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Issue 33 • July 2019
edited by Sara Tantlinger

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction • InfectionSara Tantlinger

“The Innocence of Water” • David E. Cowen
“Into the Net” • Lisa Timpf
“Earworm Indoctrination” • Kurt Newton
“Moving Up” • David C. Kopaska-Merkel
“How Not to Die” • Jeannine Hall Gailey
“The War” • Jonel Abellanosa
“Homesickness: Violet Inviolate” • Jane Dougherty
“The Plague Queen” • Scott J. Couturier
“The Black Worm” • Lachlan R.
“Consumption” • Emma J. Gibbon
“Viral” • Divine Inyang Titus
“I Dreamed the Shearing of Sheep Electric” • Jennifer Bradpiece
“Ring around the Rosie on Centauri’s Moon” • Deborah Guzzi
“The Infection” • Christina Sng
“A Rotten Apple” • David F. Shultz
“An Acquired Taste” • Natalie Lydick
“Their Own Annihilation” • BJ Greville
“virus: a sojourn” • Archita Mittra
“To the Girl Who Drew Mushroom Clouds” • Karen J. Weyant

The Innocence of Water

She will blame the sea
But she carried me
All along 
The innocence of water 
Irritating the patch of red on her skin
Her scratching letting me begin

When the red becomes black
Blisters peeling into layers 
Pain searing with no heat
Fever boiling with no respite
She will blame the sea
But she carried me
All along

When she cries at the sight of bone
I have found my home
Slowly savoring my necrotic feast
The meat tender and moist
She will blame the sea
But she carried me
All along

Six months she will suffer
the tube in her arm a constant companion
Six months they will try to cut me away
Then cover the hole with fresh flesh
She will blame the sea
But she carried me
All along

The scar will remain
Deep, aggravated by her limp
She will never swim again
Not knowing that I maintain
Hidden in the pores and flesh
Waiting for the chance to refresh

She will blame the sea
But carried me
All along

—David E. Cowen

Into the Net

Sure, some protested
when we started to supplement
our diet with dolphins—
they’re almost as intelligent as us—
but have you ever seen an Angus cow
tread water?
Makes sense to turn to the ocean
now it’s everywhere.
“Besides, how smart are they?”
the fishermen sneered.
“They swim right into our nets.”
Workers at the canning factory
were first to fall ill,
but the contagion quickly spread.
Seems the dolphins
who so willingly sought
the nets’ embrace
had a purpose, a method
to seeming madness.
Once the virus finished
cutting a swathe
through the human population
survivors on both sides
were willing enough
to live and let live.

—Lisa Timpf

Earworm Indoctrination

They lined us up like Ellis Island immigrants,
men in suits standing behind rows of jars
filled with amber-colored fluid. With thin
tweezers they pulled tiny creatures from the
syrup and planted them in our ear canal. We felt
nothing except the inevitable squirm, a tickle
at the back of our consciousness, a vague
wondering why we allowed ourselves to be
taken over so willingly.

Now, it's like one of those catchy nonsense
melodies burrowing through the soft tissues
of our brain, a mantra on an endless loop, until
we find ourselves half naked, singing in the
middle of a corporate Skype teleconference,
or dancing in the streets during rush hour, or
swimming in a public fountain in winter. Are
we celebrating or are we protesting? We can
no longer tell.

And it's too late to realize that it's the favored
method of tyrants, dictators and reality TV
hosts: the repeated use of key words and
phrases, the indoctrination of a non-voluntary
belief system without any ties to the truth. It
spreads like an epidemic that no CDC mandate
can cure, and we find ourselves alone with only
one remedy at our disposal: a prolonged period
of silence to honor the death of reason.

—Kurt Newton

Moving Up

As if New Orleans hadn’t lost enough,
my neighbor climbed the pin oak
in his front yard yesterday,
jabbering nonsense to the sky.

He was still there this morning,
not talking since his head burst,
became a puff of yellow,
a deadly cloud that blew away.

