subjunctivity – Editor’s Choice

Liliana Lule

fifteen.

here. i will be honest with you:

i am afraid of loving someone the same way my mother loved my father—

so much it ceased to be beautiful. so much it began to hurt.

she passed this on to me, you know.

i don’t think i’ll ever get over it.

 

fourteen.

what are these things that held my pulsing heart tender as they could?

nopal. maguey. a crown of thorns held like surrender.

my father’s love like needles.

my father’s love like a curse.

 

thirteen.

we met as children.

played footsie; touched delicately.

when i said so you denied it.

you denied it. you denied it.

 

twelve.

god forgive me but i miss your tongue.

(i miss your hands i miss your walk i

miss the way you would just look at me

the way you made me feel—)

 

eleven.

i am hoping that writing this out

will be akin to exorcism.

 

ten.

you say you saw me walk the church courtyard.

you say you see me everywhere.

was what you saw mirrored on your face?

how long did it take you to realize

yours was not a universal truth?

 

nine.

¿me recuerdas en tu cama? ¿me recuerdas sonriendo?

¿me recuerdas contigo queriendo estar queriendo?

¿me recuerdas con tu familia? ¿en tu casa? ¿en la sala?

¿qué te acuerdas de mí? ¿qué fue esto para ti?

 

 

eight.

to think i let you inside me this way.

this insidious way. this ungrateful way.

(why don’t you want me. why don’t

you want me. why don’t you want—)

 

seven.

i’d have stayed in your bed if you’d let me.

 

six.

bodies never really forget.

 

five.

i still think of the grind of our hips.

molcajete. tejolote. carve yourself into me like basalt.

did you see me?

you touched this skin, you kissed this mouth.

¿qué querías? what couldn’t i give you?

 

four.

the next time he tries to raise a hand to you,

how will you react?

were the bruises a gift given to him first?

it seems almost a miracle, how one can play at survival.

it makes so much sense, how much you love your father.

 

three.

you kept asking me to stay.

 

two.

dios pero si tenía las palabras para decirte como te hubiera querido

si me habrías dejado. si tuviera las palabras para contarte esta historia.

pero no me quieres. no me quieres.

 

one.

i don’t understand why i’m still thinking about this.

 

Murambi (Rwanda, 2008) – Editor’s Choice

Carlos Andrés Gómez

There is no smell of death here. Even the lime

has faded from what it was meant to preserve.

Atop this hill, everything feels small and

possible. I convince myself that school is out,

each classroom merely waiting. A holiday perhaps.

The grass is a twisted maze that yields sound

but no music. The battered doors, some still

stained a faint copper, were once tinged with

a dark burgundy. When the breeze troubles

their rusty hinges, a pinched song overtakes

the concrete skeleton that remains, rises up

like a warning siren to anyone within earshot.

Midday rests an unrelenting blade against

our faces. A child on the abandoned soccer field

is full-out sprinting as though a stadium

full of souls is cheering him on.

Nothing there will ever again grow. His mother

is somewhere, getting water or gone. The man

I am with will not give me his name or ask for mine,

leads me to what every foreigner thinks

they came this far to see. They still use machetes

to cut the grass, among other things; he reminds me:

it is a most useful instrument.

 


Carlos Andrés Gómez is a Pushcart Prize nominated poet who is pursuing his MFA at Warren Wilson College. Winner of the 2015 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in the North American Review, Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in New York City.

You’re Having A Nice Day Because I Told You To Have A Nice Day – Editor’s Choice

Harvey Soss

When you tilted your head back a bit

to squeeze drops into your eye

I caught a glimpse of what was in it,

of how you made a pancake of your lid

and stuffed it with the best

that you could see:

the freshest strawberries,

mainsails of lilies in July

blousing upon the twin ponds

of the Botanic Garden conservatory.

 

Not quite sure how lilies would fit

in the nice day recipe, I had to give you

credit for innovation. If Charlie Chaplin

could pot a prospector’s boot

in The Gold Rush,

why not daylilies in your mashup

amidst the rods and cones, more digestible than leather.

