Issue Deux Contributors

Cassandra de Alba lives in Massachusetts with two other writers and a cat who won’t stop hitting her. She has published several chapbooks and competed in several National Poetry Slams. Her work has appeared in Skydeer Helpking, Drunken Boat, and ILK, among others. She still doesn’t know how to ride a bike.

Amber Atiya is the author of the chapbook the fierce bums of doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014). Her work has appeared in Black Renaissance Noire, Boston Review, the PEN Poetry Series, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, and been featured on Poetry Foundation’s radio and podcast series PoetryNow. Her poems have been selected for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and nominated for Best New Poets. A proud native Brooklynite, She is a member of a women’s writing group celebrating 13 years and counting.

Tammy Bendetti lives, works, and drinks too much coffee on Colorado’s Western Slope with her husband and two small daughters. She completed a poetry workshop with Wyatt Prunty at Sewanee: The University of the South, and received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Colorado Mesa University. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Calliope and Grand Valley Magazine, and is forthcoming from Right Hand Pointing. She is currently building a secret room under her stairs but does not plan to keep any wizards in it.

Jamie Lyn Bruce  received an MFA in poetry from City College of New York. Her work has appeared previously in Day One, Thin Air Magazine, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She currently lives in Rochester, NY, where she is working toward certification in secondary special education.

Natalie N. Caro is a Bronx-born poet and the 2013 recipient of the Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award in Poetry. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Lehman College/CUNY and an MFA in Poetry from City College/CUNY where she was selected as one of the first recipients of the Creative Writing Fellowship. Sometimes, she swears that school saved her, but then she thinks about colonization of the mind and feels some type of way. Natalie likes to tweet at bars about teeth and trauma. Follow her and her scattered thoughts on twitter @scatteredstanza.

Rosemary Hayward is a British transplant to the Santa Cruz mountains, California. She works as a CPA , preparing tax returns, has taught tax classes at the local community college and volunteers with The Homeless Garden Project, a wonderful organization that achieves great things in small doses. Her short story, Aunt Mary, was published in Pif Magazine and The Schrodinger Cat was recently accepted by Stickman Review. She is currently working on two novels: the last edit of Margaret and the first draft of Crocus Fields.

Merie Kirby lives in Grand Forks, ND and teaches at the University of North Dakota. She is the author of The Dog Runs On (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and The Thumbelina Poems (Red Bird Chapbooks, forthcoming 2015).  Her poems have been published in Willow Review, Midwest Poetry Review, Avocet, and other journals; she also writes operas and art songs in collaboration with composers.

Grace Shuyi Liew’s first chapbook, Prop, recently won Ahsahta Press’s chapbook competition and will be published in 2016. Her poetry has been published in West Branch, cream city review, Twelfth House, TYPO, Winter Tangerine Review, PANK, and others. She is from Malaysia. Find her irregularly at

Sarah Lilius currently lives in Arlington, VA with her husband and two sons. She is a poet and an assistant editor for ELJ Publications. Some of her publication credits include the Denver Quarterly, Court Green, BlazeVOX, Bluestem, and The Lake. Lilius is also the author of the chapbook What Becomes Within (ELJ Publications 2014). Her website is

Ellie Slaughter won the Roy F. Powell Creative Writing Award in Poetry (2011) and has been published in Anthropoid and The Miscellany. She is an MFA student at Lesley University and currently works as the prose editor for Sling Magazine while interning at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Currently she lives in Salem, MA with her daughter.

Samantha Pious  is studying for a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her specialties are medieval French and English [courtly poetry and women’s writing]. Some of her pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Mezzo Cammin, Lavender Reviewbroad!, Lunch Ticket, PMS (PoemMemoirStory) and other publications. Others are available on her blog at

Meg Sefton’s work has appeared in Best New Writing, The Dos Passos Review, Atticus Review, Ginosko Literary Review, Danse Macabre, Connotation Press, and other journals. She received her MFA in fiction from Seattle Pacific University and lives in central Florida with her son and their little dog Annie, a Coton de Toulear. She is also happy to report she is in good health thanks to her doctors and the support of loved ones.

Alexandra Smyth lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and their black cat, Bandini. Her work has previously appeared in Poets and Artists, Sixfold, and Word Riot, among others. She is a graduate of the City College of New York MFA Creative Writing program. She is a 2014 recipient of the Poets and Writers Amy Award, and the 2013 recipient of the Jerome Lowell Dejur Award in poetry.

