by Kathleen Hellen


A letter came for someone who had lived here before. The ghost in hardwood. Cling wrap, incense sticks. I was new to it until I named it. The management of grasses. Termites. Taxes. I kept the rooted mulberry in short sale, the fence that had been rent for trespass of the dog, deer, the will of wandering. I put my stock in the extravagance of shelter, paint, roller, a new and stable ladder—the signature of habitation—though I was a phantom among phantoms. Another bin for the recyclables. To the left, the timers set. The pretense of a residence. To the right, the U-Haul idling. I got down on my hands and knees, the red eye of the tower pinging my existence. I dug beside the muted pink foreclosed to trees. The failed azaleas. Dark clouds mapped the progress of the crow in the beginning, the vagrant geese.

Kathleen Hellen is the author of The Only Country was the Color of My Skin (2018)the award-winning collection Umberto’s Night and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Net, and featured on Poetry Daily, her poems have been awarded the Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry and prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review. She has won grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts.

by Hannah Srajer

Adele Bloch Bauer

No blues here

but the shadow 

of her collar—

  hint of the cold, ordered

bone beneath the skin. 

And then the hooded eyes 

  black and expansive

as an open purse.  

All afterthoughts to

the gold, of course, 

     almost a joke—

spilling from her dress

to the wall,

a river meeting

  the sameness

of an ocean.


    modern gilt on the eve

of the modern world—

the efficiency

   of assembly lines, the railroads,

metal making metal.

    A Jewish woman,

daughter of industry  

leafed completely in it, 

   a tree—

fat and rustling 

with its natural growth.

They took her in 1939 

   and called it

“a woman in gold”

to hide that the subject

was a Jew

       what a missed opportunity

for propaganda—

   why not store her 

with the tubs full of

wedding rings, 

that iconic picture 

     of some man digging

his hands into the horde,

to show the vastness

and his pleasure.  

I stare at her mouth

   and touch my own. 


A round name

   that forces you to kiss

the air when you speak

     it. German, 

but not. 

My grandmother’s maiden name, 


the real joke of her life.

The hard of the town

square, the ch 

of the chopping block.

   In some display case

in some other museum,

Leia Reich’s gold tooth 

is surrounded by all

       the others—

what’s left of the body

   in gold.   





Hannah Srajer graduated from Princeton University with a degree in history and poetry. Her work has also appeared in The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks. She lives and works in New York City.

by Karen Pittelman

Bill Withers and the End of the World

Time gets tired of being time,
blocks the escalator exit,
lets the hours
pile and jam.

A lake freezes and flows,
a hurricane and a clear day
share the same sky,

And I have been in this CVS
buying a bottle of bleach,
listening to “Ain’t No Sunshine”—
I know, I know, I know—
for seventeen years.

Around me is panic,
but I am calm.
The geologic clock has come.

I say yes and the earth
splits easy
like a freestone peach.
The rift does not mind
when I climb down,
when I come with my questions.
I know, I know, I know,
I call into the canyon,
I know, I know, I know,
the sediments respond.

Karen Pittelman writes poetry, non-fiction about social justice philanthropy, and country songs. Her poems have been published in Keyhole, Machine Dreams, New World Writing, The Pinch, New South, and elsewhere. She is the author of Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It for Social Change. And her country band Karen & the Sorrows has been featured in Rolling Stone, Billboard, and on WNYC’s The Takeaway.

by Karen Pittelman

Good News About Black Holes

I watch the mating dance of
tiny iridescent spiders.
Then an interview with Australians
sadly sweeping away
chest-high piles of tumbleweed.

An email explains that if I am alone
and having a heart attack,
coughing deeply could
save my life.
Is it true? I forget to check.

In a video,
a tiny hedgehog is eating
a tiny cake.

And Stephen Hawking explains
there might be a way
out of a black hole after all.
But you must enter another universe.
You can never return
the way you came.

Karen Pittelman writes poetry, non-fiction about social justice philanthropy, and country songs. Her poems have been published in Keyhole, Machine Dreams, New World Writing, The Pinch, New South, and elsewhere. She is the author of Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It for Social Change. And her country band Karen & the Sorrows has been featured in Rolling Stone, Billboard, and on WNYC’s The Takeaway.

by Daniel DiStasio

Mr. Sheffield Has Left This World

On his way to the county cemetery, where they placed the unwanted remains of those who cannot afford a “proper” burial, James stopped at a convenience store to buy flowers. The plastic container near the door was empty except for a thin film of gray scum lining the bottom of the hollow bucket. He bought a Beanie Baby instead, thinking of the shrines he had seen alongside the road. Whether Mr. John Sheffield, 54, originally from West Virginia, had any affinity for teddy bears was unknown, but James was compelled to make a gesture.

Was a stuffed panda bear with a red ribbon tied around its neck an appropriate sign of respect? Did it matter? He was the only one at the grave site, except for a ball-capped younger man who looked at him briefly uninterested, then went back to his work, directing the yellow-clawed earth-digger deeper into the hole, lifting large clumps of loam and depositing it into a growing mound.

The casket, a bare bones box, sat on the opposite side, and James wondered briefly how they would lower into the hole once it was completed. Where were his friends? His family? Was he such a loner, a misanthrope, that no one seemed to know or care? James only knew him from the picture he had seen in the newspaper, and the sound the train made when it ran over his body. The newly launched Brightline Express had killed seven people in twelve days. Although two were clearly suicides, the rest . . . like, well, Mr. Sheffield . . . one could only wonder what made a person run in front of a high-speed train.

