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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Twilite Motel and Lounge

By Mark Kraushaar
Feature image: Still Live with Bottles, 1892 by Roderic O’Conor

Donny Banya does the room repairs or
when he isn’t buzzed he does.
I’m the night clerk.
Alma runs the bar—plus she’s an artist.
Big John, the owner, does the books
and walks around and plans big changes
to the parking lot and ground-floor Men’s.
There’s other staff but tonight
it’s just the three of us, or four including John
who is dozing on the sofa by the magazines,

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A Letter to My Former Employer One Week After My Untimely Death

By Nancy Miller Gomez
Feature image: I Am the Abyss and I Am Light, 1928 by Charles Sims

My house cleaner passed away last week . . .
need to find someone new . . . Prefer someone
who charges by the hour . . . Bob 831-435-648
posted on social networking site Nextdoor

Dear Bob, Perhaps you’ve noticed the smell
of cinnamon and sweet rice drifting through
your kitchen at night. So when the ice melting
in your second glass of gin begins
to sound like a woman singing “El Cantante,”
you’ll know. It’s me.

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By Claire Bateman
Feature image: Devil’s Bridge on the St Gotthard Road, 1781 by Christian Georg Schütz the Elder

After you’ve braved the glass bridge, the ice bridge,
the gauze bridge, the cobweb bridge, the steam bridge, and
the bridge of molted breath,

you’ll experience the opaque bridge as nothing
but vertigo, collapse, desolation,

and will have to be coaxed, dragged, carried
to the opposite side.

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The Virgin Mirror

By Claire Bateman

After the handmaidens, blindfolded and proceeding by touch alone, have
twined the masses of string across its enormous silvered surface, then the
mirror-keeper, also blindfolded, sets a lit match to the central knot.

When they sense that the whole skein is ablaze, they bear the burning glass
to the lake’s edge, and lower it into the icy shallows where the mirror-keeper
strikes a single blow, shattering it along every line at once.

Then they lift it in its frame from the water to tap and test its face with their
tongs, plucking out the fragments, swaddling them individually in silk to be
dispersed throughout the land.

Now instead of making pilgrimage in order to not look into the virgin mirror,
each family can cherish a shard to not look into without leaving home.

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By Claire Bateman
Feature image: The Breeze at Morn, 1930 by Thomas Lowinsky

And here we see where the pages of the ocean
were torn from their logbook as if in meticulous rage,
though there’s no debris adhering to the binding,
as might so easily have been the case.
What to do with this stiff and empty cover?
Pack it with snow and staple it all around,
so it can retain its shape until the committee
rends it open and shakes it out face-down,
inviting the ragged pages to return
in just the right sequence
from every place they’ve flown.

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The Strategic Plan

By Carrie Shipers
Feature image: Voyages of the Moon, 1934-7 by Paul Nash

No one knows its origins. Like carpools
and happy hour, the Plan has simply always been.
Its awkward page breaks and stilted phrasing,
preservation of failed projects, employees

long departed, are evidence of its ambition,
how it defies the limits of language, software,
human thought. No one has ever read the Plan
in its entirety. Attempts to download it

result in system crashes, sunspots, and recession.
A single hard copy is rumored to exist,
its pristine pages collated and punched,
then stored in binders ordered on a shelf—

but no one knows exactly where. A hundred years
from now, when the company has ceased to be
and its headquarters crumble, the Strategic Plan
will rest among the rubble waiting to be found.

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Questions for the Office of Public Relations

By Carrie Shipers
Feature image: The Purchaser, 1915 by Eric Gill

Do you pride yourself on your preparedness? For example,
have you already drafted a statement expressing shock

and sadness at the actions of Employee X? Did you
write it with a particular person and scenario in mind,

and if so will you say which ones? Given your choice
of disaster, would you prefer a product recall months

after concerns were first reported, high-level infidelity
involving interns and/or prostitutes, a flagrant

disregard for federal law, or embezzlement based on
shareholder fraud? Did you choose the challenge

you’re best poised to meet, or the one that sounded
the most fun? Speaking of fun, is it true most members

of your field make very poor decisions regarding alcohol,
sex and property damage, and therefore any conference

lasting longer than a day devolves into a bacchanal?
How often, in your personal life, do you attempt

to reframe information and influence someone’s view?
Is this a breach of ethics on your part, or would you insist

it’s simply human nature to want your own way?
Have you ever waged a secret, negative (i.e., “dark”)

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How to Be Better by Being Worse

By Justin Jannise
Feature image: The Kiss, 1895 by Edvard Munch

Ban soap. Banish suds.
Sweep the dormitory clean
of polish. Let dust do
what dust does with no opinion

from feathers.
Invite musk. Be clothed
in scandal. Smear
and smudge and slander yourself

courageous. Fuck
courage. Stick your finger
in its wet mouth and kiss
its salty neck. Slip in

as many chickenshit deeds
as any deadbeat dad
ever did. Forget
birthdays. Ruin Christmas.

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By Michael Pontacoloni
Feature image: Fire at Full Moon by Paul Klee

Dad has three different chainsaws
and Kevlar shin pads,
the same glossy material
protecting a spacecraft
as it drifts into the Kuiper Belt
where little flecks of undead planet
fling around like buckshot
and light from the sun
takes a while to arrive.

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Moving the Piano

By Kathryn Petruccelli
Feature image: The Keynote, 1915 by William Arthur Chase

It takes almost nothing
to step into each other’s lives: a favor
for a neighbor, a huge, upright Steinway
there’s no one left to play.

All morning they labored together,
the men. Everything they could think of
to get it out of the van
                                          and over the curb—
metal ramp, wooden boards, a jack,
the old bed frame from behind the garage.

Dave had never asked my husband
for anything before. The house
he’d grown up in was already packed,
mementos sold, his mother’s mind

skipping liberally among the decades,
her fingers running through chords in the air
or waltzing grandly
through measures of Chopin.

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