By Jessica Reidy
Florence caught our steps with smooth stone streets and the sound scattered through the alley. The walls with chipping sunflower paint tossed our noises back to us like lucky clattering coins. Len and I had been travelling for only a few days, and we had already managed to forget our route. We made our way under dark blue scaffolding and I clicked my tall boots beside his steel-toed shuffle. The sun was chariot-bright but the air was painted with the dry note of winter—my green hands reddened. Occasionally I glanced and smiled back at Len, absorbing the day building itself up from morning.
We lingered in front of a Russian train-set enthusiast shop, its door gaping open-mouthed. The shop was filled with men in hats and thick woollen coats, turning over trains in their thick wintered hands. Len, the enthusiasts, and I all turned at the sound of a bicycle, chiming a wild proclamation, untranslated to the street. A bicycle with wheels wheel as thick as a milk snake rolled around the corner, through a brown arch between artfully decaying buildings. The cyclist issued an explosion of poetry--his mouth stretched wide under his dark, greasy eyes, whitened with excitement. He had a hurried, bombastic breath, rising and plummeting, clanging along with his bicycle bell beside a wicker basket. A feral cackle, and his gray lumpy coat fluttered behind him as he passed.
Len’s steel toe stepped forward onto my plastic heel and ripped the bottom off. My pen exploded in his pocket. Ink spread like a wound over his heart. He stared at my heel on January’s pavement; his eyes watered. The capped Russians slid out of the open door uniformly, bemused and holding their trains.
Elise Cheats Death
By Jennifer Hor
As she approached the ice cream van, Elise suddenly had an odd feeling that the middle-aged man leaning on the counter in the van and leering his gold-and-green toothed grin at her was someone she knew a long, long time ago, long before she was born, she felt, seven years ago.
"Hello there, my pretty lady," he kept on saying. His voice, deep with a melodious flavour, did sound familiar to all her cells. "Why do you keep hesitating? I'm Mr. Shady! What would you like? Vanilla or strawberry or peppermint? Perhaps you'd like choc chips? Come on, don't be afraid, what can I get you?"
She looked up at the man's dark unshaven face and saw a fierce glint in his eye that might have come from a distant plane of existence. She looked at the ground again but her ears, or maybe it was just her mind rather, that could not shut out the deep velvety tones: "After all this time, I have found you, my dear queen, I have found you...come back with me, come back and we will reign together again..."
A gaggle of boys rushed past her and knocked her over onto the grass. By the time she got back to her feet, the vendor was already busy with the children's orders. Quickly she stepped away and hid behind a tree so he couldn't see her.
The boys' voices were very loud: "Hey, I was here first!...No, I was!...I want the chocolate one!...Wassat you say? I want the same!...Gimme that one!..." In this constant babble, the vendor laughed. "Calm down, fellas! You'll all get yours soon enough!" He looked up quickly and realized the little girl had disappeared. "Blast!" he muttered, "gone already!"
Elise was already skittering back into the park where her parents were playing tennis with friends. She stopped by the bench in front of the courts. Already her mother was sitting there, a bottle of mineral water in one hand, a cellphone in the other, staring into the distance with a misty glaze over her eyes. As though she would rather be elsewhere than here with her family. Elise moved in front of her and she jumped, dropping the cellphone.
"Why, Elise," she exclaimed, "you're back already – did you get an ice cream?"
"No, Mum, the ice cream man didn't have what I wanted".
"Well, just play on the swings then and when your father finishes his game, we might go home", was the reply. As Elise sidled away, her mother picked up the phone and started dialling a number. There was a pause, then swearing and Elise heard the phone being banged on the bench.
"Hell! I can't phone Dean! How the fuck am I going to see him tomorrow? I have to make the date for Wednesday!" she heard her mother mutter.
As it turned out, Elise's mother never did manage to meet Dean or whoever it was she was trying to phone because the next day when Elise got home from school, her mother was already home and in tears because Dean - whoever had left a phone message to say a child had got severe food poisoning from eating tainted ice cream and was in a coma at hospital.