Spores in their trillions
poured from every orifice,
making windrows on windshields,
a yellow tinge on trees.

Glad I stay upwind,
but I’m moving to Montana soon,
or maybe Arizona,
someplace where the air is dry.

—David C. Kopaska-Merkel

How Not to Die

Don’t get German Measles at 3,
Scarlet Fever at 7. Don’t be afraid
of the antibiotic, the blood draw,
they will become companions.
Your childhood books about Louis Pasteur
and Marie Curie will become guides to the future,
to a friendly science that both threatens and heals.
The radioactive decay in your snow, in your tomatoes
will lead to a study of ecotoxicology, medical botany.
You will learn the magic of herbs, the poisons
that hide inside our forests and oceans.
Don’t get cancer, but learn the language
of oncology. You’ll need a guide to read
your tumors, your own DNA, a map to the mutations
that perplex the doctors, the tiny spurs that hook into
our perfect planes. The puzzle of your
bloodlines, a certain gene that imperils,
the buzz of lesions in your brain
that wait patient inside you to implode.
Do not let go of your questions. Learn
the landscape of the human misfit,
the chorale of flowering monstrous mistakes,
the unrecognizable chimera in our human chain.

—Jeannine Hall Gailey

The War

Ecosystem of voices, cacophony hives
for droning minds. Class structures clash.
No color escapes same feather bondage,
clenched brows like vultures. If fists

weren’t iron, they’d not fit as flowers.
The fascist dung beetle rolled across
Europe. No one wanted bullets to stay
mud. Inner moon watchers saw it and

laughed at “candles from both sides,”
airborne and crashing, burning hate’s
biology, Asian conflagration sweeping
like measles, missiles like syringes of

hooded avengers spreading Ebola. I saw
from our base in Rigel how humans 
turned Earth to stone. We have to send 
projectiles, to cleanse the air of spores. 

—Jonel Abellanosa

Homesickness: Violet Inviolate

Into the shifting, dusty air, I tread
With mask and breathing gear, no stars to light the way.
This sky that once was blue, now military grey,
Where hangs a watery sun,
Dun colour of the winter of our days.
This earth we built of monticules of molecules,
Insecticides and herbicides is dead.

I wade the shifting dust where footsteps merge
Among the serried polytunnel ranks,
And all that grows is raised
Like Lazarus from dusty deeps,
Drawn by a shameful primal urge,
To where, in a pocket of forgotten shade,  
The outlawed throwback poison creeps.

Dust settles on its heart-shaped leaves,
Its bowed, broad-petalled, dusky flower,
Colour once of sunset skies, or was it dawns?
A single, dangerous violet grieves,
For the obsolete and banished shower,
Memories now, pressed in between dry leaves
Of tangled rose blooms, piqued with thorns.
With gloved forefinger I raise its face,
So pure, and scented as only memories are
In this hydroponic, artificial place,
Drawn into violet dusk, where dapples once
Broke summer sun beneath lost trees,
Where sweetest poison carried on the breeze
Seeps into my blood, and I am lost.

They told us to beware the touch
Of insidious creepers in the dust,
With blooms of colours never seen
And roots transpiercing centuries
Of forgetting how the world was dancing green,
Not this arid desert, cold grey pall,
And perfumed as a garden was before the fall.

—Jane Dougherty

The Plague Queen

The Plague Queen germinates in plasm
spores to incite terminal spasm.
Droplets of fever-dew she refines,
& marrow-chill to strike the spine:
gloating empress of ooze & phlegm
resplendent in spirochete diadem.

The Plague Queen’s pale throat is pearled
with black bubos: her flesh is whorled
with lurid lashes of infectious stain—
parasitic worms enthrone her brain.
Foam excretes from her maw, twin
to a too-broad & rotten-toothed grin.

Her court she keeps in nucleotide—
her wrath rakes macrocosms wide,
twisting empires on microbes’ wrack.
Her banners flow yellow, blood-red, & black.
Mercy to her means naught but death,
most merciful swiftest cessation of breath.

