by Kimberly Lambright

Regular Ground

Pumpkin lark in the nursery, dolls


withheld in nude canvas like
persimmons in paper, it’s true
the cupful afternoon lessens
the crush of


what is written, it’s hot
on the lawn’s tray, its noise
of movements through moral leaves,
box of jam pie.

Heed the rag of
      time, calm pool of birds
      docking on the dirt world.


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Kimberly Lambright is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Ultra-Cabin (42 Miles Press, 2016), which won the 42 Miles Press Poetry Award and was named a SPD-Recommends Book Choice. Lambright is a MacDowell Colony fellow; recent work appears in Phoebe, OAR, Columbia Poetry Review, ZYZZYVA, Sink Review, Bone Bouquet, The Boiler, Wicked Alice, Burningword Literary Journal, Big Bridge, Little Patuxent Review, Burnside Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn. Find her at kimberlylambright.com.

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by Brennan Bogert

The Abandonarium

—After Lucie Brock-Broido


Who may      or may not have been there:


      A girl      digging through cans
      in the pantry into      the upper shelves
      for night      kept watch      starless and undisturbed

                       A body of feathers      a gender of down
                       that prickled through the skin         ingrown


      insubordinate habits
      fingering lipskin and wool


                      her lap     the rare occurrence of heavy human
                      hair
                                          A miracle      saffron
                                         
                                          a vegetable’s
                                          careful      quobbing      heart
                                                                  
                                 A doll that moved without a hand to hold it
                                 size: indeterminant

                                 playful and secretive

In the bathroom     bubbling translucent and pink
     
       A mermaid        who remembered her sister
      who chose walking

      whale-eyes gooey
      well into three weeks out of water
                          
                           A swelling woman       fingers drying as marrow
                           in the tub of bone
                           liberated from body
    
  listened      ear to drain
  away homesickness

                          long a covetous creature
                         experienced joy as a shower of glass
      
In the vestibule       waiting to be re-robed
                        
       A boy      on an orange pleather chair 
       took comfort in the clinical 
                                       
               A patient           verdant coated 
               hair a concatenated mess of moss

       answered many complicated questions with silence

Outside every window
              
         A witch waiting for dinner

         Her companion        fish-legs flayed
         radicchio red

                                 A cat sleeping on a baby’s-breath

                                            My mother
                                                    
                                    when young        curly blond
                                           
                                               fur stained
                                                     
             blue-fin tuna           whom the mermaid instinctively knew 

                                   A painter of Mondrians
                                   poor most frequently mid-month          
                                   sending the notes of 
                                   cheesy pop-songs through the pipes 

                                                kept maps of the ocean floor 

                                                                    A fashion model            
                                                                    legs extended to 
                                                                    a frame of boredom 

                                                                                A sofa the colour of sand 
                                 
             A museum of broken bodies 
             often Greek      or Roman 

A statue of a girl with the body of a bird early Mesopotamian

In worse wear         in the Abandonarium 

         The songs of Thaïs
          contracted with heavenly fever 
          lust         swayable 
          played on repeat 

                       A boy  /   girl  /  neither  /  looking out past the trees
                       eating candy 

                                            A heart held by balloons

 You remember how every hour they called out?         It is still not certain to whom.


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Brennan Bogert is a poet, freelance writer and editor, and collector of street-sounds. She regularly contributes LGBT Arts and Culture coverage for GO Magazine. Other places her work has appeared include Iowa’s Best Emerging Poets, Anomaly, The Paha Review, and Cathexis NW. She is an M.F.A. candidate in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College.

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by Kathryn Fitzpatrick

Oakley Man

Sometime in high school—after I’d gotten my first period but before my wisdom teeth came—my mother started skipping church and taking us to breakfast at The Brickhouse: me, my brother, and my dad. The first time I wasn't sure why. The Brickhouse wasn't the best diner in town, it was dark inside, and in the summer, the tiles pulled at your sandals like they were covered in syrup.

My mother led us to the booth farthest to the right, next to the counter, and sat on the outside. She sat with her purse in her lap, phone in her purse, and stayed there, fixed on the screen.

“Come on,” my father said. “Family time.”

