Organ Solo with Oblivion and Gar

BY J. Scott Brownlee

Skittish fish lay eggs
in the shallow stone pool
where the green algae clings.

I am in love with every fry

that is dead already. Turn my soul
into bait, if you can, River Lord.
Make my body the same

as the minnows that slip

like coins into the murk.
Your Spirit mimics me
un-blinking, fish-bone face

through the brackish absence,

saying, Kneel down to me.
Lean low, sinner, and drink.
Bitter infidel, swallow

the black granite whole

if you are not afraid
of what comes after it:
________. Live forever.


Ghost Ocean 12

J. Scott reads "Organ Solo with Oblivion and Gar"

J. Scott Brownlee is a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at New York University, where he teaches poetry to undergraduates and fifth graders through the Teachers & Writers Collaborative.  His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, RATTLE, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Greensboro Review, Ninth Letter, Nashville Review, BOXCAR Poetry Review, The South Dakota Review, and elsewhere.  A Pushcart-nominated poet-of-place, Brownlee writes primarily about the people and landscape of rural Texas and is a founding member of The Localists, a new literary movement that emphasizes place-based writing of personal witness, cultural memory, and the aesthetically marginalized working-class, both in the United States and abroad.  His book-length work, Disappearing Town, was named a semifinalist for the 2012 University of Wisconsin Press Brittingham Prize.  He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Poem with Regrets

BY Tovah BUrstein

Every mango I’ve ever had in my life
has always been the best mango
I’ve ever had in my life.
I don’t feel the same way
about people.

When a person says to me: 
Where would I be without you?
I usually think:
Walgreens or
the Laun-dro-mat.

If the person’s my boss
I usually think:
Surfing Youtube
the fax machine.

It’s not polite to say:
life would be
no better, no worse.

If the person’s my mom,
I usually think:
Carefree or
couples’ bus tour of Tuscany.

If the person’s my boyfriend
I try not to think:
Half done with graduate school.
ten miles from your parents and financial stability.

Instead of saying this,
Do mangos swell sentimental?
I smile or squeeze
the person’s hand.
This is also how to check
for ripeness. 

Careful, once you break
the skin, it’s your mango.

If the person’s my unborn child
I think:
Safe from this world. 
existentially fucked,
but safe.

Could I love another
fruit so much? 
It matters
not to me
and still it matters even less
to mangos. 

I’ve only ever had
three mangos in my life. 
I usually fib,
plus or minus three,
depending on whether I want
to appear worldly or I want
to try some of your mango. 


Tovah reads "Poem with Regrets"

Tovah Burstein, a New Hampshire native, is currently an MFA candidate at Roosevelt University in Chicago.  During the workweek, Tovah coordinates literacy tutoring programs in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has previously appeared in MAKE, Santa Clara Review, Book Slut, and the Chicago Reader.


BY John Repp

Under boot soles,
          the mesa’s grit

& right here,
          the gorge

down which we
          switchback in & out

of sublime
          shade to the river

shrunk to a green
          rush & burble,

but no less
          cold for that.


John reads "Gorge"

John Repp's poems have appeared in recent issues of Poetry, Theodate, Whirlwind Review, and Slant.  His most recent collection is Big Conneautee (Seven Kitchens Press Editors' Series, 2010).

Untitled (10/27/2011)

BY Nate Pritts

I try to remember a dream
so I can type it out clearly
without embellishment.
My tired morning fingers hit
the letters in the wrong order. 
The air is suffused with white light.
It’s never interesting when people
talk about their dreams. I change
my mood. I can’t feel fully good
about anything. So I take a walk
& turn right onto Franklin Street,
follow it until it stops
then walk slowly back
under the overhanging trees.  
They barely hold back the rain.  
I think about two or three friends
I haven’t seen lately & couldn’t
even if I wanted to. I try
to remember one really significant
detail about each of them
but am left feeling foolish
& too aware of myself. I like it
when I can almost see through
my hands. Almost everyone
walking has an umbrella – 
dull purple stripes or polka dots
that try to be full of verve & pluck
but which seem collapsed,
a simple hectic mess which falls apart
& deserves it. I have learned
that rain is easier to deal with
when it completely ruins you.


Nate reads "Untitled (10/27/2011)"

Nate Pritts is the author of six books of poems, most recently Right Now More Than Ever. He founded H_NGM_N, an online journal & small press, in 2001 & serves as Director & Prime Architect for its various endeavors.

