“Shinrin-yoku” – Nonfiction by Amanda Krupman

Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route Nakahechi by Nekosuki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
“Shinrin-yoku” is Amanda Krupman‘s personal & poignant flash nonfiction on solitude & Japanese forest therapy from our Fall 2017 issue.

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THEY SAID WALK WITH ME

I said I already do enough walking.

But you do it alone, they said. It’s better with someone else.

I didn’t believe them, but I wanted to, so I said okay.

And we walked together for a while. Into places we’d known separately and back out again with new words and phrases and paragraphs and endnotes we immediately wanted to forget. After I proved to them that they were wrong, that I was better on my own, I walked away.

 

Walking is the way. It asks nothing from you. It is no accomplishment on its own. It’s process. Plan your routes, set along your path, check the map. Or don’t, and just keep walking until it’s time to lie down. Then get up and do it some more. It’s better not to think if you can help it, but if it happens, and with it you feel your mourning kick the wind out of you and fold you in half, you can trust that it will pass. Just keep moving. When the body stays rooted, the blood runs tepid.

 

My mother had me, her first child, when she was twenty-five. I was a few days away from thirty-five, had no children, and I’d lost my mother some months before. Oh, I knew where she was: alive, very much the person she had always been. But I’d lost her. Rather, she had closed the door, shut me out, shut herself up in the home she had made with my father, the silent partner in this shunning business. I love you, she said, but I love my God more. In anguish, I repeated this to my walking partner, whose own mother was also Christian but in a way that insisted she understand her child’s difference, to recognize over time that her beautiful daughter was, despite expectations, no longer her daughter but still her beautiful child. I bet my parents would say that too if I asked them, they said. But I hadn’t asked.

My mother had always needed to hold me at arm’s length. But when I lost her—and by extension, my father—a lifetime of detritus was unearthed, a hot pile of rotting fruit and buried bones sucked clean of their meat.

Continue reading “Shinrin-yoku” – Nonfiction by Amanda Krupman

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Two “Ribcage” Poems by J. Bradley

“The Ribcage Explains (Again) Why It Never Votes” and “The Ribcage Dreams of Dancing on a Grave (or Two)” are just two of five wonderfully surreal & acutely affecting ribcage-themed poems by J. Bradley in our Fall 2017 issue

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“The Ribcage Explains (Again) Why It Never Votes”

YOU GERRYMANDERED YOUR HEART
where only the wolves of his name
are allowed to live. They have the facts
and still they vote to gnaw the marrow
out of you. What’s the point of this story,
this lover asks. You peel back your blanket,
show him the gore in waking up alone.

{ X } Continue reading Two “Ribcage” Poems by J. Bradley

“Transformulation” – Fiction by Serena Johe

Metamorphosed Women – Salvador Dali, 1954

A young lady undergoes some bizarre & bewildering changes in “Transformulation,” Serena Johe‘s gloriously gruesome short story from our Fall 2017 issue.

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A SERIES OF HARD SCABS FORMS JUST BELOW SAM’S LEFT ARMPIT. Brown and oddly geometric and bedrock dry, they overlap down the length of her torso, creating tiny roadways in the subtle spaces between her ribs. On Thursday, they darken to the color of dried blood, but Sam remembers the perpetual red and white volley of immune responses in her preteens, the patchy scabs like rows of magnified cells, and she convinces herself there’s probably nothing wrong.

The week after, she finds a lump at the base of her spine, and she begins to worry. It’s round and dimpled like a golf ball, in the space where her last vertebrae should be. When it distends and breaks the skin like a clay-colored bone cap, gleaming wetly in the light of her bedroom, she begs her parents to take her to the doctor, but they brush aside talk of cancer and laugh outright at the idea of mutating poisons.

Their nonchalance doesn’t convince her. True enough, Sam has seen many doctors for the multitude of anomalies that sometimes raise her flesh like a topographical map, and half the time they turn out to be minor irritations that hardly warranted medical attention. Still, she never regrets the visits. Nothing unsettles her quite like the appearance of an unidentified object bursting from beneath her skin. She is reminded of the parasitic creatures on the Discovery channel, of the long yellow stalk of cordyceps fungus she once saw blooming between two bamboo trees, and of the mutilated bodies of its hosts. They splinter apart in hardened sprays of tissue like a still-life explosion.

