[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.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

An Irish Stew

I took my first bite of food from my mother, a school teacher, who had eight children in eleven years, a peptic ulcer, and a disdain for women who shared recipes. With so many mouths to feed, my mother found cooking an oppressive obstacle to overcome, food itself a burden, its excess almost shameful. I still can picture her bent over the stove cautiously as if the pot held a magnetic force that, dare she linger, would pull her down into some dark and unknown abyss. Feeding, a chore, needed to be dealt with quickly without rumination or fuss. To this day, my mother’s Thanksgiving turkey is ready to serve the Tuesday before the Thursday holiday; she leaves it on the counter under a tin foil tent until we eat it. None of us have ever suffered from salmonellosis; we developed the antibodies long before the disease had its name.

When we were kids, we ate as early as five o’clock, just before our father came home, sitting at the kitchen table while my mother served us. She didn’t sit herself. When my father arrived, he brought with him two gallons of milk, two loaves of bread, and an occasional package of Oreo cookies that we devoured (my mother had a complete disregard for snacks). He had a scotch and water, and then my mother fed him his dinner in the living room while she sat and talked to him, her own nourishment remaining a mystery to us all. Though her meals were predictable and somewhat bland, my mother cooked without fail and without complaint, embellishing her Irish bill of fare with weekly servings of spaghetti smothered in Campbell’s tomato soup and one slice each of Italian bread with butter, real butter—my mother despised margarine. When she discovered RAGÚ, we tasted for the first time a spice other than salt.

For whatever reason, my mother was fiercely competitive about her apple pies and her potato salad, two dishes she took as much pride in as she took offense to my father’s mention of his mother’s versions. And though she didn’t keep a stack of cookbooks or an elaborate spice collection and could easily fit all her cooking utensils in the silverware drawer, she sometimes explored her creative side, mixing her own unique blend of egg and tuna salad for our school lunch sandwiches, all eight of them, the soft white squares lined up on the kitchen table, bread models of our 1960s neighborhood track houses. And she could be sly, frying in butter the B & M Brown Bread slices she suggested (she never lied) were her own. My discovery of the empty tin can still stands amongst those piercing moments of innocence lost, almost as crushing as my first Christmas without Santa.

Though my mother didn’t squeeze lemons or crush garlic, didn’t have as much as a rolling pin—in fact, she flattened her Flako pie dough between two pieces of waxed paper and rolled it thin with a can of soup (maybe the same tomato soup she would later dump on our spaghetti)—her attitude about food was conflicted, for she frequently satisfied her own cravings for radishes that could trigger an ulcer attack or lobster that she and my father coveted and occasionally indulged in on a steamy summer Friday night. She loved, and still does, soft boiled eggs and lobster salad rolls (cold Boston style, not the hot buttery ones she finds herself stuck with in Connecticut), and thick slabs of butter spread on leftover pizza crust. I know how fond she always has been of pepper pot soup and spice cake, and when we traveled to Boston to visit her family, she looked forward to a highway Howard Johnson’s hotdog on a toasted split bun.

My mother’s complex and somewhat irrational (I think) relationship with food—her scorn on one hand, her cravings on the other—might have its genesis in some inner turmoil about her body, its image, or its desires. I’ll never know. But I can suppose that the domestic burdens she faced each day, the planning, gathering, cooking, and cleaning, were just as likely the impetus of her angst. Moreover, my mother never required or even asked us to clear a table or wash a dish, which only added to the insurmountable work the thought of a meal must have invoked.

Since my mother didn’t drive, my father, already an unusually active parent for a man of his times— changing diapers, running baths, and serving as President of our grade school PTA—took her to the grocery store. As a rule, we all tagged along, allowed to choose our prepared dinner for that evening. My favorite, even given the excruciating hour I had to wait for it to cook, was Howard Johnson’s frozen macaroni and cheese. Still unaware that my Italian friends’ kitchens were ablaze with the frenzy of steam and sizzle and the battle of aromas, that their eyes were tearing up from cut onions and their sinuses cleared by garlic’s pungent smell, I found in that ice-cold box enough magic for a cozy Friday night supper.

Years later, standing at my own stove, I discovered the alchemy of tomatoes and fresh spices, the pleasure of dipping chunks of crusty Italian bread into my own gurgling sauce. But at that time, the mere thought of the frozen food aisle satiated me. My mother seemed equally pleased with her seafood croquettes in Newburg sauce or sometimes small glass jars of shrimp cocktail. My brothers and sisters found their own favorites.

Truth be told, food simply wasn’t the centerpiece of our lives. Laughter was. In our house, food had to acquiesce to humor, for we joked about it almost as often as we ate it, about the ingesting as much as the farcicality of it. My mother loves to tell the story of the time I stuffed coffee grinds in the turkey to “help her” (I was only four but already onto her) and the golf balls I must have sneaked into the oven for what reason we’ve yet to determine. They started popping like corn kernels while my parents tried to entertain my father’s boss.

My sister bewailed for years (in vain since we all just laughed) over the porcelain jewelry box she had left on the kitchen table, a gift from her adolescent boyfriend, which my brother used as a salad bowl. Her argument never changed: she understood that he needed a bowl, but couldn’t he have been considerate enough to use French dressing? It was the Wishbone Italian, was the refrain she would shriek as her story reached its climax, with its extra oily composition that was so impossible to wash out!

The humor that food and our own endless self-deprecating stories generated probably helped to soften heartaches we couldn’t escape. My maternal grandfather respected food, eating as if his life depended on it (as we all know now, it probably did). A vaudeville tap dancer, who, well into his seventies and long before it became trendy, ate health food and worked out at a gym, he succumbed to an unexpected coronary, an event triggered, I suspect, by the tragic death of his beloved adult daughter followed months later by the loss of his wife of more than forty years. His food, those healthy thought-out meals, the yogurt, the buttermilk, the fruit and nuts, could not save him from a heart starved for the ones he loved and lost.

But food lost its humor when my father fell ill. His love of food was as passionate as his father-in-law’s, though of a different caliber all together. He favored bloody rare roast beef, bologna and cheese on white bread, and peanut butter sandwiches late at night as he sat in the corner of the couch reading and waiting out a teenager’s curfew. He would bring home from work vivid descriptions of long business lunches shared with colleagues, detailing for us meals he planned to reproduce (but rarely did). But years later, chemotherapy hampered his passion for eating as he lost the ability to taste or to painlessly chew even the smallest bites of soft food. As we attempted to coax nourishment into him, food reared its ugly head once again at my mother whose, perhaps disproportionate, anger lay with the meal itself – an innocent sandwich she damned for its size rather than its futility to feed a body that could no longer be fed.

And, in time, my mother’s interest in eating as well as in cooking grew. She discovered food that I suspect she never had the time nor luxury to enjoy, now phoning to talk about it even though it means breaking her own erstwhile rule regarding culinary exchange. For a while she craved seafood Subways, then eggplant parmesan, and she is loyal to any kind of Cape Cod clam chowder. Much to our chagrin, she’s begun to experiment with different cultural concoctions: shrimp dipped in mayonnaise or Polish perogies smothered in Italian marinara sauce. She adds mushrooms to pasta fagiola, and she spreads cream cheese on slabs of cold roast beef (not bad actually). However, she has no patience, still, when we talk about food and chides us with contempt for the portions we stuff into our mouths. Ladies, my mother is convinced, do not eat huge meals. From what I can tell, they just nibble all day.

I adore food. I was a hungry kid, never attentive in math class because teachers metaphorically divided circles into pieces of pie, quitting Girl Scouts (and just about everything else) because I was too hungry to stay late at school, and finally discovering, as a young bride, oregano and homemade bread and variations in meals I invited into my kitchen and my life as animal lovers rescue strays: nurturing, cultivating, feeling as if they turned my house into a home. But, like my mother, countless years of feeding others eventually spoiled my enthusiasm for cooking, the mere thought of meal preparation triggering a physical inertia, a lethargy, I can only logically associate with the image I’ve carried all these years of my mother hunched over that demanding stove.

