A Found Poem in Tanka Form*

This selection is paired with “The Books of Blood” by Clive Barker. Get NonBinary Review #20 from Zoetic Press.

the dead have highways
an endless traffic of souls
across the wasteland
seducing out of silence
a shiver of lunacy

a promise of blood
the wandering dead glimpsed through
that wound in the world
cracks made by acts of cruelty
this orgy of destruction

deaf to the babble
creatures whose appetites were
acid tears boiling on cheeks
scent lingered in sinuses

awash with spilt blood
her cries did not diminish
as the dark ate her
murdered men between her teeth
their eyes spoke their agonies  

*A found poem – all lines are Clive Barker’s own, just rearranged into tanka form

Tracy Davidson’s work has appeared in Poet’s Market, Mslexia, Atlas Poetica, Modern Haiku, The Binnacle, A Hundred Gourds, Shooter, Journey to Crone, The Great Gatsby Anthology, WAR and In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights.

The Chewing of My Flesh

This selection is paired with Canto XXXIV of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

My feet were bloodied, hands mashed and freshly scarred, face white and streaked with purple tears, because my very eyelids were bruised from the treacherous trek down the dizzy mine shafts to the center of Hell. I could still see though. That’s one thing they made sure of. And let me tell you, just because His mouths were wide open maws with no one wriggling inside them, they were no less scary. This is the Prince of Darkness. His lair and presence as you would expect: repugnant and bleak and void of hope.

He’s a monologue reciting villain now, when I look at Him, when I have the rare opportunity to look at Him. He looks like a sphinx locked inside His personal tower of babble, and His shape is mighty and beautiful, and maybe I will never fear again, all the fright sucked out of me like the juice off a lollipop. Where once I looked at Him and cowered, now His muscles aching from the constant repetitive motion of gnawing are a lullaby to me, a love song of all the ways in which He delights in the flavor and crunch and roll inside His mouth of my naked and leaking body, limp with the ecstasy of pain.

A few thousand years ago we met, of course He’d been waiting for me, and He drooled at the sight of my flesh before Him on the ice rock floor. I shivered and pissed myself. At first I thought what cruel prank am I the victim of now? Someone thinks it’s funny to bring the two of us, such opposite creatures, together for all eternity? That’s why first impressions are so precious. You can’t get them back. For me He was the pinnacle of horror, and to Him I was the lowest form of human that would ever be born in all the futures and pasts. It only proves that we should never judge each other by the outer, because we are stuck together now, both of us privileged to a part inside the other no one else has ever been witness to.

Of course I romanticize it now, what else was the point but for us to fall mercy to each other’s charm, to learn to push past the nausea and the trembling and the awkward getting to know each other stage. Has He learned my deeper dreams by now? Could He recite by heart a list of my favorite flowers? I know Him as a maniac and brute with sensitive gums. I know Him as a power that could shred the Earth to confetti. But He’s also encased in that ice prison. I didn’t know that on the first day, so of course when I first saw Him, I fell to the floor bawling and waiting for Him to snatch me up and murder me. He’s locked here too though, it’s not like He could reach down and scoop me up and nibble at His whim. I remember watching His massive jaw open and close as if to a pulse of music, maybe wailing, but I could tell no heart lay inside that fire red charred skin over massive sharp and angry bones. His toothy lips smacking, claws click clacking on the icy ground, and the stench made me wretch. The fur was moldy and matted and maggots crawled through the holes in His skin and hair, comfortable, unperturbed.

I was to strip naked. That’s what the guide told me. So much tastier without a wrapper of cloth I suppose. I was to climb into the clawed paw, but my legs buckled. I must have cried out but I don’t remember what I could have said. Probably begging, since I had paid my penance. I had tossed back that blood money. In my grief I had wanted to repent and join my Lord in the eternal stretch of Heaven’s light, and yet, upon a planned and welcome death, only the ogre ferryman to pity me and mock me and swim me across the river of death into the dark and dense Hell that is actual Hell. Wouldn’t you know through the whispers I’ve heard, that many years later repenting can keep the sinner from this damned and disgusting place?

Where were the priests and pardons when I rocked the nerve of holy men and sent my God to a slow and martyr’s death? Ironic I suppose. What church would bless my name and make me a saint? Every other bumbling and glory/obedient blind apostle has their day. I do pray. That the name I bore in life holds no more weight than a cheesecloth water jug. Of course the damned speak it, pass through the walls of the Cocytus named after me. Long before I was even born they wondered at the way God’s biggest traitor may look hanging from the mouth of Satan.

I was only fulfilling my destiny so why should I be punished? Free will is the joke of the living soul. The lie men tell themselves to erase their guilt. And then looking on me they pass by through death and scoff, as if they know better.

Well, do they love watching me enjoy the mastication? Did they expect a screaming and unrecognizable terror? Do they linger their gaze upon my bloody ass cheeks? Do they marvel at the paleness of my blood starved limbs? I wish I could look past these razor lined lips and spit in their eyes as they glimpse at my torturing. I have resented every other figure/creature/angel I’ve ever seen since death, except maybe my beloved gnawer.

My guides when I first arrived were pleasant enough. Stony faced and red robed and pushing me through the torturous torments of each layered concentric tomb, and I wept thinking where we stopped next would be my forever resting place. Even when I felt that pang in my spirit to turn around and run, my escorts would only shake their horny heads and look at my cowering soul with their expressionless faces and point onward. My body moved on, even as I struggled to stop. Past the lovesick and the jousters and through the walls of the wicked city. Past the flames and the boiling arrows and the haunted woods. I crept with my keepers past the whips and empty eyes and eviscerations and starvation and I thought oh, thank the Lord, I am safe from all these punishments.

Ha! How naïve and blessed I was then, with blisters and boogers and an imagination.

It must have been years that I spent crying out in pain and agony, listening to the pop and sizzle of my ripped flesh. Feeling the burn of acidic saliva on my cheeks and in my ears. Wondering if it were His frothy tears a river down my thighs, or my own open wounds and seeping veins. My feet dangling from the mouth of the beast as he never ending chomped on me, but was never satiated. Eventually though, I stopped worrying about the pain, stopped caring about the sounds and smells and repetition of my punishments within the mouth of the most awful creature of Earth and Heavens. What could I possibly worry if the worst no longer bothers me. Not even a little.

It’s complacency, I suppose, and what’s a bigger sin than never learning your lesson from the original sins you committed? That’s why we are all cursed to the outcome of Eve’s curious and hungry mouth. A mouth never as hungry as my new master, the feaster, the one who flays and devours me without ever swallowing.

Eventually there were more. Two more. One for each other mouth. And the landscapes around us in the freezing cave became tombs for those with evils inside them so much greater than the other lairs could provide chastisement for, but no offense was ever as great as mine. And as time passed above, it felt too slow here below, and I began to hate the places I had come from more than I ever did as a mortal basking in the sun and betraying those I loved. All I love now is the subtle difference in each pull of sharp dirty nail in my skin, each crunch of my skull and taste of him inside my mouth mixed with blood and disappointment.

Some small part of me maybe thought Hell would be a lot sexier. But the only lustful things I hear are the whimpers and hearsays echoing off the walls of our chambers. My ears remain un-punctured, always listening. And there. Footsteps on the stone. That smell of human. Minty and rusty and the chewing of my flesh slows and that’s almost agonizing again.

Maybe they think I can’t see them, with their stupid little poet hands. But everyone knows they’re here, the rumor persists even through the frozen solid wraiths that line this wretched cave. They’re bumbling shadows, keeping their distance, and philosophizing. What have they come to know about the world having witnessed the pathetic dead? And look at them just staring in contempt at me, my blood and strips of muscle bare to them, my feet dangling down to almost ice, but waiting, hanging, and the drip off my toes into a puddle of blood. Oh, I’d sell them for a sack of silver, no question, no worry, even though it buys me nothing here.

“What are you looking at?” I shout at them. But they are weak and mortal and whisper among themselves at the greatest sinner of all times and all their sneering as if they are better than me and could have loved their precious Son so much better than I ever did. With my own hands, with my own eyes.

They have a mission and a lesson and a bottle of ink.


But they are already gone from here. Already spiraling through the reverse gravity of leaving the center of Earth and back up towards the sky and the birds and the green. I think that I miss the color green most of all. Grass and wings and grape leaves and mold and once I saw a shooting star and it zipped green through the stars towards the horizon on a journey I wished I could be a part of. Anywhere but here. Of course that’s how a living man would feel, a poet, a pompous righteous gothic wordy freak. But full of reverence, I’m sure. Not one ounce of doubt.

Please. Let them wait here another thousand years and see where their minds wander.

Who wouldn’t have as I’d done? A bag of silver, a little tip off. I broke no promises. I was no one’s best friend or blood brother or all-knowing keeper. Stupid to think that I deserve this as worst person ever to live of all the stupid and feeble and haughty believers. Each one a betrayer to something. Someone. How is it all not endless backs turned on God? And you know, I’m as much His punishment as He is mine. Always hungry and never full. My lover now in that infinite embrace and neither of us ever satisfied. I think I’d miss Him were He to suddenly drop me to the ground. And doesn’t His diet change from year to year? But never when it comes to me. Where are Cassius and Brutus now? Not here. Not bouncing by their ankles in the lusty roiling mouth of the One True Foulest of us all. No, their sins were overcome by others who had committed much worse crimes of betrayal and spite. They got to fall from the jaws and lie in the floor of the ice, immovable and cold but free from the incessant chewing. Do they long to be back in the hot and acidic space I call home?

Who’s the beggar to my left? Arnold, a coward, and talks too much. And now on my right a woman who only screams her propaganda, the orphan Toguri, she never rests her breathing. When I was first sent here they weren’t hardly letting women past the seventh circle, nor children. They swim now. Fat hips and tiny little feet, all blocked up in the cages of frost and folly and they must have a different, sweeter taste.

Gently I push against my master’s tongue, turn my face the other way and look down His throat. It’s the deepest absence of light that exists anywhere, and I’m the only one allowed to see it. My nostrils burn and reek from the air that passes through His teeth and gullet. My hair is wet and matted with saliva and blood. His index finger pricks too deep, for a second catches on my hip bone and I’m thrust just a little bit farther into His mouth and for one glorious second, it feels like three hundred years, I think that He might finally swallow me. Whole and rotten and writhing and His.

