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.

Past the Days of Yes Y’allin’

Martin Wiley

It was 2 Live Crew, of course, that taught me

it was actually okay to like

Bruce Springsteen.

 

***

Fighting against the current on the way to

second period Biology, I felt a quick tug.  Pete had snagged

my arm but he shouldn’t have been there, everyone knew

he never missed History on the other side

of the school—yet there he was, waiting.

In his hand: a tape.

 

There was a power, once, in tapes.

 

Battered, worn, outer shell scratched, faded, yet the word

Megadeth remained, clear as day.  He held it out to me.  I preferred

not to be rude, to a friend.  But,

you know, Megadeth.

 

I wasn’t really looking to listen to regular death, so

this was a little much.

 

Yo, man,

you gotta hear this.

 

***

The right to be angry is the most American thing anyone can claim.

Everything else is born from that.  It is the very reason we want our guns

or speech protected.  More than

a flag, more than a song, this

is what brings us together, what makes us one.

 

Check the stage, I declare a new age

Get down for the Prophets of Rage.

 

***

Pete thrust that tape into my hands and

I could see those little tabs at the top

had been pierced, ruptured,

conquered.

 

What is it?

 

He only shook his head,

and just like that, he was gone.

 

Clear the way for the Prophets of Rage.

 

***

In the summer of 1990, three members of 2 Live Crew were pulled

off stage and arrested as they played at a sex club.

 

Officially, they were charged with obscenity for music performed at a sex club.

 

That may be the greatest sentence I will ever write.

 

***

When I finally got around to homework that evening, I threw Pete’s

tape on, figuring if I’m already doing algebra,

ain’t no tape gonna make it any worse.

 

No work got done that night.

 

It Takes A Nation Of Millions to hold us back.

 

The music was like bug repellant for parents, a screeching whine

that repeated, endlessly, effortlessly, the loop

was the meaning, the meaning was in the loop.  I mean, the album started

 

with a goddamn air-raid siren, a warning, a call

and response that flicked something buried

within cultural DNA.

 

It’s like that, I’m like Nat leave me the hell alone

If you don’t think I’m a brother—check the chromosomes.

 

***

It is an inconvenient truth

that free speech can be attacked on all sides, when a right-wing Florida DA

locked arms with a Democratic soon-to-be Vice President’s wife

 

to lock up some Black dudes

for singing about butts.  The surreality of

strange bedfellows goes both ways, however,

 

and in July 1990 2 Live Crew released Banned in the USA, notable

as the first album to come equipped

with a parental advisory sticker.

 

You have to understand, the title track

drove white people in Jersey fucking insane.

 

***

I played Pete’s tape, flipped it,

played it, the loop was the meaning,

 

the meaning was hidden in the loop.

 

(Stereo, stereo) describes my scenario.

 

***

You see, this was Bruce,

the Poet of the Parkway, the god whose words united

Wall Street commuters with Meadowlands tailgaters,

who traced a sacred lineage from Dylan all the way back

to Whitman, but better, more real

than either of them could hope to be.

A man of the people.

 

And we all knew which people.

 

My friends and I basked in the outrage of all those who

screamed their love for Jersey Jesus, and

shrieked their horror that some no talent Blacks

had taken sacred tracks

and turned them into some weird anti-American defense

of perversion.  Finally, we thought, the music of the people

 

who refused to hire us,

who labeled me Zebra or half-breed,

who didn’t bother to hide their disbelief when we aced math tests,

who assumed we cheated when we bested their kid’s SAT scores,

 

for once the music of the people

who hated everything about us

would be used to speak for us.

 

***

And then,

Kurt Loder, MTV News,

interrupting Yo! MTV Raps! to report on the controversy,

read a statement from

The Boss himself:

 

Anyone who doesn’t support

2 Live Crew’s use of “Born in the USA”

obviously never listened to

the lyrics of my song, anyway.

 

***

In those days, MTV still played music,

and when

the time allotted to hip hop was over,

they went straight to the video,

Bruce,

in concert,

 

Born in the USA.

 

And for the very first time,

 

my friends and I

actually listened.

Martin Wiley writes: “I was a long-time poet and spoken word artist, but for the past few years had labeled myself as a “recovering poet.” My seven year old daughter’s love of words has dragged me, mostly happily, off the wagon. After receiving my MFA from Rutgers-Camden, I remain in Philadelphia, teaching at community college, working as an activist, being a dad and husband, and finding time, when possible, to write.”

