Tag Archives: Fall 2017 (#15)

“Ecotone” – Fiction by Chelsea Laine Wells

A Bear in a Moon Night – Niko Pirosmani, 1913

The grand finale of our Fall 2017 issue is “Ecotone,” Chelsea Laine Wells’ haunting & heartbreaking story of a young woman who feels “the edge of what she wants fitted close and suffocating against the edge of what she has.”

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SHE THROWS UP IN THE MOTEL BATHROOM with the light off so the crack in the toilet and the constellation of toothpaste spit on the mirror are hidden. Then she wafts out all slow languid like women in the movies stricken with love or fever, and drapes her body over the bed. Breathes. Flutter of the eyelids. Imagine what it looks like. Looks glamorous. Beleaguered by life. Like the bathroom, she is better with less light. Everything here is better with less light. The room is small and dirty but the bad details fade to nothing in the yellow bedside lamp glow.

She loves to throw up. The ritual of it, the euphoria of emptying, like turning back time. Redemption. You can change yourself and become new, if you reach far enough into yourself, turn inside out. After there is the fever of ache that comes with deprivation and physical strain and that too is a relief. Something to sink into and grow still inside of, sainted by sacrifice. Holy holy. Stomach flat under the fat and mouth sour. She lies moored in the forever inescapable horror of her body, pacified for now, stewing in heavy heartbeat bodyheat. She thinks of the throwing up and the reverse communion of it and then the cartoonish juvenile words boys have for it. Calling the dinosaurs on the big white phone. What does this mean? Worshipping at the porcelain God. She prefers that, but they say it with a backwards twist of sarcasm that denigrates the ritual. The toilet is not really godlike. Worship implies profanity. Everything pure must touch edges with impurity and in that lose meaning and significance.

Ecotone. This is the term for the point of contact between the natural world and the manmade one. She turns this word like a warmed coin in her fingers. Like the border between what is sacred and what is embarrassing and corrupted. Like the border between the holiness of purging and the ugly reality of vomit in a toilet. Even her internal use of the word ecotone embodies this idea – knowing this beautiful word, but in an unfortunate way as opposed to from a smart book she’d never read or a sophisticated conversation she’d never had. She knows it from a television show she watched at a birthday party she wasn’t really invited to, but overheard about, and then was reluctantly included in, and she went knowing she wasn’t wanted there but somehow her self-awareness did not extend to a behavior that prevented social pain. This was another ecotone. Understanding herself and her frailties with the separateness of a child you cared for and looked down on, but not possessing the ability to change anything.

Being here is beautiful. She is the one he chose to come with him, in spite of all her sickness and flaws, her body that stubbornly persists in a gelatinous layer of fat no matter how much she purges. This body, big and squared off, round broad shoulders, thick jaw. She isn’t pretty. But he looks past it and he touches her like she is small and sometimes she feels it, the smallness that might exist within her if she was able to carve herself physically away as strategically as meat for consumption. This is an ecotone of self, the way he makes her feel with his hands and mouth and body, rubbing itself sore against her offensive corporeal reality. His worship, the sacredness. Her body, the vomit in the toilet. Pure against impure.

Right now he is out getting something, which is how she was able to throw up. He would be mad, she thinks instinctively, for her to waste food. They don’t have much. They ran so fast and immediate. No time to think. Not that she would have arrived at any other conclusion, had she been given time to think, had the question been asked of her. There was nothing to stay for.

Her eyes wander up from the bleached light of old television shows to the painting above. It is a forest, a bear, dark colors and blunt forms. Unbeautiful, inelegant. A rough ugly version of something meant by design to be lovely. Girls are meant to be lovely, and loved. Nature is meant to be lovely. She, like this painting, is a crude representation. She wonders about the artist, if he thought the painting was good, if it looked different in his mind than it did on the canvas, from the outside. Ecotone: the border where your biased perception and understanding met with unforgiving reality. The border where what you wanted met with what was. Continue reading “Ecotone” – Fiction by Chelsea Laine Wells

“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

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

“Ares Inebriated” – Poetry by Bernadette McComish

The God of War – Jules Perahim, 1937

“Ares Inebriated” is one of two marvelously mythical poems by Bernadette McComish in our Fall 2017 issue.

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A LOADED GLOCK
a full shot—
That’s American, he mutters.

No grin or grimace
just down the throat
and another and what

will they sacrifice to him today—
a goat, a village, a teenager?
Would it matter if they knew

he was over it, done with war
or would they keep killing
in his new names, the ones he hates.

At the only bar
in a town with no strangers
he drinks alone and thinks

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

{ X }

Continue reading “Ares Inebriated” – Poetry by Bernadette McComish

“Big Game Hunter” – Fiction by Matt Patrick

Successful Hunter – Alexander Pope, 1912

An old hunter’s animal head collection gets inquisitive in “Big Game Hunter,” Matt Patrick‘s curiously surreal flash fiction from our Fall 2017 issue.

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IN HIS OLD AGE, THE HEADS MOUNTED ON THE WALL STARTED TO TALK TO HIM. At first asking the obvious whys, but over time the conversations began to wander.

The lion asked: Does the sun still beat on the savannah?

The shark inquired: What’s it like to live without gills?

The human head, as always, stays silent.

Every once in a while he toys with the idea of getting rid of them. Stripping the walls bare. He can’t do it, of course. He would miss the company. Not that he’s particularly hospitable to them. The questions often go unanswered as he drifts into his imagination and hunts far more elusive game.

The hippo asked: What did you do with my body?

The gazelle inquired: How does it feel to take a life?

The human head says nothing.

The hunter tries to picture what sort of gun he’d need to bring down happiness, or a bond with his son. And if he did bag them, what sort of mount do they need? Can they be taxidermied?

The second hippo posits: You must hate hippos. Why else would you kill so many of us?

The third hippo concurs.

The human head motions, as if to spit.

Someone visits the hunter. A young person. Not his son, maybe a grandson? Granddaughter? The young person politely follows his lead and ignores the heads as they pester him. The young person leaves. The hunter is alone for a long time. He isn’t sad, he tells himself, but a lesser man would be.

Continue reading “Big Game Hunter” – Fiction by Matt Patrick