It Will Come Semi-Automatically

by matt petronzio


A gun gives you the body, not
the bird. The blood-drained bird
tied to the hood of your car still
skims its interrupted
meadow. Plumage sounds so
violent now. Plummet. Plumb-
—the weight of new carcass
hitting the dirt. My body hit
the dirt once, hers on top of mine
in a stumble of skin. Anything
violent dissolved. But we weren't
birds. I come from a family
of birds who begged for the bullet
and took it themselves. Sometimes
I worry their songs pitch
through my veins like ruby-
throated warblers. I take
them into my dreams
and wonder what instruments
they might have used, and when
I wake up, I try to remember
I am not a bird, I am not a bird.

The first line in this poem is borrowed from Henry David Thoreau.

Ghost Ocean 15

Matt reads "It Will Come Semi-Automatically"


Matt Petronzio is a poet, journalist, and editor based in New York City. His poems have appeared in PANK, InDigest, Breakwater Review, NAP, and featured on Verse Daily. He earned his MFA in poetry from Hunter College, where he received the Academy of American Poets Prize, among other awards.



by J river helms


It was the day of our mother's funeral and Jake's mouth was full of rocks. I said Jake, please stop and I grabbed his arm, his tiny arm, and my fingers wrapped all the way around. He spat out the rocks and some of his teeth. His mouth was ringed with blood and he looked like a grotesque miniature clown. The blood dripped onto his white t-shirt, forming a spot in the middle of his chest.  
          I had been in my room adjusting my tie when our father called out to see if Jake was ready yet. I went into Jake's room and his dress shirt was still on his bed, its sleeves spread wide. Our father called again and Jake didn't answer. I went outside and Jake was standing next to the tire swing in our backyard, stuffing rocks into his mouth. It hurt my teeth to see him do it. 


We didn't have a recent picture of our mother. The photo that was enlarged and displayed at the funeral was from six years before and it was taken at Jake's third birthday party. The picture was propped next to a closed cherry casket. I couldn't stop looking at the photo, at our mother and her frozen green eyes. Our mother and her smile and her teeth. Our mother with a little bit of frosting in her dark brown hair. 
          Jake sat in the front row between my father and me. My hand was closed around his balled up fist. I had washed all the blood off of his face but he was still bleeding from the missing teeth. In his other hand he had a paper towel he'd been using to dab the inside of his mouth. My father looked over Jake's head and said Thank you, Cody. He said I'm sorry you had to— but he didn't finish.  


I was dating a boy who was a couple of years older than me, but my parents didn't know. His name was Gordon and he was a senior at my high school. Our fathers played softball and drank beer together on Thursday nights. We'd been seeing each other for four months when Gordon took me out for dinner and a movie to celebrate. This was the weekend before my mother died. 
          After the movie, we went back to Gordon's house because his parents weren't home. We went into his bedroom and he started playing some music I'd never heard before. Gordon unbuttoned his shirt and walked over to me and put my hand on his stomach. He was hairier than I was. I finished taking off his shirt. He said I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. I put my mouth on his shoulder and he put his hand on the back of my neck. We stood that way for several songs.


Gordon was at my mother's funeral with his mother and father and sister. His family sat a few rows behind my family. When I got up to go to the bathroom, Jake followed me and I looked at Gordon as we passed. He was wearing a black button-down and a tie that belonged to his father. He looked like he didn't know what to do with his face when he saw me. 
          I'd only seen Gordon once since my mother died. He came to our house with his mother to bring us a casserole. I wasn't eating very much then but Jake and my father said it tasted pretty good. It was gone in two days and I rode my bike to Gordon's house to return the dish, but he wasn't there. His mother said he'd gone to the grocery store with his sister. She said she'd tell him I stopped by. 


My mother stayed home from work on the Monday she died because she said she wasn't feeling well. When Jake and I got off of the bus after school, Jake stopped to play with our neighbor's dog and I went inside to check on our mother. I sat my bag on the couch and called for her and she didn't answer. 
          I walked into my parents' bedroom thinking my mother was asleep and there was her body collapsed next to her closet. My father's handgun lay in her open hand and there was so much red on the white wall. I heard the front door open and I tried to yell at Jake, to tell him not to come in, but my chest was so tight and I couldn't breathe. He was standing beside me before I could do anything. 


