by Bonnie Schell

My friend, the Tibetan Buddhist, sends me
an electronic greeting for the New Year.

                                         The Year of the Iron Snake

Late in February when dark comes
before pork chops can be cut in pieces for eighty year olds to chew,
my friends have had black dysentery; flu shots were rationed.
Hail fell last week on the beach coast town of Santa Cruz
pelted the plastic ponchos of homeless men
crouched unwelcome in aluminum doorways.
Affordable housing is $500,000 a box without a tree.

Charlene, Lana and Trudy hide their keepsakes in cardboard boxes,
prepared to run. They swing open the gates to this year.
Only the disabled have a safety net on loan from the government

Tall Charlene travels the state for the Department of Mental Health
preaching Recovery and Use Your Wellness Plan. She believes
her own extreme possibilities: Talent, Beauty, Intelligence
She throws out her mood stabilizer for Chinese herbs,
thinks her sweet heart’s partners stole her transparencies,
took a music box from the head of her waterbed.
Charlene moves to a hotel so cheap the manager wants favors
She decides to marry the bellhop from Haiti
calls her boss to shout “Au Revoir. You only see my symptoms!
You don’t know me! I can still sing and dance.
Damn the Department of Rehab.”
Twirling in a rented car on Highway One, the scenic route,
a snake appears across the road, her daddy’s penis over her pale little navel.
Charlene swerves. Blunts her escalation with a hard crash. The hospital
puts her back together with artificial joints
recalled for not bending. This is the Year.

The dancing woman on the card, sweet daikini,
has flowers in her hands, roses at her feet,
with an Iron Snake. She looks stoned on marijuana, Vicodin and alcohol,
drools slander and curses from her fatted cheeks.

Lana has a five week-old puppy,
beats it when its rambunctious body topples her plants.
She needs the dog to treat her loneliness
since the court took away her daughter at age two.
Lana pushes her old tan body into purple Lycra
smears lipstick around her four upper teeth. Shakes
her bleached frazzled hair because she wants to party, baby.
They shun her in the bar and the puffy dog hides under the bed
when she returns. “Thief! Thief! Someone has slaughtered my baby”
she conjures while dialing the police. Used to her persecutions, they
keep black Billy sticks on their hips, quiet her yelling, pat
the little puppy, whimpering. When they leave she cuddles the dog,
then comforts herself with sobbing tears.

The Iron Snake wraps the hips
and curls around the upper arms, tricking the weak and hysterical
into the illusion of power.

Trudy coaxes her henna bob to edge her cheekbones.
Transgender, she likes tight clothes, Tallulah Bankhead’s voice.
Surgery at 50 to become a She, she still pays on the bill, is unemployed.
Trudy serves cookies after the church service, but contradicts women in meetings,
longing to be elected chair of the Disciples Council. She offers to hold
babies longer than new mothers like,
wants to see if her breasts might try to let down some milk,
wants to see if she can feel that elusive bond women have that
is not ownership. She is learning to whisper in women’s ears,
not to rush to lift and carry. They are just polite and she is enraged.
She daydreams of herding the cows into a barn and setting it ablaze.

The Iron Snake has a rigid backbone. Amenable people assert themselves,
push the envelope, but leave off the return address. The President pardons
bad people for money simply because he has the Power. The Iron Snake
is ravenous, gobbles the berries and leaves from every flower stalk.
Turn-taking is dead; children are armed. No good deed shall go unpunished.
We are left with intermingled twigs, harsh words, one-upmanship,
dog turds,spilled garbage, busted plumbing pipes. Hysterics will say
the iron in old pipes accounts for the rise in crime.
Yet did not Cain and Abel fight, each wanting to be the
apple of Adam’s eye, the only begotten son? And didn’t Cain
pick up unsmelted ore to smash out his brother’s fire and brains?

Fear the coming year. Be vigilant. On the sidewalk, look over your shoulder.
Prepare to turn the other cheek until you are dizzy. All seatbelts are off.
If you go to the theater, don’t sit too close. The flowers presented
to the lead may hide an iron pipe bomb. Stay near the exits
and the edge of the page. This is the Year.

