Jenese Chanel Hornsby
When our grandson whom you will never get to see shoots one of our sky dappled parakeets through the chest with his bow and arrow (the ones that sit side-by-side as if cold) I am only thinking of you and the night you fell upon tickets for us to go see Annie at the Fox Theater. I am seeing you standing before the bedroom closet, your patent leather shoes like an old bus driver’s. You are pulling out rumpled button-downs and holding each one out for me to choose. You say, “Is this one good? How ‘bout this one?” Each one the same, and I am explaining the difference between navy and black, the way two stripped patterns must run in the same direction, the way something tacky, like poke-a-dots, can go with anything.
You are stalling, and I know you do not want to see the play, so I run out of the room, heels clacking to put on the mascara I have forgotten. I see your face in the mirror behind me, and you say, “That stuff makes you look like a whore.”
I reflect on how I have never slapped anyone in my adult life. I am mouse quiet. I am statue still, and so we are out the door, in our seats, and as I am watching the orphaned children pounce across the stage the word “whore” gallops through my head till I think there is nothing left of it at all, till I think that there is only you and me and the singing orphans and the Fox with all of its glamour.
Our grandson whom you will never get to see cries because perhaps he has not expected the bird to bleed. He is a delicate child, the type to step on ant hills and cry for the ants, and yet he is responsible for our little bird skewered and puffed up at the end of an arrow like a fluffy marshmallow coated in blue down. I am scooping our little bird in a small plastic sack. Maybe I will save it to be buried. Maybe I will throw it into the trash bin when our grandson is not looking.
I do not know, but I am thinking of that night you called me a whore. I keep seeing you in front of the bedroom closet, and this time, I am saying to you, “Wear the one I got you for Christmas,” and you tell me that you gave it away. You tell me that it was ugly, and I think you could have pretended to not find it. I think of all your gifts that I have given away. The soapstone jewelry box with the sphinx on it. The charcoal pictures you drew. There is nothing really left of you in our house save the parakeets, and one of them is no longer alive. I could roll a spoonful of peanut butter in flax seeds and lure the other one into my hand. I could break its neck quick, assume it would die of being lonely, but I do not know.
I. Circle Dance
we were the shadows where a thousand snow owls hid their tongues at dawn
we were the still water in shallow swamps beneath fallen oaks
we were the lichens
we were the moss
we were the circles of hushed low grass in the midst of fields where deer had lain
we were the green grass shaking off night’s cold sweat
when a blue heron passed
we were the stars tumbling upon the clear surface stirred
by breath coming off her wing
we were the sagebrush burning red and orange as shade swung from limb to limb
we were the plucked fruit
we were the stones struck sharp
we were the green twigs whittled white
we were the dark wet snagged on a hawthorn’s barbed trunk
we were the shot arrows strewn across a forest floor
we were the ribs of the hare rotting in the shade of the hawthorn
we were the brittle brown oak leaves grown soft once more
mucked to smooth stones at a swamp’s bottom
as young frogs peeped and the waters dimmed at dusk
we were the dark breath where a thousand snow owls found their tongues
we were so careful
each morning not to
make a sound
white sparks tapped the glass
trees cracked like kindling
the windowpane was on fire
our silence kept the wood alit
the blue flame quaking
at the heart of the white heat
a blacksmith’s breath shifted
drifts of white ashes
billowed our hound’s hole
sent her out wandering
our slightest shiver
sent icicles tumbling
when we cracked the door
to stoke the cold our hound
laid offerings at our feet
a gnarled wet branch
the frozen heart of a deer
III. Night Hag
who knocks out my window
who knocks out my window
who sets my tree on fire
who cracks the whip of thunder
who scatters the birds into the lightning sky
who charges the shadows across the plain
who hides among the rushes
who whispers through the thicket
who is waiting behind the red door
who is wearing the white apron
who lashes my naked body with sudden light
who drenches my body with his shadows of blood
who strings his harp with barbed wire
who eclipses the pasture of the moon
who is the green grass awakening the snow
who is the fiddlehead unfurling its riddle of ice
a white tail flashes into the shifting trees
a white tail flashes into a hole in the frozen ground
tanned leaves are skinned from the earth
who is born in the form of a young river
who sobs inside me like the song of a lover
who swells inside me like the light of the sea
IV. Braiding Crowns
stalks were purple
where they were not green
bitter on our tongues
twists of yellow
buttered our noses
did that mean love
or looming children
hidden in grass
sharper than thorns
IV. Independence Day
circles of light begin
the hand circles
round to the end
of the porch
in a humid night
the faint smell
That was the frightening spring/summer time of my inner ear imbalance
(my right ear):walking at night with the steadying help of your bark-peeled-off
walking stick the twenty five steps from our bed to the bathroom, grabbing onto
dressers and the door jamb to keep upright (usually with your help even though
I didn’t want to wake you, though sometimes you were already awake) and then
climbing back onto our bed to lie and watch the room reel and spin away. That
was also the spring of the worst western forest fires ever and the strange tropical
Florida storm that refused to retreat from its destructive path until it finally and
slowly moved up the Gulf Coast into the elbow of the peninsula where the northern
shore joined the beginning of the panhandle at its most easterly point. The late
spring also brought news of terrified Syrian women and children who were brutally
butchered by evil murderous thugs. Let’s consider then how the world itself can
reel and plunge away into a maelstrom of its own mad special darkness.
