by Toby Altman

from Rhetoric for Carpenters (proverbs)

(a) Do not allow insult:
 language should be a thimble
 to shield your brother’s thumb.
(b) Do not tell your firstborn
 the story of Isaac:
 you just never know.
(c) Do not let yourself speak
 about the unknowable.
(d) Do not use language
 to punish, to command
 or to complain:
 language is the month
 of March, a time
 to straighten one’s things
 with one eye on the spring.
(e) Do not pretend
 that you hold language
 as a craftsman holds
 a tool. Language holds you
 steady as it stuffs you
 full of others

Toby Altman is the author of the chapbook Asides (Furniture Press, 2012), and co-founder of Damask Press. His poems can/will be found in Rhino, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Gigantic Sequins, Drupe Fruits, Birdfeast, and other magazines. He lives in Chicago, where he co-curates the Absinthe and Zygote series with Anne Shaw.

by Bobby Fischer

Father's Day

Fourteen [14] Father’s Days [FD] had gone by for Tanya [T] and Matthew [M] in which neither of them had a father [f]. [T]’s [f] was missing and presumed dead or as good as by [T]’s mother [m] and [M]’s [f] had died before knowing that he had a son [s] on the way. Grammar School [GS] [FD]s had been awkward for the two [2] of them, spent folding paper and gluing macaroni to a card in the name of an imaginary [f]. Wiliwaw [W] Township [TWP] was a microtown [mt] of the everyone-knows-everyone variety [ekev], so the teachers [t] had the option of (a) pretending to not know or (b) like ask [M] and [T] if they wanted to work on a card for an uncle [u] or something. Neither of the [f]less children [c] were keen on sitting out because of their familial differences [fd] even though classmates [cm] knew the score and asked passive aggressively to see what [T] and [M] were each working on, offering broad compliments [bc] on how proud the recipient of such a magnificently constructed card [mcc] would be. This went on for what felt like forever.

While not friends during the school year [sy], their [FD] vulnerability pushed them together annually and for the third straight year they met on the bench at the Pizza Place [PP] across the street from their Intermediate School [IS]. [M] had approached the last [2] years fantasizing an Erotic Encounter [EE] born from their mutual lack [ml] of a [f] figure, the result of which he thought would make [T] kind of slutty, which was the cliché about [f]less girls. Plus he had heard some things. The past year had seen a shift in [M]’s persona and he currently affected a no-one-to-look-up-to [n1tlut] flannel-based-above-it-all [fbaia] attitude that [T] found way sexier and adult than [M]’s previous sweater vest thing that he was doing. The new [fbaia] attitude, which [T] imagined was a puberty born manifestation [pbm] of [M]’s [f]less state, had her doing a little [EE] fantasizing of her own. She was very attracted to this new thing that he had going on. [M] lit a cigarette as [T] approached the bench and sat next to him.

You have an extra one [1] of those, [T] said. [M] pulled [1] out of his flannel’s pocket and flicked it to her. [T] held it between her fingers unlit and adjusted it multiple times before bringing it to her lips. [M] lit it for her. [T] coughed as she breathed the smoke in and [M] laughed.

You’ve never smoked before, [M] said. [T] nodded. [T] didn’t want to smoke at all. She wanted to be somewhere else with [M], in an abandoned classroom or the woods or anywhere private. Smoking is good. You just have to practice, [M] said. [T] imagined a version of herself [T2] and a version of [M] [M2] who weren’t sitting on this bench. Who were walking through the woods behind the [IS]. [M2]’s hand would find hers and her palm would be clammy from sweat, because even in [T]’s [EE] fantasy, [T2] was a nervous wreck about boy stuff.

[M] took a drag from his cigarette and [2] tusks of smoke billowed from his nostrils.

