‘The First Pancake’ by E. Pique

soft cartel may 2018

When I was a kid living in California, wildfires were a common occurrence. At camp we laid out our go bags at the end of our beds every night in case we needed to evacuate. I never actually had to live through one, but we would hike to see the massive black scars left on the mountains by the fires, and we would imagine running from them through the darkness and the heat and the smoke. Back at home, I would lie awake making lists. How would I escape if the house caught fire? What would I save? What could I save? It became a nightly ritual. Say my prayers. Kiss my teddy bear goodnight. Try to save my loved ones from the fire. When we moved away to Indiana my bedtime ruminations shifted from fires to tornadoes, and then to the more immediate terrors of math tests and oral presentations. I thought I’d put my preoccupation with natural disasters behind me until my first child was born. I would read the horror stories, and I would make lists. What if…

[Fast forward]

We were living in my brother-in-law’s one-bedroom unit on the fifth floor of a high rise apartment building. He had a balcony, which was good. I’d devised an elaborate scheme involving wrapping the baby in a sheet and swinging him from balcony to balcony to get safely down to the ground should the building go up in flames. It was preposterous, but had helped me sleep. Then one day I noticed that the neighbor immediately below us had enclosed his balcony. No good! I lay wide-eyed awake shooting terrified glances at my son sleeping in the crib by the window.

“Go to sleep.”

It was no use. “We’re all gonna die.”

“What are you talking about?”

I was giving my husband my most pathetic apologetic look, knowing I was going to sound like a hysterical idiot. I told him how the neighbor had foiled my escape plan.

“Tell me, how do I save the baby now?” I implored pitifully.

“The whole building is made of concrete, and the stairwell is faced in fire retardant tile. Just stay off the elevator. He’ll be fine.”

“Really?” He nodded.

“Oh, thank God.” He put his arm around me, and I fell asleep.

[Fast forward]

My son was screaming on the toilet again. We’d tried suppositories and laxatives and diet changes, we’d tried everything, but the problem wasn’t physiological, it was psychological. He was afraid to poop, and he was doing his damndest to hold it in. He had been pacing and moaning, and there was no doubt in my mind that he had to go. He had to go. I’d put him on the toilet several times that day trying inducements like bonbons and favorite books and videos all to no avail. Now it was an hour before we were supposed to meet his little friends on the playground for the last time before leaving for the summer to visit grandma in the US. He had to go. He had to go now. He was kicking and screaming as I tried to hold him on the toilet. I heard the voices in my head screaming even louder.

What are you doing? This isn’t normal. Why can’t you get him to use the toilet like a normal kid. How hard could it be? Everyone else in the whole world can do this without all the drama. Gorillas can do this, why can’t he? What are you doing wrong? Did you give him enough water? What did he eat? Why can’t you fix him? If he doesn’t poop we’ll have to take him to the doctor again…

He kept screaming. He had to poop.

“Please, please, just let it go!” I pleaded, holding his thighs too hard against the toilet seat.

He punched me in the face with a tiny closed fist. I slapped him back. Hard. Hard enough to leave the pink imprint of three fingers on his cheek just below his left eye. He was three years old.

Fuck! What have you done! You evil bitch! You monster!

Now he was shrieking in pain and rage. I desperately wanted to rewind, to take it back, to erase it, but in that moment with his screams reverberating around my head, I also wanted to hit him again.


I went into the hallway, leaving him on the toilet apoplectic. Was the baby watching me hit myself? Again. Again. As hard as I could. I looked in the mirror. I wanted to leave a mark just like the one I’d put on my son. I wanted to feel exactly what I’d done. I deserved to suffer.

Stop it! Stop it! Stop!

My heart pounded and my stomach clenched.

What have I done? I can’t take it back. What do I do now? Don’t see me. Don’t see this. Fuck!

I took him off the toilet, and tried to calm him down. Half an hour later, he was still fidgeting, obviously still holding it in, but he was also smiling and ready to go to the playground to see his friends—with three pink finger marks still emblazoned on his cheek.

What do I do? They’ll see. They’ll all see it. They’ll all know what I’ve done. They’ll take my kids away. Maybe we should just stay home. No! I’m not going to cancel his play date. I’m not going to make him pay for my mistake. He wants to go play, to see his friends. He should see them. And they should see him. See what I did to him. Maybe I deserve to lose my kids. Maybe I shouldn’t come back with them from the States. Maybe they’re better off without me. I deserve to suffer.

