TPLJ Mania Cover (1).png

Christine Diane Allen

Mark Blickley

David Blumenfeld

Michael Brockley

Sarah Butkovic

Ksenija Dakovic

Mark Danowsky

DC Diamondopolous

Deborah Johnstone

Gurupreet Khalsa

Stephen Kingsnorth

Leah Mueller

Bri Narric

James B. Nicola

Jay Nunnery

Jarrett Pitts

Niall Power

Lindsey Pucci

Gerard Sarnat

J.P. Sexton

Edward Michael Supranowicz

Kevin Vivers

Vin Whitman

Franchesca Witzak

with contest winners

Maid Corbic 

Stephen Kingsnorth

Click on the cover image to see a flipbook layout of the issue or scroll to see individual works.

Christine Diane Allen

A Girl on the Road Somewhere in Idaho

Unzip the self. Curl the fingers, scoop out the mess. 

Wipe it on the table, on jeans. That's how it went 

four or more nights a week, her emotions a 

quilt she carried everywhere—to classes, head 

weighted to the desk. To work: Did I forget 

your cream? So sorry. More butter pats? 

To the beer garden, where she dripped like sap 

into strangers’ ears, spilling this trauma and that, 

her eyes stained and flat like run-over quarters. 


I left her in a frosted field. The night I ditched her, 

she had traded her long johns and lucky sweater 

for a short, filmy dress bursting with bright red 

and yellow flowers. I could see through her. 

I drove until my eyes grew heavy, yet anxious

for a sign. Any sign. I barreled down an icy 

gravel road through a snow-studded Palouse.

An owl rose from the dark, a whirl of wings 

winging, clapping enormous feathered 

cymbals against a half-scraped windshield. 


I pulled over despite the drifting snow. I didn't cry. 

I didn't say anything. She knew I would leave her 

eventually. She stepped out, shut the door. 

I backed up. She looked at me, shielded her eyes 

from the headlights. I turned around, left for town. 


From my rear-view mirror I could see her black X 

of a mouth, her pale, partly veiled legs.


She is still there. With her live a hundred dead men, 

a thousand destinations. They crawl up her legs 

like runs in nylons. They search out the private folds 

of her breasts, her ears, her naval, her numerous lips. 

They sail on her long hair in the cold March wind.


I drove back to check on her now and then. 

I'd find her deer-eyed, frost-bitten, wandering 

on the dark rough road. We'd stare at each other. 

I'd hold my breath, lock the car doors. 


I couldn't take it anymore, the coming and going, 

the days waiting, the heady cologne. The beer, 

the smiles, the Santana—not a single assault erased.

 How many days I’d up disoriented, locked between 

desire and regret—the splitting between this self 

and that, machetes worn dull, blood run thin?


I keep her secrets and mine, for the most part. 

I'm sure she understands. She must understand. 


Last night I saw her in a dream. She is beautiful. 

More so now than when we parted. Her blue 

knees tremble. Her teeth chatter. Her icy hair 

has frozen into flags. That scarf of a dress 

sometimes snaps up and back with the wind. 

 

I miss the way she talked nonsense. I miss the way 

her eyebrows drew together, worms in love. 

I carried an image of her for years. My husband 

was jealous—of what?—so I tore up the picture. 


She is so far away. She wants me to come for her, 

but I can't go back. I am intact. Alive, if numb. 

Out of school and forgetting where I'm going, 

I carry fear and violence in my purse, in the zipper 

compartment, in a red pen. I dot i's and cross t's. 

I can't wait to sleep every night. I am terrified 

to go to sleep every night, to face the life 

I have taken, the girl I left behind. I want only

to slip away, split all new, spill my love-spent

scent all over a warm and empty room. 


I can't go back. I abandoned her for good. 

The girl was a drunk. She was so reckless—

out of control—and ready to let me go.

Mark Blickley

Gravity Grateful

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David Blumenfeld

My Obsession with Limericks

Occasionally something that commanded attention in our youth which we eventually put aside returns to grip us in old age. A piano prodigy abandons the keyboard as an adult for something likelier to yield a steady dollar only to take up the instrument again in retirement. A high school golfer drops the sport when the academic demands of college require it but returns passionately to golf in later life. In my case, it was limericks. Many years ago, I tried writing these humorous, frequently off-color ditties. Someone had recited this limerick to me:

            There once was a sailor named Dave,

            who took a dead whore in a cave

            He said: I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a shit,

            But look at the money I save.

I thought it was clever and since I seemed to have a knack for low-level verbal skills like punning, I figured I could easily knock out a few limericks. In fact, I hit a stone wall. No matter how long or how hard I tried, nothing worked: The rhymes failed, the pattern was wrong or the limerick wasn’t funny. I kept trying and trying. Yet my staunchest efforts, endlessly pursued, were to no avail. Stymied, I gave up and forgot about it until several years ago, sometime in my late seventies.  

My wife Paula and I were having dinner with friends when one of them brought up the subject of limericks. I recited the limerick about Dave, which everyone liked, and that did it for me. Something clicked and the next day I was off to the races writing limericks, this time with success. Too much success, in fact. For many months thereafter, almost non-stop, limericks kept popping into my head unbidden. I’d think of them while I was running, while I was cooking, washing dishes or especially as I was falling asleep. I even dreamed limericks. I could do almost nothing else effectively because limericks consumed me. It became an absolute mania. Even my shopping lists began to rhyme and take on a bizarre, slightly off-color cast.

Don’t forget jelly

or cheese that is smelly

and beer I can swill and also the pill

so Paula won’t get a child in her belly.

(Fat chance in our seventies but never mind.) Sometimes, I’d wake up at night and rush to the computer to write one down in order not to lose my latest inspiration. My unconscious must have been working on limericks for all those years and when the subject came up at dinner that night, they all came spurting out. It was like being visited by The Muse from Hell who was bent on disgorging the contents clogged in the dark recesses of my mind: Freud’s Return of the Repressed, on steroids.

I began constantly emailing limericks to a few of my friends, whom I drove crazy with my obsession but I just couldn’t stop. I even became a little delusional and started to think of limerick-writing as a calling for which I had been chosen to ensure the survival of the genre. In one of my creations that I sent to my friend Victor Roberts, I dubbed myself, “The Bard of the Yard.”  It began:

Oh, I am the Bard of the Yard,

The limerick’s protector and guard.

And if I had a ...

and proceeded to a climax too filthy to reproduce here.

Victor so liked the idea of my being the Bard of the Yard that he gave me a number of other titles. He suggested that I should also be called The Lion of Limerick, The Honcho of Haiku, The Regent of Rhyme, The Viceroy of Verse, The Doge of Doggerel, The Suzerain of Sonnet, The Prince of Pentameter, The Daimyo of Dactyl, and The Caliph of Quatrains. When I had written fifty of what I considered my best limericks (including ones involving my being The Lion of Limerick, the Honcho of Haiku etc.) I went completely off the deep end and decided that I’d publish the collection under the pen name Dean Dreckmund. In my professional life, I had been a university associate dean and, as German or Yiddish speakers will know, “Dreckmund” translates as "Crap Mouth." I even sent a proposal to a publisher for a book of maximally filthy limericks and, unsurprisingly, received no reply. I also managed to write a few clean limericks but they were the exception: My id-inspired obsession was clearly channeled through the gutter.

After all this talk about limericks, it wouldn’t be fair not to provide at least a sample, even if only of the clean ones.

There once was a man named Thelonius

who thought that his name was euphonious.

When he learned the proposition that he was named for a musician,

he cried, “Good Lord, then my name is felonioius.”

There once was a lim’rist named Hieronymous

who signed all his doggerel, “Anonymous.”

Though his clever creations became great sensations,

no one knew that his name was eponymous.

OK, just a couple of the tamer dirty ones.

There once was a tenor named Morris,

who sang for an all-woman chorus.

He put on a dress and a pair of false breasts

and pretended he had a clitoris.

 

There once was a man with large genitalia

who wore tight pants as a kind of regalia.

the girls spied his bump and wanted to hump,

and cried, “What a fine piece of paraphernalia.”


My mania continued unabated until, oddly, its termination came suddenly and decisively. After receiving what must have seemed like the quintillionth limerick, Victor emailed me saying simply: “This way lies madness.” Somehow that did it. Or maybe his message simply reached me precisely when my unconscious had exhausted its long-repressed supply of verbal detritus. Whatever the explanation, I haven’t written another limerick since. Hallelujah!

