Friday, November 16, 2018

Pigeon Apocalypse, by Joanna Acevedo

Pigeon Apocalypse by Joanna Acevedo

The pigeons that were living in our ceiling had started getting aggressive with one another, and once in a while a shower of feathers and plaster would come raining down into my room. I wasn’t getting much sleep, which was making me irritable.

I thought I heard my roommate, Jared, telling a girl about the pigeons late at night, when he thought I was asleep.

“It’s like, the Pigeon Apocalypse in there,” he was saying into the receiver of the phone. He thought I couldn't hear him, but I could. “So if you want to hang out, we can’t go to my place. Besides,” he added, and I could hear the flick of the lighter as he lit his cigarette. “My roommate is kind of weird.”

“You’re kind of weird,” I said, to the wall that separated the two of us.

A few minutes later I heard the apartment door slam. Then it was just me and the pigeons. I listened to them rustling around, cooing, until I fell asleep sometime around dawn.


Jared interrupted me while I was writing a letter to my ex-boyfriend’s mom about how I missed her. I hadn’t liked the boyfriend much, but I had really bonded with his mother, and now we had a weekly correspondence. We exchanged knitting patterns and recipes for casserole. Sometimes she asked me for advice on parenting her younger sons, who were fifteen and eighteen, and getting into trouble left and right.

“You just need to be patient,” I always told her. Letters seemed awfully dramatic, and I liked that. I liked to pretend that we were living in a period drama, dressed in ostentatious, impractical clothes, and that it would be three months before I heard from her again, the letters traveling on horseback across the desolate American west.

In reality, our postman was pasty and grumpy and overweight, and complained to Mrs. Rogers, who lived downstairs, that his feet always hurt, that he had a rare and incurable liver disease. Sometimes if he was early on his rounds I could hear them chatting, through the air vents, the smell of ginger tea wafting up into my drafty apartment.

“You do know there’s such a thing as email, right?” Jared asked me, coming into the living room. He was looking at me like I was a waste of space, something unpleasant that had just crawled out of the swamp and into his living room.

“I like writing letters,” I said.
“You’re a space cadet,” he said, but this time there was affection in his voice. “Listen, I’m going to see a band later with some friends.”

For a moment, I thought he was going to invite me, and then I would have had to come up with an elaborate excuse for why I couldn't go, something to do with the lunar cycle and the pulsating of the tides. In reality, I was afraid of his friends, with their jeering smiles and biting wit, conversations flickering past at sixty frames a second, a sitcom in real life, complete with a laugh track and gleaming light show.

“I was just wondering,” he said, “if you could feed the cat.”

My face turned red, as if he could read my thoughts. Sometimes I thought he could. It was a secret suspicion of mine.

“No problem,” I said, and then put my headphones in, so that he knew that the conversation was over.

I found Jared through a Craigslist ad. The ad had read:

Considerate, responsible NYU graduate student seeks roommate. No freaks, no drug addicts, no trust fund babies, need references. Must be OK with cats.

The apartment was small, an hour from the city, but the room was clean and the neighborhood wasn’t bad for the price.

“You promise you’re not a weirdo?” Jared had asked.
“No,” I said.
I could see him considering his options. We were both students. We liked some of the same music. I got along with the cat, who butted his head against the palm of my hand and meowed plaintively when I got up to leave.
In theory, we should have been ideal roommates. Once in a while, I caught Jared eyeing me from across the living room, wondering what could have possibly gone wrong.
The problem was, I didn’t know what had gone wrong, either.


My only friend Sonia came over on Thursday night. Jared was around, cooking with headphones over his ears, and he smiled a small smile when I went to get the door for her. I had lived in the apartment for six months and never invited anyone over.

“This is my friend,” I said.

“I didn’t know you had friends,” he said.

Sonia wrinkled her nose. “Your roommate is a dick,” she told me, once the door to my room was shut.

“Yeah,” I said. He wasn’t, though. He was just telling the truth.

She picked up a piece of paper that was on my desk. It was part of a theory I was working on. I was convinced that all the people who went to my school were just clones of the same six people, repeated over and over, and wearing different outfits.

“So you’re not doing so well,” she said, once she had read it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

“You know people are worried about you,” she said to me, and then went to the kitchen to get the bottle of wine I had in the fridge.

