Come with Me by JC Reilly

Come with Me


to the bower   and sit in the dark

green swing      we can   read each other’s

(not palms but)   recipes   bus time tables

repair manuals     we can sing

about balaclavas   and top   hats

we can tell      tall tales


once I found   a mouse

living in    my dresser   the drawer  was  tricked out

like a flat    there was a little bed    there was

a book shelf   and a 50s retro     dinette

the mouse was reading   the Wall Street   Journal

mice are dirty     capitalists  like that


but I can see    you don’t believe   me

the mouse    did not believe me  either

when I asked it to      move out

the sudden air stirs     the leaves

you pump the swing     begin whispering

about a bowl of stolen    cherries      and 46  dimes

JC Reilly is the author of the narrative poetry collection What Magick May Not Alter and the forthcoming chapbook Amo e Canto, which won the 2020 Sow’s Ear Poetry Prize. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals, including Black Fox Literary Magazine, Hole in the Head Review, Antigonish Review, and PoetrySouth. Follow her @aishatonu.

Loblolly Pine by Holly Cian

Loblolly Pine by Holly Cian


None of it matters, the complete genome sequence. Resinous,

the thick yellow like a polluted sky, the tree reaching over

and bearing its needles. Like a playhouse of balls, thick

and enough to swim through. The imitation of water.

But yellow as some bogs or the dull stripes of a spider

as it clings its web across your porch. An occupational

moon. Seeds taken to space and returned, then rediscovered.

Are all seeds open to the wider world? Most often,

our habitat can kill us, but so can where we’ve been.

A tree with a straight base and the insects crawling

around it. A cloud struck from view. Around us,

the small kickback of a motorcycle, the space of energy

and sound. The lower lands has stretched itself

like an unworn sheet. Yes, it is singular. Yes, it stretches

like a body long after the crash and pressure of time.

Holly Cian holds a BA in creative writing from the College of Charleston and an MA in literature from Western Carolina University. Her poems have been published in Pinesong, The Great Smokies Review, Sixfold, and in the anthology Witness: Appalachia to Hatteras. She lives in Asheville, N.C.

My Last Rodeo by John Blake Oldenborg

My Last Rodeo by John Blake Oldenborg


near the university

sanctioned horse


festival they learn

how to roam on


retractable leashes how

to pirouette mobius


strips in tomorrow’s

torn up turf these


no ordinary specimens

not from fetus


jars packed hundred

fold into roaring engines


the piebalds graze and you

can’t know instant coloration


you impersonate young vultures

ready to drop upon me


fellow field grazer dancing

in my brand-new ostrich skin

John Blake Oldenborg (he/him) calls Tallahassee home but currently attends the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he is earning an MFA in poetry. Some of his poems are forthcoming in Misery Tourism, New Note Poetry, Rat World Magazine, Bullshit Lit, and appear elsewhere online. Twitter: @LMFAOldenborg  Email: [email protected]

Like a Flock of Newly Shorn Ewes by Taylor Leigh Harper

Like a Flock of Newly Shorn Ewes by Taylor Leigh Harper


Monty ignored the cavity on her lower third molar for as long as she could—she was successful for a little while, coming up with myriad ways to distract herself from the occasional jaw-clenching pulsating or toe-tingling aching—until the cavity started to sing. Even then, Monty tried to cover the cavity up, humming over the soft whine the holes produced. She was looking up online tutorials to teach herself how to whistle when her older sister Maureen made her cut the shit out.


“Mont,” Maureen said while peeling a tiny, cute orange in Monty’s doorway. “What’s that lovely buzzing noise all about?”


Monty tongued the cavity, hoping to silence the noise long enough to distract her sister. “What noise? What are you eating? Why didn’t you bring me one of those?”


Maureen held the little precious peel of the tiny, cute orange in one hand. She popped a slice into her mouth, then offered Monty a piece with the other hand, as she said, “Just go to the dentist. You’re starting to sound like Mom.”


“Don’t be mean,” Monty said, even though she knew Maureen was right. Their mother had made all sorts of strange sounds before she lost all her teeth, which had been not long before she died. Her mother’s rotting molars had loved “Marcha Real,” while her chipped canines—ever so lingually inclined—played a haunting rendition of Chopin’s “No. 1 in F Minor.”


It wasn’t their mother’s fault she couldn’t care for her teeth, not when some days had been so miserably heavy she couldn’t lift herself out of bed. Monty wanted to remember her as a woman who lived as long as she could stand to, not as someone without teeth and without clean hair and without any laughter and without much energy left for affection and without any beautiful songs or nursery rhymes or hymns left to sing.


In the dentist’s waiting room, Monty swore she smelled oranges again. Maureen was thumbing through a two-year old magazine, no citrus in sight. Monty thought about crying—maybe if she threw a fit, a real tantrum like she did when she was younger and such outbursts were more acceptable—she wouldn’t be dragged back into a cold white room to sit on a cold plastic chair while a dentist dug around in her mouth with their room temperature, gloved hands.


But her cavity had begun to carol, loud and just slightly off key, so Maureen and the receptionist and all three other patients waiting were doing their best not to look at Monty. Even if she threw herself on the ground, nothing would change what was happening, or what rotting had already begun.


Dr. Santos was older than Monty expected. Her white hair was cropped short, and of course her teeth were also wool-white, even, and completely silent. Monty wondered if maybe her mother might have grown old enough someday to look like Dr. Santos.