Michael Brockley

And

a congressman with an aversion to state-of-the-art bridges broadcasts his fantasy of murdering a brown woman in a pre-holiday cartoon and the last white rhinoceros has a bodyguard to protect it from poachers and slowhand and van the man complain about mask mandates that interfere with their playing arena concerts and the kid who killed two men who are not to be called victims ekes out a tear at his staged trial and whatever happened to stacy abrams and someone somewhere is shooting a wolf and virgin condors are laying eggs without mates and except for you none of the customers in culver’s wore a face mask today and the thirteen congressmen who voted to repair potholes are on double secret probation no that’s not true their pre-holiday gifts are death threats and don’t mention school shootings and stay mum about black men and women being shot and strangled and hanged and the seventeen-year old son of the guy you didn’t vote for tried to vote for his father twice and you’re too old for another german shepherd and starbucks quit selling toffee nut lattes and a billionaire bought all of olive garden’s dolcini desserts and none of the restaurants in the midwest serves tilapia anymore and you think you might look for a poodle or a cairn terrier and a billionaire ignored a warning light on his rocket so he could be the first of his kind in space and you haven’t had a raise in six years and why didn’t your juneberry and pear trees bear fruit this summer and don’t tell anyone your state is the home of the candidate who said women can shut their bodies down to prevent conceiving through rape and what is exceptional about fighting wars forever and gas is $3.29 at pump-n-pay today and the neighbor’s pit bull jumped the fence this evening with a chew toy in its mouth on a mission to find a buddy to play with and the women of texas are hostages in the book of american lamentations and a lone star school board fired a black principal for running a public school that teaches history and you worry as the holidays approach whether the possum you saw once this summer will find shelter against the ice storms to come

Michael Brockley

A Motherless Day on West Seventh Street in 1969

A vase with three wilted lilies sits off-center on the table in the dining room where my father trembles as he says, “You’re the most worthless son.” He shakes his fists at the disappointment that repulses him. He raises his voice. “Twenty-one years old and you can’t start a lawnmower. Or build a sandbox.” I am the fool who lost his last-chance job at the fiberglass insulation plant. A bowl of dusty Butterscotch candies rests at the far end of the table. My breath tastes sour. Neither of us has brushed his teeth. I stand before my father’s prediction. “You’ll never amount to anything much more than a ditch digger.” A Pomeranian with an overbite worries itself at our feet. Sunlight prisms my eyes from the east windows. Pimpling my face with another dose of shame. I see how rage clenches my father’s eyes into ruthless squints. He says, “You wet your bed for eighteen years. You killed your mother.” And once again my father restrains himself from blackening my eye or breaking my nose. Maybe with the last vestiges of love. 

Sarah Butkovic

Cherry Tomatoes

She was looking at me from across the table with beguiling eyes. As soon as I sat down in front of my sterling silver I could feel them on me like hot, incandescent stage lights. They were watching me, sagacious, watching as I picked up my glass of water and brought it to my lips, watching as I wiped the dampness from around my mouth. Curious eyes, they were. Ogling me like I was the first woman they’d ever seen in their life.

And I didn’t dare meet their gaze, despite how easy it would have been. All I had to do was look up— a gesture so innocuous that no one would’ve batted an eye. Pretend to glimpse the clouds, the way the sun was slanted on our dinner table, the ketchup stains on the worn tablecloth… anything that would have given me an excuse to glance at him for even a moment.

Keeping my eyes fixated on the wilty spinach salad in front of me may have been the hardest thing I had to do in my life. And that wasn’t a hyperbole.

Four tomatoes, sliced down the middle. Were they cherry or grape? They looked too rounded to be cherry but had too many seeds to be grape. Maybe they were some sort of heirloom?

“How’s your food, dear?”

I looked up, stunned, feeling more exposed than a bathtub murder victim, body naked sprawled out for everyone to see up-close. For a second I’d forgotten there was anyone else around me. I blinked rapidly and glanced down at my food once again.

I couldn’t bear to glare at those damn tomatoes anymore--all red and fleshy and gushing with seeds, skins wrinkling ever so slightly from the sting of the sun.

This is it, I thought. I’m going to be lovesick all over the table.

Ksenija Dakovic

Ginger Bug

I m trying to write what comes in my head i think it’s better if i wind up dead that rhymes maybe i should be some kind of poet but ive always found it kind of hard to explain how i think in words and not pictures no thats not right its not words its feelings how i think in feelings and not words i suppose if everyone could read each others minds it wouldnt make much of a difference because we wouldnt be able to understand it anyway like how my boyfriend can probably see in 3d in his head because he has dyslexia but if you asked me to picture an apple i would just taste it in my mouth and its really annoying trying to explain or pitch something to someone cause the words never come out right im always ending first and then a bit of the middle but oh wait i forgot to introduce you to our main character her name is and then i have to question why its always easier to write women when sometimes i dont even feel like one but what even is a woman and how does one feel like one i keep thinking of the time when it first clicked that my brain was broken i couldnt fathom how my best friend had such an easy time doing laundry and showering everyday i thought it was just as difficult as her like atlas pushing a boulder uphill or whatever no its sisyphus and everyday just feels more and more sisyphean and thank god for spell check because i couldnt have told you how to spell sisyphean until literally just now this is a pretty accurate reflection of whats in my head that is of course behind the mound of chores and grocery lists and laundry lists and what are we missing in the kitchen and what do i need to do i keep forgetting why do i keep forgetting i can smell oranges i used them in a marinade today its so different making everything by hand and appreciating the little things i guess i could have just bought a tub of hummus or a jar of peanut butter and not totally fucked my blender but sometimes you just get the urge like the ginger bug bubbling away in the fridge and you just gotta know how its made did you know that the ginger plant is believed extinct the thing you make real true ginger beer with they used to make it like that in the uk before world war two but id really have to look it up to know all the facts but in nineteen thirty or forty something they made so much ginger beer that they used up all the plant or something its sort of like kombucha but ive never had that so i dont know what it tastes like but i mean the process is the same and anyway the point is that the ginger beer you buy in the store is not true actual ginger beer because it has to have that plant mother thing in it to be true actual ginger beer i get tired doing this because theres so much i want to say but i cant figure out what to focus on and like stephen king ive always been bad at endings

Mark Danowsky

Shield Assessment upon waking at 9:42 a.m.

Lung capacity – severely impacted  

Oxygen to brain – impacted

Thought patterns – non-linear >50%, scattered

Negativity – moderate

Oxygen in blood – impacted

Circulation – impacted

Temperature regulation – impacted

Muscle tension – moderate to severe

Body pain – moderate

Joint pain – high

Eye function – blurred, pressure behind left eye

Skin – dry, clammy, atypical armpit sweating

Teeth – clenching with frequency

Nose – running, dry

Chest – congestion high, tight

Neuroticism – moderate

Rumination – n/a

Edginess – moderate to high

Feet – sweaty

Attention/Focus – compromised

General mood – irritable

Patience threshold – impacted

Self-image – low

Personality stability – relatively static  

Identity – relatively stable

Introversion – high 

Extraversion – limited

Energy – low

Energy reserves – depleted 

Observation ability – impacted

Sensory defenses – low, badly compromised

Sense of time – somewhat impacted

Sense of purpose – questionable 

Self-awareness – impacted

Fixation – low to moderate (see: neuroticism)

Joy – low

Frustration – significant

Light sensitivity – notable

Sound sensitivity – high

Visual chaos sensitivity – moderate

Coordination – questionable

Avoidance – moderate

Ability to self-calm – impacted

Ability to unwind – n/a 

Panic – mild to moderate

Impulsiveness – moderate 

Perfectionism – low

Perception of being in danger – high

Hypervigilance – high

Dissociation – n/a

General awareness – impacted

Mental acuity – low to moderate

Memory – questionable 

Ability to form plans – heavily impacted

Mark Danowsky

Convergence

The dieffenbachia on my fridge is pissed

I am too afraid to microdose 

One of my oldest friends will be at the Hugo awards tonight

I’m sampling Dorito’s Blaze as a Brand Ambassador  

The dog had another accident & I failed to notice until too late

I’ve worked 11 days in a row 

It’s not work I’m tired of

DC Diamondopolous

Life With Angie

             My sister Angie gives me outrageous material for my standup comedy. She’s a bona fide nut case, a paranoid schizophrenic, bipolar, manic depressive—you name it—Angie fits every disorder that isn’t wired to reality. 

The voices inside her head tell her to run from anyone trying to help her—except me. I take my sister’s sorry existence, find the humor in it—in the loonies of my own mind—and make people laugh. Do I feel guilty? I’m half Jewish, half Catholic. Humor is my way of coping. Hell, I’m a female stand-up comic, and there’s no higher hurdle in show business.

Growing up, bullies at school called me circus girl. I’m 5’10”, big boned, with short blonde hair. I was gay and Jew bashed. I rolled in the hurt, turned it inside out, and now make people laugh. I’m a babyface dykey-looking pansexual, gender fluid, LA Dodger and Laker fan. 

There have been days and nights when I’ve had to search for Angie. I’ve become an expert on underpasses—the noisiest, the filthiest, with the latest graffiti art. I could be a docent, leading tours. I’d recommend disposable shoes, cheap socks, and a jar of Vicks VapoRub to hold under the nose because the bouquet is out-of-this world.