I packed up the stroller with water and snacks and sand toys and headed to the park with my stomach churning and my heart in my throat.

What happens now?

I watched the other mothers notice the marks. I braced myself. Prepared to be honest. I wasn’t going to lie about what I’d done. I deserved the guilt and the shame. I deserved to suffer. No one said a thing.

Oh, my God. I’m the fire that’s burning my babies. What do I do now? This can never happen again.


You sound just like my wife. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

But I never told You that story. I never told You what was really at stake that night several months later when the kids were screaming, and I locked myself in the toilet. I never told You how I’d asked for help, for a babysitter, for a break, for a therapist, for medication if it came to that, but instead was told to just be normal. How hard could that be?

“My parents can do what you’re doing,” my husband had told me. “I can take the kids away to stay with them if you can’t handle this.”

Maybe he was right. Maybe they would all be better off without me. Maybe I had nothing to offer a child. I never told You that story, because hitting myself in the face wishing I could take it back, I didn’t want You to see me, but you were there. I always bring you to the places I don’t want anyone else to see. I don’t want to be alone in them.

So, why then, did I tell You this story.


…tonight, after my husband came home with my son while I was trying to put the baby down, effectively preventing that from happening after I’d nursed her for about half an hour, I was done. My nerves were shot, hormones, weather. I don’t know. I went and laid in bed while the kids played with daddy, and when the baby found me and started in, I just said “I love you,” and laid there ignoring her, because that’s all I could think of to do. I took her to my husband. She found me again. I hid in the bathroom. She started screaming and crying, and I knew that me being with her would be worse for her than me staying in the toilet. Then my son started asking where I was, and my husband said “I don’t know. Mama’s gone.” So, I came out. For my son. I didn’t want him to think I’d just leave. I put him to bed and kissed him, and tried to make everything seem okay. But the whole time the sirens were blaring. The baby wouldn’t give me any peace, and I couldn’t stand to have her on me again. I went to the kitchen to wash dishes. She was still screaming.

I have never hit my daughter, not a swat on the bum, not a slap on the wrist, nothing. I’ve never left her in her crib at night screaming for me to come back. I’ve never left her sobbing at day care. I’ve never left her. I have that sickening moment I hit my son carved into my soul, and it protects her. It gives me endless patience for her, the blank slate. Yet, when I look at him, I see the guilt and shame of every mistake and false start, and it gets under my skin. He hits, kicks, scratches, pinches, sasses, fights, rages, and it’s all my fault. I know it is. I want to have the same well of patience and bag of tricks for him that I have for my daughter, but every time I find my groove, he grows out of it. Yes, I will lock myself in the toilet to protect him, but I will never leave. Not really.

“You know I love every part of you, always, even when I’m angry.”

“I know that already, Mama,” he says rolling his eyes exaggeratedly.

“How do you know?”

“I know that, because you already told me that. I know.”

He’s four. He knows everything, but does he feel it in the marrow of his bones? He’s my first, and I’ve burned him, but I would never ever throw him away. I just don’t know what I’m doing.

I feel the same way about you.


Thanks I need all the moms I can get.

Now, listen to your first born, your beautiful precious boy, grown into a kind, strong, independent man. Listen to him say that he had, if however briefly, become a–


… wandering, lonely, drunken vagrant…

because he’d never realized you actually cared. Listen to your Baby, you could have spared him that pain if you hadn’t abandoned him. Can you feel it? It’s like a shot to the gut. I’m not supposed to feel that way about You, but I do. It takes my breath away.

I had hit You hard and left a mark. I thought You were better off without me.

Three Poems by Diana Rosen

soft cartel may 2018

Water Sports

Lolling in the bath, I remember
your arms around me,
palms atop my thighs,
your body pressing my back,
seeking softness awaiting you.
Lifting me backwards
you drape me onto your floating body,
your hands covering my breasts.
My feet dangle
in chlorine-scented waters.
We’re sandwiched together until
gently broadsided—a wayward raft—
I soar through aquamarine light,
gaze at your face half surprised,
half amused, thoroughly distracted:

Floatus interruptus.

