Time and Time Again

By: S.J. Swoap

No one has more time and less use of it than a living man with a dead wife.

He sat in the movie theater, not looking at the empty seat beside him, the only empty seat in the theater. He stared instead at his watch, a fiftieth anniversary gift.

Four minutes from that theater was the high school where they’d met, and he’d asked if she had an evening free to see a movie with him.

He’d bought her a ticket to that showing and this one too.

Three more minutes down the road was the church where he’d worn a black suit and she a white dress, and they’d both said, “I do.”

The lights dimmed.

Two minutes’ walk around the corner was the house where’d they’d spent their minutes together.

It was a reshowing of that same movie they’d watched on their first date in high school.

One minute farther was the hospital where she’d lain in bed, he’d held her hand, and the nurse had said, “push,” and he’d cradled their baby boy; next to it was the train station where the boy, grown now, had gone off to war never to return; and there’s the hospital again, her in the bed again, he’d held her hand again, but somber then; and the church again, in a black suit again, tears then, and roses laid on a grave.

He looked up from his watch as the show started. He had all the time in the world now.

The Caricature

By: Joseph Harmon

If he were anything at all, he thought he might be a homing pigeon. That night, he tripped over a crack in the pavement, split his knee, and tracked a trail of blood spots through the halls of their building. Maribel had to go back and clean it up so it didn’t look like a murder. While she took care of business, he sat on the kitchen floor and buried his head in his hands. It was half a joke.

She came back through the door with her hair coming loose from her ponytail, falling apart in little ways but surging toward him, somehow in control. He felt the familiar warmth spread from his stomach as he watched her. It was sunny and dumb, sort of like liquor. It was also a reminder: he was magnetic through all of his mess, and that was why he was a pigeon. The magnetism was in their brains, it told them where to fly. He could screw it all up but find his way home.

He kissed Maribel on the neck and breathed in her laundry smell.

“Shouldn’t have happened,” he mumbled into her ear.

“What?”

“The knee.”

“Oh, the knee,” she said, remembering, and fetched the first aid kit. “You’re no superhero.”

“What?” he said, even though he heard her.

“You bleed like everyone else,” she said.

He wanted to argue. No, no bleeding. Ty had tried to call him a cab, but he had walked all the way home. He needed nothing, no one. He was invincible.

Then he started to crack himself up. Invincible, who was he kidding? His head was just hollow, filled with the same old echoes. Work the next morning was an alarm in the background.

“My earbuds are broken,” Maribel told him. “You want to be a superhero, you can fix those.”

“What happened?” he asked, barely moving his lips.

“They went through the wash.”

“Hmm.”

“Sometimes I get little shocks when I listen.”

“Like that thing to start your heart. Defrill…”

“Defibrillator.” Maribel knew what she was talking about. She rubbed her hands together to mimic the paddles, and he imagined how that jolt of electricity would feel when it tore through his body. She would know how to make it painless.

“Hey, you saved me,” he said, before she could touch him.

She fixed him with a complicated look that his mind couldn’t untangle.

“Clear,” she said. “They say that right before, so everyone knows about the electricity. So they can get out of the way.”

He nodded, that was all he was good for, and she settled her hands over his heart.

 

*  * *

 

Lately, on the way to work, he had noticed people looking at him in the street. Their eyes looked as vacant as the goldfish Mom had got him as a kid. So blank, but they were searching somehow. As if they might know him, as if they expected to find answers in his face. What the hell? He was no answer.

He emerged from the subway and tried to savor the movement. He worked as a security guard and had to stand still for hours on end. When he got antsy, he tried to convince himself that it was better than, say, coding. Up in those shiny glass towers, tapping out numbers for no good reason.

He felt best during his smoke break. He breathed out, he could see it in the air, and it was that easy to create something.

Back in the day, he and Ty used to smoke together in the tunnels. There was a creek that ran under the nice neighborhoods, but it was just a trickle, so they stood on the edges and their sneakers got a little soggy but that was it. They’d spray paint the walls with all kinds of wild shapes, and they’d talk about—not about the future, exactly, but about how things might be. The little feelings that melted in and out, when he couldn’t be sure whether they would come back or if that was just the paint fumes talking.

That didn’t matter with Maribel, because they were both funny people. Everyone got the same boring normal things delivered to them each day, but funny people knew how to scramble them up into something electric. They couldn’t leave it stale and flat, no sir. Most people won’t tell you that because they don’t want to let you in on the trade secret, but he’ll tell you. He’s honest that way.

