At forty-one I pluck whiskers from my chin gold as Rapunzel’s hair, shiny as the fire Gretel threw the witch into.
Once upon a time I imagined the thrill of being such a brave girl. Not the easy one some fool’s kiss could rescue. I was capable of saving my own self, outfitted with wits enough to best the wartiest witches, all the little, ugly men.
Older, I made a wish that I could be the princess, charmed and pleasing to all. One slight shift in what’s-his-name and his needs, and I could be fitted to any glass slipper. In my sweetest breath, I’d promise I was worth every peril that fine prince might face. I’d be exquisitely sensitive to the pea beneath the suggestive mattress. Pure and beautiful enough, I wouldn’t have to save myself.
I hardly remember now what I dreamed I saved myself from, or for. The obvious, lone walking wolf whose favorite color is always predictably red? The mythic white wedding night?
My identity never had a legend to stand on.
Even now, I can’t find myself nestled comfortably on any page. I am no one’s awful stepmother or know-it-all godmother, no kind of mother at all, with no children of my own. I suppose it can be said of me that I am currently living as happily ever after as living to a certain age allows, if not for all the stories that begin to tell themselves in random, deep whispers, about the possibilities that were and are no more, the shockingly brief tales of days and years vanished like breadcrumbs on the path, and no way back.
In the middle of deep woods, I retrace wrong turns and missteps and find there is nothing here any less lost than at the start. Long hours I spend nursing all my dear, darling might-have-beens. Bad days I linger with my face pressed to the dark mirror like the witch, devoted to my flaws.
— Susan O’Dell Underwood
Susan O’Dell Underwood directs the creative writing program at Carson-Newman University. Besides two chapbooks of poetry, she has one full-length collection, THE BOOK OF AWE (Iris). Her poems, essays, and short fiction have been published or are forthcoming in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Oxford American, Crab Orchard Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, and A Literary Field Guide to Appalachia. She and her husband David Underwood run Sapling Grove Press, devoted to underserved poets, photographers, and writers in Appalachia.
Editor’s Notes: Supporting image is a collage of Disney Princess (by Kevin Dooley in Flickr) and a flying witch (Kisspng).
Identification: Adults average 5-6 feet. Live birth. Color varies. Form: Head, trunk, protrusions at shoulders and hips called arms and legs.
Similar Species: Nothing on Homeworld.
Voice: Wide range of inflection, limited hissing.
Range: Entire planet although not naturally aquatic.
Comments: Apex sentient. Exterior covered in skin with patches of hair; no protective scales. Legs restricted to locomotion; useless for sitting, unlike coils. Arms used for carrying and eating, although our mouth tentacles function better for both.
Note: Planet also supports a beautiful creature of sleek and elegant design that can swim, crawl and fly effortlessly. They call it snake.
— Lauren McBride
Lauren McBride finds inspiration in faith, family, nature, science and membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA). Nominated for the Best of the Net, Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards, her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in dozens of publications including Asimov’s,Dreams & Nightmares and The Grievous Angel. She enjoys swimming, gardening, baking, reading, writing and knitting scarves for troops.
Editor’s Note: This catalog poem—a field guide of sorts—is symbolized by a Hominoidea lineage tree (Dbachmann) and silhouettes of the evolution of man (clipart max) and a snake (kisspng).
Bounding a finite space with an infinite line, the pattern repeats itself, regularly, predictably, endlessly;
the same ratio between divisions, the same angles proceed from the macro to the micro;
the corrugations of a brain, the shape of synapses coiling within the skull, the fragile fractal shape of nerves swaying in a serotonin storm the way that tree limbs dance in a hurricane.
Each life is tessellated, curved and arced and planed to fit snugly beside another like jigsaw tiles; each piece a part of the other, a part of the whole chaotic system—
none of us can stand far enough outside the fractal boundary to see the patterns to it all, to see that we are the tree in the storm, we are the raw and aching nerve, we are each other, pieces in a mosaic, only whole when we’re together in this world.
