“Flight Theory,” by Allison Adair
Jun24

“Flight Theory,” by Allison Adair

Wstawaj, don’t speak, he will wake, and come for you. My hand over your mouth is our goodbye. His black feathers stir, no wind, oil upon oil, his long beak shines. Take this, I have saved it all slowly in a shoe, zrób co mówię, lodge it in the gathers at your waist and never exhale. Run, road to station to the dim nodding ship. Szybko. You will know no one. If you hear me calling you, moja córka, close the door to us. Run until dark birds hang, shoreless, aimless, land disappearing like salt in a stirred glass. You turn off the lights this time and lie still, a body shifting from its country, climb gaunt gray waves into a sky built deep within the fat matter of memory. Stirring his tongue, he slips into your wet speech, dismantles you quietly, rot threading plaster. Organs are everywhere: on the workbench outside animals left unskinned. Empty socket stuffed with a dirty rag, only you know about the snake pushing through high grass. He’ll slough until the world offers an indifferent body. (Who can be choosy?) This, your life – what is a stepfather for? For emptying a ribcage, the warm meat of your parts lost as his hands undo – your mother will say wings, whispering, but in truth – you lose yourself under a loud human neck, its gulping skin stretched over bones, over low vowels you pray no one hears, not even you. These voices, glottal, they travel with you, to Kraków, Hamburg, Cuxhaven, Nowy Jork, to the factory where you cart bobbins in a skirt, again and again arriving full, departing empty: sound rimming the lip of a bell. Windows too narrow to let the light in. Dark swells in your quiet inner room, like a mushroom sponging into root. New world daughter threaded with horsehair worms, their small farm sprouting even under your fingernail. Once you had a past: the tremoring kerosene lamps, the hard stone roads still come for you. But now shadows buckle into static, a man sent to the distant tin-foil moon, doing nothing but walking, without gravity. As if ours were a small world, well lit, the sounds you hear only footsteps across the dust of a slackening galaxy; you, a mass of ice slow-spiraling. Your young son flaps from the screen, what is it like, Mamusia, to float away?   Printed with permission from Allison Adair, copyrighted by Allison Adair @ 2015. This piece, winner of the Fall 2015 Orlando Prize for Poetry and selected by Finalist Judge Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, originally appeared in Issue No. 19 of the Los Angeles...

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“The New Morrigan,” by Linda Cooper
Apr23

“The New Morrigan,” by Linda Cooper

  She’s got a mango cleaved to her chest cavity, juices drowning   the aorta, sweet acidic draining from chamber to vein, and she thinks she’ll   yell, but quietly, into the pillow of her sadness like the feathered ape   who lost a mate and blindly tools some ants onto its tongue. This morning, songbirds   trill the air like a dentist’s drill until a crow caws and caws, silencing   her self-pity. Hops toward her, absorbs the architecture of her face. That crow tells the others   about a girl on a stoop, clasping a steaming cup, who memorizes garbage routes.   She builds a nest of hangers and bullet trains.   A thirsty crow drops pebbles into a water glass. Another drives out a hawk.   Go out and face the world, a crow scolds. Migrating groups   spackle the sky with black stars. Join local flocks to roost.   One crow demonstrates a hook it made and a wand. Tool over tool, she scoops   insects from a tree hollow while a young bird, blue-eyed, red-mouthed, watches.   The girl made a hook once, out of an unwheeled carriage and a lost bit of cloud.   She sewed it into her sternum, tried to snag a heartbeat or two. A broken wing.   May I find the strength—   The fat birds call to her, and she climbs a tree, for hours and days she climbs,   for weeks, to the lip of a clutch of sticks and gum wrappers, wire,   where two blue speckled eggs nest. From that perch the whole world is prey.       Printed with permission from Linda Cooper, copyrighted by Linda Cooper @ 2015. This piece, winner of the Spring 2015 Orlando Prize for Poetry and selected by Finalist Judge Camille Dungy, originally appeared in Issue No. 18 of the Los Angeles...