Jen Stein is a writer, advocate, mother and finder of lost things.  She lives in Fairfax, Virginia where she works in family homeless services. Her work has recently appeared in Rogue Agent Journal, Menacing Hedge, Luna Luna Magazine, Nonbinary Review and Stirring. Upcoming work will be featured in Cider Press Review. Jen is currently serving as assistant editor for Rogue Agent Journal. You can find her on the web at   

Alyssa Yankwitt is a poet, photographer, teacher, bartender, documenter, and earth walker. Her poems and photographs have previously appeared in Fruita Pulp, Gingerbread House, Penwheel.lit, Metaphor Magazine, Red Paint Hill’s “Mother Is a Verb” anthology, The Lake, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Spry Literary Journal. Alyssa has incurable wanderlust, enjoys drinking whiskey, hates writing about herself in third person, and loves a good disaster. You can visit her artist page here:


Baltic Bič : Leslie Rzeznik

Leslie Rzeznik

Leslie Rzeznik is a graduate of the University of Michigan. She is a Web and Instructional Systems Designer by day, and at night can be found poring over poems or wildcrafting herbs in the shade of a full moon. Her poems have appeared in Bear River Review and Shades of Memory Loss anthology. (note: Bičiutė is a Lithuanian word for BFF, and Bič is pronounced “bitch.”)

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

She’s not literary in a traditional sense, but my first instinct was Maude Findlay, the outspoken feminist played by Bea Arthur who first appeared on the horribly racist All in the Family, then got her own spin-off and whose character was essentially reincarnated in Dorothy Zbornak on Golden Girls.

Characters like Maude/Dorothy (and MTM and Rhoda) were pivotal in forming my identity as a woman. These were women who bucked the norm, who wore pants suits to work (gasp!), supported their (unmarried) selves quite comfortably thankyouverymuch, and basked in their identities independent of their families.

I’m a child of the sixties and seventies. Growing up, I was always butting my head up against all of the things I couldn’t do because I was a girl (become an altar boy, play Little League, be an astronaut). When I was very young, we were still required to wear dresses to school (and the women to work), and wear hats and gloves to church. Title IX would come along a bit later and open athletic doors for me. Having these strong female role models significantly changed the trajectory of my choices as an adult, and enabled me to find the strength behind my voice and the courage to use it.

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

As a young poet, I would have to say Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us. Hers was the only contemporary poetry by a woman I can remember studying in my first-time-around-undergrad. We studied Plath, Barrett-Browning, and Dickinson of course, but Forche’s work was a force set apart from even those giants. Dickinson’s “poetry of witness” was to me spare and a bit antiseptic compared to, for instance, these lines from “The Colonel”:

. . . The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

No woman poet I’d read had spoken so painfully intimate about the carnage of war, or anything unpleasant for that matter. Certainly not Dickinson. Forche’s work chilled me to the bone, and had I been a more mature writer, I may have fought to become a serious poet sooner than after 50.
In my recent incarnation as an undergrad (whence I finally finished my degree), I would have to say many, many women poets have inspired me. I was fortunate to be at the University of Michigan and to have worked with some poetic greats like Linda Gregerson and Laura Kasischke. There were also many others I have met in my involvement with the literary community there.

How did your work in Alyss come about?

I have three pieces in Alyss. There were two muses (or perhaps three) for “The Heart of Alice Faye.” My mother had died recently, and she had donated her body to the University of Michigan Medical School. I was fascinated with what her organs may have looked like, especially her heart. I saw her heart, triple the normal size, on an xray a few months before she died (this was the basis for the weight of Alice Faye’s heart). I appear in the poem, as well as someone in my life who was being particularly unpleasant to me. The poem was actually written as an assignment in a comedic poetry class and was supposed to be in the fashion of Dorothy Parker, one reason I chose the tercet. However, I can’t see much of a resemblance to Parker in the finished product.

