10/31/14

Elizabeth Clark Wessel



A Woman and a Bird

A woman exits her home, takes eleven steps, and nearly crushes the head of a bird trapped between two iron cellar doors. The woman is afraid to touch the bird, but moved by its terror and its fate. She tries to jiggle open the padlocked doors, but is unsuccessful. She flags down a deliveryman. They speak in pantomime about how to save the bird. He uses his bike lock to pry up the door, and when he does the bird falls into the space below. The bird is now a lost cause. The deliveryman leaves to make his deliveries, and the woman gets in her car and drives to the beach, where the city is—at last—behind her, and what is in front is blue, immense.


Elizabeth Clark Wessel is a founding editor of Argos Books & co-editor of Circumference: Poetry in Translation. She is the author of three chapbooks Whither Weather (GreenTower Press, 2012), Isn't that You Waving at You (Big Lucks Books, 2015), and Amsterdam (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her full-length collection Two Suns will be published by The Lit Pub in late 2015. She lives in a farmhouse in Connecticut and translates Swedish novels for a living.

10/30/14

Paige Taggart


from The Thread

The infrastructure of emotional trauma took-off into a whirlwind of inopportune exposure. Time and space collaborate into facial muddled thoughts; coexist on the planet with strength and intuition guiding a fever of surveillanced truths. The rubric's cube of hope echoes for its own shadow to be removed and introduce a new side; i.e. a color-coded clarification for making the familiar align. I've hidden in the angst-shadow for too long. Window-drawn and inhibition like a written rule for larger confessions. How you show yourself to be strung-up in a chord of lies and draws that make you feel less judged and more mobile to model the affairs of a general "collected people." A big map of a dynamic trio enters the universe from many directions and displays the calculated inquiries into what lexicon? What private sentiments? Oh, with the hidden tactile won't you reveal yourself? Oh, with the upkeep? With the truest of true natures, with the value vault? What if not an entity held inside and embraced by its ever-dark chambers. The true depth of your enterprise is one of forgetting. Forgoing tales that leak matter into an inquisitor shaped doodad.  Oh, to offer attention would be to forgo rebuttal. Would be to stand with your head etched, as if shadows were your natural born state, as though what you haven't given birth to has already birthed you. Kerplunk you land on the planet. You are forced fed god. You become hostile in the most taboo of senses.  You stitch an overcoat with an anarchy symbol. To symbolize a road with many directions that aren't paved. You poke further and further inside but nothing rids you of the fantasy to surrender until you die. You blow all the inside. You take cover and destroy what little love is kept inside. It makes for an unpleasant evaluation of feeling. You smoke cigarettes on the fire escape and never come back inside. Ride a horse into a prairie of endless degrees. It trots through water and the water runs onto your dress or duress and soaks the ways you felt dirty into cleaner conditions. A hole is fused through you and with you the hole can't rest. It lights itself on fire and the way it burns makes a crevice around the edges of your face like burnt paper. As if you were all burnt up. You become only crisp edges. As if you needn’t a thing. As if time was a fucked up bloke on Charlie Rose and you were a surgeon endlessly mending hearts. The world sustains records that link back to native roots, to make religion more narrative and cause less futile disputes. We want to treasure what glows but we are so burned by it. We are so nerve-pinched and soul-locked and ship-guarded and empty deputies of valuable affirmations that god does not exist and that everything emptily looks out over you and doesn't really care about you because you are more than one in a million, you are like those chickens hatched down a chicken-line. A slate is the prognosis of driftwood; you drift with it endlessly on the sea of incomplete things.



Paige Taggart's first book is Want for Lion (Trembling Pillow Press, April 2014) and Or Replica is forthcoming in November with Brooklyn Arts Press. She is a jeweler.

