by Eric Paul Shaffer
Wind tears through the trees, and the house creaks
like a redwood in winter. Little limbs tick on the walls,
and ragged tarps on the neighbor’s boat flap
against their ropes. Through the window, leaves are black
tatters in a torment of gray. Streetlights dim the valley,
and the far ridge is a dark line between dawn
and rising rock. Not a rooster crows. Not a dog barks.
Storm haze blurs the edges of the neighborhood,
and the stars are long gone, even from our hillside.
Above the tufts of cloud, a glow of rose illuminates
tears in the folds of the storm. I know it’s early,
but I wanted to wake you so you could see this light.
by Elizabeth Langemak
The hole swings
caught in the net,
broad and slack
like a body
and died as I slept.
see how this
cut is the work
of someone thriving
alive who came here
with a question,
and a knife, and maybe
the hole that now
hangs like a yawn
was for one
like a jaw slack
with shock, as one’s
jaw gets when
an interrogation ends
with an answer
no one expected.
by J.G. McClure
after photos by John Divola
1. As Far as I Could Get
See how the gray sky and grayer earth divide,
how the ground slopes left and the mountains right,
forming balanced imbalances above the gathering scrubgrass,
above the dust-path he’s placed precisely
at the center. Count up the hours
he spent driving deep into the desert,
tripod and camera filling the passenger seat;
count up the time we spent learning
how to be with each other. Think of how,
when everything at last was perfectly composed,
he set the countdown and sprinted far into frame.
2. Seven Songbirds
Each is circled in light. The picture demands:
let us look here and ignore the rest. What we
have come for is here. Here, light has chosen the birds
and forsaken the branches. This is how it must be: all else
dark and blurred, our bright attention pinning
the ruffled wings in place.
3. Artificial Nature
Each landscape was a construction. I mean this
literally: the tree in the photo was not a tree;
the tree was plastic, paint, and silk. The tree
looked just like what it was not. The artist looked
inside his own deceptions, and almost still
believed. That last Sunday, in the gallery,
you looked just like you.
by C.F. Sibley
Its pink cellophane
trembles slightly and
the mic picks up
a plastic clack from one
small teal chandelier
hanging from her ear.
By the couch,
you undo me
like a jar. Your skin
vinyl damp where
you hold my face
to the floor. Above me
you are busy
I know better.
I can taste you.
I watch you
pour me out
on the hardwood
drilling the desert blind
for whatever it can
her glitter lacquer
flat static. Your eyes
of the animal as
it walks into the road
to be ruined
or to run.
by Michael Mark
“The whole world’s gone cold,” I tell Lois, when I mean now
the supermarkets have frozen Indian, frozen Thai, frozen vegan—
endless aisles of freezers—explaining why I can’t get warm. We
are starving for reason, and all we can do is get the food requested
by a grief-stricken mother. And we can’t even do that.
The text response to our, “How can we help?” is “Fruit candies
in the shape of dinosaurs and sharks.” They are for her middle
child, suddenly, as of this morning, her oldest living son, for
when he arrives home on a bus tonight from college to be with
the family, to wait for his brother’s autopsy report and whatever
comes after that.
We hate asking for clarity, but we are overwhelmed in the snack
aisle and can’t get it wrong on the worst day in history. She texts
back, “It’s kid food.”
In the aisle of the supermarket, repeating, “It’s kid food,” a healing
prayer no less holy than ones chanted in temples, we fill the wagon
with boxes of lime brontosauruses, pineapple triceratops and rainbow
Tyrannosaurus rexes. The only things in the store, in the whole
world, that make sense.
by James E. Allman, Jr.
1. Cleofan — to split
Imagine a dotted line around a neck. Imagine
‘cut here’ written there. And me standing with a meat cleaver.
Now imagine how hard your neck and head would
hold each other. Like a baby cleaves
to a pacifier. Or a toddler, might, laughing,
legs and arms locked about a shin, riding a shoe.
2. Clifian — to adhere
As everything must hold on. As long as it
can. And didn’t you use a ‘paci’ much longer
than was appropriate. No one could break you of it.
Even though we tried to scale its use back to just
the traumatic events and during long
naps. But everything without became so traumatic
to you. Who am I to judge—
I sucked my right forefinger
into the first grade—hiding my whole body at naptime
from my childhood peers—but mostly my lips,
my embarrassment, under a blanket—
lest I be cut to the bone by all the small scalpels
they wielded from their eyes and
force-fed me while we ate sugar cookies, together.
Do you remember when there was no holding on. And no need to.
3. Clofen — divided
Nor do I. And still my fingers grow tired. As when I
stood over your bed while you were sleeping,
fumbling nervously with a pair of scissors,
intending to cut another 1/8 inch from the nipple of your pacifier.
A trick we learned from another equivalently struggling
parent. And how I had such mixed feelings.
Still do. We had to cut it to the nub before you would
set it down for good. For good—
even now I don’t pretend to think that it was
4. Toslifan — sliver
all good; though it was good. There’s this sliver in all things:
the word, itself, serving up such mixed signals—as
everything that cleaves also
cleaves, is a knife’s edge
between them. How you looked so miserable,
pulling the sheets down from your face, waking to each fresh cut.
And though you don’t remember, now,
weeks later in your bed you were so frantic. Looking under
pillows, ‘lovies’ and blankets for it.
I picked you up in my arms to settle you,
the sliver that you were back then—so close to my heart
and head—and thought to myself, as much as said: Hold-on.
by Mary Ann Samyn
November is a shipwreck in the mind.
Indoors, all sticky attention.
Outdoors, the deer likely don’t know they’re mine.
Whenever I think of the apple cart, I’m the apples, also.
See how you like it, says the errant sky
and the big lakes turning over on cue.
Naturally, I dwell on this.
Then, explaining, get it all wrong.
by Jennifer Givhan
After mating and laying her eggs,
the octopus with a brain the size of a clementine
goes senile. She welds herself into
a cracked teapot she’d grown fond of
then dries up. Researchers find her yards from her tank
finally still after days of odd behavior.
What size was her heart?
That’s not what we mean, of course, but the neurons
in her arms as if each had its own brain—
when cut, will regrow. When cut,
will continue searching for food then surrender
prey to mouth as if the mouth were still attached
and still I lie on my side instead of my belly, pillow
between my legs. This is more than phantom limb,
as the octopus must know. What is it like to be an octopus?
What I’m asking is how we carry on.