Letter from the Editor

It is the night before the fifth issue of Sinking City is released & there is a rip current warning in effect. It’s mid-February & I can’t remember the last time I touched the ocean.

In the Arabian peninsula, Jabal Al-taweel freezes & thaws as it stretches to the sky. In Cape Cod, the temperature skirts above & below freezing, turning snow to slurry before freezing to the ground.

In Marquette, Michigan, where Krys Malcolm Belc lives, there is currently a blizzard. The National Weather Radar shows a light-blue storm, shaped like a semi-colon, spanning the entire width of the Upper Peninsula.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of Lake Michigan, Chicago barely thaws from last month’s polar vortex. A light snow is falling on Cermak & California as commuters wait for the 21 Bus to take them East or West.

In Southern Louisiana, rain clouds will withdraw, only to circle back & rain again by midnight tonight.

Today in Beijing, the temperature is -5 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, in Bogotá, the humid air hangs at a balmy 13°C. In Emperatriz Ung’s poems, dishes break like blossoms under the heel & fuse together again.

This year, the ground hog did not see his shadow, predicting an early spring. In his 132 year history, Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow has evaded him only 19 of times; 5 of those instances occurred since 2007. A February 7th report stated that the past 5 years have been the hottest in the history of recorded weather.

In Sinking City’s fifth issue, 19 poets, writers, & artists show what it means to live in a world teetering on apocalypse. It’s the first issue produced by a second generation of editors, & we’ve sought to honor & expand this magazine’s founding mission. Often, these pieces are less about the environment itself, & more about the challenges of intersecting identities during our historical moment.

In the morning, Coral Gables will be doused with rain as we graduate students assume our day-to-day positions as teaching assistants, administrators, & scholars. I will sweat inside my navy-blue raincoat & attempt (unsuccessfully) to leap over growing puddles in my bright pink Converse sneakers. Meanwhile, my family in the midwest will prepare for lake effect snow, & wait for me to crack a joke about how I’m never moving back. We’ll all laugh. Then I’ll remember the approaching hurricane season. I’ll remembering that Miami Beach will be entirely under water by the time my future children are old enough for college.

As I prepare to release the fifth issue of Sinking City into the world, I find myself meditating on the words of recently departed Mary Oliver: Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination. Through the process of compiling this issue, I have found myself pausing, again & again, to linger on the images & stories of these 19 contributors. Again & again, I am transported by their work, to new places & new perspectives.

When the storm clears again, I will fix my gaze on the sky & wait to see what new birds will pass by in their migration. I often wonder if lifelong Floridians have grown used to the sight of them, the way that I, in my final year at the University of Miami, no longer feel a pang of sublimity at the sight of a royal poinciana arcing across the road.

Where ever you are, in your own late winter, on behalf of the MFA program at the University of Miami, it is my honor to offer you these worlds of imagination.

Signed,

Stephanie Lane Sutton
Managing Editor, Sinking City

The Speaker Disrupts

A Review of José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal.

By Maria Esquinca, Poetry Editor.


Jose Olivarez’s debut poetry collection Citizen Illegal is a powerful celebration of what it means to be a first generation Mexican American. His collection is expansive, covering topics including assimilation, body image, and depression. Each poem is full of keen observation, humor, and wit. His lyric-narratives don’t hold back from commenting on class, race, sexism, and the hypocrisy of white liberalism, “colleges are not looking for undocumented diversity.”

Citizen Illegal. by José Olivarez. Paperback, $11.20, Haymarket Books.

In the title poem “(Citizen) (Illegal),” Olivarez attaches the parenthesized words “citizen” and “illegal” to the three characters in the poem: the dad, the mother, and boy, highlighting their immigration status:

Mexican woman (illegal) and Mexican man (illegal)
have a Mexican (illegal)-American (citizen).
Is the baby more Mexican or American?

Olivarez creates a visual juxtaposition between something very sterile and abstract—immigration status—beside real people. It is uncomfortable and effective. In contrast to our legal system—which defines people on the basis of their legality, rather than their humanity—Olivarez does not let readers forget the status of the characters. By also making the characters nameless, he further exemplifies the dehumanization of immigrants through U.S. policies.

From the very first question Olivarez poses, it is apparent that these labels could never accurately describe the breadth of immigrant identities—a move he constantly makes throughout this collection. In “Mexican American Disambiguation,” the speaker disrupts what it means to be Mexican:

my parents are Mexican who are not
to be confused with Mexicans still living
in México. those Mexicans call themselves
Mexicanos.

His poems break down the various layers of identity, in the process redefining and rejecting stereotypical labels.

A striking element within Olivarez’s book is his humor. His matter-of-fact voice is full of witty observation, with narratives that often point out class and racism in a non-didactic way. In “I Walk Into Every Room & Yell Where the Mexicans At,” the speaker finds himself at a party talking to a liberal white woman. The speaker finds himself having a conversation in which he must hurdle through  thinly veiled microaggressions. The woman feels compelled to tell the speaker “she voted for hillary & wishes bernie won the nomination,” yet also tells him  “how lucky he is.” She doesn’t meet too many Mexicans in this part of New York. Olivarez fearlessly slices through plain observation and inserts his own critique, “the white/ woman means lucky to be here and not in México.” Through the  interloping of observation and cunning commentary Olivarez breaks open his poems past the point of neutrality, he offers his readers sarcastic descriptions that break open the hypocrisy of the scenario: A self-proclaimed liberal who votes for Bernie, yet is oblivious to all the Mexicans around her. Olivarez then, uses the poem as a place of assertion that rebels against erasure. He acknowledges the imprints his people have made in the U.S.: “i know we exist because of what we make.” Often, reading these poems is like reading a sculptor at work, shaving off the obvious hypocrisies and ironies people of color navigate while the “good white woman waits for me to thank her.”

Olivarez also evokes humor through his “Mexican Heaven” series of poems. (In total, Olivarez has eight, one stanza, “Mexican Heaven” poems scattered throughout the book.) These short poems reimagine a Mexican Heaven through various scenarios and descriptions:

all of the Mexicans sneak into heaven.
St. Peter has their name on the list,
but the Mexicans haven’t trusted a list
since Ronald Reagan was president.

Peppered throughout the book are also moments of self-deprecating confessions, intimacy, and love; “put some vaporub on my dad’s/diabetic toes and watch the sugar evaporate.” His narrative voice is unapologetically honest.

Citizen Illegal is a compelling collection. As someone who is also Mexican American, reading Olivarez’s book felt like I was reading someone who understood me. Olivarez describes what it’s like to feel like you belong neither here nor there, ni de aquí, ni de allá, but to live in that liminal, in-between space, familiar to children of immigrants—not fully American, not fully Mexican, but a beautiful blend of the two. His poems acknowledge the complicated feelings attached to Latinx identity: guilt for not being Mexican enough, for speaking “broken Spanish,” for not being a “good Mexican son,” pride for your culture, confusion about belonging, etc. But he provides a collection that envelops all of those feelings without admonishing oneself, but rather accepting that our identities are complex.


Citizen Illegal, then, strikes a delicate balance between reclaiming existence and admitting a sense of dislocation. I appreciate the book’s unrelenting refusal to be silenced, now more than ever these poems provide a powerful voice that needs to be heard.

After The Battle


by Fabrice Poussin

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review as well as other publications.

