Lunchtime at the Farmers Market Reading “Song of Myself” |
by Jake Young

The large, white-bearded man
in denim overalls
wipes his blade on a cloth
tucked into his apron string,
and hands me another paper plate
with three glistening oysters.

I drop another five-dollar bill
into the wicker basket at the end of the bar,
and return to my seat in the shade
of an old elm tree. Today
you can hear voices in the eddies of the wind,
and watch sunlight rippling on supple boughs.

Everyone alive bears witness to such sights;
each one of us has felt ourselves carried away
like a pile of leaves gathered in the wind, the sensation
of coming and departing in every breath.

The oyster-shucker sharpens his knife, wipes away
water, ice, and broken bits of shell from the counter
at his stall in the market.

He caresses life as much as any man.
How well he splits the shells in two,
separates the oyster’s foot from its hold,
so that the people in line, wearing sun hats,
baskets hanging from their arms,
can eat something still alive, savor
that briny taste of the sea’s affection for us.

I am enamored with men and women
who live among the taste of the ocean,
and of the woman who sells tamales from her truck,
of the welder and the winemaker and the beekeeper
(I love them, though I do not know them).

Comrade to the world, each one of us,
teachers, politicians, policemen, singers,
 musicians and artists of all kinds, lawyers,
 doctors, priests, a myriad of professions,
a multitude of experiences and perspectives,
changing and yet unchanged,
the thoughts of people in all times and places,
not original but unique, yours as much as mine,
they belong to no one, to nothing

but entropy. Yet I am perpetually astonished.

Somehow we continue. Who have we become?
How is it I can taste sunlight in the shellfish that I eat?

Unfazed by the amplitude of time,
knowing that one’s dissolution is a hallucination,
I recognize in myself all people,
and accept that all the good and bad I see in them I see in myself.
We each exists as we are, which is more than enough.

Recall the words of the poet of the Body and the poet of the Soul,
poet of the woman same as the man, whose words
are a convulsive sea—sea of the brine of life,
and of unshoveled yet always-ready graves:
You have tried to teach me to accept time absolutely,
to accept Reality and dare not question it—

but I cannot. Each breath in me is a question;
I am hollow, empty with unknowing.

I have followed your materialism to the edge
of scientific reason, but when I arrived I fell off the knife-edge
of nihilism, nearly drowning
in the turbulent, fleshy cosmos of your reason.

I want nothing more than to live in the knowledge of the senses,
to exist only in the realm of the sensual,
of eating, and drinking and love-making.

But time and time again I regress
to the unfeeling subjective space of thought
that tells me this is all I can ever truly know,
and this awareness of my own otherness separates me
from all, even as it unites me
with the subjective existence we all share.

The desire to see, hear, and feel is a miracle.
But is it the oyster or the idea of the oyster
that tugs at my appetite? Which is more deserving of praise?

The ephemeral radiance of a sunset satisfies me more
than the metaphysics of books;

but like an addict or intellectual masochist, I can’t stop
searching the diaphanous shadows of letters on the page
for some meaning
that will help me to understand
why the air tastes like salt on my palate,
 how my ears go where my eyes can’t reach?

I hear the drone of planes, the whirr of cars driving by,
branches bending in the wind, African drums,
my own breath and heartbeat.

The sounds run together;
the sounds of the city fuse
with the sounds of the country,
the sounds of the day combine
with the sounds of the night,
the sounds of the living join the sounds of the dead,
the sounds of the silent unite
with the sounds of the voluminous
to proclaim what we’ve felt all along:
all truths wait in all things.

But what proves most important
to every man and woman is not truth
but meaning, that form truth takes when it’s interpreted,
when we turn another’s subjective reality into something objective
so that we may internalize it,
 give birth to it anew from our own perspective,
re-forging the journey-work of the stars
in the space and time of consciousness.
There is no objective truth,
only the actual waiting to be found,
hoping to be liberated at any moment,
which is no truth at all, only the illusion of truth,
the fa├žade of objectivity when subjectivity is seen from outside itself.
From our own vantage point the palling stars of morning seem to fade,
but we know that they still shine,
so we can say they fade and burn at once—a relativity of truth,
that dialectical property of an existence
in relation to itself.

Solitary, walking home at dusk, my thoughts stray.

I welcome all contradiction, each paradox and every ambiguity.
I am composed of such discrepancies;
our very being
deserves praise and condemnation.

Fishermen sail the Arctic Ocean;
brides and bridegrooms in bed
tighten to each others’ thighs and lips;
the medic counts the wounded;
the luckless pity the infirm;
every irretrievable life, observe the ash-colored faces that pass by you

and do not ask if they embody you, for you already know,
shame-faced and ragged with grief,
they are your brothers and sisters, your mothers and fathers.

That anyone could forget
they are embodied in you and you in them
leaves my mouth packed with snow,
my bones cracked and drained of marrow.

When we give we give ourselves.
What else of value do we have to offer?

What I know others strip away.
I follow their outstretched hands into the Unknown,

where the dead and undead alike
tell me that the human condition is a fallacy;
like the present, it’s always changing, and promulgates
what comes after and grows out of itself.
Only our dreams remain
a uniform hieroglyphic
(in a language we hardly recognize or understand).

When we look over our shoulders
we attempt to live in the past as much as the present,
but the past is hardly more real than the future.
What has transpired is almost as unknown as what will come.

My evidence is a stack of notebooks I barely remember filling.
I philosophize with the bravuras of birds
but have no philosophy.
I keep books but have no library.
I take ease but have no chair,
and pray but have no church.

I’ve been led up a knoll, a hand hooked around my waist,
the other pointing to the landscape,
tracing winding paths
with an outstretched finger…
and I’ve returned there to lead others:
my arm around another’s waist,
my legs guiding us home along the trail,
my voice that says only you
can decide why
you chose to travel this road.

I have been the tongue in another’s mouth,
the oyster sliding off the shell, raised to parted lips,
smooth and smelling like the ocean,
alive, but for how much longer?

I do not believe in God, yet I behold it in every object,
in you as much as in me.

I do not know what it is—
but if it is eternal
life and unavoidable death,
it is also form and chaos—
 and then it must be happiness too.
And beauty. And love.

These things do not exist in the abstract;
I have filled every object I have come across with them.
I give form to you as much as you to me.

Of course we contradict ourselves.
We are the progenitors of logic.
We make our own moral equivalence.
If we contradict ourselves it is because the world contradicts itself.
After all, it is large, and we contain multitudes.

We cannot be easily explained away,
cannot fall into the numerical expression of a proof. I am
as transitory as air, as fluid as light effused in the eddies of the Nile.
Like the tide, I depart as I arrive.
If you look for me at the farmers’ market
and cannot find me, do not be discouraged;
I’ll be waiting for you under your boot-soles, beyond the grass,
in the shallows of the delta,

in the next oyster you raise to your lips.

Jake Young lives in Santa Cruz, California, and received his MFA from North Carolina State University. His most recent work appears or is forthcoming inMiramar, Fjords Review, Windfall: A Journal of Poetry of Place, Poecology, and Cloudbank. Last spring he attended the 2014 Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Jake is also the poetry editor for the Chicago Quarterly Review.

Me and Jim
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Jim makes babies; I make symphonies.
Jim knows the color white; I know how to kill it.
We grieve together.
Like lemmings, considering the edge.
Sharing a drink.
Staring at the sky.

It's coming closer.

Robin Wyatt Dunn: the subject is affable, with an ingratiating attitude towards authority. Nervous around uniforms, the subject grinds his teeth. Careful gait analysis reveals populist sentiments, but speech patterns reveal elitist attitudes. No registered handguns in the name of the subject, but known to carry a knife. Approach with caution. 

Exam Table Paper |
by Ally Malinenko

Exam table paper sticks to my back as I lay, one arm up
the other down, shirtless
as the technician with a shaved head,
and sharp glasses,
who reminds me of my old poetry teacher,
runs her hands along my breast.