 

If you could take a selfie

of what I see in you

you’d know that I am right

and that you’re having a really nice day,

a cornucopia more full of good things

than even IHOP’s Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity,

because I told you to.

 


Harvey Preston Soss lives in Brooklyn, New York, and first began writing seriously some three years ago, having recently all but abandoned his law practice, devoted primarily to the criminal defense of indigents, to write full-time. He won Writers’ Digest Writing Competition poetry awards in 2015 and 2016. Two of his poems were published in conjunction with the 2016 University of Canberra’s Vice-chancellor’s International Poetry Prize; others are presently awaiting publication both here and abroad.

 

“coming to America” – Editor’s Choice

Scarlet Gomez

my grandmother is arrested 5 times

before she is allowed to step her heel onto cigarette concrete

lady liberty is not a copper-rained statue, iconic image of freedom

 

lady liberty is 17, and is my mother

her first time in America, with her first job

counting american dollars at an american store

called Batman

 

my grandmother’s first taste of america

is her hand feeling for the kick in my mother’s belly

when ma visited back from that 40 hour work week

I was not made in america

but i was an idea that sprouted

on a plane that bridged

across the atlantic

 

i am performing immigration

and when she has me, on a hospital bed

after hours of my body trying to run out of hers

i am performing citizenship

as the daughter of an immigrant

 

my first grade class only spoke spanish

i told my teacher it was a mistake, because i spoke english

she asked me, “are you sure?”

i told her, in english, i knew more than this

i had never seen so many confused faces

they changed my classes

but not without

sneaking me a slot of ESL

 

i guess it is courtesy of america to do this

grab all of the kids whose names end in “ez” “ta” “ia” “ra”

give them an american friend who doesn’t know why they spend

american lunch in a hispanic classroom instead of american cafeteria

and let her ask them

“why did you have to be so stupid?”

 

when i told my mother

in her american broken english she told me

“she is just sad

her mother doesn’t love her

saca buena nota que ella no te puede decir na’”

 

i listened to her

i took my american education

and america

ate me up.

 

this is what happens when you try to own a language

america says you are too stupid to learn

teacher tells your mother, you deserve a future

where textbooks aren’t thrown like stones

teacher tells your mother, she has never met a student

who has turned in loch ness monsters

instead of goldfish

 

you write america an american universe

and the bits of you bridged from

Dominican Republic and New York,

drop into the atlantic

you cannot stop it

when america burns a bridge, the bridge keeps on fire

america says you can only choose

one side

 

lady liberty is 44, and is my mother

she prays over me at night, in Dominican spanish

first she gives me her blessing

and then she passes the torch

 

there isn’t anybody

that can say anything

about me.

 


Scarlet Gomez is a graduate from The City College of New York with a BA in Creative Writing. She has previously been published in literary journals such as Persephone’s Daughters, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Promethean, and Crabs Fat Magazine. She spends a lot of time re-watching The Office, working, or eating with her boyfriend.

 

Milk Soup – Editor’s Choice

Maggie Lily

There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.

                Winston Churchill

 

At 5 months my sister rejected

my mother’s breast.

She threw up in small ponds on

the pale yellow tile

 

until one day sister refused

her body altogether.

My mother tried everything.

The milk of the fox, of the bean,

 

sheep, ghost, wildebeest.

They all rotted my sister’s

teeth. I smelled them.

Like a sour chicken coop,

 

They were the grey snippets of

fowl claws. In order to make

a Polish milk soup you need

a good sauce pan, one from

 

the old country. Bring the milk to

boil with sugar and salt lumps.

Unless you make it the Dutch way,

then you need cinnamon.

 

You must watch and wait for

the film to form on your sister’s

forehead, on her angry milk

and peel it away with a spoon.

 

She sticks to the cool metal so well.

Mother asks Sister: “Did he touch you?”