When the audience leans forward, I know I have them. They’re waiting for the punch line. But I let the tragedy of Angie’s existence sink in. Like the time the cops took her into custody after she stole a crossing-guard paddle, and used it to direct traffic on the 134 freeway. Angie caused gridlock for hours. At the mental health facility, she was a model of “rationality” with anger issues that she promised she’d address. She’s instinctive that way—knowing when to sane-up.

Truth is, the worry and stress have turned my comedy into a commentary on homelessness and the mentally ill. I’ve become an observational comedian, like my idol, George Carlin. 

My 5:00 p.m. visit to Angie’s crib, an appliance box near the Golden State Freeway, is timed before my 7:00 call for Anything Goes, and with her reading of the sun’s angle, “the real watch,” she calls it. When I asked her how could she tell time when it’s dark, she answered, “When I sleep, there is no time.” Angie’s mind is a labyrinth, catching words that relate in a flow all her own; “Are you hungry?” “My stomach’s vacant.” “Are you safe?” “My deposits are empty.” I weave that into my stand-up, too. 

I visit Angie every afternoon. It’s a short ride on Interstate 5 from my apartment in Glendale to the Zoo Drive off-ramp. I’m passing a homeless camp along the Los Angeles Aqueduct. People are visible through the chain-link fence. Outside their tents, they eat dinner from cans and talk to their neighbors. Angie won’t live in a tent, and she won’t be around people. She’s a fugitive, always running from the voices in her head. 

She was like the rest of us until a year ago, when she turned twenty-five. Her transformation happened gradually, soon after my father’s death. I’ve wondered if that triggered her illness. She’d withdraw, hear voices, tear out clumps of her hair, be ecstatic, then sink into a black hole where no one could reach her, not even me. We’re more than sisters. We’re best friends. Angie has always been willowy but would stare down anyone who’d make fun of me. I’m three years older and have always taken care of her.

My air-conditioning is on full blast in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. I find humor everywhere. Right now in front of me is a garbage truck. Scrolled across the back in a flowing script are the words, Nothing Like a Good Dump. I’ll use it tonight, when I warm up the audience before the filming of the sitcom, Anything Goes. I’m a laughter lube, bringing the audience to the edge of their seats, so they’re ready to cheer for the stars. I love my job. The pay sucks but I recently scored a weekend gig at Flappers Comedy Club, and I have a roof over my head that isn’t made of cardboard. 

I snack on saltines and a smoothie, hoping my ulcer doesn’t act up. In the passenger seat is Angie’s care package: water, trail mix, granola bars, Lorna Doones (her favorite), toilet paper, five packs of wipes, a clean sweatshirt, and underpants. 

I pass the same old billboards. No matter what they advertise, everyone smiles. For once I’d like to see families like mine. I’d like to see some genuine family friction,  arguing politics and money, iPhones to the right of their knives, something candid, not canned. Nowadays, if we do eat together—with my father gone, and my sister out to lunch—it’s just my mother and me. “Ronnie, you’re head of the family now. It’s up to you to look after your sister.” Thanks Mom. If you took care of your heart problem and diabetes, you could help me roam the underpasses searching for her. Of course, I’d never say that. She has no idea how bad it really is.   

I shift my Honda into the right lane for the off-ramp. Someone grabs my attention as they run across the overpass. It’s a woman. She stops in the center of the bridge and holds up her middle finger to oncoming cars. 

“Holy Shit!” It’s Angie! 

My hand sits on the horn. I drive up the ramp and hook a left hoping she doesn’t climb onto the ledge of the bridge. 

She’s on the south side of the narrow walkway facing downtown. She’s giving the finger with both hands. I’m on the opposite side of the street. I roll down the window and yell, “Angie!” She turns, and my heart breaks. Her swollen eyes are black and blue. Her lip is bleeding. I drive straight ahead into the zoo entrance and park. 

I race across the street with the flow of traffic. Adrenaline sweeps away the pain from my ulcer.

“Ahrah!” she howls a wild animal yelp.

With her fists, she pounds the ledge.

“Angie!” 

Vehicles speed 70 miles an hour or more under the bridge. Vibration from the cars shakes the overpass. Gas fumes, noise, the height, and the power from the traffic zooming under—my mind is swirling. I’m dizzy; my sister’s battered face comes into focus. 

I grab Angie. She wails as I force her skinny arms to her side and pick up all one-hundred pounds of her.

Cars stop on the overpass.

“Down! Put me down!” she shrieks, kicking her legs.

“Stop it.”

“Let me go, asshole.”

“I called 911,” a man shouts from inside his truck.

“No!” Angie screams, freeing her arms, and scratching my neck.

“Damn it.” 

She thrashes. I’m losing. She’s wily, presses her hand into my abdomen right where my ulcer is. I let go. She darts across traffic and takes off running toward Griffith Park. 

I’m racing after her, dodging cars, “It’s going to be okay, Angie.”

Not until she’s treated will she have a chance for anything near okay. But no one can force her. That’s the law. 

***

Angie stops at the end of the bridge at a bumper-railing that curves down an incline to her nest. She's sobbing. Bruises circle her arms. I want to kill whoever hurt her. 

“You need to go to the ER.” Blood and dirt are caked in her long blonde hair. Her cut lips tremble. “We’ve got to report this.” She mumbles, flicks her fingers. “Who hurt you? Do you know him?”

“Stop,” she screams.

“My car’s across the street. I have a first aid-kit. We’ll clean you up. I’ve got food and clothes.” This is the worst. My poor mother, she’d die if she knew what happened.

For a year, Angie’s survived on the streets and always by a freeway. She says the  noise helps to muffle the voices. She’s afraid of automobiles. For her, they’re rooms with walls, moving in all directions where she’ll never find her way home.

On rare occasions, she’ll let me drive her to Denny’s for a hamburger and fries. I’ve never betrayed her. I’ve always taken her back to her roost. 

A siren blares then cuts off—the 911 call.

Angie runs.

I sprint after her, catching up, and gently take her arm. “C’mon, over there. To my car.” We cross the street and into the parking lot.

She mutters to herself, twitches her fingers, laughs. She needs a doctor. I’ve thought of taking a couple of my mother’s Xanax pills and dropping them into Angie’s water bottle. Then what? She’d wake up in the hospital, play lucid, and run. I’d have to hunt for her all over again.

She’s lived at the same off-ramp for months. It had my approval, until now, being the cleanest and safest—the Beverly Hilton of off-ramps and underpasses. It’s her favorite because she loves the zoo. On a couple of occasions, we’ve gone inside, walked around, watched the gorillas, and eaten hotdogs, just like we did as kids. But she can’t go back to her nest, not now.

I open the passenger door, toss the care package in the back, and ease Angie into the seat. 

I’m a mixed bag of rage, sorrow, and relief that she wasn’t murdered. 

Inside the car, I reach for the packet of wipes and clean her face.

“What did he look like?” I open the glove compartment and take out the first-aid kit. “When did it happen?”

“Oh, blah, blah, blah.”

“C’mon Angie. You want to see what you look like?”

She laughs, mutters to herself, and plays air-piano with her right fingers.

“It needs to be reported,” I say, taking a close look at the wounds on her face. From the first-aid kit, I remove an antibiotic ointment and dab it around her eyes, cheeks, and mouth. 

“It stings.” She winces, turns away and says, “NSFL.” Angie loves acronyms. Not Safe For Life, is a favorite.

Every smell in the city—car exhaust, cement, garbage bins, dirt—has oozed into her pores. I run a cloth over her arms, take another wipe, and clean her hands. 

With her eyes closed, she lifts her face toward the late afternoon sun and says, “5:17.” 

I’ll be damned, just like my watch.

“It’s over, Angie.” Her face was once beautiful—she looked like a young Cate Blanchett—but has now been toughened by the sun, the streets, her sickness. Seeing her beaten makes me want to rip out the heart of the fucker who did this. “You hear me? It’s over.”

“Don’t cry Ronnie,” she says.

I flip down her sun visor and slide open the mirror. “Take a good look at your face and tell me you don’t need help.”

Angie flips up the shade. 

It’s tempting to feel sorry for her, but that would be a further assault. “There are places that can give you medicine, a roof over your head. Make you feel better.”

“You make me feel better.”  

“I’m just a Band-Aid. I don’t make you get better. Let me look at your scalp. I need to know if it’s still bleeding.”

“IDC,” she says.

“I do care,” I answer.

 One afternoon when I took Angie to Denny’s, our entire lunch was spoken in acronyms: ICYMI, OMG, FYI, BTW, EOD. I remember being amazed by, ILYRSIPYB—that she tossed off in a second, and then hugged me. She flinches when touched so when she embraced me, I felt honored. It took me days to figure out the acronym; I love you Ronnie someday I’ll pay you back.

“Let me look,” I say. 

Angie turns her head. I separate the clumped strands and find the wound. It’s clotted. I pour water onto a fresh cloth and dab it.

