FLOWER FOR SCAVENGERS
you were left
to the wolves
you were broken
you were half-eaten
and left for the birds
who carried you apart and
when i found your parts
i was whole
Angelo Colavita lives and writes in Philadelphia, where he serves as Founding Editor of Empty Set Press and Associate Editor at Occulum Journal. He is the author of two chapbooks, Flowersonnets (2018) and Heroines (2017), as well as a full-length epic, Nazareth (forthcoming, Apep Publications). His work has appeared in The Shoutflower, Wildness Journal, Bowery Gothic, Madcap Review, Dream Pop, Prolit Magaine, Yes Poetry, and elsewhere. For more info, visit angelocolavita.com or Twitter @angeloremipsum and Instagram @angelocolavita.
Falling is flying
There’s a bird outside my window, tapping like it wants inside. It has no feathers, no flesh, just hollow bones. I guess that they’re hollow. I don’t know for sure. But isn’t that a thing?
Come visit, my father says. I can help. Make smoothies or something.
I wonder what a skeleton bird eats—the husks of dried worms, the shells of fallen seeds.
You don’t have to stay in that apartment, he says.
I wonder if the bird has always been like this or if something tragic has stripped it of everything except its most basic architecture.
Or I can come to you?
Does it miss flight? The rise and fall? Seeing the world from far above? Does it look at other birds with envy?
This kind of thing isn’t easy. You don’t have to do it alone.
Do other birds recognize it as one of their own? Would it want that?
There’s still hope. There’s always hope.
The bird pecks at nothing, maybe just mimicking old habits, the memory of itself, the way it used to be in the world too great to let go of past action and reflexes.
The doctors—he pauses, maybe unsure of how to proceed—they don’t know everything. The world is a wild, mystical place. Strange events happen all the time. You can make it.
The bird keeps tapping and tapping and—
Son? Are you there? Son?
If it sings, I haven’t heard. I crack the window and wait to see what it will do.
Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared recently in the American Literary Review, the Cincinnati Review, and the Maine Review, among others. He is a senior editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at www.evanjamessheldon.com.
I see them. On the bus, the three of them crowd the back, and the mother—I assume, sits between the children. The boyish child grins, snapping their suspenders, while the other quieter one runs a dirty fingernail back and forth along the red ribbon tightened against their neck. This child’s dark hair is the colour of smoke looming upwards from a forest fire to an enormous night sky. The woman is not a ghost, though she always makes me think of one. Not because of her fading, silvery hair or soft outline, but rather—and I say this carefully and honestly—because she is, always, the same.
She reminds me of someone I cannot remember, and she is always with the children, who have always been children as they are now, on the bus, or last week in the cereal aisle at Safeway, or two years ago at the rusty playground by the pond, or every year since I was seven, at different bus stops around town, miserably gray under the rain, snow, sleet, or sun, old boots two sizes too big rising up to their knees. Only the quiet one ever seems to see me and sneaks looks from behind their hair. Sometimes, when I lie in bed or in the tub with eyes closed, they glare at me, hair and skin shiny as though wet.
I follow them off the bus. The sky is overcast, and perhaps that is why they appear shadowless, but people do not seem to notice them as they walk past. Even six feet away, I cannot hear their steps or smell their odour, though they move quickly in soiled clothes cracked with mud.
The family reaches the park. One-by-one, they slide through an opening in a tall hedge, a shortcut to the playground. Then, light flashes from behind a shifting cloud, a mist lifts, and the woman’s mouth reminds me of my mother’s smile when she was delighting in some trite debauchery, like sharing the last slice of rhubarb pie with me instead of my brother. Her tunic snags on a branch. The thinned, yellow cotton is just like the towel Mom had used to dry her hands before that afternoon disaster.
They disappear through the hedge, and I follow. But there is no one on the other side. A nearby fluttering alerts me to a brown sparrow struggling in a tangle of red string that trails along the hedge like blood in a long vein, leading all the way to a tiny cabin, where, in the pond out front, a bath ducky floats sideways, half its body and beak steeping in leaf-littered water. The porch stairs should creak, the door opens too easily against the graze of my hand, and the mother isn’t behind the door, but the quiet one stands alone—without her brother—her ribbon undone, and I remember an imminent neck wound as I lift my hand to touch her small face, to tell her that what happened that afternoon was no one’s fault—her brother was too eager and weak to go to the pond—and her mother should know that she was only a child who could not yet distinguish between playing dead and being dead. But as my thumb touches a tear by her lip, it is a mirror I am holding in a white, cold room, and I am naked except for a blue cloth tied loosely around my body, and she grips my hands, shaking, wanting to scream.
And we break her quiet.
Vina Nguyen’s stories or poems have found homes online or in anthologies by Every Day Fiction, The Selkie, and the Alexandra Writers Centre Society. She’s a recent winner of Lida Literary Magazine’s Flash Fiction Contest and has produced two EPs with her brooding trip-hop x pop band, Vina After Dark, while crafting moody, surreal novels. She wants to eat fewer potato chips. Find her on Instagram: @ambidextrous_pencil (writing); @vinaafterdark (music).
The sound of time lurching to a halt is silence
and the windscreen wipers make no sound
although I feel the thud of them,
my reflection pale and drowning in the glass.
You float or burn, this I understand.
Fear in my throat like wet rope,
a choke of feral terror, and dreams of
fur, blood, smeared smiles.
Can you taste me, smell me?
The sour earth yielding as raindrops fall
with the wet slap of meat on a butcher’s board.
I keen into the night, driving hard, foot down
to the metal,
pools of saliva in the crannies beneath my tongue, spit it out girl,
spit them out, the curses, incantations,
the sheer, hateful, excitement
of aftershock beyond regret.
Let the residue dry into the tarmac,
hiss under the headlights.
Survival doesn’t mean you didn’t die.
Sadie Maskery (Twitter @saccharinequeen) was a singer until March 2020 but now she is not quite sure what she is. Publications/accepted submissions in 2020 include Green Ink Poetry (Crossroads and Safeguard issues), Hedgehog Press (Wish You Were Here anthology), Seaborn Magazine (January 2021 issue), Not Very Quiet (Memoir issue), Odd Magazine (October 2020 Food issue), East Lothian Life (issue tbc), and Canary Wharf’s Short Édition short story machine.