Gone with Stars
14 months after Emerson’s 19-year-old wife, Ellen, died and was buried, he had her dug up so he might open the coffin and peer in. There was a great roar from the delirious crowd. A stray phrase (“the majestic beauty of the laws of decay”) flashed through his mind. Off to one side, a gravedigger in mud-stained boots leaned arrogantly on a shovel in a spot on the grass the sun could just reach.
Howie Good lives by the sea.
Photo by Annie Spratt
The Transcendental Club
The hall clock ticks. My 96-year-old father asks from the hospital bed in the living room if he was ever married. In the spring of 1832, some
The fact/s of being broken
Low lights darken a post-op room where I wake unable to pull my body back together. An icy fire divides my ankle into an archipelago of infants wailing. I cannot keep their screams inside the box of my leg or foot. They spill like light through the cracks. A face close to me does not want me to sleep, clearly thinks sleeping is something to be ashamed of. A woman’s face, young, like one of my students. “Jessica,” she calls. “Jessica, time to wake up,” and my leg falls back apart, up to its calf in fire. The surgeon pops his head in; he asks “how is she” then backs quickly away. He said the leg would be numbed I keep trying to tell the nurses and my husband. I can’t be the only person to come to in this state. Maybe the nurses and the doctor say these things on purpose, trained to toss them like flotation devices into a void. Maybe one will reach me. I don’t know what I might be saying aloud as the nurse close to me insists, a little edgily, you’re going to have to walk home soon. The leg is impossible to keep hold of; it will not close; and she is telling me I will need to walk. Somewhere near my abdomen I open as wide as a suitcase: two halves of me sprawled in the air: I cannot pull my skin back around me like a story. I am screaming again or crying, so open I cannot breathe; my darkness on the outside and everyone standing inside of me.
* * *
HR Request Letter
I do not have a story of healing for you. I have a story of why I need to ride my horse to work. You say it’s unreasonable and I say I have missing pieces. I say I won’t be such a mess. It will be less work for you. It's like something happened when I was very young. So young that what happened took up a third of my life. So now, I expect that thing to happen at regular intervals. A third of my day should be spent enacting rituals to ward off loss. A third in fear. I don’t want to behave like this, but I do. Not if I have my horse though. The horse keeps me here and now. I have to pay attention. The horse will let me know when something is wrong. And if a good-looking guy pulls over in his car, the horse will look at me and say I won’t fit. A dog would do this too. But I’d need a really big dog, a scary one. Huge dog. Dire-wolf-size dog would be ideal. By then it’s practically a horse, so. This letter has changed so much since it began you may be thinking I have lost it. But I am just finally finding what it is I am asking for. Your apology? No, no. I just want my horse.
Jessica Harkins, a native of rural Oregon, currently teaches creative writing and medieval literature at a small liberal arts college in central Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Her first book of poems, The Paled Guest, was published by Kelsay Books, and her poems and translations have appeared in journals such as Copper Nickel, Interim, Versodove, and Exchanges Literary Journal.
Photo by Claudia Altamimi
We Could Have Been Out There, But
There was a moment this morning, where it was all of us in the bed, limbs akimbo, we’d already gotten up, had breakfast, brushed our teeth, but we’d found our way back, we lay there, the sun already over the trees across the marsh, the day fully begun, and we lay there, we weren’t even talking much, the kids babbling puppy noises, we were in a puppy cuddle puddle apparently, and I was touching them all, husband, son, daughter, the sun full in the window, our teeth already brushed, we could have been out there, is what I’m saying, in the day, busy in the world, grocery lists, flu shots, striding towards a full productive future, but we came back to each other, we lay there, I saw the sun on the skin of these people I love, we came back willingly, easily, without the effort of thought or intention, and I found myself holding my breath.
Emily Brisse’s writing has appeared in publications including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Creative Nonfiction's True Story, The Sun, and River Teeth. She teaches high school English and writes about presence and positivity on Instagram at @emilybrisse.
