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Chidera Abii: “there are a lot of ways to kill youself”

there are a lot of ways to kill yourself

there are a lot of ways
to kill yourself i write
on my bathroom mirror.
i take off my shoes
and walk the streets.
it is dark, i am black,
i am female, i keep walking.
the ground is sinking,
the streetlights are sinking,
the neighbor’s dog is sinking,
the car i broke into is sinking,
the keys are not here.
i look into the rearview mirror
and the sign says no parking
between seven am and seven pm. 

________________________________________________________________________

Chidera Abii is a Nigerian American writer. She studied fiction and poetry at the University of Virginia and is currently a Michener Fellow at the Michener Center for Writers. She lives in Austin, TX.

Carol Hamilton: “Seing Yourself”

Seeing Yourself 

They say Mexican peasants were shown
themselves for the first time in Diego’s murals,
images walking about all blocky and simplified,
glorified. Given welder’s glass to observe
the solar eclipse by the National Geographic team,
disappearance of their Sun God,
the little Aymaran girls were instead
entranced at their own faces.

They say sitters for Daguerre’s first photos,
so stiff and grim, thought the captured-image eyes
looked out, watching them,
a Doppelgänger existence frozen on paper,
shocking for both. A chimp with a mirror
examined his own colorful behind
once the instant of recognition came
 …  the other is the self.

They say we hardly exist now if not preserved
on film and broadcast for all to prove
we are not figments of our own imagination.
We hold out sticks to dangle ourselves
onto all sorts of backdrops: an elegant plate,
a child’s ballgame, an upthrust feature of stone.
But a question always arises … which
is the created and who is watching whom. 

________________________________________________________________

Carol Hamilton is retired from teaching 2nd grade through graduate students from Connecticut to Tinker AFB Oklahoma, from volunteer translating, and storytelling. She is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma and has published 17 books:children’s novels, legends, and poetry and has been nominated eight times for a Pushcart Prize.

John Brady: Two Flash Fictions

Dishes

_____“Who left dirty dishes in the sink?” 
_____She wanted to shout it. But in the cool, gray air of dawn, her voice would have carried, and her daughter was still sleeping. 
_____Anyway, she knew who did it. He was still sleeping too, snoring lightly in the bed she had just left. Probably rolled over to take the heat from her still lingering in the sheets.
_____Running her hand along the sink’s smooth edge, she appraised the aftermath: the once rubbery noodles baked hard to the pan; the smear of red sauce across the plate; the half eaten meatball speared with a fork.
_____Her mother knew lazy men. “Look at those hands,” she had commanded. “They’re soft like your father’s. He won’t lift those fingers to help you.”
_____Yeah. But he had done other things with those fingers. Like hold her tight and stroke her in lovely ways. 
_____Even last night when he came to bed after his shift. He ran his hand along her arm just right. He had smelled nice too, all freshly soaped and showered. She had nuzzled her body into his, smelling his nice smell through the haze of near sleep. 
_____She wondered too though. Wondered if she should come up through the haze and ask him if he had cleaned up. But after a moment, she dropped her suspicions, choosing to hold on to that little joy in the dark. 
_____As far as marital crimes went, it was a small one. Just a minor misdemeanor. 
_____But it wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last no matter what she said. 
_____How many small crimes added up to a big one? How many dirty dishes in the sink, how many times being late for pick-ups, how many toilet seats left up amounted to a felonious assault on their being together? 
_____If she couldn’t trust him with the small stuff, how could she trust him with the big stuff? The stuff that mattered. Like continuing to care enough about her to keep touching her in lovely ways. 
_____She picked at the dried cheese with the knife. 
_____It was lighter now in the kitchen, and she recognized the time that had passed. Looking at the clock, “Damn, damn!” She couldn’t be late again. 
_____As she ran to her bus, she noticed she still had the knife. She wondered what she should do with it.

