DECEMBER, 2019

FORWARD INTO A DREAM

BY SYNNIKA LOFTON

I lean and let gravity play its music, play its
role in crafting my destiny, a purpose that I
celebrate. In my head, a kingdom lives with
stones shaped in an innovative design. I
breathe for those that sacrificed. I climb
for those that didn’t have a chance to realize
their potential. This is much more than a
slave song, a ballad that circles in air from
the coast of West Africa and makes a home
on a street corner. I lean forward into a
dream, with a clenched fist.

CINEPHILIA

BY GRANT LOMELINO

She was like a Kubric Film,
Master strokes of purposeful small details.
A soft directional stare
Holding a distant beauty

I’ll eat up every second—
popcorn in hand,

Admiration in eye
She placed her hand in my palm
Carefully slipping her fingers in between mine
Just for a moment
Then returning her hand to a fist
To lay dormant atop my open hand.
I lived for the drives we would take.
Winding, twisting, flying
Past street lights,
Framed perfectly in the passenger window

She glowed—
I stared lovingly at the scene

She avoided my sight line,
With pontificated silence and dismissive head nods
As I stumbled into a monologue of my personal interests
She was a troubadour to my passions
Entertain,
Dismiss,
Move on.
I played the fool to it.
Always waiting for the next performance

SOUL·AR*

BY ALIE MCARDLE

lovers so transcendent
i would feel my soul
lay into his
our bodies activated
telepathy

onward into the kaleidoscope
our energies plugged into
separate neurons

and our connection
weakened

RELATED: THE PAINTER

NOVEMBER, 2019

A DOUBLE, AT LEAST

BY BRIAN RIHLMAN

I grabbed the bat
from beneath the bar
and brandished it, yelling
“That’s enough, assholes!
I’ve already had a gun
pulled in here tonight!”

They stopped shoving,
but the three hundred pounder
with the shaved head
glared at skinny me, shouted,
“Fuck you, motherfucker!
I ain’t afraid of your bat!”

I blinked. Glared back. Waited.
His friends talked to him,
sat him down, got him a drink.

Not the reaction I expected,
but at least I’d smoothed the wrinkles
from the rest of the night.

Under the counter,
the bottle clinked
against the glass
as I poured myself
a vodka cranberry.
Double, at least.

THE WEIGHT OF MY SKIN

BY DARLENE SCOTT

She says the man threatened her.
Salt stings the corners of my eyes

wider than usual with the index
crisscross of plaid, cracked leather

of his sneakers; dare in his pout; my wet
skin, heavy to the pumpkin flesh, his also

cracking; my lips viscous; tentative.
I am cadence, 180 strides per minute.

Channel 6 will ask for a word or witness
to account the sprout of her limbs

near a bronze box, replica of the one in which
Henry Brown shipped himself to Freedom.

I give myself to morning nearly every day;
today, the breeze interrupts thick humidity.

But fails my skin.

In autumn, even, the weight of wet skin;
in the store choosing dinner; I-64 to errands

so heavy my Human wilts under it.
We should both know this.

Her petition finds me an excuse
of sweat and anonymity.

REINCARNATION

BY LYDIA GROTE

Shattered
I picked up the pieces
of dignity
and happiness
that littered
the street like
broken glass

Reincarnated
I died at the corner of
N. Franklin and W. Monroe
I came back
as a woman

Shallow
The future was dim
I trudged through
to find
myself

Patched
A Band-Aid fix
to hide
my sadness

Graduated
I left you
I left this chapter
I left my self-loathing

Reincarnation II
Here I stand
In the city
That—
shattered me
killed me
swallowed me
But I am —
mended
reincarnated
powerful
whole

RELATED: A SON OF COMMON SENSE

OCTOBER, 2019

PHRANKLIN PHINSTER

BY TRAVIS FLESHOOD

And so it was, that Phranklin Phinster did take his neon pink skateboard; and with it, mercilessly thrash his Aunt Sam’s begonias, for they had offended him. After which, he meandered down the pock-marked avenue that was his sanctuary, from the rutabega-festooned two-story bungalow that was his home. It was, that as he meandered, he accused random mammals of incestuous cribbage games and believed several automobiles to be singing “O, Danny Boy”. His steps became more ungainly, his stride more stilted, and his hair more aflame as he continued his aimless trodging. His eyes glazed over and several witnesses accounted to seeing him start doing the Hustle sporadically over the course of seven minutes. He then came to a sudden stop that was so sudden, all the loose change and lengths of wire and rope kept in his pockets, socks, and codpiece were expelled from therein, with such velocity that there were nineteen instances of penetration in the stucco and brick walls of the houses and shacks lining the avenue; and one case of penetration of Mrs. Stuck-in-the-Mud, from whom was later removed $2.83 Latvian, and a string of tea bags.

After stopping with such great force, Phranklin craned his head back so as to observe the sky, on that day a lovely shade of bright purple. He craned his neck to the point where his adam’s apple was perpendicular to the uneven asphault, and further still until he was looking directly behind him, taking in the collateral affect of his erstwhile stroll.

Upon seeing what lay behind him, coupled with the effect of viewing it upside-down, it is said that his eyes began to fill with tears of milk and honey. His heart welled up with sorrow, his stomach with bile, and his bladder with urine.

He felt he could not bear to view the aftermath any further, and so he began to tilt his head back even further, pressing it into the bumblebee pattern on the back of his shirt, until a tear formed at the front of his neck. Further he stretched, until he had ripped his own head off from his own neck on his own shoulders, and had taken note of the hole in the back of his shorts’ leg as the level of his eye fell. His body, however, much like that of a chicken, was not yet consigned to death; and proceeded to drop the skateboard, mount it, and ride it down the avenue. Without the benefit of a head, though, the body jumped the curb and slammed into a spreading chestnut tree. And so it was, that Phranklin Phinster was dead.

JOHN

BY MARY COGGINS

It is nearly dusk on Halloween, and soon the youngest costumed children will be coming to the door escorted by their parents in wagonfuls. John sits on the couch, facing away from the closed bedroom door. He was previously thinking about dinner but is now preoccupied with his decision from several hours before to let the hospice nurse go home early.

There must be a paper somewhere, he thinks, with all the appropriate numbers. They have classes for these kinds of things, he is aware, but they were always at such inconvenient times. Did the hospice nurse have children she needed to take trick-or-treating? He doesn’t remember. For some reason his memory of the hospice nurse looks like McDonald’s clown, which is unsettling so he would prefer not to linger. Perhaps her number is on the paper that must be somewhere. He is unsure of how to handle this situation.

The doorbell rings and John dutifully pushes himself out of the deep cushions. When he opens the door there is a three year old Dalmatian with blonde hair and ears made from the corners of an old crouton box. John recognizes her as the Moorfield girl, Jenna, or Gemma. Perhaps it’s Jennifer. The Moorfield woman is behind her holding a baby in bumblebee stripes.

“Trick or treeeat,” the Moorfield woman says in the delicate voice women use for children.

“Gemma, what do you say, baby?”

The Dalmatian lifts a plastic pumpkin closer to John and mumbles something he assumes is related to the holiday.

“Oh, wonderful!” John says, “Look at what a pretty puppy we have here, oh yes, ha ha … let me go find a treat for this good girl, okay? Okay. I’ll be right back now.”