Photo by Motoki Tonn
Shikha S. Lamba
Today, It Would Be Labelled Self-Care
I suppose it was a sort of guilty pleasure at the end of a long day, with work and house all put to rest. The empty room beckoned each night, promising a glass or two of Royal Challenge whiskey. The books, hardly literature, were her companions. Reliable, consistent, and seldom disappointing. As a child, I would fish out the books from under her bedside table, stare at the covers when she wasn’t around, wondering what it was about these books that held her attention. Covers like the English movies we weren’t allowed to watch with men and women displayed almost to the point of impropriety by Indian standards. She consumed them, these fairy tale stories with foreign-looking people, exciting the dull walls around us that ached for some sort of discomposure, any reason to agitate the trappings of middle-class life. The old television crooning, black and white caricatures entertaining our tired eyes, we would snuggle up next to her, breathing in her soft Nivea-bathed skin. Her body relaxed in a faded Bali printed kaftan, a Mills and Boon in her hand and whiskey by her side; I remember us being happy. Yes, I remember us being happy.
Shikha S. Lamba is a jewellery designer and poet living in Hong Kong. She is also the co-editor of an online magazine, Coffee and Conversations. She has contributed poetry and articles for various publications in Hong Kong, the US, and India over the years.
Photo by Alexander Grey
I just woke up from a restless sleep, dreaming that my features had been rearranged. I look in the mirror and see that it’s true. Also, I grew a blonde, curly beard that matches quite nicely the nest of golden straw in which the eggs lie. Are they eggs? Little crosses stick out from the tops of them. My face is purple; it looks like one of the more scrambled Picassos. One eye sees the world with tenderness. The other wants to crawl inside my ear. A white rose made of bone curls out from the nest of holy eggs. I must be careful not to drop them. It’s a solemn walk. The straw falls out little by little. I tiptoe on my little pigs’ feet, careful not to bump into anything. I hear a squawk. I don’t know what to do with all this baggage. Don’t levitate; you’ll hit the ceiling. Don’t cry, especially not convulsively. Don’t place the nest on the sidewalk, lest a skateboarder runs over it. Don’t wash your beard, a whole ecosystem will be lost.
* * *
She’s a Cavity of Flight, Rising.
“Intestines, like anemone,” the cop observes, nudging them with his foot—“a pink salad.” His partner says, “Ah, yes, but look around—the earth’s square head, its bitter smile.” Flung from an electric fence, the girl lies on the ground. Limbs seizing like a catfish on the bank. Her mouth opens, a fierce cave shot with strangers’ voices. The house on the hill watches her. From her grandmother’s kitchen table, a greasy bone screams her name. The last good eye, the family’s rhymes hard like metal. Trailing her uncles’ beards, trash trees advance in minute syllables, whispering in ice-cold diction. The sky screeches with the girl’s scratched fingernails. Her eyelashes rise and fall. The cops slip down into the crawfish hole in the summer green where she played as a small girl. Where she galloped like a suicide in the making. Wake up! Pretending to be a bullfrog, her forgotten heart sits in the pond, waiting for the meteor showers. The cops throw away her good arms, replacing them with geometry.
Kim Silva lives in North Providence, Rhode Island with her musician husband and her dog, Zelda.
Painting by Kim Silva
End of the Line
When the soul forsakes the body, its voice goes from one end of the world to the other, but is not heard. — Midrash Raba, The Talmud
Hello, and thank you for calling. You have reached the morgue. Due to an unusually high call volume, your call will be placed on hold and will be answered in the order received, soon enough or never again. Due to the high call volume, we are full and no longer accepting new patients. Thank you for understanding. Due to the high call volume, we are brimming over with sorrow. We are observing a year of lament. Thank you so much for calling. You have reached the home of Funeral. We regret to inform you, Funeral has gone offline and will no longer be able to take your call. Our lovely assistant is sure to get back to you, just as soon as her ears come into full bloom. For alternative funerary arrangements, please call out to the heavens. Pick up a shovel and start digging, for crying out loud. When crying out loud, do be mindful of the high call volume. Please keep wailing to a minimum. Do not disturb the peace, the dead are piling up and getting restless. We will know them too intimately, their individual pitch. We cannot afford that, due to the high call volume. Our windows could crack, we cannot repair. Do understand. Expect unusual wait chimes. Expect decay. Expect the hour of your death. It is soon upon you. Due to the high call volume, do not be alarmed should the Angel of Death come knocking. We advise making him comfortable. We have it on good authority that he is partial to Sleepy Time tea, or alternately Mexican hot chocolate with just the right ratio of chili to cinnamon. We further advise concealing all sharp objects. We ourselves, we must now admit, are so very weary of dying. We are hanging by a hang nail. Thank you for calling, you have reached the end of the line. Due to the high call volume, we are awash in tears and do not expect to reach shore.