Instead He gags a little, the muscles of His cheeks push me back, I feel the sand grit of His lips on my thighs, the bubble of His stomach clangs in my ear drums. This is where I belong. I relax. And imagine that this is someone else’s Heaven.

Liz Hart is a full time queer, mother, wife and hobby farmer. Published in Open Eye Review, Line Zero, and creator of one chapbook entitled Sacred Names from Fir Tree Press.

The Arno – Florence

This selection is paired with Canto XV of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

in memoriam, C. Waller Barrett, bibliophile 1901-1991

I followed him, and little had we gone,
Before the sound of water was so near us,
That speaking we should hardly have been heard.
Even as that stream which holdeth its own course…
Dante Alighieri

A grey heron waits to strike on the edge
of the Arno. Swollen from big rains yesterday,

the river paints the same sienna as shuttered
facades overlooking its flow—temperamental,

it can shift from almost dry to a torrent in just
a few days. On a path between trees I walk by

the water, reflecting on what this stretch has
passed through: the Etruscan fall, Caesar’s army

camp, merchants of Medici rule, the Germans
blowing up all the bridges save the Ponte

Vecchio, to slow the allied forces down…

long poles of fishermen
and sun bathers on the banks.

My grandparents lived in Florence, 1966; Waller
wanted to perfect his Italian, to read The Divine

Comedy absorbed in the origin of its native tongue,
as if to hike up Monte Falterona to this river’s

source. A retired shipping executive’s indulgence?
—even so, his regret I feel as they fled the mud of

the flood’s aftermath, his aspiration taken by la
grande alluvione, that left over a hundred dead,

that damaged and destroyed millions of masterpieces,
some still not restored. My friend born here once

described the city divided by the deluge, his girlfriend
from the Oltrarno trapped on the other side. “I think

only: she is drowned!” Decades gone, but nightmares
still immerse him . . .

I did not die, and yet I lost life’s breath.

The regalia of white roses enchant me in this park
beside Santa Rosa Bistrot where I sip coffee and

study an Italian phrase book as a child would,
reading her first primer, “il fiume è lungo”—the Arno

out of sight now, the heron’s hunger fed perhaps so
flown, impervious to history, existing outside any

ancient walls. Like the river, it holds its own course.

for Ravenna, Deeda, and Tom Osgood
“The Arno—Florence” epigraph and line in italics from the Divine Comedy (tr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Ciardi, respectively)

Virginia Barrett’s books of poetry include Between Looking, Crossing Haight, and I Just Wear My Wings. Barrett is the editor of two anthologies of contemporary San Francisco poets including OCCUPY SF—poems from the movement.

Disaster Insurance or Suicide

This selection is paired with Canto XIII of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

If your tree is really a person
stuck in bark, lamenting
the lot, gazing over your little
house for one hundred years—if
your tree did something terrible
once upon a time, fell off
a roof, undid his pants in public,
misused the word no—God
knows what justice is, to be
trapped in one’s own body,
encased in wood—But I’m saying
if your tree is really a person
watch the way you cut
it down. What do you want
out of this? A new fence,
a place to bury the dog—let
that tree fall, dried out
like a corpse through your window,
burst the pipes, the wires, then
build a boat from the wreckage,
escape the flood as if foretold, tell
everyone you always knew the will—
how impartial it is
to wait, and then
to escape.

Sara Moore Wagner is the author of Hooked Through. Her poetry has appeared in Glass, Gulf Stream, Gigantic Sequins, Stirring, Reservoir, and Arsenic Lobster. She was a finalist for the Edna St Vincent Millay Prize.

That Day We Read No More

This selection is paired with Canto V of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

A vengeful sheering Great Lakes wind,
uprooting trees, flinging roof shingles—
split stumps and flayed branches. A whole dangle
of modifiers. Infinitives finding
syntax amid the wreckage. I can almost
make out the spoken scrawl, part malignant rant,
and part avowal, part warning and part advance
directive. Yet what I hear most is boast

when winds subside: Love led me to betray,
and the agony that betrayal once begot
afflicts me now, like you, who’ll stay
to hear my tale. You, like me, who sought
to authorize illicit love—you’re doomed
like some obsessive-compulsive, forever caught

in the act of betrayal. Forever damned.
Give me details, I demand, hoping
our stories do not match. There’s no stopping,
she says—Francesca, mother, who charmed
Paolo with her quizzing glance. I asked
my would-be lover to admit out loud
with certain sighs he wanted me. He held
his breath long as he could. And then, unmasked,

indifference and restraint abandoned, distance
obliterated—we agreed to read
together the tale of Lancelot’s romance
with his King’s wife Guinevere, and the bed
in which they found delight. That pleasure is
now pain—in inverse proportion to the deed.

Leonard Kress has published in Missouri Review, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, etc. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Thirteens, and Walk Like Bo Diddley.

