with contest winners
Sarah Elizabeth Gordon
Click on the cover image to see a flipbook layout of the issue or scroll to see individual works.
Lunch at Twofish
under lifting mists
the chicken mushroom soup
is still too hot—
nearby those lovers
cannot stop kissing
Lunch at Twofish
Re: Posting: for Qi Hong
Last night you forwarded a reposting
To me through weixing or wechat from the other
Side of this world. Now I am still
Sleeping on this side of darkness while
You are giving some final touches
To a bulb you are learning to sketch
The same old one hung from a roof beam
In our straw-thatched cottage deeply set
At a hilly village. In the trance I asked you
Where our little daughter, yes, we do have one, had
Gone to play; then you came upon my right leg
Helping me decode the three red Chinese characters
Like paper cut enigmas. Later, in the heart
Of night I tried to make love with you, but
Only to be disturbed by our baby, preventing me
From reaching out straight into your young womanhood
& waking me up in frustrated nostalgia
Just to see your bulb is not round enough
Though fully switched on, until your message becomes
As illuminative as the bulb you have drawn
When a morning glow begins to spurt from the east
Separated by the Pacific, I can never hope
To join you even for a single antlike moment
But every day I can drink the tea that bears
Your name spelt with the color of passion
I pour boiling water into the cup of my life
I watch the leaves blooming from inside out
Like my thought of you unfurling itself
At the bottom of my heart
Vashon Island was black fog. The Puget Sound was ink. Tramp Harbor. Pearl loved names. She loved words, and connections. She loved being home, even if she had no place to go. It was enough just to be in this place. The rest would come.
Tramp Harbor was such a tawdry name for a place where people got high or watched the sunset, or did them both together. It also sounded like there was a troll under the bridge like in Fremont. Vagabond Paradise. That would be a good name for a band.
Pearl wasn’t worried about being moved on by the police. She could stay here a week and have a bonfire, and nothing would happen except people coming out of the woodwork. The one cop was currently sleeping at Thriftway uptown, or at least he had been when she drove through a few hours ago. He worked a second job in construction and usually knocked off early, taking the last ferry back to Seattle at two am instead of waiting for the morning boat. He must have figured the island could fend for herself a few hours. She probably could.
Nobody minded. Everybody knew what he was doing, there were no secrets on a small island. If the ferry workers know, everyone knows.
Pearl breathed in the damp. She was going to be on that morning boat. She was. Maybe. Daylight would bring out the smug tai-chi people saluting the sun with earnest eagerness. Pearl needed to get some coffee and move on before that happened. She couldn’t stomach hope or hippies right now.
Pearl walked the crumbling pier, carefully, carefully. Maybe going down wouldn’t be such a bad idea. It would solve a lot. It really was falling apart down here. Someone could just slip right through.
It was so dark—no stars even. She always forgot how Vashon felt until she was here. She hadn’t planned to come at all, but she needed the island. She knew every inch of it.
She headed back to her old beat up Buick. It had been her Grandad’s a long time ago. Now it was home. Temporarily.
When they were kids their address was always temporary-they lived all over this little place. Campgrounds, farms, buses. Rich in love, but low on rent. Not much has changed, except maybe the love part. Love was complicated. Too complex for today.
Today it was her day to be the tramp in the harbor. The window was open a little where the glass had slipped down, and the duct tape was peeling off. Well, no fear of pride going before a fall. Pearl never had much pride to begin with, so living in her car wasn’t a huge leap.
The baby was wailing inside, looking for food, and apparently it had wandered away. Pearl eased Opal’s kicking arms and legs out of the straps, and tried to maneuver her own arms and legs and breasts with panic itself. The baby’s back arched and the scream stopped. Eerie. Opal screamed silently, and then made up for lost time.
“SHHH,.Opal…..I’m here.” Pearl pleaded as she aimed for her mouth.
She was right here, she showed up for her, she had food. She was doing what she was supposed to do. Feeding her baby. One foot in front of the other.
When she was pregnant it was a lot easier. Self-contained. She never knew that babies got mad. It made sense. She was always mad at her mom, so it must start early. She had just needed air, that’s all. She couldn’t breathe. She had needed to get away for a minute; to think for just a minute.
