Poetry

Happy

Jill McDonough

We can make each other happy, Harry Nilsson screams

from our speakers, and I say, Oh, Harry: no we can’t.

We turn it up, drive up the coast with the windows

down, sing every part, even the wack-ass Whoa–oa-oa

-oa-oh!s. I had never heard of Harry Nilsson, being

younger than Josey, a fact I mention as often as I can.

Like me, it never gets old. So I knew all the songs,

didn’t know they were all by one guy. This makes me

happy, makes me remember, or invent, a babysitter

who played this tape in her black Trans-Am, wore

feathered roach clips in her black feathered hair.

Probably now she’s Josey’s age. We were happy then,

we sigh sadly, when we hear ourselves remember

anything out loud. Remember when we caught all

those mackerel in the harbor, saw a hundred seals?

My two men from Cameroon, your guy on Flexiril?

You didn’t know where you started, where I began.

Too broke to go to the movies, we biked a Bustelo can

of coins over there. The ladies’ room at the Meow Mix!

The Independent, election day! The Swedish doctor brought

her perfect breasts to your house and said she loved you.

You said you didn’t care. We were happy then, we say, making

each other so happy, trying and failing to keep a straight face.

Fawn Bleat

Jill McDonough

Linda dabs on Pure Earth smell and waits in a blind,

whispers what to do once you shoot a porcupine.

One was the size of a baby seal, its chubby corpse

a five buzzard one. Undertaker beetles, black and orange,

live in dead animal bodies, invisible to us. Problem solved.

We look online for perfect calls to imitate: Rabbit Screaming, Fawn

in Distress, Rabbit in Distress—Rabbit in Distress? It drives us

crazy. I need to hear that again, Josey says, while the rest of us

cringe and moan. I dated him in high school,

Rachel says. Linda tried out her Fawn Bleat call

by suggesting her friend try it at Mary Baker Eddy’s

coyote-haunted grave. Why not? We make the Fawn Bleat

so many times—Michael is terrific at it, Michael Kusek

is the best—Susan and Rachel send me a whole set:

Death Chamber Grunt Call. Witchy Woman. Squirrel, or

Wet Willy Box Call. And finally, my favorite: Squawler.

organist

Candice Wuehle

vince, i could see the world without its edges.

i placed an empty woolen glove

across my naked lap not to remind anyone

of being handled, but to remind them of bonelessness. To show how easily anything can be turned

inside out. Spread across an unsunned body,

a tanned hand belies the filth of light. Becomes

its own glove of damage done

by exposure. Freckled witness, gothic romance.

The heroine wears a large medallion like an angel

wears a body—a silver snare

that loops her back into the world of lines. vince,

it’s because it’s easier

to think over a figure divided, to

organize into erotic zones, to make

a tattoo that goes:

and here is naked and here is naked. Heretical adorn

ment. Once a vulnerable

fence has been built, i can name the insides. i wound

my hair around and around to make it obvious that they could ccut the braid at its base but i would still

be braided. i would still have the word

b r a i d. i mean the extra

embellishments make the emptiness, make the model

more bare, make it feel more to be touched. i sit on

my hands and feel the empty glove. Sure, it makes it easier

to imagine his keyed fingers.

It makes the materials of the world the bars

of a song being alive is the same as singing.

projectionist

Girl in the fashion library chewing

chocolates and spitting. A reel re wo und , alive on

only film. On a slick of cocoa,

the aftermath of wa x.

A stage set seen from the side

is diagramatic of how the world plays. Invisible

drapery between the watched world and the w

atcher.

Ignore the idea of observing

from above. Don’t make the girl a specimen

in a godded petri dish. To

understand bacteria, become bacterial.

The projector’s beam is blended into our light

by dust. D irty image. To understand, i swallow

strings and strings of lights. i become the orb

in between.

An artist’s life is about eating, is about the twisted

constellation inside the stomach. Is glowing

metabolized. You really are

here. You can wear the curtain that cuts you off

from the bulbs like it is a bridal

gown. vince, you can get married to a tthing

they say doesn’t even exist. You can make a promise

to yourself.