Of course, there is no candy. John is aware of this. He does not purchase candy; it’s terrible for your teeth and his teeth are terrible already. John vaguely panics thinking about the dentist and shuffles back toward the kitchen in hopes that there may be some peppermints shoved in the back of a drawer somewhere. He is not sure how to handle this situation.

John empties the drawers of all their toothpicks and embroidered napkins and soy sauce packets, but finds no peppermints. Perhaps butterscotch drops, he thinks, because Barbara used to buy a bag and hide it in the crevice between the oven hood and the cabinet to eat while she cooked and he watched golf. It was a long while since Barbara cooked though, and there is no butterscotch bag in the crevice. John thinks perhaps there are some cokes in the fridge. Children like Coca-Cola, he thinks, but inside the fridge there is only a casserole from whoever lives across the street and a large bottle of beer, which John tells himself to remember for later.

And then, a stroke of luck! When he shuts the refrigerator door the paper with the appropriate numbers is right next to his hand, tacked on by a large plastic magnet commemorating John and Barbara’s cruise to Alaska four years prior. He takes the paper down and studies the magnet for a while, remembering that there was a very decadent chocolate cake for dessert when they had dinner with the captain and how thrilled Barbara was to win bingo the third night. John finds that he is smiling to himself despite the situation at hand. He is not sure how to handle it.

The immediate situation at hand, he suddenly remembers, involves a Dalmatian with an outstretched pumpkin. Candy, he thinks, and grabs a can of prunes on the way back to the front door. They are wrapped individually, John thinks, this is fine. 

“Okay then,” John says as he walks back to the Dalmatian and her mother, “I think I’ve got something this puppy-dog might like.”

He tries to open the can of prunes and realizes that it might be difficult while still holding the paper with the appropriate numbers and the rather bulky Alaska magnet. He does not want to put them down and risk misplacing them again, so after several long seconds of wrestling with the prune can it finally pops open. John is unsure how to handle this situation. 

“Aha!” John says. “Sorry there ladies, I was having a little bit of senior difficulty, ha ha.”

He pulls out two prunes and drops them into the Dalmatian’s bucket. He pulls out a third and hands it to the Moorefield woman for the Bumblebee.

“Fank you,” the Dalmation says.

She is timid in the way tiny blonde girls often are. John thinks she has excellent manners.

“You are very welcome,” he says and tries his best to bend to her level, “are you gonna grow up to be a big strong puppy dog?”

The Dalmatian nods emphatically.

“You’re gonna look out for this little bumblebee, right?”

Emphatic nodding.

“Wonderful, just wonderful. You’re a precious little thing, aren’t ya? Ha ha.”

John has to use the door frame to stand up all the way. The Moorfield woman is smiling, apparently proud of her offspring. There are less children in the neighborhood then there were ten years ago, John notes. He has been here for a long time.

“Thank you for the treats, Mr. Rivers, they’re very yummy, and not even bad for your teeth!” The Moorefield woman looks at her children while she talks, as if she is simultaneously speaking for them as well as instructing them on grown-up manners.     

This is a good woman, John thinks. He is admiring the children while she asks vaguely about Barbara’s health. This scenario can be handled privately, John thinks, she does not need to be involved. Women like to cause scenes, and there are a Dalmatian and a Bumblebee present.

“Oh Barbara’s fine, just fine,” he says, “Just taking a little rest today, you know?”

The Bumblebee gropes at her mother’s hair and seems to have some difficulty controlling her saliva.

“Yeah? I heard she was on bedrest, and then of course I’ve seen the nurse here every day.”

“Yes, yes, she’s been here. Very helpful for Barbara, you know, I’m absolutely useless.” John says. He is attempting to be amiable but is still distressed by the image of the hospice nurse as the McDonald’s clown. Leave that alone, he thinks.

“Well is there anything we can do to help out? Dean works all day, you know, and us girls aren’t bad company if you needed some extra help around the house.”

“Oh, we make out all right here,” John says, and for a moment is thrilled by the thought of spending languorous autumn days with the Moorfield woman, the Bumblebee, and the Dalmatian.

“I think mostly what Barbara needs is peace and quiet.”

“Mmm, that makes sense,” the Moorefield woman nods with a significant amount of sincerity.

“Yes, rest and rest is what the doctor ordered, ha ha.”

John is overwhelmed with the urge to tell this woman that his wife is dead. He is not sure how to handle this situation; it seems bad in every direction. How would this woman react if he told her Barbara died exactly forty-seven minutes after the hospice nurse went home? How could he explain, with the Dalmatian right at his knees, that his wife is a corpse under the covers with his own bedtime rapidly approaching?  The risk is great, John thinks, but somewhere on this page the appropriate number is written. And if she can help me find it, perhaps I can have dinner at a reasonable time. He clutches the Alaska magnet and prepares to breach the truth.

“I cannot have them thinking this is a prank,” John says.

The Dalmatian is looking up at him with so much innocence.

“I’m sorry?” The Moorfield woman asks.

“You know, for the holiday,” John says, “the Halloween and all.”

“I’m, sorry, I don’t understand.”

John takes a rather deep breath.

“I am reasonably sure that my wife is dead. I need to call someone, but I’m not sure which number it is. They have classes for these things, I know, that you’re supposed to do together before, you know, one of you becomes hopelessly infirm but we went to Alaska instead and had a wonderful time, and I’m glad we did, honestly, seeing the moose and the lynxes and lots of men with big beards and the syrup there is just fantastic so– ”

“You’re reasonably sure? She’s– dead?”

She didn’t even whisper the word, John thinks. She just said it.

The Moorfield woman moves past him into the house and sets the Bumblebee on the floor near the stairs. She asks several questions about the nurse and Barbara’s medications while the Dalmatian waits patiently at the door. The woman heads for the bedroom, toward the closed door beyond which  Barbara is no longer breathing.

“No no,” John says, trying to move as quickly as possible in slippers that seem directly opposed to his will, “I don’t think you need to see her. She’s dead. Please don’t cry.”

The woman is already in the bedroom. The Bumblebee scoots toward John and he marvels at the resilience of her diapers.

“I am afraid I don’t know who to call,” John says after her, “I don’t want the children to think it’s a prank, when they come to take the body away.”

The woman comes out of the bedroom not crying at all and John is surprised. Don’t women cry at dead things? Barbara cried at the very mention of dead things. She closes the door behind her. 

“I understand,” she says, “let me see that paper, please?”

John sees as he hands it to her that there is a name written in large capital letters, circled several times and highlighted. That is probably the appropriate person, he thinks, and tells the woman.

“Yeah, this is the coroner,” she says, “but I don’t know if they’d wait to take the body away. Maybe we should call the nurse? Is her number on here?”

“She had to go to her second job at McDonalds.” John thinks there is a possibility this might be true, as he is still unsure of the connection between Ronald McDonald and the hospice nurse. At any rate, he does not wish to see her.

The woman stands scanning the paper for anything. She seems to have a sense of what to do, John thinks. The Bumblebee stands up and clutches John’s leg like a tree trunk, moving in jerky, unsteady steps. He bends down to pat her bald-ish head, soft like a real bumblebee.