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“Lake as Body,” by Denise Leto
Sep01

“Lake as Body,” by Denise Leto

The salamander, black with red spots climbed into her mouth with its pods, its sticky pods and it pulled at her lips: replenished, stricken. Losing the larger frame of sound she was unable to speak, her voice seized in grainy rivulets, lesser dams. The salamander swam beneath her tongue it was gorgeous and frightened or frightening— she wasn’t certain. It kept being a world in there so she wouldn’t swallow its slick skin hiding in glottal stops. It didn’t pretend to be her primal self. It didn’t pretend to be anything other than its own body.   She couldn’t tell the Trinities apart: sky, ground, day, night. Her face opened to reveal a bowl of granite: stars, water, trees, bats. She was reading Lives of the Saints and another salamander, grey with yellow stripes, crawled out scrambling the iconography. Santa Rosalia blurred in amphibious motion, humid prayer; repetitious, scroll-like, its body undulated under the pages. She was thankful for the sinuosity, the lingual respite, the non-poem. But in her mourning to bear the words again and again: live, live, live in that third incessant underneath apostolic pushing at the edge of her presence she knelt down in the form of a letter. Incubation: little daphnids: a land phase. Once grown, they can extend the tongue more than half the length of their entire bodies. She receives this almost asleep, constellatory, writing notes with her other hand: desire.   The shoreline, as she entered, as body, sang: ankles, thighs, hips. She couldn’t get out. She didn’t want to get out. Thick, oozing, coiling mud. The surrounding mountains held clouds de-forming or a reflection of the water in her blood. The poem as ex-anatomy: mossy, old, ripe, crushing, also coiling. The poem as costume, trap, banter, chorus. She was nude and sheltered in dirt. There was no because. Her nakedness drew that older part of the brain asking: for more, more touch her more. Yes, there. It filled her mouth, covered her eyes, buried her. You could no longer see her hair just sticks and clots of algae. This empire of animism was hers. What was lost emerged and took her back.     Printed with permission from Denise Leto, copyrighted by Denise Leto @ 2014. This piece, winner of the Fall 2014 Orlando Prize for Poetry and selected by Finalist Judge Cheryl Clarke, originally appeared in Issue No. 17 of the Los Angeles...

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“Mass Grave, Ukraine,” by Laura Lauth
Jan01

“Mass Grave, Ukraine,” by Laura Lauth

This is a good story. So good you will forget and walk out into a honeycomb grid of black bark and hay, the orchard’s shifting light—and no one minds that you’re a stranger. Here, they ladder rows of sweet Opal, dividing market fruit from cull. In the meadow below, a man plays violin tuned in perfect fifths—an apple’s slender pedicel or a bird shot mid-flight. Above, mason bees dip and wheel. The Boh river flows past as it always has, and though confused, you look so beautiful with your elegant collar bones and mouth like an O–everyone’s saying so. And you are thinking very little when an old woman touches your spine: she says it reminds her of a song they used to sing while picking apples, a song so fine you won’t remember the children lined up like Pippins by the road or their faces planted deep below.   Printed with permission from Laura Lauth, copyrighted by Laura Lauth @ 2014. This piece, winner of the Spring 2014 Orlando Prize for Poetry, originally appeared in Issue No. 16 of the Los Angeles...

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“Shellacked,” by Jenifer Browne Lawrence
Jul01

“Shellacked,” by Jenifer Browne Lawrence

If I step from slick refinished hardwood to concrete draw the door’s body to its jamb with a click, down to the grit where in darkness rows of Camaros Celicas Impalas drowse like horses at the foot of the drooping bougainvillea if I cross the blacktop like a pasture in which no tuft of grass remains unchewed where the potholes are tamped gopher mounds and the scent of ginger rises from planting beds delicate barb driving me into the avenue where stars flicker above the city’s yellow, if I turn one corner and another pull the headlight knob see where I am headed away from belongings and belonging in the just refinished shine of that upper level flat its morning light and its evening blossoming with vagaries of mud and green not of this country if I step from the floor too gorgeous for a man whose ears explode with screams he believes are not his own stuck in the damp company of boys turned men in a war closet stocked with charred fields chopper blades dead farmers dreams in the process of reforestation will I turn to retrace, retract, climb the concrete steps, unlatch the door of my body beside the unlatched husband’s body lie down and draw closed with a click   Printed with permission from Jenifer Browne Lawrence, copyrighted by Jenifer Browne Lawrence @ 2013. This piece originally appeared in Issue No. 15 of the Los Angeles...

