It’s so hot the hornets are drowning themselves.
In the sky clouds hang low and puffy-chested,
reminding me to take in the laundry. I watch
the trees tremble, then in a slip of lightning go inside.
A burst of cool air, the floor’s damp with it.
Leaves are tapping the windows as if pleading
to be let in, unsafe where they belong.
But I don’t want to. I hear the wind moaning
like a wounded animal and I’m frightened by dying
things. Their failing limbs and mundane stink,
how their desperation makes you complicit. In these
big blue hours I know I have little to worry about.
This is another summer in the rest of my life.

Stacey Yu (she/her) is a writer and reviewer based in San Francisco. She once memorized 400 digits of pi, for which she won an apple pie.

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Smearing sunscreen on your body,
I think of all the crevices I can’t reach.

If my fingers were small enough
to know the insides of your ears…!

I push my thumbs into the divots of
your lower back as if you’re made of clay,

ready to shape into my small neighborhood.
Around us the bees are making feast.

I know there is nothing to be afraid of;
even in the sea I can tell your sweat from saltwater.

Listen, lover—we have found each other
young, and now we’ll never know

what it’s like to look a strange beast
in the eyes and want to run.

Stacey Yu (she/her) is a writer and reviewer based in San Francisco. She once memorized 400 digits of pi, for which she won an apple pie.

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These are not self-inflicted
wounds my pale

flesh endures
at this moment but,

rather, the insistent announcement
of a diagnosis:

the time has come. A nightingale
awakens me before dawn. On

the deck of the yurt
I watch a jackrabbit

zigzag across the
high desert towards the Jemez

hills at midday. I sip
black coffee, rubbing strong sage

between my fingers. The scent of it
in the windless air, dry,

ardiente. You are asleep
in our bedroom

with the sage paint
we chose together. I slide

closed the closet door, gently,
so as not to wake you,

slip into bed
to a slight stir, a tug of you. I always

knew it was coming but
never mentioned it.

“Please don’t go there,” you
would have said. So I

didn’t. Now it is here.
With sharp fingernails I scrape

at the eczema of memory. The tram approaches

the platform where I find myself
wearing a ball cap and jeans,

untucked flannel shirt, my Sauconys.
It is all so familiar. Overcast,

mild, a chance of rain. Some blue breaks
in the bluish clouds. Others

begin to assemble
around me, unhurried:

A couple of opioid addicts, some
poor kid in a wheelchair,

a few, like me, the
emasculated progeny of Don

and Betty Draper. I try to remember
what stop

I need to get off at
when I get on. But I can

only recall seeing one
stale crumb of popped corn

on the bathroom floor
this morning. And now

I am standing on
this platform. My neck

cracks. I tell myself:
You can do this.

The tram glides
to a stop.

We wait, motionless,
for the doors to open.

M F Drummy is the author of numerous academic articles and essays, and a monograph on religion and ecology (Being and Earth). His poetry has appeared in Mayfly, Frogpond, and The Mainichi. After 40 years of laboring away on a soul-crushing zombie hamster wheel, he and his wife currently split their time between the Colorado Rockies and the Ecuadorian Andes.

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An Epistemology of Your Heart

What does my touch feel
like to you? Is it

when you were eight
            and freckled

on a warm summer evening
chasing fireflies with a Mason jar

in your hand, your mother
calling for you

the suburban backyards

of Pennsylvania and,

you float homeward
in gossamer linen?

When I speak what do you hear?
A renaissance

grumbled in
soundless heartbeats? A small scissor

of complaint? Flat steps?
                        Is my scent

something you could identify
in a bottle at Kohl’s

and say: “This is him,
my husband”? Do I ever

taste like the cebolla pizza
we split every Tuesday

at La Fornace, familiar now
and deeply satisfying? Like an

old shoe in your mouth,
cheese and oregano

on the tongue. Is it
kind of like that? When you

look for me in a crowd
            from behind

is it my gray cowlick
you first recognize? Are you

come home
in that moment?

M F Drummy is the author of numerous academic articles and essays, and a monograph on religion and ecology (Being and Earth). His poetry has appeared in Mayfly, Frogpond, and The Mainichi. After 40 years of laboring away on a soul-crushing zombie hamster wheel, he and his wife currently split their time between the Colorado Rockies and the Ecuadorian Andes.

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An arrival

It is wild to be here.
Even our most mundane
days we are galloping past stars. Even
the quietest life; one of ironed cotton,
simple pleasures, affection and abundance,
one in which the only trauma was being born;
(a trauma I do not take lightly);
even these lives are astonishing, terrifying.
This is the peaceful life I offer you,
at least for now. I bake banana bread
while my wounds heal. I put out niger seeds
for exquisite finches and think maybe they will mistake
this parched garden for a savannah.
I hold you in my arms.
I have never seen charcoal eyes before.
Your skin translucent, so spare I don’t know
how you hold together. A death foretold looks up at me.
Will it be water, fire or stone? I know
I brought you here too late, for certainly the earth
will take us back before the cold hospital sheets
beckon you. I sift through the elements
taking what I need for you;
foundation, fluency, fire,
freedom. The future falls
open like pages.

Charlotte Crossland is a poet and writer living on the south coast of England with her young family. She works as an anaesthetist and enjoys sea swimming and watching the birds. She also finds herself frequently playing Lego, wrestling and recreating scenes from Star Wars with her two young sons.

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At dusk I walk in the floodplain of the Mersey

Evening in the fields comes earlier, the feathery seed heads of exuberant grass and the wide flung spider webs delicate with beads of the wet air, the meadow damp, and tiny globes of elderberry and hawthorn hang in high wild hedges. Smoke teases the air from another age and I forage, like centuries of women have foraged before me, to fill jars and shelves before the emptiness of winter.

I clamber between moss-furred trunks of knotted elder and apple, skirting hip-high nettles and my feet planted in the cider-soft carcasses of fruit fallen too soon, balance on bending branches, hair tangling in twigs, to find that I am here too late, and birds have stripped the canopy of its dark sprays of berries.

Joanna Hope Bricher studied at Dartington College of Arts and is now based in the North of England. She lives with chronic illness. You can see some of her lino and letterpress printing (and glimpses of poetry) at

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I bend my head
And words disperse
            Like dandelion seeds
Nature drives this force
            And my love for so many things
            And my love for so many things
It used to be that one ounce
               One ounce of our world
Could inspire the magic in my hands
                  I would cradle my thoughts
                  As I cradled the ritual of writing
It used to be that a momentary flicker
         Of a candle
Was enough
            That was then

A magic 8 ball sits atop my desk today
Scratches fleck the surface
                  I search the ultraviolet ink for wishes
“You need grounding,” I once was told
I thought of this as I fingered an amber ring in a witchy shop
                  It was too expensive
                  It sits on my finger now
                  Heavy with grounding

But I am better now
There is an impermanence to the air
                  I could aspire to
Amber traps the particles of this world like miniature artifacts
But me, see, I never aim to trap:
                  Finding is my desire

Kortney Sebben is a writer and teacher residing in Columbia, Missouri. Her poetry has recently won her Honorable Mention at the School of Literature, Language, and Cultures Conference in 2021, sponsored by the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She has an essay set for publication with UNK’s Graduate Review entitled “Witness, Justice, and the Silent Confessional.” She is currently working on a poetry manuscript.

