"Small Men" by Justin Bendell

We small men
stand in the shadows

A soft-powder moon above,
we drink and spit,
mutter of sex and skin,
and toast our fathers.

We boil to see bodies broke,
and yearn to hurt
with fists and sharpened flint
and hear bone splinter and
erupt from a wound like a birth.

Stars in the lacquer-sky and
moonglow on the leaves above,
we swig liquor and snarl
about the past we lost and a
world that never was.

We small men
take your words and twist
to make more small men
to put your bodies in the fields.

We lie in wait and drink and sneer and wait and
mutter and spit and sip and wait and mock and
snarl and swig
and wait
and wait
and wait
and wait
and we wait
for you to forget.

We small men
see the world like children
see the dark space
beneath their beds.



Justin Bendell is a professor, editor, musician, and writer. Originally from the Midwest U.S., he now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he teaches English at UNM-Valencia Campus. He serves as editor of Manzano Mountain Review, a fledging online literary journal. His stories and poems have appeared in Meridian, 3:AM Magazine, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Thuglit, and Washington Square Review. He co-hosts Point Blank, a podcast about noir, hardboiled, and detective fiction, and records music under various monikers including fuguers cove, The Burning Silos, Euthanized Horse, and other secret projects. He has an MFA from Florida International, an MA from Northern Arizona, and a B.S. from UW-Madison. He likes the desert. A lot.

Posted on January 11, 2018 .

Poems by Leanna Petronella

The Imaginary Age

Twin sister, in those days, our sleep traveled
down to the center of the earth. It cleaned our insides,
a busy light, each day a new four-foot someone.
Bold dolls endured repeated orphaning, adventures,
in the hard play of our summer afternoons.

Years later, I learned about the concept of flow,
Csikszentmihalyi’s idea that the self gets lost
wonderfully in an act of creation.
I’d known it killing off wispy-haired relatives,
no twin girls here, just troll dolls in overalls
circling a bedroom in sudden liberation.

Hot soup with the slippery chicken: I’m still in it.
Are others beyond the wordless? Twenty-six,
I puppy-jump between my father and his girlfriend,
be my family, be my family, how dare you be my family!
In some other life, I’d be a mother now,
smug with the ability to love a husband.

So my mother died. I suppose that event redid me
into infant frump: the loss-of-parent-problem
only shared by parents’ friends. Oh God
my mommy God oh mommy oh my God,
the mommyword a killing word,
I was like a cow for sobs.

Alma Ashley Pettigrew

I would like to stride the wooden hallways now.
A spider has shat enough lace in the pot, I can make a new gown.
Periodically I empty the vacuum’s udder and pour dust on the wedding cake
and make long sickly smiles at my visitors and offer them pieces.

They tell the housekeeper to hide the cake while I’m not looking
but she is in my cahoots and also my bloomers and instead
she finds old calendars for me and we cackle as we put the house back
twenty years for my visitors and sometimes they call the doctor.

I sleep with all the windows and that’s how I get inside them.
A good glass fuck and there I am, framed, tilting with juices,
waving a handkerchief as my visitors drive off. Let them think of me tonight
with my silver bonnet and white rouge, playing leapfrog with the maid.

Who says I am unhappy? I can eat what I can catch
and these old legs jump high and far. Sometimes I feign sleep.
You try the cake and pick its lint, you freeze when I mutter in my nap,
and sometimes I stroke the spider, always straining in my lap.

To an Old Virgin

You, old virgin, who is there to help you?
Your witches have retired, their potions have soured,
they drool blue-haired beneath their conical black.
Frogs doze in their laps, old greenlegs, old greenlegs,

the frogs eat frozen flies. The witches rock them for hours.
Oh, no one remembers their spells anymore.
Old virgin, you’ll have to do this on your own.

You, old virgin, who is left to help you?
Your circle of nymphs has wandered off to the city.
Remember those years? You got each other through each body part
touched, but where are your girls now? They left one by one,

dragging their hymens behind them.
Now they call you as they briefcase and treadmill.
Old virgin, they did it on their own.

Woman, it’s fine. You’ve been through so much. You’ve been
through the funnel of your twenties. From that whirlpool of feeling,
you dripped out a mind. You can do this on your own.

So, virgin, begin. Use what you know. Kiss, touch,
let his penis turn to stone in your hands. But it’s not playing dead.
There’s such life in this thing! Is this where a god
puts his insects? Yes, clear bees, eggs, and honey

tumble down from our groins, like we’re machines
dropping candy, as if we’ve gulped coins—are we earning
or paying?—and clouds unravel from our bodies,
full of broken-off flutters of wings—

Breathe out as he enters. This is different.
This is not like fingers or tampons. This is a wall
pushing you up into yourself, no, this is you,
you are flowing, around him.

Your man looks at you. You don’t have to love him,
but you can. I didn’t love mine. He was gentle. It was fine.
Old virgin, sometimes I wonder why I did this on my own.


Leanna Petronella’s poetry appears or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Third Coast, Birmingham Poetry Review, CutBank, La Petite Zine, ElevenEleven, and other publications. Her fiction appears in Drunken Boat, and her nonfiction appears in Brevity. She received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas and is currently a doctoral student in creative writing at the University of Missouri, where she is the Poetry Editor for the Missouri Review.


Posted on January 11, 2018 .

Poems by Greg Marzullo


from black

                 indiscriminate womb

         We swarmed
             simian streams

                                                 until We discovered
                                                     We changed
                                                           to fit
                                                 inside We hatched

We modify

            improving perfection unrelated to singular longevity

                     no fair-weather

                                               sentiment     clouds
                                               Our purpose

                     no individuation
                                                  infects the hive

                                replication       Our singular achievement

                                        in you We are

                                          you are just
                                        another chimp
                               fecund oasis of evolution

Summer Arts Camp

By bare-bulb light from center stage
you taught Tai-Chi and I
took refuge:

Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail
Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane
Carrying the Tiger Over the Mountain; 

after camp was over,
after Max caught me
in the dressing room,
after a teacher shouted “Don’t
deliver your lines
like a little girl”
and an older boy called me
and Max

I practiced 

Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail
Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane
Carrying the Tiger Over the Mountain

because I knew when you spoke
we were kin

and I hoped
with practice to be
just like you.


– For (write in your
favorite camp counselor

You know the one.
The one who wore
and black, sleeveless t-shirts,

the one who smoked
Virginia Slims with a
Dietrich-Davis-Taylor flair, 


the one who lent you
tapes, ‘A Little Night Music,’
‘The Rink,’ Judy at Carnegie Hall,

the one who  
never came back and
no one said


For all of them.)

Photo credit: Drew Xeron

Photo credit: Drew Xeron

Greg Marzullo is an award-winning writer and journalist who has worked for the Washington Blade and the Phoenix New Times, among other publications. He won a Society for Professional Journalists award for arts criticism, secured a semi-finalist place in 2017's Tucson Festival of Books for his poetry and was published on the 'HIV Here & Now' website as part of their poem-a-day feature leading up to World AIDS Day.

Posted on January 9, 2018 .

"Sucked Sweet, Bonfire, Holiday" by Barbara J. Orton

for Bobbi

I will never be your husband.
I will never be your wife.
I will never step across the threshold
into the room that smells of you both.

I will never be your favorite shirt,
the meal you eat without thinking.
I will never wake you Christmas morning,
never come home late and find you sleeping.

Though your heart falls open
like a thumbed book in my hands,
though I can make you weep without trying,
though you love me, you will never love me

from day to day. I will always be
your sucked sweet, your bonfire, your holiday,
the soft cloth you press against your wound,
the joke you tell when no one is around.

I’ve met your wife. We chatted in your kitchen.
She kept offering me tea.
She knows who she is. She knows what I am.
Now and then she asks if I’m OK. 

You told me stories in the hospital
when I was too sick to sleep.
You try so hard to be there for us both. 
But you have one body,

asleep now in the quiet house:
eyelashes shadowing your cheek,
your back curved like a crescent moon,
your belly pressed against her back.

I try so hard to want what I have,
not ache for the black space around it.
But this longing tips and spills me
like warm oil at your feet.

If I had something real and whole
to offer you, I would.
My heart cracks like glass:
a bad gift, all edges. A fistful of blood.

Someday I’ll stop wanting you.
Or someday you’ll die.
Or I will. One way or another
this hurt will subside.

Until then, this is what I choose to be:
the soft cloth you press against your wound,
the joke you tell when no one is around,
your sucked sweet, bonfire, holiday.

Split This Rock - reading (1).jpg

Barbara J. Orton's poems appear in the following anthologies: Villanelles; Obsession: Sestinas for the Twenty-First Century; Under the Rock Umbrella; The New Young American Poets; In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself, vol. 7; and New Voices: University and College Poetry Prizes, 1989-1998. Her work has also been published in journals including Ploughshares, The Yale Review, Pleiades, and Verse. She lives in Boston, where she works as a writing tutor and freelance editor. 

Posted on January 7, 2018 .

Poems by M. Soledad Caballero

Some day I will visit Hawk Mountain

I will be a real birder and know raptors
by the shape of their wings, the span of them
against wide skies, the browns and greys
of their feathers, the reds and whites like specks
of paint. I will look directly into the sun, point and say,
those are Black Vultures, those are Red-Shouldered
Hawks. They fly with the thermals, updrafts, barely
moving, glide their bodies along the currents, borrowing
speed from the wind. I will know other raptors,
Sharp-Shinned Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk, the ones
that flap their wings and move their bodies during the day.
The Merlins, the Peregrine Falcons, soaring like bullets
through blue steel, cutting the winds looking for rabbits,
ground hogs that will not live past talons and claws.
I will know the size of their bones, the weight
of their beaks. I will remember the curves, the colors
of their oval, coal eyes. I will have the measurements,
the data that lives inside their bodies like a secret
taunting me to find its guts. Or, this is what I tell myself.
But, I am a bad birder. I care little about the exact rate
of a Northern Goshawk’s flight speed. I do not need
to know how many pounds of food an American Kestrel
eats in winter. I have no interest in the feather types
on a Turkey Vulture. I have looked up and forgotten
these facts again and again and again. They float
out of my mind immediately. What I remember:
my breathless body as I look into the wildness above,
raptors flying, diving, swirling, bodies of light, talismans,
incantations, dust of the gods. Creatures of myth,
they hang in the sky like questions. They promise
nothing, indifferent to everything but death.
Still, still, I catch myself gasping, neck craned up,
aching, follow the circles they build out of sky,
reach for their brutal mystery, gravitate to
their promethean promise, the alien spark of more.

To Document

           To mark, to list, to catalogue, to register, to chronicle, to cite, to make, to seal, to stamp.

Who is real. Who is allowed. Who is loved. Who is ours.

We think in ceremonies of paper. We document in straight, sharp lines. Imagine charts reveal stars and sky, black holes. As if charts reveal the galaxy. As if the universe hangs on a wall. As if time lives in rigid, measured lists. We cling to ledgers. Sad ink moments. Dead-eye accounting, these rules of the law. Paper means nothing. Where are the cartographies of love?

I Was a Bell

              Diagnosis: Dyspareunia, Female
              Alternative: Atrophic Vaginitis

My body. I have


my body.

Round, soft, too big now. I carry it
a brown faded sack, half-empty
and dry. An after thought of muscle
and fat. It was never much, no luminous
skin or bright blood, always a work-machine.
It was always too much and too little. It
was always hungry and full. It was
a drooping flower, or a bush that needed
too much water and light. Still,
it was mine to run with, mine to use.

              Dyspareunia is pain that is associated with sexual activity.
              This condition ranges from mild to severe.

Once, when we were young, you carried
me on your back, puddles and water and
cement all mixed in, mixed up in the city
as you galloped five blocks from the Boylston T
to Beacon Street. We were new to love.
You never told me about the mice in the kitchen.
Inside your basement apartment, still wet,
Still laughing. My skin, freckled and slick,
touched your skin, blue veins and life holding
me, my arms, my legs. You loved all the scars,
the extra thick middle parts.

              This can affect any part of the genitals or lower abdomen,
              and there are many possible causes. Depending on the cause,
              dyspareunia may get better with treatment, or it may return
              (recur) over time.

For years in the dark, you held me
and my body. You made wholeness out
of broken things, took the cracked parts,
shards and pieces. You were a musician.
I was metal and curves. I was musk
and wood. A bell tower ringing. I was
electricity, the thunder in the ocean.
My singing years. My whole body
marked time in sound.

              RISK FACTORS: Certain conditions or situations may lower
              a woman's estrogen level, which increases her risk of atrophic vaginitis.

              These include: Being treated with X-ray treatment (radiation)
              or medicines (chemotherapy).

I never wanted children. Alien cells
and tissues leeching, aching for life
inside. Crab creatures, half starved,
clinging for love. They have seemed
demanding. Wreaking through a life
like fire. Combustible. All knees and
hands and eyes begging for more.
More. More. I never wanted children.
But now. This brown sack of mine
cannot even make them. All gone,
the warmth and water, the blood
of possibility. I am no longer in
the singing part of my body.

              CAUSES: The cause of this condition is not always known.
              Possible causes include:




M. Soledad Caballero is an Associate Professor of English at Allegheny College. Her poems have appeared in the Missouri Review, the Mississippi Review, the Iron Horse Literary Review, Memorious, the Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere. She is a Canto Mundo fellow and is working on her first poetry collection. Her scholarly work focuses on British Romanticism, travel writing, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and interdisciplinarity. She splits her time between Meadville and Pittsburgh.


Posted on January 2, 2018 .