Naomi Azriel is a bilingual Israeli-American poet and Jungian analyst. She reaches for complex interior spaces in which the fury of disillusionment and the sweetness of enchantment coincide. Her work can be found in American and Israeli literary magazines.
Photo by Antoine Barrès
What Mistake Am I Willing to Make?
Fumbling through a string of text messages, I find the address to the hotel Sam's friend has booked for me. I show it to the cab driver. We stop in front of an old white ship. He indicates we have arrived. No one told me I would be staying in a floating hostel on the edge of Lake Maleran. I try not to slip on the ice as I walk through the heavy wooden door. My cabin is below deck. I toss my luggage onto the upper bunk and press my face against the porthole. I try to make out the details of Stockholm's skyline in the distance. But it's December, and it's snowing, and the sky is the same murky gray as the waves pushing up against the glass of the porthole. My thoughts are like bumper cars. They stutter forward, then collide and scatter in a million directions. I imagine large fish, fish with big mouths, fish with big teeth that swallow children lurking in the water. I imagine shipwrecks. I'm tired. I've traveled over 5,000 miles, spent fifteen hours on airplanes, and even more hours, walking and waiting in airports before landing and dragging my luggage behind me to arrive here- to see my son. At what point did he wake up and figure out he wasn't dead? When we spoke on the phone, I couldn't tell if he was angry to be alive or if he was angry that it hurt so much to breathe with five broken ribs and a cracked sternum—the crushing fallout of CPR after his overdose. I try not to think about loose gaskets and leaky seals as I climb into my berth to sleep. His heart is safe. This boat still floats.
Pam Lemke is a student at The Writers Studio. She lives in the desert grasslands of Southern Arizona with her partner and their two dogs. She enjoys hiking and being on the water in her kayak.
Photo by Arno Senoner
For $25, you can speak to Doris as she wears your lost love’s voice like a knotted strand of pearls. You must close your eyes, as this is an unsettling experience – the voice, the smell of enzymatic cat piss remover, the tenant upstairs who must be vacuuming. Clichés have colonized your mouth, but Doris knows. Lean on your elbows and feel how gravity still lulls your limbs down, dreamdeep, to fossil-depths, and in a moment, a familiar voice is mumbling a stream of words that move through the air like minnows. And in another moment, your car is making a 5-point turn to exit a cramped lot.
* * *
I broke a promise and my lefthand pinky snapped clean off. I watched it roll briefly on the sidewalk before coming to a rest near my shoe. Joel scooped it up and handed it back to me as if it were a pen or a penny. It’s not easy to re-attach a finger. It’s not just a matter of skin, but of muscles, memories, and bone-deep metaphors. I’ve never been good at apologies. That night, I placed my errant pinky on the bedside table, determined to resolve my broken promise the next day, but agendas and meetings waxed and waned and the finger was forgotten. Years passed, and I found the finger tucked like a bookmark between the pages of some Mary Oliver poems, and I remembered, yes, I remembered the promise and Joel’s nonchalance and the unformed apology. The shame set like glue and I remembered with horror, the final moments of being trustworthy. Moments were minnows and the hook I had baited was dull. And before I tucked my finger into a drawer to be avoided or forgotten, I pressed my thumb to the hollow in my hand and felt the phantom hook of your finger in mine and the promise between us sinking in silt.
Elizabeth Porter wanders, writes, and teaches middle school in south-central Pennsylvania. Her work has been published by Jersey Devil Press and is forthcoming in Eunoia Review and Trampoline.