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Fingers deftly lift – release
brand new playing cards –
they hover at your fingertips
and fall just like a bridge. It connects
this space between you and me.
You deal our cards as you lecture
me on the game’s rules but I only
half-listen. I will learn
as I go. Instead I let my mind
drift to other things. I know
full well you love to answer
my questions. You tend to find
these moments to shift the world –

the other day you lifted a
piece of cardboard from the
trash to show me where
it belongs (in another piece of
cardboard), like a magician showing the
audience a rabbit from out of a hat,
or a queen of some suit they’d seen.
Imagine that, you wittily say at its deposit.
Cardboard belongs with cardboard
(But don’t you know I already know?)
You reveal spaces in our home.

Downstairs, a closet door opens to
game boxes, all tetrised
into a cacophony of color. How
you have labored over this
display, moving and removing boxes
large and small to curate the perfect
design. I smile at my favorite space
each time I slide the door –
a miniscule pocket you’ve organized
for the smallest ones to sit just so. It’s
you in a space, and I am the drawer
upstairs, filled with remnants of broken
chocolate bars, of capless pens – a drawer
of afterthoughts and missed opportunities.

When you maneuver the deck just now, your
wrists move with a crisp flick to let the cards
glide into their piles. Your timing is
a metronome. Those hands labored
over wood for months on end
as you built the table we now play at;
you chose poplar: unwise, you say.
It’s too soft, you now know.
Your mind sees all the grating
strokes of the sander, the spots of
pooled rich stain. Today we sit
on opposite sides of this table
that magically shifted
from your mind six months ago. We test it
out as we play a game about stars – knees
hit the legs too easily,
you say. You
can’t help yourself, can’t enjoy
the chance of this creation the
same way you enjoy the chance in
all your games. But I love it like
I love the way you worked your hands
and manipulated a vision
in your head. You tweaked it just so
carefully sanded, again and again until
the wood melted like butter.

Kortney Sebben is a writer and teacher residing in Columbia, Missouri. Her poetry has recently won her Honorable Mention at the School of Literature, Language, and Cultures Conference in 2021, sponsored by the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She has an essay set for publication with UNK’s Graduate Review entitled “Witness, Justice, and the Silent Confessional.” She is currently working on a poetry manuscript.

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July, Georgia

The boy fell asleep on me
Two decades into the Sorrowful Mysteries.
Mid-July, ninety-one degrees at noon.
From the road, the shade under the
Pecan trees looks like little Edens.
Sweat dribbles down my face, not
Blood, no crown of thorns, just the
Same old shit I like to sharpen and
Carry like some second-hand cross.
The boy snores on my shoulder and
It feels like Hell outside. Summer,
Georgia. The cicadas sing me along
And I listen. Their faith is known, as
Much as their fate. To be so delicate,
So fixed in place. The Chinese poets said
Life is lived in little moments. And I
Suppose death is died in the same way.
Turning the corner there’s a man pulling
Pieces of a turtle from his lawnmower.
I know the turtle. The boy and I have
Watched its contemplative walk from
The grass to the river every morning.
I’m glad he’s asleep. I feel sad watching
The man toss bits of the shell onto his
Driveway as he cusses-out the turtle.
Hell outside. The heat and cicada drone,
Enough to make you scream at dead things.
I continue on with my prayer, The Crowning
Of the Thorns. My prayers taste like the
Sea and I feel my sons chest rise and fall.
I pray, but it’s only mechanical. My mouth
Says the words while my heart figures
Out what I’ll tell my son when the turtle
Isn’t there tomorrow, or the tomorrow
After that.

Spencer K. M. Brown is an award-winning poet and novelist. He is the author of the novels Move Over Mountain (2019) and Hold Fast (Fall, 2022). He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife and son.

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Earthy, bitter, almost musky, with a bit of pepperiness

My beloved called them “peekers”—golden faces of those who had passed, noses protruding like poppies up from the grassy mats. Drunk on diesel fuel, we danced barefoot upon foreheads and freckles, fearing not the curses our friends foretold—porcupines, pimples, pale priests. Flecks of glittering gold from dead irises, eyelashes, eyebrows nestled into our noses, our toes, the tips of our tongues. They tasted of turmeric, of trouble.

Bethany Jarmul is a writer, editor, and artist. Her work has appeared in The Citron Review, the Brevity Blog, Gastropoda, Literary Mama, and Sky Island Journal, among others. She earned first place in Women On Writing’s Q2 2022 essay contest. She lives near Pittsburgh with her family. Connect with her at or on Twitter: @BethanyJarmul.

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ghazal for red daughters

baba look, it is her tongue on her dress. the moon shivering
at the sight of her heartache lips. could that be me someday,

baba? i already hold knives like she does, yield them like the heroines
on your ceiling. my fingers long & nimble, almost touching the scorched

tips of the bangs you braid. do you think my heels arch high
enough, baba? watch me: as i file my nails until they become the blades

& daggers in your dishwasher, the tines on china forks & the names
carved on naked chopsticks. perhaps i can also learn to sift through

each loose thread grasping onto my body, like mama. you taught
me when my legs were still torn apart, crossed like a dinner plate

sewed onto dusted hanfu, that my limbs are a doll’s, cotton-
stuffed & ichorous blood instead of the drugging iron & zinc

needled into mama’s money veins. instead, i learn to watch your blood
as it spills over our verandah, like a punctured mosquito holding

blades in a swarm. your finger tracing baby names in each puddle as
i learn to draw pinyin & skinny mannequins on my walls until i am

like mama to twist the hearts of lung-yearning heroes. i’ve already
learned to dissociate pretty smiles from the bleached hands planted

on my breasts in the time you’ve given me. baba, will my body
become like the stars on her pupils, if i try? head & toes sharpened

until i can no longer feel myself. perhaps, numbness can become
my grossing, the secret to becoming meimei in your eyes.

Vivian Huang is a sixteen-year-old poet from Irvine, California. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Lumiere Review, Paper Crane Journal, Ice Lolly Review, Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine and elsewhere. She is the Editor-in-Chief at The Cloudscent Journal, and edits for The Lunar Journal and Crossroads Literary Magazine.

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synthesis / erosion

on the first day of my husband’s synthesis, we learned
to plant peonies in the center of his tongue. burial

is the way his fingers twirl in mine, grasping
my palm lines like they are static: breath stops, pauses

like the cricket that sings war songs. here, we were taught
the ways & tricks to morph our vertebraes together,

as if they are the anecdote to the disease growing
on our feet like pesticides preying on swollen

mosquito belly. perhaps first days are meant
to last forever: tallies forgotten on the splintered

verandahs, gate prised open with our raw & bare
palms, dried saliva beneath our throats. marks

that we were here. our bone intertwined, weaved
together like we are only meant to live until our makeshift

fingers learn to fall apart, shattering synthesis &
oxidizing our infirmed breaths like they were never

part of our lungs. & the first day of my husband’s
synthesis, we traded our torn-out bentley for a pair

of dragon wings, dragging across the floor like a sleeve
from a stolen child. & so i learned to cuff my wrists to my eyes

to blind myself. his eyes pasted to the popcorn walls, sockets
unmoving as he begins to synthesize & i begin to ladle

the closed sky as if it would pause, throat spilling
the truths in my lungs like sweetness on his tongue.

Vivian Huang is a sixteen-year-old poet from Irvine, California. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Lumiere Review, Paper Crane Journal, Ice Lolly Review, Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine and elsewhere. She is the Editor-in-Chief at The Cloudscent Journal, and edits for The Lunar Journal and Crossroads Literary Magazine.

