[the branches thus fallen are glyphic
yet dumb]

by john fry


ice overpopulated fairy rings, leaving mushrooms in the minority the May morning after.

I wanted to be sure to reach you—

neither self nor soul but, unsaid, the shadows of.

psalmic, hardly, but the air’s nevertheless charged.

if the koan of water is water, what’s the koan of golf ball sized hailstones?

what does dark matter not touch inside.

to be sure, I wanted to—

if a supposedly inscrutable God has a garment with an almost graspable hem, the Milky Way is the finest piece of embroidery I’ve ever seen.

Ghost Ocean 19

Originally from South Texas, John Fry's poems have been published in West Branch, Colorado Review, Blackbird, Waxwing, Tupelo Quarterly, and Devil's Lake, among others. His work has been anthologized in New Border Voices (Texas A&M, 2014) and the forthcoming IMANIMAN: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands (Aunt Lute). The author of the chapbook silt will swirl (NewBorder, 2012), he is a graduate of Texas State University's MFA program and a poetry editor for Newfound Journal. He currently lives in the Texas Hill Country and is a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies medieval English literature.



BY Ting Gou

            Hello, Heaven. You are a tunnel lined with yellow lights. 
                                                                   —Lana Del Rey, “Yayo"

I’m wading through the grass again,
trying to remember how I got here

and why I’m shivering.
It’s raining. My mother is inside 

hanging laundry over the bathtub.
The heavy stalks, burdened with new mud,

sink and fold toward each other
over soil involuting

from how my mother’s feet struck
the ground as she ran, 

our clothes kept dry.  
Some time ago, I decided 

that this was not
the way to heaven,

though there are yellow lights here too:
rusted gutters blinking white 

with lightning, 
the neighbor’s two-door clunker

screaming in alarm. 
Everything oversaturated. No use

for subtle dreams. 
The house: a peacock green.

The atmosphere: extraterrestrial. 
In this yard where every object 

is turning into something alien, 
I am being beamed 

into a spaceship and I am glad, 
think, This is a good thing.

How we can make anything a heaven
by naming it:

Hello, tunnel lined with municipal light.
Hello, house with snakes 

in the crawlspace. 
And the thought: 

had it not been for my father’s hand
pulling me back that day

from the hissing coils, 
I would still carry the puncture wounds

from a dead animal’s teeth.  
I’d say I often dream about this house

but that’s a lie: there are some things
we resurrect by force. 

The lifespan of a house
is the sum of the lifespans

of all its inhabitants.
The aliens, with their technologies, 

understand:  they know what it takes
to keep from dying.

After a time, we approach
their planet of ice. 

The ship starts a mechanical beeping.
Some distant god lifts it dark head

out of the snow.
How close we are all to heaven.


Ting Gou is a student at the University of Michigan Medical School. Her first chapbook, The Other House, is forthcoming from Blue Lyra Press. Her poems can be found in Arcturus, Best of the Net, Bellevue Literary Review, Ghost Ocean Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, r.kv.r.y., Superstition Review, Word Riot, and elsewhere. 

from Insecurity System

BY Sara Wainscott

In response to an attack
the public reflects / feet of women in Gucci sandals
secure their shadows to the world. 

Bones show up everywhere
in poems. I must make space for them.


I must try to have sex
dreams in which I contribute more vigorously.
Clouds illustrate 

the air’s colossal control. I’d like
that wouldn’t I—?
If art is art, it won’t shut up

Consciousness is uncomfortable
but once in awhile, baby, 
it’s great to feel rich.


It’s great to feel rich
and be surrounded by the evidence of riches:

museums leave wall space between the paintings
to show what’s worth most
is effortlessness.

