Unbroken #36: The Bright Angel Trail
the nuns paint me while I'm having
this dream of you
You return to me as a floppy-eared donkey. Monster no more, and in the hospital of that dream you belong to the living, nuzzle my neck with rank kisses, each one a hopeful misdiagnosis. You are funnier than who you were, the essence of dark and light, and because you see me as your fairy queen, we laugh. The nuns tell me later that the puppet master in charge of dreams, they like to call him God, must have been in a very good mood when I had that dream of you. “He’s sometimes a very light touch, my dear,” they say.
I’ve been visiting this nunnery for a long time now. It lives and breathes on the corner of my street. Dear God with a great sense of humour, let me keep sleeping, let me keep diving back into that dense, warm fur. And that is why I pose here today in the activity room of The Sisters of the Holy Assumption, holding on to your equine scent, as the nuns flutter their warm brushes like wings.
Meg Pokrass is the author of eight flash fiction collections. She lives in Inverness, Scotland.
Photo by RhondaK
Mildred Kiconco Barya
Between the Dreaming and Becoming
Lizards are my friends, I tell the kid standing on the shoreline, one foot on a rock, a catapult in her hand, ready to throw pebbles in the water. Her orange overalls and red hair look wet. She could have risen from the sea, although her manner of ease makes me think she belongs here, on the surface of things. She does not believe anything I say, but that’s all right. I could get used to it. One lizard opened up to me and said his name was Jacob. He does look like a Jacob if you know what I mean, the color of dark oak bearing acorns. Jacob instructs me—how to walk on eggs covered with moss. A treacherous beauty. Step as if you’re not stepping, as if slightly suspended in air, yet so close to the eggs. They couldn’t be more slippery! I miss the humor and see danger instead. Of course, I fall. Yellow liquid running over green. I console myself: Who wouldn’t? Jacob winks. A woman who resembles my mother holds my hand, but I cannot trust her. My father appears, but I shake my head. Jacob asks, What do you really want? As if he doesn’t know—Relax into play and laugh, laugh, laugh is what I want. Peel off the films, scales, blinds. Let me see clearly.
Mildred Kiconco Barya is a writer from Uganda now living in North Carolina. Her work is published in Shenandoah, The Cincinnati Review, Tin House, and elsewhere. The Animals of My Earth School is her fourth poetry collection forthcoming from Terrapin Books, 2023. She blogs here: www.mildredbarya.com.
Photo by Cary Bates
Mother’s dress had a life of its own. At cocktail parties it’d shake with laughter, its jungle print of blood-flowers blossoming in the night with miscarriages of justice, stillborn tirades, newborn witticisms. Every so often the dress would burst into flames, causing partiers to avert their watery eyes while making veiled references about ashes. After the last cocktail glasses were stacked in the dishwasher, the dress would crawl back to its resting place in the upstairs closet, next to father’s sleeping rifle.
* * *
When I phone Mother a man answers. The silk in his voice sounds suspicious. Velvet gone musty from a flood of words. He works in radio. When I get to the house, I see he’s talked Mother into installing a billboard in her yard. The billboard—so large it blocks her view of the lake—contains the solitary word Hyphen-ate next to a crude graphic of a syringe with a skull dripping from its tip. They’ve developed a vaccine against death. Could that be why the lake is now a river? A ferryman poles his boat past the swans and ducks. On the shore people flow into one another, eyes rippled with longing. Everyone yearns to be somewhere new, but no one wants to leave. The words keep coming, watery language rising to the waist, the chest. Heads disappear in the waves only to reappear further out, bobbing up and down near the horizon. Days and nights flicker like faulty wiring. Water slaps us in the face, getting up our nose and stinging our eyes. When we were young it was enough to dive in and get carried away, clouds above us and below us, while Mother watched from her picture window. Now we fear the tides, the undercurrents, the eroding shoreline. The sound of a radio buried in the sand.
Peter Anderson grew up near Detroit and now lives in Vancouver, Canada. His work has appeared in Best Microfictions 2022, MoonPark Review, duality, Unbroken, Sublunary Review, Thieving Magpie, The American Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere.
Photo by Charlie Deets
My Day as Tom Cruise
The day I woke up as Tom Cruise was the happiest day of my life. Doors opened for me. Not automatic doors, mind you. Real doors, with knobs! Sure, things looked different from a few inches lower, but come on! I was walking on air. I was Tom Freaking Cruise! I had a hard time getting any work done that day because the female staff kept interrupting me to ask me to sign their breasts. That takes some skill, actually. Suddenly all the guys were my buddies—teammates on my shirtless volleyball team. Passing by my desk they gave me The Nod. Later in the day, while flying my custom-fit MiG-29 Fulcrum towards a digitally enhanced horizon, I wondered if Tom woke up as me that morning and felt a bit sorry for him. But hey, that’s his problem.
Ian Willey is an English teacher and former Akronite now living in a small city in Japan. Several of his poems have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes. He's always happy to hear from them.