Sam taps the bulbous growth on her back and it clicks like hollow plastic. The dread and disgust pierce deep. When it doesn’t disappear by the end of the week, the sensation transforms into outright horror, but her parents insist she’s being melodramatic. Her arguments of flesh-eating bacteria and mind-controlling fungi don’t appear to help her case.

On the way to school on Monday, her mother’s eyes keep meeting hers in the rearview mirror.

Sam asks irritably, “What?”

“Don’t worry so much,” her mother smiles. “You’re going to give yourself wrinkles.”

Wrinkles are the last thing Sam’s worried about, and her mother’s lackadaisical attitude towards the quickly spreading rash does nothing but exacerbate her distress. When she gets out of the car, she pulls her shirt over the bulge at her back, which by now has discolored to the same blackish-red as the network of scabs on her side. She attempts to blend into the crowd as always.

At lunch, on her way to Izzy in the far corner of the cafeteria, she feels the pressure of a hundred pairs of eyes and tries not to tug at her sleeves or the scarf around her neck. She reminds herself that not many people would likely pay her so much attention. Then again, Izzy has known her since third grade. She notices something amiss soon after Sam slides into her seat.

“What’s with the outfit?”

Sam pokes a plastic spoon into her yogurt and tries to sound indifferent. “What do you mean?”

“No offense, but you’re dressed like a nun.”

“I am not.” Sam freezes as Izzy tugs at her scarf.

“It’s cute, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like eighty-five degrees outside–” Sam feels the scarf come loose and slaps Izzy’s hand away. “Ow! Sam, I hardly touched you!”

“I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well,” Sam says. She abandons her yogurt and hurries to the bathroom.

Standing over the sink, she pinches the spot where Izzy brushed her collar, right above the bone, as if to erase the sensation of having been touched there. She traces the line over and over to be certain that Izzy hadn’t discovered the mutinous spread of scabs that now reach her chest. Continue reading “Transformulation” – Fiction by Serena Johe

“Existential Ketchup” – Poetry by James Croal Jackson

Heinz Tomato Ketchup with fries, by theimpulsivebuy [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
“Existential Ketchup” is a savory & poignant poem of melancholy & fast food by James Croal Jackson from our Fall 2017 issue. (To hear a recording of James reading his poem, be sure to click play below…)

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GOT A HEINZ BOTTLE FULL OF REGRETS
but it’s dried up as the crust of red’s
lost its use   you try to squeeze something
from an old heart and look how flappily
it beats sags and wheezes   yet I got a cold bag
of wendy’s to share salted and soggy
on our porch in december rain   I said
to go to be tax-free   and carefree yes
but on the swinging bench white-bagged I see
your face in wendy’s and your eyes some
sad fake black   pocket’s full of lint and loose change
and can’t stop sliding my hands in to feel my legs
burning with desire to get up and build trash
cans from scrap at the edge of the yard
then wait for the passersby
to throw their guilty pleasures in

{ X }

Continue reading “Existential Ketchup” – Poetry by James Croal Jackson

“Drenched Mold” – Poetry by Juliet Cook & Michael Bernstein

“Drenched Mold” is one of two spectacularly squishy poems by Juliet Cook & Michael Bernstein from our Fall 2017 issue.

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A SLIME DISPENSER THAT WON’T STOP shooting it out
of order, out of order, out of clichéd slots.

I’m either screaming or I’m crying
or I’m hideously mean.
I’m a female-shaped gumball machine.

You know you can’t wait
to break me open
or throw me out the window.

I turn myself into
a ripped out placenta in the trunk
of the car. I can’t even drive.

So I’m not the one who crashed
my own slot machine and smashed you.

I’m either cheating or I’m lying,
eyeless and unseen.
An arachnid, fat on the afterbirth
of gold rush dreams.

You can’t wait to off me before my time:
a 50 ton space phallus, spreading its slime.

An entourage of pill dispensers poured inside
broken flower pots. Hubris, rat poison,
3 left gloves.

A brillo pad will shape them all
into something to snort
to cast the heavy hex down,
connect the slime balls with the cat hair.

With the rat tails, with the bat, with the anti-
establishment non-jello mold,
with the tall ships, the dead letters, the dittos
marching into crippling immediacies,
bleached and unyielding.

{ X }

Continue reading “Drenched Mold” – Poetry by Juliet Cook & Michael Bernstein

“My language is so dead & undead” – Poetry by Kristen Brida

“My Language is So Dead & Undead” is Kristen Brida‘s supremely bizarre poem from our Fall 2017 issue.

