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. 

‘Every House Has A Closet’ by Praise Osawaru

Olawale stood in the corridor, in front of the brown door, gawking at its strange markings. Whispers streamed from the closed door into his head every second he spent looking. He wanted to turn around and resume cleaning the house—the reason he followed his mom to Mr. Idemudia’s house, to assist her in tidying up the rich man’s home. The same thing he had always done every weekend. But this door held his gaze, compelling him to a standstill.

A sparrow flew and landed on the window of the corridor, offering an alluring tune. Or perhaps it was a warning. Olawale ignored it. He stretched forth his hand, gripped the doorknob, and twisted it left, right, left. The door opened wide. Within, darkness the length of the room. Another whisper and he took three footsteps in. The door slammed shut behind. Then, he realized what had happened.

“Mom!”

Upstairs, his mom froze on hearing his scream. She threw her broom into the bosom of a couch and dashed off. She traced the echoes of his screams downstairs, a room by the end of the corridor. The same room Mr. Idemudia told her to never enter. Her heart quaked within and she let out a shaking breath.

Just the day before, she had walked into the four-bedroom duplex conscientiously, following an invitation from Mr. Idemudia. Her friend who knew a friend who knew another friend secured her another cleaning job for a wealthy man. She figured including an additional cleaning job into her already tight schedule won’t kill her, so she consented and came to see him.

“Mrs. Salewa, I have just one rule,” Mr. Idemudia said to her, his oblong face stiffened.

She gulped loud like a stone falling into a lake then responded, “I’m listening, sir.”

They both stood opposite each other in the corridor, the air around them uptight as her boss unloaded his rule into her ears.

“Don’t go into the room at the end of this corridor. Take whatever you want from the refrigerator, prepare yourself a queen’s meal, and dance around in the house for all I care. But never enter—never open the door.”

Mrs. Salewa “Yes, sir. But—”

“But what?”

“Where’s the room I shouldn’t enter?”

He paid her silence as a reward for her question. He thought showing her the room would only heighten her curiosity and drive her towards ultimately going against his order. So he didn’t. He thought he was right, but life is unpredictable and things have a way of going south whether we want it or not.

Honks from a car accompanied by screeches pulled her back into the present.

It was as though Mr. Idemudia knew someone had stepped foot into the room. He drove into the compound hastily, kicking his car door wide open and darting into the house. Panting, he headed straight to the brown-door room, meeting Olawale’s mom before it.

“Oga, my son is inside. And the door won’t open.”

“I just went to buy some foodstuffs and you’ve already messed things up! Ehn!”

Mr. Idemudia turned, facing the room. He breathed softly, gripping the doorknob and twisting it carefully. Left. Right. Left. The door opened slowly, letting a frightening creak into the air. The room unhurriedly became lit, driving the darkness into nothingness. Inside, Olawale sat on the floor, legs folded, a broadened smile carved on his face. Two identical girls sat opposite him in white gowns, cackling. A board with snakes and ladders pictured on it laid in the space between them.

Mr. Idemudia and Olawale’s mom walked in, interrupting the children’s game. On seeing Mr. Idemudia, the girls stood up and ran toward him, yelling, “Daddy, you came early today and brought friends!”

Olawale’s mom launched toward Olawale, landing a strident smack on his left cheek. He winced.

“What are you doing here? No, tell me! I—” she paused.

Something caught her attention. Two brown coffins rested in the west end of the room. Both opened. Amid them, a small wooden being, a bowl before him. Just then, she realized the girls called him ‘Daddy’.

“Wait, Oga. I thought you said your kids passed away—that they drowned,” she said, her face heavy with confusion.

“Get out!”

“But, Oga…”

“If you tell anyone what you saw here, things won’t go well for you. Get out!”

Olawale and his mom hastened out of the room. And the door shut itself after them. 

*

Night fell quicker than expected. Olawale’s mom spent nearly an hour in the kitchen preparing dinner—eba and egusi. She exited the kitchen, carrying two bowls in her hands, and walked to the living room, where Olawale laid motionlessly on the sofa. The room was lit by a fluorescent light bulb hanging from a wire in the ceiling. She placed the bowls on the coffee table, and stared ahead, shaking her head at her quiescent son, whose mouth refused to stay sealed. She smacked his feet, calling his name as she sat on a small wooden chair adjacent to him.

