Hank Kirton

Romita

Romita buzzed my doorbell at two in the morning. I was still up so I pushed the button. “Yeah? Who’s this?”

“Romita! Let me in!”

I buzzed her up.

Romita was a woman. I put on my pants.

My apartment (at the time) was a tiny sculpture of a children’s hospital.  I rarely had visitors anymore and that was fine with me. I could hear Romita’s footsteps gaining on me. She entered my apartment, drunk, shedding forensic evidence all over the place. She coughed and pulled a pack of Newports out of her leather jacket, smacked it against her hand. I allow smoking in my apartment, I allow friends to drop in, and I allow Romita to exist.

“Hey Joe,” she said. Her eyes were blurred slits. “Kill anybody lately?”

“I’m working on it,” I told her.

“I bet,” she said and then gave me a snort of laughter. “You’re so fucked up.”

“What do you want, Romita?” Her father had named her after comic book artist John Romita (The Amazing Spiderman). It was homage to one of the greats. I knew this because I knew Romita. Better than almost anyone. She knew things about me too. It was a dangerous two-way street.

“I was just in the neighborhood, saw your light was on. Figured you were working.” She closed her eyes and—still standing—seemed to be asleep for a few seconds. She opened her eyes (sort of) swaying and said, “I want you to kill me.”

“Oh no. Not this again.”

“Come on. Just do me this one little favor…”

“I’m sorry Romita, I can’t.”

“How come?” She plugged a Newport into her lazy smile, clicked it to life with a blue Bic.

“I don’t kill people I know,” I told her. Again.

“Yeah I know. You only kill prostitutes. Hey, I could be a prostitute.”

“Don’t say that. You’re not a prostitute.”

She gave me a lopsided smile. “I know I’m not a prostitute. I’m saying I could BE a prostitute. Like as an ambition.”

“Uh-huh.” This was getting tedious already. I hated dealing with drunks. Romita was a miserable drunk. And her desire to be murdered was getting on my nerves. It wasn’t the first time she’d made the request. Romita and I used to work together at Sledgehammer Industrial. Bathtubs stained grimy with iron dust. Bathtubs full of blood and splintered bone.

“Why don’t you just take things into your own hands?” I asked.

“I can’t commit suicide.”

“Why not?” I asked but I already knew.

“Not allowed. It’s a sin.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Romita. I just can’t help you.”

“What if I blackmailed you?”

“Be careful, bitch.” I hated to get angry but Romita was pushing my buttons. It was a tactic she’d tried before.

“Or what? You’ll kill me?” She snorted out a laugh.

I laughed, relaxed.“Yeah, I guess that is pretty funny,” I admitted.

“Hey, you got any beer?” she said.

I did. We sat down and drank beer and Romita smoked, her mind drifting with the curls and clouds. Eventually, she left. On good, safe terms.

I went back into the bathroom to finish Helen.

Joseph Farley

Bumblefuck

Andrew was lost. His GPS was not working right and the paper map, well it was too big to unravel while driving. The road was narrow and winding. The sun had gone down faster than he’d expected, lost behind tree-covered mountains, their leaves burning autumnal orange and red. It was dark now and getting darker. Andrew switched on the car’s high beams. He was far from the big city. There were no street lamps, and the space between lighted buildings was counted in miles. There might be a small cluster of buildings, a dilapidated barn and a few house, with a name such as The Village of Potluck. Lone houses were perched on the side of mountains, looking as if they were about to collapse onto the road or slide into the valley below. The road was supposedly two lanes, but any vehicle approaching in the opposite direction posed a challenge.

So much for short cuts,” Andrew thought, promising himself that he would stick to major roads in the future.

He looked for a place to pull over, but could find no spot that was not rock or guardrail or a plunge into a creek bed. He could have pulled into one of the dirt and gravel roads that led directly to one the cliff dwelling homes, but the numerous “No Trespassing” signs made him uncomfortable doing so. Andrew did not know what gun toting madman might rush out a house to take a potshot at his Porche.

The car was not as valuable as it looked, being second hand. Still, it had cost him enough and he did not want it to suffer any more damage than this mountain road had already caused. He already felt the gears were not shifting as smoothly as before the car had started to climb and plummet this endless series of hills.

Andrew had gone to Hagerstown, Maryland for the weekend to visit his old college roommate, Chester Kunitz for a barbecue. He had begged off many previous invitations, but had finally accepted, making the long drive to Hagerstown from Fort Washington.. He had not seen Chester since their days together at the University of Pennsylvania. The excursion had proven a lot of fun. It was much better seeing Chester and his wife in person rather than simply exchanging messages on Facebook. Everything would have gone fine if Andrew had not mentioned that he was heading to Albany after the barbecue for a week long trade conference on industrial adhesives. A neighbor of Chester’s, a Silas or Cyrus something, big man with albino white hair and pink lips, had overheard the remark. This Silas had suggested a wonderful shortcut. He had written down directions for Andrew, said it would save him an hour at least. Andrew had thanked him. He had been the foolish to trust that man. Now Andrew believed this Silas had a cruel sense of humor. If he ever saw that man, Silas, again, Andrew would clock him good.