John wishes more than anything that Barbara had waited one more day to die. The day, even the morning following Halloween would be an ordinary time to die. People would only come to their house after the fact, bringing covered dishes instead of asking for candy. There would be no costumes and most likely no children. But tonight there would be people, complete strangers progressing in degeneration as the night wore on, milling about the neighborhood to witness his wife’s body being carted out of their house. They would assume it was a totally rad Halloween decoration, John is sure of it.

He wants her to be respected. He wants her to come back alive for twelve more hours. He wants to sit down.

“I think I would like to take a seat,” John says, but cannot detach himself from the Bumblebee.  He shakes his leg lightly but she’s clutching hard. She does not even look up at him, and her mother is preoccupied with her phone. The Dalmation has moved on to the yard, plucking dandelions from the grass. There is supposed to be some kind of dignity in this scenario, John thinks, and instead there is a small bumblebee drooling on my pants. This has gotten out of hand.

“I said I think I would like to take seat,” John says, rather loudly. He is suddenly overwhelmed by a need for French fries.

“Oh, sorry,” the Moorfield woman scoops up the Bumblebee and still manages to hold onto her phone and the paper with the appropriate numbers.

John moves toward the couch and its deep cushions. He sinks in and does not fight the urge to put his head into the soft bowl of his hands. He thinks he may be crying. How did I get here, he thinks. And where the hell do I go now?

Millions of tiny wonderings fill his head, like how will I fill my hours without the butterscotch hidden beneath the cabinet? What about the mums in the fall and the radio playing in the kitchen? Who will accompany me on all those exasperating grocery trips? What is left without my wife, John thinks. I do not know, is all he knows for sure. I have no idea.

 After a short while John realizes the Dalmatian has climbed up beside him and is studying his grief. She places one of her several dandelions on his lap. The Moorfield woman and the Bumblebee are watching him from the ottoman across the room. John takes the dandelion and puts it behind his ear, which makes the Dalmatian smile. She says something to the elementary effect that he is beautiful, and he wants to give her all the dandelions in the world.

SHIVA

BY DANIEL PRAVDA

when i threw the guitar off the tenth floor roof, i pictured how far it would go: carried by wind and my baseball swing, it could have sailed across the parking lot and over the 4-lane street into and through the front glass of city hall. when i threw the guitar off the tenth floor roof, i could say the glant guitar flew through the lobby of city hall–security sleeping–smashing the front door of the mayor and spanking him literally off his ass and rededicated to the people. in/stead she in her sheen grabbed by the gears of gravity spun like a crashing jet and broke her neck on a pallet of cinderblock amid yips and yells of glorious destruction. when i threw the guitar off the tenth floor roof,  i almost lost my balance.

RELATED: THE PSYCHIC

SEPTEMBER, 2019

ONE DAY IN THE SUMMER

BY TONY GENTRY

Huckleberry Hound was a lazy pup
but rounded the corner with raving eyes
lathered and frantic, like he was pursued.

Said, “Mama, he went up under the house.”

“Go get him,” she said. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied.

Dog-sized chink in the brick foundation
but if I reached one arm in tucked my head
could squirm up follow him into the dark.

She handed me a flashlight, said, “Go on.”

This was something I’d never considered
the guts of the house its underbelly

squared onto a powdery dirt that for
all the age of the structure had not seen
the light of day.  Dank dry dust and cobwebs
creepy and cool is why he’d gone in there.

It took a while but that had to be Huck
against the blank concrete wall of the porch.
Paired red dots way back there his trembling eyes
or was that just what my eyes were doing?

“Go on now,” she said.  “Dang, mama, alright.
On my belly toes dug in had to keep
from bumping my head on the kitchen pipes
then past them like diving under water.

Heard him whimper or again it was me
but closer now squeezing midway under
the dining room far up in there was a
private place like nowhere I’d ever been.

Hi ol’ Huck.

Eye to eye it was bad how he panted
neck strained teeth bared in a grin that scared me.
Far back in the day Mama said, “Get him.”
But this was my call.  I said, “Hush Mama.”
She didn’t like that. “Don’t you hush me boy.”

Who knows how long it took?  Flicked off the light
dropped my head on my arms. I knew one tune
and sang it.  Maybe you know the song, too?

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world.

I did that a while like a lullaby.
Then this moan shut me up a whole ‘nother
song that right now scribbling can hear it plain.

A lot of time in there to contemplate
the dirt to consider the ticking dark
nose pressed in things I hadn’t thought about.

When I dared to switch on the light again
Huck was different, ribs still, legs stretched out
like he was running someplace, eyes bugged tongue
lolled long and dry.  So then what’s the hurry?
In that weird space I sang to him some more.

A slow drag then feet first for both of us
snot slimed to mud on my cheeks shirt rode up
and the rub of the dirt at my belly
press of the house like the flat of a hand
freaked out beneath the dangling kitchen pipes
desperate old drowning man flailing for air
little kid squirming to drag a dead dog.

At the hole, worked my legs out first but then
got stuck halfway and yelled.  Mama had gone
back inside.  She had work to do no time
for my triflin’. That was a lesson too.
Sharp brick drew a long red scratch up my back
but wiggled out one fist tight on a paw
to finally drag him into the light

Huck was heavy and stiff like all dead things
and dirt had kicked up in his startled eyes.
I said “I’m sorry” and tried to wipe them
my thumb on an eyeball hard as a marble.
Oh man how I hated that scary hole.

Mama came out laid a rag on his back
and spread it to almost cover his legs.
Said, “Huckleberry was a good old pup.”
Said, “Prob’ly old man Hollis and all his
durn chickens,” whatever she meant by that.

When Daddy got home my dog disappeared.
He mortared up the crawl space too but missed
the new one as fathers do opened up
in me where Huck and I to this day lie
flat in the dark far in and away right
up against the hard fact and singing
as best we can.

JAMBO NEELEY, COWBOY PHILOSOPHER

BY JAY CALHOUN

He started out as James. Was called so from birth. It was us turned him into Jambo once he started working the livestock on our crew. He was bout sixteen. Funny kid. Smart— always askin why we do this way, or why’nt we do it that.

His mother, who said James was too ‘intelligent’ for rodeo, was kind of a sarcastic woman. Called us a bunch of ‘wild-ass barn-apes’.

But Jambo he was, to everybody around. I guess he did get a little wilder than he would-of if he’da stayed home and read books, but he fit in real good with us. And he sure brought the sauce to the rodeo circuit.

No matter how bad things got for a rider, count on Jambo to bring a joke or a crazy look. Or just a hand-up out of the dirt. Never was much a one for drawn-out argumentations when he was pushed, had fast hands and a wicked left-hook. But always brought plenty of sunshine around….and Lord have mercy, the gals. Always seemed to have the prettiest one…or two.

Handsome, funny, he grew up quick. Started winning buckles and prize money…seemed like he was fearless. He drew the roughest beasts and held-on real good. He seemed wilder than they was. Jambo moved up the professional ratings at a real good pace.

Til that day the big hoppin Charolais bull hooked him through the hip and tossed him into a corner of the feedlot.

The horn went in the side of his right butt-cheek and tore up his lower pipes and organs. The surgeons sewed all that back up….it was the ruination to his pelvis bone that did him the permanent change. Least that’s what he claimed. He always walked funny after that.

