Daniel S. Irwin

The Spawning

Bill swore he was spawned
From the left nut of God.
Why else would he end up
In the asylum on a regular basis.
He knew the world was crazy,
He wasn’t the only one insane.
But, somehow, somewhere
There was a logic to it all.
Fish can live in water but not
So well in tea.  Vinegar is out.
The saucers come at night
But they never take him away.
Damn them for that!  He’d like
To disappear to another planet.
He’d really prefer one with air.
The doctor comes in twice a day
To do Bill’s rectal exam.  And,
Twice a day, the wandering doctor
Is shown back to his padded cell.
Maybe it was better on the street.
For sure, for Bill life was a daily grind.
But there were fewer doctors there.

Taryn Allan

Strange Roads and Nowhere Paths

Empty people passing empty store-fronts,
Spice and tax and no tomorrow,
Paths with neither beginning nor end,
Roads which loop forever backwards.
Fake tan so we can pretend we’ve been somewhere,
Betting slips so we can pretend we’ll go anywhere,

Patches of blood like sunspots,
Stain the taxi’s aged upholstery,
‘I’m sorry, sometimes she hurts herself’,
‘Mate, every bodily fluid’s been spilt in ‘ere’’,
At least she knows she’s still alive,
She’s not yet gone fully ghost,

They drive past gloom-drenched bars,
Sallow faces sucking blackened pints,
Never drunk enough to see the stars,
Never sober enough to see the dark,
But they say its all worthwhile, 
That it all serves a purpose,

To everything its place,
And to every place its cause,
Even while we worry that there is no ‘therefore’,
No ‘therefore’, only ‘and then’,
‘And then’, 
And no ‘therefore’.

Michael D. Amitin

amsterdam 3/23

the oldish new grey train like texas ribs
sizzles out of gare du nord
past crackerbox shores
to the opening…

riding rail joys graffiti garden windmills
feel the smooth steel rising, tickling my travel loins
of greenfield days

who wouldn’t know where to go, what to write
on a train

even unvaxed vixens heeding heathens call
who circle the earth blindly
in looking glass jars eyes of a blind blonde man

from a candleit pipe organ aesthetic dear
i woke to ‘loosen the grip’ 
whispered from the harangued lips of cryin’ foghorn freeload
standin on a street corner beneath pink morning clouds
as we blow by in a blackbird wind

sad eye dove can’t win
its got her runnin the grand ol reaper man
carrying his last stand dragon stick
ghosts running in the sand and
she’s hangin on to forever melodies

kid eye blind
what house guarantees immortal-ese
racing trains hither and hather
just a suit that fits
for a housewarming party in the sky baby

you’ll all be together again sad eyes 
no fret let the music begin
before these days peel away your love
like riptorn cheap fishnet stockings

things are bound to turnaround
this run of bad luck
that croupier’s hung up his what’s-up-his sleeve cleats

and the sad, zero-eye angels of the reformation
pasted to marble
ascending the walls of galilee nowhere’s in a heavenly squall
where dixieland swing-blowing trumpets yield to brother Joshua

and outside the foxhole crumpets adorn the green green rocky
road the grass of morning grows

Robert Pettus


My head throbbed. My ear was full; oily liquid drained from it continuously. I opened the glovebox and popped some acetaminophen; that stuff seemed to work better than ibuprofen or naproxen. I shoved my pinker finger into my ear, pressing hard against the wall of the canal; I could hear and feel that rumbling noise from within my eardrum, as if a bubbling volcano. I had gotten regular ear-infections since I was a kid, but this was different. The symptoms were too diverse in nature. My ear ached, my head hurt, stinging pain filled my furthest back, top molar. Some TMJ sort of situation was developing in my jaw, which caught and clicked with each closure of my mouth. Eating was a hilarity, considering the frequent rapidity with which percussive music sprang from within my chin.

