Unbroken #35: by God
Editor's Note: Just as we were finishing preparing this issue, we learned of the sudden death of Kevin McIlvoy on September 30. We were so impressed with Kevin's poems, that we had told him that we wanted to begin and end the issue with "Prose poem by God," parts 1 and 2.
Kevin died of a heart attack while playing tennis. “His exit was quick and final, and came in the midst of a singles match on the tennis court, where he was enjoying his life to the fullest. I know, absolutely, this is the way he would have wanted it,” Kevin's wife, Chris, wrote.
We dedicate this issue to Kevin McIlvoy and convey our condolences to his family and friends.
Prose poem by God, Part 1
Sorry, I have not provided answers in the order that you asked your questions. 9) Touched the sores through the linen wrappings. 8) Dry Creek Flood Zone. 2) Algal bloom. 7) Failure Semantics. 4) DIY transubstantiation. 1) Endang-ered tongue. Fossil evidence. Labyrinth of ruins. 5) I, the bright & mourning star, the spirit & bereft bride, the prophet & plague, have sent mine broken angel to testify unto you these things in the burned churches. 6) Sublime malabsorption. 3) Yoke gets in your eyes. 10) Requested bad directions. 4) Bones, said Adam. No bones, said Eve, again.
Kevin McIlvoy aspires to “the stance of wonder” (John Berryman) in the assembled poem and in the poem assembly kit (including redundant and/or missing parts) that is the prose poem and its groovy sibling the poem prose. His most recent book is One Kind Favor, and his website: KevinMcIlvoy.com.
Photo by Michael Dziedzic (unsplash.com)
Henrietta questions the lake
Her question conjures the lake
Not language, not the thrill of switching “dumb with wonder” to “wonder-dumb.” No, what rolls beneath my words is the first lake I swam in, the terror of its dark water. I had only known the burbling aqua of pools, shallow in their openness, and then this lapping oval with its brow of tan stones. Where did it lead? Why did Henrietta’s question evoke this lake, its image lodged now like the shadow of a lover’s hand? Perhaps to cling to pleasure after months of famine, to feel the lake’s fleecy bottom, how its cool hands circled my neck but didn’t let me drown.
Another kind of drowning
I would have bent and snatched her from the floor where she had seized, where moments before she had stood, ordered coffee, just like that, a young woman saying “dark, no sugar,” not knowing those words would describe her life. I tell Henrietta about the lake in Maine, where we swam. Girls, women, bellies up, hands joined, a daisy chain of naiveté. Who could imagine a surgeon, giddy with metaphor, would point to her brain on the x-ray, its once opalescent lobe stained, strangled with weeds, and say, “I’m going to drain the lake”?
Henrietta hints at secrets
I spied, one summer, a teenage couple, hairless bodies narrow as needlefish. I confess to Henrietta, that I had watched them, side by side, bump hips as they strode into lake water tepid as old tea. Their shapes stretched atop the surface, drifted past the moss of curved berm. Turtles skimmed the surface, heads emitting turtle radar, and then me, hidden in the willows. I parted a drape of frilled green. Two bright spots burned my cheeks, as the boy’s lips kissed the girl’s neck, lowered to her nipple.
Tina Barry is the author of Beautiful Raft and Mall Flower. Her writing can be found in The Best Small Fictions 2020 (spotlighted story) and 2016, The American Poetry Journal, Right Hand Pointing, and upcoming in Rattle. She is a teaching artist at The Poetry Barn and writers.com.
Photo by Guryan (pexels.com)
This Could Be a Killing Floor
I'm having a crisis of faith. Words from my hands coming out as ash. Tastes like it, too, the split-knuckle grittiness, all rough pearls I roll between my fingers, feeling out their angled planes, until it's all worn down to nothing. Sometimes I think there's something clogging up my chest. There's no name for it. Not until the autopsy, anyway, not until I reach in past the physical, the real, dust-streaked hands closing around the… well, nothing. Really. Just a choked-up mass of congealed blood. Too big to be a clot, but call it bleeding regardless. Shake it loose and it goes to the brain, gossamer like foggy windows. Red splatters. It's a hit and run, or whatever you call it when you're standing there, and standing there, and still just standing there, mountain too washed out to move, like dry heaving over the side of the road and wanting so bad for desire to come crawling out of your mouth. Instead: grief. There's a name for this, but to whisper it is to say that it's real. I'm rolling it around on my tongue like a scratched-up pearl, funhouse mirror turned muddy and dull. At the end, or in the middle, I go on a pilgrimage to the bottom of an apartment building. The concrete sitting stagnant, the silhouette waiting to happen. Alternatively: I lie down, futile scrapes against skin, and stare at the empty sky. There's only one person left to mourn for.
