Anthony Dirk Ray

Too Soon?

headed to get groceries
and run errands with my wife
I notice the gargantuan flag
at Camping World, where they
sell recreational vehicles
is at half mast

this flag is the biggest
that I have ever seen

I ask my wife
“what happened,
why is that flag at half mast?”

she doesn’t know
she hasn’t heard anything
I haven’t been keeping up
with the news lately myself

we get our groceries
and on the ride home
get to the intersection
of 59 and 90 where roughly
thirty flags fly on poles
and none of those
are at half mast

then it dawns on me that maybe
nothing had happened at all

maybe the workers at the r.v. place
are just too lazy to lift that
heavy ass goddamn flag
and to justify their said laziness
assume another mass shooting
will happen soon enough

Leah Mueller

Cocktails at Denny’s

Eastern Oregon:
cinderblock motel
squats beside Denny’s.
Parking lot overflows
with late-model automobiles.

Attached bar: main
social hub for a dusty
farming town, vibrant oasis
of liquor and conviviality.

I sprawl outside,
drape my arms across
the leaf-strewn hot tub,
assess my need for alcohol.

Neon light flickers
on and off: cocktails,
no cocktails, then
cocktails again.

Emerging from water,
I pat myself dry
with a scratchy motel towel.
My body reeks of chlorine,
its sharp, pungent acid
penetrates my nostrils.

Inside the lounge, I
order a beer, remember
a different motel bar.
The Neon Cactus,
located inside a Days Inn
near Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Not a succulent in sight,
except me. Men propped
on barstools, eyeing my body
like starving predators.

One of them enjoyed
an afterhours drink
with me inside his room,

then lamented, “We’ll never
see each other again,”
as I wandered down the hallway
towards my own bed,

leaving him alone
with his fantasies. I laughed
and said, “Yeah. Too bad.
That’s how it works.”

So foolish, so lucky.
Tonight, I am neither.
Eight years wear on my shoulders
like an old sweater: ragged
but comfortable. I tell
the bartender, “No,

I don’t need another,”
pay the check, leave him
a small tip. Long drive
in the morning: my rented
mattress sprawls before me

with its worn comforter
and promise of oblivion.
This night will be over
before I know it, and no one
will remember anything.

John Tustin

Voices In The Night

Voices in the night
Of broken reality
Pulling me away
From sanity,
From sleep
Pushing me deeper in the shadows
Of the trembling branches
That scratch my mind
With their shrunken claws
That shine with the blood
Of another lonely
Unsanctified moon.

Matthew Licht

jh ghost 3

A Big Star, Part 5

The Girl Talk’s not a gay bar. It’s a near-nudie dive, Mexican ladies the house specialty.

On the way to Redondo, I stopped at an office supply shop for a plastic Hi My Name Is identification tag. The sales clerk lent me his blue marker, smirked when I wrote John Holmes on the cardboard label provided and pinned the tag to my jacket.

“It’s on for tonight, sport. See you there.”

His face went blank.

The name tag was so jacky-boy would recognize me. Also so there’d be a better chance that someone in the Girl Talk crowd would remember they’d seen me there.

The Girl Talk’s a whorehouse front. The dancing señoritas hustle drinks and trips upstairs after they do their mat-work onstage.

The only skinny stripper sat on the next stool. When I offered her a drink, she asked the burly bartender for a Negra Modelo instead of ginger ale champagne. With pockmarked cheeks and ribs that poked out under her crocheted bikini top, her hustle wasn’t exactly bustling. When she suggested we go upstairs, I asked what that meant.

She nearly took off.

I said relax, in Spanish. Her eyes bulged. “Migra?” I shook my head, handed her a twenty. She folded the bill, snapped a bra-cup over it. “Es suficiente. Vámonos.”

I gave her another twenty, tapped the conventioneer ID badge, asked what John Holmes meant to her.

She said some of the men who went upstairs also used that name.

“Big guys?”

She snorted beer through her nose.

“I mean big like, jugadores de fútbol americano.”

She nodded. “Grandes, y malos.”

Holmes fans came to the Girl Talk to re-live their star’s screen exploits and play rough with illegal alien bar girls. I asked if the rooms upstairs had mirrors. She nodded. Did I want to look at them?

I gave her another twenty. The red neon-rimmed clock behind the bar said it was nearly six o’clock. Sunsets were invisible from inside the Girl Talk, but there was half an hour to wait. We went upstairs to see what reflected.

The love booths were in a row. The mirrors screwed to the plywood back walls were the two-way kind.

It’d look suspicious if the customer didn’t perform. Someone was watching. They’d seen the scrawny Mexican lady rake in sixty bucks in no time.

“Here’s what you say, sweetheart: ‘O meester ‘Olmes, even beeg-er than my last donkey show.’ Got that?”

We rehearsed the line twice.

Late for a sunset rendezvous.

At a corner table, squeezed into an XXXL gray chalk-stripe suit, was the broadest expanse of back in Southern California. The big man was bald on top, with a wiry gray fringe. His neck bulged out of a white collar. The backs of his ears were livid. Everything about him looked angry.

He looked up at an angled mirror and saw a guy try to discreetly unpin a John Holmes nametag. He swiveled his chair. His face wasn’t a fat man’s. Sunken cheeks, a sharp nose and a strong chin, deep-set enraged eyes under beetling salt-and-pepper brows. He’d eclipsed the other men in the booth.

His voice boomed. “Well hey. John Holmes, as I live and breathe. You’re late, but c’mon and take a seat.”

He grabbed my wrist. One of his friends slid over. “Welcome to the Girl Talk bar. Nice place, huh. Have you toured the facilities?” His little dark eyes beamed malice and X-ray vision.

Without moving his head, he said, “Larry, our friend John Holmes is packing a snub-nose revolver. Mr Holmes, kindly hand it over under the table.”

Larry poked a barrel in my ribs, hard. He had no qualms about plugging someone in public.

“Now tell me,” the fat man with the thin man’s face said, “how you got my number.”

“You were on a list of crank calls.”

“Aha. Gentlemen, let’s take this outside.”

Behind the Girl Talk was a poorly lit alley with no cars parked. Larry pulled a Luger and one of his colleagues went through my pockets. Mr Big lit a cigar. The match nearly burned his fingers.

“He’s just a shmo, Deek,” one of the guys who wasn’t Larry said. “New York driver’s license and a few twenny-dollah bills is alls he got.”

The big man winced when the frisky guy said his name. He looked at my driver’s license. “You said you were from San Diego. You are exposed as a liar. What’re you doing so far from home? And why do you carry a gun?”

He stuffed the license back in my pocket, but not the dough. The glowing tip of his stogie drew in close.

“Second Amendment rights,” I said. “And those New York winters got me down.”

“I can’t figure out what you’re up to, but I got a feeling you haven’t figured it out, either. Get lost. And don’t come back, unless you’re dumb as you look.”

Deek pulled what looked like a butt-plug welded to a flashlight from his back pocket. He flicked the switch. Blue sparks spread and danced. “We’ll give you a wrong-way taste of 10,000 volts. Might be fatal, who knows? Minks and foxes sure don’t enjoy it.”

I pulled my arms free. “Sheesh. I thought this was a respectable joint.”

“One more thing: you said, ‘It’s tonight.’”

“Well, it is tonight.”

“You said you had car trouble and needed a ride. Where to?”

“What? I took a bus all the way from Beverly Hills, spent sixty bucks on a girl with no tits, and now I don’t even get a complimentary limo back to the hotel? Some dive you run here, Deek.”

“Good night, sucker.”

They went back into the bar bordello. The goon who wasn’t Larry flipped a bird and closed the door behind him.


A Big Star, Part 1
A Big Star, Part 2
A Big Star, Part 3
A Big Star, Part 4

Gwil James Thomas


get at least
one bad tattoo,
eat Nikkei,
learn a chord on
a guitar and then
use that same chord
for at least twenty two
punk songs
and then hate punk,
realise that no strings
attached sex rarely
exists outside of
porn movies,
find love and
then lose it,
win at ping pong,
read Bukowski,
emulate Bukowski
and then redraft,
plant something
and watch it grow
they’re gone.

