Paulius Malinovskis CC
"The first thing you need to know is the last thing you'll learn. But I can tell you this: when you get to square ten, all of square one will be in it." -Gretel Ehrlich
If you're anything like me, you've probably from time to time found yourself zeroed in on everything that's wrong "out there." It's sometimes harder to zero in on what's wrong "in here." What I know now is that that feeling starts pretty early. If your family life is a war zone, then how could you not see the whole storm as an outer deal? So, wherever we go, there it is again, that feeling that things can only be made right by force. Sometimes you just have to exhaust yourself against something before it begins to make any kind of sense. Let go and let, not god, but pause, breath, a space, a beat. Anything can happen in that moment when you back off a knot that keeps getting tighter the harder you pull on the rope. We have to go deeper than the immediate conflict.
You cannot fix what's broken in others before you fix what's broken in you. Inner work feeds the outer. ("The deeper the digging, the sweeter the finding," -Maia Sharp) And the thing is, that work never really ends. I think we're supposed to try to make things better. "Are you helping or are you hurting," I've often seen tagged around the walls of my city. The timbre of approach can make or break an opportunity. Timing, dosage, tact. How do we learn that?
It never really feels like a good time for gentleness, sensitivity, kindness. Anne Dufourmantelle writes: "The very fact that in the name of gentleness [in the sense of keeping watch over one another] we come to justify brutality, or any other falsification of this kind, seems not only allowed today but also encouraged... The worst meanness will be an elevation. Yet I believe gentleness resists."
There is a ferocity in gentleness that does not devour, but is fervor, ferment, furrow. Discarding is easier than lifting and tending. Toss it aside. Kick it out. Bust it in. There it is again: a childhood. No place safe. No safe person.
Michael Egien once wrote: "One reason why I think people often hurt others is in a last ditch effort to connect." A toxic nourishment learned early in those long ago familial storm-homes. How do we work with feeling states that are so dark and devouring? In ourselves? In others? In our communities and families of choice? It's more important to stay with the question than to provide an answer. Art helps, I think. Anywhere that people can go and share their vulnerable and deeper stories with one another is a kind of gentleness keeping watch over one another. Might it not just be as simple as listening? Leaning in?
Ofra Eshel has a term that I love: withnessing, rather than witnessing. To witness implies to stand outside of someone's experience, observing empathically, but from a distance. But to withness implies being inside the feeling state of another. Right there where "the voice is released through the wound." I do believe it is possible to be at one with another. It's a rare moment. It happens whenever I read a poem about things that never should have happened, but did. Things that were needed, but weren't received. I am right there where it happened, withnessing. That's what I do as an editor. I withness. I feel it, I do.
Sometimes it's more important to supply the ground where things can begin to grow rather than the things themselves. Maybe a place speaking for itself is just this field of many voices, many stories, many wounds, coming together for a brief moment in time in a way that they otherwise would not.
Wilfred Bion once wrote: "We are presented with the debris, the vestiges of what was once a [person] and what could still be analogous to blowing on the dying embers of a fire so that some spark communicates itself to others; the fire is built up again, although it appeared to be nothing but dead ash. Can we look at all this debris and detect in it some little spark of life?"
Perhaps it's worthwhile to not know exactly where something, or someone, will take us beforehand. We go dead inside, we spark back alive, we breathe into it again. Whatever the vessel, whatever the stone. Patience pays out in the end. No one can be perfectly attuned or open all the time. But the reverse is true also, no one can be unattuned and closed down all the time. How do we extend that moment, detect in it some little spark of life? Maybe the only way we get anything right, including community, is by claiming the mess an essential part of getting there.
Sometimes things take on a life of their own. They get loud, they get messy. We get triggered, we get angry, we get even. It's not easy sorting out what belongs to who. The point is to try to cultivate a little space where sparks can grow. Spark to spark, heart to heart. "hear, heart, here."
You must remember that your place in most things is relatively small. Sometimes we're just called on to remember that we are not the whole of any situation. I know that as a kid I didn't really have the necessary environment or resources to know that. I was swallowed up in the family drama and I had no room of my own. No space to think or feel things out. Everything felt huge and like something that I had to solve or, maybe, the world would end. It did end for a while. I literally took the long and terrifying way home. Spent some years in the battlefields of numb. There are things you learn in ways you don't want to. It's not like you're built for this, sometimes you have to cradle the weakest part of your arm and trust-fall into your strongest other hand. And if something "out there" feels familiar "in here," it's probably a good sign to try and remember that you are that room of your own now.
We must try very hard to tend only after the things that truly matter. And we will wander from this. And we will return to the bare bones of it, accidentally or purposefully, doesn't matter. But that you keep coming back to it. This holy and hungry thing. Your life. But if only there were not so much noise, it waylays me? You can't work with silence, friends. Nothing is born till it ruptures, till it rends. The point is to take up the noise and make out of it something more durable, kindred, kind, holy. You need no permission. Begin your good work.
Mike Maguire CC
The Poem In Which My Trauma Never Happened.
& his hands never became leeches,
stealing strips of my flesh
as i pulled them away.
i forget how to cower in the face of love.
my emotions are not shrink-wrapped in plastic &
when a lover's hands reach for me,
goose bumps don't fly from my skin like a warning.
i am no longer stuck
in the darkness of that kitchen corner, see?
i no longer feel like something has been taken out of me, see?
there are no scars here & that scared little girl
who used to live in between my legs
is gone. see?
liquor still makes me feel sick & there is no solace
waiting for me at the bottom of a bottle. oh god, can't you see?
i have become unbroken & my pieces do not rattle
inside my body anymore.
Another Poem In Which I Beg For Salvation But Secretly Hope It Never Comes.
take these hands & run a hot knife through them. let my sins speak for themselves as they move through my blood. let me wash myself clean. does salvation not come with the cost of a life? a disappearance for an emergence. i will recount my regrets in my sleep - words forming of their own accord & pushing out of my lips. i think what i am trying to say is: break me open, god. the universe. my ancestors. anyone who is watching the snake eat its own tail. take these corrupted bones & crush them into gunpowder. make me a haunted church filled with arrowhead hallelujahs. every prayer streaming from my pores, a weapon. take my soul out of its casing & offer me up to myself. i have played saviour eighteen times & yet, i continue to fail.
When Mother Died.
we learned how to tell a lie
with our teeth on display.
how to bury tears in the spaces between
how to take the life away from
we did not expect to survive the
but to be human is to be elastic
so we stretched our hearts
until we could finally
love our father without wishing
it was his body giving way to rot
in the ground.
when mother died,
we killed her again inside our heads.
how else did you expect us to survive
how else did you expect our minds
to stagger but not fall under
the weight of grief?
disappearance is self preservation
and this we learned as we
dropped bits of mother like
offerings into the darkness.
we learned that to
survive certain things,
you have to
cling to each other in the midst of
the ruin and forget
how to remember
our eyes leak at memorials
and we smile as we
receive yet another pack of food
from yet another stranger.
we smile at the therapist and
tell our father we are doing just
but we do not remember what
mother looks like
and when our eyes accidentally
dance towards a picture of her,
ache for this stranger.
Adedamola Olabimpe is a law student in the University of Lagos, Nigeria. They have works published and forthcoming in Sub-Saharan Magazine, Ngiga Review, Praxis Magazine, Artmosterrific and elsewhere. They almost always have their earphones plugged in and they share poetry and occasional fiction on Instagram @borednigeriangirl.
Mariia Honcharova CC
Stupid stoop kids waiting on the night to
open, like a lily, like a warm mouth.
We sit and melt clocks, eat the hot summer
air with syrup, the red coke can jewelling
in the dark. In the dark, the city rats
tender to each other, scavenge glitter
and rot. Big mouthed fool, I would give away
each unborn sheet of rain, every baby
leaf for this stoop, the flowing syrup, the
kiss in the sun. We burn hours, light the
next smoke. Under the street lamp’s hot moon, I
watch your hands talk. This home is a boat for
all: it opens like a lily when some-
-one laughs, slips a secret, begins to sing.
Thicket of time first blooms, then razes, like a wave.
To my Brother with the rough morning snore that now bloats
through this childish dawn--
Can you feel the days heaving towards their final, bony full stop?
How familiar these moments: the wet green rooms we once used to walk in
with furious elbows, glistenkids collecting sandpaper calendars for their eventual prickly years.
The four of us, meanchins out to the dusking sky, ready for the outside’s anything.
Afternoons sprouted their sweet, fruity hours, then melted in the sun.
Heavy into the night’s soupy curve we slept, unaware we were growing.
Beautiful protectors of no one, fatfisted and always fighting,
we hid and sought in the shimmering dark, stupid florets cusping in the home’s ordered chaos.
This is how to look like a girl, L once told me, silver butterfly clips eating her brown hair.
If something slithered, hurt, or died outside, I wouldn’t have known.
Fatima Jafar is a poet from Karachi, Pakistan who currently lives in Boston, where she is an MFA candidate in Poetry at Emerson College. She is a Poetry Reader for Muzzle Magazine and Redivider. Her work has been published (or is forthcoming) in The Pinch Journal, dreams walking, Jamhoor and more. She is the co-creator of the South Asian literary platform, DHOOP Journa
Nic McPhee CC
pain a glistening
sheen of the shoulder
of the neck
nowhere but satined
body, back of knot
head high on weary
working body that hardly
neck of sorrow
hold against it
the boredom of it
where can I
take you, pain
lay you down
of heart pain songs
but body –
where’s your wracking tune
where the pipes and fiddle of this –
pain begs for
the long lung of today
Friday, day of forgiveness
day of ache
and sad sunshine
hold pain breathing
at its birth
sniff its soft cap
of baby hair
coo out your love
to lower the shoulders
to raise the tired swallow
to Jesus pain back to its origin
my love reminds me
I do not have to be
lonely in my pain
he offers his lips
to my neck
to my shoulders
their clench and sorrow
but in the backroom behind
the room most know
despair runs the show
sweetheart I am sorry
I do not know
how to send
the bouncer packing
how to lift the rope
Sarah Browning is the author of two books of poems, Killing Summer (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017) and Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007). She is co-founder and for 10 years was Executive Director of Split This Rock. An Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, she is the recipient of the 2019 Lillian E. Smith Writer-in-Service Award, as well as fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, Yaddo, Mesa Refuge, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Adirondack Center for Writing. She has been guest editor or co-edited special issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Delaware Poetry Review, and POETRY magazine. For 13 years, Browning curated and co-hosted the Sunday Kind of Love poetry series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. She has an MFA in poetry and creative nonfiction from Rutgers University Camden. More at: http://www.sarahbrowning.net
Bonnie Moreland CC
CW: sexual assault (not graphic)
We are the girls of unbordered touch. Pastel girls
with mutable margins. We hold tea parties on clouds,
we flutter dandelion puffs. We break and scatter in the wind.
We are the girls who drink too much, who expose our bellies and thighs
and put our tongues in the mouths of boys. We steal
their dirt and their fire.
We find ourselves in T-shirts in the freezing woods, our blood
already slowing to the ice of the survived. We find ourselves
stripped and laid bare, our soles twisting in a downward spin
as if the earth had already taken us.
As if we were heavier
We find ourselves, markered and arrowed
-Bitch, slut, whore-
lines drawn to the points of easy access,
our ease their access.
We are the girls whose hips lift skyward
and turn our faces into the earth. To the molten core
of the Earth where all our transgressions are burned away.
Our wounds cast no shadows. Our feet root upward
and beneath the soil’s crust our bare soles, daisies
stretching for some sky. Our ground,
embattled and hard lost, fertile
for the boys who overcame us and soldiered
onward. The boys who lived
as if it had not happened, as if the laws
of gravity were immutable,
as if a planted field of wronged girls
could not stop
a planetary axis on its spin.
CW: physical abuse (not graphic)
In a wash of pink
under the scorpion moon
you tell me how he broke
& you cried all night
(while I was swaddled beside you)
begging for a hospital, for aspirin.
There are stronger remedies
I want to tell you,
but we agree
I was the lucky one
because he never fractured
any of my bones
& I know now why I shunned salt,
refused to steal the feet of rabbits,
or pluck clovers from their verdant beds.
& when the wound returns to shelter
in bone malformed and unstable,
to release what we’ve become,
I am moon water dripping down a chin
I am eating these pinkened stars one by one
consuming every pinprick
where he traced the Big Dipper
and Cassiopeia and Orion
& taught me to love their cold distant light.
Ingrid L. Taylor is a poet, science writer, and veterinarian who is most likely to be found talking to the dog at a party. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in the Southwest Review, the Ocotillo Review, FERAL: A Journal of Poetry and Art, Horse Egg Literary, and others. Her poem “Mermaids” received Punt Volat Journal’s Annual Poetry Award in 2021. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Sentient Media. She’s received support for her writing from the Playa Artist Residency, the Horror Writers Association, and Gemini Ink, and she holds an MFA in fiction and nonfiction from Pacific University. Find her online at ingridltaylor.com.
Mike Maguire CC
River among the Gravel
The dog is listless and the sky nothing but clouds.
The kettle is on the stove but not boiling.
Yesterday’s rain formed a river among the gravel
snaking towards the road. The skylights splashed with lightning.
The last time we saw each other you
were going through airport security.
Your looming body lumbering among those
half a foot below.
You looked like a fish out of water,
a man without a future.
The Eagles said there was a shimmering light
on a dark highway, but its nearly all pines here
and what’s left of the leaves below is
tattered by gypsy moths.
The suet is swinging, waiting for,
or having just said goodbye to
the pileated and oh, how you would laugh,
if you were here.
A bird nearly as big as you,
in birds anyway,
and with a laugh something like yours,
high and bright, but also a bit off,
a recognition, perhaps, that something
was never quite right.
The rain can be torrential, even in the desert,
and the ground covered is more than we ever want to know.
Best to light the flame, listen for the heat, and let go.
Deirdre Fagan is a widow, wife, mother of two, and associate professor and coordinator of creative writing in the English, Literature, and World Languages Department at Ferris State University. Fagan is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Find a Place for Me, Pact Press (2022), a collection of short stories, The Grief Eater, Adelaide Books (2020), a chapbook of poetry, Have Love, Finishing Line Press (2019), and a reference book, Critical Companion to Robert Frost, Facts on File (2007). She is a poetry Pushcart nominee and her poem “Outside In” was a Best of the Net finalist in 2018. Fagan is the poetry editor for Orange Blossom Review and has also written academic essays on poetry, memoir, and pedagogy. Meet her at deirdrefagan.com
Mike Maguire CC
like it was
and sheen of rock
while the thin sun set
into the particulate
and the polyps
on the sea fingers all
were ghostly magi
if time is a mouth
rhythmically opening and closing
(hair grown sideways
in the river
how it gapes so
to be as clean as you were
when rapture overtakes
our objects, all that's left
windows open and loudly
falling away from itself
like skin slicked off by a keen blade
in such a soft place
the only smell is rot
like a burrowing snout
in safe color
the slack and constriction
of messianic heartbeat time
Warning, Pt. 2
a tender shoot
limned in gold
if we could
eat the heart
if we could find
(the stars unfold)
the singing dark
the window the window
now beside itself
at the bottom
of the rain
the horned beacon
of all undoing
“come all apart into flowers
come all apart into song”
and never dies there
Warning, Pt. 3
touch is precious
the voice hung empty
to the uninhabited places
to birth songs
the canyons raw
or smooth away
writhe and wail
this end of all
why lay flat
on the corpse
of last year’s grass
is this the time
that all things
in those days
they will say
it was enough
to wake up alive
Cy Ozgood is a queer poet and horologist living in Oakland, CA. They are the author of the chapbook Cynthia (The Magnificent Field, 2021) and their work can be found in Twang, Dirt Child, and elsewhere but they've changed their name a few times so good luck.
Jason Trbovich CC
Masturbating to the Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous Basic Text on a Wednesday Night
Forgive me, nonexistent higher power, for I have sinned.
Gxd grant me the serenity to cum before I feel guilty, the courage to climax before I experience shame, and the wisdom to not tell anyone about this, ever.
The guy in the book, Rich, keeps telling me about his years of sexual disarray and emotional dissatisfaction. And let me tell you, it is turning me the fuck on.
I’m sorry for being a sex addict. And I’m sorry for writing about it. I am one month into my program and all I can show for it is a dog-eared 12-step guide discarded next to my vibrator.
I promise to go to a meeting first thing in the morning. To confess and to repent. To receive absolution. To admit I had my tongue out and my legs spread while I read the program literature.
I hope someone punishes me. I hope I am slapped across the face over zoom. My attendance itself is a form of self-flagellation and when I introduce myself I will look into the camera.
Keep coming back, they tell me. Keep cumming back. Lock me in a room with nothing because I will make love to a book.
I admit that I am powerless.
L Scully (they/them) is a writer and double Capricorn currently based in Boston. They are the cofounder of Stone of Madness Press. Find them in the ether @LRScully.
Ryan Crierie CC
Your silhouette bourbons
deep tonight, Marshall Tucker loud, lights dim,
you dream absence of certainty, rabid forgiveness.
I step into dark porch, a mockingbird in the elm
sings mountains, all loss is singing, all loss is
mountains, under a starred night. You call for me-
the glitch: when did you start to need me & hate me
for that? When did your sticky sofa & floor drinking
sway into skeletons to hang your deflation, airplane deities.
Late, you pass out on the floor, I pull a blanket over,
then seek the dark yard. I thought I was to blame for not
being the woman who could spring your trap. I, too,
am drunk on can-this-really-be-happening. Yesterday,
I might have helped you tip the sectionals, to find lost
coins in the cushions, like they might be the forgotten
love you once had for the honeyed world. I leave,
don’t need to know if I am found or not.
Lynn Finger’s poetry has appeared in 8Poems, Perhappened, Wrongdoing Mag, Twin Pies, Book of Matches, Drunk Monkeys, Not Deer Magazine and Corporeal Lit Mag. Lynn is an editor at Harpy Hybrid Review and works with a group, “Free Time,” that mentors writers in prison. Follow Lynn on Twitter @sweetfirefly2.
Paulo César León Palacios CC
Out Across the Orchard
the three diamond dots in the distance is where they are playing football
& they aren’t concerned with C.T.E because the game is a sigh at the end
of a weeks’ worth of held breath. i don’t know
that i want my son growing up under that cross on the hillside,
over his shoulder as lit as gatsby but not so gay.
the orchard rows passing like flip book animation, like falling backwards
through generations; the time it took to be seen over the top of the apple crate fences.
i wonder about the first boy to press his fingers into the soil
needing that seed to take for the season & then the season after it, growing
& after that that boy became a man who pressed his fingers
into other places, crouched within the orchard,
but he didn’t need her as much. i bet he let his own son play football
& i bet they both bowed their heads when passing that cross
& near the porch looking out toward the orchard i bet you could see his wife
in the lilac drape of evening. she snuffs out her cigarette; pressing too hard,
liking the burn on her fingertips.
Lauren Ebright is a writer living and forgetting to breathe deeply in the Pacific Northwest. Her poetry has appeared in Permafrost and Cirque, while her short story There Are Wild Parrots in Pasadena placed as a finalist in the Black River Chapbook Competition. She has been Pushcart nominated.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.