Abra to Judith (1620)
by Emma Cholip
Accept your agony, Judith
to revel in your darkness
is how you survive.
History will not remember you
for your soothing voice
or your gentle hands,
only your fiery rage.
So use it, vindictive Judith
use the pain to show him
we can be silk against skin
and the edge of a sword
pressed against his neck.
But I will remember you, tender Judith
for the affection in your eyes
and the softness of your lips,
how we made ourselves anew
our legacies intertwined.
by BEE LB
your liquid voice trembles with the weight
of the words on your soothing tongue
the weight, too, of your body pressed alongside
my own, the velvet touch of skin against skin
movement shaping sound with intention,
potential crawling across the lilt of your
voice making its way between us, grasping
gentle the whole of you in my grip
do you see? i find myself in the curve of your
mouth, your voice a gift i cannot hold but do try
my hands reaching through the space between
us, caressing the sounds spilled from your lips,
fingers splitting the words like bread, a feast
for our two mouths’ endless hunger, waiting open
touch spills from empty palm into your waiting hand
and like this, our bodies rejoice, the frequency of your
touch is unceasing. do you see? the whispered
reverence of your eyes holding mine. i am with you, here
i trust in the language of your mouth
on mine, your voice spreading across my body
blanket-heavy in the cold of open air
i burrow into the warmth of your voice,
watching your lips wrap around the shape of new
words as they make their way across the whole
of me, the musicality of coming together, the miracle
of joy erupting from our shared, silken tongue
I wake up each week / just to head towards you
by Sam Moe
I’m not supposed to trust you. my hair is falling apart
and I’ve been staring at my reflection in your mirror
for ten minutes when your soft knock shocks the focus
I don’t belong, yet you’ve invited me in, and anyway,
what’s a good dinner without someone to waste
your time? tonight you wear a dozen flowers in your
braid and your eyeliner is smudged like mine. I can’t bear
to hold your gaze so I act the part of a too-blue heart
and my flowers have molars, you reach out to encase
my dreams in your scent. I know this old talk, mirror-
and-jewel toned horse statues guard the kitchen, say
you’ll defend me if they ever find out, say my focus
is bad, say you’ll follow me into hell, and then the opus
room where opals and acorns adorn the shelves, your
fear is that I’ll leave, my fear is I’ll be eaten alive by way
of whatever hungers are lurking, these days we part
late, we pretend to hate each other, we are lake shimmer
and we only eat gorgeous green-gold oysters from bed. taste
the divine, string along friends, I’m not praying in haste,
I’m not lurking in the shawls of pasture reeds, moats
of cream-dream daffodils, there is eternal spite, mirror-
mirror mimosa dahlias, quilt-fire gladiolas, real lilies, you’re
catching me looking your way but baby don’t tear apart
my reputation, I don’t want anyone else to hurt me. away
in the garden I’m not waiting for a kiss, for a fight, for spry
leaves and ankle tears, oh someone to fold my heart, waste
my time, it helps the heat leave my ears and hands. this part
is always a sinew, whose side am I on anyway? for us
to be in the same space is just another Sunday night, you’re
right, they won’t suspect, but what if I want to light mirror
me on fire, what if I’ve burnt my life down before? simmered
in the ashes of destruction and heartbreak, I had a way
with words but now I can’t recall psalms—to tell your
truth or to lock your soul in an oak chest, well, a taste
of who I really am is as delicious as a sea-sugar, so focus
on me, we’re in this together and no one will bear us apart,
we’re mirror images of wasted time, we silver-cowboy boots
and diamond choker doves, we could put the matches away,
just once I’d like my way to not hurt my heart, I’d like you to
privately hold this star, show us that lying can win, that your
protected affection is not going to lose, I won’t hold apart, I’m better
at pretending, now let’s return to the party, darling we can’t let them
catch us without knives up our sleeves.