A SMALL OPENING

Caroline Crew

Inmate for another month,

my meat house does nothing

to compete against its nature.

What is built cannot be unbuilt—

erosion an act of faith

I put on in colder mornings

when a robe is not enough.

The window is painted

to resemble a window opened

an inch enough to soothe

a sense of the possible,

in which tulips lean toward

the light, the ridges of their skulls

unwed to the graves promised

in their cutting. I open too

for the season, the sea waiting

for its daily bread outside

these shapes, a craving.

I have bought my rot

to its edges, a bitter mouth

my mouth, the month unending,

the end only undone.

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT BABIES

Chris Brunt

When the baby dreams of flying, the dog sleeping next to it also dreams of flying.

+

The baby’s fussiness is not what it seems. He conducts a Byzantine choir in his mind. They are making numerous, unforgivable mistakes.

+

Babies are born knowing already the cardinal directions: to the north and west is Mother. To the east and south and to the Holy Land is Mother. To the prophet’s cave, to the upper reach where the basalt flows and cools, to the dog star sliding in the liquid sky, and the beveled tip of every drop of rain, and even the warm root of the lote tree in Paradise, she is.

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The original baby never ate, never slept, never cried or executed bodily functions of any kind, and all subsequent babies persevere in the august shadow of this baby. That is why these activities are so fraught with effort, fear, and we must say it, rage. How sad this is, their merciless self-appraisal against an impossible standard.

+

All babies are born knowing some rudimentary Arabic, a little Greek. What they do not know is how when speaking one must slash one’s meaning into pieces, an infinite rug divvied up for each solitary believer.

+

Some babies are assigned to cruel mothers, mothers who are mad, mothers who have drunk moonshine and left them out in the drowning rain. These babies do not pull rank or pass judgment, their wails are still experiments, a sounding-out to the unseen, unmanned borders of our city.

+

The more arduous the baby’s journey into this realm of existence, the harder they must sleep, for it is only when asleep that they perform the necessary labor of forgetting the terrible faces of God.

+

Every baby who was ever born was born immortal. All the dying is done by us.

WINK

Dalton Day

None of my clothes have sequins.

Thus, the world is one

of great sadness and great possibility

in equal measure. We,

the ones who wear our clothes,

love to measure.

We measure how high

we were thrown as children

by a person we trusted.

Three me’s worth, at least.

I got good at the changes in air,

would use my lungs accordingly,

like abandoned things

who would never abandon another.

In the mirror in the morning,

I practice what I could not master.

One eye closes, one eye dims.

Taman Ayun Temple, Bali

Khaleel Gheba

There's so much gold in the dance—

the kris' handle, the attendants' necks,

Rangda's eyes careening toward

the audience. It's two men in a tarp,

you don't say as the sun drops

to distant surf. I can tell your shadow

is impatient, ready to return to

greener things, out there. Barong

is too, whipping his body until it

cracks. Heavenward tooth, hellbound

fang: which shall it be today? It's his,

I say, All of this is his. The dancer trips,

palms the ground, aligning all souls

with a smack. When the witch queen

is struck, she comes back tomorrow

at eight, and six on Sundays. Each

body’s volley is the hinge on which

we bend; one failure will create a roar.

FOXFIRE

Sarah Bates

I should have known when he sent me

the kissy face. Maybe the point is not to

choose. There is a poem in the desert

and there is a bike in the middle of it.

I can’t see it, but it’s there above the red

cliffs, the blue paint, hunters moving

fast toward primary colors. I still don’t

know what to do with all these bones.

I remember the bee dying one afternoon

in between the lime green cushion

and rotting wood. My friend was there

and I didn’t cry for two days. What

I remember most was you stopping

to pick up the piece of broken kindling

to tell a story of ecosystems, this extinct

fungus glowing on the red rocks. I get so

tired of men asking me for a blowjob

over coffee. I want a helicopter to fly over

and to know that it’s there. I want the bee

to move one of its wings in the middle

of the oil slick and for the blue paint

to scatter. I want to see your grocery lists

in book spines, the desert sky, in knowing

that all things end. I want to be the bike

that is hard for colonists to reach, to be

leaving, always leaving. Months later,

a student writes, muscles are some of

the first organs broken down, and the most

important muscle in the body is the heart.

