What the War Was Not - Kate Gaskin


Letters, weeks filing past
between them, long-necked like vees

of geese. Which outpost?
Which outpost?
You pouring sand

from your boots, your damp shirt
like another skin against 

your skin. You didn’t bring back
photos of the confetti 

bombs made of the building’s
rebar. I never had to imagine

the child’s foot severed
in the roadway. You never flinched. 

I never waited by the phone
for a year to catch 

a few ten-minute calls lobbed
like baseballs from across the sea.


Omaha like Hoth like the ice
castles of Erhenrang, tunnels of it
white        white

in the morning sun, the graveyard
beside our house        unmoored
headstones in a pale

body, undone. You somewhere
in Anbar swatting at flies
on the flight-line. Just outside 

the gate, a father
pushing his son in a wheelbarrow,
the back of his head

just gone.


I didn’t receive your letters
sweetheart sweetheart

sweetheart. You didn’t leave
me at the airport

on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t fall
and hit my head

on the toilet baby’s cries baby’s cries
or peer over hospital sheets,

IV lines, our friends holding
our son. There was no mastitis, no

antibiotic regimen, no mammograms, 
no needles drawing fluid

from my breasts. You were not
beside a dumpster behind Taco

Bell. You did not
tremble in the desert. 

You did not beg
me to stay.


I woke up on Bayou St. John
beneath the live oaks

and frisbees, the baby
asleep in his car seat. I nursed
in the cab 

of my father’s truck and read
your letters. 

You said
you’d seen the inside
of a heart, the inside 

of two cows, the red inside
of your eyelids

illuminated near-pink,
those mornings in your tent
when sleep left you.


There were no men
in service dress walking up

the front steps to our house
in Omaha, no house,

no baby, no bedroom
lit blue from snow, no chilies 

ground fine
in bowls. There was no 

flag, no thirteen-fold, or sheep
skinned and drained 

into buckets. You weren’t
over a radio

tower in your plane
with no

ejection seat, no parachute
your radio radio. The streets 

of the market
were not damp with blood.

The streets of the market
were not.

***Kate Gaskin's poem "What the War Was Not" won first place in our 2017 Pinch Literary Awards. Due to a formatting error in our journal, we've made the poem available online so that everyone can read this exceptional poem in its fully realized state.  

We'll Get There Somewhere - Isabelle Shepherd

You  remembered  me  in  a   white  dress,  but  the  dress  was  all  flowers
blooming, the dress was violets. I’m not here to convince you. I won’t take
it  personally if you  decide not to come back.  A misspelling on Instagram
reads:  “brighter  then  the  sun.”  Sometimes  the  mundane things are the
most helpful.  A bigger stage and better equipment.  Trajectories and lines
of  flight.  More  silence.  I’m  not  here  to  convince  you.  I  can’t  help you
learn the right thing to say.  Everything you’ll  say is going to be the wrong
thing to  say.  Should  we  enter the garden after breaking, the fruits of the
garden will  be spilled.  I’m not here  to convince you.  My  job is  to try and
show  you  everything,  what  we  are and what  we are not.  Start from the
point at which we  left off—out of love.  Out of  love, I do this.  Out of  love, 
I  will  tell  you  where  it  lies.  The  sound  of wind outside and cheap hotel
sheets  stirring.  The Two Rivers  trail waits  for  us in  the morning. I’m not
here  to convince you. This is the return you make to me,  as if it were real. 


author photo.jpg

Isabelle Shepherd is a poet from West Virginia. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Powder Keg, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. She is an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. More of her work and upcoming reading dates can be found on www.isabelleshepherd.com.


i lose my teeth in a recurring dream

first they fall out like kindling, like george washington’s wooden grill split and stained from too many apples, they fall around inside the holes of my gums like matches stored upright, not tight enough, the fibers shred into my fingers, they fall without pain, they are so dry i can start a fire in my palm but it does not burn

then they are pulled starting from the back and moving forward, the top row and then the bottom i pull them myself standing barefoot in front of the bathroom mirror with only the barest morning light, i pull one everytime i wake and leave them all around town, a tithe to gods who i know the moment between the tooth in my mouth and the tooth in my fingers

or they fall out with the barest pressure, when i apply lipstick or when i brush them, when i touch the gum line it gives like bubble yum soft and wet but no stick my mouth a plump soil overrun with hard teeth my words must grow around, i gather them until my mouth is lush, i throw them into the sky like rice at a wedding

sometimes they dissolve like tightly packed sand that is overrun with sea, they disappear into my jaw and cheekbone, just gone, leaving the sockets behind a horseshoe of empty spaces i pack them with something new everyday—chocolate sprinkles, cotton balls, bullets


reasons I do not like to be touched

a friend looks at me, exclaims you’re so tiny! & the idea makes me laugh & food doesn’t do what it should anymore & everything in my mouth leaves a tinny taste behind & i clean my tongue with my toothbrush, so far back it leaves me gagging & i only want coffee, bananas, cigarettes & you look like you’ve lost weight! & my teeth feel fragile & my stretch marks are rivers, deep and wide for drowning & my sister used to be fat & food doesn’t do what it could still & you look like you’ve gained weight! & i dreamt my teeth turned to kindling & my stretch marks are paint strokes, red and flaring like fire


Mejdulene B. Shomali is a writer, teacher, and researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Feminist Wire, Mizna, Baltimore City Paper, Diode, Tinderbox and a number of academic journals.


[the secret ingredient in coca cola]  
It was leaves & gasoline & water, then paste, then bricks, then blow. It was up, then down, then up up & away. Then crash. Then cracked, vapor-full, in & out & in as long as you can hold it. Pinch your nose, close your throat. Puff & puffed & given. Cut & fluffed & re-rocked. It was lines, then clouds, then smoked until your eyes burst, until you can’t taste the stains on your teeth. Until you don’t notice the smell. 

[the trick is not sneaking out the trick is not getting caught]  
Out a window, through a glass door, over a fence. Collect hood ornaments by the shoebox full. We learned to walk around the streetlight orbits, between clods swept off the moon. We learned there are too many stars, too much dying. We got good at climbing into cover, the folds of darkness where we hid as long as we could hold our breath, until the sirens arrived at other nearby trespasses. 

[at this automated teller the exchange rate is always fair] 
Autopay & deposits in my knuckles, fingers filled with shards of angry bones. Whipped not buttercreamed. Short on the sides & back. High & tight. A fraction of a percentage. Same difference. One size fits & starts, fits some but not all. Batteries & piggy banks & bottled water, pickled & canned. Nothing missed: a six pence, a threepenny opera, an ounce of blow, of gold, of plug nickels, of dollars penniless down to the cent.   

[why the first day of the month doesn’t start with zero]  
It was yesterday, then tomorrow, then tomorrow comes today. Temporary as grass stains, permanent as fingerprints on a photograph developed chemically. An unstable element, under-developed, over-exposed. More permanent than the most metallic silver marker, unless by marker we mean to say grave, mean to read headstones, mean here lies someone once known, who worked on solving the equation for depression before we held them in place, before we carried their zero.  

[the final frontier will not be included on the final exam]   
The equation to solve depression needs space. Room to grow, range around, juxtapose like an unbridled pony & a field of dandelions. The magic bean looks more like a cactus button under xmas lights, glowing like a happy fungus. Show me happy, show me money. Show me chapter & verse where money changers don’t catch the whip & keep their tables unturned. Show me pen & paper & a dark sky preserve. Balance money & happy on a scale, see what feathers up.  



Ryan Collins is the author of A New American Field Guide & Song Book (H_NGM_N Books). Recent poems have appeared in BoothCosmonauts Avenue; Forklift, OhioNinth Letter; and Prelude. He hosts the SPECTRA Poetry Reading Series in Rock Island, IL.  

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/ryan.collins.1428


Twitter: @Ryan_R_Collins


Instagram: @ryanrichardcollins

Two Poems - Amorak Huey

Note: these poems are also published in The Pinch Journal: Spring 2017 Issue (Vol 37.1).


Land Fall

We are two hundred miles inland but directly in the path and already the sky is heavy and green and the rain tastes of salt. Our driveway is underwater. The goats are restless, bleating. The chickens huddle. Earlier, our parents lost patience with each other and my father took the truck. The lights are flickering, the power wavering. Each passed hour becomes a link in the chain of an uncertain narrative. In other words: the ending has not been written. Will not be written today, unless it is. The wind brings the smell of the sea and scraps of trash that tap and jazz across the yard. The lightning draws nearer, the thunder grows louder, like sheets of corrugated tin rattling in the back of a pickup bouncing along a long dirt road. We were born for weather like this – a storm we might survive but will not escape.


Self Portrait as a Game of Clue

My grandmother in the dining room with the deck of cards. My grandfather in the garage with the red rubber ball on a fishing line that lets you know when to stop driving. My father at the front door in the purple paisley bathrobe. My father at the front door with the beard. My mother coming down the stairs with the white shoes. My mother coming down the stairs with the flower in her hair. Everyone in the foyer with the awkward silence. I am the invisible body. I roll the dice. I move. I suspect, I accuse, I open the envelope to see how much I’ve gotten right.




Boy Ghosts - Amy Rosenberg

I see all the ghosts all the time
the one who threw the fine, folded
laundry all around, laughing
the one who wondered over
red and yellow leaves, royal sky
the one who wailed, no longer loving
Molly Malone
now I have no favorite song, he cried
such a tiny container holding so much: 
the love for song, 
the sadness for its loss, 
the memory of love, 
the longing for song
again, something new

I see the ghost who once was a boy
who played baseball but loved fútbol
I see the ghost who once was a boy
who lost his boot in a snow drift so
I carried him home, the unfettered foot so cold, so
often I see the ghost of the boy who
wrote my name on a piece of paper a hundred times
and crossed it out each time
how I love the ghost of the boy who
rubbed his cheek against mine
sheeka, sheeka, sheeka he said
I want to know him I want
to know all the ghosts

there were cactuses in the desert we saw
the sunlight against the rocks change everything though nothing
the ghosts of the boy who hasn’t lived
yet are waiting to become
the ghosts of the boy who has
I remember the boy who was given a rowboat, 
history, the ghost who named it


Amy Rosenberg lives in New York City. She writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and is currently at work on a graphic novel. She teaches writing at John Jay College, Baruch College, and Queensboro Correctional Facility.

Three Poems - Brian Laidlaw

"These poems and songs are from THE MIRRORMAKER, a book-plus-album that relocates the myth of Echo and Narcissus to Bob Dylan's hometown in Minnesota's Iron Range. The collection is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions, and serves as a counterpoint to Laidlaw's debut collection THE STUNTMAN, which was published by Milkweed last year." —Brian Laidlaw

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Dendrogenealogy - PJ Williams

In my dream it's over
& over again: my brother becoming
a tree: his lips going wooden & striped
with pine grain, his feet
turning to roots & finding creases
in the floor from which he becomes immovable. 
His broad human shoulders smooth
even with his neck, his face
widens, & whatever words I try
to say to him, his needle ears
do not hear, twitching silently.

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