At first, the ants would just hang out in the bathroom sink. There would be two or three, or sometimes as many as thirty, milling around aimlessly or just standing still twitching their antennae. I liked to think maybe they transcended the group mindset of their species, abandoned the mission, climbed up the mesa and found God, discovered individuality, lost themselves, let go ultimately even of survival, rose to the infinite and embraced death as an inevitable feature of reality, and there was something beautiful in that. Or maybe they were just digging the grime, lost and confused that the scent of water had brought them to this synthetic and empty place, exhausted. Maybe chemicals in our cleaning agents just contaminated them beyond all recovery.

Regardless, I needed the sink. Sometimes I would run the water gently to see if they’d scatter, and sometimes they did, but usually they just stood there, let the water rush over them, and down the drain, drain, drain they went.

Well, what was I going to do, pick them up? I would have crushed them—a faster death maybe, but they were still ants after all, even if they weren’t into the typical invasive acts that designate vermin. Who’s to say they weren’t headed for the garbage can next? Watching them wash away, I wondered how many ant drownings it takes to shift the karmic weight of a human life. What are the consequences? Who balances us?

They were gone for a while.

About a month later, they appeared in the kitchen (sink, again), this time forming trails, reaching toward the stove and the pantry. This I could not abide—crawling on my cutting boards, up my shirt while washing the dishes, turning up dead in the rice. Sometimes I could get to work and find one climbing up my arm or leg, having stupidly survived a journey of incomprehensible distance. I hated them for it, and flattened them whenever I had the chance, no longer cognizant or concerned with their little ant lives, because now they were my enemies, even though they weren’t trying to hurt me.

I held off on poison for a while. Poison just didn’t seem good for the kitchen. But the problem essentially wasn’t letting up so when someone suggested it while I was at the store, I bought a canister and sprayed up the place and swept the crumb-size corpses and I thought the problem essentially would be elsewhere for a while. Maybe it was.

Earlier I came down to find them in massive ranks, spilling through all corners of the house. In one night they’d cleared all food from the cabinets. I opened the refrigerator to find they’d been in there, too. In fact, the whole refrigerator was gone. I should have been scared, or confused, or impressed, but there was no time, because they started in on the countertops next, and then the furniture. As the walls went down around me, I sank into deteriorating concrete foundations, stamping my foot until my shoes were gone and they devoured my pants and shirt and my hair and my underwear and all I could see was the stars overhead.

These days I’m laying here, bald, naked, aging in the dirt, slowly putting down roots, taking it one day at a time, wondering what it is they saw in that sink. Wonder if God is like that.

 


 

Philip Mittereder is executive editor of Mad House Publications based out of Philadelphia, PA and the other day and the rest of the day and I have to be a good day to be a good time to get a new one is a great day to be a good day to be a great day after the game is a very happy birthday to my house in the world.

consider the girl the girl in front of you is not
the girl you are on TV a girl’s legs are straight
as a ruler straight as a switch you see how a girl
has two mounds for knees two round mounds
of dark sand for knees and legs which are less
than straight how is a girl a girl with round mounds
for knees and legs less than straight how is a girl a girl
if she wears two faces if she must learn two ways to arc
her eyeliner two ways to dress the almond eye and the
hooded eye but who is I when I can’t be seen except
for what you see so many girls girls with milk skin girls
who smell of rosewater whose hair beams a gold paved
road when struck by sun you see this girl and you
are not this girl so what girl are you are you a girl
what is a girl who is not a girl and what does a girl
who is not a girl become?

 


 

Lea Anderson holds an MFA in poetry from The New School. Her work has either appeared or is forthcoming in SWWIM, Jai Alai Magazine, and Luna Luna. She received honorable mention in Boulevard’s 2017 Contest for Emerging Poets. You can follow her on Twitter @leaeanderson.

Progress casually pre-decided       It’s three in the afternoon and there’s a thought
suggesting that everything happening

is happening at the same time.

[1] The emerald cockroach wasp is so named
for its incandescent blueish-green exoskeleton

and the unusual nature of its
neuro-parasitic reproductive cycle.

conclusions to be arrived at. You shouldn’t
pet a dog backwards, you shouldn’t

fear dying. [2] The wasp aims its hook-like sting
at the centre of dopamine production

or ganglia. Aware and incapable of triggering an
escape-reflex The sun opens like a sore

and the world keeps turning. the cockroach host waits
and gestates numerous, hungry offspring.