Nails

_____Joyce stood by the stove and rubbed the patch on her arm through her nightshirt. Its roses, once so red, had faded with a million washings. 
_____“Rub it.” That’s what Carol at work had said. “When those cravings get bad, rub it hard. That releases the nicotine faster. Uh-huh,” she had said. 
_____Joyce still wasn’t sure. Carol had a lot of goofy theories she felt free to share. This morning, Joyce didn’t care. Goofy idea or not, the cravings were bad. So she rubbed. 
_____Crazy Carol. And Yolanda. She was a real winner too. With those nails. So long and bright and always matched to her lipstick.
_____Carol and some of the other girls would laugh about Yolanda behind her back. “Who did she think she was getting all fabulous just for office work?”
_____Joyce laughed too. 
_____But maybe not as hard. Those nails were kind of something. And long as they were, Yolanda could type. Clickety-clackety. One even had a little diamond in it. Not a real diamond, Joyce knew. She wasn’t stupid. Not real, but it sparkled like maybe it could be real. 
_____Goddamn this water was taking so long. The flames on these dinky stoves were so pale and tiny. 
_____She looked out the window over the sink. Beyond the roof of the house next door, she could see the sky. No clouds and already bright enough to make her blink. There was just too much sun in this town sometimes.
_____A lady singing about how much she loved her honey floated from the clock radio next to the open sleeper sofa.
_____That’d be nice, Joyce thought. A stray thought for one more stray morning. 
_____The water in the pan bubbled, and Joyce poured it into the cup. She watched the deep brown crystals turn muddy.
_____The screen door banged behind Joyce as she stepped onto the stoop. 
_____Across the courtyard, Mr. Ruiz was cleaning his grill. That guy was always grilling. Loved feeding all those kids and grandkids of his. Always coming and going and making such a racket. Laughing and yelling. Laughing mostly.
_____Joyce took a sip and then shaded her eyes. So bright. Even this early. 
_____Mr. Ruiz looked up and smiled. 
_____Joyce went to rub her arm, but waved instead. She paused and then smiled a bit too. She would ask Yolanda where she got her nails done. Sure she would, she told herself as she went back inside to get dressed for work. 

___________________________________________________________________

John Brady is a writer based in Portland, OR, whose fiction and non-fiction writing has appeared in various outlets, including Exposition Review, the Los Angeles Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mother Jones, Punk Planet, the Los Angeles Daily News, the San Francisco Chronicle and on National Public Radio.

Felipe Rodolfo Hendriksen: “Folkstone (2013)”

Folkestone (2013)

It’s always winter there, but it feels like autumn, because it’s all slightly dead and slightly broken. It’s 2013 and you’re still young and skinny and your family can afford the trip and no one knows who Trump is. They use pounds there but the pounds look like big stamps and you forget it’s money and you start buying stuff only a teen would. It’s 7:30 not 4:20 but you’re smoking all the same you don’t care, you have long, silver cigarettes (the cheapest, still too expensive) for breakfast. You drink Monster before classes not coffee because you know you’ll need it and because you pretend to care but don’t and that’s okay because you’re 16 and in love and there’s parks everywhere and people say hi and no one steals a thing because you’re in Europe and South America is far away. You think feelings and emotions are for emos and you call them faggots but you know you love someone and that makes you proud and special and it makes it easier to sleep at night after you jerk off (never thinking about her). You live with a young couple that must have been lovely but you never noticed because you’re too busy smoking and drinking and watching Heroes with the Muslim friend you never thought you’d have. You lose the house keys once and don’t see the allegory there but no one does anything because it’s Britain and everyone’s polite about everything and no one really gives a shit about an Argentinian. You buy beer with a fake ID from a Pakistani girl that can’t be older than you but already is (she has to be), you go to a hidden garden full of orchids and bees and get offered some hashish but you don’t have enough money and you’re too afraid to try. There’s a cemetery in the street where you think you’re living but you’re not because you will always be an Argentinian and you’ll never escape from the Third World.  So you go there with the girl you love (names never matter) and you walk and should be holding hands but don’t because you’re nothing and will never be, and she talks and talks and you’re Semele so you can’t reply because you’re burning inside and everything’s on fire even though it’s winter and suddenly wearing shorts isn’t such a bad idea. She stands in front of a big tombstone with a ship on top, some German soldiers who died once, who cares, she does, so you stare too and think it’d be right to cry for the dead young men because you’re young too (not for long) and dead (this you’ll be forever). So one day you get up and think that maybe she loves you back so you call her and talk and make her sit beside you and you tell her. You don’t say “I love you” because you know better, but you do say things like “I always dream about you” and “I like you a lot.” A second passes and your fate is decided in that second. She shakes her head, says “No,” and starts crying. You cry too, but that doesn’t matter, your life is already irrelevant and stupid. She goes away and doesn’t look back, never looks back, always moving forward (unlike you). A couple sees her and asks her if she’s okay and you know what she says and what she should have, but it’s too late now and you can’t chase her and you’ll get scolded once you get home and you will nod and pretend to be sorry and go to your room and see what it feels like to scream in your pillow. 

