Afterwards

by E.J. Schoenborn

Afterwards,
I open all the windows.
I buy three boxes of Franzia Chillable Red because it’s the most amount of wine I can get for the cheapest price and I need to water the flowers.
I turn my stomach into a garden,
rake my fingers across the earth,
trying to tear myself open to tear out his cigarettes.
I delete his texts from my phone, 
rip the his number out by the roots,
I move to a new house, 
one where my rapist has not planted his feet. 
I keep a bottle of water next to my bed to put out the fire.

Afterwards,
I go on a date to Apple Valley with Will
to the Minnesota State Zoo during their Adult Hours
We get to drink and visit the exhibits, 
and he says it will be so much fun.
He wants me to go to his house after this.
I pull a bouquet of yellow roses out of my throat, stems catching on the walls, put them inside a wine bottle and give them to him.
I try to say, “I’m Sorry,” but cough blood and thorns onto his lap instead. 
In his eyes, my body transforms into a pitcher plant,
carnivorous flower attracting flies with a basin of sap,
like I drew him in with laughter and honey sweetness
only to find, now, if he gets too close, 
he will stick to the walls of my trauma
until he too becomes consumed. 
He empties the bottle of flowers on the floor and hands it back to me, silent.

Afterwards,
I uproot relationships before they grow.
I have a dozen first dates and wrap them with barbed wire. 
I tell my friends this is the most I’ve dated in my life,
which is to say, I tell none of these boys I love them or myself,
or I give all of these boys bouquets of flowers with the heads ripped off,
a handful of stems.

I pray
to a damp cloth.

Afterwards,
I don’t call 911.
I don’t take medication, don’t go to therapy, don’t tell my doctor what happened.
I don’t call it depression or anxiety or PTSD.

I call my shaking tired, call it closing the library, a full schedule, an opened text message at 2 AM from a phone number I deleted months ago.
I pretend it doesn’t exist until it does.
I do not give him a name, because then it never happened.
I do not give my mental illness a name,
I do not give myself a name, 
because no one names a salted earth.

I never told anyone about the after before,
how I didn’t know if it was rape until months later,
if I should say I was raped once or twice
because is the morning after he sleeps over a continuation or a second chance?

Later I text my rapist to ask when he was last tested
because he didn’t wear a condom.
Even when I’m trying to be safe
I am not safe.

Afterwards,
I leave all the windows,
I try to put out a brush fire that is always hungry.

In Which Rachel Changes The Oil In Her Car While I Make Flower Crowns Out Of Dandelions

by Em Taylor

She pops the hood and gestures
to a twist of grey vines
and tells me the problem
and the solution.
I can’t even tell
what she’s pointing to.
All of it is grey
and looks like it could reach out
and break my hands.

I had a car phase in high school.
I wanted to know more than the boys did.
I wanted to be more of a boy than the boys were.
Or, no, I’m projecting. 
I just wanted to save myself if I were stuck
on the side of the road in an unfamiliar area.
Either way, I didn’t get far–
I could name the make and model
of the expensive cars that picked
the other kids up from school,
until the day I got a flat tire
after jazz band and shut down,
everything I’d learned flying out
of a puncture in my brain,
and I ran crying toward the school.
Mr. Ives, fresh out of track coaching,
changed it for me, with the help of
my grade’s track star, a man
who harassed women in the hallways
and dominated any classroom conversation
his wide wingspan could grasp.
I think he just wanted to prove that he could,
the same way I wanted to prove that I could.
But what is masculinity but giving up
on anything you can’t fit one hand around easily?

Rachel has one hand in the thicket of grey
and another on her phone,
double-checking the amount of oil to put in.
I think about trying to talk
my way into this mass of pipes.
I think about all of the times I have talked
over Rachel on things we are both good at.
I think about all of the femmes
I have talked over like a hand
trying to pop its wrist socket
and take flight.

I turn around to realize
the New England chill has finally subsided
enough to let the dandelions grow,
her front yard a field I understand,
and I remember when I was a girl
and learned to make flower crowns
to bide my time waiting for my dad
to pick me up from school. So,
I park myself in the greenery
and give up being a man for the moment.

In a world without gender, this scene
would not be a poem.
This would not be a story
about masculinity.
This would just be two friends
doing what they are good at.

Which is, creating things with our hands.
Hands have no gender.
Nothing that can be created
by a pair of hands has a gender.

When the car is ready to run again,
she joins me on the grass
with my soft crown,
brushes some pollen off my forehead
with her thumb. And we stand together,
admiring all that we have made.

Thank You for Supporting your Local Counseling and Psychological Services

by Chelsea Sieg

free college counseling!
it’s the way of the future!
what could possibly go wrong?
(side effects may include:
flunking out of college due to depression;
not having a purpose in life anymore
because you flunked out of college due to depression;
being constantly reminded by your shadow
that you are a failure
because you flunked out of college due to depression.
if you suffer from a depression lasting longer than four hours,
go die in a hole, you pathetic failure.)

so here we go again: one hour per week
with her telling me
that i suck at relationships
or that relationships suck at me
(i’m not sure which one).
nothing got better
and nothing got worse,
but at least it was free
for me to sit there and be told
that i shouldn’t smoke pot
with guys who want to have sex with me.

there was this one day
where she kept asking me about my grandmother,
whose death had sent me to bed with a razor
and was quickly causing me to fail all my classes.
i tried to avoid it like the perpetual freshman i was,
but she kept asking, and asking, and asking,
and when i’d started crying,
she told me that she’d done it
because she noticed i avoided talking about my grandmother.
i nodded
and then went back to my room
and cried some more.
it would be several more years before i was diagnosed
with realizing that the world has no safe places,
but i think back then
it was already true.

The Scenic Route

by Nicole Jean Turner

I have to whisper, because she’s a light sleeper
she told me this pretty early on into dating
but what she doesn’t know is how beautiful it is 
that she smiles while she’s sleeping in the passenger seat.
I’ve got the radio faded to my side, real low,
and the only other noise comes from a
gentle grumble of rolling down a salt washed road
in the belly of New Hampshire.

My sight lines are short in the fan of yellowed headlights
etching in the soft shimmer of new snow,
and all around us are mountains of charcoal,
cardboard cutouts, navy shadows of pine or stone.
There’s a thin veil of light from the dash  
that highlights the side of her smile
and for a moment I consider pausing the GPS and turning blindly
to hang on to this sight of her a little while more.

I’d love to kiss her right now.
Love to pull off into a ditch 
just to wrap my arms around her
and join in quiet slumber through the morrow.
We could listen to the wind whistling 
against the wood as she drifts against my side.
I’d keep an eye open for any wildlife we’d awoken
but mostly just to memorize the image
of her unbeknownst smile at complete peace 
right here with me
tonight.

It’s below freezing outside though, so I can’t stop,
I can’t pause to adjust anything without risking disturbing her
so I just watch.
I watch the road fold up behind us in my mirror into the night,
watch deer along the shoulder munch berries as we pass by,
I watch my odometer tick with every wind in the barren highway
but my favorite view, is in the car,
the privilege of her comfort and trust
to feel safe and warm and to sleep,
there has never been a piece of New England,
no mountain view nor lake or flower
more beautiful to me.

Tankman

by Kyle Liang

My son, look at how our blood runs
down the Strait of my cracked & hardened
palms. You be the chaser—
for I am done being chased. My
pores evacuate drops of
Nai nai, Ye ye, Tai pwuh, Tai gung 
for you. For you I
raise the spoon, 
trembling between my fingers,
to draw in sips.

Dripping from my chin.

All of this. Everything.
You. Splinters
find my veins while I spend my final
hairs sowing cabbages
whose heads will not emerge until after 
I can’t see them
with a splitting hoe.
But

if human flesh could feed a man

I would slice off
all of my best parts for you to eat
& before there’s nothing left
I would teach you how to build a house
from bones. A father with nothing
to give can only
sacrifice.
My son,

my bao bei.

Let my limbs be your pedals
but let it be your legs
that show you places
mine could never. For there are bullets—
bombs, tanks, machine guns
chasing us down the Strait
in black boots— 
however my chest will shield you
so that you, my son, can run.

Part Waters (Two Of Cups)

by Daniel Barnum

how long away I was when what happened 
did. compare county paperwork to memory:

maybe I woke up just as hands crushed 
essence, cinched esophagus. did I know

and not, some psychic sense of rigor 
mortis catching me cross country as it set in

in her bedroom? rates of expanse: ten years 
from fifteen. how to calculate the lack,

solve for the exact date that I forgot 
the black of her hair. one month between

the day of and the day I hear. weeks 
I was busy breathing and the fact

of her was far off, but assumed to be 
breathing back. she spoke so low I barely

understood except her laugh. not sure—
did I leave voicemails while snail watching?

vacation’s skinny-dip baptisms: the beach, 
the creek, leeches risen out of river-

rocks to anesthetize and drink my legs. 
was she ash already or unidentified,

starting to decompose? before I found 
out, I felt her homegoing. telling tarot

on the backseat drive through graveyards split 
by highway. back east, all was water:

gravity racing ground toward coast. distance 
and time’s dials glowed blue in the nightlight’s

shallow. paper moon and fool—two cups 
reversed to mean parting—tipped out the deck

into a pile on the floor. through the door 
and the dark, I heard ocean swallowing its sting.

For My Grandmother, Who Kept His Last Name

by Chrissy Martin

i.

In the must of the DMV, do your eyes 
find the exits when they call your name? 
Do you ever forget your name has this

unsevered growth? Do you hear the part 
of you that is his and plan to brace your
body differently for fist or open hand?

You gave him a place to stay when 
his mother was violent and his father 
drowning. You say that by now this name

is part of you—does that scare you? 
Is it more of a coat or a spleen? A scab 
or a mouth? Do you worry one day

you will be curling your eyelashes 
in the mirror and catch whatever look
in his eye finally let you leave?

That you’ll chastise the grandkids 
and find the same click of the tongue, 
throat vibrato? When you’re scolding

yourself for burning the muffins 
or letting the mashed potatoes get chunky, 
what name does that small voice play?

The mother’s funeral he made you miss. 
Withheld keys, purse, money, permission, 
said, You need to stay with me right now.

ii.

God knows a name change is expensive. You’ll do it

next month when the air conditioner is up and working.

You’ll do it next spring when the cruiser stops shedding parts.

The grandkids are hungry and eggs just keep getting

more expensive. The scripture says separation is wrong

but maybe you found a small loophole: a missing passage

that says there’s an exception for men with a curdled heart;

says if you keep the name, God might just not notice.

iii.

When your husband led the congregation, the women 
awed at his love for you, the men hid their jealousy,

the children followed you down the aisle toward 
Sunday school. You taught them of humility, but

how pride is not always wicked. You helped. You honored. 
You sang the hymns and when you cried at the altar,

they said Look what God has done. When you 
cried at the altar, he put his hand on your back. When

you cried at the altar, he curled his fingers on the small 
bones of your shoulder and said you should be proud.

In a Dark Room, the Universe was Calling Me

by Melissa Cerrillo

En una habitación oscura, el universo me llamaba

Yo era como un pájaro de atardecer 
que bailaba electropop histéricamente
y gritaba por dentro: “¿Cuándo termina esto?”
“¿Por qué no me estrello contra una ventana y ya?”

Tú eras como una lluvia de diamantes
y estabas a 650 millones de kilómetros de mí
pero lo suficientemente cerca como para preguntarme:
“hey, little morra, do you want to see some of my magic?”

Siempre tuviste algo de mago charlatán,
pero alguien tenía que sorprenderse cuando, 
estando en una habitación oscura que bien pudo haber sido tuya o mía o el universo entero, 
convertías el metano en carbono, y el carbono en grafito, y el grafito en pequeñas piedras brillantes que se fundían en uno de tus mares.

En una habitación oscura (que bien pudo haber sido tuya o mía o nuestra), el universo me llamaba
y tú jugabas con el estado de la materia
y yo bailaba electropop como pájaro suicida
y una radiación electromagnética del principio de los tiempos me decía:
“Mi corazón nunca sentirá, nunca verá, nunca sabrá”.

* * *

In a dark room, the universe was calling me

I was like a sunset bird
who was dancing electropop hysterically
and who was yelling inside: “when is this over?”
“why don’t I crash against a window and that’s it?”

You were like a diamond rain
and you were 650 millions of kilometres away from me
but close enough to ask me:
“hey, little morra, do you want to see some of my magic?”

You always had something of charlatan magician
but someone had to be amazed when, 
being in a dark room that could be yours or mine or the entire universe, 
you were turning the methane in carbon, and the carbon in graphite, and the graphite in little shining rocks that were melting in one of your seas.

In a dark room (that could be yours or mine or ours), the universe was calling me
and you were playing with the state of matter
and I was dancing like a suicidal bird 
and an electromagnetic radiation from the beginning of times was telling me:
“My heart will never feel, will never see, will never know”.

the burning of knight von hohenberg …

by Bee Ulrich

yes, i’ll admit to watching you 
in the courtyard, from the balcony: 
the way you lean into your sword 
on the whetstone, and the way you lean 
into me.

your father thinks the only man to lay you down
on the thick moss will have a knife in your gut. 
bring your neck here, bring your chest here.
tell him these are sparring bruises.

here the pine needles will fall 
on us one by one, & our fingers will curl
like roots around each other as they grow.
by morning i will scrub my hands raw
pulling sap from your cloak.

over the city wall the smoke churns
and rises like the gray limb
of a revenant. man made fire.
when the last ember sputters, coughs, winks out
the trees will be as god turned them from clay.

Post Talk

by Alexis Briscuso

i mark the aging of my personal cadaver 
by the amount of holidays i’ve spent 
with you and not my parents. so far it’s
four. i’m supposed to end this and i can’t
when we ablate our idiosyncrasies into 
syncopation i can’t when we make that no
go bag plan to meet in the middle i can’t 
when shit hits the fans at yankee stadium 
don’t you see there’s an arc in all this
nonsense. i hold an image of you like the
redhead on the subway with a magnifying
glass i told you i would not chase or read you
under separate cause anymore. i thought 
now, i wouldn’t be able to draw you with 
your own words anymore. maybe that’s true.
i don’t make wishes on your breath anymore.
we can’t lose – who? – anymore. i’ve never
exhausted so much of my own worth on
someone who needed to be told. when the
L speeds under the river and it rains
you can see the pause in the droplets. i
paused along droplets. i shed a lot of water.
the umbrella a young boy uses as a gun, cocks
it accurately and snipes. you rung me like
a sponge and had no idea how dry we’d get.
i didn’t either. i didn’t know how bad it would
become. i realized i’d rather trust you than
love you i’d rather have all of you than no
sun i deserve that shine we deserve that 
ease like it was before. i got diagnosed 
with real fucking conditions. i would like 
to move forward. i would like to find your
laugh as genuine again. it will probably take
some time. but this is a start. i tell you 
i do this with you and feel closer to you,
as my friend. …………. i smile. you agree. 
you settle. you smile. we kiss. i tell you you 
are my brother. we laugh. i am so slighted 
by the sun behind your head i make halos
with my pre cataracts and you tell me we 
will be there for each other in all types
of crisis 
and 
coups.