Sunday at the Mall

by Tony Hoagland
Featured Art: Crouching Woman – Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix

Sweetheart, if I suddenly flop over in the mall one afternoon
while taking my old-person-style exercise
and my teeth are chattering like castanets,
and my skull is going nok nonk nok on the terra cotta tiles
of the well-swept mall floor;

my tongue stuck out, my eyes rolled up in my head—
Don’t worry, baby, we knew this kind of excitement
might possibly occur,
and that’s not me in there anyway—

I’m already flying backwards, high and fast
into the big arcades and spaces of my green life
where I made and gave away and traded sentences with people I loved
that made us all laugh and rise up in
unpredictable torrents of fuchsia.

Dial 911, or crouch down by the body if you want—
but sweetheart, the main point I’m making here is:
don’t worry don’t worry don’t worry:
Those wild birds will never be returning
to any roost in this world.
They’re loose, and gone, and free as oxygen.
Don’t despair there, under the frosted glass skylight,
in front of the Ethiopian restaurant
with the going-out-of-business sign.

Because sweetheart, this life
is a born escape artist,
a migrating fever,
a convict tattooed in invisible ink,
without mercy or nostalgia.
It came down to eat a lot of red licorice
and to adore you imperfectly,
and to stare at the big silent moon
as hard as it could,
then to swoop out just before closing time
right under the arm of the security guard
who pulls down the big metal grate
and snaps shut the lock in its hasp
as if it, or he, could ever imagine
anything that could prevent anything.

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Learning Swedish in Secret as a Joke

by Bobbie Jean Huff
Featured Art: Breton Girls Dancing Pont Aven – Paul Gauguin

All this passing on going on, almost
as if it were contagious. Words you’ve recently learned
spill easily from your lips:
Wenckebach, biliary, Cetuximab, granuloma,
the new bright colors of life. Just when
you were getting bored with the
pinks, purples, and greens on offer
for almost seven decades,

you’d happily now trade blasts and plasma cells for
brown or black or tan. But as surely
and hard as you know how many platelets it takes
to sustain life, you know that
more new words will show up soon.
Months ago you learned that “consistent with” means
you have it, and, last week, that “refractory” means
the treatment has quit working.

Now that you realize you’ll never learn Swedish,
in secret and as a joke
(to surprise your daughter-in-law with at dinner time),
you understand it’s not that you’re running out of
brain cells,
you’re running out of time.
You can’t learn sjuka and middag while you’re learning
leukopenia and transampullary.

You never expected this.
You never thought it would come to this!
(That’s the funny part. Has it ever not been there?)
Wake up and
you will see it even now,
gliding merrily in your direction,
not even bothering to look you in the eye,
as if you are the last thing on its mind—and if

you squint you will notice it gather a little speed
(the teensiest of fuck-you’s),
like a sailboat in languid waters
a moment after the wind has shifted.

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You Are My Sunshine

by Bobbie Jean Huff

Let me begin by offering my condolences, I said,
holding out my hand. She shook out her umbrella
and placed it open, just beside the altar. They thought
it was an ulcer, she said. They gave him some tablets.
Did he have any special requests? I asked. Favorite
hymns? Or something for Communion, like maybe
Water Music? He was worse by Christmas, she said.
He couldn’t manage the pumpkin pie. He always loved
my pumpkin pie. The King of Love is nice, I said. I
opened the book to page 64. As an alternate to Crimond,
you know. Most people don’t recognize it as the 23rd
Psalm. In January his feet turned black, she said. Toe by
toe. It took exactly ten days. The shadow of a branch
moved slowly back and forth behind the stained glass.
I thought: When I get home I’ll check my toes. Will
there be Communion? I asked, finally.

The last three days he started to hiccup, she said.
He wouldn’t take any water. It never stopped, the
hiccupping. Not once, not one minute until he went. I
could play Pachelbel’s Canon. That’s very popular now.
There’s no reason it can’t work at funerals as well as
weddings. At the very end, she said—then stopped, her
eyes squeezed shut behind her glasses—as if the
rejected water, each wretched hiccup, and every
blackened toe formed a chain she could use to haul
herself back to September, when she would claim
him, finally whole again.
She reached for her umbrella and frowned. Play
what you like, she said. He was never fond of music.
Not hymns, anyhow. Only once in fifty-three years
did I catch him singing. You are My Sunshine, I
believe it was.

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Devil’s Advocate

by Becky Hagenston

     His kid doesn’t want a smartphone. His fourteen-year-old flute-playing boy is saying, “Nah, I don’t really need one.” Mitch’s wife Shelley says, “No one’s forcing you, honey.” She beams. The boy beams. Mitch feels a faint nau- sea. There’s something wrong with his kid, who still likes Legos and watches network TV and keeps his room clean and calls his two nerd friends on the landline.
     “Well, that’s fine,” says Mitch. For some reason, he’s pitched his voice like an actor from a 1950s movie. He tries it again: “That’s just fine, son!” He’s speaking like a man wearing a fedora, a man carrying a briefcase. But nobody seems to notice. “So what do you want for Christmas?”
     His kid, Ernie, frowns as if Mitch has just asked him to poke a kitten in the eye. “I can’t think of anything at the moment,” he says. “Can I go practice flute now?”
     “Yes!” says Shelley. She rises from the sofa and kisses Ernie on the ear. “I’ll let you know when dinner’s ready. I’m making your favorite.”
     “Brussels sprouts?” he asks brightly. “And Salisbury steak?”
     “You bet,” she says. When Ernie has disappeared down the hall, she turns to Mitch. “Don’t force him to grow up before he’s ready.”
     Mitch knows better than to argue, but he can tell that his thoughts—not grow up, just join the 21st century like a normal kid!—might as well be oat- ing above his head like a comic book bubble. Not that Ernie would get such a reference, because he doesn’t read comic books, either.
     “Okay,” he says, but Shelley has stomped down the hall to prepare the kid’s Brussels sprouts.

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Spring

by Lauren Shapiro
Featured Art: The Cock Sparrow – George Edwards

The nice teachers at the kindergarten open house
point out the Unifix cubes and color game;
they are professional in their analysis of play. Later
at Lainy’s party the operators of Jump ’N Bounce
just look away while the kids wrestle into an idyllic
sense of self. A mother tells me, hushed, how
one November morning Jason’s father parked the car
and blew his head off. Then it’s time for cake.
The kids are sweaty, tumbling over each other
for a spot at the table. I search Jason’s face
for a sign, a scar, but don’t find it—he’s waving
a noisemaker in Sean’s face, his mother chatting
pleasantly in the corner. Cue the birthday music.
Next day, we’re late, and I walk my distressed son
into school. “We might miss the eggs hatching!” he yells,
bounding down the stairs. The class is huddled
around the incubator, the glow from the heat lamp
flushing their faces. This must be a rite of passage,
watching a chick’s birth surrounded by friends.
It’s on the docket, tailored to the lesson plan, deemed
developmentally appropriate. It’s March, after all,
when the world glosses over its losses.

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Poem Beginning with “My Father”

by Craig van Rooyen
Featured Art: Ancient Roman Ruins – Giovanni Paolo Panini

Rome

1.

My father fills a syringe with insulin,
pushes the needle through his shirt into belly skin,
looks through the window at his dying lawn.
He writes a note to me: Summer’s early here, bud.
Your mom’s still on me to lay off the Snickers.
She means well, of course.
The oak tree’s about to go—groans all night long.
Caravaggio is one of my favorites. A sensitive scoundrel.
Go see Conversion On The Road To Damascus.
All is of Grace, Dad.

2.

Four lions stick out hollow tongues
in the middle of Piazza del Popolo.
Each tongue spews water—spilling down
stepped plinths into four collection pools
whose surfaces are mildly disturbed
but never overflow. With their perspective of stone,
the lions have remained unmoved for 200 years.
How, I wonder, can they gaze without weeping
at the sun-burned stoner strumming a distorted
“Stairway To Heaven.”
I stumble from one to another,
dropping coins until my pockets are empty.

3.

When he baptized me, my father’s robe floated
up around him like the wings of a manta ray,
revealing the soft skin of his shins to the believers.
We stood in a glass tank, with nothing to hide.
He covered my eyes with a handkerchief,
dipped me backwards into new life.
I trusted his strong arms
more than God.

4.

Fountains fill my photographs: pissing cherubs,
horses with fish tails. Granite seashells emerge
amid glistening mermaids—
breasts taut in the exquisite way
stone has of lying about flesh and time.

5.

How can I begin to soak it in?
My father has stopped watering his flowers.
Why can’t I remember the day
he became too weak to carry me?
He used to stand chest-deep,
pushing me into the muscled belly of waves
surging from a sea
that seemed to have no end.

6.

