by Tyler Atwood


I see you over the top of this screen 

but am too distracted to understand

brightness a bad map

in a pool of lamplight I churn

thoughts unclean


look at what we have become

in seven days America

the GIF of our president

shaving the head of his opponent

in the ring after the match


I was trying to say

serenity a lightbulb 

let it crash to the floor

eager tongue beckons

I am not content 


& so must continue

born of this nightly startling awake

O these late stars piercing through

I want to do the dishes so you know

you are not alone in this



Tyler Atwood comes from a long line of subsistence farmers, but knows very little about the planting or harvesting of crops. He is the author of one collection of poetry, an electric sheep jumps to greener pasture (University of Hell Press, 2014). His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The Lindenwood Review, Gravel, mojo, Columbia Poetry Review, Hobart, Profane Journal, Word Riot, and elsewhere. He lives and works in Denver, CO.

by Koval Bhatia

A Ballad of Care

My heart is locked away somewhere

it’s allowed out a couple of times a week

when I visit you at the hospital.

I find it confusing how your imprint exists on my bed,

a bed you haven’t slept in.

I gave away our bed to someone else

to get rid of even your imprint’s imprint,

but it lingers


and sometimes I lie on top of it and 

feel held.


It is hard holding on to you

I like to let my thoughts float and lose track of time

Much like you

I like to not hold on to





Your mind is locked away

A little bit like my heart


It is strange to be touched by


It is strange to have conversations

that are so ordinary

I do not miss your madness

(That’s a lie)


I carry fragments of your damage

They rip me a little on the inside

Then I fix it

Maybe that’s why I carry them

I like to fix things

You know that

I walk around with

a little glue and a hammer


It is hard to explain

how easy it is to find you

inside my head

Your lack of structure

allows me in


as if it was never meant 

to keep me out


You are wandering the halls

of what they would call

a bad place

but it’s a good place

Maybe that’s where I should keep

my heart


I wonder if you remember much

or if so



I have no warmth


I have some sanity

left over

We could try to share some of it

when I visit you next


I think about beds a lot

the one I gave away

the one you sleep on

in that place

I hope you don’t leave an imprint


Don’t leave anything there

It’s a good place but

I want you to leave

because that would mean

you’re better


I echo your thoughts a lot

it is scary sometimes

what if they lead me

into that space that you inhabit and then

we’re stuck there again



not alright


My shrink says I want to break down

to meet you



I don’t want to meet you

I want to live inside you


I’ve been told it’s not safe

It feels strange

being told that

my safe space is not safe


Sometimes I sit 

and all my thoughts just melt

into things I know you put there

They’re a little unnerving but I cannot help

and get lost

it’s so colourful in there


My blue briefly becomes the same as

your blue.

The voices you hear

I want to silence them

The things you see

I want to fix all their corners

and blurry edges


I want to hunt things down

before they enter your head

I want to destroy the walls

the ones between us

that claim you’re not the same

that you’re not sane


I want to break stuff

because you’re not around

to hold your hands up

for me to punch 

till all my anger

all my violence 



I come home now and 

There are no more hands held up for me

So the punches land inside me


Every day they land inside me.


I want to break the corridors that you wander and let you just

walk in the mountains

where my terrible jokes and

your wincing at them

is ok


We can never really tell

where you are

You visit sometimes and I like that

but then you disappear inside

that place

without warning

leaving me

and the rest



I want to burn that place

but that would singe you

So all I can do is patiently wait

for when you come out

of that place


I go to that place sometimes

when I’m sad

when I’m lonely

when I’m unable

when I’m done


I now have a map of that place

inside me

When I hear Rockland

it makes me shudder

They have no idea, do they?


I think I’m so used to finding you

You cannot be lost 


there are no roads

no circles

no points

The map is a strange map


I comprehend your words

although I’m not supposed to

because they might say


she’s lost, too


I pretend my map is a book

I act like that place is a memory

I feign 


I attempt complete deception

You’re not around to see through it


Have you heard?

I collect masks now

That must amuse you no end

Me and masks

I know


I try to do things sometimes

Things I used to

but it’s a funny feeling



it feels vague


You need to come bind me

The voices are here too sometimes

I greet them with warmth

I do not fear them

because those voices?

They talk to me about you and

remind me of you


It’s so easy to talk to you

it always has been

We never used words anyway

so now it’s easier still


I go for long walks with you

Do you get tired?

I eat and drink and smoke

And you hold my hand

Just like that

So warm


I like how it never gets

truly lonely

I carry you

all the places

I ever go


I met you in a forest

I drove around a coast with you

We laughed so hard at

my drunken waddle

(I’m your Hobbit again)


I don’t like it 

when you leave

You never fade away

You just walk in and out

It’s hard to keep track now


Remember how my heart raced


whenever we made eye contact?

You once called it a parlour trick

in anger

It made my heart sink for days

and my feet dragged

I can do that now

All on my own

Just inside


I miss being hurt

and pissed off at your words

The good parts are easy to carry

the bad ones I can’t seem to

but I long for them


I do foolish things and

I look up (inside) to see

if you notice

and maybe I’ll get a reprimand


I know they think this is stupid

or something

I am being self destructive

or something

I need to move on

let go

fuck off


I’m looking for pieces of you

in eyes

in hugs

in entangled limbs

There must be some parts of you

out there



I know it gets too much

I’ve seen the traces of fear

in people’s faces when i get

‘too much’

I was always a little more

than necessary

Now I’m more than bearable

(you know the drill)


You understand what it is

to have them stare blankly

look puzzled

or worried for you

when you explain 

how you feel

what you hear

and see

Or when you are just being



I wish they’d just send me to you

not to visit

but to stay

with you

like you

wandering hallways



I’d get bored and clean the floor

or change the sheets

or punch your hands

and we could stay inside again

like we used to.

Forgotten, forgetting.


Koval Bhatia is a filmmaker from New Delhi. She runs a film production company and a community/event space. She makes puns so bad they’ve earned her a bit of a reputation. She’s always happy to talk or write about gender & mental health.

by Jon Conley

If You Listen Long Enough

Watercooler talk, Mitz was saying that she went to the dentist yesterday and that he was treating her as gingerly as possible because he knew what had happened. What had happened? We too wanted to know. He was a drunk—or maybe that was Joni's story. I had just read a Lucia Berlin story, I told them. The one with the drunk dentist swishing with Jim Beam and having his granddaughter pull his teeth. Dentists as drunks, I said. It turns out that when Mitz was 6, she had a cavity and an image-obsessed dentist with either an inadequate amount of Novocaine or not enough know-how in administering it. Anyway during the drilling it hurt her something like hell and she yelled, screamed even, for her mother. The image-conscious dentist began to panic, about his image probably. He put his hand up over her mouth, her nose, telling her to shut up. How with the times, we all thought. Sparking similar interest, that was when Joni said she had a doctor once who pinned her down to get her strep swab and was so aggressive in getting the strep swab that he broke his little stick on the back of her throat. She hasn’t been to a male doctor since. In an attempt to relate, I thought of my doctor experiences quickly and came up with nothing. Philly thought about it and said that the only doctor story he had was something that had happened with his second psychiatrist. What had happened? Towards the end of a session, and for narrative focus and unity I'm assuming this was their last session together, Dr. Comey (sp?) told Philly that he could no longer be his doctor because he had Alzheimer's and he was going back to Chapel Hill to be with his family and before things got too bad he was going to kill himself. Philly assured us that this was all spoken very eloquently in psych-ese. Did he tell this to all his patients? we asked. Should he be telling his patients? Did this nullify all your previous experiences, Philly? Erase all your hard work like a corrupt hard drive? How did this really make Philly feel? And, importantly, was this on your time, Philly? In other words, did he wait until the end of the session to begin talking about himself? Because if he didn't, no offense to the doc, it really wasn't Dr. Comey's (sp?) time to be talking about himself at all. In that case shouldn’t it have had a patient-focused angle? Did he make Philly pay for the session? Philly, how did you settle the finances? The tough questions kept rolling. Is telling everyone you're going to kill yourself and then disappearing relatively the same as actually killing yourself? Relatively—we are quick to qualify with the hypotheticals. Did he do it? Should we look him up and find out what happened? How about some closure? How old were you when this happened, Philly? Did you offer him advice? Surely if ever there was a time to offer your shrink advice, we say, this was it. Grab the butt of that gun, become the eye of the beholder. Funny how this story became our story isn’t it? This is a chance for a therapeutic breakthrough of a different and rare sort. Maybe Dr. Comey (sp?) was an even better doctor than we thought. There—had Philly considered that?

Jon Conley is a writer and musician from Cleveland. His work can be found at places like Hobart, Bending Genres, and Hello Horror. Find him online @beachstav.

by Jenne Knight

My Father's Name

As my father and I passed the exit for Philipsburg, I asked if we could drive through the small, Montana town on our return. It would add a little over an hour to our trip, but I wanted this pilgrimage to be an adventure, not merely a transaction.

“Why?” he said, his arm draped out the open window. It was August, sweltering even in the dry recesses of the Inland Northwest, and he refused to turn on the car’s ancient air conditioning.

I tried to explain. Famous poem. A poet I admired. Yes, something about grad school. I soon lost interest in battling both my father and the wind, so I sat back and watched Big Sky unfold before me.

My father was at the wheel of his mother’s car, her ashes packed in cold, stainless steel. She fit neatly in the trunk like an oversized can of sardines. While she was technically my grandmother, I secretly called her by her first name, Wilma.

Before Wilma died, she made my father promise to take her to her family’s burial plot in the Ozarks of Arkansas. He had planned to drive her car, alone, to the place his parents called home. It was only when my mother stepped in, with her ability to manipulate him even thirty years after their divorce, that I was finally allowed, reluctantly, to go with him. Probably, I should have seen this as a red flag.


To me, being Southern isn’t part of my history. Though I had traveled somewhat widely, and lived in cities on both coasts of the United States, I had never really visited the American South, despite my father’s family consisting of self-proclaimed “Okies and Arkies” and a high school band trip to Washington D.C. that included attractions in Northern Virginia. Instead, I took after my mother’s family, a clan who ranged between Butte, Montana and Cashmere, Washington.

In my photo albums, there are few photos of me with my father after 1982. After the divorce, my mother towed me with her from Central to Eastern Washington. He’d drive us the three hours back to my home in Spokane after a weekend with him in Wenatchee, turning on the CB radio in his Ford pickup, a rig that had belonged to his father. I remember loving to listen to the men who chattered over that radio. They had a magical language that I knew was special, even then. But my dad would pull the microphone to his black-as-night horseshoe mustache and break in early on.“Let’s keep it clean, guys,” he’d say. “My daughter’s in the cab with me.”

Once, we stopped alongside I-90 to collect volcanic ash in Gerber baby food jars, several years after Mt. St.Helens erupted. I handed him my jar of ash and wiped my hands on my pants before we got back on the road. Like many Northwesterners alive at that time, he still has these relics in a box in his basement. My jar still has my name on it, our family name.

Though I have some fond childhood memories of my father, I remember him mostly as a man I saw on a weekend here or there. When he promised he’d visit, he wouldn’t show. I’d watch out the front windows of my house, patiently, then frantic, then inconsolable. I now wonder what it must have been like for my mother, who had to watch her child pace around the living room and weep for him. His child support only ever trickled in, then eventually dried up like an old creek bed.

My step-father, on the other hand, had become a constant, a staple of our household, someone I could rely on. I was old enough to feel awkward when I’d slip up and call him dad when I meant Jack, and vice versa, but when my brother was born, it became easier to switch. For a while, I had two people to call dad.

Months after the wedding, my father called and asked my mother if he could relieve himself of his parental rights to me. For the next two years, people from Child Protective Services and other agencies interviewed us. Was my step-father a good man? What did I think of the situation? Did I feel safe and loved? Did I understand what was happening?

I was eleven years old when the process started. This was the year I wore pink lip gloss and mascara in my school picture (then suffered the wrath of my mother), started my first diet, and no longer allowed spiral perms of my hair.



Hours passed in the Taurus while I sat next to my father, an earbud playing music and audiobooks in my right ear. He could have been anyone in that driver’s seat, and I could have been a hitchhiker picked up outside Billings. I breathed in his cigarette smoke that swept through the car, and my clothes were marked with the smell of it. I wanted to ask if he could try a nicotine patch, but I kept my mouth shut, afraid of what he might say.

I called my mother from Sheridan,Wyoming, from a Kmart parking lot where we stopped to eat our packed lunches.We’d been on the road two days.

“How’s FF?” she asked. It was our name for my freaky father. She knew the answer before I said a word.

I wanted to tell her that I almost wished I hadn’t come, but I was never too far out of his earshot. Besides, I wanted to see Arkansas.



Two weeks after eighth grade began, my family and I dressed up for our day in court. I agonized over seeing my dad one last time, of finding the final words we’d ever say to each other. But, of course, he didn’t show. Afterward, I often imagined that he’d lingered just out of sight, to see me once more before I disappeared from his life.

For the adoption to happen at thirteen was not a blessing. I felt adrift—too old to forget, yet too young to understand that my father was just a man.



Upon entering the highway to the Badlands, a distraction my father allowed, we were stopped by a cattle drive. He seemed annoyed, but this was part of an adventure I’d been hoping for. Cowboys on horses worked the cattle across the road. Scatterings of dust blew up from the blur of animals, and I could feel the rumble of hooves even eight cars back. The work was hard, all muscle and grit, but it was beautiful, orchestrated like dolphins fishing for mackerel. I wanted to talk about it, but my father just kept his gaze on the men and the distant hills.

Had my father been more present, I likely would not have analyzed his shortcomings, all of the things he had missed. But as I sat next to a silent man who chain-smoked his way to Arkansas, I couldn’t forget that he also hadn’t had to endure my teenage years, when the permanence of what he’d done made me unbearable at home. I’d lash out at my step-father, accusing him of loving my brother more than me. I’d quietly get drunk on weekends so I could escape my feelings but still graduate high school with honors. I’d binge on junk food and then purge until all of those feelings disappeared. But over the following ten years, I started to take control of my past. Jack and I came to an understanding, a civil impasse not unlike typical blood-related families. I stopped binge drinking early in college. I got help for the bulimia.

A few years later, my mother announced the divorce. I can’t say I was ever upset about it. Mostly, I was relieved. I had consoled my mother as she struggled with the death of her parents, just five months apart, and Jack’s unilateral decision to change jobs. When my mother told me, “never settle for anything—or anyone,” I took it as a mantra to live by. Jack and I drifted apart, and I willingly let it happen. We were just two people thrown together by fate. And once we were released from our obligations to each other, we were like seeds on the wind.

During this time, my father had seen my grandpa’s obituary in the local paper, had read preceded in death, and had sent us cards that almost asked for forgiveness. It had taken my mother a year to hand me the envelope with my name on it, knowing that an unexpected greeting from him was not part of my grief and recovery plan. Another year would pass before I put pen to paper. When I did, sixteen years separated us, longer than I’d known my father as his daughter. 

It was exciting to write our letters back and forth, learning about his new life: a wife, a step-daughter in high school. I often wondered if it was strange for him to write my adopted last name, if he still pictured me as a young girl, if he regretted his decision. Perhaps he’d start addressing the envelope and write my first name with his last name, and then he’d pause before tossing the envelope into the garbage. The repressed anger subsided, and my father drove to visit me in Seattle. He seemed like a changed man, like someone who had learned from his mistakes. As we sat for hours in a restaurant inside Pike’s Market and ate breakfast, I wondered about the last time we’d sat across from each other like this, a lifetime ago. Eventually, I made the three-hour trip to see him and meet his family, including Wilma and his sister, a whole group of people I was supposed to have known.

A couple of years later, as I was making Christmas plans to fly home from graduate school in Boston, my father suggested the unexpected.

“Fly in to Seattle,” he’d said. “But ride the train to Wenatchee and spend Christmas Eve with us.”

Traditionally, I opened ornaments on Christmas Eve with my mother. I didn’t want to spend Christmas Eve in Wenatchee. For a moment, I felt guilty that I wouldn’t see Jack while I was in town—and that he didn’t know I was talking with my father—but we hadn’t spoken in two years already. Blood did not bind us. I only used his name.

I was jet lagged when my father picked me up from the dark Amtrak station, my body and brain operating past midnight. I saw Wilma a couple of times while I was there, but I mostly felt isolated, with no car, no friends, and no understanding of the town where I was born. My father never made it easy to ask for favors like a trip to the grocery store, and I suspected my picky eating annoyed him. He must not have remembered these tendencies from when I was a child, but then, I spent precious few moments of my childhood eating with him. I felt not as a daughter but as a visitor, someone uncomfortable asking for the silverware drawer or spare rolls of toilet paper. I saw myself as his problem-child, a master’s level know-it-all who didn’t eat normal food, an adult he was supposed to love because of blood. As I learned in the Taurus, both of us would come to resent this kind of obligation.



My aging father is not an easy man to know. He suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which means he’s on any number of prescription pills at any time. Pain pills, steroids, anti-inflammatories. He keeps a small flip-top container at-hand with the day’s medications and asks the same questions over and over, presumably a side effect of the drugs. It’s maddening, and I had no idea of its severity until trapped in a sedan for three-and-a-half days. With his hand draped over the wheel, he’d tear into the silences, clearing his throat to ask, “Get into the pillbox and hand me the big white one, would you?” I wouldn’t know what this meant, only to do it without asking questions. I didn’t know if he’d registered what he’d already taken and what he hadn’t. There were moments when I’d wonder what I’d done and measure his composure, his breathing, his grip on the wheel. I’d dial 911 from the remote shoulder of freeway, pump my compressed hands on his chest, a froth forming at the corners of his lips. Despite my years of pent-up frustration, I didn’t want him to die. Mostly, I didn’t want to kill him. I pushed away these images as he remained steadfast, his eyes clear and focused on the road.

Through the years, I’d come to find that underneath the exciting newness was the same guy I remembered: a fascination with the Great Northern Railroad and a penchant for modifying names of everyday objects. (English muffins remain “English Martians” in his house.) And while my trust in him had resurfaced, my skepticism had as well. Too often, he would reprimand as a father would, but too much time had passed for him to be a dad. And he made it clear en route to Arkansas that I was not welcome on this trip. To other families, this may simply translate as a son’s over whelming grief for his mother. To me, this only meant that my father was still someone I couldn’t rely on. His attention and love were always going to be evanescent.

When we finally got to Arkansas, I met the rest of my father’s family. For over twenty-five years, my family was only my mother’s small arrangement of a sister and two brothers, their children, and my grandparents. But here, there was a sea of cousins, and I was related in some way to nearly everyone I met. In Calico Rock, grave markers showed my original last name, unsettling reminders of the past.

I thought about the photos of me making homemade biscuits and gravy with my father’s family—his mother, his grandmother—in various Northwestern kitchens, and all of the years these people toggled back and forth between the Ozarks of Arkansas and the orchards of Central Washington. How many years had we shared the same space, traveled the same roads, breathed the same air? How many years were we supposed to be a family?

My father remained ambivalent, simultaneously resenting my presence (I was too happy, he thought, not overcome with grief for his mother) but then nostalgic with me about his childhood summers spent there with his own grandparents. Before my father withdrew from me, steadily, over the few days we spent in Arkansas, he drove me to the house in Mountain Home where he and my mother had lived. (As my mother tells it, she was young and naive and made a mistake by marrying my father and leaving the Northwest. She lasted one year before returning to Washington, as she says,“with or without him.”)

At the funeral, he tried hard to keep it together. I remember reaching out and holding his hand. Afterward, he buried the stainless steel box of Wilma’s ashes next to his father—my grandfather, I realized, a man who had died when I was three—and each of us threw in a fistful of dirt. I lamented the fact that I hadn’t really known Wilma, that I had no childhood memories of her, and instead of mourning her at the service, I dredged up the devastation I’d endured when my grandma had died. I thought of the months I’d heaved desperate, aching sobs every time I even started to miss her. My father saw the tears and assumed I was finally bereaved for his mother, which became a truce between us.

As we left Arkansas, I knew things had changed again between my father and me, and time has shown that I was right. The hope for having a dad disappeared years ago. Now, he is just FF, the one who walked away, but, in my more hopeful moments, also the one who came back. I never expected that this would be the way it would turn out, that none of the fathers in my life would last. My father and I haven’t spoken directly now in over six years, but he’s taken to sending text messages every few months, presumably to patch things up at some future confluence in the lines of fate.

Last spring, seven years after burying Wilma in Arkansas, I drove to Spokane from my new home in Baltimore. I planned a general route across the country, noting landmarks of particular interest, especially in South Dakota, where I would order a steak so tender that I would call home simply to remember the moment. But before I could reach the World's Only Corn Palace and the steakhouse in Mitchell, South Dakota, Iowa loaned a strange sense of déjà vu. As I approached the signs for Interstate 29, the freeway that had taken us to Arkansas, in an instant, I remembered my father at the wheel, southbound on this road, to catfish and sweet tea and the unexpected onion of hushpuppies. To the broken promise of what would remain my father’s family. As I merged, northbound, onto I-29, I saw my father’s absences stretch out in the rearview, unfolded behind me in the vastness of this land, and I vowed that I would make time to stop in Philipsburg.

Jenne Knight writes essays and poetry. Her work appears in The Rumpus, The Common, and Rust + Moth, and her poem, "Elegy for my Father," was nominated for Best of the Net 2016. New essays are forthcoming in r.kv.ry. and wildness. Visit for more info.