Even with his high beams, Andrew could not see more than ten feet ahead. The road twisted too much, and trees blocked his view of oncoming cars. Branches kept scraping his roof and windshield. All he could do was drive slow and watch for lights coming through the trees, or dancing on the road. His red Porche was built for speed, but the wooded mountain terrain had neutralized his gas pedal.

Andrew was looking for a place to pull over and study his map. When he saw lights from a small town, he felt relieved. If he could find out where he was, maybe he could figure out how to get back on one of the numbered highways that crisscrossed the state. As he approached town, he looked for a sign with a name of the place. He could not find one. He did find a history marker for a cabin that had been burned down during the French and Indian War, a family of settlers was killed. That sort of thing might be interesting to some folks, but Andrew was not in the mood for trivia. No. He wanted to get his bearings, and get back on track for Albany.

It was not much of a town. Just a few houses and small business crowded around a spot where two unnamed road intersected. Andrew saw a gas station with two pumps. A sign reading Rickert’s Service Station was lit, so were the lights in the office. Andrew pulled in. A bell rang as the Porche’s tires rolled over a hose stretched across the driveway. Andrew checked the gas gauge. He could use some gas, but directions were what he really needed.

A rectangular metal sign swinging on a chain said full service. Andrew pulled his car up next to a pump. He shut off the engine and waited. No one came out of the office. Andrew honked the car horn. Still no one came out. He leaned forward over the steering wheel, trying to get a better glimpse through the glass at the office. He did not see anyone in there. He hoped the station was not closed, that the lights had not been left on by accident. Maybe, the attendant was just in the men’s room. He honked again, hoping this would make the attendant speed his business. His eyes were focused on the door and window of the office. He waited. There was no motion.

He gave up and started the engine. Just then, Andrew noticed a thin man in blue jeans, and a checkered cloth jacket standing nearby. The man was staring at his car. The man was thin, and dirty looking, with short hair on his head and sparse whiskers on his chin..

Andrew rolled down his car window.

Excuse me?” he asked. “Do you work here?”

The man pointed at himself and shook his head. He started to come closer to the car.

Is this place open?” Andrew asked..

The pumps are on,” the man said. “But the owner’s not around.”

Then how can I get some gas?”

The man’s lips formed a thin grin.

I’ll pump the gas for you. How much do you want?”

I thought you said you didn’t work here?”

I don’t work here. I’m just covering for the owner while he’s on a hunting trip.”

Oh, okay.”

Andrew handed the man two twenty dollar bills.

The man asked, “Do you want the whole forty’s worth?”

Yeah,” Andrew said. “Super.”

Okay,” said the man in the checkered jacket. He walked with the twenty in his hand over to the office. He opened the door and went inside. A few seconds later he emerged and started walking back towards the car.

Andrew popped the release for the gas tank. The man unscrewed the cap, and place it on the roof of the car. He took the pump nozzle from its hook and stuck it in the tank. The pump began to ring up gallons and dollars.

What’s this town called?”

The man looked up from his work, and saw Andrew leaning out the window.

Bumblefuck,” he said. “That’s what they should call it. They call the part of Pennsylvania between the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh ‘Bumblefuck’. The locals don’t call it that. They just call it home. It’s the city folk who call it Bumblefuck when they find themselves stuck there. They call it Bumblefuck because its backwards and boring and stupid enough to drive you up a wall. The kind of place that make a city person just go bonkers.”

You just called it Bumblefuck, so I guess you’re not from around this way?”

No,” said the man eyeing Andrew. “Like you, I’m not from around here. Not originally. I prefer the big cities, a place where it is hard to stand out if you look or act a bit peculiar. A place where you can find people in the streets or in 24 hour diners at any time day or night. I should never have come here. The place just gets under my skin.”

I hear you,” Andrew nodded. “But can you tell me the name of this town?”

The locals call it Hetzburg. There used to be a sign, but it was knocked down by fuel truck five or six years ago, and wasn’t fit for use anymore. No one in town wanted to cough up the money for a new sign, so there’s been no sign since the. Hetzburg is one of those places most people blink and pass through in the mountains northwest of Harrisburg. Not many people pass through unless they are on their way to see the Nittany Lions play or visit one of the smaller colleges hidden away up here and have programmed their GPS to find a slow and scenic route.”

The road had not seemed very scenic to Andrew.

Do you know how to get to Route 220, or 219 or 522 from here?”

The man shook his head.

I have not been here that long, and I don’t have a car, so I am not familiar with the names of all the roads, but if I were to ride with you I think I could tell you when to turn and when to go straight.”

Andrew did not like the fellows eyes. His whole expression was odd. Andrew did not like the thought of having the man in his car.

Thanks for the offer, but I can’t put you out like that,” Andrew said. “You would have to get a ride back.”

Suit yourself.”

Andrew checked his watch. It looked like he was going to have to change his plans. He would not be able to drive on these back roads all night. It could be the death of him. He asked, “Is there a motel around here?”

The man shook his head.

How about a place to eat?”

