2 Poems by William Bortz

 

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TONIGHT NOTHING’S WORSE THAN THIS PAIN IN MY HEART: FOR MARTY ROBBINS

I move pretty quickly when I am giving distance / between myself and the man with the gun / he who is giving more value to the ground he stands upon than I do / that man being anything that doesn’t have a definable face / a people, a tremble, a machine / I can keep everything I know to be holy in my mouth / names, fingers, stray strands of chocolate hair / my life exists in their thin and frail shadow / and I open my eyes each morning / only to kneel in wake of their breath / if you sculpt a monument from sand / that too / I will revere and call to be moist and tame beneath my tongue / if you call me to be, I will flow outward / and become a river—a terribly raging thing / almost always a pair of starving hands cannot finish what they wished to begin / almost always something is left half-alive and writhing / almost always / I once cowered within danger’s shadow as it stood, rapping at my door / but now I have become that which knocks / I called distance to be a sea / and drank an entire ocean / I have become that faceless thing guarding hallowed ground / I imagine a bullet is fired each time I take a breath / and it is hard to believe there is enough dirt to cover and fill every hole a pair of healthy lungs creates / in the same way, that could be said about loneliness / that there aren’t enough hands for everyone to keep / but even just the idea of the drawers between our fingers overflowing / is enough to decorate one’s self with holes / just as the sound of igniting gunpowder can drown out an entire religion / the shriek of air splitting / to make way for me will take back the name / I have ever given to any god  / and I never knew dying would call me to move the quickest / in its direction

 

 

♦◊

 

LITTLE CLOUD

that first person who saw the / Andromeda Galaxy / referred to it as / ‘little cloud’ / little cloud / breathing somewhere in infinity / orbiting around its own beating / so far off one could not spot the rivers / painting gullies in the palm of the night sky / grief / is observed in this same way / given a name that defines it as small / as something with the potential of being / both beautiful and fit to sustain life / fantastical & gleaming / an entire atlas of constellations / a gravitational pull driving to the center / a spectacle a race / buried too deep in wonder to ever become an idea / the opulent comfort of visiting from a safe distance / must one feel to know / simply by seeing I am / we do not remember the name of the person who first saw this / little cloud / only that, in the cool air of twilight / they could not turn their gaze upward / stare passed the atmosphere / and feel nothing any longer

 


William Bortz is a husband, poet, and editor living in Des Moines, IA. His work appears or is forthcoming in Okay Donkey, Oxidant Engine, Empty Mirror, honey & lime lit, Turnpike Magazine, Unvael Journal, the Lyrical Iowa Anthology, and more.

twitter: @william_bortz

“Black” by Calum Armitage

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You stand, undressed, in front of the fogged bathroom mirror. The shower has been running for nearly five minutes, but you haven’t got in; haven’t even really noticed it’s been on. 

You have been staring at your reflection, unaware of any time passing. You know that it’s you in the mirror, that those eyes you’re gazing into are yours (who else’s could they be?), but it just doesn’t feel like you, anymore. There’s something off, something not quite right about what you’re seeing, what you’re feeling. 

It’s been like this for a while now. This feeling of being underwater, almost. This feeling of life not so much happening to you but more around you, and you’re just an observer looking on.

If you could compare it to anything, you’d say it’s a little bit like a video game you’re a character in; someone else is controlling your movements: what you say, do, eat, drink. The places you go. 

You watch yourself through this unknown player’s eyes in the mirror: raise an arm, turn your head, wiggle toes, fingers. 

The buckle on your belt rattles as you do this last movement, the wiggling of your fingers. You look down to your left hand which is gripping it and slowly, very slowly, raise and hold the belt out in front of you. You study its shape: the metallic clanking silver buckle, the feel of the faux brown leather, faded slightly where you pull to tighten it. Cheaply made. You’ve only had it a couple months. 

Then you throw it behind your neck, like you would a scarf, and do it up. Just to see how it feels; how much pressure this player can withstand. 

You pull it hard, cutting off your air supply completely. Eyes begin to water after only a handful of seconds. Then, a little after that the bathroom takes on a vibrant, pulsating red glow at its edges. It throbs in time with your heartbeat. Lungs burn, crying out in desperation for a fresh breath of oxygen. 

Once you let the belt go slack you fall forward, coughing and gulping air. Your palms cling to the cool white porcelain of the sink. A hand moves towards your neck, rubbing gently the rough red line left behind. 

You press your forehead against the steam covered mirror, breathe deeply. You step back, push greasy hair behind ears; sigh. 

Step into the shower and let the warm water rush over your face. 

 


Calum Armitage is a journalism undergraduate from Northern Ireland. He is a writer of short stories, flash fiction, and articles. He runs his own blog at: https://medium.com/@calumwriting67

“My Cat Is a Stress Guru” by Lannie Stabile

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Outside, stress grows fat and noisy in
my stomach. A moment’s distraction, 

I watch my cat gnaw on rangy blades of
crabgrass. Experts say animals do this to

aid in digestion. Soon, she hacks violently,
her long body spasming like a tube of 

shaky toothpaste. In a moment, she
unrolls her rough tongue to reveal a green

fibrous glob, courtesy of the enzymes
that refuse to build within her. The cat 

resumes her al fresco supper. I too wish
I could settle my nerves with teeth.