10/29/14

Polly Duff Kertis

Care Instructions

            I hate babies. I always say the wrong thing around them. But I agree to do it anyway. I need the money. The mom, all brunette bangs and no make-up, opens the door for me, and returns to her seat on the couch with her magazine, says over her shoulder that the kid’s in the kitchen, and Jeffrey is upstairs taking his sweet time. She rolls her eyes at me, as if to say, Boys will be boys, but I don’t know how this is an example of that, so I scrunch my nose like it itches, even though it doesn’t. I peek to see that the magazine is some Modern Organic Woman crock of yoo-hoo. Her clothing is made out of a rough natural fiber that I imagine monks might wear as part of their practice of self-inflicted torture. She seems like a lesbian.
            I was never babysat as a child. My mom painted fresh make-up over her stale make-up and hosted dates in our home. I wander towards the sticky stink of a kid-ruined kitchen and find Roberta making a mess of soggy peas and carrots on the tray of her high chair. I sit and stare, morbidly bored immediately. Roberta stares back for a minute, then returns to destroying everything in arms’ reach. I watch, keeping my mouth shut, until the dad comes in, close-shaved and perfumed, to leave me his cell number and the number for Mimi’s Bistro, in case of emergency he says, in a solemn tone. I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic. I wait for a wink. I nod as he lists the care instructions for his baby, the details of bedtime. He says, Look at me, Mr. Mom! and laughs. He tells me that there is leftover sushi in the fridge. I decide that, in his pressed pink oxford and dressy jeans, he looks pretty gay. I know his type. He’s comfortable because he is rich, and that must make up for the lie he and his wife are living. I vow for the billionth time to never have children. How are you supposed to even talk to babies anyway? The grown-ups leave in a hurry.
            “I love you, Baby Robbie,” the dad says. 
            “Be good, sweet girl,” the mom says. She looks at me, like, You’ll be fine. Babies are easy. I make no effort to assure her that I agree.
            “Bad daddy, bad mommy,” is what I hear the baby say, though I assume she means “bye.” Her parents wave and laugh. Then it sounds like the baby says, “Homos!” her grin all wet gums, and her parents shut the door. Me and Roberta are left alone trying not to breathe through our noses as the aftershave fumes fade.
            “You think there’s any beer in the fridge?” I ask Roberta. Her answer is an indecipherable gurgle sound, so I find the sushi and help myself to a can of Schlitz. I sit to join the baby for dinner. I lift the sweaty lid of the plastic tray to reveal a vulgar smorgasbord. It all looks a bit too bodily under the kitchen’s yellow light. I am hungry, though. One of the glistening rolls bears an intriguing resemblance to genitalia, so I pick it up between thumb and forefinger. Roberta laughs.
            “What?” I say. “You’ve never seen a grown woman eat pussy for dinner?” I wrap my mouth around the slick soft meat and smile with bulging cheeks.
            “Pussy!” she parrots. When the sushi and Schlitz are gone, I crack another beer and head into the living room to snoop. All the paisley and decorative throw pillows have a dizzying effect. There are framed photos of Jeffrey windblown on boats and shiny-faced holding neon cocktails with many male friends. There is a framed certificate with the mom’s name on it. It officially declares her certified to administer “vision quest animal tracking hikes” in the state of Massachusetts. I lean in to inspect a display case of knives hanging high on the wall. Next to the knives, there’s another case. This one boasts bright, bristly fishing flies pinned dead still in their frame. An uncolorful feather collection flowers in a scentless spray from a ceramic vase on an end table. Various other tools made of leather and fur and tooth interrupt the muddled teal and purple upholstery throughout the living room. I look over my shoulder at Roberta. She is chewing on her hand. I give serious thought to a sudden hunch that she’s adopted. I drain my beer, and run my finger along the edge of a faux-mahogany breakfront. It showcases the glistening jewels of glass booze bottles. I tap the glass at a bottle of expensive-looking brown liquid, and help myself to a squat glassful of it. I bring my beverage back to the kitchen, thinking I may be getting loose enough to exchange a few words with Roberta.
            “Daddy juice!” is what her toothless mouth appears to mumble when I sit. I just sit there taking big, painful gulps. The daddy juice is mostly gone when Roberta pauses, looks at me like the meaning of life has just occurred to her, and shits her diaper. I burp and tell her it’s bedtime. I finish my beverage, pour myself another, and carefully make my way up the stairs, balancing baby and drink like a pro.
            Upstairs, I change her diaper and put her in her crib. She stands up and lifts her arms to me, begging “Up. Up.” I lift her and she wiggles wanting to be put down on the ground. It occurs to me that she’s more like a puppy than a person. She rushes to the corner with surprising coordination. She hugs something dark and loose-limbed. She grabs it by the nub-hand and drags it towards my feet. It looks like a demented Goldilocks. She looks up at me and says, “Big Daw!” Big Doll was part of Mr. Mom’s instructions. I crouch too fast to join Roberta and Big Doll on the floor and, at the sudden change of altitude, a few blunt beats swell against my skull from within. Once my brain adjusts, I take a better look at Big Doll. She is too big, really. Bigger than Roberta by about a head and made of rough cloth (not unlike the mom’s tunic) stuffed with something heavy. The thing is not cuddly. Roberta is sucking on Big Doll’s nub-hand. Roberta can tell I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, and she gestures at Big Doll’s other nub-hand. I do as invited and fit the stiff fabric into my mouth. Roberta smiles through her nub. The cloth tastes sweet and salty the way skin sometimes does. We keep at this for a while. Soon, my jaw is tired and I’m just holding the thing in my mouth, letting it soak up my boozy saliva, breathing impatiently through my nose. Roberta makes a sound that has the impatient ring of imminent ecstasy. I remember Mr. Mom emphasizing the importance of Big Doll. He had spelled the words, rather than uttering them before his daughter, as if their utterance would wake a demon. He had assured me Roberta wouldn’t go to sleep without it. The baby snatches the nub from my mouth, does her best to gather Big Doll’s cumbersome body in her arms, and stands, ready for bed now. I lift the heavy pair into the crib clumsily. Big Doll falls in after Roberta, and for a moment I fear Big Doll has injured the baby, but she’s just stunned for a moment, and Roberta simply blinks before fitting her thumb into her mouth and spooning her body against the firm mass of her companion. “Sorry,” she slurs through her thumb, presumably apologizing to Big Doll for handling her so roughly. Roberta rolls her eyes towards me, and repeats herself with more emphasis. “Story,” is what I hear this time. “Sorry story scary,” her eyebrows furrow with the effort of communication. Scary? I think, and I look around. Is she scared? Or does she want a scary story? There is no way of knowing, so I let her have it.
            “My bedroom was haunted,” I say. I get as comfortable as I can on a saggy bean-bag. I wrap a hand around one of the bars of the crib. I want Roberta to know I’m here. I suddenly feel I should assure her.
            “This,” I trace a circle in the dark air between us as if we’re on opposite sides of a sideways halo, “is the circle of life.” My stomach groans something cranky.
            Roberta humps Big Doll gently from behind.
            I know I was a mistake baby and I try to explain. “My mama has this big scar smiling across her belly, and it marks the place where the doctors grabbed me out of her. I was slimy as sushi meat and screaming and soft and not yet haunted,” I look over at Roberta and her wide eyes meet mine.  I draw another slow, invisible circle in the air. “Kind of like you.” I reach my finger between the crib bars to touch her nose and she snuffles cutely on cue. She is a mistake baby and the opposite of a mistake baby. Discarded by her real mom and then thoughtfully selected by her gay parents. I sip my warm drink and lick my stinging lips. I’m losing my train of thought. I try to get to the point. “Except, unlike you,” I burp. “I had a haunted bedroom.”
            The hallway goes dark without a sound. A cool rash of fear starts up my spine and I swallow hard. I remember Mr. Mom bragging on the motion sensor lights he’d just had put in. The itch quiets.
            The words find their way through my now-clumsy lips, and my voice sounds roughened, like I’m reciting a lullaby I’m sick of: “Too much sugar water will turn a baby rotten, too much shade, and the baby won’t grow. This is not proper care.”

