August, For A While

The first sentence is looking to its left—there’s a towel, at least two towels, we’re blinks as far as blinks are blinks. I want to make up what I care about but I just can’t do it. We want something we’ll never tell anyone else about. We’re perfectly fucked.

Parker Tettleton is a vegan Leo living in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of This Is A City (Ravenna Press, 2020), Please Quiet (Ravenna Press, 2018), Ours Mine Yours (Pitymilk Press, 2014), Greens (Thunderclap Press, 2012), & Same Opposite (Thunderclap Press, 2012). More work & information is here: http://parker-augustlight.blogspot.com.

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Future Sells

I woke up, after a very long time—the silence was beyond reproach.

Parker Tettleton is a vegan Leo living in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of This Is A City (Ravenna Press, 2020), Please Quiet (Ravenna Press, 2018), Ours Mine Yours (Pitymilk Press, 2014), Greens (Thunderclap Press, 2012), & Same Opposite (Thunderclap Press, 2012). More work & information is here: http://parker-augustlight.blogspot.com.

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Classic Plastic

I’ve never been afraid of being afraid of who I am. I have nothing, no beginning I’d like to admit, no ending I’m sure of: you’re beautiful, we’re married, we sleep together every night we’re in the same country. We are the brightest fires I know. We never bang on the door. We were all born.

Parker Tettleton is a vegan Leo living in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of This Is A City (Ravenna Press, 2020), Please Quiet (Ravenna Press, 2018), Ours Mine Yours (Pitymilk Press, 2014), Greens (Thunderclap Press, 2012), & Same Opposite (Thunderclap Press, 2012). More work & information is here: http://parker-augustlight.blogspot.com.

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That’s What It’s All About

Because I wanted a new pair of Sasson jeans,
I agreed when my best friend’s mom suggested
I babysit for their new neighbors, my resume
padded with several gigs over my fourteen
years, plus the kids were little, which meant
they’d be asleep before Love Boat started.
On the phone, the neighbor told me to call
her “Deb,” insisted she speak to my mom
to reassure her she wasn’t a psycho, then
scheduled my audition for the next day after
school.

Before I could knock, she opened the door,
barely introducing her two daughters, almost
immediately erasing her smile: “If the TV
blows up, what will you do?”, she asked.
I expected a timer or those three beeps
from Jeopardy to sound if I didn’t answer
in her allotted time frame, so I blurted—
how I’d grab her kids and run out
of the house. I guess I passed, as two days
later, “David,” her husband, picked me
up, and we small talked our way back.
I remember seeing the kids already
in pajamas, wondering if they were going
to miss out on coloring, making Jiffy Pop,
the fun for which I’d been hired.
And, even as I walked to them, wanting
to make friends, Deb pulled me aside—
strange how she grabbed my upper arm—
to say her sister would be coming by, how she
needed to borrow a tennis racquet, but anyone
could come by and say she was my sister
. Was this
a new scam, I wondered, people cruising
“nice” neighborhoods, knocking on doors,
and claiming to be siblings? She continued,
“When Linda stops by later, ask her
for the password: ‘hokey pokey’.”

I’m not sure if I said anything, though I can’t
imagine my mouth unopened or my eyes
unrolled. Within moments, she was fastening
her left wrist’s tennis bracelet, reaching
for her clutch, and we three were waving
their sedan down the street.

Two hours later, after I tucked away
the girls, their stomachs free of ice cream
or any “the parents are away” treats, I heard
Linda’s doorbell, requested her password,
and let her in, since, we were, after all,
in collusion. As she walked toward
the dining table housing the snowshoe-
shaped racquet, I asked, “How do I
know not anyone could say hokey pokey?”
Perhaps, she did not hear me or see
my smile or chose to ignore. I just stood
holding the door open as she exited
into the darkness, leaving me to watch
Fantasy Island alone, to keep both feet in.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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The Town Center

Just across from the Embarras River, boys,
their hair wet from swimming nearby
gravel pits, ride the cemetery, careful not
to tire recently-placed flowers while pedaling
overgrowth and figure-eight paths from days
before.

When the sun starts to set, they know
to head home, their mothers’ lingering
beef stew just blocks away. Often,
one boy’s bike lags behind, reading,
under his mini headlight, a neighbor’s
marker, sometimes fingering the engraved,
Episcopalian cross, then subtracting
the man’s lifespan until it becomes almost
scary-dark, he attempts a few wheelies
and races home.

In twelve years, this boy will take his out-
of-town girlfriend to this cemetery’s daylilies
and overgrown shrubs, the river’s burbling
their accompanist. He will point out quieted
friends while her hand rests in his,
and she will smile, as she imagines him
younger and circling.

They will continue this tradition, these visits,
after the boy’s now motorized bike takes him
to other towns, highways, State Road 58
the night he crashes his front tire
and helmeted head into its steel beams,
away

from the cresting river that will call
to his girl, her presence. For hours, the lush
grass will loop her bike, divining her
own cemetery paths, her head loose
in the heavy air, and she will meld
into him, his past, their unborn child
who now rides in tandem, dropping
a daisy
each time she passes
his engraved name, each time
she passes
his home.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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This is Why I Run

The poem I started disappears, and I can’t
summon its lines; I don’t remember yet
another password; my dental hygienist
has moved; I don’t like my middle-aged
stomach; Banana Republic needs better
quality control because a purse-sized bottle
just broke, fragrancing bathroom tile and now
my sinuses; a seven-week-old slept on me
for two hours, and I can’t stop feeling
his grip; I can’t get a manicure to last more
than two days; I see a square where
there should be new sockets, the electrician
eschewing our roof, the attic before
announcing he couldn’t wire that space,
so now I have to call “Mike, the Drywall
Guy”; my college roommate unfriended
me on Facebook; I friend the treadmill
repair guy on Facebook; another friend
needs an intervention, but no one will
confront her, including me; a new wrinkle
has sprouted between my eyebrows; I like
beer; I can’t grade or vacuum when
I’m running away; I crave being alone,
in my head, listening to my pounding
or a bird call I might not know I hear;
my feet move on their own, I don’t even
know how my brain signals them anymore,
heel toe, heel toe, heel, toe,
I just can’t stop.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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When Nick Cave Comes to Dinner

Everything will be in black and white
            the plates, the prairie dress his wife designed,
Nick’s eyebrows, more black than white to match
            his chin-planed hair, the dissonant music’s
discordance, even the hors d’œurves of caviar
and sour cream. And, there will be smoke,
lots of it, from just not mouths or candle wicks but
from the sea’s fog drifting through the dining
window. In our shroud, we will pour Pinot Grigio
and whiskeys neat, sway between conversations,
while he walks away, the hallway’s open door beckoning,
his black-jacketed back enframed, and soon,
we will follow, mirrored in the passing windows, the littoral cliff
that cast his son sixty feet downward watching us move,
our feet shedding oxfords and heels, ice cubes clanking, until
he stops at the tub’s clawfeet, scoops the air to his sides,
then gestures forward, hand behind hand reaching hand,
            until we are all settled, aglow in alabaster.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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Incubation

I hope you won’t mind when I unzip
your body and crawl inside. I promise

to be quiet and gentle around your vena
cava, settling into your cavity like one

of the cats, so you’ll barely know I’m there.
I’m not trying to crowd you or codepend:

I just can’t bear the insomnia any longer, staring
at my eyelids minute after minute, all I can see

are circles, rotating halos when I try to sleep,
I just feel so dizzy and yearn for your respirations.