I Can Do Nothing For the Woman In the Air-Conditioned Room

This selection is paired with Canto III of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

Alighieri ma non troppo

So I twirl through revolving glass into the swelter of August, indoor chill burned off my skin before I reach the parking garage. The gate bar lifts, releasing me from the place where tiny whirlwinds of fear puff out from the mouths of the self-concerned. She can’t understand how she got here; it wasn’t fair, she looked out for herself—what else to be done?—and now trials of needles and scalpels, the bondage of bandage, a roommate who constantly coughs and gets the better bed.

Road work traffic—rows of glinting, asphalt fuming. My coffee in the cup holder has wept out all its ice. A wasp bumps the windshield, tormenting itself and me. (How did it get in?) Nervous Celtic flutes—news till you puke—god flag trucks—dance and sex and dance—and when I see the sign that points one way—the Oldies station snaps me back to high school:

The summer of Mom’s shabby temp rental, a tree of rotting plums, me in a room with an air mattress and gooseneck lamp reading Seventeen and all of The Lord of the Rings. My rubber flip-flops slap concrete as I walk to the drugstore in short-shorts to buy cheap eye make-up, chocolate chip cones. Just walk away, Renee, you won’t see me follow you back home.

The wasp staggers. I trap in it a napkin, guide the vibration out the window—it flies! A straight shot of lightning lands in the middle of the highway. One Mississippi, two Mississippi—rain! Wipers jump to clear. You’re not to blame…

Have I become Renee? I take the next exit. A field of tall corn—fat ears, brown tassels. In this downpour, the irrigation system pulses water in wide circles.

Sara Backer has published two chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt and Bicycle Lotus. Her writing has been honored with residency fellowships from the Norton Island and Djerassi programs.


This selection is paired with Canto I of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

As I ran from the shadows of the other beasts, the third of their cohort came before me. A she-wolf, lean and burdened with the cravings of every unfortunate soul who’d traveled this path. Her snarl and her bared teeth inspired a fear so great that I forsook my mountain destination for the darkness nearby, hoping to hide from the gaze of the lupine huntress.

As I ran into the dark and lost my way in the wilderness, I saw a form not much unlike my own, and called out, “Good man, please aid me.”

“I was once a man,” my rescuer began. As he recounted his history and his deeds, he became recognizable to me, the cadence of his speech reflecting his celebrated prose. When he explained he’d lived in Rome under Augustus and reached “I was a poet,” he erased all doubt about who was speaking.

“You are the great Virgil,” I stated. “Who chronicled the flight from fallen Troy and fair Dido’s tragedy in the bosom of Carthage.”

The poet, or the faint shade that still held his form, nodded his acknowledgement. “I am who you say. It is my task now to convey you forward.”

“Then you will help me face that beast, so that I may return whence I came?”

“I am here to take you on a journey to another realm. For the beast you encountered allows no man along her path, but drove you here with purpose. Come.”

As we entered on the steep and savage path, the poet spoke of our surroundings. Though we passed a sign urging any who entered to abandon all hope, my curiosity bested my despair. Even the arrival of Charon and his eyes of ember seemed a singular thrill in its novelty.

“No good soul ever takes its passage here,” great Virgil warned as we took our river journey, yet I remained focused on our surroundings until the moment we plunged into darkness, falling like men with seizing sleep. When I stood erect on the brink of an abyss, the poet bade me follow him into the blind world.

Virgil’s lack of fear stayed my own, and we entered the first circle. The air filled with sighs from sorrow without torments, and the crowds held many multitudes of infants, women, and men.

When I queried as to the reason for their fate, Virgil explained that they had come in the time before. “They did not sin; and yet, though they have merits, that’s not enough, because they lacked baptism.” He continued as I examined this realm of limbo, incredulous. “For these defects, and for no other evil, we now are lost and punished just with this: we have no hope and yet we live in longing.”

“By ‘we,’ you suggest you count yourself among those punished thus?” I asked, and the Roman’s shade confirmed. Armed with that knowledge, I looked more closely at the crowds, and found I was no stranger to many of the figures moving all about us.

“Is that blinded man not Homer, the supreme storyteller of his age? Do I not see the bearded figure of Alexandria’s Euclid? And that greatest of inventors, Archimedes, who fell in Syracuse in Rome’s conquest of your dear Phoenicians?” Around them I found the finest minds of antiquity. Horace and Cicero and Plato. Men without whose ideas my modernity would be all the poorer, doubtless still mired in the darkest of ages.

“Please, we must continue,” Virgil implored. “We have many circles yet to view, and only I may lead you there in safety.”

I remained where I stood, glancing at the shades of Moses, Noah, Ruth, and the others left unharrowed, with no mercy granted even for the virtue of their own bloodlines.

“Then it was no action of yours that condemned you to this realm?” I asked my master. “Save the absence of a choice you could not have known to make?”

“Yes, but we have far more to see. We will view the true torments of the unjust, and you will see how minor is our punishment.”

“For what reason would I want to see this?” I queried. “For the beast that drove me here was fearful enough.”

“When we have finished, I promise you will journey to the realms of paradise, the finest fruit borne of mankind’s goodness.”

“Then this is not paradise? How comes that to pass?”

Virgil began to explain the promise of those realms to come, and their own congregations of great men and women wrapped in freedom from all suffering. When I remained obstinate, Virgil spoke of fair Beatrice, wrongly supposing I found him an inferior guide or wished to part his company.

“What could more be paradise than a realm full of our species’ brightest lights?” I implored. “Why would a simple soul like mine scoff at the chance to roam free among them? To converse with them as I have you, and glean all the knowledge they have to impart.”

The great poet struggled to answer. “I was sent to save you from that great beast, and to show you these realms rarely seen by man. For I can no longer pass this knowledge to the living, and it is to you this task must fall.”

“No, for the beast that drove me here must have meant that I find you, no less than Juno brought your Aeneas to his mission. For it was not the lion nor the spotted beast that pursued me, but their lupine compatriot.

“Was it not a she-wolf that birthed the founders of your great city? Who suckled the brothers ere their eventual quarrel? Why would she decide my way if not for me to find one of Rome’s leading lights?”

Virgil continued to protest, but soon conceded to my argument. It was now he who followed me, as I moved among the crowd and began to seek the wisdom of those who formed it. Before long, I’d joined a dialog between Herodotus and Livy about the virtues of Rome, and found my intellectual curiosity sated as never before.

My abandoned hope returning as I contemplated the sheer numbers of great figures sharing their fate in this ambiguous circle, I turned to the poet and voiced my chosen lot. “Yes, I have decided it is here I will abide.”

Jeff Fleischer is the author of Votes of Confidence: A Young Person’s Guide to American Elections, Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries, and The Latest Craze: A Short History of Mass Hysterias.

Catching Inferno

This selection serves as an intro to Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

virtue signaling like a fire beneath a
lake of brimstone. have you ever seen
anything as reviled as the canopy of
trepidation that stretched up over her
liquid lap? languid as a cat in heat and
no less trumped up than a concubine,
it would laugh were there not such a
melancholia permeating the place. the
stink of the wretched. it’s as catching as
moth’s vein when you blink and the levers
peel back as if you never missed anything
at all.

touch me there. do you feel it? the quiver
quick as heat and no less as lovely? we met
where the rowan kissed the never-will and
then we met no more. I think of that at times
sometimes when you’re nearby and there’s
nothing left to think of but catastrophe. if
there was another mention she’d sick herself
but then again she never does. whisper and a
wrinkle and it all comes rushing back. touch
me down and wear again your white-capped
lover’s best.

two years on and still cutting teeth; still—
trying to bite to the edge to fill the bellies
that never sleep. two more in the cradle and
one in the bush and there’s a dozen more that
lost their lives on a battlefield with no name.
blood comes rushing to the knees and the arch.
touch the concrete of the pavement and there
clutters down the bricks. two shades in the song
of a circle. it was fated to be so ill managed.

you never miss a thing. blood capillaries set
to kill. once manipulated and two times as shy
she trembles and the road meets shale. erasmus
had a lover but she was never so skilled, that old
harpy of the heartstrings that never played luck so
well. he was captivating in the sack and you triple
wrung my heart, so have at it. pieces complex in
nature were never so divine as the first and won’t
outlast the second so we better buckle up.

do you hear me? do you hear me? do you hear
what I’m screaming when I tell you to turn it
down and tone it up and never speak to me again?
gnash your teeth to the fury and reckon with that
thing that eats your belly. Worm in system, a
digestive rigor mortis. Two more swallows and
we’ll be swallowed up by revenge. Blood spurt
eyes; a captivating loveliness. engorgement in
putrified remains, we bask. Nea hestia.

down with the leaders. make them bleed, then
tear it down again. false idols give way to true
give them someone to lead or they’ll find their
oblivion. cast back; too good to be true and a bit
less false, to believe him would be a frenzied flag
alibi spiked with rhetoric. tumble down the hill
till the catch stones break the mountain and make
it rumble. we’re copper cast on the line and a little
less weak. make me your believer.

strip it bloody and ride the burning sand to the
raw ache that leaves you awash in trembling.
she took the elevator to the third floor and never
came back, slipping into the darkness like she slid
into your skin; the nevermore. are you any less com-
plex without her heaving at your shoulder; whispering
anything to make you a little less shy. rip her down
and start anew. a fresh way tomorrow for a little less
due. tithing’s for the charity-less.

pander cross the gap, another stony divide. a
little more seduction and he’ll be yours. hell bent
like a flatter with a penchant for the grave. it was
boosted in lavender and the petal of a rose but you
didn’t know where the tide was looking when it
washed you away. crisp, quiet cuff of patrimony.
greys fleshed out in folds of falsifying alchemists.
trencher and a stale mate. one last pulse and we’ll
be through.

caina, caina; enemy they called her when they
couldn’t find other names to fit her crimes. bury
ice caps and find me in the trench where the loam
and the fence post meet to make it another hell.
he hurried when he heard me but it was too little
too late. she would have kept him wandering long
after dark if he hadn’t a hammer to the ice with a
breakneck speed. too little. too late.


calcified in hell fire, we were all burned up too late.

E.B. Johnson is an aspiring poet and author who hails from the American South. She is inspired by culture, history and all things weird, dark and wonderful.

Ghost in the Way

This selection is paired with Chapter 1 of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Get NonBinary Review #15 at Zoetic Press. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Shirley Jackson’s story of a child named Mary Katherine Blackwood, who, after poisoning her family, lives with her sister Constance in a large house, which she eventually sets on fire. Constance was originally blamed for the murders. She indulges Mary Katherine (Merricat) in all of her misbehavior and outlandish fantasies. The sisters lock themselves away from a world intolerant of murderesses until an insufferable cousin shows up, and that’s what leads to the fire.

Or is this the story? They live with an invalid uncle who flirts with senility, saying at one point, “My niece Mary Katherine has been a long time dead. . . . [She] died in an orphanage, of neglect, during her sister’s trial for murder.” And one may think of other Shirley Jackson characters: Jannie in Life among the Savages, the child who adopts a bewildering variety of names and moves among them comfortably, shifting the blame for her mischief to whichever one she is not currently inhabiting; the conceivably schizophrenic Natalie in Hangsaman; Elizabeth in The Bird’s Nest, as she wrestles with her multiple personalities.

So it’s possible that this isn’t the story of two young women living in an old house but of one young woman living in an old house. She was originally blamed for the murders because she committed them. She handles the pain of that by splitting off the uncontrollable, stream-battling, world-ruining part of herself and naming it after the little sister she killed.

Is cousin Charles a fantasy too then, the embodiment of an intruding past and an intruding world? Or is he real—his rough treatment of “Mary Katherine” a rough treatment of Constance simply transposed onto the imaginary sister and managed that way? The scene in which the strangers from the village come to see the fire and end up participating in it orgiastically suggests a certain flair for persecution fantasy, so Charles should be a finger exercise for her. But all too real in his petty acquisitiveness, Charles could just as well be the mote of reality that gets in the mind’s eye of the imaginative girl and triggers a conflagration.

Of course, none of this is the actual story. The actual story is that of a house, the huge, ramshackle house that everyone knows from childhood with the haunted-house legends attached to it. By the end of the book, though Mary Katherine and Constance seem not to have aged, the vines have grown up so that evidence of the fire is erased. There was no fire. There were no murders and no sisters. There is just a scary house that needs explaining. This isn’t on the surface a ghost story, but all stories are ghost stories in a way, all fictional characters ghosts of a kind. That’s the sense in which they have always lived in that castle, out of time or in the parallel stream of story.

How many of them are there in the castle,
That scattered family or just a girl
Living there with her personalities?
Or do such odd inhabitants exist
More in the minds of us, the villagers,
Who need these bogeymen, these bogey-girls
To fill the haunted houses of our towns?

Remember “Mary Katherine has been
A long time dead,” words dropped by one who flits
Around the edges of his own decline.
This tense—what does it mean to have been dead
Unless now dead no more; that is, a ghost?
Ghost in the way that every story is.

Jack Granath is a librarian in Kansas. 

Shelley’s Arm

This selection is paired with Chapter 1 of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Get NonBinary Review #15 at Zoetic Press. 

It was a Tuesday, and I would have to go to town.

I was in abnormally high spirits about the prospect of going into the village that day. I put it off without thought. Bundled in my warm blanket, and with Jonas at my side, I slept away the morning in my hiding place in the woods, the frost beginning to melt and birds chirping and chattering away around me. I woke to find a spiderweb, glistening and silver, stretched across the entrance.

I knew that the web was a very strong protective omen, but I would have to knock it down if I were to get out. “I am very late to go into town, Jonas,” I said. Jonas blinked at me. I reached out to knock it away, but couldn’t bring myself to. “The magic will all be spent if I do it,” I told the cat. He flicked his tail, then stood, walking deliberately through the web.

I went inside and washed my face before starting on my way, as Constance had told me I must, and took the library books off their shelf, carrying them in a bundle at my side.

“Be very careful, my Merricat,” Constance said, her voice like a song. “And don’t take too long.”

“I won’t. I love you, Constance.”

“I love you too, Merricat.”

The library is the first space on the game board of the village. It lies just beyond the black rock and the gate that protects the Blackwood property from the encroaching rot and villainy of the villagers. I climbed the marble steps, went through the door, and lay the old books on the counter, then went about choosing three new ones. A mystery or criminal study for Uncle Julian, of course. Constance preferred romance, or cookbooks. I turned the corner behind a tall shelf, and stopped.

A woman stood before me, with long, auburn hair and a stylish emerald green frock. She was not one of the villagers. She was not ugly and grey and full of rot. She was beautiful, red and brown and green, like the forest. She looked at me, and smiled. I looked away, thinking perhaps she had mistaken me for someone else.

“Hello,” she said. “My name is Shelley. Shelley Banks.”

I nodded politely. “Are you new to the village?” I asked, already knowing the answer. I had never seen her before. It was a very small, very dull village.

Shelley took a book from the shelf, examined it for a moment, then put it back. “I live in the city, actually.”

I let out my breath in relief. Somehow I wanted very much not to hate her as I hated the villagers. Shelley Banks continued. “I’m coming on to teach school here, starting in a week.”

She smiled, and so I smiled back politely, but in my mind, I cursed the devilish brats who would, no doubt, be terrible and wicked to their lovely teacher. It was sad to think of her surrounded by their ugliness, a pretty jewel among the muck.

“I’m terribly indecisive about books,” she said. “Have you any recommendations?”

“Oh,” I said, surprised that she continued to converse with me even in my stunned silence. I looked around. We stood in the “B’s”, and I spotted Wuthering Heights within reaching distance. I plucked it off the shelf and handed it to her.

“I’m very fond of Catherine,” I said. “The first Catherine, that is. There are two.”

“Oh, how confusing,” Shelley Banks said. “Well if you say it is good, I have no doubt I’ll like it, too.” Her cheeks were round and rosy and her face was very pleasant. I felt very warm, as though I were at home in the kitchen and Constance was baking a pie.

I was suddenly aware of the passage of time, and I quickly picked a third book at random from behind me, in the “H” section. “I must be off,” I said, “But it was very nice to meet you.” I was surprised that I actually meant it.

“You never told me your name,” said Shelley Banks, as I turned to hurry off.

I thought very quickly. If I told her that I was Mary Katherine Blackwood, no doubt she would hear all about me from the townsfolk in no time, and I would lose her favor forever. I very much wanted to avoid this, although I did not quite know why. I paused for a moment before answering, “Mary.”

“Good to meet you, Mary,” Shelley Banks said, and smiled at me again, all pink and red and brown and green. My stomach felt something close to queasiness, but not as unpleasant. I hurried to check out my books.

When I left the library again, I felt as though I had left my shimmering house upon the moon and stepped into a squalid swamp. The grey village loomed before me, and I set off, walking deliberately, space by space. I was a metal game piece, and nothing could perturb me. Past the post office, with its windows hiding watchful eyes. The Rochester house, toward which I avoided looking. Across the highway – lose a turn, as there was traffic. I would not stop at Stella’s after buying our groceries today. I had been far too long already.

Finally, the black rock and the gate. End. The wretched game board would remain unplayed again until Friday’s grocery run.

On Wednesday, after I had checked the fences, and mended a few wires which had rusted or become bent out of shape, I got to thinking about the library. Normally I would not go back until the next Tuesday, but something told me the schoolmistress would be there again. I had to come up with a device which would make her warm to me, stop her from being infected by the townspeople and their hatred.

“What would you suggest, Jonas?” Jonas leapt after a grasshopper, catching it in his mouth, then turned and blinked slowly.

“I suppose a book would do nicely,” I said. “She is a teacher, after all.”

I went back to the house, leaving a wild flower near Uncle Julian’s chair by the window and greeting Constance warmly.

“We are having vegetable soup for lunch today,” Constance said, her face flushed from stirring the pot.

I felt a little badly for Constance, keeping something from her as important as my acquaintance with the schoolteacher. I resolved to help her more in the kitchen. I wondered if Constance would get along with Shelley Banks, or whether she would be too frightened to allow her over for tea, even if she wasn’t from the village. I decided that I wouldn’t ask Constance about it until I was sure my new safeguard would work.

After lunch, I took a little leather-bound notebook out of a drawer in my room. I hadn’t used it in quite some time, but when I had, it was used to mark down the names of the villagers who had treated me the worst. Nearly every villager known to me had long since been added to the list. I carefully tore out the pages in the front where the names were written, and set the book on the windowsill. It would be best if the book could sit in the moonlight for three nights; since it was Wednesday and I was going back to the library on Friday, two nights would have to do. It helped that one of the nights was Thursday. Thursdays were my most powerful day, and therefore my most powerful night.

I took the loose pages outside and buried them. The villagers would surely face consequences sooner this way, anyhow, I thought.

Friday came, and although I was nervous about speaking to Shelley Banks again, my thoughts were filled with magic and shining things. We had not yet finished reading the books I had checked out on Tuesday, and so I brought only the notebook with me. The grey-haired librarian looked at me coldly as I passed her desk without returning any books, but I ignored her, as I always did.

Shelley Banks was standing, still in literature, but this time among the “M’s”. She flipped through a volume of Anne Shirley tales, looking amused. I cleared my throat softly, and she looked up, smiling again. The brightest smile, which made her face round and her cheeks sparkle, and my knees ache.

“Mary!” she exclaimed. I was pleased. She did not appear brimming with questions and suspicions just yet. I approached her, holding out the notebook. “What’s this?” she asked.

“I would like you to have it,” I responded, not sure what the protocol was for giving gifts to near-strangers. “It’s for writing in,” I clarified weakly, my head suddenly spinning.

“Oh, lovely,” said Shelley Banks. “What should I write in it?” she asked, turning it over in her hands. “What would you write, Mary?”

“I would write about my life on the moon, and about riding on my winged horse,” I said, not really thinking. She blinked her deep brown eyes at me, and I continued, “And I would write down all the stories my cat, Jonas, tells me.”

Shelley Banks giggled, and for a moment my stomach dropped and her dress lost a bit of color, but then she took my hand and said, “That is truly wonderful, Mary.” My face grew hot as she said, “I will try to write something half as good as that.”

I left the library feeling lighter than air. I am living on the moon, I thought. I am bouncing along the spaces of this imaginary game board of a town. Nothing can get to me when I am so high up.

Constance was ready with a savory egg tart when I got home, and I ate each bite with a twinge of guilt. I had thought of her so little these past few days, my thoughts wholly consumed by the strange—what was it? friendship?—I had struck up with the schoolmistress. Worse, I didn’t feel I could tell Constance about it, not yet. Anyway, I worried I might frighten her if I brought it up too soon. Now was the time to wait.

Constance had begun to suspect something, I gathered, because that night she asked me, “Merricat, did something happen in the village today?”

I was chilled. “No, dear Constance, why would you think so?” I asked, keeping my voice steady.

“Never mind,” Constance said. “It was only a feeling.”

“Silly Constance,” I said.

“Silly Merricat,” said Constance.

*   *   *

Perhaps it was time to think of another safeguard.

I decided that it would be too strange, and too much of a change if Shelley Banks were to come over for tea. I didn’t think poor Constance would like it, and resolved that it was a reckless idea. I went to the cellar, where many generations of Blackwood women’s china sets were kept. I chose a rather ugly beige cup, one from a low shelf, that I was sure Constance would not miss, and I smashed it on the floor. I picked up the pieces carefully and wrapped them up in my dress. I hurried outside with them, and left them in a long trail along the driveway. Now I would not think again of asking Shelley to tea.

Tuesday came again, and in the morning I asked Constance to make a coffee cake. When we finished our breakfast, I broke off an extra piece and wrapped it in parchment paper. I tucked it in the middle of the three books from the previous week (the “H” book I had grabbed by mistake—The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall —I had devoured on Saturday, finding it strange and amusing) and made off toward town.

I am on my winged horse, I thought, I am collecting cinnamon and honey, and deep, dark, topaz, brown and sparkling, and I am bringing them to Shelley Banks in the library.

The grey-haired librarian did not look at me as I returned my books, and I was grateful. Her stare would not have perturbed me much, I imagined, not today. Shelley Banks was in the “W” section, looking at some book with a dull red cover. My heart raced as I approached her, but when she looked at me, everything stopped.

Her face was different, her smile tinged with pity. Her green dress and brown eyes and red hair began to blend together into a featureless grey.

“Hello, Mary,” she said. “May I ask you something?”

I was aware of the air around me, pressing up on my face and hands, pushing me down against the earth. Shelley Banks continued, “Is your name Mary Katherine Blackwood?”

There was a sudden ringing in my ears. I nodded. Though I wanted to cry and scream and run, I did not. I will not run away, I thought, I cannot run away.

“I only ask because, well—the children, they sing this song…” She looked embarrassed. She stopped. “I’m terribly sorry. Children say such awful things sometimes.”

I clung to the piece of coffee cake wrapped in parchment. I wished that I had put death inside of it.

“Mary, please don’t be cross with me,” said Shelley. “Only I’m just so curious.” Her eyes were dull and colorless and I wondered if she had ever had a soul in them at all. “Did she really do it?”

“You shall never be invited for tea,” I said coldly, and spun around, walking quickly (I must not run away) out the door.

I rushed past the post office and the Rochester house. I wanted to smash the coffee cake on the ground and stomp on it. I wanted to stomp on Shelley Banks’s feet, pull at her hair, watch her cry and scream on the ground. I hoped that when she wrote in the leather notebook her long, thin fingers would shrivel up into knots and her hand would fall off. I smiled, picturing her crying over her stump of an arm, no longer able to write on the chalkboard during lectures.

I did the shopping with a sort of dull roar in my ears. The rotten villagers and their watchful eyes and their little whispers followed me until I reached the black rock and the gate. I set down my shopping bag to undo the lock and dropped the package of coffee cake on the ground. I smashed it with my foot, thinking of Shelley’s long, white fingers beneath my mother’s brown shoe.

“Hello Merricat!” Constance sang. She had been waiting for me at the edge of the garden, and I felt the little knot inside my stomach loosen a bit. Constance, her yellow hair and blue eyes and lovely pink dress, her warm smile and musical voice, was the only color I needed in the world. Jonas ran up to me, rubbing his cheek against my ankle.

“Hello, Constance. The village is dreadful, and I’m so happy to be home.”

“Let’s go inside, Merricat,” Constance said with a little laugh.

I waited until Thursday, then dug up the pages which I had torn from the little leather book. I wiped as much dirt from the last page as I could, then wrote another name at the bottom. I would bury them in a different place, this time. I pictured Shelley Banks and her stump of an arm again, and smiled, scooping dirt over the paper with relish.

I heard Constance calling from the back of the house, and wiped my hands together in a futile attempt to rid myself of dirt. Constance would tell me to wash up before we could eat. I thought of Constance, and of Uncle Julian, and our beautiful, lovely house, and Jonas. I was silly to think of bringing someone else, an interloper, into our world. Now, I thought, I will never think of anyone more than I think of Constance; I shall never love anyone as much. We are so, so happy.

Meghan Elaine Bell is a northern California transplant and avid horror lover living in Portland, Oregon, with her girlfriend, Carly, and her cat, Midnight Monster. Her work can be found in the current issue of RFD Magazine