There’s been another shooting, and now the birds call for revolution, refusing to fly and walking everywhere, causing traffic jams. Their shit fills the streets instead of decorating rooftops, cars, and people’s heads. Squirrels shut down Brooklyn Bridge in protest. Rats congregate on the White House lawn to plot the best points of entry. We’re tired of being your fucking metaphors, they shriek. My neighbor stockpiles weapons as a colony of bats circle overhead. I bury my Glock G19 in the bottom of the garbage can when everyone is asleep. The next morning, I dig through rotting food and paper plates to find it gone. My wife thinks it was the roaches. We can’t be sure because they’ve taken out the wifi. Read more Pidgeonholes
The first thing that retreats before you is its name. Mereá, the city of winding caves. The city underneath the sand.
“She’ll take you, Señor. She’ll take you and make your forget, just like she took your wife,” the abuelo says to him, his face crinkled like old cabbage. He gestures to Gil to withdraw his gaze from the two faint lights in the horizon. “We are in Carnival now,” the old man continues, taking Gil by the arm back to chaos of the city streets. “Venga. See the dancers.” Skeletons shimmy their way around bodies barely covered in bright tops, short skirts, loose shorts. He watches, fascinated by the rhythmic jounce of those bodies thrusting in and out in perfect time to the drummers. It had been the same scene when his wife disappeared a year ago. Read more at Bourbon Penn
Charlotte, North Carolina, 1977: I am being baptized in the PTL swimming pool while Mom is fucking a cop in the Shoney’s bathroom. The giant Big Boy in front of the restaurant smiles, holds his hamburger up high into the clouds. Pastor Tom talks about how they will soon be breaking ground for the new studio site. My mother is already cracked open, body backed up against the wall, legs bent and twisted around some thick-waisted uniform, her glasses placed on the hand dryer so they won’t fall off. Without them she’s blind, can know the world only if it’s inside her. Pastor Tom tells Dad how big PTL will be someday, going forth to baptize the nations. I feel no different after being baptized, but Tom’s wife bends down to say hello and praise Jesus, aren’t you glad your dad works for the Lord? Her eyelashes are thick like Tammy Faye’s, big blinking spiders. Reprinted in Gargoyle #64
She smells of olives and honey every time she passes me in the temple, her long fingers lightly grazing mine. Like crushing on the cool girl, I’m not allowed to speak to her or even look her in the eye. She calls me servant in public but once, by the river, mouthed lover when she saw me—a virgin acolyte serving a virgin goddess. You play by house rules. Seventh-grade rules, which change depending on who has the best Instagram. When the sea god tells me to hold still and runs his hand through my hair, I obey. His other hand parts my knees and slowly spiderwalks up the length of bare leg until I whisper her name, like a curse, and run. Read more at Sundog Lit
Not upturned like a cat’s to bat at the men and women you meet, nor wide and innocent like Eve’s before she bit the apple. No, your gaze is unwavering, brow hovering so close that people ask if you’re angry or sad when you’re not, and I wonder what you’re plotting, whether to set your brother on fire or do the dishes like I asked. They’re not hooded enough that we’ll have to heavily shadow your lids to make your eyes “pop,” neither are they large enough to stare me down when I question all the unsavory choices you’ll make. Some days you wear red just to see if wolves exist. Read more at Sundog Lit
It is our second Tinder texting marathon, where all messages are ten words or less, many of which Autocorrect tries to unnaturally fix so that our correspondence resembles more a game of Boggle than the chase-and-catch. I once tried to tell a guy that I was on my way to teach a class and had no time for texting, but that we should grab drinks at the Rubin Museum later; it came out as no time for sexting, let’s get drinks at the Ruin Museum, which is apparently where all the naughty sexting girls go.
Said boy was confused but intrigued, until I corrected the mistake. I’ve recently considered including some kind of warning in my Tinder profile along the lines of artistic intellectual with enormous thumbs, but I worry what that might attract. This particular hipster likes to begin his chats with a simple hey and often ends with are you wearing panties? While a saucy message is appreciated now and then, I do not have the heart to tell him that on this particular day I am in glasses and grading a stack of essays, that to set the record straight, it is actually inconsequential whether or not I am wearing panties since there is always, according to Plato, the Intangible Form of Pantyness, the Panty that is perfect and unchanging regardless of whether I am wearing them. He does not understand that having been asked the question so many times on so many different occasions I have become one with the Panty, that I am the Panty, that I am the Walrus and he is the Eggman. Read More at Queen Mobs
There could have been a barn that day, with giant haystacks and a pitchfork that somehow always got lost. It could have been a one bedroom apartment in Jersey City. There could have been a baby pig so small the mama pig forgot all about it. Or an old pit bull that pissed on the carpet because it couldn’t make it outside in time.