I try to dissolve in St. Peter’s Square
with other pilgrims who wish to feel something,
and almost—holding our little screens above our heads—
we become a bigger thing
and for that moment it feels as if God can see us
as an eagle is able to see fish
mouthing the bottom of the sky.

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Three Bells

by Craig van Rooyen
Featured Art: Strawberry Tea Set – Childe Hassam

—after “Seven Marys,” by Li-Young Lee

I sit, Sister Mary, among the other relics
in the Mission courtyard—
a cracked vat for boiling blubber
into lamp butter,
a wood-wheeled cart to haul
bear carcass to the butcher.
Underneath the bricks,
all the smallpox bones.
And these three bells, Sister Mary,
named Joy, Sorrow, and Gloria.
What am I to do when they toll?
Cast before I was born, each sings
to me in a different key: G, E minor,
and Chumash. Joy weighs 279 pounds
and wakes roosting starlings,
launches them from the parched oak tree,
black leaves falling upward.
Sorrow makes the wooden Indian
in front of Founders Smoke & Tobacco weep.
Gloria, Sister Mary, makes me shake.
Sounding wilder as I grow old and tame,
they ring in three tongues:
red, wildfire, and October.
Three bells, Sister Mary, three roads back.
And one says you are the green-eyed devil.
And one says the bears are gone.
But one says, Glory, you are here,
open your green eyes.
There is a fountain, Sister Mary,
a fountain not deep or wide, and into it
tourists toss coins bearing the heads
of our fathers, white and solemn and gone.
A fountain with a bear and a girl and three fish
all bronzed and greening from the air.
Water spews from the paw of the bear,
and the fish leap on their metal spindles, always
inches above the troubled waters,
and the little bronzed girl sees nothing
with her blank Chumash eyes—not the fish,
the white fathers tumbling head over tails,
or me on my bench in the sun sipping
from a bagged can while three bells toll
their braided song. We are nothing to her,
because she is long gone.
And what am I to do?
Bells tolling my guilt, solitude, privilege, joy.
One, Sister Mary, sings the beauty of milkweed tufts
blown down dry creek beds.
One whispers to me the forgotten dreams
of steelhead trout, and the sins of the fathers
visited unto the third and fourth generation.
And one orders my fingerprints pressed
onto the black wings of starlings.
And I can’t tell, anymore, Sister Mary,
one from the other

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Mailing a Letter

by Dawn Davies
Featured Art: Evocation of Roussel – Odilon Redon

The letter came back from the post office so mangled
it was as if the mailman had plucked it out of my box
before being jumped by a clot of street thugs.
Then, still carrying his mail bag, stumbled into a bar
because it was the third time this year that he’d gotten jumped
in my neighborhood, and why do guys gotta pick on him
just because he’s short (under five-six don’t make a man,
his father always said). Then drank scotch and soda
until the bartender made him stop, walked the dimming
summer streets in search of his truck, slept in a doorway,
woke up and vomited into his mailbag, found his truck
and skulked home to his wife, who had sent all four children
to the neighbors and was waiting up in yesterday’s clothes,
with a suitcase and a left hook brewing. Because she hated
the late hours the USPS forced him to carry, and by “late hours”
they both know she meant his cheating with the tiny
Castilian woman two zip codes over, and this thought
that poisoned her days now propelled her to stomp on his mailbag
and kick it off the porch for all that the mailbag stood for:
the overtime, the philandering, the childless Castilian
with the twenty-two inch waist. But then when she saw his face
with his eyebrows tipped and sorry, and she knew
that he hadn’t been sneaking around, but had gotten into trouble,
she sat him down, fed him coffee, and washed his wounds
before sending him back out for his morning shift,
because they both needed him to keep this job
(there was a pension attached, she had secretly started divorce
proceedings, was hungry for the alimony).
And so he got back to work and wiped off the fouled, wretched letters in his bag, feeding them through the system
before getting called into the supervisor’s, and because
the letter was wet, it got mangled in the maw of a sorting machine,
the address smeared and clotty, the stamp curled and dystonic,
and three weeks later, once the mailman was off probation,
the letter came back to him, smelling like machine oil and vomit,
clawed and shredded, stamped “Return to Sender,”
and he shoved it back in my mailbox with bite marks
from the beast that had mauled it, this letter to my father
on his deathbed, explaining why I wouldn’t be going to see him.

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Graduation

by Maria Nazos
Featured Art: Fern Alley – Felicity Gunn

As my father hands me a bouquet of roses
dyed the shade of a dozen sinking suns, my mother grasps
his steady arm, teetering. Her body
has begun its slow revenge for what it begrudged
all along, and she’s afraid to walk since her last fall, which
snapped her hip in half. My father is tired
of holding her up. He scolds, Just take it. Her hand shakes
as she holds the iPhone to get a photo
of me in my mortarboard and hood. Let go
and take it, he says, and she tries a one-handed
snapshot, her trembling arm still looped through his.

I stitch a smile across my face. The phone flashes.
As she grips his wrist, I can hear him in Greek,
the language reserved for anger and, once, for sex.
The language they speak and still think
I don’t understand. Can I live this way, Tia? he asks.

I clutch my bouquet to my chest, trying
to pretend these flowers aren’t lopped off at the stems.
Trying to move into the next phase of realization
that love is unsteady on its feet. That two people
can resent each other, but care for their daughter
and each other enough to stay put.
Refusing to wilt
into that place I’d go as a child—when I’d hear
their fights and retreat to the backyard to play
with cats, praying to make something else of myself, however
small—I stand tall.
How can I live like this?
he says to her again. Still, I’m posing, smiling
into the face of their slow decline.
And all three of us trying, best we can,
to hold each other shakily, and steadily upright.

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I Go Back to Mykonos 1976

by Maria Nazos
Featured Art: “Mykonos” – Maria Karalyos

                                                                             —after Sharon Olds’ “I Go Back to May 1937”

By the third martini, he’ll ask her to marry him.
She’s a tourist, he’s a captain, home by chance.
I stand at the window, watching. I want to walk
into that bar, order an ouzo, and tell them
that, together, they’ll create a new generation
of pain. I want to tell him to court the island girl,
the one who, forty years later, will see him, run
to the restroom, and return with a fresh coat
of lipstick. I want to tell my young mother,
in the words of the great North American philosopher,
Pamela Anderson, “Never get married on vacation.”
But this is long before Pam and Tommy Lee, before
I existed. Before Reagan reigned over his long line of wreckage,
and couples shot themselves, together, in their cars. The Vietnam War
has ended, but here I am standing
at the window, watching while they meet,
both oblivious of wars they’ll wage. They’ll move
from Greece back to the Midwest—she’ll drink, alone,
in her kitchen. He’ll return to the island every chance
he gets. When he’s back in Illinois, he’ll stare
into the aquarium and long for water. She’ll look
at him, frozen, behind her highball glass. Still, I stay
at the window of the bar, wanting to use Pam’s biting wit.
But this is long before Baywatch, and they’re gazing at the
bay. I tap the glass like Morse code. Sealed in
my own tank of silence, I say, Please let go.
But as they take each other’s hands, I softly touch
the pane and turn away. Because they, too, have the right
to plunge. Even if they’ll swim out too deep:
holding onto each other until death.

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Tough Love

by Paul Hansen

I was one of those kids that spent a lot of time on the internet. Chat rooms, message boards. ASL, S2R, and some gender tricks too. That stuff was normal in the Nineties. And it was all good clean fun until I fell in with some gun nuts when I was fifteen years old, the type of people that encrypt shit. Way down in the web. Amateur blacksmiths and whatnot. I got so into it I ended up putting together a makeshift muzzle loader out of Schedule 80 piping, cold American steel, something I saw on the blacksmithing forum. I tried it in the basement but it didn’t work so I got a slightly bigger ball bearing for ammunition, about the size of a marble. I took it to the backyard, propped it on some dunnage, put a flame to the fuse. And by god, it worked. There was this huge discharge, a cloud of smoke. It shot wildly though. Fucking hit my kid brother square in the leg. He was clear across the yard. Dad came running from the house. There was so much blood that none of it seemed real and after Dad stopped the bleeding he came at me and that’s the deepest fear I’ve ever felt.

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Without Pain

by Kelly Michels

“Swing in the Right Direction with OxyContin”
—marketing slogan from Purdue Pharma

All day the rain spills onto the backyard deck.
The narcoleptic hours, darkened and dim, rewind and nod off.

My mother walks five miles to the emergency room on a Sunday.
She complains of a toothache, tells the doctors she needs something

to get by. It is predicted the temperature will rise 30 degrees in the next
twelve hours, then drop 20 more tomorrow, which means more talk

of global warming or the next ice age, more waiting for the Earth’s
fever to break like a sick child.

On television, people are dancing in a field of wildflowers.
The sun hits their faces, their pupils confetti.

A man appears in a lab jacket, claims he has found the cure for all pain.
He crushes the flowers, alkaloids running white across his chin.

You too can be like them, he says. And maybe we can.
But then, without pain—

What will the monks chant? What shrouded
music, what raspy voice will rise from the A.M.

radio, move like heat lightning against our spines?
Who will hear our minareted cries, our tangled

whispering, lowered breath pleading with
the moon? What hand will rock us

to sleep, float through our hair
like bath water, bring us to our knees,

lift our awkward heads
toward the frayed dawn?

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Lucky

by Steven Dawson
Featured Art: Firer – Felicity Gunn 

The first time I watched Braveheart
was in the basement of Lucky’s dope house.
I remember the soft cone of light

reaching out from that small box TV
as if asking for spare change from the dark
and how that little glass frame made

blue-faced Wallace look so much
like an action figure (back when Mel
was somebody’s idea of a hero).

And in the downstairs bathroom hung
a cage with Lucky’s bird, a gray parrot
he took from a woman who couldn’t

pay him and that bird would pull
every dull feather from its back
and curse in Spanish as I watched.

I was nine or ten and alone with Braveheart,
that bird, and basement boxes I imagined filled
with a life before Lucky, when his name

might have been Greg or Brandon or even Mel.
This is how my brother babysat—
upstairs and horizontal with a needle

sleeping in his bowtied arm
like some guardian angel taking
work naps among hallway sleeping bags

swollen with strangers
practicing how to be dead
and Lucky’s bird downstairs

screaming chinga tu madre.

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Repossession

by Steven Dawson

To apologize for your vanishing
you brought me a loosey
and a rolled-up Hustler and we sat

in your new car trading smoke.
This happened every few months,
a kind of church service for holiday

Catholics. In that steel cathedral
you preached what you thought
I’d absolutely need: how to cheat

the cylinder inside a lock,
what words undress a virgin,
why I can’t confuse the compass

with the cross and how to blame
heaven if you went to hell.
From the passenger seat of that

stolen Cutlass you were a ruined
simile—the way the back
of an empty tow truck looks

like a crucifix and how in the small
light of that blinking patrol car
you blushed like a martyr

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Train Prayer

by Steven Dawson
Featured Art: Indulge – Felicity Gunn

In Denver all days end standing up
packed like dried fish dry-humping
each other on the H Line. Some
passengers in their drunken wobble
or even in their haze of sobriety
pull down hard on the rubber handles,
the ones meant for standing,
the ones that swing dumbly above
our heads. They think this action
stops the locomotive but the train
is automated, stopping itself
at Broadway then Osage, Lincoln Blvd.
Since the train, as it always does, stops—
the travelers learn to keep tugging
& I can’t help but think this is how
prayer works. Like when I prayed
to a god I don’t believe in that your
morphine drip might soothe the wounds
that chemotherapy would not
& how I swear it worked sometimes
but didn’t others & yet in my drunken
sobriety I believe that it was me
who eased your pain, that it was my
failed pleas that bleached your blood.

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An Oral History of Hands as Told by My Grandmother

by Mercedes Lucero
Featured Art: Seated Youth Writing in Book – Raffaello Sanzio

This all began because Mother was making tortillas. This all began with mothers and kitchens. We live in Crowley, Colorado, or maybe Rocky Ford, Colorado, a place where there are not a lot of doctors. We live in a place where there are always mothers in kitchens and daughters who wait nearby to watch their mothers watch the tortillas.

The year is 1949 or 1950 or 1951. I am nine or ten or eleven and not allowed to touch the stove. We have a wood-burning stove with a large at surface for cooking. I stand on the pile of wood at the edge of the stove to see the tortillas. I like to stand close to watch Mother. Father has a habit of kissing me on the back of the neck and I fall. It is the middle of winter and water from the well is cold.

I want to be like Mother. I have a rolling pin Father made me, small enough to fit inside my hands. Father is always making things with his hands. He makes things for me out of wood. Father has a habit of kissing me on the back of the neck. I am the youngest of nine and they say I am his favorite.

Mother hands me a small mound of dough and I flatten it with my rolling pin. I watch Mother put dough on the stove. I stand on the pile of wood at the edge to see the tortillas. I stand close to watch Mother place dough, perfectly round, on the stove. I am not allowed to touch the stove. Father has a habit of kissing me on the back of the neck and I fall.