You look like a dragon, [T] said and [M] did not laugh but gestured at her cigarette. Now you, he said. She shook her head no but then brought the cigarette to her lips and inhaled deeply. The smoke burnt [T]’s throat and when it reached her lungs it aroused a coughing fit that muscled its way up from her gut. [M2] backed [T2] up against a tree in the woods and placed his palms against the tree’s bark on either side of her head. She could smell the sweat from [M2]’s armpits and it made her dizzy. [M] held his cigarette high up by his knuckles. There was a yellow stain there that made his skin look rotten. As the coughs finished up [T]’s head felt unattached and light as air. [M] watched cars zoom down the street. He imitated their shushing noise as they sped past. [M2] leaned in and parted [T2]’s lips with his tongue. The kiss did not taste like cigarettes, tasted only like the faint wintergreen of gum that she’d had hours before. His mouth was warm and wet but tasteless. [T2]’s right fist closed around the dangling sleeve of [M2]’s flannel and squeezed. Their tongues pushed on each other and traded back and forth between mouths scraping against rows of teeth. [M2]’s hand went above her pants and under her shirt by her hip but no higher. His thumb rubbed across her skin, causing her to goosebump. [T] shivered as her own skin reacted. [M] flicked his spent cigarette butt into the street and looked at her.

            I don’t ever even think about my [f] anymore, he said. You.

            Sometimes, she said. But it’s no big deal.

            Do you think you like are who you are because of it, he said.

            Not really, she said.

            Me neither, he said.

But when [T] said it [M] was thinking about the things he’d heard about her. The slutty [f]less cliché stuff. And when [M] said it [T] was thinking about the new [n1tlut] [fbaia] attitude that she saw in [f]less teenage boys on soap operas but now also in [M]. [T] and [M] were both embarrassed by the look in the others’ eyes that said very plainly, I don’t believe you. [M2] pulled away from the kiss and took a step away from [T2]. [T2] raised her hand to cover her mouth, as if she were surprised that the kiss had happened at all.
Don’t stop smoking that, [M] said. You look really good.

Ha, [T] said and looked at the burning end. Something about the gray with the orange glowing right behind it. The woods dissolved around [T2] and [M2] and then [M2] dissolved and [T2] faded back into [T] and there was [M] looking at her with the same look that [M2] had had in the woods as he pushed his hands against the bark on either side of her head and she could smell his sweat.

Bobby Fischer was born and raised in New Jersey. He lives in Haledon and teaches at William Paterson University, where he received his MFA in creative writing.

by Cassandra de Alba

The Beast Deer

When the beast deer came out of the forest, we were mostly indifferent at first. Then we got scared. The beast deer looked like normal deer from far away, but close up we noticed that their eyes glowed like taillights and their antlers ended in tiny antlers that ended in tinier antlers that went on and on forever. The first time the beast deer took a child, he had a  generic, old-fashioned name like Billy or Johnny and the news showed his school picture so often we began to resent his bowl cut and buck teeth, the gradated blue background. The mothers organized sweeps of the woods, but found only mounds of recently-dug earth with nothing inside. It was later established that the beast deer slept in these, underground, which was the third sign of their beast-like nature. The fourth sign was that they took children and turned them into beast deer. If there was a fifth sign, no one discovered it. In every other way the beast deer were just like normal deer, only some of them, when confronted by the fathers’ hunting parties, would attempt to raise their front legs in a sort of surrender gesture. Deer can’t balance on two legs, though, so they toppled over and the hunters shot them anyway.

Cassandra de Alba’s work can be found in Ilk, Red Lightbulbs, Illuminati Girl Gang, and taped to the wall above her desk. Her most recent chapbooks are called Bloodlust (No Spaceships Allowed) and Special Bitch Academy. She lives in Somerville, MA and blogs at

by Katie Byrum

[What Happens in this Town Stays in this Town]

This one I couldn’t hold:
 he’d gone bottom-fishing in his own head,
 deciding what of me to keep.

 Finally surfaced in a flurry of bubbles:
 I said strange weather ever since you got back

 and his eyes said yes: his eyes were everywhere
 clouded and cast on my skin which could feel
 what his fingerprints were thinking.

 Through rainclothes our blood made a lazy agreement
 and my skin began its dream through his hands,
 through their myth of Middle America, their invention

 of prairie songs and rough timber.
 In his palms I saw maps of red dust and rivers—
 saw them pressed to me, saw them lifting
 to show their lines in arrows on my skin.
 My blood in barrel knots I was caught in his ring of prayer
 and so turned to the gods of the lake: let me absorb
 some geography of elsewhere, mark the crossroads of two rivers
 on the small of my back. On my ribs, the saloon’s swinging door.