And, don’t worry: I have washed the remnant glue
globbing my hair from the sleep study’s electrodes,

and I will not overperfume, plus my stay can be
temporary, just a night if you don’t mind, and go

ahead and snore. Your heartbeat’s white noise
will drift me until dawn’s sunlight shards the comforter,

and I unlid, uncurl, unzip, unyawn—spinning, cartoon
bluebirds singing me into the kitchen to start coffee.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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Hello, It’s Me

On the day that Mama Cass died, Dad and I drove
along the curves of Brush Creek Road, past
the Snowmass Rodeo grounds, my hair
waving out the backseat window to the horses’
mimicking manes, then almost to Highway 82
and the “mushroom house,” its beige limestone
and weird shape like a barnacle attached
to a mountain (if that could be a thing). We needed
more model glue, the Porsche 911’s
“whale tail” depleting our original supply
and leaving our fingers dark and caked
from the newspaper print lining
its eighty-seven parts. I loved going to Carl’s
Pharmacy, not just for its shelves of Sea & Ski
suntan lotion, the many postcard spinners,
or because we’d almost always leave with ice
cream—mint chocolate for Dad, rocky road
in a sugar cone for me—but for all the flags
hung high near the store’s staircase: I could
twirl below and watch them wave each time
someone opened the shop door, though that July
day, the flags seemed stiller. I still positioned
myself under their colors, wanting to dance
with them, but listening to customers and staff’s
hushed voices—She was too young. Who knew you
could asphyxiate on a ham sandwich?
—I adhered
to dad’s side, waiting for him to pay, kind of
knowing she wouldn’t be funny
on Hollywood Squares again.

With his sunglasses already on, he ushered
me outside, around to the pharmacy’s open ice
cream window, where we waited for treats
while Todd Rundgren’s repeating
“think of mes”
bled from the indoors.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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I Need a Sign

You know those applause signs that light up during television tapings? I think I need one in me, not to remind me to clap, but like an animal’s embedded microchip, to rescue when lost. This morning when I asked what you would wear for your meeting, I wish that sign’s bright yellow bulbs flashed behind my forehead, “NOT NOW,” “NOT NOW,” prior to my rounded lips articulating those labio-velar sounds, air expelling freely from my nose, my vocal cords vibrating my rush to words, to judgment. I can’t blame age, my parents reminding my sister and my adolescence to “Put brain in gear before speaking,” so I guess my gears are stuck or broken, my bulbs’ filaments burnt at the base. I know sometimes I can entertain, like last month when we drove the desert to Tucumcari, and I announced, after so many “Vasectomy Reversal” signs sprouting from the yucca and riparian shrubs, a billboard advertising “SEXTAPES,” one, large-lettered word, though our acceleration closer yielded photos of colorful blankets, layered, woven, seamless stripes, and authentic “SERAPES” for sale. I’m not sure how you don’t tire or try to embed in me yourself, but I thank you for years of not presenting me a muzzle on our anniversary, of being my steady, live, studio audience.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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This Morning We Can

Drive by the bar we
went to last night, so we can
remember its name.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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Gray Divorce

On the way to work, I call my parents, and they answer in speaker, describing the fall colors aligning I-70, as they head west into the mountains, a lunch date with decades-long friends. My mom tells me about their friend’s daughter divorcing after forty years, forty years, can you believe it?, she repeats, and I respond by reminding her that Al and Tipper Gore did the same. Our connection starts to break, so we say we’ll talk later, and I think about my, really our, twenty-seven years, how I still get excited when you have meetings on my campus and wander the office corridor, greeting all my long-term colleagues turned friends, your leather loafers replacing grad-school, high-tops, a striped tie where you rest sunglasses on Saturdays. I feel our time yet not at all—wouldn’t be surprised to find a soft pack of Marlboro Reds in your T-shirt pocket except for your desert asthma—your forehead strokes gentle, the same. Don’t get me wrong: I understand how people tire at any age, why shouldn’t they enjoy their golden years, sixty being the new thirty and knee replacements common. I wonder would we have the energy, training new lovers or explaining my zipper scar you stroke to prove you’re not an imposter? What about all our relatives? Would we open a 23andme account to provide a family history cheat sheet for the next cousin’s wedding? And, all the Seinfeld or places we’ve lived references, not to mention the nicknames (“Mr. Malaprop,” “The General,” “The Worried Woman Pharmacist”) or the memorial services where we’ve slid hands under one another’s seated thighs. I know I will still shut the cabinet door too hard after you again leave it open to clunk my head, or yell for you when you’ve just stepped into the kitchen behind me; just let me know when you need me to go for a drive or climb a mountain, and I’ll pick up your prescription on the way home.

Amy Lerman was born and raised on Miami Beach, moved to the Midwest for many years, and now lives with her husband and very spoiled cats in the Arizona desert, where she is residential English Faculty at Mesa Community College. She received her Master’s and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas, and her poems have appeared in Rattle, Smartish Pace, Common Ground Review, Prime Number Magazine, Solstice, and other publications.

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His First Voyage

The boy hadn’t even been allowed to stay on deck when wind plumped the sails and the ship eased out of Bombay harbour. He’d been sent below to the galley where he’d stay for the next few months, while the ship slipped down past the great African continent, to the very tip, where two oceans fought with one another, and then up, all the way to this England – a strange-sounding name when he practiced saying it. These Englanders were relatively new to Indian shores, but they, like Lascars, like the boy, were built for the sea.

Four, five, six months later he would emerge; but until then, Currycook told him, this was His Place. Currycook was tall, stood at a slight angle, favouring his good leg. He was fat, so fat, his greasy shirt tight across a big belly, his skin pale brown and pasty from too much time spent out of the sun. He’d given the boy a friendly pat on the back, a wink, and told him, vaguely, ‘Just learn where everything is.’

When the boy first looked around the galley it had seemed chaos: a higgledy-piggledy collection of pots, utensils and ingredients, items crammed into small cupboards. Now, just two weeks into the voyage, he could see the order. It was a box of a room, dominated by the large sheet-iron stove with two big burners and two big ovens. One of the boy’s jobs was to keep the stove working – cleaning it, lighting it, stoking it, feeding it; making sure the layer of sand beneath it was replenished now and then. When Currycook needed, the boy would take the bellows down from the wall and work the charcoal till it burned almost white, and sparks flew round the galley like dragonflies, till his face felt stretched and crinkled from the heat. He knew now what was where: beans and pulses here; flour here; rice there; here the biscuits, there the meal. All was packed into boxes and sacks that were crammed up against creaking timbers of the galley wall. Each and every thing the boy memorised, so that he could find it in the fug of steam and smoke that often leaked from the stove’s thin flue.

Presiding over everything was Currycook. He stood between the table and the stove, turning from one to the other and back again. Pots and pans were to his left, large ones stacked on the floor, smaller ones hanging from struts that jutted from the stove-side (their clanging was a constant reminder to the boy that he was at sea, since his legs and stomach never seemed to acknowledge the fact). To Currycook’s right – by the left of the stove – was a cubby, with knives and cleavers in the top drawer; spoons, ladles and all other cooking utensils in drawer below that. And underneath that, in the big bottom drawer, were sacks of spices and seasonings. Currycook didn’t even have to look to know what he was adding – just thrust his hands in and brought out fistfuls or pinches of whatever to stir into the food.

