Ariel Francisco

Poem Written on My 28th Birthday

Across the tracks a single withering tulip
the color of fading summer sunlight
rising from rust, head bowed like a tired
hunched old man waiting for the train,
but this is the last stop and he’s on the
wrong side, shivering despite the still air.
In the fading summer sunlight I am waiting
for this train. I am tired, hunched over.
But I am not old. This train will arrive before
the cold, I must believe in this. There
is still time. There is still time. There is still

Ariel Francisco is the author of A Sinking Ship is Still a Ship (Burrow Press, 2020) and All My Heroes Are Broke (C&R Press, 2017). A poet and translator born in the Bronx to Dominican and Guatemalan parents and raised in Miami, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, The American Poetry Review, The New Yorker and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.

Ethan J. Murray

memory returns

i found myself in the back of a hospital
tossed with the spent sheets, the crinkle
of sterilized plastic

the incinerator
coughing in fits and starts

i am lucky
no one has ever known
how to handle me,
my despair incongruent
with youth

enough to make
a graveyard retch

rain drizzled    moonburst      caramelized     plaited sky

the air has seen worse
than a boy-girl
clutching a circlet of vines
to their chest

living in the hollow
of an oak tree, stuffing the gaps
with moss

light, only ever the lance
of absence

Ethan J. Murray is a queer, autistic poet loved into existence by 12 headmates. They want to help make the world kinder for every neurodivergent person. As always, they are still learning. You can find them on twitter @ethanandco.

Deon Robinson

What the Law of Inequivalent Exchange Taught Me About Patron Saints

someone somewhere with a drop
of my blood dies & I feel it coming,
the deadline for work extended by a casket
& I am relieved.

a man trades a stray dog
for a thunderstorm
and the sky descends
upon us with a rumbling belly

a builder creates
the rainbow bridge
for whales and the officer
demands a toll

a homeless man
leaves a tooth under his head
when he sleeps to wake to a possession
he lost before the pilgrimage

the widow leaves a bouquet
of flowers over a tombstone
and it blooms into a reason
to never come back to the graveyard

an instrument is planted in the crimson earth
& every earthquake begins
to sound like a song
you’ve heard before

I buy my mom a clock
for dinner, it leaves her stomach hollow
but her body looking young,
forever.

The Magical Negro Archetype

Expectations make a grave out of the real world,
But who’s to say how to raise a fortune teller?
Who’s to say that crows are liars?
What makes a gang dangerous if not the birdwatcher?
Didn’t we equate crows to murder to keep the doves happy?
When’s the last time you tasted the metallic of a night’s mouth and felt safe?
Was it because of the silky saliva of constellations? Do you like the dark or what light withers in it?
Does something dark have to feel so heavy?
Does a shadow have to grovel over concrete for it to feel real?
Can the crow have kids? Can it have fears or have you only thought of birds like that like symbols?
Don’t get carried away in the fiction of transparency,
Unless you want to be stuffed with feathers that melt like obsidian.
A shadow used to be harmless once, before we named black things after the discarded areas of lights and they have reclaimed their right to vengeance.

what weeps just bleeds
After George Abraham

and perhaps tears are needed to fund the war,
spit-shine the hesitation off a dusty gun’s mouth
watch it shoot off like veiny red men at baseball games.

who can resist weeping,
poker facing a revolution all the while
crawling from the unappreciated soil’s trauma?

fear god in all their forms, the sun will once again grow dormant and even the most righteous cannot baptize out the violence
a serrated night brings to our doorsteps.

smile anyway,
pull until the hinges of your mouth split
smile for the box you deserve

for the box they put you into
for the box grandma could not escape
identity and death aren’t unique to you.

tears aren’t as valuable as they used to be,
grief is its own epidemic, a boy I knew once can tell you about
the sick mother syndrome I got on his favorite tacky polo shirt

back in ‘16 when I was still knowledgeable in how to keep
the shrapnel of it all out of safe zones, and tie the leash for tears
close to these heavy eyes

tell me something,
what is it called when you stop hearing the dogs bark,
when the night feels less like a snarl and more like a prayer?