Cermak & California

by Stefania Gomez

I.

Buses leave to Mexico from my street.

Tonight the laundromat auto body shop and taco stand left their lights on late, their curtains flung open.

The couple working in the laundromat were still as a portrait against the rows of clothing. They were still as the rows of clothing hung around them.

On those buses that leave to Mexico from my street, my neighbors go places. By the looks of it, the neighborhood is going. She says, we left the hood for the suburbs, but the gangs and the rats followed.

Sebastián says, to this neighborhood, I have given so much of myself. Including, 2 times near Western, nearly my life.

Which neighborhood are you from? Where are you going?

I live at Cermak and California. Each morning a ghost pounds on my door.

Back then, I bought the building for $50 K, she says. Paid 20 in cash. No brainer. Now, I have 4 people lined up for one unit.

Sebastián wants to travel and take photos. If he has to stay abroad for some months, 6 months even— so be it. He says, I want to buy a home here so I never have to live in it.

II.

I live on Cermak and California. In my neighborhood there is an enormous park that divides one people from another. The north end of the park is a different nation from the south. Today, a citizen of the north end wandered south, his shopping cart full of soda cans and his head bowed just as low as the cans were flattened. Beside him, a puddle of vomit dried. It looked like an impressionist painting depicting the planters that the viejitas fill with pink and yellow blooms outside of their homes, and flood with water from their hoses each summer day.  

III.

At the other edge of the park there is a hospital, so often does the need for one arise. From the hospital doors constantly stream white-haired, uniformed nurses like so many ghosts.

IV.

The Douglas Park service garage on Sacramento is open and empty, hollow and brick. Car hood up, mid-fixing, and a truck outfitted to fix. What happens here? What kind of service does the park require? A single truck, laden with foils and machinery will suffice to manicure the grass, fill the divots with sand, collect litter from the pond, referee the endless matches of soccer, 10 at a time, played by children and played by men. Clear the gazebo of those that live there. Re-pave the fractured sidewalks.

Abandoned through the winter months, built when the park was dreamed up as a place so different from what it would become. Even its signs were painted and posted when that dream seemed still within reach, before everything issued by the city and county was made from plastic. Today the garage door was wide open, the insides were exposed for all to see. Men were at work, tilling a field of degraded soil. The men were seeds planted in the field. They seemed to say, something can live here again. In the summer, this is how the neighborhood can sometimes feel.  

V.

My only friend in my neighborhood is the woman who works at the train stop. Today she tells me that they’re transferring her to the blue line next week. We’re going to miss you, I say, utterly floored. She says nothing, reaches out and shakes my hand.

I board the train and sit next to a woman reading the Bible quietly to herself. On my other side, a man discusses chess moves over the phone. At Western, a man boards, a lit cigarette long as a pistol hanging from his mouth.

VI.

The people who live in the Park’s gazebo disappeared today, leaving it empty as the Service Garage. Did they disperse across the Park? Did they leave together, all at once? Or slowly, one by one? Did they melt into the concrete floor? Did they transubstantiate into air? Did they leave because in the end, the gazebo never really belonged to them, but to the Park? What happens to a people whose home is not their own?

VII.

An Uber driver explains to me how he got shot when he was 15 twice in the back once in the foot at 22nd and Oakley but his foot is fine now. Over there? The SDs. Past this busy street? The Latin Kings.

Someday, he says, he’ll buy a passport. Take a vacation. Go to the blue water they have over in Hawaii.

VIII.

The Douglas Park Service Garage is empty today except the light bursting in through the pulley doors and the open roof. Inside, the brick walls have been spray painted with a series of identifying numbers—house numbers, perhaps, or a phone. Either the Park District’s municipal logic, or that of some delinquent, their impulse to reveal the way we have been indexed, our eagerness to reduce ourselves to something like the combination to a lock.

Anyway, this is a story about grit, you dig? This is story about the urban experience. This is not a story about how I kill all the plants I keep, or how I lose everything that matters to me, or how I will never belong in this neighborhood, no matter how much I write about it.

IX.

Which neighborhood are you from? Where are you going?

I live at Cermak and California. Each morning a ghost pounds on my door.

X.

Up and down California the kids detonate small bombs that stream into the sky and burst in golden florets, and nearly strike cars driving as they explode in the street. The kids scream as they light them off. California smells like sulfur.

I take the train away, east, to flee, but through the picture window in the train car, high above the buildings, the three-flats, I see the fireworks rise from every block, on every street, between each house, the whole city catching fire, exploding, and extinguishing, over and over.


Stefania Gomez is a queer writer, radio producer, and teaching artist from Chicago’s South Side. She received her BA from Brown in 2017, and has work in Bluestockings Magazine, the Offing, and the Missouri Review. She currently works at the Poetry Foundation.

The Heart The Brain

by Krys Malcolm Belc


Krys Malcolm Belc lives and writes in Marquette, Michigan, where he is the Managing Editor of Passages North and an MFA student at Northern Michigan University. His essays have been in Granta, Black Warrior Review, Redivider, and elsewhere. 

The Hurricanes Explain Their Aesthetic

by Nicholas Molbert

we begin as exiled wind riled carousel west in fits

of rebranded manifest destiny rise through Gulf water

buttressed by salted columns morph into vortexes

cartwheel counterclockwise in scythes of abecedarian

destruction our libel consecrates the Bible belt

we preen your coasts gnaw barrier islands are anything

but quiet y’all are so quiet in northern caravan so quiet

in plywood candlelit quarantine but don’t miss the flicker

flame moon in the ravished sky our votive to you

y’all are so tired of card houses of paper fans

of fifty-two card pickup our favorite is a Pollacked

yard debrised pools of bullfrogs and rattlesnakes

our botched shuffles gag and spatter a present for you

we peekaboo your dangling land with our water hands

and Jenga your brick and mortar the porous rending

of our Jenga the end of it our end game to dissolve

not disappear to veer into everywhere at once to appear

later as rain touching down on coat or shoulder as beginnings

of tender apologies yes soft but never ceasing


Originally from New Iberia, Louisiana, Nicholas Molbert now lives and writes in Central Illinois. He has work published in or forthcoming from American Literary ReviewCincinnati ReviewMissouri ReviewNinth Letter, Permafrost, and South Carolina Review among others.

stillcoast

thirteen kidney beans laid on the threshold

            the loup-garou counts and counts

                        and counts and –

tide’s morning vocabulary: the thrown and rescinded words over and over and: gravel crunches a bit differently every time the basketball bounces, I was taught by its sporadic coming-up. For some reason, I think of wobbling women in stilettos and how they’d walk with bulging calves over the gravel that’d crunch a bit differently every time the heel hits. Like most boys, I’ve tried on my mother’s heels and felt them out. I think nothing of this. I’ve also, many times, like most boys, rode many times on the tops of my father’s feet, his steps, my steps.

froggers come back after long nights tossing big bulls into chests

                                    church of the empty

two generations separate the second graders from their teachers

                                                                                    some get the paddle’s correction

11, 12 … 1, 2, 3 …                                          lycanthrope is full to the brim with bloodlust

                                                                                                      moon rises, looks for prey

shout as loud as

but it will be swallowed

by the blanket

the water makes

an argument

washes up

on shore

carrying globs

of seaweed

in tears are archives?

LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE & FISHERIES (22:14): Houma Wildlife and Fisheries, how can we help?

RICHARD AUCOIN (22:14): [background noise] Yessir, I believe I seen the garou out back [mixed voices] shhh, I said, it gone get us.

LA DEPT. W&F (22:15): Can you describe what you have seen as closely as possible?

R. AUCOIN (22:15): Yessir, I seen something full with hair and standing on big two feet then it came [background noise] [long pause] –

LA DEPT. W&F (22:16): Sir, I’m sorry, can you – sir?

                                                                        morning formed itself

            something moved over wiregrass

                                                                                                                        and it wasn’t fog

dogs bark through screen doors                                   moon mad

she is tired of walking to Lapeyrouse’s when the tap isn’t drinkable

            it is hot and gnats                                            how else might

                                    need constant swatting                        the day spend itself

cocks run the strays underneath camps

                                                                                                leaving them to the cottonmouths

That was nice, us laying on the algae-slicked rocks. Our feet pointed toward the Caribbean. Me in my swim trunks and you in the bikini you’d later spill out of. We made another game of letting the water wash over us. We hadn’t yet realized the power of pretending to be dead. You liked the moments when the water would reach all the way to your ears. How, when the water filled the basins of your ears, you’d lose yourself for a second, now knowing which way’s up. I told you all of it was my favorite: but mostly the threatening prospect of dying beside you. Can you imagine both of us buoys only for the minutes out lungs would work to keep the water out? Can you imagine the streaked night that’d be above us, a night ready to unspool its darkness and a morning ready to unravel its best clouds?

hack heads off with the garden hoe

            keep in mason jars when the house needs

                        good gris-gris

the town has a new ghost – unnamed

see the beginnings

of jaundice under

the nails or

too many

cigarettes?

Food N Fun goes up cattycorner to the bait shop with no name

            the one at the warning light

the one who didn’t come back three trick-or-treats ago …

the mower moans its bass when no grass tangles itself underneath

and the egret matches, constructing, as if to say,

Let us do the only thing possible in the face of another day:

call

the moon’s limb quivers in apogee

because the loup-garou was first on it

it’ll run rampant through the breccia

called childhood memories

                                                voodoo is in the hand              ready

                                                            to hurl a million bellyaches

                                    dealer                           in diabolatry

                                                                                    flophouse         ramshackled

                                                flimsy and        berserkly grizzly           love dormant               at last

when it seems dead lift the driftwood near the lean-to

            there is life

                        there are earthworms bound

                                                                                                                                    together

There is a horizon I always looked to. It was far and I watched through my bedroom window, inland, for about 3 years before I told my mother about it. You don’t just look at a horizon, because a horizon, my mother told me, is just a word for something else. There are camps lining the horizon or The grass composing the horizon glows in morning light, my mother would say, It is impossible to say, Hey, look, a horizon, without talking about something else. I would tell her that what the horizon is for me is the up-down of a machine far off. Son, come get your toast, my mother would demand. Lufkin 912D 365-192, my father said, barging into our conversation. He knew the pumpjack’s make and model simply from the intervals of its bob in and out of sight. That’s a hardworking donkey pump, he said. 

some congruency between

the dog that found its place

in the dried out stone

fountain and the way

the elderly must

be coaxed into a home?

first look, combatting the near freeze blowing in off the Gulf

            second look, a speaking, a language of tethering

                        third look, just that, a third look

no matter how soft you step                                                    you shake the mosquito world

fiddler crabs run long-ways to

            their black holes

                        peeking ever-so-often

                                    for serenity

                                                                                                the fist came

                                                                                                                        down   the contrast

                                                                                                            blue-black        on        yellow

                                                                                    and      this is a grounds           for peeling and

                                                                                                                                    peeling and –

                                                                        it is now           the red             that trickles to drain

                                                                                                                                    the want;

                                                                                    to not be          gotten enough              of:

                                                                                                                                    carve

                                                                                                                                    chip

                                                                                                                                    incise

                                                                        someone said   the closer to mirror     

                                                                                                the blurrier       ; pressed so close

                                                                                                                                    scoured

                                                                                                                                                belief

ten years too late ICEEs become talk of the town

fishermen watch the forecast like the Superbowl

            just like how they watched WWE and NWO years ago

                                                                        inside the Bud Light, smashed cigarette butts,

                                                                                                                          stale beer

there’s a sixty year high school reunion happening (8 women)

            they play Cajun craps with pocket change and nicked die

                                                may                  the word not    come

                                                from                else-                 where:

                                                one                  cannot              be:

                                                            disappointed

men shoot Old Crow from work boots until their throats say no more

                        or until they sink the boat trailer at the landing

            some sit on their front porches all day and count cars                                                        

My mother speaks of a time I fell sick as a baby: She didn’t sleep a full night in 8 months. Only 2 hours here and there, always interrupted by my cough or cry. She tells me how I’d always want to be on my side in the cradle. Same in the crib months after. She describes the phlegm, mucus, my susceptible body. She describes my bronchitis and fever that climbed to 100, 101, 102. She tells me of her worries about getting me to swallow the antibiotic. She laughs and says I was as stubborn as she was. As stubborn and we both are now, sharing a surname and all. She says that she thought of the throat in general, the way she saw my tantrums coming, the way the antibiotic worked its chemical sorcery for ten days and my crying, coughing, fever hadn’t stopped. She remembers yellow-green gook on her shirts and how she tried everything.

headline reads BOY, 11, RIDES ATV OFF BANK INTO CANAL, DIES

whatever needs naming will be named

                        it is said

his school ribbons, trophies, awards, certificates are somewhere on a shelf

                                                                                                                                    collecting dust

the Sabbath full of its excesses:

                                                football,

                                                            hallelujahs,

                                                                        ennui,

                                                                                    dishwashing,

                                                                                                sleep,

                                                                                                            …

don’t mais la

don’t hug the submerged, barnacled pier posts while canal-swimming

don’t leave the filet knife plugged in if there are children around

don’t gah dehy dohn your elders

don’t let the traiteur get carried away with her remedies

don’t let her tell you you must sleep under the relentless half moon

don’t be canaille

don’t stomp when Mawmaw is trying to make do-do

don’t pass Henderson exit and skip out on boudin and cracklin

don’t be moon mad

don’t scrape the pot’s gratin and not give some to the dogs

don’t come in muddy, wash down with the hose pipe

don’t throw away last year’s Mardi Gras beads, but do save the dishes

ceramic frogs out front will keep the coons away

                        what moves:                                                    when you look on it?