            Roberta makes a gurgle-whimper sound through her pacifying thumb. I blink and swallow. I must have dozed a little. I wipe something wet from my cheek and see that I’ve spit up a little on the bean bag. I wipe it with my sleeve, but the stain stays.
            I pick up where I left off, “With her eyes wide and bright from too much TV in the dark, my mom would come up to my room for the company of my sweet sleepy heartbeat, she’d say — up the shag-soft stairs on her sugar-swole feet, she’d say.” I realize my voice is rasping into a ragged whisper, channeling her. “She'd creep right next to my bed and sit there, and she’d tell me over and over again, so I’d know it by heart, her breath like a roman candle in the dark: This story is about you and me. It’s to teach you to never open the door. When I began to open the door, he forced it open, and my hand burned and he was inside, and that’s when I knew I was fucked. Yes, fucked. A grown-up word for a grown-up lesson. He didn’t care that my hand was hurt or that I knew I was fucked. He cornered me into the bathroom. His slammed his hand over my mouth. It tasted dirty. He didn’t care what his hand tasted like. My scream died before it was born, like I sometimes wished you would do.  I know it’s a depraved thing for a mother to say, but it’s true. Not like the lie my mama told me about babies coming from the blood-brown mud of the Mississippi River. I sometimes wished for that, too. He hissed shut up just to spit in my face and he was holding both my hands tight, so I felt the warm saliva of this stranger roll down my cheek, and the river of his mucus, joined my stupid tears, and the stream of pearls hitting the tiny white floor tiles like baby teeth. He told me to stop my ugly crying and he slammed all his weight against me, and my head hit the mirror, and while I fell I thought of my soft-faced mama who gave me that necklace when I graduated from college and how she never even graduated high school and when I opened my eyes my own soft face was pressing into the slippery tiles. And this is where babies come from.

