Jessie Bushman

Relationship Calculus

I met her at a party,
chatting casually over cocktails,
trudging through the strain
of strangers sharing the same space
by cycling through canned questions:
Where are you from?
What do you do?
I see her face flinch
when I tell her I teach poetry.
I see the sympathy seeping
from her eyes
as the remnants of the tenuous connection
that was forming dies.

I always preferred math
She explains, curtly.
The way the numbers lined up
in neat rows to march to
rigidly right answers.

Oh God, I want to scream,
believe me, I know!
Calculations are incredibly comforting,
like a blanket of confidence
blocking out cold confusion.
And if it weren’t such an intrusion,
I would ask her to tell me:
if I add up all of my mistakes–
every neglectful night you spent alone
with me by your side,
every compliment I never gave,
every ignored plea for attention,
every game we never played–
and I subtract every misstep you made,
could she calculate who was to blame
for this mangled marriage?

If I had known her for a fraction
longer than this five-minute farce,
I would have asked her to figure for me:
exactly how many three-hour arguments
raised to the power of cunt
= leave
and how many hot meals,
small favors,
and belly laughs
from inside jokes
only you understand
= stay

If I didn’t notice her eyes
seeing everything but me,
her mind searching for
the just-right reason to leave,
I would have asked her:
How many months of
you-not-leaving-the-couch
should I add
to those degrading diatribes
you dutifully deliver
enumerating my every
deficiency, before I
have to factor in
keeping-the-family-together?

As she slipped away from
the conversation
we weren’t even having,
I begged the back of her head
to just tell me:
If, as you say,
I took someone precious
and broke them–
not out of malice,
but because my young heart
was careless–
how long should I spend
cleaning up my mess?

Believe me, I want to tell
every engineer who side-eyes
the e.e. cummings I idolize,
I would trade every poem on Earth
for the ability to solve for why.

Craig Moffatt

A burned past

Walking through my old neighbourhood
I arrive at the house I grew up in,

there are two cars in the driveway
the windows of the house are smashed out

by the fire which is erupting inside.
The curtains are burning with such violence

The front door is bricked in.
smoke is bellowing out of the windows

I see my mother trying to escape the flames
her hair is on fire, her skin black and scolded.

My stepfather just standing there with a gun to his head
continually mocking me with taunts and abuse.

The dog has been hung by its neck in the lounge room
with a tag that says “to Craig, I’m Max”

The front yard is full of dead grass
with children’s bones scattered throughout.

My Stepfather points the gun and has me in his sight
fires hatred into my chest.

In the trees are the hanging corpses of my ancestors
swaying from side to side

and spirits are mourning at their feet crying out to a dead god
to save me, to shelter me

from the burning house on a grave of childhood bones.

The house is the only thing left standing
while everything else has turned to rubble,

the streetlights sag

and the bicycles we rode around on
lay rusted and tormented with age

I turn away and I walk forward
through this desolated street

a familiar unchanged geography
of where I am from

once again I am standing
out the front of the house I grew up in.

Gwil James Thomas 

Art is Vulgar/Vulgar is Art

09:35 AM sitting on
a bench in the plaza –
I watch as the beast
is dragged away
on its chain leaving
behind a brown trail –
before an unsuspecting
woman in office attire
skewers part of the turd
like a dog shit croquette
through the heel
of her shoe –
as an equally oblivious
man shouting down his
phone paints part
of his white Air Force 1’s
a fresh shade
of brown –
as the homeless man
now sat next to me gulps
his morning Sangria,
laughing at the scene
and society
and
it’s a disgusting scene
at that –
but it is, what it is
and as they say
you can’t polish a turd –
but under
the right light,
at the right time
you might just
get a poem
out of it

David Boski

Dinosaurs Too

you used to download porn on LimeWire
using a dial up internet connection,
watch wrestling when the WWE was still the WWF,
use a Zenith VCR to record movies
off of your gigantic television set,
own a Walkman and after that a Discman;
there are kids out there who have forgotten more
about technology than you have ever known,
you get tired for no reason,
your hangovers are much worse now,
it takes you longer to piss,
and you have grey’s in your pubic hair;
you can’t get up without having a cup of coffee
or two or three,
sometimes your back hurts
and
according to WebMD
you’re completely fucked;
plus,
you’re old enough to be
a father —
to a teenager,
and one time a woman
at a bar replied
‘wow that’s old’
after you told her your age
but that’s ok;
cause one day
she’ll be a fucking
dinosaur
too.

Leah Mueller

Thoughts and Prayers

My stepfather got a postcard
from the 700 Club
a month after his suicide.

The televangelist urged everyone
to call a toll-free number
for prayer healing and
a free “Jesus First” pin.

He claimed to have a powerful
and intricate communication system:
gunmetal cables, shooting prayers
towards the almighty at speeds
faster than sound or light.

My stepfather lived in rural Illinois,
a place where prayer was
common as pie. He drove twenty miles
to buy beer in the next county, free
from the Church’s vigilant eye:

drank his liver to flames,
body slumped against the couch.
His strap always near, ready
for punishment. The beating
worse if you flinched.

My stepfather didn’t believe
in guns. He chose fire instead,
a dress rehearsal for the Afterlife.

One morning at sunrise, he
doused himself with lighter fluid,
lit the match. His hair burst
into flames. The twilight sky
radiated with furious burning.

My stepfather got a postcard
from the 700 Club
a month after his suicide
and his widow turned it over
and over in her hands, wondered

where the hell the pin was.

Karl Koweski

the broken stripper

the dim lights couldn’t conceal
the fact the next stripper
mounting the buffet-sized stage
wore bicycle shorts
rather than a g-string
and a torso-obscuring blouse
instead of pasties

she possessed the
anatomical features of a watermelon
with spat seed eyes
and a smile like
a chewed green rind

she wobbled on the stage
occasionally
brushing against the pole
the duration of the song
swaying without rhythm
without removing any clothing
ignoring the eviscerating laughter

“hey manager!” my buddy hollered
“come quick!
our stripper’s broken!”

her dark glistening eyes
registered zero awareness
her flaccid expression
scarcely changed
when I approached the stage
on a wave of
escalating laughter

I handed her two dollars
and turned away
getting halfway back to
the howling red Os of
my friends’ guffawing faces
the stripper yelled
for my attention

thinking she’d decided
to give me a peek
at her busted titties
beneath her
puritanical blouse
I rushed back to the stage
where the non-stripping stripper
handed back a dollar
whispering

“you accidentally gave me two dollars”

Craig Podmore

Fetish

She wants to kill god when she cums.
Broken bottles on her breasts,
Fucking Guevara in her dreams.

She’d open her own crotch for the atom bomb.
Give me the statistics of the latest massacre
So I can cut myself to it.

I read to her excerpts of the morgue report
Regarding the deaths of Goebbels’ children
So she can fantasise about their laments whilst orgasm.

Pictures of holocaust stapled to her vulva,
Bile stained, bible pages in the toilet –
The derogatory is obtained.

Personally I’d like to fuck Eve and make her purge
An apology for the fall of man but congratulate her too,
For the ruins of god’s insipid plan.

Meeah Williams

Jigsaw Face

Janet came back from the dead and at first Miles couldn’t believe it. He’d been wishing for something like this with all his heart ever since the car wreck. Even though he knew it was impossible.

“If only she could come back, just for five minutes,” he’d say to anyone who’d listen and to himself when no one was around to listen, “Just for five minutes. I’d give twenty years of my life to say how much I loved her and how sorry I am for what happened.”

At first it was touching, but after a while it just got on people’s nerves. Everyone got tired of hearing the same sad old song.

“Time to move on,” is what they all thought and sometimes even said out loud.

Then Janet showed up on his doorstep one evening with a small valise of her things. Miles was overjoyed; his prayers had been heard! The problem was that Janet had no intention of staying for only five minutes. And hearing about how sorry Miles was and how much he loved her wasn’t going to cut it as far as she was concerned.

Somehow Miles thought an apology would wipe away her anger over the car accident that sent her flying through the windshield and into the trunk of a hundred-year-old oak tree at one-hundred-thirteen miles per hour. That was the speed recorded on the frozen speedometer in Miles’s crushed Vette. As you might expect, Janet was killed quicker than instantly.

Janet had told him that he was going too fast and that he’d had too much to drink at the Superbowl party but that hadn’t carried any weight with Miles at the time. Now it was too late to change anything, no matter how sorry Miles might be.

“Sorry doesn’t feed the bulldog, buster,” she said.

It was a saying she often said to ominous effect in life and it never presaged anything good.

Miles never expected Janet to be so unforgiving. He somehow always pictured the dead being mellower.

Instead from the moment he woke up in the morning to the minute he finally managed to drop off to sleep with her nagging voice ringing in his ear, it was a constant stream of recriminations and bitter “I told you sos.” It was about a thousand times worse than when she was alive.

Even worse, Janet was nothing much to look at anymore. She didn’t come back as an angelic pre-accident version of herself, as Miles always pictured her coming back for those five minutes he once naively dreamed about. Rather, her face looked like a lump of gray ectoplasmic clay on which someone who was naturally right-handed tried—and failed—repeatedly to scrawl a legible version of their signature using their left hand.

It made Miles cringe every time he had to look at her. Which was often enough, as Janet never seemed to get out of his face.

“Please, for the love of Mike,” Miles pleaded, “give it a fucking rest.”

But nothing would stop the onslaught. Eventually they settled into a pattern of bickering that turned Miles’s life into a living hell. Miles grew so disgusted and tired of it all that he gave Janet a new nickname. He started referring to her as old Jigsaw Face.

That’s when the self-cutting started.

First it seemed merely an accident, a slip of the knife while cutting an apple. A shaving nick. But soon it was clear nothing accidental was involved. Somehow Janet was steering his hand, causing Miles to cut himself.

People at work began to notice. His new girlfriend, who Janet never took to, became alternately concerned, repulsed, and angry. She broke up with him shortly after Miles lost his job at the shoelace factory.

His friends drifted away, one by one.

At home, Janet and the now unemployed Miles did nothing but scream insults at each other. The neighbors complained. The police were often called. Eviction was threatened.

Meanwhile, the cutting continued.

Eventually the story ends in the kind of foul stench and surplus of flies that generally characterizes the end of all such stories.

The downstairs neighbors call to report the aforementioned flies and stench and the weird greenish black stain spreading on their ceiling. The cops come with the landlord and Miles is found spread-eagle on the floor in the living room, his arms and legs slashed to ribbons. His throat is cut from ear to ear. His face looks like a jigsaw puzzle made of rotting meat. The razor is still pinched between his bloodied fingers.

“Survivor’s guilt,” his closest friends concluded.

Yep. You could see it coming a mile away.