Nemo poëta

And in short, I was afraid
—Prufrock

I had tasted them all.
The low offerings
that dangled over fences
like a truce: in spring,
the soft avocados,
the shameless mango,
naked as a crime,
in summer,
the loveless opal
and the sudden lime;
how soon, then,
how unfairly, came fall,
came the rifled orange,
the ransacked peach,
the Jericho of grapefruit,
the effigies of tangerines.
I knew it was lost on me,
those famous patterns
of the famous speech,
and saw in myself
that ridiculous station
of standing where the fruit
was out of reach.

Jordan Potter is a writer and actor from Huntington Beach, CA. He operates the poetry film studio, Blank Verse Films.

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The New Dead

What do we do with them now,
these new dead? Where do we put them?
How can we keep them company
in the remaining earth,
too full already with our living—
Christ, with our dead?

How do we launch their ashy bodies, newly furnaced,
into the fiery ocean or the stream
chugging along in useless concrete basins,
scooping whatever’s left between the seams
of the old junker driving back to truth,
an empty house, and an open server?

There is so little left for us to do.
Each day is mildly different—
death stays the same, remaindered
from the very first to fall
among the unmourning vegetation
or drift in silent waters towards a soul.

And like a closing sale, all things must go.
More importantly, must go somewhere.
Hence the teeth-white matrices
of soldiers’ graves fanning the freeways,
the McDonald’s arches flecked
with a thousand crucifixions,

the homeless in the sepulchers,
their white-knuckled prayers
pale as unrolled dice
in the moonlight. Yes, it’s like this.
Down to the very last spartan apartment,
oblivion was already with us.

Jordan Potter is a writer and actor from Huntington Beach, CA. He operates the poetry film studio, Blank Verse Films.

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claymation in six scenes

  1. Margaret finds out she’s made of clay when she presses into the crook of her elbow and pulls the flesh right off.
     
  2. She doesn’t tell anyone – not her older brother who is no longer a boy but a man buried under six feet of paperwork, and not her mother who is covered three feet in dirt, a corpse still hollowed out by consumption – that she knows.
     
    Margaret spends the next three years concealing the missing chunk of her arm in puffy-sleeved school dresses and lace armbands bought from corner store boutiques. In her mind the arm is rotting, leaving bone exposed. She pictures maggots finding a damp, nutrient-rich habitat in the enclave where her elbow should be. In truth she is made of clay. And so there is no rot, no maggots, no fume of decay: all indications of organic matter re-entering the cycle of life.
     
    Still, she tucks small flowers into the armband to ward off the scent. It becomes a habit: powdery baby’s breath in the morning, to be changed with double-tongued Japanese honeysuckle in the afternoon. Only when she sleeps does she remove the buds, placing them in a crystal vase on her bedside table. By the end of the week, the vase is full of greyed, now-blackening, blooms that are then thrown into the river.
     
    Every time she changes the flowers, Margaret breaks the unspoken taboo by looking. The crook of her elbow where the chunk is missing appears emaciated next to the fat of her bicep. But the flesh inside is the same olive color as the skin, with the same folds and creases when she bends the arm, flexes a muscle. It feels so normal, no phantom ache nor searing pain, that Margaret from the first moment when she’d palmed the chunk in her hands could’ve resolved to ignore it and keep on living. But she doesn’t.
     
  3. Her father hasn’t returned since he left five years ago, but her older brother Ed does. A three-month business trip and he’s back, shouldering a suitcase through the door and that same black fringe plastered to his forehead. Margaret embraces Ed as soon as she sees him swing into the kitchen. He coughs a “hello” and touches her cheek.
     
    There’s blackberry jam on her fingers and it leaves streaks of black on his sleeves when she presses in, tenderly first before squeezing harder. Maybe to see if Ed’s arms are made of clay, too. She quickly returns to making breakfast.
     
    Margaret keeps all the curtains closed when at home alone. So, even at seven-thirty-five in the morning, the only light pouring into the living room comes from the kitchen lamp. Ed rests on the couch and props his feet up on the table to show his black socks with two holes in the left one. His head lolls to the side away from Margaret who stands in the golden lamplight, smelling of flour, butter, jam, and, faintly, of pollen.
     
    She continues slicing the loaf, fingering the seeds of grains laden in the crust. She wonders, as the glistening knife in her fist lifts up-and-down, if her fingers will pull away just as easily.
     
  4. Two weeks later, Ed receives a business call. In twelve hours he must leave for the train, but now he is seated on the carpet, organizing his papers.
     
    (She’d cried when he told her. “I’ll be back before you know it” was the repeated phrase of the evening. But Ed couldn’t know that in the three years since part of her arm came off, Margaret had cut apart three stray dogs – a cocker spaniel, a poodle, a hound – and two birds, five green apples and three cuts of steak to find
    Flesh. Flesh. Flesh.
    In all its malleable and impermanent forms, in all its colors. Not clay.
    Why. Why. Why.)
     
    Margaret sits by the window where the curtains are drawn, mending the black sock, the left one, with thread in needle, needle in hand. The sky’s the color of prune juice, and there is no beauty of the stars or cloud-misted moon to enjoy on this last day before Ed leaves.
     
    Below her, on the streets there are people. A broad-chested lady in a fur coat scurrying home. An elderly gentleman rocking in place, clenching a cigarette and squirting smoke from pallid lips. There is a solitary fir whose branches obscure the glow of a streetlamp. And beneath it is a bench where a couple are holding hands, their thumbs and fingertips rubbing and wriggling together like earthworms.
     
    Margaret accidentally pricks her finger people-watching. It doesn’t hurt. A faint prickle of discomfort draws her gaze to the slender finger. She wishes, as she always does, for blood. Instead, she sees a hole where the needle went in, met no resistance, and came back out. The finger is dry.
     
  5. The sky drains of its prune-juice hue and returns to baby blue within seven hours. Five hours left and Ed is still asleep, face pressed into the carpet and breathing raggedly. Margaret is clay and so she doesn’t tire too much. She drops the mended sock back into her brother’s opened suitcase and shuffles the scattered papers into stacks quietly.
     
    She’s about to head into the vacated study where her mother used to be. She wants to grab some clips and folders to help Ed arrange his things. As Margaret glides down the hall, she avoids the closet where she still keeps the chunk of her arm.
     
    (Margaret had locked the piece of clay in a metal box left by her mother. It was previously used to store baby teeth. She had pried open the faulty lock which still bore the whorls of fingerprint grease from her mother and Ed in areas where the tarnish hadn’t yet spread. On the bed of baby teeth, the sunken white pearls, she rested the olive-colored clay. She never touched the box again.)
     
    But halfway, she hears a muffled noise and turns to find her brother, prostrate, emanating a gruff cry. Margaret attempts to pull him upright, to shake him awake but stops short. Where his face had been pressed to the floor, Ed’s features appear morphed, with carpet fibers stuck in the wrinkles of his eyes and the hollows of his cheeks.
     
    Margaret pokes a finger into Ed’s mouth, prodding until the stern frown on his face eases and the cheeks fill. She nudges the furrowed eyebrows apart from their tightened draw, rearranges the black hairs and plucks out any reds or blues from the carpet fabric. With a flat palm, she carves the jaw and smooths the chin. Laboriously she sculpts until the face before her is as the one from her memories.
    Back when mother had still been here, and father, too.
     
    Ed’s cries taper off as his face takes on the childhood expression he’d worn on tranquil rides aboard the river ferry and weekend walks to the cinema. His lips are pressed into an almost-smile, the gaunt cheeks now puffed like when he and Margaret used to hide sweets in them from mother. And the lines on his forehead which added five years to his features are gone, bearing the faintest whorls from Margaret’s fingerprint grease.
     
