Forward

Hello and welcome to the Summer 2020 Issue of Willow.
We greatly apologize for the extended hiatus. As Couri has gone through a major transition in both her location and taking the next and hopefully final step in her academic career, so have I. From moves to thesis work, life has a way of taking over your creative endeavors. Moving forward, you can expect more consistency on our end.
Of course, it is necessary to address all that is going on in the world. Well, maybe not everything. We might be good on skipping the murder hornets, but the continued police brutality and racial injustice is for the birds. As a Black woman, I can tell you that our voices are needed. When the world silences your message, just know I hear you, I’m with you, and I will not hesitate to act a whole fool to protect you! The submissions in this issue were from before our worlds got turned on its head. Please use these stories as a rare breath of fresh air.
Black lives DO matter. Black men DO matter. I, however, am here to scream from a rooftop that BLACK WOMEN MATTER! The silencing of Black women, the commodification of our bodies, and the intersectional oppression that has left us feeling alone for centuries WILL end. I’m not sure if we’ll live to see it, but this is a promising start. Keep dreaming, believing, staying hopeful, and staying safe.
Co-Editor
Bridgette Lewis

Hello and welcome to the Summer 2020 Issue of Willow.

Sorry for the long hiatus. The last year has been a major transition for me as I moved back from Japan to America and enrolled in graduate school. From here on, my co-editor Bridgette and I are making more plausible and regular schedules for publication.

Given the state of the world currently, with the sweeping pandemic, the wealth of paranoia and misinformation that goes along with it, and the continued brutality of the police against people of color’s bodies, it becomes even more important to share our voices, share our stories, and keep creating. The poems and short stories featured in this issue came to us before coronavirus did, and in a time before the death of George Floyd reawoke the civil unrest always simmering in a nation where all too often police abuse their power against the most vulnerable and oppressed of our society.

But I think, because of that, they have special value right now, when so much is terrifying, and so much is emotionally tiring. Hopefully, they can give you a respite for just a moment before you have to face the hard realities our world currently faces. For a different kind of scare, you could read “The Panoptican” by Sara Torres-Albert. Or you could take a moment with the moon to mock leading men in Lola R. R. Cherries  “The Moon Responds to Shakespeare”.

I hope you enjoy, dear readers, and above all I hope you stay safe and well.

With sincerest gratitude,

Couri Johnson

Willow Founder and Co-Editor

The Moon Responds to Shakespeare by Lola R. R. Cherries

 


The Moon Responds to Shakespeare   

after A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Ha! Who does he even think he is, anyway, that Hamlet or Romeo or whomstever? Honestly, any of those moody boys who spend their lives moping and then collecting girls to project their shit onto and call anything but a child of god. But that is the part of myself I try to put away after morning coffee. Pour me another.

 

Why does that surprise you? Which part is the surprise? That the moon is a misandrist, or that she loves coffee just as much as any of you? Go back to your lore and show me where it suggests anything otherwise.

 

The point is: why should I be envious of the sun, and why should she try to kill me? Ugh, that face again. You thought your sweet Apollo was a boy? Well, you all the ones steady gendering every thing and every body, but still wanna say standing outside with your face turned up into a sunbeam don’t feel like getting loved on by your momma? I weep for your childhood. 

 

What I’ve been trying to say is: Ask yourself why that boy is so insistent on pitting us against each other. How would he like for the sun to kill me? How would that work? What does he think would happen to him if she did? Did you even think? I thought so. Tuh. 

 

Look at me. What about this glory says sick and pale with grief to you? I am powerful. I hold everything together. I am time. I am movement. I am peace. I am the huntress. I am your secret longing. Look at the way you fear me. 

 

Do you really think Lucina, light of my life, blames me and my sisters for that philandering piece of shit she stays runnin’ after? I know good and goddamn well she ought to have more sense than to try to keep any man, let alone Jupiter. Bless her heart. But what can you really expect from someone with a whole holiday for fucking a flower and getting knocked up with War? I mean, the dizzy bitch turned her own priestess into a cow. My poor baby sister.

 

Now, mind you, wives should never be wasted on men, but especially not the sniveling ones who can’t even blazon their beloveds without mentioning somebody else. Juliet was blessed. 


Lola R. R. Cherries is an aspiring conjure woman in Northeast Ohio. She’s only just begun sending out work for publication.

Three Poems by a. lure


The Runner

 

A woman collared with the sea, seagulls for earrings, her two dogs corralled
scourges the shore, her muscles cudgeling                      the spindrift of her footfalls
She’s a diurnal Hecate.
Overhead, a helicopter whirrs away like an exposed culprit.
Dyed with the maccha green of the weekly garden club,
I circumambulate the boardwalk bench.
A couple allofeeds each other its love story.
The woman pounds the seashore, her muscles dark with dolphin lust.
The spume is a desecrated wedding veil.
A child sprawling a red blanket
collapses into the sand of nonbirth.
My ice-cream self-cannibalizes in the 10 A.M. sun.
The seagulls lance the beach with their cries.
The beach retches its shells.
The woman and her dogs ripple like filigreed umbilici.
I lurk behind the bench how an estranged daughter lurks
out of the frame of a family photograph.
I cock my fingers around the woman
and fix her scene with afterbirth.


A Female Thing

She’s a rack of lush/blush womanish knacks:
a fine jeweled spine
mined from too many men-caves,
a tongue she coils into a red-hot rose,
a lusty liver to break down men-bits.
She’s opium, an opening
of geranium petals,
her hair incense sticks,
her sex a bed of coals, a bowl of strawberries
she spoons to men-mouths,
a piano tune, desire’s notes & syllables — LI-BI-DO, LI-BI-DO.