I should have known that in order to take

from the body, you have to give to the body.

I should have known that I was only building

a small empire to put things on.

Anima Helena

Tessa Bryant

Left to the night, we are pagan. Our eyes

moons, which pull us like spring blossoms

from the earth, settle us like petals in the

grass. We are many-armed, frightening

beasts with legs spread wide in supplication.

We no longer hide in caves and tents as we

bleed and mourn ourselves. We create our

sex from dirt, from emptiness, from bruises.

Our eyes roll back in our heads as we please

ourselves, as we break and re-mold our flesh

into blades of sunlight. This is how we will

give birth to the new world. We are accustomed

to needle pricks and dismemberment.

The threats of men die, shriveled, in their mouths.

They may stay as long as they like; they cannot

smoke us out.

SO LONG

Heather Christle

You want a mind tight like a drum

but you are given two friends

whose love is over

        and the street

full of admirable dogs moving through

the freezing sunlight

         and if the world

changes

    if it blinks and gathers pictures

you will understand I think

            that it is still

just one long shot

        and that is mostly

how our knowing things will go

              except that

with the captured looking there are shared meals

and anger

     as when yesterday the advertised

man shaved his face at the camera

as if to challenge us to what I do not know

and cannot say

       though I mind this less

than I did before

We survive the end of love

and then one day find ourselves

all well at the movies

          We thump

our hearts and they respond

            It is

surprising

     It is the world not looked at

having changed

       and we are in it

getting ravaged getting calmer going on

And I’ve seen pictures of the moon made

to look like a close lantern

           A sweet mistake

I'm a mistake

      my mind keeps making

all the better

to eat you with my dear

In her (son’s) new house Aunt Lina says

Philipe Abi Youness

close all the windows  and let

the onions soften

exhale their old life into these walls

let the cinnamon stick

sink and languish

with whatever ghosts

split this home

they may flicker the lights

dig cracks into the windows

and we will float

bay leaves in a pot of beans

makhlouta  mixed

the long dwellers and the past

half living  even ghosts

traverse body  or brick before arriving

the way we bound  from Beirut to Cyprus

Philadelphia and New Jersey

forgetting the lamb bone  still on the stove

coming up for air  over and over

and sinking back down

to love the water  over and over

flick  the rose water

on all the glass  wrought from

ancestral dirt  a ghost

is anything  that remains  and this home

is not rented is not sprout  in a field of war

this can be left  with our claw marks

and our bites and our bodies sleeping

the rice has softened

and the pot is rife with spices

all to tell the ghosts  freely hanker

this can be ours together

collect and gather  for dinner

you have had a long way here

ABSTRACT—

Constantine Jones

in which we all learn how to make our own bodies, just fling ourselves together outta whatever kind a materials we need, to where you’d be walking or maybe hovering through the alleys a cluster a brass coathooks & PVC & permafrost & you’d brush circuits with a handsome something passing by made up outta fresh cabbage leaves & Christmas lights & the most rusteaten bicycle chains you ever did see & maybe later on at the bar you’d catch auras with a pretty splash a green, CD booklets from every single one a Bjork’ s albums swirling around their lampshade & the two a you might could get a room somewhere or maybe even might could become a room somewhere together & fit yerselves up into some corner a the town square looking up at the clouds pulling em down having the whole sky over every Tuesday night for dinner

