GIRLFIRE : Erin Slaughter

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Erin Slaughter is a native Texan currently pursuing an MFA at Western Kentucky University, where she teaches undergraduate writing classes. In 2016, she co-edited an anthology, Lavender Bluegrass: LGBT Writers on the South, won the Heartland Review’s Flash Fiction contest, and was a finalist for Rabbit Catastrophe Press’ REAL GOOD POEM Prize. You can find her work in Indianola Review, River Teeth, Boxcar Poetry Review, Off the Coast, Harpoon Review, and elsewhere. She lives in downtown Bowling Green with a cat named Amelia.


Who is your favorite female writer and why?
I would say that my favorite writers change pretty often, as I read and discover new things and as the direction of my writing evolves. Right now, I really admire Zadie Smith. The scope of her work is so varied in theme, genre, stylistic choices, etc. but everything she writes retains something that’s distinctly her. As a writer who works in multiple genres, that’s been a useful lesson for me.

 

What literary work by a female writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?
Miranda July’s short story collection No one belongs here more than you. That pretty yellow book destroyed me in the best way. July condenses the incredible weirdness of being a person and injects it directly into the atmosphere of each story.

 

How did your work in Alyss come about?
My piece Unfamiliar Skin originally began as a project for a Sociology of Sexuality course I took in college. I had an incredible professor who cultivated an atmosphere of openness, humor, and respectful debate in the classroom. It was a place where people felt comfortable sharing stories about their experiences with their own sexuality and gender identity, and even stories about being victims of sexual violence. All in all, it was one of the most important classes I’ve ever been a part of.

 

The essay I turned in at end of that class contained some sections that remain in “Unfamiliar Skin,” but it was very different. At different points, the essay has been a series of vignettes about every person I’ve slept with, a contemplation on body image, a story about struggling with sexual identity, and an exploration of impulsiveness. I think as it is now, it retains parts of all of those themes, and maybe a bit more. It’s now part of the memoir I’m working on, so it’s still not really complete. It continues to evolve as I evolve in relation to myself and others.

 

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?
Winning a contest (my first), selling a story for actual money, and being named a finalist in another contest were all big accomplishments for me this year. But I think the most fulfilling experience was meeting my MFA cohort, and realizing that everything I’ve pursued with writing–from being the weird kid reading poems to my fourth-grade class, to my first publication at nineteen in a (now defunct) online magazine and onward–has brought me to these five beautiful people who I click with so well, who support me and challenge me, who make me a better writer and person.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from a previous issue and why?
Almost Someone Coming Home” by Alexandria Smyth in Issue Deux. It gave me chills as I was reading. So, so beautiful.

What are you currently working on ?
Right now I’m writing a book-length memoir called The Dead Dad Diaries, and putting together two separate poetry chapbooks, which I hope to finish and send off to publishers very soon.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?
Comedian Alice Wetterlund.

Phoenix : Tammy Bendetti

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Tammy Bendetti  lives, works, and drinks too much coffee on Colorado’s Western Slope with her husband and two small daughters. She completed a poetry workshop with Wyatt Prunty at Sewanee: The University of the South, and received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Colorado Mesa University. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Calliope and Grand Valley Magazine, and is forthcoming from Right Hand Pointing. She is currently building a secret room under her stairs but does not plan to keep any wizards in it.


Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God is a force of nature. Just to keep moving after so much hurt and disappointment is admirable. But instead of merely surviving, she keeps shining out love. She’s so full of courage and a willingness to feel everything all the way down to her bones. It’s no wonder Hurston had Tea Cake swallowed by a hurricane, just to give balance. Janie’s heart was swallowing her whole all along.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

My father used to read to me and my brothers every single night. He didn’t stick to kids’ books, either. We read Lord of the Rings with a dictionary open on the coffee table! When I was seven, we read Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I found it so comforting to think that I could be strange, I could be passionate, I could be very alone at times, and all that could ultimately be an advantage to me. I was an odd duck as a child, and spent a lot of time by myself. If I’d felt compelled to assimilate, I might have lost my voice.

How did your poem Grundy County come about? 

For the first three years of college I attended the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. It’s like a little heaven. Lush green forest and a handful of graceful stone buildings. The teachers are brilliant, the students are engaged, and the sense of community is strong. But it’s a heaven for the wealthy, and I have the debt to prove it. Just next door, Grundy County is one of the poorest in the nation. It used to be home to the Chickasaw and then the Cherokee, which were two of the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes,” “civilized” meaning they cooperated with the U.S. government. The U.S. forced them out, anyway, by the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Native Americans, Europeans, the rich and the poor have been fighting over this bit of land for centuries. All the while, weeds and trees and flowers have been strangling each other for a piece of the same rich soil. One day, after having lived in Colorado for several years, I was washing dishes and looking across the street to the irrigation ditch. The neighbors’ rosebushes were practically climbing through the fence to get to it, and I finally knew what to say about Tennessee.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

 I’m going to cheat and tell you about two moments, because they seem related. An old friend and mentor of mine, Marilyn, is almost always the first to read my poems. She’s super supportive and genuinely enjoys them. I wrote a poem called “In October” last year, and sent it to her. She asked me, “How did you know just exactly how I was feeling today?” In another exchange, she told me she’d shared a few of the poems with someone I don’t know, and that woman was inspired to start writing again after a long hiatus. I’m not likely to become famous. There will always be someone ahead of me. But to make even one person feel seen and important is so gratifying.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue Deux and why?

My favorite has changed at least three times since the issue came out. At first it was “America as a Room,” by Cassandra de Alba, because it feels true and original. Then Amber Atiya’s “everytime I speak, my gums bleed” punched me in the gut. But for now my favorite is “Almost Someone Coming Home.” Alexandra Smyth is some kind of magician. She’s put a whole lifetime in eighteen soft-spoken lines.

What are you currently working on?

I’m trying to find a publisher for a children’s book I’ve written. I lived on an island when I was very small, and I’ve always found the ocean’s rhythm to be the best lullaby. When my first child was born, I knew I wanted to write about it. Children’s book publishing is completely new territory for me! There are things like illustration to consider; I’m an artist, but I’m not sure if my style is the best fit for the story, oddly enough. Plus, how are people going to react if the book does get published, and I continue to swear and write about sex in my poems? People in this country like to pretend that maternal instincts and sexuality are completely antithetical. They DO realize how babies are made, right?

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

I really love Alice from Resident Evil. She is saving the world from her own mistakes. And she makes me feel brave.

 

At six I wanted to marry Godzilla

He was tall, strong, warped
by radiation into crankiness and behavior
that proved ultimately self-destructive.
When he stalked back into the ocean, I cried.

It isn’t just radiation
that warps a man to the shape of anger
and sets his feet down hard on the floor.

Or maybe we just haven’t properly categorized
guilt as radioactive. Smothered anger
as glow-in-the-dark. Nuclear fusion as a byproduct of grief.

Some nights all is well. We slurp up
our giant bowls of noodles and watch game shows.
We read Gengi and Shonagon to each other,
sip tea, comb our sand gardens.

Other nights: tight lips. Anger
like the rush of scalding water
from hidden underwater vents.

Rending of rice paper screens,
shredding the tatami mats,
pots of rice down on the floor,
stomped.

Those nights I find myself
knee deep in salt water,
trying to keep him on land.

But tonight I want to turn,
lose my own shape in rough waters,
see if he is strong enough to stop me.

Merie Kirby

Grundy County

 

This is weed country. Not sticky pocketfuls of buds; the lush pot fields have just been burned by the Feds in a fit of irony. Besides, the locals brew up stronger kinds of numb. These are the kinds of weeds that
would shoot out of sidewalk cracks if this town could finance public sidewalks, and in the absence of
sidewalks, choose to choke ditches instead. Everyone here in some stage of not yet or no longer
belonging. Crowded Cherokee crowded out Chickasaw; Five Tribes uprooted and given a garden plot
Now people who look like me practice poverty in this rich land. The money for rosebushes ran out
somewhere west on 64. Here one of the 2 banks in town will charge you money for not having enough
money. 23 years at the Piggly-Wiggly or moonshine on the side of the highway, white rag waving in the
night. But say you made it, say you’re kudzu climbing the overpass, emerald ambition. Say you own all
the hardware stores for 3 counties. Every lawn mower starts with you. Everyone needs a lawn mower
for the weeds.

Tammy Bendetti

Moth Queen

Filthy soil kisses, little mushroom people slept dreaming — not of large cream eyes folded, cork-stopped inside bottle. The wings fluttered like tangled ribbon, pushed against the moon’s luminous glowing, drowning in light-air. Prisoner Queen of Moths learned to love the smooth glass, curved against her back as cuddling, the stories she told the echoing walls — an invisible ink diary.

A large bear bit the cork open, shatter-glass, shaking the Moth Queen free. Mushroom girls ooh-ed and aah-ed and “liked” her freedom, spored peacefully.

Not want of leave for glass, the Moth Queen ripped off her wings to make a dress, stuck shards into wing holes — each memory-piece had its place like windows. She bled out asleep and warm, hand clutched around the smallest shard.

Kaela Danielle McNeil

War for Dinner

             ~After “Photograph of the Girl,” Sharon Olds

War is redefined
as the city breaks.
Death is a news flash.
Destruction, a televised event.

The privileged
flip and pan.
Loose propaganda is gold
they recite at dinner.

Here: young girls shift
and reach for less food across
the dinner table. The men
argue and the boys kick.

There: young girls hide under tables,
cradle their knees, rock fast
against splitting cement. The men
fall dead and the boys run.

Soldiers with foreign tongue
circle the city—fast vultures,
instinct blackened.
Boots crackle shattered window.

There: the city cramps, presses
young wombs ready.
The young girls brink, they pass
over without their mothers.

Here: the young girls bleed
on satin cushions.
They excuse themselves and shame
is passed by their mothers like a dish.

Sarah Lilius

ACQUAINTED

A scene at the dinner table, imaginary rice bowls
      clanking clanking clanking till all the chopsticks break to
      pierce every fixated white eye

A chance to maim any claim to malleability, out
      now, get out now

A splinter cracks wide open
      the fat ceramic, red blood on white, bleeding sensation of
      fate in your gut

A mountain is only yours when it’s permeable,
      fingernails soil-cracked yellow
      up to your elbows in salt

Another genuine white friend stopped at
      the threshold of your house, confused, so
      confused

A white baby in savage bloom, in waiting to
      brandish your guts with
      every stain you buried in haste

All your poetry situated in the united states, a landscape
      whose innocence throbs with the
      heat of piss, shiny so shiny

How do you tell anyone who would listen

See that it’s not too late to
      begin again: side-eye the pliant white of this page,

Gentle, like a multiplication table

All the answers pulsating in the fist you hide behind your back

Grace Liew

everytime i speak, my gums bleed

 

english, a kind of pesticide, kills honeybees.
the crude stingers of verbs chap my lips.
i learned my abc’s in flatbush, isle of glottal
stigmatas, mother tongues strapped
to the spiked back of the queen. summer
the dandelion’s fur gets airborne. summer
a black girl cups its hairs, makes a wish
in the only language she knows. the heavens
rain teeth seven days & nights, jamals
akiras awaken hysterical, toothless
clawing their mouths. the wind, ancient
interpreter, throbs. hums. like a didgeridoo.

Amber Atiya

Date-Rape

I called him a pussy

because it was the weakest

place that I could find;

 

it yielded the     easiest

beneath the razor of

a fifteen year old

tongue.

 

“Four years my senior

and still a virgin,“

 

He stood in front of me, fragile

and half-naked;

I laughed.

               There are girls out there

that put boys in positions

they don’t want to be in

because they can.

 

I ate up soft boys because

they were //easy//.

 

Like I used to be.

Natalie N. Caro

Almost Someone Coming Home

after Anne Sexton

There is always another story, and in this one I am
almost someone coming home. Floes of ice crack
on the Potomac, the first freeze in as many years as
I have been alive. I believe in coincidences, misspelled
names on tickets, the undulating light which grows
warm between the fractures in those interior spaces.

My brother and I have separate specialties: one of us
is the eye of a needle: expertly empty, a vessel for the
passing-through. The other is a bent nail in the doorway,
unnoticeable, waiting to catch on your bare foot. The
phrase “I will outlive you,” comes into my head as we wait
in the elevator and for a moment I feel a thrill of sibling

triumph in this cruelty that is not even my own, before
remembering these too are the statistics that say I will die
undignified, alone. I will breathe for at least ten years longer,
three times three plus one, deadly arithmetic of this gap
between us. I want to reach for his hand in this absence, but
the elevator chimes and he walks off into the fluorescent hall.

Alexandra Smyth