Poetic licenses

seven psyches for poets (1974-2020)

1.
Elsewhere of liberty or suicide
or bloody Fate or pale thighs
but here a poet sings of plants
having no pain to cauterise.

2.
Shaving naked at the kitchen sink
you pan your brain for signs of poetry
like a miner searching specks of gold
or a parson specks of guilt.

3.
The bards bore news
and told
men huddled from the dark
of other men
and made the light seem great
but we
(light dazzled)
can only sing our selves
and, in that strain, it’s failure
that slips best from the tongue.

4.
Salesman
poet
potter
priest
spending lives
trying to make good.

5.
You screw the belle dame without mercy
and never say thank you.

6.
Sifting the cinders of the fire, to
touch the red coal to the tongue
hoping to blister beauty
from the spent ash of life.

7.
Singing without thought
you had no chart
nor made a road
to any good
yet sometimes caught
in want of art
the heart in flight
through its dark wood.

Trained as a political scientist, David Heidenstam’s career progressed from editor to village postman. In the 1970s, he was one of those responsible for the Body books series (Man’s Body, Woman’s Body, Child’s Body), which went into 16 languages, including a US Book of the Month prime selection, and in many cultures gave ordinary people access to health and body information for the first time. His journeys have included hitch-hiking through Iraq just after the Ba’ath Party came to power, two Atlantic crossings on sailboats, and taking his father travelling in the last years of his life.

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pergola…

pergola
the wisteria finds
each tree in the forest

Joshua St. Claire is a accountant who works as a financial controller in Pennsylvania, USA. He enjoys writing poetry on coffee breaks and after putting the kids to bed. His work is published or forthcoming in Delmarva Review, The Inflectionist Review, Blue Unicorn, ubu., and bones, among others, and has received nominations for the Pushcart.

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yellow light

after meditating, i realize that as in rome,
the spine does not collapse in a day.

it does, however, collapse over many
wake-ups and exhales and uneaten meals

and probably also the weight of time passing
at yellow lights. like the slow close of eyes

rolling back into sleep, we wait.
our bones soften in the wake of our bodies

and we look back at our changing
selves blurred by sunspots,

faces covered in shadow and joy
the way a sun dial is both

colosseum and ultraviolet.

Shelbi Church is a poet based in Boston, MA. She earned her BFA in creative writing from Emerson College. Her work can be found in Hobart, the lickety~split, and 86 Logic.

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there is no such thing as a clean break

unless the blade is sharp as witness
which brings into the light all that memory

tries to hide. if a family tree is felled in the forest
and no one gives a fuck, not even the ancestral

dew clinging to each brittle, pitiful leaf, is the future
more or less mine? to fit through the eye of the needle

is one thing. to offer my blood in exchange for wings
is what the grandmother i never met would call

unladylike. if i use that needle to sacrifice a fingertip
is there any difference between me and the tree?

at the top of a small mountain, i gaze at a freshly sewn field:
it’s not much, but it fits in the palm of my hand.

Shelbi Church is a poet based in Boston, MA. She earned her BFA in creative writing from Emerson College. Her work can be found in Hobart, the lickety~split, and 86 Logic.

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you asked me to come home for christmas and i said

listen, i do not return to tell you
why i have returned. i return
to show you a passion-stained
body and a soft pink mouth.
i return to show you tenderness—
no, not to gift you the skin behind
my ears, but to dance in silk
rain, to let my grass-covered feet
track childhood through the house,
unapologetic. listen. there is nothing
left inside this room. none of it
belongs to me. not even my own
face in the mirror.

Shelbi Church is a poet based in Boston, MA. She earned her BFA in creative writing from Emerson College. Her work can be found in Hobart, the lickety~split, and 86 Logic.

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song of suburbia (reprise)

when you were ten you fell
out of the old oak
in your backyard
and came back up with a pink cast

the neighbor’s older brother
had told you there was a little girl
one who had lived in your bedroom
and wore the same
cherry-stained mouth

she fell out of the same tree
when it was her backyard
and went down in a black box

we laid in the grass, fire
ants making anklets above our feet
tiny stinging welts raised
like prayer hands
and we whispered
thank you like someone
could hear us

Shelbi Church is a poet based in Boston, MA. She earned her BFA in creative writing from Emerson College. Her work can be found in Hobart, the lickety~split, and 86 Logic.

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above the disaster room

and just before the rocket flies into the moon,
the men burrowed in a crater wonder
what they will say to their loved ones.

they ask how much time is left
and the stars blink back at them in morse code.
not much, they say.

so the men build a tower out of moon rocks
and zero-gravity, breathing space dust
through pea-sized holes in their helmets

that settles in their stomachs. at the top,
they can see the edge of a black hole,
that is, like them, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

they blow kisses toward earth and dangle their feet,
shoelaces unraveling, floating like their hands
in front of their faces.

