Variously unreal, your body
weaves itself from rags, hemming
in what’s possible with
what is not.

And it isn’t this as angels
place eyes upon your spine,
every bit of back strung
with blood for turning
something new from the chaos
that they have never seen.

How heavenly can they be,
these cast-offs? It cannot
be correct – your body
bespoke and heavy stitched
limb-to-limb in fits.
And yet you find your feet
somehow separate from the floor,
the carpet fibres laced
with the smallest scraps of gravity
mere men have ever known.

And extras to you now,
your angels take their wings,
bending from you blood they sew
in strands of light and shade.

And Isaac in his madness
never saw so strange as this:
wombs opened out like rainbows
back-forming prism glass,
choirs of ugly angels singing
their struggles as they dress
their shaking mess of rag and bone
in the shape of human flesh.

 


 

// jennifer wilson lives in somerset, england, and has appeared in various online journals including mojave heart, barren magazine and molotov cocktail //
// jenniferwilsonlit.wordpress.com // @_dead_swans //

littlegod

 

the way border functions

we are inebriated the way
ambitions are, in the backyard—

mom and i. we grew and grew
outward like thickets

through the seasons we had spent
apart. my iris, all oilslick, tracks a raccoon that walks awkward

into the periphery, rabid and philosophical. we turn
since we are predators. we’re evenings;

all even. even now. never
say anything about that particular decade of red wine, never say

anything about red faces, anything about regretted adoptions. on
the east coast, soil hardens how personalities do. a tiny totem

sunk itself
beneath my spine when i was lifted, burdensome

and slop-soaked, into the new world. i try not
to lurch how domestication works, now.

mom mentions the length
of my hair as i stuff

an old hat rich like europe, turn
desperately to face her.

 

Chrysalis

     The only collective house left in the city was sober. The kids living there were tired of roommates with rampant heroin addictions. They were clean with the kind of moral superiority that digs trenches within any community. They shied away from epidemics.

     The house was fine enough, the door had been kicked in by various swat teams during drug raids and probation violations relating to previous occupants, but now the place was quiet. The house leaned to the left, the bottom corners of the windows were loose and let the winter air into all the rooms.

     It was eight o’clock in the morning. The occupants moved as one. They move the sectional couches in the basement around in the shape of a pentagram. They play the floor like bagpipes with the chairs. They peel carrots in a swollen kitchen full of rain. Marcela had lived there for the last sixth months. She was an alcoholic, she would wake up shaking like a corroded muffler. Her roommates wondered why she was always so cold, why she never ate cereal, or paid in change. They move like drips of water, they trip over the dog and it plays dead bug.

     Around the house, Marcela only drank out of cups with lids. Once, she had spilled a mug of coffee onto the cigarette-burned couch cushions. The roommates looked up at her from their game of spades on the bedroom floor. They opened heaven. 

     Marcela walks to Kitty’s Bar and Packaged Goods down the street on Greenmount Avenue. Her pale skin clung to her bones like a noose to a neck. She was unsteady when she walked, her knees and ankles ready to collapse with the slightest vibration of the atmosphere. Her black hair was tattered, thin for someone in their twenties. Her nose had been broken multiple times from repeated sidewalk blackouts or shit-talkings. It was cocked so far to the left she could smell her ear. 

     Kitty’s was the only place in the city that served alcohol to-go on Sunday’s. The building was mashed in-between two taller ones on either side, both sold cheap, used suits. The sales associates were busy on Sunday mornings tending to the disingenuous catholics of east Baltimore. The neon sign was broken and the clear bulbs had been stained brown by decades of cigarette smoke from people standing underneath it day and night. The yellow paint of the exterior was pockmarked with bullet holes of various calibers. 

     Marcela walked up to the counter. There was a man in front arguing with Kamal, the cashier. Marcela recognized him as Dashawn from up the block. One of the older residents in the area. He drank all day, sometimes sold heroin. He lived up the block in a dilapidated rowhome where the formstone was constantly peeling off and falling into the sidewalk. Marcela remembered how she used to pick up the chunks and throw them at the lines of rats on her way to high school.

     The veins in Dashawn’s forehead were trying to tear themselves from his skin. When his mouth moved, the dandruff from his short, gray hair fell onto his slim shoulders. Marcela could see his collarbones protruding out when he arched his back, raising his hands above his head then bringing them down upon the scratched glass countertop. 

     Kamal had seen worse men than Dashawn. In the seventies, when the Shah was losing his grip on the country, Kamal fled Iran with the last of the doves. Dogs roamed the streets for years afterward, liberating the corpses of evil spirits. He watched the thick skin of Dashawn’s dark hands crack upon the counter in front of him. 

