Kerrin McCadden

How to Miss a Man

Breathing is just a rhythm. Tell yourself this so that the breathing
becomes a song. Sing this song all day while you shop in the hardware
store for things you do not need. Sing it again while you cook supper

for yourself. Cook supper for yourself, even if you don’t want to.
Go for a walk, even if you don’t want to. Put your shoes on
and get the leash and even bring the dog. She will be so pleased

you might start to forget. Also, breathe. It is a rhythm. Walk
around the block, and even farther, if you have a mind to.
You might. Your feet will take you. They can. If you listen,

they are a rhythm also. Like drums. Hand drums. Swing your hands
while you walk. Tell yourself they are kind of like wings,
that the bird’s wing has a hand inside it. It does.

Come home and make tea. Every time you dip the teabag,
hold your breath like you are underwater. Hold. Breathe.
Hold. Breathe. Like that, like you are swimming across

Lake Pleiades, under water like a fish, above water like a bird
until you are stitching lake and sky. You are a needle just then,
darning holes in things, a weave of stitches across and down, like a graph.

You need to be a graph. A grid. Numbers are perfect. You can draw
two lines on a graph that can never touch. This is what you are building.

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Kevin O’Cuinn

Snow Journal, Day 46

Winter hung over us like a gaol sentence, a punishment for daring to stay. Though we all had reasons for gravitating north, no one spoke of such things. When we spoke it was of food, or of what we saw in the fire, but never of before.

The days held us tight, compressed into dim mid-morning light. We used morning’s window to set and check traps, to drop lines through the ice. The fish never bit till it was almost dark, till we could barely make out what they were. We called them names we’d learned when young-cod and halibut, salmon and cabillaud-but naming things was not our game. Fish were fish, and grilled or boiled or smoked was how we distinguished them. Smoking them meant we could keep a stock, though we tired of picking wood from our teeth.

The traps stopped nothing larger than arctic rabbit, soft to touch. We skewered the meat and turned it in the fire, fried the giblets in an iron skillet. We stewed the bones and sucked out the marrow, washed it down with broth. Nothing was wasted. The skins kept us as warm as we could hope to be.

For distraction we read the flames, blue and gold and pink and orange. We sat so close, peering ever deeper, that our faces grew red and darkened. Salmon danced and wolves sang, and we threaded the images and spun tales across the night. Our early stories ended in triumph, the late ones in tragedy, revenge and betrayal. But only one story began with the figure of a girl. We each relayed what we saw, and pieced together her history, as she lay there, buoyed in the flames; her eyes black, her hair coal. We didn’t blink for fear that we would lose her. A day passed, then two, and still we sat at the fire, inhaling her voyage and swallowing her fate. Someone said she was a Legong dancer, from somewhere down in Indonesia. She held her hands just so, pointed and contorted in the pyre, and never once looked back at us. She turned, finally, enough that her pointed globes shone at us. That was when the knife was pulled, a rusty blade that cut through the our group. When the knife fell to the floor, two were dead and Bow had lost an eye; and the fire was dead, and all it held.

We didn’t fish that morning, nor the day after; we tried, but each time we lowered a line, her face shimmered on the water. We feared what we would draw from below.

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Thomas DeMary

Butcher’s Block

The age of the crowd on the boardwalk undulates from old to young. Time gerrymanders the demographics as the sun sets, as the sky burns. Two boys fist-fight along the shoreline; a combatant collapses to his knees by an uppercut to his jaw. Outside the Taj Mahal, police cyclists surround a pack of teenagers; an old man quivers behind the authorities, his shriveled finger points at the kids in accusation. Bronzed college boys in popped polo collars hurl wolf-whistles at young girls, their bikini tops and jean shorts exposing floral tattoos on thighs and lower backs. I gawk at a black boy, five or six years old, as he slaps ice cream from his mother’s hand. “Bitch,” he says to his mother. His mother.

I walk into a random souvenir shop, its overhead lights beam through keychains and shot-glasses: cheap, touristy pieces to help rewrite the visitor’s memory of Atlantic City. Behind the counter, outrageous cigarette prices are written on irradiated sheets of card stock. A thirty percent markup. He grins at me, a twenty-something with barbwire tattoos around his arm. “Got some new tee shirts toward the back,” he says. His breath reeks of beer. He ogles the young girl fondling the tee shirts.

Her breasts are space-age. Sugar is printed on the buttocks of her red shorts. I can smell the ocean in her blonde hair, her skin is blotchy from hours under the sun. Owen is tattooed on her right hand, its cursive font is ornate, Elizabethan. She picks up a black tee-shirt: a male stick figure stands before a female on all fours. The phrase Choking Hazard is underneath the picture. She hands it to me without saying a word. I press the shirt against my body. “How do I look?”

She replies, “Bald black man with a gray beard. Sad eyes. A porno shirt. I should take you to a club.”

