Ode to James Harden’s Beard by Joshua Nguyen

Let’s speak of the grizzly bear

in the middle of the room.

Thick black rambutan branches

dripping citrus under the sun.

What extra powers are suppressed

beneath? Lulling opponents to sleep

with each bend against the wind. Hope

is lost if you stare directly into the void

because by then, arms will outstretch

to consume its prey & what other

response is justified when under

direct attack & the focal

point is to stifle the air around you.

Any creature backed into a corner

remembers they have to survive &

remembers that they have skin

beneath their fur that can be penetrated

unless they quickly realize that

it isn’t the hair that wards off defenders

but the hidden keen teeth that refuse

to help another man’s hunger.

Joshua Nguyen is a Kundiman Fellow, collegiate national poetry champion (CUPSI), and a native Houstonian. He has been published in The Offing, The Acentos Review, Rambutan Literary, Button Poetry, The Texas Review, Gulf Coast, and Hot Metal Bridge. He is currently an MFA candidate at The University of Mississippi. He is a bubble tea connoisseur and works in a kitchen.

Swingset by Genelle Chaconas

A swing brushes the cement low, in slow motion, as if drawn through night’s deep syrup, as if burdened, holding the dark ball of a child hidden in the twilight’s smeary sleight of hand. They must be there: it’s some trick of the bare winter branches and sallow moonlight. Their shivering laughter rattles like dead leaves across the blacktop, rubber-soled high tops slapping concrete.

Genelle Chaconas is nonbinary gendered, queer, an abuse survivor, has mood disorders, and feels proud. They earned a BA in Creative Writing from CSUS in 2009, an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University in 2015, and 50k of debt. They never learned to “photograph” but take photos. They’ve been published lots but don’t namedrop. Their chapbooks include Fallout, Saints and Dirty Pictures (little m press, 2011) and Yet Wave (the Lune, 2017). They serve as head editor for HockSpitSlurp Literary Magazine. They enjoy scifi and gangster flix, drone/noise/industrial music, and long walks off short piers.

America in Miniature by Matt Lee

Those of us hailing from that oddly shaped mid-Atlantic state haphazardly carved into the east coast of America are probably familiar with the strange phenomenon that coincides with traveling either north or south from our homeland. I’ve been as far as Massachusetts in one direction and the tip of Florida in the other. At a bar in South Carolina, I got called a “Yankee,” one hundred and fifty years after the Civil War’s conclusion. In an upstate New York antique mall, a gentleman described me as a, “good ol’ boy.” Being a Marylander is sometimes confusing.

You could blame the Mason-Dixon Line, a demarcation that resulted from a land dispute between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware during the latter half of the eighteenth century, one that would have tremendous and far-reaching consequences after becoming the de facto border between North and South, Freedom and Slavery.

For being a relatively small patch of land, Maryland held enormous strategic importance during the Civil War. Considered a semi-loyal “border state,” the territory remained technically in Union hands. Though most of its population was initially sympathetic to the North, there was certainly a strong contingent of Confederate separatists as well.

With its proximity to the nation’s capital, the Old Line State (a nickname bestowed by George Washington) became at times a hotly contested battleground. The Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day of the conflict, was fought on Maryland soil. Abraham Lincoln further stoked tension in the region by suspending the right of habeas corpus, which remained a widespread source of animosity even after the War ended. The sixteenth president is much better associated with a different Latin phrase: sic semper tyrannis, the words shouted by John Wilkes Booth, assassin, Marylander.

As a kid growing up in the 1990s, this period of American history became a big part of my educational experience. We’d be loaded onto a rickety, old, yellow school bus and carted off to sites like the Monocacy Battlefield, just outside of my hometown Frederick. In fifth grade my class re-enacted the Battle of Antietam. Donning period appropriate garb then pitching tents in the softball field, we fashioned rifles and bayonets out of construction paper and ate hardtack as we awaited further orders.

Our teachers eventually arranged us in formation, Rebels positioned atop a small hill with Yankees lined up in ranks at the bottom. Everyone was given a number. Our hulking gym teacher, Mr. Bentley, a vein bursting from his forehead, rallied the troops with a booming call to arms, “Charge!”

In retrospect, the set-up was historically accurate if not slightly unsettling. During the final phase of the battle, Union troops marched against a division of Confederates entrenched along a ridge. With dense woods and large rocky outcropping, the Rebels had ample natural cover in addition to holding high ground, making for the perfect defensive position. The boys in blue, on the other hand, were forced to cross a creek over a narrow stone bridge during the assault, leaving them bottlenecked and completely exposed to Confederate fire from above. One survivor described the scene as “a valley of death.” By the evening of September 17, 1862, almost 23,000 men were dead, wounded, or missing.

During our re-enactment, I’d been enlisted to the Confederacy, a fact that in retrospect deeply troubles me. In the wake of the 2017 Charlottesville attack, the catalyst of which was the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, recalling my ten-year-old self clad in gray and shouting, “Die, Yankees!” makes me feel physically ill.

I remember crouching in the grass on that tiny hill pretending to fire my paper musket. Mr. Bentley shouted out random numbers, “Seventeen! Four! Twenty-two!” If your number was called, you were supposed to drop dead. I watched in a gleeful sort of awe as droves of my friends collapsed into the earth, crying out in imagined agony, their faces contorted in pretend pain. Near the battle’s end, a bird shit on my hat and I started to cry.

Like my time spent masquerading as a Confederate infantryman, the current state slogan for Maryland is so cringeworthy I almost hesitate to write it: “If you’re looking for a merry land, go to Maryland!” It’s trite to the point of embarrassment, almost as bad as the state motto, a blatantly sexist sixteenth-century quip attributed originally to Pope Clement VII: “Fatti maschii, parole femine.” This translates from the Italian as, “Manly deeds, womanly words.” Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to modify this saying to the more gender neutral, “Strong deeds, quiet words,” but these efforts have gone in vain, despite the fact that no one seems able to concretely explain why this quote was even added onto the Maryland state seal in the first place.

I much prefer the old slogan: “More Than You Can Imagine.” As if the little microcosm of America we inhabit is some sort of abstraction, an impossibility  beyond the scope of human comprehension. It’s true that I don’t understand exactly what attracts me to this place, keeps me tethered here. I suspect this inbetweenness, this duality, fits with the way I view myself, Janus-like, a multiplicity, Yankee, Rebel, both, neither.

Matt Lee is an actor, teacher, and writer from Maryland. His writing has appeared at Sleaze Mag, Tragickal, SOFT CARTEL, Philosophical Idiot, and fluland. He has also written and produced numerous original works for the stage. Visit mattleewrites.com for more info.

Froth by Trevor Plate

Not the first time I loved you, just the first time I met you.
Your breath like dead fish pickled in your alcoholism.
Your knuckles raw from beating someone up the night before.
Your long hair greased from stress and hours.
A single word etched into each of your twelve teeth:
I  was  born  to  die  alone  these  thoughts  are  not  my  own
I made you smile three times to read the whole poem.
It wasn’t hard to do: smile first
and laugh at a thing you said. I don’t remember what it was.
That makes me a bad person. Worse than you maybe.
I don’t usually fall in the dark
but in the freak of the night I had a pang—
a longing to believe that we are more than they claim
or at least that one of us might be.
Not the first time I loved you but when I was deep in love with you.
My hand, caught in a bad dream, running across the metal plate
that the doctors placed above your burning brain;
the times you tried to drain the ghosts yourself
through the holes someone made in your skull.
But  they  could  not  see  you  so  the  help  was  only  hurt
And if I’m being honest, there might have been a sliver of me
that wanted to believe certain people are unlovable
so I might could maybe call myself a miracle worker.
Your swollen foot pressed deep into the gas pedal.
The speedometer breaking; the ignited city pulsing through us.
You screaming at the windshield that you wanted to murder the whole world.
And it would be easy enough to be horrified but instead
I only whispered in your ear that crows don’t fly south for the winter.
Not the first time I loved you, just the first time I doubted you.
When you tried to drown me in the bathtub, calling it the ocean.
Calling it a baptism or a long time coming.
Your skin turned lizard beneath the bathroom lighting
and as I lay there, supine and scared, I began to notice:
All  this  violence  was  too  vague  all  these  fears  were  too  specific
And what scared me wasn’t you and it wasn’t dying
but something threatening in the underbelly of the water.
My reflection choking on the air above me.
I wanted to sink to the bottom of the ocean.
I wanted to rise to the top of the atmosphere.
Then you let go of my chest
and I rose to meet myself in the space inside the surface tension.
I took a breath and saw you wrapped up in yourself crying on the floor
and I pulled the plug and watched the water flow down the drain.
Not the first time I loved you but the time that I left you.
We drove all night and lay in the dying dark;
I, drunk and hungry, you coughing up blood onto the side of the freeway.
As daylight suffocated the stars
I ran my aching tongue along your teeth:
I  was  born  to  die  alone  these  thoughts  are  not  my  own
The birds began to sing the morning and I felt your breath turn heavy
and my left hand pulled the keys from your pocket
as my right hand circled the broken circle of your face.
The engine humming, the road passing beneath me, you alone in that ditch.
This makes me a bad person, worse than you maybe.
I didn’t think about the first time I loved you.
I didn’t think about anything at all, only stared ahead.
The planet curved with cruelty, carrying me with it.

Trevor Plate spent his childhood on the island of Guam before moving to the mainland at eighteen. Now he lives all over the country while he continues to write poetry. His poems have previously appeared in Maudlin HouseBoston Accent, and The Ilanot Review.

A Soft Splendor by A.M. Kennedy

Melt the gold between your palms
and smear it on everything you love:
your hips, your lips, the soles of your feet.

This month I am sick of sand and sun and callouses;
in my dreams I am new skin, tender and thin.
The fluttering of my heartbeat rises in every place
my angles meet, and anyone could see
how desperate they blush to be touched.

A fist I took once to make me ice
has instead made me fire, reduced cinder,
liquid in the rains, the shade of dried blood.

I bite the open hand, climb the fence instead of going though,
lie on my back and close my eyes to imagine it differently.
I cannot be made into granite no matter how long I stand still;
the bees and blooms crawl up my knees and drape me in honey
too heavy to bear, too sweet to eat. 

Melt the gold between your fingers
and press it to everything you hate:
the curve of your stomach, the length of your throat,
the lines time has carved onto your face.

I breathe in black and blue until the bruises bloom and then wilt,
the fat sunrise rests its face against the ocean, tired too,
in a better world the dawn remakes me,     new.

A.M. Kennedy is a writer and painter from Tampa. She specializes in precariously stacking books and half-finished tea mugs. She has been previously published in 3Elements Review,Popshot Magazine, and The Burningword.

Small Matters by Rebecca Wesloh

Leah and Cecelia, two teenage girls, sit buried in two chairs next to each other. They spend the entire time on their phones, not looking up. Brief pauses are taken between each dialogue break in which the girls continue scrolling through their phones.

Leah: Did you see Beth got her hair cut?
Cecelia: No. Let me see this. -pause- oh no.
Leah: I know, tragic. And she was supposed to have her date with Oliver on Friday.
Cecelia: We’ll see how that happens. If that happens.

Leah: Oh this is a cool picture.
Cecelia: What is it?
Leah: It says it’s from the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
Cecelia: Wow. It’s so empty. It is beautiful, though.

Cecelia: Why did Suze post a picture of a horse?
Leah:  It’s the new horse her dad got her.
Cecelia: Her dad got her a horse?
Leah: Yeah, he felt bad that he hadn’t seen her in a year after he lost custody in the divorce.
Cecelia:  If only my parents were divorced.
Leah: I think he might have had to go to rehab.
Cecelia: Still a fucking horse? Imagine what else she can get.

Leah: Did you hear about all the cutbacks to student loans? Now, like, practically no one can get financed.
Cecelia: LOL, there goes college.
Leah: Like we ever had an actual future to hope for.

Cecelia: Oh no, Denny has to go to court.
Leah: Not Denny, no! What did he do?
Cecelia: He was texting and driving. Again.
Leah: I saw his snap-story. He was actually snapping while driving last time.
Cecelia: Ah, Denny. Is there any hope for him to ever learn?

Cecelia:  Did you see the news this morning?
Leah: Are you talking about the townhouse fire in the city? My mom told me about that over breakfast.
Cecelia: No, the mass shooting in Des Moines. 21 people were killed; they were saying about 40 others were wounded.
Leah: Another one?
Cecelia: Yeah, another one.
Leah: People need to chill the fuck down. Love each other. Stop shooting.
Cecelia: Tell me about it.

Leah: I took that “choose your dream shopping spree and we’ll tell you how old you really are” quiz.
Cecelia: And? What did you get?
Leah: Well, according to this, I’m a senior citizen.
Cecelia: Seriously?
Leah: “You are an old soul at heart. Your care for others is deep and grandmotherly to its very core. Your ideal day includes baking, watching birds, spoiling your grandkids, and watching some ‘Judge Judy.’ You might not admit it, but you have that stash of strawberry hard candies tucked away in the bottom of your bag. Everyone looks to you as a source of wisdom and cookies.”
Cecelia: I can’t. No. I just can’t.
Leah: Hey. Respect your elders.

Cecelia: Carter just posted a picture. His dad is in the hospital.
Leah: What happened?
Cecelia: Apparently he swallowed a bunch of pills and overdosed. They aren’t sure if he was trying to kill himself or what.
Leah:  Wow. I wish there was something we could do.
Cecelia:  I know. But what can we do?
Leah: I don’t know. Everything I can say at this point has already been said. And besides it’s all stupid, meaningless clichés.
Cecelia: Oh well. I sent him a text. I used a bunch of those little praying hands emojis.
Leah: Yeah, that’ll definitely help.

