Elise Houcek

Whose Shirt Was Surely Fleece

I gave up all my charms. Now, on Friday nights, I go to the grocery store and my charms are the soupboxes, the people I see when I look around. I go with my boyfriend and buy him a little treat, something bubbly but uncaffeinated, something with tropical packaging. DO I MEAN DEATH IS MAKING US GET INTO KIDS’ STUFF? Kind of, but not really. Its aspect ratio is kiddie, but the pixels themselves have much more sheen. They let things slide off of them, like a plate, the plate on which I serve dinner to the children I’ll never think of having. Sometimes I wonder if this is the real cause. That it’s not just death’s fault? That I might actually live in the world again, go out to parties, etc? Our bubbly water could be caffeinated. Cruel trick that all cool women will have to face. All women whose faces lag and lapse over the pixelated cart BECAUSE THEY HAD SOME BRIGHT IDEA. MOMMY TOLD YOU NOT TO DO IT! Mommy showed you curdled drinks! But I was too young, a baby who was already a baby. That’s enough, I thought, and went back to sleep. I went back to sleep, since I was the child and the mind of the child at once, since I was just a touch away from snuggling bliss. Mentally. Physically (I looked down at my cart, then at my boyfriend, whose shirt was surely fleece). I told him I wanted us to consider this a date idea. I wanted him to consider that I had come up with this idea and what that meant for us. I had a sneaking suspicion that he himself was into the tropical treats idea, but I learned as a child that men aren’t into sticking with.

“Guarding”

Another evening walk with him in this frenzy-ornamented town. Another lapping lag while on the sidewalk as my blood huffs to get the baton around (too much coke, too much sugar in the break). We pass, among other things, a statue of a lion, who guards the right edge corner of the small white house’s driveway. The statue of the lion is weirdly shaped, as in it’s got its legs folded under it, as in, it’s lying down. I wonder if the lion’s posture is contingent on the kind of home it plays in front of (mine certainly is)–when I’m at LEE’S, all my back can do is lie down and breathe, since it’s not random that they have those things. This house is random, too, but not the words I sent to you while noticing that lion, or that that lion sent to us in the space between our recognizing. “Guarding’s” the word. Guarding’s got fur. As in it came to us in the space between. As in it deputizes the Land of Nod(t) (furry, sleepy children nodding out with the gesture of a paintbrush amidst granite spires, sighing, the gesture of a mouse–baby blue snuggie… baby pink…). So you were saying the lion was doing not that, v lax in front of the port-style house with its trinkets parked in the loading belt. Also, the lion was granite, and so didn’t have any fur. I wondered, or was wondering, after you pointed to the lion weirdly not-guarding his home, his friends (might as well have pointed into the air) looking for the word to describe his failure NOT what word should be filling in the gap but whether it was worth mentioning at all. Whether you were worth it, this breath. Plus, I wanted to save it for myself. I discovered it, I unearthed it in its real beauty, which was not its clicking into this particular question but its clicking more generally.

Semordnilap

Pressing the bulb in the corner of my eye, a bird got caught in a snare, a flare, skittered, then I lay back down and thought I would never get up again. Then I lay back down into the white of my bed’s turf, down through the square of it, the plane, then down again, through the sheets of clouds, the elevation changing, turbulence-sans. I would never return to work again. Would that be a change? Or would it be anti-change? Inertia? I preferred to think the latter, to feel dead momentarily, though still fuzzy. Here from my Saturday-morning casket I watched various phenomena of the eye play in front of me like seeds in the air and a giant red bar of light. Like scenes in the air. Like deconstructed tableaux. How do I do that. I recall the people who have used the term, summon/re-imagine them in my mind like ancestors traveling in a great backwards-flowing line. Xuaelbat detcurtsnoced. The act is noble of itself and light enough to sustain Semordnilap. Is that my name? I do a lap around my sea-bed backwards and upwards-facing, arms outstretched. The names of teachers, mostly, come to me, the names of all my dead teachers. They fall into my open mouth like gently dropping fruit and taste, mmmm, like cherries. Cherries mixed with cream, so less red than pink. O yeah, xuaelbat detcurtsnoced. They’re trying to teach me something. To unteach? Every time I swallow another one, the scenes I watch in front of me on the bed become more and more meshy, less opaque. But no sooner than I think the word MESH, someone whispers YOU GOT IT, then I’m dead.

Elise Houcek’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in NOMATERIALISM, New Delta Review, The Comstock Review, DIAGRAM, Prelude, Afternoon Visitor, Always Crashing, Action Books Blog and other journals. Her poetry chapbook, So Neon Was the Rope, was a semi-finalist for the 2021 Tomaž Šalamun Prize from Verse and will be published by Osmanthus Press in 2022. Her poetic novel, TRACTATUS, is now available for preorder from Spuyten Duyvil. Find her at elisehoucek.com.