— Deborah L. Davitt
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling and Pushcart nominations; her short fiction has earned a finalist showing for the Jim Baen Adventure Fantasy Award (2018) and has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, and Galaxy’s Edge. For more about her work, including her Edda-Earth novels, please see www.edda-earth.com.
Editor’s Notes: Tessellate: from a late 17th century Latin verb tessellare meaning to decorate (a floor) with mosaics. And in mathematics, it’s to cover (a plane surface) by repeated use of a single shape, without gaps or overlapping. The accompanying image is that of Hippocampal neurons (green) and glial cells (red). Scale approximately 90 microns. (Image courtesy of Paul de Koninck, Universite Laval) from Fractals in Nature (https://fractalfoundation.org/OFC/OFC-1-6.html): Our brains are full of fractals and couldn’t function were it not for fractal geometry. The human brain has 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses possible only because of the fractal nature of neurons.
Can you hear them, can you see them Marching proudly across the moor, Hear the wind blow thru the drifting snow, Tell me can you see them, the ghosts of Culloden. —Lines from “The Ghosts of Culloden” by Isla Grant
A savage lot, you say, wearing kilts their women wove, the dyes set by their lasses’ piss. Look close to see the weave their tartans fine as any noble’s vest.
Can you see them rising up again with their claymores dipped in red, but when the smoke of battle clears they fade into the mist.
And all to unify the clans, return the Stuart line to England’s throne. Such a waste of lives— their Bonnie Prince Charles was a fucking arse.
Climb to the Highlands to find the standing stones, make passage back in time, then feel the thunderous entry of their passing souls— and you can worship down.
There is a bloodied page in this history tome I hold. I am a daughter among the many daughters. We’d have fought too, if such were allowed.
We carry the weight of suppressed rain, the loss of lands, the seasons of death etched in the planes of our faces.
You may on this page scribe your many lies, but no pen can change nor words rearrange what happened at Culloden.
— Marge Simon
Marge Simon lives in Ocala, FL. She edits a column for the Horror Writers Association Newsletter, “Blood & Spades: Poets of the Dark Side,” and serves on Board of Trustees. She is the second woman to be acknowledged by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association with a Grand Master Award. She has won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Poetry.
Editor’s Notes: “The Battle of Culloden (Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Chùil Lodair) (16 April 1746) was the final clash between the French-supported Jacobites and the Hanoverian British Government in the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Culloden dealt the Jacobite cause—to restore the House of Stuart to the throne of the Kingdom of Great Britain—a decisive defeat.” Read more here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btJzi8_GrUE and listen to Isla Grant sing The Ghosts of Culloden. More information can be found here: https://clan.com/blog/folklore-thursday-the-ghosts-of-culloden-battlefield and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Culloden#/
The image is a Woodcut painting by David Morier of the Battle of Culloden first published just six months after the battle in October 1746.
One by one the doctors let their leases expire at this cathedral of the hurt. Hallways spider like mazes. Addition after addition. Sisters of Mercy begging to the blessed, Please we need more room. Who’d resist them? Their pure, white uniforms, their rosary prayers said over victims of The Great Flu Epidemic. Warm cloths laid on children’s legs, on soldiers blinded by numeral’d wars. Sirens were silenced.
I stand beside the Patron Saint of Children
behind a chained door never locked before. We’re obsolete, Aloysius and I. George Thomas, the first baby born here, died of old age a decade ago. My heels echo down the polished hall, and I whirl to groans and cries: chorus of agony, a choir of praise. Thousands left this launch headed for worlds far away. I am left to empty rooms, hear the last rites of ghosts. My bones now lie in corners, specks of dust.
— Ann Thornfield-Long
Ann Thornfield-Long, a co-author of Tennessee Women of Vision and Courage (edited by Crawford and Smiley, 2013), has poetry appearing in Artemis Journal, Riddled with Arrows, Silver Blade, Abyss & Apex, The Tennessee Magazine, Wordgathering,Liquid Imagination and other publications. She won the Patricia Boatner Fiction Award (Tennessee Mountain Writers, 2017) for her novel excerpt “The Crying Room” and was a finalist for her fiction in the 2017 Chattanooga Writers’ Guild Spring Contest. She was nominated for the Pushcart, Best of the Net and Rhysling awards, and awarded a 2017 Weymouth residency. She edited and published a weekly newspaper for six years. She’s a retired nurse and medical first responder.
