The Bird of Paradise in the second floor of the haunted hotel speaks

BY Margaret bashaar

I was a woman once, a witch.
Do not misunderstand -
I have lived in no bog,
worn no pointed party store hat.
I am not ancient.
To ask how I became a bird
would be to ask how
a scar formed, the split of cells,
their regrowing over and over.
There were so many serial killers
to fall in love with those days,
so many Satanists. How is a girl
supposed to pick just one?
And honey, I am more than this
unreal body, these glass eyes
purchased at auction.
We are all here to burn
the ghosts from this haunted candle.
We will all throw it in the river
when we’re through,
so give me a big red button to push.
Darling, I’ll show you paradise.


Ghost Ocean 10

Margaret reads "The Bird of Paradise..."

Margaret Bashaar's most recent chapbook, Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel, was published by by Blood Pudding Press in 2011. She edits the chapbook micro press Hyacinth Girl Press and her poetry has also appeared in publications such as elimae, Caketrain, So to Speak, Boxcar Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, her son, and far too many typewriters which may or may not be haunted.

How to not hold it together on Delta Shuttle flight 5936 ORD to LGA

BY Gabriel Kalmuss-Katz

Wake up an hour earlier than you need to, stare at the desert of non-fitted sheets. Take somebody’s seat on the blue line to O’Hare. Drink the free steaming coffee-colored water in the plastic cups meant for juice so you’ll be able to tell yourself that your stomach is churning from digesting melted plastic and not from anything else. Regret almost every decision you’ve made for the past two years. Cut off the man walking slow with the baby so you can cry in the bathroom. Try to sync your tears to the sound of automatic toilets but give up very quickly, because it’s 7:30 in the morning and there aren’t that many people in the O’Hare Terminal 2 bathroom and the toilets don’t flush themselves like they do in Newark Liberty International (you discovered that in the midst of bad decisions of the past two years). Use the free wifi. Reopen your Gmail account 30 times in 90 seconds. See if you can beat that speed. See if you can break your computer reloading endlessly. Get on the flight next to a well-dressed Haitian man. For no other reason than the reason for your trip and the reason of the past two years, communicate through the language barrier that you have the window seat he is sitting in, even though your row doesn’t actually have a window. Use the free wifi on the plane, discover more things you wish you hadn’t. Consider throwing your laptop a distance spiteful enough to stop all this. After the Haitian man has gotten his drink and is comfortable, make him stand up because you can’t maintain what the button-down shirt purchased at some point in the two years of bad decision making would suggest. Go to the bathroom. Cry harder. Close your eyes until the tears can’t come out and they just sting in place, liquid hornets. Do not worry if the flight attendants hear you, if they suspect anything or suspect you as a suspect of suspicious etc. Cry until the seatbelt light goes on and you have to return to your seat. When you go back to your seat, continue to cry, and realize there is exactly one thing which might mollify, which might assuage, which might do what synonyms of the world “help” would do without actually being the word help and all that the word “help” means.

“Xian Undertaker” is from the Silkworm album It’ll Be Cool.

Play the song again and again, even if you cannot stop crying and even if you do manage to stop crying. Play it at volumes that hurt your ears which already hurt from the amount you grind and misplace and mistreat your jaw on a daily basis due not exclusively, but in large part, to 2 years of bad decision making. Listen to the song so loud that even if the Haitain man to your right doesn’t know why you’re crying, he has a vague sense of what is causing you to stop crying.

“Xian Undertaker” is from the Silkworm album It’ll Be Cool.

See that the flight just crossed the Delaware. You’ll be landing soon. When you land and turn on your phone, find out that you were rejected from the last writing program you were waiting to hear back from this year. Take the M60 to the A train. Question whether you want to go anywhere in this city or whether it feels too much like a maze from the book the little child across from the Haitian man was scrawling dull pencil circles all over, ignoring the exact purpose of a maze, but assume that’s just what kids do. Ignore the fact that that was a terrible metaphor and the exact fucking reason you got rejected from nearly every writing program you applied to this year. You are now in New York City, so don’t cry. Take the train uptown to 168th St where you will not want to answer any questions your mother asks when you arrive at her office. Do not take off your headphones and do not stop listening to the song over and over, even if she asks you to or social logic would dictate that you should.

“Xian Undertaker” is from the Silkworm album It’ll Be Cool.

