I have decided to overlook your wife’s air conditioner and subatomic particles
I haven’t been alone too long
I please everyone I can
I can’t live like this anymore
I have no problems saying no
This way of ridiculing women has to be stopped
The car forgave and I enjoyed its subservient engine
He flirts just like a carton of milk
The poet no longer resists
But refuses to be a God in her own house
Someone is about to have a bowel movement
Have I been good to you?
Mr. Insincerity is blocking
I don’t know what street to cross
Desiring: I refuse to forgive
Oracle: death defenses itself
She’s a queen
Also she uses the vibrator too much
I have stopped talking to her
Have you been lazy lately?
I didn’t spell her name right. Could you smell it?
From afar it does make noises.
But have you talked to the pig?
The barnyard has transformed.
This is not the right way to love
Don’t turn the engine back on.
Polygraphs and Omar the screwdriver.
In a strapless dress
Made for typhoons and artificial intelligence.
The clue is in the hue.
I take results however superficial.
Fly without a working engine.
Forever so kind.
Distrust for the impossible.
The poem is asleep: narrow monarch tea, red red that can’t
dismiss a dream, and swims like an antiquated icicle.
aggression was a landscape
by Jessica Alexander
In Pittstown voices hovered over the gnarled trees, the orchards, the barns, and the splintered roof beams. If you hear them, you must not look up. If you hear one in dusk, in a clearing—let’s say you’re splitting wood or gathering something maybe mushrooms—you must bend your eyes and your being to the axe, you must exert yourself and keep it out.
In Pittstown Mary walked the gloomy streets. She wore fur and strange and stunning gowns. Clara darned socks inside the splintered light. I am drowning. Clara said to herself and the voice was not inside her head, but her stomach, like an echo deep inside a well. I am drowning. Mostly, Clara felt like this, save when she saw Mary in such strange and stunning gowns.
At midnight, when her father prayed, Clara would walk to the cold rock, toward the dead orchard and the cornfield, where the stalks poked through snow and swayed against a sky unbearable and grey. Clara would wait for Mary in the orchard, and Mary would appear in something silk and soft or fur. “Do you like it?” Mary said. She stroked the gown with Clara’s hand, and like a deer Clara grew very still. Everything, her skin, the sky, the splintering wind became an instrument through which to perceive her friend. “Yes,” she said, “I like it.”
In Pittstown, aggression was a landscape. It was in the angle of a doorframe, the way a root broke through the cold dirt. It was too much, at times, to simply turn your eyes to something else. No one spoke of it. Clara’s uncle, Thomas Wieland looked nothing like Thomas Wieland. Mary said, “That’s not Thomas Wieland,” but, of course, no one believed her because how the fuck would she know. He looked twenty years too young to be him. He’d recently arrived, or so he said, from Austria. He was a surgeon. He was an artist. She became his apprentice. “Put on this,” he said and flung a gown at Mary’s head. His room was spare and untidy. It was without comfort. There were reams of ink stained paper, a surgeon’s kit, and a trunk stuffed with silk dresses. “Don’t touch that!” He shouted and hurled his commonplace book at Mary’s head. The first page said “The World as My Will and My Idea.” Mary stole it. Thomas was drawing her. He called these portraits the “Progress of a Woman of Pleasure.” But there was no pleasure in Pittstown. There was only Clara kneeling in the orchard. There was only Mary in her dresses. Sometimes there was laughter in the orchard, and the birds scattered, and Clara’s father looked at the sky and said, “What is that sound?”
INTERMITTENTLY LIKE LOUISIANA RAIN
by Jessica Alexander & Vi Khi Nao
In Salt Lake, I walked the neighborhoods on winter nights, guided by the warm blue glow of windows and tv screens, flickering on the snow. Even this cold loneliness contained the balmy promise of a someday.
NOW the flamboyant neon style of Gunpowder Milkshake spatters the blank walls of our unconscious minds with sequined bowling lanes and diners & even the whites of our eyes are glittery.
I love this movie!
& our someday & Michelle Yeoh - the great martial screen artist - & look at that vest & surely these are lesbians!
Yes! Or are they baiting us, with a breathy death so easily mistaken for a bloody kiss? And if you want it bad enough, it is. It was a good movie. All the men were bad and the women, who killed them, seemed to like each other. It was a really good movie, we agreed. The bowling jacket, an homage, maybe.
Today’s potential equity raise raised only your eyebrow. I watched you across the kitchen table as you tried to do some proprietor math. Leah has been an agent of alacrity and the university may be scared of her. I soaked mung beans in a small pot and placed our bath towel over it like Djokovic - after losing the first set and then second and eventually the last to Daniil Medvedev - placed his towel over his head. Meanwhile, we need white and green onions for the canh khoai. I also wanted to walk with you because my period is heavy and I had taken a photo of cotton or a wintery storm in the Denver light. The sun behind you and its shadows plaster themselves across your back like a Pollock.
The air is cool and you ran through the park where they were setting up a screening of WestWorld. The street smelled incredible when you rounded the corner and a man in the narrow alley hid a spliff behind his back and you jogged past. Two girls with enormous dogs stood in the park. Earlier, at the grocery store you bought onions, chocolate, and salt. I made pork and soup and the broth turned purple. We ate spicy tofu bites packaged individually like small candy and our lips burned. The sunlight is crisp and clean & the air never shimmers with heat. Phone wires are full of birds and nostalgia. The air smells like fresh cut grass. Now that the joyless cop show is over, what will we do with our evening and our afternoon?
We walked beyond the railroad track, under the bridge, and through the tunnel with its electric graffiti headdress. You asked about Qi. You asked if your body was open and if there was a door to your life force. We walked and walked, walking past the pile of trash which soiled the elegant and clean architecture of the RiNo Art district. We walked past The Hub, the pole dancing class, the Walnut Liquor store, and the city opened her long, athletic legs to us. There were so many pathways into the future of our nomadic exploration. When we walked back to Natural Grocers, you were holding in your arms two babies: an aluminum water bottle and the Bread and Butter Cab, which you said I loved and which you got for us when we visited Farwall in Shreveport. From across the railroad track, we could see faintly the Zeppelin Station from our peripheral view. When we took the elevator to the 4th floor of our Blueground, you were holding a box of ginger beer, ginger chocolate, one Bosc pear the color of the sepia earth before mankind ruined it with greed and capitalism.
You hated Superman & Lois though Tyler Hoechlin’s teeth were sharp and white as a wolf’s incisors and Bitsie is the name of the actor playing Lois and this appears to be her only real misfortune. One reviewer wrote: the show brings the superhero brand back down to boring earth. But I liked the premise: would superman make a good father? Though I think a daughter may have been more interesting than two teenage boys. It failed the Bechdel test by a long shot. I don’t think two women spoke to each other in the pilot, though there were three women in it. You found the premise of a small town gone awry somewhat compelling. You enjoy small town conspiracies and small town America taking on the corporate world. But Lois “the greatest journalist in the world” was unbearably basic and lacked the ambition that made her a little dangerous in former iterations. She was a fearless journalist, who much to Superman’s chagrin, was almost always about to get killed. One review said Superman spends too much time blinking at his family in handsome concern and darting around the stratosphere that he never can anchor his family or his show. I did not know how bored you were until we switched to Nevers and the deft and dapper Victorian ladies, twirling parasols and pithy phrases, roused you from your stupor.
After showering, we walked to the grocery for bacon and a gluten free muffin. The light was both lambent and radiant, coating everything we touched or saw with a sheen of translucent warmness. Denver has such clean air. If you were in Lafayette, there would be sunlight, berated by sporadic bursts of rain and lightning. The air there is thick and muggy as if the city has been hooded by a black bag, tossed, and kidnapped into a moving, get-away van. I don’t like the idea of your natural oxygen tank being kidnapped by a city that only loves you intermittently like Louisiana rain. We woke unexpectedly late. Though at 6 am, my eyes were wide like long windows in a high rise office in New York. I tried to close them, but my nipples were becoming electrical poles as if a wire traveled between my cunt and nipple, and birds needing to take a break from their long flights could land on it for rest and mindless repose. Our periods have made us tired. We sleep early now. We make love less. Our pads soaking in useless iron.
Last night, you fell asleep at 9 o’clock. Tonight you’ve reserved a table at a winery with outdoor seats. You’ve been looking up galleries. We need to go to Walgreens but exhaustion overtook us. You slept while I finished blending sweet mung beans and tapioca. They do not collect the trash on Fridays or Saturdays. Though they seem to vacuum the hallways on Saturday mornings. If you look out the window long enough you’ll notice the yellow fence & the ferns that burst from behind it, the gravel lot where cars park, and the broken wooden crates that rest against aluminum siding. This is a city still being built with empty lots where trash gets tangled in the weeds, gravel lots, steel beams - and on the main strip a string of new apartment complexes sit empty as old warehouses, some breweries and wineries startle the sidewalk like an old friend in an empty airport. On Friday night a live band played at the beer garden, and the train scooped lumps of people up and dumped them on the sidewalk like scoops of icecream or that Twombly painting - they shuffled up the street pushing bikes & sipping beers from cozies. I think of the castrated photographer, pushing his bike through snow to my doorstep every night, and all the gifts he gave me that I shoved into a box inside my closet. On Saturday morning, the streets are deserted. There’s a slight breeze. The sunlight and the air is so clean the slight chill is crisp but not 51 degrees as our phones inform us, by 1 o’clock the city will inch it’s way to 90.
VI KHI NAO is the author of six poetry collections: Fish Carcass (Black Sun Lit, 2022), A Bell Curve Is A Pregnant Straight Line (11:11 Press, 2021), Human Tetris (11:11 Press, 2019) Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), The Old Philosopher (winner of the Nightboat Prize for 2014), & of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2's Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016). Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the Fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute: https://www.vikhinao.com
JESSICA ALEXANDER’S novella, "None of This Is an Invitation" (co-written with Katie Jean Shinkle) is forthcoming from Astrophil Press. Her story collection, Dear Enemy, was the winning manuscript in the 2016 Subito Prose Contest, as judged by Selah Saterstrom. Her fiction has been published in journals such as Fence, Black Warrior Review, PANK, Denver Quarterly, The Collagist, and DIAGRAM. She lives in Louisiana where she teaches creative writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.