These days, I am a dependent vegetarian (my boyfriend is a master chef – as far as I’m concerned – who feeds me daily). I live for Indian cuisine and am willing to eat anything that will keep me healthy and fit. But in many ways, I’m still that starving child, always waiting for the next mouthful. I get cranky when I’m hungry, and, like my mother, I crave particular foods. I yearn for each meal, for the taste, and perhaps for something else. For even when my physical hunger has been satisfied, I often find myself reaching for more. At the same time, I remain nourished by those early childhood memories, the stories of those years when we believed that our mother’s kitchen, replete with our jokes about its mishaps, was the center of a safe and promising world. Bland or not, frozen or canned, her food was a part of our home, and with the accompanying laughter not such a bad place to be.

Professor Martha Phelan Hayes teaches English at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut. She is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including OyeDrum, Every Day Poems, Freshwater Literary Journal, Fresh Ink, Journey to Crone: A Book of Poems, Naugatuck River Review, Orpheus, OxMag, The Penmen Review, Slippery Elm, and Vermont Literary Review. Her poem “Elle Clare” won first prize in the 2010 Central Connecticut Poetry Contest sponsored by Altrusa International. Martha travels, teaches yoga, and enjoys spending time with her family and friends.

Posted in Creative Non-fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

TATE

what happens when you come across a postcard
of a naked woman in a museum gift shop?
you make the purchase with your eyes trained
on the marble floor, guilt gnawing you the whole
way home. you hide the secret in your backpack,
praying Mama won’t fish it out.

the visual screams it has been too long since
women have been stripped bare to make art—
their bodies with their folds and undulations,
indents and bulges. question: are you staunch
feminist or supporter of bodies as commodities
when you procure the postcard?

the naked woman’s body haunts you: reclined
on the couch, her figure curves you do not have,
her gorilla mask grotesque and conniving.
closing your eyes, you recall the women
in the dim light of the galleries—the nudes,
heavy with brush strokes and acrylic, eyes,

set against kitchen tiles as he mixes the
darkest darks and the lightest whites.
when you finally become woman enough for
these paintings, there have already been hands,
snide remarks and drunken stupors, catcalls,
rubs that go the wrong way:

all
            the
                        way
                                    down.
you are told a woman is meat as much as
art, porcelain as much as dust.

when will jawlines sharpen to defiant edges,
eyes stare back instead of averting gaze?
one day, the words that are drowned will rise up
like a wave lurching onto the remnants of a
flooded museum, the paint running to ruin,
returning the women’s bodies to themselves.

Faye Ng Yu Ci resides in Singapore, putting frames of light into photographs and verse. Her poems have appeared in Raven Chronicles Journal, The Bookends Review, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. She is currently a third year medical student journeying through her undergraduate degree.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pelage

A prowl through a familiar neighborhood like passeggiato in the old country, your overcoat with the pelted neck over your arm, despite the heat. You once claimed to feel emotion like a great spasm, intense and intermittent. An inconvenient thing to be endured. She would wait in her carpet slippers, after anointing herself with the drugstore cologne that she kept in the Frigidaire, and smooth her skirt with gnarled hands. The interminable percolation of the coffee on the blue gas ring was like commiseration. You present yourself over the threshold (let us imagine) like a dissident and her happiness sounds like a muffled strangulation (we imagine, further). You are like a grenade in her life, thrown from a distance. Neither her thick cardigan sweaters, nor the tiny Star of David around her fleshy neck will protect her. The coffee, bitter and full of grounds (with a hint of cinnamon) will cool in the cups, as you sigh extravagantly. Your intentions are utilitarian, like a hunting knife, though in your younger years the potential for damage was greater. You begin to carve everything to your own desire. The sweat on her upper lip is a shimmer in the bright kitchen light. Blood on the carpet, sinew in the sink. She, he, you, her. Nothing but anxiety in her grooved, inscrutable face.

Michelle Reale is the author of Season of Subtraction (Bordighera Press, 2019) and In the Blink of a Mottled Eye (Kelsay Books, 2020), among others. She is the Founding and Managing Editor of OVUNQUE SIAMO: New Italian-American Writing. She has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Water Stories

Most days a name that coats tongues –
a conversation crumb, ever-present on
lips, might be the story of whoosh-spray
and wiper blades, a child’s bank holiday
face pressed up against car window. Or
the desert wanderer, divining what never
arrives, thirst starved like a wished kiss.
Timpani summer thunder, flocked cloud
shot through, throats stung by gunsmoke –
rain brought down in fathomless language
verbed as mizzle, sile or pelt; steeped fabric
of mountainside sheep or stubborn seagull
on chimney duty, wings batoned tight. A
pell-mell race past waterfall, church bell
volleys down to burble in lake and stream.
Or stampede: news of flood spewed from
reservoir bowl or swollen sea, its laughter
breaching promenade walls. Rain fists
you might see batter streets, bounce up
in apostrophes. Or new snow; the child
in us clinging to its powder-silent ballet.

Paul Waring is a retired clinical psychologist from Wirral, UK. He was awarded second place in the 2019 Yaffle Prize and commended in the 2019 Welshpool Poetry Competition. His poems have been widely published in print journals such as Prole, Strix and The Lampeter Review, and in webzines, including Ink Sweat & Tears, Atrium, The High Window and London Grip. His debut pamphlet Quotidian is published by Yaffle Press.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

Crises

Supposedly, there is a multitude of things I should be ashamed of.
My mother keeps all those things unspeakable under the bedsheets,
like she does with the rest of my flaws, except the slippages shed

their casings. So each night, I brush off the snail shells, praying
she will not prod me about the same womanhood. The same rat theory.
I confess: I’m a hypocrite, itching to ask her of what guilt she carries

so gracefully, what dress she owns that will not drape off her shoulders
like a soul clinging to a corpse. I want to know if the blood dripped
from down her legs the same way, if her mute mother was a speech

therapist, too. I thought she knew how emptiness held things together—
bounds it peacefully, without a ravenous touch. My mother, a woman of such
prowess, failing yet another test. In this way did she fall to the shame

with my grandmother’s snail shell. Snail shells decompose, as I’m told,
in the underbrush of our tears simmering in the lemon zest like our skin
does in the red wine. A soft rate: 6.4 percent per year. According
to my calculator, that is seventy years before this identity crisis will end.

Sophie Zhu is a high school freshman from New York. The founding editor-in-chief of The Elliptic Collective and the managing editor at The Lumiere Review, she is an Adroit Journal 2020 summer mentee and a COUNTERCLOCK Arts Collective 2020 fellow. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Half Mystic Journal, The Heritage Review, and Sienna Solstice.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Contradictions

Mama sprinkles a ring of cumin around our feet,
tells us it’s what defends us from the unswerving
manhood. Papa knows that when the street boys
eat up what’s left of my gills, it’s not about the product,
but it’s the shame. Knowing that I’ve been carved up
by a beast with no wit, no talons. I’ve only known
two hooks on the face of this planet: one pulling
out my daughterhood, the other dragging out
my diffidence. Mama, does the cumin really protect us
if we ourselves are scared of it?

Sophie Zhu is a high school freshman from New York. The founding editor-in-chief of The Elliptic Collective and the managing editor at The Lumiere Review, she is an Adroit Journal 2020 summer mentee and a COUNTERCLOCK Arts Collective 2020 fellow. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Half Mystic Journal, The Heritage Review, and Sienna Solstice.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Perspective

Just beyond our kitchen garden’s box frame, last year’s oak leaf & butter lettuces have seeded themselves inside the cowlick of grasses, growing in patches of ruffled leaves that haven’t yet been found by nightly foragers that emerge from the woods when our houselights have been snuffed out and the expanse of yard is full of ghostly blue light. There, beneath the sycamore’s shadows, we see them moving, snouts down, grubbing for whatever is tender and ready to filch, without any concern for the mess that they will leave.

*

So, stooped over in morning’s intervention, I begin to tease the delicate lettuces from their toeholds, and stick them back into soft soil, hoping to keep them steady in the shock of settling back down in this woozy profusion of herbs, and cloud of peas, and garlic with scapes, twisting into treble clefs. I think I am clever, saving this wild spring mix from its fate—melting in the mouths of skunks that are known to binge eat whatever they like until they’re good and sick of plenty.

*

Aplenty is exactly how things grow here. Spring to autumn, the land yields to our constant poke and pinch, until it’s time to pick; and, in that moment, we realize we no longer have to buy a triple-washed bag of lettuce, that’s $9.64 per pound. Everything we need for a fresh salad is found in a quick two-step out the mudroom door onto the porch, where we skip down a short set of stairs; then take the shortcut to the kitchen garden, where we think that all of this is more or less free; but, of course, it isn’t. It’s the price of being organic, which is more or less, letting God decide.