The sky was gray like ash. Rain, perhaps; although at this time of year the threat of storms was deceptive. One moment, clouds darkened, and the next, sun beamed. One of the burdens of living in the Sunshine State was the expectation that one’s mood should always match the weather; instead, the atmospheric instability made one irritable. The only consistency was discomfort. Perspiration dripped down one’s brow and stung the eyes. Heat indices climbed into triple digits.

The grittiness of sweat accompanied the most uncomfortable moments of his life. He suffered under the glare of his father’s disappointment, a military man who saw any deviation from his own way of life as a weakness. No action was too inconsequential to be noted and derided, as his disapproval was delivered with alacrity and abundance. Orders and refusals were the brick and mortar of their relationship, building a wall between them from James’ first request for a pet. Dogs stink. To his attempt to join the high school band. If you can’t play sports, you are not going to march around the field. James often wondered what made a person so angry and controlling? Only mother, a gentle dove, could navigate through his father’s nettles. Her presence as a conciliatory island in the rough seas of father and son carried them through many rocky days.

James was not rebellious, but his mere presence seemed to irk his father, who was not a “book man” and while giving silent assent to James’ studious ways, clearly did not understand them. Perhaps he’d be more appreciative if James smashed up a car or got some girl in trouble. Maybe that would qualify for a manlier son—some sign of aggression. The one time he did assert himself was after high school. He bided his time, made an announcement. He was leaving. After the words spilled out, he couldn’t breathe. Mother was at the sink washing a cup, her back turned toward him.

What followed was years of silence. When his mother passed, James watched his father, silent and sullen, at the funeral, his steely spine barely bent as he walked away from her casket for the last time. His composure—brutal. James reached out to take his arm and he pushed him away. “Don’t!” Then he stood in the receiving line, stone-faced and nodding grimly as one after another friend and distant relative offered condolences.

A week later, the unexpected phone calls began. Three times in one week. James felt obligated to return the gesture until his father found his footing. Soon enough, the topics of discussion changed from what to do with her needlepoint canvasses, flosses, and threads into lectures about what failure was—what a failure he was. James hung up.

The phone calls stopped.

“I hated him.”

The grave digger turned and looked at him.

Had he said it out loud?

What was it about funerals that brought out the worst in people?

Mother’s waxy face bore no relation to the woman who lived outside that box. Father’s performance at the wake was academy award winning material. Why was everyone scared of death?

He had been reading about an uproar over a gorilla doing handstands. It seems the zookeeper was showing the gorilla, Bolingo, how to perform the stunt and encouraging him to mimic her. Of course, the act was videotaped and went viral and the animal rights activists took to Twitter to condemn the act. It was forcing the gorilla to be something he was not intended to be. Gorillas interpret staring as a threat. Inciting gorillas to do tricks only draws more people to their cages, and consequently they are more likely to react badly or strike. He never read the zookeeper’s rebuttal because at that point the train stopped, having run over Mr. Sheffield.

An announcement was made that all commuters would have to detrain and wait for buses to pick them up.

“Do you want to say a prayer, Father?” Finished digging, the man had climbed down off the caterpillar.

Do I look like a f--ing priest? The thought marched to the front of tongue and stopped.

The grave digger took off his ballcap and lowered his head.

“Lord, take this man in your hands…” and what? That was as far as he could go. “Amen.”  

James crossed himself and stood beside the box. “You’ll need help.” He moved to the other side of the coffin and took one side of the straps as they rolled it into place. The grave digger hand cranked it into the ground and offered a handful of dirt to James. He tossed it on the casket with a bit of a flourish.

“I’ll finish up later, Padre . . . take care.”

He had been boarding a plane for Spain when he got the call. Heart attack. Sudden. What should they do? There were old military friends. A cousin. There was a plot next to his mother. Make whatever arrangements necessary. James had no preferences or wishes for the ceremony. Nothing. James could not attend.

In Madrid, he went to see the bullfights at La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo. He drank warm scotch out of a paper cup and watched the spectacle in dazzling sunlight. He had never seen blood so red, as the picadors stuck the banderillas into the bull’s neck. When it was time for the kill, the crowd stood up and cheered. His father’s ghost lingered in the back of his mind as he watched the bull stagger, then fall dead.

He placed the stuffed panda at the head of the grave and waved good-bye to the man who was now perched again on the small earthmover. The crane creaked, and dirt dropped upon the coffin sounding like dry gritty rain. Beyond the crabgrass and weeds that spilled out from the graves was an old warehouse and an abandoned office building. No beauty in death but nothing to be afraid of either. Just the smell of heat rising from the gravel, and in the distance, a train whistle, insistent in its passing.

Daniel DiStasio’s work has appeared in The Louisville Review, Summerset Review, Reed, and others. His first novel, Facing the Furies, was published in 2012 by Vagabondage Press. He earned his MFA at Spalding University. He is currently working on a gay adventure novel set during the 1898 Gold Rush in Alaska. When not at work or writing, he cares for his three Shetland Sheepdogs: Charles Dickens, Nikolai Gogol, and James Joyce.