“Have you ever had a cavity before?” Dr. Santos asked.


“Arve nhgla thad ploun,” Monty tried to say without biting down on the dentist’s rubber-covered fingers.


“Ah, you’re lucky. Your dental hygiene seems fine, except for this one tooth.”


“Chaow whad eah et?”


“It’s not all that bad,” the dentist continued. “We’re in the very early stages of decay.”


That word made Monty’s stomach hurt. She imagined herself tossing an orange back and forth between her hands. The feeling of the fruit’s pitted flesh. The weight of such a small, tender thing. The realness of something not there, not quite, just out of her reach.


“We’ll fill it, and you’ll be good as new,” Dr. Santos said. She was marking up a chart, her hands finally out of Monty’s mouth.


“Will it hurt?”


The dentist smiled. Monty willed herself not to cry. Her cavity began to hum again, something low and unfamiliar, sweet and sad.


“I love Emmylou Harris,” Dr. Santos said. “I’ll make sure you’re all numbed up. You’ll only feel the needle, and not even that for very long.”


The dentist stepped away to get her assistant, who would watch Monty’s cavity be filled up as a live demonstration in her dental school education. Monty wished she had asked for Maureen to come back, even though her sister probably would have laughed if she had asked to hold her hand. Maureen still would have done it, though. She would have laughed, but she would have held Monty’s hand, if she admitted she was scared of the pain to come, however brief.


While the dentist prepared her long syringe, Monty focused on what she could see and taste and hear.


Monty could see the white walls surrounding the square windows. Outside those windows, she could see green leaves. She could see the blue sky beyond that. She could see the tiled ceiling. She could see the bright yellow light they were shining down into her mouth.


Monty could taste Dr. Santos’ gloves once again. Peat, she thought—the rubber tasted like peat. She could taste a little bit of bile rising up in a nervous fit. She could taste her mother’s perfume, a lingering mix of sandalwood and seawater, lemon and cassis, alcohol and lime.


Monty listened. She listened to the dental assistant turning on the water pick. She listened as Dr. Santos counted down from three before sticking her gum with novacaine, and then she couldn’t taste anything at all. She listened for a metal fumbling—someone reaching for a chisel, then a hatchet or a hoe, to begin filling the little holes that had eaten away at her enamel as a moth to fiber.


She heard a final song, a dirge-like hoedown being drowned out by all the dental tools. Monty was listening as closely as she could while her cavity bleated on in French about all the things she wished she had told her mother, and all the things she might yet admit to Maureen, and still all that might be heard if she could just let herself cry.

Taylor Leigh Harper is a Filipino American writer living in Southern California. Her writing has appeared in LEON Literary Review, The Ilanot Review, SPLASH!, In Parentheses, and elsewhere. She is a contributing writer and curator for agoodmovietowatch. When she is not writing, you can find her on twitter @misstaywrites.

Mine, My Own by Hibah Shabkhez

Mine, My Own by Hibah Shabkhez


We looked at the mountain in all its pristine glory, drifting wistfully past on the screen. We looked, and we knew desire: the urge to seek out this new mirage with its promise of beauty, of love, and paradoxically, of peace. We looked and already we knew also the first delicious pangs of impending heartbreak, for surely no reality could live up to this gauzy ephemeral soaring of tree and sky with mountain-slopes building heart-frames around it like earnest middle-schoolers. In reality there would have been mosquitoes, and bad odours, and shoes that slipped or broke outright, and it would have been too hot, or too cold, or raining. In reality… But I shall never know it, this bittersweet reality we planned for and laughed over. This mountain I could not climb for want of breath shall forever be the loveliest peak in the world, with the most amazing view. Suddenly I miss something I never had, that was never mine to miss, because you climbed a mountain I could not. Suddenly it becomes the lightning rod for all the envy, for all the anger, for all the heart-poisoning misery of perpetual exhaustion I have secreted inside me, for it is no longer one more pretty hill from a random net video; it is a thing we were meant to share and could not, a thing breath denied me and did not deny you.

Hibah Shabkhez is a writer of the half-yo literary tradition, an erratic language-learning enthusiast, and a happily eccentric blogger from Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has previously appeared in Black Bough, Zin Daily, London Grip, The Madrigal, Acropolis Journal, Lucent Dreaming, and a number of other literary magazines. Studying life, languages, and literature from a comparative perspective across linguistic and cultural boundaries holds a particular fascination for her.

When I Storytell Myself by Brittany Brewer

When I Storytell Myself by Brittany Brewer


I want to say that the Midwest does not live in my body—instead I share that I was pulled from state to state five times before I was twelve. I share the first choice that was mine was to leave, to move to a city over ten times the population of smalltown, Indiana, known as home to the company that supplied Michael Jackson’s casket, and unironically teenage, we declared the town slogan should be, “Everyone is dying to live here.” From twelve to twenty-one I was saturated in a Midwest state of mind, I felt heavy, uncertain. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to inhabit a space that was bigger than me, where there were so many people moving and being that I could disappear, that I could slip out of the strange skin I had donned by default and slide into another, experimenting in and out and around bodies in order to find my own footing. I did this urgently. I scrambled to subsume myself in order to seek some kind of clarity, running from 6,000 towards 80,000 towards 178,000 towards 1.8 million in search of the safety promised by different bodies, by more bodies. And each time, I want to say that I came closer to knowing myself. I want to say that I had grown more expansive, more queer, more pleasure-seeking than my midwest self could stand to contain. I want to say that it’s easy, being back, that when I walk down these new small-town streets in this different midwestern town, that I feel safe. But still, I find it hard to breathe; the midwest clings to me like a forgotten favorite sweater—one I lived in then but the fabric festers against my skin now—somehow still smoke-soaked from almost decades distant nights of communion, of bonfires in the boonies, of boy-girl pair-offs. The smoke lives in my body…I can taste it, the pinewood tendrils curling eternally around my tongue, permeating my lungs, my cells. I inhale deeply and close my eyes. Nestled in the blackness in my periphery, little firecrackers languish too close by.

