in sleep I remembered

by Abigail Zimmer

something beautiful
like a body caught
coming home
I told my friend
suicide wasn't cowardly
simply a decision to be other
than what we are
which is alive
which is hard and glorious
and heart-changing
and oh do I understand
but oh do I love the trees here
turning, she changed
the subject away
from that other
friend, the now-dead friend
I was standing on the sidewalk
outside a bar
and then
I was walking home
reciting the names of those
whom I love
the alive ones and
the dead ones
and the trees

The Last Place I Look

I wanted to write on peaches. 
I wanted to suck a big peach word, 
to scrape my teeth against a peach pit. 
My mother said no! You are no
peach farmer! You have no peach skin! 

It’s true I was found in a bog. Underwater. 
Pulled away with death in my throat. 
My other mother drifted in and out
of her frame: Sing your cranberry song. String your cranberry vine. 
But I was stubborn. Or angsty. 
I climbed a fence and there were peach trees. 
I called hey-oh! peach-oh! and a peach sound echoed back. 
I filled my apron with peaches and my hat with even more. 
I ate the bugs that ate the peaches and then I ate the peaches. 
I grew full. I fell quiet. I looked quite good against peach leaves. 
Around me were so many peach pits. I laid down and slept. 
I saw my third and last mother. 
She had a peach name she would not tell me. 
I only knew her as my mother when she sang
how lost, how lost and peach juice stung her chin.


Ghost Ocean 17

Abigail Zimmer is the author of girls their tongues (Orange Monkey Publishing, 2016) and two chapbooks through Dancing Girl Press and Tree Light Books. She lives in Chicago where she is the poetry editor for The Lettered Streets Press. Her work has appeared in Nightblock, Jellyfish, The New Megaphone, and alice blue review, among others.


Monday, 8:08

BY tony Mancus

the living room has a rush
of furniture—a rash of wool and wood

you set down the tea cup
and all the moths circle

it's a dust-up, a canyon
of simple dotted flapping

my newspaper is only good
if you use it to wrap other things

in its putzy headlines
like: An Atom Mothered Your

Bible, or Brangeline Why
Can't You Be True?

Sort of contrary,
the song of the century

the way talking birds
can summon our tongues

while so few of us
bother to whistle.

Wednesday, 4:36

halve the sleep emotion
of weeds calved in the ocean

sway within the joint
and wood swell

as the words solidify
                                          you think
                                          your thinning
                             concerns can
be stuffed into a quarto—balled-up
and unquartered.

an echo wearing the stamp of sleepy motion:
have the color nearest
last night's conversation
on hand

& wall the towels
for our freshened up
morning faces.

all the earth
we know is surface.
one round drumming sound

halves the sleep you've gathered.
sewn in, each body
itches the dirt.


Tony Mancus is the author of a handful of chapbooks, most recently City Country (winner of the Seattle Review chapbook award). In 2008, he co-founded Flying Guillotine Press with Sommer Browning; they make small books. Also, with Meg Ronan he curates In Your Ear, a reading series in DC. He currently works as an instructional designer and lives with his wife Shannon and three yappy cats in Arlington, VA.   

Family Hidden in Landscape


Landscape in which the World Is Ending

Because the world will be swallowed in your sleep,
your brother grows taller in the other room
& your sister takes someone into her mouth,
sprouts feathers, becomes wild.

All summer long, you find the bucktoothed skulls
of furless voles under beds, over kitchen cabinets.
You & your sister both understand
there are some things you do not speak.

The family navigates through its hunger.
The skulls keep appearing like mushrooms.
You scoop them into your palms,
marvel at their emptiness, their weightless earth.


Landscape with Prophecies

It will be the hunted things
that save you.

Your brother will build a city
from a pile of crooked teeth.

Years later, your sister will be married
& you will stumble upon your brother’s city on a map
& on some days you will find your breasts
cupped in the hands of a stranger.

You will drink from half-closed mouths
& find between your teeth
pieces of your brother’s city,
strands of your sister’s hair.