Sumi Tang is a Singaporean poet trying to survive her Film major. Her work has been published in Amber: The Teenage Chapbook.
Photo by Etienne Boulanger (unsplash.com)
Juan Pablo Mobili
The doorbell rings. A bear is lying at our door but whoever rung has fled. The bear seems weak, and moans next to the bench. The whole family helps, and we drag the wounded, immense beast inside our house. We will wash away the blood, later. For now, we decide to take turns watching the bear, spread out on the couch. I take the first shift. I know that’s what my father would have done, since he did not draw the line on hospitality to welcome only our species, which he never thought that highly of. So I sit down to watch the bear lamenting, his breath now able to fill more of his lungs. I can tell he knows I’m here, and he seems alright with it. It’s my turn to take a deep breath.
Juan Pablo Mobili was born in Buenos Aires. His poems appeared in The Worcester Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and Impspired (UK), among others. His work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. His chapbook, Contraband, was published this year.
I opened your book, Paul, and saw you on the balcony, our balcony, smoking. Your eyes were ponds. Your trousers: a wheat field. I felt suddenly sunsick. The only chair in the house was the one opposite you, so I sat there, wobbly-kneed. You said I love your struggle and I cried and cried. You hadn’t spoken in English or German or French or Romanian, Russian, Yiddish, or Ukrainian. But the bridge was. The words were. You loved. And it began to rain.
for Paul Celan
Moira Walsh has no university degree but is good at a few things. She translates for a living and has seen her poems travel far and wide. You can read more at linktr.ee/moira_walsh.
I was born in a sanitarium in New York City but my mother said that was not what you think but I don't know what I thought except sanitariums are not nice places and my mother said that it wasn't true that I was born in New York City or in a sanitarium and that I was born in Mount Vernon where I grew up and that was always what my mother did which was always reassuring me because nothing was ever really what it seemed, at least when it came to me and when my sister told me by mistake one day that I had seizures when I was a little boy, my mother put a hand over her mouth and told me that it wasn't true and what does this have to do with me now sitting here in prison at age seventy-seven and I don't have the answer except that I'm trying to take stock of everything and this is where I started or where I'm ending or maybe it's just another new beginning because I love new beginnings and I’ve compiled them my whole life but I have a blind spot for the end of things and my father told me that’s why I
keep walking into mud or maybe I haven't a clue as if there are any clues, despite spending our lives looking for clues and reasons when there are probably no reasons as we just do our best to manage the turmoil of our lives because there are no ordinary lives, certainly not mine but I'm just starting to take stock because that’s what you do in prison and maybe I’ll find some clues.
John DiMenna has experienced a long hiatus from writing. "Taking Stock" is an excerpt from his anthology of prose poems, A Different Kind of Hell: One Inmate’s Crucible. He currently resides in South Florida and is writing full-time.
The hospital is a world of its own
The windows are thicker. Mystically, not physically. You look outside to the street five stories below, the same one you have driven on to pick up Chipotle dinner on a lazy Sunday and sat in sweat of stop-and-go summer construction back in high school when you traveled to the big, intimidating research institution, and it all seems so distant. More distant than nostalgia. But at night, the hospital tints dimmer with pale orange light. A hazy light that muffles and forgets to spread into nooks. Reminds you of ghosts and how hauntings no longer hold only negative overtones. These patients will haunt you for years to come. Not the ones who pass away but the ones who make you giggle as they lift their shirt to let you peak at the plastic drain poking out of their belly and keep talking to you through that inside-out cloth because they have no mask and they want to be like you and be helpful in that way all twelve-year-old’s want to help an adult that’s not their parent. You stalk the ed board because there is nothing to do and maybe it will prepare you for the admits that come when there is too much to do and you read the prettiest note you have ever read in a medical chart. Pretty because it is 3am and the motion sensor doesn’t pick you up at your desk so the computer screen is your only light but also because the run-on sentences really do flow like poetry. Spanning five years of heart transplant and rejection and fluid overload and depression. Written by a cardiologist. Bringing her to you, or at least her to him. The girl with the pretty note goes to the ICU instead of the floor, and you feel justified in reading her chart because you are switching back to days and will be on the cardiac team she will be transferred to after the ICU. But not really. It was pretty obvious from the ED note that there wasn’t going to be an after-the-ICU. For some reason a death during the day doesn’t feel spooky like it does at night. But a four-month-old’s smile as you listen to their lungs expanding wide and clear lingers a bit longer in the dark too.
Samuel Payne is a writer and first-year adult and pediatric medical resident in Minnesota. He loves and struggles with the pull of ambiguity and mundaneness in illness and hopes to use writing and narrative as he navigates toward end-of-life care.
