Unbroken #39: Anything Can Be a Weapon
Because a story is like a gun
You were in the first act of your life and you wanted to leave it. You were thirteen and shunned by your few remaining friends. You were sixteen and renounced by your mother;
just another girl with too many sharp edges, a girl too like herself to love. No wonder you turned to strangers, never learning a boy with a barbed wire smile can’t take you anywhere you can come back from. Not that you wanted to come back. So maybe these suburbs had shielded you before, but you were older now, and mighty: too mighty for the windows that went dark before nine, the vacant parks with their quiet languor, their interminable green. At eighteen, you stood on someone’s lawn and burned every birthday card your stepfather gave you. Could I have helped you? Could anyone? Maybe I’m just telling this story because enfolding you in it keeps you safe, for once, for the final time. Because a story is like a gun: its power is in the hand that holds it.
Anuja Mitra is a writer from Aotearoa/New Zealand with work in local and international publications. Her poetry has recently appeared in the journals Haven Speculative, Landfall,
Poetry New Zealand, and takahē, as well as anthologies from Auckland University Press. Her linktree and occasional commentary can be found on the dying platform that is Twitter: @anuja_m9.
Desert Amma, Mountain Mamma
The Desert Amma in her dun brown robe fingered the row of videos next to the ice cream freezer at the Mountain Store, her iguana leathered feet dusty from the five-hundred-mile trek through the Mojave to Bakersfield north through California’s bread basket into Santa Cruz’s green redwood groves older than her Jesus, I was there, too, baby strapped to my chest in her Snugli, folded rags moist in my nursing bra at the end of our daily walk, I lived just up the road cloaked in perpetual shade, my husband worked all day in Silicon Valley, the cat followed me like a second child and I’d had to walk her back home, distract her with a treat, and make a run for it, as best as one can with twenty-pounds of live weight kangarooed on one’s person, I wanted Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, but I lingered, wanting to know in all her wisdom which movie the Desert Amma was going to rent, and wondered who would watch it with her, both of us hermits of a kind, though I was sure she never felt lonely as an empty house, I would return tomorrow and rent her choice and carry the plastic case carefully home tucked between my baby and my heart.
Cathy Warner writes, photographs, and renovates homes in western Washington. She’s written three books of poetry, most recently Difficult Gifts, and edited three anthologies. Find her at cathywarner.com.
Learning Heaven and Hell
Rain creeps beneath doors and windows. Rain floods the road to Kabala town in a river of swirling red dirt water. I catalogue things I chew. Rain wets the floor and pillows in the wrong place. Begin my ordering with receipts for too tight shoes, purchased and never worn. Ruffles on dresses. Some lost blade of sun that slices too close. Gentle drops of rain turn fierce, sideways. Clouds roll in thicker, darker one minute to the next. Every stool with a gnawed corner. The red hymnal by my bed. Sheets of rain crack branches of cottonwoods, drown baby birds in their nests — unless birds know how to swim. I want to believe they do. Examine encyclopedia pages where they sliced out words. Witch is sliced. Also, penis. Vagina, sliced. Darwin sliced, along with evolution. A fine mist greys the air. Sameness of rain soaks into everything. The generator goes out and the school nurse lights kerosene lanterns, screams. I hear those birds gulp air, float away. Absence makes a marketplace of taste. Close my eyes to believe I bite into the fragrance of guavas. One cup rice and one avocado for a chance to escape.
Gretchen Heyer grew up as the child of missionaries in countries of Africa. Her essays and poems can be found in journals such as The Florida Review, Compass Rose, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Concho River Review, Juked, and Adanna.
A W O R D D R O P S I N T O T H E M I S T
A mist that brings to mind the picture I saw in an exhibition — monumental figures, abstract shapes and drawings — of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. “A sculpture should be an act of praise, an enduring expression of the divine spirit,” Hepworth said. Hepworth was preoccupied by trying to show life breaking from form. I liked her expression of this most in her greeny-bronze sea sculptures. And the white pastel in the picture summoned something of divine spirit. Some of her other drawings were of surgeons. Hepworth saw a surgeon’s work like the work of the artist — each with the idea of perfecting life. For one, life in the body; for the other, life in form. A friend said to me once, “Remember all life is one.” I try to hold this in mind when I consider art, as I do when I write something. I was looking at a picture of a surgeon with gloves on and I became distracted by a woman who came to look at the picture too. She was wearing a brilliant orange silk dress with small white birds on it. The dress shimmered like sunlit water. She was also wearing orange shoes. I couldn’t decide if the orange of the shoes went with the orange of the dress or not. The woman had short-cropped white hair and orange lipstick that definitely did go with the dress. Suddenly, a white bird flew from her silk dress and off over the sea. Some of the bird’s feathers fell and scattered everywhere. These feathers floated on the sea, curled and white. Like a wave as it breaks and foams into deep green water bronzed by sunlight. Like light in an operating room. Like white pastel on a sketch as a word drops into the mist.
Lisa Dart has a doctorate in Creative Writing from the University of Sussex. The Linguistics of Light (Salt Publishing) was her first volume of poetry. Her creative memoir Fathom (Ortus Press) was published in 2019. Her prose poems The Bird You Are (Shangana Press) and her second volume of poetry A Photograph in Mind (Shangana Press) are forthcoming in 2024. Her highly experimental This Thing of Darkness (IPBooks) won an Arts Council Award and is also forthcoming in 2024. See more at lisadart.com.
Self-Portrait as a Root Vegetable
Not the perfect ear of corn plucked from the field that morning, dew still on the stalk, each kernel firm as a tiny pearl, corn silk gleaming platinum, the Jean Harlow of corn, a silver queen on a silver screen, lounging in white satin. Not corn at all, nor just-ripe strawberries, jewel-red, exhaling their dense perfume of musk and honey, bee-buzzed summer meadows, evenings in June. Not those but a fleshy rutabaga, hard-skinned, dull with dirt only a bristly brush could remove, a vegetable that lives in the bottom bin, in a dark root cellar, a wary cave dweller, tempting no one with its color, revealing nothing by its smell, inviting no one to take a bite: a sad turnip’s sadder cousin, waiting for a star turn on Kitchen Impossible, waiting to be discovered by a top chef, a creative cook who sees beyond the obvious, who knows the magic of heat and sweet and salt, of contrast and caramelization, a chef who can tease with butter and cheese and draw out from this humble root the richness of soil and seasons, the secret kernel of flavor, the one star turn even humble things must have.
Kathryn Kulpa is a New England-based writer with words in Best Microfiction, Does It Have Pockets?, Ghost Parachute, Moon City Review, and Trampset. She won the New Rivers Press Chapbook Contest for her flash collection, Cooking Tips for the Demon-Haunted.
A Fresh Coat
The building maintenance person painted over everything. The outlets, the light switches. He didn’t use painter's tape, and big white drips slipped down onto the bathroom tiles. When the new tenant moved in, she had to use force to crack the lights on. When she went to adjust a shelf in the medicine cabinet, she found the brackets had been painted over and would not move. “This is fine” she said, remembering how she used to run a nail polish brush over her entire fingertip, not even trying to keep the paint off her skin. From then on, she stopped aiming so hard to make sure the toothbrush went in her mouth. She drank water more recklessly than ever, and her shirt was always wet. And when she went to bed at night, she thought about the kinds of earthquakes that cause whole buildings to pancake to the ground.
Anna Kegler (she/her) is a poet and writer based in Washington, D.C. with roots in Minnesota. She works in nonprofit communications and enjoys Muay Thai, dance, and playing the oboe. She does not enjoy making oboe reeds, but she is persevering.