And he took a more measured view of life. He was bout thirty, but he become like one of those old Greek philosophers, in the marketplace. Would give out advice like it was some cosmic truth.

He couldn’t ride or bulldog no more, so he organized a rodeo events company and hired all us ‘veteran’ hands to work for him. Started to get grey-haired, opinionated and more given to conversation. Never did lose his tendency for fun, though.

He’d bring some new hire in front of all of us and say, “Now Red,” or whatever the new guy’s name was, “Now Red, I’m countin on you to do a good job out there, just don’t get above your raisin’s.” Man, how we’d laugh at that man’s face…Or Jambo’d get mad cause one of us had mucked something up and he’d turn to who-all was standing around and say, “Next time I’m tempted to send a dumb SOB, I’ll go myself!”

You just wanted to hear his philosophy on things. We probly coulda learnt more from him but he acted like it hurt him to sit still. Anyway, he kept us too busy to loaf around talking.

It’d been two years since his last operation. We never dared to ask him why he keeps going up to Austin to see Dr. Jackson. That was the surgeon who repaired him after the bull tore him up.

Suspected some of his tubes didn’t get fixed good as new like he claimed. He sure didn’t go sniffin around the ladies like he once did do.

It was when we hauled up north to put-on one of those little county-fair rodeo’s that we got our surprise. We’re looking out for where-all Jambo got away to and somebody calls he’s out in the parking lot talking to some beautiful gal just stepped out of a BMW.

Jambo brings her around behind the chutes and introduces her with that crazy smile he used to always have around the girls.

“Want y’all to meet Sonya, promised to show her all the sights and ‘smells’ of the Rodeo. Give her plenty respect, now….she’s gonna be my bride.”

Then he locks onto her with a big old kiss. And she was into it!

We were shocked. He hadn’t said one thing about a woman since that bull gored him. We just figured he was maybe more damaged down there than he’s letting on. Here he is ‘scorting the prettiest green-eyed black woman we ever seen.

Wasn’t more than bout an hour later one of the cowboys went off his bronc sideways, spinnin like a rag-doll and went all blinky when he hit the fence. I was riding pick-up in the roughstock competition so I got to him first. I was yelling, “911!…Get the EMT’s in here,” when

I seen Jambo’s gal climb over the fence and come pelting across the arena. You could hear the klaxons blowing, ambulance tryin to nudge through the crowd.

She just slid-in there next to me in the dirt and I says, “Give him some room Miz Sonya, he’s knocked out.” Then she says, “Well I guess I can see that,” she says, “you give him some room…go tell those EMT’s to bring their spine-board and a collar….and an airway…STAT!”

She started-in pumping on his chest while I was trying to get my creaky knees unbent so’s I could get up. I was taking too long. Anyway, Jambo come limping in by then, she yells at him, “James Neeley, you get that crash-wagon in here right now! This is your damn show.”

I heard him say, “Yes Ma’am, Doctor Jackson.”

“Cowboys!” She says, lookin up at me with those big eyes-flashing fire, “Why would a sane person want to climb up on a wild animal is what I want to know.”

PROLOGUE: HER WORDS NOT MINE

BY JOHNNY CUELLAR

“if we find ourselves
on a dead island
still flying around the sun
yet no longer moving,

it’s that men
and women both
became
the judge
jury
prosecutor
defendant
victim
guilty
innocent,

and executioner

all wrapped up in
one package held together—

a bottle full of flames
with a loose cork
and some wire.

and our beautiful blue marble
will fade away
screaming
in slow motion.

RELATED: RICHMOND COMMUNITY BAIL FUND

AUGUST, 2019

BORROWED TIME

BY KELSEY SMOOT

Summer slips
Like shorts off of hips
that forgot to feed themselves during the cold months
The shadows, that once cloaked the horizon’s secret inlets, stripped away
No more hiding in darkness
Lightning bugs tousle my nephew’s hair
Every street corner buzzes with the white hot energy
of onlookers and showstoppers 

I smile smugly—
a deceptively fruity concoction makes my head airy with bold assessments and boyish humor
I trade war tales with a socialite,
and become her very willing captive
Parading about the city in fine linens
I forget my transient existence in the bright lights of novelty 

And then
in the midst of a lunar love tryst
in the thickness of southern evening
I hear the familiar sound of silence
I stop to listen to the quiet
remove my shoes and plant myself in earth
I cannot ignore the subtle message of the breeze
that sweeps coolly overhead, and then intensifies,
nearly toppling me and all of my collected trinkets 

The long moment finally passes
the air calms,
the sounds re-emerge 

But I have already moved away from the crowd
taking swift, deliberate steps
my eyes retrained to the east—homebound

THE RICHMOND ACTOR

BY PETE SHELDON

The Richmond actor must drink and laugh through his sorrow.
Though his laugh be hollow and the drink be deep
Starts in fits and struts
He bows to hungover applause
Returning to his keep for a nightcap of beer, whiskey and tears

A DESPERATE HUE

BY GRACIE DESANTIS

I’ll glitter gold for you.
I’ll shine like a firefly,
even after twilight alights
and dusk puts you to bed.

I’ll hide my gray days
behind sugar clouds in lemonade.
I’ll dye my hair to look like lilacs.
Your favorite of the blooms we picked.
I’ll wear the cornflower frock
you ate up with dripping butter
the first time you saw me.

I’ll grow you a garden, water it daily.
I’ll pluck burning sunrise tomato fruit
and placid morning glories
who peek dainty from their dewy petticoats
while wasps whisper underneath.

Burgundy in an autumn cotton field,
the stain of my lips and cheeks,
and whatever else you reap of me
when you play upon my flesh.

BY GORDON JEFFERSON

thinking thought:
unbroken movement;
limitless

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JULY, 2019

FORT STORY SHORELINE FENCED OFF FOR HOMELAND INSECURITY

BY DANIEL PRAVDA

On the northeast ear of Virginia Beach,
two lighthouses pierce the fog of dawn:

one black and white striped, the other brown brick
with a green copper top. When did the taxpayers

bestow barbed wire on themselves?
At eight a.m. sharp the Star Spangled Banner

gets mangled by crashing waves and running break.
The sands end at the red house on the rocks:

granite jetty Cape Henry holding
like a fist, blooming at every ebb tide, singing

like an honest siren.  When the ocean
routs your fence and drags that barbed wire

out to sea, I will walk past and share
a laugh with the lighthouses again.

BLUE RIVERS AND RED OCEANS

BY PORSHA ALLEN

The boy with moon skin spoke of stars &
a black sun, of trees holding themselves
up by the root, of apple picking & how
his father turned to air just before he was
born  & of how his mother tried to claw
him out of her own womb because of it.
He spoke of blue rivers turned red ocean.
I spoke of blue rivers turned red ocean. We
spoke of hands & the ones that touched
us. We used our hands to try & forget the
ones that touched us.

