The City Your Father, the City Your Brother

This selection is paired with “Midnight Meat Train” by Clive Barker. Get NonBinary Review #20 from Zoetic Press.

How hard it was to share a father
with an entire city and compete
with all the neon, oil slicks, and crashes.

A painting in your dining room subway car
asked you every meal why Saturn ate his children
as you ate dinner in a throne alone at dawn.

A riddle whose answer meant you’d be ready
to leave the underground. An answer you hunted
with squat city aunts wielding femurs and snares.

Poor little rich kid, rich like blubber.

You were jealous of the skyline as any brother taller
and brighter than you.

You crawled up his manholes looking for comfort
when you skinned your velvet knees, got indifference.
All hopes of learning the answer from him faded,
even though he got outside somehow.
Back in the tunnels the half-city infants licked your blood
with tongues of glass—there are some down here
still lonelier than you.

But all you wanted was to be taken
seriously. All you wanted
was to be the wanted one.

Poor little rich kid, rich like marrow.

And the answer to that riddle reveals itself
in the halogen haze of a dining room,
a rarefied meal you share with your father.

The answer is: because they let him.

Amelia Gorman is a horror poet, programmer and baker. Her recent poetry can be found in Vastarien and Liminality Magazine and her upcoming fiction in Sharp & Sugar Tooth from Upper Rubber Boot Books. 


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.

Mr. Toad’s Funeral

This selection is paired with Chapter 12 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Get NonBinary Review #18 from Zoetic Press. 

The mole didn’t care for funerals. Death, as a whole, disturbed him. It was too arbitrary, to his thinking, and far too final. He stood on the manicured lawn, listening to the whispers of the willows along the riverbank, staring up at the red brick edifice, and denouncing funerals in general.

Long months had passed since he’d visited Toad Hall, and he cursed those as well, as if the intervening days were each a dark mark on his character. To come too late in the end, to return not for a friendly visit, dinner, and a long evening’s conversation by the fireplace. This seemed the worst of it.

He’d come back to say goodbye.

Voices tittered on the spring air, the sound of Toad’s grandchildren playing on the grounds. While he lingered before the threshold, a trio of plump amphibian boys bounded around the corner of the main house. They wore no play clothes today but had been stuffed instead into well pressed jackets and ties that already came loose and dangly. One child held a wooden toy in his padded fingers. He swooped the flying machine through the air, making motor noises with wide, rubbery lips.

How Toad would have loved that sound.

Mole sighed and, smiling for the children, approached the entrance where a finely suited rabbit held the wide door open.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Mole.” The rabbit tilted his head in greeting, his voice somber and as grim as his expression.

“I suppose it is,” Mole said. “Fine weather at least.”

“They’re collecting coats in the hall, sir. The widow is in the parlor and…” He cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably in place. “The viewing, sir, is in the study.”

Mole’s throat turned dry as fall grasses. He jerked a nod and managed to choke out his thanks before stepping past the butler and moving on as quickly as his short legs could trundle. “The viewing.” He repeated it under his breath. “I suppose that’s the thing to be done.”

He shuffled into the grandiose hallway where, beneath a chandelier the size of ratty’s old boat, a group of field mice took his coat and hat. Voices murmured from the nearby rooms, and the mole followed them, not toward the study just yet, but in the general direction of the parlor. He drifted with the press of animals waiting to see Toad’s widow, and he made himself as small and unnoticeable as possible.

Somewhere in the throng he heard Badger’s deep voice rumbling, and though he longed for days of sitting beside the larger animal listening to his friends and enjoying their company, the mole made no move in that direction. In fact, he made no move at all of his own accord, instead letting the tide of animals direct him around the room and avoiding any communication at all aside from a nod or a sad smile as he passed each one.

The result of which was his, quite sudden, arrival in the widow Toad’s presence. She sat on a pile of velvet cushions, dressed in a gauzy black gown and surrounded by rabbits and various small mice who patted her about the arms and offered a steady stream of sympathetic smiles.

“Ah, Moley.” The toad woman’s bulbous eyes blinked slowly, one slightly after the other. “Dear friend, come and sit with me.”