Shelbi Church is a poet based in Boston, MA. She earned her BFA in creative writing from Emerson College. Her work can be found in Hobart, the lickety~split, and 86 Logic.

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On Simplicity

Now I think simplicity relates to space.
Epicurus had only his garden, his lentil
porridge. Sick, I ambled through mine,
caring little for what went on beyond the picket fence.
Every morning, a bowl of muesli. Endlessness
and novelty I don’t handle well, though
I’m aware they’re a trick of the mind—
that somewhere there’s a falling
off and what is new is old remade,
like a castle of stone or wet sand.
Often, I am happiest confined
to bed or a park bench on the first warm day
of spring, watching people go by,
some with a sense of purpose.

William G. Gillespie lives and writes in Brooklyn. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boats Against the Current, Red Eft Review, Olney Magazine, and The Drunken Canal.

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Diana

Trivia, goddess of the crossroads,
according to Catullus. The poets couldn’t
agree on one story, so they placed her at

the junction, named her goddess of the hunt,
the moon, the pain of childbirth
and death. You can have everything

but the sun, they said, which they passed
to Apollo, her twin, their master—
the light they condemned her to borrow.

William G. Gillespie lives and writes in Brooklyn. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boats Against the Current, Red Eft Review, Olney Magazine, and The Drunken Canal.

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Another Poem About Turner

Nobody needs it. Plenty has been said—
plus the light through my blinds
is enough. Or when, on winter nights, the windows
acquire a glow from the newly rested
snow. Or when I trace
the shadow of a streetlamp, or the leaves
dancing on the pages
of a book on my lap.
These things are praised in art too much.
I leave so little for myself.

William G. Gillespie lives and writes in Brooklyn. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boats Against the Current, Red Eft Review, Olney Magazine, and The Drunken Canal.

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Big Data

                                    After Byung-Chul Han

Every deviation manifests as an image,
ready-made like a suit off the rack,
a package to be unpacked or returned. Here’s the crux:
my anathema is another man’s uniform.
Meaning, the division of categories and ironies
is total. Show me
                                                            the deviant
and I will fashion a clone from the crowd
while heads are down and the canary
feeds on diamonds of sugar
in silence. Like you, I double-
tap and post my stripes on the bulletin.
If my eyes have made me naked—
let me shut my eyes.

William G. Gillespie lives and writes in Brooklyn. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boats Against the Current, Red Eft Review, Olney Magazine, and The Drunken Canal.

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Dispatch From a Clear Morning in McCarren Park

It happened so suddenly. The city stood
still, and a silence like sunlight cascaded
around me. It was as if I could hear
the otters flopping
in the Gowanus Canal three miles south,
the steam of an espresso machine
dampening a rag,
a starling’s wingtip brushing a dead
leaf, a blade of grass shedding
its coat of frosty dew,
and somewhere, a father
raising the blinds, letting the sun
do the ugly business
of waking his child.

William G. Gillespie lives and writes in Brooklyn. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boats Against the Current, Red Eft Review, Olney Magazine, and The Drunken Canal.

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Clear Days

Midnight, and I stare

                                    at an empty tin of tobaccoless pouches,

a paperback on the science of adult attachment

                                    I’m noncommittal about. Shame returns

as if by the open window,

                                    like a naked crab

scuttling around for a carapace—

                                    armor against the April chill that lingers

like a cloud of vapor.

                                    Where do they go, those few clear days?

William G. Gillespie lives and writes in Brooklyn. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boats Against the Current, Red Eft Review, Olney Magazine, and The Drunken Canal.

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An Early History of Music with Lacunae

In the caves of Lascaux the first painters
chanted the death of bulls.

A lovelorn Neanderthal
yearned to sing the song of birds.

So a bear lost his femur
for a flute with four holes.

On the beach one day there was a stranded whale—
whose skeleton soon made a lyre.

A poet strolling by heard the wind pluck
its tendons like strings.

Drums of taut hide
were pounded in war after war after war after war…

By the campfire, an idle archer
learned his bow could be something more.

William G. Gillespie lives and writes in Brooklyn. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boats Against the Current, Red Eft Review, Olney Magazine, and The Drunken Canal.

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a funeral in my backyard

if we count each day of being alive
we find blackened sky at four a.m.
& firefly fever in the long night
i sneak out the back door of
the painted-over house
& i pray over your body
(or maybe the idea of it)
nothing happens, clear moon
spilling into the grass beneath my bare feet.
i pray without religion so i wait
for the sun to go missing
fireflies kiss my knuckles, sweat runs from my collarbone like i gave it
permission / rusted basketball hoop and deflated ball
by the fence.
used to climb the fence with you and (you know) we could fly
leaves crunch beneath my feet and i stumble home where i will wait for you
(just make sure to knock) or the gravity will pull me under & i cannot
defy the stars much longer.

Chloe Chou is a high schooler from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is serving as the Daly City Youth Poet Laureate and the South San Francisco Youth Poet-in-Residence for the 2022-2023 term. In her free time, she loves writing poetry and making mixtapes.

