Category Archives: Excerpts

“Snapshot from the Revolution” – Fiction by Perry Lopez

Our Lady of El Cobre

Our Summer 2018 issue won’t rise from the deep until June 21, but should you care for a preview of what’s to come, here’s Perry Lopez‘s historical & horrific short story “Snapshot from the Revolution.”

{ X }

THE NIGHT WAVES WERE ROLLING TOWARD CUBA, beating their steady pulse against the hull of the yacht. A rhythmic skip and crash in perfect blackness, and all our bodies leaning together. A jump and plunge amidst the rattle of ammunition, the dishing of gasoline in drums that we had lashed to the handrails because the tank would not hold enough to get us there, the sky that was starless, pure blackout, and pressed down upon our heads. Petroleum and sulfur and potassium nitrate, human sweat and nervous breath, the various agents of conflagration—all inert for the moment, jostling together. My finger was on the shutter release. Across my chest there was a double-bandolier full of flashbulbs. Magnesium, the smell of magnesium powder, which burns with near the same quality as sunlight: 5500 Kelvin.

I try not to hear the Giant’s voice, but there it is anyway. Words which he never spoke but instead I gave to him and believed in absolutely, there in that moment of body-terror and doubt, seminal blindness across the Atlantic, which was the power he had over all of us. Have spirit, brother Gusano. We do not need the heavens to steer by, not when we have pinned fresh constellations to the roofs of our minds. Would the man himself have said that? I can see his face speaking the words clearly enough, but cannot say for sure. I have written far too many speeches for Fidel Castro in my thoughts, and now he is dead—idol dead, paper dead—heartbroken at the age of ninety and buried beneath a kernel of corn, as you already know.

So instead take my clearest picture, the only one I know for sure was captured with my own senses. Everything afterward will be lies: Graffiti on their monuments. I remember salt on my lips. Body salt, sea salt, and an accordion crush of lungs fighting for space to expand. The deck was not meant to hold so many bodies. A compression of moncadistas and stark-ribbed exiles on the pleasure boat that had seen happier voyages. Eighty-two men in total, all packed to the gunwales, hustled aboard the North American vessel with its engine that stalled and stuttered like my own flawed heart, sending up the first oily smoke of our revolution, some of them sitting upon the very edges and holding onto the shoulders of their comrades so that they would not fall into the sea. An orgiastic colony of sweaty limbs and whispered confidences—Sierra Maestra, José Martí, the Latifundia, Our Lady of El Cobre, Castro, Castro, Castro—the germ of a new country caught between two great slates of emptiness, the sea and the sky, and a few brave ones sitting atop the crates of grenades packed in straw. A man coughed up vomit to my right and another leaned over the side to dribble his empty stomach across the midnight rollers. From somewhere close to the bow a voice was singing out in a bold, solemn spinto: Cuba, oh Cuba, a bright red flower for Cuba / One which smells not so sweet / Nor which bears aught to eat / Yet will bloom on from Gitmo to Bauta, as his words were sucked away by the wind. Where in all this was Fidel? Where was Che? Which of these darkly groping forms were Raul and Camilo and Almeida? And whose voice was that singing? Never mind. It is wrong to ask. Let them be for an instant like what was promised. A hum of bodies and voices and futures converging.

But in this polyrhythm of heartbeats they had their guns and I had my camera. A 35mm Zeiss that would be the eye through which the world watched our revolution (Castro’s hopeful thinking) and the tool we would wield against Batista’s newspapers. It swung from its strap and knocked against my chest so I raised a hand to hold it still. Already a bruise had begun to form there, a distinct green and yellow impression of the metal case stamped upon my skin. Your press card, brother, said Raul the day before, giving the bruise a rap with his knuckles. Now they will know not to shoot you. A painful blemish that would only grow with time. But for the moment it was best not to take the camera from my neck, I had decided, because if it somehow got lost or broken they would give me a rifle to replace it. One of those old American Nazi-killers we had bought in bulk off the Mexican black market. Rusty barrels with warped wooden stocks—M1 Garands and weathered carbines, Springfields as likely to explode in your hands as kill anyone, a few German Mausers with their dull metal luster—weapons whose history I wanted no part of, yet I think the others were eager to see me burdened with.

