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27 March 2014

WORMWOOD MAGAZINE: SPRING 2014





Wormwood
Inaugural Issue
Spring 2014




Edited by Marc David Bonagura

Copyright 2014
Talking Weeds Publishing

Contact: marcbonagura@gmail.com





All rights revert back to authors. No part of this journal may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the authors, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

  

CONTENTS

FRANKIE LOPES
Physics

SARAGRACE STEFAN
Growing Pains
Oak
Hearts of Jericho
Games That Gametes Play

MARIANA SIERRA
Living Will
Nirvana
Heart
Last Rite

JASPER DOOMEN
A Perturbing Turn

CHRISTINE BRYANT
Eggs
The Violin Beneath My Bed
To Dorothy
Post-Op
Dear Uterus
NJ Turnpike
Hurricane Sandy, Belmar NJ
Eye
Martin Ramírez Drawing: Horse on Stage

LAUREN SCHMIDT
Need
The Day the Train Stood Still for Hours
Devotion
Rebellion
To the Clearing
Second Drink
The Room Toss Villanelle
The Social Worker and the English Lesson
After-Love Love
‘Til Death
At the Strip Club

SHANNON LEE GROOMS
Collecting Dust





                       




-Frankie Lopes



Physics
In my junior year of college I took an astronomy course. I’m still not sure why. I sat in a dark lecture hall once a week for three hours and tried to focus on the slides that were projected onto the large square screen. There was nothing else to look at. It takes Mars six hundred and forty days to travel around the sun.

The professor spoke for the duration of the lecture—reading the exact words that appeared on the screen—while the students pretended to take notes, scribbling into their notebooks and usually doodling human eyes that would never get the chance to blink. I wondered how many years he had used the same slides and recited the same lines, if he had it all memorized by now. Regolith is the powdery soil on the moon, which is made by the rocks that were pulverized by the impact of comets.

Everybody failed everything. So much to the point that the professor—who taught this course every semester—was known to grade every test on a curve, thus passing every student.

By the third week, the professor himself consumed most of my attention during the long dark three hours. The way his mouth didn’t seem to match up with the words that came out of it, the way the projector reflected perfect white squares onto the lenses of his black thick-rimmed glasses where his blinking eyes should’ve been, which made him look like a robot, how his hands stayed in his pockets and when they left the cotton chambers, they were covered to the knuckle by the baggy cardigans he wore every week.

When he paused between points on the projector, the time intended for me, for all of the students, to put the periods at the end of our sentences, I would look past the white square eyes and see the tedium and boredom in his face. His mouth was always slightly open in a sad way, like there was something he was thinking about saying, something that wasn’t related to the compression wrinkles on Mercury’s surface.

As the fifteen-week semester progressed his beard grew longer, I noticed this on the fourth week. It was then that I realized he would someday die, that there was something before and after those three hours discussing the spectroscopy of neutron and gamma rays. I looked around the room, expecting to see someone else as disturbed by this as I was. Nobody else seemed to notice.

What happened next, week after week, was that for three hours I ignored the difference between geocentric and heliocentric models of the universe and became lost in the white squares of his eyes and black void between his lips. He must’ve gone grocery shopping, pushed a steel cart through fluorescent lanes and pawed through packages, contemplated Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
    
By the seventh week I had learned nothing about astronomy, but I was almost certain that he drove a gray Toyota Corolla, ate Frosted Flakes for breakfast every morning, and had a wife named Emily who only did laundry on Tuesdays, even though I had absolutely no evidence to support that theory.
    
By week nine I was terrified that the professor would die. I thought about the class every day, it might even have been considered praying. I was always treading in the anxiety that on Thursday, I would walk into the lecture hall and he wouldn’t be there in his oversized cardigan, wiping the dust from his glasses. Maybe none of the other students thought about this, but somewhere, there were people who cared about him, who stopped to chat about the inaccuracy of the neighborhood paperboy in aisle six while holding a box of saltine crackers. There were people who were happy to see him by chance. He was loved. I worried for those people, too.
    
I failed everything. My notebook was blank. I had no idea what solar wind erosion was. When I asked a classmate if I could copy her notes, in preparation for the final exam, she gave me a confused face and asked me, what notes?
    
Everybody failed everything.











______________________                        

-SaraGrace Stefan



Growing Pains
I need you to understand:
I’m a teenager, half-formed.
There are countless mornings
I wake up, and in the
Tangle of sheets I
See my feet all the way
Way at the end of the bed,
And am surprised at my length.

Some nights I’ll fall asleep
In the backseat of our minivan
And consistently forget that
When we reach our destination,
I will no longer be carried inside,
Like I am precious by the pound.

There are still mealtimes when I
Wait for the crayons and the
Connect-the-dots, but
Instead I write poetry
On the inside of my wrists
And try to connect the
Bits of me that knock against
The top of the table and
Blink nervously at the waiter.

I’ll go to school in my
Big-girl jeans and boots
And when I close my eyes
And count to ten, it’s like
I convinced my beautiful mother
To let me dress myself and am
Wearing polka-dot shorts and
A bright yellow t-shirt and my
Sneakers have Velcro and light up
When I stamp my foot.

If I stamp my foot now,
I’m a feminist or an anarchist,
But maybe I’m just tired
And didn’t get my juice box today.
I know some days it must feel like
I’m yanking you around like
A slinky dog but really I’m
Just spun around like
A child hitting a piñata,
And I never know which
Direction I’m facing.

