Last

Flash
Michelle Dotter


Photo Credit: Imre Kissik/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

What I remember most is the heat. It was so hot that summer we were fifteen that we couldn’t breathe—every day was like a thick cloud of steam sitting on the cabin by the lake. Even the crickets were quiet. The sunset made the lake boil in the red earth.

At night, we couldn’t sleep because of the aching humidity that never went away. Even with all the doors open, the air didn’t move—I exhaled and pulled the same inhale back in. Watched you doing the same. One night I caught your eye and we ran down to the well and threw buckets of water on each other, fully clothed, soaking ourselves until we shivered in spite of the heat. Then we sprawled out on the dirt floor of the cabin, each of us listening to the sound of the water dripping out of our shirts. It made little pools on the ground, and I rolled over to keep as much of my body in the water as possible, and so that I could see you through the shadows, the charcoal smudge of your face dreaming of dreams.

The best were the nights when neither of us was tired, and we lay there staring at the ceiling like the dark planks were suddenly going to open into another world and pull us into something—the black box of the universe at the moment of unfolding, when every thought was a supernova. It never happened but I never stopped believing it might. I’d shift and put my arm under my head and you’d roll over onto your side, putting up with the heat of one part of your skin touching another so that you could look at me. You were my mirror, my mirage in the dark.

Nights like that, my name sounded strange when you said it, like you were testing each syllable because you weren’t sure it was going to hold. I’m burning up, you’d say as you laughed, and in the moonlight your face grew up so fast that I wasn’t sure, for a minute, who I was talking to. Let’s jump in the lake. Race ya.

The last night, you were still dripping when you stood up. I stared at the back of your shirt, at the dampness that made you shimmer as we ran to the dock, the first time you ever beat me. The moon was sleeping on the surface of the lake; it woke with a start as you jumped right through it, silent like the crickets I hadn’t seen all summer.

When you went under, I held my breath for you.

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Michelle Dotter is the editor-in-chief of Dzanc Books, a nonprofit independent press committed to literary excellence in fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Entropy, and the No Extra Words podcast. Email: michelle.dotter[at]gmail.com

Alone with Lilacs

Flash
Lauren Dennis


Photo Credit: popofatticus/Flickr (CC-by)

Unless it has been obscure up to this point, let me be clear. I am not sporty. My dad was a career P.E. teacher, not “gym” teacher (“I don’t teach a room. I teach students Physical Education.”) and I, a drama nerd. My dad dedicated 25 years to courts, squeaky shoe sounds, sweat, and rubber round objects thrust too technically into my young hands. I, in turn, played my goofy, non-athletic daughter role, fumbling every pass through his thinly-veiled frustration.

I am seven. My dad is teaching me how to throw a neon Nerf football. He is giving me too many instructions, and every time I get one, I lose the other.

“Put your left foot in front a little.”

I do.

“Hold the ball at shoulder level. You’re too far back.”

I adjust the level, my left leg moves back to its original spot.

“But keep your left foot forward.” He physically adjusts it, his breath mean on my thigh.

Foot is now forward. Arm drops down,  past shoulder level.

My dad’s sigh.

I hold my breath for the next instruction.

“Now, throw the ball to me, in a spiral. Just let your fingers open slightly, and the ball will roll up them as you release.”

I’m a good kid. I place my left foot forward theatrically to prove it and maybe get some praise for remembering. I let the ball go, still holding my breath. It makes a small circle on its path toward my dad. It lands in the nearby lilac bushes, but my dad is happy.

“You made it spiral!”

I breathe and suddenly I’m crying.

“What’s wrong with you? That was the perfect pass. Anyone would be thrilled to make that kind of pass. What is wrong with you?”

I can’t answer. I am seeing myself from the outside, the way I do when I watch others when preparing for a role in a play.  I am a small dot on the square patch of grass below. And I am crying. I don’t know how to answer. I am too small. I don’t know the rules. I want my dad to love me, whether the ball spirals or not. The sliding glass door closes behind him. It returns my reflection. A disappointment. Or, an athlete who could have had it all. I decide I am the victim in a soon-to-be-acclaimed movie about overbearing coaches, and I just missed the last hurdle in my pre-Olympic trials. I may not be going to the Olympics anymore, but, I am certainly headed for the Academy Awards. Tears flow freely down my waiting cheeks. I swallow and the lilacs wash down my throat, their sweet simple syrup filling my mouth with tiny rounded petals.