Images of disco balls and rainbow lights flood my brain. I haven’t been to a club in decades. Times have changed, I’m sure of it. I ask her about the tattoo.

“Oh, this? I got it about a year ago. My son.”

“Why on your hand?”

She rummages through her purple pleather purse. “You’d think its stupid. It is stupid. I mean now it is.”

“Tell me,” I say, “unless it’s too personal.”

She pulls a small, amber tube from the purse. Unpainted fingernails twist until waxy lip balm rises. Her bottom lip is split; she grimaces as the balm seeps into the wound.

“Is it too personal?”

“No. Well kinda. But not that kinda personal. I’m right-handed, so-when I punched someone-I wanted to remember who I was fighting for. Like I said, it’s stupid.”

“Are you a boxer?”

“No,” she said. “I punch people.”

“For fun.”

“No,” she said, throwing the lip balm into the bag. “Sometimes, a bitch gotta fight. Is that stupid?”

“Does it matter what I think?”

“It’s stupid.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You don’t have to. I know it. I’m a mother. I’m supposed to be grown, right?”

“It’s all relative,” I say. “How old are you?”


I wave her off. “Whatever.”

“Seriously.” She dives into her bag and hands me her license. “And you?”

I stare at the plastic card. Alexis Keane. She withheld her smile for the camera; a gash was under her left eye. Her hair was slicked into a ponytail, quick and dirty, as if she left some boy on the couch. I swipe my thumb across her photo two, three times. “Older,” I finally answer.

We had Jean late in our marriage. Ten years together before we decided to try. Our family was a master plan: travel, settle into our careers, buy a home, have one child. I wanted a son. When I held Jean in my arms for the first time, I fell into amnesia.

While Eva attended her weekly painting class, I rested my head on the kitchen table. In the dark, drowning in liquor, my eyes tried to hide. Jean entered and sat next to me. She poured herself a drink, swallowing and handling the bourbon’s singe with a honed, matured sigh. She said, “Tits aren’t everything, Dad.”

It was on a Tuesday when Eva called and asked me, with an unnatural nonchalance, to meet her at her doctor’s office, to “swing by” as if picking up a bottle of wine on the way home. “Some news,” she said.

“Can you be more specific?”

“Yes, but not over the phone.”

I hung up on her without another word. Some news. She called while I sat in entangled traffic on the Walt Whitman Bridge. I boiled in my car, air conditioner in need of repair, with the windows down and a rorschach of sweat stained the back of my shirt. Under my breath, I called her a cunt and, at once, cursed myself and apologized as though she was in the passenger seat.

Eva was not at the doctor’s office; the bricked, one-floor building was dark, its parking lot empty. At home, I parked the car and peeled myself from the seat, my skin and spirit covered in a tangible stickiness, like the adhesive left behind from a bandage. Eva was at the dining room table.

“What the fuck?” I asked and repeated, “What the fuck?”

“I figured you were in traffic,” Eva said. “But I thought you’d make it in time.”

“Why did you even call me? Don’t do that shit to me,” I said.

“They found a lump,” Eva said, “in the right one.”

“A lump?” I leaned against the wall and stared at the hardwood floor. “What did they say?”

“I need a biopsy. And that’s why I called. I didn’t know your schedule, you know, if you had meetings or needed to travel this week. You were running late, though,” Eva said with a tinkle in her voice, the sound of fragile crystal beginning to spider-web with fissures, “so I scheduled it for Monday. I asked if it was okay to wait until Monday. They said it was fine. I guess if it’s cancerous, what’s a few more days going to do to me?”

I frowned and asked, “How come I never felt it?”

“Because my love,” she said, “the left is your favorite. Isn’t that a silver lining? The favorite one stays?”


“You should get a tattoo,” Alexis says. She folds the pizza slice in half and rams it into her mouth. When she speaks, the half-chewed food is a beige paste fed to prisoners and astronauts. “I can take you to my spot, up past Trump. Best tattoo parlor in town.”

“Maybe I don’t want one. Besides, I wouldn’t know what to get.” I rip a napkin into little squares and ask, “Does it hurt?”

“It’s a needle stabbing you a few hundred times per minute. Then again, you’re straight once the endorphins kick in. Get one on the neck.”

“Doesn’t that scream ‘mid-life crisis’?”

“It’s all relative,” she says with a smile. “How old are you?”


“Oh, you’re past mid-life. Unless you live to be a hundred. I wouldn’t want to live that long. What’s your name, by the way?”

“Ellis. And I’d kill to live another fifty years. At some point, you cross over. The scales tip and you wake up, realizing the majority of your years are behind you. I guess one way to cope is do outlandish things: bungie-jump, skydive, get gored by Spanish bulls.”

“Fuck girls half your age.”

“Well yeah, that’s obvious. A cliche, really.”

“No more than getting a tattoo.”

“Point taken,” I say, nodding my head as if it’s oversized, plastic and attached to a metal spring. “I’m trying not to be obvious.”