Stores on board were not varied. What vegetables they had were for the most part pickled and briny, which taste when the boy first encountered it was unique and quite pleasant: it was tangy, tart, sat nicely in the mouth. But on your plate, day after day? It began to pall, became onerous like the weight of heat in the doldrums.

And the meat. There were pens below for the animals who provided fresh meat: pigs, goats and chickens, but that was mainly for the officers or those whose religions meant they had to be careful about what they ate. It was the boy’s job to clean out the pens and lay fresh straw. He hardly ever got fresh meat himself; for him and the other low-lifes it was pickled beef, pickled pork, pickled fish. If not that, then salt beef, salt pork, salt fish…

A month it might have been, and they’d grown to work together, Currycook and the boy: choreographed movement around the room while pots clanged, while the several meals that Currycook was frying or simmering hissed and plopped on the stove. Currycook would give soft instructions: ‘A bit more cinnamon there…More pepper here – no, not too much!…Chop me more lemons…Take that off – we don’t want it to boil…’ The ship’s cat, Mrs Sippy, curled round their legs, waiting for the odd bit of chicken or pig gizzard. Sometimes she followed the boy up on deck – because that had just been Currycook’s joke, about not seeing the sun for the entire voyage – where she was fussed over or kicked out of the way by whichever sailor, she didn’t seem to mind. Usually the boy came up top when mucking out: he had to take the buckets of pissy, shitty straw up to deposit overboard. Oh, the poor fish that had that raining down on them. Not that the fish minded, because sometimes, when the ship was still and he poured slops over the side, they would rush and gather like it was a feast; and even if he dropped some more in, they would scatter just for a little time, then gather again.

Other times it was just for leisure. The boy and the cat would sit in fresh air on warm evenings. He would share small, chewy balls of bhang with the other sailors, and they would drift off into the oblivion of unexplored, imagined lands.

Currycook taught the boy how to use a knife, why to keep it sharp. ‘See?’ he said, showing the boy a stub where a pinkie used to be. ‘This is what happens when you use a blunt knife in a high sea.’ He taught, too, the basics of flavour. The boy learned that strong meats needed mild spicing, mild flavours needed strong seasoning, sometimes neither needed anything and it was best to leave well alone.

The spices themselves were not too varied either: cinnamon, pepper, turmeric, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. It was the lad’s job to roast then grind the curls of bark, the little pellets into powder. They were roasted in a dry pan, and he would spend long times grinding them up, one stone on another. With the constant movement of the ship, this powder was often airborne and would get into his throat and nose, coating them and making them burn; making him sneeze and hawk, and when he sneezed or hawked his phlegm and snot were dark with spices. Turmeric had to be grated, then soaked then squeezed, and he went through mounds of the root, till his hands and forearms were yellow, till it felt as though yellow was absorbed through his skin and coloured his flesh and bones. That all done, Currycook showed him the quantities he needed to bring the flavour out of, or add flavour to, the preserved meat stews. When Currycook first told him to get rice, the boy had started to sift through, to remove stones and weevils. Currycook pshawed that:

‘Don’t bother. It’s a waste of time. The men can work their way round them. Besides,’ he added with a smirk, ‘a man’s tongue should learn to be nimble, eh.’

The lad’s response was a perplexed smile. Currycook laughed and said, ‘You’re how old?’

‘Twelve.’

‘Well, that is young; though I’ve known some who wet their pricks when younger. Don’t worry – there’ll be plenty of opportunity once we get to London. Lots of women there who’ll be happy to taste some spring chicken. Men, too. We’ll get you sorted out. And it is best to wait till we get there. Don’t try to fuck any of the animals we’ve got on board. I mean, it won’t toughen the meat, as some’ll tell you; it’s just you never know who’s been there before you, and what they might have.’

The boy raised a smile, but it was a blank one. Currycook just laughed and tapped him on his woolly head.

Pulses and chickpeas had to be soaked in fresh water. One time, early on, he made the mistake of boiling some chickpeas in salt-seawater, and they cooked up hard as stones.

Currycook would make huge pots of stew, thickened with lentils and rice. He showed the boy how to use pickling juices and brine to season food; that the spices, used in different quantities from one day to the next, could impart different flavours and aftertastes; what sort of mixtures would be best for beef, pork, vegetables and chicken. Like with the chickpeas, the boy sometimes learned through mistakes – mistakes from which others suffered: the flavour of tainted meat could sometimes be masked by a spicy sauce, but that didn’t make the taint disappear, so on one occasion there were several men at once, groaning, their bums parked out over the rail as their guts squirmed and they voided themselves of liquid shit.

‘Wasn’t your fault,’ said Currycook. ‘It happens.’

Currycook had to cater to everyone, not just the Lascars, and there were so many who liked a bit of spice to their meals, and who needed their food to be prepared from certain meats from certain animals killed in a certain way. Some of the dark-skinned Jews ate with them. Ari, Joseph and Barek were constant sailors who after this ship would find another, then another, then another; hopscotchers from port to port, they would just keep going round the world. They didn’t feel they had a home on land.

It was after they’d rounded the Cape, when he and Ari were having a chew one evening, that Ari told him, ‘You too will be like us. You’ll go round and round, and sometimes touch on land; maybe for a couple of days, or a few weeks, or months because you’ve been at sea so long, and you think, “I just want some dry land under my feet.” And you’ll tell yourself, “This is good. I was never happy at sea anyway.” But you won’t be happy on land either. You’ll want to take off again. So, you’ll find another boat and go out again. You’re a half-worlder, like us. Oh, I used to think I’d find a home, a place to stay, but where? Who wants us? My grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother was from Spain, but they killed her man and took her money so they could send that Italian to the Indies. She walked all the way to the Hind to find a home. For what? So I can now make a trip back, and find some friends, some fellow Jews in York, or in Iran, or Morocco, or even try Palestine. Or Spain again.’ He chuckled.

‘Look at them.’ Ari gestured at his fellows, at the motley crew members, some in turbans, some in caps, bearded and clean-shaven, wearing dhotis or trews or kilts, chattering away in one another’s languages. ‘Look at us. We’re people of the Book, you Lascars and us. We’d do well together. The Book – that’s our only real home. Tell me, have you read your Book?’

‘No,’ said the boy. ‘I-I can’t read.’

‘Well, that’s not your home then.’

Jews and Lascars in one small mess, stuck way down in the ship so that they were treated not just to the smell of the animals, but could always get the faint whiff of bilge as they ate. Still, at least what they ate was clean.

It was supposed to be clean. Currycook told them it was clean, and he always made a show that it was. Some were not fussy, and Jews and Lascars though they were, were given to the secularism of the sea. They would happily have eaten in the other mess, the European one, if the food had been to their taste. But it wasn’t; they liked their spices, even if they didn’t need their stew to conform to dietary regulations. Currycook knew. He took care of his people: at mealtimes there were two pots. One, for the more strict or more orthodox, was beans and pulses with fresh meat, killed and bled on board; or with preserved fish that had been soaked then mashed with water into a jelly-like paste which was folded into the rest of the food. For the others he concocted a chowder thick with shreds of beef or pork.

But – sometimes bits of the unclean meal accidentally made their way into the clean pot. Nobody knew except Currycook. And though he was aware that certain pots and pans and plates and utensils should be kept separate, it just wasn’t practical in such a confined space. One time the boy saw, so now the boy knew too; and the boy was worried. He expressed concern.

