salvation at sea—Abbie Howell

i stand in the same graveyard every morning and gargle saltwater / which bleeds
from my body overnight / i know i do not belong here / but eyes stare,
pleading, into mine from the ground / i feel my bones
and those / of my children, / embraced by dirt and worms and miles
of nothing / and although i cannot leave /  i sometimes slip
through a cracked sky / consciousness fading away… so i grasp / 
desperately to a shore i cannot see / paint the back of my eyes /
with the bruising wave’s palms and burning clouds /
i cannot see /

my tears have long since dried / and even the ocean will not weep
for me now / but here i still am, nails gripping tight / 
to the boards of a barrel / jesus commits his crucifixion
through the splinters in my palms / but will salvation
ever kiss / the wetness of my brow? /
will my crimes ever be absolved? /

living is a sin / that the dead condemn, jealous souls / 
chained to an un-ending beyond- / there i always will be,
i am clinging / to both here / and the hereafter /
i hear my children pierce the night / with their cries / return
to the graveyard at the break / of the dawn / to feel my boatbones drown
in saltwater / that bleeds through the holes / in my open palms /
and dream of salvation / for one day more

Abbie Howell is a 20-year-old poet from England who enjoys writing about spirituality, the natural world and its intersection with the human experience. Find her on Instagram @abbie.hx

photo by Jens Aber and Matt Hardy (via unsplash)

Above the Curdled World A Giant Green Breathing—Sarah Wallis

In Llangollen you can see the trees breathing,
the reverse of you and I at respiration, in transpiration

the tall, yogic forest exhales calm, deliberate, and slow,
a dark green giant at rest and gentle rumble, rumination

forming clouds of steam above the train – hyperventilating
at the platform –

and what looks like a general mist or low-lying cloud,
hovering above the green station now is a gift,

allowing harmony, in the living breathing, then and how.

Sarah Wallis is a writer based in Scotland, with work published in journals cross genre, poetry and flash fiction, and she has had a number of pieces staged. She has two chapbooks out in the world – Medusa Retold @fly_press / Quietus Makes an Eerie @dancinggrlpress, her website is sarahwallis.net and she tweets @wordweave

photo by veeterzy (via unsplash)

seven year itch—courtney marie

i want to talk about how we shed layers of skin 
for years until we are no longer ourselves

i am interested in this rebirth

i am afraid of the space i take up
whether invisible or on display
               a mockery or ghost
sometimes too much

often not enough

i picture a snail 
slow moving and simple:
               are they also always thinking of things 
               that are safe versus things that are not safe?

i started a list of things i want people to know
without ever having to tell them:
               the new common language

               & i will read it to you if i ever have the courage to spare

the truth is i am on a side quest 
to learn every definition of loss
so i can remind you we’re not yet gone

               that there are things in this world older than fear
               & that to be soft is (sometimes) to be unbreakable

my secret is to pretend for a moment
               that i am in love with everyone i meet

                                                                           i am in love with you

& wonder in which ways 
we will ask each other to change

courtney marie is a writer & artist based in denton, texas. they are the author of don’t get your hopes up (2018, Thoughtcrime Press) and have a forthcoming full-length poetry collection to-be-released in 2021 with Goliad Media. cm enjoys making weird & sentimental art with/for their community, exploring the world, and playing pinball. they live with two three cats, cry all the time, and are forever writing letters & sending snail mail in a desperate attempt to connect with the outside world. cm is the co-founder & director of the artist collective spiderweb salon.

photo by Olga Drach (via unsplash)

Mother Chronos—Louise Mather

This night is a silk dress –
trembling, it births the snow.
The moon is ascended
from eiders of gothic coal,
wolves bring blood and amber,
gifts they split from the lake
and dragged for days.
Here, pledge your bronzed heart,
for harbingers of chronos –
the body of the blue sun,
dwellings of blossom,
the ocean where you shed
your skin, nocturnal.

Louise Mather is a writer from Northern England and founding editor of Acropolis Journal. Nominated Best of the Net 2021, and a finalist in the Streetcake Experimental Writing Prize, her work is published in various print and online literary journals. Her debut pamphlet ‘The Dredging of Rituals’ is out with Alien Buddha Press, 2021. She writes about ancestry, motherhood, endometriosis, fatigue and mental health. Twitter: @lm2020uk.

photo by Vincent Guth (via unsplash)

If you loved this, check out Louise’s debut pamphlet, The Dredging of Rituals.

Out now from Alien Buddha Press.

It can be ordered here.

Two Poems—Rebecca Ruvinsky

Lark

When you flew in for the winter,
you were like a lark, looking
for a place to burrow before the snows.

I searched in the storm, downpour
clouding the windows, fogging up
words traced on the mirror. I love you

Too — soon we’re searching for another excuse
to cross the empty space of months,
changing seasons in the light of our eyes. I couldn’t

Go on, my little lark. Dream of ice melting, of the sun
opening back up to let you in as summertime sighs
over the ground. We planted seeds while you were

Here. A place in front of the window, water from
my own cup. Tilting towards the sky, grey with afternoon
thunder, waiting for the next raindrops. We could hardly see

Through the fog: lightning. Thunder. A call from home,
asking why you love me more. Thunder: closer. Urgent,
the voices picked up. You went outside to talk. Thunder: shaking

The house. You’re leaving, regaining the sky. I turn
the mirrors against the walls, like I’m losing you.

(Childhood) Home

Cold air seeps in
through the window,
cracked or not

We find ourselves
born, and born again

Old wires make for
new lights in the sparks
they set, and old wood
warns of coming down

As those before us
passed here, so shall we

The floors make music
when we step on them,
and we dare not step
where we could fall

We draw breath through
these breathing walls —

Plaster, bones, blood
and brick.

Rebecca Ruvinsky is a student and emerging writer in Orlando, Florida. She kept a streak of writing a poem for almost five years, with work published in Wizards in Space, Prospectus: A Literary Offering, Sylvia Magazine, Underland Arcana, Funicular Magazine, and others. She was also a finalist in the 2020 Lex Allen Poetry Prize. She loves baking cookies, watching rocket launches, and listening to music too loud. She can be found at @writeruvinsky.

photo by Daniel McCullough and David Thielen (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Zeline Theodoro

The Disposable Woman

I could be the hero’s mother, sister, wife, best friend,
and it would end the same: bullet
through my brain, scarlet
spot small
enough not to tarnish the beauty
of the body
left dead for him to find.
Or maybe I’m not even worth the screentime
—just one line of dialogue, the tragic news
that finally forces him to choose a side.

At least with the villain, I’d have time,
to prove myself useful, get the job done—only then 
does he betray me, leaving me cold
on the floor—proof of his unrelenting bloodlust.

Either way, you come back
to see me die
in every world and every iteration—just so you
can continue watching,
waiting
for the story to go on

Prince Charming Takes the Princess to Bed

They kiss, and that is all,
as the carriage takes them away,

hiding from us the afterwards, so we get to call this love—this pure and sexless
thing—before age blurs the differences

between love and sex, prudishness and disinterest,
before we grow to expect a new ever after:

carriage doors open—horses, now mice again,
scurry into the night. And the prince takes her to a bedroom,

lays her on slippery silk sheets, blind
to the reluctance in her eyes. In her dreams

they kiss, and that is all,
but this is dream come to life;

this is what she wanted—her deliverance: his hand
sliding up under her long skirt

to prove
that he loves her.

Zeline Theodoro (she/her) is an asexual Filipino American who loves writing fiction and poetry. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys playing video games and watching various animated shows, always searching for rad representation.

photo by Kate Hliznitsova (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Jane Ayres

split ends: another grim fairytale but this one involves blue cake

when dreams become poems 
become dreams / carving cruel holes in space 
a breathless narrative is written in the blood of ravens
too many oughts & shoulds / untangling clenched grief 
poisoned lullabies uncoiled / did he make me? 
a haunted question to which she keeps returning 

hiding things in cellars was supposed to make her forget 
but she cannot unknow what he did / they did
secrets unravelling / so she takes sharp scissors
cuts her sleeping sister’s long hair / & as soft tendrils spiral
drop oh-so-lightly / kissing the mossy carpet
it’s like shedding blossoms / or stripping leaves from rust-red trees 
flayed bark left hanging in strips / eviscerated tree skin
a warning

she divides shimmering crimson locks into two piles
scatters half outside for the ravens to take 
for noble nests / an apology
for they have never showed unkindness

the remaining newly shorn tresses
she chops finely with a butcher’s knife
crushing the ends with a heavy bone-handle
sprinkling into lavender flour / pre-mixed with sticky sugar 
the yolks of three salamander eggs / adds seven measured drops 
of rotted inky essence / a twist of bluebell root / a shot of vanilla syrup
to make his favourite blue-scented morality cake 
you’re worth it 
his voice wrapping her into bitter silence
she can still feel his lies dripping on her tongue
doesn’t blame her sister / not entirely
after all they share 
a beating heart / bones that fracture 
too easily

