after David Berman by Stephanie Lane Sutton

Self-Portrait at 33

I am trying to admit something

that’s true & won’t destroy me

but the fact is everything

that has occurred has led

to my new blue haircut

which is the same haircut

I had before. Now

I am a poet, which is to say

I am my own first person

narrator, arranger of bricks

in a neat stack. I do not know

if I am building a wall or something

I can use to smash

the windows of non-feeling entities

like banks & the people

who are supposed to love me

& don’t. What could have prevented

this? I started out like everyone else:

a non-ghost iteration everyone tries

to keep from crying. By the time I moved

to Coral Gables, it was already

too late. The problem has always

been a problem of voice. A doctor

says my tongue is too big

for my mouth. The airport

has never been closer. I move

closer & closer when each lease

runs out. I am beginning to believe

gravity is just another line break.

It’s not that hard to take off. Yesterday

I read how scientists are learning

the language of mushrooms, who emit

bolts of electrical pulses in patterns

resembling vocabulary. They think

the mushrooms are mostly talking

about food, but they don’t know

to whom. It might be to no one.

I was hungry & now I’m not. Time

is what can’t be edited. It means

your life is someone else’s consequence.

Full responsibility slides over the hips

like a new pair of pants. I am done

counting the numbers of my body.

Seconds feel like nails, the days

like hammers. No one ever says

what you’re building but what it is

is home. I think about calling

you on the phone. I hold this heavy

block. It’s filled with every word

& almost none of them come out.

Back to the wall, I cannot tie

my own blindfold. You could be

an executioner’s mercy. Hide

from me what is scheduled

to kill me. Show them the crime

of my existence, where to aim.

I am ready to own it: what I want.

Somewhere, it is somewhere else.

Someone else is somewhere

growing lichen on a tree.

The tree just keeps sighing,

waiting for the sky to stand. 

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Stephanie Lane Sutton was born in Detroit. was born in Detroit. Her writing has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Anmly Lit, Black Warrior Review, The Offing, Rhino Poetry, and Thrush Poetry Journal, among others. Her micro-chapbook, 'Shiny Insect Sex,' is part of the Bull City Press Inch Series. She received a creative writing MFA from the University of Miami, where she was the managing editor of Sinking City. You can find her on Twitch, Twitter, and Instagram as @AthenaSleepsIn.

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by Meghan Sterling

Father the Father

I split with what I thought he was. Black crow, black stone,

piloting the dark earth’s curve. Grey shape in blue water—

the tender shark at our ankles. Everything he did heroic.

Being good for nothing except everything as natural

as sunrise, when being daughter was miracle, proof enough

of love. Waking up at dawn to lie next to him reading

the newspaper, stars in a circle behind my burning eyes.

The quiet of the morning before the parrots began to shriek

in the Royal Poincianas. The safety of my father’s body

before I became something strange, with a woman’s teeth.

A woman’s legs. How the sun crowned pink and crawled up

the glass walls. His newspaper rustled as the pages turned

and folded back—headlines, local, sports. How I was the slow light

blooming the room gold. How his papery hands petaled the dark.

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Meghan Sterling’s work has been nominated for 4 Pushcart Prizes in 2021 and has been published or is forthcoming in Rattle, Colorado Review, Idaho Review, Radar Poetry, The West Review, West Trestle Review, River Heron Review, SWIMM, Pinch Journal and many others. She is Associate Poetry Editor of the Maine Review. Her first full length collection These Few Seeds (Terrapin Books) came out in 2021. Her chapbook, Self Portrait with Ghosts of the Diaspora (Harbor Editions) will be out in 2023. Her second full length collection, View From a Borrowed Field, won the Paul Nemser Poetry Prize (Lily Poetry Review) and will be out in 2023. Read her work at

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by Jesus Francisco Sierra

The Terms of Marvin's Truth

Marvin’s friends left the island years before, and whatever part of his family hadn’t left had passed away. He was alone. Over the years, he’d get letters with photos of them standing in Miami Beach with their bare feet burrowed into the white sand and towels wrapped around their necks, holding plates heaped with piles of moros, pork, and plantains, raising Heinekens to the camera. Always the same caption, Faltas Tu.”

Marvin had always been afraid of the ocean, odd for someone born on an island, surrounded by water. Which is why he’d refused to leave on a makeshift raft like his friends. Still, he wished he could rid himself of that fear, and he dreamed of leaving one day. It was all he thought about. He’d tried the normal channels but had been denied, over and over, a visa to travel abroad, the reasons for the denial baseless and obscure.

More years passed and Marvin was overcome by sadness upon realizing that this was what was left of his life, that he’d have to come to terms with the truth: that he’d probably never get to see all he wanted to see in this world. He’d never feel the dry heat of the Sahara or the humid mist of Niagara Falls or stand beneath the Eiffel Tower or lean over the edge of the Grand Canyon. That he’d never drink a Heineken with his friends on Miami Beach.

