A History of Beauty

by Brian D. Morrison

There is no other color but the one
she is about to bite. She tiptoes
over mushrooms, contemplates aging. 
The mushrooms, their squat broad
shoulders, will protect her
from time and teeth. Horrors in all
directions, the girl blinks away frost
cast on her ring finger as the witch
brushes a fingernail over it in the giving
of red. The girl’s lips curve
over apple, her tongue in place to catch
the sweet. Peace follows wide as skyline
and as tall. The mushrooms under tree
covered in slick dew collide with light, 
all of them growing. The witch
noses a flower, and the petals fall flat
like so many dissipating clouds ending
a storm. The forest is a terrifying place. 
But for a second, the witch hangs
her head as if she cannot bare
the sight of the girl in pain. A curl
at the corner of her mouth like a whip
gashes giants. Werewolves tuck tail. 
A fairy flies directly into the sun. 
The mushrooms sprout as the girl
slides to earth like the smallest of leaves
culled from a tree before hard rain.

Ghost Ocean 18

Brian D. Morrison completed his MFA at the University of Alabama, where he was an assistant editor at Black Warrior Review. His poetry has appeared at West Branch, The Bitter Oleander, Verse Daily, Copper Nickel, Cave Wall, and other journals. Currently, he works as an Assistant Professor of English at Ball State University.


Simplify the Ruins


I had not yet really begun the long trek
up the gravel driveway that leads to my childhood home
when the snake bit me. He bit me so good.
The pain in my ankle soon became the pain in my lungs,
and I saw the snake retreat into the undergrowth of the woods,
slowly, what I thought was his black and white body more like the vacuum
hose for our pool than the living structure of a real creature.

I fell gently into the gravel. No one saw me there,
so I fell gently into the gravel, the unknown landscape of the earth,
into the unknown landscape of second thought,

and I dreamed an automatic dream about death,
though death was not a cloaked fearful figure,
but my grandmother the granny witch raising the barrel of a loaded shotgun
until it reached alignment with the small head of a water moccasin.

I watched my grandmother kill the snake.
I saw her hang his binary body across the fence.

I could have clapped my hands if my hands hadn’t been
fourteen balloons trying to get away.

And I guess I could have dreamed something better.
I guess I could have dreamed of my favorite boy
cousin, the one I wanted to be, diving into his family’s pool,
his long tan legs lithe and straight above his small head,
a cannon shot into the water, the brown of him
disappearing before us all.


In Which I Am Dying

All along the white boundary of this room,
the trees look like holidays I’ll never remember.

I try to smell the collards slow cooked
with a ham hock & vinegar,

but the snow drifts in from the open window,
& all I can smell is that winter

in which I am always dying,
the one where I burned my throat

when I inhaled the two of us,
when I breathed in the shifting platelets
of our very own map,

the one in which I became not a body
as you had known me to be,

but an owl, pale & secretive,
perched delicately on your chest,
telling your future.


Erin J. Mullikin is the author of the chapbooks, When You Approach Me at the Lake of Tomorrow (Slash Pine Press) and Strategies for the Bromidic (dancing girl press), and their poems and short fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in places such as ILK, Spork, Birdfeast, inter|rupture, The Yoke, and Best New Poets 2014. They are a founding editor for NightBlock and Midnight City Books.  


Pick It Out, It Hurts

BY Kodi Saylor

I smell it,
               tobacco & Campho-Phonique—
a memory that hurts.

Peeling white pulp from a squeezable body,
I eat an orange.

I’d have preferred that night to possess
policemen—just tender human beings with guns.

Is it rape or
                    not rape? That’s ALL
I need to know
—she said
after class on the subway home.

Not me, I want
                    a western view—a sunset
                    in flexible pink
                    through the windshield of a ford
                    key in ignition
                    hands on wheel

Bathing in a square of sun,
I curl up on the wood floor.
Bells ring.
My hands failed
to craft
the [    ]
in image but got
dappled bits of sun
damn right.