You will retreat into a cabin.
You will make the woods haunted.
You will hear someone is looking for you.
No one will be looking for you.


Landscape in which Your Sister Is Missing

In the other room,
your sister coughs up bones

when she thinks you’re not listening,
but being an owl yourself,
you’re always listening
& hear everything—

the window sliding open,
the mechanics of her wings clicking,
not unlike your wings,
the soft pellet scratching against her throat.

Even later,
as you undress her forbidden room,
prepare her things for disposal or donation
in a house devoid of forest creatures,

you listen still
for the tic tic of tiny ribs against lacquer.
You talk to her, a little.
You unbury the ghosts of mice.  


Snow White explains to the hunstman the material of his prison

Not glass. The glass was for the girl
who’s gone. Though sometimes,
I am curling my fingers
around heartstring. I am holding an ax,
its neck unyielding in my palm.

Brother, you tell me you killed a man.
I don’t ask how
his life left in front of you
and for that I’m sorry.

What leads us to the forest
one could imagine
won’t save everyone.

Brother, I mean to say
my face was too much for you
to bear.

Later, your hands glowing in boar’s blood,
you pocket the queen’s gold
but don’t remember how you got there. I suppose

there are some things you leave to die
in the yellow ground.

Brother, you know what they say
about the truly wild.
Even when they’ve lost
they hunt you back.

Brother, the game will kill you.

Brother, you’re crumbling.

To draw poison from the snake,
you must unhinge its jaw
and let it bite.

The poison will dissolve flesh,
burning as a myth does
to get out of
its shell. 


Ting Gou lives and writes in Ann Arbor, where she is a student at the University of Michigan Medical School. Her poems appear in the Bellevue Literary Review, Best of the Net 2014, Midwestern Gothic, r.kv.r.y., and elsewhere.

So Said Our Wind

BY Amy Jo Trier-Walker

A nearby cave at the moment.  Many pockets, barefoot.  The needle is crushed; the edges of our fingerprints drowned.  A stainless finding.  A bit of a sleeve is common, so we ignore it.  No more mirrors; no more ends.  Staring is the beginning, for which we are grateful.  A place by the river, burned down by the scarecrows, they say.  We would welcome them easily, but the crows peel off from the sycamore bark.  Fevered, unmoving.  Unlatching.  The black door is shut, so we gather.  Inside cabinets, crooked lids, eyes.  The hourglasses, covered lazily in braids.  A window without panes.  No birds with ropes for the fall.  This way.  So said our wind.  So said our names.







                          Wearing a trail
                                drug unmendable                          to sleep
                                                                       better tomorrow
                     and rush
                                     with a bend                              in the way
                                                                      of child     hands
                                                                                                under the shadow
                                                                                       and persimmon.

                                                            The rain will not stop tomorrow,
                                                                                     the fracture will not bleed,
                                                    and the wishes will wake stampeding
                                                              with nowhere to hold
                                   and unravel. 


Against Sense We See

A silent film organ on the train tracks.  The fog’s so thick it keeps the rain off us.  Still, the plantain’s louder than my nails biting through the clover.  It’s edible, you see, like all things.  The cat, but no more.  How can you say women drink more whisky when you never drink it straight. 

Then you’re off to the pile of fire.  We were old once, and then passed it.  There were puddles there.  Now our feet don’t get wet.  The shoulder-high grass is still trampled.  We bite some off along the way, but it’s not time for nightshade harvesting yet.  Still moving, mowing, around them.  Only common now, not deadly.  Although we all turn violet in the mourning. 

It’s illegal to be out.  So many spiderwebs in our eyelashes, we can’t see.  And I keep on leading you to the left, leaning into you, widdershins, around the trail.  Against sense stood my hair.  For once I miss the rotting body in the valley, and there’s one firefly.  I’ll never trust one who won’t walk without a moon or clouds.  Or falling, dropping, you.