Data Mind (2)
The year a man got famous for eating rotisserie chickens, I learned how to remove nail polish glitter from the bed. In between, my mother died and a friend from elementary school got bit by an ex-boyfriend’s new puppy. Things shrunk down. A second moon appeared. If you got close to it, you could smell an oil spill strangling the imprint of what we thought was Earth. I told everyone online about how we placed a blow-up kids pool in the middle of the living room, but actually there was no we. It was just me in my tub filled with flat Diet Coke. I soaked my feet in the dark liquid and watched a trio of monitors hanging from windowless frames. On the first screen: my childhood, the years my calves were bruised from running in shorts through brambles. On the second: the person I never got to be: a woman voguing in the middle of an airfield. What about the third monitor? a voice not my own asked. Can somebody turn it on?
* * *
My hands in long white gloves slip through the monitor’s watery screen, and I become the Princess of Death in Cocteau’s Orphée. Are those my lungs floating or two fossilized Twinkies, salvaged from a previous millennium’s deep ocean fridge? Time, a marble in a broken Rube Goldberg machine, wobbles, jerking both backwards and forwards. The ruins of a city fall inward and then back towards the dead. What sadness I harbored for the loss of the planet, I replace with a crying face emoji. The anger I mean to direct at the oligarchs becomes the word OLIGARCHS (written in flashing comic sans). Orpheus, you claimed you were my companion in darkness, but it turns out you were just another so-called lyric peddler. Your face too symmetrical to be of use as a disorientation mechanism, your language too lovely to blow up the bank. I take off all my clothes, only to find more clothing replicating underneath.
Joanna Fuhrman, an Assistant Teaching Professor at Rutgers University, is the author of six books of poems, most recently To a New Era (Hanging Loose Press 2021). The pieces in this issue are from Data Mind, a collection of darkly comic surreal prose poems about the internet, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in 2024. Her poem "330 College Avenue" is forthcoming in Best American Poetry in 2023.
Photo by Braxton Apana
The Addict Talks About Steps
We are a stubborn bunch, rebels, seers, cowboy-hippie resisters. Don’t take to prescribed programs, maps, rules, the lies or lines of civilization. Heads angled, eyes narrowed, we don't trust. Ride free and wild into another maelstrom that ropes, harnesses, and breaks us just the same. The dilemma of opposites mirroring each other—one in shadow, one in light. A perpetual pendulum of extremes that never comes to rest.
A yearning to go all in. Something bigger must have its way, like falling in love, finding faith. Submission is submission, even if to a vampire god. The highs are as sweet, the sex better. Keeps you coming back, kneeling at the predator’s altar, while the black specter stalks night and day, repeating, “worthless, underserving, deplorable, a dead end.” Eats you from the inside out.
Scheduling is the biggest problem. Making time for the feeding, the next sacrifice. Managing, no, manipulating situations, people. Constructing detours, picking fights, mixing lies and half-truths like cocktails. Gaslighting becomes art. Tricking yourself out of a marriage, a job, a life. There is a point of no return, where “I’m sorry” floats like a dead whale in a sea of time lost forever.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, show me what you see. Follow the tracks of my trouble to the tangled roots at the base of my spine. Hunt me back to the original wound, the severance that split me into a fracture of faces, postures, lies to masquerade pain that demands deadly medicine. Stream the story of my addiction from the first episode to the last. Insist I name it.
Oh my life, I am heartly sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins for the thief I’ve become, the love I’ve dishonored. I firmly resolve with the help of divine grace to forgive myself at last, and live.
Catherine Arra’s newest work is Solitude, Tarot & the Corona Blues (Kelsay Books, 2022). A Pushcart nominee, Catherine lives in upstate New York, where she teaches part-time and facilitates local writing groups. Find her at www.catherinearra.com.
Photo by Meritt Thomas
the moment went crystal cathedral
and I saw I became a clear whistle of self and feeling dangerously close to shattering if a storm carried anything even a pebble. And I saw rows of pews within me filled with ancestors on one side and progeny on the other, as if at a wedding and both sides of family were past and future, while we, the present ones, the ones of the now, were all clustered up front, holding each other up, if needed, or running around, especially the children. And I saw the multitude of us swimming in a river that ran like a fuselage across the plains of time which were cluttered with houses of worship and burial grounds and the remnants of wars and the fields of peace, gleaners at the edges, harvesting the remainders. I saw the good and the not good of time. Saw time’s oneness with the universe. And the crystal cathedral became clear and the sun poured through in straight lines housing the tiny dust motes, the litter of stars and time. And in a moment of oneness, we all rose and joined hands. And sang our songs which were filled with notes so high, the glass in the crystal cathedral cracked and slowly fell around us—and this is the strange part, yes this part is strange—it did not fall in shards, but as seeds. And as we watched, the seeds covered themselves with the waiting soil, and we watched some more and the seeds germinated and through the soil, the first leaves were thrust. And we continued to watch time at work even as we moved in our own time.