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skinned with 99 cents

a haibun for mother

& we trail each other’s spit through the grazed floors, calluses scorching on the pits of our feet. my mouth lays itself on each redneck snapper, tongue open in bidding sky as if each letter of my country is spilling from my thinning cheekbones, pinyin forgotten like the lingering rust at the back of my throat. perhaps each bone we carry remains caved in the hollow of our veins & to us, it is called kōngxū, but to them it is only sickness, a cancer contagious to the raw meat of their wrists. watch: as they burn our manuscripts & unstopper each hole in our bodies until they carcass like pouring paper. we become a toy to the white man that carves americanized name into our lips, bulbous & throbbing as long as they learn to call it exotic. lay down your hair, měirén, & give me a kiss. i am only princess when my hair is fisted in their palms. you, a mother who learns to skin the back of her throat to give them another makeshift palm. & we, who scrape the back of our throats to survive.

translations // kōngxū – emptiness / měirén – beautiful woman

Vivian Huang is a sixteen-year-old poet from Irvine, California. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Lumiere Review, Paper Crane Journal, Ice Lolly Review, Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine and elsewhere. She is the Editor-in-Chief at The Cloudscent Journal, and edits for The Lunar Journal and Crossroads Literary Magazine.

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Broken prayers, or what I spilled after the sermon

I do not care if I transform into a metaphor
or not, for I’m already a walking elegy waiting
to be sung. & death keeps kissing my feet softly
like a peg by a missed spouse. tomorrow, if you see
me whispering, I’m not ascending my fears into
broken prayers, neither am I recreating this body
into flames of smoke: but I’m learning the Constitution
of grief—catching feathers fraying with the wind.
there are not days breaking into dawn, only heads
fixing into loop holes; the Imaam says when Grace
speaks for you, nobody would stop your shine &
I’m here creating images of God’s face with my fingers:
thumb: translating a boy into an album of dead songs.
index: dead songs, where my tears confluence with
my mother’s
middle finger: my mother, an emerging gravestone—
a breaking branch of an Oak tree
ring finger: branch of an Oak tree, a flowing stream
overflowing the banks of the palm of the earth
pinkie: the earth, I, an entity heaved on its dread.

Adamu Yahuza Abdullahi, TPC V, is a budding poet who sees poetry as a drug for healing. He studies botany at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. He hails from Kwara State, Nigeria. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in journals/magazines, some of which are (but not limited to): Angel Rust, Kalahari Review, Rogue Agent, ARKORE Writes, Konya Shamsrumi, Arts Lounge Magazine, The Pine Cone Review and Borgu Book Club. His poem ‘Catalogue of memories’ has been nominated by OneBlackBoyLikeThat Review for the 2023 Best of the Net by Sundress Publications. He is the recipient of the NAKS (a student union body in Kwara State) 2021 award for ‘Poet of the Year’. He is a lover of books and flavored tea. When not writing, he reads other poets and creatives.

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Breakfast Quesadilla

On Monday morning I decided to kill myself. To do this I would leave my wife sleeping in bed, sneak upstairs past my sleeping dog, fill a water bottle and walk to the canal. When there, I would remove my clothes carefully, lay them by the side of the canal (the one that my dog loves to jump in) and wade out into the middle of the water. From there I didn’t really have a plan. Probably just wait for the cold to consume me.

The walk to the canal is approximately two miles and takes me past the Taco Bell in Albion, my local town. They recently brought back the Breakfast Quesadilla – a truly obnoxious collision of breakfast and cheese that tastes like God might taste were He to offer Himself to you. When I say they brought it back, I am talking about my local branch. Nationwide it’s a thing. But here, in Albion, they took it off the menu because no one was ordering it. See also – the Tuna Sandwich at Tim Hortons.

On Monday morning, the Monday morning, I stood at the drive-thru speaker and ordered a Breakfast Quesadilla. I could have gone in – probably should have gone in – but I sometimes like to pretend I’m a car in the drive-thru. If I am feeling specifically fruity I will queue up with the other cars, my arms stretched out, hands at ten and two. I make little motor noises. It annoys literally everybody, but like Job said, you can’t take it with you. He was talking about gold, but I am talking about experiences.

I ate my Breakfast Quesadilla on the way to the canal. As last meals go, it’s no Lobster Thermidor. But then, only one thing is. Ted Bundy’s last meal was steak and eggs. He refused to touch it. He became such a whiner in his last days. It’s the pornography. It’s the church. Take some fucking responsibility for your actions.

The canal entrance is on the left side of the road, just before the large iron bridge. I have been here hundreds of times. My dog likes to swim in the water despite the fact it’s freezing cold and full of microscopic terror. But she isn’t to know that. You understand that? She couldn’t possible know.

As I made my way up the scree of the entrance ramp I saw some clothes laid out by the side of the waterway. They were so similar to mine that I had to look down and make sure I hadn’t already taken mine off. Red shirt. Black shorts. Worn-out running shoes. The only difference was the orange cap that neatly lay on top of the pile. Mine was blue.

A man lay in the middle of the canal. He was naked – ass in the air like a terrible monument. The heels of his feet also stuck up above water-level. The water was gray and his feet were dirty. The entire thing was awful but his heels, like that, the way they stuck up. You understand. They looked a lot like the ears of a hippo. Just making its way along the canal in New York State. Probably escaped from the zoo. I thought all this while the man was dying.

Because he was dying. Not dead. I could see the bubbles. The tiny sputum of life. I slipped off my shorts and shirt. Removed my cap. Kicked off my running shoes. I lay the whole thing out in the same way he had done. That became very important. To make a similar pile. Nearly identical. Two piles. Two lives reduced to the arrangement of cloth. I thought all this while the man was dying.

The water was intensely cold as I waded out. I had no plan beyond turn him the right way up. That was a start. The water is dark. The sky is light. Turn him to the light. Like a death doula. Except. The opposite of that. I placed my hands on his back and pushed slightly. He turned easily in the water. I expected to see my face. You understand that right? That’s where this story had been heading. I find myself in the water and it’s such a profound experience that I return home and tell my wife I love her. Tell my dog I love her. Shower – probably shit out the Quesadilla – and crawl back into bed. Dream of our Lord and Savior. Wake up. Go to work. Thanks everyone.

That isn’t what happened. What happened is that the face staring up at me, clinging on to the last vestiges of life, was the face of a similarly terrified man. I don’t mean terrified like ‘watching a scary movie on your own’ terrified. I mean terrified. Terrified of the way everything is going. Terrified of the future. Terrified for his loved ones. It’s all burning around us, isn’t it? It’s all going wrong. And we act OK. Most of us do anyway. We act like it’s fine. Like we will adapt. But you know a lot of us are going to die before our time and the weight of that. The weight of that…It’s not something that we can deal with. Not properly.

The man spat tainted water. I did not know what to do. I had stopped him from drowning. Now what? Was I responsible for him? Would I need to swaddle him. Nurture him? Tell him every single day that there was a reason for him to be alive? I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t be in charge of another person. I didn’t have the strength. I had come here to die and now I was telling another man it was worth living. The hypocrisy. I sat back in the water. Let my legs float. Lay back. Looked up at the sky. The man was alive next to me. I reached out my hand and took his. His skin was a little loose. The pads of his fingers seemed more densely textured than normal, dry fingers. You think these things when you are really living. He gripped my hand tightly. The current moved us slightly. The water dipped in and out of my ears. I enjoyed the sensation. I lay in the water. Naked. Hand in hand with the man I had lied to with my actions. Expecting judgment but finding a strange comfort. Two men. Drifting.