Amy Jo Trier-Walker is a tree and herb farmer in Indiana and the author of a chapbook, Trembling Ourselves into Trees, which is forthcoming from Horse Less Press in 2015.  Her work can also be found in or is forthcoming from Forklift, Ohio, Handsome, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Word For/Word, and
inter|rupture, among others, and she is the Poetry and Art Editor at Black Tongue Review.


BY Evan Kleekamp

SCENE ONE. The director says cut. Chimes glow faint in the background: strands of the boy’s dress, limp across the back of a wooden chair. Archaic vowels perched in the back of his throat. Like lips beginning to beg. Like the knife his hands brought into focus. SCENE TWO. Director says steady the camera. Blue tubes alight inside the amplifier. The boy’s chest quivers. Cologne hung on his left shoulder. The red dot next to the lens. The live camera; flashing off-and-on. SCENE THREE. Begins inside a mirror. The mirror evokes a frame. The mirror propped against the bedroom wall. Light-yellow wallpaper. Zoom out. Rack focus.  SCENE FOUR. The boy’s head rises, bathed in smoke, prosaic; light in the shape of a halo. He exits the bathtub and tucks a towel around his waist. He smiles & lights a cigarette. SCENE FIVE. Wide-angle lens. A king-sized bed in the middle of an empty street; white sheets beneath a storm cloud. Smoke billowing from the camera. Rain. SCENE SIX. Just make sure no one sees the blood. SCENE SEVEN. A glass vase. Three white roses tied together. Not a single petal fallen. SCENE EIGHT. Action. In an atrium filled with cold air, his ass rises. SCENE NINE. The Director’s Cut. SCENE TEN. The ceiling bends, his eyes water. Golden magnum wrappers spread across the floor. An envelope folded around a gold coin. Letters of his name written in red ink. Tape across its seal half-broken. Cut. He brings the envelope to his mouth in the penultimate stanza.


Your body splayed across the lawn. A white Ford Ranger, windows smashed; paint on one side completely eroded. Spare tire gone. Let’s play a game, it’s a game called recollect. I flip the coin & you spit out the stories. Heads. You’re in a bed and even though it’s day outside, there’s no light coming through the windows. Tails. You hate tails. You know what tails mean. Two houses on the same block with the same interior design. The neighbor woman dies and they lose some furniture. You wake up on the couch, now the couch is gone. You wake up on the floor, the floor is gone. But you keep waking up. Heads. You’re in a Laundromat and your mother is calling to tell you she loves you. She doesn’t. That’s what the phone call is for. You say, sure mom, meaning you'll wait until the phone call is over to admit this is a waste of your time. You're just doing what you're taught to do. His hair is gold, the boy driving the Ranger, gold & covered in blood, so you like him. You’re one tough kid. You’re a shit-kicker. Except you’re all soft inside. Which is why he likes you. Soft & tight you. He likes you all tied up and bent over. He wants your neck pressed into his neck, breathing slowly into the night. Except there is no night. You don’t deserve it. He keeps you up moaning back to him. You better say you like it. Let’s name this boy. You can’t. It’s not your fault. That’s the sad part about the story. It never ends. This boy. That boy. What’s the difference? The difference is you. Pants caught at the ankle. Fly undid. You like this whole thing don’t you? You like being driven while sitting in the backseat of the car. You are the backseat of the car. Holding all that shit inside you. You take a train to fuck some friends. You should name your book that. Some Friends. Some friends will love you with all their heart. Some friends will tell you, you are broken. And they will mean it; mean it with all their little hearts. Sad part is, friend, we are all here to keep you broken. We have to get inside each and every inch of you, ‘til that real self starts trying to crawl out. Then we’ll get him. Heads mean you really meant it. Tails means we are going to really mean you up. You like a good fist to the face and the spit that comes before you swallow. We got names for folks like you, but they don’t seem good enough. We’re going to punch out your ribs, we’re going to dip inside each and every part of you. We’re going to chase out those last little words. And you know what they are. You know what we want from you. Some Friends. You give out. You give out all the time. You can get all abstract and call it affection, but that’s not what you do. You fawn, you give, you tame yourself, you’re a damn good boy. That’s what you do. And we love that. We love you. You should wear a wool scarf; you should cover the whole ground above the snow, elastic in your veins, draped across the bed consecrated in sorrow. We would love you to. We are going to shutter you in darkness and you are going to love it. We are going to fucking bloody up your nose. We're going to shoot a little more than blanks inside your canvas. But we don’t. We flip a coin. We make you say our names. We make you say it, I love; then we stop you. We want you to spit it up. We’d really love you to. We love a good denim jacket caught between our fists. We love a good ass to widen. We want to keep you gaping, you good boy you. Just like daddy taught you. Mouthing-off just enough. You don't want to give us any reason to pull our punches. Do you?  We don’t like your shoes. We don't like you wearing boots. We like you looking cold and broken. Keep that smile though. Wide and white. Just how we like you. That one little part of you. We’ll be dancing on the dance floor, looking you straight in your glossed-out eyes. We can see you looking at the fire escape and we don’t like it. But we sure do like you. We hold you head beneath the water in this game of fuck. Do you recollect? Do you like it? Cause we like you. You’re a diamond in our eyes. You should really wear your plastic crown, the one we bought you. Why else did we buy it? What do you mean you don’t like it. We want to see it on you. Do a little twirl for us, sweetheart. We love this game. Don’t you? You don’t like being explored? Ça va, mon amor? You don’t like you? Neither do we. That’s why we love you. We do all the things to you that you wish you could do. Sweetheart, we’re your arms and legs. You don’t have to kick or scream. We’ll do it for you. Cherish evil, baby, it’s a sin to die without it. 