Either way, the dad wanted to kill it.
There was probably a little girl who wanted to save the pig or the pit bull. That kid had street smarts, could work the county fair or Atlantic City and bought her adopted pet a few extra months of life with the dad. The Jersey father might have worked seventy hours a week and had no patience for an invalid pet and headstrong child. They both knew how to hide in a corner, blend into the shadows so the father might not see them. The farmer probably had his own concerns, but daily he eyed the scrawny runt who ate the scraps and yet never grew fast enough. And the daughter saw it. She saw many things, that girl. Some real, some imagined. Who’s to say the spider in the old barn didn’t spin glorious webs into words illuminated by the morning dew? Or it could have been a brown recluse whose ragged weavings she imagined would save her pig from her father’s ax. Either way, there was a spider. Read more at Flapperhouse
We learn to live underground, in whatever tunnels can be etched out. My father and I are at Mesa Verde, the Green Table. The tour guide, whose badge tells us in big printed letters that her name is AMY, explains how the Anasazi disappeared mysteriously in 1300. This baffles archaeologists, as well as my father, who want answers—signs of a massacre or famine or migration. Amy continues to rattle off astonishing facts none of us will remember while Dad mumbles something about me needing to find a place to stay for Christmas. No matter, I say. I’ll probably be too busy skiing to want to come home. This is a lie. I loathe skiing—the heights, the cold, the possibility of falling. Read more at Prime Number
When Jane graduated college, her father gave her a man’s gold watch and a gun.
“Where are the bullets?” she asked.
“Already loaded,” he said.
Jane noticed the safety wasn’t on.
“Don’t get any ideas,” he warned. Jane’s father had warned her of many things: to keep her legs closed because boys were scum (unless they bought her dinner first); to keep a look out for the water towers because they were really alien ships soon to launch. There were warnings about the apocalypse and the job market. Sometimes his warnings were so convoluted Jane gave up trying to understand them, such as when he warned her about demons disguised as homeless people who said they were really angels. About every fifth warning made sense (the tank always had a little bit of gas left even if it said it was empty). Read over at Cheap Pop
Beatrix Kiddo, aka Black Mamba, attempts to break though the coffin where she’s been left to die. Her captor left her a flashlight before nailing shut the lid, though a flashlight does little good so far underground. But now Beatrix can see the narrow walls, the low roof. She remembers Pai Mei’s warning that one must be able to hit an enemy only three inches away. Her knuckles are already torn and bloody after three tries.
You’re diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder and put on medication to reroute your brain from the killing machine that it is. You go to therapy, give up alcohol, and exercise daily. Still, your plants wither and die. The turtle you’re petsitting has disappeared. Read more at Ghost Parachute
Nancy Anne was thirteen when her father died. Luck was with the family though, since both her parents had bought their coffins one year earlier at a side-walk sale. The local funeral home was going out of business and had lined up casket after casket right outside their store with big neon yellow and orange signs (the kind you see on car lots) showing the original price with a line through it and then the sale price. The coffins themselves were extraordinarily beautiful so that her parents (who were relentless bargain shoppers) could not resist buying two on the spot.
