KNB : Katherine Nelson-Born


Katherine Nelson-Born grew up in New Orleans and currently lives and writes in Pensacola, Florida. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alyss, Birmingham Poetry Review, Emerald Coast Review, Excelsior ReView, GSU Review, Longleaf Pine, Maple Leaf Rag and Penumbra.  Her poetry earned “Honorable Mention” at the 2015 Alabama Writers Conclave.  Her poetry also previously won the University of New Orleans/ Tennessee Williams Ellipsis award for poetry and placed twice among finalists in the Agnes Scott College Writer’s Festival.

Katherine’s premiere poetry chapbook, When Mockingbirds Sing, was published in 2016 by Finishing Line Press,  Currently she is working on a novel and consulting for K & K Manuscript Editing.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I have not one but two favorite female characters, both historically real figures recreated in numerous ways throughout the centuries, but always undeniably strong women, Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I.  Both women not only persevered in male-dominated worlds, but also kept their heads (for the most part) and climbed to the top despite lives fraught with very real murderous relatives, lovers, spies, and whole hosts of enemies out to bring them down.  Their lives still intrigue and inspire, whether through song, poetry or drama, and I like that.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

When I first discovered Anne Sexton’s Complete Poems 30 years ago, her frank treatment of women’s bodies and mother issues in her poetry inspired me as a fledgling poet, and later I wrote my dissertation on her work.  I must say, however, that Sharon Olds’ Satan Says (1980), with its sexual candor and evocative imagery of the female body in particular had quite an effect on me, and I remain a staunch fan of Olds although I also love the poetry of Jane Hirschfield.  Since I also am fascinated with the nature and depiction of good vs. evil, angels, demons, and apocalyptic or dystopian visions, Hirshfield’s Of Gravity & Angels (1988) and Carolyn Forche’s The Angel of History (1994) remain my favorite oldies but goodies.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

Finding the Way Back” was inspired in part by reading Robert Edsel’s Monuments Men (2009), in part by worrying about the world my daughter will inherit (which is all too scary between the 2016 US presidential elections and climate change), and in part from a poetry workshop with Carolyn Forche.  Working with Forche and the wonderful women poets who were in the December 2014 24PearlStreet online workshop gave me the confidence to polish the poem and pull together my chapbook being published this year by Finishing Line Press.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

Well, the day ranks pretty high when I learned about winning the 2013 NCTE raffle to attend an online workshop with poet Carolyn Forche at 24PearlStreet Learning my premiere chapbook, When Mockingbirds Sing, was accepted by Finishing Line Press for 2016 publication would be the MOST exciting thus far, which you can purchase at

What is your favorite piece by another writer from a previous issue and why?

America as a Room” by Cassandra de Alba in Alyss Issue Deux is a favorite for me because she deftly captures the paradox of the US in poetic lines of “exquisite workmanship.”

What are you currently working on?

Awaiting arrival of my poetry chapbook, When Mockingbirds Sing, from Finishing Line Press,, I currently have submitted to several publishers my first full-length poetry book, Bone Geometry, for publication consideration, so wish me luck!  With a little more luck and a lot of fortitude, I shall complete this year as well my first novel tentatively titled Burning Down the House: Battle Royal in the Big Easy, so this year has had a lot of “firsts” for me, including my first publication in Alyss.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Well, I suppose it would be pretty self-serving to say Alyss Issue Tre, in which my own poem appears, is my favorite, but there, I’ve said it.  If there is an Alice character I prefer, it would be the Alice-in-Wonderland turned Joan of Arc in the 2010 fantasy film.

Mary Cotton’s Premonition

“They say Jack the Ripper was England’s first serial killer, but that’s only because the others have been forgotten for a hundred years…These quieter killers were poor, migratory, humble. They fed their children poison. They were desperate…They were women.” – The Big Book of Female Killers: Mary Ann Cotton, the Arsenic Queen

Just my body swimming deep below my skin
and the splintered wood above my bed:

Husband Will went to sea. I dreamt
               that water swallowed him
                           brine preserved him
                                   and mermaids delivered him
blue and hollow, to my door.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
Here comes a candle to light you
               to oceans in my womb,

oceans in a hot cup a’tea. Husbands
for a ha’penny, a ladder made
               of little fingers
               and a larder full of coal.

My dreams are loud with wails and nappies.
My eyes are splintered buckets full of bile.
Choleric humour like arsenic. The past empty as sockets.

When I returned
ther wos no home for me.

I stood once by the ocean
and watched the unfettered grey waves break.
               Fevers break, and my neck breaks with them.

Here comes a chopper to chop off your head
until tiny graves give up their tiny dead.