When Gordon came to our house with his mother he stood in our kitchen and shook my father's hand. My father put his hand on Gordon's shoulder, the same shoulder I'd put my mouth on just days before, but that didn't occur to me then. I was sitting in the living room with Jake watching television. My father said Cody's in the living room, but I knew Gordon could see me.
          Gordon walked in and sat down next to me on the couch. Jake was sitting in my mother's recliner, picking at the arms of the chair the way our mother used to. Gordon touched my hand and Jake noticed the movement but he just looked back at the television and never said anything. Gordon sat with us quietly until his mother said they were leaving. He squeezed my hand for just a moment before they left. Jake continued picking at the chair and my father settled next to me on the couch. We sat that way for hours.


J reads "Rocks"


J River Helms is an Assistant Editor for Corium Magazine. Their work has appeared in Copper Nickel, Fairy Tale Review, Phoebe, New England Review, and Redivider, among others. Their first book, Machines Like Us, won the inaugural Dzanc Poetry Collection Award (judged by C. Dale Young) and is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in 2015.

The Past Keeps Prying at the Corners of This Narrative like a Couple of Crowbars Making Love to a Doorframe

by joshua young

so you've lost interest
in politeness
i too have lost sight of important things
& the whole evening has become
a series of spoilers
for every summer block buster
worth seeing
someone says what happened to poetry
someone else says fuck you and that poem you wrote
& someone else says you think something happened to poetry
in a workshop a professor
insists that a poem
is not poetry
but what is it then—
that gutted out building
across the street
looks like a ribcage
with a lamp for a heart
i'm not sold on your explanation
of poetry
or friendship
or love
but you're wearing
very stylish jeans
so you have some taste
then again that car you drive
spews black clouds
into the neighborhood
elliot asks me if em's parents are dead
i say yes because it is true
the earthworm changed
the american landscape fyi
what have you done

Field Notes Entry

from Even the Trees Yawn

we cannot
see the water 

it's hearsay

what's over
that hill 

it's just
more crops 

& lines
of animals 

cow shit
& tractors

the farms

sea level 

& it hasn't
rained since

i don't know
on the radio 


as though
the'yre encased

in water

in the distance 


the water is  
& all this corn—

when will you
stop moving

where will
the fish gather 

we're not sunk
not yet 

but i want
to make this easy 

if you step
into the water 

you will
know its intent 

there are too many
trees up here 

what will
the landscape 

do when it meets
the shoreline

it was never
about the fish 

it wasn't

the downed
water silos 

the lamb 

out there
is not wandering 

& when
the diesel 

fumes get
trapped wait

who is that

to pull
the horizons closer 

you want
to know 

what life
would be 

without land 

is that

from the cornfield
is that turmeric
on the wall

i see a fire
i see the chain-link 

but that is not

that is not

it is the sound
of pouring

Joshua reads "The Past Keeps Prying..." & "Field Notes Entry"

Joshua Young is the author of four collections, most recently The Holy Ghost People (Plays Inverse Press). He is editor-in-chief at The Lettered Streets Press. He teaches in the MFA and BA programs at Columbia College Chicago, where he is Associate Director of Creative Writing. He lives in the Wicker Park Neighborhood with this family.


Hand to Mouth

by Samantha Schaefer


I exhausted the monkey bars until my hands ripped open. It was a gravel pit there instead of the traditional sand playground—probably something to do with Catholicism. Pebbles the size of rosary beads, I'm still all pain/pleasure. When I got too lonely I'd collect female saints' relics from the gravel on the playground as though it were gravel in a graveyard but never men's remains—only women's—the ovaries of St. Lucy who had her eyes removed with a spoon and carried them around on a golden plate—