x gerard lee
from a longer piece
I awoke early this morning.
The sun is so damn bright
down here. I know that’s
not actually physically
true, but it certainly feels
that way. Maybe it’s because
the window of the guest bedroom
faces east and at five o’clock
you get a nice fat slap
of sunlight with the calls
of yellow roosters
that wander around the dirt roads
of this forgotten country – I do not
like it here. I took a walk as
dawn was setting – I was antsy
and I don’t think I slept
for more than an hour
in total, a night perforated
with minute instances
of sleep and caffeine dreams –
in the shorts I slept in
and geta my parents
had bought me during
one of their many childless
trips to foreign countries. Japan,
they told me, was their favorite
and that the shoes they wore
were so chic, if not a bit “unconventional.”
As a child, I was obliged to agree with
them, and as I clacked around
the kitchen, much to the discontent
of Aubergine – what a fucking name! –
the French Polynesian housekeeper
– “she’s so exotic-looking,” my
mother would say – who didn’t care for loud
noises and was as quiet as the mice
with whom she lived in the attic.
The villa was separated from a small
neighborhood of less impressive
houses, all of which were seated along a small cliff.
My parents’ was the only one
with a private beach – I suppose years as a
corporate sow will furnish you
the currency to purchase such selfish
and unnecessary things – but the other villas
seemed to exude something warm,
something my parents’ villa did not possess.
What they lacked in lawn size and pool volume
and hot tub seating capacity they possessed
in a certain lightness that I have never experienced.
Children, siblings playing on the sage lawns,
collecting coconuts and mangoes that fell
to the ground. Older brothers calling out
to their younger sibs to watch long-tailed
lizards slither like s’s across
the pavement. Castles built
in the dust between the lawn
and the cracked tar of the street,
adorned with bone-dry starfish
carcasses and seashells of pastel. Parents
smiling, watching their progeny
glisten in the light
as the isle welcomed
the new day with open arms.
Why all these people
were around at seven
o’clock in the morning,
I do not know. As I walked by,
they looked at me queerly.
I must have looked pretty bizarre,
like some jet-lagged traveler,
my wooden shoes alerting people
of my presence, my gym shorts
looking slightly distressed, my hair
a mess of naps and curls. Most
of them were white, actually,
but that doesn’t matter much. I imagine
a Black family (or any family, really)
would have stared at me
too, launching questions at me
with their eyes – “Who are you?”
“Where did you come from?”
“Why is your heart so dark?”
“What happened to the light in your eyes?”
When I reached the end of the dirt road,
the sun was fairly high in the sky
and dawn had ended. The ocean was gone,
replaced by a rather dense jungle. Cars
came occasionally, to and fro. A shuttle
loaded with tourists in stereotypical garb.
Sharp noses swabbed in zinc oxide,
eyes masquerading behind plastic lens,
souls wading through the waters
of a foreign, less fortunate land,
knowing they will never remain.
I hate tourists.
I walked back to the house
and my parents were up by then.
Everyone had gone inside for breakfast
and the streets were clean of life.
A storm was starting to grow
on the horizon,
inching east towards the island.