I fill my mouth with the last of the sweet stinging nightcap. I swallow it hot and whole. “And then she'd start again from the beginning,” I hear my wet voice say. “And keep going like that.” Roberta’s breath whistles a soft steady song. “Until I fell asleep. Sometimes she was still there when I woke up.” I hear the front door open and Mr. Mom saying shhh to his wife’s stomping boots. I whisper the end of the story to Roberta and Big Doll, “Sometimes gone.”


Polly Duff Kertis's work has appeared in The Agriculture Reader, BORT Quarterly, Tin House's Flash Fridays, The Collagist, elimae, The Fiddleback, and other journals. She's the author of two chapbooks of radical translation, OLD GUS EATS (Publishing Genius, 2012) and MIRROR POEMS (O'Clock Press, 2012). She teaches writing and lives in Brooklyn. 

10/28/14

Rachael Katz

Dream Set, Piano Concerto No. 3


1.
Rachmaninoff and the fake princess Anastasia
move into the stucco house at the end
of the block. They invite me
over for a BBQ (they abbreviate
like Americans). “Don’t you love
the suburbs?” Rachmaninoff asks me
“the way the sidewalk repeats itself?”
The fake princess Anastasia jingles her drink
“that’s nice that’s nice that’s
nice.” Though not a religious
man Rachmaninoff says grace:
“God bless these breezy
lawns of pubic drama amen.”

2.
I offer to help the fake princess Anastasia
in the kitchen. In search of a knife we reach
into a drawer at the same time. She places her
hand over my hand over the knives. She places
her other hand over my mouth. Her eyes say
something in a low rumbling Russian. I move
a knife aside to look
for another knife.

3.
The fake princess Anastasia asks if I
would like to have sex with her while Rachmaninoff
plays Piano Concerto No. 3. As if to sweeten the deal
the fake princess Anastasia tells me Rachmaninoff
will be able to manage most of the Concerto
with just one of his colossal hands
so that the other will be free for cupping. She winks
and her fake eyelashes detach. A small
black flag fraying.

4.
As I am gathering my coat
to leave Rachmaninoff
leans into me and whispers
“Years of dreams
just can’t be wrong.”


Rachael Katz works at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. It is glamorous work. She reads in the enormous concrete grain silos as a way to participate in the deep haunting that is the Erie Canal. Her work has most recently appeared in Lemon Hound and Coconut and is forthcoming in Jubilat. Her chapbook Any Berry You Like was published by iO Books this past spring.

