#IHLRNewsFlash features brief responses--flash fiction, flash nonfiction, and flash poetry--to the most urgent current happenings in America and the world. Occasionally, we will run a piece of NewsFlash that participates in one of the many ongoing and critical conversations in America--BlackLivesMatter, MeToo, the opioid epidemic, the suicide epidemic, etc.--conversations we should always keep in the forefront of the news.
If you wish to submit to NewsFlash, read more about doing so here.
question for the sages
18 May 2020
a plague poem in spring
Mother's Day, 2020
In this time of hallelujah
to little and nothing—except
for the bluebells that keep rising
from the moist dirt by a dumpster
emptying its belly of gifts to the gods
of recycling and carbon emissions,
and wafting scent to the jaunty paws
of the dogs within us, who know that rank
and the warm body are now, and little
can our snoots forget what they were
meant to praise, and, really—my
God (my earthly, succulent
one)—all faith in flowers, and in
mud—why should they?
SUSAN COMNINOS is a writer and teacher. Her poetry's most recently appeared in Harvard Review Online, The Common, Prairie Schooner, and North American Review, among others. It's also recently been shortlisted for both the Conduit Books Marystina Santiestevan First Book Prize and the Cider Press Review Book Award. She lives near Albany, NY.
Stephanie C. Trott
15 May 2020
We see them circling one April afternoon, high in the sky above the woods behind our home. Buzzards, turkey vultures, a committee of them. They kettle and bob, the waiver in their wings an easy tell that they are not hawks, not predators. I usually see them on the side of the road, waiting to pick apart some poor creature who met its fate near the interstate median.
"Let's take a walk before dinner," I tell my partner, Whitney, and at five o'clock we venture into the trees with our little dog and the intention of finding death.
Like the virus we are avoiding, it is invisible yet all around us. It's the decaying leaves we walk upon, the downed tree that blocks our path. There are owl pellets and squirrel tails and sometimes whole animals. Last summer we found a deer picked clean by coyotes, the same ones we hear cackling on windy nights. Its carcass was nearly unrecognizable, just a mass of hair and flesh, and each time we ventured back it disappeared more and more until nothing—not even the bones—remained.
There are places less dangerous where we might go for a walk. We could venture to the beach the bike path, or a nearby park. We could stroll by our old apartment and down to the harbor, where the fishing boats are still coming and going and the buoys chime in turn. All are deemed too populated, too uncertain and unpredictable. They are dangerous in ways I never imagined there would be, and given all we do not know, we stick to the land that bears my last name.
Together we walk along the paths where my grandmother once rode horses. The trees are still barbed with remnants of electric fencing, white plugs that no longer carry shock and have been absorbed by burls. She laid these pieces with her own hands, maintained these paths, rode thunderous and strong across the acres. They are overgrown with thirty years of grapevine and bittersweet, cleared only in the places where my father and I open them each year.
Our eyes search for possums and groundhogs across the wetland, along the great stone wall, through the red maple trees. We do not see anything other than fallen branches, brambles, and dirt; it seems that all is as it should be. There are no birds above us, no howls of sorrow. We walk on in silence beneath the 'NO TRESPASSING' signs we hung at the beginning of winter in a weak attempt to keep wanderers out. I look for the abandoned hunting stand, and as usual it is hidden. No one knows who put it there, who climbed high in the white oak branches with metal strapped to their back, who crouched there in wait of a turkey or buck. Sometimes I hear gunshots and see geese flying high, and I wonder if someone still lurks in the trees.
Dusk creeps along the stones that separate us from our northern neighbors and sets long shadows behind us as we begin the trek back. We emerge from the trees and round the corner by the boat shed and the goat paddock. Our house sits quietly in wait with windows glowing. I never thought we'd live here, and yet I have come to love it. It is the house where my grandmother died, where my grandfather sat alone, where my little dog sleeps in the sun that falls through the big picture window. From where I stand, I can see that she is now covered in the ticks that come earlier and earlier each year.