Evan Kleekamp is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Columbia College Chicago. He is an editor at Columbia Poetry Review and serves as English Social Media Manager at Asymptote Journal. His work has appeared
or is forthcoming in Adult, Spring Formal, and Vinyl. 

New America Moderne

BY Adam Day

Goodnight Mr. and Mrs. America, Route
128. You have been lovers of cities: the romance
of abandoned mines and foundry stacks. The new
world is just around the corner, the ant-carved
skull of a felled elephant. But it’s only geography
and customs, it’s a Garry Cooper story and it shines
like Sammy’s knees. It travels but is always
the same, modern life. The way the illuminated
edges of clouds seem to give duration
to lightning. Big city mouse with a factory
wife, do a little dance on the kitchen
table. Human objects and nonhuman subjects,
the question to asks is: did we enjoy ourselves? 


Adam Day is the author of A Model of City in Civil War (Sarabande Books), and is the
recipient of a PSA Chapbook Fellowship for Badger, Apocrypha, and of a PEN Emerging Writers Award. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, ana Turner, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. He directs The Baltic Writing Residency in Latvia, Scotland, and Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest.

Centerfold: A Bust is a Bust

BY Dorothy Chan

Meat is sex. I sit upright, breasts well-done: hard and healthy,
            nipples pointing towards the plate:

I don’t cook. But I’ll let him eat, then eat me:
            steak and haricots verts, fork and knife—the lower, lesser focal

point. A bust is a bust is a bust—
            why show the lower body when lunch and second lunch is

out, ready to play. I suck my thumb: kiss the cook, kiss the model,
            feed the model, feed the man. Big blonde curls,

and a big green ring on my pinky—the trace of my man.
            I’ve got his bling, just poured myself some red,

rising out of the gold chair—lace butt in the air,
            side glance at the candle’s temptation: big and gold,

big and gold, let that wax drip…side glance by the candle’s erection:
            let him drip, drip down the throat—

he’s finished the glass, and I’d rather see him
            in all light, than dim, throw his flesh

onto the table, grabbing one foot, then the other,
            hands up his legs, lips sucking his chest—

this isn’t dessert—we’ll play appetizer a bit, but it’s
            our meal, the course of my hands

touring body—the way I make a wish

                      blowing out the candle.

