David Estringel

Kiss Me, Again, Again, and Again

The coppery taste of meat beneath your sweet breath lingers
like a penny on the tip of my tongue.
Heads or tails?
Can’t lose—
Lucky me.
My equilibrium’s fucked raw,
as my hands drink-in the warm curvature of your hips.
O, glorious spit—
a little dab will do ya—
streaked red and hot,
never take me from this place,
leaving me
haunted by the ghost of that breath—
your Heaven,
your Hell—
that leaves me…
quivering.
Words can’t capture what’s smeared on this cheek
by fingers,
sticky and sweet—
so why try.
Kiss me,
again,
again,
and again,
in that white muslin dress of thigh-stretched daisies
that roll and grin like morning shadows,
smiling at secrets hidden in dark places.

 

(Originally published at Terror House Magazine)

Jack Henry

prayers

she suggests we pray
my eyes gaze up
at her
bewildered
‘now?’ i ask

i push her legs wider
move in
closer

i resume

‘maybe not,’
she says breathlessly

i listen to the clock
ticking
a cat
meowing
a door
squeaking

‘you should stop,’
she says
abruptly

i comply

‘we should pray’

she kneels next to me
on the motel floor
hands folded
eyes closed
‘heavenly father…’
she starts

five minutes pass
her sins washed
‘where were we?’
she asks
we resume
my prayer

answered

James Babbs

I Hear the Train A-comin’

I’m getting drunk again
Johnny Cash filling the room
and I think
I need some more whiskey
because
I haven’t drowned myself yet
and I’m floating
I’m floating around the room
it’s after midnight
and I don’t care
sleep doesn’t come so easy
anymore
most of the time
I just end up drinking
until I pass out
sleeping wherever I fall down
and dreaming that same dream
where I’m tied to the tracks
and I can see the light
bearing down on me
and the whistle blowing
while I’m struggling with the ropes
trying to get myself free
and when the train’s
almost on top of me
the whistle sounds like a scream
the light blinds me
and that’s when I always shut my eyes
and I keep them closed
for a really long time
and I try not to breathe
when I open my eyes again
I watch the train
changing
into a thousand white horses
and all of them turning
at the exact same moment
in the same instant they all turn
and run away
in the opposite direction
but I’m still sitting there
tangled among the ropes
my face wet with tears
and the wind turning cold

between the two of us
Thomas was the real writer
words always came so
easy to him
for me
it was a constant struggle
because
there was so much I wanted to say
but I was always afraid
of not being able to say it
in the right way
the way it sounded in my head
and my terrible fear of failure
kept hanging me up
but Thomas always gave me encouragement
he said
I just needed more confidence
he said
I needed to stop
thinking about it so much
and just write
whenever I let him read
something I had written
I would tell him
it’s not very good
but when he was finished
he would always tell me
it was better than I thought
Thomas wrote a weekly column
for the college newspaper
whatever was on his mind
he always impressed me
with his ability to take
the most mundane things
and turn them into something meaningful
I don’t know
how many times I told him
he was going to be
a famous writer someday
and I would get to tell people
I knew him when
oftentimes
it was after I was drunk
and I felt the urge to talk
and talk
until Thomas finally stood up
laughing
when he told me
to shut the fuck up

I’m alone on the train
and outside
the lights keep flashing
past all the windows
and I can hear the wheels
clanging against the rails
I don’t where I’m going
I feel like there’s something wrong
but I don’t know how or why
I get up
and walk to the front of the car
letting my hands touch
the back of each seat
as I move down the aisle
I hear someone
whispering my name
but when I turn around
nobody’s there
I see the door closing
leading into the next car
and I hurry in there
only to find it empty
I hear someone laughing
and it reminds me of
some drunken laughter
from a long time ago
and I walk all the way
down the aisle
until I reach the end of the car
I think I see movement
among the shadows or
maybe
it’s just the coming
and the going of the lights
I walk into the next car
and it’s empty
just like the other two
but there’s a noise
coming from the far end
and I run down there
but don’t find anything
and the next car
and the next one
and always the emptiness
always something
pulling me forward
and the lights keep flashing
in the windows
and I hear the sound of the wheels
when I reach the last car
I walk to the end of it
and stand there
looking through the glass
seeing nothing but the darkness
when I turn from the window
and start moving up the aisle
I find an old man
dressed in rags
asleep in one of the seats
he looks familiar to me
but I don’t know his name
for all I know
he could be dead
because
no matter how much
I shake him
he doesn’t open his eyes