“Wale, wake up. Wa jeun.”

But he didn’t even move a muscle.

“Wale! Wale!” She yelled, rising, her right hand ready for another smacking.

The light bulb in the living room flickered for a few seconds, then maintained an illuminated state. Olawale stood behind her, his face as pale as a blank page. He watched his mom, hit his body repeatedly as she cried his name, the sound filling up the room.

“Come, let’s play,” a voice emerged from behind.

Olawale turned around. Mr. Idemudia’s daughters stood a few inches before him, their round faces complemented with grins. One of the twins stretched her left hand forward, palm wide open, awaiting an interlocking. Olawale stared at her palm, then spun to face his mother.

“Let’s go, Wale.”

Olawale turned and grasped one of the twins’ outstretched hands, lacing his fingers with hers.


Praise Osawaru (he/him) is a writer and poet of Bini descent. A Best of the Net nominee, his works appear or are forthcoming in Blue Marble Review, Giallo Lit, Glass Poetry, Ice Floe Press, Kalahari Review, Rising Phoenix Review, and elsewhere. He’s a 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize Finalist, and he was also shortlisted for the Babishai 2020 Haiku Award and the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2020. A Virgo and lover of the strange and speculative, he’s a prose reader for Chestnut Review. Find him on Instagram/Twitter: @wordsmithpraise.

Deborah Akubudike

ACAPELLA

//

Black crows singing symphonies/on poison oak trees under Autumn’s orange eyes/blending into a monochrome rainbow of heartfelt melody/reminds me of Papa’s lullaby that stuck to his tongue/

//

Pearls of sweat rolling down ice/Fall’s fallen the strands of glory on the empty head that lies still/cold becomes a reason to tell a story at the dimly lit living room with a dying fireplace/while watching Mama crotchet a blanket for already frozen body/hoping it melts autumn to spring/and brings back the crows of broken voices on blossoming trees/

//

Aching years have gone by and so have my voice/from screaming to find a silent tune that matches Papa’s unfinished lullaby/red flames from the black oak that turned poisoned/have engulfed the very last rhythm on my paralyzed beak/I sing tiredly/a distraught acapella echoing in thin sheets of air/refusing to fade/

//

It hurts yea/to forget the melody I was made from/yet ringing my voice loud emptily in dead silence/

//


Deborah Akubudike is a poet and songwriter with a wide view of the world from her solitary writing space. Her works have been featured in “The Maiden’s Anthology”, her poem “Another Chance” in “The Writer’s Pen Magazine (TWPM)” with theme “Break the Stigma”; still her journey continues as to find a nest for her poems to lay.

Alex Boyd

THE UNDERTOW OF THE WORLD

At four, what does my son dream about?
Chocolate letters, spiral swirls of crayon,
not the grasping fingers of a nebula
spider-crushed by a black hole, and not
the slow tumble of a political fiasco
or a furious hound on his scent wanting
to leave him flattened as a kipper. He lives
in hastily assembled shacks of harmony
as he’s neatly steered around all fiascos.
Carry me as much as you can, he tells me
on the slow, Saturday, routine drop down
a tree-lined street to the library and bakery.
There’s always the next tempest, and hope
it can be made manageable. As a boy,
my father and family left the dining room
right before the ceiling came down. Now,
climate disaster is a dull, elusive moth
that comes through the room every day
while I live with my son, who wakes us,
one night to say he dreamed his teacher
held his head, so that he couldn’t move it.


Alex Boyd has written for publications such as The Globe and Mail and Taddle Creek magazine. He helped establish Best Canadian Essays, co-editing the first two collections of work selected from Canadian magazines. His poetry collections are Making Bones Walk (2007) winner of the Gerald Lampert Award, and more recently The Least Important Man (2012). In 2018 his first novel was published: Army of the Brave and Accidental, described by Canadian Notes & Queries as “timely, original and profound.”

‘Spring Backward, Fall Forward’ by Angelica Whitehorne

Winter is coming. Your Dog opens his mouth and the song of a bird comes out. Every year he becomes a sparrow and flies to Florida to flounce Snow. Snow is a cold-hearted woman who had a deadly ex-relationship with your dog. This year, when he takes flight he takes you along on his back and you feel like the favorite child. You grab onto his flank, sit unsaddled with your head in the clouds, for once head in the clouds is an achievement, not an insult towards your tendency for distraction.

You and your Dog spend the winter sipping mimosas and playing tennis and already you know this will be one of your fondest seasons. 

“This will be one of my fondest seasons,” you tell your Dog and he chirps his agreement.

Months later, Spring, who also happens to be your closest childhood friend, doesn’t show up for the fourth year in a row, letting the slick-eyed Winter slip into the burning, flirting mess of Summer. You see on social media that Spring is in Detroit at a music festival in a light coat with a blunt in one hand and a lover in the palm of her other.

For once you are not offended, you sit in Summer’s lap and flirt back. The sweat shining over your peach fuzz is like the green light of a traffic signal and your laugh is wide, exposing the deep of your molars where the mimosas have taken mortgages out on your enamel. 

It is Fall when you trip in your new plaid skirt, and your butt cheeks reveal themselves to the autumnal breeze and everyone sees you have a tattoo portrait of Spring on the left flab. Spring, who still hasn’t called you back but who looks too good in pink ink to get a cover up done. 

You’ve scraped your knees and your elbows and all up your back and you bleed the colors of changing leaves, red and orange and a little brown too. For once you are not embarrassed, you fix your skirt and run your fingers through the blood puddles like you are playing in a sandbox.

It is Winter again when your Dog says his back is too old to carry you this year, but you can take a flight and meet him down there if you’d like. He knows that you have an allergy to metal and small airplane T.V.s. And you know that really he wants to sit and play poker with friends his age, so instead you shrink down and sit in a hot cup of tea in your cold room and trace the band-aids you’ve stuck on yourself to stop the bleeding last season and you decide to start taking care of yourself (for once.)

And now it would be Spring again if Spring came, but she never does, so it is the breath after Winter and before Summer texts you to hook up, when you start peeling off band-aid after band-aid from your body, dropping the pus filled cotton to mingle with your carpet.

And for once the band-aids do not gnash teeth with your skin underneath. They are taking flight like retired dogs and for once the wound has crusted over into baby’s skin which looks up at you with your eyes and drools a little and for once you aren’t missing or waiting on anyone and you feel that for once a new season has come, one you have yet to name or get to know or be betrayed by. 


By day Angelica Whitehorne writes for the Development department of a refugee organization in New York. By night she writes her poetry and stories with her 10 plants as backdrop and her future on her tongue. She has forthcoming work in the North Dakota Quarterly, Ruminate, Hooligan Magazine, Oyster River Pages, Magnolia Review, Wingless Dreamer, Door Is A Jar, Crack the Spine, Dissenting Voices, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Neon Mariposa and Amethyst Review.

A Poem by Paul Chuks

Let Me Show You How To Grieve

After reading Praise Osawaru.

X
Get into your room/
Pale its light into darkness till it’s another evening in the medieval period/
Sit on anywhere bed chair floor.

X
Stroll into your memory – where fossils of your loved ones come handy/
Your mother slept & made history’s longest slumber/
Your sister died from a sanguine gas attack/
Their shadows now lurk around the walls of your memory like the seven planets does around the
sun/

X
Launch your voice at them/
Permit yourself to believe they can hear you/
Tell them the world dropped on your shoulders the moment they followed the grim reaper & say that
your bones now suffer osteoporosis/
Give them seven days ultimatum to squander in absentia & pierce back into
the cosmic curtain to prepare that sweet soup one more time.

X
Stroll back into reality[your room]/
Cry, knowing it’s not possible. Cry. Wail. Weep. Slap the wall. Cry. Wipe
your left cheek. Cry.


Paul Chuks (He/Him)is a Nigerian poet, writer and song writer studying at the University of Benin, Edo state, Nigeria. He has appeared or is forthcoming in streetcakemag, kalaharireview, Logicneuro, Afritondo, Tralitmag and was recently shortlisted for The49thstreet’s top ten poets in Nigeria. When Chuks is not reading or writing(songs), he’s criticising the hiphop game or he’s mimicking Michael Jackson.