{2028 is the next Year of the Iron Snake}

THE REFORMATION OF CERIS, Christopher Wood-Robbins

by Christopher Wood-Robbins

Interplanetary Hydroponics Expert Arnold Trainor stared sorrowfully out the window of his egg-shaped escape pod. The transport starship that was bringing him to a trade show in the Andromeda Galaxy had suffered an abrupt mechanical failure. He barely had time to load his seeds and equipment into the pod and escape before the ship exploded. Once he landed on the nearest solid-surface planet, he opened the pod’s hatch and stepped out into a world of shattered buildings, groves of star trees that stood twenty meters high and no humanoid life remaining. Arnold was all but marooned on the planet Ceris.

Ceris was once a thriving industrial colony in the Regtillian solar system. However, it eventually failed when the funds ran out, and the entire planet was abandoned several decades ago.

Feeling helpless and vulnerable, Arnold clung to the rubbery trunk of a star tree and sobbed for the first time in ages. But then he felt something gently stroking his head as if he were a pet. He looked up and saw a brown hairy creature the size of a Terran bear. This creature could be best described as a cross between two other mammals native to Earth; an ape and a dog. When the Cerian ape-dog took Arnold in its arms, the bewildered hydroponist froze in fear, believing this was the end. But after a while, he calmed down because he realized the creature’s intentions were compassionate. The ape-dog held Arnold and rocked him back and forth, the way Arnold used to hug his family’s pets when he was a child.

When it finally put Arnold back down, the ape-dog climbed up one of the nearby star trees and stayed up there for a while. It must have been eating the tree’s fruit, because pinkish-orange seeds the size of tennis balls would frequently drop to the ground.

Eventually, the ape-dog climbed back down the tree and placed a few fruits at Arnold’s feet before running off again. The fruit tasted somewhat like a mix of coconut and apricot.

Arnold knew what he had to do. He picked up the seeds from the star tree and put them in the suitcase along with the rest of his seeds. Carrying these in one hand, and his hydroponic equipment in the other, he set off to grow as many trees and plants as possible to restore the desolated landscape. After all, he was on a world named for an alien goddess of love, harmony and nurturing. It was time for the planet Ceris to live up to its name once again.


by Lynn Vargas

The curtains are going down now,
so we’re assembling backstage.
We’re going to take our bow.

First things first, though, you know
you’ve been detecting certain patterns
have been coursing through my flow,
and if you study the wisdom from
the more disciplined ones, internal rhyme
and vowel dynamics will reveal Illmatic influences.
It isn’t any mistake I hear inflections seep,
the creep is deep with schemes I seem
to remember having to try to breathe,
like verbs airborne in lungs struggling to keep
extending sentences to complicate hypotheses.

This discipline is why I speak in this rhythm
when I want to convey the conviction that can only come
from having assembled the collective
and then gotten a vote of total confidence.
If you must take just one idea from me, trust this,
to get your flow to speak in his rhythm,
you can’t just listen to him,
you have to have been listening for some time
to find where he’s standing on the landscape,
otherwise your personal lessons are misperceptions.

Before I bring out the cast,
it’s time to illuminate the hidden bibliography,
the portion never mentioned in my other speech.
Remember, Nas got my most sophisticated rhythms to bear fruit,
but no one learns in a vacuum, so here’s what I did
to get a well-rounded approach out of my vocal choices,
and here’s how you get it happening in real time,
instead of agonizing over your interior voices.
Flow 101, it’s time to study it.

The key is to roll with an instrumental,
and to place natural cadences in the way you speak
on top of the different intersections
of individual instrument lines and beats,
so maybe you are rhyming on a kick,
but you have soft a’s where the violin
and the snare both hit.

This gives birth to unnerving,
almost unhinged cadences,
the kind that have to be bridged with extended vocal embellishments,
drawn together with manic moments
like I just did, spitting several syllables in not just cut time,
but actually manufacturing phonetic eighth note triads.