Brittany Brewer (she/her) is a queer writer, [theatre] artist, and educator who has lived and grown across eight states. Brittany is also the producer and host of no small parts podcast. She is an alumna of Indiana University, Brown University, and the Arden Professional Apprenticeship program. Currently, she lives in Michigan where she is also a doctoral student at Michigan State University. For more, follow Brittany on Twitter at @brittanymbrewer or visit

New England Secrets by Brittany Brewer

New England Secrets by Brittany Brewer


She walks into the barn, a solitary space suspended in time; it could have been featured in a B-level horror film if it had any sort of structural integrity, she muses to herself. It almost feels like a joke that she has trekked all this way to chase this spectre: a story she heard once, a barn she never visited and wasn’t certain still existed, and that she is here all just to chase a ghost, her mother’s ghost, the one her mother told her about seeing one time when her mom was twelve and limber and bloated with possibility—possibility now punctured. All she has is textures of a tale: her mom’s fulfillment after finishing a long day’s work, the magic of the minutes after midnight, of finding friendship in unexpected places, and a sudden, sharp sound accompanied by a sulfury smell like when fire first ignites. She remembers this ghost occupied her mom’s belly, the hearth of her spirit, and each time her mom uttered the tale, an ethereal mist crept from her mother’s lips, chapping them as it passed through, and lit stars in her mom’s eyes. This was the intimate possibility of connection. All she wants is to hold a piece of her mother inside her like her mother housed that ghost and to know that things will somehow end up okay, that magic might be real, that the inexplicable and unfathomable are tangible futures you can hope for. As the minutes edge past midnight, there is a sharp pop, a glistening something seeping in from the rafters, and in that moment she thinks, maybe we are connected, maybe we are all made from all the same pieces and parts as our mothers and hold the potential to contain an extraordinary secret.

Brittany Brewer (she/her) is a queer writer, [theatre] artist, and educator who has lived and grown across eight states. Brittany is also the producer and host of no small parts podcast. She is an alumna of Indiana University, Brown University, and the Arden Professional Apprenticeship program. Currently, she lives in Michigan where she is also a doctoral student at Michigan State University. For more, follow Brittany on Twitter at @brittanymbrewer or visit

La Proletaria by Rodrigo Toscano

La Proletaria by Rodrigo Toscano


The smell of pulp, turpentine, and bleach usually permeates this side of town. But when winds from the southeast swoop into the valley, the toxic brew is fast cleared away, and what remains is the smell of wet grasses, mud, and wildflowers. This natural phenomenon mitigating human-made conditions has only a limited effect on the minds of the hard-working townsfolk whose every other thought dotes on the health and growth of the town’s young.    


She not only had the gall to admit it to herself but also had the presence of mind to look for an opening (any) to construct a whole new reality for herself, and for something else. The eerie attraction she felt for this outcropping of Pre-Cambrian rock spoke clearly and directly to her the first time she saw it in the middle of the field. 


In the deep of winter, the paper mill’s indoor facility is cold and noisy. In that environment, she didn’t pay much attention to the roll press feeder guy dressed in the mustard-colored industrial pants and brown checkered long sleeve felt shirt. Also, the safety glasses and helmet occluded much.


One day, her workmate buddy approached her about the possibility of maybe coaching her “little cousin” on basic lacrosse techniques. She readily agreed, having been a great player in school herself, the same school her buddy’s “little cousin” was now attending, but also the Pre-Cambrian rock in the middle of the field enabling her resolve.


Actually, she recognized him before he did her. She had caught his eye at the mill. She thought he was “cuddly” but sufficiently “rough,” her exact taste in “little cousins,” which was just beginning to pick up speed. Decked out in a bright red, terry cloth, short sleeve disco shirt, and loose-fitting green parachute pants, the only part of him she could correlate to the Pre-Cambrian rock in the middle of the field and/or the guy at the press feeder on the third shift–the general mass and approximate density, was something else.  She could barely cloak the dilation of her cheeks’ surface arteries as she laughed easily at herself flaying the lacrosse stick every which way, tumbling to the ground, legs all over the place. 


At the end of practice, she offered to give him a ride home. As fate would have it, hard rains had made the winding road where “little cousin” lived impassable. They had to turn onto “the estuary,” the oldest road in this part of central Missouri, a tree-lined road made of stone and railway planks. 


The sound of the automobile’s front axle rod snapping in two reached her ears pretty much at the same time as something else crawled its way up into her nostrils. The last moment of sanity she remembers is the look of her own short brown hair flared out onto her face in the mirror, sticky and messy, the Pre-Cambrian rock in the middle of the field there also. As a whole new reality set in, a gust of wind made the maples around them rustle.