Note: The title is a line from Dianne Seuss’ poem, “Gertrude Stein.”
Karen Neuberg is the author of the full-length poetry collection, PURSUIT (Kelsay Books, 2019) and the chapbook, the elephants are asking (Glass Lyre Press, 2018). She lives in Brooklyn, NY, and is associate editor of First Literary Review-East.
Photo by Jametlene Reskp
Postcard to BJ Ward
from the Living Room Couch
Beej, Sunday I was reading Stephen’s “The Insistence of Beauty” when I suddenly heard cheering as if a small crowd wanted another poem, as if they were insisting on the beauty of the poems. Perhaps it was in my head, but no. I heard it again. In the alley beside my house the neighbor boy and his friends were dribbling against each other, popping jump shots from an imagined three point line. At 10 AM. On a Sunday. Such communion, their bodies holy in their athleticism. Because it’s autumn, the game changed to football in the field across the way, the same field where I’ve seen two brothers throw a baseball back and forth in long summer evenings. The sound of the ball hitting glove a stressed syllable. We played catch like that in the parking lot after teaching kids the beauty of poetry, both of us a dozen years and how many griefs younger than we are today. Sure there was work to do, but catch is a game where guys can talk about anything, especially when the mosquitoes are the only thing humming about: the poets we loved, the women, the third basemen, the songs—each, we insisted, beautiful. A different kind of holiness. Thwack, the ball hit a glove. Thwack. A kind of punctuation. The ball a white light in the coming dusk. Then the street lights came on, the sort of amber ones that spill a whiskey light.
Gerry LaFemina's latest books are Baby Steps in Doomsday Prepping (prose poems) and The Pursuit: A Meditation on Happiness. He teaches at Frostburg State University and in the MFA program at Carlow University.
Photo by Vivek Trivedi
Ode to My Fairy-tale Godmother at 70
Wearing ruby slippers, my godmother schleps the laundry of her living son through the winter slush of her thoughts. Icy air stings her cheeks. A roustabout and his Rottweiler taunt her as she struts by, her gray hair brushed out like a show pony. She’s skipped-meal slender. She’s silk-gowned from the clearance rack. In this gray city of my godmother’s birth, fentanyl captures white princes who scour mother’s jewelry box. Fentanyl arrests their crab apple hearts. Fentanyl scatters their gray ashes like mice in my godmother’s apartment where a hole in the ceiling opens like a cavity. Still, she puts her best face forward. The red of her lipstick against the femur-gray sky.
* * *
For lunch, I pluck red leaf lettuce from the driveway, growing from a crack in concrete. The taste of irreverence is wild and bitter. While eating the lettuce, I read about space lettuce in which scientists inserted a gene to make the new lettuce produce human parathyroid hormone so that astronauts can grow their own hormone to keep their bones strong, as if growing lettuce in space is somehow easier than transporting a drug? What the article does not say is how many bushels of lettuce the astronauts will have to eat to get the right dose. I like to imagine lettuce hurtling through space in a shuttle that crashes into a planet, lettuce seeds flying through the air, implanting the new planet with lettuce. They only need a crack. Within a few generations, the lettuce will drop the human gene from their DNA, no longer having any need of us.
Danielle Lemay is a poet and scientist in California. She recently won Boulevard’s 2022 Emerging Poets Contest. Her poetry has appeared in Typehouse Literary Magazine, The Comstock Review, SWWIM Every Day, and many other journals. Read more at www.DanielleLemay.com.