  6. Ed wakes fifty minutes before the train arrives. He rubs the sleep from his eyes and kisses Margaret on the top of her head as a thank-you for putting his papers together and for mending the sock. It’s also a good-bye.
     
    He closes the door behind him.

A high school student from the Atlanta suburbs, Christine Baek enjoys writing for The Muse and reading up on history, philosophy, and paleontology.

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wingless

summer swoons, bats
her lashes at the wind, and
we skip rocks on the sidewalk, watch them melt
like the plastic chairs on our porches. school’s out
so we skim magazines and pretend like we are somebodies.
shoes off, eyes curdled, hair spilling out the
windows, waterfall in wasteland. wake up
drunk in a field, knowing we will drive ourselves
home. when we kissed under the bridge,
your eyes were wildfires. you said you’d fly
away and I remembered the time
my dad took me hunting. we gunned down
a woodcock, its wings splayed like american flag,
star-spangled neck twisted eyes blind.
and so we roll out the days
the way my ma rolls out dough,
thick and tasteless. because I know
the day you dress for the bright lights and
drive your pickup over the bridge,
you won’t come home. but for now we
sip cola at the gas station, fist cash like it’ll
knot in a drain if we let
go, feel how much we aren’t
worth. let summer
fly us down the block.

Nikita Bhardwaj is a high school senior from New Jersey. She is an Iowa Young Writers’ Studio student whose work has been recognized by NCTE, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Pulitzer Center, and others. She enjoys volleyball and long walks in beautiful places.

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Don’t Call Me Middle Class

I don’t see how
someone looks at me
and musters the
gall to say that I am middle class;

I am clothed in blue-
black skin here in the
United States of America
with childhood memories
of sewer rats on stoves
with blood-red eyes,
and roaches that
called from open garbage
like the whispers
of a delphinium sea.

And an adolescence
with scenes of
my brother preparing
weed in my grandmother’s
Victorian house
to sell somewhere,
and the return of roaches
to the little azure house where
my father and his dead wife lived,
crawling over plastic
in the night mimicking
the heavenly song of rain,

and finally my adulthood
where I have two degrees,
but no job, and still
the close presence of
roaches, though much
more infrequent in their appearances—
surprising apparitions of the dark
who make no sound at all.

Denzel Xavier Scott is a semi-closeted black queer writer who earned his BA in English from the University of Chicago and received his Writing MFA at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in his hometown of Savannah, GA.

His prose and poetry appear in various literary magazines: Rattle, Empty Mirror, Spillway, decomP magazinE, both Euphony Journal and Blacklight Magazine of the University of Chicago, Linden Avenue, 3Elements Literary Review, The Cortland Review, The Louisville Review, Random Sample Review, HIV Here & Now, a project of Indolent Books, and many others.

Denzel Scott is a past recipient of the University of Chicago’s prestigious Summer Arts Council Fellowship Grant. In September 2018, he became one of the winners of Writer’s Relief’s Peter K. Hixson Memorial Award.

His Twitter link is: https://twitter.com/denzelscott. He’s a friendly, enthusiastic tweeter.

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Heteronym

In the ‘Singles’ restaurant,
I catch myself in the sheen
coming off my neighbour’s dinner plate:

I’m a magnet in search of iron;
a bird of paradise
stripped of its feathers.

Once I could wax up my ears,
tie myself to the mast,
and still the Sirens would find me.

‘Your face has an interesting past.’
My life-fast is interrupted by
an emissary from The Book of Disquiet.

‘A poet or assassin,
I can’t decide which.’
‘I’d kill to be the former,’ unspoke I.

Not one to converse with mirages,
I let things slide.
I always let things slide.

Pay your bill, say goodnight
to the machine at the cash till.
Promise nothing by promising all.

Before the bourgeois bulldozers came,
leveling plumb line, sea swell and horizon,
you could send your alias out to work.

Now everyone wants the real you.
I yearn for the inauthentic pass;
a name that would inspire doubt;

a mark that would leave no trace;
a road sign’s inverted arrow.
I don’t want to be known as 0 anymore.

James Dowling hails from England and teaches English Language and Literature at a university in Seoul, South Korea. Several of his poems have appeared in Eunoia Review. James is spending most of lockdown misreading books and misremembering movies.

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Salutations from the Inside

alligator jawed –
that sinewy snap
realization
that after all this time
two wrongs do make a right
and other stories whispered by
seashells
(who have since gone mouthless)
like the movies or good pain

or you have potential
which promised something you couldn’t hold –
but felt had been taken from you,
(a fish between fingers).

when you took your pungent heart
by the wrists and named him.
because he burned through enamel
and linoleum and bicycle
wheels and carved cavities in your
teeth large enough
to bury a dog.

large enough
for mouthless seashells,
(toothless daydreams)
and an odd number
of wrongs.

Maya Renaud-Levine is a sophomore at Beacon High School, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She sings in a chorus, plays the piano, goes for long walks with friends, and inhales crime novels. She is published or forthcoming in The WEIGHT Journal, Idle Ink, and TRUANT LIT, and is a national winner of the American High School Poets’ JUST POETRY!!!, the National Poetry Quarterly.

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The Infinities Between One and Two

First he changed the sky. Blue blue. SAVE.

And then her face. Harley upped the res and stared into the screen, fingers paused above the keys. Christy21. The image blurred with tears he knew came from a thing called ‘grief’ that was different from the tears of cut onion. His fingers stabbed the cursor. SAVE.

You have to let go, carer Jen kept saying in the voice she used trying to bridge the void between his sense of the world and hers. She’d once jabbed DELETE to wipe Christy14. But he’d put her back – digital resurrection, 0101lovelossloveloss.

On their last trip to Brighton, Christy had hired a car to explore the whalebacks of the South Downs hills, and they’d gone after sunset to Ditchling Beacon, where the biggest view of Sussex looking down was allied to a miracle of stars looking up. Lying on their backs, Harley began to count them, west to east, only stopping when Christy quietly asked if he was counting the stars.

Harley had tried to deal with her apartment at first, ripping out the carpet, then turning his focus away, handed the place to pros, who ripped some more, laid wood and painted neutral.

I don’t want anything, he’d said – but her will gave him everything. Including a letter. People nodded, and Harley knew the executor would bury the money in the system to rack up slow interest.

The world spun on, 67,000 miles an hour in its circuit around the galaxy. He drifted, watching for the first leaf fall. Carer Sue took him to the coast on respite. Christy’s money paid for two rooms at the old 1920s hotel at Littlestone on the sea-edge of Romney Marsh. They had tea in a conservatory where Channel winds shivered the panes. Harley’s prized flotsam filled old plastic bags, ready to be sorted.

Walking on the vast shingle sea of Dungeness, Harley threw a sudden question at carer Sue.

Who bought Derek Jarman’s house?

They had passed the old lighthouse, a huge exclamation mark in the shingle’s prose.

I don’t know. The famous garden’s still there, though. Carer Sue pointed.

It’s not the same, Harley told her, staring intently a few seconds, then turning to scrunch towards the tideline, closer to the waves’ hiss.

Listen. Now they’ve stopped the power station you can’t hear the hum anymore.

You sound almost sad.

Harley looks at her a moment, then towards the horizon.

It was part of all this as much as anything else.

A wave beats, pulls back, white sputum on shingle. He bends to grab a heart-shaped stone.
 

‘You can’t tell who the nutters are anymore.’ Christy stared through the steam on the cafe window, rubbing a hole in the wetness, pausing an instant to watch rivulets run from its edges before pointing to where a tall dark man in a tall dark coat stood in winter twilight jabbering into the air, his breath fogging the November chill. She spoke to Mikey at the counter.

‘You tell me – is he a freak out talking to himself or just a guy on a hands-free?’

‘How the hell should I know?,’ he said good-humouredly, then grinned, gold crowns shining. The little circuit boards woven into his dreads glinted as he nodded in time to the bass warming the space along with the wall heater’s glowing bars. Above the counter, an ice blue bug zapper was flecked with insect dead, humming as it waited for further kills.

Christy turned back to the window, sweeping her eyes over the street. Phone guy had vanished, and her gaze stopped on an old red call box still standing near the Old Vic. Nowadays nothing more than a gallery for the carders, its interior a UN of sex. Brazilian, Japanese, Caribbean, English Rose, tits, arse, glossed lips, a pictorial litany of international relations, numbered for access.

Christy sighed, and stirred her drink. ‘They were clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee.’

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s Carly Simon, Mikey. It’s famous.’

Mikey shook his head. ‘More of your pre-history?’

’72.’

‘Shit, not only was I not born, I don’t even think my mum was born!’

‘For fuck’s sake, Mikey, anything further back than yesterday and you haven’t a clue. You need some perspective.’

‘We each got the perspective we need, Christy.’

Christy snorted, then gave him a grin and a friendly farewell. Stepping out into Brixton, she walked along Electric Avenue, passing stalls of gnarled yam, swollen tomatoes green and red, arrays of chilli, blotched plantain. Giant African snails crawled in grimy tanks as she entered the arcade, traversing shops still hawking posters of Marley and Leaf, then through a couple more turns to the spirit store.

The mountainous woman at the counter nodded, then went back to her study of the latest celebrity goss. The shop was quiet as if the drape over its door had snuffed the outside world. Christy went automatically to the vodou candles at the back, lined up with inscribed glass turned out for inspection. Her breathing slowed as she tuned into the nuance of each.

Today, she considered the male line – Papa Ogou, Papa Gede, onto Papa Dambala, her eyes resting at last on Papa Legba, who returned her gaze calmly. Associations rolled into her in silent litany. His day – Monday. His number – 3. His colours – red and black. Her hand reached up towards him, the Loa of crossroads and decisions, but then glided on to La Sirene a split second further along the shelf. She frowned an instant, hesitated, then gripped the candle, noting a chip in the scarlet polish of her nails as slim fingers closed around the candle, obscuring its lettering and images.

‘You know what you want with this?’ The woman at the counter looked at her with a mix of thoughtfulness and scepticism, pausing before punching figures into the till.

Christy smiled sweetly and nodded a silent assent, then began opening her purse to pay. With a shrug, the woman rang up the sale. ‘OK. She’ll suit a pretty girl like you, if you do things proper.’

Christy took a copper change from a tenner while the woman wrapped the candle in plain white paper. ‘If you’re interested, I’m getting some new candles in a week.’

‘I’ll come back then.’

By the time Christy reached the door, celeb goss once again absorbed the woman’s attention, her teeth suddenly sucked at some new coupling or cruel twist, the sound loud in the shop’s down-at-heel but reverent hush.

Out in the arcade, the bustle enveloped Christy like a wave over a swimmer, pushing her along. She stopped at a stall near the second arch, and carefully picked out pleasing things – apples iris-textured in red and yellow, corn swaddled by frayed papery green, a purple-skinned aubergine.

Five minutes later the current brought her to the Tube, dodging beggars, chuggers and Issue sellers, lightly down dark steps, sidestepping a crazy in the ticket hall staring at God knew what, slapping her card down on the barrier then moving smoothly on towards the light blue of the Victoria Line.

Warm Underground fug enveloped her as she hurried through the northbound passages to the platform. One minute. Across the track, a poster chronicled the latest musings on the slow pace of life in Jack Daniels’ Lynchburg. “Lynch Town. Only in fucking America would they name a town for racist murder,” she muttered as the Tube wind marked a train’s coming.

Christy resurfaced at Vauxhall. She sidestepped a young guy rushing, muttering a Portuguese imprecation as he ran, yanking his rucksack through the barriers as they slammed shut like the flippers on a pinball.

Walking fast, Christy automatically sidestepped the shit and gum, as her cloud thoughts slowly took a clearer form – and she was watching flying fish. Fourteen years old, her last time at sea off the Haitian breakers. The fish rode the bow waves, taking effortlessly to an alien element as they darted in front of her uncle’s boat, rising and falling on the Caribbean swell. His nets made a web against distant green hills, their mesh becoming punctuated by fluttering silver shapes as he called her to get containers ready.

Her uncle chuckled as he threw the catch into different bright-coloured plastic buckets. “We’ll get good money for this with that new hotel just opened,” he said, before spitting over the side. “Pass me that knife.” She never knew when such memories would come. Maybe when light struck off glass or a flash of metal, and set her uncle’s knife glinting again in the distant sun of childhood. Or maybe it was just thoughts of the fate of fishes out of water.
At the Portuguese café, Christy stopped to buy half a dozen little coconut cakes. Ten minutes later, she set them down in the winter twilight of the apartment. Releasing a slow breath, she shifted her mind from street to home, before clicking on her old lamp.

Stripping for a shower, Christy gazed at her reflection in the mirror, trying to picture her hair in a new style or colour. Brows arched over eyes she thought were a little large for her face, though people made good comments, especially when she widened them at some shared intimacy.

Cooking her dinner, Christy sliced and salted aubergine. Then, as a dusting of salt drew out its bitter juices, she pulled the candle from her bag. ‘Maitresse. Mistress,’ she said quietly, the glass smooth against her hand as she weighed it up, before setting it on the carved wooden fireplace beside Harley’s heart-shaped stone.
 

Christy’s absence filled London. Walking along Carter Lane, a memory spurt in Harley’s head then drains into the wet concrete as if earthed. He leans a few moments beneath the sign for the King’s Wardrobe, sucking in air, holding for 5, slowing his heart. High on a building, an unseen lens shifts silently, its iris contracting to pull his shadow in. 10 steps further and he’s beyond its vision into The Cockpit, embraced by its red-painted cocoon as a punchline drifts across from the old lags at the bar. 10 steps further, he reaches the bar, arrayed with ale pumps.

What are you having?

Something dark. I’ll try that porter. Is the jukebox on?

We never turn it off, mate.

Harley scanned the juke selection, punched in 437, scanned again, punched 275, rotated choices through the eras before settling on 144, then sat back to drink and wait for his only male friend. Harley knew that carers Jen or Sue didn’t approve, because Tourette’s made his friend say fuck and cunt a lot.

Out in the world, thunderheads rose near the Goodwin Sands, pressure brewing up dark clouds. Three hours later, rain advanced across Blackfriars Bridge and drummed on the window beside where Harley sat with his friend. They were speaking about history in a conversation Harley had begun.

Shakespeare drank here, you know.

Yeah, fuck, right.

No, this was a real cock pit, and old Will was a regular. Back then the red on these walls was chicken gore, not cheap paint.

They drink.

Both birds used to die sometimes.

A burst of laughter from the bar at another joke. An oldie on the jukebox reaches its bridge.

That so? Shit. Cunt. How did they decide bets when that happened?

Maybe the one that died last won. If you follow me.

Not exactly a victory for the bird that died last. Cunt.

Guess not.

They get another round. Three tracks follow the flow of the beer, and still only one of his.

Where the fuck are my songs?

They’ll come.

They nod, once in agreement, then in time to the beat.

People used to watch executions back then too. Like those sad fucks who watch beheadings now online.

Glass up, beer down.

They still have cockfights on Reunion. They call the pits gallodromes. Christy told me that.

Where’s fucking Reunion?

Far away. French and exotic…Let’s adjourn.

Tumbling into the night, cold air cuts the fug of beer. A camera picks them up, its tiny lens opening and closing far down in the spectrum of city noise, like the mouth of a gasping fish. Two cams track their advance towards another door that opens into another hubbub. Edging into the new bar, they peg faces, sex, hair, lips, teeth.

Go see if there’s anything on the juke, I’ll get the drinks. Fuck cunt. What do you want?

Just something dark.
 

Two months before leaving Haiti, Christy had gone with her uncle to Monsieur Henry Studio de Photo on the Autoroute de Delmas to get a passport picture. ‘It’s one of the best places in Port-au-Prince,’ he’d told her beforehand, though she thought there couldn’t be much difference in how one camera lens captured a face compared to another. When she raised that point, her uncle had smiled broadly, as if delighted at something the question told him about her, before reassuring her it was ‘an experience’ which Monsieur Henry did better than others. ‘And it’s so close to the airport you might see planes flying over, like the one that will take us to England.’

Christy had never been on a plane, but had watched the aircraft of foreign aid come in waves after the earthquake. Half her city levelled in twenty seconds of madness racking the fabric of the world. 220,000 people had died in the tremor and its aftermath, but the two that mattered were her mother and father. The foundations of her life shifted like the buildings, crumbled in twenty seconds of madness racking the fabric of her world.

The little airport had struggled with the sudden stream of aid flights, steel birds flocking to carnage and distress. But though she saw the planes arrive, no aid had come to her area. Bodies lay for days all around the hilly city, and as she and her uncle walked the streets in search of food and water they had to cover their mouths and noses with cloths to try and block the stench of death. Christy saw corpses piled on pickup trucks to be delivered to the hospital. Her uncle told her the news had spoken to its director, and that he said there were 1500 bodies piled outside the morgue.

And then the aid workers came and brought more torment with the cholera. One night she had listened to her uncle and a friend drinking rum and beer, and raging.

‘We had no cholera here for 100 years until those UN bastards came and poisoned us with their shit,’ said her uncle, the alcohol firing his anger. ‘First they denied it now they admit it. But only to say they will not compensate us because they have’ – he almost spat the next words – ‘diplomatic immunity.’

‘Fuck them. Fuck their immunity,’ replied his friend. ‘We have no immunity to their filthy disease. So we die in our streets while they hide in their compounds and hotels.’

As disease swept through Haiti’s houses and streets, thousands more of Christy’s people died. It was then Christy began to call the place of her childhood The Deadest Isle, and then too that her uncle had begun to plan an escape to Europe.

Christy’s birthplace was France, and her parents too, before work had brought the three of them to Haiti when she was still in her first year of life. So now she would return, with her uncle coming to help her adjust during what months a visa would allow. She longed to go to a place where the earth did not shake and destroy all you knew in an instant, a place where deadly disease did not stalk you silently as you walked and breathed. It would be strange in Europe – but they would be safe. And being 16, nearly 17, Christy was old enough that young confidence overlaid fear and nerves. To move continents was the adventure of a lifetime, the start of a new lifetime.
 

Dates were set, forms filled and Christy’s passport – her first – required just the pictures from Monsieur Henry Studio de Photo. With her uncle, a taxi brought them to the address on Autoroute de Delmas where a young man busied himself with setting up seat, background and lighting. When Christy asked if he was Monsieur Henry, he laughed pleasantly, and apologised that Monsieur Henry was away ‘on business’ that day – but that she had no need to worry as he took pictures as well as Monsieur Henry. And the pictures were, indeed, fine – though that did not prevent Christy feeling a puzzling sadness at not having her image captured by the shop’s eponymous creator.

After the photography, her uncle took her to a little cafe where she talked excitedly about what she might see and do in Europe. And not just France! No, she told her uncle, I will go to England too, to London because she had heard it was a melting pot of everything – culture, dreams, ideas. A place where, even if the skies might be European grey, they arced over a city where anything could be.

Coming out of the cafe, dusk had descended on Port-au-Prince. Once there would have been a hubbub of activity as people headed purposefully home from whatever their days had held, but in the shattered, tired city people loitered and fretted. Some looked for company to talk and pass some time in distraction, some looked for food – and some looked for trouble.

Approaching a corner, two young men appeared suddenly from the side street and walked towards Christy and her uncle. As they walked, they seemed in deep conversation. But as they drew level, their talk stopped, and they swivelled with a practised fluidity, as if in a street dance. Steel glinted suddenly in the hands of the taller one, followed by a quietly menacing demand for money.

Christy was surprised to feel anger more than fear. How dare they prey on people just like them?! Go prey on the outsiders who have brought disease and corruption, and made prostitutes of local women desperate for aid, not others like you! She was about to speak her anger but said just a single word – ‘No!’ – before her uncle laid his hand on her arm with an urgent insistent pressure.

‘We have little money, my friend,’ her uncle said quietly, and looked calmly into the eyes of both men with the telepathic stare of someone who wants no escalation into bloodshed. ‘But you can have what I have. It’s in my jacket. Shall I take it out?’

The man with the knife nodded assent with a jerk of his head, and her uncle slowly withdrew a slim wallet and proffered it to the other youngster – the one with two hands free, one of which took the wallet and slipped it into a pocket.

‘Is this your daughter?,’ asked the man with the knife.

‘My niece,’ said her uncle. ‘She lost both her parents in the quake’.

The last sentence seemed to weigh with the two men. After a long moment and a quick exchange of glances, the knifeman withdrew his blade to wherever it had hidden before, and gave another jerk nod of his head.

‘Many of us lost someone.’ Then to his companion. ‘Come on.’ Then they swivelled as effortlessly as before, and disappeared into the night as if after an exchange of evening pleasantries.

‘Come, Christy – let us go too,’ said her uncle in a voice that might have seemed calm had she not seen him trembling. And the night was not cold.

It was only later that Christy realised why her uncle had spoken of her parents. Because he had seen in their eyes what they were intending to do to her. And he had gambled on a deflection to save her from what she heard described in England years later as ‘a fate worse than death’. She hated the phrase, though, because it wasn’t worse than death. There were other things that were that.

For the blade that has missed her uncle that day did not rest. It bided its time, moving its spirit across the ocean to another handle in another hand.
 

They had been in London for just two days, staying in a little room in East London. Christy had been excited to see a fish and chip shop nearby, and her uncle had said they would try some that night. Haddock. That’s what people said was the best English fish to order. But whether you put vinegar or salt on the chips was up to you. Though people said it could cause arguments. The whole thing seemed so new to Christy.

She never found out what caused the fight in the street outside the chip shop, as they walked along the street towards it. Probably not anything to do with vinegar or salt, because the teenage boys had knives. Not that her uncle had known when he saw three boys kicking one. A fair man, always a fair man, he had run to help the lone boy, to break it up, to tell them it was stupid to fight. ‘Fuck you, old man’ was all Christy heard as she saw a tangle of arms, pushing and thrusting, then saw him stagger, and his face suddenly change expression from concern to something like astonishment.

People stood around Christy as she hunched on her knees, curled in a ball to hug herself. She didn’t register it, but some of the onlookers filmed the scene on their phones. Instinct, too modern and sunk deep to resist. Someone spoke to her but English was still too new to really understand in the shock and the flash of blue lights from a police car that had appeared. And then her world went dark as she fell, sprawling across her uncle’s body on the cold stone, washed by the chip shop light.
 

Standing on the platform at East Croydon, Harley craned to watch jets no-one else seemed to even see. His eyes tracked the contrails reaching towards each other up there in the miles high. Glancing back down along the platform, still no-one seemed interested. Up again, Harley followed the icy brushstrokes on a blue ground, imagining the travellers in their steel hull, pressurised, oxygenated, readers, watchers, the bored, the scared, the up and the down.

The trails crossed, then continued, parting as hot metal pushed on towards the ocean and new continents. 30 seconds later they made a saltire, white lines feathered in a melancholy Croydon sky.

Harley looked back down again, his neck aching a little from the upward stare. Arching his shoulders, he rubbed at the spot, trying to pulse energy into his thoughts. He knew air was like liquid, and that planes surged on its currents. Harley knew, too, that he moved in the same current, his body flowing in a way smoke would show in whorls and parabolas.

Everything moved in it, swimming in the gases: oxygen, nitrogen, argon, the cursed carbon di. If he set himself alight he could film it, prove it. The announcer called his train, nearly a minute late as it slid in, nosing along the platform then past in a slowing blur, another minute as it disgorged old cargo and took on new, smiling as he gestured for a woman to get on first and she smiling back.

As the train swept south, he opened the envelope again and took out a sheaf of paper, his fingers stiffening into a grip too strong to let him unfold the thing. So he stretched his hands like cat claws and looked out at the old view, rattling above terraced Victorian bricks and choked traffic forever inching into London, the same yesterday, last week, last year. Harley looked down and unfolded the paper, taking in the familiar writing without focusing on a single word. Then:

Darling Harley,

If you’re reading this, I wonder how it happened, my death? I hope it was quick. I don’t know if you have seen me after but I wonder how I looked? Back in P-au-P the bodies often looked like the cliché: ‘just sleeping’. Until you found the knife gash or dark-rimmed hole and the dried red on a sweatless shirt. At least here, the flies would have come less quickly, crawling into a songless mouth or sat on an eye suddenly able to look with ease straight into the sun.

Don’t be sad – it changes nothing, cherie. Be happy you’re alive! Feel the world, Harley, feel it for me. Do not be ground down by your ways of difference. Think of our touches, and keep reaching out. Reach further!

The underlining jolted Harley, forcing an image of a pen in her hand. He stared out of the window, his heart racing. He took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds like she had taught him. His heart calmed. He returned his eyes to the paper.

Now, did they take me apart, as requested? My stopped heart, breathless lungs? The kidney and liver, no longer needed to purify me? Corneas lifted free to look out from a new vantage point? Perhaps if there is an afterlife, I’ll find myself looking through my eyes in another face, looking in another mirror. How strange could that be, to dream even of seeing you.

I have given you a list of music I would like played if you do anything to mark me. And I want candles not flowers. I have added a list of those too. I take solace having written these words, even if I know you will only see them when I can no longer speak.

With love, always, now and after,
C xx

She had done the two kiss kiss crosses in red ink, one a fraction higher than the other. The slant made them look like two strange figures running up a hill.

The train had slipped London now. Harley stared past his reflection as fields shook off the houses and began pushing trees into the air.

At Brighton, he followed the flow down Queen’s Road to the seafront then turned right where the flow went left for the Pier. Walking along the promenade, his mind retraced his last visit with Christy, walking through a swirl of skateboarders and strollers. At The Meeting Place, he hunkered down behind the flapping green tarpaulins with hot tea and a bacon roll. Behind him, the statue of Victory held her steady gaze, looking away from the West Pier’s gorgeous burned out skeleton.
 

Christy watched the rising tide as Harley bit through butter-soaked bread and crisp rasher, picking a few crumbs off his jeans then returning his eyes with hers to the waves. She leaned forward suddenly and kissed him, and when she moved back they both noticed people looking at them. Christy gave Harley her loveliest smile. ‘Maybe they still aren’t used to seeing a black girl kiss a white boy. Eat up, let’s walk some more.’

And they had walked some more, buying stuff through the afternoon – rifling racks of vintage threads on Sydney Street, picking over décor fossils in Snooper’s Paradise, hunting green Penguin crime thrillers in places where books and music battled for space between chaos and order.

They drank later at the Prince Albert, immersed in the gig racket from upstairs, before falling into the night, the cold air sharpening the warmth of their held hands. As they walked down the quiet street, another band came on, their opening song fading into half-heard echo as they walked down Trafalgar Street. They stopped to embrace, unseen, then continued back to a little modern room at a white cubed hotel, facing the Library’s glass facade and its shadow of books.
 

Sat on the shingle, Harley hugged his knees closer and buried his head between the bone and ligaments. Beside him, in the rumpled shoulder bag, La Sirene lay in white cloth, waiting to be lit when the sun dipped its last rays into the sea’s far edge.

He remembered his mother’s words about detail – pay attention, but step back for the proper view. In and out, in and out – that was how you had to look at things, Harley. In and out, like litmus dipping in an unknown solution, the changing colour, the stain telling you what it was.
 

In her flat, Christy dumped the overnight bag she’d taken to Brighton, and lit a candle for La Sirene. Opening the fridge, she took out the half-carton of milk in the door and wrinkled her nose as a sniff revealed its gone state. Christy pulled her jacket on again and headed for the door to buy a pint from the corner shop. She paused before leaving to turn her head a moment back to La Sirene, burning quietly in a corner of the room, and said: ‘You’re in charge.’ Then she headed out.

CCTV captured her final sequence in black and white, each instant time-stamped by a whirling clock in a corner of the frame. It was 3 minutes 24 seconds from the time Christy entered the field of vision to the moment a knife pierced her heart. Bystanders later provided the scenario and dialogue to complete the short film. The angry young man abusing the shopkeeper when he was refused service for the booze he wanted, the progression from “I don’t have no ID – but I got the money” to the threats to “bust up your fucking shop”, when Christy had tried to calm him. “Keep out of it, bitch” were the last words Christy would have heard before his knife became the latest blade making its point.

Two miles away, Harley gazed at a bright screen and an image stolen on a summer afternoon in Brighton, the subject unaware as it caught her focus on the sea’s far reach. Harley considered the images in their sequence, then stroked the keys. Christy21.

Norman Miller is an award-winning UK-based journalist, writing for a wide range of leading outlets including The Times, The Guardian and BBC. He has had poems and short stories published in anthologies and online journals, while a production of his short plays was shortlisted for an award at the 2015 Brighton Festival (England’s biggest arts festival). He is trying, slowly, to write his first novel.

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How to Never Forgive Yourself

Replay the night when your worst nightmare gained a pulse and grew two legs that refused to stop running towards you. Tattoo the word ‘Death’ on your wrist twelve times, so whenever you go to check the time you know it doesn’t matter. Every hour is the same. Take a baseball bat to your television, smash your radio, and delete all of the music on your phone except for the one sad song that was on endless repeat the night you realized how alone you were. Crash your car because you know there isn’t a bus station for miles – now you’re trapped. Paint his face on the back of your hand because you know nobody as well as him. Every night, sleep bundled within the sheets still engulfed in his scent. Never wash them until you’re picking apart the stitching in search of one more whiff. Call his voicemail every morning, and wait until the radio silence fills your eardrums. But never speak. Tie your shoes with regrets and bathe them in your hair. Breathe sorrow; you will somehow be shocked when the sadness that’s chasing after you catches up as you sleep – it’ll steadily knock on your door until the sun rises. Then it will jump inside of you and thrive until you do not know the difference between morning and mourning.

Laura DeLuca was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, NY. She is currently a senior at Binghamton University majoring in English Rhetoric and General Literature. She is an editor of the Binghamton Law Quarterly, as well as an editor and member of the executive board for Ellipses Literary Magazine, which is her university’s official on-campus literary magazine for undergraduates.

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Fire Ant

walking past the statue of our founding slaver
the gears and cogs inside me keep it down
to a low hum, rise up to a steampunk
clanging screech when we pass the
food basics where bananas are 49
cents a pound because chiquita corp.
propped up dictators, tore down the
rainforests and here we are: fat yet
still hungry, tied into boy scout knots
over 2 for 1 specials and pension plan
formulae. the beams began to sag,
even the wallpaper grows sinister,
the words of the spell that would
set it all right are long forgotten.
even on holidays fire ants work
so hard, the mass production
tickles the amygdala like a
big brother with a mean streak.
cracked-rearview caliban; air
pregnant with tornadoes. turns
out the old maps got it all wrong!
greenland isn’t nearly that big. the
southern hemisphere got a raw deal.
there’re falling angels everywhere.

Darrell Epp’s third poetry collection, Sinners Dance, was the recipient of a 2019 City of Hamilton Literary Arts Award. His fourth collection, Mechanical Monkeys, will be published by Mosaic Press in 2021.

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Cheating Myself

When you gave me
that token of your
affection
I must confess
I used it to
take the subway
uptown
to meet up
with someone
who didn’t
love me as much
because it’s been taxing
with you always asking
how much I care
that’s what’s so great
about roaming
Wi-Fi reception
I can always tune in
to tireless, wireless
deception

Ivan Jenson is a fine artist, novelist and contemporary poet. His artwork was featured in Art in America, Art News, and Interview, and has sold at auction at Christie’s. Ivan was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to make a painting titled Absolut Jenson for the brand’s national ad campaign. His Absolut paintings are in the collection of the Spiritmusuem, the museum of spirits in Stockholm, Sweden.

Ivan’s painting of the “Marlboro Man” was collected by the Philip Morris corporation. Ivan was commissioned to paint the final portrait of the late Malcolm Forbes. Ivan has written two novels, Dead Artist and Seeing Soriah, both of which illustrate the creative and often dramatic lives of artists. Ivan’s poetry is widely published (with over 600 poems published in the US, the UK and Europe) in a variety of literary media. A book of Ivan’s poetry was recently published by Hen House Press, titled Media Child and Other Poems, which can be acquired on Amazon. Two novels by Ivan entitled Marketing Mia and Erotic Rights have been published in hardcover. Ivan’s new novel, Gypsies of New Rochelle, has been released by Michelkin Publishing. Ivan’s website is: https://www.ivanjenson.com.

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This is Not a Suicide Note

This is not a suicide note.
I am king of the tiniest things.
Are there colors we can’t see yet?
Has anyone named this war?
The luster of pearl in the
Lens of my eye
Like a fleck of gold
Hangs the sun.

This is not a love poem.
I soak in spirit without gravity.
And words fail in your absence.

Adam Ai is a Puerto Rican and Basque poet and U.S. Army veteran from Los Angeles. His poems have been published in various print and online publications. He lives with a Ghost. Hobbies include time travel and teaching robots to love. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram: @AdamAiPoems.

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Synecdoche, Los Angeles

“How long will I live?” This is grace.
My signature scoops the meat of the paper.
So food is only synecdoche
in the company of the gods.
I shove it all together and just start cooking.

Dinner is ready around noon.
I yank it from the oven and it looks like this.
I suggest you remember everything is luck
like not breaking yolks and be careful
moving the water.

Tomorrow it is time for us to move out,
and from the light we don’t yet understand,
Where do we go now? Where do we pray?
How do we cry? What do we do
with all this light? That said, the meal began.

Adam Ai is a Puerto Rican and Basque poet and U.S. Army veteran from Los Angeles. His poems have been published in various print and online publications. He lives with a Ghost. Hobbies include time travel and teaching robots to love. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram: @AdamAiPoems.

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Beauty just Means there is Something at Stake

A line of melody struck out from summit.
The second song ever sung,
a reflection of Eve
in the lake like an echo, animate Eden,
alien verbs breathing, sun-drop eyes
too far-gone to mention, glowing
as a million redfish cut waters low.

But a poem belongs to everyone,
and since it was good, no-one stood
to stop her sounding-out the language
of the stranger, flying the mountain
over sticky snow, a caution,
and for Old Adam?
Young Hope.

Adam Ai is a Puerto Rican and Basque poet and U.S. Army veteran from Los Angeles. His poems have been published in various print and online publications. He lives with a Ghost. Hobbies include time travel and teaching robots to love. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram: @AdamAiPoems.

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Barefooted & Breathless

You’re all ghosts at 3am. So when my
tiny love came at 3 I was concerned.

(Who is this girl you say you love
and comes to you in a fog?)

I’m barefooted. Breathless, she probes the space
in shadows from the moon and gas-light

dispelling the other talking ghosts, at least for a moment,
but I couldn’t admit to being happy. Hard as it is to live

with ghosts, the presence of absence,
they were the only friends I had.

She appeared spectral, fade-in through white glass.
Measuring by the torchlight into the street how deeply

her shadow probed the air, I ran to bring her in
barefooted & breathless. Sweet pepper chimney-smoke.

I taste blood. My fingertips are bone.
Ice in my wrist pulls me up, gasping.

There’s a man by the river. He sings in the dark.
The road curls. I carry her inside, barefooted & breathless.

Adam Ai is a Puerto Rican and Basque poet and U.S. Army veteran from Los Angeles. His poems have been published in various print and online publications. He lives with a Ghost. Hobbies include time travel and teaching robots to love. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram: @AdamAiPoems.

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Amid Nonsense

I found my name in a book, amid nonsense:

…cool rewrite power rewrite rewrite      rewrite
feb rewrite continuous            rewrite to rewrite
martha      rewrite      engber rewrite rewrite
rewrite      (            ) rewrite… (Alan Sondheim, “@touch,”
VEL, 73)

I found the passage when searching my name on Amazon to see if my new book would appear. While my title didn’t, my name did.

Of all the billions of words printed every year, most tell a story. They tell where people went, how plants grow, why the universe happens and how to stitch a quilt. They tell something, whereas the book that mentions my name, the one written by Brooklyn cyber poet and media artist Alan Sondheim, reads like a compilation of white noise ostensibly recorded from the Internet. Like much of his other writings, the not telling appears to be the point, and I’m there in the not telling:

What appears to be a book about words is a book about the spaces between them… (Sondheim, The Beginning of the Book)

Of the two parts of my name, my parents gifted me Martha. When asked why, they said, We liked it, a well-meaning, but unsatisfactory sentiment akin to we wish for you a pleasant mediocrity. Of Aramaic origin meaning lady, the Puritans made the name popular, as did Martha Stewart. There are thousands of Marthas in the world, by which I mean Martha in specific, as opposed to a variation like Marfa (an actual spelling rather than the phonetic rendering of a dog’s bark) or Mirtha, which, according to the odds of irony, must occasionally belong to the mirthless.

I acquired my last name when I got married. I have no emotional attachment to the surname other than gratitude for allowing me to dump my maiden name of Podhorn.

Though not as heartburn-laden as that Eastern European dumpling, my married surname of Engber has proven to be just as unique, because even if you spell the name for people, they have an almost supernaturally-inspired urge to add G or T to the end.

E — N — G — B — E — R, I say.

T, they say.

No, I say.

What?

There’s no T.

They look at me like I don’t know how to spell my name. Then again, maybe they’re right. If my maiden name had, as my sisters and I suspect, been mangled by an overworked Ellis Island employee, maybe Engber was the altered version of a commonplace ethnic name, which would explain why the surname has no apparent past. While there are pages of genealogical information for Jones, Smith and Brown, for example, there’s almost nothing for Engber. A few so-named immigrants funneled into America through Germany and England, a migratory trend that peaked in 1881 and spread a few pinpricks between New England and the Great Lakes. The name has no known meaning, place of origin or link to any specific line of work.

