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ISSUE 2

what does it mean to experiment?

LYRA ISSUE 2.png

cover art by
Michael Emerald

Contents:

Muhammed Olowonjoyin

A Stretch Into A Season Of Dust And Fire

Venus

Haibun For Chasm

Carolyn Guinzio

DEEP PIT

IF ONLY

MAYBE MAYBE NOT

ROOT OF

Sophie Hoss

SPEAKING OF

Papers in the Wind

Carleen Tibbetts

the black box has a name

the door is not a simple proposition

when you breathe, listen for the horses in your chest

to speak a thing is also to change it

Gregg Willard

A Wall of Masks 

Dominique Elliott

All Girls Like Books

I Can See Right Through You

Andrew Nelson

strange conglomeration

Mikki Aronoff

What the Dog's Mouth Knows

Liam Strong

BRIEF NOTE FROM EDITOR: thanks to anyone stopping by! Really, all I want for Christmas is a ceasefire NOW. If you're here to enjoy the issue, you better go organize, annoy your reps, and speak in solidarity with the Palestine after reading. You're here for language, right? So do what the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets didn't: anything. (For example, Perloff loved to see a poetics post-identity, as if the term 'post-identity' was anything more than complicity with white hegemonic norms written in the air of authority). By that, I mean acknowledging that a tongue understood is a privilege. And so are listeners. And voice, and sound. Sonority. Even the ring of early-morning Church bells, as opposed to air raid sirens.

 

Y'all, language exists at intersections. We see the most powerful capital puppeteering media to deprive Gazan cries, and voice, of their tenor - that sound of humanity. All I ask is that if you're lucky - as I am - to feel here language at play with impunity, you have a responsibility to hear the absences carved in the language of the oppressed. Don't ignore them. 

- Jacob Ahana-Laba

anti-elegy about breaking & its other synonyms

the things we have in common

Schrödinger’s box on delivery from Amazon

double you

poem in which your trans brother and/or sister remedy the high arches in their feet

editors note: some pieces are viewable docs out of necessity because tech hates me

Muhammed Olowonjoyin

A Stretch Into A Season Of Dust And Fire

The dust is building up again. The wind is succumbing to a harshness that’s ravaging it the way my body succumbs to how this place turns us into brittle things awaiting a fall. My grandma is five months away from our atmosphere and I’m twenty three years deep into the flesh of my existence — scathed from every time another labyrinth becomes me like a wound. I tend to it to not get lost. I wonder how to separate these suns of different desolations from the skies but the world says we have to live through all of it at once. The news from yesterday, like the suns in continuum, will repeat themselves today and still be true.  Our kings are fire-breathing monsters in a place that breathes fire. The dust is building up again and I’ll have to start searching for myself in the pith of my disillusionment — stretching towards a faraway light in the eyes of a god to make hope true. Say that each moment of consciousness is a grief becoming. The afternoon precipitates it on our tongues but we say it’s a laugh. An attempt to make something true, or deny it: the suns that burn us to say they brighten our paths; the moons that lead us through the gloomy nights to say these are vinyls housing memories of dahlia and anemones. The world is on fire and we own our miseries like broken skins. I step into the street and another boy is drenched in the wrath of this country — a language of burns — a familiar language of silence bombarding through him.

Haibun For Chasm 

Without the alprazolam / you wake earlier than everyone / yourself inclusive / you’re what you don’t recognize / but you say you’re true / truest in absence / but there’s a terror / ravaging to go beyond your cells / you / a road bridged together / by a structure that now crumbles // you feel the dust in your hands / blood sucked into your mouth / you spit / you know where it came from / your arms sting / the music deafens the rain outside / but how much mint sewn into a song can pacify a ruined thing? // you step into the cold as though awaiting / a savior / to stitch you / but there isn’t / you sink your back into the waters that towers the grasses as the angry rains continue / to stomp on your stinging arms.

 

To lull a storm…

A boy soaks himself in

The clouds till dawn.

Bio: Muhammed Olowonjoyin [TPC III] is a Nigerian poet. Winner of the 2023 The Dawn Prize for Poetry, his poems have featured or are forthcoming in Best Small Fictions, Olney Magazine, Gutter Magazine, Pepper Coast Lit. Stanchion, Nigeria Newsdirect, Brittle Paper, The Sunlight Press, and elsewhere. A Best of The Net nominee, he tweets @APerSe_.