     Marcela put her forty-ounce of Olde English down on the counter next to Dashawn’s erratic body movements. Dashawn cocked his neck back and spit into Kamal’s open mouth. Kamal vaulted the counter like an inner-city olympian and grabbed Marcela’s bottle in one fluid motion. Before his feet touched the tile floor, slick with spilled beer and discarded gobs of chew, he brought the bottle hard down onto Dashawn’s face. The glass splintered off in all directions. Dashawn’s cheek opened like a border. Marcela could see inside of him. She could see his yellow teeth through the fissure. The edges were thick and vulnerable, smooth like cells forming. Blood was all over. On her lips, around the collar of her yellow sweatshirt, on the gloves of the police rushing the door, on Kamal’s gold wedding band. Dashawn was on his knees trying to hold his face together.        

      Marcela pushed through the crowd and put her hands on Dashawn’s shivering cheek. She peeled back the bloody flaps and wiped away the mess. She took off her shoes and stuck her foot through the wound. Then the other. Soon she had fit herself to the chest. She slid her way deeper down Dashawn’s throat. Soon she was standing on the floor of his stomach, she got on her toes and stretched up towards the wound. She reached out and pulled the flaps inward, closing the pinhole of light above her. She pushed deeper until her feet protruded into the bottom of Dashawn’s sagging pants. She kicked her way out of the colon and slid down his pant-leg onto the cold floor. She dried herself off with the bloody rag Kamal was cleaning his hands with. She stepped out onto the sidewalk and walked home.

     Her roommates were playing spades on the kitchen floor. There was a pot of tea on the counter. They had made the tea too dark. They walked into the bathroom and drowned the bathtub by filling its mouth. Later, they order food but never pick it up. Instead they drive to Assateague Island and get bit by the horses. They walk onto the sand where two eagles tear the flesh from a fox carcass. They are truant at work, they destabilize and mutate. They take bites of rain clouds. They spoil. 

 


 

ren hlao grew up outside of baltimore, maryland. their work has appeared in online and print publications including Homestead Review, White Stag Publishing, and Dangerous Constellations Journal. they live in san diego, california with their partner and four dogs.

(“little god; you open” has been printed in Glittermob Issue 13, “the way the border functions” in Spring/Winter ’19 of Sycamore Review, and “Chrysalis” in Fiction International‘s “Body”)

What thoughts might arrive so late
in these milligrams : you’ve nodded off
again, the dream of a less gentle treason
the only reason to even get out of bed.

Akin to pleasure, the whiff of something
wicked amid the caramel apples
& the cigarette butts. Headlights cut across
the tree line. This journey is precursor

for the rest of your life : up these hills,
down that embankment,
then three days spent blindfolded
& chewing Xanax like Tic Tacs

across the salt flats. Scorpio season
seems to mean cradling your porcelain horse
outside the conference center’s
VIP entrance. Around their table,

conversation dribbles
& nobody thought to bring towels
or even a mop. A fork stuck in you
doesn’t mean you’re done :

it’s just a blunder
once thought to butter you up. The knife slides.
An egg gags at its own texture. A grilled cheese
seeks to devour its own crust.

 


 

Chris McCreary is the author of four books of poems, the most recent of which is [ neüro / mäntic ] (Furniture Press 2014). He’s also the co-author, along with Mark Lamoureux, of Maris McLamoureary’s Dictionnaire Infernal (Empty Set Press 2017), a chapbook of collaborative poems based on a 19th century guidebook to various demons, devils, and other menaces. Follow him on Instagram at @chrisixnay.

This ache sits and asks for my attention –
I have wanted to die, but never like this.
I have counted out the seeds of starting
anew, have found them inadequate.
I have sought out an antidote for this
life poorly lived, have found it lacking.
I have grown tired of losing my mind
responsibly & there is rage in this husk
of a woman. There is a lovelessness that
sits stagnant in the pit of my stomach –
I have wanted to die, but never like this.
The sun slants in through the sheer slip
of curtain, stretches itself thin on this
hospital bed, kisses the stubble on my legs,
& it is beautiful in that it has nothing to do with you.

 


 

Emma Tulloch is a writer and student who was raised by the ocean, currently lives in the city, and can’t decide which existence is the lonelier one. This is her first published work. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @emmaelizabetht. 

