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)

A Trick of the Light—Chiara Situmorang

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After Plath

You were the first
person she met from Beyond.
It was quiet, her feet scuffing
the floor as she climbed up into the
dustlight. There was nothing but yellow
everywhere she looked. She heard the glint of silver
as she was trying to see past the haze; a whisper reached her
from behind the cloth – brittled with age – that wrapped around you.

She said you faded in and out of focus when she first saw you,
like a mirage, or a dream. You were young – you are young:
skin like sheets of water, eyes rippling.
You were her mirror image then.
She was fascinated, she said.
You are truthful but she sees only lies.
She spent hours with you. You were a reverie
that she wished to understand. She didn’t notice that
the room had turned brown; light barely skittered across the floor anymore.

When you look at something for too long you don’t realise that they’ve
changed. When she looked at you she only saw a reflection – her
desire was so strong that she never saw the waves in the glass.
You were replaced by an old woman: skin like dried petals,
eyes sorrowful puddles. She jumped when the woman
appeared, like she had suddenly woken up from a
dream. She asked where you were but there was
no answer.

It’s dark now, too dark, to see
the all-knowing eye that looks back at her,
but she stays up there even now, looking for you.
She is saturated with time, poor girl, and she doesn’t even know
that there is only one of you; that there has only ever been one of you.

first published in Perspektif, Volume 11

Chiara Situmorang writes about identity, family, and love in all its forms in her writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Uncanny, Perspektif, and Dwelling Literary, among others. She lives in Jakarta with her family and her three little poodles. Say hello to her on Twitter @chiarastmrng

photo by Soragrit Wongsa (via unsplash)

The hunger moon draws out the wolves—Mary Ford Neal

From the sharpest parts of the night they appear,
wearing borrowed light. 
Those that can cross water do,
those that cannot pace the bank,
howl their helplessness into the space between,
and the forests darken and fold up 
oyster-like, doubling down on their treasures.

Once in hushed woods during the thick hours 
I was bitten by a starving soul
who seemed sorry about catching me:  
would there be a woodcutter? But
I didn’t grudge him the moment of relief,
or the passing taste of my juice on his tongue;
I took the wound and pitied him, and we parted
on an understanding.

I look for him sometimes, expecting nothing:
he was a half-dead thing even then
and will have settled into earth long ago, 
yet sometimes if the darkness shifts 
in a certain way under a hunger moon 
and in just the right wildness, I feel the soup
of my blood stir, the wound sings, and my left arm
braces for a bite.

Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic based in Glasgow, UK. Her poetry is recently published or forthcoming in Ink Sweat & Tears, perhappened, Dust Poetry Magazine, Capsule Stories, Twist in Time, The Winnow, Marble, IceFloe Press, and Dodging the Rain. Her debut collection will be published by Indigo Dreams Press in 2021. She tweets about poetry and other things @maryfordneal.

photo by Thomas Bonometti (via unsplash)

A Fairy Tale in Retrograde—Louise Mather

content warning: self harm

I showed you the edge
of my thigh where I had first
held blunt
jawed compasses, plum handled
scissors and tinselled
razors loosed from cold
plastic bone.
Under the gloaming, you could dredge
their auras
of roses, leftover imprints, ethereal
cavities, ugly violet
jags and rails
of lines without
anchors. Sometimes I thought
they were remembering forks
from a devil’s bramble
tongue or feline gouged
with a claw that had never known 
its own 
sharpness. I told you how I could measure
time by these marks –
then you bit right there
into the doughy flesh and I hallucinated;
that you were telling me something small like
love, as I finally
fell
into deep, deep
velvet sleep; a fairy tale
in retrograde.

Louise Mather is a writer and poet from England. You can find her on Twitter @lm2020uk and her work/upcoming work in Streetcake Magazine and The Cabinet of Heed

photo by Annie Spratt (unsplash)

Sleepless in Tokyo—Samuel Strathman

After “The Grudge 2” (2006)

In the closet,
there’s a boy
with a cat
in his mouth.

He calls the ceiling 
dwellers down
for a game
of Gin Rummy
under the bed.

Stakes are limb
by limb.

*

The boy is also
a long-haired trickster
in disguise.

Once you’re in
the estate,
chances are a eulogy
has already been drafted
for the temple,
sleepless in Tokyo.

Old faithful
has crypsis in spades,
paws capsizing
the heart-shaped bed
like Jaws.

After a beat,
the boy creeps
back into the closet,
awaits his next set 
of victims.

Samuel Strathman is a poet, author, educator, and the founder/editor-in-chief of Floodlight Editions.

photo by Andre Benz (via unsplash)