In the kitchen I take off my clothes, except for my bra and the pink panties that make me feel like a little girl. I hold the dog and she submits herself to be poked and prodded. It is the first check of many that will take place this season. Once she is through, it's my turn; I sit with my back to Whitney, knees tucked to my chest, as she goes through my hair. She looks in my ears, asks me to raise my arms, and checks between my toes. Later I look in my belly button and between my legs.
These threats are omnipresent. I sit with discomfort and know that, no matter how much I scour and scrub and search, someday I will be found. Come virus, come tick, coyote, or bird, one day the buzzards will circle us all.
STEPHANIE C. TROTT lives and writes in southeastern Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in fiction from UNC Wilmington, where she was an editor at Ecotone. Her fiction appears in New South and Blood Orange Review, while her interviews and reviews may be found in The Rumpus, The Adroit Journal, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere.
her only way out is through
13 May 2020
She had a chance to leave Wuhan, China with other Canadians on a charter flight but she wasn't allowed to take her ginger-colored cat companion Kitya. She had no time to obtain the required paperwork; no one did. Many pets starved to death when the sudden evacuations emptied the virus-stricken city. "I couldn't abandon her. She's been here for me throughout the quarantine," she told a reporter. "I should be here for her, too."
Once a week she puts on a mask and crosses the street to get some food. She doesn't have to look both ways. No cars. The mall is empty. Her temperature is taken before she enters a grocery store with mostly empty shelves, except for a few bags of noodles and some condiments.
In the afternoon, Kitya curls up on his comfortable bed and naps while she passes the time filming YouTube videos of their life together under lockdown. "Everyone needs connection," she said.
Her only way out is through YouTube. What she talks about is contagious and continues to spread.
PAMELA GAY is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts award in creative nonfiction and an Independent e-Book Award for her memoir Homecoming. Her writing has appeared in Brevity, Iowa Review, Midway Journal, Paterson Literary Review, Monkeybicycle, Grey Sparrow, Vestal Review, and elsewhere. Her memoir I'm So Glad You're Here (May 2020, She Writes Press) was awarded 2019 Indie Publisher of the Year. Gay is professor emerita at Binghamton University, State University of New York, where she taught courses in flash memoir and flash fiction.
perimeter on centurion way
Đỗ Nguyên Mai
4 May 2020
"Day 3: flight to Yazd - fault lines" by bird farm, CC
after Matthew Olzmann
November 19, 2019
Santa Clarita, California
The deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place, the chair
rammed under the doorknob,
a child's makeshift barricade
upheld by emergency procedure binders,
a frontline of desks at the faultline
of a doorframe. This is the perimeter
we pray impenetrability into.
There are no generals,
only a girl armed with safety scissors
and a teacher running out
of gun wound kits. Outside,
a janitor's keys jingle against the whistle
of an empty barrel and the thud
that turns into thuds that turns into
the quaking that spills Santa Clarita open.
From the cracks, funeral flowers
and a monument of promises grow
until the valley is cast in the shadow
of Kevlar backpacks and metal detectors
and the deadbolt click echoes
down the next school hallway.
Đỗ Nguyên Mai is a poet and researcher from Santa Clarita, California. She is the author of Ghosts Still Walking (Platypus Press, 2016) and Battlefield Blooming (Sahtu Press, 2019), and she is the winner of the 2019 Locked Horn Press Publication Prize. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD in political science at the University of California, Riverside, where she works for the Center for Social Innovation's AAPI Data project.
13 Apr 2020
Kobe loved being a "girl dad." --ESPN headline, January 29, 2020
Gone the charmer, gone the thinker, gone the more-than-a-baller. Skimming the morning-after headlines and thinking of my own daughter, questions nagged: Hadn't the "girl dad" bartered with his soft side? When a father that magnetic made the camera come, who noticed the lens arching its frame, the pleas of NO receding from range? What happened in Eagle was declawed in Eagle. Gone the ghosts, sequestered in the Rockies' thin air. Kobe loved being a girl dad was the defense and the verdict.
