Salt, Stars

We agreed on Halloween cookies
and mint chocolate chip ice-cream

for dessert, but I ran back to the freezer
when your next text said you liked Neapolitan

too. We ate brown Japanese curry
from a cube and threw out a backyard blanket

beneath the salt-speck stars and you leaned over
to poke my face with a blade of grass

and closed your eyes to laugh
when I told you I once slept on a hard hospital floor,

how the doctor opened the door
on my foot. We were so close, I could feel our lives

folding together like curry in the pot
then into your spoon, its taste salty and so fat

with the future I forgot about the ice-cream
and cookies in your fridge, or the red wine

on the counter, or the ribbons of air floating
with your breath wrapped in mine. There was so much

I missed, too busy watching the glint
of stars pressed to our skin in this lifetime

of sky, and what were we but two little bits
of taste on its tongue.


Josiah Nelson

Josiah Nelson is an MFA in Writing student and sessional lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan. His work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in San Antonio Review, Arboreal Literary Magazine, spring magazine, Fractured Lit, and The Rumpus. He likes thrift stores, slow cinema, and cardigans. He lives in Saskatoon.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Gender Is a Performance, Darling

The aisle offers all manner of masculine trophy / each package a beast / mounted and glaring. Each package / a sphinx speaking riddles in a language / my parents refused to teach me and / surely I’m confusing onlookers with my confusion, / so I grab one like its contraband and pay / with a wad of singles and an apology, / like it’s a crime to self-actualize / and I’m compelled to confess / to the cashier: I’m buying these boxers for myself. And she says nothing / because the trans / action is obvious.

I lock the door, blind the windows / leaving only the mirror / and my reflection as witness. / Girly boy hips wrapped in / sapphire, reserved for royalty. / I peacock ’round the privacy of my room, half-feathered / and pale as the moon. Fresh / waistband kissing the hard-earned peach fuzz / below my navel and / blush at the gesture. I make / a stage of the floor tiles, spinning / theatricals under fluorescent light buzzing / like a crowd cheering encore! / Encore! / Nobody gave me permission / to perform, I did that all myself. I wrote the role / and cast myself to act; such is / the nature of becoming.


James Ambrose

James Ambrose is an agender poet and writer of all things weird, queer, and macabre. He is a professional college drop-out and can be found roaming the valleys of Virginia. This is his first publication, with more forthcoming. Find him on Twitter @caninebrainz.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Still Life

We were leaving the park—
the weathered benches
and big-kid swings and wide
expanses of green-turned-yellow-
turned-brown—and the kids
were asleep in the back seat
and their little lashes fluttered
like fallen leaves resting
against sun-stained cheeks
and our song came on
all melancholy and quiet
and you smiled at me
as we linked fingers
over the console and
we headed toward
the highway signs pointing
home, and I thought:
let’s paint this 
bowl, our fruitful life.
Let’s hang it on the fridge.


Mia Herman

Mia Herman is a Jewish writer and editor living in New York. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hofstra University and her work has appeared in over two dozen publications including Barren Magazine, Bellevue Literary Review, ELJ Editions, F(r)iction, Ghost City Press, [PANK], Stanchion, Third Coast, and Variant Lit. Awards for her writing include an Honorable Mention in the Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest, nomination for the Best of the Net, and finalist for the Frontier Poetry New Voices Fellowship. Follow her on Twitter @MiaMHerman.

Header photography and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Every Train a Lantern

ride the train alone / get on the Amtrak / take a coach seat / down the aisle from the skinny bearded guy with the smoked oysters and the tiny silver fork / sit next to the boy who shows you his party videos where he drinks too much Boone’s Farm / knowing any amount of Boone’s Farm is too much Boone’s Farm / talk to the girl in the tie-dye shirt in the observation car while you sip a BuzzBallz margarita / it’s her first time on Amtrak too / no one but strangers / be whoever you want / you are from a small town in Illinois / you are from the big city / you ghost-write country songs for a living / you are an accountant / America is an oil painting slicked and sliding by in a riot of color / you are born of the wild wind / you precious beating thing


Amanda Kooser

Amanda Kooser (she/they) is a writer, rocker, Aikido student, and journalist specializing in space and goofy rocks on Mars. They graduated from the University of New Mexico creative writing MFA program in 2022. Her work has appeared in Yellow Arrow Journal, Conceptions Southwest, The Twin Bill, and The Hallowzine. Amanda lives in Albuquerque where she listens for train whistles and plays a pink-sparkle guitar in indie rock band The Dawn Hotel.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Preservation

Looking down upon the dangerous place where water meets rock. The image is in black and white, with a V cut through the center. Inside the V, it springs to life and color. The rocks to the right are vibrant; to the left, the water is a swirling mix of toxic aqua blue, green, and yellow.