Jungle Fever

We pace like pumas
flutter like birds
circle one another
‘til a sky of surety unites
sweet flowers of lips.
The Chinese astrologer
said we had each been
the same person. That
somehow the cosmos
split us apart
brought us back
together, or maybe we
are just two people
on the edge of loneliness
who did not run away
this time.

Walking Through Green Gulch One Tuesday

My friend Karen, she of precise poetic line breaks,
and I, with my words sprawling to the edge of the page,
walk this winding path marked with leaves, not casually blown
to the ground, but laid in a pattern like a precious Oriental
carpet of boomerangs in red and ochre. The path is bordered
on both sides with a low fence of gray logs tied with X’s
of tan rope and gray interspersed with precisely positioned
round rocks, like grocery produce stacked more exactly
than nature ever intended. Empty shoes lean against
the outside meditation room wall: dutiful lap dogs
awaiting their masters’ return. From contrived orderliness,
the path veers off to a greenhouse nursery attended by three
women in matching wide-brimmed hats and mindfulness,
cutting fresh flowers for market. We wander further to a rose-
covered arbor that opens onto an English country garden
of clipped hedges and graceful benches where we sit Karen,
Zen quiet, me with racing thoughts, inhaling the thick lush
grass sweet with morning dew. Behind us, a jumble of cosmos
in a Manet splatter of colors, sways in the twilight breeze
as if to say, “You cannot control everything.”

DIANA ROSEN is a journalist, nonfiction book author with 13 credits, essayist, and poet/flash fiction writer. Recent and forthcoming print and online publications include The Pangolin Review, Poetic Diversity, Zingara Review, Ariel Chart, These Fragile Lilacs, and the anthologies Poetry Box: Love Poems and Altadena Poetry Review. Other credits, among others, include RATTLE, Tiferet Journal, Camroc Review, and Verse-Virtual.

‘Big Bosomed River’ & ‘For the Gone Mother’ by Beth Oast Williams

soft cartel may 2018

Big Bosomed River

River swells like a lady
puffing up her chest
shows off cleavage
as she flows over the edges
of her dress.

River swells in orgasm
of heavy breathing
riprap unable to hold back
the waves as they burst
in succession on the shore.

She lays down in the street
vomits in the basement
a drunken mess
pumped from the stomach
after the damage is done.

Salt of sweat left behind
streaks white on the windows
like the caps
tipped towards us
when the river pays a visit.

For the Gone Mother

Sometimes I capture night thoughts
like butterflies in a net
and hold on to them until the morning

the new day when all is forgiven
and the sun takes a mother’s place
gently easing me out of sleep

this morning a jar full of words
spilled onto the breakfast counter
regrets burst the perfect dome

of an over-easy egg
its barren juice
ruining scattered slips of paper

what was routine now a mess
no clean towels to mop up
the memory of what was said

this day will not die by noon
in a cold hospital room
it will clock out on time

and before the next sunrise a man’s hand
will once again steal tomorrow
from an unsuspecting hen.

Beth Oast Williams is a student with the Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Her poetry has appeared recently in Lou Lit and SHANTIH.  A former librarian, she spends most of her time still trying to make order out of chaos.

‘reclaiming what is mine’ & ‘indecipherable’ by Maribel C. Pagán

soft cartel may 2018

reclaiming what is mine

this rigid stone pathway is mine,
though hopeless abandon should be

where this wild heart lies and all that it holds—

but i give it up for this stone pathway i created.

the letting go is the hard part.
it always is, when stones are stable

and stay where they’re put—unbroken

shambles. yet this wild heart burns

and beats like those galloping horses,
this wild heart beats for the trees

and the rivers who make new paths.
it is to these woods i must escape to,

where my soul meets the earth
and wild means letting go.


notes on a stick she left upon the ocean floor.
seaweed clung to it, wrapped like a scroll.

wishes sealed in a language, an alphabet
indecipherable. the ancient precedes

within it. to discover, you must drop into
its black hole of music. sink before you swim.

die before you live. speak tongues. tread
through fire. hear echoes before you hear

its voice. jot your wishes upon the sand
and watch them melt away into the ocean.

Maribel C. Pagán is a Latina writer and poet. She has appeared in Gone Lawn, Foliate Oak, 7×20, Cuento, and others. She has received 4th Place in the Word Weaver Writing Contest, among other prestigious awards. Additionally, she is the Editor-in-Chief of Seshat, a Prose Reader for Apprehension, a Poetry Reader for Frontier Poetry, and a singer and musician for The Angelic Family Choir. Visit Maribel at http://therollinghills.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @maribelauthor12.

‘Maggiano’s’ by Karen Alyse Billings

soft cartel may 2018

My sister and I always go to Maggiano’s for her birthday. She always gets the Crispy Pepperoni Risotto Bites and I always get the Mozzarella Marinara. I smile as I glance at the clock. 6:53 PM. She won’t be here until precisely 7:00 PM because she is always exactly on time—never early, never late. I sit in our usual corner of the restaurant, smiling. I have already ordered for us and have made arrangements that my sister is totally unaware of. I got here early so I could tell the waiter about my special plans for her.

Ever since we were young, Lacy has wanted to try alcohol—specifically the Once Upon a Vine Sauvignon Blanc—obviously for the novelty purposes, but also because it’s the type of wine our father had with his Italian food—that’s also why we go to Maggiano’s. Lacy might think I don’t know, but she has never been good at hiding things from me—her crushes, her diary, her chocolate, and her love for our father that she feels she has to hide from mom and me. Our father may not have always been the nicest man, but he was still our father.

I remember his scent—musky as though he was always outdoors. Long hair, cradling his face, but stopping before becoming too long—pitch black. When I was younger, I often wondered if there were little monsters hiding in it—you’d never know without running your hands through it to find them. He always let me and would pretend like there were, making up these little monster voices for me. Dad had known how to have fun.

One day we walked out of the house to welcome him home as he drove up the driveway after work, Lacy was in 2nd grade, I was in 6th.

“Daddy!” Lacy said, jumping up and down with her arms stretched out.

I smiled, well at least he came home.

Continue reading “‘Maggiano’s’ by Karen Alyse Billings”

Three Poems by RC deWinter

soft cartel may 2018

the scholar of loneliness

the scholar of loneliness is dead
but what is the world without someone to
illuminate that dark corridor

and so being well acquainted with the subject
volunteer to take that mantle
wear it
write of its empty geography

those of us familiar with it
attempt to fill it with speculation
despair and hope

the stray seed with no firm core
is always a lonely soul
those with roots have a hard time understanding that

but if you too are a transplant
and so often transplants find themselves in foreign soil
you carry that knowledge in your bones
the disconnect from nourishing ground

all hail the new scholar of loneliness
intimately acquainted with that darkness
who will walk that corridor with you
together yet separate
in our individual hells

audience non-participation

i lounge in my corner of the universe
louche long lazy
watching the endless performance
of the human comedy
but i’m not laughing
knives flash silver in the moonlight
and another innocent falls bleeding
but i’m no hero
i laid my sword down long ago

swiveling my head
i focus on the people
dancing on the graves
of children who starved
while grain rotted in warehouses
the pope said mass
and functionaries initialed
documents full of promises
they never intended to keep

if i had any ambition i’d get up
and change my seat but i’m not sure
that would make any difference
so i order another drink
and then another
and wonder why nothing’s changed
in hundreds of thousands of years
maybe it’s this hundred proof
we’re all sucking down

hell’s kitchen

what with the constant wind
deafening in its ferocity
hell is a cold but elegant place

it’s a challenge
to arrange a comfortable spot
in which to pass eternity

but it can be done

one must be careful
not to sit too close to the edge
of the canyon of angels

every so often one explodes
sending a blizzard of feathers
up into the wind

which then
plasters them in your face
and trust me there is no hell

like burnt feathers up your nostrils
in your tongue sandwich
all over your little black dress

but overall it’s not so bad

not that it’s exhilarating
but the tales of the despair of the damned
are gross exaggerations

truthfully the worst thing
about eternal damnation
is the food

and your punishment
is being served the same thing
at every meal

take me
i was a terrible liar
terrible as in constant and convincing

consequently i get a tongue sandwich
morning noon and night
disgusting but not as bad as some

killers get blood pudding

whatever’s leftover from yesterday
goes to thieves and so on
it’s all geared to your worst behavior

keep this is mind because
guess what
you’ll be here too

i call it hell but really
it’s just where everybody goes
the gang’s all here

and all the devils are chefs

no pitchforks just forks
and carving knives and ladles
and they’re damned too

because they cook the same thing every damned day

if you were hoping for pie in the sky
forget it
there’s no dessert in the afterlife

but believe me
once you get used to the wind
and the food you’ll be fine

RC deWinter is a Connecticut writer/digital artist whose poetry has been anthologized in “New York City Haiku,” published by the New York Times, and in “Uno: A Poetry Anthology.”  Her poetry has appeared in print in 2River View, Pink Panther Magazine, Another Sun, Plum Ruby Review, Garden Tripod, The Gall and in numerous online publications for two decades. 

Her art has been published in print, online and also used as set décor on ABC-TV’s “Desperate Housewives.” She is proud to be the first digital artist invited to exhibit at the Arts of Tolland Gallery in Connecticut.


Four Poems by William Rivera

soft cartel may 2018

New Orleans Memoir

Slaves, whores, convicts, the British sent
to populate what was then a swamp.

My Scottish immigrant family grew rich
on liquor sales, bought the 14-room double camelback
house where I grew up. The Robert E. Lee Circle
around the corner–-magnificent, politics
tainted, an icon, dismantled. A kid, I knew little then.

Walking through the “colored” section on my way to school,
I see the dark women, eluding ‘the evil eye,’ scrubbing
their front steps till the wood turns white. Marie Laveau
dances voudou on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.

Whitey, I wake in “black” bars,
safely left to sleep until it dawns on me
I’m late for school.

Bring Your Own Chair

It was hard, the 1930s, failing on a roll of dice.
And he borrowed without asking to
her mother’s new radio, lost on a pony. “Send him back!”
her mother commanded. Summer days went shiver.

Rubbing holes in their clothes,
in alleyways, stray bedrooms. Her a poet,
third generation Scots. Him, Latin, illegal,
a gambler’s charm. Both late teens. I imagine their desire.

their arms reaching…hugging,
each sitting half on a single borrowed chair—no fixed seats
back than at the talking pictures.
That night

I feel their rush toward the exit,
spurred by the opened doors, their quick steps
past posters, the ticket-taker booth, their breath in their hands.
Images made flesh.

A Walk Down Calliope Street

For Marmee (1898?-1965)

Some say Calliōpe, like hope.
Others, Ca-li-o-pē. An eye-sore now,
a trash heap under a twin cantilever bridge.

I blink against the dust and watch
what now connects Algerines to New Orleans.
Gone the persimmon tree, the double camelback house.
The place, the people – I couldn’t wait to escape.


the name, her story come and gone. Once in mythology
I read she gathered stars for her love-god, Ares.
When he possessed all her stars, he locked her up
in a golden cage, used her stars for war.
When freed from seizure, she replenished the heavens,
conceived the stars to shine, if not to touch.

Poems seldom resolve the issues they pose.
I clearly can’t go home again. The block’s not even there.
Just the smell of pee, invisibles, and me
back where I started, itching to be off.

The Source of Movable Reality

On a crowded St. Charles Streetcar, a colored woman
squeezed next to where my grandmother and I sat
in front of a sign that read, “No colored in front of this sign.”

My grandmother glanced at me. “Don’t you
see that lady standing there.” I stood. Hesitant, tired
of oppressive rules and heavy groceries, she sat down.

The ticket collector spoke to her, “Don’t you see
that sign in back of you?” She readied herself to stand,
when my grandmother reached back, lifted the sign,

placed it in front of her. I watched in her grasp
a movable reality take place, hearing her ask,
“Now, are you going to move me young man?!”

William Rivera is the author of four collections of poems: Café Select
(Poet’s Choice Publisher, 2016); Noise (Broadkill River Press, December
2015): The Living Clock (Finishing Line Press, 2013); and Buried in
the Mind’s Backyard (Brickhouse Books, Inc. 2011). Born in New
Orleans, he has traveled and published widely. Currently retired, he
taught agricultural extension and development at the University of
Maryland from 1981-2009.

Rivera’s poems have been published in various poetry magazines:
Innisfree, Broadkill River Review, Raven’s Perch, The Broome Review,
California Quarterly, Gargoyle, Recursive Angel, The Curator Magazine,
Third Wednesday, Ghazal. Lit Undressed, Blazevox, 2River Review, Loch
Raven, and others.