Beer For Breakfast

“The Omnibus,” crayon and watercolor, by Honoré Daumier, 1864.

by David Salner

The chrome-colored clouds
pushed the heat down, held in the car fumes,
the smell of the asphalt. Out on the patio,
I was ready for work, in crepe-soled boots,
in t-shirt and jeans, had my lunch made up.
The first buses went by. All over town,
they swayed on macadam, bald tires
crunched glass, streets sparkled with dust
of granules and shards. Cracked open my first,
just then, as the new rouge sun
showed through a bandage of clouds,
a fretwork of power lines above the tar roofs.
I opened another, impressed with myself.
I was giving the finger to dead-end jobs,
getting pretty well-primed. I heard people stir,
felt them reach for a smoke, hurt lungs
sucking in the sweet myrrh, holding it
for a moment, eyes shutting tight on the pain
we felt back then. I lit one, too,
pulled hard, exhaled
an aurora of dust
and finished the 6-pack.

omega man

David Salner’s writing has appeared in Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Lascaux Review, and River Styx. His second book is Working Here (Rooster Hill Press, 2010). He worked for 25 years as an iron ore miner, steelworker, general laborer.

Maternity Leave

“The Crowd,” photograph by Tammy Ruggles, 2015.

by Lauren Yates

Each homecoming, the blood stops pearling out of me.

The bottle of hydrogen peroxide remains in the cabinet.
I go months without buying tampons. I stop eating fruit.

I crave black and white milkshakes and fried zucchini
with ranch and sriracha. If there isn’t chocolate or garlic,
it’s of no use to me. My resting pose is hand to belly.

I try to figure out which one night stand could be the father.
How many weeks along I must be before I can terminate.
How one can conceive from sex that has forgotten clenching joy.

This time of year, I have no more than twenty-six dollars
to my name. I buy a pregnancy test and two energy drinks.
The tests always come back negative. I cry out the water weight.

There is something about traveling home that stops the blood.
My womb becomes a howling dog warning me of danger.

Each time I board a plane to see my family, I am plagued with
false motherhood. I come from a tribe of women that all
couldn’t or shouldn’t be mothers. I do not want children,

unless I know I would be a good mother. My mother says
she used to cry herself to sleep asking why I didn’t love her.

She has conveniently forgotten the hours I spent locked in
cars, the hunger pains, the beatings I faced for having an
opinion. This darkness is like labor pains, how easily
a woman forgets once she wants another child.

omega man

Lauren Yates is a San Diego transplant who is currently based in Philadelphia. Her writing has appeared in XOJane, FRiGG, Melusine, and The Bakery. Lauren is also a poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly. Aside from poetry, she enjoys belly dancing, baking quiche, and pontificating on the merits of tentacle erotica. For more information, visit laurentyates.com.

A Quintuple

“Hydroponic,” digital art, by Marcela Bolivar, 2014. Used with permission.

by Simon Perchik
*

Now that it’s raining you can forget
—let gravity do the work
and this rake, half bare, half

at attention through the circle
that holds the Earth in place
clearing the path the dead remember

though these leaves must be wet
cascading past savanna to savanna
as primordial headwaters spreading out

so many years apart and always
there’s room for more dead
whose million year old cry

will sound the same a million years
from this tree calling, calling, sleepless
—you don’t need to find out

—it’s enough when it rains
you can lean down and grasp hand over hand
without caring why or holding back.

*

Here, there, the way silence
tows you below the waterline
and though you are alone

you’re not sure where her name
is floating on the surface
or what’s left

grasped by a single wave
that never makes it to shore
splashes as if this pen

is rowing you across the stillness
the dead are born with
—you are already bathing, half

from memory, half by leaping
from the water for flowers
growing everywhere—for you

this page, unclaimed :a knife
dripping with seawater
and your throat.

*

Even grief is passing you by
though you waited in the open
had a fondness for calendars

—dozens! drying
the way ocean nets are dragged
behind the day after day

who no longer ask but come
for the silence snapping them up
to be picked clean in a room

opening everywhere as seawater
or is it already Spring
impatient, wants the bed empty

and though you don’t move an inch
the flowers are generous
never in the way, come and go

with trust in their eyes
—rage is helpless here
has to listen for a change

how warm the dirt is
and under your tongue
more rain, how easy it was.