In the balloon gallery
hot air costs / nothing to view

In bed I turn aside though I am willing
to turn back somehow into a basket
spilling silver fish guts at a photograph’s edge:

do stroke / my nape / because coils warm red
cannot get out / a grassland I recline / hold my head

because willow boughs / will you / lie with me in white /
leaking out / not ready to try for it


Leaking out / not ready to try for it / because if I am a dumb bitch 
then it’s my job to tell myself / when I am sitting in a blue skirt
by water / water takes on the sky’s circumstances / if I am a horse
for work I want to work / if I am a horse for show I want to show
beautifully / water as sallow as yellow glass / and my wrist hurts
because I wrote a note to a mother because her boy swallowed
a lake / because the current pulled him back / if he can not get out
I can not get out / little fishes moving back and forth in a glass /  
because wrongly I would rather be quiet than wrong / because
given the circumstances I make allowance / because here you are
having fun and your brother lays there dying
/ if I am a horse / 
if I am a boy / if the amount of matter is always exactly the same
 / I show my stomach to a doctor / water the color of worn money / 
water the color of olives  


Sara Wainscott has recent work appearing or forthcoming in The Journal Petra, Powder Keg, Unsplendid, DIAGRAM, Masque & Spectacle, Your Impossible Voice, The Account, and elsewhere. She co-curates Wit Rabbit, an inter-genre reading series in Chicago.  


from Self-Portrait of a Poet Via Macroscopy

by Travis A Sharp


How much person. How many. In which organizational structure. I woke to a lattice both recognizable and. How much person am I. How to measure. What is mistaken. Mistakenly I barricaded. Surrounded by objects I didn’t understand. I never learned to climb. To crawl. To crow unmistakable conclusions. This solitude was the beginning of starvation was the beginning of obsessive charting was the beginning of tender was the beginning of repeat after me was the beginning of stop was the beginning of quiet. What is produced. I have happily. I have a sad. The woman in the dream wakes next to me and speaks. Is it you or is it you.


Travis A Sharp is a queer poet and book artist, an editor and designer at Essay Press, and a PhD student in English and the Poetics Program at the University at Buffalo. He has an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from the University of Washington, Bothell, and has published poems in Columbia Poetry Review, LIT, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere.


London Green

BY Timothy moore

1.    A History
One day the Green descended over London, and London alone, like a wave, consuming our sky in the bubbly, impenetrable soup. We haven’t seen the blue sky since. We blamed the terrorists. The anarchists. Inevitably, the immigrants. But our fury did little to squelch the ominous green that hung above us like a declaration. Retribution. 
    Of course, you know about the most radical changes already. The River Thames evaporating into the Green, while the other rivers and streams remained untouched. The strange blue plants and then blue fungus that overgrew in our oldest wood and brick buildings, that proved calamitous for our most elderly, who breathed it into their lungs and who later coughed it out in pools of blue blood, coughed it out until their throats became wretched and their bodies hollow. And the new smells emitting from this mass, a mix of soot and burning pig fat, a constant odor that is still hard to ignore, even to this day. And how could one not mention the children born, cursed, with the red eyes, dark like blood. 
    Understand that London has faced horrors before. 
    Our historians will tell you about the Great Smog of 1952, where pollutants in the air, mostly from coal, formed a thick layer of smog over the city for nearly a year. They will tell you about the pea soup fog of the late 1800’s, where the chimney smoke and mist from our long departed River Thames combined to nearly cripple the city, in a fog that had a consistency of pea soup. After they remind you of that, your attention may return back to the Green above us, floating steadily, bubbling, calm. The historians will tell you that with proper air restrictions, and change of habits, the smog and the fog were beaten. And so will go the Green. We wait. 

2.    The Story of a Boy Named Trout
Victor Trout was thirteen when he attempted his escape from London. He wanted to see the sky beyond the Green. Witness for himself, the Sun. His parents had been killed in the refugee riots, his father of Syrian descent, his mother London born. Though transport by boat and train was still possible for the rich, the Green prevented departure by air, and this made avenues of fleeing London scarce, valuable, and for the privileged, or the desperate. 
    His ancient grandmother, coughing up blue blood on her deathbed, she had grabbed him sullenly, and she stared into his dark red eyes, and she clutched onto his hands and she clutched at her throat and she died. 
    With her death, he had no reason left to stay. 
    Now, Victor Trout was not a child born from love. Victor Trout was born from need. Victor Trout was born into struggle and only knew struggle. He still remembered his parents teaching him to steal food from the nearby Tesco, sneak sandwich packs and chocolates past the guard with a smile from his dimpled face. A distraction. Victor Trout was alone and he needed to see the Sun for himself. He had heard about it from his grandmother, she had shown him pictures of the beautiful yellow ball clutched in a clear blue sky. Though he knew it was impossible, he wanted to grasp that yellow ball. He wanted to feel the hot yellow sneak between his fingers. 