THE MOON ON THE OCEAN

BY TONI SPENCER

“Whenever I look at the ocean, I always want to talk to people, but when I’m talking to people, I always want to look at the ocean.”— Haruki Murakami

The moon lies upon the ocean—
a sleeping dragon curled about itself,
one eye half open observing the world below.
Snow falls like meteors— a shower of cold fire
doused in the black water heaving itself
Upon the shore. This moon is red as blood—
The dragon’s eye carnelian in its glow.
Bits of phosphorus twinkle on the sand.
A crab washes ashore and walks a few paces
before being swept back into the blackness again.
Farther from the shore early breaking waves
show white in the blackness and ladders
from the moonshine track back to the moon
undulating gently upon the water. The
moon on the ocean is a mysterious thing.

FRAGILE MILLENNIAL MATTER

BY JENNIFER DELANEY

Sometimes I pray for wrinkles
Agnostic balance, selfish, self-preservation
I am older than you think and older still than the times this flesh prison I woke up in has circled the sun
We are all made of stardust
Why do you insist on pretending that you are stronger for burying yours
It’ll still seep out of you, betray your wrinkles and thicken the tongue you keep biting back
When you find yourself,
Six feet beneath
Or ash, whatever’s becomes of the flesh you assign to identify
A gem, a vinal record, your body of art could decorate the walls of posterity if you’d just remember how close the universe actually is
Light-years
365, why
And more importantly how do you decide that the atoms of matter that make up *matter, that make *me*, default, matter,
Are
Insufficient
Like my funds are
Irrelevant
Like
Any lived experience you were too tall to witness
Are
In-fan-tile
Like
Your behavior
Your excuses
Justify this humanity, I mean
Seriously?
In this economy?
Ancestral laugh tracks that are too stubborn to be taken seriously
Mountains that deny their fractured plates
Origin story but make it nostalgia
Origin story but makes the guides liars and
Leave out the parts where you call yourself weak and ashamed instead of reactivate and severed in all the places it matters,
Like you matter
Origin story but lie about the plot.
Drop the twist and turn instead, hard right, veer, no yields signs within a mile of this generation
Just the big bold letters spelling
FRAGILE
monogrammed in ink, in SAT legible cursive
And tied tight with a symmetrical ribbon
And tired tye dyed catapults
Is the target on my back or on my face?
My credit score or my student loan payment plan?
Utilities is a fancy word for necessities.
Pale like a snowflake
And you think me weak for the part of my ego that cares more for me than you
Child
Dear, little lady.
Begging me to play something like pretend respect at your lungs, older than mine
Breathing the whole, wholesome time
Like you had a right to, and now a new right to assume
But absence and audacious,
Fragile, fake stained glass
Truth, I’ve found is less bitter when it’s a chaser for childhood
Baby, break your own heart
Isn’t that how the light gets in?

RELATED: RICHMOND’S LOST CIVILIZATION

JUNE, 2019

JUNKING

BY BILL GLOSE

Take up a hobby they all suggest,
something to fill his mind, shift
its focus from never-ending wars
and all they’ve taken. Stamps, coins,
baseball cards—none do the trick.
All that gathering and preserving
in museums never open to visitors.

But out in the junkyard, amidst
pestering flies and pecking gulls,
he swims within that blessed swirl
of white noise, rooting mounds
and rescuing broken discards
that a bit of care might mend.

Each piece replanted on his lawn,
up to the boundary of his
frowning neighbor’s yard,
range of rising peaks
something a mountaineer
might gaze upon with lust.

Sell your junk they all implore,
but how to choose what has value,
what does not? Black pit
of that question yawns
with hunger so strong
it could devour the hand
that feeds it, swallowing
every little thing he thought
he could somehow save.

STAFF CALL

BY BRADLEY HARPER

Once upon a staff call dreary
While I pondered, weak and weary
Upon many issues rediscussed
Which had been resolved of yore

While I sat there, nearly napping
Suddenly there came some clapping
Like the sound of sea waves lapping
Or echo of the Ocean’s roar

“Tis the ending of this meeting,
That for which I’ve so longed for!”
But twas just the third of thirty briefers
Sitting down, and nothing more

Onward, ever on we labored
Like swimmers towards some distant shore
Every time we thought we’d progressed
The tide would take us out, once more

Like the Red Queen, ever sprinting,
No matter how quickly on we bore
At the end of all our struggle
No more finished, than before

Can this tedium be unending?
Must this time be such a bore?
Is my sentence so unbending,
That I am not allowed to snore?

Like the air to one a-drowning
When the end at last was sure
I grabbed my coat, and quickly gowning
Rushing headlong out the door

But my freedom so sweet tasting
Is but the fleeting joy Du Jour
For the bitter truth ‘oerhangs me
I’ll be back next week, for more

BUS

BY ALLAN COBERLY

What should I tell you about first? The worst things or the best things?

Maybe the worst thing about riding the bus is having to pass through the security checkpoints. They are just like what you see in the airport, only slightly smaller. You wouldn’t think that a metal detector and X-ray gate would fit into a bus, but they do. The bus itself is much larger on the inside than it is on the outside, which is a good thing because the streets here are narrow and the passengers here are not.

Really, the worst thing about the on-board security checkpoint is what happens when a busload of sweaty grown-ups take turns removing their shoes in an enclosed space. But you get used to that and it’s only for a couple months of the summer that it gets really bad. So that isn’t the worst thing about the bus.

You can go barefoot if you want to, but the last time I did, I stepped in gum. So consider yourself warned about going barefoot on the bus.

Most of the things about the bus aren’t the best things or the worst things. They are just bus things. Things like the grey plastic handles hanging from the long silver bars running the length of the bus. The handles are there for standing people to hold on to but I never use them.

If I have to stand on the bus, I pretend that I’m standing on a skateboard and keep my balance by shifting my weight slightly back and forth as the bus moves. Sometimes I will pretend like I am getting ready to fall but I never really fall. One time I ran into an old lady and she fell down but I didn’t. So when I say I never fell down on the bus I’m not being a liar.

Once when I was younger, I put the head of my favorite doll through the noose formed by one of those handles and let it dangle. I told my cousin that my doll had killed itself on account of how ugly my cousin was. I thought it was funny but I wound up riding a different bus for a couple of years after that and I didn’t think that that was funny at all because I really didn’t like the places where that bus went.

By the time I started riding this bus again I was too old to play with dolls.

Maybe the worst thing about the bus is the passengers. Well, not all of them, really. Just one in particular. I call him Pinky because he always wears a pink shirt and his fat face is always pink and plus I don’t know his real name. One time he asked me if I had a boyfriend and then he tried to tell me his name a bunch of times and now whenever he talks to me all I can hear is the sound of me screaming. Only I’m not really screaming out loud where other people can hear, I’m just screaming into my own ears. Like yelling in reverse.

I try not to talk to Pinky but sometimes when the bus is crowded I wind up sitting next to him and then sometimes he talks and I start having trouble hearing anything except the sound of my ears screaming. I bet I’d hate his voice if I could hear it, I bet he talks to me the same way he talks to pets and babies, all soft and stupid-like.

I know that I could get Pinky in trouble if I lied and told the driver that Pinky touched me, but that would mean getting back on the other bus, the one where an endless parade of grown-ups asks you to repeat the same horrible things over and over again and asks you if you are sure about what you just said until the only thing that you are really sure about is that you will say anything at all if it will get them to stop asking you if you are sure about what you are saying. I really don’t want to go back on that bus.

Really, if Pinky knew about the other bus he’d be afraid of me. He wouldn’t talk to me like he talks to pets and babies if he knew about the bus I used to ride. But I haven’t told him about it. Or anyone else.