"Lucy" means "light" with the same root as "lucid"—Dad says lucid dreaming is a learnable skill, but that's only if you can sleep deep—which is also a learnable skill. He'd try to train me to sleep hard enough saying keep your eyes shut, keep em shut now—and read aloud from manuals on astro-traveling while I slept, hoping to control my dream experience—but I'd always end up back on the playground 

next to St. Dymphna's teeth—knocked out of her head after she refused to marry her own father—the kidney stones of St. Margaret who was swallowed by a dragon. Always thought she'd marry St. George who killed dragons for a living, but like I said, I didn't collect the men. My hands as tithe baskets in this gathering, worried I wouldn't have enough, in a breathing sort of way, gravel dust coated the inside of my mouth and made me dumb. Rocks the color of rotten teeth—spit on to make pretty—I stored the relics in my desk

next to my stash of candy. I'd have contests with myself from day to day to see who could jump from the highest swing height. These heights were recorded in a notebook, also at the back of my desk. The days when I got sent to the principal's office to have rocks plucked out with a pair of pliers—those days won—as a reward I'd let myself eat a piece of candy 

and pray for real on the kneelers that hurt to get down on. In church, the knees were the only part allowed naked. Even our heads got covered. A woman died in there, in church. She wasn't a saint. After the diocese removed the carpeting, the marble floor beneath developed a sense of humor. The woman slipped on her way to get Eucharist and broke her hip. Some people said it was a convenient way to go—that it must have been divine in front of that big blond crucifix—and at least she didn't have to lug around an oxygen tank anymore, not where she was going either way. Father didn't blink an eye. Just kept his hands raised 

placing wafers on tongues. Did you know a priest has to eat any Eucharist that falls to the ground? Any that is left over, any wayward piece—I wonder if he did Eucharist sweeps after mass. I wonder if he had a special broom—the bits-of-god-broom—I wonder if he checked to make sure everyone swallowed—I wonder if he got in trouble when he didn't swallow, when he couldn't even put it in his mouth—the mouth whom he answered to—another man's flesh.


Samantha reads "Hand to Mouth"


Samantha Schaefer recently received her MFA in Poetry as a Follett Fellow at Columbia College Chicago. She is the co-editor of Black Tongue Review, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has attended as Writer in Residence at Brushcreek Foundation for the Arts. Her poetry has appeared in places such as TYPO, Columbia Poetry Review and Ghost Town Literary Magazine

There is Love that Throws You Through a Plate Glass Window and Then There is Love

by Dorothy Knight


I didn't understand my brother
until I asked about the bandage
on his knee and he told me
he kicked his girlfriend's cat,
so she threw him through the glass coffee table.
The look in his eyes got all dreamy;
he was smiling, and I
realized he needed the kind of woman
who could take a punch like a man,
who could survive being thrown
through a glass windshield when that red
Honda pulled out into an intersection
he had been drinking too much to slow for.
He had the right of way. He was on
the way to pick up his daughter
who died a year after that, swerving
to avoid a deer and colliding instead
with a tree. The family didn't want
his girlfriend to attend the funeral,
knowing she was prone to histrionics,
prone to leaving restaurants and commencing
the walk home alone down the highway
if he was too nice to the waitress serving
his sweet tea. My brother tended to leave
us all at the table to chase her
down the median, but he came
alone that day in his polyester suit
and stood next to his daughter's
boyfriend in marine dress blues,
to watch the release of
sixteen white balloons
into the sky.

Dorothy reads "There is Love that Throws You Through a Plate Glass Window..."


Dorothy Knight earned an MFA from the University of Mississippi last year. She is from Kingsland, GA, but now lives in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Salt Magazine and the Squaw Valley Review.


Sabine Equation

by Jaime Zuckerman

It is true that our mirrors
are infinite lakes,
though we see little
of their distances.

This is how echoes work: 
we call out and want to hear
our little sounds
bounce off solid rock.
Instead, we hear drowning, 
helpless again.
We dive in to rescue ourselves,
trumpets in our guts.
When we lay wet and new and panting,
we still feel the water
slipped around us,
hand around bone,
an arm reaching up from the green.
Once we'’ve forgotten,
it happens anew,
turn and trauma fresh.
It is true that we choose
one brand of loneliness
over another.


Don't you know sometimes
the world says its name to us? 
I have seen it myself in the quiet; 
the sky perfectly reflected here
at my feet.
                   Despite what we have done,
small things will regrow, pushing away
sandbags and filling ditches. We are just
passing through,
                the world indifferent to
our best disasters. This is what I fear
above the rest. 