Carolyn Guinzio

DEEP PIT

Needs filling if you have large washer from the days of many clothes if they are all gone over now we can help each other out no one wants to see so deep into earth roots of loblolly and locust if they seem hard and angry it is because Meanwhile in Arkansas gone over means anything from Oklahoma to the afterlife if they have fallen or fallen off or into a pit it can fit more old fridges from the days of so much food to feed so many now that we're alone where on earth can we keep keep it under the earth but you will have to bring it here if you can we can cover it over for good with good red dirt 

IF ONLY

They wouldn't walk so slowly the legs of tree things falling seemingly from sky shadows set free from what cast them into this particulate world covered over with false battles picked a trophy for the most apocryphal catastrophe Meanwhile in Arkansas an automated voice says take the ticket to the envelope please pushing on the robins pause in places they match they are onto something because water is not everywhere and we are latched to our shadows they grow long the long shadow of Mount Magazine over Paris where yes a house but then what there is a limit bucks keep disappearing how much can a man consume shadows dragging all of us into how much space a shadow is a way to want nothing but to be beneath notice 

MAYBE MAYBE NOT

Blasting the blasted
road out of mountain
shook the tower
of bins in the attic
chipping the china
she was saving
for her son will son
ever settle a camper
on a small lot here
and then here Mean-

while in Arkansas
an Awesome Two-

Headed Snake dwells
embedded in hollow
of bluff doubters
need only reach in
to the hole in its side
not bluffing the fear-

some zeal of converts
crouched in mountains
covering their ears
aginst the blast

ROOT OF

The trouble is frost
finally arriving dark-

headed juncos bow
over inanimate prey
waiting for the eleventh
hour the window's crystals
November of hours won't
stay long we won't stay
long we just wanted to
drop this off Meanwhile
in Arkansas the violin
spiders want to live
out their hours under
cover of softness fear
delicate as frost legs
tremble at the approach
of what is strange to them
everything is strange
we bite sometimes not 
knowing what we bite

SPEAKING OF

The weather dream is
never tornado now that
eroded Ouachitas break
the fall used to be first
whiff of sulfur on wet
leaf upon which worm
has dined for many days
on the weather of fall
dashed the creek water
creatures against metal
flashes we were never
afraid of before the dream
of staying one step ahead
Meanwhile in Arkansas
when the young mother
got out of her car her child
an obediant fawn waiting
in a meadow of weedy 
water still rising still
rising for hours after
everything else was gone

Bio: Carolyn's newest collection is A Vertigo Book, (The Word Works, 2021) winner of The Tenth Gate Prize and the Foreword Indies Award in Poetry. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Poetry, The New Yorker and many other journals. Earlier books include Spoke & Dark, winner of the To The Lighthouse/A Room Of Her Own Prize and Ozark Crows, a collection of visual poems. Her website is carolynguinzio.tumblr.com.

Sophie Hoss

Papers in the Wind

Sometimes I feel like I’m living my life in the shape of a triangle. This usually happens on Wednesdays. I want everything, except for what I don’t. 

 

I have a reoccurring dream that I’m on a spaceship and I’ve left my glasses back on earth. I am trying to find the most polite, non-obtrusive way possible to explain this to the captain and ask him to turn the ship around. We have just left the blurry eye of Pluto in the rearview mirror. It must be a trick of the light—surely nothing was ever so lonely. 

 

If I could choose my own circle of hell, I’d pick the second one. I wouldn’t mind the winds if it’s true they’d let me fly. I wonder if a soul erodes away like a tiny star, bleeding and feeding till it’s just a burning empty, a fingerprint of heat in the winter cosmos. I think the laws of nature hint affirmative. Everything ends, even hell. 

 

I ask Cassandra why she bothered speaking her prophecies if she knew no one would believe her.

“Apollo cursed me,” she says. “He didn’t strike me mute.”

I ask Mary if she regrets mothering Jesus. She looks confused. “It would have happened either way,” she says. 

I ask Ophelia if she really meant to drown herself. She rings her dripping hair out over the kitchen sink, and the water hits the rim like a splatter of paint. “One question,” she says, “and that’s what you pick?”

 

In the least macabre way possible, I think about what will happen to my body after I die. It’s more comforting than thinking about what will happen to it while I’m alive. I write a message in a bottle and toss it out to the churning night. I’m here, it reads. I was here, too. 

 

Dad tells me that when he was sixteen, a boy in his church died of an overdose. On the way back from the funeral, my grandmother said, “It’s better this way. He was no good. Now the mother won’t have to suffer so much.”

Wanting is its own kind of fever, and I sweat it out the best I can. It’s the not-wanting that feels most corrosive.

 

If hell can’t be eternal, then neither can heaven. Maybe at the very end of everything, it evens out and we all go to limbo. Maybe we play tennis. 

 

I find my message in a bottle stuffed between my pillow and mattress. The paper is blank. 

 

I ask Eve what the fruit tasted like.

“An apricot,” she says. “And salt.”

I ask if she would do it again, given the choice.

“The garden wasn’t paradise,” she says. “It was a trap.”

She strokes the head of the serpent wound about her shoulders, and its forked tongue makes a noise like the purr of a cat. Adam is nowhere to be found. 

Bio: Sophie is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Stony Brook University. Her work has been featured in BOMB Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, Storm Cellar, Quibble Lit, and elsewhere. She has attended workshops at the Southampton Writers Conference and the Iowa Writers Workshop.

