Issue 0 Issue 0 Non-Fiction

Men Who Wear Hats

By Josh Boardman

Now I will prove the nonexistence of God. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not an atheist. I believe in His nonexistence. The language is better you see. I believe in gravity the same way. Relational nonexistence.

This is a good road to go fast down. The boy who lived down the street had stolen his dad’s pickup and I thought this was a brilliant thing to push. The engine growled down the straightaway and before spitting onto the main road my grandparents’ subdivision abruptly doglegged around a blue spruce. The tree drifted leftwise behind the windshield. The passenger window crumpled against the ground. Pineneedles partied into the cab.

The spruce caught our fall. Climbing out the driver’s side window I didn’t remember going over. The last five minutes of my life blurred like a long exposure. Sticky dripped down the tips of my fingers. A hollowness opened inside of me as if I had undergone some violent transformation, a paradigm shift, the way zealots describe epiphany. The other boy will be crying. Holy.

Last week I talked to my mother on the phone. We do this as she gets older—always me placing the call on my way between this errand and that. Last week I was talking to her about I don’t know what (a book? a cactus? wildlife she sees outside?) when she said it’s been too hard—she wouldn’t want to live her life a second time.

A little failure before moving on to other topics. A failure of eternal return.

Maybe we were talking about the book I’m writing. A novel about my brother’s death and our grief after his passing. I’ve worked a year and a half always fearing that it may be too revealing of her as a person—she was my first reader. Unrelated conversation—she told me she wouldn’t have made it through that trying time if not for God. This has become a refrain.

I wonder if she would still cling to God if she hadn’t lost so much. Meanwhile I wonder if my dismissal of her belief is a surer way of forgetting my own hardship.

I turned 33 this year. The age Jesus was crucified. All dwellers in heaven remain 33 years old. Dante wrote 33 cantos to Paradise. Both of the previous entries in the Divine Comedy comprise 34 because they are unheavenly—I have such a small window.

I haven’t gotten very far into the Bible yet but my mother is overjoyed. She shipped a fauxleather New Catholic Edition, the language updated for modern comprehension. When Rachel steals Laban’s household gods and hides them in her saddlebags she declines to climb down because she “is having [her] periods.”

King James—“the custom of women is upon me.”

I am asked to choose between vernacular and poetry. Even Dante brought dowdy Italian to a work of heaven and hell. Like a visit from Aunt Flo. I’m not sure if the Hebrew is euphemistic or not—I assume it is.

I am incapable of choosing between two opposites. Periods or the custom. Hard life or easy. Belief or disbelief. I feel helpless in their binary glare.

My father changed religions as often as his father changed hats. We’ll get to my father in a minute. But first—


People don’t wear hats anymore. Men will wear them once they start to bald but I’m not talking about that. Pick up a book written in the 50s and try to picture the hats so frequently invoked. Imagine the skittering things, pregnant with present nonexistence.

My grandfather (one of those who used to wear hats) died mere months after my grandma. A sixpack nightly in the interim. Maybe he went to church. I doubt it. He died and we cleared out his estate ourselves.

I was between highschool and college. I had just been released from the hospital. I consumed a cocktail of drugs every morning that set my stomach in motion. Atavan. Zoloft. Willing or unwilling. Nexium. Lithium. Another psychoactive I can’t remember. Healthy or unhealthy. A real disembodied fusion on opposites.

I worked my way through my grandfather’s bookshelves to the bedroom closet with my mother. The spare room where I spent every summer growing up. She was mouthing prayers as we reached the door. I stopped with my hand on the knob, noticing.

What are you saying?

 I didn’t know what we had to be afraid of. I didn’t know my grandfather and my father and I all share the same indecision about the most important aspects of our lives.

We opened up the closet door—O God my mother moaned—

A wall of hatboxes toppled across the floor.

Panamas boaters stetsons fedoras ushankas ballcaps newsboys westerns buckets porkpies homburgs stormy kromers sunhats beanies bowlers/derbies ascots watchcaps berets tam-o-shanters visors deerstalkers tophats watersports floppies balaclavas trappers raccoontails bretons stingybrims campaigns gamblers mariners stovepipes 5-panels 8-pieces mortarboards a party hat fascinators cloches cocktail scarves pillboxes—

My father is a man of religious excess. Before I was born it was evangelical (my older brother calls it not pleasant). Most lately Catholic—though he has been characteristically unimpressed with the infallibility of the Pope. He recently pivoted to a radical sect known as the Society of Saint Pius X. When I was young I walked in on him (shame in my guts blush high on my cheeks) meditating.

As many hats as my grandfather hoarded my father gathered religions. The same ambivalence of faith swapped one denomination for another. A man who owns many hats believes in the efficacy of none. I never would’ve made it through that trying time if not for x.

Why do we Americans have such incapacity for suffering? I catch cold and I’m incapacitated for days. Fog rolls down on my mind. Once I stood for something but I no longer do—I chase anything for relief. I buy a watch imported from Switzerland. A pair of Italian leather shoes. A hunting jacket that’s dear. If I were of my grandfather’s generation I would visit the haberdashery to procure a hatbox of my own. A sniffle can be dangerous if you have a little money in your pocket.

When I was young and stupid I called myself an atheist. Even then I was more decisive than I am today. God, Abraham’s original beard, who crackles in the embers of a neverconsumed shrub. If I couldn’t hear His voice then He didn’t exist for me. If I wasn’t one of His Chosen People any belief at all was impossible.

Come closer now prodigal atheists—hear my whisper. I don’t want to convince you of the floating presence of a cartoon beard. An image of the Higher has no use when so concrete. I want you to discern your belief as clearly as a Christian’s. A little closer sweet mouse . . . let’s keep this between us. I don’t want to disgrace God and my country. You know I love them so.

God has grown weak. We are so removed from the tribesmen of Abraham that He no longer approaches us in the robes of three men to warn us of our safety. “God is dead. We have killed him”— and his absence we plated in 24 karats. The cross of history bends towards belief. You can’t disbelieve something that exists nakedly before your very eyes—and the value of currency is as invisible as gravity or God.

Nonexistence hangs heavy. Without privation there is nothing. My mother knows the weight of what’s gone—we learned the hard way. Hard life makes believers of us all.

My father thought my grandparents’ house would never sell for its unseemliness, so he tore up every tree in the yard. The white pine in the center of the front—yanked. The skinny spruce at the foot of the driveway—timber. The rosebush in the elbow between the front door and my window—everything must go.

Blue spruce on the corner of the lot. Maybe it was town ordinance but treecutters had shimmied the middle branches off so passing cars could see through. The remaining branches formed a skirt that is still dented from where it caught me as a child. In her pinecone paunch a marble rabbit crouched beside a tortoise. A fox leered down the seat that separated them.

No metaphor. No religious conversation. When my father finished clearing the estate a large stump was left and that was all.

Like the children’s book the treestump invites me to rest. I am not an old man but I need its generosity. God’s voice does not whisper through the leaves nor croak from vernal pools. It does not echo in the hollow between my eardrums. We are too distant for that.

I sit and look at my hands. They appear before me as two strange worms affixed to my body. They wriggle without permission. They clench in defense from me. I look past the foreign body I see the ravine I see the martyr trees I see the leaves of the branches of the trees. Nothing moves. Breath picks up but the world stands still.

In a single moment I float again in the blurred memory before the tree caught my fall. A woman rushes to the road and hovers around the wreck as we climb free. I do not recognize her at first—she resembles my mother only she is so much younger. There is no birdsong nor wind nor hum from the highway. Normal neighborhood sounds fold up into the skirt of the tree that’s gone.

The woman’s tears are hysterical—that’s the first thing I hear. They mingle with the machinery of the world and then life crashes back in. Blood flows down my hands a ringing splits my ears that lets me know I have returned. My mother looks like herself again—her fists beat my chest and exhort me Don’t. You. Ever. Ever. Do. That. Ever. Again.

I have felt the suck of the void. I have leavened in its peace. The lightest wind brushes me aside. The basest inconvenience. My suffering is too great! God no longer warns us of our fathers—the hats they wore, the trees they tore up.

Everything shimmers. Nothing doesn’t hurt. There is God and He is not for us.


Josh Boardman is from Michigan. He is the author of the chapbook Plantain (West Vine Press, 2018) and conducted the Latin translation project We, Romans (2015). His stories have appeared in journals such as New York Tyrant, Catapult, and Dandruff Magazine. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he is working on his first novel and a collection of stories about his hometown.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Poetry

Heroin Haibun

By Graham Irvin

An old friend of mine sold pills and snorted heroin and worked third shift at a warehouse in Salisbury. He was an okay guy. He was always around to party. And he was pretty good at skateboarding too. 

When we first met he’d just started dating this girl and was in love with her. When she was in the same room as him she sat in his lap. When she was gone he talked about her constantly. He wanted to do everything with her. He wanted to experience the outer limits of pleasure. He told me, “She put her pinky in my butt man. She was just down there playing around and it happened. And I liked it.” It surprised me. I’ll be honest. Everything else about him made me believe he wouldn’t want a pinky anywhere near his butt. He seemed like a guy who would hate the idea of a pinky in his butt. Plus he ended by saying, “I’m not gay or nothing though,” which made it all the more surprising that he told me at all. But I was happy. He was experiencing new things in life. Romantically. It seemed structurally important to him at the time. It helped him grow. 

His girlfriend cheated on him not long after that. Maybe with his roommate. I don’t remember. Once his roommate told me, before my friend found out his girl cheated on him, “Dude she was flirting with me hard when we were alone the other day. She was touching my chest and playing with my hair. It was wild.” That roommate lied a lot though. It’s hard to know what’s true. Part of me thinks the roommate just wanted people to think he could take my friend’s girl if he really tried. It was important people knew she chose the other guy only because he wasn’t interested. 

She did cheat on my friend though. I know for sure that happened because the next week he threw a big party and got super fucked up. He took his pills and snorted his heroin and took off his shift at the warehouse in Salisbury and funneled beer after beer after beer. 

That’s another thing that surprised me about my friend. He only drank beer with a beer funnel. He hated the taste of beer so bad he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Everything about a guy who sells pills and snorts heroin would make me believe he enjoyed the taste of beer. Or at least tolerated the taste of beer. I guess what I mean is he wasn’t picky about taking pills or snorting heroin so why would he need a special tool to make sure he didn’t throw up his beer? 

At the party after he got super fucked up he disappeared to his room and came back with a gun. A Glock 43 9mm. He started waving it around. Showing it to people. Putting it to his head. “Cheat on this,” he said a few times with the gun pointed at the door. As if she was on the way. He even called and put her on speakerphone. He pointed the gun at the phone. He told her to come over but someone yelled, “No.” 

Everyone had had enough. His roommate took the phone and ended the call. He took my friend aside and said, “She’s not worth it, dude. Don’t let her get to you like this. Just take the gun back to your room and go to sleep.” So my friend went back to his room and put the Glock 43 9mm under his pillow. And then he took another pill. Then he snorted some more heroin. And funneled a beer. The party continued. 

I couldn’t say where that guy is now. That wasn’t the last time I saw him. A few months later we did coke together and he kickflipped a 5 stair at the high school near his house. I still have the video on my phone. But it’s been at least 6 years since I’ve seen him. I always liked his roommate more. 

My friend with the Glock 43 9mm who sold pills and snorted heroin also had a twin brother. His brother always joked about being the more attractive twin, which pissed my friend off, but I couldn’t really tell the difference. That was probably the joke. The brother was somewhat better with women than my friend. He was a father and, though they’d divorced a year after getting married, the mother of his child was both attractive and interesting and faithful before their split. 

My friend’s brother didn’t sell pills or own a gun because, during the time I knew him, he was trying to be a good father. The mother of his kid had full custody because even though he didn’t sell pills or own a gun he did occasionally use heroin. And he shot up too. Which, though it might not seem like it, is a lot more serious in the heroin user community. Shooting heroin is serious shit. And the last time he shot up he passed out while in his car. Which rolled into another car. And the other car was a cop. My friend’s brother went to jail for a bit and decided he’d just snort heroin but in the eyes of the court that didn’t make him a better father. 

He was at the party too. The one his brother threw to get over his girlfriend. He drank some beers, normally, and took some pills and snorted some heroin but when the Glock 43 9mm came out he said something like, “hey man you know I’m on parole.” 

Last I heard his ex-wife was remarried and had another baby. His daughter would be about 10 and, whether he was still fighting for it, he did not have shared custody of her. 

But, like I said before, nothing bad happened with the gun. I’m sure if I saw him again, if he remembered me, if he’s even still alive, we could recall happily that night. The night the gun came out. Because hey, at least no one got shot. That’s got to be worth something. 


try this next time

you’re at a bar

tell a joke

to the person 

closest to you 

and if they don’t laugh 

tell them 

“I have a gun”

if the person 

at the bar 

still doesn’t laugh

tell them 

“I’m on heroin” 

if the person 

at the bar 

still isn’t laughing 

lean real close 

and say 

“my gf put her pinky

“in my butt” 


Graham Irvin lives in Philadelphia. Some of his writing has been in Joyland, The Nervous Breakdown, and Misery Tourism. His book Liver Mush was published by Back Patio Press. 

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

A 100-Foot Rabbit with Black Eyes

By Sam Berman

A normal sized rabbit gave birth to a 100-foot rabbit off Palomino Avenue. The rabbit did not come out that size. It came out little, pink and soft like something out of a magic kit. It was later the rabbit grew ten feet a week for ten weeks and then stopped growing. Naturally, the German shepherds in the neighborhood were concerned. As were the pit bulls, the border collies, and the little dog that belonged to the cop’s girlfriend down the street, Chewy, who had lost a paw when the lady’s boyfriend before the cop backed his motorcycle down their long, turning driveway and ran it over.  

Your dog had recently passed so you didn’t mind the rabbit so much. 

Your wife and kids felt different.

“It could kill us,” your wife said while she scrolled on her phone.

“So could a killer,” you said, in that dickish way you tended to offer up. 

The rabbit, you thought, was cool. Was exciting. And your wife had slept with Jesse Fali, who she knew from doing A Raisin in the Sun at summer stock in the Berkshires, and Jesse wrote scripts for zombie show where the real monsters ended up being the humans all along––so, yes, in a way––in your little-bit-of-a-dickish way, you liked that your wife was scared of the 100-rabbit off Palomino Avenue. 

Your daughter though—the one you really understand–you hate that she hated the rabbit. Even though it really wasn’t the sight of the rabbit. No. It was…well, she couldn’t stand the extra noise. She hated extra noise, loud noise, any noise. And that summer was already so loud. 

With the wailing of the good and bad summer bugs.   

The motorcycles popping off Hudson Street. 

And the rabbit: with his deep breaths on those hot, cloudless days. Certainly, even you could admit that his sneezes were unpleasant. All those different types of 100-foot rabbit sneezes: the sneezes like a flood siren; the sneezes like the sudden of a bullwhip; and that sneeze, once, so loud, you feared the earth finally cracked and broke open, and you were too late to save your family from the ground widening below them. 

Before the rabbit you had a simple thing going. Once: a bumble bee landed on your daughter’s birthday cake. Always: your foot doctor had elegant handwriting. And from time-to-time: there was lightning you could smell through the screen window. Having once lived as badly as you once lived, you began to take such delight in your new and unspectacular life. Being boring felt so good to you; paying the hundred and twenty-nine dollars a month so that your kids could enjoy Menard’s effortless green grass; all the cable channels you never even clicked on; and DraftKings loaded onto your cellphone so you could bet college football with your brother every Saturday.   

In the early mornings–before you left for work and before your wife slept with Jesse Fali– she would kiss your forehead. “Come home rich or don’t come home at all,” she’d say with her soft, sleepy laugh. And you’d always hated that joke so much. You had. Because you never really did feel like quite enough. Or you felt like she felt like she deserved a good deal more than you. And it didn’t help that before the twins were born your wife had left you a letter in the bathroom that either a friend, or a lover, or her sister had insisted she write. The letter explained that you were a good man, but not a man of consequence in the ways that really mattered. And that you could not excite her in ways she really wanted to be excited. And that you could not look at her in the ways she dreamt of being looked at–you could not see her how she needed to be seen. 

But then you had the girls

And your wife didn’t leave. 

And you two never spoke about the letter.  

And so soon later the girls had turned ten: and you were watching them try on different styles of swimsuits in the basement in an attempt to create some type of water scene.

They told you they were making a mermaid movie. 

Having just seen a mermaid movie themselves the night prior. 

They offered: that mermaid movies were the future of movies, and you needed to watch them make their movie because you’d seen movies and understand how they were supposed to look. 

“Watch,” they kept telling you. “Watch us.” 

Their beach towels unfurled in separate corners of the basement. 

Their big pillows taped with magazine covers like shark fins.

“Ten more minutes,” you’d told them. “Then it’s sleep.” 

But the girls didn’t listen. Because no one ever listened; the shoe-worn carpet in the living room was proof of that. You would not un-often curse yourself for not having the big men that came in to refinish the fireplace remove their shoes before working. You’d asked them politely once or twice to remove their boots, and once or twice they had over the course of that week. But then they didn’t. They stopped. You didn’t ask again because you just wanted the men to go. So, there was a track, thinned like the path of well-used hiking trail. The worn nylon carpet proof like a boot against your throat, that you weren’t the kind of man that other men had interest in listening to. 

The building was only a half mile away so you and the girls would walk over. It was one of your grand, splendid plans: to teach them something about civil service. About the love of thy neighbor. On the walk you’d ask the girls questions about their friends and their school and their futures. And before long the three of you would be in front of the brick building with the gray sign and the almost-yellow letters that read: Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.


Because you understood the magic of an empty interstate: in the winter you’d take your breaks at Southland Oasis, a doughnut shop above the snowy highway. You would drink your coffee with Hari, whose chewed-up work pants made a funny sound as he talked about the president, about NATO forces and kill squads, and then bemoaned the immiseration of the middle class and explained that taxes–property and income–in other countries would be an act of war! A call to arms! The final treason of a failing democracy.

In truth, Hari had been your sponsor during the tough years. And he’d gotten you this job that wasn’t great but was still a job. And you had love for Hari, because even though he primarily only talked to you about his talk-radio insanities, that didn’t change the fact that the night you were in that parking garage off Lawrence, your kit fully loaded, your arm tied off and your main-vein purple and begging for some action, it was Hari you called. Hari. And it was Hari who came down and took you to the diner across from the post office. He told you the government was subsidizing the growth of Hormone imbalanced eggs. Which made you laugh right then so loud that you didn’t even notice he was crushing your kit with his boot under the table.


It was Hari who kept you laughing long enough to keep you alive.

“The end of Babylon,” Hari would say, a semitruck passing underfoot.   

“Maybe,” you’d say. “Maybe…But, then what is it we’re doing…working at the toll booths?” 

“Not work,” Hari would reply, thinking, blinking, gulping. “We’re in the first wave, buddy.” 


When the rabbit first grew tall, the news cameras came. As did the government scientists with their walkie talkies, their calipers, their shiny tranquilizer guns with exacting red dots that glowed on top of their barrels. They did not shoot the rabbit, electing to instead bring in a crane and build the scaffolding right there in the middle of the lawn.

They shined floodlights in the rabbit’s eyes. 

They shooed away chimney bats that had snuck in beneath the rabbit’s big ears. 

They found and then brought in a stethoscope the size of a dinnerplate and listened to the thrum of his big rabbit heart.   

Of course, some people came and prayed. 

It only made sense that the rabbit must be God. 

At the very least a godsend.

After a year or so, the rabbit no longer seemed to be a cool thing. At first, you liked that the rabbit struck fear in your wife–who’d slept with Jesse Fali, and who needed to be punished–but after a string of panic attacks for which you had to take her to the emergency room at Saint Joseph’s, you were past the retribution phase of her infidelity, now there was only the painful part; the part where maybe-it-was-a-little-bit-your-fault part.

The meaty part. 

Everything about the 100-foot rabbit became quite a nuisance: the sight of the rabbit, the thought of the rabbit, the rabbit’s sneezes that rattled the wine glasses. Everything. All of it. You

were over it. He was now just some big dumb thing that kept the girls awake. And–and! Another thing you hadn’t anticipated was how the 100-foot rabbit had invited the hopeful: arriving with their prayer beads and wax candles bearing the image of Saint Guadalupe. You hated how crowded the block had become, all with people all waiting for the rabbit to do something. To reveal some 100-foot rabbit revelation: a mass healing, or a mass punishment. With their wheelchairs leaving tracks across your lawn. And your garbage bin already full of used medical supplies––evidence that the sick that had begun squatting in your alleyway, your bushes––as you struggled to find a resting spot for your empty milk jug amongst the overfilled colostomy bags, needle plungers, and adult diapers side-spun into neat bushels. Up against a single trash bin you saw a prosthetic leg with the sock and sneaker still on the foot. There were faded stickers lining the thigh of the leg, mostly of breweries and alehouses from a town outside of Dallas. Whoever’s leg it was had come a long way; a long to see a rabbit. It went on this way for many more months, almost a year.

But in the end the rabbit did nothing.

No healing. No, he only blinked.   

Berkshire Hathaway bought the rabbit, okay. 

And no one was allowed to touch or look or speak to the rabbit. There was a sign. Motion lights. Security cameras just in case the high school kids came by with their spray-paint. 


Now, even though it’s forbidden to deviate from the planned route, when you and the girls volunteer to walk the blind, you will sometimes walk whatever student you are assigned to that day to the corner opposite the 100-foot rabbit. Young or old, you have the girls take them by the hand as you explain the rabbit’s eyes are black like river stones. Like whirlpools at midnight. And then you tell your student that the rabbit never really moves. You tell him he just stands like an uninterested goliath, the sun and wind and birds taking turns moving over him. You say, “You’re really not missing a single thing with this fucker. Not a thing.”  You explain that all he does is just stand, pretty much still unless he’s sneezing, and that all the people that come to watch him do the same thing: they stand, pretty much still behind the wire fence that Berkshire Hathaway has installed and watch him. You offer the insight that, “Maybe the rabbit is more a statue… a totem. Maybe one day he’ll just kill us all.” And then you go on to explain to your student about your wife–and how you still, unfortunately, love her. And how she wakes up crying from the middle of her dreams and tells you that in the dream, which is actually more of a nightmare, that the rabbit has turned on her, on you, on the kind and simple denizens of your town. 

Then you ask the blind student––while your daughters practice their somersaults on the lawn behind you––really, what kind of God would ultimately betray us? Not that you believe in God, but if there is one–what the heck? This is how he spends his time? Just asking the questions makes you wonder why you no longer get asked to play harmonica with Victor’s band at The Catbird on Fridays? Did you do something? 

Did you bother someone? You tell your student, “Shot glasses had been broken at The Catbird. Pool cues had been spun and snapped and guitar players’ girlfriends had stormed out raging and tearful. It was The Catbird. A rock-n-roll club, man. Antics were part of the job description!”

Your student holds his hands over his eyes and lets out a huffing noise. 

You continue: “Really, what had I done?” 

“I don’t know man,” says your student. “I wasn’t there.” 

“Am I that truly unlovable to this big fucking world?” 

You both stand in silence, the sun beating down on your bare necks. 

High above the shambling oak trees, the rabbit looms like some wonderous bug from a prehistoric or alien world. He blinks and you can see a quiver between his eyes like the way the daughter you know best sometimes quivers between her eyes before she starts crying. Behind the rabbit there are still no clouds, but two gentle contrails where the Air Force pilots had been just a few minutes before. Your student sighs once more. Once more. Then Your daughters yell, “Look at these,” And then tumble forward into a small clearing, laying on their backs as their dizziness subsides. 

“Maybe the rabbit is here for blood,” says your student, wiping sweat from his chin. “To dwell is so pointless. But now I’m hot and I’m tired, man. I just want to get back. Walk me half-way, okay man? I’ll go the rest of the way on my own.”


Sam Berman is a short story writer who lives in Chicago and works at Lake Front Medical with Nancy & Andrew & Reuben. They are terrific coworkers. He has had his work published in Maudlin House, The Masters Review, D.F.L. Lit, Hobart, Illuminations, The Fourth River, Smokelong Quarterly, and recently won Forever Magazine’s Unconventional Love Stories competition. He was selected as runner-up in The Kenyon Review’s 2022 Non-Fiction Competition as well as short listed for the 2022 Halifax Ranch prize and the ILS Fiction Prize. He has forthcoming work in Expat Press, Craft Magazine and Rejection Letters, among others.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

An Average Jukebox in the Outskirts of the Biggest Little City in the World

By Aaron Burch, D.T. Robbins, and Kevin Maloney


I knew soon as I saw him this guy was going to give me trouble. Same as I knew soon as X told me about James at work they were going to have an affair; same as I knew my dad would be of no help when I called for advice but I did anyway, if only so I could feel mad at him instead of myself; same as I knew soon as the guy at REI started answering my questions about which tent was best I’d buy whichever one he recommended, same as I knew I’d never take that tent out of its box but I liked the idea of myself as a guy who threw a tent into his trunk and set out on an adventure and I was toying with the idea of becoming different ideas of myself; same as I knew it was a bad idea to go to that ATM back near the bathrooms and withdraw as much it would let me, same as I knew I would lose it all same as I’d lost everything I’d walked into the casino with but, fuck it, why give up on letting things go now; same as I knew soon as I saw this bar from the road that nothing good could come from stopping here, same I knew they’d have my heartsongs on the jukebox, and that was what I needed — not a new tent, not some emotional fatherly advice, not one more turn as shooter while everyone around the table cheered me on, but a little time in a dive bar in a town I’d never been in finding new ways to lose things I didn’t know I had.

I ordered a bourbon and coke, threw it back like it was a shot, set the glass down on the counter like placing a baby bird back in the nest it fell out of. Ordered another, carried it with me to the juke. 

He was already there, like waiting for me. And he was first, fine, whatever. It’s true. No big deal. I just wanted to queue up something next, before anyone else got in line or he loaded up a whole night’s worth. It’s happened before. Next thing you know, it’s last call and you never even got your songs, just threw away more money at problems that never went away. So, sure, I looked over his shoulder, but I wasn’t trying to monitor his choices or anything. I didn’t give a shit what he played, but I was curious. Couldn’t help myself. Curiosity killed the growing pile of bad ideas, I guess. 

This guy turned around, saw me spying.

“You have a problem, shithead?”

“I’ve got lots of problems,” I said. I wasn’t trying to be clever. It just came out. I think I’d been needing to hear myself say it out loud. For someone else to hear me say it. To make my confession.

“This will help you feel better,” the guy said, and gave me the most sincere, genuine smile I could remember being on the receiving end of. It broke my heart.

I looked at the juke, and at the very instant I saw that he’d cued up “Scar Tissue,” I heard him say, “People can say whatever they want, but John Frusciante is the heart and soul of the Chili Peppers.”

Jesus goddam fuckin’ shit. A Frusciante guy? 


I was sitting at the bar, drinking my third or fourth pint since the doctors pumped the Vicodin and Smirnoff out of my stomach. I’d just gotten out of the hospital. Technically, I wasn’t discharged. My right arm still had a plastic tube coming out of it. It was dribbling blood all over the counter. It didn’t matter. The patron to my left kept flicking a cigarette lighter under his knuckle hair, and the bartender, from what I’d overheard, had a warrant out for his arrest for armed robbery. This was the kind of establishment where a little blood on the counter was expected. 

I noticed a jukebox in the corner and recalled an article I’d read recently while doing a stint in Washoe County Penitentiary. It was about the healing power of music. A team of sadists masquerading as scientist had cut the arms and legs off a hundred innocent geckos, then measured their ability to regenerate limbs while listening to Mozart. Their conclusion was that Mozart helped. The scientists received an award. Not a word about the havoc they’d wreaked on those terrified amphibians.

I needed something like that. Not Mozart, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In particular, the song where Anthony Kiedis sings about living under a bridge shooting heroin all day, then gets an idea and puts a sock on his penis and becomes a millionaire with a house in Malibu and six model girlfriends. I wondered if something like that could happen to me.

I walked over to the jukebox and was fishing around in my hospital gown, hoping to find some money, when a guy in a Seattle Mariners cap walked up behind me and breathed down my exposed neck like he was going to goose me or jam a knife into my kidney.

I spun around and said, “You gotta problem, shithead?”

“I have a lot of problems,” he said, wiping his nose.

I laughed. He was clean-shaven and wearing Blundstones. He had all his teeth. The only problem he had was deciding whether to spend his ill-gotten tech money on cryptocurrency or at an all-inclusive eco-resort in Papua New Guinea.

“Well, this’ll make you feel better,” I said and queued up “Scar Tissue” on the Wurlitzer. I stood back triumphantly, but I hadn’t put any money in it. The machine only responded to capitalist contributions. 

I tried to explain my situation… about Mozart and geckos and John Frusciante, who spent a decade shooting heroin and talking to ghosts, then got sober and recorded the greatest album of all time. 

Seattle wasn’t listening. He pushed past me, dropped a quarter in the jukebox, and pressed a series of buttons that summoned “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer. 

There have been many terrible songs written by many terrible bands since man first banged two stones together and called it music, but somehow this Bitcoin bro picked the worst one. 

Bad feelings seized me. I remembered the hospital giving me medicine that was supposed to make me sleepy, but I was seized by a tremendous energy. I grabbed an empty bottle off a nearby table and cracked it over Seattle’s head.

Instead of falling to the floor like a regular person, he just stood there staring at me, trying to fathom what had happened. He opened his mouth to say something as blood ran into his eye. 

“You cock-rock motherfucker,” he whispered and took a swing. 

It was the strangest thing. I dodged his punch, but the drugs I was on made it so that only my mind moved to the left, while my body remained in place. My face took the full force of the punch. I watched myself fall to the floor.

Seattle started dancing. He was completely insane. Maybe he had real problems after all.

III. Imprints of Others

After too much codeine, the original owner of the bar fell asleep at the wheel and barreled into a center divider. When his wife signed the bar over to me, she lamented he was unconscious as the flames ate him away. Some women want you to die twice. Some men deserve it. If you ask my ex, she’d concur I was one of them. Long story short, I steer clear of Jacksonville. 

These days, the bar is a mural of hopelessness. From the cigarette ash and spilt beer on the counter to the sawdust and dried blood on the floor, this pocket universe is a meat grinder. Yet, desperate souls flood this place every night aiming to untether themselves from fear and insecurity and other lower vibrations and touch something eternal. Not a church or a synagogue or the YMCA. Here. A bar that hasn’t changed the urinal cakes in…who knows how long.

Take these two incandescent assholes for example. 

I watched the redhead in the hospital gown spill bare-assed through the doors. He clambered up the barstool and asked for a craft beer. I said we have one IPA. He wanted a taster. It missed his mouth entirely, trickled down his chin like a child at a water fountain. He ordered two pints. He had no money, but I’m the patron saint of the downtrodden. For the next hour or so, he conversed solely with the demons in his mind. 

When Mr. Seattle walked through the doors, he looked both ways like he was crossing the fucking road. He ordered a bourbon and coke. No lime. I left two in a shot glass anyhow. When life loses its flavor, I guess it doesn’t matter, does it?

They waltzed around the jukebox, squaring one another up. Under the neon glow of the Bud Light sign, I guessed the redhead was either smiling or baring teeth. Mr. Seattle dropped a quarter in, and some song started playing. I don’t much hear the music anymore. Everything outside of Molina and Hank sounds like broken bottles and muffled sobbing. 

A bottle rained down over someone’s head and another person’s fist cracked across the other person’s face. The redhead crumbled like a paper man. Mr. Seattle stood triumphant until a shard of glass went into his calve. He watched blood seep through his khakis like it was happening to someone else. He slunk onto the redhead. They rolled around on the ground like two virgins fucking for the first time. 

Mr. Seattle screamed, “You ruined everything!” 

The redhead went, “I am the eater of worlds!” 

Mr. Seattle yanked what looked to be an IV tube out of the redhead’s arm. Blood sprayed like a geyser. The redhead laughed, maniacal and free. Mr. Seattle got blood in his eye, which accelerated his pure fucking rage. His arms became windmills, missing most of the shots but landing a few that made the redhead go cross-eyed. Still, the redhead seemed to be enjoying himself—ass hanging out, covered in blood and beer, shouting about doing heroin under a bridge. The rest of the bar, its beautiful spectators of brave men who put a single arm out in front of the women for a feigned sense of protection, nodded their heads from the fight to me, the fight to me, the fight to me. I can never have my own problems. Everyone else has to lump their fucking issues in too. 

I grabbed them by their clothes and met their eyes. The redhead was dazed. Mr. Seattle blubbered. 

“Take this shit outside,” I said, “and work it out. Or don’t fucking come back.” 

As I locked the front door at closing, they were sat on the curb outside, sharing a forty and a pack of smokes. 

A bar is least lonely when there’s no one in it but you. There are imprints of others who were there before. Memories. Good, evil, human. At some point these memories transmogrify into one being. One ghost. I’ve been riding with the ghost. I’ve been doing whatever he told me.


Aaron Burch, D.T. Robbins, and Kevin Maloney’s collective top three favorite books of the last year are (in alphabetical order) Birds Aren’t Real, The Red-Headed Pilgrim, and Year of the Buffalo.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction


By Mike Wheaton

Today, as always, I passed the Walmart, Sam’s Club, Lowe’s, Chipotle, and Starbucks just before turning into the parking lot of my one-building community college campus. It’s in a part of Orlando called Lake Nona™. The trademark symbol is real. If I kept driving, I’d pass the high school next to a middle school next to an elementary school next to a Publix shopping center. Hitting a third straight red light, I stuck my hand out the window and wondered if writing a book about my inescapable consumer semi-reality might be my ticket to another school back up north with old buildings and historical plaques next to the doorways.

I’m taking a break from grading in my office on campus now. I made my first-year writing students take a position on the packet of questionable discourse I provided about how—or to what extent, if any—addictive social media use on smartphones plays a role in mental health. Most of their theses so far claim that, basically, the role is huge and the effect is bad. Even with sources to use, as their papers go on, the evidence is mostly anecdotal: it hurts when they share and don’t get many likes, or when others share something and do get hundreds of likes, or when they compare themselves to the curated surface life of the people in posts with hundreds of likes, or those whose numbers extend into the thousands. They feel worse still when they post more in attempt to make up for the disparity and get fewer likes than before in return.

My office on campus has a window. I used to be a substitute teacher, and somehow my much better job is still not enough for me. I sit in my swivel chair with this document on the screen and I’m looking outside at the Applebee’s—oh wait, that’s a Chili’s—and I’m remembering the time I took over a seventh-grade English class for three weeks twelve years ago. This was home in Jersey, before I moved again to Florida. Middle schoolers didn’t have social media accounts then. One day the lesson plan prompted me to teach a short story about kids during the Civil War who pretended to be older so they could fight for their side. They were seeking glory, the idea of which had been propagandized on both sides. The students had trouble understanding this. Why would they sign up to die like that

I said, Let’s do a poll. How many of you want to be famous one day? Every damn hand in the room shot up. Now keep your hand up if you believe you will become famous. The hands didn’t budge, fingers reaching to the ceiling. 

Out the window of my office, I can’t quite see the manmade lake from which this part of the city took its trademark. They’re building a fresh Holiday Inn in my sightline. Now I’m thinking about the class period earlier in the semester before the discourse packet, when I asked for how many students is their smartphone the last thing they see before they sleep and the first thing they see when they wake. Every damn hand in the room shot up. 

In this same class, when I asked the students to fill out a form about the credibility and usefulness of a source, a quarter of the students wrote down the number of views a video had on YouTube or the number of shares it received on Twitter. I didn’t even take off points. I get the confusion. I make my little note in the feedback. I know how students can be about their grades. The numbers, more than anything, matter. The numbers, they’re told, are revealing to people with powerful opinions. They don’t matter, except of course they do, because a while ago people decided they did, and it’s probably too late to change since it’s easier to try getting the right numbers or settle into whatever other people believe the numbers do reveal about you. 

My phone buzzes face-down on my desk. Little Apple logo shining at me. I flip it—a screen of notifications: missed FaceTime, Amazon receipt in my Gmail, new Bank of America offer, a few likes on Twitter, someone going live on Instagram, a prompt for food from Uber Eats, an episode of Filmspotting for download, a trade in my ESPN fantasy league. I’m struck for a moment by how much my phone screen looks like Lake Nona™, or how much Lake Nona™ looks like my phone screen. All the squares of logos. Disney World, after all, is only fifteen miles west. But I remember, too, years ago when Amy and I rented a room in the lower east side of Manhattan for three weeks. One night, a local told us that decades ago this part of the city was littered with needles on the streets and creeps walking in the shadows, and now cleaned up and sold off, it’s a tourist town. I mean, we were vacationing there. He kind of missed the needles. 

Years later, Amy and I bought a single-family pitch-roofed ranch in a part of Orlando with streets that wind through tunnels of live oaks. It predates Disney and affordable AC. When we first drove through, looking for a home, Amy said, I love it. It’s so Old Florida. Each neighborhood in the suburb looked as if preserved from the late 1950’s. The super-highways rumbled farther up the main roads. I liked the area too. It did seem more authentic, but in the context of this sprawl, it was just another brand to choose. 

Class in five. I’m not prepared. I can’t write a book about the inescapability of consumer semi-reality anyway without misplacing value on the number of people who, if they don’t buy it, at least know I did. And what to say about the fact really? Congrats, there is quite possibly no such thing as history except what sold. Go for the glory. Quantify me. Inflate my grade.


Michael Wheaton’s writing has appeared in Essay Daily, DIAGRAM, Bending Genres, Rejection Letters, HAD, and other online journals. He edits Autofocusand hosts its podcast, The Lives of Writers. Find links and more at

Issue 0 Issue 0 Poetry


By Grace Jordan

Whatever this place is that I return to sometimes


The flat cracked clay bed baking in the sun place 

Whatever this place is that I wake in on unexpected mornings 

The walled in, lean to forced hole walking in circles place 

Whatever this place is that grips me with its gnarled joints and rotting tongue

The hold my breath under dirt in my nails, scratched in my skin place

Whatever this place is screen on screens in bugs, ants crawling in cracks 

The baseball field, library, snack stand, dance class, place

Whatever this place is happened in the car, on the bed and down the drain

The mall parking lot, June street, 2nd floor brownstone, Extended stay, barricades, place

Whatever this place is, I’d like to invite you in. 


Grace Jordan is an essayist, and playwright who lives in Hell’s Kitchen. Grace’s play Moses was a two-time semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.

@gracejordyjordy on TikTok. @gracewritesdrama on Instagram, @gcwritesdrama on Twitter,

Issue 0 Issue 0 Poetry

The October House

By Sophia Popovska

In the evening you pick up your prayer from the bedside.

“Are you still here?” It stops at the ceiling.

Too far away.

The house you built makes a dull sound, barely audible.

The house you built makes an autumn sound.

The sky closes slowly, and so the trees stop reaching for it.

The sky holds back a mountain breath.

Winter comes, soft and waiting.

You pick up your dreams from the pillow. The same dreams.

In your dream, when you turn around, she is still behind you.

But always blurrier.

In your room is the body of the days. It is a sick room.

It is the sick eye of the house.

Your house makes a sound of hurting.

The neighbors hear it and look up at the window where it is wounded.


Sophia Popovska is a North Macedonian poet/translator based in Germany. Her other work can be found in the blog section of Asymptote Journal, Circumference Magazine, Expat Press, and Misery Tourism.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Poetry


By Alan Ten-Hoeve

He leaned over the rickety card table.

Rolled a Ball jar up the flattened tube of Crest.

Trying to extract anything that he might have missed the night before.

He’d bought the toothpaste four months earlier.

The day he moved into the monthly room after being kicked out of his house.

Exiled from the only life he’d known the last 18 years.

It’s temporary, he told himself.

A trial separation.

They would still see each other.

Date nights, she called it.

Things would work out.

They had to.


As time dragged he watched the tube of toothpaste get thinner.

But he knew it would be silly to buy another.

He didn’t want to have to pack more than he had to when she asked him to move back home.

Date nights turned out to be mostly lunches.

He’d bring sandwiches to the house.

Sometimes they’d eat hurriedly and watch tv.

Sometimes they’d argue between bites, then wrap the half eaten food in wax paper. 

For later.

She was always distant.



And physically.

Even on good days.

One afternoon she was flipping channels and he pat the space on the couch beside him.

The universal gesture to move closer.

She turned her head.

Fixed him with icy blue eyes that were once warm.

Said, I’m fine where I am.

Not long after she said it just wasn’t going to work.

He asked for more time.

She ignored his texts.

He wrote sweet letters.


Complimented her beauty.

Her clothes.

Her fragrance.

Her everything.

If she only knew how much he cared.

Eventually he couldn’t squeeze anything out of the tube of toothpaste.

Not by rolling it up.

Not by squeezing with his fingers.

Or his palms.

Or his fists.

But he knew there was more.

There had to be.

The jar helped.

And he managed to stretch the tube out.

A few days turned into a week

Two weeks.

He was amazed with his ingenuity.

People all around the world were tossing out a fortune in toothpaste everyday.

For a while it seemed like this could go on indefinitely.

But now he couldn’t even produce enough to scrape out of the nozzle.

He put more weight on the jar.

Grunted with the effort.

Sweat broke out on his face.


Then an idea struck him like a bolt of lightning.

He felt so stupid.

Why hadn’t he thought of this before?

He would send her flowers.


Alan ten-Hoeve wrote Notes from a Wood-Paneled Basement (Gob Pile Press)  and Burn (KLR10 Malarkey Books). Tweets @alantenhoeve

Issue 0 Issue 0 Poetry

Landscape Poems

By Lauren Napier

Reading Maps

There are things about my fingers that i used to know better

Because they touched maps more often 

i used to know what an inch was

Based on the length of my own thumb:

Tip of my thumb to the joint

He used to know the map as well as the palm of his hand

The distance between joint and nail tip 

that marked 500 miles in his rearview 

500 miles closer to the ever-moving destination

tonight : there 

tomorrow : there

And Here never being a sure point 

ever-treading beneath his tires 

He used to know the map as well as the palm of his hand 

before he stopped looking at his fingers 

and seeking the horizon of the what’s next


Lady Justice

In this town, Justice does not wear a blindfold

Untethered by a cloth of mere thread

She can see the pleas of both meek and bold 

So Her gaze, rightly so, inspires great dread 

The limbs of folly and the whims of humans 

Subliminal threads of greed and Gold 

not much avoids her earthly sermons

Her judgements they are bought and sold 

Here she stands of stone in the desert wind 

Lording over a dusty dry land 

Not much remains in the soil of her kin 

But civil war costumes at her left hand 

A land forgotten and asking just to blossom

Within Justice‘s parched and marble pale bosom. 



Nine goldfinches flitted about the feeder
Their song interlacing with the waves in the bay
Salt on the porch furniture slats
Salt along a cheekbone
As I went to make soup
The rim of the colander was exactly the width of a chickpea
Making a wooden spoon an impossible instrument for transferring garbanzos
from stove to pot
And the holes of the strainer were too big to hold the alphabet
T’s and i’s falling uncrossed and undotted toward the drain
As a gasp of loss is too big to be held by a body’s frame
Letters and oxygen both struggle to stay inside

Today I learned that there are no kites sold on the islands of Hawaii
Volcanic winds indifferent to their course and flight
I thought about how colorful carry-ons from the mainland could inspire jealousy in children’s eyes
And tears fell from mine as
the goldfinch greedily squawked at the crow with a beak filled with shrimp tails:
The neighborhood trash
“If you pulled it out, you can toss it back in.”
The sea is a cyclical thing

A gasp without exhalation is taken
silenced by a grey-skied exhale
A stifled oroboros
Heavy with a rift in her heart
A pebbly beach
free of sea detritus
and a volcanic shoreline
full of colors in flight
Would be a welcomed exchange
To see you again in tomorrow’s night.


An elegy for renamed lands

I long to know the sound of cracked mud spoken in the land’s native tongue 

speckled pink with turquoise for eyes 

blue stone birthed when water mingled with earthly tears 

ever-changing mirroring the hues of the earth a reflection of the changing temperament of humans 

laden with the excessive saliva produced every time the land has been renamed

these bastardizations are mispronounced 

Tread upon 

the saliva that shifts from the inside of one cheek to another 

Veiny flash glistening with a gasp

cocked head

as the tire bumps the thud ignored wholly 

30 miles later 

3 1/2 hours passed


it’s 2:02 there’s a pheasant on the side of the road

Route 2 

Has two white lines proving a protective boundary 

cast by the county planner 

salted in winter reinforcing the lines 

wings outstretched catching the last of the days light 

the last of the preserved feathers 

the fingertips of the

Of the sun’s rays almost as thin as the narrow primary 

dying dry dead 

once the lands shone proud under their rightful names 

Glottal stops empowered in buttes 

canyons and chasms 

and then the snow started to fall 


Erasing nature’s spoiled Canvas 

feather pressed between the pages of the atlas spit upon thumb and forefinger 

moistly turning the pages

Tires moving forward 

Memory and feather preserved


whatever is in a name?

Strange barren terrain 

Absent of a flag 

Shall not remain unnamed for long

For land cannot be mapped until it is claimed 

Is not found until it is seen by human eyes 

Topographical existence upon flimsy paper legitimizing the physical 

Paper made from the trees that sit upon the land in question

The land questioned

The question of how can anyone own the land 

Is there a contract written in cloud wisps

Bequeathing grains of sand and blades of grass

To the careless undersigned

Who has become the witless undertaker 

For the undertaking 

Man wields his pen at 

Mother Earth

A convoluted inversion of Oedipus’ plight 

The lain and the slain at his feet 

Metal ballpoint tip – cold and sterile against the living paper

Ink scratching the texture

Skyscrapers pierce the sky 

Fingernails scrape skin

The paper dissolves in a summer rain storm 

Crumbled in the branches’ fingers

And offered to the omniscient sky

Fates sealed

Time elapsed 

Earth warming with a slowly boiling shame 

Of being convinced

Someone else could be her steward

Glaciers melting in her angry gaze

She longingly whispers to those who used to tread here

Those who honored the space surrounding 

Instead of trampling 

Who moved as a part of the seasons and wind 

Rather than rooting moving feet and setting themselves apart 

Layering cement over the soil

But a whisper is hard to hear over the landscape‘s swan song 

That plays in harmony with mankind‘s reveille


Lauren Napier is a multi-disciplined artist from Washington State. You can find her on tour or on twitter @punkrockdoll

Issue 0 Issue 0 Non-Fiction

Just Once Before I Die

By Jillian Luft

Imagine me, swinging in a slip dress in the ephemeral cool of fall, Payless combat boots grazing the playground dirt. Trying to make it make sense, trying to slow it all down. But no matter how much my legs might flail, I yearn to reach new heights. No matter what my eyes might beg, I don’t wanna come to rest. Big Red stings the shine of my cupid’s bow, soft matte brown and lined and never been kissed. But not for long. Sunflowers perfume saturates my scrunchie, making you go harder and harder with one long whiff. Who you are doesn’t quite matter although I like to think it’s you, the one who dated my blonde friend, the 8th grade homecoming queen, the sweet one saving the whales with her smile alone. I like to think it’s you, the one who sang Faith No More songs no one knew and had the facial structure of a late seventies poet. I hope it’s you when the sun spirals away in those still moments before our parents’ punch the clock and we go faster and faster until we both can’t stop.

Imagine me, a girl on the outside. No walls for her to slump against in her imperfect loneliness, no pillows to muffle her screams, to writhe against with want. She no longer needs that kind of comfort. She’s out at the bus stop now looking at the passing cars as detours into PG-13 danger while the bus stop boys salivate and try to stuff their memories of her in their pockets to inspect closely later. She notices but can’t care about what they’ll do with her and those daydream distortions of her naked skin and whatever else they perceive on her as budding and blazing. She’s got bigger things to do in this big, bad world, like whatever she wants. And the next car that slows will ride her off to her next core memory, her next big mistake, her next lesson learned, her next favorite thing further and further away from those defining wounds that reside somewhere deep, deep, deep.

Don’t remember me pre-packaged in the same tight jeans and baby tees as the rest, rendered unworthy of French kissing by SLAM Book criteria, subject to the whims of boys with sweat stains on the inside of their baseball brims and pot leaf pendants jostling against their baby bird chests. Boys who, when they felt generous, rated me a 7.5 with a “pretty cute” or “decent” next to the score. After all, they weren’t total monsters. I was cool; I wasn’t a total dog. My stacked friends with the good hair and real curves were easy 9.5s and 10s with vivid descriptions of their attributes. A robust lexicon devoted to puberty’s great gamble. When those boys were honest–or I’d failed to impress them with my extensive knowledge of pop culture—I earned a solid 6. My stacked friends tried to reassure me, tried their best not to gloat but failed. Their eyes twinkled with ego while they squinted into the shine of my braces. Oh, don’t worry, Jilly, 6 is average, above actually because 5.5 is the median of 10. (The SLAM Book was always shared during Algebra for some reason). Yet, I recognized the rock-hard truth and let it pummel me for the rest of my life. The disturbing open secret that average was worse than ugly. Natural beauty, so close and still so far out of reach. A possibility, no matter how slim, that you couldn’t attain because of physical flaw(s) you, and you alone, failed at obscuring. To be average was to know that your efforts at self-improvement sucked.

I blamed my dead mom and her sisters who abandoned me once she was nothing more than ashes buried beside a pretty beach. If they weren’t gonna stick around, the least they could have done was teach me a cosmetic trick or two. An eye makeup hack for the helpless, the pathetically orphaned by feminine wisdom. Helped me delude others so I could delude myself. 

Don’t remember me, thirteen and motherless, showered and anointed with Victoria’s Secret Freesia lotion, pleading each night with whatever presided on high, most likely some supernal version of a man, for a bigger ass while MTV Jams flashed across my dark bedroom walls like horny hymns to a perverse God who could grant me the one wish that mattered: being a bonafide rump shaker. By spring, I’d manifested my desired derriere and did not care what dark pact I may have made.

I had an ass.

A plumper, thicker and much more prominent ass than that of most girls. It was the stuff of booty bass sonnets. It was noticed. And by default, so was I. Prayers answered, I paid my penance, yanking off willing boys in the woods, anticipating transcendence, hoping to be reborn as something more than a good laugh. But it was better to be a punchline than to never make them laugh at all. At least, I earned a natural reaction. A reaction of any kind.

Imagine me under the bleachers, drinking brown bag hooch, husky voice booming, I don’t care what you do to me. Whatever you do to me has been done and I’ve probably done it better myself.

Imagine me, my smallest skirt snagging on the windowsill, sneaking into a house I’ve never seen when the sun shines and will never remember again. Imagine older men in there, but not too much older, old enough to be dead to their ambitions but still alive enough to what a youthful touch can provide, willing to entertain the husk of me between games of Mario Kart, weak bong rips and pulls of Rumple Minze. Imagine them not crossing lines without my limp go-ahead. Imagine that being enough. 

Imagine me telling my hometown punk rock heartthrob the truth that one night he drove me and my friend to Denny’s and asked me who I wanted to fuck so badly in our school it hurt. Like so badly it was painful. Imagine me cackling from the backseat, it’s you, you asshole, and you know it and that’s why you’re asking. And instead of taking me and my friend back to his house where his old-looking dad sat alone in a tiled room with the good china and a muted blue TV and we strutted on past and waited in his bedroom that was so sparse it looked staged for an open house as he showered for a good half hour, my friend and I giggling at our good fortune for not having a ride home from the mall until he finally emerged, muttonchops dripping, towel loose around his scrawn bod perched on the edge of his bed like such a fragile, harmless thing, big hands playing treacly acoustic renditions of Sunny Day Real Estate that he thought would get us wet as he was, he had dropped my friend off, skipped the shower and the emo theatrics and fucked me plain and silly until he took the pain away for both of us. Imagine that. 

Imagine me telling all the dreamy alt-boys working in the food court at Gyros-n-More what I was willing to do to them, how I wanted to climb over the counter and devour them whole in their Dickies and Sublime tees right underneath the rotisserie spit. I wanted to suck them dry…and more.

Imagine me, in my 20s, an expensive haircut and the hair everywhere else tamed and shamed and groomed and pruned to perfection, just how all the boys and girls all liked it. How I liked it. 

Don’t remember me as I am now, age 40-who cares, welling up in front of the mirror, rubbing my fine lines in the good light, because I’ll never know what it is to be hot. As I age, it’s more difficult to let go of the notion that I should be. I’ve been robbed. 

Don’t remember me as social media reflects: pleasant, inoffensive, sweet. Like a clean smell you barely notice except when it’s replaced by something stronger. And for god’s sake, don’t pity me now and look closer. Just know there are consistent flaws in the makeup: eyes too small and deep-set, nose too prominent, lips too thin. Even now, I’m afraid to point out each of these failings because then you’ll notice them too. You, my unlucky new beholder. 

I’m probably the last person you should trust anyway. My beauty, or lack of it, ultimately belongs to you no matter how much I wish to master it, to bring it into submission. I don’t want to be in control of most things. Judge away and draw your faulty conclusions. I’ve spent too much time (my whole life) trying to glean meaning from my face, my limbs, my hip-to-waist ratio, the size of my tits, the shape of my tits, the size of my ass, the shape of my ass, the shape of my legs, my leg-to-torso ratio, the size of my stomach, the extra fat on my cheeks, the extra fat on my stomach, the fat, fat, fat. I’m bored. I’m boring myself. I hope I’m boring you. Please imagine me boring you.

Imagine me like the better and braver women I notice in movie theater bathrooms, airport bathrooms, any shared and public space, standing in front of the mirror, unapologetically interrupting the illusion of having a natural anything as they spray their tresses, contour their bones, apply, and reapply paints and creams and mists to any outstanding surface. They believe in artifice. They believe in their art while I avoid my reflection. My unwavering gaze is on my soapy hands rubbed clean. I rarely meet my eyes. It’s too painful, too futile. Each time, it feels like a gross admission of defeat.

Imagine me drunk, forgetting the details of my face, or convincing myself I have another one altogether. Imagine every boozy pore of me exuding the charismatic equivalent of a cocktail straw chewed through with carnal ferocity, or a peek of upper thigh when the skirt rides up a bit too much or a waft of shampoo that intoxicates like a hard drug or a head-all-the-way-back laugh when dancing to the best songs on the bar jukebox. Imagine what I could accomplish before the moonlight fades. 

Imagine me forgetting the details of my face when sober, when music alone molds me into what I truly am underneath it all, and I move as if I were the culmination of every man, woman, and organic matter’s wet dream. Who could I be then? The parts I recognize when I forget to look at myself through your eyes only. When I feel the eyes of the universe on me instead.

Imagine all the times men have stopped and ogled and started something I wished I’d let them finish. Actually, you don’t need to imagine this. Just like I didn’t need to imagine my women friends aghast, dumbfounded that these dudes saw something in my likeness that made them pause, that made them hunt and pursue and hunger after me as I appeared, commenting about my good body, my elegance or my entrancing eyes as my friends scoffed within earshot. Regal and mysterious? What were they seeing? I was the girl-next-door. 

Don’t  remember me standing there, my dumb mouth good and shut, while my bedridden mother laid into me for the SLAM book my brother found in my room and brought to her like the chump that he was. In between pages where I rightly kissed my girlfriends’ asses with 10s and “total sweetheart,” “love like a sister” and scored each boy no less than an 8 along with comments like “fine as hell,” “cool freak,” “total sweetheart,” I wrote that my brother’s beauty queen girlfriend was a “SNOT,” “stuck-up,” and “not all that.” I scored her a 3.5. 

Is all this because you know you’re not beautiful like her?

My mom was exasperated, tired. She was near death and did not have time to say things gently. She didn’t know I would remain frozen in this moment of devastating inadequacy for the rest of my life. She only knew her own beauty was fading and she didn’t have patience for those that didn’t accept their fate, their place within the hierarchy. A hierarch her disease had evicted from cruelly and forcibly. But she didn’t know that I’d hold the memory of her beauty dearer than anything I loved about myself. 

Imagine me hot. Truly hot. Cramming my crushes’ mouths with all those verbs that hurt so good. Bangin’, smokin’, slammin’, stunning. Let them burn, let them hurt for once.

Imagine me oversharing about my exploits, doling out tales of my romanticized darkness to an enraptured audience. Imagine me actually relating to all those hot girl memes on the internet, posting calculated mirror selfies zoomed in on my teeny-tiny midriff and disaffected cartoon pout. Imagine me captioning them with moody quotes from suicided poetesses and godfathers of goth rock. Imagine me pretending I’m plagued by insecurity instead of enamored with the way my ribs ripple beneath my too adorbz bralette. Imagine the privilege to look sexy while self-destructing and have thousands upon thousands of followers bear witness to your gracefully planned fall from grace. Imagine enhancing your irreproachable hotness with self-deprecation. Just imagine the audacity in that. The freedom. Fuck, really imagine that.

Don’t remember me with a succession of doting and devoted paramours since age sixteen. Worshipping romantics, each in their own way, desperately trying to persuade me to see myself as they saw me. And sometimes I did. Sometimes I was a beautiful blur. Yet, I dismissed their efforts as lovesick delusion. It’s what love does, I’d say. You inevitably confuse my insides for what’s out here for real. You’ve gone too deep. I’m sorry this happened. My interior filmed your eyes over, glued them shut to any sort of objectivity. All you can see is my wit, my humor, my goodness. My goddamn goodness. It creates this mirage every time. I’m glad you see what isn’t here. If you did, you wouldn’t stick around as long as you do. Thank god for my goodness and my great, big bangin’, smokin’, slammin’, stunning heart. Thank god I have something else to offer you.

Imagine me as the irresistible taste of battery, the spark on everyone’s tongue.

Imagine me never saying please or thank you unless I mean it.

Imagine me taking up space and not thinking about saving room for you. Or thinking about it but not until I’ve thought about all the ways I want to occupy every crevice, every gap that begs for me instead. Imagine me gorging on my fleeting desires and tossing you my scraps. You’ll have to make yourself so small to fit beside me. You’ll have to pretend to know how humility feels. It’ll be a lesson I can teach you. All of you. 

Imagine me pushing myself onto a boy, or a man, knowing he’ll accept the modest roundness of me because it’s enough and fits in the palms of his hand. Imagine me, the opposite of sweetness. No roundness of being. All sharp edges, jutting forth, especially where it counts.

Imagine me not thinking about the shape of me at all. Imagine me ineffable and immaterial like a God. Imagine me on my knees, worshipping myself, sight unseen but felt in the touch of every fingertip that roamed my flesh with the pure intent to fuck. 

Imagine me, as I am now, a pill under my tongue, ready to swallow the night whole, a cat-eye so sharp and on-point that when I blink, my eyes flicker like comely daggers under the blacklight, stabbing through the skin of reality while the party moves around us like a dream. Imagine me, a sleek shimmer sliding around your neck and through your veins. Imagine me enhancing the fantasy. Imagine it isn’t just the drugs talking, but my body. 

Don’t remember me beyond this shell. I want you to covet my slippery surface, not everything slowly rotting within it. I want you to cling in vain to what will always elude us both. Tell me I’m at my peak. Tell me you’re drawn to it only for this moment and never after. 

Don’t remember me making these demands. Pretend it was all your idea. Yeah, imagine telling me I’m hot and making me believe it just once. 

Just once before I die.


Jillian Luft is a Florida native currently residing in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Expat, Hobart, Rejection Letters, and other publications. She’s currently at work on novel about Florida dirtbag romance. You can find her on Twitter @JillianLuft or read more of her writing at