Categories
Issue 4 Visual Art

[ABUBAKAR SADIQ MUSTAPHA]

Inside the mouth of a river

Inside the mouth of a river explores the human’s continued dependence on nature, how we take and take and do little or nothing to preserve nature. This work titled inside the mouth of a river shows how different people depend on a river located somewhere in Lapai, Niger state, Nigeria for income with focus on a group of young boys who come daily to the river to fish and sell it in the town, to a rice farmer who irrigate his paddies from the river water, to men who fetch river sand used for building construction, to boys who come to the river to swim. In this picture story, we see how the river plays a role in the simple life of the rural people.

Abubakar Sadiq Mustapha

[about]

Abubakar Sadiq Mustapha is a storyteller, a poet, and an art curator. He believes in the power of photography and how it can be used toward mental health. His work has appeared in the Ebedi ReviewThe Song IsThe Nigeria ReviewThe Shallow Tales ReviewLibretto MagazineLiterandra, Lolwe  and elsewhere. He is a fellow of the Bada Murya Fellowship. You can find him on Twitter @musadeeeq

You can tip Abubakar on Paypal: abdullahisuleiman599@yahoo.com

Categories
Issue 4 Poetry

[JENNIFER MACBAIN-STEPHENS]

The Tyrant Whispers to His Victim

silence / don’t / say thank you / finally / get your girl home / too suspicious/ with your big sad eyes / too innocent / you’re viral / you have potential / the change isn’t instant / ya know / to slither / into a body / tag and colonize / listen for your name on the radio / it’s not my fault

This is a found poem. Text taken from: Grant, Mira. Symbiont. New York. Orbit, 2014. Print. Pages 107-108. In a symbiotic relationship: sometimes one species benefits at the other’s expense, and in other cases neither species benefits.

[about]

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens (she/her) went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and now lives in Iowa where she is landlocked. Her fifth, full length poetry collection, “Pool Parties” is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in 2023. She is also the author of fifteen chapbooks and enjoys exploring how to blend creativity with nurturing the earth. Recent work appears in The Westchester Review, Cleaver, Dream Pop, and Grist. She is the director of the monthly reading series Today You are Perfect, sponsored by the non-profit Iowa City Poetry. Find more of her work at http://jennifermacbainstephens.com/.

You can tip Jennifer on Venmo: @jennifermacbain-stephens

Categories
Issue 4 Poetry

[SIMON NAGEL]

Newsfeed Update

Another species 
of Chinese river dolphin
that we always hear 
are going extinct 
went extinct again.

[about]

Simon Nagel is a writer from California that now finds himself in the United Kingdom. His work has appeared in HAD, Hoot Review and Taco Bell Quarterly, among others. He recently finished his debut novel “Gates to Nowhere.”

You can tip Simon on PayPal: simon_nagel@hotmail.com

Categories
Issue 4 Poetry

[SARAH GROUSTRA]

Strawberry Moon

I am trying to honor my impulses.
When I am alone in the kitchen I play music,
I dance,
I bump into cabinets and I am trying to fall in love
with the way movement leaves bruises.
There is a transitory blankness at night
without you there to punctuate it.
You are the first parenthesis,
the soft curve,
and I think maybe I have seen this metaphor before,
but these feelings are an old refrain so how many ways can I say it?
In the kitchen I think about you.
I think about how we have to eat three times a day.
Last night there was a full moon, and we talked about it over the phone.
Cyclical: it’s all cyclical.

[about]

Sarah Groustra (she/her) is a senior at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, originally from Brookline, Massachusetts. Her writing has previously appeared in or is forthcoming in Funicular Magazine, HIKA, Lilith Magazine, Boats Against the Current, Moon Cola Zine, and Spires Literary Magazine. Her plays have been workshopped or produced by Playdate Theatre, the Parsnip Ship, and Playwright’s Workshop at Kenyon (PWAK). She plans on pursuing writing and theater of various sorts after she graduates. The other thing she loves as much as books is breakfast food, which you can tell by her Twitter handle: @ladypoachedegg.

