Tag Archives: Issue 10

dead girl

By Emma Geller

small town secrets-
clasp death
in lockets churning.

and marshy tides 
wash clean
her pale hands-

it happened too early,
this little girl could’ve been
a mother.

but pure, 
she faded.
locked in time, 
she left earth,
for heavenly places.


Emma Geller is a poet, singer, and actress from Boston, MA. Her many passions include cinema and listening to Elliot Smith while drinking too much coffee. You can find out more about Emma on Instagram.

An Abecedarian of Loss

By Sherry Shahan

abecedarian    twenty-six letters, each one a compact unit of communication, a twisted riddle, a maze of red tape from well-lit offices; the only means of containing my sorrow now that all I have left of my brother are memories and letters.

brother     at five, wearing a fringed cowboy shirt, he fires at stink bugs with a dime-store six-shooter; as his older sister, I stick out my tongue and wish he’d wear something more Steve McQueen in Wanted Dead of Alive. [see: s, below.]

certified mail     provides the sender—Bullhead City Police Department—with a mailing receipt for $9.28 and an electronic verification that an 8×10 padded envelope was delivered; inside, I find two plastic bags: one with key rings to a mailbox and house and a key-fob for a car, and another containing a cheap bi-fold wallet. [see: w, below.]

demon     fiend, monster, diabolical tormentor; our father who drank cheap beer bought with rent money until he was sloppy drunk and cruel (why couldn’t he just put a lampshade on his head and tell dumb jokes like that lush on TV?); in the case of my brother: alcoholism, gambling, and the perennial avoidance of employment. [see: g, below.]

edge     jagged, sharp, single-sided; on the brink, as in the precarious state right before something unpleasant occurs; a letter that arrives on my doorstep with a list of detectives investigating my brother’s claim that I poached from Mom’s estate; You’re a sad story, Sherry, and I hope you get the help that you need. Love allways, your brother (far from oblivious, in Arizona)

flies     winged insects of the suborder Cyclorrhapha, most likely evolved during the Cenozoic era; driven to lay eggs in decaying matter in order to provide their soft-bodied legless offspring a food source; a black curtain of them on the inside of the living room window of my brother’s mobile home. [see m, n, below.]

genetics     the study of heredity, or how the characteristics of living things are transmitted from one generation to the next; by which our father passed the monkey on his back to his firstborn son sixty-five years ago. 

hyperthermia     a physical state in which the body can no longer release enough of its heat to return the temperature to normal; cause of death, according to the police report, which cites the temperature inside his mobile home as between 110 and 114 degrees. [see: j, m, below.]

investigation     a systematic inquiry carried out to discover and examine the facts so 

as to establish the truth; How does a person remain in a body bag in the drawer of a mortuary for eighteen months? What else is going on that I don’t know about? [see p, below]               

july     the hottest month in Bullhead City, Arizona, with an average of 112 degrees. [see: f, h, above.]

kafkaesque     surreal or nightmarish; the conversation with an employee at the funeral home who tries to explain why they filed for a “Special Administrative Appointment” requesting $12,000 from my brother’s sparse estate. “You don’t understand the cost of preservation.” [see: i, above.] 

lament     mourn, grieve, weep, wail; not how I feel opening a bottle of wine at 2:13 am. 

mobile home     able to move or be moved because it isn’t permanently grounded—though it has a mailbox where letters and bills stack up, a 1994 white Buick LaSabre in the carport, and a rock garden with driftwood from the Colorado River. [see u, below.]

neighbor     a person living near or next door, who is almost always better than their fellow neighbors believe them to be; a part-time resident who watches my brother pull weeds from his gravel driveway and warm up his Buick each morning before going to the store for a newspaper and bottle of booze; a good Samaritan who calls the police after seeing a mass of flies crawling on my brother’s front door. [see: f, above.]

overwhelming     overpowering, paralyzing; the thought of tracking down his birth certificate from September 16, 1954, as requested by the funeral home, to prove that I’m his sister and therefore have the right to have him removed from the refrigerated drawer. [see: i, k, above.] 