I clutched my face, pressing hard into the perceived central locus of the pain. I massaged the muscles near my jaw; I also massaged those encircling my skull – I had learned from a YouTube video that that muscle, called the temporalis, also affected the ear and the jaw. That seemed to help – at least I thought that it did. It could have been purely a psychologically manufactured placebo, but that was fine with me, too. It felt like it helped.

I opened and closed my mouth several times – the clicking, quickening its pace, sounded like a piece of paper crumbling within a clenched fist – and the pain resided briefly. I felt better. I continued my morning commute to work.

I lived in Kentucky, but worked in Cincinnati. Traffic was variable, but it usually wasn’t too bad. The bottleneck preceding entry into the Brent Spence Bridge – Cincinnati’s primary artery – was always clogged, but even that wasn’t too bad. It was a leisurely drive, for the most part. I tried to focus on my audio book. I was listening to a dueling biography of both Grant and Lee; I was trying to broaden my knowledge of history, and the Civil War was more of a gray area that I would have liked it to be.

Looking out from my opened window while traversing the Brent Spence, I saw through the morning fog the muddy Ohio. It looked gross, as usual – someone needed to take care of it. It was rotting away – infected. Its dirty currents collided, as if in grinding response. 

I made it across the bridge. The rest of the drive, from the river up the hill to Clifton, was easy breezy. I passed the Museum Center, and Duke Energy – the locus from which every resident of greater Cincinnati was on an eternal, monthly basis, scammed.

I turned onto the off-ramp, at the Hopple Street exit. Camp Washington Chili sat vacant across the street. It would fill-up, soon enough – it was one of the lucky local businesses which had made it seemingly unscathed through the pandemic. 

There was always traffic outside Good Samaritan Hospital – a name so hilariously ironic for a hospital it would be funny if it weren’t so horrifying. I thought about my tooth. It ached, as if in response.

“There’s someone in that hospital who could fix my stupid tooth, and ear, and jaw,” I thought to myself, “but who knows what it would cost me…“

My insurance wasn’t reliable. I was afraid to go to the doctor.

The gate to my parking garage was broken. Each time I scanned my pass, it ignored me, so I had to park on the street. That situation occurred with frustrating regularity. I didn’t park in any of the on-campus garages – they were too expensive. I parked at this privately owned garage just off campus. It was cheap, though unreliable. I had to park on the street a few times every month. I would call the management and bitch at them. They would reimburse my street-side parking costs, most of the time.

My tooth ached. 

I shut and locked the door. Dodging remnant trash – mostly beer cans and shattered glass, from party-minded college kids – I made my way to my classroom. Standing in the circle at the center of the University of Cincinnati campus – located directly outside of my classroom – I looked up to the proud, swiping bearcat statue. He was atop a thickly sculpted tree branch. He looked angry. He had massive, unsheathed canines – perhaps he had a toothache, too. I chuckled at that, then put my head down in embarrassment and walked to the door of my building. They slid open automatically. I hated mornings. 

My tooth continued throbbing. It was worse than usual, today. Upon twisting my key and pulling open the door to my department, the automatic lights awoke. No one was there yet, not even the housekeeping lady. I pushed my lunchbox into the fridge, shoved shut the grating door – which was off-axis and didn’t like to close correctly – and turned toward my classroom, grabbing my jaw along the way, opening and closing my mouth a few times – hearing that frustrating, crackling click.

I was tired. I flipped open and turned on my laptop. I looked at my gradebook. So many students; so many essays to grade. They didn’t pay me to grade anything; they didn’t pay me to do squat, outside of teach the class. I guess they imagined that that work completed itself. It didn’t, though – it was a buttload of work. Buttload of free work. I wasn’t even worth decent insurance, to them.

One of my students jiggled the doorknob, peering through the narrow slit of the window into my classroom. Class didn’t begin for another thirty minutes – no way I was letting him in; I had stuff to get done. I had unpaid grading to do. I ignored him. My tooth ached:

“He’s trying to get in; I’m trying to get out!” came an internal voice, as if from nowhere.

“Wha, what?” I thought to myself. What was that? I gripped the armrests of my twirling office chair, sweaty palms imprinting themselves on the black plastic upon removal. I grabbed my face with both hands, like that kid from Home Alone:

“What is wrong with me?” I thought miserably.

I’m what’s wrong with you!” came another voice from inside, “You’ve got to let me out! I’ve got shit to do! Big shit to take care of! You’ve got to let me the hell out of this dark, clicking prison! Your jaw bones crunch on and on, like a morbid, irregular clock! It’s fucking irritating!”

I put my hands to my mouth and muffled a scream. I pulled my phone from my pocket, inverted the camera, and took a long look at myself in the mirror. I was scared – frantic. I opened my mouth wide – the clicking crunching and reverberating off the walls of my cheeks like crawling, brittle cockroaches – and looked for my aching tooth. I shouldn’t have been able to see it, but I did! It was moving! I swear it was moving! It was wiggling around as if to dislodge itself:

“Yeah, that’s right!” came a voice from inside “I’m coming out whether you like it or not; you may as well expedite the process!”

I could no longer muffle the terror. I shrieked. I began sobbing and squealing. I backed up, as if to separate myself from my tooth, in my current state of stupidity not realizing the futility in the attempt. There was only one way to escape. I shoved my left hand – my dominant hand – deep into the back of my mouth.

I pushed my hand in too far – at first gagging and coughing, now down on my knees, spitting on the floor. I grabbed hold of the toxic tooth, twisting and yanking it – now screaming out in pain; that scream muffled by my hand still shoved inside my mouth.

The tooth came out surprisingly easily. I dislodged it and slung it against the door. It made a strangely noisy, resounding thump against the wood, falling to the dirty tile below:

“God dammit!” said my molar, “You weren’t supposed to drop me on this dirty ass floor!” Dust and dirt covered its yellow enamel.

I shrieked, scrambling backward spider-like away from the door.

The doorknob jiggled again. At first thinking it was just another student, I realized that wasn’t the case upon hearing a twisting incision of a key into the keyhole. The door swung open, swinging over top my tooth – the door’s vacuous air sucking it slightly aloft from its place on the tile, spinning counter-clockwise to the edge of the wall. The custodian, Winslow walked in:

“Hey!” he said jovially before witnessing my pathetic figure slouching on the ground, “What? What’s wrong? Let me help you!”

He knelt beside me. Blood poured from the locus of my former tooth to the dusty tile below. It stained my khakis; it stained my white, nice button-up shirt. It solidified in the dust and dirt of the filthy floor. I coughed again; more blood expelled, dripping from my sobbing, bearded chin.

Winslow looked frantically for something with which to clean the mess, noticing a box of tissues at my desk. He darted in that direction before halting abruptly:

“Stop right where you are!” said my tooth from the ground, now standing – its infected roots acting as decrepit limbs, “I’m a tooth! I need a new mouth, and it’s going to be yours! You take care of yourself; I can tell! You’re a healthy bastard! Not like my previous landlord, over there! So open wide; I’m coming in!”

Winslow fainted with a whimper. My molar laughed, waddling over to his passed-out, sprawling figure.

Somehow climbing atop Winslow, my tooth then turned to look at me. It didn’t have a face – no mouth or eyes – but I somehow still recognized that it was looking at me:

“You’re not worth a fuck!” It said, “Not a single little shit! I’m on to bigger and better things!”

It then crawled into Winslow’s mouth – which was agape, drooling spittle. My tooth slid in and wedged its decaying roots deep into Winslow’s gums. He opened and closed his mouth a few times and clutched his jaw, as if in pained recognition. The tooth spoke to me from inside:

“It’s comfy as hell in here! Yeah, I can get used to this!”

I screamed again. Blood from my mouth now painted the room. The door jiggled. One of my students peered in, wanting to come to class early. 