I’m seeing dark splotches out of one eye
and should I have started smoking?

Might’ve been beneficial to the image I was trying
to cultivate, could have been a kind of safety net.

I could say something like, “I’m down to a pack a day!”
to no one in particular.

Specifics [3] of the roach’s metabolic alterations:
you could sever my brain stem and I would continue

to regress in a linear fashion. It’s reflexive.
Put me by the windowsill, water me and call me Gus.

A friend once said that I value my time
over the time of others. And I have to laugh

when I remember. independent movement is almost
entirely suspended. The wasp instead relies on tugging

the roach’s antennae to guide the much larger insect
Of all things, the cornflower blue wallpaper, absence of

radiator key, cured linoleum floor receding over concrete; I can’t
stand to be here, especially at night.
                                                                   slowly and reflexively forward.

I think when I die, insects will begin to fill
the recesses of my body. [4] once hatched

the larvae take particular care to consume non-vital
organs as to complete their maturation

Whole successive generations living out their lives
entirely unaware of the outside.

entirely within the body of their host.

I think when I die, insects will begin to fill  

the recesses of my body. [4] once hatched

the larvae take particular care to consume non-vital
organs as to complete their maturation

Whole successive generations living out their lives
entirely unaware of the outside.

entirely within the body of their host. 

Accept that nothing will ever feel right again.
Maybe this has all happened once, or even twice already.

I’d need graph-paper to prove it. But you can’t be wrong
if everyone else is dead.

 


 

Ian Goldberg is a poet, performer and the procurement head of abyssal content. At the moment he’s working with the Barbican Young Poets and tumbleweed-ing across the Hampshire poetry scene. He’s eager to discover the depths we can sink to – together. Follow him on Twitter @CoelacanthPoems.

A Witch’s Lullaby to Her Unborn Child

     The sun is brilliant, bright and warm, shining on my island and its many creatures like a babe being swaddled, rocked by its mother. But I have not had a mother for centuries; I bet her fat tongue still floats heavy in its pretty mouth spewing secrets and jealousy in my father’s radiant halls, trying to keep his interest.

     I, on the other hand, shy away from the light, preferring the shadows, the crevices in between. I have always found familiarity with darkness, with the cloak that blocks the sun.

     My father is golden, eternal, and he watches me closely, intent on keeping me caged, on keeping in me in check, fearful of the storm swirling, brewing up above on Mount Olympus. Yet still I collect my herbs and build my spell in spite of his burning gaze. In spite of the god of lightning. They will not command me.

     No man will.

     I work slowly yet pointedly, I must not make an error. My child, a boy sitting low and kicking fiercely in my belly, must be protected, shielded from both Titan and Olympian gaze. No one is coming to save him or me, not his father, a mortal, or any other creature.

     My son and I are alone.

     He will be half god, half man, and that makes him a threat to many, but mostly to me. Finally my father, the god of the sun, and Zeus, the god of lightning, will have something that can destroy me. If my son dies I will be undone, a hollow conch shell with no song, no longer the farmica feared for her transformations or her intoxicating and sometimes deadly herbs.

     My son grows larger each day and more eager to escape my belly to enter the world. So I continue to gather my herbs and add layer upon layer to my spell, and I will everyday for the rest of eternity.

 

Overdone Meat

     The hardest part is getting the facial expressions right. The slight slant of frown lines on the forehead, the curve of a smile forming. Worry in the eyes. The eyes are how you know whether or not it work work.

     He comes to the gallery late, after hours. He has been my companion the last three months. I don’t like the term boyfriend, yet he insists on calling me his girlfriend. His name is Robbie. I have a three-inch tall oak wingback chair in my hand and am ticking light brush strokes on the tiny legs to give them a more weathered look when he barges in. I am almost finished this project–a replica of the old manor on Boston Avenue. The commission will pay my rent for the gallery for six months, so no detail can be overlooked.