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Catherine Garbinsky is a writer living in Northern California. She holds a degree in The Poetics of Transformation: Creative Writing, Religion, and Social Justice from the University of Redlands. Catherine is the author of a chapbook of Ursula K. Le Guin erasures, All Spells Are Strong Here (Ghost City Press, 2018). Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Rag Queen Periodical, Flypaper Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, and others. Finder her on Twitter (@mrsgrrrbinsky) and Instagram (@catherinegarbinsky).

krbwBlack Was Not a Label is the forthcoming essay collection by writer and Occulum contributor Kathryn Ross. Published by PRONTO (@staypronto), Ross’ debut features “mediations in racial trauma, faith, and identity”, and is set to be released on October 18th, 2019. 


 

Description via target.com:

“From the moment where one’s race is realized to the first heart break because of something more than unrequited feelings, Black Was Not a Label explores what life is like within the “veil,” a concept coined by W.E.B. DuBois, and the “double consciousness,” for author Kathryn H. Ross. These concepts are felt from earliest childhood, but not realized or dealt with until early adulthood, when this collection of essays was born. Within them, Ross sifts through memories of everything from hair trauma and drama, instances of racism and forced stereotypes in school, family, and friendships, to slavery and heritage, her personal relationship with and faith in God with whom she struggles to reconcile the past, present, and the uncertain future of the brown body in what can often be a mean world.”

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when i can’t sleep at night
i eat black wine gums
& pretend i’m a baby bird.

you tell me we got smarter
when we started cooking
our meat.

i wish i wasn’t
such a raw thing.

i make up rules for myself
& then i break them.
i promise i will drink less

& walk more & call my mom.
i promise i’ll stop living
so much inside my head.

if i wasn’t so tired,
i think i could sleep.

 


 

helga wants everyone to have a good day every day. they’re the author of MELODRAMA (ghost city press 2018) & their work can be found in peach magazine, spy kids review, tenderness lit, & elsewhere. they tweet @helgafloros

Take river polished stones: circle the grave count 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4. Una para cada elemento. Earth Wind Fire Water. Uno. Dos. Tres. Quatro. Tierra. Aire. Fuego. Agua. Let rich coffee grinds mix with worm-chewed minerals. Dig and dig a cornered moat to keep them out and you in. Embody this diamond: the center refracting particles in a cascade of color.

*

Cradle the bulb that will rise. This ovum waiting to be laid in a cave that will shield it of the world from the shadows on the wall. And this egg will do nothing to replace the egg that grew and spread legs and arms through a cracked shell. But you will the petals to open a mouth to the moon. 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 You will them: smell the piel that rots beneath these toes, the skin rising in putrid glory.

 


 

Valorie K. Ruiz is a Xicana writer fascinated by language and the magic it evokes. She currently lives in San Diego and she is assistant flash fiction editor for Homology Lit. You can read more of her work on her website at www.valorieruiz.com or follow her on twitter @Valorie_Ruiz

maggot asks what’s wrong
well i misread stendhal on love
i saw peril as pencil and gave
it my all expecting an eraser
at the end of it o
and the biggest sunflower
on the block has died i always
wondered how such a skinny
stem could support its full head
it was just living that kept it
face up i guess and the sparrows
are pecking away tonight on
the bachelorette i hear descartes
instead of date card every time
maybe it’s all my fault
not you maggot born here
in my roommate’s pan
but i mean everything else
heard through fuzzy device
meaning soul this summer
will never end i heard
someone larped their own
funeral i want to larp
how i thought the summer
would go forgiveness
i love kleenex
i love falling apart
as demeter i loved hades’s
pouch of souls too much
to play the part and said
i like your pouch of souls
maggot we are not the same
but we are close here
so alive in the kitchen
but so drawn to rot
maggot says be well
inhabits the other
is lacanian etcetera

 


 

Cori Hutchinson (@tough_button) lives in Brooklyn and works in a library. Past work can be found on CONFLUENCE and has been read at the TFW reading series. She is assembling a chapbook-length manuscript called AKIN 2

Kootsie does this trick.  It’s me and Kootsie, Kootsie all the way, and I taught her.

    ‘Leap leap,’ I’ll go.

    She knows the word now, and so she does.  

    Me the teacher, a dog’s best. And there’s an audience here: Passing people. First thing they look away but then they can’t help themselves. As they go by they stare, though mostly they’re pretending not to. They want to see a bit of something that’ll tickle em pink. Because where do you find that, this day n age?  There seems to be a shortage. It’s a happy thing when you can’t help laughing. A bit of a laugh’s worth havin.

    All of this when Kootsie was in her prime, like. When she was really here. I still see the gal jumpin up and up and taste her clammy kisses on my lips. The pulpy-moist experience of that and the way her spaniel ears go a loppin and a floppin as she springs.  I know I’ve said this as if it’s all still happening. That’s to lift my spirits up, and also because I keep forgetting that then is not the same as now.