“Sitting with a young white girl, a P.Y.T., a tenderoni-you’re failing, Ellis.”

I look around. The sun is gone and a breeze blows off the ocean. Couples sit around us, elbows and beach towels resting on white tables. They slurp through straws and glance down at cell phones. A girl holds one up, showing her partner a video clip of a fat black girl dancing on a table, then tumbling to the ground like a trash can. I can’t see the video, but I remember the sounds-remember how hard I laughed when Jean emailed it to me. I light a cigarette. “How old is your son?”


“Where is he?”

“With my mother.”

“Why aren’t you with him?”

“Cuz it’s my birthday.”

“Is it really?”

“You saw my license, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t notice. Happy birthday. Where’s his father?”

“In jail.”


“Murder,” she says. Suddenly, she releases a maniacal laugh, rubbing her hands together like a mad scientist. “Drugs, actually. Possession,” she says while reaching for my pack of smokes, “with intent to distribute. Stupid. You should buy me something-for my birthday.”

“I did. I bought you dinner.”

“Pizza and soda. Yeah, I’m swooning over here.” Alexis points a thumb over her shoulder, “The mall’s still open.”

On the way, a juggler performs in front of a Korean War memorial: a statuesque soldier, eight feet tall, clutches dog tags in his left hand. The bedazzled pins twirl, suspend themselves in the air, freeze in time until their master calls them down. I watch the angles, the geometry, the choreography of his hands. It requires the same motion, the same speed and placement. No deviation or the illusion will come crashing down on the boardwalk. Alexis tests his concentration and ask him his name.

Choreography unfazed, he replies “Rob.”

She asks, “How long have you juggled?”

“Ten years, something like that.”

“This is how you make money?”

“Nope. I’m a lawyer.” I find myself impressed. I drop a five dollar bill into his Phillies ball cap. “Thanks, brother,” Rob the juggler says.

The oceanside mall harbors high end boutiques. In the jewelry store, Alexis stands over a glass case, staring at the assortment of engagement rings: chunky or solitaire, clear or multicolored, set into yellow gold, white gold or platinum prongs. She softens a little bit, just enough for me to peer past the breasts, the sugar on her ass, to finally see her true age. Nineteen and longing for marriage-she wants the fantastic clarity of a husband, a lifelong partner, a bedtime story. Her neediness betrays the act of an old soul, of a weathered spartan, of a mother.

The night before Jean left for college, Eva came out with it. The crickets sounded their mating calls. I watched an arrowhead of birds begin their flight south. With my bourbon and cigarette, I felt at peace and, therefore, expected something to go wrong.

Her silver hair was cropped short with tight, pea-sized curls. She grabbed my glass and sipped; the porch light reflected off the bourbon’s surface, bounced into her eyes, and consorted with the hazel inside her irises. “I want a divorce,” she said.

I didn’t know what I wanted. Earlier in our marriage, I imagined her leaving me, as a child imagines the death of a parent. Preemptive preparation in the hopes that the inevitable cut would miss the bone. I said, “I still love you.”

“But you don’t want me. Anymore.”

“I just need some time to adjust.”

“It’s been long enough,” she said. I looked at her. The last chemo cycle was in the past; it and the butcher’s block halted the cancer’s progress. The color in her face, the shade of butter pecan ice cream, returned. She put on some needed weight. Still in repair, but almost back to full power: she was in love. The way she stared across our yard, out toward the starless sky, affirmed what I once imagined.

I took medical leave to be with her. For two years, she skulked about the house; her gold bracelets clanked as she ambled from room to room, in search of food or companionship, her haunting work conducted at night. As her health improved, and the deeper scars started to heal, she wanted more of me-in the old ways.

We acted like virgins. As I shifted underneath the sheets, Eva walked into our bedroom, her arms folded across her chest. I wasn’t ready. She pulled the knot loose and the white robe fell. The half-erection I worked up evaporated. I sutured my eyes closed, covered my mouth and wept. Her incision had the slightest curve upward, a wry smile. Eva stood there, naked and incomplete, gasping as I turned over and switched off the lamp.

“Tell me about him,” I said.

They met at her painting class. Younger, but not too young. “Late thirtyish,” she said. He asked for a cup of coffee and time to explain cubism. She hesitated for a moment, as though she started to share sexual details. In her mind, I stopped being a husband, and became a confidant, a chum, an old girlfriend.

“Talk to me,” she said.


“How you feel.”

“How-I-feel.” My fingers dug into the patio chair. “I’m being punished.” I stopped to swallow the salted knot in my throat. “I’m being punished for being honest.” Who lied to me? Who whispered the nonsense into my ear? My mother? The minister who married us? Daytime television?

I smashed the glass onto the floorboard. “How I feel,” I said, pointing to the mess. “I hope it eats you alive. I hope they take the other one. Finish the job.” Eva said nothing. She blinked a few times, her eyelids shuttered a few tears loose, and she rose, walked into the house and slammed the red front door shut. The words looped in my head, echoing off some cavernous part of my brain, and I glanced down at the pool of bourbon, motionless and austere like crime scene blood.

