“How Not to Break Your Mama’s Heart” by Rachel Sauls

When you grow up in rural West Tennessee knowing you’re gay and go off to college five hours east where you meet the perfect guy, don’t come out to your family members one by one. Go home on a long weekend and gather them up in the living room Sunday after lunch. Tell them all at once. That way if it goes badly, you can just go back to your own apartment in Chattanooga and pretend it didn’t happen.

If you don’t, you’ll meet your dad at Chili’s in Nashville one day after his business meeting, and he’ll trick you into telling him first.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” he says after you tell him. “I know that it’s just the way you are, and you can’t do anything about it. But not everyone feels that way.”

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“Death in a Man” – Kyndall Proffitt

I wonder what Daddy saw in that deer’s eyes
Before he put the bullet through its head.
And how Mother’s heart felt
When she looked at him and smiled
And congratulated him on his kill.
When she lies beside him at night,
Feels his skin and studies his face,
I wonder if she can see that deer’s eyes
Trapped inside of Daddy’s.
Or if she wants to run from his bed
When she feels it kicking through his skin,
Warning her to set herself free.

“Helium” by Vanessa Parks

At absolute zero, helium is the only liquid. Here,
it is frictionless, free of viscosity.
I watch grey clouds suck a balloon
into their midst. A toddler cries out for it and
collapses in the sand. Weighed down by
winter clothes, he rolls around, trying to get up.
I am suddenly reminded of Dante’s Satan,
crying and stuck in ice. At any given time,
15% of the world’s oceans are frozen.
As I kayaked around Alaskan glaciers,
I was amazed by the cold that ice emanates,
the kind of cold that works its way inside your
gloves and past the jingling door of
a ginghamed pizzeria. It’s cold the way
I didn’t call out for the balloon too.

“Spittle” by Case Duckworth

My body is attached to your body by a thin spittle of thought.
When you turn away from me, my thought is broken
and forms anew with something else. Ideas are drool.
Beauty has been slobbered over far too long. God
is a tidal wave of bodily fluid. Even the flea has some
vestigial wetness. We live in a world fleshy and dark,
and moist as a nostril. Is conciousness only a watery-eyed
romantic, crying softly into his shirt-sleeve? Is not reason
a square-jawed businessman with a briefcase full of memory?
I want to kiss the world to make it mine. I want to become
a Judas to reality, betray it with the wetness of emotion.
The coin that holds the two sides of experience will become
a mobius strip trailing snail slime to infinity.

“The Addict” by Gavin Cross

There’s a photograph, crumpling
under the glass top on my dresser,
of the snow angels we made
on the frozen lake. It was there
You told me you felt most at home
in the sky. among treetops.
The cool, light sugar of pine.
But no one photographed the day
You took a breath underwater.
The day you decided you needed
The salt in your lungs,
the biting, savory heat, to live.
So you spend your time divided
among the two. Wondering who’s
a fish and who’s a penguin.
I say it’s simple. If you love both
worlds, make your home in the sky.
But how could I know?
This is something you’ve learned.
Psychologists call it a conditioned
response. I call it muddy water.
No ice. I hate winter and so do you.
something we have in common.
Remember the lake is still frozen.
the only warmth the snow angels
holding back the water’s breath.

“Friday” – Megan Denton

Maybe giddy, with the excess of bookshelves,
or firewood, it is possible to unfold forever, forgotten.
But, first, I must adjust my fragile roots: from here,
I can see the cabin, where I would hold out
a fistful of grace for you, father, an opportunity
to test the backbone. I’m bringing you a sun,
with splinters in it, from the center of my
wide-eyed choir, of yellow crayons I’ve kept
for us. I’ve gathered nearly two fists full
of forgiveness, belated; not any comfort will do.
I am bringing you the only beautiful thing
in the yard between my cabin and yours,
and I carry it like a jewel, or my favorite
sea shell, all yours, if you keep me.
And because you’re sick,
because there’s a shadow on your love,
I want to bring you something picked
by my hand, a child’s drawing of the sun.
I would still be winter, had it not been for this.

“State of Confusion” – Monika Groppe

“Where are we going again?” the young boy
asked as his father began pulling out maps
for the family trip. “The grand ole State of
Confusion!” the father replied, flattening
the maps on the table. “I grew up there, in a tiny
brick house on the upper west side of the
state, shimmering Lake of Lost Reflections
in our back yard.  Never was there a dull
moment! People didn’t move like they do
here. as if they are giant chess pieces
moving directly from one square to
another. In the State of Confusion,
everyone holds their breath and swims
toward their destination, letting bubbles
tickle their face as they go. When they tire,
they turn over on their backs and float
until their energy is regained. At times,
you wouldn’t get to where you intended
for the current was strong, as if powered
by Fate.” “But dad, I thought you didn’t know
how to swim!” “I can’t, son. But in The State
of Confusion everybody does things they
don’t know how to do. Babies whale
with a suckling sense of justice, children’s
feet no longer touch the ground
when they reach their parent’s age,
grown up. Adults sit and talk for
hours and hours without doing a single
thing. It’s a miraculous place, really.”
“Why did you leave then, dad?” “Because,
son, I thought I knew better.”