Photo by Anna Shvets (cropped, pexels.com)
I want you to concentrate on elongating your spine while inhaling moving the breath up from abdomen to clavicle expanding the cavity between my hands and move your elbow towards me at the same time.
Your intention? To increase the structure of my body? Replace the body with breath? Replace the weight of the body with breath? For the sake of movement? I am not as old as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. You help achieve melancholy and small scatterings of birds inside my cavity of a typically hysterical heart. Where between arms I carry mother’s milk. Snowcapped mountains. Holy. Unholy. Nothing is whole now at least the way I remember. Now the pieces of rib attachment to sternum. Now the confusion. Pieces of my scapula attach to your hands? Your fingers tucked deep inside subscapularis? Where the cutting horse and miniature donkey appear. You are difficult to name, this taste in my mouth. Your hands make sure I am waxy, that the ticklish spine of my scapula laughs. Breathe in. At this unfamiliar landmark? Breathe out. Tap my head and stroke my belly. Who before me allowed herself to be wrapped in your hands’ fleshiness? All your flesh, and all my flesh bare-skinned and loving when the laughter came. Relief? Yes. Your right hand redrapes my breast. I cannot breathe your breath another moment. That’s how close your face, a lover’s face in the morning. Your hand that carries my weight, somewhere else. In my hair, I think.
Catherine Strisik is an award-winning poet, teacher, editor, and Taos, New Mexico's Poet laureate 2020-2021; author of Insectum Gravitis; The Mistress; Thousand-Cricket Song; manuscript Aikaterina; and in progress Dear Unholy; co-editor Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art; over 30 years of publications with poetry translated into Greek, Persian, and Bulgarian.
Image is a detail of a photo by Michael Morse (pexels.com)
Well, how did I get here?
At some point during the night George realized it was time to go and began to fade from his jacket, empty sleeves dropping useless to his sides the shoulders caving in strangely while those around him danced and shook to the music eating hors d’oeuvres from the little table at the front of the room and George said, with his voice starting to crack and pop like an old recording, that he’d always hated that word because it was hard to pronounce and harder to spell and that’s when we finally noticed and Mindy realized that he was mostly gone already his glasses had fallen to the floor and Jack had stepped on them and bent them beyond repair and Nate just kept asking where George was going to go where was he going to go and would we see him again, and the last thing George said before he wasn’t sounded like the needle reaching the end of the record and that made me feel better at least, because even if those songs are over it doesn’t mean the album is gone you know, you can always flip it over right? hey the B side might be a really nice surprise.
Andrew Anderson has three cats, a dog, a lovely wife, and a beautiful house. Although Talking Heads once told him he might ask himself if they were his, he knows they are.
Driving through the Shenandoah Valley
When my headache gets worse, I exit off I-81 near the water tower in Mt. Jackson and drive to the Route 11 potato chip factory. Inside, a small crowd watches through floor-to-ceiling windows as conveyor belts dump sliced potatoes into massive kettles and then speed them along for seasoning and packaging. I order the dill-pickle flavor at the counter and carry a small basket of warm chips to a table. I savor the salty, greasy goodness between sips of my lukewarm gas-station coffee. That’s when a voice at my elbow says “look.” A girl of about eight holds out a carved stone turtle. It’s about two inches long, gray with a bright purple shell, the type tourists buy for a few bucks at Shenandoah Caverns. “Nice,” I say, glancing around for a parent. “My turtle grants wishes,” she says, “just rub its shell. What do you wish for?” I laugh under my breath. What would I wish for? For a do-over where Joanne didn’t ask me to leave, where I didn’t drink myself to sleep at the kitchen table last night, where I knew where I was heading on I-81? Before I can answer, a woman rushes over with two younger kids in tow. “I’m sorry,” she says, “she talks too much, asks too many questions. Mira, stop bothering the nice lady, let’s go.” She hustles the kids to the counter, where they buy bulk chips in large clear plastic bags to go. Only after they leave do I notice a purple glint on the floor next to my chair. I walk outside and stand in the parking lot with the tiny turtle in my hand. I rub its shell. “I wish Mira will come back for you,” I say, and wait.
DK Snyder lives in Virginia and writes by night about what hides beneath the mundane. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cease, Cows; Shotgun Honey; Punk Noir Magazine; and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @millioncandles.
Photo by Famartin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=111246547
Remixed by Unbroken editors
after Laura Gilpin
Tomorrow she will lie on the cold gurney like a sacrificial lamb, the scalpel’s sharpened tip tracing the roadmap tattooed down the deep valley dissecting her breasts. The interloper will slip into the stainless steel bucket with a quiet sploosh, a rotting mango gone to compost well before its sweet nectar has run dry. Its twin forever remaining an orphan haunted and afraid of its own shadow.
But tonight she will stand in front of the moonlit mirror while the rest of the world sleeps, dreaming happy dreams—her silk nightgown pooled around her ankles, her cupped hands heavy, full.
Kristin Tenor finds inspiration in life's quiet details and believes in their power to illuminate the extraordinary. Her work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Emerge Literary Journal, Milk Candy Review, and elsewhere. She and her husband call Wisconsin home.
Kim Peter Kovac
Self Portrait as Ethiopian Goat
As the clock strikes o’dark thirty I become a goat on Saturn. This follows a day chockablock with streaming the avant-jazz Sun Ra Arkestra and inhaling multiple mugs of Biohazard Brew ultra-jacked coffee. It’s Saturn’s Arctic Blue northern region, a few swirling yellow clouds above. As the sun rises, the narrowing of my jet-dark vertical pupils allows my pale eyes to gaze upon the rings surrounding my world. I begin to spin around. And around. And around. With my head held high and my thigh-hair flaring, the spinning is an earnest yet pale nod to the devotional act of whirling, performed by Dervishes, a Sufi sect founded in the 13th century in the Persian region of Earth. All-night prayers and non-stop whirling are enabled by a sacred beverage known as coffee. I spin to the earworm of Ancient Ethiopia, a tune by the Arkestra’s leader, Sun Ra (who claimed to have been born right here on Saturn) and start to track the outskirts of the rings, where two shepherd moons called Prometheus & Pandora help the outermost ring stay circular. A member of an analogous profession, goat herding, a 9th century dude named Kaldi living in the Ethiopian mountains, bills himself as the discoverer of coffee. This is a lie. True credit for the discovery belongs to his tribe’s ancients who snacked on cordovan red berries of a tree with waxy green leaves, making them energized, alert, and bouncy. I awaken in my bed as the orange glow of sunrise streams through my windows & scoop Ethiopian Yirgacheffe into my French Press. The smell of coffee opens the door to morning.
Kim Peter Kovac’s Border Sounds: Poem & Dispatches from Other Timezones was published in January 2021. He also has 150+ pieces in print and online in journals from 12 countries. Website: www.kimpeterkovac.com. Twitter: @kimpeterkovac.
Photo by Rodrigo Flores (unsplash.com)
They Had Answering Machines Then
You called in the night. I let the machine get it. All night the machine beat your red heart against the night. I didn’t check the message until morning. When I pushed the button, your voice began and then coagulated in the chips and wires. Some part had come loose. I didn’t want to return the machine with our voices inside it. That seemed unbearable. But the main menu wouldn’t let me erase my outgoing message without erasing the incoming messages first, and it wouldn’t let me erase those either. What would you have done? I unplugged the machine. I took the machine to the returns counter at Wal-Mart. They gave me a new one with no memory, and they sent mine to AT&T’s corporate office in Denver. The idea of a specialist removing this tiny chip with our voices stuck inside it—it’s too much. I wish we could erase everything.
Andrew Friedman is a writer living in Philadelphia. His writing has been published in Ghost Town, Unstuck, and Zone 3.
There was an old car dealership and a full-bodied buzz and all of our friends at the other end of the state, on the other end of the phone. You were my first failure, I think, when I think about any of it now. The summer we wound through the Southwest, slipping into places I’d only seen in my sleep. Hiking through Zion and the Sonoran Desert, climbing into Sedona’s vortexes and rainbowed Navajo canyons and becoming one with the neon dust of old Vegas. One-hundred-and-eighteen degrees, my skin a brush fire beneath the sun. My Volvo overheating in a rooftop parking lot, a bottle of red wine bursting like a rocket in the sweltering heat. Reunion on a sighing air mattress, hushed voices in a spare bedroom. A chapel carved into the side of Arizona’s ancient cliffs, your parents half-jokingly begging us not to get married. As if it ever crossed my mind back then. Each sunset crushed into my brain cells, imprinted like a souvenir copper penny. There are still some places that feel like nowhere, where the white noise doesn’t reach. That take you by the shoulders and rattle you awake, prying your eyelids open to the infinite, to the sea beyond the shore, tuning your nerves to the frequency of the universe. And you are humbled to become so small, utterly inconsequential beneath a vast Utah sky. And in the home stretch, Saguaro cactuses like signposts lining the highway, each mile moving us further from what might have been, unflinchingly, toward life as it really happened. Maybe we could have laid claim to some of the mystery out there, slipping so discreetly into a timeline not destined for us. Instead of driving on, careening toward the impassable future, singing song lyrics like a long-lost language between our doomed tongues.
Olivia Niland is a writer and poet originally from Oregon. She is currently based in New York City.
