Poesis

I have heard it said that poetry is strategic absence.

Yet you fill all these spaces
and still I call this
a love poem.
Poetry is

red wine and Love Jones
a butterfly perched on a rose,
a pause, a breath
not taken.

Silence warm as honey whiskey,
sunlight streaming through an open window,
a droplet of dew balanced on a blade of grass,
the comfort of your fingers laced through mine.

Ella and Louis together on vinyl,
dreaming a little dream.
I want to sing love from the rooftops,
although this is not my lyric I.

I like to think that this is
my diary I,
the I that I keep for myself,
and the I that I share with you.

I love you every day.
Every day, I learn to love
the everyday
a little bit more.

The warmth of your smile,
the cool of the piano’s black keys,
the song of your laughter,
and the dance of your fingertips down my spine.

I love you shea-butter-soft
and moon-drunk-loud,
I love you like harmony loves melody
and paint loves the brush.

And I know I’m not really an artist.
But all this is love.
And love is generative.
So even now, I am creating.

I love you
like poetry.

Ethan Thayumanavan is an aspiring poet of Indian descent, from Amherst, Massachusetts. He is a full-time student at Columbia University. His exploration of poetry began when he joined a collegiate spoken word poetry team, but his love for the written word has influenced his transition from performance to writing.

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Black Friday

Linus died on Black Friday, head crushed while reaching for a Nintendo Switch. After death, his soul did not descend to Hell, nor did he learn to play the harp. It wandered Walmart waiting for the next life to appear.
 

On August 30th, a little over nine months into his new life, he lumbered through the magazine aisle. Since his rebirth, he’d putzed about the store, attempting to persuade the clientele into making better life choices. He figured it was the only way out of purgatory. Since he never did anything great in his last life, then this must be the time to do it. Today, he’d already fallen short in his attempt to stop an elderly woman from swapping out the price tags on a pack of batteries. He could not afford another failure. He borrowed Mr. Rogers’ cadence to dissuade a young boy from ripping out pictures of women from various magazines. This teenager’s intentions seemed obvious. The boy would soon disappear into the bathroom. Once inside, nothing would stop him from completing the act. Another sin, another missed opportunity.

“Um, ah, little boy,” he stammered. “I mean, young man. Perhaps we could put down the magazine? Yes, Jennifer Aniston does look attractive in those yoga pants, but think about the purpose of said pants. Those are for an athletic and spiritual practice, not your pleasure.”

The preteen sauntered toward the bathroom with his stash. In a few short moments, the boy would defile the sanctity of the handicap restroom. Linus already pictured the discarded tissues littering, but not inside, the toilet. He would have picked them up, if only his corporeal form would come back. To forget about his many inadequacies, he meandered back to the warehouse where someone always seemed to be a little worse off.
 

A lone member of the loading crew tossed cardboard boxes into the trash compactor. When the pile became too lopsided, she reached inside the machine headfirst, digging about like a bear scrounging around for honey.

Before Linus could formulate a plan to help her, the woman became tangled in the machine. Linus rushed over. Near the back, he saw her sleeve caught between metal grooves. Instinctually, he reached for her. To his dismay, the plan actually worked. His hands wrapped around hers. He’d never been able to breach the material plane before, and now here he was, pressing down on her. Despite his efforts to let go, his now corporeal form pushed her further into the machine, bodies intertwined.

In the confusion, the machine ran its compacting sequence. The engine hummed an aggressive tune, purring like a buzzsaw. She screamed and thrashed to no avail. The machine closed down on her arm. Bone split from flesh. Blood poured onto the floor below. In the end, the machine took her entire arm off from the shoulder down, then she collapsed.

He could only watch.
 

After the recovery, the lawsuits bubbled up to the surface, and once they were settled, Hannah returned back to work, no longer in blue-collar clothing. She’d been promoted to Customer Acquisitions, which meant she now collected emails and phone numbers from the patrons of Walmart. An envoy of suits followed her about the store, pointing out all the changes that had taken place since the accident, such as the new grippy floor near the water fountain and hand sanitizer stations.

The suits left her at the wedding and baby registry department near the McDonald’s. Babies and happy couples surrounded her, but much like Linus, they were not alive. To the right of her desk, the suits situated a large cardboard cutout of a baby in diapers; it even cooed when you pressed its belly. Next to the baby stood a multicultural couple. She locked eyes with the cardboard pair, unsure how to stop smiling.

A bottle of champagne appeared. The suits encouraged her to hold it like a trophy. She held it aloft, grinning like the fake couple to her left.

Everyone seemed to smile that way here.
 

Hannah sat at her desk, unable to type, head pounding from the fluorescent lights above. She poured cup after cup of coffee, adding an additional sugar packet with each refill, but no amount of caffeine dulled the pain.

From a distance, Linus narrated her every move, though he stood alone.

“That email has been on her screen for over an hour. She’s only got a subject line at this point. Hasn’t bothered to type anything. Won’t even try.”

Linus shuffled closer toward her desk, still muttering about the details of her new job. He spoke to the large cardboard cutouts now. It made the words seem more important to him when they were directed at another, even if those other people were nothing more than cardboard.

“How many emails or phone numbers does she need to find for the registry? They said a hundred, a hundred per week. No training. No real help. I should help again, right? It’s not like I can make things worse.”

Linus pivoted toward the cardboard cutouts once again. He paused, waiting for their reply. None, of course, appeared. He shifted toward Hannah and the silence accumulated. When he turned around to say his goodbyes, though, she waved. It was a small wave, hardly a flick of the wrist. He dismissed the action, thinking her response might have been directed at someone else. When he searched the area, though, he could find no one.
 

Linus lingered in the women’s bathroom. All morning he had, unsuccessfully, stalked Walmart, attempting to persuade folks into signing up for Hannah’s program. In his mind, this seemed like a better plan than waiting in the formula aisle, which appeared to be populated with only frantic parents. He didn’t even bother with the children’s clothing section. All the parents seemed desperate, saddled by the weight of having to coax kids into a brightly colored outfit adorned with some manic cartoon. He didn’t even bother finding engaged couples. They were a group camouflaged by the monotony that follows all in a relationship.

Someone new threw open the door. With her entrance, the dent in the drywall became a little bigger and the mirrors rattled. Once she settled in a stall, he went into collection protocol outside the partition.

His aura burned a bright yellow.

“Having a child is a huge responsibility,” he said, hands cupped to extend his voice. “Walmart is here to help. By registering your baby in our system, you can receive a tailored set of coupons each month, which could save you hundreds of dollars. All for you and your baby.”

The woman exited the stall, expression unchanged. She used the mirror to adjust her hair, never even glancing at him. A week into his plan to fix Hannah’s life and he hadn’t made an inch of progress. He thought of pleading, but only the hand dryers would hear his cries. After the woman left, Linus positioned himself at the entrance again, back crooked like the limb of a tree searching for sun.