Tracing the Outlines of Ghosts” was inspired by my memories of the Lithuanian countryside and sharing a straw-stuffed bed with a friend. I don’t know that the poem quite embodies the rustic atmosphere or the sanctity of place I felt in those days. I struggled with this one a lot, and my mentor A. Van Jordan gave me some feedback that pushed it toward the finish line.

the fly claims no vertigo sitting on the sill” began with a vivid memory of a tickle game my Polish grandmother used to play with us. I was also dealing with depression, which has its own lazy inertia for me. It started as a kick in my own ass, but then turned into something consumable by others. As I sunk into the particulars of spider silk and prey behavior, I was (as usual with my research) fascinated. I still have a fly series on my poetic bucket list.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

Oh gosh. That’s a tough one. I supposed it’s any time I read to an appreciative audience. The last time I read was at an art gallery, and one of the artists gifted me a piece of her work. That was pretty thrilling!

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?

If I may pick two for very different reasons – Mandy L. Rose’s “Five” touched me the deepest. It is heartbreaking, yet hopeful for breaking the cycle of abuse.

But Meg Matich’s “Cellar Violin” was haunting and mysterious. That is the poetry I love best – the lines that stop short of telling exactly what they are. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning I haven’t yet discovered – an allusion to something that I will stumble upon later. I like that. (note: Meg’s interview was enlightening in this way!)

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been a bit lax about writing after recently returning to (non-literary) work full-time. I am looking to round out a collection of poems I have that I am trying to run into the ground. Do you ever have a muse who sticks around too long, or one that keeps popping up when you think you’ve seen the last of her? Well, I have a feeling I’ll never shake my family ghosts, but at least I can give printed voice to those who’ve already spoken to or through me. I look forward to flooding the Interwebs with submissions, which I’ve never done, as well as entering some chapbook contests. Bring on the rejections!

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

The Alice I’m most enamored of right now is Alice Liddell, the little muse for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, I wrote an ekphrastic poem after Carroll’s photo of her as The Beggar Maid, and would love to write a series, but need to decide if it will be all Carroll’s work, or others’ art as my inspiration.

I have to say that it’s been an honor being one of the inaugural poets for Alyss! I’m looking forward to many more terrific issues.

The Dauntless Duchess : Mandy L. Rose

Mandy L. Rose  studied creative writing at Colorado State University. She is always adopting new literary mothers and lives in Colorado with her two young children. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Pithead Chapel and in the anthology, A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park. She has poetry forthcoming in the protest journal Thank You for Swallowing.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I find it impossible to choose one favorite. While there are so many characters I love and admire as an adult, I spent my childhood with Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Charlotte the Spider, Trixie Belden, Mary Lennox, Matilda, Francie Nolan, and Scout Finch, to name a few. Through them, I imagined myself brave, resourceful, articulate, defiant, even disobedient. The disobedience was especially important, because in real life, I was, and perhaps still am, too well-behaved. They showed me that being a girl was more than just a dress and a set of expectations imposed by others.

It was easier to embrace my tendency to carry around a notebook and give myself permission to fill it, because I grew up reading girls who were defiant and outspoken, even when I wasn’t. When life was tough, they were tougher, and I wanted that strength as my own.

They are also characters I have made a point to introduce my children to–my son, as well as my daughter, because I believe they both need to read books by and about ladies with moxie.

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

I bought a copy of Emily Dickinson’s collected poems from a rummage sale when I was eight or nine. I remember opening the book to the words, “Have you got a brook in your little heart,” and thought YES. I had to have it. I had no idea at the time what a wellspring would be opened. I fell in love with her irreverent use of punctuation, sound, and condensed language.

I have studied Emily more intensely since then, including her letters, and consider her a literary mother, the first of several. While I would never compare myself to her, it is easy to see her influence in my poetry. She is a touchstone for me, a source of comfort and inspiration. As a woman, I am fascinated by her quiet ferocity and often find myself referring to her as many would a friend. This is not to say that I talk to Emily, but I do believe that some of my best poems find themselves in conversation with hers. You could say they are of a kind.

She is also an important voice in my manuscript, Frost-Heave, and I named my daughter after her, making her present in daily life. She once wrote of a heart so heavy, her arms felt burdened by its weight. In this, too, I feel a familiarity.

How did your essay Five come about?

The complexity of familial abuse makes you find ways to love those who have hurt you. You could say I wrote this essay because sometimes I still need to love my mother, even though that love is complicated. The opening line repeated in my head numerous times, as if an incantation, before I took pen to paper. I have in my possession a series of photographs I can neither bring myself to display nor discard, and the piece came about because of their connection to each other.

My mom once pointed to the photo with the daisy dress and said it was the last time she was innocent. My ex-husband once showed me the picture of himself at five and said, “this is right before my mom left.” For my daughter, time is still sometimes measured in terms of “before daddy hurt me” and “after my daddy hurt me,” and the photos from that time make the same distinction.