It’s not a date it’s coffee, I said to the mirror make-believing my mind was made. Spring and summer had run off after my work-wife found old money on a young site, and now that the pandemic paused its subversive slaughter, we agreed to reunite on a skinny bench in gluten-free Brooklyn. She sipped the soul of my Pumpkin Spice Macchiato. Mmm, I should have had that, she said, raising her flirtatious Earl Grey under the watchful eyes of born again city birds that fashionably tweeted fall is the new spring. I faced the cold shoulder of the Statue of Liberty and felt airborne blue blood haunt the skyline as I recalled how she gave me Covid last Halloween. Actually, she corrected, you gave it to me by constantly searching my candy dish for butter rum. Her smile was smart and small like the texts she sent while we were simultaneously sick in last year’s chilled city. I looked into the smoldering sunshine and agreed to a coin flip with the mutual understanding that the loser would pay punitive damages by buying belated broth in our cooling café, which would soon face a sleepless wind on the promenade. Call it, she said. I chose tails and watched two out of three of her heads somersault toward the simmering soup.
Garth Pavell writes in the nights of New York City. His poetry most recently appeared in MockingHeart Review, Juke Joint Magazine, Crab Creek Review, and Stone Poetry Quarterly. Be sure to visit him on Instagram.
Grief comes to town in her good cloth coat, looks around, decides maybe she’ll stay for a while. She opens the fridge to see what’s to eat, announces you’ve got no eggs. Well, you can’t make an omelet without any eggs, and you can’t buy eggs without any money, and you can’t get money without going to work, so every morning you leave the house in your pinch-toe shoes and your straight navy skirt, hoping maybe tonight she’ll be gone. But when you come home from work and unlock the door, there she is. Grief’s been waiting for you, slouched down deep in your couch, watching bad TV, eating stale chips and bean dip. She blinks when she sees you, fills you in on the plot: The innocent girl is making her way to the summer house. The evil twin is waiting there, clutching a rusty trowel.
Prize-winning Connecticut poet Pat Hale is the author of two poetry collections, Seeing Them with My Eyes Closed, and Composition and Flight. Her work appears in many journals, including Unbroken, CALYX, Connecticut River Review, and Naugatuck River Review.
It was a cold day, and gray, but the Héberts had gathered: old brothers Ambrose, Antiole, David, Grand’Père Leander, Charlie, and Cecil; and sisters Corinne, Irene, Rosalie fresh in her grave, the husbands, wives and the children, Grand'Mère Maidie, with me on her knee. There were the cousins from Natchez, Vinton, and Sulphur. They came from the rice fields, the sawmill, their farms on the bayous. And there were the others: Thibodeaux, Lyons, Brossards, Prejeans, and Landrys. They came in dark dresses and rough coats for the men. They came in their trucks, old Fords, Packards, and Irene’s spankin’ new Caddy. They spilled through the house, the porches, and on out to the yard. They came to pay homage, to rest in this clan. They came for the funeral, for family, the future. They came with their banjos, harmonicas, fiddles; with casseroles bursting with ham hocks and greens, with cornbread, gumbo, and shrimp étouffeé. They came for remembrance, for two hundred years on this land. They came for family, the funeral, the future.
Ursula Shepherd, a member of the Hébert clan, is an ecologist and professor. She is the author of Nature Notes: A Notebook Companion to the Seasons, by Fulcrum Press, as well as essays in Christian Science Monitor, Canoe, and other magazines. She has two poems upcoming in Minnow.
Marilyn K. Moody
Lockjaw and Green Beans
My father knew every day you were alive had many dangers. You might step on a rusty nail and get lockjaw and die like his friend Frank did when he was a kid. You might eat those canned green beans in Mason jars the neighbor gave you that surely were bad and die from botulism. Unless you quickly squeezed and sucked the blood out of the spot where you pulled out a sticker it would get infected, and you’d lose your finger. If you didn’t hide your money buried in the garden out back thieves might find it and steal it. You kept your shotgun loaded so you’d be ready if someone tried to break into your house through the front door that was never locked. When it was cold and snowy you never knew what might happen if you ventured out and you never wanted to be outside in a snowstorm after dark. He told me you might end up like the family my grandmother knew in Northern Michigan whose baby was thrown to the wolves from a sleigh to save them during a night ride home in a blizzard. He told me wolves are everywhere. He told me they can’t be stopped.
Marilyn K. Moody is a poet from the Denver area. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Progenitor Art & Literary Journal, South Florida Poetry Journal, Of Rust and Glass, Solitary Plover, and elsewhere. Find her work at marilynkmoody.com.