perplexed     unable to grasp something clearly or think logically and decisively about it; puzzled, like when the Department of Code Enforcement explains that my brother’s mobile home has been taken from the property—“Neighbors complained of an odor”—and all of his personal property crushed by a giant claw before being dragged to the city dump. 

question      what does this all mean? [see: i, above.]

remembrance     the ability to bring to mind past experiences; things kept; recollections; blowups with my brother over our father’s ashes. Him: I want my half. Me: No way I’m dipping into the canister; our father’s ashes subsequently making a fourteen-hour Greyhound ride across state lines; my brother and I joking, after the fight, that we hoped Dad sat next to someone interesting. [see d, g, above.]

shame      remorse, guilt, regret; my soul slowly nibbling itself because I felt superior to my brother, because I own a permanent home, because I didn’t go see him in the last 40 years. 

truth     that which is in accordance with fact or reality; honesty, correctness, veracity; a certainty that his fucked-up life is somehow my fault. 

underestimated     regarded as less capable than one really is; an assessment that is too low; I believed my brother lived in a trashy trailer park but a satellite image shows a mobile home on a self-contained lot; a clerk at the county assessor’s office says my brother paid cash for the property and owned it outright. [see m, s, above.]

value     the importance, worth, or usefulness of something; “your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.” 

wallet     a flat, folding holder for money, identification, and credit cards; the last of my brother’s life force, containing: a neatly-printed list of phone numbers, his Arizona driver’s license (height: 6-1, weight: 190, expiration date: two months after his death), an AcePlay casino card (‘real rewards for real people’), assorted business cards for taxis, and a library card, all bathed in the funky stench of cigarette smoke. [see c, above.]

x      in childhood, XOXO, and Xmas; in adulthood, the way to identify a person who is not known, not really. 

yardstick      a barometer or touchstone; a standard for making judgments or comparisons; my brother’s report card: no marriage, no children, no life; I filled in the blanks with two daughters who slid class photos into birthday cards for their uncle. 

z      alphabetical position 26; the final destination from A to Z; a vocal consonant shaped like the zigzag of our messed-up relationship; ceaseless battles to be kinder to each other, botching it up time and again; the last of our phone calls, It’s just the two of us now, sis.  [see b, above.]


Sherry Shahan’s personal essays have appeared in F(r)iction, Critical Read, Exposition Review, Normal School and are forthcoming from Fiddlehead, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and taught a creative writing course for UCLA for 10 years.

Ruth

By Robin Foster

Rifling through the fridge and considering dinner possibilities from what remained of the weekend’s takeaway containers, Veronica’s doorbell chimed a twenty-two-note melody. When she answered the door, the tune was still playing.

“Say, Polly, there was a two-for-one sale on Entenmann’s cakes at the Stop and Shop today. Can I give you one?” Veronica had stopped correcting her neighbour as to her actual name long ago. In fact, she liked answering to a name that sounded to her exotic, a throwback to another time that meant big band music and sitting under one of those big-domed dryers at the hair salon while your curls set and your nails dried, clutch purse neatly resting at your feet. 

Ruth stood on Veronica’s front stoop with a canvas bag slung over her shoulder, tucking a handful of crumpled tissues between the crook in her elbow and her tiny body, car keys clutched in bony fingers. The blue of her veins threatened to leap free of the delicate, parchment-like skin that only barely contained what was beneath. Veronica considered her private assertion that Ruth probably shouldn’t be driving at her age, and certainly not after dark. She had watched as Ruth’s car careened down the street many times, wondering when Ruth’s son might take away the keys to her ’75 Mustang. But Veronica felt the validity of Ruth’s driver’s license wasn’t really any of her business.

Veronica followed Ruth next door to her driveway, where three double-bagged paper grocery bags sat in the back seat of the Mustang. Ruth tossed her car keys into the canvas Paris Review bag that she used for a purse. “Take those around the back, would you? The front door is stuck.” Veronica could see that the front door wasn’t stuck but was rather slightly ajar, amber light from inside the house spilling out into the evening twilight. She headed up the walkway, but Ruth was surprisingly fast for a woman in her eighties. Ruth scampered around back and entered her house through the kitchen. Ten seconds later, her tiny forearm emerged through the crack at the front door. A delicate gold watch, tiny oval face on a thin, bracelet-style band, slid down her wrist. 

“If you’ll put the bags down on the front step, Polly, and push against the door, I think we can get it to budge.”

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Confident that one or two good shoves would dislodge whatever was preventing Ruth’s door from opening any further (were the hinges rusted out, or was the door off-kilter?), Veronica didn’t want to knock down a ninety-pound woman with her brute force. She advised Ruth to move away from the door. “Stand over by the window, Ruth. I’ve got it.” Ruth’s arm, which Veronica just then noticed was mottled with a fading but sizeable purple and yellow bruise, disappeared from the crack.

“I think you’d better just go around back, Polly. It’s not gonna be any use. Just come around back.”

Before she could get close enough to peer in through the three-inch crack between the door and the jamb, the smell hit Veronica like a tsunami. There was no anticipatory hint of a scent, no inkling in the back of her mind that some as-yet-to-be-identified scent molecules were just beginning to attach themselves to the smell receptors lining her nostrils, requiring a few seconds to relay sensory input to the brain for interpretation. The half-step required to lean her shoulder into the door crossed an invisible threshold between nothingness and onslaught. The transformation was much like the moment when The Wizard of Oz switches from black and white to colour. A new reality. What she smelled was very clearly on the spectrum between urine and spoiled milk. 

A quick glance inside revealed what Veronica estimated to be twenty years of yellowed issues of The New York Times, piled up in two and three-foot stacks around the perimeter of the room and creeping inward like clover across a meadow. The only clear path leading toward the kitchen was a crevasse formed between dozens – hundreds? Weathered moving boxes, each with varying degrees of pried-open top and marked Wilson in thick Magic Marker. The sofa against the back wall was piled high with an assortment of baskets, dinner trays, and Danish cookie tins. A midcentury television set, a hulking piece of furniture, stood beneath the bay window and a set of heavy damask drapes, tightly drawn. Veronica took in these images as she body-checked the door with her shoulder and forced it back another foot or so. A dozen or so badly stacked cases – flats, really – of generic Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt prevented the door from going any further. The individual containers bulged at the seams. The source, perhaps, of the sour milk smell.

“That’s just fine, Polly.” Ruth reemerged from around back, startling her neighbour with her stealth maneuvering, and stood behind Veronica with the Entenmann’s cake in hand. “I think the cat was blocking the door.”


Robin Foster is a writer and historian. She teaches history at George Mason University and is currently enrolled at Bennington Writing Seminars, class of 2023. She is the author of Carl Van Doren: A Man of Ideas, National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist for 2019.

The Kiss

By Kate Maxwell

Why do they eat so much lipstick?

Apparently, in a lifetime

more than their own weight

consumed in every traffic 

light stop, toilet break 

and corridor waiting.

Often flaked like drought-dried 

mud or just a faint ‘O’ shape

fading into outline.

When I leaned to kiss her

at the door, she tasted 

like musk detergent 

and left me with

a pink tooth-stained smile

and urgency for tissues.


Kate Maxwell is yet another teacher with writing aspirations. She’s been published and awarded in Australian and International literary magazines such as Cordite, Hecate, fourW, Meniscus, Blood and Bourbon, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. Kate’s interests include film, wine, and sleeping. Her first poetry anthology will be published with Interactive Publications, Brisbane, in 2021. She can be found online here.

Return to Raft River

By Hanna Johnson

Wind was whispering in my ears,
icy secrets that made my head hurt.
Endless hills surrounded me 
carved out by wind and 
covered in low growing florid bursts, 
Castillejas, called Indian Paintbrush,  
effloresced in shades of blush and blood
harbored beneath branches
of bitterbrush or sage. These parasitic creatures
sought shelter from the wind, owing their
stunted growth, to an aeolian world. 

My mud covered boots carried me farther 
from dark thoughts and somber memories,
footprints marked my path as it wound 
up and up the steeply sloping bluffs

I reached the jagged quartzite outcrop
atop the ridge, out of breath and 
nearly hidden from blue eyes I 
perceived to be below.
The wind whistled through the 
perforated stone keys, trilling at me. 
I sought shelter in the space 
between boulder and cliff 
a warm, silent fissure in stone 
I leaned my back against,
orange and green ringed lichen.
My soul sighed sanctuary
as my head rested against the crag
a flutter from deep within 
this crack caught my eye.
A small painted lady, with
scarlet and black dusted wings
yellow lightbulb tipped antenna, her
velvet wings tickled the air 
between us


Hannah Johnson is a botanist working in the red rock vistas and plateaus of Southern Utah. The landscape surrounding her is infectious and filled with awe. Much of her work is inspired by the landscapes and plants she encounters while working and playing among the rocks and flowers.

Allergen Immunotherapy and Me

By Sarah Bean

The pharmacist fills me
full of lethal liquid,
tells me to stick around for half an hour. 
I stare at the boxes lining the counter—
Aerius, Benadryl, Claritin, Reactine,
(my childhood drugs of choice)
as the grandmas and grandpas yell around
the plexiglass for their inhalers,
pulling their masks below weak chins
to bare their teeth to anyone who will watch.
I feel the serum course
through my bicep,
subcutaneous sticky sweetness bringing 
sunny day serendipity.
I am twenty two, I can finally breathe
out of my nose, 
and spring is now my favourite season.
Feeling full of anything
still feels so new,
still makes me check my cheeks for hives,
makes me clear my throat to keep it open,
and when I think of the past,
it makes my tongue swell
(so I try to save those thoughts
for when that’s not a sign of adverse reaction) 
but sometimes I can’t help it. 
The beach dads in their flip flops
stocking up on Banana Boat and scratch-offs
look so free, 
because they can get out
of this sterility whether the walls like it or not. 
My armpit turns sunburn red,
blotchy with jealousy and birch trees.
I tell myself that one day 
I won’t come here anymore. 
My body will be full to the brim
with that which can kill me
and it will keep me safe. 
I watch a baby smile 
at the pharmacist without knowing 
what comes next.


Sarah Bean (she/her) is a library technician and poet from Alberta, Canada. Her work has appeared in Goats Milk Magazine, The Giving Room Magazine, and in zines photocopied at her local library. She thanks you for being gentle. 

dog star

By Emma Geller

pebble tears,
all mountain eyed, 
in early lush
spring afternoon-

where symbolism
mingled with 
the knotted roots
of that day.

the black dog
crept closer to me,
not soft eyed but 
all teeth, out to prey

with a darkwood 
lurch, 
i got stuck 
in a solar city,

surrounded by
dogwood docks-
lunging 
at the waves.


Emma Geller is a poet, singer, and actress from Boston, MA. Her many passions include cinema and listening to Elliot Smith while drinking too much coffee. You can find out more about Emma on Instagram.

summer kill

By Emma Geller

chipped blue
paint, rain tracks 
& sad eyes,

she wandered thru
abandoned parking lots, 
under the humid summer sky-

the pavement
crashing 
on those lonely
yellow lines.


Emma Geller is a poet, singer, and actress from Boston, MA. Her many passions include cinema and listening to Elliot Smith while drinking too much coffee. You can find out more about Emma on Instagram.

sweetheart

By Emma Geller

in the bar, her silver
hips swirl 
in circles,

across cement floors,
on tables too. 
a velvet flick

of her wrist 
reflects neon
Blue Moon signs.

of her wrist 
reflects neon
Blue Moon signs.

an eyelash 
of destiny, 
whispering fortunes 
in her ears-

singing her songs 
of cracked stars 
& broken hearts.


Emma Geller is a poet, singer, and actress from Boston, MA. Her many passions include cinema and listening to Elliot Smith while drinking too much coffee. You can find out more about Emma on Instagram.

teeth

By Emma Geller

i hope this cut scars,
so i can remember
your wild ways, 
those

zombie stitches,
yellow skin.
your open wound
with teeth edges-

i want you to leave 
your mark on me.
though we never touched, 
your bite still bleeds.


Emma Geller is a poet, singer, and actress from Boston, MA. Her many passions include cinema and listening to Elliot Smith while drinking too much coffee. You can find out more about Emma on Instagram.