They had been introduced at a party. Her friend, Melissa, shoved them together. She had been a little tipsy, a wild gleam in her eye that reminded him of a racehorse straining for speed.

“Maribel,” she had said, pointing at her like an Uncle Sam “I Want You” poster. “You have to meet him. I know you two will get along.”

They had said hi, and he had bugged his eyes out a little bit in Melissa’s direction. Saying, look at this, but also making fun of the idea that anyone would point out a thing like that. He operated on a different script and he could show her the way out.

Maribel had looked at him and it was clear that she understood, but she flicked her eyes to the party. The way out was all around them, pouring drinks and laughing. As they continued to talk, he had known that someone real was standing in front of him. So many people just repeat what they hear, too locked in to follow him down interesting paths.

“You ever hear about racehorses?” he had asked her.

“Yeah,” Maribel had said, quick to the sarcasm. “I get that all the time.”

“Oh, well, never mind then.” He pretended to be deflated, but she kept a straight face.

“No, tell me. When you start off so bold, you’ve got to finish it.”

“Your mom tell you that?”

“No, I told myself. Why would you assume that?”

“Seems like mom advice.”

“Well, thanks.”

“So, racehorses,” he said, acting like she was really holding up his story here, interrupting his wisdom. The conversation was beside the point. She started to laugh but not quite, folding into herself and forward. She reached out to touch his shoulder, as if to say, you’re too much, as if they had known each other for years.

He had told Maribel how he had done debate back in high school and one of the topics had been that. They mistreated the horses, some people covered it up, and there were lots of ethical concerns. He was the second-best debater, and that came as a shock to everyone. They expected him to only be good at football.

“I just tell ‘em, well, I’m a battering ram with a brain,” he remembered saying.

He hadn’t finished high school after all, but got his GED. He had tried community college, but that just felt like more of the same, wasting his time in those cramped styrofoam cubes doing work they told him was important, when he knew it wasn’t important, when he was busting his ass trying to make rent during the day. Maribel was in school then, playing their game. She wanted to be a nurse practitioner.

She had driven for different rideshare companies on the side, and had even lived nocturnal for a while to get by. She had said that her favorite time to drive was four in the morning. The streets were empty, she had said, all yours, and any passengers that you picked up were too lost to care how fast you went.

“Did you book it?” he had said. “I would’ve. All the way up to 100, past 100, and then I’d go anywhere, I’d go to…” He had tried to think of a destination, somewhere far away, but he couldn’t name one.

“Where should I go?” he had asked her.

“Nowhere,” she had said. “Stay right here.”

Melissa stayed by them for a while, struggling to keep up with their conversation.

“He’s such…such a caricature, isn’t he?” she had said to Maribel.

“He really is,” Maribel said, leading her to the couch for some water. She meant to say ‘character,’ but it felt better that way, more real. Over her shoulder, Maribel threw him a smile.

 

*  * *

 

Usually, he and Maribel texted each other during his smoke break. They pretended to need each other desperately, and part of them meant it. They acted like they hated each other when the other didn’t respond. There were exclamation points and emoji and memes that neither of them understood. Today, radio silence. Her appointment was at 5:30, and that was all he could think about.

He thought about her plans up ahead, and what she would look like running gurneys down halls, saving lives. He thought about his own mom and how her plans were derailed by having him. When his dad stepped out, she stepped up to the challenge. She had been a real superhero, providing for them and giving him a real childhood, somehow, as best as she could. Nothing like Ty went through. He thought about what kind of father he would be, letting the old movies and cartoons echo through. He could almost smell the Cheerios ground into the carpet.

He left work early and didn’t let the kids in the street bother him. Soft hair, wide open eyes. They’d get along because they were both open to anything.

He passed a ghost bike on his way to the touristy section. It was painted white, flowers in the front basket but no photograph to break his heart. That had almost been him. He had crashed as a kid, cracked some ribs, and Mom had feared the worst. He thought about the randomness of endings.

He had wanted to do this for weeks. There was a guy drawing caricatures at the end of the street. He stopped him before he could close up for the day and asked for just one more. The guy agreed, maybe seeing some desperation in his face, maybe just out of human kindness. It only took ten minutes.

He met Maribel at the bus stop and hugged her close, the caricature folded up in his back pocket. On the way to the clinic, she told him stories about her childhood best friend, who was acting ridiculous as usual and dragging herself out of another disaster. He let her take the lead, but they were both laughing and both meant it. When she imitated her anatomy professor’s voice, that got him every time. He knew that she was hurting in a way that he couldn’t access.