Photo by Praveen Thirumurugan
Separating Process and Production
He gets to where he thinks the tap is and drops his line. It is a long way to the bottom, but his grappling hook hits just before the line gives entirely out. He pulls the line up and then lets it back down for hours, the morning crashing into noon, noon dissolving into afternoon. Finally, he has it. With both hands on the line and squared on his knees in the bottom of the boat, he bends forward and then mightily back, powering what he has hooked free from its mount. As the lake drains, he has to reel in the line furiously so the suction of the water running out will not pull the plug back into place. When there are only small pockets of water left, he climbs out of his boat and begins to collect what uncovered fish he can subdue. As the small ones went out with the water, he fills his boat with prize catches. When he is done, he drags the plug back to the drain at the bottom of the lake and pressures it back into place. Then he climbs up to the top of the mound of fish he has collected and waits.
* * *
We all worked with our tiny hammers. We would come in by the large garage door, punch in, grab a dark and heavy smock, make our way to the long, lone table and pick up our hammers. Then we began the banging. Short strokes, a whiplash of elbows. We all broke at the same time for a brief lunch, as this was a collaborative manufacture and we all had to do our section of the line or none could work. We all had to work at the same pace. Each hammer blow sounding like one single hammer blow, the rhythm of each the rhythm of all. At our collective pace, we could produce three bathing suits each hour, the metal of each one pounded out by many hands. But either the union or management or some unknown third officiate burned the factory down. So now we gather in the park across the street, stand as though at the long, lone table even though the lone, long table is ash. We make the motions of making. People walking their dogs stare long at us. Some applaud. Some heckle. We do not mind.
Ken Poyner has four flash and four poetry collections out there. He watches his world-class power lifting wife at meets, and used to wrangle computers. The family also includes two cats and three betta fish.
Photo by Ave Calver
Fugue in D# Minor
Take/eat/transform to the tune of Holst ricocheting through another 3 A.M. panic attack, shaking apart under three blankets and unable to stop. Your legs are still cold to the touch. Your hands still ache. Another night scrawled small and cramped enough you’ll have to puzzle it out in the morning. Fear and want and cloying hunger as pressed petals, dried-out and squeezed as small as they’ll go. Pizzicato tapping on the inside of your skull. An attempt to make this less of an apology/feel less ashamed by replacing the self with second-person again. Float on arpeggios at half-four (4/4) A.M. and know you won’t sleep, least of all from the basscleft-bent ache in your neck. The shaking has stopped but your tremolo heart hasn’t, all wrong, keyed-up, too-sharp and sick. You’ve hardly spoken to anyone in days, little ghost. Taste melody and swallow it back for lack of counterpoint. Repeat. Decrescendo. Repeat. Make clumsy music metaphors of your shaky hands and rusted voice, it’s the closest you’ll get anyway. A chord bites at the back of your neck and your hand comes away sticky with blood and rosin-sap. You need to make your words as small as possible. You need to make yourself as small as possible so they’ll forget it’s you and maybe keep it around a while. You need to sleep but you can’t. You need to sleep but you can’t. You need to sleep but you can’t. There is no place in this room you haunt from which you can watch the sunrise, somehow both heavy- and empty-handed except a full page of tiny, infuckingdecipherable text.
Cade Smith (they/he) is a queer and disabled emerging artist, educator, and sometimes-poet. They hold an MA in Art and Design Education from Pratt Institute. He is currently based on occupied Lenape and Merrick land (Long Island, NY).
Photo by Crina Parasca
For the Wind Passes Over It:
Five Questions from Neruda
How did the abandoned bicycle
win its freedom?
It's the bicycle chained to a sycamore whose trunk grew around and encased it as if jealous to ride but betrayed by its roots not to walk. Did tree and bike grow closer as the world rode past, rooted between scrap metal heap and village blacksmith? Did the Great War take the bike’s owner inside its rings like water or oxygen, just as it absorbed a world’s worth of blood and bone through roots, swelling its trunk? War ended, bike unclaimed in snow. Did he leave it saying goodbye to mother? Sweetheart? Did the sycamore remember him into its bosom?
How old is November anyway?
A friend at the gym turned 102 in August. She moves slow, weathered as a bristlecone pine but, like that gnarled survivor, also as resolved. Twenty-minute stair-step followed by resistance machines. Silent as needles or golden falling leaves. Branch of dead nerves wizens one hand. The other branch going numb. But she has the routine set in granite, roots growing inexorably, cleaving boulders in their path. It’s less tug-of-war with time, more cable going back and forth in a groove on a pulley at a measured pace. Or wood in the high desert, air cold and thin, sun beating down.
Does smoke talk with the clouds?
Maintenance truck outside the hospital. Through waiting room glass, we watch workers shovel a path through thick ash. Drifts pile against windows. People in white upholstered chairs maintain tight-mouthed façades. Chapel down the hall. Inside, dark. Is introspection easier in dimness? Easier to lie? To recline? To untruth and die? Walnut altar. Along it, black bibles. Blue and red Korans. Dusky prayer beads. Stone cube carved with ideograms. Above them, a day lily glows—ersatz stained-glass? Flashback to a baseball diamond across the street, amid grey swirls. Who sprints a home run through ash on the wind? Time to bat.
