Amsterdam

Written by Zoe Cunniffe – Instagram: @there.are.stillbeautifulthings


i took a trip to holland when i was sixteen:
young enough to be enthralled by foreign streets
but old enough for it to feel hollow
standing surrounded by the wholeness of a city
that lay four thousand miles from all i’d ever known.
amsterdam contains so many lives that burn on
while everyone in my city lies fast asleep and dreaming.

i stayed awake until the city blurred around me, 
gave up three midnights to a second-story balcony,
caught in between days while my family slept
and the world spun with its eyes closed.
i had never experienced a lightness like that:
bare feet numbing in brisk august air,
summer rain trickling through my hair.
it was a brief euphoria,
watching bicycles splash through puddles,
conversation ringing down the alley.

in holland, i could feel the earth turning,
an ethereal sensation i am oblivious to in virginia,
where my eyes are more focused on what is missing
than what is there. at sixteen, my mind was scorched 
with nightmares and horrors, visions of the future twined
around my eyes until i boiled in my own blindness, 
but for one moment, i was washed clean, and the skyline hung
clear and glistening. for one moment, all i had to do
was breathe it in.

Song of the City Where Two Guns Meet

Written by Tabalith – Instagram: @taba_lith


I have,
Under lullaby lilies,
Sparklingly, strangely seductive 
Dreamed of you

Three nights in a row

I fear
The fourth night
Will melt, 
Icingly licking my tears 
And looking on my hand palms

The fourth night, I fear
Will bury me with snow

Each dream
Draws you closer to me
And pushes you off
The edge I still cut my eyes at 
Each dream
Is the fruit of envy –
I put my face in it and smell it,
Feeling nothing but purple 
Reluctance streaming out 
From your nostrils 

In those nights you belong
To the siren of this song,
To her fingertips of reptile 
Dandruffs and the sticky 
Marmor balls coughed out 
Of the lion’s throat 

Then she, the siren, awakes,
Caught in sweat and your
Stare, imagined stare, 
And not a dot less painful 

Between legs: earthquakes

Drive Me

Written by Tabalith – Instagram: taba_lith


Home and to the moon
Back again back again back again
Home is never home
Until you are on the moon –
Of all possible dots of element
It is the moon and she
Sings just for me, and you,
You stand there and say:
I don’t even like her siren song

Oh honey, you taste like 
Porcelain laying dead on
Rivers of mercury 
And so: drive me home
Back back back
And let the moon look 
Down in agony
She will watch me and
I, I 
I will watch myself go 
To sleep without you and
Finally I am, I am, 
I am 

Self-Portrait in the Post-Apocalypse

Written by Trini Rogando – Instagram: @trini.writes


I find the Polaroid camera on a Catholic altar,
as if someone left it as a tribute for their God

rendered radio-silent. Men weren’t always so desperate for a sign 
of divinity, but most things have changed: I used to hate

mushrooms; now they are all that tinge my tongue. In
the early days we begged and lauded; now anyone left sees

that God is dead. Through all this, still the mushrooms prevail. 
How was I to know that dirt warbles salvation in fork-tongued sulfur?  

That these blooms of nuclear bile streaming from my throat
only prolong a doomed marathon, heaving and panting? 

I take a picture to see myself—the Narcissus of the apocalypse, 
a portrait brimming in false perpetuity. It is easier to stomach 

watery myths like these; unlike God, they cannot fail. 
Every night, strokes of twilit dreams paint themselves across

the dark anew— a constancy for disbelievers who still wait to be
revered . Long-ago myths say the Greek pantheon formed 

the greatest heroes’ souls into constellations, lining their glory
in watercolor from one point to the next. Today, tangerines 

erupt in sweet mushroom clouds from the new-age
Vesuvius, twenty-six miles thrice over. I wonder if

the stars look down at this scorched carnage and laugh. If they see
my portrait, my paltry attempt at immortality, and mock.