You can tip Sarah on Venmo: @sarahng28

Categories
Issue 4 Nonfiction

[SARAH (QIUQI) BOVOLD]

A Day After Yuzuru Tried a Quadruple Axel

View this document on Scribd

[about]

Sarah (Qiuqi) Bovold, a nonfiction writer from Beijing, China. She holds an MFA from Columbia College Chicago. Her works can be found in Drunk Monkeys and MASKS literary Magazine.

Categories
Issue 4 Nonfiction

[LISA MUSCHINSKI]

foosball at the pub

& i say i call next & they look at me a little like really, u? but they say sure sure sure & then it’s me & three guys & they ask are u any good & i say yeah i’m pretty good & they think really, u? & i don’t respond. we start the game & i tell my partner i’m gonna boss u around and he looks at me like he doesn’t know how to feel so i tell him it’s okay just do as i say & the positions aren’t forward/D but sub/dom & he learns his place & starts to like being told what to do. it’s obvious who’s any good after the second point & it’s me & the older guy & we catch each other’s eye & it’s not sexy but it’s raw like sex & his eyes say i see you & mine say i see you too. the game is over & it’s the older guy & he says one v one one v one & it’s me v him & guys crowd around & some girls too & they know it’ll be a good game because it’s two good players. i hand him the ball because it’s his quarters & it’s game on & my cheek-length bangs fall in my eyes like sweat but i’m not sweating because i’m keeping my cool even if my heart’s in my mouth even if there’s ten people watching even if i know i’ll lose & it’s three balls later but i’ve scored one too & we lock eyes & we both smile & it’s not i wanna fuck but it’s i wanna win. i take a breath and some gulps of free beer & i press the ball against the hole’s slick wall & it’s between my midfielders & back & forth & back & forth & it’s to my forward & it’s a trick shot in the goal. he looks at me & i know it’s over because now it’s tied up & now i could win but i’ve lost my cool & it’s a heat in my cheeks & my heart’s on my sleeve & it’s getting in the way, so he takes the rest & it ends him to me & he’s won & he’s happy but he sees me, like really sees me, & it’s a handshake over the table & it’s good game good game.

[about]

Lisa Muschinski can be found drinking tea/beer (depending on the time of day) and writes for Boulder Magazine while also managing the social media of a local tea companyHer words are found or upcoming in FlashFlood, Fahmidan Journal, A Thin Slice of AnxietyBear Creek Gazette, Dollar Store Magazine, and elsewhere. Check out her website (www.lisamuschinski.com) and Twitter (@lisamuschinski) for more.

You can tip Lisa on Venmo: @Lisa-Muschinski

Categories
Issue 4 Poetry

[KENNETH POBO]

WHEN YOU LIVE IN MIDDLETOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

it’s easy to forget how to fly. So much
takes off without you. I’ve seen roofs rise
to meet birds in mid-air. Steam

from pancakes cooking rises—
so do the pancakes. They form
a chorus line against the kitchen

window and dance.
I used to fly. As a child,
my wings took me everywhere—

by the way, Saturn is nice in February.
Little by little my wings weakened.
Feathers fell, and try as I might,

I got no heft.
I said I may as well go to school:
gradebooks, assignments,

no flying allowed. Someday
I may fly again. It’ll just happen.
I’ll be eating pancakes, the dining room

a private airport. Look up
beyond the pine. That will be me,
flying, no destination.

[about]

Kenneth Pobo is the author of twenty-one chapbooks and nine full-length collections. Recent books include Bend of Quiet (Blue Light Press), Loplop in a Red City (Circling Rivers), and Lilac And Sawdust (Meadowlark Press). His work has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Nimrod, Mudfish, Hawaii Review, and elsewhere.

Categories
Fiction Issue 4

[SAMUEL EDWARDS]

The Trunk and The Tragedy

They say elephants never forget. And that’s why Herbert was perfect for the lead role in John Lancaster’s amateur production of Romeo and Juliet. 

John Lancaster had been directing stage-plays for the last fifteen years or so. His acting career had been short-lived; his menacing gaze attached to a height that barely scratched five feet landed him a spot on the BBC’s flagship police drama of the time, starring as a mean-spirited police sergeant that clashed with the lead characters. But life imitates art, and a short temper and aversion to following orders made for uncomfortable working conditions and left co-stars in tears. He discovered he was much more comfortable behind the camera, and found a second chance as a director for daytime soap operas, barking orders like an overexcited Jack Russell. Eventually, John Lancaster switched from television to theatre. He completed a short stint on the West End, where critical acclaim greeted him but pressures of fame proved too much, before he moved north to the tiny village of Swillington, hidden amongst rolling green fields and tweed flat caps. 

His work as director took him all around Yorkshire, from youth clubs to church halls, high schools to outreach centres. Aided by the country air and finally tasting good gravy, his once fiery persona began to dissipate, and John mellowed with age. He took to drinking gin with breakfast. He fell asleep listening to podcasts on woodworking. He tipped his postman a crisp twenty pound note every third Thursday of the month, without fail. He wore socks with sandals and cardigans with corduroy, and when it rained he would stroll by the canal, humming Broadway show tunes to sheltering ducks. 

If people found him odd or eccentric, they didn’t say. John Lancaster welcomed Yorkshire into his heart, and Yorkshire responded in kind. His gaze was less menacing these days and more wistful; he could no more shout and bellow than he could sprout wings and fly, and though his directing style softened he still squeezed the best out of his actors. His reputation was unparalleled and his work much beloved. The only critic for miles who seemed impervious to his charms was Helen Yates, the entertainment and arts writer for Aberford’s local paper, the town a stone’s throw from Swillington. Helen was not one who doled out praise lightly; she could find fault in a Faulker, the blemishes in a Beethoven, and the mistakes in a Michelangelo. She had yet to give one of John’s productions a good review. 

As Summer receded and Autumn arrived, bringing with it darker nights and an invasion of pumpkin-spiced flavour novelties, so also did it mean the start of auditions of John Lancaster’s latest production, the great Shakespeare tragedy Romeo and Juliet.
 
Shakespeare was going to be a challenge. John Lancaster had been merciless in his previous selections, and the amateur actors amongst the village of Swillington had risen to every challenge presented to them so far. Tears had been shed during the closing act of Death of a Salesman three years ago; the entire audience had been on their feet and singing during the big numbers of Grease two years before that; and more than one audience member had fainted from fright during the creepy, unsettling performance of The Woman in Black the year before. Poor Alfie Woodward, the milkman with a lisp who lived with his ailing mother, famously wet his pants during one jump scare and had to leave the theatre. The whole village heard about that one. 

But Shakespeare was a step up. And this wasn’t going to be one of those modern-retelling versions. None of this replace-the-swords-with-guns nonsense, or update the dialogue to mention Instagram and Starbucks and cut out all your thee’s and thou’s. No, this was going to be a classic all the way, featuring all the Capulets and Montagues, teenage angst and untimely deaths that it was famous for. 

The auditions took place on stage at Swillington Town Hall, with John Lancaster sitting a few rows back drinking herbal tea and taking notes. Juliet was cast quickly. Only one woman in twenty miles had the acting chops to play her, and that distinction went to Susan Hendricks, the pastor’s daughter with big blue eyes and a heavenly voice. The other roles were filled as the evening went on. Some were by regulars in John Lancaster productions, like Tommy Blake the seasoned ironmonger who was cast as Tybalt, and Keiran Frost the pub landlord for the local down the road who would play Friar Laurence. There were newcomers, like there always was, such as Liz Hirst the nursery teacher with more freckles than she knew what to do with, who was cast as Rosaline, and little Simon Dean, who looked like he was still in primary school and got his mother to drive him to the audition, but when he took to the stage he was one hell of a Benvolio, it left John with no choice but to cast him. 