Ready and raring for her first sleep-away camp the summer before Kobe's and his daughter's deaths, our six-year-old daughter, A, began hissing and growling at our questions. Please don't snarl at your parents, I replied, as firmly as I could muster between stifled giggles. I I were a good "girl dad," would I have robed myself in her disobedience? Would I have failed to warn her of its dangers?
Rifling through a Quito daily, our bus crawling up the clouded spine of the Andes, my stomach dropped at the Deportes headline KOBE: VIOLACIÓN EN COLORADO. It was the summer of 2003, a decade before I became a "girl dad," a phrase I'd never heard until after Kobe's helicopter slammed a fogged-over hillside, as if--I can't resist the knee-jerk karma--the bare mountain beneath was tempting him. Catching my callous tongue, I'm back on the bus again, starting at hairpin turns lurching above the sheer cliffs. In that region of lung-ripping air and landslides, there were no guardrails to halt the reckless turn or hapless skid.
Rapidly and too soon, A is becoming a Riot grrrl. This grrrl dad's daughter growls at the patriarchy, recoiling at the boy order, clapping back at the lithe bodies on my weekend screens: Daddy, why aren't they showing women's sports?
Listening to college radio days after the crash, a PSA for fatherhood.gov implored fathers to play catch with their kids. In his rounded Chicago vowels, the former president chided me: "Being a dad is the most important job you have." After scooping A from school, I cut the volume and schlepped her to gymnastics, where I was the lone father among mothers, sitters, grandparents, where I cringed at the prancing and preening. Was I the only one who wished their charge would fall and, frustrated, quit?
"Daddy's girl" is to "girl dad" as the princess is to the king. Who's in debt to whom? "Fathers rack up the balance. Daughters pay it," Emma Copley Eisenberg writes in The Third Rainbow Girl, an investigation of the murder of two young women in West Virginia, not far from where I grew up intoning the Our Father on my knees at bedtime. Although A has never been dubbed a "daddy's girl" and she's yet to mouth the Pater Noster, my dreams for her accumulate in her body like cholesterol. While the "good" kind helps her heart beat, the bad creeps around its darkened chambers.
And if Kobe's fatherly dedication atoned for his guilt, did his charisma extend his cover? I began to wonder about other charmers. After Leonard Cohen passed, a friend shrugged, saying he found his songs "date rapey." Seeing that one person's seduction is another's gag, I haven't played "Famous Blue Raincoat" again. Watching the horrible men stalk our screens, I asked my partner, A's mother: Is it possible to be a good person and a bad father? Sure, she said. What about a bad person and a good father? Without hesitation: Not a chance. I don't know if I posed these questions about myself or Kobe or those ghastly politicians who launch their prosecutions with As the father of a daughter. . . .
Does a girl dad give up his guardrails? Does he lean into the hairpins? Does he descend into the fog, milky-eyed, trembling, untethered from fictions of his sovereignty, floundering for a hand? "Nothing improves a reputation / Like confinement to a grave," Jorge Luis Borges deadpans in one of his poems. The Argentine nailed the after-death gig. As for the life that comes before, on which he's mum, I've learned that nothing improves a man's reputation like being a decent girl dad. As for a grrrl dad, the jury's out. If I had to guess: it'll be a life sentence.
MICHAEL DOWDY is a poet, critic, essayist, and editor. His books include a collection of poems, Urbiilly; a study of Latinx poetry, Broken Souths: Latina/o Poetic Responses to Neoliberalism and Globalization; and, as co-editor, with Claudia Rankine, a critical anthology, American Poets in the 21st Century: Poetics of Social Engagement. He teaches at the University of South Carolina.
8 Mar 2019
A man with a watch knows what time it is.
A man with two watches is never sure.
We need to hear everything twice these days.
