by Eric Tran

Poem Starting with Underwear and Ending with Ghost

On my last week of wards, when hospital work becomes so routine I could ghost in and out emergencies in minutes if needed, I bring a 2-pack of y-fronts. I tried to picture the heft of my patient while at the dollar store. I know so much that he has yet to tell me: how many bottles of Tylenol he knocked back, to start. He begins a case of Pabst in the morning and finishes before dinner. His husband of a quarter decade died a month ago. He didn’t arrange for someone to feed his mini schnauzer because the near dead don’t make plans. He may know I signed the order that stops him from going home to feed the schnauzer, but there’s a door between knowing and remembering. Today he’s washing his single pair of underpants in the sink as there’s no one to bring him more—near dead, plans. He won’t know I left the dad briefs with his nurse. He doesn’t know in the last year one of my friends died, one friend overdosed, one died of overdose. The near dead I know, the dead I know near me. This week I’m too sad to go home right after work, but I—arrogantly—have only planned time for the known dead. I know, plans: the first step towards failure. My dead don’t remember me, I know. This near dead man won’t either. Who can plan what ghost they leave behind?

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Eric Tran is queer Vietnamese writer and a resident physician in psychiatry in Asheville, NC, where he is also an associate editor at Orison Books. His debut book of poems, The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer, won the Autumn House Press Emerging Writer's contest. He is also the author of the chapbooks Revisions and Affairs with Men in Suits. His work has been featured in Poetry Daily and Best of the Net and appears or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Iowa Review, 32 Poems, and elsewhere.

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by Michael Aurelio

The First Thing Written in Two Years

I am walking down the diamond district on 47th street

my grandmother has passed on

I am looking to get her engagement rings cleaned

Yesterday you found the uber receipt

and are now back where the attack happened

sageing the hotel

of a dark we promised not to speak

There is a pause in every great argument

(A breath that pulls a knot so tight the rope can break)

where both realize the next thing said is either the beginning of the end

or the carry on that raises you both from bed each day

a little softer than the last

This is a desperate beautiful that we will do with our lives

I am mostly in my gut

churning a mortgage and him and you and us

and how will I propose outside?

the sun doesn’t shine in Brooklyn during February

If you want to rot an oak tree; it’s years of strength and lines and reach

you drill small holes to help let the water and insects in

you kill in littleness

you kill in steady trickle

In the photos she takes I look so skinny and happy

I look like I would break if the rain came inside

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Michael Aurelio is an actor and writer living in Brooklyn. He was born in Rome, Italy to American expats and moved to a small lumber town in Northern California when he was 10. His chapbooks include The Smokers, designed and printed by a motorcycle gang. Work featured in No Contact Magazine and Rejection Lit. Upcoming: Train River Publishing Covid Anthology. He has performed off-broadway & very off-broadway. You can find him on all the socials @aurelioacts

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by Simon Perchik

The wet-paint sign stays behind...

The wet-paint sign stays behind
lets you have the bench to yourself
watch how the battlefield standing by

becomes a hillside with the dead
at attention, still in formation
waiting for the command

you drink from its shadow
the way this make-shift raft
sticks to the ground as the silence

filling your mouth with a sea
to let it all take place
where you have taken a seat, sit

trying to remember how to talk
to look between these old boards
for rain or no rain.

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Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Weston Poems published by Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library, 2020. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.comTo view one of his interviews please follow this link.

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by Abigail Oswald

Celestial Mechanics

We’re just entering Saturn’s orbit when Lou tells me he wants a divorce.

Saturn has always been my favorite of the planets, though best admired from a distance. Up close the neat rings disintegrate and what looked beautiful from far away is actually just a mass of broken pieces—rocks and ice and dust trapped together, masquerading as a whole.

The scientists say they’re disappearing, the rings. We can’t trust anything to stay.


I know he must have someone on the crew.

