by Zaphra Stupple


at night the bed is a tunnel,
the kind you see in movies
when something bad
is about to happen. this is not a good place,
certainly, but not a bad one. dirty

in the way that home can be.
in the tunnel I turn myself over
like a worry stone. tumble
the brutal anatomy. usually
there is water. a city underneath.

google tells me that bodies
of water are the subconscious
and I am confused because
I have never seen myself in the ocean.
there is drowning, obviously,

but the subconscious is a daily
thing. a memory that no longer
makes me cry. endure, the verb,
the sick of ghosts. the brick sheets
are slick with it. maybe sweat.

this is the smallest badland,
trembling dust, tumbleweed
and black and white and grey.
there is light but not at the end.
a miniature sun that tastes like blackberries

near morning the walls line
themselves with bodies.
the blackberry sun shines, their faces
all the same. this is what a mother
might call feeling down,

a grandmother the blues.
nothing bad has happened
here in a long time. the tunnel
turns, the real sun rises. nothing
will hurt me in my sleep.

Zaphra Stupple is a poet and multimedia artist living in Michigan. Her work can be found in The Offing and Hermeneutic Chaos, and is forthcoming from HEArt Journal. Her first book, There Will Still Be the Body, is forthcoming from Red Beard Press.

by Arsh Haque


On the first morning you woke to a knock. It was the first time Carol Ann had stayed over; it was at your house and your parents kept you in separate rooms. She was wearing Kappa Delta boxer shorts and a Central Hardin cross country t-shirt and it was two AM. It was summer and she was shivering and you took her downstairs and laid her down on a foam-stuffed papasan cushion. It was your mom’s refugee bed when your parents had fights, worn soft by the years. You ran your fingers through her hair and you weren’t much of a poet and you quietly smiled at the phrase chocolate waterfall. You didn’t want to, but you think that’s when you fell in love. You were young enough to do that. Years later she’d tell you that it’d been a night terror, that you were the first person other than her mom that she’d gone to when she was scared. Years later she’d tell you something whispered in her ear that night and it wasn’t you. They can always be there, it said.

On the second morning she hadn’t woken up yet. You were sitting up, back propped against the headboard. It was October and you could see the canopy outside her window, leaves sometimes falling. She was lying on her stomach, head nestled into your abs. She was covered with a Department of Defense afghan, but had wiggled it down throughout the night. Honeylight murmured through the blinds and fell on bare shoulders. You reached out a hand and paused. You wished there was a museum, a more explicit seat for the Muses. There’d be exhibits where they slept in cradled tombs, just within reach, the perfection of their form all the louder because they did not try, because they did not have to try, flawless in cosmic apathy. In this place you could reach out and touch them, become part of their beauty. But no one would. To touch them would be to sully the higher with the lower. After all, such beauty slept next to you.

Last morning you woke up alone, a strand of brown hair left on your pillow, whose, it didn’t matter.

Arsh Haque is a graduate student studying public policy at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. He's also CEO of Elektra, a tech startup that turns music into massages. His current obsessions include well-being economics, Stephen Dunn, and caving.

by Arsh Haque

Leo Pearl

Big Sky Country and its big sun set, rapture before the rise1. You sit with Carol Ann on a bench by the tarmac, air flurried with gravel from planes taking off. She’d come out from Baltimore, two canceled flights and twenty hours in the air, a canvas purse tugging at the straps of a yellow, button-down dress. You ask her if she knows how pearls’re made and she answers, Zafar, let’s just go home. You tell her, It’s christlike in a way, or no, more like David. She smirks with purple lips2,thinks you’re full of it. But, No, no, no, you assure her, You see, it starts out with debris, a little shit particle that no one wants, minding its own business, until one day it trips over murky waters and falls into the mouth of a clam. Now for most things in nature, this is the part of the story where the little guy gets spit out and gets acid thrown in its face, marked like Cain and surely disabled. But an oyster, an oyster’s something special. When it gets scared,when it sees something sharp and broken, it just pets it, pets it with nacre, smoothing it out layer by layer, making it better, an extension of its own good self, a crustacean angel giving wings to the little guy until there’s nothing left of him but a pearl. Jesus, she says, rolling those big, blue-black eyes, be careful what you ask for3. Or better yet, what you don’t4.

1 You used to go to Youth Group in high school to hit on Carol Ann. You’d take walks on her tobacco farm. One evening the clouds whirled with cannon shot reds and tangerine pinks and Carol Ann said she could die, that she hoped this would be the day, that if Christ were to make an entrance this is what it’d look like. “It’s rapture before the rise.”

2 You bought dark, purple lipstick for Carol Ann’s Confirmation your junior year of high school. This was before you learned that Baptists don’t have Confirmation. The color’s to remind you of Christ’s suffering, you’d said. It was a saccharine, ignorant gesture, but sincere, and she it took it to heart. She only wore it when she was in trouble—to remind her that Christian strife meant more than missing curfew. The first time you saw her wear it was theday she told her parents that y’all were dating. She’d never flown before, she hated planes, but you’d said it was important.

3 You’d been studying the Chinese pearl economy all summer on the fourth floor of Beijing’s Hóngqiáo Market. Every night you’d Skype Carol Ann and she’d ask what you learned at work today, and you’d always say, “I’ll tell you soon,” and she’d always answer, “The second you see me.”

4 You have a ring in your suit pocket, a Tahitian black pearl set on silver, “Matthew 13:45-47” carved on its Möbius strip. The pearl rolls from blue to black depending on the light, has a single divot like a bruise.