That’s the key. Do not stop listening to the song until you change your mind about something you’ve written here or at least until you’ve scrubbed your face of anything resembling non-rain related moisture. Wonder whether this record is necessary. Wonder whether sharing this is just one more poorly chosen option. Wonder what happened to the woman who killed this band’s drummer when she ran him over, driving recklessly in an attempt at vehicular suicide. She survived it, you know, so wonder how she wakes up these days. Listen to the song again. Listen to the song again. Go for a walk through the suburbs feeling like you probably felt when you were 14 years old. You are now in New Jersey, so cry. Cry when you get back to your block in front of the Orthodox Jewish children returning from yeshiva, who look at you and move away. Listen to the song again, and realize how much the song, yes, you can say it now, helped. Realize that today and probably for a lot longer than today you’ve been as fragile and inconsistent and petulant as a 14 year old child. You couldn’t help yourself today, so the song did. Listen to song again.

“Xian Undertaker” is from the Silkworm album It’ll Be Cool.

Understand how good this song is. Understand that when this passes, you will never be able to listen to this song again. You’ve got probably a half dozen other songs like that from various points in your life, that you can’t even let yourself name, much less listen to. Listen to the song again.


This also appears, though in different form, on the mp3 blog


Gabriel reads "How to not hold it together..."

Gabriel Kalmuss-Katz finally feels like Chicago is home, a lovely home at that, and so he is confused as to why he is uprooting his life and moving to California. Then he reminds himself that he will be starting at the UC-San Diego MFA program this fall, and that he can always come back to the midwest once he's done with that. His work has appeared in Curbside Splendor, After Hours, and Juncture. He blogs about music at and, with his friend and fellow poet Naomi Schub, run Na Zdravi Na Shledanou Press.  


BY Andrew Mobbs

afternoon above dead ice melting, pigeons drinking
from the muck. she unraveled on the poplar branch
like a newborn cyst. she winced when the first gust
tested her. she worried about spring cycles until her
brain turned brown. the sun is heating the roadside
sewage stench, not a sentient green thing in sight.

Crow Calling

wait for a certain shade of gray
in the sky; choose the loneliest
          place to perch. the deader
          the better (kingdoms are meant
to be seen from naked treetops).

your message is clear: opacity. say,
you tickle my blood and make me
think murky. say, your footprints
          are symmetry in the frost
          next to my clumsy ones.

i want to clip your tongue,
teach you about words, okay?

teach you too much black can be
off-putting, your caws can be
joyful syllables
          if you wanted

Dead Rabbit

rotting with
rain-muddled fur
bisecting a crack
on the hot sidewalk
bad omen

the chinese might
think as flies
gnaw a crater
gluttonous for its
stopped heart


Andrew reads three poems

Andrew Mobbs: blond-headed, whiskey-lipped, tiny Neptune eyes. Modern day Mongolian nomad. He writes poetry about things on which people step. He doesn't own a pair of tennis shoes. He digresses, he digresses.  


BY Aaron Krol

I have saved all your garnishes
orange peels and olive picks
lemon twists fat with vermouth all
fingerfished from the last rattles of

ice. I am making a scarecrow out
of pearl onions and celery stalks
his muscle is limepulp his
sinews are cherry stems

his hat is a cocktail umbrella.
I have given him a frown
to keep away the hornets but
I worry he will only make them

hungrier, sticky as he is with
grenadine. They never land they
whir about your hangover remnants I
think they are in love and these

are my sprigs of mint
my pools of watered pepper
how often and how staunchly have I served you
I will brave the stings and down your hibiscus flowers.


Aaron reads "Contact"

Aaron Krol is a native of Baltimore, MD, and currently resides in Boston, where he is pursuing his MFA from Emerson College. When not writing, he works for Lab Culture, the newsletter of the African Society for Laboratory Medicine, and for the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown. 


The Black Stallion Exposed

BY MEgan Giddings

Consider the fact that there is no way to know to truly know an animal. Consider a goldfish with its dumb glub-glub beauty. Consider that there is no way to know Greta Garbo. Re-write a Garbo movie to star a goldfish encased in a plastic bag. Allow the fish to die multiple times.

When you’re done, make a list of famous animals. What did the animals do to achieve their fame? What happened to the animals after they retired? Then imagine Garbo as stallion.

The Black Stallion as Accidental Tourist

The Black Stallion watches the ocean as the man approaches.

Footfalls: the man (still one-quarter boy, he can hear it in his weight, his breath) moves with calculated grace. Each heel-thud crunching to communicate, I am not a threat.

The horse is more interested in the water. He understands sand: how to run across it, how it feels beneath his hooves, how it feels to have a rider on top, leaned forward on his neck urging him through it, and that to get past it means oats, means green grass, a stable filled with hay and a bucket of water, cool on his snout.

He would like to offer a hoof to the waves, but is unsure of their response.

The Black Stallion Wishes for a Better Name

He has lived with the following horses: The Dream of the Desert; Spitfire; Sure Breeze; Son of Scimitar; One Thousand and Two Dreams; Lieutenant Commander; Rosetta. He would be a different horse if he wasn’t “The Black” or “The Black Stallion”. He is unsure why the name is important, but he sees himself a different, slower, less interesting horse. A life not spent in horse shoes, a life not spent fucking prestigious mare after prestigious mare in search of prestigious spawn; a life where he could understand the water’s song around him, a life where children and timid women offer him sugar cube after sugar cube.


Megan reads all three

Megan Giddings is currently a MA student in Fiction at Miami University. She has most recently been published in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. 


BY rhonda Lott

Once while hiking, I found the biggest
tattooed with speared hearts, dead loves.

If not for green lichen skin, it would look
less tree than human.


In dreams, low branches lead to invisible rooms
like smooth stairs. I climb under

the glossy, green shingles
every day until the paper wasps take over, peek

from hives like blackheads, and find me
in their world. The villagers hack it to a stump,

but that tree is stitched
into my sparking synapses.


My neighbor, retired
pageant queen, cross-stitched a single

white blossom that grew outside
her window. She never finished.

In a thick storm, her magnolia burst
through her bedroom ceiling, showered blue toile

with black mold, plaster of Paris, splinters.
For the rest of her life, that magnolia

lived with her, leaning closer as she slept,
breathing her breath. One Sunday,

when I missed the smell
of black coffee, I opened her unlocked door to find

her snap bean frame stiff in her bed, leaves dotting her hair
like chives in rhubarb tart. And mossy limbs

reaching for the floor with blooms
like the soft, plump hands of a young belle.


Rhonda reads "Magnolias"

Rhonda Lott is currently a doctoral candidate at Texas Tech University. Her previous work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Los Angeles Review, Cream City Review, The Southern Humanities Review, and more. She also serves as an associate editor and artist-in-residence for Stirring: A Literary Collection

When You are Everywhere

BY Katie Jean Shinkle

We see Marquis and Father everywhere, all over the city, at the intersection in their truck laughing running fingers through each others’ hair and laughing with their heads cocked back and singing singing singing at the top of their lungs to unknown tunes that disappear behind bass lines before we can even recognize the song. We see them everywhere in reflections, in the windows, all of the windows of every single building that owns the skyline from anywhere we stand.

When we get lost, we look to the sky.

We see our Father in the reflections of glass windows.

Our Mother procures stainless steel rabbit ears in the dumpster, sees them spilling out onto the road, sees the extension cord (that works, might I add she says) and knows it is rabbit-eared antennas for the TV. We sneak out into the living room the first night and watch a television show about ghost hunting. We learn about axe murders who want their human counterparts out of their houses, we learn about explosions that killed so many men, we learn that children’s voices are normally evil spirits manipulating to gain access to human energy. We learn that ghost hunting is about spirituality, not about physical manifestations.

We see our Father in our tandem dream that night and we say, “Why did you leave us?” and he says, “I didn’t, really.”


M.E. Riley reads "When You are Everywhere"

Katie Jean Shinkle is author of three chapbooks, most recently The Sadness of July (dancing girl press, 2012) and As Close to Smiling as You Can Get (The Cupboard, forthcoming.) Other work can be found in or is forthcoming from Third Coast, Sonora Review, Salt Hill, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. 

In Review

Mapping a Way Through the Dark: a look at the map of the system of human knowledge


James Tadd Adcox, The Map of The System of Human Knowledge. Tiny Hardcore, 2012. 140pp. $10.00 paper.

What choices go into creating a system? A map? Both are constructs that contain knowledge. Systems are essentially arrangements while maps are guides to navigating these arrangements. But, again, these are constructs and don’t simply spring out of nothing without a human hand at work. Maybe the more important question to ask, aside from choice, is how the makers of these systems and their maps create meaning. How is knowledge categorized, and what do we as readers — and humans, of course — take away from such a systemic construction of the how, what, where, when, and why? Such questions belong squarely in James Tadd Adcox’s debut novel, The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, released by Tiny Hardcore Press.

The book is comprised of a number of sparsely related vignettes in a loose and incomplete encyclopedic arrangement. While detailed, it in no way dilutes the experience of reading. The Map of the System of Human Knowledge is a curious text to tackle. Few books are comparable in my experience, and the unique structure is certainly a novelty that takes a little bit to get used to. But that’s okay. Novelty is a close friend of invention and an appropriate term of praise, for Adcox’s text is inventive.

At first, the book appears to be a random assortment of seemingly nonsensical and meaningless data: a gift shop is burned down only to arise from the ashes reborn; an artificial mountain is constructed in Indiana; a woman perceives her oncoming sainthood; a house shakes itself to pieces, driving a young couple apart. But a handy index, lovingly produced on the first few pages, binds each entry together and serves as the titular map to guide readers through the system of capacity, limits, and incompleteness of knowledge Adcox has created.