Originally hailing from the great state of Kentucky, Katie Byrum now lives and writes in Brooklyn. Her first collection of poetry is forthcoming from Forklift Books—until then, you can find her poems online at La Fovea, iO, and Split Lip Magazine. Send questions, comments, and complaints to

by Matthew Wade Jordan

If You Never Get to Mendocino County

McCreedy is wearing the slow grimace he gets from indigestion or too much booze.

Oh, lord, he says, tied one on last night.

Darrel is tossing the bins. The bins catch what the machines, due to illegibility or tearing or the fickleness of machines, do not. He does not look up.

Yeah? he says.

Yeah, McCreedy says, but I’ll tell you what.

Now Darrel looks at McCreedy, not to see him, but to relieve his eyes from the strain of his work at the bins. He moves his fingers, one after another, in small circles like the doctor taught him.

I’ll tell you what.


I’d do it all over again, McCreedy says, and he erupts with a laugh that reddens his neck and forehead but leaves his cheeks dust white. His jowls and the fat of his belly shake. Darrel cannot help but laugh along. McCreedy has no faculty for regret.

Ash calls, but Darrel is half-asleep in the easy chair with his feet up and by the time he awakens and yanks the lever that lowers the footrest up and forward and shuffles to the phone with his teeth set and his knees singing the answering machine had already beeped and clicked and is rewinding the tape.

Hey, dad, it’s me. Just calling to, you know, see how things are. Don’t know if you’re at work or what. Nothing urgent. Sorry for. I’m sorry that I didn’t call last week. So. Not very good about remembering things like that. Or, I try not to, you know? Hope you’re okay. Sorry again.

She does not call often and she never leaves her number. Her mother was not much for the phone, either.

Today, like every day, there are hundreds but one for some reason stands out.

On the front: men who are uniformly bald and grinning and stripped to their shorts in an ankle’s depth of snow. They stand in a semi-circle, steaming from their body heat, around a break in the ice. Everything but the pink of their skin and the blue of the sky and water is an impossibly bright white. Above them in red: A Warm Hello From Nova Scotia! On the back: Block letters. The fineness of the strokes and the odd mid-letter break and scuff indicates a mechanical pencil. B, thought you might get a kick out of this. The weather here isn’t always that cold, but the men are all that old and fat. Seriously. I haven’t met a man my age this whole time. I can’t wait to get home. Miss you, Wendy. It is addressed to Elizabeth Conroy in 39534. A stamp Darrel has not seen before. Canadian. A black bird with a long neck.

He looks around quickly and slips it into the interior pocket of his thin blue coat.

The break room still smells like cigarettes from when that was what a break meant. It has yellowed like an old mug. Every year they announce that they are working on getting a new building, state of the art, ergonomic, and every year they find that there is no room in the budget. They said privatization would change things.

Petrocelli sits down.

Darrel, he says, do you have a minute?

Sure thing, Darrel says. He sets his sandwich in its Tupperware and marks his spot in the Tribune with the red of the pen he keeps in his lapel pocket.

Well, Petrocelli says, and you know I hate to do this, but—

Here it comes.

Petrocelli’s smile is a thin flat line.

You know I do, he says. But, as you might have heard, we’re really struggling on second shift, and—


And I know you could help us out there.

Gene, how long have I been here? How long? You know perfectly well that I’ve been here too damn long for this kind of nonsense. You can’t pull this shit.

I’m asking for your help, Darrel. I’m not reassigning you. Of course I wouldn’t do that. It’d only be—


Would you be willing to spend some time up front for a little while, so we could move Sammy around?


It had been six years since Petrocelli last thought to move Darrel. This was before Gene’s hands trembled, before his kid killed himself at art school in Portland. Gene talked more then, but the conversation went the same way.

Well, he says. Thought I’d ask.

Darrel picks up his sandwich and takes a bite. Gene hears the crunch of white-green lettuce and looks away.

Renita spoke slower, with more care, than anybody Darrel had ever met. When she spoke it was final and indelible. It was not opinion, or feeling, or sense. It was statement of fact.

He was tall then, too, but thin, with drawn cheeks and a long chin. He had an idea of what women thought when they looked at him. He had set his bag on the sidewalk to take a load off, to stretch his legs and his back, and when he looked up she was there. Her hair was straightened and flipped. Her dress was blue with black polka dots.