     I left the door unlocked, which is my custom of late. This manor project has consumed me, making me forget that sometimes things go bump in the night. That I should lock up the gallery after hours, especially if I’m inside working. I know better, I know how men can be, yet I never saw him as a threat. I’ve become so used to dealing with the inanimate, with shaping something into the tangible, a beating heart in a pliable chest, that I forget I can’t control every person or situation with an X-acto knife and my hands.

     At first Robbie was sweet and shy. His face flushed lightly when he first asked me to tell him more about my work. About what it’s like to create miniature versions of homes, towns, and people. Have you ever thought about making me? Or, or someone you know? Color spiked his cheeks. I smiled and said, Trust me, you don’t want me to make you. He frowned. It’s just that I usually make miniature versions of things from the past, I said. Manors from a former time, those of glory. Historical figures to be commemorated, immortalized. He nodded. So for you to make me I’d have to be dead, he said. I remember he laughed at this, and it crackled in his throat. I swallowed and smiled, my lips pressed tightly together, acidic bubbles forming on my tongue.

     My once timid, joking companion is now drunk and angry, the wormy veins on his temples beating. I am distracted by the thought of how to carve such a thing onto a doll when his fist goes through the wall of the manor’s parlour. The burgundy velvet chaise lounge is cracked in two, one half skittering across the gallery floor. I marvel at how small it looks, how fragile, when in the parlour it seemed large and opulent. It took me two days to make the parlour, and six hours to make the chaise. He doesn’t care though. He is shouting, telling me he’s had enough. That I always choose my dolls and houses over him. That he’ll show me just how stupid they are. I let him finish, trashing two months of work and six months of rent.

     He doesn’t realize the power my work holds, but he will.

     He stumbles out when he’s done, King Kong smashing into tiny buildings as he goes. It looks like a tornado has come through the gallery, leaving houses, schools, and museums totally obliterated.

     I allow myself one sob and then I go to work.

     I leave the gallery in its annihilation; I can clean up the mess later. I go through the door to my office and then down the stairs to the basement where the old kiln is. It rumbles, gurgling to life as I fire it up. I head to the supply room to the left of it. Inside, I grab six square pieces of wood and one of my premade male dolls. I go back upstairs, lock the front door, and set up a station among the wreckage. Then, with an X-acto knife, I begin to whittle the doll’s face, giving him Robbie’s u-shaped chin and a thin line for his mouth. I take the tip of the knife and ever so gently dip it into the wooden flesh of the doll’s temples, twisting to make it look like a tiny snake is wiggling on each side.

     The last thing I do is his eyes. I want to capture Robbie’s rage and ignorance and the baggy, darkened half moons underneath his eyes. When I’m done my former companion stares back at me, his eyes wide and crazed. This will work, I tell myself.

     I set up a room with the pieces of wood and a hot glue gun. I place the Robbie doll inside my creation and press down to make sure his feet are secured to the floor. I have made a room with no windows and no doors for him. A prison to teach him. A prison he’ll rot in. I swear his eyes are pleading with me, the half moons blackened with fear. “You have no one to blame but yourself,” I say to him before sealing him inside his prison.

     Carefully, I lift the room. I carry it on flat palms down to the stairs and to the kiln. It is humming now, buzzing with fiery hunger. I unlatch the door; it swings to the right. I place the room and Robbie inside. Leaving the door open, I take a step back. I want to see the edges of the room blacken and curl in on themselves. I want to hear the pop of the wood disintegrating and the cough of the Robbie doll as the real Robbie’s lungs fill with smoke and he begins to choke.

     Don’t get me wrong, it’s not often I use my powers for such ugliness. But you don’t mess with a woman’s livelihood and get away with it.

     It won’t be long now; things work faster in miniature. Robbie, my jealous, idiotic companion of three months, will be dead in a few minutes. The official cause of death will be smoke asphyxiation after a random fire started in his apartment. The coroner will report his blood alcohol level was through the roof, and the police will decide he was too drunk to make it out in time.

     I sigh, shaking my head. “Such a shame,” I say. “I could have had the dining room done by now.”

     A croak whines from the flames. The room and the Robbie doll are a shapeless mass now, which means real Robbie’s almost gone. My mouth twists into a smile. I step forward and close the door to the kiln. It’s time to go back upstairs and begin the Boston Avenue manor again; I have a deadline to meet. I decide to leave the kiln roaring while I work, the fiery blob bubbling and snapping with my companion’s last smoke-filled breaths. After all, I’ve always preferred my meat overdone.

 


 

Christina Rosso is a red-headed siren and bookstore owner living in South Philadelphia with her bearded husband and two rescue pups. Her work has been featured in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Across the Margin, FIVE:2:ONE Magazine, and more. Visit https://christinarosso.wordpress.com/ or find her on Twitter @Rosso_Christina.

 

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paul aster stone-tsao (he/they/we) is a taiwanese-american trans*masculine poet, dancer, and multidisciplinary artist currently based in brooklyn. his work on silence, terror, memory inheres in movement, sound, and is dedicated to exploring and reckoning with what it is to survive the aftermath of catastrophe // to retrieve what still churns in the current of childhoods lost to the torrent of language not yet able to bear its own recognition. he has performed in venues including the pfizer building in bk as well as the walt disney concert hall in la. they are a 2019 Kundiman poetry fellow.

In Search of Monster Hunters

Human beings dressed in costumes
rewarded by electronic bagpipes

beneath the placid surface.
Leading experts wield no guns.

Slanting shadows in specific areas
are available to all.

A unique sound when I am
eight months old. Reputable

individuals from all walks of life
are a distant relatives of man.

People have seen god
at a major academic institution.

Divining crystals erase any possible
rapport in the shaking leaves.

A salmon, twelve feet high,
ook ook old friend. For a few magic

moments, dedicated men
come face to face with Leonard

at last.

 

In Search of Dracula

Not one of them
in the field of Carpathian daisies.
A surgeon & a shepherd
wield symbolic power
in frightening corners.
Shittyfluted ghosts are
turned into rock by the rising
sun. Leonard dons
chiaroscuro like the undead
lived. Gloaming blue
climbs the walls of
Victorian repression.
There is no Dracula
in Romanian folklore, but bats
feed on cattle
in South America.
In the socialist present, looking back
on the bloody past.
The truth of a man’s life
is just inside the door. It can be fun
to explore the son
of the dragon. The Renaissance
bred art & tyranny. Clack
of a woodblock to ward
the spectacle of the Eastern
Orthodox church.
Pan to skyscraper in Transylvania
through the red filter of time.
Few of these faces remain,
not even Leonard’s; the layers of history
stripped away & killed in battle
near Bucharest.
The cock crows over
the dark peace of death, dissolving
in a puff of smoke in the mist.
Legends die slowly &
Leonard reclaims the human spirit.

 

In Search of Firewalkers

Blue cauliflower of soot
around the world.
Ashes & rubies; outsiders
are severely burned.

A filmic sheen
for cowpokes
at the birth of civilization.
Firewalking across
the ocean. Leonard feels
pain, opens his shirt
a few buttons. Hypnosis
behind a desk. Disassociated
from the beach at Nice.

Bread in the shape
of trees; it is night
in Macedonia. She rides
him over the coals, deeply
religious. The real answer
lies in the jump cut.

The insulating effect
of the spiritual body.
A parfait of hands
like a magnet.
Coconut husks
replace wood
in the fires of
Brahma.

In silence, a dignified
act of defiance.
Leonard & a single candle
are as old as mankind
itself.

 

In Search of the Amityville Horror

Low light film clips
living inside this house.

A blank book
in the sewing room.

It was cold
because it was winter.

Anxiety is feasible,
constantly stoking a fire.

Leonard emerges
from the bookshelf,

singing constantly.
Changing behavior,

reblessing yourself.
Get organized

into the same room.
A more dangerous force

in a red tie. Vibrations
from the Massapequa.

 

In Search of Shark Worshipers

The unlucky majority
suffering from pure aggression.

The untrained eye
damages the submarine.

Electric wetsuits,
underwater parachutes

& an old-fashioned stick.
Stalking victims electronically.

Detecting vibrations, the waste
of a tuna cannery.

Leonard wages all-out war
in a Hawai’ian shirt, his name

is still revered in modern
Fiji. The only person killed

is an unbeliever from another town.
Authorities are building guardrails,

clinging precariously to the Stone Age.
Lucky enough in 1973,

it was just one of those things.
The people are bitter & confused;

the living dead must be consulted
about what is about to occur.

Other sharks are ready
to defeat the devil in a sudden frenzy.

 


 

Mark Lamoureux is an Assistant Professor at Housatonic Community College. He is the author of four full-length collections of poems, It’ll Never Be Over for Me (Black Radish Books, 2016), 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years (Pressed Wafer, 2013), Spectre (Black Radish Books, 2010) and Astrometry Organon (BlazeVox, 2008). A fifth book, Horologion, is forthcoming from Poet Republik, Ltd. in 2019. His work has most recently appeared in Fence, Dream Pop and Fourteen Hills. In 2014 he won the 2nd Annual Ping Pong Poetry prize for his poem “Winterhenge/Summerhenge,” selected by David Shapiro.

After our grandmother got married for the third time, she started taking us to Harry’s place, an unfinished building tucked behind some disintegrating tennis courts in the bad part of town.

The property itself was not much to look at, a skinny mid-century row house sat on a withered plot of piss yellow grass. Our grandmother planned to start her new life there. We were a part of it too, whether we liked Harry or not.

They had met at the minor league baseball stadium, where Harry worked as an usher. He was a thin man with taut skin, sporting a deep leathery tan and bristly salt and pepper mustache.

We never saw his eyes because he always wore a pair of aviators, even indoors. My brother and I often speculated what was beneath those silver lenses, but they were impenetrable.

Harry had purchased the “fixer-upper,” as he called it, even before he and our grandmother had met. He claimed to be constantly renovating the place, though we had marked zero progress over the span of many months.

The interior was all exposed plywood and naked beams, the floor, walls, and ceiling bare except for itchy pink swathes of insulation.

My brother and I would chase each other around the house, darting through the woodwork, hiding in the empty spaces between rooms.

Since the water had never been turned on, there was no working toilet. We went in the backyard otherwise we held it. Harry promised it would all be taken care of soon, that when it was finished we would hardly recognize the place. We had little trust in Harry, even though he sometimes let us try his cigarettes if we promised not to tell.

The house was sparsely furnished, a small table with some rickety mismatched chairs to eat takeout from, a secondhand coat rack by the entrance where Harry hung his sweat-stained cap. There was also a television set and a lumpy old couch, which suited us just fine.

We took the opportunity to watch the movies that our mother would never allow us to see, being naturally curious about mature themes. If it had an “R” rating, we were happy to indulge ourselves.

My fair skinned, blue-eyed brother, who was younger, preferred erotic scenes, while I was partial to violence and gore.

For hours we sat on that couch, glued to the carnage, maniacs gouging out eyeballs with dripping hypos, bashing in skulls with the claw end of rusty hammers, hacking open chest cavities with enormous meat cleavers, topless women screaming down dark corridors pursued relentlessly by madmen in masks.

Since they spent most of their time upstairs, both our grandmother and Harry remained oblivious to our viewing habits, just as we were ignorant of the goings on behind their unpainted bedroom door, always kept locked.

Our only company was the cat Harry brought over from the shelter one day. An orange tabby, he was a rescue that had lost his right eye during a fight. Thus he was christened “One-Eyed Jack” and we were warned not to aggravate him.

My brother tried to pet him once and got raked across the throat, three symmetrical red lines. One-Eyed Jack did not like people, but it seemed he especially hated us. If we happened to cross his path, he would hiss and arch his back, the lone yellow eye boring through us until we slowly backed away.

We lived in constant fear of Jack. He would often hide up in the rafters, ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims below. To top it off, my brother and I were both allergic to cats. When our eyes started to water and swell, we knew Jack was close.

Somehow our grandmother came to adore that cat. She was the only person he allowed to touch him. One-Eyed Jack purred as our grandmother tickled his chin and stroked his belly.

We were mystified by her ability to soothe the beast. Our inability to do so only made us more afraid of him.

Fear turned into resentment when Harry made us clean out the litter box, a never-ending chore that we were condemned to carry out as long as Jack ruled. He was King Cat, ourselves nothing but lowly chamber maids. Our grandmother said it was good to have responsibilities.

We took every opportunity to escape, like when the boy next door invited us over. He was only a few years older than us, but much taller. We never learned his name because he never spoke.

He would poke his head out a window and motion us inside with a wave of his hand. We played video games in his dark attic bedroom, bathed by the flickering lights of the virtual death matches playing out on the screen.

When the boy’s parents pulled into the gravel driveway, the sound alerted us to quickly sneak off, as the boy was forbidden to have company. One day a “For Sale” sign sprouted in their front yard and we never saw them again.

During one especially long day, as we waited for our mother to retrieve us, a despondent Harry shuffled in through the front door. After he hung up his cap, he turned to us, tears dripping from his aviators. My brother asked what was wrong.

He told us that Jack was dead.

It was sort of a let down when we heard the news. By account of our legends Jack was invincible. Harry had found him in the street all bent up and mangled from being run over. It looked like he had been left out there for a while.

Jack never saw what hit him, which we supposed was all anybody could ask for. Harry told us the cat was on the back porch in a burlap sack. He instructed us to bury it.

I took a shovel out of the toolshed then followed my brother down the block to an overgrown, litter-strewn lot.

I tried to dig a grave for Jack, but the ground was too hard, full of rocks and clay. The burlap sack emitted the semi-sweet, sickly smell of decay. We didn’t dare look inside.

My brother suggested simply throwing it in the garbage. We found a dumpster in a nearby alley. I held up the heavy lid. My brother tossed the sack inside. I let go and the lid slammed down.

The noise startled my brother. I laughed at his high-pitched scream, told him he sounded like a girl.

He shoved me against the dumpster, told me to take it back. Instead I lifted the lid again and forced my brother inside. I closed the lid and sat on it, feeling the reverberations of my brother pounding on the thick metal.

After a while the noise stopped. I hopped off the dumpster and cracked the lid, peered inside.

My brother was gone. So was Jack’s burial sack.

I ran back to the house. My grandmother was sitting next to Harry in the kitchen eating some Chinese food from Styrofoam boxes.

My grandmother asked why I was crying. I told her what had happened and she rolled her eyes, scolded me for making up stories.

I persisted. Harry smacked the back of my head, told me to shut up, to quit being cute, that I didn’t have a little brother.

An orange cat hopped onto the table. My grandmother tickled his chin. The cat stared at me, two eyes meeting mine, one blue, the other yellow, not blinking, mouth pulled back, grinning.

 


 

Matt Lee’s writing has been featured at Tragickal, The Blue Pages, SOFT CARTEL, and Philosophical Idiot. He has also written, produced, and performed in numerous works for the stage. He tweets @Gallows_Ticket. For more info visit mattleewrites.com.

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Maryan Nagy Captan is a Coptic Egyptian-American writer, educator, and performance poet. Maryan is a Poetry Fellow at The Michener Center for Writers in Austin, TX and serves as the Marketing Director for Bat City Review. She is the author of copy/body (Empty Set Press, 2017) and an alumni of the Disquiet International Literary Program. Her work has appeared in The Egyptian Writers Folio (Anomaly Press), AJAR Journal, APIARY Magazine, Mantra Review, Boneless/Skinless, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere.

what do you call

the only-so-many woundings

tht may befall

a single body?


River Phoenix is long dead,

& as young Keanu Reeves in the 1991

feature film My Own Private Idaho,

i live all proof no need,


a loose canvas filled w blood & such,

delighting in facsimile as a

grift-living, coat-slinging pageantry,

e’er ingress-ing, e’er a travesty,


the sequel to a blighted sore; & so,

abandoned by young Keanu Reeves

in the 1991 feature film My Own Private Idaho,

i am living to be murdered in Rome—


in two weeks, i will be holding you

for the first time in a year;

my love is a graceless, heaving thing,

a behind-the-scenes calamity—


& long dead River Phoenix

is now long-dead enough

to have lived & died again;

i ache w/o wordings for them—


a killing chasming far far wider than

our final shot of young Keanu Reeves

attending to his father’s funeral

in his newly-purchased skin

 


 

Faye Chevalier is a Philadelphia-based poet and essayist. She is the author of the chapbook, future.txt (Empty Set Press 2018), and her work has been featured in The Wanderer, Peach Mag, Witch Craft Magazinethe tiny, and elsewhere. Some of her awards and recognitions include being the first ever poet to have work published on a cyberpunk tabletop rpg podcast (Neoscum 2018) and also a Pushcart nomination. Find her on Twitter where she cries about cyborgs, vampires, and having a body at @bratcore.