Her voice burbled like a marsh in the summer’s heat. She patted a cushion to her right with knobby fingers studded with both warts and diamonds. Mole fixed a solemn expression, a bent and doleful look that fully matched his heart. He eased to the widow’s side and climbed as gracefully as possible beside her on the over-padded seat.

“My,” His throat drew all the moisture from the air, clogging and forcing him to clear it sharply. “My deep condolences, Mrs. Toad. My heart is all but broken.”

“As is mine, dear Mole. Whatever shall we do without him?”

Mole lay one paw over the toad’s hand, and they shared a quiet moment amidst the bustle of mourners. A line had formed for the widow’s attention, but she leaned into Mole’s side and he had no desire to disturb her by moving. Instead, he let his eyes explore the parlor, taking in the new lamps that gave off just the right sort of warm yellow light, the framed diagram of a flying machine on the wall beside the bookshelf, and the haphazard pile of books on an end table.

That was the thing he loved most about Toad Hall. For all its grandeur and formality, it had a lived-in aura, a sense of constant activity and the weight of many memories clinging to it like cobwebs.

“I suppose he’s on a new sort of adventure.” The widow sighed and lifted her wide head from his shoulder. “He’d like that, I think. He was a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather, but I truly believe he missed the old days as much as he loved the new.”

“I’ve never seen Toad any happier than when he was here with his family,” Mole said. “Not truly happy.”

“Thank you, dear Mole.” She patted his hand and sighed again. “I only wish I’d been there at the last. The boys were with him, of course, but it just feels… unsettling a bit.”

“Of course it does. Only natural.”

“You mustn’t be a stranger, Mole. The children adore you.”

At this his chest tightened. He remembered an invitation last fall and the excuse he’d fabricated to avoid attending. Ratty had been back, of course, and that had made the thought of Toad Hall unbearable. Now, with the estate populated by grief and all the neighbors of the riverbank, Mole wished he’d been a stronger animal. He wished he’d come to visit at least once more, river rat or not.

Mrs. Otter and her daughter waited to pay their respects, and Mole smiled for them as he climbed down from the pillows. He pressed a brief kiss to the widow’s hand and shuffled from her presence with his guilt chasing him. To have heard Toad’s voice one last time… Yes, he understood exactly what she’d meant by unsettling.

And now the time had come to be a braver mole. He didn’t wish to visit the study at all, and yet, his mental record-keeping said he owed Toad his presence, that though he’d come late in the end, he had still come to see his friend and wish him well. And so he moved against the current washing toward Toad’s widow, darting between elbows and stepping cautiously over tails as he went. The mole found the hall again, and without giving himself the time to think it through and so back out of his convictions, he reached the study door and slipped inside.

Rat was there, of course. Another inevitable meeting.

The casket lay to the side of the room, candles lighting it at head and foot. The lamps had been set low, and shadows flickered over the Persian carpet, making scowling faces of the designs there. Ratty stood halfway across, heading out or in. Mole couldn’t say which, but when he spied his old friend, they both froze in midstream, living statues, another part of the elaborate decor.

“Moley.” Rat’s voice broke the silence first, thick and sweeping as his river love.

“Ratty.” Something sticky filled the mole’s throat. He choked on it once, and then spat it out as a confession, “Old friend.”

That fact, spoken aloud in the dim room, broke the spell that had settled like ice around them. The river rat stumbled across the distance, his arms spread wide. Mole met him a step in, a guarded step that allowed him to return the rat’s hug, but not to fully enjoy it.

“Dearest Mole.” Ratty smiled when he pulled back, but there were shadows in his eyes. Shadows that floated like the sea, that drove as deep a chasm between them as the Rat’s leaving had. No matter that he’d returned at last, that he’d set his life and his heart firmly back beside his river.

The Mole remembered the leaving, and that fear forged a distance between them. He might go again, it said. At any moment, he might go.

“How are you, Ratty?” He watched the rat’s eyes and saw distant waves dancing.

“Well, Moley. Very sad for our great loss, but well enough.”

