The Receipt

Like I usually do at the end of every day, before making the climb up my apartment building’s steps, I reach into the breast pocket of my denim jacket to find my apartment key. Sifting through loose change and tangled headphones, my hand wades through my pocket until the cool brass surface of the key meets my fingertips. I make a grab for the key only to end up grazing past a crumpled receipt beneath it. The paper crunches under the key. My legs halt their campaign up the staircase. I unconsciously slip past my keys. My hand flirts with the waxy parchment for a moment. I know what the paper is. I can picture the words printed on it. Slowly I bring the receipt out into the open and uncrumple the document until each line of text is present. Through various stains of dirt and coffee the faded ink reads,


Good Will Hunting

Run Time: 126 Minutes

Rental Date.: 12/05/2007

Return Date:  12/15/2007

Total: $5.35”

The key no longer matters. My apartment stairwell melts away in surrender to a dream. The memory has begun again– I can’t do anything to stop that now. Without consent the receipt has made me eleven years old again. I am home in my living room. Three sides of paisley wallpaper have appeared. Dad sits parallel to me on our olive corduroy couch, manning his usual position next to our cat, Patches. His Feet resting on the ottoman. I’m sitting on the hearth of our fireplace, my back to the flames. The Saturday night ritual begins. Tonight’s communion: Good Will Hunting. A light smoke rolls out of the fireplace and engulfs the room in the smell of burnt cherry tree. Mom materializes from the darkness of the kitchen, three cups of tea in hand. Robin Williams is on the on TV telling Matt Damon how he ditched the 1975 World Series because he met his future wife. Mom shoos Patches off the couch and sinks into the sofa under Dad’s arm. A light layer of sweat forms on my back from the heat of the fire. The wind howls outside, but tonight we are sheltered together, kept warm by the familiar comforts of our Saturday night rite. Matt Damon goes in to kiss Minnie Driver. Mom nudges a few inches closer to Dad. Elliott Smith’s “Say Yes” plays from the TV.  I sip my tea from my freckled mug. I sip it again, and again, and again as I always will every time I revisit this flip book memory, or grab for loose change or reach for my headphones, or just want to experience a time when reality felt concrete. But isn’t that what we all want? To live in the past again, even if it’s only through a two way mirror.

Pressure Changes Everything by Martha Bryans

My living room slowly dissipates. The paisley wallpaper, the warmth of the hearth, my parents sitting together on the couch all vanish in the smoke. I am in front of my apartment door now. The receipt is still in my hand. My phone vibrates in my pocket, with a text from Mom.

“Do you know if you’ll be spending Easter with me or your Dad this year?” I crumple up the receipt and go inside.

George Fenton is currently a senior at Saint Joseph’s University studying English and marketing. Born originally in Zug, Switzerland, he immigrated to the United States in 1996 and spent his formative years in Bucks County. He now resides in the Overbrook neighborhood of Philadelphia. George’s work has also appeared in the literary magazine Crimson and Gray. Along with writing, George also puts most of his creative energy into his band Parius.

Ode to a Flamingo Bag

Gwynedd Preserve by Stefanie Silverman

It’s a comfort to know someone who’s as neurotic as I am. My friend and coworker Jane gives me that particular solace. Jane, like me, tends to get too attached to inanimate objects.

I am, however, trying to change.

My husband, Walt, and I married three years ago—a first marriage late in life for both of us. I often wonder if he regrets the mess, literally, that he married into. Soon after our wedding, we moved in with my mother, who had grown frail since my dad’s death a decade earlier and could no longer easily live alone. My mom and her memories were blithely ensconced in the old family homestead, a stuffed-to-the-eaves house on the Jersey shore.

Living in my childhood home is oddly illusory. Sometimes through an open window on a summer night, I imagine I’ve caught the scent of the honeysuckle that no longer grows on the front yard fence. Sometimes when I dust the porcelain horses on the shelf above my desk, I recognize in my heart the hope I’d had, at ten, of having a real palomino. And sometimes when I glance at the pull-the-string Casper that stands on my pink-decaled dresser, I feel again the pangs of first love—for a cartoon character.