*

Has God been good to us? He sent us a vision of what the garden should look like—much like the glossy seed catalogs that come in the mail; and, we swoon over every fruit and vegetable’s perfection, imagining that is what we deserve. After all, we’ve worked hard to contain anything that could be menacing in a green world. We want to say we have control over what happens here.

*

Still, it’s difficult to control “volunteers” that pop up every year, like unexpected guests. What to do? Do we pretend that they aren’t there, growing double the size of veggies started in the greenhouse? Do we make room, knowing they are the memory of last year’s heirlooms? Are we inherently greedy, quoting the adage, possession is nine-tenths of the law? In truth, how different are we from a family of scavenging skunks? We both want our fair share.

M. J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past 31 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: https://mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

Posted in Creative Non-fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

Call of the Void

He chews the nail on his right thumb. He looks at the floor. His stare is deep and vacant. I look at the notebook resting on my knee. The open page remains blank. I glance at the clock. It’s 10:38. Almost an entire session of silence. They say silence is a therapist’s greatest ally. Silence is invasive by nature and often guilty of unearthing unwanted truth. People tend to talk about anything and everything as a way of avoiding it.

He removes his hand from his mouth and looks briefly at his nail to assess the quality of his effort. Satisfied, he removes the newly severed nail sliver from the tip of his tongue and wipes it on his thigh. I look to see if the nail stuck to his pants. I don’t see it. It probably fell to the floor.

I look up to find his eyes on me. He looks at me like he looks at the floor.

“We only have a few more minutes left in our session,” I say, breaking the silence. “Is there anything you want to talk about before we’re done for today?”

He’s still. I click my pen open, then closed, then open again.

“It’s okay that you don’t want to talk,” I say, nodding. “When you’re ready, I’ll…”

He mumbles under his breath. I lean forward.

“What’s that?”

“There was nothing.”

“Nothing? What do you mean?”

He closes his eyes and draws a deep breath. On his exhale his entire body deflates like a cheap balloon, leaving him slumped in his chair.

“There was nothing stopping me,” he says. “I could have just as easily done it.”

“Done what?”

“I could have jumped in front of that train.”

“When were you thinking of jumping in front of a train?”

“On the way to work the other day,” he says. “The same day I checked in.”

“What happened that day?”

“I was waiting for the subway, like any other day. I was just standing there, on the edge of the platform.”

“Okay. Then what happened?”

“And I looked down the tunnel and saw the light coming from the front of the car.”

“Mhm.”

“It just looked so…I don’t know what.”

“The light you mean?”

“Yes. It was like…” he stops and looks over at the dimly lit lamp on my desk, “…it was like it was drawing me in.”

“What do you mean by that – drawing you in?”

He licks his lips and looks back at me, his eyes unaltered.

“Like it was pulling me in, like I was a moth or something. It was this urge to jump that just came out of nowhere. I had never experienced anything like that before.”

“So prior to that experience at the train station, you had never thought about suicide before?”

“No, not that I can remember. Not in an I-want-to-really-do-it sense. Maybe in like a conceptual way. But never seriously. I was never depressed or anything like that. I never had a reason to think that way, you know? But that’s just the thing. It wasn’t really a thought at all.”

“What wasn’t a thought?”

“Like in that moment. It wasn’t a thought to jump. I wasn’t thinking about that, or really anything else. At least, not that I can remember.”

“So it wasn’t a ‘thought’ to jump. What do you think it was then?”

He pauses, curling his lips and snapping his fingers as if trying to beckon the right words into being.

“I don’t know,” he says, defeated. “I really don’t know.”

I glance at the clock. 10:45. Time’s up. There’s never enough time.

It’s okay not to know right now,” I whisper. “Unfortunately though, our time is up for today, but I will see you same time tomorrow morning okay? In the meantime, please try to get some rest.”

“It’s all I can think about now,” he continues, his stare slowly returning to the floor. “I could have done it. I almost did.”

“But you didn’t, right?” I offer. “You made a choice to come here instead.”

He stands, nodding his head and whispering to himself. I try to make eye contact. He doesn’t engage. He walks by me, eyes on the floor, still whispering and nodding. He exits, leaving the door open behind him.

“See you tomorrow,” I call to him as he walks down the hall. I close the door behind me and walk over to my desk to write my session note. It’s silent again. I put on the radio.

B. Dixon is an emerging poet whose writing draws on his study of Zen Buddhist philosophy and his work with those experiencing homelessness in Boston, MA. His writing has been printed in Frogpond Journal, Eunoia Review, Right Hand Pointing, Unbroken Journal, Under the Basho and Akitsu Quarterly, among others. Dixon has also contributed articles to The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy’s quarterly journal, Cushion and Couch.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

Hidden Maps

      It was early evening
when you carved hidden maps
      above my chest.

The cool beak
      of rain
was on your little finger.

      There were black linens
in my throat

      and black willows
in your eye—

      those, you could not see.

I could not see
      why I loved you.

And there were poems
      for you
I could not write.

      But it was late—

and your neck slept
      in my hands.

Nick Corvino has no credentials he’d care to note. He enjoys writing, and should do it more often.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Unemployed Man

The unemployed man was thinking about the stray rocket smashing into his window and blowing up his apartment 5 minutes before it happened.

He paused. Was it a premonition? He continued to flip through the magazine. A premonition is almost always bullshit.

On a pretense to extricate himself (just in case), he told himself he suddenly wanted ice cream from the local convenience store.

He scrounged for change. He brushed the dust off his favorite shoes and decided to use them instead of the everyday pair. He pocketed a photographic memento, and he put on the necktie he used only on special occasions. He almost forgot his book of telephone numbers. And he was out the door.

The rocket hits the room. The apartment building folds in. The house party at the top floor comes crashing down—floor after floor. Lobby. Those still standing and breathing exit dancing and screaming.

Rey Armenteros is a Los Angeles-based painter and writer who has had his essays and poetry appear in numerous literary journals and art magazines, including The Nasiona, Lunch Ticket, Umbrella Factory Magazine, and Still Point Arts Quarterly.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

closeness

let me tuck my hands over yours
and show you how it feels to stop(keep) breathing, which is:
inhale——catch——
(think of all the things you’ve lost and won’t find again. and
i don’t mean love or people, i mean
cold-skinned objects: erasers from first grade
and your blue socks and a striped umbrella
and the mint lip balm that was somehow better than the others
and oranges that went bad before you could eat them.)
(think of how the clouds won’t ever look the same again
and how your body is scrapped and reborn instantaneously
until you are not the person you were three weeks ago.)
(and think of this fragile moment, which we will let slip
through listless fingers like tissues after crying.)
——exhale and i take my hands away and fold them
in too-small coat pockets like receipts for soap and ordinary things.
and it will be like we didn’t touch at all.

Allison Stein is a seventeen-year-old student living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Anthology, Doghouse Press, and Parallax Literary Magazine, among others. Her poetry has also received national recognition from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. When she is not writing, she enjoys making collage art and spending time in parks.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

oh god the future—

you break through the glass in the back door, letting
your engorged limbs fall through, sticky with maple sap on the floor and
cracking the canned pineapple in the pantry immediately open
to eat with pressing fingers, slurping down juice like a foul-bodied insect
thundering in the humid air of mid-july, the way you twist like destiny
with a hungering for blue sky, a place to own and name, seeing
me still in my dress from yesterday you crunch your eyes sickly and
fish for gold in the sink, letting pieces fall through into the garbage disposal,
i’m standing there by the microwave with my lungs taken out
and bisected calmly on the con-tact papered counter
hugging arms around my stomach sickening and sickening, you
turn on the coffee pot like you own this place somehow, opening the curtains
to let the hot afternoon through, you have taken my name and
my only good tea towel is draped over your shoulders,
the air looks so pink just now, doesn’t it? pacific smell and the way
my neurons seem to be burning down to bare hill and ache,
something tells me you’re never going to leave and my heart will be
syncopating forever, gone are circadian rhythms when you never
turn off the lights in the hallway, you have eaten all the face soap and
now i feel like something dirty and unseen here in the shadows of
the new cabinets and the old tv, starving starving and
oh the awful way you’re wearing my clothes and kissing
your cheeks in my dollar store mirror, why do you insist on tearing away
the roof so the sky, too, can be yours when you have everything you
have ever wanted here in my house in my kitchen in my backyard
the migrating, the air, so slickly you paint over the walls to look like
your stovetop dreams, so slickly i do not hear the sound of the brush
until i am choking on the fumes
a damp lungless pond thing, until
i do not want to be myself and i bring the rotten bananas in a drugstore
bag to the bus stop and go, but still over the run of the wheels i hear
you in the kitchen smashing the portraits and
catching the ants with orange juice and poison, to decorate with

