Featuring stories by Caro Claire Burke, Daniel Paul, Jonathan Durbin, Frankie Barnet, and Gunnar Jaeck, and poems by Kateri Kosek, David O’Connell, Christopher Brean Murray, Dylan Loring, Lance Larsen, Cody Wilson, and Susan Ramsey.
by Caro Claire Burke
The mother and father received the news on a Friday afternoon and were in the car driving south an hour later. They drove until midnight, then checked into a Courtyard Marriott for five hours before hopping back onto the road at dawn to cover the last hundred miles. They were silent in the car, which was strange: in their twenty years of marriage, they had never run out of things to talk about. There were, of course, things to talk about now—perhaps more than ever before—but neither the mother nor the father could find the words to start the conversation. By the time they navigated through the college town and parked at the police station where their son was held, they were both exhausted, irritable, and fit to burst with all the questions they’d swallowed on the way down.
The police officer behind the desk looked up as the entrance bells went off. “You must be the boy’s parents.”
The father stepped forward to shake the police officer’s hand. “That we are. Where is he?”
by Melissa Studdard
We hid in the belly of porcelain. The world
sang sirens overlapping, the sound of wind
taking gates from the hinge. That whistling, yes.
Whistling and whipping, the world the cry
of a cow caught in the spin of a twister and lifted.
Water creeping to the back door like a thief.
It wanted the jewels of our eyes.
by Daniel Paul
I run into her on the street. We haven’t seen each other in a few years. “The weather is really nice today, especially for winter,” I say.
“I know,” she says. “It’s been so gray and depressing lately that I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I hate living here. Or at least I hope I hate living here. Otherwise it means that I just hate living in general.”
“No,” I reassure her. “I’m sure you just hate living here; this city is terrible.”
“I feel a bit better today,” she continues, “though it’s probably only warmer outside because of climate change, which makes me feel like enjoying a day like this is stealing joy directly from future generations . . . which I guess is okay, because I don’t want to have children: babies look like aliens, and I can’t even keep a houseplant alive; honestly, sometimes I don’t even want to keep the plant alive; I’d rather lord over it with my power to decide its fate, though that’s probably just a way of rationalizing the fact that even if I did want to keep a plant alive—to feel like I was contributing to the cycle of life and warmth even if just in my living room—I’m sure I would fail somehow and it would die anyway.”
by Kateri Kosek
When copyediting the small-town monthly, things press in.
Chair yoga. Croquet. Bears that pull laundry off clotheslines.
Someone following GPS drives onto the dam,
slips off the narrow bridge.
Someone unscrews his neighbor’s porch light, gets caught on surveillance.
He said the light was annoying at night but promised to stop doing it.
by Jonathan Durbin
It is too early to be up when the girl rises to pack. Winter rain taps the window but otherwise outside the street is silent and dark. No joggers or dog walkers or idling delivery trucks. No cars, not yet. No sign of Mike Lavoie.
The girl wishes for a cigarette but there isn’t time enough to smoke. She isn’t allowed anyway. There is no smoking in the shelter, the boy made that clear. If she smokes there they’ll be forced out and then where will they stay? Her mother’s? Nowhere is safe. Not anymore. The boy rolls onto her side of the bed, his hair thick with night grease, and mutters into her pillow. It sounds like You know better.
by Craig Bernardini
If I had a choice
between being wrong
and the world dying—
you know, the oceans
turning into lemon juice, the air
to Lysol, the forests
swamp, shipping lanes
jammed with dead
polar bears, Manhattan
a gondola, the world,
a Gondwana of dengue—
I would, of course, choose
by Kateri Kosek
Today on the back-roads, where Connecticut
and Massachusetts bleed together unnoticed—
the large, gangly silhouettes of two llamas
weaving across the road ahead of me, not
where they are supposed to be, where I always
pass them, stoic and shaggy amid a spread
of crumbling outbuildings.
by Daniel Paul
Walking in the West Village, I stop at the park on Clarkson Street to watch some little league baseball. I lean against the chain-link fence and am grateful for how its curves accept my weight without comment or judgment (as I imagine the inside of a whale might). A man is standing near me; he speaks in easy platitudes, and I nod along, not so much because I agree with him—for example, he says the weather is perfect, and all I can think of is how one of the clouds looks like you and the other looks like Nixon and how I’m in no state to rank omens in terms of their relative inscrutability—but rather because I really like nodding: as with launching a satellite, once you’ve done the work of getting your head to the top of its apogee there is a pleasing feeling of submission to a higher power in letting gravity complete the act. The man, who I decide to name Bubba (because I have never met a Bubba and fear if I do not take this opportunity, I never will) tells me that its been a crazy year for the team, though I don’t know which team he is referring to (one is in blue, the other green, and I wonder if I’m the only one who is bothered by the fact that the team whose shirts do not have piped collars is the one sponsored by a local plumbing concern).
It’s been a crazy year for all of us, I say, unsure of what a “sane year” would look like.
by David O’Connell
I hate their tiny hands, the silent-screen-villains’ way they have
of rubbing them together, chest-high, as they squat on countertop
or wall and stare me down with gas-mask goggle eyes.
