Amy Bassin & Mark Blickley
Sharon Lask Munson
Divine Inyang Titus
Robert Alexander Wray
with contest winners
Click on the cover image to see a flipbook layout of the issue or scroll to see individual works.
Just two weeks ago, you saw
your Mother on the end
of your bed: It is a sign,
you whispered and, now,
You are gone.
We find out in the morning
paper, a headline which read,
“Dead Jogger Found.”
II. The Past
Let us start with the end
—your heart attack at dawn,
a trail in the park your damp canvas—
and row back to an ignoble Tennessee birth.
Then, linger where the bulb swings shadows
against exposed rafters at the orphanage,
your narrative’s attic, another cold beginning.
Abandoned and up for adoption.
This oldest memory like the horizon:
The picture never changes. (How
does one not focus on what is missing?)
Mother is in the earth
like a wild onion succumbed
to a ruthless frost, which leaves
the widower more inconvenienced
than bereaved and so he buries
himself in work until he replaces her.
--Were your father’s last words
dramatic, engine idling in apology
to the Sister in charge whose black
habit swept sensible shoes?
He saw himself as the victim,
deserted by a frail spouse
who was thoughtless enough
not to take the children with her.
III. Your Future
Reinvented, the patriarch
—your grinning father—
returns; his new wife,
a gloved handshake. Then,
reunited, winters pass.
Traveling quicker, now,
to a future where you stand
(and eventually fall)
next to your own sons,
a successful businessman
and father: Why, then,
did your spirit never escape
that children’s home?
No matter how big
the subsequent houses,
you slept hearing the wind,
your history slithering up
through the floorboards,
memories like that stark light-
bulb which hung your childhood.
Abandonment, a tireless pendulum
marking time, so achievement fails
to bring rest. Nothing is enough
to regain peace for such souls.
Amy Bassin & Mark Blickley
where was I when AEW announced the return of Juventud Guerrera?
I was at home sitting in a small chair, floating this idea
of ammos I saw on the other channel turning into red
and white and green neon fixtures crucifying the evening sky.
Lots of description you know. Lots of medulla function too.
Ammos on TV are like butterflies, or wrestlers performing
a magnificent 450 splash to remind us of our pandemic plight.
Juventud Guerrera: would this be the perfect time for a legend
to return to in-ring action? What about wearing a mask?
Lucha or clinical? Air Juvi’s a-gonna fly like it’s 1998.
I was at home polishing a lonely 7-inch record, a life
so lonely that when you thought of singles a Rotoscope
dream parade stages, spinning and spinning you a treat.
A tradition. A chaos of flight. A subterranean fiesta.
The color of the ropes is the color of the night.
I was thinking that old wrestlers either were bodhisattvas
leading the herd or the Woody Allen of the squared circle.
¡Pero no los luchadores, por el amor de Dios!
The night swished through time and space, across
the patio with its freedom-flavored call for The Juice.
I was at home when I heard AEW breaking the news
to Juvi’s long-time foe, Chris Jericho. Social media
has tens of thousands of cheers to rekindle the rivalry.
I was in the kitchen asking my mom for some juice.
There was no juice, only the memory of Juventud
“Juvi” Guerrera in my glass of milk. Kiddos might ask:
who the hell is Juvi? This I dove into the night’s sweat.
Storied Life / Namesake
This is a photograph
that has conjured up
myriad of memories
to reflect on in a day
it is a story
so, leave your shoes
at its doorway
Love is but a trick
of the light
I let lie
Every spring night
The dreams star more pale ghosts
Some are hotel beds I enter
And spend forgotten nights
I mourn a different city
The easy nights I’d spent
In placid arms
The memories need no Lanterns
to find me
Doing Just Fine
You there, walking along the midway
come into my tent, for only a dollar
I will show you wonders
beyond your meager comprehension
but this offer is only good
for the next fifteen minutes
for that is when I start my show,
It’s not something you want to miss.
I know you’ve seen quarters pulled
from ears, doves fly off
from and oversized top hat
that moments before was empty
but you have never seen
the likes of what I will show you.
Here is my father, watch him
closely cast his seed, closely
and like that he is gone.
Not good enough you say
then watch again, even
more closely this time, see her
lie on my table, her gown
draped over her, see me reach
and pluck a small baby
better than a pigeon isn’t it,
but you blinked, where has she gone.
Only tepid applause, so I guess
you want one more, and I
am never one to disappoint.
See him standing there
it almost looked like
he is standing before a mirror shaving
and now he, too, is gone
before your very eyes.
If you still aren’t satisfied
if you haven’t gotten
your monies worth then please,
please step forward, for I can work
with others than my parents,
truly I can, so where are you going.
Step into my tent ladies and gentlemen
the next show starts
in only fifteen minutes,
all for a single dollar.
The wall is black granite,
highly polished be an unseen hand
and the fingers of countless thousands
present but each unseen by the others.
At first glance you want to count
the names, but you lack fingers
enough for the task and others
are quickly withdrawn as are their eyes.
You know where the names are,
Willy, who they now call William,
Little Joey, who was so large in your
memory, climbing into the cockpit.