When you’re too tiny to reach the counter
And you say you want to be
An astronaut or the president, you get
A smile and a pat on the head,
But lately when I tell people
I just want to be a writer or a teacher
Then I get the dubious looks and smiles
Of condescension; those who claim to know
Better, despite never having felt
Words in their hands.
The smiles that say: 
we said “shoot for
The moon,” but do not
Expect us to catch you when
You crash back to earth. 

I see the looks you give me
And the way you reach for my hand
But I’m worried that if you kiss me
I’ll break apart, and all this Play-Doh that
I’ve saved up over the years to
Sculpt and to shape who I want to be
Will fall between the couch cushions,
Never to return.

I know you want me to write you
Love letters but how can I think
Of love like it’s all pink valentines
When I know that it’s a fire
That burns and scars.
So just let me stop, drop,
And roll.

But what if my life is one big twisting road
And my terminus is the realization that there
Isn’t always a final destination.
I see all my friends giving themselves
Away like rainbow erasers and double-bubble
At the end of a birthday party and I can’t stop wondering
How can you know who deserves you
When I don’t even know what deserving means yet.


Oak
I am not a flower
Waiting to grow.
A weak green bud,
Barely strong enough to
Break the dirty surface,
Something becoming prettier and ever-more fleeting.

I am a million fists clenching.
A deep inhale.
The final word.
I am the slamming of the door,
The crunch of the snow underfoot.
I am not many but alone I am just enough.

I am not insufficient as I am.
Not some “please excuse our current condition.”
Bigger and better things may be on the way,
But that does not mean that the
Current “things” aren’t fantastic.
These years of my life are not
The prologue; they are the first volume
Vital and necessary to the rest of my story.

I am not a sapling crushed easily underfoot;
I am oak.
Always have been and will always be.
Maybe stronger later, but I have been
Just as strong as I’ve needed to be
And isn’t that what matters?

Do not say certain problems are insignificant,
Because who judges what is important and what is not?
Call the Titanic, tell them, it’s just an ice cube.
Write to the tigers in the rainforest and tell them,
It’s just a few trees.
My path might not be the bumpiest but
You sure as hell would not know
If I have been walking on sheaths of silk or
Broken glass.

I am not a dark cloud on the horizon.
I am not a plant that needs to be nurtured
With a tender hand.
I am a sun shower gleaming far away.
I am a forest of intricate roots hidden beneath the soil.
I am not coming.
I am going.


Hearts of Jericho
I keep wondering
About your eyes,
Looking in the mirror
And tracing every curve of your body.
Not with pleasure or appreciation
But distaste and loathing.

I keep wondering about
Your teeth as they
Clamped together,
Closing your mouth shut
Like a city that no one could enter.

And your hands,
Pushing away all of
The brusque words,
So the barbed wire glances
could not touch you,
Could not break you.
So no well-meaning person could
Touch you and rip your paper skin
Off of your splintering bones.

And your feet as they
Dragged you day to day,
Wishing away the time
And cursing the sluggish hours.
Your knees buckling under
Scarcely anything at all.
But it was enough for you.

When you looked in the mirror
You no longer saw something
Beautiful and beloved
But something ugly and malformed.
I wonder and I wonder,
As the time goes by,
How your mind took you captive.
Tricked you into seeing something
Terrible where such loveliness lingered?
Turning the kindest eyes into something
To be resented, making your own
Warm embrace something to be escaped from.

And I wonder most of all,
About your heart.
How it must have sputtered and
Ached during those too-long days.
How it must have hungered more
Than any other part of you.
For something your brain did not comprehend.

And during my own lengthy days,
I wonder about my own heart.
And how it could have been so blind.
So caught up in its own hindrances that it
Did not recognize your
Self-loathing.
I should have swooped to your rescue,
Arms wide and ears open.
But I was blind and foolhardy.

I swear the only thing your
Eyes, your teeth,
Your hands, your feet,
Your mind, your heart
Will know, from this point on,
Is the sound of my words,
Saying:
You are needed.
You are loved.
You are whole.
Stay. Please stay.

You will no longer need a mirror,
But see your beauty with your eyes
Closed.
You will break down your walls,
I will hold your hand.
And your feet will dance,
Once again.


Games That Gametes Play
They tell you to wait.
To preen and to powder
And to bite your lip.
Be outspoken,
But only when
that’s what’s desirable.

Say what you’re thinking, 
but only if it endears you.
Make sure your one “flaw” is
The clumsy way you knock
Items off shelves and
Your need of a hand to
Assist you every time that you step out
Of a car.

So that way you can’t go
Anywhere by yourself,
And if you somehow do,
You’ll fall.
You’ll always fall.

Because love isn’t a gift,
It’s a trap.
Because you’re weak
If you give in, but you’re
Forever undesirable and unwanted if
You don’t.
Fight fire with fire,
But only if it won’t burn
The one who decides
What time is right for
A bout of extinguishment.

They say that love is
Clearly not something
Simply deserved,
But something that takes training
And the consumption of
This sparkly-lettered knowledge
That holds the secret to
Every type of happiness.
Or at least the kinds you’re
Allowed to have.
The kinds that make you sweet
And weak and vulnerable
And helps them feel big
Because you’re so small
And they will never have to fear
You attacking if your shoes won’t
Let you run away.

They tell you to wait.
To keep your legs crossed
And ankles together,
But those ankles better be covered
Unless we want to see them.
Because you were not given your
Body to carry you from place to place but
Just so we can have something to
Look at that makes us feel good-
To hide the fact that we can no longer
Look at ourselves.

They told me to wait,
To trim my nails into half-moons
In order to keep my association with
Blood from growing any larger.
Because clearly something that bleeds
For days at a time must
Be weak and frail.

I should shave off the hair that
Tries so desperately to warm my body
So that when the cold sets in I
Am not able to protect myself
And must seek your shelter.

I must wait.
And I must wear all the clothing
You give me, lest I be
Showing off
What no one wants to see.
The cursed anatomy that I
Clearly chose.

How dare I thrust the perversion of
Nature in anyone’s face?

Unless it’s what’s being asked for.
If I won’t show you what is
Clearly not mine to control,
I am suddenly a Jezebel.
The quality of my character
Having a direct correlation with
The number of teeth in the smile
I aim towards strangers.

They tell you to wait.
But I put on one high heel
Because I like the height
And one sneaker
Because I was born to move,
And I took off running
A long, long time ago.










                                                                                 
-Mariana Sierra



III. Living Will
I, being of sound mind and rational thought, willfully and voluntarily make this declaration to be followed if I become incompetent or incapacitated to the extent that I am unable to communicate my wishes, desires and preferences on my own. This declaration reflects my firm, informed, and settled commitment to refuse life-sustaining medical care and treatment.


Nirvana
Sanskrit निर्वाण (nir-vā-na, blown or put out, extinguished)
once during Compared Religions in high school
Buddhist death was explained in metaphor:
imagine you are a cup of water
being poured into a river
I remember thinking that
          must
     be
bliss


Heart
A muscular organ that pumps blood through the body.  A heart transplant can be used to help those suffering from heart failure, as well as babies born with heart defects.

“Everything is music.”
I was not the first nor last
his black voice hummed to.
“There is rhythm in your step.”
He nestled symmetry-obsessed fingers
behind my knees.
“In your breath. In your heart.”

Not anymore.
Flush out these
deserted atriums,
these four chambers,
fist-sized, with
strange new blood.


Last Rite
please let there be no afterlife, no heaven, no paradise
no dwelling on mistakes made and lessons learned
just sleep, black and dreamless

burn what is left of me
leave nothing to be resurrected
in case Jesus keeps his promise












-Jasper Doomen
A Perturbing Turn



At times when the burden of menial tasks, sought out by anyone who appreciates the minor pains they bring compared to the agony and wicked blessing of a reflective mind, abates to such an extent that its operations can no longer be suppressed, I tend to recall an event whose apparent lack of excitement was amply compensated by the grave and lasting impression it had on its wretched observer. Indeed, what might be more innocent or innocuous than a stroll in the woods, appreciating the bounty of nature? Yet it was a nature of another kind, found in this instance through introspection, I would soon learn to appreciate in new and hitherto unexpected ways. 

Nothing menacing was initially found. Even with a limited knowledge of the varieties through which nature is expressed it is easy to be fascinated by the diverse manifestations of the creatures one encounters on their way to find means to prolong their lives, or those close to them, each with its own preoccupation, survival being the common denominator. The plant life, though obviously somewhat static in comparison to the business displayed by the fauna, likewise brought forth awe. The only element that struck me as peculiar, on account of its artificial appearance, considering the surroundings, was a sign; the letters I could discern spelled out a message matching the oddity of its location, for it read: “The delicate balance of life made more delicate for those who proceed."

Although their meaning eluded me, these words seemed to harbor an ominous warning. At the same time, my curiosity was aroused, and since such a place contained no physical threats, as I had already assessed, the reference could only be to one of the same kind as the warning, namely, information, which I, in my erstwhile ignorance, considered harmless; it would be beneficial, I reckoned, or in the worst case irrelevant. Not inhibited by the wisdom that usually follows the actions of man rather than to precede them I continued to walk and to reflect, noticing that the former abundance of animal life was no longer there; the woods, by contrast, grew denser, darkening the surroundings, providing a gloomy atmosphere, and it became clear that none must have threaded here for a long time; I could not even preclude the possibility that I was the first person ever to venture here.

Following this path, another sign appeared. It was less elusive than the first, but just as curious: “Would you push a button that would instantly end the universe?” “What a strange question! Who could even entertain such an action?” was my first reaction, considering the issue so absurd that if further questions of the same kind were to present themselves either thus or through reflection, no curiosity of mine stood in need of satisfaction. Still, I might be too hasty in my rejection, so rather than to turn around I proceeded, eager to know whether something more agreeable would ensue. As I continued it appeared impossible not to contemplate the question, as I was unable to dispel it from my attentive mind. An instant end would not cause any pain: it would not bring with it the collapse of buildings, nor would tidal waves or earthquakes occur, or any other grave event. In fact, there would be no noticeable event whatsoever, given the instantaneous nature of the occurrence. Wouldn’t it be a shame, though, if all those beings I came across today should cease to be, not to mention the results of man’s creativity, although the fruits of this creativity are not merely manifest in fine works of art, and it has been employed with great success in producing a wide variety of destructive means with the same enthusiasm. 