Soon, only the lead role of Romeo was left unfilled. Many men came and auditioned, and all came up short. Either they didn’t have the heart, or the passion, or they simply stumbled over the dialogue. 

That was when Herbert strode in. Herbert was twelve feet tall, his skin was grey and wrinkled, and his tusks were a dull white. The room shook with every step he took. His trunk swayed with mindless abandon, and his tail flicked arbitrarily. He came in through the front door with as much ease as a human would walk through a spider’s web, and with as much oblivious force. Sure, he wasn’t exactly what John had been looking for. An elephant would surely be nobody's first choice for the lead in a 17th century tragedy, John would be the first to admit that. But there was no denying that he nailed the audition. It wasn’t just the fact that he had memorised all his lines before he had even got there, and delivered them succinctly and flawlessly. It was the passion. The intensity. Have you ever looked into an elephant’s eyes? The amount of emotion they can portray from the merest squint, from a trembling lid, from a maddening glare, is unparalleled. 

John cast him on the spot. 

Swillington became a circus after that, and John Lancaster the ringmaster. The tabloids soon got hold of the fact that an elephant had been cast in John’s latest production, and reporters from all over the country flocked to Yorkshire with reckless tenacity for pictures and interviews. Cameramen and news hosts lined the streets, small car parks became packed with camper vans and trucks from TV studios. You could barely turn a corner in the village without some freshly preened news anchor shoving a microphone in your face, looking for a sound bite. John couldn’t go anywhere without a trail of vultures clicking at his heels, and the public park opposite the town hall where rehearsals were held became a campsite filled with tents and tourists. Helicopters circled the village day and night, the sound of propeller blades ceaseless against the tranquil calm of a restless county. 

An abundance of pop-up stalls selling elephant themed novelties and knick-knacks seemingly appeared overnight, along with bus loads of tourists eager to buy whatever cheap accessory was thrust under their noses. All it took was one afternoon of heavy rain, and Swillington was awash with elephant raincoats and umbrella handles in the shape of a trunk. Business owners, eager not to get left behind in the wave of easy commerce, jumped on the bandwagon wherever possible. Keiran Frost, the aforementioned pub landlord, changed his establishment's name from The Three Hens to The Thirsty Elephant, along with a large colourful sign that hung outside that residents decried as “tacky and garish” but nonetheless attracted plenty of attention from camera-toting tourists. 

The atmosphere in rehearsals themselves was not much better. The stage had to be reinforced to support Herbert’s weight, and the balcony set where Juliet would call from had to be raised significantly; the scene lost some of its impact when Romeo could merely raise his trunk slightly and reach his Juliet. The costume department was aghast when they got Herbert’s measurements, and proclaimed the costs would be sky high. Leading lady Susan Hendricks found it difficult acting opposite such a large mammal, and struggled with stage presence whenever the two were in a scene together. 

That wasn’t to mention the animal activists who swarmed the streets whenever rehearsals were underway, chanting and protesting loud enough to hear from inside. They screamed of animal abuse, and as the days wore on the choruses of discontent morphed into shrieks and bellows fueled by anger and self-righteousness. It wasn’t long before the protestors were joined by a sub-sect of religious fanatics, a sanctimonious group spurred on by a pompous need to poke their noses into where they weren’t needed. Their main issue, they claimed, was of the kiss between Herbert and the pastor’s daughter Susan Hendricks, and the implied bestiality. Turns out even an implication was worthy of protest. They held up handmade signs with catchy slogans, declaring Dumbo + Bimbo = Sinful Mumbo Jumbo. The two groups of protestors, despite being unified in the objection, were at unease with each other, both thinking the other group were ‘whack jobs’. Their chants were discordant and inharmonious, and both groups steadily increased in volume to attempt to one-up the other. 