Ohio Wedding Woe Marks
by Alex Russell
I remember the dark cold field outside, it was only a 12 mile walk
We didn’t have anywhere else to be
It was like we had always been part of the flowers and their congress
All their laws were made naturally
West where the mountains are, just over the knoll…and the next knoll—and the one after that
Before the end of occult things, we had hand-written books
for spell-casting and decision-making
and curses & wishes
Tyrannical sunlight’s constantly crashing through our windows
Your dark brown hair isn’t a novel and it isn’t ‘truth’
the way the word gets puked out at every turnpike by people who are
comfortable eating at truck stops in the middle of the day
There’s dirt on my hands and thank god it’s mine
Sunlight comes crashing in again
a screaming infuriated radioactive wavelength space power
I’m fixing the small cracks in the boat as we speak—it took me years to get you on the phone—
but one more year of this
of traveling and there won’t be any more voyages in me to make—I see you
as you are in visions that pose as dreams; both worlds of the imagination have hands—
and hands were the first murder weapon in history, ever—
…I look around and it’s the most casually depressing thing since Armageddon:
all the old meeting places have been eaten up, chewed in, swallowed, and finally regurgitated
History has its own damages and markers
by Leia K. Bradley
I watch my tall, tawny love exit the tent,
kissing me good morning like swatting a mosquito.
I perch on my haunches, taking mortar and pestle to lavender sprigs.
I add the lilac powder to my oatmeal, add berries, cinnamon for sultry sweet
Offer some to the moon, to the coyotes, wherever they are. Hopefully somewhere with shade.
I cook her thick-cut bacon in the cast iron, even though I don’t eat meat.
She didn’t sleep well, she says, You always wake me up.
I was dreaming of running on all fours, instinct like lupine lore,
dreamt of eating blueberries in a sandstorm.
I don’t tell her these things
just apologize instead. She nods.
I watch the thin line of her lips sipping tea in summer heat.
She won’t eat blueberries because they stain the teeth.
I don’t remember why I started loving her.
I bathe her in the stream. I let her touch me by the riverbed.
She says she feels closest to me when I’m five fingers deep
And I answer with each of them, one by one.
When the sun lilts in to sear across the west, I draw our initials in the red dirt.
She toes a heart around them with her hiking boot.
Is love supposed to feel so routine? she asks.
I kneel to touch the settled dust, smear it across her forehead with my thumb,
press my lips there.
I gather pine seeds in the canyon’s curve,
walk back to the river alone, skinnydip in the cool rush of watery rust.
The coyotes howl high at moonrise, and I answer back. No, it isn’t supposed to feel
like nothing. Some obligatory habit.
But the years between us are heavy, ground hard, months poured and packed
days into decades like dust into sandstone.
I drop my head beneath the water’s edge, open my eyes to the blur of liquid earth.
I walk back to the campsite in a white sundress, dripping wet, dust clinging to soles.
Her eyes make the distance. Wordless,
she pours herself a hot tea in ninety-eight degrees.
Neither of us will trade solid comfort for fatelessly afloat,
Neither of us will bother to leave.
Strelitzia or bird of paradise
by Noemi Mangialardi
She is a strelitzia and her hair is like so
she says bite me as if she were a succulent
and I am incredibly nervous so I bite my guts instead
she then asks me what do I taste like
I tell her the salt is burning my mouth
the girl’s disappointed
and licks my tongue to see what all the fuss is about
her laugh, abrupt, is chewed gum
how it sticks on all those feelings one does not want to share
plants are bitches, is another thing she says
water-based attention-cravers, bitches
I mean, are they?
or am I an exceptionally good neglector?
I can see that we share the same thirst
our feet cutting through the dirt in the wasteland
are tired and swollen
yet, they keep on digging
well, humans are attention-seekers too, nothing new
and they perish just as good
is how I respond
her leaves and my fingers break in the same way
we give up, eventually
and waste our last breath onto each other
The Deviant Tree
by Mikal Wix
Perhaps he’s the only one to breathe this rarefied air today
Sloughing off casual insults, blustering punches thrown
Skin folding over itself to thicken, like a hatchling’s shell.
Maybe he’s here to forget his father and all other barking breeds
To fool his mother out of worry, out of snot and tears
To lie to everyone except the poems and other mirrors.