Underfoot, dirt-covered mushrooms burgeon 
from atomic gravesoil. I force my fingernails to 

grope at kinship until we are locked in an embrace. 
Killer and killed. Life and death. Faith and…

I bite at sprouted ambrosia to live; I tempt the gods and
become sacrilege in a world of lack. Perhaps if I squint

I can make out a haze of their trochaic form in 
the fertile prose of my curves. Maybe they share

in this portrait, sculpted to perfection, 
sanctitude burning stain from blurred film. I would

not be surprised: last night the wind smelled of orange rind
and the starlit ground grew pomegranates from ash. I fancy

my breasts to be boons, this corporeal garden a held-breath Pompeii.
Stygian flowers again take root in my fungal throat, but

folly permeates through time too. Remember: folly
in Troy was called self-preservation. Hector ran 

thrice from the grief of Achilles in 
wisdom, not cowardice. Heaving still, I toss

the picture aside, declare this grave a temple,
trace my soul into constellations with a divine hand.

The Screams

Written by Atticus Payne – Instagram: @talesfromboredom


The cane: I hate it.

There is the scream of shock. There is the scream of fear. And then, there is the scream of agony. All three have their times and purposes. All three are stored within me, a part of me so deep I dare not touch. That no one should dare touch, but has been stained countless times by the angry pink marks. They would raise, natural inflammation doing its job, but they always faded eventually.

Thank God for that. Hiding them was a pain.

You see, there is something that scares a person so deeply, cracking all the way down to their chest’s core, when they realise they have absolutely no control over the release of those screams. Shock, fear, agony, or all three at once, tear out of your mouth on instinct.

It’s not for attention, I promise, I promise. I cannot control it.

Well, that’s never worked. It was always almost as if once the sounds left my mouth, I’d lose all control of anything that came out of there. Only the screams would come, even if I tried to speak. Shock, fear, or agony? 

Shock, because even speaking up to promise something was disrespect, and only brought more pain? 

Fear, because now there was even more shouting, the screams were echoing, and all that I could hear was to move, out, and onto the porch’s floor? Because kneeling — what they screamed for — meant submission, and submission might bring even more pain?

Agony, because the pain was too much for a small mind. Because the hurt and betrayal from the ones I’d thought I loved were impossible to think of, yet glaringly obvious with every stroke. Because all three at once, and the shouting, and the running, and the slamming of doors, the demands that it be opened again and that I kneel were just too much for me. Because they saw the marks and the bruises, and they knew. Because they yelled that I could tell everyone in school the next day why my legs had turned that way. Wearing shorts, so that it would be seen.

Yes, that seemed to fit.

This will hurt me more than it hurts you, ya know that?

I didn’t know. I don’t know, still.

Would it? Because I know the scream of agony, I know the source of it. And it hurts pretty deep.

A Train Leaves the Station

Written by Callan Latham – Instagram: @callanwrites


I start on the edge. From now on,
I am moving. Getting to know the 
water under me, collecting like nickels 
at my feet. We never rust in this lifetime. 

I am a wealthy woman when it comes to 
nothingness. And the train speeds past me. 
It leaves me on the glass, a reflection of past 
self standing still. It sends a lick of fog into 
me, clouds my brain with abandonment. 

I think of the times the sun was 
too beautiful to look at. My body 
sticks against the horizon, an invitation 
for heavens to grow in odd ways, 
a mutation of light against the spine.

I think of myself as a lost place, 
a relic too human to last. 
My mouth opens to the sky’s sound, 
humming a flame of morning. 

I watch for hours, stuck on the other side 
of the glass. I wait for the ruins to pass, 
but they just keep coming.

Bullet

Written by A.M. Barnett – Instagram: @a.m.barnett

tw: mention of bodily harm


Blood seeps through my shirt, pooling beneath me. Its cold embrace tugs at my soul, pulling it away from my body. Lea wails and beats at my chest, almost strong enough to bruise my ribcage. My eyes drift shut and my breath turns ragged; with every second I am closer to death. I can almost feel the pale lady standing guard with her long scythe dangling above my body, staring at me from the void of her black hood, reveling in the iron scent my blood emanates. Lea can’t see her; she’s too close to the realm of the living.