And what did the rubies say
standing before the juice of pomegranates?
Can’t stand pomegranate juice, personally, but the heart still aches on discovering the floridly splattered sidewalk the morning after some college students raid our tree. Red-purple streaks like fireworks bursts. Seeds comets skidded to a halt on cement. A young man comes every year to pick and buy pomegranates for his wife. Hades’ wife Persephone swallowed six seeds while kept in the underworld. She split seasons into heartfelt and freezing along the year’s center seam. Like the ground splitting, swallowing her into the underworld. Splitting like a hard ruddy pericarp. A continual, free-flowing tension pulls. A pervasive, spreading ruby stain.
When does the butterfly read
what flies written on its wings?
Monarchs flutter south, toward Mexico for the winter, orange-and-black reembraces of lives passing. My sister-in-law floats past daily as a monarch and I say hi to her without fail. Usually, it’s late morning or early afternoon, when bright sun reminds there is still some warmth in the year and it has time to read biographies floating on breezes, while butterflies pause to add chapters and sip nectar. The firecracker plant explodes in scarlet blooms across my window. My sister-in-law’s more partial to the cooler baby-blue Cape Plumbago out front. Does she stop there so there is no glass between us?
Note: The title is a quote from Psalm 103:15-16. The complete passage reads, in the New King James Version (Thomas Nelson, 1982), “As for man, his days are like grass; / As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. / For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, / And its place remembers it no more.” The five questions are excerpted, in the following order, from Sections XV, XI, IV, XIV and LXVIII of Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions, translated by William O’Daly (Copper Canyon, 2001).
Jonathan Yungkans juggles writing and photography with work as an in-home health-care provider, fueled by copious amounts of coffee, while finding time for the occasional deep breath. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, was published by Tebot Bach in 2021.
Photo by Ashutosh Tiwary
Elia Anie Kim
I find an abandoned shell of a spiderling swaying on a silk strand over my printer. The husk hangs like baby shoes on a wire, bobbing up and down on a windy day. I recall a baby spider crawling away on eight across the desk yesterday. There's a husk below the a/c outside, another tucked snug in the door frame, and one in the corner of the living room, each a snapshot of their youthful journeys, like me in the brazen pink dress in Korea, one of few photos I have from childhood, the stiff denim jacket with folded sleeves after moving with my family to Brooklyn, and the shamelessly striped purple pants I pranced in as a silly teenager, each image swaying on a silk strand, gleaming in the flicker of my mind. We shimmy out of old skins many times in life, shimmering translucence, our pale ghostly forms swelling between past and future selves. We wander naked and fragile, ‘til our soft skins harden into husk.
Elia Anie Kim is a filmmaker, photographer, and author of two dark-humor cartoon books. Born in Korea, she lived mostly in the US before moving to Australia. She has recently completed a hybrid memoir about the remarkable birds that visit her bird bath.
Photo by Alex He
Keith collects antique lightbulbs from the beach. It's a matter of knowing where to go. Sand can't keep a secret. When wind hits twenty knots, the surface begins to hiss and slide. Into the dunes for cover, we find the iron-spiked hull of a shipwreck. Another bulb, with swirly top and no markings dives into Keith's bag of glass ideas. Low tide. No one in sight. Clouds fight. As I walk a damp patch in a dune valley, I'm instantly knee-deep. Keep cool. Don't struggle, my friend says, but I jump-fall forward onto silicon stability. Shoes and shins soaked in wet sand, I laugh nervously and think of the story my father told me about quicksand in False Cape when he was a kid. I kind of thought it was a myth. It's a matter of knowing how to go. Walking higher ground, Keith finds another bulb, a Sylvania Rough Service with rusty element and perfect globe, tungsten still attached. Decades in the weather, still here and handsome, it almost looks like it would work. We turn back north, into a battalion of wind. Bulbs rattle like a xylophone. Zephyrs take the tops off waves like snow from peaks. Sandpipers run next to rolling break, peck for food or dip into an inch or two of ocean for a bath. The grass atop the dune line bows down. Lower legs soggy, I'm walking underground. No phone signal. No web. It's a matter of knowing why to go to the raw edges of natural connection. Sip of water, granola bar. Deep breath appraisal of waves roaring. The sun bulb begins to fall. Four more miles to the truck.
DL Pravda was the winner of the 2019 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize for his book, Normal They Napalm the Cottonfields and tries to preserve what remains of nature and rurality with poetry, music and photography. His poems have recently appeared in Kakalak, The Meadow, Poetry Quarterly, Rockvale Review, and South 85. He teaches at Norfolk State University.