Anthony Dirk Ray

More Than Expected

perusing the telephone
singles lines in the late nineties
listening to 20 second messages
a decade or more
before any dating apps existed
where pictures are seen
and locations are known beforehand
this was the Wild West
Russian roulette in a sense
a true gamble
you went by voice and actually
had to trust that the person
on the other end was who
they said they were
trust in humanity?
I know it sounds ridiculous
but I digress
I used to make actual
lists while talking to girls
as to why I shouldn’t be
talking to said girls
but sometimes against
my better judgement
or out of sheer desperation
I would want to meet occasionally
so after a little while on the phone
one night with a cute sounding girl
I got her address and headed her way
it was about a half hour drive
with vague directions
roughly a decade before
regular people had GPS
I was somewhat familiar
with the area so I had that
going for me
as I made the left down
the dirt road into a trailer park
I started to get that
‘what the fuck are you doing’ feeling
and when I pulled up to the dilapidated
mobile home I audibly said
“what the fuck am I doing?”
I soldiered on
I got out of my car and
walked toward this movable home
I passed piles of trash
dogs on chains
and a beat up
El Camino on blocks
I knocked on the door
and a dirty kid answered
I asked for whoever
and the dirty kid screamed out
whoever somebody’s here for you
as I peered through the door
numerous inbred looking faces
looked back at me
there must have been ten
people in that living room
finally she emerged
In all her glory
we locked eyes
and both gave a good
once over to each other
I was shocked
but the first thing she said to me was
“you are bigger than I thought you would be”
I was taken aback
and a little embarrassed
but totally confused at the same time
because as I eyed her I noticed
a well defined at least eighth month
pregnant belly on her
I took a step back and said
“well that makes two of us”
I laughed and cursed all the way home

Mitch Green

Ivory Lizards

the tapestries are half done on
the walls above the open kitchen.
there are potholes spotting the
tile floor at where the worn
wooden table sits and the bare
heels of a woman in a bathrobe
stands. we slowly pan up, framing
pasty legs sleeved in tape and clay.
her lips are wrist wiped, smeared
boisterous up her left cheek and
down across her cold purple breasts.

towering above the threshold of her
crown, we see an unshaven phallus
half erect, sprung between her legs.
eyelashes flash blue irises to spear
brightly among mediocre makeup and
fibers of false hair falling out. there
are polished toes, chipped red and
another naked body on the couch in
the next room.

this one is frail, wrangled to the soles
of the vintage furniture, grain gouged
to expose poor complexion and a
broken fever. there blooms a garden,
green and yellow from tongue; wallowed
in wiry roots. contagious sensitivity is
all that exists. the third alive, hangs from
ceiling fans on fire with smoke detectors
for eyes. the box television on the night
stand speaks static noise to ivory lizards.

Matthew Licht

jh ghost 7

A Big Star, Part 4

Porn actors have parents too. Some of them lead normal lives, in houses. Another telephone operator said there were over five hundred Holmes listings in greater Orange County. Since I’d already paid for a search, I asked to be connected to the John Holmes residence on Stackpole Drive. The late adult star might’ve dropped the Jr in his screen credits. It was a shot in the dark, but it only cost the client half a buck.

A woman with a raspy voice picked up. “What do you want now?”

“Hello, Mrs Holmes?”

Her tone changed. “That’s me. Why, did I win something?”

“Sorry, Mrs Holmes. Not this time. I’d like to ask a few questions.”

“Who is this?”

“I’m a private investigator.”

“Oooh. Has there been a murder?”

She sounded as though nothing would please her more. Mrs Holmes was a bored OC housewife, the stuff on which adult loops are made. You could practically hear the ice cubes tinkle in the third gin and tonic of a late afternoon.

“The murder happened a long time ago, Mrs Holmes. That case is closed, but a man with the same name as your husband’s…”

“Ex-husband’s, you mean.”

“Oh. Anyway, one John Holmes, a suspect or an accessory to the fact, was released due to insufficient evidence. You might’ve read about it in the papers.”

“Oh yeah, I’m old enough, if that’s what you’re trying to find out. But my ex is not that John Holmes. Far from it. How many times I gotta say that? Goodbye now, jacky-boy.”

“Wait. You mean you get calls from adult entertainment enthusiasts?”

“Oh, not a whole lot. You sound different, though.” Mrs Holmes wasn’t just a bored OC divorcee housewife, she was lonely. Even her voice was lonesome.

 “You’ve seen his films?”

“Hah! Whatever it took to get my former husband in the mood, I was willing. We used to have quite a collection of dirty movies.”

A heavy glass went down on a hardwood table in the twilight.

“Look at me, spilling my drink and my former sex-life to some shamus over the goddamn telephone. I oughta have my head examined. And my name’s not Mrs Holmes anymore, it’s Gladys.”

“Listen Gladys, your former human marital aid died from drug abuse and AIDS.”

“Too bad. All those happy memories. Well, he was good at what he did. His work lives on.”

“My client thinks that John Holmes was his father. His mother said that was the case, but she’s dead too, from dope and/or disease. Holmes’ last known residence was in Orange County. Is it possible he was related to your ex-husband? Do you think he’d submit a bone-marrow sample?”

“Doubt it.”

“Do you know where John Holmes is buried?”

“How’d you find out about me, anyhow?”

“Phone operator.”

“Well maybe there’s a phone book for dead hard-ons somewhere.”

“Sorry to bother you.”

“Wait a minute. I wanna help you,” Mrs Holmes said. “Me and my ex had us a nice lawsuit. There was nothing amicable about our divorce. He claimed I was unfaithful. I should’ve been, but I really was taking mah-jongg lessons. He claimed constructive abandonment. Anyway, we both avoided taking each other’s phone calls after he moved out. In between writing checks to the goddamn lawyers.”

There’s a sound people make when they bring up their experiences with lawyers.

“Hang on a sec. I bought a doo-hickey that gives nuisance callers a permanent no-answer. I got a list of phone numbers for the police, just in case. Some of the guys who call at awkward times might have something for you.”

The receiver hit the wall-to-wall carpet.

Shots in the dark never entirely miss. Some weird particle physics guides them.

Gladys dictated phone numbers. One of them was Johnson’s.

The client only called her once, she said. He wanted to know about her husband’s family too, and was satisfied with her negative answer.

Gladys said we should watch some Swedish Erotica movies together. She had the full series.

I didn’t leave the phone booth.

The conversations with Mrs Holmes’ phone molestors weren’t nearly as friendly. The fellow fan act failed to convince. Most of them hung up without a word. One guy said, “Kiss off, pig.” He didn’t say why he thought the police might want to pester him.

An inspiration hit. Fan clubs, like AA and religious groups, have meetings.

When the next guy picked up, I said, “I heard the meeting’s on for tonight.”

Long pause. “You heard, huh?”

“You know what I’m talking about, but I got a problem: no car. Blew a gasket on the 405. Leaking oil all over the place. Overheated. Possible ring-job. In the shop till next Tuesday.”

“That’s rough, bud. Have we, uh, had the pleasure?”

“I’m up from San Diego. You’ll recognize me. Will you give me a lift to the meeting?”

“Sure, pal. No problem. I’ll pick you up at the Girl Talk Bar in Redondo. We can watch the sunset and get better acquainted.”


A Big Star, Part 1
A Big Star, Part 2
A Big Star, Part 3

Mitch Green

Eaten By God

In lights we are visible to the darker
sectors of a silhouetted branch of
man. Whirling rifts of smoke,
bail in bold grey like clouded chalk.
Pale masculinity mulled over in sequence
of the suspicious novelty blown up before
his beak and crooked cock; the white
denim love affair.

Unmarked boulevards gored bare a
valley of victims. The channeling
chasm led us here ahead of our
triangular transgressions barking badly.
Escorting the figure of smoke to waft
out, like spider on wire.

Spear the clout of wind to stalk the tender
variables of whining women spilling out
of open windows, manholes, and the mouth
of Osiris.

He who cannot be beat,
must be eaten by God.