It took the mole the space of three breaths to remember which loss he referred to. Even with the casket just there, the other pain seemed sharper. It cut across the space between them and forced the mole’s feet to carry him one short step to the side.

“Dreadful to think of,” Ratty continued. “Toad Hall without our Toad in residence.”

“The poor widow.” Moley shuffled his feet. “The poor children.”

“Grandchildren too,” Ratty said. “Toad’s legacy.”

“She wasn’t there with him, at the end.”

They both nodded, though Mole suspected they followed separate trains of thought, different paths as was their lot in life it seemed. He sniffled, and the study door creaked as another mourner joined them. Rat and Mole strode to the casket together then, almost in step. They lowered their heads and gazed upon the vessel that held all that was left of dear old Toad.

Mole tried to imagine him inside it. The lid had not been opened, and the gleaming wood seemed too stark for Toad, far too serious. He was hit by the sudden urge to call out, to press his muzzle against the side of the thing and shout for Toad to call it off, to get up and join them and put this silliness that was death aside. A tear fell from his eye then, a single note of a sad melody that had played in his heart all morning.

Ratty placed a paw on his shoulder, warm and full of things they’d missed over the years, conversations they hadn’t had, evenings not spent together beside a fire.

“The widow wasn’t with him?” A gruff bass spoke behind them, announcing the other part of their tragic party.

“Afternoon, Badger,” Ratty said. His paw fell from the mole’s shoulder, and another spell faded.

“Ratty, Moley my boy. What was it you said about the widow?”

“She couldn’t be there at the last, she told me. The boys were with him though.” Moley blinked away fresh tears and turned from the horrible box.

“Not James or Jeremiah,” Badger said. “Just spoke with them, and they said they were called away at the end.”

“That leaves Virgil,” Ratty said. “Poor boy. Not the most stable of Toad’s sons. To be there for it, all alone.”

“Perhaps,” Badger said. He rubbed one massive paw across his jaw and nodded as if answering some unasked question. “If you’ll excuse me. Remain here, please. I’ll be right…”

Badger moved fast for a large animal. He’d reached the door and vanished through it before finishing his thought. The study fell silent again. One of the candles sputtered. Mole stuffed his paws in his trouser pockets and drifted to the side of the room. He hummed under his breath, a little tune that reminded him of summer days on the river. Days that were as dead as poor Toad, but that Ratty’s presence brought foremost to his thoughts.

He kept his feet moving, as if standing still would open a door to conversations he’d been avoiding for too long to start now. His paws drifted over the bookshelves, and his nearly invisible ears picked up the rat’s breathing, the soft way his pants whispered as he, too, walked to the edge of the room.

“Never imagined Toad as much of a reader,” Ratty said.

“Nor I.” The mole stopped at a narrow table set just along the wall. There a large volume had been lain, and tiny scraps of paper sprouted from between its pages like new leaves. “Someone’s reading, though. He ran a claw over the embossed title. “The New World of Flight.”

“Virgil’s hobby, I think.” Rat sniffed and his steps pattered in Mole’s direction. “And I saw one of the grandtoads with a toy or two.”

“As did I.” Mole shifted aside and let the Rat step in beside him. “Toad would have loved it, though. Flying.”

“In the old days.” Ratty’s paw found his shoulder again. The weight of it felt solid, stable, not prone to wandering off at any moment. “Moley…”

“I wonder.” Mole said it quickly and then forgot how he’d meant to finish the sentence.

The study door opened before he had to invent something, however, and Badger rejoined them. He huffed as he went, groaning between steps these days, and heaved the study door closed behind him. He leaned up against it to catch his breath.

“How’s Badger, then?” Ratty asked.

“Confounded.” Badger replied. “Virgil was not, as it turns out, with Toad at the end. He was sent from the room by Toad’s doctor.”

“Not Doctor Mann,” Rat said. “He told me last week Toad wouldn’t have him. Brought in his own fellow from beyond the wood.”

‘Exactly,” Badger said. “His own fellow.”

“Oh dear.” Rat’s paw lifted. He rubbed his fingers over his face and shook his head in a way that told Mole he’d missed something important. “You don’t think?”

“I do.”