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the grove

oranges in the palm of my hand,
plucked cold, the ice seeping
down my arms. unplanned,
they quartered, condensation pearling.

you, eyes hung twin moons, Ganymede, Callisto, spanned
the expanse, watching. later,
i would tell you that the land
took to our sorrow like a mother tongue,
bore bright fruit, wedges of sun.

the citrus trees
stretched like a strand
of sea, frigid & immobile, nothing to condense
the frost.

Ivi Hua is a teen Asian American writer, dreamer, and poet. A Best of the Net nominee, her work has been published in [sub]liminal and Juvenm among others. She believes in the enduring nature of love and hope within humanity, especially on sunny days. You can find her on Instagram: @livia.writes.stories.

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Roadcut, Road

( after John McPhee )

Scraped or blasted,
Exposed,
Tissue sections on a slide,
Roadcut gives cognition a ledge to sit on,
The mind’s eye a glimpse of the whole
Ancient grinding planetary catastrophe.

On a more immediate timescale
Roads themselves cut lives
And tell the stories of species
Along my rambling ways.

Spattered death implies the hidden joy
Of the ones that escaped the car.
For each dead snake, one would hope,
Slither multitudes ignorant of tire.

When slugs emerge onto the road,
A carpeting spasm of spotted slime in which,
Despite some traffic,
The living still outnumber the squashed,
How many more must be squirming about
In the gravely watching foggy vineyards?

Charles Greer is an autistic poet-engineer and musician probably out running in NorCal. Having coaxed machines and inspired live audiences for more than two decades, he has just begun to edit and share his poems with the world at large. Charles studied Russian poetry and Slavic linguistics at Yale and Berkeley.

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Snow

Tell me the snow keeps you warm
When you cut it in lines
On the coffee table
And the streetlamp outside your window
Spills light like milk across your apartment floor
When we drink pink wine from the bottle
Kneeling on our hands
On our knees
And when they come up black from the ash
Of a dozen half-smoked cigarettes

Tell me the snow keeps you warm
Like an open oven
Preheated to 450 degrees
When we drag your mattress into the kitchen
To stay close to the heat
And your body is slick with sweat
Tell me then when you’re up against me
How it isn’t selfish to love the winter
Even though it makes our mothers cry

Tell me the snow keeps you warm
And that you still know how to control it
Tell me that and I’ll stay
Even after you’ve passed out
I’ll lie next to you on the mattress in the kitchen
And listen to the sound
Of little mice feet
Running across the countertops
Above our heads

Rachel Greer is a third-year MFA creative writing student at Wichita State University. She is 24 years old and enjoys scuba diving, kickboxing, and hiking in her free time. Her favorite poets are Sylvia Plath and Ocean Vuong.

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Cave

Every morning there is a new insect in the bathtub. A tangle of women’s hair in the sink,
the refrigerator exhaling a ghost-smell: one beloved rotting vegetable. Always a cucumber,

can’t bear it, scotch tape living on the freezer door. This carpet’s got a whole country of ants.
This house remembers me not because of the way I have shed skin cells all over it or broken

the handle off my cabinets, it is not because I have terraformed the bedroom to my dirty liking
left lint from the laundry stamped into the floor, not because I will inevitably leave a sock

or two behind. The house remembers me, there must be some sort of reciprocal love between us
or else it has all been wasted.

I do not have to choose to remember a shower curtain creeping in months of mold
a great ceremony when its flat, translucent corpse bloomed finally
out of the trash can like tissue paper.

The house persists without occupants. The same trash rackets in the street but wastes nothing,
long strips of packing tape like clear leaves, tumbleweeds and a crushed can whispers

in its metal way between the step and the door. The can has lived here in this corner for centuries
rattling in its thin aluminum language, a song against the side of the house that is timeless
as a pair of shoes thrown over the telephone wires.

The shoes on the telephone wires are like handcuffed lovers, bickering in the wind but one
unable to live without the other. Someone tied two shoes together by their laces, someone

wound up centripetally with their left or right arm and slung this counterweighted force
over a mile of black wire. It probably took a few tries. This is a thing that happens everywhere.
Then time passes.

Time enough for the white laces and the rubber to adopt and relinquish the weather
stains from the sun are weak and gray, the world is dirty and clean, dirty and clean.

The shoes remember the shape of a human foot. The house remembers my weight.

Wind blows through the keyhole, there time enough for the latch to rust

and the insects in the bathtub to grow wings.

Regina Caggiano is an undergrad student on the East Coast getting her degree in creative writing and Something Unrelated. Her work has been previously published in X-R-A-Y Lit Mag and CHEAP POP, among others. DM her a song rec at @reginacaggiano on Twitter.

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Anti-Sonnet

for Hopkins and Bishop

If Death is nearby then let them creep slow
amidst the shadows. I choose to love you
like the boy thrown from the boat into cold
waters who must now learn to swim. Fear not.
How strange is it to have only seen Death
on the faces of the living? The poets
I love can sit, can say, can go, can do
anything they want to because they’re light.