I had so much grading to do…

Ben Newell

Geographical Cure

His native South 
was too sticky, too biblical
so he packed up his shit
and boogied on out to the West Coast
but it was too expensive, too nutty, too fruity
so he headed up to the Pacific Northwest
where it was too gloomy, too wet;
he dipped down to the desert,
found it too hot, too dry; 
he tried the Midwest (too flat, too bland)
and New England (too cold, too snowy)
then motored to the Mid-Atlantic,
a doomed last ditch effort as his arrival coincided 
with that of a category 4 hurricane—
Far from defeated,
he returned home a new man, 
a man with a mission,
a man with resolve 
and wisdom earned through years of travel;
a housekeeper found him in bed,
his brains smeared across the motel wall,
a dog-eared copy of On the Road 
in the trash.  

Dillard Stone

One-Star Dungeon

“Does that hurt, you fuckin’ piece of shit?” asked Dwayne, grinding the tip of his cigarette into his victim’s bare chest.

Anson knew he shouldn’t reply, but his anger was even greater than his pain.

“Do you know any words besides ‘fuck’ and ‘shit,’ you illiterate douchebag?” asked Anson. “You’ve already used both of those words half a dozen times. If you’re going to kill me, at least don’t bore me to death with your eighth-grade vocabulary.”

“What the fuck, man?” Dwayne yelled. “I mean, Jesus Christ! You shitty … you asshole …”

“Still shit-related, I’m afraid.” Anson smirked behind the bag that covered his face.

Dwayne punched him in the head.

Anson forced a laugh. He had a new idea. If he couldn’t escape, he could at least taunt his captor into killing him quickly.

“You’re laughing?” asked Dwayne in disbelief.

“I’m not laughing with you; I’m laughing at you,” Anson explained.


“You don’t even understand the joke,” sighed Anson. “I have occasionally had nightmares about dying like this, but my dreams always involved a brilliant serial killer who had successfully eluded capture for years. You probably couldn’t even avoid a parking ticket.”

“Hey, you … you bastard!” said Dwayne. “I’ve killed two people besides you! And no one has caught me yet!”

“I salute you for using a new insult, but I’m afraid I don’t believe you about the murders. You’re just too damned stupid.”

“Stupid?!” Dwayne’s fingers closed around the handle of his favorite skewer. Almost without thinking, he plunged it into his prisoner’s chest.

Anson felt the searing shaft of pain, while noting with regret that the weapon had penetrated the right side of his rib cage rather than the left. Even in anger, his tormentor had reflexively avoided driving the skewer through his heart, which would have ended things too quickly.

With considerable difficulty, Anson suppressed his scream. He tensed his muscles against the coarse ropes that bound him to the chair and spoke with measured contempt.

“Now I’m certain you’ve never done this before. Any experienced killer would have shown his victim the tray full of glittering metal instruments before using one of them. I’m afraid your knowledge of psychological terror is severely lacking.”

A hand grabbed the top of the burlap sack covering Anson’s head and yanked it off. The rough cloth sandpapered a patch of skin off the tip of his nose. Anson hoped it wouldn’t bleed.

“There!” screamed Dwayne. “There’s my tray of instruments! I was going to show them to you earlier but you made me mad!”

“You were already mad. As mad as a hatter.”

Alice in Wonderland? The tea party? What are you talking about?”

Maybe he’s not as stupid as he seems, thought Anson. I must be careful.

With the bag off his head, Anson was able to take in his surroundings. An unfinished basement with a bricked-up window. Raw pine beams running overhead. An old white water heater a few feet to his right. He was dismayed to see that the heater was lightly speckled with crimson dots. His captor apparently did have some experience in this line of work.

Anson sniffed the air. He had released neither his bladder nor his bowels into his pants, for which he was grateful, but he smelled something decidedly unpleasant. He looked up at his host and noticed the large sweat stains under his arms.

“God, you stink,” Anson said. “Didn’t your mother teach you to wash up for guests?”

Dwayne gave him a brutal open-handed slap across the face.

“I use deodorant!” he bellowed. “But I sweat a lot. And you’re heavier than you look. It was hard to get you into the trunk of my Crown Vic.”

“Hey, Stinky, you’re no lightweight yourself. When’s the last time you saw the inside of a gym? Or a shower?”

Anson was hoping for an explosion but was met with silence. Too long a silence.

“My name is Dwayne, not Stinky,” his captor said at last, with chilling calmness. “I don’t mind telling you my name because you’re never leaving this basement. You’re not in control here. I am.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”

“You’re just a little piece of shit who’s going to suffer like the fucker you are.”

“Oh, Jesus, we’re back to ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ again. You’re a bore and this is not a well-run dungeon. One star. Would not recommend.”

Dwayne balled his fists and knelt in front of his captive. His face moved close to Anson’s, like a nervous teenager leaning in for a first kiss.

“You are going to die. Slowly and painfully. You don’t seem to understand that, you shitty fuck.”

A tear squeezed out of Anson’s eye and rolled down his bruised cheek. He opened his mouth and faint raspy sounds emerged.

Dwayne leaned closer, hoping to hear his broken captive’s pleas for mercy.

Anson’s head snaked forward. His open mouth clamped shut on Dwayne’s lips, teeth slicing into soft flesh. He bit deeply and felt the sticky warm blood as Dwayne’s lips tore away.

Anson slurped the lips into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed as his captor shrieked blood into the air.

“You shitty ’uck! You ’ucking ’uck!”

Anson smiled into the bloody teeth that shone from the lipless mouth.

“Well, at least I took one word out of your pathetically limited vocabulary.”

Anson felt the skewer pierce his heart and laughed.

John Tustin

The Crazy Old Toothless Man on the Bus

The crazy old toothless man on the bus
sat all alone,
an oasis of just him,
near the center of the bus on the left
and he kept saying,
to no one in particular,
They’ll fucking get you,
get you no matter what.
It’s useless to fight it,
we all get it in the ass with a hot poker
eventually, if not continually

and, to a person,
everyone on the bus was silent,
avoided looking at him,
was afraid of him,
wanted him off of the bus
and also thought to themselves,
but when he’s right, he’s right.

C. Renee Kiser

Pinky Bipolar Blues

I used to be the kinda girl
who’d fight with another girl
over a bag of trash;
over a bag of trash, man
over a trashman

I used to be the kinda girl
who’d strip with another girl
to get under a fan
to win over a fan, 
to get over on the man

I used to know Pinky- 
a basic whore-cheesing mouse
who lived in a glass house, 
ran with a lost soul, strapped;
ran into her own trap,
ran spitting the hunger rap

Pinky turned pale as a ghost
when forced to face the host
broken glass-sharp-dull heart;
broken bottle-false start
broken personna(s) empty cart
Go! Pinky, Go!

Haunt me now with bad bitch wisdom
Shame is a dollar store thief in The Kingdom
I remember pieces of Pinky


Ken Kakareka

Royal Flush 

We wake up 
one day 
not who 
we want to be 
or where 
we thought 
we would be 
while we planned 
and dreamed 
we didn’t act. 
Or maybe 
we did all 3 
but luck 
missed us 
by a hair. 
Something else 
got in 
the way 
and we 
let it. 
the reason, 
that’s life’s 
plot twist. 
You had to 
that while 
you were sitting 
on a straight flush, 
Life had 
a royal flush 
tucked up 
its sleeve.

Joesph Farley

Checking the Facts

The truth is composed
Of ninety percent lies.
Check the facts often
Because they frequently change.

Don’t trust in books,
Or looks, or films
Or speeches.

Classroom lectures
Are mostly theater.

You need to do
The hard work
Of doubting,

Double checking
And triple checking,
Asking again.

Don’t take it on faith
Even if faith 
Is all you have.

Believe in your unbelief.
Trust in your misgivings. 

Construct a new city
Made from all you “know”,
A place worthy of Potemkin,

Shown on all the maps,
But nowhere
to be found.