“Bones, we're together all the time.” That was his nickname. Bones. He was a track star in high school, and could eat fifty McDonald's cheeseburgers in one day the way a snake could eat a golden retriever, except back then, he didn't put on any weight.

My mother flipped her hair and sighed like she'd just been grounded for the weekend. She slipped her phone to her purse and her bag to the floor. The waiter with the quiet voice and the swiveling hips set mugs of coffee down in front of us, lay out the sweetener in soft pink packets, took our orders. My mother was the only one who ever switched hers up.

“Ma'am,” he said, “What'll it be this week?” She always ordered something she regretted later; eggs Benny with the powdered Hollandaise was a staple.

“He called me ma'am! Do I look like a 'ma'am' to you?” She pulled at her skin like the clay from art school—the past that no longer mattered.

As we ate our bacon-egg-n-cheese-on-a-hard-roll sandwiches, a man wearing Oakley's on the brim of his Red Sox cap picked a stool at the counter two seats down from us. My mother looked at him for a while. Fixed her hair. Removed her glasses. Licked her finger, rubbed it against a yellow spot on her shirt that could have been mustard or paint, gave up. Smudged her eye makeup. Adjusted the cuffs on her oversized flannel. She pulled at her ear, made careful movements with her mouth, nodded her head in his direction.

My father saw nothing. He kept focus on his side order of hash browns and conversation with my brother—sports. Or his mail delivery job. But I saw the way Oakley Man made suggestions with his eyes, how he dragged the tip of his tongue to each corner of his mouth. I felt my mother sitting tense beside me, struggling to contain childish excitement.

 Just like the weeks after. Breakfast after breakfast. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

Sometimes I think my mother got off on bringing her husband and her lover to the Brickhouse at the same time. Somewhere between dorm room hookups and pacifiers she lost her edge; the man with the shades at the end of the breakfast bar gave her the thrill she missed. Maybe it sent her back to college, when a bachelor's in watercolors held a promising future, and frizzy bangs weren't specific to suburban mothers. Beneath the dim glow of incandescent light, she could relive the rush of Hartford Art School in 1988: the winding dormitories pumped full of kids with big hair and triangle earrings, the thrill of a '69 Mustang blasting down Rt. 84. The way the man across the room looked at her like a fine sculpture, ignoring the cracks in the surface with the wear of time.

 



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Kathryn Fitzpatrick currently serves as grants coordinator for the Connecticut Literary Festival and co-edits the upcoming anthology, Flash Nonfiction Food (Woodhall Press, 2020). Her essays and prose poems have been featured in Out Magazine, Gravel, Unbroken Journal, and Crack the Spine, and have been called "biting, brutally honest, and not school appropriate" by her high school principal. She lives in Thomaston, CT.

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by Anitha Ahmed

The Thieves’ Bazaar

After the robbery of her father’s restaurant in Karachi, Nasreen, head cashier and watchwoman at the Newark Patel Bazaar, had no tolerance for thieves. She saw graffiti and cracked windows on the surrounding buildings and remained unfazed; she heard aunties whisper of break-ins and almost longed for the excitement of a confrontation. Mr. Patel had even left Nasreen a serrated kitchen knife beneath the register. Eight weeks into her job, she had yet to use it.

For now, there were milder crimes to deal with, like the snow-pea vandal. The past two days, Nasreen had discovered tens of dismembered snow peas and their peeled skins scattered across the yellowing tiles of the bazaar, snaking from the produce section all the way to the packaged halwas. What waste, she thought. And Mr. Patel had told her yesterday that if she didn’t catch the culprit today, the price for the peas would come straight out of her paycheck. I’ll make the little dog pay, Nasreen thought, holding her foam cup of chai to her lips, I’ll make the owl’s ass pay for every last pea.

Nasreen began working for Mr. Patel her second month in America and her third month a wife, after her husband had fallen down the stairs at his office building and broken both of his legs and his collarbone. He needed medications and surgery; and her father in Pakistan needed American money. So, Nasreen sprinkled salt into her kohl-caked eyes to streak her face with black tears. Carefully, she sloped her dupatta under her bosom. Prepared in this way, she ran to the Patel Bazaar and crumbled at the register. That was how she wheedled Mr. Patel into offering her a job.

