Ditches—Kelli Lage

content warning: references car accident

ditches so deep / they serve as graves / pavement laid / proudly by your father / or perhaps grandfather / now tarnished by the glass / that cracks like ice / everyday behind my eyelids / sixty miles per hour / how fast can a lifetime go? / the sun looked away / and clouds stretched their necks / I didn’t see my elementary school carnival / my grandma’s kitchen table / or his face  / all that rang through the air / a curse from my lips / I braced for the unknown / the sea waves / loose and wild / took hold of my ship / then / I flipped / all that plagued my shell / that I didn’t hope to leave / was how to slither away / from death’s metal trap / then I landed right side up / I shook with the force of / thousands of fiery bees / no scars / no snapped bones / I walked to my refuges / only a day of aches / but four years later / I know what steep hollows hold / I know the lives buried in ditches

Kelli Lage lives in the Midwest countryside with her husband, and dog, Cedar. Lage is currently earning her degree in Secondary English Education. Lage states she is here to give readers words that resonate.

photo by 412designs (via pixabay) and Marek Piwnicki (via unsplash)

3am—Alexandra Grunberg

I am waiting for happy moments
to come crawling out of graves

like loved ones dripping with
pearls of human teeth, the kind of

shock that wakes you up
from just another nightmare

I breathe in the hours of night
that has already turned to morning

searching for daylight on a
horizon that is still sleeping

but the zombie apocalypse must be
coming, I learned in each

fairy tale and Hollywood movie
that everything you have lost

is only waiting in the earth
and hope will splinter solid rock

with broken fingernails
and a mouthful of dirt

Alexandra Grunberg is a Glasgow based poet, author, and screenwriter. Her poetry has appeared in Disquiet Arts, The Raven Review, and Southchild Lit. She enjoys obsessing over fictional supernatural villains, hillwalking to isolated locations, and towns that are more character than setting.

photo by Jr Korpa (via unsplash)

The Crow—Honor Vincent

With a click and a slick rustle 
the crow brings a question, and drops it at her feet.

It looks like plastic, but it’s too heavy— 
so many ragged edges.

Who would put such a ring on a fake finger?

The crow is her child’s friend, 
they bring each other gifts each day.

Never untoward, never too dear.

The child and bird chatter while they trade,
and each piece is labeled for the specimen box:

rhinestones near river rocks, 
thread near flowers, pens with whittled plastic,
broken jewelry with coins and fruit pits.

Her daughter does not know this, 
but the crow is not quite a friend to her mother.

The things it leaves the woman are never gifts, 
and her own box is full of the bird’s wants:

scratch-off tickets, fish-thin bones, dollar bills, 
shells, scraps of tape, flyers for missing pets,
netting, bb gun pellets, nose ring—

And those are just the things that wouldn’t rot.

She pockets the morning’s finger
purpling, cool, much larger than hers.

Who is it the crow wants to be rid of this time?

Honor Vincent’s poetry and stories are published in Yes Poetry, Strange Horizons, Entropy, Neologism, and elsewhere. She also writes comics, including an ongoing series about Boudicca and her daughters, and a forthcoming series about a rat-plagued near-future New York City.

photo by Dimitar Donovski (via unsplash)

Sabbat—Sadie Maskery

Scream, you witches
you forest dwellers, 
muddy faced crawlers.
Feel the shiver beyond the leaves
the rank rotting roots a-tremble.
Fuckery is afoot
and the storm is rising.

Sadie Maskery lives in Scotland by the sea with her family, two cats and something that looks almost like a dog. She is published in various places online and in print,  and can be found on Twitter as @saccharinequeen.

photo by Jay Mantri and Casey Horner (via unsplash)

Cage Minus Bird—Keshe Chow

How could you have trusted me?

