March 2024

I'm bored by true crime, true history, true love.   I don't find truth very believable.




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Cover Image from the cover of My Life And Loves In Greenwich Village, Maxwell Bodenheim, Belmont, 1961

Donna Emerson
Two Poems

“Jane, Betty, Doris”

They gave us all they had.
Love, rules, hysteria, threats.
We leaned on them.
They leaned on each other.
Three sisters cut from whole cloth,
good stock, land grant freedom,
daughters of the American Revolution.
Each was fed God with whole milk,
roast beef, powdered toothpaste.
They never danced nor drank on Sunday
but Oh those Saturday Nights!
They learned to laugh in a big farm kitchen
often prayed on wooden chairs
especially when brother Harry came home.
Harry had to live in Bath with other family
to make ends meet. Or was it punishment
for hitting a boy at school with the mop?
Harry told me in his seventies
how much he hated this move.
Felt cut off, thrown out, lonely.
Their animals: horses, dogs, cats, cows,
their music: piano, saxophone, song,
then the Depression
all part of the girls' household,
potatoes grown on the farm fed them
before the second war,
and each thrust from farm and mill town
to the world's theaters at war, too young.
Had to learn to walk the bridge
to the Great Society.
One through nursing,
one through hair, one through
writing, each bearing three children.
Each married as the walkway out.
The men, imperfect, brought sorrow.
Thus they gave us life
and loss through their own.

“Rhapsody And Boogie-Woogie”

Mother played Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini"
some afternoons. "Claire de Lune" and "Deep Purple" came next
unless she felt wild and slid into boogie-woogie.
I sat in another room, open-mouthed at her virtuosity.
She played as if she knew every measure from birth.
Her crescendo perfectly timed, not sliding off the page,
slender wrists rising for delicate phrasing.
She swayed and sang with Hoagy Carmichael.
Understood the long arc of these many-faceted pieces,
loved the swing of modern sounds.
Her discipline caused me to stop reading.
I fell into the sounds and moods she made.
In life as an overwhelmed young mother, husband away on business,
she became short-tempered, abrupt, out of control with her children.
At the keyboard she floated, soared, serene, like a reed in a stream,
grabbed at just the right times, tenderly embraced chords at others.
When she taught me to play at five,
I stumbled and she slapped my hands.
I still wanted to play like she played.
Played better when I had a teacher.
At thirteen, when my teacher moved away
she never found another.
Mother suddenly died, still young.
She left me her Baldwin spinet.
I had it shipped to me in California.
Sons and daughter learned to play.
Years later, I consider piano lessons again.
Are my hands nimble enough to advance
through the circle of fifths?
To play her music. Make it my music. To master sonata,
roll with boogie-woogie. Next to Chopin and Mozart.
Beethoven and Elvis in the bench.

Ebeth Palamara
Three Poems


Renee owns the pug with the cough and the fat French bulldog
who shuffle untethered out front, plus a shivering chihuahua
she keeps inside from the vultures that perch on the gutters
From her rusty lawn chair, she bellows "Miss Teacher!"
Asks if the kids gave me a hard time, if my man treats me right,
if my parents are still married, if I'd ever fuck for money
Vines and rosaries and words like "mercy" twist around her forearms
A hamburger waves its gloved hand on her low back
She points out Linda's duct-taped fender, makes me promise promise promise
to never get in that car. And did I hear that Dasha moved in
with Kurt and the corgis, right under Slavik's nose?
Oh and fuck the dentist, who wouldn't write one measly prescription
and whose lonely shiba inu has destroyed his apartment
A town cop lands here during his divorce, and he and Renee
argue beneath the stars. I hear him say he'd do anything for her,
but when his kid visits he just grips that plastic backpack and waves
It's Renee who finds Carla over the closet door
and screams until we all come running. I don't stop her from going back in
to cut the belt, or later in her living room, from describing the smell
while she reaches into her cookie jar for my gram of shake
That night she offers other shit too, dull gleam of glassine in the recessed light
I turn it down like I'm chanting at church, prayer to the god of resolve,
and leave to let out my sickly half-chow
who bares teeth at whatever comes close

“Couples’ Therapy”

I am the ghost in our temple of nightmares
too slow to outrun my hunger:
rearrange the walls
when you're taking out the trash,
gather your shadows
to learn them by smell,
slip into our empty bed
to chant my ancient hymns
then murmur my sins to a screen,
which flickers me clean into emeralds
You shudder and seize in your sleep
and my raw heart goes silken
I want to read the braille
of those dark dreams,
translate it into that language
we speak only to each other
Long ago I followed your neon stag
but I was destined to drink this ash

“A man depletes the ozone shield”

directly over New Jersey
He has so much violence in him
After taking lives, he filed the paperwork
He knows where to sign his name
He can't close his fists anymore
but he'll still squeeze the hamster of a heart
One aims to say nothing on Father's Day
The other watches when the baby gets too close
Around them cigar boxes of orphaned tokens:
buttons, safety pins, tie tacks, coins
One wall of his house is glass
His toxic river glimmers
He stands on the deck when they're gone
A swan stirs the sunset's sour reflection
Talks aloud to no one, pours fat blue smoke
upward into his hole in the sky

Chris Klassen

I don't mind taking your house. It's a nice house, very quaint. I've been studying it for a while. I was assigned to your house the way others on my team were assigned to the other houses, up and down the whole street, and we've been watching them all for a while.Your house has an attractive little red-brick path leading from the sidewalk to the three white front steps. The lawn is green and nicely manicured, well cared-for by the young neighbourhood boy with the long hair and skinny arms. Despite his weak-looking physique, he does a good job and isn't afraid of manual labour. He mows and prunes and trims and weeds in a professional manner. You pay him once a week. I've watched your interactions. When his work is done, he climbs the three steps and knocks on your door and you pay him.Your veranda is nice too. I like how it stretches across the entire front of the house. I can't ignore its usefulness, but the paint is peeling a bit and some of the cast iron railing is rusting. The wooden chair near the far left corner, you enjoy sitting there in the morning and in the evening, whenever the weather is good, sometimes reading a book and having a hot drink, sometimes reading and having a cool drink. When you open the front door, it squeaks a little and part of the screen is slightly torn. The boy probably could have fixed that if you had asked him. Maybe you did ask him, there's no way for me to know everything.Your house has two large windows with decorative brown shutters facing the street. They're veiled with light green curtains that are closed most of the time. Once, when you opened them, I saw inside long enough to notice a white couch and a brick fireplace with a white mantel displaying a few framed photographs. The walls were beige. I didn't notice any artwork. I couldn't see much furniture either, only the couch. Then you shut the curtains.The carport at the top of the black driveway is used to store a few random items. I've never seen a car. You have lawn and gardening equipment in the carport that the boy uses. Once a week you drag the trash and recycling bins to the curb. I've seen you do this three weeks in a row. That's how long I've been watching. That's how long we've all been watching. We need an appropriate amount of time before we can make our reports. They have to be accurate. We pride ourselves on accuracy. We're professionals.What else can I say about your house? It was nicely painted at one time but not so much now. The roof slopes at an appropriate angle and seems to be in decent condition. I did notice a missing shingle when my surveillance first began. Occasionally, during stormy times, I observed a problem with drainage. Not overly serious, but there were a few spots where water leaked through small holes or cracks in the eavestrough. Fortunately it didn't pool anywhere though and your veranda stayed dry.Under the pointed roof on the upper level, a single window looks out over the street. There's another green curtain here too. You do seem to like green.. A couple times over the past three weeks, I've seen you open the curtain just a crack and stare out. You've had a beverage in your hand these times too. You don't move much when you're looking out the window. You look pensive. Your face is serious, like you're contemplating. Maybe you see us and you're fearful. I don't know, I'm speculating. I've seen that look often, the look of fearful people who feel dread without knowing exactly why.When you turn away and close the curtain and disappear, I know you're in the bedroom. I've seen the plans of your house. I know the lay-out. There's a second bedroom and a den and a full bathroom on the top floor and a half bathroom on the first floor accessible from the front hallway leading to the kitchen. There's an unfinished basement with functional plumbing. At the rear of the house is a sliding glass door that opens to the backyard where there's a small patio and another lawn. I assume the boy takes care of it too. It doesn't really matter though, to me.So you see what I mean, overall you have a very nice little house, equally nice to most of the other houses on the street, except for its few issues. I'll find out for sure how it compares when the entire team reconvenes and we present our findings to each other and make our final decisions. But concerning your house, it's presentable and functional and very suitable for a single woman of your age. With its issues, though, that makes it easier for me. It would be much harder for me to recommend demolition if it was in perfect shape, but it's not. These are details that I'm going to put in my report. It's a good house for the taking.Concerning my comment about your age and status, perhaps that struck you as unusual. I'll explain. There are two parts to our research. The first part is actual physical observation, the reconnaissance, like I've done for the past three weeks in front of your house, watching the comings-and-goings, seeing if anything special could exempt it from what may come. Your house, while nice, isn't noticeably special compared to the others on the street and it certainly isn't perfect, even if it's perfect for you.The second part of our research concerns the actual residents of the houses. As I said, I know you're a single woman. You're a senior of small stature. I've seen your old-fashioned dress and rolled-down stockings and short grey lightly-curled hair and slightly stooped posture. I know you are reclusive. Over the past three weeks, you haven't had any visitors. The other houses, they've had visitors. My colleagues have told me. I know that you're a widow. You were married for forty five years. You worked as a receptionist at the same company for two decades. This tells me you're complacent. You're not a fighter. If you were presented with a challenging situation, you would probably back down. You'd give in.How do I know all this? Research. We do extensive research on all the owners and tenants of the houses that we may take. We study census records and employment records and health records. Some of what we do skirts legality, I'll admit it. But it's important. I'll explain why. Two doors down from you, in another pleasant little house, is a young family. There's a husband, a wife, and a child. They emigrated from Eastern Europe, where the husband was in the army and the wife taught self-defense. They are fighters. They would not cave in to pressure. Based on this alone, if we had to choose a house to take, yours or theirs, the answer would be clear. You would not fight back. You, with your softer personality and penchant for avoiding difficulties, would give in and walk away. They would oppose us, confront us, use violence. We don't want violence. We want the path of least resistance. We would take your house.Even if your husband was still alive, our decision would be the same. It's just probability. Taking a house from an old couple is less problematic than taking a house from a young couple. Taking a house from one person is less problematic than taking a house from a family. We work the odds. We know that we are going to upset people, it's the nature of our business, so we try to upset the smallest number of people we can. Unless we really want their house. Then probability doesn't matter.We also know that taking houses from white-collar workers is usually less difficult than taking houses from blue-collar workers. And, to be totally blunt, taking the house of an aging widow or widower is usually the easiest of all. Sometimes we are surprised. I once had a terrible altercation with an eighty year old man who chained himself to his front door. That was unexpected. He wasn't even healthy. He had heart issues. But he fought with all his might. We still got his house in the end. We always do.You may wonder, how do we make our final decision? First, nothing is ever done rashly. Our team reconvenes at the end of the surveillance and research period. We present our findings with cool detachment, then we separate and consider the facts in isolation. Then we meet again and present our final thoughts and decide which houses will stay and which houses will go. I've been doing this job for a long time. I think I can safely predict that your nice little house is going to go.Once the decision has been confirmed and finalized, we'll inform you through registered mail. You'll receive a large envelope. Inside the envelope will be a copy of our report for your records. There will be a date printed in large red font on the final page. You have to vacate your property by that date. Shortly thereafter, wreckers will arrive and your nice little house will be obliterated so that developers can build a bigger house and sell it and make money. It's happening everywhere. You will probably wonder where you're supposed to go and how you're supposed to survive. I don't really know. We don't concern ourselves with those details. Only progress matters.