Opal finally latched on, catching her breath, her little arms stopping to stroke her mother’s skin. Soft, milky, baby sighs as she drifted off.
“Hey, wake up, and finish what you started,” Pearl said. Opal had a habit of eating for five minutes, falling asleep, and doing it all over a half hour later.
She was asleep, but at least she was still eating. She wanted her to hurry up and finish so she could put her back down. She just wanted Opal to sleep and sleep and sleep. She was caring for a little alien. She hadn’t expected that. She thought she would at least feel the way she would feel about a puppy.
Benign detachment is what she felt. Maybe deeper, but not by much. This was a surprise. Opal was too, but it hadn’t looked so hard when other girls did it. She had wanted to keep her own baby so badly. Careful what you wish for.
What a tricky little baby. Sleeping she looked so calm and serene, but if Pearl moved her, tried to seek her own space, the baby would know. She always wanted to sleep on Pearl. She had sensors when Pearl tried to put her down. Needy. She had wanted to be needed, but not like this.
The boat was coming, and she needed to be on it. She got back in the Buick, shivering. Even when she put the heat on it was cold because of the broken window. She needed more tape.
She stopped at the fire station, to see if they had any tape there. She had twenty minutes, plenty of time.
She carried the baby into the office. Empty. Randy was probably out back shining the truck or something. He must be.
She put down the baby carrier, after clearing a space on his disaster of a desk, and looked around. Nobody. Oh well. She could fix the window on the other side of the water.
She had to go. She didn’t have a choice.
“Bye. Baby,” Pearl whispered, but didn’t look at Opal.
She couldn’t. The baby would be OK, she had left a bottle for her in the diaper bag. It wasn’t the same, but it would work.
She ran for the boat.
Just when it seems like silence, I notice the bass. It’s in the water running under the floorboards that I didn’t think I could hear, and it’s in the gas, the electric and the fibre-optics that I didn’t think made a noise. It’s in the cat’s throat when he stops purring, and in the lawnmower as it’s swallowed by weeds. It’s the ache in my jaw after the tooth’s gone, and the ache of familiar scent in confined spaces. It’s John Entwistle carving mountains with four fingers and a thumb, and Holger Czukay hammering one note for a whole show, just because. It’s the kick-drum of insects that I feel in my stomach, and the grind of the Earth’s machine heart turning. It’s the sleeping beast that swallows all words and, just when I think I’ve grasped its rhythm, it is silence.
The Logic of Circles
The hand on my wrist moves in circles, stirring memories. Stretched across wind and waves, there are few certainties, but this slow undulation of skin reassures me that, between life and death, some reactions are more propitious than others. It’s like one of those puzzles in the morning paper: If it takes Emma 75 minutes to cycle 14 miles, where is she now? How many cards did she receive on her 7th birthday? What about her 19th or her 40th? How many of them does she still have in a drawer or an old suitcase, and does she ever look at them? I know I won’t buy tomorrow’s paper, so will never be sure of the answers, but in the syncopated beat of my wristwatch and my pulse there’s a hand moving in circles while, out there on the coast path, her salt-stiff grey hair caught wild in the wind, there’s Emma on her bicycle, panniers packed with birthday cards and an old-fashioned telegram from the Queen.
Beware of bread
Count each calorie
Detox with discipline
Eat only eggs
Fastidiously cut fat
Give up the gravy
Have healthy habits
Ignore the ice cream
Just drink juice
Keep up the cleanse
Lower your lipids
Maintain your macros
Nurture your nutrition
Pare your portions
Quality over quantity
Restrict and resist
Stop the snacks
Vary your vegetables
Watch your waistline
Yes you lost
Zilch. Zero pounds.
Each pocket holds wee notebook, pen,
for fear of being taken short;
here, as I walk, or drift to dream
the rhythms of my breathing stir -
hear phrases, lines I must record,
for fear the man from Porlock comes.
A soothing cream might paint the rash,
but do I want to stop the scratch?
I guess its tinnitus intact,
that constant noise, insistent flow.
Once noted, in my treasure box,
I can relax and do as told,
though, often, surreptitiously,
the guilty pleasure, stolen space.