Allison Stein is a seventeen-year-old student living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Anthology, Doghouse Press, and Parallax Literary Magazine, among others. Her poetry has also received national recognition from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. When she is not writing, she enjoys making collage art and spending time in parks.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

birth, vol. II

in overlong fingers you cup the clouding glass dish where
we arranged robin’s eggs and whistling grasses when i was littler
than i am now, today’s ruby-bright creation of yours straining
and heaving to birth something of my own, pressing
my tongue against off-center teeth trying
to speak my name which is not the one you gave me.
child. i flail in cool-toned emptiness
as you pinch my legs in to my chest and hold them there
with just the base of your thumb and your mouth telling me
to be regular and eat tilapia alone at the kitchen counter
like you do. it’s not enough that i can’t breathe like this
so you tip over the dish and close me beneath its rattling
shell. mother. pushing untold prints of this, my own body
against the glass as you loom, just dusty eyes and
brown eyeliner as you throw my pearl earrings through the dryer vent.
it’s nothing. i haven’t cried for you since i was seven
and i won’t be starting now, not with you there spilling
your unplanted daffodil bulbs from your pockets begging
me to be a baby bird you can peel from its shell and kiss
until you suck down its eyes. i’m not your baby anymore,
i am a new and unseen thing gulping the blue shine of
hosed grass and quarter gumballs beneath someone else’s tongue
hungry because you’ve never fed me enough. mother. in the end
i never was yours to keep, to wear preserved in amber around
your freckling neck, i have not for one moment been yours
but here i am beneath your glass dish watching my breath condense
above me. and maybe i’m glad to remember i am tangible
outside of you but you’re so scared of me, unbreakable,
that you close your hands over the glass and
block out the dining room incandescents so i am
swimming in the dark, spooling verses from my lips
NOT LIKE VHS TAPES BUT MY UNWOUND SHOE SOLES
and i am expanding so fast i punch through the glass
to rest real and boundless on the china cabinet. looking you
right in the eyes as i stand up, dropping your stale love on the floor.
and i am so vivid you cannot even watch me leave.

Allison Stein is a seventeen-year-old student living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Anthology, Doghouse Press, and Parallax Literary Magazine, among others. Her poetry has also received national recognition from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. When she is not writing, she enjoys making collage art and spending time in parks.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

Empty Wombs

We have wombs
that fill up once a month
and empty during moments of love.
Slices of heavens that meet at the gathers of skirts.
It makes me wonder how poets don’t write
as many poems to the perspiration
gathering at the small of your back.
Or the fact that we are both
gazing towards our foliages and fruitless shrubs
and that we don’t need the gardens to flower
or draw butterflies or mesmerize visitors
with more colors other than green.
Tell me,
do the sunrays tickle
when they graze your forehead, nape and back?

Ivie Urdas writes poems in Filipino, English and Ilokano. She was a fellow of the Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika at Anyo poetry clinic in 2016. Her works have been published in Bannawag, and in an all-women anthology book, Lila (2019).

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

Alabama Prisoners Consider Country’s Next Steps as President Trump Hides in Bunker, June 2020

Author’s note: Prisoners in this series are confidential sources, each identified by a randomly chosen letter, to protect their safety and privacy.

(Part 1) “G” – How America “forgot about” itself.

An American President, “Man, he can only do so much,” says “G,” an inmate in Ventress Prison.

“He’s voted in, too. You know. So, you know, he…goes about what they tell him to do,” he continues, adding, “A lot of the stuff that goes down in this world, nowadays – you know – the President already knows about, and he’s just letting it happen, because it’s out of his control.”

In the first weeks of June 2020, Alabama prisoners discuss crises in America, President Trump, Democrats and Republicans, police brutality, protest, faith, the future of the country and world, and other relevant subjects. G has been in prison in Alabama for around four decades.

After a pause, G reflects, “You see, everybody thinks the President runs the world. But he don’t run the world – see – there’s people over him.”

He adds: “God owns the universe, but – you know – there’s people over all of us.”

G turns to the COVID-19 pandemic under the Trump administration, a subject he’s raised in other interviews as well.

President Trump “knew…about this here [coronavirus] stuff – you know – but when Obama [left] office, Trump got voted in, and fired all the people that Obama had in place to handle coronavirus.” (See here and here.)

Since Trump took office, G observes about the administration’s lack of staffing and funding to handle potential crises generally, “As far as that goes, there’s just no people [working on it], and that just messes everything up.”

G discusses how the country is doing in general, alongside the pandemic.

“Well, we’re going through a lot right now,” he says. “You know? We’re so busy trying to worry about other folks’ countries [that] now – you know – we’re going through something in our own country.”

In G’s view, “Ain’t nothing going to happen” in the future “that haven’t already happened, that God ain’t allow [to] happen. You know. We’ve just got to move straight forward, try to help one another out, man, and just be here for each other – you know.”

He reiterates: “Like I said, we’ve been so busy worrying about other things in the world, till we forgot about our own country.”

And “now, it’s hitting us,” he adds. “So, we’ve got to be strong, and help each other.”

Asked if there’s anything about America that those incarcerated in its prisons understand, which those who haven’t been incarcerated may not, G explains, “Number one: Like, if you’ve never been to prison, there’s nothing – no way to describe anything like it [to someone who’s] never been there. You know?”

Secondly, he points out, there are “so many Blacks around the world that’s locked up, man, and just been railroaded through the courts, man. And some’re going to get help, and some ain’t. But all over the United States of America, man, they are locked up. For nothing.”

Asked the cause of this country’s treatment of its Black citizens, G again reiterates that the US “has been so worried about other countries, trying to tend to their business, we left our own back door open to – you know – something sickening.”

G believes “it took this here [pandemic] to bring the world together. See? God’s trying to bring everybody together.”

He adds: “God is trying to show us: ‘Hey, man, this ain’t our world.’ But he’s getting ready to destroy it, because he’s not going to let man destroy it. You know?”

He elaborates: “Basically – you know – we are trying to destroy the world. We are trying to destroy something that is not ours.”

Asked to say more, G explains that, “Number one: we wasn’t born in the world, was born of the world.”

“So,” he continues, “everything that’s going on now’s already been written in the Book of Revelations, everything that’s going to take place – you know: mommas going to be killing daughters; daddies going to be killing sons; nation going to turn against nation; countries going to be against countries.”

G concludes: “That’s all that’s going on…It all just repeats itself, and that’s all. God is on His way back to get the world, man.”

Zooming in on the nearer future, G comments on the next one or so years facing America:

“In the next year,” he says, “if we ain’t careful – you know – we can’t even think of it, of what tomorrow may bring. Only thing we can do is just live it one day at a time. You know. We might not be here to see…next year, which I sure hope I do.”

He adds: “But right now, man, we’re in a great depression. If we don’t slow down, man, and try to help the kids get different things, and try to help the state of the word out, man, then we are in a great depression.”

Asked his thoughts on Democrats, Republicans, and the political leadership of America in addition to President Trump, G begins, “Well, we need more younger people in leadership.”

G, middle-aged, believes “younger people will have a better feel of what’s going on in the world than a lot of these older people that have been in leadership 15, 20, 30 years,” because “the world changes every day – you know – and we’ve got to change with the world, man.”

He adds that “what’s going on out there now, the protests [against racism and police brutality], we really needed that, man. And the thing I like about it the most is that the youngsters is getting involved. They are really, really learning what life is all about …They’re learning how to deal with life itself.”

G recently heard of “a 16-year-old girl who spoke about the protests,” he recalls. “Man, she said: Why are we killing each other? You know? And she said: Why are the police killing us? I’m saying: Because that’s all they know.

He adds that “a lot of people that join the police force – they’re not educated. You know? They don’t know how…to be a peaceful person.”