This is not a fresh realization. We’ve simply been gone too long for him to still be harboring feelings for anyone back home. That’s just Lou: if a person isn’t right in front of him, they cease to exist. Life must be so easy his way, and so interesting. And if you’re lucky enough to exist for him, you might feel it too: the extraordinary and inimitable sensation of being the only one.

I’m no stranger to the feeling. I’m no idiot, either. The all-crew dinners remind me of how I felt when I first met him. Our team crowds the round white table, our freeze-dried feast. They use any excuse to catch the light coming off him for just a little bit longer. He shines and we glow.


Sometimes when I try to sleep I find myself engaging in fantasies of sabotage. The ease is part of the appeal. I’ve lived on this ship for eight years, and I know her intimately. I heal her when she’s broken; she’s mine. I know what damaged component would briefly hinder us, which one would unravel the whole mission, which would kill me, or kill him, or kill us all. Valves and wires and tiny gears. Mechanical parts projected against the backs of my eyelids, floating in space. Disconnected, begging to be touched.


There’s a bright young thing gazing out the window dreamily, her wispy bangs plastered to her forehead in a sheen of eager sweat. Everything’s still new for her up here. She’s closer to every star than she’s ever been. Every planet is another first time. She pulses just walking around the ship, slick and yearning, grinning, radiating.

I never wanted to go back, she whispers. Flush-faced, her hair red like a cartoon explosion—boom. The stars frame her through the window, a living work of art.

There’s nothing to go back to now, of course.  


Everyone on the crew is younger than me, except Lou. I never recognize the songs they play: melodies with artificial beats and robots singing backup for girls born in another century, voices that ring like clear golden bells. I learn the words but don’t join in the sing-alongs.

I am surrounded but lonely. I imagine myself out among the stars. I make lists about the best planets to be marooned on, distant Pluto and windswept Jupiter. My husband hasn’t looked me in the eye since leaving Saturn.


There are, after all, no divorce lawyers in space. No marriage therapists or mediators, no judges, no courts or contracts. Lou knows this. What there is: our single ship, on a futile and increasingly meaningless mission.

There are other things, too—bright stars and planets made of fire and ice and drifting, pointless asteroids and pretty little comets and meteors that will eventually burn up into nothing and voracious black holes.

There are living things and dead things. I make more lists. I never include myself.


The solar system is, in fact, changing. They sent us out to answer this question and the answer is yes and also they did not need to send us out in this ship or spend all of their money to put us here. We used to joke about what we could buy with just a single one of our suits, how many Hollywood mansions, New York lofts, college educations, vintage cars and yachts. On the clearest nights before we left Earth, I could look up and figure out for myself what they sent us to confirm—without a helmet, without a ship, feet still firmly planted in soil on a planet that no longer exists. I could see things I never used to be able to see, planets that shouldn’t have been near each other, or near us, telling a story. A story of what was coming, which we thought we could prevent.

And yet, when they asked to send us out, I had no reason to decline.


I still remember when we met: when I was a student and he was a teacher. It’s true that Lou has always been a teacher, always had that presence; he told me a story once about children crowding him on the playground, by the winding plastic slide, as he showed them a nugget of moonstone he’d conjured from the depths of his pockets. Transfixing even then, casting otherworldly spells, his hands in constant, blinding motion. How he could make you believe that everything you’d learned prior was utterly meaningless compared to what he was saying now, yet also that you were smart, special, and capable, that all of the accumulated knowledge and experience within you would amount to something incredible. You were gold, always had been; he had just scraped you clean so you could see it for yourself.


I’ve decided I won’t hold it against the bright young thing. She never had a chance, and it’s not her fault; I concede that it’s a little mine, but mostly his. I wonder if there was anything on Earth she’ll mourn. I picture a little white house and a little black cat that lounged in the window, waiting. Sometimes I give her the dreams I had when I was younger. When she talks to me I picture the beautiful, coiled-up nest of her brain. Throbbing pink, still growing, its soft shape yet undefined.


In the end, gravity is the thing I’ll miss most. It shows up on my final list: a book’s spine cracking my head as I reach for the top shelf at the library, the wet splat of an egg hitting ceramic tile, an apple gently loosing from the branch that grew it and sinking into the grass beneath, even when no one is around to hear. Knowing incontrovertibly that when you let go of something, it will fall away from you.

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Abigail Oswald holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and currently resides in Connecticut. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Matchbook, Cheap Pop, Hobart, Split Lip, and elsewhere. You can find her online at

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by Eleanor Howell


(form inspired by the “Sex Diaries” series from The Cut)


Sunday, Winter  

1pm I get off work and try to leave, but my car is stuck in the weird ice. I go back inside the restaurant to sit at the bar for a while. Daisy makes me a boulevardier and we chat. She’s wearing black jeans and a plaid shirt, which makes her look like the lesbian version of the boys I crushed on in high school. The whole city is frozen. It’s climate change or just a fluke. I didn’t plan ahead—I should’ve gotten chains for my car. The restaurant is a cavern on Sunday afternoons. The glittery bar looks dusty in the sunlight, but still elegant.

1:18pm I notice my hands have turned a burnt yellow color, like I’ve dipped them in something. I go to the bathroom to wash them—but how had it not come off earlier when I washed my hands a million times? It does not come off even under hot water and soap. I categorize everything that I have touched today. Egg yolks as slick as the inside of a cheek, milk, cream, sticky cookie dough, dry sugar, wet sugar sludge that I stirred carefully with one finger to distribute evenly across the bottom of the pan to ensure a smooth caramel.

1:23pm I show my yellow hands to Daisy. Daisy puts her hands on the bar in front of me like cool bartenders do. I had juiced lemons, peeled oranges. Flour, marsala wine, dried currants. I ask should I go to the doctor? Is it jaundice? Daisy laughs in a way that’s supposed to be comforting, I think. She grabs my hand across the bar and smells the tips of my fingers. Tart, she smirks. Tart like grapefruit, yogurt, sour cream.

Tuesday, Winter 

5:17am I wake from a dream where I have jumped too far into a depth of water. It takes me so long to rise to the surface that I’m afraid I’ll run out of air. I shouldn’t have jumped when I feel so heavy and tired.

6:02am I start a batch of gelato. I watch my hand stir the slowly thickening mixture of milk, egg yolks, and sugar in a gentle vortex with a silicone spoon. I remember what a man said once—a man I wish I could excise from my mind—that you should only stir gelato in one direction. Every time I remember this, I have an urge to switch directions. 

6:49am On my morning coffee break, I stand behind the bar and pull a shot of espresso. Daisy is already here, getting a jump on the day. She stands at the end of the bar, juicing a giant tub of green and yellow and pink balls—citrus fruits.

4pm Even after my shower, I am still coughing flour from all the pie crust I made today. I rolled it out, flopped it into tins, and wrapped it in plastic to sit, raw and empty, in the walk-in. I wrap myself in my long coat and sit on my stoop to get some sunlight before the night comes. I have dinner plans with Cassie, my best friend. I don’t want to see her, but I’ll go anyway and feel better.

11:18pm Lying in bed, I check Tinder. What do I expect to find on this abysmal app? A man I went on a few dates with some time ago has sent me a message. It’s a picture of him, lounging naked on a mattress in dusty sunlight. His penis is short and fat, gleaming pink. How strange that I ever held it in my mouth and in body near my guts. I feel contempt, even though what I really feel for him is nothing.

Friday, Spring 

2pm When work is finally over, I sit at the bar because the lunch rush is ending. Daisy makes me a Negroni. She asks how am I, do I like the drink? She used special kind of vermouth. We talk about abortion bans and rising rents. Dave, a line cook I like ok, sits beside me and asks us if we want to get a drink at the Local Dive (which is the actual name of the bar.) The place we used to go—the Morrison Grill—is disappeared. In its place is a sleek steel building called The Katherine. I feel complicit, I say, and they laugh.