From the darkest corners, I too am light.
I wonder why about many cosas
I wonder how about many people
Today was a cold spring day but nothing
Is so beautiful as spring except Death.
Praise Him.

Julián David Bañuelos is a Chicano poet and translator from Lubbock, TX. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was a Provost Fellow, a Stanley Award Fellow, and a 2022 Fulbright semi-finalist. His work can be read in Wine Cellar Press, Latino Book Review, The Bayou Review, The Acentos Review, and Annulet: A Journal of Poetics. He currently lives and teaches in Iowa City.

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Cardboard Box

There’s a cardboard box underneath my bed that’s been there since the first night I slept in it (the bed). The contents I continue to partially forget, starting with the llama paraphernalia from my semi-surprise 14th birthday party which ended in heat sickness and wet hair. Back then, my room was barren and my eyes were burning and my boyfriend was blond. To this day I don’t like a lot of things that start with the letter b. That same boyfriend, or something of the sort considering middle school maturity and my old fear of trust and touch, gave me a Toy Story DVD, which I put in the cardboard box for storage and never watched. That was my last birthday party and the last time that room was empty.

The latest addition to that box is a condom wrapper from my first time with my second boyfriend, this time emotionally mature and physically developed, or so I thought. I don’t remember anything other than it was September and it was a tolerable temperature outside and I’d finished my second photography assignment of the year earlier that day. My mom came home as we rushed to put our clothes on and the only place I could think to put the wrapper was that box under my bed, sort of the same guilty pleasure as forbidden candy. Then came the guest bedroom on Halloween and back to my bed with my sheets and yellow blanket in December. Something out of body for me since I don’t remember how I felt or whether I came, but I don’t think I did. Boys seem to like me less when I want what they’re said to desire.

In between the Toy Story DVD and the condom wrapper: fairy lights without a battery, my broken Polaroid camera from 2011 or 2012, a bouncy ball probably won at some irrelevant event, and more trivial items like tape or sticky notes. That box contains three years where I stayed mostly the same but life became derailed from the track. Toy Story and the llamas now intermingle with a global pandemic and loss of virginity, set next to dust and broken items from before adolescence. Above the bed frame and mattress, lies me, every night for seven days. Sheets and pillows stained with tears, sweat, and dreams. The previously white walls now sprout orange flowers and a column reminiscent of the sea. On one closet door: tropical flower poster, on the other: butterflies in blue. On the wall toward the door: honey, pomegranates, and an Ikea wall storage something-or-other with art and earrings and a birthday party birthday card.

Although I’ve never liked my birthday and every party I’ve ever held has brought me to tears, I keep a shoebox full of cards from everyone I’ve ever or never met. I used to scoff at the idea of school dances, thinking them pointless, but now I have a dress for each occasion. The fairy lights or the old Polaroid camera in my lonely cardboard box were the first to see my preference for superficial and beautiful things. Some girlhood longing for being open and vulnerable, dainty and delicate, that I suppressed so that I could be in the ‘good’ math groups. I was never one for numbers, sticking closer to words and letting my imagination run wild and free. When the box began, I listened to the music I loved at the time and did not know how to feel ashamed. I have cried myself to sleep over what people think of me, the unused sticky notes could fill a room if I wrote why I cared.

The other day I shaved my legs and thanked whichever man decided that was what women should do. There’s cruel irony in that, and I told a friend that I’ve externalized my internalized misogyny and directed it toward the mirror. Some secrets are better left unsaid, like my precious box under my bed. I have cut my thighs and asked to be assaulted. I have wanted to solve the problem of every shattered edge. If I force myself to think a certain way, all my faux beliefs and flirtations will become the truth. I don’t have the energy for envy, just a layer of dust collecting proof of hurt and happy (for you). In my garden song, my cardboard box remains the centerfold, decorated in milk and honey and pomegranate and rose.

When I leave for the last time, I’ll move the box and sort through the contents: something borrowed, something blue, and nothing new. It might make me think of admissions or sitting on the balcony, broken and bruised but not quite. It might make me think of the one warm week in April that brought out the leaves or the sound of the birds and generated heat. Toy Story will remind me of my wooden food and stuffed animal tea parties, not the boy who never did anything wrong. The llama paraphernalia will remind me of soft blankets and little things, not an over-the-top party with semi-false friends. The Polaroid camera and the fairy lights will remind me of who I am now, self-subject and confident in my small, dainty hands and frivolous femininity. The condom wrapper will remind me of what I don’t want to be reminded of: broken-hearted happiness.

After some years, there will be a new cardboard box under a new bed, full of new objects and memories of varying significance. When I place the last item in that box, maybe a condom wrapper from a time with a boy I don’t know yet, I’ll feel the same but with answers and a different set of questions. Why do I love people I don’t like? The response will be found in the golden setting sun, a brief interaction, and a pamphlet on the ground. This is why I love people I don’t like, this is why I store strange sentiments in boxes.

Sylvia Koester is a seventeen-year-old, self-proclaimed “girly girl” with big dreams and little ability to be taken seriously. What she writes is what she has gotten tired of telling people over and over again. Currently, she is learning how to love herself and take pride in what she creates.

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Haibun for Forgetting

i had a dream about my ex last night. it was
metaphorical, i think. or just life leaking.
remembered his hands. calluses against my
palm. fingers between each knuckle. &
then conflagration. fire alarm. stampede. him

::

kids bought by host families. newfound
suburbia. mother asking me to polish her teeth.
i take a vacuum to clean our dusty dusty
beach house. wipe down portraits of children
who came before me

::

ocean is incubating hours. sand is breeding
weapons. i find a sword. my ex. his right hand.
push the blade through. blood tastes purest
when licked of off skin. finally, we are left with
nightmare architecture. nothing much else

::

Laughter wakes me up
& it feels like palming rain,
Taint scrubbed holy.

Audrey Lin 林妍希 (they/she/he) is a queer high school student interested in language, literature, and art that defies form. They are based in Los Angeles via the Bay Area and Shanghai. Their work has been published by Depth Cues and is forthcoming in the lickety~split.

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Five Hidden Facts for Home Maintenance

1.) Shingles.

Like a flap of gashed flesh flailing in the wind, there’s a sizely patch of them loose just beside the dormer nearest the attic crawl space, where I lie. It’s a new house. So new that one wouldn’t expect any such superficial unravelings, and the Cretas, Matteo and Stara, cringe at that architectural weak spot just as the protoliterate Sumerians of the Uruk Period cringed at spilt salt upon the hearth. Yesterday, as the first snowfall’s crystalline fingernails scratched testingly against the eaves; yesterday, as the night’s first crystal-sharp inhalation of the Fentanyl rose over my bloodstream like a wooly warm fog, their bedtime consults climbed into the ear that I keep pressed to the space between the joists. Matteo will call someone about mending that domiciliary hangnail first thing Monday morning. A good nor’easter gust might rip the whole patch right off, he told his wife (her muffled sighs swirl up to me like rumpled foreheads hoping for consolatory kissing). Might fling however many of those asphalt rectangles right into the wilds of the front lawn like a safecracker flinging away a picked deadlock, and that is true. Quick as a subliminal message, I gave three knocks against a joist just to let them know exactly how true it was. Then what? Buried beneath the snowdrifts, the moisture and the cold would soon begin to decode the unique riddle of the shingles’ part asphalt, part cementitious togetherness. Come spring the lichen and moss would throw a more penetrative wedge into this material until the summer sun munched its essence into crumbling apartness. The Cretas, though, from the day they laid out their welcome mat and hung their honeymoon pictures along the staircase (a Hawaiian getaway, by the looks of their booze-filled pineapples and lei’d necks) it was obvious that they weren’t the most penetrative type. No regard for the magnifying glass, the loupe, the cipher, all the probing instruments. This is why, closing my eyes in the whistling dark above them, I now concentrate on the silent intervals between their sleeping inhalations, concentrating images of telepathically sent pickaxes and trowels and crowbars into the impressionability of their dreaming minds. On the rafter beside my head I have even drawn, with the chemical residue of my smoked destroyer, crude stick figures of them in their bed, arms reaching out for the inquisitorial tools that float just overhead. A kind of sympathetic magic, as the warty pig and ibex were painted onto the caves of Indonesia and France by hungering Paleolithics.

2.) Insulation.

I’d been studying. For nearly twenty years I must’ve carried around the same crumpled printouts of the undeciphered Cretan hieroglyphs and the Minoan Linear A script, and I was again going cross-eyed before those cryptic shapes and zigzags when Matteo got the call. I could almost see his nervous blood throbbing through the rafters’ grain-veins. The restraint with which he tempered his boyishly bursting footfalls on the staircase bespoke far more than the final “Thank you very much” that had consummated the phone conversation, and I made like a lumbering, hunchbacked yeti over the joists towards the bedroom, where he was certainly headed. Stara was in there, I knew, readying for a night of work-hard-play-hard wealth-waggling (they always stepped out on Saturdays), and there was the billowy whoosh of a lightweight fabric accordioning to the carpet when, just crossing the threshold, he said, “I got it.” She would feel for firmer confirmation: “You got the job?” The winded hrmmph of the mattress beneath their conjoined weight became his full-on affirmation. This house seems to totter in the mildest breeze, to tilt at the foundational level when squirrels gambol down the vinyl siding, when starlight collects in the gutters, and as he bore, drilled, augered into her his chimpish triumph, I was prepared for the whole side façade to go bellyflopping onto the lawn and splatter their wicker light-up reindeer if he hadn’t pogoed off her just as suddenly, top-dogging out with the spank of a puttylike glute and a sportsmanly “See you downstairs.” The hole he had opened in her was still howling, however. The blusteriness of the twilight was howling in the walls’ cavities, staved back only by the threads of pudenda-pink fiberglass with which they were stuffed. Through the ceiling I could then sense the half-makeupped, half-sparked fuse of her swinging underneath the bed (there was a mauve, eight-speed, pulsing, penny-smelling toy in a shoebox down there). A screw, I noticed (and one should never use screws during structural work), had at some point wriggled out of its place onto the flamingo furs of insulation between the joists. I located the small perforation from which it had dislodged itself. Investigationally I attempted to twist it back into its slot, the electric motor buzzing below me, a robot choir of pseudo-religious humming, above which there spiked the sheet-gagged squeaks of her—what could it be called?—cobblery. I thumbed the screw so forcedly into its place that my wrist trembled like a stilt beneath a planet. Stara was a dormouse being flagellated by a weedwhacker. I twisted the screw as I pressed, trying to catch its threading in the wood. Stara pressed a button on the device that upped its Hertz until I nearly expected her to combust like an untended boiler, making toothpicks of the house. The screw fell limply into the cowlicks of pink cotton candy once more (though unlike that fluffy confection the fiberglass would not simply melt with exposure to precipitation, but mold and mold). I might’ve blamed this on dyskinesia, an overall discombobulation of muscle motility as a result of the blankets of smoke in which I wrap myself. I might even blame it on the potentially stripped interior of the perforation in the wood, or simply the unherculean arms of a scholar, but that would be ignoring the fact that holeyness is contagious. A howling hollowness fills into a hole that is opened only absentmindedly. If a hole is to be augered open it’s curiosity that should do the augering. The child-pure desire to find out what’s inside. Otherwise: the hollow hole-howling. Otherwise such a hole fears itself, bawls to be stuffed up, cobbled over with insulation of a sort. Matteo’s new coding job (he repeated this a hundred covetous times as they ate their Chinese delivery some weeks ago) will promise a warm, plushy 90K a year. At Northeastern I would’ve snorted a yachter’s pink-stuffed snort at that figure. But no alpha wolf’s per annum can halt the holing. One hole opens and soon another follows, and whether honest curiosity or trypophobic absentmindedness does the initial opening is the treasure-seeker’s blessing, the desecrater’s curse.

3.) Wiring.

When the electricians (Maurier & Sons had been decaled onto the company trucks, along with a key on a highflying kite) rolled the spools of 15, 20 and 30 amperage wire into the yet walled house I’d been bimbling through these neighborhoods of identical tract housing with a croissant and a hot cider (what but unworrying sameness ever came of a man feeding from croissant and hot cider?). I’d been watching as lightbulbs on the second floor, then the first, then in the lamppost beside the flagstone walkway all, eventually, slathered the whitewash of illumination over end-of-the-day dimness (it took the crew of two only three 8-hour shifts). Now there is never not the low-frequency surge of an activated illuminator in this house. Never not an up-flicked switch, an on-spun dimmer, a juice-spewing outlet that interrupts the pyramidal darkness of night. A student once asked me why there were no windows in the pyramids of Saqqara if so much had been inscribed on their walls. Because, I said, pausing, suffocating on my own amazement, my eyes two ruddling embers aimed at the kerosene of their welling humiliation. Because, do you think the soul needs a flashlight to see what the darkness contains? When the bedroom TV and the bedside lamps are snicked off (although, at their unspoken agreeance, a pulsing Red Sox nightlight remains ever fulgent under a heating duct) all the talking unplugs in this house. Talking, here, is a light-necessitating activity. Mummy-postured in my roost upon the joists, the only adulterant of this much deeper dark is the fleeting flame of the Bic baking beneath the tinfoil. I absorb the inbreathed, ever so slightly sweet fumes into the censor of my lungs, inviting that lacy fog-wad to become detoxified within me, transmuting it into a plumose papyrus inscribed by the dark. As I exhale, as I unspool it through the grates of the heating duct, I instruct it towards their closed lids. Keep them closed, I whisper as I blow, the smoke leaving me as coolly as a catacombic draft. So faithfully closed. Closed as surely as sarcophagi, and tell one another what it is you read upon the endless rows of darklit pictographs. Then, though, the sunrise cracks the tan speckled eggs of their lids, commencing to scramble the scotopic yolks that had been preserved in an encasement of shelly lightlessness. They then stub toes against dumbbells (“Ahhhhh! Matteo, can you PLEASE stop leaving these out!”) and nick elbows against doorjambs (“Fucking, ow!”) as they feel their way downstairs, leaving a trail of activated 29-Watt halogen bulbs and 14-Watt LEDs and 32-Watt fluorescents in their slippering wake, rubbing their sun-seared corneas with sun-zealous relief. Despite the smoky well-wishes I have sent them through the duct, there is still only the daytime, aboveground, during-dishwashing, during-facetiming, during-online-shopping kind of talk that goes on in this house, about as cuspidate as a wine cork (he likes white Australians, she likes red Californians). And as the unstoppable sands of sundown begin to pour into nooks and crannies, the tiny margins behind hutches, the little scurry-slit under the fridge, like an hourglass filling with fine obsidian, there is nothing more than a juiceless, snuffed, total parlance-outage. And so I have descended from my lookout’s post the last two nights, crept out from the scuttle hole as liquidly as the moon itself creeps down the ladders of the sky. Attaining the kitchen, I have de-electrified all the appliances (green glowing microwave clock, blue flashing dot of a charging vacuum, the blinker, green again, on the self-cleaning Mr. Coffee machine). I have also detached the umbilical cords among the living room’s many entertainment luminescents before making way towards the upstairs bathroom, where they have installed another nightlight just under the vanity, a plastic Jesus cradling a bundle of grapes. I jimmied him from the outlet. Afterwards I would tenderly place him back down on the stone sinktop with Matteo’s hair-growth serum and a container of Stara’s falsies (inutile grave goods), but I first tucked him into my blazer pocket along with a providential pair of left-out nose hair clippers. Before gliding back up into my crypt of a crow’s-nest I, devolving to my belly like an adder, so very prudently squirmed my way over towards the Red Sox nightlight under the heating duct and disarmed it with a series of soundless tugs. The slivery croissant of moon had boomeranged across half the area of the lone bedroom window before I backwardly army crawled into the hall, though not without having removed the plastic Jesus and running the sharp edge of the nose hair clippers between his lips, as in the Egyptian mouth opening ceremony, which permits souls borne by the darkness to speak.