“What was he wearing?” She looks out the window at Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Mountains. “I can report him. But I need information.”

She covers her ears with her hands. 

I know when to back off, but this is different. 

“The schmuck who hurt you is out there.” 

“Blah, blah, blah, blah blah,” she says, shaking her head.

We sit together in silence, although what’s going on inside of me is a roaring chaos of WTF.

“Do you want aspirin?”

“No.”

Silence. I’m tense, Angie’s in shock, and neither one of us knows the way out.

“I’ve got a cool apartment. You can take a hot shower. Brush your teeth. I’ve told you about Carlin. He’s the big fat tabby. You’d like him. Wanna meet him?” 

“I wanna go home.”

“You can’t.”

“My estate needs me. I want my stuff.”

“Here,” I say, reaching behind and taking the package. “Put on fresh clothes. Then we’ll get your stuff and come back.”

Angie changes.

“I’m hungry.”

“Cookies?”

“Jogger mix. Currency. You have me some?”

“After we come back to the car.”

“LOL,” she says. A crow has swooped down and helped itself to a man’s French fries. We laugh. The moment is an escape for both of us. 

 I open the trail mix and hand her the bag. She pours the dried fruit and nuts into her mouth. Pieces fall on the car seat. Hamburgers are the worst. She stuffs as much of the burger into her mouth and then eats with her jaws open. Angie’s social graces fly over the coo-coo’s nest. I can’t help but compare her to who she was in the past—refined, even prim, as she’d dab the corners of her mouth. She went everywhere with several bottles of hand sanitizer. She had a boyfriend and worked at Macy’s to help put herself through college. Her last year at USC she made the Dean’s List. Peri Software hired her as a technical writer and then fired her when she sent out a mass email to her coworkers with pornographic images. If her sanity returned, she’d be shocked by her behavior.  

“I should have let the cops take you to the mental health facility.”

“That place wears a headache.”

“You faked it.”

“It’s Hollywood.”

“They wanted to help you.”

***

Angie leads the way through brush and foliage. We swipe away branches and forage through dense vegetation. Nearby there’s a trail that passes through a small narrow tunnel and runs parallel to the aqueduct. It's 6:00 p.m. I need to be at the studio by 7:00.

What’s so important for her that she’d come back to the place where she’d been attacked? Or was she assaulted somewhere else? 

Angie’s nest is in a small clearing. The four-sided jumbo Sony TV box she calls home has been smashed. My old bed quilt is in a heap. A filthy tarp covers a partial area of the ground. Water bottles, food wrappers, and banana peels litter the area. 

She’s down on hands and knees squaring the edges of her house, reminding me of a bird; her thin limbs, darting eyes, the quick sudden movement of her hands, if only she had wings.

“Who crushed your house?” 

She shrugs.

I crouch down and say, “Take what you need and let’s go.”

“You go,” Angie says.

“You’re not staying here.”

She puts the piece of the tarp inside the box and flattens out the cardboard she uses as a roof. 

“Angie?”

Her right eye is almost shut. 

“Give me my finances. My parcel.”

“That wasn’t the deal. C’mon, take what you need.” I’m not sure what I’ll do once she’s back in the car. I just want her away from here. “We’ll find a new home.” 

She wobbles to her feet, crosses her arms, and gets in my face.

“You’ll jab me a knife.”

“I just saved you from being arrested.”

Angie sucks on a strand of hair like a sulking child and moves her hips side to side. 

Sometimes I’ve wondered what’s stronger, love or guilt?

“If I’m late for work, they could fire my ass. C’mon.”

“No.”

“I’m not going to end up homeless like you.”

Angie giggles. “You’re mad.”

“I’m not sleeping in this shithole.”

“Dirty word. Daddy’s angry.” 

The mention of my father startles me. She knows he passed away. It’s been a year and a half since he died. I wish he were here to help. 

“You come. Or no money or package.”

“Naughty naughty pants on fire.” 

“I’m not going to live like Tarzan and Jane.” I bend forward trying to relieve the shooting pain in my abdomen. 

Angie covers her ears with her hands. She’s testing me, making sure she’s the centerpiece of my life.

“I want the night here.” 

She moves in closer. We’re nose-to-nose, so near I can smell the alcohol on her skin.

“You’re older,” Angie says. “You have to take care of me.”

The truth explodes from my crazy sister’s mouth, a belief I’ve lived with all of my life. It’s so clear. How could I have missed it? I’ve become an enabler. 

Letting go of rage, my own truth explodes, “Why don’t you act normal like you did at the mental health place?”

Mumbling, she gets inside the box. She glances up at me and says, “Could you bring Carlin here?” And curls into a fetal position. 

Defeated, I shake out my bed quilt and cover her. 

“I need my roof.”

On my knees, I lay the flat piece of cardboard on top.

“Sweet dreams, Angie.”

I make my way down the bank of overgrown weeds to the road and head toward the park.

***

I need to calm down. I’m walking fast, past the zoo’s parking lot across from the Gene Autry Museum and enter the picnic grounds in Griffith Park. I’ve been holding my breath for a year. I inhale, take in the fragrance of the eucalyptus trees and the approaching chill of the night. It seems there’s no exit out of this hell, or could there be one, and I don’t know it? What would you do, Dad? 

I pass a couple on a bench. The woman kisses her man. I’d like to fall in love. I’d like to go places without worrying, live as big and wide as I can, change my stand-up into broader experiences than just commentary on the mentally ill and homelessness. 

The pain in my abdomen subsides. Then I think of my sister curled up in a box like a kitten and the ache returns. 

There’s a homeless man sitting under a tree, talking to himself. His fingers flick like Angie’s. Does his family know where he is? Or have they given up on him? 

I won’t give up on Angie. Will she ever trust me or talk to me again? I turn around, take out my phone, and call 911. Where’s the humor in this?

Deborah Johnstone

God Grooms Assholes

God grooms more new assholes every day. It’s a fact of life. Grooming assholes is actually Gods main purpose. You pray to him thinking that some unfulfilled destiny will suddenly materialize or that long lost incident involving you and your brother’s wife will be forgiven but the reality is that God has added your name to a list. The list exists in the “cloud” – not accessible via VPN. It’s called the Godless List. Don’t confuse this with Apple’s "iCloud" where information is bought, hacked, and exchanged. It's a closed database only accessible to Him. It's like the Dark Web – no way to hack in, no chance of redemption. Once your name is on the Godless List you're screwed. He keeps track of all the whining and complaining and the unending lachrymose bullshit you dish out daily. The thing to do is stay off the Godless List. You really don't want him in your business – the less he knows about you the better. Stop posting useless bullshit on Facebook – no one cares anyway but He does watch... He's looking for any excuse to categorize you as a low-functioning human so don't give him ammunition. The myriad anecdotal incidents about your matching Chihuahua’s birth canal collapse and your gall bladder drainage fiasco and the plight of adjuncts, condors, the poor, the rich, eco systems, and demographic groups that you have absolutely no affinity with but feel compelled to rail about, will incite God’s brawny wrath. He will loathe your need to reach out to total strangers for affirmation of your inconsequential existence. He will seethe upon viewing your efforts to call these multitudes "friends” when he knows the last time you actually helped a “friend” was in 1976 and that was only so he would lend you his Pontiac Firebird for an ill-advised excursion to Nevada. God will scrutinize your folly and mourn to himself. You see he's still trying to get it right. God is convinced that if he keeps churning out the human animal he will eventually hit on the right model – an optimum consciousness template for all time, something that can be gift-boxed and celebrated and anthologized and curated by future species. Somewhere along the line he will get it right and those people will go on to live in grace, squalor, and various degrees of addiction. 

Until that happens, God can be found any day of the week drowning his sorrows in the Cloud Bar, complaining to the bartender, “Christ, that last batch just sucked. I tried so hard, and they all turned out to be assholes...” 

Christ will turn to him and say, “Listen dad, you oughta spend some time on Earth if you think this is bad. You're up here, blissfully alone. You don't have to deal with all the bullshit, all you have to do is decide who to vilify.”  

God will nod and shed a tear for the uninvited, the misunderstood, the heathens, the barren, and the lackluster. He will pick up his Cloud tab and post on his twitter feed, “Download my Literary Thriller now.” And we will. 

Gurupreet Khalsa

A Girl on the Road Somewhere in Idaho

“Ah, they’re all the same –

men, I mean.”

James Merrill,

Postcards from Hamburg, Circa 1912

 

 

It brings down kingdoms, careers: entire religions of do’s and don’ts, to poke or not to poke, and when and where; multitudes of women shrouded because the apparatus must not be tempted, aroused, swelled…a thing of power, control, yet not controlled willingly, must be wrenched torturously into submission and if not, blame a woman. Mistaken, lost, tortured beyond belief in its amplification, gritty insistence out of proportion to consequence, profundity. Needed, we are human after all, such a little thing, the instrument of creation, and does God have one and if so where does he poke it and if not then God is a woman, clearly. But I know better that God is none of the above. and seventy-two virgins, obtained from where…vast numbers of innocent babes, snatched from life, unaware of an awful future to satisfy the drunken martyrdom of a poor deluded wretch: a sad goal, and what happens to those seventy-two girls once the taking is complete, they fade away, return, surely not again, and then heaven is over, a study and a mission of Where. To. Poke. It. Next.