Jaime reads "Sabine Equation" & "Able"


Jaime Zuckerman lives and teaches in Boston, MA. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in NAP, Melusine, and Right Hand Pointing. She assists with art direction for the online journal, Sixth Finch.


Summer Elegy

by henry kearney, iv

One by one in August they visit. Always the dry time, before the leaves
change and death is everything. They bring nothing with them: no baggage,
no wrongs to be righted. Justice is irrelevant to the dead. They carry only the hollowness
of their eyes, and it is the heat that draws them, not the living, not the offerings
we have so long forgotten to burn for them. No, the dead do not miss us. They have
happily forgotten what we cannot: that somewhere right now waves
keep running into the shore and there is that hush that comes from knowing
this could all be swept away while youre in bed asleep and you'd never
know, could not be held accountable, not even to yourself. Somewhere
a small child is catching a butterfly, saying, "Look at this! Just look at it!" Perhaps
that child will grow to be always amazed. Perhaps. Tonight the ceiling fan will have to be
our ocean. There are so many things I want to tell you and so little air is left in this world.
I pity any of the dead walking home tonight. 
The hot breeze in the reeds is a ghostly flute dreaming rain. We walk
the same earth.
The same earth. These are the fairy tales we would tell our children
if we were honest. These are the fairy tales our children tell each other. In the tobacco
where I grew up a 57 year old man split his father's head open with an ax
for crack money. In the town where I grew up, I grew up, and as far as I can tell
its all the same. As thick as the veil God wore to the funeral, this night, this night
that must be coming to something, will be "the night we should have known" 
when they write the history books, but tonight is only the night we are not prepared for.  
So many things. Give me a drum deep enough and I will shake the abyss, but for now
I will sprinkle salt on the steps and leave wine by the door, so the unwanted will not
     come in, 
but will think kindly of me anyway. I will sprinkle salt in my wine and drink of both.  
In the hallway I will light the candles beneath the portraits and wait. While she
was in the hospital giving birth, he packed a suitcase and closed a door, and that is
how it was. The Angels of this Harvest are still being born, but the dead are
notoriously impatient. Fall is a distant shore sprinkled with cornhusks and virgin nymphs, 
its winds we hope will blow the dead back from whence they came, so we
can walk again without their burden in our lungs, the pressure that oxygen assumes
in midsummer, at midnight, in the humidity of God's regret.

The Transit

It is a strange thing to map your life by stars. Stranger still to ignore them.
Once, a European astronomer sailed for ten years trying to find the perfect 

hill from which to witness the Transit of Venus, which he had correctly predicted.
It was cloudy that day in the Southern Hemisphere, and his instruments had been

from him anyway, lost in the maze of ships he'd left behind, captains he'd confused.  
He died soon afterwards of a tropical disease. I have wanted to speak 

of him for some time now, but don't know what his story means.
But it does mean something, as it does that once in my travels I saw the Transit 

of Venus by accident, in a village where, the same day, I stepped on a snake
in the garden. What is to be made of this stained glass world? Like so much else, 

the Transit was distinctly unimpressive, and I will never forget it. Much like I will never
the man in that village who drank too much and would pass out with his lights on 

and door open while his dog barked all night. He had sailed from the Cape of Good Hope decades before and had never gone back, not even to bury his mother. His days

of reading, herbal whiskey, and sometimes a lover among the hill tribes. It is frightening
how easy life can be when it becomes torturous, how even eluding the heavens is 

a submission to them. I left there in a hurry to follow a woman who eventually left me,
my work, this work, half-finished and set aside. The work I have returned to, the village 

and the woman I fear I have lost forever in the maze of cots and floors I've slept on, 
goodbyes I've left unsaid. But who knows? It is a fact of this world that one must look 

to the sky to divine the tides. Eyes upward at the seer's table, we lift
the simple cup from the ragtag assortment of small bones that map our future.

Henry reads "Summer Elegy" & "The Transit"


Henry Kearney, IV is from Robersonville, North Carolina.  His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as: Another & Another: An Anthology from The Grind Daily Writing Series, New England Review, Boxcar Poetry Review, The Collagist, North Carolina Literary Review, The Cortland Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and Spoon River Poetry Review.  