4:28pm The three of us move to the Local Dive, which has gotten very bougie. I order a batch-made Sazerac. We sit in the covered patio around one of the little fires, and Dave smokes a cigarette. He hands it to Daisy, who takes it and sucks on it like it’s giving her life. I am a little drunk, so I think it’s a beautiful gesture.

6:08pm We order fries and they come in a little cone. Daisy orders a burger. Myoglobin and mustard run down her hands as she eats it.

7:34pm We move to The Standard which has darts and pool tables and infused whiskeys. I am very good at pool. I feel Daisy slipping away from me and I am devastated and furious, which is a dangerous combination. They play darts. Daisy goes to pick up the darts that hit the board and fall on the floor. She bends over deliberately and slowly. Dave walks up behind her and laughs in her ear and stares at her ass.

8:05pm I order a whiskey at the bar. A man with a beard says, oh, so you’re a whiskey girl. He’s impressed. They are always impressed. He is very tall and broad and wearing a white knit sweater which looks raggedy in a grungy way, not in a rich-guy way. He has curly red hair that sticks out from under his beanie. I wonder what it would be like to fuck a man that big.

8:45pm Daisy and Dave kiss me on my cheeks before they leave together. The big man buys me another whiskey and grins down at me from his swaying head. Swaying like a big, bracing tree.

9:49pm At first, it’s fun. I show him my bookshelf which is in my bedroom. He stands behind me looking at the books and wraps his huge arms around me. I think you’re really sexy, he says, which is honestly heartening to hear because I’ve been wondering.

10:02pm After he comes inside me, he groans and lays his floppy head on my chest. He holds my hand and I am trapped under his giant, warm, strange body. He falls asleep with his head on my chest and my hand in his. I’m itchy and sticky; my leg is tingling. I let him sleep for a few minutes, while I stew silently, looking up at the gooey white ceiling. Desire is like this—it comes on really strong and leaves as soon as things get tactile. I wonder if I’m a bit depressed again. I wonder how Daisy’s night was. I squirm and thrash until he lifts his head and I say get off I have to take my contacts out. 


10:30pm I kick him out and slip under my sheets. I always have sex on top of the blankets so I can press my body into clean, dry sheets, alone to sleep.

Saturday, Summer

11am I meet Cassie at the park for a day-off stomp around. We haven’t done one of those in forever. We smoke a bowl together at the smoking bench (the one tucked into the woods on the north end of the park) and then we walk along the paved paths, enjoying the way the sunlight comes to us broken up by leaves. When Cassie first moved here, I took her to this park after we ate an edible (back when I was still making my own). When we got to the park she stopped, threw her head back and said, look at these treeeeessss, all drawn out and spacey. The trees here go up to the sky.

1:30pm We’ve been lying in the sun, so we move to the woods around the pond to cool off. We sit on the edge of the water and dip our toes in. There’s a mallard in the pond and he stares us down. That duck is being a real creep, says Cassie. I tell Cassie how recently I lost some weight, and now men stare at me everywhere I go. She nods ponderously. Men are so basic, she says.

1:45pm Cassie tells me a secret and it is this: sometimes she pretends that her favorite book characters are watching her life like a TV show. Jane Eyre is scandalized by her sex life but loves to watch her go grocery shopping, because of all the choices. I think this sounds awful. If someone is always watching your show, you have no way to hide.

2:20pm We get tacos for lunch. I haven’t thought about Daisy until just now. Cassie says I’ve got myself flipped—I only make moves on people I don’t care about. I tell her I’ve decided to just let it go. I’m happy being single. Cassie rolls her eyes at me.

6pm After a nap and a shower at my apartment, Cassie goes to buy us popsicles at Fred Meyer. I sit on my stoop with my cake notebook and watch the sun getting lower and more intense. A boy, who looks about ten, zips by me on a weird hovering disc that’s powered by a single, spinning wheel. He loops the block again and again and I’m gripped with nostalgia for summer evenings when I was a kid, even though we never had anything like that.

Tuesday, Summer 

3pm I wake up from post-work nap—one of those weird, almost lucid, stupor naps I’ve been having recently. The last dream image I remember was myself in a bathtub with stacks of plates that kept breaking. I kept having to fish around in the bathwater for pieces of plates, trying not to cut myself. I wasn’t worried though, I was calm. It was just one of those things. I have a half-thought in the moments between sleeping and waking that I am coming into a greater awareness of my own delicate, tender, devious body.

4:50pm I get a text from a woman named Lana who I’ve been on two dates with. On the first date we got the blankets all wet, even though I was nervous because it had been so long since I’d slept with a woman. After she left, I got into the dry sheets and slept better than I’ve slept in a long time.

6pm I go for a run in the hovering sunlight. I breathe in deep, thunderous breaths of warm air.

7:15pm I walk over to Belmont to meet Lana for a drink and a round of pool. I have my headphones in, but even so a squirrelly looking man calls to me as I walk by. I’ve let my hair grow out and it’s blowing in the breeze and I’m wearing cut-offs and a black tank top, so I look hot. Which is by design, of course, but not for him. He says, I’m just digging your whole look and asks if I want to come inside and smoke a bowl with him. When I say no, he shakes my hand.

7:30pm I make Lana laugh when I tell her that story. I think about another story I told Daisy once, a similar story, because these stories are everywhere. Daisy said, what made him think he was entitled to your time? Lana says, you look pretty pleased with yourself, when she sees me blushing. Does that make me a bad feminist? Was I supposed to be mad? Lana says she likes a woman who is unpredictable.

9:15pm Lana walks me home because I have to work the next day. If someone were watching my life like a TV show, maybe they would see us come inside, hover around the kitchen with water glasses, gravitate together, kiss and kiss and kiss until we are sweating on the slick leather couch in my living room. Wouldn’t that be something to see.

Sunday, Fall 

6:15am I make meringue buttercream for the special cake tonight. When I’m making buttercreams, I cannot stop myself from eating it. A meringue is fluffy, slick, glossy white like clouds seen from an airplane. When I was a kid I used to imagine rolling and oozing around in airplane clouds like Greek gods in Disney cartoons. Meringue is like that. I want to cup my hands in it. Bring it to my mouth, roll my tongue into the sweet fluff, let it take up all the space in my mouth. When I add the butter, the fat gives it weight and slipperiness.

7:45am Lana texts me, woke up craving blueberry muffins and thought of you ;) I feel a balloon in my chest. I am going to fuck this up.

5:15pm I take a very long post-nap walk. I let my hair dry as I walk—it’s getting so long it blows behind me like an elegant scarf. In the evening sun the people in the park are doing couples yoga, jogging, watching their dogs run in joyous circles with their tongues out. I like to feel my muscles working as I walk. I feel keyed up and alive. I walk all over the east side until the sun goes down.

9:20pm Lana takes me on another date. We want to roll around in our desire for a while before we go back to my apartment. We order three cocktails each throughout the night to stretch out the yearning. Or is it because I’m afraid of being tactile? We watch the bartender froth egg whites and gin together into a liquid-solid for us. It’s a fancy bar—every so often someone spills a cloud of liquid nitrogen on the floor. The clouds bounce and flounce away like ghosts. Back at my place, the sensuality reaches a breaking point. It’s too warm for the cream-colored duvet, so we pull it off the bed like we’re unveiling a painting. Like egg whites, we fill each other’s mouths. We fill each other up with fingers.

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Eleanor Howell is a writer and former baker living in Portland, Oregon. She recently earned her MFA at Western Washington University, and is the nonfiction editor at Sweet Tree Review. She writes fiction and nonfiction about feminism, pop culture, cults, romance plots, sex, and living in bodies. Her work has appeared in The Southeast Review, semicolon literary journal, and elsewhere, and can be found on her website,

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