What If We Wake Up Dead

By Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

what if we plant roses beside the shed
what if we paint the living room a muddy incarnadine
what if you go on a diet
what if we go to Paris
what if the dog’s ghost follows us      when the house is sold
where will we go      when the house is sold
what if we try talking
what if I could be nice
what if we have to move in with your mother
what if we could be honest about the weather
what if   like a father      you get up only to leave the room
what if   like a mother      I speak only in other rooms
what if we redo the kitchen and you become a pastry chef
what if we move to Phoenix
what if I smash the Lennox
what   if I drive away         what is good
what   if I drive away         into a tree
what if we cross our hearts
what if we make applesauce
what if you become what killed your father
what if I can’t forgive what killed your father
what      if the kids could see us
what      if the kids become us
what      if the kids inherit everything

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By Susan Browne
Featured image: Couple on a Cot, c. 1874-1877 by John Singer Sargent

I once walked past a man on February 14th
who was peeing on a window display,
teetering on his tiptoes & bent backward
aiming at the word love written in red curlicues.
Robins fat as cupids watched from the hedges.
At the end of the block I had to look again, too.
He was still going at it like an acrobat or a camel.

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You Once Felt Gigantic

By Jonathan Greenhause
Feature image: Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens, 1888/1891 by Albert Pinkham Ryder

but are presently a grain of sand
buried at the bottom of the sea, a fly on the windowpane

of a once-sacred mosque lost in the heart of Christianity.
Your glorious achievements

are scribbled footnotes on pages ripped from ancient tomes
no one will ever read, your manifestos mistaken for satires,

dismissed as innocuous, as too eager to please.
Your rightful place in history

has been repeatedly plowed under, the dates of your birth & death
erased to make room for more pressing memories.

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Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning

By Elton Glaser
Feature image: The Simoniac Pope,  1824-7 by William Blake

I pay my sin tax
On cigarettes and booze, keeping afloat
The pious aspirations of Ohio.

A good smoke will corrupt the lungs
Just as sweetly as
London gin will weaken the liver.

There’s always a tangle of implications
That riff on the ineffable
And the strange banquets of the flesh.

I’m posting these dispatches to you
From my little boondock of the damned,
Eking out my last days

Among the living dead of the heartland,
The frightened corn farmers
And all those overdosed on drugs or Jesus,

Dope brewing in a duplex
Where the kids sleep in crusty diapers
And dogs wheeze on the fumes,

Three doors down from smalltown messiahs
Who vote against the liquor license
And for the blowhards and the jackboot.

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Until We Do

By Sydney Lea
Feature image: Flight of the Magnolia, 1944 by Paul Nash

we’re visitors here of course
we live out our precious stories
imagine they’re legacies
until we don’t anymore
we settle for anecdotes

we shuffle along but behave
all the while as if we were dancing
or acting some crucial part
until we don’t that is
we assume we’re safe at home

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Note to My First Wife

By Steven Cramer
Feature image: The Convalescent, 1918-19 by Gwen John

We leased a two-story coloring book.
The peonies our neighbor planted

between our recto and her verso
turned out plastic to the touch.

She even kept them watered: pretty
funny, like the niblets we bought

in white cans named NO NAME.
But it’s the moon who found us

really hilarious that night—naked,
well-oiled from head to foot—

we swam across Lake MacBride.
No memories of you in snow . . .

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The Flash

By Jennifer Givhan

My 11-yr-old son has forgotten not to eat on my bed            He loves watching The Flash
from my room with the widest windows, the warmest place in our house each winter,

& with the coneflower warmth of his brown skin veiled in his bright red suit, he tucks
his kinky curls under the cap & ghosts from room to room undetected, sneaking

cookies            till I climb beside him into piles of crumbs            You’re grounded I echo
& he is sobbing            but what he says catches

the pit of wax burning always inside me            We got him
into special ed classes last year after years of fighting with teachers & breakdowns

over homework & his father yelling You’ve got to learn to listen            & I kept insisting
he’s trying, he just doesn’t understand             & here he slides onto my floor,

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Failing to Master the Art of Erasure

By Wendy Taylor
Feature image: Blue Horse I, 1911 by Franz Marc

I’m at the Museum of Fine Arts
in Boston, drawn to Degas’
Racehorses at Longchamp. I remember
the first time you left a message
on my answering machine, mumbled
your soft voice, said, I’m in the mood
to go to the horse races tonight.
A thing
I knew only from the Pomona County
Fair as a child where Grandpa lost our
dinner money and Grandma fell down. On
our date, we arrive before the 9th race, empty
lot, attendants gone, the turnstile jammed,
you jump over, I duck under. You dig a Daily
Racing Form from a Coke–spilled trash bin,
scrape up losing tickets off the cement. We sit
at a table with TV monitors, gloomy lights, no
view, no stands, no night air or dusty moon,
no romance, just stray cats licking nacho
cheese off chips, old men in torn fedoras
with dead faces and nicotine-washed fingers.
Today, I think of how your friends and I meant
to secretly scatter your ashes over the turf
after your memorial service, to let you rest
while the ponies and the trotters kept pace.
But I couldn’t give you up to the earth
or take you out of the race yet, and even now
through this oil on canvas, I can hear
you say, Put me on the favorite, baby.
You can’t win it, if you aren’t in it.

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Throwing Rocks

By Wendy Taylor

After my husband died, my dad drove my
2 1⁄2-year-old son to the lake at Tri-City
Park to feed the ducks and throw rocks. Voices
of carefree children on swings and slides nearby
didn’t interest my pensive boy. And though
he feared the wild geese at the lake’s edge,
my dad said, He just needs something to throw
across the dark waters. So, my dad bought big
buckets of rocks from Home Depot, sat
patient for hours while my son reached
into the orange container, indiscriminate
about which rocks would take the journey
across the surface of the black rippled
liquid. They each had their lonely airborne
moment, as he frowned, flung his arm back
and released, and released, and released.

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At Sixty-Two

By Dion O’Reilly
Feature image: Old Woman Seated by Honoré Daumier 

Looking at my X-ray, the doctor
says my hips resemble
those of an eighty-year-old woman.

Weeks later, when I huff into a tube
to blow out virtual birthday candles,
my allergist mentions
with what seems smug satisfaction
that my lungs whistle
like an eighty-year-old woman’s.

O hypothetical eighty-year-old woman—
you skeletal model
walking the hospital runway
in this year’s open-assed robe,
blue dots on cotton—
how do you like being the It Girl of Mortality,

archetype of: You are nearly nothing?

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Liberal Father

By Dion O’Reilly
Feature image: Mahna no Varua Ino (The Devil Speaks), 1894/1895, Paul Gauguin

He sits in thinned Hanes, reading
The New Republic, one leg crossed over the other—
picking at a flaked green toenail,
some rot caught in the steaming air
during amphibious assault on Guadalcanal.

And on weekends under wraiths of blue smoke,
he visits with his buddies—
men in striped bell-bottoms and afros,
women with long noses and gypsy earrings,
French professors from the university—
organizing for the first farmworker for Congress,
the first black man for president, the next Kennedy.

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By Dion O’Reilly
Feature image: Hope, 1886 by George Frederic Watts and assistants

means whistle. A Spanish word
that sounds like silver
in the air, a little bird’s song
Oh My Dear. Oh My Dear.
Every year, the first time I hear
that smooth silbato,
it’s the first day of fall, a sparrow
with a small stripe lining its eye,
passing through
with the dying days
when the golden apple’s skin
feels softer than in summer,
a little more honey.
Oh My Dear. Little girl,
this is how it begins—
school, getting up early, not knowing
what you’re in for,
what your friends will do to you,
what you’ll do to them,
what being one year older
will mean in the world
of a girl. What to fear
and what to hope for.

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By Amelie Meltzer
Feature image: Landscape, Sunset, 1886/1887 by George Inness

The sun sets red through clouds of ash
made of normal stuff, like trees and brush, but
also bedroom walls, Persian rugs, winter clothes, LEGOs,
maybe the family dog.

At a safe distance from the actual disaster,
we cough and small-talk about wind patterns, particulate counts.
It’s everyone’s opening line on Tinder, something like,
“I’ve got an extra N95 mask waiting for that special someone ;-)”

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Meg Francis

By Kate Sweeney
Feature image: Madonna, 1895 by Edvard Munch

threw a dead groundhog on my porch
the night after I stole her boyfriend.

My mother called the cops and the officer
knocked at its gut with his boot and blood drooled

from a bullet hole. That’s some good aim,
he said. Tell your daughter to watch out.

Years later, I tell this to a former student of mine
as we lay in bed, a Czech twenty-something

with a secret girlfriend in Prague.
Hanna, moje milovat—which he whispered

into his phone—was not hard to Google Translate.
I imagined how she could die. A slip down the stairs,

a misstep in front of the city bus. Rat poison is sweet,
the bottle under the sink whispered. Do not ingest.

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Love as Invasive Species

By Ellen Kombiyil
Feature image: Spider Art by Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix)

“And beyond the empty cage, a bedroom; and beyond a bedroom, the wood boards,
beams, and floors holding the shape of the house; and beyond the house, a yard.”
—from Jorge Luis Borges’ mislaid manuscript, Labyrinthian Architectures,
a book that has been wished into existence

The day the tarantula escaped, my uncle
joked, “The cage is empty.” He said it over cornflakes—
the rock fallen off, the mesh lid mysteriously askew.

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