We don’t always have more than a mental image of our “before” moments, but it is impossible for me to look at any of these photographs without loving and grieving for each of them a loss of innocence that cannot be restored. This kind of repeated familial fracture is something I have thought about a lot. Much of what I write is about the cycles of familial violence, often trying to write toward an understanding and peace I don’t yet feel. How did this happen? Why did it repeat? How can I make sure it stops here? What could I have done differently? Underlying all of that, a desire to replace anger with an emotion I can live with. I am trying to write a world I can live in.

Put another way, Dan Beachy-Quick once told me, “what you put into the poem, you protect. “I am still trying to protect these children.

When I think of my mother and ex-husband as they were at five, I remember they were once innocent and then wounded. When I think of my daughter at five, I am trying to forgive myself for letting her go that day. We were all five, once, and I think you can find something to love about anyone if you make them five. My mom died a few years ago and, somehow, thinking of her at five makes it easier to think that she thought of me tenderly when I was five. I know she must have.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

I have had the opportunity to read my work in a variety of settings, but reading at The Tattered Cover, a beloved Denver bookstore, was a milestone moment. As a girl, I used to make space on a shelf, pretending I would one day write a book that would find a home there. A few years ago, I helped curate and edit an anthology, A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park, published by Wolverine Farm Publishing. While National Geographic, the Parks Service, and members of the scientific and local communities gathered to inventory species in the park, over 60 Colorado writers contributed works of poetry and prose, each named after a species in the park. At the Tattered Cover, I spoke about the experience of working on the project and read my poem Rosa woodsii,Woods’ Rose from the anthology. It was wonderful to see our project on the shelves and to participate in such a wonderful collaboration.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One?

How We Roll, by Rebecca Golden. The absurdity of dating, funerals, and family feuds told through irreverent, rapid-fire humor was perfectly captured. Hilarious lines about things like a hearse needing a jumpstart are woven into a piece that also puts a spotlight on the messes of love, grief, relationships, and otherness. I’ve read some of Rebecca’s writing before, but this made me want even more.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently submitting my poetry manuscript, Frost-Heave. Separated into seasons, it explores the cycles of familial and relationship violence through the language of wildfire eradication techniques, scarification germination, and through a series of redefined terms–including dissolution. There are other projects, but this one is demanding my attention.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

Alice Notley. Absolutely Alice Notley. She starts the poem, 30th Birthday, with the lines “May I never be afraid/especially of myself.” If I could teach my daughter one thing, that might just be it. I’m trying to learn that lesson. Her writing looks so closely at the self, at consciousness, and there’s a great interview with her in the Boston Review, and I love her statement, “I’m a hugely but quietly disobedient person.” Her work often seems to concern itself with cultural and social disobedience, and if she’s afraid to write anything, I don’t know what that would be.

I love when a writer’s words haunt me, and these of Alice’s from the poem I’m Just Rigid Enough  play in my mind sometimes:

“We name us and then we are lost, tamed

I choose words, more words, to cure the tameness, not the wildness.”


My name is Alyss

Welcome to the first issue of Alyss.  This journal like most lit journals, rock bands and bad ideas started in a bar, in New York.  Particularly, my favorite bar Blue and Gold which first attracted me because of the colors of my alma mater (and my mother’s before me) and that desperate need you sometimes get when far away from home to be somewhere reminiscent of who you are.

So there I was sitting in a crowded dive bar in Manhattan drinking vodka sodas and complaining about how what the world needed was a new lit movement.  All present agreed the literary scene had fallen into distress since the days of The Beats.  Quite seriously we talked about how we should be the ones who brought about this great literary revolution.  Since we were drunk MFA students in NYC  what else could we do really but plot out a new literary venture in an attempt to combat the despair of quite possibly wasting a lot of time and money.  But again, we were drunk and that gives one a sense of optimism.  So we plotted and strategized and came up with a clever name for our new movement (PBR poets, I’m not even joking, we were that drunk) and then I took the train home to Brooklyn.

Really Alyss started on the subway as I thought about how all those famous and revered writers of The Beat generation, The Lost generation before them and a majority of the MFA canon were men. Particularly, old, white men.  And sure they were great writers but… if we’re making the effort to do something new and revolutionary I want to be represented.  Thus, slightly sobered up I decided to start my own lit journal (I mean I did grow up in the riot grrrl heyday of zines so…) and fill it with writings from a slew of boss bitches who wrote about issues and from a viewpoint that differs from a majority of what I’ve seen in lit journals.  tl;dr: I couldn’t find what I wanted to read in other journals so I channeled Willow Smith and created my own.

As for the name, all my favorite literary chicas from that teenage drug addict, to the little girl who fell down a hole or the half dead mutant hybrid chick turned action superhero, are all named Alice.  Every Alice I’ve ever met has been pretty kick ass.  I even took to using the stage name Alyss Diablo during the bandom days (if you know anyone who needs a bass player for their FOB/MCR/Panic! cover band, call me).  In fact if I ever have a daughter she’ll probably be named Alice or Alyss or Alyse or …you get the point. tl;dr: I just really like the name, ok.

So… welcome to Alyss.  I hope you find something here that makes you feel something real.

– Amanda Faye


How We Roll

“I’m not crying,” I whispered into Scott’s shoulder.  I leaned over his wheelchair and clung awkwardly to the parts of his torso I could reach in that position.  I needed to hide my laughter somehow, because Scott’s sister hated me enough without throwing a fit of funeral giggles into the mix.  The family — both warring families, in fact — stood in untidy rows around the plot.  No one else seemed to find the gravediggers’ coffin-top antics funny, but from the moment they leapt atop the closed casket, shovels in hand, I was lost. I laughed into Scott ‘s shoulder and thought about running.

It started with a trip to Detroit a year before.  I’d tried dating.  I’d met terrible men.  Scott seemed different.  His profile made me laugh, and his emails complimented me without implying that he’d like to refrigerate my head.  We talked for hours on the phone, sometimes late at night.  He told me about his wheelchair and cerebral palsy, but the information didn’t phase me.  I’d grown up on TV shows where the guy in the chair can do anything non-chair guys can do.  They danced and sang and did laundry and played murderball.

After initial online and phone talks, we made plans for me to come see him at his place in Melvindale, a part of the Detroit metroplex that isn’t quite downriver, but that is generally considered inconvenient to anyplace decent you’d want to go.  Melvindale houses many of the oil refineries that line I-75 south of Detroit.  One of the holding tanks is shaped like a basketball and has a Pistons’ logo.  This bit of whimsy does nothing to improve the smell of burning methane, a sour, gassy odor.  The charmlessness of Scott’s malodorous town (people call it “Smellvindale”) should have served as a kind of cosmic warning.  But if there’s an internal voice that tells most women to flee certain men, it never speaks to me.  My brief history of dating creeps should have taught me invaluable lessons about men’s personal hygiene, going Dutch and knowing when to bail, but I never actually slept with anyone for the first 35 years of my life, and found that the learning curve involved in romance made Mt Everest look like the escalator at Sears. I just felt so grateful for any male attention that the parts of my brain in charge of common sense and self-worth lost signal the minute I caught a whiff of off-brand aftershave.

Scott’s apartment should have prompted flight.  It should have prompted cleansing fire, because that seemed like the only real workable solution.  He’d confessed that his little apartment court had yielded two dead bodies since he’d moved in.  He said something about the tragedy of crack and the bad ideas people have about Russian roulette…after smoking crack. He made these ideas seem charmingly gritty — just more tales to burnish his urban hero cred.  Scott grew up in central Detroit.  Every other house on his block had burned, and the dingy white siding on the enduring structures made the street look like a mouthful of broken teeth.  Scott’s childhood home had had stairs.  The only working bathroom was on the second floor of the house, and his mother carried him to it every day for most of his childhood.  When the family eventually moved into a ranch house in Wayne, the motivation wasn’t Scott’s disability and a desire for something accessible, but a hand-illustrated letter from Scott’s mother’s ex-boyfriend.  The letter came from prison, provided helpful info about an upcoming release date, and included drawings of severed penises and dead bodies.  Scott, his younger sister and their mother moved soon after this note arrived.

Scott liked to describe his elementary school as “black.”

“If you turned it upside down and shook it, one white kid would fall out.  Also, one kid in a wheelchair.  They’d both be me,” he said.

“Once when I was 12, some kids made fun of me for the chair,” he said. “I said ‘What’s the matter with you people?’ meaning assholes who’d make fun of a kid in a chair.  An eighth grader overheard, and ended up leading the whole playground in a chant of ‘Redneck, redneck’ at me,” Scott said.

“Jeez,” I said, as I made an illegal left onto Outer Drive. We’d been listening to a radio story about the ex-mayor’s prison sentence. “Did that chair have Confederate mud flaps on it?  What the hell?” I asked.

“It gets better,” Scott said.  “You’ll never guess who that eighth grader was.”

“Unlikely,” I told him.  “I don’t exactly keep a roster of all the kids you went to school with.”

“No, you don’t get it,” he said, repressing a giggle. “It was Kwame Kilpatrick!”

Scott couldn’t help the wheelchair that Kwame made fun of.  Scott’s mother gave birth to Scott at 24 weeks, resulting in his cerebral palsy.  Given that this happened in 1972, the fact that he survived at all seems distinctly miraculous.  Almost a virgin birth story, given Nancy’s youth, small stature and shining innocence.  In pictures, she looks young and fresh and deeply sad, even as the 35-year-old mother of a new high school graduate.  I painted her once as a Christmas gift for Scott.  No matter how long I looked at her face in that graduation photo, I found it hard to remember just a few seconds after putting my supplies away.  She seemed unformed and unfinished, as if violence and poverty stunted her growth or at least forced her to develop in a small, neatly composed way, like a bonsai tree.  Scott’s sister, Erica, has the same child-face as her mother.  Her eyes, wide-set and strikingly dark, glare hatefully out of a round, unlined face. Multiple sclerosis paralyzed Nancy at 40, and pneumonia killed her at 45. Erica blamed herself for her mother’s death. She hired the last aide to care for Nancy, and the aide had had a cold. Nancy once threatened to have old friends in gangs take care of me. She did this in the kitchen at Scott’s house, while I stirred a pot of chicken soup and ignored her.

After a year, I wanted out, but I pushed on.  I’d drive to Detroit on weekends, dreading the sight of refineries, and wishing more than anything that I could just turn around and go home.  One of my last trips to see Scott involved his grandfather’s funeral.  Grandpa Bob lived on Scott’s block growing up, and had actually been Scott’s biological grandfather’s best friend.  A black GM worker, he’d met his second wife at AA.  This had outraged his existing wife and all but one of his adult children.

Bob left most of his money to one of Scott’s cousins. Erica found a lawyer to defend Bob’s estate from the estranged children and grandchildren who lined up for cash after he died.  Erica found the funeral home to bury Bob.  Unfortunately, the funeral director took his cues from both sides of the ensuing feud, which is how I ended up in a black funeral home in Detroit at a service with dueling printed obits.

The one Erica commissioned mentioned all of Bob’s relations — both blood kin and the neighbors who’d cared for him and his wife for more than 30 years.  The shirttail bio family’s only mentioned Bob’s first marriage, and each one bore a hand-written note that read “Thanks, Grandma Betty — you’re the best!!!!”

I’d arrived for the funeral at 9 am, though the service wasn’t scheduled to start til 11.  My directions to the place might’ve worked, if Fort Street hadn’t been undergoing permanent construction, or if I’d had GPS at the time.  There were detours around old detours.  When we made our fourth trip past the sewage treatment plant, Scott started crying while somehow also screaming at me.  We’d gotten lost because I refused to come up the night before, he shouted.  We’d be late to the service and everyone would whisper that it was because of the fucking chair.  He punched the car window for emphasis.  Repeatedly.  I cringed and tried to keep his aunt’s latest set of verbal instructions straight in my mind.  We finally found the funeral home a few minutes later.

No one cared that we were late.  No one noticed.  After a hellish two hours driving the wrong way on broken streets in abandoned neighborhoods that reeked of solid waste treatment and abject hopelessness, the bizarre eulogy unfolding before me seemed so surreally funny that it was all I could do to keep from laughing.  I kept thinking about the Mary Tyler Moore episode where Chuckles the Clown dies.  How none of his work colleagues from the TV station could help laughing on hearing the news that the clown, dressed as a peanut, had been shucked to death by a rogue elephant.  The minister wanted us to clap if we loved the lord.  Scott clapped.  Scott was an atheist, but the idea of offending a rude group of hostile strangers bothered him more than pretending to care about God.  I sat silent and refused to clap, despite Scott’s death glare.  When the minister asked us to stand if we loved Jesus, Scott didn’t try –  wheelchair, etc.  Scott stared pointedly at me, but I kept my seat, too.  He kept staring, though, so I got up.

“That’s right!  Stand if you love the LORD!” the minister wouldn’t let it go.

“I’m saving myself for the Easter Bunny,” I told Scott, not bothering to whisper.  I stomped toward the exit, intent on checking my email in the ladies room, and ran right into Erica.  As the minister advised us all to “Check yourself before you wreck yourself,” Erica and I locked eyes and shared a moment of mutual incredulity.

“What the fuck?” I mouthed silently at her.

“I didn’t pick that asshole,” she told me as I moved closer.  She whispered this.  “Granddad wasn’t religious.  This is all them,” she said, gesturing at the right side of the room where Team Grandma Betty had assembled.  She actually introduced me to Bob’s only non-estranged son as Scott’s girlfriend, as if she and I were on civil terms.  As if she hadn’t threatened me with her gang ties (“Her gang ties are my gang ties, and those guys all have wives and jobs now,” Scott had assured me).  I smiled and shook the guy’s hand.

At the cemetery, we all stood awkwardly together: blood kin, neighbor kin, and me, the idiot who’d committed herself to a man who screamed at her and called her names.  I felt glad when the funeral director, an ancient black man who looked like he’d been carved out of walnut, told us that the graveside service would be brief.  A pair of gravediggers moved to lower the coffin into the vault so that a blood daughter and Scott’s cousin Tory could take turns throwing flowers into the hole and we could all get the hell out of there.  The gravediggers got about half an inch deep before the coffin stalled.  It stuck against the sides of the vault.  Whispers went round the crowd.  I heard the funeral director’s raspy bass whisper “Too big for the Goddamned  vault” about ten seconds before the gravediggers did something unimaginable – they climbed on top of the coffin and began jimmying away at its sides with shovels.  At that moment, my struggle with the absurdity of the whole shitty situation exploded inside me.  I wanted to laugh.  I was going to laugh.  I clung to Scott and laughed until tears ran down my cheeks.  Erica put a hand on my shoulder.  I collected myself, and the gravediggers solved the coffin problem by cutting the guy ropes.  The box dropped – Thud! Bang! – and the tossing of flowers and dirt commenced rapidly.  The funeral director told us there would be no procession back to the home; he didn’t feel like it.

I wheeled Scott over the rough, muddy ground towards my car.  I thought about escape.  I thought about the Starbucks Americano I’d drink as I drove back to Toledo at the unofficial Michigan speed limit of 90 miles an hour.  As we moved toward the paved path where my car was parked, the funeral director shouted for attention.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the hearse…needs a jumpstart.”  I dropped Scott off at his place, hit the Starbucks right off 75 in Allen Park, and got the hell out of dodge.


Rebecca Golden


To love my mother, I make her five. I give back the dress full of daisies her grandmother made; give back the wide brown eyes and Shirley Temple curls pinned at the sides.

To love her, I frame her in the black and white photo of before.


I remember what it was like, when loving her came without effort. Late night games of “what-if” on the porch when the fans weren’t strong enough to stir a cool breeze on hot summer nights. I remember when she told me about ice skating on the lake behind her childhood home, the way she built enough speed to feel like she was flying. She told me about the beer bottle, hidden in the cattails, and how it sliced her hand as she fell.

She showed me how she squeezed her thumb to make the blood spurt onto the snow, to make her wound more visible. To make it count.

I wish I had not remembered that story the day my husband came home, once again smelling of Diet Pepsi and Appleton rum, when I set down the onion and took the knife to my thumb. When I felt the metallic zing and watched the sink stain red. When I remembered the sight of blood from a previous wound will sometimes stop an abuser from striking, even as they resent the disruption of their plan.


Were you close?


His mother once showed me a photo of him at five. All blue eyes and a blonde bowl cut, the kind you get at the kitchen table. His kindergarten photo, taken right before she left. She thought the violence would stop, if she was out of the picture. Thought her kids would be better off with the dad who could provide even though he drank. I saw him at five, so I loved him.

Later, when I tried to talk to his mom about the violence in our home, the way he hurt me, that he said I was lucky he didn’t kill me, she said, “You knew he had a temper before you married him. I told you what his father was like.”

Thanks to her, I knew to take the children with me. I remind her of that, when she calls to tell me how wrong I was to do so.


Once, on Christmas morning, his hands closed around my throat, anger adding strength as he lifted and shook me by the kitchen stove because I refused to force our three-year-old daughter to finish her muffin. 

I remembered the sound of a thrown ashtray hitting the sink, cutting into my right hand as I washed dishes in scalding hot water. Remembered the feel of a broken nose, the taste of blood, the sound of bells ringing as they shattered.

He said, “Don’t look at me like that. I am not your fucking mother.”

I remembered telling my mother he felt like home.


Two months after our divorce was finalized, two years before I would stop speaking to my mother, I took the before photo of my daughter, no longer black and white.

She was five, with long blonde hair and green eyes, sitting with her brother on a patch of grass. In the June sun, they sat, waiting for their dad to pick them up for a visit.

He brought her back with broken blood vessels and scattered bruises, with threats of what would happen to all of us if she told. Brought her back shaken, with bells in her ears that never stop ringing.


My mother said it was my fault for letting her go. His mother said I knew he had a temper and I had children with him anyway. He told the police he was mad at me when he hurt our daughter.

I can’t forgive any of us when I remember my daughter was five.


Mandy L. Rose

Two Kids

You hated the
dovecote &

its confusion
of ladybirds

that bit & stunk
& mother

loved so dearly.
You snuck

in with the feed &

of it they ate &
we carried them

to the tailwater
wrapped limp

in gauzy dresses
& watched them

flutter dead down
river. What was

so goddamn easy
about watching,

about intimacy,
brother? &

after was hushed
like a small snail

suddenly stuck
to my knuckle

—too easy
to brush off

with no stone perch
of anvil,

no grip of lock
and dam.

Meg Matich

the fly claims no vertigo sitting on the sill


Busia’s fly at least bit you
when she tickled your ribs, her fingers
crawling past your sternum, to dance
under your chin, your delight
feigned as surprise or disgust,
begging “do it again”
until she told you the golumpki
wouldn’t roll itself.


as you spend the day mulling,
the day spends itself without you.
navel gazer, lint-spinner, snooze slayer –
carpe something, lest you circle,
mindless in your windowed cell,
sun filtered through glass and fronds,
blind to the takings
you’ve relished so long.


did you know, my love,
that while spiders spin seven
kinds of silk, only the cribellates comb
their multi-stranded sticky leavings
until wooly enough to catch hairy fly legs
then hide, watching their webs bounce
with the struggles of prey
who never fail to answer?


Leslie Rzeznik

Self Portrait for Whiskey Kisses

I named my hoo ha Judith, just like Judith told me to.

She has curly hair, a little home, and an attitude, that tastes like whiskey.

And if you’re nice, Judith may give you a whiskey kiss.

Whiskey kisses don’t come easy. So you have to be careful.

Sometimes they’re sour but most other times, they burn bookish the way sinfulness should.

A whiskey kiss is not a wine kiss or a vodka kiss and for heavens! Nothing like a beer kiss!

(beer kisses are unacceptable. too much stout.)

Judith with fame has made many a good man and woman, cry in her search for happiness.

Enough about that. Let’s talk about me.

I first met Judith as an 11-year-old woman. We did not get along.

She made me toss and turn in bed, like a pig being prepared for slaughter.

And when she murdered, I felt a putative warmth oozing out my lungs.

A cancerous warmth, the way snuff snuggles into a snuffbox made of white dove.

Judith and I, we love each other now. Except when it snows.

Our whiskyness stood upright always, in case of a parlor visit.

But old girls we are. No more ashamed of being ashamed.

And old girls we will remain, passing down our alcoholism to our daughters.

Because I have no need for whiskey at 82.


Nazia Jannat

Ladies Only

Eloquence would say:

“Once upon a time there was a girl with a tube
of tomato paste in her stomach and one day she wore
really tight jeans and it squeezed fruit jelly
out her American pie. She gave birth to secret sweetness.”

Eleven, behind the grey couch,
my eyes afraid of my mother’s back,
I couldn’t figure anything out, except
stiffly answering to “You’ve been sleeping all day?”
with “I got my period.”
Nothing more exquisite then brown blood in time, blue jeans
and a bottomless pain; shredding, sharp,
perpetual to the blondness of the English teacher’s
bullshit: Capulet, Romeo, Juliet, etc.
If I stand will they
see? Smell?

It must be the same with mangoes,
robins: their bodies,red tinted, blush at us:
onlookers lusting their ripeness.


Chrislande Dorcilus