Benjamin Paloff

    A Trick of Certain Ambassadors

Symbiosis, my daughter explains: I charge the electric toothbrush, and the electric toothbrush keeps my mouth clean. Fuck it. My Talmudic approach to writing has made me afraid of writing, and while writing, too, I am afraid, as in the ritual that precedes a run or lift or sex, the artful lacing and unlacing and readjusting, the learned wariness of the gerundial, the participial, the abstract, of their frailty against more muscular expressions, though they are everywhere, and genuinely both human and nonhuman—afraid of falling somehow short, or of falling, like Holden Caulfield, into a void with every step, though it’s only ever the stepping I wish for. Too much, you say, a guy’s book. You prefer the other. And I’m hung up on the sound of approaching engines over the sea, nature’s sound machine. An airplane, but too slow to be an airplane, the kind of undertow that can pull you so far out and down and fast, if only in my fears, that I’d have to plan an entirely different way of life, while the actual day is petty annoyances, the music frustrated by you reading silently to yourself. The street light we know is broken by its remaining on in daylight. The bullfinches’ begging we take for song. Not everyone has to sing for his supper. But the bullfinches face each other on the landing, heads low, wings splayed, and approach, retreat, approach again before parting ways, seeing reason the way a horse, fresh from the farrier, sees wonders in the sparks rising from her feet. People like me, on the other hand, are always looking out for people looking out for an angle, or else taking things for what they are, which usually means someone getting hurt. It’s excruciatingly difficult not to be distrustful when people declare April the cruelest month, when what they really mean is that April is the cruelest month for them, and the starfish-shaped shimmers along the invisible edge could be anything. Ships. Or some animal’s idea of a miracle. Or some jokester’s idea of a joke.

What They Do to Cowards
Around Here

Urine is cleaner than saliva, my wife has been telling me for twenty-five years, apropos of no latest study, wilderness first aid, no kink or would-be kink, just trying something out, and I have no reason to contradict or doubt anything said by anyone who has taken care of me. Even the surly, handsome pigeon walking laps around the backyard seems to agree that the world is everything that is a stat, that a dream about the inner lives of bees can end with an actual bee stinging me on my actual mouth. Peeing on the wound is out of the question, so I wake up every morning afraid that my father is already dead and beyond the ease of his casual 1940s racism, his enviable void of introspection, his hazy friendship with Mudcat Grant. Blues singer, two-time All-Star, pitches Game 1 of the ‘65 World Series, Yom Kippur, Sandy Koufax refuses to pitch for the Dodgers, so Mudcat beats Don Drysdale, later a Hall-of-Famer. You can still be afraid of something that has already happened. The Twins lose the series in seven. My father laughed every time he mentioned that Mudcat had a brother named Swampfire, who also played pro ball, because he could never remember what he had or had not said. Had I seen, with today’s documentary precision, the bees flying in and out of a hole in the ground and wondered what it was like inside? Was Mudcat grinning down at me as I opened my eyes, awed by how the earth’s blackness is lined with workers working toward a common purpose? I had been holding an eye to the ground, innocent eclipse, and felt lightning only after pulling away. Somewhere, I am still in crisis. The bees are still in crisis. We are all still ringed by trees, though it is only the outermost ring of the tree that’s alive.

