A Crook Named Omaha
by Josh Compaleo
When the rain first started I headed home
I was stopped on the street by a crook named Omaha
Time had drawn trenches in his skin
Years of drinking exposed on his face like a poplar tree swelled with sap
He had hair so transparent,
that it reminded me of the white fern growing outside my bedroom window
In a low voice he asked
“what’s the difference between the person I am and the one you want to be?”
While I stood and thought he chimed that people have too much salt in them to freeze
I asked if that’s why he slept outside
He said that the weather was about to change across the earth
And only the rich would stay dry
He showed me the washboard ripples across his arms
He called it bits of gold that helped ferment the pain
His eyes shifted and he whispered
“Do the things when you have the time, that come to mind when you’re too busy
and you’ll start to see the stars come out in the sky at noon
reliability is better than quickness but the gear teeth are quick to strip away”
I took Omaha in for a few days
He taught me that everyone has one good story in them
And his was like an empty row boat floating in a flooded mansion,
Taking in too much water to make much use of
That’s where the word lyric came from
And I’ve been living slower since I’ve learned
That I won’t appreciate standing still until I run,
cream until I’ve tasted sour milk,
or a beautiful song until I’ve heard old Omaha beat my piano black and blue
Living in the Present
by Tyler Wissman
Each surface holds soft waking
in that same vacuous rhythm
you hear when a long morning
resists to pass but achingly
persists to drain, seconds
perspiring like organ waves
in a sealed chapel
after a terminal chord halts
its sustained breath, the space
still singing the hymn.
Its flex and form shelves
and thumbs for questions
alongside its own voice
the way your grandmother
wades the carpeted steps
to the basement, acquainting
old hallways like
unfamiliar bodies of water,
so you long for time to be
measured like this,
in the slender titanic tango
that the brief volume of
your shared mugs of tea
has left on even her calm smile,
unable to be withdrawn,
a rippling veil fixed,
and ready to be reached.
by Hope Ruhenkamp
Rotting planks to hold back spew.
Milky lips split
By smoker’s coughing fits
Creating white foam drool.
The polluted banks
Once an hourglass shape
Crusty with toxic green skin.
She was a force, once,
What is ailing her, too?
It’s just Water but Better
by Emily Ward
“It’s just water but better.” They said as they put the glass down in front of her.
It is filled with a clear liquid.
It looks like water but it is decidedly not so.
She knows this.
She cannot help but to try and fool herself.
Maybe if she believes hard enough it will be.
She observes those around her,
She ponders drinking the not water in front of her.
She wishes, desperately she wishes, for it to be water.
She hopes for some divine miracle that will change her drink.
Miracles are not for people like her.
Her drink remains the same.
They drink for the fun of it,
They drink for teenage rebellion.
How she longs to be as carefree as them,
But she can never be free.
Not like they are.
She was carefree once.
Their eyes dances with mirth,
And their laughter fills the air like a joyous hymn.
She had been like them once,
Now she cannot remember a time when she did not meet world with suspicion.
Their world views are not tainted,
Unlike her own.
Or maybe they are and they pretend otherwise.
She wishes she has acting skills like they did.
She stares down at the not water,
It mocks her.
“Join them,” It whispers coaxingly.
Abandon the paranoid.
Let go of the constant suspicion.
Live a little.
“Become normal.” The whisper becomes sinister.
“Become normal?” She whispers back fearfully.
She stares at the drink in confusion.
She can never be normal.
Not like they are.
They spot her hands lingering on the glass, subtly never bringing it to her lips.
Her hands sit on the glass like ghosts lingering over the graves like fog on a rainy day.
They smile slyly like the big cats on a savannah having just spotted their prey.
The pressure her into taking a sip.
She obliges not because of their jabs,
But because she wants to experience the feeling of liveliness that they radiate.
She wishes to feel their brand of carelessness.
She craves their sense of normalcy.
However, when she takes that first sip,
All she feels is pain.
The not water washes against her throat like a river breaking a dam.
It burns and numbs her throat all at once.
They say it’s normal,
She smiles a hollow smile.
The artificial taste of cherries her coats her taste buds like a never-ending fire.
She hates it.
It brings to the surface the pain of the past
She’s reminded why she only drinks water
She’s reminded why she doesn’t drink
All she feels is regret
But still she smiles
She puts on the show
Is this normal?
She feels the pain of the past grow stronger with each passing minute.
The warmth spreads all throughout her body,
She hates this feeling.
They relish in it.
This is why she can’t be like them.
The not water reminds her of the past.
She feels his pain.
She sees his tears.
She wants to end his suffering.
But she can do nothing but smile.
She can just sit and listen to his sorrows.
That’s what she’d good at.
That’s all she can do.
They ask her if wants another glass filled not with water
“It’s just water but better.” She whispers as she downs the cherry flavored liquid.
It burns her throat and she instantly regrets it.
All she feels is regret.
She is not them,
She cannot find solace in the merriments of drinking
This is why she drinks water.
This is why she only drinks water.
She grabs a glass of water.
They look nearly identical,
Water and Not Water.
One reminds her of the past,
Of the mistakes, she’s made.
She knows how to tell the difference between the two.
One keeps her grounded in the present,
The other chains her to the past.
A past not entirely her own.
The water ghosts over of the warmth spreading coolly over her body.
It numbs the pain not wholly her own.
This is a pain she resolves to vanquish.
The warmth returns.
She sees the face of those who’s pain she carries with her.
She drinks the water again.
She tries to forget.
She can never forget.
The water washes over her trickling slowly down her throat like the tears of a lost child.
She looks at the people of the room once again,
The water having given her a new sense of clarity.
They do not know her pain.
They can never know her pain.
She wishes to keep it that way.
She resolves that she will never be like them.
She is sobered by this thought,
And by the water.
She can never be like them.
She doesn’t need to.
She holds this pain within her as they drink around her.
She is calmed by her water sloshing about the glass in her hands.
It anchors her the present.
She does not like to dwell upon the past.
Upon the pain.
Ignorance is bliss they say
But she is not ignorant
She is numbed.
There is a difference.
She is tired.
She is human.
She drinks the water again.
She is in pain,
But this pain is her resolve.
She knows she can change it.
She gets up to depart from the merriment.
She cannot be like them
But she is finally ok with that.
They ask her if she wants any more not water.
They don’t want her to leave
She doesn’t want to leave,
But she must.
She does not belong here,
And she is fine with that.
She has work to do.
The pain lingers on the back of her throat like a lingering kiss of death.
She is humbled by this.
She is not them and they are not her.
She drinks her water and smiles.
“I am me.” She says with a smile, “I am normal.”
This smile is not forced like so many before it.
She takes another sip of water,
And departs from the merriment,
Water in hand,
Anchoring her resolve.
She embraces the pain
It drives her to be better.
This is why she drinks water:
It grounds her,
Keeps her in the present,
And reminds her that the pain isn’t the end.
This is why she drinks water.
The universal solvent.