A lot of things happen after that, too many, you want to write them all down, you get obsessed with the idea of laying down all the facts you think you remember, but no one will ever read them because you’re too afraid to let people know how you really feel about her, about that trip, about Folkestone, where it’s always winter, where you bought pot once and went to English classes, where everyone says hi and no one steals a thing, where you’ll always lie dead.    

________________________________________________________________________

Felipe Rodolfo Hendriksen studies Literature at Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina. He currently lives in Quilmes.

Sudhanshu Chopra: “Combustion”

Combustion

I

Where do I go without you? The shell
in which I hid before you arrived is now
compromised, and I feel naked as a wire.

I’m an old-school purchaser, always buying
two in place of one; a spare, an extra
for emergency.

But with you I was young & careless: never
thought of getting insurance, never imagined
slipping my number to another, or handing them
the duplicate of my back door’s key.

I understand persons are not objects; who then
are these people I see kneeling in cemeteries, talking
to stone? Where I reside, presidents inaugurate

aircrafts by cracking open coconuts at the landing
wheels, anointing moist vermilion with their thumbs
in vulcanised rubber grooves.

II

An ambulance—its siren bawling like a hungry
child—vanishes as soon as it appears. A grey
nightjar prepares to launch from an electric pole.

The traffic light: red; the zebra-coloured
pavement strewn with rat-gnawed foam
mattresses and homeless tykes asleep

in crisp November chill. Their still,
subdued bodies shrouded in papery blankets,
their surreptitious breaths detouring
no passing feet. Alongside, on the road,

engines hum, exhaust pipes vibrate.
Petrol continues to ignite.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sudhanshu Chopra is a poet, wordsmith and pun-enthusiast. 30 and rootless, he is fascinated by nature and frustrated by its incomprehension. He wishes we had evolved better or not at all. It is the midway that causes Catch 22 situations, which are quite troubling, mentally and otherwise. He tweets at @artofdying_

Nathan Leslie: “Triangle Stamp”

Triangle Stamp

_____Wayne liked the African stamps best of all. One rainy day his mother bought him a starter kit–a bag of miscellaneous stamps from the hobby store and a book in which to affix the stamps, by country. The European stamps were compelling, especially the lithe Italian images and the German stamps, each featuring that dictator or post-war mop-up image attempting to project positivity–factories, women working, a family gazing off into the future. Nothing wrong with trying to stay upbeat.

_____But the African stamps were colorful and featured animals and were not always little boring corrugated squares–some were triangles, others were trapezoids. The African stamps depicted colorful action shots of animals, not tedious gray statues or bewigged politicians from the 1700s. It was birds, elephants, monkeys, warthogs, giraffes, gazelles. Some stamps depicted animals for which he lacked a name. This sent Wayne to the Britannica set in the basement. And the countries–he could figure out Sud Afrika and everybody knew about Egypt and Nigeria. But Namibia? Ifni? Rhodesia? Zambia? Back to the Britannica set. He learned more from his stamp set than he did from his geography class.

_____Wayne’s father didn’t care for the hobby.

_____“Why are you wasting your time cluttering up the house?”

_____Wayne’s mother cocked her head, unsure what to say. Caught in the middle.

_____“I’m not cluttering–”

_____“It’s stuff. The more you collect and hoard the more we have to pick up. The more your mother has to deal with these things, dusting. Cleaning up behind you all the livelong day.”

_____Wayne said nothing. He scratched his chin. He was fifteen years old. He fantasized about driving away, just as fast and straight as he could. But he couldn’t do a thing.