Deon Robinson is an aspiring writer from Bronx, New York. He currently studies at Susquehanna University, where he was the recipient of the Janet C. Weis Prize for Literary Excellence for his writing. His poetry has appeared/is forthcoming in Asterism, Blue Marble Review, Bridge, Glass’ Poets Resist Series, Homology Lit, Laurel Moon and Occulum Journal. Follow his misadventures and let him know what your favorite poems are on Twitter @djrthepoet.

Lake Vargas

Exodus

They say don’t love a girl with daisies in her mouth,
wrists circled by cotton, skies breaking just before
her shoulders. Don’t. In the mornings I still see
you, gauzy by the curtain, corneas slick with mist.
My mountain girl. If I tried, I said, it would mean
war and beauty. My body makes them synonymous.
You see stars in tarnishing sequins — my jagged
teeth as icebergs with razed heads. You see me
circling myself through the day, a dog that cannot
lie down. I want to be a vessel, instead. Steer me.
Send me to sled across the ocean on my stomach.
When we meet at the silo between our houses,
I say I have learned the art of wivery. Curling you
into my chest, coaxing our bodies to slot together.
You clasp hands to my cheeks like you can breathe
air into me just by thinking it. I align your figure —
chalked elbows and silhouette-whitened knees —
to my remaining days. Across the street, a truck
coughs itself back to life. You turn your head and
seek the noise. A windmill begins to wave its sails.

Lake Vargas is a regular contributor at Royal Rose Magazine. She primarily writes poetry and creative non-fiction. Her work has been published by Sea Foam Mag, Empty Mirror, and The Cerurove, among others. She tweets at @lakewrites. More of her work can be found on her Tumblr, @stonemattress.

Sean Johnson

Uncle Dizzle

Uncle Dizzle BW (2)

Sean Johnson was born in Houston, Texas where she attended the University of Houston. There she majored in Education and minored in Art. Though she has always been a writer, her interest in visual arts began in 2012.  Since that time she has been a featured live painter, exhibition artist, and vendor at Block Market, Black Girl Excellence, Survivor Seminar, Midtown Arts Center, and a host of other events.  Her painting, “Hunger for Knowledge” was published in The Hunger Magazine this year. You can follow her at @seanjohnsonarts or visit her website here.

Chris Records

Self-Portrait with Gold and Shadows

It is mine, but it does not act like it. It never ceases to shock and disappoint. It moves in ways I don’t intend. It expresses things I wish it would keep hidden. It is not right. It is not as it should be. It has never been obedient, never watched the calendar, never made an effort to improve itself. It ruined my teenage years. It has caused me more anxiety than anything, anyone else. It is still my chief preoccupation. It is my chief failing. Its greatest betrayal is yet to come.

I am here, again, to scrutinize it, in a room built for scrutinizing, for breaking down the self. It is a woman’s room. An old woman’s room. The room is laid out around a vanity. It is full of chintz and gold leaf. In the dim light, the one lamp turned down to half-strength, I scan the room. The vanity is gold. The vanity mirror is gold. The hair brush is gold. The powder boxes are gold. The couch is gold. The Madonna in the corner is gold. Three hand mirrors are in the drawer of the vanity; two of them are gold. There is a gold Capodimonte vase on the vanity. It shows a perfect, pink-cheeked woman dressed in gold, sitting in front of a gold mirror. The vase once held fake flowers; the flowers were gold.

The gold room is the room of a woman brought up in the 50s, a time when women were raised to scrutinize and scour themselves like dinner plates. The woman is dead. She has been dead for 15 years. I am in her room in my memory. It is a room that doesn’t exist anymore. It is a room in a house that was sold six months after she died and two months before we invaded Iraq. I always remember that time in this way, bookended by those two disasters.