Carleen Tibbetts

the black box has a name

rough tongues/knuckling the tread/of a false grinning heart/magic forests of spacetime/& unforeseen tourmaline/oh how everybody loves a schism/our eyes on our star-chart behavior/& the rough magic of our thwarted desire/the habit of body/the tears of the season/the i as small as a maggot/a blood of stars & serrated light/the night awaits its orders/time for endless to show its belly

after Jay Besemer

to speak a thing is also to change it

i want to deny the evidence of my longing/awkward like a solid fist of light/the wound is raw/the wound is unwise/i want a cool assemblage/proof of life/proof of concept/the muscle of words as slow as our animals/yet our talk is unimportant/words become a slow sky/i made love to my secrets/but this must be a mania maintained/i must dance inside my crisis

after Jay Besemer

Bio: Carleen Tibbetts is the author of four chapbooks and two full-length collections, most recently Dossier for the Postverbal (Carrion Blom Books, 2023). Her work has appeared in jubilat, Sink, Dreginald, Deluge, Broken Lens, Forklift Ohio, The Pinch, and many other journals. She edits poetry for Dream Pop Press.

Gregg Williard

A Wall of Masks (Excerpt)

     She takes out her therapist notebook and makes a therapist note. I keep going:

    “If each explosion means something more is lost in the mask world, (or is that my world?) what is it that is being lost? Lives? Memories? Evidence of a crime? What crime?  Facts and history? A chance to find the guilty? How am I supposed to do that? And what do I do if I do find them? And what if the guiltiest one is me? Or is it buildings and streets, the neighborhood where so much happened? Sensations, sounds, smells and tastes and textures?”  Then, in a synesthetic slide, my attention is back to the masks on her office walls:

     A snarling, whole head rubber “Karen” mask, a plastic retro Rat-Fink A-Go-Go, tongue-wagging snarl mask, a white and blue vintage plastic Elsa Lanchester, Bride of Frankenstein mask, a full-head rubber Metaluna Mutant with exposed brain in glow-in-the-dark green and blue from This Island Earth mask, a grinning frozen-smile Mr. Sardonicus mask, an Oliver-Reed 1963 Curse of the Werewolf version in rubber with acrylic fur mask, a Lon Chaney Jr. 1942 The Wolfman version rubber and fur wolfman mask.

     Jackie says, “Which of these really speak to you?”  She gives me the white cup and I down today’s dose. After considering the masks for a time, I see they have all begun to talk. Taking the meds angry and literal is perhaps not for the best. They mumble at first, then light into maudlin bar fly blabber. Rubber or plastic or ceramic, the lips, slits, holes or slashes pucker, crinkle, crack, grimace, twist and pout as if awakening, reluctant, stiff from a long sleep or stupor.  The voices and sounds are as varied as their personas and parts. I see a thousand and one beggar’s nights, ringing the doorbell and crying trick or treat to the grownups, or opening the door from the inside and holding a bowl of candy and looking down as the grownup at the adorable ghouls and goblins ghosties of an innocent Fall.

     “Jackie, your masks won’t shut up.”

          She knocks on the wall with bruised knuckles and the jabbering stops. She returns to her seat behind me. The quiet sounds like Autumn leaves in the wind.

14

“God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another.”   -Act lll Scene 1 Hamlet

 

     I have no better way to say it. I would prefer that this talk therapy not involve words, please. Maybe that was the hope with the whole psilocybin thing. Jackie’s voice. Or Felice’s voice.

    I swig today’s dose, angry as a film noir mug at the bar. I snarl at Jackie, “Since this has been in my bloodstream and maybe changed me already, would I even know it if this were a placebo?”

     She’s surprised. “That would be unethical. I promise you; I would never give you a placebo without your knowledge.”

     “You’re not just messing with me.”

     “I’m not just messing with you.”

     “But why…” My voice is trailing off, or speech and thought are changing places: “Why is the insurance agent Dora Sel channeling Simon Weil? It seems to me that she sees insurance liability as Weil sees individual identity: something to be diminished in the name of Attention to the Other…”

     “I’ve never seen that side of Dora. I’ll have a talk with her about it…”

     I settle down and study the new masks: a green rubber Cthulu mask, a brown and black blank Deku mask, a rubber full-head Spiderman mask, a gold and red buck toothed and pointy-eared Balinese Barong demon mask, a blue and silver silk Mardi Gras hummingbird mask, a black tubular-headed red and white Japanese Kabuki mask, an elongated, carved coconut ritual Guere mask, an off-white and blue black Makande body mask, a vintage rigid plastic Ben Cooper pirate mask.

     I don’t talk for awhile. She says,  “What are you reading now?”