Despite all this, Herbert acted with the utmost professionalism. He was never late to rehearsal, he knew all his lines, and when the peanuts were passed around he left enough for everyone. 

John Lancaster had been worried Herbert’s newfound fame might get to him, but the mighty mammal was a beacon of modesty. Herbert crept in through the back door, deactivated his Twitter profile, and declined an appearance on The Graham Norton Show. 

Eventually, in late November, it came time for the Opening Night. Tickets were sold out weeks in advance. Ticket scalps preyed on the weak and needy, and prices were exaggerated to extortionate amounts. Those lucky enough to acquire tickets for the first performance arrived in the most exquisite and glamorous clothes; the men strutted in their suits and tuxedos, and woman pranced through the front door in silk dresses and long, fluttering gowns. A red carpet had been laid down on the steps leading to the entrance. Champagne was served on arrival by waiters. Swillington Town Hall had never seen such ritz and glamour, at least not since Noel Edmonds hosted the Great Yorkshire Cabbage and Cauliflower Best of Show competition in ‘84. 

As the seats filled up, John Lancaster peered out from behind the great curtain to look at the assembled audience. A few faces jumped out at him; Swillington’s Labour representative Tom Phillips, in a suit made entirely from tweed; one half of the Ant and Dec pairing, although he couldn’t tell which was which; Alfie Woodward the lisp-laden milkman and his mother, sitting side by side and deep in conversation; and a small assortment of animal activists whom John recognised from the cluster of protestors that dogged his rehearsals for weeks, but who were now poised in eager anticipation. John also noticed Helen Yates sat on the front row, his old nemesis from the entertainment and arts section of Aberford’s local paper. She was in her late fifties, wore crow’s feet for make-up and dressed exclusively in pant suits. Her pen and paper were sat on her lap, her eyes transfixed on the empty stage. John gulped. 

Backstage, there was an air of nervousness amidst his actors. He sensed trepidation and excitement in equal measure. Susan Hendricks was pacing back and forth, practicing her first monologue under her breath. Keiran Frost was shadow boxing as he went through his lines. Simon Dean was playing a handheld computer game with his headphones in, and Tommy Blake was hunched over the bin clutching his stomach. Herbert, however, sat in silent contemplation. John made eye contact with him, and Herbert winked. It was then John realised, everything might be OK after all. 

The lights dimmed. The audience hushed. The curtain raised. Showtime.
 
John snuck out from backstage and watched the performance from the audience side. It was an old habit, seeing the opening night from the spectator’s viewpoint, and it was one he stuck to no matter what. John watched his baby come to fruition for three hours. Most of all, he watched Herbert. He was transfixed by his star, and so was the crowd. Herbert moved in ways that should have been impossible for a creature five and a half tonnes; he spoke in a way that seemed impossible for an actor with a face full of ivory. This was Herbert’s night, and everyone was merely along for the ride.
 
It was, frankly, a masterpiece. The applause was deafening, and as the cast assembled for the curtain call and bowed gracefully, there wasn’t an audience member not on their feet cheering. John Lancaster was surprised to find a tear rolling down his cheek, and he flicked it away before anyone could notice.
 
The house lights came on, and the crowd began to disperse. Before John could escape however, he spotted Helen Yatesa striding towards him.
 
“We have to talk about the elephant in the room,” she whispered to him, her eyes narrowing. 

“Yes?” 

“He was amazing!” she almost exploded. “You’ve got a star on your hands there, John.” 

Afterwards, when the audience had long gone and the rest of the cast had returned to their homes, John Lancaster and Herbert sat outside on the town hall steps. John puffed on a cigar with gentle abandon. Herbert drank from a pitcher of vodka and cranberry juice, his trunk hanging loosely by his side and taking little gulps. 

“You’ve really opened my eyes, Herbert,” John said, between puffs. “Before you came along, I would have scoffed at succeeding in this. It felt ludicrous. It seemed impossible. But you proved them all wrong. Swillington and Shakespeare… Who would have guessed it? Next year we’ll tackle Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s a donkey with your name on it.” 

Cigar smoke drifted into the night, and they looked up at the stars. 

“I feel like I see the world in a different way now,” John continued. “Things aren’t just black and white, you know? There are shades of grey.” 

Herbert nodded, and John knew he understood.

After that, life returned to a sense of normalcy. The production ran for another three weeks, and by the end they couldn’t even fill all the seats. The Thirsty Elephant was renamed back to The Three Hens, the garish sign taken down. The media circus that swarmed the village had gotten wind of an albatross studying for his law degree in Oxford, and they moved on. 

Later, John received word that The Walt Disney Company was interested in signing Herbert to a contract. The movie and media conglomerate was going to send out acting scouts and wanted to meet with him immediately. John called for Herbert, and on a balmy Winter’s eve, they sat around John’s kitchen table and discussed the future. 

“Herbert, I have news. Disney have been in touch. They want to make a deal with you.” 

Herbert said nothing for a long time. He stopped eating from the bag of peanuts he had been grazing on, his trunk frozen solid in the air. A look of anger, disgust and, yes, fear almost, was spread across his face. Finally, he looked John dead in the eyes and said: “Work with a Mouse? John, you really don’t know me at all.”

[about]

Samuel Edwards writes silly words and foolish stories, all in a vain attempt to be respected and adored. Please don’t hold it against him. He has a Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree from the University of Leeds, and is studying for a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. Samuel writes mainly to impress his pet cat, a feat he will never accomplish. Previously published in Vestal Review, The Birdseed and Flash Fiction Magazine, among others. Tweets at @Sam_Edwards1990.

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[DAVID HARRISON HORTON]

Model Answer (Language)

It’s the motherfucker problem. In Chinese, it gets translated
as stupid dick. Well, that’s not good enough. And if you’re
a bad motherfucker? A cool cow? Idioms, the eternal goat-
getter. My maternal grandfather had a goat that he milked
daily. The splash sounds against an iron pail punctuate my
vague memories of any childhood not spent in urban fear.
Hide from the mailman. Never let anyone know you’re
home. The Derringer is taped under the end table next to
the door. Just point in the general direction; it’s not an
accurate weapon. Knock, knock.

Model Answer (Sports)

My uncle has a genuine Honus Wagner at home. He’s got it
wrapped up like a piece of the True Cross or a saint’s tooth.
Of course, he doesn’t know his ass from his elbow when it
comes to baseball. He thinks the Dodgers still play in
Brooklyn. But that’s the beauty of the game – I’m talking
metaphorically here about life – it’s a commodity, like soup
cans. It’s all in how you sell it. Hey Andy, take my picture!
Mark “The Bird” Fidrych died when his tractor fell over on
him. Now, that’s a story worthy of baseball.

[about]

David Harrison Horton is a Beijing-based writer, artist, editor and curator. His work has recently appeared in Otoliths, Variant Lit, Ethel, Version 9 and Acropolis, among others. He edits the poetry zine SAGINAW.

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[EMILY FAULKES]

Moths

Two of us, either side the kitchen counter,
the light above us buzzes over the dead night’s quiet.
And outside there’s nothing but a dark void
that the moths keep floating in from.

The oven clock is three minutes behind,
and ticks over to 2:17am.
We swirl tea around big mugs and
whisper between mouthfuls of toast.

The only time I’m not afraid of moths is when I’m sitting here,
slightly drunk, listening to Mum’s gossip.
They hover at the ceiling and around her head
as if she’s admitting light.

[about]

Emily Faulkes is a queer twenty-year-old writer based in London and is currently studying a Creative Writing Degree. Previously, she has been published in her university’s online magazine ‘The Brunel Draft.’ While she has no current genre preference, she enjoys writing thought provoking pieces of both poetry and fiction.