A Gathering of Leaves

By Jessica Lee McMillian

On a shelf of volumes bound to me, binding,
I extend the vertebrae, the body, a gathering
of sewn leaves, limbs of multiple endings,
luminous spines in column palette
 — stacked either way, verticals to heaven — 
tattooed with lofty cursive,
worlds folded under covers
ready for open palms

Under my jacket, I spill anatomy,
my vellum skin, organ of written word
and backbone stacked in raised bands, up
to my ink-cartridge head,
tongue inscribes paper scars

On porous pulp, under nose musk vanilla scent,
under fingertip, text densifies, nerve ends
to cellulose walls — acid-pregnant
and fading bones on shelf, hinges split
under inherent constituents — 
tactile script imprints fingers
in archeology of touch

In fullness and fall of leaves
we harbour the word
in the cycle of autumns
in demise and rebirth of book,
the body ever writes, is written


Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She likes crooked, shiny things, and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing in nature and music. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Bewildering Stories and Pocket Lint. When not writing, doing front-line legal work or teaching, she spends time with her little family and buries herself in books and records. She writes from a charming, gritty, historical river city in British Columbia.

Ephemeral Gold

By Jessica Lee McMillian

November in ephemeral gold
pauses, scales tipping
to shine’s burial

sun drop apparatus,
draws last breath of dream
before spilling rain,

before architecture of dark
makes widow of colour
this tilt of brazen tone,
of diffused focus
is richest in mind,

fully in the eye
but dies in the heart sweetly


Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She likes crooked, shiny things, and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing in nature and music. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Bewildering Stories and Pocket Lint. When not writing, doing front-line legal work or teaching, she spends time with her little family and buries herself in books and records. She writes from a charming, gritty, historical river city in British Columbia.

The Anatomy of a Funeral

By Jessica Lee McMillian

Standard-issue funeral option
tombstones are concrete slabs
like ashes in a cardboard box,
aggregate mixtures of concrete sprawl,
a parade through life and death 
we can’t commemorate.

The horizontal sidewalk ribs
set the tone for every street,
like every memorial,
each fine, horizontal line
strains eye to expansion joints
dutifully stepped over, 
lest a spine you break
the spaces you went rogue–
that which is left out of the eulogy–

courteous platitudes,
and no reminders
of an untimely end,
in lieu of dead flowers,
paths are trawled clean
to keep appearances neat.

Slipped into the gutter lip
down the steel grate
 — the surfaces of psyche — 
resist the wood forms we fill,
the coercion rebar hiding the quakes,

the defiance of footprints
cast in wet, unfinished selves
begging for grass,
begging for a roast, not a speech.


Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She likes crooked, shiny things, and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing in nature and music. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Bewildering Stories and Pocket Lint. When not writing, doing front-line legal work or teaching, she spends time with her little family and buries herself in books and records. She writes from a charming, gritty, historical river city in British Columbia.

Reading Gutters for Grass

By Jessica Lee McMillian

The sky is brittle paper 
on a salt-rimmed horizon,
a smog bath ring
blushing unwashed skin
of alleys,

bruised mint not cutting
garbage juice breeze
or piss in the park

but my eyes are scanning
for more than just survival,
reading the gutters for grass

brushing off grey plastic
as musty cracks in concrete
feed the earth more moss
with scraps for sight

and scent nebulized sweet 
in river algae, a trade-wind 
sucking away city char 
and exhaling perfume 
from the toasting bones
of wooden beams

in weary-of-century-homes
— front doors agape — 
dressed in a décollage
of dust matte paint 

where this baked street 
has green shade 
under its sharp tannin maple
sugaring the signs of triumph 
in such muddle


Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She likes crooked, shiny things, and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing in nature and music. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Bewildering Stories and Pocket Lint. When not writing, doing front-line legal work or teaching, she spends time with her little family and buries herself in books and records. She writes from a charming, gritty, historical river city in British Columbia.

SHANNON

By Lin Elizabeth

‘i think my mother may be a trigger in my drinking.’ 

‘i think that’s a good observation, why do you think that’

Remember when I sat crying on the hallway floor because when I was 18, you left me, 3 doors down from a man who stole the woman i could’ve been away from me at eleven on a bright sunday? Mark was there, Must’ve been sunday You left again the day after I told you, you love me? Do people leave the ones they love this much? Is it always like this? Is that normal? Do people just go? Did I do that? Will I do that? How do I stop? 

I stopped Drinking & Killing myself

remember when I told you I was a month sober and you still made it about you. 

Sometimes I tell you I love you just to reassure myself, it’s all one sided in a way. True masochism. 

 Ry said it best. You just wanna hurt. You’re good at it. His fingers in my mouth and my mind worried about car oil on his fingers. late night phone calls. neediness. lust. Skipping classes for sex in his truck on cold mornings, where i could escape. I remember hands the best and I think that will never go away. 

Sex is the best drug, I swear. I haven’t even tried any really, but I don’t want to.  

The hell I bring with me is undeserved.

 My grandma keeps asking who I’d marry out of all the men I’ve seen. I tell her myself everytime now. It was him for the longest time, until I started going to AA and getting sober, no hesitation.

Me coming home from the work at the casino at 10 am, his lunch break at work at 10:30, me waiting on classes at noon, editing 10 page essays i wrote half-asleep the evening before, quick sex in our small aparment bathroom while he was supposed to be having lunch. it was usually me instead. 

Now I choose  me. The prize rabbit at the fair. pretty and not to be touched. never again

You never used to be so angry, you were always such a  good, quiet girl, what happened? So innocent, modest, not as much of a bite back.  Drugs change people. Trauma changes people— I just hate how I’m  remembering everything i spent so many years of my life ruining my body and relationships to forget that existed. 


Lin Elizabeth is a 25-year-old writing degree dropout. She’s hidden in the deep sinewy belly’s Arkansas’ River Valley. Writing about sexuality, sex work, trauma, addiction, and sobriety. Her poems have appeared in Applause Magazine, Hypertrophic Press, Sinkhole Quartley, the forthcoming Second-Chance press, and the Idle Class Magazine.

THE DAWN AT NIGHT

By Bruce Crown

Have you stumbled and wandered the streets,
Searching for beauty and splendour like this?
Every evening, she sleeps tucked in your sheets,
Every morning, she wakes you with a burning kiss.
But everyone knows nothing in this world is eternal;
Watch the sunrise from the roof; and become the sky,
She’ll always greet the day to the forever nocturnal,
Her touch is a dream, you might as well jump and fly.

Oh, how that hair is caught in the morning breeze,
The goddess of the dawn who departs silently
And with a quick glance does our souls freeze;
Reaching out, touching, she takes our hearts.
All night we yearned for her coming pleasure:
The light of sex, sparkling sweat, bodies shining
Beyond any earthly desire or divine measure,
Becoming the night, looking at the stars, pining. 
An apparition, a love which always has a cost…
Your dreams are only dreams, awake tired
When the sun arrives, your heart now lost,
With no care to what you last night desired.

Have you stumbled and wandered the streets
Searching for beauty and splendour like this?
Every evening, she sleeps tucked in your sheets,
Every morning, she wakes you with a burning kiss.
But everyone knows nothing in this world is eternal;
The sunlight always surprises, becoming the sky,
She elegantly rises and lovers are cast to the infernal,
How harsh these prizes, if for love you wake and try.

You are special, to have the pleasure of her presence
Even though she may tire of those hearts and desires,
To chase away those bright moments of pleasance
And sleep in her arms made of ice and purging fires.
Will she return with the moonlight as the light fades?
You can’t compete with the sun in this daily hell,
Wandering those avenues waiting for those shades,
So many people around you but not a soul to tell. 

Have you stumbled and wandered the streets
Searching for beauty and splendour like this?
Every evening, she sleeps tucked in your sheets,
Every morning, she wakes you with a burning kiss.
Only the sun has the pleasure of her daily company,
Your dreams are made of glass, broken by her gaze
When night comes to pass; those moans a symphony
Of ecstasy that fades like the ashes of a dream ablaze.

You’re on the streets, cold in the drunken night,
Searching, bewildered, but Aurora’s gaze is gone,
Until her indelible fingers wake you at first light 
And that burning kiss leaves your heart undone.
Every morn and night, she smiles until she departs
To brighten other souls for the long coming day,
But yours, she happily adds to her collection of hearts
And with a smile, condemns you to your merry way.