But he’s not alone, barefoot and stoned by burls and bruises
Waiting behind this service station, out of sight for delight
For the eyes that lead to hands and back again.
Call him fag, girl, queen, but only if you are one
Or bud, dude, stud, if you want some
For the hands that lead to mouths and back again.
Worship him in rains that never end, like a Carpenters tune
From headwater to deluge, like the way a flash flood runs
Through an arroyo in May, claiming the filth his own.
Shelter him from the imposition of contempt by peasants
Priests, police, pundits, and scorn of other father tricks
Shifty ones claiming to save children from sophistry.
Love him in all the newborn moments behind places and in spaces
Bookstores, bars, the wharf, if you need some
For the mouths that accept what’s taken and given.
Treasure him for lovers who fold the laws into themselves
Partners, boyfriends, husbands, if you want one or two
For how to father the fate of fruit: peach, root, and tree.
The Unholy Feminine
by E.M. Lark
*CW: gender dysphoria
“She” should be light.
It sounds light after all, the ring of my mother’s laughter
Offbeat grandfather chimes in the foyer
A tender whisper between lovers’ lips—
She was brighter than Apollo’s sweet sun
Louder than any school bell
Bigger than life itself
And that wouldn’t do.
No that simply would not do—
Who was I — who was she — if she was not divinely made for someone else’s use?
I remember the first time someone bit my lip too hard
And they started to draw blood.
I could taste their venom,
sweeter than the tears they made me shed
And lovers’ promises stitch into my skin—
The devastation became her.
It shut out the sun and made way for storms
To wear her out and leave her to rust—
My body was suddenly not enough
For anyone, or anything,
If I was not feigning divinity:
“Weaponize your big brown eyes,
Lashes out like daggers,
Paint your face with the ashes
Of those who have deemed you unworthy.
You are beautiful
As long as
What we say.”
I sat at the altar and prayed for all of this to change
My voice cried and cracked at the high note
And not a sound was heard
What it means to live this way
Is to never live for yourself—
Product for the masses, holy order of insecurity,
We pray to you for assured destruction.
Is this what Aphrodite would have wanted for me?
Beauty’s beholder has a cruel sense of humor
And I find myself wanting to go blind
There is no place left for me here—
So I lock the doors behind me and seal it with a sanguine kiss.
Years will go by and people will only hear whispers
The calls and pleas for their beloved girl long gone
The church doors will always be open for her
But she will refuse to enter
And all of her friends
All of her family
And lovers will say, “She?
She’s not around much anymore.”
when she says she loves me) what she means is
by Ashley Varela
god was never
Winter in My Hometown
by Val West
*CW: discussion of death and drowning, mentions of smoking
my heart is buried by the road that linked our houses—
you can see the cross and flowers they left by the stoplight.
I know, skin caked in dirt, that I will never be as clean
as I was when the snow fell over the coffee shop.
I would hike the woods in a blizzard,
see the creek beneath the street frozen over,
then come home, with frost on my lips and in my lungs,
walk past my mother smoking on the balcony.
then, only with you, could I be warm again.
we were teenagers, uncomfortably huddled over the console;
we were embarrassingly in love.
it’s a trade-off, I guess—
to lose that weight off your shoulders,
but to be left cold, the fog of your breath
leaving a trail past the lake
that resides next to the highway
in a town whose outline I trace into my ceiling each night;
it is winter, and I am unsure what I yearn for these days.
some nights, I have dreams about kissing pretty girls
behind their ears, and on each fingertip.
other nights, I’m there, at the lake
hoping it will, for once, make up its mind:
to freeze over forever,
or to finally pull me in and let me drown.
With or Without
by Ken Anderson
We sit in boring company: loneliness
and indifference. So soon, so soon.
One of us plays Christ, the other, Judas.
Shall I climb the tree or the cross?
Shut out and in, we check the lock.
We do not bind each other’s wounds.
We do not even face the mirror’s twin.
(We have hidden our love life
under the mattress with porn.)
Too late, too bad.
In bed: our mouths taped
with silence. What we shared— void.
The clock ticks. We quietly petrify.