‘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. 

Two Poems by Seán Griffin

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow
for Makoto Hagino

take index and middle fingertips, bring each
to either end of your lips,
and lift. That weight is why it’s
exhausting to flex our faces, fake it till

we grin and wear our smiles like heavy
coats in summer. A swimmer sunk, tired
from wind-milling their arms and envious
of the coral for its stillness. Don’t tap

on the glass of this aquarium with finger
tip to stir up the inhabitants. To see the lone
clouded salamander, whose round cheeks
just happen to make it look like it’s smiling.


Bloom into You
for Nakatani Nio

Sepal wrapped petals twisted closed like drill tip, pointed
groundward not yet to show
which of the many bi-colors my love will be. I’ve been holding
my blossom closed even though
sun’s warmth and sluice rush of rain flow are telling me
to change. Previously, I know,
each bloom has died from fatiguing autumnal fade to late
frost midnight bites in mid-May, yet grows
again and again and each tiring again. It’s so that I can only
guess how long before the slow
wilt. Yet bud lips will part past the seams of my fingers,
my nature stronger than my hands. The glow
of my little fire, my flower, can be shielded but it’ll go
out all the same.


Seán Griffin received an MFA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College. Seán’s writing has appeared in The Southampton Review, Selcouth Station Press, Impossible Archetype, Dust Poetry Magazine, Non.Plus Lit, Sonic Boom, and elsewhere, with poetry in The Mud Season Review, Mineral Lit Magazine, and The Hellebore forthcoming. Seán teaches writing at Concordia College of New York, is an editor for Inkwell Literary Journal, and lives in New York with three dogs. Twitter and Instagram @seangrifter

A Poem by Jeremy T. Karn

Acknowledgements

after Danez Smith

for Saphira

because a god cannot separate our bond that is stronger than him,

i will numb myself with your memories
until he gets jealous of us.

i want to rinse myself more with the beauties in you,
because a goddess sounds better when it speaks through you.

maybe i will try to grow another you on my skin,
then i will consider us more human.

sometimes you’re the echo,
one that grows in the wet wall of my body when i am lonely.

i want to pour my skin on the kitchen table until it reaches the other end.
you’re the softness that lives in the songs on my tongue.

because you’ve always heard my first cries after every crazy heartbreaks,
because you’ve pieces of my skins inside your fingernails,
because you’ve given me a love greater than a god,

i will filter our pictures into black & white.

my mother said all best friends’ pictures that are filtered in black & white never die.


Jeremy T. Karn writes from somewhere in Liberia. His work had appeared and forthcoming in 20.35: Contemporary African Poets Volume III anthology, The Whale Road, Ice Floe Press, ARTmosterrific, The Rising Phoenix, Kalahari Review, The African Writers, Praxis Online Magazine, Shallow Tales Review, The Kissing Dynamite, Madness Muse Press and elsewhere. His chapbook (Miryam Magdalit) has been selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani (The African Poetry Book Fund), in collaboration with Akashic Books, for the 2021 New-Generation African Poets chapbook box set.

‘San Carlos’ by Charles Haddox

In a small room bathed with sunlight, Nana and her mother had spread out herbs to dry on pale blue nylon netting.  The room was filled with magical scents: aromas of earth, of bitter sage perfume, of sweet grapes and citrus, and of rich, ambrosial incense. Dark roots lay in careful rows like market vegetables. Sprigs were spread out flat so that their leaves did not touch.  They looked like tiny children’s drawings of trees. A few large leaves were laid out singly, resembling lance points, bronze-age artifacts turned green by the work of time. Nana was enchanted as she sat before them. Her mother had told her a few minutes earlier about certain plants on the island that had never been identified by botanists. They were species and varieties without a Latin name. Her mother knew them only by the names given to them by generations of San Carlos Islanders. Those names were poetic and sometimes enigmatic. They were symbols, signposts to be read by illiterate peoples; wisdom handed down by her and her mother’s own forebears.  They were part of her heritage, her herencia, that wonderful Spanish word which means both heritage and inheritance.

Nana went to the window and looked out toward the untamed forest that grew a few meters from her home. Most of the nearby trees had great multiple trunks and branches covered with fibrous, dark-brown bark. They belonged to the genus Prosopis and were called feather trees. Their abruptly-pinnate compound leaves looked a little like dark green feathers. Below the nearest tree, a cluster of bamboo-like shrubs with flowers resembling great white pinecones took shelter from the tropical sun. Those shrubs were wild members of the ginger family. The islanders called them soapy ginger. Nana started back as a red grasshopper the size of her thumb leapt onto the mesh screen of the window. A flock of birds settled on the grass that lay between the trees and the house and began to peck for seeds. They were midnight black and the size of doves, except for a few with bright wings the color of raspberry-ice. Nana remembered a stanza from a poem she had read. The lines seemed nonsensical to her:

At twilight a bird fell,
to trouble my sleep
like pink ice.

 There was certainly nothing troubling about the scene outside the window.  She loved the natural world surrounding her. The secret magical plants, the fiercely gaudy birds, the grotesque and playful fish, the awesome, sacred thunderstorms—they were all as much a part of her as the soft, clipped sound of the islander’s speech.

The grasshopper darted away from the window. Its ancestors had been carried to the island by tropical storms, and there they had found their Eden. The same was true of the black birds. Perhaps the male birds had not developed their raspberry-ice wings until after they arrived—on an island with few predators, they could be as gaudy as they pleased. For the animals that colonized the island hundreds of thousands of years ago, their greatest predator had only recently arrived. The people of the island were wont to treat them as a nuisance or as objects of sport. They had also brought animals that escaped and became feral; destructive hunters and scavengers who lived off the native wildlife. Nana marveled at the lack of respect for the island’s creatures that she so often encountered in her daily life.  

She remembered a story that Father Daniel, a Canadian missionary, had told her about a visit to France he had made in his early twenties. Father Daniel and his friends spent several days in Paris, and on their final day one of them remembered in a panic that his parents had told him to be sure and see the “Mona Lisa” during his visit. He asked for Father Daniel’s help (he was just Daniel in those days), and he took him to the Louvre, where the “Mona Lisa” could be found. The young man asked an attendant at the door for directions to the “Mona Lisa.” The attendant explained in detail how to find it, and the young man sprinted through rooms and corridors until he came to the spot where it hung. He stared at the “Mona Lisa” for a moment, as if in shock. His face wore the expression of someone on whom a cruel joke had been played, and he murmured to himself, in total disbelief, “It’s just a damn painting,” before stomping off in anger. Nana could imagine hearing someone on San Carlos saying, “It’s just a damn bird,” after shooting a brace of them for sport.

A pair of small gray birds with white crests joined the black ones on the grass. They pecked at the ground for a moment before suddenly taking wing. Nana watched as they flew off toward the forest. In some bright clearing, grass and mosses were already overtaking fallen branches and trunks. And beneath them, in the rich, silent earth, her impenetrable ancestors slept.  


Charles Haddox lives in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and has family roots in both countries. His work has appeared in a number of journals including Chicago Quarterly Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Folio, and Stonecoast Review.

A Poem by Carol Casey

Hawk

Hawk soars near the ground,
so close I see the variegations
in her still wing feathers,
held tense to kite the wind,
silently slicing sky
into safety and peril.
Yellow beak, black talons,
economy, power
majesty, awe.

Indifferent death stalker,
motion-seeking gaze rakes earth
with unearthly astuteness.
Not evil, just nature unfolding
itself out of the pretty tales
we tell children-
A pristine harshness
where compassion is
a quick, efficient kill.

The hawk has no choosing,
must follow her essence or die.
She isn’t tainted with the curse
that causes me to stray
from majestic to mundane,
where the fallings are so dull
I barely notice.


Carol Casey lives in Blyth, Ontario, Canada. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Prairie Journal, BluePepper, Back Channels, Front Porch Review and others, including a number of anthologies, most recently, i am what becomes of broken branch and We Are One: Poems From the Pandemic. Facebook: @ccaseypoetry; Twitter: @ccasey_carol; Webpage: https://learnforlifepotential.com/home-2/poetry/

‘Self-defense Against Yesterday’ by Judy Darley

The first call of the day comes at 11 a.m. sharp. The girl sounds like she’s still sleep-fogged. She tells me she’s called Gala and asks me to bring a wheelbarrow. I raise an eyebrow at the phone, but don’t make a peep. I’ve had stranger requests.

I’m at her door within the half hour. Gala lets me in, blinking yesterday’s partially unstuck false lashes. I wonder if she knows desiccated kelp is knotted in her hair.

“Can’t you call him an Uber?” I ask. Part of my role is to help the girls become self-sufficient. “Is he really that legless?”

She shakes head. “The problem’s the opposite.” She points to the bathroom door. “In there.”

“What, passed out?”

The girl’s mouth purses so tightly it looks sewn onto her face 

Curiosity overcomes me and I step inside.

At first, I don’t know where to look. Then a splash makes my heart jump and I turn. 

The cephalopod eye that meets mine is vast and full of winter storms.

The towel rail bolsters my balance as I totter. 