‘You’re right, Boy. It was remiss of me. We should keep them separate. We should clean them separate too. The thing is, we don’t have enough room right in here, so tell you what: you have to keep them in with you, where you bunk. You should probably clean them separately as well. Use sand.’

The pots and pans clanked around by the boy’s hammock, they bumped against his head, and the ladles and spoons poked him through the hammock’s netting. When he cleaned them, the sand worked its way into the whorls of his fingerprints, roughed them up. Maybe Currycook was right – there wasn’t really enough room. And faith shouldn’t be based on such things as whether some food was prepared next to some other food, or whether the pans and spoons were kept separate, should it? It should be based on devotion and prayer, right?

Currycook mused on this. ‘You may well be right there, Boy. You know – maybe – how would it be if – we just went back to how things were before?’

Currycook appreciated reasoned argument.
 

There was one time when the ship was becalmed, when they were travelling north and had hit the doldrums. They slithered to a halt, and it was like the whole ship – officers, crew, the ropes and timbers and nails – relaxed. It was almost as if the ship spread itself in the water, stretched out like a basking whale and absorbed the sun.

‘You take yourself up there,’ said Currycook. ‘I’ll get on here.’

Who knew life on a ship could be like this? All the men shared drink and chat. The boy went over to the taffrail and leaned on it. The boy listened as the ship slip-slopped softly in the breezeless air, and just let the view ease into his eyes. If there was a world he was ever meant to be comfortable in, this could well be it. He knew the sea could be merciless, but this wasn’t the same sea. This ocean was a pussycat. He could see, now, that there was water. All there was was water. There was nothing else; there had been nothing else, there would be nothing else. Nothing could compete with the vastness around him. If anything as incalculable as heaven were shown to him, it would look like this: it would be a reflection of nothing.

A presence by his side; a large presence, accompanied by the musky odour of turmeric and the sharp smart of pepper. ‘I bet right now you think there’s nothing else in the world but us, eh, Boy.’

He turned, and started to smile and nod, but stopped halfway. This wasn’t the man he knew – was it? Voice the same, smell the same; same size, and this fellow, too, favoured the same leg. But, instead of a fat face, shiny with grease and sweat, this face glowed.

Then Currycook spoke again – ‘I felt the same way too, the first time I saw this sort of thing; the first time I got a proper look. Humbled, is it?’

The boy completed his smile, completed the nod, and turned his gaze outwards.

‘Aye. You know, the Hinds have a story, about the sea, about the churning of an ocean of milk, and the poison being taken out and held in one of their gods’ throats – blue, like that now. And the Jews and Christians and Muslims do as well. Their books tell them that darkness was on the face of the deep and that God moved on the face of the waters. Maybe there’s something in that, cos when I look on water like this, I think I know what the infinite is like. I think I know there was a tumultuous sea, and God reached down and with one touch of his finger he calmed it. Have you felt the sea in you? Have you felt the ocean in your heart boil and blister, and wished for there to be something, some balm, some drug, some spice, some person, to touch it and make it glassy smooth?

‘I remember when I was your age, and I was assistant to a fat old Currycook, and I came up on a calm day when the sails were limp, and I looked out. All I could see was water. I thought to myself that the world could have ended for all I knew. That there might have been desolation and ruin all over, and the only survivors were we on the ship. It scared me. It chilled me like nothing had before. The thought of my family dead, and us going who knows where to what sort of place – well, it left an ugly feeling inside me that I couldn’t shake, like a jagged rent from a dull knife; it kept me awake at night with that cold fear, that shrinking terror I’ve only felt since at the thought of the woman I love with another man between her thighs.

‘Ah, do you even know what I mean? I’m sorry, lad. I witter on when I can because no-one wants to listen to me. I don’t even know where I am anymore. I’ve stopped counting the leagues and the fathoms. My idea of hell is to wander over the globe and never rest. And my idea of heaven.’

Currycook went silent, but the words still swirled about inside the boy’s head. He felt all mixed up, like mud mixed up in water. He knew it would all settle, that the earth and the water would separate – sometime, maybe way in the future, if there was a future, if this here and now was going to move on.

‘There, I’m doing it again.’ Currycook knocked his knuckles a couple of times on the rail, then once more, gently, on the lad’s head. ‘You stay topside as long as you want. I’m going below. I can’t bear to look at this anymore.’ Currycook limped off.

Alone by the rail, he leaned over and peered into the water. It wasn’t at all like the water in the distance that reflected glory and space; it was dark and viscous where it lapped against the hull. He felt cheated that the brilliant blue of farther away was reduced to this slick mass they sat in. The frilled ends of seaweed that had attached to the hull wafted forlornly in the water, hardly anxious to escape their moorings.
 

They’d moved north, into colder waters. The boy felt the ship begin to tilt and sway more than usual. Currycook said, ‘I’m shutting this down,’ and blew out the lanterns and doused the fire in the stove. ‘Here,’ he said, throwing some clothes at the boy. ‘Put these skins on.’ Clothes, slick with oil, but supple and comfortable when he put them on. They went up on deck. Everyone was busy, furling sails, battening things down, making sure nothing could move.

The sky was thick but still, somehow, luminous – a faded greyish bile green, and there was no end to the colour in any direction. ‘Sit here,’ Currycook instructed, ‘and hold tight.’

Waves were building, the air was heavy, and every so often, from near and far, there were monstrous cracks and rumbles from malicious sky gods. The wind grew, and rain snapped down at them, and the storm came. Currycook’s arm snaked round the boy’s. ‘Hang on!’ he yelled; and the ship bucked and they rode it. And when it was done – when their utter insignificance had brought them through to the other side – they both whooped their triumph.

Currycook embraced his young assistant. ‘That’s the sea. That’s the gods and the boil and blister. You know, I’ve been at this for forty years, and I’ve never felt it like that. You’ll get to know some seas in your time, but I doubt anything like that ever again. Come on – back down with you. There’s nothing more up here. We’ll be in London in a couple of weeks.’
 

London wasn’t embedded in a hooked harbour like Bombay. They had to sail up a river to get to it, moving slowly, steering alongside and around other ships. He was allowed back up top as they navigated the estuary. While the crew did their work, made the ship ready to dock, he stared at the green banks swelling up and towards farms and hamlets in the distance. There would be small British boys living there, twelve years old he liked to think, probably herding geese and cattle and sheep. They’d have as much idea of going to sea, travelling thousands of miles, as they would a giant jellyfish. What would their worries be? Harvests and mulch, weeds and wolves. Did they have wolves here? They must. They have wolves everywhere, just like they have rats and cats. He was envious that their worries were protection and welfare of the animals – so much loftier than his, which had, most recently, been the chickpeas he’d spilled on the floor when they were stowing stuff away. They’d jittered and bounced everywhere, into all sorts of tiny spaces, down through cracks where they might hit soupy standing water and get all moist and plump, and perhaps even germinate to provide perennial meals for the bilge-rats. Currycook was already in a mood that day because his leg was stiff and painful, and had yelled at him and told him to collect all the escaped chickpeas, ‘Each and every one. And don’t think I won’t know how many are missing because I’ve counted them, Boy. Like I said: each and every one.’