So, he resorted to imagining it all. His dreams became vivid. They began to invade his every thought. He’d forget to stop for his cafecito in the morning, something he desperately needed. He’d have trouble concentrating at work. It got so that after work, he’d hurry home without stopping, running up to his apartment just to sit in his rocking chair by the window, look out over the neighborhood, and let his imagination fly over vast oceans to reach all those magical places. Consumed by an unimpeded sense of freedom that he hadn’t known before, he began to miss meals. Some days he skipped work. He was warned that he might be fired.            

One morning, Marvin woke with curious bumps on the outside of his ankles. He bent down over the edge of his bed and rubbed. Had he twisted them? He’d slept through his alarm and was late to work again. But he felt no remorse because of the places he’d visited in his dreams. Checking his ankles again, the swelling seemed more prominent. It could be bad circulation. It reminded him that permanence was not a given, that with sixty years of mileage he had more of a past than a future, and parts of him would not work as well. On the way home, a strange feeling came over him, compelling him to walk past his house, without any idea of where he might be going. He’d have expected a certain anxiety to well up as he passed below his own window, but he walked with what felt like an involuntary sense of purpose.   

Marvin strolled along the uneven streets occasionally stopping to lift his foot to the curb and feel the bumps on his ankles. They were growing. His shoes felt tighter but there was no pain. He ventured into La Libreria del Barrio, where he tried to distract himself by counting the number of books with Fidel or Che’s image on the cover. It felt as if his shoes would rip apart. Cuco, who minded the store, sat in a low chair behind the counter, thumbing through outdated Carteles magazines. Cuco had nodded when Marvin entered the store and he’d said, I’ve been expecting you.

Marvin thought it odd, since he didn’t really know Cuco. He scoured the shelves until he found a vintage National Geographic under a pile of old Bohemia magazines. Cuco mumbled, I see you found what you came for. Marvin shrugged and opened it to a random page. A story about Iguazu Falls in South America, on the border between Argentina and Brazil. He spread the magazine open and unfolded the photo pages before him. He’d never seen or imagined anything like it. Thick, impenetrable forests, endless green, with orchids growing next to pines, bamboo next to palms, and mosses beside lianas and begonias edging up to hundreds of long waterfalls. He closed his eyes and trembled as he listened to the water thundering over rocky cliffs as if rushing off the edge of the world. And he felt the cold mist rise to coat his cheeks.

He felt a sharp pain in both his feet and looked down. The bumps were bulging over the side of his shoes. The more he thought about the falls the more the skin of his ankles pushed out. He sat down and unlaced his shoes. Cuco was leaning over the counter now, wire-rimmed glasses lifted and resting over his forehead, eyeing him.                  

Marvin lowered his socks and saw small protrusions sprouting from the side of his ankles. It’s your time Marvin, Cuco said, it’s your time, don't be afraid. Marvin hurried through the store, tripping over a stack of books near the front, falling to the ground. He sat up in a manner unlike him, hasty. Without a thought, he yanked his shoes and socks off. He rushed out of the store barefoot.

As he began to run home, he feared people would see the deformities growing out of him more and more as he ran. But Marvin felt faster and lighter, as if every step propelled him farther and higher than the one before.

People stopped along the sidewalk and pointed at him. There were wings growing out of his ankles. He thought about how up to then, his life had gone largely unnoticed, but now everything felt different. He felt freer, and he waved back at them. And then, in one moment, he stepped and did not feel the street beneath him. When he looked at his front foot, he saw that they had grown large, like pelican wings with long, emboldened feathers fluttering in the wind. Each step took him farther and higher. He saw he was over the top of all the roofs in the neighborhood. He could fly.

Marvin flew by his apartment and saw himself rocking in the chair by the window. His winged self waved at him as he flew past, and he could see himself smiling. He turned to see the edge of the sea and flew towards it. Soon he was over the water sensing the cool salty mist caress him as it rose above the crashing waves beneath him. And the empty chair, rocked to a stop.

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Jesus Francisco Sierra is a writer who emigrated from Cuba in 1969 to San Francisco’s Mission District. His work has appeared in Zyzzyva, Los Angeles Review of Books, Gulf Stream Literary Journal, The Bare Life Review, Solstice Literary Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, and The Acentos Review among others. He is one of the founding members of the Rooted & Written program at The Writers Grotto. He holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and is a licensed structural engineer. His first short story collection At Times of Loss and Other Cuban Stories is currently being considered by several independent presses. He is currently at work on his first novel.
Twitter: @jesusfsierra

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by Molly Reitman

The Whole World

  1. Molly lying on the bed—on her stomach in the afternoon sunlight—Malibu curled up underneath her chest, Molly's fingers resting on the keys of her laptop as she considers typing. This little cat is a cloud, a flower cloud, a little flower-cloud in a circle and settled in beneath Molly’s neck, where long red hair gathers in a nest. Malibu rests a little marshmallow fluff paw on Molly’s forearm, and Molly is remembering, in this photo, that there are good things in the world.
  2. Samia standing in front of the stove with two screaming red steaks on the skillet, Samia’s fingers thrown up in a peace sign, staring at the camera as if to say: this is something I do all the time, and the way she’s saying it proves it’s her first time doing it ever. She’s got her Boonie Patch shirt on, the one she loves to wear, the cropped white one with wavy blue illustrations all over. Her head is freshly shaved. Blue light inserts itself boldly from the kitchen window—a passionate dusk. The bright blue pours into the sink like dishwater, it swims across Samia’s back and stains the once-white subway tile behind the stove, it repaints the kitchen cabinets cyan. The steaks, however, remain red.
  3. Molly staring up at the camera, kneeling on the floor, anger and amusement colliding on her face like shopping carts. Ash and dirty joint roaches pile a small black hole on the carpet—the fresh new pink rug they had just laid down on the floor for the very first time. Samia’s OCD ate her up the whole drive home because they had to buy the one from the showroom—the dirty one that strangers have touched. Now they’ve dumped the entire ashtray on it and Molly’s so mad she could dump it again but Samia won’t stop laughing, laughing and laughing and laughing, and she pulls her phone out and takes the picture. Molly’s hands are halfway clenched, her loose fists saying: It’s not funny! But you can tell she knows it’s funny.
  4. Samia doing an impression of Malibu the cat—her face half the frame and her mouth hanging open in a wide meow. Between her teeth is her tongue, a wet and dark pink oval. High noon light from the living room window illuminates each individual, bristling hair on her head, making them appear blond from their usual honey brown. Her sky blue sports bra pulls around the back of her neck, her skin sings with daylight, and, looking at the shape of her mouth, you can just hear the sound of this cat: Mraaaaaaaaaaaaaa! 
  5. Molly leaning over the coffee table, smiling, but there’s water in her mouth so she keeps her lips closed. The picture is blurry, so the stacks of cards before her blend together into red and black swatches, like thick brushes of paint. She’s playing solitaire, her golden glasses perched up on her head and holding miles of red hair out of her face, the midnight lamplight haloing her like a crown. By her focus, the way she doesn’t look up for the picture, you know she’s winning.
  6. Samia resting in the bedroom, mid-morning light on her skin, her mouth a pink tulip petal, her eyelids dew on yellow roses, the fluffy white comforter turning her whole body into a cumulonimbus cloud. The bedside table behind her overflows with potions: Vaseline, coconut oil, lotion. The lines on her face are peaceful—she’s sleeping in.
  7. Molly’s eyebrows bushy and unkempt, running laps across her face – too close up for a photograph. Her freckles are everywhere, like a whole universe got accidentally spilled on her, even on her lips. Her nose ring used to be gold and now it’s a faded, shining bronze, the evening light catching it from the left. Her mouth is mid-word, and the word starts with W. She looks happy, even with a camera four inches from her face.
  8. Samia’s legs cross up against the back of the couch, and windowsill snake plant stalks sprout up out of her white-socked feet like ornamental toes. She’s relaxed, phone in both hands and right up in front of her eyes, the white charging cord pulling across her arm and towards the wall. Her jeans are ripped and baggy, a sliver of her back visible below her gray t-shirt and wrapping around to her bare stomach.  On the hardwood floor is an empty bottle of wine and an empty bottle of champagne. There’s yellow cake and white cheese and remnants of fancy pink meats on the coffee table, there’s a red box of nice crackers open, there’s drunken love all over the picture, staining the corners of it—it’s in the tiny curve of Samia’s lips, the way her mouth tells her whole face as she looks into the phone: everything is good.
  9. This one is of no one at all. Just the living room, bathed in afternoon light. The curtains hold the light, they don’t let it pass, they glow—they become the afternoon in order not to let it through. Not thinking they’d ever be photographed alone, they shine and shine. On the coffee table, a newspaper crossword, unfinished, folded into a perfect rectangle, a purple lead pencil beside it. Three candles and a grill lighter huddle to their right, the ashtray clean and empty. There’s a laptop in a pink case, a blue water bottle. Outside the window, behind the curtains that have become the afternoon, a world goes on—Molly and Samia hear the motorcycles at the intersection, they hear the music from the cars. Sometimes they stop and dance to it, sometimes they cover their ears or pause their TV shows and groan—it depends on the song. They hear their neighbors laughing in the hallway, hear the census-taker knocking at the door, they don’t open it. Once a week, on Sunday afternoons, they walk down the three flights of apartment stairs and shake out the pink rug, on Samia’s request, and Molly picks up the newspaper from the front lawn. Other than that, Molly and Samia stay inside.

In the evenings, when dusk is over and the sun goes down, Molly walks back and forth across the pink rug and brews recipes for fast-forwards, ways out, she imagines the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern one too, she books trains into tomorrow and across every ocean, beyond even the intersection outside. Samia sits right there on the couch and takes care of the right now, capturing the hours in different bottles, crouching down to look at them more closely, studying the different light. Molly handles the past and the future, the boundless horizons, and Samia covers the present, the molecular truths. They brew potions, and they cook meats. They sleep, and they wake up.

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Molly Reitman's poetry and fiction can be found in Rust + Moth and Sword and Thorn. She is a regular contributor to and cohost of the comedy podcast Sisterhood of the Cinematic Rants. She lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and two cats, and can be found on Instagram via @mollyreitmanwrites.

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