by Ana Hurtado
can't be found on milkboxes. But relatives see their loved one's faces everywhere: on other faces, food–rice, plantains, the chicken they just killed, its eggs, its feathers–the Pacific Ocean, the last standing condor; it flies above them as Ecuadorians sit outside the President's house: palacio Carondelet, walls from 1800s, white paint recently reapplied, pigeons on the roof, too, the offspring of colonial birds. Parents with hand-drawn signs for their sons and daughters. They chant to the President the names of their children: Jessica, Edgar, Ramiro. The sky swallows all names. Guards ask them to be quiet because colonial Quito can be destroyed with sound bouncing off old walls and indigenous women who sell strawberries, Afro-Ecuadorian men who sell coconut water, tourists with cameras strapped to their bodies. Los desaparecidos are looked for in lakes and rivers, new mountains and old, ditches and valleys, hills of trash and golf courses, in houses, apartments, balconies, roofs as old as the colonial era: red brick, touch it and hands become as red as a white shoe on a clay tennis court, is that where the desaparecido was found, where he went missing, or where the police found a new body, a body no one was looking for, was it on a sports field? A soccer field next to the mouth of a volcano, the nearby store that sells cigarettes to children, the bus with slashed leather seats and messages in pen and whiteout: I am here, I exist, remember me. Years pass by, parents protest monthly to no avail. Ecuadorians write poems, songs, and pasillos about Jessica, Edgar, and Ramiro, in the name of all desaparecidos.
Sol de Lluvia
Paper kites dodge raindrops over our heads and birds hover in between la virgen of el panecillo’s crown: blue, green, purple, and pink comets fight birds, others become them, and some raindrops turn into white shit, but this transformation begins with el sol de lluvia— three hours after the sun is at its highest, cold water falls from the sky and floods streets, balconies, rooftops, and the downpour turns burnt trees and grass green, yes it turns cometas into birds, and the birds soaring over el panecillo wrestle and peck at each other’s bodies for the pieces of empanada, sandwich, and chocolate tourists throw at them, and the downpour, too, makes the virgin look like a space ship: her aluminum skin glistens, her crown makes those in the north of Quito turn their heads away from its brightness, and the virgin sits on el panecillo—little bread in Spanish, it’s the illo we use, like in bocadillo and chiquillo, something small—not amarillo—like the ten cent bread that fits in your shirt’s front pocket, bread that pops out of the Quito landscape and skyrockets the virgin up into the air, and if she takes our sins with her, but not the sins of those in el sur of Quito because she turns her back on them, wings too, if the virgen’s gone to Mars, we’ll still have the birds that turned into paper kites—they are comets—remember we hold the string.
Ana Hurtado is a third year candidate at Iowa State University's MFA program in Creative Writing & Environment. Ana's work has appeared in RHINO Poetry, Azahares, Word Riot, & TinderBox Poetry Journal. Ana was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela and grew up in Quito, Ecuador.
Trips to Hell and What I Found There
by Brady Achterberg
I was born in the dining room. My first sight was fan rotors chasing shadows. My first breath I smelled stucco grain and wine corks and the dry poison exhale of the drum heater as it warped the floor into floral sea and sank like a reactor rod into the basement and I got taller and taller around it.
Imagine trying to live and not even knowing the place you were born.
I was born with a clubfoot and no eyes. The midwife carved my foot with a potato knife. For eyes she found two garlic cloves.
I didn’t remember them until I was nine and sitting by the pond and some little creature on the other side asked for my eyes. He wanted them. He wanted to know where I keep them. I told him to go away and he grasped at me across the lake and said, “I am the first of you; you are my last.”
Since then I’ve known I was special, I’ve known to watch water and mirrors.
I was raised Baptist. It was the 80's and Satan ruled the world. No one could tell from the place they were standing until Halloween ripped the faces off the mothers and fathers and let the patient hellscapes breathe out from their white fences. They had bought smoke machines but they were already burning, they dressed up as the demons they already were.
I knew it all, knew it from the tapes my parents ordered from the ministry and watched with me, from the little comics I left on public sinks and car dashes and handed out to strangers at pews. Rockers were calling the End Times with a backwards dirge. Witches were snatching babies from daycares to oil their brooms. Homosexuals were diverting the scourge of God, were infecting every blood bank with AIDS.
I was in the bathroom at a Piggly Wiggly setting out tracts and watching the mirrors and my reflection pulled both the cloves out of his eyes. I turned and watched me. I was leaving the cloves under the soap. My sockets were brown, they were old blood. I took two tiny rocks and put them in place. When I walked out of the bathroom I wasn’t a Baptist anymore.
I didn’t know where to go next at first. I went for Satanism, since it’d always seemed like the pavement of society. And if it was paved with baby skeletons it was paved with baby skeletons. All it was paved with was a bunch of morons running around in graveyards and a book on how to make atheism look ridiculous.