Attack of the Love Killers

BY Christopher Rife

        for Roger Corman and Lorrie Moore

While atomic grasshopper women crawl out of the dust of New Mexico
and the misunderstood scientist and his sexy lab assistant stay safe inside
their narrative bubble, kids in the back row unstick their feet in the dark.
They press palms together, vibrate soft, watching but not paying attention
as the alien invasion continues and bodies are snatched. 
                                                                                    I’ve learned
you can take two creatures and mash them together and wham - you’ve got
a monster fit for date night. But sharktopuses and piranhacondas have nothing
on the monsters made in the theatre. The grasshopper women cannot see the kids
hide in each other like fallout shelters. The scientist will not wait for the audience
to finish low-budget romances. It only works one way, until the credits roll on
the world as we know it, until they no longer flicker and stick to the screen.

Christopher reads "Attack of the Love Killers"

Christopher Rife is a writer and performer from Chicago, where he is about to complete his BA at DePaul University.  He is the co-founder, editor and publisher of N/A Literary Magazine.  His poetry is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly and A Literation.  He is putting together his first chapbook and figuring out where life will take him next.

High Treason

BY Michael Czyzniejewski

Despite my better judgment, I attend this week’s meeting of the Fuzzy Stuffed Animal Candy Council. The meeting starts five minutes late—they were waiting for someone—then they take roll. Though I’ve been there once or twice before, no one on the Council gives me a look, all eyes forward, all business. I start to think I don’t belong, but remember the meetings are open to the public, that I’m entitled to witness the proceedings.

Popo the Panda introduces the first order of business: the seating arrangement on the toy chest. Popo states that the bears are tired of the back row, against the wall, and how some of the other Council members, because space is tight, are forced to lie across their laps. Popo’s motion calls for open seating, plus permission to move the excess members to the white dresser by the window. Cinnamon, Honey, and Smokie all second Popo’s motion. In the end, four votes aren’t enough. For another week, the bears will anchor the toy chest, populate the back row.

The next item, presented by Gil Gorilla, speaks to the growing discord between the stuffed animals and the dolls. Gil’s first beef is how the dolls get to sit at their meeting table ad infinitum, complete with full tea set, while the stuffed animals get nothing. Worse, with the exception of a random bow tie, top hat, or felt vest, the stuffed animals live in the nude, while the dolls not only get to wear clothes—lacey dresses and bountiful bonnets—but all of them have changes of clothes, folded in the bottom drawer of the white dresser by the window. Snapper Gator, Council Chair, attempts to keep heads cool, suggesting a fairness committee be formed to evaluate the best course of action. So many of the dolls are children, she reminds us, and no one’s suggesting any aggressive action towards a child at this juncture. Butterfly Betsy flaps her wings to second, and the Council, sated by the proposal of the fairness committee, moves forward.

After a short recess, the Council brings forth an array of smaller, less pressing issues. They discuss painting the playroom to look like a forest or jungle, maybe a combination of both. A Council member, who asks to remain anonymous, proposes lifting the ban on intermaterial marriages, while Button Eyes the Bunny suggests a smoking ban, good for within a hundred yards of the playroom—for the first time, I feel the Council’s eyes drawn to me. Gil Gorilla calls for more money in the nightlight fund, and when Jennifer the Pink Polka-Dotted Giraffe inquires as to where in “the hell” this extra nightlight money would come from, Gil suggests they bump the sin tax on honey to 8 percent, which only makes the teddy bears more furious, the last thing anyone wanted. The meeting adjourns and the animals move back to the toy chest to pursue their personal agendas.


Dinner isn’t ready when my wife comes home, her first day back at work. I feel awful, this meal my only imperative for the day, and for some reason, I’d promised her something extra special. It won’t be. I microwave-defrost freezer-burned chicken, sprinkle it with oregano, old White Zinfandel serving as marinade. As it bakes, she tells me they got a new printer, and that no one talked to her unless they had to, the ladies room, the break room, et cetera, but still, it wasn’t as bad as she’d imagined.

My wife then asks me what I did all day. I tell her that I did the dinner dishes from the night before, which I did, threw a load of darks in, including her black dress, which I did, and talked to my parents on the phone for quite a while, which isn’t quite as true as the first two. I consider telling her about the Council Meeting, all the issues on the table, but we’d talked about these meetings a few days before, how she didn’t think it was a good idea that I go anymore, that maybe it was best I steer clear of the playroom altogether. I don’t tell my wife about the Council meeting, because of this talk, but also because my wife does not tell me, in that great of detail, what she did all day, nor did I expect a real answer when I asked her how her day was.

Most of all, I don’t tell my wife about the Fuzzy Stuffed Animal Candy Council meeting because, if I’m not mistaken, her loyalties lie with the dolls. The stuffed animals spoke openly in my presence, confided in me their intentions, and while I didn’t sign a gag order or even pinky swear, giving secrets to the enemy is the worst kind of treason. While my wife sides with the dolls, their pretty dresses in large part supplied by her, I side with the stuffed animals, see their point of view. After all, they have some pretty legitimate concerns.


Michael reads "High Treason"

Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of two collections of stories, Elephants in Our Bedroom (Dzanc Books, 2009) and Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions (Curbside Splendor, 2012), and a 2010 recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Prose.  He is an assistant professor at Missouri State University, where he serves as Editor of Moon City Review.

August Again

BY Janelle Elyse Kihlstrom

The stillest moment of the year
remains a jubilee,

where just outside the window
candy wagons,

muddy music, shards of crabshell
settle on the deck.

The ancient smell of grass remains,
and poems in scarlet

clusters, scattered by the shovelful.
For some other time.

Not June with its double entendres,
July with its virgin

coladas. There never was another
time. Your name now

instead of a starfish. Your turn
to say a thing

that's birthed in blood can't be
rendered in water.


Janelle reads "August Again"

Janelle Elyse Kihlstrom's chapbook, Blue Trajectory, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2011.  She edits the online journal Melusine and holds an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  She lives with her small but recently expanded family in the D.C. area.


BY thomas nowak

At our spawn point we talked to each other.
Because of the darkness. We opened our eyes
together. You threw me the potions. I slew
the creatures. Your trumpet leaned against
the wall. My clarinet was still in the case.
We didn’t practice, but we saved Tristram
from the underworld. It was ready to swallow
the whole town.


I have been looking for you in Demacia, in
Bilgewater, in Ionia. I have been to the Crystal
Scar, the Twisted Treeline, and Summoner’s
Rift. I didn’t know it was because you finally
got promoted to working in the pharmacy. We
are happy for you, but we need your ninja
to hold back the minions up north, and to
appear from nowhere to save us down south. 
Did you even think of how many times
we would die while you answered the phone
and filled prescriptions?


The room at the top of the stairs became our
bridge. My mother had an understanding
of this. She let us hang up Christmas lights
around the window and would interrupt us,
“Commanders, dinner is waiting in the dining
hall,” or “Captain, you need to dock so you can
clean the lavatory.” Her father got sick, all our
navigation systems and lights were moved into
the basement. He had to sleep in our bridge. 
My grandfather died in our bridge. I am too
afraid to set up our command station
elsewhere. You will have to do the shooting. I
am dead weight, so I sat down so that you
could hold alt and sprint to the extraction
point. You were supposed to leave me. But
you pressed e. You carried me.


You were drunk when we had to launch
that boulder. I didn’t know you had already
emptied a bottle, so I trusted you and your C4,
but your body was already ragdolling and
the boulder smashed against arms, head, what
used to be a backpack of guns and other things
dear to us. I trusted your spear hand and
shield. You were drunk when I let you cover
my descent into enemy territory; either of us
could have fallen from the rafters of that
bridge. When the zerglings overran my city,
could you hear the marines screaming. Did you
listen for the low bass of the dragon fire on
flesh. Did you see the teeth of the chainsaw
flash by the light. I almost cried in the flickering.


We talk about your wedding in between
digging the irrigation ditches for our city. You
are considering the venue with the dance floor
that lights up, but I don’t have time to look
at the pictures, because a goblin army is
approaching from the east. We are all fighting
them off when Puck asks about your fiancé.
She is asleep, your screen, glowing.


I have walked more places with him than I have
with myself. I don’t look at him when we
are walking towards castles, or hostage
situations, or the ocean. We just know to set up
the siege ladders, go through the vents. I know
that he has an extra boat in his inventory
to escape this ice. We don’t look back either.
The corpses of our past will fade as we draw in
new distance. The levels of our youth are no longer
supported in this version. We didn’t even save
our progress.


Thomas reads "Allies"

Thomas Nowak holds an MFA in poetry from Columbia College Chicago.  His poems have recently appeared in Arsenic Lobster and apt issue 3.  He now lives in the Chicago suburbs with his partner and their dog.  He just finished Bioshock Infinite and implores you to brush up on your astrophysics and play it.