Hate how they materialize from clear blue sky to picnic, to garbage,
to shit. It’s their disregard. Their monotonous, dull thudding—wings
to window—so persistent that it bullies my attention. As does
that intermittent buzz, somewhere in the house, taunting me to try
and stalk it down. In swarms, if possible, I hate them more. Despise
their ganged-up arrogance, the lazy way they rise—helicopters
from midtown—when I approach each mutilated victim of the cat.
by Christopher Brean Murray
You can think while walking, running,
washing the dishes, reading, grocery shopping,
or sleeping. Driving across Nevada at night
breeds thoughts—they leap from sagebrush
like jackrabbits into your high beams.
Most people can’t think while writing.
They have ideas, yes, but not thoughts.
Anyone can snatch an old idea out of the dust
and show it around. Trying to think
will invariably prohibit thought. I thought
of writing this poem while driving to work
this morning. I made sure not to
think about it much. The wind swayed
a stoplight until it turned green.
A man in a yellow tank top leaned
into the window of a parked car.
It was not yet 8 a.m. Wisps of cloud
coursed though the sky over Houston.
Someone should compile a book
called A History of Clouds. It could be,
among other things, an anthology
of descriptions of clouds, from novels,
from the love letters of exiled princes.
Shakespeare’s “pestilent congregation
of vapors” speech would appear, as would
Mayakovsky’s “A Cloud in Trousers.”
Clouds aren’t mentioned much in the Bible.
God did, however, call to Moses from inside
a cloud. Enoch speaks of “the locked reservoirs
from which the winds are distributed.”
Crane’s “To the Cloud Juggler” and
Stevens’ “Sea Surface Full of Clouds”—
and that passage from Gogol where
a cloud slithers over Nevsky Prospect.
It stretches and coils and becomes an intestine
embracing the anxious protagonist until we realize
he’s being suffocated by his thoughts.
Somewhere Rilke speaks of “vast, ruined
kingdoms of cloud.” That, from the love letter
of another exiled prince.
Illustration by Courtney Bennett
Christopher Brean Murray’s poems have appeared in Bennington Review, jubilat, North American Review, Pleiades, Third Coast, as well as Forklift, Ohio. From 2014-2016, he served as online poetry editor of Gulf Coast, and in 2018 he completed the PhD program in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston.
Caitlin Morgan is an independent filmmaker. She splits her time between New York City and Michigan.
by Dylan Loring
This summer afternoon on the blacktop
of an elementary school playground
Steve and Rachel have their guns pointed at each other,
as tends to happen every once in a while
between two people who have dated for months,
that is, until Chet shows up brandishing his revolver at Steve,
causing Rachel to complete the triangle by shifting her gun
toward Chet, at which point, Steve says, “Well lookie here.
Seems like we have ourselves a Mexican standoff!”
which makes Rachel say, “Wuh? None of us are Mexicans.”
“I could call my bud, Raul, if you put your guns away,” Chet says.
“That would ruin our Mexican standoff!” Steve says.
“Adding a Mexican to our Mexican standoff
would ruin our Mexican standoff?” Rachel asks.
“Have you ever even been to Mexico?” Chet asks.
by Lance Larsen
Conception, gamete meeting gamete, cells dividing and differentiating. Who wants to imagine themselves coming into the world this way? Instead think of your parents as amateurs lying down in the enchanted dark and rising up as seasoned weavers of light. Picture fire, with sparks flying off. One was lucky enough to catch—and now pulses inside you. Listen to yourself breathe.
Like a rolling billiard ball we touch the world one green millisecond at a time.
A good story possesses its own magnetic north, to which every vibrating sentence must point.
To live is to doubt.
by Frankie Barnet
All throughout my girlhood it was my primary ambition to be as dumb as possible. My father was a professor of mathematics who attempted to teach me algebra at age nine and preached discipline and rationality above all else. My mother was a reform Hutterite who cut her own hair. He once bought her a Costco membership for Christmas and she went only once, finding the experience gluttonous.
I had a best friend in this youth, a girl named Kelly who lived down the block. At her home I tried many foods for the first time: sushi, avocado, specialty cheese. I once saw her parents dancing without any music playing on my way to the bathroom while she and I watched It Takes Two in the basement.
Yet still, despite these differences in our home lives, Kelly shared my dream: to be weightless from a lack of knowledge. To float up and up and up. Away and free.
by Cody Wilson
Here is the sign for remember:
With one thumb, pull a line
from the spool in your forehead and set to tether
on the cleat of your other thumb.
Now the hull of your head can stay
docked to this thought.
Here is forget:
Wipe your forehead with fingers
—the sign of relief—then pull
them into your palm.
Except your thumb. That sticks up,
like there is something good about this.
(Click “Read More” to see this poem signed by Kirsten Pribula)
by Susan Ramsey
Knowing everything fades—youth, love—doesn’t excuse
using red lake in a painting you plan to sell.
Red lake is the bad boyfriend of pigments;
red lake invented ghosting. That bastard Whistler
would use it, take the money, then ignore
the outraged complaints that rained down later
when the red faded away without a trace.
Colors that don’t last are called fugitive.