Stuart Buck runs the Bear Creek Gazette and lives in New York with people that love him.

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After the Freeway

Sandy woke up hot. The sheets were sticking to her legs, and she could smell her own sweat. She stared at the light fixture in the ceiling of the trailer. It was a big rectangular plastic box, spotted dark brown with dead bugs.

She reached down to pull away the sheets that were bunched around her waist and crotch, and cringed when she found that they were wet with sweat. She breathed in the strange salty odor of her body, the smell of just-mown grass, a faint gasoline whiff.

She could no longer smell the dead thing smell of whatever mouse or rat had died in the wall. For weeks, while she and Dad were microwaving dinner or brushing their teeth, they’d hear a metal scratching sound inside the trailer. They found dark brown droppings in the silverware drawer, between the forks. And then one morning, Sandy picked up a pair of pajamas she’d left on the floor and discovered a huge hole had been chewed through the butt of the pants. Without saying anything, Dad had gone outside and spent all morning plugging up the holes in the trailer with red clay.

A few days later, they were sitting on the couch eating breakfast when they heard the scratching again. Dad put his fork down on his plate and slowly dropped his head into his hands, covering his face with his fingers for several long minutes and not saying anything. Sandy hadn’t understood why he was so upset until a few days later, when she noticed the sweet garbagey smell in the bedroom.

Dad tried to take the linoleum off the bedroom walls, but after listening to him tear at the hard plastic covering for over an hour, Sandy heard him say fuck and we’d have to tear the whole trailer to pieces. She walked into the bedroom and they stood staring at the yellow plastic walls, until finally, Dad sighed and said it won’t smell forever.

And it was true—Sandy couldn’t smell it anymore. But she didn’t know if that was because the creature had advanced from the slimy stage to the dry fur-and-bones stage, or because she had gotten used to the smell, the way she could no longer smell cat piss on the rug Dad had brought home in his truck one night, or the fart smell from the chicken processing center that had been built a mile from the trailer park.

She kicked the sheets off her legs and got out of bed. Her big white T-shirt was sticky with sweat, and she pulled the cotton fabric away from her body. On these summer mornings, their Airstream trailer—Tin City, she and Dad called it—absorbed all the morning heat and the small metal tube got even hotter than it was outside.

Sandy pulled back the accordion door that divided the bedroom from the rest of the trailer. Even though she knew Dad would be at the store, she was relieved when she saw the empty couch, confirming she had Tin City to herself.

She went to the kitchen sink and crouched to look out the window into the neighbor’s yard. Annette had an old Airstream like theirs, but the square of grass in front of her trailer wasn’t scraggly and brown—it was crowded with big pots full of orange and yellow marigolds, stone statues of fat angels covered in moss, and pink and silver pinwheels that twirled in the wind and glinted sun. There was no car in Annette’s driveway, and her trailer looked empty.

Sandy turned on the kitchen sink and held her hands under the faucet, feeling the water run hot, then warm, then almost cold. She cupped her hands and splashed water onto her face and into her mouth, then spat it out. She took her toothbrush from the stained Black Bear Diner coffee cup and brushed her teeth over the kitchen sink, which they had been doing ever since the bathroom sink stopped draining. She rinsed her mouth, spat, and splashed water on her face again—it was the only thing that cooled the hot feeling throbbing in her head, if only momentarily.

Then she went back to the bedroom, and slid open one of the cubbies under the bed. She pulled off her T-shirt and underwear and stuffed them into the pillowcase she had used for dirty clothes since she decided to start doing her own laundry last winter, when she started her period. When it happened, she’d told Dad he had to start bringing brand-name maxi pads home from the store. The next day, he came home with two packages of Always pads in a paper bag, and didn’t mention the cost.

She pulled on a clean pair of underwear—white little kid underwear that Dad had ordered in packs two years ago. The elastic at the waist was stretched out and the lace was frayed. She pulled on her favorite cut-off jean shorts, an underwire bra (even though her best friend, Ramona, said she didn’t need to wear one yet), and a hot pink tank top with green palm trees and the words Hotel Flamingo printed across the front. She opened the closet door to look at herself in the long mirror. She was too gangly and skinny, all brown limbs, like a little kid. She turned her arm to look at the scab on her elbow. It was round and dark and bigger than a quarter. It hadn’t been so bad when she’d first gotten it.

She had been playing with the group of boys that hung around the trailer park. She usually just watched their games but somehow, that day, she ended up on the back of one boy’s bicycle, staring at another boy—also perched on the back of a bicycle—getting ready to play chicken. The boys riding the bikes were both older—14 or 15, and she and the boy on the back pike pedals were both skinny and small. The real chickens.

One of the trailer park boys—Danny Ordin, who lived in a big trailer with old paint cans and tires in the front yard—helped her steady herself on the back pedals, and said, don’t worry. One of them always swerves. Usually Ralph. And then Ralph—who was riding the bicycle Sandy was perched on—said like fuck. Later, Sandy wondered if Danny’s comment was to blame for what happened next.

Ralph and the other kid rode their bikes straight at each other, and neither of them swerved. There was a loud popping sound and Sandy flew into the air, then slowly back down. She thought this will hurt right before she fell onto Ralph and brought him and his bike down to the ground in a tangled heap.

For a moment, they lay on the ground, their bodies heavy and throbbing, until Ralph leapt to his feet, kicking dust on Sandy’s face. Danny pointed at her and said look, and Sandy turned her arm and saw the fat stream of blood running down her elbow to her wrist.

When the scab formed, she picked it off too soon. The raw red wound on her elbow bled, and then an even thicker scab formed over it. She picked that scab off and it grew back thicker, so she picked off the new scab and another thicker one replaced it. Now, finally, the scab was an impenetrably thick badge covering her elbow, so dark it was almost black, so dark that after rolling down the hills by the high school, she saw, to her disgust, that the dark circle was streaked with grass stains. She shook out her arm so she didn’t have to see the scab, and looked back in the mirror.

Her light brown hair looked stringy, as always, and she combed her fingers through it. In the summer, freckles appeared in clusters on her nose and cheeks, making her face look dirty. Her eyes were too small and her nose was too big and her lips were chapped, ringed in a red circle. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the Bonnie Bell Grape Crush chapstick she’d gotten at a birthday party in sixth grade, a year and a half ago. Now the chapstick was almost gone, hollowed out to a purple crater, bisected by a fingernail imprint. Sandy stuck her pinky into the tube and twisted it to collect some of the last of the chapstick onto her finger, and then smeared it over her lips. Better. She closed the closet door.

On her way out of the trailer, she ducked down to look out the kitchen window again, but Annette’s driveway was still empty. Earlier this summer, just after the school year ended and she was finished with seventh grade forever, she had walked outside to see a big, shiny red car parked in the driveway next to theirs. And then she saw him, wiping down the car with a cloth. He had blond hair and a smooth tan chest Sandy could see because he was wearing blue jeans and no shirt. He looked up and saw her, smiled, and said why hello there. He spoke in a friendly, slow drawl from down south—Georgia maybe, or Florida. His shiny new car and beautiful body seemed to cast a bright spotlight on Sandy, and she was suddenly aware that her hair was unwashed, her old yellow tank top grubby, and her stretchy shorts too small. Her face got hot and she smiled at her feet, then scurried away.