When I Googled my first and last name together, I didn’t find one reference to anyone but myself among the 470 listings. Therefore, the chance that Mr. Sondheim’s Martha Engber referred to someone else, or that he just happened to choose Martha and Engber separately and combine them, seemed remote. That meant the author must have selected my name at random. But how and from where?

So that names slip out, are misspelled, transformed…(Sondheim, “Second”)

While humans often claim to strive for the truth, what most of us mean is we seek a favorable theory that makes for a digestible reality. Reason told me my name wound up in Mr. Sondheim’s book by happenstance, probably because he used a random search tool to gather his material. But who likes to think such inclusion is the result of impersonal coincidence? So I poked around for a more satisfying answer, which was how I found Mr. Sondheim’s website.

His resume includes hundreds of credits. A university degree from Brown University. Gigs at schools of design, film, art and social research. A handful of books, a list of experimental films screened in all places B — Berlin, Brussels, Brisbane — and dozens of exhibitions and lectures and grants and reviews. Then the man’s life seems to end in 2002, at least creatively. He was an assistant professor of new media at Florida International University, then nothing. I imagined the Internet absorbing him one pixel at a time into the synaptically-flashing cyberspace about which he writes so passionately.

The writing encompasses, past and present, but wagers the future as well; the emphasis is on extended virtuality. Read in any order, any direction. The text is resonant. (Sondheim, The Internet Text)

When I first found my name in Mr. Sondheim’s book, I felt odd, like I’d walked into a stranger’s room and found my face taped to the wall amid hundreds of other photos. I’d been singled out, yet buried. But I was busy at that point in my life and so shelved my curiosity and moved on.

Yet over the next year I found myself returning again and again to the martha rewrite engber excerpt of Mr. Sondheim’s book. Every visit took me back to the stranger’s room where, one by one, the photos of other people dropped to the floor until only mine remained. Why was I there? Why did I even care?

I returned to Mr. Sondheim’s website. I found his email address. I sent a message.

He didn’t reply.

The mobility of the name crashes against the onslaught of real bodies, enumerated, named, forgotten. (Sondheim, “The Case of the Real: VI”)

Science seems to tell us the Earth is a random happening, an improbable planet of living organisms that came to exist through a complex set of circumstances amidst a vast and deadly universe. I’m a speck. I know I’m a speck. Yet I belong to a species that, through its ability to fill in white space with colorful imaginings, tells me I matter. The contrast between these two extremes, the miniscule within immensity, contributes to a highly conflicted state of mind. I’m a single human among billions. Then again, that I’d found my name in an abstruse book — a feat akin to finding a particular grain of sand in a vast desert — seemed too monumental to be coincidental. That, I realized, was why I needed to talk to Mr. Sondheim. If he could confirm my name had been randomly culled, I’d embrace my speck-ness. But if not, you see, if not…If not, I could tell myself I was part of a design, a necessary piece, my existence made significant.

When Mr. Sondheim didn’t respond to my email, I left a message on his blog.

He didn’t reply.

Writing, Clar says, is the debris left behind, the Subject of Abandonment, the pole or locus. (Sondheim, “Cancer Txt.”)

In May of 2004, a friend sent me an email urging me to check out a play currently appearing on Broadway. My friend suspected that a well-known British playwright had stolen material from a play I’d written, a suggestion that seemed outrageous. Why would a famous playwright steal from a young and as-yet unknown California writer? Unless the playwright assumed the no-name writer would never find out, or if she did, be too timid, humble or incredulous to pursue what might seem like an outlandish possibility.

I checked into the matter and here’s what I found:

  • British playwright Byrony Lavery titled her play Frozen, while mine is Frozen, or Dead?
  • Subject: Her play is about a grief-frozen mother who confronts the killer of her young daughter. Mine is about a grief-frozen mother who confronts the killer of her young daughter.
  • Characters: Ms. Lavery’s play has three characters. Mine has two. Both plays revolve around the murder of a daughter, who is 10 in Ms. Lavery’s play and 9 in mine.
  • Ms. Lavery’s play hit Broadway six years after mine was produced in Hollywood.

A theory: she’d read my play — maybe because she’d helped judge the playwriting contest that led to the production of my work — liked the premise and taken the next several years to work on her own version. Despite such a crazy idea, I couldn’t resist sleuthing the nonsensical. I found Ms. Lavery’s writing credits. Amid the long list of her accomplishments, I found what seemed like incontrovertible evidence. I sent an email asking for confirmation of the fact and within two days got an answer: while Ms. Lavery’s play appeared on Broadway six years after mine, the world premiere of her work took place at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in England one month before mine.

Before mine, meaning two plays of the same name and theme had been created simultaneously, yet separately, on two different continents and performed within one month of each other, a situation that boggles the mind. At last I had proof that coincidence happens and randomness is reality.

Yet I’m human and meaning is what humans do. Even when provided with insurmountable evidence of our species’ random development, our brains seem wired to disregard facts in favor of unverifiable beliefs and patterns. We know stars are masses of gas, yet when we turn our eyes to the night sky, we see warriors drawing their bows. We learn early that clouds are no more than groupings of fine, drifting water droplets, yet we still long to flop into what look like the softest pillows we’ve ever seen. We withstand the bruises others cause, both literally and figuratively, yet insist these people love us. Horoscopes, fortune-telling, superstitions: we use whatever method allows us to find significance, even though documented data, not to mention our own experiences, tell us there is no meaning. We create tommyrot to survive a nonsensical existence. We’re here on this planet at this stage of development just because, just as my name had probably been sucked into the jabberwocky of someone else’s book just because.

I knew this.

I knew this.

And yet I called Mr. Sondheim.

Read in any order, any direction. The text is resonant.

A journalist by profession, Martha Engber is the author of two novels, Winter Light (due out Oct 6 2020, Vine Leaves Press, Melbourne, Australia) and The Wind Thief, and Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up. She’s had a full-length play produced in Hollywood and over a dozen short stories, essays and poems published in anthologies and literary magazines such as the Aurorean, Watchword and the Berkeley Fiction Review. A workshop facilitator and book editor, she currently lives in Northern California with her husband, bike and surfboard.

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Last Call

                        —The Cobblestone, Dublin, Ireland

This is the place that is the poem
This is the place you don’t care that your colors don’t rhyme
            the length of the lines awry and free
            angsts in squirming stitchings
            successive visions foisted upon
            an augmentation of one
            mathematical vibrant string of sound
This is another of the places of the lovers and vividly
            they appear to the lonely green eyes
            waves of dark and complicated hair
            their own eyes a landmark dark brown
            their careless ocular intimacy
            arms and hands draped in each others’ smooth as
            palace marble in a fairy tale
            phalanx of empty pint glasses leaning
            as in warm trusting fright
            into the shoulder of Himself
            the almost pathological calm of one alone
            arm draped over the booth back
            painting of a Session that hangs above him
            patchwork of brushstrokes
            reds blues yellows incongruously bright
            pitch browns and blacks for the locks of the players
This is the place of the poem of foolish last-minute too-late exuberance
            for when you see you hadn’t the wits or the courage to find it
            the soiled perfection the guts and soul of it the violent mystery
            seamless not puckered but scarlet and ready to speak
            for when comes burrowing the sensation
            overwhelming explicit like a new pair of spectacles long overdue
            of much more than time having passed
            of skipping flat pebbles over bright brittle skins of a deeper and murkier sea
But it has to be the place of the poem of you don’t care
            the glances almost discreet masking amusement with scorn
            or is it the other way round the care of them discarded
            lone black spade from a hand of cherry red hearts
This is the place on that part of the road when the “click” when the snap when the piss
            of the piss is poured and pours and pools into desire for the right language
            of this road of this place its givens taken its ebbings flown
            of the resources of a person’s night

Charles Leggett is a professional actor based in Seattle, WA, USA. His poetry has been published in the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Recent/forthcoming publications include Sublevel, As Above So Below, Automatic Pilot, Volney Road Review, The Ocotillo Review, and Heirlock Magazine.

