‘Two Poems’ by James Stelzer

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Breakdown

On Saturday the Car and his wife held a dinner party for their neighbours.
After three drinks the Car began to leak toxic fumes,
choking everyone present.
“You’re exhausting me!” exclaimed Becky, the Car’s wife.
The room fell silent.

Later, under the covers of their bed
the neighbours discussed the events of the evening:
“Oh, how awful”
“How do they continue to live like that”
“Won’t somebody think of the children”

Nobody called a mechanic.

19th . October. Saturday.

I’m rewatching The Terminator in 2019
and thinking about the mechanics of time-travel.
It’s unfair
that the product placed on Kyle’s feet feels perennial,
but every dog with a role in this movie is long-dead.
Hang on a minute…
Did Arnold Schwarzenegger invent deepfake technology?!
Fuck you, asshole.

James Stelzer is a writer/vocalist who hails from a British town that isn’t quite London. Outsider art fills him with hope (and some other emotions that are weird and deeply confusing). You can find him on Twitter at @ABadIdeaMachine.

‘Increasingly Volatile’ by spacemortuary

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I come from a sleepy little hellhole that churned out a couple more humans than it knew what to do with, so it took their lives: some with shotguns; some with bricks; or maybe

just maybe

they took them of their own accord.

It’s hard to say what’s predetermined and what isn’t.

I guess it’s all a matter of what you believe, but there isn’t much left to believe in anymore –

just the shadow of a man etched into the back of that old decrepit farmhouse you’ve driven past 100,000 times but God Damned if you still can’t remember the color of the front door.

And whether or not you think you act upon this world or it acts upon you doesn’t matter, not in the slightest,

because either way, a relatively undesirable target is to blame for the things that happen to you that you wish just wouldn’t.

But they do. And they will.

And the door’s still closed, it’s always been closed (what fucking color was it?)

and nobody has ever gone in because you’ve never seen it happen and you’ll never know who or what lives in there or why and someday it will burn down or just be gone and their eyes are on you they’ve always been on you and their eyes never close and lord knows your eyes can’t look away fast enough –

and there’s nothing here for any of us
and none of us are here enough
for anyone


spacemortuary is an aspiring tattoo artist from the Pacific North West who’s just out here tryin to draw as many flowers and spread as much hope as possible. pancakes and strawberries and twitter @spacemortuary

 

‘His Favorite Bookless Poet’ by Prince Bush

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He had read it through the gates
Of ivory, less, like a smaller

Amount of, or not as much as
Him—but yet at least his

Favorite. And lower rank is
Archaic, thought Prince the Less,

Apis of Argos. Phoroneus,
Bringer of a price, wasn’t telepathic,

Was proud and worshipped with hell:
That which Apis was thankful for,

Else he’d inherit nothing, and
What’s worse than being

Bookless—far-off, or of the pear
Tree, or contract-less, which is

More important than his name, more
His name than his name—unthankful.

Prince Bush is a poet in Nashville, TN with poetry in Cincinnati Review, Cotton Xenomorph, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pleiades: Literature in Context, SOFTBLOW, and elsewhere. He was a 2019 Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets Fellow and a nominee for The Pushcart Prize.

‘Two More Poems’ by Tom Snarsky

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MANAGORGER

The air was fragile and traveled so fast
into and out of the cat’s lungs. I felt so sick
then didn’t, light headache, manageable.

That was almost managorger if Autocorrect
had had its say, but I said no w/my thumb
so it came out correct, not corrected

but still changed a little, since if I hadn’t
done anything a hydra would’ve burst
through my head for only two colorless

plus one green mana, starting small as a 1
/1 and then getting bigger every time a spell
hit the stack, eventually trampling everything

including the cat and probably me, my
life, my phantom sicknesses, all the beauty
I’d ever come to know, including the ambiguity

of whether that ’d in line 15 meant had
or would and why, like was it trying to hide
something, or believe it or not trueing

to hide something (when did I type that?
Do you have to type something for it to appear
in the autocorrect dictionary? I don’t know,

nor do I know why it’s sometimes uppercase
& sometimes not) the way lies sometimes do
everyone a favor by keeping a hard truth

obscured from ruining everything under wraps
soft? fuck it no words come close to my lover
’s spit / and I’ve only ever tasted it / in ash

In the quiet water of subtidal habitats,

you have enough breathing room to misread
subtidal as suicidal, your brain predicting
what it sees now will be like
what you’ve been googling, low in your cove
of grayblue feeling. All the arts,
all of them, have led us to this ice. You
mix paints for the sea slush
and you’re out of green—you squeeze
the tube and it gives you nothing, the sides
touching through a thin layer
of dried paint, and instead of giving up
you leverage colorblindness as an asset
and mix in red instead, so the little
cove you’re painting starts to look like clay
so rich and malleable you could almost eat it.

Tom Snarsky teaches mathematics at Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts, USA.

‘The Grumpy Cake’ by Hermey the Elf

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I’ve always been a little grumpy.  When I was a baby, I puked and cried no matter my mood.  Nowadays I swallow my puke.  It’s a concession I make to get along.

The rites of youth bored me.  I didn’t care for school.  Never had friends or hobbies.  Neither climb of the career ladder nor walk of the wedding aisle stopped my tummy gurgling.

My beloved blocked the television.

“Aren’t you getting a cake?  It’s your daughter’s fourth birthday.  Remember?  Hello?”

“Yes.”

“What kind of cake are you getting?  We need mustard, too.”

“I want a cookie cake,” Arlanda said.

“You don’t have a choice,” yelled Yolanda. “Will you tell her?”

I shoved away the couch and headed for the door.  My wife followed me, arms akimbo.

“I suppose I’ll get an ice cream cake,” I said to the wall.

Yolanda sighed.

“I don’t even like cake.”

What?  I didn’t know that.  Who doesn’t like cake?  My high school sweetheart, the mother of my child, doesn’t like cake.  I took the knowledge on the chin and stumbled backwards out the door.

“Don’t walk on the grass, that’s where people piss and shit!”

The door slammed shut.

Tears flooded the streets as I taxied toward the supermarket.  Flashing halos zigzagged across my vision.  I went blind in my left eye and blew a stop sign.  Though I couldn’t see the road, I couldn’t turn back without cake.  The thought of frosting tickled my teeth.  I snapped the blinker and swung into a gas station.  I sat there a minute, dreaming of zebra cakes.

Someone tapped my window.  I almost jumped out of my skin.  The man looked like trouble.  His bandana was red and his nose was red and his eyes were so big behind his glasses that I was sure he could see my heart slamming out my chest.  A cigarette glowed between his muddy fingers.  I cracked the window a little.  He slurred through his yellow smile like a deaf man.

