Three Poems—Julia Retkova

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Chance Meeting

He cups a handful of my hair and looks surprised when it drips down from his hand in spirals of sea water. You’re walking far, far, beneath and 
it always burns to breath in crystallised salts. 
In the deepness born of the shock of it
you watch them unfold: the blinding light of all things primordial.
Memories breathing, blooming, nestled tight 
in the very depths of your skull.

He tells me how terror can make a home in the hollows of our collarbones,
how it settles in, shivers in time with the heartbeat,
furls further inside each pearl of concave darkness.

I wash my bedsheets in bleach,
over, and over, and over. 
The finality of it, unnoticed

Daze-Drunk

and so—prayers crushed to lips like
petals, boiled, turning sharp to rose-water.
Shivers in crushed diamonds. The smell, overpowering. Blinding.

A fumigation of all 
that is heady, thick. Foaming fumes of smoke
to choke and burn in the crackling 
of chest bones, in the roar of rose-water 
rivers. To look up from beneath all that was promised–
what do you see? To look up as the sky heaves, as it bursts 
open with the scent of burned fuchsia. It will hold the words 
tight and savage between its teeth. Open 
your mouth, darling, and the burn 
will be as promised: tongue slicing bright along the fountains of stars.

Insomnia

The fabric of the night seemed to split apart for a moment. I thought, morning is here, but when I looked out the streets were empty and dark and clocks were stuck. 
    It builds slowly:  During the day there are too many but now— now there is space, and you
                breathe in, and your very lungs tremble and shake their little fists up at the sky.

Excisions in the heavy blackness that sits in the corners of your room
A silence frozen over with ringing.

Julia is a King’s College London graduate student with two degrees in Literature and Digital Studies: she’s currently working on her dissertation while running a small literary journal. She was born in Ukraine, but grew up in the south of Spain. She loves reading in the sun and writing when everyone’s asleep.

photo by Viktor Talashuk and Jairo Alzate (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Lucia Larsen

The siren call of spores

collapsing a thousand times over, on playgrounds, faking
an aneurysm for mourners, in basements, play-acting a

mummy in a sarcophagus of mould, waiting to be unearthed,
across graveyards, a mime rehearsing rigor mortis, becoming

an addict of boundaries, the kind capped in amber bottles, taken
under the tongue, smeared across mottled skin, again and again

subsumed by newly dug earth to manifest my petrification,
edging the temptation of solidity, I become a peep show

for fungi, but breaking the barrier of the one-way glass, they
gather around my clogged ears and whisper horror stories

of decay with the lilt of a worshipper, evoking detritus that 
explodes into a thousand different flavours on your tongue, 

grit that disperses into a thousand different textures across your skin,
rot that settles into a thousand different aromas under your nose, 

they summon an existence where the colours race through us, 
unlined and restless, and where our insides flicker through 

moulds, morphing through masses, they threaten me with 
decomposition, the enemy of my bottled vice, the antithesis 

to a congealed sense of self, over-powering the sweet draught
of rigor mortis, will I be anyone at all, or will I be, dare I say it, 

so much that it cannot be spoken, or tasted, or smelt, or unearthed, 
will I become too much even for myself, and will I then be reborn as 

an addict of dissolution?

The day my awe grew wings

joints crackle
jumping out in jolts

a leap of faith from marrow to
the very edge of my breadth

arms snap to attention
saluting against the slab 

of heat trickling up my spine
twisting a wiry mould out of bone

elastic woman expanding
elastic woman with eyes

open so wide it swallows me
devouring the limits of my birth

until pupils leak into iris 
get caught on the wind

an inky darkness spilling over
my outstretched and static body

pooling at my feet
rolling across the land

cradling the whole earth
saturating the soil

until the only darkness you know
are my wide eyes

and their
boundless wings

Lucia Larsen (she/her) is currently studying for her MSc in Environmental Management at the University of Stirling. Her published work can be viewed at linktr.ee/lucialarsen and she can be found on Twitter @mslucialarsen.

photo by Zhen Hu (via unsplash)

Three Poems—Olivia Hodgson

Two

At four, a shot of birds breaking the night’s 
shell. At five, your nose lifts to the gold-glint 
 
behind the curtain; a chorus of dust  
above sways in and out of existence. 
 
The morning still fresh in the craters left  
by the fox’s paw. Trade an exhaled breath 
 
for daylight hiding in fabrics, for prints 
of trees, their shadows amok on the sheets. 
 
Can a roof cave with the weight of shifting  
birds, they too bereft of touch? Imagine 
 
their figures, neat as aligned archways 
bleached verdant in the eight o’clock sun.  
 
Could you bear to place a hand on the heat  
of a shoulder doused in feather? Would you 
 
carry my elongated bones, the core  
of me scattering soot and salt to my 
 
 new chromosomes? Gather the afternoon: 
soothe the feeling of a bolt through half-sleep, 
 
the feeling of a room you have just left. 
Ease my wing, steady my beak to the sky: 

the quills on my back draft a star map,  
our bodies racing for a canopy 
 
beyond the tile and leaves and dissolving 
carmine sky. I know the feeling of eyes 
 
pressed shut against my back when we skim close 
to oceans, the core of you scattering  
 
to one before, behind, but never this –  
reluctant to our reflection, glossy 
 
in that strange water. Look, take this ancient 
warning when old tempting doors swing open: 
 
do not match the course of the sun and run.

Chime Hour

I bargain with the baby monitor
to guarantee my measure of silence.
Built with no beat in the heart, built so brazen,
folding a Friday into a suitcase
and nightmare. A berry in the lung,
stinging soft, bursting for a waking ear.
Slide the padlock open, stream through bricked,
arched snickelways, tender as hooks through meat.
I then place my fingers in your hand, small
as keys and fine as a cat’s incisor;
leak my form like oil over your bed.
No night in that fur, but tarmac; the deep
lead paint hidden in the meal of winter.
Grown from masonry, grown with an open
jaw: a place for a promise, a place numbed,
knocked and smithed for your sharpened tongue – your cry.
But when I come from that feather-green dark,
allow me some warmth, a forgiving prayer –
as the day revokes its nebulous twin
with the morning knell, think of me like lambs,
in that this shepherd will fleece and kill them.

The Curiosities of Grief: An Exhibition

Be softer here: it comes, grass-cool, unlocked 
when the intimacy of necessity demands.  
Its keys are lint from pockets dug under nails 
during the eulogy; or hair, snipped and wrapped, 
kept in an envelope creased under the pillow 
of the lover left sleeping. You’re offered tea, 
perhaps, to distract from the scalding walls 
on which, pinned, you’ll find the curiosities. 
 
It rises from the soft flesh of the garden: 
a small, sudden universe. Sometime after  
the condolences pile thin like glass on the mat; 
sometime before the memory shrinks  
to a cracked seed. This building felt your need, 
your weight, the change in pace when you 
were lifted from the bed to the pooling red of the door. 
Enter slowly, no whispers will be heard. Here: 
 
an umbilical peg, powder-blue and warmer still 
than a late-June sky. And then, bed sheets, grown 
thick with arterial blood, rising  
to a bleached, bruised smudge: reaching, 
like bubbles from a sinking man. Marvel 
at how small the bell jar is that captured a slumbering 
starless dark. Take note of the empty fingers, the flint, 
the car still heavy from the lake.  
 
Don’t be dissuaded, smaller pities will too ensure admission –  
a watch that smashed and became the scree within the wrist  
from which it wandered. The fae’s shadow you traded  
for a safer, yet lonelier, saunter home. The corner 
of the husband’s letter; the struck match that lit the hob. 
Be warned here: you too will add quiet sobrieties,  
lit by nothing but the lightbulb-burn from your bones.

Olivia Hodgson completed her MA in Creative Writing at Birmingham City University where she won The Mercian Prize for Poetry. She was shortlisted for the Wolverhampton Literature Festival Poetry Prize 2021 and was included in Secret Chords: The Best of The Folklore Prize anthology. Her poetry and short fiction have been published in The Coffin Bell, Dreich (forthcoming), The Honest Ulsterman, Littoral Press Magazine, The Lyrical Aye, Strix and Wild Court. Her first collection of poetry, The Calls, is forthcoming from Blue Diode Press.  

photo by Ömürden Cengiz (via unsplash)

most fairy tales are pretty grim but they still ride us—Jane Ayres

sky / knucklebone thick / twisting
clouds / mellow-matted / skimming
skinning / bronzed sun / coppering 

henna-draped ravens / cloaking 
flayed crows / rows of stitched jelly
fish / pale eyelids / cracking 
red rock / chalky pinks / narrowing
the dull weight / expansive surrender

second thoughts / flayed / harvested
mimicking / ruptured silence 

playing with unformed ghosts is unwise 

spectral fisting / mulching the bitter kiss
meeting the fractured eye / unwedded bliss 

UK based neurodivergent writer Jane Ayres completed a Creative Writing MA at the University of Kent in 2019 aged 57. She enjoys Open Mic events, is fascinated by hybrid poetry/prose experimental forms and her work has appeared in Postscript, Dissonance, Ink Drinkers Poetry, Not Deer Magazine, Lighthouse, Viscaria, The Sock Drawer, Streetcake, The North, The Poetry Village, Door is a Jar, Marble, Agapanthus, Kissing Dynamite and The Forge.

photo by Kirill Pershin and Elia Pellegrini (via unsplash)

A Boy Called Strawberry—Emilia Joan Hamra

Teeming with tender electricity, his scalp became a playground for her bitten nails. That’s when he told her about the ceremony. He’d learned it from a bearded man with a gospel name, who’d learned it from a boy called Strawberry. 

The first step was confession—not of sin but of the weight of sin. The weight of dream. We’re all afraid of the tongue we dream in. But that tongue is our only tool. So they’d start out by talking, talking truth. Language to ruin language. Then he’d have something to show her. Something that would change everything. Something to spread like petals of stolen white roses, something to spread like rebellion. Something to suck clean the cowboy horizon, to burn up our tyrants with alien bullets of starlight. Something unveiled and apocalyptically pretty. 

The ceremony. She wished he would explain it more. But how can you explain an abyss without color regulation? How can you explain the dream at the base of your spine?

Emilia Joan Hamra lives and teaches in Philadelphia. She studied Creative Writing at Arizona State University, has worked as a copy-editor for Four Way Books, and was the recipient of the national Norman Mailer College Poetry Award. Her work is published in Occulum, giallo lit, Recenter Press, Santa Ana River Review, the tiny, and others.

photo by Vincent Ledvina (via unsplash)

a place—Vic Nogay

a place by the canal sells frozen custard.
you sit in an old canoe,
washed ashore decades before,
and lick your drips
while cicadas sing
and fireflies hang in the humidity—
a summer snow globe.

you’ve heard the stories of the kids who’ve fallen in,
and you’re careful not to be reckless,
but some days you inch down
the concrete wall to find them.
you shed your shoes and rest
just the soles of your bare feet
on the surface of the water,
and call,
like magnets,
the pieces of their bodies logged in water’s memory
to you.

when someone asks you cheekily: do you believe in ghosts?
you flinch because you do.

Vic Nogay is a proud Ohioan, writing to explore her traumas and misremembrances. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Lost Balloon, Emerge Literary Journal, perhappened, Versification, Ellipsis Zine, and others. She tweets @vicnogay. Read more: linktr.ee/vicnogay.

photo by Chris de Tempe (via unsplash)

Secrets of the Mole People—Jennifer Crow

Never look directly at above-ground folk—
they carry light with them, light that burns
the eye and sears the soul. Never wander
too close to their deep, clattering machines
and their shouting mystics. They dangle
little boxes of magic as bait, and drag our kin
screaming into the aching glow of day.

Beware the rat swarms, hungry and sharp-edged
as a knife stolen from an unwatched bag.
they teach us the dangers of a unified will
unfettered by heart-debt, a lesson learned
in bloodied tooth and whipping tail. Respect
the rat, carrier of disease and wisdom,
as you respect the ancients of our own people.
watch how they move, patterns of fear
and reckless need, and make their dance your own.

Follow scent where no light reaches, dark passages
carved out of the world’s bones, redolent
of sewage and old cooking oil, bodies living
and dead, fungi and crumbling basements.
Scurry into the deepest shadows, listen for whispers
falling through storm drain and grating
like the chant of a wizard calling down dark fire
on the homes of the unwary. 

Our shamans and wise women, dressed in soft
layers, wizened and unwelcoming, eye each child
in turn and tell them some unwanted truth. 
The sun seeks to burn us—best to prepare early, harden
skin and soul, contemplate all threats bright
and beautiful, ruby gems falling from the wound
in the earth where we have hidden ourselves.

Shy and nocturnal, Jennifer Crow has rarely been photographed in the wild. It’s rumored that she lives near a waterfall in western New York. You can find her poetry on several websites and in various print magazines including Asimov’s Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Liminality and Kaleidotrope. She’s always happy to connect with readers on her Facebook author page or on twitter (@writerjencrow).

photo by Clarence Ominus (via unsplash)

Buttons and Silk—Claudia Lundahl

The mouse is in the parlour sifting through a pile of vertebra, plucking out gold buttons and pieces of silk. As he finds them he ties the silk in knots, threads the buttons through and counts to one hundred with his eyes closed. A child looks through a window dreaming of the color red as the snow falls in glistening glass-like fragments blowing chaotically in the wind. They press their ear to the wall and listen to the gentle cooing of the pigeon in the rafters with wings as black as soot and plucked thin who sits in a throne made out of molars and bits of twine. He sings a lullaby and is completely indifferent to the drip, drip, drip of melting wax from diminishing beeswax candles in brass holders. A sound that mimics the tears of the child – a lonely room waits patiently for supper. 

Claudia Lundahl is a writer from New York. She is a graduate of the City University of New York at Hunter College. She now lives in England with her husband and two rescued hounds. Find her online at www.claudianlundahl.com or on twitter @claudrosewrites.

photo by Ralph (via pixabay) and Merve Sehirli Nasir (via unsplash)

These winter woods—Megan Finkel

After Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin

Dust leeched over her damp eyes, she goes into her deep sleep

Once upon a time
a girl was running
sick with lovesickness
lamenting the life 
that evaded her at every
grasp and clutch
She ran from the animal
drifted through the misty
haze of these winter woods
alone… 

We do not part ways at the stream
There we wish to capture love’s 
Returning guile: Tatyana’s dream
It is true that Svetlana suffered first
though I am beckoned to join Tatyana
at the border of her sleep
A horn grows through
the center of my head and I wonder
if this is the paradise beyond death
where you tempted me long ago
I’ve taken my potions and 
raked my body of its charm 
shaken free leaves…

Here in the forest, far from home
she remembers she has no home
She fears the outstretched talons coming up on her
The bear that breaths down her shoulders
pounds the ground in her tracks
A woman is a woman is a woman:
she runs simply because she must

Her fears are perched in the long bodies of trees.
Her feet do not touch the ground.
Snow falls to meet the shape of her shadow.
She floats into a fire she knows not of.

Daughter to no one, stranger to all
she treads where there is no path
and lets the tears fall freely 
For these are such emotions
as full-time dreamers are made on

She enters into a hall where a
feast is at hand, the sound of
restlessness traversing her ears
Tatyana’s eyes awaken to
the room’s monsters
She wonders if she is meant to die in order preserve this dream…
She finds she has stumbled upon this
awesome otherworld where
animals fuse into beasts over dinner and champagne
A ring of mutilated breeds, dogs and skeletons
and among them her extravagant lover
The master of this unlikely crowd
The master of every wish and will

If I could kill him myself, I would

The shiver that runs through Tanya runs through me too…
There is no stumbling back into the
light to arrive calmly at the shore of ‘home’
or plucking flowers from the earth to carry with you
on the return journey
There is only the pain of being severed from this world
and plunged into the next by a wound
left by the one you love most
Tatyana, I hold her like a crystal up to one eye
and try to see what it is she sees…
If only for an instant, we embrace in bardo
Neither wake nor sleep on our flesh, 
her body and my body are no different
We breathe a single unified breath before daylight shoots us dead

Megan Finkel (she/her) is a queer writer and a student of Comparative Literature at NYU. She is published in Anti-Heroin ChicCP QuarterlyDaily Drunk Magazine, and more. You can find her on Twitter @megfinkel.

photo by Simon Berger (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Annmarie McQueen

Lucid dreams

You grow wings in the dark 
lurk in the spaces between my eyelids 
and the thick summer heat, the most 

undead ghost I can conjure
and somehow you still walk away
five steps ahead, retreating like a tide.

In the morning, I roll back my blinds 
hear the clatter of wooden bones, a spine
unfurling like a flower. The sun is 

relentless. I can only think in fractures: 
violent skies cracking apart, a sea splitting
between us. You, blinking awake in a bed

that was once mine, the imprints I left
getting fainter each day. I’m certain that
if you look, you’ll find tiny shards of 

porcelain in the kitchen corners from the 
plates I dropped. I remember how they
exploded like suns, how they sounded

as momentum ripped them apart.

I have not forgotten

The forest held my secrets better than I could. 
Each week I came and tried to solve the 
labyrinth of trees like a crossword, followed a trail of 
breadcrumbs back to myself until I grew
hungry and desperate.

I saw a water snake in the river once, lime green
and Poseidon blue. I wanted to reach in and grab its throat,
milk out the venom in its fangs and see if I, too, could 
be a source of fear. But the currents swept him away and 
left me stranded with those stoic willows, half mad, 
their roots a tangled drama of love and jealousy. 

I envied those silent witnesses, keepers of confessions. 
For centuries they have cycled through their green/gold 
armour and observed fragile lives splitting, 
coming together, burning quick like firewood.

Now, whenever I return, I feel those histories pulsing 
through their rough bark, hot like blood. I feel my own grief, 
slow and stale after so many years, echoing back at me
like an ocean trapped inside a seashell.

Annmarie McQueen is a London-based writer, marketer and candle-maker with a BA degree in creative writing from Warwick University. She’s been published in numerous magazines and anthologies including Dear Damsels, Buried Letter Press and The Little Book of Fairytales released by Dancing Bear Books. You can find her full portfolio on her creative writing blog www.loreandink.com 

photo by Tengyart, Diego PH and Tom Barrett (via unsplash)