_____His mother tried to explain.

_____“It’s a pansy hobby,” Wayne’s father said. Looking at all of these little images from 1932 or whatever, he explained. That is not what the man of the future does, how he operates. “We are forward looking here,” his father explained. “Not backward.”

_____In this picture Wayne sits staring out the window into darkness. Someday he will be able to do something. Someday he will be able to make his decisions. One day Wayne woke up and his stamp collection was gone. Nobody could say where it went. Later Wayne found one triangular shaped stamp on the rug, next to his bed. It was from Republique Centrafricaine and featured a striped, maroon and black beetle of some sort. Wayne stuck a pin through it and affixed the stamp to his small cork bulletin board. It was perfect.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nathan Leslie won the 2019 Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize for fiction for his satirical collection of short stories, Hurry Up and Relax. Nathan’s nine previous books of fiction include Three MenRoot and ShootSibs, and The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice. He is also the author of a collection of poems, Night Sweat. Nathan is currently the series editor for Best Small Fictions, the founder and organizer of the Reston Reading Series in Reston, Virginia, and the publisher and editor of Maryland Literary Review. Previously he was series editor for Best of the Web and fiction editor for Pedestal Magazine. His fiction has been published in hundreds of literary magazines such as ShenandoahNorth American ReviewBoulevardHotel Amerika, and Cimarron Review. Nathan’s nonfiction has been published in The Washington PostKansas City Star, and Orlando Sentinel. Nathan lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Julie.

Margaret Erhart: “Irony”

Irony

_____The day Sarah Hofstadter got up out of her seat in 7th grade study hall and wrote the word IRONY in big block letters on the blackboard was the day I stepped away from childhood. The year before, John F. Kennedy was killed and through tears that would not stop, Mrs. Taliaferro, our teacher, assigned us an in-class essay entitled “What Freedom Means To Me.” That day was a step away from childhood too. But the difference was this: Sarah Hofstadter’s blackboard graffiti was not an event that rocked the world. It caught no one’s attention but mine. It was the first time I made a conscious choice—a choice all my own—about what was important. This thing called irony added a dimension to language and to life itself. It was important. It was as if I’d poked my head underwater for the first time and exclaimed, “There’s a fish!”

_____A word can do that for us. It can grow us up fast. I remember how proud I felt when I learned to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. On the playground we’d sing out the spelling of it, a rhythmic song. We didn’t have the vaguest idea what it meant. It only went so far in growing us up. It was a baby step in the parade of things, including words, that would eventually make adults out of us. And of these, the word “irony” carried the most weight. “What happens isn’t what you think will happen,” wrote Sarah Hofstadter on that blackboard. The teacher told her to go back to her seat and a few girls snickered. It was easy to be unpopular if you were as smart as Sarah Hofstadter. I gazed at IRONY and its definition and put away my history book—I was reading about Charlemagne—and felt a thrill go through me, an aha! of understanding. Irony meant that life had levels of meaning, not just one, and if that was true then 7th grade wasn’t all there was; there was more. My sudden descent into adolescent awkwardness was just the visible picture, the surface of the sea, while below swam schools of multi-colored fish I could count on. In every situation there was depth of meaning. I understood this that afternoon and it made me more tolerant, more thoughtful, more dimensionally human.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Margaret Erhart’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Best American Spiritual Writing 2005, and many literary magazines. She won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, and The Butterflies of Grand Canyon (Plume), was a finalist for an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Margaret welcomes responses and conversations at www.margareterhart.com

Michael Cooney: “What You Said in German Was Not about Kissing”

What You Said in German Was Not about Kissing

Sharing a ham & cheese hero with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise and a bag of those cheese doodle things you liked on a hillside at the Bronx Botanical Garden was more fun than meeting you in that trattoria on the Piazza Navona with the waiter who spoke such good English because you were wearing the blue dress that buttoned  down the front and we were caught in the rain but when we got back to the apartment on 189th street it was hotter than ever and we dragged the mattress up onto the roof and ate pepperoni pizza from downstairs where everybody spoke Italian to you but you didn’t know a word except maybe prego and scusi and although you took German at Hunter it wasn’t much help when we rode the D train to Central Park where the Met was performing something from Wagner, maybe Tannhauser which goes on forever but I loved you because you had read all of The Magic Mountain and called it Der Zauberberg  and sometimes I look at you and want to tell you that Dominic’s has been closed for years and there’s probably no one else except maybe Barbara Kaufman who remembers the night when you said something in German and I thought you said “Kiss me.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michael Cooney has taught English and writing on the high school and community college level in New York City. His novella “The Witch Girl and The Wobbly” will be published January 1 by Running Wild Press. His poetry has appeared in Bitter Oleander, Badlands, and other journals.

