from Psalms for the Busted Ear Drum by Heather Cox

I believe in regret...

I believe in regret. I do not feel

tethered to the sun. The moon, maybe.

Once I was a little star, a tiger stripe

burning bright. Once, I held your hand

and you swallowed mine like a snake

swallows an egg. Breakfast you’d prepare

with a spoonful of hissing butter. French

toast double-dosed with syrup. It was all

powdered sugar for a time. The sky was fixed,

no lighting-like breaks. This was before

your foot splintered the door. Before the bat

fled your hand for the absence in the fence.

Heather Cox edits the online literary magazine Ghost Ocean and the handmade chapbook press Tree Light Books. Heather's work appears or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Indiana Review, ThreadcountNightblock, Pinwheel, and elsewhere. Heather is the recipient of a Luminarts Fellowship and the author of two forthcoming chapbooks, Mole People (BatCat, 2016) and Magnificent Desolation (Finishing Line, 2016). Heather lives in Colorado with her wife and their two dogs and can be found online at

from Psalms for the Busted Ear Drum by Heather Cox

Remember the 80s?...

Remember the 80s? The waterfall behind

the trailer. I’d sneak right up to the edge.

At no age is it easy to judge proximity to

harm. What about the 90s? The grandfather

clock I climbed tipped and pinned me under.

Wet washcloth for my head, broken glass

for my body. A towering thing uprooted.

A small, clumsy thing unchanged. Others

warn against inanimate dangers. You

fashion knives from Damascus steel. Oil

to keep from rusting, sharpen it constantly,

you said. I left it inside its protective case.

Heather Cox edits the online literary magazine Ghost Ocean and the handmade chapbook press Tree Light Books. Heather's work appears or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Indiana Review, ThreadcountNightblock, Pinwheel, and elsewhere. Heather is the recipient of a Luminarts Fellowship and the author of two forthcoming chapbooks, Mole People (BatCat, 2016) and Magnificent Desolation (Finishing Line, 2016). Heather lives in Colorado with her wife and their two dogs and can be found online at

by Raymond Farr

Emotionally Unavailable Sitcom Guy

I am pushing wobbling bodies back into orbit

I am thinking of the shop girl in Shop Girl

But I am thinking of you—Lucy! Diane! Elaine!

& how you spend every evening all evening

In zero gravity boots suspended from yr heels

& how putting up with this lame version of emotionally

Unavailable sitcom guy that I’ve become you blossom!

Last night I stood in

The dark yard & felt corny like I was being watched

It seemed the moon was a stupid TV pizza face—me!

Eating itself from the inside out—disappearing

Little by little into the ghost of its own cheesy edges

& then I was thinking how wonderful light is

How it bounces off us giving us the visible world

Raymond Farr is author of numerous books in print, including Ecstatic/.of facts (Otoliths 2011) as well as Starched, Rien Ici, & Writing What For? across the Mourning Sky. His latest book Poetry in the Age of Zero Grav is due out in 2014. He is editor of the experimental poetry zine Blue & Yellow Dog (

by Raymond Farr

Unless Someone Reaches Out & Touches Him


I remember the sad words & how they

Must have hung themselves to the sound

Of water running—a single voice poised

Against the clay shadows of plants

& the sound of positive reinforcement

Being played like a flute after

I’d given up already, mumbling No biggie!

As if my life wasn’t already a bathtub

Full of jokes & soap suds “just ironic enough”

It was like a stranger’s face or a bad Halloween mask

Had melted on the radiator & I couldn’t look away

It was like saying it simply wasn’t making it

More complicated than it was

Like it wasn’t making it more complicated

To begin with & taking codeine for my gout

& walking back to my truck silently

My lungs burned like trees determined

To set themselves right, I was getting at the meaning

Of a small window glaring in the snow

& thinking about strolling thru

The apple orchard naked with aplomb

I half died from these feelings that came

Over me & as the furnace pilot ignited

It was like a cold weight had been lifted


I’ve been waiting for the equinox

For what seems like forever now

& I’ve paid for more minutes so

I can talk on my cell phone 1 hour

But I only know silence—

A clump of glinting red bicycles

Sitting idle against the “familiar”

The prattling 21st C. spewed

Back at the street where this guy

Is a stick & I’m frozen like a hat

In the ice & like a shadow in

The time lapse of my own stillness

It is this pointlessness I see as

A map to somewhere better

It’s this flawless X-ray of something

Broken inside me that’s got me

Staring up at the zenith—at each

Slow moving cold front dropping

Down here from Canada—my face

Deadened in the used up light

& unless someone reaches out

& touches me I’m going to flat line

In wet socks—I’m never going to

Move again in warm pants

Raymond Farr is author of numerous books in print, including Ecstatic/.of facts (Otoliths 2011) as well as Starched, Rien Ici, & Writing What For? across the Mourning Sky. His latest book Poetry in the Age of Zero Grav is due out in 2014. He is editor of the experimental poetry zine Blue & Yellow Dog (

by Casey O'Malley

Lenin for Breakfast

In Russia, my breakfasts rarely varied. Every single one started with the strike of a match, its sulphur‐y scent my appetizer, lingering in the air of the tiny kitchen. Once the burner was flaring, I would start making coffee in a tiny metal cup. I'd let it boil a while and watch the coarse grounds circulate like a load of clothes in a washing machine. I’d extinguish the burner, let the tumult inside subside, and slowly pour the liquid into a delicate china mug, trying to keep the grounds from entering. It never worked. I was always chewing by the last few sips.

For food, there were two options. The first option: khlopya, a Russian imitation of American breakfast cereal. My landlady assumed that I, like other Americans before me, would only eat cornflakes. Instead of milk, I would dribble thick, sludgy kefir over the sugar‐crusted flakes. I didn't like it, but I learned how to pour just barely enough kefir so as to make the cereal duller, less difficult to chew.

The second option was bread. Plain bread, maybe with butter, maybe with nothing. Occasionally an apple or an orange.

Very rarely, and only on a weekend when I had nothing to do until the afternoon, I would wake up, strike my match, make my coffee, chew my grounds, and leave my cloistered apartment without eating anything. I'd walk to the local market and buy a single grapefruit for 15 or 20 rubles, and then stroll along the Moscow River as I peeled its rubbery rind into a continuous strip. Between my fingers, I would roll the thick, spongy pith into little balls, which I would flick into the murky water running next to me. I could make one grapefruit last three kilometers.

But really, it wasn’t just my breakfasts that were routine in Russia. Strict routines governed every aspect of my Moscow life. Every morning, I rolled out of bed without pressing the snooze button. I dressed quickly and quietly and tiptoed out of my apartment so as not to wake my roommates. I locked the apartment’s three padded doors behind me and walked to the corner where I bought the same newspaper at the same stand from the same man. I came here to study abroad, to expand my boundaries and broaden my horizons, but every day my world seemed smaller and smaller.

On Tuesdays, I’d get lunch at a cafeteria two blocks away. I’d sit alone and avoid eye contact, pretending to read a novel while I listened and attempted to translate every conversation that surrounded me. I learned about cheating husbands, crazy mothers, unhappy sons. Every other day’s diet consisted of bread and cheese purchased at a dingy grocery store across the street. On Wednesdays, I’d treat myself to a decadent Russian chocolate bar. On Thursdays, I’d go to a small cafe after classes, order a cappuccino, sit by the window, and painfully translate stiff poetry. One line earned me one sip. Sometimes my drink would last for hours, the last drop chilling and clammy, nearly curdled, slurped up as the bored employees waited for me to leave.

I was deep in my own head nearly all of the time, focusing on fitting in, on not attracting attention, on surviving. I was here to learn the language, but terrified to speak to anyone. So I spoke to myself every step I took. I conjugated verbs. I practiced awkward tenses. I described my surroundings to myself in silent, voice‐in‐head Russian. I am walking down the dirty sidewalk. I will be entering the university campus in five minutes. I will have been living here for three months in two weeks. I am hungry. I am lonely.