Click click of rabbit teeth in wildgrass.
These days tick, a metronome
counting down the dawn's double
whammy: golden purse, timed bomb.
The skeleton of yesterday rises, holds watch
dial with its faint echo against cold bone.
Tested on teeth. How seconds double down like gaslight,
feed on air before a hand appears to adjust
the mean time. Disregarding atoms, we believe
the two bells contretemps in the clocktower:
one insists on praise, one, a tick ahead, the grave.
KIM HAMILTON is a West Coast poet, writer, and editor. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Atlanta Review, The Mid-American Review, Comstock Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Spillway, and DMQ Review, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. In 2014, she published Visitation, a collaborative work with visual artist Carolyn Krieg. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College.
to the mother of the boy
Kendall Newman Sadiik
7 Feb 2019
To the mother of the boy who smirked and stood, ungiving, in the path of Native elder, Nathan Phillips.
I wonder how many times you've watched the video--how many versions, how many angles on your son you have investigated in an attempt to piece together . . . what? A defense of him? Or (I hope) some way of telling him not only that he was wrong, but that he is part of something much bigger--bigger even than his crowd of friends, than the March for Life he attended--that is also wrong. Will you tell him that where he stood, how he stood, contains in it generations of oppression, of power wielded for the sake of power alone?
Surely, you've talked to him. I imagine that after the back claps he must have gotten from peers, after checking his Snapchat, his Instagram, he might have called home. To be honest, given his performance of white masculinity, I imagine he called his father. He was still high on a new kind of rush, something even beyond scoring the winning goal in the division lacrosse championship. He's telling his dad how he stood thee and didn't let "this Indian" pass, how he looked him in the eyes, how he's sure he saw defeat. Maybe his dad told him great, and to be safe and learn something while he was on his big trip. Maybe he just passed the phone to you.
Does your son talk to you differently than he does to his father? Did you hear his voice go monotone, more bored somehow? You thought he was just being a teenager, shutting out his mother. Or did you hear the uncertainty he was trying to hide? Did you press him? I don't imagine he told you that he could feel the pounding of that drum pulse through his body like a second heart. I don't imagine he told you how his own heart fell in line, how he beat to the rhythm of Nathan Phillips's mallet. If he were to talk about this, his fists would tighten, he'd use sharp words, and his face would light up with anger: how dare his body betray him in that way. Of course he didn't tell you this over the phone. Instead, he responded flatly to those probing questions a mother knows to ask a son who is hiding something: yes, his friends are fine; no, he didn't meet any girls. At the end of that call, when you said, "I love you," did you do it in the way that means You'd better be living up to the kid I raised you to be?
Are you wondering, at this point, who you've raised him to be?
Like you, I am a mother. Like you, I am raising a son. You send your son to Catholic school, which must be expensive (I send my son to preschool, which is expensive)--so you must value his education and hope that his future is bright. I am like you in this way, too. But my son is not white, and I know that his future is contingent in part on your son learning from what happened in DC. I know that if your son continues to think that he can stop anything, that he knows what ought to be stopped, what ought to be built, who ought to be stopped--that my son's future becomes less promising. Don't get me wrong--I am certain that my son will do amazing things. But as long as we live in a country where white boys, with their untouchable bodies, stand in opposition to people of color, we will be living with a future where white men oppose people of color not only with their bodies, but with their walls, with their hatred, with their guns. In this future, my son, in a hoodie and a cap and a puffy jacket like the one your son wore--that boy, my son, is a thug and will be arrested and jailed, and this will not be unusual. It is not, now, unusual, and if you do not talk to your son, if you do not let the rest of us talk to your son and to you, this becomes my son's future..
It strikes me that it is MLK weekend. Your son probably has Monday off from school, as does my son. Did he plan to stay the extra day in DC? Did his chaperones plan a trip to the Museum of African American History? Did he stay or, with all the media, with them honing in on his name, on your address, did you tell him to come home?
Is he there with you? Has he cried yet? Have you?
KENDELL NEWMAN SADIIK is a writer, teacher, and instructional designer living in Juneau, Alaska. She received her MFA from University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and her writing has appeared in Hippocampus Magainze, Grist, Eleven Eleven, and Jabberwock Review..
12 Dec 2018
It used to be an easy job. Down in the bowels of the basement, you'd watch video monitors in your security cubicle. No windows, an ergonomic chair. Along the wall, radios with dials crackled with phantom voices, apprising you of changes behind th epointed iron fences, pedestrains on the mown grounds. In the corner, a cabinet for Old Glory, a crisp flag you lowered every sunset, unfurled every sunrise.
Part of your duties back then, it wasn't difficult. You hoisted the flag full or half--there was no in-between. It was a task on a long checklist of to-dos. In th emorning, you could mark an X and move on.
At the end of the day, another X when you and a fellow guard went through the routine, raising the flag for a moment to its topmost again before it came home to you. You'd fold with your partner in a dosey-doe dance, transforming the swath of colors into a triangular pillow of importance.
Half-staff doesn't make sense to you. You've never understood halfway anyway; a person's dead or she's not. But now that big flag's always in motion. You raise and lower it so often during daytime hours, whenever the proclamations come down.
And you run up to the roof so often it's easier for you to work from a makeshift office in the stairway landing, midway up from the bottom floor. You don't go to lunch--you call out for pizza so you can stay put.
A church, a school, a movie theater. People somewhere else, living somewhere lives, then suddenly not living their somewhere lives. Maybe tomorrow; maybe Friday.
Today. You get theh call; the order comes. A nightclub in California. A responder and almost a dozen kids.
Twelve people. Twelve months. Thirteen stripes. Fifty stars.
Fifty steps you walk to the roof to find the November air churning. The flag's metal clips tick-tick-tickety against the steel pole like a drummer's high hat with no back beat. With your calloused hands, you unwind the rough halyard off its cleat, tug the rope, raise it on the pole to its peak for an instant.
The pulleys don't squeak--overuse keeps the mechanism running smoothly. This day, you run through the ritual, lower the Stars and Stripes to its halfway position between the staff's top and bottom.
Afterward, you go back to your seat in the stairwell. You wait for nightfall, the next call.
CATE McGOWAN is the author of the story collection, True Places Never Are, winner of the 2015 Moon City Press Fiction Award. A Georgia native, McGowan's fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in many literary publications, including Glimmer Train, Crab Orchard Review, Barrelhouse, Shenandoah, Into the Void, Vestal Review, and W. W. Norton's Flash Fiction International. She's currently an Assitant Fiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and is pursuing her PhD. Find out more about Cate at her website: https://www.catemcgowan.com.
27 Nov 2018
I knew her in the way you know someone you regularly serve food to in a restaurant, the way you know the young man who changes the oil in your car. We were neighbors. She was the woman who lived in the condo across the driveway, the one I passed on the way to the mailbox, who puffed on cigarette after cigarette while sitting outside on a chair meant for a kitchen table, her feet resting above a homemade wooden sign, letters written in black cursive script, a sign that said BELIEVE. One hand propped behind her ass, she crossed her leg over the opposite knee, her ankle jerking, foot fidgeting, before finally slowing down to move in circles, drawing an invisible letter “O,” as if dipping her toes into warm river water until it became frigid again. She was one of those women in constant motion. Some days upon seeing her outside, I waved. Other times, I pretended not to recognize her, hoping she might not remember who I was.
I knew her more than that. Before we moved into the condo across from hers, she worked at the restaurant with me, only for a few months, somewhere near the end of my six-year stretch. She was friendly, with a crooked smile and a distinct laugh, a voice that sounded more slurred as the night went on, that became muddied by the hour, and she was the butt of a running joke that she’d leaned in to kiss the boss, because she had, one night when she must have sipped or popped something from her purse.
She had a thing for babies. When customers held infants on their laps or plopped them into highchairs, she crumbled and scattered crackers on the tables in front of them, asked to pick up the children, to hold them. The young mothers looked hesitant before they nodded, said, “yes,” “of course,” and she cradled the babies in her arms, swung them around for a bit in an awkward, clumsy way, then tossed them up into the air a few inches, parents with tight smiles sitting more upright, as if about to spring from their chairs at a moment’s notice.
“It makes people uncomfortable,” I told our boss. “The mothers. I just don’t want you to get sued. If she drops someone’s baby.”
I hadn’t thought about whether she’d lose her job. I continued shaking cock-tails, racing by while she placed menus in front of patrons and poured water into glasses, viewed her in my peripheral vision as we snatched steaming plates of food from the cooks’ line. It hadn’t occurred to me that the babies might have reminded her of her own sons, now grown. That perhaps these moments in this dimly lit room of laughter, with the sound of an acoustic guitar, banter and chatter, brought her instances of relief, her eyes glimpsing hints of a future, an answer to a perpetual question. That in the faces of the infants, their drooling, smiling mouths and tiny fists, she searched for some kind of light, some kind of solace.
Days later, my boss fired her, and she was gone. Still, I didn’t think much about it. I thought about the book I wasn’t getting published, the thankless adjunct work I was weighed down by, this horrible rash in the middle of my neck that nothing, not coconut oil or diaper rash cream or hydrocortisone would help to subside.
This was before we became neighbors. Before I looked down at the pavement when I walked by her chair, wondered if she was still unemployed, if she’d ever found out why she was fired. This was before her much younger boyfriend, in his mid-twenties, with the gray tooth and no shirt knocked on my other neighbor’s door and screamed that she’d just blown her brains out. Asked if he could use the phone. This was before I slept through the gunshot and ambulance, the mess of cop cars, before the landlord asked if we’d heard the commotion, before the mattress with the big black X landed on top of our recycling bin, breaking it in two, and this was before the younger boyfriend, who’d lived with her for years, disappeared like smoke, the lights in her place still on, and I began once again to walk by the empty chair and the BELIEVE sign still outside, waiting for someone to sit.
GINA TROISI holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from The University of Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Fourth Genre, Fugue, Under the Sun, and others. She served as the 2012 Writer-in-Residence at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia.
14 Feb 2019
I knew After the abortion, spontaneous or not, my uterus was a big steel bell. It rung for everything. Men, baby blankets, formula, binkies, onesies. It's normal to walk down the baby aisle and press your nose into a package of Pampers. After the abortion, my uterus, steel, magnetic, pulled not only sperm and egg inside it but also the future--Higgs Boson particles, String Theory, Monkey wrenches, Hannah Arendt, the strange flooding of the Oregon Coast. A choice you make makes you believe you can discern the future. The uterus isn't an empty jar. It's full of potential. It's noisy in there. Some people think noise isn't as cute as a baby. and, when it rains, the drops sound loudly against the metal sides. It reminds me not to get a metal roof in Portland, Oregon. You can tuck all your futures in the rafters of a wood-framed house on the corner of 34th and Hawthorne. We can move to the coast one day. Our uterus isn't empty. It is full of dreams. It carries within it a star full of Higgs Bosons, which gives us mass where no mass was thought to be. On July 4, 2012, the Cern Particle Collider detected a new particle which behaved, interacted, and decayed in ways predicted for the Higgs Boson. If you can discern from Cern a particle already named from a mathematical model, can you discern a Zoe from a mathematical model written job plus health insurance times spouse equals baby?
I know some people who had babies when they were sixteen. Five years older, five years younger than I may have had a baby. Jamee, who had three babies before she was twenty-three, is dead now. That is not related to the baby-having except she died of an aneurysm which may have been caused by smoking, stress, drinking, abusive husband one, abusive husband two, a breast cancer scare, heredity, pure kindness in the Billy Joel sense that only the good die young. At sixteen, one divorce doesn't mean all marriages will be divorces. At sixteen, being broke and living with your mother doesn't mean you'll never have a job again. At sixteen, you won't necessarily die but you may not find yourself living on the Oregon Cast helping to discover the Higgs Boson with your spouse in the form of mountain of waves sending negative ions up your nose, releasing dopamine and/or allowing you to climb the coast range behind your dream house on the coast to search for psilocybin and/or a place off the beaten path to grow your own dope to sell so one day you can afford both child and healthcare. And then they'll legalize pot and the future you constructed out of thin air will once again be abracadabra'd into a new plan with new endometrial lining.
Every month is a new future. There are so many Higgs Boson particles in the world. Hear them ping inside the collider. Hear them ping against the metal of your uterus. The future lives inside there a million times a billion times. You are the predictor of particles if not futures. Choose the spin. Choose the parity. Mass has been found where there was supposed to be none, thanks to Higgs. If you choose to lose it, you can find it again.
NICOLE WALKER is the author of Sustainability: A Love Story from Ohio State University Press and the forthcoming The After-Normal from Rose Metal Press. Her previous books include Where the Tiny Things Are, Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg. She also edited Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction with margot Singer. She's nonfiction editor at Diagram and Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
17 Nov 2018
A bomb has a signature, & so does the man
who makes the bomb & so does the man whose
hands hold the bomb, move the bomb, unseal
the envelope untape the package unclose
the box catch the fire a bomb catches as
its message as a god. Somewhere a man falls
to his knees to ask a secret of his god &
somewhere a man is waking, tasting
coffee slipper-footed somewhere a man is
walking to the door he's opened so many
times his hands have worn the gold off
of the knob & so it doesn't reflect the image of
himself as he sets his coffee on the stair before
stepping with one foot forward to lift the package
addressed in a hand he almost knows he's never
seen before. Somewhere a street shivers a wire
touches a wire & tells it to be a god & a man falls
to his knees to find his god is still
a secret, the morning lifts itself, the buildings
with their walls & windows rise & rise &
fall into soot, somewhere is there a god with
the gold rubbed off of him watching but not
reflecting the image of a man who steps with
one foot forward into the absence he will enter
as though it is an answer, as though it is his name.
EMMA BOLDEN holds is the author of four chapbooks and three full-length collections of poetry: House Is an Enigma (Southeast Missouri State UP), medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press), and Maleficae (GenPopBooks). She has received an NEA Fellowship, and her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Best Small Fictions, and Poetry Daily, as well as such journals as the Mississippi Review, The Rumpus, StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, Conduit, Shenandoah, Greensboro Review, Monkeybicycle, The Pinch, and Guernica. She currently serves as Associate Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly.
the fourth generation
8 Nov 2018
It takes four generations for monarch butterflies to complete their migration from Mexico through the United States and back again, the fourth generaion coming south to survive the winter, flying sometimes near the ground to find a roost, but sometimes up seven, eight, nine thousand feet to catch the breeze where it can do the work. Today, they are flying right over the Five freeway, past Sand Diego to the border, where Billy, a border patrol agent, participates in the banal task of processing people he will never see, never know, conscripted somehow into a war he never had an interest in. Billy, who wanted to be an artist. Billy, who has no hatred for the enemy in this war.
The breeze that carries the monarchs, carried their forebears over the oblivious heads of John Fremont and his men as they fought their little war in 1846. Fremont, hwo would not take unarmed people prisoners, choosing to execute them instead. Fremont, who planted an American flag in the Rocky Mountains somewhere and made the West the property of the United States.
The breeze today pulls the monarchs over the gray wolf stalking a pocket mouse that's hiding in a San Diego thornmint--this gray wolf who does not know about the wall that is going to make her and her species extinct, as it will do to the pocket mouse, as it will do to the San Diego thornmint, as it will do to the Mexcian flannelbush, the Yaqui chub, the fountain darter, the ocelot, the Texas hornshell, and eighty-five other species we know of and 112 species no one has yet discovered.
It pulls the monarchs over Felix, whose wife will have a baby next month in El Centro, California, and so he has been thrust into this war against Billy, whom he does not know, whom he would love like a brother if they ever met, bonding over baseball and family and art. Both have the souls of painters, but neither have been able to find the itme, caught up in the complex chores of survival. In another, more beautiful universe, they are colleagues who work together on murals on the walls of buildings in their towns.
The monarchs eventually come to roost in Mexico to create the next generation of butterflies, the generation that will begin a new migration. Those yet uncreated butterflies will awaken to a world essentially different from the world of their parents. It will be a harder world, more barren. It will be a world where Billy has grown to hate those he fights because he is confronted every day with the humiliating task of saying no, and he turns that frustration toward its easiest target. He will stand in his backyard and curse them, unaware that Felix, who has never seen his baby and probably won't for years, curses him back.
JOHN BRANTINGHAM is the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and his work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and in Writer's Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has eight books of poetry and fiction, including The Green Sunset from Moon Tide Press, and he teaches at Mt. San Antonio College.
meditation on shockwaves at the edge of space
4 Oct 2018
(with excerpts from the Kavanaugh hearings)
Would it be fair to say
one thing is like another? Like the ions forced to relive
the old bombing campaigns, over and over, in our upper atmosphere--
Hanover, Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden
haunted me episodically
Dresden china is hard-paste porcelain,
rock and clay
fired at very high temperature
seared into my memory.
Dresden reduced to
rock and clay
4,000 tons of explosives fired at very high velocity
Would it be fair to say
there are many means of measure--of heat, velocity, testimony, rage?
Would it be fair to say
that we have all sorts of things we can compare?
some traumatized ions 600 miles up;
one woman up in front of 11 million viewers and
11 white men
the target of constant harassment
Would it be fair to say
one thing is like another, one can illuminate the other?
For example, before the shockwaves--the bombers dropped
magnesium flares first, to illuminate
the cities, to give the men a target at which to aim.
SHELLEY PUHAK is the author of two books of poetry, the more recent of which, Guinevere in Baltimore, was selected by Charles Simic for the Anthony Hecht Prize. Her poems have recently appeared in Cincinnati Review, The North American Review, The Rumpus, and Waxwing. Her essays have recently appeared in The Atlantic, The Iowa Review, and Salon, as well as Best American Travel Writing 2017.
bounty of the free world
1 Sept 2018
My mother calls him P-Murt
because she says she refuses to say
his name again, his name, she says,
a name she hears which feels here all the time
seems in the air, in her ear, she says,
everywhere and so renames him in
reverse: A tic, soft con or kid's trick (like
when we used to fall for spelling
g-i-p backwards every time) turns him
like a clock--widdershinning that 5th
Avenue tower, undoing the spell
of time and place and lack, retracts
name's power. My mother names him armless,
superfluous, a swagger-less rapper,
whose rhymes are brands, whose brands are witless
innuendo, a nip, a flash, the status
quo: EZ-Mart, Quik-Trip, Kum & Go's
hot dogs sweating under heat lamps, bacon
air deodorizers, penny pools
and platitudes on plaques, on koozies
or caps: Keep Calm and Carry On;
I don't get drunk, I get awesome;
a mechanical catfish singing
above the register: buh-buh-buh-bad to the bone.
LEA GRAHAM is the author of the forthcoming book of poetry, From the Hotel Vernon (Salmon Poetry Press, 2019); the chapbooks, Spell to Spell (above/ground Press, 2018); This End of the World: Notes to Robert Kroetsch (Apt. 9 Press, 2016); and her first book, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No Tell Books, 2011). Her poems, translations, and reviews have been published in or are forthcoming in 3Elements Review, Crab Creek Review, Bateau, Poor Yorick, and Southern Humanities Review. She is an associate professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.