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ISSUE 28
CONTENTS

JULY 2017

Carol Matos
Mike Nichols
Noah Leventhal
INTERVIEW: Muriel Leung
Nicole Tong
Megan Stolz
Eileen Murphy
Krista Speicher Sarraf
ART: Toti O’Brien
Andrea Blythe
Cooper Wilhelm
J.D. Isip

CONTRIBUTORS


Carol Matos

TO SPIN IN SEPARATE ORBITS 

 

I am not my actual size.
I’m a wobble in the earth’s turn,

a vanished world of forests
and elephants at a watering hole.

He squints with heavy lids
as we talk past each other

(moon-eyes no more)
ice-cold hands, burns on our faces.

I try to tell him, I’ve lost
something—lilacs have burst.

Then he draws pictures
of the rain causing a landslide,

an ice age. Fossils that have not seen
the light in 100,000 years appear—

debris full of bones and tusks.
A snapshot of our lives—

steeped in time’s turmoil.
I agitate for something else,

say to him, tusks are teeth too
growing beyond a creature’s mouth,  

used for other purposes
you can’t imagine.

His brow questions
my meaning yet he answers,

that’s not surprising,
and goes on.


Mike Nichols

NEOLITHIC PERIOD

 

Ten thousand years back
we walked the slope and
left our footprints in the
falling ash. It got too dark
to see so we held hands
and stumbled on, stubbed
our bare toes. I’ve forgotten
where we were going.

I’m following our petrified
footprints but it’s gotten
dark again.

    I’m groping darkness
    for your hand


Noah Leventhal

SCROGGLINGS

 

I

All my little pieces
of control, all words
left to dangle like
forgotten, twisted
apples, abandoned
to snowy swirls, winter
time. Remembered,
they return to the wind—
swirling. It is cold again.

II

South, below the turnpike,
road relinquishes
acrid asphalt to dirt,
where houses lose
concrete and grow roots,
spotted with lazy lichen,
adhesive summer, not
soon forgotten. Wind
through trees cools
like directed breath
from puckered lips. Electric
lamps sizzle—coal beneath
the furnace, ashy fingers,
black dust, stick figures drawn
in the darkened patina.

III

I am here as a mirror.

I mirror you, you mirror, I
deceive the furl across
your wrinkled brow, watching,
waiting for you to bite
into the last sweet juice
of autumn leaves, gravity’s
push and pull between
January and December
like a tightrope walker
testing out the tautness
of the spring. She carries
flower petals (lilacs, lilies,
hyacinths, chrysanthemums)
and lets them fall with every
step. Summer breezes stir
the air, lift the petals’ mingled
scents. Words descend on
either side, one abyss
or the other.

I am here as a mirror.

IV

It is hot again. I sit
inside scribbling frenzied
notes, ink stained fingers
leaving streaks beside
my lips. My left hand
shakes, I grip it firmly
with my right and press
it hard against the desk.
Woodgrain swirls like
owl’s eyes stare me down;
still—as my twitching fingers
are not. Cold embraces cold
like heat repels heat. Imagine
the sunspots on my wrinkled
flesh. I am an old man
remembering.

V

And this is it, the last letter
I will ever write, and how
else should I begin than
at the beginning? My hair
parts to the right side now,
thinner, whiter, brittle
as old paper, rustling, no
longer tall, lush grass
but tattered pages. Sunlight
tans my memories, scans
them, downloads and copies
from either edge of the hourglass’
narrow. Sand gathers at the far
end, and it seems by distant
photographs that today is
the mirror of tomorrow. Today
I shall part my hair on the left,
touch my smooth skin and wait.
The word for beginning is the
same as end. Palindromes persist
without letters—all my little pieces
of control.


Muriel Leung talks about embodied poetry
and writing Bone Confetti

 

Please describe your journey toward writing poetry that reflects on the experience of living in the body. Have you always written this way, or did you come to it over time?