The day my shoes spoke to me was the day that I put aside my winter coat and brushed the lint from my eyes. My shoes were tired of being trodden on, a sentiment I could relate to. They demanded early retirement and presented their resignation in a formal letter attached to one heel with a wad of chewed-up gum. I had no choice but to acquiesce. I set them free, free to join the other shoes at the bottom of my linen closet where they all chain smoke and complain that their leather is cracking. My leather is cracking too, so I oil my skin with primrose and lavender, ponder my own early retirement, unlike my father, rotted away before his time.


Ly Faulk

Ly Faulk has loved reading and writing for as long as they could read and write. They still believe in the power of the written word to save lives.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

seeing and other holy tricks

A cluster of barrel cacti dominated by their spiky spines. The image is split with a black V shape and the center of the V is in full color with the sides remaining in black and white.

(after Jamaica Kincaid)

this is how you cast a spell, child: pray your hands together, weave your grimy, fruit-stained fingers into a basket tight enough to hold the serpent hissing at its seams. this is how you pull your eyelids tight to your skin. this is how you resist the temptation of sight, resist defiant pupils that wander where they shouldn’t and talk out of turn and ask too many questions and echo a heartbeat that catches in your throat like a prayer half-digested. this is how you swallow bad Scripture: mouth the words down and keep your gaze on the ground until the Father in heaven and the father at home are one and the same. this is how you fold yourself thin like Sunday School sheets: pastor’s kid, lightweight, not down to cause any trouble. this is how you smile and nod when Pa and Ma rant about the liberal gay menace (but what if the menace is living under your roof?) this is how you sneak onto Yahoo Answers when Pa and Ma are asleep to find out whether you’re gay in ten simple questions (is it okay to look without touching?) this is how you close the window and shut down the computer before they catch their son in the sinful act. this is how you dodge questions about what girls from youth group you’re crushing on. this is how you hold the shame in your lungs, then your stomach, then your entire body. this is how to curve your back into the shape of an apology that will never be enough. this is how you live with your eyes closed—no boys to tempt you into ruin, no pastors to root out your sins. this is how you cast yourself out of the church before they can: drift downstream, tread water, clasp your chafed hands into a straw vessel sinking faster than you can bail, rock them together like a rowboat in a never-ending storm, pray for the miracle worker to come and change you like they say he will. father, don’t you know you raised me right out of your home? where do i go but away?

this is how Father answers your exile: with a wave of good Samaritans washing over you. this is how, in the first week of college, you meet PJ, then Claudia, then Reverend Jordan (and if a loving creator did not make people like this, who did?) this is how you find God in a family of outcasts; find yourself back on your knees on a chapel floor for the first time in four years. this is how the ocean swallows a prodigal son and spits them back out, salt water welling at stubborn eyelids, flooding them open. this is what tough love tastes like: a rush of light in your mouth, sharp enough to blind at first, too brackish to digest in one gulp. this is how to throw somebody into the deep, baptize them in grief and heartbreak, pull them back out gasping alive. this is the story of Moses and the burning bush, Jonah and the whale, Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus speaking in tongues. this is the riddle you have left us breathless to untangle. 
this is how you cast the spell anew. this is how to sing the song in your own voice: i was blind, but now i see. this is how you believe in magic, how you still find light in this world when it is cracking apart. this is how you untangle your hands, feel your grief flood out until all that is left are the fingers, ready to weave together something new. this is how you learn to touch, to embrace, to cast the words out and pray they kindle a path forward. (but Father, what if i never find my way to you?) child, you mean to tell me you have not yet seen me in the searching?


m.o.

m.o. (or Mo) is a high-school educator and writer in the East Bay. In college, he self-published his first book, speech therapy, in order to fundraise for the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. They have also published work in the Hypocrite Reader, Gnashing Teeth Publishing, Porcupine Reader, and Lake County Bloom. When not teaching or writing, Mo loves hanging out at the local rock climbing gym, scream-singing to the latest K-pop hits in the car, and curating a sick collection of discount frozen dinners. You can find them on Twitter @mokngpoetry and online at mokng.com.

Header photography and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Small Town Trap

A cluster of barrel cacti dominated by their spiky spines. The image is split with a black V shape and the center of the V is in full color with the sides remaining in black and white.

I’m sorry I panicked when I saw you,
rolling down my window,
pinwheeling you into traffic miles from your hive.

You must have snuck into my car
during last night’s storm, unable 
to find your way out.