Zane Perdue

“Avaunt, Five of Cups”


There are those who have got drunk only once, but it has lasted them a lifetime. 2A man stands near a river, a short distance from a bridge which he has either crossed or will cross -- he is robed in black, and his head hangs on his chest -- sorrowfully contemplating what he has lost in the form of three overturned chalices. Two still stand behind him. It is not clear whether these contain anything or whether he has perhaps drunk from them. The sky is gray. There is no sun or moon or stars, not even a cloud. Life is, he may be thinking, an odd number that does not admit of fractional halfway points; life deals in whole numbers, and so the halfway point is either just ahead, or, all of a sudden and for good, behind.


Hamlet's five cups. Who is it just outside the frame? Everyone is there: Nadja, Don Quixote, Moravagine, p, p, p -- what was his name, something with a p or a or a g -- not Goriot but, let's see... Gobseck, and the angels of Swedenborg's Apocalypse, little Hans, Dora, Hansel and Grettel, Homunculus and Homo Sacer himself. But our black-robed man hangs his head and doesn't see anyone, though they crowd around him like faces in an Ensor painting -- he stares unblinking into an infinitely comfortable vestibule in space. His thoughts hover like a hunting bird before diving into the water. His eyes are like stones taken from the bottom of a river, slowly changing color in the air.Who lives in the house on the horizon? It is Hamlet -- not the Hamlet of Shakespeare, but the Hamlet of Heinrich Müller:

Hamlet is talking -- talking the utmost gibberish, as far as I can make out. He has been standing there like that, talking, for centuries. The curtain never falls. The speech is never terminated. [...] In the midst of the skull talk a courier arrives [...] The courier whispers something in Hamlet's ear which Hamlet, being a dreamer, naturally ignores. Suddenly three men in black capes appear and draw their swords. Avaunt! they cry, and with that, Hamlet, ridiculously lightning-like and unexpected, draws his sword and the fight's on. The men are killed, of course, in short order. Killed with the lightning-like rapidity of a dream, leaving Hamlet to stare at his bloody sword as a few moments previous he was staring at the skull. Only now -- speechless! 3

The men in capes are revealed in death to have been God (a bat), Christ (sickly green and weeping curses in Aramaic), and Geist (already donning another mask and rubbing its hands like a fly, putting glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs into its mouth). Their bodies float to Heaven, their capes turn red and green and flow into the desert, out of the three cups at which our robed paralytic gazes.


"The card is a liar." He shreds up the card like a paranoid man tearing a thousand-dollar bill -- he destroys it to see if it is real, somewhat like how the neurotic husband in The Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity 4 destroys his life by testing his wife's virtue and faithfulness. He pulls the security strips out from the torn edge of the card, except they aren't security strips but slim paper fortunes, complete with a run of lucky numbers on the back. There are five of them. Three are tarnished and illegible, one is in a strange language, and the final one, penned by a calligraphic hand in English, says "He who wants hard things shall have it hard." And the numbers on the back are unlucky.

1After the Rider-Waite Tarot card of the same name.2 Baltasar Gracian, as quoted by Guy Debord in volume I of Panegyric. “I have written much less than most people who write; but I have drunk much more than most people who drink.”3 Henry Miller. Hamlet Letters. Capra Press. 25.4 Don Quixote, chapter XXXIII–XXXV.

Oisin Farraige
Two Poems

“Truth And Probability”

left a note to say I love you
but the wrong person read it
now I love them / gave you
the keys to the house but
didn’t specify which door
now you can’t get in / told
you how I converse but
didn’t say in what language
now you speak in tongues /
gave you ten dollars for the store on
Eighth but you bought a bus ticket
to Washington DC

“In Therapy”

Mirrors bond you, bind you to
A type, something to put on a page, so
I try not to describe myself in verse,
But I seem to seep from my nervous hand,
Afraid always of poor self image.
I sit here today with a nervous
Tic, upset at the clock for
Its intrusions; couldn’t you hang it
Up above the door out of eyeshot
Of our conversations?
Thanks -- one time she said,
you speak justice, but act gray,
No idea what it meant. I have a
Knack for confusing tense and
Misconstruing silence as dislike,
This strains a relationship with god,
As it did with my wife.
She left in the night not quite
Like a thief I believe (technically a
Burglar, I’m the only name on the lease);
It wasn’t in the least expected
But I’m told it should’ve been
At least expected.

J. Billings
“Panus Angelicus”

The first thing Remy did after coming back from a weekend away was confront Lev about the oblong gray stains on their bedsheets. Lev simply blamed Panus Angelicus. Remy lamented how she understood him less and less every day, opened a bottle of wine and fell asleep on the couch after one glass.While Remy slept, Lev watched a cut of his documentary on Bauhaus architecture. He ate three weed gummies out of boredom and passed out on the sheetless, pillow-case-less bed only a few minutes later. He woke up around 4 a.m. with the stems of the down-feathers in the pillows poking his face and wrote a note in his notebook about sharp pillows and tried to lay down with Remy, but she pushed him away and he ended up sleeping on the uneven floor of their small apartment.In the morning, Remy showered and went to the kitchen to eat breakfast, where she found Lev cleaning up a puddle of orange juice on the floor. "Oh, this is going to be a fucker of a day," she said."Panus Angelicus, again," he mumbled.Remy stared at him and fished inside herself for whatever feeling she was feeling and walked out of the apartment.At work, Remy presented a logo she had designed for a coffee company. She told everyone about her direct line of inspiration from Francis Bacon -- his obsession with the screaming mouth, his chaotic and violent creative regimen, even his dedication to the abstract depiction of the crucifixion, all beautiful metaphors for coffee and its effect on the human body. The director of her firm joked with her and asked if she hated her job. The other men laughed and answered for her, saying she hated art, not her job.The rest of the day proceeded in a broken time signature. She sent a message to her doctor about vertigo. She sent a blank email to her boss. She forgot to eat lunch. Finally, she arrived home after work to find Lev scooping a pile of white muck out of a pot and into the trash can."Gnocchi for dinner," he said with a half-smile. "But I had to take a shit and it burned to a pulp."She returned a blankness on her face which reminded Lev of one of the many concrete walls in his documentary, although her face was missing the beautiful pockmarks and air-bubble-distillations which elevated the walls to the status of High Art. Remy walked over to their wooden liquor cabinet and took out the bottle of wine from the night before, which she found completely empty. She turned to Lev and shoved it in front of his face."You smell like wet shit and muddled dog chow," she said. "I like wine, sure, but you really like wine." She disappeared down the cramped hallway towards their bedroom. "You really like wine, and it makes you smell and sweat and plant yourself in every corner of the earth."He followed her, pleading with his hands folded together. "Panus Angelicus, that was Panus Angelicus!"Remy locked the door behind her and Lev heard her filling up the bathtub. He ate two bananas on the couch and cheered himself up by saying "Umami" over and over until he laughed. He turned on the television and watched part of an Altman film, the worst one, the most miserable one, his favorite, until he saw the girl from the apartment across the street step out of her door and light up a cigarette. He watched her look up at the sky and over to his apartment and he left the television running to go and join her.They talked about her cat Arquimedes and he asked if she ever thought about painting him some outlandish color like purple or turquoise and she said she thought that was a great idea. She told him about each of the gems on her necklace -- Labradorite for intuition, Hessonite for longevity, Amethyst for dispersion of negative energy, Moldavite for spiritual awakening -- while he smoked three cigarettes in the time it took her to smoke one. She lauded his lung power and he blushed and was glad the sun had gone down so she couldn't see. She said her show was on and she had to leave."Goodbye Celeste," he said."See ya later, Lev," she said. "Have fun working on your little movie."Back inside, Lev didn't hear a sound from the bedroom. He pounded on the door a few times before he realized it was unlocked. When he went to lay down next to Remy, he noticed remnants of soap bubbles on the edge of the carpet. He peeked into the bathroom and saw the tile slicked over, glistening in the dark, smiling, drooling."Did you overfill the bathtub?" he asked. He tried to see Remy's face in the darkness but she rolled away from him. He stared at the ceiling and tried to find himself in its dark blankness. "I know you feel it too." He sighed. "The way we've become, it's not our fault. There's something outside of us to blame." He touched her shoulder. "Here we are: Panus Angelicus."The ensuing silence seemed to indicate Remy was asleep, until she replied in a drowsy whisper: "Have you introduced yourself to her crotch yet?"In the morning, Remy poured Lev some oat milk while he watched his documentary again. "There's something important in here, somewhere," he said.She ignored him."Film is literature," he said with a nod."Literature is nothing but forgotten men telling half-assed stories," said Remy."Exactly, exactly!" said Lev. "And film is the same thing. Those half-assed stories filtered through sound and image and subtitles. Don't forget about the subtitles. Those are necessary. Reading and seeing at the same time is a supernatural feeling.""Sounds like a crock," Remy said on her way out the door.Lev paused his documentary and watched through the living room window as Remy pulled out of the parking. A red convertible filled her empty space a few minutes later and a man in a navy-blue suit stepped out of the driver's seat. He knocked on Celeste's apartment door and was quickly let inside.The paused television framed a still shot of a disc-shaped military base. Lev watched the grainy lines of the video screen swim upwards and he craned his neck towards the ceiling. He made a mental note to look into chemtrails.A few minutes later, his ear against Celeste's apartment door, Lev could hear a ritualistic grunting. He knocked twice and Celeste appeared after a brief pause of silence, wearing only an oversized t-shirt. She didn't look surprised to see him."I'm surprised to see you," she said."Would you like to get high?" he asked."Give me one minute," she responded, before disappearing down the hallway. Lev peered into the doorway and noticed a stream of candlelight blinking against the ceiling. Celeste returned a few seconds later wearing a purple velvet jumpsuit, and they walked over to a picnic table a few feet away where they began to pass a thin joint back and forth."No one ever comes back here," said Celeste. "Sometimes it feels like the edge of the world.""No, it doesn't." Lev closed his eyes and held in the smoke until his lungs gave out.Celeste looked at him. "Have you ever thought about growing a mustache?""I have," he said. "Many times.""Will you do it?""No.""Could you do it?""If I won a Guggenheim. Or, if I became a police officer."Celeste stole the joint out of Lev's fingers and took three tiny puffs. "What am I thinking about?"Lev didn't answer her. He was falling asleep on the table."I'm thinking I would like to start a 401(k), whatever that is. But I'd also like to build a teepee.""Hey, give me that joint," Lev said.Celeste took another few puffs in short bursts and pretended not to hear him. "This is high grade stuff. I mean, high grade.""So, who's that guy in your apartment, anyway?" asked Lev."Him? He's paying me to summon a curse on his ex-wife," said Celeste."Uh-huh.""Do you want to know the secret of divinity?"Lev shrugged."It's to fuck the spirit out of the spirit world. That's the only way it knows you're serious enough to invite it here."Lev coughed into his shirt."You must have chaos within yourself to give birth to a dancing star."_Wow, she's reading Nietzsche, _thought Lev. _I've never been so turned on. _Celeste handed him the joint. "Here, you can finish this off."Lev finished it off and walked her back to her apartment and told her he was going to take a nap."Do you have good dreams when you're high?" she asked."I dream in shades of concrete," he said. "It's wonderful."Celeste opened her door and turned to face Lev, looking into his eyes. "Do you want to come in?" she asked. Lev looked at the parking lot and noticed the red convertible was gone and turned back to Celeste and took her hand and they walked inside.Later that night, Lev woke up on the couch as Remy opened their apartment door and he froze to try to blend into the tartan fabric. Remy passed him without a word, threw her phone and keys on the kitchen counter, and walked down the hallway, through the bedroom, into the bathroom where she started the shower.Lev relaxed and tried to memorize his credit card number. After a few minutes, Remy's phone buzzed in the kitchen. He ignored the vibrations and attempted to re-enter his numbers-induced trance, but the phone grated against the vinyl countertop a few more times. Lev considered the beat of the shower in the other room and got up from the couch. He looked at the messages, registered their sender, and then he unlocked the phone and read more. He saw the words "saliva", "canal", "pulsing", "my little vittles", "esoteric", "bonehead", "our great Congress", "dearest", "corn on the cob", "frigate", "twig", "hot July", "the God of Angles", "silence", "viscous", "my little mary", and "you are uncontrollable".Lev brought the phone into the bathroom and placed it against the glass door of the shower. Remy squinted as she wiped the mist off the glass and read the words on the screen."I can't tell if it's just the shower or if you're crying," said Lev. "But I hope you're crying."Remy watched the water streaks on the shower door deform Lev's face into an abstract Bacon-esque swirl and she pushed open the door to touch his chin. "Panus Angelicus, my love."Lev mouthed the words "Panus Angelicus" and dropped the phone onto the thick bathroom floormat and stripped off his clothes and climbed into the shower, and they made love while standing up, for the first time ever.After they toweled each other off, they chose to sleep together in the nude. Lev forgot how to situate himself but Remy helped him get comfortable. Lev fell asleep naturally. Remy dreamed about the impossible.When they woke up, they took their morning coffee together in the glimpse of the sunrise and it tasted like hot wax. Lev kissed the back of Remy's neck while she cleaned up the kitchen and Remy quivered sweet somethings into Lev's ear before she left for the office.At work, the President of X Coffee called Remy to let her know they loved her logo. Her boss responded to her blank email with a blank email. She told her co-worker how she won the coffee account. Her co-worker told her the best thing to do was to fuck it up somehow, because fucking up was inevitable, and the longer a string of successes, the greater the consequences of the fuck-up, so it was better to have the fuck-up happen right at the beginning, at the point when it couldn't hurt anybody, and then maybe there would be another chance at sustained success down the road. She missed a lunch meeting with a friend and tried to remember why they were friends in the first place. Her office ran a fire drill and she left work early as the rest of the tenants filed back into their cubes.While Remy was at work, Lev watched just one cut of his documentary and began to hyperventilate when he realized he couldn't find anything to change. He took a smoke break outside on the picnic table and saw Celeste walk back inside her apartment after she opened the door and noticed Lev outside. He ate a salad for lunch and didn't hate it. He started an email to his producer and then abandoned it halfway through.During dinner, Remy went through the mail and Lev stared at his plate. A jazz fusion record played in the background, too quiet for either of them to make out any of the lyrics."A racing bicycle," said Remy."Thoroughbred machines," said Lev."Some Italian name I can't pronounce.""Of course.""Eight-thousand dollars we don't have.""That's just it, we don't have it."Remy turned the credit card statement towards Lev. "Any ideas?"He thought for a moment and then they both said in unison: "Panus Angelicus."Lev went back to staring at his plate. "The bastard. He's invaded and ransacked us.""He's having his way with us," said Remy.Lev looked up at Remy and patted her hand.Remy looked Lev in the eyes and smiled. "We'll fight him together.""There's love and then there's what we have," said Lev."Who would have thought?" asked Remy. "It's not our fault we've ended up this way.""It's important not to dwell on how things came to be.""It was the ghost in the machine this whole time."They held hands and finished dinner. They played with soap bubbles in the sink as they washed dishes. Lev stuck his hands down Remy's pants and she laughed. Remy slapped Lev's ass and he blushed. They sat down on the couch together and Lev asked Remy how her day went. She told him how she narrowly missed out on a big account and how she was thinking of applying for the open manager position and how someone made popcorn in the kitchen and set off the fire alarm and then she asked to watch Lev's documentary. He obliged and paused the film at all the important spots to tell her about the narration he was going to add or the subliminal image he was going to incorporate in order to drive the meaning home."What's the meaning?" she asked."To find out who I really am," he said. "It's my own gynecological thriller. The audience can go to hell."After the film ended, they stayed on the couch under a blanket and breathed together and watched the sun go down. Beneath the pink quartz horizon line, Celeste smoked in the spotlight of a streetlamp. Lev didn't say anything and watched Remy watch Celeste with the intensely focused force of a hydraulic concrete press."Isn't she high grade?" asked Remy, with a sigh.After a few minutes, Lev and Remy stood up together and stretched out and turned to walk down the hallway towards bed and, in the same moment, they looked at a deep empty chasm above the dining room table, eyes locked to the same exact spot in the air, and saw a heap of dust float back and forth in a pillar of light.

Jesse Tamayo
“The Coach”

Before I was an activist and lifestyle coach, and before Nathan Camp and String Balance, before all of it, I smoked pot and stickered Seattle.You know how the bathrooms at Neumos or Bar House are covered in stickers? That was my job. My friends gave me their band stickers to place, and one night on the beat, someone from Critical Mass recruited me. I was in the Nectar's bathroom plastering a neon orange, whose green stem said Wasted Citrus, on the urinal."You should come ride with us," the man had said, zipping his pants. He made his way to the sink. "Last Friday of the month.""I don't have a bike." I smoothed the sticker down with my hands. "And I'm not lookin' for one either."The man must've had a humiliation kink because he took a liking to me and offered me money to sticker for them.I wasn't going to complain about the extra cash flow.I hopped from Airbnb to Airbnb, constantly renting cheaper places. Luckily, I never had to worry about sustenance. Bartenders who recognized my weekly appearances fed me the food they couldn't serve, and beer, of course.But it was my outing with the members from Smoker Dad that put me down the path to real success.On a chilly night after their show, we got shit-face, and headed over to Portage Bay, an area where twenty somethings had more money than my almost retired parents. We fucked with these people's cars. One street we twisted the valve caps off their tires. On another we wrote pseudo-angry notes about the park job. My fun came to an end on the block where we bounced on squeaky clean hoods until the alarms squealed. Someone called the cops. Unfortunately for me, my choices were toward them or into the bay.They kept me for the night and let me go the next morning with a fine -- they, too, I suspected, hated the twenty somethings and didn't want to interact with them.I couldn't afford the fine, so, I called my parents."It's how much?" My mom half-screamed."Three thousand.""What the hell did you do?" My dad said."Hi, dad.""Hello, son."I rolled my eyes. "Can I get the money?""Yes," my mom said. "But that's the last of it."Saying nothing, I inhaled away from the phone."I'm only giving you the money," my dad took over again, "if you tell us how you're going to pay us back.""Coding," I said in a strained voice as I let the smoke out.To me, enough people did that sort of thing to seem legitimate."Okay," my dad said. "We'll send it over. You'll have a year to repay it.""Thanks."We hung up.I popped the joint from my lips, smoke leaking out my mouth, and mashed it out before I went inside.


Thanks to my band connections, I was able to use a computer while they gigged, and post their stickers right as the bars opened.I quickly learned that coding itself was not that hard. Granted, I wasn't trying to work for a giant company or recreate the internet or find the singularity. Being able to use the entire internet to solve a problem put all the whole industry into perspective. On breaks I scoured websites. Reddit a lot of the times, but an occasional Buzzfeed article, the ones with stock photos and testaments."Seventeen jobs that are overpaid, according to those in the field," I mumbled to myself, squinting at the screen. Smoke floated from the green streaked turquoise chillum between my fingers. "Alright," I said, cracking a beer. "Let's see."There were the usuals: hospital executives, regional vice presidents, upper level university administrators, consultants, lifestyle coach.Lifestyle coach. That one stuck out to me. I researched it. Someone to lead calming exercises without qualifications? A job that only an American market could create.I stared at the screen. With furrowed eyebrows, I slurped my beer.One route to enter this wonderful world was through a YouTube channel. The other was building a clientele and conducting one on ones on Zoom. It was work, but all it took was one person. Hopefully, they would tell somebody, then boom! Money.I closed PyCharm and hit up my sticker maker to let him know I was on my way.


"Something like this, Marcus.""Let me see," he said, snatching the paper from me. He put a cigarette in his mouth. "What's this for again?""New job."He eyed me. I tilted my head and smiled wide, my eyelids rolled up and my arms outstretched like I had finished a musical number."Right."I reached for his cigarette but he turned away."You're the boss," he said.Thirty minutes later I was out of there with stickers, ones with a computer, a phone, an astrology symbol, a religious one too, along with a carrot, lined below a fat baby that levitated a barbell with drooping ends.Figuring the bar clientele would scoff at the offer -- they probably couldn't afford my price either -- I went to places like Portage Bay, Montlake, Ballard, Mercer Island. I was over in West Seattle at the time, so I put some up there too.Less than a week was all it took.I was on the Airbnb's porch, having my coffee and smoke, when the email popped up. Scarlett Quill wanted the first available appointment. I asked my buddy if I could indefinitely borrow the laptop. She didn't have a problem with that, so I scheduled Scarlett for one in the afternoon the next day.Rolling out of bed around noon, I made coffee and smoked and ate the cake that the owner made for me. Wanting to look presentable, I snagged a polo from their closet. After I logged on, I interlocked my fingers and flexed the undersides at the camera.


Calling what I did for Scarlett easy would be an insult to all corporate workers.She appeared on my screen fifteen minutes late, her apologies interspersed with pleas that she would compensate me."It's okay, Scarlett. Let's take a deep breath."I closed my eyes and inhaled through my nose. She talked on, so I loudly exhaled to grab her attention."What are you doing? Oh." Whispering: "is this part of the session?"Ignoring her, I inhaled again. I slightly opened my eyes. She threw her red hair over her shoulders and stared at her legs. Straightening, she matched my breath."That's it," I said. "Three more times on your own."I repeated mantras to squish her conscious thoughts that she believed to be anxiety. No, you voting against apartments and affordable housing zoning doesn't make you a bad person; of course not wanting to pay for illegals healthcare isn't bad; no, it's not racist because you have me, a Latinx person, in your life now. All delivered in soothing tones that a parent talked to their newborns in. Every once in a while, I'd throw in a yoga pose.She paid me two grand.I couldn't believe it. I wanted to judge her. But, after the session, her evergreen eyes bloomed, and her shoulders were no longer hiked up on her neck. It was a calm that I could use myself if I was honest."When can you meet again?" She asked."Next week?""Will it be more or less the same?""Maybe more of an evaluation on how your home life is and eating habits.""Great." She took out her phone. "Are you taking on new clients? I'd love to recommend you."If it wasn't for my eyebrows shooting up my jaw would've dropped."See what next week is like first, then -- ""Please, don't give me false modesty. It doesn't look good on anybody. Besides, my friends have nothing to do.""You can forward my information to them."Just as I felt guilty, I heard a door open on her end. She set her phone down and sawed under her eyes with flat fingers."Scarlett?"She rolled her eyes. "Time to do my wifely duties." She made a motion with her hand and punched her tongue into her cheek."Are you okay?"She gave me a look as if I was the one to be pitied."You want home life? Well, I don't want to deal with someone who has emotions and he doesn't want to try find someone he might actually love. It's called being a grown up. I'll talk to you next week."The call dropped.


I had Scarlett and her friend, Tony, the second week. They both referred me to more people and so, to keep my appearances sharp, I took yoga classes once a week and YouTubed videos on chakra alignments and tarot.Soon, people saw me every day of the week.They were all bored, uncreative individuals, whose money worked for them, and a anxious need for a voice outside of their own head to tell them that their thoughts and feelings were not immoral.I was their best kept secret. I theorized it had to do with them believing that they were the only ones who had a right to me. Fine by me. It was them who I wanted to rip off anyway.But working with these people had me questioning why I 'helped' them.My head held their worse thoughts, so their actions never changed. I shouldn't have let them fill me like that, but I was able to rent a modest apartment. I no longer ate cancerous food or showered under lead tainted water. I didn't have to worry about zeppelin size flies buzzing around once they mowed down the dead rats in the walls. The heat stayed on when a slight storm came through. When the systems hand chose you to not just survive, but to live, you lost sight of morality. I tried my best to donate to local co-ops or shelters. That kept my illusion alive.Then I met Nathan Camp.Nate was what he wanted me to call him. He owned String Balance, this telehealth company that had offices across the globe. Its invisible technological tentacles were around almost every person's health information. I thought nothing of it. Just another person to add to my list to show how far I had come.After some breathing exercises, I reached down to grab stones for a virtual chakra alignment -- I made them buy their own stones ahead of time to use -- but he said:"I heard you let people talk to you about their issues."Calm and breathy: "What is on your mind?""You don't have to use that voice.""What voice?""That one. Please, talk normal.""Okay.""Thank you. I'm sure you know I found String Balance.""I do. Now, if you don't mind me asking, how did you find out about me?""Someone at dinner mentioned you. It sounded like you would be better for me than a therapist. They have those confidentiality agreements that can be broken." He hesitated. His head went to the left. His fingers stopped drumming on his thighs, and he put his eyes on me. "I didn't sign any agreement before we started.""No."The record button glowed red."Just going to keep that on. String Balance. It stresses me out. There's this new deal on my plate." His fingers started again. "Altos Labs wants my data.""Yours? Like, personally?"Disgusted: "What? No. String's database. The lab wants to monitor those with chronic diseases closer.""Let's take deep breath," I said, for myself more so than him.I don't know why. I never volunteered my information to the database, which hurt me more than them. It was damn near impossible to see a doctor or get a prescription without String Balance verification. My sister used it. Not that they frequented doctors. The app, which connected to all devices, stored movement and sleeping patterns and vitals so that if something were to happen, the doctor could trace everything that led up to the event. Helpful to those with chronic illnesses and a tranquilizer for the neurotics."Think of it this way," I said. "You're helping cure diseases."He smiled. "You think that's what Alto will do?""Sounds like it to me. Maybe they know something you don't.""I'll let you in on a secret: they cured aging. Don't go telling anyone. I do have you recorded and this can be manipulated."My heart sped up. I was involved now."Solving," he continued, "chorionic health takes too much time, meaning more money. They'll just know who's a liability to hire. How much you produce no longer matters if they have to pay to keep you young and treat your illness.""Let's try the chakras," I said, reaching down for the stones. "Because it sounds like you're spiraling.""You don't get it."I stared at him, two stones pressed together in front of my chest."If I don't accept this, then I'm out.""Let's take a breath."Closing my eyes, I inhaled. I didn't hear him do it, so I opened my eyes to a face tossed full of emotion."Maybe you can't help. This is probably karma for all the things I did to get into this position.""Nate -- ."" -- Thanks for trying," he said, and that was the last time I personally heard from him.


"Want me to fill that, hun?"I snapped out of my day dream. "Wha?""Coffee?" The server held the pot up."Please."I ate a Voula's down by the bay because there wasn't chance any of my clients came here. Too greasy and too many carbs. Too unhealthy. A perfect shot for my stressed out brain.Should I go to a journalist, I thought. The Times wouldn't print this, certainly not the Post. I'd be a conspiracy theorist to them.I shoveled more eggs and hash into my mouth. Setting the fork down on my plate, I looked out the window as I chewed, my left hand swallowing my right fist.Shaking my head, I sighed. I threw a twenty down, swigged my coffee, and left.


"String Balance," I said into the mic, feedback screeching at me. "I'm sure most of you know who they are?" Everyone kept on with their conversation. I let out an awkward laugh. "If you don't know, it's this health company that has an extension for your smart watches." I held up my wrist, realized it was empty, and put it back by side. Another awkward laugh. "I-I talked with -- I heard from a company source that they plan to sell your data to an anti-aging company. I don't think we should let them."Then came the laughter.That was how my speeches went for a week, more or less. The bands I knew let me speak before they played.The audience had a bullshit radar found only among the middle class. They understood people had their information, but they didn't have the time to care. So, I honed my preaching voice by speaking into a deodorant stick in front of my bathroom mirror.It was at the Sunset Tavern I got my voice. People approached me with questions after I left the stage.Soon, people came wherever I spoke, and they brought new people.I had peaked.


I organized a march that started at Gas Works. The sun was high that day, piercing through the cotton clouds and sparkling off the calm and clear water. Before we marched, this reporter came to me from The Stranger."Are you the leader of this movement?" The curly haired woman in a Cubs hat shouted."I am.""Can I get a few words from you?""If you hurry. We're about to move.""Did you expect a crowd of this size?""I did not.""How are you able to march? When we asked King County about the permits they said they never sanctioned it.""Permit or not, we're doing this. We're crossing the University Bridge, which is why we may need to cut this short. Someone might get word and raise it." I turned to the crowd and put the microphone to my mouth. "We're moving!""One last thing," she said. The crowd's cheers drowned her out. "What do you think String Balance will do?""I have no idea."


Stupid me should've known that the correct answer was 'to make my life hell.' Legal wasn't possible. They knew that would draw unwanted attention to the case. But everything else in my life was fair game.I lost all of my clients after they saw me at the protest.All the money that came my way? Gone. Everything I owned seemed to break in close intervals: the electricity never worked; the car I leased refused to run; credit cards were impossible to use due to a flag on the accounts for suspicious activity, which made it impossible to get anything in a city where no one took cash, and a fire burned the side of the complex my apartment was on.But before all of that happened, a weird feeling came over me. Call it paranoia or synchronicity or fate, whatever you need to keep your outlook on the world intact, but I just knew I needed steady work. So, I got hired on at Portage Bay Café as a server. Every once in a while, one of my former clients came in with their family. As they wrangled their kids up to check in with the hostess, they scanned the floor to estimate a wait time. They would lock eyes with me. Maybe they placed me and maybe they didn't, and maybe they confused me for another withered face on a stressed body that could be pointed to as a warning for their kids to stay in school and get a real job. Either way, when the hostess called for their attention and they stopped staring at me, I was no longer human.

Jon McLelland
“Pop in the Boat”

What we called Smith Lake was a swampy oxbow of the Tombigbee, left behind in one of the course-changes it made as a free river, during the then-limitless-seeming eons between the retreat of the ancient inland sea and the arrival of the Army Corps of Engineers. In those days, the stream bed whipped across what would become Adams County like a rogue firehose, stuccoing the white chalk of the lost seafloor in deep layers of black fertility. Cypress-wrapped and tea-brown, Smith Lake's water was still and flat, ten feet deep or so at the center of the old channel and full to bursting with fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, and every kind of insect and worm known to science (and many that weren't). Besides the shoals of bream, the marauding bass, the catfish, and all the water moccasins, there were salamanders the size of chihuahuas, thick beds of endangered Cahaba lilies unknown to conservationists, nearly-invisible schools of prehistoric, shape-shifting grinnells, and squadrons of lurking, torpedo-like alligator gars. No one but family was allowed to fish the lake, and it was Pop's rule that alligator gars were never to be harmed. "They keep the peace," he said. "I made a deal with 'em." Which, like so many of his telegraphically-worded stories, sounded like obvious bullshit. But then, one night that summer before he set himself on fire, Pop took me out on the lake with him. I was eighteen and about to leave for college.Pop's boat was a 12-foot aluminum jon boat with a flat bottom and a flat front that he powered with a little electric trolling motor that was vice-gripped to the stern. It was a rigged-up contraption he wired together himself, powered by a car battery that looked like the last thing you'd want near water. Its overriding virtue was its silence, though, and to Pop that made it worth the risk of electrocution. Pop had had somebody bolt hinged brackets to both ends of the skiff, and when unfolded and locked into place, each bracket supported an angled rod with a hook at the end, and on each of those hooks, Pop hung a kerosene lantern. Just as a gas-powered motor would have been too loud and too fast, so that only electric would do, Pop said that electric lights were too bright and too white, and so only kerosene would do.As a family that was, petal by petal, folding in on itself, our tendency to solitary, or at least separate, activity was accelerating in those days. Pop often went out at night, and it actually never occurred to me to ask him where he was going. He never asked what I was up to, which I took as blanket permission, and I didn't need to be told that what he did was his business. My grandmother led her own parallel life, often out, often at home, generally conspiring in some way or other to buy, sell, or rent something that as far as I could tell always made money, or else plotting with somebody or other at something that would harm someone who had crossed her, usually by costing them money. "Come out on the lake with me tonight. I want to show you something," was all he'd said by way of invitation.Pop had an odd way of breathing, in short, shallow puffs through his big nose that made him sound like a scale model of a steam locomotive that couldn't decide whether to wait in the station or charge away. He was shot through the side by a German a couple of days after D-Day, and the bullet had passed through the bottoms of both his lungs. He lay for a whole night in a Norman hedgerow, oozing, bubbling, and hallucinating. He had been famously ebullient as a boy and a young man. He was known throughout the county as a singer, teller of jokes, and fearless charmer of girls. As a child, he was so talkative and so insistent on inserting himself everywhere people gathered that he was constantly shushed and scolded by adults, and spanked for it more times than he could count. But his nature was stronger than reproof, and by the time he met the bullet in France, he had swept Adams County before him. Everybody said he'd be governor someday. After the War, he was utterly changed. He wasn't the sunken, haunted, old-beyond-his-years, shell-of-his-former-self stereotype of the war-altered soldier. As people who knew him told it, he was just completely different. He was calm, reserved, and as he'd been relentlessly gregarious and extroverted, he returned with the kind of unpretentiously stoic dignity that is the precise opposite of the genuinely self-possessed hail-fellow-well-met. He remained exactly as self-assured, but his temperament had turned upside down. Only the oddly shallow cadence of his breathing stood out against his almost overwhelmingly charismatic reserve, and because he wasn't in the slightest self-conscious of it, anyone meeting him would, within minutes, come invariably to perceive his locomotive chugging as just part of his persona, the way they would have a movie star with an eye patch or a ship's captain with a saber-scar across his cheek. As his vivaciousness had made him the center of attention before the war, so after the war the weight of silence pulled people into his orbit, like a dark weight placed on the rubber sheet of space surrounding him. People who got near him forgot themselves, and their opinions became foggy. "He'll be governor one day," they all said again, but as soon as they were out of his presence, their wits would return, and they'd rub their eyes and shake their heads. People who'd just met him always looked at least slightly grave, frightened, or befuddled afterward. People who knew him well, family and old friends, or acquaintances accustomed to the encounters, always smiled and shook their heads after being near him. I remember walking with him in downtown Easton as a boy, and if he stopped near a group of people, and especially if he exchanged words with them, a blanket of quiet would settle over them, and a kind of awe, but not of the sort that makes people servile. They'd be enveloped in his dignity and share it, as if breathing a different kind of air, or feeling the warmth of a different sun that he brought with him. As we'd walk on, I could feel his personal atmosphere move away with us. I would glance back as we walked away, to see the people change back. One of them would almost always say, "God damn!" before we were out of earshot, and they'd shake their heads together and chuckle. If they saw me looking, somebody would usually wink and grin.Pop kept his boat tethered to a cypress tree right at the edge of Smith Lake, so there was no need to pull a trailer or load it into the back of his El Camino. We waited until eight o'clock to leave, so it would be good and dark. Pop's old Boston bulldog, Woodrow, always rode in the El Camino with him, and that night he sat between us on the gold vinyl bench seat. Silence in Pop's presence always felt natural. A child raised by him could have only ever learned to speak by osmosis or telepathy. As Pop's constant companion, Woodrow, despite his comically simian face, had bathed in quiet for so long that he was suffused with it. Completely alert but utterly unflappable, Woodrow never barked or ran after anything unless Pop told him to. Though nearly silent otherwise, Woodrow was endowed with the heroic flatulence of his breed. His eruptions weren't loud, but the frequent arhythmic squeaks, whistles, and toots that escaped him were as counterpoint to the steady beat of Pop's soft chuffing. Jazz music does not necessarily come with its own aroma, however, so the windows of the El Camino were always rolled down, even in the rain. That night, the open windows meant that the drum-kit brush sound of Pop's breathing and Woodrow's muted horn section -- somewhere between hard bop and free jazz -- were accompanied by the million-strong choir of night creatures. They sang in every tree and bush between the house and Smith Lake, the steady pulse of their uninspired, utterly uniform droning handed weirdly from tree to tree like god's own elevator music sent to drown out the improvisations of man and dog. Someone watching a film of our drive that night with the sound off (and no access to the olfactory) would have described it as something like a "companionable silence." No words passed between us for the twenty or so minutes that we drove, but even with no soundtrack or smelltrack, that tired phrase captures nothing of the textured quiet that enveloped us.To get to the lake from the house, we drove first down the hill through downtown. A hundred and seventy-five years ago, Gainsborough was one of the most vibrant urban centers in the state. Only half way by then to its peak of around 12,000 free citizens and uncounted thousands more unfree, the town had three newspapers, two hotels, a brewery, a distillery, two cotton gins, a hospital, a theater, seven churches, two schools, two banks, and a coffin factory, along with enough stores and offices to tend to all of the townsfolk and the country people from twenty miles around. By that night as we drove through, there were two stores, a couple of gas pumps, and a post office nestled amongst the stove-in skulls of half a dozen empty storefronts. Even less survives now. At the bottom of the hill, Pine Street -- a name no one ever used and which I only know from looking at maps -- Ys into Highway 19, which heads east, past the lonesome obelisk to Confederate greatness and across the bridge that spans the Tombigbee. A mile beyond the east end of the bridge, a dirt road turns to the left. At the edge of the blacktop, the bright red-orange of the dirt road begins. When I was little, cotton fields spread on either side, but by that summer those fields were already long gone, replaced by both planted pines and independent hardwoods, so that by night the road was a tunnel, black dark on either side, but Hollywood bright straight ahead in the twin cones of the El Camino's headlights. A mile past the turnoff was another turnoff, this time to the right. We pulled down the shoulder twenty yards or so to a galvanized gate hung between two creosoted posts. I got out without needing to be told and unlocked the gate with the key I kept in my pocket (me being family). I unlatched the heavy Master lock and pulled the chain through the gate. Had there been need of silence, we could have gone back home then, because the obnoxious steel staccato of the chain as it bumped across the crossbar of the gate was as loud as a school bell, and every listening creature within a thousand yards of us knew perfectly well we were there. (I don't know how far the sound would have traveled through the earth, but it's occurred to me since that if the sound made it as far as the lake, then it was bound to have propagated through the water, and in all likelihood the gars would have known it as Pop's herald.) Whatever was listening or not listening, Pop eased the El Camino through the gate and onto the twin ruts that led to the lake. I swung the gate shut, pulled the chain back through -- second bell -- and snapped the padlock to lock the gate behind us. From there, the track the Camino followed was the real earth of the place, almost as dark as asphalt, and ready to close in upon itself with only a few weeks' disuse. We tunneled through the dark -- even darker on both sides now as we were enveloped by the old cypress trees that blocked even starlight with their curtains of Spanish moss. There was no perceptible decline of the road toward the lake. It was just suddenly there. Had the gate not been there, and had some unwary driver wandered that way, even in daylight, he'd have easily driven straight into the lake and been enveloped by it before he knew what hit him. It was a Venus fly-trap of a place, happy to drown, dissolve, and absorb whatever was careless enough to fall in. Pop could have found it safely with his eyes closed, as could I still, for that matter.Once we got to within about ten yards of the water's edge, which was as close as you could reliably drive without risking sinking to your axels in mud, Pop turned off the engine. When he pushed in the dashboard knob that shut off the headlights, there was a sort of implosion. The twin cones of yellowish light seemed to suck backwards into the El Camino's grille, not at the speed of light but at a human speed. The light drew in with a visual whoompf of multi-colored afterglow, pulling total blackness with it like a yards-thick fleece made of puffed coal dust, and for that instant even the constant nighttime sizzle, whir, and whistle of the enveloping bug-song seemed to have been sucked in and smothered by the inrushing of the light. It was the kind of moment that can almost make you believe in the fantastical things physicists and metaphysicists will say about time being an illusion, or at least an all-relative phenomenon that "the equations" (whatever the hell that means) prove can run backwards as well as forwards, and can speed up and slow down in the presence of powerful gravitational fields. More likely, it was just the protest of my eyeballs to my brain, as my irises were forced so suddenly as wide as they could open, and my retinas and optic nerves were forced to cope not merely with editing out blind spots, but with figuring out what the hell to account for in the sudden blackness.Either way, the hallelujah chorus playing outside was there again as if it had never left (which it surely hadn't), and my eyes got back with the program. The blacker bulk of the moss-hung cypresses began to resolve at least a bit against the slightly lighter bits of sky that made it through the murk. Pop sat for a second, making tiny steam engine noises and letting his eyes adjust, and Woodrow sat up straight and snorted. After that second, Pop pulled the latch and heaved his left shoulder against the door (which had a tendency to stick). The hinges complained as the wide, heavy door swung open. Pop had long since disconnected the interior lights so that they wouldn't come on when a door opened. He hauled himself out, and Woodrow followed, becoming half-invisible in the gloom, the white spot between his shoulder blades and the blaze of white around his face and chest seeming to have left the rest of him behind, glowing very faintly as they floated just above the ground. Old as he was, Woodrow zipped and darted back and forth like a young dog between the water's edge and the trees he always marked, stopping once in mid-sprint to loudly refill his tank from the dark water. Like most people, I've often marveled that dogs can eat and drink foul things without being sick, and it occurred to me to wonder whether the sulfurousness of Woodrow's internal bagpipe was the result of his lifelong habit of drinking from Smith Lake, or if, by contrast, the fires of his inner boiler were just so powerful that they neutralized the legions of corkscrew-shaped, microscopic whatevers that swarmed his guts at every slurp.Pop stood by the front bumper of the El Camino while Woodrow finished his ritual. Once the last of his cypresses was marked, Woodrow half-sprinted to the water's edge and stood stock-still with the outsize-looking triangles of his ears -- which were by now visible in a clear monochrome against the utter blackness of the water -- standing straight up and aimed out over the lake. Pop's chuffing barely registered against the background thrum, but we stood there, as still and quiet as we could be while Woodrow gathered whatever information it was that he needed. After a full half a minute or so, Woodrow snorted, gave a little toot, trotted to the skiff, and leaped smoothly in.

When it wasn't in the water, the boat always rested half onto the shore. At the center of the flat bow was a horizontally-mounted handle, exactly like the handle on a screen door. The red and white nylon rope that looped the bald cypress ended in a sliding steel clasp, and Pop always kept it looped through the metal handle, so that the rope end doubled back and the clasp locked over it. With its cheerful stripes, the rope looked to me like a trained snake, with its tail in its mouth, waiting there for us to come take the boat out. Pop unclasped the rope and tossed it back toward the cypress tree and said, "Come on."
The boat had two bench seats, one at the back where Pop sat to run the electric motor, and the other nearer the front that Woodrow normally had to himself. I climbed in and took a seat next to Woodrow, who knew it was his bench and was less inclined to move over for me than an otherwise human-deferring dog would be. As much as I did admire Woodrow and his status as Pop's companion, I did not intend to let him think that he outranked a grandson, so I put my hands around his waist and slid him gently but firmly further left on the bench. He did not resist, but neither did he raise himself off the seat, and he responded to the slight pressure of my hands on his middle with a full-volume honk from his aluminum-pressed backside. I couldn't help letting out a "Jesus!" of my own, and felt instantly ashamed of myself, both for swearing in front of Pop and for letting my irritation with Woodrow show. Pop acknowledged neither outburst and slid the boat smoothly off the sodden bank and onto the surface of the lake, stepping in as it began to glide, without getting his boots wet.
Pop sat himself on the stern bench and took a short wooden paddle out from underneath it. He paddled us smoothly between the big water-bound cypresses that flanked the bank and out into the less-crowded water of what had once been the river's channel. Once we were clear of the trees, he stowed the paddle and pulled aside the plastic sheet that covered the lanterns, kerosene can, electric motor, and car battery.Pop pivoted around on his bench to unfold the lantern bracket and lock it into place, and without needing to be told, I unfolded the bracket at the bow and locked it down. The boat was not much older than the El Camino, but the lanterns were older than Pop, identical black Dietz Monarchs, their names embossed around the metal at the top and bottom in big letters, with MADE IN NEW YORK N.Y. U.S.A, like a brag. _We're from New York, NY USA, and we'll fucking go anywhere. _They had flat cotton wicks about an inch wide that you raised and lowered to brighten or dim the light by turning a little wheel on a stalk near the base. Each one was fitted with a silvery conical reflector hood with a hole in the center that slipped over the glass chimney, so that the light was directed mostly downward, toward the water. Pop pulled a box of matches from his shirt pocket, struck a match on the side, and cupped it in his hand to let the wood catch. He slid up the globe on the first lantern, lit it, and passed it to me. I hung mine on the front hook while he lit his and hung it on the back. Pools of light, dimmed at the center by the lanterns' shadows, cast down into the brown beer bottle glass water. Moths and other small flying things began immediately to swirl through the light between lantern and water, each one cutting curly shapes that trailed behind them on the retina, as if they were trying to communicate with us by skywriting in Arabic. Almost as quickly, small bream began to gather below the lights, swimming in slow, tight curves to stay within the circles of light, six or eight inches below the surface.As soon as his lantern was hung, Pop picked up the little trolling motor and hung it on the stern of the jon boat. Woodrow and I sat side-by-side, watching Pop. Except for the fact that Woodrow's ears stood straight up, he and I held the same expression. Pop screwed down the grips on either side of the motor, and pulled the battery cables out of the little canvas bag he kept them stowed in. The cables were black, and tipped with copper-plated alligator clips. He clipped the end of one to the motor and the other end to a battery terminal, and then he clipped the second cable to the motor and swiveled on his seat to clip the end of that one to the battery's second terminal. When he clipped the second cable to the battery, there was a bright blue spark and a loud snap, and the rich brown fish-and-algae smell of the lake was overlaid with the gun-oil scent of ozone. As with the pointed ears, Woodrow and I differed in our reactions. Woodrow started toward the snap, rising from his haunches onto his front legs and pursing his flat face. Like a normal person, I jumped back, and only didn't fall over into the bow because I caught myself with my hand. But shame is faster than spoken fear, so like Woodrow, I was silent. Again as if nothing had happened, Pop turned forward and started the motor, which hummed like an electric typewriter. The propeller made no noise at all that I could hear, so as we slid across the dark water, the loudest sound we made was the faint musical curl of the water swirling along the sides of the boat, like someone whispering in French. A gas-powered outboard would have sounded like a drunk screaming in church.We slid along like that, with the twin glows of our bow and stern lights teasing bream as we passed too fast for them to circle. A hundred feet or so beyond the bank, the cypress trees had given way to the narrow open space of the old channel, and Pop steered us to the left along it, so that the trees on either side loomed black against a night sky that seemed suddenly bright. There were lots of stars, but the brightness was more than that, a dark blue light that, for all its darkness, was bright against the crow-black walls of trees on our left and right. Smith Lake is much longer than it is wide, but it's still not big, and after a couple of minutes, Pop steered just to the right of the main channel and cut the motor. We drifted toward the trees, and Pop restarted the electric motor in reverse. The little motor's propeller churned behind us with a will, like a live thing, like I imagined Woodrow would have if he could, and it pulled us to a stretching sort of stop, as if we'd been harpooned with a thick rubber band. I know for a fact that finessing that little motor was a lot harder than it looked, but Pop could play it like a violin, and he brought us to a dead stop about ten or twelve feet out from the cypress trees on the far side of the channel.As soon as we were still, the place closed in on us again, as if the whole world had leaned in over us. Insects sizzled, whirred, and pulsed in the trees all around us and whirled in loopy spirals under the lanterns. The little bream reappeared beneath, waiting for bugs to fall, or maybe just bathing in the light. Pop sat still for a minute, and in that place his soft sharp breathing seemed intentional, as if he was sniffing the air for scent. Woodrow watched him, breathing in almost the same rhythm, his flat black nose moving up and down in his intent, blunt face. Then, Pop looked at me and said, "Watch this."He leaned over and tapped the bottom of the boat with the knuckles of his right hand. He gave three hard taps, each a second apart, and the aluminum bottom of the jon boat gonged like old bronze. And then, with no explanation, he sat back up and looked out at the water. Anybody who's fished with a rod and reel or a cane pole knows that most of it is just waiting. I expect most real fishermen love it for that in particular, because it's peaceful and meditative. That kind of sitting around always just bored the shit out of me, which is a serious handicap in a place like the one where I grew up. Pop and Woodrow could fish in silence all day, whether they caught anything or not. I assumed we were in for that kind of wait. Woodrow tooted on the bench beside me, as if to underscore his pleasure. Turned out, I was mistaken.Not more than thirty seconds could have passed after Woodrow's little honk when the first dark shape rose from the water beside the boat. Six or seven feet long -- easily more than half the length of the boat -- and eight or ten inches thick in the middle, tapering to a point at both ends, glossy black and utterly silent, the giant gar floated still beside us as if he'd always been there. And then there were four more, two nearly as big as the first and two much smaller. The two larger newcomers hung motionless several feet out beyond the biggest one, and the two smaller ones torpedoed under us, appearing suddenly on the opposite side of the boat and then diving again, circling back at speed and whipping through the pools of light and the lollygagging circles of bream. Pop leaned over and draped his right hand into the water. The giant alligator gar slid toward his hand without seeming to move a fin. When the big fish was right alongside the boat and close enough to touch, Pop rubbed his hand down the length of the gar's smooth back. Woodrow hopped down from the bench and stood on his hind legs, with his forepaws on the side of the boat, staring down at the gar. You couldn't hear Pop's breathing over the symphony of bug-sound, and from Woodrow's calm silence, it was clear that the near presence of the prehistoric-looking animals was no surprise to him. Only I was goggle-eyed. I realized that my mouth was open, so I closed it. Pop slowly stroked the gar's back, over and over, the way you would stroke a horse's back. And then, after maybe a dozen strokes, the big fish rolled over on his back and presented his greenish-white belly. A gar has two short flippers just below his gills, and two more lower down, about half way between his front fins and his tail. Pop rubbed the gar's belly more vigorously than he had the back, scratching it the way he scratched Woodrow's tummy. The gar waved its four fins, the way a dog will kick its leg if you find the right spot.After a long minute, the gar rolled lazily back over and sank a few inches under the surface, and I'd swear he shook himself or shivered with satisfaction. When he rose to the surface again, he rotated to face us, and this time I could see his front fins waving. When he was pointing toward us, he raised his long flat snout an inch or so above the surface, flashing his overlapping rows of spiky teeth. He tilted his head slightly, so that he could look at us with his left eye. His eye was the size of a half-dollar, with a pupil like a black marble circled by a thin bright corona that reflected so brightly it looked like gold leaf embedded in glass. The eye radiated such intelligence, you had to think the only reason he didn't speak was that he didn't feel like it. The two other big gars had floated nearer, looking like they wanted their turn, and when the biggest one turned away to make room for the next one, the right side of his face showed for a moment, and I saw that his right eye was pinned shut with a large rusty fish hook. "That's Old Log," Pop said. "I've known him for a long time."He repeated the performance with the other two big gars. "This one's Red Fin," he said while he stroked the second gar's back. "And this one is Green Fin," he said when he got to the third. When he was finished with Green Fin and that gar had backed away to hang at the surface with the other two big ones, Pop hung his hand in the water and waved it, making small splashing sounds. The two small gars slid into the pool of lantern light, one about eighteen inches long and the other maybe two feet and both pencil-thin compared with the adults. They stopped a yard off from Pop's hand and just hung there. Pop stopped his splashing but left his fingers hanging in the water. It occurred to me that fingers dangling in the water in front of small mouths full of hundreds of needle-sharp teeth might be the wrong kind of temptation, no matter how smart these fish were, but Pop seemed unconcerned. When the little gars still hung motionless after half a minute, Pop waved his hand again, more gently. The bigger of the two little gars edged forward and stopped six inches from Pop's hand. He turned his hand over palm up and held it there. When the little gar didn't move, he wiggled his fingers slowly and said, "Come on," the way he would to a foal that was skittish of people. The little gar eased forward, and Pop touched it on the snout. It flicked its tail, which had been straight as an arrow before, and arced away to the left before turning back a couple of feet away to look at the hand, which still hung palm-up in the water with the fingers waggling slowly. "Come on," he said, puffing through his nose in steady, quiet rhythm. The little gar just hung there for several seconds and then twitched its tail again and curved around to approach Pop's hand from behind. Pop just kept slowly wiggling his fingers and saying, "Come on now." While the bigger of the two small gars hung there behind Pop's hand, the smallest seemed to make up its mind. After sitting still as its slightly older companion tested its nerve, the smaller one drifted suddenly forward like a model submarine, using only its side flippers, until its little snout touched Pop's finger. Pop stopped moving his fingers and gently turned his hand over on its side, so the little dinosaur-looking fish could inspect him. When it didn't flee, he risked a stroke with his index finger along the gar's left side. The fish twitched a bit but didn't swim away, so Pop kept rubbing. The larger of the two small gars then joined in as if that had been its idea all along, and suddenly there Pop was, having to alternate between petting the two young gars as if they were cats, each one wanting attention, and each pushing the other out of the way to get another turn.He took his hand out of the water and sat up on his seat. The pulse of the insect chorus drowned out his puffing. The little gars hung there for a second and then whipped their tails and disappeared into the dark. A few seconds later, they reappeared, side by side, a foot or so from where they had been, with their snouts pointing toward the boat. Pop lowered his fingers back into the water and wiggled them. "Come on," he said, and with no hesitation they slid toward his hand. Pop repeated that routine four or five times over the next several minutes, while Woodrow and I watched in silence (well, I watched in silence; Woodrow whistled and honked every now and then). The three big gars -- Old Log, Red Fin, and Green Fin -- hung at the surface near the bow of the jon boat.When he had finished playing with the little gars, Pop leaned down and rapped his knuckles three more times on the bottom of the boat. The little gars were startled and rocketed away. The three big ones eased silently alongside the boat in line, each one receiving one long stroke down its back before sinking into the dark brown water.Pop looked at me. "How 'bout that?" he asked in his low, soft voice. I opened my mouth to answer, but words didn't come. I closed my mouth and shook my head. "Right," he said. "This is a secret," he said. "Before tonight, nobody knew but me. Not even your grandmother."I didn't know what to say after that, so I didn't say anything. On the way back home, Woodrow sat between us on the bench seat of the El Camino, staring straight ahead. His flat face was in line with the dashboard, so he couldn't see anything in front of us without looking up through the windshield, but his ears were standing straight up and turned forward, as if he was listening ahead of us. We were approaching the incline of the river bridge, where it begins to rise above the big pasture in the bend to arc over the Tombigbee before any words hooked themselves together in my chest. "How'd you do that?" was what came out. I stared at Pop's profile as he steered the El Camino. He didn't always answer right away. The size of his useable lungs had long since trained him to husband his breath, and the calm that he had had to cultivate to prevent the panic of suffocation had suffused everything else about him. More quickly than I expected, though, he said, "A black man showed me. His name was Solomon." He paused for

We were through downtown by this point, and following the cones of the headlights up the hill toward the house. I knew Pop wasn't finished, but there was no telling how long he might wait to begin again. I was not particularly patient with other people, but Pop's way of speaking was a second native language for me. The economy of words, the softness, the pauses while words went back inside to be sorted out. I don't speak that way with other people any more than a child of Chinese immigrants would speak Cantonese to a Caucasian, but with Pop I spoke as he did. We were both silent as the El Camino rolled to a stop under the shed where he kept it, but for both of us the conversation had not stopped."I used to faint sometimes."Thought I was going to die."You have to be calm to call the gars."You have to breathe easy."Solomon taught me to breathe."I'm the first white man who knew the secret."You're the second."The three of us sat in the dark of the El Camino for a while, looking through the windshield and out the back of the shed, into the pecan orchard."I believe I could do it," I said.After what would have seemed like a pause to anyone else, but wasn't to us, Pop said, "I believe you could."That Pop had named me as the second white "man" to know the secret clanged in my head. I was eighteen, and regardless of the law, I was certainly a child in every meaningful way, but he had named me as a man. Whatever the reality before, he had said it, and that made it true.Woodrow turned to look at Pop and snorted. Pop said, "Okay," and pulled the handle and threw his shoulder into the door. I opened my door and Woodrow hopped out behind Pop.My grandmother was in her wicker armchair in the TV room off the kitchen, watching Lawrence Welk. She didn't ask where we'd been.


A look back at the description of Pop's rigged-up electric power system that lived cheek-by-jowl with his kerosene lamp setup will tell you all anybody knows about what happened. The can was loose and empty in the bottom of the burnt-out boat when they found it, along with the blackened and globeless remains of one of the Dietz lamps. Pop was face-down in the lake, his shirt and pants-front mostly burnt away. Woodrow floated with him, with his jaws locked tight through the material at the back of Pop's khaki work pants. His front feet were burnt, but otherwise he was just dead. I'd always heard that bulldogs were bred to lock their jaws on an opponent in a fight. I'd have thought Woodrow was way too far down the line of pet dogs for that trait to still be there. I'd have been wrong, apparently.

Ken Poyner
Six Drabbles

“A Fearless Hotel”

The snack machine has been tipped so often that all the wares are lying in the bottom tray. The drink dispenser has four of its six columns sold out; no one wants what is in the other two. There are notices on the lobby desk that every third exist sign is out. All the beds are braced beneath with cinderblocks. I am not there yet, but I have reservations. A man with an axe is waiting in the laundry room, deciding which lovers in which room to murder. This is mathematics in practical practice. I ignore stoplights in my race.


When the circus came marching into town, the clowns came in three uneven rows. Each row started shoulder to shoulder, but they trailed off in different lengths. We discovered it was not for lack of alignment. Each row simply held a different number of clowns. The disparity was so great that it could not have resulted from having a number of clowns not divisible by three. Other forces were afoot. We scanned the entire parade for a clue to this wickedness. Then a citizen broke to join in the shortest clown line. Then another. And so the great evenness began.


There is a red raincoat hanging in the upstairs bathtub. It is dripping with a mechanical thud and will take quite a long time to wax dry. As a family, we gather to worry. It has not rained for days. No one can remember any man-made circumstance that would have doused the coat. No volunteer fire duty. No display of waterworks. No broken main. We each come up with potential explanations, all shot down by the others. Meanwhile, the intervals of the raincoat's drip upstairs is lengthening, signaling its progress in drying. Do any of us own a red raincoat?

“Compromised Certainty”

Quibble on his bench imagines the girl with the wondrously monstrous legs peddling her bicycle on the sidewalk will return from the opposite direction. He will see if the other side of her is as appealing as the side he knows. Quibble will not make assumptions. He will not waste his lustful fantasies on half a girl. For all he knows, her other side is that of a gorilla. He will wait, fixed on the spot where she should trickle into his field of vision. If he misses her return, he will ache for romantic encounter with only one testicle.


Quibble invites all the larger souls he might have been for dinner and drinks. He could not invite the smaller ones -- his table has only so many chairs. Each soul sits dressed in clothes typical for its station: a hardware store clerk, a pigeon-holed bank teller, a wifebeater, a lawyer, a crab mortician. Quibble introduces each to the others, asks them all to have faith that any of them might have been Quibble except for undocumented happenstance. After a moment of silence, staring at Quibbles best place settings, all agree: forget dinner, bring out the whiskey. They pass one bottle.

“Defending Habits”

Walking sacrifices up the volcano's rise became too much effort. Whoever took the sacrifice up would have to walk themselves down, doubling the time spent. So, Council has put out a Request For Proposal: engineer a better way to get our sacrifices into the crater. Escorted or not escorted -- we will change the ceremony to accommodate the addition of ease. Perhaps an automated bucket system. Some ideas will be wacky, some unworkable -- but if we can get a practical solution that lessens our aggravation, dropping expendable citizens in to mollify the volcano could stay fashionable for another generation, maybe two.

Paul Rabinowitz
Eight Photos


“Horizon Lines”

“Portrait With Earring”

“Broken Voices Under A Blood Red Sky #3”

“Broken Voices Under A Blood Red Sky #7”

“Broken Voices Under A Blood Red Sky #9”

“Portrait with Chair”



CHRIS KLASSEN lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the University of Toronto and living for a year in France and England, he returned home and worked the majority of his career in print media. His stories have been published in numerous journals including Across the Margin, Fleas on the Dog, Literally Stories, Vagabond City, Dark Winter, Ghost City Review, The Raven Review, The Coachella Review, SORTES, Amethyst Magazine, Toasted Cheese, and Mobius, among others.DONNA EMERSON’s publications include California Quarterly, Chicago Quarterly Review, Denver Quarterly, Dos Passos Review, Edison Literary Review, Fox Cry Review, Global Youth Review, Grub Street, The London Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, Louisiana Literature, The MacGuffin, Naugatuck River Review, New Ohio Review, Nonconformist Magazine, Paterson Literary Review, The Paragon Journal, Pennsylvania English, The South Carolina Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Westview, and work in numerous anthologies. Her writing has received several prizes and awards, including the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, Best of the Net, and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Her first collection, The Place of Our Meeting (Finishing Line Press), was nominated for the California Book Award. Her second collection, Beside the Well, was published by Cherry Grove Collections.EBETH PALAMARA is a writer, photographer, and educator who holds an MFA in fiction from Rutgers University. She lives in New Jersey, where she works as an English and creative writing teacher. Visit her at ebethpalamara.com.J. BILLINGS lives and breathes in Hilltop, Ohio. His fiction has been published in Blood Orange Review, ergot., BRUISER, Black Warrior Review, BULL, and San Antonio Review. You can find him on twitter.com/jjb08281219 and @jjb08281219.JESSE TAMAYO's work has appeared in The Bangalore Review and on 805 Lit + Art. Jesse can be contacted at jessetamayo.net.JON MCLELLAND was born in the South. As a young man, he shook the dust off his boots. After studying international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, he lived in France, DC, and Berkeley. Little by little, love, the angle of the sun, and the South’s relentless sensory siren call pulled him back home. Also architecture school. Jon now runs a small architecture firm with offices in Tuscaloosa, where he lives with his wife, and Nashville. His side gig is teaching seminars on sustainability at the University of Alabama. His stories have appeared in RUST Keepers, Every Day Fiction, Defenestration, The Bacopa Literary Review, Drunk Monkeys, and soon in Does It Have Pockets.KEN POYNER’s four collections of brief fictions, four collections of speculative poetry, and one mixed media collection can be found at most online booksellers. He spent 33 years in information systems management, is married to a world record holding female powerlifter, and has a family of several cats and betta fish. Individual works have appeared in Café Irreal, “Analog_, Danse Macabre, The Cincinnati Review, and several hundred other places. kpoyner.com.O. FARRAIGE, often found with cats, writes poetry and short fiction. He currently resides on the East Coast, US. His work has appeared in trampset, Divot, ONE ART, and elsewhere.PAUL RABINOWITZ’s photography, prose and poetry appear in numerous magazines and journals. He was a featured artist in Nailed Magazine, Mud Season Review, and Apricity Press. His photo series Limited Light was nominated for Best of the Net in 2021. His new series, Broken Voices Under A Blood Red Sky, is shot with natural light using his Nikon D7000. "My desire is to photograph my subjects in a way that captures their raw essence and emotion." For more about his photography, see paulrabinowitz.com/photography.ZANE ROUGIER PERDUE is a proofreader, editor, and manual laborer, originally from Albuquerque, NM. His aphoristic prose can be found with The Decadent Review, The Hong Kong Review, Punt Volat, BarBar, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Pennsylvania.

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SORTES is a spinning collection of stories, poems, songs, and illustrations to help while away the wintery June nights. It’s an oddball grabbag wunderkammer mixtape offering distraction and refreshment.We have neither theme nor scene. Each issue is its own creature. We publish both the sufficiently strange and insufficiently boring: swart stories, hoity poetry, magical surrealism, beatnik travelogues, hard modern haiku, pulp, fantasia, antibiography, crooning balladeering, experimental sentimentalism, and grainy sideways photography.We also host online readings, old time radio performances, and other beloved gimmicks as they occur to us. Previous issues are available via the site’s Archive link.


SORTES considers unsolicited submissions of poetry, prose, illustration, music, videos, and anything else you think may fit our format. Feel free to poke us; we’d love to find a way to publish dance, sculpture, puzzles, and other un-literary modalities.SORTES is published quarterly. Each issue includes approximately ten works of lit, visual, or performance art. We like a small number of works per issue: artists and readers should have a chance to get to know each other.SORTES, you’ll notice, is primarily a black-and-white publication, and we like to play with that (by featuring monochrome videos and photography, for example), but we’ll happily consider your polychrome submission.Submissions are ongoing throughout the year. We consider artists with both extensive and limited publishing experience. We accept simultaneous submissions but please inform us if your work has been accepted elsewhere. We publish translations and reprints on a case-by-case basis; please send us a note describing your interest. And while there's no restriction on the number of pieces you can submit, please have a heart.There’s no need for an extensive cover letter or publication history but please tell us who you are, what kind of writing or art you do, and a bit about what you’re sending us. There are no formatting requirements for text submissions. There is no fee to submit. Please send submissions as email attachments whenever possible; multimedia submissions may be sent as links.


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Sunday, April 7, 2024 @ 7pm ET

Kick One is reading the new issue but Kick Two is hanging at the vroomiest of Zoomiest reading which will star some or all of our SORTES 17, "Quiet! Quiet!" cats:Chris Klassen
Donna Emerson
Ebeth Palamara
Jared Billings
Jesse Tamayo
Jon McLelland
Ken Poyner
Oisin Farraige
Paul Rabinowitz
Zane Perdue
Hincty Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum will emcee. All SORTES events are free, public, and straight from the fridge.

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A Suspense-Full Halloween, October 29, 2023

On October 29, 2023, Radio SORTES presented A Suspense-Full Halloween -- live performance of two old time radio Suspense episodes -- "The Screaming Woman" and "Ghost Hunt" -- each dripping with period music and sound effects.From 1940 through 1962, Suspense, "radio's outstanding theater of thrills," terrified radio listeners with macabre true crime and supernatural horrors.Our production was reanimated by the electrifying Radio SORTES Players: Alyssa Shea, Betsy Herbert, Dan DiFranco, Demree McGhee, Eliot Duhan, Emily Zido, Fionna Farrell, Iris Johnston, Kelly Ralabate, Lino, and Nick Perilli. The performance was adapted by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum and Aria Braswell, with direction and sound by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum.

Scary SORTESies To Tell In The Dark, October 30, 2022

On October 30, 2022, Radio SORTES presented three ghastly and unnerving old time radio stories, including original adaptations of Arch Oboler's "The Dark," Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains," and Oscar Wilde's “The Canterville Ghost,” plus poetry from "Weird Tales" magazine.Our infernal Radio SORTES Players included Betsy Herbert • Brenna Dinon • Christina Rosso • Demree McGhee • Emily Zido • Evan Myers • Iris Johnston • Kelly Ralabate • Lino • Luke Condzal • and Rosanna Lee Byrnes. The performance was written, produced, and scored by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum.Radio SORTES is an unnatural extracurricular extension of SORTES magazine, whose events and readings are always free, open to all, and ideally less than two hours. See SORTES.co for inexpressibly brilliant literature, art, and upcoming events.

1950s Western / Sci-Fi Double-Feature, February 25, 2022

The talented Radio SORTES Players performed two old time radio episodes broadcast live via ethereal wireless right to our audience's home receivers.We galloped into the unknown with a 1950s western / sci-fi double-feature: The Six Shooter episode “Battle at Tower Rock” and the Dimension X episode “A Logic Named Joe” -- each with music and convincing sound effects.The all-star Radio SORTES players were: Abbey Minor • Betsy Herbert • Brenna Dinon • Brian Maloney • Britny Brooks • Daniel DiFranco • Dwight Evan Young • Emily Zido • Evan Myers • Iris Johnston • Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum • Kailey Tedesco • Kelly Ralabate • Kevin Travers • Luke Condzal • Nicholas Perilli • Rachel Specht • Rosanna Byrnes • and Victoria Mier.Radio SORTES -- an unnatural extracurricular extension of SORTES magazine -- was produced and directed by Kevin Travers and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Radio SORTES is always free, open to all, and less than two hours. See SORTES.co for upcoming events.

The 39 Steps, February 19, 2021

The Radio SORTES Players performed this classic adventure story, written by John Buchan and adapted by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum from Hitchcock's 1935 film and the 1937 Lux Radio production. It starred Brenna Dinon • Heather Bowlan • Rosanna Byrnes • Betsy Herbert • Iris Johnston • Warren Longmire • Brian Maloney • Britny Brooks • Nicholas Perilli • Kelly Ralabate • Dwight Evan Young • Emily Zido • Victoria Mier • Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum • and Kevin Travers.

Halloween Eve Special, October 30, 2020


Suspense, "The House in Cypress Canyon"


Inner Sanctum Mysteries, "Voice on the Wire"

The Radio SORTES players presented a live Halloween Eve special: two programs of classic old time radio horrors. The shows -- including dialogues, music, and sound effects -- were performed for a live Zoom audience.The Suspense episode “The House in Cypress Canyon” was originally broadcast December 5, 1946 and the Inner Sanctum Mysteries episode “Voice on the Wire” was originally broadcast November 29, 1944. Both programs were performed by Kevin Travers • Sean Finn • Britny Perilli • Don Deeley • Brian Maloney • Betsy Herbert • Kyle Brown Watson • Nicholas Perilli • Emma Pike • Susan Clarke • and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Between episodes, we presented an original commercial in period style written and performed by Kevin Travers.

Odd Lots

Announcements and correspondence

Like any genius literary journal, SORTES invites readers and contributors to fight amongst themselves. Please email us to compliment our stellar authors and artists. Spicier fans may want to howl and bellow. Or maybe you have an announcement about a book, art project, impending marriage, &c?Be a part of the problem: comment on our stories and poems, other letters, and the SORTES demimonde in general by emailing




No Gimmicks

“SORTES continues to ascend the summit of artistic authenticity with every new issue its editors publish, showcasing the works of talented writers in a clean format that is accessible to the reader. There are no gimmicks here or busy links to click through, just the authors and their words. Read em'.”

James Feichthaler, September 8, 2022

James, we appreciate your words mammothly but we delicately disagree: SORTES is one transparent gimmick after another. It's a ruse wrapped in a gambit baked inside a flaky shenanigan potpie.

Missed Connection

“You: M/early 30s olive skin and a nose like a fleur-de-lis, burgundy sweater, pumpkin scarf.Me: F/38 eating olives out of pumpkin rind, lily patterned dress
The bartender sent me a glass of burgundy 'from the gentleman' and you tipped your hat. We talked about SORTES, the paper magazine on the internet, and sang karaoke of our favorite submissions. Drunk on bons mots and pithe, you knocked over the wunderkammer and were ejected by the bouncer. Let's meet and collage a poem!”

Iris Johnston, September 12, 2022

Me: That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my nose.

Credit and Debit



SORTES is a mostly online journal, as you know, but every so often we can't resist existing.

Annual 2023

The SORTES Spectral Winter Annual 2023 revives the tradition of haunted holiday fiction. This beautifully crafted 44-page paperback anthology features ghastly short stories showcasing a dead man’s special deliveries, a judgmental seaside specter, the pains of an aging table-rapper, the heartwarming war on the poor, and the electrifying end of the year / world, as well as poems celebrating the Jersey Devil's unsung siblings. Authors include Daniel DiFranco, Jean Zurbach, Kailey Tedesco, Max D. Stanton, Mordecai Martin, and Nick Perilli. The Annual makes an ideal holiday present for any dear friend or family member who loathes the living.

SORTES Sampler 2

A SORTES Sampler 2 is a slender tasty book collecting weird fiction by Max D. Stanton, surrealist collage art by Danielle Gatto Hirano, and a poetry cycle by Uri Rosenshine. It’s a handsomely designed but affordable little snack of a book. We have incredibly limited copies on hand, and every day they become incredibly more limited, so leap today.

SORTES Sampler 1

NOT QUITE SOLD OUT! We've uncovered a secret cache of remaining copies!A SORTES Sampler 1 was our first attempt to make the ephemeral real. It contains a dystopian farmstead fantasy by Iris Johnston, paper cutout art by Abi Whitehead, and a Coney Island noir by Mordecai Martin.

But are there deals? I have just decided there will be deals!

Annual 2023 + Sampler 1

Buy both and save $5

Annual 2023 + Sampler 2

Buy both and save $5

Annual 2023 + Both Samplers

Buy all three and save $10

While despairingly slim supplies last. Prices don't include shipping. To receive these special rates, items must be purchased together in the same checkout cart.

Or delay your delicious fulfillment and

Buy In Person

When in Philadelphia, please gobble up your copies from:Brickbat Books, Head & Hand Books, A Novel Idea on PassyunkPlease note that not every publication is sold in each location. If these fine stores are sold out, march to the counter and sweetly demand more SORTES.


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SORTES is dedicated to free: every online issue is lovingly brought to you for zero dollars while each Radio SORTES entertainment is beamed gratis to your Zoom dial. Our masochistic editors tell me they’re delighted to put in hundreds of hours for no money and paltry recognition.However, the rest of the chilly world is less dedicated to free and much the opposite: our website, our Zoom, our physical publications, and so many other digital nickels and dimes sap us more each year.We must fight back – and we need you to help us! Every dollar supporting SORTES goes to creating a strange literary world in which you’re a citizen. To delight you, we’re dancing in our red shoes down to our nubs.Why don’t we accept advertising? Because we hate it and it seems like too much work anyway. It blocks the bucolic view. It spoils the fine pleats in our website.So we turn to solicitation, which is much more up our alley. Patreon revives a tradition old as Roman poetry and frumpy chapel ceilings.

When you subscribe to SORTES for little as

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you'll be rewarded with loot, publications, and even opportunities to chat with our sumptuous editors.