how yellow light floods the room
The yellow light begins to bleed, and I lose the feeling in my fingertips,
like a location on a map, like something I just can’t sink a pin into,
like, something we don’t yet want to put a name to—
— it hurts, the rot, the emptiness,
when i catch your gaze across the room,
and see hollow bodies half-way into hollow tombs,
so i lie
say the room is too large and the light is too bright—
your gaze is too thin and your lips too tight, i—
move us both across the country,
make any excuse, call it god’s will to do,
call you by her name
in the darkened room, carve out the hollow the sound took,
but never take the feeling with it— this is what emptiness was built to do, so—
i bankrupt us in the process,
and it doesn’t make it any better,
it doesn’t even make it worse, it just doesn’t
change anything at all—
everything’s just stuck on loop —
you and the liquor bottle,
turning every word into nothing,
and then you saying my name
like a word to carve your teeth into—
until, it stops looking like fruit—
juicy, ripe, saccharine, and instead like meat,
like flesh, like human skin, and bone, and cartilage—
and you get so bored of it,
that you start to cannibalise the love i felt for you,
You’re good at it, aren’t you?
— but this is just how the yellow light looks,
this is the meaning of the word swallowing,
this is the meaning of the word smothering—
and by now, the yellow light will shine through,
all of our future children and future lovers and
future hands we might hold and think of one another and
want to tear to pieces—
because it doesn’t just end like this, you
are imprinted in me — empty room, shallow breathing,
carnivorous face, eyes ripe like dark fruit —
i want to have you, like a hacksaw wants a blade —
i’ll call this how to get the bleeding started,
how to get the yellow out of the carpet, whatever we try it will always stay—
the yellow light reflected in your face, desperate
to find a home to ruin, a place to stay, and it’ll
call itself her name — another feeling
that can never be carved out —
it will always stay, we will always stay —
Because this is what the yellow light is, it’s better than nothing. And
nothing is what remains.
Lucy Cundill is a poet and prose fiction writer from Chesterfield, now living in Norwich, where she studies English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She has been published in The Writers’ Café Magazine, Full House Literary Magazine, Concrete, the Life Lines zine, and the UEA Undergraduate Creative Writing Anthology. Her work can be found @ futile.devicez on Instagram.
In the Next Town Over
The night isn’t dark enough that it feels like night. You can easily see the tire marks you’ve left along the road, where you skidded across the double yellow lines and onto the opposite shoulder. It’s close to 11 pm. You’re looking at the gouges in the embankment, where you braked suddenly and in doing so, threw gravel into the ditch. You glance up to where you can see trees outlined against the sky, and further along, in the distance, the glow of streetlights at city limits.
Your hands are trembling, which is a phenomenon you’ve heard of, but have never witnessed. It’s involuntary; both of your hands are quivering and useless, so you keep them low, against your sides, though it doesn’t help at all. You cross your arms and tuck your hands into your armpits, then into your pockets, and you light a cigarette because you want to calm down. But you forget to inhale. You aren’t breathing deeply enough for the cigarette to have an affect, and your inability to perform even that simple task infuriates you.
In a rare moment of self-awareness, you see yourself sitting at the wheel, as if you are in the passenger seat and you are looking at another person. But it is you who is in the driver’s seat. Despite knowing this, you look over at the driver, and see a person who is no longer you. You see her eyes, lower lids brimming with tears. And you see her clenched jaw and the slight mole along the jawline, near her ear. Your first lover called it an ambitious freckle. You would like to have that way with words, to know how to flatter and rename, how to explain away details that you’d prefer not to acknowledge. Like the blood along the fender and in the wheel well – it was likely only an animal that you hit. They’re behaving differently this year, coming out of the woods in search of food.
From the passenger seat, you watch the driver look down at her feet and then at the car keys in her right hand. You see her check the rear view mirror before starting the car, moving from parked to reverse to neutral. You note the dark huddled mass of the body in the ditch, next to the embankment. Then the you that is no longer you steps on the gas pedal, and there is a loud revving before the car slips into drive and is gone. You aren’t in that car anymore, not even in the passenger seat. You are floating away above it, watching as the indigo blue body of the vehicle follows the roadway into the city. You watch as the car becomes smaller and smaller, until it is only an inconsequential blue rectangle sliding past farmland, past houses, past specific details, moving into the membrane of the city, anonymous.