 


I Want Her

 

I want her.
She’s that sprayed-with-perfume
letter I didn’t write & she’s the lacy panties
I strung around someone’s arm
& she’s got the libido
I’d like to chew how I chew gum
& oh how she grooms the wind
w/ manicured-in-pitch-red fingers! I want her nipple:
suck-suckle-suck-suckle
silk & milk & silk & milk
nip-nibble-nip-nibble
cherries-berries-cherries-berries.
I want the L-s of her labia.
I want her pony her peony all her lucky charms
& all the men she rides on wet nights
& all the pearls she pries from mouths.
I want to lick her lipstick shtick.

 


a. lure is a Rutgers student of global humanities and creative writing. She enjoys poetry, photography, and traveling.

Two Poems by Terry Ann Thaxton


HOW TO MOVE
(November 9, 2016, post-US election)

Notice how rocks and weeds find rest beneath the palm tree,
notice that the lamp in the back yard is now broken.
Notice the wind chime crying for the next day.

Your mind has been peeled like an apple.

Start by walking down the street.
Don’t sit on curbside couches covered with dead leaves.

You went to the river, which ripped off its dark dress.
You entered the world expecting a sunrise every day.

Today you found a bottle cap on the trail beneath white sand and pine straw,
and carried it back to the trail head, past droppings of bobcats
dogs, rabbits, and deer. You carried it to the dumpster, opened the lid,
and dropped it in. You could have brought it home as a trophy.

Back at the trailhead, two women asked if it was safe
to walk in Florida woods, wanted to know if any creatures would hurt them.
You had to be honest, and told them to not feed the alligators
and not to swim in the river at dusk. You were born
among these pines and saw palmettos, you played in scrub and sand,
and look, you said to the two women, I’m still alive. You failed
to tell the two women, strangers in this world,
that rattlesnakes often hide on the underside of fallen trees.


THE ZIPPER IS FOR OPENING MY MOUTH

 

If I ever had a real voice it was a snake tattooed on my arm, an asp, an enticing purple, black, green asp with wings hidden below its belly.

In school, teachers assumed I had a speech problem, and I marched with other non-speakers, stutterers, and kids who slurred their words down the hall to the library. Mostly we were little women, the title of a book we found on the dark library shelf. None of us were allowed to take it home.

Mother used a safety pin to keep my lips shut. I imagined a bee stinging my tongue. My face blurred like a camera moving at high speed. Several men wandered up my arm before I could get any words out of my pinned lips.

When I became a woman, I hired a seamstress to sew a zipper on my face, which runs from my left lip to my ear. I can reach the zipper myself. I slide it open anytime I want, the crust of childhood oozing out like gravy over the flowers I have tattooed on my cheeks. I keep the words all to myself.

 


Terry Ann Thaxton has published three poetry collections: Mud Song (2017), The Terrible Wife (2013), and Getaway Girl (2011), as well as a textbook, Creative Writing in the Community: A Guide (Bloomsbury, 2014). Two of her poetry books have been awarded a Florida Book Award. She’s published essays and poetry in Chattahoochee Review, Pithead Chapel, Connecticut Review, Gulf Coast, Cimarron Review, flyway, Lullwater, and other journals. She teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida.

Two Poems by Elka Scott


SLYVIA 

The 1950’s hangs over womanhood like a specter, Like the ghost of a dead poet. She stalks the halls of nostalgia, Shaking pill bottles to and fro. She is shut like a shell, Weighed down by the sand and grit around her, An inelegant ocean. 

The banalities of femaleness settle around her She looks more at home in it Then I do. The modern woman, Who is not a woman, Who is a woman somedays, Both confined and liberated By ribbons and lace. You cannot revisit something That you have never left to begin with. 

We remember the times we had to be all things domestic When today’s woman must be pan, All, Everything to everyone Self-care’s champion The lamb looking straight ahead. The specter does not know she is dead yet, Her tobacco-stained fingers still thumb through magazines Listen to the radio We pretend for her that things are still the same And we pretend for ourselves that things are different.

 


SELKIE 

Lizzie Borden’s father gifted her a sealskin cape After a lifetime of Lukewarm dinners under flickering candles Cold sittings in the outhouse No other recorded acts of generosity Such extravagance Seemed out of place 

The seal-folk of the British Isles Were brought to land by the theft of their skins Prisoners of lust and sand It was only in the reclaiming of their skins That they were free To return home again 

I sometimes imagine Lizzie Borden Covered in the blood of her pet pigeons Wondering what burden such small things could have been Her father, with the axe, staring into the middle distance 

Like the selkie stares at the sea 

Cursing the land that has taken their home from them 

The question remains Could women do such things As abandon children they were never meant to have Or murder parents who neglected them And killed their pets Gave them sealskin capes Kept them on the shores When they were always meant to dance in the waves 

Women learn to shed their skins 

From an early age

We learn to shed blood later

And we never unlearn it. 


Elka Scott would like to say that they do their best writing in the glow of winter moonlight while drinking vintage wine. They actually do their best writing in the glow of a computer monitor while double-fisting Dr. Pepper and vitamin water. Elka writes short and novel-length fiction as well as poetry.
Elka lives in snowy Saskatchewan, where they are studying to become an art therapist. They hope to merge their passions for writing and psychology. They live in Snowy Saskatchewan and recently received a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board to complete a script for their first graphic novel. When they aren’t writing, Elka Scott enjoys watching horror movies with all the lights on, reading old comics, and drinking tea in the summer.  You can find them online at:
Instagram: @inkstainedelka

The Panoptician by Sara Torres-Albert

 


 

There is a man who lurks outside my house. His skin is alabaster white—a rice paper hide pulled taut over knobby collarbone, ribcage, sternum. Like god ran out of flesh to wrap him with and made do. He stands stark naked outside the window to my bedroom; gaunt, cheekless face pressed against the glass, cloud of white breath billowing from distended nostrils, the only color about him the scraggly brown mop atop his head, the eyes. He does not shiver, though even beneath the heap of woolen blankets I cannot seem to keep the feeling in my feet. For two nights now I have drawn the curtains to shut him out. But even though he cannot see me, I can still see him, the outline of him, a gray and spindling stain upon the muslin; hear the ragged wheeze of his patchy breathing, the fleshy patter of his shoeless feet. And I am tired of it.

I kick the covers aside and feel along the nightstand for my gun. Graze the cool blued steel with my fingertips and snatch it up by the neck. I pad over to the window in the dark, pull back the curtains and he is there, shrunken and shriveled and hunched in the decaying vestiges of someone else’s garden. And he looks at me, his eyes all pupil. I bend down with my hands on my knees, pistol pressed flat against my thigh, and I meet his gaze and I squat there, looking back at him, and I do not blink because he does not blink, and we both remain like that, watching each other. And then his tissue paper face crinkles, and he draws back his lips in a snarling grin. And his teeth are few and black, and I bare my own in disgust. I stand and raise the gun to the glass so it rests opposite his forehead. But him, he just kneels there. Smiling.

“Don’t tempt me,” I say, tapping the gun against the glass. “You make me fire this thing and anyone left in the goddamn five-mile radius is gonna hear it, and I don’t feel like running. Not tonight. But I’ll do it if I have to. Do you understand? Now go. The fuck. Away.”

He bares his teeth at me again and shambles off into the dark. No trace of him but the print of his face upon the windowpane. I know he won’t go far. Tomorrow, when I rise from another night of staving off the usual nightmare, he will be right back where he left me, watching. But for now, I draw the curtains again, lay my gun upon the nightstand, pull the sheets up to my neck, and shut my eyes. And I lie there, blinking in the darkness, and I listen to the crunch of his bare feet against the ash and wilting plants, the low guttural sound of his monotone hum. I will spend the whole night listening, and in the morning, I will peel the crust from my eyes and curse the sight of him.

* * *

Breakfast is a tin of black beans and half a jar of apricot preserves. I plunge my fingers into the can, scoop the beans out by the handful and shovel them into my mouth, brine and all. I have spoons now, but I do not bother with them—not worth the water, or the washing. Still groggy, I let the bean juice dribble from my lips into a little pool on the Formica. My eyes water with the copper saltiness of it, and twice I gag, but I keep on eating. 

When I have licked the black gunk from my palm, I sink my fingers into the tin for another scoop. A light, rhythmic plunk stops my hand mid-dip. I swivel in my chair and he is there again, drumming his blackened fingernails against the window. I leer back at him, but this time he does not smile, just continues to tap against the glass, stare unyielding. My skin begins to tingle, itch, and I wipe the brine from my face with a dishrag, and my hands too, and then I wipe the table.

I make my way across the kitchen, pull open the small drawer beneath the sink and draw from it a teaspoon. This time I sit in the chair opposite the last, facing the window, and I keep my eyes trained on him as I unscrew the lid from the apricot jar and eat. I take small morsels, slosh the tender syrupy fruit around in my mouth and let it settle there before swallowing. Twice he draws his tongue over his cracked white lips, and moans. When I have eaten my fill, I screw the lid back on the jar and return it to its place on the shelf amongst the others. I take inventory again because I can, because he is watching. Seven jars of fruit preserves. Four jars of peanut butter. Eleven cans of soup. Nine tins of beans. Twelve MREs. Five pounds of long grain white rice. Eight cans of assorted meats. Thirteen of vegetable medley. A dozen jugs of clean water. A single container of instant coffee. Bless whoever was here before, whoever they were, and wherever they are now. 

And should they still be out there, by some miracle, and planning on coming home, well, let them meet my watcher before they meet me. 

When all is accounted for, I pluck one of the cans of tuna from the shelf and weigh it in my hand and turn my back on the man and pad into the living room. I don’t know why I do it, but I unlatch one of the windows and push it open and toss the tuna out into the yard and shut it just as quick. Maybe it is because I feel sorry for him, revolting a creature as he is, and starving. I don’t think I do, but maybe. Or maybe it is because I am hoping this is all he wants from me and once he’s had it he will fuck off and die. As I pull the latch again, I hear him. His shuffling gait, the strained wheeze of his ragged breathing. He regards the can for a moment, eyes flitting toward me, narrow black slits, and scoops it up in his spindly fingers and scuttles away with it. When he is gone, I stifle a yawn and retreat back to the kitchen, hoping that is the last I will see of him, remembering the first.

* * *

A clapboard house. What a remarkable thing to stumble upon. Glorious vestige of the old world, sitting forlorn at the crest of a sloping driveway, tucked behind the leafless trees and peeking out over the road. As I slogged up the gravel path, I considered the cameras, their lenses swathed with soot. No use now. Something like shoeprints in the ash, days old and barely visible and pointed toward the highway. Another set of prints further up, this one fresher, and shoeless, directionless, plowing circles in the cinders. I traced them to the door, leveled my gun, tried the knob—unlocked. Inside, nothing but the dust; a scattering of flat-packed furniture topped with empty whiskey bottles and glasses and an early-2000s Hustler; a flat screen; the stench of piss and the putrescine smell of something dead and rotting—an animal trapped behind the walls, maybe; I could not find the carcass—more cameras, one for each and every room, prominently displayed, and long dead; and the rats. Set beside the empty glasses, a stack of folded and wilting family photos—a man and five boys, all with the father’s same crop of unruly brown hair, same doleful eyes, no mother; maybe she was lucky, got out of this world early. And in the cabinets, my salvation. Food to last the bitter winter months. Blankets and gear for the nights so cold they set the skin to fire—my most fortunate find; I had no jacket anymore. No tampons, pads, but that much to be expected. And no way to carry it all if the need arose. I cried as I measured what I could fit in my bag—a jar of preserves, five MREs, eight cans of meat and beans and veggies. A single jar of peanut butter. And even then, the shoulder straps strained against my chest, and I felt my spine curl with the weight. So much to leave behind. I comforted myself with the thought that if a place like this existed, there would be more along the way. Little heavens, blessed by some saintly paranoiac who had seen the end coming before the rest of us.

As I set the jar of peanut butter on the counter and trudged back into the living room, I glimpsed my own reflection. Nearly shot it. The face encircled in the Sputnik mirror, beneath the surgical mask, looked nothing like the one I owned, the one I remembered. I raised my fingers to my cheeks, the skin matcha green with grime. Pulled them through the matted nest about my head, gray with soot. My shirt slid about my shoulders, a stained and tattered rag bellying out over the top of my belt. I was smaller than I remembered myself to be, thinner—frighteningly so. Uglier too. But what did all that matter in the face of whole cities charred and leveled, and air still so thick with debris you could hardly breathe it, and black rain, and sterile soil, and the lineage of dead I had left behind, and ten years of civilization lost to some double agent deity? Nothing uglier than that.

Turning away from myself, I saw him. Standing at the window. Gray and naked as the wasteland. Cadaverous as the mother I had lost to it, who still lay unburied on the same damp cot where she had wheezed her last bronchitic breaths nearly two weeks prior. Eyes black as beetles and deeply sunk. He fixed those eyes on me in wonder. Shrank into himself a bit, but didn’t move. Didn’t blink. And as I drew my pistol from my waistband, he raised a hideous hand, gnarled and black with grime, and knocked.

* * *

Feeding him was a mistake. As I sit in the living room watching his breath billow out against the glass, his beady eyes dart about the room, I think about what a can of food like that one cost my father, what the lack of it cost my mother. Then, as if overcome by some monstrous instinct, he uncurls his back and straightens and rises, his shoulders popping with the strain, until he stands bolt upright against the glass. For the first time, I am aware how long his arms are as I watch him trundle toward the door, fingers swinging about his scarred knees. Tall as he stands, the transom falls below his chin, too low for him to peer through. But as the brass knob twists and rattles and screeches, I know he is not there to watch me.

“Stop that,” I say, rising from the sofa chair and rushing the door. “Stop. You know what happens if you try to get in here. Stop it.”

I grab the knob to hold it steady. But I can still feel him twisting.

“I will fucking shoot you. Do you hear me? Stop touching it. You’re not getting in here.”

I pull my pistol from my waistband with my free hand and tap it against the glass. The tension on the knob subsides, but he does not back away from the door. 

“What do you want? Hm? What do you want from me? You want me to let you in? I’m not letting you in here.”

The man says nothing. Does nothing. His will communicated only in the hiss of his breath.

“You’re disgusting,” I tell him. It is the closest I have been to him in daylight. I take him in, all of him. The wiry, atrophying limbs. The inhuman pallor of his skin. The scars and grooves that stretch along his throat in a thick salmon band. 

“Christ,” I say. “Where the hell did you come from?”

He wheezes in reply. A low, raspy, heeee.

“Well I don’t care where you’ve been or what you’ve been through. I don’t care how bad it is out there. You’re not coming in here. You can stay out there ‘til you starve, or die of thirst. But you can’t come in here. The cold is coming. And I’m not feeding you again. I’ve got all the food in the world in here and blankets to keep me warm and plenty of water. You want to wait? I can wait too. You want to watch me? I’ll watch you back. We’ll see who lasts longer.”

The man clears his throat as if to speak. A low, gruff hock with no follow up. And as I tap the mouth of my gun against the glass again, he slumps and curls himself back up and trudges over to the living room window to wait. And suddenly, for the first time in a long time, I catch a whiff of myself—the sulfurous and fishy odor of my fetid rags—and I cringe at the smell.

* * *

I work as if in ritual. Plug up the tub with the mildewed stopper. Ball up the fraying washcloth. Grab the sliver of soap from its metal dish, pluck the hairs from it—short and thick and brown—and stick them to the orange subway tiles. Strip, butt-naked, shivering as feet dance away from the cold tile floor, and climb in with one of the dozen water jugs and sit cross-legged and pour. This is the one place he cannot see me—no windows here—but even as I drench my head and nod in surrender to my exhaustion I do not shut my eyes for long. His image lives on the back of my lids, tattooed there, and the longer they are closed the surer I am upon opening them that he is standing beyond that thin ivory shower curtain. Skin still tingling with the memory of him, I scrub my arms with soap and cloth and nail. My pits, my chest, my toes. Turn my fingers on my hair and rip, rip until smooth. Stick the matted tangles to the wall. Watch the water run black with my own filth. Then red. I find myself in a bathtub like this one, but the tiles are white and modern, and I scrape father blood from my hands, teenage blood from my face. And my winter coat hunches in the corner, stained and stinking with their iron. And in the vestibule, my mother scrubs too, hacking gray spit into her surgical mask. I shout at her to leave it; the earth’s all dug up and there’s no safety in staying. But she can’t hear me, or won’t, because the rhythmic scraping of bristles on wood is growing louder, vying to be heard over her cough. I jolt and the tiles are orange again and she is gone and my cheeks feel raw, and I pull my fingers back to find skin sloughed beneath my nails, feel the warmth seep from my face, watch the water run red.

I rise and reach for my towel, pat dry my skin, wring my hair. I pull on my pants, soft and smooth against my coarseness, and catch my reflection in the mirror again, not entirely on accident. This time, the cheeks are ruddy and clean, but bleeding. The hair silky and free-flowing. The eyes red-rimmed and underscored with sallow bags, but the lashes thick and free of dust. I am thin, but I think the thinning suits me; it is the first time I have seen my cheekbones in my life. This, this is a face I recognize—slender and youthful and pretty. And as I run my fingers over it, I smile.

But as I raise my hands, I watch the tufts spring up beneath my arms—thick and black and coiled. And my pits begin to itch. My legs too, my mons. And I scratch. I scratch everywhere, like something filthy, and as I scratch my eyes brim and my lips wrinkle and it’s stupid. It’s so stupid. But the tears come anyway. I pull open the medicine cabinet and draw from it a razor, dull and orange and clogged with gray man hair, and I hold it in my trembling hand and turn it on myself. Only when I am done, when my skin stings not with the itching, the burning, but with the nicks where my quivering fingers betrayed me, do I stop crying.

***

I wake in the middle of the night, my head fogged with the remnants of that same old dream—the thunderous crack and lightning flash of gunfire; my mother’s warning cry, splitting the midnight air clean through; my father, laid out at the foot of the door and crawling, crawling back towards us, his life dripping from his mouth and mixed with spit; my trembling hands, curled around his blued steel pistol; the pinkish blood frothing from the throat of the man I put down—the teenager; the guttural hiss of his tortured breathing. And I raise my head to find the silhouette of the man, the grotesque shape of him, projected against the muslin. He peers through the slat between the curtains, and as I stir he raises a finger to tap the glass. I groan and roll over to face the wall, but the longer I lie there in the dark, feeling those eyes on me, the surer I am that he has passed through the window and is standing at my back. Heat crawling up my neck, I throw my hand out at the nightstand and snatch the gun and flip over in the sheets, but he is still there. Still outside, breath steaming the glass.

I toss the covers from my legs, swing my feet over the edge of the bed, and bolt out of the room. I tear through the living room, eyes burning against the near-perfect blackness of the night. I stagger into the kitchen, and in the dim light that filters through the window above the sink, I see him. Hunched in the corner beside the table, slumped against the wall, his alabaster skin bathed in shadow. And as I totter backward and raise the gun I blink again and he is a bag of trash, the same one I left beside the closet this morning.

Another rap on the window and he is there again, lips sliding into a toothy grin. I pick up the first thing I can get my hands on—an empty tin resting on the counter—and I pitch it with a grunt that is more like a scream. It strikes the glass where his forehead should be and he flinches but remains, his smile larger than his face. I shiver as he looks at me, run my hands through my still wet hair, throw my arms across my body, my braless breasts, my skin itching beneath my clothes. And I want nothing more than to wash again. But now is not the time.

I dart back into the living room and dive behind the sofa that sits beneath the window, where I know he cannot see me. The fleshy patter of his bare feet on the pavement follows; his wheezing breath, his shambling. He huffs and I can hear the sound of his face sliding against the window as he cranes his neck in search of me. I sit there with my back against the wall, legs folded, and I close my eyes and try to sleep but the itch is stronger now, and it burns. Physically burns. And I scratch my neck to satisfy it and break skin. And I open my eyes again and spot the camera opposite me, and I swear it winks in my direction. And I hear his ragged breath, his throaty snarl, and I know he is looming behind me, standing bolt upright again, and his breath is steamy and hot and putrid like corpse flesh and something wet drips onto my back and it is him, drooling. 

I fly from the living room into the kitchen. Rip open the silverware drawer. Plunge my hand inside and dig out a boning knife. With the knife in one hand and the pistol in the other I pound the face of the kitchen window, where he is waiting, and I motion for him to follow. I sprint back into the living room and unbolt the door and kick it open and I stand there in the entryway, and this time it is I who is waiting for him. 

He scuttles around the corner to the house and freezes at the sight of me. He shifts his weight from foot to foot, squinting in the dark. I watch as he ducks and bobs and rocks, his gaze fixed on the weapons, each step he advances slow and measured and countered with a backpedal. And as I level my gun and place his hideous visage in my sights, he raises those beady eyes to mine again, and grins.

“Come on!” I hiss. “You want to come in? Come on in!”

He lurches forward with a guttural howl, knuckles scraping the ground. The pistol trembles in my hand and as he closes the distance between us suddenly I am aware that if I miss I do not know which way to hold the knife. And the gun explodes in my hands and for a moment I am deaf but for the ringing and I scream but he is still coming. He is upon me before I can swing, and my arms oar behind me as I fall, and I shriek and flail the knife as my head smacks against the hardwood, and for a moment the world is black. 

But he is off of me before I know it, and scurrying through the living room. 

I choke out a warning for him to stop, but he is in the bedroom before I can stagger to my feet. I shut the door again and lumber after him, gripping the knife like a dagger this time in my left hand while I level the pistol with the right. When I find him again, he is hunched at the foot of my bed. And he is smaller than before—no larger than I am, really; no older, either—and pinker, and his arms are no longer than they should be, and he is shivering. And as I pad into the doorway and spread myself out along it, he snaps his head around to look at me, his eyes more brown than they are black. And they are doleful. And brimming.

“What the hell are you doing?” I say. “What are you—?”

He sinks his nails into the gaps between two floorboards and slips them from their place with no resistance at all and tosses them aside. Does the same with the two beside them. There, where the lip of the bed had stood, I glimpse the beginnings of a railing, a stair, the entrance to something—a cellar, maybe? Something. He turns and looks at me again and wheezes another low, raspy heeee. And as I stagger back toward the wall to brace myself, grip my quivering thighs, he grabs another two boards and I cry out, “Don’t do that! Stop!” But he pulls them from the opening anyway. And he slinks down, down into it, and disappears.

I sidle toward the gaping hole in the hardwood, legs quaking at the knees, and peer down into the cellar to find only darkness in his wake. And as much as I want to shut him in there, I want to end this more. I take the first step after him, the handle of the knife, the pistol grip sliding in my sweating palms, and readjust my hold on each. I keep my shoulder braced against the railing, hold my breath, open my eyes as wide as they will go, but he is gone. The stairs buckle beneath my feet, but I keep going. I keep going because if I turn around I won’t see him. And if I cannot see him who knows what he will do to me. And on the fifth step, I smell it. The ammonia smell of stale piss. The pungent, sickly-sweet ham-and-cheap-perfume odor of rot. Something clatters, clangs below, and I sweep the gun out in front of me. And as I lower myself down the few remaining steps, I see them.

They sit facing the wall, their legs splayed out along the concrete. Three men, all with the same crop of unruly brown hair, shackled by their necks to steel posts to keep their heads from swiveling. They screech at the long, black apparition that is my shadow projected by the dim light at my back. Each as pale and naked as my watcher, and just as gnarled. The youngest of them sits unnaturally slumped, his head lolling against his chain, unblinking, motionless. And as I drop my knife and retch, my watcher scuttles over to join them. I watch as he picks a rusted and bloodied collar from the floor and sits with his back against the empty post and raises it to his neck and clamps it around his throat so that the skin catches between the metal. And as he lowers his hands it falls away and clatters to the ground, and he utters a low and throaty cry and picks it up again and replaces it. And as I stagger back toward the stairs, as my hand finds the railing again and my foot catches on the step, I watch him fiddle with the lock, his body seizing with sobs as the shackle drops into his lap again and again, and he pinches the skin of his throat until it bleeds.


Sara Torres-Albert is a communications consultant by day, an editor of a children’s blog by night, and a speculative fiction writer in the minutes in between. She currently lives in Philadelphia with her boyfriend and a cat named Cream Pop.

Two Poems by Anne Babson


 

TO SYLVIA PLATH

Sylvia, you tortured laurel, Daphne frozen
By her father on the Northeast Industrial
Mud bank to stop the long-awaited free exchange
Of Godly bodily fluids, Siren atop
The cliff of the MacMillan Publishing Building
Drawing the mariners along the Hudson from

Sarah Lawrence poetry workshops to you still,
I put wax in my ears, you lousy Lorelei,
You’re no Colossus astride my city any
Longer. You’re no Ariel, inspiring some old
Prospero to incant. No! You’ve robbed me, skank, of
Every other member of my sophomore class.

Every time a writer’s block hits, someone whips
Out razor blades to scribble the bloom you wrote in
The bath water. Sylvia, you made me wear black
Patent leather heels to high school, cross gravel and
Tracks in stiletto heels, despite the rose blisters.
And now I wear black everywhere. I’ve outstrolled

The path you set for me to some London suburb’s
Oven by half a decade, but I’m still going
To funerals for the brilliant women you’ve lured
To your flytrap lair of Lorelei lyric lies.
The directors of mortuaries wink at me
As if to say, “next!” in the Second Avenue

Deli takeout line. Here’s my order: One pound of
Kosher forbearance. Spiced tongue, no need to slice it,
One of those sandwiches, the kind your mouth never
Quite wraps around, stuffed with all the things the next years
Will bring me instead of your prescribed demise, hold
The sour pickle. Sylvia, wraith, death-breath-bimbo,

I’m living to collect my Pulitzer to spite
You, you friggin’ chicken-livered lily-pusher!
I’m going to live to see the bottoms of my arms
Wobble when I stretch them out to embrace my great-
Grandchildren. The love handles won’t stop me dancing
At my later birthdays, even though you’ve thinned out

The guest list considerably. Sylvia, you
Are my Third World War, stealing my generation’s
Most brilliant and a host of others too scared to
Fire back at you from the trenches, a high stack of
Casualties in cocktail dresses piled beside
My bed every night to pray for, whose rigor

Mortis hands have dropped their pens and now just reach for
My ankles when I get up in the middle of
The night for the bathroom. I gasp, then tell them to
Drop me. Now I don’t belong to them, to you, to
Sexton, to the other women writers who have
Impaled themselves on the pens they brandished for far

Too short a time. I remind them who I am, not
Who tonight, but whom I must presume to be: last
Testifier to all that killed the others and
Locked the jaws of the ones who quit their words. They let
Go. I pee, then sleep to write tomorrow’s poem.


 

PREMONITION ON ELLIS ISLAND

Wait, they say, the heavy men in the pressed
Blue, glaring down pointy noses at us,
At me and at Mama in our work-worn
Shawls, now chalk-marked with “Q,” and they wave toward

The far door of the great hall. A doctor
Will pick at us for lice. Mama mutters
In the corner, watches her warped wood fingers,
Complains these men will keep us from crossing

For nothing but our pig farm mud stains, and
Don’t I just want to turn around, even
After that stinking boat ride, reeking of
Sweaty vomit, don’t I just want to turn

And try one more try back home?

I squint out quarantine room cracked panes.
I see nothing at first but the deep fog
Of this morning, smell the fish barge garbage,
Hear the furious seagulls fight for food,

But then, through the white eye of it,
I see a polished yacht a century
Ahead of us, gliding up the Hudson –
That is what they call this river between

Us and America — The glowing boat
Dangling garlands and balloons off the stern,
On deck my great-great granddaughter in a
Crown, veil, and a big white ballgown, pressed so

Straightly, hand-beaded, or so it must be!
Her name — Maria — like the Virgin, But
What virgin ever dragged her eyes up and
Down any man like that? I never could!
And yet just look at her holding a glass
Of golden wine aloft like the Statue
Of Liberty’s torch next to her, Whooping

Like a man in battle with her sisters
And her cousins all wrapped in cherry silk!
Just look at her bridegroom, so clean, handsome,
White teeth flashing like lightning, delighted

Somehow by this unladylike display,
Kissing her neck in front of all the guests,
Shouting, “Ave Maria!” and meaning
Her, dancing — is that what they call ragtime?

And everyone applauds! I blink, turn to
Mama, still muttering about delays,
Pat her arm, and tell her “Don’t fret yourself.
Wait! Soon enough, we’ll be Americans.”


Anne Babson is the author of three poetry collections, Messiah, Polite Occasions, and The White Trash Pantheon. Her play Reenactment was published last year. She is the author of four chapbooks, the latest of which, Dolly Shot, discusses women in Amerian film.  She is the librettist for the opera Lotus Lives, which has been performed in New York, Boston and Montreal.  Her poetry has been anthologized both in the United States and the United Kingdom, and her poems have been published in journals on five continents.  

Foreword; Spring 2018

 


Trigger Warning:

This foreword contains references to violence and rape against women, as well as the restriction of rights of marginalized groups.


Welcome to Willow, and thank you for coming.

We’re excited to present our flagship issue, and feel it couldn’t have come sooner.  2017 was a year rocked by changes; some good, some horrible, and overtime, some numbing. In the United States, we saw the first major female presidential candidate defeated by an opponent who had less political experience and knowledge, but a much louder voice.  Trans-identifying people were barred from the military, and had their basic right to use the restroom brought under fire.  Women around the world, such as Ruth Alicia Lòpez Guisao in Colombia  and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta lost their lives in the fight against corruption and for equality.  As the days added up, and all around us politicians used their platforms to build up the borders between their respective nations, to cast aspersions on other cultures, and to attack their weakest citizens, it sometimes seemed like there was little reason for hope, and even less to celebrate. The idea of facing the world, let alone creating, could become overwhelming all on its own.

But there were also beautiful moments, too, and important victories.  In Lebanon and Jordan, laws that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims were repealed. In Malawi, El Savador, Honduras, and Guatemala legislature was passed to close loopholes and mitigate the harmful practice of child marriage. The United States elected the first openly transgender state legislator, Danica Roem in Virginia. Helena, Montana elected a refugee from Liberia as their first black mayor, and Charlotte, North Carolina elected their first black, female mayor–victories that were hard won, and a long time in coming.  The #MeToo movement allowed victims of sexual assault and harassment from all genders to come forward with their stories, shaking up power-structures and exposing perpetrators , and forced the world to discuss these issues and redefine and discuss consent. These conversations were hard to have, and especially hard for the victims speaking up. But they were so necessary. And of course,  2017 kicked off with The Women’s March, uniting up to 5 million gender-equality activists worldwide in demonstration.

Things haven’t been great, no, but when we all came together, when we amplified our voices, when we took stands and supported each other,  great things happened. And they can continue to happen.

We are excited to become part of the tapestry of activists, creators, and artists that are determined to go out and make their voices heard, to keep making their art, and to keep fighting the fight. Because we believe art, even just the act of making it in a world that frequently ignores or even despises its artists, is in itself an act of activism. To create, to express oneself, and to allow others a glimpse of our own secret realities transforms the world into a brighter place, and brings people together. And frequently throughout history, it has been the artists who have served as watch dogs against the corruption of the elite and those in power, and helped define the morals of their societies. Each piece of art, every act of creation, is worthy of recognition, celebration, and hope. That is why we wanted to start Willow, and that is what we hope to bring our readers and contributors.

In this first issue we’ve gathered a wide arrangement of beautifully written pieces from female-identifying authors in a wide variety of genres and tones.  M.Stone’s poetry is gritty, hard-hitting and empowering. Pam Munter’s tale of a dream realized with excite the artist in all of us. And Anita Goveas will have you laughing out loud with her story “Sunflower Seeds and Supernatural Beings.” Because it’s important, when times feel hard, and days dark and heavy, to remember to laugh. To make each other laugh. And to share our art.

Thank you, readers. Thank you again, contributors.  With out you, we would be nothing.

Sincerely,

Couri Johnson

Head Editor of Willow

Three Poems by Devon Miller-Duggan

Gallimaufry: A History

 

…a jumble, a hodgepodge, from Old French galler (to make merry)

and Middle Dutch moffelen (to open one’s mouth wide)

 

7th grade (& 8th) the fave was gossamer—

Awkward, given that all I wrote were sermons

on Man’s Inhumanity to Man.

 

College thru 35: gather

gathering my hair into a bun,

gathering my long skirts,

tucking them into the waistband

to climb something rocky,

lifting them for boys I gathered in. Gathering

books, husband, daughters, house.

 

Skin and flesh then.

I’d started writing about angels

all the time. The world is made of wings. I swear.

 

Throckmorton (though it’s proper). Ditto Fotheringay.

Farthingale, namaste, kerfuffle, clusterfuck,

pumpkin, Munchkin, snog.

 

Muzzy learnt from Stevens. Gaudy from Sayers.

Fuck and shit, my mother (bless her tongue).

Useless, except I love to spit it out, Yoknapatawpha.

Faulkner visited my grandfather once.

Elevenses from Tolkein. Downeast from Bert&I.

Etherized from Eliot. Ken and keen (for lamentation, not wit)

from something Irish. Merkin from Snodgrass.

Transubstantiate from Lehrer.

 

Newly: thrawn for what is crooked, contrary,

misshapen, perverse. Got looking something else up.

 

Experience: gallimaufry.

Address: ball of tied-together scraps of yarn.

Skills: gallimaufry

Award: a muffler made of tied-together scraps of yarn.

 

 

Laments, Not Tragic

 

For years I sat at a potter’s wheel

and pushed my hands against clay

to raise some vessel’s sides and

never got a single metaphor from it.

All my poems wheel around against the hands

of my intentions. Not a single poem

ever held a cup of tea

or sat on a table full of rosy fruit.

 

Someone stole my yard gnomes,

leaving me to wonder why they hadn’t left

on their own—the gnomes, that is.

 

Right now, someone

across the whole coffee shop

writes a cure for entropy I’ll never learn enough to read.

Someone uses a computer to learn a third language

and I can barely remember my first.

Someone is dying for love and writing desperate bad poems.

Even the birds outside

know where to go.

 

Ten days from now my daughter will

walk down an aisle toward another woman’s son.

 

I read a Southwestern woman’s poems about rice—

every grain she cooks breaks open

into revelation, or reminds her of

the horse in her back yard

picturesquely cropping weeds

against the backdrop of mountains and clouds.

 

 

 

 

The Gull-Girl

 

After she sluffed her first skin,

although one wing had yet to feather fully,

thorns broke out of the spine under the new skin

as if feathers were razors for hacking wind.

 

As long as her new skin’s fledging

reflected the moon, the streetlights, the rising waves,

the tide fell and the gulls remembered their tongues,

the bay sifted the rubbished from the born.

 

Because the skin was hidden by the man

who bound her before the storm took the bay,

before the cinders fell away from the dunes,

before night,

even the gulls’ throats closed.

 

Then the gulls’ cries opened.

even as wind winged.

 

Say how she searched for the third skin among the broken things.

 

See if the fourth skin asked for the gulls.

 

Since he chained her near the fire, the storm

came for her, dumping its tears and feathers from its wind-borne arms.

Still, she wanted the fire and the wrack when

she lay herself down among the skins, the rust, the shards.

She remembered his hands.

 

Devon Miller-Duggan has published poems in Rattle, Shenandoah, Margie, Christianity and Literature, Gargoyle. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Delaware. Her books include Pinning the Bird to the Wall (Tres Chicas Books, 2008), Neither Prayer, Nor Bird (Finishing Line Press, 2013), Alphabet Year, (Wipf & Stock, 2017).

Three Poems by Kersten Christianson

Lemon Lavender Wings

 

Return

to that space

of heat, gravel

parking lot,

gas pumps

lined by travelers,

truckers,

that moment

your daughter

opens her palms

to you, reveals

the butterfly

within.

 

 

Nomad

 

A willing breeze

crumples paper

 

crisp birch leaves,

I cast my obstinance

 

to a blind summer

sun refusing to budge

 

from the high center

of the sky’s yurt.

 

Like this wind, I drift

between margins

 

of calm and agitation,

travel unfamiliar roads

 

of wavering foxtail,

Arctic cotton.

 

 

 

Second-Hand

 

Musty, like your

grandmother’s closet

long unopened.

 

Mirrored doors slide

and rattle, accelerate

to an open road

 

of polyester, wool,

leather and spandex;

immaterial, for the right

 

price.  Strappy sandals,

Chanel clutch, mink stole,

bejeweled Maple leaf brooch.

 

From estate sale

to consignment shop,

the shuffle of goods,

 

of paisley scarves,

knitted sweaters, silky

pantsuits cruise the free-

 

way between departure

and destination.  Pick

your poison; fill a bag.

 

Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing Alaskan.  She holds an MFA in Creative Writing through the University of Alaska Anchorage and recently published her first collection of poetry Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017).  Kersten co-edits the quarterly journal Alaska Women Speak.  She blogs at www.kerstenchristianson.com