W. Nowell Street by Gina Bernard

Gina Marie Bernard is a heavily tattooed transgender woman, retired roller derby vixen, and full-time English teacher. She lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, own her heart. Her chapbook Naked, Getting Nuder was a 2018-2019 Glass Chapbook series finalist, and is under contract with Clare Songbirds Publications. Her chapbook Taxonomies was a finalist for Thirty West Publishing House’s 2018 Chapbook Contest. Her chapbook I Am This Girl was a semifinalist for the Headmistress Press 2018 Charlotte Mew Poetry Chapbook Contest, and was published by Headmistress Press in October 2018. Her work has recently been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize.


W. Nowell Street

Rain tapers as the Burlington Northern cuts across S. Main, adding its weight to the ponderous humidity.

I pad barefoot from the bedroom at 5:00 and move the fans about strategically, a feat worthy of pool hall hustlers. Still, I’ll never get back to sleep. Water from the new fridge perspires onto the living room floor as I double knot my Asics. I swipe at the moisture with my palm, and press its coolness to my thigh.

The world is empty at this hour. From a neighbor’s backyard a dog barks, but only once, and without conviction.

It takes me several minutes to synchronize my posture, the swing of my arms, a scything motion in my legs. I hold my breath as I pass the cemetery on my right—a childhood superstition handed down from my mother.

The pavement ends. I feel the pitch of this first graveled incline—the pull in my quads. Horseflies sense my heat; they bumble into my hair, seek the sweat at the back my neck. My path now tracks west for nearly a mile, hugged closely on both sides by common milkweed, carpets of wild strawberry, and nodding ox-eye daisies. In the damp soil near the ditch I note I am not the first traveler of the morning—deer have minced cautiously from a deep brake of speckled alder. Farther along, dozens of navy blue swallows knife above my head, their fleet wings slicing the heavy air.

I swing back east at a 90-degree turn in the road. A sign proclaiming “Brush Only” guards ever-growing mountains of bramble. Racing toward dawn, I meet a pickup pulling a goose-neck trailer freighted with branches. The driver raises a finger from his steering while sipping coffee from an oversized travel mug.

Into town, up the block, down the sidewalk, and I arrive home to my cozy cottage—its mustard yellow paint peeling into the yard. I sweep mosquitoes from the screen door; they whine away to hide amid the nightshade.

Then I come inside and sit down to compose this ode to New York Mills, Minnesota, and return once more to a course I’d never run before.

Two Poems by Lindsay Costello

Lindsay Costello is a poet and art writer living in Portland, OR. Her chapbook So What if I’m Unfolding? was published in 2017, followed by Bloomswelling in 2018. Also in 2018, her digital poetry project Poetics of Space Angel was featured in the online exhibition estranged.love. Her work has appeared in Meadow’s Summer Field Guide, Pallas Magazine and SUSAN / THE JOURNAL. She studied textiles at the Oregon College of Art and Craft, where her thesis project analyzed the conceptual intersections between poetry and weaving.

Peaches

Between them a type of drowning.
A distance measured in carpeting
Or
The furry halo around a peach, or
That grey film of moving, seeing from a light place
To a dark place. Squinting.
That distance.

I waited in the ash-glow staring
At a lizard chasing itself, or nothing,
As screams rattled the windows.

My father once convinced me that
Money lived in the ceiling.
Quarters mostly, nested in plaster,
Warm children.
I stood on a chair and reached for them.

Dripping

I already wonder about summer
And its beasts in bloom
All becoming bats
Hanging sweat and limb
Chewing lettuce or watermelon

I wonder about it
When one day an interruptive stillness
And a river somewhere halts
And limbs go bare and dry out
Like apricot leather

Food Stamp Anxiety by Bethany Bruno

Bethany Bruno is a born and raised Florida Writer. She attended Flagler College, in St. Augustine, FL, where she earned her B.A in English. She was first published in the Flagler Review. She later attended the University of North Florida for her M.A. Before becoming a Library Specialist, she was an English Teacher and a Park Ranger with the National Park Service. She’s working on her debut novel, “From the Passenger Seat.” She lives in Port Saint Lucie, FL.

Food Stamp Anxiety

Pulling into the Walgreen’s parking lot, my senses heighten and I can feel a sense of regret. I shouldn’t be doing this, especially after all the hard work I put into the gym the last week. But, I feel like shit today and just want to eat ice cream and drink my drug of choice, Diet Pepsi. I’m sick of everyone telling me to get off the stuff. I know it’s not the healthiest drink but it’s better than alcohol. Drug addicts, alcoholics, and failures in all aspects of life exist in my circle of friends, yet I’m a fatty who likes diet soda way too much and needs to stop. Clearly, I have the problem.

My beat up tiny silver Nissan shuts off as I slide out of the driver’s seat and begin my walk toward the automatic doors. I’m dressed in my typical lazy attire- oversized hoodie, loose dress that comes down toward my knees, and thong flip flops. Some might say I’ve overdressed myself for only going to the store but the reality is I just find it easier to slip a dress over my head than having to find shorts and shirt that hides my round stomach. I’m not pregnant, by the way. The Scott family just happens to gain all of our weight in the belly region. Everywhere else is well proportioned, luckily. But the one nuisance is that I constantly have to tell people that I am, in fact, not pregnant and just fat. During last week’s failed job interview the assistant manager asked “Do you have any future happenings that would inhibit you from working?” all while staring at my stomach. I just smiled and said no, and tried to remember to suck in my stomach for the remainder of the interview. I didn’t get the job or even a call back letting me know that they had offered the position to someone else. A crappy hotel on the outskirts of town wouldn’t hire me, a college graduate with a friendly personality because I might be “indisposed” in a few months. This was the first of many times I’ve been asked something along the lines of “when are you do?” all while placing a hand on my belly. The answer is always the same – “Not a baby, just fat”… “Oh…” and away they go. The worst time this happened was when I worked at Old Navy. A woman asked me to get onto a ladder to check for a shoe in a bigger size. As I began to climb she grabbed my wrist in terror and said “Oh honey, you shouldn’t be doing that in your condition!” At the time, I had no freaking idea what she was talking about. I told her I was fine and went back to climbing. “But what if you fall?! Think about the child.” It felt like a slap in the face- in fact my entire face became red with embarrassment. I was so shocked that I could only let out a small breath of “but I’m not …pregnant. What?” She too gave me the typical response of “oh…” and walked away. So word of advice to everyone out there: never ever congratulate someone on being pregnant because you just never know. Unless they specifically tell you they are indeed pregnant, and then respond. Even if they have a belly sticking out the size of a watermelon, I would not say shit until they bring it up. It will save you and that person awkward embarrassment just in case you’re wrong.

Ding-Ding! Alerts all to my arrival as I enter the store. Markdowns and tiny shopping carts block the entrance as I move past it all. I anxiously walk down the rows of aisles and finally reach my destination. I pick up a twelve pack of diet soda and to my surprise the Cowbell cherry vanilla ice cream that I’ve loved since a kid is on sale. I grab a carton and begin to walk back towards the front counter. I walk past the sales clerk, an older woman with cat eyeglasses, as she is in the candy aisle helping another customer. I stop at the counter and unload my supplies. I really need to get the hell out of here. I need to hurry up and buy this so no one can see my food stamps card. I know the card shouldn’t be used for luxuries like soda and ice cream, but if everyone else can do it than so can I, right? Sure enough, a little girl and her mom pull up to the counter with their basket.

“Where’d she go?” she stammers at me. “She’s around the corner helping someone” I say, trying not to make eye contact with either one of them. Now my anxiety is really starting to build up inside. Maybe I should just leave the stuff, I don’t need it anyway! Maybe this is a sign from God that I shouldn’t break my diet. An older couple comes up behind the mother. “Can we go ahead of y’all? We just need to buy his batteries.” The mother nods and waves them right up next to me. The old woman is so close to me that she can see everything that’s in my purse, which isn’t much. If I took a step back, I’d step on her toes. Fuck this I’m… and now here she comes. She waddles up toward the register and apologizes. As she begins to scan my soda the little girl says “COW BELL ICE CREAM….” I look down at her, “You know many people died from that, right?”

A million emotions and thoughts go through my head. Should I be a smartass and say I’m counting on it? Or slap her and yell at the mother for raising such a rude little brat. Or just walk out crying? No, I don’t do any of these. Instead I just say “Okay” as the others just laugh. I don’t know if their laughing at me or the little girl, but I’ve had enough. As I slide the food stamps card through the machine, it freezes. The cashier clearly has no idea what she’s doing and just asks me to swipe it again. The pressure to get out of the store is so high that I think I might break and just leave everything. I can see the older woman behind me as she looks at her husband with a “you’ve got to be kidding me” kind of look. I drop the card and bend down to pick up just as the APPROVED writing appears. I’ve never been so relived, and I feel like I just broke through a brick wall that had been stacking all around me. I grab my bag and soda case and half smiled as I walk toward the exit. I don’t look back in fear of what could be said about me.

Next time, I’ll go to Wally World.

Ding- Ding!

Three Poems by Rich H. Kenney, Jr.

Rich H. Kenney, Jr. is an associate professor of social work at Chadron State College in Chadron, NE. His essays and poetry have been published in Streetlight Magazine, Social Work Today, and Cloudbank.


Ice Fishing in Room 103

It’s the flag
that springs up
when learning strikes
that makes me
want to teach
or, at least, salute.

Far-sighted lesson plans
anchor attention,
beg perspective,
inspire
see-in-the-dark
sense and inquiry.

Yet, sometimes,
the flag doesn’t trip-
the lecture drifts
or the exercise
drowns
in deep-water paradigm.

That’s when I reach
for the tackle box,
the go-to
sweet-and-sour lure,
the one scratched
in reality bites.

You can make cases
for tables and tenets
and textbook theories
but, occasionally,
it’s the hook of practicality
that keeps me from saying

you should have seen
the one
that got away.


Of Ponds and Pedagogy

Onto lily pads
Teaching lands ideas

Ones with legs
Light enough
To cross the water’s
Thumbtacked rafts of green,
Wending ways
To purpose

Ones with teeth
Sharp enough
To cut through
Thick stands of cattails,
The patrolling reed towers
Of sameness

Ones with soul
Deep enough
To venerate
The silence of snails,
Musings of frogs,
The Tao of dragonflies

It’s in the approach,
The quiet arrival,
The delicacy
Of delivery


Here We Go Again

The next time you represent
the winning run at third
in a game racking up
extra innings,
ignore the voice within,
the one you know
as here we go again,
the one that likes
to reminisce with tales of fiasco-
like the time in grade school band
when you single-handedly
flubbed the grand finale
with a rowdy,
out-of-sync cymbal crash;
or the time in junior high
on Science Day
when you sparked
the sure-to-win experiment
into shocking plumes of smoke;
or the infamous senior class play
when you blurted out lines
from another show…

There’s chemistry in a message
once you find its rhythm,
once you feel its energy.
And for everything lost
in hasty crescendo,
there’s an understudy
waiting to be heard.
Next time,
listen closely
to its monologue
about here we go again
and the chance to get it right.

Take your lead
with an eye to the mound
because maybe you’ll break
with the pitch-
or maybe you have;
maybe you’re already home…

The Worst Sound by Tyler Miles

Tyler is a journalist from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from Penn State University, and is trying to rekindle that creative fire news writing beat out of him.

The Worst Sound

There’s an unforgettable sound that precedes death—recognizable as the scratchy gasp from a grandparent or pained whine from a family pet seconds before they leave our world for the next.

As a boy I had grown tired of death. Even then, at such a young age as I was, grief gave way to anger at the loss of a life I adored. Once I stared at a faux candlestick behind my mother’s patterned curtains. Through them the light appeared muffled, dim. When finally I unplugged the plastic flame, it slowly faded into nothingness like the dog’s eyes when he arched his back, kicked out his feet, and howled one last time earlier that night.

It was a sad episode for my family, but I imagine it must be sadder for he who caused it. That’s why I decided to meet him: Death; ask why he would turn off someone’s lights when people loved them; and why he would make them make such a terrible sound.

I had it in my mind to wait under my grandmother’s bed each night after she grew sick and forgetful, and came to live in our spare room.

The cold room.

I wasn’t supposed to be in there, I was warned, but I had some words for this fellow hurting me, hurting everyone, everywhere in the world.

When late one night he cracked her door and silently glided through, I slithered from beneath the bed. He stopped and stared (probably), I wasn’t sure since he was faceless.

He heaved a sharp finger at me, “You… think it… fun?” the voice sloughed from somewhere beneath that black hood.

I froze, unable to remember the speech I had prepared to skewer him with.

“Why?” was all I managed.

He stood unmoving for what seemed like minutes. I was unsure if he heard me, or even understood with how he turned his gaping black hole sideways when I spoke, as if pushing an ear he didn’t have toward me to better understand. It was what my dad did when he practiced French with his drinking friends.

“You… don’t understand. Cannot.”

His arm waved toward my grandmother with a rattle of bones and he floated away. His lanky shoulders drooped.

And she didn’t gasp when she died.

She chimed.

What an odd sound. It sounded exactly like the wind chimes that hovered above our English Ivy on the porch.

Death did me a favor.

Although all the years after, and still, I remember my grandmother’s death, and that hazy interaction with Death, whenever I pass a house and the wind stirs the chimes.