And then it was time to leave. I thought I was excited to get home, to go back to a land where neighbors smiled at each other, where women wore pants and had firm handshakes, where people went for jogs and ate salads and appreciated a good curry. But as I packed up my suitcases, carefully swaddling flimsymatrioshki in my t‐shirts so they wouldn’t splinter, I felt that all I had to show for my time here was a handful of souvenirs and countless, silent hours where I remembered what I was thinking but not what I was doing.

I had few people to say goodbye to. I had thanked my professors on the last day of class. I had dinner with two friends the evening before I departed. My landlady, who liked to sleep in, had simply reminded me to leave the key on the table if she wasn’t around when I left. So the morning before I flew out was wide open, a grey gloomy space on my calendar, much like the wintry Moscow sky.

I thought about just sitting in my bedroom. But I knew that I needed to do something classic, something Russian, something typical—some experience to put in my suitcase by the Russian nesting dolls and say, “Look, I did this thing! I learned about Russia! I expanded myself! I am a citizen of the world!” Because really, I felt like I had never been smaller and narrower and more isolated.

I knew just what I had to do: finally visit Lenin’s embalmed body, ghoulishly on display in a dusky mausoleum on Red Square. I’d hurried by his tomb nearly every day, not interested in joining the throng of people waiting to get a peek of his shriveled body. There was always a line snaking around the unscalable walls of the Kremlin, waiting for their brief visit with Lenin. A line full of gawking spectators; of young, newly‐married Russian couples paying respects to the father of the revolution; of babushki bemoaning their lack of a pension and yearning for the good old days of Communism. Rumors fly. People whisper that it’s not actually Lenin on display—that it’s a wax doll, a tiny mannequin, or a just some random person’s body because the original Lenin started decomposing. But seeing the spirit‐less corpse of the man who shaped the country is probably the closest you can get to seeing the spirit of Russia.

So the next morning, I got up early. I surveyed my neatly packed suitcases and headed out the door, without my match, my coffee, my breakfast. I shuffled out of the metro at the Красный Площадь stop and shuffled into my place in line. I was behind the usual cast of characters, those that I had ignored for the last four months as I wandered the streets in my own company. A couple groups of young Russians, girls in tiny skirts and thigh‐high boots, boys with leather jackets, slicked‐back hair, and cigarettes in the corners of their mouths. American tourists—identified by their overalls and blindingly white New Balances. Babushki, holding plastic bags full of sundries (extra sweaters, rain jackets, snacks, who knows), chastising the young people to “Be quiet,” to “show some respect,” to “not sit on the sidewalk— don’t you know you’ll never be able to have children.”

It started to rain. The Tajik street cleaners scurried out from the doorways and the alleys where they waited, armed with their brooms made from hundreds of tiny twigs. They swept the water—a rhythmicschwhip‐schwip‐schwip of sticks on cement—out of the way of Muscovites who did not notice them.

For forty‐five minutes, I waited in line. The rain slowly seeped through my leather boots, through my wool jacket, saturating my body and my jeans. The dampness crept up the legs of my pants, a soggy line advancing from my hem toward my knee. The Russian grandmothers in line in front of me looked and shook their heads, disapproving of my clothing choice, my inability to remain presentable, and the fact that I was alone. They spoke in loud voices to each other, but with regular sideways glances at me. They wanted me to hear. As I finally approached the dark maw of the mausoleum, I shivered from clamminess—my legs covered in goosebumps, my feet squelching with every step of my soggy boots.

Everything was a deep, sultry red. Even the floor and the walls. I remember velvet, but the ushers, who hurried visitors along and slung piercing “shushes” at everyone, made us walk so quickly, I don't remember if it was from a red velvet rope, a red velvet wall hanging, or just an especially lush red carpet. I couldn't even slow down to get a good look at Lenin's body. As if I was on a train, I watched Lenin over my shoulder as the flow of people pushed me past him. He was tiny. His cheeks were sunken. His eyebrows were prominent. His skin, oddly pink.

But then I was in Red Square, blinking painfully at the circus towers of St. Basil’s Cathedral and disoriented by the many red stars that dot the high walls of the Kremlin. I didn’t know what I had seen, really: it could have been a mannequin, a doll, a dead child. But I did know that I had seen enough. I hadhad enough. I turned my back on Red Square, on the mausoleum, on Lenin, and walked toward the steely entrance of the closest metro station—toward a long flight in a crowded airplane. My final footsteps across the cobbles of Red Square clattered into the air, joining the mélange of cigarette smoke and Cyrillic syllables that blanketed the sky. I inhaled one last lungful of soot, damp concrete, and other people's watchful glances. I went home.

Casey O'Malley is a writer who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. She teaches high school, but spends the bulk of her time in the mountains. Her writing has appeared in Paper Tape.

by Carmen Petaccio


My wife has sworn off doors. I ask her what the hell that means. She smiles like she hasn’t in months, revs her little handheld drill.

“Pay attention,” she says. “You’ll figure it out.”

In quick succession, off come our bedroom door, closet door, pantry and bath. She moves swiftly, efficiently, faster than I have eye energy to follow: all I see is a blur of yoga pants, darting between rooms. Nothing is safe from her edict.

There go the cabinet doors! The fridge door! Bye, bye oven, au revoir cuckoo clock. I wave farewell from my papasan chair, beer sweating into my sweatpants, nowhere close to standing, to helping her. She drags the things outside.

When she reappears in the den, I say to her, “So it seems I’ve married a literalist.”

And she says to me, “Does literalism not turn you on?”

I don’t say anything, because what even the hell, and she strikes this kinky, ironic pose with the drill, sliding its bit up and down between her squished-together boobs. Out of seven billion potential partners, this is the special soul I’ve chosen to build a life with.

Not missing a beat, my wife unhinges the front door and gives it a coy, one-fingered shove, letting it fall—thwomp—to the floor. She stands hipshot in the liberated doorway, like a P.I. arriving at a crime scene, but also like a serial killer arriving at a crime scene, considering the drill. I raise an eyebrow and then, for emphasis, point to that eyebrow.

“The idea is to eliminate all barriers to communication,” my wife says. She has read like a million testimonials online. Message boards. Subreddits. O: The Oprah Magazine. From Burma to Baltimore, dissatisfied couples swear by it.

This is supposed to help.

In terms of schemes, this isn’t her first. There was the vegetable garden, the charity bike repair classes, and of course—be still my heart—couple’s game night. All very well intentioned, all utterly doomed. I’ve got no doubt this door business will soon follow suit.

But, as the old saying goes, sudden door removal doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Give our house an adequate dusting: you’ll find my guilty fingerprints everywhere.

Take last week. I discovered her soaking in our claw foot tub, crying not-that-quietly into the gone-cold water. My wife is a shower taker, always has been, so I didn’t ask what was what. I just took my clothes off and got in with her. We used to have a regular fuck in this bathtub, back when fucking was a tender, spiritually unifying thing we did. I remember her splayed toes next to the faucet, red nail polish gleaming.

My plan was to reassure her. Things are not as bad as blah blah blah, everything will be what have you—okay, okay? Really, super sweetly, I said to her that I was no less than 85% as happy as I’d ever been. Which was, if you haven’t already guessed, not nearly happy enough. Her eyes took on this blowtorch quality. She twisted bathwater from her hair braid like a dishrag, and then told me, by her latest estimate, that me saying I was 85% happy had just dropped her 80% happy to 60% happy. Thanks much and you’re welcome.

Now imagine a solid year of distressing scenes like that.

I apologized and stepped out of the tub, not bothering to dry. I’ve been hovering at 50% happy ever since. Where she’s at, as a part of our union, I can’t say. It remains unclear what percentages taking all our doors off will restore.

I stack the doors in the backyard, deck-of-cards style, because, in my mind, I’m still a good husband. I’m fully capable of generating a life-partner image of support, honesty, and caring, no matter what. After what I went through with my parents, divorce isn’t an option.

I’d describe the backyard as one big metaphor, but it’s actually pretty small, spatially. What was supposed to be our vegetable garden is instead a sad parallelogram of tongue depressors and brown weeds. The road bikes we never repaired, as a team, are stale pretzels of rust leaning against the side of the house. I cannot, for the life of me, get the recycling guys to take them.

What do the municipal recycling men want from me? How do I get them to take the bike skeletons off my hands? These are the profound existential questions that keep me up at night. Not my marriage. Recycling protocols. I’ve written no less than three explanatory signs. I drag the bikes to and from the curb every Thursday. What else can I do? The recycling center is like 30 minutes from where we live, not counting traffic.

It’s only a matter of time before my wife abandons her dumb door idea, before I’m charged with the laborious reinstallation. I’m already dreading the ask, the inevitable moment when she cops to her own silliness and I have to reset the changes she’s made back to their defaults. Once again, I will be forced to resent her more for her wanting me to resent her less. But, really, it’s not her I resent; it’s the ask. The ask is always worse than the doing, every time. Her voice gets so small it’s barely there.

So I resolve to nip this wholesale door removal in the bud. I step determinedly through the space where the backdoor used to be, thinking, Someone in this marriage has to put an end to quick fixes. I’m through waiting for my wife to man up. I will say and do say, enough. If it ain’t broke.

And as soon as I’m done with this, I’m recycling those goddamn bikes.

But then I’m standing in the middle of the den, smelling that petal-scented breeze through the doorways. I’m breathing fresh outdoor air in deep, restorative breaths. And here’s my gorgeous wife, gliding into the room unbothered. She’s got my favorite dress on, the color of ripe strawberries. Hey there.

I say to her, “If I never lay eyes on another door, I’ll die a happy man.”

And she says nothing, because she’s laughing, genuinely belly-laughing. She’s a radio playing a great song I’d until then forgotten. I apologize for ever doubting her. She kisses me forgivingly on the mouth. We embrace so enthusiastically we knock heads, topple into the papasan chair, and end up making love, fucking like people in love. There’s delivery pizza and split beers, DVR and no commercials, joys a stupid vegetable garden will never in a million years provide. For what feels like the first time, we sleep soundly through the night, facing each other as we rarely do, side-by-side.

The vagrants are there when we wake up. Overnight, a militia of filthy nomads has invaded our house. Now they’re slumped in every corner, adjusting their crotches on the chaise lounge, pawing at our leftovers with fingerless gloves. They stare at me with suspicious, bloodshot eyes, as if I’m the intruder, as if I’m speaking a dead language when I politely ask them to leave. They laugh at me, all of them, cackling like hoarse hyenas, phlegm in their lungs.

To my wife, I say, “Any of those testimonials happen to mention the vagrants?”

“No,” she says. “They did not.”

Over the next few hours, our marriage is subjected to a powerful new strain of misery, worse than any we’ve previously known. The men ruthlessly catcall my wife on her way to the shower, and they grin rotten gums at me when I command them to stop. I’m called names I haven’t heard since grade school, which sting now as they did then. The entire house smells like turned milk and body stink. And the cops won’t come; they say the place has “a reputation.” It’s a lost cause. No one in his right mind is going in there.

What can we do, my wife and I? Night is threatening to fall. Barrel fires are already ablaze in our tiny backyard. Reinstalling our doors is no longer an option: all the wood has been broken down to fuel barrel fires. Thanks to my wife’s genius plan, we are starving, scared, besieged at every turn in our own home. I wish I could say it’s unbelievable.

We agree to take turns sleeping, one watching over the other with a Ginsu knife. Being a good husband, I volunteer to take the first shift, and without a word my wife turns her back on me and pretends to sleep. I don’t press her. Instead I spend the next several hours listening between the low, sinister voices of the men outside and my wife’s anxious breathing—in-out, stop, in-out, stop. I can hear her so clearly—in-out—and it’s then that I realize—stop. In-out, stop, in-out, stop. It worked. It really did. Stop. We’ve never been closer.

Carmen Petaccio received his MFA in fiction from Columbia University. He lives in Austin, Texas.