Rodrigo Toscano is a poet and essayist based in New Orleans. He is the author of ten books of poetry. His newest book is The Charm & The Dread (Fence Books, 2022). His Collapsible Poetics Theater was a National Poetry Series selection. He has appeared in over 20 anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Best American Experimental Poetry (BAX). Toscano has received a New York State Fellowship in Poetry. He won the Edwin Markham 2019 prize for poetry. @Toscano200

Old Town Hero by J. T. Townley

Old Town Hero by J. T. Townley


But when we tottered into the dawn light for our morning constitutional, Old Town Hero was back. We stood there, hands on our hips, scanning up and down the empty block for deadbeats and thugs. How anybody managed such an act of violence on our watch escaped us since we surveilled the neighborhood around the clock, or paid a security service to. This was our home, and some of us had sunk our life savings into these places. For the rest of us, it was the principle of the matter. Our insurance premiums would skyrocket.


Yesterday, it was simply sidewalk graffiti—just outside our front entrance, but still. While some of us expressed moral outrage, those of us more practically minded radioed Trull, our maintenance man. He fired up the power washer, grinning like a little boy, and had the job done lickety-split. The only sign it ever existed was a bright spot on the pavement.


Now it was something else altogether. Forget sidewalk art: this time those vandals slopped their paint right onto the flawless steel-and-glass façade. We stood in the morning sunshine, gaping. Lifesize, Old Town Hero was quite a spectacle: welding goggles and striped engineer’s cap, cutoff overalls and saggy long johns and red velvet cape. A goofy, cigarette-yellow grin. He stood in front of railroad tracks and empty box cars, chest out, arms akimbo.


We called an emergency meeting.


The entire board showed up, despite tee times and water aerobics schedules and coffee klatch meetings. Questions spilled from our mouths.


Why would anybody paint that?


And on our building?


No way that’s paint.


Details are too sharp.


It’s gotta be a photograph.


Is that even possible?


We need to find out who’s responsible asap.


Make an example of them.


How could this happen?


We didn’t bother asking if anyone’d called the police yet. We all had, and more than once. The police were necessary, if incompetent, their illegible reports requisite for our insurance claims. While unlikely, it was also possible they might blunder into apprehending the good-for-nothings responsible for this violent act of vandalism. Protecting the rights of tax-paying property owners was their raison d’être, if we weren’t mistaken. Whether with or without them, we needed to nip this thing in the bud.


With the board’s blessing, Trull contracted with a commercial cleanup company that provided the most reasonable bid. It took them the whole next day to scrape and peel and wash that crazed lunatic off our building. By dusk, we stood across the street in Pearl Springs Park, our park, admiring the shiny façade.


Looks brand-spanking-new, we said.


Even better, we said.


That’ll show em, we said.


We strolled around our block in the falling light, nodding at the new security guards we’d hired to replace the incompetents. Then we retired to our balconies and courtyard patios, sipping pinot grigio in the warm June air.


All was well the next morning and the morning after that. For forty-eight blissful hours, we enjoyed the status quo, steady as she goes, proud that we’d run off the riffraff who thought they could sully our home. We hit the links for eighteen. We meandered along the river in the sunshine. We puffed cigars over the paper in our park. Summertime, and the living was easy. Plus, most of us were retired.


But soon it all came crashing down. On our way back from Pilates in the Park the next morning, we thought we’d have a heart attack as we glanced across at our building. Old Town Hero was back, and this time, he was larger than life, twenty feet tall and ten wide. Our jaws hung open. Red fists clenched in our chests. Across the river, a Union Pacific freight train blew its horn.


We used the intercom to call the rest of the board down from their frittatas and Earl Grey, and we stood together, goggling and muttering. When the new security guards, with their black tactical uniforms and Starseeds venti lattes, rounded the corner, their eyes saucered.


We didn’t bother pointing out the obvious or asking any questions, firing them on the spot. Such was our prerogative. Maybe we were lashing out, and maybe it even made us feel better. Yet Old Town Hero remained.


Most of us sensed the necessity of working back channels. We all had connections, however tenuous and exaggerated: it was a point of pride. Even if our HOA was a small fish in a big pond, our neighborhood association had real power. We knew we could throw our weight around.


Now was the time. We got on the horn and pestered Bill over speakerphone to convene an emergency Neighbors Northwest meeting that very morning. He balked at first, hemming and hawing about his grandkids and couldn’t we let it all blow over, but we were insistent.


We can’t wait until the levee breaks, we said. 


What’s that spozed to mean?


One day, it’s Old Town Hero, the next, the neighborhood will be crawling with them. 


He cleared his throat. Who exactly?


Derelicts, we said.


Vagabonds, we said.


All the dregs of society, we said.


Is it that bad?


We fake-chuckled at his naïveté, then said: We’re barely keeping them at bay as it stands. 


Static crackled as he rubbed his chin.


It’s their mess, we said. Let’s keep it from spilling out of Old Town.



Trull got on the phone with the cleaning company, but they couldn’t come until later in the afternoon. In the meantime, people started to take notice. Commuters barely broke stride, but kids and their live-in nannies clogged the sidewalk. Students loitered, laughing. Tourists visiting our beautiful park snapped selfies and group shots. A frenetic hum filled the air. We still couldn’t rouse any boys in blue to the crime scene, so we stood sentry in shifts, ushering along the idle and curious.


Nothing to see, we said. Keep moving.


An hour later, we sat around a long table at Café Clochard. We started with espresso, but quickly moved to pinot noir or cognac. Bill sat in the middle, looking annoyed, checking his watch every two minutes. Cleaning fumes mingled with the earthy scent of French roast. We filled him in on the situation. When we’d finished, Bill shook his head.


Signs and wonders, he said.


We have to act now, we said.


Get ahead of this thing.


Cut those anarchists off at the pass. 


Anarchists did this? said Bill.


See for yourself, we said.


He staggered to the window. You could make out Old Town Hero clear as day from all the way across the park.


Bill shook his head, rubbing his chin. So what’s the recommendation? 


Chief of police, we said.


Mayor’s office.


City Council.


Bill flinched. His cheek twitched.


Hell in a handbasket, we said.


He glanced at his watch and chewed his lip. Then he knocked back his cognac and said, I’ll see what I can do.


Once a gawking cyclist smashed into a law-abiding driver, denting his brand-new Tesla, the police finally sent a pair of beat cops to the crime scene. We expected they’d begin an investigation while they were here, or at the very least direct traffic, but we were sorely mistaken. They don’t make policemen like they used to. We stood out front in a huddle, hands on our hips, gazing at them as they double-parked their cruiser, then went about their business. To our shock-horror, they ticketed the driver, double-checked the cyclist’s condition, then sauntered back toward their car, gazing up at Old Town Hero.


Might wanna do something about that eyesore, said the driver through his open window. Too much rubbernecking’s stunting the regular flow of traffic.


Before we could shamble over to demand action, they sped away.


Meanwhile, traffic went from bad to worse. It was all Old Town Hero’s fault. When we glanced up again, he was now three stories tall and painted right over windows, balconies, and doors. Poor Ms. Flemmarde, taking in the afternoon sunshine, nodded off on her balcony and woke covered not in sunburn but graffiti. She paced and shook her bony fist, cussing a blue streak. Afraid she might give herself a stroke, one of us summoned an ambulance. The paramedics had a hard time getting here, what with crowds swelling by the minute, but when they finally made it, they checked her vitals, cleaned off the graffiti (non-toxic, apparently), and gave her a Diazepam.


The rest of us were beside ourselves. As if the onslaught of tourists and locals wasn’t bad enough, word must’ve gotten around among the transients because they came out of the woodwork. We caught a whiff of them before they ever made themselves known, a mélange of charcoal smoke, unwashed armpits, and rot that brought tears to our eyes. A pair of them stumbled up, hair in tangles, clothes in tatters, black grime beneath their fingernails. They studied the enormous image for a long moment before one of them said, One time Old Town Hero gave me a brand-new pair of boots. A perfect fit! The other nodded. He once gave me half a pizza and let me sleep in his tent when I woulda froze to death. Saved my life, sure as I’m standin here.


Over the next few days, we heard all manner of implausible tales about Old Town Hero. To listen to those sluggards, that caped wonder routinely saved them from drowning and overdoses, unprovoked knife attacks and the awful charity of do-gooders. He provided them with hot coffee and cigarettes, warm meals and shelter from the rain. In their view, that unlikely superhero in saggy long johns could do no wrong. Although it was clear their idolatry was sincere, we didn’t believe a word they said. They were leeches and parasites and pariahs. We wanted to say, What are you contributing?, but couldn’t bear their stench long enough to gag out the words.


The tents popped up before nightfall. Dogs weren’t even allowed into Pearl Springs Park, as it was a natural wetland and bird sanctuary. We’d spearheaded Friends of Pearl Springs, tending to the fragile ecosystem since all the city landscapers were good for was mowing the grass. Yet now we had a bona fide hobo village crushing the hyacinths and asters. They’d erected their filthy hovels willy-nilly wherever they saw fit, on the grass, across the paving stones, right smack in the damn flowerbeds. A few of those squalid shelters drooped into the creek, and soiled sleeping bags, sweaters, and old newspapers flowed through the park and collected in the pond on the far side.


Disgusting, said Mrs. Clodo when she spotted the destruction. She clenched her fists and set her jaw, but before she could march across the street and give those ne’er-do-wells a piece of her mind, we blocked her path.


Not on your life, we said. 


They’re bums.






You’re no good to us if you get yourself, what’s it called, shivved.


That was before the loud music and reefer smoke. Before they hunted robins and mallards, squirrels and raccoons, barbecuing them over open flames in our park. Before the rusty vans and sputtering RVs showed up, parallel-parking right out in front of our building. Those vagrants screamed and ranted and yelled late into the night. They sang crazy campfire songs to out-of-tune guitar strumming into the wee hours. The pandemonium kept us up, watching at the windows, cradling pepper spray, baseball bats, and copper sauce pans.


Something had to be done.


Early the next day, Bill broke the bad news: both the Mayor and City Council had denied our request.


They won’t even take a meeting? we said.


Who’s running this town?


Have they seen what we’re dealing with?


We meant the orgy-carnival of mayhem that’d invaded our neighborhood. In one short night, our quiet, pristine streets had become a disaster zone. Tents lined the sidewalks, bums sprawled in the gutters, the streets were littered with fast food wrappers, empty Rainier cans, and broken Johnnie Walker bottles. T-shirts and underwear were scattered across bushes and hung from the low limbs of alders and white oaks. None of us understood how anyone could live like that.

Did they have no sense of dignity and self-respect?


But we also meant Old Town Hero. By now, he’d expanded to cover the entire façade. None of us understood how. A group of activist-artists calling themselves Not Right! had claimed responsibility, but we knew it was simply opportunism. Despite our enhanced surveillance, we had witnessed exactly no one with spray cans or brushes or any other supplies in the immediate vicinity. A couple of us even poked around at nearby hardware stores, but none of the clerks reported anyone purchasing the volume of materials necessary to deface our building.


What sense did any of it make?


We assembled in the quiet of the courtyard that evening. Most of us kept mum, at a loss for words. We fiddled with glasses of rosé, but the sour taste in our mouths ruined the bouquet. From the park, a cacophony of out-of-tune guitars, insane soap-boxing, and wild cackling. We sat there, swirling our wine and chewing our lips. Then one of us said:


Press conference.


Come again?


What’s that?


Speak up.


We call a press conference.


To what end?


We’d lost our slouches, sliding forward on our patio chairs.


Court of public opinion.


We mulled on that for a moment. From across the street, an uneven rhythm on cowbell and tambourine. A twangy banjo. A didgeridoo.


Anybody have contacts at the papers?


We nodded. If there was one thing we had, it was connections. It was time to bring out the big guns.


We made the calls we knew would summon the press to our doorstep. Trouble was, we couldn’t get anyone on the line. We hung up and dialed again, and when the outcome was the same, we left long-winded, impassioned messages. Out of all of us, only Mr. Racaille made contact with an old reporter friend.


She’s on her way, he proclaimed.


The news provided a measure of comfort.


The havoc only worsened as daylight fell again. More vans and RVs showed up, belching foul gray plumes, parking in loading zones, in front of fire hydrants, in handicapped spaces.

Hollow-eyed men juggled empty Jack Daniels bottles. Strung-out ex-cons built a huge bonfire in the middle of our park, then danced around it in a lunatic frenzy. A stilts-walker dressed up as Old Town Hero gyrated to a drum circle’s uneven rhythm. Illicit substances were sniffed and smoked, swallowed and injected. A fight broke out, followed by another. Firecrackers popped—or perhaps it was gunfire?


Most of us were up all night. We made repeated calls to the police but couldn’t scare up a response. Mr. Racaille’s reporter friend never showed up, and none of our other contacts at the news outlets even bothered returning our calls. So much for connections. So much for throwing our weight around.


While we never sleep much anyway, when dawn leaked through the blinds of our luxury condos, we scowled into our coffee. Some of us went back to bed or laid down on the sofa, a cold compress covering our eyes. We drew the curtains and closed the drapes. We stuffed in earplugs or played Rachmaninov on the hi-fi at a dull roar.


But then, later that morning, seven cruisers and a paddy wagon arrived on the scene. Took them long enough. Still, once they made their presence known, the officers issued citations and made arrests. Reminded us of the good old days. Soon an ambulance showed up, followed by another, though we didn’t bother inquiring what’d gone wrong. Whether by police car, ambulance, or hearse, we just wanted those layabouts gone.


We thanked the Chief with two boxes of Montecristos.


As the officers were leaving, the cleanup crew arrived with a pickup and a pair of tow trucks. They donned rubber gloves and face masks, then used shovels and pitchforks to scoop the detritus—tents, tarps, Jim Beam bottles—into the pickup’s bed. All the while, the tow trucks plied their trade. While the police had already run off most of the shabby vans and RVs, those that remained were hauled away to an impound lot. Our neighborhood was cleared in under two hours. A breeze off the river soon dispelled the fetid funk.


That afternoon, we celebrated on park-side balconies with hors d’oeuvres and Barolo. 


Congratulations, we said.


Hip hip hurray, we said.


Huzzah, huzzah, we said.


We had reason to celebrate: we’d routed the great unwashed. And while we would have to remain vigilant, we now had the backing of the powers that be. The Mayor’s office and City Council had already issued separate press releases about the importance of restoring law and order—with specific reference to our neighborhood, the gem of the city. They simply couldn’t pass up the good publicity.


Despite all our positivity and good cheer, one nagging problem remained: Old Town Hero. He was still there, beaming his snaggled, cigarette-yellow grin down on us. We tried one commercial cleanup crew after another, offering exorbitant sums (to be gathered via special assessment) for whomever could scrub, scrape, prise, or otherwise remove that image from our building, our neighborhood, our lives.


No one made the least headway.


Even worse, he’d kept growing—through the degenerates’ festivities, through the arrests and cleanup and towing, through all our efforts to salvage our precious park. Over the course of a couple of days, Old Town Hero expanded across the sidewalk and bike lane, over the streetcar tracks, and right into the middle of the street. He made similar advances overhead. By now, we’d stopped puzzling about blame or mechanics, as we simply didn’t care anymore. All we wanted was for Old Town Hero to disappear. Forever.


As that deranged image inched its way across 11th Avenue and into the park, as it blotted out the summer sky, we couldn’t stop seeing Old Town Hero no matter where we were. He took our orders and bussed our tables, rang up our groceries and filled our gas tanks. We chalked the sightings up to stress and overwrought emotions and lack of sleep. While we locked ourselves inside and sat unmoving in the semi-darkness, Old Town Hero appeared on every wall. We gazed at our wan faces in the mirror, and Old Town Hero stared back at us, grinning. When we popped Doxepin and lay down on the sofa, who should we see in our private darkness but Old Town Hero?


Although it took us a while to come to grips with it, we had to get out. It was the only way. Ms. Flemmarde was the first to sell, and the rest of us tumbled like teeth from rotten gums. After everything that’d happened, no one—meaning no one of our ilk—was buying. Our neighborhood’s reputation had changed. By now, Old Town Hero’s feet were firmly planted in our azaleas, and he graced the façade of every building surrounding the park. His deranged grin filled the cloudless summer sky. Naturally, prices fell and fell, settling well below taxed value. Still, most of us went on the market. What choice did we have?


We sold to a bunch of liberal bohemian schlubs. Who else would invest in a neighborhood besieged by the image of a demented super hero for the homeless? Hippy girls with flowers in their hair, young men with beards and tattoos, skinny androgynous types with dreadlocks. Soon we had dirty musicians playing jangly rhythms late into the night and unshaven poets brooding in the courtyard. Every hallway stank of patchouli and reefer smoke, and empty Gallo wine jugs piled up in the hallways. They were alarmingly friendly, inviting us to their armpit-stinking soirées. We begged off with polite excuses. Their presence only drove prices down further.


We signed the paperwork, grimacing at our losses.


We relocated to farmhouses on the Kansas prairie and ranch houses on the Texas plains, log cabins in the Montana wilderness and Modernist marvels on the coast of Southern California. The more adventuresome among us bought luxury yachts and sailed across the Pacific to beach houses in far-flung places like Fiji and Bora Bora. A few of us even lost our resolve, donating generous sums to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and rescue missions. But it was all for naught. No matter how far we went, no matter how much we gave, it did nothing to distance us from what we’d experienced. He was threshing wheat and herding cattle, felling trees and surfing swell. He mingled with the natives, served our umbrella drinks, scaled palms to machete down coconuts. It didn’t matter where we went or what we did, every time we lay down and closed our eyes, Old Town Hero was there.

J. T. Townley has published in Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, The Threepenny Review, and dozens of other magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (three times) and Best of the Net award. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from the University of Oxford, and he teaches at Pacific Northwest College of Art at Willamette University. To learn more, visit

Revolutionary Politics by Siamak Vossoughi

Revolutionary Politics by Siamak Vossoughi


When, by some fluke set of circumstances, I won the student body presidency in eighth grade, all I could think about was Allende. Salvador Allende in Chile. Remember? I liked the business-suit socialists best. Fidel and Che were great, but the business-suit socialists made me feel like a man could be methodical and routine about his compassion. That was the dream. Anyway, I knew I could never be Fidel, for a number of reasons, but the main one being that I doubted my ability to shoot somebody. Allende was more like it. The business-suit socialists proved in their manner and their bearing that socialism was not a wild mood, that brotherhood and equality were not swings of sudden passion. They were things that a man could wake up in the morning and attend to as regularly as I attended school. Of course knowing about Allende meant knowing about what happened to him too. I knew about the U.S. government organizing the coup that overthrew him in 1973. I knew about Kissinger saying make the economy scream. I looked around after my victory and wondered who would play the CIA in response to my presidency and I settled on the teachers.


“Congratulations, Babak,” Mr. Willig said as I was leaving Biology class.


“Thank you,” I said. I tried to keep things respectful and brief.


“I thought you gave a great speech.”


I didn’t believe him. In the rush of the triumph of popular will, he had to pretend to be supportive. Did they think I didn’t know anything? Did they think I didn’t know about Allende, about Mossadegh in our own country, about Arbenz in Guatemala, Sukarno in Indonesia? I wasn’t going to fall for their nice words.


“Every word of it was true.”


He looked surprised. “I never thought it wasn’t.”


Oh, so now you’re the offended one? Maybe next you’ll sound like Reagan talking of how the Sandinistas in Nicaragua pose an existential threat to the United States.


“Where did you learn that stuff about working collectively and leaving no one to be excluded?”


He wanted to know my sources. I knew what Fidel would have done, but I was Allende. I kept things close to the vest. I was one for the daily effort that built change over time; I wasn’t one for the melodramatic moment.


“I came up with them on my own.”


“Well, it was impressive. I was inspired.”


They were smooth all right. I couldn’t be too careful. The system wasn’t designed for somebody like me to win. It was meant for somebody like Ty Harrigan, who smiled so dependably that even I wondered if the world wasn’t so bad a place when I saw him walking down the hall. There were rumors that he had come in second only because some people wanted him to remain eighth-grade representative. Maybe they were true. All I knew was that the position wasn’t meant for me. Still, an election was different from a revolution. Let Fidel and Che ride into Havana gloriously after having ousted Batista. I didn’t need fanfare. The work was too serious for that.


Nobody cared what you believed when you were just a citizen walking around with your own thoughts. Nobody cared that you were seeing capitalism reproduced as popularity (though you hadn’t quite organized your thoughts around it yet). But combining those ideas with a position of power was a dangerous game, and required a great deal of sober thinking.


I tried to explain it to my cousin Ramin, who was a year younger and excited.


“It’s not going to be easy,” I said. “There’s going to be a lot of resistance.”


“This is great,” he said. “You know what happened after you won? Mrs. Newman tried to say my last name in class. She never bothered before. She tried to say it and she got it all wrong, but she looked like she thought it was her fault for getting it wrong, not like it was my fault for having it.”


“Well that’s good.” I didn’t want to dampen his spirit, but my eye was on bigger things than names.


“She’s going to be one of those who won’t like it,” I said grimly.


“Won’t like what?”


“What I have to say.”


“What do you have to say?”


I sighed heavily.


“Just because it was an election and not a revolution doesn’t mean the change doesn’t need to be revolutionary.”


He was impressed.


“Do you think so?”


“The problem is systemic,” I said. “How else can you try to solve it but with a solution that is also systemic?”


“I guess you’re right,” he said. “It was nice that Mrs. Newman couldn’t act like my name was my fault though.”


Some time I would tell him about Allende. I would tell him that a man like that could be replaced by a man like Pinochet. History didn’t always go forward. If we didn’t learn from that, it was at our own peril.


I was surprised walking home that our town looked the same even though I had been elected president. I watched a mail carrier across the street on Landsdowne and he was going about his job like it was just another day.


Look at you, I thought. You’re letting power go to your head. I told myself that for every arrogant thought I had, I had to do five pushups when I got home.


At home I went up to my room and did seventeen pushups. The last two were to have a couple in reserve for next time.


The big question now was how I was going to tell my father. He was the one who had told me about Allende, and everybody else.


When he came home and I told him I’d won, it came out like a confession. I knew he didn’t completely trust electoral politics.


“Congratulations,” he said, like a man who knew that now the hard part started.


It was nice to be grim about victory with somebody. The business-suit socialists always knew how to be grim about victory. I was learning that at least.


“You should be proud,” my father said.


“Thank you.”


“It is a great opportunity.”




“Remember that the people will follow a leader who does not seek to put himself above them.”




“The collective strength of the people when they are united is an unstoppable force.”




I wanted to bring Allende into the conversation directly.


“There will be those who will oppose this force,” I said.


“Of course,” he said. “There are always those who oppose it.”


We thought about those who always oppose it.


“Remember that the people will always recognize real courage when they see it,” my father said.


“Did Allende shoot himself at the end?”


“That is what they say.”


“Was that courage?”


“Under the circumstances, I believe it was.”


“Ramin said that Mrs. Newman had to pronounce his name correctly.”


“That is good.”


One of the aspects of being a business-suit socialist was being comfortable with incremental change. I remembered how happy Ramin had looked. I thought that I should tell him that the only reason I was being grim about victory was that I was thinking of other things down the road. I figured he probably knew, but I should make sure.


Nobody said much about it at dinner. I was glad that I was from a family that understood that being president was the hard part. Even if the teachers didn’t assemble against me the way that the CIA assembled against Allende, being president was still the hard part. I imagined that Ty Harrigan’s family would have had a big celebration for him if he had won. That was fine for them, I thought. If my presidency could achieve what I hoped it could, there’d be a time for celebration.


I went outside after dinner and played catch with Teddy Aveling down the street. It was nice to do something regular like I would’ve done before I became president.


“Can you do something about the food at the dances?” Teddy said.




“All they have is pretzels and M&M’s. I don’t care what else they have, just something.”


“What else do you want to change?” I said.


“I don’t know. It’s just school.”


“It doesn’t have to be just school.”


“What else could it be?”


“It could be everything.”


He threw me a high one.


“No,” he said. “It can’t.”


He said it like he’d made peace with the way school couldn’t be everything a while ago. Long enough ago that I felt scared to ask him why.


When I went inside, I asked my father, “How do you know when the people are ready for change?”


“That is the big question.”


I was glad to have reached the big question. But what if it didn’t matter about Allende and the CIA? What if I never even got there? I knew that the CIA had only gotten involved because Allende had achieved some real things and the people had liked it. If I never got there, there would be no need for the forces of imperialism to get involved.


Whatever it was, I knew I had to stay patient. The business-suit socialists understood that it was a matter of work. They were as regular and orderly about the potential for humanity as the capitalists were about the potential for money.


That night when I got into bed, all the excitement of victory finally hit me and I couldn’t sleep. You couldn’t be grim about it by yourself in the dark.


I lay in bed for a long time and then I went down to my father’s office and got a sheet of paper from a long yellow legal pad. I brought it back up to my room and drew a line down the middle of it. On one side of it I wrote: Hate, Materialism, Selfishness, Greed, War, Injustice. Then I thought some more and added a few other things. On the other side I wrote: Brotherhood, Equality, Peace, Nature, Community Justice, and Love. At the bottom of the page, I wrote: I have to take everything on this side (with an arrow) and transform it into everything on this side.


It was a pretty wild-eyed thing to do, for a business-suit socialist. But I figured even they could be wild-eyed at night. I imagined Allende and all those guys at night, when they didn’t have to be wearing business suits, I imagined them being as wild-eyed as they wanted then, being absolute dreamers at night. They knew how to take their dreaming at night and put it into steady and sober work in the morning. If nothing else, at least I was practicing how to do that.


In the morning I looked at the yellow sheet of paper with the two lists and I wondered if it was ridiculous. I decided that maybe it was, but that as a piece of writing, it had allowed me to fall asleep, and there was something to be said for that.

Siamak Vossoughi is a writer living in Seattle. He has had stories published in Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Bennington Review, Columbia Journal, West Branch, and Gulf Coast. His first collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and his second collection, A Sense of the Whole, received the 2019 Orison Fiction Prize.