You wonder if things had been different,
if you hadn't enlisted, chosen
the Air Force, if the Draft Board
anointed you cannon fodder, who
would trace their fingers along
the cold unfeeling stone that has
been washed by untold tears bidding
you farewell or thanks, rarely both.
We have grown so good at wars
we no longer need etched walls,
bronze statues, for before a design
is complete the next must be begun.
When I prise off my mask, my face comes away, revealing cogs and coloured lamps, paths that weave across blasted hillsides, and metal feathers that sing when the wind rakes their barbs. Sense perceptions flip like pinball, with hollow bells and the punch of thumping electrics, clacking plastic tongues and racking up the zeros. It’s time to rewire the circuits and rewild the circus, freeing sparking tigers to rewrite the rules of engagement and estrangement. Very few gains are dependent on pain, and what doesn’t kill us is, for the most part, neutral; and it’s time to oil the wheels and replace the spent bulbs, step up to the cliff edge and relocate the flight reflex. It’s time to recalibrate the mistakes that made me who I am and to choose a new face from the last remaining high street store. As I rake the sand in the circus ring, the ringing in my ears could be a phone or a fire warning. The rings in my ears were a childhood prize for the most convincing mask. Father, although I carry darkness in my eyes and both my hands, in the petrified forest of the night, I have scintillated like Blake’s smiling Tyger.
I overwrite, usually,
so I’ll try and keep this simple. Brief.
I need to clean my fishbowl.
like the muddied
color of water in the bowl.
I can’t see my fish anymore.
I hope he’s still in there,
or did he quietly leave out the side door,
like how you used to leave me,
so many times before.
When Mental Health Checks Did Not Exist
I should probably write about you.
The voice in my head,
that’s had residency
in my brain
for ten plus years.
You don’t pay rent, you live there for free,
and I let you.
a parasite- a leech-
but you’re also apart of me.
I neglect you,
I should be better to you,
that’s what you say.
those incoherent thoughts,
please just fucking go away!
Maybe I should be more honest and talk about you more.
Maybe it will make me feel better?
or one of us feel better?
But you’re tiring,
But like beautiful chronic pain, I’ve learned to live with you,
learned to mute you,
and listen to you,
I don’t like to write about you though. Because you’re always there. Somewhere.
A topic that has become boring, like an article of clothing
over-worn to the point it becomes a standard
I tried in a poetry workshop once. You were insinuated.
The workshop caught the drift,
they knew, and
picked up on the clues.
But my teacher critiqued and said “it could be a lie,”
and that I should be more honest, and clarify
what “it” is.
what “you” are.
here it is…
Year of the Wonderboy
Anthony Kiedis said it best mentioning that his brain had bled. I’m not far off from that. Every moment meant something tragic could be happening in those three pounds inside my skull. There is no escaping it, unless you had a lobotomy. But hope is here. Blocking it out is key, but even more precious is the comfort I receive from others. Good company trumps bad thoughts. Disrupt and distract are two words I hold dear to me. Replace those evil notions with something positive whether it be watching the best duke it out on the gridiron or actually coaching others to duke it out on your version of the gridiron.
It used to be a matter of self-preservation or self-destruction. Luckily, my dice always rolled to the former. So, here I am, trying hard to remember the steps I took back in ‘96. This happens often and when asked about my experience, I just tell everyone, “It was a quite a ride.” I hide it, but not because I’m ashamed to mention it, but because it would take a few joyful hours to disclose every single detail. It was so genuine and novel, every single bit of it. Aside from the experience, I think of what I gained and what I lost. It’s a healthy balance of both.
The friends I made and could have made in a potential future that eludes me to this day continues to haunt me. Damn, the freshmen! One moment of bliss hanging with the most beautiful people on campus to another moment where I couldn’t even sit still in front of a 13x13 inch viewing of a Michael Crichton adaption. THOSE were my bookends and every time I look back, I realize that as every day goes by, the farther away those beautiful people are from my desperate grasp. How did I get here? From writing my nickname (Wonderboy) on the walls of a freshman dorm basement to watching myself being pulled away with flashing lights. Was it fate? Is there a master plan? Instead of a crisp, cold can of Natty Ice, it’s a handful of multi-colored ovals in the palm of my hand that fit much nicer than that chilled cylinder of liquid refreshment.
Kiedis (once again) said that music and love could save us and did. Well, maybe not love, but a heavy dose of his latest album. Hearing that melody and reciting those lyrics brought me comfort and a punch to the gut of this wretched disease. He and his music had saved me and I will never forget that as long as the time that I spend on this green earth.
So, to close, think of those people. Think of those words. Think of that music. And most of all, think of that one perfect moment that will ring true in your mind which will take you to the place where it all makes perfect sense and you will think one more thought, “Oh, that was why!”
Hidden Behind Masks
alter-egos : bank robbers : candy seekers : deep desires : executioners : frustration with loved ones : guilty consciences : Hannibal Lecter : ironworkers : jealousy : Kabuki warriors : love and love forbidden : martyrdom : nudity : original sin :peccadilloes : quirks : raccoons : scuba divers: tragedy & comedy: unvaccinated visitors : vaccinated visitors : wrestling luchadores : x-ray technicians : yesterday’s worst moments : Zorro.
Mirror's Desire /
Arachne the Grandma
An aging mirror
bore faces of many, but
it wanted its own.
Arachne the Grandma
Leathery hands weave
our last smiles and tears as
life’s spool meets death’s thread.
I’ve voiced it by so many pyres -
know ash will fertilise the ground -
death not for storage, mantel pot,
the issue shelved, if passed retrieved.
But comma, not full English stop,
or period as cousins have.
And over space, with bridge of grace,
the spirits live, not wraiths in wights,
nor manes, as stuff from spectre mares,
like horses of apocalypse,
but what remains when flesh is gone.
It’s what was learned through discipline,
that classic pool, genetic code,
twin helix spiral held in cells,
as eremite, or pilgrim’s trail.
In that sense dead are never lost,
deceased, but wear another face,
the offspring of their future race
encapsulated in the seed.
Manes to Masques
You know that mane draped old mare’s neck,
a Charleston shawl with tassel strings,
long earrings like her swinging fringe,
the twenties style on eighty years.
The young embarrassed by her style,
Quixotic, in her dreamy way,
poor sighted, eccentricity,
exotic dancer prancing free,
recalling balls, masques of the past.
Would she be harem sherbet girl,
for navel bauble belly dance,
or Cleopatra in a trance -
more spirit of the dead on floor?
Those ancient rites she celebrates
and fools herself as mask has slipped?
I Met the Lone Ranger
Chicago. November. 1969. Sunday afternoon. Currently: cold and bleak, with the promise of ‘nothing’ in the forecast. Ever optimistic, my buddy and I, found ourselves wandering around Grant Park, smoking a joint and waiting for our luck to change. This was the very same Grant Park, where Chicago’s Finest, beat, bashed, and bloodied the anti-war protestors, during the summer of the ‘68 Democratic convention. The brutality was televised, directly in front of the posh Hilton Hotel. Outside the hotel: Tear gas and the sounds of sirens, screams, and cracking skulls. Inside the hotel: A piano bar, cigar smoke wafting, and the sound of ice cubes clinking against a glass. The whole world was watching.
With the wind whipping off the lake, I turned up my collar, as the promise of ‘nothing’ had suddenly turned into pelting rain. My buddy and I decided to duck into the Hilton to avoid the elements. I think that’s what we did in the 60’s….Avoid the elements.
We stumbled upon a huge ballroom buzzing with people with a purpose. Unbeknownst to us, we had just discovered what is known as a ‘franchise show’. Dare to dream. Own a piece of America…Buy a franchise; McDonald’s, KFC, Holiday Inn, Midas Muffler, you name it. Just sign on the dotted line. Businesses in the business of trying to do business with people who know nothing about business. For a longhaired, bead wearing, tie-dyed, non-conformist, this was counterculture comedy gold. Let the cynicism begin.
But in a moment everything changed. Off in the distance, “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!” If you listened closely enough you could hear The William Tell overture trumpeting in my head.
There he was! The Lone Ranger, Himself…in all his splendor… signing 8x10 glossies, and pitching The Lone Ranger Family Restaurants. I was transfixed.
As a kid growing up in the 50’s, television was brand new. Every week, we’d wait for The Lone Ranger to gallop into our living rooms. He made Saturdays, ‘Saturday’. We grew up with him. You could count on him. He’d be there. My mission was clear. I had to meet him. My buddy, still cynical, wondered what all the excitement was about. “What are you going to do? Get his autograph?”
I stood in line waiting. Waiting to meet The Lone Ranger. Was I excited? Like a four year old kid, wondering ‘how did he get out of the TV?’. My buddy on the other hand, straddled the line somewhere between annoyed and embarrassed. “Come on…Let’s get out of here.” I wasn’t going anywhere. I had a date with destiny. There were only two people ahead of me waiting for his autograph. A rush of adrenalin. And then…That deep sonorous voice called out unto me…”Son, come ‘ere. I want to talk to you.” Me? The Lone Ranger wanted to talk to me? I was pulled out of line and found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with the Lone Ranger. While he continued to sign autographs and seemingly, without looking up, he asks me, “Why the long hair?” I said to him, “Why the mask?” Momentarily stunned, he thinks and then says, “It’s part of my image.” “Likewise…Mine too.”. Now, it’s on. The Lone Ranger counters with, “Well if you are going to have long hair, you might as well be wearing frilly shirts, don’t you think?”…Implying anyone with long hair must be gay. “Don’t talk to me about being gay, I said…Look at you.”.
A quick note here. The most striking thing about seeing The Lone Ranger in person was, it was the first time I saw him in living color. Prior to that, I only saw him on TV…when the world was still seen in black and white. Naturally I had assumed his outfit was either white or beige. But in fact there he stood, dressed in a powder blue outfit…that’s right, powder blue, with a red bandana, and a white hat. Red, white, and blue. Get it?
The autograph seeking line had now transformed into a throng of spectators, watching me go one on one with the Lone Ranger. Make no mistake, I had no intentions of sparring with The Lone Ranger. I loved the Lone Ranger. He was my childhood hero. No, from my experience, you’d be a fool to mess with him. He always got his man. (So to speak) The only reason I was there in the first place was to get out of the rain. But, remember, he not only questioned my masculinity but the masculinity of hippies everywhere. Let’s face it…this is one of those moments you don’t want to miss. So I said, “Don’t talk to me about being gay. Look at you…wearing those skintight powder blue pants. You have to admit, that’s a bit effeminate.” He thought for a moment and then shot back, “Yeah? Well, wrestlers wear skin tight pants.” Really? Wrestlers? This was his defense? He was actually making my point. I think he lost sight of the fact that two, half naked men, wearing tights, sweating and rubbing up against each other is a touch homoerotic. But I went on…”And what about the fact you always saved more men than women? Huh? What’s up with that?” The crowd was suddenly in my corner. He was losing ground.
Our banter continued for a bit, but mostly The Lone Ranger just wanted to know what was happening to our country, to our kids, and to our culture. He didn’t understand. And suddenly, I had been thrust into the position of designated spokesperson for an entire generation. "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some of us have to explain the world to the Lone Ranger " Sure, the pressure was on, but duty called. I shared the irony, that he himself was one of the founding fathers of the baby boomers. He had a major impact on our generation. TELEVISION had just arrived. For us, the whole world was watching HIM; our first televised American Hero. We grew up with him. Watching him save people, watching him deliver justice, watching him take charge. Singlehandedly, all problems could be resolved within thirty minutes, including commercial breaks…And then he’d just ride off into the sunset in search of his next adventure. If you were a kid, growing up in the 50’s, all you’d needed to do was put on a mask, and you too, could take on the world.
He had no idea what I was talking about. Hey, I barely knew what I was talking about. But what he did respond to was, being a mythic hero…An American icon. He confesses to me, “I wish I could have been that person, living in the old west.” And he meant it. But this wasn’t just some fantasy of his, this was a full blown identity crisis. And here’s the ‘tell’. He’s standing there, resplendent, in his Lone Ranger regalia, hat to boots, and on his finger is a huge diamond studded ring with his initials on it. But the initials are not L R. for the Lone Ranger, but rather C M…standing for Clayton Moore…the name of the actor…the man himself. The actor and the myth had become one. He didn’t just admire the character he played, he spent the rest of his life trying to become the character. For the next 30 years he was rarely seen in public without wearing the mask.
Now, instead of riding the open range saving people in distress, this American hero was here at the Hilton Hotel, on a cold, rainy, November Sunday afternoon in Chicago, pitching his fast food hamburger chain. He needed to get back to work… but had one more question for me. “Can I ask you something?” “Sure”, I said, “shoot”. The pun was lost on him; probably, just as well. Still trying to make sense of the world around him, He turns to me and asks, “Tell me, son, do you take drugs?” Without hesitation, I say, “Yes.” He thinks for a minute and then says, “Well, you’re still a good boy.” “Why am I good boy?” “Why? …Because you came to the franchise show.” And then, with the speed of light and a cloud of dust, the Lone Ranger was off …signing those 8x10 glossies.
My buddy and I savored the moment. Then, as we walked away, my buddy turns to me and says, “Who was that masked man? He never gave us the chance to say ‘thank you’.”
In the end, all the Lone Ranger or Clayton Moore, or whoever he was, wanted to do was ‘make a difference’. I know he’s made a difference in my life; a profound, life altering difference. But not the one that either of us had hoped for or imagined.
Hi-Yo Silver… away. Far, far, far away.
If You're Being Me, Then Who's Being You?
If you’re being me, then who’s being you?
Who is there doing, all the things you can do?
Who is there to smile, with light sparkling in your eyes,
Wind blowing through your hair, your face turning to the sky?
Who would there be, to twirl as you do,
Spinning around, in your dancing shoes?
Who could ever shatter sadness, with your melodic laughter?
No one I’m sure, could cheer me up faster.
If you’re being me, then who’s being you?
Who would take joy in the small, details of every view?
Who would point out to me, the wrinkles of the man in the moon,
The carefree dance, of a bunch of bobbing balloons?
Who would there be to notice, the rays of sunshine through the clouds,
The crickets and birds singing, the peaceful summer evening sounds?
If you’re being me, then who’s being you?
Life is more interesting, when to each their own it’s true.
Follow in my footsteps, but blaze a trail all of your own,
I’ll still always be there beside you, a place to call your home.
For there is only so much I can teach you, of which to show you the way,
With energy and adventure grasp each moment, of every coming day.
There is no other on the Earth, or in existence of all time,
That carries your very own imagination, the thoughts and adventures of your mind.
Only you can pursue your owns dreams, from the fibres of your soul are spun,
Through your actions learning who you are, shaping who you become.
If all your life you mimic the ways of another, then in a shadow you shall always be,
The true person that you are, no one shall be able to see.
It is good to share lessons and ways, with those you love so dear,
But promise me you’ll never lose sight of your person, keeping your spark ever so clear.
Hold closely your loved ones, but to yourself always stay so very true,
If you’re being me, then who’s being you?
my birthday was Sunday.
I wanted so I’d ordered—
a new jacket, nothing else.
I didn’t want another thing
not really. I didn’t want a
heavy coat, either,
lined like the trench
you preferred a long shoulder, a high collar.
I’d do fine with a lighter
sleeve, a tender mercy of cloth,
a thick enough thread
against the little rain that lies
in wait for the small walks
I say I’ll take at least
to where the foothills start
I told the UPS man
My asthma keeps me pebble-level.
No mountains for me
I told him.
I say he listened
but I have also told a lie already.
a day at the zoo too. I wanted a new jacket
and a day at the zoo. So,
I went to the zoo
in my new jacket, Sylvia.
If you could’ve seen me!
I walked to the car
against a coming sweat—
I walked up to purchase a day pass
slick as water
in a dusty gray, deep-threaded pattern.
I felt attractive in that
what you said
about me in that color.
(It’s not a color,
you said, You know what looks good
in that color? Nothing, you said,
which means, I suppose,
I’m nothing to look at— I know
that’s not what you meant).
to the bathroom
with the good mirror
to take a picture of myself
on the iPhone.
I wasn’t alone
in the bathroom.
A fish was there
in the mirror, in the bathroom
mirror. It was
your fish, Sylvia:
Same side-silver streak, same
wide, stupid mouth, open, same
fat, stilled by bloat. Same dead
left eye, right eye missing.
(You named him
Gilbert—you said to keep that
to myself, I know). I snapped
a picture of him too
on the iPhone. (I made the same face
as he did, standing there
brushed my teeth, too hard as usual,
spittle on my nose—on the faucet—
this is how I tell the truth—
asked him how he’d been).
I snapped the picture.
I went to the zoo
in my birthday jacket.
I stood in line for a ticket
on the train that circles
(It was a short line
that same horrible no-respecter-of-persons minute
as is every minute when
for what you think you want,
and then the train came
and I had doubts)
There is a young girl put
beside me, her mother the row in front—
the sun, even in December, Sylvia, was hot.
I didn’t even need a jacket—
The rain had even stopped.
This young girl. Her arms, her box
of a head, baked apples.
She didn’t speak to me. Children shouldn’t speak.
Her mother spoke to me. Mothers shouldn’t speak either.
We sat there, a zoo-family, among the
thousand-felt-like other children and mothers
who had guts of noise and
who, dirty fingers all, pointed as
round and round and round we go!,
yelling out animal names, as
beside each exhibit: Alligators!!, Flamingoes!, Monkeys!!,
Just the one, Sylvia,
in a stated cage beneath
the wooden bridge—the train idled—
for people to get off,
for people picturing,
to give them room to air their mock-surprise
of finding just the one
His wife died last month, the conductor hollered
through the grinning static of his microphone.
Her name was Loo-Loo, the conductor hollered,
his fingers pinching the cord,
my zoo-wife pretended at a tear,
squeezed our zoo-daughter — who was cooked
from the sun, remember? — she cried
at being squeezed after
being cooked by the sun.
And now he can’t roar…ever since the conductor hollered.
All the zoo-families ogling, rubbering their necks with
more genuine surprise of a lion
that stopped roaring.
Laid out, as he was,
on the top of a concrete slab, jaws open,
The very idea of a lion who couldn’t roar, the conductor hollered,
Some child yelled, “Look, he’s about to roar!”
But he wasn’t. He was yawning.
He does that a lot, the conductor hollered.
Maybe that’s why
he won’t roar
Maybe his jaws have grown
a permanent yawn.
Same child yelled, “What if
it’s a new kind of roar we can’t hear!?
The conductor hollered,
Well, he’d catch you for sure then!
Call it a fool’s instinct; since I found myself
at the rail of the bridge,
but I showed him the photo
don’t worry, I didn’t tell him Gilbert’s name—
he wasn’t even
interested, he looked away from me.
So I yelled—you know I never yell—
“Oh, what?!, you too good
to look at a picture
of a dead fish,
you dumb lion!”
The conductor winked
at a nearby family, “All aboard!”
to place the iPhone back into
a new gray jacket pocket of its own
when I realized it was the photo of myself
not the fish
which made the rain
we found— so quick! —ourselves
— plop plop! — somehow
more urgent, all front-page, if risible and
if I’m being honest,
as you used to be,
the more necessary
you decided to become.
I got back on the train.
I wanted to
sit very still. I was upset—
wet when I shouldn’t be—
I didn’t even look up to see
the elephants, which you know
is my favorite animal.
I kept my hands in my pockets,
that’s a thing I like to do now,
kept my elbows at my side. I opened
and closed my mouth several times
to take hold of my best breath.
I held a few in,
pretended I was a fishing pole,
or a casserole dish, or a night light,
something quiet so I wouldn’t bite
the ears off everyone on that train
pretended even there were no such things
as elephants or new jackets or zoos
or baked apples or daughters or trains
or fish or Sundays
or widowed lions.
There’s just the one, Sylvia.
There’s just the one
The Magic Hour
"World without end/ remember me.”
The stones you leave on loved ones’ graves
Are always smooth and round
Like the ones you’d skip on the water
Are you supposed to leave stones there? Or did I just ascribe meaning to habit?
I’m always doing that,
Always feeling for just the perfect flat skipper no matter how far I am from any seas or lakes, how far into the desert I’ve gotten
Old photo albums, used to be how you remembered things
You used to flip through the arranged pages, stare at the frames of all the days someone chose to rescue
The raindrops caught brightly on your long hair years ago, now cropped short like a military man
If I still did things the way they used to, that’s what I’d choose to keep
No old photographs for us though, we’re too young for that anachronism
But we’re getting there,
What will it be like?
When we’re the junked cars in the fields, windows smashed by neighborhood kids armed with bricks and bats
When we’re the small animals, peering out from such dark spaces at the very edge of Autumn’s sightline
When we’re frost on the prairie grass in the storm-lit summer of your memory, pale and golden
Sharon Lask Munson
Smiles Behind Your Mask /
Little White Lies
Smiles Behind Your Mask
Laughs are infectious,
smiling a natural response.
Smile as the family
gathers on Zoom
for your father’s 95th birthday.
Smiling is good for your heart.
Your eyes will show pleasure,
private amusement, or simple happiness.
Smile behind your mask.
A smile elevates your mood,
lowers blood pressure.
Smiling feels good.
Smile on your daily walks.
Wave to neighbors!
They’ll wave back.
Smile at the line of cars
honking up and down the boulevard.
Someone is graduating or having a birthday.
Wave, even if you don’t know that person.
Smiling makes you look younger.
Keep that secret behind your mask.
Little White Lies
The dress looks lovely on you,
beige is definitely your color.
Regretfully, I never got your message.
My cell phone went out with the trash.
Wish I could have made the conference.
No, you weren’t too surly
at Beverly’s party Friday night.
Everyone was glad to see you.
Hardly anyone gossiped about your divorce.
Of course it wasn’t your fault.
I didn’t mind your little rant.
You have a right to your opinion.
Really, you weren’t that drunk at the party.
Just having a good time.
No, I didn’t see anyone take photos
when you landed in the punch bowl.
Yes, we should get together more often.
Next Thursday won’t work,
or the Thursday after,
but I’ll give you a buzz when I’m free.
It will be good to see you again.
Of course, I mean it.
You stumble forwards with your crutches
as if you might walk before you crawl
Your father turning into a rare shade
of yellow and black
No amount of stage presence
can prepare the organism for disease
as it wipes the slate clean, killing all
you wish to preserve
You look for solution, but the riddle
of history forces its hand, as you play devil
and advocate for historical inevitability
The forgone conclusion
by fatigue, fever, weight loss,
He who eschews the doll’s house
for Thoreau’s cabin
pays the highest price in the lottery of pain
because the whole is forever multiplying
as it kills
like paranoia in a police spy
Now the unsecured pledge
dreamer and desire,
as father and daughter retire
to the seaside
in the hope of resurrection,
and therapeutic certainty
You ask if perpetual dread is the result
of boundless knowledge
Your father is doubled over
hunched back, gathering dust and facts
like a thesis
as he coughs up tar and blood –
insists on another cut-rate, Cuban cigar
He who would ration need in a bid
to rationalise, demonise
and demonetise –
might well, fall foul himself,
the ear of corn
Could’ve been the port and tobacco
Could’ve been the pills
Could’ve been the poverty,
the love, plain old hope
Could’ve been the dreaming
that had to end
Peluda: Hairy One. A mythical beast that terrorized the environs of the River Huisne, France, in the Middle Ages. The Shaggy Beast in English. The monster had a serpent-head and body covered in green fur. In folklore, it was excluded from Noah’s Ark, but survived the deluge. In modern Spanish peluda is a derogatory term for a hairy woman.
In Latin-American culture the quality that we as little girls are taught is of greatest significance and virtue is our beauty. We need to presumir, look good, and not like mamarachas, unkempt women. While boys are taught to be macho, we are taught to “fix” or “hide” or “disguise” anything that obfuscates our beauty. I wish we were taught acceptance and to not myopically focus on physical charms. Beauty is like a bird in your hands. It pecks furiously, cutting your palm, biting on the exposed muscles, wearing you down, until finally you limply open your palms and watch the bird flutter above and away. And you are simply left with the memory and the scars from when you once held the pajarito, your beauty.
I thought of the school days where I covered my forearms because they were coated in coarse, black hair that zipped across the sides like field grass. It was (and is) so swarthy it made my arm look a shade darker or like I was wearing a sleeve. Then there was facial hair. The dark twisted spires that formed along the lengths of my sideburns. My abuela called them “spider legs” and would grab at my cheek to pluck them out. We would sit on the sofa, watching some telenovela when suddenly I'd feel the attack--her sharp and precise sewing fingers tugging at my cheek as if attempting to free Excalibur.
“Beauty is pain,” Abuela said.
She held up the strand, examining it in the air, marveling at the black curl in her palm against her ivory skin. I think she was surprised at how hairy a young girl could be, especially one from her family.