     “I finished the book your book about Lyle Talbot, The Entertainer. Now I’m reading a memoir of Susan Sontag, Sempre Susan, by Sigrid Nunez. A lot of it takes place in the 1970’s-1980’s Upper West Side, in Manhattan. That was kind of my scene.”

     “Nostalgia.”

     “I don’t do nostalgia. Just recognition. Sigrid Nunez wrote another book, What Are You Going Through? It’s a quote from Simone Weil. She actually lived on the Upper West Side in 1942, right around the corner but thirty years before.”

    Her nod says, duly noted. Won’t make that mistake again. “So you do have a past. You’ve been in love. You’ve had a family in New York. Could you talk about that a little?”

     “I thought we were going back to the factory.”

     “This is on the way.”

     I settle into the couch. “My wife and kids. We’re not together.”

    “Why?”

    “Something…I don’t even know if ‘happened’ is the word.” Jackie’s almost inaudible pen sound, something between whisper and rustle. (She uses a medium bic on a pad of Pictostone paper, which she has told me is made from limestone, and not wood pulp. I have tried it, and it is buttery smooth. A little like a Bic or Papermate on newsprint, but even softer). And my thumping heart, and the masks’ cast shadows, (slowly moving?), and one large cloud in the window, humping space, like my slow shifting bulk on a couch. With the window an inch open, a breeze of warm ambient chirr flutters a mask.

   “I have no better way to say it. I would prefer this talk therapy not involve words, please.”

 A vintage Fred Flintstone mask, a scowling GI Joe mask, a white and blue rubber Medusa mask, a rigid plastic vintage Uncle Scrooge Mask, a rubber Mr.Spock mask.

    

15

     I have to clear my throat. Again and again, and again. Jackie sets a glass of water on the table. I stare. “It’s ok. Just a double dose of ketamine and psilocybin, cut with ecstasy, fentanyl, cocaine and Xanax.”

     She fluffs the pillow. “So we’ll be out for a good long while today.”

     “You’re a laugh riot.” I leave the water untouched. Jackie laughs. Her voice sounds as dry as mine. I say, “I think we need to talk.” She laughs again. It is an odd thing to say to your talk therapist, especially coming from someone who could barely speak a few weeks ago.

     Over our “storied” time together, Jackie’s vibe has come to feel safe, ordinary, predictable, yet I understand little of who she is, or even, strangely, her appearance when we are not face to face. Today I will memorize the look: jeans and a slightly oversize black cotton sweatshirt, a little ratty with pile (and cat hair?), side-parted silver blond hair tugged into a limp ponytail, squarish black frame glasses, too heavy and severe for her fine pale features. Think a youthful mid-60’s or even 70’s Patricia Clarkson. Or Joan Hambling, the maniacal Chaucer professor in The Chair. This can swerve unpredictably into the purring, slightly sinister accomplice, like Jennifer Jason Leigh in Existz, Annihilation, or just about anything else she’s in, or even the side-eye cynic of Natasha Lyonne’s Charley Cale in Poker Face. Who could possibly ask for more in a therapist? She’s perfect. Perfect. I can just hear one friend or another’s reaction: “Your fucking therapist is a mixture of Natasha Lyonne and Jennifer Jason Leigh, she likes movies and books and masks, and you’re thinking of dumping her? Are you fucking insane?!”

     As a matter of fact…

     She pats the pillow again as kindly Patricia Clarkson. “OK?”

     I settle back. “No dose today? I mean the regular one, without the coke.”

     “You said we need to talk.” (Said with a little Jennifer Jason Leigh).

     A 1930’s-style retro plastic Popeye mask, a rubber Two-Face Batman villain mask, a goateed and horned red devil mask, a plastic Disney version Sleeping Beauty mask, a rubber full head Ronald Reagan mask.

    I settle back.  “I need to know what is going on here.”

     “Fair enough. But can you narrow the parameters a little? What ‘here’?”

     A plastic 1960’s Adam West-era Bat Man mask, a feathered, wood and leather tubular Kachinka-style ritual mask, a rubber pull-over 21st century The Flash mask, a rigid plastic vintage Wonder Woman mask, a rigid plastic vintage masked Lone Ranger mask.

     I dig in my back pocket for my notebook, a small pad of Pictostone limestone paper inspired by Jackie’s example. “Here in our sessions. I’ve tried to diagram them.”

     “Good-oh.”

 

 

  1. I come in. There are masks on the walls.

  2. I am a witness, and a patient.

  3. I take ketamine. I can talk.

  4. The fire outside is real. The one inside not. Or is it the other way around, or both unreal, or both real?

  5. Therapist thinks inside will solve outside.

  6. I don’t understand the connection. Therapist says time is running out. Why?

  7. I need help. I don’t know if she can help.

  8. I have to get back, before the explosion happens.

     Jackie takes the chair by the couch, where I can see her. She reads the notes. “A good, lucid account of where we’ve been so far, and some key questions that remain.”

      “I don’t think I’m a good candidate for ketamine therapy.”

     “Why not?”

      “I don’t know about ‘good and lucid,’ or where I end and the factory begins. Or the fire outside and the one inside. Or you and Felice…”

     “I’m like Felice, huh?”

     “I also don’t know why I said that.”

     She gets up and straightens one of the masks. “Did you finish the insurance questionnaire?”

     “Oh shit.”

     “It’s ok. I think you can do it online if mailing it is a hassle.”

     “It’s not that. The last question is…like I said, it sounds like Simone Weil or something. ‘Would I agree that expanding my personal boundaries could lead to greater empathy,’ or something. Maybe Dora Sell said dissolving my boundaries. Dissolving my boundaries! I’m afraid I never had any to start with. Isn’t that what happens in schizophrenia?” 

     “Are you ticklish?”

     “What?”

     “Ticklish.”

     “I guess a little.”

     “Where?”

     “I’m not going to tell you that.”

     “OK. Don’t tell me.” She holds up her arm and pulls down her shirt sleeve to tickle her armpit. It is unshaven.  “I am really ticklish there. Growing up I had two brothers. They were merciless.”

     “You’re not laughing.”

     She rolls down her sleeve.  “Almost no one can tickle themselves into laughing. Except schizophrenics. Try it at home. If you laugh, call me and we’ll stop treatment.”

     I go home, and I can’t get a  laugh.

 

16

     A Bela Lugosi-era full head rubber Dracula Mask, a plastic vintage Uncle Scrooge mask, an open-brained Mars Attacks-style full head rubber mask, a full-head latex duck head mask, a latex South Park/Kyle overhead latex mask, a rubber, full-head Steampunk Mutated Mickey Mouse mask, a rubber Ushanka-Russian winter-hatted robot skull Fancy Bear Computer Hacker mask.

          Jackie’s voice gathers the office around me again. One mask after another repopulates the glowing walls.

     She’s got the new New Yorker: “This is from an interview with Naomi Klein about her new book, Doppelganger: ‘We live in a culture that has told people very clearly, you are on your own in this cruel world. Your job is not to look after a whole society—Margaret Thatcher said there is no such thing as society. Your job is to optimize yourself and your family, to create a little fortress around you and your loved ones, and, if you succeed, that is your heroic narrative…she says that we live in a system in which we are all inside and implicated…’ Oh, and this: ‘Freud sees the doppelganger, the uncanny, as a species of frightening that changes what was once familiar…’ Do you remember why you had to hurry after entering the burning factory? Back in the beginning?”

   “What? I felt the heat through my suit.”

  “Yes, but also because the evidence was fading. The signature of the event was coming apart.” She flips through her notebook and reads a passage: “…Any interference (macro, nano, quantum) will degrade and erase. It started the moment I stepped over the line. But at least I can factor me into the mix. I think. So, first things: who are these seven whose time has come? How long before mine?  Then a spark, a spinning ember, who knows? My pants go up in a flash THIS HURTS…”

     I flinch. My words, my pain.

    Her mouth looks like a plum of paint in a Soutine face. “You said, ’I can factor me into the mix.’ I was struck by that. Do you know what you were talking about?”

     “I remember saying it. I don’t know where it came from or what it means. Some free-association stuff. Dream talk.” I gesture to take in the masks, the office, her world. “I was hoping all this would lead me back into the world, but I’m afraid it’s just taking me farther away from it.”

   “But even in the factory, in all that smoke and chaos, you can factor you into the mix. Which I took to mean that you know you are mixed up in this, but you are also apart, and have agency.”

     “Yeah. OK. But agency to do what?”

     “There were seven ‘Other Men’, the type-cast B-movie actors of your childhood. Let’s see.” She checks her notebook again. “Lyle Talbot…”

     “Lyle Talbot, Morris Ankrum, Thomas Brown Henry, Jackie Coogan. Maybe Laurence Tierney and his brother Scott Brady. I’m not sure.”

     “Which makes six. One more to go.”

     Something falls into place, and it feels bad. “I know. I know!  Number seven is going to have my face, isn’t it?! The camera does a rushing close up! The music blares SHOCKING REVEAL! That’s it! There is no big secret of the Seventh Victim. Felice can knock on door Number 7 and I can keep buzzing on door number seven until the metal number 7 falls on the floor, till her knuckles are bloody and my finger is numb, and nobody is ever going to open the goddam door!”

     Jackie springs up from her chair, goes to the door, and opens and closes it once. Twice. “Shall we go for seven?”

     “Jackie, I get it. Sit down.” She repeats it once more and then is back in her chair. “Well?”

     “I had a dream last night that had me laughing and gasping, up and down, all night.”

     She opens her notebook and clicks her pen.  I tug out a tissue from the box and start massaging it into a dense hot ball. My voice is faint and trembling, but gets faster, harder, louder, as if I’m running out of time, out of air:  “I was walking across a parking lot. Suddenly it was overwhelmed with a mob carnival, a 3-D James Ensor painting crowded with masks…” I fumble with ill-fitting descriptors, like one tool after another slipping off an odd-sized nut. “They’re talking in words of faces in my face:

 A verb of nose, a noun of chin.

A brawl of little languages, and big.

Languages of a billion, and of one.

     “Multi-lingual multi-dimensional cons. Being bullied, played, shilled, scammed, sized-up, flimflammed, suckered, worked-over, ripped off, code-switched, taken to the cleaners, taken for a ride, taken, rolled, cleaned out, stooged, bamboozled, marked, cajoled, sweet-talked, sold the Brooklyn Bridge, sold a bill of goods, sold down the river, bum rushed, sucker punched, baited, switched..!”

     The tissue is shredded nearly to powder at my feet.

     I look up and see Jackie staring at me with big eyes.  “This is very important. You are feeling deceived. Really angry. Why not take the job with Bob and Rob?”

     “What?”  I have to gulp air. This isn’t deceived. This isn’t angry. This is soul-arson, all black inside. Ash bags of lung. A tar ball of heart.  “I thought the purpose of our therapy was to help me! Help me come back to the real world!”

     “Taking the mask factory job is a necessary step in that direction.”

     “The factory isn’t real.”

    “It’s interesting. For me the factory is becoming more real. For you it’s become less real.”

     “Stop the therapy shit.”

    She waits. Her face is still, but I can see something wounded in her eyes. After a time her voice is hesitant and small. “I know it sounds clichéd, but what if some people are keys and some people are locked doors, and most of the time they don’t match, but sometimes…”

     “Oh, you mean true love?”

     “It’s much bigger than that. It’s…”

     I stand, shaking and woozy.  I’ve got to get away from her, from the office, from the masks. The grip on my own mask is slipping. She is about to see my face, for real. I can’t let that happen, but if I stay a moment longer, it will. Jackie says, “Tom. Wait.  Please, don’t leave. I can explain.”

     “Sure you can explain. This is all going to be great for your study, or whatever it is. You lied to me. This is all a set up. A therapy game. Find someone else. I’m done. ”

     Jackie’s face is white and her eyes are shiny with tears. I haven’t seen it before: she’s afraid.  I’m sweating and breathing hard. I’m probably white, too. My mouth is dry and sour and I can smell my own sweat. I leave and don’t look back.

          I didn’t answer Jackie’s e-mails or calls. I didn’t talk to anyone or show my face, any face, for a while. I was running out of savings and my social security barely paid the bills. The rent on my over-priced basement apartment was coming due. I couldn’t live in my car because I didn’t have one. A friend helped me with a loan and I got lucky finding a part-time LTE job at a learning center tutoring newly released prisoners. Once I was making a tiny paycheck again I came home nights to collapse onto my battered mattress as if it were a royal four-poster canopied in silk.  Lucky, lucky. I still had a laptop and phone and started sending out stories to journals and drawings to shows from a local coffee shop that let me sit with the same cup of coffee half the day.  My paintings and writings were in boxes in storage that I could only afford because of another friend’s help. There was back and forth with some other people about another place, but that would mean a roommate, which I wanted to avoid.  Medicare got me a twice a year check-up and shots, and I walked every day, did a little yoga and felt halfway ok. So here it was, what appeared to be my tarnished, worn thin version of the golden years, and most days I was grateful it wasn’t a handful of lead or coal or broken glass in my hands, but a fistful of a half-way doable life.  I tried not to think about the factory fire, the students, the masks, or my face, but the thump and the whirr of the furnace next door kept bringing it back, usually in the middle of a night already in shards of broken sleep.  Sometimes I wondered what my Dad would think of me now. I tried not to go there either. He wouldn’t have recognized my face anyway. I could have passed him on the street, or my son or ex. None of them would know me, or if they did they’d quickly turn away, and that would be the smart thing to do. I believed in forgiveness, second chances, redemption of a sort. But the sort I needed, whatever that was, looked to have been withdrawn long ago, and I hated redemption stories anyway and wasn’t about to pine around for mine. Better, I thought, to focus on helping the people trying to make it after prison. Whatever they were going through made my small battles more manageable, and maybe wanly hopeful. One day I was working with a guy named Omar to develop his employment resume. We had a room in the local library reserved for the prisoner support group. Attendance could be erratic. I was grateful he’d shown up. The wall was a white board and in black erasable marker we brainstormed his work history and skills as “an incubator for small businesses.”:

A Sou Chef business.

A non-Uber Uber Driver Business.

A Drug Courier Business.

A Dog Walking Business.

A Drug Look-Out Business.

A Drug Dealer Business.

A Drug Distributor Business.

A Car Mechanic Business.

A Car Jacking Business.

A Drug Counseling Business.

A Construction Worker Business.

A Construction Site Thievery Business.

A House-Sitting Business.

A Baby-Sitting Business.

A Horse Stable Boy Business.

      It was a code-switching session: transform a history of sketchy or illegal hustling into entrepreneurial moxie, and make Omar a stand-up, start-up, can-do, Horatio Alger for the Gig-Economy-type guy. I was happy to help. As far as I knew, Omar had never directly hurt anyone except himself. He was sober and in AA, had got good reports from his parole officer, but his loquacious charm was gaily festooned with sociopathic red flags, as seductive and amoral as a carnival barker and his flea-bit sideshow of freaks. And I could be, after all, another one of the attractions.

     He said, “All I want is a fair chance to make it right.”

     “I’ll try to help you make a resume right. But you’re the only one who can make your life right.”

     “Of course. I know that.”

     Did I know it?

     I took the marker and crossed off the Carjacking Business and the Robbing Construction Sites Business. He said, “That’s all in the rearview mirror, Tom.”

     “So what’s ahead?”

    One of the library staff knocked on the glass. Our time was up. Omar said, “Saved by white knuckles.” He fluffed his newly pink hair. “You like it?”

     “Sure. The future is pink.”

     He photographed the board with his phone and thanked me for my help. After he left, I was gathering my stuff when he popped his pink head back in. “What’s ahead for you?”

     “I’m going back to someone.”  I thought of Felice and door number seven. “I’ll see you next time.”

   Next thing another e-mail from Jackie, this one a staggering long epistle that made me wonder why she didn’t attach it as a word document. But then, both would be equally easy to delete.

  This time I did not.

17

     I sit down and ask Jackie for some water. “Just water, please.”

     She looks at me hard and says, “You came back. And something is happening. To both of us.”

     She’s right.

     There is a knock on the door. Jackie says, “Don’t open it!” Knocking again, then banging, more banging. Kicks. Thuds of body blows. The door shudders. Strains against the hinges.  I step to the door. Jackie yells again, “Don’t open it!”

     I ignore her. I go to the door, and a mask falls from the wall. Then another. Then half the wall. All of the masks. The floor is ankle deep in masks, brittle and bright as autumn leaves. The office chills. The masks are picked up in a vortex of wind around my legs. Like dried leaves, the masks have a crisp crackle in collision with each other, the walls, the windows, the door, the crunch thunk of mayflies or cicadas, beetles or other winged crustaceans, swarming around a bayou lightbulb, thwacking into glass or wood or drywall. A mask rushes by Jackie’s face. A red line opens across her forehead. An instinct sends us diving to the floor and scrambling under her desk.

     The office wind is a shrieking cyclone of masks. Some alchemical centrifuge has hardened the masks into edged blades, or plunging shovel heads, or ninja throwing stars with jack-o-lantern eyes and teeth. They sing and sink into walls, rip open the couch into gutted foam, thonk and twang a jaws-harp shiver into the door, and overhead into Jackie’s desk. Sliced books drop from shelves like bisected samurai, and now-lethal noses and chins furrow and rake the carpet and floor beneath. The window is crazed, cracked, shattered and demolished by hundreds of collisions.  Jackie and I huddle into fetal balls, our heads wrapped in out arms, praying under a rain of blades. We stay still and the attack subsides. Covering the carpet by my face are slices of text, a collage of Jackie’s academic papers on masks and consciousness, masks and identity, masks and anti-identity, masks and metaphor, masks and ritual, masks and fascism, masks and anti-fascism. Somewhere in the mix were technical diagrams of a giant mask housing an operator at controls. The mask was a vehicle of some kind, but it was unclear whether it moved through space, time, language, thought or dimensions, or all five in channels where the distinctions didn’t matter.  I looked up and Jackie was studying me. The cut across her face had just missed her eyes. I wanted to see if the masks were listening. I spoke in a quiet voice, and nothing stirred outside the shelter under the desk: “After the breakup I was homeless for a while. I couldn’t seem to focus on anything for more than a couple of minutes. I lived in a shelter. All I could do was go where I was told, do what I was told. You stow your bag here. Your cot is there. The bathroom code is this. The door code is this.

     The days were aimless walking. I remembered when something shifted inside: it was Halloween, and I found myself in a crowd of little kids on Beggar’s Night. All I could think was, maybe I can snag some candy. There were a couple of adults bringing up the rear and I just followed along. Most of the kids had elaborate costumes, heavy on the Marvel Universe, Disney and Pixar, but there was also homemade whimsy: gauzy tulle and tinfoil princesses, low budget white sheet ghosts, a wizard with a giant cone hat. A sheet ghost’s bright eyes found the eye holes. She said, “You don’t have a mask.”

     “I don’t.”

     “Here.” She fumbled under her sheet and produced a cheap plastic mask. Some kind of bug. “It’s too hot. You can keep it.”

     “Thanks.” Another ghost gave me a bag. At the next house I held out my bag. The man at the door said, “And who do we have here?”

     I couldn’t speak. The ghost girl said, “He is some kind of bug.”  I got an apple, a Snickers and a bag of M&M’s. The next day I found the basement apartment and moved out of the shelter. I left the mask behind on the cot.

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 Bio: Gregg's fiction and non-fiction can be found in Conjunctions, New England Review, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, Carve, Your Impossible Voice, Infinity's Kitchen and elsewhere. He also teaches English as a Second Language to refugees in Madison, Wisconsin.

Dominique Elliott

All Girls Like Books

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I Can See Right Through You

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Bio: Born in Brussels Belgium, Dominique Elliott is a multimedia artist and professor. Her work begins in reverse: with a title. Her interests in the interplays of words and image, in transpositions, translations, phenomenology, epistolary works, reverse ekphrasis, have crept into her artistic practice through documentaries, painting, and mixed media. Her work has been published in Passengers Journal, Liminal Spaces, Fauxmoir, Touchstone Literary Magazine, The AutoEthnographer, Kithe, Red Noise Collective, Novus Literary and Arts Journal, and L=Y=R=A.

Andrew Nelson

strange conglomeration

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Bio: Andrew Lincoln Nelson is a contemporary artist from the United States. He produces highly detailed graphite drawings of futuristic surrealistic landscapes and creatures. Although he has a background in robotics research, he uses only traditional hand drawing techniques. In addition to various juried fine-art venues, his work has appeared in academic setting such as Biosphere 2, the Lunar and Planetary Lab, and Artificial Life and Exobiology conferences.

Mikki Aronoff

What the Dog's Mouth Knows

Bio: Mikki Aronoff’s work appears in New World Writing, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Tiny Molecules, HAD, Bending Genres, Milk Candy Review, Gone Lawn, Mslexia, The Dribble Drabble Review, 100 word story, The Citron Review, Atlas and Alice, trampset, jmww, The Offing, and elsewhere. Her. poems and stories have received Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, Best American Short Stories, and Best Microfiction nominations.

Liam Strong

anti-elegy about breaking & its other synonyms

tied legs behind legs

behind tied legs behind tied

tied double knot knotted

legs around &

behind his tied legs i’ve

tied myself around

& into &

his crux of shatterback

& tumbled jasper & tied

ties like tourniquet blood purpled

at the twist

what could be

cut from the film & still

leave a lasting impression the window

-sill just barely un

-tied from the

paint his legs coming off

of his legs my legs

in my arms the talent

the wheel

-barrow the one we’ve

all been asking for

tie the knot

archery of the

neck behind my

head bushel of pretzels

foot pillow un

-limited access to the tight

-est knot behind innocence is another

bloody cave with corpses no

one has seen in years

little names short &

sweet & to the point

of the lace where plastic binds

us together

even if the tie is stuck

like this forever

architecture of his callus doesn’t

mean i

can’t come loose

the things we have in common

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Schrödinger’s box on delivery from Amazon

have you ever worn a ball cap in a unique way?                    Laplace’s demon

           

            wears a Detroit Tigers hat                  they’re feelin all the feelings

 

or not                           Laplace’s demon drives a cherry shaker                    prunes the rows

 

            with you come winter             into the shape of tornadoes                

 

eats with does & their fawns                          cairns of cherries plastered                     

 

with powdery mildew                         Laplace’s demon is possessive

 

            as in: possessed by                  like the collars of branches

 

hand shears notably fix this                            & yet you & Laplace & his demon(s)

 

                                    trudge like white-shirted cogs                                    into a chaos

 

            of humidity                             past & future values trailing behind

 

dried two-tracks                                              whatever symmetry the universe wants

 

                                    a boi & his demon                              yeah they fit imperfect & perfect

double you

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poem in which your trans brother and/or sister remedy the high arches in their feet

             & like u said it’s just

 

me

shin splints pantyhose runner’s

tape to

prevent meat separating

             from bone

 

homologous to the finger with what

may be paleontology

divides as in cloven or four

            -leafed

seaglass

beneath my calluses that when treated

gently creates no

wound

            or so i’ve

heard               the mug does

-n’t break when it hits the

            ground

it’s a trend to blame

what’s under

-neath

            ungulate but with

cetacean

friction a dactylic conflict between man

& some other guy tarsal

 

when it comes to

dying               but hey

at least there’s no anatomy

to a foot

-step

because if u stooped that

low it would feel a lot like

 

falling

Bio: Liam Strong (they/them) is a queer neurodivergent straight edge punk writer who has earned their BA in writing from University of Wisconsin-Superior. They are the author of the chapbook Everyone's Left the Hometown Show (Bottlecap Press, 2023). You can find their poetry and essays in Impossible Archetype and Emerald City, among several others. They are most likely gardening and listening to Bitter Truth somewhere in Northern Michigan.

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