Though it wasn’t nearly as exciting as working at her father’s restaurant in Karachi, there were some perks to her job in Newark. She could wear a salwar kamiz without attracting stares. She could pour herself masala chai from the urn at the back of the store whenever she pleased. She had Mr. Patel to talk to, for an hour every morning, before he left to manage his new bazaar downtown. She liked the way his huge mustache quivered when she spoke to him, the way his mouth splayed in nervous smile when he answered. In any case, Nasreen reminded herself, this was only a temporary job. When her husband recovered, he’d lease her a property by the Newark riverfront and she’d start a restaurant of her own. 

When Mr. Patel left for the day, Nasreen handled the store alone, which the mischievous brown-skinned adolescents in the area caught wind of fast. Earlier today, for instance, she had caught a scrawny Tamil teen slipping a bottle of ThumsUp into his backpack before sauntering towards the door. Nasreen had snatched him by the elbow. 

“You little dog!” She said in Urdu, shaking him till his brown eyes bulged. “I’ll call the police, I’ll call your father!”

The boy murmured back to her in English, too quick for her to catch. She felt his arm writhing under her fingers. But he was no match for twenty-three-year-old Nasreen, who had lifted tables and full kettles and 50-pound sacks of basmati up stairs in Karachi. Two months in America hadn’t yet made her weak. She shook the boy and yelled until he pulled the soda from his backpack and thrust it into her chest. Only then did she let him go. He trotted away down the curb, against the dense traffic, disappearing between brick buildings spray-painted with obscenities. 

Remembering the ordeal, she smiled, wishing Mr. Patel, or her husband, or anyone really, had been there to see it. But now, to solve the mystery of the snow peas. There were the Gujurati nannies that split their groceries into two batches—the more expensive for their employers, the cheaper, bruised vegetables for their own families. Then, there were the executives themselves, who picked up frozen vegetables in their pressed suits, speaking posh English on the phone from the entrance to the register. When Nasreen thought about the executives, she remembered her restaurant. She too would dress in finery, but in the jeweled and embroidered colors of her home. She’d wear a stud on her sharp nose, and she’d curl her tamarind hair into tendrils. This was how her husband had seen Nasreen first, waiting tables for her father, a week before she discovered the restaurant pillaged. 

Nasreen thought of those last weeks in Pakistan, remembered pulled wires and smoke, and her breath quickened. Her restaurant in Newark would not share the same fate. She would hire doormen at all hours and keep a pistol in her apron. She would install a fancy American security system and the police would arrive, if ever needed, within minutes. 

More importantly, Nasreen would serve America’s finest lamb biryani—rice erect and glossy, meat slipping off the bones. She would hang textiles of the Karachi seaside on the wall, and on the door, in letters flourished enough to resemble Urdu, a sign would read Nasreen’s. It would make Americans lose their minds.

Suddenly from the back of the store came a crash, a whimper, and a torrential swoosh. Nasreen jolted upward to witness hundreds of snow peas, green beans and okra cascade to the ground, right at the feet of a girl, whose hands jumped from the falling vegetable boxes to her mouth. 

“Areh baap!” Nasreen said in Urdu, rising from her seat, “Daughter of a bitch, what have you done?” She scrambled around the register and down the aisle, crushing the scattered vegetables. She grabbed the girl by her shoulders. “Look what you’ve done! What a mess!”

The girl could be no more than six or seven years old. Her huge eyelids twisted, her dimpled chin quivered.

“Who’s going to clean it up?” Nasreen demanded, “Who’ll even buy these now?” 

The girl shook her head. “It wasn’t me!” she said. Her shoulders were bony, fragile beneath Nasreen’s clenching fingers, and cloudy tears rolled down her plump face. 

Nasreen softened her grip. “Teek-hai,” Nasreen said, patting the girl’s arm in stiff strokes, “Ok, it’s okay, stop crying now,” she repeated until the child rubbed her eyes. And then, Nasreen saw them—green fibers curled over the girl’s tiny knuckles.