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Lauren Dennis is a mother of two, violently fighting against the confinement that may or may not come with that title. She writes because she has to, and has been published in Scarlet Leaf Review, The Flash Fiction Press, daCuhna, and Microfiction Monday Magazine. She has received formal critique and feedback from the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver, Colorado, where she resides. Email: laurenelyse.dennis[at]gmail.com

Five Poems

Poetry
Wern Hao See


Photo Credit: aptmetaphor/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Rust

You bought me the necklace a month before I no longer needed it. The Seven Mile Flea Market put its worth at ten dollars but you, good with words, halved it on my behalf. Black string tinkling, three rings sliding along. In place of a crucifix, there was me, you and the children we did not make time for. Faith was a house in Milwaukee, complete with shelves of your favourite Terry Pratchett novels and my select Singaporean poets. A backyard and fireplace, laced with the crackling of branches and unfilled mugs of hot chocolate.

In the dream, the people believed the machinery would screech again, fractured pipes snapping back together like bones. The factories would exhale rust from their lungs, guzzling oil like beer. She would be back at her station with her flowing coarse braids, slipping a knuckleduster of padlocks through fingers, clicking and unclicking.

If this is a dream, and if no one saw her slip through the backyard when the grapes started budding from olives, oiled by sunlight, then,

she did not rip the necklace off my nape, leaving half of a stinging red halo.

she did not pin me down, spread-eagle, to the foot of my bed.

I did not sink my teeth into her lips, a lick drawing iron, a sip of breath

Ferric oxide, when inhaled, may result in metabolic acidosis. Symptoms include rapid breathing, confusion, lethargy, shock and death.

Being agnostic, I refused to commit to life where there might be none, yet I was not brave enough to release my clutch on the steel curled up in my palm.

She plied me with her index finger, slipping along the back of my forearm, following each and every twitch. I started panting, salt coating my singlet, darkening crimson,

sun looking away. She hovered, less flesh and more shadow, swallowing me inch by inch. Moan. When did I convert from the undecided to the damned? At what point did dawn finally split from night?

A pool of rust seeped into the sheets.

A ring of red dirt spreads across the Midwest as more people move to larger cities, leaving behind rows of houses fixed with fireplaces with nothing to burn for. Yes, faith breaks down into hope breaks us. Yet, you could shift into one of those houses if you wish. Stack your Terry Pratchett novels against the door. The wall paint still flakes off like skin, the knocking you hear is only wind.

 

Names

My dearest, sunshine, slipped away, replaced
by names we learnt from birth.
Stuffed toys we called our children
were split. The dolphin is marooned
in the corner again. I forget
to pick it up. Before I sleep, I hug the fox
until its neck hangs limp by my elbow.
I say mama is coming back.
I say papa is smiling.
All they ever do is smile back at me.

I stroke the dolphin’s fur
with my cheeks,
and I find myself again
sprawled over the mat
on the polished parquet floor.

I lay there for hours
on Sunday afternoons,
until you told me
it was time to get up.

I clutched onto the dolphin
almost as a hostage.
Papa! The dolphin nudged me
to stay. Ngah ngah? Enough. Now,

I nuzzle my nose
against the hard plastic knob
sewn on loosely by your errant hand.

It fell off the first time
you swung it against the wall. After,

it never quite stuck again.
The fox no longer paws at you.
The way your boyfriend says vixen
lacks my cartoony inflex.
But he still lets you
big-bear-huggles the children to sleep.

I imagine you leaning
into my clavicle, then I catch myself.
The way wind nestles
into a tree branch, the sun’s reflection slipping
between rustling leaves,
then lifts off again.

What is love but the willingness to scar,
knowing your lover would heal before you
had the chance to hurt?

Rubbing your neck, you try to hide
teeth marks. I wish you well.
That he would hold you
for the roads ahead.

I hold my fist, praying
for restraint.

I scoop the dolphin
from the dryer. In the morning,
my palm is warmed by your cheeks
yawning half-awake,
wide glass bead eyes blinking,
flaking into lint.

 

Every Decay Came From Sweetness

“No person we have met in our lives is ever relegated to silence, even if we have split paths with them due to anger, chance or circumstance. Our entire body enacts a stunning resurrection of the dead.” —Lan Samantha Chang, at a lecture at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, 13 July 2017

By now, my lips would have shed
the taste of yours, the way cockroaches peel
off what is dead to become larger,
uglier versions of themselves.
Without you, I have just been feeling
my way through dusty walls, crumbling,
bumping into chairs with gimp legs,
limping to bed. That is to say,
I have always been the cause
of my own bruises.