“Don’t I know you?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“What?” The deaf man shrugged. “It’s your daughter’s big day, right?”

“How did you know?”

“There’re only so many days in a year.”

The deaf man flicked his half-eaten cigarette in the sewer and immediately bit into another.  I suppose I should’ve been upset that this stranger knew anything about my family, but I didn’t blame him.  My wife is somehow responsible.

“You need cake?”

“What?”

“Cake, cake, do you need any cake?  Here, come here.”

The deaf man turned toward a piebald pickup parked at the pump opposite.  I smeared my face against its cool window.  My migraine miraculously vanished as I beheld stacks and stacks of plump cakes in windowed boxes.  The lock pin sprang.  I immediately tore open the door and swallowed the sweet stink of buttercream.

“Take your pick.  I’ll be right back.”

Watching the deaf man waddle across the parking lot, the most unpleasant impulse seized mind and muscle.  My migraine returned, my vision checkered, and I about broke a canine grinding my teeth.  I acted on the impulse and shoveled every last cake into my trunk while the man fumbled for change at the register.

He doesn’t need the sweets.  He’s very out of shape.  Maybe the deaf man secretly meant to humiliate me.  Surely the deaf man, having so much cake to throw around, thinks he’s my superior.  He’s showing off.  But that’s not why I’m robbing this deaf man blind.  It’s because he belongs to a lesser socioeconomic caste and doesn’t deserve the common courtesies afforded productive members of polite society.  That’s right.  Clay pots ought not to keep company with metal pots.

I peeled out and over the curb.  Though I popped a tire on a fire hydrant, I didn’t have time to stop.  I was almost home.  Watching my rearview for the pickup, I turned up the radio, picked my scalp and screamed.

*

The screen door whapped shut behind me.  I danced into the kitchen and slammed a cake on the table.  My girls immediately materialized.  I slurped the slobber surrounding my smile and faced them.

Yolanda gulped.

“What have you done?” She stammered.

Arlanda peeked around her mother’s spanx.

“Is daddy crazy?”

I had devoured an entire cake during a long red light.  Chocolate frosting masked my face.  Marshmallow fluff pleated my seersucker.  Sugar jangled in my blood and lightning burned at the ends of my fingers.  My jaw locked.

“Happy birthday,” I whispered through black teeth.

I lurched toward my daughter, sticky fingers curled into claws at the ends of my meathook arms.  Arlanda whimpered as I hoisted her onto my shoulders.

“Here’s your cake, sweetie.”

She stopped pulling my hair and cooed.

“It looks yummy.  What flavor is it?”

“Let’s find out.”

I unsheathed my hunting knife and took aim, but a muffled scream repelled me.  I glanced at my wife, who pointed at the cake, a hand over her mouth.  As the scream intensified, the cake bubbled and swelled, taking the appearance of moldy bread.  The spidery eyelashes I had neglected to pluck parted for a beady pair of blood blisters.  Jagged whiskers sprouted upon droopy jowls.

Finally, the middle of the cake tore into two rows of rotten teeth.  A taffy tongue wagged between them like a fat serpent.  The stench of coffee and cigarettes soured the air.  A bubble of acid burst in the back of my throat.  I belched.

“Excuse you,” my wife snapped.

The scream tapered into a coughing fit.  The cake looked so feeble, so miserable.  I wanted to hug the cake, but I had to pretend to protect my family.

“I don’t do birthdays,” the cake grumbled between gasps.

“You have to, it’s the law,” I said, trying to be firm.

“To hell with the laws of man and God.  It’s my dying wish not to suffer another goddamn birthday.”

My wife crossed her arms.

“You bought a dying cake?”

“I thought it was already dead.”

“Actually, your husband abducted me at a gas station.”

My girls crinkled their noses and bore their teeth.

“No!  Don’t listen to him!  You wouldn’t feed a turkey on Thanksgiving or unhand a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day, would you?  No.  No, you wouldn’t!  That’s just ridiculous.”

I sneered at the cake.

“Your pathetic charade won’t save your life.”

I raised my knife.  But my wife shielded the cake.

“I’ll cut the cake when you’re dead,” she screamed. “I hate liars.”

“Don’t kill my talking cake, daddy!”

The cake, I knew, was capable of more than talk.  The cake was disturbed.  The cake was grumpy.

“I’m taking you all hostage,” wheezed the grumpy cake.

“Whoopee!”

Arlanda hugged the grumpy cake.  It tousled her hair with its tongue, drooling pungent yellow batter all over her head.

“Yuck!  You got your hair in my mouth!”

“Sorry, Mister Cake!”

My wife beamed as Arlanda dug strands of her hair out of the cake’s goopy mouth.  Arlanda giggled.

“That tickles!”

“Don’t you tickle my daughter you goddamn psycho.”

“Where the hell are your manners, Tangier?  We have a guest!  Is this how you’re going to behave at the party?”

“You don’t even like cake!”

“Liar.”

“Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

The cake cleared its throat.  Snotty sprinkles splattered everywhere.

“I’m going to kill you all if my wish goes unfulfilled.  As a matter of fact, I have another wish.”

Yolanda lit a candle and cuddled the cake.

“Make your wish.”

The cake glared at me.

“You leave.  I’d like to be alone with the ladies.”

“Yeah, dad, girls only.”

Arlanda giggled and stuck out her tongue.

 

*

          I did what was asked of me.  In fact, I did one better and locked myself in the powder room.

I faced the vanity.  The layer of frosting on my face couldn’t smooth the purple lumps under my colorless eyes, the caves and trenches of my pocked skin.  I tried to smile, but I couldn’t work my face.  I think I’m colorblind, asthmatic, too.  My scaly scalp shined between frog fine hairs.

My twelfth birthday was a disaster.  Ask most of my friends, they can show you their disfigurements.  But they didn’t have it nearly as bad as me.  A wasp stung my palm.  My blood has been poisonous ever since.  I figure that’s what made the cake so grumpy.  It can smell my poisonous blood.

I dangled my head over the toilet.  Puke still speckled the woodwork from the last time I got sick.  I’d missed the toilet by a mile.  Spit dribbled down my chin and I shuddered.

“Why doesn’t that stupid cake like me?”

I caught my reflection in the toilet water and breathed a whiff of shit.  Then I jumped upon the toilet and violently evacuated my bowels.  I twitched like a squashed bug as my throbbing rectum surpassed my buttocks and blackened the water.  The blowback soaked my thighs.  After the deluge, I slouched like a gargoyle and cried.

I mummified my hand in toilet paper and swiped delicately at my dark side.  The tissue liquefied, wetting my fingers.  Reaching for more, I struck cardboard.  My eyes watered again.  I tried to call for help, but my voice snagged somewhere in my belly.  My puckered sphincter continued to spigot clumpy liquid in painful bursts that hurt my tailbone.  I pounded on the door.  Only ignorant laughter seeped through.

My cell phone jangled.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s me,” said the deaf man.

“What do you want?  I’m busy.”

“I’m in jail.”

“That’s not my problem.” I took a deep breath. “Listen, could you possibly bring me some toilet paper?”

“The cake doesn’t like you, huh.”

My thighs grew goose bumps.

“It yelled at me.  I don’t know what I did.”

“Alright, I’ll send someone.”

The line died.  Paper party napkins slipped under the door.  They were so scratchy.  I bled, and the toilet flooded.

*

          I quick stuffed my rectum back inside my body and about broke down the bathroom door.  The doorbell bleeped again, buried beneath the giggles bubbling from the kitchen.  I tucked my shirt and turned the knob.

“You dropped your pocket.”

The visitor guffawed as I combed the doormat on all fours.

“I’m just kidding.”

I stood back up.  My cheeks seared.

“You’re not funny.”

“I’m not a comedian.  So, I understand you’re at odds with a cake.”

“Wrong!  The cake hates me.  I didn’t even do anything.  I just wanted to be friends.  I still want to be friends, but I think the cake ought to be disciplined for my trouble.  It’s only fair.”

The visitor darkened.

“What did you have in mind?”

“That’s your job.”

“I’m unemployed.”

I gasped.

“What’re your credentials?”

“I’m a friend of a friend.”

I balled my fists and stomped a foot.  The visitor winced.

“You’re awfully quick to anger.”

“I’m just having a bad day,” I burped. “Please, make yourself at home.  What’s mine is yours.” I swept the visitor into the foyer. “Sit there, on the newspapers.  Can I interest you in some cake?  There’s more.  But this cake is dead.  Wait here.”

I jogged to my car, popping the trunk by remote control.  Cigarettes and coffee singed my nostrils as umpteen cakes screamed in my face.  I should have known.  Instead, I grabbed expired gelato from the freezer in the garage.

“I need a spoon,” my visitor whined, making a face at the gooey film topping his treat.

“Use your tongue,” I said, mounting a rocking horse.

“By the way, here’s a little something for kiddo.”

I tore open the envelope.  Two dollars wrapped in a card.  I pocketed the cash and crumpled the card.

“So, what’s the plan?” I asked, chucking the wad of cardboard over my shoulder.

“Beats me.  I think best in the shower.”

“Me, too.”

I smiled unconvincingly.  The little plastic spoons shook in my remaining pocket.  My tongue was orange, my hands spotted.  Laughter soaked through the walls and boxed my ears.  My visitor leaned forward menacingly.

“I’d like to use your bathroom.”

I thumbed my nose.

“Cross your legs, you lazy vegetable.  I want results.  I want that stupid cake to like me.  Well?  I’m waiting!”

My newspapers toppled over as the stranger stood.  He took a long cold look at me as I rocked upon the wooden horse licking my gelato.

“It’s my opinion that the cake is mentally sound.  You’re unlikeable.”

*

          I snuck back into the kitchen.  My wife cradled the sleeping cake in her lap.  Arlanda lay on the floor, drawing a picture of her, mom, and the cake holding hands.  I floated in the background, my eyes crossed out.

“He’s my new daddy,” Arlanda whispered.

“Shush,” Yolanda screeched.

The cake cracked its eyes.

“I’ve made up my mind,” the cake moaned. “I want a big party.  I want piñatas and piggyback rides.  And I want jellybeans for every guest.  Invite all my friends; they’re in your trunk.”

“Excuse me, I just want to clarify something—what’s in your trunk?”

I sweat, I convulsed.  I stank worse than a drunk.

“A brand new puppy, that’s what.  For my one and only daughter.”

I tried to blow Arlanda a kiss, but I accidentally spit in her face.  I can’t do anything right.

“You’re disgusting, daddy.”

A crash upstairs silenced everyone.  My girls squeezed the cake and stared at the shivering chandelier.  I quietly volunteered to investigate.

Who did I find but the deaf man bleeding out on my carpet?  He waved.

“I’m on the lamb.”

My throat constricted.

“Can I stay here for a couple nights?”

Puke swelled my cheeks.  Minding my manners, I swallowed and smiled, my eyes submerged in tears.

“I’ll have to ask my wife.”

“Okay,” he mumbled, distracted by his phone. “Could you dress my wounds, too?  Thanks.”

“I’m kind of in the middle of something,” I muttered, one foot out the door.

“—but I gave you cake.”

“Alright, fine.  I’ll be right back with some toilet paper.”

I slipped back downstairs.  My girls were busy streaming streamers and sticking stickers.  The cake groaned.

“What the fuck?  Where’s the party at, bitches?”

“We’re decorating, darling,” my wife replied in a cute voice I’d never heard before.

“But I’m bored.  Let’s open presents now, or else I’ll maim someone.”

“We can’t open presents until after sex!”

“Sex smells bad.  Farts are funny.  Won’t you fart in my face, little girl?”

Arlanda looked at me and my beloved with eyes full of hope.

“No, honey, you’re not allowed to fart on the cake,” I said.

Arlanda pouted.  The grumpy cake growled.

“No one asked you, party pooper.”

“What’s the matter, Tangier?  They’re just having fun.”

“I didn’t raise my daughter to fart on cakes for every Tom, Dick, and Harry who asks.”

“You’re right.  You didn’t raise your daughter at all.  You haven’t lifted a finger in years.  You’re a deadbeat dad.  It’s nothing to brag about.”

Arlanda started to cry.

“No, don’t!  I hate it when you guys fight!”

“Hello?  What about me?  I’m not having FUN,” the cake shrieked. “I want to dance.  I’ve never danced before.  Teach me how to dance.  Do the electric slide.”

No one moved.

“I SAID DO IT!  FUCKING DO IT!  DO THE FUCKING ELECTRIC SLIDE OR YOU’RE ALL FUCKING DEAD!”

We did the electric slide in silence.  Four side steps to the right, four side steps to the left, two steps back, three step-touch, pivot and brush, ad nauseam.  My wife wept, but they seemed tears of joy like those she cried on our wedding day, only harder, happier.

“FASTER FASTER I’LL KILL YOU ALL IF YOU DON’T DANCE FASTER, FASTER DAMN YOU FASTER!”

I tried, but I got dizzy.  I began to step out of time, to flail and wobble.  Finally, I stopped the electric slide in defiance.

“WHAT THE HELL’S WRONG WITH YOU!  DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO LEAVE?  THIS!  THIS IS WHY!  WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF, YOU PATHETIC MAN?”

I swear I had the best comeback.  It was right on the tip of my tongue.  But as soon as I opened my mouth, I puked.  I seemed to puke up every piece of cake I had ever eaten, every little cupcake, every lick of a frosted whisk, sarcastically resurrected as projectile vomit and launched through my nostrils.  My wife gasped.

“Tangier!  Tangier, STOP!  Please, just STOP!  Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”

“Eww, daddy, you’re so disgusting!”

The grumpy cake snorted.

“BORING.  I’m bored.  I want to play a goddamn game now!”

“I know a game we can play,” I said.  I summoned the last of my strength and swallowed back a wave of bile. “Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker’s man . . .”

The grumpy cake splattered under my palms.  Cutting a finger on a tooth, I clapped harder.  I balled my fists and punched the screaming cake.  Soggy cigarette butts and coffee grounds splashed everywhere as the screams dwindled and died.

My muscles cramped.  I teetered backwards and collapsed onto a chair.  Arlanda burst into tears and bolted for the bathroom.  My wife tilted her head and gave me a funny look.

“What’s the matter with you today, Tangier?”

“I need my medicine,” I whined, snapping my teeth.

Yolanda smiled.

“Silly me.  I totally forgot.”

Standing on her tippy toes, she opened the cupboard above the fridge and retrieved the cure for grumpiness.  The skull on the bottle mirrored my smile.  My wife plopped a hairy blob of cake onto a paper plate and drizzled a spoonful of silvery syrup over the top.

I offered her the first bite, but she wagged her head.  I shrugged.  I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.  Everyone loves cake, especially me.  I think I love cake more than anyone.  I dunked my face into the slop and squealed.

“Yummy in my tummy!

<em>”there’s no such thing as twitter in christmas town” – hermey the elf</em>

‘Aztec’ by Bort Champion

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The life of an Aztec sounds pretty cool

The flower war and uh the flower and song

As well as tomatoes, corn, beans, a giant fucking floating city

For real though, it’s like a European painting

But hold up, all these flowers are seeped in blood!

You could switch out blood and flower in this poem and it’d still work

I think, anyway, shouts out to Hungry Coyote.

Bort lives in Springfield where his sister gets all the credit. @Aenurx22.

‘The Man from Ulm’ by Alexander Blum

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Long before the twilight of the Winter King, some nine centuries ago in the long night of Germany before it was Germany in a peasant principality located under the crown, scepter and sword of the Catholic Church, a hideous man with bad teeth and unshaven beard was chained to a decaying wooden post beside the hen’s house of the town of Ulm. A dirty, diseased lean-to filled with fowls was his home, destiny and company. A rooster with a scar in his red muff was his only friend, and this friend often pecked at him with little stings harsher than a fencer’s tips. Pinned to a stalk of wood, his face was always stretched to the point of breaking with venomous and indissoluble stress. He found only mud and chicken feathers with his worn fingers no matter how far he grasped, no matter what pleasures he imagined, conceived and reached for, his fingers stuck only the warp and woof of bleeding chicken mane. If he scrounged hard enough, and dug into the dirt with a true fealty to the spirit of Protestant work, perhaps a splinter would dig up under his nails, and that would be his reward for great works. Offered soup, he flailed it away, and lived and rutted as a hog in his own discarded foodstuff, and his piss.

We were in 1225 with our man in Ulm, an age known to moderns as an impossibility, a place akin to the Inferno, though for Dante it was his beloved world, the only one he had ever known. It was a land synonymous with darkness, the light of Luther three-hundred years away, the colder blue light of Voltaire farther still, and of course in such dark ages a man representative of the light would find himself posed against the times. Our man, pinned to a wooden pole sticking from a torn-up ugly stack of sticks in a fowls’ den, burnt bronze beneath unrelenting summer sun in the desolate south of Germany, was a humanist, a rationalist, and a skeptic. He had been a professor, which in those days was synonymous with theologian — but our man was, once more, a man out of time. He believed, in essence, only one thing — that the Holy Trinity was fraud, that this world of the lean-to and the foul feathers was always, and still is, all that there is. Earth, alone, no hand with which to guide it. Today, he is an ordinary man. Yesterday, a terror.

Appalled by his tongue, the friars of the Church gathered together like gossiping women to pluck it out. As a crowd of old ladies preparing to play bridge, the friars took counsel and feigned collapse and great birth pangs at the reality of a man who challenged the faith. One friar grasped his spleen and repeated: “He says the miracles are false, he says the miracles are false.” Another wept great globs of spittle and tears that became one and stained the sullen dirt with a pained liquid not unlike the blood of Christ. The drama of these men was like the drama of great women, powerful impressive women whose motions were each the curve of the Earth and each lifting of the hand signaled a new revelation to twist upon the emotions of the last. As the upstanding men of the Church constitute the harem of the bridegroom of God, all holy men seek nothing less than to become women.

A nun, hopped up on the Holy See, took a long, thin needle from her tourniquet in a fit of wrath one morning and approached the man at the post with innocence, a wrinkled smile on her young face. He turned toward her, hands behind her back, watching her walk toward him in such grace that for an instant he even fooled himself into believing in the holiness of women, of Mary, of Churches. The nun knelt down before him and recited a line of Latin, which I could repeat for you here to no understanding, so I will not even type it, and she jabbed the six-inch needle into the man’s open eyeball, the pupil that craved vision, and spread blood outward in that blind eye until it gushed from his face as an open wound. The nun stood and walked away, leaving the needle embedded in his skull. She was later reprimanded by the parish priest, eighty-eight days in solitude with nothing but the Gospels — a fitting punishment — but the damage was done. The surgery to remove the needle and seal up the eye left our man in Ulm blind in both eyes, somehow, as if the doctor’s little Igor had plucked out the second just to bring balance according to the first.

Like vultures the Churchmen often gathered around his body in the chickens and the dust and beat him down with their hands, which were frail and bony like beaks, and he took the blows imparted upon him by the kicking and slapping priests, a nail in every nerve ending shooting upward to his brain, telling him to hurt, telling him over and over again, that strange communication of the muscle and the nerve, demanding imminent suffering. The man, in his heart, retained victory — he knew they were nothing but nerves kicking nerves, an imagination of a man, and he cackled as they beat him with the sublime knowledge that they were but apes, and all structure and system to the contrary was an illusion placed atop the jutting forehead of an orangutan. He wore a crown as they stumbled about like beggars after each kick, skeletons moving with momentum, nerves speaking fury, puppets not of the most high but of the squirming brain. He cackled. There was an ultimate victory in his lashings.

Conversation amongst the sisters produced a novel situation. One young nun had heard of the elder who impaled the eye of the heretic with a tourniquet’s needle, and it brought her into sadness for days. If even a nun could be moved to such impulsive hate, then where in the world is God? This question met little answer. The Book of Job showed God as a brute, a pair of knuckles dragging so hard upon the forest floor that they dug canyons in their wake. There was not mercy, only strength, in Yahweh’s response to Job. The nun wept.

Playing the Virgin herself, this young woman had taken pity on our man in the hen’s house in Ulm. On Ash Wednesday she approached the filthy man in earnest. He looked, and could not see her. She was the treasure of her hometown, born Catherine Ziegler, baptized Catherine of the Rose-Cross, wearing the icon of the crucified upon her chest, the androgyne Christ dangling above chaste nipples that would never feed a child’s yearning lips. Catherine of the Rose-Cross smiled. Before him, the sun at her back, she was as an icon, a thing frozen in time, the true believer who dines of the flesh of Christ at communion, and takes wine, and licks blood from her lips without shame.

The man could not see her, or he would have reached for her. Instead he only felt her footsteps, and fearing the whip or the pointed shoe, he feasted on a raw chicken, ripping up the rind of its neck and sitting in the stained mess of blood and wax-feathers he had spread on cracked and dry ground. It had not rained in a month. Gnawing at the neck of a hen, he shook his head. He felt the shadow of her body cast upon him. At last, he screamed:

“Torturer!”

“I am not your torturer,” replied the holy woman of the Rose-Cross. “I take pity on you in the name of God. I have seen you out here every day on my travels to the orchards. Every single day. I have seen how they beat you. And each time I see you, I feel, in my heart, that you, and not the priest of my parish, is the Christ crucified. It is you who is the martyr, not the patriarchs of the Church. You are the humble, the meek, the broken one…and if I am a true Christian, I am to follow you, not the monsters who have tied you here with this unholy brood of chickens.”

The man’s lower lip curled in response to this Christian speech. Against his greater reason, tears began to form in his bloodied eyes at the speech of a Catholic woman. Against all his aching, solidified over three long years in captivity, he was loved by someone on this Earth. He buried his face in his hands. Like Hephaestus, he began to rock with sobs. He shuddered with memories of home, the mother who had chosen the Church over her own son, and does not see him. The father who had disowned him with eloquence, declaring at the podium the Kingdom of Christ and damning his son to the ice of Cocytus. Catherine of the Rose-Cross fell on her knees in her gown, sullied in the mud, and bursting through those memories, she held him. She lifted him up like a child, a pieta as good as any other. She held him cradled and walked.

“I will free you,” she said, stroking his hair, matted with grease, stuck with flies. “I will free you from the Pilate of the Church.”

“But how?” he asked. “Where will I go?”

“We will go to France, and take you to the Cathars. You are the lamb who has gone astray, more valuable to Him than the flock.”

And so Catherine of Thorns made her promise to the heretic in Ulm, to take his crippled body to the heretics in France, and to leave the cursed soil of the Holy Roman Empire.

Then, she dropped him, and left. Heretics must move in the dead of night, not the broad daylight of holy Thrones. This she said to him, and this he begged her against believing — he begged her to take him away now. She repeated the Our Father as proof of her intention and left.

That night, Catherine of Thorns did try the seal of the musted window beside her stone bed and pried it open, weaseling through the cavity like a bird into a bath. She fell upon a low pool of rainwater, and cursed, the name of God escaping her lips. She covered her mouth. She gathered herself from the puddle, and proceeded beneath moonlight and the stench of frogs. Of course, this one night among a thousand, it had chosen to rain.

Empty stone houses stinking of myrrh and small candles in their windowsills were all that separated the rainwater in the streets from the rock of man’s ambitions. The wax had burnt down with the day, no sounds but snores and silence, and the nun alone trod the beaten path toward the heretic. No souls were about, as all were asleep, contained in the empyrean sphere as embryos in vats until morning. As she made it to the edge of the town, the rare persimmons imported from voyages to the East breathed and rustled in the midnight air with their sheathes of wet leaves. He could tell at once by her footsteps it was her, and again he wept.

“You fool,” he said. “You really are a holy fool…”

She knelt down before him as water dripped from all eaves. As she went to work on the cords binding our man’s wrist to the pole, the old professor began to ask:

“Why do you save me? Do you forsake your Christ?”

She did not reply. She loosed a horse on a rope from the stable across from the hens and made a prayer for the mare’s owner. The fine horse trotted across the running watery way, toward the filthy man, and the nun instructed him how to ride. He did not know how. He was a man of minds. Worse, he was too feeble to rise. The nun, looking in each direction, took a desperate act.

She loosed her dress and took out a pale breast, bringing it to the mouth of the man. Greedily, like an insect, he drank. He kneaded on the milk of her body and climbed, then, up the tall body of the beast. The nun, ripping one side of her dress, climbed up after him, and took the reins. She took the cloth from her head and cast it down. White, beautiful hair dangled in the moonlight. With the heretic she rode.

Rain fell like the hate of an army. It drowned out her eyes, it made blinking a chore. The horse trod through sinking Earth as a genuine monsoon seemed to be roaring about German land. The hillsides green were slicked with rivers. A watery pool had formed at the edges of the road, lines of turmoil. Her hair was drenched and her back was freezing. The heretic, swishing from side to side atop the horse’s hind, was drinking it in by the mouthful. The downpour only grew stronger. And as one hour went by, now two, and his strength resumed, the nun began to hear him speak:

“I am from the future,” he said. “I know these days are limited. Soon they will be done.”

She wiped a globlet of moisture from her eye like a tear.

He swayed back and forth, his mouth open, eyes alight with the reflections of moondrenched stars. “I am telling you, sister, that the day will come when Christ is not a King but a curiosity, an odd thing that is impossible, a distant star, as far from men and women as you and I are now from the constellations, a forgotten thing unattainable.”

The nun narrowed her brows. The mare’s hooves stuck in inches of mud, and sucked and popped with every step. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean that Christianity is finished. Your world is done. I know what happens in this very town, this place full of shit you call Ulm. A young man will station here, joined by a garrison. He will make a camp and set himself against the empire of an alchemist. His name is Rene Descartes. He will take Euclid’s machines and he will dream of a golden ball, handed to him by an angel, telling him to divorce the study of nature from the study of God. He will carry forth that revelation forever, into eternity, to separate the world from God. And he will succeed. He will succeed in dethroning you, forever. Your rule will never return. Your Christ will lose his crown, and it will not be given to another prophet, nor any Mohammed, but the crown of thorns will be shattered, and lose all its meaning.”

“You’re a liar.”

“I am not,” he seethed. “A garrison is coming, of men led by a pope who is an atheist. They will encircle the Churches and they will open great coffers of treasure, and men of theology will become men of business, and the laws of the world will not be written by Thomas Aquinas, but by bureaucrats who believe in nothing. Men will look at the stars and see not the Intelligence of the Spheres but a steaming rock, and in the afterlife an abyss. This will become the only truth there is. Heaven and hell do not exist. There are no Powers nor any Thrones above. Only stars, gleaming with fire, material, unholy fire.”

“You-”

“And all things will be decoded, as at their core is not light, but tendon, sinew and bone. And beneath that, ribbons of instruction, written by a mindless mind, authored by no one, and this truth will be incontrovertible, to the end, till the end of all time. And the consequence it will have-” Blue lightning stabbed jagged across the sky. The man from Ulm hesitated, then considering his lot, he laughed. “All men will believe what they wish to believe, and fiction will become reality. All mythology and all religion will be as one, Christ as good as Apollo, Apollo as good as Mithra. And the consequence, dear sister, will be that there is no rule that is agreed to by all, there is no moral law, there is no order to which men and minds submit themselves. No, the mind shall not submit. The mind alone shall rule the world. And the mind will make all decisions, and it will split open the sky with light made by men, not by God, and this man-made light will be indistinguishable from life itself, and all things sacred will become like Socrates, a corpse that hated life, and men will move on from it, and women will become whores, and men will become judges, who abide not by religious law but by courts made by men, and men will rule the world without submission, without authority above, and they will invent truths and those truths will clash with opponents without any crown to unite them. All people will believe a different thing, brothers will live in the same household and gaze down different directions, and brothers will kill each other. Cities will emerge, cities of millions, seething houses of men with nothing in common, who will all invent their own laws, and sow discord, and never again once the sowing begins will it ever stop, never will Christ return. Only ambiguity, and the rolling ball, will follow men forever, and their women will die, their children will be born as in tubes, and flesh and blood and plastic and glass will have the same essence — material, as there is no other substance in this world. And it will begin in Ulm,” he gasped for breath, laughter breaking from his chest. “It will all begin at a garrison in Ulm when the little man has a big dream and he divorces nature from God, and shows how it is so, and no theologian will ever be able to disprove him.”

In darkness, the nun halted her horse. She dismounted it, and walked to the edge of the cold road.

“What has happened?” asked the man, looking frantically in all directions. “Where have you gone?”

The nun said nothing. She waited, waited for his true nature to emerge. Waited for him to grow angry, to grow violent. But nothing changed.

“Come back,” he said. “Please, return.”

She walked back to the horse, her feet in rags sucking in the sullen dirt with every step, and grabbed him by the right thigh.

“Is that true?” she demanded.

“Yes,” he said nobly, nose to the rain.

“And you are part of it?”

“Yes,” he said. “I have been sent here from the distant ahead just to make it happen sooner.”

The nun released his thigh. She turned back. She wandered to the edge of the road again, to the same place, rain boring down on her like a cloud of ashes, pouring death upon her. As she turned again in her cloak of death she set her mind to a decision and grasped the man’s thigh again. This time, she pushed upwards, and unsettled him.

“What are you doing?” he demanded. He was too weak to tilt backward. She pushed him, up, and he tilted far away and over the edge of the horse, at last like a drawbridge he was extended, and fell flat sideways into the mud below, where he groaned in agony as he ate mud, and his ribs smarted.

“Christ is our King,” said the nun, taking the horse and mounting it once more. She doubled-back on the road and trotted away. Her mouth was pregnant with feelings, desirous of more words, but none came. That was all she had said. And she continued to ride her horse back down the road she had come, to the parish.

The man in Ulm cried out in uproarious laughter. Arced blasts of lightning crossed the bow of the world and stained the firmament brightly. He screamed with joy in his mud as he imagined chickens all around him, a house for savages, and he laughed in knowledge that time was on his side, that he had won, no matter what, that the world would be delivered once more as it already had been, to the birds. And he laid there, blind, drowning in water and stinking marsh, a broken road, worn down by the waters, no food for miles, no sight in the world, and he was given over to the elements like a slave, and he died as all men do today, beneath empty skies and moonlight, blind and starving, yearning for a crown. The elements took him. They thought nothing of it. Intelligence was purged from the world. The elements seized him as a scalpel seizes a wound.

That very same nun later went on to pen a rebuttal to the man from Ulm, and all he had said that day. It was discovered by scholars in 1983 and prized as a rare insight into the stupidity of the past.

 

‘Two Etymology Poems’ by Matt Mitchell

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THE ETYMOLOGY OF MOUTH

(n.)

Old English mup “opening of a gate to a country of teeth sharp enough to gash the moon.” Garden of thorns made from pink cheek exoskeleton; colony of cul-de-sacs at the end of my great aunt’s street; voice whispering jetstreams into the vacant sky; air filled with flecks of dandelion; the color of summer; taste of bare neck in early morning; lips split open in the shape of glaciers from air conditioner horsepower; what undresses my ribs & arranges my birthmarks into constellations; cathedral at the head of a river where I open the earth & sing my love into.

THE ETYMOLOGY OF NEEDLE

(n.)

Pharmaceutical jargon naedl “small, pointed instrument for carrying an ocean of life through the fabric of a body, etc.,” from endocrinologist’s mouth naethlo, literally “an elegy of permanence wrapping around God.” Meaning “piece of magnetized steel in a compass,” or ruptured artery in my thigh after insulin needle splintered through fatty muscle, or my translator for a death waiting behind a whole map of skin tearing.

Matt Mitchell is a writer from Ohio. His first chapbook, you’re my favorite garçon, is forthcoming from Ghost City Press in 2020. Other words he’s written appear right now, or will soon, in places like BARNHOUSE, NPR, Gordon Square Review, Frontier Poetry, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others. He’d love to talk to you about basketball.

‘A History of Bad Men’ by Jake Kendall

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Peter Calloway was not the worst man in the room. However, he was easily the most annoying.

Everyone was obligated to take their therapy very fucking seriously of course. Each of them feeling the instinctive compulsion to display deep remorse, contrarian, and humility. After all, who knows what the doctors might advise the courts if they did not?

Yet no one dedicated themselves to the performance quite as sincerely as Peter fucking Calloway.

Alex hated Peter. He hated his ego; huge and ever-expanding. Like an aging star, and every bit as doomed for a terminal collapse. Sooner or later Peter dominated every group session, complete with theatrical hand gestures, and a booming voice well-used to projecting itself.

“Of course one mustn’t attribute quite all of one’s failings on the behaviour of others” Peter declared. “Of course, of course not. Agency raises us above the fauna, to the dizzying heights of responsibility. We are then, mortal gods. Yet, like the great Achilles, we are imperfect deities. We have flaws, weaknesses… and lo, it is that old friend – that vile Janus – we call agency who sniffs, and searches, preying upon our worst impulses, making foul opportunists – neigh, Hyena’s – of mankind. What is the greater tragedy? To be born imperfect, or to have imperfections thrust upon us? Would the misunderstandings around my life be plagued by accusations of sexual assault – assault, aye, assault! Those are indeed the charges, though not one claimant declined my advances…”

Peter had left his chair, his hands instinctively forming the pose of a tragic soliloquy. His rhetoric had excited his own blood a little too much, his anger and outrage eclipsing the expression of sad contemplation he had begun with.

Peter’s theatre career spanned decades. He was an actor in the eighties. An actor-director by the nineties. Eventually he was appointed artistic director of a big London theatre some ten years back. Alex knew all of this because Peter was an over-sharer of information. With a little calculation, Alex could probably deduce the consistency of the man’s stools.

Peter’s face flushed a little as he realised that once again, his chair was unable to contain his lustre.

“Where was I?” he muttered quietly as he retook his seat. “Oh yes… misunderstandings. Would they have happened if I had not endured the slings and arrows of a troubled school life? The names and insults, here comes Poofter Callowaybacks to the wall lads. Which schoolmaster is having you for supper tonight? Not to mention, I hope you die riddled with HIV, like the rest of your kind…” Peter bowed his head having arrived a suitably powerful conclusion for the day.

Young men auditioning at Calloway’s theatre were often summoned to his office for a chat. Around the London theatre world this was just one of those ‘open secrets’ that up-and-coming performers would often be expected to get their artistic director, well…

When the first few stepped forward the levy well and truly broke – over a hundred allegations of coercion and blackmail, plus numerous counts of harassment and even assault on the ones that didn’t give it up.

“We are men” interjected Tobias, the American lawyer with a pleasing notes of old New York in his voice. “We function as a sperm dispensary. This is our evolutionary purpose. That need to fuck things is our fundamental nature. These days, our nature is distasteful. We are asked to beg forgiveness on account of a sex drive that wasn’t asked for. Well, I have a dog. Truthfully, I find his need to sniff asses distasteful. What am I to do? Ask him to stop doing this?”

Tobias liked young women. Anywhere around 18-24 was best for him. Mainly though he didn’t touch them. He just masturbated. His office burned through a lot of interns; dozens of women told they would be blacklisted if they didn’t keep their mouths shut about it afterwards.

Everyone in the room has a story like these. The sneering music producer and his pop hopefuls. The Slovakian tennis player and the women-only training facility he established. The tech millionaire, well… perhaps he was ‘avenging’ years of rejections and disinterest, but in a room full of monsters Damian might just be the worst.

Damian was filmed at a private members club night, auctioning women. It wasn’t just the seediness of event itself either. Many of the women couldn’t speak English and were unaware of the extent of the sheer arrogance, the unapologetic crudeness, and the outright woman-hating present in Damian’s commentary. The video had gone viral. Alex watched it before he himself was checked in. He remembered thinking that this man was almost as if Giuseppe made a brother for Pinocchio; only this time instead of using wood, he worked exclusively with bile, misogyny, and shit.

Damian was also rich enough that he could pay every one of their fees. This wasn’t cheap either; ten thousand a week. A gilded cage for them to sit and sing their songs of victimhood and misconstructions.

Dr Wilkins oversaw the group therapy with infinite patience. His job was to talk to celebrities and millionaires, explaining the rudimentary principle of egotism – what you want might not be what other people want – that kind of thing. Some of them could be here for years and never understand it. Tobias for one. “This… this fashion, this, craze for consent, where does it fucking end?” he asked in one of their first sessions, marking quotation marks with his fingers as he said the word consent.

The group therapy was always a circle. A circle of trust. A circle of hell. Alex highly suspected the idea was that each of them could look at the speakers and hear their own shitty behaviour and ugly thoughts reflected back upon them. That way they can truly judge each other, truly come to hate each other. Maybe strive to become better people from that. Well, if that’s the thinking – they were half right. Alex hated and judged just about everyone here, but no one here reflected him or his thoughts.

Every predatory fuck in the room claims they made mistakes, but Alex’s misdemeanours really could’ve happened to anyone. He was here, more to save his marriage than to avoid jail. He had run one of the country’s biggest nightclubs. There was sex. There was infidelity. There were a couple of girls he maybe should’ve asked for ID. Maybe even a couple of instances in younger days when lines were blurry, and drunk girls didn’t know how to be clear about what they did or didn’t want to happen. Nothing predatory though, nothing calculated, nothing compulsive.

Not that any of that mattered to the snowflakes, the “me-tooers”, and the fucking Woke Stasi. Facebook and Twitter came for him and his club. The accusations started. Alex was forced to resign, his wife threatened to leave him and take the children with her, along with a substantial divorce settlement. The only alternative offered was an admission of sex addiction and enrolment in this bullshit clinic.

The eight-week programme here was the slightly cheaper source of humiliation at least.

The three pm coffee was being laid out at the back of the room. Today it was needed. The boost of caffeine – the hit of sugar from those little muffins they put out. Alex found his gaze drawn wistfully towards the table. There were no women on the facility; that was just common sense. The catering staff here were young men: teenagers and students. People who had never experienced things such as power, responsibility, or the temptations that come with; the imposed innocence of the nobody, the involuntary integrity of a person with fuck-all to offer.

The two boys moved with the brisk and nervous energy that close proximity to the rich and influential inspires. They barely looked at each other, let alone spoke. One of them, short and dark-haired, set cups out for the coffee. The other, tall, thin and with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, placed the muffins on a silver serving tray. It was a strange feeling, to envy them. Spotty virgins they might be, but at least they don’t have to listen to Peter Calloway monologue every god-damn day.

Blonde hair leaned forward, reaching towards the back of the tray for the final muffins. Alex couldn’t help notice that the boy actually had quite a nice arse, rounded, and distinctly defined against his thin and supple thighs. He tore his eyes away from it and back into the circle. Dr Wilkins hadn’t noticed Alex’s lapse in concentration – he was deeply engrossed in conversation with the South African CEO who was crying his trademark big snotty crocodile tears. Emboldened, Alex allowed his eyes to drift back.

He wasn’t pretty, the blonde boy, though neither was he ugly. He had a narrow face with thin lips, a roman nose and a weak chin with not even a suggestion of facial hair to it. Androgynous – that was the word.

Alex recalled a girl he’d known who had looked similar once upon a time. He dusted off the memory, he was fairly sure her name was Becky. She had held a house party, he was sure of that detail. Half their school year, left to celebrate unsupervised for the first time at the conclusion of their O level exams. Alex had taken a bottle of sherry he had stolen from his parents drinks cabinet.

Alex idly pictured blonde hair looking the way Becky had looked that night: her flowing maxi dress, and her hair released from the tightness of her trademark ponytail. Alex had thought she looked good outside of the school uniform, though he didn’t share the thought with his friends – they would have mocked them both relentlessly. Instead he followed Becky to the bathroom when the opportunity occurred. Waited for her on the landing and suggested they took his sherry into her bedroom. They sat on her bed, drinking fast from the bottle, getting drunk almost instantly.

He had felt flush with the drink. Confident enough to ask her if she would show him her tits. Becky had been coy at first but after some persuasion she dropped her straps. They weren’t big and she wasn’t particularly pretty either. It didn’t matter. He ripped his trousers off and begged her to get naked or suck his cock. Becky did neither but she kissed him as he masturbated.

She even got into it; she touched his penis – stroking it gently at first, giggling at the sight of it. Then Alex told her how hold it right and she got into it. She bit her bottom lip and began pumping until, at last…

Everyone else was standing.

The group therapy had concluded. Alex took shakily to his feet and realised the happy memory left him semi-erect. Alex shuffled past the refreshments, giving a smile and a nod to anyone who caught his eye. He left the therapy room and headed down the corridor towards the nearest bathroom.

Inside the air was cool. Alex splashed cold water across his face and counted twenty deep breaths: inhale, 1-2-3; exhale 1-2-3… He let the protestations and agitations of his pent-up sex drive ebb back into his subconscious once more. He had reached fourteen.

Just to be sure Alex counted down the final six breaths – just as Dr Wilkins had instructed – all the way to twenty.

Alex decided against the coffee after all – maybe just a cool glass of water would suffice. At the opposite end of the corridor a door swung open. Blonde Hair walked through, his caterer’s uniform swapped for denim shorts and a loose tee shirt.

Alex tried hard to ignore the vision. He kept walking. Eyes to the floor. The young man approached so closely Alex could reach out and touch him, if he wanted to.

He felt great pride, holding himself together and letting the boy pass without incident. He felt the relief coursing through him. Still, the closest thing to sex he had felt in a month was passing him by. Surely he could snatch something for later? Alex stopped, closed his eyes and…

“Did you… did you just sniff me?” The boy asked, stopping dead in his tracks.

Alex found his pace quickening. He said nothing.

“Hey. Hey don’t pretend you can’t hear me. You did, didn’t you? You sniffed at me as I passed.”

Alex found a hand grabbing his shoulder and pulling him back round with wiry and unexpected strength. Alex wanted to push back and defend himself. Instead, finding himself face-to-face, he noticed that Blonde Hair was really quite pretty after all.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Blonde Hair asked through his cute, thin-lipped mouth. Alex didn’t want to talk to that mouth, he wanted to pull it close and thrust his tongue inside. To pull the boy close and grab a hold of that pert arse. He resisted the urge and tried his best to offer friendly smile. The effort was forced and toothy he knew, but at least he couldn’t feel a blush coming on.

Blonde Hair stared hard in return. Alex saw the other man’s eyes dart downwards before the hand on his shoulder was jerked back. Alex looked down. Shit. That’s why there was no blushing; his blood was elsewhere. Blonde Hair was moving quickly away, back towards the meeting room.

Alex raced back towards the toilet. His trousers were down almost before he made inside the cubicle. Jesus that erection was massive – days’ worth of build-up. Alex thought of that mouth, of that pony tail. He thought of pulling those denim shorts down. He thought of that girl and her teenage bedroom – of reclining onto fluffy purple pillows and tasting the sherry on her breath as she kissed him and became the first female ever to touch his penis.

Alex was masturbating with such vigour that his knees nearly gave way. He planted his free hand on the wall to stabilise himself. If he closed his eyes he could recall the girls face clearly. He remembered the way she stopped giggling and bit her bottom lip. He took that as a signal that she’d finish him and that he could just relax into it now. If only he could relax here. He was almost there though. Just think of that lip-bite one more time.

“Mr Farrow?” Dr Wilkins could put on a stern voice when necessary. “Mr Farrow, are you in there?”

Alex did not reply, he let go of his penis and pulled himself back up to height.

Almost.

“Mr Farrow, I can see you in that cubical. What are you doing in there?”

“Taking a fucking shit.”

“Mr Farrow, I… I believe your feet are facing the wrong way for that.”

“Fuck off. Leave me alone.”

“I can’t do that Mr Farrow. I have just had a complaint from a staff member alleging… alleging that you smelt them while displaying clear signs of arousal. And… and sir, I can see your trousers around your ankles. I cannot go away until you come out of the toilet, sir.”

Alex sighed. He pulled his pants and trousers awkwardly over his frustrated penis and opened the door.

Dr Wilkins was accompanied by a security guard. It was a perfect moment of mutual misery – all eyes above the neckline as they ushered him out of the toilets. Mortifying enough to constitute a breakthrough: for the first time since his arrival, Alex wondered if he might just belong here after all.

Jake Kendall writes tragicomedy from his hometown of Oxford. His words can be found in the Cabinet of Heed, the Mechanics Institute Review, Idle Ink, Burning House Press, Coffin Bell Journal and Here Come’s Everyone. He rambles into the ether and self-promotes shamelessly on Twitter – @jakendallox

‘ Two Poems’ by Tom Snarsky

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In the quiet water of subtidal habitats,

you have enough breathing room to misread
subtidal as suicidal, your brain predicting
what it sees now will be like
what you’ve been googling, low in your cove
of grayblue feeling. All the arts,
all of them, have led us to this ice. You
mix paints for the sea slush
and you’re out of green—you squeeze
the tube and it gives you nothing, the sides
touching through a thin layer
of dried paint, and instead of giving up
you leverage colorblindness as an asset
and mix in red instead, so the little
cove you’re painting starts to look like clay
so rich and malleable you could almost eat it.

Escape Rope

The truck’s mud flaps say STARGATE
& I’ve never felt closer to the earth, to the

Basic conceit of burial—i.e. if you go down
Far enough, if you live enough to have

Friends to bury you, then maybe when you get
Down there, after a little time has passed

The gates will open & there will be
Sandboxes full of stars for you to play with

You can make castles you can tear them down
You can shepherd the toy truck across

The bridge over the moat to safety
Its mud flaps still emblazoned

but faultlessly clean

Tom Snarsky teaches mathematics at Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts, USA.