by Jake Skeets
Indian Eden. Open tooth. Bone Bruise. This town split in two.
Clocks ring out as train horns, each hour hand drags into a screech –
iron, steel, iron. The minute hands runs its fingers
through the outcrops.
Drunktown. Drunk is the punch. Town a gasp.
In between the letters are boots crushing tumbleweeds,
a tractor tire backing over a man’s skull.
Men around here only touch when they fuck in a backseat
go the for the foul with thirty seconds left
hug their son after high school graduation
open a keg
stab my uncle forty seven times behind a liquor store
A bar called Eddie’s sits at the end of the word. By a railroad
drunk men get some sleep. My father’s uncle tries to get some
under a long bed truck. The truck instead backs up to go home.
I collect the ivory soap bones my father spits up at boarding school
on white space and call it a poem. With my father, I come up on death
staggering into the house with beer on the breath.
Mule deer splintered in barbed tendon. Gray highway
veins narrow – push, pull under teal and red hills.
A man is drunk staggering into northbound lanes,
dollar bills for his index and ring fingers. Sands glitter
with broken bottles – greens, deep blues, clears, and golds.
This place is White cone, Greasewood, Sanders,
White Water, Breadsprings, Crystal, Chinle, Nazlini,
Indian Wells, and all muddy roads lead from Gallup.
The sky places an arm on the hills around here.
On the shoulder, dark gray almost blue bleeds
turquoise into hazy blue
no gray or gold
or oil black seeped through.
If I stare long enough I see my uncle in a mirror. The bottle caps we use for eyes.
an owl has a skeleton of three letters
o twists into l
the burrowing owl burrows
under dead cactus
stuffed into mouth jarred open
feathers fall on horseweed
and skull bone blown open
A God and the Other Man
He brought the stars with him in a tin can
cracked their shell open with his teeth like pinions.
The dark matter combs left on the ground behind him. You are never supposed
to harvest what is not ready.
He crickets chewing tobacco out into sink water with the moon for a face.
He’s somewhat holy these days. He finished the can warm on the stove
before zipping up his jeans. His eyes pink lit from the single malts and beer.
The other man on the bed reminds him of his mother.
He brought the stars with him in a tin can.
Spilled them on the other man’s back on the bed, the body bloomed open.
Their skin met like the horizon and sunrise, only for a moment
before the radiation turned platelets of gas
into a prism to get what we call blue. They first didn’t meet in person
but through their phones. A holy remnant of a god and the other man
with eyes like a mother, pitch black and hollow. Their first hello
sizzled into an small echo in the other’s chest.
He brought the stars with him in a tin can
to meet the other man with a mouth like a mother. Who could mother
a god like him? There is no mother, only the burning gases and blanket matter
that wraps itself like a dress over him
as he goes to meet the other man that would bloom his body
into a pinecone for a god to pick. There is no god
after the two throw their shirts back on. There is no god after wiping the sweat
from their foreheads. There is no god, just the ash.
He brought the stars with him in a tin can
and his tongue left the other man on the bed covered in ash and pollen
where he had licked. This isn’t about the sex. This is about the fact
that there is no god left in his skin.
There’s just the ash. Just the ash.
It’s just the two men that fucked in a trailer. This isn’t about who is a god
and who isn’t. He carried himself up into the smolder to kiss the other man
just that once and for the last time.
Jake Skeets (Diné) is black streaked wood, born for water's edge. He is an MFA candidate at the Institute of American Indian Arts Low Rez MFA. His work has appeared both online and in print. He is the founding editor of Cloudthroat, an online Indigenous journal of writing and art. He currently resides in the Navajo Nation where he coordinates a poetry reading series that invites writers to the reservation called Pollentongue.
by Tyler Friend
the relationship between
chemical symbol and literary symbol
is like the relationship between
fuck the moon as an expletive and
fuck the moon as in [comma] a desire to
there’s a multiplicity of meanings
open your mouth
like a puckered moon
like a pearl popping
out of Matt Barney’s bum
but nobody goes to the movies
to see people behave well
we want to see
the copulation of cattle
the philosophy of laundry
the ocean of original sin
we want to see
Tyler Friend is an apricot/human hybrid grown in Tennessee. Their poems have appeared in Tin House, Hobart, and Mud Season Review, where they received Best of the Net and Pushcart nominations. She is the editor of Francis House, a home for wayward poems. His chapbook Ampersonate is available from Choose the Sword Press.
Merlin and the Scourge
by Annie Vitalsey
On the first night in her new apartment, her boyfriend comes over with a pizza and an armful of books. Her boyfriend is working on an algorithm that she tells her mother, might just help solve the world’s transportation crisis. He spends his days in the basement of the math building, watching a plastic triangle creep through a tub of water on its own, movement propelled by the diffusion of saltwater to fresh. He is the graduate department’s golden boy, he is helping on their breakthrough, Merlin.
She is afraid the apartment is too expensive, it is her first time living on her own. When she talked to her mother about it, her mother said Not so fast, let me pray about it first, let me pray about it and God will tell me what He wants you to do. She signed the lease before she called her mother back, she was so excited, the apartment was perfect, but now she is not so sure. Her little twin bed pushed up against the wall in the master looks silly, she feels like a child, she is twenty-one.
Merlin is sitting on her second-hand couch and saying Come here, Lara, come sit with me. She has never been this alone with Merlin, before her roommates or his roommates just in the next room, a few feet away through thin walls, enough to make her stop and think of her mother. Her mother pulled her aside in the Whole Foods bathroom after her graduation ceremony and said Aren’t you glad you’ve stayed pure this long? Her mother held her by the shoulders, and Lara nodded, mortified, between the toilet flushes of strangers. When she sits next to Merlin on the couch, she leans into him, puts a hand on his leg. You did it, says Merlin. And as they are kissing, a dark bug crawls from the air vent, then another. When she leased the place, Lara hadn’t noticed dark spots on these walls, little speckles, strange patterns. As they kiss, the bugs emerge, hungry. She does not know if she is really attracted to Merlin. He is tall and his body is nice, but he has a high voice, and the saliva collects in the corners of his mouth excessively. She cannot picture her life without him now.
