Two Poems by Meggie Royer

Surrender

We collected them like talismans
from every roadside and hill,
sky bloodshot with gold, softness
rising in our throats at the sight of their stillness,
eyes plucked from some of the rabbits like pearls.
Your mother married a man who sent her into the river,
held her body as it thrashed like the minnows
that later drained from her body.
It was a way of love for us, the fawns curled with wet,
sparrows stripped of their wings.
Each one, when set alight,
sent a plume into the dusk;
we considered this
a kind of baptism.


Gone Fishing

They kept saying the woman was on the roof again,
perched like a heron with toes curled over the edge.
They’d caught more fish that week than any other,
trout with their blush of pink smoothness,
tuna slipping through palms,
faint touch of salt, dusk spilling over their bodies.
You live like that, you live like a ghost,
what space must there have been
between her wanting to stay
and her wanting to leave, something like grief,
something like the seconds between
the hook and the catch,
the thinking better of it
and the release back into water.


Meggie Royer is a Midwestern writer, domestic violence advocate, and the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Persephone’s Daughters, a literary and arts journal for abuse survivors. She has won numerous awards for her work and has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She thinks there is nothing better in this world than a finished poem.

‘Old Habits’ by Ciku Gitonga

At 11 p.m., the Ottawa airport was nearly deserted. I sat there surrounded by my luggage, an island on a sea of blue carpeting.

“What are you doing on the ground?” I didn’t look as he came to stand beside me. “Hey, come on, it’s gross down there. Shoes have been everywhere.”

“Mm-hm,” I said, not moving. “I’m tired.”

He crouched beside me and took my hand. 

“I know, baby, I know. Look, we don’t have to go back to—” Instinctively, he paused as some people walked past us. I hated him for that second, for his reflexive accommodation. “We don’t have to go back all the way to Mum’s. The lady at the desk said that we can stay at The Marigold free of charge for tonight. Come back tomorrow morning for the new flight.”

It was good news—a part of me acknowledged it, and another part stared absently at the passing feet of a large family rushing to gate 12, thinking nothing. 

“How would we even get there?” I said. I was still not looking at him. Lifting my gaze seemed too much effort. 

“The airport shuttle,” he was saying. “We should start moving to the stop, actually. The next one leaves in, like, 20 minutes.”

“Mmh.”

Now he placed his hand on my chin, tilted upwards. “Hey,” he said. I looked at him, then away, gently chastised.

“I’m sorry. I feel like shit.” I had since this afternoon, when I woke up at 5 p.m. to the tinny blare of my birth control alarm. We’d stumbled in well past sunrise, fallen asleep fully clothed. There’s something depressing about waking up in the afternoon. I’d had a whole day planned to cap off our trip. A morning jog along Rideau, brunch at a nice little place in Byward. As I lay in bed, the back of my head gradually gained momentum to a steady, sharp thudding. He’d moved to press himself against me, hand reaching for my breast, and I’d shot away, ran to the toilet bowl to heave. 

This was on Kibanja. On all of them, really, but on him especially. Throughout the night he’d hovered like a fucking odour, closer than anyone in the ring of friends. On the Uber to the bar, I’d promised myself silently to show enthusiasm—we’d fought the day before about his friends, our voices hushed and hissing in his mother’s guestroom. It had scared me to see his nostrils flared and his voice sharpened—sometimes I forget that his cool, almost neutral expression is not permanent. Afterwards, lying naked in his arms, I had promised to try. And I did—I immersed myself into his circle last night, feeling like a swinging hatchet plunging into the rings of a tree trunk, tightly bound and ancient. 

When I first met them, Kibanja and Stef and the rest, I saw how they carried the years with them, and how the years melted away in their gestures, echoes of freshman days. He became different with them—regressed, I guess. It was repulsive. Like how he became around his mother, sitting in adolescent complacency as she bustled about. When he reached for me across his childhood sheets, I instinctively recoiled. 