Stephen Kingsnorth

Depth Charge

ASDIC for the fathom deeps

Marianas shallow end

within Tardis trace the space

enter through the inner ear

active listening cognitive

into orbit misty eyes

 

Pinhead angels out of mind -

forget all such outlandish signs -

what hard drives momentum’s charge

flip flop flap rôle turnabouts

 

Coddled addled chicken egg

modelled muddled design brief

bible babble towers inbred

fiddled faddled nonsense said

 

Retching out what’s reaching in

gagging on what’s gone before

slumming it with squatters’ rites

flowing through the outlet pipe

 

Smokeless fuel yet fire at core

amber embers umber burnt

portrait bloom from dark milieu

hinterland for paradigm

parallels not parachute

 

Drive by strive by driving range

planished patten pattern laid

dimples beaten smooth outside

molecules have rough old time

structures stressed and rearranged

template human archetype

 

Poetic forms or prose reports

taking waters verbal spar

other name for rose is thorns

glass half empty - eyes fill up

Leah Mueller

Open Letter to a Part-Time Boyfriend

G:

 

The two of us have known each other for 14 years even though we’ve never been together in any traditional sense but now you say you want to leave everything behind including both of your hometown girlfriends and come to live with me in Arizona. Am I supposed to believe you’re serious about migrating to the Southwestern desert? You are as Midwestern as a corn dog with your aw-shucks demeanor like you’re auditioning for the Andy Griffith show except you’re really walking around doing selfish terrible things to people. You say you’re a better person now that you’re more mature but I have heard that line of shit before and have maybe even fallen for it a couple thousand times. I think you’re just scared of growing old by yourself because it has finally occurred to you that such a thing could happen. It hits single guys after age 50 like one of those Warner Brother cartoons where a character gets beamed by an anvil that says 500 pounds and then crumples to the ground and lies there with stars spinning above his head. Your member doesn’t sit up like a puppy for treats anymore so you have sudden visions of yourself with pee stains on your underwear slumped alone in front of a television. You don’t even own a television. You’d need to go out and buy one knowing that all you’re going to do is watch it for the rest of your life. It’s either that or me and I am obviously the better choice because the food and the sex and the furniture are better. You think I don’t remember what you were like ten years ago when you were banging three different women in one weekend on your rock-hard futon without even changing the sheets. But I do remember and I run a reel of it through my mind every time I want to surrender and love you for real. I loved you then in a Courtney Love kind of way but that was obviously toxic and I don’t see how our relationship can possibly settle into some cozy armchair thing now. I kept some of that obsessive love and folded it up like one of those paper fortune tellers I made when I was a kid. It’s in my pocket and I remove it sometimes and I stare at the surface without even knowing what I’m looking for. I can barely decipher the words because they’re partly rubbed out but if I hold the paper to the light I see tiny block letters spelling fear. There is also a faded black and white outline of your face and you’re smiling like you want me to reconsider. You’re the kind of guy who tries to sleep with his wife’s sister. I know that was long ago when you were still in your twenties and you were too young to get married in the first place but you should have just dealt with it. Instead you showed up unannounced on the young woman’s porch and acted like you were just there to talk but you really wanted to casually bring up the topic of sex. She got embarrassed and made an excuse to go inside and when you finally got home your wife was furious because she already knew about everything. Her sister had called as soon as you left and shared the whole story so you and your wife wound up going to couples counseling for several years as a result of your idiocy. It’s hard to know what you learned if anything since you still act like you’re obsessed with pursuing women you can’t possibly have and then getting bored after you have them. I figure you’ll get bored with me too and you won’t treat me any better just because you think I’m so goddamned unique and wonderful. Everything is kind of sparkly now because we hardly ever see each other and when we do it’s like we’re always having new relationship sex. Wherever we go we radiate pheromones that hover above our heads like flocks of mosquitos in a windstorm. People are drawn to us and they want to be part of whatever secret we’re sharing but they can’t get there because it only belongs to us. That’s the crazy glue that binds us together despite our long impossible history of failure and redemption and dissolution and reunion. I know who you are and I know what you’re capable of doing to me and yet I can’t tear myself away from you without ripping myself in half. You are barreling in my direction and there is no way I can stop it and I am not sure if I even want to. We’re both afraid to face the terrible possibility of growing old alone and then dying and not having anyone around to identify our bodies. But most likely death isn’t half as bad as people think. It’s the part before dying that hurts the worst and that part can continue for years and years without ever getting better until finally you have no time left. Which is why you want to spend those last remnants of your life with me instead and why I am going to say yes despite my better judgment. I guess maybe we deserve each other after all.

 

--L

Bri Narick

woMEN

They fear the women that love themselves.

The women who have taken the rules that were planted, 

Into our young minds, 

And let them bleed out. 

On the side of the curb.

Jay Nunnery

If Hope Has Flown Away

Shadowboxing barefoot in the grass, my blood flows, adrenaline pouring up and down my veins like all of my divergent lives peaking in the penultimate and systematic, shuffling like the real thing, in my mind a champion, even without the gold and the jewels, having won the battle and the war, not knowing that such a thing was possible, war being a span in which every moment presents itself as an unwinnable battle—something decided—my warm hands aching as my heart pumped the senseless further from whenever I had first killed.  Night after night and I cannot sleep and I walk the roads as they get darker and the streetlights create their shadows. I never have a plan.  I kick through the door, a gap in the bird’s song emptying the night to a bolder dark, and I let myself in, believing that the cycle is aware of its spinning, the answerless of the unasked, in finishing what I start, where the waters play their role—flooding and cleansing the blood from yesterday’s eons—producing a scream with no image.  Temperature dropping beneath my fingers, the delirium travelling like greed and strength were no more than another embodiment, cold water shooting so much I had to clog the sink to silence all my thoughts, connecting that past, ours, my love, and this present, and my future and then the water transforms my forgiveness.  

I take, my love.  Look at the wall’s cracks.  Escape myself.  The heat testifies when the water takes, my love.  To induce all my whiskey’s fuel back where my still beating heart lays.

Progressing from room to room, I am a visitor stuck to no realm, going downhill, her voice in my head as a revelation’s crystalline strand, intoxicated because kings do not want.  Everywhere within and without having to be the upmost and real and true, how dreams inherit visions and how visions replace dreams.

James B. Nicola

The House of Other

International House

Harrisburg, PA

 

The carpeting is indestructibleThe walls and ceiling/indestructibleThe closet’s indestructibleThe bed is indestructibleThe kitchenette’s been packed with such efficiency:Microwave here/refrigerator there/Dish drainer tucked in barely by the sink that the design is indestructibleThe television’s mounted in a corner nook with a crane for an arm-brace that juts out in the room above eye level/Remote of courseThe TV swivels but the set is bolted firm as stone/indestructibleThere is one chair precisely from which to watch it but then I must massage my neck afterwards so swiveling it(the TV that is)I watch it lying down on the mattress/with my head at the footA mattress that is indestructibleThe half-bath/did you guess/indestructibleI don’t believe it’s possible to stain the tile or porcelainOr is the shower plastic/cast so thick as to be indestructibleYou know the hues there:Walls/that brilliant white that blinds you in the morning/Plastic/almond-creme just off-white/so the two can only vibrate under the bullying fluorescent light and throttle you into morning consciousnessThe blinds can move but only to reveal a giant white P in a bold blue square and the monotone glare of the neon from the garageConcrete and corrugated sheets of steelSo many levels as to blank out most of the skyThe whole place 9 x 12 or so/It is my room at the International House

 

Outside the room is a common room for all where the sofas sag beneath their batik buntings/fading/like nothing in the private rooms/There young foreign persons are passed as they pass their time. But as I’m only going in and out my smile and nod and interest and theirs last but an instant/eager to dissolve

 

Downstairs however there is a corridor and a hall for functions with a spanking grand wood floor and kitchen for events/not too unlike the setup of any church basement/but the linoleum is new and appears to be indestructible as do the snug wood louvers/cabinets and the smooth-faced/glowering yet inviting/function-room floor

 

On the wall in the corridor a map of the world with all the countries/including the new ones I have yet to learn by heart/has been tacked up hosting a motley array of pushpins/mostly in capital cities. There appears to be one for each accent I think I’ve heard upstairs

 

One day I notice there’s no pin for me

so I take one from the cork board and put it in

my home / I’m the almost-local / from New York.

Should I go back further and put one in Worcester

one for place of birth / and one for place of residence?