There’s what passes for a restaurant, but just barely. I’ll never go back there to eat. The service is terrible. If you drive by you will see it looks empty. The sign may say open, but if you go in there you”ll wait forever for that waitress to show up. She is mighty slow.

Andrew grinned, “Slow can be good. How old is she?”

Maybe thirty five, forty, something in that range.”

Much of a looker?”

The man turned his head cockeyed and twisted from side to side..

She don’t look too bad. Red head.”

The man’s eyes suddenly widened.

You must be some kind of player asking all these questions about that waitress, one smooth operator.”

Andrew chuckled, because it was true.

Oh? “ said the man, chuckling as well. “You’re like that. You are a player. I could tell from your eyes. I didn’t want to say, but I knew. You are one of those guys who is always on the prowl. Same here.”

The man made his finger into a gun.

Bang! Chalk up another one.”

The man drew a hash mark in the air with a finger.

Andrew smiled broadly.

The man pointed at Andrew’s face.

You smile. Is that how it is? Heh-heh. I know the feeling”

He leaned towards Andrew and flashed a row of dirty teeth.

We’re birds of a feather. Bet you together we could knock them ladies dead.”

Andrew kept smiling, but only to be polite. The comparison of himself with this Bumbefuck oddball sickened him.

What else is there in this town besides a crummy restaurant and a gas station?” Andrew asked.

There used to be a bar just outside of town, but it burned down last week. A real tragedy because it is over twenty five miles to the next bar. Other than that, there is an animal feed store that also sells some people food, but they’re closed for repairs. There’s a hunting and fishing supply store stocked full of shotguns and semiautomatics, but that’s not open at this time of night. There’s maybe a dozen houses in the town proper, at most, and there’s the church.”

The man gestured to a shape that could be dimly seen in the lights from the service station. It was a white clapboard church with a worn and weary look.

Andrew said, gesturing to the church, “I guess that’s the main attraction.”

There are no attractions in Hetzburg,” the man said. There’s nothing for a man in a hurry to see.” He shook his head. “Nope. No one pays attention to anything or anyone here unless they are from Hetzburg or related to someone in Hetzburg. That does not add up to a lot of folks looking this way. That’s one of the nice things about this town. No one from outside gives a damn what goes on here.” The man grinned, “That’s one of the few things I like about this town. No prying eyes.”

The man finished pumping the gas. He pulled the nozzle out of the tank, and screw the cap back in. He closed the tank cover, and carried the nozzle back to its perch on the pump. The man stood there with his back towards Andrew. He continued talking, but now in a lower voice.

Across the street from the restaurant, a taxidermist has a shop. The window is full of dead things, stuffed yet lively. There a turkey vulture and a raccoon and a rabbit that will never see Easter. I’ve been inside, just once. Didn’t need to go back twice. There were plenty of dead moose and deer heads mounted on the wall, big bucks, five points or more, a small black bear and one snarling cougar that probably came from out of state. Plenty of glass eyes staring at you when you talk to the old man who runs the place. I think his name was Cullen. All those eyes watching might have made someone else feel uncomfortable, but not me. It reminded me of nightclubs back east in Philly or up in New York, dark places filled with glazed eyes.” The man sighed. “All those dead eyes. I miss them.”

The man grew quiet for a time, then started up again, turning towards Andrew.

You see there’s not much around here. No reason for me to stick around. No reason for you to stick around. Just fill your tank and move on. Bob Rickert used to run the station, offered me a job when I arrived in town. Then hunting season started, and he was gone. Hunting is big out here.” He laughed. “It was really big this year. When hunting season rolled around it emptied out the town. There’s nothing like blood sports to get the ticker going and fill you with a sense of pride and accomplishment.”

The man closed his eyes and shook his head. “Yeah. It’s been a good season so far, but now that everyone is out in the woods, it feels lonesome being around here. I don’t like that feeling. Yeah, this town is dead. I think I’m about ready to move on. No more Bumblefuck for me. I’ve had enough.”

Andrew agreed, “Maybe you should move on.”

The man half raised his eyelids. Andrew could feel the man staring at him.

You think so?” the man smiled. “Too bad I don’t have a car.”

The man started to laugh.

Andrew did not like that laugh. He reached over to close the window, but he was not fast enough.

It was a week before the county sheriff received enough pestering calls from worried relatives to drive out to Hetzburg. It took another month for the state police to find all the bodies. Newspaper headlines raged about the “Hetzburg Massacre.” There were no suspects, and no trail to follow.

Some of the victims were found in shallow graves in the woods behind the service station. Some were found laying in their homes or businesses. Others were found in the church basement. Most had been shot at close range. There were 28 victims in all, the entire population of Hetzburg, plus one unknown salesman without wallet or I.D., who was passing through Bumblefuck and did not have sense to step on the gas.  

Matthew Licht

Junk<Shit≠Pussy

Heroin clears the mind, but clogs the colon.

Laxatives are still legal, but the pharmaceutical industry keeps the good stuff under reserve, for addicts who can pay.

The Beverly Hills drugstore looked like the motherlode. Socialites floated in and out of the place on dream-clouds of lost weight and shrink-wrapped designer clothes.

Please dispense the true cleanser this time, Mister Pharmacist. I’m hurting bad. Honest.

But there was no dignified gent in a starched labcoat behind the prescriptions counter. Instead, a young woman.

“May I help you, sir?”

Her tone suggested she knew what I needed. Her thick glasses were X-ray Spex that saw through junkie-vampire mendacity.

Junkies, like dogs who defecate anywhere, have no dignity. “Laxatives, please, Miss. The extra-strength kind. Make that extra-extra-strength.”

She briefly searched the shelves behind her and drew out a little white cardboard coffin. She tapped the package with a fingertip.

“Federal law requires us to sell protective clothing in conjunction with this product, sir. Do you have a prescription?”

“Look, skip it. Give me a gross of the regular crap. And uh, while you’re at it, do you carry Extra-Small condoms?”

She had Extra-Small condoms. They’re the same as regular ones, just like Extra-Large. She exposed this advertising scam aimed at humiliation freaks and megalomaniacs with the ruler she kept by the register.

“You don’t need prophylactics,” she said. “You’re an addict who has a place to live and a well-paid profession. Let me guess: you like jazz.”

“I like to mind my own business.”

She lowered her chin. “All right, has it been two weeks since your last bowel movement, sir? If so, we can dispense with the prescription, for humanitarian reasons. Long periods without release make a person edgy, and rude.”

She slid the packet across the counter. A medicinal name was spelled out in bold block letters and Braille dots. There were no eye-catching colorful swirls, bikini girls or slogans.

“Shit like a bird!”

“Dump like a truck!”

She rested her elbows on the counter. A button on her labcoat popped. She hunched to smash her breasts together. I was so far gone, I lunged for the caca-tablets.

“Look mister, I want to help you. Even though you can still afford your drugs and don’t have health problems that are exacerbated by opiate misuse, you’re headed for trouble. Even worse than constipation.”

“What could be worse?”

“Legal shit, for starters. It’s a slippery slope, and pills are just more dope. Let nature resume its proper course. Give up heroin to achieve release.”

“Sounds romantic. But I’m in love with heroin. I tried to live without Her. It doesn’t work. I couldn’t work. I’d have been an unemployed wreck, if I kept it up.”

She took back the slim package. “Let me show you something different, sir. See those refrigerator cabinets by the far wall? That’s the security cameras’ blind spot. Meet me there. This isn’t for public entertainment.”

In the drugstore’s cold dark zone, she squatted and pretended to show me where the cream sodas were. There was nothing under her labcoat but skin.

She said she knocked off at 7 p.m.

For the rest of the afternoon, I had something to think about besides how long till the next shot.

Heroin’s a jealous wife. My wrist shook when I checked my watch to see whether there was time to drive home, park, make sure my agent or some studio bigwig hadn’t left phone messages, unpack the works stashed in the First Aid kit in the bathroom, hang my jacket on the hook the decorator installed, roll up my sleeve, tie off with the condom-colored surgical tube, insert the sterilized Ever-Sharp syringe into the ulcer-hole in the crook of my elbow which is why I never roll up my long-sleeve Hawaiian shirts in public, not even on Santa Ana days, and feel what keeps me, thousands like me and millions less fortunate than me hooked full-time. The agony of stool retention dematerialized like peace-pipe smoke from a Ghost Dance ceremony in the desert beyond the Hollywood Hills.

Can’t even puke anymore.

Reverse the ritual, disinfect the wound that never heals, put the drug-toys away, ooze out to the car and drive back to the pharmacy.

Eyelids roll down like flesh-colored window-shades in a depressing motel to soften a pornographic sunset. One of the wonderful things about skag is that it leaves you lucid, fully aware and concentrated on what matters most in a drug-induced life where everything makes sense.

OK, you’re stoned out of your mind.

She was already in the parking lot, in her car, reading a book: a hardback, not some drugstore bestseller. The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann, a book I was supposed to have read before I dropped out of college. I skipped through to the chapter that’s supposed to be about coke.

Junk later cleared that peculiar passage’s message.

The zombie approached, rapped on her window. She stuck the novel in the glove compartment, opened up and taught a refresher course in car dates as the drugstore’s parking lot emptied.

 “Let’s move it to my car,” I said, when it was dark. “There’s more room, and tinted windows in back.”

“Women feel more comfortable in their own space, mister. How long has it been since you were with a woman?”

“You saying I’ve lost the touch?”

“Let me show you.”

The demonstration was like being slowly crushed by a python of pussy. “Gonna burn away everything you’ve got,” she whispered. “You won’t want anything but what I give you. Squeeze inside me twice to let me know you understand and agree.”

There was no other way to express thoughts that weren’t even mine.

The bliss that you don’t exist. Then even the bliss disappears and you fade out.

She didn’t tell me where she lived. She made me come back to the drugstore to pick her up after work, and she was always late.

No dope lectures. Instead, the silent treatment, as wet, warm and dark as being born again, only this time it was a conscious crawl down the twelve steps that led from car dates to a night at her place, no matter how far that was from the First Aid kit at home.