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A Fistful of Dirt

by Sujatha Fernandes

Manuel relayed buckets of moist earth to the concrete stairwell. It was Héctor’s job to hoist the buckets up and ferry them over to the dumpster. They had to work quickly to keep the buckets moving or the Bangladeshi contractor, a slight man with a beard, would start yelling at them, “Taratari koro.”
     The workers down below had broken up the existing basement floor of the six-story building with jackhammers and then used pickaxes to pry out the concrete. Now they were excavating eight to ten feet of earth to increase the height of the basement.
     Héctor was grateful to work in the open air instead of underground like a mole with the thick damp air and the artificial light from lamps. It was also safer up here. The men in the basement would dig themselves into three-foot-square holes up to eight-feet deep and there weren’t even any planks of wood to brace the sides. Suddenly someone would look up to see the sides crumbling in on him. He suspected that the contractors didn’t know what they were doing. It was only a matter of time before a worker was buried alive.
     Still, it was regular work, something Héctor hadn’t had in a while. He had spent several months going to the parada on Roosevelt Avenue, getting picked up occasionally for one- or two-day stints in demolition or renovation. He found this job through Jesús, a slim Oaxaqueño, always clean shaven with dimples and a broad smile. Jesús used to talk big on the corner about his influence in the construction world. The men would rib him. “So why are you here at the parada, dumbass?” It didn’t bother Jesús.

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Then and Now, the Essex Street Market

by Roger Mitchell
Featured Art: Hollywood Africans – Jean-Michel Basquiat

The person who took this picture took it
well above the parking lot across the street.
“Malted Milk with Ice Cream” cost five cents
once. Leroy’s on the corner sold “knishes
frankfurters and root beer,” and the cars
and everyone stopped moving for a moment
so this proof could be snapped of the way
a few things stood at the corner of Essex
and Delancey sometime between the Fall
of Rome and now. Which is also falling.

In the upper-right-hand reaches of the shot,
a line of laundry sags out of a tenement window.
The other end seems suspended in air,
like everything else, both in and out
of the window, the photo, the cowl of dust
that wraps the earth in its own heat. Damn,
said Napoleon, and he turned his horse
and started back across the steppe toward Josephine.

The half dozen newly planted trees lined up
in their iron jackets along Essex were leafless,
so winter must have been on its way, in
or out, we can’t tell. The little lie the picture tells
is that, though everything is about to change, it brought
life to a halt, so someone could open the door, now,
and let in a large whack of dust and noise,
the kind they make no room for in pictures,
passing them on to the woman in the next booth
who is giving, maybe the air, maybe her mother,
a colorfully athletic lesson in Spanglish,
involving, from what little I can make out,
most of what we call history, as it’s apt to look
when the future gets here, and “that fucker
Reynaldo.” I have no idea what Reynaldo’s crime is,
but, if you are listening, Reynaldo, get over here,
quick, if you don’t want to be history.

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Thief

by Owen McLeod

Every Thursday, on his way to therapy,
he drives past the house of the woman
he’s having an affair with. What interests
his therapist isn’t the sin, which she views
as a symptom, but the root. So they dig,
or seem to, and today he talks about his wife—
how, before they take a trip, she makes him
connect those timers to lamps in certain rooms,
and how much this annoys him, even though
it didn’t used to. As if their belongings were
of value. As if an automatic light might stop
an addict from breaking in.
As if the thief,
awake beside her, had not already come and gone.

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Confirmation

by John McCarthy

You taught me how hands could be laid, how they could touch
     a head and heal, but all of those hands eventually fell limp
like a field bent by threshing or a lit match dropped in water. Once,
     we used to dance in The Corner Tavern’s neon light
where the pickup exhaust wafted inside like harvest dust.
     Life in the Midwest is like one long goodbye because it is the same
every day, and I didn’t realize you had left until there was nothing
     but hard work and long days ending with the wind’s silent dirge
that sounds like trying not to die but always dies in smaller ways—
     screen doors that slam closed but don’t shut all the way
because the house has settled and the roof is warping from the sky
     boiling over with thunder and rain. I wake up now to the flashing
falling from the gutters and the water dripping through the holes
     in the ceiling. All I do is recall your voice like a prayer thrashing
my skull that mines the night begging our fathers our fathers
     our fathers in prayer, but they are off begging other women
in other towns. This town is not the memory I want, but I know
     how sadness works. It’s like a kettle-bottom collapsing onto
the details of every thought. I shouldn’t have, but I stayed in town
     to try and keep what I love alive, but no that never works. We were
a long time ago and a long time ago is too hard to get back.
     The last time we talked you said, We will end up like our mothers
waiting for nothing. Then you didn’t come back. No. Not ever.

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