 

Torn by the quandary while conning the map,

which is about the size of an embrace,

I do not hear the footsteps stop until

I’m stopped by a voice I’ve never heard before

behind me   /   “Neu Yerk?”    /   And that is the beginning

 

Soon I know everyone in The World

and long weeks out of town fly by too fast

the walls of time itself      come

 

crum

 

bling

 

 

d

 

o

 


w

 



n

Jarrett Pitts

Personality Test

Which fictional character are you?

Answer truthfully these questions:

 

Do you often feel like you are misunderstood?

By others? Or, yourself?

 

Do you communicate as a whisper? An avalanche of crashing gunships?

 

Do you feel a special kinship with the alley-cat?

 

Do you play well with others?

 

On a scale of 1 to 5: Industrious, or lazy?

 

What would you murder

 with an hour of free time?

 

At a party: Fly on the wall? The punch bowl?

 

Are you one to fidget? Anxious at prospect of single place-mat?

 

This psychometric mythology,

Aims to anthologize,

 

A universal milieu to walking, clay caricature.

 

Which fictional character are you?

 

Answer truthfully:

 

Do you believe yourself to be an answer, or a question?

Niall Power

The Bugs

           The bugs live in my microwave. Every night, when I walk into the kitchen and flip on the light, they scatter around the counter, dozens of them, then sprint underneath and behind the black and grey box.

           I can’t remember if I hate bugs or not. They seem like creatures I would hate. I know I hate snakes. I certainly hate snakes. But bugs? These ones, at least, don’t really bother me. I try to remember a specific time when I hated bugs, when I felt grossed out or afraid of them. Well, there was the tick that gave my old dog Lady Lyme’s Disease, which ultimately killed her. Poor Lady. But that was more anger at the situation, and maybe at God, and less of a hatred of bugs kinda thing. Last week, I was watching a Sunday morning news show and saw that one of the members of The Talking Heads had written a “tell-all” book. He was reciting stories of the late 1970s about what this band member said and how the other made him feel. How did he remember so much? How do so many people remember so much?

There hasn’t been a decision not to kill the bugs. I just started not killing them. I have killed a few, for sure. I’ve taken a paper towel, like six or seven pieces of paper towel, and crunched them up into a big ball and pinched a few bugs underneath it. I’ve stepped on a few too. My dogs, (especially Ruby) whenever they see these little bugs scurrying on the kitchen floor, love to toy with them. They paw at them and lick them up and spit them out and watch them die. My two dogs: two mutts with golden hearts and placid eyes, in my view, are the most precious, loving creatures on this earth. Two animals I feel bad leaving alone to go out and run errands because of the sad looks on their little faces that tie these knots in my stomach. They torture and mutilate these bugs. So, yeah, a few times I’ve pulled the dogs away and stepped on the bugs quickly to put them out of their misery.

Then, a few times, late at night, or when I am running late for a work call, I see the bugs on the counter, rushing under, and out from under, the microwave, and think, eh, it’s okay. I won’t kill this one. I turn the light back off in the kitchen and head into the living room.

After only a few occasions of mercy, I correct this and make a decision to kill the bugs. While before the mercy it was a reflex, a societal norm; see a bug, squash a bug. Now I would flip the light on and see a bug and have to think, I am going to kill this bug?

And I do. I kill the bugs. Same deal: paper towel bunch, the crunch between my fingers. And it doesn’t feel good. I think about it after I do it. I think about it some more. I start to reflect on a bug’s life. As a vegan, and a dog owner, where is the line I’m drawing? What makes these little, centimeter sized bugs, with their little wings, any different from a bird, a pig, My two dogs, Ruby and Ice Queen, and myself?

Then I meet Todd. What a strange thing it is to meet him now. I am 52, have been alone for many years, and have stopped doing anything to make myself anything more than presentable for work. My friend sets us up, and I show up. And he shows up. He seems nice: taller than I am and skinnier, in a healthy way, like he jogs. His hair is thin, floating in the wind on top of his head. I think he should shave it or wear a hat. The way it looks now kind of reminds me of that president. Just in the hair of course, and thankfully, he is the exact opposite of that president in every other way. He’s soft spoken, kind, and interesting in a way where it’s like he isn’t trying to be interesting, which I guess I find interesting. And more than anything else, he wants to spend some time with me. So, it’s been six or seven weeks of doing exactly that, spending time: watching movies, ordering food, cooking food, talking, and then, yeah, some other stuff I haven't done in a long, long time. Something I had stopped hoping for. But as the saying goes…When you stop looking, it finds you, or something.

Todd comes over with a new microwave in his trunk. We are at my place because I don’t want to leave the dogs tonight. He understands this, which is great, and even though this has been the case for all dates but one, he hasn’t complained about it yet. Ruby loves him, but Ruby loves everyone. Ice Queen tolerates him, which is the best case scenario. So, he shows up, and knocks on my third floor apartment door. He’s winded and at his feet is a brand new microwave. He says little. We’ve talked about the bugs and he agrees they are coming from the microwave I have now. He walks into the kitchen, covers the old one with a big black garbage bag and carries it down to the curb out front. I say nothing. I just watch. I walk into the kitchen as he heads back up and the empty area where the utility had been is covered in dead bugs. They are splattered all over the wall that was hidden until moments ago. It looks like a massacre. I grab a clorox wipe and clean it up before he can see.

That night Todd falls asleep on my couch, Ruby is next to him, Ice Queen on the floor. I walk into the kitchen and there are no bugs. No one greets me. I think, hmm, I guess they really were all in the microwave. I walk over to the window and look out at the black bag on the curb. I wonder what will happen to them now?

           Ruby has diarrhea, which I guess is normal, but it paralyzes me. I can’t watch TV; every few minutes I look over at her and wonder if she has a stomach ache. (How would I know?) Thankfully, I have the backyard, and I can take her out in a hurry. She goes and stands by the door if she has to go. Such a good girl. Ice Queen would just shit all over the floor if she was sick.

I watch Ruby squat, her back legs shaking, at this point nothing comes out. I am so focused on her that I ignore Ice Queen, who is too quiet, so I swivel my head and see she is messing with an ant hill. Her little snout has flattened it. Her body is erect, still, but her peanut shaped head is vibrating as she destroys the miniature metropolis.

I rush over and push her off. “No!” She looks up at me like, yo--momma. Look at this shit! How can I expect her not to be fascinated by it? These little mounds on the ground, with thousands of these little creatures inside. I would be interested too, if I didn’t know what they were, of course. I imagine being a dog is a lot like being a human before science. When we would look to the sky and see clouds and the moon and stars and be inspired by the mere mystery of it all and could only assume it was God. When a storm would crush your house and it could only be dark magic or wrath. Maybe animals think like this, majestically, spiritually. I imagine, standing in my backyard, not being part of this race of creatures that years ago decided to take all the wonder out of everything and replace it with our own data. As if these numbers and charts and scales and “facts” are any less speculative and imaginary than aliens, ghosts and a higher power.

Then I think about the civilization in the microwave, which is now gone from the curb. If that really was a city, a dwelling. If time moves differently for them, and if they have been through a few generations in there: a grandfather with his grandkids, sitting around telling the lore about how his father settled this giant box. And then it was lifted, destroyed. A biblical event with which there were no survivors, except for the few that were out of the microwave, gathering food, the fathers, who are left behind in the walls of my kitchen, shocked and grief-stricken that their wives and their babies were lifted by the man and the woman, the gods, the evil gods, and destroyed. Now they are alone, destined to start again.

Oh well.

I hear a shuffle, a panic without words. I look back at Ruby, who I forgot about as I pulled Ice Queen off the ant hill. She has a bird in her mouth.

I scream, running over. How did she catch it? The bird is young, fully formed, and doesn’t seem injured. I pull Ruby off. I slap her back lightly, but yell loudly. She drops the bird. She hates when I’m mad at her, and she already thinks I am--something that happens every time she is sick, for a reason I can’t figure out. I turn around and Ice Queen’s nose is back in the ant hill. I scream at her too. She looks up at me, uncaring, and immediately returns to her destruction. I let it go. The bird, and whether or not Ruby will kill it, is more important.

I pull Ruby by the collar and yell, “No, No” She cowers.

The bird is not dead, but it’s convulsing. Flapping and bouncing off the ground. I can see part of its insides—intestines and organs—pulsing outside its body. Its beak is opening but no noise is escaping. Ruby wants to finish it off, and part of me wants to let her, but she’s already sick and this won't help.

I must be wailing because Joe, my downstairs neighbor, comes out. Joe is a short heavy-set man, older than me by a decade, a recently retired plumber.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

I just point. I cover my mouth with my hand. He looks at the suffering creature.

“Ice Queen did this, huh?” He smiles.

“Kill it! It’s suffering!” “Okay, okay. You take them inside.”

As I am walking through the little alley on the side of the two family home that leads to my entrance, I hear the thuds of Joe’s shovel landing on the ground. I am relieved the bird is no longer suffering.

I am inside now, rubbing both their mouths with baby wipes. I can’t stand still. I’m crying and I want to stop, but I can’t. There is a knock at my door, and I know it’s Joe and really don’t want to see him, or have him see me like this. But I answer. He stands there, so calm. Ruby and Ice Queen join me at the door. All four of us are murderers. Joe makes some stupid joke to Ice Queen about the bird. My brain doesn’t process it. How can he joke at a time like this?

           He tells me the bird is no longer suffering, and just wants to make sure I’m okay. I lie and tell him I’m fine. Before he walks down the stairs he turns and says, “Hey, there are a ton of fire ants out back there. Maybe you shouldn’t take the babies (that’s what he knows I call my dogs) out back for a while. You don’t want to bring those things into your house.”

“OK. Thank you.”

“I am going to see my daughter for two weeks in Pennsylvania, but then I will get an exterminator.”

I text Todd and tell him that both Ruby and I are sick and put our plans off for the following night. I can tell he is not happy.

 

*

Todd brings his unhappiness over the next night instead, and I compound it by saying I would rather not go to a restaurant. Ruby has been sick and I want to keep an eye on her. He responds with a lecture. “It’s not normal to never leave your dogs alone. They are dogs. They will be fine. Plus, you said he was, you know, going, normally this morning. “

I don’t know why he can’t just say, “pooping.”

He keeps half bringing it up all evening. He asks if I was like this with my old dog, Lady. I tell him, not really, but I could bring Lady most places. I can’t do that with these two. I mean, I could with Ruby, but definitely not Ice Queen, and I would never separate them.

He seems to get over it. We order some Chinese food. He has this chicken with sesame seeds on it, an egg roll, and pork fried rice. I think about how many different animals sit on his plate. Their skin, their meat, them. They had different personalities, were from different places, they had wanted to do something that day, the day they were killed. They were looking forward to something: their next meal, an affection from another bird or pig they lived with. Something. And there they were, oily and half eaten on Todd’s plate in my apartment.

I have some steamed vegetables, and brown rice. I put a piece of broccoli on my fork and wonder the same thing. As kids, we learned that plants were “living”, right? Yet, even the most staunch vegan eats plants. I mean, that’s all they eat. But I think, as the movie I am not paying attention to blares away too loudly behind where I hold my piece of broccoli in front of my eye line, if this was living, how are we, the vegans, not making the same decisions that the meat eaters are making? We are deciding that this living thing is less important and deserves to be destroyed by us.

“Is everything okay with your food?” Todd is looking at me as I hold my fork in front of my face.

“Yeah. It’s really good.” I put the little tree in my mouth, and as I chew I hear screams echoing inside my mouth, down my throat.

 

*

I start to see the change in my reflection within only a couple of days. My cheeks look sunken; they seem to start lower on my face. It’s no mystery. I haven’t had an appetite since the last night Todd came over, which was over two weeks ago. Since that night, every time I take a bite of food I can hear it scream. As I chew, the screams fade, but the projection of that living thing being stolen from its home, the bush, the field, the vine, the wind, and entering my wet, hot mouth, being crushed, drained of all its constitution, and going down the dark tunnel into my acid filled stomach stitches across my mind.

Todd is coming over tonight, and he wants to talk. I know this is the end, and I know I should care. I was able to put it off the first few days, the first week, by lying about myself and the dogs, but it quickly became obvious. And I guess I do owe him this much.

He talks a lot about nothing. About his feelings, mostly. I sit on my couch, across from where he sits on my couch, and I listen to this man, this murderer, talk about his feelings of loneliness, anxiety, disappointment. This, the same man who encouraged me and helped me destroy an entire population of living creatures. I think I can see bits of dead flesh in his teeth.

The rest of the evening goes on without event. Todd is looking at me a lot, waiting for me to say something important, something about us, but there is no energy there for it, and eventually he storms out, slams the door, as if hurting the door, or it’s frame, could 

prove any point after what I’ve seen him destroy.

 

*

           The only true way is reparation. It’s an old building so thankfully there are bugs ready with little to no help from me. A few nights in, when I turn off my kitchen light, then forget I need a glass of water, I go back in and there are two in the sink. I look at them, tread carefully and try not to scare them off. I fill up my cup from the Britta and take out an apple. I cut it into slices, exposing its juices, and leave it on the counter. I switch off the light and take my water into the bedroom. Ruby and Ice Queen follow. We all sleep peacefully.

The next day, after waking up to an apple with no bugs on it, I stop by the corner store and buy a bag of cheap loli-pops. I open them and suck on them, just for a moment each, and start to leave them on the counter, on the kitchen and bathroom floor. I have to put up the gates so Ruby and Ice Queen don’t go in and eat them up, which I feel badly about, but it’s my job to help these creatures rebuild after I helped destroy their habitat. Ruby’s big brown eyes look up at me, but as a dog parent you sometimes have to be firm and provide profound experiences they could never achieve with their limited consciousness. I believe humans can increase the lives of other living things and this is our most overlooked calling. Most of us make life intolerable for all our fellow species.

It takes a few days of leaving food out before the bugs really start to come. It gets to the point where I can hear them scurrying around, living, creating a home. I wonder if I will become a figure in their lore, a sort of Greek tragedy about the god who at first unfairly punished and destroyed an entire civilization only to change her ways and build the greatest indoor bug population known to man. Or bug. This is the opportunity I have.

On the fourth day of my mission I get a phone call. It’s Todd.

“Listen, I didn’t want to alarm you before I knew anything definite, but a couple of days after leaving your place I found some bites on my stomach and on my legs. They were bites of three or four, in straight vertical lines. I went to my friend Harry, you know, the dermatologist, and he confirmed that they were bed bug bites. I had my place checked into, and thank god, there are none here. So I have to deduce that I picked them up at your place.”

“Bed bugs?”

“Yes, bed bugs. Your place was the only place I have been where I could have picked up the bites.”

I walk over to my couch and look closely. I don’t see anything.

“I don’t see any bugs on my couch.”

“Well, that’s the thing. You can’t see them. They are too small.”

I wait. He says my name, and I snap at him. “What?”

“You will have to get an exterminator in. Do you need help with that?

I say no and hang up. I’m tired of his voice already, even in this short conversation. Could it be true? Are there microscopic bugs on my couch, in my bed? A moment of disappointment interrupts my excitement when I realize this might be a ruse, an attempt of Todd’s to insert himself back into my life.

But it isn’t. Todd never calls me again, and then the bites appear. I get them everywhere: all over my belly, my legs, my back, my neck, even on my hands. I sit on my couch, Ruby and Ice Queen with me, and imagine them swarming me, building their kingdom.

I wonder if life can be replaced. I decide that no, it can’t. We wouldn’t give a murderer a pass because he had a child. So, my decision not to exterminate the bed bugs does not cancel out my previous holocaust.

I continue to leave food out. Cornbread, apples, half finished lollipops which I put behind the toilet and in the corners of my bedroom. Fruit flies come easily, like ancient explorers after the publication of a new map.

All sorts of life appears inside my apartment. They arrive in the thousands. It’s magical, beautiful. Where do they all come from, I wonder. It isn’t possible that they are all born from my small adjustments to their habitat, that I can cultivate this much life with such simple actions. And if it is, was I then a sort of God? No. This means they were already here and just waiting. I watch television at night, programs, the news, etc. Fictional doctors and terrorists, and real life politicians and news anchors, all speaking about seemingly important things. But all these things are made up, involve their egos and where they saw their image in the story of life. And here I am, inside these walls, creating life, beating hearts and minds that work toward goals. There is but one earth that we know of, and when we die, at the end, how much life did we bring into it? How much energy is left over from our being here? How much influence?

More weeks pass. They just seem to keep going, and I realize that I have less time. All I can bring myself to eat is bread and some nuts. I don’t enjoy a single bite knowing that there are elements of living, now purposefully murdered, life within even these items. I look at Ruby and Ice Queen. They look older. Their hair has changed colors. Brighter in some areas, darker in others. They continue to eat twice a day, and as I watch them inhale other living things I feel sorry for them. They can’t help it. They can’t know better. Only I can. I look in the mirror and can hardly recognize myself. I’m just a body. The thing we leave behind for good reason. I hope wherever I go next is wherever they go next.

 

*

I lay in my backyard. I feel the worms on my skin. I think. I don’t check. I feel the mud. It’s nice and cold and damp from the rain that was here the past few days. It’s still grey and I wonder where the colors come from. I try to look past the clouds, towards the bright white that is the sky today, and for the first time in my life, in my 57 years, I see it. It’s a dome, a glass case. I begin to laugh, fully aware of how dangerous and menacing the laugh would sound to someone watching me. But nobody is watching me. My body bounces in the mud as I chuckle. I can’t control it, and it feels so good to release it. Here we are, all of us, me and my neighbors and the people driving past, and the people on TV, none of us any different from the bugs in my apartment, from my lovely Ice Queen and my wonderful Ruby. I get to exist here, inside this glass case of a world, creating life, with the two most beautiful, kind creatures.

I look over at Ruby. She sits down suddenly and itches her stomach with her back paw. I extend a hand (neither dog thinks it’s odd I lay in the dirt.) Ruby ignores it and goes over to sniff the same bush I have seen her sniff so many times. Ice Queen sees my outreached hand out and slowly walks over to sniff it. I look at my own arm and see it is covered in red ants. They must have been using it as a bridge to somewhere.

I study Ice Queen, studying the ants. Life, purpose, movement. And then I see it.

It’s right in the middle of her forehead. A black dot. I looked closer. I get up on my elbow, the same elbow carrying the colony of workers. I forget they are there, disregard what happens to them. I move onto my knees. I grab Ice Queen’s collar and look close.

The black dot has legs. It’s crawling somewhere.

I lean in and pull it off her. It’s on my thumb. It is a tick.

I crush it with my pointer finger. I look like I am making the universal symbol for money. I feel it curl and twist and I look. It’s crumpled, destroyed, dead. There are small stains of blood on my fingers. Ice Queen is safe.

I get up, dust my body off with my hands, grab the leashes, whistle, and we head inside.

Lindsey Pucci

caffeine

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Lindsey Pucci

rocket boy

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Gerard Sarnat

A.M. Associative!

Manipulate massive

mathematical model

properties properly

manic macho Manichaean 

binary bullshit

-- crapola cursed.

Mexican Modelo’s

tumaceous truck

swerves, stuck.

Her heavenly

titillating teats

whetted, wedding-wet

diddle-dawn dreams

spooned. Saddle 

your yipyap

up under-

neath neat

pink plastic

dapper Dr.

Seuss sheets.

Bubbly Barbie/ 

willful wife

transmits to

creamy-custard

bullous-bloated 

me matriarchal

love laboriously

pressed, presaged

by both

of our

[never nada]

guiltless geriatric

monogamy (mine

certainly): curtains

to touring

Ger’s genetic

pool; paper

scissors shoes

whose wandering

noisy nurturing

boomer boomerang 

business busted

rocking rapacious

life lusted

totally 🡪 toward

glossless grim 

bodacious breath’s

rasty rusty

razor raison

d'etre demented 

voila ¿victorious 

Freudian-free fickle-fin

threatening thin

now nauseatingly

pickled penis… 

J.P Sexton

Alone Time

Thoughts drip,

forming rivers

in my mind.

Like windowpane

rain.

 

Demons demand

my time.

Lurking, waiting

to strike without

warning.

 

The past

has passed

but has not

gone

away.

 

The future

has them too.

They loom

dark as plague.

Threatening.

 

Drip, drip,

they seep

into my mind

and start

 

meandering.

J.P Sexton

Torn Apart

Baby shoe on the stair.

Memories tear

strips of flesh

from my mind.

 

School book on the floor.

No use anymore.

Should I send them -

but where?

 

For such tough mettle

like Hansel and Grettle

I pick among the clues

but am clueless.

 

The silence is obscene.

Is this a kidnap scene

or a land version

of the Marie Celeste?

 

Like a refugee,

your decision to flee

and disappear

into thin air

 

floored me.

J.P Sexton

Llanfairpwll-gwyngyllgogerychwyrndrob

Remember when you wrote

your initials

on my cock?

 

And when it was erect

you wrote

the name of the village

you came from

in Wales.

Edward Michael Supranowicz

On the Road Again

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Edward Michael Supranowicz

Angry Bones

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Kevin Vivers

Whirling Dervish

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Vin Whitman

Rhymes with Christopher: December 14, 2017

The pedophile saint needed to be replaced

                        so I applied

A week-long interview ensued

                   They vetted every

            centimeter of my biography

They needed street names from when

                   I was a newborn sinner

                            crying non-stop in

my mother’s arms, outstretched on a roof

               in Gainesville, daring not

             to drop me in the bin below

 

Start from the beginning, they said, Leave

                              nothing out

 

& so I inhaled

                            They were very patient;

I was not

 

Taking up so much space

                 on memory lane

Made angry chemicals back up like ships

                                     blaring fog horns

A dystopian wail as we cruised

                       by childhood homes,

little general stores,

                         comedy clubs & funeral

parlors.

 

                   When I plowed ahead

they pulled me back gently.  There’s a hole

                    in this plot that could

         suck a flock of maggots from their

                                flyhood,

they told me on Wednesday the 13th.

 

                      It was then

         I assumed I’d lost the position

                      But Thursday came

& they called me from the roots of my regret

 

to ride the magenta

                    chakra

all the way to the boss’s office, where

         I was asked

one final ultimate paramount thing

 

       “If you could be one dessert,

                 what would you be?”

 

“Black licorice” I said without missing

                         a beat

 

The boss & his bouquet of theys

           applauded my

        pedaphobic choice,

 

pinned to the flesh of my chest

                 a nametag

       that stung like a nova

 

‘St Dystopher’ it said & I couldn’t breathe

 

“Congrats, bro,” said they & he.

Vin Whitman

Praise for the Doppelganger

PRAISE your very own doppelganger

living in every single city  (and isn’t it

lovely? — I’m someone’s doppelganger

too!)

 

The favor reflects itself

over & over in all the time zones ever

 

I was waiting trapezoidally

at the doctor’s office one day &

my mom walked in, trippily.

 

I rose from my seat to greet her

but she ignored me, heading straight

to the check-in window instead

 

She’s just getting checked-in

then she’ll see me & say hi, I thought

But when she turned, I could suddenly see

 

It wasn’t my mom @ all.com

but some imposter who’d borrowed

her posture,

her wardrobe,

her aura…

 

I felt my mind trying

to grasp this mechanically & clumsily

Finally I picked up my phone

 

& dialed her just to make sure

Franchesca Witzak

Paradox

How many times

must I learn that I am nothing

but a placeholder for the broken

hearts of man, breaking

and entering into a life

that was never mine

until I am found and removed

like a pest in someone’s bedroom?


I am simultaneously everything

and nothing, too much

and not enough, 

a whisper and a shout, 

a cry and a laugh, 

a hope and a doubt. 


The doll with which a child

plays until there is a shiny new

toy on the market, leaving

me to sit and rot in the basement. 


I am the meaning of life

and the meaning of death, 

a god and a devil

fighting for purchase. 


If only the skeletons 

in my closet could talk, 

they’d tell stories 

of a girl without a beginning

or an end. 

Angela McCarthy

Monarch

AJ Art Inspired 2022.jpg

Maid Corbic

The Underground Worlds of Today

I live in a time where injustice takes hold

and I am the boy of the desires of my unfulfilled

and I think I have to live this life

as best I know and can

for no one but me will sink

into that hopeless world full of silence

but he may be better happier than where I am now


i know it might just be my imagination

but I often tell myself that it will be much better

though sometimes I am deceived when I see the world

how he becomes very disgusting to me

and I a boy who just wants to stay carefree

in this world where every piece takes its own


that whiteness that draws black contours over me

I am not aware that one day it will cost me

every word uttered is measured in per mille

while I still sit and consider myself pious

to comment on some works that people do

and on the other hand, I feel better that way than being very unhappy


The fact is that the world is changing very fast

and that coloring books we outgrew forever, but I believe

that each of us must be our child of happiness

and to draw his joy to others around him

because happiness is greatest then

when I draw it to someone other than myself


I am not someone who looks at people viciously

but I think the castle is more than anything

which is located at the top and difficult to reach

with a little luck, here are new opportunities for me

to clear my mind and bring it to a state

where no one wants to bother me anymore

because I only want one dream that I dream

a better and more beautiful life for your children!

Stephen Kingsnorth

Chimera

Is it the octopus we choose

or king of castle up above;

do undercurrents well below,

or, built on sand, keep battlements?

I, sovereign over pennant towers,

but speculate Leviathan?

Do I seek divers to explore

unfathomed deeps, swirl sediments,

perchance to find some purchase there,

a grip on rising levels, fear?

Perhaps, report that all is clear;

more likely start with pistol shot,

a danger warning, lurking near,

the breakers rolling in to crash.

But do I ride, crest of the waves,

risk pull by suckers underneath,

devoured by behemoth of past?

Is this what surface tension means,

meniscus fragile on the sea;

chimaeras shimmy in the brine,

illusory spooks, rats, ghost sharks?

I spade-build dream, my bucket list,

amongst sure stranded grain and grit,

where razors, cowries, starfish lie, 

a paper fig from Eden’s soil,

doves, jingles, limpets holding fast.

See scallops of a pilgrimage 

and tellin, trivia of beach,

midst oyster beds, rock pools, fish fry,

and iridescent cultured pearls,

by spiney jewel box, angel wings.

It is skilled art to nib the Quink,

to craft the printer’s eroteme;

those question marks float free from block,

a stain from squid to cloud with ink?