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“Storm,” by Abby Chew
Jan01

“Storm,” by Abby Chew

No one asks for silence this morning but we give it without question. The dawn, long past, brought a haze of heat, laid it down over us heavy, not at all like your body over mine. Not at all like that. Last night, a storm struck us down. I watched lightning crack the side of the barn, wind snap the bean trellis, toss it up, spinning. We salvage what we can. The sky doesn’t ask if we want our arms slick with sweat as we pick beans, row on row, does not ask if we want to kneel in the shade panting like old house cats, to vomit into the weeds. July doesn’t ask what we desire. It only creeps up over the hill each morning, brings us what we deserve.   Printed with permission from Abby Chew, copyrighted by Abby Chew @ 2013. This piece originally appeared Issue No. 14 of in the Los Angeles...

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“On Hearing the Call to Prayer Over the Marcellus Shale on Easter Morning,” by Marilyn McCabe
Jul01

“On Hearing the Call to Prayer Over the Marcellus Shale on Easter Morning,” by Marilyn McCabe

How like we are crinoids: lily-like, nervous, as a starfish, many fingered, prying crevice and fissure, regrowing arms with every loss. A cry, a crying, a call out, strange song, predawn trembling: Through the permeable membrane, air metes its punishment: An egg, forgotten, now rotten, its inside resembling something marbled. Things are seldom as hard as they seem. I believe in this, called what you will; and if a prayer can rise me breadlike, so the day is risen. To walk (yea, though I walk) a dry streambed, pick the sparkle of pyrite, pocket it. Small things have laid themselves here, becoming in rock the fullness, then the absence of themselves. A complex equation: x contains multitudes, contradictions, as it can be both positive or negative, influenced one day by the preponderance of greater than nothing; one day by weight of less than. How can we solve ourselves, as zero is no answer, and x resides always in the community of variables? When everything is about to start, sleepless, stumbling, rise to praise: Still nest. The hay gleams as if lit. Emergent: a yellow chair, a red. The pond reach. A swamp reveals the dead pine, the living moss, even as the man’s song ends.   Printed with permission from Marilyn McCabe, copyrighted by Marilyn McCabe @ 2012. This piece originally appeared in Issue No. 13 of the Los Angeles...

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“crafting,” by Megan Alpert
Jan01

“crafting,” by Megan Alpert

let us not bruise a single onion. or throw away a single bite of peach. if you have a home, open it. take in vegetables and homeless youth. patch the places where their mother ripped hair from their scalp. tuck carrot peels back into earth, the onion skin like skin of hand. take in this muddy river. banks rise up tree bottoms, then freeze and snow again. take it in your mouth, the headline: Boy, 15, Charged With Murder. as you are charged with water, charged to clean the muddy footprints on the stairs. not the murder, but the fracture it covers. make home big enough to fit all of this and vegetables and meat. kids whose lipprints you must clean from glasses, who thunder up and down the stairs. who must be made dinner and spoken to with a unfractured voice. take the glove that got left in the river. your own sadness, snap it open in the basement in the yellow lights. the table littered with feathers, bones. feet shuffle upstairs, stomp, then rest. your work laid out before you, and almost enough time.   Printed with permission from Megan Alpert, copyrighted by Megan Alpert @ 2012. This piece originally appeared in Issue No. 12 of the Los Angeles...

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“History of Glass,” by Kathleen Savino
Jul01

“History of Glass,” by Kathleen Savino

Even the ancients knew: Glass is neither solid nor liquid, but in another state always in between. Old windows are usually thicker at the bottom, since over centuries, glass drifts as if it has known warmth. We opened the window gate and climbed out onto the fire escape because it was too warm inside. I leaned against your back, lit a cigarette, breathed until the orange point met my fingers. You told me that you first knew you were gay when you wanted to be rescued from drowning by a man with long fingers. You touched a flicker of white ash caught on my collar. Night swam through the trees, and I could smell its slow burning. Soon you would cut your hair, but I would let mine grow slowly, until it reached my shoulder blades. If you want to know my story, I can show you my body. There is a smudge, a mark like the print of some animal on my belly and I don’t remember where it came from. When I look at it I think of blunted knives, and my younger sister stabbing me with one, but not breaking the skin. I can show you the tight white mouths of the scars the stretch marks, striping me silver and violet. how the deep lines of my hands are like my mother’s. You: who was gentle with me first, you asked to touch one of the stretch marks on my stomach once and I said yes, and you were careful, you only used one finger. You had wanted to see how different it felt from your skin, which was unmarked. We were in a unisex dressing room buying the same shirt in different sizes. To make glass we need: fire, water, lime, and ash from deciduous trees, the kind that flame into autumn, die into branches, and bud again. No one knows how glass was first discovered, but there is a story: Merchants were on the beach, and they were hungry. Or People called savages were on the beach, and they were cold. Who called them savages? Is it savage to light fires? They lit a fire to cook their food, to stay warm or both. Either way, the fire burned through the night, fusing sand, and ash, the glass flowed from the fire, from the sand, from the ash, and they found it in the morning amidst the embers. Sand into glass and never back again; I think about this a lot, how something you bury yourself in is something you can see through, a window. But first it must be burned. On the beach you walk ahead of me over broken shells, and I find sea glass in...