Each entry begins with an elaborate title presented first in the index, such as “Philosophy/Science of Man/Logic/Art of Thinking/Judgment/Science of Propositions.” These headings function something like blog post tags, shorthand for relevant information contained in the piece. I also found them to walk a dangerous line. Dense and overly categorical, the headings provide a solid, sensible foundation that I latched onto rather than the off-the-cuff material that followed. But I was looking for meaning in the wrong place. My tendency to appreciate the title over the entry’s content had to be forcibly resisted from time to time.

The vignettes themselves describe inconsequentially incomplete or absurd situations. Situations that could be said to lack meaning. But meaning is manufactured by the reader, not by the object perceived. Adcox’s index is not the holder of meaning, just a representation that points in the right direction. It is not dissimilar to the classic maxim of Alfred Korzybski's that “the map is not the territory.”

What Adcox is doing with these highly systemic categories and the hyper-bracketed index is presenting a system every bit as valid as those we encounter on a daily basis. Except he’s filling it with different data that may not compute like in “History/Sacred/History of the Prophets” a woman suddenly becomes pregnant with a six year old girl through sheer will. This mix of wildly offbeat scenarios calls into question the veracity of these man-made systems and how it is humans take meaning from them.

When things fall apart, just because, what are we to take away? When information becomes so classified that no living person is allowed to view it — as in “Poetry/Profane/Civil Architecture,” when two archivists holding that information aren’t even familiar with their counterpart. Both of their livelihoods depend on secrets, especially those kept from each other. They’re so steeped in distrust that they eagerly project on each other a secret, fictional life that grows into mutual resentment for how better off the other must be — how does that make us feel as supposedly rational and meaning-making individuals?

Or consider this passage from “Philosophy/Science of Man/Logic/Art of Thinking/Apprehension,” in which a father is struck with grave concern over his daughter’s imaginary friend, Leonard:

“Each man we pass, I say, calmly, so calmly, ‘Do you know him? Does he talk to you?’ It feels horrible, like I’m twisting her arm, but I have to know. She doesn’t say anything. She shakes her head, she cries, but without sound. I can hardly breathe. It takes forever. When we finally make it through the neighborhood and go to get ice cream, she holds the cone carefully with both hands, like a gerbil or some other small, nervous animal, and refuses to look at me.”

Here Adcox hits it out of the park. He achieves so much with so little. He calls into question the act of prescribing meaning and how one sort of thing, reasoning for instance, is privileged over another, perhaps emotion. Logically the father is acting in his daughter’s best interests and performing a very codified and meaningful function, protecting his child; however, on a gut level this registers differently, and it becomes obvious that what we believe to be right and meaningful may not always be so. By drawing attention to how readers can make meaning of, for all intents and purposes, nonsensical material, Adcox demonstrates that meaning is always being made and that humans have a natural tendency to erect systems and maps to codify knowledge and assign meaning to that data gleaned.

But this is also The Map’s Achilles’ heel. The real question of how meaning is derived through Adcox’s exacting and methodical prose becomes troublesome. So much is invested in the “how” that the text’s wheels have a tendency to spin. We are constantly prodded to make sense of what unfolds before us. But how can we? That doesn’t come easy with what the index represents: systems of human knowledge. Then, again, this book proudly trumpets itself as mapping what is unknowable and how all encyclopedias are incomplete because human knowledge is incomplete as well.

The text forms a cyclical pattern over time that is both provocative and discomforting, like listening to a record played backward in search of hidden messages. The reader is given a well-constructed map of Adcox’s system of human knowledge. With this tool in hand, a constant back and forth results between the map itself as object and what it represents, creating great tension.

Like all systems, Adcox’s eventually reaches a breakdown. Paradoxically, this occurs in the same place where The Map derives its strength. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, all closed systems will succumb to entropy, the death of motion and heat. Though Adcox’s system is incomplete, it is still sealed in form and, therefore, vulnerable to entropy. The breakdown occurs because what’s represented is irredeemably limited. There is a natural disconnect between map and system that mimics the real limits of human knowledge. But instead of being given new tools to overcome, understand, or cope with that, The Map continues to point at the gap like a road marker. Readers are left to rely on the overarching thematic structure and the implications of the text rather than the text itself.

The incompleteness of Adcox’s system is its downfall because we can get at how we make meaning, but we can’t get at the meaning of his actual writing. It’s like opening a door and entering the room you just left. The cyclical chicken-and-the-egg effect is a fascinating exercise but one that adheres a bit too much to the incompleteness of human knowledge, leaving behind a vague sense something was subtracted rather than added.

—James Orbesen




James Orbesen is a writer and graduate student living in Chicago. His work has appeared on or in Midwestern Gothic, PopMatters, Gapers Block, The Point, 215 Ink's 2011 Comics Anthology, and elsewhere. He works as a tutor and graduate assistant when not writing.