Emily K. Michael
FOR THE CYNIC
Every night, I carry home a full train of strangers
pin their faces to the vanity
when did I become this ghost?
A flicker, a glass of hot breath. A whole floor of spilled whisper
shrinks in my path. Returns flood to closed doors.
The widowed neighbor cuts flowers for a living.
Petal by petal, she skins them
on my doorstep, cries
lighten up sweetheart!
The kids at school
run loops around the campus field, sweat glue, kiss the scratched-in
hearts on bathroom stalls. Ask me
why I look
like I’ve seen the devil?
Midway through a morning lecture I begin to scream.
In my head, a scene from Rome:
a dirty apartment, quiet birds. The terrace windows blow open and I dance
a bend towards the light, swinging naked limbs.
Is it vain to wish myself
a meaningless peace?
Girls in class are still
checking their reflections on a black coffin screen. The store owner
washes his hands with spit, asks me for change.
My mother’s pasta tastes like defeat and I close my doors
begin to dance a death alone.
1. One Of The Guys
Are you white, or a wetback?
He asks with a rock
that fills his ten-year-old palm.
I’m just like you. I answer
the way I’ve been taught to speak,
each word precise as a stone
lithograph. Grab another rock.
I dig in the damp soil
and clutch a large dirt clod.
Throw it at his head.
He points to Luis digging
tunnels in the playground sand
with a spork he saved from lunch.
I grip the dirt clod tighter.
I close my eyes and throw.
It explodes in my raised hand.
2. Boy Scout
My lure cracks the lake’s glassy surface, enticing
the brown trout with a single artificial fly.
His lipless gold mouth consumes the lie
that hooks into his tender jowls.
I feel the rest of his life in this wire, taut
like string between two plastic cups.
Does he hear my heart tightening its pace,
a fist that will not let go?
3. Cover Girl
My mother’s compact by the mirror
is turquoise and brilliant
like a scarab shell plucked
from the chest of a mummy
I want to unravel. My skin
is darker than this powder
so I rub the soft brown disk
over my forehead, down my cheeks,
and to the base of my neck
preparing my body for a ritual
I don’t quite understand.
I extract the mascara brush
from its green and pink tube,
apply it to my lashes, close
my eyes, and the viscous
black honey seems to seal
my eyelids shut. I open
my eyes and feel each top lash
unstitch itself from the bottom.
In the mirror, my face is beautiful.
I grab a brown pencil, draw
myself a new pair of lips
and fill them with the brightest red
I can find. My mother’s skirts
are too big for my waist,
so I wear her Dorothy heels
to match my mouth. I sway
as I walk onto the linoleum.
Each click from these heels
echoes through the kitchen,
through the hall, through
my father’s open bedroom door.
My father taught me to swim
by throwing me into Kings
River where plants have held many children
before me. Inner tubes floated
above like black clouds. I reached
for them, my fingers sinking
into the deep tread I gripped
and pushed, capsizing people
above. I took their place
lying in the tube’s open mouth,
a black halo.
My arms, nostrils and throat
all burned the same.
Hold your breath
in the front yard
first, then exhale
slowly as you feel
the panic spread
through your chest
and you will last
two more seconds,
maybe three, before
your body contracts
against your will,
forcing the muscles
in your respiratory
system to inhale
today, I am my best self: sedated
watered, made neat as pins and needlework.
a squirming happens, the stomach—
rabid mammal, slack jawed with acid.
dear void, dear whoever:
today, I took it one day at a time
a small blue seed streaking my insides.
EYES STARE STRAIGHT
I don’t know how to swim,
but I learned once at the public pool.
All pubic hair and hot chlorine,
unnaturally fishless, no reaching
green tangle scratching ankles.
2500 chewed nails from death, I said,
“How many guys named Andy have you fucked?”
on the bus to no one, but actually to myself.
Sweat dripped down a lid into my eye
and I played a game with myself where I didn’t blink,
my eyes red, beating, brown like Grandma B’s.
Brown like shit.
The front stroke was hardest,
with water shooting up behind my eyes
I gagged, snot hanging from my nose.
The other girls in bikini suits laughed
at my JC Penney tie dye modesty.
Brown like doe eyes, he’d say,
The doe I shoot and eat.
He told me when they die he stares in
their eyes. The eyes stare straight.
Boys don’t like girls whose bellies hang out,
My mother tucks her teeth into popcorn
four times to make it last. My mother says,
I’m praying for your future husband.
And I’m praying for a ladder in this pool.
Carve letters into my skin like
Charles Manson’s lovers. Bite through
my grease stained Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, into my
piñata stomach, my three pieces of Milano’s cheese pizza,
and two cans of Wild Cherry Pepsi. Swirl it around
with your finger, pour it down my neck like gravy on turkey,
serve me to your friends like a sexy slice of
Red Velvet cheesecake.
Say it. Say it. Say it.
THE DREAM WOKE FROM HER
Karla Lamb uses collage in an attempt to sever the female subject from objectification and decontextualize it as its own autonomous, empowered figure. Most of the nude images are sourced from vintage magazines marketed specifically towards men, juxtaposed with images from contemporary fashion magazines geared towards women. These two sources provide the backdrop of cultural parallels and contradictions where Lamb's abstracted female forms still exist on a mass medium, but in a way that suggests they have self-awareness and agency. Here, Lamb uses both pop culture and spiritual allusions in order to form a new kind of post-modern self-creation myth. This series of collages asks the viewer to question how their own identity is affected by the oversexualized portrayal of women, and reflect on the relationship between mass media, gender roles, and self-empowerment.
MAPS AND OTHER MYSTERIES
Fingers above my eyebrows, and I am reminded
that underneath, I am calcium. The ridges beneath
are not the ridges seen. Underneath, my fingers
are actuators strung to coin-knuckles, clicking
into place like the slats of a bedframe. I know
the backside of my hand like I know Argentina:
that there are tributaries and swollen lakes,
but do not ask me for a map. You could paint
all of Russia on the pads of my feet; they are just as cold.
Contacts taught me to touch the parts that do not want to know me:
investigate the curve of my eye with a fingertip, touch my uvula
like the ringer of a bell. In the loneliest nights, we want to be held—
not everywhere, but just enough, like two states
without a river to divide them.
a round for eight voices
How old was I when my mother first gathered hellebores to float in bowls of water? I can still hear them singing, in sun-bleached voices, rounds known only to their paper skeletons. Where do the petals travel—where do they imagine they go—on those endless circuits, hours-slow, around the glistening rim? She used heavy scissors to clip the stems. The bowls were blue or sometimes dappled, trapped rainbows. Her hands pale and sure when placing boughs in water. I could be neither the fingers nor the branch; I propped my chin on elbows to watch them on the dining table. Which living stems did she cut; which blooms immortalize? After a week the membranes thinned without the mother plant. The remains went to compost, the water to drain and the bowl to wash. How old am I today? Flowers, thoughts in the mind, endlessly remembered and forgotten.
Flowers endlessly remembered and forgotten: the first spring I noticed a pink magnolia in full flower was not the first time it bloomed. Under sky the color of lithographer’s cyan its branches, laden, lifted and sank with cloudlike choreography. Earthly, temporary, lasting only for a time. Petals flew and fell, so with my needle I sewed them up again. My own skin had recently been stitched and un-stitched, red thread embroidering the rise from hip to rib. It moves with me still, that red line, unfurling its cotton tangle until every nerve and synapse flares with needlepoint decoration.
Every nerve and synapse flares the moment a fragile object displays its limitations. There was the glass pitcher whose round sides made a cracked spiral when I filled it with hot tea. Inside became outside so quickly. Yesterday, a dish fell into the sink and I fished it out in three pieces. One was a dagger, two were clasped hands; none were fit to hold my breakfast. Today I planted a philodendron in a teacup whose handle’s long been gone, tendrils and leaves where a curve of clay should be, and found some comfort in the transformation.
I found some comfort in my transformation from a vessel to a sieve. Everything wet and cold I’d been holding could now trickle out of me, a punctured balloon. The plainclothes doctor said that all of my familiar precautions were born of a protective instinct: warm baths, slow walks, naps, pepper balm, heat, no coffee or cigarettes. An instinct with no name or language, then. I was trying to hold together despite fractures. Imagine continental drift on a cellular level.
Imagine, on a cellular level, hearing music on the side of a mountain and not knowing where it comes from. Behind a stone farmhouse in Cantabria overlooking the Atlantic, low walls rounding pastures spread towards sea cliffs. Fallen clouds condense into the white bodies of sheep and goats grazing. On the neck of every creature is a hand-hammered copper or bronze bell with a wooden tongue from the town’s tiny hardware shop. Scattered as they are down the valley, the music is difficult to trace. The bells make sounds more like soft knocking than ringing, the way waves knock on ocean boulders all day with no answer.
There is no answer when I knock on sleep’s door at three in the morning. In meditation, the third strike of the singing bowl means follow my sound to its very edges. Only then do the eyes open. The sound is not lost when it goes; it has traveled elsewhere. What happens inside the night that sets my mind’s rim singing—is my body trying to remember its aliveness? All week, when I do sleep, dreams of death. The family dogs resurrected. They run to me out of darkness, then past me towards the house’s dark mouth. The dogs step in but I stop at the threshold listening, as shadows of familiar objects replace the fading doorway, for the bell’s faint overtones as it drains out of this world and into another.
I felt myself drain out of this world and into another when I took my first walks in the southern woods. I became a hinge. At six or seven, every tree stump was a universe, every bramble a pipeline of wishes and wants. I was in equilibrium; my body was the same size as my desire. I saw a drift of red clover on the creek’s far bank and went there. My belly was always full of sour leaves and sweet berries. I cannot forget what it feels like to be as expansive as gullies and fields. I cannot reconcile, now, my smallness. This is how the land must feel: disturbed by the borders and boundaries drawn onto its body by an impassive hand.
I am disturbed by the borders and boundaries drawn onto my body, but fascinated by edges. I have come to an edge. On one side, land; on the other, water. The place where they meet is decorated with algae and duck feathers. In some alternate world this could be the bowl from which I drink my tea or a whole ocean to swim in, but here proportions dictate that I am a speck on its muddy rim. There are signs telling where to walk and not walk, warning of deep or shallow water. Clouds circle the sky’s lip until, in one last ripple, day drains from every surface. How old have I become?
Emily K. Michael
A PHENOMENOLOGY OF BLINDNESS
It’s not like walking through life with your glasses off.
I mean, sometimes we wear glasses, but they’re different
from yours. Thicker, broader, darker. And they don’t
work the quotidian miracle of correctable vision.
It’s not like getting your eyes dilated once a year, staggering
out to the car under those stiff black shades with the sharp edges,
tearing up beneath the merciless sun and wondering how you’ll manage
the drive home. Damn, someone just texted you and you can’t read your phone.
It’s not like groping in the dark when you come home late
and you can’t find your keys because you and your girlfriends
had too many pomegranate martinis. I know it was a birthday,
but if you could think clearly, you’d know where your keys are.
It’s not like leaving the nail salon after a pedicure, shuffling forward
in disposable flip-flops, doing everything you can not to chip that
gorgeous raspberry shimmer polish. It’s not like that at all.
It’s not like feeling faint because you forgot to eat lunch – you were
working so hard you couldn’t even stop for a granola bar, so you
cling to your colleague’s arm as he guides you outside. It’s nice
to have support, you think, nice to know he doesn’t mind helping.
It’s not convenient, popular, or cumbersome. It’s not a filter
that you can slide over the world, not a stylish coat hanging
in your closet. I, too, am waiting for winter because I love
wearing my coats – peacoats, swing coats, blazers. I have
so many! It’s just that blindness isn’t one of them.
While washing my hands at a public bathroom sink, I noticed baby girl—perhaps fifteen—frowning at the full-length mirror next to me. The scene looked so familiar:
Her reflection squirmed within the frame; shifting, spinning, twisting, craning neck over shoulder, lookin’ like—is that really me?
Jabbing and prodding at lean copper flesh that had been wrapped tightly over bones and sliding fingers over plateau breasts with sugar cube nipples—she sighed.
Baby girl tried once more to find baby fat—this time at her ass, but it just wasn’t there. Her palms rubbed at empty jean pockets; they were searching for a peach that may have not ever grown ripe. Birthing hips—status: barren.
Noticing my glances, she looked over and said
when we’re twenty-five we’ll be filled out by then, won’t we?
I could have sworn my skin tinged green, and despite my sourness courtesy tugged at the corners of my lips
sure, by the time we’re grown, we’ll have body for days.
She eyed the reflection again and grinned beside herself.
Gently the frame eased its grip on her; surely she thought in her head
I’ve still got a little more time...
And lightly she danced out the public bathroom door.
While in solitude I was left to face myself…and as the ritual goes: I twisted and twirled, squeezed and grabbed at pockets full of air—empty handed, I groaned.
And I had the nerve to say to myself
surely I have time to become a woman at twenty-six don’t I?
ROUND BABY FILLS IN THE BLANKS
—”How to Get Gorgeous!” according to Seventeen Magazine
Locate Your Starting Points. Flip
upside down open
the outer edge
of the bottom
start above the center
Remove the strays that fall in between
Mark Your End Points.
your cheek so that the open
end is the other
Determine Your Thickness.
Just below the fullest part
Fill in the Blanks.
define the shape
and conceal the excess,
Shape the lie right on your brow bone.
Issue Sixteen Contributors
D. Allen (thebodyconnected.com) is a queer poet and interdisciplinary artist from the south who now lives in Minneapolis, where they are an MFA candidate in creative writing at the University of Minnesota. D.'s work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Black WarriorReview, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, Poets.org, and cream city review. D.'s writing process often involves old dictionaries, rusted objects, sewing thread, and the human skeleton. They are currently at work on a manuscript about connective tissue.
Emily Corwin is a Midwestern girl who loves all things pretty. She is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Winter Tangerine, Painted Bride Quarterly, Rust + Moth, smoking glue gun, and Word Riot. Her chapbook, My Tall Handsome was recently published through Brain Mill Press, and in the coming year, she will serve as Poetry Editor for the Indiana Review. You can follow her at @exitlessblue.
Elliott Freeman is a poet and educator in Roanoke, Virginia, where he maintains a torrid love affair with the em dash. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Blue Monday Review, Luna Luna Magazine, The Machinery, and Freezeray Poetry, among others. He studied writing at Adelphi University on Long Island, and spends his days teaching future healthcare providers about how to use a colon.
Bri Griffith is a junior Creative Writing major at Carlow University with two minors in Professional Writing and Communications. She is the emcee for Red Dog Reading Series, and is the Editor-in-Chief for The Carlow Chronicle. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Critical Point, Rune, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, The 6th Anniversary ITWOW Anthology, Voices from the Attic, and Alien Mouth.
Lilian Ha is a junior in high school from the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, where she is an active member of the creative youth community. Her work is featured or forthcoming in The Cadaverine, The James Franco Review, Yellow Chair Review, and The Gambler.
Karla Lamb’s visual work can be seen in Runaway Hotel: a literary and visual art collaborative, Uppagus Review's 11th issue, and on the cover of After Happy Hour Review’s second issue. Lamb also curates the DOUBLE MIRЯOR Exhibit while collaborating with other artists and poets in Pittsburgh, PA. Visit her artist profile at rawartists.org/karlaeri.
Emily K. Michael is a blind poet, musician, and writing instructor, living in Jacksonville, FL. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Wordgathering; The Hopper; Artemis Journal; Compose Journal; Disability Rhetoric; Breath & Shadow; Bridge Eight; Narrative Inquiry inBioethics; I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening, BREVITY’S Nonfiction Blog, and Mosaics (Vol. 2). Find her on Twitter (@ModwynEarendel) and at her blog On the Blink.
Steven Sanchez is a Lambda Literary Fellow, a CantoMundo Fellow, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Fresno State. His poems have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Nimrod, and Word Riot, among others. His chapbook, To My Body, is forthcoming from Glass Poetry Press. He currently teaches at Fresno City College.
Sheila Squillante is the author of the poetry collection, Beautiful Nerve, as well as several chapbooks. She is working on a book-length collection about Round Baby, an anxious and clever girl who is mostly human, most of the time. She teaches in the MFA program at Chatham University where she edits The Fourth River. She is also Blog Editor for Barrelhouse.
Amber Taylor is a skinny black girl and proud feminist from Columbus, OH studying creative writing and english literature at Miami University. Some of her poetry can be found in Lipstick Party Magazine.
Gwen Werner is a cry-baby and sorority dropout from Iowa.