For many women as well as queer, trans, and non-binary gender identified writers, the body has been a way of tracking two movements through writing, which are at once the circumstances of the immediate present and the histories one embodies. I was 12 when I started writing poetry, and I recall that at that time, I was also obsessed with reading about palmistry, the way different lines and mounds of such a small part of one’s larger body can tell the story of one’s present and future self. I don’t think it’s an accident that this curiosity about the body was forged at the nexus of my coming into my understanding of my identity as a queer woman of color and my writing. I think what the study of the body teaches us the things we know to be true in our guts, counter to the larger normalizing social narratives that insist upon something other. When I look back at my earlier years in writing, I remember that tension well, of discomfort I felt in the face of an immediate offense or danger, and it takes so much work to recall the knowledge (ancestral and self-taught) that has forged my body so that I can insist on something different. The experience of living in the body then affords the simultaneous gesture of accessing these histories that live inside us and trains us to respond in the immediate present.

I think ire’ne lara silva in her past interview with Rogue Agent says it best when she states, “It takes discipline to listen to the body and learn its language.” In particular, I resonate with her point that writing about the body has largely been considered to be less aesthetically rigorous. Those of us who write about the body know that is not the case. And I think the devaluing of bodily writing can largely be attributed to racist, misogynistic, and homo and transphobic attitudes towards writing, wherein writing of the body is considered too easy, too informal, and unresearched. We forget that such intimacies with the body require us, many a time, to unearth some deeply embedded trauma, to make it (il)legible, and to maintain our own sense of mental health at the end of it. Writing about the body is a brutal game but it’s also the requisite life for those of us who choose it time and time again.

 

Bone Confetti is somewhat different than the first two books of embodied poetry in our interview series, which tell truths with straightforward, visceral language. What drew me to Bone Confetti is the way it takes on the subject of the body-mind’s grief using a different type of poetic style. If you could, please describe how you chose to use language to make meaning of the body in Bone Confetti.

Bone Confetti takes place abstractly in a post-apocalyptic world with a speaker who pursues a lover with the same futility as Orpheus in the end of his journey to retrieving Eurydice from the underworld. It loosely borrows from the myth, and it replicates the loss over and over again. I wanted to examine what it’s like to experience perpetual loss, for various losses to coagulate as one, to show what it’s like for a storm cloud of loss to preside over a land. I think, because of such disorderliness, the wildness of this grief, the language should also move in such a way. 

In this ferity, the body becomes a way to anchor the text, to point the loss in one moment temporarily. Sometimes the body is ghost in Bone Confetti; other times, it’s dead or decomposing. The body is cannibalistic, sensitive, mutable, plastic, and beyond. The bodies are multiple and replicate, and I think in the rapidity of their appearances lies an excess – in bodies, grief objects, in linguistic play – that capture the grief and loss that I have known in my life. I think I only recognize it when it is made fantastical, when it is spilling over itself.

 
Leung-Cover.jpg

Purchase Bone Confetti
from Noemi Press.

 

Some of my favorite poems in this book are “I Love You, Dead,” and “Touch: A Recovery Project.” I found myself approaching these from an emotional perspective, rather than an analytical perspective. Please say more about those particular poems—the process of writing them, what they mean to you, anything you like.

“I Love You, Dead” was a collage poem of hyperbolic gestures, of taking the act of two lovers negotiating their desires to the utmost extreme. Instead of asking the other to be kinder or better listeners, they’re asking to be devoured or giving permission for the other to do something very specific with their decomposing body. I think on one level it’s humorous (maybe only to me, which is fine – I have an odd sense of humor) because the logic of this bargaining feels like two people trading kinks; it has a rational manner about it in the sense that all parties are consenting and trying to access the wants and desires of the other. On a deeper lever, I suppose, it’s about the things we ask for in relationships, what feels too much to ask for or give, what happens when we ask for it or give it away. How do we summon that capacity within us? Would some otherworldly quality give us that capacity to do more than our humanness permits? Even deeper, I think, I wonder what it would mean for us to try to figure out what we can do for the dead or the people we have lost, which is premised upon knowing the other beyond their capacity to speak back to you. What is your responsibility to them then? Because I think we do have a responsibility to the ones we lose.

 

I LOVE YOU, DEAD
 

For such stillness there should be teeth and wine enough
to yank the thought up throat. When she dies, she dies.

She plunges her blood toes into somebody’s ash tea. A kindness
and a copper box. In another life, she was a jujube.

I am an overeater. She is not a body I want to eat. Shiny rot
in the forest mulch. Though she stews gently. Her thoughts

of me are always generous. Her thoughts are always mangled
and full of electric suction cups. For example, she wants

to wear my lungs for a bag of pipes. These are the days
of brilliance and poetry. Bloated with salt and our little muses.

My jaw now is a little worse for wear. I need her like a metal
tinge and mechanical throb. Bury her though she leaps up

with cumbersome thirst. She swarms me. She thrusts a hand
upward and through me. Nothing stays. Is knobbed

and oozing past a stone. What heart. What sponge for brain.
She will not fit inside my tiny mouth, my mouth full of dead hair.

 

“Touch: A Recovery Project” is a prose poem that operates on the refrain of “touch,” which obsessively tracks the forms that touch can take. It begins with suspicion though, its first lines reading: “Touch acknowledges cavity in chest center. Touch should in theory be essentially good for knowing salt and gravity.” At the opening, the body is already compromised and all knowledge of touch as safety has been corrupted. I find that to be true of sexual trauma, the hyper-vigilance that follows, the way the body can experience touch like a barbed thing. It is a poem that acknowledges that it can no longer revert back to its original knowledge of safety and that it must build a new home of its uncertainty. Rather than train the body to unlearn the violence it knew, the imperative “Touch” becomes “Touch me” to demand that someone else learn its language and history.

I’ve always been interested in how poems can challenge people to examine their naturalized sensibilities towards their values and desires, and to me, these two poems are insistent upon that work. For “Touch: A Recovery Project” in particular, I wanted to imagine a space where healing could be survivor-centered and systemically transformative at the same time; what it would mean for us to do the labor of learning someone else’s trauma even if they keep it close to themselves, even if there is a hole in place of something tangible and immediately legible to you. “I Love You, Dead” too considers what it means to be fluent in someone else, to accept the terms in which they operate, and to forgive oneself for when we inevitably fail each other.

 

TOUCH: A RECOVERY PROJECT

 

Touch acknowledges cavity in chest center. Touch should in theory be essentially good for knowing salt and gravity.

Touch is akin to knowing flesh and knowing flesh is—I know it when the follicle stings that my heart has turned the way of glass. 

I know that touch is what bludgeons. I know what shuts itself in the mouth and threatens to rust through the gulp down. I know what sews itself to flesh in such a way that flesh no longer recognizes flesh. I know what flesh must do to preserve the sanctity of touch so that to be touchedmeans to be touched, and only just that.

Touch to finger the splitting harp. Touch to know the wreck that brews within me and phantoms of my nodding noose. Touch made of red sharps, feral and bleak. Touch me in the flint of a blank corridor when the world heaves into many bends—let it funnel into fever.

 

Please share with our readers a list of 5-10 books you think we should read right now.

This question is always hardest for me because my list is always inexhaustible and always accumulating. After a trying year, I am grateful for the poets I’ve encountered this past year whose works have deeply moved me as much as their love and support of literary community building. Not yet included on this list (as they’re in the works!) are forthcoming books from Vanessa Angelica Villarreal, Beast Meridian (Noemi Press) and Vickie Vertiz, Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut (University of Arizona Press), both of which I hope everybody is on the look out for. I am probably missing 50+ books from this “must read” list but for now, this will have to do:

 

Kimberly Alidio, After projects the resound (Black Radish Books)

Kenji C. Liu, Map of an Onion (Inlandia Institute)

Jennifer S. Cheng, House A (Omnidawn)

Melissa Buzzeo, The Devastation (Nightboat Books)

Sean D. Henry-Smith, Body text (New Delta Review)

Kay Ulanday Barrett, When the Chant Comes (Topside Press)

Angela Penaredondo, All Things Lose Thousands of Times (Inlandia Institute)

Michelle Lin, A House Made of Water (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Kazumi Chin, Having a Coke with Godzilla (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Chen Chen, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions)

Ching-In Chen, recombinant (Kelsey Street Press)

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications)

Ashaki Jackson, Language Lesson (MIEL)

 

Some Rogue Agent fans are just beginning to explore what making art about the body would look like for them. What advice would you give to someone just starting down the path toward writing poetry that features the body?

Read widely and across the spectrum of experiences. Read beyond the literary canon comprised of predominantly cis straight white men and observe how the body appears for everyone else. As you read, take note of lines or fragments or visual text that stirs certain feelings in your body. Try to name where it is coming from—do you feel it in your chest? Your stomach? Your shoulders? To deepen your practice, try to get a little bit more specific each time—do you feel it sitting on your collar bone? Is it shifting against the very top of your tail bone?

I think it’s good practice to read others and write simultaneously. It’s helpful to learn the somatic responses we have to writing in order to broaden our understanding of language and its capacities. Once we train ourselves to respond to other people’s writing in such a way, it could surprise us of how much our body retains of this other knowledge, how it could move us to write in more cognizant ways of the world and of ourselves.

 
Leung-headshot.jpg

Muriel Leung is the author of Bone Confetti, winner of the 2015 Noemi Press Book Award. A Pushcart Prize nominated writer, her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction can be found or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Drunken Boat, The Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost ProposalJellyfish Magazine, inter|rupture, and others. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship and is a regular contributor to The Blood-Jet Writing Hour poetry podcast. She is also a Poetry Co-editor of Apogee Journal. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at University of Southern California. She is from Queens, NY. Please visit her at www.murielleung.com.


Nicole Tong

MISCARRIAGE AS LANDLINE PHONE CALL

 

What I meant to say was
this flooded desert. And I
know its song, a tune I try

to hum over rain
and dial tone (this call long
over). I am pressed

to a receiver. Night
falls. Fails me every time.
Never listens. Back

home, gravel roads take
unexpected turns. Lead
nowhere. I was content

with this. I am unsure
when words began to matter,
the first time I was speech-

less. Some stories are not
mine to tell. Others belong to no one
else. The accessory

for my first school play
was a cane that could not hold
my weight. I learned the hard way.

Later recited times tables
down Kroger aisles so fast
I puked in frozen foods. Tonight

I remind myself the sea is real.
I know because I’ve seen waves
lap the shore. Still the distance

between us is one I can’t see:
the way deserts erase names
from tombstones labeled Dear— 

I’ll hold. The drone
on the other end isn’t shrill
and it keeps me.


Megan Stolz

RIVERMAN
 

You came out in ripples,
the bloated limbs of a riverman,
once a boatman, once a boy.

                                                For D.C.


Eileen Murphy

SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT

 

Mary Anne was prima in a pink tutu
and pink toe shoes with crisscross ribbons.
I wore a black leotard and pink tights,
black slippers with elastic bands.
Sliding glass doors let Florida
sunlight into her living room.
She was the swan
and I was the chorus,
but it was glorious, her mother,
father, and mother’s friend,
clapping.

When Mary Anne moved away
I barely ate. I lost weight.
Mother praised my slim figure.

I lay awake late at night,
wishing I could dance
away from my bedroom
with its high jalousie windows.
I eavesdropped on snippets
of my parents’ conversation
mixed with laughter
from The Tonight Show.
I said hello
to the death songs inside me.

I caressed the safety razor
I shaved my legs with.
I couldn’t force myself
to carve the flesh of my wrists.

I asked my mother
to move so I could reach
the cabinet under the kitchen sink:
I’ll drink Drano.
I’ll kill myself.

No, you won’t, said my mother
and told me to set the table.


Krista Speicher Sarraf

FIFTEEN

 

I drove to school and a finch slammed against my windshield. I told Christina
never to wear shirts with words. Kate ate cocoa puffs and flushed half the
bowl down the toilet. Grandma thought we were popping pills. Mom got a job.
Choked neck. Sometimes I cheated off a classmate in Chemistry. If you must know
I remember his belt buckle. We took the Suburban to the gas line and broke the oil pan.
Kate got her tongue pierced. We practiced kissing under her Blink 182 blanket.
I wrote a research paper about the Titanic. I didn’t go to the hospital. We got out
of the car and cried.  My sister moved to the back of the bus with the smokers.
I slept the whole ride home.