Lannie Stabile (she/her), a queer Detroiter, often says while some write like a turtleneck sweater, she writes like a Hawaiian shirt. A finalist for the 2019/2020 Glass Chapbook Series and semifinalist for the Button Poetry 2018 Chapbook Contest, she is usually working on new chapbook ideas, or, when desperate, on her neglected YA novel. Works can be found, or are forthcoming, in Glass Poetry, 8 Poems, Kissing Dynamite, Monstering, Okay Donkey, Honey & Lime, and more. Lannie currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Barren Magazine and is a member of the MMPR Collective. She was also recently nominated for Best of the Net 2019.

Twitter: @LannieStabile

“A Meaningless Exercise in Self-Discipline” by Scott Litts

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He was eating cloves of garlic next to me on the subway, and he was struggling. It wasn’t even peeled. But he was really powering through it. He was not having a good time, and it was pretty brutal to watch.

He shook his jug⁠— he had a jug— and some ice chunks rattled around inside. He tried to get some of the ice, first with his fingers, then with his tongue. He shook it really violently. A woman nearby got up to move. I closed my eyes.

He was grunting too. His thirst was audible. The ice was not melting, and the shards that he was able to get by rattling the jug were insufficient. He needed real water.

I didn’t have any water, so I held my eyes shut.

He ate another section of garlic. I knew this because he chewed it very loudly and made noises of suffering. It sounded like a really big piece. He was torturing himself in front of me all these people.

The smell was overpowering. The whole train reeked. I don’t think he noticed any of it, but people were getting upset.

And I don’t know what came over me, but I opened my eyes, and turned my head to him. He was crying. Or his eyes were watering— he wasn’t sobbing. His eyes were watering, and the tears were running down his cheeks onto his chin, which was steady in stoic forbearance.

His face was expressionless, and now his eyes were closed as he chewed. And the garlic was there in his open hand.

I reached into his hand, took a clove, and crushed it between my molars. He didn’t seem to notice. I chewed, and the taste spread all through my mouth and nose and throat. And then my eyes were tearing up, so I closed them and continued chewing. It was everywhere, and it was burning. And I couldn’t help myself so I started laughing with my mouth closed.

But I had to open my mouth to breathe properly. You don’t understand what it’s like to eat a raw clove of garlic. You have to open your mouth.

So I opened it and couldn’t suppress the laughter. And my eyes were burning, so I had to open them too. And when I opened them he was looking at me. He was chewing and smiling. He tilted his head and looked at me knowingly. His open hand was in front of me.

That was when I really started laughing. I put the unpeeled piece in my mouth, and then he was laughing too, really loudly. His mouth was wide open, and he was laughing so hard that garlic was falling out of his mouth all over his lap and the seat. The smell was awful. Every time I breathed in the air was hot with garlic.

I closed my eyes really tight, to concentrate, and I forced down the puree that was in my mouth. I got it down, and I coughed and laughed some more after I did. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I opened my eyes. He was looking at me, tears streaming down his face. His mouth was still wide open, and he was shaking with laughter. He was holding out a bag. He moved it towards me, nodding and urging me to look into it. I looked, and inside there were so many more cloves of garlic.

Scott Litts is an angry young writer in NYC. You can follow him on Twitter @Scott_Litts_

“Man on a Horse” By Mike Lee

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When Alfred was boy, his father was a mounted policeman for the NYPD, stationed at a precinct near their home in Staten Island. He was a tall man, statuesque on his horse as he made his rounds in the neighborhood, presenting to onlookers the epitome of strength and authority. 

His father joined the police when the borough was still known as Richmond County, separate and distinct from the city across the inner harbor. Richmond then consisted of villages hugging the north shore, and to the south, farming communities and beaches at the southern tip

Alfred’s father was part of the mounted police force known as the Staten Island Dragoons. At parades, they wore high helmets with tassels flying in the breeze as the unit rode down the cobblestone streets every holiday.

When the four counties surrounding Manhattan voted to merge, his father became a member of the NYPD. Although he still trod on the cobblestones on his beat, it was no longer as a small-town county police officer. He now represented the largest and greatest city in the world.

Every morning, he put on his tailored white gloves to fit his large hands, and button the tunic of a tall man’s uniform with ease, but tuberculosis, fueled by alcoholism, came to gradually lay him low.

When the boy was 12, Alfred’s father died, leaving him responsible for his mother and younger sister.

That September the boy did not start seventh grade. Instead, Alfred made his way daily by trolley and train to the south shore where he worked sweeping floors in a nickelodeon run by a quiet Hungarian named William Fox.

When he was sixteen, the boy managed an entire row of Fox’s nickelodeons on South Beach. On weekends, he went to Fort Lee to haul equipment and props for Fox’s newly formed film production company 

Sensing his intelligence, spirit and dedication to hard work Fox offered to take Alfred to California. Opportunities abounded out west, he told him. You can make a fortune with me, he added.

“This is a great opportunity,” Mr. Fox told the boy, now a teenager on the cusp of adulthood.

The response was easy, and given expectedly. “I have to care for my mother, sir. I must stay here.”

Years later Mr. Fox was seriously injured in an automobile accident, and while in recovery he lost his fortune in the stock market crash. Misfortune reached its nadir when Fox lost his film empire in a hostile takeover led by his creditors. He died in obscurity in Brooklyn, no longer associated with the company that bears his name.

The young man worked around Staten Island, toiling in the gypsum factory on the north shore near his home in Port Richard. When drafted during World War I, Alfred joined the state militia, and later was attached to the U.S Army’s Aviation Section, Signal Corps, the unit that later evolved to the modern air force.

He was a corporal and a cook, serving in Oklahoma and Texas.

After the war, Alfred returned home. He fell in love with a tall Irish girl working as a clerk at the Edison record store in nearby New Brighton. They married, raised a family, and three heart attacks and a major coronary later, Alfred waited for his wife and sister-in-law in the back seat of a car in the parking lot of a Bon Marche in Asheville, North Carolina.

He was 77, and grateful he made it this long.

Alfred was with his grandson—his youngest—who was 11 and had already shown the drive and intelligence he had shown in his youth.

As he sat with his grandson he recalled declining Mr. Fox’s offer, and felt no regret. He remembered his father’s alcoholism, but did not tell the kid that. It was too horrible. One night, his father got so drunk he tried to ride his horse into their home.

Mother made him promise to never drink. His solitary vice was cigars, petit coronas.

He told his grandson of the summer of 1918 watching rattletrap biplanes straining for height in the Texas sky. He talked about his best friend, who was killed in a training flight crash.

Alfred told the story of meeting his wife at the record shop. He had the snapshot he took of her, now crinkled and faded secreted away in his wallet. With gnarled fingers, weakened by work and diabetes, Alfred showed him.

As they sat in the back seat under the late November sun, he fell silent. He remembered that though his father was a mounted policeman, he never taught him to ride. Alfred couldn’t recall that his father even put him on a mount.

Alfred thought to when he watched his buddies ride horseback in Oklahoma and Texas. When offered he always nodded no. They kidded him about it, but good-naturedly.

Impulsively, he opened the passenger door.

“C’mon kid, let’s take a walk.”

He nudged the boy, who moved lazily out of the car.

They walked until they arrived at the row of kiddie rides by the entrance of the Bon Marche. Stopping at a weathered mechanical horse, the old man fished a dime out of his pocket. 

“You’re too old for this,” he told his grandson, placing the coin in his hand. “But I’m not.”

He climbed up. It was too small for his frame, and due to his age hard to keep balance. Still, Alfred was determined. He motioned for his grandson to put the coin into the slot.

Hoofs clacked loudly on the cobblestones of Ann Street as the young police officer rode toward Richmond Avenue. In a measured trot, he expertly turned right at the broad avenue.

Resplendent in his police uniform and tasseled helmet, he cut an attractive figure to the ladies watching from the passing trolley.

With his white-gloved hand, he saluted, smiling at the tall brunette staring at him from her perch in the rear of the trolley before continuing on his rounds.


Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and reporter for a trade union magazine in New York City. His fiction is published in Soft Cartel, Bending Genres, Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, The Opiate and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com. He also blogs for the photography website Focus on the Story. https://focusonthestory.org/stories/

2 Poems by Kyle Kirshbom

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Deer Friends

Killed a deer
driving Home
drunk Feet
spread out
clawing a lumberjack blanket

The air

conditioner on Feeling
better
I’ve killed
and forgot

My car’s
hot
tires treaded by
parts
of a carcass across
the dry heated
pavement

His antlers scraped
the road Standing over him
I pointed at his temple
with a squirt gun Washing
him because
blood was getting in his eyes

Drunk on the mattress
alone No sleep Thinking
what I’d do if I ever killed a deer

 

 ♦

 

Blaise

 

The party in my basement was a hooked fish
             struggling to jump
             ship

Kyle Kirshbom lives in San Marcos. His poetry can be found at Silent Auctions and Sybil, as well as the forthcoming issue of SCAB. Currently working on a collection.

Instagram: kushbom420

“A Poem in Response to the Act of Watching Paint Dry” by Nick Wort

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I have been skipping meals lately

(I know it doesn’t look that way,
bear with me)

just to feel those little rodents
circle inside my stomach —

a little centrifuge, a little
child I could have had.

You remind me, sometimes, of a mirror —
(I’m sorry, I’m too afraid to continue
that thought)

I don’t think hell is coming but
I don’t think this can be solved.

*

I want to talk about something
else now, this isn’t fun anymore.

It’s always love and money
and bodies with me, isn’t it?

Let me look at a parking lot
and see a bed of roses.


Nick Wort is feral and stupid and lonely. Follow him on Twitter @DollarTreeVegan