Alexis steps back from the engagement rings. “I’d never get married,” she says.

“Not the wifely type?”

“I don’t see the point.” She removes a cell phone from her bag and presses a few buttons. The small screen sets her face aglow and, like that, the light disappears. “What’s the point?”

“How would I know?” Alexis lifts my left hand, her thumb grazes the tan line around the ring finger, and looks up at me. “It has its pluses and minuses,” I say.

“No doubt.” She kisses my fingertip, licks it as though she were Sharon Stone. I can feel the saleswoman judging me from behind the counter. Standing there, hands on narrow hips, watching the obvious.


I don’t know what to think. It’s not as big as I imagined and it’s packed. Painted freaks of nature, with plastic things in their earlobes and metal hoops and studs pierced in rather inventive places, roam around the small tattoo parlor.

We plop down on the blue sleeper sofa; it smells of corn chips. Alexis quickly fills out the consent form. I look over my form and slowly, neatly, print my name, age, mailing address, and check marks inside of empty “No” boxes: am I HIV positive, do I have allergies, am I currently under the influence. I lean over and ask, “Do you mind going first? You know, so I can see an example.”

“You’re scared,” Alexis says.

“I’ll pay for it. My birthday gift to you.”

“You don’t have to buy me anything.” Alexis takes our clipboards, and driver’s licenses, to the receptionist: her hair is dyed red, a steel ball juts from her bottom lip-the dot of an exclamation point. Alexis hands me my license and drops onto the couch. “It’ll be a little while,” she says.

“Seriously. The tattoo’s on me. Nothing too expensive, though.”

She turns to face me, her leg underneath her body, half Indian style. “So you’re really having a mid-life crisis.”

“No. Just facing facts, trying to accept who I am, learning to digest regret.”

“So it doesn’t get easier as you get older,” Alexis says while biting her fingernail.

My laugh is a foghorn; the patrons turn their heads, either scowling or staring blankly like paper dolls. “I’m sorry,” I say, still chuckling to myself. “No, not easier. You just-accept that there’ll never be enough time to get it right. Stumbling around at nineteen is the same at fifty-five, except slower, more arthritic.”

“I regret having Owen. Sometimes. I sat outside the clinic, freezing my ass off in my shitty car, thinking up reasons why I shouldn’t go through with it. I took a gamble, I think. I said, ‘Alex, you’d regret killing this baby more than anything else.’ What is that, a premonition? Maternal intuition?”

“A good eye,” I say, half-believing in the worth of my words. “Maybe that’s why you don’t want to get married. You see something, even though you can’t articulate it right now.”

“I lied,” she says. “About marriage. Something about it seems comforting. It reminds me of a blanket. It gets warmer as it gets older, even when starts to smell moldy.” Alexis tilts her head, lays it on my shoulder and superimposes her hand on top of mine. “Let’s get married,” she says.

“Polygamy is illegal here,” I say.

“We can pretend.”

“I’m too old,” I say.

“I’m not playing games with you,” Alexis says, “if that’s on your mind.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Nothing,” she says. “Isn’t that enough?”

God, I want it to be enough. I feel nothing for Eva, but it’s not enough. Kisses on her mouth, widening myself to receive her bad days, watching Jean make our old mistakes in novel ways: I can’t make love to my wife anymore-but what of making time? We’ll never fuck again, yet I still burrow my nose into her silver hair. I can only give her half intimacy or, perhaps, the frustration of an orgasm unrealized. She has a right to more. An amicable severance does nothing to temper my anger, my fright. She’s leaving me with thirty years’ worth of memories; I have no room in the basement to house so many boxes. The lump left me cleaved, too-but it’s not about me.

Some guy walks up to us. I almost piss my pants when I see two horns, I don’t know what else to call them, stretching underneath his forehead’s skin. His right arm, well defined, is a mosaic of symbols and faces and numbers. His smile is amiable, well-versed in customer service training, and he asks, “Who’s up first?”

“Me,” Alexis says. She leaps from the couch and grabs my hand.

“Back here.” He ushers us down a narrow hallway, an art exhibit, its walls covered with random photos of fresh tattoos. Overhead, three purple light bulbs add a soothing contrast to the ruckus: the laughter, the loud rock music, the buzz-stop-buzz of tattoo needles jamming themselves into skin. We walk straight ahead-the usher peeking back at Alexis as she leads me by the hand-until we enter the room at the end of the hall. “Shut the door,” he says to no one. I follow orders.

The tissue paper crinkles underneath her body. Alexis sighs as she reclines in the white chair that resembles those in barbershops and dental offices. The room is as clean and nauseating as bleach. “I’m DJ,” he says over the snap of plastic gloves. “Did I do you before?”

Alexis pouts her lips and nods slowly. “I think so. You look familiar, now that you mention it.”