There used to be an old lady passenger that I called the Book Lady because she always had a book with her. The Book Lady was nice to me and I liked her. She didn’t act surprised the way most grown-ups do when I told her how many books I’ve read and she didn’t keep asking me if I’m sure about it when I told her how old I was. I especially liked the Book Lady because she never made me repeat what I said the way a lot of other grown-ups did. The Book Lady is the best thing about riding the bus except for that she doesn’t ride it anymore so maybe she isn’t the best thing anymore. I miss her a lot.

Another best thing about the bus is the music. Sometimes when there aren’t many people on the bus, someone will be wearing headphones and I can hear the song they are listening to. If I try real hard I can even hear the words of the song and try to sing along inside my head where no one can hear. But when it is crowded and lots of people are wearing headphones, all of the different songs get all mixed up with each other and with all of the other noises going in and out of people’s heads until it all gets into a giant roar that is sort of like the screaming that Pinky gives me, but not as bad somehow.

My cousin thinks the worst thing about riding the bus are the bars on the outside of the windows. He says there’s no reason we need to be in a cage and that being in a cage is the worst thing that can happen to a free man. Whenever he says that, I remind him that he isn’t old enough to be a man and that we’d be free as soon as the bus arrives. Arrives where? he will ask. Whenever he asks me this, I tell him I don’t know. Because I don’t know.

That’s the worst thing about riding the bus.

I CUSSED OUT THE ANGEL THEY SENT ME AND BEGGED A HOLLYWOOD CEMETERY GHOST TO BE MY GUARDIAN, TO WHICH SHE REPLIED

BY H. SAMUEL MOYLER

“Why?

I’d be but a pale imitation
of those seraphs on high
with the wings in their backs
and the fruits in their eyes.

And I couldn’t lamp your path
in the valley of death
or save your soul from Sheol
when you’ve heaved your last breath—”

I cut her off there.
enough of that.
bozhe moi. keep up the meter rhyme

and they’ll sign you as a contributor
to the next edition of Cherub’s First Hymnal.
not the sort of thing I’m seeking
in a spiritual vanguard, dig?

but hers was a valid question,
one I felt the urge to answer
holistically. so I drove her to church
in my cherry hyundai, me almost

remembering to remind her
to buckle her seatbelt. and we
haunted the pews
until we found a good seat, where I

could rather comfortably
put up my feet and spin
my yarn about why I
told Gabriel’s little

goon to buzz off. well,
that’s not really what
I said. but antebellum women
aren’t remembered well

for their toleration of slurs. or much else.
still I told her of the heresies,
drenched in dread, that inched
through the (y)ears

as though tentative tendrils
into my head, and coiled
here, knowledge of good and evil.
and I said I couldn’t abide by

deities who allow
the dropping of bombs on gilead
and let us split adams open for
far more bellicose reasons

than rib-harvesting.
And I told her of all the perks
that there’d be, were my
soul entrusted to an ex-

person, who like me,
had fallen from heaven.
backslidden. And she
slapped me in the face.

stung like that itch you get
when your foot’s asleep,
which my left one was.
consequently. she began to float

away. “You’re but a fool and a braggart
if you expect me to be
an accomplice to your spiritual
Self-butchery.”

and she left me there, boundless.
and not for the last time in
church, I was lost and found
myself in song again:

“This doubt is gonna be
the death of me.
Lord, Lord.
Doubt is gonna be the death of me.”

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MAY, 2019

ST. IVES RADIANT SKIN (PINK LEMON & MANDARIN ORANGE EXFOLIATING BODY WASH)

BY WILLIAM THOMPSON

You left your soap in my shower.
And—
You know how forgetful I am
As—
I blitz through the supermarket
About—
Every other week.
So—
I use your soap.
And—
I miss you in its scent
As—
I slowly empty the bottle
About—
Every day.
So—
Maybe I’ll buy more?
No. There’s no poetry in such mundane gestures.

SMALL TALK

BY MADISON TAYLOR POINTER

If you asked me how I’m doing today, I’d say
I’m somewhere between soft serve and scoop
That sweet spot between
Damn my makeup looks good and
Hiking my leggings up over my stretch marks.
Rocking that reuniting with old friends vibe
Cracking jokes about the hot mess moments
But still taking my Prozac with wine.
Better than before but not quite there.
I put in new contact lenses and I see so clearly
I’m disoriented
More comfortable in the blur.
I take breaks and close my eyes
Everything then nothing then everything again
Eyes open
Let’s try this again
If you asked me how I’m doing
I wouldn’t know the answer
But I’d put up a fight to find one
And I’ll laugh a little
With my wine tooth smile.

THE OFFERING

AMANDA CRUM

She blooms like orchids in the dark, her laugh
just this side of manic as she leads those boys
to their doom. Tangled hair like the underside
of a crow’s wing, gasoline flicker in eyes like moss.
She can get away with anything.

She tells them stories about growing up in the woods,
circles back around to the haints when she has them reeled in.
Southern boys always have something to prove so
they walk as one into the trees with their arms back,
afraid to let on how afraid they are.

After, she leads them to the water’s edge and does
a little dance for them under the moon. They stand rooted,
gutted, waiting for what comes next, but her offering is to the lake.
Green water painting her marble form like Degas would,
her silhouette like a slash of paint in the black Kentucky night.

RELATED: 21 QUESTIONS WITH ALEXA BUCHIN

APRIL, 2019

GENTRIFICATION

BY HUGH BLANTON

How many craft breweries do you really need?

Is it necessary to have a gluten-free cafe
on every block?

The ramshackle residential hotel
provided perfect shelter.
I guess the high rise condos
that replaced it do too – but then
you complain that the
former residents of the hotel who now sleep in the alley
behind your condos
look and smell bad
as they ask for spare change.

“GOOD RIDDANCE!” you say to the
crack houses and saloons.
The deli-grocers with moldy burritos in mildewy refrigerators
are long gone.
“THE CITY HAS BEEN REVITALIZED!” exclaim
the councilman’s staffers.

If I mention that my minimum wage job
is not keeping up with my rent increases –
I’m told I should have gotten a better education.

I liked it the way it was. There’s a certain
romance to a stryofoam cup
tumbling down the sidewalk – driven by a late summer breeze.
The shine and glisten of broken glass where
a car was once parked contains beauty.

I looked forward to getting dressed in my
Salvation Army best and heading to the bar.
You haven’t lived until you’ve discussed philosophy
with a schizophrenic over a three-dollar pitcher of beer
at ten in the morning.

SOUTHSIDE

BY JAY CALHOUN

He
Came down

For culture
Virginia tradition and rich food
Gonna bind himself to gentility
Kindness, of the soft-spoken sort

Shoulda listened to his momma
Stayed home and swallowed his cufflinks

Just ask Prometheus
Suicide’s better than madness

Even you find and fix you a Belle
Maybe your boy-babies get to be Beaus
But you still be a Yankee

CONFEDERATE GENERAL A. P. HILL OPINES

BY TONY GENTRY

Here they go digging me up again, and may I considerately add that it’s about time. Just imagine your own bones planted upright under a concrete plinth in the dizzy middle of a traffic circle sometime and see how you prefer it. I do appreciate the attention but plainly have not been able to take to it even after all these passing years. And they got my statue backed up to a grammar school where all colors of people drop their brood off mixing in together. Was a time I’d scoot up and fit myself in the thing – it’s roomy, a might fuller at the shoulders than I am or was in my time – and enjoy the look through its stony eyes, but I’ve lost the flavor for it now.