Her place was Step Five or Six.

She taught me I hadn’t learned anything from years of drug-assisted service to The Motion Picture Industry.

She lent me her copy of The Magic Mountain when she was done with it. Fifth time around, she said, and the story only gets better.

The guy in the book winds up at a swank TB resort even though he isn’t sick, and falls in love with a woman who’s dying. She shows him her X-ray, and outlines her heart with her finger. Then she points out her shadowy lungs, which are full of some pulpy crud that wants to kill her.

At that point, I hadn’t enjoyed a shot in days. She made me retain body fluids at critical moments, while she gushed from a bottomless reservoir.

The lady in the novel dies real gory.

This literary Liebestod packed visceral whallop. I dropped the book, slammed the bathroom door and sat down without even a sideways glance at the First Aid Kit.

The pile was a magic mountain, and it was real. The creation was a product of love, or at least of going through the physical motions. But the emotion was there. Love flowed through my veins and intestines in the form of light. An astral body that used to be me levitated up, up and away.

Never felt that way about a finished script or the subsequent box office smash, or flop.

An enlightened human being picked her up at the drugstore at sunset. Beams of invisible warm love streamed from my eyes, mouth and ass. She looked into my eyeholes. A junkie no longer, or not that kind of junkie. But I wasn’t free, never was, never wanted to be. She put a hand over my mouth when I started to say I love you.

“You’ve still got a lot to lose,” she said.

Otto Burnwell

Tarzan’s Torments

She had Gordo playing Tarzan every time his mother called her over to “babysit.” Gordo was too old for a babysitter, but just old enough for an ankle monitor. Part of his parole, and it kept him out of juvey. Gordo was impressionable, what his mother called “young for his age.” She wanted someone older in the house to keep him out of trouble.

Tarzan’s Torments is what the babysitter called it, with Gordo as Tarzan, and her playing a lion or an alligator or a python or a cannibal warrior or antelope priestess or whatever. She always mixed it up.

But it meant Tarzan would be naked, tied to a chair or chained to the ottoman, dangling from mom’s chin-up bar wedged in the closet doorframe, or stretched out on the ironing board. Sometimes Tarzan had to be the sacrifice to a ravenous animal, or the main course for an after-battle feast. Tarzan had to fetch his own ropes and chains from the garage while she stripped off her clothes and left them piled in the bathroom.

The cannibal warrior would use one of dad’s best paint brushes to baste Tarzan with canola oil, pinching and squeezing Tarzan’s delectables, telling the gathering of imaginary diners how she planned to prepare his tastiest parts for the hungry crowd. She made him hold an apple in his teeth and greased up all kinds of cucumbers or carrots for sticking into Tarzan to see if the rump roast was ready to serve. Despite all the butter, Tarzan hated that part, and was glad when she got around to nibbling his jungle delicacies.

On nights she was the wild animal, she went straight for the nuts and sausage, which could get scary the way the lion and the alligator took his balls in her mouth, whipping her head back and forth, pretending to tear them off. Of course it was pretend. She didn’t want to be explaining how Tarzan’s bloody balls ended up detached from Tarzan and rolling on the floor.

The python was different. She would lock her legs around Tarzan’s head, her crotch mashed into Tarzan’s face. She would swivel and twist trying to crush the life out of Tarzan, which she nearly managed to do every time. Tarzan yodeled and huffed great hot breaths, inhaling her smell that reminded Gordo of tuna fish left too long on the picnic table. Tarzan’s struggles to breathe seemed to drive the python into a lashing frenzy. Once the pretend life had been totally squeezed out of Tarzan, she would slither down the length of him, stopping to taste-test him with flicks of her serpentish tongue. She’d rear up, arched to strike, then lunge, gulping him like a snake working its prey down her gullet pretending to devour him entirely, boner first.

Sometimes she’d let Tarzan buy his freedom from the cannibal warrior if he would submit to the antelope priestess who demanded Tarzan pay a tribute. Tarzan, being naked except for the ankle monitor, didn’t have anything to give the antelope priestess, so she settled for milking him for any gold or jewels he might be carrying in his scrotal sack. Sticking her finger into his rectum as far as she could reach, worming around for any hidden gold coins, made it easy for Tarzan to come up with lots of tribute.

When the babysitter finished playing Tarzan, she’d retreat to the bathroom to do her homework—she said—running the shower the whole time.

Playing Tarzan never got old. She was full of ideas. The last time they played Tarzan, the cannibal warrior drizzled Tarzan’s ass with honey, making his butt cheeks stick together. After licking up all the honey, she went to snag a shot of dad’s whiskey kept in the broom closet, leaving Tarzan spread-eagled on the dining room table. Mom came home early and that was the end of Tarzan’s Torments.

Gordo missed playing Tarzan. It took his mind off the ankle monitor.