And then the present pulls my string: I’m surrounded by stuff—overrun by the many objects that had belonged not only to me, but also to my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, my grandmothers, my grandfathers, my fussy Great-Aunt Flossy, my demented Great-Aunt Batty (as we fondly called her), my pack-rat Great-Aunt Esther, and my long-suffering Uncle Bo, Esther’s second husband, who had lived with all the old great-aunts in Virginia until the last of that generation died, bequeathing the detritus by default to my parents in the north. Among the jetsam were an abundance of antique candy dishes, a profusion of Flintstones jelly jars, a Ping-Pong table, five Flexible Flyers, every issue of Consumer Reports since 1936, a 1963 Montgomery Ward Sea King boat motor, twenty-two ties on a twelve-tie tie rack, an autographed eight-by-ten glossy of Art Linkletter, an inflatable Sinclair dinosaur, a Pinocchio marionette without a nose, and a seven-foot-tall papier-mâché rabbit.

Still, Walt and I threw none of these “treasures” onto the pile of things we gathered for our small town’s annual bulk-pickup day, which took place on the second Wednesday in September. Instead, on the eve of the pickup, we gathered true junk that we could never sell or give away—treadless tires, rusty pogo sticks, bent gutter drains. And, at the end of a long evening of purging, just before I carried that last armful of junk to the street, I tossed, on impulse, one more object onto the heap: my canvas lunch tote. The design of its fabric was still appealing—tiny pink flamingos and green palm trees against a black background—but the small knapsack was falling apart.

On Wednesday morning, I felt a sense of accomplishment as I drove down the driveway and glanced at the mound of street-side rubbish, the tattered tote atop the pile. For a split second, I wondered if I should reclaim the little bag from its fate, but I was pressed for time to make my train to New York and didn’t stop.

I have a daily routine. As soon as I settle into a window seat on the train’s sunny side, I tug the hood of my jacket over my eyes and doze off. I crave that extra hour of rest after rising early enough to make the 6:42. Today, though, near Rahway, I woke with a start, remembering what my friend Sarah had said when she ran into me on the boardwalk this past summer and noticed that my flamingo tote kept flopping open because its Velcro fasteners were clogged with fuzz: “Why don’t you take it to a tailor to get it fixed?”

I retrieved my cell phone from my purse and called my husband.

“Walt, do me a favor—could you check to see if the trash guys have come to pick up our stuff? And if they haven’t—”

“Okay,” he said. “Let me look.”

I hoped that the junk hadn’t been collected yet. I wanted to save that flamingo bag.

I heard Walt lift the phone again.

“Yep!” he said. “They took everything! Isn’t that great?”

My heart sank. “Everything?”

He exhaled. “Oh, no, Natalie—you’re not having second thoughts about something you threw out, are you?”

“No,” I lied. This had happened before. Last time it had been a plastic Mr. Potato Head. Since then, I’d accepted the toss because most of its pieces were missing.

I said goodbye to my husband and began, as with Mr. Potato Head, to rationalize the little knapsack’s disposal. The bag’s foam insulation had disintegrated. To try to mend it, I had stapled the cracked plastic lining to the canvas, but it had come loose.

Maybe I could buy a new lunch bag just like the old one! I grabbed my cell phone again and began to search online for “flamingo lunch tote,” “flamingo and palm tree lunch tote,” “flamingo knapsack,” and “flamingo insulated bag.” I found only one picture of it. A red-lettered message hovered over the image: “no longer available.”

Then I remembered I had bought it seven years ago at the Happy Crab Gift Shop in South Florida, on my last trip to the Gulf with my friend Harry, for whom I’d always felt a fierce and steadfast love, and who had died several months later from a simple surgery gone wrong.

Finding a new identical flamingo bag suddenly seemed vital. When I googled the shop’s website, I was cautiously hopeful. The store opened at nine. I told myself I would call when I arrived at work. There was nothing more to be done, so I shut my eyes to try to nap.

I couldn’t nap. I called the Happy Crab Gift Shop, even though it was before nine. After the beep, I left a long and detailed voice message, describing every aspect of the flamingo tote. The woman who sat next to me in the middle of the three-seater sighed loudly. My cheeks burned red when I remembered I was in the Quiet Car.

I returned to my frantic search of the Web. In the tunnel under the Hudson, I finally wore myself out and fell asleep. Two minutes later, I woke with a start when the PA blared that we were at the last stop, Penn Station.