When she got back she had a funny look on her face. I made room for her to sit down on the bed, moving my papers and books and the treatise I was writing. It was a sort of manifesto, a peace treaty, to the pigeons. I was planning to leave it up in the hole in the ceiling, with an offering of birdseed, and then maybe they would leave.

“Your roommate is a dick,” she repeated, “but he’s kind of cute. Do you know if he’s seeing anyone?”

“That’s really not something I want to get involved in,” I said, and then she was nice enough not to press the subject any further.


I got home one day and Jared was sitting at the kitchen counter, opening my mail.

“Opening a person’s mail is like, a federal offense,” I said.

“So is assaulting a bus driver, and I’ve done that,” he said. There were a bunch of cigarette butts in the ashtray. Our landlord had started leaving passive-aggressive notices in the hallway reminding us that smoking was strictly in violation of our tenant contract and if we were caught, we could be evicted and not get our deposit back.

I had never actually paid a deposit. I gave Jared an envelope of cash on the first of the month and paid the light bill on my credit card. I had never even met the landlord, but Jared assured me I wasn't missing out on anything.

“Why are you going through my mail?” I changed tactics.

“I was bored,” he said. “Also, you get a lot of mail. Like, did you know your scholarship is going to be pulled, because you haven't been going to class?”

I did know that, but I had been trying to avoid it in the hopes it would go away.

“Why do you care?” I asked.

“I don’t,” he said. “I thought you might. Are you having, like, a psychotic break or something?”

I thought about it. I had been spending an awful lot of time indoors. I had been breaking into his room when he wasn’t home and rearranging his socks so they didn't match. I had removed all the cups from the cupboards in the kitchen and replaced them with Styrofoam replicas.

But I hadn't known that he had noticed any of these things. He came home and shut himself in his room and I couldn’t even hear him when I pressed my ear up against the wall.

“Would you mind if I was?” I asked. I sat down at the table and took one of his cigarettes out of the pack he had left on the table. The cat rubbed itself against my legs. The pack was so crushed and smushed that it seemed impossible that there could even be cigarettes in it.

“I don’t know,” Jared said. He seemed to be really considering it.

I lit the cigarette with his Zippo lighter, which was also on the table. Then I took the letter about the scholarship and I lit it on fire. It burned my hands a little, but I didn’t mind that too much.

Jared watched me with no expression on his face. Suddenly he looked like all of the other people I knew, all six of them. I blinked my eyes, hard, and the feeling went away.

“It’s the pigeons,” I told. “If I could just get a full night’s sleep, I think I would be okay.”

“What are you talking about?” He said.


Joanna Acevedo is a writer and student from New York City. She studies Writing at the New School. In her spare time, she works as a barista and plays roller derby.  

Monday, November 12, 2018

November Circus, a poem by Mary M. Brown

November Circus
by Mary M. Brown

We perform in the center of a ring
000000of autumn labor, the cycle of mulch
0000000000000000000and crunch, walk the lawn’s tight

rope over and over, back and forth,
000000stand inside this circle and wonder
00000000000000000000if we are jugglers or clowns, adept
0000acrobats or lion tamers, so many

bright bodies flying through this air
00000000000and wriggling beneath our feet, our
000wind-rouged cheeks stinging more

than a little until we debate whether
0000000000000this work we know we need to do
000000is a ringmaster we are slave to or if

000000as we always thought, we are daring,
0000000000000000000colorful, and comically free.

From Mary M. Brown: “I live and write in Anderson where I am retired after teaching creative writing and literature at Indiana Wesleyan University for thirty years.”

Monday, November 5, 2018

Before the Mid-Term Elections, a poem by James Owens

Before the Mid-Term Elections
by James Owens

Tonight the wind comes hard.
A rainstorm scours the yard
of summer's last leaves
and beats about the eaves
with force to loosen boards.
It warns in booming discords
that children sleeping warm
huddle near such harm
as is past all power to mend.
Beneath the burly wind,
I darken thought and watch,
as weather tries the latch.

James Owens's most recent collection of poems is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015). His poems and translations appear widely in literary journals, including recent publications in The Fourth River, Waxwing, Adirondack Review, Tule Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and Southword. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in Wabash, Indiana, and northern Ontario.

Monday, October 29, 2018

It's Later Than You Think, a poem by Michelle Brooks

It’s Later than You Think
by Michelle Brooks

There is the reflection of a rainbow
in the Rent to Own window, and puddles
have formed in the holes dotting the parking
lot, the water streaked with rainbows made
of gasoline, and I try to remember what I need
for tomorrow’s work party as I roam the Dollar
General. I grab a bag of pretzels and think,
This is my dinner and all the while, other lives
play out around me. A teenager tells her friend,
I can’t believe Halloween is tomorrow, and I don’t
know what I’m going to be. I wasn’t anything last
year. A man asks his wife, Do you think the rain
has stopped? She doesn’t look at him, only
says, I sure fucking hope so. It’s depressing.

After loading my basket with paper plates
adorned with skulls and witches, I get in line,
looking down while the young couple in front of me
buys a pregnancy test and a bag of Cheetos,
the woman counting out change from a tiny
purse embossed with stars. The cashier, a middle-aged
woman with Bitch tattooed on her neck asks me
if I found what I needed. I nod and say yes, thinking
does anyone? The cashier leans close, warns me
that a man has been following me around the aisles
and asks if I want security to walk me out. I thank her,
saying I’ll make a run for it, as I gather up my bags.
The rain has started again. I glance back, relieved
no one is following me, noticing the sign festooned
over the door, Spooky Savings Inside, as if I wouldn’t know.

Michelle Brooks has published a collection of poetry, Make Yourself Small, (Backwaters Press), and a novella, Dead Girl, Live Boy, (Storylandia Press). She says she spent a summer in Gary with a now ex- boyfriend. She says she loves Gary, even as the boyfriend did not fare as well. A native Texan, she has spent much of her adult life in Detroit.

Monday, October 22, 2018

One Hundred Years Ago, a poem by Henry Ahrens

One Hundred Years Ago
by Henry Ahrens

The government mail wagon,
like an upright coffin,
brought influenza to our town
one hundred years ago.

We couldn’t hold our breath
forever, the will to live brought death,
a gurgling gasping for air,
no relief anywhere,
hospitals with winding sheets white
and toe tags for patients to die,
vaccines grasping and no more effective
than garlic sacks around our necks.

October came full fear of fall,
steam shovels dug trenches for all,
a mound of corpses deep in ground,
one hundred years ago.

Henry Ahrens attended St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Indiana, but now resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he teaches a variety of high school English classes. His works have appeared in From the Edge of the Prairie, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Indiana Voice Journal.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Snow White: The Real Story, a poem by Karen Fried

Snow White: The Real Story
by Karen Fried

Pure as the driven snow,” so they thought.
All day long, I cook and clean up their mess.
Shifty, Stupid, Dumpy, Frumpy, Loser, Smoker
and Late to dinner are turning my hair gray.
I could wring my lovely stepmother’s neck! Hi ho, hi ho,
out the door you go with a shove shove here and
a shove shove there. What I wouldn’t give to slip
a cigarette in my ruby red lips. If this forest had a little
sun, I wouldn’t have to endure this creamy white
complexion. Oh, an old woman in rags begging at my door.
Get off my porch! I don’t want your rotten apple. Here’s one
for you. Bull's-eye!

Now about that perfect prince,
I’ll let you in on a little secret:
He snores, throws his royal robes
on the frozen stone floor
and never cleans up after his horses.
He also never stokes
my fire, if you get my drift.

From Karen Fried:I was born in Indianapolis and have lived here most of my life.”

Monday, October 8, 2018

River That Never Ran, a poem by Mary M. Brown

River That Never Ran
by Mary M. Brown

I remember the river that never ran
beside our house, the little boat we
never owned, never rowed,
the willows
that never swayed, dogwoods
that never bloomed. I remember
the bedroom I never shared with a sister

I never loved, the porch where we never
giggled together until deep dusk
when we never chased fireflies,
never whispered secrets until dreams
drifted toward dawn. I remember
a sky that never held white clouds
that billowed above a field
of violets
and button bush that never took root
and where the old dog we never named
Bligh ran wild through the tall grass
that never grew.

I remember the fence we never climbed,
the little bridge at the end of the dirt road
we never traveled, the way our granddad

never held out his arms so we could come
running to him, breathless and laughing
the way we always never did,
the way we
never needed anything else, never
anything more.

From Mary Brown: “I live and write in Anderson where I am retired after teaching creative writing and literature at Indiana Wesleyan University for thirty years.”