“Kibanja was there for me when no one else was,” he had said during our fight. “He helped me stand up to the guys who were giving me shit at Ridgemont.”

“But he takes advantage of you,” I had said.

You’re a pushover, always have been, I had wanted to say. 

Last night I watched them: he, hanging on to every word, downing the shots as Kibanja egged him on. I remember the stories he told me about grade 12, how he’d get beers with his new ID while Kibanja and his lacrosse friends waited outside. Afterwards, he’d walk behind them into the woods, following their long shadows.

“One time they got me to drink so much—it actually wasn’t that much—and I was puking everywhere. Kibanja didn’t even want to drop me off home because Mum would know what was up. God, they roasted me for that night for, like, months.”

“So you had to walk home alone?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

I smirked. Kibanja was their centre when they all got together. They moved like waves at his frequency. His little band of misfits. I watched, ordering one drink after another, pretending to laugh with Stef. 

I had said: “It’s like you haven’t, like, grown up at all—”

Now he was holding both my hands. “Look, it’ll be just the two of us in a big hotel bed. You can relax. I’ll give you a massage. Eh?”

The skin of his palms was damp and warm. I imagined the patches of sweat he’d leave on the hotel sheets. I imagined the hotel room deep in darkness, after I had given in, after he’d finally fallen asleep. I would look at him from across the bed. His features went even softer in sleep, and his body curled inward like a fetus, like a wilting flower. And I, stiffly staring.

Now, on the airport floor, I looked up and matched his smile. I rose when he pulled me up with him. As I stood, I fought the sudden urge to vomit.


Ciku Gitonga is a second-year student at the University of Ottawa, studying Political Science. She immigrated to Canada from Kenya in 2016. She enjoys writing, mostly fiction, and sometimes poetry. This piece is her first to be published anywhere, and she is very excited. 

Two Poems by Anthony Aguero

Moping About in Palm Springs

Spent the next three days sported on
The back of my dad’s bike: dark spokes,
Orange rim, yellow handlebars, a red and
Filleted heart more like a roasted bird,
Or the bike was exceptionally ordinary.
We were soaring through the ozone.
He was coughing up a lung or both.
To be unflappable and frantic. I smiled
And my skin was burning from the scorch
Of mistakes a daring Sun leaves behind.
I was his majesty and that’s whimsical
To briefly consider. He, my courter.
I, too infant to know how to fear a god.
My mom is clutching her chest, holds
A fear so ripe it cannot be caged in hands.
At times, I know so little about the mechanics
Of flight or, even, forgiveness. Except,
That I’m here giving my arms to the wind.
The sun brushing the very skin our backs.


Seeking the Blanket of the Sun

Or the moon.
Or the stars. Dead body
Of gasses scattered
Throughout the skies.

We’re moving
The centerfold to the living room
And dancing around –
All flesh and pure air.

The light pours in.
I stick out my tongue to taste
The milk
And severity
To this witnessing:

Fingers interwoven,
Legs trembling in sweat
— we’re tasting the
Red off plump cherries.

And how easy
I confuse taste for warmth
Or
Vastness or abundance.
We’re moving, we rise.

We continue to make ourselves
More
Like the blanket
Of some warm sun.


Anthony Aguero is a queer writer in Los Angeles, CA. His work has appeared, or will appear, in the Carve Magazine, Rhino Poetry, Cathexis Northwest Press, 14 Poems, Redivider Journal, Maudlin House, and others. 

Matthew King

On Plato’s Phaedrus 229

There’s a bend
in the creek
you pass by
every day
that someone
who doesn’t
pass by there
might say is
the scene where
it’s said that
a god swept
away a
young girl who
was dancing
to make her
immortal

And you’d think
but not say
the north wind
carries down
where you stand
in the steam
from the storm
sewer source
of the creek
the spirits
distilled from
the fish that
remain there
rotten to
their oily
essentials

He’d know what
you’re thinking
and say if
you’re clever
you’ll make it
metaphor
keep passing
look past her
ashamed she’s
still dancing
immortal
at the bend
in the creek
where it’s said
the altar
is hidden