    Though in any case, she is still present in a manner of speaking. For she’s right there in my heart while I am here. And it’s also true to say that in the dustbowl of the universe, a tongue, once pink, flies and settles as it will.  In bits of course – stands to reason the tongue will have gone to dust. But everybody knows that dust, even when it’s blown away is somewhere. The watery aspect is missing, I’ll give you that. Plus the smell and the smile. So I’ll try to put things in the past from now on, though now and again I might slip up.

    ‘Go for all you can get girl, it aint that much. Is what I used to say.

    When K was here with me, that was a time. Me an that dog, I can see us now, clear as you like, sittin in Lincoln’s Inn, a-sittin in the Fields there for the world and ‘is uncle. Her and me. Dog and Madog.  A revelation.

    Would come across the circle, netball players. On anther planet. Stuck there in their sensible shorts and tee shirts. I ask you. Me-an-Koots a doin our routine. They can’t help but laugh, and me, I’m avin a giggle myself.  But nothin bad-like, never that. My pet. K, on display for all. And you know what, she adored that. Didn’t get enough attention I wouldn’t wonder. Before she came to me.

     Some of the players have a bit of side to em and the laughter comes out like a statement to that effect. They have their hands half way across their mouths so you won’t see but you will see.  But what the fuck, the doggie’s appy and it don’t matter about the way they laugh cos K’s big enough to overlook such a thing as meanness, and so she does.  We got our audience see and that’s the thing that counts. Then there are the legal types who strut along the paths as if they own the place, and the oliday makers and the omeless lollin on the grass. All sorts steppin forward, comin to snigger and guffaw.  But at nobody’s expense. For at the end of the day. K’d be doin what K’s adoin whether there was anybody watching er or not. A fact. That dog she had star quality, nothing less.

    They was appy days.  Kootsie the little girlie, the diva in the dog-a-log, and me. Thing is though, in another kind of a way it aint so fuckin funny. Because havin a pet teaches you what life’s about; shows you a few things that’ll bring you close to a sense of tragedy. First of all there she’ll be in the wee-widdle-pup days. I see her in her perky puppyness clear as clear. This dog was a stray one before she was mine, as they say. And then she was owned, or me, I was owned.  You know, the way dogs spray everything. Omnipotent, omnipresent. All of that.  Woof-Woof

    Dear God, man’s best dog gone, hot dawg, dogged for a day. Friend. Well, that’s the way it was with us then, before she went.  When that doggie died it did my heart in, I admit it freely as once upon a time I would never av believed it could av appened. But some of us can’t take an ending so we tells ourselves there isn’t one. Man’s best; dog’s best. Ad infinitum, so to speak.  I love that pooch, dead or not dead. She might be gone but what we were together – nobody can take that away: So fuck mortality. She’s still here as far as I’m concerned. Ice-cream up to me eyebrows. That dog. How she leaps and licks. Eternal like.

    You little darling, you dirty old bleeder. How comes your breath stinks when you’ve just gone and got the three holy letters juxtaposed and who cares about the order of the thing? OGD is as good as gdo.  But that shiny coated animal. Nothing closer to perfection than the slinky slippery hair she had. For in the way of things¸ at least in our image of things, silk equals gorgeous and puts the S in sunny. That little King. Charles, as it happens. Now gone.

    But what I have to get to, and really want to capture, is the moment. The day that every dog should have their own fair share of. For there’s no doubt at all that my best little K girl, she had hers. I’m telling you, if you’ll just take my word on this, that a doggie can do a trick, and be that pleased to have done it. And takes a pride. Say attention seeker if you like, but is that so bad a thing to be?  Anyway, up there went Ms, her pink tongue a lappin and lickin and a sucking in all the sugary mulch. Slop slurp and who could say a thing against such a innocent activity, laugh all those that may. Kiss-kiss.

    Laugh!  Kootsie and her trick.  Which works in sunlight only, I av to say.  It would never be right in the rain, would never be right in the dark with a lamp. Purely a sunshiny lunch or afternoon thing.  Sweetly warm, it has to be. Kootsie’s leapin up and up. You can’t teach a dog tricks they don’t see inside of themself. You can’t teach a dog to clean the toilet seat but you can teach her how to lick up ice-cream on the hot-doggie tongue no messin, clean as clean. Give or take the odd bit of saliva. The dog drool that’s seepin out of her at the thought; at the wish.  Lush milky stuff, she’ll be thinkin. But not in words, cause she don’t know the words as such, do she. She sticks with the sensibility. That’s enough for me and for the both of us.

    Ms K. In the best sun of the day. The lunchtime prats in the park.  On the way to

pitch or pub or caff, they all give K a look an a half.  The shopgirls and the netball girls, and the waiters starin out of the cafeteria.  And the office workers and the legals. all lookin sideways as they go. At Kootsie jumping up to the face of the man.  If he is a man, they’re thinking, as I can see writ plain. Well the dog’s eyes are shining, hair aflying in its wavy way. Ears akimbo. Up she goes.

    It was a time n a half she had; we had together, in the smelly wet and licking time we call life.  And the size of the audience we were capable of commanding you’d hardly credit. It was Kootsie who drew em, of course. I played the organizing and constructing role; was the stage manager seein to the props, goin into M&S, buying up ice-cream by the barrel load. I was the director, so to speak. But Kootsie was the charismatic pet they came to see. K lickin and lappin that mush from my face.  Lap lap, till all was gone. It was her finest hour or two in Lincoln’s Inn. The very best.

     She’s dead now that dog.  Same as everybody comes to in the end. Now me I’m not so far behind but there’s still a bit more mileage in the dogless days. .I’ve got over the shock of seein Ms K hanging up her pail in the tooth and nail last fight she had. When she couldn’t breathe, and she just lay there with those two black eyes lookin at me and understanding I couldn’t do a single thing.  She didn’t blame me. She knew I knew she knew. Dog tired as she was. She could not go on. Then it was the Happy Hunting Ground as came forward and offered her a home. And I think of her in a little vanilla and minty chipchoc doghouse – for who’d have the heart to deny K what she was used to in this world on a weekly if not a daily basis?

    She looked at me all those sundae afternoons ago and I clipped on the lead to her designer collar.  Then off we went to fetch the chilly substance of every child’s dreams, and then strolled down to L I Fields where we found ourselves in sunshine. And K for keen we were to get started before it foamed away to zilch. She’d be crouchin down on the ground, with me bolt upright on a bench. Both getting ready for the start of our best performance yet.  

                                                                   #

    There’s a little crowd now, of regulars who know what’s coming next.  An they’re all, ‘Oh look at that dog, look at that man. Look there’s ice-cream on the lips of the man and the dog licks it off.  Disgusting or what. Who’d be a man like that, call it a man anyway? What does he think? Poor fuckin loser, poor bitch of a dog, if it is a bitch.’    

    We’ve got a nice cherry flavoured ice-cream in a cone and it’s a bit melted but not so bad that it’s run to trickles. So I plasters it over my face like shaving cream and K gives her bum a little waggle and starts to yap.

     an I says, ‘Go girl go.’

    And so she does.

    She leaps up the first time and mops up a fair glut. Mid-air her body’s jerkin an wriggling, then she’s down and swallowing all the luscious creamy stuff.  

    Then I says, ‘Girlie,’ in a drawn out way with a gurgle at the back of the throat she likes. And a jostle of saliva on the tongue mimicking the slurp of remaining melty sorbet in a glass being sucked up by a straw.  An I say it again and again till every last dollop of the ice-cream’s gone:

    ‘Go girl, go!’

     We were all there in this life when we were able and dog willing, but I can’t say a truthful word to you about the dusty next.  

    I’m sitting on the bench on me tod now but in my mind she’s a leaping high. Her spaniel ears go fly-about. Soft as silk in my eyes and face.  Only a memory but it soothes my pain. Hair of the dog that kissed me.

                                                                  End

 


 

Jay Merill lives in London UK and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing. She is runner up in the 2018 Alpine Fellowship Prize, a Pushcart Prize nominee, the recipient of an Award from Arts Council England and the winner of the Salt short story Prize. Jay is the author of two short story collections (both Salt): God of the Pigeons and Astral Bodies. She is published in such literary magazines as 3: AM Magazine, A-Minor Magazine, Bare Fiction Magazine, Eunoia Review, Jellyfish Review, The Literateur, The Lonely Crowd, The Manchester Review, Storgy and Unthology 10. She is also published in the US in Anomalous, CHEAP POP Lit, Crack the Spine, Entropy, Epiphany, Foliate Oak, Ginosko, Gravel, Heavy Feather Review, Hobart, Literary Orphans, Lunch Ticket, matchbook, Matter Magazine, Per Contra, Pithead Chapel, Prairie Schooner, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spork, Thrice Fiction, Toasted Cheese, Trafika Europe, upstreet Literary Journal, Wigleaf and other greats.