Photo by Alessandro Bianchi
I love networking. It’s better than working for the government, except for the free paperclips. Of course, nothing tastes as good as food that’s not good for you, but regimes come and go. Those bastards. You’ve got to keep your wits about you. Remember, a waterfall is equal parts water and falling. ▪ Have I mentioned, yet, the cast of primitive animal characters? They’re dressed entirely in beastly pinstripes, even in the dark. Not one check or herringbone in the crowd, which is why I try always to remember that the dead are former people, too, but that’s another story. ▪ Australopithecus wanted for nothing, but shoes. They wandered around to look for food and friends, and over time, found bigger brains. Now we all have mysterious footprints, and if given our druthers, would prefer to eat our neighbors. Of course, the deceased would like to vote the living out of office, but who wouldn’t? ▪ Bon vivant that I am, I realize that every story must have three main parts: the id, the ego, and the superego, so my camera is taking pictures of your camera taking pictures of me. I hope that’s not a conflict of interest. ▪ Look. Over there. No, over there, next to the sand-beige shore—the beautifully glimmering sea, blue as a movie star’s eye. ▪ I dare you not to drink it.
* * *
The Eternal Quest to Build the Better Mousetrap
Tell me, who doesn’t prefer the freedom of an automated life? Even the best theory can’t be expected to explain its own existence, so I’m advertising myself to myself. Everyone invents the internet. ▪ I have more pyramid schemes than a Pharaoh. These go hand in hand—like dream music for snakes and amphibians. Naturally, the dead can’t be certain whether they’re on vacation, or not. ▪ My robot is a bundle of nerves, so it’s fine tuning its scare tactics. Fortunately, I’m a man of my convictions. Exchanging stripes for checks is my idea of prison reform. ▪ Yesterday, I noticed my passport had expired. On the front page, below my photo, it read, Do not resuscitate. Of course, not everyone has an inner voice. You either do or you don’t. ▪ Electricity is both religion and light opera. Machine language is 0s and 1s. My robot proudly proclaims, "I have no secrets I keep from myself," as it toys with a switch that neither turns off, nor on.
Brad Rose's latest book of prose poems is No. Wait. I Can Explain. He is the author of three additional collections of poetry and flash fiction: Pink X-Ray, de/tonations, and Momentary Turbulence. His website is www.bradrosepoetry.com. His blog is https://bradrosepoetry.com/blog/.
Photo by Jacob Campbell
Jesus on the River
Sometimes he thinks he should enter the church, but the river holds him, with kingfishers that rattle back and forth across a quiet pool, slate-blue wingtips almost dipping in, more graceful than clergy. From a boulder in the middle of the pool, he can see the parishioners go through the doors. They are small from up there, like dolls. Meanwhile, he admires the way a trout faces the current to breathe and consume what’s delivered by the flow—that would make a good sermon, he imagines. It’s the one he would give.
Richard Jordan is a mathematician who also writes poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rattle (finalist in the 2022 Rattle Poetry Prize competition), New York Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso Poetry Review The Atlanta Review, on the Verse Daily website, and elsewhere. He resides in the Boston area.
Photo by Meritt Thomas
In Kafka’s Castle
Kafka lives in a mouse hole on a diet of celery and frozen peas. His mother visits him once a day to make sure he eats. She is embarrassed by his smallness, how he sleeps in a kite string hammock. She is embarrassed to neighbors who ask why he hasn’t married. She makes excuses, talks about the weather. All the while, he spends his days writing a letter to himself and at night burns the letter. Each morning he mails the ashes to a woman, in the very next city, he once met for tea. He thinks of her while he wipes his spoon at breakfast.
Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His 20th poetry collection, Portable Light: Poems 1991-2021, was recently published by Redhawk.
Photo by Toa Heftiba
On Lying Awake Waiting
for The Pathologist’s Report
If this thing is gonna kill me I’m gonna do it right, like E. who evaporated proud and frail having opted not for the torture of useless treatments instead immersing herself in painting a masterpiece of blue water, but not like M. who went down fast, his “BTW I’m dying” email lost in the inbox when I didn’t respond (M. you should have written again or called because I didn’t mean to ignore you) and not like S., blockaded by bodyguards from friends’ outpouring of love, also I don’t want to be like J. who exhausted her friends’ compassion with her demands for pity, and not like L. who left all her life’s work with a friend who couldn’t bear the burden of grief so let it all rot in a drawer forever, or B. who denied it was a life-threatening disease even though the hospice volunteer was obviously standing right there (so how could we gird ourselves for losing you?)—that’s not the way to do it, the dying owe it to the living to go out with eyes wide open and, like C., maybe afterwards send a pre-addressed, postage-paid packet of poppy seeds with a reminder to plant which the living would forget to do, yes, the living might fail but the dead should do it right, it’s what you learn from watching, what you learn from watching people slowly die . . . yes if this thing’s gonna kill me I’m gonna do it the right way, the right way: no cutting corners and no cheating.
Susan Starbird is the author, anthologist, and publisher of the occasional Susan The Magazine, with the most recent issue on the theme of varmints.
Photo by Henrik Donnestad
Natalie Wolf and Katherine Schmidt
St. Francis Monastery
Judas watches you while the apostles eat guinea pig at the Last Supper, like he knows you don’t believe in Jesus and don’t want to. Like he knows you googled Best Things to See in Lima, scheduled an Uber, refused the woman selling candies on the street, and paid 30 soles at the ticket booth to see dead people. The domed ceilings cradle silence so grand you hold your breath. You swear you can hear the echo of St. Francis’ violin, feel it as it wraps around your shoulders, enveloping you like the smoke swirling from the candles. Angie the tour guide highlights the gold leaf on the altar and shows you where the monks used to beat themselves. A toddler picks his nose. The catacombs are tombs for the living to witness death arranged into flowers: femurs as petals, skulls as pistils. The air hangs heavy, muffled. You imagine what it would be like to believe in something big enough that you’d collect thousands of corpses and hoard them under the earth. The pile of death is beautiful, but you’d rather dissolve into nothing.
Katherine Schmidt is an American researcher currently based in Lima, Peru. Her poetry has previously appeared in New Note Poetry.
Natalie Wolf is from Kansas City but has more recently found herself in Lima, Peru. Her short fiction and poetry have previously appeared in Popshot, I-70 Review, Right Hand Pointing, and Live Ideas. She is an editor at One Sentence Poems.
Photo by Johnna Vogt
I’d forgotten. Years ago, I used to compose poetry while walking: The brittle bones of grandfather winter trees. The rattling of last leaves like rickety teeth. I’d shuffle words and hold them until I returned home to write. But then, in 2012, I got an iPhone. Soon, headphones introduced the magic of hands-free walking and talking. And then, five years ago: podcasts. Today, on a whim, I left my phone and strolled into the morning. A mile later, I remembered. Words bubbled up, surprising me as I took in crowds of spring petals, pearly as white abalone, the smudge of a cardinal whistling morning alarms from among them. I smiled when the red-belly blurted his love for his yet-to-be mate rat-a-tatting on a distant tree. Then, with the undulating song of a whippoorwill, I spiraled four decades back to the musty scratch of a wool blanket in a log cabin smelling of outside, my still-young parents, worn out from fishing and swimming with three kids in the crystal cool blue, snoring softly while the whip-poor-WILL! whip-poor-WILL! my now-gone grandfather taught me to hear haunted the big dark. The choke of a dog’s bark broke the spell, and I discovered the singing had ended. Perhaps because of daybreak. More likely because I hadn’t actually heard it. I didn’t yet know about dwindling numbers, shrinking habitats, the thumb of pesticides. I learned these things at home when I reunited with my phone and Google gushed answers to my question: “Where are the whippoorwills?” And I’m torn between this access to knowing and the way that access lures and disperses me, separating my molecules and memories and words from one another—as if evaporating—until I am muted and thinned, like the song of the whippoorwill.
Deb Werrlein is a writer and editor living in Northern Virginia. Her prose has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Brevity, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, The Sun, Creative Nonfiction, LitHub, and others.
Photo by Neil Soni digitally processed by Dale Wisely
at the airport with my parents
i poke quietly at my phone even though it's the last time i'll see them for months. i think what if the mountains were hollow like a movie set and how much grief we could fit in that empty rock. some things are worth hiding away, even just for a while, while you try to grow your own space large enough to keep them. from my seat on the plane i see houses on endless hills, even flying over florida which i know is paper flat and hill-less, soaked and flimsy and ephemeral at the edges. from miami to orlando i barely have time to choose a song before the captain says we are descending and to buckle my seatbelt, which i never unbuckled in the first place because like i said i never even chose a song. i never used to be afraid of flying but now every bump, every jolt is a crow in a crystal ball. i wonder if my life is more precious now than when i was 16 and flying to new york for the first time, landing in the city with my camera and a list of restaurants to try. i had not yet met you. i had never even been in love.
Allie Wisniewski is a poet, photographer, and DJ currently residing in Utah. Her work has been published in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Cardinal Sins Journal, and Nostalgia Press, among others. She loves rain, remembering things, talking to plants, and staring out the window.
Photo by Nicole Avagliano
The dog with its mouth open salivates. The man with the two-by-two meets its eyes, both pairs ready, and terrified like the hunger they both carry. Mama didn't come home last night and she will never be coming home again. The truth is they just want to fall asleep in a quiet meadow somewhere with blades of grass caressing their faces. Not here. Not this dark alley where a fist is looking for a rib to break, or an animal to kick just so he forgets how mama left that morning and never returned. How the volcano erupted, and there's nothing he can do about his pregnant wife and ten other hungry, hungry mouths. The dog lets out a whine and rests its chin on the ground. This is simple askal politics. You won't get out of here alive. Perhaps you will, clothed in larvae and ticks but nobody will bother tossing a piece of meat to a starving animal. So instead the man looks away because it weighs too much and if he had more to give, he’d lose his liver. That night they fall asleep and the flies that buzz say hallelujah. Wasteland or not, this typhoon country is yours. And when the pack cries tonight, there will be one less pup howling at the moon.
Theo Itchon is an emerging poet from the Philippines. Their passion for literature extends to their work as a creative writing teacher to the Filipino youth. In their spare time, they love watching horror films and baking chocolate chip cookies. They have been published in Katitikan, Anak Sastra, and Thimble Lit Magazine.
Photo by Studio Pizza
Listen: it’s like this: sometimes after you steal it you have to floor it. See it’s not a getaway or a chase. It’s more like you’re running late and the deadline is sunset. And it’s not like you’ve stellar judgement in these crimes of passion. Safety was never the deal. But this time the wheels won’t steer you anymore. You’ve hit a patch of mortal ice. The heart softens what once was steel and they’ve mistaken kindness for weakness. Then dark angels steal your tears, then scatter them like salt on the road and in the wound you wear down. You lose your grip on what you thought was real. Feel my fists, they are fallen angels too. They have frosty wings. They all flew much too high but did not melt and fall, historically, into your warming sea. Look. It’s night, and the top is down. A single moon dries out in highway winds outside Indio. Lunacy put the fear of some god, let’s say, into my deserted limbs. They flew off the random wheel, shaking at the stars that let them down. They flail like a drowning man climbing the ladder in a lake of fire. You put me through hell, angel eyes. So I beat the hell out of you, my brother. “Devil or angel”, when I punch the radio’s preset. Set for seventy years in this “borrowed” rattletrap. A fistful’s hit parades nestle your grief on my lap. Jack-knifing in the blind motion, I wrestle with silence, again, for control. An empty bottle breaks body and soul. Buddy, let’s stay fugitives. I tell ya, going back’s a trap. After midnight I wake up. One headlight is out but the tank is half full. Even after the swerve and the crash you still sleep in the passenger’s seat. The metal bends round you like a halo. Your cheeks are dark by a day of not shaving. My desires pause in the hair and hollows of your face. The laws we smashed desert us too. The silver light from the dash makes the bruises on your arm the color of the mountains ahead, the senseless gash now dry as the moon. The laws lose their nerve. I think, “We can make the border by sunup.” You know, that dawn seen only by the ocular heart passing on a blind curve.
HR Harper, a gay poet living in the redwoods above Santa Cruz CA, was a creative writing major at UCLA and studied in the English Ph.D. program there. He then worked as an educator in central city schools. Writing poetry and fiction over many years, he began to publish in 2021 and has published in several print and online journals since. Find out more at
Photo by Kevin Clark
The Popular Girl’s Birthday Party
I remember when Katie wasn’t invited to the popular girl’s birthday party back in sixth grade. I wasn’t really friends with Katie—she had curly brown hair so dull it was almost gray and wore the same purple windbreaker to class every single day. Katie was a know-it-all and a thief, admittedly—she stole gel pens from pencil pouches, candy from lunch boxes. Still, I didn’t like how she was excluded, so I stood up for her and told the popular girl she was being unfair—this girl with wavy golden hair down to her waist and bangs coiffed with a barrel curling iron. This girl who already wore eyeliner and mascara to school, who let the black-haired freckled boy we all had a crush on feel her up behind the coat cubbies. This girl laughed right in my face, said now I was uninvited, too. I remember the Friday before the party, walking the playground with my three best friends under the bright April sun and feeling sad as they talked about what pajamas they’d bring, what gift they’d offer the popular girl. This was just one month before our classmate was shot and killed by his brother, and before another boy would bring a hunting knife to school in his backpack. This was before I tried to cut my own hair with my mom’s good sewing shears, before Katie disappeared for good when her parents moved back to Alaska. Enjoy the sweet sadness of knowing you did what’s right, I want to tell myself, this small girl with chin-length blonde hair wearing an oversized sweatshirt and skater shoes, because soon the sadness will exist beyond you. Soon you’ll have more reasons to cry. Enjoy the loneliness. Enjoy the weekend at home in your room, or else riding your bike through the woods with your brother and his friend. Enjoy the magic for just a little while longer, and forgive even the popular girl as she unwraps each gift and smiles, metal braces gleaming like polished jewels, like blades.
Janelle Cordero is an interdisciplinary artist and educator living in Spokane, WA. Her writing has been published in dozens of literary journals, including Harpur Palate, Autofocus, and North Dakota Quarterly, while her paintings have been featured in venues throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Photo by David Ballew
Medicine for the Dead
The chief doctor at the asylum climbed into bed with the corpse of one of the patients. It was just his way of saying a final goodbye. Bodies were being collected that day and piled in the empty swimming pool in back for cremation with wood salvaged from desanctified churches. Families of the dead would be arriving before too long with funeral gifts but also guns and conflicting belief systems. At least for now, the doctor could quietly lie there holding the hand of the departed and pondering for not the first time the hazardous tenets of dream logic.
Howie Good's newest book is Swimming in Oblivion: New and Selected Poems from Redhawk Publications.
Photo by Clyde Gravenberch
Before Farkhunda’s memorial was built, Farkhunda’s mother cried. Before Farkhunda’s mouth screamed, “Allah Akbar! God help me!” Her hijab torn off. A car rolled over her abbayah clad body. The jeering men pummeled her with stones, kicked. Lynched her. Before the mullah, who sold condoms at the tomb, accused her of burning the Qur’an. Before her parents claimed the corpse. Before the village women carried her body, not men. Before her mother’s tears. Her voice dimming with each new assault. Her hijab and abbayah in ruins. Her body swollen, blood everywhere. The car. The taunts. The accusations. The rope around her neck. The Holy man with his condoms. The women attendees. Before the memorial’s defacement, there was a daughter, a graduate student of religious studies, who believed in memorials, honor, her family, and country. An educated woman in Afghanistan, one who wore her hijab and abbayah. A woman who obeyed the rules yet wasn’t afraid to confront a false witness who accused her of defacing the Holy Book. Before, the horror, was a little girl, whose mother gave her a name that means jubilation and auspicious in Persian, a little girl who became a woman who believed in change.
* Farkhunda Malikzada, commonly referred to as Farkhunda, was a 27-year-old woman who was publicly and brutally killed by a mob in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, on 19 March 2015. (Source: Wikipedia)
Lucinda Kempe’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Breadcrumbs, Menacing Hedge, New South Journal, New World Writing, Midway Journal, Matter Press, The Southampton Review, and The Summerset Review. An excerpt from her memoir was short listed for the Fish Memoir Prize in April 2021. She lives on Long Island where she exorcises with words.
Photo by Danie Franco
The hollow monotony vibrates through porous mouths. Intoxication of sky lodges its devouring yawn between humans and me. Cigarettes blind the muttering gestures of chronic language. Overdressed meals and hearsay crumble their butts in the ashtray. I flaunt idle. Eyes vast and explosive as Ukraine. Raging internal desire emanates from Mother’s wheelchair on the balcony. Particles of her are unable to spark synapses of flames she used to implode. Power basks in solitude. Can a story parch a death? Mother is bathed in spellbound pallor of promise. Detonate her with stories, plays, endings obese with resurrection. Mother dies. I shut-up. A pain of shriveled control affronts and tags me as a charlatan. Who believes in my spindled prose? Childhood is huge and envelops even the most passive semen from extended brethren. ‘Fresh flesh’ they pin me. Haughty cousins, uncles raw with the junk of their sewage take me as their inheritance.
Meg Tuite’s latest collection is White Van. She is author of five story collections and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging and is included in Best of Small Press 2021 and Wigleaf’s Top 50 stories for 2022. She teaches writing retreats and online classes hosted by Bending Genres. She is fiction editor of Bending Genres and associate editor at Narrative Magazine. Find out more at http://megtuite.com.
Photo by Vito Camilo
Speaking from the Tomb
"The future is a past that has not yet come to pass. Do you ever suddenly find it strange to be yourself?"
— Clarice Lispector
My voice wobbles as I try to talk around the lump in my throat. It’s probably nothing. It’s probably nothing, but let’s ultrasound your thyroid. It’s probably nothing, but let’s biopsy the largest of the nodes. It’s probably nothing, but let’s excise the affected lobe. It’s probably nothing, but let’s check the damage to your vocal cords. It’s probably nothing, but let’s refer you to a speech therapist. But it’s probably nothing. I want to be grateful. I’m alive. That isn’t nothing. I try to say thank you. Nothing lumps my throat. Nothing occupies the place where vocal cords once shaped my speech. I open my mouth. My voice has become nothing.
Amy Marques grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children’s books, barely-read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. She is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee and has work published or forthcoming most recently in Streetcake Magazine, MoonPark Review, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, and Reservoir Road Literary Review. You can read more of her words at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska
Laura Ann Reed
The Bright Angel Trail
Had we the first intimation of the Definition of Life,
the calmest of us would be Lunatics!
— Emily Dickinson
I was four when my mother caught polio and my father drove me from our home near the coast to an inland city to live with relatives. During my first night of sleep in a bed that wasn’t my own, I lurched out of a dream: For long moments I teetered on the edge of a cliff, knowing I’d fall—then dropped through darkness. The year my mother struggled for breath in an iron lung, I shared a room with my
younger cousin. Whenever my aunt wasn’t around, I’d grab a chair, clamber onto the counter-top, open a cabinet door, and snatch a box of Strawberry Jello. My cousin and I would squat on the linoleum floor and pour the sweetness into our palms—lapping it up until our hands and tongues were stained blood-red. Later, in the garden, the remaining crimson crystals we spilled on the lawn became our breadcrumb trail.
* * *
My cousin died at fifty-nine, though not from the breast cancer she’d battled for more than two decades. She’d been hiking alone in Marin County on the day of a heat advisory—training for a trek through the Grand Canyon—when her body was found. According to the coroner’s report, her internal temperature exceeded one hundred twelve degrees. I remember the two of us barefoot and wearing our matching plaid shorts—how we played in the yard at dusk, diving under bushes, ducking behind hedges and trees. Taking turns calling out in high-pitched shrieks, I’m the witch! I’ll find you and eat you up!
Laura Ann Reed’s work is forthcoming in several anthologies, including SMEOP: HOT (Black Sunflowers Poetry Press), and The Wonder of Small Things (Storey Publications). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Swwim, The Ekphrastic Review, and One Art. Her chapbook, Shadows Thrown, is slated for publication by SunGold Editions.
Photo by Leio McLaren
Brisbane often finished less than half his sentences. He would find himself bored with their beginnings and then could not sign on for the task of waiting for finalizing words. He would watch the phrases and punctuation marks issuing from his mouth like bats flying out of a bat box. Sometimes they appeared as railroad cars emerging from a mountain tunnel. It felt burdensome awaiting every train part or sparrow in a flock to show up, and so he would cease speaking, usually part way through an explanation as ennui started to mist over clauses. People with whom he conversed understood and did not press him. Many of their utterings, too, congregated on the tops of cabinets around the room like pigeons bowing and cooing.
Jean Biegun is retired in California after a lifetime in the Midwest. Poems recently have appeared in Eastern Iowa Review (2021 Christine Award), As Above So Below, and other places. Her chapbook, Hitchhikers to Eden, was released by Kelsay Books in 2022.
Photo by Didssph
There’s a black and white cat taking part in this street. A recurring role. I couldn’t say which neighbour names it, recharges it each night. Between tasks, I like to watch it through the kitchen window as it scrolls its street view map. Sometimes it disrupts me, stops and glares straight back – Enough with the curiosity! Or it revamps the scrap of yard attached to this flat: the fence-top its tightrope to enthrall dim birds; the little bits of malware scurrying behind the bins; the lazy shade at the base of the token shrub. I think the cat knows all too well my shape, my ferric scent. I probably warrant no more than the standard contempt. I probably fail its captcha. I doubt it would believe in what’s been called my face.
Adam Stokell's poems have appeared in various journals, including Dust, Cordite, Meanjin, Plumwood Mountain, and Meniscus. His first poetry collection, Peopling the Dirt Patch, formed part of The People's Library exhibit at the Long Gallery, Salamanca. He lives in Gagebrook, Tasmania, Australia.
Photo by jbc
Frozen (my life as a Denali wood frog)
I lived through eons, leaves dropping from the trees and leaping back freshly green, flowers unfolding, withering, blooming. My brain lived in the closet of my head, watching the light under the door that was time moving without me. Shapes lived in the closet, things felt but not seen. I could touch them, the touch of my brain so tenuous, a petal that my brain might let fall. I dreamed (I say I dreamed but was it dreaming?) of worlds where it might be warm, where the sky was the color of mud. The water ran silver in the ditches. I lived there for a thousand years. I fell in love, many times. I had many names. I forgot who I was in finding each new self. I believed myself to be free, author of my wishes and days. But the fruit of the dream trees had a new coat of frost, they fell to the ground, and my dream self-walked on them, crushing them to icy slush. I couldn’t get warm, for no one was warm anymore. I couldn’t speak, my tongue was slow, my lips numb. My hand wouldn’t raise to touch my lover, the lover I didn’t know was my last. Is this dying, I thought, or maybe said aloud, although no one answered. What is this, what, is this, this. Words were too heavy to say. The box of my head lived in the dark and my brain inside it. My brain was slush that had been ice. The line of light was brighter. The warm flew over me and it was pain. I thought I would die, but dying couldn’t happen, not yet.
Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection). Currently, she is working on a historical novel set in 1930s Cleveland.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao
Angela eats her hair first, but that does not fill her, so she proceeds to the fingernails, gnawing each down to its quick. With some contortions the toes’ plates go next, scratch her throat strangely on their way down. Still she is not sated, might this girl ever be? Perhaps her clothing will suffice... Stripping it off, piece by piece Angela rends each article and accessory to its basest subcomponents, until they are acceptably bite-sized, and then through the hatch they too are sent… But the void proves truly bottomless by all appearances. Not that this girl shall not shortly recall, businesslike purge every solitary crumb and morsel she has consumed in due course. She understands intellectually that said imperative and constraint is a contributing factor to the never-ending cycle of want and starvation which grips and plagues her interminably, yet continues to experience an overwhelming impotence when it comes to breaking free of the pattern she is so evidently under the sway of. So instead Angela sets about munching her drapes. As she chews and chews, forces contents southward with the occasional very uncomfortable gulp, Angela is reminded of how a moo cow looks masticating a sizable wad of cud. And though she is so frail and emaciated as to accurately resemble an anatomy display skeleton, nonetheless the lady feels an obese bovine at that very moment. So she rings up room service and orders some champagne. Lots of champagne, forthwith! Angela can afford it, having scrimped so much elsewhere. Self-care, she reasons. The dame deserves it for all the sacrifices she’s made, doesn’t she? Last week her account showed six figures. If she were to switch on the livestream subscribers in a dozen of the most affluent countries would pay a premium just to watch this grim procedure playing out yet again, all the way through to its porcelain finish. But not tonight, Angela thought to herself. This time would be hers alone.
Jerome Berglund has worked as everything from dishwasher to paralegal. He has previously published speculative stories in Quibble, Bright Flash, Grim & Gilded, a dystopian play in Iris Literary Journal, and surreal poetry in Hey I'm Alive Magazine, Something Involving a Mailbox, and Fauxmoir.
Photo by Marianne Gamet
Unbroken is edited by Ken Chau, Dale Wisely, Katherine DiBella Seluja, Tom Fugalli, Kelli Goldsmith, and Tina Carlson. Roo Black is founding editor emeritus. Our staff dentist/spiritual/legal advisor is Rev. Wanda Womack, J.D., DDS, Psy.D. Our thanks to the contributors to this issue and all who submitted their work.