Arturo Desimone

Yet Another Poem Against Amsterdam

First the shadow of that busybody,
androgynous maven mayor Femke Kok
flitting by on her bicycle,
along the esplanades, graffiti only
in invisible ink her first decree,
and now, Quarantine — not without explanations,
from robotic mouths, drone moon

Guillotine slides down along still canals
of the quadrant, where the geese drift
pretending to be swans but fart more often:
district of nectars
where the men paraded, in search of a lost
India flower, lurching
from British jets just cancelled without refund.

Before the Quarantine,
it was almost Florentine:
harlots kept shop in the red-to-
vermilion neon-lined windows,
Alumni of Law, economics
or Art History, faculties
of Bucharest and of Sofia,
goods with degrees, to illumine
seasonal drunks, passersby goaded.

Schools of clownfish swimming, fleeting
between matrix corals–
I fume against the drone,
which interrupts lullaby
against the decadence
such as that of realtors,
the madame-pimp Leandro,
or the daughter of senile Hans
who runs the big hash-dens.

Unlike her,
I shy
from honest arbeit,
and yet I want the very best
gelato in my cone,
and am simply here
for the welfare, art my alibi,
take the money and run
until flight:
welfare-rat with wings,
straddle-riding Pegasus,
No soy de aquí ni soy de allá
through the bleakest Northern skies astreak
the crown-shaped red bloom at each
gun-rocked temple
of my satyr’s head,
gunflowers of kamikaze’s widow’s
sweet origami.
the art-world can suck
my proverbial olive-oiled cock,
dreamt of by the wife of Alexander.

Suspicious of the innovation of the bicycle,
though I once scoured these streets
looking for the young Jean Genet, and almost ignoring
all the Sultan’s girls, (they halt my shrugs
though I won’t pay)
of the unfortunate two and a half conditions,
I by far prefer women—
the wheel without spokes, please.

Me gusta cuando callas: this has become heresy
of the warlock, thanks to a censorious lot,
led by the mavens.
If I see the shaved head of an art world imp
near my crotch, I will kick his fashion-sharpened skull
away, down the spiral staircase,
they don’t know was invented by
Leonardo.
Despite degrees,
There is a whole lot
they don’t know

Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

This Is Not Your Child’s Poem

this is not a pipe, this is not a child’s poem, your child’s poem
although words are strewn, a haphazard collage
no capitalization, except for words that shouldn’t be.
look Mommy, you proclaim to your own country club mother, I’m a poet
and I can smear poop and invite. she shakes her head at you, her child
thirty years existent. while you invite the audience to genuflect
words strewn without logic, a poem
boxcars without couplings, moving into
masturbation nowhere, a noodle, your mother, a penis
is your sister

(Your child’s name is stanza paradigm problematic. no dead poets you think)

this is not your child’s poem
even though you ask
why can’t we all just get along
I don’t see color or this or that
and recite your words while
donning an Afro and pissing rainbows on the page. You child
of starched country club Whiskeypalians, whiter than
Wonder. But this is not your child’s poem
because your child will be untrammeled by age, loving
the moon and the stars

(meanwhile you milk your own mother’s neglect. pain is a salve)

a butter-colored streetlamp
and no narrator flings poop in between words
only the moon and the stars
and the stillness, the sorrows exist on terms they exist on
if only you were your fucking child’s future poem
this is not a pipe, this is a prick
this is poop, this is anything
but your child’s theoretical poem
untrammeled by masturbating sister
words without meaning and glory

(your child will don a beret at two. or is baldness more fun?)

why can’t you become a child
and shoot the narrators who are constructs
shoot them until they release their cynical interpretations of
beautiful words. for this is not a pipe, this is not your future child’s poem
shoot the narrator
and look into a moonlit nightscape
while you conceive that child
through untrammeled jizz, birthing flesh
and mind so cheerful, taking to the expanses of
paper and words expanding and naked and dancing.

Ben Fitts

Nostalgia Box

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! That’s the sound of love.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! That’s the sound of sex.

There’s a difference. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Need to hear it again?

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! is the sound of love and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! is the sound of sex.

I’m glad to have been able to clear that up for you. It’s important that you understand the difference moving forward. I don’t want you hearing AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA- WWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! and thinking that you’re hearing the love of a lifetime when really all you’re hearing is plain old dirty sex.

There’s nothing wrong with plain old dirty sex, but don’t go getting it confused for the love of a lifetime. I know I have and it just leaves you feeling empty inside, like an avocado with all the yummy green gook scraped out and spread over buttered toast and leaving you nothing but the crinkly skin that contained everything you once were.

I was laying in someone else’s bed while the bed’s owner was in the shower, washing off the evidence of what we had created. You were also there. Not that we were in bed together. It’s that you were me because we’ve all been there. Just at different times and at different places and with different girls and boys and people who care not for such labels in different showers, washing different fluids down different drains with water culled from different reservoirs. But we’ve all been where I was, so everyone was me just as I was everyone else.

Sex makes us all the same like that, and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA- WWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! is the sound that makes equals of us all. The girl in the shower and I had been going “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWW-HHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?!” all afternoon, but I was young and dumb and had mistaken it for “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” on at least two occassions that very day. I was looking for AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! just about everywhere back then, and every now and then convincing myself that I had found it.

Rolling over into the warmth of where she just lay, I ran my eyes over the spines on the bookshelf by her bed. I shouted warm hellos to my old friends Dylan Thomas and Joyce Carol Oates and John Steinbeck. I gave friendly nods to my hazy acquaintances Virginia Wolfe and James Baldwin, but I didn’t bother introducing myself to strangers like Camus. They’d be time enough to meet them later. And for your information, Camus and I are fast friends nowadays.

Seeing all those friends and strangers packed so tightly that they’re overflowing on her narrow shelves makes me want to know everything about her. At the time, I thought that we might be drifting towards falling in AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH- HHHHHHHHH!!!!! together. You know the feeling.

I slid off the bed, scooped my boxers off her carpet and slid them on. I don’t know why, because even if she returned just then she had already seen all there is to see down there. I guess that there’s a whole level of intimacy and vulnerability to let someone see that part of you in its typical mode that simply doesn’t come with showing it to someone when it’s in high-performance mode, and that wasn’t a bridge we had really crossed yet.

With my cotton-blend chainmail covering the only part of me I still felt the need to cover, I began to investigate. The first thing that caught my private eye was a milk crate full of vinyl records nestled beneath her bed, and I bent over to flip through them.

Leading the pack was London Calling, Paul still smashing his Fender bass over forty years later. Once again I was thirteen and alone in my first bedroom, with “Clampdown” and “Brand New Cadillac” blaring through my speakers and upsetting the downstairs neighbors. I flipped through to In Utero and then I was I’m sixteen and with friends and the four of us are in smoking our first joint in someone’s mom’s basement, airing the smoke out through a dwarfish window and masking our giggles in “Pennyroyal Tea”.

The next record was The Money Store and I was eighteen and unpacking boxes in my first dorm room, introducing myself to the freshman hall with “Hustle Bones” and making eyes with a slender girl who walked by my intentionally ajar door. I browsed through her collection a moment longer, passing some other favorites before pushing the milk crate back under her bed.

It was haunting how many of my cherished memories she owned, etched into those grooves. While I was never someone who believed much in signs, it sure felt like one. I know that you’ve got those songs or albums that are inextricably linked to a cherished or despised memory, so don’t even pretend not to understand what I’m talking about.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!,” I whispered to myself. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH-HHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

I fumbled around under her bed until my fingers grasped a worn shoebox, and I yanked it out into the light of day cast by a dull yellow lamp. Something about the Converse shoebox told me that it no longer contained Converse, as it had the energy of a special shoebox that contained special things. Things that were even more special than a beloved pair of Chuck Taylors.

My guess was that it was a nostalgia box, filled with trinkets and knickknacks and doodads and thingamajigs that were of no value other than whatever memory-based connection they bore to her. I had a nostalgia box myself, filled with birthday cards and ticket stubs and paper programs and gaudy two-dollar purchases. I lifted the shoebox up to my face and opened it. Then I dropped it onto the floor.

The box was filled with hearts.

Some of the hearts were withered and decaying, dry and blackened. Those hearts looked as if they hadn’t pumped a drop of blood in years. Others were fresher and still had traces of color and moisture left in their tissue, and some were so fresh that they were a ruddy, glossy red and still leaked wet blood onto the shoebox.

One of the hearts was even still beating a little, the atriums gently breathing in and out. I reached into the box pulled out the beating heart, the oozing blood slicking my palm. As I lifted it up, I thought I heard a faint sound escape from the organ. I lifted the heart to my ear.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” the heart whispered to me. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

The heart beat twice more, then died in my hand and become as still as all the others. I felt a prickly sensation in my chest as I imagined my pectoral being sliced open and my own heart harvested and added to the ghoulish collection.

“What the hell are you doing?” I heard from behind me.

Still clutching the bloody heart, I turned to see the girl in the shower. Only now she had returned from the shower. So let me rephrase that: still clutching the bloody heart, I turned to see the girl recently returned from the shower. She had a white towel wrapped her from her thighs to the upper half of her breast, and she was dripping like a baptized infant.

“What the hell am I doing?” I retorted. “You’re the one with a shoebox full of old bloody hearts. What are you, some kind of serial killer?”

“No,” she said softly.

“Well, you’re not cutting my heart out in my sleep and adding it to your trophy box,” I said rising to my feet and ignoring her answer. “‘Cause guess what, I’m not as dumb as the other people you’ve fucked and I’m not letting you do that to me.”

“Those are my hearts, you dumb asshole,” she said.

“Wait, what?” I mumbled, the heart slipping out of my slackening fingers and plopping onto the floor with a wet squish.

“Those hearts are mine,” she reiterated. “They came from my chest.”

“What?” I repeated, looking at the shoebox full in varying stages of decay. “That’s impossible.”

“Wanna bet?” she said.

She dropped the towel to the carpet. Unsheathed, she stepped towards me and gestured to a spot a little above her bare left boob. Scars and stitches and slender band-aids wove an intricate pattern on her flesh in the space she revealed, over where her heart should be. I couldn’t help but wonder how I didn’t notice all of that during all the AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! Maybe it wasn’t AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! after all.

“They keep dying,” she explained. “Right in my chest, my hearts keep dying. They get one whiff of what they think is AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! and swell up bigger and stronger and bloodier than they ever were before. But the moment my hearts start to realize that they were wrong again, they begin to beat more and more faintly and shrivel away into nothing more than a useless, empty husk.”

“I still have some questions,” I admitted.

“I can feel it when they begin to fade and die. And when I feel that, I have to get rid of them,” she continued, seeming to guess my general line of questioning. “They’re gross and awful and toxic when they get like that, and I can’t have them inside of me anymore. I tear them out of me as soon as I can. It hurts each time, but you get used to it after a while.”

“But do you have like a million hearts?” I asked surveying the box. “Do you also have seven lungs and an extra clitoris?”

“No, but that last one would be nice,” she answered. “I only have one heart, or at least only heart at a time. But every time I tear a dead or dying heart out of me, another fresh one grows back in its place soon after, only for it to eventually die too and for the process to start all over again.”

“But why do you keep them all in that shoebox?”

“They’re a part of me, and they always will be,” she said, shrugging her naked shoulders. “I may have ripped them out of my body, I don’t think I could get rid of them entirely even if I wanted to. If I tried to throw them out they would just return, probably in a somehow worse condition than they already are.”

“Have you actually tried to throw them out?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “But I don’t need to have tried to know that that’s what would happen.”

We fell into a stiff, heavy silence that pressed down on my chest like an incubus. I broke it just to feel light again.

“That thing you talked about before, when you said that before your hearts start to die they get bigger and bigger and stronger and full of more blood than they were before,” I said. “It seemed like that part was a good thing. Is your heart like that now?”

“No, you can relax,” she said conversationally. “You didn’t make my current heart swell up and you don’t have to worry about making it eventually wither and die either. This is just AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! You know that.”

“Oh, ok,” I mumbled.

I felt a tightness in my chest as my heart began to contract, and to beat just a little bit fainter.

Smoking Herb & Other Stories, By John D Robinson

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John D. Robinson returns with ‘Smoking Herb & Other Stories’, his first collection of short fiction from Analog Submission Press.

A5 saddle stitched chapbook. Lovingly handmade, hand stamped, and hand numbered. 3 stories over 20 pages. Limited to 25 copies. Printed on an old Canon laser printer we found abandoned at a dump site.

Out April 10th. Pre-orders welcomed. £4.00 + shipping.

BUY A COPY HERE

Corey Mesler

Sex, Our Badger and God

The badger’s in the kitchen
making chai.
He says he learned how from
his sensei.
My wife and I are settling in
to watch that
new Hollywood blockbuster:
Jackpot Vernacular,
starring the ingénue, Sunday
Lipinsky.
I tell the wife, boy would I like
to and she says her, too.
The movie takes our mind off
the wrecking ball
poised outside our plateglass.
It looks like another
planet, that’s what the badger
says. Only to a
badger, I think, but I smile my
reassurance.
The chai is hot and spicy and
as smooth as a blowjob
so that we forget the holes in the
movie’s plot, the
holes they try to patch with Sunday’s
ample backside.
It’s almost enough.
“Snuffle,” says my wife and the
badger is pleased.
“We have to get rid of him,” she
says when he leaves.
He seduced my secretary.
I contemplate this and decide that
her secretary
looks a lot like Sunday Lipinsky.
I wouldn’t mind, etc.
The movie rattles forward
a little longer
but our concentration is shot,
like Kennedy,
like the moon.
We decide to cover each other with
chai and see what happens
to our sex lives.
It’s not a bad way to spend
the afternoon, even
if you know you have to let
your badger go.
And, when I mount my loving wife
like a cowboy,
I think her ass is as good as
Sunday Lipinsky’s.
It gets me through. It gets me
to the other side.
It gets me and it gets her and we
all muddle along,
as the rain begins to genekrupa
the roof,
and the wrecking ball glows
as if it has conjured Dr. Dee’s spirits.
The arc of its intention
is something to see.
So I cover my wife’s nakedness with
a quick cairn
as the world shatters,
shaking its myrmidon coat, a wet god,
now appearing for the first time,
almost too late.

Leah Mueller

Fleeing 2019 in a 2004 Ford

Sign on the freeway: silver alert.
Another elder said fuck it,
got into a red 2004 Ford
threw IDs out the window
and jammed the accelerator.

She took 1-90 east and
headed for the opposite coast,
laughing as she fiddled with the radio.

Relatives twisted napkins in knots
and punched numbers onto cell phones:
all of them beside themselves,
screaming at law enforcement for help.

Mom should be there for the grandchildren.
Dad needed to stay, so others
could feel superior to him.

Instead, flagrant disregard.
Mom and Dad have fled the scene
like teenagers, but in separate cars.

Dad split six months ago,
and no one ever found him.
He’s an adult and entitled to leave,
even if that does make him
a self-centered bastard.

After a while, we gave up looking.

When Mom left on New Year’s Eve,
the last day of the decade.
she swore she’d head straight into 2020,
and as far as I know,
she hasn’t stopped driving.