‘Of Poets’ & ‘The Event Horizon’ by Aditya Shankar

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Of Poets

Let’s give it to them. They say what we want to.
Over and over. They use the word together with

intent; may be as important as a hoarding punch line.
If salesmen, they had sell fire to the sun, and air to the

wind. If henchmen, they had swirl their cudgel at the
cruel master, first thing. Sorry for the simile. I panic

over their employability. Their resume, not clean
according to corporate lingo. Their references, the

inverted bar chart of a stock in free fall, a statisticians
nightmare. Their friends, unfaithful narks who offer

a bed for the night, only to turn them in. Their savings,
dang! The kids know more about banks. Their credit

score so low they can’t buy a cigar on loan. Hardly a
surprise then, only dead-metaphor-types write poems

about the beauty and grief of the world and become
important in the eyes of pet dogs and gardeners, or the

secretary of an apartment association, the editor of a
corporate funded magazine, the advisor of a corrupt

government. While poets rot away in detention, their
hands bend irrevocably, their penis nailed to the table.

Their anti-fascist mouths, sutured. Their legs, tied to the
prison bars, stunted. Their face veiled in sedition, banished.

They return from exile and torture to see that their words
have gone out of vogue, that we have stopped printing

their quotes on T-shirts, placards or flags. So they curl
on pavements, along with their poems and stray cats,

until their esse surface like a ballooned cadaver. Stench
of their words, undying. Poets, the bleeding tongue of time.

The Event Horizon

Take note:

the home clock is
an open eye
of surveillance,
of detached vigil,

even after
years of togetherness.

A tearless eye,
at the deathbed.

A parched well, in
the barren expanse
of vacuum.

A twisted mirror,
even in grief.

Isn’t it time that
we split ways,

evade the
event horizon*,

return to the
world of mortal eyes?

There is drama
in their waiting.

Throbs oust ticks, the
rhythm of breakdown
fades like windshield mist.

The one who waits
stands on a cliff,
ascends a tall tree,
perches on church-top cross.

Either to fly,
or to fall.

In the one
about to
turn the corner,

we would see
a nest for lovers,

a neo time in it, that
ticks only for us.

The eye of that
clock never turns
into a camera —

It chants
a mantra of
wilful sacrifices.

Note: * – A notional boundary around a black hole beyond which no light or other radiation can escape.

Aditya Shankar is an Indian poet, flash fiction author, and translator. His poetry collections include After Seeing (2006), Party Poopers (2014), and XXL (2018). His book of translations titled ‘Tiny Judges Shall Arrive’ is forthcoming from Hong Kong. His animated shorts have participated in International Film Festivals. He lives in Bangalore, India.

Four Poems by Tom del Toro

 

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Eclipse

I had to tell the earth
of us. I chalked our names
into the fallen sky
during a full eclipse,
when no one saw
how deep the etches
of the sun and moon.

We are worn like centuries.
We find ourselves in perfect form
but once this life,
crossing like signal lights
in the waves and waves
of night, drifting
to find each other’s shore.

Suddenly a World

There are the moments in your life
when you cannot know what comes, what has crossed
through fire to find you where you are,
staring up at the unquenched stars
to rest in the deep and quiet pools
of your deep and quiet veins.

Those songs of despair were there
back before you knew the flow of rivers.
So were those poems of love
when you looked into the water
and saw the ripples of her reflection
in the hazel blue of darkness visible.

Suddenly a world
where all the words come soft like falling rain.
You could stay dry under the trees,
but instead, your arms become the branches,
your body the trunk, your legs and toes the roots.
You touch the rain and grow into the seasons.

Falling in that Fallen Snow

For us our lives begin again in snow,
the snowflakes melting on our skin,
the branches of cottonwoods,
like the arms of a wool sweater,
gathering all our whispers.

Inside that warmth, the heat
of us, conversations with the soul.
We could have a life lived over,
fearless, undaunted,
courageous like the moon through the sky.

Let’s pretend and start now, even bolder.
Let’s pretend and hold each other’s hand.
Let’s stay in the fallen snow, shivering in ourselves.
Let’s be that first night
and all the other future nights to come.

Let’s Cross Like Slow Madness

I see how salt desires
the melting kiss like ice.
Naked and secret in its breath,
it dances dark around the light,
moves like magic,
cages nothing,
embraces the eternity of oceans.

The other world isn’t for us.
This world, cloaked in fables,
wrapped in a canvas of sunsets,
this is where we’ll find our shore.
And if we wander, lose ourselves to sea,
let’s cross like slow madness,
beautiful and heavy in its sleep.

Tom del Toro grew up in the son of a oil field worker in the Rocky Mountains. He has published in various literary journals over the last ten years. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and works in higher education.

‘Footprints’ by Monika R. Martyn

 

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The soft sound of lapping water woke Jack. He hoped that whomever was in the hotel room above hadn’t overrun the bathtub. But he couldn’t open his eyes just yet. The light would assault his pupils with more pain than he could bear; at the moment. His mouth was dry, though after drinking for nearly twenty-four hours straight, it shouldn’t be. And his teeth had sprouted some sort of velvet fuzz that his tongue desperately tried to scrape off.

‘He’s coming to.’

Jack overheard someone speak, but that wasn’t the puzzle that needed solving. Why was he all wet? Did the hotel have waterbeds? Did it spring a leak? The bed gently rocked beneath him, despite feeling like a raw piece of wood against his back. Just one more minute, he promised himself, then he’d deal with the voice and the wetness. First he needed to envision that exquisite moment when she climbed toward him. Like a goddess rising from the mist, she had chosen to bestow her beautiful smile on him.

‘Wake up!’

Was that a foot kicking him? Jack fumbled for the duvet. He knew it was on his bed last night, but it must have fallen off during the struggle. He laughed a little. Yes, struggling to get out of his expensive suit and her clinging dress. She didn’t put up much of a fight, and it had only taken one of his famous how you doin? grins to tempt her. She’d been climbing the winding staircase leading from the lobby while he was descending. Wow! She had legs that went on forever; though technically they ended were her lace panties started. A shade of intimate pink.

‘Buddy. Wake up!’

Jack brought his arm up. The light, whatever they were shining on him, must have been charged with a thousand volts. He felt its searing heat. His other arm shot out trying to find her on his bed; he did not want the dream to end. They had danced, flirted, and that led to some risqué behaviour on the dance floor. When the power went out, a bit of panic ensued. He remembered clasping her elegant fingers and running down the corridor toward his hotel room. Outside, a freak storm had picked up pace and slammed the lounge chairs, umbrellas, and whatever else against the glass doors. Safe in his ground level room, he had closed the heavy drapes. Standing in the darkness, she purred while unfastening his buttons. She buried her hands inside his freshly starched cotton shirt, and her skin became his skin. His trousers slunk silently to the floor. The game was on.

‘Leave him! He’ll come to when the booze wears off.’

Finds out what? Jack hated the voices; the inexplicable wet feeling. The gentle rocking made his stomach heave. Damn! He hadn’t been sick from drinking since he was a young pup. But it was unmistakable. The feeling of nausea crawling up his throat, bile burning.

‘He’s gonna hurl! His colour is changing.’

They were right. Jack retched. A long string of clear fluid, and painful dry heaves raised his stomach towards his throat. What happened to the day’s worth of JD, the finger foods he had nibbled on, served on trays that floated around the wedding venues, carried by faceless waiters. It would feel so much better if he could divest his stomach of something solid. Even the ice cubes that they served the never ending tumblers of JD with. This was excruciating, and he didn’t want her to see him like this. This was not cool.

‘Get him some water.’

Last night, his grey eyes had difficulty leaving her green ones. This morning they were sealed shut with the goop of dreams. What was her name again? He tried to remember. He had no problem recalling her lean contours, the champagne sized cups of her breasts, the red mouth, the silky long hair.Was it Stacy? Amanda? Ella? No. He was sure it was something exoctic, possibly feline, and she had been, partially, responsible for the strings of spittle that were dripping from his mouth. She could drink. All he could taste now was bile seasoned with salt.

‘Hose him off! Won’t matter if he gets wet.’

Someone was laughing. Jack shielded his eyes and braved the light. But it wasn’t the glare that caused his vision difficulty. It was the never ending blue. It was above him and all around him. He was sure his hotel room had been a shade of monotonous taupe accented by a shade of thrill seeking beige. And why on earth was he lying on a piece of wood? What the hell happened to his pillow, the mattress? And why on earth were three guys in bad cut-offs poking him with bare feet. He banged his head when he fell backward, but the cold splash of water made him bolt upward.

‘What the f…!’ Jack scrambled to standing, but everything around him swayed.

‘Give him a minute.’

A hand on his shoulder steadied him. Don’t fight it. Just go with the flow. The voice was smoker’s cough kind, but it wasn’t anyone Jack recognized from the hotel, or his life. In a glimpse, he saw the carved face on tanned skin. Tufts of sun-washed hair were subdued by what appeared to be a bandana made of socks. Jack’s hand automatically reached blindly for his own neatly styled crew.

‘Come on buddy. Open your eyes slowly. It’ll make the spinning stop.’

Jack squeezed his eyelids shut and then did as he was told. Slowly he unfolded them from the slumber he’d been under. Leona! That was her name.

‘Where am I?’

The horizon seemed closer than it should have been. Gone was the cluster of hotels, the cafes, the restaurants on the strip. Gone were: the throng of people, what’s-her-name, his suitcase, and his mind.

‘What is this place?’

Jack looked to his bare feet. He was stark naked and his fingers and feet were pruned. He’d been in water for some time. Plastic and water. All around him he heard the gently lapping waves. The hand on his shoulder steadied him; the ground beneath him moved.

‘What the …? How the … did I get here?’

Wobbly, Jack did a full three-sixty. There were twenty or more people staring at him. None were dressed any better than the men standing next to him. All were tanned like the sixties never ended.

‘You’re in The Patch.’

‘The what?’

‘The Pacific. We assume wherever you were last was hit by a tsunami. Most of us have been here for years. This is not the sort of place tourists visit.’

‘What are you talking about? The Patch. Why is there’s no land anywhere in sight?’

‘Hawaii is that way.’ The guy pointed toward the vast blue. ‘California that way.’

Continue reading “‘Footprints’ by Monika R. Martyn”

‘Bad Penny’ by Mike Lee

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I reside in your left pocket. I clang, scratch and wear down with age, along with the rock your ex-girlfriend gave you; the one she found on a beach on the west coast of Ireland. My name is Lincoln, 1977-D. D stands for Denver, from  the mint where I was strikingly born, shiny and new, 1977 being the date of my creation.

You were upset the day you found me. You wanted to see Star Wars. But you were with your grandmother, walking on the street to the grocery store. You spotted me, and bent down to pick me up. If you collected three hundred of me, you thought, you could go see the movie.

I lie in concrete darkness, my tail exposed to the elements. Thanks for that. I get to see the sun some mornings in the decades since you found me. Resent the times I am not, but whatever, I remain unspent in my existence.

Your grandmother was appalled.

“Don’t pick that up,” she said. “It’s a bad penny and it will bring you bad luck.”

You waited until she wasn’t looking, then you ran back and grabbed me from that  obscure ground.

You did see the movie. Too bad I was unable to enjoy it. I was deep in the pocket of your dungarees.

While my life is secure with you, I always wanted to travel. Pennies travel far, you see, at least that is what I learned with my comrades at the Denver Mint, moving from bin to bin, and later rolled into paper, traveling to the bank. Who knows where I had gone over the years?

Instead, I came out of a little drawer in a cash register, and then fell from a hand while at a bus stop. A penny was still worth enough to be used for a bus. I’ve heard conversations over the years to know that I’m worth much less, and my younger comrades are not even of copper anymore.

I am rather pissed being stuck with you. After all this time, I believed that by the transitive property of logic I would get lost due to your incompetence. But, no—I am still here. Thanks for that. Keeping me is, unfortunately, the only aspect of your life you seem to do consistently well.

I hope tonight is the night you finally lose me. At this point, getting lost anywhere is a positive.

You hit the pavement hard this time. I have become aware enough about your life choices you were not long for this earth, but do you listen? No.

Through the denim fabric, I feel that the ground is cold on my tail. My head is detecting that your blood flow is a little off–more than usual. I feel it diminishing. The boom boom boom echoing from your heart was rapid, then slowing.

I am beginning to believe that something terribly wrong is going on with you.

The sounds have stopped. I am getting colder.

I guess then this is the moment where I should tell you how I feel about you.

There is a reason why you are where you are, which is dying, if not already dead.

No one is indispensable except to the other person. And since you know everyone, so therefore you are alone. You can lie to yourself and say this is not by choice but subconsciously, well, you do things that alienate others. Firstly, you are self-referential at inopportune times in light conversation.

This puts others off. Instead of having interesting things to say on subjects they are talking about, you refer to largely irrelevant personal experiences that you are kind of bullshitting about.

For instance, driving fast on a straightaway sometime in 1983 is not drag racing in high school, and others pick up on that. Learn to be truthful. Or better yet, learn to shut the fuck up.

Secondly, when you say you know certain others of your kind.

You do not know these people. Meeting them once on a social occasion, exchanging greetings–even shaking hands–is not true knowledge.

This is like buying a book and never reading it, but it sits there as if the possession of the object, like the fleeting moment of slightly significant human contact signifies a profound moment in history. Europeans are pretty brutal about this. From them, you may get a “Know me? KNOW ME? Have you ever had dinner with me? NO! You do not KNOW ME!”

At that, I’ve made my point.

So, need I search far for a third? Eh, why bother? Anyhow, I am tired of this fucking rock crushing me.

I am the bad penny that you stupidly picked up against the wisdom of your grandmother.

You were nine years old. You should have always listened to your elders. They knew shit.

Okay, perhaps I am oversimplifying your plight. But it is because you are a font of experiences that really did not quite happen in the way that you express them to others, and that you know everyone.

You knew no one, and not much of anything.

And at the moment you are indispensably dispensable.

Sorry. You should have been told that before, but I’m just a charmless cent.

Picking pennies from the ground. That is what led you to this.

I worry now I will be buried with your ex-girlfriend’s rock.

Damn.

Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in Soft Cartel, Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, The Airgonaut, The Alexandria Quarterly and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com.

’19 Toucans’ by Adrian Belmes

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She had been drifting for too long, too languid in the warm, wet air. The roaring of birds just beyond the window had kept her awake most the night, and the morning sun, relentless, rising to its zenith, brought no relief of temperature. Her thin top was soaked through with viscid, guilty sweat, and the covers had pooled in a discarded heap opposite the empty half of their expatriated bed. Richard had gone first into the shower and left her to mold, alone, in the unwelcome moisture.

Rolling from her back onto her side, she thought about Manuelo and his mango-scented fingers. The mattress springs collided with the bones in her hips, and she hummed, shifted. His bed was softer, she recalled. She had not slept there any more than here, but not for fault of birds. They did not watch her in that place, crying at the windows like voyeurs. Only vindictive alligators roamed beyond the walls of that shack in the cool, dark mangroves. Here, in her husband’s loveless bed, she remembered. Her fingers dipped beneath the hug of her elastic thong. She ran a hand down her thigh, thought of feathers, mangoes, mangroves, touched her sex lightly, breathed shallow.

“Honey?”

Her hand retreated, sluggish, interrupted, as she rolled back to her other flank, facing her intruder, creaking with the bedsprings. He only saw the flush in her cheeks and was perturbed.

“What? Is something wrong?”

She regarded his wet, apathetic body and saw scales glistening beneath the clinging dew. Her shallow smile did not reach her eyes.

“Sorry, I mistook you for an alligator.”

He twisted up his face, furrowed his brows, and turned his lips, but amusement came across his features and they twisted back again the other way. Head shaking, smiling, he retreated, dumb.

She considered the mangroves. The mangoes. The alligators.

Adrian Belmes is the editor in chief of Badlung Press and a managing editor for Fiction International. He published a chapbook about infidelity last year and an anthology about finstagrams this year. He doesn’t surf enough and frequently falls asleep to documentaries. His work can be found at adrianbelmes.com or @adrian_belmes on Twitter. He encourages you to bother him, frequently.

‘A Pleasant Volunteer’ by GJ Hart

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Fisty pistons those fists of sponge, plunged again and again into plastic buckets and beneath a sky of bad angles and branches like nails:

James took them like a champ.

He’d woken that day with a familiar ache warming his jaw. It was Saturday, the day of the village fete and in less than four hours his head would be secured between numbing hands clasped in mediaeval stocks and villagers, all known to him, would be lined before him, each with a dripping sponge clenched in their fist.

50 pence a throw – for charity, the sign read.

For charity.

Although the first was always the worse, each subsequent volley, (although diminished by familiarity) still arrived – thanks to that clement zephyr that twisted through the denes in June – ably equipped to deliver sufficient discomfort.

The day passed slowly and as soft waves converged to form an endless sea, James realised he’d made a terrible mistake. Nodding halfwit – saturated in more applause then water. How had he not foreseen that any intention, when sanctioned by compassionate enterprise, becomes reaved of its identity. As his hair dripped and fingers blued, he longed for different days, days bruised by a parent’s despairing whispers or a lover’s vicious asides.

After being unlocked from the stocks, he returned to his car, lifted the Toyota’s filthy tailgate and began to change out of his sodden clothes. First, he pulled hard on his shirt, but cotton and water conspired to form a sucker at his crown, so by the time he’d pulled it free, he was bent double with the effort. Next, he rolled jeans down his cold floury thighs and finally, balancing on one foot then the other, he snapped off his socks, noting as he did, both were completely ruined.

The bruxism again, a snap of enamel – powder and iron as anger wound his musculi masticatorii. James tried to control it – ignore it. He busied himself, forced his wet clobber beneath the spare tyre and jumped in the car. But as he bumped out the fete’s muddy car park his obsessions accrued and he chewed and ground and cursed himself over and over and over again.

As he joined the narrow country lane, he noticed something in the road ahead. Initially, he took it for a fleck of litter caught in the tiny summer twister. but as he got closer he saw it was an injured animal – a squirrel – its skull had been crushed flat and its body, now separated from its mind’s reigns, spasmed madly about the gummed spot. After checking his mirror, James eased down on the accelerator and gently adjusting the car’s trajectory, ran it down with both off side tyres.

**

Years of compulsion had transformed James from hobbyist to cognoscenti and now he longed to cosset, to inwardly curate only the most particular judgements. To seduce his interest, they must appear costively yet with a persistence suggesting external decree, and they must – since they should always lack cohesion – strive blindly for precision. Only then would they obtain currency, evoking, like a missive incised in a shit-house door, the most pervasive – most gratifying – genus of guilt.

James couldn’t remember the first time, but it would have been a Monday, he would have been tired; the first, sitting cross-legged at his side, would not be known to him. But would soon become familiar.

As they all would.

As time gathered and stacked, James had sought to discover ways to have fun that would not bury him or drag him behind bars. Up in the attic, Mr Flash, the cat – chalk stripped affection broker – asleep and cleaved to a spot of sun on the dusty pile as James knelt at the window and spied the square’s silent clatter. Old farmer Wilson with his spinning wince and Bev the barber with her weeping arms and posty Tom with his green stools and night-shouts and more, so many, James couldn’t recall most of their names.

Between his fingers, the slow comforting drag of binoculars led him down to a restaurant floor littered with china. Then across to the Joe’s Coachworks fugged with fumes and throttled with machines and finally to the market stall dripping with rotten oranges.

James laid down the lenses and stood a while pinching at his wrists.

These are the days, he thought, these days that drift.

This is the life.

GJ Hart currently lives and works in London and has had stories published in The Molotov Cocktail, The Jersey Devil Press, the Harpoon Review and others can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.

‘MMofG (Mary Mother of God)’ & ‘It’s a Girl’ by Amanda Aunspach

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MMofG (Mary Mother of God)
It's A Girl
It’s a Girl

Amanda Aunspach is a recent graduate from the School of Art at Ball State University.  She was the recipient of the Muncie Arts and Culture Council’s Award for Arts Advocacy in 2018.  Her current work explores the ways in which queer sexuality and feminine expressions of gender are regulated and exploited by main stream culture and feminism.  Her work aims to celebrate the areas of sexuality and romance that are often ignored and shamed.

The work being featured is meant to reflect the parts of drag culture that are often lost on straight society in the wake of drag becoming more main stream.  The drag scene has always been a place for the queer community to express their frustrations with the upper middle class of straight white citizens, who have systematically keep them down.  These photographs emphasize the socially critical aspects of drag culture rather than the purely entertaining ones.

Website: amandaaunspach.com

Instagram: @aartaamandaa