‘When I Wake, I’ll Be Different’ by James Ezra

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After he dies, he wakes as a tree.

He feels bugs burrowing into him, can feel squirrels fucking in his trunk. His branches fall and fungus disintegrates everything inside of him.

He remembers how when he was boy and not bark that he had learned that some trees lived for hundreds of years, thousands, maybe millions. He thinks he had seen that on television. Yeah; he had been sitting on the carpet, picking at scabs, squeezing a juice box.

A cursing child stabs his bark with a pocketknife repeatedly. He doesn’t feel it.

Death is sleep. He can’t remember how exactly it happens or when, but it’s exhaustion and then sudden unconsciousness.

He never makes it to a million because winter comes and he’s been so exhausted.

He wakes as the crust in the corner of someone’s mouth.

The man and woman sitting in the chairs opposite of the wheelchair he is confined to don’t say a word. They don’t even make eye contact.

They keep looking at their shoes, their laps, to the wall.

He remembers how he would lay under the sofa in the dark for hours and try to make out faces in the irregularities of the wall. The young couple ahead of him are looking at the plaster with the same kind of inquisitive gaze he remembers having.

The air conditioning blows cold. It smells of urine here. He feels awkward at the corner of the lips of a man whose brain has gone full of holes in his ninety years.

A nurse in white scrubs steps into the room. Her hair is tied up in a bun. There’s a forced smile on her face. He can hear her heartbeat as she wipes drool from the man’s chin, cheeks, the corner of his mouth.

He’s gone in a soft, cold pressure from the attentive hand of a stranger.

He wakes and he is an impacted wisdom tooth.

The flesh that holds him is swollen and tender. It feels like the wettest, darkest hug, which makes it the best he has ever experienced.

This is the closest he’s felt to being human again.

Buried under tissue and blood, he can pretend he’s a fetus deep in the womb of someone’s jaw, all bone and snuggly.

It’s getting hard to remember what arms around him feel like. He thinks his mother did at one point, wait, yes, of course she did. His father, maybe. There might have been others, surely there were others.

Remembering is hard.

There’s a scratch of steel against his top and the tingle of a sedative tickling at the twisted roots of his existence. He tries to nestle deeper, butting up against the neighboring tooth without any regard of its well being because he needs the comfort.

The chunk of flesh above him is peeled back with gloved hands and sharp tools, bloody and inquisitive. He shies away from the bright light and falls asleep in the last of the darkness.

When he wakes, he is the last hole on a mini golf course.

The fake grass around him is wet with the leaking of a nearby fountain, of which depicts an elephant spraying water from its nose. Throughout the day, game after game, it becomes wet with tears.

The end comes as a surprise to children swinging colorful putters. Their joy shatters into the deepest anguish as their golf ball is gone without warning. They fall on the ground and claw at him, tears in their eyes.

He watches as parents grab their upper arms and yank them back up to standing. A father snarls and hisses something barbed through gritted teeth. Maybe they’ve lost a lot lately, maybe that’s why they’re so upset with each other.

He thinks he remembers crying once, losing something and being punished for mourning over it.

He can’t remember.

At the end of the day, there is no prize, just an abrupt, unexpected end. A small shoe owned by a still sniffling child stomps over him and all goes dark.

He wakes and he is a dream.

He can remember being younger, but just barely. It’s all falling away from him. There are shreds of memory played out in poorly lit projections against the dark screen of nothingness. There are women in dresses holding their squirming sons and daughters. There are fathers exiting cars and waving to the neighbors.

There are boys climbing trees and breaking their arms. There are memories of watching television in dark rooms and pressing his cheek up against the glass of his window during winter. There are memories of burning sidewalks and dog bites and falling in rose bushes.

He drifts and flips and floats through a collective subconscious, each move conjuring something that is familiar and that is not, but that is still somehow him.

He has woken as so many others but he will never wake as the little boy held by his mother and father, shuffling his feet in rain puddles and riding his tricycle across gravel.

Death is like falling asleep. He can’t remember how or when it happens but he’s dreaming, always dreaming.

He falls asleep. He wakes.

James Ezra lives in Texas. Her work has been featured in Show Your Skin, Occulum and Faded Out.

Three Poems by Giacomo

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here is a twitter thread about the books i’ve been reading:

i am 27 & i have been trained to feel more accomplished when i have notifications on my phone than when i do absolutely anything else.

i only seem to move places when my phone has red battery
& i can’t find a plug.

i spend more time wanting strangers on the internet to love me
than i spend time doing anything that i’d include on my dating profile bio.

i go to cafes and buy coffee even though it tastes very bad
& the coffee at home tastes good and costs me less money.

just so i can sit quietly,

to read my phone with a book open on my lap,
or on the table,
or on the other chair — face down.

when i am at home i sit on my phone too,
with all my books closed in my bookcase
& i text new friends about how

i love to read.

when i am 28 i will still want strangers to love me through the internet
(vomiting their little white numbers on red balloons across my screen).

today a parcel arrived with a book from america
i hope the author retweets my photo.

Can I hold your hand when it’s dark?

If i promise to like all of your Facebook statuses and if i promise to favourite all of your tweets and maybe even share the ones with your face on Facebook and to retweet your opinion and if i promise to double tap tap on all of your Instagram photos, even the ones you post with your friends while you’re drunk that you’ll only end up deleting over brunch with different friends and if i promise never to follow any of those other friends so that you always have more friends than they do and if i fav your mixtapes on Soundcloud and if i promise to comment on your posts with trending hashtags so you don’t have to and if i promise to give you 5 stars on eBay and buy your clothes off Depop and put you in my top 6 on Myspace and if i promise promise promise promise to never say hello to you in public, to look you in the eyes or to turn my body as we pass; will you acknowledge me when we’re alone?

I tap tap you

When I double tap on your face
I imagine my thumb
pressing your nose.

I think more people would
follow you if you let me push
your nose through your face.

People follow ugliness.

Like Tuna, the dog.
Who is followed
by 1.9M people.

I would love you,
you would breathe through your mouth.

Please let me push my thumb
through the back of your skull.

Two Poems by Steven Harz

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Broken heart surgery

Since you are not here,
and haven’t been so in a while,
I am left to take one of our old sheets
and find a spot on the east of the river summer grass
that slopes toward the water
and lay down on my back, close my eyes,
and wait for the dream of us to return.

When I was young and closed my eyes
I would be treated to an internal
kaleidoscope of joy and colors
but now all I see is black and nothing,
as my head take turns dodging
demons and the Holy Ghost.

Once our dream arrives I sneak out a smile
as I watch a replay of all that was good,
but when what went wrong begins to show
I pin the vision down against the ground with my knee
and with a knife made by my grandfather,
wooden handle and burnished blade,
I cut out, with stealth and precision,
the painful memories and many mistakes
before wiping the blade clean against my shirt.

And after I perform this broken heart surgery
I bury the remains by the bank of the Connecticut
with a hope that the tragedy of us will no longer haunt me.
However, I am fully aware, that if given another chance
I would gladly allow you the opportunity
to one day break my slowly healing heart
all over again.

Promise

We sit with a battered blanket,
a bottle, and a pair of paper cups,
talking in the summer shade
of an abandoned lighthouse,
with its long-extinguished beam
aimed at the waves of the bay,
or maybe at our past, and what could have been,
and what was missed.
We discuss how we’ve been
shortchanged by time and circumstance,
having not first met during our youth
when it would have mattered,
and together then we could have stopped,
or at least avoided,
the bruising and bleeding from beginning.
After you leave I stay behind in the Chesapeake dusk,
climb the dusty tower,
with its missing steps and creaking boards,
and once at the top I use all of my force,
a little sweat, and a lot of tears,
and turn the invisible light away from
the water and towards the next time.
Because, less than an hour ago,
I told you that I would find you on the other side,
and I promised.
With a box of wooden matches, I strike them,
head against flint and toss them, one by one,
around the dry wooden floor and wait.
Because I made a promise,
and I want to get there first.

Steven Harz is the author of multiple collections of love stories and is a multi-time winner of The Iron Writer Challenge. Originally from West Virginia, he grew up in Maryland, and now lives in New England. You may recognize these places in his stories. 
His series, “Backroad Love Stories,” covers various topics and moves between stories that, on one end of the spectrum resemble the lyrics of a country love song, to the other end where his words cut into the reader, reminding them of the pain caused by loves gained and lost. 
Steven’s words have been highlighted in in Inwood Indiana Press’ Tracks, The Pangolin Review, Voices 2, Donut Factory, Words+Pictures, Amethyst Review, Ink Monkey Magazine, The Germ, The Voices Project, Pocket Thoughts, and Indigo Rising UK. 

‘Finale’ by Walker Storz

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The feeling of his body faltering was hard to describe.  If he tried to describe it he sounded like a hysteric–there were so many sensations that, while naggingly present, had no words to put to them.  Thus the illness that was physical was experienced also as psychosis and dissociation.  Words themselves started to feel like part of the infection.  To reach for them was like desperately trying to find the root of the illness.  He found some that were close to describing a certain sensation but that sensation would take flight too quickly for the leaden words.  My brain feels dry, too dry, like it’s screaming of thirst  he would think, and then the feeling would have changed, as if the words had put it into flight.  Sometimes he would feel a general aggressive malaise in which everything inside him felt sick, as if red and inflamed and hot, but he had no fever.  Other times it would feel like the cells themselves were bursting of this heat, like they had started to bulge of their own weight.  It seemed that nothing could be done.  These were problems for a witch, not for a doctor.  The parade of doctors started to seem like a flock of viciously healthy, normal predators.  They listened and nodded dumbly, constantly, insensate.  Each visage took on a shadow of unknowing, as if the face were composed of plasticine–as everyone knows, a material that words cannot penetrate.

One day when he was far worse than usual, he made his decision.  He had been feeling like he couldn’t breathe, even though he was breathing.  It was as if every individual cell was thirsty for air, their walls crumpling from the lack.  They were all screaming in unison, and to shut them up, he knew what he had to do.  He logged into this chat channel he sometimes frequented.  He knew he had taken up everybody’s time a little too much, and that his request was a little difficult, so the phrasing was important:

I have a request.  I really, really, really need your prayers.  I need you all to pray for me.  It’s not a joke.  I’ve been very difficult and taken up too much time in the past, so now I need to emphasize that this will be the last request I will make of you.  I know that my soul is in peril, that’s all. 

He logged off before he could read any of the responses.

He thought that that was worrying, but as vague as he could make it.  Nobody would call the cops or anything.  His heartbeat quickened as he drew a bath.  What scared him wasn’t death, but the doctrines in which suicide landed one’s soul in hell.  He could not shake this superstition, no matter how hard he tried, and it left a far more morbid stain on the events awaiting him.  They were tainted by something nastier than tragedy, from the start.

He stripped quickly and pragmatically, his breathing growing hungrier by the minute.  The screaming cells were growing louder, but now they felt almost like good company.  They would be with him until the last.

He submerged himself into the painfully hot water, thinking that this stimuli would take his mind off the pain of the cutting.  He lay back and purposefully hyperventilated deeply–he had been taught to do this before lifting weights, a way to pump himself up.  The pack of razors was on the side of the bath, already opened, along with a sharp hunting knife, as a backup.  The thing was to be done in one gesture.

Slicing open the underside of his arms was simultaneously easier and more painful than he had expected, so much so that he couldn’t suppress a loud yelp.  The yield of blood was plentiful, bursting like ambergris from a fetid stomach.   He started to relax, and felt better already, too relaxed, already high.  Words started to escape him, and his chest heaved less and less frequently.  Suddenly a tear dropped out of the corner of his eye.  All of his life now appeared in retrospect as a massive, bloated waste, which could have been salvaged, but it was too late.  Black and red spots were occluding large portions of his visual field, they shimmered and seemed to circle him like scavengers.  As words and will dissolved, as he was starting to lose himself to what was calling him, he struggled to hold onto one thought as an anchor, as if this thought could burn itself onto the wall, could make him tangible and therefore immortal.  Losing his words, he thought, was exactly the same as losing his breath.

‘Loneliness is Sharing Books’ by Martin Rojas

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When I was younger I thought I could feel less lonely if I found a way to get people I liked to like the things I liked.

The written word makes us less lonely. When you read about someone just like you, who feels the way you do, gets off on what gets you off, you feel less lonely. That’s the point of it all. The trouble is when you find a book that makes you feel less lonely, but then can’t find another actual person who also felt less lonely after they read that same book. Not being able to find that actual other person can bring on a whole new kind of loneliness. And the trouble with this kind of loneliness, is that you can’t get out of it by reading, because that’s what got you into trouble in the first place, and you become all too aware of that fact.

Years ago, I figured all I had to do was give people I liked the books that I like. I assumed the issue was just that they didn’t know about all of these great books. All I’d have to do was show them. Then they would know about these wonderful things too, and they would feel less lonely, and I would feel less lonely too. This plan had the added benefit of making me look like a cool curator of cool things. People would know that I knew about all sorts of great books that could make you feel less alone.

In hindsight, it is extremely strange how long I stuck with this strategy. There is perhaps no lonelier feeling than when you buy somebody a book, excited to give it to them, and realize as you give it to them that they will not read it. On the day of the gifting, I would always make eye contact with the recipient as I eagerly stuck my book-clutching arms out. More often than not I could immediately see the hesitation in their eyes. It was never disappointment, or even annoyance, just a clear discomfort or weirded-out ambivalence. The look of “What am I going to do with this?” Or, “Wow this is weird, why is he giving me a book?” More generously I sometimes got, “Boy, Martin sure is goofy. I wonder what the fuck this book is about.”

One time I was meeting an acquaintance at a restaurant and I brought him a magazine I thought might interest him. He was a foreign policy junkie with a paleoconservative streak, and that ideology’s foremost outlet, Chronicles, had an issue almost entirely dedicated to the Ukrainian Crisis of 2014. He was sure to gobble it up and ponder it for weeks. We were seated outside when I gave it to him, and after briefly thanking me he tucked it under his chair without much looking at it. Unfortunately it had rained the night before and the magazine slid into a puddle of stagnant water. He failed to hear the slight “sploosh” it made when it hit the water. I didn’t want him to realize what had happened, because it would guarantee at least one uncomfortable apology and a lackluster “no worries” on my part, so I kept my reaction to a brief wince. When we had finished eating and headed out, it was clear he had completely forgotten about the magazine. I didn’t bring it up as we exchanged goodbyes, and he has never mentioned it.

When I was 23 I went to my then-girlfriend’s father’s house for Christmas. He remains the most generous man I’ve ever met. He bought my girlfriend and I a fancy Keurig coffeemaker for our apartment along with dozens of boxes of k-cups. A value of at least a few hundred dollars. At the time I was making $28,000 a year at a non-profit near Washington DC, and had just paid off my student loans. We drove to his house in my girlfriend’s car because I was too broke to own my own. Her father was a fairly tough guy, from rural Pennsylvania, with a keen sense of right and wrong. So I had bought him a paperback edition of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. That novel is easily best detective story ever written, filled with broad shoulders, flasks, dames, and a seedy Los Angeles that can’t manage to protect itself from the heroic and tough protagonist. Plus, it influenced a whole slew of classic Hollywood tough-guy movies, which all dads seem to like. He unwrapped it after we had opened the Keurig and said, “thanks” with a perfectly neutral expression across his face. For a moment, I felt the overwhelming rush to explain to him why it was such a great book, and why he would like it, and why I had chosen it for him. But the rush subsided and I thought better of it. Next Christmas I did not buy him a book, and The Big Sleep did not come up.

Two Christmases later I had wised up a little bit. I had three friends all living together in one house. It was a den of millennial cliches through and through. They, like I, were broke, bright, and conspicuously lacking in telos. When we hung out we tried to get as fucked up as possible. Adderall, ecstasy, alcohol, marijuana, and LSD, mostly. Sometimes I’d go to their house, get high, and watch Netflix for hours with them without ever getting up even to smoke a cigarette. Other times we’d stay up all night giggling through the hallucinatory recollections of the triumphs and tragedies of our adolescence. As a gift to all three, I bought them the issue of Granta magazine with the cover story, “Confessions of a Middle-Aged Ecstasy Eater,” by Anonymous. Of the many many written works that grapple with the ups-and-downs of drug use, I assure you this one as one of the best. Its ability to convey the strange mix of blissful hedonism and unending ennui that become permanently entangled after years of abuse is uncomfortably on point. It’s about forty pages long, ensuring that at least one of the three roommates would read it. This was an incorrect assumption, and not one of the three has ever brought it up to me.

More recently, I made what was likely my most obviously doomed gifting. A conservative friend of mine and I had been arguing about whether Marxists, or at least Marxians, had ever made thoughtful or valuable observations about the world around us. He remained obstinate, and left me with the burden of proof. With the thrill of coming vindication, I dug-up my copy of The Society of Spectacle by Guy Debord and handed it to him. It’s a very short book, and has a kind of whimsy to it that makes it a real pleasure to read. Most importantly, the “spectacle” described in it has obvious value to conservatives, as the spectacle papers over religion, tradition, and even nationalism with a spiritually empty gilding. It’s now been long enough that if he were going to read it, he would have already.

The list could go on, but you get the point. So next time you find a book that makes you feel less lonely, and you share it with someone you like, and the gift goes down the memory hole, and you feel even more lonely than you did before finding the book, try rereading this essay. I hope it makes you feel less lonely.

Martin Rojas is the son of a librarian.

‘My Fault’ by iukinim

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I don’t plan on coming tomorrow
Forgive me for bothering you
This fog of uncertainty
icing every particle in my bones

 

I know it may be sweet
Forgive me for ignoring you
But I can’t think about tomorrow
It’s unknown nature
Imprisoned me alone

 

I was once ready for tomorrow
Forgive me for leaving you
These lasting worries
Entangled in lovecraftian fears

I eagerly waited for tomorrow
Now that it’s here
I feel a bitter taste
A black foreign tea

 

I heard it’s certainly coming
This losing battle
Dust inhabiting the floor
I still have nothing to sweep

 

I once lived tomorrow
It wasn’t as expected
It wasn’t as sweet

 

I know I will be sleeping
Tomorrow, on a different bed
In colorless sheets

Tomorrow
I thought it would be brighter
But I have become incapacitated
Like wooden trees

I hope you understand
It’s pushing against my nature
I have no power
I am not whom I wanted to be

Tomorrow wasn’t as planned
I didn’t mean to hurt you
Amputate these bloody hands

 

I witnessed you choking
On left over treats
Tomorrow
Was a sad melody
That you couldn’t feel

Forgive me for escaping
You’re not who they want
It’s the murderous pig
Trying to break free

 

I fostered this ghost
In a cabin named tragedy
Protect him from tomorrow
Horrors he couldn’t see

 

In my head
Tomorrow
Was a sinking ship
Sails are tearing
Lost in the dead sea

Tomorrow
There was a kind man
Ridden by fear
Is that how he felt?
St. Augustine

 

 

I want to stay in today
Forgive me for scaring you
I am not asking for much
I hope we never meet

 

I am sorry for abandoning you
Words are decomposing
Forgive me for writing this
I just think you should leave

‘Oil’ by Walker Storz

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N___ was unsure if this was a dream or a video game.  There were surefire ways to tell, but he had forgotten them.  It’s all about targets, navigation, safe exits.  Something about grounding should tell you.

All he knew was that he was evidently in a shitty neighborhood in Chicago, and with a feeling of disgust cloaking him, as if he was soiled with something that would never come off.  The houses here were old townhouses, many boarded up.  There was a feeling of sharpness in the air–not just from the cold, but a certain old-country lilt.  It felt like an easter mural in an Orthodox church–bright primary colors and ethereal song, lurking behind the drab exterior reality.

But things would dissolve and rework periodically, into other scenes, only the refrain of breathing remaining constant.

I know I’m in danger.  She told me what he did to her.  He probably knows I know, he probably beat it out of her.

That feeling of soiling was intensifying.  When he thought of Sasha’s father there was a layer of oily dark residue surrounding him–sin, yes, but not the banal kind.  What he had done to her was unmentionable.  And it wasn’t only done to her.  N___ wanted to help, but was scared.  Sasha’s father was a big man, and she had implied that he had criminal friends–low level, perhaps, but still thuggish men who would take his skinny, pale body and beat it until the face was blurred and impressionistic.

Both dreams and video-games would dissolve sometimes into a haze of phosphenes.  The cathode ray TV was a lot similar.  Stations broadcasting from anywhere, picked up from the ether, signal and noise always blurred.

With a hum and rearrangement of dots and pixels, the station changed again.  Now N___ was running through backyards, jumping fences.  He didn’t remember the last 12 hours with great clarity but had a sinking feeling that Sasha’s dad had figured out how much he knew, that he had let something slip.

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