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“The Green Season,” by Jennifer Beebe
Jan01

“The Green Season,” by Jennifer Beebe

The coroner asked if she drank, her throat swollen to closing, front and back embracing the shape perhaps of a mouth around a screw-top bottle, or lips sucking juice from a too ripe pear. I could have told him late afternoon worked best for her, lips to rim, her arm from the window, yardarm, her armistice with the day, the orange of her nails a slow tick of sins along the window frame. I could have told him we anchor ourselves by things seen, how late night my father would come, taking her temperature with a licked finger to the forehead, a concentrated measure of essence and heat. Again and again he bent to her, a steady bow of prayer, as if he were bobbing for apples, or pears ripe enough to sink his teeth into.   Printed with permission by Jennifer Beebe, copyrighted by Jennifer Beebe @ 2011. This piece first appeared in Issue No. 10 of the Los Angeles...

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“How to Become a Dyke, Step Three, Birds,” by Nickole Brown
Jul01

“How to Become a Dyke, Step Three, Birds,” by Nickole Brown

A book of birds. A story in birds. Each breath a bird, each dream slipped from your ear to your pillow out the window a song: cardinals laughing at you—birdie birdie birdie— on a lonely Valentines, then robins swarming the last bits of red another February day, so many of them on the holly tree the branches tick with their picking and you stop the car. But you are so cold, you have to get to the store, and in the florescent buzz of the freezer aisle, you swear you hear a flock of larks is called an exaltation, but think no, that’s too pretty, that can’t be right. Buy your frozen pizza and peas and try to remember warmer days: the surf shop with the parrot, big and green with a beak full of fingers, your hair a dread of salt and seaweed so you would run home to your grandmother’s to wash the sand from your scalp. In the shower, on the sill of the window made to crank tightly closed to hurricanes, that porcelain bluebird— all those years, she swore she’d die and come back red-breasted, blue-winged, and singing, but when the time came, it was only morphine talking: white beasts stalking the hospital room, with wings long as a Cadillac and tail feathers flowing like new curtains, she said, and faces, they’ve got faces bright and sharp as a fox. There is nothing you can do. The reincarnation you used to believe in is a drag queen named Phoenix on Saturday nights at the bar where a girl leans in to you with both thumbs cowboy hooked to the pockets of her jeans, nothing more. When she asks for your number, you make for the door. There is nothing you can do and so you travel to Brooklyn where birds sing louder, competing against sirens and cabs and ice cream trucks. Try to find a woman there who makes you forget the woman before who took you to a red barn to see a pony, the barn swallows knifing the air between rafters. You will leave her, you always leave, your heart a young hummingbird who has learned that hummingbirds do not land when they suckle the flower—only fledglings claw the red plastic feeder. Say, I just can’t, say it, then leave, say it, then make your way to the headstone of your grandmother. Her ashes are not there, but her name is, and because you still believe in some words, it is enough. You are there to seek permission. Cool your face against the granite and ask is what I have become okay? After,...

