be reincarnated into a starling? That you’d make your nest in the neighbors unmaintained spouting. Make your new life at the bottom of the sky.
Season of Lights
by Jeremy Nathan Marks
It is the season of lights.
In my window is a nine-fingered lamp. It is powered not by coal, hydro, oil, or gas. It is a lamp of feathers.
Blue jay. Cardinal. Junco. Chickadee.
Some feathers in my lamp repeat.
Finch. Finch. Tweet-tweet.
My neighbors prefer electric lights. They say Jesus was swaddled in a dream coat of electric colors. They cover their home with so many bulbs no bird can sleep. The lights wink like beaks.
Our street has become a mosaic of tails which, when stood upright, could be mistaken for candles.
by Sarah Dabous
I used to crave an adventure that I never got to embark on, for there was nothing to seek out to begin with.
The mysteries faded like a fine layer of mist abating under the unforgiving heat of the sun. Rather than being surprised by a rewarding revelation, I was met with disappointment. There was nothing waiting there to begin with.
There is no mystery, there is no grand adventure waiting to begin. There is only nothingness under a scorching sun.
The Almost Invisible Man
by Tom Baldwin
He was short, with untidy hair and nondescript clothes. Few people noticed him, and women ignored him. He didn’t mind.
He found it hard to catch the eye of waiters and barmen, who usually served him last, if they noticed him at all. He didn’t mind.
When he spoke to people they soon forgot him, or at best would be hard-pushed to describe him. That pleased him.
Only he, and a shadowy government department, knew he had infiltrated and foiled the worst terrorist plot the country had ever faced. Now he was looking forward to his next assignment.
I Never Gave Her a Name
I remember my synthetic baby girl. Like me, a smiling-sad little thing. My childhood doll was a plump thermoplastic form dad had brought home one unusual night. Unusual because he wasn’t in the habit of walking through the door holding little baby dolls in his big hands. He was thrilled I wanted a doll. My first. My only. My younger sister’s flaxen-haired, bow-lipped dollies had never bothered to kiss away my tears. My brown-haired baby doll was beautiful to me, a full-bellied, coffee-eyed friend. I never gave her a name. Then I gave her away.
by David Henson
A golf course snaked around the facility where they cooped the old woman after her name flew away from her. One day she snuck out behind the mail carrier and meandered the fairways and greens, snatching balls — eggs to bake the chocolate cake that once lured family to her home.
A foursome tried to corral her, but she out-maneuvered their carts and crouched among a gaggle by the hazard on seven. When the golfers charged, the birds honked into the sky and wedged away.
They found her housecoat floating in the pond, but Grandmother Goose was never seen again.
by G.J. Williams
There was no Dexter Mahon. He was made up, to account for the sinister edge that entered proceedings. He was never anywhere near. His matter-of-fact approach was the fruit of agonised retellings, each word honed. He’d no link to the lower echelons, no say to speak of. What daylight there was found him out, as it was bound to, of course, there being no such person. He was not even in the shadows.
by David M Wallace
Little Amy picked up the head from where it lay in the dust near the axe. It was as soft and weightless as a marigold.
“Come back! I’ll fix you!” she cried, running in frantic circles.
Feathers flew everywhere.
I sleep on a cot and the cat can’t see, cross-eyed from catnip. He misses his box, sprays my bed, and showers my daughter’s blankie. The laundromat is across 12th, so I lug the week’s clothes on my back. My daughter follows, sucks her fingers, wanders out into traffic. I bite through my tongue; I taste blood. Our underwear strewn across Vermont. The bow of the violin doesn’t care, not one bit. The hand of the clock kills again and again, just like that.
Elaine hadn’t meant to start reading, but she’d found a book in the attic, crammed into one of her bins. Sitting on her knees, she’d uncreased the cover and opened it. She would read until she remembered the plot.
That had been hours ago. Book finished, Elaine settled against the plastic bin. Dust spindled in the light. Mom would be in Sarasota by Christmas. Elaine would have to fly down. That seemed the task of someone else. Someone older. A real adult.
In the attic light, the cover of the book shone. What else would she forget, over time?
by Keith Norris
He wears his loneliness like a winter coat in a snowstorm. He is never warm enough. Rain pounding on the roof of his trailer reminds him of days looking out waiting for his dog to come home. His only buddy.
