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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Silbar

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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16 Days of Glory

By Jill Rosenberg

After our parents left for Vermont, Ruby and I spent most of our time waiting for the Olympics. The world is coming to Los Angeles! the commercials told us, and the announcer’s tone was so excited and serious it seemed to imply that every American should prepare.

That summer was going to be a turning point for our family. We were in the final stages of a move to rural Vermont, where my parents were rebuilding a house they planned to have ready by the start of the school year. Once the house was inhabitable, even barely so, we’d all move in and complete the finishing touches as a family. We’d already chosen the stencils we’d use on the walls in each of our bedrooms. Mine was going to be silver, turquoise, and black.

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Pollution

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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Suspensions

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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Soda Money

By Emily Johns-O’Leary
Feature image: Little Walter’s Toys, 1912 by August Macke

Edison was allowed to spend one-third of his monthly spending money on manatee merchandise, but it usually came to about half. His mother was a marine biologist, and Edison had seen a photograph in one of her magazines when he was six and couldn’t stop looking at the manatee’s bloated snout and flippers like gray oven mitts pinned to the balloon of its body. He was thirty- one now and bought his own nature magazines to look for more pictures, more patient expressions on the floating creatures. Their eyes seemed to want to listen only to him.

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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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Scatter

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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Rules of Order

By Carrie Shipers
Feature image: Eternos caminhantes, 1919 by Lasar Segall

To ensure meetings have a clear, productive point,
statements of need and rationale must be approved
prior to invitations being sent. If two important

meetings overlap, please disregard the laws of time
and space. Your project heads have far less power
than they’d hoped, their agendas set by management,

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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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Melbourne Beach

By Bo Lewis
Feature image: Second Beach, Newport, c. 1878-80 by Worthington Whittredge 

Coach West had just finished grilling the dogs and we were all standing in line, going crazy with hunger. We’d had nothing but concession stand sno-cones after the doubleheader, and we were ready to eat our weight in barbecue. Rudy and I were going to do an experiment to see which tasted better on dogs—onions or relish. I was going to blindfold myself with my ballcap and Rudy was going to feed me one bite of each until I discovered the answer.

But Dad’s hatchback came skidding across the gravel toward the pavilion, a long dust cloud rising up behind it like the tail of a dragon, and I knew something was about to happen. The door popped open and his hand shot down to the gravel like a kickstand as he got out of the car. He left it running and didn’t shut the door behind him.

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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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Wethersfield

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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One Step

By Betsy Sholl
Feature image: Towards the Forest I, 1897 by Edvard Munch

Who am I to say to the man: You can’t
sleep in corduroys and a dress shirt,

or: Don’t stick your fork in the potatoes,
spoon them onto your plate,

as I must have said more than once
to our children.

To the man I would have said: What does it
mean to be saved, and from what?

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Alexa

By Ruth Bardon
Feature image: L’Armoire à Glace, 1924 by Walter Richard Sickert

She is ignorant and admits to being
easily confused.

She tells her jokes with a cheerfulness
that shows how lost she is.

I want to help her and teach her how
the world works,

and I love this feeling of knowing
so much more,

but it also makes me hate her
a little more each time,

each time she admits she’s having trouble,
is helpless to assist,

like a mother of grown children,
who see her now

as someone who offers only facts
from the news,

a weather report or a small repertoire
of songs and stories,

like the mother I may become,
sitting and nodding

as if I understood the talk,
chiming in

and coming to attention
when my name is spoken.


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The Oldies, at Island Pond, Vermont

By Allen Stein
Feature image: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, 1786 by William Blake

Rockin’ in jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers
at the tiny bandstand by the pond,
the ponytailed girl belts them out, the goldies
of three or four decades ago.
She’s hittin’ ’em with her best shot,
makin’ it all hurt so good,
but a closer look shows she’s no younger
than the songs she sings,
though not as old as most dancing
on the worn-out patch between
their lawn chairs and the stage
this final Friday Night Live of a brief
summer that in these parts is rarely
without a hint of the fall.

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