Worry on the lad’s face had softened him, and Currycook had giggled, cuffed him gently, and said, ‘Ah well, it happens. I’m sure I’ve spilled a shipload of chickpeas in my time. More than you could possibly count. Not that you can count, because if you could, you’d have been working with Seacunny and not here with me. Ah, go on – get topside.’

There were a couple of British boys waving to him from the banks while their sheep nibbled on wet grass and riverweeds. He felt superior, an age old, seasoned. Something inside him smiled and he turned his back on them.

The feeling grew, expanded inside him as they docked. Was London ready for him? He’d travelled from the other side of the world. The other side of the world! How many lads of his age could say they’d been as far? He bounced proudly down the gangplank to present himself to the English. Some of them might never have seen anyone like him: he would be a curiosity. They’d be fascinated.

Well, of course they’d seen people like him. They’d seen people like him for years. And he wasn’t the only boy on the dock; there were loads of them, some younger, some older, zipping by, off to do something or other, or to do nothing at all. London’s docks were more cosmopolitan than Bombay’s had been: there were more races, more colours, more languages than he’d ever come across when back there in Bombay. He was just an insignificant little mite. He was ignored, almost a ghost. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the docks themselves, for the fact that he was placing feet on wood, and that he was bumping into other people and things, he would have wondered whether he really was substantial, a person, or was just a spirit from a phantom ship, who was wandering among all this bustle, this noise and smell, drifting through it while it existed in another plane.

But there was a bump, and there was a stamp, and there was another bump. He was there, corporeal, a small skinny island in a stream of men unloading pepper, jute and cotton. When he was almost barged into the water by an angry stevedore who yelled at him, ‘Get out the way, you fucking imp!’ it made him smile and feel grateful. Still, the stevedore barged him, and he very nearly found himself bundled into the river, teetering on the very edge of the quayside. It was only the strong hand of Currycook, who picked him up by the collar and plonked him back on solid, warped wood that saved him from immersion.

‘Whoa – nearly went in the drink there! So you’ve come how many thousand miles, nary a drop of water on you, only to get dunked as soon as you arrived? Can’t be having that, can we.’ He quickly looked the boy up and down, to make sure he was fully, solidly on his feet, decided he was, and said, ‘Come on, young one, let’s get you a bed.’

Currycook knew where he was going. The boy could tell that Currycook was as familiar with things here as he would have been in Valparaiso or Shanghai or in Zanzibar (not places he knew about, of course, but names he’d heard). He could tell this by the way Currycook walked, bad leg and all, slowly but with as much confidence and purpose in this huge city as he did in his tiny galley. They went through narrow passages and alleys between buildings of crumbling brick and split timbers. Large signs hung out from the buildings, iron hoops round iron bars, that ground one against the other, and the very noise – the grating – made it seem as though the buildings were going to come down. The boy wished they would hurry through, but Currycook never broke pace – intense and inexorable, he moved as though pulled by some mysterious magnetic force, or was following the line of an invisible thread. It was alright for Currycook: he was huge, and anyone who bumped into him just bounced off again. But for the boy – he was banged this way and that as he followed, squirming through the mass of people.

He was so concentrated on following Currycook, he hardly had time to look around. When he did, though, it was weirdly familiar. Higgledy-piggledy buildings, built to no plan or reason, but with bits stuck on and jutting out – ill-shaped brick and stone, wood and lathe – mangled together and leaning in crazily over narrow passageways – with no intention of holding any longer than maybe just tomorrow.

The noises, too, could have been from anywhere. So many voices screeching in so many languages – they tried to make themselves heard above each other, and above the clatter and scrape of metal-rimmed carriage wheels and iron-shod hooves.

Then there were the smells, all around, reminding him where he had come from: animal waste, human waste, stagnant water, decay – all familiar, as if he’d never travelled thousands of miles; all the same when it came to their impact on the senses.

Currycook marched on; the boy stumbled after him. The crowd never thinned, the noise never diminished. The boy didn’t know whether to look down to make sure of his footing on slippery, slimy cobbles, or look up to make sure Currycook was still in view. He was forced to do both. And, while he had his eyes down, he bumped into a great mass. He looked up. It was Currycook, stopped.

They were standing under another gently swinging sign, hanging out from a crumbling wall. Currycook pointed at it and said, ‘Here we are. The Unicorn.’

The Unicorn. It looked more like a bull in profile.

Currycook walked through the doors as if he was returning home. The lad, tentative, feeling not at all like a seasoned traveller, but just like a little kid again, followed.

It was a large room that seemed to reach into the distance; as he and Currycook walked along, the boy thought they’d never get to the end of it. Thick pillars, round, wooden, like masts, held the place up, and made it more solid from the inside than it looked from without. They passed by a long bar on one side; on the other, on the wall, was a large mural of the fort at Bombay. Sawdust covered the floor, muffling the sound of their footsteps as they skirted tables, all dotted about the place. Round each table men sat, leaning back in their seats, relaxed. Everything was humid and noisy. Voices hung in the air, caught in the moisture like smoke particles. They were Lascars all, and looked at the newly-entered. None of them knew the young adventurer, and paid him no never-mind; some of them did know Currycook, though, and greeted him with the lack of emotion – a constrained smile, a crinkle round the eyes – that showed familiarity. Currycook knew where he was going – headed straight for his table, all the way at the back of the long room, and the boy stuck along with him, a remora attached to his shark.

Round the table sat a group of men, all at ease, most in their cups. They greeted Currycook with sarcastic cheers and set down two mugs – one for Currycook, one for the boy – and sloshed some drink into them, and then just kept on talking while Currycook joined in, taking up the conversation as if there hadn’t been miles and months between one word and the next.

The boy sat in awe of them, sipping fiery liquid, as they chatted and laughed with each other, speaking of places he’d never know, swapping tall tales of women, cargoes and sea-monsters. Currycook fitted right in, and his tales were as tall as any of the others. They concerned sharks and strange islands, and lurid goings-on with mermaids and goats. The talk floated around the boy; the men poured out their stories. They didn’t seem to notice the boy much, but when they did, they didn’t mind him – simply splashed some of the wicked liquor into his mug and encouraged him to drink it, but didn’t seem to notice or care that his sips were infrequent. Every now and then one of them would toss him the odd wink or friendly frown or smile. But it was as if they were doing it to an empty chair: it was as if he wasn’t quite there.

Time seemed to slip; it seemed to operate on another sphere where minutes were longer. The lad felt his eyelids stretch and the world turn blurry. There were people round the table, but they were melting one into another. He closed his eyes and that took him straight back into that storm where the lightning had stretched down jagged claws that tore at the sea. Great noises were going off in his head, and instead of being scared he found it really, really funny and kept giggling. He didn’t know what was happening, but found himself being dragged upstairs.

‘You are bollocksed, my young friend. We need to get you to bed.’

If he had been able to speak, if his tongue could at all work, he would have said, ‘And you are bollocksed too!’ But his tongue wouldn’t work. Nothing worked except his bladder, and he felt his piss, warm and comfortable, flowing round his groin and down his leg.

‘We’ll share the bed,’ said Currycook, who then went on to hop about, trying to take his boots off. The boy never knew whether he did or didn’t; he was too busy feeling the floorboards buckle and roll beneath him.

‘Where’s the bed?’ mumbled Currycook. The two of them stumbled about the room. He found the bed, and toppled into it. The bending and rolling didn’t stop.

‘Get used to it,’ said Currycook, and flopped down too.

They both lay there. The blankets were rough with a haunting mildew that settled round his head and entered his lungs.

‘I’m what?’ he said.

Currycook concurred. ‘I’ll just get my fife out,’ he said. He pulled a fife out of his pack – entirely imaginary – and made some vague tooting noises and fell asleep. The boy heard a sweet melancholy tune, that made the world turn more slowly and lulled him to sleep. He dreamed he was back on the ship, back at sea: back home.

Saleel Nurbhai has published short stories, poems, academic articles and reviews. His work was included in 20/30 Vision and The Redbeck Anthology of British South Asian Poetry. He is co-author of George Eliot, Judaism and the Novels. In the past he has worked in a second-hand bookshop and as a carpet cleaner in Lancaster, UK. Saleel still lives and works in Lancaster.

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autophobia

welcome      not      to subterranean city
natural light vanished      diluted to apocalyptic yellow
be twice-wary      trip wires      across the sky
mousetrap every pigeon      & plane
ready to electrify you      bluer than sadness
i contraband wrists      i execute colorblind      i don’t call you by name
pacemaker      skin of gunmetal      eyes of screws
surgeon stitches      your lips over mine
voice of lark      you will sing      every lullaby i know
& insist to like it      when i touch you      else patrol
beeps slave      beeps code breach      synonyms to suicide
but damn me      your way      tongues entwined      & bitten
by which i don’t mean      kissing      try not to look
at the middle finger      on the trigger      look to the night
bled black      the stars remember every martyr      incinerated
& love      in the native language      can seduce a knife
out of a thief’s hands      the cacophony of these names
keeps me sleepless      stealer      police officer
masked with needle      smoke-crowned monarch,
& i hear your name      in every nightmare.

Trinh Tran is a junior at Milpitas High School. She enjoys writing about social dynamics and coming of age.

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notes on grief

at daybreak, a ream is brought into the cosmos
            and a wolf’s nightly cries spread gauze on a saltwater
wound. a fistfight breaks out and three blind men cauterize
      a comrade’s woes, slip a palette knife over trauma.

the way my mother slices tomatoes, is slick meat
            on scabbed knees. when i arrive as a leaping
   lily’s cut stem – a reaper will whirl a hurricane in his nail beds,
            a child underneath his squatting limbs.

once a dead man’s casket is grown into mildew by
      a raging snowdrift. half-eaten, half-baked;
   an apple pie – a tinge of a widow’s liver. here cacao
      strains milk-sap into a babe’s tongue, laps it up like
   my grandmother’s daschund. yesterday we put
      him down; today his water bowl drips sonorous.

then, a drooping elm-oak fell to the ground. a little
   angel-boy clipped his wings and hung them to dry.
in kindergarten, we peg crafts and arts. after naptime;
   go outside and plant a sapling, suck dried succulents
into our teeth.

girl;
uproots a banyan tree and looks
   towards the sky. an eagle in her clenches, grips a
hamster in cleaved feathers and lets out a wail.

Anoushka Kumar (she/her) is a student and writer from India, with work forthcoming or published in The Heritage Review, The Incandescent Review, Ayaskala and elsewhere. She likes wood-panelled flooring and Phoebe Bridgers. Find her at https://anoushkakumar.carrd.co.

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Snowglobe

Picture this:

It is Christmas Eve. There’s an aching in your toes
as you’re stretching upwards, moving into a hailstorm

that has only just begun. Snowflakes sit on the tip of your
freckles as you give the little church boy a hand. This is

his prime, after all. He’s rolling up gingerbread dough and
lifting paper houses for the world to see – and what does the world see?

On Main Street the postman’s done for the day, when evening arrives,
he’ll be gone. The lights stay up, they’re evergreen. You’re gulping

eggnog and tracking dirt as you trudge your battered sled up a
hill. This is exhilaration, rising up in the back of your irises and pewter

dotting your vision. You’re gripping her hand and spotting deer-tracks
where only footsteps stood before. There’s a shade of cinnamon stirred

in cocoa, and rock salt replacing shards of ice. Every avalanche is born
from a pixie’s stubby crystal and every metropolis a small town’s lament.

Anoushka Kumar (she/her) is a student and writer from India, with work forthcoming or published in The Heritage Review, The Incandescent Review, Ayaskala and elsewhere. She likes wood-panelled flooring and Phoebe Bridgers. Find her at https://anoushkakumar.carrd.co.

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haibun in which i contemplate self-love

1:40 am in midwinter and i’m peeling day-old nail varnish onto the ground. how acrylic leaves an aftertaste quite this sour. outside my window, the may flowers are withering: their leaves drying up, tendrils retracting  on nights like these, i go outside, tear off their petals and hold them in my palms. the fireflies gather outside, flitting around their stems, just out of reach. my mother always told me that nights are meant for rest, rejuvenation, for hope. and this way i know that even wildlife loses its way occasionally. spring left, a flightless maiden that doesn’t want to be found. someone is watching conan in the den speak at a princeton commencement address, his voice filtering out through the vents. work hard, you know and things will fall into place. my father always told me i was resilient. so i’m watching in silhouettes, and trying to believe.

i’m on landlocked waters, and thumbing my way through flagstones. a boy at school laments this class of 2023 memories, sinking into riverbeds – fallingwater at eden. we’re glad to be here, and it’s been tough, you’ve been so strong. i’m proud of you, i hope you know that. then the holiday spirit is digging its nails into my chest, clawing out what a girl mistakes for joy. we stoke the fire with birch, let its flames warm our dog-like bellies. and as night falls, i see an orchid discarded on a rooftop, silent, iridescent. resilient.

so it is in full bloom, still, giddy in the crook of my shoulder, and i’m caressing it and thinking you know this could be love. i know it is resilient like

synonyms for growth,
   gripping a bud in autumn,
and holding it close.

Anoushka Kumar (she/her) is a student and writer from India, with work forthcoming or published in The Heritage Review, The Incandescent Review, Ayaskala and elsewhere. She likes wood-panelled flooring and Phoebe Bridgers. Find her at https://anoushkakumar.carrd.co.

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fragments of a half-blood sappho

a woman is a woman, and the rebuilt, scribbled and written over patchwork she is moulded from. and so i was. four years ago, a pink-washed godfriend now left behind hurt her head in a courtyard, all dazed in childishness. i rubbed a damp towel across the wound and left it to fester near a blustering sycamore. caretaker says give her some sugar, and the swelling will get better. i spoon it out gently, crystals seeping into thick-gummed chasms. i want pain to rub me the right way: fever licking fleshy tongues  and epidermis sizzling underneath polluted skies. i want to slip into a cadaver’s treasure chest every sunday evening and gently lull it to sleep. perhaps the cicadas will keep it company. there is beauty in the undead. i then caught a thrush in my outstretched palm. we don’t get flamingoes on this side of town. perhaps we never will.

i sometimes wonder how atheists die. i do not know if they hear weeping brine or a pacific siren’s shifting amethyst repentance or if their breath is taken away from them all at once, a caged bird who cannot, will not sing. if a saintly nightmare of a deity curls jasmine into their fingertips, does blasphemy still remain?

i wonder if i am a poet because i have no faith, or i have no faith because i loathe being a poet.

later that night, i bleed dregs of clumped up papyrus through my faded yellow jeans. in school, we whisper sanctimony into barnyard holiness and clutch a chapel’s cross-eye to our breasts. like it isn’t sacred. like it isn’t holy. like i do not wish to drape tapestries of a single sprinted melody against every cool shopfront i pass by.

i know that my body exists in the same way i know the earth does: a jutting mass of dusky curves, and desert flower crowns like wishful thinking and stepping into abbey road in the early autumn, a seer into the gaslamp’s many luminaries. i know that if a gland’s chill makes its way into a boarded up bus seat every field trip, it leaves a mark.

i want to leave a mark.

pride is peddled to me wherever i go. it looks at me from the corner of its eye, squinting up at me from this city’s intersecting  tram lines, raising its eyebrow at me. i dislike its taunts, try to deflect them like arcing volleyballs on pigeonholed track runs.

i meet it halfway.

Anoushka Kumar (she/her) is a student and writer from India, with work forthcoming or published in The Heritage Review, The Incandescent Review, Ayaskala and elsewhere. She likes wood-panelled flooring and Phoebe Bridgers. Find her at https://anoushkakumar.carrd.co.

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Ghazal For Ghost Towns

Prelude and three ribs overturn themselves. In the distance, two bodies slipping in the light.
A loving mother braises her shadow, chewing the veal off a skeleton in the light.

The sky—dotted with factory overkill. Primordial overdose, radiation in a bottle.
But you, rebel son, pride skinning rubble off your shoulder into the moonlight,

you, disfigured overlord, sharpen a scalpel on flint. Tell me, is this how a warrior mistakes
a weapon for surrender? The answer, a fire in his belly—or a mouth limning light.

No obituaries for the dead here, but for the living, for a swollen life gone too soon.
Last summer, a break-in. Barbed wire dissected in a high noon’s dying light.

Vigilantes, they called them—spread-eagled, scrabbling up mountain-paths.
Unmarked gold, thrown over the edge of a cliff, jagged and undulating in the light.

China dolls—porcelain, bellies sucked in and tongues protruding out. Flighty daughters.
Mistresses, tucking in their innocence. Not a single curl out of place. But with light

comes hope. Another land. One where the carnations do not fracture themselves to blisters.
Where the harvest moon does not drip blood red, rendering demigods wolves in the light.

Then, of breathless counsel—the wind billowing dandelion corpses into the sidewalks.
A wagon ride, gasoline lapping at their breath—honeyed, driftwood in firelight.

An anomaly. Brought to the gallows, a pantomime surrendered in his throat. Divinity
flourished. This exile, a specimen of existence. Freeze frame, and a mother’s light

glistening by a sanatorium. The walls of this hospice starched. Inhabitants built
from the soil of a motherland, pregnant with possibility. For a while, the light

rebuilds a town’s frozen embers. At last, a maiden’s braying siren-song. Or
a requiem for ruination. Butterfly spirits, scattering in the torchlight.

Anoushka Kumar (she/her) is a student and writer from India, with work forthcoming or published in The Heritage Review, The Incandescent Review, Ayaskala and elsewhere. She likes wood-panelled flooring and Phoebe Bridgers. Find her at https://anoushkakumar.carrd.co.

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Masturbation

i map the waterhole
in my body

for the thirsty animal
my mother’s exorcist
chained with a chaplet
to the sculpture of a crucifix

a teal-eyed thing misnamed ‘desire
serpentine, & slippery—
too slippery to be bound

my fingers—they grope,
questing for the vale
ripe with hallelujahs

where ripples shimmer
from beneath my skin,

through my blood vessels,
like viruses that are breeds of wildfire,  s p r e a d i n g
e vapor a t i n g  a mass 60% water
never enough to satisfy lust

thrice, mother’s eyes witnessed,
through a chink in my door,
how this animal reached for the apple of its eye,
ate it, & through its nostrils, let out
a sigh to conflate with the last notes
of a hymn on the stereo

it’s 11:35 a.m
i’m counting the danger signs
i’ve hurdled to convert
the taste of sin

into 250 mg of sleeping pills.

Martins Deep (he/him) is a Nigerian poet, artist, and currently a student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His works deeply explores the African experience of the boy/girl child. His creative works have appeared, or are forthcoming on FIYAH, The Roadrunner Review, Covert Literary Magazine, Barren Magazine, Cream City Review, Mineral Lit Mag, Agbowó Magazine, Surburban Review, Crow & Cross Keys, FERAL, Jet Fuel Review, Kalopsia Literary Journal, Whale Road Review, Kalahari Review, and elsewhere. He loves jazz, adores Bethel Music and fantasizes about reincarnating as an owl. He tweets: @martinsdeep1.

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Prayer to our Dead

(for my late father, V.I)

[i]
Our wineskins are empty

the journey stretches into the night—
night biding the fall of stragglers.

a bloodmoon dissolved into the oasis we found,
&
our emptiness echoed the silence of our palmists.

father, with our last notes, we duet
with things you read psalms to repel.

one wrested my brother’s windpipe
to score elegies by his cold bloodstreams.
my sister sold her loincloth
for the scent of first rain,
but it was your widow’s secret tears
dripping from our rooftop.

[ii]
we arrive this town
where men stoke embers for a midnight sun.

they teach of prayer to our dead.
how from a mouth purged with saltwater,
words become incense smoke
that finds pathways to the nostrils of mercy.

by an easel, i shape my hands after a censer.
i cast the ashes of my regrets onto a palette.

i say, paint a rainbow over a weeping prophet in a house on fire. paint
a fulani boy protecting herbivorous wolves
from carnivorous sheep. paint

our deathbeds in the arms of those who love us.
make sleep the sweetest for those
who make peace from the ruins of war.

in this room, my every sigh is an invocation.
i leave the door ajar
asking only that you drift in to teach me
how to make balm from your graveside flowers.

soften this stony ground
that the droplets of our sweat may germinate as palm trees
to bleed e n d l e s s songs into our wineskins.

Martins Deep (he/him) is a Nigerian poet, artist, and currently a student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His works deeply explores the African experience of the boy/girl child. His creative works have appeared, or are forthcoming on FIYAH, The Roadrunner Review, Covert Literary Magazine, Barren Magazine, Cream City Review, Mineral Lit Mag, Agbowó Magazine, Surburban Review, Crow & Cross Keys, FERAL, Jet Fuel Review, Kalopsia Literary Journal, Whale Road Review, Kalahari Review, and elsewhere. He loves jazz, adores Bethel Music and fantasizes about reincarnating as an owl. He tweets: @martinsdeep1.

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When they say, “This, too, shall pass”

i say, what if it doesn’t? what if it has come to stay?
and it is not in my pastor’s face i say this:
an Elijah calling down fire in the language of rain

what if it doesn’t pass?
like a pilgrim who becomes weary decides to settle,
raises an altar of stones and burns a sacrifice

like he names the place after an oasis, and it pours
onto the lap of his descendants

you’ve been the subject of the formula for too long
for your value not to be found in front of an equal sign
imagery:            a serpent, at gunpoint, biting its own tail
which means your value is = 0 = the loop of a noose

i say, what if it doesn’t pass? what if it has come to stay,
like palm oil stain on my Sunday best
i washed and washed again, but never removed

what if it pulls along its baggage into your cluttered room,
empties your bottle of anointing water, jar of olive
and refills them with the ash of burnt photos. photos with RIPs on their foreheads
letters all written in red ink.

what if it unhooks your mother’s rosary from the nail on the wall
and a widowbird perches never to leave. or leave, but after you

what if rather, it knocks, you open the door and say, you’re welcome
in the meekness that hides the fangs of every lamb

what if you played “here comes the sun“, or jazz, over a cup of coffee
and say,         you know, there are a dozen things sweeter than tears
                        like my mother’s soup salted with longing for my father

would you not want to hear grief say,
                        child, here are a pair of wings & a blindfold.
                        go dance on that cliff.

and what if the wings are broken
so you can fall in love with yourself?

Martins Deep (he/him) is a Nigerian poet, artist, and currently a student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His works deeply explores the African experience of the boy/girl child. His creative works have appeared, or are forthcoming on FIYAH, The Roadrunner Review, Covert Literary Magazine, Barren Magazine, Cream City Review, Mineral Lit Mag, Agbowó Magazine, Surburban Review, Crow & Cross Keys, FERAL, Jet Fuel Review, Kalopsia Literary Journal, Whale Road Review, Kalahari Review, and elsewhere. He loves jazz, adores Bethel Music and fantasizes about reincarnating as an owl. He tweets: @martinsdeep1.

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A Morning Routine

He awoke from a terrible dream
Skin flecked away like paint chips
Sinking between the floorboards
Ruby red kisses left behind.

Brushing his teeth mostly
To ensure they’re still
Inside his head where he saw them last.

In his bed
The Lament for Icarus has begun
So wide and kind
The feeling of lift
Remembrance
A guest forgotten
Sunk in the night’s wake

And he knows he will have to take him
Uptown and maybe east
They shared a bed, after all
Reciprocity for holy men

He looks up at the ceiling wondering
If his mother can see what he has done or
Was her vision blocked
By the neighbors and the noise upstairs.

Jacob Rosen is a writer from Natick, MA. He is currently earning his M.A. in Political Science from Syracuse University, though he spends a large amount of time on walks.

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YMCA

The topic in Danny’s Trans Am was the movie star we had seen at the YMCA pool, Warren County, Ohio. Had I not watched the movie star act on television throughout my childhood and been disappointed in his movies once his television career ran its course, I still would have noticed him in the same way dogs recognized wolves as wolves and we recognized chimps as apes. Similar, but different. First of all, the reflection of sunlight on suntan oil caused him to shine brighter than the rest of us, the glare just visible through the tangle of young girls, basting him with application after application.

The conversation changed, however, as we drove back to Danny’s house, and we spotted a dead gopher in the middle of the road. We heard the thump against the floorboard, like a baseball bat, but when we turned around, the gopher had disappeared. Somehow, the Trans Am had scooped up the carcass and stuffed it somewhere in the undercarriage. We knew it had been scooped, the gopher, because we backed up and looked on the side of the road. We looked underneath the car, under the hood, behind the wheels. We knew the gopher remained with the car because the Trans Am stank for weeks. The science of it was simple. Enzymes and microbes broke down that gopher bit by bit, wafting up dank and moist, so wretched you could taste it. We drove the car through puddles, through the car wash, jumped it over the railroad tracks, trying to jar it loose, but nothing worked.

A few weeks later, when school had started up again, Danny walked out of class after school to find that somebody had rolled his car in the parking lot, demolished it completely. Windows smashed, tires set on fire with black char up all four sides, upside down with the roof caved in.

Long gone were the thoughts of the movie star, why he had been in town, how his family was actually connected to organized crime and he had come to lay low, or the group of teenage girls splitting apart like vultures when he stood up to walk over to the high dive and climbed the ladder. I’ll never forget it. He bounced thrice on the diving board, spread his arms wide, suddenly curled his body into a spin, then straightened his form, slicing into the water.

Tim Fitts is the author of two collections of short stories, Hypothermia (MadHat Press, 2017), and Go Home and Cry for Yourselves (Xavier Review Press, 2017). His work has been published by journals such as Granta, The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, New South, and Boulevard, among many others.

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vignettes from shanghai

i.
cold wind, boundless moon. jet-lagged,
i am halfway across the world. it is quiet.
miles and miles away, you are eating lunch. i wonder
what you’re eating. here, everyone is asleep.
pull your cream curtains aside, crane your neck across balconies
and city skylines. the light flickers on and my grandma
smiles sleepily at me. whispers: ni e le ma—are you hungry?
i shake my head but she opens the fridge anyways and i shiver
despite the humidity. she hands me a plastic bag full of sweet buns
and pastries. i try to sift through it quietly but the plastic crinkles.
the suan mei tang cold against my lips,
the lingering taste sour in my mouth. she smiles again,
turns off the light. tell me
when this memory fades.

ii.
in this preserved square,
soft guzheng music exhales memories into remnants, melding
with street lights and night markets and people and mall speakers.
the gui hua blossoms drift, and my mom points at wrapped squares
of gui hua gao, tells me that my chinese nickname came from the flower.
i pluck a blossom off a low-hanging branch,
twirling the thin stem between my fingers.
they leave gold dreams scattered across the ground.

iii.
ferris wheel, skyscrapers, like the
eye of tianjin. warm metal under bare legs.
willow branches brush the river banks,
yellow warblers sing in the green leaves. cicadas hum
outside the window and my aunt asks me if i want
a milk popsicle or chocolate-caramel ice cream.
cinnabar silk and brocade intertwining.
the moon climbs up in the pavilion;
it’s time to leave, but you stay, anyways.

iv.
humidity dances around my skirt.
the smell of rain is bittersweet, heavy.
the plastic of the shopping bags cut into my palms,
leaving red lines. we step into a cake shop, homophonic with my name.
my mom tells me that when she gave me my english name,
grandpa immediately thought of the cake shop.
and my mom buys a slice, especially for me, she says, winks.
later that night, i unwrap the plastic wrapping slowly,
dig my fork into the cake my mom bought for me from my name,
eat it slowly. the taste of sugar disappears before the next bite.
the rain hanging in the air, the glass doors and the sunsets and cold air conditioning.
blurring the lines between memory and home.

v.
shanghai nights: dreamlike.
neon lights flicker on yo-yos in pavilions, street vendors
selling helicopter-seed toys with lights. dozens of them launch into the air.
some fall into trees, peppering the branches with fairy lights.
a little boy cries; he hit his finger with the rubber band and lost his on the roof.
the fluorescent lights of the stores glow behind us.
the streets glow.
we spin into the sky like the plastic helicopter-seeds.

vi.
the smell of coconut in her hair
an orchid dream: the lan hua petals fall
and the fragrance lingers.
umbrellas bloom and fade. lights flicker in the distant, silent,
luggage wheels clicking on linoleum tiles.
the taste of sugar on the back of her hand, lingering, the keychain in her bag.
the candy wrapper in her back pocket,
the spicy tofu snacks she loves that her grandma bought for her.
hair ribbons, porcelain bells from street shops.

Kristine Ma is a high school junior hailing from Michigan. She received two national Gold Medals, six Gold Keys and several other regional recognitions from the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, as well as the Best of Grade award. In the summer, she attended a creative writing master class at Northwestern University with poet Richie Hofmann. Her work is forthcoming from Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal. Kristine is the English section editor for her school’s academic journal and an editor for her school’s award-winning literary magazine, Spectrum. She is also on the creative writing team at The Incandescent Review. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing piano and oboe, hugging stuffed animals, watching anime, and dreaming.

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