Matthew King used to teach philosophy at York University in Toronto, and is the author of Heidegger and Happiness. He now lives in “the country north of Belleville”, where he tries to grow things, counts birds, takes pictures of flowers with bugs on them, and walks a rope bridge between the neighbouring mountaintops of philosophy and poetry. You can find him on twitter: @cincinnatus_c_

‘Florida Room’ by Wilson Koewing

When I was five, we visited my dad’s parents in Florida for Christmas. I rode down to Nokomis Beach with my grandpa. He stopped by the bait shack and purchased a Budweiser.

“That your grandson, Al?” a fisherman asked.

I was half hiding behind a dock piling. 

“That’s what they tell me.” 

My grandpa was a first-generation German immigrant. A child of the Depression. I had Nintendo and all the games. His blonde-haired blue-eyed grandson. We walked out on the jetty to watch the boats leave the marina. 

On the way home he cut a sharp left. We ended up at a bar under a bridge. It was dark and smoky inside. He ordered me a Coke and lifted me onto the bar. 

“Ginger, this is my grandson.”

“Al, I didn’t know you had a family,” Ginger said. 

He ordered a Manhattan. I sipped my Coke as they chatted. 

When we left, he said, “Don’t tell anyone I brought you here.” 

I nodded that I understood. 

“If you do, I’ll never take you anywhere like that again.” 

As we drove home, I stared out the window. The palm trees and retro houses of Nokomis gave way to the sprawl of Venice before opening to fields of sawgrass on the town’s edge. We returned to their house in a subdivision of houses that all looked the same. But all Florida. 

We entered through the garage. My dad looked at me like he knew I was hiding something. My mom glanced up from a magazine.

“You okay?” she said.

“Boy,” my dad said. “Answer your mother.”  

I didn’t answer.

My grandma, who’d been outside doing aerobics, stepped inside sweating. 

Feeling the weight of their collective gaze, I caved. 

“He took me to a dark place under the bridge,” I said. “There was a lady who liked him. She gave me a coke.”

My dad laughed.

“Honestly, Albert,” my grandma said. 

His stare was burning me alive. He and my dad went out on the Florida room with beers. My grandma squeezed fresh orange juice. My mom returned to her magazine. 

I crept out to the Florida room. When my grandpa noticed me, he shook his head in devastated disappointment.  

***

We visited every Christmas after that. As the years passed, I sat with him in his Florida room. On Sundays we watched Dan Marino. Believing the Dolphins could win. Me on the patio couch, him in his chair with a beer and The Wall Street Journal. My dad at the table in the corner, cracking wise. The Dolphins perpetually losing. Marino carving up defenses in vain.

On weekday afternoons, we watched the stock market ticker tape. I’d watch for the symbols of the companies he held to roll by and tell him the price. 

Florida in December was humidity and short days. Afternoon storms. Gators that might wander calmly through the yard or right up to the screen door. 

My grandpa saying, “Hey, you, look at there,” as my eyes globed. 

The orchard in his backyard where I ran in circles to release youthful energy. Even in winter, the grapefruits and oranges glistened on the branches. I gazed up at them with one eye shut so their circumference eclipsed the sun as it burnt still over the treetops. 

“Get in here,” he’d yell. “Marino’s got the ball again.” 

And for years that’s how it went. Until I got older and he got older and bone cancer, assisted living and dementia. Until the Christmas we didn’t visit, and my dad went down to handle the estate and help my grandma move out of their house and into a retirement community. 

I didn’t see him when things got bad. My parents sheltered me from that. 

I figure we owe it to our parents to stand by as they fade from this existence, but not our grandparents. There’s a buffer that goes both ways. Maybe that was why me telling the truth about the bar allowed him to connect with me in ways he couldn’t connect with his own children. 

If nothing else, he taught me a timeless lesson. And maybe that’s all he ever wanted. I regret never saying how much it meant to me, but I take solace in believing he knew. 