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To invoke invisibility

Be born in a place
that will become a war
in thirty-six years.
Remain as it festers.
Molt three children, very young.
Lose them, bury them in your backyard.

Choose a border to cross.
When the war’s rattle becomes louder,
wrap your jewelry,
the smell of your clean hair,
the nightmare where you are so smooth
you no longer have mouth or eyes,
and your money
in your grandmother’s silks.

Bury them below your children.
Wait for the boys
that grew up a few streets over.
They must be allowed
to grow into their uniforms
to accustom their legs to moving things
that are heavier than a soccer ball.

Stand away from your door
when they kick it in.
Let them sniff past you
into your yard.
Let their boots scuff the ground you dug into last weekend.
Let the fingers of one boy
bruise your arm above the elbow.

Nod.

Let them dig until they hit the bundles of bone and scrap.
They’ll begin to swallow themselves.
Let them leave.
Retrieve the deeper things. Cover the rest.
When the blasts ash over your garden,
ready your mouth for grit
flick the broken latch of your front door,
and step through.

Honor Vincent’s work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Entropy, The Ekphrastic Review, Nowhere, and Neologism. She’s currently writing a comic series about Boudicca and her daughters. She lives in Brooklyn, and has been kicking around the island attached to it since the day she was born.

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[haiku]

darkening silence
bends into our night talking
halting our answers

Roberta “Bobby” Santlofer (1943-2020) was a mother of sons, an avid reader, and a poet. A posthumous collection of her poetry is forthcoming.

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Windy Fall Night

The lines in this night sky are oval going a bit gaunt,
& the ghoul speaks shrilly at the very bottom
then the sound catches the branches and brown leaves.
A cackling sound follows and continues
as the wind learns the oval’s words
and brings them to my front windows.

Ghouls are Halloween dress-ups, we like to say
as we treat them with Hershey’s Kisses Halloween night,
hoping they’ll stay away till next year and longer.
But tonight isn’t Halloween, and the howl at my window
hasn’t the anguish of anything human.

Roberta “Bobby” Santlofer (1943-2020) was a mother of sons, an avid reader, and a poet. A posthumous collection of her poetry is forthcoming.

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Speaking yesterday

Perspiring mists seep into
exposed skin at the shore’s brow.
Speech argues with the folds
in a forehead.
Stunted breaths
pause at the cliff’s edge,
sending skidding rocks
that announce the distance
to the waves.
Their imprint dissipates
beneath steely lacerations of wind
and pouncing seagulls with greedy beaks snatch the sounds that rear
on collision.
Fat rain falls through the heavy silences they tear
in the seaside yarn
between our coasts.

Ilona Phillips is currently an MA Student in Arabic and Farsi literature in London. You can find her tentative forays into writing at https://medium.com/@ilona.l.phillips. Her poetry is written for her mother, who taught her to read for the flavours of love.

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In the Fable

One character exemplifies restraint,
his shadow touches the world,
not heavily, not pulling on the air.

One character comes from the land of the dead.
He is made of organs again, and joy. Bird-loud,
tilting at the small specks nearest to his eye.

The last is love, the instrument one taps
or blows upon with skill and memory.
She makes a music that is quiet at first
like starlight. A far thing.

She requires translation and a warning:
The face of your transformation is cool
and white, small enough to enter the world
but it is hot at the source and roars.

Like the day, she changes the fragrance,
makes the jasmine’s white scent smaller,
dimmer than it was in the night
like a belief she has feasted upon.

Patricia Nelson is a former attorney who works with the “Activist” group of poets. Her new book In the Language of Lost Light will be out from Poetic Matrix Press later this year.

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The Second Fall

i.
This is the desert of patience and perspective.
It shimmers with misdirection.
Stars burn in waves of loss,
imply to silver skin that they are cool.

Colors move in their different speeds,
some beating and sweating, some not.
Colors of mule and rock and scorpion.

In such a place the souls might gather
after death or after a fall.
A fall that holds a piece of flying.

ii.
Far away is the wet beginning:
the coming together, the curving
murmuring its creatures small and tidal.

The gray fish like a second chance
bending the rains and salts and grasses.
The pale-eyed birds.

They came without thought or prompting,
animals as repetition and revision
and the resounding of voices.

Every animal you named is gone.
Their echo is—and is gone.

Patricia Nelson is a former attorney who works with the “Activist” group of poets. Her new book In the Language of Lost Light will be out from Poetic Matrix Press later this year.

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Third love

The offer to pack up, come home again,
comes with the usual deterrents, those
archaic stirred-up memories: of hymns
and after-sermon sheet cake, the dull scrape
of plastic forks on paper plates and talks
with almost-strangers on the state of my
eternal soul, though never so direct.
Of wounds, war stories that we traded like
sleepover secrets—flippant—hoping that
a snort, a joking tone, could make them light.
Of my aunt—and her irregularly-shaped,
dark bruises—who’d make me swear to never trust
men. She would take me out for breakfast in
Tuesday-morning hangover shades, and while
she paid for coffee and two eggs, fried twice
for crispy edges, I would scan her wrists,
the backs of her knees, pick out those bruises from
the mottled map of skin: a word search of
her childhood scars, her freckles, moles and veins.

There’re brighter memories, of course—the long
and ordinary stretches. Grocery runs,
late, lazy weekend mornings. If I could,
I’d like to crawl inside them, stay and live
there, even if I had to spend my real
life slack-jawed, absent, numb, a toddler in
pajamas spellbound by a TV screen.

But reality has a way of tugging at
my sleeve, demanding my attention. Well,
if burrowing inside the past is wrong,
then grant me, at the very least, a clean
slate. Wipe it all away. Clear every blitzed-
out, every blissed-out crevice of my brain.
Let me forget it all, the only way
I know how to begin again.

Emily McDonald is an emerging writer from Frederick, MD. She recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in the Writing Seminars.

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Funeral in Mainz

My mother’s foster mother keeps a glass-
eyed, stiff collection of stuffed bears. About
half wear ruffled collars just like Shakespeare,
or Queen Elizabeth without airs. She
stores ice cream sandwiches in a box inside
the freezer, and after dinner touts the bright,
pre-wrapped assorted treats. Dipped chocolate cone
or Neapolitan between a pair
of waffles? Strawberry? I treat it like
a personality quiz. She clears the plates.
Is that domesticity: the ice
cream, bears and plates? It doesn’t quite add up.
Her husband hides old Polaroids of his
first wife in his glovebox anyway. I snap
it shut, forgo the map. I wear the same
black dress for weddings and for funerals,
just trade my jewelry for wool tights. I once
pulled over in an Aldi parking lot
to roll them up. I wiped mascara from
the corners of my eyes, and in the rear-
view mirror, exchanged happy tears for sad.
Was that acting, or just life? I never
learned to open paper milk cartons;
someone always packed my lunch. The man
who finds me lurking by the lilies says,
you’re late. Two months, and all I remember is
the time he cooked for me–a salmon dish
with capers, lemons, a cookbook recipe–
and after, wanted sex. I say I hope
I wasn’t needed.
Which is to say: I hope
that I was needed. Sorely. Quite a lot.

But with the mourners present, that feels crass.

Emily McDonald is an emerging writer from Frederick, MD. She recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in the Writing Seminars.

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