elsewhere / 12

Off Highway 6

Herbert felt certain, thanks to his name, he would never lose his virginity, but after a friend dared him to “rock her world,” he and his girlfriend, Harley, climbed into the back of a famously long-abandoned '89 Chevy Star along Highway 6. She was a painter and a dancer and a free spirit who always lilted his name, but when she started to take off her shirt, he knew he wasn't ready. Sure, instinct drove him, but he knew he wasn’t ready. It struck him she had chocolate, and he was allergic, and he wanted to know what it was like to die, he said, and she could be there to bring him back and wouldn’t that be something? He lay on her lap while the chocolate melted on his tongue, its smoothness in his mind joined to the smoothness of her fingers tracing small circles over his hands. Within minutes his throat narrowed to a straw, the one they shared at the Blue Hill Diner after her exhibition of Self-Portraits, and he could smell her perfume, was steeped in it, its grace notes of tangerine and sandalwood, the air above him starting to fill with albatrosses leading him safely home to shore, the awful spectral hum of her heartbeat under his skin, he’d do anything for her, seize the polestar, cut the Gordian Knot, dig into his liver for luck, is this what it’s like to love, to want them to see and the words on his tongue blew up and filled him, he could tell the guys to get lost and go until they knew how to cradle, he could cradle, swear off pain, his whole skeleton frostbit, I love you stuck in the thin reed of him, just once he would tell her and he felt, like, a prick.

Benjamin Blackhurst lives with a pitiable 0 cats in Provo, UT, where he recently graduated from Brigham Young University's MFA program and teaches rhetoric/composition and creative writing. He received an Academy of American Poets prize in 2015 and placed runner-up in the 2016 Mountain West Writers' Contest. You can find his poetry in Inscape and Western Humanities Review.

The Introvert’s Guide to Dreams: Yards

In an overgrown yard, you sit with a tiny noose draped across your lap. Next to you, a man finishes tying his tiny noose. You take turns tossing the nooses into the tall grass, trying to catch a rare bird. When your noose grabs its neck, it will shoot up. Then, you will pull its beating closer and closer.


You sip a beer in the yard. Because the sun sunk below the treetops, you lit torches to help you tell where things end and begin. A cloud of gnats twitches like an atom. At the bottom of your can, a body curls into itself.


Your child walks across the top of the chain-link fence like a tightrope walker. You grill chicken—the juices are still pink. The child flaps to keep balance. The yard is strewn with broken limbs. It is supposed to storm again tonight. The child is still. You say that’s nice. When the wind picks up, your child floats away.

The Introvert’s Guide to Dreams: The Woods

You and your son are lost in the woods. It’s getting dark. The trees shake. Is it a helicopter? you ask. Your son has glasses, but he lost them, so his eyesight can’t be trusted. The trees keep shaking. Soon, it’ll be too dark for you to see. It must be a helicopter, you say, but you can’t be sure. Not here, with all these limbs reaching out of the dark to snag you. You look at your son, crouched down like a helicopter has come. You mirror him. You gesture as if directing a plane down a runway. If your son could see, he would be assured, he would know you were about to be pulled into the sky.


After a lifetime apart, you arrange to meet your lost sibling at your childhood home. You walk from your car to the old porch; in the swing set, a figure pendulums through the night before disappearing into the woods.


You doggie paddle across a lake whose waves all but negate your forward progress. The other shore must be miles away, so you quit and let the waves tug your tired body gently home. You turn in the water. Along the shore, peeking out of the woods, several wolf pups hunger for your arrival. They haven’t yet learned to kill quickly.

The Introvert’s Guide to Dreams: Bedrooms

In the basement, you sit on the edge of the pullout mattress you call a bed. Upstairs, the door jitters like the tiny muscles in the corner of an eye. The knob twists right and left. At any moment, the frame will give and what’s on the other side will crawl down on all fours—head twitching wildly, inhaling your fevered-scent.


In your darkened bedroom, you hear a sound like a cat batting a paper ball across the hardwood. You turn to your side, but this only makes the sound louder. You feel the sound in rapid strokes coming through the mattress. You hang your head over your bed. Under you, a girl is digging her way through your mattress. She mouths something you cannot hear.


You climb a grand staircase. Behind the half-opened door at the top of the stairs, you see a woman who has fallen asleep on your stiff body. When she exhales, you feel a jagged and shining jewel drag itself up your throat.

Brian Clifton co-edits Bear Review. His work can be found in: Pleiades, Guernica, The Journal, Prairie Schooner, and other such magazines.


In the stomach of a bluegill I find my grandfather’s ashes. Pulling the knife from tail to head, a locksmith of discarded scales, I remove small heaps of him with a spoon. I’m standing knee deep in the night, the river beginning to run backwards, hooks unfurling from fish’s mouths until my grandmother is standing behind the counter at a laundromat in Sprendlingen, washing my grandfather’s clothes without knowing she’ll be washing them for years, that the last thing he will hear is her asking "Nimm mich mit."

How can I stand here by this river that is now an urn, my grandmother left with nothing but clean counters? Her grief is like a tin of worms; the bruise-induced bloom of gills. A green woman’s coat forgotten at port in the country she would seldom return to reminds me "Sie ist nicht bereit." With the ocean still a body between her languages, she’ll keep living in a house full of him, mold her mother tongue into a key and drop it down into a well.