Lana Hechtman Ayers: “Landscape in Dresses”

Landscape in Dresses

Glimpses reflected in mirrors
____________part sky part shaken branches
never your eyes
____________only the moment of motion   departure
Where is it you go
____________when I lose sight of you in fog?
I’m certain I’ve seen you in dreams
____________smell of burnt toast
On rainy days your laughter chimes
____________raindrops against roof gutter
When I taste lemon
____________I believe I am closer
to knowing you
____________tart   craveable

How does desire dress?
____________In fir needles
maple leaves
____________the unlined forehead of youth
I wet my lips imagining you will ride in
____________on high tide aback an Orca
No I don’t
____________I hope the inexpressible returns
like the Steller’s jay
____________to the handrail of my deck stairs
every morning around 10
____________fear
inevitable as splinters

What I believe I want is soft
____________what you are is silver glass
shards gleaming
____________for the warmth of my blood

Words never pass between us
____________so there can be no lies
My fingertips force the pen
____________over parallel lines
outside the margins
____________if anywhere   that’s where
love exists
____________scribbled   scratched out   indecipherable

When I look into the reflection of my eyes
____________all there is is shaded lake surface
murk brown   a single pebble radiating out ripples
____________siren call for help

_________________________________________________________________________________

Lana Hechtman Ayers’ poems have appeared on Escape Into LifeVerse Daily, and The Poet’s Café,  as well as in her nine published collections. She manages three small presses on the Oregon coast in a town of more cows than people. Visit her online at LanaAyers.com.

William Doreski: Two Poems

The Purples in the Painter’s Eye

You can’t sneer away the clouds
knuckling their great abstractions.
You can’t rename every street

after your few brave followers.
I’ve tried to appraise you with song
on the tip of my tongue, but lack

the requisite melody. Stones
rattling in a mountain brook
would more likely catch your ear.

Today we expect to hear the truth
or read it in the New York Times
where every nation has a say.

We also expect the rain to arrive
in a cornucopia of wind
tinted by solar distractions.

You refuse to credit the mind
that mapped the atom forever.
You place no faith in the art

that names itself after silence.
You expect celestial glassblowers
to render landscapes so fragile

and elegant that your old aches
and pains will find no place to settle.
I wish you luck and favor

but don’t believe the purples
inherent in the painter’s eye
will rescue you from suffering

you wrought to punish yourself
for disowning the nation you crossed
a dozen times driving alone.

Let’s agree on something small
enough to pocket when we tire
of fondling its many contours.                           

The day exposes a yellow rind
under a sickly overcast.
Let’s read the newspaper at home

and leave the absences grinning
in the public streets where anyone
can mistake anyone for themselves.

 

_____

 

Puddles Shaped like My Enemies

Last night’s metallic rain left
puddles shaped like my enemies.
I hadn’t known I had so many,
but here they are, bearing weapons 
of quicksilver, chrome, and filth.

You advise me to stomp right
through them, shattering their calm.
You have no enemies, no trace
residue to rebuke you for
famously missed opportunities.

The hard rain blinded the night
so absolutely no response
seemed possible. The cats cried
nervously, the windows rattled.
We stayed up as late as we dared,

aware that pale forces were plotting.
At dawn the sky was meringue,
the trees stood around embarrassed
by a night of hysterics. You roused
the household and told me to don

my boots and splash those puddles
before they sulked underground to plot.
We’re being silly. These puddles
don’t resemble people except
in their slouch and selfish glaze.

Besides, my enemies aren’t yours,
so you don’t have to worry.
I plumb the puddles and determine
that they’re too shallow to drown me,
even if I flop face down.

______________________________________________________________________________________

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities and retired after three decades at Keene State College. His most recent book of poetry is Stirring the Soup (2020). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals.