a commitment of vertebrae – by Aimee Herman
Their Edges Do Not Meet – by Maggie Sullivan
Still Digging – by Matthew O’Leary
Winter is Departing – by Emily Strauss
flowers we are not – by jacklyn janeksela
addresses to a wine glass – by Amber Peckham
a commitment of vertebrae
by Aimee Herman
I love that you’ve mem-
orized the bones I’ve hoarded
behind other bones
Their Edges Do Not Meet
by Maggie Sullivan
I open a package from my mom and all I see is white fur. A rabbit for Easter Sunday, a rabbit for Chinese New Year, a rabbit from a woman I don’t remember anything about anymore. Not even how she smells, what she looks like. She is just a blank body in the back of my mind.
This is a story without a predictable
outcome, plot or directions. So, in
way, this is not a story.
A red dress, soft maroon, ribbon flower details, see-through straps on white shoulders to prevent the dress from falling off my small frame. The white of his teeth, smiling, stark, blank and full of lies against his black suit, black shirt, black hair, red tie. A picture I threw away in my white trash can.
I have shed these:
When I was
These assume connection.
These assume a similar thread.
These assume a meeting place.
New, crisp, white snow on the ground outside like the comforter on my bed. Soft and wrinkled; small bird tracks, real and imagined. Fluff it up again, make it all like new, wrinkle free. Lie still beneath the sheets that can’t stop me from shivering, little chilly mounds on white arms and legs.
These are snapshots.
Cheap bag of rice feels old and dusty on my fingers. White rice grains clink into the plastic white measuring cup. Spot the little brown bugs, scurrying over each other, over the rice. Flush. Throw away. Wash. Bleach. Hungry still. Cereal, crunchy in a red bowl with cool white milk. Stink of clean in my nose as I chew.
These are frayed. These are orphaned thoughts.
Sneaky spider. Invisible, hungry. Bites in the middle of the night on unsuspecting sleepers. Red welt, growing, leaking puss, ugly on white skin, spots on white comforter. Just don’t itch it, I say, don’t itch it or it will scar. White and garish.
These are sporadic, cut and pasted.
Barns and silos of white wash and sanded-down wood appear on the side of the highway. Rustic, paint peeling down as if melting from the rain sliding down my windshield.
This is where it ends.
This is where you color in the blank canvas of my thoughts.
by Matthew O’Leary
Taking into account only texture, it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between a mass of scar tissue and a healthy vein. Obviously, a vein will have a uniform shape, but the thickness varies from person to person. Any bundle of spongy flesh feels viable, and it’s not until you push the needle in that you realize you made a mistake.
The words were already out. “Liars.” The violence had only been tonal. Nothing dangerous had been said. No threats, no flashbacks to the outburst in the college gym, the pulled knife in my high school dorm room. But I could feel the energy pulsing inside of me, screaming to be let out. Without a conscious decision, my fist hit the wall. Once, then twice. I ducked into the break room to bury my face in my aching hands.
I’m not sure who would have followed me if my former classmate wasn’t working there. He knew me, or at least the person I used to be: the tortured teenager now grown into a tortured man. In turn, I knew the old him: an intelligent, if irresponsible sort. The years had only added to his intelligence and a discipline that I continued to lack. If someone else had come in they would have talked down to me. That’s how most people react to regressive behavior, by regressing their speech. “Hey, little guy, what’s wrong?” People will ask that of a full-grown man when he acts like a child.
“What’s going on, man?”
And I told him.
There’s certainly some science to it that I don’t fully grasp, but in a lot of cases, the scarred flesh has significantly less sensation than the “untainted” areas. The needle doesn’t hurt as much going in. Then there’s the digging. Patients hate digging. We call it adjusting the angle. But if you honestly don’t know the correct angle, you’re digging.
Scar tissue and digging go hand in hand. You can search longer in the solid mass without putting pressure on a nerve. But the more you search the more flesh you damage, and the more scar tissue you create. This mass of flesh you’ve found is now your responsibility, and you’re making it bigger. You’ve become a chemical marker. You are malignancy made flesh, and you’re making a tumor grow.
The oncology unit is on the eighth floor. The hospital’s administration wanted to keep the saddest cases as far away from them as possible. Last week, a guy four years younger than me was up there, admitted after a seizure caused by the cancer in his brain. Astrocytoma, grade two. Our four year age difference is the median survival rate for his diagnosis. He has a wife and a child.
And I’m downstairs, cursing and crying about not having a future. I felt trapped, I said through the fingers of my hand, as if covering a small portion of my face would radically alter how my words sound. Through the filter of my palm, it won’t sound like I’m in tears. I’ll be able to make my points while sounding completely rational. It’s the same technology that we use to shield our eyes from the scary parts of horror films. If we look at the same image through the cracks, we think it will make things alright.
Eventually, it was alright, or at least something that wasn’t pitched in emotion. I wiped my eyes and nose, and walked past everyone with my gaze lowered. The work continues, but with a thick tension that holds through the weekend. I’ll get written up. My wife will call it bullshit. My best friend will call it discrimination. I don’t disagree.
But they don’t have the experience I have with scar tissue. There’s a trick they don’t know. It’s not covered in the books, because it’s not officially sanctioned, but sometimes you have to do your job. Trade out the normal needle for a bigger one, then push straight through. There always seems to be blood on the other side.
Winter is Departing
by Emily Strauss
There are yellow wood flower
boxes at the windows, Alpine
shutters open out to the grass. Here
only winter presents such green
hills, like suede park lands though
vultures hover, patrolling the
canyons, freshets hidden deep
under oaks. Such a chalet can’t
really exist, just our fevered minds,
it’s too dry. Usually. A deer carcass
rots just outside the door, the eyes
still staring at old storms. Wheeling
crows announce spring, the equal
days, and grasses dry quickly.
Muddy footprints of cattle, dogs,
humans harden on the roads up the
draw, we trip on our own paths
climbing. The flower boxes show
wear, half a jaw appears in the new
dust. Winter is departing, we
crumble beneath upwelling shoots
among the duff, pansies don’t mix
with leafing buckeyes. Our
footsteps leaving ridges in the
clouds that withdraw for the year.
Echoes of unknown voices scatter
among the bay trees, strike the
windows softly. The candle
flowers we are not
by jacklyn janeksela
water towers dot the landscape; star-green
only with a whistle do the dogs come running
sidewalks like pseudo-highways flatten for miles
with a spur stuck in the heart-eye we huddle against the wind
pastures seal the fate of the town; crying cows collapse
it is the winter of our illumination; lightening-fingered we start a storm
marry a cowboy, win a horse
the panicked chicken wings, the Indian bone
the slow moving lips
mingle with the banjo player for hopes of learning rhyme
in the distance, the immeasurable distance, a truck bed opens
a page falls on the floor
we squint against the lights, slither in darkness
be on the lookout for a diamond-shaped head
a page is torn
buried in sand-like dirt-our laughter, a smile drapes over a sign
removed each morning
arid grass of course, or we could call it home
with the passing hours we become leathered
if only to remember where we’ve been
the unmade bed mocks me
a shapeless robe like a puddle; you’re not here
somewhere a dusty Texas road carries you further
hands in pockets you prepare the words for later
my words cemented into a brick wall in Brooklyn
heart-heavy; you or me-both
if I could tumble out the window, past the stop sign,
into your arms
but it’s all been done before
my ink-stained hands only mean I’ve touched a pen
a sunray on your shirt highlights my seclusion
one pillow on the floor; mine
you shuffle, Kicking Rock Hard your Indian name
the stalk sprouts on the road, you, flipping a coin, don’t notice
wheat-wonder, I have none
I am the shape of thistle
which no one prefers; daisy-hungry, petal-jealous
if I am quiet enough I can hear that coin
and if you listen you might hear the shotgun
the glorious sound of me going down
addresses to a wine glass
by Amber Peckham
vortex curls where
stem meets hollow.
an enigma my fingers
can never violate.
i remember how i mixed my grandfather screwdrivers. the glasses were short and wide, what i now know is called an old-fashioned glass. the ones he and my grandmother used were notched with grooves along the sides. our colorless family tartan.
here was the recipe: ice to the second groove, about two thirds of the way up the glass. vodka to the same line. cheap vodka in a plastic bottle, lucky for my clumsy 10 year old hands. pour in sunny delight until close to full, but not so full it will spill on the carpet. stir with the green swizzle stick i thought was so delicate, like spun candy. something special.
my hind teeth
like a leash
ready to snap.
my mother is a wino. she uses water glasses for wine and drinks it like the same. she and her boyfriend drink a 3 liter box of corbett canyon chardonnay between them every day or so. one bottle of wine is .75 liters, so they’re drinking over a bottle a day each.
my grandmother is full blooded italian, from the veneto, white wine country. i tell myself my mother’s malady was inevitable, soaked into the marrow of her bones the moment she was born. this doesn’t make it easier anymore, though it used to. back when i tried harder to understand.
curved like the moon,
your bottom wet
against my fingers.
sometimes she’s silly, like the nights she stays up until 2 or 3 in the morning watching old saturday night live dvds and laughing so loud no one in the house can sleep. and then there are the angry days, like that time she chased my sister across las vegas shouting obscenities out the car window. toni walked stoic to a friends house to get away from the drunkenness. she stayed away for a week, long enough to clear her head, to remind herself that not everyplace is pickled. then she went back. daughters always do.
a cracked shell
a molecule wide,
sharp enough to sever
mom told me she cut back on her drinking. only a few on weekends now, not every day. “it’s about control,” she said. “I had to be ready to take control of my own life.”
will i begin to
i mentioned to my sister during a recent visit how proud i was that mom had quit drinking. my sister held up one hand, her lips pursing in a cautioning expression.
“she quit drinking wine,” toni informed me with special emphasis. “she told me she switched to gin–because it’s only 90 calories.”
in the morning
a dried burgundy
stain at the bottom of you.
one drop of hope