The bugs sense the carbon dioxide they exhale as they kiss. I love you, says Merlin. I love you too, says Lara. They kiss until Lara notices one of the bugs on her couch. Running fast circles across the tan leather. They leap up. Merlin hits it with a textbook, but it does not die. Lara didn’t understand the mechanics of sex until she was seventeen, when she watched an R-rated movie with her friends and saw an actress rocking up and down. Until then, she had never thought of how at all. More bugs crawl across the carpet towards them. If my clothes stay on, it doesn’t count, Lara thought. She has let Merlin touch between her legs over her pants, she has let him touch her breast through her push-up bra. They think the bugs are ticks at first. They are thick and dark and round and when Merlin crushes one with the tip of his pen, blood comes out. Lara wonders if the blood is hers or Merlin’s or if it belongs to someone she does not know. Lara spent her senior prom night learning the definition of a blow job from her friend Kelley, and how it is absolutely demeaning for a woman because she is on her knees. But they are too fast to be ticks. They creep into her fresh towels, her throw pillows, her shoes. When Merlin googles them on his phone, he comes up with bed bugs, bloodsucking and impossible. She cannot stand still. She says to Merlin, Please don’t leave me here alone.
They push the twin bed to the center of the room and spray a circle of OFF around the perimeter. She rubs the legs of the bed frame with it. In the dark, she curls into Merlin and he is warm. They fall asleep like this, perched together. Sometime in the night she feels his hand on the outside of her pajama pants, and then it is underneath her waistband. The she is on top of him, her shirt pushed up around her neck. In the morning, they wake with dozens of red spots on their arms and legs and she thinks: God is punishing me.
Annie Vitalsey is an MFA candidate in fiction at Arizona State University. Her stories have appeared in Pacifica Literary Review, Bennington Review, Menacing Hedge, Bird’s Thumb, Watershed Review, and elsewhere. Originally from North Carolina, Annie now resides in Mesa, Arizona.
by Marissa Higgins
in the corner, behind a broom
my salesgirl sits small
unlike how I know her,
all papercuts and peroxide.
I strip, offer her my
knee, elbow, left hip
right eyebrow, lashes
on the lower lids,
the ones she loved
to name. She hands me
an empty glass, folds
knees into neck,
reveals the bottom of her
feet: a small gift.
She spits up receipts,
lists, memos, itineraries,
evidence of shadow.
My salesgirl appraises me
in her usual ways:
temperature, rate of hair growth,
girth of tendon, how long it takes a bruise
to blossom. When she is done, she slices
two freckles from my left lobe, the secret
skin we love to fondle. Days later she sucks
pus from the scab and I churn delight
full of finite self and understanding,
all caught in fluorescent embrace.
Marissa Higgins is a lesbian writer and editor based in Washington, DC. Her poetry has appeared in Apogee, Bone Bouquet, Softblow, Noble/Gas Quarterly, Rogue Agent, and Calamus. Her nonfiction has appeared in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Catapult, and elsewhere. Her first chapbook, SHOPGIRLS, is available from Headmistress Press.
The Goat-Headed Girl
by Matt Bell
Because she had been born with the head of the goat, it fell to the older child to protect her from the leers of the other boys, their gross intentions. (In those days it was not past the men of the bogs to find pleasure in the fields, and the goat-girl stirred such odder wants, suggested combinations previously unknown.) As a child, the older fed the younger handfuls of grass and oats, let her chew the sleeves of his school uniform. Later he tied a loop around her neck and led her to other villages, where he hoped there might be another similarly cursed, or else a righteous man who might love her true despite her shape. Everywhere there were shepherds who promised the older gold for a single night with the younger but the older wanted more for his sad sister than the paid trysts these men offered. The siblings walked and walked. They saw many sights, many strange manners of men, but no other goatheads. In her nervousness, the younger chewed their clothes to rags, and soon no one would receive them, not even in the lands that professed to still hold dear the old rituals of hospitality and charity. Still the younger suckled her brother's hems, until she gnawed loose their last threads. On the road their nakedness increased their danger, for it was only her face that was odd, and the rest of her was without equal in the land. The older thought he had never seen anything more beautiful than when his younger bathed in the cold rivers of the land. He did not desire his sister—he was not that way—but the sight of her did make him wish for another, one much like her, a goat-headed girl he might call his own without the breaking of law or taboo or right-shaped sibling love.
At night the younger laid her odd head upon the older's chest and bleated sadly. He stroked her long ears and he fingered her collar and he made her promises, told her tales until she laughed. Even when she was joyous her voice wasn't a kind noise. If he talked long enough she would fall asleep against him and beneath her warmth he would begin to believe. Such was the nature of dreams, in that still early season of life. But what season ever lasts? When the men of the land finally came for his sister, the older fought them with fist and stick and little knife, but in the end he was just a boy, not yet grown into the hardness of truly disappointed men, and so what happened next was hardly his fault, despite how he blamed himself in all the years to come, those wandering years in which he stumbled from village to village, leading no sister at all, still dragging behind him a frayed rope, knotted tight to an empty leather collar.
Matt Bell is the author of the novels Scrapper and In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, as well as the short story collection A Tree or a Person or a Wall, a non-fiction book about the classic video game Baldur's Gate II, and several other titles. A native of Michigan, he teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University.