                                                                                    kindness not of one dimension

                                                                                    leaks like weeping and blasts

                                                                                    like a convulsing turret

                                                                                    God bless you: God bless you:

                                                                                    God save you

extreme measures include elevating trash cans

– the sound a family makes in rupture, the more and more silence is capable of, the various meanings of washing, the smoothing the answer does opens more questions

“You can just about have dinner with those bullfrogs before you catch ‘em.” – Pierre, frogger, Cocodrie

TODAYS SPECIAL

CATFISH N TURTLE

COURTBILLION

she reads the obituaries to her grandmother for the twelfth day in the a row

                                                                      for the twelfth day                     they cry

I should be a bit more stubborn to the prophet who was close enough for comfort and to the ghost who let itself in without a key to the front door. We, both Alan and I, saw the apparition as we pulled up to he and his girlfriend, Monica’s, place. Monica started to yell even before we walked through the front door. Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? – ad infinitum. Then, the fluidity of her pronouns as she described what he/she/it was. What Alan hadn’t told Monica, despite being with her for 6 years (living with her for 3) was that he’d known a woman, now a witch, black magic practitioner somewhere in Florida. As I recalled this episode, now with a worldview that gives less space to those events, I cannot help but think of how Monica, as long as she “knows” Alan, will continue to know this ghost, this he/she/it. Again and again in the same way; forever.

hose down the dog just like you hose down

the muddy white rubber boots

gravity pushes off and pulls over clothes of the coast

with anxiety the same is done day in and out

                                                                        afternoon pregnant with simple dreams:

                                                that grandkids don’t end up in Big ‘Gola,

                                                                        that milk doesn’t go up,

                                                that the rotting balcony makes it through until next season,

                                                                        that, for the sake of the town,

                                                Father Will don’t fall into the ways of the flesh like Father Jacob,

                                                                        that Lent fasting goes by fast fast

                                                                                    doxology of breaks: and break

                                                                                                                                    ing – wonder

how the sugar

gets from cane

to tables

an answer can be fabricated: however reasonable

tangled in the barbed wire fence:

the skeleton of an unrecognizable animal.

bones sucked crawfish head-dry by the wind

                                    underneath the carcass,

                                                wildflowers flourish

            to not look at the flesh for five months

            to come back to it

                                                                                                the way that what we see becomes

                                                                                                the way that we not-see easily

            figuring meaning distorts more

            fishermen arrive at the same hole

                                                                                                the way speech is almost a habit

                                                                                                the way success is almost depressing                                                                                                                in its way of ushering

                                                                                                            another cycle of failures          

Then, my mother speaks of consulting a healer: She tells me how she never thought she’d consult a healer, but it was harder and harder to think of me as a gift. She remembers 6 Advil and dosage recommendations. She reminds me of growing up on the Teche, close to traiteurs from Jeanerette and St. Martinville, old and chubby. She recalls their Cajun French; liminal and inhabited. She tells me about method, measurable result, testability, and things in her life that’ve caused her to thrown those out. She grabbed a foil-lined pan at the traiteur’s request. The traiteur, she remembers, wore a crucifix strung on knotted twine around his neck and how it sat on his Adam’s apple, vibrating at the words of his prayers. She shows me pictures of me as a baby all in the same front-buttoning bodysuit, a onesie she calls it. She then explains how the traiteur asked for it. He ripped it to shreds and piled the shreds on the foiled pan. She told me that, before she knew it, he was cutting my hair and I kept my head still. The almost-translucent strands of hair fell on the pulled apart clothes, on top of the foiled pan. She explains alternatives to me and the philosophies of their mysteries, but also the inevitability of the traiteur, the hair – its DNA, too, and how it somehow threads each of us and holds us together — the metals of pan and foil, how the here and now slips up right before us. She describes the way the traiteur lit a match and guided it toward all that was piled up now, his hand shielding the flicker from the stuffy air and small winds accompanying such a ritual. A slow engulfing, meticulous enough to keep nothing from the flame. She tells me that he told her blow it out before everything was made ash of. She passed her through the smoke, and again. The traiteur cradled in his arms. He infused the room with more prayer. My mother explains that we know so little of what happens on the small scale: which part of smoke sets off the smoke alarm, which of the traiteur’s words cleansed.

here, no sidewalk giving a warning of the shoulder

here, no center line, nothing dictating where or how

here, dirt and gravel and grass, nothing such as road and not-road

            opossum in every ditch

who knows when a hurricane will come through

chop off another slice of the coast

who knows when a hurricane will come through

flatten the next row of fishing camps

she is convinced there is an intruder in the walls

                                                                                                            the new ghost may be a cat

            rosaries hung wherever sexuality repressed

                                                            mold making its way to the loaf’s end feed to the gulls

Mother Mary has been flooded over

            blunted to a lump of Quik-crete

                                                                                                another dog, this one doors down from the screen-door wailer, joins the howl

                                                            calm canal-cut topwater shivers under the dogs’ calling

all is directed toward becomings of three kinds

see the sparrow

duck up and down

into the trash bin,

stand to call the flowers

painfully purple,

excruciating even

a frog’s spaded feet slap topwater, sliding it across –

(one’s mind skirting around the Christ archetype)

                                                                                                – a few more and it reaches the lonely shore with its cypress-knee gnomes, moss awnings, …

                                                            (shape)shift at night

My father stood at the end of the family camp’s pier. At its farthest reach, a covering, underneath the covering a rusting countertop with a sink and a trashcan. He fileted redfish and speckled trout, maybe a drum or two. He couldn’t stop talking about how his new double-welled sink sped up the process. It’s deep deep, he says. Look, he adds, a chute with a pipe going right down into the water there. This, on top of his new Mister Twister filet knife. The blades’ back and forth make a sound like a rolled R enclosed in the mouth, a silent working thing like a new John Deere riding mower. Poo-yi, he says. To this day, I do not know how easily the electric knife moves through the speck’s see-through meat. I do know the click of the hook yanked out of the red’s mouth, the way it must not hurt, its lips like plastic – threshold for the low croak whispering catch, release, catch, release.

            the bronzed crucifix transforms the threshold

                        into something other and –

                                                                                                the dumpster rental company

                                                                                                boasts a totem of recycled cross

widower wishes for wife’s chill

essentially a disobedient act

                                                                        don’t carry away the traiteur with her remedies

passerby is told jumbo shrimp at 5.95/lb but who knows where?

countenance                            best described as weather-beaten, the all of someone slouching toward payday

                                                                                    prick of burr dents skin

the gutted junkyard’s congregants lined and solemn

in their pews, yet no one is truly lovely

everyone’s got a prayer on their head, a haunting

fishing reports are true

as Jesus is true as

carpet-dented knees

are true as the heaven

that catches bedside pleas

are true as flyswatter-

patterned buttock is true

as the curfew is true as

the loup-garou is

true as …

shrimpers step from boat to dock, dock to boat,

            dew rags, taut and muscular, crowning their heads

black eyed peas on the 1st with tough parts of bacon squeezed between buttered white – fava

                                                            beans in wallets, pockets, tight fists – some still have nothing

                        the morals oversaturated with bleakness: make the world when

                        faced with the familiar landscape         of where two walls meet

                                                                                                            frog legs taste like chicken                                                                                           just as much as anything else tastes like it

“Don’t you” –                          “But it looks like those shake-up snowy things.”

                                                                        – daughter, turning over and over

                                                                           a jar of pickled quail eggs,

                                                                           and mother reprimanding; Piggly Wiggly,

                                                                           just outside of Houma, Louisiana

everything powerful here is invisible, which is not to say imaginary; dually trucks rut the gravel roads, the divet yanks another steering wheel

on a scale of 1-10, how pretty your women, how pretty your tides, how good your fishing?

[1-3: poor | 4-7: good | 8-10: excellent]

                                    Cocodrie, Terrebone Bay, Louisiana (8762928)

                                                                                    – 5: women, tides, fishing

the same scaly hands feed the Sunday wafer, scrape the scales

                                                                        everything powerful here is abbreviated,

                                                                        which is not to say premature

                        chances are you’ve got your grave dug for you, the only thing is keeping other                                    things out of it before you’re ready

We woke at 4am because we needed to be the first ones to Bayou Dularge. After only 3 hours on the water, we kept 247 specks, all big enough. We knew it was over limit and illegal. Remember the camp named DAD’S PAD WHEN MOM’S MAD? Where it used to be? It’s all skeleton now. We laughed when we first saw its bare stilts and the toilet atop one of them, a true and lonesome throne. Must’ve been a bad storm to do it in. You told me if I ever needed a whooping, we’d take that half-hour boat to whatever’s left of the camp’s floor, you’d sling me over your knee and give me my whooping. 247 and we couldn’t even close the ice chest. Specks flapped at our feet. You told me to keep my head on a swivel in case one tried to jump out. We cleared out the console with our tackle boxes and lifejackets and filled it with water and more specks. 247 and no one believed us. I wanted pictures but you said, No it’s between just us.

                                                                                    some have simply resorted to houseboat

            the devil is beating his wife: sunny out and rainy

            Jesus is moving furniture: sunny out and thundering

We had to keep ourselves occupied, you know, living in a fishing town on the coast. One bad move and the devil could suspend inertia and bloop, we’d slide right into the Gulf. I tried my hardest not to curse in front of family, but did more under my breath. We lit spiders on fire with just sunlight and shards of glass, poured alcohol down ant piles and watched them float and sizzle, wore our bare feet on the gravel road to the marina, filled rubber boots with minnows and let them go in our kiddie pool. If the night before held high tide, there’d be frogs hopping against the screen porch in the morning. We had a field day with bubble wrap on the odd occasion that a truck dropped us a package. I hadn’t realized how much hurt the world held.

there’s something to be said for unsaid

                                                                                    should we do the Lord’s work and plant

                                                                                    the blessed candle overnight? If so,

                                                                                    how many? –

                                                                                    (the way what is destructive blurs

                                                                                    what is above it)

don’t you see it? the camps are risen, risen in order to escape the corpse-laden marsh –


Originally from New Iberia, Louisiana, Nicholas Molbert now lives and writes in Central Illinois. He has work published in or forthcoming from American Literary Review, Cincinnati Review, Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, Permafrost, and South Carolina Review among others.

This Is as Bitter as the Fire

A Golden Shovel after Kesha

by E. Kristin Anderson

I know that salt purifies—still I spit it out red. I’m busy and
I’ll blame the hurricane—the sort of heart that screams—I
taste velvet in the rain, feel it near me, seething soft. I know

how summer is always ready to burn my blood. I’m in that

blackberry bramble, just hiding from the ghosts. I know I’m
a body in America. I’m a body full of benzos and love—still
I set a spell howling from my hips, clear and real. I fucked

the oak and he turned away—I am the message he wound up
tight with twine. I tear out my teeth, bury them all in ash, but
they don’t grow. Weight me with lavender and pearls—aren’t

I like the magpie? Leave your silver here and remember: We

don’t answer phone calls. I follow this open door holding all
my waking thoughts as if the windy sky could catch them, my
knuckles sore, making fists; still I swallow apple seeds in love.


E. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (Anomalous Press), and Hysteria: Writing the female body (Sable Books, forthcoming).  Kristin is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including A Guide for the Practical Abductee (Red Bird Chapbooks), Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky (Grey Book Press), 17 seventeen XVII (Grey Book Press), and Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press, forthcoming). Kristin is an assistant poetry editor at The Boiler and an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson.

Palmdale

by Sara Patterson


Ruth wants to clutch entrails. Death is final and lacks decorum. She cannot walk back from this scene with its burnt coffee smell of off-brand hazelnut, its sound of screen door flapping in breeze.

Praise Jesus this be a consumptive country; surely it will drown her.

A touch jars her.

“Please, ma’am, come this way.”

/

Ruth Prophet lives with her mom Heather in a flat roofed, cinderblock Florida house. A low, shadowed thing with windows open in evening and closed during day. Heavy curtains block out summer heat though humidity claws through regardless. Walls sweat. Tiles sweat. Ruth and Heather sweat.

It’s always late when Ruth comes in from her second job at a truck-stop gas station. Her mother asleep Ruth leaves lights off as she brushes her teeth and crawls naked into bed. She tries to read but cannot focus, eventually falling asleep with face pressed into book.

Ruth dreams always, and tonight it’s the Blue Man. His back is to her and she can’t make out the details of his clothes beyond the color of the coat (Atlantic) and hat (hurricane-clouds). She asks, “what storm is coming? What’ll its name be? Will it bury us under silt?”

The Blue Man does not answer and though she walks towards him he remains out of reach. There is wind. The dream-beach is coquina and cool sand. She thinks of houses prepared for hurricanes with boarded windows and doors, generators tied down. She wants to shake him and demand answers. When she wakes it’s to the taste of salt and memory of rain on skin.

Early mornings are hot. Everything in Palmdale is hot. There are five minutes of cool at 3am but Ruth is never awake for them. Her alarm buzzes as she throws clothes around looking for it.

“You can stop now,” she snaps. It continues. “Jesus fuck there you are.” She hits the machine until it stops then looks at the dress it had been hiding under and decides that God clearly wants her to wear it so shoves it on. Going to the kitchen for coffee she hears the screen door flapping in the breeze. Banging itself against the side of the house in the breeze. She closes it as coffee brews.

“Mom?” She calls down the hall. “Mom I made coffee.” She knocks on her mom’s door but it’s quiet. “I made hazelnut. I’ll leave it on the counter ‘k? I gotta run.”

/

Ruth’s second job is at the one diner in Palmdale. Arriving Susan yells from the front, “girl, you work too hard.”

Ruth doesn’t argue this as she fries eggs and makes Texas-style toast. The diner coffee is strong enough to rip enamel off teeth and is never made to order.

Susan is forever cheerful even though it’s 6:30am and the humidity is thick enough to cut. Ruth attributes this eternal cheerfulness to her assumption that Susan has never been in debt and probably has a good relationship with her mother and an existing sex life. Ruth hates Susan but knows she shouldn’t hate Susan because of feminism.

The day marginally improves when Lisa and Miller arrive for lunch. Miller shakes everyone’s hand with a “God bless you” before ordering for him and Lisa. He has the easy charm of a Baptist, frugality of a Methodist and the raging faith of a Pentecostal.


He calls to Ruth, “Come out here for a break, Miss Ruth.”

“Who’s going to make your coffee and sandwiches then, pastor?”

“The Lord’ll provide.”

“Well the Lord’s provided me with sandwich makings so I’ll be out as soon as I’m done.”

Once she finds two minutes to rub together Ruth sits with Lisa and Miller. Where Miller is small-town homespun Christian, Lisa is big city mega-church Christian. He wants hymnals; she wants a projector and screen. He wears second-hand; she’s a dazzling light of crisp yellow dresses and red lipstick.

Ruth adores Lisa.

Neither Lisa nor Miller have touched their food. Lisa intermittently stirs her coffee. Miller looks at Lisa who isn’t looking at him or Ruth.

“What’s wrong?” Ruth asks.

Miller reaches for her hand and says, “I’ve prayed for you, Miss Ruth. God’s not given me the words.”

“It’s your mom,” Lisa says. “We’re going to take you home.”

/

The Blue Man is a Palmdale legend. He lingers on the sandbar that divides Pinecrest lake from Pinecrest swamp. Possibly, he’s searching for his lover, or he’s watching over her land, or seeking revenge for her death by hurricane. How do you take revenge against a force of nature?

The sandbar comes and goes. Sometimes barely a strip, other times expansive and rocky. The Blue Man shows up before big storms, hurricanes wearing a blue coat and grey hat. If you’re lucky enough to see him your home will be saved from the ravages of nature.

/

Death lacks decorum.

There’s a poem that is the colour red over and over and if it’s not red it’s white and Ruth can think only of that as she enters her mom’s room. The poem was about the poet’s wife who adored red then killed herself. Ruth thinks, while it was the woman who stuck her head in the oven it might as well have been her husband who turned on the gas.

She had told her mom about the poem and how it opens with red was your color and her mom had said, “she must’ve been a bright woman.” Ruth had replied “she was a sad woman” and her mom had said “well, there you go.”

Ruth had been a sophomore studying English Literature but thinking of changing to Political Science. Her mother had said, “get something practical. Something you can use, like a trade. You were always good with your hands.”

Ruth had replied, “you don’t go to college for a trade, you go for an education.”

“Tell me more about your poem.”

“It’s not my poem, it’s Ted Hughes’ poem and he was married to Sylvia Plath and she wrote that poem ‘Daddy’ do you know it?”

“Not sure I do sweetie.”

Ruth hadn’t bothered to explain. She had spent much of her time with her mom not bothering to explain. How do you break down the history of literary movements for someone who barely finished high school? They had always struggled to speak with each other but college made translation an impossibility.

An officer touches her elbow.

“Please, ma’am, come this way.”

Ruth blinks. Sees the quiet darkness of the hall, the red on the mattress, the blue of the woman’s uniform. She thinks, Sylvia Plath got all the white in her death. My mom wasn’t found in the kitchen with her head in the oven but in her bed and there’s so much red.

Ruth doesn’t see her mom’s body because the police have already taken it. But she does see what used to be inside her mom’s body. She sees it and knows why it is there and it is because of her uncle and some land that belonged to an old relative from a long time ago. Just as one cannot argue that Ted Hughes killed his wife one cannot prove that Ruth’s uncle Claudius killed her mom. It is not an argument that would hold up in an academic article. It’s not an argument that would hold up in court.

Ruth breathes out.

/

Dream of an alligator and an anaconda wrestling. Ruth does once the police are gone and she’s done answering questions she doesn’t understand because she doesn’t speak English anymore only the language of breathing.

She sleeps on the back porch wrapped in her mom’s coat that is too hot for summer. She sleeps with mosquitos buzzing and biting and she hopes she will get malaria and die like the old settlers. The family who first founded Palmdale in the 1870s died of malaria. Ruth wishes she were one of them so she could be buried in marshland.

She sleeps and dreams of an anaconda battling an alligator with its thick body wrapped around the alligator and once it has killed the alligator it begins to eat but the alligator is too big and the snake’s body splits. Wild cats and blue herons gorge themselves on reptilian feast.

At the edge of her dream are reeds, cattails, mangrove roots tangled like thick braids of hair. She can see her mother on dry land while she, Ruth, drowns in water that cannot decide if it is too much salt or too much fresh. She clings to a buoyant fact: certain animals can only survive in brackish waters. They will die if they live anywhere else.

She wakes drenched in sweat.

/

In fleeting early morning thoughts she thinks of ghosts, those hungry creatures. She recalls the malaria victims and those who followed afterwards.  The second round of colonists were German immigrants who came down from the north and with them had come Ruth’s great-grandparents. She hates her great-grandparents on her mother’s side because of the inevitability of what they would have meant to the great-grandparents on her father’s side.

She fumbles with her phone, pulls up a family picture taken at her uncle Claudius’ and sees her mom smiling, holding a piña colada. There is her half-sister Julia visiting from Jamaica. Her grandfather Isaac, not yet dead, looking exhausted and yellow from his liver. Her uncle Claudius stands behind her mom. Her mom resembles Isaac the way Ruth resembles her father Fidel.

Ruth remembers Fidel’s cadence, his gentle silences, his hair big curly like hers, how he let her win when they raced from his van to the back door. That screen door that had been flapping in the breeze.

She freezes.

Had Claudius been in the house the entire time? Had he been hiding and waiting for her to leave before he—

She wants to cry and wash at the same time. So she does. The shower is as hot as she can stand and she screams and beats her fists against the floral tiles patterning the side of the tub. She wants to wash out her mind, clear brackish water of memory at the same time she wants to cleave to it. Her legs hurt. Her stomach hurts. Everything hurts. Snot runs down her nose.

Afterwards, she lies on the bathroom floor wrapped in a towel as steam settles.

An hour later she crawls from bathroom to kitchen, still naked with the towel forgotten in the hallway, and pours herself a shot of whiskey. Then another two.

Lying on the kitchen floor she stares at the filth beneath the fridge. Onion peels, dust bunnies, stale cereal. The kitchen needs a deep clean. The entire house needs a deep clean. Everything needs a deep clean.

She rolls to look at the yellowed walls above her and says, “Dear God, my mom better have gotten into heaven. Even if she drank too much and smoked too much and lived too loudly I hope she got in because if she didn’t,” she wags a finger skyward. “I will get a gun and I will shoot the fucking shit out of you.”

/

Afternoon doing its red dip into night. Still on the floor, as she cannot seem to get up, Ruth calls Lisa.

“Can you come over?” She asks. She is lying with the phone pressed against her ear. She thinks she ought to shower again.

“Of course. I’ll be there immediately.”

“Can you bring something to drink?”

“Did you think I’d come empty handed? I’ll pack a bag.”

“Does Miller have a gun?”

“Miller sure don’t, but I do.”

/

When Lisa arrives it is to Ruth on her knees scrubbing the kitchen floor.

“Smells like church in here,” Lisa says.

“Does that make it holy?”

Lisa pulls a chair out from the other room and sits with legs crossed. Ruth looks at her from where she is on the floor in old jean shorts and faded t-shirt. She can see Lisa’s ankles and thinks that were she a believer, she’d assume the Devil made them to lead people to hell.

“Holier than my husband’s church. I’m going to make us gin and tonics and you’re going to get off the floor and sit in this chair and drink two of them.”

“I already threw up the whiskey I had before you came over.”

“Whiskey’s for rage, gin’s for grief.”

Ruth doesn’t think this holds up but doesn’t push the point. She feels empty. It comes upon her suddenly. Lisa eyes her with palpable concern. Ruth bristles. Lisa relaxes.

“There you are,” she hands over a glass. “There’s too much gin in it, sorry.”

“Can we go outside? I’ve sandals you can borrow.”

The only ones they find that fit are a pair of Heather’s old gardening sandals. They are red. Ruth looks away. That color is God’s.

/

Ruth thinks, God is a Right that I am too much monster to have. But, this has not stopped me desiring it.

She hates that she is too rational for faith and too irrational to be comfortable without faith. She wants to believe but cannot find it within herself. Perhaps religion would bring comfort. She has heard that it is a salve for the soul. She only half believes.

Ruth thinks, It is perhaps the greatest weakness of humans that we were made to bend at the knee.

/

“I never thought it’d happen here. In Miami, sure. Orlando…Tallahassee even, with all those politics. But here? Never thought I’d see the day.”

Despite the subject matter, which cannot be helped since it was less than fifty-six hours ago, Ruth could listen to Lisa for years.

“I think he was in the house before I left for work that morning.”

She tells Lisa about the screen door and the silence from her mom’s room. “Or maybe he had already done it and I went to sleep and mom was— you know and I was sleeping in the next room not thinking anything was amiss.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I should have checked on her. I should have looked in on her in the morning. I should have called home during my break.”

“Would that have changed anything?”

Ruth wants to scream, For fuck’s sake this isn’t helping! She doesn’t want therapy. She wants to rage. Rage, rage, against the dying of the—

She says, “no.”

They are standing beside the house. Ruth plays with a hibiscus flower from the plant that’s growing up the side. Ants use it as a ladder to get into the roof but her mom always liked the color so they put up with the occasional infestation. She relents. The anger flows out and away for the time being. She nudges Lisa’s shoulder, “isn’t this when you’re supposed to say something inspirational? Something moving about love and God?”

Lisa shrugs, “you called for me, not Miller.”

“True.”

Ruth wants to say, Thank you. Her tongue sticks to the roof of her mouth. She looks back to the flower.

Some hibiscus flowers are a deep enough pink as to be red. Their thorns will prick skin, tear at flesh, but the petals are soft and edible.

“I want to become death the destroyer of worlds.”

“Oh Ruth, there’s no need for theatrics here.”

Ruth wants to tell Lisa about Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad Gita but doesn’t. She doesn’t know how she would explain it to a woman who married a pastor whose family holds snakes when the Holy Spirit takes hold. Why does she always lack words and explanations? For Lisa, for her mom. All these women and she cannot talk.

Ruth’s heard Miller speak in tongues, she’s born witness to Lisa holding his hand as the Holy Spirit moved through him. She can’t imagine Lisa understanding Oppenheimer and Hinduism. She wants her to, though.

She wants, she wants, she wants.

/

Before bed Ruth and Lisa comb the house from one end to another. They check closets and behind the curtain in the bathroom, under every bed and couch and cupboard. They even look under the sink on account of Ruth having seen one too many X-Files episodes and confiding her fear of contortionists to Lisa who says that so long as the Devil doesn’t come out of the closet to impregnate her like some inverted Virgin Mary she’s good.

Once the house has been checked twice Ruth turns up the volume of the television and they watch reruns of soaps. To distract herself Ruth imagines things she cannot have and does her best to make sure Lisa is as comfortable as she can be considering they are in a house where a murder happened.

/

When Ruth was a little girl she and her mom would go up to Tampa to spend Thanksgiving with uncle Claudius and aunt Sharon, wife number two. Sharon was a large, expanding woman both in her body and personality. Ruth thought she was so cool because of her gold necklaces, expensive perfume and how certain she was in her opinions. She also liked Sharon because she was also black and would pat the seat beside her and whisper to Ruth, “we have to stick together you and me.” Whenever they would arrive Sharon would say, “ladies! We always need more ladies here. Es-tro-gen am I right? I can’t be having with only men here.” Sharon would whisk Ruth’s mom away and they’d drink and smoke by the pool. Ruth would then comb through her uncle’s house admiring the book collection and the several Neanderthal skulls he had on display in his office.

“You not out with your cousins?” Claudius would ask when he inevitably found her tracing the eye sockets of the skulls.

One time she had asked, “what do you do?”

“I’m an architect.”

Uncle Claudius was tall, thin, and freckled while her mom was short, fat, and tan. He made Ruth think of skyscrapers which she had only seen in movies and so it made sense to her that he would make them.

“How’d you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Become an architect.”

He had smiled and motioned her out of his office. She thinks, He never did answer me. She wonders if her mom and him got on. She had never thought to ask.

/

“My mom and I – we never knew how to talk to each other.”

Ruth and Lisa are sitting with Heather’s jewellery spread out between them. Ruth is deciding what to keep and what to give away. Lisa is cleaning the jewellery box. Her perfect red nails have chipped at some point and Ruth wants to apologize but thinks that would be bridging on the absurd.

“She always used to say ‘I don’t know how to read you. You remind me so much of your father and your father’s mother.’ My grandmother on that side, my father’s side, her name was Dinah, which is interesting. Considering.”

“Considering what?”

“Well, they’re all from Jamaica right, and my dad’s black. Dinah was a generic name for slave women the way Maria was for the indigenous in Mexico after conversion.”

Lisa shakes her head, gives Ruth a sympathetic look. Ruth does not like this sudden investigation so becomes very intent on her mother’s old paste necklaces.

“Do you talk much to your dad?”

“No. Sometimes. Every few years one of us will call the other. He’s not a man who speaks and his presence is better experienced in person than on the phone.”

“Will he come to the funeral?”

Ruth thinks, No. She says, “maybe.”

Fidel is a man of islands and salt. He had not been able to abide the stagnant waters of Florida and had begged Heather to come with him back to his home. Her mother, in turn, had not been able to imagine a life away from Palmdale.

“My family,” Ruth says, “fell apart due to a lack of imagination.”

/

On the third day Lisa asks why Ruth thinks it was her uncle who murdered her mom. Ruth explains that it’s because of the land.

“Great-grandpa had land and gave it to my grandpa who then split it between my mom and uncle Claudius. Uncle Claudius wants to sell it to developers because there’s some good money being offered but mom didn’t want to because of nostalgia.”

“Doesn’t her land go to you?”

“No, grandpa was a Godly man. I was born out of wedlock and he thought we were still living in the 1930s so I don’t get it. Skips me, goes to my uncle when mom dies, then my cousins. Anyway, he’s the only one with a motive. Random people don’t just show up and murder strangers in their houses. I mean they do, I saw a show on it, but the likelihood is low. It’s most likely a relative or friend.”

“Aren’t the police investigating?”

“Yes. I’m assuming. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s much evidence. But it can take a while, I’ve been told, before they can get the person who did it. Assuming they get the person. I looked up the stats, they’re not very high. Especially in rural areas and poor areas and rural poor areas.”

“We’re not that rural or poor.”

“We’re in a swamp, Lisa.”

Lisa does not contradict her.

“We’re swamp trash, Lisa.”

Lisa continues to not contradict her.

“We’re swamp trash in a swamp and no one has any money, or if they do it’s like my mom and tied up in land that is also a swamp and only developers have enough to make anything out of it.”

“Your family feud is excellent for conservation efforts.”

Ruth scowls then laughs. Her ribs hurt from it and she feels some buoyancy.

“See,” Lisa says, “there’s something to laugh about. “

Ruth rubs at a spot on the counter. She imagines purchasing a red convertible and driving away with Lisa like they were in a movie. Lisa would have a scarf in her hair and her cherry red lipstick on and she would be wearing impractical shoes. Preferably blue.

/

Sometimes Ruth hates her mom for making her come back. She hates that her mom would call week in and week out and say how much she missed her and how much she wishes she’d be here and how she could use the help and how poorly things were going until Ruth couldn’t stand it anymore and booked a flight to Miami then took a car to Palmdale.

“I’m only staying for a week,” she had said when they met. Her mom had tried to hug her but it was awkward. They broke apart. “Then I’m going back to Charleston.”

The house had been a mess so that week was spent cleaning. Then her mom had asked her if she wanted a whiskey and she had said yes but not too much since she had to drive to Miami to catch her flight and her mom had said, “look, I owe Claudius some money and I need your help.”

“How much?”

“Enough that I need your help.”

Ruth had shrugged and said she didn’t know how she could help as she was barely on her feet and her mom had cried and said that just her being here was a help and maybe if they work hard enough they could pay it all off. Then, when the debt’s paid, Ruth could go back to Charleston. Ruth had wanted to say no but found she couldn’t imagine leaving her mom and getting on a plane knowing she could have done something.  

She hates her mom for that, for imparting the genetic inability to have an imagination.

/

The beach calls her. Ruth walks it when she remembers how much her mom hated it. The mosquitoes, the flies, the leeches if you’re in the water. There is little pleasant about either Pinecrest lake or swamp.

Her mother had once spoken of the north. Of how the grass is soft and a beautiful green unlike the crabgrass of Florida which is green-yellow and not so much grass as a weed with a convoluted root system, like fungi. It is impossible to eradicate. It itches, scratches against your feet. It is not a gentle thing.

She tries to remember something about her mom no one else knew. A secret shared between only them but cannot think of one. She doesn’t know her mom’s favourite color or show or book. She doesn’t know about her childhood or life before her own birth.

Sitting on a log she catalogues the limited facts she has: my mom met my dad in a bar in the Keys when she had been waitressing and he had been sailing around the Caribbean. At some point they moved back to Palmdale and had me and then dad went back to Jamaica and mom stayed here. She had only a high school diploma. Did she have boyfriends? Ruth cannot recall. Did she have friends? The women at church, she supposes. She dreads the speech she must give at the funeral.

She wipes at her cheeks, uses the edge of her shirt to wipe her nose. The air is still and the insects suddenly quiet. Even the frogs have stopped. It feels like hurricane weather; that absence of atmosphere before you’re slammed with the second half of the storm that’s always worse than the first half. Only, the sky isn’t eye-of-storm-green. It is perfectly blue. The air smells of salt. Her skin feels damp.

She looks around and sees a man standing down the beach from her. He wears a grey hat and an old blue coat. Ruth stands, starts towards him then stops. She thinks, It’s not hurricane season yet. He can’t be here. She glances up to see if there are clouds and finds none. When she looks for him again he is gone.

A heron takes flight, spreads its wings and they are a beautiful blue.

Ruth breathes out.

/

How do you say goodbye to your mom? How do you speak of someone for whom you have no words? You can’t. Ruth hides in the bathroom at the church until her makeup runs down her face. At one point Lisa knocks on the door, “y’allright in there?”

“Yes, I’m all right.”

“No you’re not.”

Ruth stands next to the door and places her palm against it. She imagines Lisa doing the same and thinks of how pilgrims touch the hands of statues of saints. Holding one palm against another is like a kiss.

“Your mom’s dead, Ruth. You’re allowed to not speak.”

Ruth rests her forehead against the door. Closes her eyes and waits until she hears Lisa walk away.

/

The wake brings skyscrapers and entrailed memories. Ruth sees a tall figure in the crowd with white hair and when the figure turns around she can only think: It doesn’t hold up in an academic article. It doesn’t hold up in court. Her uncle Claudius is in black, of course, and he walks towards her. She cannot move.

“I am so deeply sorry,” he takes her free hand in his. “Poor Heather.”

She looks around. She sees Miller and Lisa by the snack table and there are the women who served donuts after church with her mom in a circle and Susan from the diner and Gerry from the auto-repair shop and Paul, the rival Methodist minister to Miller’s non-denominational, and she wants to scream to all of them, Here he is. Here is the man who caused us all to be here today when it is too hot and too sunny to be in frocks and starched collars. He’s the reason we’re sweating awkwardly and eating warm egg salad sandwiches.

“Thank you, I need to uh—” She motions to the group. Claudius pats her hand again and says that of course she needs to circulate. She needs to be a hostess.

“If you ever need anything you know you just have to call. Family sticks by one another.”

“Thanks.”

He drifts into the crowd.

Instead of circulating she drinks too much then leaves and walks through town in her black dress losing her gloves and shawl along the way. Her shoes give her blisters and her spine wants to free itself from the confines of her body at the same time as her ribs want to buckle inwards. She stops beside the diner, leans against the hot concrete and breathes. Sweat drips down her back, down her armpits and thighs. The sun is too bright and she has no words.

She goes to the store and buys the makings for piña coladas before returning home. She then makes enough to fill every glass in the cupboard and begins drinking them one then another then another. Once she is sufficiently drunk she goes to her mom’s room. It is dark, and just as the police left it, the bed stripped. They gave her a receipt for the sheets in case she should ever want them back. She doesn’t. Or she does, just so she can maybe burn them. Her mom would not want to be remembered for being murdered. Her mom would want to be remembered for something else. Maybe. She doesn’t know. She has absolutely no idea. She cries.

/

When Lisa arrives Ruth is still sitting in her mom’s room. The mattress is stained. Lisa leans against the doorframe, “well?”

“Well what?”

Lisa waits.

“I want to kill him.” Ruth feels outside herself as she says it.

“All right.”

Ruth rubs tear tracks off her face with the heel of her palm.

“I went walking before the funeral and I saw the Blue Man. It’s time.”


Sara Patterson is a Toronto-based writer raised in Florida and California. Her work has appeared in publications such as Electric Literature, Occulum, Plenitude Magazine, Minola Review, and RagQueen Periodical (forthcoming).

seeds in the chest

by Alexandra Corinth

a pomegranate pulsing
like rhythm wild

my skin is thick flesh canvas
for whim and work
patina on the clavicle
stardust in the marrow

I bleed every shade of street sign

blues gone purple with rust
greens like ever, like sick
soil in the belly, not ready
not for the fire that’s coming
not the water either
the salt, the flicker

I could ask any question of this body
and get the same answer

fingers in the sinew
reaching into the ribs
hungry for fruit
tart, sweet
yours to swallow
mine to bury

I don’t ask you to stop anymore

lamppost on the corner
dragging this shadow
into the darkest rooms
beat of the drum
slowing with the weight

Where have you been?

moonlight makes my smile ache,
never the shape of a perfect crescent
or white enough to illuminate
I will always be something else
the heart of me natural and somehow still damned
misplaced, confused
growing too big for the bones
nuance lost in transmission

I have shown you every piece

no more secrets to stow in my spine
to press against the storm
seduce lightning with wide hip clouds
cycle cyclone cycle
whichever direction feels wrong
against the grain of this wet sand
no beach
no sea urchin hanging from my kneecap
no lungs to hold the oxygen

the breathing stopped twelve years ago
I gasp sometimes but nothing sticks
all the glue releasing me, rejecting me

I am home now
the roof leaks sometimes but
I no longer ask for forgiveness
not for the living things
the ghosts or the violence of my dreams
a cobra sunbathing
blissful


Alexandra Corinth is a disabled writer and artist based in Dallas-Fort Worth. Her chaplet, Deus Ex Diagnosi, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barren Magazine, Entropy, SWWIM, Glass: Poets Resist, and Atticus Review, among others. She is also an editorial assistant for the Southwest Review. You can find her online at typewriterbelle.com.