*
New Pedagogy for Sleeplessness

Helen Hofling

I. MAKING THE BED

At bedtime, I wasn’t in the mood for stories, so my caretaker read me a story within a story. She called it a “mise en abyme” and brought up Velázquez.
  After much tossing and turning I said, “This is what it’s like, learning not to sleep.” It isn’t too often you pause in life and name its movement so successfully; you should relish this recursion. So I said it twice and licked my teeth. It’s what I was there for, after all.
  Sleep deprivation had been proven to cure all kinds of maladies—weight fluctuation, epilepsy, environmental panic, misery. The clinic had developed a new method for teaching sleeplessness, one that didn’t require electric shocks. It was highly exclusive and had a waiting list longer than the Ivy League. I was lucky to be there.
  “What is it you’re doing,” my caretaker asked me.
  “I’m relishing, relishing this more than meat loves salt.”
  “Salt is the most common preservative,” my caretaker told me. She was already going off in a different direction. “That’s where the expression derives from. Not fairytales. Not gourmets. It’s not about flavor; it’s about prevention of rot. You can pickle almost anything. All you need is salt water and something to soak in it.”
  She put so many thoughts in. “What about a jar?” for instance.
  I already wanted to stay up all night curing vegetables and making potions, narrating a cooking program to an adoring audience. I yearned for the release of it, for the apparition of myself who stirred air each night while I lay with my arms fixed to my sides, my body wriggling like a nocturnal eel.
  “Did you ever go to the Museo Prado?” I changed the subject. “Did you ever see Bosch’s earthly garden? The infanta and her nursemaids?” I could already see myself flying through the dark sky in my trundle like a train of thought, greeting constellations, “pilot O pilot,” landing in Spain, front of the museum line.
  My caretaker adjusted her eyeglasses. “Stop tossing! Don’t wiggle your feet! Art isn’t an unmadebed.” She tucked me in with pin straight folds, twirling and screeching extravagantly. I was impressed. A practiced insomnia tutor, she had a lot of wonderful tactics for keeping me up. She behaved like a kind old woman who was pretending to be a witch in order to teach some misbehaving children a lesson. “Art isn’t an unmade bed and I don’t care if you’re in it.”

II. PARABLE OF THE COOK

The next night, painfully exhausted, I tried to run away. The clinic wasn’t for me. I didn’t like what I was learning. The benefits of sleeplessness weren’t worth it. After one night I felt like I was disappearing into infinite pools of myself. One theory held that the treatment was so effective because the misery of insomnia replaced or refocused all other miseries. Another held that it was because the profound desire for sleep replaced or refocused all other desires. I barely made it past the front hedges before I was spotted.
  After she’d secured me, my caretaker told me the “Parable of the Cook.” The cook was famous for her weasel dumplings. She seasoned them with leeks and used tears for salt. She ran a café out of her houseboat, down by the harbor. The café had a poor Yelp rating but was nonetheless a favorite venue for children's birthdays. The cook, an old woman, had a long front tooth.
  Everyone knew that under a new moon she joined a chorus line of lobsters in naked dancing on the beach. The townspeople assumed this made her a witch, but really that is just how she went fishing. If her methods of collecting shellfish were misinterpreted as occult practices, and if resulting excitement drummed up extra business, well, she couldn't help all that. She employed a loyal local sea doggie with sleek whiskers and a shiny pink nose to serve customers as she prepared the meal. After 40 years spent on ships, the fool was hooked on liquor and more seal than man. If the cognac bottles were an inch lighter now and then, she looked the other way.
  The birthday party was heating up. A child had turned seven that week and invited the whole class. They started with dumplings and had lobster pizza as their main. The child's mother had to put in a special advance order for the pizza. It was one of her three wishes. The cook prepared the crust in a secret way using crushed-up lobster shell for added texture. The children crunched their pizza dutifully and tried to peep through the kitchen porthole to steal a glimpse of the cook's tooth. The old sea doggie staggered around, refreshing their little cups of punch. Dessert was sticky bread pudding with horsehair and marigold. For entertainment, the birthday boy's grandmother demonstrated the mambo. My caretaker watched it all through a telescope, from her bedsit across the wharf. I promised myself I’d visit that night. The minute my eyes shut, I’d do it.

