Categories
Poetry

Two Poems by Jason Melvin

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Toothpaste

as I squeeze the toothpaste

onto my toothbrush    staring

into the hotel room mirror

         I wonder

if the apocalypse happens,

could I sustain myself

by eating toothpaste?

With a foamy mouth

         I examine

the near empty

travel size tube

It expired a year and a half ago.

Punching Air

you had to sneak up   yelling did no good

walking up   lightly shaking   whispering Dad

never a good idea

a punch was coming your way   too fast to dodge

ten quarters stacked on his elbow

caught in that hand

         FAST

3rd-degree tae-kwon-do black belt

         FAST

you learn that lesson once

Saturday afternoon boxing matches

watching with eyes closed

laid out in the recliner   TV so loud

the deaf could hear it

which was kind of the point

I go for the toes   down on all fours

for a punch to reach   He’d have to sit up

and I’m hitting the ground

the recliner footrest   my shield

no war zone in that sleeping mind

bad ears take you out of the draft line   but

What’s behind those closed lids?

that keeps him on high alert

Punching air

at the slightest touch.


Jason Melvin is a happily married father of three children and one granddaughter. He has of late rediscovered his joy of writing and thought WTH, let’s try publishing. His work has recently appeared in From Whispers to Roars, The Beatnik Cowboy, The Raw Art Review, Rat’s Ass Review, The Closed Eye Open, Kitchen Sink Magazine, The Electric Rail, and Front Porch Review.

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Uncategorized

A Letter From the Editor: 3

Categories
Creative Nonfiction

Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune

By: Denise Berger

I saw my former boss on Wheel of Fortune. Contestant Number 2. I happened to look up when Pat asked, “So what keeps you busy?” He immediately lit up with responses “Oh! Cycling! Hiking! Skiing…” I didn’t even catch the whole answer, I was so amazed to see him. Not just that he was on TV. I was amazed because there wasn’t even a hint of the ailing body that was so central to the man I knew.

By the time I worked with him, he spoke as though part of his tongue was either missing or enlarged. People reacted to him with the benevolent condescension reserved for the disabled. Sometimes he just powered right through, the force of his will taking over, cheerful and exuberant as when he appeared on Wheel of Fortune. Clients and coworkers would tilt their heads in to hear better and, without realizing what happened, they would be in his swirl. Other times he avoided conversation. His body held pockets of stiffness, not necessarily in the joints but at random intervals.  And there were odd angles, as if there were a rusty wire running through his skeleton. It must have been torturous to be trapped in that body, to be treated as a diminished being even as his own essence refused to be diminished. 

Interestingly, his mannerisms remain unchanged; those are what I recognize right away. His brows arched in a state of surprise. The Muppet-lipped smile that seems like he might not have any teeth, although his teeth are right there. The hearing aid. The bounce in his step, even when standing in place. The broad waves of his arms, conducting an unseen orchestra as he speaks. And the satisfaction, the split second swelling of his chest, as he beams just beyond Pat when the answer is complete. 

Then I see his name. Mike. Check. And it’s “Great American Cities Week,” from Denver. Check. He told me about his house in Colorado, somewhere in the woods where his porch light had to comply with dark sky regulations. 

I can’t believe how vibrant he is. The whole show is focused on him, spinning the wheel as a full-body experience; he isn’t really exerting himself, he’s just so excited to be in the present moment, his joy unaffected whether he guesses right or wrong. His hair looks like silken thread, pulled into a small gray ponytail just above the dent where his head meets his neck. I wonder why he chose to dye it black at work. 

I check the guide on my TV. Episode is from May 2016. Filming had to have been around February. I met him in November the following year. I could sense what he’d been like before. He had all these stories — about inventing things, about sneaking into the USSR through Finland with a woman he met in a Helsinki bar, about driving all night to his dying mother in Arizona… He knew the Sunday morning lineup on Classical KUSC. He’s someone I could have loved. 

