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Unbroken #41: Goddesses Keeping the World Together

Oz Hardwick

Scenes from the Industrial Revolution

I worked on the track so long that my skin turned to steel and felt nothing but pain. Ten-hour shifts, six days a week, I’d weld feathers onto alarm clocks the size of phone boxes, each one indistinguishable from the one before, the one behind, and the one that leant over the mattress on the floor where I slept when I could. My hands were metal claws which seized up so quickly that I’d start each day by loosening them, finger by finger, over my bedsit gas ring, and even in my ten-minute tea breaks I’d feel them stiffen over the quick crossword. Meanwhile, my body filled with feathers, became a nest for a brace of birds with bloodied beaks that hid whenever I looked in the mirror. My claws ceased to be my own as I tossed and sweated on my torn mattress, eggs where my ego used to dwell, in the shadow of a phone box disguised as an alarm clock. Ten hours of cracking, a body full of birds, and the tracks on my skin were molten metal, needle-pricked from finger to fundamental assumptions. I sing a song of sixpence, its tarnished disc welded to my tongue. In the mirror I see four and twenty blackbirds, all demanding to be fed.


Oz Hardwick is a European poet, working mainly in prose poetry, whose most recent publication is the chapbook My Life as a Time Traveller: A Memoir in 18 Discrete Fragments (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2023). He is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University.

Babo Kamel

I Am Having Lunch With My Shadow

At A Polish Restaurant That Doesn’t Exist Anymore

My shadow wears clothes I gave away years ago, the brown peasant blouse with the chewed on drawstrings at the neck, and those denim bellbottoms with salt stains at the cuff from dragging in the snow. The clothes smell strangely of green apples and disappointment. Back in 1972, all the students and their shadows used to eat here because we could get the best borscht or thick barley soup, pierogis slathered with sour cream, rye bread and coffee. All for three dollars and twenty five cents. A giant waiter named Alesky used to sing while he served and when he smiled you could see his gold tooth sparkling like a dime store trinket. Sometimes, Alesky’s shadow would wink and serve us beer even though we were underage and some staggered back to class, their shadows holding them up. We all loved Alesky, but we heard he was caught pickpocketing the old war veterans who gathered there every Wednesday at two o’clock.

My shadow used to slink about, shapeshifting with the sun, profiting from my is-ness. It insisted that I take the lead when the light was right into a smoke-filled house or down musty, torn carpeted basement stairs. Sometimes it merged with other shadows, which is a form of love, but not the healthy kind, losing itself in the embrace of others. I fell in love like that once. Wanting to escape into a new version of living, one in which I could become a projection. Perfect. Beautiful. And not the shrew my former husband called me. I slipped out of myself. It’s not that I became invisible, but I could imagine I was then, reaching for my shadow, marching into the seduction of a future apart from my old housedress with its pockets of sorrow. But love like that never lasts. My shadow has heard it all before. She yawns, gets up and leaves to teach her class on Szymborska. I try to follow her, but the gate is always locked and the alley ends too soon.


Babo Kamel’s work appears in Greensboro Review, Lily, CV2, Poet Lore, and Best Canadian Poetry 2020. Her chapbook, After, is published with Finishing Line Press. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson’s Program For Writers. Her book, What the Days Wanted is published with Broadstone Books. Find her at

Gessica Sakamoto Martini


This winter a tanuki has been visiting my parents-in-law’s house every night. When they hear a noise, my mother-in-law opens the window and carefully throws some food in the garden. The tanuki's favourite food is onigiri. My parents-in-law lost a daughter years ago; her favourite food was chicken soup. Last year, their 15-year-old cat passed away. Her name was Momo, which means "peach" in Japanese, and she loved raw shrimps. So recently, I have been thinking about the tanuki that comes to their garden every day, and how they probably know it will never enter the house, sit at the kitchen table laughing at jokes on TV, or sleep on their laps in winter. It is a wild animal, after all. And yet, every day they prepare onigiri and then wait for the tanuki to step on the dry, dead leaves – a sound that says, I’m back.


Gessica Sakamoto Martini’s work has appeared in HAD, Red Ogre Review, Gone Lawn, FlashFlood (National Flash Fiction Day), Shoreline of Infinity, and others. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Durham University (UK), and reads for Orion’s Belt magazine. She can be found on X at @GJMartini.

Robert E. Ray

Ghost of Mossbawn

in memory of Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

April 2018: We passed on the backroad to Mossbawn, his hair white and wind-blown like a Mississippi cotton field. He grinned, nodded, squinted into the late afternoon sun. Without a word, he walked on, chin up—away from the dark place. In the cooling air, I caught the rot of potatoes and cow manure. A hoodie took a fence post, marked the decayed wood purple and flew off behind him. Frogs croaked in the duck pond. It stunk, the funk of still water full of dead things floating up from the black bottom. He left the front door open, a short blue candle burning on a tea chest, ink spotted, worn bare on the front edge, where his palms had rubbed against the grain and dark stain. He had written there, I heard his daughter say later. His squat pen must’ve been in his coat pocket on that shadowed road, snug as a gun in his cool hand. Even then his footfall had a perfect rhythm. I should’ve turned around and followed him, but I didn’t know him back then. I walked on, the moon showing its pitted face. I don’t remember a name on the shingle or a welcome mat on the porch. All I recall is a door ajar, an orange flame flickering behind glass panes, an old man's Irish accent cracking with each syllable: "You may come in, friend, but you cannot stay."



Robert E. Ray is a retired public servant. His poetry has been published by Rattle, The Ekphrastic Review, The Muleskinner Journal, The Wee Sparrow Poetry Press, Wild Roof Journal, and Beyond Words Literary Magazine. Robert is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. He lives in rural southeast Georgia.

John Bradley

Translating the Air Held Within a Pear

Why I Wear Ghost-Proof Fibers


From discarded clothing, rootless hair, from bees fallen out of an almond tree struck by a car, a scar came forth. A cloud that once lived inside an ant cannot forget the taste of clay, I tell the scar. I can hear you, you know, states the scar, before you ever say what you say. Irritated by the sunlight, the scar eases down a chimney and begins chewing on listless words, words that can no longer lay eggs to make more words. Once I was a potato, says the scar, and an unpronounceable wind filled the house and killed the plants and the cat. Once I was a rubber hammer, says the scar, and a truck rolled over a mannequin’s leg. This was the way the scar talked, and no one could understand exactly what it wanted. You could be deleted, I tell the scar, perhaps by someone with butterflies in their mouth. A loud group of filmmakers pass by complaining about a sticky red substance leaking from their shoes. Just off my right eye, I can make out a large continent, probably uninhabited, I tell the scar. The word star makes me want to whirl even faster, says the scar, starting to crackle and hiss.

* * *

Grains of Silence

Behind this wall, there’s an unused room I sweep every day. There’s nothing in the room—no chair, no rug, no window. On the days I don’t sweep the room, I sit on a folding ladder and stare at the ceiling. On the days it rains, I let the rain say to the room: It’s 1:45 right now in Patagonia. I tell the rain, I can hear presence and absence moving through the room, through my blood. On the days it doesn’t rain, I count the grains of silence floating in the room. There’s no numbered door to the room, which irritates the Building and Room Numbering Committee. I tell them, This room is waiting for the walls to fall, and for whatever the room holds to unfold. They respond, This violates proper management of an enclosed space. I tell them, This room is waiting for the walls to fall, and for whatever the room holds to unfold.


John Bradley's most recent book is Dear Morpheus, The Glue That Is You (Dos Madres Press). A frequent reviewer for Rain Taxi, he is a poetry editor for Cider Press Review.

Elizabeth Porter

Self Portrait as Voyager II

Not first of my name, but first to leap fledgling from the nest toward the gods' crescent curves. First to taste the distance between lightyears and legacy. To leave the maker's hands empty. To needle the soundscape of motherspace and carry, as profession and surname, the voices and lineages of longboats and oracles. To carry greetings and beacons and thumbnails and whalesong. A course yearning to cross paths, careening with centrifugal momentum. A mission re-written from flybys to songseeds, sown ever more distantly and tossed toward foreign stars. Become farflung orbital audio, a bellow of sound and a ferry of distant golden choirs.


Elizabeth Porter teaches and writes in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in Dunes Review, Unlost, Ballast, and elsewhere.

Kalpita Pathak

Theater Kids



Walk this way, one of us would say with a follow-me arm gesture. And we’d line up, one friend after the other in an elaborate mash-up of Follow the Leader and Simon Says. Big seven-league steps or teeny-tiny shuffles, all of us heading to ((ultimately different destinations)) our next class or an assembly or lunch. We would contort past kids making out at their lockers or huddled together putting on make-up with those little stick-on mirrors or flipping through YM and Seventeen. Kids throwing footballs & sharing notes & zipping up their backpacks, slinging them over one shoulder because wearing the straps on both was not cool. Kids looking/acting like teens from a John Hughes movie, or, later, Beverly Hills, 90210. We didn’t bother them and they didn’t ((really)) bother us. There’s no hostility in background noise. We just survived with more & more complicated choreography: First one high march, as though climbing a single steep step, then dropping our whole bodies down to a crouch, the way we hid under our desks during duck & cover nuclear bomb drills, ending with a jump, arms and legs spread wide. Doing it all again, painstakingly locomoting forward, facial expressions to match each movement. Eyebrows raised then lips pursed then grimaces showing lots of teeth while ((holding back the laughter of pure bliss and)) breathing hard, as the cheerleaders showed off their routines on the grassy field. As they somersaulted & pyramided & roared pep. As the others clapped for their grace & athleticism, shimmying to the dance music firing from the boombox.



Kalpita Pathak is a queer, disabled, autistic, Indian-American writer and advocate who received the James Michener Fellowship for an MFA in creative writing. Her poetry has been shortlisted with Kaleidoscope and published in Mediterranean Poetry, Poetry Life and Times, Leafing, Musing Publications, Motherbird, and San Pedro River Review.

Sarah Dunphy-Lelii


I turn to see about this cracking sound in my yew, this scraping, and at eye-level five feet away sit two squirrels, gnawing opposite ends of a curved spine. It is bleached with age, its bony knobs gripped tightly in their tufted fingers, and it is not yielding. One of their blank eyes meets mine and he startles, wrestling the spine from the other and dropping to the ground. The winner then tries to hurry across my lawn but the spine is awkward and heavy, like a dog trying to wedge a broom through a doorway. He labors finally to the street, where the spine glides over the macadam with a gravelly ring, and they disappear through a dead tree in my neighbor’s yard. It’s an unsettling scene. When I discover a robin crumpled on my front walk a few days later I bury her beneath a bush where the soil is sandy, and pile firewood on top because I do not want to see her again, nor any part of her. I’m reminded of the squirrel days later on my way home, when I must slow and then stop, in my car, for a snapping turtle crossing the road, the rear half of his shell slick with emerald moss. He swings his head from side to side as he strolls and then does a curious kind of slow motion high-stepping into the tall grass at the verge. When I can’t see him anymore I drive on, and not 100 yards later must stop again for three turkeys standing in the middle of my lane. Rather than hustling away they shamble about trading places, with clear intention to provoke. They have very pink heads and necks, and that horrible clump of long hair sticking out of their chests. They turn sideways, to better see me with their flat little beads, and look as though they’ve been alive for a thousand years. I put the car in park and open my door and half-rise, sure this will scatter them, and it does not. Hey, I say. You, hey. My car switches into electric mode and is silent now, as we eye each other. They look as though they might have some spines, hoarded and curing in the underbrush. Mementos of others who imagined they were alone but, truly, never were.


Sarah Dunphy-Lelii has taught psychology at Bard College for 17 years, working with undergraduates, preschool-aged children, and wild chimpanzees. Her academic writing appears in journals including Developmental Science, Folia Primatologica, and Scientific American; her creative nonfiction writing appears in places including Plume, Terrain, CutBank, Passages North, and Tupelo Quarterly.

Kerri Bowen

First and Last

On his fifth anniversary, he changed his name. Or joined their names together, a break between. Paper. Cotton. Leather. Flowers. Still-sealed stationary, bold with embossed initials. The first gift he gave. Delicate muslin beach towels, still folded by the door. Suede-bound copy of Walking, on the bedside still. Into the wild. But his husband’s cat ate the pink and white peonies on the kitchen table. Still. A hope chest, wooden; a hopeful heart. Engraved on the outside, either way. The last gift she gave was paper, three months before. Photograph tucked inside a book. But the gift before that: whiskey glass etched with “Fe.” Fragile gift for a year of iron. And whiskey breaks things. Keep the glass. Memento mori. Broken or whole, either way. And keep the black and white photograph of three horses standing in an open field, unbridled on a cold morning, blanketed in snow, on a hillside in Vermont. Fragile and free. And there is comfort in broken things.



Kerri Bowen is the founding director of City Lights Writing, an arts education non-profit in Boston. Her work has appeared in Humana Obscura and Comitatus.

Karen Crawford

The Sweet Smell of Cherries

Tom doesn’t see the flashing stoplight in the intersection as he rides the gas pedal in his old sharkfin Cadillac, caressing the oyster-white steering wheel, while humming to Sinatra’s "You Make Me Feel So Young," too busy looking at the black cherry mustang, which reminds him of Ella—and how she loved mustangs and how she smelled of cherry pie, the flaky bits of crust on her heart-shaped lips, and he’s thinking maybe he should pick one up on the way home when he slams into the back of it, and a roadmap of blood trails down his forehead, over the bridge of his nose, into the corner of his mouth, and that’s when he notices the flashing stoplight and the driver in a red varsity sweatshirt who hops out spitting fireballs, and Tom tastes the blood on his tongue, and whispers to himself you mustn’t tell Ella it’ll worry her to death, and the red taillights on the mustang are crunching and cracking and someone is yelling, your foot mister, your FOOT! and now, flashlights are flashing, and a man in blue (so friendly, so calm) is tapping on his window, are you able to step out of the vehicle sir? and two Cherry tops are rotating SOS signals while a woman in white (so soothing, so caring) says can you tell me your name sir?, and he tries real hard to remember until he sees the ambulance taillights bathing red across the road and he looks at the empty passenger seat, the sweet smell of cherries hanging from the rearview mirror.


Karen Crawford lives and writes in the City of Angels. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and was included in Wigleaf's Top 50 Longlist 2023. Her work has appeared in Roi Faineant Press, Emerge Literary Journal, Cheap Pop, 100 Word Story, and elsewhere.

Unbroken is a quarterly online journal that seeks to showcase prose poems and poetic prose, both from established and emerging voices. We desire to give the block, the paragraph, the unlineated prose, a new place to play.

Unbroken is edited by Ken Chau, Dale Wisely, Katherine DiBella Seluja, Tom Fugalli, and Tina Carlson. Roo Black is founding editor emeritus. Our staff spiritual advisor is Dr Boyd Razor, Ph.D. (his lucky number is 25, and his favorite number is 20). Our staff epistemologist/comptroller is Chen Kau. Our thanks to the contributors to this issue and all who submitted their work.  

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