Twenty-Nine Sonnets

As we speak, most of the animals in Australia, which is no more an island than any other continent, are thinking of new ways to kill us. I am thinking about the garage’s postapocalyptic Zen, its diorama of a world where you just let things be. There are indeed other geographies. The planet where the wind moves so fast you wouldn’t call it “wind” if you were there—that’s also the planet where it rains hot glass. Where it rains diamonds, everyone is filthy rich, and dead. The planet that’s blue is not really blue. It’s a trick of the light, the atmosphere, the mood, an artist’s conception. The planet where people kill people for land, or for what’s beneath the land, is covered in lead and peace signs. People will do what the wind tells them, they’ll flee to where it flees. Australia, I liked my youth, the stupid clarity of my youth. We used to be primordial, too. The moon used to be closer. Pure sentiment, calling other planets’ moons moons. Dig deep enough, and you’ll hit roots that form stairs. Proximity matters, especially where winter is the price we pay for spring. As surely as there are loves that bring no joy, there’s no right way to be young. There being no Hebrew saints as such, I became possessive. I wanted to track down the guy who took it upon himself to decide what size fun is and not exactly kick the shit out of him, as if mentions belonged to me alone. I imagine plenty of others escape their pasts, you have to carry your trash with you till you find where to throw it away, but the Sargasso Sea is mine, so I have to ask what the point is of any sex or famine going on in my absence. I have to wonder about the invisible artist who keeps the plants alive on the landing, rearranges the dead butterflies daily, and comes and goes with the giddiness of gulls, loud and cruel. Silver dollars being worth more or less depending on the manner of death, I want a leisure-pages poolside funeral, cucumber coins on my eyes, on everyone’s eyes, for fun. We follow the devoted marketer; we’re dying to be revived. Yet I’d to innocence submit in truth, if doing so might give me back my youth. Which to our hope then gives the lie, that sleep’s a property of the eye. In the twenty-first century, slow seeing’s sorry art is excited by the ex-president’s paintings. They’re consistent with the technology of the time, yet patchwork, like Luke Skywalker’s mechanical hand or, really, anyone’s mechanical hand. The angels have faces quite unlike those in art books. The sirens are singing their baited hooks just to drown you on the sand. To see the forward-facing footprints of the backward-walking man.

Benjamin Paloff’s books include the poetry collections And His Orchestra (2015) and The Politics (2011), both from Carnegie Mellon, as well as a critical volume and many translations. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Conduit, New American Writing, The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and others, and he was the guest editor of the Fall 2019 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review. Twice a fellow of the NEA, he lives in Michigan.

Rich Ives

An Inevitable Territory

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

I try not to have any beliefs that don’t nibble on who I am or at least climb outside my inner territory, where they can become more than mere bright worms of knowing, like an exotic flavor perhaps; anise, fennel, caraway. When the ideas are forming, they look like bird droppings, and dangerous ignorance from my enemies falls away. This follows a pattern. I always question them three times to give them a sense of bold black and yellow stripes along their fresh green youth lines. They become an undulating tube of matter that walks on many legs to its own escape. It feels like a beautiful dark rising after its isolation, a flight of erratic testing careening softly above its own body.

Of course inside was once outside and outside will soon be back inside before it’s released altogether. Nothing under the sun is really new, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling completely reborn. Once I collected imaginary pianolas, one of them anyway, and pounded on it and teased it different ways to make it deceive me into multitudinous emanations that you’d swear had another source, a grand variety that was mine and not the pianola’s after all, but I felt rich with it and freed.

It’s what apologies do to you. When you make them to yourself, for your ignorance. Voluptuous tired little savages they are, and they can surround you with melody until you think you’re going to explode with such sacred knowing, but with such a record of silence, God will surely shut up soon. The little celery-worm ideals will turn back to what they once were, back to protecting their escaping flights from hungers with the smell of rancid butter. These cannot be everyone’s beauties that I experience, and I take upon myself a drab coloring to match the season. Sometimes my winter restrains me, but a warmth like two rows of yellow dots, bright, progressive and oozing the warmth of Spring, calls me back to my anchored body.

My beliefs are larger than the others now, feminine and blue, the yellow spots joined with orange, behind me in an imitation flight that follows and balances me. I can see two males fighting with their soft wild beautiful wings. I am the territory they will claim, and it’s more like my fulfillment and completion than you might imagine. I watch them pursue red-wing blackbirds, black t-shirts, anything beautiful or invasive, and I’m drawn deeper into myself with their impulsive desires.

And No More

Blister Beetle

I’ve been a parasite, I admit, but I’m growing. Life comes at us in stages. At first I couldn’t even use my legs, but I shed that skin and dug a chamber to live in while I built my final form, soft-bodied, short-winged, long-necked, brightly colored, and even iridescent, it seemed to me.

I worked on an oil rig where the locals called us oil beetles. We felt it inside us and oozed. Our body oil, we joked, made a kind of Spanish Fly, poisonous in larger doses. It stimulates hair growth in the right dilution.

We watched the cattle on the plains, wading below the cutbank like bored children. We offered them our own boredom, and they entertained it. Our little yellow dog was out there all day, looking for something he couldn’t understand. We waited for a more human wilderness.

The boys liked to break things because we were broken, and we still wanted to make something of ourselves, but Hayden, the one we thought of as our leader, wouldn’t crack, so we filled his boots full of rain. He stood outside himself and watched us, breathy, a great expanse shrinking toward maturity, where the hiss of his lithium gave just this much and no more.