Is this how death feels? I ask myself as the curtains begin to close and the audience cheers, their roars vibrating through my diaphragm. I don’t get up until Lea taps my shoulder, making sure the dramatic death I acted remains ingrained in the minds of the public. Nothing makes the heart shudder like seeing a woman cry over her lover’s dead body and Lea is the best wailer the acting industry has ever known.

The public roars for us to emerge, and I take Lea’s hand, leading us in front of the curtains, grinning at the audience as fake blood drips on the stage, staining my bare feet. It would take hours of scrubbing to get the paint out, but it would be worth it. 

“Wait till the critics release their thoughts,” Lea whispers in my ear as we bow endlessly, showing off our colleagues and dodging flowers being thrown our way. “We’ll make the front page,” she giggles and places a kiss on my cheek, sending hundreds of spectators into a frenzy.

The woman in my life would kill me when I got home, but surely when she read the newspapers, she would forgive me and welcome me back. I was a loving husband and an expecting father; I would never abandon my wife or my child, not for a prude like Lea. That never stopped my wife from being on my ass every hour of the day, but she was just doing her job. Kayla was a smart woman and, even if I did dare to cheat on her – she’d smell me a mile away. 

People begin filing out of the room as soon as we disappear out of their sight, shuffling, groaning, and whispering about the play, no doubt complaining that my death had been too dramatic. There would always be one who grumbled, but it was up to the critics to make history and get me to the Hall of Fame. Or, at the very least, to a larger theatre.

“They loved it,” my killer slaps me on the back as I undress and points an invisible gun at my head. “Bang.” 

“Oh, Joey,” Lea hugs him, drenching him in kisses. “You were brilliant.”

Joey laughs; there really isn’t anything better than getting Lea’s undivided attention right after a show. She’d be bubbly with excitement for hours and would hug just about anyone provided they came up to her and made a half-decent joke. As a married man, sometimes I wished my wife would do that too. But as the man of the house, I was stuck consoling myself with late-night repetitions and, once in a while, a shot or two of vodka. Kayla wasn’t allowed to drink anymore, which meant she’d glare at me and be angry for no reason.

Could I really be to blame if I didn’t want to go home sometimes? 

“I gotta run, guys,” I wave and leave before anyone can look at me with fake pity in their eyes.

When I told them Kayla was pregnant, they hadn’t cheered. Not even Lea. They had stared at me with pitying eyes, sighing and slapping me on the back, making sure I knew my life would somehow go downhill from there, leaving me to wonder when having a child became such a burden.

Our house is only ten minutes away from the theatre, so I walk home without a care in the world. Or at least I would if my stomach wouldn’t drop when I think of going home. My steps lead me through a dark alleyway, lit only by the sodium bulb of a lamppost and I stop to admire a new art piece which had flourished on the brick building me and Kayla called home.

Boys rule, girls drool, it says and I have to smile, remembering the days when I used to think the same. I check my wristwatch absently, cursing when I note the time. I am late – much later than I should be. So, as much I would have liked to sit and ponder the hidden meanings of the graffiti, I go around the building and let myself in, checking the PO box. Not that we receive any letters anymore. I take my time up the winding staircase, my hands fumbling with the keys.

When I enter  the tiny apartment Kayla is waiting for me, as she often does, reading one of her pregnancy books. She was already showing, even after only three weeks.

“I was wondering when you’d show up,” she smiles as I kiss her on the forehead and urges me to pull up a chair. “How did it go?”

“The audience seemed to like it, but you know how these things go. Everyone is waiting for LeRoux to spit out his amazing critique and, as he always does, he’s waiting for the suspense to build.”

“You know that’s not what I meant,” she chides, closing her book. 

Of course, she knows when I dodge the real meaning of her questions.

“It wasn’t my best work,” I smile sadly, imagining my career crumbling around me as LeRoux points out exactly what I fear most.

“What happened?”

“Well, for one, the paint was bright red, definitely not the color of blood. And I died, despite it not being part of the script.”

Kayla stands up, pulling me into her arms. “You know sometimes life goes off-script,” she mumbles, pointing to her belly. “Like this hot-tub accident.”

“How do you know it was an accident?” I grin and press my lips against hers.

