Also They Are Families Too

Alicia Askenase

In the apartment

there is smoke.  Margarita comes to sit

and packs feet into shoes.  Time for

the next shift.  It’s original

sin if you believe it.

 

They have begun to round us up,

vienen para nosotros, in Jersey, in LA nos esperan

en Wal-Mars, escuelas and hospitals.

We won’t be

there to pick you up

in our arms today hold

your sister’s hand, bring her home.

 

Wind blows the bedroom curtains

apart.        The sky divides into blue and white.

Three birds nest in the tallest

winter roble.

Two cannot fit

in so narrow kitchen.   She thought

she had tiled the walls with art.


Alicia Askenase is a writer, educator, and museum docent. She is the author of The Luxury of Pathos (Texture Press), Shirley Shirley (Sona Books), Suspect, and Cover. Her poetry has appeared most recently in the anthologies, Not Our President and New Work by Philadelphia Poets.

I Consider a Twitter Follow

Cortney Lamar Charleston

I pendulum on whether to press the button. I pause. I ponder

the little blue birdie that tells all of our thoughts to the world,

wonder if bald eagles have already gone extinct―dropped

dead to the earth like bombs built of bone, beak and feather.

 

To say I’m living in a time without symbols is also to say

there is no higher calling than protest, than the calling of

fingertip to keyboard, our new key of life, and yet I hesitate

to endorse anyone in a way that can be counted like a vote

of confidence, when, on the contrary, I’m shaken daily

solely for the music of it, bone-shingled skin bag beaten

against by tempestuous winds I’m told are coincidence

rather than conflict between our planet and our politics.

 

I believe the word I’ve been looking for is fear. Everything

bigger than me there was to believe in now seems entirely

too big a target on my back; I’m left interrogating myself

on what I still hold faith in during these dumbfounding days:

 

when I’m in a church, I still believe in the idea of divinity;

when I’m in a school, I still believe in the idea of education;

if I’m invited into a woman, I’m to believe, at least, in power,

programmed to be a man not unlike all those men I despise,

another reason I’m made queasy at contemplating the click,

though it’s a way to keep my enemy close but also theoretical.

 

I stare directly into the dearth of punctuation and grammar;

the gutter of blood above my eyelid overflows, causes a glitch

of motion, a flicker in the flesh. I’m smart enough to stay away,

but curiosity is a narcotic, can kill. But so does a lack thereof,

I know, because a little blue birdie told me so, sweetly sang

he’s trying to distract you, so I turned around to find nothing

behind me, and that’s when it happened:

 

a button somewhere

being pushed on somebody,

a trail of digits dictating

follow him, follow him,

follow him


Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of Telepathologies, selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. He was awarded a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and he has also received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. He currently serves as a poetry editor at The Rumpus.

Clerestory

Melissa Stein

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I survived that voltage and barbed wire.

Now each day is clerestory,

each night a palimpsest of scars.

The militia pulls on its boots and waits.

On the altars, doves peck each other bloody.

 

A spider traverses its unseen wire

in the rarefied ether of the clerestory.

He told me it wouldn’t scar

if I rubbed salt in it. Wait

for the psalm to surface in the blood.

Close behind is the conquering army.

 

A trapped dove crashes through the clerestory,

a bewildered militia of scars.

I strip the insulation and wait

for ignition: for sweet oil to bloody

the engine. Too late. He’s left me

behind, a shipwreck of transept and wire—

 

you will know me by the scars.

By the crowned and pulsing weight

of every lost and bloodied

thing. Gilded and radiant is the enemy.

His last message traveled the wire

and vanished. God-blind is the clerestory.

 

All that’s left is to hide and wait

for the report of jackboots in a forest of blood.

To some, it is a symphony.

We collect feathers and bind them with wire

and twine. These wings are our clerestory.

The engine stalled, that metal body scarred

 

the rails, and in its wake, the blood

bearing its testimony.

The bodies dragged. The shallow graves, the fire.

Who stabbed out the windows of the clerestory?

What will annihilate these scars?

The immaculate landmines wait.

 

We are bound by blood to our enemy

while God feeds stars to his clerestory.

Why aren’t they detonated? The whole world waits.

 


Melissa Stein is the author of the poetry collections Terrible Blooms (Copper Canyon Press, 2018) and Rough Honey, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, Harvard Review, New England Review, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and others, and she’s received fellowships from the NEA, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony, among others. She is a freelance editor in San Francisco. 