Exhausted, I arrived at work and said to Jane, my confidante and the managing editor of Tort Times at Scotch Legal Publishing (where, according to Jane, any day was a reason to drink), “Do you remember that nice little flamingo lunch tote of mine?”

“How could I not?” answered Jane. “It’s like Mary Poppins’s magic carpet bag, but instead of tugging hat stands out of it, you’re pulling out snack bars and bananas all day.”

“It was falling apart, so I threw it away. Now I’m regretting it.”

Jane’s eyes squinted as if she could feel my pain. “Oh, no. The old attachment-to-an-inanimate-object problem.”

I knew Jane would understand.

*  *  *

Two weeks earlier, Jane had spent some time overseas with a French friend in Paris. “Did you have fun in France?” I asked her when she returned from her vacation.

She answered, without a smile, “Yes, but I’m really upset about a lumbar pillow I took to Europe with me and left in the rental car at the Paris airport. I’ve had that pillow for years.”

“Well, at least it wasn’t a stuffed animal.”

“It was pretty close to being a stuffed animal,” she replied. Jane’s lovely face was contorted with misery. “It was stuffed.”

I winced at having said the wrong thing. “I’m sorry, Jane.”

“It’s somewhere out there in the world without me. I abandoned it.”

“Did you call the car-rental place?”

“Yes, as soon as the wheels touched the runway at JFK. No answer. I left a message. I called my friend in France. When she finally picked up the phone, I didn’t thank her for the wonderful time—I immediately started telling her I’d lost my lumbar pillow. She probably didn’t know what I was talking about. For one thing, I don’t think she was familiar with the word ‘lumbar.’ But I don’t think she even recognized my voice. And then I realized it was the middle of the night in France.”

“Did you call her back? During the daytime—her daytime?”

“Yes, but she didn’t pick up.”

“Maybe she was out distributing flyers about your missing lumbar pillow.”

I laughed. Jane didn’t. The person who’s obsessing usually doesn’t laugh at jokes about the object of obsession.

*  *  *

Now it was my turn to be obsessed. Jane had left her office and was leaning against my cubicle, letting me lament my loss. Anybody else would have told me to just get over it. Not Jane.

I asked her again if she remembered how cute it was.

“Yes, it was charming.” Jane shook her head, mirroring my sadness. “I’m so sorry, Natalie.”

“Did I tell you it was made of really nice cotton?”

“Several times. But you said it was falling apart, right?” She sounded tentative, as if I might argue with her.

“Yes, it was in terrible shape. But I probably could have asked a tailor to repair it,” I said, echoing my friend Sarah’s words.

“You know, I’m not sure if tailors fix plastic and Velcro . . .” She drummed her fingers on the Plexiglas side of my cubicle. “Where did you get the bag?”

“In Florida. On my last trip with Harry.”

Jane raised her eyebrows.

“I know. I’m sure that’s why I’m so fervent about it.” Of course, the little knapsack reminded me of Harry, but it seemed as if there were something deeper gnawing at me, something that made the pain more acute.

Jane must have felt this way two weeks before. “Did your brother give you that lumbar pillow?” I asked. Jane’s only brother had died when they were both in their twenties. She still seemed bruised from the bereavement, though whenever she spoke of him, she mostly talked about what a “wiseass” he’d been.

“No,” Jane said. She looked pensive. “But when he was three, he lost a little green crib pillow that he’d carry with him everywhere. He had a total meltdown.” She shook her head as if to shake free her thoughts. “I don’t know, Natalie. Whatever it is, you and I both seem to be suffering from the same thing.” She patted the top of my cubicle wall. “We’d better get to work. But come in if you need to talk again.” She walked into her office.

I rolled my chair toward my computer and thought back to that last trip to Florida with Harry. At the end of a long day by the Gulf, we had sat side by side on our towels, facing the ocean. Harry’s arms were linked around his knees, his skinny tanned legs crossed at his ankles. His black hair stuck out, spiky and wet from the sea. The warm air smelled of salt as it stirred around us. “I think you love the beach more than you love me,” he said. I just laughed at him, knowing it wasn’t true. We stayed quiet a long time, watching the waves break into glistening foam. A flock of flamingos landed on a strip of bright wet sand. “Look at them, Nattie.” He tilted his head. “No matter how many times I see them, they still take my breath away. Pink birds. Don’t that just beat all!”