Once time was measured in footsteps, how many steps it took to walk the dusty two-lane state highway to KINGSTON GENERAL STORE, your Keds of the season (color choice: red, white, or blue) scuffing pebbled dirt on the side of the road, where blacktop sloped away into trampled grass, you and your best friend suspended like fish on a line, twitching into adolescence, leggy as crows and as easily distracted by shiny objects, a foil gum wrapper reflecting the sun (could have been a quarter!), glimpses of water through wooden slats when the road turned bridge, and how that water seemed to call to you in the waveless insect-hummy stop-time of a long July afternoon with nothing to do but walk to the store for whatever the change in your pocket would buy, a soda or a Popsicle, and then walk home, kicking pebbles, the late afternoon sun following you, the endless summer winding down in a long cicada buzz.
Kathryn Kulpa is a writer and editor with words in Five South, Flash Frog, 100 Word Story, and Pithead Chapel. Her flash fiction has been chosen for Best Microfiction and the Wigleaf longlist.
On the Fifth Day, Godless Turtles and Leeches
“Father” Appears 979 Times in KJB
Dad brought home a dead cat and told me to name it. The neighbor drank from our hose and asked to borrow a steak knife. I built a mausoleum for ants. Dad wrote letters to George Bush Sr. He said Jesus was everywhere. I checked the air vents and shower drain. Dad stacked Mellow Yellow. He said penises had thorns like rose bushes until after marriage, then they’d fall off. I kept a dictionary under my bed.
* * *
The lady at Costco asked if I've talked to God lately. I said no, but I've been reading about leeches and bloodletting. When Dad went spelunking in the 80s, he'd get leeches on his ankles and leave them a few days to suck out his lupus and alcoholism. I take my Frosted Flakes to the retention pond behind Staples to feed turtles. One is missing an eye, there's just a red hole where it should be.
Jessi Lord is an Amelia Island-based writer. Her work has appeared in Red Eft Review and is forthcoming in MoonPark Review. She is applying to Creative Writing MFA programs this year.
She poured herself a glass of water. The act of retrieving the glass from the cabinet and filling it from the kitchen tap, letting the water run across two fingers until she was content with its coldness and then holding the mouth of the glass at an angle to the silvered stream as it steadily filled, had satisfied her thirst more than if she had actually drunk from it. She set the glass down gently on the kitchen table, then just as deliberately seated herself within reach of it. The sides of the glass tall and narrow, tinted Aegean blue; her distorted, expressionless face. She considered the glass. She considered containment. Mass and volume, how they are in some ways the same and yet utterly different: mass the amount the glass carries, volume being the space the water occupies. And she thought suddenly and unbidden that her entire life to that moment had been spent holding grief within herself, although grieving what or for whom she knew she could never fully comprehend, and that it didn't matter in any case. A gout of grieving, and yet oceanic and entirely captive within her. She dipped a finger in the water and brought it to her lips. Then she rose and, tipping the glass slowly, emptied it into the sink.
Ralph Culver's newest poetry collection is A Passable Man (MadHat Press, 2021). He divides his time between Vermont and Pennsylvania.
Photo by Nicholas Ruiz (unsplash.com)
I try to quip to a friend, via text, Who would have thought? and instead my phone sends Who was hagfish? Who indeed, I ask the internet, and the images that come back make me gag, just as sharks do when they try to eat a hagfish. It has no bones and its skin is attached in only a few places, resulting in a flaccid, blood-filled sock with one nostril, no eyes, and four rows of gristly nubs that suck-burrow into any dead or dying meat it finds. The third Wednesday of each October is devoted to our awareness of it, which could potentially align with my own birthday, devoted to an awareness of me, a dreadful thought. Not a particular anniversary, just the third Wednesday, like credit card autopay or township leaf removal. But neither of those things has Smithsonian magazine called the most disgusting in the world, as it has the hagfish. Once, in Oregon, a truck full of them split open in a crash, and the hundreds of gallons of viscous slime that hagfish produce when they’re angry engulfed a nearby Prius. Soon after my discovery, a conversation on the workplace listserv about donated mesh fencing is interrupted by a conservationist, reminding everyone to mount any such fencing several centimeters above the ground so that snakes will not get trapped in it and killed. I imagine the online shopping baskets of scores of fellow employees then filling with it, garlands of the stuff to surround their pools and ponds, moat-like. If there were a similar defense against hagfish I would purchase it in a moment, though they live a thousand feet below the surface. Which feels just barely far enough, now that I’m aware of them, now that who would have thought has become I wish I hadn’t.
Sarah Dunphy-Lelii has taught psychology at Bard College for 15 years, working with undergraduates, preschool-aged children, and wild chimpanzees. Her academic writing appears in journals including Developmental Science, Folia Primatologica, and Scientific American; her creative nonfiction writing appears in Plume, Pinyon Review, The Common, Gone Lawn, Dogwood, and CutBank.
Image: Public Domain
A Dream About Being
after "School," Walerian Borowczyk, 1958
We can copy film and loop a scene and in this way live forever in a single moment. It has to be brief. An infinite walk across a street. An infinite note on a trumpet. An infinite glance behind you. We drop down, we get up, we drop down again. We’re at a brick wall and I have a sinking feeling we’re never going to see what’s behind it. Before we do, we’ll look away and we’ll do that forever.
David Wojciechowski is the author of Dreams I Never Told You & Letters I Never Sent (Gold Wake, 2017). His poems can be found in Bateau, HAD, Hobart, Rejection Letters, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. David is a freelance graphic designer and can be found at davidwojo.com and on Twitter @MrWojoRising.
The climate change meltdown will not be televised
You will not be given a weekly stipend for this, your penultimate reality, this not-a-show. If you could earn cash, it would only be good for wiping your ass. You will find random rewards—a package of Oreos, a Scrabble set, a photo of Kim Kardashian blowing her nose—and treasure them far beyond what pre-collapse you could ever have imagined. You will not be given a script. You will have challenges, but no one will explain them. You will form alliances. You will not be booted from your alliance for that old video of you as Pocahontas, complete with Sephora 55 N foundation plastered over your pale countenance. How would they know? There will be twists, upon twists. Your fantastic new dance will accrue a total of six “likes,” all in person. You will not be given a cheeky nickname, or a cute crop top that shows off your abs. Your freakishly good night vision will prove essential, your amazing skill at Cornhole not so much. You will pray that there can be more than one winner, but even one is not guaranteed.
Michelle Morouse is a Detroit area pediatrician. Her flash fiction and poetry have appeared recently in Best Microfiction 2022, Touchstone Literary Magazine, Faultline Journal of Arts and Letters, Litro, Unbroken, and Paterson Literary Review. She serves on the board of Detroit Working Writers.
Photo by Brad West (unsplash.com)
In the summer, I like to watch my mother as she peels a ripe kesar in the kitchen. She has a tradition of holding the mango firmly in her palm, using the other hand to carve it with a short knife that points towards her. She uses the knife to peel it from top to bottom, rotating the mango as she goes, the fruit held on an axis, long curls of its reptile yellow, lime green skin falling onto the steel sahani that rests underneath. She does this carefully and slowly, as if to build up excitement for when the mango is fully exposed and smiling, its cheesy grin like mine every school picture day. She then lops off the top of the mango, starts to score the flesh with 1/2-inch-deep cuts, first vertically and then horizontally. After scoring, she slices the boundary where the flesh meets the stone to create a set of neatly, diced pieces, stacked up like Lego blocks. She repeats this step once or twice, until she is left with a long, pale, yellow stick where the stone lives in silence, in a detached house with no neighbours. The end is her favourite part because it means she can suck the rus out from the stone using just her mouth. She sinks her teeth into it with force; what’s left of the mango bleeds down her hands and she looks sticky and messy like a kid playing in mud. It reminds her of her childhood in Kenya, where she and her friends would empty the mango of all colour, until the stone turned completely white like a piece of chalk fallen off a cliff, for hopscotch on the playground before it’s time to go home.
Like many traditions, this way of cutting mangoes has been passed down in my family, from generation to generation, from mother to mother. I assumed rather naively that I was naturally born with this skill too, that it must run in my blood the same way I inherited Ma’s smile, her silken hair, the way she is easily hurt, her bright blue nights. But the first time I cut a kesar, I couldn’t handle it with grace like her. The smell of wasted flesh next to a puddle of liquid; the mango melting into my warm hands like magma, then leaving sticky like an oil spill. I make a promise to myself that by next summer, I will learn how to tame and enjoy kesar the way she does, until the juice rolls off my chin in polka dots, until my hands look like her hands, until she is proud of me.
It’s a running joke in my family that my mother gets her mangoes from her mango dealer. I have never met him, but I imagine he’s short, softly spoken like Babuji or high-pitched like Mami, his bracelet adorned with a bright red rakhi, his favourite snack dry sopari, usual pastime of watching Hindi soaps by the telly. He gets his kesar transported from Gujarat, a box of 12 for 20. Active on Kenton Lane with stock the best in July according to Whatsapp aunties. Before he hands them over, he whispers a secret: mangoes don’t grow on trees; they grow in the dark.
I’m eating again to make up for the 23 years of life I went without mangoes, I eat them until I’m full now, until I’m smiling. I’ve never seen Ma as a child, photos lost during migration journeys because of tensions in families, but I pretend the edge of a mirror is the frame of her old picture. When we get home, we rest beside a hundred boxes of kesar, watching them sit in their foam-latticed jackets, our dimpled-chins and amber-tinged eyes as if we’ve just
plucked the sun.
Kari Pindoria is a writer from North London. She often daydreams all day, writes with her cat sitting beside her and drinks too much tea. Her poetry has been previously published in Ink, Sweat and Tears.
Image by Dale Wisely
God of Light Revisited
The part-time Sun God leans down from his throne, his benign grin freckled with paint, his arms wet to the elbows from washing up. Much of the world’s on fire and a fresh plague’s getting pumped up by a team talk in the dressing room before running amok, but this morning’s wielder of rays, picking up stray Lego bricks and taking out the landfill, advises keeping things domestic. He reminds us all that charity begins at home, but that so does revolution, so does enlightenment; and while every journey begins with a single step, before that you need a good night’s sleep and it’s best to take a packed lunch. He has that James Stewart everyman air of confident uncertainty, that charmed promise of singing you to sleep so that everything will be alright in the morning. He whistles like a whetted grass blade. He shines like a collage of candle flames. His chuckle is a soft brush stroking a path through cat hair. Much of the world is overexposed to shadow or to light, but the big guy with the bow of burning gold and all the local takeaways on speed dial advises parasols, clean underwear, and a little bit more me time all round. His shift’s just about over but he recommends not overdoing things, not undercooking things, and tying knots in your neat white hankie so you don’t forget anything important.
Oz Hardwick is a European prose poet, whose most recent collection is A Census of Preconceptions (SurVision, 2022). In his spare time, Oz is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University (UK).
Photo by Daoudi Aissa
A Canada travel brochure turns me into a time traveller
There's something about that blue calm Canadian lake that takes me back to childhood though the lake I'm thinking of is an Irish lough, a sort of inland sea it seemed to be when I was very wee and green. My uncle Sammy would collect us all up, his own weans and any cousins knocking about on a Sunday afternoon, most likely when it was raining, sometimes heavy, sometimes light under a solid low grey sky. Sammy knew Lough Neagh well, used to go fishing for eels with his friends, setting out early on a Saturday morning to the nearby north shore, and could be found back home enjoying fried eel for breakfast, telling stories about the tiny elvers and how they felt as they flowed across his hands. Even at the time his hobby seemed exotic, strange - not the fishing but the quarry. There were rainbow trout in the river running through our neighbour's farm and farther down that river salmon swam and sometimes leapt, landing in the arms of waiting poachers who'd move them on quickly, outside of the fishing season. On a Sunday afternoon a carload of us'd head down to Lough Neagh with Sammy and onto The Maid. The sun must have shone on some occasions but in the land of memory I only remember rain and how it would mingle with mist rising off the waters, mizzling, the rattle of a coat hood whipping in the breeze. The edge of land would disappear as the small boat chugged along making steady progress along the top end of the Lough. According to time of year - we mainly went in summertime - the bulrushes would wax and wane and we'd see some waterbirds, mainly ducks, swans, some geese and grey-white gulls. The memories that flood back are strange – the cans of fizzy orange Fanta, the type of chocolate bars sold on the boat in sharp detail but little notion of the landing dock or where we sailed from, less of how being on the deck made me feel with that unbroken vista of water, just the recall of the sting of raindrops and chill from the passing breezes. The Canadian lake would have little in common with Lough Neagh apart from maybe a timelessness to the shore, more given over to the wildlife than suffering from mankind's interference, its big skies and blue hues replaced by the grey cloudy lid top almost pressing everything down, and yet, the green margins and the calmness bring back Lough Neagh for me.
Emily Tee used to wrangle numbers but now she chases words, corralling them into flash fiction and poems, some of which have been published. Originally from Ireland, Emily currently lives in England.
Photo by Ирина Серегина (pexels.com)
Prose poem by God, Part 2
I will address your questions in the order you’ve asked them. 1) Easier to bring together than to take apart. 2) Light would travel herein but not here, therein but not there. 3) – the beginningless the beginningless the beginningless – 4) God has serious doubts about all first principles. 5) Have submitted the full proposal. Still waiting to learn. 6) More than matters of width & depth & length & heft: verb tense. 7) Ask me later, said Night. Ask me now, said Day. 8) Buddha nature is Nature. 9) Make one wish. Then another. That is what I did. 10) Should have asked this one first.
Kevin McIlvoy (1953-2022)
Unbroken is edited by Ken Chau, Dale Wisely, Katherine DiBella Seluja, Tom Fugalli, and Tina Carlson. Roo Black is founding editor emeritus. Our staff dentist/spiritual advisor is J. Hardwell, Jr., CPA. Our thanks to the contributors to this issue and all who submitted their work.
Photo by Jill Burrow (pexels.com)