Leah: Did you see Karie got a new little dog?
Cecelia: A puppy? Let me see this cutie.

[I could paint some surreal image] by Alison Hazle

I could paint some surreal image
of this room—how the sun latches
to my back on the walk inside, how I screw it
into the lamp and how it sprouts
the seeds I scattered
across the floor. I could say it stays there
and keeps this room warm. I could say it lives there      
until the ceiling tiles part
to reveal the moon.
I suppose this naked gap could allow
for fog to pile on top of us, for us
to shape it into Queen and Queen
costumes, able to play dress-up
again. Perhaps crickets could come
next, the rub of their thighs
to replace the hum of machines.
But this all would be dishonest.
There is really a dresser with photos,
there is a bible stuffed with letters,
sometimes there are visitors who know
my name. There is the sharing of memories
and alcohol and alcohol. There is a wooden
box with a keyhole. In the corner is a window
with the shade always drawn
and a bed that seems to grow larger
but never wide enough
for me to lay against her.

Alison Hazle is a poet/writer and art school survivor. She plans to pursue an MFA somewhere far away from Baltimore.

What Am I If I Am Not by Micaela Walley

What am I if I am not
a girl? The pulpy body
of a dead sea mollusk,
             Am I crunchy?
                          The shell it left behind,
                          rotted in,            shouldering
What if I am made
from other shells, who
were made from mother shells,
who were stepped on so often
             that the gravity of their woman
           bones             collapsed in, made dust
                                  of themselves
                                                  the boot of a man I have
                                                  never met but can feel
                                                  still in the tips of my hairs
                                                  anytime someone asks me
                                                                              what I am?

Micaela Walley is a graduate from the University of South Alabama. Her work can be found in Oracle Fine Arts Review, Occulum, and ENTROPY. She currently lives in Hanover, Maryland with her best friend—Chunky, the cat.

[After my husband died, I did not] by Tim Neil

After my husband died, I did not
eat anything for two days.

Hunger felt familiar after years
of marriage to an echo.

On the third day, I just wanted
to make a simple meal.

I had no pasta, no fine bread,
just American cheese, a garlic clove,

and one fucking egg. He had left it
for me, along with his yolk-crusted

pan soaking in the sink. The last argument.
In his dictionary, underneath the word

“consideration,” he saw one pale egg
nestled neatly in the cardboard carton,

like a piece of fallen moon in a desert crater.
I pocketed the egg with care, and left

our cramped cottage.
I drove past the grocery store and football fields,

until I reached his new bed of silence.
If he were alive under the dirt,

his snores would wake the neighbors.
The crows in the distance made jokes

about me. They thought I was another clinging
widow. I cracked the shell on his tombstone,

watched the yellow dot the sod.

Tim Neil is a recent graduate of Towson University, where he received a BFA in Acting. He lives in Baltimore, MD.

Zion in El Salvador by Emely Rodriguez

Abuelita wraps me up in tamalitos, so warm,
But she cools me down with Fresa Tropical, ah
Canciones de mariachi cry in the background, and we
Dance like we’re wearing clothes made of cucarachas
Executing imprecise movements like forced twitches
Fixating, fixating, fixating, on las guitarras
Gently strummed, unlike the singers’ vocal chords
Harsh, hoarse, heartfelt vibrations that tingle my eardrum
I’ve never seen tears fall in tune to a beat like this before
Just watch my mother’s head sway back and forth
Knowingly imitating the tapping of the performers’ feet
Like her body embodies the songs of melancholic mariachi
Musical notes invading her bloodstream, her lagrimas shine
Nosotros – felices en nuestras vidas sencillas
Oblivious to our nearing flight departure
Persistently ignoring the dates on the calendar
Questioning what life could have felt like before this
Repressing the thoughts of once existing outside of this
Sin mi país bellísimo, sin mi país, sin mi
This is my people’s holy land, but it doesn’t feel mine
Unfathomable experience of being both free and shackled
Vulnerable with no country, vulnerable within it
Withholding parts of my soul, trapped in two places
Xenophobes in two nations targeting parts of me, I’m just
Yearning for my country to be mine.

Emely Rodriguez is a Latina writer from the D.C. / M.D. area. She is in her first year of the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA program at the University of Baltimore, focusing on poetry. Her work has been published in 45th Parallel, The Voices Project, and Welter Magazine.