*

The same dingy elevator
not in service
though to wish is the easy part
—once its doors are sealed
the gust likes it in the back
and you make good time
cut the sky in half :both doors
opening the way your foot
fell suddenly between

—you stumbled in front a butterfly
that no longer moves, its wings
folded over, changing again
into an evening spread out
from the bottom up
reaching across a road
that stays dark more than the others
lifts its dirt to your shoulders
and along the helpless buttons
lets it fall, bathing you
floor by floor, any day now.

*

Going somewhere with you
is all it holds on to
—a single blanket

the kind the dead carry
over them
—you can’t tell the difference

though you wish there were
—to warm is all it knows
and you are led under

till your mouth opens
looking for her
—to kiss, empty her throat

with your own—on faith
you stretch out
bring back to the room

her damp scent
tied at one end
and not the other

—with both eyes closed
you show her her picture
without thinking.

omega man

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poetry has appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, The North American Review, Poetry, The New Yorker, and many others. His work is collected in twenty books, most recently Almost Rain (River Otter Press, 2013). Library Journal called him “the most widely published unknown poet in America.”

River Mouth

“Sharecropper Families,” photograph by Dorothea Lange, 1936.

by Heather Dobbins

I Do
the deckhand

She hasn’t taken off her swimsuit all summer. She is two hands
across her middle. I know that from throwing her: one foot
on my thigh, the other in my palm. Up, over, splash.
Once, when she was four and I eight, she said, Your turn.
I never had anyone to throw me, daddy long gone.
The way she said it made me try, but my foot reached long
over her knee, another dock over water.
It is hard to give her away, even to my best friend.
Strange to see her in white.

Preacherman squints, the groom takes a handkerchief
to his brow. Only the front of her hair is pinned—
just cut, even at the ends like a pillow case on the August line.
She’ll have their laundry now to tend to, hum a song I never heard
anywhere else, clothespins in her pocket, one in her mouth.

Yesterday I said, “It will be quiet when you go. Can’t have no
boy best friend when you married.” Hush, it won’t.
You’ll hear other things like iris petals slitting north and south
like the river or red lantana reaching for a hummingbird.
River pays his wages and yours. I won’t be far.

Barrel-chested, I’d picked him for my friend
because I knew he was strong. I am quick, can hook again
and again without tiring, but my lank arm is better as a switch
than a blackout. Just as gold and skin makes a promise today,
this river may take you under, but you’d never be alone.
Water is never singular, can’t be cut. Life in a funnel
and heart’s unexpected twine.

The Leadsman Sings
the deckhand

How can I get home in time
when the river is a maze of reason I can’t measure?
We’re flat-bottomed today as a packing crate.
Pilot takes the soundings from me.
I take the line from the prow, lob, then draw it back.
Foam and blades. A boat is lost without her singer.

Before I left last week,
my son was pulling up on the chair.
Dried leaves, lint, scoot to crawl, his mouth a dustpan.
His momma’s hands, crazed, looking for everything.
She said, Give me a look-see. Get that out his damn mouth already.
She had his head back, her fingers too hard on his gums.
I said, “It’s okay. It’s just some paper.”

You don’t know. I could not shake it out, could not hit him hard.
My hand the whole size of his back. You, with nothing to remember.
He wasn’t buried the color I saw him turn. 
I had watched the other boy, the one come before,
his box sinking in the mud, the choking done when I returned.

My work is the same as it was then. Carrying nail kegs
for the barge, loading up the long hill. The toiling line
shakes until the deck boss grunts for us to stop.

This boy came out with a head full of hair,
those who don’t know think he’s our first—the way we watch him.
But caution is not wonder.  He could be taken, easy.
She’s home making his first sweetcake, waiting on me. All I want
is to sing Happy Birthday to him for the first time. Nobody stuck,
no cargo ruining. Nothing sinking into mud on account of my song.

The Provider
the sharecropper as a young suitor

I was not immune to her charms. I knew how to work till and blade, turn over soil, reign in the muddied hoof, and start another row. The minerals ran down. What does a back do but hold sweat, keep it off my hands? A row can’t be made without tired. I asked Bankerman for a loan, shopped for another mule. Following the arc of sun each day—along taking in like newlyweds do, I had time to imagine us married after harvest’s earning, everyone knowing  my land was repaid in full. When I’d take my hat off, I could set my jaw sure to other men.