Rachel Cruea is a senior creative writing and literature major at Ohio Northern University. Along with being the editor-in-chief of Polaris literary magazine, her poetry has been previously published in editions of The Pinch, Cactus Heart, and The Adroit Journal, among others.

Messier 83

You are further from your skin than we are from each other and I can’t forgive myself for that. What I mean is you are nebulous. What I mean is, you pink I melt. New stars leave a blush of pink behind when they are formed, like loose sugar wisps out of a cotton candy machine. I want to sift myself through your hair and crystallize on your nails and teeth. I want to sift myself through your eyelashes and be your fuck-off eyeshadow. Reach for me with your tongue and I’ll run faster down your cheek. What I mean is, you pink I melt.


You are further from your skin than a snake molted to the muscle. A snake can live without his skin, strung up naked and writhing as coals heat. The heart of a snake will make you immortal, they say. Not if you’ve already left your skin. But not if you stay. What I mean is you are armor unlaced, slack and silver. You are the body erect, appendages starred out from your torso, hatched and crowned with a laurel of snakes.


You are further from your skin than we are from each other. What I mean is, we are in a fog. What I mean is, you filled your home with lavender. Your pillowcases, tucked in toilet paper rolls, hung in windows, crushed in the rugs. Crushed into tea into scones garnish on toast. Crushed into the grout in the bathroom tiles in the crease behind your ear. In water and lemonade and gin. Lavender oil diffused on your nightstand, lavender in your spice jars, all of them. Petals on shelves and in drawers and in the sheets between our toes. Lavender in particles. Hanging in the air like ash. Lavender closing my throat. Buds scattered like shrapnel. You purpled your home to a bruise.

Danika Isdahl lives in Louisville, KY where she is the Publishing Assistant at Sarabande Books. She has poetry forthcoming from Rabbit Catastrophe Review.


remember how good i am at running? / imagine if i had the proper shoes / imagine a self-satisfied and smug Robert Frost taking this harrowing / uncharted route through the woods / and then imagine him / falling / into / a ravine / it's such a small world / i would tell him / you think it wouldn't hurt so much / i'd tell him / that home is where that hurt is / that the High Road / is boring / and it's slow / and it's lonely / but it's the only place i'm truly safe from you / no / i don't think you can really be From somewhere / without first leaving it / but then again / the sun doesn't leave us / we don't choose to turn away from it either / it just feels some kind of criminal to my knees to stand this still / there's plenty waiting on the other side / of what will surely kill me / i don't say goodbyes / to what would hardly miss me / and we always loved sending letters / because it meant the sacrifice / of never getting them back / everyone forgets how much we leave behind / how the moon only got heavier / with each visit / how LeWitt himself / died a decade ago / but we still follow / his instructions / we still paint the walls the way he once did / and when the time comes / we paint endless over them again

Jamie Mortara is a queer poet from New Jersey and they have learned to stop apologizing for it. They currently operate the audio poetry magazine Voicemail Poems and their poetry collection some planet is now in its 2nd print run through YesYes Books. Other fun facts: Jamie uses unscented Dr. Bronner's, is a Capricorn, and sends tarot readings in the mail to people as a vaguely-lucrative side-gig.

The Anvil

Although grass has grown around it, you can see for yourself it is an anvil, there at the edge of the frontier, like some extinct cousin of the rhinoceros: a rough skin of rust on the flat face and on the conical width of the pocked and scored protruding horn. Of course, there is always a gap between the thing and the description of the thing. Dull, heavy, and dense, it waits—an excess of inertia—for the downward stroke. The very use of the anvil, over time, deforms it. A thrush will strike snail shells on stones to get at the flesh. The lithic anvil is replaced by the bronze, the bronze by the wrought iron, the wrought iron by the wrought iron faced with steel. You came here to the edge of the frontier to escape the violence of allegory, the current theorems and fashions, and refuse to see the anvil as an altar. You put your two index fingers, pointing up, next to your temples and pretend to be a bull. The anvil is your unmoved opponent.

A Public Education

The boy was abandoned, not raised, by wolves. For his first three years, he suckled what he could to get by: a fox, a star-nose mole, a skunk, a nanny goat. As an adult, tossing back the last of a martini he would say, Milk is for babies and barbarians. To stay warm, the boy rubbed two sticks together. The boy rode an old broke-down mare to school through a blizzard. No saddle. No saddle blanket. He’d say, A horse’s heart is as blue as a glacier’s. From page four of his Eclectic First Reader, the boy read aloud to the empty schoolroom:

The two boys run fast.
They run as fast as they can.
One of the boys has no hat.
Here is a small dog.
He has the boy’s hat.
The boys cannot catch the dog.

The boy read that once the universe fit into the space a jelly jar. The hard part, he figured, was screwing the lid on tight. Nestled in the hayloft, the boy would listen to the night sounds: sleet in the branches, a distant church bell striking the hour, the wolves loping away from town on the highway’s icy, gravelly shoulder. Before he falls asleep, the boy frets about the boy in the story, the one without a hat. It is winter; the boy thinks, he’ll catch his death of cold.

Eric Pankey is the author of many collections of poetry. A new book, AUGURY, is due out in 2017 from Milkweed Editions. He is the Heritage Chair in Writing at George Mason University.