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“The Impermanence of Human Sculptures,” by Tanaya Winder
Jan01

“The Impermanence of Human Sculptures,” by Tanaya Winder

The essential “arrangements”— choose a coffin to keep her   protected from “the elements.” Given sufficient time we rust like iron, disintegrate in the presence of air   moisture and water. The palpable aging of paper.   Do we all sleep like marble statues, fixed points in a room with locked expressions? Interpreting the abstract   space dangling between waking and sleeping is an obsessive repetition. Was it Eva Hesse   who explored the medium of art fading over time and wasn’t that part of what made it   beautiful? That’s what I still called my mother post-mastectomy. Her single breast drooping, a perfect display of three-dimensional   impermanence. A brave faced statue.   That’s how I like to think of it. No— that thinking makes it bearable   when people ask: how did it happen? She hanged herself, a lone   wire suspending her, delicately, like wet paper molded into the exact shape   of emptiness. Unstable. Like a cloth-covered coffin, left crumpling in the wind,   like paper. Or Eva. Dear Eva, diagnosed with a brain tumor. Eva who died in 1970. And mother who wrote a letter before   she died: keep it, safe—   as if the storage of places and names, as if things and people, couldn’t rust indistinguishably.   Printed with permission by Tanaya Winder, copyrighted by Tanaya Winder @...

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“Secrets of a Wooden Saint in a Church in Jalcomulco,” by Mary Ellen Sanger
Jul01

“Secrets of a Wooden Saint in a Church in Jalcomulco,” by Mary Ellen Sanger

The mothers look into the lake and see the whole sky. They believe I can keep their children safe. They come, photos snipped to stamp size, and pin their daughters’ faces on my robe. Carmela, Rosamaria, Inocencia, Flor. They come with a lock of their sons’ hair, a snip from his work shirt, a prayer. Roberto, Marco Antonio, Anastasio, Gil.   The mothers come with snot and tears to beseech me to caress my feet to leave me field flowers to light a votive to festoon me with the lives of so many young men and women. They tack them into the flesh of my arms. They sneak them into the brocade folds of my vestment. They fasten them with metal twist-ties to my staff.   Yes, I will send your prayer to the one and only. Yes, I will align the angels. Yes, I will call their names in the night when others sleep.   But I cannot make the desert cool, Or the great river quiet. I cannot make el coyote less cruel, Or la migra blind.   The mothers, they look into the lake and see the whole sky. They look at a wooden saint on a splintered shelf in a church in Jalcomulco and see a warm bed in Milwaukee , a meal of enchiladas con crema in Atlanta.   And sometimes a mother comes to spit at me, to take back a lock of cat-brown hair cut from her son while he slept on the night before he took two pairs of jeans in a backpack to el Norte saying he’d be back soon, he loved her, he’d call.   Printed with permission by Mary Ellen Sanger, copyrighted by Mary Ellen Sanger @...

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“Negrita,” by Faith Scott
Jan01

“Negrita,” by Faith Scott

Vieques doors closed, shades drawn names that can tickle your tongue and slip in between the blinds and out into the air where they collapse in sudden rain drops and hide in the dust kicked up only with the heavy traffic of bare brown feet if you are careful you can peer between and your eyes might float through turbulent silence with only the occasional grunt and sigh whimper and cry there is a child in the corner there you’ll see her smaller than most everything smaller except the eyes and nose she can’t hide them not even with her blue-black hair or with dark brown skin negrita, they’d call her and laugh in shards of glass mama said not to touch truth be told, she didn’t it was another the one with fairer skin and longer legs, legs that were dancing and kicking for the joy of freedom that the little one knows nothing about there is a child in the corner with the name that doesn’t fit no way to treat a queen there is a child in the corner on her knees, facing the corner where there is no chair but crucifix she mimics the worshipped figure tiny sad man on the cross little arms straight out at each side shaking, cramping each tiny hand teetering a bible thick with guilt and punishment their size significant, giant in her palms that are now sloping she can hear a hammer coming from the back of the little house little like her the hammer is banging and the toll tings like morning mass it tings and it bounces down the hall with the slanted floor there is a child in the corner who knows what comes next she knows too well mama’s not finished yet the footsteps bounce uneven boards aking it harder to hold up her books the footsteps keep bouncing louder they are merciless and so is she the woman she called mama the woman I will never call anything the books drop there is a child in the corner whose tiny arms can take no more until the merciless footsteps turn the corner and stop bouncing the footsteps stop bouncing and the silence stings the footsteps stop bouncing and start stomping they bounce and stomp toward the child in the corner and yank her and push her and her little body waving like her own countryless flag of red, black and blue stripes until mama lays down what she was hammering in the back of the little house before she came bouncing and stomping down the hall before she came bouncing and stomping down the...

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