Samson wrongly believed his strength resided in his hair 
like some magical testosterone-impregnated super-power
but she knows hair is just stuff our bodies grow
even after death
& Rapunzel managed without hers 
although it wasn’t easy
but it was worth it in the end

she will tell her sister’s tears there is green in everything
if you look closely enough

heartstrings

don’t be scared
it won’t hurt (much)
well maybe a little
sometimes (mostly)

letting you in
the December day floats
fingering an absence 
               of sharp frostbitten objects
kissing it better
i visit those snow-touched places
the morning after

letting this tongue 
shadow feathers
smoothing a whisper 
               of fragile spider-sobs
scrolling
the arctic sickness 

every time
every room
every other

being unmade

UK based neurodivergent writer Jane Ayres completed a Creative Writing MA at the University of Kent in 2019 aged 57. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net 2021 and can be found in places including Lighthouse, Streetcake, The North, Acropolis Journal, Selcouth Station, Sledgehammer and The Forge. As one of the winners of the 2021 Laurence Sterne Prize, her first collection edible will be published by Beir Bua Press in April 2022.  Jane tweets at @workingwords50.

photo by Corina Rainer (via unsplash)

Harpy—Katharine Blair

Bird bodied, girl-faced things
they are; abominable
in their droppings, their hands are talons,
their faces haggard with hunger
Insatiable.
– Virgil

The men are taking liberties again. Laying hands
and eyes and plans with no concern for consent and I’m tired
of blind eyes & kindness. Tired of carefully extracting their claws
from my hair. So tired I’ve begun growing a set of my own. Call me maiden,
call me mother – quick now as I close in on crone – call me woman. Bred
to hunger. And condemned for letting it show. Caged
with my sisters. Fed on scraps and starved

of sympathy. Keys within reach,
too well broken to dare. Pavlov’s dogs after
the flood, always coming home
to the comfort of a danger
well known.  when Milton imagined the fallen
in your image,  perched high in The Tree of Life, when he, now snake,
turned and spoke sin into mine,
we were neither of us willing. And yet,

I too have espied their garden, jealous, ravenous – tethered
by language, you and I both – & grade school petty. Cormorous
and hell bent on ruining it for the whole class. One denial
too many and you may find we have harnessed our fury,
have turned like the tide.

It takes a cormorant colony three to ten years to decimate
a landscape. I’ve done it in less. I once broke
a man between March and December, before my wisdom
teeth had yet cut. I have done unspeakable things
in the name of hunger. Others and my own. Mostly my own.
I am hungry now.

I see you, my portents, see the way they twist blame
from their actions, sculpt your fate to fall
in place of their own. I too have been convenient, watched helpless
while the mess of me poisoned a home, salted the earth
and dug deeper, left in it to grow; have nestled futures in tinder
with no faith in the rain. I stand in your waste-
scape and see nothing but glory, yet I withered
in mine and misplaced the L.

Look, now
how we’ve risen—my sister,
my sister, myself—we are come,

impressive, grotesque, ruined
and true. There is beauty
in vengeance, triumph
in anger. Reborn of their leavings.
a whole world that awaits
us, and so much to be done.

Katharine Blair is a queer, gender ambivalent Canadian poet currently living in California. Her work investigates human relationships, mental health, and the intersection of childhood trauma and body identity. She tweets @katharine_blair and fumbles the rest on Instagram @kat_harineblair.

photo by Insung Yoon (via unsplash)

Years of Frozen Sea—Rachel A. Zhu

                                                —a winter’s tale

All is still, encased in snow:
clear windless shore, dim diamond sky—
a perfectly straight horizon.
Everything is white like the glare
of light flashing on rime,
or through eyelids.
The prince is an amateur at being.
His silver furs are thrice as wide
as his shoulders, bent as he admires
the reflection of his gibbous face
in the flat glass-pale ocean.
He pictures it waning into something thin, hollow,
handsome. His horse—a silent old thing
with a swishing white tail—watches on,
eyes like scratched sea-glass,
in pitying wait for the boy who is too eager
to outgrow his saddle.

*

The opening ballet begins soon.
Decorated patrons fill the theater in rows
and dine finely on chilled plums.
Behind curtains, the principal dancer fixes
a lattice of silk ropes on her limbs.
In her yellow hair rests a pearl crown,
contraband. Her bruised feet bleed.
Secretly she misses the tang of salt,
having been, when young, in love with water.

The starting bell rings. A girl comes
to bleach the blood-spots from the floor.
The dancer hides her crown
and lays a veil, thin as steam, over her face.
She becomes air—liberated wider
and wider until she is translucent,
and was ever so invisible,
and the whole hall claps as she drifts onstage.

*

Somewhere, a printer in a little printer’s shop,
with a fuzz-woolen cap and ink-stamped thumbs,
solemnly polishes a silver fishhook
and sighs: “Ah! To be at sea!”
Behind the shop rests his withering boat,
an old thing of mottled wood, coated
in the sticky residue of worms
and other fish-bait. The boat’s a lost cause,
so he keeps the hook glittering
as though the frost might thaw.
A whisper of that word—spring—
and his spirit leaps to where seaweed
might be taken for emerald, where he collects
carnelian shells to scoop sea-froth, and grows
so hungry—wolfish—for the smell of clam,
for waves to scallop the sky in irregular patterns,
and embark on his boat
to hunt the curious jewels of the deep, rich sea.

But all that is buried by snow,
forever frozen in a crystal sheet.
The hook hangs on the wall, pristine
but for a black thumb-print on its barb.
He will seek fish-scales in facets of ice
and feast his heart on daydreams.

Rachel A. Zhu is a young Chinese-American poet, a reader at Cheap Imitation Magazine, and a student at Boston University. Her poetry has appeared in The Twyckenham Notes and she was named a runner-up for Stony Brook Southampton’s 2020 Short Fiction Prize. She can be found on Twitter @RachelAZhu. 

photo by James Peacock (via unsplash)

The Hand and the Knife—Ellen Huang

after a Grimm fairytale

My brothers warned me of humans
Fleeting Folk, unbound by promises,
While our word means life or death to us. 

But she shone as she worked 
Harder than the rest of them
Whilst her sisters pushed her, she danced, dillydallying
Whilst my brothers teased me, I thought of sparks flying
I sharpened my knife 
               and stuck out a hand between the particles
For her to take, finish her herculean tasks
Only a little faster. 

The hand was all she could see of me
by some spell or some choice
But I didn’t mind
being useful 
She always gave me the knife back 
Gleaming, shining as she did 
After finishing her chores. 
Her satisfaction became my addiction. 

I lent her my hand many times, 
her fingers brushing by ever so slightly
as our fingers traded places on the handle of the knife. 
Her touch would linger longer 
and longer. 
Until she caressed my hand 
               And        didn’t    return 
                                                               my knife 
                              so quickly. 

True, I started to only feel her touch 
and lost ability to see her. 
My brothers warned that would happen 
when worlds got muddled. 
But I thrust my hand into the mist, cool and sweet
For our exchange was of love 
and wholehearted trust
For we know kindness and rewards are found in 
Hidden places. 

The night I lost my hand completely was a blur, a day in fog. 
I waited for my shining human maiden in expectation 
We might hold hands all night. We might run off together. 
One might pull the other through the mist; 
               we may then know each other.
She returned the knife too swiftly, 
It cleaved so cleanly, despite its little teeth, 
despite outstretched need, 
               despite muddled worlds.
My phantom palm remembers reaching out
yearning for warmth
               and only meeting metal.
Last touch, last touch.  

Now between worlds, wounds and touch alike fade.
The cut doesn’t bleed, but the mist where my limb disappears
Reminds me every day: I only have one more hand to give
But no other hand to hold it, 
keep it from trembling
               keep it from this shiver 
Reminds me we do not bleed like human folk. We disappear. 
               That my heart is already gone.

Ellen Huang (she/her) is an aro/ace author of fairy tales. She peer reviews for Whale Road Review and is published/forthcoming in various venues such as Persephone’s Daughters, Grimoire, Not Deer Magazine, Sirens Call, warning lines, Wretched Creations, and Wrongdoing Magazine. She is a changeling, ever adapting to this world, sent to find its hidden magic. Follow her discoveries: worrydollsandfloatinglights.wordpress.com or her mortal persona on Twitter as @nocturnalxlight. 

photo by Serge Kutuzov (via unsplash)