He gave up an hour later.

Linus wandered about the store, eyes trained on the ground below. He soon found himself at the checkout line. Before the cashier completed the transaction, he asked a myriad of questions. Did the customer bring her own bag? Did she need help getting out to the car? Did she want to donate money to a third world country that this company helped keep impoverished? Did she have an email or phone number rewards card? Only that last question caught his attention. The woman rattled off her email without a hint of apprehension, and then the cashier dutifully input it into the system. The woman vanished, but was followed by a man, a mother, an elderly couple, a father, and a young couple, who all gave up their information freely. He began memorizing each number, email, even the cadence of the consumer’s voice.

Once he had memorized over a dozen emails, Linus scurried over to Customer Acquisitions. Hannah, on yet another break, was not there, but her screen blinked, spreadsheet empty. He placed his hands on the keyboard. His digits broke apart like smoke when he attempted to type. After a half-hour of repeating the same actions, he gave up, and then lurched over to the corner of the office, near the cardboard cutouts of the couple.

“I would offer you both a drink,” he said, “though I think it would do little for the both of us. Especially the two of you, am I right?”

The couple did not respond. Again. The sound of distant chatter mimicked conversation, though it did not belong to him. Linus now hated their ever-present smile. It felt like the two had an inside joke, one he couldn’t understand but was also prevented from knowing. He wandered toward the electronics section alone, hands folded in prayer.

Since his death, Linus never slept. Instead he’d visit the wall of televisions in electronics. Though he could not change the channels, the cacophony of sound provided a way to feel numb. The voices rose higher, until he could no longer think about this life or the last.
 

The garden department only felt peaceful at dawn. Customers had yet to leave behind merchandise or discard their soda cups inside the planters. He listened to the lone fountain babble. The plastic rocks and recycled water felt fixed there, natural, whereas the wall of televisions that populated the electronics department seemed endlessly replaceable.

He shifted his vision toward a small gnome nearby with a bright red cap.

“All of these names and emails, but nowhere to store them,” he said, looking at the gnome. “Even if she was near me, I wouldn’t know how to give them to her. I can only breach your world by accident, I suppose. Does that say something about me, David the Gnome, or us as a whole?”

The sun broke on the horizon. Its shimmering redness once lingered on the edges, but now stretched over the ridge in the distance. The scene reminded him of waking, of stretching out his arms and yawning.

Two men lumbered through his area, armed with brooms and cleaning supplies. One paused near the trash can to empty it. In the process, he dislodged a flyer stuck in the flaps of the trash can. It fluttered near his position. While Linus couldn’t touch the paper, he inspected the flyer. It detailed the horrific working conditions of the Arby’s near him. Unsanitary working conditions, overtime not being paid, the whole gamut. The one thing that caught his attention was just a throwaway phrase. It said “a haunting” in the middle of all the other grievances. Before he could read it again, one of the workers picked up the flyer, and then placed it with all the other refuse he’d collected.

The two men began chattering but the words soon faded. Linus found himself trailing them for a bit, meandering, really. Soon, he broke from their gait and wandered the store at his own rhythm. The hum of the electronics department put him in a meditative state, one where he did not even bother attempting to smell the fries at the McDonald’s when he sauntered by the restaurant. He didn’t even bother to stop at Hannah’s workstation. The words of the flyer now echoed about the canyon of his consciousness. It felt as if that echo wouldn’t disappear.

Linus found himself at the edge of Walmart, where the shopping carts were kept. He surveyed the parking lot, noting the Arby’s off in the distance, a speck, really. He cupped his hand to his head, though it did little to stop the newborn sun from blinding his eyes. He began to walk forward, though he knew the repercussions for leaving the place of his death.
 

On the trek to Arby’s, a homesickness overtook him, a longing that caused him to wretch. His aura dissolved, albeit slowly. Wisps of the blue faded. It reminded him of the exhaust from a car, tentacles trailing upward. Memories, even of deeply ingrained moments, seemed to disappear. He attempted to corral his aura at the door to Arby’s. The now-light blue aura kept fading, though. Soon, he thought it might be nothing.

Unlike the Arby’s guests, Linus could perceive the haunt. In his mind’s eye, he pictured a skeleton wrapped in tattered clothing, but he was left with a blue orb, hanging in the air like a disco ball. Despite the fact that it was far too early for a roast beef, almost a dozen people ate in silence. More sauntered through the door. All scrolled their phones, some had headphones, but none of them looked about.

The entity surveyed all of this.

“Welcome, Linus,” the entity said, speaking in a monotone baritone. “Please come toward us now. We have waited for your arrival.”

He nodded and ambled over, hand outstretched as if searching for the bathroom in the dark. When he arrived at the orb, Linus held out his palm, but pulled back before the two connected. Energy flowed and transferred all the same. He clutched his hand like an animal had snapped at it.

“What are you?”

“We are many, together.”

“Many, people?”

“Correct.”

“How many people make up this orb?”

“Nineteen, now, but it began as one, of course,” the orb replied. “Dave died of a massive coronary at the booth next to the Pepsi machine. Given his location of death, Dave had a unique opportunity to witness the world of mortals and their goings-on. That insight caused him to discover this form, and this form led others to him. Then we came into being.”

“Huh, oh. Well, this is Arby’s,” Linus said, smiling. “Imagine if you died in a CPK or something, you might still be a spirit, just like me. A ghost?”

The blue orb didn’t have the ability to utilize facial expressions, but Linus thought he could discern a smirk forming near the bottom.

“Some who die find madness, others find peace,” the orb replied. “You can find both anywhere, Linus. It’s about what you choose to look at.”

“Only the living change.”

“What about your experience thus far has proven that to be true, Linus?” the orb asked, increasing in size. “This world mimics the one we left behind. The only difference is the isolation and the confinement. Both seem like ingredients, though. For what, that is up to the looker.”

An Arby’s parishioner punctured their conversation. A man, holding a large Mountain Dew and seasoned curlies and a roast beef sandwich, lumbered through Linus. His aura dispersed for a moment, the blue cloud breaking apart, then reforming into its original shape. As his aura stitched himself together, Linus focused on the usual list of attractive men that came to mind, hoping he’d morph into one. No such luck. Every part came back, including the extra twenty pounds he’d carried.

“I need to learn how to have physical contact with the world and to control it.”

“The more contact with that world, the higher the likelihood you end up a haunt,” the orb replied. “Those spirits think they are still a part of the world.”

“It’s just temporary.”

“Everything is just temporary.”

“Well, fine, how about I know the risk then?” he replied. “That cover you?”

“What you choose cannot impact me, Linus,” the orb replied. “But I sense hesitation in you, the inability to own the decision you’re about to make.”

“No, no. This is what I need,” Linus said. “I really want to help her.”