The most pressing of my ponderings, though, was why it would be a shame at all. Would the cessation of all things, including those who might observe them in its absence, really be such a dire thing, something never being objectionable or agreeable absolutely but always in accordance with an observer’s capabilities to suffer or delight? Their nonexistence dissolves the problem. Besides, their existence or nonexistence should be appreciated in light of the fact that survival is a means rather than an end. A confusion of the two is frequent here, especially with those who, when asked what this end might be, would find the question doubly challenging as this would be their first confrontation with it, never having considered the issue a problem in the first place and thus never contemplated it. For others the observation that life is hostile to the living, at least frequently, is inevitable. 

As soon as these conclusions had been reached, however, it became apparent that an important issue had been left unaddressed. An originator of the universe, if any should exist, might remain and regret the outcome. Rather than to lose myself in idle speculations whether such a being would be part of the universe, and thus be annihilated along with it, or not, I considered that not only did I not know whether such a being existed in the first place but I was oblivious as to its character, presuming it did. It might as well be malicious as benign for all I knew; in the latter case, its position might be a relevant given, while the former would preclude taking its interests at heart, and one might even find an added motivation to be active rather than remain passive. No relevant information on the issue being at my disposal I must regard the issue without resolve and thus irrelevant. My thoughts were directed further in the abstract, wondering whether a meaning could be discerned, so as to find a reason not to push such a button. My quest to find the meaning of this meaning remained fruitless. 

I could certainly imagine that life would be valuable, enjoying things like music, the company of friends and delicacies, but why these experiences should not be reducible to pleasure I could not see, so that their presence could only avert pushing the button if the enjoyment they bring would surpass the pain from other experiences qualitatively or quantitatively. That this is not the case can be denied by no one who earnestly reflects on his life. Nevertheless, I wondered if a less radical alternative, if available, might not be preferable. It was at that time that I noticed a third sign, reading “Would you push a button that would fast-forward your life?” If such an action were undertaken, less extreme results would follow than in the former case. All events would take place, but in such a way that I would not vividly experience them, or rather even experience them at all. Any plans I might realize would still come to fruition, but the pains and pleasures normally experienced as the necessary would be forgone. I would skip them and die immediately. Here, too, the only task to be undertaken would be to determine their proportions. Even a meaning of life, whatever that may mean, would not seem to preclude the necessity of pushing the button by anyone analyzing the matter with the thoroughness and willingness it warrants. 

As I continued, the plant life became less pervasive and I was enlightened, perhaps in more than one way. Having discovered more about myself than is good for anyone with a desire to cling to the sanity needed to conduct one’s life in an orderly manner, I had left the woods but did not know whence to proceed. All the sanity I presently find is summoned in a quest for either of the two buttons. In their absence I consider the menial tasks that constitute a viable alternative to others a pitiful alternative. Absent the means to reach one’s goal, a numb mind is the greatest blessing.










--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
-Christine Bryant



EGGS
Pins holding my dress’s hem
prick fingertips belonging to no one,
like unwanted Oriole eggs, fingerprints on white shells,
abandoned in a lonesome habitat of crabapple blossoms.

Only when they hatch, and on days when her urges press onward,
the golden gowned female returns,
flies in and out of realms, blossoms, cascades around her nest by the shore.
Who tends to the small chirping children in this world, mouths open and dry—

another female in a golden gown—dressed as mother
spitting up fruit flies, little black insects with iridescent markings?
Until someone kisses the wound, faintly touches the untouched cheek
and I see a shimmer of red hair and gown.




Self Portrait Projection

My arms are not a mother’s  



coupled in kin and kitchen  

plates. This is not 

about him  (tourmaline stones)   



undoing slopes of my curvature

          

hip on canvas swirl 

or oiled tongue of the last one’s

print.  







Post-Op.

I round my pulsating core 

with pulsing palm that glows

across laparoscopic scars 

and I’m still a woman



drying out and drinking willow bark

from glass sunk to meadow

by a farmer’s silo,  



drunk on low strung 

cords of a guitar

that’s away. I pinch fat around

my stomach, 



rub liquid on my

skin  waiting.   Until a hawk calls

from a birch tree,

“harmony?” 



 “soon” 

it is joking, 

“Probably.” It's God.







Dear Uterus 

I should cut you out

you backed up machine

you empty oven



smoking last nights pot roast

what would work be 

without your stabbing

heal   easy

ol’ girl--  shhhh







NJ Turnpike

A screech owl shit on my windshield as it tornadoed noon

electromagnetic in iTune rain.    There all wet, in glistening 

billboard clef, another’s feathers radiate 

braves airport



downwind—  New York City.   Screeches are abound 

 meadowland tollbooths

intimate in residue.  What a glorious bong!







Hurricane Sandy, Belmar NJ

The sea drowned 

our home     washed black-

tops sleek—    slithered



asbestos foundations.  I thought cyclone    



under an old threshold— drinking wind

like seagulls

 gossip: bungalows     black outage air— boulders 



as strangers budged 



in ocean ink smudged photos 



dripping

former lovers







Eye

Asbury Park pushes open, splits black sea 

to choppy,  piercing taciturn

stares—     gliding tops 

of wool hats    to the smashed river’s beaten bank.  



I live right there

in bricks and buckled salt-worn 

boards.  I remember being naked submerged in the unsound 



lies of gulls— whose thoughts told me it was you—

I was on the brass bed listening to bus’s screeching halt



you by the wrought iron gate, agape and unfolding
               



The Violin Beneath My Bed
Vivaldi’s Four Season
sounds on violins crafted in beautiful midnight-
mania by unknown luthiers: fingers slipping
on strings wound tight around tuning pegs, bows fraying porous
ribbons of horsehair, locks of great stallions that once rose in stampeding winds. 

I can hear barren wilderness screaming, bleak horizons—
crying out hollow melodic posts,

the dormant oak corpus mute
inside my inherited, blue canvas case—
untouched, as if frozen in the chalice of winter.


To Dorothy
If you were maternal, Grandmother,
together we’d enjoy gourmet chocolates at my kitchen table,
clay mugs of aromatic teas, like jasmine
you steeped for me when I was six.

I’d show you where I walk,
beyond the silo, through yellow meadows,
pointing out buzzards hovering low
to witness us among dandelion ghosts.

Still, when a solemn doe feeds in the distance,
I envision a mirage from childhood never etched
into memory: gazing out the panes of your French doors,
your hand pressed to my shoulder, whispers of deer
beyond our wooded borders...ones I’ve never seen.




Martin Ramírez Drawing: Horse on Stage
A Stallion embarks wildflower
stages, the rhythm of rolling hills- catching fibers of napkin to pen.
Next he creates curtains,
hooves stamping—sorrel legs like stilts
which clack wooden floor as his tapping shoes.
He is even more feral than the wild horse, bound by oppression— spotlights,
straps of fluorescent walls.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10143165










---------------------------------------------------------------------                
-Lauren Schmidt


Need
I need to eat / the table / if I am that hungry, / need to
appreciate / what is / before me, / not / what is
not, / slather it / with mayonnaise / if I have to. / I need/
the television/ in my dreams / to have closed-

captioning / provided by / better spellers / and maybe
a decoder / other than Freud. / I need/
the phone /of the last lie / I told /myself/ to stop
ringing, /need it / to go directly/ to voicemail,

give it a call back / later. / I need/ the bags
under my eyes / to have more / compartments/
and zippers I won’t catch my finger in. / I need /
happiness / to cling / a bit longer—for steam

is too easily streaked from glass—because need
rises inside me/ until it doesn’t, / like when
I stub my toe / and a flap of skin opens, / a trapdoor
I collapse through.  / Suddenly, just / my bloody toe.



The Day the Train Stood Still for Hours
     For Eric

I barrel down my tracks with an athletic will
huffing gray-purple plumes into the air of this
no-name town, just one block from the high school.

I roll over the bird heads you kids put there,
flatten and disfigure them despite the danger
that it could send me wheeling off my rails.

A few miles northward, I speed through woods
whose leaves embed scrapped bottles of beer,
invisible wintering critters, and the body

I ripped through. The boy stuck his head out
to see me hurtle around the bend, then pressed
his cheek against the cold, humming steel to sleep.

Didn’t you hear my cries of warning,
see red lights flashing, or the bars I lowered
to stop the town’s cars from crossing?—because

this boy always stood too close (eyes closed as if
dreaming) and his coattails would lift in wind
behind him like large, dark wings waiting to be clipped.



Devotion
His fingers fumble to refit the clasp of his lady’s bracelet
     as he once fidgeted at the hook-and-eye behind her back
          in their first darkness together, eager
              to feel her flesh—                   

         
                                  That night, she giggled
                             at his clumsy hands…


Both giggle now at his bumbling. He drops the bracelet twice
     before pulling her wrist to his eyes and cocking his neck
          like a pigeon to inspect the delicate trap
              that gives him such trouble—     
                       
                            
                                  That night, she reached behind to release                                          her supple youth, her breasts full and round
                        against his chiseled chin, but he
                   shook his head and refocused…


Still giggling like children, though her breasts and his jowls droop,
     she waves him off and starts to put the bracelet in her purse.
          But he, determined as that young man in the dark, persists
              in refitting the bracelet to the wrist he kisses.




Rebellion
In the backyard shed—
a child’s stride from the pool,
just behind the garage,
near the fence dividing our homes,
built atop the small patch
of grass we used to pee on—
     we compare

our underthings.
I pull aside my bathing suit,
you shuck and shimmy
down the waist of your trunks.
     We shrug.

But still the shed swells
with sweet summer heat,
swirls with the stench of just-
cut grass caught in the mower.
Tools wilt on walls
like unrequited questions.
Insects riddle the floor.
Our bodies buzz, layers
of skin lift and twist
into the texture of a lingering fig.
Outside at the picnic table,
     we smile

and share the seedy fruit
my mother chunked in bowls for us.
I see the wash of your bite
roll clear as it drips
from your lips and chin.

Your mouth presses against
my pink-lipped grin.
You taste like watermelon, I say.
     We shrug.

Bees buzz,
bugs scuttle,
mowers rattle
in the distance.
The summer
     still full of light



To the Clearing
We did not point fingers at each other when we learned
     we had no bug repellant. Never any blame. Instead,

we hiked into the wilderness anyway, ten miles up and back
     to the start. And you, better furred, armed against

the pointed kisses mosquitoes left on the backs of my legs, arms,
     the meat and muscle of my hide—everywhere flesh softens

over bone to make the shape of a woman. Quit being such a girl,
     you teased, and silently, I forged on.  For the four miles up

the speech-stealing trail where every step was a stick breaking,
     a leaf mincing beneath our tread, I smacked the bugs

into tiny bloody crosses on my skin, said not
     another word. At the fifth mile, a lake. I slipped

the waist of my pants down my hamstrings, feeling the rake
     of every wound. I pulled my shirt over my head

and the sleeves stuck to my stinging, oozing arms.
     When I turned to face you, I saw the way you

looked at my skin—badged with bites, red with welts—
     all because I’d kept to myself. We turned back.

(But didn’t we owe it to each other   to keep going
     though you were tired and I, stiff and knotted like a tree?
    
Because the trek was more than ten miles: it was the winding
     two hours’ drive we both feared, especially the last

three miles to the trailhead where the turns grew tighter
     around the mountain’s rim; it was the last

     half-mile on our feet, the push to the clearing

where I could not feel my toes having scrunched them so hard
     on the climb they tingled in an imitated freeze.)

That night a fever smothered me: one hundred and three
     on top of one hundred degrees outside.

On your knees next to our bed, you held wet compresses
     to my head, lifted a glass of water to my lips.

Your hands soothed calamine lotion all over the throbbing
      lumps. I had the urge to blame you, then,

but I could see how sorry you were. For not believing me
     or not loving me—I could not decide which.



Second Drink
     For my Grandfather and the dreams my mother has of him
    
     On my pillow bit by bit waking,
     suddenly I hear a cicada cry—
     at that moment I know I’ve not died,
     though past days are like a former existence.
     I want to go to the window, listen closer,
     but even with a cane I can’t manage.
     Before long like you I’ll shed my shell
     and drink again the clear brightness of the dew.
          (“Start of Autumn: Hearing a Cicada While Sick in Bed” by Ch’i-Chi)

On your pillow, bit by bit waking,
     dreams of playground slides, highways, swatches of sky
all scatter into the fume of your first breath, waking.
Bit by bit, on your pillow, you wake

and suddenly you hear a cicada cry
     from its flaky tomb. Caked in green, a fresh buzz breaking
the silence of an eight o’clock light, a clear cicada cry.
Suddenly, you hear a cicada cry,

and at that moment, you know you have not died.
     Now, an armada of cicadas, in an apocalyptic quaking,
soars from the trees that have not died.
Neither, at that moment, have you,

though past days are like a former existence,
     cast in a tomb, gilded in aching
like the words of a song that only in memory exist.
Future days, too, are like a former existence.

You want to go to the window, listen closer
     to the cicadas’ rise, their resurrection, their remaking,
but your withered legs cannot bring you closer.
You want to go to the window, listen closer,

but even with a cane, you can’t manage.
     Never in your daughter’s dreams are your legs forsaken—
they’re your wings, your wheels, your dream’s imagining—
but even with a cane, you can’t manage.

Before long, like the cicada, you’ll shed your shell—
     your apocalyptic limbs regaining, reshaping—
stronger now than used to be. Strong like the cicada, you’ll shed your shell.
Before long, like the cicada, you’ll shed your shell

and drink again the clear brightness of the dew.
     You’ll drink again the clear brightness of the dew,
and bit by bit, you will wake. 



The Room Toss Villanelle
     The Haven House for Women and Children

              You better wash your hands tonight.

You don’t know what is hiding,
     or what you’re looking for,

          but this is your job, so you better do it right.

You’ve flipped through the children’s
     books the mothers read at night.

You’ve picked through baby clothes,
     nudged opened closet doors.

              You better wash your hands tonight.

You’ve shoved your fingers in their shoes,
     searched under mattresses with a flashlight.

You’ve rifled through their bed sheets,
     scoured their underwear drawers.

          But this is your job, so you better do it right.

You’ve peaked behind picture frames
     for something to indict.

You’ve held necklaces to your chest,
     wondered if they’re paid for.

              You better wash your hands tonight.

You’ve knocked things down
     you’ve never placed upright.

You’ve left precious things overturned,
     broken, or on the floor.

          But this is your job, so you better do it right.

You’ve pored over the mothers’ diaries,
     their dreams’ burial site,

and you’ve scoffed at the many things
     they’ve said they’re sorry for.

But this is your job,
          and you know you’ve done it right.
             
     Just make sure before you leave,
           you scrub your hands hard tonight.


The Social Worker and the English Lesson
     The Haven House for Homeless Mothers and Children

All of us agree
that Milagros
must improve
her English.

Even Milagros
agrees she
must improve
her English.

No one will ever
let her sit at a desk
and answer phones
if she does
not improve
her English,

and she just can’t
stay here forever, ya know.
So, I took it upon myself
to help Milagros improve
her English.

Today—after months
and months, and months—
all my hard work is done,

‘cause when Milagros heard
her daughter say,
Mamá, tengo hambre,
she whacked her
on the mouth, ya know,
she gave her the back
of the hand. Her
daughter froze
for a moment,
then screamed, ya know,
some horrible noise, ya know—
could have been Spanish,
definitely wasn’t English.

I could tell Milagros
was sorry because
she pulled her child’s face
to her own, and said,
Mom, I’m hungry, then
she kissed the tears away.