After that, she had thought this would be the summer of the handsome neighbor, but even though she had seen the red car parked in Annette’s driveway a few more times, she hadn’t seen him since. Still, she always looked for him before she left the house—the next time, she’d be ready.

She slipped her feet into the jellies she’d left by the door and stepped outside. She sighed when she stepped out—there was a light breeze and the air was slightly cooler than it was in Tin City. She jumped down the metal steps two at a time, then skipped down the dirt road that ran through the trailer park. When they’d moved here years ago and she was just a little kid, Sandy had said to Dad, if our house is Tin City, what’s all this? and pointed to the clusters of trailers. Tin Galaxy, he’d replied. Even now, she was impressed that he’d come up with that.

Sandy walked to the gravel entrance to Tin Galaxy where, for the few feet between the trailer park entrance and the highway, the road was shaded by big leafy trees. Then she stepped onto the unsheltered heat of the highway. Dad often said that kids shouldn’t walk along the highway, but he had never said that Sandy shouldn’t, and walking along the highway was the fastest way to get to the store. Besides, he didn’t say that anymore, not since they built the freeway 20 miles away, and everyone started driving on that instead of the highway. Freeway, highway. Hotel, motel. Heaviness, weight. Words she had once thought meant the same thing, but had entirely different meanings in the world of adults.

The highway was long and straight—two dusty lanes divided by yellow dashes, nothing growing by the road but itchy yellow grass. In one direction, you could see the tall gas sign outside of Dad’s store. In the other direction was town, with its cluster of stores and houses, the post office, the fire station, the schools. Sandy walked in the direction of the store.

There was nothing to look at on the walk but telephone poles, scraps of black tire in the road, and the wide blue sky. If she had gone to the creek instead, she could have caught lizards and handfuls of tiny black snails. Or if she’d gone to town, she could have paged through the glossy fashion magazines at the grocery store. In the summer, she and Ramona would sometimes walk to the outdoor football field at the high school and sit on the bleachers and talk for hours and maybe even see a group of boys arrive to play a game of touch football and ignore them. But this summer, Sandy walked to the store by herself nearly every day. Only kids played in the creek, and the walk to town was longer than the walk to the store. Besides, Ramona was in Tucson for nearly the entire summer, where she had a witty and fashionable 17-year-old female cousin who would drive Ramona to the mall or the ice cream shop where the cousin’s boyfriend worked. The boyfriend, Ramona said, was neither witty nor fashionable.

The boys that hung out around Tin Galaxy were dirty and wild and treated Sandy like a boy, so she only hung out with them when she was really bored. She sometimes walked to see her friend Fiona, who lived less than a mile away—just past the creek—and was probably Sandy’s second best friend, but Fiona was weird. She was adopted, and when she was a kid, one of her foster dads had raped her, and even though now Fiona had nice foster parents, who were old and grey-haired and Christian, when Fiona and Sandy were hanging out, sometimes Fiona would start talking about the best positions for having sex, and how different people’s genitals had different smells. And one time, Fiona had pulled a couch cushion off her foster parents’ couch and straddled it. Then she moved her hips back and forth, rubbing her crotch on the cushion, and told Sandy she should get the other couch cushion and do it too.

Whenever she came home from Fiona’s house, Sandy would tell Dad she didn’t want to play with Fiona anymore. But after a few days of wandering around Tin Galaxy in slow summer boredom, Fiona would call and ask her if she wanted to come over and Sandy would hear herself say okay.

She could see the store clearly now. It looked abandoned, its windows covered in dust and peeling old stickers. A dirt road curved in a U-shape in front of the store, connecting the highway to the store and its single gas pump. The rest of the yard was all gravel and patches of yellow grass. There was an unused garage attached to the store, filled with oily car parts and junk.

When they first moved to town, Dad just worked at the store, but a few years ago he bought it from Rich, his old boss. Dad had plans to fix up the store and hire a mechanic to work out of the garage, but then they built the freeway.

Sandy pushed open the door with a faint jingling sound and walked inside. The store was always slightly cooler than outside, probably because Dad kept the lights off. But to Sandy, the store seemed to create its own coolness—it was somber and reassuring, like the empty rooms of a museum.

Dad was sitting behind the counter, reading a book, and he looked up when Sandy walked in, smiled, then looked back at his book. Because of his bad back, Dad had recently replaced the stool behind the counter with an old desk chair that had wooden arms and a padded seat. The seat of the chair sat far lower than the stool had, so when you walked in, you could only see Dad’s grey head and the top of his shoulders above the counter, making him look smaller and even older than he was. Is that your granddad? the kids in elementary school used to tease.

Sandy walked down the snack aisle. Dad hadn’t set up proper drawers or dividers, so the candy bars were just stacked on the metal shelves. And since he had changed the delivery schedule from weekly to biweekly to monthly, inventory sometimes got so low that on some days, like today, there would just be a single Snickers or Mars bar sitting on the dusty shelf, with an orange sticker stuck to the shelf below it, like a museum display of the last remaining Snickers bar on Earth. When she was a kid, Sandy had played with the pricing gun for hours, sticking orange stickers on everything. The highway cost $3.00, an old tin can was worth $850.00, Sandy was valued at $7.00, or $100001, or 44¢.

She surveyed the snacks. Dad wouldn’t let her have candy or Ho Hos or Twinkies for breakfast, but muffins or nuts or granola bars were OK. Cookies were a toss-up—double chocolate cookies got a No, but oatmeal raisin cookies got an OK. Nutter Butters sometimes got a pass, but not every time. She looked at the acceptable cookies—the Nilla Wafers, the Fig Newtons, the Barnum’s Animal Crackers in their red and yellow circus train car. But something about the empty shelves could start to make her feel sad, so she grabbed an apple pie, which always got an OK, and left the snack aisle for the soda coolers.

The rows of soda coolers never depressed her. The deep shelves were almost always well-stocked, and the cans were shiny and pristine. Everyone drank soda—movie stars, basketball players, all the kids at school. And soda was cheap—Dad didn’t even have to stock generic brands. Sandy stared at the cans of Coke, Diet Coke, Fresca, Pepsi, Sprite, Orange Crush, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and Mug Root Beer, at the plastic bottles of orange and apple and pineapple juices, at the Gatorades and Perrier and fancy waters with snowy mountain peaks on their labels. She paced slowly in front of the coolers, stopping when she reached the beer coolers. Even though some of the labels were interesting, with pictures of snarling dogs or pretty girls, the alcohol was not. A few months ago, she and Ramona had stolen a can of Ramona’s stepdad’s beer, and drank it behind the big tree in Ramona’s backyard. Sandy had been disappointed by the taste—bitter and watery at the same time. To her, the beer coolers contained nothing but bottles and cans full of the same frothy brown disappointment, disguised behind colorful packaging.

She selected a can of Diet Coke, possibly the most glamorous soda of them all. She walked to the counter and put her hands up, showing Dad the pie in one hand and the soda in the other. He looked at one, then the other, and nodded.

Sandy walked out of the store, then entered the garage through the side door. She went to the locker Dad let her use and pulled out the red and orange beach towel (why did Dad always buy her things in boys colors?), the small black radio, and the catalogs that had arrived in the mail the day before.

She walked to her spot—a grassy patch between the store and the highway, a few feet from the dirt road—and laid the towel on the grass. She arranged the radio, the catalogs, the soda, and the pie on the grass in front of the towel, then lay down on her stomach and turned on the radio. The only channel that it picked up beside talk radio was the oldies station, but she listened anyway, hoping they might play “Young Girl” or “Last Kiss” or “Time of the Season”, which, with the breathy, undulating way the singer sang it’s the ti-i-ime of the season sounded like summer to her, like the musical version of a heat wave rising off the sun.

But when she turned on the radio, after a few seconds of crackling, the song “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” started playing—one of her least favorites.

She unwrapped the apple pie, pulled out the pastry, and took a bite. She had stopped eating the pies in front of other people after Ramona had told Sandy that they put lard in the pies, but she still enjoyed the sweet crumbly taste, and couldn’t detect any salty animal flavor, so she ate them when no one was around to see her. She opened the can of Diet Coke and took a sip. After the sweetness of the pie, the soda tasted flat and metallic in a way she liked.

She grabbed the catalogs. Dad didn’t stock magazines at the store anymore, but catalogs were free, so every time Sandy had the chance to use a computer with the internet, she’d search for the fanciest stores she could think of, then go to their websites and order their catalogs. One of the catalogs—Through the Country Door—always came with a sticker on the front that said This might be your last catalog! and even though Sandy knew it was a marketing ploy, and even though it was one of the worst catalogs she got, the sticker always gave her a sinking sense of guilt (they knew she never planned to buy anything from them!) followed by sense of dread (all the catalog companies—J. Crew, Anthropologie, Barneys, and Nordstrom—would stop sending her catalogs next!). The sticker This might be your last catalog! really meant: Catalogs are for customers. Or: Catalogs are a privilege, not a right.

Sandy looked at the two that had arrived the day before—IKEA and Victoria’s Secret. She knew she should look at the IKEA catalog first, and save Victoria’s Secret for later. Looking through the IKEA catalog was fun at first—you could imagine you lived in the sunny dining rooms, the bedrooms with fluffy beds and oversized art, the kitchens with the hanging lamps and fresh flowers and big bowls of fruits. But they were thick catalogs, and after pages and pages of couches and curtains and coffee tables and perfectly arranged rooms, Sandy felt overwhelmed and frustrated, just the way she felt the one time she’d been to an actual IKEA store. She tossed aside the IKEA catalog and picked up Victoria’s Secret.

She was familiar with most of the models—the Angels—and had her favorites. Even though it was a childish pastime, was in fact something she had done since she was six or seven years old, she created characters for each of them. The one with the dark blond hair, sea green eyes, full lips, and crooked teeth was Sandy’s favorite. Sandy had seen her name printed once—it sounded French, and Sandy imagined the girl spoke with an accent. Sandy cast her as the kind but maligned stepsister of the thin pretty blonde with wide shoulders and small breasts, and best friend of the slightly older model with short red hair and bright eyes.

She opened the catalog to a photo of the French girl in a lacy pink bra and matching pink underwear. She was sitting on a window seat, staring out the window. Her breasts were full and round, almost rising out of the lacy bra, and her stomach curved in gently. Her face was in profile, her cheekbones defined, her lips pouting slightly. Who was looking at her? The stepsister’s arrogant boyfriend, maybe, or the poor but loyal coachman that lived on the grounds?

Sandy slowly paged through the catalog, looking carefully at each photograph, until she reached the back pages, where they tried to sell Victoria’s Secret clothing. There, the models wore high-waisted jeans, tight red or purple or teal turtlenecks, and leopard print coats. It ruined the fantasy world she had created for them, which was elegant and vaguely antiquated, peppered with carriages and princes and fancy balls. She flipped through the back pages quickly until she reached the end, then tossed the catalog aside. Once she looked through it, a catalog instantly became garbage.

Sandy looked up. The store was quiet, the highway dusty and empty. She kicked off her jellies, curling her sweating toes. She suddenly realized how hot the day had become. Her forehead and upper lip were beaded with sweat. She reached for her soda, but the can was hot and she knew even before she took a sip that the soda would be warm and flat. She yanked at her jean shorts, which felt tight, damp with sweat. Suddenly, she felt so frustrated she could scream. She curled her hand into a fist and pushed it against her crotch, pressing the hard bones of her knuckles into her pelvic bone. The frustration shrieked inside her, a hot wave roaring though her body.

And then it passed, and all she felt was a dull pain in her fist.

She sat still for a moment, then breathed. She wiped the sweat off her lip and took a sip of warm soda. She grabbed the IKEA catalog.

She was looking at lighting appliances when she heard the car approaching. She looked up and saw a rusty old green convertible coming down the highway. It looked like it was slowing down, but Sandy wasn’t certain until it was almost to the store and, at the last minute, the car served into the U-shaped driveway and stopped in front of the gas pump. When Sandy saw the people in the car, her heart started pounding in her throat. They were young, and impossibly beautiful.

The guy driving opened the door and walked to the gas pump. He was tall and skinny and wore a black suit and tie, and an old-fashioned black hat. He stared at the gas pump, taking off his sunglasses. His face was the most beautiful face Sandy had ever seen. He had pale skin, big eyes, and bow lips, like paintings she had seen in her Art History book of male angels with aloof faces, thin bodies, and wings as ornately feathered as an eagle’s. He was frowning, not realizing he had to go inside and pay Dad if he wanted to get gas. He turned to the girl and said something. She opened the car door and twisted sideways before getting out—after she stood up, Sandy understood why: she was wearing a tight-fitting, 50s-looking black skirt and black high heels that she couldn’t really move in. She had wavy brown hair and red lipstick and she wore a tight green sweater and big jewelry Sandy could see even from a distance. Why were they so dressed up? How had they ended up here? They looked like movie stars, but from a movie Sandy had invented.

The girl walked in front of the car to the gas pump in that old-fashioned way, like Jayne Mansfield in one of the old movies Dad tried to make her watch. For the first time, it occurred to Sandy that maybe it was the clothes that created the walk—that maybe a tight skirt and high heels could make anyone, even Sandy, walk like that. But then she looked at the girl’s big breasts, little waist, and round hips swaying back and forth, and knew, in a sinking way, that it wasn’t just the clothes.

The girl looked at the gas pump, then at the guy, and then she laughed. She said something to him and he laughed too. He wrapped his arm around her waist and they walked to the store, the girl’s head leaning against the guy’s shoulder.

Sandy watched them disappear into the store. She looked back at the green convertible, then felt a cold splash of panic. Should she go inside? It would be her only excuse to get close to them. But it wouldn’t take very long for them to pay for gas, and if she walked in right when they were leaving, it would look stupid if she turned around to follow them out. But what if they stayed in the store to look around? But—look at what?

She grabbed her jellies and was about to slip them on her feet, when the radio started playing “Love Me Tender.” The song started with just a simple guitar and Elvis singing, but the sound seemed to fill the whole open dusty space.

Sandy froze in the expanse of that mournful, artificial voice. She put down her shoes.

The couple came out of the store, laughing, the guy’s arms wrapped around items she recognized—a bottle of wine, fizzy water, bags of sour candy and chocolate bars. Sandy watched them walk to the car and Elvis sang:

Love me tender, love me true
All my dreams fulfill
For my darling, I love you
And I always will

And Sandy realized that in a moment, they would leave, and she wouldn’t see them again.

She watched the guy walk to the car and open his arms with a grand and careless gesture, letting all their purchases fall into the backseat. Then he swiped the gas pump nozzle from its holster effortlessly. He tossed the nozzle from one hand to the other, like a cowboy in an old Western, making the girl laugh, then slid the nozzle into the green car. Sandy watched the girl wriggle back into her seat, open a bottle of fizzy water and take a long drink, her head thrown back, exposing her white neck. She watched the guy lift off his hat, revealing dark brown curls, and spin it deftly on the tips of his fingers, around and around and around, until finally the hat spun off his fingers and landed in the dirt, and the guy picked it up with a flick of his wrist that sent the hat high into the air, where he grabbed it with his other hand—another trick. And then she watched him remove the gas nozzle from the car and reholster it in the gas pump. He leapt into the front seat without opening the car door and started the car.

Then the little black radio crackled and, as if hearing it, the guy lifted his head and looked at Sandy. He had sunglasses on again and wasn’t frowning or smiling, but he didn’t move and she knew he was looking right at her. He raised his hand to his hat and lifted the brim slightly, and smiled. And then they drove away.

Sandy jumped up and ran down the dirt road and into the highway with no shoes on. The pavement burned the soles of her feet as she watched the car drive away.

Years later, Sandy would find herself thinking about this moment. When she was leaving town in the passenger seat of her 32-year-old gym teacher’s car; when she held Dad’s hand in the trailer, having returned home years later to watch him die of prostate cancer; when her second husband had said to her, this is it for me; Sandy was still there, standing barefoot on that empty highway, watching a green car fade into the distance.

Rachel Tusler is an author and playwright from the United States. She graduated with a BA in English and Comparative Literary Studies from Occidental College. She’s had a short story published in Eunoia Review, and has had workshops of her plays Change Anything (Occidental New Play Festival), The Borgia Sisters (Occidental College), and The Dark Things (Fertile Ground Festival) produced. She also self-produced a staged reading of her musical, Shanghaied!, at The Siren Theatre in 2017. Live On Stage commissioned Tusler and composer Lisa Ann Marsh to create their short musical, The Machine, for the 2019 Portland Mini Musical Festival. Tusler currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand.

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For My Sister’s Visit Last Christmas

It perhaps begins with me:
The solitary drip of childhood,
the family of three, that is,
myself, my mother, my father.
The automatic thought that
we were all there was.

And then there was her,
crowning from the womb of a woman
ten years my mother’s senior,
thirty years before I was anything
resembling a notion.

Now, a tumbled woman on the second stair,
dropped by the flaccid fist of America,
sprained, my sister found crying enough
to wake me, when three becomes four
for one week out of the year.

Perhaps it was the makeup I borrowed,
thieving swipes of mascara, glimpses of fabric.
Perhaps it was the life I stole,
parallels limping across each other, her
a stranger on Christmas morning
hobbling into the living room,
face puffy with sleep.

Unbecoming of us, we unravel, pulsing.
My sister would say nothing of our father forgetting her birthday
when we checked her into the hospital
for an X-ray on her tender foot.
Of my mother, strange and wire,
tight-lipped when she complained
she never knew what gift the daughter
that wasn’t her’s.

It’s genetic, the betrayal. Generational and tart,
the burn, the blister, born from still-hot coal
from my grandfather and my grandmother and her grandmother,
and my father,
and my mother,
and the red cowgirl boots she wore,

And my sister, her wax head then just three years old,
lit aflame and shimmering and
much too far afield
to hold.

Sofia Catanzaro is a junior at Smith College, studying creative writing and film. She spends much of her time between Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, where she was born. She is a two-time recipient of a Scholastic Art & Writing award, both for her poetry and her prose. She has been previously published in Rookie, Teen Ink, and The Fieldston LP. Her work primarily focuses on human connection, family, and the many forms that love can come in.

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Head, Last February

I touch and watch the body sink down,
touch neck skin, watch her fold, sink down.

Floor opens up and carpet swallows me,
I touch and watch our body sink down.

It’s performance art as we,
quick, swallow, devouring, down,

itching, ventriloquist you, be
still and feel me sink down, see

the breath, the supersymmetry
in the movement on the way down.

I tend to forget the knife, blood threat
and the knowledge that you could run it

down, splitting me in half, and perhaps it
is premonitory that I don’t mind going down

that way, since in your mouth is a nickname I became,
spinning in her rabbit hole, sinking down.

I am so swirl eyed in belonging, I’m running
down, eyes closed, slamming the floor. Through

the glass of memory I warn me but I of course
can’t hear myself through the pane and sink lower, lower, down.

Sofia Catanzaro is a junior at Smith College, studying creative writing and film. She spends much of her time between Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, where she was born. She is a two-time recipient of a Scholastic Art & Writing award, both for her poetry and her prose. She has been previously published in Rookie, Teen Ink, and The Fieldston LP. Her work primarily focuses on human connection, family, and the many forms that love can come in.

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Does this look like innocence?

I am microwaving Indian food for you, a favor among other favors I do when I feel guilty*. Washing your dishes. Taking your socks off. Holding the door.
Venturing in the basement to sit under fluorescents on the vinyl couch
while your food thaws.

*The guilt often
overwhelms itself.
Drifts so deeply into me
that it has to come up
some other way,
with some childish
need to hit and spit.

And in the evening, sometimes, when you aren’t around to dote upon, I take inventory of your artifacts, and excavate, peeking at your fossils**, and find:

  1. High school ID. 3 years past.
  2. Greeting card. Signed by a grandparent.
  3. Glassy-eyed photograph. Indiscernible girl within.
  4. Tin of Adderall. 10.5 pills total.

**They come from another life,
your fossils.
A life I am privy to
only in small stolen glances,
stories of
what you’ve brought
around the bend, thought worthy
enough to travel.
You once told me
a secret
about why you didn’t
bring anything to
remind you
of being a child.
And I won’t repeat it here,
but I will remember it.

I traverse the mountains of your notebooks, read the palm of your brain, deciphering your handwriting. You’ve been writing poems about me, and they aren’t love poems. So, I am bringing you nourishment and hoping you forgive*** me,
            beast that I am, with steaming paneer in its claws, begging amnesty for what you wrote that you can’t tell me; that I can’t tell you I know.
            I’m trying to cauterize it. Dam the rivers and douse the flame, work logic into the fist in my stomach. Mend with clay or gold poured into the cracked veins, wet and rework the damaged goods that lie around us.

***Here I am hoping, selfishly,
you will peek too far
through the crack
in my door
one of these
nights and see
me praying,
on rice stuck knees,
without words.
for a full stop,
for a pardon.
For you to
return the favor.

Sofia Catanzaro is a junior at Smith College, studying creative writing and film. She spends much of her time between Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, where she was born. She is a two-time recipient of a Scholastic Art & Writing award, both for her poetry and her prose. She has been previously published in Rookie, Teen Ink, and The Fieldston LP. Her work primarily focuses on human connection, family, and the many forms that love can come in.

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            UNTIL BURSTING,
            THE MELON YELLOW,

            GREEDY AS YOU WERE,
            ABSOLVED YOU AND

            “MEMORY HOARDER,”
            NAIL ON YOUR WALL.

            A JUMP THAT SPURS

            CRAWLING ON YOU,
            LINED WITH ALL THE
            TIMES YOU EVER

            IN THE CHEAP,
            INSECT CRAWL
            INSIDE HER.
            EVERYTHING                        BUT THE BODY.

Sofia Catanzaro is a junior at Smith College, studying creative writing and film. She spends much of her time between Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, where she was born. She is a two-time recipient of a Scholastic Art & Writing award, both for her poetry and her prose. She has been previously published in Rookie, Teen Ink, and The Fieldston LP. Her work primarily focuses on human connection, family, and the many forms that love can come in.