Later when they turned the TV on and a bulletin appeared with news that two boys had died and several others were in a coma from eating ice creams, Elise's mother began to cry and had to leave the kitchen.
Breaking Away from Your Roots
Director: Tykeya O'Neil
Photographer: Jasmine Thompson
Stylists: Lindsey Story and Sidney Shuman
Model: Leah Schmidt
Writer: Christine Stoddard
Nails in the soil, tickling the corpses--
what are you digging for?
Your ancestors are tired,
begging you to break away
from your bloody roots.
Salvation does not lie in the past,
only in the dark eyes of the future,
tucked beneath a raven's wing,
hidden as a snail's legs.
Whisper into the future and tiptoe
until your dreams become the present,
until your fantasies untie themselves
from yesterday's little crucifixes.
Do not become your elders. Surpass them.
Break the vine and suck the berry.
The wooded path is yours to clear
with clean nails, not claws.
By Alexander C. Kafka
he was unprepared
for the effects
at his touch
his children clutched
their seats when
he prepared to
speak because they
knew the floor
from his sub
he dreamed of the
and awoke crying
he tried to
revert but his
analog self had
in the rain
he played what
was left of
it and it stretched
and spiraled and
tore with one
now he is
muted his high
By Kaelne Koorn
Property of the Swordfish
You love me with the fury of a swordfish
You'll stab my heart in jealousy and I'll float to the top of the ocean
The hawks and sea gulls will fight for my corpse
until you leap from the waves and shout,
“That cadaver is mine!”
Even in death you shall own me
By Jessica Reidy
December, full of falcons
ripping bodies for their infants' beaks.
Fathers preen and hunt poorly
and starving mothers circle.
The translucent skin
pooled beneath my eyes turns red.
I used to divine--flights
and omens slipped into tea cups.
What has me stopped? I look
away from the falcon's trailing
claws ripping slip-streams apart.
When old cards turn an old meaning
I put them away.
The hares take silence as their place.
Arctic foxes keep their fur close--
a reminder of inequality, night, and day.
Owls wear their witches' faces
and I would wear them too--
I could never hide the evidence
behind veils and scarves
like stregha women do.
In the morning, owl
eyes stud their clever skins.
Their husbands beat them blank
again, but surely, magic
could destroy hands and knives
flying through air--change them
to arctic hares racing across the tundra, white
and ready to be devoured.
A walk through the polar forest
turns up a picked skull,
small, with two holes
for front teeth since fallen out.
Jessica Reidy's work has appeared in several journals including The Los Angeles Review, Arsenic Lobster, Frogpond, Moloch, and Ribbons. She is the 2008 winner of the Nancy Thorp Poetry Prize. She has given readings in Ireland in both Cork and Dublin, including the SoundEye Cork International Poetry Festival in 2009 and 2010, and in 2012 at The Warehouse in Tallahassee, Florida.
By Carly Berg
Cigarette smoke fogs the family in the thin yellow stage light. The colorful couple squares off, castanets held up, until applause dies down.
Each spouse has a child behind them, their spouse’s miniature. In the opening dance, their castanets fly high clickety click clickety click. They drop them, tension builds. As one, husband and wife slap each other across the face. The audience sucks in the room’s air. The couple recovers and bows.
The crowd claps in time as each spouse swings the other’s replica by the hands. Faster, faster, flame orange red pink silk, school shoe soles, brown hair sailing. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. Clapclapclapclapclap. The crowd yells, Yeah! The giant twin pinwheels slow to a stop. The couple bows. The kids jump in place, two exclamation marks.
Kicking up heels, the parent-child pairs be-bop to the far ends of the stage. Turn. Step-slide to the middle, Mom and Dad lead. Parents step back one two three, twirl on axis, two spinning tops.
Kids at the center. Ready, set, go. Boy-slaps-girl-slaps-boy. Oh! The audience exhales, the room brightens with air. The family re-forms and bows.
Duo faces duo, a foursome in the ring. Their red gold violet sleeves sway, arms above heads like climbing out, let me out. The bell dings.
Dad slaps boy as Mom slaps girl, send them reeling, do-si-do. The audience stands hoots stamps through the sickly haze. Family lines up, parrot soldiers, parents center, bow, Bow, Bow, bow.
Carly Berg lives with a sweet baboo, an Easter peep, and a visiting lightning bolt who wants you to know he’s an adult and a guest. Her stories appear or are forthcoming in PANK, Word Riot, Bartleby Snopes, and elsewhere.
By John Grey
and who, after all,
can live anyplace,
but a weed or a rat,
or scurrying out of,
sometimes even flowering,
and suckling its young
and who struts
out into the backyard
or down into the cellar
with an array of toxins...
but the man who made love
to a woman last night,
who lies back on his couch
while Mozart plays
on the stereo
it’s another fine paradox
you’ve got me into
By Ashley Parker Owens
Cele remembered every sensory impression she ever had, even from before her birth. Dark and silent inside her mother, her brain popped colors and language. Her body throbbed with her mother's slow heartbeats, and her developing ears detected every giggle, chew and slurp, and the hint of murmurs beyond.
She squeezed out into the world amidst noise -- her aunts trumpeting -- and plopped to the ground. The tip of her trunk sought out mammaries warm and slightly sour, and she was encouraged to stand to suckle sweet milk with her mouth. After her birth, her senses dulled but didn't disappear. She became aware of changes of temperature. It was warm by the mammaries, cold on the floor. The blotches of gold and cerulean hues still swirled about her vision as they did inside the womb. At night, the colors dulled, and in the sun, they washed out to a white void. She couldn't recognize objects unless she could wander near them to caress and smell with her trunk. Chained in one location, her discoveries were limited.
Under the tent were many of her kind, and during the years of her childhood they surrounded her, ashen wrinkly skin touching same, the smaller ones in the center safe. Inside her mother, she felt protected. Surrounded within a circle of the herd was a different kind of shelter. Beyond her eyes, the gray musk of the herd floated. To conjure color, all she had to do was close her eyes, and it was as if she was back in her mother. Eyes opened or shut, Cele always knew her mother's location by her giggle.
During the day, life awed her. She practiced for the big show in a silence punctuated with whistles and slaps, and cracks of a whip. Colors swirled and danced, and her trunk captured odors of rotting meat, the urine of the cats, and popcorn. At night, they dressed her in long pink foil strands, and the reflection of light electrified her every movement. The chaotic energy of the crowd fed her need for appreciation, and watermelons satisfied her thirst for a job well done.
Her early life was the same length of time as in her mother. Once she had stopped nursing, they had started to train her to stand on two feet. Practice had frustrated her until they learned to give her sound commands. After that, she performed well and was rewarded with cantaloupes. She loved her time in the training tent.
The day Cele separated from the herd was fragmented. She awoke midsleep, the herd restless. Nestled in the center, less smoke and fire came her way. Men led the elephants, trunk grasping tail, out of the tent and to a farm. Not all of them were there, and some were led off to another field. When they came for her, she had a feeling she wouldn't return.
For weeks afterward, her mind stayed cloudy through stuffy jiggling train rides. She walked painful distances alone with no others of her kind, only people to lead her. They traveled down roads with hard structures, men and women staring at her, children shrieking. The paved roads hurt her feet. The chain remaining around her ankle clinked and clanked as she walked, and was attached to poles or to the ground when they stopped. She became aware of her dry mouth, and her bulk slowly thinned. There wasn't enough food or water to satisfy, and the isolation from her family of beasts exhausted her ability to concentrate. Her eyes, already defective, itched and watered, a leftover sting from the smoke. Despite the offers of apples and bananas from the Big One's lining the streets of the village, she ached for something other than sweets to fill the loss of the herd. Away from co- performers, she'd become a disfigured freak, ready for a sideshow.