Sister: “I wouldn’t let him do that!”

In some little minutes she will be fully

 

boiled. Mother asks:

“Did he touch you?” Sister:

“I wouldn’t let him!”

You can stop a pot from foaming over

 

if you stick a wooden spoon

on top. The kind for paddling and

savory sauces. But I like to watch

the froth stain the stove top

 

with creamy rings. I shouldn’t even

drink the stuff. My body can’t

want the milk of an animal. If he

tried to touch her, she wouldn’t let him.

 

But I let him.

 


Maggie Lily is a poet, artist, and curator from Philadelphia who hopes to be remembered in the bones of others.

Northbound Train – HONORABLE MENTION

Kathleen O'Toole

First, there’s the gentle rumble of the train cars
over the rails beneath you, like the motion of a sailboat
on anchor, or a babe in the arms of a slightly nervous
new mom, after nursing. Then there is memory:
my grandmother’s railroad widow pass got me started
early, when she and I could ride to New York for free.
The stories of her husband Jack, a clerk sent out
to document accidents on the Pennsy line, and the note
I later found in her rosary case: Please release my paycheck
to my wife. I’ll be in the hospital for few days’ rest.
He died
at fifty-one while my mom was carrying me, his first
grandchild. These rail ties go even further back.
Jack’s father, a boiler maker from County Cork
may have died in an explosion as some remember,
or died of pneumonia later —  my dad’s account.
We think we’re heartier now, my folks living
into their eighties, working a decade longer
than their parents lived.  My work on the rails
is writing. The motion of the train conjures rivers
and industrial backsides of Bridgeport and Philly,
Baltimore and Newark in me, with Elizabeth’s
shingled houses guarding their secrets, and stevedores
dozing in port while tankers line the Delaware
like rosary beads. My six decades of memory string
the gritty mysteries of heartache to the joyful ones
of riverside celebrations, and the mixed landscapes
of junked cars awaiting the crusher, with the new
condos rising in an autumn palate among severed
smokestacks — my own losses mingle with other
histories of birth and death, piled like road salt
or gravel along the sidings. Or collected,
like those pebbles we left to be blessed
where Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train would pass
near Claymont, us waiting for even a glimpse
of his widow and grieving family, our own lives
rubbed raw like those pebbles, under the weight —
the motion of the northbound train.

 


Kathleen O’Toole has combined a more than forty year professional life in community organizing with teaching and writing. Her creativity was nurtured in a family of actors in Wilmington Delaware, and her interest in poetry deepened while living in Philadelphia in the 1980’s.  Since receiving her MA from Johns Hopkins University her poems have appeared widely in magazines and journals including America, Atlanta Review, Christian Century, Margie, Northern Virginia Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry, Poetry East, Potomac Review, Prairie Schooner and Smartish Pace. Her books of poetry include a chapbook, Practice, and Meanwhile.

Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Fate – HONORABLE MENTION

Hayden Saunier

My ticket doesn’t really say that.  My ticket says “fare,” not “fate”

and the ticket doesn’t actually say anything; I’ve misread

 

the ticket, which isn’t even a ticket any more,

it’s a barcode, or in this case, four pages of wasted ink

 

on wasted wood pulp flattened and chemically bleached

into blinding white rolls and paper sheets at the peril of our drinking water

 

outlining precisely how few legal rights I retain

specific to my journey by rail between Washington D.C. and New York, NY

 

today, November 12, 2016, a changeable day,

that started fogged in, began to burn off over the Susquehanna River

 

where the train seems to take sudden flight high above the water’s shine

(once represented by aluminum foil between banks of green-dyed dough

 

in my 4th grade geography project, “Colonial Waterways”: B+, Try to be Neater)

as we cross a high trestle over a river that didn’t go to India

 

and two of these ticket pages are filled with fat chunks of language

footnoted by stars, double stars and crosses, outlining rules

 

for baggage, our considerable baggage, for what we each carry with us,

jam into overhead compartments or leave clogging the aisles,

 

which of course doesn’t include what we drag behind us

heavy and as freighted with the past as white cotton collecting bags

 

dragged through long rows; rule after rule specific to possessions

but nothing about fate, those three goddesses

 

who spin, measure, cut the length of a life to an end

and I consider how switching trains could throw off the game,

 