Kylie Hough

If I’m Honest

If I’m honest, the sky feels different depending on where I stand. You eat chocolate cake before the movie begins. We all want freedom but I am too scared to ask and you are too stunted to know. I have the feelings I have. You label me a conspiracy theorist but I think the parts of you you don’t show sprout wheatgrass. The earth spins on its axis in a matterless universe and I would like to give it up. You don’t talk behind my back and from time to time we meet and embrace like old friends. I converse with dead people. You come to my thing and insist on paying for copy that wouldn’t exist without you. I brush my teeth and smile white foam when I think of you. There’s a space in your chest where my heart used to be before I gave it to the comma. I sign a blank page with the words, For You Love Me, because I believe in something. You don’t have the feelings you don’t have. I read somewhere that to love a thing means wanting it to live. If it can’t be scientifically proven, you won’t leave the bedroom. It’s the way of us, but if I’m honest, the pursuit of liberation is an oarless raft on a flooded highway.

The Problem with Eggs

I told you it works like eggs. You shrugged your shoulders, said you never knew. I thought, there are a lot of things you don’t know about eggs and guar gum and binding and being bound. You insisted you didn’t feel trapped and questioned me about why sex worked like eggs. Not the polysaccharide composed of two sugars whose composition you would have quizzed me on had I given you the chance. Guar gum is frequently used as a food additive in processed foods. I nodded because we were bound and I couldn’t articulate an answer, only watch you chew steak or tune into the voice in my head that whispered I needed the bathroom or to feign a headache or to go outside and shoo the Great Dane defaecating on our front lawn. None of which I did because it wasn’t my turn and if there was anything more to sleepwalking in clingwrap without a compass, I needed to explore it. Yesterday. Like an egg navigates the oiled sides of a wok there was this feeling I got with you. A join consists of two ropes. One lead from you to race, reach, rage toward me. A gypsy unawares. Last year. There was the way I placed you on the top shelf with the strawberry jam and the Jarlsberg. The way you encouraged me. With a look, you took me by the hand and led me up the carpeted stairwell to the waiting king bed. Splice with me, you said and I placed your hand between my thighs. Instead of thickening, though, you split. This is the problem with eggs.

Her Last De facto

Can you see you’re torturing yourself? he said. Yes, she thought and took his right leg and plucked it from its socket much like she would a carrot from her vegetable garden. She stuck it on a cardboard rectangle by a pane of glass beside a wooden frame on the kitchen counter. You’re not thinking of the future, he said and she raised an eyebrow because she was always thinking of how good it would feel to disarticulate him. She removed his left arm with a lurch and placed it beside his right leg. Do you hear yourself? he said, which was strange because all she ever heard was the sound of his voice. He collapsed into a bar stool, with the face of a chastised puppy, and patted the empty space beside him with his remaining hand. She smiled, took his right arm in her left hand and shook it until it plunged pool-like from his shoulder into her waiting lap. I give and you take, he said. She waggled a finger then took a hacksaw to his head. His left leg came away with a tug. She pondered his parts on the counter and poured herself a gin. Pieces of him she arranged into patchwork. You’re mad, he mouthed mounted on the wall, and to a future replete with framed men, she lifted her glass.

Kylie Hough studies Arts at UNE in Armidale, Australia. A Vice-Chancellor’s Scholar, in 2015 Kylie received the Lucy Elizabeth Craigie Award, the Richard B Smith Memorial Prize, and the Australian Federation of Graduate Women Inc. (AFGW) NSW (Armidale) UNE ARTS AWARD. She was a finalist in the Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction 2018 and is published with Feminartsy, the write launch, Verity LA, and Other Terrain. Kylie is a grateful recipient of a 2021 Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Award Mentorship in Fiction.

Thomas Fink

Dusk Bowl Intimacies 36

Leave the fig leaf alone, and everything could be fine. And she lives to dress up, and she has the right clothes—to milk the province’s uncombed masculine goofiness. Oh, this has been a terrible era for the ardent designer of outcomes reassessment. Fish come swimming up at any hour. To gawk at how bumbling “sapiens” sap sincerest intentions. Call me ancient, uncorseted and uncoveted by fresher generations, but I hereby spurn the charge

of
pickling rust-
plated American tenets.

Dusk Bowl Intimacies 37

That mind is always super-crowded. Yet I don’t want to rue all those particles, if I’ve brewed them wrong. I have to pursue another purse. Pilar has taken the wrong pillar. Indolent fit. Altogether, I think the alimony should turn out fine. But she’s much more than that. She insists on snaking her way out of the cloud sum of blaring indulgences. Bartenders and assorted bystanders hunt for every dent in the reconstituted. Instead, I prime to be a doer. Will you enjoy whatever opening? And the color, too?

Each
time I
see you flush

with
investments, I
get slap happy.

Thomas Fink, a professor of English at CUNY-LaGuardia, is the author of 11 books of poetry, most recently A Pageant for Every Addiction (Marsh Hawk Press, 2020), in collaboration with Maya D. Mason, and Hedge Fund Certainty (Meritage & ie Press, 2019), as well as two books of criticism. He has also edited two critical anthologies.