The owner of the room was a woman brought up to believe that looks were earned. She was a woman brought up to believe that looks were a punishment. She was a woman who spent much of her life-annihilating herself in mirrors. She was a woman who weighed eighty pounds when she died, who left us with such sayings as “A minute on your lips, a lifetime on your hips.” She is the woman who raised me. She raised me like she was raised. I am gay. I took to the habit of self-scrutiny much better than other boys might.

I sit at the vanity next to the gold vase, and catalog, list, mark the defects. The wide, dark, almond-shaped eyes, heavy-lidded, underlined with sleepless blue. OK. Thin lips, unremarkable, austere. Not bad. Dark brown hair coiled in curls, a splash of remnant blondness, hidden gray. Fine. Prominent brow and cheekbones. Not the best. Prominent veins, prominent moles. Not ideal. Uneven beard, patchy around the chin. Skin that turns sallow in winter, brown in the sun, but always unreliable, always prone to eruptions, to redness, unevenness. Ugh. Crooked, broken nose, ruin of pictures, disrupter of symmetry. The worst. Small bones, coffered eyes, high forehead. Wrong.

It is a severe sort of face. It is a face in the back of a church, in the background of an El Greco painting. It is not made for light. Light ruins it. Light is its enemy. It is too long, too thin, too sharp for light. It is not pleasant to look at when illuminated. It is not the kind of thing you should analyze too closely. It is meant for shadow.

I turn off the light and leave it there in the shadows, in the gold room that doesn’t exist, in the custody of the woman who is dead. I will not carry it out with me. I will do my best to forget it is mine.

Chris Records is a nonprofit consultant and writer from Los Angeles, California. His short story collection “Care: Stories” is forthcoming from Inlandia Press. He is also the author of three unpublished novels. Literary agents and others can contact him via Twitter @clorecords001. 

Andrea Salvador

Shopping List for Hard Times

There was some shopping to do, Eve convinced herself, before you burst.

How else would you entertain yourself afterward? When the tears dried, when your chest stopped hitching, and you realized that someone was dying thousands of miles away? You couldn’t just sit there. Eve shuddered at the idea — no. You had to busy yourself and make the breakdown your stage.

Eve selected the cleanest shopping cart and pushed it through the first lane. Keeping in mind her budget, she selected an assortment of snacks: a carton of low-fat milk, a tiny box of cereal, and a box of oatmeal cookies. Eve threw in a bag of chips to complement the sweetness.

In the next lanes, she found a pack of lavender-scented tissue paper, a bar of papaya soap, and a back issue of some gossip magazine.

As she reached the counter, which was humming from the usual cohort of middle-aged women or rushing schoolmates, Eve took a bottle of blue and gold glitter, along with a tube of eyelash glue, for good measure.

The woman in front of her took a decade to spill everything from her cart. Eve even watched her scramble and run back to the meat station after realizing she’d chosen the wrong cut of chicken.

The cashier scanned Eve’s things with an apologetic look on her face.

“There,” Eve desperately wanted to say. “I’m going to a sleepover. I have friends and they love me. They love me for who I am, and that’s why I’m going to sleep over in their house tonight.” But her mother told her to not speak if all that came out were lies. Her father told her to go right ahead, but she didn’t believe anything he said, not anymore.

“Thanks,” Eve said instead, taking her change from the cashier and sliding the plastic bag’s handles over her wrist.

At home, Eve settled herself on her bathroom floor. She almost smiled at how picturesque it must have looked but the harsh pang in her chest stopped her.

Instead, she stuffed her trash bag with the receipt and plastic packaging of the items she’d just bought. She spread them around her, scrutinizing each item as the well inside her grew deeper. The colors all meant to evoke a sense of calm — Eve had studied that in her marketing class — but her mind was just spinning.

Like a top that had been let go too soon. The fast rise and the even faster fall.

It was not feeling dizzy. This was why she no longer went to the school clinic, with the nurse trying to suppress a sigh every time Eve explained so. This was why she didn’t lie down and close her eyes — she needed to keep moving. Moving meant trying to regain balance, no matter how long it took.

It would come any second now: the rush, the river, the rage.

Eve pasted glitter on her eye bags. She watched them sparkle for a brief second, under the harsh white light, before they slid and rolled down her cheeks. The tears came and didn’t stop. But they looked beautiful, and that made Eve feel better.

Just a bit.

Andrea Salvador lives somewhere in Asia, specifically a country with thousands of islands and constantly humid weather. She is a self-proclaimed writer with a liking towards creating lists, watching sci-fi movies, and rearranging her bookshelf. You can check out her portfolio here.

Alex Vigue

GERD

I pick my nose until it bleeds
control. Anvil body reeks of singed skin
and vomit. Caffeine, you have to drink to
keep up, to survive, hammer.
Retail, you have to pay your dues,
hammer. I scratch at the scalp moon
dust until it bleeds

panic. Footprints sear undisturbed in lunar
crust, craters bounce around in circles, ring
around ashes on the windowsill, ashes
on the pillow, teak blood on the new

sheets. I floss my teeth until they bleed—
only takes one pass. Nail polish bleeds
onto cuticles, an untrained hand, barely
passable, needs shower steam erosion.
No sport saved my wretched thoughts.
No alter other than fire shaped me,

a crucible is too many things. Hot
blade, hot blonde both singe soft
short lasting pliability. Stoking charred
leaves, nerves. Damned bellows gasping
GERD phlegm and bile. I burn myself
on my own handles. A sacrifice to
remain malleable.

Alex Vigue is a non-binary writer from a small town in Washington State. He has a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from Western Washington University and has been published in Vinyl, Occulum, and Lockjaw Magazine. His debut chapbook “The Myth of Man” was a finalist for the Floating Bridge Press chapbook competition. He volunteers his time trying to impress the importance of poetry to people of all ages.

Nina Fosati

Honestly, It Put Me Right Off My Luncheon

+++++ In 1979, I was a back-to-the-land Whole-Earth-Catalog-reading hippie whose first job out of college was working for a community theater. A small German woman, a housekeeper in the season’s second play, invited me to join the American Business Women’s Association. When I lightheartedly demurred, she objected. My position as costume designer was a public one, and she wanted me to be her guest at the next luncheon. I suspected a conservative professional crowd wouldn’t appreciate my point of view. However, she insisted, so I agreed.

+++++ Usually, I knocked about in wooden-soled clogs and painter pants, but I’d dressed up for this occasion. I arrived at the designated hotel wearing a knit skirt and jacket set I’d foraged from the theater’s costume collection. A sea of women wearing business suits with matching shoes and bags gathered outside the ballroom. I said a little prayer of thanks when I discovered my rummaged outfit blended in perfectly. The next task would be more difficult for me–connecting with the practical mid-western businesswomen making polite inquiries about my work. The joy of theatrical design and historical clothing captivated me. The intricacies of running a company, not so much. When asked what I did, I should have said, “I make costumes for plays.” That was tangible. Instead, I spoke of illusive concepts like “working with the director and actors to help support the character’s journey.” It’s no wonder conversations would fire up then fade into awkward silence.

+++++ We listened to the speaker and poked at our chicken salad, served on a decorative bed of iceberg lettuce. When finished, she visited each table, exchanged smiling introductions, and received compliments on her presentation. The wait staff efficiently exchanged the lunch plates for coffee and cake.

+++++ I turned to the woman on my left. She was quiet and sweet, one of those tiny people who everyone calls dear, as in “I saw dear Audrey at Harold’s today.” She and a friend had softly commented to each other throughout the presentation. I wondered if my boisterous voice might have frightened her. Like the bunnies I saw nibbling on clover in my yard, she kept a cautious eye on my every move.