I could head west on the Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh

where the brass plaque at the confluence of the Ohio River

 

says Fort Pitt’s capture from the French and Indians

established Anglo-Saxon supremacy in the United States,

 

and even though that sign doesn’t really say anything,

it’s hard to misread Anglo-Saxon Supremacy

 

no matter which direction you go, none of which is touched upon

in the fine print contained by this sheaf of papers

 

masquerading as a ticket which again has nothing to do with fate—

(ask Oedipus, Iphigenia, or the two men who survived the collapse

 

of the World Trade Center towers to die in the Staten Island Ferry crash,

ask them about fate) — I just read it that way, because I’m stupidly

 

hopeful for answers, and I could have misread

“fare” as “fade” or “fame” or “face” or “hate”

 

because Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Face

is also true, as is Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Fame,

 

and Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Hate

which is screaming from the newspapers today and now

 

the lawyers in my head look back from their plushy business seats

and point out the statement makes no guarantees,

 

read or misread, implied or specific, and by the way,

they say, all the business is packed tight

 

(with maybe and possibly and the power of might)

in the smart snappy briefcase of may.

 


Hayden Saunier is the author of Tips for Domestic Travel (Black Lawrence Press: 2009) Say Luck (Writers & Books: 2013), and a chapbook, “Field Trip to the Underworld” (Seven Kitchens Press: 2014) She has been published in a wide variety of journals including 5 a.m., Bellevue Literary Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Smartish Pace, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Tar River Poetry. Her work has been awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize, the Rattle Poetry Prize, Gell Poetry Award and the Robert Fraser Award. (www.haydensaunier.com)

 

Tips for Domestic Travel and Say Luck are both available from your local bookstore or through Amazon.com. Field Trip to the Underworld is available through Seven Kitchens Press.

The Diameter of a Ringling Bros. Circus Ring – HONORABLE MENTION

Gail Comorat

 

            after Yehuda Amichai

 

The diameter of a circus ring is forty-two feet,

an arena large enough to contain three elephants,

three performance stands, two trainers, and

a ringmaster. And inside this ring, each elephant,

upon her designated turn, turns circles around

the ringmaster as he cracks commands with his

ceremonial whip. And no more than ninety feet away,

eight other traveling elephants wait in a steel-

barred cage of insufficient measure. And in this cage,

they hear the cries of their sisters as they perform

a shuffle around the ring, their soft-soled feet scuffing

dirt into the circus air. The caged elephants shift and

shoulder each other, bellow back, setting off a call

and answer of all elephants, a shared chain that

becomes wild notes rising and falling outside and

inside the big top, where the master’s sharp whistle

sends children scuttling closer to their mothers, and

the mothers circle their little ones with rounded arms

as all the elephants repeat their circle of song. And

the song rings and rings and lingers even after

the canvas walls come down.

 


Gail Braune Comorat is a founding member of Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, Phases of the Moon (Finishing Line Press), and has been published in Grist, Adanna, Gargoyle, Mudfish, and The Widows’ Handbook. She received a 2011 Delaware Division of the Arts Fellowship Grant for Emerging Poet, and in 2015, a DDOA Grant for Established Poet.

Duffey – HONORABLE MENTION

Will Jones

I had a brother at Khe Sahn

Fighting off the Viet Cong

They’re still there, he’s all gone

                – Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA

 

I’m not afraid to die. Hell, I already died once,

Duffey says, from the malaria after the war.

I was on the other side, it was beautiful,

no pain, all your questions answered,

like why there’s gophers, dumb shit like that,

he says, a little grin curling around

his dry, cracked lips, a quick flash of light

in his gray, opaque eyes.

 

I had a choice and I chose to come back.