Limbs ridged with pearly suckers wave in greeting. Translucent skin flushes from the bathroom suite’s aquamarine to a coy blush shade.

I swallow once, and again. My throat is as dry as the strand at low tide. Inhaling, I expect to smell fish, but catch only hints of salt and stale amaretto.

As I stare, the octopus stretches sinuously until he almost fills the tub. The immense eye seems to expand until it’s all I see. My head fills with a blueness, a greenness, the drag of currents and tides. I grow fluid; weightless. The light dappling my skin is not from the sun.

The ocean recedes and I’m in the bathroom, aware of my one heart thudding out of rhythm with the octopus’s three.

With a curl of one limb, the octopus beckons, siphon frilling gently.

I take a step backwards, out of the bathroom, and close the door behind me.

“Where’d you pick that one up?”

“Don’t know.” Gala closes her eyes. “Don’t remember.”

“What’s the last thing you do recall?”

“A glass of something with one of those maraschino cherries… That stupid Justin Bieber song ‘What Do You Mean?’ playing way too loud.” She frowns. “Will you help, Hera? My mate Ari says you got rid of a half-bull for her last week. She reckons you’re the best.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

I drag the wheelbarrow up the steps into the house and through to the bathroom. “Look, I don’t know what your deal is, but you can’t stay here. I’ll leave the barrow and when I come back, I want you in it. Got that?”

Gala’s grinning when I rejoin her in the kitchen, but I fix her with my steeliest look.

“You are not off the hook, missus. What madness is this, not remembering? Time to slow down, take better care of yourself.”

Her smile withers. “I know that, Hera. Last night was just…” She pushes up her sleeve, showing me a round red welt on her inner arm. “They’re all over me. Reckon they’re from the suckers.”

I sigh and hug her. “Don’t fret. I’ll check he’s in the barrow, chuck a bath towel over him, then this is almost over. Ok?”

“Ok.”

The wind is against us as we march down to the strand. The octopus peers out from under the towel occasionally, his massive eye looking at me rather than our surroundings. 

What? I want to shout. What are you judging me for?

I wonder if we should have called the local aquarium, but vaguely remember that their last cephalopod died after laying ten thousand eggs.

The ocean vision I glimpsed makes me certain this cycloptic octopus has never been in captivity.

It’s harder going when we reach the sand. The wheel keeps sinking. I use all my strength to shove it onwards until we reach where the grains are packed dense and wet.

“Can you make it from here?” I ask, and the octopus makes a movement with one limb that I assume means yes.

I stand back and watch as he clambers out, entire body rippling as he flows into the surf. 

He doesn’t look back. 

Gala and I sit on the strand for a while despite the cold, watching the wind chase clouds over the sea. I run my fingers through her hair, picking out the seaweed. “You girls needs to look after yourselves better,” I tell her. “I was only able to offload your mate Ari’s half-bull thanks to the ring in its nose. On Thursday, Eury woke up next to a viper! Pure poison. If you don’t watch yourselves, one of these nights you’ll bring home some beast I can’t get shot off. Did Ari show you the self-defence mantra? Stay Alert, Expect the Worst…”

She snorts, bull-like herself for an instant, and spouts the next line: “If in doubt, LEAVE. Yeah, got it. No more pills, or booze. I’ll take up yoga instead.”

“Come to my self-defence class on Tuesday,” I urge her. “I promise you it’ll be at least as useful as yoga.” My mobile vibrates. I check the WhatsApp message. 

“Emergency?” Gala asks.

I nod. “Lass called Atala’s accidentally brought home two half-horses she needs gone. Ok to get yourself home?”

She nods, and I hurry off, wheeling the barrow before me like a chariot.


Judy Darley is a British author who can’t stop writing about the fallibilities of the human mind. Her short fiction and journalism have been published and performed in the UK, US, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and India. She is Flash Fiction Editor at Reflex Press. Judy’s short story collection Sky Light Rain is out from Valley Press. Her debut collection Remember Me To The Bees is available from Tangent Books. Find Judy at skylightrain.com@JudyDarley on Twitter.

A Poem by Caleb Nichols

PRAXIS

On the beach
two pelicans
half a mile apart,

the second
gull pecked,

both bodies
wave washed,

oil slick.

When all the birds
fly south forever
what will the poets do?

Catalog the empty sky,
write the tiny graves.


Caleb Nichols is a queer poet and musician from California. His work is forthcoming in Redivider and has been featured in Perhappened Mag, Daily Drunk and elsewhereHis poem, “Ken,” won an Academy of American Poets University Prize, and his first chapbook, “22 Lunes,” is available from Unsolicited Press.