Cicatrix

by Lauren Bledsoe

Stripped of its bark, the body knows nothing of water,
yet runs red with it. Not a river, but the way it moves–
the last time I saw you. Wrists unravelled, you threw me
into fistfuls of air, not for the wind but for the look of it,
bones broken out of their own shadow. You said my face
looking back at you made you forget your own name.
But of course, what sank through the air wasn’t body.
What broke wasn’t glass. Even now I want it back–
chrome in my mouth, the horses outside running red.
I want to be split apart. I want to be cut to my core.
That salt, that hymn. Our quiet violence.
All we wanted, a crack in the light.
A crack in the body, all we got.

 

Remember That Night

by Mark Strand

“Remember that night in the canoe on the Mississippi?” she
asked, “Remember how the stars shone?”
“Were you with me?” he said. “I thought I was with somebody else.”
“That was me,” she said, “we paddled and paddled, we went
around and around.”
“I could swear I was with somebody else,” he said.
“No, darling, it was me,” she said, “It was me. It was me.”

 

Dearest Father,

by Zach T. Power

I am the sound of epilepsy
that your mother has at three in the morning
waking you from sleep. she shakes and says softly
let my people go. but you
know that there are no people who follow her.

 

Wake Up, Missile Man

by Sam Thayn

Missile Man woke up this morning with a blankety-blank for a face. He dreams of you and he dreams of me and so we are never going to see each other again. When he sees us standing outside, he makes it cold enough to change our faces into angles, into corners that collect memories like dust. In other words, a field surrounding a well surrounding a cloud of bats. Certainty is a balloon just leaving your hand.

 

Prayer

by Karl Zuehkel

I bruise as easily as plums
and sleep like a clinched fist.
My ax loses its handle
so I swing it like a heart.
Offer me moths so I can speak
pearls and silkworms.
Under a loose floorboard
I keep old lenses, a clover,
a jar of napalm and a jar of bile.
When you ask for aspirin
I brew tea out of willow bark.
I offer you mice pelts
when you ask for an owl.

Elegy

By Karl Zuehlke

I don’t like the words on days I am sediment.

Days on the couch. Endless reruns. A cup never empty.

Those flowers deserve to be in a vase. They belong there.

As pink is to pinky. Casual is to casualty. As harp is to harpoon.

You are circling me. I let you. You let me circle you.

Sunrise over water. Sunset over water. The sun didn’t move at all.

I fashion songs out of circles so I can X them out.

Crease me down my perforations. Pull me until I am loose-leaf.

I say everything was laid out in pairs, and I mean a table for two.

Ice-water strings the pitcher to the cups on the table.

My spine is a string of bells your hand moves across.

You order a garden salad. I order the oysters and find a pearl.

The Downside of Anything

 by Tom Hazuka

Fitz threw a good party, and I’m only leaving because it’s my policy to never linger till the downside of anything.  Since I don’t believe in suicide, I realize this resolution might be tested some day.

I’m nearly to my car when Fitz yells behind me, “Drive fast, take chances!”

I turn and see him grinning on his front porch with an arm around the second of my two ex-girlfriends named Karen, both of whom are at the party.  Despite the potential for awkwardness, there was none; we’re all amicable adults with suitable loose grips on history.

They wave goodbye and I wave back, pondering a response—“Words to live by!”—but decide to swallow it.  Karen Two rests her head on Fitz’s shoulder, but only after I drive away.  I see it in my rearview.

Turning the corner, I sort of wish I’d used that “Words to live by!” line.  Does l’esprit de l’escalier apply when you don’t say something you thought of at the time, or only when it comes to you later?

If you’re keeping score, which I’m not, I broke up with Karen One, and Karen Two broke up with me, in both cases for all the usual and all the right reasons.  No one disputes this; any knots in the stomach or sleepless nights were spawned by vanity, not sense, and the unearned pain was fleeting.

During the drive home I compare the Karens—a dispassionate connoisseur of Karens, sniffing their bouquets, swishing them around in my mouth and spitting them out without drinking them and letting them go to my head.  It’s not a matter of better or worse, but rather of individual taste, or simply what’s on the menu.  A lightly chilled Karen One for a twilight stroll on the beach; a well-decanted Karen Two for sharing the Sunday New York Times.  Neither is a particularly rare vintage, but I’m no snob.  The current trend toward screw tops instead of cork suits me fine.

I’m still mulling over Karens when I reach my condo on Common Place.  (I know, I know, but it beats a street named for a builder’s daughter, like Amy Way where Fitz lives.)  I step into the living room at a minute past midnight.  Even leaving Fitz’s before the downside means not getting to bed till the next day.  I used to think parties were just revving up as one day slipped into the next, but midnight is starting to matter now that I’m thirty-five.

I strip to my briefs, brush my teeth and curl up in the sheets, but chewed goo from every guacamole’d chip I ate at Fitz’s feels like it’s trapped festering between my teeth, and I have no choice but to get up and floss.

Flicking flecks from between my molars, I notice in the bathroom mirror that my forehead seems bigger.  Is it my imagination, or has my hairline begun a slow retreat?  I wonder if I’ll go bald, and how long it will take.  Years, surely, lots of years, if it even happens at all.

Karen Two likes men with shaved heads, thinks it’s primal and masculine, but she’s from Chicago and has a Michael Jordan complex.  I doubt that terrifyingly tattooed skinheads would make her heart flutter, except maybe in fear, but who knows, with women anything’s possible.

I toss the limp string in the trash.  My great-aunt Margaret used to rinse floss and use it over and over until it frayed to pieces.  Funny, I haven’t thought of Auntie Meg in forever.

I return to bed with a pristine mouth, and lie weirdly and widely awake.  Are you serious?  Dead beat and I can’t sleep?  I spit a curse toward the ceiling and flop on my side.  My mother would threaten to wash my mouth out with soap when I swore, but the only time she actually tried to force a cake of Ivory past my lips I bit her finger and tasted sudden blood.  That was also the only time she ever hit me, a reaction slap to the head as she yelped in pain.  My ear on the pillow remembers the sting.

Suddenly the world seems very big, and life long and unbuttoned.  I wonder what’s happening at the party, whether either of the Karens will sleep alone tonight.  In a way it’s a shame to miss out on something, even if it is the downside, but what good are principles if you don’t stick to them?

 Truth be told, I don’t really see a downside.

 Her blood was a surprise of salt on my tongue.

 

 

How to Make Black Tea

by Tesia Tsai

Boil the water. Add two grams of tea leaves to the pot. Turn off the stove. Pour the hot water over the leaves. Steep the tea for three-and-a-half minutes. Remove the strainer. Pour the tea into the blue mug. Add milk—

She cursed softly, catching her mistake. The milk was supposed to be poured into the mug before the tea. That was how he always did it. It affects the taste, he told her.

She emptied the contents into the sink, watching the ghostly heat twist upwards and fade away. Starting over, she rinsed out the mug and wiped the insides dry. Then she poured the milk in, not quite filling one-fourth of the space, before slowly topping it with the hot tea.

Finally, the sugar. Her fingers hesitated as they brushed against the bowl. How many teaspoons did he use again? Two? Three?

Two. It was definitely two.

She stirred in the sugar, staring at the tiny whirlpool racing at the heels of her spoon. She stopped. Took out the spoon. Slid it between her lips. Hot.

She placed the spoon on the table, the clink of metal against wood sounding unusually loud in the tiny kitchen. Wrapping her hands around the mug, she stared down at the pale brown liquid. The calm surface was absolutely blank. Not a stray speck of white to be seen.

Her tongue still buzzed from the burn. But it had tasted good, if only for a flicker of a second. Was the lingering pain worth the delicious beginning?

She became aware of the clock ticking on the wall behind her. It had been his parents’ clock, before they moved to Florida and left a dozen boxes of old, unwanted stuff in storage. They were heading for a new life, they’d said. Why keep a bunch of junk when they could buy new ones?

She’d taken advantage of the freebies and grabbed a boxful of things she’d thought could be useful—hangers and plates and unused picture frames with the sample photos still tucked inside the glass coverings. He’d wanted the clock. The painted ceramic clock shaped in the form of a birdhouse, with flowers framing the circle of numbers. It wasn’t even a real cuckoo clock, but he’d wanted it anyway. It was the clock he’d grown up with, the one that always greeted him in the kitchen when he woke up for and came home from school.

Now it hung in their apartment, on a different wall, but perfectly in place with the hodgepodge of kitchen equipment scattered around the room. Funny how she felt more out of place than the clock, even though she’d been there first.

Her gaze refocused on the tea. It was no longer hot. She raised the mug to her mouth, took a careful sip. Memories washed through her mind as the warm tea swished through her system.

She remembered the first time she’d tasted this tea. It had not been in this kitchen but in a café on the other side of town. She’d ordered black tea with milk on the side. The barista had brought her an empty mug.

She glanced at the cup, then up at the barista, who was smiling knowingly. She asked if it was a joke. He told her it wasn’t. I just didn’t want you to pour the milk in after, he said. It affects the taste.

She crossed her arms then, feeling her temper hit a low simmer. She’d just flunked an exam, and she wasn’t amused by whatever it was he was trying to prove.

Just give me my tea, she’d said. Without another word, he lowered a pitcher of milk to the mug and poured, not quite filling one-fourth of it. Finally, thankfully, he added the tea next. She thanked him stiffly. He grinned and recommended two teaspoons of sugar.

Her expression remained stony as he walked away to tend to another customer. She stirred the tea, omitting the sugar to spite him. Taking a sip, she cringed at the taste. After making sure the barista wasn’t watching, she added the two teaspoons of sugar as he’d advised.

The taste was perfect.

She closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth spreading around the walls of her stomach. The kitchen clock continued ticking in the background, never faltering, forever constant. Or so it seemed. When was the last time they’d changed its batteries?

The tea still tasted the same. How could it possibly taste the same? It had been made by different hands, in a different context. Shouldn’t that affect the taste?

She once read that nature was indifferent to the tragedies in human lives. Now she fully understood what that meant. She felt cheated, betrayed, robbed. And yet the world didn’t care. It skirted around her the way water skirted around a rock stuck in a river.

She’d gotten the phone call from the hospital this morning. Still no sign of brain activity. The heart was working, pumping as diligently as ever—but it was pointless, all pointless, if the brain didn’t cooperate.

She used to think that his heart was the part she loved most about him. She was beginning to realize her mistake. The heart is only significant so long as the mind is alive. Without the thoughts, the words, the looks, and the touches, the heart was just a pointless organ banging uselessly against the bars of its cage.

They’d asked her if she’d made a decision, if she’d at least thought about it. What a ridiculous question. Of course she’d thought about it. She couldn’t look at a single thing in the apartment, in the city, without thinking about it. But she still needed time, which was what she’d told them.

Strangely, after the call, her mind had finally turned silent. He was still everywhere, of course, materializing at the sink, by the stove, at the table. But her thoughts were hushed, muted.

Until she made the tea.

She continued staring at the smooth surface, feeling as if the mug were empty even though it was still practically full. The sense of displacement bothered her.

Unworried about whether the bottom was still hot, she gulped down the tea, pausing every so often to take short, warm breaths. When the mug was truly empty, she studied the bottom, wondering if any amount of sipping would suck out the last drops circling the base.

She didn’t really want to know.