Gift

By Matthew J. Spireng

Featured Art: Persian Saddle Flask by Matthew J. Spireng

He had admired it, yes, because

it was beautiful. It was very beautiful, but

he had not admired it because he

wanted it. She had thought otherwise,

though, because as he admired it, he told her,

“Isn’t it beautiful.” Not a question.

And it was for sale. His birthday

was coming. So she thought he admired it

because he wanted it and she bought it

for him. What could he say? A question,

rhetorical. He had admired it, yes,

and still admired it, although now it was his. Read More

Why You’re Going to Eat That Pelican

By Jon Fischer

Your lunch at the French bistro was more essence

and foam and reduction than food, and that pelican

is the size of your remaining hunger.  He surely tastes

like the history of the sea and especially the doubloons

nestled in the sand in busted buccaneer sloops. Read More

Review: Jeanne-Marie Osterman’s Shellback

by: Eric Stiefel

Jeanne-Marie Osterman’s debut full-length poetry collection, Shellback (Paloma Press 2021), does the difficult work of using inventive and unflinching verse to deal with a lineage of familial trauma, alternating between the speaker’s father’s wartime experiences in World War II’s pacific theater, the difficulties of a childhood with a father who’s haunted by the war, and her aging father’s final days.  

The collection begins with an explanation of its title (“shellback” is a nickname for a veteran sailor who’s been hazed through a violent initiation ceremony after sailing across the equator) and a poem called “Epilogue” (p. 13), which paints a portrait of the speaker’s father during the last days of his life.  After opening with the lines “He’s losing his grip / Last Saturday night, / trying to shave for church.”  While sitting in the dark, the speaker’s father asks her to read to him: “This is how we talk about death: / He asks me to read / the last part twice / where Sam’s frozen corpse / comes back to life.” 

This move sets the stage for the rest of Shellback—a daughter trying desperately to understand the life of the man who raised her, a father who doesn’t know how to explain.  Fortunately, Shellback isn’t afraid of dealing with challenging subject matter, whether the speaker is recounting kamikaze attacks her father survived during the war or navigating the indignities of her elderly father’s decline. 

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Interview with Jeanne-Marie Osterman

Eric Stiefel:

I’d like to start by congratulating you on Shellback, which is your first full-length collection of poetry.  As a poet who seldom writes so intimately about my personal life, I’m curious to know how you shaped your lived experiences and your father’s wartime memories into such a sharp, multifaceted, character-driven collection of poetry like Shellback. When did you know that these poems would form a book-length project?  Did they come to you individually or in groups?

Jeanne-Marie Osterman:

Thanks for your kind words, Eric, and a great question.

My father served in the Navy during World War II, but it wasn’t until he was in his mid-nineties—not many years ago—that he told me he’d fought in the Battle of Okinawa, and that he’d survived a kamikaze attack. I’d just started writing poetry at that time, and was inspired to write a short poem about his revelation. I took it to a workshop and was encouraged by the teacher (Grace Schulman) that I was on to something and to “keep going” with more poems on this topic. And so I did.

When my father told me about the attack, he was in assisted living. I was visiting him a few times a year, from New York City to Everett, Washington, and these visits inspired poems also. We talked about old times, the other residents, how Everett had changed, things we did together when I was a child, and how he felt about facing the end of life. I kept a notebook and started many of the poems after these talks.

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Looking for Moments Where the Transcendent Becomes Possible: An Interview with Anthony Marra

Featured Image: Murnau, by Alexej von Jawlensky. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art’s Open Access Collection

Anthony Marra is the author of the collection of short stories The Tsar of Love and Techno and the novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction. Our editorial associate Chase Campbell interviewed him in advance of our annual fiction contest, for which Marra is the judge.

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In the Morning I Wake Up Feeling Unmoved

By Emily Lee Luan

Featured art: Into Something Rich and Strange by Caleb Sunderhaus

   In the morning I wake up
feeling unmoved   hardly
   particular   the house

around me quieted by early
   rain   I feel hungry and so
I eat   I wash  my face

   measure the relative length
of my hair    to my shoulder
   Sometimes I let myself  feel

exceptional   stretch my arms
   in open   grasses   
the suspension lasting only

   until dinnertime   or upon
learning he once loved a girl
   with collarbones   just like

mine   But today isn’t remarkable  
   I’ve stopped looking at my
body   naked in the mirror or

   washing in between my toes
It feels as if nobody   has seen
   me in days   Something in that

makes me want  to be   object
   caught in a window frame
or otherwise  violently   found

   I scatter brightly colored
candies into my palm   frame
   my hand  against the white

of the porcelain sink   It makes
   so much sense  that someone
would love me  until it    doesn’t Read More

The Mooneyeds

By Sarah Minor

Featured art: American Rural Baroque by Ralph Steiner

The landline clapped as Dinah set the phone in its cradle and saw five new mini-Butterfinger wrappers in the can beneath her desk. There was a drizzle going on in the office parking lot—Giant lake weather. Billy Lloyd the Tobacco King, her Grandad, had finally died. Dinah stared into the gray matter of her cubicle, calling up the blue-frosted window in the fifth-floor bathroom, weighing whether at this hour she could finish an organic cigarette in there before someone noticed her shoes.

Dinah hadn’t spoken to her father in five months and then there he was, Billy Lloyd Jr., pronouncing emphysema, crying blubbery on the phone. Today and tomorrow would be for the examiner. The Lloyds didn’t embalm on account of a fear initiated by Lincoln’s rail-traveling corpse, though most of them had forgotten why by now, and with the heat they wouldn’t want more than three days for a body, even then. If Dinah went, she’d have to fly in the morning through Hotlanta or Dulles to land in time. Read More

Rhizomes

By Tamara Matthews

Featured art: Golden Egg by Maddy McFadden

I didn’t want to start a fire.

I didn’t want to walk out the door with the letter that morning either. I didn’t want to shut off Ken’s 5:45 AM alarm and find his side of the bed empty. I didn’t want the lingering cologne in the bathroom and the trail of beard tips tapped from a razor along the sink’s edge. But what I wanted was beside the point.

This is how we lived during our separation, coming and going through the house we still shared. Ken avoided me, and I tracked his traces like a botanist searching for a rare species of plant. I tracked him to the coat rack where his bomber jacket was missing, and there he disappeared, destination unknown. Read More

Sevens

By Deborah Thompson

I.

“Watch out for the number seven,” my mother tells me at the start of my recent visit to her Florida apartment; I’ve just mentioned that I will soon turn 57. “You know sevens are big in our family, right?”

I’m still getting used to how old my mother has gotten. A chaos of cross-hatched wrinkles nest her graying eyes. She’s convinced those wrinkles were caused by her cataract surgery, but more likely she just wasn’t able to see them before. She huddles in her powder blue bathrobe even though it’s 80 degrees outside and she doesn’t use the air conditioner. She’s been wearing the same robe since I was in high school, the blue now paler and more powdery. Because of the arthritis in her fingers, she can no longer button it, so she does without.

 “Sevens? Big?” I ask. “What do you mean?” Am I witnessing my 82-year-old mother’s fall into dementia? Without her dentures, she slurs her words, which doesn’t reassure me. I know, though that when she says something nutty, it’s often because she’s now nearly deaf. Not hearing a question properly, she makes up her own question and then answers it. This time, however, she’s watching my over-enunciating lips and guesses correctly. Read More

No Most of the Time

By Nick Reading

Featured art: A Rat in Its Natural Habitat by Ellie Sinclair

Your son’s hand is in the shark bowl again
so you say no. Your daughter wears the potty

as a hat. Say no. He lists feces on the wall.
She rehearses a song about it all complete

with refrain. No. You say no when pots
and pans become soldiers’ helmets

assaulted by whisks and wooden spoons.  
No to everything else for dinner and yes

to pigs in a blanket and ice cream baths.
And no more, Can we afford it? Read More

To Do

By James Lough

Featured art: Yin and Yang by Mariama Condé

It seems I’m to blame for my three-year-old son’s conversion to religion. It begins around five o’clock on a warm autumn afternoon at an open window. I am bent over, tidying up his Thomas the Tank Engine pieces scattered on the rug. Simon is standing at the tall, open window, a window hung low in the wall, its sill even with his knees. He’s watching the low, golden light play off the grass. Outside the window is a twenty-five foot drop. He presses his little palms against the screen and leans in for a closer look.

I panic and shout. “Simon Simon no no no get back!” Read More

Güerita

By Julian Robles

Featured art: Disappearance at Sea II by Tacita Dean

for Esperanza Duque

I came to Guerrero because they told me my father had been here, once when he was my age, and later, when he fled. But we came to Pie de la Cuesta for Tía Juana. I couldn’t tell her no while she was sitting there with her blouse still unbuttoned down to her waist, and those lines folded sideways through her armpits. The right side had been more complicated during surgery, so the scar splayed from her chest almost to her back. Seeing me dressed for the beach all week reminded her of what she had lost years before: Pie de la Cuesta, a needle of coastline only she remembered. Adán drove us here so she could show me. And now we were here and Tía Juana was far behind us, alone, almost buried in the sand. Read More

Love and Homeostasis

By Jessica Fiorillo

Featured art: Shame, and Then by Maddy McFadden

The fever itself wasn’t serious. It came on as a subtle achiness, a stiffness of the limbs when I’d push off the couch or rise up from bed after a broken sleep. I took my temperature and it was normal, maybe up a half degree. I kept trying to rotate my eyes down to the thermometer’s window, just enough to catch the reading before it beeped. I thought about a story I’d read about the decreasing temperature of human bodies. That the average of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit was set 170 years ago when bodies ran warmer and California was becoming the 31st American state.

I wondered if my half degree was actually a full degree higher than my usual set point. I tried to remember the last time I took a reading, when I wasn’t feeling my body shift. But that’s the thing about temperatures – you only take them when you suspect that something’s wrong. Often, there probably is. Read More

First Night at Super Paradise

By Laura Linart

Featured Art: some quiet morning in Athens, OH by Sue-Yeon Ryu

Give me a lesson in planetary frisson. Snake
like a vine running up my nervous system.

Provoke me. Ask, even as you trace the length
of my thigh, Isn’t it surreal that we’re here?

Isn’t it surreal? Suspended in heaven,
we’ve got front row seats to the ocean.

We spend time like billionaires. We dance
in slow motion. There’s an angel spinning EDM.

I’m under hypnosis. Take the first bite. Taste
the strobe light. Feel the beat begin to fall.

Down here, gravity loves us. The crowd pulses
in its thrall. Temporal rhythm, room spinning,

my back against the wall. It’s so crude
how my body wants you, animal after all.


Read More

The Last Innocent Moment

By Janine Kovac

Featured Art: Ballet at the Paris Opéra by Edgar Degas

Today we are a cozy family of three—Daddy, Mama, and daughter. We are taking a road trip from our home in Oakland, California to a town called King City so Daddy can perform his signature role as the Sugar Plum Fairy cavalier. It’s our last trip together before the twins are born and Chiara-Noelle has told me in her three-year-old way that she is not pleased about this pregnancy. She wanted a sister, not two brothers and she can’t understand why we can’t just make what’s growing inside me be something else. Read More

The Terms of Agreement

By Patrick J. Murphy

Featured art: Untitled by Sue-Yeon Ryu

It was getting late and her grandson Buddy wasn’t back, so Vera decided to brave the heat and go with Alicia to find him. She’d wanted to talk to her daughter in private, anyway, but when she stepped outside, though the sun was low, the light still bounced with a glaring intensity off the pale houses, the plastered walls. Vera felt her skin growing damp, the small shock as the heat hit her body. It just took time to adapt to a Florida retirement, she thought, and remembered Little Rock and the parks along the river, the evening fireflies above deep grass.

It irritated her that Alicia, walking placidly beside her, didn’t seem to mind the climate, or much of anything else. Her daughter was overweight and wore long, black, wrinkled cotton dresses. Her left ear was pierced in five places, and she sometimes wore a silver ring through her right eyebrow. She was making a statement, she said, and didn’t care what anyone thought.

“Then why bother making a statement?” Vera asked once, only to meet with an uncomprehending stare.

Read More

Beef Jerky That Makes People Sad

By Mari Casey

I enrolled my boyfriend in a beef jerky of the month club
one Christmas. In January, we broke up, and it was
a horrible breakup that still hurts a little, years beyond.

In February, when notice came that his jerky had again been shipped,
I cancelled it. It was the type of breakup where the kindest thing we could do
was leave each other alone forever. We hadn’t been very kind. I wanted to change.

In March, I got another shipping notice, tracked to his front door,
but my card had not been charged. I called
and was assured that no more jerky would be sent. Read More

suggestion box feedback from lovers/boyfriends/partners on how to improve myself, that I never asked for, and I know who you are because I recognise your handwriting

By Paula Harris

Featured art: Untitled by Felicity Gunn

we don’t have anything in common

what if you grew your hair long?

what if we went running every morning at 6?

you could be nicer, you could be less judgmental

what if you got a degree?
yeah, you should definitely get a degree

we don’t have anything in common

you look better when you don’t weigh as much

can you talk a bit softer?

calm down

you’d be better with bigger breasts Read More