In Review

Kate bush and Jesus / espionage and intrigue: a look at us conductors

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. Portland, OR: Tin House Books, June 2014. 456 pages. $15.95 paperback.

For your reference, here is a YouTube playlist of theremin music.

Us Conductors is the debut novel of Sean Michaels, a Montreal-based writer and music critic. I became familiar with Michaels’ work through his blog Said the Gramophone, which combines obscure jpegs, streaming music, and creative prose. Much of my own music and writing tastes developed from this website; its annual .zip file of the year’s best songs plays on infinite repeat for my winter months. While studying for a writing degree in college, I looked to Said the Gramophone as an educative supplement, an ancillary, a calming track when the workshops and peer critiques grew exhausting. On approach Michaels’ novellooked to deliver the same lithe and deliberate style as his posts.

Us Conductors occupies a cross-genre hinterland: part biography, part epistolary novel, part fiction and nonfiction. It is the story of Leon Termen, Russian engineer, tinkerer, and inventor of the theremin, that whooshy wooey electronic instrument recognized today as the sound of an advancing UFO, or the rhythmic through line of the chorus in the Beach Boys hit “Good Vibrations.” The real Lev Sergevyich Termen, or Leon Theremin, lived from 1886 to 1993, and Clara Rockmore nee Reisenberg—the novel’s romantic interest—really was a virtuosic thereminist who died at 87 in 1998. On its disclaimer page, Us Conductors reads: “This book is mostly inventions.” Add the lyrics from Kate Bush and Jesus and Mary Chain as chapter titles and you have a book that defies any kind of elevator pitch. Michaels himself calls it “a sort of love story.”

In the novel, Termen invents the theremin in Russia in 1921 and is immediately swept up by the Kremlin and asked to tour the country because “these discoveries aren’t just for the academy […] they are for the people.” Demonstrating in front of Lenin is a tent pole moment for Termen, who, for the remainder of the book, appends “(May his memory be illuminated)” onto any mention of the communist Premier.

He meets Pash, the man who would become his handler. They travel to America, where they practice music and espionage in equal measure, Termen as a reluctant spy and Pash as a Soviet heavy. In the hold of a ship bound for Russia in 1938, Termen types his account of these adventures to his beloved Clara Rockmore, the greatest thermenist in the world.

When Termen is with Clara, the novel is like a Baz Lurhmann party scene. The story is luminous, quickened—“You smiled at me and I realized we had never been together like this, not in a place like this, a place without spotlights or hidden corners; a place where you are illuminated only as you are, as bright or as faded.”

When Termen is with his Soviet handlers, the story becomes Werner Herzog voice-over.

Though there is espionage and intrigue, Us Conductors tempers and slows, mirroring the deep winters of the Motherland—“Now and then they asked me to steal, to take surreptitious photographs, but I bungled these, forgetting to remove the lens cap, taking the wrong document from the wrong folder. These lapses were neither deliberate nor accidental. I do not know what they were.”

Because the novel is written as a long form letter, the first meeting between Leon and Clara is a scene of reflexive beauty:

Outside the glass, the blizzard was infinite and slow. I remember breathing, and seeing you all breathing, chests rising and falling, under the shelter of my roof. I remember our shadows slanting by the lamps, and touching. My hands passed through the air and I looked at you, just a girl. Already, I knew: you were so many things. I tried to make the room tremble. I tried to make it sing. I think it sang.

Michaels has the ability to take an otherwise groaning setup—a man meets the love of his life in the twilight hours of a New York City snowstorm—and infuse it with an earnestness and poetry. Perhaps this is because Sean Michaels is a Canadian.

Us Conductors is the story of a man and his invention. The world moves faster than Termen can comprehend, and—over the course of 400 pages—Michaels himself conducts the dissonance between the Roaring Twenties and soviet gulags. Exiled, imprisoned, forced to work for the Motherland, Termen continues writing to Clara, and it is this devotion that founds the narrative. Sean Michaels has set his characters on a fragile board and filled them with unrealized hope. His words have within them a ceaseless waiting, like a hammer held above thin ice, or a sickle before the wheat fields.

—Anthony Marvullo

the myth of persistent vision: A LOOK AT all movies love the moon

All Movies Love the Moon by Gregory Robinson. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal Press, 2014. 96 pages. $14.95 paperback.

