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.”

RELATED: 21 QUESTIONS WITH DEAU EYES

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.

RELATED: ON THE JAMES WITH CAPTAIN MIKE

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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FEBRUARY, 2019

STARDUST

BY VASA CLARKE

Battered by time, and lit by distant suns
A well-worn hunk of metal drifts in space.
“This is the Voyager,” its message runs,
“A token of our triumph and disgrace;
There’s problems we still have, so far to climb,
But know that we have tried to stay the course.
And if we can, we will survive our time
So that someday we might live into yours.”

Imagine— it’s not hard— that ages hence
Another race in its magnificence
Might find that craft and from its structure guess
Some other thinking species made its gears,
Then trace its route and find to their distress
An ashen waste lain cold and dead for years.

THE TREES

BY AMANDA WAGGONER

I wake up and think about how it would feel if I wasn’t here anymore
I start beaming
I’m a pervert for invisibility
It’s a secret that everyone knows not to know about me.

I think about my mother and Michael crying over Diana Ross
Mourning the years and time they lost, not because they love how she sings
But because when they hear her sing, they think of death
Unexpected.

I think about the white girls running down the street with their ponytails in unison, swaying to their privileged heartbeats
I think about how many people would be afraid when I run down the street
“Watch out— it’s a black beast.”

I want to own a cottage someday
I want to own it with someone I can sleep with part-time
We’d be too weary of telling each other that we’re really falling in love with each other
So we’d start pretending.

I’m good at that
I pretend all the time
I pretend to be listening to the voices of those around me when really all I’m enamored with are the trees
I look up into their brave, aged limbs and I start to breathe
I get lost there for a few moments
Jealous
Wanting to become a branch, maybe?
Or a misshapen leaf
I used to believe I was reincarnated fish this entire time I’ve been alive
I’m starting to change that belief
Life is an ode to dying slowly.

THE PIECE

BY DAVE MANCINI

I peered up into the white-washed rafters of the Navy Yard building. Bulging woody biceps, sun streaming in and bouncing down on everything through the generous skylights. We could just lop a line over them with a block and fall, I thought. I don’t want to be doing this right now: it’s goddamn coffee break. And what about the forklifts? There are two of them for christ sakes. No, the boss wants the header up and dressed and he wants it done down and dirty. The show’s gonna ship and look, it’s just the same shit, different day is all.

I walked back toward my bench toward the gaping rollup door. There were a couple of guys out there, their chairs teetering on the cobblestones, drinking coffee out of those Chinese red cardboard soup containers. I thought how stupid and funny but it was really the containers laughing at me. What? I said to myself— snap out of it! I looked up at the office window and Stevie was staring down at me and he turned around briefly to laugh at something someone in the room was saying. Laughing as always— but he knew.

My stomach was a leather knot, my chest vice tight and I had a scalding headache from what was about to happen. This all just burned me up inside and that’s when the infantile calamity of my youth— me, pitted against enemies that my terrified parents had thrown up on the lantern show of my mind— came back to me in shredded sheets of thought. It was the level of denial that I had grown up with. Just what right does a person have to stand up and say, “no, I can’t do that!”? And God forbid you should ask for help. The response had always been— “You have no reason to be that angry, and don’t give me that look.” I boosted myself up onto my bench and waited, glancing at the clock. Five minutes left of break, maybe seven if I was lucky.

Guys were laughing. I could see their heads bobbing behind the work bench over on the other side of the room, sucking down their coffee and chewing up those drippy little yellow egg sandwiches. No reason at all to be so angry and tense and scared. But scared was what I was.

“You bury your anger in fear,” my therapist said to me, years later.

But it wouldn’t help me then because I just didn’t even know how bad it really was with me. The voices, a mob, were marching through my skull ranting the same brutal message. You have to pass this test. They had already done their nasty bit. Desperate now, I thought to myself, I’d just have to muscle my way through this and pray that I come out on the other side with something more than the pig stench of people laughing at me. But now, today I’m gonna find out what it’s like to be pushed out in front of the crowd just because my father— no, not even— just because my stepfather was a union big shot and I had to be proven— and to myself even. I had to muscle up respect out of these guys who really, and I mean this, gave a rat’s ass for any of this political stuff. “Better him than me,” I’m sure they’d say. It was just like all the other times in my life where I felt— so what? who cares? what happens to me doesn’t mean squat. Stop to imagine what the consequences might be if I continue down this road? What good would that do me when I was dragging this lifeless body of my own self-disrespect behind me? But my point in all this is: I learned this. The nuns whacked me hard enough and long enough and threatened more than enough to lock me in a metal closet. You don’t forget that.

In a moment a gate came crashing down and front of me and the loudspeaker blasted, “OK, that’s it. Back to work!” and I lost everything right there. There’s no way out of this, I thought. I had a terribly weak feeling in my stomach. I had to round up all these guys and heard them down to the other end of the warehouse deck, gather around the piece and see if we could pull it up into place. But the guys seem to be taking forever to put there magazines away and finish their coffee. They’re not in any hurry anyway, I thought, so foolishly in my delusional state of chemical fear. Why should they want to help me? This was the state in which I believed that I was destined to fail at anything I tried and I had learned this, hadn’t I, somewhere?

Why don’t we just throw a line around the damn thing and where are those forklifts? It was futile. I was arguing with myself. My arguments were weak and anyway the fellas were around the piece now. It was a strange angular structure, hard to grip, maybe sixteen feet long and three feet thick and deep. “OK guys, let’s get a grip on it.” I stood back to have a look around and then I jumped back into get my hands on it but it was hard to find a place to grab anywhere. Too many guys!, I blasted myself, always to myself through all the other crap storming my mind.