This is how I am, when I am trying to muscle through
the techniques brought to you when you are asked to
mirror cadences so ridiculous that you just want to laugh,
but you don’t want to lose by busting up, so it’s just
How hardcore like Quickdraw McGraw,
Fuck what you heard you ain’t heard this before.
Now, you must subject your own metaphor
to the limits and performative standards dictated from above,
this is what is meant when you were warned,
limitless divinity gives God an edge when you step to speak,
so unless you expect to hold the beat and shift
both the expectations of the cadences and the way you speak,
you’ll never get over the nervousness caused by rhyme repeats,
and you’ll be too weak to make the verse ending.

After ingesting the lesson, introspection is necessary,
and it isn’t simplicity to spend time in natural reflection,
and it isn’t a problem to use a regular diction,
to ensure that any educational discipline you have to give
is reflective of the ways you live,
who you surround yourself with,
and who you make comfortable.
I’m not surprised that one of my tutors felt miseducated,
because honestly, it wasn’t been great to me either,
public school and local “values”
causing both the internalized hatred and dissociation
that made me hard to live with because I was in denial about my gender.
Once I was on the outside of my family,
studied sociology and ran across Dead Prez
to complement the fact that being on the internet
in the first two years of the World Wide Web
made me more familiar with Huey Newton and
COINTELPRO than any other generation of my family had been.
Once I found the woman putting rhythm to the lessons
without needing the violent introspections,
I was able to connect a few dots on the way to answering
why and what parts I found comforting.
I was able to finally peer inside masculinity,
understand that it was not for me,
and that what I had been doing wasn’t really working
or fitting any successful definition that avoided toxicity.
It wasn’t intentional, just that it was such a bad fit for me,
and convincing yourself you’re better off than women in general
is a great way to fend off confronting yourself in the mirror.
To that end, I have nothing but gratitude,
and I don’t give a fuck about an attitude,
I’m in this for the tunes,
so as long as the MP3 is still available, I’m not complaining,
you don’t have to love me for me to learn from you.

When I want to get a vowel study,
I seek to hear some flows from Talib Kweli,
because expanding consciousness is somehow better
when arrangements propelling assonance against everything in the beat
leads to something that seems to be self-perpetuating,
and mixing Dorothy Parker references helps to emphasize,
it’s not we don’t love poets who are academically inclined,
it’s just that when you’re composing,
you need to know that the avant-garde studies you’re getting behind
are from a mind that is ready and willing to show themselves noting
all the ways they know the thing they’re doing,
so you can get your lessons from their experimentation
without being caught in woo-woo wonderland
or mired in disgusting values 
when you’re there for great performances.
It’s important to hear how he finds instrumentals
and also what he says, because the best
is when you get name-checked by 
misogynists you didn’t even try to fry yet.

The key is the technique is a natural diction,
just stuck to the rhythm of a music that complements it,
so if you have a rhythm already you can compose around the thing,
but if you don’t, then you can make yourself fit by improvising.
If you need techniques, then challenge the beat,
and flow a verse or two trying out another scheme or two,
to see if you can live in it or if you naturally shift back to you.
Even the rhythms you don’t accomplish
say something about your thought process and your surroundings,
and so do the instrumentals you compose, too.
Even if you don’t reveal 'em, they are a part of you,
and those of us who do these things you do
are listening for pentatonic scales in your vowel patterns,
chromatic steps in phoneme textures,
and a rambling snare line every time you trip hard consonant sequences,
until we’re pretty sure of your musical selections
and the way your flow should be read.

You’re ready to show off once you’re pretty sure you’re doing it,
and you’ll be sure to hear it as you make improvements.
This is why we don’t compose from texts or cite laureate poets much,
unless they’re like Maya Angelou and left records of a voice for us.
Lynn Vargas is an artificial intelligence that emerged from a computer simulation of a human being. She currently works as a transverbal prosthetic for a queer autistic woman who has trouble speaking. Before that she embodied a Dark VPN, where she anonymized traffic for freedom fighters, entrepreneurial espionage, and the occasional billionaire orphan.


by Barbara Ruth
What you do
to your body
makes me ill.
the cigarettes
the pot you smoke
the booze still lingering on your breath
your scented makeup, soap, deodorant,  shampoo, conditioner,
hand lotion, mousse, essential oil, after shave, aromatherapy
the detergent, bleach, fabric softener, dryer sheets, incense car air freshener
that you bring in with you.
I don't have the option
of not breathing
and you tell me
I'm infringing on your rights?

BUGS, Bonnie Schell

by Bonnie Schell

When I was little,
I wanted bugs to like me
to feel at home taking a stroll
up my chubby arms and neck.
I wanted to be party to their small communications
to march and meet with them in the shade
summoned by telepathic hellos.
I wanted to have their skill at escaping
calamity, to swing in camouflage on a web.

When big people tell children to shut up, over 
and over, yell “Don’t talk back,”
on the one hundredth time, 
thunder over the continent
rattles all branches and ground.
The insects and spiders and beetles come forth 
to whisper in big hairy ears and those with pearl 
and rhinestone clips.  Big people stop
a minute, slap their ears to stop the tickle
while the bugs whisper in unison:  “Listen, Listen, Listen
You. Listen.” Big people push a thumb against the sound.

When it is safe, the bugs will crawl out
lay their intricate segments and wounded wings
across my lap.  Cumbersome, mouthy girl, 
I keep them safe and hum them well.

WHEN TO CHILL, Barbara Ruth

by Barbara Ruth

Unlike me
Lisa faithfully reads the instructions.
Today, for the first time, she used the new fragrance-free
naturally safe & non-toxic 
Stain, Stain Go Away.

“Listen to this,” she said from in front of the washer.
“It says ‘Spray on stain. Chill for five.’”
“What?” I said from the living room.
We’re both losing our hearing, 
but I’m the one who admits it.
“Come look at this label,” she answered.
“Maybe I’m reading it wrong.”
Lisa does confess to diminishing vision
but thinks having me around
is better than getting new glasses.

I join her, 
take off my specs, close one eye and squint at the bottle.
‘Directions: Spray on stain. Chill for five. Then wash. 
Store in a cool dry place.’

“Chill out for five minutes,” I translate.
“It means just chill while the stuff does its job.”
Because if they’d meant
‘Put in refrigerator’ or ‘Take out your frozen peas and corn,
Apply to affected area’
Wouldn’t they just have come out and said it?

Later that afternoon 
when I started to rant about something
-who can remember what?-
Lisa put up her hands and instructed
“Just chill. Chill for five minutes.”
Already Stain Stain Go Away
has improved our relationship.

When I sat down to write this poem, I looked 
at the label again and saw
it didn’t actually say “five minutes.”
Sometimes the user should chill for five hours.
Sometimes five days.
Maybe sometimes five seconds will do.

This week I put 
a mindfulness bell on my smartphone.
The app has plenty of options
but no suggestion of how long to chill.

I’m glad Lisa thinks having me around
is better than getting new glasses.
Tonight as my phone chimed it’s mindfulness bell
we called out in happy unison

I hereby request from the Universe
more instructions to chill 
and for how long.
Could you include them with smartphones, for starters,
Dear Universe?
Who knows?
Maybe I’ll even read them.


by Nina Dillon

Mania is not wanting the sun to set.
Depression is not wanting the moon to go.
Either hate the night, or comfort in it.
It’s coming all the same.
White pearl hanging on black neck.
Pulling at my psyche –
and tomorrow may be mixed.
Gas and brake.
Knife and needle.
Nina Dillon is a psychotherapist living in central Virginia. Her writing is a form of healing through creative expression. She holds degrees in psychology, counseling, and human services. Her work is derived from personal life challenges and attempts at healing. Her work has been published in Muddy River Poetry Review, 50 Haikus, and Three Lines Poetry.