Psychological Autopsy II
We moved out of the old apartment on Figueroa Terrace.
I had to say goodbye to the balcony overlooking the city
where I sat huddled for hours, your voice
on speaker phone so I could imagine you sitting next to me.
I worry that if you came back from the dead
you wouldn’t know where to find me.
Our friend Lauren believes in ghosts.
She said she saw you
in our new kitchen on Halloween night, clattering
dirty dishes in the sink as if trying to help.
I don’t want you to be trapped in this world
you took such lengths to leave, but you are here
in the red and gold Hello Kitty tea set you gave me
on my wedding day. You are here
in the Totoro mug and the medicinal tea bags
you mailed in a care package when I was sick.
The walls are decorated with 13 years’ worth of Halloween cards
from you with your handwritten messages inside,
wishing me— Happy Halloween, Teamaker!
I still have the first Valentine’s Day card you made for me,
cutting and pasting words from a magazine to spell out a message
that resembles a ransom note from a criminal-
How it will end? Heart-burned.
Dear roommate, please don’t eat me.
You decorated the inside of the card with a photograph
of two gory blue eyes torn out by their bloody roots.
It is pasted on gray construction paper, now sun-bleached
and worn, so delicate I am afraid to touch it.
I cannot imagine an afterlife for you
where you are happy,
just as I cannot imagine a world where you are well,
but I let myself imagine a world where you decided to live
with your illness, where you learned
to curl lovingly around your agony
and whisper to it soothingly, as if to a colicky child,
until it quieted.
Do you remember how I begged you to move here
with me to California?
I imagine a world where one day you accepted
when I’d almost given up on asking.
I imagine re-parenting you. When you were sad,
I would refill your teacup and listen
to the sound of your sorrows spilling on the ground
between us. I would show you how to shrink them,
heavy as they are, small enough to fit in your pocket.
I would tell you that I love you.
I would dump your whiskey down the sink,
the way I once threw my grandfather’s cigarettes
in the garbage and piled trash on top of them so he couldn’t
dig them out again.
I would teach you how to separate fear from love until
they were no longer intertwined in your mind.
Do you remember when we were roommates how hard
it was for me to accept the reality
of day, how I climbed down the ladder
from the top bunk over your sleeping body
every morning to hit the snooze button on my alarm clock,
and then fell asleep on the carpet,
the alarm still in my hand, snoozing
in eight-minute cycles until you stood over me
face set in an expression somehow both patient and annoyed
and told me-It’s time to wake up now.
You can’t stay down on the ground forever.
I never told you how, after falling back asleep one morning
on our dorm room floor, I dreamed you and I were old
women together, sitting on our front porch in rocking chairs,
a pot of tea between us and steaming mugs in our wrinkled hands.
It was so real that when I opened my eyes,
I couldn’t believe how young you were.
Already, you believed an unknowable someone
was videotaping and watching you in the shower,
although you hadn’t told me about it yet.
I remember how you tilted your head strangely
at a plastic monkey on my desk with a painted-on grin,
said-I think Cornelius wants to eat my liver, or maybe
and how, thinking you were joking, I told you
Cornelius only feasted upon the internal organs
of first-year students, so you didn’t have to worry.
After that, you requested to borrow him
whenever you had an assignment due, so fear
of his plastic gaze would motivate you not to procrastinate.
Cornelius lives on my bookshelf now. I packed him
in a box and when I opened it, he was in a new place.
You are here in this new place with us. I bring you
back to life every time I imagine a world
where you believed me when I told you
you wouldn’t stay down on the ground forever,
where you let yourself grow until you were ready
to sit on the porch with me,
holding your younger selves in your arms
and rocking them lovingly to sleep.
In high school Chemistry, I learned
you shouldn’t make a liar out of a label,
the danger of storing things
where they don’t belong.
You can’t predict how something will react
when you don’t know what it is.
In my childhood bedroom, a blocky desktop computer bore a label
proclaiming her Kyoko. My mobile phone was Sallie,
my second-hand silver Mercedes Stella, so similar to Estrella,
the name I adopted myself in Spanish class
because Jamie isn’t Spanish pronunciation and Jaime is a boy’s name.
I needed everyone to know what I am and am not.
The polka dot plant is called Yaya.
Yaya’s slender stalk I sheltered all the way home from New York
gave birth to one small purple bud before wilting and withering
away. New growth burst up from beneath to replace it.
I wonder sometimes if the plant is still Yaya.
I tell my clients in therapy sessions,
the ones who don’t believe change is possible,
that if you ask a 20-year-old how much they’ll change by age 30
they might say: not much,
but ten years later:
Oh my God, I’m not even the same person.
When do you think this stops?
Surely by 80 or 90, you’re fully-baked, right?
But no, if you ask a 90-year-old woman how much she’s changed in ten years
she will laugh and say: Oh my God, I’m not even the same person
which implies we’re not finished until we’re finished,
and by finished, I mean dead-
and not dead the way a perennial plant dies
for a season,
or dead the way a plant grows through propagation-
bulbous, tumor-like rhizome slowly swelling
from the place I severed with sterilized scissors-
but the way you died, Jenn-
finished but still unfinished.
Nothing new will grow out of you,
dead at 31.
I didn’t choose the label of suicide loss survivor,
but how can I complain when you fought so hard
for a label to organize your experience,
make it make sense.
There was no space for you in the regular ward
after your overdose on Mother’s Day.
You were told to go to a different hospital.
Why do you want to come here?
You just discharged from this hospital.
You didn’t fit. They put you
in the geriatric ward.
Took you off anti-depressants,
then back on them.
Took away your anti-psychotics
even though you thought they helped.
The doctor thought you were too organized
to have a psychotic disorder,
diagnosed you with borderline personality instead.
You struggled to understand what this meant about you,
as a patient, as a person.
You thought they were really saying
you were difficult, messy, attention-seeking.
You asked me over and over to remind you
your suffering wasn’t your fault.
You work in research, the resident said.
Why didn’t you research the amount of pills you needed to kill yourself?
You thought they were really asking if your overdose
was a cry for help or if you truly needed help.
Help me. I don’t understand
After your suicide, I used to wake in the night with images
of your body decaying, things
growing where they don’t belong, defacing you,
the boundaries between soil and human form
degrading into nothing,
your body undertaking that gradual change,
turning into something else,
rotting instead of aging,
no way to know the exact moment you cease to be-
if every part of a ship is replaced
piece by piece, when does it stop
being the same ship?
Maybe time is a blood transfusion, and over time
the despair living in you could have been diluted,
smaller and smaller until you could bear it,
your suffering no longer terminal,
instead a pin-prick from a past life,
or maybe things were taking root
in your open wounds.
It was a relief to remember you were cremated.
I tattooed a teapot on the left side of my chest
next to two round teacups ready to receive
whatever comes out.
When I think of you,
I put my hand over the ink, over my heart,
like I’m still in elementary school and I have to
stand up to recite the pledge of allegiance,
and maybe when I’m 80 I will still
put my hand over my heart, like I did in elementary school,
like I do now.
Jamie Gamboa studied poetry as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College. She is now a clinical psychologist and co-founder of a suicide prevention organization, Spotlight on Suicide (SOS). Believe it or not, psychology and poetry have much in common: both rely on the power of metaphor and storytelling to create meaning in ways that help us move forward. Previous work has been published under her maiden name (Gersh) in Tryst poetry, Little Red Tree Press, and Gutter Eloquence.
Isaac Bowen CC
the atlas of dolor
I’m here for the magic
the lines in my palms
an atlas that always points south
a sage in the form of a man
emerges like a vision
from the leafy path
of saguaros, wild birds
and scampering lizards
whispers in delicate Spanish
you will know pain
like never before
but you will live
on bleak November afternoons
I sing a hollow dirge
to lost innocence
my tongue stained from gnashing
summer berries and the marrow
of our grief
in the country of childhood
pioneers roam forbidden nights
plant a flag to prove sovereignty
my soul escapes
through the open windows
I dance in a place where bodies lie fallow
I know the hoofbeats
of time in my own eyes
listen to the river mouth sing
with the rustling of stones
by life’s rough waters
I am carving
my place in this world
and a fresh wood canoe
to carry ripe mangos
old stories and my bones
back to you
Summer Scribe of Lake Kanawauke, 1977
on the last Saturday morning in June
I extricate myself from the house of messy boundaries
mother’s swollen joints, dad’s Italian temper
a red bandanna marks my backpack
on the lumbering journey
from the sweltering streets of Hackensack
to a rustic camp for young Christian women
tucked in the folds
of the Catskill mountains
on the pebbled shores
of a lake with a native name
that laps melodic after dark
the old cabin planks are warped
from the weight of generations
of girls and their clammy secrets
the screens windows are full of holes
moths rest on our pillowcases
bats in the rafters
I climb to the top bunk to write
by the light of the moon
drunk with passion for my cabin mates
and the counselors who play
love songs on long-necked guitars
I scribble odes to the sound of canoe paddles
dipping in unison
and grasshopper symphonies across the water
my words rise with the illicit
from the counselors’ quarters
please, I plead to the man
I am told watches from above
let this be home
JOANELL SERRA is a poet, playwright, novelist and essayist from Northern California, with work published in Eclectica, Blue Lake Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Manifest-station, Gold Man Review, Write Launch, 1888, Poydras Review and elsewhere. Books include The Vines We Planted (Wido, 2018) and (Her)oics Anthology, a collection of women's essays about the pandemic (Regal House Publishing, 2021). Her work has won multiple writing contests.
i remember when it went like this:
the boy in third grade
gave me a plush dog for valentine’s day & i named it
love, because how else
could it go? in the books: flip a page
& there he is, applying the band-aid
with soft-gauze lips. like a breeze of liminality:
if there’s any smoke, it’s dispersed
gone, in a second, before a wanderlust
shade of febreeze floods the room
& floating is real.
but close the book & poof,
all that’s real is puncture
hovering at the altar between my two temples,
not my heart, whose space
is crowded with thumping, as if
it recognizes i’m alive but not
breathing. how does this
happen? like this:
like a glass slipper
& leaves & forgets, burdening me
with the memory. can he blame me for asking
where did the plush dog go?
& those clover crowns & the rings
we crafted from card paper on idle nights?
on my nails i trace
the outline of his hand & remember
when it went like this:
alone at recess with a broken leg
until the boy sits down beside me & asks
if he can draw a heart on my cast.
Natasha Bredle is a young (but fortunately not starving) artist based in Ohio. She writes about what she thinks about, which is really too much for her poor brain. You can find her work in Aster Lit, The Aurora Journal, and Second Chance Lit, to name a few.
My Current Partner asks about my First Love
and immediately I can smell the stench
of Marlboro Golds in my long, unwashed
hair. I think of Matchbox Twenty and getting
high on Christmas Eve right before walking
into his mother’s third new house in two years.
I think of neon sex toys, cat hair, and one unsuccessful
blowjob in the movie theatre. I don’t even remember
the name of the film. I think of Arizona – how miserable
it is in July. How ironic it was staying in Paradise Valley
while we were living in an opiate hell.
I think of satin pillowcases and soapy hands –
how gently he washed my hair in the sink
when we were homeless. I think of hotel
sheets and takeout. I think of driving
with no destination.
I think of weight loss, sleeping never
or for forever. I think of overdosing -
the disappointment that came with waking
up realizing not even I could do that properly.
I think of him getting sent away. How I’d stayed.
Here is what I meant to say:
I am reaching out for him in the dark,
Andrea Lawler is a poet, essayist, feminist, crazy cat lady, and small town girl with a big heart. She holds a degree in English Language & Literature. While not writing about sex and death, you can find her at the local coffee shop.
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me,
I’m gonna go eat worms
Back in grade school
we said it as a joke
but it was never funny.
I’ve never tasted one
but I can still taste
the year I turned nine
when those other girls
learned to be mean.
It would take me longer.
Penelope Scambly Schott is a past recipient of the Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Her most recent books are ON DUFUR HILL about her small wheat-growing town in central Oregon and SOPHIA AND MISTER WALTER WHITMAN co-written with her dog.
spend gold on
on the thoughts
you cannot be
Eleanor Fatharly is an MA student at The University of Lincoln studying Creative Writing. Her honesty and vulnerability can be seen throughout her experimental poetry as she tries to grow through her uncertain, early twenties. Her work can be seen in Odd Magazine and the anthology ‘Trigger Warning’ by blood moon POETRY.
Raito Akehanareru CC
My Mom and Dad grew up on a farm in depression times.
We stopped at Cracker Barrel often
to use the bathroom, eat lunch, buy mountains of
festive-smelling holiday decor from the Old Country Store.
My death-shadowed mother delighted in the
miniature rustic farms, quaintly lit churches
in perfectly decorated Christmas villages, admired
vintage grandpa and grandma mugs and sweatshirts,
thousands of cellophane-wrapped expectations,
blue rocking chairs adorned with painted flowers,
jars of horehound candy, red pistachios, peanut brittle,
Laffy Taffy, Lemonheads, Root Beer Barrels,
saltwater taffy, and licorice whips.
We sat and shared memories of Granny’s kitchen,
often connected to Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions,
vintage foods directly from the pages of
“Good Housekeeping”, jello salad filled with fruit cocktail
topped with Rediwhip, angel food cake,
tuna surprise covered with potato chips,
tomato aspic with lemon-flavored gelatin,
minced onions, and tomato sauce.
What was most grand and beautiful about this rambling store
was a faith in things unseen, imagining you could regain
what you lost or never had, wandering and remembering
my Grandpa rocking in his rocker, in his blue chambray work shirt,
Dickies bib overalls, his smoldering cigar resting on the edge
of a bean bag ashtray while he devoured a bag
of horehound drops.
We didn't say much after lunch. My parents
finished eating and stared blankly at their empty plates.
I sat in my seat feeling overwhelmed, aware of my breathing,
sensing my losses, and the absoluteness of the end.
W Roger Carlisle is a 75-year-old, semi-retired physician. He currently volunteers and works in a free medical clinic for patients living in poverty. He grew up in Oklahoma and was a history major in college. He has been writing poetry for 11 years, and is a nominee for a 2021 Pushcart Prize. He is currently on a journey of returning home to better understand himself through poetry. He hopes he is becoming more humble in the process.
Sharon Robins CC
It’s a fond affair
on pink-lit afternoons
when people and animals look up, unprompted
by cardinals, crows, or satellites.
No shrouded god
or patient aliens.
like their names were whispered, and while
their eyes are lifted, they notice
and linger in their looking.
It’s empty space
we might fall into,
Emily is a writer in Pittsburgh, PA. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in publications including Contrary Magazine, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Ping-Pong Literary Journal, Pif Magazine, and Autumn Sky Poetry.
Caught in the Cloudy Eye
The bottomland rose up,
a hard, broken ripening.
I fell into its cloudy eye,
wrapped myself in tear-dripped moss.
I sewed myself out of my softness,
held myself out of the sun,
The center of myself fell
before the stillness,
the center of myself stunned,
dull and cool.
I held myself beneath the air,
my center without breath,
without a friend.
I imprisoned myself
beneath the moss.
Pulled close the gate
with my own hands,
my own heart.
Everything is Temporary
My grandmother had a blood red rose that twirled around a post on her
front porch. There’s a picture of me standing next to it when my eyes
were still fresh and she was in the kitchen cooking tiny butter beans
just picked that morning by my grandfather's hands. Thumbing
through the old photo album I pause at that photo,
remember how my dad dug up the rose before
the old house was sold, replanted it in my
parents backyard. A few pages later
there it is, twirling over my parents
porch, now only a picture in an
album. Gone from this earth,
like my grandparents,
like my mother,
one day, like
Charlotte Hamrick has been published in a number of literary journals including Emerge Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Ekphrastic Review, MORIA, and Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog and has had multiple literary nominations. She is Features Editor for Reckon Review and Creative Nonfiction Editor for The Citron Review. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets.
Alexandra Frolova CC
Haikus for the Bull in the China Shop
Church bells are ringing
in your honor, but you don’t
hear them now, do you?
I think it’s funny
that a bull like you could have
a heart made of glass.
What turned you into
this bull in a China shop?
Which of us broke first?
Cracks in your glass-blown
skin give way to stone beneath,
you had to get tough.
What choice did you have?
Bullheaded pipsqueak, fighting for
your life, don’t shatter.
You were made of glass
long before my hands found you.
Somebody broke you,
read the sign? Fragile: Handle
With Care, Contains Glass.
People can help you,
you know, just let them inside.
The bull in you can
be set free, I swear.
There’s no need to hide behind
your China shop walls.
Church bells are ringing
in your honor, but you can’t
hear them now, can you?
The sound of broken
glass is too loud, the bull’s blood
staining glass windows
across the walls of
the church we loved and can’t
find our way back to.
Track Two: Poem as Texts I Sent to Her Before She Died
Hey Queen I need your knowledge
This is gonna make me sound like the literal worst person
Is your roommate there?
tell Julia I wish I was
I have to tell you something. Can I tell you something?
I think you need to call the police.
Smoking kills you but you look hella cool doing it.
k K. Okay kay Ok Kk
Hey sorry I forgot to reply
forgot to reply to this
sorry got busy and didn’t see this
didn’t see this sorry
sorry sorry sorry
Yikes I’m sorry
are you still mad at me
You’re such a fucking bitch sometimes.
Keep it. Whatever it is, I don’t want it.
Is everything okay? Hey I haven’t heard from you in awhile. Hey. Hey. Hey. Just checking in :)
Your mom called me again.
Where are you?
people are getting worried
Hey call me back when you get this.
Please call me back.
Goodnight Goodbye Goodnight Goodbye Goodnight
What did you do?
I miss you.
Grace Phillips is a writer and MFA student from Indianapolis, IN. She is currently a graduate student at Butler University, and spends her free time petting her cats, starting conversations with strangers, or bothering her siblings. More of Grace's work can be found on her website gracewritesbooks.com.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.