Abuela made it known that she was of “pure Galician genetics,” and would flaunt her hazel eyes and blonde hair (before it wilted to white), as if to say I was not of a superior stock, and this hirsute little problem of mine was brought about by the unfortunate darker members of my gene pool. You get that from that father of yours, she’d say in the summers when my skin turned a dark tawny.
Despite my grandmother's protests, I didn't mind these little cheek hairs because I could hide them under my hair. They also tickled my hand when I washed my face, my little whiskers I called them affectionately, unaware that I needed sheering.
At twenty-seven years old, when I was already a working public relations professional, I stared at my knuckle hair, combed down like a flattened stalk of wheat. There was a candle on my desk, a small lavender scented one with a high wick. I put my hand over the fire, and I slowly rotated my skin over the flame. I was trying to singe the imperfection off. I dipped my knuckles into the fire one by one until all the hair was seared and all that was left was a mild sulfurous odor and turgid burnt skin. I bit my lip and looked over the cubicle walls. Slowly and with measured resistance I held flesh to flame. I didn’t care how much it burned or how much I wanted to pull away. I held the skin down as if I were drowning someone. I kept going. I bit harder into my lip, my skin burning, pink and tender. I pressed it, watching as the fire climbed the hair and crumbled it quickly.
When I was done, my hand convulsed, and I was surprised by how much I could tolerate. And shocked by what I could inflict on myself.
Pubic hair—yet my autocorrect insists on public hair, as if it too is trying to correct the overarching shame of a shock of fuzz, peaking over and out of a bikini. Hair, publicly and privately, condemned. In Spanish, it’s pendejos. A word that has come to mean coward or fool. In all languages and spaces (to an audience; to the self) these climbing vines must be beaten back, trimmed, cut, salted—so nothing may grow in its place.
When my pubic hair comes—brown wisteria that makes me look away from the mirror when I change— puberty is announced. Once it grows in, I look at my bathing suits and underwear differently, noticing little black spikes poking through the material, or spidering out the sides as if trying to spread.
“Can I shave it?” I asked, following my mother from kitchen to minivan as she packed for the beach. Stacks of ham sandwiches, Cheetos, Capri Suns, and aluminum bundles of codfish croquettas. “It looks ugly.”
Her oversized Panama hat flopped into her eyes. She pushed it back like she did with her fringe bangs. Already her arms and chest are red (the sun, an opportunist). “Not until you’re older.”
“You shave it. I can tell.”
“And it’s not fun.”
To this she laughed, hips swaying up the driveway back to the kitchen. I’d seen her in her bikini, the bare flesh, unmarked and unspotted. Sometimes she walked around naked, the towel on her head and not on her body, making me think she wanted me to see. An exhibition, a recital, a lesson in what girls turn into—an echo of girlhood. Even she rejected this aspect of adulthood, I thought, taking that to mean my feelings were right.
“Come on,” I shouted.
From Barbara McKay’s “Hair Removal History” Washington Post article: North American doctors of the mid-1800s had tried numerous harmful procedures in futile attempts to remove hair permanently. These included: inserting into the hair follicle needles dipped into sulfuric acid, injecting carbolic acid directly into the follicle or rapidly twisting a barbed needle in the follicle. Pain and scarring were the most common results.
At thirteen, my grandmother, Mima, referenced my pubic hair whenever she wanted to remind me that I was a woman and that I needed to do womanly things around the house, like wash the dishes, devein the thawing shrimps, place the washed items on the clothesline, clean the countertops, or bring my grandfather his flan de coco dessert.
"Ya tienes pendejos, ponte a fregar; you have pubes now, go do the dishes," Mima would command with a specific rage that made me wonder if this had been done to her.
I still felt like a child, I was thirteen and I still couldn't understand why this patch of hair added more responsibility to my life. What had changed? When my younger brother turned thirteen there were no commands made of him, no new household responsibilities, no prompts to make all the beds in the house or to wipe down the dried crud on the stove elements. It’s not atypical in Latin culture for boys to be coddled by their mothers and grandmothers.
I asked Mima why I had to do all this housework (a broomstick in my hand and a game controller in his), and she said, “you are the girl.” She said it with such detached objectivity, I believed her in that moment. I believed she was reciting a plain fact, a truth of the universe like what comes up must come down or blue is the rarest pigment in nature.
“This way you’ll be a good wife,” she added, pointing at the corners of the living room where the swirled clouds of dust accumulated. “A useful one.”
I wanted to respond what about him being a good husband! Shouldn’t we both have to learn! But as I dragged the thick clumps of matted hair and dust into the pan, I studied her as if that was what awaited my future. Perhaps she too had made these useless protests; perhaps these obligations were as inevitable as hair. Mima was trying to instruct me, prepare me for life—a type of life—and pubic hair signaled the end of childhood and the beginning of womanhood. This made me detest body hair even more. It had taken away my care-free summers and games on the street that ran until the streetlights came on (or someone’s mother called them back in). Childhood was over and I swept it out the front porch along with the dust and all the undesirables of the home.