Was it hard to watch?
Sure, ya know,
I’m a mother too.
But I didn’t
write the rules
to this place—
I’m just trying
to do my job.



After-Love Love
Variation on a line from Gwendolyn Brooks

I hold my honey and I store my bread,
but I’d rather taste you, honey, come to your bed:

I’d warm you with wiles, bread-and-butter your propriety,
And ease you with oaths of the honeyed variety.

I’d wait in your breadline for what is in store,
And I’d honeycomb new coves for you to explore.

I’d uphold your deep secrets like a store-front display,
And I’d honey your lips and be your sweet-tooth decay.

I’d storehouse your scent, leg-hold to your hips,
And tongue your honey-kisses in long sticky sips.

I’d unlatch and unlid the breadth of my legs,
Breadbasket your milk, your cream, and your eggs.

Yet honeysuckle stores like wet-molded bread,
so it is better, my honey, that I don’t come to your bed.



‘Til Death
     For Andrew and Donna

When I die, bury me in those earrings, the ones
     you raked through an Exxon trashcan,
          filthy and bare-handed, to find—

those two diamonds twisted in a tissue—
     chucking half-chewed fast food
          and gas slips over your shoulder.

When I die, cross my legs lotus-style, right over left.
     I want to be stuffed in the ground this way
          because it’s how I’m most comfortable,

but if I’m going to be stuck in one position, love, I wish
     it were under you. (Even though your body-
          weight caused chronic Costochondritis

and your thigh draped over me once bruised
     a rib in my sleep.) I know you’ll want any
          one day back, the way I wanted your

sidewalk chalk van Gogh after that August-warm
     torrent took it from the drive.
          I know you’ll want to see me

in that dress again, the one I wore the night you didn’t
     have to ask because everything answered: Yes.
          I saved the ease of next day’s waking

for you because when I die, dies with me the sleep you get
     after a day at the beach, the sleep that drops you
          off into the kind of darkness you need to feel

your way out of. I hate to say it, but you should give up
     sweets, love, because when I die, dies with me the day
          a plum is perfect for eating. You can just forget
         
how good the grass feels, the air at seven in the evening
     because it all goes, everything, with the heart
          I gave you at fifteen. You carry it now,

I know: a pulsing, bloody mess in a tissue. But one day,
     you’ll pick through an Exxon trashcan hoping
          to return it to me—waiting

in the car, my face a rain-streaked Starry Sky
     because, love, you’re covered
          in all I’ve left behind

At the Strip Club
Three nightly ladies,
naked,  bodies wound
around their poles,
hang upside down like bats,
some pterosaurus lady-rexes
enveloped in black patagiums’ tats
as parachutes to slow their fall,
their glide from grace.
The dark and disc-winged mills
enwomb, still-birth their souls
inside a caul, chilled by the fan
of batting dollar bills.
A downward spin, a Dante-esque
descent to dim the light
to their prehistory—
where breathing dreams
are soon to be extinct—
reduced to ultraviolet witchery.
And while cannonical hours
wane softly into light,
are these condemned
to undivided night.  









___________________________________                 
-Shannon Lee Grooms



Collecting Dust

I sit quietly on the passenger side of my father’s red and white Ford pickup, looking down at my legs, watching as the sun kisses then jumps back and forth from each of the blonde hairs as I moved them. It’s terribly hot out and takes only minutes for my skin to stick to the leather. A combination of the heat and my discomfort cause sweat to collect itself in the crease of my legs. I hate my legs. I hate the hair on them. I wish I didn’t have to wait until I was thirteen to shave. Then maybe he wouldn’t run his callused fingers over them like he does.

I look at everything I can inside the truck, then count the cars passing us on the road beside us. One didn’t come by for awhile; so I run my finger against the crack in the dashboard. It’s been there since this was Hank’s truck. The crack is in the shape of a large nose and I wonder how it ended up such a perfect outline of one on accident. My dad told me that the sun made it crack that way. I do anything I can not to make eye contact with him. I have to pretend when I look at him; pretend that I am not scared, that I don’t know what’s going on. I have to pretend that I love him, and pretend that I’m his little girl.
 
I hear him talking to my mom on the payphone. He is yelling and smoking at the same time. There isn’t a moment when he doesn’t have a Marlboro Red hanging from his bottom lip. Ginger colored dirt lines the road, and I follow his toes with my eyes as he scratches a shape of a circle with a cross in the middle into the ground, then smudges over it with his flip flop. My eyes trace up his legs; stopping on the scar on his right knee from the surgery he had a few years ago. It looks like two mangled caterpillars on top of each other and is in the shape of a backwards c, or smiley face from this angle.

I can feel through the window and phone that my mother is crying. I overhear him tell her that she made it this way and that he just wants to be a family again. I don’t know why we can’t just go home. I don’t remember hearing them fight the last night I slept in my bed. I usually always hear them when they do. Sometimes the screams put me to sleep, because though my mom is yelling-I know that I’m safe because she is home. Plus, I don’t like it at the other Hank’s house.  I don’t want to stay there another night. There are cockroaches everywhere and I don’t think his daughter, Dawn, likes me. I slept on her bedroom floor next to her last night, knowing that he wouldn’t itch to touch me there. Sometimes I see that his eyes want to, but he never does it around other people.

It happens more often than it used to, and is beginning to be all that I can think about. The days seem so far apart but pass quickly in between. I think he does it once a week now and I wonder when he will do it next.  Will I look away or close my eyes? Will my answer finally change when he asks if it hurts, or if I’m okay? I lay there awake next to Dawn, smelling the stench of her dirty hair while I wonder if her daddy touches her too. Maybe he does, and that’s why she is so mean. Maybe this is common after all. Maybe, but I don’t know why everyone made such a silent ruckus about it after I told about Grandpa Hank. I was confused. I told my dad about what happened and he held me tight, as if he was gonna protect me. I pretended as if he didn’t call me into the bathroom of the trailer behind Mr. Silver and Whin’s Hardware Store, just weeks, maybe days before, and asked me to soap him up. Everything is so strange so I stay quiet most of the time.

The sun is blazing and I want so bad to roll down the window further than the crack he broke apart before he got out, but I don’t. I pray to something I don’t believe in—asking to go home, back to my mom, but before I say amen, the door opens and he gets back in.  I’m sometimes torn between fears and existing comfortably.  This is what I know, and though it doesn’t feel right, it is all I know.
                                                
“Your momma won’t let us come home. I’m sorry but this is how it’s gotta be ‘til she’s thinking straight again.”

I say nothing in response. I don’t believe him. I know that my mom wants me back home and would yell if she knew I was at “Dirty Hank’s” house anyways. She knew what they did over there, smoking dope and drinking all day.

I stare out of the dusty window, across the interstate at the Wendy’s, and wish that instead,  I was with Grandma getting a frosty.  It’s so hot out and I bet one would taste real good now. 

He looked down and over at me and asked if I was hungry before he shifted into drive. I said “no,” though I hadn’t eaten since that nasty Spam Hank made for us girls the night before. I never liked spam, or asparagus—but learned better than to not eat it a few Thanksgivings ago.

“Well, I am,” he said as we pulled away.

I watched the dust scatter out from beneath the tires in the mirror.








CONTRIBUTORS 

Frankie Lopes is in his senior year of studying creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. His work has also been published in, Tran(s)tudies Literary Journal, Scribblers Literary Magazine, The Fat-City Review, White Ash Literary Magazine, and Post-Road Literary Magazine. He lives in Matawan, New Jersey.
SaraGrace Stefan is a seventeen-year-old from Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. She has been writing about giant bugs, runaway children, and magical lands since she was a little girl. Her current, more poetic writing is now her buoy amidst a sea of college applications and homework assignments. Her book Hands to Hold for People Trying Not to Cry in Public Places is available on www.Lulu.com

A schoolteacher and Adjunct Professor, Mariana Sierra is a Puerto Rican emigrant currently inhabiting New York's backyard. Her poetry, which more often than not is catharsis, has appeared in both academic and literary journals.
 

Jasper Doomen is a Lecturer in Law at Leiden University and has previously worked in the same capacity, inter alia, at Utrecht University. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy (Leiden University, 2003), an A.B. in Philosophy of a Specific Discipline (Leiden University, 2005) and a J.D. (Utrecht University, 2005). His publications mainly deal with topics in the fields of Philosophy and Law.



Christine Bryant received a Master of Arts in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing- Poetry from Monmouth University whom awarded her the English Award for Graduate Study. Additionally, Columbia University’s School of the Arts awarded her The Writing Program Scholarship for their Master of Fine Arts Program in Writing.  Christine's poems are published in the 2011- 2013 issues of Monmouth Review.  She has worked as an Adjunct Professor of Writing at Rowan University and Berkeley College in NJ and presently teaches at Hudson County Community College and Brookdale Community College
Lauren Schmidt is the author of three collections of poetry: Two Black Eyes and a Patch of Hair Missing; The Voodoo Doll Parade, selected for the Main Street Rag Author’s Choice Chapbook Series; and Psalms of The Dining Room, a sequence of poems about her volunteer experience at a soup kitchen in Eugene, Oregon. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Rattle, Nimrod, Fifth Wednesday Journal, New York Quarterly, Bellevue Literary Review and The Progressive.  Her awards include the So to Speak Poetry Prize, the Neil Postman Prize for Metaphor, The Janet B. McCabe Prize for Poetry, and the Bellevue Literary Review’s Vilcek Prize for Poetry. Schmidt is an Instructor of Developmental English at Passaic County Community College. She also volunteer teaches creative writing at a transitional house for homeless mothers and is a Poet-in-the-Schools for Paterson Public Schools.
Shannon Lee Grooms majored in Women’s and Gender Studies at The College of New Jersey. Shannon’s senior capstone project focused on developing plans for restructuring the Gay Straight Alliances in New Jersey middle and high schools to be more trans* inclusive. She participated in a six-week faculty led study-tour in Tanzania, funded partly with a Laurenti Scholarship for Study Abroad.  Further, as a MUSE scholar, Shannon researched women’s contributions in the Tanzanian liberation movement, where she presented her research findings at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Oakland, CA in 2012 with Dr. Marla Jaksch (TCNJ). Shannon is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and Triple Triota, the National Women’s and Gender Studies Honor Society.  She graduated Magna Cum Laude and was recognized with the Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon LGBT Activist Award for a graduating senior in the class of 2013.

Front and back cover art based on photography by Taylor Ann Polito.

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