On Ecstasy

Alexander Long

I like hearing things before

I feel them and

the other way

around

 

The disconnect I guess                 the shadow

Listening             the scent

of Hendrix

 

The symphony of an oyster sluicing down

the throat

The hum of horseradish in its wake

 

And ounce after ounce of Grey Goose erupting

In the guts

like a rainbow

 

The scent of a rainbow is dampened wood

In August and August sounds

like crickets and frogs

 

Fucking their brains out and sex tastes

Like oysters                       the sea

 

Looks like laundry on the line

Just before a summer downpour

 

Giddy                    helpless               everywhere

 

I prefer the Walt Whitman to the Brooklyn

To leap from

but it makes no difference

 

I’ve just crushed a mosquito against my ear again

And its one-note song tastes

 

Of iron

 

I’ve been told dust is my destiny

 

Hurry up

I say

 

I couldn’t be happier


Alexander Long’s third book of poems, Still Life, won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize in 2011. He’s also published four chapbooks, the most recent being The Widening Spell (Q Avenue Press, 2016). Work appears & is forthcoming in AGNI, American Poetry Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Blackbird, Callaloo, From the Fishouse, Miramar, New Letters, Philadelphia Stories, & The Southern Review, among others.

Listening to Chet Baker

Ed Granger

Always a beat too cool for whatever

school the rhythm guys are swimming in

as if each bar hangs shimmering

like an ornament, tugs at some continuum

between the lips you purse to whittle

every eighth-note silhouette and your last

quicksilver fix as you ghost out

of your battered brass soul straight past

the gilded to the hammered-thin – fugitive

gift that stuns the metronome,

then reels us in.


Ed Granger lives and was raised in Lancaster County, where he consequently learned early the proper way to pass a buggy. He works for a healthcare non-profit and is a half-time dad. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Seminary Ridge Review, Loch Raven Review, The Delmarva Review, and other journals.

GRUNGE GREMLINS, AN E.P.

Joe Costal

Track 1.

I knew Kip Winger and Motley Crue were getting blow jobs

even though I didn’t know what blow jobs were.

When I first heard the phrase, I thought of hair dryers,

the robot helmet-looking chairs inside

my mom’s beauty parlor. Where the viejas called

MTV “mierda,” but I couldn’t get enough. Heavy

metal was my favorite, backstage footage in black

and white, so it had to be real. Rockers who

looked like girls surrounded by more girls.

Indistinguishable. Make-up from the neck up.

But the girl Girls. Girls big-boobed and Aqua Netted

blondes with toasted brown skin, lined up, hobbled like bruised

peaches in halter tops, raising rail thin,

downy haired arms in bangle bracelet

unison. Yelling Woooooo at the camera,

like it was all they knew how to say.

 

Track 2.

When Poison played live on Headbanger’s

Ball, one of these girls lifted her “Open

Up and Say Ahhh…” t-shirt, exposing white

breasts. Bounced awake my insides. The camera

caught it. Just a flash, but long enough.

Long enough to hum electric in my mind’s eye

buzzing red as the Coca-Cola light in our drug store’s window.

 

Track 3.

And I wanted to touch a boob.

I decided one night, sweaty under Batman bedspread.

I wanted to touch one so bad. Even though my Cuban

grandfather called me a “fag” when I couldn’t catch

a football while he was watching. I wanted to

touch a boob. But I couldn’t play

the recorder, let alone guitar. And I didn’t have

money to buy a puffy ruffled pirate shirt or

spandex. Nor the thigh width required for

tight leather pants. No hair to style up and out.

To tease. Mine was low and tight, combed over and

back with Abuelo’s long black comb, licked fresh and

unsheathed from his back pocket. When he was done

my hair resembled Batista’s gelled helmet, not the

curly chaos of Guevara’s guerrillas.

 

Track 4.

The 90s came to solve all our problems.

Those pansy ass glam bands. Fuck them

said 1992, ripping Jon Bon Jovi and

Warrant off my wall. Nevermind,

said 1992, in a ringer ree, naked baby cassette in hand,

throwing away Hysteria and all those used GNR Illusions.

Said 1992, “No one gives a fuck.” Not Nirvana,

nor Mudhoney nor Fugazi. Tool. And Pearl Jam pissed off

Ticketmaster and nobody wanted seals clubbed.

Or wars started. Or New Kids. Or videos.

And the cool girls wore overalls.

And Abuelo’s closet was filled with all the flannel

I needed. And I walked to high school washed in

pre-soaked Old Spice and Pall Malls. My thighs the perfect

width for denim.

 

Track 5.

That fall, Billy Mirabelli got a blow job in his bathroom

while we watched Gremlins on HBO.