This poem will not be sent to you, air-headed
newspaper roll beating guilt
in until we are bent, still twitching
with sentiment not yet dead.

Since then, I have sought bodies, crawled
over them all sour and wet. I binge on
You’re adorable, love, familiar
syllables which, although sour,
get me hard. I curl long strands
of hair, almost soft enough
for a pillowcase. Let me start again:

there was the sobbing and the kiss,
death of skin, flaking salt.
All this eating ever since is only desire
to find where I left
what was left of us, to keep
that lesser picture down my throat.

 

Projected Break-up in Retrograde

The train pulls into Hillview station,
spitting me out. I stagger
to the lobby of your condo block where,
outside, passersby pick coins
from an auntie’s cardboard box,
returning tissue packets in neat squares.

You descend, the lift doors open.
We clasp hands, promising
an easier time where we would see everything
good about each other.
The suture in the bruised sky opens, orange
trickling out. Then, the pus
of afternoon sun spills over tarmac.

Everything is warm again.
Everything that should warn me about you
disappears with our tongues, leashed
to our throats, probing each other
with a certain frenzy. Repeat:

What are we? Now,
release our lips and unconfess
the love we have made. My dearest

best friend, forget my kinks.
Forget the pliancy of my body, so used
to you. Forget my fear
that repeated motion would only become
boredom, not comfort. I reclaim
these thoughts and you are unburdened.
Let me, for once, uncrease
your panties, straighten your hair
and button up your blouse. I zip
my eyes. They open

in front of the Western food stall
on the college campus. The sirloin steaks
drain their blood to the fire.
My cheeks flush: “What luck,
to have found someone
who loves House of Cards as well. Yes,
I am from around here, too.
Hope I am not disturbing. Hello.”

 

On Healing

Do not pretend that absence
makes the heart. How fond
you are of longing. The seat
by the windowsill
of the first ice cream parlor date
is still filled by lovers
who have not learnt to stumble
into a bar counter.
No need for drunken hyperbole now,
the darkness pooling at your feet is not
an extension of flesh. It is only
yourself tomorrow, stretched
towards wherever your soul travels.
In time, if even the ice cream parlor
becomes a fast food restaurant, and then
not even that, know that nothing will grow
in its place. Your poetry must not bloom
from tears alone. So tear yourself
away from the pedestal of high rises
no longer there to cast a shadow
for your brooding. Be gentle.
Spread your fingers, let light slip
through their outline
when you have no one to hold.

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See Wern Hao is pursuing Law and Liberal Arts at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS College. His works have been featured in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Softblow, Forage Poetry Journal and Apercus Quarterly. He has also contributed to anthologies such as SingPoWriMo 2015/6 and Rollercoasters & Bedsheets. Email: seewh[at]hotmail.com

Happiness

Poetry
David Polochanin


Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Two old ladies are practically in tears
as a new mother pushes her shopping cart
toward the checkout line at Stop and Shop,
carrying her infant in a shoulder-strapped pouch.
I have not witnessed this kind of happiness
in a long time. The young mom is overwhelmed
by the ocean of parenthood, you can tell,
and I am thinking from my angle
near a shelf of cereal that this may be
the first time she has gone out in public
with the baby in tow. How many days old?
What is her name? The grandmothers are dying to know,
not meaning to be intrusive, but they can’t help it.
They want to touch the little girl with their slender,
arthritic hands, and move their aged faces
close to hers to smell the smooth,
perfect flesh of a new life.

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David Polochanin is a teacher, essayist, poet, and former journalist based in Connecticut. His poems have previously appeared in Toasted Cheese, Negative Suck, Blueline, Albatross, Gadfly Online, and Blood and Thunder. Email: polochanind[at]glastonburyus.org

Beneath the Surface

Poetry
Cassie Creley


Photo Credit: chiaralily/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

she was drowning
but she did it so beautifully
that no one noticed.

look at her dance, they said
even though
she is underwater.

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Cassie Creley lives near Seattle, which of course means she lives fairly far from Seattle in a city you’ve never heard of. Her poems and photographs have appeared in two other literary journals. When she is not daydreaming about writing, she is daydreaming about chocolate.