Secrets    

Lisa Grunberger

1.

 

When my Father was moving

from being to being nothing

I was about to go for a bike ride.

 

His right hand rose up

from under the blue blanket

as he patted the bed for me to sit.

 

I sat and stroked his face

so thin and unshaven it appeared

slender as the Flatiron building.

 

2.

 

In summer, we could sit in the yard for hours

eating cherries, throwing the pits

the dog would chase.

We’re planting cherry trees he’d say.

 

In winter, we raced through bowls of green pistachios

seeing who could crack them faster.

We’d set aside the sealed ones, the ones

that stubbornly refused to be opened,

the ones with no crack.

 

Daddy said they have secrets

they can’t bear to share with us yet.

He poured the uncracked nuts

into a ceramic bowl.

 

He never disturbed the bowl

but sometimes he would lift it

as though it were a seashell.

He would nod his head.

He was a quiet man.

 

3.

 

You will listen to your Father’s slow breath,

place ice chips on his cracked lips.

You will listen to the final rattle

and remember a baby’s noisemaker, Daddy’s keys.

 

4.

 

Any stillness I possess belongs

in a yard

where another family lives

in the midst of cherry trees

they cannot see.


Lisa Grunberger, is author of Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures in Love, Loss and the Lotus Position and Born Knowing.  Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof selected her poem  “The Story of the Letter J” in his NYT column in 2017.  Her play, Almost Pregnant, about infertility, adoption and motherhood, premiered in Philadelphia.  She is Associate Professor in English at Temple University and Arts and Culture Editor at The Philadelphia Jewish Voice. 

The Last Time I Hung Out With Baby D and Them

Sakinah Hofler

The twins—

those grinning gangsters

never seen without chains

tethered around their necks

and wrists, hold gold guns

that glisten against the clever

silver sky.

Do you

want to hold one?

I grip

the grip and for a moment

I get deer hunting—that transition

from boy to man or even girl

to woman, like Latonia B. who

took the life of Mikey because she

wanted to see what it was like.

 

In Newark, we don’t bawl

over felled fawns or ferry home

trophies—we’ve figured out

how to run without the chase

or racetrack, how to turn off

our eyes, zipper our mouths,

and lose our memories. It is always

open season and our stars

are mere exhausted streetlights.

 

And here, Baby D’s hand strokes

my ass then settles for my lower

back as he whispers,

you got

to get more skin on the grip

to get rid of that sympathetic reflex

in your hands. You’ve got to hold

it tight to really see.

I place my

finger on the trigger

and shut my eyes. I pull. And I see.

How easy it is.

 


Sakinah Hofler is a PhD student and a Yates Fellow at the University of Cincinnati. In 2017, she won the Manchester Fiction Prize; previously she had been shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Eunoia Review, and Counterexample Poetics. A former chemical and quality engineer, she now spends her time teaching and writing fiction, screenplays, and poetry.

naps

Sakinah Hofler

at pathmark, you would sneak bottles of pantene pro v shampoo and conditioner into your momma’s shopping cart and each time, at the register, your momma would notice and tell the cashier you can take that one off, and each time you would scream, I wanna have hair like those women in the commercials! and each time she would just stare at you.

later your 4th grade teacher brought your momma in for a talk, not about your grades or your behavior, but your hair; your hair bothered her – one ponytail obeying gravity; the other, sticking skyward. her name was ms. alifoofoo and you stared at her jheri curl which were more poppin than your uncle’s while she said, your daughter needs to look decent for school. maybe you should get her a perm. you don’t remember what your momma said back but it happened on a thursday and by that following monday, you were starting your first day at a new school.

 

you learned religion at this new school and how to pray five times a day and you figured that you were now five times more likely to get the lighter skin, the long straight hair, and the brown eyes with flecks of green that you’d been asking for, and each morning you woke up, disappointed.

 

one day, your momma came home with two boxes of “just like me” and you and your sister held your noses while your momma spread the rotten egg white cream on both of y’alls hair, shampooed, then conditioned. after she blow dried, you couldn’t wait for your hair to cascade in layers, you couldn’t wait to flip your hair over your shoulders like the girls you read about in books. yes, your hair was softer. yes, your hair was a little straighter. but, your hair didn’t look just like that girl on the box so you cried. your sister’s hair fell out.

