A Poem by Devi S. Laskar

Instructions for Driving at Night

                                                             After Tarfia Faizullah

 

He pulled me over. Third time this week. First time

at night. His sirens screamed red. The sky a ripe

melon. The sky a girl on the street driving

 

into the open mouth of dark. He swatted

my face with his baton. He swatted my lips

with the butt end of his flashlight. He wielded

 

the baton like a finger to touch my breasts.

He used his flashlight to get a better look.

His car was full. His colleagues joined in. I fell

 

against the parking brake, the car rolled forward.

I fell and he used his baton. I remember

I love marionettes. I love how a string

 

is pulled and its puppet jerks to life. I did

not apologize to him for making him

pull me over. The girls on their hot pink bikes

 

and matching helmets cycled faster past us.

Girls breaking away from our bloodletting. Girls

tossing their bikes onto grass behind the white

 

picket fence, and running inside. I fell when

he pulled me out of the car. I was too dark

for them to rape me. He thought my skin was a

 

contagion. His friends joined in, rendered my

body fruit salad. My face cherry compote.

My pomegranate heart exploded open.

 

I kept watch for Hades and Persephone.

After a while I closed my eyes. I saw stars

being born, the big bang that comes before light

 

travels. I knew not to speak. I knew not to

cry. I knew it would get worse. But I cried out.

I cried out for my mother, hundreds of miles

 

away. I cried for hundreds of mothers, ones

on the other side of those picket fences.

I cried for my friends but I could no longer

 

remember their names. I cried though all I could

see were their faces, milky outlines, makings

of constellations. Stars already dead but

 

still shining holy, night after night. Flashlights

moving the traffic along, his breath a spray

of petrol before the fire starts and looting

 

begins. He wished aloud for my death. Someone

called an ambulance so I lived to hear

on the six o’clock news that I was a slut

 

with a car, resisting arrest, deserving

the prizes I received from his giving arms.

My mother did not cry but asked if I had

 

apologized, kept my head down low, staring

at the mat under my sandaled feet. I said

no and through her sudden tears, she smiled.

 

 

 

Devi S. Laskar is a native of Chapel Hill, N.C. She holds an MFA from Columbia University in New York. A former newspaper reporter, she is now a poet, photographer and artist. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Atlanta Review, Fairy Tale Review, Noyo River Review and The Raleigh Review, which nominated her for Best New Poets 2016. She is an alumna of both TheOpEdProject and VONA/Voices, and poetry workshops at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Finishing Line Press published the first of two poetry chapbooks, Gas & Food, No Lodging in March 2017, and Anastasia Maps in December 2017. She now lives in California.

A Poem by Jessica Barksdale

New Episode of Jane the Virgin Available

 

One

 

Mind you, Mary was not the first.

Don’t forget Chimalma who swallowed the stone

that became Quetzalcoatl.

Or Maya, whose elephant dream

turned into the Buddha.

One virgin after the other, episode

upon episode of divine pregnancy,

amazing birth to a god-like child,

the mother disappearing or dying

or sitting back in wonder.

My son. Would you just look at him!

My work here is done.

And here we are, season two,

Jane clinging to her virginity like the plot point

it is, a lifeline to television immortality

and financial gain.

Whatever you do,

don’t write a penis into that scene.

 

Two

 

I had no takers until one night just before high school graduation.

There he was, at the party for the whole school,

someone I didn’t know because otherwise, no dice.

Gold in his brown hair, shirt open at the neck, some kind of necklace,

pucca. Or something silver. Coke spoon. Angel flight pants. Or jeans.

The long vinyl bench seat of my mother’s station wagon,

nothing going well, me like a clenched rock, too tight

for even magic to pass through.

But this boy was determined, and he plugged away, and I was swimming,

moving, floating on the seat, bleeding, bleeding, all that blood

from a tiny piece of skin that means so much to countless viewers.

He left, and I sat there, clutching the steering wheel,

looking out into the hazy mooned night,

even though there was nothing to wait for.

My potential miracles ripped open and thrashed in bloody streaks.

Nothing but the rest of my life, and now one less thing to give up.

One step closer to nothing.

 

Three

 

Yes to the slash of vinyl gore

and yes to the moon, round and white

on the car’s hood. Yes to the humped

and botched thing that is living,

this crawling beast of mud, looking to heaven.

 

 

 

078A40A2-B49C-4B40-A469-E3C405B43A26Jessica Barksdale’s fourteenth novel, The Burning Hour, was published by Urban Farmhouse Press in April 2016. A Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Waccamaw Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Little Patuxent Review, Carve Magazine, Palaver, and So to Speak. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension. She holds an MA in English Literature from San Francisco State University and an MFA from the Rainier Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.

Learn more about Jessica Barksdale at www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

 

A Poem by Laura Secord

In Exam Room 262

                    after Li-Young Lee

 

The trans Wiccan spiritual advisor,

who solicits sex displaying estrogen breasts

in a tight tank top, safety-pinned together;

who tosses her diva-length raspberry hair

to frame her face; who awaits a court case

win to move to L.A. and be a porn queen― she is not me.

 

The woman whose ex stalks her, breaking

her doors and windows,

jumping from a dumpster to beat her face;

who tries and fails to disguise her bruises

with ochre foundation; who fears for her life,

but won’t go to a shelter;

 

and the young woman named for a virtue,

who was trafficked out of Mali

from genocide in her country; who’s glad

the FBI now considers her a victim;

who writes her story on a library’s computer,

for lack of her own― they are not me.

 

The man who isn’t eating any more,

shrinking since he and his sister split

in anger, looking like a death camp

survivor; who assures me that God

doesn’t see self-starvation as a sin― he isn’t me.

 

Not even the student, pale and thin as smoke,

who took two jobs to support his partner, a PhD

unable to work; and buys him meth, vodka,

and cocaine; saying, Maybe we’ll marry and

he can get his green card; he wasn’t HIV

when we met— this young man, who’d give

 

anything for love— not even he is me,

but I hear his and all the other’s voices

at dawn, rousing me from dreams

of a healed world’s awakening.

 

 

 

E9865B2D-4371-4841-B0BB-72AF56299EFCLaura Secord has been an offset printer, union organizer, health care activist, teacher, and a sex-educator. For thirty years, she combined the life of a writer and performer with a career as a Nurse Practitioner in HIV care. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada College. A Pushcart nominee, her poems have appeared in the Birmingham Weekly, Arts and Understanding, The Southern Women’s Review, PoemMemoirStory, Passager, Indolent Books and Burning House Press. She is the co-founder of Birmingham’s Sister City Spoken Word Collective.

A Poem by Jamie Lynn Heller

An Entire Life

 

There’s nothing like

 

going through Great Aunt Priscilla’s house

after hospice has removed its equipment

and you’ve donated the wheel chair,

found the walker, flushed the pills,

debated what to do with an opened package

of adult diapers and her prosthetic breasts,

opened the blinds and windows to let in light and air,

found her old set of dentures,

her package of hearing aid batteries,

her crazy beaded chain attached to her reading glasses,

 

and

 

discovering a

lacy red nightgown,

stuffed in the back of a drawer,

in a style a couple of decades old,

a couple of sizes too small,

 

to remind you of

her life

before

 

 

 

“An Entire Life” first appeared in Kansas City Voices: A Periodical of Writing and Art.

 

 

 

Jamie Lynn Heller uses poetry as her caffeine.  She is a Pushcart Prize nominee (Little Balkans Review 2014) and Best of the Net nominee (805 Lit + Art 2016). Her chapbook Domesticated was published in 2015 (Finishing Line Press). She received honorable mention awards in Whispering Prairie Press Writing Contest 2012, and Kansas Voices Contest 2017, 2011. For a complete list of publications see jamielynnheller.blogspot.com.

A Poem by Vincent Francone

Mud

 

Last night we painted our faces

with mud

to tighten the skin and remove dirt from pores.

We sat the required ten minutes

you with the dog

me with a drink

then washed our faces, looked over the results:

My god, the years are erased!

We never met, we never ate pizza, drank wine

in Lisbon,

ate oysters in Mexico and in New Orleans

before beignets,

got lost on our bicycles, played rummy in a bus station,

played hooky from work,

caught a midday movie, snuck into another,

walked San Francisco,

walked the

Champs-Élysées,

cried for days on end, got caught in the rain,

overslept and lied our way out of obligation,

watched so much TV we fell back asleep

and forgot to feed the cat,

ate take out food, made a snack at 2:00 AM

got drunk in the afternoon

you on wine

me on scotch

and walked until we sweat alcohol;

we never burned food because we forgot

it was cooking

or wasted all our money or gave away our clothes

or watched your nephew grow up

or drove through Chicago for hours

because

we couldn’t stand the apartment,

and we never kissed, laughed, never teased each other,

you never told me I steal the covers,

we never said the three words

much less the two,

we never broke a promise or bought flowers

or wrote poems or replaced the shabby coats

and shoes; we never tolerated the other’s

bad breath or prostrated at the feet

of our odd bodies, we never

subsisited off peanut butter sandwiches

and fretted over back accounts

or asked the other to read an email

before we sent it, or to borrow

money until payday

or trust each other

with each other.

None of it! We got the years back.

Lucky us.

 

 

“Mud” first appeared in The Penn Review.

 

 

 

Vincent Francone is a writer from Chicago whose memoir, Like a Dog, was published in the fall of 2015. He won first place in the 2009 Illinois Emerging Writers Competition (Gwendolyn Brooks Award) and is at work on a collection of poems and stories. Visit www.vincentfrancone.com to read his work or say hi.

A Poem by Bryan D. Dietrich

THE RIFT

July 2011, Kennedy Space Center

 

Our final craft arises from one blue

and sinks into another we call true.

Deep calls unto deep, the Psalmist states,

suggesting that our blood is like the straits

we nod beside when sounding out our souls

from here, the edge of space, these restless shoals

where ships have launched toward the blackest sea,

where mothers, husbands, wives upon this lea

have watched the ones they love let go of Earth,

trajected into something too like birth,

that airless ocean where we once accreted

from waves of dust and absence, superheated,

molded, brought to being out of flood,

like Love herself from salt and foam and blood.

 

We’ve shuttled past this garden, spent our spoor

outward, always outward, always more

to fight that feeling that we may be less,

to find a balm for Gilead’s unrest.

We do not want to be here in the dark,

alone, without the hope of other ark.

We sow the upper air with lenses, mirrors,

reflecting on our existential terrors.

No, this is not the first, the last Atlantis.

We stand upon the strand like Marinatos

who stumbled on the ruins of that city.

Plato wrote about it, wrote with pity.

He also wrote of love, its rift, its scars,

of all we seek when we seek out the stars.

 

 

 

 

Bryan D. Dietrich is the author of six books of poems and co-editor of a recent poetry anthology.  He has published poems in The New Yorker, The Nation, Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Paris Review, Harvard Review, Yale Review, and many other journals. He has won The Paris Review Prize, a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, a Writers at Work Fellowship, and others.

A Poem by Theresa Hamman

Driving the Desert with Zep

 

We were bees once, in May

before the lilac blooms blew

away, before we were itchy,

always scratching and eating

prickly pears while our skin peeled

and twisted inside out.  We kissed

 

before our chapped lips cracked

from all that thirsty August heat,

before we rolled naked into cactus

water and wrapped ourselves in snake

skin, before we laughed

 

while the yellow desert ate us,

and its hornet’s nest erupted

into “Kashmir” and all that floating

dust, all those lilting tongues—

 

found us.

 

Do you remember?

 

We knew how to buzz once,

how to light up

before we became dead jackets,

before we became sulfured honey.

 

 

 

 

Theresa Hamman is a poet from La Grande, OR. Her poems can be found in the following literary journals and magazines: Red Savina Review, The Tower Journal, Oregon East, basalt, and Nailed. She also teaches undergraduate composition and creative writing courses at Eastern Oregon University and Southern New Hampshire University. She earned her MFA in 2016 from Eastern Oregon University, where she was also the editor of the student literary journal Oregon East. Although she enjoys writing in all creative genres, her first love is poetry. She gets lost in the musicality of it and how it bends language to create new objects.

Theresa is the mother of two grown daughters and adoring grandma to two grandchildren. When not writing, she enjoys reading, teaching, the occasional Netflix binge, and spending time with her family.