Nasreen grabbed the small hands and wrenched them open. Out fell a dozen shelled peas and a few of their tattered pods. “You thief!” she said, grabbing the girl once more by the shoulders. She shook and yelled and the girl wailed and wailed and at some point the door swung open and Nasreen heard the clicking patter of pumps racing over the tile, and the next thing she knew she was wrenched away from the girl and thrust backwards. Nasreen teetered and then fell into the pile of fallen vegetables.

“What the hell is going on here?” One of the Pakistani executives stood over her. She glared, her padded shoulders splayed open, her chin pointing forward. She wore a pantsuit, had a phone clipped to her belt. 

“Madame, she made a mess,” Nasreen mumbled, “She ruined all these vegetables.” 

“I leave her here for two minutes and find you beating her?” 

Nasreen found her feet and brushed away the smashed vegetables, leaving green stains on her salwar. “Not beating, madame.” She kept her eyes on the ground, feeling her face flush with heat and shame.

“I could call the police for this. You could lose everything you have,” said the executive.

Nasreen trembled, thinking about her restaurant. “No gee. Please. I’m sorry,” she whispered. 

For an excruciating few moments, the three stood in silence. And then, mother and daughter turned towards the exit. 

“You’re lucky I’m not so cruel,” said the executive. 

Nasreen dug her nails into her arms. So close, she had been so close, if only she had controlled her anger the peas would be paid for, the mess taken care of—what were a couple vegetable boxes to a powerful executive, anyway? But now Mr. Patel would make her pay for these herself. A few hundred dollars at least—almost a full week’s pay—enough to cover a course of her husband’s medication. And then what? Her husband would be in casts for months yet, and then there would be a surgery, and until it was all over and paid for, here Nasreen would stay—her days highlighted by confrontations with children and cups of weak masala chai. Nasreen felt the tops of her feet sting and brushed away a trail of ants, who had discovered the edible disarray. Her restaurant had never seemed so pale, so ineffably far out of reach.

She picked up a snow pea and held it level with her eyes. The peas bulged within their shell, stretching the membrane. She grabbed the top of the pod with both pointer fingers and both thumbs and pried it open, splitting it along the natural seam, feeling the fibers give and tear, watching the peas roll out one by one onto her lap. Nasreen took another snow pea from the ground and peeled it open, and then another, and then a whole handful. She grabbed a crisp green bean and snapped it into ten small pieces, and then she took an okra and ripped off the stem, squeezing the plump seeds and viscous juice. She shredded until her salwar camiz caked from bosom to knees with dirt and gutted vegetables, and the floor all around covered with seeds and skins and peas—hundreds and hundreds of peas. Every legume she ripped planted in her the desire to destroy ten more. She walked over to the aisle of snacks—spicy mixtures of puffed rice and roasted peanuts, curlicues of fried chickpea batter—and ripped them from the shelves. She threw them onto the floor, against the wall, watched them explode on contact. It was only when a bag of wheat flour failed to rupture that Nasreen stopped, panting and drenched in sweat, to survey the damage.

This was how she and her father had found their restaurant that morning three months ago in Karachi—vegetables and meat thrown from the fridge and pulverized, the fridge itself strewn with cracked eggs and upset masala mixtures. Then, Nasreen had not understood what could compel a gang of thieves not only to steal almost four crore’s worth of cash and appliances, but to destroy beyond repair—to crack windows and pry tiles from the floor, to rip the dishwasher from the wall but leave the dishwasher untouched—to unscrew lightbulbs and smash them over the lounge chairs. Damage for the sake of damaging. But now, standing in the middle of her own chaos, Nasreen’s fingers tingled. She felt like laughing. For the first time in months, Nasreen felt completely in control.



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Anitha Ahmed grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. She received her MFA in Fiction Writing at Boston University in 2019, where she was awarded the Florence E. Randall Graduate Fiction Award. She is currently a fourth-year medical student at Thomas Jefferson University, and will graduate as a Pediatrician in 2020. Her work has appeared in Calyx Journal, JAMA, and The Huffington Post. When she is not writing or taking care of children, Anitha enjoys yoga, cooking, and hanging out with her large orange cat named Tiny!

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