Author: editor

Boy In Three Parts by Jacob Kahn

I

This boy is about to decant the cleanser into the pruney mouthfold of a gerbil. He looks like the spiked onset of a yawn, making bantam contortions, enduring the faint torque of unwatchable cable. His shelf contains the brazen, the nautical objects: pronouns, pendants. Portrait of a rocking chair. Ambiguous taxidermy: damp. A wounded bird and mouse’s ear, whittled, glued into a baseball glove.

His mom, Ivy, she tells him to sweep around the puddle, the pendulum. But he gets up on it. He climbs, using the minimal hinges. And he sleeps on his side, on his hair.

All afternoon.

All afternoon he picks apart the bladder, the scabs, the lobes inside of him. Picks at them. It’s amazing to think this boy is still sitting. Just soaking in omniscience. Balancing an impressive model of the solar system missing two planets. On the very night he should burst.

He likes: French-fries and chores. And paper toys. His coat is vulture-colored. He hates: noise.

Is that a grin or a grimace? It’s hard to tell from so many missing teeth. One gets the sense this boy has already siphoned and expired, as though the last piece of taffy has been taken from his bilious mouth. But only a minute ago! And by someone he knew!

II

This boy is staring at baskets, he is stroking them, his ugly friends are getting mad. They hatched from baskets. Their stomachs are all bone or gone, golf-ball bones, all triggered and dented. Together they have a sort of chandelier effect and he is in the light of them, the sharp emerald light bouncing from their eyes. They make interesting aquarium inhabitants. They tell him to back off and he does, he leaves the baskets, he backs off.

Baskets of puce and rose!

His own stomach is a butterfly and last night the hungry bulb burned out. A bunch of yellow butterflies in the dark: magenta, rust, viridian. Butterflies like ribbon in a ceiling fan. How butterflies bleed.

Baskets of lemon and brown!

Last night his tooth fell out in the dark. His insidious tooth fell out and unfolded like a white butterfly, like a fingerprint, pallid. But this time he knew better. He. No. He. Buried butterflies under his pillow like a tooth. How butterflies bury their dead.

III

This boy listens to a birch tell him it’s not a birch, it’s not dreaming. It’s between two birds, a window in truth, window to where it is. Look through it. Two birds (these!) have been chasing something, or just sussing it because it’s not moving, it can’t be chased. It susurrates. Putrefies to a pumpkin-colored thing, and these birds smelling and playing, they are very sibilant. They are hanging string around it. A pageant.

This boy notices his friend has a rotten aura and he feels it. He sees the vengeful caterpillar on his arm, feels the oil—iron, opprobrium—freeze up on the underside of the ledge. Are they angry at each other? He asks his friend: you know birds can fit through a fence? His friend says: I, I press my cousins into a cave. His friend says: I stack each little crate on purpose.

He and his friend, they color blades in. They press their crotch against the piano. They find their parents’ cones. And pour cold gas in, and feed it to the birds. This one bird’s swan.

Jacob Kahn is a bookseller, editor, and organizer at E.M. Wolfman Books, as well as a longtime special educator in Oakland, CA. He is a 2018 Frontier Fellow at Epicenter in Green River, Utah, a rural design studio and community-based artist residency, and his writing can be found in ‘A Circuit of Yields’ (Wolfman Books, 2014) as well as Full Stop Quarterly, Open House, Elderly, and elsewhere.

Two Poems by Darren C. Demaree

[the very very blue]

i told my son the very very blue is a day with a want so great it removes the pleasure of accomplishing the task of getting dressed without falling down and getting dressed without falling down is the first goal of all people but when you see that sky is even more so there is a clamp that opens your heart and keeps it open until your attempt to flood the scene comes to fruition it’s amazing i told him how often men drown when they decide they can swim in any body of water that will take them they never stop to realize it’s their body that will deepen the pool to an untenable depth

 

[a lighthouse is]

i told my daughter a lighthouse is a beacon that rotates to penetrate the fog in all directions and if there are ships that actually want to find us they will but i don’t know who owns the lighthouses who runs the lighthouses who might want to see a ship or two spill cargo into our shallow harbors for all i know there are lighthouses filled with rifles and explosives i am this close to rooting for more fog and no light

 

Darren C. Demaree is the author of six poetry collections, most recently “Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly” (2016, 8th House Publishing). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. 

 

SLAB IV / V / VI by Big Bruiser Dope Boy

IV

I wasn’t ready for two-a-days. That’s a practice in the morning and another practice in the afternoon with a break in the middle to eat lunch and avoid the sun. Two-a-days started two weeks before and lasted until the school year started. The go-getters on the team trained over the summer, lifted weights and ran. I ate mint chocolate chip ice cream and jerked off. I was not a go-getter. The world was gradually teaching me a cumulative argument of what I was not, moving me into a place called “not knowing,” where I would disappear and things would be noticed.

I can’t go any further without telling you about instant messenger.

I’d found Aoudad’s screen name listed on his social media account back during my junior year and began what I understand now as harassing him innocently enough in superficial pursuit of a friendship with him. Friendship wasn’t quite the business I pictured, but it was the language I knew, the method by which I tried to access a language I didn’t know. What I wanted was a mystery. It was a mystery to me that I wanted what I wanted, and what I wanted was mysterious and unfamiliar to me, but I also wanted mystery itself. Mystery was what I was after. It’s what you’re after, too, at this moment, both gone and here with me at the same time. Me, gone and here with you, gone and here with me. There was the world and there was the world. There was the world subject to the world, working to make the world to which it was subject, subject to it.

I was 100% the initiator of all correspondence. It wasn’t that I didn’t have shame, but shame can be displaced  and hidden by desperation’s swill. The contents of our conversations were general––just my light badgering of him that only ever extracted small talk designed to end fast––not memorable, except for one time, that was memorable.

I remember it well.

It started like any other conversation: I started it. Wutangsword88 messaged ABallast32, and ABallast32 messaged Wutangsword88 back.

“hey aou”

“heyy [X]”

The normal vacuous banter. But then, after things strayed into a different kind of territory, perhaps from my nudging, he asked me.

“do you wanna jack off with me?”

What led up to this, whether the transition was abrupt or smooth, I cannot recall with conviction. The gods of wasted youth, or maybe just waste, have it in their custody now. I might have asked him, straight-up and without preamble, if he was gay. He would’ve said no. But––he asked me.

“what? are you serious?” I said.

“yeah, it’s not a big deal”

“but you said you weren’t gay”

“i’m not, it’s just a fun thing to do”

“I’m not gay”

“i know, me neither. it’s just fun. you just jack off in front of each other and seeing the other person makes you excited”

“really?”

“yes”

“but where?”

“we can do it in the back of my car. i have an [SUV]”

“just park somewhere?”

“yeah after school”

He was a ginger, a redhead. A cup of white yogurt with flakes of dried blood in it. He’d sunburn easily so he had to wear a certain shirt to protect his sensitive skin during practice, on top of all the sunscreen. I was shocked and going insane it felt like. What a proposition. What a . . . trap? Was he setting me up for some public humiliation? I’d seen enough teen movies to have my suspicions.

“I don’t want to do that”

I knew he knew I was lying. I lied anyway. The risk leveraged the mystery. I spooked myself. He abandoned the idea and it wasn’t brought up again, except for when I brought it up.

Our rapport did change, though. I’d gotten frustrated with him growing a bit cagey after that and one night I ended up copying, pasting, and posting the entire text of his collaborative “rooting each other on” self-pleasuring pitch in the claustrophobic quarters on social media. I messaged him and let him know I did it.

“oh my god please delete it”

“why?”

“please just delete it”

“you asked me to do it though”

I toyed with him awhile, then deleted it. I don’t think anyone saw it. I held the power, and then I let go of the power. It felt too cruel. But that power. It felt like a threat on my life.

 

V

 

Trouble came in ways of which I couldn’t be blamed for being unaware.

I’d done two-a-days before the start of my freshman, sophomore, and junior years and each time got easier because: I got used to how bad it sucked a little more each time; the younger the players, the more the coaches tortured them with up-downs and wind sprints; I went through puberty and became more athletic. So this time around, with my place on the varsity roster secured by default, earned through my years of commitment and dedication to the team, I did nothing to prepare for two-a-days. Any senior could sign up for football––even if he’d never played for the team before, or ever before in his life––and he’d have a guaranteed spot on varsity. After three years of tolerating my voluntary disciplining for social reasons beyond me, my position in this red and blue world of supplemental fathers and birds that ran as fast as cars was the same as someone with none. Freshman, JV-B, JV-A, and Varsity. Pull down the stairs to the attic, retrieve the toys long in storage, play with the toys all night in wonder, and watch your best friend’s dad whip him on his bare ass with a belt. You have earned your place.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t start this year. The offensive lineman who played my position in front of me had started last year as a junior after the guy in front of him’s heart stopped during the second game of the year, a road game, just keeled over off the bench, the biggest player on the roster with a full-ride scholarship to a Division I school. He was resuscitated with an AED by a dad who happened to be a cardiologist, coming down from the stands to administer the automated current, clearing the body so nobody else would get shocked. But everybody in the stadium got shocked. Both teams agreed to discontinue play. The guy ended up getting a pacemaker installed for a chronic arrhythmia and wouldn’t play again. T-shirts were made proclaiming that now, it was for him. They were doing it for him now! Before, there were a disparate multitude of reasons why they had been doing it, but now, there was but one. The guy in front of me this year rose to fill the team’s urgent need and started the rest of the year. Roused by their fallen comrade’s spirit in tow, the team went all the way to the state championship game on a miraculous playoff run in which the entire community seemed to invest their souls. Then they lost. Salvation was avoided.

 

VI

 

I showed up to two-a-days out of shape. I wouldn’t be starting so I didn’t see much to be in shape for. Water breaks were mandatory so nobody got too dehydrated. We were told what hue our pee should be: apple juice, keep chugging, lemonade, better, clear, best. Late summer afternoon heat was the enemy. I’d witnessed minor versions of heatstroke in other players through the years but never in myself except for precursory symptoms. It wasn’t like it used to be, players whose dads had played said. They said when players in their dads’ day got dehydrated or heat exhausted, the coaches would put them in a room without light and have them eat salt tablets and drink water until the cramping, shivering, and dizziness subsided. Our training staff had tanks of water with several spigot hoses running from them. The water break whistles would blow and you’d shamble to the tank, your head cooking murkily inside your helmet, which you’d pull off by prying the ear pads apart and tilting it back so the pads would slide up the sides of your face, drink as much as you could without getting sick, douse your head to cool it off, spray the inner pads of your helmet to get the sweat and grease out. When you put your helmet back on, a nasty chill would wash over you.

The first practice wasn’t in full pads––just helmets, shirts, shorts, and turf shoes. The field was artificial turf with a visible ridge halving the field end zone to end zone and gray metal grates surrounding for drainage. The field reminded me of the top of my skull, the crown itself also ridged end zone to end zone due to a narrow birth passage. But my head would flood. There was nowhere for it to drain. I waited for my face to leak and founder. The texture of the field was like rubber sandpaper––coarse and grippy, springy yet stiff with not a lot of give. If you slid and your skin made contact, it got ripped off and left enduring scabs. The field was a thriving Petri dish of staph bacteria. Skid wounds would frequently get infected, skin gnarled with red nodes pregnant with seeping pus. Maybe my brain had a staph infection, flooding its white knots from inside, out of nowhere, out of the hole that was me.

Big Bruiser Dope Boy tweets @bigbruiserdopeb. Links to other writing archived here: bigbruiserdopeboy.tumblr.com

Vow by Virginia Konchan

If you were to mark iniquities,
who, O Lord, shall stand?

For with you is forgiveness;
and because of your law,

I stand by you. My soul
has stood by your word,

and your inexpert moves
on the dance floor, at dawn.

Who cares about the future?
Why choose me out of

the eye, ear, and mouth
candy of multiplicity?

I just do not understand.
Yes, he’s an asshole.

No, you aren’t helping.
Nothing is helping, now

that life has become a parody
of life. Yet you have no disgusting

wealth to reject, and I like that
about you. I like ramen

as an idea, and a meal.
I’m only human; I bleed

when I fall down. Fuck
prepositions, indefinite articles;

fuck words that only serve to link
to other words, stolid integuments

of speech, sense, desire. You should
just start printing money, you once

said to me, because I was on fire.
I was on fire because you lit me,

like an ecstatic youth might do.
Yes, now it is a controlled burn.

Yes, I love what will eventually
destroy me. Yes, I pledge allegiance

to the environmental sculpture,
soon to degrade, that is you.

Virginia Konchan is the author of a poetry collection, The End of Spectacle (Carnegie Mellon, 2018), a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017), and two chapbooks, including That Tree is Mine (dancing girl press, 2018). Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Believer, Boston Review, and elsewhere.

Forfeiture by Saritha Ramakrishna

When everyone else was growing new wings, fangs and ways of maiming, I craved the sensation of disappearing. We spent our days in the lacquered surface of pools, as they dip against the decks and the decks bend into wet grass, iteratively and unnaturally. It was so achingly warm, heat pooling and draining across the desert.

 

We were 12 at the time and Phoenix, Arizona was not summer as it was elsewhere, a peeling away of coats, scarves and denim. In movies the season is always green lawns, Red Vines and the bones of chicken wings, wind dusted between violently pink bougainvillea. But for us it wasn’t like that. We hid in stucco walls and bodies of water, waiting to grow up into something miraculous, paper nymphs against the pool steps.

 

I swallowed the redness of my last popsicle  and too much chlorine, acrid and sweet expanding my stomach. I continually felt distended, the stickiness of mashed potatoes or red ribs or cupcakes inside me, having run down my throat, coursed through my body in fat deposits hanging off my thighs and stomach. The defiance of my collarbones stood out against the black bikini strap, the line of my neck so fragile I might feel it snap as I tipped it back to face the sun, spreading my legs against the surface of the water. In our languid movements, my friends and I had decided to create a whirlpool, our waif-calves beating the water into something with geometric shape.  It was action and reaction, push and pull, the sort of overwhelming desire to remake something formless.

 

In the midst of  all of this was the sugary calculation of “kiss me, kiss me, kiss me” and the way it rolls off of the tongue and the way one’s tongue rolls into someone else’s mouth. At the time I didn’t know what this felt like but I imagined that it would be tasteless, though I’d read that kisses are like honey. I imagined it might feel like one wet sponge against the other, fighting for more or less contact. But it ruled all of us girls, in prayer, our bodies stuffed into tropical print bikinis.

 

I saw myself as a girl who could not hold on to that particular litany, that “kiss me” chanted over and over again like a monk in focused devotion. I noticed how the boys turned mantis-like in the heat of it, stretched out arms and abdominals, too-long hair falling at jagged angles.I did not address any prayers or demands to any particular You, any particular object to be subject to, though we melded between  actor and reactor, up and down. I was exhausted by the back-and-forth, the swollen games full to burst. The seams were too visible in their stitching.

 

I shrank from fingernails and hands, blue and ghostlike in the prism of the water. I never wanted to feign distress as arms wrapped around my visible ribs, brushing the edges of a bikini tops. I hated the haggling of laughter and complaints, the ways to be noticed without being noticeably craven. There were so many boys, over for birthday parties or barbecues, legs dangling into the water.

 

I used to think about tipping the whole board over and throwing all the cards away. In the depths of the pool I saw my hair spiral upward like ink, buoyed in currentless water. I used to open my eyes to the sting of the chemicals and fluid, determined in my contemplation.

 

I imagined hitting my head against the pool’s smooth blue ground. Some twist of limb and I could end up with my skull and brain matter all against the bottom. I imagined how bloody it would be, how gory such vengeance could appear, swirling and persistent. I imagined the slow percolation of tissue and bone, my last stand against waiting to be pushed into the pool by some shirtless someone, face split open in laughter. I thought about some older brother’s friend and whoever else looking down into the chlorine froth. I imagined everyone waiting for me to surface but it would be too long, too long, and then I thought of how the red would eddy up and the world would slow down for all of them, a series of minute movements.

 

Could I be more to anyone if I was wilted a little, squirming less, still with my legs a little too wide in my distress?  I remember surfacing with a sharp and purposeful breath. Inhale, exhale and I was myself again. I think I turned to float on my back, squinting into bleaching sun, savoring the gruesome image.

 

In the bathroom, I stripped off the pool towel to gaze at the bones in the mirror. I didn’t remember how many ribs one was supposed to have. But they did look perfect there, against semi-translucent skin; the baby hairs stood up against my pruned-finger touch.

 

That summer coiled in itself and everything was a hazard, the metal buckles of seatbelts and steering wheels and gravel and pavement and walks at midday. The world felt apocalyptic, parking lots tessellating into my mind’s vision. My toes and palms were prematurely wizened from a life submerged, windswept body in arrested development.

 

I didn’t know where body fat went, how it could be cleaved from bones but not have to be thrown away. The scale said 81 pounds which was not a round number but as angular and menacing as I had ever wanted to be.

Saritha Ramakrishna is a graduate student based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For better or worse, she is originally from Phoenix, AZ. Find her less-than-professional Twitter handle here: @sarithasaywhaat

Palm Sunday by Theo Francis

The walk to the quarter was terrific, sunny but unoppressive, a non-totalitarian star. I was passing a navel orange between my right hand and my left. We stopped in the market to buy some sunglasses. I tried to haggle but I lost. Still tossing the orange back and forth, I said, I love the marketplace. I went to Mary Jane’s for some cigarettes, Ellie was behind the counter, a nicer headshop clerk you never will meet. We continued walking to the river but made a stop in the square and I found my favorite palm and we sat in its shade and ate some strawberries. I offered a cynical reading of Leaves Of Grass, which you had a copy of in your bag. You said, Who wouldn’t leave the house without Walt? We wondered why his likeness wasn’t on money, then we took a look at the statue of Jackson and suddenly realized why. At this point I’d developed a serious relationship with the orange and I named it Stevie Wonder. But there were birds, too, to know, so we got up and left the shade in search of sun and birdsong. Instead we got two crustpunks named Troll and Schwill on the moonwalk. The wharf was thick with crust, there was no getting around it. Troll had just had a grand mal seizure. In his words, I just grandma’d all over the stairs. Schwill had just gotten punched in the face by Game Over Rachel, who had GAME OVER tattooed on her knuckles. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of Game Over Rachel ending someone’s game for them. I gave Troll and Schwill some cigarettes and we all decided to take on the big questions, like identity, spirituality, and rehab in Arizona. In fact, Troll thought you were someone he knew from a past life at the Maverick House. He couldn’t be convinced that you weren’t, so you became that person for him. Her name was Rachel, too. It seemed like Troll was having a breakthrough, or another seizure, and the sun was setting, so we left. I found a single rose on the sidewalk, an Ethiopian rose, you informed me, and we made our way out of the quarter, taking turns idly twirling the rose. The sun was setting and the rose was losing petals, so we stopped for a meal of tabbouleh and tea. When we finished it was approaching dark on Palm Sunday and we walked back to your house and watched the sunset on the grass of your yard. A few days later I greeted Troll and Schwill on the street, but they didn’t recognize me.

Theo Francis has published work in Fanzine. He is currently working on a manuscript of poems about scams. You can reach him at acornfetish@gmail.com

News From The Coast by Joshua Rothes

There was a lamp post outside of a prosperous house where sat a bench where sat a drunken boatman far from the shore on which he landed, tossed there over the course of some days by this wind and that, demurred by humbling experiences, bridled by wisdom, kept warm by the spirits imbibed out of a leaky pouch which never grew entirely empty, and even seemed, from time to time, to refill itself about a quarter of the way or a fifth. There was an enormous tree not far from the bench (you didn’t really believe because of the lamp post that it was dark? there are more than necessities to speak of, rather, anything else) that cast partial shade, and while he enjoyed it, the drunken boatman, a captain of one time, stretched his feet into the sun, long cold since he threw his shoes overboard toward land and missed badly. Everything that met his eye held great excitement, particularly after the whirlwind that brought him there, how badly it blurred everything to the point of nonsense, letting through only once, briefly, the sound of children laughing, as if they were his tormentors. A young man who had been watching from a window of the prosperous house until now (watching what? There has been no action, you say, but that is because you are dull of perception, and anyhow, do not have the eyes of the drunken boatman, who make any sight a welcome and most interesting sight) walked down the path from the house to the road to bring the boatman a cup of coffee, and asked him, after the first sip proved satisfactory, what news the boatman brought from the coast, which through a decades’ old interest, held some sway over the goings on of the family, who were, as one might expect, as prosperous as their home would indicate. The boatman first remarked how the moss that made up the bulk of their yard was as soft as the finest carpet, relative to his station, that he had ever felt, and he would certainly like to sleep on it, but he thought the lamp post might be a nuisance, the rhythms of the body and all, and he would seek arrangements shortly. As for the coast, he continued after a pause for clarity, the moon caught his eye like always in glistening fragments, immune to the grid which had been lain (sic) on top of the water, scaring off the sharks that could not afford to be seen, if for a moment, and the business, as it was, carried on, as fast as ever, or maybe faster, and they all stayed drunk, cashed checks, took leave, and the equipment bade them stay below deck for its own good, like a teenager casting off a chaperone, promising the crows would nip out their eyes if they fell asleep drunk in the sun so near the shore, because it was a myth that the salt air deterred the hungry crows, who could be no less bothered by it or the loudly rolling. (A particular image escapes me.) The young man, the son of the family, slapped the boatman on the back, spilling his coffee. This was good to hear, and the lamp post could be dimmed or silenced as he wished, owing to a switch inside of the home, which owned the land to the road and therefore the bench and the post, if the boatman wished to stay on the premises for the evening, though there were prettier gardens and darker woods just down the road.

Joshua Rothes is the author of An Unspecific Dog, a collection of short texts out on Punctum Books. He lives in Seattle, Washington.