Photo by Johnna Vogt
The Man Who Ate His Fortune
The fortune was inside a cookie which ended up inside his elderly belly. His wife, usually attentive and alert, suffered a momentary lapse in her caregiving vigilance. She handed him the cookie after a takeout Chinese meal, forgetting he could no longer tell the difference between read and eat, both meaning to consume. We don’t know what the fortune said, but the next day he repeated the numbers 37, 15, and 83 several times and said he had the feeling something good was about to happen.
Nancy Cherico, through her poetry, attempts to transform the unbearable, carry hope, and illustrate the absurdity of life. Her poetry draws on everyday observations and nearly forgotten memories.
Photo by charlesdeluvio
Mary Christine Delea
First, nuke the job—that which makes you feel small, stressed, satiated with grief and despair. Then the rented house with its strange slants, Shirley Jackson lopsidedness, cracks in mysterious places, and no heat on the upper floor. Next goes all the stuff: quilt in need of binding, stained baby clothes, pens with no ink, boxes that haven’t been unpacked since two moves ago. Include the books you think you should finish but never will—start with Moby Dick—and the furniture that never fits anywhere. Throw in the marriage, false friends, a few ex-bosses, annoying acquaintances, and those 15 pounds no diet can get rid of. But keep the car. In fact, when the nuking is done, move the microwave into the back seat, back out of the driveway with its bumps and holes, and go until you recognize nothing: not the types of trees, the songs of birds, or the houses, and how they sit up straight and calm, as if doing yoga.
Mary Christine Delea, a native Long Islander, now lives in Oregon. Her website is www.mchristinedelea.com. She is the author of The Skeleton Holding Up the Sky and three chapbooks.
Photo by Even Krause
The Memoir of a Pond
Past a dead-end sign overgrown with elderberries, along a lane, a little pond with a creek flowing into it. In spring, mayflowers flocked the litter of last year’s leaves and violets uncoiled themselves from the moist stones in the creek. Then along the banks of the pond, wild iris suddenly stood where before there had been no hint of them, and then just as suddenly were gone again. And throngs of frogs stretched out to infinity, in long-leaping trajectories. Come summer, hopelessly red lobelia stood in ranks, and underneath the canopy of sassafras and oak the tiger lilies bent their heads. What the earth is capable of without us—is heavenly, in its earthly way: a little pond with upside-down trees and sky and clouds prostrated on its surface. Down inside the underwater twilight of the pond, tadpoles are darting, scattering, regrouping, each head with a wiggle attached. The pond closes over my head, fits snugly against my skin. The tadpoles take me in at a glance; they recognize me. Ghosts are whispering in the leaves. A star, set in its muddy bezel, shakes the water. Someone warbles. The hum of bugs is stitched between the grasses. The world begins again over the traces of a disappearance—a spot in the neighborhood of ablution: photograph from an antique album of demure landscapes. It is soft, subtle, and even meek. Appears to be open, but is closed. Accompanies like a guardian. Is not a candle, but seems votive. Is not a book, but sounds like pages turning, there, where the pond continues to dress itself in hand-me-downs, leaves spilling above the creek. The water lifts, floats, sinks and buoys me, and the tadpoles, pulsating, hover around my unbearable remembrances. Down below is a stone that was once my soul, and they will help me to recover it with their impending limbs.
Jill Gonet’s poetry has been widely published in numerous literary journals and has also been anthologized. In addition, she translates Chinese Taoist poetry, and has had three volumes published: Riding the Phoenix to Penglai (2014), Red Pellet, Golden Bones (2016), and Affinity with Immortals (2019).
Photo by Bady abbas
When I was three I walked to the edge of the duck pond and kept going. They tell me I didn’t make a ripple or a sound as I sank—just let the mud-thickened water swallow me whole. My mother says she watched frozen into stone, my sister stuck to her hip, as a group of men leapt from their makeshift late winter picnic and into the murk. They kept coming up from the depths empty handed. When one of them finally pulled me up by the hair, white strands black from the tarry substance of the watery floor, she says I broke the surface without a splash. After they beat me back to life, she says I opened my eyes and stared at the pond, eyes like shining blue searchlights against my mud-covered skin, and when she asked me why I walked into the pond, I turned my searchlight gaze on her and said I wanted to touch the dark. She says she washed me in the tub, filling and refilling the seashell cup with clean water and tipping it again and again over my head. But days later, when I raised my eyes to hers, tiny rivers of mud still leaked from my eyes. Sometimes I feel the edges of this memory on my skin, the warm mud hugging my body, pulling me closer, and the absence of sound in my ears while the dark calls me home.
Kaecey McCormick writes poetry and fiction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has been published in different literary journals and two chapbooks. When not writing, you can find her climbing a mountain, painting, or reading a book.
Photo by Elina Sazonova
Waiting for Poseidon
I was sent to the waiting room; I thought to see Poseidon. The sign said “death by drowning.” Who else would be waiting for all the poor souls who’d gasped for air only to get water? In my case river water after my rubber boat deflated. I was happily floating downstream when it got caught up in some dead branches sticking up from the bottom. I probably could have swum with the current, but that rope around the now-popped boat caught on something deep below the surface while the other end looped around my ankle to keep me submerged. Anyway, no Poseidon. I was told he was long past greeting the drowned. Said he’d had enough with the complaints from the seafaring. He’d farmed it out to trainees. Instead, I was greeted by Paul, the kid in high school who was thrown off his Boston Whaler, also into a river, when it hit some choppy waves as he crossed under the trestle bridge. Everyone knew the current was bad around there, but kids jumped off it every summer. I guess we were friends because I still remember his embalmed but still bloated face at the wake. He looked a whole lot better now. It was good to catch up, but still, I was crestfallen that I wouldn’t be meeting this god of the sea. I wanted a word. Why didn’t he protect me? I thought that’s what I learned when I did my Greek mythology project on him back in school. To be clear, I never understood how it worked. Did I have to have his image tattooed on my bicep? Keep a little plastic statue of him in the pocket of my swim trunks? Wasn’t it enough that I was obsessed with the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet, the way it looks like his trident? I loved seeing it in large block print up on an Athens billboard, and on the posters for bouzouki players who toured the islands in summer. I’d rip them down after the concert dates passed and try collaging the forked letter into a painting or drawing, but it never worked. What’d I expect, I was just another English-speaking artist tripping on Phoenician letters and myths about a god that could calm troubled waters.
Timothy Nolan (he/him/his) is a writer and visual artist living in Palm Springs, California with his husband and their rescue dog, Scout. He has exhibited extensively for three decades and his work is in the collections of the DeYoung Museum of Art in San Francisco, and the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. He’s been a fellow at Yaddo, Ucross, and Djerassi. Throughout the 1990s he wrote art reviews for New Art Examiner and Artweek but turned to poetry as an artist-in-residence at Willapa Bay AiR in 2017. His poems appear in Puerto del Sol, The Museum of Americana, Rough Cut Press, Rise Up Review, Fifth Wheel Press, and Troublemaker Firestarter.
Photo by Rui Silvestre
Something’s humming out in the backyard. I look through the window. There’s only the ordinary: a birdbath full of rain, dandelion fluff, the neighbor’s tabby high up in a sycamore. None of these are known to hum. You say you don’t hear anything, but maybe it’s coming from the shed. The shed is locked, what could get in? Go find out, you say. I turn the key, slowly open the door. There are seven bats hanging from the rafters, peacefully asleep. There’s a rusted rake and a cobwebbed fishing pole I don’t remember. My father used to hum while reeling in large pike, though he’s no longer here. No, he’s been gone for years. I shut the door behind me, and the hum subsides. So quiet. It’s warmer in here than I had imagined, the kind of warmth that could easily coax a yawn, like once, in an attic, I saw a bat yawn wide, blink, then close its eyes: a little human, almost, in a black fur coat. Sun squeezes through the slats, while shadows from the sycamore dance across the shed’s knotty pine floor. Pleasing. I’ve read that many bats have whitish fuzz on their noses and are dying. But, for now, these are pristine bats. I think I’ll wait right here for you to join me.
Richard Jordan is a mathematician and data scientist who also writes poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Unbroken, Rattle (finalist in the 2022 Rattle Poetry Prize competition), Valparaiso Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, Kestrel, The Midwest Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Verse Daily, and elsewhere.
Photo by S w
(Gone with stars and moons)
What if we live in different worlds and are still earthbound, this fleshly ground we shared in breath, in book stores fingering gently our favorite detective story. What if we are just humans for one night, wanting to be held in a hand not very different from our own. What if I call you. What if there’s a god actually taking care of you. When I look out the window I see leaves peeling away from each other and want to believe everything unsaid has been said, years ago, when we felt the same flower falling or not. How tentative I was when you turned back to touch my shoulder, not knowing love and shortage are the same thing at different times. What if I forgive you and give you a yellow star for Christmas. What if there’s no holiday no present not even a goddamn bed in heaven, only the grave/grave night they tucked you in, like casting a star into a burnt black hole. I am at your door now. Where are you. What if I say I miss you. And what if you will come back anyway? When you show up, I will shake stardust off your clothes, make sure every light sifts from your face like a bubble, say: love you. Love your new shampoo. Love every hard beat of your heart.
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On the Moon, Respond to God, AI, and My Lover
When a star died, no elegy was written. No note or tweet was sent out saying how many friends it was surrounded by in the last minute of its life or what an encouraging star it had always been in the solar system. I was the only witness. I stood on a moon rock and wanted to cry for my minor loss. I wanted to hold a pen and imagine myself wrapping the star against my chest, relearning its radius and curves, nanometre by nanometre, like remembering my own child at birth. But how could I capture a death that was so alien to my own? Behind the tombstone appeared the charred border of language. God must have blinked, or how could I explain that temporary escape, that I was a bird so close to the sky, that I felt the wind on my flank and had no intention to slant, no impulse to imagine how far it had drifted from the deep-dyed coast where a girl or two pressed their pearly toes in the sand or if it had trudged long from a reed bed deep in the village. All became extraneous. I have tricked time and accessed a mysterious territory where, as suggested, begins the freedom of the mind*. I could cup life and scrutinize it closely, or cast it into the fire and watch its ashes scattered. I understood God hence, his tantrum and delirium, for truth cannot be bestowed in a language that is still tarnished by the breath of its people. That is still half drunk in the bar, stumbling, fumbling, cursing in its own right. A language must be concealed or dead to be sacred, like code, like Latin. But Latin, too, was once tempered and stored in a blood-and-flesh, in stalwart hands writing with love and fury, like those of Caesar and Horatius. It, too, was living, flawed, until all was banished into the relentless water, being soaked with gravity and grit, until we encounter them under a soft pool of light, until we recall, not the letters, but the contour of a familiar tongue, a sweaty thumb, or flaming eyes wrestled with the very same desire for truth and beauty. And should we not forget that truth beauty is never embellished on the silver crescent, nor abandoned by a transparent screen, but buried deep in the core, clasped with dirt and dust?^ The truth is every art seeking for divinity ends in an interrogation of humanity. Because no answer should be given or taken, no definition in its broadest term should be used to measure the realm of a mind. The truth is I want to be no god no bird no star, just in the living room catching the texture of your voice when you recite Plato or Plath or trace keenly a shopping list, when you remind me of the weather and our fingers run into each other on the same passage, when we laugh and reread the line, the poem raging against day and night, how we have raked life and tucked pain back into our hearts again, make it weep, make it live.
* * *
*Here begins the freedom of the mind, or rather the possibility that in the course of time the mind will be free to write what it likes.
— Virginia Woolf
^Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
— John Keats
Susan Sue is a Chinese poet. Her poem “Moon Trip” is an excerpt from her in-progress collection concerning the struggle, agony, and loss in recent years, intensified by COVID and frequent social and political upheavals. Moon, throughout, serves as a recurring emblem of witness, simultaneously imbued with subjective and objective wholeness, resembling divinity and humanity alike. Its cold silver light sometimes pierces through and pokes fun at the wretchedness of our kind, but in such stern a light also shines the kindness of heart: who teaches us rage and anguish, resistance and love, and will teach again and again in the course of time. Her other poems can be found in Blue Horse Press & San Pedro River Review, Blue Marble Review, Eunoia Review, Neologism Poetry Journal, Rattle, and others. She was nominated by Rat's Ass Review for Best New Poets 2022. She lives in Chengdu.
Photo by Tia Saha
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 / 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.