Gave no warning a’tall, though I should have seen it coming after all the hoo hah down on Monument Avenue with the rabble marching around Massah Robert like they do.  Poor old General Lee, he’s got so many statues in so many places, his ghost is split up to just a wisp in any one of them. Old boy is just a scrim of gray, stretched out like a morning fog burning off across the whole Southland that way. And them tearing up his statues and moving them like checker pieces from traffic circles and downtown parks out to battlefields and plantations, man’s busy as a bee in a clover field these days.

Not that any of us asked for all this fuss in the first place. I’d have done just fine laid down to the home place up in Culpeper like a normal civilian of the peacetime world, and General Lee was all good and settled in his mausoleum all sleepy like with even his old gray steed Traveler stuffed like a game trophy at his side, out in the Shenandoah Valley where it’s so pretty in peacetime or war. But no. They had to start putting up these stone likenesses and it’s just your required responsibility to get up and go do the job, haunt the things, and get on with it. I had no choice in the matter, of course. Dug me up like a mealy potato and replanted me with the dagger of this plinth on my head, did me the great honor of all that, thank you kindly, so here I reside.

Man can’t get a decent minute off to himself here in the old Capitol City either, I mean Lord what an other-worldly way station old Richmond has become! Convention last week of the smokers lined up on both sides of the river past Williamsburg out East and up the river clear to Lynchburg, I’d guess, called here by what killed them, the tobacco warehouses.   I went to the keynote just for the company I suppose but wish I hadn’t now. Learned that the pleasure of a good puff or two has put down more men and womenfolk than all the wars and battles of all time. Don’t that just seem backwards to you? And then maybe you’d hoped come your last sour breath you might revert to that deep lunged boy or sweet-scented gal of your youth but no you ghost up like you left here, hunched and coughing, some with sputtering stomas in their throats like they was shot through and through, and smelling like a festering death and tarred smoke both. Now you call up what they say was a couple hundred million of them lost souls bunched in around the neighboring counties, well it’s an awful thing to contemplate and just a rabble to walk among. I think even the living felt it on them. They’ve been gone a week and the stench still hangs on us even after a drenching summer rain or two. That weed is a widow maker for sure.

Was finally able to get back out to Belle Isle and the old open air war prison again once the last steamy stragglers dragged off with their phantom oxygen tanks on wheels, poor buggers. It’s a sorry sight on the island, too, but them zombies because they died an honest death no fault of their own have their old hale and hearty forms back and we’ve gotten where we can get along and no real hard feelings or if there is it’s nothing we can do about it now. We’re in the same boat for as long as she floats and that’s about all we know. So I’ll stride over on the hanging bridge and listen to the boys fiddle and jew’s harp some old Yankee tune from the old country, German and Irish youngsters who never halfway got their feet on the ground here in the New World before shuffling off to this hell hole. Starved or shat themselves to death with dysentery or yellow fever but now they stand as robust and manly in their clean blue uniforms as the proud day they mustered in, a whole army of dead boys marching the trails around the island for all time and can’t get off no way. But they’s with their brothers as clueless as boys always are and that company’s worth something, I suppose.

Cain’t get old Stonewall to cross the bridge, cranky as he always was, and President Davis wouldn’t muss his boots off his pedestal either, which is fine with me. They’re about as dispersed as Massa Robert, I suppose, trying to keep up appearances at all the statues they got around the South. It’s a lucky day a man can even get their attention, vacant as a mirror image, just a scent of them really. Though the President’s body, like my own, is weighed down by his monument, so he wafts off from that spot and you’d think he’d hang here mostly, but he hates Richmond, still sees her burning, and that shame’s eternal of his shirking off in a woman’s clothes when he abandoned his post that night. Never could live it down and now he can’t seem to die it down either (haw haw). I never had much use for the old school marm anyway, and that last shameful flight put a nail in it for me.

So I’ll mosey on over to the slave stables and admire the doings there, though if I was a judging man I’d call it unfair that they get the dispensation none of us old warriors are allowed, the chance to match up again with their loved ones, their wives and children, and even decide on their own what age of their lives they want to be from now on into eternity. If you can get past the pity party about your own situation, it is some entertainment, I will say, to eavesdrop on the reunions and the ghostly hugging and tears and all the deciding as a man shows off all the ways he was for his woman to choose one. Spavined little boy straight off the boat ramp, shiny black buck thickened out with field work and fatback, then that quick flash they go through in a hurry (when they can) of the back stripes and tendon hobbling and lost teeth if they had any spirit at all which is where the show ends for most of them. Same with the women, though the transformations can get so with them you don’t really care to look, what we white folks did to these people, just a devilish behavior, and on this side of death it’s all there to ponder any time you want. I come here part way just to make myself own it some. Who knows? If it works on me enough maybe there’s some other level I can get to and leave these hellish rounds?

Which is me being the prideful prick I was all my 40 years of embattled human life even now in the wasteland of the spirit world. You show me a city anywhere in the world’s got more to answer for. If we had an ounce of weight the place’d sink beneath the James from all the pain she’s brought on. And don’t get me started with the Algonquin nation, up on Church Hill in their huts that are almost solid, jiggling like a jelly made of ether inside the good old Federal design townhouses lined up on those cobblestoned streets that still feel like the old home place to me. Crazy things go on up there. The Indians have a dark familiarity with the death side of things and can work all sorts of dire magic on the temporary folks nearby. They can make a poodle dog turn up lame. They can waggle a finger and a gun goes off. Or a fire starts up in a chimney stove just out of boredom I suppose.   Old man Christopher Newport planted that cross at the foot of the hill, lied straight up that it was just his old English king’s way of reaching out a hug to the good red people of America. Powhatan will tell you that he saw through that the same way anybody sees through ignorant condescension and he’s been playing the long game ever since. He won’t say he knew all along what the tobacco would do, but he allows a grim Indian sort of smile if you bring it up.

So I make my rounds one last time, tip my cock hat to the ladies. It’s a skirmish back at my monument, same as it will be for Massa Lee and old Stonewall and the President when their times come. Old man Davis says I’m a test case, take out a minor statue first and see what kind of hornet’s nest that stirs up, before they go off and knock down the whole line of gray hot shots on Monument Avenue. He would say that, call me a minor figure, him in his old lady dress and bonnet. I think we can agree I’m about done with him. The crowds have been tussling all weekend but I can guarantee you nary a one could name a battle I was in.  Waving that old tired Confederate battle flag that got so many young farmers kilt. And go figure this one. What they call neo-Nazi’s with that crooked flag from the other side in that later war that left all them forlorn widows in the cemeteries all around. Then there’s the folks yelling back at them, saying tear it down tear it down, more whoop and holler over my crumbly skeleton than any one dead man deserves.