I won’t lie; it felt good to have her support me and my heart skipped a beat when I opened the door, unsure of which Kayla I would find. The woman who loved me, or the one who loathed me and my touch? Some days, I wasn’t sure which Kayla I was dealing with. She would welcome me with a smile, only to scream minutes after because I forgot to take out the trash. It had been like this before the baby too – but I still blamed it on hormones. I know she loves me. Why else would she marry me?

I grunt, feeling a sharp pain in my side. When I look down, tiny droplets of blood pool around our feet and Kayla has me in a tight grip so I can’t put any distance between us and confirm what is going on. My consciousness slips away from me; this time it’s real. My vision blurs and my head swims in dizzy circles as Kayla lets me down.

Figuratively as much as literally.

As I lie on the hardwood floor, heaving, I realize the blade went through my chest. Judging by how much it started to hurt, it had probably touched a vital organ too. I cough and Kayla draws away so the blood gushing out won’t stain her face and clothes.

She strokes my cheek. “It’s okay,” she whispers. “Just let go.”

“Why?” I manage to ask, regretting it when my throat constricts, and I choke on my blood.

I never get an answer.

Sili

Written by E.L. Bean – Instagram: @elmpii


A child’s birth name is usually predetermined from their parents during or even before pregnancy. But for little Sili that wasn’t the case. On a rainy September afternoon, Judy’s water broke and along with Sili came an unexpected misfortune. Sili was born blind. None of the doctors could give a medical explanation for her condition. As hard as it was, Sili’s parents decided that it was God’s will, so they accepted it. They gave her the name Sili, which in Chinese means sight.

As she was growing up, in a small town near London, Sili was living a rather normal life. She never let her disability affect her in any way. As most kids at her age, Sili was experiencing bullying. Not because of her disability, but because of her name. When a nine-year-old hears the name Sili, they immediately connect it with the word silly, which means stupid. Walking down the corridors in her school, Sili would hear her classmates shouting “How silly does the name Sili sound?” – “Hey Sili, make something silly…” But Sili never felt unhappy or angry. She would not turn her head – she would not answer. She would smile politely, even laugh about it and would keep walking her way to her class. She would sit on the first desk in front of the blackboard with the confidence of a graduate student, she would put on her little rose-tinted sunglasses and would transport into a different world. A world with colors – a world without bullies – a world that has only sunny days. That was her ideal world as she used to say:  “I’m Sili and I find the world behind my glasses, much more interesting than the one I live in.”

No one could understand what that meant, because Sili had a little secret. Every night before she fell asleep, she would put on her little rose-tinted glasses, she would close her eyes and then her mind would create all the colorful images that she couldn’t see during the day. But the secret was that Sili could control this world. She could do anything she wanted. She could go anywhere she liked. Strange how a mind, that has never experienced an image of the real world can suddenly create, through imagination, a whole life – and live in it.

Because of her inability to see, Sili had advanced all her other senses. The sounds, the tastes, the smells. Her perception of the world was entirely different from what we experience every day, and that was because Shili was unable to see all the grotesque and unspeakable things that were happening around her. Unable to see, but able to feel – and that was worse for her. She could feel the misery in her parents’ life. How depressed and helpless the real world has made them. The enjoyment of little things – a sweet kiss for good morning, a warm hug for I missed you – were all replaced with one word: misery. She could feel the fear and the stress of her classmates at school. She could feel the embarrassment and the guilt in people on the street. She could see nothing, but she could feel everything and that was too much – even for a 9-year-old.

Sometimes it’s difficult to change something you can only feel. How much easier her life would be, if Sili could find a solution to all her parents’ problems. Then laughing during a family dinner would be a routine and not an extraordinary occasion. How much more interesting life at her school would be, if she could erase all the insecurities and fears her classmates had. Then the only sound someone could hear at the schoolyard would be that of laughs. How much more beautiful this world could be if she could replace people’s ego with a “we.” Then she could finally make her world behind her glasses real. But deep in her heart Sili knew that the damage was already done. It was irreversible and she was too small to change anything. So, she had to think of a way that allows her to escape reality, to be happy. She could not help the others so at least she would have to think herself. Either way, isn’t that what mankind does?

Little Sili loved books. It was another way to escape the miserable reality. Her mature perception of this world was partly because of the hundreds of audio books she had listened to. She had asked her parents for a new bookcase in her bedroom, but her mother’s answer was short and definite: “We can barely buy you food and you ask for a bookcase?” Sili had to find a place to hide all the books she had. And she did. In her wardrobe. Of all her books, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas was her favorite and there was a quote that she loved. “All for one and one for all.” “Wouldn’t that be great?” She would wonder sometimes. Why is it that instead of all for one and one for all, had become one for one? Why were people so self-centered and why did they feel more satisfied when they saw a person fail than succeed? What kind of ideology was that? Because if it was happening on such a large scale, it must be an ideology, a long-term trend, a chronic disease. All these thoughts in the little mind of a nine-year-old was a lot to handle.

In order to escape this disease, Sili had to find a cure, a kind of medicine, that will help her live in her own world. However, it was impossible for her to accomplish that idea all by herself. She needed some help. Her plan was to share her idea of the new world with others. She wanted to tell everyone that this kind of world exists. She has seen it with her own eyes. Eyes unable to see the misery and the sadness but capable of seeing the beauty and the magic.” If they don’t want to follow me, then they can help me find a way to live there forever.” Sili thought.  Afterall, how hard would it be for someone to help a little girl live happily ever after?

First, Sili asked her parents’ help. On a Sunday morning, a day that families are supposed to be together, the little girl, always wearing her rose sunglasses, ran to the kitchen where her two parents were. “Mum?” asked the little girl. But there was no answer. “Mum?” She asked a second time. Again, no answer. Her mum was too busy complaining about their low income and the financial problems that they were facing, and her daddy almost covered behind a pile of unpaid bills was silently accepting all the accusations about the miserable life of the family.

Little Sili had to find someone else to help her. So, on Monday morning, the worst day of most young students, Sili, always wearing her rose sunglasses, ran to her class, where her favorite teacher was. Miss Rene was a middle-aged chubby woman with long red hair. She always used to say to her little students “I am always here if you need someone to talk to.” However, on that Monday morning she wasn’t. “Come back on Friday, Sili. Today it’s not the best day. I’m sorry.”

Third and last chance for the little girl’s happiness was her weird old neighbor with the thousand cats, living across the street. Sili used to find it really fascinating how an eighty-five-year-old man could have the time to take care of seventeen cats, while her parents seemed to be struggling with just one kid. She used to visit him two or three times per week and helped him with his cats. As a thank you, he would narrate stories about his exciting past life. 

Little Sili, always wearing her rose sunglasses, ran to Mr. Bachmann’s house. She kept ringing the bell, but he was nowhere to be found. A pile of letters and newspapers was covering his doormat. But little Sili could not see that. An awful smell was coming out of his apartment. Little Sili could smell that. She would inform her mother about it, once she had finished her own plan. 

She gave up on the idea of finding assistance for her little plan. Once again, she had to follow the ideology of her mankind. One for one. She had to find her own way to go to the other world- the ideal world behind her rose-tinted glasses. She had to discover the cure by herself. She needed to find this medicine. Sili took a last bath in the parents’ bathroom. She ran quickly to her bedroom, leaving the drawer and her father’s box of powerful sleeping tablets open. She wore her favorite red dress, she put one her rose tinted glasses and lied on her bed. She closed her eyes and waited…

A week later everyone was available to attend little Sili’s funeral. Everyone but Mr. Bachmann. He didn’t need to go to the little girl’s funeral. He was already with her.

“She wanted to live in the world behind her rose-tinted glasses” was written on her tombstone and I couldn’t help but wonder,

Do people really understand what that phrase means?

Azan’s Crown

Written by Benjamin Wesley – Instagram: benjaminwesley74


Every crown on Emperor Azan’s wall represented a nation conquered. 

It had been the crowns that had kept Azan on the throne of Ladel for so long. They were a symbol of power to the rest of the world, a symbol of the conquered. Whoever held the crowns held the world itself. 

The king of kings sat in his windowless chamber, gazing upon the wall, reminding himself of what he’d gained. He remembered the wars, the clever diplomacies, the assassins, and the crown thieves. In the end, his hard work had brought him over two hundred crowns. Not all had belonged to kings, of course. In fact, most belonged to minor dignitaries and princes that he’d cheated or bribed out of royalty. In the end, he ruled over all their lands.

Azan’s personal guards lined the edges of the room. Each man was a master soldier hailing from a different kingdom around the world and was loyal to a different crown on the wall. The soldiers were what had given Azan strength throughout the years, what had allowed him to succeed in his conquests when others failed. And they were all fiercely loyal to the crown on Azan’s head. 

But now that he was in his later years, what was he to do? Years spent conquering had left him without time for women and certainly without time to raise an heir. That was an important matter he’d been neglecting throughout his reign, and his advisors were disappointed by it. The throne would likely pass to a cousin, now. 

A knock on the door sounded, disrupting Emperor Azan’s meditation. Not bothering to hide his dissatisfaction, he waved to a guard to open the door. A small serving girl stepped in, wearing dirty brown robes and carrying a platter with coffee. 

“You’re late,” the Emperor informed her. “Coffee is to be brought as soon as I wake.”

The serving girl nodded, not speaking as she poured him a cup. Azan’s nose wrinkled, taking a sip. It wasn’t the right brew at all. Barely even warm. He looked up, preparing to tell the girl off. 

She was standing next to the wall of crowns, inspecting them. 

“What are you doing, girl?” he demanded, standing to his feet and waving for the guards. He barely noticed as the coffee spilled across his lap. “Stop her!” 

The serving girl turned, one of the crowns from the wall in her hand. It was made entirely of rare southern sea glass, different colors swirling and sparkling around each other like flames. She held the crown high above her head. “Take a step and I’ll drop this,” she said. The guards halted, looking to their Emperor for instruction as the girl whipped out a knife that was more cutlery than a weapon. 

Azan threw back his head and laughed at the insanity of the moment. A serving girl with a dinner knife was threatening him, the greatest king, in his personal chamber filled with his personal guards. He laughed for a long time, remembering all the thieves and assassins that had broken into the room in an attempt to steal his crowns. 

 He laughed until his gut hurt. “This room has faced countless crown thieves, fool. And I’ve thwarted each one of them. What is your plan? Throw all two hundred priceless crowns into a bag and carry them out?” 

The serving girl met his eye for the first time. “No, Azan. I haven’t come for the wall crowns. I’ve come for yours.” With that, the serving girl plucked the crown off the Emperor’s head and placed it on her own. “Take him away.” 

The laugh died in his throat as he realized what she’d done. “This is foolish,” he sputtered, stepping away. 

“I said arrest him,” the girl repeated. The Guards finally seemed to wake out of their confusion and they moved forward. 

“What is this? Why are you listening to her?” Azan demanded as they grabbed his wrists. “Traitors!” He aimed a kick at one of the Guards, but the younger man simply stepped out the way. 

“Don’t bother struggling,” the serving girl said with a smile as the former king was dragged from the room in disgrace. “I’ve heard they’re the best soldiers in the kingdoms.”

The Mauve of the Past

Written by Callan Latham – Instagram: @callanwrites


She talks about the memories 
that should come back. We are not mindless, 
rather sandwiched in between spaces 
of mind and nothing.

The mind came before, maybe, and we 
don’t know what’s next. Not the future, 
with its claws and grinning mouth, 

not the past, colored a soft mauve in the dusk. 
She remembers the street 
she bought a pretzel on, will never forget it. 

We discover a fish in the pond, 
with crimson splotches like writhing life. 
The leaches are gone but the blood will always 

stay, pulling from us like gravity stripped bare. 
The purple finch, soft and 
morphed with feathers, listens to us 

as we talk about our yesterday fears.
I think about the garden
with the marigolds still living. Marigolds, 

dyed a maroon with passed days. 
The flowers in the wagon rest from the frost 

over night. We are not so lucky, dreaming of
smoke that smells like what we have left behind 
and squeezes like flesh between 

the empty spaces.