I called the Happy Crab Gift Shop. The salesgirl told me they no longer carried lunch totes. So, once again, I began trolling the Internet for flamingo bags, hoping that somehow the larger computer screen at work would yield better results than had the smaller screen of my cell phone. The search findings were no different. As I looked down in despair, I glanced at my hand. My amethyst ring wasn’t on my finger. Where was it? I always wore it.

Distraught, I rushed to the doorway of Jane’s office. “I lost my ring!”

“Oh, no!” she cried, sympathetic for the second time that morning. “This isn’t your day, is it?”

It wasn’t Jane’s day either. She’d just spent half an hour helping me through my first crisis, and right on its heels came the next one.

“Maybe you took it off and it’s at home. Did you call Walt?” She left her desk to join me.

“I’ll try,” I said, without hope.

I called home. When Walt didn’t answer, I left a message saying I couldn’t find my amethyst ring.

Norris, one of the company IT guys, must have overheard our conversation. He walked over to Jane and me. “Is it your wedding ring?”

“No,” I replied. “It’s the ring my dad gave me when I was sixteen. I’ve been wearing it since then.”

“That’s a long time,” Jane said. “I mean, that’s a really long time.”

“Did it slip off when you were washing with soap and water?” Norris asked.

“No, she never uses soap.” Jane laughed. “Sorry.” She looked at me and sucked in her cheeks. “Not a time for laughter.”

On the other side of our shared Plexiglas wall, Keith, the marketing coordinator, pulled out his earbuds. “Did you say you lost your ring? Did you take it off to wash your hands?”

“She never washes her hands,” said Jane. “Sorry, did it again.”

“I never take it off,” I said, ignoring Jane. “I even wear it in the ocean.”

“Do you wash your hands in the ocean?” Jane asked. She shook her head. “Wow, I really do apologize. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

I knew. Two weeks earlier, I, too, had felt compelled to quip about Jane’s lost lumbar pillow. Even the most empathetic people have their limits and eventually need some comic relief.

Jane, Norris, and Keith began searching the floor. I went to my coworker Elaine’s office. I often go on and on about things to Elaine, so I had purposefully avoided her all day because I knew I’d go on and on about the flamingo knapsack. When I went to see her now, I went on and on about my amethyst ring.

When faced with a crisis, whether it’s realizing that the cross-references in an 800-page treatise must be renumbered before a five o’clock deadline or whether a friend has misplaced a beloved ring, Elaine is levelheaded and charges into action. She gathered her straight brown hair into a ponytail. “You should send an email to the office and ask if anyone has found a ring.”

“Good idea.”

“I’ll look around.” She set off.

At my desk, as Elaine suggested, I emailed my coworkers, asking them to tell me if they came across an amethyst ring. In my haste, I addressed the message to “Everyone,” so my email was sent not only to my own local New York office but also to the branches in San Diego, Berlin, and Shanghai. One of my colleagues in Germany responded, “We haven’t seen it here!” with an implied “ha, ha.”

Five minutes later, Elaine appeared behind my chair. She reported that she’d combed the ladies’ room but hadn’t encountered my ring. “I’ll ask the security guards downstairs to call us if anyone turns it in.” She strode toward the lobby.

I wondered if the ring might have fallen off my hand into the bulk-pickup pile. I called Walt again to ask him to look for it in the driveway or on the road.

Walt answered the phone this time. “Did you get my message? I found your ring—it was sitting on top of your jewelry box.”

And then I remembered. Last night I’d decided to try on a new turquoise ring that I’d recently bought as a future consolation in case I ever lost my amethyst ring. I must have forgotten to put the old ring on again. How ironic. It was as if the old ring were teaching me a lesson, as if it were saying to me, “I told you so. You like me lots better than that new ring anyway.” But, of course, that was crazy—the ring was an inanimate object.

I peered through the Plexiglas wall of my cubicle into Jane’s office, but she wasn’t at her desk. I told Norris and Keith that my husband had found my ring at home. I located Elaine (who, back from downstairs, was shining a flashlight under the copier) and told her, too.

I returned to my chair and sat down. Jane was walking toward me, carrying a cup of coffee.

“I found my ring!” I said, smiling.

“I’m so glad!” She walked to the opening of my cubicle. “Now you can start obsessing about the flamingo bag again.”

In fanning the flames of my fixation, Jane was not merely craving comic relief to abate her exasperation at having listened to me moan for hours on end. Whether it was a conscious act or not, she was doing what Harry used to call “going for the jugular.” Whenever anxiety had gripped me, Harry would keep mentioning the angst-inducing object of my obsession until he was talking about it even more than I was. “Oh, Nattie,” he’d say, “if only you had stayed three more minutes at the stage door! You would have met the whole cast of The Music Man, and it probably would have changed your life!” Or: “I can’t believe you left that empty conch shell on the beach! You’ll never see it again! I’ll bet that shell is calling for you right now—‘Nattie! Nattie! Why did you leave me?’” At first, the hyperbole would make me more perturbed, but then later I’d glimpse the ludicrousness of my preoccupation, and, finally, I would laugh. Like Jane and me, Harry was prone to “ruminating” (his euphemism). “It takes one to tease one,” he would say.

After Jane’s reminder of my monomania, I once again began trying to convince myself that I’d done the right thing to toss the tote. I swiveled my chair to face her. “The lining was really a mess,” I said, seeking reassurance.

Jane set her cup of coffee on my desk and put her hands on my shoulders. “Natalie.” She fixed her eyes on mine. “You need to let it go.”

Yes. Jane was right.

That afternoon, while formatting footnotes, I mulled over how I cling to the past until it crowds out the present. I thought about the many things that I hadn’t put in the trash collection—things like my childhood crush, Casper. Harry had sometimes called me “Casper,” a loving taunt about my paleness. Now that memory made it even more difficult to exorcise the Friendly Ghost.

At five o’clock, Jane stopped by my cubicle to say good night. “Feeling better?”

“A little.” I wasn’t.

She smiled at me. “One day you’re going to laugh about this.”

“It’s as if I keep searching for something that’s already gone. It’s just an inanimate object. Why do I care?”

“It stings less,” Jane said, as she zipped up her coat, “to mourn the loss of a bit of fluff or fabric.”

Maybe the small losses absorb us to keep the bigger losses out of mind. Maybe our obsessions distract us from the terrors of love. And maybe we dwell on something silly so we won’t be haunted by our more momentous decisions—like my choice to go to the beach the day before Harry’s surgery instead of traveling to the city and spending the day with him.

On my way home on the train, I slept. I woke to see a stretch of salt marsh outside the window, the still water reflecting the evening sky. Near a patch of tall grass, three wading egrets blazed pink in the glow of the setting sun.

I could almost hear Harry’s voice beside me. “See, Nattie? If you open your eyes to what’s in front of you, you can find flamingos anywhere”.

Flamingos everywhere, Harry. Don’t that just beat all.

Beverly Jean Harris is the author of the prize-winning story “Driving the Dodge Over Fifty,” published in Volume V of Short Story America. Another of her stories will appear in Volume VI. Beverly studied fiction writing at the University of New Hampshire and New York’s New School. Having worked every kind of job from making cotton candy to proofreading paperclip invoices, Beverly is now an editor in New York City. She believes that the stories we tell are the stuff of life, along with music, creatures, and the beach. She lives in New Jersey near the ocean.


By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I survived that voltage and barbed wire.

Now each day is clerestory,

each night a palimpsest of scars.

The militia pulls on its boots and waits.

On the altars, doves peck each other bloody.


A spider traverses its unseen wire

in the rarefied ether of the clerestory.

He told me it wouldn’t scar

if I rubbed salt in it. Wait

for the psalm to surface in the blood.

Close behind is the conquering army.


A trapped dove crashes through the clerestory,

a bewildered militia of scars.

I strip the insulation and wait

for ignition: for sweet oil to bloody

the engine. Too late. He’s left me

behind, a shipwreck of transept and wire—


you will know me by the scars.

By the crowned and pulsing weight

of every lost and bloodied

thing. Gilded and radiant is the enemy.

His last message traveled the wire

and vanished. God-blind is the clerestory.


All that’s left is to hide and wait

for the report of jackboots in a forest of blood.

To some, it is a symphony.

We collect feathers and bind them with wire

and twine. These wings are our clerestory.

The engine stalled, that metal body scarred


the rails, and in its wake, the blood

bearing its testimony.

The bodies dragged. The shallow graves, the fire.

Who stabbed out the windows of the clerestory?

What will annihilate these scars?

The immaculate landmines wait.


We are bound by blood to our enemy

while God feeds stars to his clerestory.

Why aren’t they detonated? The whole world waits.


Melissa Stein is the author of the poetry collections Terrible Blooms (Copper Canyon Press, 2018) and Rough Honey, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, Harvard Review, New England Review, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and others, and she’s received fellowships from the NEA, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony, among others. She is a freelance editor in San Francisco. 




When my Father was moving

from being to being nothing

I was about to go for a bike ride.


His right hand rose up

from under the blue blanket

as he patted the bed for me to sit.


I sat and stroked his face

so thin and unshaven it appeared

slender as the Flatiron building.




In summer, we could sit in the yard for hours

eating cherries, throwing the pits

the dog would chase.

We’re planting cherry trees he’d say.


In winter, we raced through bowls of green pistachios

seeing who could crack them faster.

We’d set aside the sealed ones, the ones

that stubbornly refused to be opened,

the ones with no crack.


Daddy said they have secrets

they can’t bear to share with us yet.

He poured the uncracked nuts

into a ceramic bowl.


He never disturbed the bowl

but sometimes he would lift it

as though it were a seashell.

He would nod his head.

He was a quiet man.




You will listen to your Father’s slow breath,

place ice chips on his cracked lips.

You will listen to the final rattle

and remember a baby’s noisemaker, Daddy’s keys.




Any stillness I possess belongs

in a yard

where another family lives

in the midst of cherry trees

they cannot see.

Lisa Grunberger, is author of Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures in Love, Loss and the Lotus Position and Born Knowing.  Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof selected her poem  “The Story of the Letter J” in his NYT column in 2017.  Her play, Almost Pregnant, about infertility, adoption and motherhood, premiered in Philadelphia.  She is Associate Professor in English at Temple University and Arts and Culture Editor at The Philadelphia Jewish Voice. 

The Last Time I Hung Out With Baby D and Them

The twins—

those grinning gangsters

never seen without chains

tethered around their necks

and wrists, hold gold guns

that glisten against the clever

silver sky.

Do you

want to hold one?

I grip

the grip and for a moment

I get deer hunting—that transition

from boy to man or even girl

to woman, like Latonia B. who

took the life of Mikey because she

wanted to see what it was like.


In Newark, we don’t bawl

over felled fawns or ferry home

trophies—we’ve figured out

how to run without the chase

or racetrack, how to turn off

our eyes, zipper our mouths,

and lose our memories. It is always

open season and our stars

are mere exhausted streetlights.


And here, Baby D’s hand strokes

my ass then settles for my lower

back as he whispers,

you got

to get more skin on the grip

to get rid of that sympathetic reflex

in your hands. You’ve got to hold

it tight to really see.

I place my

finger on the trigger

and shut my eyes. I pull. And I see.

How easy it is.


Sakinah Hofler is a PhD student and a Yates Fellow at the University of Cincinnati. In 2017, she won the Manchester Fiction Prize; previously she had been shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Eunoia Review, and Counterexample Poetics. A former chemical and quality engineer, she now spends her time teaching and writing fiction, screenplays, and poetry.


at pathmark, you would sneak bottles of pantene pro v shampoo and conditioner into your momma’s shopping cart and each time, at the register, your momma would notice and tell the cashier you can take that one off, and each time you would scream, I wanna have hair like those women in the commercials! and each time she would just stare at you.

later your 4th grade teacher brought your momma in for a talk, not about your grades or your behavior, but your hair; your hair bothered her – one ponytail obeying gravity; the other, sticking skyward. her name was ms. alifoofoo and you stared at her jheri curl which were more poppin than your uncle’s while she said, your daughter needs to look decent for school. maybe you should get her a perm. you don’t remember what your momma said back but it happened on a thursday and by that following monday, you were starting your first day at a new school.


you learned religion at this new school and how to pray five times a day and you figured that you were now five times more likely to get the lighter skin, the long straight hair, and the brown eyes with flecks of green that you’d been asking for, and each morning you woke up, disappointed.


one day, your momma came home with two boxes of “just like me” and you and your sister held your noses while your momma spread the rotten egg white cream on both of y’alls hair, shampooed, then conditioned. after she blow dried, you couldn’t wait for your hair to cascade in layers, you couldn’t wait to flip your hair over your shoulders like the girls you read about in books. yes, your hair was softer. yes, your hair was a little straighter. but, your hair didn’t look just like that girl on the box so you cried. your sister’s hair fell out.


your momma took you to a salon and a professional added the extra step, the beveler, hair pulled and pressed between the heat of two ceramic plates. now, you could flip your shoulder-length hair as you pleased. now, you could almost be in a commercial. this became your habit for the next fifteen years.


you grew up.


your hair never grew past your shoulders but you found new ways to be grateful. your classmate in college told you your last name was german, making you pleased your family’s slave owners were at least german, pleased because it sounded better to certain ears than johnson or williams. your surprised coworker met you for the first time and told you, you sounded white on the phone and you used that info and that voice to book a reservation at that restaurant you had been afraid to call before. you shy away from the ghetto, avoid the eyes of saggers, you get degree after degree trying to be equal. some days, you try to convince yourself to come out of hiding, that you’ll beat anyone down who dare thinks they have something to say, in fact, there’s a proud photo of you in the first incarnation of the “black girls rock” t-shirt with your hand around your guyanese neighbor and that photo gets more likes on instagram than any subsequent photo. some days, you’re like, hell yeah, bitches, my black is beautiful. most days though, you pull out a scarf and cover your hair.


Sakinah Hofler is a PhD student and a Yates Fellow at the University of Cincinnati. In 2017, she won the Manchester Fiction Prize; previously she had been shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Eunoia Review, and Counterexample Poetics. A former chemical and quality engineer, she now spends her time teaching and writing fiction, screenplays, and poetry.


Two days later, the surgery is already a moon landing,
and I’m its plowed landscape of proof.

In the bathroom mirror, my belly’s all unwavering
flags and stitched tracks on an aching,

windless set.  The Betadine sticks – a mustard slick –
for a week, and I don’t know what to do

with the photos: befores and afters, they call them,
six shots of cuts like new mouths to fix a flaw

I couldn’t feel until I woke up, the doctor’s light
tread still impressed on my gut.  I hide and dig them

out later, for days, those flimsy confirmations
that what’s real may as well not be, except that it is.

Elizabeth Langemak lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she is an Associate Professor, and Director of Graduate Studies in English at La Salle University.  Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Day One, Shenandoah, Pleiades, The Colorado Review, Literary Imagination, Subtropics, The Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.

Race Was Not a Factor,

they said. He said, It

looked like a demon. It

charged [him], like [he] was five, It

Hulk Hogan


two legacies

ghost-stenciled into concrete, one shadow

sifted into ash. He sleeps at night—No

regrets. His family certain as the closed lid

of a coffin

they will be safe.


It happened, he says, It was

unfortunate. It is

what It is.


Which is the invisible


eighteen years of a boy’s

stifled blush, choreography

of a scowl with index and middle

salute, sinew flung forward, barrel

chest soft as unmixed concrete, whiskerless

chin line. His crown was bursting

forth and bowed, inverted king

posing for a peon graced with steel, skull

twice knighted by fire. The final blade

of light cut endless through the high

frequency shrill that fluttered

from his mouth, dull thud from the brim

of a broached squeal. Because child. Because

scared. Because tired. The boy was tired

of being shadow, dust film on boot

lip, wanted to be luminous. Sometimes a life

splinters to break. To scatter.

To be.




I see my nephew pressed to the edge

of boyhood, though he looks a man

in my imagination with his flinch

and blush muted, he is still now

carved raw from the giggle that over-

takes his toddler body. Thomas

the Tank Engine is this moment’s alibi

for letting go. As I watch him now

I see him still in that faded cobalt,

whale-imprinted bib he kept soaked

through but, also, I see the son I have

planned for, knowing there is no plan.

The nights                 accrue

like gravestones in a tiny plot of land like light-

less hallways that encircle the earth, an end-

less tether that yokes the crisp dusk from each

day as it is drained of light, what can never

be seen cast against what can never be

unseen. The promises made against

that other unspoken promise, grief

made invisible beneath the shadow

of something too large to see, how all

our children share the same erased

name because of it, what leaves them

riddled with everything they cannot see:

piercing &   rigid   &                always  more

weight than anyone predicts,        & the child

still in the street. It is two minutes and a few

seconds past noon on Canfield Drive

in Ferguson, Missouri and he is still

right there, in the middle

of the street, not my nephew. Not my



Carlos Andrés Gómez is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Winner of the 2015 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has appeared in the North American Review, Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Painted Bride Quarterly, Muzzle, CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape (MTV Books, 2012), and elsewhere. For more, please visit

I Have a Father, I Have a Thousand Fathers

They were telling jokes on T.V. late at night.

They were driving the school bus, lifting

me to drinking fountains I couldn’t reach.

They were talking too much, telling us

to quiet down, they were fixing broken stairs,

they danced when they were drunk, cried

when no one was around.  They sounded

like smoking lungs, like too many hours

worked.  They were not the first to run

in abandon. They killed in battle on desert

sand, were shot in city streets, they told me

I was weak, they let their weakness lead

them.  They enforced sentences, they served

time.  They held me while I cried, touched

me when I didn’t want it, didn’t touch me

when I needed.  They hated themselves

for it. They wrote poetry, they hated poetry.

They scribed the game rules from books

of their fathers, and yelled when I did not

follow the rules.  They were better than

that.  My fathers were of every color skin,

accent, tongue. They praised and cursed

and knew no God.  They felt the weight

of their predicament, yet could not see

the time-honored bars of their own cage.

Their words were wise and ignorant, soft

and full of rage.


Lizabeth Yandel is a writer and musician based in San Diego, CA and originally from Chicago.  She is currently completing a lyric novella about the city of New Orleans, and a chapbook, Service, which is inspired by her long, dysfunctional relationship with the service industry.  Her work can be found in Popshot Magazine, Rattle Magazine, and is forthcoming in Lumina Journal and 1932 Quarterly Journal.

Spear Side

Your lopsided father stuck
the loose stars to your sky

one summer. Even now
they glow up there, as if,

like you, they are still dumbstruck
by the memory of his hulking grace.

With one foot on the bed, one on
the chest of drawers, his finger

pressed each phosphorescent
shard into eternity, too high

for anyone to tear them down.
It should have busted his ass

to do a thing like that. It did
—that kind of thing—eventually.




“That kind of thing, eventually,
will wear a man’s skin thin,” says mine.

His skin is thin, and mottled
from five decades in the sun,

on a vast green field that only winks
at abundance; does not, in fact,

yield anything up, save little flags
from holes, the occasional sky-borne

alien egg. True enough, he’s burned
his skin to paper for this game.

But he does not, this time, for once,
mean golf. He means grief. That kind

of thing. He means leaving a child
in the ground, all fathers suffer.




In the ground, all fathers suffer
the fate of the warrior. In life,

it’s a sky of tin gods. Each one’s
a private lodestar, lost to all but us.

Whatever they did for a living,
our dads, however they hustled

and failed, they spun silvery roses
from gum foil, and blew Vaudeville

tunes through grass kazoos. And when
they told us how it was, we listened.

We believed their tales were true.
And so, however rent and upside-down

and patched, we flew their flags
until everything real blew away.




Until everything real blew away,
your father’s father’s father raised

a subsistence of cabbages above
the fruited plain. Nothing much

changed when the sky fell on us,
it is said he is said to have said. Only

the high folks got knocked down.
Haha. What could bring a poor man

low, apart from winter? Every soul
piled in one bed with the newspaper

stuffed to plug leaks in the windows.
Still, to be survived by all six children!

His salt-blind headstone seems to read:
God is fair to the faithful who toil!




God is fair to the faithful who toil.
Basically. Complicatedly. Squint

and try to see a version of events
in which good men are not heroic,

only good. Unmask that good
and you may find the face

of a previous father, not so
good. Meanwhile, and always,

and always without knowing why,
a procession of fathers stretches far

as infinity. Each one is in line to carve
his name over his father’s name,

into the stone. It is only a stone,
but it shows them where to stand.

Chelsea Whitton is an internationally published poet and essayist. She is the author of Bear Trap (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) and is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati. Her poems have appeared in Bateau, Cimarron Review, Forklift-Ohio, Poetry Ireland, Main Street Rag and Stand, among others. Raised in North Carolina, she currently lives in Cincinnati with her husband, Matthew, and their cat, Puck.