DJ chortles to himself, his face aglow with achievement. “Something on the other hand this time?”

“My neck.”

“Maybe,” I say, watching their heads whip toward me, “that’s not a good idea. Maybe,” I say as I approach Alexis, “here.” I trace her collarbone. “A little more personal than the neck, I think.”

“That’ll work,” she says. “What should I get?”

“My name.” I laugh. She stares me down. “I’m joking.”

“Ellis,” she says, facing DJ. Without a cue, Alexis removes her tee shirt. Her breasts are netted behind a plain white bra. She continues to stare me, while pointing to the blank slate of skin next to a bra strap. “His name is Ellis.”

Getting older is a type of time-traveling, moving in and out of past lives and loves, projecting oneself into the future, bleak and accurate as it might be. The dystopia I see whenever I close my eyes: buildings are dilapidated and blood-splattered, graveyards buzz with new business, and love loses touch with sex.

We’ll sit on the bench of a beach house and watch the ocean’s black turn purple, a deep amethyst, then orange and, finally, blue again as the sun returns. Seagulls will land on the beach and squabble over yesterday’s trash. I’ll glance down at my wrinkled hand and feel something familiar in my chest as her smooth hand comes into view, lands on top of mine, and interlocks fingers. Owen will look faded.

I’ll visit Eva in the hospital. We won’t speak. I’ll hold her hand and watch the screen: a black background split by a green line. I’ll continue to carry that weight while she disintegrates into a feather. I’ll kiss her forehead, stroke her face, whisper in her ear. A flicker of warmth will come over her before the chill emerges.

Alexis stands over me, shirtless, my name branded onto her chest. Whole and made anew by ink, she runs her hand along my damp scalp. The chair is comfortable. The light hurts my eyes. I can’t see a thing. Not a goddamn thing. I hear DJ ask me, “So whatchu want?”

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Ruth Hoberman

Peripheral Vision

My father’s bones behind my face,
his eyes behind my eyes, his shadows
hollowing my skin, glimpsed then gone

on humid days, fruit flies hang like dancing ash
over apples in my kitchen, but when I reach
my hand closes on air

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Cal Freeman

A Structuralist’s Guide to Sink Maintenance

Jerry Nichols makes a wrench sleeve from the straight piece of a drain trap.  His flannel shirt sleeve brushes against the wrench sleeve while he works at ratcheting locknuts beneath a faucet head.  Sleeves become sleeves and parts of sinks become parts of new sinks; parts of sinks become tools for repairing old sinks with spirited-away parts.  The vectoring of the two sleeves is what the structurality of structure caused as soon as the first sink was installed.  In our neighborhood the totems are transitive involving on random days sinks, squirrels, dogs, elms, brown bottles.  Prohibitions against tossing out old sinks are seasonal.  Prohibitions against killing squirrels are rare, however in certain instances where a dog has feared a firing gun or the police were in earshot I have known the killing of squirrels to stop.  Jerry Nichols has prohibited the consumption of squirrels under any circumstance.  As a retired teamster driver, he balances competing moieties: truck/dog/brown bottle/squirrel/sink/alligators of tires in the road.  Squirrels are rabid.  Dogs are kind.  Elms feed upon an underground stream concomitant to above-ground currents.  In a careful bricolage, we keep the water running down.

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Tasha Matsumoto


She did not mean to call him callous, exactly. But she did not know what it was that she meant to call him. She might have gone on a scavenger hunt for synonyms, if only she hadn’t lost the Spanish-to-English language dictionary she bought when she thought that moving to Quito was the only thing that could ever make her happy.

She thought that there was something quixotic about Quito, and something equitable about Ecuador, where the Northern Hemisphere converges with the Southern Hemisphere. She imagined herself there, straddling the Equator.

She was horrified to learn that Ecuador’s national currency was the U.S. dollar. Ecuador was where all her old bills went to retire, the twenties with Andrew Jackson still trapped inside that oval. Ecuador was where currency was no longer current. It troubled her that the same dollar could buy so much more in Ecuador than in America. It was as if the meaning of the dollar broke down, a subprime semantic crisis, and like her Spanish words, all the dollars were lost in translation.

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Josh Kleinberg

Implications of an Unkempt Coiffure


Here’s something you never thought about
hair dressers:
they know as little
about your scalp
as you do.

Bulges and motives that
you have not fathomed
—because who shaves their head?
—and who has the time?
Are as foreign to foreigners,
trained though they be
as to you, who are
screwed on

by something you imagine
as fettucini in red sauce
—screwed to, for instance,
your balled socks in red sauce,
foggy you, or chain ladders, you imagine.


“That isn’t entirely true,”
you are interjecting.   You awake
into these scenarios sometimes
—like you’d blacked out
at a party in high school
and come to, a family man.
The boy is in another corner
of a large room, talking
to the wife and you
have already said
“that isn’t entirely true:”
that his hair will keep going
long after his breath.
“What, honey?” the wife
will ask.   “What?”
And if you have a scrap
of God still left, you
will look up from the paper
and play at surprise,
not say a word.

“Cats do not talk,”
the boy had once said,
you remember in vague shades
of TV-lit blue
“That’s stupid,” he’d said.
And you agreed,
you evil son of a bitch.
Give him this at least,
let his hair keep on.


Three people, roommates,
are throwing a party—
two girls and a guy—
and the girls are talking
about how much they hate
their lives, and the guy
is thinking about how much
he hates his.

Nobody dances self-consciously,
those people have left,
and the roommates have given up
on getting laid tonight.

So the girls are talking about
how much they hate their lives,
and talking also about
cutting their hair.
All of it.   Off.
And the guy stops thinking
about how much he hates his life,
and wonders what his roommates
look like naked.


Try this: grow a beard.
Women, try too.
Try to grow a beard that will
seep into floorboards,
and prove to your father
what you’ve needed to prove.

Try to grow a beard
and keep Cuba in mind.
And the length of the beard
can mean anything really:
“how long since you cried,”
“how long since you mattered,”
“how long since your sister
threw away all the razors.”

Try to grow a beard that will
sting your lover’s neck
and if she asks you to shave
(he, if you’re a woman),
you won’t have to love him
(her, if you’re a man)


There is a poster on the wall,
Jim Morrison being sexy,
kissing nothing, shirt removed.

There are six candles, four lit.
The television is on,
stuck on black, its silence
like the hum of baking frogs,
and on the bed a girl, her
fingers down her frontside.

There are pictures in a box
underneath the bed,
pictures of the girl and
other girls, long ago.
In the pictures they are happy,
they are kissing nothing, mostly,
they were so much younger then.

But the girl does not remember,
she is grabbing numbly now
at any hairs the razor
may have missed.


Feel yourself pull at the scalp,
follicles popping
free like juicy mosquitoes,
like crooked orange blossoms
in Tamarac autumn.

Feel your fists become fists,
hairs cascading in between,
pushing up against,
avoiding altogether—
and the heft of every one,
the weight like curtains lifting.

Feel yourself
and take inventory:
She loves me not,
and so on, though
it doesn’t matter one way
or the other.

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Rob Roensch

The Customer

I have been here all day, waiting to save you. I have been standing here all day at my register waiting for you as I scanned giant cans of soup, jugs of salad dressing, small strange kitchen appliances, packages of batteries, shrinkwrapped muffins and shrinkwrapped meat, DVDs, powerdrills on sale, shampoo, Tylenol, and, once, a trampoline. I waited for you while I counted change and thought about a slice of the ordered-but-never-picked-up white birthday cake in the break room. I have been waiting for you as I waited for the credit cards to come through, my fingers poised over the receipt machine, a chewed pen in my other hand. I have been waiting for you as I clicked on the light in the Seven so one of the managers would notice and come to give me ones and fives for a twenty or to okay the void or to retrieve a customer’s desired ink cartridge or watch or thin gold chain from the cage.

I have been waiting here all day and I have been waiting here all of my life to save you, and I have not saved you.

I have not saved you, but I don’t want to stop speaking, even though this is not my voice. I won’t remember these words, although I will wake up suddenly in the middle of the night imagining that you were still awkwardly in my arms, that you were parting your lips to speak. I don’t know where this voice is coming from. Perhaps I’m not a cashier, a thin young man with a scar on his forehead, perhaps I’m only a section of your brain that you’ve never before heard from. Perhaps what’s really happening is that you’re locked in your own head and my voice is just some captured but unconsidered fragment of your life cycling back on itself.

In any case, imagine what it means if these words are real.

I am not here to push you offshore with a final blast of poignant regret for the simple life you never appreciated. You understand–you have felt drunk with happiness when you were not drunk. I am not here to offer a final epiphany about the way people are fundamentally connected despite the accidents of money and body, despite what you thought of me when you first saw me in the corner of a glance when you walked into the store, how I was leaning sourly on the counter behind the register, thin as a thief, waiting for a receipt to print, my jeans dirty and low, my name tag crooked, my cheeks splotchy and pockmarked, my orange-blond hair sloppy and my goatee in contrast monstrously sharp and neat. I am not here merely to say that I am a person too, with hope and pain and breath, although these things are true. I am here to save you, and I have not saved you. But here you are.

Here is your life. Here is a photograph of your mother when she was young. Here is that city street. Here is a breath of his voice. Here is that painful sunlight. Here is the face beneath the earth. Here is a song. Here is the feeling of stepping in from the outside into a place like a hushed hollow in deep woods and here is the way you felt as the door closed behind you, the feeling that there was some necessary part of yourself that you could only sense here, in this place, in this particular light, in this particular not quite quiet. Here is the great question that you assumed would somehow answer itself.

Here is your worry. Here is who you were when I first saw you from a distance, coming toward my register with this look on your face—there was somewhere else you needed to be. You were wrapped up in a thick coat against the cold outside, carrying milk and a box of pills and a bottle of bright red cold medicine that wasn’t for you. You aren’t sick. Your eyes were clear, your head was up. You looked me right in the face and I looked you right in the face and even shook my head to warn you away but your attention had already impatiently shifted to the rack of candy next to the register—perhaps you were about to select something for yourself, or for the person who is sick, for someone you love. Perhaps you would have chosen a Hershey Bar, or Hershey’s with Almonds, or perhaps Nutrageous; Butterfinger or Twix or Baby Ruth; Reese’s Pieces, Reese’s Sticks, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or Reese’s Fast Break; Almond Joy or Mounds; Whatchamacalit; Skittles or Sour Skittles; Starburst or Tropical Fruit Starburst; Twizzlers in red or black; Breathmints; Velamints; Chicklets or Chunky; Three Muskateers or Milky Way or Milky Way Midnight; Five Fruit or Butter Rum or Wintergreen or Gummy Lifesavers; Orbit in Peppermint or Spearmint or Wintermint; Snickers or Snicker’s Crunch or Nestle’s Crunch; Bubble Yum or Bubble Yum Sugarless; Fruit Stripe in Bubble Gum or Assorted Flavors; Mint or Cinammon or Mixed Fruit Mentos; Juicy Fruit or Doublemint or Big Red; 100 Grand; Dove Milk or Dove Dark; red or blue or green Breathstrips; Gummy Bears; Denteyne or Denteyne Ice; Icebreakers in Cinammon or Peppermint; Heath Bar or Rolos or Payday; Wonderball or Blow-Pops; Jolly Ranchers or Runts or Airheads; Laffy Taffy; Certs or Mini-certs or Smints; Tic-Tacs in Wintergreen or Cinammon or Orange or Lime; Skor; Kit-Kat or M and M’s or Zero.

All of these are here whether you are here to see them or not in the same way that your not noticing the man with the wide-open eyes and the gun two aisles down did not make him disappear. You didn’t hear the silence. You put your items absently on the belt and looked at the top row of mints. You were only paying attention to what should have been true.

I tried to warn you. I tried to whisper but you did not hear. I watched you looking at the mints. You were so absorbed. I hated you and I saw that I was the only one who could save you.

It all happened very fast and very very slowly. The man with the wide-open eyes fired twice in the chest of the cashier two aisles down (an older woman with stubborn red hair, you’ve seen her before) and you woke up into the world and threw your hands over your head and crouched as if to duck under the bullets that were already lodged in her body. You did not scream. The man with the wide-open eyes and the gun was blocked from your sight, you could only see the scuffed floor, the racks of candy and gum and mints above your head, my face. You could see a few empty shopping carts and through the glass doors out to the parking lot where people and cars were moving as if nothing was happening even though you could see that they themselves were charged with the piercing aura of existence—a silver car sleek as a weapon, a young man wearing an impossibly red sweatshirt. The specific is magnificent and murderous.

Here is my story:

I was seventeen. I tagged along to a party at an enormous white house in one of the new developments of enormous houses. The lawn was vast and treeless, the driveway was as smooth as a lake, the garage door could have held back a golden tank. I knew I didn’t belong. I hated the house and I wanted to live there. When I got inside I kept my head down and went right through the crowd and music and girls to the kitchen and the alcohol. I slurped whiskey quickly, preparing the whole time to defend myself—but no one seemed to care.

I expected magic or at least danger, and what I discovered was kids who thought they were cool all packed together being loud and stupid. The whiskey gave me courage. I wandered around the party tipping over cups of coke onto the carpets, rearranging kitchen drawers, hiding toilet paper. I poured a beer on the back deck. I dipped a toothbrush in the toilet. I jammed a leather jacket underneath a white leather couch. I stole a fork.

I ended up sitting on the pink carpet of the upstairs hallway, listening to the blurry music and the slurred whooping coming up through the floor, staring into the flowery patterned wallpaper trying to make the 3-D dolphin appear. I was very drunk. The earth was tilting and righting itself with every breath. For lack of a better word, I was happy. I always knew I wasn’t one of them, but in that hallway I didn’t care anymore. I thought I had no part in their lives. It was all so ridiculous.

One of the hallway doors opened and a kid my age with broad shoulders came out backwards, carefully pulling the door shut. He turned and at first he seemed surprised and even nervous, but then he caught himself and grinned.

“You next?” he asked. His face was red.

“I’m next,” I said, just to say something.

“She’s out, dude. She’s gone,” he said, grinning.

And as I nodded and he ducked away down the stairs to where he didn’t have to be alone, I understood.

I was drunk. I was happy and angry, and at that instant more curious than anything. I was seventeen and I had never touched a girl. I stood up and opened the door to the dark room and slipped in, closing the door behind me.

There was enough moonlight from a crack the curtains to see her on the bed. There she was. The last kid had bizarrely half-covered her nakedness with an open long black coat, as if to keep her warm. Still, she shivered in her mumbling sleep. She was gone. I knew who it was: the girl with the upturned nose and the short shiny dark hair. The beautiful girl. I could see her collarbone and the rise of her breast.

It was cold but the room smelled hot.

I can’t say what I would have done next had another broad shouldered kid not drunkenly threw open the door a few seconds later and pushed me out into the hall. I didn’t protest. I didn’t raise an alarm. I went home.

I never told anyone.

I used to walk by that girl in the hallway at school and she didn’t know me. She didn’t have to drop out of school to have a child. She didn’t send half of the party to prison. She went away to college. It was as if it had never happened, but I am not so naive to think that she was not hurt, that I was not responsible. It happened. I often imagine that I saved her. That I wrapped her in the long black coat and carried her out through the light of the party into the safety of the night.

I think about her every day of my life. I know I will think about you every day of my life from now on, and I’ll think earnestly about these two moments of my life in terms of the great questions that seemed so inappropriate when I was a teenager. I’ll think about the way you can’t help building your own soul, the way that, despite what you think you think, you know deep down who you really are, what you did, what it means. I leapt to throw my body between yours and the man with the wide-open eyes charging madly out of the store while firing his gun. For all the good I did, I may as well be a ghost. But now, I can see. I know that even if I had saved your life, I could never save myself. I know moonlight on the collarbone of the beautiful, helpless girl. I know the heat of spilled blood. I know what I could have killed, what I could have protected, what I held in my arms.

Are you still here?

Now it’s summer. It’s absurdly hot and humid outside and a Saturday so the air-conditioned store is packed with men and women and children seeking relief and socks. It’s so hot outside the air-conditioning can only keep the air inside lukewarm at best. You’ve been at your register all afternoon, scanning and packing purchases for an endless line of customers. You try to look each person who goes through your line in the eyes. Memorizing all their faces would be too much, impossible, but you know that you remember more than you think you can remember and that someday, perhaps, if you were to see that one face in some other corner of the world, among strangers, you would not be alone. You are exhausted from the faces and the money and the work. You are hot and your head hurts and there is sweat dripping down from your armpits. The manager comes to your register and clicks off the light in the Seven and at first you are grateful for the fifteen coming minutes of rest but then he asks you to go out into the parking lot to help collect scattered shopping carts. You swear at him in your head. You finish what’s left of your line. The last customer is a sour faced old woman buying four jumbo boxes of toothpaste. When you hand her the change she tells you to smile.

You secure your register and walk past the managers’ station and the other aisles and push through the non-automatic door into the brilliant day. The heat and thick, hazy light radiate down from the sky and up from the pavement. You are burning. But, as you shield your eyes from the sun and look out over the chaos of the full parking lot, you can make out a black line of clouds just above the horizon in the west. There is wind. Already the clouds have moved closer. Men and women and children in the parking lot stop and point out the clouds to each other. You move through the waves of heat out to the end of the parking lot and pull a few shopping carts off of the strip of grass and jam them together. The small trees throughout the lot shudder in the wind. The clouds reach the sun. A hint of thunder, a drop of rain. Someone has flipped a shopping cart upside down so you lift it up and set it right and jam it into the others. The men and women and children in the parking lot are hurrying to get inside. A few are standing under the overhang, looking out at the sky. A flash of unearthly light. A snap of pure silence. The sky is black. A spattering of raindrops. You hear the manager calling out to you from underneath the overhang: “Hey! Hey! Get back in here!” He doesn’t know your name. You pretend not to hear him. What can he do? The pale empty light fills the world suddenly and crashes and falls on you and all around you as bullets of water. You’re soaked through already, feeling cooler with each breath. Your ears are ringing with the sound of the raindrops pinging off the shopping carts. The whirr of cars gliding by on the highway and the chatter of human voices are drifting away. A flash, and the light does not fade to reveal the ordinary parking lot but is instead becoming brighter and brighter. You stand there in the bright cool rain thinking only: let it come down.

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A. Papatya Bucak

Self Portrait, with Birds

My mother tells me a tiny bird flew in her open window on the day she went into labor with me and before going to the hospital she collected the bird in her palm, walked it outside and deposited it on the sidewalk where

“A cat ate it,” I scream, confusing this with another of her stories, that one about a pet parakeet who she let out of its bedroom cage planning to give it a brief and contained freedom, but forgetting she had opened a window in the apartment that morning, and the parakeet zipped right out, landed on the sidewalk (why not a tree, little friend?) and was killed instantly by a passing cat.

“No,” my mother says.   “It flew away.   Safe.”

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Troy Urquhart

This Is How it Begins.

It begins.
Simply, or not.

It begins
as a word or a phrase
or a glance.

Or a sentence.

Frost would say
“it begins with a lump
in the throat.”
I would have written

But that was earlier
before the length of life
grew long enough
for me to know.

That sometimes
it ends like this.

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