I switched to Quakerism. Then Buddhism. Then Evangelism, Psychick Youth, Scientology, Nation of Yahweh, Raëlism, Vampirism, Church of All Worlds, all kinds of cults with longer names.
I found rags in caverns. I found eggs in sewers. I put them all in my eyes.
There was a rabbit hole. Karl Marx was wrong about a lot of things, and if religion were opium, it’d be $50 a gram. There’s a hallucinogenic ingredient for sure. It was eating right through my brain. I saw cherubs playing on headstones. I saw the Lake of Fire behind a gas station in Iowa like a highway mirage up close. I saw a flaming wheel of eyes follow me like the moon, southbound on 287.
I saw a meteor shower where all the stars fell at once, smudging as they neared the ground, like wet chalk thinning into stains. They arrived like little rivers on a window. They left a ring around the horizon that was the dawn.
For eyes I had coals, padlocks, newspapers. In my feet I had voices.
I saw God only once. In Yellowstone, sitting cross-legged by the Snake River, which was tonight a perfect mirror to a perfect sky. I looked into the river and I saw one eye, and another eye, and then a nose and a mouth, camouflaged all in stars. God looked like me but a little thinner, distorted, like a police sketch.
He looked to me and said:
“The years have changed Me as much as they have you, My son.”
And then He disappeared and I was left with only water.
My faith returned to my outline, my eyes dried overnight, hard and worn like the arms of a junkie, bland and gone like the graffiti of my ancestors, so many dots and lines in light and blood.
Brady Achterberg is a creative writing and mathematics major at Susquehanna University, where he's entering his sophomore year.
by Jessie Janeshek
What Do You Want, Health or Safety?
Time’s clotted for now.
I feel a blonde rising wide open, the woodline
skull/caterwaul like the sun through some ears
shooting back to reach nothing
and you won’t regret that rubber smell
once I take out the porn parts.
Pray, tell me what sort of shitshow is this?
It’s poor business practice
to study the dark side and my heart is bald
and my yard is patchy
a rasp, a glass baby deadening broads.
Tricks detonate the smell of pee shadow
the switchboard operator
catprints where she nailed femme fatales to the tree.
Tricks detonate the double keyboard
I play to sync with the we:
We’re on the path by the artificial
to see our crazy teacher
trussed up in a teddy.
We swap out this bad song
for your swollen book
where you wrote we were tired
of being alone
where we read we were tired
of being alive.
The Moon Looms as I Write Health or Safety
and forgive me I just want a voice of black lantern
to celebrate feeling less than myself
dragging bleak cats to get snipped in the rain
and I caught a good one it looked like it could run
but the ill-fated baby bloodless placemaker
turned blue on that mule
and it’s okay if you write of fake cotton plants
wooden soldiers on a mission humidity, fleas
a spaceship or nothing but cryptozoology
an owl bone, cradle grave
whiskey-balled on top of that blonde hill to take me from the equation
and it’s ok if you want
to sling breasts and climb rural
accelerate the stringy black hair
the bile of the ghost in me the bike ride
the witch-swollen face
and now as placemaker the deadest baby
could not stay alive
based on her zodiac sign.
Jessie Janeshek's second full-length book of poems, The Shaky Phase, is forthcoming from Stalking Horse Press. Her chapbooks are Spanish Donkey/Pear of Anguish (Grey Book Press, 2016), Rah-Rah Nostalgia (dancing girl press, 2016), and Hardscape (Reality Beach, forthcoming, 2017). Invisible Mink (Iris Press, 2010) is her first full-length collection. An Assistant Professor of English and the Director of Writing at Bethany College, she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and an M.F.A. from Emerson College. She co-edited the literary anthology Outscape: Writings on Fences and Frontiers (KWG Press, 2008). Read more at jessiejaneshek.net.
The Family Dirtbag
by Michael Cohen
The family buys another mediumsized dirtbag to fill. They are a mediumsized family. They shovel the dirt into the bag and tie it shut at the top together. The new baby kneads a handful. They label it Baby’s First DirtBag. It goes downstairs in the cellar next to the others.
The family are incapable of autonomy from one another. The husband—the father—he deems it a loss of some loose entitlement. He has labored, tried to strike out and found this thing called a family. He believes in simply naming each member in relation to him. The wifemother is twice restricted. The first born, the son, made sonbrother by the second: the daughtersister, born already complicated. Then there is the baby. It could be anybody’s baby—it could still get out. It could have no family—no titles, no knotted ties to sister, brother, parents. It cannot even lift its supple head yet.
People come over. Unclebrotherinlaws. Cousinauntinlaws. They coo at the baby and watch it work the dirt in its fat fingers. There is scotch and gossip. The dirtbag in the cellar fills by handfuls. Relations make plastic noises, stretch on the sofa.
Baby’s First Dirtbag grows to the size of a person. The family speaks in whispers and tiptoes. They leave all the yellow lights on except in the back hallway. What will we do, wonders the sonbrother. The hinge on the cellardoor is starting to bend.
I’ll tell you, says the wifemother. She is cleaning specks of eggshell from the countertop. We’ll vacuumseal that sucker, she says.
It’s nearly the holidays, says the daughtersister, unhelpfully.
They buy a vacuumsealer and flatten the bags, suck the air from the cellar. Room for more dirt, more bags. The daughtersister and sonbrother are made to scrub the bare foundation until it is pure. Not one crack, observes the husbandfather without joy. The baby has an accident and cries. Why is it called an accident, wonders the coy sonbrother. It seems very much on purpose.
The wifemother grits her teeth and cinches another diaperbag shut.
The night before FirstHoliday there is a duststorm. The radio plays old standards over the outside sounds. The wifemother is sanitizing the crownmolding when a heavy glass cane raps on their windowpane.
She’s early, says the daughtersister, a grim strain in her voice.
Outside is Greatgrandmothergrandmothermothergreatauntwifeinlaw. The behemoth. The wind follows her in the door. The cellar inflates with pressure. She bestows loud kisses, and grains of dirt spill from her purse like hard candies. She fawns on the new baby.
The wifemother scurries forward, hissing, Where is the broom. This house is unsafe. Dirty, she says. Where is the dustpan. The husbandfather shrugs. He is tired of laboring. There are dunes visible against the filthy windowfronts.
The old woman wields her glass cane with a sardonic venom from the rockingchair. Heaven forbid you have a front yard or a garden, she says. Heaven forbid anything grows.
SecondHoliday: the sky is darkening. The family’s house overflows with giftpaper. They task the sonbrother with it. He does a bent shuffle, crumpling scraps into uniform balls to go in a trashbag. He takes breaks to steal bitter sips from the scotchbottles in the kitchen.
This is a zoo. The husbandfather mostly complains. We need a bigger house.
More work, some relation chuckles. He looks around for the wifemother, who’s gone sharply prowling. The baby is piled in BPA-free plastic presents. It holds a toy spade once and rejects it.
Look at that. Buried, the daughtersister says. She is speaking to herself. When everyone’s legs are up she slips down the back hallway with the baby. They both breathe in the cellar air. The new largesized bags are swollen, packed hard and sinister. They sit at the base of the stairs like a ballast. She thinks if she touched one they would all burst. What the wifemother would say, inspecting that mess. She leans into the concrete stairwell.
What are you doing, the sonbrother says from behind her. Eyes wide in the dim. He points and says, Dirty, slurring a little. The baby laughs and reaches a hand out to squeeze nothing. The sonbrother takes it. There is a murmur from the rest of the house. He teeters on the top step. What are you doing; what are you doing. A single stern familiar footstep. Someone’s coming, says the sonbrother. He claws at the daughtersister and she leans into his shove.
All together they fall and fall.
Michael Cohen is an Arizona native and graduate of Arizona State University. This is his first published piece anywhere. @mlcohen13
by Simon Perchik
As if your death is not yet the same weight
traps count on though you are leaning back
putting dirt in your mouth while to the last
pebbles come by to shelter you, lie down
–you will have to die some more, brought
this far by what moonlight has to say
about holding on –you have to eat from a hand
that’s opened till your grave is too heavy, fills
broken into for each goodbye hidden away
as the breath clinging to footstones that wander
past, throwing a cloud over you, boarded up
as mountainside and so many deaths at once
–here even rain is comforted to keep you dry
–whole families sitting down, waiting for you
to walk in, forget something somewhere else.
A lone whistle cut short and this chair alongside
waits till its wheels, half iron, half the way trains
are calmed on gravel beds, let you push
till everything you gather smells from steam
from a mouth that is not yours –doze off! the rails
will carry you between Spring and this blanket
filled with shoreline that no longer moves closer
and yes, the shadow is yours, bit by bit the station
you’ll need, built from homelessness and no one
to sit near your heart, hear how weak its breathing is
windswept and the sky unstoppable, taking on water
and not sure why it’s going down inside you.
And though it’s your hands that are cold you sleep
with slippers on, weighed down the way shadows
change places to show what death will be like
before it gets dark –even in bed you limp, the blanket
backing away and you hang on, want to be there
still standing yet you can’t remember if it’s more rain
or just that your fingers are wet from falling in love
and every time they pass your lips it’s these slippers
that save you from drowning, let you go on, caress
something that is not dressed in white, disguised
as the warm breath thrown over the headboard
smelling from cemeteries without moving your feet.
Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, the New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain,published by River Otter Press (2013). For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.
by Deborah Berman
In the garden of sculpture, writing of the heat
and hunger’s intolerable burden. You’ve eaten
all the whiskey, quartered the textures humanity shitted.
Crystalline belly, soured; conduit for their failure.
Sun-washed and sweated, cold in the places we left.
You cannot filter detachment. Peacocks shriek & horse-strut
among the cut stones, painted steel, jack-black oaks.
Amorphous bronze dances to spite our mortality.
The Pixies, faintly, from the highway.
Been tryin’…to meet ya…
…or see you in the mollied shades of evening. After
the lowing wind of loneliness, the prayer clasp of solitude.
Shutter-clicked mind a hive of collateral inciting
rumor, deflecting reason. Child eyes seek color in daylight.
Tying knots in the sculpture garden, and we leave
having seen but half. Rapacious blackbirds nested
in our summer trees – carnivore-preening for the glistening
humans, slacked and gaping, swaying in the humid noon.
Deborah Berman-Montaño has featured her work in the Phoenix poetry and art scene since the late 1990s, around the time she received her B.A. in English Literature from Arizona State University. In 2012, she co-founded Balboa Poet House, a salon-style poetry reading & poetry event production company. In 2014 & 2015, she co-produced RISE!, an annual poetry event featuring Phoenix-area poets and performers, focusing on artists from disparate and under-represented backgrounds and cultures. She currently has two poems featured in the newest issue of ELKE.
by Richard King Perkins II
The world is overcast—
not like a play or a fishing reel
but maybe those too.
The tallest women
still cloud my world
immune to the principle
where all things
are made divine and equal.
Spires expand geometrically
past lifelessness and the barest
impressions of teeth on my cheekbone—
the smallest amount
can mean so much
to those keeping track
of hash marks in flesh
and phantom silhouettes.
She declines in starlight, aerating,
a broken stalk after harvest.
Through a broken canopy
she accepts the penchant of maledictions
scorpions in her shoes
as if this was the first time she hoped
to avoid eye contact with herself.
A decade since he’d drifted away
to some discreet everything
and still her vision unravels constellations,
staring out, refusing to be ignored.
If he could only see me now—
and the moon deepens her skin
as a charm of breeze
sends her hair flying
in every direction she’ll never go.
Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.
Tell us a little bit about your creative process. (Do you always work in a certain place? A particular time? etc.)
I dont have a hard structure, I mostly just obey the fickle finger of creative fate. I have ADD, which mostly means I ignore anything but the object of my current work obsession. In addition to tattooing, I draw, paint, collage/assemble, design and fabricate tattoo machines, as well as other widgets. I also grow and design bonsai trees. My brain shifts between all of these at will, but I have streamlined the mental elements of working in each, and it feels like the same process.
What brought you to the world of tattooing?
Tattoos were an important part of the subcultures of my youth. They belonged on outsiders, musicians, punks, gangsters, and bikers. As a child I would draw and paint constantly; I’ve always had the art wiring. In my 20’s I had the chance to walk away from the various jobs and skills I had been working with, and became an apprentice to the artist I had been getting tattooed by for several years.
What’s it like running your own shop? How’d ya get there?
It’s been a long road, and having a shop wasn’t really my goal, but after about ten years of tattooing I needed to know I could shape my own career. I imagine my shop metaphorically as fishing boat run by a chef. I have to rig the ship, and sail it through the zeitgeist, all while offering dishes that are based on known good recipes. I am happy to tattoo anything that comes in the door, but I feel like I have the opportunity to give a little deeper cut than pop culture, based on knowing those traditions. Having a shop based on that is my goal, and working with people who feel the same. Its also a staggering amount of work to build and keep afloat, but it feels wonderful to look at it.
The pieces featured in this issue are all traditional tattoos–what draws you to these classic pieces?
There’s an old saying that art without the shepherd of tradition is a lost flock of sheep. I feel that the traditions of this medium, which have been time tested, are the path to progress. These old designs come from the 30’s to the late 60’s. I find the vernacular of the classic american designs endlessly charming.
What inspires you? Generally or, like, at this very moment; what are you obsessed with?
For the last couple years I have been focused on the traditional Japanese tattoo. The comprehensive bodysuit, that can still be hidden under professional clothing, is so powerful: knowing the dedication of the wearer, despite the hidden nature of both the tattoo itself, and the meaning of its subject matter.
When ordering takeout, what’s your go to spot? What do you order?
I eat a lot of Indian, Thai, and Mexican. Lately I have been eating vegetarian, I have been ordering Cafe Abyssinia for Ethiopian food. Also, you should know the Eribertos on 7th ave just above Osborn rd. uses tortillas from Carolina’s.
Alex Empty is a tattoo artist and the owner of Copper State Tattoo in Phoenix, Arizona.