Rogue Agent is
SIX MONTHS OLD
on September 1!
Thank you to all
our authors & artists. We literally could not have done it without you.
Sarah A. Chavez
THEMED PHOTO FEATURE—
DEEPER THAN SKIN: WRITERS' TATTOOS
Camisha L. Jones
LETTERS I DON'T SEND #6
Thank you for unblocking me on the Facebook.
Two and a half seasons (and commercials) of SVU
I’ve binge-Netflix’d since the last word from you
but Stabler isn’t angry-Stabler (yet), and Olivia
is letting her hair get long, not quite full on pony-tail.
Some women on the TV (on the TV) flutter their hands
over various homegoods during a pre-homicide
tupperware party and then this mom (who has
short hair like all the other moms ever to mom)
weeps in front of a portrait of a pretty girl.
No one gets hurt who isn’t pretty, you’d say. It’s how I knew
I was pretty, sclera spangled in bright red,
a whistling sound, like the ocean but dire,
when I tried to pop my eardrums. No pressure,
just a small rush of air. A small amount of pain.
More shock, really, and that tiny explosion
of PSI cupped in the palm, the loss of balance,
and the fear of healing, or healing wrong.
I don’t know if you’ve gotten my messages.
Every time I ask, I lose a bit of the sweet little
with her perfect vision and perfect teeth
and perfect bones. Remember the day
we pretended I made up the whole thing?
Remember when you asked me to go
dancing? Remember when we met my hair
was too short to wear a full on pony-tail.
I still have your sunglasses.
I have yet to have my hearing checked.
MY MOTHER ASKED ME TO WRITE A HAPPY POEM
But I can’t stop thinking about Juniper. The way her hand melts into my collar bone when we fall asleep, how her breasts smell like maple syrup. How she dances around the room, topless, and all I can say is Oh, June Bug. But this isn’t about her, or us. This is
supposed to be a white-picket poem. This is a poem that goes to church each Sunday and knows the Apostle’s Creed. But I just can’t stop thinking about Juniper’s hip and how we both got tattoos of a double figure 8 knot when we were drunk in Chicago because Supreme Court rulings and state lines couldn’t break my tongue from her neck. No, no, this poem is supposed to be how I fell in love with Mark Ruffalo. How he proposed with a Tiffany diamond and we registered at Macy’s. But there is Juniper’s hair in a fishtail braid dangling over my knee. And every Saturday us reading to each other for two hours. Literary breakfast she calls it. Wait, this poem is about how Mark Hulk Smashed my ovaries into craving babies. How we named them Sarah and Jacob and we all wore Old Navy Performance Fleece. Took me to a small town where the family ate cheeseburgers at the diner every Wednesday. But all I see is Juniper’s face on our first date to a concert—awkwardly sitting in my truck in the parking lot. The way her thighs spoke to me under the florescent glow of her apartment security lights. Spelling words I never thought were sensual before—pinesap, golden wheat, humming bird. I was reborn that night. Baptism by the adorable freckles on her nose. Freckles so full I can’t see Mark Ruffalo anymore. And I don’t care that my Mother is frowning.
Sarah A. Chavez
DEAR CAROLE, IT HURTS TO LOOK AT THINGS,
like my eyes are exhausted and might
explode. I rub them and rub them,
but the pressure only increases.
Do eyeballs still hurt when you’re dead?
Or do your ghost eyes illuminate
the ethereal surroundings like LED
flashlights, like headlights,
your head the vehicle that steers,
I hope the dead don’t get headaches.
How fucked would that be, to spend
hours equaling days, equaling months
face pressed into a pillow, windows
blacked, towel stuffed under death’s door
to muffle the sound of footsteps,
soft hum of the devil’s radio.
My favorite times, by which I mean
what comes to me now and squeezes
my throat are those nights we sat
on the floor of the living room
the ridiculously large C.D./tape
combo between us and the C.D.s
you scammed from Columbia House
music club. How many times did we hit
repeat on Chris Isaac’s “Somebody’s
Crying” and Guns and Roses
“November Rain,” the only song
on that album we liked. A girl song,
Billy told us. And so fucking what?
We were girls, two girls warmed
by the heat of the other’s skin, lying
parallel on that scruffy carpet, watching
the waking sun peak through the windows.
How many nights did we not sleep,
choosing instead to plan out a future
neither of us could actually picture,
only one of us would
live long enough to try for.
Goddamn these eyes, so tired
and I think it’s because I’m seeing
for us both – double irises and refraction,
double anxiety and desire, double fear
that this, like everything else we loved
will die unexpectedly. Maybe
that’s why it’s even so hard to keep
these black letters in focus. I am
the ink and your ghost skin the paper
and the moment I stop writing
you’ll disappear again
taking these words with you.
BALANCE DISORDER QUESTION #21
Because of your problem, do you feel handicapped?
Because I have accepted pain.
Because this is never how I thought it would be.
Because I don't know why I didn't.
Because a cane is rarely made of cane.
Because I can sometimes stand without falling down.
Because sometimes I feel the earth turn sideways.
Because even though I'm broken, people are still
passionate in public places.
Because I am lost without a light to guide me.
Because I can't explain deconstruction theory.
Because I can't fix everything.
Because a cane is not a caduceus.
Because when I stand, I want to sit, and when I sit, I want to stand.
Because the last few drops run down my leg.
Because the feeling which is no feeling on the soles of my feet is so
deliciously weird I somehow enjoy it.
Because it's not going to be all right.
Because I could not stop for death.
Because I am furniture.
Because I got high.
Because I paint myself when I'm alone.
Because I was poor when I was loved.
Because I am the only one who didn't walk away.
Because I am the only one not locked in.
Because there's one way out, and I just can't go out that door.
Because a hummingbird with a chokeberry impaled on her
beak will die if she can't get it off.
Because every time I fall it's harder to get back up.
Because the sunrise is way too pink.
Because I just want to sleep.
Because I'm wide awake at 3 AM.
Because the darkness is no longer my friend.
Because the light wants to chase me down, too.
Because I see light blown from stars before I was born,
even though most of them are dead.
Because despite whatever you may have been told, the dead
never, ever come back to life.
Because there will soon be no people in the earth, or the water,
or sky, but only fire on the ground.
Because I shouldn't have to know the things I know.
Because I know the sugar's not sweet anymore.
Because I can't begin, there can be no climax.
Because I am only brave from inside my car.
Because the map is not the landscape.
Because the map keeps changing.
Because the change has won.
Because of the weight.
Because I am the one
who let this happen.
This body bears no resemblance to the bodies
of the past. This body is only here, as it is,
right now, and so this history
of other bodies does not concern it.
There has never been another swimmer
inside the body, not as this body swims,
not as this one.
But when I move an arm, there is another arm moving.
And inside that arm, another, and so on. This is how
I understand it. Child, you,
immigrant not yet arrived.
You will see the shore and wonder why it is
that you came. You will be offered six seeds
and no acre of land. And the seeds will not be
what they say they are. They bloom only
in winter, and only in your hands.
Sometimes at night the eels sneak inside me
and they find her, the child,
and I emerge from my dreams
of a past life. I was a girl who loved
to dress up for parties. She was left-handed,
and did not belong to them. She painted her nails
every day and her favorite color was purple.
She came from a town not far off the coast.
She was not beautiful. She looked like me.
If it appears to you as the sun, it is most likely the sun.
If it appears as rain, it is most likely rain.
I wanted it all. I have burned countless dresses
and set them on clotheslines to hang,
but each time they float away.
To cross a border with a dress. To cross-dress.
Who died on a cross, who lived by the cross,
who crossed their heart and hoped to die,
I am crossing the street to you now,
tell me you will take me,
tell me you will take me home.
Visit our themed photo gallery, "Deeper Than Skin: Writers' Tattoos" here.
SISTERHOOD MAKES ONLY A CAMEO
My older cousins moaned about thinning hair
when mine was thick and shiny, hanging in
a long braid or twirling in a high ponytail,
and I understood: hair between girls is an asset, a tool
we fight over; small children in sandboxes
warring over the buckets that make the best castles.
I kept mine carefully long, swept neatly back,
perpetually ready for the first day of school.
When the prized purple gown and matching
hat in the dress-up box transmitted lice
to every girl in my class, my mother cut my
hair into a manageable bob. I cried until the blood
vessels in my eyes burst, turning my irises into
miniature oceans surrounded by red lightning.
I grew up, grew it out until scraggly brambles cascaded
down my back. And I brushed it carefully, at my locker
like the rest of the girls, the smell of my parents’ cigarette
smoke inevitably drifting off of it, like a warning
bell to the right boys and a magnet to the rest,
who told me my long hair and the tight bodysuit
under my flannel shirt meant sexy, and I believed them,
pitying the short-haired girls, who didn’t know the secret.
When I am talking to you,
I am looking at your nose
Penetrating the nostrils and septum, calculating
Bone altitude and smoothness.
I have been under
The knife twice and know
If the proportions are off, how
The tip used to hook,
Where the bump rose and rolled
Down the bridge. I can tell
If you snore or bleed or are prone
To infection, if you’ve been broken,
Cut, or snort cocaine –
How many hours spent
At mirrors, spoon backs, store windows, blank television screens
Prodding and twisting, pulling and pushing
Cocking to the left the right up and down sideways in profile
A bad doctor will ask you to provide a picture.
A bad doctor will ask who you want to look like.
A bad doctor will ask if you’ve been picked on in school.
We’ve all been picked on in school.
The other day, the middle-school bully posted
“Happy Birthday, beautiful” on Facebook.
I’ve got business cards
In my wallet from twelve different doctors.
On the subway, sometimes, I shuffle them.
SELF-PORTRAIT AS A CROW
You don’t know how it feels. The wind picks up. To be
me. The moms in the park. In puffy coats. White
Nikes. I want to apologize. For forgetting what woman. Looks
like. It’s going to rain. The wind slides. My dress slips
between. My legs. The crow chokes. Up on a thick
branch. Young women should. Wear bright colors. Such a pretty
bird. To soften the face. The talons wrap perfect. Inky stockings
rip. Sliced up the side. The tree looks sick. Bends against
the winds. Lift up my skirt. The crow washes its slick
feathers. Black slick legs. Against a tree. The limbs are bare. Of
fruit. I’m glad I can’t see myself. The crow swings its shadow. Through your eyes.
Camisha L. Jones
When the guy
…on the bus
…at the metro
…behind the counter at the restaurant
asks where I'm from
I point to the shifting ground
beneath my feet
…and say, "here"
…say “Lynchburg, Virginia”
when he starts to speak
a language I do not understand
…sure that I am Ethiopian
…sure that I am Jamaican
…sure some part of Africa claims me as home
I smile polite
listen as they search for secret codes
within the whispers of my skin
They want to know
…why I haven't traveled
…why my lineage isn’t traced
…why my pronunciation has that bitter scent
and I have no map
to explain all the reasons
my face is an unexplored country
or trace my way past slavery
to someplace that has no chains
YOU’RE ALL WHY ARE WE HERE AND I’M ALL BECAUSE OF SEX AND YOU’RE ALL
YOU’RE NOT AS FUNNY AS YOU THINK YOU ARE AND I’M ALL I’M NOT JOKING
My body cannot contain my body, I’m finding
pieces of myself all over the yard,
I’m causing earthquakes in neighboring states,
tornadoes and tidal waves, I’m in too deep
and outliving even the vampire squids
who live forever, or something like it: something
sustains down there, the darkness of the ocean floor,
a half-mile down from any part of this world
we might recognize. There’s a joke
about whom an atheist talks to during orgasms—
I can’t remember the punchline
but I’m asking: give me another chance.
Issue Six Contributors
Michael Albright has published poems in various journals, including Stirring, Rust + Moth, Tar River Poetry, Pembroke Magazine, Cider Press Review, Revolver, Moon City Review, Pretty Owl, Uppagus. His chapbook, In the Hall of Dead Birds and Viking Tools, is forthcoming from Finishing Line in 2015. He also curates the "Under the Sign of the Bear Reading Series" in Pittsburgh. He lives on a windy hilltop near Greensburg, PA. with his wife Lori and an ever-changing array of children and other animals.
Kenzie Allen is a descendant of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, and is a graduate of the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan. Her work can be found in The Iowa Review, Drunken Boat, SOFTBLOW, The Puritan, Kweli, DIALOGIST, and other venues, and she is the managing editor of the Anthropoid collective. Find her online at kenzieallen.co or tweeting @cerena.
Alina Borger writes and teaches in Iowa City, IA. Her work has appeared in Stirring, The Mom Egg Review, and Wherewithal. Her poem “Vacation” was also featured in a public installation in Iowa City in 2014, and her chapbook, Tuesday’s Children is forthcoming from Hermeneutic Chaos Press. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s curled up with mug of chamomile tea and a good book or watching her boys play soccer. Visit with her at www.alinaborger.com or on Twitter @AliBG.
Luci Brown is the author of Home Brew (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and a current graduate student in the University of Tennessee's MFA program. Her poems have appeared in Moon City Review, Wherewithal, and scissors & spackle. She serves as managing editor for Stirring as well as a reader for the Best of the Net anthology. She currently lives in a tiny house in Knoxville with her two dogs, Samwise and Walter.
Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the chapbook, All Day, Talking published by Dancing Girl Press (2014). She holds a PhD in English with a focus in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Spoon River Poetry Review, Luna Luna Magazine, So to Speak: Feminist Journal of Language and Art, among others. Her manuscript, This, Like So Much, was an Honorable Mention for the 2013 Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Contest. A selection from her chapbook manuscript All Day, Talking won the Susan Atefat Peckham Fellowship in 2013. She is a proud member of the Macondo Writers Workshop. www.sarahachavez.com.
Kazumi Chin is a poet from El Cerrito, California. He earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh and his BA in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside. His most recent work can be found in Twelfth House, Wu Wei Fashion Mag, GlitterMOB, and the Ilanot Review, and his poems have been featured in Juan Felipe Herrera’s LoWriter writing series and Split This Rock’s Poem of the Week.
Patricia Grisafi is currently pursuing her PhD in English at Fordham, where she teaches part-time. She has participated in numerous creative writing workshops, including at New York State Writers Institute, where she studied with Frank Bidart and Carolyn Forche. She has been published in The Gloss and has forthcoming nonfiction in Luna Luna and Bitch.
Amorak Huey is author of the poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress, 2015) and the chapbook The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl, 2014). A former newspaper editor and reporter, he teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter: @amorak.
Camisha L. Jones is Managing Director at Split This Rock, a national non-profit focused on socially engaged poetry. A 2013 National Poetry Slam participant, Camisha has shared her poetry at Busboys and Poets events, Virginia Festival of the Book, James River Writers Conference and intimate open mics. She won Fighting Cancer with Poetry’s Fall 2014 poetry contest and the College Language Association’s 1994 Creative Writing Award for Poetry for her poems Biopsy and What Will I Tell My Children, respectively. Camisha is published in Let’s Get Real: What People of Color Can’t Say and Whites Won’t Ask about Racism (StirFry Seminars & Consulting, Inc., 2011) and Class Lives: Stories from Across Our Economic Divide (ILR Press, 2014).
Olivia Olson is a librarian working in metro Detroit. Some of her recent work is out or forthcoming in Winter Tangerine Review, TinderboxPoetry Journal, and Quaint Magazine. She also co-edits SiDEKiCK Literary Journal, which aims to publish a diversity of poetic voices.