Eulogy by Vinnie Sarrocco

Vinnie Sarrocco is a poet and ne’er-do-well hailing from the American South. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Coffin Bell, SPREAD, Beholder Magazine, & others. He is the author of the chapbook “Under the Oak Tree”, and his full-length collection is scheduled to be published with Chatwin Books in 2019.

Eulogy

He was a man
whose keys were
persistently slipping
off their metallic band;
a magnet for ghosts
that once belonged
to benign pranksters/
The kind of guy
who finds himself
in sentences
he’s yet to read
but will someday/
A man with too many
bones rattling around
beneath thin skin
clanking down hallways
audible only in the
sounds of humming fans
and ambient low whispers
of those with nothing
interesting to say
He was/
Mostly.

Daily Tally by J. Motoki

J. Motoki is a nomadic librarian who writes in the stacks, snubs patrons, and whispers uncomfortable things from the shadows. Her work have been published in Nowhere.Ink, Rune Bear, and Coffin Bell. You can read more of her work at www.jumotki.com.


Daily Tally

Closing shift. I’m not feeling myself tonight. My sweaty hand clutches a brass tally counter, a relic from the card catalogue days, and the click, click, clicking sets my teeth on edge. (Internet Search: What is fever of the hands?) Thirty minutes until closing and patrons still swarm through the doors.

All these people returning books at night, tossing them down the book drop, one by one. Flutter of page wings. All these people stamping up the stairs to gawk at the domed glass ceiling, stars trapped in foggy reflection. Look at their necks, slender tendons on sticks, look how vulnerable. Remember when we thought turkeys stare skyward and drown in rain?

You ask: will these glass walls last the end times?

Asking the real questions.

My desk in the corner reads REFERENCE. An invitation to stupid inquiry.  If you ask for restroom directions, I’ll point you down the only hall and watch you come back, confused. Internet trouble? Clicking the red X will NOT expand new tabs. ILLs take a minimum of five to ten business days, I’m sorry you need this specific book for your research paper that’s due tomorrow. No, I don’t know why you forgot to breathe the other day, ask your general practitioner. Better yet, say nothing until the time comes when you forget again, until you start to inhale again. Trigger lung collapse, your face bruised and crumpling like old fruit.

After break, an elderly lady smiles knowingly as I rub my bloated stomach. Boy or girl?

It is, in fact, pies.

Little boy: Coffin bells, how do they ring if there’s no one around to ring them?

The Victorian paradox; that pall riddle. I search the question, our interests piqued. See, the string is tied to the deceased’s finger―if they wake, they ring the bells. Little boy, hands over his mouth, the world’s biggest secret revealed only to him, he is going to laugh or scream.

Attention guests: the library will be closing in—

Down the hall these turkeys go, and I hear a woman cluck to her friend: it was so strange, like I forgot to know how to breathe.   

Poetry by Raymond Byrnes

Raymond Byrnes lives in Virginia. His recent poems have appeared in Shot Glass Journal, All Roads Will Lead You Home, Panoply, Typishly, Better Than Starbucks, Eclectica, Sky Island Journal, and Split Rock Review.

Asters

Out front, soaking rains that fell last month
push out, through sun-scorched clumps,
scattered clouds of waving white anemones.

Out back, as red and yellow zinnias subside,
plain green aster shrubs, dressing for the last
dance, unbutton a thousand purple blossoms.

Vagrant monarchs, probing worker bees,
swallowtails, fritillaries, moths in moonlight
mine densely flowered mounds, mottled gold.

A week of rain leaves blue-chalk skies, starry
nights trailing frost at dawn, and abandoned
aster plants, heavily arrayed in soft brown buds.

Airborne

They say, for all the millions spent on micro-drone
development, plus testing them aloft in swarms,
nothing yet can match the aerobatics of a dragonfly.

Children know. They scream and run with covered
heads from the bug that comes to stitch their scalps.
Doesn’t matter if it never happens, because it might.

From perched to full speed in a blink; forward, back,
up, down; catching, eating flies on the wing; it flits
about, propelled on four thin strips like latticed glass.

Dragons fly in many forms: Darners, Skimmers,
Meadowhawks, Dashers, Snaketails, Boghaunters,
Spineylegs, Clubtails, Shadowdragons, Emeralds.

Engineered assemblies fly, but fuel cells get depleted.
Dark water nymphs climb stems to wait in sunlight for
humped-up creatures to burst their skin and open wings.

Painless by Julia Ballerini

A former professor of art history who has lived many years in several countries, Julia Ballerini is now settled in Manhattan where she is devoted full time to writing fiction. Several of her stories have been published in print and online.

