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Unbroken #38: Standing in the Allowed Light



If you must read this, read it slower. Here is a man painting an empty house. It isn’t for pay, it’s just what he does. He does it quietly and it’s hard to tell the difference between himself and the scraper’s rasp, the path of his thought in the tapering air. His fingers brush over the ripples, the light so weak it makes him think of the procession of his own life, which is neither light nor dark. People used to believe light comes from our eyes, striking objects in the anonymous world, illuminating fountains and trees, though what of faces in pools and the eyes in our own reflections?


He likes the subaudible hum of the street, its vibration along walls the way air between vocal cords turns into speech, the room waiting and the creak of his footsteps. He never used to do this, taking whole days for jobs he could do in hours, the house, its own breathing self as he pours a thin stream of paint back in the can. The space owes him nothing, this is not a story. This is just a man standing in the allowed light.


Bruce Rice’s most recent collection is The Vivian Poems (Radiant Press), on street photographer, Vivian Maier. He is a previous Saskatchewan Poet Laureate. Bruce lives in Regina, on Treaty 4 Territory, and the homeland of the Metis Nation. More at

Bruce Rice




Aman Upadhyay


Dina Greenberg

Prayers for the Lost
and for t
he Living

Not Ours

Sleek white hull parts the sea like Moses but the boy still daydreams his six-year-old boy dreams. Spindly arms and legs singed vacation-pink and fleeced with the same flaxen hair of his eyebrows. Lashes and buzz-cut bleached white in the sun. Wake from the speedboat slaps harder against his family’s rented skiff. The boy’s feet slipping, small O of his mouth when his skull hits the cleat, and he is tumbling, tumbling, the sea slapping harder. He thrashes, but angry blue-gray waves spread out forever, so he opens his mouth wider to call out to his parents and the ocean fills him. Coast Guard helicopter cleaves the August haze of saltmarsh. Pleasure craft bob on the sound. At the dock, mothers and fathers gaze up to postcard-blue sky, air heavy as a womb, scent of pines and sand, harbinger of copter blades—and dread lodges deep in their throats, in their bellies. Did you hear? A little boy’s gone missing. Tendrils of sea grass worry his sunburned limbs, brackish waves lapping the shoreline when they lift him from the waters—no woven basket of reeds, no surreptitious palace adoption, just plastic bottles and cigarette butts. Later, the stricken bob their heads. Yes. Islanded in grief, the parents shake and sob and blame, lassitude thick and murky as the swill where the current dragged their boy. They can’t help but hear the others pray: Not ours, not ours, not ours.

* * * 

Strong Swimmer

Imagine a young woman. She is tall and slim. Her dark brown hair falls gently to her shoulders. The woman’s eyes are blue and she shields them for a few moments from the sunlight—aligning her right hand to her forehead like a visor. Let’s say this young woman—a woman not far beyond her girlhood—is Jewish. This woman is not me, but she could be me, even though my eyes are brown. Let’s say her name is Mariška and she plans to become a doctor one day in Vienna, the city of her birth. This young woman is not me. I have none of the requisite scientific aptitude to become a doctor. But let’s say that Mariška’s father is a doctor, a surgeon. She idolizes him. The woman is not me. I did not idolize my father, though I loved him. Let’s say that it’s 1938 and a man named Hitler is keen on killing Jews. In Austria, this fever dream is born. So, now, Mariška and her parents are in Brčko, a city in Bosnia where the river Sava runs beneath an iron bridge. Let’s say it’s 1941 and other—similar—monsters are keen on killing Jews and Serbs alike here. Let’s say that Mariška’s hands are bound with wire, that she casts her eyes downward to the bottle-green water as it rushes madly beneath the iron bridge. The river is crystalline and wild. Or it is placid and meager. Perhaps her right hand does not form a visor. Perhaps her eyes are not blue. The woman is not me, but she could be me. The woman is a strong swimmer, something I am not. Let’s say the Ustaša carry out Hitler’s savage deeds throughout the entire Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but in Brčko this work is especially precise and thorough. Perhaps one day in December, two-hundred Jews in Brčko are beaten with sledgehammers and scythes. They are slashed with knives and axes. They are bound with wire. They are shoved over the iron railing and into the water below, blood from their wounds the color of rust. This is not my blood but it could be. Let’s say that several days later, the Ustaše complete their task. Now another one-hundred-and-fifty Jews are bound and beaten and drowned. Or perhaps they are buried alive in deep pits, their screams silenced by earth the color of human waste. Or perhaps this is, in fact, what fills the pits. Let’s say Mariška’s fate belongs to the first group. Perhaps she is a strong swimmer. Perhaps she Houdini-s her hands free from their wired cage. Perhaps her strokes are long and graceful and powerful and when she raises her head from the water to draw a breath she prays her parents are alive. This woman is not me but she could be. I am not a strong swimmer but perhaps I could be. I rarely pray but perhaps I will begin.