“Even in death you confuse like and need. Maybe another path would suit you?”

“This has to be the way.”

“As you wish.”

While the orb above him maintained its white coloring with a hint of morning blue, Linus noted how his own had morphed into a royal purple, one that bordered on crimson. He attempted to shift the color by rocking himself, yet the shade conditioned to morph to the red spectrum.

“I can teach you,” the orb replied, “though that path is folly, Linus. We are here to pass enlightenment to others. It is our mission. We must warn some, however, that not all information is beneficial in the end.”

When Linus examined his hands, they fluctuated from fire engine red to cobalt.

“This, this,” he said, attempting to discover the words, “is what I need now.”

“Understood,” the orb said, still speaking in its monotone voice. “Now we can begin.”

Before he could reply, the orb above took over the conversation by increasing its brilliance. It reminded Linus of the time he peered into the sun during an eclipse. The whiteness from the orb above reflected across the Arby’s dining room as well. Even the humans turned away.

Linus shuffled over, his hand outstretched as if he was greeting an angry dog. When he touched the orb, it seemed to explode. The world disappeared, shifting into a blackness. He found himself in the orb itself, face to face with a woman dressed in white, gown flowing, a wreath of green about her crown. She gave her hand to Linus, and the two strolled into the darkness, another world, a universe within the one he knew.
 

Nights were spent inputting data into her computer. Days were spent collecting information for the nights. Weeks went by, then months. Hannah smiled more, worked less, and drank more coffee. This could’ve lasted for years, but ended abruptly one Thursday afternoon when the armada arrived again.

Linus watched from the checkout lane as the men and women in suits appeared. Last time they’d distributed bottles of champagne, now they passed around various forms, each a different shade of yellow. Some used their palms to cup their whispers, others making direct eye contact.

A rather portly man in a suit loomed over her now. His brows furrowed as he read the reports. Each graph increased the knit on his forehead.

“The sheer amount of emails and other contact information sent the algorithms into a tizzy, Hannah,” the man said. “It was almost as if they were too good to be true. Do you see where we’re going with this?”

“The names, they, they just kept appearing,” she said, hardly more than a whisper. “People must have used the link on the store homepage, right? I wasn’t the one who input all of this information, though.”

“The data was input from inside the store.”

“That could be anyone, though?”

“Please sign the forms before we continue,” he replied, voice heavy. “I’ll give you a few moments to examine them. Then we’ll proceed.”

The man waved the congregation away. Some shifted their attention to their phones. Others began scrutinizing the official Walmart Greeter’s posture.

Linus disappeared, choosing to follow the man in the suit instead. He refused to look back at Hannah, sure he’d turn to salt if he did.

The man fumbled with the knob to the managerial bathroom, while Linus marched through the door. Once near the stall, the ghost paused. He saw the man’s phone resting on the sink. He batted it onto the floor, and then kicked the air like a child. After a minute of pacing, he positioned his belly on the bathroom tile in order to better read the man’s phone.

Nothing in his phone seemed interesting or useful, not even the text messages. Linus thought about dirty things to text his coworkers and family, but each response only felt as if it might damage him personally. None of it would help shovel her out of the mess he’d created.

The bowel movement ended. Linus could hear the man grunting inside the stall, hunched over the toilet as he searched for toilet paper. When Linus lifted his head, he could see underneath the gap in the toilet. He cringed at the sight of the manager’s old testicles slapping against his inner thighs, penis obscured by pubic hair. The man spun about in circles, semi-nude, searching for more toilet paper. Linus snickered at what this sight might do for his reputation. While shame felt like part of the equation, when seen in a different context, his inexpressive manhood could elicit scorn, especially if it was sent to Hannah. The phone still rested nearby. The screen glowed, waiting to be used.

When his hand reached through the ether and latched onto the phone, he felt his soul split. He saw himself taking the picture of the penis, then sending it to Hannah with an off-color remark. The manager in the stall would lose his job and she’d keep hers. This would continue, though, indefinitely. He saw himself performing intervention after intervention. When Hannah needed help dealing with the woman in human resources who took her handicap spot, he slashed her tires and left a menacing note. After Hannah’s boyfriend cheated on her, he spammed his roofing business on Yelp. He’d even dealt with the McDonald’s employee who always forgot to give extra ketchup. He handled it all.

In this alternate future, a little black orb appeared in his chest. It reminded him of cancer, metastasizing throughout his body once it settled in.

Suddenly, the manager exited the stall. He noticed his phone resting on the bathroom tile, along with a blue hand hovering above it. A haunting, right there in the Walmart bathroom. Pain overwhelmed his left arm. The emotion soon settled into his breastplate like a clenched fist in his chest. Before he hit the ground, a yelp squirmed out of his mouth.

Linus knew what would happen if this man died in the bathroom. Another houseguest, another soul to save. He focused on dialing 911. As the operator repeated the script she’d been given, the manager wiggled like a fish, yet made no discernible sounds. Linus’ voice crossed over for the first time. Even though he could only bark out their location, the woman on the other line heard him. After hearing himself speak, Linus felt as if his voice had changed since he died. It was like listening to a recording of himself. He replayed the sound instead of listening to the operator give frantic instructions. While Linus didn’t follow one of them, he eventually did hold the man’s hand. His blue hand still breached the veil, disembodied from his spirit.

Linus waited until the paramedics arrived before completely disappearing.
 

On Hannah’s last day, the manager gave up red meat and Linus wandered to the edge of where he could travel, past the Arby’s, so far his aura ached, as if it might disappear altogether. The parking lot felt serene at this time of day. No longer littered with rubbish, the morning sun cascaded off the asphalt, creating a glow upon the horizon.

Linus cupped his hand to his brow, though it did nothing to stop the glare. Instead of pushing forward to the unknown, he turned back. He cocked his shoulders, then walked toward the entrance in the distance.

Linus went back into Walmart, his head and body now a bit straighter. He ended up back in the electronics department where he had died. The title was still there, though any trace of his blood had long since been removed. Linus began massaging his fingertips together, marveling at how they were free of the blood that once defined him.

Linus wandered back to the entrance. Once he arrived, he crossed his legs and folded both hands in contemplation. His chest expanded and deflated despite the fact it took in no oxygen. It moved like the tide. He felt it seesaw up and down, never wavering. There was beauty in it. He was not an orb hovering in an Arby’s, nor some lackey. He was Linus. He repeated that phrase to himself until the words felt like they were his own.

William Lemon teaches creative writing and composition at Los Angeles City College. He has been published at BlazeVOX, Bartleby Snopes, Drunk Monkeys, and Menacing Hedge.

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Phaeacia

I gather that
if I painted a jagged
square of plywood
in all black
but with two white blots
in the upper left
and bottom right
with tails trailing off,
down and upwards,
leaving a thin strip
of woodgrain
in the middle of the panel,
then I could be rid of you.