4.) Framing.

Such a bad fight earlier this afternoon that I seemed to witness their expletives wriggling up through the ceiling like so many Mesopotamian demons before piercing the house’s walls and scattering into the needly acres of evergreen that surround the property. They perch there still: a nightmare of spying shadows. Even a top-tier decipherer, one who had, say, won the Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit for classical studies, who had come within a hairsbreadth of unearthing a possible linkage between modern Turkish and the markings on the Phaistos Disc—even such a one as this would know better than to attempt a decryption of the demonic faces that now gawk in from the branches outside the windows. They are the ancient denizens of the chthonic domains within the two houseowners. The language of their horns and fangs and talons will resist true translation by outsiders. First Matteo took with her a tongue made hot-tempered by timorousness: “Well what the hell do you want me to do about it? It must be something like an electrical pulse or something. Something that’d jolt them out of their sockets.” Then Stara took with him a tooth made cruel-tipped by her aloneness: “And you think I’m being far-fetched? No. You know there’s something not right here but you’re too hardheaded to say it.” And months ago, when the hardhats had put up all the wall studs and braces and struts I had shadowed into the fully framed house one night, stargazing through the unroofed rafters like a brain staring up through the unboned skull of a fetus, cloyed by the soothing musk of hardwood. Oakwood, in specific. Expensive because sturdy, because water-resistant, pest-resistant. Yet the buyers are completely ignorant of a wee chubby chirper who has discovered a loose seam in the vinyl siding and the underlayment, who has beaked it enough ajar to shimmy its Ping-Pong ball of a breast right up against where the plywood sheathing nails into the framing. This tiny invader becomes, while keeping quite quiet, a quiveriness of quills when the wind punches in with its snow-plated brass knuckles. I, though, have become too invested for relative quietness. I have taken to pounding my boot against the joists when the warring words within this house vulgarize into mere curse-casting. I pray, in my most earnest Latin, that every booted rap from above sounds in their ears like the million inspiring pickaxes of an archaeological dig. I have prayed that they hone away all the “Go screw yourself,” “Don’t talk to me like I’m a child,” “OK, yea, sure, Mr. Tough Guy” bluntness of their sad lingua franca in exchange for the piercingness of real, uncowardly diggers. Stara, consummate atheist though she may be (I hear you, Stara, when you cast your wistful Our Fathers into the en suite bathroom’s mirror), has convinced Matteo to allow a priest to come smudge the house in what I’m oh so sure will be a lovelessly lackluster Latin. If a never-married man with a holy water squirt gun can dispel the demons they have unleashed in and around this house (funny, the backwardness of the usual warning: DO NOT open, excavate, debar, unlock for fear of demons) then I will butt-slide right down their chimney and kiss him as though he were a better healer than the sandal-wearer he so adores. As it is I’ll razor out a fine white slug on the foil, fire my bedeviling brimstone and hold my breath, hold my breath, hold it as things far colder than the piney squalls outside glare through every knot in the lumber at their hosts. No, not even the hardiness of oak can withstand those needling eyes.

5.) Paint.