I’ll go when they move me off.  As I reckon it, that’s all we can do. Probably down to Petersburg battlefield, where the mini ball got me, and pile on more dues mingling with the headless and legless ghosts blown up in the Crater there. Or up to Fredericksburg where the blue boys splash in the river, turning it a red only ghosts can read every night is what I’ve heard.  I do wish, though, that the living people would calm down. That they’d see what I can see on my jaunts around this godless metropolis. They’s a hundred easy ways to kill a man, and this place has pretty much tried them all to powerful effect. It’s no wonder people’s minds are poisoned by all the haints stacked up around here. I do wish, though, that they’d just stop for one solitary minute and look around. Feel what it is to breathe air. Know how good a manly hug of another living person can be. Experience what a burden the lower urges bring on them once they come to my side of the ledger.

Because I can tell you right now that the one thing any of us old warrior boys wish we could have is to lie down in a quiet place away from all the hub-bub and leave this horrible hash people make of their quick winks of living and do what needs doing in this other space whenever we’ve paid whatever debt it was that keeps us hanging here to helplessly ponder the waste we all made of sweet life. Oh hell, I can tell you that for sure.

FISHING

BY PAOLO HERNANDEZ

I took the boat out late at night.
My father used to tell me that the fish always bite best
By moonlight.

I loaded up the boat:
Food and drink, the cooler, a hat, a net, a pillow,
My trusty fishing rod,
A single worm for bait.

I freed the boat from its knotted ropes
Which dangled lifeless and untied,
Detached from the vessel they held
And confined to strict animation.

I attached the worm to the hook
And dropped the line in the water.
It was then—before I had started to paddle
And push off from the dock—
That the fish struck.

I dove to save my fishing rod
From joining the fish.
The strength of the fish astounded me
And I was drawn across the surface of my boat
Before I could right myself.
I was jerked back and forth,
The fishing rod quivering in my grip.
I pulled back hard and the fish splashed in the water,
The moon reflected on its scales.

The fish and I fought for hours.
It was determined to sink me in the watery depths,
And I was determined to bring it aboard.
Blisters appeared on my palms,
And the lake water mixed with the sweat on my brow caused by the hot, heavy air,
And I was afraid the hook would tear through the fish’s mouth.
Indeed, I thought I saw blood in the water several times,
A dark crimson hue which the water made
Blossom.
There were times when I was expertly playing the fish,
But there were times when I wondered
If the fish was playing me instead.
We battled on and the dawn broke.

Suddenly, the rod went slack
And dread gripped me.

I reeled the line in and the fish was gone.
And I was left with just the hook.

It was a long time before I could take the boat out again.

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MARCH, 2019

TO BE LOVED IN PARTS

BY NIA SIMONE

“i don’t usually
date darkskin girls but”

sends me into
a frantic panic
i long to sever the ties
i have to my identity
in one large snip
a big chop
or a heavy handed scrub
with the sponge my
Grandma used for
deep rooted stains
just
a
buff
and
polish
and i’ll be enough
to love in full
to be loved in small pieces is

“i don’t usually date black
girls but”

only behind closed doors
and subtweets
my blackness is admired
cherished and respected

in the light
i am only cornrows,
a fat ass, and ebonics
oh to be juiced of all ‘desirable’ qualities
by those who add the beverage
to their morning routine
with their flat tummy tea
but what’s left?
a woman in fear—
crippled by both her identity and the loss of it?

“you’re dark af.
you should be thankful
i’m still here”

straight lace front wigs
and foundation 2 shades 2 light
give me a taste
of the promised land
a land of compliment
without an asterisk
the next time
i visit i’ll dig myself in the ground
pat the dirt across my body
maybe they won’t notice
i’m not one of them
and i’ll get to stay

FIXING

BY JAY CALHOUN

…Must’ve been all the sex.
Says she.

Cute and quick
Her light response to the split sagging bed,
And the old bolt that once held the frame-halves together.

Maybe…,
Says he.
Tired,
Not wanting one more thing to fix.

She hands-over the pieces:
One quarter-inch bolt,
Bent
With it’s sheared-off head.

…Really lasted a long time,
She offers,
…Since before the kids.

He slowly folds his knees and back,
Making a floorward move.
Half-under with legs out,
Like some auto mechanic in dress shoes.

…Maybe we should have had more sex,
He grunts.
…And broke this when I was young enough to fix it.

…Careful, old boy
Says she,
rubbing the ratchet up his arm.

…Stop that.
He growls,
But under the bed,
He’s smiling.

COBWEBS

BY CHRISTOPHER ALAN MCDANIEL

There’s something magic underneath the sound waves of music. Maybe it’s the understanding that performing instruments on a professional scale takes clout, passion, and talent, or maybe it’s simply the feeling that music elicits when it’s understood. Those broad neural networks simulating past emotions from a song that blared over WVW radio stations are more than that nostalgic experience. Take, for example, the first night I rolled ecstasy: I bought a McDonalds’ Happy Meal just for the toy that came inside the decorated box, and I feel that same tilt every time Earl Sweatshirt speaks on a lo-fi beat: “Rawer than the skinned knee cap on the blacktop.”

During those malleable years, Tony, the ginger giant, looming in at six feet five inches, was the only individual I knew who could vomit Earl unconscious. Take, for example, the first night I rolled ecstasy: Tony had drunk an entire twenty-four pack of Natural Ice to himself, alongside a handful of muscle relaxers, and sat stoic, eyes closed, head swaying. The reverb from the DIY stereo system rattled the glass panes in the front door as the song played, “Chilling for awhile on a pile of the rest of them.” That internal rhyme scheme on top of hollow production will always remind me of Tony.

Hollowness appears to be a trend in the music that continues to speak to me, dusting off more cobwebs from those networks. Deftones dropped their seventh LP while I resorted to warehouse labor to make ends meet in my early twenties. As I covered chalkboard paint across inserts of wood screwed into antique portrait frames, the new age rock gospel streaming through Spotify over it’s-got-to-work-for-now cellphone speakers lingered in my ears and guided my frayed paintbrush like the strokes of a pick against the strings of an electric guitar. When I screamed, “Cut through this razor wire and dine on your heart,” I accidentally lobbed, splashed, and smeared some of the black paint across my forehead.

You could hear the same band echoing from my ripe orange automobile as it rocked back and forth outside a house party somewhere in Keeling, VA, circa 2011. I find myself sweating and panting naked over Ivy who has her legs wrapped around my hips and her nails dug into my shoulder blades. The party isn’t over, she’s singing along, as hard as it is for her to keep a beat moaning, and I’ve never been more susceptible. We see the people passing by through fogged windows, but we don’t stop for anything. “Do you like the way the water tastes?”

After I got a call saying Tony had died, I felt a similar flicker growing outward. The spark that decays a fond memory into a moratorium. A familiar lo-fi beat began over my hatchback’s speakers as I held my head in hand, and it’s as if I could see him still in the backseat: “Rawer than the skinned knee cap on the blacktop.”

CONTENT

BY NATHAN HARRELL

I long for your smile
Like an empty carousel
Longs for the laughing child.

I search for your laughter
Like the bluebell searches
For the dusty bee.

I chase your welcoming hands
Like the geese chase southward
The fading warmth of summer.

These fireside journeys warm me
Like the first rays of sunshine
Spying over the blue grey horizon.

I breath in the smoke,
Hold it,
And I am content.

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