I was unworthy. She taught her four sisters to read and scratch their numbers. So much curiosity, more spoons of Why come, Sister? than oats and cream. She was sure with a ledger and the Word. When I went to ask her hand, a button on her left shoe was navy, the other three black. She saw me look and blushed. My want for her to know me, make me worth paying some tender. A body needed something that could hold it in return, use back.

I did not need to come back to hear her father’s No. Each seed was a stutter in dirt, each leaf blighted, a failure to flower. Small and weak. Easy to step on. I was taught repetition is Nature’s grace, something to accept. I met what was to be our land with the urgency of Not enough to provide for. The soil starved, acres of a ruination I did not know how to stave off. I just got ahead of myself, thinking how that thigh under her simple pleats must be freckled, the black hairs turned in the shape of scythes.

Rabbit Folk
the sharecropper’s wife

The last thing he said was out the Ford’s window:
he’d get me a coat in some fancy store up in Memphis.
A fool, I smiled at his smile—face a hard dirt,
a rivulet tracking it for a second.

Thirty-six hours coming and sure to cross out a crop year,
water axle deep. My husband, gone with his best friend,
said Jesse couldn’t go out by himself since fools
tend to start up mess when they see someone alone.

Gone 4-5-6-7 suppers.
Blink and there’ll be more people, more flood.
Brown boards in a moving brown ground.
This water’s like a heifer’s eye with its own bounty of will—
no power of reason. We have no money for a train, so I hold

Tillie’s small hand and her braid. She just turned six,
tall like me, long hair the color of twine.
Mama, you got my hand already.
Hands slip away in sweat. I won’t have that.

I tell her, “Your hair’s threaded around my knuckles.”
Like a hem? “Sort of but one that don’t ever let out.”
She’s looking down at wet and more wet.
Like when she loses a jack in the floorboard hole,

she’s best to get off her knees, not looking for what she used to have.
The cow’s rope is in my right hand: two ropes for what’s mine.
I say, “You just keep walking. Fix your eyes on the sky
where nothing else is going to bust.”

A fool, I think of my husband’s forearms as he heaved bales in our barn,
the smell of piled hay always stronger than animal.
He could pull this cow, easy, command her might
with his reins of field meat.

I asked Evelyn after Jesse yesterday. She said he was out
in the field and looked down, wasn’t chewing no fat.
I didn’t hold my breath for word of my man. A gumball lodged

in the arch of my foot, a seeded spoke that bruised but didn’t break
the skin. She said that I knew better, that trifling don’t change with time.
Her eyes were stones thrown at thunder, far from mine.
I couldn’t hear where they hit.

2 feet of water to walk. Tillie says, But we ain’t rabbit folk.
We don’t leave. I tell her, “This isn’t just rain but a whole levee
come down. Make your stride long like mine. We must wade
till we take to roof or tree. We can’t very well ride that damn cow.”

Mud in her eyelashes, the only thing I can sell
groans and doesn’t want to move anymore.
This water hurries against her flanks to push us harder.
I jerk her head 1-2-Come on-3-4 times, but they both just look at me.

I drop the one rope I can. It plunks
in the river like the sound of what can’t be, sinking into silt.
Tillie says what she has heard her whole life, her daddy’s words:
Wishes are just water on your brow, nothing and gone.

omega man

Poems and poetry reviews by Heather Dobbins have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, CutBank, Raleigh Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The Rumpus, and TriQuarterly, among others. Her debut poetry collection, In the Low Houses, was published in March 2014 by Kelsay Press.

Proctoring

“In the Classroom,” oil on canvas, by Paul Louis Martin des Amoignes, 1886.

by Michael Lauchlan

Among students, I drink the same
coffee I drank at home an hour
ago—which is not some
philosophical metaphor. It’s real,
kept warm in a steel mug
given to me on birthday last
by a tender daughter-in-law.
To save syllables and suggest
a patrilineal union, I might
credit my son, but I can still
feel her watching me open
the box, hear her concern
about coffee going cold
on my basement desk.

If she’d seen an array of stains
on floor and shirts, she was kind enough
to leave that out. And since
the metaphor has asserted itself
against protestations, I’ll accede
to it, to rivers of water and coffee,
miscellaneous juices, and even
wine that run through all of us
emerging little altered to re-enter
a water cycle we learned about
(those clouds forming over Lake
Michigan) in fourth grade.

But what gets me, what I can’t
dodge—this memory of an old guy
standing near, redolent of smoke
and coffee, while I essayed Joyce
long ago in a graffitied desk.

omega man

Michael Lauchlan’s next collection, Trumbull Ave., is available from Wayne State University Press.

Sefeed

“Death of a Cyborg,” digital art (after Bouguereau), by Debra Mason, 2010.

by Mathew Javidi

If I could go back,
I would have clutched my tongue,
not let it pirouette into
the soft, dim spotlight of
your living room

I reassured your parents
“Don’t worry. I’m not a Muslim,”
and tried to win them over with
a heartless,
tasteless
hopelessly ignorant quip about
how Islam is the Spider-man 3 of religion—
in that the first two installments were better
it doesn’t represent its creators’ best work
and everyone involved just looks silly.

In hindsight, it was not worth
your mother’s chortle, or your father’s muddy
grunt, and it was not worth
the look on my father’s face
when I told him he would never meet your parents,

because Iranian men are shrapnel
in the souls of nice Jewish girls.

I would go back and hold that comment
I didn’t need it to prove
that I am hardly a member of my own race
that I don’t even qualify for a plastic
participation trophy
in the scrimmage between Persians and Jews
that I know just enough Farsi
to tell people I don’t speak it,

but now I stand victorious,
holding your heart above the ashes
of those who trusted me
to carry their blood with pride.

omega man

Mathew Javidi is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara with a degree in literature. He founded his university’s first ongoing humor publication and is currently pursuing a career in comedy.

Monastery

“Daybreak,” oil on panel, by David Cheifetz, 2010. Used with permission.

by Alicia Lai

Once I entered into a symbiotic relationship with a praying mantis, wings folded
at our altar of Queen Anne’s lace. There is wine on the table—father, please don’t

let the calf bleed on me. I have seen the insides of heifers as rugged as the grain
of our wooden table where I slice tomatoes and you bring in half the vineyard.

You know girls the way you pretend to get drunk in the monastery
of your body. When two people kiss, they look like diving birds returning for air.

When two people look like almond halves, they rise buoyant on the crusts
of bread. Once I believed you could slit a cow’s throat and wipe your hands

on your jeans. Once, we scythed the barley. Once, we drank wine
on the altar and for a summer, our mouths turned as plump as grapes.

omega man

Alicia Lai’s work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, National Poetry Quarterly, Curio Poetry, and elsewhere. She is founder and editor of The Postscript Journal, an international literary magazine for students. Her honors include selection as a 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. She currently attends Princeton University.

Dark Rum & Tonic

“Old Machine Shop,” photograph by Eric Stone, 2011. Used with permission.

by Molly Fisk

Sometimes what you need is a road
house, blast of laughter and warm air pouring
out the door, where the waitresses know

your name but the customers don’t, shrill
on the third martini or fifth Blue Ribbon,
steaks searing on a huge propane-fired grill.

Two birthday parties in full swing—
mylar balloons leashed to a chair-back slowly
turning—tonight you’re a few years shy

the median age, at your back-wall table drinking
iced tea because you don’t spend time with
the person you turn into after a frosted glass:

chardonnay, dark rum & tonic, you remember
her well, that girl, that woman, with great
compassion: her loneliness behind the amber

liquid disappeared, or seemed to, she got funny
and affectionate, softer, sexually daring but
not a femme fatale, always more honey

than darling, her courage long-gone by morning,
that terrible waking into a stranger’s sheets.
You don’t miss any of it. Headaches, longing

that’s miles easier to bear when sober,
wishing a friend would come along and love you,
even though you’re just getting older.

Some nights you need a road house, boisterous
laughter and warm air pouring through open
doors, the kind of place where your choice

is simple: well-done, bloody, or medium rare,
and no one gives a shit that you’re by yourself,
writing in a notebook. Nobody turns to stare.

omega man

Molly Fisk is the author of The More Difficult Beauty, Listening to Winter, and Terrain and a volume of radio essays, Blow-Drying a Chicken: Observations from a Working Poet. Her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Marin Arts Council, and the California Arts Council, as well as a Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize in Poetry, a Dogwood Prize, a Billee Murray Denny Prize, a National Writer’s Union Prize, and a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She has taught at the UC Davis Extension and with the California Poets in the Schools program, and presently runs the online workshop Poetry Boot Camp. Fisk’s radio commentary is heard weekly on the News Hour of KVMR-FM, Nevada City, CA.

A Capitalist Back to Nature

“Birkenwald I,” oil on canvas, by Gustav Klimt, 1903.

by Robert S. King

Here is the last forest that has never
heard the crisp snap of a dollar
or a siren louder than a crow.
Here the wind does not honor
the borders of a deed.

The trees don’t take credit cards;
the birds sing pro bono;
the creeks mumble and whisper,
give their cooling mists for nothing.
The currents do not flee when I follow,
accept my fingers in their flow, my touch
leaving no coiled snakes of oil.

My shoes have as many holes
as the highway leading here.
I was careful not to leave tracks.

I am the last to own this land,
give my deed back to the spirit
who lets me sleep below whispering leaves.
It took all my money to get here.
It will take all my courage to stay.

omega man

Robert S. King’s poems have appeared in California Quarterly, Chariton Review, Kenyon Review, and hundreds of other magazines. He has published four chapbooks: When Stars Fall Down as Snow, Dream of the Electric Eel, The Traveller’s Tale, and Diary of the Last Person on Earth. His full-length collections are The Hunted River, The Gravedigger’s Roots, One Man’s Profit, and most recently Developing a Photograph of God (Glass Lyre Press, 2014). His work has been nominated several times for The Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

Five by Perchik

“Clothespins,” photograph by Christine Patterson, 2014. Used with permission.

by Simon Perchik
*

This dirt still mimics sweat
lies down alongside, unsure
your lips would quiet it

though the finger that is familiar
probably is yours –could be enough
has already learned to point

–in time it will silence
even your shadow
without pulling it back down

as sunsets passing by
no longer some shoreline
unable to stop for these pebbles

struggling to rise together, take you
by the hand and without a sound
recognize the gesture.

*

With each glove almost the same
You look face to face
For a place to jump

–you don’t see the bridge
though these weeds
are used to winter

slip from your fingers
the way this sky
no longer has room

and each raindrop
suddenly white, already stone
grown huge :each floe

inscribed and with a single name
warms this hillside
midair, brings these dead

a river that flows again
filled as if its shoreline
is pulling you down, shows you where.

*

You try to imagine the mirror
though there was an understanding
the jacket would not show through

and you could lift your chin
into the same wingspan
that hangs over this frost

just now coming in
already in front, same place
same time and at each get-together

the jacket tags along
as if it and the skyline
for a long time had been one

could reach across, cover your arms
with ice and any minute now
–what year is this? your shadow

still wants its back to the sun
already melted down
so it can leave even in winter

as that single-minded descent
sent ahead
and everything open.

*

This still warm shopping bag
emptied the way all sculpture
reminds you what it lost

though when you step back
what you see between the jars
is its dried-up riverbed

shaping the Earth, its breeze
just now forming
doesn’t yet have the need

for those same airfields
you look for in grocery aisles
take from the shelves

these damp boxes side by side
where you say nothing about rain
till the air you breathe out

has nothing left, by hand
you pull from its place
the sky you saved for last.

*

Step by step each morning
is everywhere at once, closing in
and though you count on it

you begin to bake instead
takes classes as if the sun
has room for another sun

and its crust at last break open
for air –after each funeral
you learn to make crumbs

–with just two fingers
held close the way the Earth
is emptied by a small stone

kept warm in your mouth
and once set out with you
closer to the ground.

omega man

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poetry has appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, The North American Review, Poetry, The New Yorker, and many others. His work is collected in twenty anthologies, most recently Almost Rain (River Otter Press, 2013). Library Journal called him “the most widely published unknown poet in America.”