 

your momma took you to a salon and a professional added the extra step, the beveler, hair pulled and pressed between the heat of two ceramic plates. now, you could flip your shoulder-length hair as you pleased. now, you could almost be in a commercial. this became your habit for the next fifteen years.

 

you grew up.

 

your hair never grew past your shoulders but you found new ways to be grateful. your classmate in college told you your last name was german, making you pleased your family’s slave owners were at least german, pleased because it sounded better to certain ears than johnson or williams. your surprised coworker met you for the first time and told you, you sounded white on the phone and you used that info and that voice to book a reservation at that restaurant you had been afraid to call before. you shy away from the ghetto, avoid the eyes of saggers, you get degree after degree trying to be equal. some days, you try to convince yourself to come out of hiding, that you’ll beat anyone down who dare thinks they have something to say, in fact, there’s a proud photo of you in the first incarnation of the “black girls rock” t-shirt with your hand around your guyanese neighbor and that photo gets more likes on instagram than any subsequent photo. some days, you’re like, hell yeah, bitches, my black is beautiful. most days though, you pull out a scarf and cover your hair.

 


Sakinah Hofler is a PhD student and a Yates Fellow at the University of Cincinnati. In 2017, she won the Manchester Fiction Prize; previously she had been shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Eunoia Review, and Counterexample Poetics. A former chemical and quality engineer, she now spends her time teaching and writing fiction, screenplays, and poetry.

Afters

Elizabeth Langemak

Two days later, the surgery is already a moon landing,
and I’m its plowed landscape of proof.

In the bathroom mirror, my belly’s all unwavering
flags and stitched tracks on an aching,

windless set.  The Betadine sticks – a mustard slick –
for a week, and I don’t know what to do

with the photos: befores and afters, they call them,
six shots of cuts like new mouths to fix a flaw

I couldn’t feel until I woke up, the doctor’s light
tread still impressed on my gut.  I hide and dig them

out later, for days, those flimsy confirmations
that what’s real may as well not be, except that it is.


Elizabeth Langemak lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she is an Associate Professor, and Director of Graduate Studies in English at La Salle University.  Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Day One, Shenandoah, Pleiades, The Colorado Review, Literary Imagination, Subtropics, The Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.

Race Was Not a Factor,

Carlos Andrés Gómez

they said. He said, It

looked like a demon. It

charged [him], like [he] was five, It

Hulk Hogan

 

two legacies

ghost-stenciled into concrete, one shadow

sifted into ash. He sleeps at night—No

regrets. His family certain as the closed lid

of a coffin

they will be safe.

 

It happened, he says, It was

unfortunate. It is

what It is.

 

Which is the invisible

legacy—

eighteen years of a boy’s

stifled blush, choreography

of a scowl with index and middle

salute, sinew flung forward, barrel

chest soft as unmixed concrete, whiskerless

chin line. His crown was bursting

forth and bowed, inverted king

posing for a peon graced with steel, skull

twice knighted by fire. The final blade

of light cut endless through the high

frequency shrill that fluttered

from his mouth, dull thud from the brim

of a broached squeal. Because child. Because

scared. Because tired. The boy was tired

of being shadow, dust film on boot

lip, wanted to be luminous. Sometimes a life

splinters to break. To scatter.

To be.

 

*

 

I see my nephew pressed to the edge

of boyhood, though he looks a man

in my imagination with his flinch

and blush muted, he is still now

carved raw from the giggle that over-

takes his toddler body. Thomas

the Tank Engine is this moment’s alibi

for letting go. As I watch him now

I see him still in that faded cobalt,

whale-imprinted bib he kept soaked

through but, also, I see the son I have

planned for, knowing there is no plan.

The nights                 accrue

like gravestones in a tiny plot of land like light-

less hallways that encircle the earth, an end-

less tether that yokes the crisp dusk from each

day as it is drained of light, what can never

be seen cast against what can never be

unseen. The promises made against

that other unspoken promise, grief

made invisible beneath the shadow

of something too large to see, how all

our children share the same erased

name because of it, what leaves them

riddled with everything they cannot see:

piercing &   rigid   &                always  more

weight than anyone predicts,        & the child

still in the street. It is two minutes and a few

seconds past noon on Canfield Drive

in Ferguson, Missouri and he is still

right there, in the middle

of the street, not my nephew. Not my

son.

 


Carlos Andrés Gómez is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Winner of the 2015 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has appeared in the North American Review, Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Painted Bride Quarterly, Muzzle, CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape (MTV Books, 2012), and elsewhere. For more, please visit www.CarlosLive.com.

I Have a Father, I Have a Thousand Fathers

Lizabeth Yandel

They were telling jokes on T.V. late at night.

They were driving the school bus, lifting

me to drinking fountains I couldn’t reach.

They were talking too much, telling us

to quiet down, they were fixing broken stairs,

they danced when they were drunk, cried

when no one was around.  They sounded

like smoking lungs, like too many hours

worked.  They were not the first to run

in abandon. They killed in battle on desert

sand, were shot in city streets, they told me

I was weak, they let their weakness lead

them.  They enforced sentences, they served

time.  They held me while I cried, touched

me when I didn’t want it, didn’t touch me

when I needed.  They hated themselves

for it. They wrote poetry, they hated poetry.

They scribed the game rules from books

of their fathers, and yelled when I did not

follow the rules.  They were better than

that.  My fathers were of every color skin,

accent, tongue. They praised and cursed

and knew no God.  They felt the weight

of their predicament, yet could not see

the time-honored bars of their own cage.

Their words were wise and ignorant, soft

and full of rage.

 


Lizabeth Yandel is a writer and musician based in San Diego, CA and originally from Chicago.  She is currently completing a lyric novella about the city of New Orleans, and a chapbook, Service, which is inspired by her long, dysfunctional relationship with the service industry.  Her work can be found in Popshot Magazine, Rattle Magazine, and is forthcoming in Lumina Journal and 1932 Quarterly Journal.

Spear Side

Chelsea Whitton

Your lopsided father stuck
the loose stars to your sky

one summer. Even now
they glow up there, as if,

like you, they are still dumbstruck
by the memory of his hulking grace.

With one foot on the bed, one on
the chest of drawers, his finger

pressed each phosphorescent
shard into eternity, too high

for anyone to tear them down.
It should have busted his ass

to do a thing like that. It did
—that kind of thing—eventually.

 

>>>

 

“That kind of thing, eventually,
will wear a man’s skin thin,” says mine.

His skin is thin, and mottled
from five decades in the sun,

on a vast green field that only winks
at abundance; does not, in fact,

yield anything up, save little flags
from holes, the occasional sky-borne

alien egg. True enough, he’s burned
his skin to paper for this game.

But he does not, this time, for once,
mean golf. He means grief. That kind

of thing. He means leaving a child
in the ground, all fathers suffer.

 

>>>

 

In the ground, all fathers suffer
the fate of the warrior. In life,

it’s a sky of tin gods. Each one’s
a private lodestar, lost to all but us.

Whatever they did for a living,
our dads, however they hustled

and failed, they spun silvery roses
from gum foil, and blew Vaudeville

tunes through grass kazoos. And when
they told us how it was, we listened.

We believed their tales were true.
And so, however rent and upside-down

and patched, we flew their flags
until everything real blew away.

 

>>>

 

Until everything real blew away,
your father’s father’s father raised

a subsistence of cabbages above
the fruited plain. Nothing much

changed when the sky fell on us,
it is said he is said to have said. Only

the high folks got knocked down.
Haha. What could bring a poor man

low, apart from winter? Every soul
piled in one bed with the newspaper

stuffed to plug leaks in the windows.
Still, to be survived by all six children!

His salt-blind headstone seems to read:
God is fair to the faithful who toil!

 

>>>

 

God is fair to the faithful who toil.
Basically. Complicatedly. Squint

and try to see a version of events
in which good men are not heroic,

only good. Unmask that good
and you may find the face

of a previous father, not so
good. Meanwhile, and always,

and always without knowing why,
a procession of fathers stretches far

as infinity. Each one is in line to carve
his name over his father’s name,

into the stone. It is only a stone,
but it shows them where to stand.


Chelsea Whitton is an internationally published poet and essayist. She is the author of Bear Trap (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) and is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati. Her poems have appeared in Bateau, Cimarron Review, Forklift-Ohio, Poetry Ireland, Main Street Rag and Stand, among others. Raised in North Carolina, she currently lives in Cincinnati with her husband, Matthew, and their cat, Puck.