“Everybody on it? OK, up….” The three guys on ladders at the back of the set were ready to reach out and grab the monster as it landed on the shoulders of the wall. The piece swung up and into the space over the crowd of arms that carried it, swinging into a beam of sunlight streaming down through the room. The scenic artists were dumping their leftover coffee into the slop sing and ogling what was going on just a few feet away. They don’t have to handle stuff like this!

And now here’s this behemoth being launched, levitating over the straining necks and bulging backs of twenty stages hands. Up, up it went, the guys on the ladders still reaching out in hope of catching the beast and just then, a shudder went through the straining crowd of lifters. I heard an “Oh!” and I jumped forward to get my hands on the piece, which seemed to move backward in space. One guy then another crumpled like sticks, scurrying for  a way out from under it.

“We’re losing it!” somebody yelled.

“No!”

I screamed inside like I was screaming at the world I had come from, but it was too late. I thought I saw something like a great caterpillar start to move backwards across the sea of hands. Wrong way, no! It all reached the point of no return. The guys toward the front had their arms up in the air holding nothing, and the guys at the back were scrambling frantically out of the way, as the piece went crashing hopelessly into the deck behind them.

HOLY HELL

BY S. PRESTON DUNCAN

You are a stream connected
to a river,
and a bay,
and every ocean,
and the rain,
and every other stream

Of course,
it’s a fuck lot of good that does you
when you’re stumbling over rocks
trying to get down a God damned mountain.

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JANUARY, 2019

4.25.19

BY COLIN ALEXANDER

I’m losing it, what little I have.
My fingers slip just through my hands,
Grains of sand like grains of sand.

I’m losing it, what little I have
Arching back for a final laugh,
My head she gently cracks in half.

Bone and blood remade as one,
Shining bright the sickening sun
The heart of the head not yet undone.

From the shore waves come and go
But seas the sunsets sleep below,
Giving into Earth’s undertow

I’m losing it, what little I have.
Where once there was a body I stand,
Grains of sand like grains of sand.

From day to day we all must die,
That left inside set free to fly.
No hope but faith left justified.

While whirling gusts rip limb from limb
Only dust slips through the sieve.
No skin no teeth no heart that beats and yet
I live.

AN ODE

BY HANNAH HAZY

I sit atop a wooden throne, seizing every passing glance
Come. Sit down, kick back, relax
It’s the same old song and dance.

A honeycombed marsupial pouch, brimmed with aromatic herbs
Rays illume the oily coils that
Watermark my curves.

I’m a King and you’re my queen, made to open your third eye
I’ve been blown by all your friends
I guess that makes me bi.

Let me stimulate your senses, listen to my belly rumble
And I’ll be there to comfort you when
Your world starts to crumble.

Your grasp tightens round my neck our lips, at long last, intertwine
Suck harder harder harder, still
Make a turbine of my spine.

Cosmos churn inside your brain; you tell deep, prophetic thoughts
You flick the lighter once again
Well, shit. You’re out of pot.

BLEED

BY PEYTON THOMASSON

I am a bleeding heart
You took me and
I bled all over you

I still bleed
In prayer for you
So that someday you have a heart to give to someone too.

TRITE AND BORING

BY MELVIN KELVIN

Fell
Asleep

On the
Return
Key

Called it
Poem

CIGARETTES

BY JOSHUA RHOADS

My grandpa needs his cigarettes. You can’t smoke for sixty years and not need cigarettes. But, Grandpa, you’re lying in the hospital bed and we don’t have a car here.  I don’t care, I need cigarettes.

Ever since I was little, he would drive around with the windows down smoking his cigarettes. At first I hated them. They smelled like rusty spoons. But then, I started to like them. Let me go with Grandpa I’d say, and what kind of mother wouldn’t let her brown-eyed boy spend time with her father. He’d finish a cigarette and I’d ask if we could stop. Sure, he’d say, we’ll get a Coke and some cigarettes.

I remember when my grandpa bought me my first bike. My mom asked if she could show me how to ride it. I said no, I want Grandpa. After about three hours of shoves, knee-scrapes, and the occasional tear, I could almost make it to the end of my street. I remember the smile on Grandpa’s face as he lit a cigarette. Never let someone tell you you can’t do something, he said. It just takes time.

I scanned the hallways of the hospital and found a nurse who looked competent. Where can I get cigarettes. Sir, you can’t smoke in the building. They’re not for me they’re for my grandpa. Sir, he’s still in the building. Where’s the nearest gas station. About a half mile down the road. Thank you.

What kind of gas station doesn’t have cigarettes? I’m sorry sir, but we just don’t. Well, where can I find some. There’s a liquor store about three miles back that way, and if they don’t have some then I don’t know what to tell you. Thank you.

What kind of liquor liquor store doesn’t have cigarettes?  I’m sorry sir, but our funding’s been cut and so we took some items out of inventory. My grandpa is dying and all he wants is a cigarette, and not me or you or anyone can help him with that. I’m sorry sir.

The cab driver smelled like moldy cheese. What’s wrong, he asked.  My grandpa is dying and all he wants is a cigarette and no one has any. Well, I have some up here– go ahead, take some. No charge. Thank you, sir, but please, let me give you some money; it’s the least I can do. No, he said, your grandpa needs them more than me. Thank you sir, you’ll have no idea how much he’ll appreciate this.

The nurse’s empty face told the story as I fumbled through the hospital doors. There my grandpa lay, the red washed from his face and his body void of spark.

I chuckled as I lit a cigarette. Releasing my grandson along the pavement, I watched his body and bike tumble forward before twisting and falling to the ground. His eyes welled up and his face flushed with red. The smoke from my nose inconspicuously draped around his head as I picked him up off the ground and set him back right. It just takes time. 

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