I don’t know why. No, I’m not afraid to die,

hell no, Duffey says, across the kitchen table

of his cluttered ranch house off El Camino

where’s he’s lived thirty years a bachelor

after his wife left, mother of his two children.

Now she’s trying to come around, take care of me,

he says, knows there’s money, might get some,

but I say, it’s thirty years, goddamn it,

leave it alone, just leave it the hell alone.

 

Duffey, lean and long limbed, loose t-shirt

and sweats, his face sere and gaunt,

the backs of his hands purple from IV’s,

head shaved, just a hint of  mustache

where the handlebar used to be,

working on the sandwich we brought him,

wiping away the sauce with the big knuckle

of his index finger.

 

On the wall beside the table, an old framed

picture of him, smiling, straddling his hog,

the ghost of who he used to be

haunting him from the past.

 

Started in the lungs, then got into the brain,

Duffey says. They tried to zap it

but didn’t get it all, and then the chemo,

but, hell, the cure is worse than the disease,

so I says, that’s enough, I’m not

afraid to die, let’s get on with it.

 

After a tour in Okinawa,

Duffey re-upped and went to Nam,

sixty-eight, sixty-nine.

Had to save my brother, Duffey says,

never had any luck, none at all,

poor son-of-a-bitch. I was a sniper

and he was a radioman, a walking target.

I shot officers and his opposite on the other side,

and they shot him at Khe Sahn. Never had

any damn luck, no damn luck at all, he says.

 

A sheet of yellow paper

taped to the kitchen wall reads,

 

Duffey is a hospice patient.

If you notice a change in him

(including death)

do not call 911. Call…

 

Hell, I’m still showering myself,

happy here on my own,

food in the refrigerator,

but they want to help,

so I guess I’ll let them,

but I’m not afraid to die.

 

Hell no, Duffey says, not me.

Already died once, goddamn it.

 


Will Jones writes, “I am a native Philadelphian, a graduate of William Penn Charter School, class of 1966, and Susquehanna University. I have lived in San Luis Obsipo, California, since 1979. In 2011, I retired from a career in public education as an English teacher and high school principal. My poems have appeared in local publications and in an anthology of poems celebrating the 30th anniversary of the San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival.”

 

 

Extinction (I) – RUNNER UP

Elizabeth Bagby

Cyanobacteria in primeval waves

found the young planet so immensely to their liking

that they multiplied and multiplied—

those carbon-gluttons at an endless feast—

spread, turned oceans blue,

and forced the world

to breathe

 

From which it all followed: legs grew,

and nerves and spines, fins, wings, antennae, tails;

monocots pushed up, leaves uncurled;

meadows flamed with color, brought forth

the humming seethe

 

of bees; and, not incidentally,

some enterprising double-jointed ape

stretched out a fingertip and touched a thumb,

and found the world was less

obscure

 

—from which the rest of it proceeded:

wars and Romans, contrapposto, dancing,

letters, A-tests, pyramids and satellites,

gunpowder, rock and roll, vaccines, banner ads,

whisky, card games, fantasy leagues, traffic stops, Congress: well,

here we are.

 

Did, as cyan crept across the swells,

as the holocaust of oxygen filled the air,

some skeptical bacterium

demur?

 

Did it assert, The oceans aren’t changing; or,

if they are changing, you can’t prove

that we’re the ones changing them;

and anyway, why stop progress, when

cyanobacteriakind has come

so far?

 


A. Bagby, a Chicago-based writer, musician, performer, and illustrator, recently participated in the Arctic Circle Arts & Sciences Expedition, an arts residency aboard a tall-mast ship exploring the glaciers and fjords of Svalbard. Her writing has appeared onstage with Strange Tree Group and Sansculottes; in anthologies from Wipf & Stock, Press 53, and Chicago Review Press; and in numerous magazines. She also draws oddball creatures for The Forgiveness Monster, fronts Liz + the Baguettes, and plays bass for The Unswept.