Some of the men had already urged as much. Their spirits took a vicious turn after four days at sea in the cramped vessel and several of them had cornered me in the back of the yacht. Open spaces are bad for revolutions, and in all that vacant water and cloudless atmosphere they had turned their eyes away from the horizon and found me there with my camera. Why should Gusano’s burden be so little, they asked. Why should he have to do none of the killing? Is he a coward? Their faces drew close as they took the Zeiss away from my neck, passing it from man to man and judging its heft against the weight of their weapons. I thought for a second they might throw it into the waves and that would be that; I would have to become a Guerilla too. But it was Fidel himself who came to my rescue. “Leave Gusano be,” the Giant said. In the noon scorch our Comandante stood high upon the flying bridge with his body like a stain against the sun and all of us squinting up at him, his wolfish nose and wolfish eyes directed down upon his militia, his arms held out cruciform and his fatigues snapping in the breeze, saying, “The purity of our Mexican must be preserved at all costs. A steady hand and a steady conscience. How else will he take good pictures of us?” This had quieted them and I was left in peace, or at least what passes for peace aboard a boat crowded with barbudos trained to kill their own countrymen. So I waited for the nighttime when we would all be blinded together again.

Continue reading “Snapshot from the Revolution” – Fiction by Perry Lopez

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“Luxury Lucent” – Poetry by Steven Ray Smith

Dream of Luxury – Dorothea Tanning, 1944

The grand finale of our Spring 2018 issue is Steven Ray Smith‘s brilliant poem “Luxury Lucent.”

{ X }

And then one day,
the marble fortress with armored
windows at the corner of profusion
boulevard and especial
avenue sold a moment of lucent insight instead
of diamonds.

For an extraordinary occasion surpassing even
the summoning to fertility of the wedding,
the chronicling of survival in the birthday,
gratitude for fertility of the anniversary, and
the annulling of failures of the funeral,

they opened the hefty and segregating doors
and emptied onto the display case their lifetime savings
of begrudging tolerances, spurious excuses,
and self-serving deceptions in return
for a tiny box tied in ribbons
the jeweler slid across the glass.
They will never afford such luxury again.
But if they grasp how this can be —
an empty box, nothingness wrapped in preciousness —
they won’t look to.

{ X }

STEVEN RAY SMITH‘s poetry has appeared in SliceThe Yale Review, Southwest Review, The Kenyon Review, New Madrid, Tar River Poetry, Puerto del Sol, THINK and others. New work is forthcoming in Barrow Street and Clarion Magazine. His web site is at www.StevenRaySmith.org.

“Pink Lemonade” – Poetry by Gabriela Garcia

Trilogy of the Desert: Mirage – Salvador Dali, 1946

“Pink Lemonade” is one of four menacing yet vulnerable poems by Gabriela Garcia in our Spring 2018 issue.

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YOU WAKE IN THE DARK
& are not suicidal
so much as flirting
with the look of it
the way you consider
pie under glass at
a diner, polished
& dark red beneath
a cross-hatched top.
Who really sits down
at the diner & orders
just a slice of pie.
It would probably
taste like all those
things you could
never eat as a child,
like chugging pink
lemonade at the barbecue
because it was never
allowed in the house
unless there was company
over. It would taste
like the first time
someone sucked your
tits & didn’t call.
Our bodies have all been
through the desert.
We’ve all had a mirage
of water on the blank
ceiling & wondered
what it might be like
to take a sip.

{ X }

GABRIELA GARCIA is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in North American ReviewWord Riot, No Dear and elsewhere. She is a James Hearst Poetry Prize finalist, the founder of the podcast On Poetryand an MFA candidate at Columbia University, where she serves as Poetry Editor for Columbia Journal.

“Forever” – Fiction by Michael Chin

Circus – August Macke, 1911

An unemployed young man meets a passionate and charismatic woman who literally makes his life a circus in “Forever,” Michael Chin‘s wild and haunting short story from our Spring 2018 issue.

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YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH A WOMAN ALL AT ONCE. You lose her in pieces.

The Ringmaster, before he was The Ringmaster, met a woman with hair the color of ripe peaches, and the whitest skin you’ve ever seen. The kind of woman you sensed you could bite right into and she’d dissolve like cotton candy.

His name was Verne in those days. He met her at a drugstore where she was shoplifting lipstick. The owner caught her, an Iranian man with a bald head and a handlebar moustache. “Thief! Thief!” he screamed, followed by a tantrum of curse words and guttural sounds. His six year-old son stopped taking inventory with the nub of a red crayon to look up. The Iranian’s wife, a white woman with a patch over her left eye, watched from the counter.

Verne pitied the family and loathed the Iranian, but his store was close by and he carried the frozen orange chicken Verne liked—the Americanized Chinese food his parents would never abide. He was third generation Chinese. The first in his family not to know Mandarin. The one who was supposed to fulfill all of the American dreams. A doctor, or a lawyer, or a physicist. Someone to be counted. Instead, Johnny Walker and orange chicken consumed his nights while he collected unemployment checks that would run dry exactly one week from that night.

“She was going to pay for it,” Verne said.

The Iranian held the woman by her wrist. Knuckles turning white. Verne thought he might take a cleaver to her hand like they did in the old country.

“You know her?”

The woman’s eyes grew glassy.

“I do,” Verne said

The Iranian waved the tube of lipstick in the air. The shiny black outside caught the light for a second. “Why’d she put it in her purse?”

Because she was stealing, of course, but that was the only answer Verne couldn’t give.

The woman kneed the Iranian in his balls. He doubled over and crumpled to the floor. She snatched the lipstick from him and took Verne’s hand.

Before he could think, they were outside and running. Verne clutched three cardboard boxes of orange chicken under his arm.

The Iranian came outside, still bent, clutching his crotch. “You never come back to my store! You come back and I’ll kill you!”

The woman laughed maniacally.

They wound up at Verne’s apartment, a studio cast in dull yellow by a single desk lamp. “Would you like some chicken?” He laughed as he said it, all that adrenaline and nervous energy and the absurdity of the moment overwhelming him.

“Sounds delicious.”

He opened a box and perforated the plastic film, then put the first plastic tray in the microwave. When he turned back around the woman was there waiting for him. Taller than him. His eyes met her neck. She held the canister of lipstick in her fingers. “Since we’re sharing stolen goods, can I interest you in some ravishing red?”

He took the lipstick and smeared it over his lips, drunk on her.

He took the first tray of chicken out and put in the second. “Chopsticks or fork?”

“No thanks.” She picked up her first piece of chicken, still steaming, between thumb and forefinger.

He started in with his chopsticks. She asked him to show her how to use them.

“I don’t use them right,” he admitted. He was self-taught—annoyed when he was little and his older cousins made fun of him. His parents never taught him the proper technique.

“They wanted me to be an American. Leave Chinese things behind.” He held a piece of chicken up in front of them. His extended family still laughed at him for holding the chopsticks wrong. White people never noticed.

“It’s silly,” the woman said. “Our parents tell us what to be. Most people never realize they can be anything else.”

The woman had drawn close to him. He could smell the orange sauce on her breath and feel the steam from the plastic tray rise at his neck. A scrap of the fried chicken skin had affixed itself to her lower lip.

“What do you want to be?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

She kissed him.

“I don’t even know your name,” he said.

“Penelope.”

She kissed him again. This time, he expected it and clutched her. Wrestled her to the floor. Or maybe she wrestled him. First he was on top, then her. The floor felt rough against his back. Her hair tumbled down, surrounding him. Darkness with orange edges where the light peeked between strands.

“Tell me you’ll want me forever,” she said.

He touched her breasts and salivated. He couldn’t imagine a circumstance in which he wouldn’t want her. “I will.”

“You will what?”

“I will want you forever.”

They continued. He wasn’t sure how long they carried on, only that the first morning rays to shine through the window made the film of sweat on her skin shine.

He woke hours, minutes, maybe seconds later, to the sound of the microwave. The smell of hot orange chicken. Penelope perched herself on the counter, wearing Verne’s shirt from the night before, and feasted.

Movement meant agony. Verne stretched his arm up over his shoulder, and dipped his hand onto the tender flesh of his back. His skin had broken, bleeding over the bare hardwood.

Penelope watched him. “Hungry?”

Continue reading “Forever” – Fiction by Michael Chin

“Endling” – Fiction by Clio Velentza

Owl on Ginkgo Branch – Ohara Koson, 1915

“Endling” is Clio Velentza‘s tender and unsettling flash fiction from our Spring 2018 issue.

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I WAS THERE AT THE PARK, THE DAY THEY FOUND THE GIRL. That’s how I know she was real. The dark morning had the stillness of a window display. I stood behind a tree, steaming in my running clothes. I saw her ruffled wings, her little gnashing teeth. She bit a man’s finger right off, and fled under the broken bridge we fed the ducks from. I can’t get her toes out of my mind, how small and blue they were. There was the lonesome cry of a scops owl, the abrupt rush of feet in wet foliage. Her yelps grew wilder as the people closed in.

Two of them were holding back a frantic woman. She was in a faded parka thrown over a bathrobe and slippers. Not my sweetie, the woman cried. Not my baby. The baby wailed. The sound tore at my skin, it scratched the inside of my skull. They covered their ears, and someone vomited into the pond. The girl was aglow in the dimness, soft downy feathers rippling with every spasm. It’s alright, someone kept saying, it’s alright. Let’s get this done. And, no more than one dart, she’s so goddamn small.

