Noel Negele

Days of Beauty, Strange Days

I move from place to place,
collect stories, meet new people,
take in the landscapes—
I don’t stay long in a single job,
I don’t anchor myself in one field—
I end my relationships after
two to three months,
don’t give women enough time
to fall in love with me
or truly know me,
its cruel to do that—
I’m weary of weeping faces.

At the new warehouse
I work in a freezing environment 
with three other coworkers 
on such a mind-numbingly
boring post 
that it’s made a talker out of me.

We face each other 
while breaking boxes
for nine and a half hours 
dressed in high visibility 
jackets, skull caps,
face masks, scarfs—
the only thing visible
from our facial features,
our tired eyes.

We kill the time
by talking about anything
and everything 
while slowly going deaf 
by the loud machinery all around us.

Nihal, on my right
is a 22 year old Algerian
already married with
three kids, he says.

You really stepped your foot in it,
I tell him.

He shakes his head regretfully.
Apparently, his 19 year old wife
wants three more kids.
It’s stifling, he says,
I don’t make nearly enough money.
I don’t know what to do.

On my left, Neil, a fat boy
from Liverpool 
breaks the boxes with his elbows.

Don’t you just wish
you paid more attention 
at school, I ask him.

He says he has a better job waiting for him
in September,
a job at a call centre.
Somehow, sitting all day in front of a computer 
taking abuse from raging customers
sounds better to him.
I imagine him getting fatter and fatter
in a cubicle
leaning dead over his desk
at the age of 34 
because of his oversized heart
attacking him 
and lying there for hours and hours 
until his irritated boss approaches his body 
and gives it a shove 
and asks just what the hell
is he thinking going to sleep
on the job.

Opposite me, stands Steven
a 58 year old Scotsman,
all skinny and feeble and kind
and more energetic than the rest
half his age.
An ex junkie, 
my favourite person in the warehouse.
“Been on the Junk since I was thirteen,
me, pal, had to move to Ireland to get clean.”

I ask him if he got clean on his own.
Aye, he says, all by me-self.
Now, I just take Valium 
from time to time 
to take the edge off.

I nod. Valium is a hell of a tablet.
A very tasty poison.

At the bottom of each 
cardboard box,
bold capital letters in red



I take a black marker and write 
over the red words.
I have to entertain myself, somehow.



I put the box on the conveyor belt
and watch it travel through the warehouse.

After work I frequent 
a beat down pub 
in an ominous alley
you wouldn’t go through 
even if it saved you a lot of time.

The men there are dark-faced,
their women mean-looking,
all their hearts filled to the brim
with hatred,
it’s a foolish affair to hate,
yet they’re consumed by it.
I study them. I see the old me
shoulder to shoulder with them.

I drink two or three beers
and call it a day,
proud that I can drink 
not to get drunk,
proud I can take the world in sober.
Glad to not be leaning 
heavy against anyone,
glad to be able to help people
I care about, finally.

I wish to be kind 
but I’m afraid
of being kind
towards the wrong person.

On the ride home
I smirk at my rear view mirror.
The wind is in my hair
and the smell of spring 
is a fine smell indeed
and although there are many burned bridges
in my past 
I make plans for my future
too hopeful to even write about
lest I jinx them.

In these days of solitude,
in these days of beauty,
I am used to being 
a stranger amongst strangers —
I am my own home now
and when I go to bed
I don’t toss and turn
I slip right into

Otto Burnwell

This Drink’s on Her

You started doing it as a joke, any time your wife made you wait in restaurants or bars. Especially bars. You hated drinking alone, nursing the one whiskey, killing time until she showed up. You never knew what to do with your hands.

To explain you were waiting for someone always came out sounding like a dodge, an excuse, since you couldn’t be sure when she’d show up from work or whatever “engagement” she had.

So you’d settled on this one joke to fend off your discomfort.

Your wife had taken a new lover, you’d say, and you were giving them time to get used to each other. You’d add a little half-smile of apology, but never laughed.

It put anyone curious or judgmental on the defensive, unsure how to respond. It bled off your anxiety as you pictured what you might look like to anyone bothering to notice you sitting by yourself, giving off that kind of first-date failure or rookie predator vibe.