The Queen's Coiffeuse
That Disembodied Feeling
Divine Inyang Titus
today I christened my voice a stranger
sometimes, it isn't even my voice I hear when
my mouth cracks open. perhaps you say
there is an amorphous organism bobbing in
my throat. I say I hatch a novel, unknown self
every new cycle of moments.
do i ever surprise myself?
picture a tiger encountering a cricket in his
roar. or a butterfly vomiting a hippo's growl
to nectar. I am the shock horror of both worlds.
moons ago, I tried to recover my voice from my
ex-lover's mellow drawl. it had once been that
I tempered its brash temperament to draw
parallel with pale love. but in the afterglow, when I listened
back to that tempered time; I cringe at the injustice of
binding the wild in a demure cage.
yet, something tells me this is the art of
the natural world. to curse the shift is
to wish the fittest are no longer the most
adaptable. like that, integrity wars
my inner chameleon. but I wonder if the day
will ever come when survival will cease to glorify
the changeling dream.
today, I sang melodies to myself
before a mirror that once knew me, to name
how much of me did not abrade into other. I did
not know I was finally christening my voice
a stranger in my own body.
I wanted you to die!
There, I said it,
with my half bitten lip,
and my lost eyes,
my burnt sky
and my broken hip -
I wanted you to die
because I thought
this could be such
a beautiful gift for me,
climbing the difficult hills,
coming down from a
No fruit was ever
good enough for you,
that is why I broke
too many times,
reading hurtful lines
with no rhymes,
losing my senses
and my mind,
quiet like a newborn puppy,
half lost and half blind.
I wanted you to die,
because I didn’t know
how to kill you
and leave no traces,
there is still blood on paper,
a ticket for all deserted places.
Robert Alexander Wray
Through my window, I see such beautiful fall weather…All the leaves wandering to the ground, burning with color; such heart-melting beauty, the way the wind kisses them away and lays them atop a blossoming sea of gold. Such beauty, such bliss, and this little body stopped. I see it in the distance, lying on the road. I’m not sure what I see is real or some bright deceit of the sun. It seems impossible, with all this beauty around, death should be lingering here. I don’t want to start my day by staring at a dead body, so I…I check the mail. Thank God, no bills. Nothing. Just that…silent body, strange and frozen…Maybe it’s only a large shirt that’s been ripped. I decide to go and look. The wind picks up as I do so, sending a series of yellowing flakes my way. As I move closer, I spot a nearby newspaper torn from this morning. I lift it up, whereupon a striped snake that had been resting underneath slithers off. This is not good. I freeze in panic, letting the paper fall where it lay. My eyes fix on the front page, the bold print: “Attacked…Struck…War.” I wonder if the entertainment section might offer relief…No…I walk onwards…Yes, it IS a body: White, tinged with red, its face turned to mine. I realize it’s still alive. Its child-eyes stare at me. I’m scared, sunk with what to do. I step over it and go past. I stop. I look back. Its face has turned in my direction, glaring. Its eyes seem to say, ‘If you want to find me again, I’m the one eating carrots.’ After that, I decide to sit in a café the rest of the day, and wait for winter.
Cliff diving fearless and freestyle - acuity
of the offbeat, furtive glance from a window
between bursts of sunlight, clouds and rain,
the desk, the sink, the flow of ink on a page that’s plain
the flutter of awareness, the weird and wistful eye - the sharpened focus
fortified with feathered eyebrows - the blink
within the heartbeat and the singular breath
when scanning with a specific charge, zooming in to specks of dust,
the table’s varnished glare, the doorknob's neutral stare
as booted spikes emerge from matted down - to streamline
the feral dancer’s flight, cling with a velociraptor’s tenacity - to ensnare
when landing onto solid ground
and glisten with principles embedded in a mesozoic somewhere - there
the surge of mighty wings
the whistle in the moment, alien and familiar - this truth
Listen! There’s a high pitched squall almost hidden within - the dive
amidst smaller breezes
the swoop and blaze just then that curves, fancies and free falls
Watch! the deftly quilled trace and catch of diaphanous blue
the aerial orbit, the wise fool’s freakish gaze – the lustrous affirmation
carries courage enough to permeate empty air - to indulge
motley textured sinews
the blood, the sand, the tide, the land, the sweep away - fantastic dreams
between cliff , treetop and cave, between the click and save
between the I and love and you - the erstwhile stance
atop the bedded nest and the cliff’s decisive edge
the magnanimous day and the stark night
will know one another - Aquila
out of darkness espies the here and there
clasps the still beating heart - in its talons
singular, soft, high-pitched - piping
thin arrowed, thitherward call - la la
We roleplayed Genesis by the creekside;
no serpent in sight of the young lovers
who knew, with certainty,
in those tender moments
that we alone walked this world.
The fruits on the tree remained immaculate,
as we revealed to each other
everything that God had blessed us with.
Naiveté left us wanting, until
youthful eyes ate our fill as we
lived a creation myth of our own making.
The sin wasn’t original, even if
it felt that way to untrained hands
fumbling in the darkness,
as we thanked God we weren’t the only
double feature showing that night.
Our garden was short-lived,
even if a year felt like forever;
the entropy of emotions
too much for curiosity long since passed