They stepped back for the clear shot. She perked up, gathering bony limbs for one last sprint. My eyes met hers, two panicked, golden reflections like fallen stars. Hi, I mouthed. Baby.

There was the soft whistle of the gun. The stagger of the frail body, the dreamy linger at the edge of the water. The splash. The jingle of the cage door. The woman in the bathrobe hung limp between their arms. My baby, she kept calling. My angel.

{ X }

CLIO VELENTZA lives in Athens, Greece. She is a winner of “Best Small Fictions 2016” and a Pushcart nominee. Her work has appeared in several literary journals such as WigleafLost BalloonHypertrophic LiteraryNoble/Gas QtrlyThe Letters PageJellyfish Review and People Holdingalong with some anthologies in both English and Greek. She is currently working on a novel.

“Self-Portrait as Pokémon #568 or Trubbish” – Poetry by Brandon Melendez

“Self-Portrait as Pokémon #568 or Trubbish” is Brandon Melendez‘s forlorn yet infectiously optimistic poem from our Spring 2018 issue.

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       BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T FEEL LIKE TRASH, sometimes? A bag of meat

bursting at the seams with old boots decomposed cat   expired trojans    & a potato.

At least I am full       with something. At least every Tuesday     someone will hold me  
      
all the way to the curb & I won’t be alone. All of us unwanted  anathema polyethylene

skin   we will gather            to empty ourselves           of what rots inside us. So grateful

to break open           in a way that does not bleed. Praise the fungi      & rotting bread.

The toothbrush undressed of its bristles.  Praise the mystery juice              how it leaks  
           
                        & curdles

                                                                & grows a new body.

Praise these bodies                                                           & the flies that deem us a home 

                                                                                  good enough

                        to raise a family in.

{ X }

BRANDON MELENDEZ is a Mexican-American poet from California. He is the author of home/land (Write Bloody 2019). He is a National Poetry Slam finalist and two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion. He was awarded Best Poem and Funniest Poem at collegiate national poetry competitions (CUPSI). His poems are in or forthcoming in Adroit Journal, Muzzle Magazine, the minnesota review, Ninth LetterSixth Finch, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston and is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.

“Dead in the Eye” – Fiction by Melissa Mesku

Pond with Ducks (Girl Amusing Herself) – Paul Gaugin, 1881

From our Spring 2018 issueMelissa Mesku‘s “Dead in the Eye” is a short coming-of-age story about ducks and cigarettes and the strangeness of adolescence. [And if you’ll be in the NYC area on Wednesday, May 23, you can catch Melissa read among our stellar lineup of writers & performers at FLAPPERHOUSE Reading #22.]

{ X }

THE BOYS CAME BACK FEVERISH, YELLING OVER EACH OTHER. Aunt Grandma climbed down from the trailer to hush them. It was just after twilight but their eyes were wild, glowing. Bright impossibilities spilled out of their mouths.

Among them:

1/ Some witches had turned a boy into a duck and then murdered him

2/ Raven-haired sorceresses had buried a dead duck which came back to life

3/ A pair of girl Satanists had burned a duck alive and then drank its blood

Aunt Grandma’s twin came out of her trailer next door. The boys saw they had a new audience and ran to her, shouting. They crowded around her like dogs. She was a bit drunk from what we could tell – rum, no doubt – and we listened to her “Mmm hmm” and “You don’t say” while all four boys ran at the mouth. More details emerged.

1/ The witches were sisters

2/ They weren’t witches, but vampires

3/ Regardless, they were lesbians

The way they told it, the whole mountainside was abuzz with rumors. Apparently, the only fact they agreed upon was that the offenders – two females – had disappeared at sundown in a cloud of smoke.

Violet and I sat in our tent with the lights out, our sides heaving. We clutched our hands over our mouths and stayed silent, stone silent. We had nothing but contempt for the boys and their ridiculous stories, but for once we were enthralled. The cacophony was theirs, but the mischief that had unleashed it was ours.

That night, in the dark, Violet and I swore that tomorrow, we’d return to the scene. “If what those boys want is a witch, a witch is what they’re going to get,” she said ominously.

It’s just as well we made that promise under the cover of night. I had trouble looking her in the eye those days. Or maybe she had trouble looking at me. In my naïveté, I assumed it was because if our eyes did meet, we would have cracked up and blown our cover.
Continue reading “Dead in the Eye” – Fiction by Melissa Mesku