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DIRECTORS CALL ME IN
I’m an on-call death
Consultant now
How is death done they ask me
Is it as still as they say it is
Is it unfaithful to throw petals by a corpse
How can I make the body feel
More or less beyond itself

It used to be such a great question
Where I would slide in & out of certainty
Just to see their faces
But now I’m so bored
It gets boring after a few times
The way people crawl around
Their own sense of decay
It’s a movie loop
And I am a sad moviegoer
with Dorito dust spackled across my face

Today I stood over Jeff Goldblum
Covered in fake blood like this dream I had
Where I poured chocolate syrup over his sick ass abs
His body in front of me in tension
with wound & liddedness

I stared at his sick ass abs
and I put my hair in my mouth as I watched
the director said cut
he asked me if Jeff was believable
I should have said fuck
Yes it is now let me lie with him
But I didn’t let them have it

I said shit on him
Throw some glitter in his mouth

And oh did Jeff have so much glitter in his mouth
And was he more exciting than ever
And what a beautiful direction I told them to go in
And still I did not touch him
Even though that would have been the way to go

{ X } Continue reading “My language is so dead & undead” – Poetry by Kristen Brida

“A Bullet for Mr. Sweet” – Fiction by E.L. Siegelstein

Chocolate – Salvador Dali, 1930

An infamous candyman becomes the target of a disgruntled former associate in “A Bullet for Mr. Sweet,” E.L. Siegelstein‘s scrumdiddlyumptious short story from our Fall 2017 issue.

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DEATH HAD CAUGHT UP TO THE OLD MAN AT LAST. 

After too many years and too many miles. Six times, the trail had gone cold, but the killer persisted. Three times, he had come close, missing the old man by mere minutes in Pittsburgh, seconds in Dublin. The old man had seen him then, electric blue eyes meeting his through the glass of the taxi window, but hadn’t shown any sign of recognition. But the killer, who most people knew simply as Chuck, persisted. The Salt Family provided him with all the money he needed. The fat German furnished an extensive network of contacts throughout Europe and the Americas. Little Mikey T. provided the gun, the cold steel Derringer .45 Chuck clutched in trembling fingers in the pocket of his green army jacket. And now, in a hotel bar in Cleveland, of all places, he finally had the old man cornered.

The old man bellied up to the bar, pushing himself up onto the stool with the cane he always carried. He had to be at least 90 years old, but he didn’t look it, not at all. His hair was white, but it was all there, an unruly puff of cotton candy on his head. His eyes still held all their power, darting around the room, laughing at everything they saw. The old man had gone by many names. In some places he was known as the Candyman, in some places he was Mr. Sweet. Then there was his original name, the most famous name of them all, but he hadn’t used it in ages, which was just as well, as the very thought of that name made Chuck want to vomit.

The old man caught the bartender’s attention, and ordered a Double-W on the rocks, adding, “And you know what? Let’s make it a double,” smiling like it was the cleverest thing in the world. It was the old man’s own whiskey, too, from a distillery he’d founded only a few years ago. Nobody knew how he managed to make young whiskey taste like it had been aged for decades, but knowing him, Chuck guessed it was something inane, like boring it with political speeches or something.

Chuck took the stool next to the old man’s and ordered a beer. The old man didn’t even look at him, seeming completely enwrapped in tasting his own drink, swirling the whiskey around his teeth with eyes closed.

“Hello,” Chuck said, simply.

The old man swallowed. “You know,” he said, opening his eyes, “most people drink to make themselves happier. But the problem is that alcohol, on its own, is a depressant. Everyone knows that, of course, but strangely nobody’s tried to do anything about it. They just accept it as a ‘fun fact’ and go on making depressing whiskey. Except for this one. It has happy things, like childhood memories of Christmas morning, the first ray of sunshine after a summer storm, a new lover’s smile. They’re subtle, but they’re there.”

“I heard it was just a trace amount of MDMA.”

The old man shrugged. “For a whiskey to be classified a bourbon, the mash needs to be at least 51% corn. What you do with the rest of it is entirely in the hands of the maker.”

Chuck took a slug of beer and turned in his stool to face the old man, his right hand still clutching the Derringer in his pocket. “You’re a hard man to find,” he said.

“No, I’m not,” the old man replied. “I’m right here. You’ve found me.”

Continue reading “A Bullet for Mr. Sweet” – Fiction by E.L. Siegelstein