From her bastion she is known to ride
on rogue bacillus, hordes at her side:
a tide of whelming virulence to quell
life’s hubris back to protoplasmic jell.
The sick-house is her royal domain—
her most passive edict a writ of pain.

Only a Queen of contagion’s malice
could make of a single cell a palace.
No sorcery nor science holds her at bay—
always mutating to forms more fey
she new-subjugates each crowning cure,
reclaiming her reign by putrescence pure.

The Plague Queen comes—her foul wake
leaves flesh for starveling hounds to slake.
Manifold skulls her gaunt hips gird,
strung from strop of lymph & pus-curd—
priestess of entropy’s enterprise grim,
Death her blind servant—& all life her whim.

—Scott J. Couturier

The Black Worm

The Black Worm chews and chews and chews
Through all the kingdoms and fiefdoms
Sometimes it travels through news of its own spread
No sooner does a baron or bishop or king
Open an electronic message about the Worm
Do they fall to their knees, shrieking incoherent code
Churches are crammed with the fearful
Who walk away spasming and screaming
Families have stopped speaking to each other
Except through primitive audio speakers
While many who show marks of the Worm
Are rounded up and smelted like old horses
Their metal is made into new peasants
That the Black Worm chews into again

—Lachlan R.


I had always envied Emily's beauty
her life it seemed
and I a hobgoblin in her wake,
the ugliest sister,
while she of the flaxen hair,
rosebud lips
and a laugh that
tinkled like spun glass
sailed ahead.

Even when the sickness settled into her bones
like a cursed sea fret
and the hack, hack, hack of her cough filled rooms
still her suitors came.

This creature,
this consumption,
enhanced her beauty still.
Burrowed into her body
and made it shine
like a thing that must die.

Her cheeks, inflamed, bloomed
in their hollows
and those famed lips,
crimson and blood-bitten

but it was her eyes
her eyes
that stopped the menfolk across
the room
feverish green
gasoline on water burning
come-hither and much, much more.

How I wanted what she had
How I wanted to be her
How I wanted

I watched her obsessively
as she lounged on every chaise longue
trying to hide what she produced with her hack, hack, hack.
She was sly but not as sly as
I. I tracked those delicate handkerchiefs she
spat into,
and tucked under cushions,
behind drapes,
trying to hide the shame
of her mortality.

Still the men simpered,
her tragedy an aphrodisiac.

When she was abed,
swimming in laudanum dreams,

I would retrace her faltering steps,
collect the small silken packets
she would leave like presents.

When alone I would open them,
inspect the slime,
the bloody sputum.
Steeling myself,
I would lick the silk,
consume her sickness,

steal her beauty for myself.

—Emma J. Gibbon


Tonight, your touch is a plague
Crawling up my blood like venom.
With the dying sun, my parts begin to fail
And I fall wildly in your arms.

Tonight, your eyes are a disease
Staring blindness into my very soul.
In the calm of sombre stars and a malfunctioning heart,
You show me deep, dark fires.

Tonight, your voice is a rash
Where my ears receive your deathly music;
Inflamed little things burrowing in my skull—
I scratch my pleasure like a lunatic.

Tonight, your man is a fang;
With each strike, a wound in my woman
That lingers, unseen
And softens with the tide of worms.

Tonight, your love is a sore—
A vile sore I cannot control or cure.
Helplessly, I watch you
Bury me in too many deaths.

—Divine Inyang Titus

I Dreamed the Shearing of Sheep Electric

One by one they lined us up.

De-spined the furry creatures by their tiny skulls.

To each biped, the process
was explained:

We would feel a falling.
A collapse of veins.

The map of everywhere
imploding in our bones.

Then a flickering will take us.
Like a movie reel?
Like DMT?
I asked my cells.

Body by body, single file,
they strapped us into the machine—
one hypodermic needle limb, the other a mask.

Waiting my turn,
I silently pleaded
contradictory things:

Please let the anesthesia blind and numb me
before the rip tide.
Please keep my awareness keen
when the worlds slip—one to some other.
As in life, so at slaughter,
I mused.

The man next to me regarded me
with gentle eyes.
“Your hair looks as if it’s on fire.”
I turned to him before they fastened
each of my limbs into the glinting silver.

“It’s a way to live,” I sighed.

—Jennifer Bradpiece

Ring around the Rosie on Centauri’s Moon

Outside the dome in sun, we play
into the shade we dance, not far.
Our fathers, dear, have passed away.
Our mothers all are most bizarre.
And we, why we are superstars
as all around the sky falls down.
Each meteorite will leave a scar
to mark the spot where we fall down.
Deep holes mar the sun’s array.
The habitat’s door is ajar.
Our mothers now have passed away
yet, round we dance, it’s most bizarre,
each girl and boy a superstar.
Madness makes us act like clowns;
we’ll dance in shadow evermore  
to mark the spot where we fall down.
Three boys and three girls, dance away
on the moon of a binary star.
Our space-suits hold quick death at bay
but tainted food eaten brings circular scars.
The girls drop first their features marred;
their helmets crack upon their crowns.
Unmoving, corpses fell and stayed
to mark the spot where they fell down.
Abnar, Baldar, and bold Cazar,
remove their helmets without sound
and join Almar, Dagmar, and Adar
to mark the spot where they fell down.

—Deborah Guzzi

The Infection

You ask me what I’m doing
One afternoon on the roof,
Knife in hand, poised to cut
And carve. You know what
I do when I hold it this way.
Yet, you ask, as if asking will
Change the reality of what is
To come and what will be.

“I need to cut away the infection,”
I tell you. “It is poisoning all of us.”
You nod, as if understanding but
You do not, choosing instead to
Try and disarm me, but getting 
Stabbed in the knee before I sigh,
Shaking my head, continuing to
Stab you till you are dead

Before heading back to the lab
Where I begin arming the warhead
With your right eye and left thumb.
When the countdown begins, 
I empty the bunker, ensuring
All traces of the infection are
Properly destroyed. No survivors,
Not in this nuclear-safe bunk.

Earth will start over—
Cleansed, inoculated, reborn. 
Without infection. Without us.
I stab myself in the neck and smile.

—Christina Sng

A Rotten Apple

falls. Fetid, the garden awaits earth
a fleshy line that spans
pink, brown, and the black

of space; coring a whole from
the atom split
to the eve of its descent.

I've known them by their fruits,
but what of their genesis—
of symbols and signs, spoken and spilled
by the barrel of inky black;
of cybernetics and symptoms:

There are endless machines,
roaring pistons in the valley of steel,

where vents hiss antiseptic breath
along rolling miles of black rubber,
searing under false light;

metal crashes,
flecks of rust,

and the sound of railroad nails
driven rhythmically in cerebella.

They weave a bloody thread
into a roiling quilt
for dead and hungry

My cold sister,
We've touched your grey skin,
plucked pieces of pock-marked flesh
in the name of healing and medicine.

My red brother,
we've scraped the surface of your face
with corrugated feet of ceaseless golems
envisioning ashes.

Where this pollen drifts
a festering wilt grows.

Seed of all seeds,
spread your hearth to span this gyre
and perhaps some quiet garden globe
will flower befitting true light.
But not in this rot.

Seed of all seeds,

—David F. Shultz

An Acquired Taste

Sickly sweet and sticky,
Full of desperation and lavender,
the saccharine goo of fantasy,
Imbued with paranoia,
Boiled in the syrup of citrus rinds
And overripe fruit.
I drink the plague soup.

The spoon sits light in my hand
And the cloying broth heavy on my tongue.
Oozing with unrest,
It swirls around my gums,
Stings under the teeth.

An overwhelming mouthful,
A thick wave.
Taste buds whispering sorrow.
Taste buds chanting try.
Taste buds begging chances.
Taste buds lying.
It’s the flavor of hope.

The broth is a mania,
Its bouillon cube, doubt.
A smell,
A sip,
A breakdown.
Full of preservatives and artificial dye,
The soup is fake.
I drink the plague soup.

Soup not yet imbibed,
You press your lips to mine.
We sample the brew,
Tacky and warm and familiar.
Daring to savor the counterfeit slop,
Afraid to check the ingredients.

It feels like snuggling up with a book,
Like burying my head in your lap,
Like racing along avenues, windows down,
Like kissing the ink on your chest,
Like hearts pleading to be broken again.
What sweetness, what deceit.

It’s store-bought, and you taste that.
I do too—
A recipe I couldn’t make alone,
But a food I’m always craving.
We sit, aprons half-untied,
Slurping the same soup, yet
Devouring disparate spirits.

There’s an undertone I cannot yet detect,
But it’s all you taste.
The salt.
Briny and biting, it breaks the molasses.
Where I find overwrought syrup, you only
Catch acridity of despair.
You see doom in the contrived meal.

Lips part.
Every drop holds in my mouth alone.
I drink the plague soup.
I swallow.

—Natalie Lydick

Their Own Annihilation

They carried their own annihilation,
those Mayflowers, white coated pioneers,
on their journey to a new constellation.

Confined in dreamless hibernation,
flying through space lightyear after lightyear,
they carried their own annihilation

in pockets of seeds, on devices for migration.
In crates of provisions their dreams disappeared
on their journey to a new constellation.

Maybe it was hasty sterilization
or ineffective immunization, the science is unclear.
Still, they carried their own annihilation.

Most likely exposure to cosmic radiation
on lowly microbes caused mutations to appear.
On their journey to a new constellation,

the species single quest for salvation,
failed and none awake to shed a tear.
On their journey to a new constellation
they carried their own annihilation.

—BJ Greville

virus: a sojourn

no one knows loneliness the way you do,
cocooned in molecules, as nebulae
swirled into solar systems and suns.

you swam in the darkness between
the stars, latching onto a comet
skittering past-

a blue planet seemed good enough
for a temporary apartment. there was
lava and a million years

to proliferate. you roamed every crevice.
from the molten depths of the earth
you crawled onto sun-melted ice, sailed

with dying sailors, ambled across
the floorboards of a rotting ship
tickled the belly of a slumbering

kraken. you've worn gas masks,
gasped at birds and aeroplanes
that bled into the cloud-ribbed sky

lived for a year and a half, beneath
a mushroom cloud, wormed your way
into the swampy silence of the gut.

(it wasn't so silent anymore.)
you've a million children by now,
nameless, faceless, they could've been

you from the future or past. they do not
notice thee, the ancient one, a spectator,
a mother, a murderer of civilisations.

all your dreams are dark, like blackholes
swallowing whatever it has seen. time shall
curl at the edges of planets when it's time

to leave. there are new neon galaxies
beckoning, begging to be moved in.
no one knows godliness like you do

invisible, whimsical, contagious, scattering
death and life, hearing the laugh
of a dying star, your shadow

splintering into endless echoes, over
and over, a sisyphean chain-link rattling
forever in the dark.

—Archita Mittra

To the Girl Who Drew Mushroom Clouds

You always used sidewalk chalk,
but never on pavement, wanting pages
torn from telephone books,
brown grocery store bags, a receipt
from a new pair of jeans.

Your pictures started as thick stems
that curled into umbrellas of smoke
and coiled in tangles of swirls.
Then you drew stick figures crumbled
in grass blades, blackened in houses

that came alive in jagged flames of fire.
The rest of us used construction paper,
sketched cumulus clouds as clean
as cotton ends of Q-tips, suns that smiled,
peaking out in long rays.

We were afraid of your world:
a family bomb shelter as a playroom,
shelves of supplies disguised as toys.
Your art left a mark, fingertips black,
specks staining your bangs, your face smeared
with both freckles and dark rain.

—Karen J. Weyant