For as long as we visited, anytime he and I were left alone on the Florida room he reminded me about the bar. He let me know he hadn’t forgotten. We could watch football together. Go pin fishing under the drawbridge down in Nokomis or on his Wednesday drive to every grocery store in Venice to check the marked down meats. Walks on the jetty and the snacks at the bait shop. The countless hours of silence we enjoyed together. But never once did he take me to another bar or offer me his confidence again. On that he never broke his word. 


Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His work has recently appeared in Bending Genres, Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Loch Raven Review and New World Writing.

Oisin Harris

The Goat’s Head

I dreamt of the goat’s head
Floating in the bucket.

A bucket tucked between bales of hay.
Full of redolent water buoyantly lulling its sacrifice.

A strange jetsam
Imprinted in my dreams.

The goat’s eyes are more open
Then when I weaned it from milk as a kid.

I remember my grandmother
Locking us in the house
So we’d be spared its execution.

Sneaking out I can still see the bristles
On its skin tufted together, forming
A quilted patchwork of greys and whites,
Reminiscent of smashed up slate in mushy snow.

I can see my grandmother’s apron a palette
Of plucked chicken feathers and dried giblets.
The syncopated rhythms of life and death
Offsetting each other on an oak dining table.

I remember the rabbits in their hutches
Pacing a little back and forth,
Perhaps sensing something had been taken.
In their coop and aviary, hens and pigeons
Became quiet too.

I recall that outside in the valley,
Mushrooms grew and coalesced.
We will pick them soon.

I dreamt of the goat’s head again.
Its pupils by now must have fertilised
So many budding leaves.

Sometimes I dream I am one of those leaves
To listen to the earth’s heartbeat,
Like a stethoscope
Probing for frequencies beyond my reach.


Based in Canterbury, (UK) Oisin writes poems after having earned an English degree from Sussex University and an MA in Publishing from Kingston University. He is a librarian at the University of Kent and a co-editor and contributor for The Publishing Post’s Books In Translation Team. He has performed his poems at open mics throughout Kent. His work on Women In Translation has been published in the 2020 research ebook of the Institute for Translation  and Interpreting, entitled Translating Women: Activism in Action, edited by Olga Castro and Helen Vassallo.

‘You Cannot Keep Things In Your Pockets’ by Paige Olivia Roberts

At daycare, caterpillars cover the chain link fence surrounding the playground. I spend recess petting their soft bodies. Cover my hands like henna tattoos. Their little feet stick on my skin like miniature tentacles. 

I love the caterpillars; I want to take them home and put them in jars on my windowsill so I can pet and feed them until they cocoon and become butterflies. One by one, I put them in the pockets of my overalls for safekeeping. Sometimes I reach in a pudgy hand and slide a finger across the back of a velvety squirm.

When Mom buckles me into my car seat in the back of her silver Mazda, I pull out my caterpillars to show them to her, but they are all dead or dying, slowly writhing in my sweaty palm.

“Why did you do that?” Mom asks, upset. But I protest the entire car ride home, holding them in cupped hands on my lap, telling her how much I love them, how soft and perfect they are, and how I will take care of them. 

“Not everything is meant to be kept like that,” she says as we pull into the driveway. She unbuckles me from my seat and the herbal smell of her lotion lingers next to me as we walk up the concrete steps to our apartment. The last caterpillar is dying in the curl of my pinky. 

“I don’t know what to do,” I say, sad I am not good enough to keep them alive. 

Mom puts out her hand, and I silently dump the caterpillar carcasses into her palm. I follow her back outside to the edge of the woods, where she crouches and sprinkles them onto a tuft of leaves. 

“We can’t just leave them here,” I whine, hoping Mom can cast some spell and bring them back to life. 

“They deserve to be free and where they belong. You cannot keep things in your pockets and expect them to survive on your love alone.”

She walks me back inside and readies herself for her bartending shift. I watch from the couch as she brushes her hair and dabs her face with a hot washcloth. Sit and wait for my babysitter or dad to arrive. Whoever shows up first. 


Paige Olivia Roberts has a degree in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Henniker Review, Sidereal Magazine, and Rejection Letters. She has been nominated for a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Find her on Twitter @paige_por.

Three Poems by Luis Jefté Lacourt

The Long-lasting

I’ve learned nothing
from the sand at the bottom of the sea
where the saddest strokes
and all the waves’ silence
are written and erased;
Eternity’s impulse,
the Long-lasting,
where everything emerged,
and we surged scourged
ready to fall in love,
wishing to be
raptured by the fluids.


Posillo

Half a cup of coffee
was a 75 cent break
between classes;
two colors,
a new tasting system
scaled by the number of milk drops.
Multiple desperations later
it became a picture of our left hands
chained with two glimmering pacts.
Before it was over
we got rid of the rings,
the pictures, and the names.

Today,
un posillo isn’t enough.
Why do I stay awake?


Muse is an unpressed button

Every creature carries
a machine asleep, inside.
A dream of artifacts switched off,
a keyboard that screams in mute,
and gives us, lucidly put in words,
the paranoia of the awakened.


Luis Jefté Lacourt is a Puerto Rican writer and veteran based in New Jersey, USA. Receiver
of the 2015 National Prize for Original Short Stories Book, given by the Puerto Rican Culture
Institute in 2016 for the manuscript “El Origen de los Murciélagos y Otros Cuentos”.  He also
received an Honorific Mention from the Literary Awards 2015 of PEN Club Puerto Rico
International, given in recognition to the excellence of the graphic novel “(A)diós”.

Two Poems by Craig Kittner

Methods of Cultivation

my father
whenever he moved to a new home,
which he did ten times in the years
we were both alive,
would plant the things he liked
and transform the landscape
as he saw fit

myself
I have moved twenty times
in those same years
never planting anything
in the ground – preferring
pots and planters – seeking
the satisfaction of annuals
not the legacy of perennials

my father
died ten weeks ago.
today, I went to the back of my property
where things grow as they see fit,
I dug up a cedar sapling
and moved it to a place
where I wanted a tree


I’ll Have Another

it’s not the small poisons
that I dose myself with
that’s the problem

(all my kind imbibe
you should see my cousins
and you know how my heroes behaved)

it’s the expectation that
when I kill the things
gnawing at my spirit
I’ll continue unharmed.

my father got out
of that small town
and I went through school
marked as “gifted”

I should want more
than to sit on a bench
and watch reflections chase clouds
around the lake . . .so I’m told


Craig Kittner was born in Canton, Ohio in 1968 and took up residence in Wilmington, North Carolina in 2012. Between those two events, he lived in 14 different towns in 8 states and the District of Columbia. He has worked as a gallery director, magazine writer, restaurant owner, and blackjack dealer. Recent publications include Human/Kind Journal, Shot Glass Journal, The Heron’s Nest, and Bones. He currently serves as contest director for the North Carolina Poetry Society. Craig is fond of birds, cats, and rain. . . but rarely writes of cats.

A Poem by Ace Boggess

Emptiness Is Not Enlightenment

More often of late I’m floating over concrete,
body light, head a dead void.

Reaching for doorknob, wall, or chair,
I tether myself to a site

to prevent crash-landing, catastrophe.
Not spiritual lift, an awakening;

not dope-numb bliss, beloved of my youth—
it’s the blood-pressure high,

the stood-too-quick-&-stopped-breathing blues.
Funny/sad how near-disasters

feel like the touch of the Divine.
After pain I’ve put my organs through,

it’s a wonder they still love me.
Bones, too—they should’ve broken long ago.

Man is the animal that calls falling flying,
doesn’t recognize the dying

until a next bedazzled phantom
dance—please, a holy fervor just this once.


Ace Boggess is author of five books of poetry—MisadventureI Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It SoUltra Deep Field, The Prisoners, and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled—and the novels States of Mercy and A Song Without a Melody. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Mid-American Review, River Styx, and many other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.