From the very first moment when you uncurled from my body and assumed the shape of a glass cage; all fragile and translucent like a frozen drop of water at the tip of a stalactite. Immortally silent but immeasurably breakable

I kissed your damp head and told you I would guard you, and keep alive the tiny black bird that flitted around your insides; the bird that preened its plumage every minute of every day until it was an oil slick of iridescence

But then I forgot to feed it and it screamed louder and louder and louder and LOUDER and my only response was to stopper my ears. I dreamed of when I could fling open the cage door—send the bird off into the greatness—even if it had to flap, lopsided, on one fragmented wing

I don’t remember when I found it dead amongst the droppings at the bottom. I do remember the way its eyes looked, filmy and flat like when you rub at a mirror with a greasy hand. Birds have three eyelids; didn’t you know? I marveled at how clean death was, not a single speck of blood, nothing was in that cage that was not there in life

It had hurt to watch its slow demise. So I didn’t bury it, but threw it in the trash

I swore I would find something to replace it, something more robust this time perhaps a mouse or moth or ferret, but life got busy and I never did, and over the years your cage remained empty

I built up walls around my own Ego while simultaneously dismantling yours. And I told myself it was valid because one has to look after oneself, there’s no sense being a Martyr if you haven’t donned your own mask first

It was inevitable really, and to be expected, though I still acted surprised when it happened—

The day I came to the place where you were hung and instead of seeing your curved barred shape all I saw were shards on the ground

Shards that refracted the light more luminously now you were in several pieces. Shards that threw out rainbows when you could not be put back together. They pricked my skin as I tried to pick them up, leaving me with a bloodied mess, until I couldn’t tell whether the wet stain I stood on was blood or tears or amniotic fluid.

And then the only way I could clean up was to sweep your remnants into a dustpan and discard of you that way, then crush everything else into dust with my boot, even though I know better and I swore to do

Better.
Tell me again; Why did you trust me?

Keshe Chow is a Chinese-Australian veterinarian living in Melbourne with three humans and two cats. She was the winner of the Perito Prize in 2020 for short fiction, and her work appears or is forthcoming in Maudlin House, Okay Donkey Magazine, Hobart, Rust + Moth, and others.

photo by Deleece Cook and Jonathan Borba (via unsplash)

Ghosts—Nam Hoang Tran

Some ghosts are my grandmother’s,
neither liberated nor forgotten,
her hand cold against a warm neck.
Not goddesses, but ghosts
letting their presence known via the steady
rock of chairs like metronomes.

Not all ghosts are grandmothers.
Some are friends with skin tones
the color of photocopy paper.
Not albino, but very pale.
Their bodies unfamiliar with melanin
like old faces during class reunions.

But that isn’t all.
Some ghosts are brothers
under bed sheets, mindlessly bumping
into things like spirits making sense
of worlds departed searching
for bodies they once called home.

Nam Hoang Tran is a writer living in Orlando, FL. His work appears in various places and collectively at www.namhtran.com. He enjoys scones.

photo by Ryan Gagnon (via unsplash)

Fickle Hill Road—Will Schmit

Apples, planted before the road was paved,
wave grey barked branches.
The mercy of pruning long overdue.
Abandoned shovels await an order to turn the plot.

The windows look in more than out.
The roof a sagging gesture under the sky.
The mortgage, the dream, the honey-do-list
now the terrain of squirrels and an eight-point buck.

The wink of Venus won’t distinguish
between foreclosure, or tenant.
Stagnant water gathers in plastic tubs
mirroring the early moon…

I doubt the ghosts care for my interpretation.
The haunt as real as ruts in the road.
A creak in the floor sings under a trespassing wind
as an owl speaks as it will for years.

Will Schmit is a Midwestern poet transplanted to Northern California. Will has been reading and writing poetry, in between bouts of learning to play the saxophone, for nearly forty years. Will’s new book of poems and provocations, Head Lines, is available, by request where ever books are sold. www.schmitbooks.com

photo by Carlos de Miguel (via unsplash)

My First Death—Susan Cossette

I heard my first death whispered—
behind my mother’s prematurely veined hands.
I saw my first death lurking at the bottom of my grandmother’s bedroom wastebasket,
buried under mounds of damp teary tissue.

I saw my first death in the eyes of a blonde babydoll.
Her name was Giselle, her lace and prink frills Aunt Jennie’s last gift.
Giselle was quarantined, 
stuffed into the pull-down hatch of my bedroom closet.
My four-year-old self decided cancer was contagious.

I smelled my first death 30 years later, 
opening a garment bag in the basement to find Jennie’s dresses,
the verbena scent still clung to the turquoise taffeta.
A strand of hair stuck in a pearl hatpin on a matching pillbox hat, wavy and chestnut brown.

The garment bag a sarcophagus, the hatbox a coffin.

Susan Cossette lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Author of Peggy Sue Messed Up (2017), she is a two-time recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust and MothAdelaideClockwise CatAnti-Heroin ChicThe Amethyst Review, Ariel Chart, Poetica Review, and in the anthologies Tuesdays at Curley’s and After the Equinox.  

photo by Rodion Kutsaev (via unsplash)

Lock of Pink Hair—Aura Martin

Cento from interlucent by isaura ren & The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

    They wander through the stone halls, finding things to look at and things to touch and things to read. This is their world, starless and sacred. They find stories tucked in hidden corners, and laid out on tables, as though they had been there always, waiting for their reader to arrive.
    Like they know the truths you never will?
    Love letters.
    The page has flipped, left you stranded on its shores. You wanted a happier ending?
    Painted in metallic gold and covered in flames, its pages sealed together with something sticky that turns out to be honey.
    Mirabel turns. Tucks a stray lock of pink hair behind her ear.
    The mind we share tells me you believe the same, Mirabel says. You’re a storyteller. No story ever truly ends as long as it is told.
    The girl comes a breath closer. Close your eyes.
    Fate still owes me a dance.

Aura Martin is a writer from Missouri. She is the author of the chapbook, Those Embroidered Suns (Lazy Adventurer Publishing) and the micro-chapbook, Thumbprint Lizards (Maverick Duck Press). Her poems have appeared in Interstellar Literary ReviewOff Menu PressWrongdoing Magazine, and elsewhere. In Aura’s free time, she likes to run and take road trips. Find her on Twitter @instamartin17.

photo by V T, Rinck Content Studio, Joanna Kosinska, and Aron Visuals (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Avra Margariti

You Wicked, Wicker Man

The queen awakes in pre-dawn’s syrup darkness,
breaks her fast with milk and honey,
dons her beekeeper regalia and makes for the apiary.
Born of necessity, she hides her body from human eyes
under linen tunics and wicker masks
yet she bears no shame, hates no hallowed horror,
no stinger, antenna, or proboscis.
She fondly recalls her rending metamorphosis:
how her wings tore through her shoulders
blade-like, lepidopterous,
how her fuzzy body shed its human skin,
an exuvia of rice paper.
Now she cares for her bees and awaits for the hatchlings
in hexagon honeycomb sweetness, her hive children
who will join her in humanoid form
to repopulate the ravaged village,
which she will rule with golden crown and scepter.

Down in the lavender field, in a pine forest
of his own making, the wicker man
rips out his straw and wood-wool stuffing:
she loves me, she loves me not.
Although the wicker man wears a thorn crown
fashioned by the local boys, he is no king or prophet,
no drone fit for a queen of her buzzing magnitude.
But, by the mold of his straw head, the holes in his plaid shirt—
he wants to be.
At nights he dreams her cloying honey
smothers his mildew stench.
He sings, of wind and moonlight, bleached, weatherworn
and so filled with love he could fly
with the crows nesting inside him.

The queen watches her scarecrow from a distance,
through compound eyes.
She smiles, licking royal jelly from her lips,
dreaming of straw against her ocher fuzz,
of the wildflowers growing over his heart.
Soon, my king, she thinks. Soon, my wicked, wicker man.

The Dawn, the Dusk

He brings me tasty morsels in his beak
in the same fashion that I carry the dawn
and he, the dusk
every day without fail across the firmament.
I open wide and let him feed me,
curious about his sundry offerings.
Down my throat they go:
honeyed dormice and human silver tongues,
black holes containing multitudes and singularities,
nebulae full of infant stars,
and something else, something I cannot place.

I hack up a pellet
of bones and antimatter, indigestible.
And something else, something that my talon picks apart
my breath wheezing as I watch it unfurl:
one of his own tail feathers
dipped into the sky-inkwell of our spirit realm;
a sign of devotion for all our days.

Yes? he asks, perching on my willow bough.

Yes. Until we are sucked back into the cosmos
from whence we came.
Until dawn and dusk become obsolete,
and our sky’s ink runs dry.

Avra Margariti is a queer author and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Vastarien, Asimov’s, Liminality, Arsenika, The Future Fire, Love Letters to Poe, Space and Time, Eye to the Telescope, and Glittership. Avra lives and studies in Athens, Greece. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).

photo by Irina Krutova and Rafal Bartoszczyk (via unsplash)