+++++ As I launched into some inconsequential topic, her face warped. A shiver flowed over it, distorting her features as it passed. Then the back of her glasses fogged. At first, I thought it was steam, but that made little sense. Water squirted over the glass, the jets clearing the fog in little streams, which washed down and dripped onto her cheek. I observed these changes in startled fascination, not knowing whether to comment or look away. Then to my astonishment, her eyeball burst out of her socket. The blue iris surrounded by white pressed against the back of her eyeglasses, bulging and judging me in my horrified surprise.

+++++ The diminutive woman quickly covered her face with her napkin and turned to the comfort of her friend who whisked her away, presumably to some tastefully decorated ladies’ room, where she could compose herself, then slip away, neat, tidy, and re-assembled.

+++++ After this happened, the other women seated at our table discretely turned away per the rules of decorum and polite society, pretending it had never happened. Obviously, we were embarrassed. Both for ourselves, witnessing such a disconcerting breach of the body proper and in empathy for the lady having to endure such an unfortunate ordeal. The party broke up quickly. We excused ourselves, and then skedaddled as fast as possible, myself included.

+++++ These days, when I remember the woman with the glass eye, melancholy overtakes me. It bothers me there was no response that felt right. Perhaps the crowd was correct. Perhaps politely pretending to have elective amnesia was the most considerate impulse. Some will argue the lady didn’t require my sympathy. She and her friend found a safe place to retire, performed the needed repairs and composed themselves. They had no need of my concern or me.

+++++ It’s certainly possible that that was the case. However, I do wish I hadn’t sat there shocked and immobile. You see, I know something about being on the receiving end of silence that reverberates as loud as laughter.

+++++ For much of my life, I have experienced what are quaintly referred to as fainting spells. It’s a Victorian term that conjures images of an overwrought woman lifting a wan hand to her forehead and falling daintily upon a conveniently placed chaise lounge. My reality is more violent and unrestrained. It’s an internal fight with my body, a call to flee, to escape. It’s a paralyzing fear. Often I end up unconscious, falling forward with no cushion between the floor and me. I black out then wake, bloody and bruised, to wonder what I’ve damaged this time.

+++++ The possibility of such an event happening to me at a future luncheon was real. I envisioned my lingering disorientation in the aftermath, the tidying up, the brave face, the internalization of my polite shunning.

+++++ It haunts me that when the dear lady returned to the banquet room, she would have found the table cleared. I imagine her staring for a few agonizing seconds at our empty chairs. Perhaps her mouth closed into a line. Perhaps she raised her head, placed her hand on her friend’s arm, and silently walked out of the building. Perhaps, like me, she resolved she would never return.

Nina Fosati is an artist by inclination and a writer by misfortune. Beguiled by historic clothing and portraiture, she impulsively holds forth on her favorites @NinaFosati. Nina is also the SOS editor for the r.kv.r.y quarterly literary journal. Dappled Things, Fictive Dream, and West Texas Literary Review have most recently published her stories.

Wanda Deglane

These Hips, This Hunger

what is a skipped meal           or two
+++++++++++++when my skirt falls several inches
++++++from my hips? what is a couple pounds
or 15                when he cups
my waist                     like a birdcage
and holds my jaw in his hands, saying,
+++++++++++++I love what little
++++++is left of you.
what is a face  drained of color,          the lacunas
++++++left behind by my cheeks
melting away,              when my mother finally
+++++++++++++kisses              my knife-arms,
my ghost-eyes, an echo of
the body                      she always wanted?
my shoulder blades     are bat wings
my blood is skinny blue                                 yet
+++++++I’ve never been so in love
with such sickness.
tonight I lie, back flat to the soil,        and trace
++++++the summits of the mountains
+++++++++++++++++++my hips have become.
I ignore the starving screams   from
the valley below.

Wanda Deglane is a night-blooming desert flower from Arizona. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and attends Arizona State University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and family & human development. Her poetry has been published or forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Glass Poetry, L’Ephemere Review, and Former Cactus, among other lovely places. Wanda is the author of Rainlily (2018) and Lady Saturn (Rhythm & Bones, 2019). Follow her on Twitter at @wandalizabeth