Centerfold of a Lifetime

Unwrap me. It’s a talent, and I’m the gift—a girl-next-door,
            but who is next door? I’m moving

idealized in the baby face’s blonde glory:
            long white ribbon against a white background,

body tanned and kneeling, smile stretching the sash:
            “...of the Year.” No, I’ll make that a lifetime—

nudes point to the art, grand centerfolds of lost traditions:
            Odalisques and luncheons on the grass,

the Venuses of confrontation: eyes daring you to penetrate
            through oil, penetrate:

she’s not naked in the fields, or in the room next door,
            hand over crotch, fruits over crotch, flowers as crotch—

repent, because nobody’s watching,
            don’t repent, because somebody stares.

I stretch the white sash. I’m some kind of rated pageant queen,
            holding it diagonal, above the belly button:

here I am, you’ve unwrapped me, chosen me after a year—
            I serve my country, bask it in the tradition

of the muse. Now put me on my back, on the floor—
            '60s montage of fur covering lovers, playboy after dark

lounging by the fire—his and her winter dreams—how your skin
            keeps me warm and not the flames,

how your skin rubs against mine on a yacht, on a jet…
            in a painting—on fire.


Dorothy Chan was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, Spillway, Day One, Connotation Press, and The Great American Poetry Show. In 2012, The Writing Disorder nominated her poem, “Ikebukuro Train Rides” for a Pushcart. 

In Conversation

My Hunger is Singular: ghost ocean talks with Joshua Ware


Ghost Ocean: Your new book delves into how loss of love can lead to hysteria and isolation. I'm wondering, is this a long term concern/curiousity/obsession of yours or something that's crept into your writing more recently?

Joshua Ware: Well, I should begin by saying that this release, which Furniture Press Books just published, is actually two separate books in one tetê-bechê artifact. I mention this because the phrase about “loss” in the marketing copy is, primarily, the focus of the second book Vargtimmen. The first book, Unwanted Invention, has its own, distinct concerns.

Having said that, I would also like to mention that the subject of “loss” has not been at the forefront of my creative imagination lately. Although I revised and edited Vargtimmen during the past twelve months or so, I drafted the original manuscript while living in Cleveland, OH during 2013. In fact, I’ve written nearly nothing (a mere three pomes) since July 2014, favoring collage and visual art instead. 

With those qualifiers in mind, I will say that, at the time of its composition, yes, “loss” was at the forefront of my writing practice. I had moved from Denver to Cleveland for a job, I was going through a break-up, and (relatively) recently had left school. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of life changes occurring during that period of my life. Those changes generated a lot of anxiety. And if you couple anxiety with paranoia and depression, hysterical behavior, I think, tends to be inevitable. 

Luckily, though, I found a palliative in obsession; specifically, I found solace in a writing practice indebted to the moon. The moon in Vargtimmen is both an obsession and emblematic of obsession. In other words, it was the object of obsession and a symbol for all things I was obsessing over. My daily writing practice, which centered on the moon, kept me alive in an otherwise hectic moment in my life. I know it’s probably cliché to say “poetry saved my life,” or some shit like that; but, in retrospect, poetry did save my life. Immersing myself so intensely in the art form at that particular time allowed me to escape a lot negative feelings, thoughts, and issues.

Perhaps, I think, that might be why I’ve stopped writing pomes during the past fifteen months. I have a visceral, emotional, and psychological connection to the word and to pomes that removes me from my present and returns me to a previous life. Which begs the question: Then why would I publish this work?

I’ve, in fact, asked myself that question many times during the revision and editing process; and there have been several occasions in which I’ve doubted whether or not I should make this writing public. But, when all is said and done, I believe the pomes in Unwanted Invention and Vargtimmen are some of my best work. More importantly, I want to honor the pomes, the time I spent writing them, and the people, places, feelings, and experiences that inspired them.

GO: If Vargtimmen is indebted to the moon, to what would you say Unwanted Invention is indebted? How would you describe the relationship between them, the movement from one to the next? Did you always envision them as necessary companions?

JW: Unwanted Invention outlines the narrative, roughly speaking, of two lovers: an “I” and a “You.” I say “roughly” because the collection invests itself heavily in the confluence of reality and the imagination: that realm between sleeping and waking wherein elements of both states infiltrate one’s consciousness, producing an alternate space that is “both and neither.” The epigraph to the pome “Portraits” invokes Wallace Stevens’ Adagia, which articulates this concern most succinctly: “In poetry, at least, the imagination must not detach itself from reality.” In this sense, the narrative also wavers chronologically as memory fragments, and dreams augment or subtract from the story.

In the most reductive synopsis, though, “I” and “You” meet in a strange half-lit world, fall in love, and break-up. Then darkness descends and the speaker (and reader, for that matter) enter Vargtimmen, which is the deepest hour of the night: when dreams are most intense, ghosts are most prevalent, and most births and deaths occur. A more optimistic narrative structure would probably begin at that point, then pass into that confused waking state so as to conclude on a more positive, hopeful note. But that’s not this story. There is no redemption. While certainly not his best work, Ingmar Bergman’s Sarabande concludes with a section titled “Vargtimme”; he also directed a film titled Vargtimmen. Both films end in despondent, hellish nightmares. These books follow that downward trajectory.

Structurally, of course, there are more concrete connections between the two books that actualize this overarching concept. For example, the penultimate section of Unwanted Invention is titled “The Darknesses,” and it documents the onset of twilight and the first stages of night. The final section of Unwanted Invention, which is a single pome titled “Vargtimmen,” contains the lines:

Nothing of us remains in these irregular forms
except the light or dark speech that emanates from branches
of nighttime trees. 

In retrospect, I read those lines as the first “sincere” acknowledgment of loss: of form, of voice, of light, of hope, of sanity, of love, of home, of “whatever.” With that acknowledgment, the speaker presents (over gives) himself over to the darkness, to night, to the moon, to obsession, to the second collection of this compendium. To this extent, there is something inhuman about Vargtimmen; it’s more lunar, less self-possessed.

As far as intentionally yoking these two collections together, well, that was an afterthought. It wasn't until a year or two after I drafted both books that I realized they spoke to one another. Actually, there is a third manuscript that I wrote, tentatively titled After Emily, which is also part of what I’ve loosely coined The Moon Cycle. I feel as though After Emily, which I drafted between April and July of 2014, provides these two collections with a more proper denouement, as well as closure for me.

GO: You’ve mentioned that you’ve moved away from poetry and toward collage. Does poetry—the practice of reading, writing, revision, etc.—inform your collage work? Does it feel like an interim process, a vacation from poetry? A natural progression?

JW: Well, I’ve always relied on visual collage as an interim process or an alternate, artistic endeavor whenever I felt exhausted with language. But those previous forays into visual collage usually lasted only a few days, weeks, or, at most, a month. My latest poetry “vacation” has lasted approximately fifteen months.

It’s difficult to say when I’ll start writing again. I have some ideas or concepts at the intersection of film and the lyric essay that I’d like to explore; but I don’t feel particularly compelled to give up collage, at the moment, in order to pursue them. I mean, doing both is not really an option for me, as I am rather obsessive or myopic when it comes to my passions. My hunger is singular. 

As far as aesthetic or conceptual resonances between the two art forms—yeah, for sure, there are plenty. I mean, linguistic collage has played a large part in much of the literature I read and pomes I’ve composed. But, to be honest, the aspect of visual collage that nourishes me are those elements of the art form and process which have nothing to do with poetry or language.

For example, engaging tactile sensation is both important and pleasing to me. Feeling different paper textures, cutting, pasting—these are physical encounters indebted to touch and materiality. Likewise, the handmade or analog nature of my projects guarantee a disengagement with screen time. And screen time fucking sucks. I probably sound like a curmudgeon or an idiotic Luddite, but I’ve developed a disdain for computers and digital technology. Maybe that’s a sign of my cultural irrelevance; but cultural relevance is nothing about which I’ve ever had to worry.

Another aspect of my collage practice that’s antithetical to poetry is the manner in which I encounter the visual. Colors and shapes have secured themselves firmly in my creative imagination. Their relationships to one another—on a visceral, non-intellectual level—move me in ways not possible with the word. I feel less tethered to semantics, to meaning, to signifying, etc. when working on a collage. The act of creation and associating is more primal and imbued with sensation, less logical. I’m not saying semantic or signifying registers don’t exist when creating visual art (in fact, they do); I’m simply saying that they’re not as present, if at all, when I am in the process of creation.

GO: After working with an art form so tactile and visceral, does poetry still pack the same punch? Have your tastes as a reader of poetry shifted?

JW: I've learned to engage poetry differently over the past year or two. It does not consume my daily life in the same manner as it once did. I mean, I try to read a few pomes everyday; but I don't obsess over them, write them, or review them with the same fervor or frequency (if at all). Which, I suppose, is a good thing. My relationship to pomes is more organic and less dictated by the academic industry or my ego.

Having said that, I'm currently reading Tim Earely's Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery and Sueyeun Juliette Lee's That Gorgeous Feeling, both of which are interesting in their own way. Although, I've relegated my poetry reading practice to the bathroom, mostly, or for a few minutes during lunch.

I've also returned to fiction and prose during the past twelve months, which I had neglected for many years. I've recently read Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Joyce's Ulysses, Melville's Moby Dick, and Lem's Solaris. I enjoy the long-term, immersive nature of reading a book that is 600, 800, or 3,500 pages. It necessitates that I reorient the way in which I interact with language.

Joshua Ware's Vargtimmen/Unwanted Invention is now available from Furniture Press Books.


In Review

Tangled in birds and carousels: a look at in the circus of you

In the Circus of You by Nicelle Davis, illustrations by Cheryl Gross. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal Press. March 2015. 104 pages. $14.95 Paperback.

In The Circus of You is an illustrated novel-in-poems about the dissolution of a relationship and what to do with its remains. The book is a collaboration between the poet Nicelle Davis and the illustrator Cheryl Gross, who write in the endnotes that “the images and poems were created spontaneously and simultaneously through a yearlong email exchange—the art became a […] conversation between two women who were rummaging through the wreckage of their failed marriages.” What is salvaged here is the body, disjointed and fractured, so that it becomes a nightmarish, interior sideshow by way of Edward Gorey and Barnum & Bailey. If you chose this book for its aesthetic brevity, sorry. This is not breezy beach read. It is a book for a winter evening by dwindling candlelight.

Davis’s poems inhabit an off-center world, one where death is “a present of flesh—a chance to appease another’s hunger,” and where the wind is “singing for what’s buried—calling what’s lost up from compost.” When the novel pivots to a sequence of poems that reference actual sideshow performers, it feels at once natural and intimate in its view of loss. This sequence—the second section called “Recruiting Talent for the Appropriation Circus”—names the split-tailed mermaids, the conjoined twins, the lizardmen, and the giants that populated the circus sideshows of the past. They’re appropriated once more as metaphors for the body and the mind and the rings therein.

Circus attendees must enter the big top with an open-mind—willing to view something different from “prescribed humanity” as Davis and Gross call it. At the circus you set your expectations to watch a man put his head into lion’s mouth, or a woman tie her limbs into a knot and then unravel. Sitting in the audience outside the three rings, you might flinch less, because this is what you’ve paid for. Davis and Gross invert this idea—the circus is inescapable, because the circus is you. In her poem “Entering the Big Top of the Self Requires Help,” Davis writes, “The two birds arch their wings to make a place for my left—/ then right—foot. I begin the descent into the tent of myself.” What do you do when the circus is inside? When the clown is in your gut (“The Clown in My Gut”)? You crawl out.

The novel turns at the poem “The Mob of Freaks Protests”:

We, like you,
are wrongly
used. Close
your eyes and
let us all go.

Before this, the narrator watches as her life transforms into something freakish, something to be gawked at, but by the end she has pivoted, embraced herself, and her “body’s been redesigned for uncensored / feeling.” (“Reborn Inside-Out, My Life Is Explained To Me by My Six-Year-Old Son.”) It is a release, a reclamation.

Davis and Gross reference Tod Browning’s career-stalling 1932 film Freaks in the endnotes. The black-and-white film depicts sideshow performers—played by actual sideshow performers—who live their lives and fall in love and were portrayed not in a gawkish way but from a human and intimate vantage. Davis’s poems and Gross’s illustrations call back Browning’s approach: that these irregular shapes and patterns—human bodies in Browning’s case and a foundering marriage in the artists’ cases—are presented as empathetic. “The better I get at barking,” Davis writes, “the more difficult it is / to realize pitch from product.”

Gross’s art is a collection of grotesqueries and horrors: body parts fused to bicycle spokes, flesh contorted and tangled in birds and carousels. The novel’s third section—“The Clown Act”—has a series of illustrations so unnerving that it invites you to check and double check under the mattress, to shut tight the closet doors before bed.

The partnership—the synchronization of the poetry and illustrations—is an effective marriage. Taken by itself, the line “Incapable of flight, its wings reduce to / hands” is no stomach-churner, but Gross’s deft illustration of a bird with actual human phalanges instead of wings completes it. In The Circus of You is a taught 100 pages, it’s sticky, and its images remain, because when you inhabit an irregular world for a long enough time, it’s impossible to hold onto the memory of what was ever regular. 

Anthony Marvullo

what is fact and what is fancy: A LOOK AT the imagination of lewis carroll

The Imagination of Lewis Carroll by William Todd Seabrook. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal Press, 2014. 43 pages. $12.00 Chapbook.

Rose Metal Press publishes writing that falls between genres or melts them into something new. The Imagination of Lewis Carroll, the winner of Rose Metal Press’s Eighth Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest, offers a beautiful example of this genre bending. Author William Todd Seabrook paints brief anecdotes of Carroll's life. Seabrook uses the fantastical musing style of the famous author’s writing and, as a result, the biographical facts of Carroll the person become hard to separate from the fantasy world that Seabrook creates. It is true that Carroll had a stammer, for instance, but unlikely that his first and only sermon lasted for three days.

Each of Seabrook’s chapters winds up into itself perfectly. In "The Duel of Lewis Carroll" another man challenges Carroll to a duel. Carroll refuses as a pacifist, but—in the space of less than a page and with no blows thrown—Carroll "step[s] over Newry's broken body and walk[s] away." Newry, the challenger, is overcome by rage in the face of Carroll's wit. It's hard to even imagine this scene as a battle until the last sentence arrives and announces Carroll's triumph.

Each chapter appears as delightful and satisfying as this duel. By the end, it doesn't really matter what is fact and what is fancy. These anecdotes might be more true of Carroll's life than a biographers notes.

Seabrook handles Carroll’s life with care and dignity. He gives a nod to Carroll’s odd relationship with young girls, which historians have cast in varying degrees of perverse since his death. Seabrook neither ignores this dark underbelly nor assigns blame. As readers, we are left to decide whether Carroll’s stories and photographs are innocent or evidence. The Imagination of Lewis Carroll feels like a vacation into the fantastical, yet troubled mind of the father of the Jabberwocky.

As is suggested by a “short short” competition, this chapbook can be read easily in one sitting. William Todd Seabrook’s vignettes tickle the mind with wit and imagination. The stories are enthralling, easy to swallow, and left me hungry for the next page. Like all the best short reads, The Imagination of Lewis Carroll remains full of beauty when you return to read it again and again and again.

Tovah Burstein




Anthony Marvullo lives in New Hampshire with his fiancee and cats. He writes restaurant reviews at

Tovah Burstein lives in Chicago with her spouse, dog, and spider plant. She runs literacy mentoring programs for Chicago Public School students.