Swans by Alice Walsh

When you slept I opened your chest, the sides of your rib cage creaked open to the wardrobe of you. I wove that thin silk through your beating. Threaded you to me – to mine. Then closed you. Kissed you shut. With warm oil I made the sign of the cross on your eye lids, throat, heart. When you woke you pulled me to you and said you had the strangest dream.

We two were. Together we twirled, entwined. I didn’t end, you didn’t begin. The rhythm in you played me. I tied you, untied you. Thumb twisted gentle at the notch of your neck. We searched each other. White cloths fell from us. Fire warmed the sweat on our skin, breasts, ribs. We feasted on flesh by flickering light – licking, sucking, suckling, salts, tears. We drunk the universe from the shallow pools of our bodies.

They stood still and silent looking at us with lust and disgust. We didn’t stop, couldn’t stop, writhed, contorted, grimaces demonic – flushed with ecstasy a two-headed Siamese banshee wailing. They chained us, hunted us from the underworld through the trapdoor, our feet never touched the ground. We soared majestically up and up and up into the ether milk sprinkle of stars. We didn’t look back. For the first time I saw your great wings open and swallow the sky. The chain hung down between us. You showed me the constellation of Cygnus, while the sun followed behind us

*

Too many things have broken for this not to happen, for this not to be what it is. The scenes and sequences needed to occur have crashed across our path with such ferocity that it seems impossible to refute this gorgeous truth. I am falling, falling into the feathered white breast of you. The ice the ice – it does not crack here, there are so many things I do not know about you. There are so many things.

I want to know all that you are, that you have been, I want to meet your every mistake walking backwards. Your treasured lost loves hidden in drawers, your small stacked heartbreaks placed between books. Will you go with me into that good night? Us two, dressed like bombs – we will go out like sparklers, the fabulous colours of our souls exploding across the navy of the night.

I have fallen into you, I have fallen further than I ever knew. I know now what I can become.

*

You became unchained from me, saying it wasn’t what you wanted. I kicked the shackle against rocks and stones, it would not break. I did.

Blood burned fabulous against the white of me. You couldn’t bare the sight. I watched you walk on water. I watched your vast wings open and close, open and close until you turned from a white star to nothing out there in the wind.

Then I wondered did we still see the same moon? Were my stars your stars? Your land was so different to mine.

Hope, suddenly a diminishing thing.

*

Even if you came back you would not be you. You undid me, still do. You are so much more than feather and bone. You are of the earth, water and air. Return me to my fire of hurt – unravel the stitching, peck out each suture with great care, untether your feathers from this. You were never mine to begin with.

Close your eyes now you cannot see me, this abstract fallen undone thing. Cover your ears now you cannot hear me sing sorrowful from across the stream. Kiss me for the last time, let that great swan song soar – you are not mine, you never really were.

*

You danced around yourself, so afraid to stand still and stop pretending to be so unafraid. Did you ever stop pretending?

The curves of your sadness were familiar to me. The day tattooed on the skin of your soul. I felt near to you when the needle kicked black blue on my arm. A song played, no one knew where I was – least of all me.

I could see the gather and unravel in you. You could see it in me too. We were both reaching. We were each other’s pins and buttons. We needed something small to stop us from falling apart.

In my Polaroid memories you click your jaw, smoke rings jump from your asshole mouth and drift through the air – the ghosts of kisses, all kohl and coolness. Your hair hangs down, strands caught in the brush of your eyelash flicker when you blink, two turquoise irises disappear behind thin veils of skin. I stop breathing until I see them again.

I am lost somewhere on the continent of your cheekbone invisible words come from your mouth the speech bubble bursts.

I bite my bottom lip and don’t hear a word.

*

What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

Your eyes are in my eyes.

You say I saw these swans once, two of them – flying across the blue. I heard them before I saw them. They were such a force, how they owned the sky. They made the most magnificent scene.

What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

Your eyes are in my eyes.

 

Alice Walsh lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. You can read more of her musings at alicewalshblog.com or follow her on twitter @al_icewalsh

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The Space between the Stars by Joshua Sczykutowicz

A tree is beginning to grow from her mouth, branches and vines twisting and sprawling from between shining teeth and atop her pink tongue writhing. Small flowers, yellows and whites, pinks and blues erupt from reaching branches longing to touch a sky too far above to ever reach. They are unknowing, believing that if they could only sprawl an inch further — if they could just long for that black and purple sky, set atop sand-storm dunes and orange canyons of stone unending — then they could finally find their place in the midnight lands alone.

Roots are bleeding out of her now, feet crossed like a modern Christ in feminine form as her arms outstretch like branches of their own. Her eyes, shut serenely bear long lashes pointed down, lids facing upward to that same destination as branches desire. In space, she thinks, I will not need to see; blackness unending is all there will ever be.

She has not seen the stars in so long, despite their photographic glow reaching here now, candles amongst the flame that is the low-hanging moon above this desert nightmare that she will never want to leave. Light has failed to reach those eyes long enough for her to believe it will never return again. Steeped in darkness she no longer dreams of stars and marbled galaxies. Her branches will sprout and brightly colored blossoms will wisp away in winds she was never meant to grow within. As they fall, I will collect them, hands reaching into burning sands beneath to grasp paper-thin flower petals already drying, moist tissue between delicate fingers and caressing hands.

I hold her now, and hear her branches groan towards me, feel her roots try to wrap around and pull me in, not knowing a gardener can never truly connect to its growth. But I have not planted her, and to call myself a gardener is to elevate my position here, to lower hers to mere greenery and mindless life.
No, she set her feet in these sands; she waited for the fast and falling rains that pass for moments overhead, nurturing suggestions of life dissipating just as they are recognized. I am just an onlooker, a man who walks within a forest and stands before a tree he knows is more than him, something that was and will be long before and after he was either of these things.

If she could see into this forest of which she is the first to grow, she would not see her gently crossed legs like carefully drawn charcoal shadows, suggestions of shape, nor would her eyes fall upon the pale, pained arms holding the air above. She would only see the spaces surrounding, only know that there is so much emptiness, so much space unfilled.

It is her point of view I must defy, I know. I must cause revelation through action. If I water her planted appendages enough, if I brush her languid hair and wash her weathering skin as dust and sand turn to mud, trickling down her ankles entwined, then maybe the sun may shine through the moon strong enough to reach those shut eyes still. And she will know her blossoming branches, and she will know this beauty I admire.

I used to wish the sun could rise in these wastes. I used to look up at the sky and stare at the swirling stars and glowing ripples in the fabric lain atop this earth, and imagine that aching moon turning round once more and these rising canyons ahead casting their obsidian shadow over illuminated sands, and now I know it will never happen. I have learned the love of midnight; I have found the beauty in these spaces. I step backward and stare at her form before me, and start to see the space between the stars above. I know that amidst this black there exists so much light, if only her eyes could adjust to see.

Josh Sczykutowicz is a young author from central Florida. His work can be described as experimental, visual, alternative, dark and literary fiction His writing fixates on tone, mood, atmosphere and imagery filtered through specific points of view presented by layered, complicated and complex characters. His work has appeared in The Fable Online. He can be contacted at joshsczykutowicz@gmail.com

He’s Going To Kill You by Sara Dobie Bauer

She: He’s going to kill you, of course.
He: Only if I finish writing this sentence.
She: You’ve been at it for hours. Years.
He: But which is it? Hours or years?
She: Does it matter, if he’s going to kill you?
He: I wonder if “dissuade” is the right word. Do you think “dissuade” is the right word?
She: Would “deter” be easier?
He: Easier, perhaps, but is it right?
She: Why does a man kill, I wonder?
He: Does a man need a reason?
She: He waits for the sentence to be written.
He: Which is perhaps the reason I cannot choose the proper word. “Discourage.” That is a good word.
She: It is.
He: But is it the right word?
She: How can a word be right or wrong? It’s a word. What makes one better than the other?
He: The sound. The sibilance.
She: He’s outside. He’s been waiting for months.
He: Why doesn’t he just kill someone else?
She: Because no one else can finish writing the sentence.
He: Fine. Not “discourage.” Perhaps “dissuade” is the right word.
She: If you say it enough, the word loses meaning. Say it.
He: Dissuade.
She: What does it mean?
He: I’ve forgotten.
She: Read the sentence.
He: “Intellect does not dissuade nightmares.”
She: The sentence is wrong. It will never be right.
He: So the killer will wait?
She: You would have to ask him.
He: You said he’s outside?
She: Has been for days.
He: Have we been here so long?
She: Perhaps years.
He: So he will wait.
She: Because the sentence is wrong.
He: What makes it wrong? How can you be sure?
She: How can you be sure it’s right?
He: I can’t, which is why I write more. Maybe someday it will be right. Maybe I will find the right word.
She: Or never.
He: Then, I will never die.

Sara Dobie Bauer is a writer and prison volunteer in Phoenix, Arizona, with an honor’s degree in creative writing from Ohio University. She is a book nerd and sex-pert at SheKnows.com, and her short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Stoneslide Corrective, Blank Fiction, and Solarcide. Her short story, “Don’t Ball the Boss,” was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. You can read more about Sara HERE or follow her on Twitter.

They Couldn’t Breathe by Gregg Williard

Many children were just falling asleep in their new iron lungs when the polio vaccine arrived. The children had trained eagerly. In the happy embrace of their Jules Verne homes they gasped with pressures of disbelief. Haggard Mothers cried, “Don’t take them out! They belong to the tubes! To Jules Verne, not Jonas Salk! Don’t bring them back to the bellow and shank-stropping public tenementaries of orphaned wastrel concubines! To the coal tar pits for child labor exclusion laws! To the martini beatings in Levittown! Let them go and live in the undersea amusement centers for boys and girls without lungs!”

The iron lungs hissed defiance to this Jonas Salk. A modern-day pure oxygen mix of curses to all that doubt, and girls were made of then—part chamber of panting steel, part promise of a tempting blazing combustion like some around every boy and girl that ever had the loss of negative pressure, the flaccid breath, this Jonas Salk, this modern day Whale-swallowed Nemo one! What boys shiny hygienic chamber of panting steel, part promise of a dancing polio of world had we made for them to breath within, a gasping, hissing dream of tube or tank to fill endless days with the fluid of dreams and machines on the go, submersion, conversion, gill girl mutant debutant balls held in radium baths, the hatchery bath of adjusted pressures, as the Cold War Bible sayeth, “on the line with The Iron Lung risking his own life! He injected the silver submarine into and vials denied all miniaturization and grace by the technology. An Iron lack of the press of life that later would mimic the plastic scuba men propelled through bathtubs by a leaden club foot of expanding baking powder!

Death to the boys and girls outside, life to those crewing submarines of negative pressure within the fleet of atom powered subs within! The Sulking Jonah, Jonas Salk, put the hemostats modern day whale! Watch out! The iron lung is hissing its pure oxygen mix of curses to all that doubt, and girls were made of then—He injected the silver submarine into the belly of the white whale, and when it was time to inject a polio-free subject, Jonas did not balk. He injected himself, his wife and his three sons with the silver vaccine! What massive, iron, tonka twonkiepart chamber of panting steel, part promise of a dancing polio of world had we made for them to breath within, a gasping, hissing dream of tube or tank to fill endless days with the fluid of dreams and machines on the go, submersion, conversion, gill girl mutant debutant balls held in radium baths, the hatchery bath of adjusted pressures, as the Cold War Bible sayeth, “on the line with The Iron Lung risking his own life! He injected the silver submarine into the belly of the white whale, and when it was time to inject a polio-free subject, Jonas did not balk. He injected himself, his wife and his three sons with the silver vaccine! What massive, iron, tonka twonkie Lionel erector chemistry sets of tanks and chambers, modern day whale! Watch out! The iron lung test tubes and vials denied all miniaturization and grace by the technology an Iron Lung shall be wrapped in an the belly of the white whale, and when it was time to inject a polio-free subject, Jonas did not balk. He injected himself, his wife and his three sons with the silver vaccine! What massive, iron, tonka twonkie Lionel erector chemistry sets of tanks and chambers, test tubes iron curtain of breath!”

Gregg Williard creates fiction, non-fiction and visual art. His work has appeared in Diagram, decpmP, Anemone Sidecar, Wisconsin Art and Ideas and Artocratic, among others.

Number 165 by John Grey

next Christmas.
given Harry Potter horns
I even asked Santa for rakshasa –
and virgin, whatever that means.
but I expect you’d prefer something older
sketched what I imagined you must look like.
but already skinned a toad,
But, don’t worry, by the way,
defiling, fouling, deserted house, abandoned mill.
everything dermatology offers,
glory in gory newspaper details.
hellfire is safe with me.
I follow your career with awe.
the other kids in Kindergarten.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Rockhurst Review and Spindrift with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle, Sanskrit and Louisiana Literature.

The Word Seller by Soren James

“You wanna buy some words?” He said gruffly, encircled in a diverse fog of body odours.

“Yes“, I whispered

“You’ll have to speak louder” he said, “there’s cum in my ears.”

“What’s in your ears?” I said.

“Cum!” he shouted indignantly.

“I don’t know that word“, I said

“Have it, it’s a free sample.”

“How would I know what to do with it” I said

“You could do anything with it, it’s a handsome word, and you, sir, are in a special position to take advantage of it, as you don’t know what it means.” he enthused with a peddlers unctuousness.

“My not knowing what it means, means I won’t know where to put it.”

“You don’t know where to put cum?”, he said dryly.

“I’m reasonably skilled with words,” I said, “and yet I can’t know how to handle every one I come across.”

“Come on“, he said, “you really don’t know how to use cum?”

“No“, I said shyly

“I’ll show you”, he said, and leaned forward seeming to encourage intimacy. “Say, just for example, you had some pornographic material, the edges of which are a bit sticky, and together with this they are heavily fingered; then, you might say that the material was in a sticky-cum-fingered condition. That‘s how one might use cum, sir.”

“It seems like an extravagant word, I’m not sure I’ll come to use it.” I said

“I don’t wish to come over all enthusiastic about it,” he said, “ but I do feel the word will . . Er . . come into its own one day.”

“Come into it’s own what?” I asked.

“Come into it’s own context?”, he suggested.

“That would be a neat place for a word to come to.” I said, “But I have no need of words that I don’t know what they mean – you can keep your ‘come‘. I happen to be looking for a bigger word, one with more space in it.”

“Ah,” he said, “am I to take it that you are a connoisseur?”

“I enjoy the odd word,” I said, modestly.

“Very good, sir.” He said, “Then try this word for size, it’s just in, and I feel, as a discerning gentleman, you’re gonna like it. Are you ready for this one?”

“I’m ready.” I said.

Pausing briefly for effect, he said. . . “Comedogenic.”

“That sounds nice, I’ll take one.” I said.

“Excellent choice, sir.” He said, with a sycophantic drool.

“Have you got a meaning to go with that?” I enquired.

“Of course. Do you take me for a swindler?”

“I do”, I said.

“I shouldn’t have asked,” he said, “in my line of work people often mistrust me.” He shook his head feigning a gesture of remorse and continued, “Comedogenic – tending to cause blackheads by blocking the pores of the skin”

“That’s not quite the meaning I envisaged”, I said. “I thought it may have meant, ‘to emerge out of comedy,‘ or some such.”

He adopted a superior tone and began: “For something to emerge out of comedy, dear sir, would require . . . . “ He stopped for a second, then continued: “I’ve always sought to finish that sentence pithily, and yet, to date, I have failed every time. Anyhow, yes, the meaning does debase the word a little. But then, doesn’t meaning cheapen everything. . . But ignore me, I’m waxing philosophical.”

“Yes“, I said, “So . . Would you have a different meaning I could use with the word?”

He leant forward, turning a white glutinous-covered right ear toward me, whilst keeping his eyes upon mine, “Are you insinuating that I deal in false meanings of words?”

“Yes. I was told you were a peddler of aberrant words. Why, do you not?”

“I do, sir.” He admitted simply. “I merely enjoy showing indignance – it keeps me thin,” then grinned his set of brown teeth at me and continued, “I have a spare meaning for the word ‘connotation’ laying around. If you convince me to turn my back for a second, you could have that.”

“How much?” I whispered.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear that, could you . . . . “, his words faded into an indistinct mumble.

“Come again?”, I said.

“Yes.” He said, “ I’ll have to clean out my ears.”

Soren James is a writer and visual artist who recreates himself on a daily basis from the materials at his disposal, continuing to do so in upbeat manner until one day he will sumptuously throw his drained materials aside and resume stillness without asking why. More of his work can be seen here:http://sorenjames.moonfruit.com/home/4580917876

A Guide to Finding Your Former Hit Album in the 50-Cent Bin at a Used Record Store by Alex Sobel

Boredom: These are the reasons you enter the store in the first place, to look, browse, hoping to find something you weren’t looking for, because deciding you want something and then going to get it wouldn’t feel right, would break the spontaneity that you cherish as an absolute, even though one could argue that the concepts don’t mix.

First impressions: You’ll notice the incense, meant to cover the smell of old record sleeves disintegrating, VHS tapes that have probably melted inside from a decade in an attic that can reach 120 degrees in the summer, the employees’ boy odor. Hey, the guy at the counter says. You nod, mean to say something, but no words come out. You’ll barely be able to look him in the eyes. Don’t even attempt to.

New Vinyl: What’s by the door. You’ll go through it, thinking that the term “new vinyl” might be an oxymoron. New here, but old everywhere else. So still old here, too. You find a Christine McVie album that you’ve never heard of, $10. Too much, you think, but you can already see this play out, the regret for passing on something you may never see again, letting an opportunity slip away when you have the power to prevent it. You’ll slide the record under your arm.

Order: Expect none from the cheap CDs. But you like that, prefer it, perhaps. If there was an order, then those who knew what they were looking for could just find the right letter, the corresponding artist, grab what they come for, or cut their losses and leave. But with the lack of order, things are missed. Only those not looking for anything can find something.

Pain: (or something similar) What you’ll feel when you find it, the cover scratched, the 50 cent sticker falling off. You push the flap back to the plastic, but the adhesive is gone, you continue to push it back anyway. You look at the back cover, the track listing, the date, 12 years ago, try to put the time into some kind of relative context.

Purchase: But why? You feel like you need to. You have copies at home, you could even play them yourself, live. Your voice is still the same, you’ll think. You could be mistaken for the recording. You could do that. You think you might. You won’t.

Recognition: Expect none, even though your face is on the cover. Years have since been painted on, sure, but it was all cut from the same rock, so to speak. And do you even want that? Do you want someone to know you’re buying your own album? You don’t.

Regret: You’ll feel a lot of it, but don’t let that make you put the CD back. Besides, you have the vinyl under your arm, a distraction. It’s like buying a stick of gum to go with the box of condoms or the tampons you used to pick up for Julie before she left you, strung out, because you deserved it. This is where you’ll feel a second bout of regret. Ignore this. Remember: Your mind will begin to wander to the past tours, the blurred moments like holes that fill in with a kind of chest-collapsing nostalgia that constricts your breathing. Avoid wondering how it all disappeared, or how you let the success go to your head, or where all the money went. Thinking about it won’t bring anything back.

Small Talk: The clerk will make discussion with you, though it’s unlikely he’ll make small talk about your album. Instead he’ll mention the decoy. Last week, we got a Chicken Shack album in, he’ll say. You’ll turn your head, point to the record. A band she was in, he’ll say, pointing to Christine McVie. Oh right, I misheard, you’ll say, though you won’t know what he’s talking about. Refuse a plastic bag on the way out.

Tomorrow: A concept you’ll definitely be thinking about as you put the album into your car’s CD player, listening to it in the parking lot. Some of the songs skip, the disc scratched. You like to think that whoever owned it didn’t give it up on purpose, that the scratches mean it was listened to, that it was loved. When it’s over: Then you’ll leave the parking lot. There’s an especially stubborn skip in the 2nd to last song. You might press next on the player, skip over the problem song, but that feels like cheating, so you’ll decide to wait it out. For a little while, anyway. You think it’ll pass eventually. If you just give it a little time.

Alex Sobel lives in Toledo, OH, where he is a freelance journalist and contributor to The Press, a newspaper out of Oregon, OH. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post Online; Foundling Review; Ink, Sweat, and Tears; and theNewerYork. You can follow Alex on Twitter.