Toti O'Brien

 

TWIN SISTERS  

O'Brien_Twin-Sisters.jpg
 

CIOCIO SAN

O'Brien_Ciocio-San.jpg
 

GRANDMOTHER AND ME #3

O'Brien_Grandmother-And-Me #3.jpg
 

Artist statement:

These three pieces belong to a mode of my art practice I call "embodied memory". They are assemblages of found objects, personal relics, fragments, and scraps. Gloves, clothes, dolls, are recurrent materials—as they vividly summon the bodies of the absent. Loss, distance, remembrance, and longing, are the ethereal stuff I am sewing together. Think of those as small totems. Thinks of those as portals connecting present and past.


Andrea Blythe

THE IDEA, WHAT ELSE

 

Two red roses frame
that afternoon—the way
I was going down hill. Me
always in the dark, as usual,
like a criminal. I touch my tongue,
promise to envelope you,
promise to stay. It was nothing
to do with pleasure. You at the door,
pushing. I crank back, blow smoke.
If I put a hand over your mouth,
I believe I could ascertain
the whole story. I’m authentic,
I remind myself, real as rain. I cut paper
and flowers—feeling ominous, warm
terror and revulsion. I’ve discovered
a neat long record of me wrapped
in the heart of a rock. Flowers
wearing a name. Flowers rolling
on and on. A strange word started
a fire and me laughing most
that afternoon—a stranger
arousing suspicions.

 

Note: This is a found poem created from King, Stephen, The Plant, Philtrum Press, page 22-24


Cooper Wilhelm

MANGE WAYS

 

18.9 hertz is a frequency that can induce hallucinations
by rippling the eye ball’s crystal goo, by which I mean scientifically
its flavored gel not unlike KY spun
and tinctured with an element of rust.
18.9 hertz is hidden in a tiger’s roar and hearing it reminds us
death swoops down to meet us like a pigeon
leaving the top shelf of a bookcase in a haunted mansion
owned by a deceased uncle we never met but who left it to us on the condition
we risk our lives inside it for just one night
at which point we earn the right to risk our lives inside it until we die
which is sort of like forever.
That’s the nature of every compact.
That’s nature in every compact.
But this is a digression. I am teaching you
with discipline that Prokofiev would eat only addled eggs,
which is to say eggs from which the chickens could not get loose
and thus died still hidden like facehuggers
rotting in the cage of an unlucky space truck driver.
I have invented this detail about Prokofiev to make him or her statistically
more accessible to adults of all ages here’s a graph.
No need to thank me I can’t help
myself here’s another graph wait
here there are more still in my car
don’t go. 

Please there is so much to tell you.
Fear is the petri dish where angels grow.


J.D. Isip

LONG BEACH HARBOR

 

Across from the Oil Islands, there’s a small park disintegrating into the sand. The islands
refract their multicolored light onto the slick black expanse between us—the lit refineries,
the swings, the rusted rocking rhino, the sand. . . me. 

I, too, am disintegrating.  

There is a raccoon scurrying from trashcan to trashcan, his eyes green then black then green
again. We watch one another. Every night. I like to think this is the same raccoon. There’s
no way to tell. We keep our distance. Unless one of us is sleeping. Then there is the sound of
scratching and the gnawing fear of losing something. 

I tighten my grip around the McDonald’s bag and feel the softened paper. It, too, is
disintegrating. A cold hash brown from breakfast is wrapped in three napkins, wrapped in
the bag, wrapped in my hand. Night outlasts day now and outlasts the pink and green lights
on the islands that snap to life long after dark and die again long before dawn.  

Couples sometimes laugh in the sand between us, holding hands or holding their shoes. One
says how lovely the rainbow lights are and the other says there is oil in the water. The
laughing continues, but there are long pauses. Then they notice the raccoon. And the bum.
The laughing stops. There are just long, quick strides, as if one could outpace the dark or time or
the force that distills us into sewage or into fuel.


Issue 28 Contributors

 

Andrea Blythe bides her time waiting for the apocalypse by writing speculative poetry and fiction. Her work has also appeared in several publications, including Yellow Chair ReviewNonbinary ReviewLinden Avenue, and Strange Horizons. She serves as an associate editor for Zoetic Press  and is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Learn more at: www.andreablythe.com. 

J.D. Isip has published poetry and short fiction with several print and online journals. His first full-length collection, Pocketing Feathers, was released by Sadie Girl Press in 2015. He teaches composition, literature, and creative writing courses at Collin County Community College in Plano, Texas.

Muriel Leung is the author of Bone Confetti, winner of the 2015 Noemi Press Book Award. A Pushcart Prize nominated writer, her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction can be found or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Drunken Boat, The Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost ProposalJellyfish Magazine, inter|rupture, and others. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship and is a regular contributor to The Blood-Jet Writing Hour poetry podcast. She is also a Poetry Co-editor of Apogee Journal. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at University of Southern California. She is from Queens, NY. Please visit her at www.murielleung.com.

Noah Leventhal is a recent graduate of the classics program at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has been published in Mad Crab Journal and has work upcoming in Writers Resist. Noah spends much of his time reading. In his mind, the best writers are also the best readers, not only of poems, essays or pieces of fiction, but of their audience. Great writing is a conversation.  

Carol Matos' debut collection of poems, The Hush Before the Animals Attack, was published by Main Street Rag in 2013.  Her poetry has appeared in 34th ParallelThe Comstock ReviewROOMThe Prose-Poem ProjectColumbia JournalRHINO, and The ChattahoocheeReview.  She has been a semifinalist for the Spoon River Poetry Review Editors’ Prize, and a nominee for the Pushcart Poetry Prize.  Formerly a professional photographer with exhibitions in New York City and Europe, she now serves as Vice President for Administration at Manhattan School of Music.

Eileen Murphy lives with her husband, three dogs, and one cat on semi-rural property located 30 miles from Tampa. She received her Masters degree from Columbia College, Chicago. She teaches literature/English at Polk State College and has recently published poetry in Tinderbox (nominated for Pushcart Prize), The American Journal of PoetryDeaf Poet’s Society, and a number of other journals.  

Mike Nichols earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Idaho State University. His poems have been published in Black Rock & Sage and The Poet’s Haven. Mike was awarded the 2014 Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize.

Toti O'Brien's mixed media have been exhibited in group and solo shows, in Europe and the US. She has illustrated two children books and two memoirs. Her artwork has appeared in Brain of Forgetting, Riddled With Arrows, and Longridge Review, among other journals and magazines. More can be found at http://www.totihan.net/artist.html 

Krista Speicher Sarraf holds a Master’s in English from James Madison University and teaches writing at University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and Seton Hill University. She is the founding director of the youth literacy nonprofit Write Local and editor of the organization’s literary magazine,Voices. She lives in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Megan Stolz's poetry has appeared in The Fourth RiverNoble/Gas QtrlyCumberland River Review, and others. She has degrees from the University of Baltimore and Hollins University. She tweets semi-regularly @megan_stolz.  

Nicole Tong is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and George Mason University. In 2016, she served as an inaugural Writer-in-Residence at Pope-Leighey House, a Frank Lloyd Wright property in Alexandria, Virginia. Her writing has appeared in CALYX, Cortland Review, Yalobusha Review, and Still: the Journal among others. Tong received the 2017 Jean Feldman Poetry Prize from Washington Writers' Publishing House for her collection How to Prove a Theory, which will debut this fall.

Cooper Wilhelm is the author of Klaatu Verata Nikto (Ghost City Press, 2016); of DUMBHEART/STUPIDFACE, coming from Siren Songs this fall; and of an as-of-yet untitled chapbook about pigs coming from Business Bear Press. He hosts Into the Dark, a talk show about witchcraft on Radio Free Brooklyn and sends poems on postcards to strangers he looks up in phonebooks at PoetryAndStrangers.com. He tweets @CooperWilhelm.