When they arrived, he settled onto the sofa in the waiting room and helped her fill out the paperwork. He squeezed her hand when they called her name, when she stood up to go. He had the rest planned out. When she came back, he would take her hand and they would leave that tiny room behind forever. He would pull the caricature from his pocket and show her. She’d laugh. Anyone would. It was funny and it was accurate, his features pinched and swollen, jaw comically square, all adding up to something extra-real. That’s how I want it to be, he would tell her. That’s how I am with you. Together they would find their way home.

They Watch the Moon

Inspired by the Trevor Paglen photograph of the same name

By: Ethan Resek

There are no roads to this place.

There are no sentences leaving this place.

There are no moons in this place

Even though it might look like it.

 

I express my love for this place.

I express my love for this place

With my eyes looking down.

A book and a mouth told me.

 

Yes, a book and a mouth told me

To look up instead of down. But I look

Down in shame. Ears open, ashamed.

Looking down in shame into the

 

Core of the earth, the core of the earth,

White disks dug into the core of the earth;

I love these disks dug into the core

Of the earth, into this core of my earth.

Mud Bath

By: Max Migdail

Sometimes I don’t feel like myself.

And the pounding won’t stop after

Days and days

And days.

So I remove it all; the breath,

The food, the life.

Till all I’m left with is the pounding

And my skeleton,

And still I’m not me.

So I sit

And wait,

For however long it takes,

Until, I realize I don’t remember what “I” feel like anymore.

 

So I’m left floundering

On the banks of my own consciousness.

Braying for someone out there to find me.

 

My nails grow long and

The dirt accumulates

Beneath them;

It’s a mud bath: cool and relaxing.

I let myself sink in and I

Breathe deeper than ever.

I stop thrashing and let the thick water-that’s-not-quite-water rush down my throat and sate my

thirst.

Dense, chunky, mealy, and curdled it goes down far smoother that it has any right to;

Until it’s coated me, inside and out, none of me untouched.

 

And I stay there, till either I recall that I can’t breathe anymore,

Or someone finds me,

Or someone joins me,

And there isn’t enough oxygen

For two.

 

And I’m still sitting, waiting, and yet, nothing.

So eventually I get up.

I walk away,

Trailing mud into my home.

Great Expectations

By: Jared Rosen

Well it’s been a few years now and I can’t say I know shit from shat or a fresh-on-the-horizon rainbow, but everybody’s been asking their place in this space. The ‘when should I?’ and the ‘where should I?’ ; the ‘how should I?’ and the ‘why would I?’ ; So I recorded what it is I’ve never known and will never know: a time and place.

 

When the wishing well’s run dry and there’s no water to fill it because the drought’s gone five summers now and spring was a few months back.

 

When your Uncle Harold is drivin you up state to get your root canal done and your Aunt Ellie can’t drive you now because she’s curlin her hair;

And she’s dyin it like Rose in the room down hall;

And Harold’s a-scratchin his head a-wonderin a-how’d I get to doin this?

or

should I have taken that left turn earlier? but he don’t know and how could he because the exit was five years ago.

 

When the wind’s howled its throat dry in the empty night sky. You see it’s a hustling and a bustling world out there and not even wolves can howl at the moon without the crowds chirpin in on em. Not cause they’re too loud or their songs ain’t right but because their throat’s too scratchy and momma said you can’t scream;
yell like that you’ll get your voice all dry and you’ll drink water before bed and you know you can’t do that.  

And who would disrespect their momma? She’s gotten older now and gave you all her limbs, all her trunk, all her voice, and all her stories and all she got now is all her love and you can’t cash that in for a lottery ticket.

 

When light’s poured in from the window and you can’t see nothin except your dust floatin by and the colors of wood in a lightning storm, but no smell; when you’re blinded by the colors of a cruel cruel rainbow that bound mankind and brought His excellence, but ‘dint feel too excellent getting blinded by that light from across the bed.

 

When you lost sight of the light you were chasin for five years because you saw another one to the right. Except it was a mirror and you’ve gone too far left to know straight.   

 

When you get back on the trail again and your leg’s all shackled from what you did last night last year last week;

When your head’s on crooked but your heart’s on straight

Or when your head’s on straight but your heart’s all crooked

Or when you‘re walkin down the line in the flashlight’s bright but the officer says that ain’t straight, boy, but the line was crooked the whole time

 

When your curbside hits your wayside and your left side turns itself over to your right side, sighs, Honey, I been doing this too long now, and rolls back to its other side with its tightening lips, slips on out the door. He don’t turn on the light but you can smell his smoke before he walks out of sight.

 

When you wake up and there’s nothing to do so you lie back down with an everything to do but when you get back up there was nothing at all. When you melt back into a mattress for a new day where red hair might set fires and the clocks don’t turn half as fast.

 

When the paper’s too stale and the ink’s too wet and the books have all gone because you couldn’t say anything that was new; mildew’s grew and the hall’s all astrew ‘cause we left home last night and our phones are all hung up to dry; Aunt Sue was on the line sayin things weren’t like this in my day but this is her day and you don’t know when your day is (or was).  

 

When you’re at your wits end at the road’s end and there’s nowhere left to travel to except the bitter end and she says leave a message after the— but you don’t hear the end cause you’ve got no message left to send.

 

When your head’s all noisy with thoughts you can’t focus on

Or when you get a whatchu thinkin about and starry eyes but you can’t really say you were thinkin on anything at all

Leading Lines

By: Liam Knox

sometimes, words write themselves

when the mind zeros in at odd tired hours,

temporal, transient moments of clarity

before it’s back to basics, back to baseness,

back to the tea-kettle tang of life.

 

but

when the reverie fades

to scattered pieces of a bigger picture,

scour them!

pin them to oblivion like a cork board

strings and all, squinting, head tilting

to find the best angle, get it untangled

till only the realest things fit in frame

 

like throngs of workers with upraised fists

 

like feather-splinters in downy pillows

 

like steam rising from your coffee in frosty fall sunlight

 

like latticed light streaming through to the wall

as dusk forms mercurial colloids of cloud and sky

casting Coca Cola daydreams over tufted rooftops

and tobacco-dusted pages of scribbled poetry

while the humming of the world, a sad summer song

shimmering lightly,

calls out your name.

 

sometimes words come charlie parker

unevenly weighted like a mad, swinging compass,

pulled top-heavy and subconscious to

the poem’s home, where it’s meant to be—

 

that spot on the back you can’t quite reach,

that light in the distance you can’t quite see.

When Boys Do This

By: May Hong

Content Warning

You remember calling him Watermelon Head when he got a bad haircut in the second grade.

 

Him scribbling your Chinese name on a piece of scrap paper and you

vigorously crossing it out,

silent-giggling

until you were both kicked out of the classroom.

 

Smoking your first cigarettes together at 13, behind the 7-Eleven where you threw up

and he laughed a little but also

held your hair.

 

*

 

Your grandparents comment on how much he has grown over the summer.

 

His mother asks you to tutor his little sisters in math.

 

It becomes trendy to list friends as siblings on Facebook so you do: brother, sister.

 

Brink of 15, him cross-legged on the floor of your room and you

on the bed, reading—a familiar scene.

 

You do not see him lunge but you feel

the sudden shock of his shoulder ramming into your jaw, the blur

of his shirt—a deep red—and then the smell

of lavender detergent as he pushes your face into the pillow. Confused

at first, then light-headed, you grapple for your phone but he snatches it

out of your hand and flings it

across the room.

 

You feel him through your shorts.

 

Fighting but staying

quiet, sour eyes, tearing

at the sheets for some whimpering semblance of why when abruptly

he pushes himself off of you and says

okay, okay.

I’m leaving.

 

You get in the shower.

You scrub yourself with soap, twice.

 

You go downstairs, tell your older sister. She says, sometimes when boys do this,

we have to forgive them.

So you try to unknot your insides.

 

The next morning

on the school bus,

he hands you a bottle of iced tea and says sorry and you say what you think is right.

It’s okay.

Watch Me Watch You

By: May Hong

 

1

My first perfume was Kenzo’s Flower, the one in the waveringly thin bottle with a single red poppy printed on top. I was 12, and had discovered it in my mother’s makeup drawer. I remember rubbing it between my wrists and then behind my ears, like I had seen Audrey do in the movies. I looked at myself in the mirror.

I did this for about a week, snuck into my mom’s bathroom every day to spray press and dab the perfume, until one day I came home from school to a brand new bottle on my nightstand.

 

***

I grew up in an apartment complex called Qing He Yuan—a small oasis of foliage and ponds within a metropolis—with a handful of other kids my age. There were two lifeguards at the communal pool, a tall lanky man and a shorter man who was for some reason nicknamed Fat Cat. The two of them taught us how to swim, first in the kiddie pool then eventually the big pool, holding us by the waist while we flailed and kicked our little arms and legs. Then they’d play Marco Polo with us, pretending like they couldn’t find us then all of a sudden lunging at us, making us scream and giggle.

I got older, and their gazes changed as my body did. One hot day when I was 14 I strolled in with a towel and waved at them, and they asked me what the RO-XY on my bikini top meant.  

I moved away for college at 17, and only came home once a year during the summer. Each summer they would come over to the chaise I was laying on, cast their shadows on my body and say things like look at you all grown up, you’re the prettiest girl in Qing He. Each summer it was less friendly and more insistent. Last summer I stopped going to the pool altogether.

 

2

At my first college house party, I met some guy.

That night we sat on the fire escape chain smoking cigarettes and he said I was “interesting.” We exchanged Snapchats.

He Snapped me a dick pic while I was in the dining hall. I had no idea what to do, I had never gotten a dick pic before. So I Snapped back a picture of the plum I was eating.

He was two years older, and went to a different college in the city. The first time I went over to his dorm, he said you’re wearing lipstick. I said do you not like it? He said no, it’s hot. I sat down on the edge of his twin XL. He picked up a red flannel shirt off the floor and threw it over the standing lamp, and said this is the mood lighting. I said that’s a fire hazard. He said let’s just have sex, okay?

Our “come over” exchanges were always very curt. Plans would be made in three Snaps or less: come over tmr nite; time?; 12 ish. We started doing this thing where we’d Snap a close up of our eyes, then place the white text right on our pupils. His eyes were even darker than mine were, which I found to be novel.

The fourth or so time I went over, I asked him as I zipped myself up, if he had any real interest in getting to know me. He said, a mild interest, I guess. I felt my guts slump, but I nodded and tried to look unmoved. I wanted to cry on the Lyft back. Instead I wrote a poem about him and the flannel shirt and the dark eyes for my poetry class. The instructor said to me, don’t believe him for a second, and I thought, Rachel, you don’t know shit.

 

3

As a child I pretty much always had some iteration of the Chinese bowl cut, per my mother’s edict. I don’t know what’s the average age a girl begins to desire hair autonomy but for me it was in the fourth grade when the barber took off an extra inch past my limit and I started bawling uncontrollably in the chair. The barber was terrified but when my mom came to pick me up she reassured him it’s fine it’s fine just a little girl and shuffled me out the door. All the way home I hadn’t let up on the crying so when we got to our front door my mom said okay, you can punch me right here, in the shoulder, then we’ll be even. I hit her in the shoulder, as square as I could, and she laughed and let us in.

 

***

Each time I visit home I leave with something heavier. My mother likes to hand pick from her closet clothes that she wore when she was my age, vintage clothes she no longer fits in, and tuck them meticulously into my suitcase. Sometimes, she would come across something that would make her pause and stroke the sleeves or straighten the lapel, as if there were a body in there. Sometimes yet, she would hold up a dress against herself and pivot slightly in the mirror. We do not speak during this.

One time she gave me a small gold ring, visibly worn and no longer a perfect circle. She said, I bought this for myself when I first started working, when nobody else would buy me a ring. It’s too small to fit my ring finger, so it goes on my pinky. A symbol of good feminism, I said. Proof that I was skinnier than you, she said.

 

***

My annual pilgrimage home marks the annual meeting for the committee of relatives who like to gorge themselves on my body. It’s just how they say hello, my mother says. Right. Hello, mister, your receding hairline reminds me of the record low tide that year in Hainan before the tsunami hit, when all the unforeseen sea trash was exposed.

 

4

Someone I’m probably going to sleep with called me “skinny-thicc” the other day and I wanted to uppercut him.

 

***

I get grossed out when I watch people eat, especially finger foods, where they would press too-large bites onto their tongues and then meticulously suck their fingers clean.

I cannot eat in front of other people, with the exception of apples, because apples feel so unplanned and casual and American, pulling it out of my bag rubbing it on my shirt and biting with that slight grimace that’s unavoidable when eating whole apples, pretending as if I wasn’t going to log the calories on MyFitnessPal in the bathroom as soon as I was done.

The other evening, I binged an entire box of Trader Joe’s ginger snaps, just popped them whole into my mouth one after the other. I knew that if I had stopped and had a glass of water I would feel full but I couldn’t stop it was mechanical.

Later I went to the gym in my building at 1 am because I didn’t want anyone to see. As I did squat presses in front of the mirror, my eyes appraised my body. I think the only reason why people think I’m thin is because I am never not sucking in my stomach.

After the gym I showered and climbed into bed. Five minutes later I get a text from “skinny-thicc” that said wyd, come thru and I thought not this time, just this once, stay in bed. But I lost to myself, again, redid my make up, then called a Lyft to his place. When Lyft tells you “this is a good deal” are you just supposed to take their word for it?