First find the body of water you knew as a child, thinking about the body.
Baptism was practiced by John the Baptist, a Jewish preacher, in the early 1st century. Revered as a major religious figure in Christianity and Islam, some saying he belonged to the Essenes, a semi-ascetic Judaic sect who expected a Hebrew messiah and who practiced Baptism ritually.
Anais Nin writes in The House of Incest, “My first vision of earth was water veiled. I am of the race of men and women who see all things through this curtain of sea and my eyes are the color of water. I looked with chameleon eyes upon the changing face of the world, looked with anonymous vision upon my uncompleted self. I remember my first birth in water.”
Baptism is practiced in several different ways. Aspersion is the sprinkling of water on the head. Affusion is the pouring of water over the head.
Walk towards the beach or drop past the deer trail clearing to the muddy bank. Don’t slip on the summer grass, you will need to strip down. Now praise the sun that reflects off the water’s surface by stretching your arms out in a Y towards it. Good. Feel the way it warms your skin, the vibration of it. If it is cloudy and there is no reflection, there cannot be baptism. If it is cloudy and there are incoming storms, you cannot be purified this way.
*See also: rain as a form of baptism.
Precipitation is performed in several ways. Remember first your birth in water in a porcelain tub in a house by a seaside cliff. You take the clothes off, the sea crashing on nearby rocks. Remember how it wailed for you, too, once.
*See also: driftwood on the shore, driftwood in the water, driftwood in your heart. It may take years to come ashore.
The tide comes, small crabs and nonsense things crawling into pools and crags until morning, the places you can’t get them out of or speak about. A sand bar above the horizon’s edge is an image that means there’s still hope. Your humanity stands a quarter of a mile out and you swim the marathon.
John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded, so you dip your feet in the frothing water. The wave is something the ocean does, too. Don’t hesitate, but there’s room for regret because you’re halfway past the waist now. That scrap of fishing net to the right has knots of hemp and cotton and promises. Waves lap each other like birthday cake icing and white foam—the visions of your parents nearby and a paper hat strapped to your head by string in a darkly lit room. The joy of your eyes blowing the candles out with all the wind your little life lungs can handle, it is enough.
Experts say the gravitational pull of the moon ebbs and flows the coming and going of tides on beaches across the world. Still others say there’s billions and billions of stars and solar systems to find out there. They say you are eternally saved after a lifetime of baptizing and for some reason that is just enough for this first lesson.
Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction Debt. He was a semi-finalist in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Competition and honorable mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards in the non-fiction category. He blogs from Burning River (http://www.burningriver.info.)
A potter’s field held unwanted bodies. Some Puritans did not mark their graves, viewing their dead as blessed to have transcended their sinful husks, to have achieved perfection without the weight of flesh holding them to earth.
The dead girls can float, but they still sin.
Where are the bodies of the dead girls? In the basements of houses and trunks of abandoned cars. In the woods, mostly, covered over with leaves or under a few flimsy inches of earth. In pieces in an oil drum, cinderblocked to a riverbed, dumped off embankments on nights with no moon. The dead girls don’t see this as transcendence. The dead girls want their bodies back.
What do the dead girls see? Milk-film over their blinking eyes. A world gone on without them, a thousand petty dramas playing to an audience of the not-bereft. A wave endlessly arguing with the shoreline, stealing a few grains of sand every time.
The living dare each other to walk through the field of dead girls, though of course they can’t see anything but air. Only the sense that something is wrong, air charged with grief like a storm is always coming. The field where no grass grows, only patches of low bramble with fat, untouched berries. The kind of quiet that hums danger into your ears, fills them with a warning you can’t parse. At night it’s never quite dark, even when the Pizza Hut’s lights shut off and the nail techs are counting their tips in their cars. Anyone alive who walks through that place feels claustrophobic even out in the open, their skin seeming to tighten over their bones. And anyone who isn’t would see how the dead girls follow them in a glowing swarm, pressing from all sides, desperate for warmth.
Most of the dead girls are cold. They can feel the rush of the polluted river, the snow promising itself to the mountainside, the wet of the pine needles’ slow, sympathetic rot. The chill of their urgent loneliness even surrounded by the only others who understand their not-life. It’s no wonder the grass refuses to grow.
The dead girls whose bones are buried unmarked claim to be colder than the rest of them. They have new names in the living world, called for the landscape their body was plucked from – Juniper Mountain Doe, Horseshoe Creek – or the human trappings that still clung to it – Cerulean Jacket, Twin Rose Tattoo. These girls make incantations of their true names, pace the perimeter whispering: Lucinda. Lucinda. Lucinda. Maria. Maria. Maria. I was. I was. I am. Some of them are afraid they’ll forget. Others are imagining their voices as radio waves, arcing over the miles until they reach what remains of their source.
Some of the dead girls know they’ll never be found. There will be no cemetery plot, no epitaph – no one who would think to compose one, no human alive up late agonizing over a lost friend. The way the found blink out of the field, some of the forever-missing blinked out of life. No one mourns.
The lucky girls only stay a few days. Barely have time to turn around, see the spot that could be eternity, make a few friends and they’re gone. A car pulled from the quarry like a bad tooth. A door broken open into a bloody room. No one knows where they go next, only that it must be better than here. There is no sense in missing them, now that they’ve been found.
The oldest dead girls remember when the building’s foundation was dug, watching the men lift their dirty shirts to wipe sweat from their foreheads. And before that, when the road was paved in stinking asphalt, and before that, when the cart-tamped dirt was covered in broken stone. And before that, when it was only a few of them and sky and pine in every direction, when they still could have thought this might be paradise.
Cassandra de Alba is a poet living in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, smoking glue gun, and Spy Kids Review, among other publications. Her chapbooks habitats (Horse Less Press, 2016) and ORB (Reality Hands, 2018) are about deer and the moon, respectively, and Ugly/Sad was released by Glass Poetry Press in 2020. She is a co-host at the Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge and an associate editor at Pizza Pi Press.
My second year in Tucson, the town next to my hometown flooded, made CNN, people canoeing down 52, standing on top of their cars. I showed my roommates, telling them I knew that carry-out, knew that intersection. When I met the boy I was sleeping with, he laughed when I said the word “duvet.” I said it right, I used it correctly. He thought it was funny that an Appalachian girl knew what a duvet was, maybe even had the audacity to own a duvet. He told me a story about his mother, a nurse who grew into a politician’s wife, learning about hill people being tended to by doctors on horseback. He told me like it was yesterday. Like it was my story. Like I got my meningitis vaccine from a man sitting in a saddle, savior to us all.
Barbara Costas-Biggs lives and works in Appalachian southern Ohio. Her work has been published by Glass, Mothers Always Write, Literary Mama, Ghost City Press, 8Poems, and others. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.
The spring we divorce it won’t stop frosting, and I watch Shameless like an addict on Netflix. I trim my hair with scissors I find in the drawer beside the oven in my rental, the ends so split they fray towards each other. It’s these days I miss the arc of our ashtray, the bump of our butts against its glass rim, the way ash clumps in bales. It’s your breath on my back, I think, the feeling of knowing you’re there without seeing you, like shards of a life in my eye. It’s the grasp of the unknown around my neck that has me running down these backroads in the night, half-drunk and half-wanting to forget, the kilometres ticking by like farm fields.
I miss the feeling of a cigarette, of someone’s fingers between my fingers.
I miss Fiona telling Jimmy to fuck off.
I miss the scratch of your beard on my cheek when you roll into my space, while you sleep barefoot and broken toe.
Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions, and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.
At nine—I can’t stop the trips and falls, the scrapes of my knees against concrete. I like the burn and the drum of my blood gushing out of me. I am split skin. My father teaches me to tie my shoes. Because he’s tired of watching me fall. Or, because he’s tired of picking me up. Hands me the left shoe: “Do as I do?” he says, using the right shoe as an example. And I do what he does—until my mid-twenties, when I’ve pushed everyone I love away, too. He forms two loops with each of the laces, crosses them, pushes one through the opening, pulls tight. “Only one can go through. The other can’t. Entiendes?” And I didn’t know then it was our farewell. I get good at making it seem like my shoes are tied—I tuck the laces into the bottom of my shoes, into my socks, press on the aglets with my heels. I fall and I am split skin and gushing blood. My mother gets me a new pair of Velcro shoes “para que no batalles,” she says. That’s what my mother does best—use bandaids when I need stitches. She wipes my knees to keep me from spilling out. When all I want is to make the gash bigger and bigger and bigger and watch all of me spill over my mother, over my father, until I am everything and nothing. She slaps my hand away because “that’s how you get scars”—picking at scabs growing over wounds. She never tells me all the other ways I’ll scar. And she’ll never slap my hand again, busy with her own scabs. The loops and hooks of my Velcro shoes keep me from falling but at school I’m the wetback, spic baby who can’t tie her shoes. And there aren’t any ways to explain that my parents did what they could. And we’ll never ever feel like enough. And there aren’t enough knots, or hooks, or loops to hold me together. I trip, and fall, and gush. I am split skin. Until I learn I am the one who can go through.
Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez is a Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College in New York City. She is an immigrant of Juarez, Mexico and raised in Cicero, IL. Her work has been published in Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, Hispanecdotes, Everyday Fiction, Acentos Review, Newtown Literary, So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, No Tender Fences: Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry, and Longreads.
A man in a Mars Volta shirt skated in the city. He was going to the flea market. He was going to buy a pair of gloves. It wasn’t that cold in Los Angeles, but he rode his skateboard late at night, so he needed the gloves. He arrived at the Swapmeet and bought a churro. He ate it. Then he found the vendor with the gloves. He paid $2 for the gloves. He wore them at night when he went out to paint the city with a neon green can of spray paint. He wrote the word:
On a wall. In the middle of the city. He took a photo. Then he wrote Southeast Los Angeles beneath the tag. When he finished, he skated back home beneath the moonlight. Spring was on the way; he was looking forward to that.
In \ my dream \
He rented a double-windowed farmhouse on the other side of Rokeby–– a flat road between two fields, our road–– and one time I saw him go out and walk his cat after a rainstorm, when the gravel was chalky and white. The cat was on a leash. December was a silent old man. I only learned about him through reading his lips, and reading lips makes understanding a person tedious, though you could say all understanding is tedium.
I watched him \ from the seat of my grandmother’s window \ flannel curtain \ pulled up to my chest \
This was when I was a child. I was waiting for December to open the front of the farmhouse–– he would walk his cat up the road because he would always have it shit on up the road at the cul-de-sac. And then I was there behind his clapboard legs. I watched while the black cat put its bum in the sky and lowered its mouth to some chalk white water in a pothole puddle, lapping, lap, lap. Then December lowered his catmouth to the water, too. Lapping.
I have told you \ something special here \
For my life, I will never know what the old man got out of the road. But these are facts. December lost his wife young in some violence, before he had lived across from us on Rokeby. He died nine years ago–– I remembered after waking up. The black cat was named Jet Lee. And I am twenty one years old. December’s house caught fire during another rainstorm, when he had an episode of the heart loading the wood stove. Our house got torn down for rot. My grandmother is dead.
I do not know \ what it means \
Evan Nicholls is from the peach, fox, horse and wine country of Fauquier County, Virginia. He has work appearing or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Third Coast, Passages North, Mud Season Review, and The Shallow Ends, among others. He tweets at @nicholls_evan. Find more of his work at evannichollswrites.wordpress.com.
The recipe for lime Jello with canned peaches and shredded carrots is a family secret. She says this with a slight smile on her face as her pin-straight, mousy brown hair falls over her eyes. No one knows if it’s side salad or dessert, so it stays on the kitchen table weeping a bit in its green Pyrex bowl. She says this recipe is her growing up in the heartland. Still, she just couldn’t wait to leave her family; and now, they have left her, one by one, without a proper so long. This too is hard to swallow.
M.J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past thirty years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.
I wonder if they think the world already has too many flowers. Five tulip stems, the heads severed clean by an apparently sharp blade, are left to quiver in the breeze. These five tulips burst from the ground outside the stone-walled flower bed, bulbs gone stray after decades of confinement. I planted those flowers when I was six-years-old, removed the bulbs from the mesh-net bag my father handed to me as gingerly as a six-year-old can. While I watched holding a small spade, my mother dug the first hole, planted the first bulb. Her thin fingers patted the dirt firm. Then I dug and planted. Dug. Planted. After bearing the heavy winter, those bulbs pushed into spring red, glorious. Decades later, I’ve moved on to dahlias, dusty miller, marigolds. Yet the tulips persist.
Christine Taylor identifies as multiracial and is an English teacher and librarian residing in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She is the EIC of Kissing Dynamite: A Journal of Poetry and the author of The Queen City (Broken Sleep Books, 2019). Christine has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her work appears in Glass, Turtle Island Responds, Haibun Today, and The Rumpus among others. Right now, she’s probably covered in cat hair and drinking a martini. Visit her at www.christinetayloronline.com.