Bees have a homing instinct.
I hope you’ll manage the journey
back to your queen.

Along the way, will you stop
at foreign flowers and arrive
with your legs laden with souvenirs?

I hope your friends appreciate how hard it is
to be pushed out before
you’re ready, forced to fly.

At least one of us belongs to a species
that doesn’t count ending up back home
as failure.


Matthew Pritt

Matthew Pritt writes mostly Appalachian fiction and poetry. His poems have appeared in Star*Line, Not Deer Magazine, and Bear Creek Gazette. He lives in West Virginia with five cats. You can see pictures of them on his Twitter @MatthewTPritt.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

I will be a person who composts

who buys brown-spotted eggs direct from the chickens. 
Who never scoops out the blood spots 
     or tosses shells in the trash.
I will wash and sort my recycling.
I will bundle cardboard with rough string and gift-tie it
      in neat bows.
I will cook fresh soups from scratch. 
I will wrap my leftovers in beeswax cloth softened 
      against my heart.
I’ll become a person who sweeps and mops the front porch 
      and waves hello to the neighbours.
Who appreciates the relationship of bees to apiarist.
I will return strange mail to the sender.
I will switch from outdoor shoes to slippers.
I will become a person who can knit baby socks on 
      tiny needles.
Who can tame a songbird on an outstretched hand. 
I will eat crystals.
I will work miracles.
I will wake up with the sun to be mindful.
I will be a person who speaks only in song.
Who sends handwritten notes to mark minor occasions.
Who bakes crispy pies and writes in fountain pen.
I will scrawl to-do lists onto my palms.
Collect dryer lint in apron pockets.
I will be the kind of person who changes the sheets daily
      and hangs them to flutter in the cinema of the yard.
I will dream with brightness up and saturation down.
The one who consumes her receipts. 
Weeds the sidewalk.
Boils the roots for tea.


Kate Hargreaves

Kate Hargreaves is the author of 4 books of poetry and fiction, including the poetry collections Leak (Book*hug, 2014) and tend (Book*hug, Fall 2022). She lives and works in Windsor, Ontario where she also plays roller derby and talks too much about her cats. Find her work at CorusKate.com.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

fire on water

The side of a building with many fire escapes. The photo appears in black and white with a V-shaped center section in bright, comic-book style color, the building vibrant orange-red.

first it appeared like an oil of rainbow, 
shimmering under the sunlight, dancing 

with the ripples & stretching toward the 
shore to baptize little multicolored stones. 

i have seen fire run like an athlete on water. 
i have seen it lick a river like a child

does a bowl of his favorite broth. in the place 
i come from, i have seen fire dance on the skins of 

men who received an impromptu visitation 
of misfortune. they say: something must ignite a fire.

what if the nascence of burning is within, would you 
call it self-forging, like the malleability of red steel?

i have heard stories of how a memory can incinerate
the soul & make the body: a warehouse of ash. perhaps,

all of us have mastered the art of our burnings;
we’ve learned to feed this flame with water to quiet

our consummations. i know from my childhood, between 
my first tooth and first walk, i have accessorized my lungs 

with enough gasoline to fuel my continuity. like 
holding water in your hands, i submit to the fluidity of time.


Joshua Effiong

Joshua Effiong, Frontier VI, is a writer and digital artist from the Örö people of Nigeria. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in The Kalahari Review, Rough Cut Press, Madrigal Press, Titled House, The Indianapolis Review, Chestnut Review, among other places. He is the author of a poetry chapbook, Autopsy of Things Left Unnamed (2020). Find him on Instagram @josh.effiong and twitter @JoshEffiong

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Spam Love Poem

The side of a building with many fire escapes. The photo appears in black and white with a V-shaped center section in bright, comic-book style color, the building vibrant orange-red.

Good afternoon cmcrockford;
I am from Phoenix also.
Here the insects make no noise,
though something sings along with the night.

Are you in my Phoenix,
where the roads shiver when it’s cold?
Do you get lonely 
even when hearing the songs of the dark?

Me too, me too; 
I wish I was between your legs.

Why don’t you answer my emails 
or reply to the texts?

Will you not come 
to my dying patchwork house?
Will you come and see the nettle leaves
now spreading along my ceiling cracks?

Please

Are you here?

I am willing to offer 20 percent for your time;
hurry while it lasts.


C.M. Crockford

C.M. Crockford is a neurodivergent writer who’s been featured in Wilde Boy, Neologism Poetry Journal, and Daily Drunk Mag among others. He currently lives in Philadelphia but has lived all over. Crockford loves Bowie records, animals, and that he has been cited twice on Wikipedia.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson