2 Poems by Jason Melvin

A proper burial

you ended up on my bookshelf
tiny urn in an over-sized jewelry box
stuck in a library man cave
no bigger than a closet
between Lehane and Palahniuk
between mystery and satire
I don’t know where to place you
but I do know you weren’t much of a reader
My wife has seen too many Hollywood pratfalls
and fears you will end up in the Shop-vac
if displayed

there’s a chair in there
nothing fancy
one fifth of an unused kitchen set
I see you sitting in it
when I peek through the cracked door
and the moonlight from the lone window spills in
but not all of you
just where light would touch
most of you rests at home
with your wife and kids
some of you is with mom
I’m not sure where they put you
I doubt it was a bookshelf

Where the grass grows higher

the grass grows
wraps around my legs
squeezes my hips
slashes across my chest
scarfs around my neck
restricts airflow
covers my eyes, ears, nose
enters my mouth
like floss between my teeth
my tongue fights, loses
mounds of dirt form
cover my feet
sprout out of my armpits
parents tell their children to stay away
something could be living in there
thorns replace my fingernails
earthworms and grubs tickle my toes
parents tell their children to stay away
There might be something living in there

There isn’t

Jason Melvin is a father, husband, grandfather, high school soccer coach, and metals processing center supervisor, who lives just north of Pittsburgh. Most of his poems come to him while riding his lawnmower around the yard. His work has recently appeared in Rat’s Ass Review, Kitchen Sink Magazine, The Electric Rail, The Front Porch Review, Shambles, Spillover, Olney, Last Leaves, and Zero Readers, among others.

Brains On the Mind by Jeremy Scott

I collect brains like some men collect stamps. They’re all lined up in jars on the shelves of my library, arranged by size, species, condition. I get them fresh and preserve them myself, in a proprietary blend of preservatives that I wouldn’t dare share with the world. When I receive a new specimen, I first grade it, from damaged to near mint. I eat the damaged ones. I’m always trying new recipes out. Some of my favorites so far are Brains Creole, cranium cakes, and curried cerebrum. That is unless of course they are from a human, which would be dangerous to my health. Besides, I ate a man’s brain once. I shared his dreams for a month of the worst sleep I ever had. He was a miner from China. I had several nightmares about cave-ins and being crushed to death. People would say to me, “Susie, you don’t look well,” and I would say in return, “I just have a lot on my mind, weighing me down.” It took a lot of melatonin pills and a lobotomy for me to get right again. Worst mistake of my life.

Jeremy Scott (he/him) is from Albany, Georgia, USA. His work has been or will be featured by Beyond Words Magazine, Tempered Runes Press, Surreal Poetics, and others.

THE FIRST STEP by Keith LaFountaine

Come here, my son.

I can see it inside of you – that horrid rage. The saddening stench of terror. The thing you buried deep. Washed down by alcohol and sealed with fast food. It is a weight the likes of which words cannot describe. But you don’t feel it in words, do you? No, you feel it violently, suddenly, without warning. When that boulder decides to shift, it’s like an earthquake is rupturing your spleen and pushing apart your intestines.

I know. It’s okay. Everything’s okay.

Come here. Rest beside me. Take a breath. Swallow in that air that tasted so sweet in your lungs not so long ago.

You say you’re old, yes? That it’s been years, decades since the exuberance of childhood filled you. But I promise you, it hasn’t been that long. That euphoria you once felt is still within your grasp, hovering just in front of you. Like the lightning bugs you caught with Ma.

Oh, yes. I knew her, too. It’s a pity she passed so soon. I know that added to the boulder. Didn’t it?

But I want you to focus on your breathing right now. Suck in the dew, the impossibility of morning. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Enjoy now, in all its imperfections and beauties. Notice the way the sun shines through your eyelids, creating a pearlescent yellow glow. Hear the buzz of flies, the croak of frogs from the pond down the bend, the chatter of your old neighbor, Mrs. Carmody, as she brings in her groceries.

You used to the see the world through rose-colored glasses. Streets that had cracks were imbued with personality. Worlds that twinkled above in the night sky could hold aliens. But now you look at that road and see your taxes. Now you look at the sky and wonder if it’s all empty.

But here’s the secret. You can take it to the bank. That road still has personality. When you stare at it just the right way, you can see the aftermath of a righteous battle. The triceratops was a mighty warrior, indeed, and he fought off a T-Rex all by himself, using those horns on his boned helmet to defend and attack in equal measure. Yes, and if you look closer you can see the pterodactyls flying high, swooping over the ocean that froths and slaps against rocky beaches.

And the sky? Why, I could tell you stories about the Martians, but you’ve heard all those before, haven’t you? Why don’t I instead regale you about the crew of the Morgdale, an intrepid ship that sails the cosmos, cruising through black holes, visiting odd worlds. One week, it’s an ocean-ridden planet with a pink sky and yellow soil. Other times, it’s an icy moon that twists around a red giant.

You see? No, it’s not remembering. Not exactly. But it’s a similar process, I suppose. And the boulder, it shifts. But not in that way it does when you stare at the water-marked ceiling at night. Not when those flashes of crimson overcome you, so suddenly and acutely that you can’t help but thrust the color and the heat off your chest.

I know you cry afterward, in the dark, where no one can see you.

No more, you hear me?

Instead, consider a cup of ice cubes. Feel the condensation on the glass. You’re reading a good book now. Remember how enchanted you were back then? Remember the way you could lay in bed for hours, immersed in a world someone else had conjured from the depths of their imagination? Now, reclaim that moment. Reclaim that hope. Remember the ice cubes. Remember the cool sip, the flush of water on your lips as you took a drink. The comforting kiss of a washcloth when fever had the temerity to ravage your mind.

Yes! That’s it! Beat at that boulder. Don’t drive it deeper. Instead, pull it. Break it apart. Chisel away at it. Use your manifest destiny. This is your moment. This has always been your moment, ad infintum, as long as you are willing to claim it.

You can cry. I know it hurts. But I am right here.

I know it pains you to weep in front of someone else. I know it feels unnatural, like dancing on one leg and tapping the ceiling with the opposite hand. It may even feel painful at first. But let this flood come forth, raging, coursing, with the power of the universe behind it.

And calm. Breathe. You are okay. You are safe. You are enough.

Is this the end? Oh no, my child. This is not the end.

But this was an important first step.

Keith LaFountaine is a writer from Vermont. His short fiction has been published in various literary magazines, including Dread Stone Press, Wintermute Lit, and Red Fez Literary Journal.

Dance Floor in My Mouth by David Thomas Peacock

I’m afraid. Not full-blown panic, but my anxiety is still on a low simmer. Stay in the moment, I repeat silently, like a mantra. You’ll be there soon.

Excited, nervous anticipation begins to kick in.

“Now, just relax and breathe through your nose,” the man instructs me in a kind and reassuring manner. He looks like an unlikely guide, but we’ve been here before. The party always starts this way.

He places a small mask over my nostrils. “Crank it all the way up,” I say, settling back in the chair, confident I can handle this. In my mouth goes the suction tubing, putting out a steady stream of white noise that will serve as the aural backdrop for the event about to unfold.

I try to stay calm while he turns on the gas and putters around with his equipment. “I won’t start until you begin to feel the effects,” he says, proceeding to make small talk in the meantime. I focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths — in through my nose, exhaling through my mouth. Desperate to get on with the show, I’m hoping the vapor will build up in the mask, making the next inhalation even more potent. I’m afraid if I breathe out into the device, I’ll displace the precious substance coming in, diluting my next hit. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m mildly anxious as I wait for the drug to take effect.

“How’re we doing?” he asks. “Feeling anything yet?”

“Maybe a little,” I lie. The DJ has already dropped the needle, starting the set off with a drone of noise. Somewhere off in the distance, a pulsing bassline is slowly coming into focus.

“OK, we’re going to get started.”

I nod in affirmation.

By now, my head is swimming in what sounds like the crescendo of a thousand rockets preparing to take off. The rush is beginning to overwhelm me, but instead of being frightening, its intensity is somehow warm and comforting.

I’m on my way.

“Open wide.” His voice is gentle, and I comply. Now a synthesizer is pumping out a two-note bassline against the drone of white noise, and the party in my head is starting to ramp up good and proper. I go to step on the dancefloor, but I realize I’m already on it, now part of the crowd, my body moving to the beat. The light show kicks in as I become lost in the moment, at one with the sweaty mass.

I’m aware of some kind of tool in my mouth, probing and chipping away, but I don’t care. Every time the man moves his hand close to the suction tube, it acts like a smooth low-pass filter on the drone of noise, damping the sound, rolling off the highs, changing the texture of the music.

It’s hypnotic.

“You OK?” He sounds far away. I nod as if everything’s normal, wondering if he has any idea where I am. Now I’m beginning to feel ecstatic; the ebb and flow of randomly filtered noise seem to be building to ever-greater levels of intensity. At some point, distracted by my trance, I didn’t notice the drums kick in, but now the groove is relentless. I melt into an ocean of sensual humanity, a writhing mass of bodies moving as one complex organism with a thousand hands waving in the air, swaying with the beat.

I’m vaguely aware of water spraying somewhere in my head and the suction clearing it away, but it’s somehow woven into the experience I don’t want to stop. The noises of metal instruments in my mouth are now part of the hypnotic music, syncopated with the pounding kick drum and filtered noise. The light show is pulsing with the groove, a million multi-colored slivers raining down through the smoky mist onto the crowd, lasers slicing through the room like weapons of pleasure.

The party’s in full swing.

I’m lost yet somehow still there, in two places at once. Never losing awareness of my mask, I maintain slow, deep breaths, my body melting into the chair. I’m no longer sure which reality is more real, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like the intensity of a building orgasm that never seems to come, an aching pleasure leading to a release you never want to arrive. There’s only the moment — the music enveloping you like a drug, the lights immersing you in an alternate reality, the sensation of being part of a collective throng that’s somehow become a single organism, all yearning for the same thing — nirvana.

Now aware I’m existing in multiple realities and having absolutely no problem with that, I hear a voice say, “OK, now you’re just on oxygen. We’re done.” In an instant, I’m back in the real world, sitting in the dentist’s chair.

“Your teeth look fine,” he says, taking off his gloves and turning to wash his hands.

Still a little woozy, I open my eyes and smile.

David Thomas Peacock is a musician who became an ER nurse who survived cancer and somehow became a writer. Sometimes you don’t discover what you were meant to do until your third act.

GO FOR THE BALLS by John Tustin

When she got really mad at me
Her hands would gnarl into claws
And she’d go for the balls.
Every time.
She’d start by scratching at my neck
Or my arms
But then, once I began to protect myself,
She’d try to grab my balls and twist.
She thought she had them figuratively
And then she wanted them literally.
I once got eczema on my neck
That began as a cut from one of her attacks.

Some of my sleights were real, some perceived
But over and over
It would end with her tearing at my balls
Like a woman possessed.
No woman did that to me before
And none have since.
I felt quite lucky she never got my balls
Until I realized
I got out of there with my balls
And my dignity intact but
She got everything else.

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals since 2009. fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry contains links to his published poetry online