Stara had said, with the vacant humor that comes at the end of one’s wits, that she felt like a poltergeistic cliché, but she was sure there was something here that wanted them gone. Wanted, also, to sunder their union. If either of them had been a scosche more exploratory, if they had only tight-roped over the joists to the remotest end of the attic crawl space, they might’ve uncovered what they could’ve happily mistaken as the blazered something that had it out for them. They might’ve deemed me the methylene chloride to their latex and semi-gloss painted walls. Might’ve cast me as a corrosive chemical that had leaked out from the ceiling and trickled all icky yellow down their wainscotting and trim, leaving the sage paint of the pantry, the ivory paint of the kitchen, the orange creamsicle paint of the bedroom to goiter and ulcer in my wake. But that would’ve been wrong. Unjust, even. Better if they’d zipped up here with a candled cake of thanks and hugged me like the best thing that ever happened to them. Especially since the priest proved as useless as an English dictionary among the pre-Colombian Massachusett. Not a day had passed after the blessing before further demons and dybbuks and jinn and divs spewed forth (“If not for your ridiculousness I wouldn’t have paid the coot a fucking dime!” “Of course you wouldn’t have. You wouldn’t pay a fake farthing for our sake”) from their cores. Imagine the sound of a hammer hitting a stake, but so delicately that it never actually strikes it into the uncharted chest beneath. I could stand the sound of that stagnant sort of striking no longer and so, imagining myself a giant disembodied hand, during the darkest part of the night’s bag of tricks I spidered down from the scuttle hole on skittering fingertips. Soon I was floating in front of the downstairs mantle above the fireplace. In the grasp of the giant hand that I now was there appeared the coaly gunked tinfoil of my own destruction. Laboring in the dark, the hovering hand pressed this crude paintbrush into the pumpkin-colored wall until every black letter seemed carved into a scooped-out gourd. The next morning they both read aloud from this easy-peasy Rosetta Stone in the engrossed unison of horror (“Peel for real. No need to squeal. Peel for real”). Once the words were liberated they gasped, as though to spaghetti-slurp them back into themselves, as though something evil had been summoned. The best way to crack any lingual riddle is to voice it over and over. Kids know that cryptographic rule. But the Cretas, they were not the penetrative type. They have vacated, in fact. First Stara, whose footfalls vomited another screw out from a rafter as she turned tail upstairs to pack (“If you have a deathwish that’s your business, but I’m not stupid enough to stay here anymore”), then Matteo some days later. It wasn’t only a fear of the creaks and the Aramaic murmuring from above that made him flee, but the feeling that something here had guided them to reach, or nearly so, into their respective hidey-holes. Now when they look upon their Hawaiian honeymoon photos they will see no more than two very pretty portraits whose oils were about to run at the merest sprinklet of turpentine. And so the house will be called hexed. Snakebitten. Bad juju. Unlivable. And so the phrogger now becomes the squatter. Poetic potential alone prefers the former term. There are forbidding passageways, unreadable fortunes in the cookie of myself as well, try as I might to spackle them over with the dissipating fumes of my destroyer. But acknowledging myself as a frog, a Frog Prince even, a Frog Prince on a high schooler’s dissecting table, I humbly wait upon this lily pad of an attic for Nature’s metamorphosing smooch. With that lip-to-lip smack of love she will drive her scalpel into the slimy belly of my bitterest innards. She will flay me, spread eagle, as she will flay every other extension of her with a “Cool!” “Wow!” “Awesome!” From my and Stara’s and Matteo’s darknesses she will tweeze the fist-wagging demons like little black beauty marks, translating their flea-voiced boogity-boos beneath a microscope, her nerdy glasses fogging up with breathy wonder for all her take-apart-able creations.

Nicholas D’Olimpio holds an MA in Literature from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and is a professor at Worcester State University. He is currently at work on a book of short stories tentatively titled Mad Ape in CarnivalLand with Chickadees and has a completed novel that takes the silent film era and disability/chronic illness as its themes. He is also the violinist, pianist, guitarist and mandolin player for a number of musical projects in the greater Worcester area.

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Beautiful Things

it’s fascinating and painful to see how the sea breaks a part of itself to comfort me and how that sound of waves tearing feels like soft taps on my back. i wish i could hold space for manta rays and whale sharks. i wish i could hold beautiful things too.

Jeremaiah L. Estrada, 25, is a plant biologist from the Philippines. He writes vivid proses in his spare time.

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Yearning

Look at me. Look at my tired eyes and how its dark underparts hang like windchimes. Look how my eyebrows meet halfway and notice the scar on the left side of my upper lip when I give a nervous smile.

Look at me. Look at my messy buzzcut and thin hair. Look at my deep dimples and notice how the one on the right is deeper than the other. Look at my big ears and how they resemble those of a Hindu god.

Look at me. Look how my nose hairs protrude from my nostrils and the way pimple scars look like moon craters on my puffed cheeks. Look how sweat streams down from my forehead and neck like melting hail.

You have seen this all before.
Now, take a look at me once more.
Look at me once more.

Jeremaiah L. Estrada, 25, is a plant biologist from the Philippines. He writes vivid proses in his spare time.

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