Pamela Mosher lives in Ottawa, Canada with her wife and their two young children. Pamela’s writing has been published in journals such as The New Quarterly, Contemporary Verse 2, EVENT, and Grain Magazine. She has been shortlisted for the Writers’ Union of Canada Short Prose Competition for Emerging Writers, and has won the Young Buck Poetry Prize.
Let me bend your bones into a shape that is pleasing
and finger my proudest of your scars.
My earnest hands will carve you an effigy.
Sawdust in your eyes sawdust
down your throat.
A chisel is love’s tool,
listen to its language of impact.
When you’re born I’ll baptize you in oil
and raise your lacquered surface high.
You are the origin of all ornament.
Your Jewelry gifts summon legacies of extraction.
Clothe me, and watch
boots become lipstick to mark our moon.
This acceleration means one day I will leave you
unrecognizable. My love is the transforming kind.
My love can make great glass halos.
The sun has never been my only need
and I do not admire the silt of riverbanks.
My bloom is selfish.
I pedal the only honest romance
as promises cannot hunt,
My suitors land from all over
having donning formal wings
for an easy exit.
They make me blush,
tapping out their flattery
on delicate feet.
The hit-it and quit-it mentality
of pollinators has always confounded me.
How quickly they commit
to one fall after another.
They do not know these heartstrings
Do they find my mouth aberrant?
Legs scrambling, it hurts to feel their affection
dissolve. I tell them
there are worse ways to be tied down than this,
to enjoy the last heat of the day
and the sound of rushing water.
The Deadest Things
In unseasonably warm weather
I will drive to the graveyard to go digging.
I shovel up selfish piles
and in the mud I find the deadest things
to play with. I squeeze them into odd shapes.
See all the ways they burn in the sun.
I admire where they sparkle, and the way some still sing.
It’s easy to savor their perfumes.
But Sometimes I hold one for too long. Sometimes I begin to burn,
and feel myself being pressed into strange shapes.
So I bury it again, deeper each time
and hope that one day I’ll only dig up dirt.
Henry Mai is a recent graduate from the College of Wooster. He currently lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.
What We Saw in the River
We huddled in the grass at the edge of the river and stared at the face-down man on top of the water. His shorts were red, his t-shirt striped and torn. The hair on the back of his head was wavy and gray like a poodle’s fur.
The bottoms of my feet were burning. I’d been told not to go down to the river barefoot, but I couldn’t find my flip-flops that morning. Rocks, bottle caps, broken glass. I imagined sharp intruders breaking into my skin, blood spilling on the grass.
My sister poked the man with a stick.
“He should’ve been more careful,” she said.
The man had either fallen after drinking too much whiskey, or he’d been pushed into the river by another whiskey-drinking man. It was possible, too, my sister said, that both men had been having a fine time with their bottle of whiskey until the dead man said your mother to the other man, which made the man so angry that he pushed his friend into the river.
“Where do you think the other man is?” I asked my sister.
She paused in her poking and said, “The pusher? Oh, he’s at home watching TV and drinking whiskey.”
She leaned in closer to the water and to the man’s body, her feet safe in their sandals. She wanted to turn the man over, to see his face up-close. She wanted to know for sure what we already knew—that this was a dead man and not a man pretending to be dead.
My sister poked the backs of the man’s white legs with her stick. She poked him in his arms and on the back of his neck. She was quiet in her poking.
I didn’t want to be at the river with my sister and her stick and the stink of the dead man anymore. I made my way back to the path, until I stepped on something hard and had to stop.
My sister came running with her stick. She sat me down and looked at my foot.
“Something got you,” she said, but we couldn’t see anything but blood and dirt.
It hurt, but not as much as the man in the river had hurt, falling or being pushed in. Or maybe it had happened so fast that the man hadn’t felt a thing.
My sister was standing up again, stick in hand. I asked her how long she thought he’d been dead, river muck sticking to his skin. Instead of answering, she poked me in the leg with her stick. She poked me in my arm and on my shoulder, just like she had done to the dead man. I tried to get up, but my foot wouldn’t let me. I looked for my sister in the girl standing above me, but I couldn’t find her.
“You should’ve been more careful,” she said.
Lisa Korzeniowski writes fiction and poetry in Boston, MA where she lives with her husband and two cats. Her fiction has been featured in Fanzine, Opium, and The Drum. Her work was chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2020. Find her on Instagram @lisa_korzeniowski and Twitter @LKorzeniowski.
Nightshift for the ER Doctor
Gunshot wounds are the new normal. The mulberry tunnels
down to the meat, bone burst
to new teeth by lead bullets. The petal-bloom of blood
through gauze when pressure
is applied. Just yesterday, a bad wreck—a driver thrown
from the car and shaved
by the ground, and the asphalt’s striations tattooed into
the flesh. After two days in
recovery, the wounds scab into a henna design. But the night
shift doesn’t keep me
from sleeping, from reading the story of the wolf eating
the grandmother when my daughter
asks for it. Tonight, a little girl is wheeled into an exam room,
her cheek cleaved from mouth
to ear in a permanent half-laugh, unzipped. She doesn’t
remember her own name.
At the sight of my suture needle and its silver moon-curve,
she sways beneath the light’s
whir, her eyelids shuttering like camera clicks. I begin
to close the wound. As I sew,
her pigtails lurch with my pull and push, and through the split-
open gill, I glimpse her swollen
tongue wetting teeth and gums as if to check and see what else
was lost. My needle punctures
through the soft tissues, going in silver and coming back red,
and I mend like a toymaker,
clenching the slit where the white stuffing would have poked
through. It will be weeks
before she can speak without pain, the scar an ugly Joker
smirk that will linger
into adulthood. I know I will have my first nightmare in years.
October Spell In Indiana
Midnight takes a swig, swallows
this stretch of I-65 South. My radio
stations begin to overlay like photos
in a collage—the corners of achy breaky
glued to late-night R&B—failed
self-tuning. Someone’s wished
the stars away. The moon is a crystal ball
in the cinch of a witch’s gloved
hand, my car a captainless flashlight
sweeping these empty curves
of highway. I’m singing but not really
singing, blessing myself with muttered
prayer—Lord cover me
in your blood. Let me make it home.
I am tapping morse code onto
the steering wheel’s belly-bend
when dust, no, smoke swarms overhead, a fire
gutting the sky of a few coats
of black. A car has crashed into the Jersey
wall, it’s front crumpled like a paper
basketball, fire folding around it
like the jaws of a Venus flytrap, melting
the paint like acid. As I pass, I see the driver’s
side profile, a black construction-paper-cutout
against amber and sandstone. The flames
snap like a wishbone pulled between my
two fists in childhood. I cross myself—
Lord cover me in your blood. Let me—
In the near distance, the Meadow Lake
windmills rouse from darkness, giant crosses
in their frozen waves. And then eyes,
each windmill’s solitary red light blinking
to life at once, proof that this land
is always sleeping and waking. The driver in front
of me thrusts a pale arm out of their window,
flicks a still-lit cigarette butt to the cold,
the black and orange of ash and heat
scuttering beneath my car, searching
for something new to spark. The windmill
lights come on, go out at once, hundreds
of cameras recording. My prayer gets lost
in the radio’s mangling—
Lord cover me
your blood. Let me
make it home.
Taylor Byas is a Black poet and essayist from Chicago. She lives in Cincinnati, where she is a second year PhD student and Albert C. Yates Scholar at the University of Cincinnati. She is a reader for The Rumpus and The Cincinnati Review, and the Poetry Editor for Flypaper Lit. If you don’t follow the Lit Mag Live Tweets Twitter page, a page that posts mini-reviews of writers’ work in lit mags, you should, because she’s the one behind it! Her work appears or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Hobart, Pidgeonholes, The Rumpus, SWWIM, Jellyfish Review, Empty Mirror, and others.