But, somehow,
when the only light
comes off my cable box,
I still see that trail
above my headboard
from the upper left corner,
leaving me behind.

Carson Pytell is a writer living outside Albany, NY, whose work has appeared in numerous venues online and in print, including Artifact Nouveau, The Virginia Normal, NōD Magazine, Rabid Oak and Bluepepper, among others. He serves on the editorial board of the journal Coastal Shelf, and his short collection First-Year (Alien Buddha Press, 2020) and chapbook Trail (Guerrilla Genesis Press, 2020) are now available. In December 2020 he is slated to participate in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project.

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The Storm Inside

The rain fills the windows up to my ears
As if it doesn’t want me to hear him say it,

Again. I am so sorry, baby, I am so sorry.

I turn my head and blow into his ear
With the breath of these last fall drops,

Filling his head with cool wisps of what

Will someday turn into beautiful, crisp flakes,
Ignoring the fist at our window that

Does not care about the word sorry.

 
A word turning the trees into the walk
Of an old man, not because they cannot

Stand the rain, but because they have

Grown stooped, used to the pounding
Weight of its constant, heavy drops.

And for that, I too, am sorry.

I close the blinds, pull his dark
Curls onto my stomach, and wait for

The rain to fill me up to my eyes.

Rosa Canales is a recent graduate of Denison University. Her work has appeared in Capsule Stories, Lammergeier, perhappened mag, and the Sigma Tau Delta Review.

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Living with Fire

It wasn’t until we learned to live with fire
That the human brain achieved its emotional
Depth, this documentary says. We torched
Our meat with heat, devoured its charred flesh,
And learned to feel color and the promise
Of a crooked pinky finger and the desire
To share this last piece of meat with a body
We now know better than our own
Because we have pressed ourselves into these
Arms to feel them squeeze back into our chest,
Leaving our sweaters on but feeling a shiver
Down into legs we forgot we could ever
Have done without, and we

Are so transfixed by the fire on this screen,
By how our ancestors worshipped a creature
Bubbling inside their bones—shaping
Humanity from the inside out, that I worry
That what has ignited their skin and brains
Will leave my lungs scarred and choking
On the burnt body I will continue to hold when
Everything between our pinkies is ash—my
Fingers reaching for more when there is nothing
Left—all because our ancestors learned to live
With fire, but I have learned nothing but to stoke
The creature inside my stomach and hope that
It will not burn me from the inside out.

Rosa Canales is a recent graduate of Denison University. Her work has appeared in Capsule Stories, Lammergeier, perhappened mag, and the Sigma Tau Delta Review.

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Soft Static

As kids, they would listen to the radio,
Tune it to the channel black boys from the city
            Should not have

Been able to find. He fiddled and fumbled
with that dial, the elicit channel a portal
            To another side

Of guns and fists and a frequency of clicks.
Their ears filled with police whispers
            Under porch lights,

Listening until they learned how to be alive,
How to stay alive, inside a muted muzzle
            Of soft static.

Rosa Canales is a recent graduate of Denison University. Her work has appeared in Capsule Stories, Lammergeier, perhappened mag, and the Sigma Tau Delta Review.

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the electric fence outside

is the reason i’m afraid to leave the house
   beyond this hallway and that closed door

away from my sleeping dog curled,
   bathing in the TV glow that I ignore.

if that door shuts behind me
   that leaves only me on the other side

alone waiting for instruction,
   for company to penetrate the solitude

rattling from one membranous thought
   to another—every ricochet a painful shock

despite seeing it coming each time
   just like touching the 6V electric wire

as a kid over and over again
   holding onto that fence at the edge

of the field, the jolt still surprising
   on every round trip, on every outing

just as the loneliness of the world
   hits me one more time outside my door.

Sean Chapman is a British writer living in Cornwall beside the capricious Atlantic Ocean and amongst the blur of a blue Whippet and a red fox Labrador. His prolonged and wayward adolescence included working in a Taiwanese astrophysics department, on a Salford mental health ward, on the Liverpool docks, and in a Manchester disability support office, before washing ashore in a Cornish surf shop. Between daydreams of cowboy adventures and surfing escapades he writes poems, dedicated to Maggie, some of which have appeared or are forthcoming in Marble Poetry, Raceme, Squawk Back, Prole, Dreich Magazine, The Pomegranate London, Trouvaille Review and Anti-Heroin Chic. He can be found on Twitter: @seanchapman_1.

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Leave Me Some Breadcrumbs

Some codes are harder to crack—and i’m no
Alan Turing—we haven’t all got an enigma machine,
so give me your cipher and we can speak in plaintext.

Next time you dance away, teach me the steps
first, I might tread on some toes, but together
we’ll find my rhythm—no promises, but I’ll try.

Fumbling in your maze, too short to see over—
puzzled and searching for the centre of things,
leave me some breadcrumbs, let me come find you.

Sean Chapman is a British writer living in Cornwall beside the capricious Atlantic Ocean and amongst the blur of a blue Whippet and a red fox Labrador. His prolonged and wayward adolescence included working in a Taiwanese astrophysics department, on a Salford mental health ward, on the Liverpool docks, and in a Manchester disability support office, before washing ashore in a Cornish surf shop. Between daydreams of cowboy adventures and surfing escapades he writes poems, dedicated to Maggie, some of which have appeared or are forthcoming in Marble Poetry, Raceme, Squawk Back, Prole, Dreich Magazine, The Pomegranate London, Trouvaille Review and Anti-Heroin Chic. He can be found on Twitter: @seanchapman_1.

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Shopping and Kindness

Do you ever wonder what people say about you in the grocery store? Because, they’re mean. Nobody is better than you. They’re talking about every living thing that walks by. Just like you. People are talking about me right now in aisle five, they don’t like my shirt.

It’s okay. I hated their haircuts.

In my daydreams I often imagine myself fitting in with the people I love. Feeling comfortable around them, maybe even drawing laughter from something clever I’ve said. When I leave, they say nice things about me, just like they say to my face. I know it’s a fantasy.

My friends and family tend to describe me as generous, kind, loyal, and compassionate. At least, that’s what they say while I’m around.

None of those things are easy for me. I wish I could demand exact change from people in return for every inconvenience they cause me. If my loyalty were conditional, at least I could let people go. When people suffer near me, it would be much less trouble to just tell them that I’m suffering too, so they should go hide in the dark like me.

I smile at the grocery store clerk, and ask her how her day has been. She smiles back and tells me all about how difficult the drop-off line at her son’s school is. I don’t care, but I want her to feel better.

When I go outside, I help an old woman put her groceries in the car. She tells me I’m a nice boy. I don’t tell her she’s a liar, I just tell her to be careful on the ice.

I carry all the things I dream myself to be in the glove compartment of my truck. When I feel like crying, sometimes I drive my glove compartment all over the county.