I remember some of the parties
Thomas and I went to
getting so drunk
and laughing
just having a good time
sometimes
Thomas made things up
about the two of us
like telling girls
we were both reporters
doing an investigation
on underage drinking
and we needed to check their IDs
or he would pretend to be
a concerned big brother
looking for his little sister
he would make up a name for her
and ask the girls if they knew her
then he’d ask for their names
and where they lived
and he’d write all of it down
in the little notebook
he carried around with him
sometimes
he even got their phone numbers
one time
this really drunk guy
bumped into me
and started picking a fight
for no good reason
and Thomas came over
asking him
how he was doing
Thomas told the guy
he looked familiar
Thomas asked him
if they went to school together
the guy just gave Thomas
a funny look
then the guy said
no
oh
said Thomas
it must’ve been your mother
and we both walked away
leaving the guy
standing there
just looking confused
when we were far enough away
I couldn’t hold it anymore
and I just burst out laughing
Thomas and I met Vicki
at one of the parties
I saw her first
laughing
and stumbling out of the bathroom
she lost her balance
and fell into me
when I caught her
she pushed against my body
and gave me a kiss
but later that night
she went home with Thomas
and they started seeing each other
for awhile after that
kind of on-again
off-again
and whenever I saw her
we talked about a lot of things
but we never talked about that kiss
sometimes
at the end of those nights
Thomas and I
would go back to our apartment
and continue our drinking
carrying on
long discussions about writing
and music
and women
and life
all of those memories
flooding my brain
until it’s difficult
for me to breathe
and I reach for the bottle
leaning back from the table
and pour myself another drink

sunday morning
and the phone’s ringing
sunday morning
and who the fuck’s calling me
at this hour of the day
I pick it up
and mumble hello
hey
I’m sorry
did I wake you up
Vicki’s voice
I say
yeah
okay
she says
do you want me
to call back later
I tell her
no
it’s okay
how are you doing
she tells me
she can’t sleep
because
she’s always thinking about
too many things
and I say
yeah
I know what you mean
she laughs
but it sounds sad
Vicki says
hey
remember the Halloween party
I say
yeah
I remember
Thomas came dressed
in just a diaper
carrying a baby bottle
filled with beer
Vicki says
yeah
he looked so funny
I say
he asked some girl
if she’d breast feed him
and the girl slapped him
and without
missing a beat
Thomas started wailing
just like a baby
it was so funny
Vicki says
yeah
later on
I remember him
out in the middle of the room
acting like a baby
stumbling around
trying to walk
of course
he was pretty drunk
by then
I say
yeah
shit
I forgot about that
and I laugh
Vicki says
he gave me a story
I say
really
yeah
she says
it was about a dog
with super powers
but he kept them
hidden from people
he only used them
around other animals
I say
oh yeah
Vicki says
I know
it wasn’t like
any other story
Thomas ever wrote
I don’t know
maybe that’s why
he gave it to me
I say
yeah
then neither one of us
says anything for awhile
finally I say
hey
I’m going back to sleep
Vicki says
okay
I ask her
if she wants to meet me later
somewhere for dinner
I tell her
I want to hear
more about that story
she doesn’t answer me
right away
then she says
yeah
okay
that sounds good
I say
okay
I’ll call you later
she says
okay
bye
I say
goodbye
she says
and hangs up the phone
I’m thinking
about the funeral
how Vicki stayed
so close to me
the whole time
how she didn’t know
what else to do
and I was glad
she was there with me
but I never said anything
after the funeral
we rode home together
Vickie said
please
I don’t want to
be alone tonight
on our way back
we got stuck at
a railroad crossing
a long
slow moving train
and some of the cars
waiting behind us
got out of the line
and drove back
the way they had come
but Vicki and I
stayed there
we didn’t say anything
we just sat there
watching the train move past
we didn’t have
any place to go

I remember that morning
I wanted to sleep
but Thomas came in my room
and told me to get up
he kept pulling the blankets
off of my bed
and turning all the lights on
I said
hey
what the hell
come on
Thomas said
I want to take my column
over to the paper
I said
so
what’s that got to do with me
he said
hey
I want you to come with me
hit the bars this afternoon
I said
what time is it
Thomas said
eleven
so get the fuck up
I think we made it
over to the paper
around eleven-thirty
and then we had lunch
at one of our usual haunts
Thomas told me
some girl
wanted to meet him
at one of the bars
so we went over there
and we started drinking
the day slipped past us
it seemed like
so many other days
and later on
nine or ten o’clock
maybe earlier
maybe later
I’m not sure
and I’d already
crossed over the tracks
started up the embankment
on the other side
I thought
Thomas was right behind me
so I turned to look back
wanting to see
exactly where he was
and
I saw him laughing
stumbling across the rails
but there was the train
and Thomas should’ve waited
why didn’t he wait
the train was too close
the whistle was blowing
and I saw the light
like a big bright eye
looking through the darkness
I started to call his name
I opened my mouth
and nothing came out
I heard the train
screaming to a halt
I closed my eyes
because
I knew
I knew it was too late

it’s a school night
and I’m suppose to be asleep
but I can see the light
from the street
coming through the window
the shadows of trees
fluttering on the wall
it’s almost ten o’clock
and I hear the whistle blowing
in the distance
the train approaching from the west
it’s a freight train
it doesn’t have any passengers
passing through the middle of town
the way it always does
every night
around ten o’clock
I hear the sound
the wheels make
clanging against the rails
before it all fades out
and the train moves on
heading to the next town
later
when I shudder awake
I’m uncertain
whether or not the train was real
or something I just dreamed about
and I stumble over
the electric train set
when I get out of my bed
I see the black steam engine
turned over on its side
the coal car lying upside down
and the little plastic people
standing around
with blank looks
on their plastic faces
and I always wanted to put
the track on a piece of plywood
I wanted to have all kinds of buildings
and trees and houses and cars
and all kinds of people
I wanted to set up a whole town
a place where the train
would come and go
and the children would wave
as it passed by
and there would be laughter in the air
and everyone would always be happy
I wanted my own town
where nothing would ever change
some place I could always return to
whenever I felt like it

John D Robinson

A Good Night Out

‘I got home about 3am, I was
slaughtered, booze, cocaine and
grass, I was good, I was alive,
you know, I put on some sounds
and then I passed-out: a
couple of hours later I came
too as my front door was
being smashed-open: I got
up to see 4 police officers
walking towards me, 1 of
the officer’s turned off the
deafening music, another
of the officers began
exploring my apartment
whilst the other 2 explained
to me that they were called
numerous times about
excessive noise: I knew I
was fucked: I had several
healthy marijuana plants
growing in the bathroom:
I was busted for anti-social
behaviour, noise pollution,
breach of the peace and
cultivation with intent to
supply: I was handed a hefty
fine and 100 hours of
community service work,
two years probation,
‘it was just bad luck at the
end of a fucking
good night out’
he told me

Leah Mueller

Legal Age

The day after my 18th birthday
I wandered around Peoria
in twenty degree below zero
wind chill, trying to find
a hotel that would take a check
from a teenager with no luggage.

Several desk clerks turned me out
into the cold without mercy,
but the one at the Ramada Inn
took pity on me and said yes.

The room cost a fortune: $21.00.
More than I had in my bank account,
but I signed my name on a check anyway,
ripped it from its plastic binder,
got my magic key to liberation.

The room was luxurious: queen-sized bed,
wall radio, rotary dial telephone
with long distance. I called
my parents, told them not to worry.

My mother cried, screamed,
and slammed down the receiver,
so I phoned my boyfriend.
We laughed about my mother’s pain.
“I’m through with her forever,” I said.
“Good riddance,” he agreed.

Afterwards, I felt hungry, ordered
a hot fudge/butterscotch sundae
from room service, and listened
to “Year of the Cat” on the wall radio.

In the morning, I wrote the clerk
a second check for $20.00: charges
for my phone calls and sundae,
wandered into the frigid morning.

After I found the bus station,
I bought a ticket back to Peoria.
Everything was going to work out.
I’d never have to see my parents again.
Instead, I’d move to Champaign-Urbana,
get a job, work part-time in the evenings
and finish high school. I’d eat
ice cream sundaes for dinner,
and have sex without worrying
about being called a whore
by my jealous and violent stepfather.

I sat in the front row of the bus,
stared out the window and dreamed
of adventure. Adulthood stretched ahead
like an unbroken swath of highway.

When I arrived in Peoria,
my parents lurked at the bus station
with my three hyperactive siblings.
The pack had tracked me down.

Mom smoked a cigarette,
while my brother and sister ran
in circles on the linoleum floor.
“Come home,” she said.

“Just for one night,” I replied.
“I don’t have to stay any longer.
I’m an adult now, you know.”

I’d never held so much power:
comfortable hotel beds, bad checks,
ice cream sundaes, and the chance
to tell my parents to fuck off.

It would go downhill later,
but that didn’t matter now.
I was in charge of everything,
and my checks wouldn’t hit the bank
for at least a week. No one
would ever tell me what to do again.

Maté Jarai

Everything is ironic
when i’m drunk
so i should always be

I’m a little drunk
and feeling ignored
“why don’t you care?”
I’m unhealthy
pitiful, scared of
the Hans Zimmer
soundtrack that’s
quiet suddenly –
low eerie notes
I was after epic
“Death, is that you?”
Typing loud
Macbook the only light
“my friend, friend, friend”
a blue pillar of stars
fuzzy like the air in here
rich like my wine
“slur your ideas, fool”
drink more
suck on some more
fizzy unexpectedly
like my words this night
like my feelings today
Woke up unsure
now I’m aching
I blame the rain
the wine made it Ok
I walked through
said rain to get it
poetic somehow
ironic too, I guess
like fighting an enemy
that is also your hero
or even your mother
or your friend;
birther, saviour, companion
and the potential to be
your fucking end.

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.