Kodi Saylor received her MFA in poetry at New York University where she was a Lillian Vernon Fellow. Her poems have appeared in Axolotl Magazine and Blue Mesa Review. She currently works at the Undergraduate Library in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  

from Letter to the Aliens

BY Doug Paul Case

the year
dear aliens
is 2015 and yesterday
I learned there are still
five humans alive
that were born in 1889
dear aliens
one hundred sixteen years
of breathing this oxygen
of taking water and
vegetation and smaller animals
of walking and loving and
dreaming and singing and
outlasting the rest of us and
dear aliens
it is traditional to ask
those of us who survive
to one hundred what
their secrets are
to longevity
in the hopes we too
can prolong our lives
if we do exactly
what they had done
and usually their wisdom
is simple
dear aliens
like eat three meals a day
and live in the light of the Lord
and stay close to family
and one of these five women
dear aliens
it is always women who survive
said her secret was to stay
away from men
and good for her
dear aliens
most days
I am less interested
in their secrets
than in the troubles of we
who bother them asking
dear aliens
who cannot bear
thinking about our lives
as limited things
as small
as writhing yeast
in the bread that will be
unrecognizable in a year
never mind one hundred
dear aliens
I have come
to think of living
as primarily selfish
dear aliens
every day we have so little
to worry about
and we do and
every day we have so much
to consume
and we do and
dear aliens
some days I wonder how
long it will last
and also why


Doug Paul Case lives in Bloomington, where he recently received an MFA from Indiana University. Other excerpts from this poem have appeared in Powder Keg, Hobart, Juked, and Cosmonauts Avenue.   

Survival Design Basics

BY Abigail welhouse

Step one is to stockpile, but not tell anyone about it.
Stagger home from the grocery store with pasta,
bread, granola bars, everything you’ve ever not bought
because it’s too heavy or expensive. Consider freeze
dried strawberries and dehydrated milk. Consider the end
of the world as we know it, and surviving in your Brooklyn
pantry bunker with your 500 rolls of toilet paper, because
when the world ends, the most important thing is paper
and radio waves and secret pasta and piles of cash
that you tell no one about, unless you’re the author
of a book that tells everyone not to tell anyone,
and oh, wait. Step two is to load your rifle and read
another story in the newspaper about a kid
accidentally shooting another kid. Step three
is to wonder if you’d even want to survive
in this future. Step four is to keep everyone away.
Step five is to make your own cheese and sit
gloriously alone in your cheese castle,
which has steel reinforced walls,
with one hand on your gun
and the other on the burnt world.


I Want More of Everything I Have

and all of everything I don’t have
and just wait until you see how many
colors I can make my mouth and just wait
until you see how I’ve covered up
my paint chips with glitter
and my wrists with glowing skulls
and poured confetti down pores
until they became black holes

I’m American as a school shooting
and I email moonstones to myself
and tag them “wishes” and look up
what something shiny could heal.


Color Theory I

I send my love a spreadsheet of my power colors
and he says, “You should write a poem about it,”
which is probably his way of saying that I’ve slipped
into trying to speak hieroglyphics aloud. That’s all right—

I’ve got my essence color, Blush 7520 C, a pale pink
that harmonizes the colors in my palm. I wear it to feel
vulnerable so probably I should wear it never. But last night
I wrapped myself in it, with a nightgown that was almost

romantic, but off by a few shades. The book said
write down the color you are when you blush.
I looked in the bathroom cabinet for clues
and wrote down “Orgasm.” I found a color swatch

from a beauty blog and it’s always funny to me
that “beauty blogs” are always about makeup
and not other kinds of beauty, like sunsets
or trees or big men holding small dogs.

The book said I could find my dramatic color
by looking at the veins in my wrist. I bleed
cobalt and this is the color to say “look at me.”
My love says, “Do you think color theory is the key?”

I say no but I think everything
might be the key, until I try it.


Abigail Welhouse is the author of Too Many Humans of New York (Bottlecap Press) and Bad Baby (Dancing Girl Press). Her poems have been published in The Toast, Ultraviolet Tribe, and elsewhere. Subscribe to her Secret Poems at tinyletter.com/welhouse.  


The Fireweed Year

BY A.E. Talbot

Everything has a steeple in Vermont:
the libraries and barns,
hillocks and boulders—
a bell at the heart of it all.

Driving through, I could abandon
my car, build a cabin, and marry you
right there on the side of the road
(I who am not a builder, not ready

to marry). I wouldn’t waste a backwards
glance on the flotsam of single gloves,
extra spoons, maps of places
I’ve memorized, that once were new

and seemed to fill me. Here, the fields
pool below the wooded mountains.
Clapboard houses spread their porches
below the mountains running

with raw milk and unrefined honey.
We abstain from preservatives, knowing
the real thing can’t be saved back
but in two years we’ll freeze stiff on the line.

You’ll stop showing me the tiny flowers
you find, I won’t dig out the field guide
to learn their names. I’ll move
to a Pottery Barn apartment, try every brand

of the artificial perfumes you hate:
Moonlight Walk, Wandering Stream,
Frontier Spirit, and once, 
as a test, Jubilant Rose.


A.E. Talbot is an MFA candidate at Ohio State who reads submissions for The Journal and Off the Coast. She has published nonfiction in Mid-American Review and poetry in Barking Sycamores.  

Seen from My Bedroom Window at 813 Cumberland Court

BY Amy Lipman

When the streetlamp came on in the evenings it was around 6 PM, mid-November through February, and something like 8 PM, March through October. Where light was needed in between the dates of daylight savings was not attended to by the city’s streetlamp synchronicity schedule and when the lamp went on and I saw it through my window, I understood that it went on not because of anything my parents or my brother did—whose is it? I asked my mother, and she said It is the city’s and then, every day after, when I walked by and stopped, crouching down to run my hand around its base—it felt like stealing and I loved it. 

The bicycle that I picked out at the school rummage sale laid on my front lawn at the end of the summer; Monday through Thursday it stayed in the garage but Friday through Sunday I used it every morning and every afternoon and so I was permitted to lay it in the grass and one day my neighbor Megan took the bike and rode it, because her lawn became my lawn and because she was two inches taller and her jeans became my jeans and because she learned to ride a bike before me and now that I had a new machine to add to the neighborhood which was very small, which didn’t include our whole block, which, to us, only included our two houses, plus the ones on either side of them, she felt and I felt that to pass the bike back and forth made sense because we needed to know exactly how the other one was functioning and at that age there were not many things we could articulate and so our only understanding of each other’s separate lives came through in the way we needed/stole each other’s possessions.


Amy Lipman teaches creative writing at Carthage College. Her work has been featured in Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Ghost Proposal, Nightblock, and Pinwheel. She lives and writes in Chicago. 


BY David Antonio Moody

They are experts, really, dragonflies,
at ignorant waltz. Raise a hand
and they don’t stop moving
though the music’s over, festival’s over.

This city has turned like a page to blankness
and in you the tip of something shakes.

This is why they float
to you, finally, and listen.
This is something like treetops
or innards, I suppose.


David Antonio Moody is a writing instructor at Arizona State University and serves as production editor for Cortland Review. Recipient of a 2014 AWP Intro Journals Award, his recent poetry appears in The Carolina Quarterly, Breakwater Review and The Columbia Review. Born into a small Florida river town, David earned his doctoral degree from Florida State University where he performed in the Jack Haskin’s Flying High Circus.  

In Review

Closing the Gap Between Audience & Actor: a look at the shapes we make with our bodies

The Shapes We Make With Our Bodies by Meg Whiteford. New York City, NY: Plays Inverse. November 2015. 87 pages $12.95 Paperback. 

In the early stage directions for The Shapes We Make With Our Bodies, Meg Whiteford charges the actors throughout the play-in-verse to dance, “as though the characters can’t stop moving their bodies.”

Likewise, this is a play to be read while on the move, and so I read it everywhere—in a dimly lit bar on a Monday waiting for a friend who’d just quit his job, as I had, both of us tired of a drudge-in, drudge-out office; on the bus and on the train; curled in a chair on a snowy afternoon after lugging boxes of books and a broken desk into a friend’s new apartment. I read it with an IPA and a cup of tea and I read it while thirsty, while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, for a text that did not come, for my period, which, gratefully, did. 

I read it right after Anne Boyer’s Garments of Women (“hybridity of agency and change”), while I was also reading Cynthia Arrieu-King’s Manifest (“a landscape belonging to no one”) and Ta Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (“the fact is that despite their dreams, their lives are also not inviolable”). These happened to be the books closest within reach, and yet, as books do, they began speaking to each other and to the frenzied journey through Whiteford’s book. 

I write about my physical encounter with the book because Whiteford, in her stage directions, is first to blur the boundaries between audience and actor, spectator and participant.

Honey is a character with wants, a hunger, a desire, at the same time fearing her boldness, made indecisive by a troubled past we only glimpse. In conversation with or simply in proximity to a group of Maenads (ritually mad or raving women in Greek mythology) a therapist/vampira, and a yoga instructor/lion/ex-lover, Honey attempts to precisely describe her current state, defining it in terms of what is there and what is not, a definition that becomes both physical and philosophical: the heart aching goes baboom baboom, the set moves from a hillside to a kitchen to a courtroom. It is an experiment where the knowledge of self and the method of its acquirement is ever-changing, propelled by the Maenads, who are friends, judges, mystics, instigators, and Whiteford. Always they are quick to take in a new memory, word, or thought, mulling it over, expanding on it or rejecting it as it informs their understanding:

Maenad 1: The universe is unchanging, uniform, perfect, necessary, timeless. There are no flaws. One couldn’t exist without the other: matter without motion is antimatter, motion without matter is antimotion.

Maenad 3. I think they call that inertia.

Silence, as though they’ve heard that word before.

Whiteford is a playwright with an evolving vision, but one she graciously invites the reader into, “You can come and lie next to them too, if you want,” she writes as she sets the scene for Honey and the Maenads, lying on the jade floor of a spa, to reconstruct a memory, and in particular the violence within that memory. 

“Let’s hear what this sounds like,” writes Whiteford, in another set of stage directions, “and then we can always change it later.” In this book, we become the playwright’s confidante and co-conspirator in the important work of defining who the self is in relation to changing landscapes, feelings, relationships, and memories. In doing this for Honey, we learn to practice it for ourselves. 

“Are we not all complicit in the immensity of desire?” asks Maenad 1, or one of the Maenads, or all of the Maenads, or Whiteford as the writer, or myself as the reader, or my friend on the drive home speaking of another failed date and failed class and failed expectation. Her hand is on the handle though she hasn’t yet opened the door, and so, instead of an answer, I think of another definition, the line which Maenad 1 is given to speak aloud for us.

“It’s a dream about missing legs. It’s a real-life thing about loss.” 

Abigail Zimmer


Abigail Zimmer is the author of girls their tongues (Orange Monkey Publishing, 2016), child in a winter house brightening (Tree Light Books, 2016), and fearless as I seam (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). She lives in Chicago where she is the poetry editor for The Lettered Streets Press.



the confusing mess of selfhood: a look at fat daises

Fat Daisies by Carrie Murphy. Washington, DC: Big Lucks Books, October 2015. 82 pages. $12.00 paperback.

Carrie Murphy’s latest full-length collection rips apart the social media stage and reassembles the whole mess. Murphy examines, with honesty and cruelty, what it means to be one of many, an individual in an age of constant moral battles of identity, as in her poem “Filter”:

Everything is a stage
or at least everything is on a stage
because we carry lights with us in our pockets. 

More than surveying from a distance, Fat Daisies considers deeply and takes responsibility; as a working thought process, it has a great deal of agency. 

There are lines in this book that perfectly capture the incredible stardom and shallow individuality that social media provides its users—every one of its millions/billions of users. The last line, from “Ledge & Hammer,” might be the best one:

When they dig us up
we’ll all want to be the best kind of fossil
the most valuable bone.

Life on social media is an endless, impossible chase to be the brightest shine among millions of shines, and so is death. As Murphy shows us, it’s an epidemic—a killer of the perception of self and of self in the context of all. The very word everyone is exposed as flawed, as a faux noun. If we’re all amazing, if every single individual is amazing, how much can we/do we mean to capture with the word?

When you say everyone, meaning everyone, do you really mean
white people? Do you picture white people in your head?

Here, in “Universal,” is perhaps my favorite moment of the book, where the brutal tension between sameness and true allness. After considering for much of the book what it is to be on Instagram—being an object in that crowded, spotlight-blinded digital forest just like everyone else—we really work through that word everyone. Murphy explores the idea that she among the many-many is guilty and part of it; she and we are part of a larger problem of quiet social exclusion. She gets at this with honesty, with pretty but accessible language, and with self-sacrifice and exploration, as in “Gorgonzola”:

Here, among all the douchebags carrying salads,
I ponder my privilege.

The more physically manifested forms of privilege appear, too—namely gentrification:

The place where they’re building a highrise where all the white people
will live but the white people look askance & say
Where will the El Salvadorans go?
Other white people just don’t really give a shit
because their property values will go up
Other white people look at their watches as the bus goes by
with tons of faces peering out
The day laborers on bicycles, smiling

This passage from “I Am The King of My Own Life” I find particularly poignant not only because gentrification is outlined pretty acutely, but also “white people” as a group is split into subgroups, thereby breaking apart the identity of a whole group and giving individuals a more defined role. Now you have to choose which subgroup you belong to, if you’re white, and which attitude you will have. Of course, none of these options comes without carried (if not also perceived) guilt. And in Fat Daisies, guilt is tightly tied to identity.

Murphy wraps all of these things and more—being a woman, objectification towards men, wanting to be a mother—into the confusing mess of selfhood. Of oneness and of choosing how to see oneself among the rest of the oneselves. She hasn’t exactly given up on these fights and these issues, but she does see a grim road ahead. As we see in her poem “Unicorn,” this is a legitimately pessimistic flower patch:

I’ve been so busy licking spoons of ice cream & looking at moccasins on the internet & tweezing my nipple hairs that I forgot to cry about how much I hate modern society.

Is there a steering wheel? Is there any way to clean up a growing spill? We don’t know. But Murphy gives us brutally honest and direct poems to feed on, to swim in as we wonder. Fat Daisies, in exploring the significance of identity, hides behind no identity and shows its true colors from start to finish. This is a language we all know but are unaccustomed to hearing—at least outside of our own heads.

—C.J. Opperthauser


C.J. Opperthauser co-edits Threadcount,
a journal of hybrid prose, and blogs at thicketsandthings.tumblr.com. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His chapbook Cloud the Shape of Bedroom is forthcoming from Tree Light Books in 2016.



Many Hands Make Light Work: A look at The Work of Creation: Selected Prose

The Work of Creation: Selected Prose by Luke Hankins. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, January 2016. 159 pages. $16 paperback.

The Work of Creation: Selected Prose is a collection of criticism, commentaries, personal essays, and interviews that in sum flesh out the remarkable intellectual life of poet, critic, and well-regarded editor Luke Hankins, a writer whose identity touches all points on the proverbial craft compass. Short of writing fiction, Hankins has done it all: reviewed other poets’ work when he could have been holed up fashioning his own, thought deeply and often about how poetry’s past can enliven and ensure the survival of its future, and translated the gorgeous poems of international authors like Stella Vinitchi Radulescu. In the process, though perhaps unintentionally so, Hankins has done more than simply provide us a record of his own intellectual musings and machinations. He has given fellow writers a template for how to become the best community-oriented versions of ourselves.

What I admire most about this collection of prose is that it focuses less on Hankins the poet and more on Hankins’s relationship to poetry communities—which is for the most part a selfless interaction geared toward shining a light on others’ poetry and what it can teach us about surviving in the world. Whether he is talking about Tarfia Faizullah's first collection Seam and its relationship to Franz Wright's collection F, Claudia Emerson’s use of myth in Late Wife, The Paris Review “Poetry Purge” and his relationship to its politics as a literary magazine editor, or his own experience with exorcism as a child, Hankins uses discussions of the self and its relationship to larger communities to draw us outside ourselves in The Work of Creation and into a realm of ideas that feels necessarily detached. For Hankins, detachment is a strategy that, when combined with the reflexive movement back toward introspection, draws us closer to meaningful ideas about transcendence—what it is and what it can mean—in our lives as writers.

Since Hankins was a student of fundamentalist Christianity from a young age, and speaks often about that experience’s impact on his spiritual and creative life, one might presuppose that a book of prose with a title like The Work of Creation would maintain some degree of metaphysical rigidity in its pronouncements about what is “meaningful,” what is “beautiful,” and what is worth seeking out as “good” in contemporary poetry today. But Hankins never does anything of the sort. I was surprised and enlivened at nearly every turn this collection took. In particular, I am drawn to the unexpected and simultaneously heart-wrenching courage with which Hankins seeks to explain the motivations of the attackers who senselessly beat him in an Asheville parking lot by portraying them as human and capable of love in his explication and poem “The Way They Loved Each Other.” “I don’t feel anger against the perpetrators, only confusion and pity and sadness,” he notes in the introductory remarks before the poem. He continues:

I don’t take credit for not feeling anger. It’s simply the natural course my mind and heart have taken. But I will say that [writing the poem] has allowed me to recover psychologically from the incident in a way that I don’t believe would have been possible if I were plagued by anger and desire for vengeance. I’m grateful for this grace.

Another powerful moment in the collection is the exacting, almost-positivist stance Hankins takes in the essay “Beautiful Truths: Reason and Fundamentalist Christianity,” a carefully considered, well-wrought response I wish I had been able to give the reason-lacking fundamentalist street preacher spitting hell-fire and sin-laden language outside The Quad in undergrad. Its penultimate paragraph effectively conveys Hankins’s primary argument:

When I step back and consider the beliefs of fundamentalist Christians as if I hadn’t been raised to believe them, I realize that they do not elicit my belief. They are self-contradictory and unreasonable, and are based on one primary faulty assumption—the infallibility of the Bible. If one leaves that premise behind, one is left with a religious tradition that, like all religious traditions, is full of moments of transcendent insight and inspiration, but also full of human flaws. 

As moments like this indicate, nothing is turned away from idly in Hankins’s prose. Each idea is considered evenly and artfully. Hankins takes eight pages to painstakingly break down and critique the primary assumptions of fundamentalist Christianity when he could just as easily conclude such narrow systems of belief are meritless in two or three brief sentences. Hankins’s probing patience results in an essay where reason and mystery collide and successfully coexist.

Hankins regularly deploys quotes from other writers to substantiate and support his own claims throughout this collection. His favorite, perhaps, comes from Joseph Conrad's “Preface,” and I think speaks directly to what The Work of Creation contributes to the literary communities it highlights and explores:

[The artist] speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation—and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts: to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds us to each other, which binds together all humanity—the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.

I have known many a poet (myself included) whose orientation to language and other poets is only marginally community-focused. Even when we participate in literary communities, we do so primarily to benefit our own writing and reputations as writers. In Hankins prose, we meet—in direct opposition to that selfish orientation—a master craftsman hard at work at his proverbial potter’s wheel creating pieces of art about art’s relationship to the communities in which it is created that are meant to be enjoyed not just within his own lifetime but for generations to come. His own writing and reputation run a distant second to Hankins’s primary obsession: shining light on the lives, lines, and imaginations of his fellow writers.

The greatest gift this remarkable young writer, editor, translator, and thinker possesses—and he possesses many—is his fascination with and attention to how language binds us together as writers, both to each other and, by extension, to the era in which we live. In allowing the many hands of other poets, teachers, and friends to help him fashion his own life and thoughts on poetry the past three decades, Hankins has discovered a template for probing the self in The Work of Creation that begins and ends with a collaborative capacity rare in our generation’s writers. Emphasizing personal discovery’s relationship to community throughout this collection, Hankins reminds us that deep spiritual connections persist and sometimes even strengthen between us when we least expect them to do so.

—J. Scott Brownlee


J. Scott Brownlee's work appears widely and includes the chapbooks Highway or Belief (2013 Button Poetry Prize), Ascension (2014 Robert Phillips Poetry Prize) and On the Occasion of the Last Old Camp Meeting in Llano County (2015 Tree Light Books Prize) and the full-length collection, Requiem for Used Ignition Cap (2015 Orison Poetry Prize). Brownlee is a founding member of The Localists, a literary collective that emphasizes place-based writing of personal witness, cultural memory, and the aesthetically marginalized working class.