Where were you? We were
I responded as if I had just woken up,
and I forgot how much anger was
dwelling in my stomach, all of which
trickled out as I spoke.
I went for a walk. You should
How were we supposed to have known?
We can’t read your mind.
I had nothing more to say,
mostly because I realized
that what I had said was rather
stupid. I was, however, too upset
Have some coffee. I just brewed a pot.
You cook now?
Oh lord no. Brewing coffee
is hardly cooking. You put the
dust or whatever in the machine
with some water, press some buttons
and you’re done. Very stress-free.
My mother was not the cooking
type. Nor was she the nurturing
or motherly type, either. From the day
I was born I was viewed as a great
impediment to her ambition. She was
a take-out dialer,
the kind of mother who eschewed superstition
for reason, the genre of woman
whose blackness was never relevant
unless it gave her an edge
or held her back from attaining something.
More or less, as I grew older and she grew
tamer in her ambitions at the law firm,
she turned her attention towards “raising”
her son, oftentimes taking me on small
business trips to the firm’s Los Angeles
or St Louis offices. Quality time,
she called it, but it was more often than not
me spending quality time with myself
in the hotel room. We would eat dinner
at nice restaurants and she’d train me in the
secret art of dining like a civilized
human being – how to hold the knife
while cutting your meat, where to place
your cloth napkin – “Any restaurant with
paper napkins is a travesty
and I will take no part in it” –
and how to scam the waiter out
of a free bottle of wine by finding “cork”
in your glass. All the while
I was happy to spend the time with her,
so naive and young, unaware of
who my parents really were,
so hell-bent on trying to shape them
into people they were not, into people
I assumed all parents should be.
You know I don’t cook, mostly
because I don’t ever have the time.
Well, now is different. I have all
the time in the world and I have to tell
you it’s rather boring. I still don’t cook.
I tell Smyrna to do it.
She knows how to make all your father’s
favorite dishes, even the ones I swear to
never eat. Like oxtail….the very thought
makes me want to vomit. You’d think
the man would grow some epicurean
tastes after thirty years of caviar
and pearly spoons but no. He still
eats the crap our ancestors were
forced to eat – it’s really revolting –
chitterlings and fatback and all.
That’s probably why he’s in
such poor shape.
She was beginning one of her
tirades. She had the ability
to self-sustain her own state
of annoyance. There have been times
when I’ve left the room
for twenty minutes only to return
to hear her still complaining
about something or someone.
Who is Smyrna?
I interrupted. That’s the only way
to get her to shut up. Proving her
wrong never works. She’ll just turn
her attention towards criticizing
She’s the housekeeper. Lovely
Kittitian woman. A little fat, though,
and she’s always wearing these heavy
denim jeans like it’s not a thousand
She lit a cigarette on the stove,
putting her face precariously close
to the flame.
I thought you gave up smoking.
She looked at me with a wry smile,
the signal of a witty, always sadistic statement.
I’ll give up smoking when you get
Do you want to breathe through an
oxygen mask, too?
We are both going to die one day.
The means by which it happens, does
it matter? When your father dies,
I will be alone. I wouldn’t want
both of us to endure the misery of
loneliness, you know.
She spoke like a melodramatic
actress, and everything she said was
sarcastic and tinged with bile. Some
would call it charm or wit, but I preferred
to call it as it was; venom. Know you see
where I get it from.
I do not want to discuss this. I’m
still furious with you.
I’m your mother. You’ve been furious
with me since birth. You think I can’t handle
At that moment, my father knocked
at the backdoor, signaling
for someone to let him in. It had
apparently been difficult for him
to push open the door to the patio
and as I rushed to aid him,
I heard him breathing heavily
in his mask as he attempted to do
it for himself.
It’s okay, Dad. I’m here. I got it.
He looked at me, his chest expanding
fiercely and his eyes weak and self-conscious.
I had never seen my father like this,
as desperate as an infant and just as helpless.
I did not want to continue seeing him
like this. I never wanted to.
Thank you, son. Could you give me
a push? My arms are getting
kind of tired.
From the kitchen my mother
called, her cigarette burning
and smoking up the grand room.
I told you we should have sprung
for the electric wheelchair but “nooo.”
You had to get that pool lift.
You don’t even know how to swim,
Oh give it a break, Lucille.
My parents had started watching TV
shows on Netflix to pass the time. My mother
could not drive – “I refuse to drive when there
are people I can pay to do it for me.” – and my father
was advised not to, so they did not leave the house very
often. When they did, they asked Smyrna to drive,
who always did because she rather enjoyed
watching the two of them bicker
like territorial toms.
My mother’s name was not
actually Lucille, though. My
father was referencing Arrested Development,
a TV show they had started watching together.
While my mother vehemently denied the
comparison, my father continued to call
her Lucille Bluth or Lucy to annoy her,
especially when she was in the midst
of one of her tirades. When she attempted
to call him George in retaliation, he was not phased
Well you can’t get mad at me
when you send yourself into a
coughing fit because you want
to maintain your independence.
You are terminally ill, dear.
Doesn’t mean my life is over.
I’m still alive.
I’m afraid it does mean that, dear.
The bluntness of my sire and dam!
Whatever, Lucille. Is the nurse
She took a long drag, her eyes
drifting as she inhaled.
No, dear. You know she comes
at ten everyday.
He did not seem phased by the comment
and watched her as I wheeled
Do you want some coffee, Dad?
Or maybe some breakfast? I can
make you something.
He ripped his gaze away from her
and looked at me. His eyes were large
No, that’s quite alright. Thank you,
The nurse arrived at ten-thirty. She complained
that she had car troubles, but my mother
did not believe her.
This is unacceptable. I am very
disappointed with you.
The nurse, timid and afraid,
kowtowed to my mother’s might.
I am very sorry, madam. It
won’t happen again, I promise
She then proceeded to wheel my father
into what he considered his “chemo room”
and shut the door.
I always wonder if your father’s
in there screwing the nurse.
She gripped a crystal rocks glass in
her right hand, a cigarette in her left
as she sprawled herself out on the couch
in her neutral position.
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois
She lives in defiance
She longs for the day
that global warming
turns the Frigidaire that is Michigan
into a tropical paradise
She leaves her car running all night
to do her small share
She dreams of turning her barn into a bar
and serving pina coladas
She herself, she’s never had a pina colada
She’s worked hard all her life
Her boyfriend test is
If a man cannot best her
he cannot fuck her
No man has ever been able to best her
She is a virgin
out of sadomasochistic triumph
Her grandfather had a parrot
but it died
He’d built a greenhouse for it
but after he died
she couldn’t afford the propane bill
and it died
She believed that her grandfather’s spirit
went to live in his beloved parrot
but she let it die anyway
Poverty trumps love
That’s not an elusive concept for her
Jenese Chanel Hornsby is an Author/Illustrator from Atlanta, Georgia. She holds bachelor’s degrees in both Psychology and Religious Studies from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she studied under Daniel Wallace (author of Big Fish), Pam Durban (author of the short story “Soon”), Lawrence Naumoff ( author of Taller Women, A Cautionary Tale), and the renowned poet Alan R. Shapiro. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Eva M. Olsgard is a mid/west based writer, artist, and designer. In addition to performing and exhibiting her work, she has created award-winning programming and spoken nationally on the subjects of language arts and cultural studies. Ms. Olsgard holds a BA in Literature and Creative Writing from Bard College.
Joseph Buehler lives in northern Georgia with his wife Trish. He has published three short stories in the Kansas Magazine and a short story in the Canadian Forum long ago and three poems in Bumble Jacket Miscellany and a poem in Defenestration in December 2011 and a poem in the spring/summer 2012 Common Ground Review and poems since then in Theodte, Mad Swirl, Two Cities Review, Indiana Voice Journal, The Write Room, Turk’s Head Review, The Tower Journal, Burningword Literary Journal, The Stray Branch, and have upcoming poems in East End Elements, Common Ground Review and Unbroken.
x gerard lee is a writer and undergraduate at Swarthmore College. He studies comparative literature with an emphasis on trans-Atlantic narratives of the Black freedom struggle. In his spare times he writes poetry and fiction and has selected “Family” from a longer piece based on his experiences as a minority at a predominately white college.
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over eight hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad, including LINDEN AVENUE LITERARY JOURNAL. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for work published in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. He lives in Denver.