– Elizabeth Theriot

How To Be Alone

Sometimes I’m freaked out by,
like, the cosmos, you know?
Like for instance, this girl Becca
I hadn’t talked to in a year
or something, in something like
a full year texted me last night
(she was going to a rave in Chinatown
and thought of me, because I’m
specifically into that sort of thing,
sometimes, when I don’t feel
too squirrely about running into
a bleached-blonde party boi
sort of ex-boyfriend named Kip).
Anyway, she texted me and we did
that whole fake like, oh hey, you’re
so fucking cute & I really hope
we can hang soon & like,
order embroidered leather jackets
together & eat oreos! And I
forgot about it and like, went
about my night, bought some cigs
put on a baby blue baby tee and
went to Elvis Guest House for
this like, label party? that my
roommate wanted to go to and I just
did not have a better deal, so I go and
it was SO weird, this girl who
went to my high school three-thousand
miles away was working the door, and
I was like, “oh hey, did you go to such & such”
and she was like “oh yeah!” and
I pretended not to know her name
because she’s like three years younger
than me and I’m not going to
like admit that I’ve maybe seen
her instagram, you know? And
that was cute and freaky
and I basically like, maintained
my mystique I think, but then
we went into the bar and it was
like, brotown u.s.a., there was a guy
literally wearing like, colorful
knock-off Ray-Bans in the dark
and doing the dice throwing dance
alone in a corner, it was the most
embarrassing thing I’ve ever
seen in my life. And at this point
I’m like, pretty pissed off at
my roommate because I’m expecting
ugh, something, I came all the way
to goddamn Manhattan for what, to
watch these deflated balloon animals
suck down margs and grind on each
other’s Hamptons-fresh bodies? Like
come on. So I’m pouty and not seeing
one even halfway decent looking bro
to pretend to be interested in, and
I’m like, I need a drink!!, so I sidle
up to the bar and who do I see but
that girl Becca who texted me earlier!
And she was like holy shit, and
I was like, holy shit, and we
were both like, I love your hair, and
she said you’re the coolest person in
the bar and I said, I know. So we’re
talking and hanging and she tells me
about the tour she just came back
from with her NYT notable
band and I’m telling her about
aesthetic theory and she’s with
this girl who seriously looks exactly
like this other girl I know and I’m
honestly just like, oh my god,
the universe. Eventually she’s like,
let’s go, so we go and I don’t know
where my roommate is but I
literally say “yolo!” like you only
live once, to be funny, and we go
downtown to Wall Street which
is like, can I use the word majestic?
at night, like Disneyland if Disneyland
stopped pretending to not be
a flaming alter to corporate greed for a half second,
and we don’t go to the rave but we
do go to some rich guy’s roof
and there I am drinking vodka,
Becca went to water some thirsty acolytes,
and I’m alone on this sprawling
roof surrounded by hundreds of
exotic-seeming potted plants
(though what do I know) and
I’m just taking it all in, thinking
about how weird the cosmos is
and like, is there a god? standing
there on the edge of a skyscraper,

alone, azure in the blue light,
alone, swimming in fragments, again.

Sam Regal

Another Virgin Loses A Child

trying to imagine a prodigy. This is
  what happens to young southern bees

whose fathers won’t let them ride
in backs of pickup trucks and mothers won’t say
a word about honey for fear it’s viscosity
  will stick to
a daughter’s lips. Hell,
  this happened to
me, Northern drone, compound eyes,
a blue town refusing to gaze. I don’t care about
her. I will not be
ignored. How troubling being forced to worry
about things one doesn’t understand. Gifted
  sunglasses for the brain, ramshackle for teeth. The truth,
those virgins are not bees and neither am I.
But if the world squints they might mistake us
for something distinct. Wait so long
then wear a face aging I suffer
so much I cannot say. Bodies built only
to carry, that ghostly campfire story. Marshmallow uteruses
burnt. An immaculate conception
is to be proud of. Brag no dirty hands
  touched us, only God himself with a glowing pointer finger
tip. There are so many wonder babies being born
nowadays, one might think the earth could be salvaged.

But before our miracle newborns even open one eye
  they know there’s nothing left in this world to save.

Jennifer Neely

Bebo The Broken

They called him Bebo. A chicano nickname that
came from I don’t know where. Legally, Javier.
His brother was Marcus but they called him Pokey and
Pokey’s wife was Pudgy. I don’t remember her real name
or what the hell any of it meant.

My mama fell in love with Bebo after she divorced my abusive father.
He was a very different man.
Very tall with tattoos on his arms
and a busty Latina on his chest.
Like he walked straight out of American Me.
Like mama decided she needed to shop the other spectrum of
machismo. Quiet but deadly. Gentle but broken.

There’s something beautiful about broken
until broken falls apart all over your life.

He had a bad childhood so that’s why he was so quiet.
a bad childhood so that’s why he drank so much.
a bad childhood so that’s why he snorted coke.
a bad childhood so that’s why he put his hands all over you

             when you were only 13.

The why is never good enough.

It’s been years since I’ve seen him now
but I wonder who still calls him Bebo.
I wonder what his limp looks like
and if the gray has taken over his hair.

I wonder if he still locks himself in rooms
and blasts Pink Floyd until no one can stand it any longer

I wonder if still strokes his mustache nervously
and I wonder if in his darkest moments does he regret
ever touching me.

They called him Bebo and he passed along his broken.

Sarah Moran

Surrender Dorothy

Call me a witch, or
any name hurled at women
with sulfur in their fingertips.
You think she’s so sweet,
click, click, that thief.
How long did I creep
that stone castle, always overcast,
stuck to my corner of the compass?
I was also looking for home.
The monkeys weren’t company—
they went out each night without me.
When I made her sleep, I alone
watched those eyes blue as cornfield sky
open to August snow.
She was like my daughter, left me
for a fraud, toy men and that dog.

Yes, some things I said
may have been taken as threats,
but we all must surrender
to something—Scarecrow to weather,
Lion to hunger. I surrendered
to my deep fear of water.

Amy Meckler

warning with emotions up to 40 miles an hour

Notification issued August 7, 2015 at 7:20 PM. This relationship is experiencing intermittent rage in excess of bathroom crying and food shaming. During periods of intense fraught, individual partners should use caution when walking past prior smiling photographs or textingexes. Feelings at these speeds can cause flying ceramics, turn unsecured cutlery or bathroom paraphilia into projectiles, and create unwanted hoarseness. To prepare, charge smiles and lung sighing batteries, gather therapist and best friend phone numbers, secure lunch dates, or a free sofa, and turn refrigerators and freezers to a colder setting. Keep ice cream cold and foreheadcompresses colder. Always stay clear of downed pets or children. If you are affected by anemotional outbreak, turn off all extraneous noise and hide behind the bathroom door. Keep alldoors and windows closed and locked to prevent noise flow and unwanted neighbor intervention. Do not eat away emotions. Do not use emotions indoors. If you lose emotional control and callparents or legal representation, or do not have the means for a quick getaway, and needimmediate assistance, please dial *- *-*. For the latest relationship information, please visit

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens

Finding the Way Back

(Inspired by Robert M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History)

Mona Lisa smiles down the barrel of a German Luger.
The question: Is art worth a life?
Five thousand bells bear silent witness
stacked head high in a salt mine
next to barrels of gold fillings
extracted from humans alive or dead.
Auschwitz. Buchenwald. Ashes in the wind
covered the head of my grandfather.
Unlike Mona Lisa’s smile surviving the war,
there is no photograph, no painting to which to point,
to show you, Daughter. Here is your heritage:
A number, faded ink, A15429,
your great-grandfather’s father, reduced to
a black armband, a yellow star.
A tattered remnant entangled among 10 feet of
Torahs piled high, sacred scrolls askew
is the life I hand you.

Blood of my blood, your blond tresses
may have saved you from the gas
I would have breathed last.
My words, my gift, surely my undoing,
all I have to offer you, to guide you
through the coming dark. Always a shadow
accompanies the sun. Bone
of my bone, sharpen your teeth, file down
bone to spear, prepare for battle.

A brown leather-bound album is still
worshipped by those who feed on hate
like pomegranate seeds, spitting out
words like poison darts that
turn skin fair and dark alike to ash.

From the ash heaps you must rise,
mark your forehead in my memory and take
your place among the sisterhood reaching back
to Nefertiti, to Eve, to the Great Mother
who has no name. Like Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna,
The Ghent Altarpiece, Girl with a Pearl Earring, she is still
worshipped among ancient stones
once used to weigh down girls in the water
among chants of witch. Rise, Daughter, open your eyes
in the sunlight turning falling ash orange.

Is art worth a life?
Wear my words like a necklace, a talisman,
a prayer bead you brush with your lips.
Breathe in deep and blow my words out
across the blue universe. Let them fall
like dogwood petals flowering the ashen earth.
Let your lips speak my answer.
Let your daughter sing our song.
Unsilence the bells.
Unscroll the Torahs.
In the beginning was the word.
Find your way back.
Reclaim our garden.

Katherine Nelson-Born

bone editor

my tongue is not all tongues – it is my imagination in its expansive black plain – its movements & dialects do not always fit eyes of the page – the overlords that decide the worthiness of the stake – they fondle my breasts & want to take them out – they sleepfinger my vagina & want to take it out – before i know it my tongue is no longer identifiable & i in my right place am now all wrong –


my tongue lies flat on the page – like a fish who gives up the struggle & succumbs to breathlessness – i’m caught in the net – caught in the bureaucracy of man for man’s poetry – because my violence is all too real – & the pain is all too picturesque – when beauty in the eye of its ominous beholder is a white veil over beached silver coffins

Courtney Jameson

diaries of a grinded battalion

I.      I’m not doing well with pressure.
But tell my mother
I always have second helpings of propaganda,
boots wear me well with stockings
and I don’t talk to the boy in his father’s medals.
Don’t tell her
that I’ve trench foot from feeding off the wrong wars
that I’ve been drafted into the sky
but it is falling.

II.      It came overnight.
slipped through bedframes and echoed off doors
it came as a eulogy with a better ovation
than the best man’s jokes
and my home became the kind that kids
throw eggs at, the kind that pleats
when widows pass by.

III.      I’m as clever as well-worded love notes;
everything seeps through anyways.
of course, they are not answered, but rather
preserved into tin-can scraps. there is ink
bleeding through my sheets: these are not
the whips and gore I know most.

IV.      I don’t know what to do with my hands anymore
when rats are rationed and the men are not.
they both twitch when dead,
writhing some form of communism.

Farah Ghafoor