Too many opinions, too much criticism, and loss of empathy for the complex emotional ailments of others pushed people away.
Now he marks time by the rooster’s wailing every morning. He bathes sorrows and regrets in the day’s fleeting Autumn sunshine. But he never feels clean and is looking forward to the warmth of Summer.
by Sally Wagner
After she moved away, no one back home ever wanted to break any bad news to her. Not to bother her, they said. They didn’t even call her the night her brother’s house caught fire. She was enjoying a soft serve in her backyard the moment his life was reduced to ashes. She had felt so isolated, so helpless, so guilt-ridden when she found out about the incident months later.
She takes a deep breath and presses the urn closer to her chest. She will tell them about Ben tonight, she decides. For she knows that ignorance isn’t always bliss.
A Hole in Kentucky
by B.G. Smith
He glanced inside the square hole, pondering the depth for its intended purpose, and at the tiny silhouette wrapped in the green duvet lying on the ground beside it. A throbbing, angry blister formed on the webspace of his right hand as he plunged the spaded shovel into the frozen earth.
It was November in Kentucky, and an early cold snap made the red clay impossible to penetrate. That should do. He never met the disabled woman before today after responding to a post published on a local neighborhood social media page: HELP NEEDED DIGGING GRAVE FOR LHASA APSO (DOG).
My Jury Returned
I stood, best I could. The courtroom blurred then shimmered like a hot desert road. I went there. Took a ride in my pickup with my mutt Romeo, dry wind whipped through the cab, and I slugged a cold beer. Somebody read the verdict. I hit the brakes, crashed right into my mother’s cries. That sound hurt worse than a scorpion bite to my heart. Things weren’t going to be ok for her. I stared down the jury. Shook my head hard hoping Mom saw. ‘Cause I never wanted her to know. Even think. They’d gotten it right about me.
by Jack Galati
Dancing in the sky are those northern lights seen from the creek. A short walk from the cabin. When I moved to Alaska they told me I’d only find the cold and harrowing.
Oh, but how warm, these lights. How much on those nights they say I am not alone.
And when I return home, I come back to a feast of love. Open door to the warm and kind. The familiar. And when I set off again, know it is not forever. And that whenever I return, it will all be there. There, baking, in that wondrous, sonorous, familiar.
by Gage Banks
Decades of growth led to a beautiful forest blossoming along the clouds. Shrubbery, so vibrant yet calm. Footsteps among the wood are not heard but felt under the ground through thousands of sap-filled veins.
Elder trees speaking through the roots, telling tales of fallen friends. Some speak of men with spinning maws. Maws biting and ripping the flesh and bone of wooded kin, leaving a spray of arboreal viscera. Limbs split in twain, burnt to ash like old garbage
Minutes of pain, thrown to the ever-hungry flame. No stories to tell, only crackles of charred limbs torn from elder trees.
Sleek, cold bar under her right hand. Legs bent at an odd angle. The tips of her toes pointed to the floor. One breath of air, then two. The mirror reflected her face. Her tired smile. Thin, rosy cheeks. Hair in a tight bun, her fly-aways slicked back.
One breath, two. Her tutu felt soft on her hand. Her arm lifted over her head, her legs went down in a plie position. Her ankles cracked. She fell down the rabbit hole. Dust, that’s the only thing left of her now.
by Yash Seyedbagheri
I carry the eggs home.
When I open, rows of white ovals stare up at me. Except for two cracked open.
So much for a dozen.
There are ten eggs. I have to make them last a week. Along with the remnants of an onion, some sardines.
I pick up the fragments of shell as if I can put it all together again. Sweep away the temper, the reduced salaries, the subtraction. Fridges rife with expensive booze.
Now, the yolks glimmer, naked, unabashed.
I get a spoon. Take my first bite.
It’s a little cold. Raw. A beginning.
by Tim Boiteau
After he doused her with the pot of boiling water, he fled from the screams, drove for hours, mind a white haze. Pulled over at a grocery store several states over and wandered the aisles. Filled up his cart with Vienna sausage tins. The sound of them clattering together soothed his nerves.
“I didn’t really.”
He paid, loaded all those cans into his car. Headed back home, picturing the broth sloshing over those pink tubes of boiled meat.
His wife was gone.
Must’ve imagined it.
Except for the cold puddle on the floor.
The Owls Go Round
by LM Zaerr
Antibiotic ointment glistens on his bald head, but the gash won’t heal. “Mary? Did you feed the chickens?”
“I’m not Mary.”
He scritches a fingernail on the kitchen table and chips off another piece of varnish. The patch of raw wood grows. He rotates his coffee mug, gritting the remaining varnish. Ceramic owls glide round and round, winging me back, from granddaughter to sister. “Neighbor’s windmill squeals like a stuck pig. He won’t fix it. I’ll climb up in the night with a bucket of oil.”
The crack in his mind sends his past flooding over me, an unexpected blessing.
Waking to the nothingness, there is void outside the viewport and a deep space emptiness within us.
“Take me away from it all,” you said, desperate, and so here we are, on a one-way trip to the research station on Titan. Now you’re bored already, blame me for losing the social life you didn’t want, and dread the routine of the work to come.
We’re both carefully avoiding saying that we can’t see an endless future together, even as we head relentlessly towards it.
Desolate, I’m trying to decide which of us, if either, will survive the trip.
by Emily Clemente
Your mom used to bake pies in the dark. The light of day burned too much, but the moon was cold, just like her. That’s why she left at night, when the sun was gone from the sky. Now all I have of hers are the two things she loved most: The pie she baked that night. And you.
You don’t want to eat the pie. You say it looks too sad, like her eyes are in the crust. But I think you should. You might cry now, but one day you’ll see that our tears all taste the same.
by Susi Lovell
She stood on the quay in the moonlight looking like an angel, screaming like a fishwife. I rowed like the devil was after me. And wasn’t he? Not the blue boar — oh the teeth on him — it was her the devil, eyes all a-glitter.
At a safe distance, I rested my oars, looked back. She stretched up her neck, long and skinny, lips touching the moon. She swallowed it whole, the blue boar leaning against her knee, her hand cradling its head.
Get away, I told myself and set my oars in motion. But I drew closer and closer.
by Allison Douglas-Tourner
No band to welcome the heroes home. No cheers. No flags. He turned away from a church that was shocked to hear about smoking in the trenches. Took on a school in the flats where he spent his money on skates and books for the children. He taught fair play, and self-reliance, once mending his own bleeding hand at assembly with a needle and thread. Rely on yourselves he said. Don’t trust authority. He never had time for school inspectors. Too busy playing marbles with the kids. And, in memory of the fallen boys, he planted trees. Many trees.
by Doug Jacquier
The rain came in sideways, driven by the same scouring winds that had delivered the dust from farms hundreds of miles away for so many summers now and sent our own on a similar journey. As long as there was enough to drown our despair at fly-blown carcasses in the paddocks, 100-year-old trees falling like matchsticks and harvesters rusting in sagging sheds, because these days real seeds only produced phantom crops. We whispered prayers that the rain would trigger flash flooding and wash out the roads and cut off the power; that was pain we could gladly endure.
by Swapan K Banerjee
The vehement impulse to have nothing to do with this meaningless existence sent him packing to the seppuku forest. Following the trail he eyed a sign: Don’t venture further. He took the forbidden path, his unsteady feet struggling to detangle the gnarled roots. Amidst gathering darkness, as he felt the weapon in his pocket that would let him through this ordeal called life, finally, he got startled by the sound of a branch snapping. In a small clearing ahead he found his girlfriend, noose and a crucifix of Jesus on a chain around her neck, lying on the ground, alive.
by Carlton Clayton
On a Saturday afternoon, I was at the back of the elementary school facing the windows of my fifth-grade classroom. I could see the snakes floating in formaldehyde in large glass jars on the shelf behind the teacher’s desk. The paddle, a glazed candy-striped cricket bat with a strip of rawhide looped through a small hole in its handle, was propped up against the desk. Mr. Whitlock told us he’d made it himself. I hated him. The windows were in rectangular panes, a great wall of them, seven across and five down. Spectacular! I threw rocks and busted them all.
by Louise McStravick
Her hands would move quickly, without thought as she watched television. The hook pulling the wool through. I would watch it grow, widening.
I wrap myself in the colours of it. Fall asleep to a programme I’m not watching.
I dream I am wearing the blanket, in the woods. Somewhere we’d visited before. I cannot find her, so I walk deeper, unspooling until it is nothing. I am naked, cold, alone. I am running, following the thread back home to where she is sitting. Hands gathering wool.
I wake up. Alone. Held by the blanket.
Larry attended a knitting circle with his cellmate. He learned to hand-knit scarves and blankets, weave supple yarn with stocky hands. He looped soft thread around calloused fingers, was lulled into daydreams. Knitters smiling and chattering about neighbors or children. Knitters boasting of spouses and jobs, houses and cars. Knitters not shoveling gravel or swinging sledgehammers, not scrounging to survive. Knitters not getting blackout drunk and burning things, not beating a man and getting scared of who they’d become. Knitters not swearing they would change or be better, not breaking promises and knuckles as warm wool comforted their unstained hands.
She was down to a single Rome Beauty. The last apple for her last day. Later, she’d run naked through the frigid forest to finish what she came to the cabin to do. Go out as she came in. Bare ass moonlit naked. She counted down her time an apple a day for thirty days. Time to live. To think. Laugh. To remember. Or not. To howl with wolves. Dance the hot potato. Burn camp chairs in the fireplace. Hang pots and pans from blue trees. Sugar rush deer hardcore. Practice run to the cliff where winter skies wait.
by Yash Seyedbagheri
They bid me howdy in their white trucks with their easy smiles, scents of Camels and tar. The Eagles play from radios. They welcome me. Ask if there’s anything I need.
I smile. Wave. I even tip that cheap cowboy hat I bought.
It’s been months since I’ve heard that word. Fuck off has been my constant companion.
Every time I try to reciprocate, my words seem flat, like months-old Diet Pepsi. They nod in understanding. They must think me shy. Or weird.
But when they say goodbye, I reciprocate with desperate ease, word echoing like a hundred goodbyes before.
by Jeremy Nathan Marks
I bought a broom that lets me sweep up spiders without breaking their legs. I can deposit them gently into my garden. My garden is like a coliseum of displaced insects. Some have all of their limbs, while others are missing one or more for mysterious reasons. How is it that insects are threatened with extinction? I find them wobbling around, waiting to grow new limbs. They prove the point that life is more than fight versus flight: it is autosarcophagy. A fox will chew off its leg to escape a trap. There is a future for the maimed.
by G.J. Williams
The man who gave you a helping hand has had his fingers broken, and the woman who gave you shelter is homeless. Is how it stands at the moment.
And those kindly fruitsellers at the park? Picking stones, somewhere north. As for your ornithologist friend, she’s finding the dusty basements hard going, old dental records not being her bag. And your neighbours? They keep to themselves, and are happy enough to do so, aware as they are of the various alternatives.
Is how things stand at the moment.
by Iain Rowan
Even though he doesn’t get letters anymore, because who does these days, he still looks forward to the post arriving.
He picks each envelope up from the doormat and holds them tight in his hands for a few moments before putting them into the recycle bin. Even though it’s only ever junk mail, to reach him it has passed from one human hand to another, and in that there is something.
by Tim Frank
It’s just that Gina’s pregnant, her mum’s just flown in from Nigeria with giant snails packed in Tupperware and they don’t fit in the fridge, they’ll rot, they’ll rot, shrieks my mother-in-law then Gina says it’s coming, and as she sobs in the toilet her mum says, I told you so, he’s no good, and the truth is we have a flat the size of a ping pong table, I work in a fucking bar and cigarettes cost twenty a box. I guess I’m not ready for this, I don’t even feel like an adult.
It’s not OK.
Alex and the Face
by James Burt
We were in 6th form when Alex found the face. He was happy to share it and we all took turns wearing it. At first, the new features made my skin ache, with its tighter cheekbones and small nose. I soon grew to love the feeling of being someone else – there’s a thrill to playing with your identity when you’re a teenager. Sometimes we’d go to the pub and swap it between rounds. I still sometimes see the face in town, and long to say hello, but I don’t know for sure if it’s one of the old gang.
by Nancy Welch
On the downward slope of your forties, you marry, acquire a stepdaughter, and learn to ski.
“So brave,” friends say. “At your age.”
But gentle groomers forgive your wedge. For the occasional yard sale—skis and poles strewn—your newly-wed husband skis clean-up.
From the lift, you watch the toddlers, tethered to one parent while the other slow-carves a protective perimeter. On this hill, your husband has explained, he and his ex taught their daughter. You picture them each time the unforgivable fact of you spins the girl into a yard sale, her father, on clean-up, hopeless to retrieve what she’s lost.
The New Measuring Device
by Divya George
“What size should we buy?” she asked him, sipping tea. Her phone opened on Amazon with ‘skewers for kitchen’ in the Search bar.
He jumped into action.
Her attention shifted to skewer composition, wood vs steel.
He walked in circles, murmuring, “can’t find it.”
She didn’t notice him pick something from near her and head into the kitchen.
He reappeared all smiles. “How big is our new clock?”, he asked.
‘Totally unrelated’, she thought. “Let me see”, she replied, her eyes now on Order History. “14 inches.”
“We need smaller”, he said, holding out the clock. “This doesn’t fit.”
Absentee Friend Found
by James Mahone
In three weeks Fernie went from burley to that sinewy/striated look of a feral tweaker found hanging around Kum and Go parking lots at odd hours. Every vein conspicuous like electrical wiring in a stripped house, every dehydrated muscle furrowed and popping like his skin had been removed and the muscles underneath painted beige. Looking at him gave M the fantods. He thought about those exhibits with the corpses in various poses of activity and leisure, where they lacked skin but had popping eyeballs and whitened teeth; everyone always looked up into the assholes of the anatomical displays.
by Edward Ahern
The man wore his clothes well and wasn’t ugly. Valerie, bored by arty conversations, weaved through the museum exhibits and stood in front of him.
“Tell me something I won’t believe.”
He smiled. “I’m boring. I don’t drink, smoke, gamble, or do drugs.”
“No, that’s sad but believable.”
His smile turned wistful.
“The model for this statue and I were lovers.”
“The plaque says the statue is two millennia old. It’s impossible.”
“There you go.”
“Tell me more.”
“She left me because of my profession.”
“I weigh souls using a feather.”
“What about mine?”
“Don’t die for a while.”
by Charlotte M. Porter
No question, she stood out like an exclamation point among the literary crowd. Kissing was her idea, and here they are making out. Frankly, he doesn’t find her attractive. Why? She has children. He doesn’t like kids. He has two of his own. End of story.
From birth, his brood were zeros, and he gladly pays child support for the privilege of absence and bad behavior, his, theirs. And hers. At some point, he’ll tell the woman on the hotel couch he has tongue cancer. Maybe next week, to shock her, to shame her, after she’s back home.
I Keep Doing This
by TQ Sims
I have always had this secret power. I draw out the poison, the sticky, dense, tar that blinds him. I remind him. I’m your brother. Nothing changes that.
He forgets. His tone shifts. He slips, says something about some misinterpreted or contradictory verse. He speaks with someone else’s voice before he realizes. I’m the one listening.
He sees me, remembers, maybe subconsciously feels me working to strip away the odious gloom, uncovering his heart again and again. He sighs with relief but looks away from me.
The poison keeps coming, and again, I uncover his heart. I keep doing this.
by Wendy Cobourne
I sneak onto the dock, wishing I could dive in. The airborne arc of me, the piercing of the water’s smooth skin with my fingertips hands arms head shoulders torso thighs shins ankles toes, Oh my god, I’m in. Bulleting through the cold liquid underground. I am swallowed whole into a deep wet kiss, engulfed, sealed in the cool redeeming silence of submersion. Decompressing, reaching languorously for handful after handful of the ungraspable, pulling my weightless self forward. Into the unknown. I was not born to be earthbound, I will tell them at home.
I found my sketches, cleaning the house. Blueprints of all the buildings I had planned to design someday, back when my dreams flowed without end like leaves down an autumn creek.
*I wasn’t wrong*, I told myself immediately, at the pang in my heart. I looked out at my partner, playing with the kids on the lawn. I looked out at my choices.
And then I folded those designs carefully. I didn’t recycle them, didn’t use them. I just put them back, forced the memories silent, and moved on and away.
The Time Machine
I wake up—
Nope. Same day. The sun has moved, though, to get a better look inside my apartment: without her things, it’s a magazine page with pictures cut out.
And he’s here. I admit it (finally).
“Admit?” Ihhh. Confess? Maybe?
Recognize. I recognize him. Who. Uh. Is me.
Well not…me-me. But a me that I recognize I don’t want to be. Anymore. Who still treats relationships like I’m 20. Like he’s 20.
Oh fuck it.
I adjust the blanket, set the pillow, and go off in search of a future where I can handle that guy.
by Blue Silver
Two thin fuses lie buried in my face, and one day my skin will flicker and burn. I unearthed them in the mirror, and they creep towards my nose from upturned corners. You told me I had ignited yours, but levity and gravity always left you traceless.
These days, I watch stars from my porch and sometimes old newsreels of your launch, and your descent towards the red dirt. Tonight, I hit play on the last tape, the fireball upon landing, and wonder why your fuse burned quicker than mine. You might have loved the view from this porch too.
by Bernardo Villela
Beset by the world’s woes Bill Lee went to live at sea. Landlocked existence churned his stomach; acrid wildfires stung his eyes; the summer sun scorched his skin.
With fish and fresh air, he could live anywhere. Beneath the water line, in the brine, barnacles started growing upon his hide. Surfacing for warmth didn’t shake them or kill them off. He loved them as they multiplied, felt a symbiosis with them—they were Neptune’s gift.
They were his armor against mankind. When people approached he’d say “Woe betide to all who come this way.”
Off they ran, and stayed away.
Get Back to Work
by Nicholas T. Schafer
The framing nail stuck out of my chest. Everything stopped. I stared at the nail. Jesse, who was holding the other board, stared at the nail. Sam, our foreman, who had fired the high velocity shiner out of the nail-gun through the two by four into my chest, stared at the nail.
Only the nail moved. Up and down. I realized, with relief, that I was still breathing, and that breathing didn’t hurt.
Sam reached over, pulled the front of my shirt. The nail pinged to the floor.
“No blood, no foul. Get back to work.”
None of Us Is All Here
by G.J. Williams
This is where cigarettes are called christnumbers and the go-to place after death is referred to as The Shangles. What happens there is unclear but is generally thought to be agreeable. In the meantime there’s a white wall of silence; palpable; procedural. And there’s always someone who’ll pipe-up, ‘Hey, where isn’t Jesus?’ A more valid question can scarcely be imagined, given what’s at stake, which is to say: everything. Immortelles are in their vases, corridors cry. All is not well with the world. It comes on strong, adopts a joshing tone as it clatters in, the cutlery plastic.
by Xanthe Miller
I got fed up. That has made me wicked. By wicked I mean effective. Unapologetic. I’m not sorry, just hungry from years of genteel starving. Ravenous with a mouth full of my unspoken self, footsore with undanced dances. I am finally getting comfortable in this skin, just as it begins to shift and fade. I’ve opened the book of spells and have my favorites. So tonight at sunset I will put on the voluminous skirt that belonged to my mother and my grandmother and whirl and whirl while I can. And take what I take.
by Liz Betz
Jenny knows she could have parked straighter, but she’s running late. First the car needed gas and then she caught a string of red lights. Her toddler begins to cry at the door of the daycare. Jenny has to be strong and kiss her goodbye saying, Mommy has to hurry. Mommy loves you.
Her little girl would be okay in a few minutes, but will she? Back at the car, she sees the flapping paper. A ticket? No. A note. You SUCK at parking. SERIOUSLY. She can’t argue. She needs to do better.
Enough of a Triumph
by Ken Poyner
Playing croquet on a hillside complicates the game. Grass thickness comes even more into play. Strategy requires elevated thinking. You do not recover as well from a blunder. And yet, it adds thrill to sending an opponent’s ball thundering off. Differences in elevation drives subtlety in approach. Consider how long it will be, from all the leaning back or aside, before your hamstrings give out. I’m off to lay out my wickets in the cruelest of spots. I cannot wait to see the confusion on your face.