“After all these years.” Ratty sighed and steepled his fingers under his chin. “That old devil.”

“Need to be certain.” Badger stepped quickly, rocking from side to side a little more than he used to. He strode across the study and took position near the head of the coffin. “With your assistance, Ratty. Mole here can do the looking.”

“What’s that?” Mole frowned and tried to sort it all out in his mind. “What am I looking for?”

“The body, I should think,” Rat said. He scrambled after Badger, moving to the opposite end of the coffin. They both placed paws at the edge of the lid. They both looked expectantly at him.

“Toad’s body?” Mole crept forward. The pleasant feeling that had tickled his stomach as soon as Ratty mentioned the old days twisted now into a familiar, off kilter feeling. “I’m not sure I want to see that.”

“Don’t worry,” Ratty said. “Just a quick peek, old friend.”

It was the old friend that moved his feet. Mole shuffled to the side of the casket, wishing he had something to hold onto, a pillow perhaps, or a walking stick like Badger carried. He pressed his paws together and stared at the shiny wood.


Badger might have been asking Ratty, but Mole nodded gravely. He steeled himself as his friends grunted, heaved against the coffin lid and raised it a half dozen inches. Mole squinted, peered in at the gleam of satin.

“A little more, please,” he said. “It’s too dark.”

“Oh just open it already,” Ratty huffed.

The lid parted, up and up, and Mole stared at the contents of Toad’s casket. He stared, and his mind tried to sort it all out. A single bottle of whiskey lay where Toad’s remains should have been. Three cut crystal tumblers had been arranged around it, each etched with a single letter.

“Horrible,” Mole said. He’d formulated an idea, and was almost certain he understood correctly. “Someone’s stolen the body.”

His friends let the lid rest against the wall and joined him. Badger lifted one of the glasses, turned it in the light and grunted. “He’s even had our initials put on. The fool.”

Sure enough the glasses bore an R, M, and B in lovely calligraphy.

“Shall I pour, old chaps?” Ratty lifted out he bottle and turned it in his paws. “Look at that label.”

“A flying machine.” Mole smiled, happy to be part of the conversation, but also concerned that they should possibly be looking for whoever had stolen Mr. Toad’s corpse away.”

“Saw the boys with them,” Badger said.

“And the book there,” Ratty added.

“There’s a diagram in the parlor,” Mole said proudly. “Toad would have loved it.”

Ratty popped the stopper on the whiskey and poured a measure into each of the glasses. He handed the one marked M to Mole, and they all lifted their drinks together. “To Toad,” Ratty said.

“To Toad.” Mole sniffed his glass and then decided to sip it very slowly.

“Should we tell them all? Maybe let the widow know?” Ratty tossed back his drink and cocked his head to the side.

“He’s liable to get himself killed for real before we find him,” Badger answered.


The rat’s smile brought back the tickle in Mole’s belly. He smiled, and then frowned. “Get himself killed for real?”

“Best to tell them after we’ve caught him,” Badger said. “You with us yet, Moley?”

“Toad hasn’t died… yet?” Mole pictured the flying toy, the diagram on the parlor wall. He glanced briefly toward The New World of Flight. “Oh no. Oh DEAR.”

“Yes,” said Badger.

“So it is,” added the rat.

They returned the bottle and their empty glasses to the casket before closing it tight upon the evidence. Badger huffed. Ratty placed a paw on Mole’s shoulder and then dropped it to his side. Mole sighed, fanning the warm feeling and letting it spread outward, shiny, like the old days.

Without imagining endings at all, he took the rat’s paw in his. He smiled, sniffed, and caught the telltale wafting of adventure on the wind. Moley imagined old Toad, out there somewhere in a flying machine, above them all, laughing at the world, and the willows, and the mourners gathering in Toad Hall.

He let loose the happiest of sighs and whispered, “So, when shall we leave?”

Frances Pauli writes speculative and anthropomorphic fiction. She has published more than twenty novels, numerous short stories, and ebooks. Her novella, The Earth Tigers has been nominated for both a Leo and a Coyotl award. She lives in Washington State with her family and far too many pets.