III. TRUE LOVE

On the third night, I still hadn’t slept. My caretaker had poisoned me into permanent wakefulness. I suspected that her stories replaced my body’s need to dream. She refused to discuss her methodology and chided me to trust in the process. She decided to spin me a love yarn, to distract me from my paranoias. This is what she said:
  We met on Halloween. I was the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. I wrapped my body in tin foil and bubble wrap and built an ocean liner out of two pieces cardboard and some house paint. The boat hung over my shoulders. The effect was remarkable; people kept spotting me and freaking out. I worried they thought my costume in poor taste, as all the icebergs are gone now. Like dressing up as someone who died before enough time has elapsed since their death. But I’m iconoclastic by nature, so I say, rip off the band-aid and let that controversial baby out to play!
  Aby dressed as a set of Russian nesting dolls. She made suits of unbelievably intricate paper mâché shells that stacked one over the other, each painted with her likeness. The first time I saw her I couldn’t even see her face, just her own interpretation of her face as a nesting doll, rendered on hardened newspaper. Anyway, one glimpse at those rosy cheeks and I was hooked. We hovered around each other all evening not talking. I knew a lot of other women at the party from grad school, I tried to pay attention as they summarized the plots of their new novels, but Aby was very distracting. She took off a layer of doll about every half hour until she was just herself, barefoot, wearing doll makeup and a babushka. I decided to make my move.
  “You’re a mise en abyme,” I whispered in her ear seductively. “You contain infinite copies of yourself.”   “Tell that to my homunculus!” she giggled. “She thinks she runs things around here.”
  I removed my Titanic so we could grind on the dance floor as iceberg and matryoshka. I took off my shoes so I wouldn’t stamp on her toes. A disco ball revolved above us slowly, breaking up our reflection into a million parts.
  The plastic wrapped around me didn’t breathe well so I started sweating a lot. Aby made a really twisted joke about glacial melt; I was obsessed.
  Towards the end of the night she started telling me secrets, she’s that kind of drunk, and babbled all about how she was the queen bee in her high school but all that drama is behind her now, and she has body issues from her years as a dancer, so sometimes she can’t stop eating tomatoes instead of regular foods. She was a virgin, she’d never had a girlfriend before. She’d stolen two of the college’s antique telescopes, right out of the case, and replaced them with lobster tails. The secrets kept coming—under each veil, another. The sudden intimacy was charming at the time, or something, but of course what I learned that night became alternately maddening and bolstering to our love as it grew.

IV. DORIS

Things were getting desperate for me. I didn’t know how many days I’d been at the clinic. I was wired and ravenous for rest. My vision shivered violently, and I wasn’t always sure when I had stopped talking and my caretaker began. My caretaker appeared unaffected by my deteriorating condition. She was too committed to her work, consumed by her persona as a self-styled Scheherazade. One night she asked me:
  Have you seen a cartoon where a woman had a geometric shape for a face? Not like a rhombus, but misshapen, and pale green, an irregular trapezoid, if that’s a thing. Flat. Well imagine that character when I talk about Doris. In this story, the whole world is tinted. Muddy green. Not just Doris, everything, murky, like the inside of a pickle jar. It will come as no surprise to you then, that Doris has very little to look forward to.
  Doris works in admissions at a midsized college. The students she accepts have unremarkable test scores. She accepts them by stamping “yes” on manila folders. She rejects them by stamping “no.” She waitlists them by stamping “wait.” If she can’t decide at first, she stamps “maybe.” The stamps are so old they barely function. They are worn down in places and gunky with ink. Sometimes “no” even looks like “wait” and “maybe” looks like “yes” because of the smears and faint patches. Doris suspects that they are responsible for more than a few dud students and worse, eggheads lost to more forward-thinking institutions. Still the college won’t replace them. No one makes the stamps anymore except as novelties, so they are outrageously expensive, like typewriters, turntables, telescopes, snow boots...
  She’s having an affair with a married man in the same office. His position is technically lateral to Doris’s but for some reason he approves her vacations. Or would, if she planned any. Remember, she doesn’t look forward to things. Besides, who would feed Rosebud? Doris is as free from desire and as flat as can be. Doris and her coworker give each other blow jobs in the car every day at the same time. They don’t look forward to it. After, they have dry sandwiches while he rubs her feet. She is extremely embarrassed by her toes. Doris doesn’t even look forward to a nice, relaxing lunch, do you see?
  It isn’t hereditary, her parents were both highly excitable.
  It isn’t that Doris lives in the past, she doesn’t care for reminiscing.
  She wears an itchy checked skirt that is too tight around the middle and a top with a high ruffle around the neck.
  She makes herself go to exercise classes and hobby classes and happy hours, hoping that something will catch. She joined a hiking group and a birdwatching group and a classic cocktails group and a pinch pot group and a life drawing group and an aperitif group and a digestif group and a group of whalers and a wife swap and a den of survivalists and a cult of personality and a gang of narco traffickers and a political caucus but she never found a thing she didn’t have to force herself to go to before giving up after a few weeks.
  Rosebud is a little mutt that she adopted. The shelter wouldn’t take Rosebud back when Doris had tired of her. Doris named her as a proxy for unfelt longing. She doesn’t care if it’s a little on the nose. She takes Rosebud on boring walks in an undeveloped area behind her apartment building several times a day.
  There are a series of empty doorframes set up in an overgrown field like a long hallway. Each time Doris and Rosebud passes through one they change shape. She passes through doorway #1 and is a black-and-white Ingrid Bergman in a nightgown; Rosebud is a flickering gas lamp. She passes through doorway #2 and becomes an elegant lemur, draping its grey furred limbs here and there, with decadent malaise; Rosebud is her child. Then a Ziegfeld girl in gold tinsel, flashing like a sparkler; Rosebud is a sparkler. Then a barrel of soda bread, like to give substances to a ship of fools; Rosebud is a pickle. Then a Saint Sebastian, riddled by arrows; Rosebud is an arrow. And so on and so on until she returns to her original, that muted mint hexagonal (was it?) form; Rosebud is a fuzzy mutt again. Every day some version of this recurrence.
  Doris has a motto: Nature insists on altering itself.