I feel as lovers found in bed,
or slimmer at the door of fridge,
a form bulimia indeed,
as gorge on words then spew on page.
I blame the heart, the blood, my lungs,
iambic pulse that forces breath,
a peristalsis in my mind,
instinctive force, genetic sound.
It’s not pot-boilers, income bound,
or even share, weak smiles, applause,
but can no other, tap the key,
a resolution, harmony.
A secret diary, in type,
biography of auto sort,
the couch revealed, descendants site,
my rite of life, note book again.
I’m picky when it comes to scratch,
or torn nail, quick, to pull the tear,
a hidden itch, fingertip search,
secret addiction to the flesh;
impelled to search, create if bare,
construe a need, uncover tweed,
as if to knit and purl calf, shin,
my grandma, stocking seam, set straight.
When fallen boy, from mother’s knee,
another scrape, that blossom flow,
stick plaster curl when told to wash -
it needs to breathe, exposure air;
dried blood, a soak in water, bath,
for finger picking like guitar,
while strings attached to stance, adapt,
a private part, that boil to lance.
For shamed face scar from birth clear marked,
a haematoma, red wine stain
I used to scrub, the nailbrush thick,
so cross that patch became a tick;
four digit tines at back, on call,
to carve a swathe through downy hair -
with surreptitious, hangdog look,
attention claim when seek escape.
Dermatillomaniac: A Conditional Skinning
Dislocating cuticles with tweezer’s bend,
excoriation is discomfort’s friend.
Chiseled tips snag freckled carapace,
lunulae caves, in ruby’s embrace.
Splintered nails with reduction’s labors,
shoved through gums as phalanges’ razors.
Gingivae swim with urged intent,
deepening lesions while molars ferment.
Pores packed with oil parasites,
antennae emerge in pressure’s paradise.
Lashes freed from eyelid’s hold,
naked brows as proof untold.
Time amplifies, an itch desired,
repetition is the habit’s prior.
Satisfaction lasts on whim’s design,
reprieval found when feelings align.
Wounds start their fibrous journey,
a knitted collagen taxidermy.
You get stuck driving behind a colossal, sluggish, and stinky garbage truck. You begin to think about all the minor decisions, the split seconds in time, and the winds of fate that had to come together in order to lead you to this very moment and place. You poured that extra bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast. You had to poop again right afterwards. You headed out the door to your car and realized you forgot your wallet. You rushed back inside and grabbed it. On the way back out you started to notice that your left shoe felt significantly looser than your right shoe. You bent down to re-tie it and you started walking again. Then your other shoe felt like it needed to be tightened too, and it was bugging you. You bent back down to retie your right shoe to balance things out. You got into your car and that one song that you hate had just started playing on the radio. You scrolled through all of the stations and concluded that silence was better than whatever was on the airwaves. You took off and you got stopped at that one red light that always seems to take forever. When the light finally turned green, you started going and the garbage truck turned out in front of you. You’ve been behind it for at least 15 minutes now. It smells like rotten eggs and dirty diapers. Probably because it is rotten eggs and dirty diapers. You roll up the windows. It doesn’t help. The garbage truck is going 30 miles-per-hour in a 45 miles-per-hour zone. You’re running late to the movie screening, even when you consider the 20 minutes of unnecessary previews that they show. You can’t miss this review assignment, or else your editor will fire you. You want to switch lanes. But the traffic is coming on strong. It’s risky. Don’t try it. It’s not worth it. Don’t mess up someone else’s very moment and place. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Oh God, you just did it.
Quirky Raw Appeal
The sun is at its zenith, shining
till it burns, my little home settling
into its comfort zone, people
busy with chores and, I feel
that aching desire once again
to pick up a few grains of raw rice, toss them
carelessly into my mouth, munching bleakness
of cereal as it swirls inside, wrapping itself
with slushy saliva and offbeat toothy music
churning bran discreetly like a spy with a silencer.
It‘s a quirky craving that goes not well
with my human physique, used as it is
to eating more of cooked rather than raw,
this grain not a succulent dish, not dish at all
yet, appears inviting like the forbidden apple.
A compulsion I comply with religiously
until my teeth punishingly chatter,
my palate goes for a toss
claiming yet another victim that refuses
to realize the repercussions of raw appeal!
All Hallow's Eve
The ploughed fields mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the 'darker half' of the year. This is the liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thins.
The umbrella of the night sky spans overhead, where millions of stars have been shining for billions of years, on this reoccurring Samhain, the "first day of winter", the half point between equinox and solstice.
This transition from one day to the other. And this night in between, where a curtain slides to the side and we get an insight into the pagan grounds of our souls, into a subconscious, dulled and immunized by the harsh light of modern paraphernalia and glitz, weaned from the mysterious and inexplicable.
A temptation felt to camouflage oneself to ward off evil and to pretend one is not there.
The darkness falls within minutes and the mind needs tranquilization, a sedation. To retire into the kitchen, where, witchlike, soup and sauces are stirred, frying pans filled and the oven preheated.
The smell of the season, the scent of fried onions permeates the house. They sizzle, the outer skin crackles, disintegrates into the next layers, they caramelize with sugar and are accompanied by boletus mushrooms, milk caps and morels.
The shoulder of mutton is larded with half cloves of garlic and the steamed pears in butter are bedded between boiled green beans, marjoram, mustard, caraway, parsley and chervil with added pumpkin seeds. Turnips cleaned, juniper berries crushed, tripe cut down into finger length strips.
The oven serves as source of hope and revelation.
It is good to step outside the door during such a mysterious night.
There is the call of a screech owl, and something rustles in the bushes. Should sacrifices be offered to unknown spirits, food and drink, samples of the crops, a glass of wine poured over the meadow or seeds sprinkled? Or báirín breac, potato cake, champ or colcannon kept ready? In an earthen bowl to please the unknown creatures and not to disappoint them by putting unearthly material in front of them?
The dog starts to growl. He knows more and hears more. He is related to spirits, wolves, fairies and elves. Or are there already the beings of the Otherworld who want to get in touch, make themselves noticed or make fun of us?
But it is only a late bird. It rises from the undergrowth with flapping wings and flies through the branches.
The bite into the apple that ripened on the tree behind the house, its bitter-sweet taste sharpens the senses.
Behind the roses walks a white figure and soon a cloud gives way to the moonlight, which the half-fat waning moon, pours like milk over the garden.
Are all the forgotten and rejected gods angry with us because we have cooked them together into one God, like a soup made of noble ingredients and spices and fine vegetables?
A shuffling of steps on the country road behind the wall awakens curiosity to check out who walks there. The road is empty.
Was it the neighbour who died last year? During this night the souls of the dead revisit their homes seeking hospitality. He liked his daily walk.
Only bushes, trees and a scarecrow form a changing background, a backdrop where shadows and branches move like excited actors, who have forgotten their script.
Conversations behind the blackberry hedges can be heard, laughter and crying… the otherworld gathers together, the aos sí, the supernatural…
The dog sniffs at something which is invisible and looks with assuring eyes and signals “No danger”.
The horizon shows a small golden strip, bonfires are lit. Their smell of smoke with purifying powers leviates over the surrounding land.
Not to forget to set places at the dinner table and by the fire to welcome the souls of the dead which return home on one night of the year and must be appeased.
The steam from the pots may make them visible to the human eye.
A few apples and a handful of nuts, signs of immortality and divine wisdom, frame the dinner plates. Cinnamon is powdered over them in the hope to sidetrack the ghosts.
reveal name of future spouse
in dark hallows’ eve
tomorrow we eat jugged hare,
and autumnal sweet chestnuts
Is he not aroused?
Why no fire of wild lust in his eyes?
Doesn't he realize the moments are dying one by one?
We both don't know when our breaths will dance together again.
Or is it only my heart is young?
His eyes found no feast
and keep looking stone cold.
He was very different and expert virtually
Like a wild beast tearing down the screen
I think I should leave, run girl run,
with what is left of your dignity.
He was missing an indistinct lullaby and kisses drenched in tears
the cutest scolding of elder sister
the naughtiest wrying of younger sister
he was not there to utilize the chance
he was in search of what he needed
and he was finding what he was missing all his life...
she likes what she sees
licks her lips
looks up from the disciplinary form
uncrosses her legs
looks you in the eye
we’re going to have to let you go
the once taut meat above her knees
melting across the chair cushion
you leave her there
behind her desk
staring at the ceiling
blue unemployed balls swaying
she went to the bathroom.
we didn’t say anything.
when she came back
she looked at us both
you two are quiet.
it was somehow worse
than if we’d have spoken.
Kind of Sorry
I’d like to say I’m sorry for having too many stars in my poems.
I’d like to – but it’s my muse. She’s the one really stuck on the word.
Sometimes I try to mix it up – write Bellatrix instead of star,
but then she butts in, insists Bellatrix sounds like a nasty
poetry teacher at the Edinburgh school near Blackfriars Cemetery.
I consider Betelgeuse, but it sounds like a bug-shaped pasta.
I want to include Aldebaran in a sonnet, but my naggy,
I mean my muse, she says it sounds like an elaborate horse
no one can afford.
How about if I just write North Star? I ask her.
But she can get ridiculously fussy about adjectives.
You know the type, so I can’t sell that one either.
And it’s not my fault there are so many falling stars.
Warm August nights, they tumble through the roof,
the ceiling, the fireplace, the recessed lighting,
they fall all the way to my blank page
and just shine there, honest they do.
So, I’m stuck with them – a fussy muse – and sweet
monosyllabic stars, and their wink, their glimmer, their gleam.
He used in the sack in a poem, and he meant it.
There should be a saltshaker in every garden to sprinkle warm, yanked tomatoes.
I watch the orange wedge make a home for itself between his lips and teeth, pulp to his gums, sweet.
He writes erotic poetry like salting his eggs—without first tasting.
His voice itself reminds my nose of freesia, my shoulders of sunlight, my toes of low tide, my tongue of August pears, my stomach of warm milk, my eyelids of half-moons, of wine.
Every time I buy a grocery tomato, it refuses to taste like July—disappointing like an over-dry kiss, a sunset with no red at all.
His poems are fluorescent light—blue distortion of color.
I want to swallow the last swallow of warmed red wine in his glass, because of what lingers there besides wine.
I tried a yellow cherry once. It didn't taste like a red one, but it was good anyway.
The Take 5 Swirl
Although I love the Take 5 Swirl, Fantasy Twirl removes it from the menu the spring I’m about to turn ten. I’m blindsided when I order and they inform me they no longer carry it. I’m further blindsided when I realize that I’ve eaten my last Take 5 Swirl and I didn’t even know. And now I’m overcome with a silly sense of sadness that only an almost-ten-year-old deprived of his favorite dessert could understand.
That was, in short, my experience Sunday, April 1, 2007, which will, in my mind, forever be known as the day Fantasy Twirl removed the Take 5 Swirl from its menu.
The Take 5 is a candy bar made up of five ingredients: chocolate, peanuts, caramel, peanut butter, and pretzels. The Take 5 Swirl was made up of a couple of Take 5 bars tossed in Fantasy Twirl’s blender with vanilla ice cream and milk. The beauty was in its simplicity. I was so in love that I often found myself daydreaming about the next time I’d poke my head up to the order window, order a large Take 5 Swirl, grip the frosty cup when it came out, sink my spoon into the ice cream swirling along the cup’s top, and take the first teeth-chilling bite.
The Take 5 Swirl was the first thing I lost forever. I had lost toys but those could be bought again. I had lost video games but my interest in games evolved so quickly I hardly had any time to grieve before I fired up the next one to replace it. I had lost pets but they could be replaced, too. Like when our family dog Brendall died, and shortly after we took Remy home from the puppy mill. At first I missed the way Brendall tackled me and licked up in my ears as I laughed while rolling on the carpet. Over time, however, I grew to love Remy, and Brendall became only a nebulous memory. All of these losses had methods of replacement, but losing the Take 5 Swirl was different.
After learning the Take 5 Swirl had been removed from the menu, I acted deftly and ordered what I thought would be a serviceable replacement: the Snickers Swirl. It didn’t come close. I experimented with a new item every time after that. Butterfinger Swirl, Heath Swirl, Cookie Dough Swirl, Kit Kat Swirl, Reese’s Swirl, Twix Swirl, etc., etc., etc. Swirl. And every time my disappointment and grief grew as I realized nothing could replace the Take 5 Swirl. I could buy my own Take 5 bars and blend them with vanilla ice cream and milk at home, sure, but it wasn’t a true Take 5 Swirl.
I’ll admit that I realize how silly (and maybe even pathetic) it seems to mourn the loss of a candy bar–vanilla ice cream–milk dessert blend, but the Take 5 Swirl was a primer to my learning an immutable experience of life: loss.
Since the Take 5 Swirl, I’ve lost friends to time and distance, girlfriends to disagreements and arguments, family members to death. All of these, in their own ways, are irreplaceable, like the Take 5 Swirl.
But that’s not always for lack of trying. Like when you reference a meme around a new friend and they don’t catch it and it reminds you of that old inside joke with that old friend. Or, with a new partner, when you do that thing where you rub your thumb along their thumb as you’re holding hands while watching Netflix on the couch, and this new partner doesn’t like it so much. That was your thing with your last partner, who’s gone now. That was your Take 5 Swirl, and it can’t be replaced, not with the Snickers Swirl, the Butterfinger Swirl, nor the Heath Swirl.
And maybe that’s not always a bad thing. Maybe it’s nice to know you’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with people and desserts worth missing.
Sarah Elizabeth Gordon
No one has time for an old merdame,
it’s only the maidens they want
with their pastel hair like Easter morning,
shiny scales and taut torsos.
I too sang for sailors once,
flipped my turquoise tail, now greyed,
to splash their deck when I dived.
Mermaids are dreams to tantalize humans;
mercrones reminders that time passes,
that life is never happily-ever-after.
I am the truth of mermaid illusion,
scales like alligator worn thin,
belly like jellyfish, flaccid and wobbly
as I comb my white hair
and creak out a song while hidden among mangroves.
Florida City cheap hotel decades gone,
rickety house unguarded
by drunk manager passed out in foyer,
unscreened windows wide open.
I fell asleep in a sailor’s arms as he read to me
The Song of Songs Which Is Solomon’s from the Gideon Bible.
The next day a squirrel attacked us,
climbed me like a tree to steal my peanut butter.
If she had asked, I would’ve given it to her--
I never liked that human concoction--
but she assumed all mermaids are mean girls,
divas who will not share.
Nobody gets it for free, they say,
and mermaids demonstrate that truth by leading ships to rocks
(or rocks to ships).
But wrecks provide little treasure now:
no Russian caviar, no Roman garum,
just containers full of running shoes, leggings, skateboards.
A golden voice only gets you so far.
Sailors, always sailors.
I grew tired of disheveled beards and calloused hands,
of diesel fuel stench.
And never any talk of Shakespeare--
shouldn’t they at least know The Tempest?--
no mention of modern art or even Monet’s ocean paintings;
only boring talk of tides and storms
as if I didn’t literally live and breathe those every day.
Their only other conversation was sweet talk,
if you could call it that,
all based on landborne treats I’ve never tried, or if I did,
Like any other merbabies, my daughters’ fathers are unknown--
some seaman’s semen, of course, no more than that
came from outside me. And my grandbabies, too,
their faces the same as mine, my mother’s, and all my daughters’,
their tails a bouquet of colors.
Mermaid genes are strong.
Merbabies and mergirls are extraordinary creatures,
enough to take your breath away,
happy imps who shine like stars and look fragile as spume on whitecaps.
Their time of frolicking innocence is short
before they subside to seductress stereotypes.
I, old Pearlie Belle, hide among the mandrake roots not from humans
but to elude my granddaughters’ eyes.
Before they grow to maidens,
I will not disillusion them in their few happy years.
To drown or swim?
To cleave into the skin
of the smooth, deep abyss
or let your body float
silently, undulating with
each gentle pulse.
You feel it call you in,
its silky tresses taunting,
tempting. It rises, swells,
until each wave becomes
a drag of metal twine
around your quivering form.
As you submit, oblivion
strokes at your mind.
Let go, it croons,
let go and drift down
to the soft dark floor
A cry. A wrench.
A sharp slice of
cold air rips the deadness
from your lungs and
smacks your face to wake.
Come back they call.
Did you think they’d let you die?