They had kept the coffins up in the attic since neither had planned to use them anytime soon. But come July, Nancy Anne’s mother had found her husband sprawled out on the bathroom floor, electric razor still humming in his hand. She buried him and served lemonade to all the mourners around her. Nancy Anne didn’t cry but stood there feeling herself get more rigid by the moment, knew that she would crack if she didn’t learn how to bend. That night, she let a neighbor boy push apart her thighs and melt her back into flesh and blood while she grabbed his ass like it was the bread of life. Read More at Up the Staircase Quarterly
Gil had no use for the rust colored suede jacket, the one with a fringe all along the backside and down the arms, the one that smelled faintly of mothballs since it belonged to his ex-girlfriend’s grandfather. Why the grandfather had bequeathed the jacket to Gil in his will remained a mystery to both Gil and his ex, who, while on semi-friendly terms, had been taking a break from all communication. It was the first time Gil had ever stayed long enough in a relationship to meet not only his girlfriend’s parents, but also her grandparents on more than one occasion. Not enough occasions, according to both Gil and his ex, to warrant any kind of inheritance. But there it was, in the bag, and Gil couldn’t help but feel it was some kind of sign. He liked to believe in signs almost as much as he liked to collect things—it really didn’t matter what the sign might have been trying to signify. After all, it was the transaction that mattered, the sudden appearance of an object or person who—just moments before—Gil hadn’t realize he wanted. (Read the rest or listen to audio here at Five:2:One)
We were on our third date, not that I was counting or held much stock in the power of numbers. Not like Christ rose on the third day or after two plane crashes there’s always that extra one to look out for. Not like I trudged through New York City sleet, transferring three trains just to make the pilgrimage from Brooklyn to Washington Heights on a Sunday night in hopes of a decent movie date. Not like there were twelve of them in his apartment. Does the exact number matter of Buddhas matter? Read more at Thrice Fiction
There’s been another accident. John barely heard the words that came after that. Greenhouse 12. Two workers. Masks removed. Reasons unknown.
John closed his eyes. ‘Any sign of a struggle?’
Not that we can tell. He laid down the cell phone. Greenhouse 12 was his creation, but there were protocols in place to keep everyone safe within the giant stalks of engineered crops. Some called his work monstrous. John shook his head as he walked down the hallway to his lab. That he and his partners could recreate the same weather and soil conditions as Malawi and generate this large a harvest was nothing less than scientific wonder. This discovery would save the hungry who slaved against the land.
Monstrous was what his father had experienced working the salt mine at Avery Island from dawn till dusk, until he stumbled home to slake his thirst on the cheapest beer available. “Everythin’s too white,” he used to slur. “White walls, white floor, white ceiling. It’s like livin’ in a g-d dam snow globe.” John shut the lab door behind him and sighed. A Ph.D. in bioengineering guaranteed that his place of work would not be so grotesquely monochromatic. His corn grew twenty feet high right next to the tomatoes, a splash of vermillion against the deep green stalks. Bell peppers populated the other side of the room, a contrast of purple, yellow, orange—each fruit ten inches long and five inches wide. More artisan than scientist, John thought of his greenhouses as galleries of food, hosting a world of color that made any still-life a drab copy. Dead painting. Dead workers. Carlos and Steven. Read more at Corvus. First published by Denver Art Museum
Songs of My Youth (creative nonfiction)
Facebook has had one of those circulating memes, the ones that ask you to make lists that somehow make you feel nostalgic for a life you’re not sure you ever really had. The latest: list ten albums that influenced you as a teenager. Then: list ten albums that influenced you before you were a teenager. I do not make a list. Instead, I read your list, the choices that betrayed your rebellion or geekiness or prescient cool factor. I want to make my own list, but your list is better. I want to make my own list, but my throat catches as I hum songs I once took great pains to forget, songs that betray a disjointed yet emotionally accurate soundtrack.
1) At my grandparents’ house, I watch the Lawrence Welk show right before bed. Singers belt out “Good Night, Sleep Tight” for their final number. I am usually in my pajamas and afterwards my grandfather will tuck me in. He will touch me. He will make sure it feels good. I cannot remember him without remembering those singers dressed in bright yellow, swaying side to side, as if life will always be this grand.
2-4) In the ’70s, my mother is an amalgamation of outlaw country music songs. I sing about stolen kisses and illicit love every time she plays Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “I’m Not Lisa” by Jessi Coulter, and “Angel of the Morning,” by Merrilee Rush. I don’t understand that my mother listens to them while thinking of the other men she has in her life. I am often sad and can’t understand why.
5) Kenneth Copeland’s He is Jehovah signals my mother’s conversion to charismatic Christianity. She listens to sermons about faith, prosperity, and demons. She likes knowing about prosperity and how to make money, but demons are more interesting. She wants my thoughts to be pure. My thoughts are anything but pure. She wants to enroll me in a special Christian school, that is somehow more special than the Christian school I’m already attending. In 1982, she leaves my father and takes me to Denton, Texas, to be with her lover. Read more over at Cleaver Magazine
- Tell Tale, Cleaver Magazine
- The Iguana Boys, A capella Zoo
- Conjecture, Literary Orphans
- Bound, Bourbon Penn
- Till We Have Faces, Gone Lawn
- The Mummer’s Dance, Red Fez