V. Dream Network

I cried to my caretaker. I cried and I begged. She was unmoved. I bribed her with boxes of Leibniz crackers. She had her own supply. I tried to seduce her. She denied me. I plugged my ears with cotton. She plucked it out.

I told her a story:

Three of them set out to look for it. The Golden Net.

They were told it had many wonderful uses. That it would allow them to catch unlimited shellfish. That it would unlock many doors and strengthen their friendships. That it would give their hair luster and add years of happiness to their lives.

They were told that placed on a table it would provide bounty. That it would enable access to all the coins from all the eyes of all the dead.

They were told it could cure certain ailments. That it would restore chill to winter, love to the loveless, sleep to the sleepless. That it could change apples into birds. That it might gather up their dispersions.

They were told that, if they chose cleverly, each seeker might be granted one request.

Of course one asked for the gift of beauty. Another—the gift of health. The third wanted the gift of gold.

They followed a map carved into a slab of marble. It was dreadfully heavy. They took turns carrying it. They walked day and night.

Late one night, deep in the forest, they came across a circular clearing filled with shining pools of water. They dove into one of the pools. Then they dove into another. All of the pools led to the same place. At the bottom of the pools there was a box.

She spoke over me:

To protect humans, the angels hid the most merciless form of desire in a box in a pool in the forest. This happened a very long time ago, but it’s still exactly where they left it. Inside the box is another box. Inside the box is a pair of lost shoes and inside the left shoe is another box. Inside the box is a bed and inside the bed is another box. Inside the box is an expensive painting leaning against another box. Inside the box is lobster-crust pizza served on top of another box. Inside the box is Rosebud the dog chewing on another box. Inside the box is a fern growing in the shade of another box. Inside the box is a pristine set of telescopes and inside one of their lenses is another box. Inside the box is a snifter of cognac twirling around on another box. Inside the box is jar of brine and floating inside is another box. Inside the box is a real iceberg and frozen within it is another box. Inside the box is a birthday party and the present is another box. Inside the box is a painted doll making eyes at another box. Inside the box is a disco ball hanging from another box. Inside the box is a vial of poison seeping into another box. Inside the box is a blow jobhapping in front of another box. Inside the box is your true love holding another box. Inside the box is everything you’ve ever wanted and another box. Inside the box is everything you’ve ever done wrong and another box. Inside the box is a dream about an angel balancing another box on its wings. Inside the box is a dream about the golden net and caught in the net is another box. Inside the box is a dream about making a phone call and on the other end of the receiver is another box. Inside the box is a dream about going to work and on top of your desk is another box. Inside the box is a dream about lying in bed and you look up atthe creepy mirrored ceiling and realize that you are a box.