G believes that “to be anything in life, or in any type of leadership, you’ve got to be a people person.” By that, he says, “I mean you’ve got to be able to deal with all people, all nationalities, all cultures.”

Further, he comments on the role of big money in politics.

“Well,” G explains, “money rules the world. You know? Money’s the root of all evil. The rich want to get richer, but the rich are going to make the poor poorer.”

He pauses, then notes, “Man, everybody that’s got money, has power.”

G remembers a song by the 1980s group, The O’Jays:

“They made a song a long time ago — I don’t know whether you know anything about the O’Jays or not – but, anyway, they made a song…called, ‘For the Love of Money’ – Don’t let money change you. But shiiit, man, if only we’d get a li’l money, the first thing we’d do is change, just forget all about where we come from, who we is, all that shit.”

G says the movies Scarface and American Gangster also illustrate how money causes Americans to forget who they are and where they came from.

“Money money money,” the O’Jays song famously begins:
Some people got to have it
Some people really need it
Listen to me, why y’all, do things, do things, do bad things with it
You want to do things, do things, do things, good things with it

Further:
Almighty dollar

I know money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people
Give me a nickel, brother, can you spare a dime
Money can drive some people out of their minds

Got to have it, I really need it
How many things have I heard you say
Some people really need it
How many things have I heard you say

The song ends:
People! Don’t let money, don’t let money change you.
It will keep on changing, changing up your mind.

 

(Part 2) “X” – “Democrats and Republicans are Supposed to be Different”

A long-time Christian, X believes that despite how often American politicians espouse religious rhetoric in their political messaging, this country has “taken God out of everything,” and “got out from under His protection and knowledge.”

X has been incarcerated in Holman Prison for around three decades.

Asked why America’s Democratic and Republican politicians invoke God so often in their political messaging if the country has taken God out of everything, X disagrees with the premise. “They don’t” invoke God, he says.

“God is love, and if you hear two people that are divided talking about each other, hating on each other, that’s not God,” X explains.

He adds: “My biggest thing, bro: I believe in Jesus. I have a relationship with Jesus. I don’t let other people that don’t have a relationship with Jesus stop me from having a relationship with Jesus, and obeying Jesus.”

For example, X works an unpaid job in Holman that is often “physically,” “mentally,” and “spiritually…exhausting.”

“When I work the hall,” he explains, “I am around people that don’t believe in Jesus, don’t have a relationship with Jesus. I don’t stop living for Him because I work the hall, because I’m around them. I continue to speak my faith.”

X feels that America’s politicians, in both parties, ought to apply the sort of faith to their own work that he applies to working the hall.

“If you’re a believer – I don’t care where you are at – you are supposed to live up to what you believe in,” X explains.

“That is the problem I have with a lot of political leaders that [are] supposedly Christian: They’re not [Christian],” because “for some votes, and for some money, it became exploiting. That’s troubling to me.”

X elaborates on American politicians’ exploitation of God and faith.

“It’s the same thing about Republicans and Democrats. Even if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, bro…You’re going to speak your faith. You see? You’re not going to hide your faith, go into a corner and hide.”

X explains how “Democrats and Republicans – they’re trying to play two sides of the fence. They want to be a Christian when it’s convenient. You see? That’s the problem: You can’t be a Christian when it’s convenient.” If you’re going to be a Christian, “You have to be a Christian at all times.”

For example, X elaborates, “Tom Brady can’t be a quarterback when he’s winning the Super Bowl. He’s got to be a quarterback when he’s losing the Super Bowl, too.”

In other words, “Don’t be sometiming,” says X about Democrats and Republican politicians misusing religion, “because when you are sometiming, you are putting a black eye on God.”

X generally distrusts the invocation of God and faith by American politicians, he reiterates, because “When people say to me, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ,’ or ‘I have faith,’ and then you go out there and do something crazy – I’m not saying all of us [are] going to be perfect, because I am not – but when you go out there and do something, systematically, that you know is wrong, you put a black eye on God like that. And then the people that don’t know God be like, ‘I don’t wanna be around that person. I don’t want to commit to that person’s God if he goin’ do like that, act like that.'”

X says that “Democrats and Republicans are supposed to be different.”

Asked how each Party could best be different, “People like me and you…don’t agree on everything,” X responds. But the difference is, he says, that “we will communicate, and we’ll try to open up each other’s eyes to different things. See? Politicians doesn’t do that, because they don’t know how to communicate.”

The two parties are “trying to get their agenda out, instead of listening to someone else’s agenda, and looking at it in a different light.”

X adds: “Nobody can grow on their own knowledge, on their own wisdom, on their own spirits. Nobody. If they do, they’re goin’ die.”

According to X, “Republicans and Democrats have to understand that they both have different agendas, but that main agenda should be: the people, to better the people…to better this country, not to tear it down, not divide it.”

Asked if he sees the country being torn down already, X replies, “Absolutely. Look. Ay – come on, man. Look. How can you tell me…listen, bro: how can you sit up here, choke someone out – to death – and not get fired? There’s no consequence to it.”

Additionally, “How can you shoot someone,” asks X, “17 times, who don’t have a gun, and it ain’t no consequences?…How can you do that? You can’t agree with that. That stuff have nothing to do with God.”

(First reference likely refers to NYPD officer David Panteleo, who remained on the force for years after murdering Eric Garner. See here for the second reference.)

He goes on, “You know what I tell my brothers?…I say, ‘Let me tell you something: If I see you doing something wrong, I’m gonna correct you. If you see me doing something wrong, you correct me, period.”

He notes: “Nobody done supposed to get shot 17, 18 times, and they ain’t got no gun. That’s crazy, man. I don’t care what color they is – that is crazy – and nobody done supposed to get choked out, choked to death. That don’t supposed to happen, man. That do not supposed to happen.”

But “it is happening,” X says, “because of the evil that’s getting stirred up in between the division. When anything’s this divided, Matthew, you best believe: evil is gonna be there.”

X believes “the only way” for American politicians to learn “to have understanding” is “to get in the word of God, and let God renew your mind toward understanding other people – period, pinpoint – because you are going to meet all different types of people in life.”

X continues, when “they put these officers out here on the street, they’re already telling them, ‘Hey, this is a bad person,’ ‘Don’t trust this person,’ ‘He’ll do this,’ ‘This group’ll do that.’ [Police officers] have bad ideas put in their head.'”

X explains that “some [officers] are already scared” before they become police officers. “Some of them are already prejudiced. Some of them became police officers because they got bullied, but ain’t ever deal with that problem.”

X asks: “When you go and put them out in the world, with a gun, in authority, then what did you think was going to happen? What did you really think was going to happen?”

Asked if there are aspects of American society that those who have been in its prisons understand, which those who have not lived in American prison do not understand, X takes a long pause before answering.

“The only thing I can say, bro, is the injustice. I’m not just talking about the innocent people being in prison. I’m talkin’ people who get a ridiculous sentence, 40, 50, 70 years, life without [parole], life sentences,” he responds.

Once a person “is in the system,” X notes, “it’s very, very hard to get out. Everybody keeps thinking it’s easy to get out of here. Matthew, once they got you in here, it’s hard to get out. It takes almost 20, 30 years to get out.”

He pauses, then adds: “That’s a lot of time, bro. That’s a lot of time, straight up,” and “that’s what society don’t know.”

Furthermore, “sometimes officers plant evidence…sometimes the prosecutor do prosecutor misconduct, pay witnesses to lie.”

(Many sources refer to being imprisoned as a result of lack of resources and/or fair trial as getting “railroaded.”)

X says there’s “a lot of stuff that society don’t know about, because – see – this is what they’re saying out there: ‘The police is good, and if you got arrested, you had to be doing something.’ That’s the mindset people got out there.”

But “that’s a lie,” says X. “That’s not true, not true at all, period.”

X notes that “they got [a] law – I think they call it a ‘three strike law’ – where, if you get three felonies, you get life without parole. So, that’s messed up. Then, in Louisiana, if you got a life sentence, then you can’t ever get out of prison.” (See here and here.)

X says “there’s all types of this little stuff that people don’t even know nothing about, man.”

He adds that many Americans also “don’t even know nothing about the mental illness stuff in prison, don’t know nothin’ about that. They don’t know about the segregation part of the prison.”

X “ain’t talking about Black and White” segregation, he clarifies. “I’m just talking about ‘segregated’ [from all people], period.” (Holman’s solitary confinement.)

“I know somebody who stayed 10 years straight in segregation,” says X. “What do you think that did to him?”

X pauses, then reflects on another aspect of American life with which prisoners are more familiar than other Americans: lack of intimacy.

“Think about this right here,” he begins. “During the coronavirus, everybody couldn’t be around each other, have to be socially distant, right? And look how people act. Now think about that right there in a prison.”

X notes that even though, on the one hand, safe social distancing is impossible in any Alabama prison, which the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed in an email for comment on a different article, and on the other hand, prisoners feel “no human touch” in their lives, “none of that.” It is impossible to socially distance, but they are not allowed to touch.

X has been hearing that people in the free world are already eager to see their friends and families, and “that’s just after [social distancing] for a couple months,” he points out. “Think about doing that for years, where you don’t touch nobody.”

He adds: “Come on, man. Human touch is powerful, man. People [outside of prison] don’t know that human touch is powerful.”

He says “being alone” is “dangerous, because you’re just going to think of your ideas, and your situation.”

Here, the interview shifts back to the country’s ongoing political struggles against racism and police brutality.

“I don’t like the breaking into stores,” says X, but “I love the protests.”

X recently heard it rumored that a shoe store was looted amid demonstrations. He carefully notes he is not excusing or condoning the rioting and violence by police, stipulating, “I don’t agree with all that either” – but he reminds protestors and other movement participants: “Do not lose your focus. You are out there for one cause.”

Asked if he’d like to comment on anything else before the end of the interview, X pauses and reflects.

“I’ll say this right here,” X begins. “I think a lot of people need to understand – I’m not gonna even talk about prison. I’m just gonna talk about being a human, period: We need to start seeing with our heart. Know what I mean by that?”

He explains: “When you see someone that you can change, that you can help, that you can mentor, that you can change their facial feature – because a lot of times we walk past people, and we got what they need, but we’re so busy looking with our natural eyes that we don’t start looking with our heart. When you look with your heart, you can be able to help someone, even in their worstest circumstances.”

X is “able to do what I do in here, able to live the life I have, able to go on in peace, because of people who have looked at me with their heart, not their eyes,” he says.
 

(Part 3) “B” – “It’s a People Thing”

“Politically,” says B, President Trump “is in a bad situation. He put the whole country into a whole uproar.”

B has been incarcerated in Ventress Prison for around a decade.

“With all the stuff going on right now,” B continues, Trump “should go ahead and be impeached” again, and removed from office. “For real,” he adds, “he should’ve been already.”

Asked which actions are Trump’s most impeachable based on B’s own feelings of right and wrong, rather than what is realistic politically, B answers, “Basically, everything he’s done,” and wonders if there’s anything for which Trump should not be impeached.

“He’s not doing right as far as the country goes right now,” B continues. “He is authorizing [police] to kill folks.”

B has noticed from “watching Trump on television, making his statements, and what he says – it shows that he is not as intelligent as everybody thought. He’s not intelligent. He’s not the person for the people’s President.”

B adds: “I mean, I wouldn’t select him for a President.”

B “already knew” in 2016 when Trump was elected, “that it was gonna be some type of – it’s like…when the people voted in Trump, they didn’t know what they was getting into.”

It is Trump’s “arrogance,” says B, “that takes me away.”

Asked which issues Trump is most arrogant about, “You name it,” he replies, then offers examples.

“Getting people back across the border like that, the messed up border stuff – he is being arrogant about it.”

B feels Trump is “slowing the economy down,” that he “don’t really give a damn” in general, “and the way he’s dealing with this riot situation…arrogant.”

Not limited to Trump, B suspects “the Republican Party is in for a treat. That’s all I’ve got to say: They are in for a treat, because look who they got running the show.”

He pauses, then repeats: “So – you know – they’re in for a treat, and however they want to look at it, it ain’t gonna come nice.”

In B’s estimation, “The Republican Party got theirself cut out. You’re dealing with Trump – they should’ve never put him in office.” Again, he says both parties “should have impeached” the President.

“I think [Trump] is either trying to set things up to be a disaster before he leaves office,” B continues, “or trying to stay in office. And this ain’t the way to [get re-elected], because you’re causing a mass of people to get killed and hurt.”

Even though “I don’t know [Trump] as a human being,” B says, “from what I do know of him, he’s a bunch of BS.”

B notes that in addition to Trump’s lack of political savvy, lack of intelligence, and the constant BS, all of which defy 2016 campaign promises, Trump is also “not [the] very good businessman” he’s claimed.

“If he’s a businessman – true enough: With a very good businessman, it’s evident that he’s a very good business man,” B explains, but Trump “is not showing a business leadership. He’s not showing that he is a good businessman, because a good businessman would know how to weave around these decisions that he’s makin’ or has made in the Presidential seat.”

Further, “I think he’s racial,” B adds. “I do think he’s racial, because of the statements he’s making, and how he’s handling situations.”

Contextualizing Trump’s “racial” thinking in the recent demonstrations against police brutality, “Really,” B continues, “if it had been all Black protests, I think we would’ve been killed, a lot of people. But being that it’s a lot of people, Hispanics, Blacks – you know – everybody’s just participating” (more on this below).

B comments on the political leadership of two-party politics in America more broadly.

The Democratic Party leadership strikes him as “more positive,” he says, elaborating that the Democrats “would be more positive than what Trump’s got going on, way more positive than what he’s got going on, for real.”

Asked his biggest criticisms of both political parties, B reflects, “Well, I’m going to be biased on both of those ends.”

He explains: “It’s their world anyway. We’re just part of it, for real. They’re running it. And what we are doing is just being caught up in it. And we are voicing our opinions on certain things that – you know – probably will never be heard. But – you know…”

B pauses, then continues, “But with [Trump], and what’s going on right now, there is a lot of stuff going on in the world that everybody’s missing.”

Both parties “could be better” about those things, says B, adding, “It doesn’t really matter to me, though, because I already know how this Presidential thing is running. It’s: Our opinions, the people’s opinions, don’t always get up there.”

Asked why the opinions of everyday people don’t matter more, “Ay,” B answers, “I guess that’s politics.”

Asked if there are any political issues he is particularly interested in or concerned about, he answers neither yes nor no. Instead, he repeats that “it don’t really matter, just don’t. Sometimes, like I said, it just don’t really matter.”

Asked if he can think of any exceptions, he replies, “not for real.”

Asked if he would feel differently about political issues if he had more of a say in the democratic process, “Yeah, I probably would,” he answers.

He adds: “I done voted before. I was voting when I left the street,” and says he would still vote if he was not incarcerated.

Asked his thoughts on why prisoners are not allowed to vote, “Good question,” he answers.

He notes that prisoners “can still get the right to vote here…You’ve got to go through the process of it, then you can get voting rights.” (See here.)

Asked which realities prisoners understand about America that Americans who have not been to prison cannot understand, “A lot of guys in prison are very intelligent, and have a lot of insights,” B answers.

“Just because they’re in prison – that’s just a mild setback for a major comeback,” he says.

“It’s just because we’re in prison [that] society pushes us and blackballs us, as if we are not part of the people that can think…There’s a lot of guys in prison that have way more intelligence than a lot of people in society.”

He adds: “You’ve got to read, first. All you’ve got to do is read. If you’re reading, and understanding what’s going on, it’ll be better, but you have to take the time to understand what’s going on [in the text].” If you don’t take the time, “then you can’t understand it,” he says.

B further discusses the free world mindset that stereotypes prisoners as unintelligent.

“To be honest with you,” he begins, “people think that once a person goes to prison, they are real thugs. But [prisoners] are everyday people, just choosed on the wrong side.”

However, he notes, the widespread assumption by free world people that prisoners are less intelligent “has not overpowered us…We will go beyond to be happy, and keep those around us happy.”

He reiterates: “People feel, once a person is convicted of a crime, that person doesn’t need another chance at a new life, or to enjoy life again.”

The June interview with B concludes by returning to the subject of uprisings for Black lives and against police brutality.

The problem is “not racism,” B explains.

Rather, “the cops think they can do whatever they want, and kill people. Right. But they are cowards in a suit, hiding from one end of the law.”

B adds: “I will say this: No Justice, No Peace. This [movement] has been long overdue. The people need to stand up for what is right.”

One reason the “cops are crazy,” B explains, “is that they are a part of the movement, and they don’t even realize it. How could you hurt someone who is protesting for a cause?”

B points out, “To be honest, it’s going to impact their asses as well, when [protests] are for the rights of the people. It’s not a Black thing. It’s a people thing.”

If B was in the free world, he says, he would “for sure” be participating in nonviolent civil disobedience.

If prisoners attempted to demonstrate in the prison, he says, the prison officers (commonly called Corrections Officers) “would make it out [to be] something else.”

Regarding officers, B continues, “I already know how they’re going to act, like it’s a riot or a security hazard.”
 

(Part 4) “Z” – “If They Ain’t Dead”

“It starts with the police force, the racial profiling, stereotyping, of a lot of Black males,” says Z, who’s been incarcerated in Ventress on nonviolent charges for around two years.

In late June, Z interviews about the current state of the country, its future, President Trump, and, most pressingly, the need for movements against racism and police brutality to articulate and protest the larger system of mass incarceration.

“It could just be a certain kind of car you’re drivin’ – if you’ve got a car with rims on it or something, they automatically assume you sell drugs, or [that] there’s hard drugs in the car.”

He continues, “Or, if you’re ridin with somebody White, [police] automatically feel like y’all don’t have no business together. Just seeing a White female or White male with a Black male, they’re going to try to pull you over, figuring y’all ain’t got no business being together, must be drugs involved…As opposed to if it’s two Whites, they figure a White female don’t have no business being in a car with a Black male.”

Next, Z says, “You go from there to them pulling you over, and the police, now they want to treat you any type of way. Then, once they arrest you, you’re facing the judicial system, which is the DAs and the judges. Now, they’re going to be biased against you nine times out of 10, because the…majority of them is White.”

Z has been incarcerated twice, once in his late teens and early 20s, and once now, closer to middle age, both times on nonviolent charges. He maintains his innocence regarding his most recent conviction.

In Z’s experience, he continues, “When you do get incarcerated, you pretty much see nothing but Black males. Maybe 85 percent are Black and Hispanic, and maybe 15 percent” are not.

“Now, I feel like, [is] the time for them to start really making a change,” Z continues, “and it seems like they’re really trying to make a change now. So, that’s a good thing, as far as the protests. It’s a little change.”

Some other little changes, he notes, “with the NASCAR, the NFL – I’ve seen – they’re talking about letting Colin Kaepernick come back, the Aunt Jemima thing… Serena Williams’ husband stepped down…There’s a lot more examples, which I just can’t think of right now.”

There are still “a few Caucasian people who are against” Black Lives Matter and other protestors, Z says, “especially with the Confederate stuff, talkin’ bout’ how it’s part of their history. But if you know your history was with slavery, and killing Blacks, and hanging Blacks, then you actually shouldn’t even want to be a part of it. For real, that’s how I look at it.”

He elaborates: “So, on their side, they’re protesting about the statues and stuff like that, and the things that they change in colleges, stuff like that, talkin’ bout’ how It’s part of their history, or, It’s part of the city, with the statues and stuff. But, if you know they were negative people, and the stuff they were doing wasn’t right – right is right, wrong is wrong – that’s how I look at it.”

Z pauses, then explains that “if it was my people, back in the day, doing something wrong, I’d be like, ‘Ay, well, if they were killing White people, and hanging them, and having White slavery, I wouldn’t want to be a part of that now. I’d be like, ‘Yeah, ok, that [protest] is good. Get rid of that.'” White Confederates “be like, ‘Oh, nah, keep it. My great-great-great-great-great-granddaddy was born back in the day.'”

Whites using their “history” to identify with the Confederacy, Z suspects, must “know it is wrong. You’re saying you ain’t racist, but you’re saying the only reason you stand up for it’s because of your heritage? That don’t make no sense.”

Unlike the examples of “some changes” and public figures speaking out against police brutality and racism generally, Z “ain’t really seen” the same type of actions, change, and attention toward the issue of mass incarceration.

The movement “ain’t really started in that area yet,” he observes. “It just started with the police harassing, but it ain’t gotten to the prisons and judicial system yet. Now, if you don’t know, they’re killing young Black males and stuff like that, and arresting them left and right, for no reason. So, where’d they end up at? If they ain’t dead, in prison.”

Z notes: “A lot of people’ve been in here for a long time.”

Z “just read that Just Mercy book, man, and he’s talkin’ bout’…He’s really doing the numbers, for real. I just can’t memorize them, but he’s talking about a lot of statistics with Blacks and Whites, far as that go.”

Interrupting himself, “But everybody knows that,” Z continues. “They know! It’s in the [World] Almanac, the numbers, yeah, about how many Blacks populate a prison over Whites – Blacks and Hispanics.”

Z’s advice about mass incarceration to the protest movement for Black lives, as well as to people becoming educated about and involved in struggles against institutional racism for the first time, is, “Basically, just speak the facts, don’t lie, and keep it nonviolent, as far as the protests go.”

Z encourages “media, legislators, lawmakers,” and others to “actually put more emphasis on the people that’s being locked up, a lot of times, with excess punishments on their time, [which] they don’t see, a lot of petty crimes, compared to…if they did investigations with Blacks and Whites with the same case, they would see, if they just did the numbers.”

Among other prisoners, Z observes, “You can just see, [Blacks and Whites] be down here [in Ventress] talking to each other, like, ‘Damn, how’d you get that much time and I got this?'”

Z says that in county jail, before he was transferred to Ventress, a White cellmate had similar charges, but worse, and they were both confused about the differences in their sentences.

Z comments on the current state of the country, its President, and its future.

“Trump ain’t really handlin’ either one of those situations,” Z begins, referring to the pandemic and the widespread rebellion.

“He’s already behind on the coronavirus by like three or four months,” Z continues, “and – I seen – he was telling this guy in Brazil, that guy who want to be just like Trump [Jair Bolsonaro] – I seen how [Bolsonaro] was talkin’ last night, that he ain’t really care about his people, and I guess he look up to Trump so much, the way Trump’s doin’ us over here, that he’s doin’ his people over there like that.”

In Brazil, Z notes, “they’re saying [Bolsonaro] don’t even care about his people – period – because, if he did [care], he would do more to try to make sure they are safe at a time like this.”

In addition, in Z’s view, “with the China thing, Trump won’t swallow his pride with them, and…everybody should come together at a time like this, and get all the science and stuff like that together, and come up with a cure, but still, he’s saying he’s not wanting to talk with China, ‘ain’t got nothin’ to say to China,’ this and that.”

Meanwhile, everyday Chinese and American people are “saying, ‘We got different problems than y’all,'” says Z.

In America and China, Z points out, “Man, we have people dying, and you still up here talkin’ bout’ how you don’t wanna deal with China? There’s people dying. Oh, but you ain’t got to worry about dying, because you’re the President, and you got all the safety.”

Z adds: “Then, with the police shooting Blacks, [Trump] knows that’s wrong. Be he’s afraid to lose all his votes, for one. And, even when the people was up there in [Charlottesville,] Virginia, when that guy done ran over all those people, [Trump] didn’t say [the murderer] was wrong, he said, Oh, well, the other side was protesting too. So, that wasn’t the right thing to say in a situation like that.”

An example of Trump’s racism and insincerity simultaneously at play is “when Colin Kaepernick took a knee when a few Black guys got killed, [Trump] was talkin’ bout’, Well, anybody take a knee, they need to fire their ass,” says Z.

“That’s how he was talking then. So, now, you’re seeing everybody is on the right side of the board, and he don’t want to feel left out, so now he’s trying to change up to, Oh, I want the NFL to sell Kaepernick back in. I’m 100 percent behind him. Man, [Trump] is just the fakest person ever, for real.”

Z adds: “Actually, they should’ve left him where he was at” before he became President.

“That’s how I feel about Trump,” Z concludes, “because ain’t nothing going to go the right way. Like I said, he should’ve never been President. He might be equipped to run a billion-dollar business, but he ain’t equipped to run no nation of the United States.”

Commenting on the next one to two years of America’s future, “Psshh,” Z begins, “if he be President again, I don’t know. I’m afraid to even say, tell you the truth. I don’t even know.”

Already, says Z, “You’ve got people’s businesses getting blown up, people runnin’ out of their homes, hungry, not knowing where their next meal is gonna come from, already got all these unemployed people right now. You know. And, like I said, the coronavirus is steadily getting worse, and he’s started talkin’ bout’ I’m taking everybody off lockdown.

The week of this interview, Alabama reported record numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases several days in a row.

In China, Z notes, “Beijing, they done went back on lockdown over there. Again, Dr. Fauci, at the time, was talkin’ bout’ how everything’s gonna be if you open everything. Americans ain’t getting no healthcare, and Americans ain’t getting no money. But [Trump’s] talkin’ bout’, People need to be making money. Well, how are people going to be making money when everyone’s still unemployed? You’re making money! How’s that? Ain’t nobody else making money. He’s the one making some money. He’s talkin’ bout’ himself. Yeah.”

If Trump “is not re-elected,” says Z, presumably meaning a Biden administration takes the White House, the country “might get better,” but “I got no control over that.”

He adds: “It’s just whoever’s in there. I could talk about what should happen, and what shouldn’t happen. But, at the end of the day, I ain’t got no control over it, so…”

He pauses, then reiterates he “ain’t got not control,” adding, ” I actually don’t worry about all that, for real. I just pray about it.”

Like most prisoners, he worries most about his loved ones, and freedom.

In a hypothetical message to the President, “the first thing” Z would say, “if I said anything, is just, ‘Come in and just treat everybody equal. That’ll be the main thing. Don’t be bias against no race.'”

Z wonders, “If this is America, ‘home of the free’ – you know – like all the racists told us, then why is it that every time you turn around in a high position, there’s always Caucasians, Whites over everything?”

Z notes that “Whites will pick their friends and buddies over others, just because. And over any other nationalities, not just Blacks, but Chinese, Puerto Rican, Mexican, just like [Trump] is doing the Mexicans, and stuff like that.”

Commenting on America’s southern border and immigration policies, Z continues, “I don’t feel like that’s right, the way they’re doing them [immigrants]. Again, I ain’t got no say so over it. But, hey, that’s how I feel, just my opinion.”

In Z’s opinion, “This land – nobody made this land, man. This is God’s land. So, first of all, you should be free to go anywhere you want to go in this whole world. I don’t feel like you should be able to tell nobody they can’t come over here. You know? This ain’t your land. Period.”

Z points out, “Actually, you came over here! You wasn’t here first either! And you came over here, and just took the land. So, why are you gonna tell somebody else that they can’t come over here, and just to live on this land? You came over here and took the land yourself. You ain’t even supposed to be here!”

He adds: “Actually, if they were acting like that back then, you wouldn’t even be over here now, if they had the same strategy. Yeah, so, it’s just crazy.”

Asked about the role of big money in American politics, “That plays a major role,” says Z.

“With the Trump thing,” for example, Trump “got the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, and he’s got a lot of people behind him with sponsor money who are with them on that also. So, that’s why, a lot of times, he don’t even speak up on the racism that be going on, with the police and stuff, because he knows he’s going to get backlash from them organizations, because they invest so much money in him that they feel like he’s on their side.”

Z feels most of Trump’s racist ties and worldviews were made clear before Trump was President, “especially when he came out with that saying – what is it? ‘Let’s make America great again,’ taking the country back and all that, talkin’ like that. It’s just racist. It wouldn’t be racist if he wouldn’t make it racist. If he was saying it for a good way, a good reason, people would know, like, ‘Ah, nah, he don’t mean it that way,’ but everybody know how he mean it.”

Matthew Vernon Whalan’s writings on mass incarceration have appeared in the Alabama Political Reporter, Red Crow News (MA), and elsewhere. His oral histories on homelessness have been published in The Brattleboro Reformer, The Commons, and elsewhere. He has also been published in the New York Journal of Books, Spin Education, The Berkshire Record, the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, and other journals and newspapers. He is a writer and contributing editor at the fledgling blog, The Hard Times Review.

Posted in Creative Non-fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

Intricate Rituals

After Barbara Kruger

When I was in high school the older boys played this “game” in the showers
after lacrosse practice where they’d turn the lights off and make us freshmen
hop around in the darkness while the water heated up till it hurt. I know:
not actually a game and not very fun. Boys at other boarding schools
threw flaming mattresses out their dorm windows and beat us at lacrosse for fun.

On the bus back to school, retreating from our loss, we’d fall asleep atop
each other’s sweaty pads. A midfielder in the back removed his headphones
to ask an attacker for help removing the athletic tape from around his foot.
The eye black grease paint he’d been given was flowing down his face,
so he wiped it away and began to unwrap the boy.

You should’ve seen how they painted each other’s faces in the bathroom.
How they almost forgot about the violence stirring outside the door
as they removed their gloves to hold a teammate’s face. When the defender cupped
the goalie’s cheeks while tracing the bones of his face, the defender’s hands shook
like a rope suddenly full of tension, bound to an unfamiliar animal that may
or may not try to run away. When their quiet work was done they both looked in the mirror
and promised to protect one another.

Going to the bathroom meant you might’ve been missing something like the biggest guy
in the senior class standing naked and laughing, wearing his big red hat and overtaking
his own rap playlist. Saying something that no one fought through the laughter
to challenge. Because it was funny. It was. Older boys doing stuff they learned when
they were younger boys and could reliably pass down to build a legacy that lasted
for years like a copper pellet under your skin.

They taught us how to hurt each other. One day, after the two players made contact
during a ground ball drill, the attacker scooped the ball and jogged away and
then looked back at the defender who was writhing on the Astroturf.
First it was just a boy on the ground clutching his shoulder, the team lined up
like statues waiting for him to stand and for it to be our turn, but then there was the coach
kneeling as he rips off the player’s gear, poking at the tender skin on the defender’s collarbone,
whispering through the helmet that he’s okay. The attacker turned away, as if
it was the last time he’d ever see another boy, or himself, like this.

I remember all this now, while my body is pressed against yours
in a dark room, only because I am trying to forget it.

Dan Carroll is a writer and student at DePaul University. In 2019, he graduated from Kingswood Oxford School in Connecticut. He has fiction and poetry in Crook & Folly and creative nonfiction in Polyphony Lit. You can follow him everywhere @dancarroll__.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Trashing the Garden

They are digging up the garden,
ripping down the tomato stakes,
throwing them into neighboring
yards. She is pulling out all
the herbal roots, perennial plants,
crying over onions and uprooted
garlic. He is stomping wild
strawberries, axing the summer
squash, bleeding the tomatoes
lying on the ground. He is
covered with pulp and seeds, hacked
to the core, bleeding from the bones;
their lives cannot go on like this.

Alan Catlin has published dozens of chapbooks and full-length books. His most recent full-length book is Wild Beauty from Future Cycle Press. Among the more recent chapbooks is Blue Velvet, winner of the 2017 Slipstream Poetry Contest. He is poetry editor of Misfit.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

I come from

I come from a reverent kind of stillness.
Front row, crossed legs, fingers clasped in my lap
a white knuckle steeple
that only opened to praise.
Palms pressed to pray
to a God I couldn’t always see
but they told me was there anyways.

I come from deep-pink watermelon cubes
cut to fit the corners
of squeaky clean Tupperware containers
sealed tight in the humming refrigerator
until noontime on one Sunday out of the summer
when the lid got popped off by the older women
who organized and categorized
each food item on folding card tables.
Subcategories for each kind
of salad sitting under the sun.
A whole separate tent for dessert.

I come from state park water baptisms,
where my undeveloped body got dunked
under dirty lake water
by the hands of my pastoral father.
Came back up, jet-brown curls
clinging to my face.
Pre-braces-tamed teeth chattering,
not-yet-kissed-lips turned blue.
Undeveloped mind wondering
if they really were angels’ voices
I heard ringing in my ears.

Julia Bonadies teaches English Language Arts at Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts Middle, and tutors in writing at Manchester Community College. She holds a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Secondary Education from Eastern Connecticut State University. In 2016, she was named Manchester Community College’s poet representative in the Connecticut Poetry Circuit. Her poetry has appeared in the national undergraduate magazine, The Albion Review, local paper The Chronicle, and various online journals and local college literary arts magazines. She is a film and plant enthusiast who resides in Vernon, Connecticut. You can find her work at https://juliabonadies.com.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment