Perennial – a poem by Lauren Carlson

Perennial
 
I pray out loud too.
 
As dune grasses pray,
with their empty, crisp, quivers. 
 
I’m bound, like anything else
alive in winter, to attempt survival. 
 
Torn stem. Berries. Gull prints 
lonesome for life’s evidence.
 
Sunlight pools, wilts leftover snow and
where sand shifts ground, I imagine 
 
warm pockets. Contained. Underneath,
new stems heed nothing, not even cold.  

 

Lauren Carlson is the author of a chapbook Animals I Have Killed which won the Comstock Writers Group chapbook prize in 2018. Her work has been published in Pleiades, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Windhover, and Blue Heron Review among others. She recently graduated with an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson, the first low residency program in the United States.  https://laurenkcarlson.com/ 

Last Request – a poem by Mary Kipps

Last Request
 
When my time has come, let the ram skin wheeze
and pipe me to rest with Amazing Grace.
I’ve only a wee bit of Scots, but please,
when my time has come, let the ram skin wheeze.
Send ashes and dirge on a fairy glen breeze,
dispatch me to heather and thistle’s embrace.
When my time has come, let that ram skin wheeze
and pipe me goodbye with Amazing Grace.

Mary Kipps writes poetry for all age groups, in traditional forms as well as in free verse. Internationally published since 2005, Mary is also the author of three humorous paranormal Kindle books: All in VeinA Sucker for Heels, and Bitten: A Practical Guide to Dating a Vampire.

Islandia – a poem by Kara Knickerbocker

Islandia

Each hour I am stunned alive by you:
Glaciers jutting into forever sky, 
how the soft sea of your mouth burned so blue 
that we stood there mid-morning, asking why 

we were gifted such air more pure than god-- 
the backbone carving through this mountain ridge, 
every bird song, the pine’s gentle nod,
river rocks and mountain talks, body’s bridge

bending to the bloodless earth. A blank page
where I retrace roots, wonder what’s to come: 
the clouded future, words a war to wage 
like the moment ink sets in, leaves you numb.

I walk to the lake, frost silvering sheer 
kiss my own wrist, woman warm, without fear. 

Kara Knickerbocker is the author of the chapbooks The Shedding Before the Swell (dancing girl press, 2018) and Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Her poetry and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming from: Poet Lore, Hobart, Levee Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Pennsylvania and writes with the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University. Find her online: www.karaknickerbocker.com.

The Gospel of Eve by Rachel Mann: Review by Sarah Law

 

The Gospel of Eve by Rachel Mann. 262pp, Darton, Longman & Todd

Earlier this week I had a good old marking crisis. I was up until 2:30 am working through dissertations. As I finally collapsed into bed, I drifted back to memories of my undergraduate essay crises, the all-nighters that I occasionally had to pull. I do think of those intense, pressurised, tortured, idyllic (and pre-internet) college years from time to time, and it’s amazing how vividly the memories return. 

Rachel Mann’s debut thriller, The Gospel of Eve, is partly responsible for this latest bout of reminiscence. Firstly, because I compulsively spent time earlier this week reading it, and hence substantially precipitated my own marking crisis. Secondly because, although not a traditional campus novel, it is set in the 1990s in a fictitious Oxford theological college, Littlemore, which has affinities with the rarefied world of traditional collegiate universities in decades past. Littlemore’s world is inhabited by well-bred students plus a few mature do-gooders, prissy or downright antediluvian dons, rooms in halls, scholarly jousting – and gut-wrenching disasters, all lightly doused in nostalgia.

The Gospel of Eve is also a page-turner. Characters and events shock and intrigue from the first pages when a body is found in terrible circumstances. We have a sympathetic but troubled narrator in Catherine, or Kitty, who gradually unravels as the story unfolds. Kitty had her own crisis of faith that led her to train for the priesthood and so, it transpires, did some other members of the close circle with which she becomes involved – Evie, Piers, Richard, Charlie (a young woman) and the enigmatic Ivo. Relationships within the group are fraught and intense, fuelled by mistrust, crushes, and alcohol: ‘We drank like only the young and holy can,’ (p.68) remarks Kitty. Then we find out that the group’s spiritual quest has taken a disturbing turn. There’s a chilling early scene in the novel, set on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral, that our narrator describes as ‘the blood incident’.  From then on, bodily existence – its pleasures, temptations and discomforts – is placed at the heart of religious faith – for good or ill. At one point, Ivo declares: ‘Faith is not about belief or doctrine so much as the body. It is eating and fasting. It is acting in the world, in the light of faith. It is knowing God in the discipline of the flesh.’ (p.100). But Ivo is a dangerous character underneath his privileged, authoritative exterior. Should he be trusted? 

Much of his and the group’s ascetic practices are born of a fervent scholarly and spiritual longing for the Medieval, where there is undoubtedly much food for thought. ‘The Medieval offers a subtle discourse, dangerous and pregnant with violence, of course, but nuanced.’ (p.98). Ivo and the others don’t comment on the poignant and affective devotion of later Medieval mysticism such as that of Richard Rolle and Julian of Norwich, perhaps because this would tilt devotional practise away from endless penance and towards lyricism and compassion. We are left with the thrill of a dangerous alterity, and a certain amount of horror at how easily its violence can resurge.

Mann’s novel obliges the reader, as much as Kitty, to reflect on the implicit structures of power and gender bound up with concepts of fraternal correction and the mortification of the flesh. How much is punishment not only of the flesh, but of the feminine, requisite for the maintenance of Christian patriarchy, and what disruptive counternarrative is waiting to emerge? Hidden, subversive and suppressed currents of thought run through this novel like underground rivers. Once I’d finished the book, I could still hear them rushing along, under the surface of our everyday perceptions and (if we have any) religious assumptions. 

For those with ears to hear it, this is a really notable quality of Mann’s novel. It’s a well-paced story of death, sex, intrigue and revelation in a college setting, but it’s a lot more than that too. Mann is herself a priest and a scholar, and weaves in her considerable theological knowledge lightly enough for it to be an organic part of the narrative. References from the Cummean Penitential (a medieval record of punishments for specific sins) to Phyllis Trible (a feminist theologian) appear – as do, literally, some priceless first editions, variously appropriated, bequeathed and stolen. Theft and restoration, intellectual as well as literal, is another significant thread of the narrative.

I should add that as well as drama and scholarship, the novel has its fair share of satire, both clerical and cultural. The well-meaning pastoral innovation of ‘prayer triplets’ will either intrigue or dismay you (or possibly both), and I daresay I could be persuaded to join Littlemore’s ‘Edmund Bertram Society’: ‘Ostensibly devoted to Mansfield Park’s serious clergyman, it supplied an excuse for middle-aged female ordinands to drink Pinot Grigio and watch videos of Colin Firth’s chest-hair.’ (p.71). Well!

Full of pace and paradox, then, this is a great novel for almost any circumstance, except perhaps for those of a nervous disposition, or those with urgent marking deadlines easily derailed by an imaginative mystery. If you enjoyed Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, you might like the somewhat similar intellectual and narrative energy to be found here. But The Gospel of Eve has its own very distinct atmosphere, and is likely to leave you both enchanted and troubled.

My Sister’s a Witch, or They’ll Always Find Someone to Come For – a story by Christine Makepeace

My Sister’s a Witch, or They’ll Always Find Someone to Come For

“There’s a lack of mystery in the air,” I remember you saying. It was an odd, poetical thing to articulate, but you were always a strange one.

You flipped over tarot cards and mumbled incantations. You said they were just words—hopes and wishes and things to ground yourself—but you once gasped when you saw the position of the moon. 

I thought it was weird.

You dried herbs and grew the greenest plants. You had a cupboard filled with tiny bones and equally small bottles. You smiled a lot, and it all seemed a contradiction. Your pointed fingernails clicked against teacups as your long hair sat twisted in knots.

People looked at you sideways, and you didn’t care.  

I did though. I cared a lot.

We grew up in a small town—an everyone knows everyone else type of place—and everyone certainly knew you: the witch. Which made me the witch’s sister, a moniker I didn’t ask for and did not appreciate. Still, you didn’t care.

You picked mushrooms and hummed songs and dreamed of the ocean. You baked bread and laughed and lived for yourself. You were happy even as I wilted in misery, wondering why you couldn’t just be like everyone else. 

And, I’ll have you know, it was their idea—not mine. Although, at the time, it sounded like a good one.

We walked to the edge of the clearing, and by “we,” I mean my friends and me. And by “friends,” I mean the people I went to school with. We walked to the edge of the clearing and we watched your house. At first, we just looked at it, waiting for something to happen. But nothing did.

And I don’t know what they expected to see. You riding out on a broomstick? You returning with a baby clenched in your claws? You communing with Satan himself? I didn’t expect to see these things, but maybe they did. 

(I already knew you didn’t eat babies. You didn’t even eat meat.)

You were hanging laundry on a sagging line when they set your house on fire. I say “they,” but I also mean “we.” And if I’m being honest, which I suppose I should be, by “we,” I mean “me.” But I’m sure you knew that. (You always seemed to know so much.) I threw the match that ended up catching. I threw it into a patch of dried-out lavender. Because I knew how fast it would burn.

And it did.

It burned your house down. It burned all your plants and it burned your cards and it destroyed everything you held dear. And that included me.

As the smoke mixed with the soggy, soupy air, I saw the look on your face. It was crisp and smooth like the flesh of an apple, but sad. Resigned. I remember you said, tears beginning to stream down your face, “Why do you want me to hate you?” 

It wasn’t a question I was expecting. Of all the things you could’ve asked, I would’ve never guessed that assemblage of words would find itself on the tip of your quivering tongue. It wasn’t the point I would’ve belabored, but you…you always knew. You always had your sights set left of center.

The truth was, I didn’t want you to hate me. Why would I set out to achieve such a ridiculous objective? I didn’t want you to hate me, but I liked taking things from you, so maybe that’s what you were really asking: Why do you seek to claim the things you hate?

You then asked me if I knew what I had done—if I had meant to, and some girl—I think her name was Jocelyn—yelled, “It was her idea!” before hooting and running away.

“Why couldn’t you just be normal!” I asked. “Don’t you know how hard it is to be your sister?”

Your face twisted and the pain turned into anger and you left. (I can’t seem to erase your apple-cheeked grimace. Like I had taken more from you than just a house.)

I don’t know where you went. No one does. 

It’s almost as if they barely remember the flesh and blood you. You’re a character in a story told with distance; reverence and fear are placed on your name. You’re the star of cautionary tales. You’re the threat the keeps children leaping into bed on time. You’re a piece of local lore—a legend. 

Your house is a shell and kids go there to get high. They go to ditch school, to drink and hook up. They aren’t afraid until they want to be. 

I think that’s confusing. But I often find myself confused these days.

In your absence, I noticed my hair beginning to fall out. I started twisting it in knots so that could be the reason…but I bet you know more.

I also watch the moon and imagine you’re looking at it too, but it hurts my eyes even though it never used to.

And I took some of the ashes from your burnt-up house and I used them to fill a little leather pouch. They’re too hot to touch, so I don’t. I just leave them hanging around my neck.

That girl, Jocelyn, she threw a rock at me the other day and it bounced off my back. I remember when that would happen to you, and I wonder how you smiled so much. I wish I could ask you.

But you left when your house burned down, and with you gone, I’m no longer the sister of a witch. I’m just a witch, my shoulders hunched and my eyes milky.

All this is to say, are you the reason my teeth are loose? Why my skin peels, and animals howl outside my window? These sores and rashes on my body? Did you do that?

Are you the reason I’m falling apart?

If I said I was sorry, could you make it stop?

Would you know if I was telling the truth? 

Christine Makepeace is a weird fiction writer and film essayist living in the Pacifc Northwest. Links to her work can be found at christinemakepeace.com

Prayer – a poem by Brennon Elzy

Prayer

You made me
Want to be 

A saint.
Holy in this life

And the next.
But I am giving up

My rosary beads.
I am burning

My robes,
My sage. 

Ribs and water
A feast of fish.

This is my salvation?
This is my God?

He looks frail as a baby bird, brittle
Wings clipped wide.

He looks as weak as me.

Brennon Elzy is a person from West Virginia who occasionally writes poetry. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Poetry from West Virginia University. Twitter: @BrandonElzby 

The Cat – a story by Ranney Campbell

The Cat

“When I see anyone laughing, I just think, don’t you know? How can you laugh? How can people walk around laughing and carrying on like that?”

“Oh, Richard.”

“Seriously. Think about it. It’s sick.”

“Richard,” she shushed. “You should know better than anyone. None of it will matter. In the end. Right?”

“But, just think of the dolphins. That should keep anyone from laughing. I don’t know what we’re doing here. What were we thinking? This is crazy. The whole world’s so fucked.”

“Richard.”

“They say all the fish in the ocean could be gone in forty years. Just jellyfish! That’s all. That’s all that will be left. And, that’s bad. That’s really bad. But when I think of the starving dolphins. Washing up on shore? Can you imagine? My god. And the whales. That just gets to me. The dolphins and the whales. That really gets to me.”

You should know better than anyone.” She sat on his lap. “Tell me again.”

“What?”

“Tell me. About the one thing you know for sure.”

“What. Oh, that? Jesus, Kirsten. You have heard it so many times, you might as well tell it to me.”

“But I love to hear you tell it.” She ran her finger down the bridge of his nose. “I love to watch you remember.”

He groaned.

“Tell me.”

“Jesus.” Her anticipation weakened him. “Okay. So. Imagine a black room.”

“Yeah?”

“The blackest black.”

“Yeah.”

“Black ceiling. Black walls. No windows.”

She nodded.

“Black floor. Imagine the darkest black you’ve ever seen.”

“Got it.”

“Now, imagine, in the black room, you close your eyes. Blacker still.”

Her eyes closed.

“Then you cover your closed eyes. Nothing blacker. Right?”

“Right.”

“It was darker than that.”

She opened her eyes. 

“I don’t know how else to say it. It was darker than the darkest black I can even imagine.”

“But not scary.”

“Not scary in the least.”

“That’s nice.”

“It was nice.” He leaned back into the chair.

“And then you heard the voice?”

“Not right away, but I didn’t hear a voice, because I didn’t have ears. I knew I didn’t have a body. But that was later. The voice.”

“First, you struggled.”

“Yes. For a long time. I felt like I was suffocating. And I was fighting. I thought I was fighting, like, I was trying to swim, but then it dawned on me, I wasn’t under water. I wasn’t even moving. But I was struggling to breathe anyway, but just, in my mind. And, eventually…damn.” He grimaced. “That was so awful. I hate remembering that part.”

“Move it along then.”

“Well. Yeah. Anyway, at some point it just dawned on me that I wasn’t suffocating, because it had been too long and I should have passed out by then. Right?”

She nodded.

“And then it just stopped. The struggle. Then I felt like I was floating, but I couldn’t really feel anything, like how we can feel things. I mean, I couldn’t feel my skin, but not like I was numb. I couldn’t feel anything, physically. Not cold. Not hot. Nothing. No physical sensations. Then I kind of sensed; this is not earthly. You know? Then I was thinking, I don’t know, like, curious, like, what’s this?”

“But you weren’t afraid?”

“Not once I gave up struggling. Once I gave up struggling it felt great. And once I realized I had no body, it was even better. You would think that you would miss your body. But I didn’t. I was totally there, my whole being, who I am, and I didn’t need my body. It was freeing. So weird. You wouldn’t think it would be like that. But that’s how I felt. Free.” 

“Free’s good. I like freedom.”

“Then there was this flood of feeling. Like relief times ten. Or something. It was better than anything I can really describe.”

“Love. You said love before.”

“Well, that’s what I’ve said. It’s the closest word to it, but way more than the word we use here.”

The word we use here. Funny. You were, what do you think? Floating in the universe?”

“No. There weren’t any stars or anything. It’s really impossible to describe.” He squirmed a little. She patted his chest. “It wasn’t here anywhere. I can’t explain it.”

“Yes you can. Go on. Tell me.”

“I was floating and I was remembering people. And, the one that shocked me was this woman…”

“From the grocery line!”

“Yeah. The woman in the grocery line. That had happened years earlier. I had forgotten about her. Just a stranger in line. But, there she was.”

“She was kind to you. At the store.”

“Yeah. I was scrounging up change, and the cashier got indignant. And I looked back at her; embarrassed.”

“And she smiled at you.”

“Yeah. The way she smiled. It was so genuine.”

Kirsten smiled. He smiled.

“And then you heard the voice.”

“Yeah, but…”

“You didn’t hear it. You had no ears.”

“Right. It was, like, in my head.”

“But, you didn’t have a head.”

“Right, but, I don’t know how else, anyway, it was like a thought, but not my thought. Not from inside my head. It was like, an implanted thought. It was someone else. I don’t know. I’ve thought about this, to try to describe it better, but the feeling was like…”

“Was it God?”

“No. Definitely not God. I don’t know, it was like, it seemed like, a guide of some sort.” He shifted in his seat. “That sounds corny.”

“No, it doesn’t. I think it sounds lovely.”

“That’s the closest I can get.”

“What did it say, or convey, or whatever. Implant.”

“It said, nothing bad you did ever mattered.”

“That’s good news.”

“And I have never been so utterly convinced that something was true. It took a second to digest it. But…it just felt…so true. And once I fully accepted that, I mean, fully, fully knew that was true, and accepted that, and leaned back into that knowledge, and relaxed, and things settled, it said…nothing good you did ever mattered.”

“That’s so cool. Like, no one’s keeping score.”

“Yeah, but even better. I don’t know how to describe it.”

“Hmmm.”

“Oh. I know. Total acceptance. I mean total, complete, no bullshit acceptance.”

“I almost can’t wait.”

He squeezed her. “You’re not leaving me.” She kissed his forehead. He looked down at her growing middle, placed his hand on her belly. He looked away. “That’s when I started moving. It was a G-force. But I couldn’t feel it in my body. I had no body. There was no wind, sound. Nothing. But I felt it anyway.”

“Where were you going?”

“No idea.” He laughed out loud. “No earthly idea.”

“Ha!”

“It was just getting better and better and I loved it. Total acceptance. No troubles. No bills. No boss. No nothing. I was moving so fast, faster than anything I’ve ever experienced. Into something. A sense. A feeling. This enveloping sense of support. That I was utterly loved and supported by everything. Every thing. Everything. All around me. In me. Everywhere. Love.”

“Then?”

“Then I remembered my cat.”

“Stuck in your apartment.”

“Yeah.”

“Poor kitty.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah. So. Then?”

“Then, everything stopped. Full stop.”

“Aww.”

“Yeah.”

“And then?”

“Then the voice said, well, not said.”

“I know. Implanted.”

He chuckled. “Yeah. It implanted…do you want to go back?

“And you went back?”

“No. I mean, I took a second to think about it. I was torn. I mean, damn, it felt so good. I didn’t want to go back. But then I saw his little orange face, and I was like, shit, I should go back. And then I thought, yeah. And the second, and I mean the very exact second, millisecond, that I had the thought…I was back.”

“Damn.”

“I sat up on the gurney and took this huge breath and then just passed out again.”

“The doctor told you that?”

“No. I mean, yeah. He confirmed it. When I talked to him about it the next day, he confirmed it. He said I was dead for a minute and seventeen seconds. Well, he didn’t say dead, of course. He said that my heart stopped and I stopped breathing, and they didn’t do anything to bring me back, because, well, they didn’t think I would be able to survive the brain injury, but yeah, he confirmed that I sat up and took in this big breath.”

“I’m glad about that cat. It worked out for me.”

He looked down and smiled, sheepish. “That cat went missing six months after that.”

“Well, I’m glad he didn’t go missing six months before that.” She put her face on his. “And, you don’t have to worry about the dolphins.”

“I guess not.”

“They’ll be okay. Either way. Right?”

“Once they give up the struggle.”

“Yes. Once they give up the struggle.”

 Ranney Campbell earned BS and MFA degrees from the University of Missouri at St. Louis and lives in Southern California. Her poetry has been published by Misfit Magazine and Shark Reef, among others, and is forthcoming in Haight Ashbury Literary Journal. Her chapbook, “Pimp,” is published by Arroyo Seco Press.

What Dinosaurs Know – a poem by Sayuri Ayers

What Dinosaurs Know
 
From the soft gray nest
of his bed, my son shines
a flashlight into 
snowflakes whirling
outside. Galaxies of 
glow-in-the dark stars gather
above him. As he presses
his face into velvet
folds of a stuffed 
brontosaur, he waits
for me to dim 
the hallway lights,
to kiss him good-night. 
As he nods off to sleep, 
my son asks if 
dinosaurs saw
the streaking comet,
if they knew that
they were dying. I imagine
peering into shrouds
of smoke and soot,
an ancient beast craning
towards the bleary
stars. Darkness 
presses down
on propped pillows,
slopes of comforters.
I reach to caress 
the gentle wave
of my son’s brow,
my leaning body suspended 
in the hallway light’s
amber glow. 
 

Sayuri Ayers explores everyday spiritual experiences in her poetry and prose. A Pushcart and Best of Net Nominee, her work is forthcoming in SWWIM Every Day and Parentheses Journal. Please visit her at sayuriayers.com.  

Mass – a poem by Robert Donohue

Although this ward is not a holy city
I realize I’m attending Sunday mass.
To my surprise, I do not find self-pity,
Delusions, or what woes may come to pass.
My clouds are lifting; what is this, a tear?
Shed for Black Jesus in a comic book,
And what is this? My mind begins to clear
As staff returns the clothing they had took.
While dressed in gowns, they had me looking rough,
Dressed as I’m now, I’m relatively sane,
There is a ways to go, but sane enough
A fellow patient chooses to exclaim,
Because my changing proves her point of view:
“O Lord have mercy, look what church can do!”

Robert Donohue’s poetry has appeared in Grand Little Things, Better Than Starbucks, The Raintown Review, The Ekphrastic Review, among others. He lives on Long Island, NY.

When the Evening Comes – a poem by Yash Seyedbagheri


When the Evening Comes

When the evening comes for me,
let me reach for blankets
lavender, pink, and peach
while laughing on a wind-swept night
pines swaying with me
whispering their hush
blowing needles in rich dirt
 
when the evening comes
let me laugh
one long laugh, unabashedly loud
at The Big Lebowski and pissed-on rugs and drifters
while I pronounce the Dude’s creed
abide, abide
The Dude abides
 
and when the evening comes
let the hatred of car horns, sighing at slow speeds
camo, bumper stickers, and people who flaunt double-negatives
let me shed all of that and place it in a box
when the evening comes 
let me try to speak an I-love-you
loud enough to be heard
 
and when the evening comes
let me proclaim myself ready
ready, ready like a child
while I remove my skin with haste
and don a translucent nightgown
sinking into slumber
 
upon a bright and rising moon
 

Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program. His stories, “Soon,”  “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” and “Tales From A Communion Line,” were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work  has been published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.