to william carlos williams: take me from my skin, make me a river rock again | K. Persinger

there is a boy in my class who looks like he could
catch a bird out of the brush with his bare hands:
a gentleness i cannot mirror, though i long to;
i picked my patron saint out of spite & i fear that
this is the way of all loving

i have forgotten how to pray: this is not to say
that there is no divinity here between us,
in this; merely that i do not know what to do
with it.
God presses His fingers against my
closed eyelids with so much tenderness
that i wish the fruit had truly killed me
it is too much.

let us pretend for the space of this moment
that my hands, my mouth, could pluck, unprotected,
the fruit of the cactus out from between its thorns
and come way unbloody,

that i could unbind & breathe deeply & the sun
would shine so brightly we would burn with it—
if you closed your eyes and kissed me, how would i
taste different from any other man?

 


Writer’s Commentary 

Drawing from the lines “through metaphor to reconcile / the people and the stones” from “A Sort of Song” by William Carlos Williams, which have always resonated with me, this poem is a meditation on the longing for tender love as a queer nonbinary person, and the struggle to accept it.

 


 

K. Persinger is a Southern Californian poet and an undergraduate student double majoring in Comparative Literature and Anthropology and double minoring in Gender & Sexuality Studies and Archaeology. Their work can be found in The Wall, Neon Anteater Renaissance, New Forum, Rising Phoenix Review, L’Éphémère Review, and Werkloos Mag, as well as on their blog ashandabstraction.tumblr.com.

Three Royal Consorts (a triptych of interconnected drabbles) | Maura Yzmore

Contains reference to incest

“You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.” – Wallis Simpson

I behold, propped on my forearm, his chest rising and falling. He is my husband, this man asleep beside me, and I love him all right. But he’s just a man, not the king he once was.

He liked being commanded, malleable and trembling, liked eating out of my hand. Liked eating me out.

I knew the court would never accept the twice-divorced me. So we had great, scandalous fun, but by the time they demanded I give him up, I’d had enough.

Then he abdicated, surprising everyone. Supposedly, for me.

Only I never asked for his grand gesture’s shackles.

***

Regina Gravida Mori

Since I fell pregnant, Queen Anne has appeared in my dreams.

I wouldn’t begrudge her wishing me ill, yet she gazes upon me with tenderness instead. Little Elizabeth sits at Anne’s feet when Henry appears—my Henry, a boisterous mountain—and embraces them both.

Tonight, Anne is in labor. She gives birth to a boy, although she never had one while she lived. Midwives whisk the child away, then guards take Anne outside. She wears my nightshirt, bloodied.

An axe glistens and Anne’s head rolls into the grass.

I wake up to my insides rupturing, making way for Henry’s heir.

***

Tiger Nut Sweets

I am Iah, the Moon. King’s Daughter. Beloved King’s Mother.

For my brother and husband—the now-dead man who was briefly King—I bore two children, my only true loves, both sweeter than tiger nut sweets.

You are Neferu, the Beauty. King’s Daughter. And mine.

Tomorrow you marry your brother, our new King. At night, when he looks at you with the ember eyes of a stranger, your wedding dress sliding off like the cool waters of Nile, know that the moonlight on your skin is me sending you comfort, praying your daughter never has to become her brother’s wife.

 


Maura Yzmore is a writer and scientist based in the American Midwest. Her literary short fiction can be found in Jellyfish Review, Gone Lawn, Ellipsis Zine, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. Website: maurayzmore.com Twitter: @MauraYzmore.

Sestina for a Hunter | Emily Pollock

Contains references to animal death and bloody imagery

Smeared with your fingers, the blood
clings to the curves of your pretty mouth,
sweetness pulled from the meat of a rabbit
from the richred veins of its beating heart;
you wash your face, hands cupped, in the stream
and form a prayer to the rabbit, a song.

Wind presses through the forest song—
like, a pulse of the world, a blood.
like veins, the life of the forest is the stream
which you greedily cut open and lift to your mouth.
The flesh of the world feeds your own small heart
cut open, hunting and seeking another rabbit.

In another leaf-soaked hollow you find the rabbit
and clutch it by its foot, your knife a song
of tendon and marrow until it reaches the heart.
Your hands cup its fragile body, the blood
running to the uncertain earth which opens like a mouth.
You kneel with its animal body watching the blood, a stream.

Autumn slips through the days you count by the leaves on the stream;
you carve charms from the bones of the rabbit
and let your furwrapped feet carry you to the water’s mouth.
the stream spills from the rocks carving a song
that sounds like your veins full of blood,
rabbit-like. You press your cheek to the beating heart.

Tangled stony tree-roots cup handlike the heart
of the forest. You climb the tree, your feet hanging in the stream
of cold air wrapping around the bark. Lungs that feed your blood
gulp the aching breeze, your gaze of a rabbit
watching the leaves sing the chorus of a song.
The words you don’t quite forget cling to your mouth.

The taste of rabbit blood and stream water cling to your mouth-
The veins that feed your body like the forest feeds your heart.
Rabbits do not sing but their bones play a song,
one that flows from your lips as a stream,
your own cold bones remember those of the rabbit,
your blood its blood, the earth’s blood, the life-blood.

Your mouth tells your throat that it is a stream
of your body, your heart beats like the rabbit’s
and your blood remembers its song.

 


Writer’s Commentary

Sestina for a Hunter was written as my practicing the sestina poem form.

 


Emily Pollock is an undergraduate student of history at Boston College. She gains the majority of her writing inspiration from her studies and her long-term passion for history. As a high school student, she received multiple honors from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She also published with and edited her school’s literary magazine. As a current full-time college student, she dedicates her writing ability to many, many historiography papers and some poems on the side just for fun. She was most recently published in The Laughing Medusa at Boston College. She is sometimes located on Twitter @crowsnestgirl and on Instagram @middlenamekendall.

Song of Francis | Emily Pollock

Here one minute, gone
The next. Brief
candle. A short-matched
life—a garden of steel,
a city of dirt,
and one final bright flame.
Left with only words. Blue ink
fingers. What were you thinking?

Willow-tree heart, soft
over the water. These
are the threads
you leave. One last muddy letter
clasped in a baby’s fist. Somewhere
you are in sunlight and bright
breeze, laughing, where only
the faerie-king lives, and

somewhere you are shining bright
and gold in the gaslight, but I do not
know where—one last
moment in the light, bright, brief, blazing,
then the curtain falls. (Gone.)

 


Writer’s Commentary

Song of Francis is inspired by the life and legacy of the young and little-known First World War poet, Francis Fowler Hogan. Frank, a native of the factory town of Pittsburgh, PA, USA, was only 21 when he was killed in the Argonne Forest in France on October 17, 1918. At the time, he was in his first year as a drama student at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University.) He was also a promising poet, published in the chapbook Carnegie Tech War Verse as well as the magazine The New Republic. My poem is inspired by his poems and by a memorial poem written for him by his friend and fellow soldier Hervey Allen.

 


Emily Pollock is an undergraduate student of history at Boston College. She gains the majority of her writing inspiration from her studies and her long-term passion for history. As a high school student, she received multiple honors from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She also published with and edited her school’s literary magazine. As a current full-time college student, she dedicates her writing ability to many, many historiography papers and some poems on the side just for fun. She was most recently published in The Laughing Medusa at Boston College. She is sometimes located on Twitter @crowsnestgirl and on Instagram @middlenamekendall.

Collateral Damage | Ian C. Smith

Look, there I am when the war, a conflict half a world away that stole my uncles’ lives, was over: a military reserve across the unsealed road from where we lived after emigrating to Australia, one hundred dense acres shielding derelict sheds patrolled by kangaroos, snakes, in the ticking heat of this bluish bush.  I search for my missing pup I shall never see again, almost stepping on a coiled copperhead, smoking, calling his name.  I am thirteen, deeply unhappy.

Years after the regret of my family’s woeful ways in their promised Utopia, after a boyish idea of war’s glamour fed by comics, movies, after first-hand knowledge of army life, I learned of that area’s use during WW2—the housing and treatment of venereally infected soldiers.  Locals believed propaganda about troop movement, training exercises, while the reality was a disease zone, army doctors’ blunt indifference to the plight of shamefully wounded warriors whose beating hearts beat quieter, whose enlisted dreams had plummeted to menial tasks, porridge and penicillin, a caste quarantined.

They huddle sorry-arsed on a railway platform sharing Turf cigarettes, faces above khaki greatcoats, demeanour, old for their years.  Then the train to the end of the line, the myth of medals blessed by sunlight shattered, destination vague, they venture wan jokes yearning for a vanishing point, invent future tales of explanation, watching back yards shunting by, no risk of being blown up now, yet their world askew, heading for the bush opposite where, years later, my little world warped, also askew.

I hope those soldiers left disappointment behind, got on with their lives, caught other trains, slow trains, fast trains, night trains, pursuing post-war happiness.  In the year following my dog’s disappearance I caught the train from that end-of-the-line station to the throbbing city, alone, into the rest of my life.

A eucalyptus breeze stirs those abandoned buildings, disturbs fretted cigarette smoke.  Cardboard flaps forlornly against a shed.  Sunlight reflects from a fingerprinted window as if trapped long ago.  I whistle in vain for my dog, impatiently regret things are never again quite what they once were.

 


Ian C. Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Antipodes, cordite, Poetry New Zealand, Poetry Salzburg Review, Southerly, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

Genesis | Emily Bell

And what am I going to make of myself?
Lay on hands and mould the mouldering earth
Not from a rib but from a tooth
Precious, hard, for biting

 


Dr Emily Bell is a writer and historian, based in Loughborough, UK. She is currently writing a new biography of Charles Dickens for Reaktion Books, and she’s been published in Ink Pantry and elsewhere. She tweets at @EmilyJLB.

Father on the Alligator | James Miller

I am looking at photos of your time in California.
The war has ended. You’re the youngest in the family portrait—
fourteen, fifteen? Bellyful with midcentury cornbread,
oversalted collards on the gut. And another:

on a dare your brother has sent you into the alligator’s
sandy circle. Here you are, saddling its ribbed back,
your feet planted in the dust just behind his flailing foreclaws.
You won’t smile for the camera, nor the crowd of kids

standing round the cast-iron railing. I am going to say
it is August 1946, but who knows? Let’s assume your mother
whipped you off that rough beast and whupped you
on the boardwalk. But who took the picture?

There is humor in your knees, and your knees know it.
When you hopped across the gator’s fence, they twinged
and chucked under-breath. All afternoon they have tried
to get you laughing: What are we doing here

in Steinbeck country, on this tepid coast? Is it not time
to learn a trade? Raise a brood in Arkansas, round Eureka
Springs, frozen Lake Lucerne? But you’re heavy, too heavy
to lift. Sack-skin filled up with damp, quartz-glint sand.

 


James Miller is a native of Houston, Texas.  His poems have appeared in Cold Mountain ReviewThe Maine ReviewLullwater ReviewLunch Ticket, Gravel, Main Street RagVerdadJukedThe Shore, Menacing HedgeCalifragileMeat for Tea,  PlainsongsThe Atlanta ReviewSheila-Na-GigRogue Agent, and elsewhere.

Orange Rocks | Joey Nicoletti

I’m not a superhero, but can I be
in charge, the master of my own narrative?

When I was a child, there was a day
when my mother was an enormous bruise, swelling

on a thigh of mid-July sky. She
told me she was leaving my father. We were

in a bookstore. “I won’t suffer fools
in any form,” she said to me. Swear to god

that you won’t, too, Joefish.” I agreed.
My mother nodded her head, then handed me

a comic: Marvel Two in One. The
Thing: Ben Grimm and Doc Savage punched through a wall

on the smooth cover. I remember
wanting to feel as powerful, as resolved

as they were, as my mother was
that afternoon. Alas. I could not control

the dynamics around me. I still
can’t. But looking back, I can track my first sense

of concern; of worrying about
someone else’s well-being to this book, and

I hear the orange rocks of my mother’s
voice when I read Ben’s dialogue, the mid-day

sun’s yellow stammer, spitting
into parking lot potholes.

 


Joey Nicoletti is the author of four poetry books, most recently Boombox Serenade (BlazeVOX, 2019). His Pushcart Prize-nominated work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books, and Poet Sounds: An Anthology Inspired by The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. He’s on Twitter @JoeyNicoletti and Instagram @joeynicoletti.

Some Memories from My Time at Uni | Thomas Morgan

I remember sitting in a
classroom
all by myself watching
Catfish
on the big screen.

I remember going to the library café
after my seminars
and shooting the shit with my
friend Ross.

I remember getting a
chicken parm from The
Deli
and taking it over to
Jubilee.

I remember having brunch with
the guys and the girls and then
walking along
the beach, throwing stones into
the sea.

All of this, I remember fondly.

But I’ll never be able to get it back.

There is nothing crueller than the
passage
of time.

 


Thomas Morgan is a writer from Worthing in West Sussex. His short story Promises was published in the 2019 Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology, and his story Encounter was published online on Visual Verse.

Way Station | Douglas Cole

When I came down into the eastern valley, I drove for a long time completely alone on the road. Everything was far away. Then I came upon a little roadside station. It appeared out of nowhere like something from the past, run-down with faded advertising painted on the slat walls. I could make out the word Durham and what looked like a bull’s head. I pulled over and stopped. An old guy came out wearing overall grease pants and a baseball cap with an emblem worn away to obscurity. He stood there in the shade under the front door awning, squinting at me and wiping his hands with a black rag.

“What can I do you for?” he asked as I got out of my car.

“Hey, good morning. I’m just picking up a few supplies,” I said, walking towards him. Why did I feel like an intruder? He certainly wasn’t giving me a welcoming vibe. He nodded once, looked me up and down and then took a long hard look at my car. I had the feeling no one ever stopped here.

“Had many customers today?” I asked.

“Nope.”

I glanced back at the road and thought that I may have made a mistake stopping there. If asked, he would certainly remember me. It was like he was studying me.

“You got a bathroom?” I asked.

“Round back.” He pointed with his eyes.

I went around the side of the station and found a sloping hillside junkyard surrounded by a wood fence covered with hubcaps. The lot was filled with old car carcasses rusting in rows. They had shattered bloody windshields and smashed up fenders and side panels. Some were stacked on top of each other. And along the back slope was a clustered tower of oil drums and vehicle parts in barrels and wheels and engine blocks sitting on sawhorses. It was a glorious graveyard of the road.

The bathroom was an outhouse there by the corner of the station, and when I went inside it smelled like the foul depths of perdition. I breathed short, quick breaths through my teeth, taking in as little air as possible inside there. When I came out, I noticed a bumper lying tilted against a smashed car, and on that bumper a license plate dangled by one rusty bolt. I looked around, didn’t see the old man, and kicked the license plate off. It was bent, and I stomped it flat and slipped it under my shirt behind my back.

I went up to the shop and pushed through the bell-ring of the door into an ancient mercantile store with stuffed fox and beaver pelts up on the wall and a big jar with amber liquid and a rattle snake floating in it. I half expected to see some old prospector emerge from the pulpy fabric of the hot air. I wandered down the rows of shelves looking at faded magazines and canned foods and dried foods and racks of sunglasses, thinking, what do I need? I grabbed a few snacks from the food aisle, some peanuts and beef jerky and beer, and I put them on the counter. The old guy stood there working that dirty rag around his grease-black fingers, squinting at me like he knew something.

“How much I owe you?” I asked.

“Lemme see here,” he said, and he rang it up. Then he looked at me with an odd expression and kind of worked his mouth like he was chewing on something and said, “What you done?”

“What’s that?”

“I said what you done, ya takin my license plate like that? You’re up to something.”

“Nothing,” I said. “I just wanted it for a souvenir.”

“Ain’t worth nothin.”

“Then it’s no loss.”

“Take it. I don’t care. Just seems like a strange thing to want for no reason.”

“You ever do anything for no reason?”

He smiled a bit, but he didn’t give me the impression he was on my side. He was figurin.’ Then he said, “S’pose so.”

“I’ll pay you for it.”

“Don’t want your money. Like I said. It ain’t worth nothin’ to me.”

“Well, then, thanks I suppose.”

“Don’t thank me. It’s between you and God.” I looked at him for a moment with an urge to explain, but what was I going to tell him? He was reading it just right. Then I wanted to ask him exactly which God he was talking about, but he turned away and went back into the shadows, which was a kind of answer, so I took my things and left.

 


Douglas Cole has published six collections of poetry and a novella. His work has appeared in several anthologies as well as The Chicago Quarterly Review, The Galway Review, Bitter Oleander, Louisiana Literature and Slipstream. He has been nominated twice for a Pushcart and Best of the Net and received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry. He lives and teaches in Seattle. His website is douglastcole.com.