10/27/14

Sophie Klahr

The Vending Machine Sells Space

With all of us working overtime for the holidays, in the morning there are only two spaces left—both vague, expensive, medicinal citrus. I like best the space for 75 cents that tastes like chlorine and smooths everything quiet. It is a popular space in our office.

**

Two days before Christmas the vending company man is refilling the machine knelt on one knee like a sad knight before the spiral wires, his spider-hands unpacking the spaces. I want to knock him over kick him steal every last space in his sack.

**

Fucking Jimmy! He has an awful taste in space and I don’t know why I trust him with my change, believing he’ll know the right kind of space to deliver me during peak hours when I’m nailed here on the phone with my headset / drowning in terrible music.

**

Space bustling. Space broken. Space pink but not abloom. Abstract space to protect architects. Animal space. Airplane space for increased leg room. Fuck space. Dank space. A space to fart with no one knowing. A space to bleed anywhere for an extra eight cents. I shake the machine. It swallows.

**

One day I buy a space to bring home. The cat shudders away from it. It fills up the room all golden and rattling.




Sophie Klahr's poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in publications such as Ploughshares, The Rumpus, Gulf Coast, Linebreak, and Sycamore Review. She is the poetry editor of Gigantic Sequins. She currently lives in Los Angeles. 

10/25/14

Tatiana Ryckman

Michael Asks if I Love This Song, and the Answer is Obviously Supposed to be Yes

The short answer is no. The long answer is that I have this other song in my head, with which I am in love and it makes it difficult for me to fall in love with other songs because I want all songs to be this other song. At the same time, I can listen to this song Michael sent and see all the ways in which I would love it if my vision were not so clouded with love for this other song, which popular and loved by everyone it doesn't even need or want my affection.


Tatiana Ryckman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the chapbook story collection, Twenty-Something, and assistant editor at sunnyoutside press.

10/24/14

Tobias Carroll

SOME THINGS I BOTCHED
 

1.

There was a prompt in front of me and the prompt said “write the saddest poem ever.” I read words three and four as “saddest porn.” Cue fourteen explicit pages with a subplot of dying puppies. It cost me some friends. Maybe more than some.

 

2.

Before that, there might have been some good news.

 

3.

There was the Dixieland jazz band that became a grindcore band. Elderly avant-jazz heads told me I was the fastest clarinetist they’d seen. I basked in this, believe you me.

 

4.

Also noted: the faun I nursed back to health. He lay beside the highway one night when I drove by. Feeding him wasn’t so hard; house-training was harder. Harder still was hiding him from the hunters: that sound of hounds barking outside, the sequential knocks skipping from door to door, the horns in the hallway.

 

5.

I latched on.

 

6.

There had been a relationship before that. There had been a we. Then, for a month, all my pillow talk involved mascots. Then there was no we.

 

7.

Contingent with the clarinet, I gave juggling a try. The band began touring. Bassist Alexi was driving when one sphere grazed his eye. My juggling gear was jettisoned on I-80. There were stern warnings given.

 

8.

We would hit the road for long weekends: Chicago, Boston, Richmond. Once we linked up with a subway grindcore band called We Stop At Five Dollars. The open road and rest stops. Moonlight clarinet and exhortations to violence. Speedy exits.

 

9.

The sound of a banjo gone supersonic? You could build a religion around it. Last I heard, bassist Alexi was trying exactly that.

 

10.

Airfare was booked. The Czech Republic beckoned. The festival circuit loomed. We had an audience there, we were told. An eager one at that.

 

11.

Three days before we were set to fly, I got a call. I’d been replaced. Someone better. Someone fitter. Someone who could also play the oboe. Someone who didn’t juggle; someone who, at least, didn’t juggle hazardously.

 

12.

Six days before we were set to fly, I saw the writing prompt. I went to it. Something saddest, I read. I thought: I can manage that. I thought: there are brilliant fragments still to make.

 

13.

I follow my former band’s itinerary. I feed the faun his oats; we watch the stars. The hunters haven’t shown in weeks. Cue the sound of cicadas; cue all the damage you can muster.

 



Tobias Carroll is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn and writes fiction and nonfiction. Find him online at www.thescowl.org, and on Twitter at @TobiasCarroll.

10/23/14

Jay Deshpande

EVERYTHING WAS MOVING AND I WAS WITNESS

We had just made a pact never to see each other again when she gave out a whimper and stumbled. “What was that?” I said. “Nothing,” she said. Then she paused. “Perhaps it is a sign. I have looked for signs since a young age, when my father, who was a merchant of foxfurs, found a desiccated forest where a city once had been, and entered it, and survived fourteen months within. When he emerged he understood his destiny, and pursued it with hunger.” The snow had begun falling. “That sounds to me really great,” I said, “but I can’t see what it has to do with you, or stumbling right now, or our contractual agreement to escape each other the way visible breath escapes my mouth.” “You’re a fool,” she said. “You ignore the facets before your eyes in favor of the ones at greater distance. I bet you’re not even aware of these closest flakes that announce themselves on my tongue.” “No,” I said, “I am most aware of those.” “Then I bet you can’t see the way my hand strides past my hip, now as we increase our pace.” “I have seen that, too,” I said. “And what about my name?” “What name? I have never heard it.” She stopped. “Yes you have. It is the sound most people recognize as a whimper. And each can hear it only once.” We were entering a fox-lined wood.


Jay Deshpande has recent poems forthcoming in Perihelion, Blunderbuss, Sink Review and Forklift, Ohio. His manuscript, Love the Stranger, was a finalist for the Kundiman/Alice James poetry prize. He lives in Brooklyn.

10/22/14

C. A. Kaufman

The Artist

When I first moved to New York I made the mistake of signing a lease in Queens. My roommate in that apartment was a man in his mid-thirties named George who kept a roll of toilet paper in front of his laptop on the desk in the living room. He was a harpist in the New York City Ballet’s pit orchestra. He kept a few harps at our apartment, each one looming comically over any space outside my room where I might have wanted to store my belongings. George would play them about once a month, and that was the only thing about living with him I found soothing. I couldn’t figure out how a person I hated so much could make such a warm sound. He singlehandedly disabused me of the notion that art came from a pure and earnest place, or that beauty was in any sense terrifying. George’s sliminess was totally banal; he didn’t scare me and I didn’t see why he should. I got no thrill whatsoever from any of my interactions with him, and he put me off art in general for a very long time.

He would often expound on his belief that high schoolers had the best hair, the softest. He looked like his hairline was receding a little more every day. He was desperate to find a serious girlfriend he could convert into a wife, but nobody he dated lasted more than a few weeks. He always wanted to have long discussions about the nuances of each candidate’s perfunctory, generic texts to him. He would call these torture sessions “our girl talks.” For a while I would try to point out that these women clearly weren’t interested in what turned out to be his pretty strident opinions on how they should go about their business, but this only seemed to trigger a deeper spiral into the chasm between his yearning for a true and lasting human connection and his sense of entitlement. His questions grew exponentially more cloying the longer we talked, and I found myself nodding in agreement with anything he said, staring at the mole under his right eye to create the illusion of eye contact, plotting my escape.

One of his favorite pastimes was getting wine drunk on weeknights while parked on the couch watching My So-Called Life. On one of these nights I walked into the kitchen on my way to the shower and found him leaning out the window smoking a cigarette. As I passed, he pulled his head back in and said, You know, you just look like a victim. Some people just do. I can always tell who they are. And I said Okay, maybe, and took my shower. Later that night he opened the door to my bedroom at 3 A.M. and poked his head in, calling my name over and over in a singsong voice, like it was something he could tease me with. I rolled over, turning my back to him, hoping he would not come inside but also resigned to what would happen if he did. Part of me felt a perverse satisfaction in knowing that I would do nothing to prevent it. But he didn’t come in, and I broke the lease a week later.

C. A. Kaufman received her B.A. in English and History from Cornell University and is currently an editor at Bedford/St. Martin's. Her work has appeared in Storychord, Bodega, and Hobart. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.