Ryan Mattern

Big Dirty

A brown doe with tranquilizer darts stuck in her hide enters the red line to 95th, nestles vacant space between seats of Vietnam vets in Chicago-stained Cosby sweaters. A junkie teenager, ringworm scars like trilobite spirals fossilized into his scalp, steadies himself as the train quakes over demagnetized tracks and walks toward the deer. The two of them sleepy-eyed, unsure of movement, drunk and emaciated dancers on fetal calf legs.

The deer mistakes industry for a meadow; passengers’ backpacks and briefcases as moss-covered boulders; the ding-donging Doors Closing announcement for flittering birdsong; the hollow vibrations of the subway accelerating underneath the city as the cooing of a rushing brook.

The junkie muscles a dart from the doe’s thick skin. Licks a droplet of blood from the tip and eases it into his neck, collapses into the deer’s stomach. His head, frozen with poison, nuzzles into fur and rubbery tick nipples.

They sleep entangled, like fighters too tired to throw punches, both thankful for warmth and the thud of heartbeats against skin.



I’ve been dreaming about Cuba.

Brown beanpole girls under coconut trees fan themselves with elephant ears. Skinny rib-caged boys pet cats and eat blankets, shatter bare feet against dirt clod soccer balls. Men named for warships clothespin cigars to lines that swing between adobe mud huts. Bats sleeping-bagged in sun-baked onionskin wings. At night they use fire to dry. When one catches, the city is a glowing festival of purple tobacco smoke and orange paper lanterns.

A Cuban woman sleeps naked in my bed and my fingers island hop back freckles.

Pronounce your last name again.

“Montes de Oca.”

My bed fills with sand, Garcinias bloom from my chest.

What is your hometown called? 

“Ciudad San Ramon.”

I can see you there. And I am there too, smashing toilets to build barriers from the men who argue over corn and potatoes.


We Will All Make a Mixed Tape

Just for today let’s pretend that love is real.

And this word (when we close our eyes

and whisper it into our hands)

can cause us to will images of clouds in the sky.

Some of us will see tufts of white

in the shape of boys pushing girls on swings.

Others will imagine a slender woman

bending down to uproot a flower

in the high whips of cirrus

painted over the moon.


Keeping our eyes closed,

let’s all hum our favorite song.

Listen as the melodies

overlap with one another,

colliding in dissonance

and sounding like thunder rattling windows.

The sound causes the clouds in our minds

to morph into puffy grey record players

with hearts bubbling from their phonograph horns.


Now let’s open our eyes.

Let’s make a decision right now.

With all of us here,

syncopated by the heartbeats in our wrists,

let’s decide that love is not make-believe,

is not as indefinite as a dream

or as faint as a ghost zips by in a whisper.

When asked to prove this,

we will all make a mixed tape.

When we go home

and climb the stairs to our bedrooms,

pretending that our fathers are not asleep on couches

and hoping that our mothers will come back

from aunt’s and grandmother’s,

we will all make a mixed tape.


Pipe-Cleaner Girl

We all gathered around the tank because she was actually going to do it. This pipe-cleaner girl, a child really, with long stringy brown hair hanging over the indents of sad eyes, was standing on the rusty access-ledge over the shark exhibit. Aquarium patrons, overweight women with colorful visors and men in shorts with fanny packs turned away, cringed in prayer. The girl was wearing an ADOLESCENTS t-shirt and, already discounting her life, turning into newsprint, I knew someone would blame the music. A police officer with narrow eyes and a red mustache tried to talk her down. C’mon kid, he said. You don’t really want to do this, do you? She answered without words, taking two tiny steps closer to the water. The cop placed his hand over the megaphone and whispered to his short partner, I’ve got 50 bucks on the sharks. The menacing sharks whose fins had been breaching and slicing through the skinny girl’s shadow as it ebbed on the water’s surface. Then, without warning or explanation, she leaped forward like a broke-winged heron plummets. I closed my eyes, her afterimage branded into my eyelids. While waiting for the splash, time stopped at the aquarium. The choking sounds of the water filter sounded like planes passing. And for one brief second, instead of considering what drove her to jump, I think about what will become of me after my own death.

Ryan Mattern


Ryan Mattern is a 23 year old creative writing student at California State University, San Bernardino. His work has appeared in Criminal Class Review, The Toucan, This Paper City, Halfnelson, and The Secret Handshake. Although he calls Chicago home, he currently lives in Southern California with his dog, Wrigley.

Phantom Limb/Desert

Phantom Limb

It still twinges

on cold nights,

and itches from imagined

insect bites.


Sometimes, I expect

to look and see it

still attached

to me.


I still pull blankets

over it at night,

and see its outline

beneath the cotton sheets.


I still feel

the blood coursing

through non-

existent capillaries.


I scratch

to find out

where it really is.

My nails find nothing


to scrabble at.

I am still counting

the hours

of separation:


How long

since amputa-

tion? It left

while I was asleep.


I am left

with echoes

of its departure.

It has preceded me


to the grave.

I am dying

by install-




(for Kristoffer Ian Villalino — the morning after, March 9, 1997)


it is too much for us, the fantasies,

the mirages founded on empty air,

the groping and walking in circles,

finding nothing solid in outstretched hands.

the purple tongue protruding through cracked lips

rasps the soft skin and rasps the soft skin off.

then boneless, the skeleton of lips

protests the passage through uncertain sands,

and reaches ends too tired to feel relief.

it is too much for us, the long dry coughs,

bringing nothing up but the salt of phlegms —

hands tearing at the throat to reach within —

we choke on hands that try to give us drink.


Alexander N. Tan Jr., M.D.


Alexander N. Tan Jr.,M.D. graduated from the University of the City of Manila (Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila) with a Doctor of Medicine Degree. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy degree from Our Lady of Fatima University. He was a fellow at the 36th Dumaguete National Summer Writers’ Workshop (1997). His short stories and poems have been published in several literary journals throughout the Philippines and the United States. He is a member of MENSA Philippines. A practicing physician and physical therapist, he writes and lives in Mandaluyong City, Philippines.

Lowell Jaeger

What Are You Doing, Sheryl?

Moms unload their kids

for Kiddee Day on the midway.

Cheap rides to kill an afternoon

so hot us ride jockeys get away with stripping

down to muscle shirts. Nobody

shirtless on the job, that’s the rule.


We watch the moms watching us

behind their sunglasses. Bringing Johnny

back and back in line, making longer

conversation at us the longer

we let Johnny ride. Till it comes time

to run him back home, him screaming

he’d had way too much and wants more.


Near dusk just the moms and their best

girlfriends come strolling out of nowhere

all made up fresh. Nothing else that late

but stall till closing, set the ladies sidesaddle

on the merry-go-round, bum their smokes,

and let ‘em circle us all they need for free.


On the beach after we shut down,

we sit around a stick-fire,

passing 20s of malt liquor, inventing

who we are one lie at a time.

Laughing too loud and louder

the more we get twisted.


What are you doing, Sheryl? says

a tall man who’d walked up behind.

We all stand and puff our chests

like we’d defend her. Hubby

backs off weak-kneed on his own,

and Sheryl does right, walking away

and letting him chase her.


Another rule: If outside trouble finds you

don’t bring it home. There’s Sheryls

out there everywhere, some willing

to drive and try us again next town.

We don’t want no bad mess.

Though it’s fun sometimes to get cozy

and push up real close by.


The Pie Lady

Her pie wagon steamed early mornings

—far end of the midway—

with smells of home-baked sweets.

She chose me, of all the ride-jockeys

who schemed for a slice of her,

to drive her every few day for sacks of flour

and apples she could have managed

easily on her own. And we’d ride laughing,

two carnies shoved up in tight spaces

who never minded sitting close by.


I was just a kid, mostly, back then.

Saved up wages and bought new jeans,

light blue, almost white. Ruined them

first day with a smear of axel grease

across my thigh. Upon which the Pie Lady

gladly set to scrubbing me with a wet rag

and her own brand of miracle problem solver.

She worked and worked unstaining me.

Take ‘em off, she said and I did,

while the ovens bubbled with pie.


Lowell Jaeger


As founding editor of Many Voices Press, Lowell Jaeger compiled Poems Across the Big Sky, an anthology of Montana poets, and New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from 11 Western states. His third collection of poems, Suddenly Out of a Long Sleep (Arctos Press) was published in 2009 and was a finalist for the Paterson Award. His fourth collection, WE, (Main Street Rag Press) was published in 2010. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.

Jon Stocks

Cormorants and Guillemots

Come with me to the Western waters

Where the waves lap a coarse kiss on the shore

And we can learn to love the silence

To give love and know the love of others.


For we are nothing, a scattering of dust

A fleeting spark of electricity;

And yet we feel the pull of the moon

Some sense of mystery, communion of souls

The subtle tugging of a distant star.


When sometimes our imagination leaps

To empathy, then we are unique

Embracing some other consciousness,

An elemental wildness deep within.


To some other alien heart betrothed,

Sensing the salt water on their beaks,

Their disingenuous curves of flight

The nuances of their transitory lives.


Then we are Cormorants and Guillemots

We are the brooding deep water whale

The swift to whom, the west wind whistles home

We are love, life indestructible,

Their grief is our grief, our souls are cleaved

As to the dreams of our sons, our daughters.


Here the soft flesh tone are tenderised

the assertive sprays, the gurgling spurts dry quickly

the haunches cook slowly on sun bleached stone;

see how the salty blood forms patterns, rivulets

from a warm, still wobbling heart?


At Masada the dying buried the dead

below circling vultures, eager to be known.

Resting on the high table of morality

the Hebrew God paused and blessed his own,

‘Blessed are the children slayers

the guardians of their sacred souls

securing death before dishonour.’


After the carnage only the sun gazed down

over the hillside, across the valley floor,

torpid in a summer heat wave to where,

the dead sea gazed back; unwavering.


Jon Stocks


Jon Stocks is a UK based poet who has had work published in magazines worldwide. Recent credits include two nominations for the Pushcart prize and, in January 2011, the Mariner award for, ‘best of the best’ work in BwS magazine 2010. Recent poetry has appeared, or is scheduled to appear, in The Montreal Review, The Dublin Literary Review, Candelabrum, The Coffee House magazine, The Journal, Burner, the Dawntreader, Coffee House, Pennine Platform, Littoral, Other Poetry, Manifold. Poetry Monthly, Harlequin, Tadeeb International (translated into Urdu), Taj Mahal review, Avacado, Involution, Interlude, and others.

Cannes Absinthe

Streets like threads woven into the city

Knot at the harbor

Am I moving uphill or down?

Echo of my footsteps

Centimes in my pocket tap rhythm

Lost in the working class maze

Homes expand and collapse

Expelling screaming ghosts

With every yawn and step upon uneven stones


Piss in the same alleys as Napoleon

The pavement slippery with allegory

History hunches my shoulders

With its random weight

The light slithers in my eyes

As I lay back on the street

In the swirling green absinthe smoke

Will no one call the shore patrol?


The kiosk is toppled

Words tumble and twist and escape

on the push of winter winds

The men and police stand and stare

Like puzzled insects with sharp claws

To be behead enemies and lovers

Qui nettoiera ce désordre ?


The summit of an amazing canvas

Dancing headlights shop windows and beer signs

These blend into a divine ray

What time is it?

Watch ticks loudly and wakes the workers

Gut burns like a star collapsing

The man with two heads pushes his bicycle

His words are mush mouthed distant

My lips moves to speak

But I am without language


We are the only two stars out tonight

And yet we are silent to another


Kevin McCoy

Lead Poisoning

Seated in the waiting room at the doctor’s office,

I am filling out a questionnaire.

I come to a question I am not sure how to answer.

Do they really need to know that?

I put the pencil into my mouth and bite down.

The feeling of the smooth paint crunching

and then giving way to the wood underneath

brings me back in time to another question

I didn’t know how to answer.


A blank sheet sat in front of me

at the kitchen table.

I couldn’t concentrate with my mom

looking over my shoulder.

“You’ve got to put something down,

everyone wants to be something when they grow up.”

Cursing the stupid yellow no. 2 pencil

for leaving my paper blank,

I put it in my mouth and clamped down.

“Don’t chew on your pencil,” my mother said,

“you’ll get lead poisoning.”

I chomped on the pencil even harder.


Maybe I would get lead poisoning.

The doctors would know that’s what it was

because my molars would have lead stuck in them, like fillings.

And there would be yellow splinters between my teeth.

“How could this happen?” my mother would demand.

The doctor would answer,

“Normally kids her age masticate pencils

because they have overbearing mothers.”


I tried to give my mother a look

that resembled Dirty Harry

when he asked the punk if he felt lucky.

But she knew I was out of bullets

because she stayed there,

hovering like a vulture

waiting for its dinner to keel over.

I failed the assignment.


In the waiting room, the pencil bows

under the pressure of my teeth.

I can feel my mom looking over my shoulder,

waiting to see what words will fill the blank lines.

The answers are supposed to be confidential –

the nurse said so.

But she doesn’t know my mother.


Kathy Carr

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