My momma tells me carrying mail’s a good living, she said.

He looked at her.

I suppose it could be worse, he said.

Three weeks later, on the Tuesday before the Thursday when he first mustered to ask her out, Darrel handed Renita two bills and a circular addressed to her father. He stopped, and turned over his shoulder.

How come you and your momma talk about carrying the mail? he said.

When there’s not much to talk about, I talk about you, she said and looked him in the eye.

Today, like every day, there are hundreds but one stands out.

On the front: A coastline more beautiful than any Darrel had ever ventured to dream of. White seafoam tossed upon shining granite cliffs. The water a silverstrewn blue. Squat, bent pines clinging to the stone. On the back, a florid cursive and the bold black of a costly pen: Mom, Edward and I hiked this yesterday. It was amazing. We’re having the best time. You and Dad would love it. Love you and talk to you soon, Me. A Liberty Bell stamp. Addressed to Rebecca Walters in 10001.

With a magnifying glass in the half light of the bathroom stall, he reads the small black typeset at the bottom of the card: Mendocino County.

Before he started the carriers were all white men, and then it was all black men. Now it seems to be all Orientals. And women. Oriental women. A couple Hispanics, too.

Every day Darrel sees them come in from their routes, their faces scarlet from the cold or freckled from the sun, and every day something bites him in the gut. He recalls the ivy that grew up the crumbling bricks of that house on Linden Boulevard. The calm regularity of peoples’ small talk and trust. He didn’t regard them as friends then, even though he saw them daily and knew their business from their mail and what they told him, but he misses them as friends now. He wonders how they are.

He catches Xiao Lin on the way out the door. She works part of his route these days.

Let me ask you a question, he says. Beatrice Templeton, on Larkin. Trish Templeton. Older lady. How she holding up?

Xiao Lin laughs shyly, turns, and walks away. She does not understand the question, or is in a rush, or is too polite or uneasy to tell him she does not know. Darrel cannot tell.

The late afternoon sun slashes through the fern frost and the musty muslin blinds and casts the room in a corona of orange-red the color of a white woman’s hair but Darrel barely notices and takes no warmth from it. It is Sunday. Darrel has not showered or shaved since Friday morning, and he will not again until Monday morning.

His hands hurt, but he holds them steady. His eyes fatigue, but he keeps them focused. Beneath the snowfall of poster board and onionskin paper and graphite, he works stoop-shoulder in the blending of fading daylight and the strong white backlight of the draftsman’s table. He sharpens an extra soft pencil, and completes the ears and nose and brow of the third swimmer from the left. He lifts the onionskin, and is dissatisfied by his inability to recreate the rollick of their smiles. The roll of the head, the necks cratered between shoulder blades, it leaves them looking sick and hollow without the pink of their faces. He abstracts a tree in the distance. He traces A Warm Hello From Nova Scotia! and looks back to the third swimmer from the left. Hollow will have to do. He has never worked in color.

By the time he completes the long-necked bird, adheres the paper to the poster board with a thin coat of the rubber cement and water he mixes himself, and suspends it from the ceiling by fish line, his hands are screaming and it is well past dark. He has not eaten since breakfast. He files the original under North America, takes a long breath, and closes the door on his way out.

In his bachelorhood Darrel had been quite a cook, and at the picnic where he proposed to Renita and she had wept when she tumbled into his arms, there was a whole chicken, and buttered potatoes tossed in rosemary, and the costliest bottle of champagne anybody could reasonably ask him to buy.

You know it can’t be champagne all the time, he said.

What about the chicken and potatoes? she said.

Every Saturday before Ashley was born, and every Saturday after she moved out, before Darrel put his feet up in his chair and turned the radio on so it filled the room, before Renita sat down on one of the three couches they owned over the years with a book in her lap and her legs tucked underneath her and then out in front of her when she got a little older and heavier, they had their fill of a whole chicken and buttered potatoes. He cooked and she did the dishes. That was what they had agreed to.