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Impressions of Hailey

I was watching dandelions get torn by the breeze the other day,
wondering where all that fuzz would go.
I was thinking about driving to Chicago in the summer
and the panther in my chest,
trying to come up with a way to forget myself,
and she was folded like origami,
burying herself in a Nashville motel for some rare emotion.

It was the space by the sill
where she perched in a different locale each blink.
She was in a field, but she wasn’t.
I guess I wanted to know how she went so vogue
and still hid like a tiger in the grass.
She was crouched in go-go boots in a cabin by the fire.

I was in a café and she was sitting across the table,
telling me about a taxidermy scorpion
and her interior design.
It was 1970s pornstar, luxurious and velvet
and a stranger’s drunk Pomeranian
was swaying on the sidewalk.
The sun was in the wolf on her shoulder
and she was telling me about how hard it was
to trust people and learn the piano and need the city
when the mountains exist, and eventually, we finished our drinks.

The shadows on the ground shifted
and we were saying goodbye on an empty street
while I was thinking good company
can make the pollen disappear, if only for the morning.

Edward Simpson graduated from Florida State University with a BA in English. His previous work has appeared in the Tampa Review 59/60. He currently resides in Denver, CO, where he enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains with his dog.

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The Last House of Hiroshima

Your old face was parchment
a thousand lines of shallow graves
to a smooth clearing the firestorm left.

That hill of human eyes you whispered of
How the dead wept in gamma strobe rainbows
It was just moisture leaving their bodies you said.

Aflame in your uterus a daughter would be perfect
you counted the stepping stones of her toes
waiting for her at the shore of warm milk.

Some mothers gave birth to a tepid silence
The chapel was known as the oath room
The toes of Jesus faded from kisses.

All the survivors of Hiroshima are fading away
like shadows of people permanently cast
black flames of a blacker rain.

Antony Owen is a writer of conflict and is the author of nine poetry collections since his debut in 2009. In 2018 Owen’s book The Nagasaki Elder (V.Press) was one of 7 books nominated for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Other awards include the Bread and Roses Award for working class writing, a British Army poetry award and several peace education accolades. His most recent full collection was a bilingual exploration of war by Thelem Press. Owen lives near Coventry.

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Woven Heart

Don’t cry in front of the children—only at night as you rock the baby to sleep, when you lie in bed awake, when you sit in the car alone, when you drive, when you hear that song—but only when you’re alone. Be strong. Be helpful. Be there and don’t forget to tell her you love her. Don’t get mad—it’s no use. Sort the pills for nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, and depression taken three times a day with sleeping pills before bed. Sort them into the weekly storage case, Sunday through Saturday. Change her pain medicine patch every three days and give her morphine when she needs more—and she will. There will be a lot of pain. She will suffer, but the world will move on. Put her feet up—they will swell, her skin red and tight as if it could split open. Put a fresh pitcher of drinking water next to her; put her oxygen on. Her body will become thin and you will feel her ribs when you hug her.

Remember each day is a gift, each moment a gem that you will string together and keep in your heart: sitting near the window as she throws out peanuts to the squirrel she calls Nutty; feeding the stray cats as your daughters sit holding the kittens; and watching her bake brownies with your three-year-old son. Tell her you love her and don’t wait to bring her flowers. Forgive her for the drinking. Forgive her for not leaving your Dad when he hit her. Forgive her for the foster homes. Forgive her for not being the mom you felt you needed. Thank her for trying. Thank her for not giving up. Thank her for being the grandmother your kids needed.

Her body will become a tomb and only then will the family show up, will her mother hold her hand as they sit in silence. She will awaken in fear. Tell her it’s okay to let go. She will cough black blood and release her last breath. Stroke her arm while it is still warm. Write her obituary. Order the casket. Order the flowers. Order the condolence cards. Prepare for the Ten-Day Feast. Prepare her belongings to be given away to family and friends. Prepare her ceremonial dress and moccasins. Prepare the foods. Prepare the gifts for the cooks, the pallbearers, the helpers, and the ceremonial speakers. Prepare her body to return to the mother of us all.

Let out the cry, the anguish, the loneliness, and the loss that will rise in waves. Anger will darken a place deep inside you that will rumble until you let it go. Let go of the resentments for those who show up too late or not at all, for the suffering she endured in life and in death, for regrets and words left unspoken, and for the sun rising and setting without her. You will forget moments, memories, and sometimes you will forget the sound of her voice and her laugh as they fade like stars out of reach. Write down what you remember and tell your children. She will forever be woven around your heart, within the lives of your children and grandchildren as she watches over them. She is a part of you, a part of them. And know it’s really okay to cry in front of the children.

Tonya (K^nikanlahtá:sa’) Shenandoah is a member of the Oneida Indian Nation. She received her doctorate in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse University and her master’s in American Indian studies from the University of Arizona. She’s from Upstate New York, married to an artist and traditional Haudenosaunee spiritual advisor, and the mother of four. She currently resides with their twelve-year-old in Southern California, attending the UC Irvine MFA Program. When not writing and reading, she can be found gardening, hiking and at opportune times, feeding crows. Her fiction has appeared in 100 Word Story.

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There’s a bird in my throat, maybe
a wren or a cardinal. I feel it as I wait
on the subway. Feathers scratch my insides,
my body thrown around with every start
and stop, wing beats against
the walls of my heart, clanging the golden
walls of the cage I make up. They’ll call
animal control, terrified fingers tapping
out the number. Golden walls replaced with
metal rusting from my tears.

Taber Cannon is a Manhattan-based writer, whose work has been previously recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. When not writing, Taber spends the majority of the time listening to Florence + the Machine and longing for a pet grizzly bear.

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wasted intimacy

i love him
when he calls me
from playa de carmen
it’s hot here
            you’re hot
i’m sorry
            you have to see this

same as i loved him
that night
on a new jersey beach
manhattan lights
glinting over
oil-slick water
our city
only a river
& a reality away

we threw pennies
from the
staten island ferry
& promised
to come back
but he’s not the boy
that talked about
our tribeca apartment
who needs a
            real kitchen
this close to
            hell’s kitchen

we would’ve
washed t-shirts
            peeled carrots
                        scrubbed dishes
in the bathroom sink
kraft mac & cheese
until we paid off
student loans
& made something
of ourselves

now he’s all
bloody nosed
            car crashes
                        skipping class
i still let him
drive me home
it’s midnight
screaming down i-5
i’m not afraid
to die together
the inevitability of
living apart
is worse
fourteen-year-old me
sits in the backseat
at what we’ve become

but someday
he’ll want more
a screened-in patio
wrapping around
his old southern house
gin & tonic
                        tom collins
from the bar cart
boiled peanuts
a peach tree family
i can’t give him
any of that
i was raised
for blazers
& business class
my heart beats with
metropolitan inertia

i love him
like i love new york
a useless devotion
not meant to be
acted on
what a waste
of intimacy
to love someone
too much
& not enough
all at once

Amelia Nason is a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist, a Scholastic Art & Writing Award winner, and an alumna of the Interlochen, Fir Acres, and New York Times summer writing programs. She also edits for Kalopsia Literary Journal. Her work is featured in Ice Lolly Review and Full Mood Mag. When she isn’t writing, Amelia fences competitively and enviously reads the acknowledgements sections of her favorite books. You can find her on Twitter: @amelia_emn.

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