It’s not until I notice her hitting the same spot
the side of my right breast, over and over again
that I glance at the sonogram screen.

And there it is.
Like the red spot on Jupiter
a hurricane the size of the planet
here now
inside me
ready to wipe out everything I know.

I’m going to get the doctor, she tells me
and right then, I know.
I know the way I know that
one day I would be here,
but I never expected this day to be today,
June 5th when I am only 37 years old.
I whisper “fuck”
the smallest hurricane of a word I know.

When the doctor will come in
she will have a nice face
and I will think that she is not giving me bad news
because people with such nice faces
explain about misunderstandings
not diagnosis

but I am wrong.
Instead she gives me a printout
of my own hurricane
and tells me to come back tomorrow for the biopsy.

But that is in the future,
just several moments from now
as the woman with the shaved head is making
her way step by step down the hall
of this medical center
searching for the woman
who will change my life
and I am lying here now,
looking down at my own nipple
“fuck no.”

Ally Malinenko is the author of the poetry collection The Wanting Bone (Six Gallery Press), as well as the children's novel Lizzy Speare and The Cursed Tomb (Antenna Books). Her novel This Is Sarah is forthcoming from Bookfish Books this summer. She currently lives in the part of Brooklyn voted to have the best halal truck.

Realistically Speaking |
by Alan Semrow‏

For the record, I’m not doing this for money, so excuse me when I say that this is not benefitting me. This is only a way to tell the truth. The truth of the industry. To the people.
            A lot of people told me after I finished up the last season of my first television show, that I’d be the best new, bright young thing. They plastered a lot of promise in front of me and, in between takes, took pictures and sexually harassed me.
            The writers made jokes on the show that were direct insults to my personality, my persona. Now I say, this is a way to make the record clean. I worked hard. I was the one that moved to L.A. and made the choice to make this my career. It was not lucrative until the show came along and the casting staff somehow enjoyed my awkward, dark-haired ways.
            My parents were only somehow influential in this all. I don’t want to go into details, but they were supportive. That’s all I need to say and I hope people will respect that.
            I’m showing my life to the world now because I really have nothing to lose and I’d only ask for your respect during this next triumphant venture. I am not a has-been, as I know internet gawkers have mentioned on occasion, but…
            Can we stop the camera now?
            I can’t talk to the camera? I’m talking to the camera right now. I—I just don’t understand. What do you want me to do? You want me to drive the kids to work? You want me to do some Pilates? Well, um, the kids at their fathers.
            I could talk about my childhood. How about that? I was gifted, I can say that. I was gifted and I understood that at a young age. I auditioned for all the school plays. I was a card in my high school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. They did my makeup real sparkly. My parents were proud, said I would go far. They would help me, they’d support me. Always did and I told them that if I got famous like I deserved, I’d do the same.
            It’s important for me to say that I am very proud of the success I’ve had. Of course, after the first show ended, I went through a period of… let’s just say disenchantment. No one was throwing out offers and I was probably going out and partying more, so that wasn’t necessarily a bonus, but…
            Okay…timeout! This is going too far. I shouldn’t talk about the party days.
            No, I will speak to the camera. Thanks.
            Okay, then I won’t…but I am.
            I never did a drug in my life. And I recently stopped smoking a year ago, so I really can’t be near it, so I know you camera people are a bit uncomfortable in your place in this world, but secondhand smoke is deadly and I can’t be near it, otherwise I will be sick.
But, wait. Can you guys cut this? Smoking is gross. You might turn off the audience.
            The day I won the Kid’s Choice Award… Oh, heavens, it was ages ago, but it still has a special place on my office mantle. Right now, I’m very optimistic this show could earn me another award. I’m thinking Golden Globe, but that’s my eternal optimism acting up again!
            I am certainly not nervous to invite you into my home. As long as no cameras go into my bathroom when I’m in there, I am okay with showing the world what I have to offer. As I mentioned before, I believe I am a gift to this world and wish nothing but to show the people what it means to be a success. I am not afraid of much. I am very sure of myself and my place in this universe, which I believe is a major part of the Buddhist thought system—something I find interesting.
            No, I’m not afraid to puke or cry on camera.
            My last movie? Oh, it’s been awhile, but three years ago I was in a film called Mother’s Vacation. It was on Lifetime and I played a mother of four who went on a road trip with my best friend from college, as my husband stayed home for the weekend with the kids. It was tremendously fun. I was a little upset when the Emmys did not recognize it, but I did work hard. I can’t say much about the woman I worked with—Mercedes Ruehl. But I loved working with the kids! They were lovely and special and gifted in their own way.
            The thing about fame is, though, that you can’t take it all too seriously. People are going to be cruel and you’re going to get upset when you’re in auditions and people don’t receive you well, or… Or maybe don’t even know who you are, which, of course, is rare. You know, very rare for me, because of my success on my first show.
            Second show? Well, this is…
            You just can’t take the fame game too seriously. That’s what you have to know. I’ve met and befriended a lot of stars in my day—people who have supported me and people who have let me down, but what you really have to do is get right back up there on the saddle and keep riding. You have to be true to thine self as Shakespeare says. Otherwise, you won’t be able to offer any love or any time or anything or anyone.
            Okay. Stop, stop.
            Okay. No. Okay. I just need to say something. I am, I am Nadine Sadler and this is my world! Welcome! Okay.
Okay. Let’s do that again. I seemed too happy. I am happy, though. Maybe I should make that known.
            Okay, but stop.
The thing is this fame thing is a hard road, but it’s worth it.

            I am Nadine Sadler and this is my world!

Alan Semrow lives in Wisconsin and is a graduate of English from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. His poems and fiction have been featured in multiple publications, including BlazeVOX14, Red Fez, The Bicycle Review, Barney Street, and Wordplay, and he won the Essayist Award from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point English Department for his nonfiction work. In 2015, his stories are set to be featured inEarl of Plaid Lit Journal, EAP: The Magazine, Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers, Indiana Voice Journal, and Blotterature Lit Mag.Semrow spends the vast majority of his free time with his boyfriend, best friends, family, and Shih Tzu, Remy.

When It Rains Every Day |
by Suvi Mahonen

The weirdness finally wears off when there’s only five minutes remaining. It takes the dregs of my limited self control to stop myself from jumping off the nutter couch and pointing triumphantly at Laura and shouting ‘Ha!’

I don’t move. But my face must have. Because she pauses in the middle of her sentence.
‘You wanted to say something?’ she says, arching her eyebrow in the way that she does so that it disappears behind the thick black upper rim of her funky Gucci glasses.

I think quickly. ‘I was wondering what happened to your old pot plant?’

She glances over her shoulder at the empty space on her desk between the computer and the inbox tray where a tall, spiky, phallic-like cactus used to sit. She turns back. ‘It died,’ she says simply.

I can tell she doesn’t believe me. I don’t care. I’m still pissed off she suggested Olanzapine ‘Just in case’.

I knew I shouldn’t have told her what had happened at the hospital.

As soon as I did I realised I’d made a mistake. It was the look she shot me. Something about it said here we go again.

Her chair squeaked as she’d leaned forward. ‘What did you say you saw?’

I’d laughed to show it was nothing. ‘It was nothing.’ I laughed again. ‘I knew as soon as I saw it that it wasn’t really there.’ I looked out along the jagged line of building tops that crossed the breadth of her office window. When I looked back she was scribbling on her pad.

Sand ran down my skin.

‘What?’ I said. ‘You’ve never seen something out of the corner of your eyes that just turned out to be a shadow.’

She stopped and looked at me. Her nostrils twitched. I felt like grabbing that Mont Blanc pen of hers and ramming it up one of those nostrils.

Then she smiled. ‘Of course I have.’ Then she capped the pen and put the pen on the coffee table and covered the pen with the pad. Face down. Then she told me a pithy anecdote about a snake in her garden turning into a stick. Then she brought up the Olanzapine.

I knew I shouldn’t have told her.

‘Are you going to get another one?’ I say, wishing I’d thought of something better than the cactus to try and distract her with.

Her rubesque lips pucker a fraction. ‘No.’ She crosses her grey wool-skirted, black-stockinged, high-heeled, quite-well-shaped-for-fiftyish legs and frowns. ‘I’m trying to understand why you’re still refusing to sign this contract,’ she says.

Laura and her contracts. A year’s gone by and she’s still stuck on them. I know the easiest thing to do would be to give in and say yes. But I always thought they were ludicrous. I mean really, just because you sign a promise with your shrink not to harm yourself, or not to purge, or not to steal, or not to be a compulsive sex addict, etc., doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll keep it.

Anyway, I have another reason now.

I lean back into the couch. I run my hands over my belly, feel the reassuring swell of my uterus beneath. So different to three years ago.

I smile.

‘Because you can trust me.’

‘I do trust you,’ she says. ‘But I’d still like you to sign this contract.’ She holds out her pen to me.

I keep my hands folded.

‘If you trust me, why do you want me to restart the Olanzapine then?’
Laura sweeps back a strand of hair that’s strayed onto her face. ‘Because as I explained to you before, pregnancy and the post-partum period, especially the post-partum period, are a high risk time for recurrences of prior psychological problems.’ She pulls her glasses down a fraction, making her eyes grow larger.

I’d avoided those magnified eyes of hers when she’d called me into her office today. I was hoping that she’d forgotten what I’d yelled as I’d stormed out a year ago, slamming the door so hard behind me that the handle hurt my hand. And as I walked the short distance from her office door towards the centre of the room – where the same nutter couch and the same squat coffee table and the same purple rug with the wavy yellow trim sat waiting for me – I kept expecting her to say something. Something like ‘I knew you’d be back eventually’.

But she didn’t.

Instead, as the nutter couch enveloped me in its big, soft, brown, leathery-smelling hug, she just stood next to her desk, holding her elbows, gold bracelets and gold earrings jiggling.
‘So,’ a kind of smile creased her cheeks. ‘Can I touch it?’

All was forgiven.

Until she mentioned the Olanzapine.

I knew I shouldn’t have told her.

* * * *

Things I remember:
- a short, sharp, shiny knife;
- the cold night air on my breasts;
- hearing the mournful hoot of a train whistle as its bright beam transected the linked wire fence above my head;
- the sticky treacle of blood in my eyes;
- the salty smell of his sweat;
- the painful rocky ground;
- the crinkle of litter under my back;
- reaching out, trying to grasp the line of distant houselights in my hand;
- the blazing sting as he stubbed out his cigarette on my clit.

Things I don’t:
- the broken bottle;
- whether he was circumcised or not;
- what he was saying when he tried to set my hair alight;
- if his tie was plain or striped;
- the name of the person who found me curled up next to my car;
- Mark holding the phone to my ear while I cried to Mum;
- signing the police statement;
- testing my urine three weeks later;
- slashing my wrists.

This last bit isn’t exactly true. I can remember fetching the box cutter from the garage. Then watching as the bright red spickled patterns splashed across the white-tiled bathroom floor. But I can’t remember the bit in-between. Laura calls this a classic example of dissociative fugue in a depersonalised state secondary to a severe reactive depression.

I call it not wanting to be me.

Suvi Mahonen is a freelance writer based in Surfers Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast. Her non-fiction has appeared in various newspapers and magazines in both Australia and Canada including The Weekend AustralianThe Sydney Morning Herald and Practical Parenting. Her fiction has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies including in The Best Australian Stories 2010 and Griffith Review. A portion of a longer work-in-progress was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize. For more from Suvi visit her page here:

Best Un-Messed-With |
by Ada Fetters

It'd be a poem about how
I cannot describe you,
for that would be to fit you
to the shape of my words,
and thus to carve out the greater part of you
just to put you
into a poem.

When Ada is not editing the Commonline Journal, she divides her time between teaching Psychology to college students and writing. She has been published in The Journal of Humanistic Psychology,  Copperwood Review, Humanist Magazine, Niche, Tertulia, Debris, and has poems scheduled for publication in Poetry Pacific Magazine.