By John McKernan

To serve up
Gigantic helpings of the universe

No single threads
Of star light
Plunging into chlorophyll

No solitary
Oxygen molecule
Nursing a blood cell
Back to life

On Planet Earth
I survive on scraps
Silent vowels & silent consonants
The spaces between words

I also want a large fork
A sharp knife
A well-inked skillet
The size of Jupiter
I am hungry
But hold the bib

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John McKernan – who grew up in Omaha Nebraska in the middle of the USA– is now a retired comma herder after teaching 41 years at Marshall University. He lives – mostly – in West Virginia where he edits ABZ Press. His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust. He has published poems in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Journal, Antioch Review, Guernica, Field and many other magazines


By Matthew Antonio

Though his hands couldn't reach the keyboard, nor could his feet reach the ground, little Samuel was obligated to sit in his office chair in his cubicle in front of his computer for eight hours a day. At each opportunity he explained to anyone who would pause at his station, usually Hannah or Camilla, the two coworkers whose cubicles flanked his, that he was, in fact, an infant and incapable of performing the mental, physical, and even emotional tasks required to maintain employment as a data processor. His mind was so unformed, he proclaimed, that he could barely remember shapes and colors, much less the complex systems needed to turn one form of information into another. He also believed that his inability to remember how he came to his position could be firmly blamed on his tender and soft mind.
One day Samuel formed a plan. Before lunch he told Hannah and Camilla there was a special birthday surprise at lunch in the break room and to spread the word. He would have done so himself except he could only move at a crawl and the task was, for his tender knees on the gray, industrial carpeting, a bit much. Even when lunchtime finally came, the journey first to the ground, then to the break room, then into the hard, plastic chair at the head of the table exhausted him and made
him wish someone was there to kiss his bruised knees with soft lips, to sing to him in gentle tones, to hold him no matter how his untrained and uncontrollable body discouraged anyone from doing so.
He pushed himself up, his arms propped on the table to give the illusion he could stand. Samuel thought it important to present himself from a position of power.
“I am,” he said, “an infant. Though you've entrusted me with a particular set of responsibilities and, from what little I am able to recall, I am not wholly unfit for these responsibilities, you must remember that in the end, I am an infant. Perhaps it's my easy familiarity with new employees or even the sociable way with which I engage clients and coworkers alike. Perhaps it's something else. I don't know. I'm an infant.
“What I would ask of you, all my dear friends and associates, is to remind yourselves that I am incapable of behaving the way you do. When I am presented with affection, I adhere to it. When I am deprived of pleasure, I bawl. When I am incapable of caring for myself, I require care. You are men and women. I am an infant.” Samuel slumped down into the chair. “I can't tell you how sorry I am,” he said.
Samuel watched the assembled group and observed slow understanding come to each of them. They saw he was someone to be measured in inches, not feet, his age gauged in months, not years. As each person came to this realization, that person's expression rapidly changed to disgust and then he or she quickly evacuated the break room. Even Hannah and Camilla followed the exodus until the last person, a minor functionary used for odd tasks, a woman whose name Samuel never learned or learned and had fallen out of his soft head, turned off the lights and pulled the door closed behind her. He tried to follow, but the knob was too high.

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Matthew Antonio lives in Fort Collins, CO where he attended Colorado State University's MFA program in Fiction. He has recently been published in L'Allure des Mots, Stanley the Whale, Dogzplot, Gone Lawn, and Z-Composition. He is the Assistant Fiction Editor for em: A Review of Text and Image and operates www.littlemachines.net.


The Vase
By Christopher Cruz

After much hesitation, I decide to attend my ten year high school reunion. I was not a notably important person while in school. Or even notable for that matter. I had two friends, both named Jacob, and a slew of acquaintances who thought much less of me than I did of them. I took part in no extracurricular activities, no after school programs. The principal did not know me by name. My teachers barely remembered my face. I was the quintessential wallflower. An apparition of the New York City Public School System. None the less, it seemed that I had become easy enough to track down to warrant an invitation for the event.

My initial reaction at the time of receiving the letter was an immediate denial of its existence, followed by a denial of my ability to go, then a denial of my desire, then just blatant denial fueled by alcohol. The second of my friends Jacob also received his invitation, and contacted me electronically with a plea to attend. The first Jacob was not invited because he did not graduate, but we do not hold that against him. After much convincing I decide to honor my old friends request and offer to meet him at the festivity. The weeks in between pass slowly, like the anticipation of spring, and the day arrives with little fanfare.

I reach the Gramercy Park Hotel 46 minutes late. My hope is to be in and out quickly, remaining as unnoticeable as I did in years past. I enter the ballroom and stare out among the sea of vaguely familiar faces. I recognize the prom queen and the valedictorian right away. Squinting makes one person resemble the girl voted most funny, but the weight gain makes it difficult to be sure. My algebra teacher is in the back of the room talking to my principle. I can smell the alcohol on both of their breaths from the entrance. My tenth grade crush is sitting at a table with a man I do not recognize. Their faces are mostly blank and their hands seem occupied beneath the off-white linen of the table cloth. Having arrived alone and finding no indications of the second of my friends Jacob, an immediate flush of anxiety rolls through my body. I make my way to a darkened corner behind the punch bowl, looking for safety in the seclusion.

It seems that I am still very difficult to notice, and manage to stay tucked away from the other alumni for nearly half of one hour. While watching the others, I observe the commencement of a particularly bizarre trend, one that both horrifies and intrigues me simultaneously. Several of the former students have formed a fairly ordered line in front of a plain wooden table near the opposing corner from myself. Perched atop the table is a most unusual vase with gilded impressions of foreign pictographs and texts. It is impractically tall, approximately three feet high, and appears to be constructed of a material similar to porcelain or bone. Beside the vase sits a pair of sharpened shears that gleam under the fluorescent chandeliers of the ball room.

With utter disbelief, I watch the guests approach the table one by one, picking up the shears in their right hand and, with surgical precision, truncating their left hand ring fingers with little difficulty. The extradited digits are then dropped into the mouth of the vase, creating a most discomforting splut sound. Not a single person seems offended by any facet of the ritual. The prom queen, the principle, and the portly superlative all queue up with little concern for their fingers and soon the faux maple flooring is littered with spots of blood and human tissue. As the line reaches its end, an unfamiliar person approaches a microphone at the far side of the room. She announces with great conviction that the vase is apparently short one finger, and encourages the other patrons to locate the final participant. I cower in the poorly lit corner as I watch the main doors being sealed shut. I go on all fours and scurry underneath a table. The voices beyond its linen walls suggest a fairly organized search party is being formed and the rustling of salad plates and wine glasses clearly indicate my hiding place is not fool-proof. It is clear that action must be taken.

I manage to secure a butter knife without garnering any attention, and begin the arduous task of removing my finger with the imperceptibly blunt tool. The process is dreadfully slow and incredibly painful, but the voices closing in on my refuge encourage me to continue. I manage to reach bone but the knife proves too dull to even scratch the stained and mired surface. Sitting in a pool of my own fluid, I hear the whispers of strangers slowly surrounding the table. The loss of blood finally catches up with me and I start to feel faint. My vision goes blurry and my eyes water but I press on, chipping away at the bone with an almost euphoric delight.

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Christopher Cruz is a graduate student of International Relations in Richmond, Virginia. He generally writes short fiction pieces between term papers. He is married and has a dog named Liam.


High Altitude Trepidations
By Peter Baltensperger

This is how the scenario evolved: Lattimer walked up the mountain without knowing why. He was perturbed when he reached the top, not being sure why he was where he was, except that he felt he needed to prove something to himself, even though he didn’t know what that was. Since he was out of breath from the long walk, he let things be the way they were and sat down on a rock. The sun was burning cryptic messages down on him, the sky dappled with unfathomable white clouds, a pair of rock eagles circling high above.

In a field outside a village down in the valley, an artist was painting a cubistic abstract of the mountain, using colors for shapes, shapes for colors. He didn’t see the eagles from where he was, or the possibilities of the white clouds. He was interested in the fundamentals of the mountain, not in the implications of being. Had he not concentrated all his attention on his canvass, he might have been able to hear the cryptic voices, to incorporate the invisible into the reality of his painting, the reaching out of his mind.

Lattimer was well aware of the precarious balance of sitting on a mountain top under a wide-open sky. As soon as he caught his breath and was able to think more clearly again, he began to pull vague threads of probabilities from the white clouds and roll them into a ball for safekeeping. He had been in such situations before and knew how to deal with the unknown, with the indecipherable, even though he wasn’t sure where he was, the ball of white threads being enough.

When the ball was big enough to be of significance in his search for balance, he looked up into the sky only to realize that the clouds were morphing from white to gray to black as if trying to tell him something he couldn’t understand. He consoled himself by weighing the ball of threads in his hands and contemplating the impossibility of thinking white thoughts under a black sky. He had no sooner tucked his threads of probabilities into his pocket than the clouds began to rain in an apocryphal externalization of cosmic mysteries.

The artist grabbed his easel and his canvass and his paint box and ran through the sudden downpour to his house. He was soaked long before he reached the safety of his own thoughts, but the celestial surprise inspired him to fill a canvass with nothing but rain. As soon as he dried himself off, he translated his brain waves into brush strokes to create a masterpiece that would bring him rave reviews at the gallery. The colored mountain was barely discernible behind the curtain of rain, the eagles indistinguishable dots even though they had long left the sky. Lattimer wasn’t in the painting at all.

He was standing on the mountain gathering the rain with his outstretched arms, letting the impossible soak his mind to take home for future contemplation. He would have liked to be in a painting, he readily admitted to himself, but he was saturated with rain as he was. He would have only distracted the painter and mystified the gallery owners and their patrons. The last thing he needed was the attention of a crowd talking about him behind his back. He was a solitary climber and preferred to keep it that way.

The rain let up just as the artist finished his new painting and Lattimer felt he had enough of being pelted by mysterious assertions and confusing questions. While the artist cleansed his mind of his paints, Lattimer gathered his visions of the clouds in his hands, held them up to the slowly clearing sky, and began his descent into the valley. He had plenty of time to sort his collection of probabilities into plausible piles on his long way down, and he made abundant use of every step. He had all his insecurities and latent anxieties completely organized by the time he reached the river down below.

He never did go to the gallery to see the paintings, even though he had been an integral part of the tableau and would have easily been able to see himself in them. He felt he had done enough by being there and attending to all the details of white clouds and streaming rain without exposing himself to a public who wouldn’t have understood any more than he did. All he still needed to complete his day of exploration was a shower and a change of dry clothes. Everything else would fall into place in its own good time, even the rock eagles speaking to him from high up in the sky.

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Peter Baltensperger is a Canadian writer of Swiss origin and the author of ten books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. He writes, and has been writing all his life, because he has to and loves to do it, and because it adds a significant dimension to his personal quest.

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