The response, in free drinks, surprised you. Totally unexpected. Bartenders especially would sport you to a free one. For the wait, they’d say. You perfected the nod of humble gratitude and furrowed brow of wounded pride to mask the guilty pleasure at the cheap victory. You’d salute with the glass, saying “this drink’s on her” and they’d laugh—with you, not at you.

It worked in most places. Probably not the kind of thing you’d try in a biker bar, or red-neck dive, pissing on your own manhood.

You watched the waitstaff for any reaction when she finally did show up. Did they gossip among themselves about her? Like—did she look freshly fucked? Did she act guilty or evasive? Did she even look the type to leave a new lover for drinks and dinner with the likes of you?

She’d enjoy herself, oblivious to her unfortunate reputation. Her vivacity—if that’s a word, then it’s her—her vivacity an odd underscore to what you had the staff thinking of her.

Maybe she would have thought your insecurity funny. Maybe she would have been flattered. You can’t come clean about it now. You could beat yourself up for not appreciating what you had. But it’s a little late for that.

Now, you whip out the line for real. That first time out alone, you didn’t feel at all guilty when that free drink showed up. Some nights it would get you a second freebie when you called for the check, when the waitstaffer got all tender for the long-suffering guy with the randy wife, eating, then leaving alone.

Tonight, in the bar when you tried it, you were sitting next to an older woman. Lots of makeup and side-boob.

She wanted to know all about it, not bothering with excuses or apologies for listening in and chatting you up.

You’ve never given much thought to filling in the details. No one ever asked before. So you make it up as you go, how it ended much too soon, how she’s probably happier, probably better off, maybe you were a jerk, not appreciating what you two had and you deserved what you got. But—you admit—there are things about the whole situation you can’t stop brooding over. Guess it goes with the territory, you say.

She asks about the asshole lover. You dismiss him with a hand wave. Never more than a name to me, you say. Not that you’d been formally introduced.

What’s he look like? Better looking than you, she asks.

Never saw him, you say, and you aren’t all that keen to find out. In fact, you’d like to avoid thinking of him at all.

Not like you should go up, shake his hand and ask him his intentions, she says. You laugh and say no, probably not.

You’re a young enough guy, she says. There’s other fish in the sea.

Much wisdom, you say, and heft your glass. To wisdom. But then you add, it’s hard to go back, throwing out the net when you can’t forget that first fish.

She turns on her stool to face you, looks you over, and says, come on babe, I can fix that. Make you forget your own name.

That she can do, says the bartender, then hurries to add, not that I’ve ever needed my memory wiped.

She laughs and says, you wait, there’ll come a time, even for you, and she laughs along with the bartender. Just like to see the customers satisfied, he says back at her.

If I don’t fix you right up, she says, it won’t cost you a thing. She points to her glass and the bartender fills her up. I’m the Angel of Subtraction. I can take it all away. Whatever it is. I’m here nights and weekends.

Watch yourself, the bartender says to you, she can be addictive.

Bring him another one when we’re done, she says to the bartender as she slips off the stool, a mite unsteady. He’ll need it.

She leads you to a booth in the back, chatting as you go.

Very scientific, she says. Known fact. Resets the chemicals in your brain. I read up on it. I’m not just a pretty face, she says, and laughs. Once I get done, your brain won’t know what to do with itself.

 She gets you seated in the booth, balances her cigarette on her glass, and slips under the table.

Watch the door, she says, and let me know if she does show up.

No chance of that, you tell her, as she takes you into her mouth. But she does show up, superimposed over the lips on you right now.

What would you say? If she did walk in? Standing over you, this cloud of hair, rinsed to a bright rust between your knees? Sorry? It’s one-time thing? I’ll tell you—if you tell me why you left without a half-believable reason?

You think you are about to embarrass yourself with a soft performance. Her vivid absence distracting you from the expert attention given to your crank.

But her face begins a slow dissolve as you respond to the Angel of Subtraction under the table. It’s a long way, but a swift trip, and from a distance you can tell the orgasm train is approaching the station. The nerves in your calves and thighs wake up and the tingling vibration builds. It chugs up to your midriff, your belly flinching and flexing and then the tingle spreading to your ass, clinching closed, all attention to the mouth.

You’re concentrating and you are feeling the swell of intense pleasure rise up through your crank, the forewarning of juice to come and then it’s electric, like lights going on all over the house, your dick swelling—swelling beyond the capacity of your skin to contain it, and the vocalizing that comes unbidden, warnings of impending deluge.

The music is louder somehow. Maybe the bartender turned it up to cover the sounds you’re making. The room fades, the walls fade, the world fades, and you clinch holding onto this feeling. Teetering at the precipice, already over-balanced, you are a cartoon character windmilling your arms to keep an impossible balance at the cliff edge, and then—you explode and rise, not falling, the contractions, a biologic efficiency, jetting it all out of you.

The Angel of Subtraction doesn’t recoil. Instead, pushing down hard, she makes you feel the back of her throat, the swallowing muscles constricting the head to take it all as the convulsions go on, and the sucking goes on, and you are trapped — deliciously trapped—and your legs and belly flinch and jerk, the nerves receiving and responding to the nervous system gone mad with sweet chaotic pleasure.

And then you relax—which is not the right word, but it will have to do—so the weight of your body descends once more and you are lumpen, settling on the booth bench.

She tongues the spot that always makes your leg jump, just because she can.

She comes up from under the table, swinging her ass onto the bench beside you, running a hand through her hair and taking up the cigarette she left burning on the rim of her glass.

 So, she says blowing a jet of smoke up into the dim, shaded light over the table, can you even say the name of her new lover. You think a long minute, then say, yes. Yes, you can, as it swims up from its dark hole, back into your memory. Death, you say. Fucker’s name is death.

The bartender standing there with your fresh drink, goes ‘whoa’ and sets the glass down on the coaster. On me, buddy, he says.

Might as well bring me another while you’re at it, she says. This one’s going to be tough, and she slipped under the table again.

As you are engulfed, surprised at rising again, you hoist your glass to the vacant seat, the missing face across the table, and say, this drink’s on you.

Kristin Garth

Some Men Who Have Paid To See You Nude 

include rock stars, a priest in clerical 
collar, serial killer when he still had 
at least twenty dollars & compensable 
labor outside of death row, a sad 
ex-FBI agent turned lawyer turned strip 
club owner turned Clyde while Bonnie shot cops 
popping up through a sun roof window, golf trip 
titans with vacation condos they bought 
to fill with small town rented pussy explored
spread wide on granite kitchen islands —
at least that was their thoughts that pour 
into your ears in the VIP, man
addicted to speed who runs a pharmacy,
two psychologists who’d shrink you for free.

Jay Maria Simpson

Black Stockings

I bend over backwards for you
dressed in black stockings and ginger wine
who plays Chopin on your seductive
grand piano


You love my suppleness
my gracefulness
the way that I expose my self
slippery soul


You love how I show myself
to the night
under the


you climb into the shower with me
your dark eyes staring me down
you suck my nipples and make them sing
you erection breaks free inside of me

lather me
fall to your knees

Jeff Weddle

An Explanation of Lucy

Lucy was a poem to fear 
in her studied calm, 
deceptive as violence 
disguised as artful play. 

The things she fed you 
might have been poison 
but you ate them 
without concern.

Lucy in her cabin on the lake 
welcomed strangers 
in her lyric way, 
unsavory and soft,
until softness was not an option, 
and her metric rhythm 
gave away the game.

Lucy loved the world 
with bread and roses,
and so her nature 
was not like most.

When she kissed others
she meant it as much
as when she kissed you,
and you took your beatings

Lucy in her pretty dress
in her cabin by the lake
was a story to fear. 

She was every possibility 
and the promise of a moment,
a bag of small secrets
too beautiful to be true

Lorin Lee Cary


When Jake’s head exploded it surprised me. I mean, what woman wants blood all over their living room? Not me. Look, it was an accident. I just wanted him to stop talking. I know it sounds silly. But that’s the truth, and I always tell the truth, believe me. I asked my husband to stop talking and he wouldn’t, he just kept going on and on and on. It didn’t matter what he was yammering about. It could be the weather. Something he saw on TV. What he was thinking. Why my clothing was wrong. If his left elbow had a twinge. Whatever. Anything.

Sometimes I’d wave my hands in his face, in hopes he’d stop jabbering, stop explaining, stop going on and on and on. Other times I’d stomp my foot or tell him I had a headache or was too sleep deprived. That I didn’t need to know that the actual temperature outside differed from what the TV said. Nothing had an effect. I think there was something wrong with him. Maybe his brain had a bad turn-off switch.

Perhaps he was born that way. I don’t know. Why are you staring at me? Like I told you, it was an accident. He would not be quiet when I asked him to.  I didn’t care if Atilla the Hun was born with a different name. So what? Just a constant blah, blah, blah, yak, yak, yak.

That’s when I took out the pistol. For effect. It had blanks in it. Well, it didn’t this time apparently.  But that’s not my fault, because I didn’t put real bullets in it. I don’t know who did that. I can’t imagine who did that. No, blanks can’t kill? 

You don’t believe me, do you? But it’s the truth. I know my rights. Wait a minute, what are you doing? Handcuffs? I don’t need handcuffs. Ouch. That’s too tight. You’re hurting me. Why are you pushing my head down? Oh, into the car. Where are we going? This isn’t right. Who’s Miranda? My husband’s dead and I need to call my sister. You have a phone up there, let me use it. No? This is not right. Look, it was an accident. No, I don’t know who could have put the bullets in there.

I think he did it, loaded the pistol. He probably wanted to catch me by surprise, murder me. He’d reach into the drawer, grab the pistol, and shoot me. That’s probably what he planned to do. No, that’s not crazy.

I want to call my sister. I want a lawyer. Wait. No, that’s not what I want. I want out. Let me out of here.

This isn’t fair. It was an accident, or else a setup. No, I won’t stop kicking the back of your seat. Let me go. You can’t hold me. Oh, you think you can? Well, let me tell you something if you keep talking the same thing might happen to you. No, that’s not a confession. You are so stupid. Don’t you understand? I didn’t put the bullets in the gun. I didn’t plan to kill him. I only wanted to scare him, get his attention so he would listen to me and stop talking.

Where are we going? Observation? You’re looking at me now. I can see that in the mirror. Okay, I’ll be quiet, but you’ll hear from my attorney, and he won’t be quiet. He’ll make a lot of noise. Right. I’ll shut up. I won’t say a thing. I’ll sit silent as a mouse. And I would appreciate it if you would too. I’m tired of hearing you talk so much. Goddamn man.

Jay Passer


nothing like a new war
to scintillate your porno

dialing between stations
the radio between my ears

taking to your wily fingertips
in urgent advertisement

for friendly flag-waving 
fascist import agencies

I know the drinks are stronger
than smoke in surround sound

elevating our mutual mirage
in a strong-armed sweaty clench

nothing like a slice
of brains and sphincter

delivered pronto
to your foxhole

Noah David Roberts

A Motion

The moonlit bastard of the city
oppressive in its phallic skyscrapers
insidious intent through its windows

I guarantee you are wasting away somewhere
ignoring painful actions,
windswept hair dragging along the
sex-ragged floor where once
we fucked in a rage.

Emerging at South Street from
the orange train on Broad Street
I am blinded by starsigns, overcome
with the saliva of strange women
who kissed me badly in a furious sex-craze.

Overcome with joy at this new freedom;
sweltering frozen asphalt of Philadelphia;
sweat and fluids on the couch cushions;
do you have more for me
than a degradation or
a motion?

Leah Mueller

Summer Pickup

We met on the only 
hot night in Seattle–July 1993, 
the year summer never came. 

Both of us at the Blue Moon, 
drinking pints and checking out 
the other drunks. 

A married acquaintance
brought you to my table, 
playing matchmaker
after you hit on her first. 

You gave me the once-over,
spilled your beer several times, 
and followed me to my car
to smoke a couple of bowls.

“Prepare for the ride of your life,”
I said, returning the pipe to
my ashtray. “I have a lover,”

you replied, “but she’s
more of a friend, really.” 

Back at your place,
you played Annie Lennox
and Bryan Ferry on a boom box
and gave me the ride of my life:

one that would rage
on and off, for a year. 

Sometimes, I miss the
deranged hubris of my youth: 
that unflinching belief
in my invincibility. 

On the other hand, it’s nice
to sit home with a cold beer 
and a bag of good cannabis.

No one can accuse me of
never doing anything rash.
I’ll always have memories, 
and an endless series 
of upcoming lifetimes
to fuck up even more.