Silent movies. I never gave them much thought until reading Gregory Robinson’s All Movies Love the Moon.Now, I’m slightly obsessed.

All of Robinson’s prose poems take their titles from noteworthy silent films. Each poem directly reflects a particular movie and ties some aspect of the film to the real world. For example, in the 1902 movie, Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show, a man believes that the images before him are real and he responds with excitement and anger. Those watching the movie find humor in Uncle Josh’s actions and Robinson’s readers also laugh at Uncle Josh’s antics, because they know better. “Everyone imagines at least one person who is dumber, worse off, or more miserable than they are,” writes Robinson. Unlike Uncle Josh we know that what’s on the screen isn’t real. Or is it? What I love most about movies is the way they stay with me long after the theater closes. I think about them—relive them in my mind. The images and the story—though they may be make-believe—stay with me and become real. I’ve connected with them and found some truth there. Through Uncle Josh, Robinson address permanence, a theme that runs throughout the whole collection and not just this particular movie and poem. “Underneath the buffoonery, Uncle Josh gets the final laugh. The would-be boob knew too well that movies are not part of time but images of time itself, how cats that die in movies haunt us as real cats do.” The silent movies of the past become permanent—withstanding trend. They are a history for filmmakers and film watchers alike.

Not only is Robinson informative about a topic that is obscured by time and constant advancements, he also presents his subject matter beautifully with straightforward prose poetry. Robinson plays against the historical aspect of the work by mentioning current cultural icons, such as Burger King, McDonalds, Sylvester Stallone, Netflix, and Justin Timberlake. His direct approach doesn’t shy away from language that exposes his love of the film genre, the movies he’s writing about, and the individuals who lived in the world of silent films. In “Orchids and Ermine (1927)” Robinson describes Pink Watson, the ever-daydreaming telephone operator, “There is too little time to suffer, to pine, to feel unfulfilled, too many possible lives in her elsewhere eyes.” It only takes one look at actress Colleen Moore to see those very dreamy eyes. Robinson chooses movies of diverse nature and creates a collection where they all seamlessly belong by giving the readers glimpses of images or moments particular to either the movie, or those involved. In the French silent movie, A Trip to the Moon, noted as the first science fiction filmRobinson addresses the myth of persistent vision against the actions of Georges Méliès, the director who ended up burning his own film reels, “It is a rare kind of monster up there, roaming the moon, ghosting the screen. It is the product of daily sacrifice, where flames sear and claws tear and eyes forget until eventually, the dead stay dead.”

As viewers of film, we are voyeurs of a sort, privy to scenes and interactions in which we have no place. It’s delicious, isn’t it—being part of something so outside ourselves? We see things from another perspective. We take on personas not our own and experience something and somewhere new. My favorite line from the collection comes from the poem “Underworld (1927)”: “There is an aesthetic to trespassing, a beauty in being where you should not.” The movie was nominated to the American Film Industry’s Top Ten Gangster Film list and Robinson’s corresponding poem situates the reader in a dark and dangerous place—perfect for a gangster film or for a person who dares to venture where they should not.

Robinson’s voice is conversational and personal and it makes the entire work feel welcoming. Robinson augments the historical bits, the on-point writing, and universality of the emotions expressed throughout the work with beautiful representations of title cards from the movies. Some funny, some serious, they allow the reader a moment in the past and make the distant art form accessible. For fans of the silent film, Robinson’s work, though not historically in-depth (wouldn’t that take volumes?), will be a fresh, creative way to view the art form. For a neophyte, such as myself, he makes the silent film world very enticing, real, and relevant. It seems to me that part of the charm of this collection is the connection it creates between a reader, the text, and film. Connection is often what we seek in this world, what we search for and sometimes miss. Robinson draws the connection between the past form of art and present day entertainment. Robinson’s collection is classic and timeless—very much like the silent films that his poems honor.

—Lynne Landis




Anthony Marvullo lives in the NH Seacoast Region with his girlfriend and two cats. He is a Digital Content Editor at an educational publishing company. His web site is and he can be found on Twitter at @amarvullo.

Lynne Landis is from North Little Rock, Arkansas. She is an MFA candidate in the Arkansas Writers Program.