Arsh Haque is a graduate student studying public policy at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. He's also CEO of Elektra, a tech startup that turns music into massages. His current obsessions include well-being economics, Stephen Dunn, and caving.

by Kelly Gemmill

The Weather of Lovable Women

Remove from the noble pine
The white strand of Christmas
Lights—a fact of isolation
And how the mothers stand
On chairs to reach higher branches—
This is your own reaching  
It’s there as the mothers are there
Not asking for January
Thick ropes of kelp buoy
On the surface of the sound
The driftwood not quite dry
The slick sticky green living
On stranded wood never thirsty
And how alone
Like all driftwood is
And how the air off the sound
Is not ever shy
Even when the mothers walk
Through it. You will cry
In high gasps with the pied
Oystercatcher and red your eyes
And grow your mouth
Red to scoop among rocks
As the tide swallows its fill
Or you will weep like pooled stones
In a receding tide of pebble-moaning
Altogether it remains
That the silence of a fog
Covered Rainier is the same
Visible silence of any mother
On any day unmentionably clear

Kelly Gemmill lives in Oakland, supposedly West, though she is never oriented enough to know for sure. She studied with brilliant poets at Saint Mary's College of California.

by Tara Isabel Zambrano

The distance between us

My husband, Raju, went to Dubai to work as a construction worker. Before he left, he bought a cellphone for me and promised to send money every month. The first few weeks we talked about the early monsoon and how it used to make us horny. He asked if I still laughed in my sleep. I mentioned the wandering gypsies who kidnapped kids and stole chicken from nearby farms. He sang songs and I imagined him sauntering through the front door, whistling and settling on his cot, his legs spread out like giant logs of wood, taking my breath away.

My husband went to Dubai and come monsoon time, he switched to calling once in two weeks because we kept shouting hello and while I heard him clear as thunder, he claimed he couldn’t. When the money order arrived, I bought a saree and a stack of multicolor bindis. Every morning, I stuck the cellphone in my blouse and went to work in the paddy fields. Shin deep in mud and rain water, I pulled out weeds and planted the seeds. All along the day, I imagined the tall, golden buildings where he worked, the men and women he saw: their long robes and hijabs. The occasional high pitched ringtone followed by his voice always made me jump. And I stretched like sky in the distance between us.

My husband went to Dubai and when the dark, dense clouds hovered, they reminded me of the color of his skin. I hugged the mattress at night and ignited a private hectare of my body. My legs rubbed against each other and the lust subsided with strangers in my dreams. “The money is good, I’m here for both of us,” he tried to justify. I wanted to hint about the blurred faces and glistening bodies in my sub-conscious. I wanted to know how long he can go on without needing his skin over another. Instead I pressed my face against the phone and my ears turned hot, filtering the echo of his promise from the static.

My husband went to Dubai and I fasted once again on the Karva Chauth festival for his long and healthy life. I made clay statues of Parvati, Ganesh and Shiva. In the evening, I dressed in a green lehenga and put on a hot pink lipstick. When he called I heard the clinking bangles and a woman’s giggle in the background. “Raju jaan,” she spoke softly and he hushed her. My heart punched, my body stiffened, and then went numb for a few seconds before disconnecting. The gibbous moon rose and as per the custom I offered rice, sugar and water to the Gods. I thought of him touching other women. Women who talked dirty like me, their legs spread on his bed, his closed eyes and the quick surrender. And the memory of his leaving sharpened. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. Instead I smashed the phone against the wall. Then I carefully picked up the pieces like they were parts of my body, taped them somehow and stared at its dark display for a long time.

Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas with her husband and two kids. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Storm Cellar, Gargoyle, Moon City Review and others. She moved from India to the United States two decades ago and is an electrical engineer by profession. Her work has been nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize and the Best Small Fictions 2017.

by Tara Isabel Zambrano

A dotted line

I wake up to a new pain between my knuckles and wrist. It seems a bone is growing from the bones in between.

I pull the blinds, September light baffles me. There's stuff piled up in my yard: insect treatment signs, a rag doll, plastic cups and a lengthening shadow of the oak. I haven't been out there for weeks. I look at my hand and press the place where it hurts the most. It's a bone, definitely a bone. I touch it, rub it and try to make sense of what's blooming beneath my skin. I've conceived a bone.

I find a pair of mittens. Then I get a trash bag and head to the sun-swallowed yard. The wind whips my bangs, penetrates my robe. I collect the debris and sit under the limbs of the old tree, watch the jet streams in the sky, imagine the planes slipping into the runway, weary and empty after a long flight. Perhaps it's my diet, I turned vegan a few months ago. I pull the mitten, suspend my hand in sunlight. The bump looks bigger. I draw a dotted line between my hand and the jet several thousand feet above it.

The thoughts of X Ray, MRI crisscross in my mind. The rooms with giant machines lighting the body, detecting the diseases. Everyone who walks in looks sick. I think of going to Panditji, the known clairvoyant in our community. Maybe the tarot card will say that this bone is a sign of good fortune and health.

There is a cloud above my head, resembling the shape of a vulva. I can make a song out of it. What if I'm going to die? I've never had a threesome; I've never touched another girl. Never stolen. Never pregnant. I've always thought I had plenty of time.

I pick up the trash bag and walk past the screen door as if nothing has happened. As if I am in another universe. There's laundry. Unanswered emails and dirty dishes.  I hope by the time I'm done with the day's work, the bone will miraculously disappear, if not today then tomorrow or the day after. Or it may grow. Bulbous with tiny bones sprouting from it, become another palm that'll cover my eyes in broad daylight. Come lunchtime, it'll open like a mouth. When I sleep, it'll cast a shadow on the wall, slam the headboard at the sight of every nightmare.

Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas with her husband and two kids. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Storm Cellar, Gargoyle, Moon City Review and others. She moved from India to the United States two decades ago and is an electrical engineer by profession. Her work has been nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize and the Best Small Fictions 2017.