At my interview he asked me to describe a fantastic day, and to tell him how I knew when I had done a great job at something. Every word I sent to him landed. 

I’m rooting for him to go to the bonus round. Even by game show standards he has an energy that leaps off the screen. I want to see who he has in the audience. I want to know about him, to spend time with him.

I think of when my mom came into the showroom, how he hugged her exclaiming, “Oooooh, you’re Denise’s mother!” and practically spun her in the air. He gave her an employee discount on the clear sparkling candlesticks she got for Shabbat. There was no mention that when I was growing up, our house did not have Shabbat candles on Friday night; our house took spiritual cues from the ACLU. He had no idea that when we learned in school about the plight of Soviet Jewry and sang about trying to worship in secret, I totally identified. I knew what it felt like to be penalized for faith, though I never had the guts to try any clandestine activities. I didn’t tell him. I liked this feeling, of introducing my mom as someone who appreciated what was important to me, who delighted in loving openly.

At some point she told me that Michael was a very sick man, that he didn’t want to be there, that he only took the job for the health insurance. She must have registered some sort of mirror image, the way people with similar interests spot each other in the airport. 

At the start of 2018, he and my mom were two of the most central people in my life. A year later, they were both dead. 

I cry as I tell Rimma. She assumes I have regrets, that I would have done something, or a lot of things, different had I known they would both soon be gone. That would make sense. That’s how people are taught to think. But what I actually cry about is that over and over it happens: all the signs point to death and yet it feels a surprise — as if Fate just somehow landed, with no predictable warning.


Denise Berger is a Los Angeles based writer. Recent work has appeared in Beth Am Review and Detroit Jewish News.

Categories
Fiction

Home

Home

By: Katie Fisher

We walk down the narrow hallway mindlessly, and I feel the blood recirculate to my legs. The world feels fuzzy. My ringing ears process the stomp of feet and rolling of wheels on wax floors. 

The air is stagnant despite the crowd of people, yet infinitely more pleasant than the staleness of the cabin that had been my prison cell for the last nine hours. In the palms of my hands, I hold the blue booklet that measures my worth in my hands, and it bites into the soft flesh. 

Blinking slowly to counteract the blurriness, I notice monitors hanging from the ceiling of the hallway; their screens cycle between an animated Star-Spangled Banner rippling as if it were blowing in the wind and a blue page with the words “Welcome to the United States of America.” 

One of the monitors isn’t connected, displaying a Windows 7 error page. I have a fleeting thought of the oddity, of the disconnect that one system is still using outdated software that has ceased updates, but it passes quickly as I stifle a yawn. For some reason, I point out the error screen to my teenage brother, and we chuckle. 

I think it’s from the combination of dehydration and sleep deprivation, but as I’m watching another of the screens, the flag bursts through its digital confines before swiftly retreating as fast as it appeared. The corners of my mouth pinch into a frown, parading my confusion, yet the crowd pushes on, unimpressed. 

I follow my family like we’re little ducklings in a row. Turning the corner, the corridor opens to a massive hall, the Customs area. My mom scans the room, searching for an unused kiosk, and whisks us off in the general direction. We take turns scanning our faces and mixture of blue and red passports. I go last.

My heart flutters as I watch the ticket print with a giant X. At five in the morning on a Sunday, I’m too tired for this.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“There’s always one,” my mom jokes.

Tucking the ticket between the pages of my passport, I weave my way through to the border agent who’s calling for the next person to come forward. My family members and I hold our own passports in front of us as we approach the navy-uniformed man. With a flat face, he eyes each one of us with our mismatched passports before questioning “So, what’s the story here?”

My dad, the most charismatic man in my life, responds. “The girls were born here, but we returned home to bring them up around family, and then our youngest was born there. Now, we’ve moved back to the States.”

The agent’s eyes flick between us again, and I’m surprised that he doesn’t succumb to my dad’s charm as everyone always does. It’s the deep voice and accent they say. Skeptically, the border agent stamps through each of my family’s tickets until I am left last, again. 

I am beckoned with a blue latex-gloved hand. Shuffling forward, I place my passport in the man’s grasp, and he flips it open to the photograph, holding it up at eye level so he can see. 

I stand awkwardly, feeling embarrassed about my disheveled appearance in the photo that was taken around seven a.m. on a Saturday morning after a Friday night basketball game I was cheerleading for. 

“You’ll look that after you get off the plane anyway,” my mom quipped when she first saw the image. 

As any teenage daughter would be, I was mortified—not to mention that it won’t expire for ten years.

“Take off your glasses,” the border agent commands nonchalantly. 

I silently comply, taking off the prescription glasses.

“Undo your hair.”

Again, I silently comply, pulling loose the soft braids.

The agent shakes his head. “This doesn’t look like you.”

My mouth is frozen, but my empty head is now filled with thoughts, worse-case-scenarios. I turned eighteen two weeks ago. He can legally separate me from my parents. I could be detained. I have school tomorrow. I don’t want to miss class.

I fumble for words, “It’s just a bad picture—” 

“This doesn’t look like you,” he punctuates in a staccato rhythm, waving the passport as a taunt.

I don’t know what to do. We’re young, my siblings and I, sheltered in a protective bubble of naivety that borders on ignorance. We’ve been raised in small town America, where homogeny runs rampant.

I’ve fended these questions since the tender age of eight, but my existence has never been doubted.

There’s a lump in my throat, it could be the dehydration, but probably the nerves too, and I tense as my eyes get prickly. I don’t want to be separated. He stamps my ticket and reluctantly thrusts the passport back into my possession. 

My small hand reaches up to pinch the passport between my fingers and out of his grasp. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding as he lets go, and a golden bald eagle leaps from the booklet. One talon grasps an olive branch and the other arrows as it soars about the massive hall before perching on the Customs sign. Even in the artificial lighting, it glitters as brilliant as the sun.

And suddenly in that moment, I know what it feels like to be an immigrant in America. I don’t laugh anymore at the memory of a broken screen.


Katie Fisher is an undergraduate at Illinois State University, studying English in the Publishing Studies sequence and working as an academic peer advisor for first-year students. She enjoys spending time with her two lovely cats and listening to BTS.

Categories
Poetry

Two Poems by DS Maolalai

Painting a hot day.

a woman

in a housecoat,

threadbare

on her balcony,

eating an apple

which is dirty

with fingerprints,

looking

at a view

of the ground.

A bright day.

I can’t find my glasses.

they are somewhere

in the apartment,

but I am at work

in an office-building

opposite customs

overlooking the river

where Dublin

meets the sea.

I wear prescription

sunglasses, get odd looks

from the deli-man

as I grab a cheap sandwich

at the corner

near Tara St station. it’s not

a bright day; the sky dusty

as a broken piano,

untuned and hardly

played, a closed lid

in an under-used

guestroom. I walk

out to the evening

which slaps against weather

quite heavily, like a flag

in Kilbarrack

hanging from a window.

the world today

is clear and lovely,

the dark grey pavements

wet as bathroom mirrors.

I lean by the corner

and eat my sandwich. wear

my sunglasses, enjoy

the cold autumn, egg

salad emulsion

and a fingerprint thinness

of bread.


DS Maolalai has been nominated eight times for Best of the Net and five times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, “Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press, 2016) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press, 2019)

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A Letter From the Editor: 2

Categories
Poetry

I Am

I Am

By: Irina Talty

I am two worlds torn in half.

One is Bulgaria,

in the small city of Druzhba. 

Long, lazy summers

sticking with sweat, 

breath tastes like fresh 

banichka; warm and flaky.

My floury lips 

take another bite. 

Grainy sand under my feet

seaweed catches between my toes

the musty language of the sea

sliding over the sand. 

In the distance; a seagull, the roar 

of a jet ski. Laughing, shrieking

wind slapping my cheeks, 

knuckles pink, red, white

melting into a painful sunset. 

Dinners, humming with the lullaby of 

clinking plates and silverware

scooping food and pouring wine

glass after glass of the sweet fruit

wrapped under the canopy of vines. 

Bodies close, leaning in, 

gossip, fights, laughter. 

I race upstairs to chatter with cousins

with an unfamiliar language; yet

we can understand the familiar song 

of each other’s voices. 

Bulgaria, the smell of pearly soap,

cigarette smoke, and sweet grass.

But I am also here. 

America. 

Apple orchards and Halloween

fast food drives and greasy fingers

solo cups and first kisses

sloshing, wet, giggles. 

Hamburgers, hot dogs, 

little league games. 

Sitting in the heat, the fresh 

scent of cut grass. 

Driving with the windows down,

hand catching wind,

wind mussing hair. 

Coffee shops, subways, 

family, loud, bustling

banter while chowing on 

buttery angel cake, slippery spaghetti.

Smacking lips, smooching cheeks

telling me how tall I’ve grown

and asking me who my boyfriend is.

Road trips, cheap coffee,

lips on skin, lips on lips

feeling free, going faster,

first loves, first jobs, graduate. 

America, my first home. 

The feel of wet snowflakes, 

crunchy leaves, soft cherry blossoms.

Sitting in an American shop.

Tattoo ink bleeding into my skin

carving lines to create a sunflower

reminiscent of the golden fields

lining the country roads of

Bulgaria. My second home

forever with me,

etched onto my ribs,

etched into my heart.


Irina Talty is an Emory University grad who is currently teaching first grade in Atlanta, GA. She hopes to go to graduate school for creative writing after she has served her two years in Teach for America. She loves cooking, hiking, and her pet rats.

Categories
Fiction

Mahmet

Mahmet

By: Elissa Russell

I couldn’t recognize your accent as foreign any more than I could my own. Each muddy ‘R,’ each forced vowel we produced hung in the air unacknowledged, suspended like mobiles in the damp atmosphere.

It was your eyes that first betrayed you—those flame-gold eyes, the color of honey exactly, fixed always toward the East.

We met at a neighborhood party over hard punch and galettes and too many glasses of Muscadet. Rain swelled the clouds overhead as the fluid language swirled around us. I was dizzy, drunk, still ticking on Central Standard Time. The Atlantic-soaked air had long ago swept my pride and my verb conjugations out to sea.

You commiserated with each awkward ​bisou​, heard each garbled syllable, pulled me aside:

“Yolaine and I met twenty years ago,” you told me in her language: smooth, yet biting. “​Elle est ma marie​,” you emphasized, the bitter ‘R’ accentuating the phrase’s harshest word. You paused, downed the contents of your glass in one sharp gulp. The closer you drew in, the faster my heart beat. “I hate this rain, this place. I want to learn English. I must. It’s so… beautiful.” Flickering amber eyes, now locked on my blue ones. “Let me walk you home. It’s dark.” You squeezed my bare knee, hard, and stood. The walk home was neither dark nor far, but you knew that. You’d been here now for eleven years, after all.

Upon reaching the yellow house with the blue door, you braced my shoulders and brought your nose within an inch from my own. “Sweet dreams,” you exhaled at me in English, your breath forming a sea-salt cocktail with the night as I dumbly watched you stumble back up the path.

I fished out an ornate house key, which seemed to belong more to the Victorian era than in my Jansport. I winced as it turned loudly in the heavy door, fearing to wake the members of this house, this family that was not mine.

From the peephole, I glimpsed your brown peacoat. You disappeared past the stone wall, back toward your home, where your wife was washing our dinner plates.


Elissa Russell holds an English degree from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating, she worked as an English teacher in Calais, France. A theatre educator and administrator, she now lives in Colorado, where she continues to explore her passion for writing.

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A Letter From the Editor: 1