The door is unlocked. A newsman’s smoky tremolo comes through the radio. Darrel takes the cap off the mace he still carries with him and walks as stealthily as the weathered floorboards and his aching, unresponsive joints will let him. She stands at the sink, staring past the wishbones set to desiccate but never wished upon and the never-lit tea candles and a small and empty ceramic vase out the window. A can of watery soup is heating on the stove.

Ashley, he says.

Dad, she says. She turns and they look at each other.

Mrs. Williams let me in, she says.

Yeah, he says.

She had a key, she says. I made you a sandwich. And there’ll be soup in a minute.

Her hands are slipped into two small pockets on the front of her thin white blouse. Her hair is much longer than he remembers, and she does not have it straightened. She leans against the counter. He lowers the mace.

The place looks nice, she says. I, uh, I went into my room.

He looks at her.

To set my things down. It’s incredible, Dad, she says. It’s beautiful.

He looks at her.

You know, I have some friends that work at galleries, small art galleries, and, and I could talk to them, if—

No, he says. No.

Well, she says.

His knees are killing him. He sits.

I didn’t know you had such a thing for postcards, she says.

He stretches his legs out in front of him, and pulls his legs, one at a time, up into his abdomen, flexing his knees and ankles.

Your joints, she says. Can I do anything?

He doesn’t look at her.

No, he says.

Do you still have, she says, I sent you guys a bunch of postcards when I was traveling.

Three, he says. You sent three.

Yeah, she says and looks away.

He sets his feet on the floor. He sets the mace on the table.

I’m sorry, Dad, she says. I didn’t know. I didn’t.

He looks at her. Her jaw is shaking.

I lost my job, she says. The soup bubbles and froths on the stove.

Cut backs, she says, with the economy and everything.

What about Ben? he says after a minute.

Dan, she says. We broke up a long time ago. A younger woman.

I’m sorry to hear that, he says. I am.

Can I? she says. I took a bus. Can I stay here for a while? Until I—

That would be nice, he says.

Around the time that his joints started to bother Darrel enough to mention it Renita started to get her headaches. By the time Gene had moved him into the back because he could no longer finish his route for the pain, the doctors had told Darrel that the only thing that he could do for her was to stay with her and make her as comfortable as possible.

It had been a while since they had spoken to Ash. She traveled with Dan, a drummer for a band whose music Darrel could not listen to. Her postcards, from Korea and Hong Kong and Japan, did not contain much other than assurances that she was safe and healthy.

When Renita was lucid he read to her. The staff at the library on Greendale Street knew to be on the lookout for books about Asia.

I wish we could have traveled, she said.

When she was at her worst, to calm her, to bring her back, he talked to her about their life together. The time he lost control of the Dodge on the ice and sent the trashcans flying and her laughter as he drove away as fast as he could, terrified that the police would come. The cake she baked for Ashley’s second birthday, and how Ashley with her tiny fists destroyed it in a splash of flame and wax and frosting. The plans they made over the years, and whether or not they followed through with them.

Thank you was not the last thing Renita said to him, with her raving agony and her sweat-soaked fevers, but Thank you is what Darrel decided to remember.

Today there are hundreds but one stands out.

On the front: a man and a woman, dressed simply. An orangutan with big eyes and a long soft mouth is holding their hands. It is not tall enough to come up to their waists. All of them, all three, the man and the woman and the ape, are looking at something not shown. They are not smiling, but they each look as if a smile is not far away. On the back: Another stamp Darrel has not seen, a beautiful woman with high cheekbones and a flat nose wearing a gold or bronze headdress. Addressed to Evan Billings in 70814. Ev, You wouldn’t believe this place. It’s so beautiful. Imagine all your senses cut to the quick and overexposed. The food even, the people. Sad and horrifying sometimes but also wonderful. Write more later. Love, THJ. p.s. No actual chimps yet. Or elephants.

McCreedy catches Darrel slipping it into his pocket, and he shakes his head and his body crests with quiet laughter.

You’re getting old, he says.

You know how I know? he says.

Darrel rolls his fingers in small circles like his doctor says and closes his eyes tight to relieve the strain.

Oh, I know, alright. You know how I know?

Darrel looks up from the bin.

You know how I know? McCreedy says. Because I’m getting there, too, buddy.

Matthew Wade Jordan lives in the District of Columbia, where he works in energy efficiency policy. He is working (very, very slowly) on a novel.