3.    We Will Prevail
The red-eyed children were cursed to stay under the Green. They were born strangely adapted to live in these new conditions and these conditions alone. When being transported outside of London, most, with a few exceptions, would catch sight of the Sun, and, within minutes, go blind. That was when we knew that the Green was something more than an ecological disaster. Its cruelty reeked of sentience. And that chilled us to the bone. 
    And still, we continued. The Queen, and then after her passing, the King, remained in London. They reminded us of the old hardships and how the royal family held strong. The London Blitz. The terrorist attacks. The plagues. 
    We always prevailed. We had to believe we would prevail. All the while, we would never admit that we would look to the Green, and we would whisper: Tell us what to do. Tell us what we did wrong. 

4.    Trout Steadies Onward
Victor Trout wore stolen blue contacts. He plucked them from the face of a rich young boy leaving a Kensington school and also took his clothing, his suit pants and suit shirt, and identification papers. He tied up this poor rich boy, blonde, with pale skin and a thin frame, and he dropped him into a giant trash bin. This would give him a few hours, if he was lucky. His hair was already cut to resemble an appropriately appropriate young boy, despite his darker complexion and damaged teeth. He had perfected a shy, toothless smile when asked for proper identification. 
    When he reached the Tube station at Camden, the threshold seemed overwhelming. Thousands of people clogged the station. People trying to burst in, people trying to file out. They pushed and shoved and people were trampled in the onslaught. This was the constant chaos of the city. He had heard stories of the riots that broke out when whole zones were shut down, the fires that consumed parts of the city trapped by isolation. He calmed himself outside, when he looked at the Green above. Every once in a while the Green would emit a strange, melancholy hum. Sometimes the Green would drip tiny green drops onto the city, and he wondered if it was something like tears. And if it was tears, if it came from something like grief, or maybe, strangely, something like love. This horrified him. 

5.    What We Did With the Immigrants
You know very well what we did with the immigrants. 

6.    Victor Trout’s Grandmother Speaks to Trout on Her Deathbed, Before Succumbing to the Blue Fungus Later that Night
I’ve lived a long life. Long enough. You live long as I have, you see things that aren’t worth seeing. The things that get ingrained in here. That wad of meat in your head. I wish I could choose what I remember. Like my baby girl, your mother. I want to remember her at her best. Before all that poison she put in herself. Like after I worked all those doubles at the plant. Just so she could get that chiffon dress. She was seventeen, Victor. But in that dress she could have been thirty. Slim. Graceful. Confident. I could see her then growing up to be actress or an ambassador. She loved that dress. Didn’t want to take it off. I was jealous. I wanted her to love me as much as that dress. Or at least love me more because of it. But that wasn’t her way. I want to remember that dress. Remember that love. That feeling. But for the life of me I can’t remember – I can’t even remember the feel of the fabric, or if it fell below her knees. All I can really remember is the color: yellow. Golden yellow. Like it was from the Sun. Like if you touched the dress you would sear your fingertips. 

7.    Trout Nearly Almost Makes It Through Safely
Just when Victor Trout made it into the Tube station, and his blue contacts were able to fool the exhausted guards, and his papers were able to pass himself off as the rich boy, and his smile seemed to charm the elderly women who curiously stared at a boy alone, just when he thought he was going to make it, a news feed streaming by the pole to his left reported that a young boy, traumatized and stripped naked, was found in a trash dumpster at Kensington. It would only be a short time before they traced his papers back to the Tube, back to where he was standing. As the train made its stop he knew that he had to make it to Brighton. He would have to use different methods. That was when he ran from the train, slid through police and crowds, and made his way onto the tracks and into darkness. 

8.    What We Would Have Told Trout
You insult us with your devotion to abandonment. 
    Do you think we haven’t dreamed of leaving? 
    Do you think we do not feel imprisoned? 
    Victor. Understand. If we leave, we will be the first. We will be known as the generation of cowards. The traitors to our beloved city. If we abandon London, the Green will win. We will be nothing better than the dirt that is devoured by worms at our feet. 
    Don’t you understand? This is more than what we want. We are here because London needs us. If we did not believe that, we would not endure. So we believe. 
    You could ruin us all.

9.    Trout On the Tracks
Trout descended the tunnel, lying flat against the wall while the trains flew past. The small gust of wind the trains would create was a cool relief in the sweltering heat that matted against his skin. The walk was so long and dismal that Trout felt like he was losing parts of himself, which he was. His shoes began to break apart. The clothing he stole would catch on formations of blue fungus, mutated and sharp and angry, growing from the wall, and the blue fungus would tear at the clothing as he snuck by, and the clothing would fall from his body. Even his blue contacts fell into the darkness, rejecting him. 
    That was when he heard noises. Others. They were lying against the walls, waiting for the next train to pass. Eight of them. Naked, covered in black dirt and grime. But Trout couldn’t see that. All he could see of them were their red eyes, glowing hungrily. 

10.    London is About Remembering
London will remain. Through fog or smog, through bombs or plague, under a soup. We will not understand how it remains, but it will remain. Someday, the Green will be gone. And we will be relieved, for a time. But we’ll always be waiting for the next thing to happen. Because we will remember. 
    Take Victor Trout, for instance. He was in the tunnels for days, crawling through pathways long abandoned. With the other children. They were naked, ugly. He found it remarkable to find so many in worse conditions than him. One night he spent cradling a baby girl, a daughter of a girl not much older than himself, crying in the sweltering darkness of the tube tunnels. He whispered a lullaby to the baby, trying to calm her. This lullaby was sung to him by his grandmother, when he asked about the Sun. She would kiss him on the cheeks and lift him above her face, and she would cradle him as he was cradling the baby. The lullaby went: 

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest; 
God is nigh.

When the others heard him sing this, and saw the tears that came from the young boy, they used that as their mantra as they made their way through the black. Trout led them. He loved them, he realized.
    And do you know what happened when they entered the light? When they saw the blue sky and the strange yellow ball? When the Green was just a memory in the distance? Trout held his hands out, and he reached for the Sun. He waited, with the others, to see if their eyes would flicker and fail. And he tried to loop the Sun in his fingers, and fall into the blue, his eyes breathing it all in, a new, perhaps final vision, and he kept telling himself, in a frenzy of ecstasy: Remember! Remember! Remember The Yellow!


Timothy Moore has had stories, reviews, and interviews published in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, the Chicago Reader, Chicago Review of Books, and Entropy. He is a Kundiman fellow, has been awarded a Luminarts Fellowship, and has participated in the Hinge Artist Residency. He writes and sells books in Chicago.

Perfection is Defined by Expectation

BY JenMarie MacdonalD

It’s not Day of the Dead
yet but close enough

to abandon a private altar
of reflective precision
in favor of frivolity.

A darkened room,
in which I see the radio
happen. Psychedelic
honky tonk cloaked in marigold

in sky
blue earth tones.

So fast, time
pitched through my bones,
turning to make a single

reminiscence. Last year
I centered my hands
within a holy growth spurt.
My God

is 40 million light years
out. I turn up for mass

with my new apparatus
but the stars don’t
do their part.

My divine carriage
Pegasus is stabled
behind a tinny band
of exhaust.

The Little Sombrero
a spot on its saddle. Its body

the ghost of deity
I cover in tidy chiffon
and chrysanthemums.

Drape ornaments beneath
my outlook.
Open the stars
to swallow the jaw. 


We Woke Here Digital Natives in a Brand New Time

and threw the patterned wrap
off morning. In the darkness
the narratives

could be loosely interpreted
from scant language we half knew.
Astrobrallos can’t scale

images and leave our devices
with the space between
swift-moving dashes.

We are apart
much farther than we look.
Easy and binocular.

Our clusters age.
Our bodies
are similar sisters

from the same
northern constellation
forming fields.


JenMarie Macdonald is half of Fact-Simile Editions and builds books and poems from recycled and reclaimed material. She is the author of Sometime Soon Ago (Shadow Mountain, 2009) and co-author with Travis Macdonald of Graceries (Horseless Press 2013) and forthcoming Bigger on the Inside (ixnay press).


Put a Picture of You On My Wall

BY Megan Giddings

It seems like every girl in this town is an incredible dresser. Their glasses are always the perfect shade of green to make their eyes pop. They are always wearing polka-dotted fur coats that should make them look like successful Cruella DeVilles, but instead make them look like a dictionary illustration of the word “chic.” It’s not that this city makes me extra invisible, but it does make me feel as if I’m living a year behind everyone else.
     The night before Halloween, I am sitting alone on a bench listening to a song filled with horns and a singer with a voice like someone trying to tell a secret underwater. I can’t tell if the song is beautiful or different for the sake of being different. The bench is cold through my skirt, but the air smells like bonfires. And my apartment is still empty enough to make me wonder if I should move back home. Then a girl makes eye contact with me and smiles in a we-should-be-friends way. It’s the kind of look I haven’t seen on a not-drunk person’s face since elementary school. I wish I knew what it is—my headphones, the fact I’m sitting alone listening to music in public, my hair—that makes her give me that look. She lights a cigarette, smiles around it one more time, and walks off before I can take my headphones off. Like something spooked her.
     Tomorrow, I’ll buy a dress and matching coat in neon orange with a camouflage pattern. I’ll write a handful of notes about the qualities I’ll bring to a friendship. The ability to love someone more each time she lets a weird thought slip out, the desire to stay up all night watching a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon while eating chocolate and gossiping, a promise to never make a photocopy friend, a girl so similar that it seems as if I need a legion of back-up friends. I’ll wrap these notes around arrows. Stow the arrows and a bow around my backpack. Make a salt lick of cool music and hope my new friend appears. When I see her, I’ll shoot straight and smooth. Hold my breath and pray not to miss.


Megan Giddings is a recent graduate of Indiana University's MFA program and co-Fiction Editor of The Offing. She has work forthcoming or that has been recently published in Arts & Letters, Best Small Fictions 2016, Black Warrior Review, and Pleiades. This story is a part of Split Series Volume 3 (The Lettered Streets Press). That chapbook can be pre-ordered here. Her website is www.megangiddings.com.

In This Version a Suspension Bridge in Every Shot

by Christopher citro & Dustin Nightingale


I remember how ready and beautiful you looked in that parking lot, as if my hands were already in your hair. Nearby a mural full of poker chips. I can't imagine any other moment and thus I live my life to see a bird get chased by a bird. Already our light fades after my hand comes out. Holding a senior yearbook, my cheeks stuffed with action figures. Blue clouds against a white sky. Flowers growing sick with sugar as they're about to open their beaks and ask for a worm. Some winds just hair, draped across a liquid body spinning and rising. And all this weight supporting itself. And when I'm left in a basement to think my own thoughts I hope you'll be in the next basement with yours. We'll both have ham radios and talk in what we assume is the night. Or we could have the idea of ham radios and the idea of what we'd say. 


Christopher Citro is the author of The Maintenance of the Shimmy-Shammy (Steel Toe Books, 2015), and his poems appear or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2014, Sixth Finch, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Prairie Schooner. 

Dustin Nightingale lives in West Hartford, Connecticut. His poetry has been or will be published in journals such as The American Journal of Poetry, new ohio review, Cimarron Review, Portland Review, and decomP. 


In Conversation

queer myth-making & The Erasure of difference: ghost ocean talks with wren hanks


Ghost Ocean: How long has Prophet Fever been in the making?

Wren Hanks: The first Prophet Fever poems came out of a Christian radio broadcast I heard on the way to New Orleans in August 2013. The very first poem I wrote was the epilogue (which used to be a two-page poem from the perspective of the Virgin Mary). I knew I wanted to write a series, but my focus was completely different. I was interested in the tension between the human and natural worlds. In Catholic school, we were told over and over that animals don't go to heaven. I was an outcast kid who felt a lot more kinship with fish and toads than the rich kids I went to school with so I always found this idea deeply troubling. Of course, when I became older and more self-aware, I found out there were whole lists of humans unfit for heaven too—lists I was definitely on. The initial impetus for what became the Prophet Fever poems was grief over our dying world, hereticism, and my post-humanist leanings. However, this was one of those projects that had its own agenda.  

GO: The first poem begins, “When the people asked / they were told the world was no longer for them.” Is Prophet Fever for the marginalized?

WH: Absolutely. I knew I wanted to read an apocalypse story where everyone was queer/trans, and hoped other people would want to read this too (full-length spoilers: Mary's girlfriend is a trans lady; there's a cadre of genderqueer angels; there are transgressively gendered undead skeleton pets). To queer Catholicism, a religion I'm so marked by felt healing, like scrubbing that "dust to dust" Ash Wednesday mark off my head permanently.

What I'm most invested in as a poet is queer myth-making—both reshaping myths in our own languages (our myriad vernaculars) or fashioning our own whole-cloth. I'm interested in the big, unwieldy projects we can write to and for each other. "I'll tell you all my secret names; please tell me yours" is the unofficial motto, I guess, of my poetry. It's not written with straight readers in mind (although I hope they enjoy it and buy this chap!).

GO: You’re investigating gender, sexuality, and the body, while also confronting eternity (“is there a place / for these bodies / in the afterlife really?”), religion, and what it means to belong. It’s ambitious and risky to take on so much in only sixteen pages, but you pull it off in a way that cultivates a rich and less rigid reading experience. Was it challenging to tackle these ideas in one volume or are these puzzle pieces that naturally fit together for you?

WH: What happened with this project is less that I intended to confront gender and the body so explicitly and more that at some point Prophet Fever dovetailed with my own coming out or, more specifically, became the mechanism through which I could come out. My protagonist was intended to be a cis gay teen, and the poems were intended to be persona. What I found is that writing from "male persona" unlocked me, not just as a poet, but as a human who didn't have place to locate their gender itchiness. I located it in Wren. After I came out as genderqueer, I took his name because it felt inevitable—as if I'd earned it in some weird mystical sense. I'd imbued him with self-possession when I had very little, and now I'm beginning to find my own.

I think these pieces fit together pretty handedly for me because I am fascinated by what the "body as eternal" (Catholics, as I understand it, believe they recover our literal flesh-and-blood bodies during the coming of Christ) means for me as a trans person, as someone who might not necessarily want this exact body back. I'm also interested in the question of what is natural vs. what is artificial, and how queer people are expected to conform to this idea of "the natural" in order to belong.

A close friend of mine said we are all "transitioning to worm food in the end." I don't personally believe in afterlife—I hope pieces of me are transmuted into various lifeforms (I aspire to be thousands of dinoflagellates, a coywolf, any species of octopus or carnivorous plant). However, I relate to the fear of never belonging, not even in death, and I have friends who've been asked to choose between their faith and their queerness.

GO: There’s an urgency and conflict in these poems that feels rooted in our world, in our nation, in 2016, yet these poems aren’t held to the bounds of realism and don’t call every threat by name. Can you talk about engaging with real-world issues from the periphery?

WH: I wrote these poems pre-election cycle, before our nation's fear of difference became amplified to the nth degree. To be honest, I wasn't even aware of a lot of the anger and fear that's reflected back to me now when I reread these poems. I knew I was writing against the "good queer" narrative, because that narrative felt both like a bouncy castle ("look at me jumping higher to meet your expectations") and a prison. We're at this point where gay marriage is legal and certain types of coming out narratives (overwhelmingly cis white ones) are palatable to, if not the whole country, at least a significant part of it. Meanwhile, this respectability narrative has left many queer people—trans women and queer POC in particular—behind. None of this has to do directly with Prophet Fever, but the complicated feelings I have about being relatively safe as a cis-passing white queer in 2016, I think they come out in the way I destabilize Wren as a character.

I wish I had a better answer than fantasy is the only way I knew how to engage with our country's collective denial in the face of a sixth extinction and our tendency to choose the erasure of difference over the acceptance of it. I don't yet. I'm working on it! 

GO: One of the lines repeated in Prophet Fever that has stuck with me most is “We are not ourselves alone.” It’s repeated in a rather climactic moment in the chapbook, during one of the most direct engagements with identity. Can you talk about this idea and its importance? Do you feel an obligation or necessity to discuss and confront identity?

WH: Being genderqueer, the desire to be seen eats me alive most days. The need to be accurately taken in and loved for your sparkling contradictions feels so basic and human, but it's also elusive for some of us. Okay, I'll own this—it's elusive for me, girl'ed and ma'amed all the livelong day, so I feel a drive to write about how overwhelming it is when someone gets it right.

These past few months I've felt a particular urgency/obligation to confront identity head-on in my work, because my coming out was marked by overwhelming love and support. I didn't have to be alone, and I don't want other trans people (especially anyone for whom coming out isn't safe) to feel alone. I want to radiate a little bit of belonging and safety however I can. The confessional poems I've published recently are one way of doing that.  

GO: The cover art for Prophet Fever is arresting, and it points to the nature of these poems: threatening, mysterious, and not entirely spelled out or revealed. Can you talk about the artwork/artist and how the cover and poems within interact with one another? 

WH: Sarah Reck, who is the design and prose editor for Hyacinth Girl Press, made a cover that I absolutely adore! What I appreciate about her design is exactly what you've mentioned—it's ominous and totally indicative of the poems themselves, but at the same time tells readers very little about what they're in store for.

It also invokes, at least for me, the biblical journey of the "prophet" through the wilderness (and that makes me very happy).

GO: Prophet Fever is reminiscent of Sam Sax’s sad boy / detective (Black Lawrence Press, 2015)both address youth, the body, violence, belongingbut your poems exude a touch more darkness and gore. What draws you to horror and the grotesque?

WH: First off, I just want to say that Sam Sax's poem "On Trepanation" destroys me every time I read it (and everyone should go read it right now), and it makes me fanboy blush to have my work referenced in relation to his.

Oh man, I'm drawn to horror and the grotesque because the monstrous is so often queer-coded, because body horror is a useful way (for me, personally) to talk about dysphoria, and because I love playing around with the tropes/conventions of genre fiction in verse. I'm thrilled you asked this because I think of Prophet Fever as genre work (horror/fantasy), and I want more poets to embrace the genre-ness of their poems!  

I'm currently editing an e-chap anthology, Curious Specimens, for Sundress Publications that we're aiming to have out in early October. As I outlined in the submission call, I sought work that "moves beyond cataloging the strange or uncanny and, instead, embodies a persona/personae as a means of interrogating identity and our fraught relationship to the natural world." I'm so excited about the possibilities for genre poetry, especially for us queer writers. Let's write earnestly about swamp monsters, sentient gelatinous cubes, and being possessed by conjoined ghost twins—it'll be great, I promise.

GO: You have two more forthcoming chapbooks, gar child (Tree Light Books) and Ghost Skin (Porkbelly Press). Are these chapbooks an extension of Prophet Fever? Do they focus on similar obsessions, ideas, or questions you have as a poet?

WH: The three chapbooks are totally separate from each other (and my secret fear is that someone who loves one may not necessarily be as into the other two).  

Gar child is a fairytale about a girl who is part spotted gar. She's my example of a queer grotesque character: a reverse mermaid literally covered in saw tooth scales. It's a very self-contained project (I always knew it was going to be a chap, not a full-length), and it's more concerned with the architecture of each individual poem than Prophet Fever. However, both chapbooks are concerned with questions like: Who affords us agency? How do we deal with trauma that's passed down through generations? And both focus on queer adolescence, partially, I think, because I still feel like a teenager, a baby trans person, 30 going on 16.

Ghost Skin is an elegy for my grandmother who committed suicide when I was eighteen. It's also a farewell to my womanhood, my binary identity. It's the most painful series I've ever written. I hope it does my grandmother justice. 


Wren Hanks (formerly Jennifer) is the author of Prophet Fever (Hyacinth Girl Press). A 2016 Lambda Emerging Writers Fellow, their poetry and nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in Arcadia, Gigantic Sequins, Bone Bouquet, Drunken Boat, Permafrost, and elsewhere. They have two forthcoming chapbooks, gar child (Tree Light Books) and Ghost Skin (Porkbelly Press). An Associate Editor for Sundress Publications, they live in Brooklyn with their fiancée and a collection of sea ephemera. Follow them @corsetofscales

In Review

whimsy, wit, & unearthing history: a look at the voyager record: A Transmission

The Voyager Record: A Transmission by Anthony Michael Morena. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal Press. May 2016. 168 pages $14.95 Paperback. 

The Voyager record was sent into outer space in 1977, and in 2016 Anthony Michael Morena wrote a hilarious and expansive book about it. Through history, reflection, and imagination, The Voyager Record: A Transmission chronicles and explores the impact and context of the record, which was essentially a globally compiled offering of human culture and existence to whatever space entity might come across it in the distant future.

Carl Sagan, on whom Morena sheds gallons of spotlight, hoped that distant future would fall within the span of a billion years — how long he hoped the record would last.

A billion years. Think about that.

In a communicative and conversational fashion, Morena uses humor, wit, and sincerity to unearth the history of the record along with its loose and hilarious imagined future. How many books that explore the Voyager mission offer exchanges like the following:

There are 55 greetings but no Swahili. Because the Swahili speaker who was scheduled to record the greeting forgot about the appointment and a fill-in couldn’t be found.

Which means that if the aliens ever hear the greetings and ask: “What language is that? Swahili?” in all cases the answer will definitely be no.

The Voyager Record is constantly both in awe of the record’s mission and totally aware of its ridiculousness. Its attitude straddles the intersection of respect, admiration, mockery, and pure curiosity. In a number of scenes imagining various types of alien life coming into contact with the record, Morena leans toward a healthy, imaginative angle of mockery:

The aliens who discover the Voyager record are always on fire. They have bodies, somewhere beneath all those flames. You can tell because of the smell. And because sometimes pieces fall off. This is how they reproduce. When they reach out to retrieve the record from Voyager, it melts.

Just as ridiculous as the record itself, these alien beings offer some sort of ending for an object which will most likely fade into nothingness over the course of a few thousand years. For now, though, Morena gives us something to visualize and apply the history of this record to:

They have no audio technology because they never needed to listen to anything before. The data on the Golden Record that they can understand — the images — is all that makes sense next to the rest of this gibberish. But they want to understand, so they build two massive speakers, lay their curling heads between the boxes, and let the woofers rattle their brains.

The true poetry in this surprising book lies within the interior desire for this absurd quest to manifest and succeed — a feeling of near-preciousness for the childlike optimism, with that nugget of earnest agreement popping through quietly but sincerely. 

What glues together Morena’s multi-faceted approach is autobiographical moments; after all, how can someone truly write about such an incredible and far-reaching piece of human history without injecting their own human history? Morena offers us relation and empathy with the act of compiling a playlist which would exist only to be gifted elsewhere. Though, rather than an entirely unknown species of sentience, his version involves a young woman he’s trying to impress:

I liked to make mixtapes. I would take songs from my CDs and other tapes. I’d wait, listening to the radio, until songs I wanted came on.

Morena’s autobiographical moments span opinion and simple facts of the self. These glimpses add a much richer experience in that we, in the midst of thinking globally and universally, are given a very exact point of existence to conceptualize:

In July 2012, just about the same time Voyager 1 was breaking through the heliosphere, my son was born.

The Voyager Record is as complex as its topic, and Morena leaves no stone unturned. At its core, the book is an examination of humanity’s take on itself — sort of a high-stakes Match dot com profile for extraterrestrials. But the sincerity of the record and Morena’s honest and identifiable interest in its history is an incredible thing, written down with a careful balance of wit and earnest:

Carl Sagan thought that the record might last a billion years. But then it was always a billion with Carl Sagan. We could still put our hands on it. If we wanted we could get it back. All we have to do is move fast enough. Or we could let it go on: forever, more or less.

While the book might taper off as it goes on, it does so while balancing the whimsy with history and deeper explorations of simple questions like What would you have put on the record? or What other kinds of aliens might find this thing? or What else was going down in 1977? Despite moments that might lull, The Voyager Record is unique and creative enough to warrant a beginning-to-end read, and makes looking at another person feel like staring into outer space.

C.J. Opperthauser


C.J. Opperthauser is co-editor of Threadcount Magazine, a journal of hybrid prose. He is the author of Cloud the Shape of Bedroom, published by Tree Light Books. He lives in Providence, RI and blogs at thicketsandthings.tumblr.com.