The work gave us blisters. Weeks descended, and the grand tendon of Hayden’s neck still twitched while we tended at a distance his remarkable ardent fits of attention. The house his papa left him, long after his papa left him, brought the garden of a separated man into Hayden’s life, shaded and rife, slipping muscular and lean between unguent and Montana trillium.

That life he carried like meat, packed in and beaten against itself. When one of us passed the dream around, he let his cigarette down, and his eyes said, This is the last stick, and the last stick falls just hard enough to continue.

His deliberate downward motion fell against the earthy tendencies of his own body.

Just this much now and no more.

Rich Ives’ books include Light from a Small Brown Bird (Bitter Oleander Press–poetry), Sharpen (The Newer York—fiction chapbook), The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking (What Books–stories), Old Man Walking Home in the Dark (Cyberwit-poems), A Servant’s Map of the Body (Cyberwit-fiction) and Tunneling to the Moon (Silenced Press–hybrid).

Jeffrey Hecker

from Ark Aft

Boar & Cow

Boar notices Noah’s wife’s name varies depending on source text. Haikal
introduced herself to me as Percoba, says Cow, yet Vesta to Boar. You
think Emzara’s trying not to be identified? You think Norea doesn’t know
who Tytea is? asks Boar. Both ideas can be true, says Cow, I believe she’s
twenty names deep so we remember her husband, who never talks to us.

Ferret & Hamster

Ferret posts I feel everything I ever fancy or require within reach.
Ferret’s alcoholism perturbs me, posts Hamster. I clench apexes,
zeniths, vertexes, apogees, pinnacles, Ferret re-posts. Hamster
re-posts Ferret intakes so much Stolichnaya vodka, her eyelids
Alice blue, after a gown Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter danced once.

Hedgehog & Horse

Hedgehog wakes ready for a four-hour day of listening and smelling.
Horse wakes not quite ready for a twenty-two hour day of monitoring.
Hedgehog is lactose intolerant. Horse cannot vomit. Hedgehog road-
fatality is highest in Ireland. Ancient Egypt and Late Middle Ages ate
Hedgehog. Horse subtracts and adds up to four. Horse hates violin.

Hyena & Kangaroo

Male nipples aren’t broken doorbells, chimes Hyena. Kangaroo
contrasts more to evolutionarily defunct switches, perhaps once
allowing the chest cavity to unfasten or lock. Was the body too
open, and needed shut? Hyena says surgeons removed mine.
After non-profit research, I firmly reckon they were sand dollars.

Tiger & Lion

Tiger asks Lion what type fire should we be, if we die wise?
Lion answers the class D metal kind. Rain upon us, we just
accelerate. Lion asks Tiger what type water should we be if
we die dim? Tiger answers I want us triple filtered, reverse
osmosis, sprayed, Delta Maidenhead ferns convert us to air.

Mouse & Skunk

Mouse accuses Skunk of eating the whole honeybee population
in Brattleboro, Vermont. Skunk’s burrow is busted. Millions
of bee wings coat the inner walls like high-quality Muscovite
windows. The tubular house smells embalmed. Mouse cracks
a few wings for ventilation. Fertile clay sand silt buries us all.

Jeffrey Hecker is the author of Rumble Seat (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011) and the chapbooks Hornbook (Horse Less Press, 2012), Instructions for the Orgy (Sunnyoutside Press, 2013), and Before He Let Them Guide Sleigh (ShirtPocket Press, 2013). Recent work has appeared in La Fovea, LEVELER, decomP, Entropy, BOAAT, Dream Pop Journal, and DELUGE. He holds a degree from Old Dominion University. He’s a fourth-generation Hawaiian American and he currently resides in Norfolk, Virginia, where he teaches at The Muse Writers Center.

Brad Rose

What We Can Name

I have thoughts, but I don’t write them down. Something is watching me. I wasted most of my luck in the daylight. Once, I saw a horse drown in a lake. I don’t think it was acting. A lake is a body of water, surrounded by land. Water has no color or shape, it’s true no matter what it does. They say ants speak to each other with chemicals, even when they whisper. There are 120 thousand kinds of ants, some as big as a bullet, others no larger than a secret. When I called the help line, the voice said, Please continue to hold. So, I did. I’m clean-cut, even when time isn’t on my side. When they answered, I told them I needed to speak with an experienced attorney, one who knows about the death penalty. Most nights, I pretend to sleep. That way I don’t need to wake up. They say anything that can be done to a person will be done. Go ahead, turn the lights back on. We only see what we can name. By the way, what do your enemies call you?

