I See My Mother

I see her underneath the diving board—
the chlorine brings out her freckles.
Her hair is pulled back in a big brown clip after a long day
of cleaning house and belting Dixie Chicks lyrics.
Her shoulders hurt, but at least
the toilet smells like green Skittles.
and if you licked the windows, they’d taste like vinegar.
You could even eat off the kitchen floor
if she’d let you—I’d bet it’d be apple-flavored.

She is stained pink strawberry fingers and a bowl of sugar,
flip-flops flip-floppin’ on wet carpet,
and a pint of Häagen-Dazs wrapped in a dish rag.
She is “A warm bath makes everything better,”
and the first one I call when I have good news.
She is the snap of my favorite pencil when I got my times tables wrong
and a cell phone flying into the fireplace because the cat ruined her favorite shirt.
She is “Don’t be like me. Go to college,”
and the chill up my spine when I’ve missed a deadline.

I see her produce violent sobs from mid-air, but hold her own
through battles that would break the strongest Marine.
I see her teach herself to survive each day
while insisting that she’s nothing without a degree.
I see her stumble and fall through her struggles with God
yet she insists that it’s all in His plan.
I see her put everyone else before herself,
no matter how badly she needs her own attention.
I see her as strength, beauty, resilience, and vigor.

I see her even if no one else does.

Micaela Walley is pursuing her Creative Writing bachelor’s degree at the University of South Alabama. She is currently the poetry editor for Oracle Fine Arts Review and an intern at Negative Capability Press.

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On wanting to alter that which has already been placed

1.
You would think
an abandoned train station
twenty stories into the Detroit skyline,
busted window infested
clear to the other side
would be demolished by now,
but not everything needs to fall victim
to us neocolonialists who recognize
preserving history as
‘remodeling’ what has gone out of style.
Those of us who roam
to sightsee the ruins of cities
whose walls are supported
by hands that are not the ones that built them
would rather let such hollow pillars
crumble on their own –
slowly. Or, at least,
use the damned thing for what it was built for.

2.
The old train station in my city
is no eyesore.
It is eighteen stories of stone
waiting to be bitten into.
It is a blank canvas that has been waiting
for graffiti art for much too long.
It is a reminder that tomorrow
will not always be better.
You would think
that its shadow
casting over Michigan Ave.
would be demolished after a century
but it is still driven into the soil,
gutted hollow, but driven
like the people of this city,
like the people of any city
with their memorable shadows,
or cloud-curving cooperate buildings,
or even their oily modes of transportation.

3.
The most important layer is on the surface –
stretching the potholed length
of a first world community
neglected into a first world unemployed
heap of bone and metal
into the vacant end of a ghetto –
a Detroit ghetto –
complete with the rubbled wood
of demolished houses
that should have been hauled away
months ago,
all waiting to be bulldozed,
reconstructed,
reemployed.
One day it will.
Until then, the landscape will speak
for itself.
When that time comes,
the landscape will still speak for itself.

Justin Rogers is a poet, educator, coach and venue owner from the city of Detroit, Michigan. Rogers is an advocate for literacy among inner-city youth, and the amplification of Black voices.

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buried beneath the floorboards of my family’s home on Alcoy Street; 2001.

crumbs of black eye peas and rice. swallowed
conversations. abandoned
birth control pills.
pornography.

denial.

a lost Tupperware container of what I once thought
was basil or oregano. deathbed
            prayers

            denial

                        tv remote back, still
clinging to gray masking tape
            fingernail clippings from my stepfather’s too-
large hands
the corner of a soiled fitted sheet

                                    denial.
my 9-year-old sister’s would-be suicide note.
            woman’s golden belt buckle that
fit no one in our house.
bedsprings refusing to squeak.
            barren
vessels.
my brother’s insecurities. the remnants
of a pedestal
space that awkward giggles
leave behind.
forgotten
action figures
Barbie’s high heels
            candy wrappers

            blood

gathered from a bitten cheek. forgotten
obligations.
unseen poetry show flier

relief
what would have been left
if anyone had come.

Brittany Rogers happily juggles the roles of mother, wife, poet, educator, and mentor on a daily basis. In addition to teaching at the high school level in the Detroit Public School System, Rogers has been writing since her sophomore year in high school, and has since been privileged to be a member of a collegiate level slam team, in addition to co-facilitating after school groups and teaching numerous poetry workshops on behalf of InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

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Diego

The hammer song
that pounding of the mallets
in the forges and down the alleys
is indeed a form of music
a material melody played
to the tune of what we make
we too shall break

In a vulgar,
maybe even specious way
it is called mural making:

Diego, Diego
would you paint my portrait
will you place me inside
that jaguar suit
to repel Cortez’s son?

Today to grub means to eat
and roots come again
from real wood
I have seen your palette
of blood and iron
and received the one
and only call of revolution

The dispossessed
they cannot afford to go
and see your work
hanging in the galleries
so you tell Rockefeller
no, this cannot go there

The words of my acrylics
the streaks of my oils
will not be put to blandish
on the walls of some hall in Saratoga

Jeremy Nathan Marks is a writer, teacher and amateur photographer whose work has appeared in numerous places including Lake, The Blue Hour, DoveTales, Green Writers Press, Electric Windmill, Up the Staircase Quarterly and the Jewish Literary Journal. He recently was awarded an honorable mention in the 2015 Poetry London poetry contest and his poetry appeared in Nomadic Journal in December 2015. He lives with his wife and young daughter in London, Ontario.

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Retired

All his life he tried to set people straight,
but eventually he grew weary and tired

and sat on his lawn chair reading Keats
or whittling wooden elephants for kids.

The world liked its misery too much.

They liked thinking too little.
They liked checklist philosophies.
They liked easy answers.

Worst of all,

those who thought themselves individuals
were least likely to have an original thought
and also most likely to oppose one…

So he quit and enjoyed the sun,
how wind felt on his face,
the way wood gave way to blade.

He had tried but he had failed.

In that, he felt he was in good company.
Even God sent Noah’s flood,
a slaughtered son,
before He retired to a small shack in the woods

to make rainbows.

James Valvis has placed poems or stories in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Eunoia Review, Ploughshares, River Styx, The Sun, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.

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What Fish Feel

Sheila sits on the front porch, cradling a cup of tea, wishing it were coffee, and watching Charlie throw everything he owns into the trunk of his car. He had promised to teach her stick when she got her permit but it looks like that’s not going to happen now. Sheila takes a sip, tries to acquire a taste for Earl Grey, and makes promises to herself: no more coffee, no more cigarettes, no more Charlie. The only promise she knows she’ll keep is the one she has no control over.

Charlie turns to look at her. It occurs to him that there is something he should say. Sheila holds her breath. She doesn’t blink. Maybe he’s going to stay. But Charlie doesn’t stay, he doesn’t say anything. He drives away without looking back a second time. Sheila’s mother stands behind the girl, wondering if she made the right decision, wondering if she sent Charlie away in time to stop things. She pushes Charlie out of her mind before she can get to wondering what things there were to stop. She heads back to the kitchen, yelling over her shoulder for Sheila to start cleaning Charlie’s room for the next boarder. Sheila drags her feet as if someone is holding her back. She is still cleaning the room when a car turns in the driveway and she watches a woman sit in the driver’s seat gripping her seatbelt as if she can’t remember how to take it off.

Alice parks in front of the old Victorian, sitting in her car for a long while before letting out a breath and opening the door. She lets Sheila help her with her bags. They drag them awkwardly up the stairs, throwing up a wobbly tower in the far corner of the bedroom before tramping back downstairs. Sheila’s mother lays out a plate of cookies and the rules of the house. Alice nods and nibbles on a cookie and thinks about changing her mind, dragging her bags back down the stairs and driving home.

After school most days Sheila sits on Alice’s bed staring at the slowly shrinking tower of not yet unpacked belongings. Alice watches her move around the small rented bedroom as if she belonged there, as if Sheila was more comfortable in other people’s lives than she was in her own. Sheila sings as she touches things in the room. She picks up a picture of Alice and her mother at the aquarium. “Where is this?” Alice looks over briefly before returning her attention to the book she isn’t reading. “Baltimore.” “Oh, Baltimore.” Sheila stares at the photograph for a little while. “We have an aquarium too.” “Every city has an aquarium.”

Sheila stares out the window during class, remembering how she would sneak out of the house when her mother was asleep, Charlie waiting for her in the backyard. She can still feel the wet grass between her toes and smell the cigarettes they would pass back and forth between them. The past tense of it all makes Sheila want to scream. She pushes Charlie back down where he belongs and makes herself think about anything else. She thinks about algebra, for a little while. Sheila copies down equations from the blackboard but grows bored before even beginning to solve them. She thinks about Alice. Alice has a secret.

Alice has a question mark perched up between her hipbones. Some nights she dreams she can see it wriggling and squirming, swimming through her abdomen, her limbs, like her body is a fishbowl; translucent skin cradling fake plastic sea plants and a sunken pirate ship and little blue rocks bouncing around when she walks. When she wakes she thinks that she can feel it trying to push its way out, rolling up her esophagus, suffocating her. She knows that’s not how the human body works, but still, she feels it.

Alice lets Sheila lead her to the lake on Saturdays. They sit on the dock, feet dangling, toes barely touching the water. They eat sandwiches and watch the faraway fishermen casting and reeling and waiting and releasing. Alice frowns at the fishermen and pats her belly, like Morse code or a drum solo. Sheila knows that this is it – the moment where she will get the answers she wants if she just asks the right questions. She can feel Alice loosening, unspooling the words she has been protecting. But the questions float away from Sheila and her mind fills up with Charlie.

Charlie called himself a vegetarian but Sheila knows now that was just another thing he was lying about. She looked it up and says the word in her head sometimes when she needs to remind herself that she’s okay: pescetarian. Charlie could explain it though. “What do fish feel? Nothing. Their brains aren’t complex enough to process pain, not like people do, or cows, or dogs. Fish can’t feel anything so it’s okay.” Charlie had an answer for everything.

Alice slides her foot under the water up to her ankle and kicks, watching the arc and the spray. She feels the thing slithering, lurching, an almost amphibian leaping as she swallows the last of her sugary purple drink. There are salmon inside her, swimming upstream. Alice thinks, Shhh, shhh, be still. And somehow the fish feels what she feels and the girl next to her feels what she feels and they are all quiet together for a while.

Alice looks at Sheila, hungry for a friend. Sitting shoulder to shoulder, the wind knotting their hair together, they could almost be sisters. Alice almost tells her about that one day last summer that follows her like a school of fish. She wants Sheila to hold her hand. Instead, Alice touches herself oddly, awkwardly but softly. She presses her palms into her pelvis. She traces a question mark across the thin skin of her belly with her fingertips. Every day the question demands more of her.

Sheila lets herself into Alice’s bedroom. She tells her that she knows a place, that they’re really nice there. She tells Alice that she has her learner’s permit now so she can drive her there, and back, because you’ll want someone to drive you back after. Sheila smiles, sadly lifting up one corner of her mouth, and Alice wonders where she learned to smile like that.

Alice throws up in the toilet. She locks the door and lets herself cry. Everything is blue in the upstairs bathroom; the towels, the walls, the shower curtain, even the delicate decorative soaps shaped like seashells that you aren’t supposed to use. The bathroom is an ocean surrounding her, the tide swelling, swallowing her slowly. She listens to the seashells and lets the ocean carry her far away for a while. Alice’s breathing settles as she tells herself over and over like the waves washing through her; when I wake up I’ll know what to do.

Michelle Orabona is a cubicle drone who dreams of one day inciting rebellion and leading the other drones to freedom. Until then she writes stories and bakes cupcakes. Her work has appeared in DOGZPLOT and Toasted Cheese Literary Journal.

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His other girlfriend

Two beats, a slow memento, gather sleep
like beasts prowling in black ink.
In my dreams, faces pour burning down
lips like little pink urchins clinging onto granite.
Smudging into each other like charcoal on paper.

They choke sleep, they listen to the swollen moon:
soft-waisted, tight-eyed, dipping and clutching
into the dirt in his backyard, soaking the earth silver.
I see a room with no oxygen.
A chorus of bodies in a sea, marinating themselves in salt—
thick salt glaciers that throw themselves into depths,
all plummeting into moon-smoke.

They decide whether to wash themselves
clean with their breathing.
I stand by the window, watching them.
Bloom and unbloom; decay.

Nicole Seah is a student residing in Singapore, attending the United World College of South East Asia. Her work has been featured or will be forthcoming in Things Magazine, AWARE SG, Junoesq Literary Journal, Wallflowers and Eastlit. Nicole is the editor-in-chief for her school’s creative writing magazine ELEMENT and a poetry editor for Parallel Ink, an e-zine for teens. Her hobbies include playing tennis, eating peanut butter and attempting cool yoga moves to pass the time.

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