Painless

         The dog was licking her face. A furry black dog. It was dark. How long had she been lying on the pavement? It had been daylight when she fell. That she remembers. She crawled over cobblestones and gravel, the dog ahead, barking. That she remembers. Then whiteness. Space of no memories. Ambulence. Her mother bending over her. Can you hear me, hear me, hear me!

         Was it the next day that someone brought her two orange fish in a round bowl? She remembers them swimming in and out of her mind’s whiteness as she lay cranked to a tilt on a bed as white as her mind. Watery black eyes stared, slithery mouths gulped open. Did she scream? The orange fish were soon disappeared.

         Her mother was folding clothes into a suitcase, a suitcase that smelled of newness. She was fourteen and being packed away to boarding school, disappeared like the gulping goldfish. It was then, seven years after the fall, that her mother, smoothing a new blue sweater into a new brown valise––it was then that her mother said, stop crying, you’re lucky to be alive, you almost died in that accident.

         Now she watches her own child scrambling up a slide in the playground holding tight its silvery edges. She has a startling memory of having not having held on to the rusty rails of that long-ago fire escape, of having leaned into the fall, of having given herself up to it. Not because of a will to die, but because of an absence of a will to live.

         She closes her eyes trying to conjur a memory of pain. The pain immediately after the fall or the pain that must have sliced its way through the drugs in the hospital. Nothing. Her breath comes in and out of her lungs, her belly expands and subsides, but she can’t remember the pain, only the horror of the staring, gulping fish.

         Back home from the playground, her little girl tucked safely in bed, she goes to the computer. She types: memory and pain. Site after site is about the short-term memory of pain, not the long-term forgetting of it. The newsletter of the International Association for the Study of Pain is no help.

         Yet the search has its rewards. She learns about nerves that carry pain signals to the spinal cord and brain to excite the cells that make memories of pain––a cellular excitation that produces an hightened reactivity to pain that can last for months. Her cells must have been revved up, excited, sensitive to a pain she can no longer recall.

         “Excite” a technical term. Yes, but she pictures a nervy little creature bringing a message of pain to a nebbish looking cell.

         “Yo man, belly just sliced open like a sausage. Blood spurting everywhere. What a scene! Hurts like hell.”

         “Wow! Cool. Tell me more. Hold on, lemmy grab a pencil and paper.”

         She learns about molecules called ERKs­––extracellular signal-related kinases––that can change the memory of cells in the spinal cord and brain. Molecular psycotherapy! She reads up on the marine snail Aplysia that is very attractive to neurobiologists because of large brain cells that are up to one millimeter in diameter. One millimeter! What is the size of a human brain cell? She hasn’t a clue. She logs out, shuts down her computer.

         She calls her friend Richard whose store of knowledge is phenomenal and who was once married to a doctor. “Memory is not intended to be an archive,” he tells her. “We have an automatic extinguishing mechanism that remembers having the pain but not the pain itself. Otherwise we could not go on.” That makes sense. Except for certain phobias and an intense dislike of oatmeal Richard usually makes sense.

         It is reassuring to know that, even if her brain cells turn out to be smaller than those of a mollusk, her pain extinguishing mechanism is working in full force.

         Tomorrow she and her daughter will make up a story about a brainy snail named Aplysia. A snail who feels no pain. A joyous snail with a will to live.

Prehistoric by Krisan Murphy

Krisan Murphy lives in North Carolina and writes about her childhood in Mississippi.

Prehistoric

ours is
the long dirt driveway
where the mississippi sun
beats sweat
out of my brothers and me

running, jumping, chasing
evaporates salty beads
sliding down our temples

we cool under
spreading branches
of an oak

a rusty trike, a dismantled buggy,
a red wagon
assembles into a spaceship

dreaming of the moon
I tug two astronauts
to the launch pad

red dirt
clings to our bare feet
as we work

cotton bale clouds
darken, cool, and warn us
but we three stand
in a sandy hole
waiting

lifting grimy hands
to catch the first
gift of heaven

a single drop
then
pelting, drenching, drowning rain
fills our pot with gold

hollering and dancing,
squishing mud with our toes

the storm ceases
and steam rises
from the parched earth
twigs and little hands
stir malleable clay
to form
creatures of our imagination

matted hair
dries
turns shorts orange
sitting in the puddle

at bedtime
scrubbed and fed
slipping between clean sheets
i dream
of tomorrow
when the screen door will slam
behind me
when i
go outside and play