His mother worked the dinner shift at Ground Round,

so his house was where that kind of shit went down.

Drugs. Sex. Billy went into the bathroom like a virgin,

came out like a prayer. Hoping to be a man.

I studied his gaze. He still looked like the rest of us,

except dazed. Not older, as I’d suspected,

from the way my brother talked about the girls

who stood on Boulevard East, their pink lipstick

and yellow teeth. Their frayed, waxy bodies a

parable. Their jeans ripped down an entire thigh.

Our girls only ripped at the knee. The

denim threads, taut, like Venetian blinds.

Wigwam socks rolled calf-high. Our girls wore

beige lipstick and never smiled. Never talked.

Always bored. Like the girl who blew Billy–

she didn’t say a word, looked straight ahead while

Phoebe Cates described her dead Santa dad,

his neck snapped in bottled-up chimney.

Crumpled forward in soot.

 

Track 6.

I stared at the blowjob girl in spite of myself.

Though I knew enough to try not to. Her cheeks shiny

as fruit skin, reflecting the dancing yellows and

blacks of the movie. The gremlin death cries. The water

and bright lights. The eating after midnight.

Something in Billy’s eyes told me not to envy him,

his new blowjob life. Not to trust the other boys

when they clapped him on the back

raising rail-thin, downy-haired arms

in high-five unison, yelling Woooooo

at each other, like it was all they knew how to say.

 


Joe Costal begins listening to Christmas music right after Halloween, but not one second earlier. His writing has most recently appeared in The Maine Review, Ponder Review and Pif Magazine. His poetry will appear in the forthcoming anthology Challenges for the Delusional Part 2 by Diode Editions. Joe is an Assistant Editor at Barrelhouse. He writes and podcasts about books, music and movies for Quirk Publishers in Philadelphia and Jersey Ghouls. Joe teaches writing at Stockton University at the Jersey Shore, where he lives with his four children. His writing has earned awards and distinction from Grub Street, Painted Bride, Rider University’s Hispanic Writers Workshop & Wesleyan University.

Girard Avenue

Valerie Fox

 

Say you’re twenty-one and throw a party where you are house-sitting, a big row-house in a once opulent neighborhood, and you’ve danced with him, Russell, who is twenty-nine, and when he tries to get into your pants you let him, and say you never hear the stories about how Russell is really into girls your age, a lot of them, as told by Jimmy, who your close friend dated briefly to escape her abortion-guy, and well, say you go with Russell to Chicago, and get used to the temperatures, so when your older sister gets married and moves out there the two of you stay close, like when you shared a room growing up, and she let you listen to Abbey Road over and over, and have the top bunk, and a little later she sent you out to find out about birth control when you needed it, at some point, and then in Chicago, Russell’s oil paint smell and fluid, army-brat-Texan accent wears off on you, and his diamondo-pattern dada-vests, and, let’s face it, his luck, and in the summer, say you and your sister, who’s pining for a change of her own, go to Italy for a whole month, which feels new, beginning to end, keeping the window box begonias alive, cutting off your parents, drinking chianti, and both of you can see and hear ghosts, but only the ones whose stories ring true, and you name your daughter Penny Lane


Valerie Fox writes: “My recent chapbook, Insomniatic [poems], was published by PS Books. Previously I published The Rorschach Factory (Straw Gate Books) and The Glass Book (Texture Press). I have published work in Painted Bride Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, Ping Pong, Hanging Loose, Apiary, Juked, Cordite Poetry Review, qarrtsiluni, Sentence and other journals. I live in central New Jersey and teach at Drexel University.”

A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Marjorie Maddox

Yeah, not just fingers, but hands,
shoulders, torso, limbs, Good Golly,

Miss Molly, everything swings up and over
the ivories, blasting away the past

with the lit stick of boogie-woogie
and blues rolled up in rock that explodes

from his lipsticked lips crackling with
Slippin’ and Slidin’ and Tutti Frutti

like they own the joint,
‘cause they do. Nah, nothing

little ‘bout his lungs wailing
Long Tall Sally, nothing

little ‘bout that pompadoured dude
blowing the lid off the fifties.


Sage Graduate Fellow of Cornell University (MFA) and Director of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry including Wives’ Tales (Seven Kitchens Press), True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series and Illumination Book Award Medalist), Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize),  and Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award). In addition, Marjorie is the co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (PSU Press 2005), the author of four children’s books, and Inside Out: Poems on Writing Poems. Marjorie lives with her husband and two children in Williamsport, PA. For more information and reviews, please see www.marjoriemaddox.com