Category Archives: Poetry

“Grand Hotel” By Frederick Pollack

As a courtesy, the government man
lets the manager sit in on
the surveillance. But the cameras
are the hotel’s, and the manager thinks
it’s his courtesy. The other agents
in the room could set him straight,
but their chief signals them to stand down.
On the screen they’re watching,
a man viewed from the ceiling in green light
uneasily sleeps. Earlier they saw him
boringly, unhappily prepare
for bed. This man (the agent explained
with a frankness that pleased the manager)
represents democratic forces
in a small, important, troubled, distant land;
tomorrow he’ll sleep elsewhere,
and tonight his foes will not kill him.
On other screens, in remote stairwells,
men in helmets and armor
unobtrusively lurk; plainclothes types
(the manager knows the look) sit
neatly, here and there, in the lobbies.
The manager observes his usual screens.
On 30 North a girl is locked out
of her room. No – she’s looking
at herself, not in a mirror,
but in a polished panel of the hallway
wall. Will she kiss that reflection?
No – she leans her brow against it.
Will she hit her head against it?
Should he send someone? Can he? On 12 South,
a large man in an expensive
though markedly disheveled suit
(Why hasn’t he put on our nice white bathrobe?
the manager wonders), clutching a bucket,
confronts an ice machine. Seems unable
to interpret it, weaves back and forth
as if praying. The SWAT teams – if that’s the proper term
with feds – take one step up
in their secret stairwells and stop,
like martial angels ascending. Here and there,
in (the manager checks
a readout, smiles without prurience) nine percent
of the rooms, lovers thrash. The kitchens
gleam and are gratifyingly hectic
without chaos. On 50 South
the Thing appears. Maids give it various
Spanish names, but their silence has been bought.
Behind it, scuffs and mildew manifest.
Its grey skin, eyes red
with inscrutable rage, grief
or allergies fill the manager
with professional hate and worry. Of course It won’t
appear on the tapes. Should he ask
the government man for help? Now’s not the time.
In the North Tower bar, entering which
(critics say) is like strolling into
an Old Master, a somewhat older
man and somewhat younger woman
gaze off at angles. “She couldn’t–”
says the woman, and the man: “He–” The manager
adjusts his earphones to block
the jolly noise of the bar. “After a while
none of it meant anything,”
says the woman. “Even the kids?”
the man asks. She possibly sighs.
“He tried as hard as he could–” says
the man, without asperity. But noise
returns, a dropped tray, and what the manager hears
next is something from her about
“values,” how they can’t be just put on
like a dress. He agrees; more vigorously:
“It’s better in hotels,
isn’t it? Someone else to change the sheets…”
Intrigued, the manager misses
the moment the soldiers
begin to mount the stairs. When he looks,
those screens are dark, and so is the room
of the foreign personage. The agent,
pressing his own headphones, scowls for silence;
then rises (his team has exited), thanks
the manager for his patience
and patriotism. Reassures him
no guest and no routine has been disturbed.
“Was he attacked?” asks the manager. “We had to
extract him,” says the agent.
“But he’s safe?” “Of course,” the agent smiles;
shakes hands and leaves. Though it’s late,
Reception is crowded: a boisterous group has arrived.
Huge SUVs pull up, depart;
and if one appears
at a loading dock and leaves with strange cargo,
the manager knows he has no need to know.

*

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, and a collection, A Poverty Of Words. Another collection, Landscape With Mutant, is to be published in 2018 by Smokestack Books. Many more of his poems appear in print and online journals.

Back To Issue Forty-Four

“Dishonorable Trade” By Elizabeth Sackett

"Dishonorable Trade" By Elizabeth Sackett

the rain chills him to the marrow.
he is meant to be human, not humane,
and the potential of the axe
is resting, for now,
on the scaffold.

a lady’s head is bowed
as she steps forward to the crowd,
the weather darkening her hair,
weighing her crown.
the man can see
the vertebrae of her spine,
the cold pale way
they extend from her neck
like a twisting fish.

it’s easier that way,
he knows,
the hair up so that the strands
don’t snake and snag the blade
but even after a decade
of this dishonorable trade,
the softness of the back of a neck
disconcerts him.

maybe it’s because of his child,
the way she curls against his wife at night,
her dark curls
flickering, insubstantial,
in candlelight,
the sweet smell
at her nape.

there’s nothing childlike
in the woman before him.
the words she speaks to
the people
soak up the rain like paper
and fold, but he is certain
they must be noble.
she turns
and there are creases by
her eyes. he has seen panic
and there is nothing alien
in her resigned desperation,
a shudder in her lip
and a twisting in her hands.

she
reaches
out
to him, a coin
resting in her restless
fingers.
do you
forgive me,
he says.

with her response
she ghosts her nails
across her throat
before kneeling
before a stone bed
and flinging her arms
like a bird.

the coin is cold and wet.
into his pocket
it goes,
and it shall be played with
by small hands
later, the metal
catching
the mystery of
firelight
and his child
shall laugh,
the sound full
in her body,
traveling from
a filled stomach
to a throat,
bubbling
and bursting
but these are thoughts
for a different time.

the axe
releases.
he’s already received
absolution
for this potential sin
and the skin
on the back of the lady’s neck
goosebumps,
for a moment,
with life.

*

Elizabeth Sackett earned a degree in English with a writing concentration from SUNY Geneseo, where she received the Lucy Harmon Award for Fiction Writing and was published in Gandy Dancer. Highly involved with her local live poetry scene, she has also recently been published in Gravity Of The Thing and Fickle Muses. She spends her spare time drawing pictures of bird skeletons.

Back To Issue Forty-Four

“DADT” By Lucas Shepherd

"DADT" by Lucas Shepherd

My best friend in the Air Force was gay;
she separated eighteen months before DADT

became NOYFB.  She worked in the base
hospital; I worked the flightline.  Once

on a frosty October morning, tumble-
weed skeletons piling up on the perimeter fence,

I walked into her clinic.  She wore her BDUs
well, I thought. With blue gloves she lifted

up my shirt sleeve.  Earlier that summer we camped
at Bottomless Lakes in Roswell; she was alien

to me. I tried to kiss her. No, I wasn’t that
drunk. And no to your second question.

It was so windy our tent blew away.  She
administered my flu shot on one of those days

in October that you’d swear you’ve lived before. How’s
the flightline? Fine. Sorties. Smoke pit. Fireball 8.

Nothing exciting? Even with the gunships?
I told her about the 30mm dangling

from a Lockheed AC-130W Stinger II’s waist.
Close to the fuselage, shaded under its wing.  In order

to deliver new gen heaters and floodlights
and an old mule that leaked hydraulic fluid,

I had to park near this cannon. Did you
touch it? No, I said. I wouldn’t dare.

*

Lucas Shepherd’s work appears in The Atlantic, Colere, Rockhurst Review, Razor, Little Village Magazine, Daily Palette and Sliver Of Stone. He was the 2015 fiction judge for Scribendi’s Western Regional Honors Council Awards. From 2006-2010, he served in the US Air Force. Find more of his work at lucas-shepherd.com.

Back To Issue Forty-Three

“The November We Are Fifteen” By Lydia Armstrong

Image by Toby Penney

Previously published in Crack The Spine.

The November we are fifteen we run away and the boys around the block put us up in a motel room on the turnpike that has a hole in the door so we can see everyone’s sneakers shuffling past.

We write poetry and eat potato chips all week and one night I sit on the chipped-tile bathroom floor and feel my mind break apart and the pieces get sucked up into the air vent.

On Thanksgiving the Arab at the front desk calls and says in broken English no one’s paid the bill for the night but we understand clearly when he says, I’m calling police.

We hide our bags in the woods and use the last of our change to call the boys from the pay phone at Waffle House and the ringing just trills through the ear piece like a jungle bird.

We tell the waiter behind the counter we don’t have money and he watches us the way my father looks at sick dogs.

After an hour he gives us coffee and after two hours he goes over to the gas station and buys us cigarettes and after three hours he puts sopping plates of smothered hash browns in front of us that we can’t eat.

Two boys with slick white smiles and a car say we can go with them and the waiter behind the counter keeps wiping the same spot and watches us go out into the dawn, where everything is soft and blue at the edges and we are glad the night has passed.

The slick boys have keys to an uncle’s barber shop and say, here sit on our laps, and we look at each other like maybe this is exciting, maybe something is happening.

Something must be happening because the lights are off but the room is still glowing and the only thing holding us onto these bony knees are the arms slung over our hips.

But it’s hard to tell because we are weak from hunger and sleeplessness and the blunt passing through our hands and all we want is home.

The problem with a strange boy’s lap at dawn is that it shrinks your hearts, like how eating potato chips for a week shrinks your stomach, and when someone tries to give you something real, there isn’t anywhere to put it.

*

Lydia Armstrong lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is active in the spoken word community and helps facilitate Slam Richmond. She collects bugs, drinks copious amounts of white tea, and has a cat named Birdie. She is working on her first novel. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @cr0ssmyfingers.

Back To Issue Forty-Three

“Elicit” by Clifford Parody

"Elicit" by Clifford Parody

“Elicit” was originally published in Forklift, Ohio

I am the stretch of easement
beneath a stretcher beneath
your broken body, your weight,
and I hate that the last hand you felt
was gloved in blue latex, attached
to a man who detached himself
from the boy who lay bleeding
before him. I am the minivan
and the pilot, frame and feet,
I am the kids in the backseat,
how I scream, how I scream,
how my  body tenses, my
tires screech, we meet. I am
the green light so quick
to turn yellow, I am the aluminum,
the seat, I am the pedals
beneath your feet, how we
creak turning tires that took you
and took you, I am the backpack
you threw on the floor as you walked
through the door, I am the door
and the floor, I am the school bus
that carried you home, I am the school,
I am the bell that carried you from room to room,
I am the bedroom you woke in, the bed
where you slept, I am a flash card
on the side of the road, weeks later,
stumbled upon, staggering stoned:
to draw forth— to bring out from the source—
I am picking it up, I am thinking,
and the only word I can think of is theft.

*

Clifford Parody holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and currently lives in Lakeland, Florida, where he writes for the local newspaper, co-runs the record label Swan City Sounds, and hangs out with his wife, daughter and dog. He is the recipient of the 2015 Noel Callow Award from the Academy of American Poets and his work has appeared in Forklift, Ohio, Backlash Journal, Drunk In A Midnight Choir, Terminus Magazine, and The Greensboro Review, among others. His first chapbook, Because I Did Not Know What To Do is forthcoming this fall via The Altar Collective.

Back To Issue Forty-Two

“Belasis And Hastur” By Mack W Mani

"Belasis And Hastur" by Mack W Mani

It is the first cold night of Autumn
and I smoke a cigarette to myself
looking up to the sky;
you can’t see many stars from the city
but you can see Belasis and Hastur,
the new constellations.

When they first appeared
two weeks ago,
no one knew what to do
but crane their necks upward to see,
everyone asking the same questions.

Even during the day
you can feel the weight of them
hovering above us, waiting.

No one showed up at work
but the administrator and me,
a lot of places are closed
but the bars are all open
and in every joint it’s the same thing.

A TV on mute,
some harried looking news anchor
mouthing the words:
No idea as of yet…
No one seems to be able to explain…
We will keep you updated as…

After a few beers I dial my ex,
who sounds scared
so I offer to come over,
but she says she’s fine
that she has it under control.

Shots.
The girls at the bar,
they seem scared too,
but the words
get caught in my mouth
and all they want to talk about
is the sky.

Alone now with another beer
then another and at midnight,
birthday drinks,
one for me and one for
Belasis and Hastur.

Outside,
it’s starting to rain,
the sky coming down
dark and close,
but I can still sense them,
up there watching
and I imagine
I can feel their pull,
tugging me gently across
the vastness of space.

Gently, I ask what they are
but the only answer I receive
is thunder,
without any flash of light,
just a loud rumbling
cast down from the heavens.

*

Mack W Mani was born in rural Washington State. He currently lives in Portland. His work has appeared in The Pedestal Magazine and The Non-Binary Review.

Back To Issue Forty-Two

“Trophy Room, Burnby Hall” by Matthew Dobson

Image by Tyler Flaumitsch

A warthog twitched its narrow jaws
and blinked alive;
a hunting dog peeled its black lips.

Our ancestors
were speaking through them. One asked why
a girl had turned

her granddad’s photo to the wall.
Another begged
his son (too late) run home, unplug

the generator
chugging inside the living room,
waking the neighbours.

A tear salted one boy’s cheek,
the warthog stretched out

its pink tongue.

*

Matthew Dobson lives in West Yorkshire. In his spare time, he enjoys playing squash, riding bicycles and reading and writing poetry.  He has been published in Ink Sweat And Tears, and The Cadaverine.

Back To Issue Forty-One

“Nebula Girl Is Born” by Tamsin Hopkins

Image by Terry Standefer

I light a fire
although it is no longer cold.
I don’t even empty the grate
but push the ash aside,
so the fire can breathe.
I make a nest for anthracite
with twigs I have been drying
and, as the fire takes, I hear

something

– so I look.

It’s getting hot and I can’t quite see
– so, hand on chimney breast,
one foot in the hearth,
I dip my head and squint.
First my hair is drawn,
then my forehead, eyes and nose;
then shoulders and the rest has to follow.
I am a film going out of focus,
a cartoon girl,
Mary Poppins in reverse,
no umbrella.

I travel through, like
a worm hole, like
a sooty birth canal
to a new dimension.
Instead of coming out the top
of the chimney pot with a satisfying pop,

I am atoms, girl ash,
dispersing particles, each with an eye
that looks down on my house. I float
towards the interstellar spaces I will fill.

I am a new nebula.

*

Tamsin Hopkins writes short stories and poetry. Sand Tranny And Other River Stories, is due out in February 2016 with Cinnamon Press. She is currently working on a poetry collection.

Back To Issue Forty-One

“The Lotus Eaters” by Paul French

Image by Mariola Streim

The endocrines are absorbed by the altered receptors of the brain.
Therefore the rodents start to cuddle.

It is deeper than the sea, even if it’s a rodent’s brain.
Though all mystery can be measured.

There’s nothing in the body a surgeon’s knife can’t find.

The subjects I’ve observed don’t even notice the needle anymore.
We’ve put them in so much love.

Don’t worry. I’m just like you.
I too want that experience to be godly.

And maybe, like you, I’ve felt it already. And maybe, like you, I haven’t.
Want remains either way a problem.

And what about those who’ve lost or never held it?
Can anything be too sacred for medicine?

Take a look at this century’s Want.
He’s right here, wearing his lab coat.

So the dosage is increased, the receptors enhanced. Suddenly, you’re
finding forever-bliss in a friend, a wife, a stranger, a dream.

It’s not like Soma, either. What we use is completely natural, endogenous
peptides in the brain, the source of it all.

Worst case scenario: one day, we’ll wake unmedicated in our tightly
shared bed and realize that there’s irony in paradise.

So be it.

*

Paul French was formerly the Managing Editor of Puerto Del Sol. His work has been featured in Word Riot, Slipstream, and Harpur Palate, among others. He was the recent winner of a Kevin McIlvoy and a Peter Harris-Kunz Fellowship. He has just finished the manuscript of Love Machines and is currently seeking a publisher.

Back To Issue Forty

“He Asks Me To Call Him” by Laura McKee

Image by Jean Froideveaux

daddy
and I think what the
actual fuck I am older
than him
and the hills

so I straddle his lap
to have words face on
about how
he might like to find
a little girl

about how
I am
a real woman
and he whispers
say it

so I hear myself say it
wearily
and he whispers
you can do better than that
princess

with a hiss on the ess
which makes me feel
queasy
deep inside my fingertips
so I say it

in soft anger
into his ear
as he grabs at tiny hairs
at the nape
and I say it say it say it say it

*

Laura McKee lives in Kent and began writing poetry by mistake, a few years ago. Her poems have appeared in print journals, as well as online, including Aireings, Other Poetry, Obsessed With Pipework, Prole, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Lake, The Journal, Morphrog, Lunar Poetry. Contact her on Twitter @Estlinin.

Back To Issue Forty