Other times, I open the compartment and take them out just to look at them, wondering what they would cost. Window shopping, really.

I keep my monster in a storage locker on the corner of 8th and Main. It screams sometimes when I’m on my way by.

There’s an abandoned shop next door where I hide my knives, just in case I need them again.

If people think I’m creepy or strange, I understand. That’s how I feel too. Some people don’t have to fight so hard to be kind and considerate of others. I’m just trying my best, and I fail. Sometimes when I go to the store, I just buy groceries and go home.

There are days when I say mean things in my head about people shopping near me, and I bet you do too.

When the nights are tough, I just go home to my apartment on 8th and Main, and shut out the world for a while.

But some days on my way home from Target, I play catch with the kid across the street, who’s growing up without his dad around. I bet he doesn’t think I’m so bad. I’m proud of those days, even though I can still hear the monster scream from down the road.

Logan Cox is a fictional character that lives in Europe. You can find his work in the online journal Maudlin House, with upcoming publications set to appear in Flash Fiction Magazine and Button Eye Review. He can be found at the kitchen table, often arguing with his family over the rules of in-home game show play.

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The Ceramics

Jeremy is upset with the Grammy nominations. He was upset last year, too. I daresay he’ll be upset next year as well. I swallow the urge to argue that Grammy nominations are, in the grand scheme of things, inconsequential, because I can tell that Jeremy wants to rant, not reason, and trying to push him another way, won’t, in all likelihood, end well for me. He is drinking an espresso, and I am trying to drink a cappuccino, but for some reason cappuccinos are always more bitter than I expect them to be, and paying nine bucks for a cup of flavoured foam is bound to suck the pleasure out of drinking it.

Jeremy tells me about his girlfriend and his classes and his trip to Amsterdam. I pride myself on having mastered the art of smiling and nodding and prodding at the right moments in conversation, and now I put my skills to good use. Jeremy, of course, then fulfils his end of the transaction and asks me what’s been happening on my end, and this is where, I suppose, I ought to tell him about the ceramics. The ceramics, I must admit, are growing to be a bit of a worry. It was alright when they were only taking loose A4 sheets and scraps of my discarded notes, and I even managed when they seized my anthropology paper, because it wasn’t too much of a hassle to print it out again. The issue is that they might start on my textbooks soon—or the library books—and those are dreadfully expensive, and I can’t exactly afford to buy them again, and borrowing from people who have their own exams to study for isn’t really feasible either. And then there’s the crack in the floor.

I’m not sure why they like paper, of all things. I understand their need for some means of nourishment, but why paper appeals to them so much is beyond me. Perhaps it was simply the first edible material they came across, on account of their being used as paperweights. Possibly it’s some sort of twisted revenge, on account of how they’re advertised as paperweights. Either way, it’s mesmerising to watch them open their little mouths or jaw or beaks or other digestive appendages (forgive me, I’m no zoologist) to nibble on their scraps.

It started with the rabbit. I bought the rabbit from a tiny shop near the college, the kind of shop full of cutesy souvenirs for tourists. The rabbit was, at the time, only the size of my fist. He sat perfectly still on the shelf and stayed perfectly still as he was wrapped in light pink tissue paper by the lady at the counter. But as soon as I placed him on my desk back in my dorm, he jumped to life and started scurrying around my desk, nose quivering inquisitively, bright eyes gleaming. The next day, the tissue paper vanished. I thought nothing of it.

The fox came next. Don’t ask me how she knew where to come—perhaps the ceramics had commissioned a search party—but she trotted out of the shop and arrived in my room. She bounded up the leg of my chair and leaped to the desk, chattered excitedly with the rabbit for a minute, and then left as abruptly as she appeared. Over the next few days, the ceramics started arriving in twos and threes, timidly peering round the corner of my door and then dashing inside with mounting enthusiasm at the sight of the rabbit. In came a turtle, a lion, a rhinoceros, elephants, and even a seal. A snake, a whole family of giraffes, a penguin, and—well, you get the idea. That’s when I realised what was happening with the paper, you see. Because they’re growing. Growing at an alarming rate, to be honest.

The rabbit is as large as an ordinary mammalian rabbit now, and the elephants are as tall as I am. Most of the birds have wings, so they can fly up and stay perched on the cupboard, and some of the smaller animals are happy sitting on the elephants’ backs, which is how we’ve been managing so far. Like I said, though, I’m worried about the paper issue, and if the ceramics grow any bigger, I don’t know what I’ll do. For now, the ceramics are accommodating enough. I’ve always been good at climbing, and they let me clamber over them to reach my things, and I can always study in the library and eat in the dining halls. Living between ceramic and cement isn’t as inconvenient as one might think. And they’re all beautiful. My room is now alight with shades of marigold and crimson and sepia and powder blue. They don’t stink, or anything, and their purrs and growls and clucks are reasonably quiet. So it’s not too bad. The biggest issue, I suppose, is that they’re growing to be quite heavy. That’s how I ended up with the crack. A rift down the floor, right next to my bed. It’s not very large, but there’s every chance that it could grow bigger as well, as cracks are wont to do. Like a sweater unraveling itself. Or a friendship. Not that it’s the ceramics’ fault, of course; the poor things have to eat. Anyway, should their weight happen to overcome the durability of my floor, I might have to rethink the situation.

If I tell Jeremy, he’ll probably be interested in the science of the thing. How do the birds fly? Shouldn’t the extra weight mess up the aerodynamics? How do they make sounds without vocal cords? I figure it’s best to ease him into the topic, so I tell him about the new anthropology professor, and then we realise it’s 3:45 p.m. and that Jeremy has a seminar on the other side of the college in 15 minutes. “Well, it was great to see you,” he says, and I tell him the same. I head to the computer room, because I ought to get fresh paper for the ceramics before they get to my textbooks.

Taneesha Datta has written for The Times Group, the Tulane Review, and the Kolkata Literary Meet, among others. She is a recipient of the Times Star Newsmaker Award, has been named on the Bengal Chief Minister’s Merit List, and is currently Chief Editor of Tidings Media.

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mikan

a breakdown is sometimes sudden
like i am buttering the bread &
am reminded of my friend’s parents’ death,
both gone in the span of a year. blood
becomes a blur and i am letting
the light in. i sit on the floor, pale
& perfect like summer skin, and i
start to peel my orange, deliberate
in my movement and definite
in my rebellion against it. spools of fibre
in my hands, humble and haphazard
like all attempts to hold must be.
citrus fills the room,
floods it in small coughs,
rips me apart,
renders me immobile.

Swastika Jajoo is a queer poet currently studying theoretical linguistics in Japan. She won the second prize in the poetry contest organized as part of the international Glass House Poetry Festival in July 2020. She has been published with Riggwelter, Muse India, and The Huffington Post, among others, and her spoken word pieces have been featured on UnErase Poetry, one of India’s leading spoken word content producers. In April 2019, she gave a TEDx talk featuring poetry at her university. Her work is upcoming in Capsule Stories in December 2020 and in an anthology by Airplane Poetry Movement in 2021. She was also invited to perform with Rolling Stone India for Pride Month 2020.

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aki

in japanese aki can mean autumn, or
empty, or tiredness. this season is
a mouth pried open, its palms
dry like pumpkin forgotten
in the refrigerator, eyes
chestnut brown and wide
in anticipation. i run
barefoot over a ground
carpeted with leaves, emptied of itself.
i must carry on, past fall, hands pressed
together in some prayer that will not
be sacrificed to language. i must
remember to find the pumpkin
once i am back, and to be patient
as it simmers in soy.
aki is a lifelong lament, a body
big & bright with burning feet
having outrun itself.

Swastika Jajoo is a queer poet currently studying theoretical linguistics in Japan. She won the second prize in the poetry contest organized as part of the international Glass House Poetry Festival in July 2020. She has been published with Riggwelter, Muse India, and The Huffington Post, among others, and her spoken word pieces have been featured on UnErase Poetry, one of India’s leading spoken word content producers. In April 2019, she gave a TEDx talk featuring poetry at her university. Her work is upcoming in Capsule Stories in December 2020 and in an anthology by Airplane Poetry Movement in 2021. She was also invited to perform with Rolling Stone India for Pride Month 2020.

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Yellow Tape

The library does not allow
Books to be taken by themselves.
Instead, yellow tape saying
CAUTION
Wraps around the shelves,
As if to say,
“In the new normal,
You learn at your own risk.”

Z. W. Cheek is a writer from Omaha, Nebraska.

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On Silence

Sometimes there is nothing to say. The storm
which blew all day is finished; dinner was eaten,
the dishes washed. Around me, the detritus
of work; a pencil with its blunted lead, a blank
and expressionless phone, earbuds dangling
from the jack. Writing, I scribbled Jeremiah,
The weeping prophet.
Imagined him on Bourke St,
masked but after curfew. God placed the words
in his mouth, but not in mine. Bread and oil
is all I’m given; salt only on feast days.
Oblivion waits under the turned-back quilt;
quotidian dreams begin their slideshow. Only
towards the edge of morning, still under sleep’s
unbroken surface, comes the prophet lamenting,
an almond in his open palm. This too is detritus.
The tree cannot be forced to fruit. Silence
makes its own poem; the hush before first
birdcry at the approaching dawn.

Melissa Curran is a poet living in Sydney, Australia. She has an interest in literacy, and a commitment to the lyric poem.

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Brother

On our way to the dance, we made a fire under the bridge.
Snow fell outside the darkness of our shadowed space.
We sang about the bottles of beer we raised with gloved hands.
You lay your arm over my shoulders. Your face glowed in the flames.
Twigs crackled and bits of paper rose in the smoke.
Snow glistened under the streetlights beyond the bridge.
In a while we’d step into the cold brightness but for now
I loved the dark space, the circle of fire, and our song.

In the blackness of my bedroom, sometimes a fire
blazes and I see our pink faces before the flames.
I hear our voices and the sighing of the wind.
Your arm crosses my cold neck and hugs my shoulder,
and I dream we never stepped outside our hallowed space.
The snow was so cold and the streetlights too strong.

James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and thirty times. In 2013, he was a Finalist for the Tuscany Prize in Catholic Fiction. In 2015, Mulhern was awarded a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His most recent novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Readers’ Favorite Book Award winner, a Notable Best Indie Book of 2019, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019, and a Red Ribbon Winner, highly recommended by The Wishing Shelf Book Awards in the United Kingdom.

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The Crosswalk

Today I saw a father and son
stepping onto the crosswalk.
I braked and watched them pass.
Son on father’s shoulders,
headed to the park with swings.

I drove on, thinking of you
and wondered why you
never lifted me and held my legs
or brought me to the swings.
But you were not that type of father.

Once, we built a shed together.
I heard you say at a family party years later,
“Remember when Danny and I built the shed.”
But it wasn’t my brother
who cut wood and hammered nails with you.

I was bothered just a bit.
I had other memories,
like when you held my hands as we knotted my tie,
how we both looked in the mirror,
and I saw myself in your face.

You patted my shoulders.
Someone crossed the room and paused to take a picture.
It was on the table by your coffin. Your hands on mine.
Proof that we had closeness for a moment,
and that is enough.

James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and thirty times. In 2013, he was a Finalist for the Tuscany Prize in Catholic Fiction. In 2015, Mulhern was awarded a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His most recent novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Readers’ Favorite Book Award winner, a Notable Best Indie Book of 2019, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019, and a Red Ribbon Winner, highly recommended by The Wishing Shelf Book Awards in the United Kingdom.

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In Your Absence

I maneuver
windy roads
bound
for the Rockies,
heavy cloud banks
lifting slowly
with morning mist,
what’s left
of darkness
mingles
with first light,
appears
in a raspberry sunrise,
quietness intertwined
in the tangled silence
of towering aspen.

Dr. Jim Brosnan is the author of Nameless Roads (2019). His poems have appeared in the Aurorean (US), Crossways Literary Magazine (Ireland), Eunoia Review (Singapore), Nine Muses Poetry (Wales), Scarlet Leaf Review (Canada), The Strand Magazine (India), and Voices of the Poppies (United Kingdom). He holds the rank of full professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, and has just been awarded a faculty fellowship to complete his second collection, Driving Long Distance.

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Southbound on I-35

Streaks of light
seep across dark
interstate lanes
bordering endless
miles of cornfields
on an evening
that seems to last
forever under
a starless sky
as I travel south
two hundred miles
to Wichita
where the wind
blows from the east
and I embrace
another night
of solitude—
years unraveling
since we danced.

Dr. Jim Brosnan is the author of Nameless Roads (2019). His poems have appeared in the Aurorean (US), Crossways Literary Magazine (Ireland), Eunoia Review (Singapore), Nine Muses Poetry (Wales), Scarlet Leaf Review (Canada), The Strand Magazine (India), and Voices of the Poppies (United Kingdom). He holds the rank of full professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, and has just been awarded a faculty fellowship to complete his second collection, Driving Long Distance.

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Things We Never Said

I linger in the morning
chill after dreamless sleep,
survey untilled fields
near the Comfort Suites,
before breakfast,
watch morning traffic,
before recalling
a dream decades ago
when you were
more than a memory,
when we walked
hand-in-hand
on a moonlit sidewalk
in the shadows
of chef-owned cafes,
when candles flickered
on small round tables—
memories that traveled
over a thousand miles
infiltrated by remnants
of evening talk radio.
If only I had stopped,
yielded to street signs
in forgotten towns.

Dr. Jim Brosnan is the author of Nameless Roads (2019). His poems have appeared in the Aurorean (US), Crossways Literary Magazine (Ireland), Eunoia Review (Singapore), Nine Muses Poetry (Wales), Scarlet Leaf Review (Canada), The Strand Magazine (India), and Voices of the Poppies (United Kingdom). He holds the rank of full professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, and has just been awarded a faculty fellowship to complete his second collection, Driving Long Distance.

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Lingering in the Silence of Owls

Arching rainbows
leaves few traces
minutes after
the storm ends
as I drive past
acres of corn rows,
observe a dozen
orange-winged
blackbirds
on a post and rail
fence—images
found in storybooks
about the Midwest.
Before eleven,
I listen to
random chatter
on a Nebraska
AM station—
night owls solving
the country’s problems.

Dr. Jim Brosnan is the author of Nameless Roads (2019). His poems have appeared in the Aurorean (US), Crossways Literary Magazine (Ireland), Eunoia Review (Singapore), Nine Muses Poetry (Wales), Scarlet Leaf Review (Canada), The Strand Magazine (India), and Voices of the Poppies (United Kingdom). He holds the rank of full professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, and has just been awarded a faculty fellowship to complete his second collection, Driving Long Distance.

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Self-Portrait of a Boy, From the Man He Became

Idle youth, enslaved to everything; by being too sensitive I have wasted my life.
– Arthur Rimbaud

Now at the verge
of birthing little things

of my own, I think
to what I thought
were beavers’ teeth
in my younger mouth.

Saliva on my face, from
my mother wiping crust
off of it, I vaguely recall

this time of us together. Pride
had not yet been earned,
although teachers tried
to give stickers despite

my illogical fear of them.
Remembering the gardens

we once built up, hard
before I adopted this
language as my own.

Still I hold on tight
to my mother, always.

Deonte Osayande is a writer from Detroit, MI. His nonfiction and poetry have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, and the Pushcart Prize, and a Digital Book Award. He has represented Detroit at four National Poetry Slam competitions. He’s a professor of English at Wayne County Community College. His books include Class (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2017), Circus (Brick Mantel Books, 2018) and Civilian (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2019).

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Will Memories Be Enough?

It’s called The Unsettlement
a time of empty spaces,
—we dwell in corrugated
air awaiting rain

ringing hollow, when tapped
            —we’ve all been here before
in those gaps simmering
with alarm—a lover leaving

slams a door, no back-looking
            —so who now owns these streets?
aren’t they the ghosts of some
promises unfulfilled so far?

what (or who) will carry us across
this Uncanny?
            must I trawl through
memory for a remedy, like

            —first entering Manila Bay
            —stepping onto New York streets
            —entering the Mesquita in Cordoba,
feeling my soul fly up or

            —watching snow cloak the
            Burghers of Calais in Washington
            —riding trams in Bourke St
dazzled by your always?

will this thin membrane of
my memories stretch, or
be strong enough to carry us
away from the disappointment

that we are merely human?
            —be a bridge to the other
lives that wait, like explorers,
nameless & impatient?

John Bartlett is the author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. He has published two poetry chapbooks and his full collection Awake at 3am was just released by Ginninderra Press. He was the winner of the 2020 Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize. He lives on the Surf Coast in southern Australia.

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Idioglossia

n. secret speech or language; especially invented by children

The apartment we grew up in was lined with mirrors.
We would dance for each other, lip-synch to The Go-Go’s,

Perform for our images. Often, mother would take
Our photograph. Now, you don’t let her do that anymore,

If she tries, you roll your eyes and walk away. I stand alone,
Not smiling, the flash lingering in the air. Our Great Aunt called us

Moon Children because we had fair hair and navy eyes. She was a twin
to our grandmother: one a daring artist, the other a vain hostess.

An astrologer from Sonoma told me that you and I are “Astral Twins”;
Sister, that means the stars were only 19 degrees different in the sky

The nights we were born. We were born in the deep grays of city.
And, in the constellation of Manhattan, where the windows are the stars,

Inside our window, Daddy built us identical castle beds that stuck out
From either side of one wall. This was before he contracted AIDS,

Before our parents’ secrets paraded through the apartment. Then, it was like the wall
between us was a mirror and we were each other’s reflection.

I would put my hand against the wall and your hand was there. It was the only
way to say good night. Then, I could turn and face the window,

I would look to the street and count cabs, praying a freak fire
Would not come to ignite us,

interrupt our deep, brief, child sleep.

Cordelia Jensen graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia has three verse novels: Skyscraping (Philomel/Penguin), The Way the Light Bends (Philomel/Penguin) and Every Shiny Thing (Amulet/Abrams), which she co-authored with VCFA classmate Laurie Morrison. Skyscraping was named an American Library Association’s 2016 Best Book for Young Adults, a Los Angeles Public Library’s Best Book for Teens and a 2016 NCTE Children’s Notable Verse Novel. Every Shiny Thing is a South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee. Cordelia teaches creative writing in Philadelphia and runs a local kids’ literary journal called the Mt. Airy Musers. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Pippin.

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Anima Mundi

Sometimes even a walk down the road on a sunny day is an offence to the spirit. I have just been to see my therapist.

‘The prison of the self, the innate alienation of individual existence – this is what you’ve come to believe?’ I’ve learned to be wary of her paraphrasing. It can be a blunt instrument.

A runner eyeballs me as though the pavement is his designated track and I’m deliberately obstructing it.

‘Prison is too strong a word,’ I told her, ‘but you keep talking about empathy as if it’s something we can all pour from a tap. Personally I don’t think we’re designed like that.’

The runner passes close, elbows akimbo, leaving a momentary nimbus of resentment and halitosis. The slap of his flat feet gradually lessens.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever suggested that empathy is a phenomenon we can just assume, either in ourselves or others. But ask yourself where we’d be without it.’

My therapist, I realised a while ago, is competitive, hence she frequently answers her own questions.

‘Without empathy there can only be isolation,’ she therefore continued, before looking at me as if she’d smashed a winning forehand.

A tall, brightly dressed woman turns the corner on the other side of the road. She gesticulates, and yodels into her mobile, which has claimed her entire focus.

Is it feasible that an individual sensibility can be offended by the pathology of the world? This was the hypothesis I’d hoped to tease out during my afternoon appointment. But really, I think now, how could it not be? The world, by its nature, offends.

The woman hits peak volume as she goes past, and I can still hear her after I turn the corner. Is oblivious solipsism a form of psychological defence, I wonder: I’m not aware of my surroundings so they can’t harm me? Perhaps I can explore this in my next session. Then I think of something else my therapist said.

‘I notice you tend to deflect when I ask you about your feelings.’

‘What do you mean?’ I could hear my voice sounded defensive.

‘I mean you take refuge in the impersonal. You generalise. I might even say you obfuscate.’

Increasingly, it occurs to me, therapy is becoming a forum for things I can’t say. I do not see myself as a person with renegade feelings of which I’m unaware or take pains to avoid, and yet this is how she feels the need to portray me.

‘Surely it’s important to understand how you think, isn’t it?’ I have begun an imaginary conversation with her, or an internal dialogue as she would doubtless call it.

‘Therapy is not philosophy,’ her voice says in my head.

‘All schools of thought, by their nature, must have a philosophical basis.’ My inner self is leaning forward dogmatically, jaw extended.

‘You are a dissociated thinker,’ her voice retorts. ‘You think to escape.’

‘That’s preposterous,’ I yell internally. ‘I…’

Suddenly I realise that four schoolgirls are about to pass me. Two giggle and two look fearful. I compose my face and walk on.

Earlier in the year, when an elongated winter was finally turning to spring, I decided it was time to ask some questions of life and my place within it. The idea had grown in appeal for a while. I’d been reading Jung, Jungians, and even some post-Jungians – pioneers of the psyche, people who wrote about the Self as though it was an intriguing continent to be explored. I imagined myself trekking in their wake through the foothills of my soul. Also, if I’m honest, I was rather lonely.

The Therapists’ Register, I soon realised, is a more restrained version of Tinder. Both the seeker and the sought have needs they hope to satisfy. Neither quite knows the best way to go about it.

‘They all have the same-sounding qualifications, and they all either look like a vicar or a dominatrix.’ I was talking to my friend Jo-Anne, the only person I know who willingly admits to being in therapy.

‘Don’t let that put you off,’ she sipped her coffee and looked serious. ‘I worked out after a while that one lot are trying to appear welcoming and the rest are hoping to display gravitas, though when you actually meet them it can be the other way round.’

I like Jo-Anne. She reads widely and describes herself as a seeker. She has seen a good number of therapists, and always seems happy and excited when she’s about to start with someone new. I asked her out last year, but she said she was at the wrong point in her process.

Loud voices swoop towards me and a sudden herd of cyclists hurtle past bellowing companionably under their helmets. They rush on, leaving behind fragments of conversation. It takes a while for my heart to stop thumping.

When it does I wonder if I should mention Jo-Anne to my therapist. Jo-Anne always tells me how she feels. One evening last year she cooked me a meal then invited me to stay over.

‘I’ve got a king-size bed,’ she explained. ‘I’d prefer it if we don’t touch, but it will be nice to be near each other.’

Jo-Anne is a disarming person. She’s truthful in an unusual way. Later on I lay between her newly laundered sheets, a discrete but comfortable space between us, and fell asleep to the gentle sound of her snoring. It was a night of perfect peace.

I think of this as I turn into the road where I live. I ponder Jo-Anne’s stance towards life. Seeking is itself separation. You are not the thing you seek. Seekers, by definition, are apart from the object of their search. Like Jo-Anne I suppose I am, without wishing to be, a seeker.

‘It’s normal for insight to occur between sessions.’ By the time I next meet my therapist I have decided to share this new revelation. I should have realised she’d take full credit.

‘To be honest I don’t think it came from anything that happened here,’ I explain. As I speak I can imagine Jo-Anne saying the same thing in much the same tone of voice. My therapist raises her eyebrows: an unmistakeable prelude to challenge.

‘These sessions are essentially a reflective space. They nurture the habit of reflection. Once this is internalised self-awareness results and the need for therapy lessens or, in many cases, disappears.’ She looks at me and for a moment I think she is going to smile. ‘You could say my job is to make myself redundant.’

‘So your redundancy signals the end of my search?’

The hint-of-smile vanishes and her features retract into their default neutrality.

‘It signals the end of my part in it.’

I know in that moment I am attending my final session. It seems to me that I might as well juggle my own semantics.

‘You just haven’t found the right person yet.’ Jo-Anne has come round and I’m describing how things went.

‘Is there a right person? Have you found the right person?’

‘There have been times when I’ve thought so, but ultimately, no.’ She says this reasonably, as though my question did not have an edge.

‘Then how can you say I will?’

‘I was just trying to be encouraging.’ She pauses. ‘In the end therapy is like everything else, you learn a bit then move on.’

The sudden bleakness in her tone alarms me. It’s something I haven’t heard before. A thought enters my mind from nowhere – if you find a dove in your hands you mustn’t press too hard. We are no less fragile than our vision of the world.

‘Shall I make some food?’ I ask.

I cook, we eat. We say little, which is unusual. It makes me more than normally aware of Jo-Anne’s presence. She is easy to be with, either in silence or conversation. She is a better person than I am, I think.

‘Do you mind if I stay tonight?’ she asks later, as I wash up and she dries.

‘No, of course not.’ I didn’t see this coming. I run through scenarios in my mind.

‘My bed is smaller than yours.’ I feel I should point this out.

‘That’s okay,’ she says.

When we make love I’m very aware of her heart. It emanates gentleness.

‘Do you think the world itself can have a soul?’ We are lying back together afterwards. I say the first thing that comes into my head, an old thought returning on its cycle.

‘Definitely.’

‘And do you think that soul could have its own character?’

‘Why wouldn’t it?’

‘So that’s part of what we’re all struggling with, every day of our lives.’

‘It has to be – we’re not separate, we’re part of it.’

‘We are part of the world’s soul?’

‘And the world is part of ours.’

I feel Jo-Anne shift, and very soon understand she’s asleep. This moment is happening so it was always possible, I think.

Mike Fox’s stories have appeared in journals in Britain, Ireland, America, Australia and Singapore. His stories ‘Breath’ (Fictive Dream), and ‘Blurred Edges’ (Lunate Fiction), gained Pushcart Prize nomination. His story ‘The Homing Instinct’ (Cōnfingō), was included in Best British Short Stories 2018 (Salt). His story, ‘The Violet Eye’, was published by Nightjar Press as a limited edition chapbook. His website: https://www.polyscribe.co.uk. His Twitter: @polyscribe2.

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Thighbones, Clay

Black dog of April, I am your smoke. Green
dog of spring, your greyloose tangled ash.
I am the stars’ shadow, the blanket
of night on the roofs. You are my

midnight. You are the chill of midnight
following me through these days,
ticklish with sweat. Trees like thighbones
or like dust haunt us, spook

our whispered dreams of sorrows
so hot they turn the sand to glass.
You have asked me questions now,
many nights awake, lying. These

questions, almost song, no clatter
so soft with cloud or clay. And we
have laughed together in the mornings.
Your arms welcome me as I lie down to sleep.

Robert van Vliet is a poet, designer, and teacher who lives in Minneapolis. His poems have appeared in Otoliths, The Sixth Chamber Review, Otata, and Haikuniverse.

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