Editor’s Notes: Though not immediately apparent, the two 10-line verses are structured with decasyllabic lines, while the one-line central verse has 11 syllables, and is pivotal in the poem. An image of Creedmoor State Hospital’s Building 25 (founded in 1912) is overlaid with a rusted chain (Jooin) and a woman ghost (pngimg). The great influenza pandemic in 1918 killed over 50 million: https://www.cdc.gov/features/1918-flu-pandemic/index.html
They found him on the riverbank, full of holes, full of dark spaces. They found him on a Sunday morning, rolling in the arms of Jesus, a husk being absorbed back into earth, a shell the soul discarded.
Angels hovered in the morning light. They bathed his unquenchable wounds. They ran their fingers through his hair. They pressed the good light upon him– the one who walked away from life, who joined in the sleep of the once living. Who shut his eyes and saw everything.
— Bruce McRae
Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician currently residing on Salt Spring Island BC, is a multiple Pushcart nominee with well over a thousand poems published internationally in magazines such as Poetry, Rattle and the North American Review. His books are The So-Called Sonnets (Silenced Press), An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy (Cawing Crow Press) and Like As If (Pskis Porch), and Hearsay (The Poet’s Haven).
Editor’s Notes: The image is from the Spiritual Inspiration blog (spiritual-awakening.net). The poem is arguably a highly subverted sonnet.
Yes miss please and thank ye. Lovely plate if I do say so myself, the missus would die if she saw me dirtying this with my greasy fingers, she’d give me a fair rump of it, but if you say all’s fine, then who am I to say naught against it?
The biscuits are lovely, mum, baked them yourself, now did ye, ah well, that’s too much kindness for the likes of me, my wife takes good care of me, despite the grousing, so I’d not want you to think I’m wanting anything as far as that goes.
The tea? Well, mum, I must say I’ve had nary a taste of something what made my mouth go quite as edgewise as this, I mean to say I love the taste, but my lips want to give a quiver once it’s past, if you pardon my meaning. It’s very good. I think I might need a quaff more, though, to judge its true quality.
Begging your pardon if I don’t hold the teacup rightly, I’m a rough man, mum, with flat fingers, comes from shearing the sheep, not fit for finer things, my pardon, pray forgive me, the missus says I’m not fit for proper conversation, but we seem to be getting on all right, what with my roughness and all.
Haven’t seen the Mister around lately, mum, and that worries me, what with the loss of that lamb last week, and the howls of the wolves lately. Bad business for the sheep, mum, even with me carrying my rifle into the hills every night. My missus hardly sees me at all these days. Not that she complains, mum, not that she complains.
A bit more tea, if I’m not being forward. Thankee, mum, but seems there’s something missing in the taste, not that I’m blaming you, mum, you know your tea, you and your people, but there’s something not right here, let’s try this, again begging your pardon, but the missus makes a fine tea herself, I carry some with me for the times when I’m tending the sheep and the Mister forgets I’m there. It happens, mum, but I’ll never say a word against him, he’s a very busy man.
Just a touch, missus, there you go, sip slowly, ah! No, don’t take a sip of your own brew, just let this play about your mouth, let it linger. We call it lambswool tea, the missus and me, just a laugh for us when we look at the fields and flocks and remember that they once belonged to us and now we can’t even afford enough fleece for a sweater.
Lambswool tea. Big laugh, mum. We can’t afford tea, and we can’t keep the wool. So we make the tea out of whatever’s handy. And free, mum, and free. Oh, but nothing’s free now, is it, no, its all part and parcel, all bought and sold, all bartered or battered or stolen.
Your mister loved lambswool tea, mum. He told me so himself, right after his first taste of it. Did I mention the missing lamb, and the wolves? Sure I done so, mum, you must remember. Only they weren’t so much wolves as big dogs, I’d guess. Hungry dogs what would never touch a lamb. We trained them that way, have done for centuries, mum.
How’s the tea, love? Bit too much of the Irish in it, is there? Oh, you look all tuckered of a sudden, mum. Begging your pardon, though, but before you go to napping, tell me—can you hear the dogs howling? They sound right near to me. Very, very near.
— Mikal Trimm
Mikal Trimm has sold over 50 short stories and 100 poems to numerous venues including Postscripts, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
Editor’s Notes: The symbolic collage of teapot and wolf seems to fit the flash-poem, a delightfully horrific tale.
Nothing’s afraid of him.
Look at the blue jay stealing
his straw for the nest.
No reason to be scared of tomorrow
while today grows sky high.
Then they mow his field.
Set fire to his forest.
Disappear down a maze of streets
hidden in the haze.
Now the mountain looms
beyond charcoal trees
and time unwinds tomorrow’s ties.
Crying with laughter he stands,
walks, jogs through the blister.
Vanishes in the smog.
I want to call out to him
but my voice is tinder.
I want to give chase
but my limbs would catch fire.
Maybe his tears will save him.
Paul Sherman is a recluse living in the mountains of western North Carolina. He reads his poetry to the forest that creeps close to his house. He carries binoculars to view the warblers that sometimes appear in the trees to listen. His work has yet to be found.
Editor’s Note: A scarecrow (pngtree)is combined with an apocalyptic scene from a French site: L’apocalypse. La fin du monde.
I can’t see too far past my own broken nose without my glasses,
but I know exactly who pulls up in the driveway,
The bud of my Marlboro Ultra Light 100
wheezes into my lap,
makin’ the other holes in my jeans look like a pattern.
I don’t mind.
They’re not the only genes of mine
that come with holes and ashes in ’em.
Barkley’s work boots slap dirt down
on the porch that he knows I’ve swept, today,
as he grunts “Supper done?” in my direction.
Would he come home if it wasn’t?
The shutters on the outside of the windows need a new coat
of magnolia-colored paint.
There’re chips sneaking down the wood,
and baring our poor to every vacuum and carpet cleaner salesman
that makes the mistake of picking our porch.
By this time at night,
Mama’s already in bed
in her faded pink muumuu
and praying that her daughter comes to her senses.
She’s optimistic that one day
I won’t love a man whose licks sting less
than the silver spittle on his chin,
that one day I’ll kick my smoking habit in the ass,
and hold my Tesla lighter to Barkley’s greasy flesh.
But she knows me better.
She knows that the second my flame took,
I’d throw my body on top of him
like a smother blanket
hugging the heat to death
to save a man who would gladly
barbecue his meals on my bones.
The screen door jitters shut
as he leaves me with my coping cloud.
Desperate, I drag out my last glow
and place the remains in the flea market, crystal ashtray.
My battered body stands and turns me towards the door,
towards the kidney bean filled chili I made for supper,
towards the dinner party that I throw, nightly, for silence,
towards cleaning plates and pans as quietly as possible
because the clinking gives him a “goddamn headache,”
towards one more cold night next to a mistake
next to a choice
next to the temptation to light up another Marlboro
and tap the ashes
onto the “highly flammable” warning label sewn into his pillow.
— Alecz Yeager
Alecz Yeager is a 22-year-old writer from South Carolina. She is currently finishing a BA of English at Winthrop University. She has previously had a prose piece published by Soft Cartel. Her poetry style is often narrative and tells some sort of short story. Her passion for writing stems from her belief that stories are what guide every new generation. Stories are what carry on the memories of the past.
Editor’s Note: I had photographed the flames in a fire ring on Halloween night (at a local microbrew in Knoxville, TN). The image I imagine in the fire, pareidolia, is spooky, a demon-angel on fire, or some other sinister creature aflame. It is fitting for the piece.