Dina Greenberg’s writing has been published widely and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and The Millions. Find her at


Craig Kirchner

Lake of Drops

Azaria is reading this magazine article on the end-table in the doctor’s waiting room that compares universal consciousness to drops of water that come together to create a lake. Once in the examination room the doc explains that all 6.7 billion assholes should drink eight cups a day to maintain true health. Azaria assumes the most efficient way to accomplish this would be one every two hours that she’s awake. Set the cell phone alarm, make it spring or bottled, not tap. Or wait, better yet ladle it from that lake of drops. Let those cups come together, and forge a new Azaria, with a social conscience, maybe even a desire to vote. As the therapy grows, and becomes the rage, everyone will come to realize that we’re more than dehydrated egos, devouring and pushing things inside these ugly bags of skin, that we all drink from the same waters, need to see Dr. Harding, and would benefit greatly from reading the same magazines.


Craig Kirchner thinks of poetry as hobo art. He loves story-telling, and the aesthetics of the paper and pen, and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. After a writing hiatus, he was recently published in The Decadent Review, Gas, Ginosko, Ink in Thirds, and New World. He has a book of poetry, Roomful of Navels.


Kristen Holt-Browning

Animal Crossings

I bring a Bachelard essay to the animal hospital; the plan was to read him, translated, on the elemental characteristics of water while my cat’s stitches are removed, the last of the infected ooze drained from the festering wound. In the car, crossing the bridge, the cat—his name is Pants—yowls so loud I can’t hear the woman talking on public radio about her book on the local towns destroyed to build New York City’s reservoir system. “I’m a generalist, I have no interest in being a specialist,” she says as she shifts toward another topic, and I appreciate that, as I think about water, whether I could write a whole book full of water, I think about Bachelard writing about water’s essentially feminine essence, and how it symbolizes dissolution of the self, and the sublimated desire to dissolve the boundaries of the singular body, and how much the cat’s surgery and follow-up care will cost. After the vet tech takes Pants to the exam room, I begin to read Bachelard in the waiting room, but I get nowhere—the other person there, a man, older than me, is eager to chat about the impending snowstorm, how soft we’ve become—he doesn’t enjoy driving in bad weather but you won’t hear him complain, he’ll just deal with whatever comes his way, take these vaccines, for example, why should we have to get them, the flu is worse, the government’s going to force kids to get the vaccine, it’s true, look it up—fifteen minutes later, my cleaned-up cat is back. I am never going to learn anything new here. I carry Pants back to the car, dry and whole, once again fully himself. Back on the bridge I think about Bachelard writing about “the flux and reflux of an anger that rumbles and reverberates,” and the cat howls all the way home.



Kristen Holt-Browning's chapbook, The Only Animal Awake in the House, was the runner-up in Moonstone Press's 2021 Annual Chapbook Contest. She lives in Beacon, New York, where she works as a freelance editor. Find her at


Naana Eyikuma Hutchful

Blink Twice . . .


You are eight years old and your mother just smashed your father over the head with the antique porcelain vase she bought to build a life that makes sense. She looks at you cowering in a non-corner, your wide-eyed guilty contrition seeping into the blood pooling beneath your father. She says, this is what happens when you’re bad. Your father is silent, and he is dead. Dead as a doornail. You learned this at English camp where new words–alien, foreigner, asylum, immigrant– split you into two. You are your father. You survive because you don’t speak, or perhaps in spite of it. You are your mother. You die every night because you’re bad.



You are nine and the breathless uncle pulling you into his lap, sweat dripping off the side of his face onto the collar of the dress he got you last Christmas and insisted you wear today, smells like palm wine and mould. He tugs the bow at your waist and when he smiles, you are blinded by yellow and pain. He squints when you wriggle your hand out of his grip and you feel a familiar lurch in your stomach, plunging somewhere further down. His hands scrape your body bare like sandpaper on pale brown Balsa wood. Your decay is spray painted in bloody dripping cursive and when you get home, everyone will see.



You are ten. You have been bleeding for a year, and you are in love with a girl. She is much older than you and you’re scared of her. She pulls you under the freshly varnished mahogany table, the turpentine seeping through the crack in your lips smells like piney benzine and death. She laces your fingers, sticks her tongue down your throat and tells you you’re supposed to enjoy it, so you do. You particularly like when she talks about parts of your bodies that don’t touch while she rubs up against you. You ask, what about the boys? You learn, the boys don’t matter.



You are fifteen and the boy you like thinks you are not as pretty as the other girls. You are funny and he likes you, but no one can know about this. You sneak away from home, trailing lies, and he bites too hard on your nipple. When he sticks his fingers into the hollow of your body, he plops with the grace of a fish dragged out to the beach and you moan or croak, but what you really want to do is laugh. You close your eyes and think about equations and variables and the chorale of cicadas up in the tree that’s eating into your back.



You are seventeen and every night you dream about a deserted Arby’s parking lot, an engine shuddering in tandem with your body, and a boy you cannot pull off because he is too strong or you are not strong enough. You dream about a dissent stuck in your throat and fear that is slick like melted snow on the sidewalk or like the cold blood that creeps between your thighs. Forgive him, he feels bad. You are not as vindictive as your mother. You hide your anger firmly behind your teeth. And your father is still dead.



You are twenty and you want someone to save you. You stick with your way-too-old-for-you boyfriend because he lives in the tiny bookstore he owns, he shows you to his friends like a good dream he wants to keep having, and he is good with drills, a real masculine type–he built your IKEA bed–and that is all you have ever wanted in a man. He sticks with you because he likes a challenge. You hardly ever talk but when you do you are wind-spiraled, a snowstorm ripping through the fabric of his carefully constructed psyche. Your boyfriend can feel the frost at the edge of your body when he touches you. He says it exactly like that and you ask, what are you? A poet? He describes how you yank him by the ears, yelling and punching, and drag him through the drought of your body. You say, that’s really good imagery. I’m impressed. He knows you don’t love him. You say, I love you. I love everybody.



You are twenty-two years old and you speak a stranger’s tongue better than yours. On cold nights you stare out your window, a voyeuristic vulture scavenging for an essential thingness in someone else’s normalcy. Your neighbor fits perfectly in the groove of her boyfriend’s body, hands sticking out the window like a prayer, frail flurries finding a temporary home in the palm of their hands. They kiss like snowflakes on tempered glass, and you are snatched out of their compact snap of perfection. Today, when you picked up your things from way-too-old-for-you boyfriend’s bookstore home, he made a show of flipping through books, putting them here and there, stealing glimpses of you when he thought you weren’t looking. He was cute in the way that only a perky puppy you finally gave the bone you had been withholding could be, but you don’t feel much of anything.


Naana Eyikuma Hutchful is an emerging Ghanaian writer and a college student based in Potsdam, New York. They like sunrises, baja blasts, and Wong Kar-Wai films. They aim to write something as good as Andrea Cohen’s “The Committee Weighs In”.


Fabrizio Conti

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