Bruce Crown is from Toronto. He is an alumnus of the University of Toronto and the University of Copenhagen. He splits his time between Copenhagen, the Riviera, and Toronto. Find him on Twitter: @brucecrown, Instagram: @wittyoutlaw, and on his website brucecrown.ca.

DREAMS THAT FLY

By Bruce Crown

I woke with the dawn
Shining on my face,
Away from you
My love. 

I went to the bakery
And I bought bread
For you
My love.

But you’d already left. 

I went to a florist
And I bought flowers
For you
My love. 

But love was already blossomed in you.

I went to hell
To bring fire
For you 
My love.

But you were already ablaze.

I went to a jeweller
And I bought a diamond
For you
My love.

But you stole its sparkle.

I went to the sky
To bring you the sun
But I found you there,
My love.

And you were already alight.

I had a dream
Of heavenly paradise,
You were there,
My love. 

And you told me to leave without you.


Bruce Crown is from Toronto. He is an alumnus of the University of Toronto and the University of Copenhagen. He splits his time between Copenhagen, the Riviera, and Toronto. Find him on Twitter: @brucecrown, Instagram: @wittyoutlaw, and on his website brucecrown.ca.

The Usurpers

By Sergio Riaño

The Usurpers was made with the intention of being a critique of the greedy society in which we are living today. I was driven by bad experiences I’ve had with people. I decided to make something that reflects the people who don’t see beyond what simple matter allows them to see. At the end of the days, death is upon their greedy actions.


Sergio Riaño, aka Fractal Concepto, can be found on Instagram and on their website.

DEAD TIRED

By Nancy Schumann

I woke up and wanted to die. My back was one big area of pain. I remembered that joke one of my work-mates once made: When you’re 50, and you wake up with your back hurting and your head hurting and stiff joints, you know you’re still alive. So I got up with a felt age of 56 by my estimation. I shuffled to the bathroom with my eyes still closed for a wake-up wash and other morning necessities. A base level of alertness achieved, I proceeded to coffee-making to complete my daily mini-evolution. As I sat staring into the hot magic potion, the pain lessened, and the ability to form coherent thoughts asserted itself with one firm realization: The mattress has had it. It’s time to invest in a new one because I am definitely not old enough to establish my status of being alive by the presence of back pain. As a result of that decision, much of my day was spent researching the options available to purchase a new mattress, get it delivered, and the old one picked up for recycling, preferably all in one go. By dinner time, I was ready and placed an order. It was with a sense of smug loathing that I went to bed that evening, knowing the nights of uncomfortableness were numbered.

Four dreamless nights later, the arrival of my replacement mattress was announced. I got up extra early to strip the bed of all its content, laying bare the offending old mattress. The doorbell rang moments after I was ready, and my shiny new mattress was wheeled in by a friendly delivery guy. He picked up the old mattress effortlessly. I waved him and it goodbye at the door. It’s been real, time to move on. I was disproportionally excited, freeing my new acquisition from its plastic wrappings. It unrolled itself, seemingly breathing a sigh of relief as it stretched out in its new home. I smiled and then wrinkled my nose at the new mattress smell. No matter, an open window day would take care of that before I went to sleep that evening. The ninth floor wasn’t particularly prone to window-based break-ins.

So that evening, I got home and made my bed, a breeze of fresh air around me. It was too cold to keep the window open overnight. I closed it just before going to bed. My nose detected a fainter but still noticeable smell in the room. It was bearable, but I still hoped it’d go soon. The smell was a small disappointment. Fourteen hours of fresh air ought to be enough for the wrapped-in-plastic odour to dissipate. Then again, I was too tired to dwell on the thought. My new mattress virtually hugged me when I laid down. It was surprisingly firm but very comfortable. I felt wrapped in homeliness and security as I fell asleep. I slept without waking through the night, but it was no easy sleep. Nightmare after nightmare flashed scenes of horror through my sleeping head. As soon as I escaped one unpleasant scenario, a new one started up. Yet I could not wake up, as if those nightmares kept me trapped inside the dark side of the night. My alarm eventually rescued me. There was no sign of pain in my back, a fact I appreciated and celebrated with an unusual level of alertness that first morning. Somewhat unfortunate because the next thing I noticed was the smell again. Still there. Another open window day.

Physically my felt age has dropped considerably. Mentally, however, I must have turned 80. That’s the only valid explanation for the level of obsession dedicated to thoughts about an everyday item like a mattress. I was significantly more excited than I ought to have been about the effect of a comfortable mattress, and that completely erased the nightmares. Anybody who asked would be told I had a marvellous night’s sleep. No mention of disturbing scenarios in my head. I all but skipped home, looking forward to bedtime. Outside, a storm started brewing as I got ready for bed. Definitely had to close that window now, or it would blow off its hinges. The fresh air held out a moment longer than the smell re-conquered the room. At this point, that’s becoming annoying. It couldn’t possibly take more than two full days of airing. It’s been several years since I purchased a mattress, but I do not recall the smell issue being a long-lasting one. Maybe I forgot, much like the nightmares from the previous night.

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Hugged by my mattress, the smell lingering, I fell asleep and returned to a land of nightmares. Nightmares I couldn’t wake up from. Nightmares I couldn’t quite remember after waking up. Still, like the smell, they linger inside the room, inside me, with a sense of uneasiness. The day outside seemed to match me with its greyness, its rain, its wind. Not a day to open the window, unfortunately. I felt just a little disheartened by it all. My wonderful, comfy new mattress and the painless sleeps overshadowed by a bad smell and unpleasant dreams I couldn’t seem to banish.

I slowly went about my day as if still dreaming. I wondered why something couldn’t just be good without a damper for a change. When I got home that night, I almost felt like crying. The weather still prevented any longer-term window opening, and the smell gained in intensity. I vaguely even considered sleeping on the sofa, but that would be ridiculous. There was a perfectly good, brand-new mattress on my bed after all, and the smell was just annoying, not unbearable. So, once again, I fell asleep with a smell in my nose that I wished hard would go away. Falling asleep wasn’t the issue, though. I was exhausted enough to fall asleep swiftly. And then I was wrapped in a sense of dread that I couldn’t escape. I tried hard to wake up. I tried hard to remember. But there was no content to the nightmare. It just felt like a continuous scream. Silent and frightening. I could not grasp the nightmare to get over it. It held me but refused to reveal itself.

So with each night of uninterrupted sleep, I grew wearier, more sluggish, yet more restless. And more annoyed with the silly, bad smell that refused to leave as much as the nightmares did. Wasn’t it possible to design a packaging system that wouldn’t cause a bad smell when you unwrap the item you actually want to use? Fair enough, a new t-shirt you just wash and the smell is gone, but a new mattress? Nothing I or anybody else could do but wait. Impatience grew to the point of regretting the old mattress was gone and became my default state. The storm passed, and it got warm enough to keep the window open through the night. That helped with the smell. It didn’t help with the nightmares. I was sure they would pass eventually. Maybe they were even an unconscious reaction to the smell. I was sure the smell would go as well. I was sure it would be gone by the time the temperature dropped to demand closed windows again. I was sure reality would chase the lingering dread away.

Yet not sure enough to refrain from sniffing the mattress. The smell hadn’t gotten worse, but it also never got any better. The first big stench left, but it never got replaced by fresh, odourless air. Every time the window was closed, the smell was there. Coming out of the mattress, into the room, into my nose, into my every thought. After plain air had failed, I moved on to air fresheners. Every time I lowered my head to the bed, the scented air left my nostrils, and I breathed in the smell coming out of the mattress. Exasperated, I fell asleep disappointed yet again. Mentally exhausted, I woke up again after yet another faceless fear haunted my dreams. After air fresheners, I sprayed the mattress with some supposed upholstery cleaner. I put fresh bedding on. I went to bed, smelling the smell. I wondered if my nose got damaged. I hired a cleaner under the guise of a deep, seasonal clean. She commented on the smell and asked if the bed was new. Not the bed, just the mattress, I said, defeated. My mind lost track of time, of how long it’d been.

I lay in bed. Awake. Annoyed about the smell that didn’t go away. Afraid of the nightmares that do not stop. Out of ideas. Out of solutions. Stuck in helplessness. I drifted away to sleep and felt the dread grabbing hold of me. I refused to let it. I would not sleep if sleep is not safe. I focussed on the smell that annoyed me that only went away when I slept. So tired. Half asleep even. Yet, still conscious. Still smelling the bad smell, not frightened by nightmares. I almost felt physical hands reaching out as the nightmare tried to lure me into sleep. Claws reached out to my subconscious and told me to forget the smell. To rest. A sensation like falling. Soft and gentle at first. Then I felt engulfed by fear again. I wanted to scream. I didn’t. It’s more of a sharp intake of breath, but this time it was not soundless. It was real. It pulled me back into the world. Awake and surrounded by the annoying smell. I opened my eyes to see nothing but darkness. My heart was pounding. I breathed in. Slowly. Deliberately. Willing myself to calm. To stay awake.

I stretched out my arms and legs. I stroked the mattress all around me. A token of the real world. I turned and buried my face into the soft mattress. Instantly my nose was assaulted by the smell. How can it still come out of the mattress? It’s been forever. My hands stroked the surface. I moved. I smelled different parts of the mattress. The bad smell is the mattress. All of it. Like a dog, I pawed and sniffed all that is beneath me. The smell entered my head. It got worse and worse. I could not stop myself. I tried each corner of the bed. It all smelled.

I sat on my knees, disgusted by the smell, still stroking the surface. Then I felt it. A bump. Right in the middle of the middle. My soft, new mattress had a hard bump in it. I tried and tried again. It’s most definitely there. I kept clawing at the hard spot as if to smooth it out. It remained. I did not stop clawing until finally, the fabric ripped. My eyes were adjusted enough to the darkness to make out something bright and hard in front of me. Something that did not belong into the inner makings of a mattress. A sense of panic rose from my stomach to my mind that may have been lost. I kept clawing at the edges of the ripped fabric. It never occurred to me to get any tools. It never occurred to me to switch on the light. The thing in front of me grew out of the mattress as I ripped the fabric away. I moved inch by inch further down to the foot of the bed. The bright mass did not stop. There was more and more of it while there was less and less of mattress that once encased it. My eyes saw enough. My mind refused to process the information. Bit by bit, I slid down the bed, ripping apart the mattress, exposing something within. Finally, I ran out of bed. I had to step down from it to tear the last bit of mattress away.
I stepped back, my hand touched the wall behind me. In front of me was the distorted figure of a man. Trapped in silent screams of agony. Rotting away in my mattress. My breath comes in sharp, desperate gulps. Rooted on the spot at the foot of my bed, I was unable to move. Then I screamed, and there was nothing but darkness.


Nancy Schumann is a German writer based in London who writes poetry, short stories and novels on various topics in both English and German. Her works have been published in both languages. Nancy’s particular interest, in fiction and academically, is female vampires. Nancy’s masters’ thesis on female vampires through the ages formed the basis to Take A Bite, which traces female vampire characters in folklore and literature. For further information, see www.bookswithbite.in 

Climbing

By Jonathan Koven

On the crags
of cinnabar skeleton,
rocks destined for the end,
sky-plaque pearls over 
my palms, and I wish,
I wish it all to stay.

The world, the green world is
aging but seems
perfect watching
the partridge dance, wings striping
as grace notes
before red blizzard.

Cool, clouds
cut over
shoulders;
body as stanza,
and the mountain
a page turning fast,
too fast.

Shut my eyes to
watch my beating,
beating heart,
like blush in shadow, loaning,
in moments knowing
a value undefinable.

Spirits flock and
depart, wholeness and
separation; perhaps, perhaps
I flit as fledgling,
part of yesterday, already
waning—a waned dream.

Leap, leap angelic
sky borne back to
trillion-trillion currents,
and here I imagine
a summit grows higher,
the direction we all flow.


Jonathan Koven grew up on Long Island, NY, embraced by tree-speak, tide’s rush, and the love and support of his family. He holds a BA in Literature, and Creative Writing from American University, works as a technical writer and is Toho Journal’s head fiction editor and workshop coordinator. He lives in Philadelphia with his best friend and future wife Delana and cats Peanut Butter and Keebler. Credits include Lindenwood Review, Night Picnic, Iris Literary, and more. His debut chapbook Palm Lines is available from Toho Publishing. His award-winning novella Below Torrential Hill is expected winter 2021 from Electric Eclectic.