After Dawn

I’ll bet the people in the car ahead of us have thoughts, although there’s no such thing as a perfect translation. Once, while hiding in my basement, I drew a picture of a whisper. I used an ordinary pencil. I had no choice. It’s quiet inside a mountain—coal-dark, the aftertaste of ants. Some people see God. Thirteen feet deep, I saw a hole in the light. I’m handpicked and reliable, no stranger to the undertow of chance. I’ve learned not to bite the hook that feeds me. Becky said they discovered human remains, but in a good way. You still have to boil them before they’re sterile. I’m an e-citizen in the digital world, I lead a quiet life. You can read about it in the Great Big Picture Book of Problems, or just send up a trial balloon. It can be any color you like, as long as it isn’t black. Be sure to keep an eye out. You wouldn’t want it to get tangled in the shadow puppets’ strings. They can be real mean. Just because the puppets don’t have bodies, doesn’t mean you can’t hear them thinking. Sure, they can be hard to hunt down, even harder to erase, but they’ll circle back this way, sometime after dawn. Don’t worry. This time, we’ll get them.

Brad Rose was born and raised in Los Angeles, and lives in Boston. He is a sociologist, and author of a collection of poetry and flash fiction, Pink X-Ray (Big Table Publishing, 2015) His new book of poems, Momentary Turbulence is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Brad’s website is: www.bradrosepoetry.com. A list of publications is available here: http://bradrosepoetry.blogspot.com/. Audio recordings can be heard at: https://soundcloud.com/bradrose1.

Howie Good

Murder! Fire! Plague!

The next morning you insisted, “There’s no such thing as love. There’s only fucking.” If you heard the gray gulls, their shrieks like symptoms of dementia, you gave no sign. It was a bit like that time the sun crashed down, flinging up dead cats and dung, and foreign words were blowing everywhere. There was this feeling among householders that something even more terrible — hooded gunmen with Kalishnikovs firing on police, a mom leaving her baby in a dumpster to freeze to death — would eventually happen. And, sure enough, darkness and flies entered despite the jar of buttercups on the table brightening the room.

The Heart of It All

Her eyes were sometimes blue, sometimes green with flecks of gold, all the things, restless things, I was instructed from early in life never to do. We found a high window filled day and night and laid down under it and moved slowly, so slowly that by morning we had rubbed each other as smooth as sea-smoothed shells. And when we rose up, the world looked strange. It was a place of beauty, I can tell you that, a circular path, spiraling even, and no one was really sure why but us.

From the Middle of Nowhere

No one could say when it was that the hospital began admitting children. At that time of night, the road is dark, and pedestrians don’t really go there. The next day only brought more illegibility, a slow-creeping rain during which bankrupts leaped out of windows. The police recommended calling if it happened again. Look around. A horse is not a metaphor. If I were you, I wouldn’t go out without a companion. What I assumed was the Atlantic, greasy and barely moving, a gull resting its head under a wing, may have been a new god seated on a throne of razor wire.

The Desert of the Real

It was a downtown full of ugly glass towers. I have never been able to understand the attraction to tall structures, have you? One evening I attended the city’s famous theater. A series of nudes rode across the stage on ostriches and camels under the admiring gaze of former Nazis in tuxedos. Afterward, in a reflective mood, I decided against taking the metro and to walk back to the hotel despite the fog and drizzle. A friend had recently killed herself. Pills. At her memorial service, the first eulogist had proclaimed, “To hell with facts!” I shook my head at the memory. About five minutes later, I stepped into the brightly lit lobby with an odd feeling of relief, only to discover that none of it had happened, that it was all merely a collection of words, some bandaged, others still bleeding.

Blip

No one had ever told us what would happen in the event of defeat. Then the tornados showed up, sometimes alone, more often in pairs and small groups. Even the crows fell — or, rather, were blown — out of the sky. At least one man in attendance regarded it as a baleful omen. The rest assumed it was just a blip. But, very soon, antediluvian gods faded into rain, the flickering surface of uproarious dreams.

Howie Good’s latest poetry collections are Bad for the Heart (Prolific Press) and Dark Specks in a Blue Sky (Another New Calligraphy). He is recipient of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry for his forthcoming collection Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements.