The Benefits of Southern Hospitality

This selection is paired with “Human Remains” by Clive Barker. Get NonBinary Review #20 from Zoetic Press.

Dear Judge Marigold,

It is with most shock and outrage that I learn, twenty years after Arthur Wallace savagely murdered his mother in cold blood, he is being considered for release and reintroduction into society.  Not only is this an unethical act, but we – as good, law abiding citizens – fear a most dangerous turning point in American history.  Evil must not be tolerated.

This case still gives me nightmares.  The crime scene photos of Judy Wallace are forever burned into the back of my eyelids and I fear I may never truly sleep again.  But this is the price we pay to make sure that evil people are handled swiftly and justly.  There was no question of his guilt.  Not a single one.  Arthur himself has gone on record to talk about his mother’s death.  What does this tell us?  That he is proud of his actions, that he needs only a listening ear to expound on the tragic event that rocked Silverton Bridge, South Dakota to its very core.

Now, I’m not one to tell a Judge how to do their job.  The choice and ultimate consequence falls on the court and for that I am grateful. I am only a State Prosecutor working in conjunction with Social Services.  I will caution, however, the dire nature of this crime.  If we consider letting him go, what’s next?  Shall rapists who find God be let out?  Should sex traffickers who took up painting be allowed to sell their work for tens of thousands of dollars?  Should the man that beat his wife be given a license to box in a televised event, thus creating a crooked path to success?  Be wise, Judge Marigold, this is not just the life of Arthur Wallace that hangs in the balance.  It is an idea that must be snuffed out like the life that he took.  No mercy for the wicked, Judge.  None.

When I was a boy, I ate my vegetables, said my prayers, and did my homework.  That is the American dream.  I played baseball and went to law school.  That is the American dream.  I married my wife and had two beautiful daughters who go to private school.  That is the American dream.  The American dream has always been about working hard and reaping the rewards.  I would hate to see this dream turn into a nightmare where murder is accepted and it is society who must change for the deviant.  I will not stand for that, and I urge you Judge Marigold to not stand for it as well.  Our eyes are on you.  They watch with admiration.

Don’t let that change.

Harvey Devereaux
Assistant District Attorney

*     *     *

Dear Judge Marigold,

My name is Dr. Isaiah Young.  I am the psychologist that has been working with Arthur for the past twenty years, and I am advocating for his release.  This is not, nor will it ever be, a matter of good versus evil.  Such ideas are human constructs to justify our behavior.  Instead, what must look at the facts, at what we know, at Arthur himself to make our best determinations.

He was four years old when he stabbed his mother.  This fact is not up for debate, nor has it ever been contested.  What the prosecution missed was whether or not young Arthur understood the gravity of his actions.  Does a boy only a few years into life truly grasp the meaning and finality of death?  It is only as a society that we look at his actions as inexcusable.  Perhaps.

I have three children at home, each learning about the world through trial and error.  My eldest used to throw temper tantrums to get what he wanted.  It almost never worked, but sometimes we gave in, which taught him to keep trying until his vocabulary was rich enough to describe his thoughts, feelings, and wants.  When he learned to better communicate, the tantrums disappeared.

My daughter, the middle child, found that she could get attention by pushing our (my wife and I’s) proverbial buttons.  She would say outrageous and horrible things, not because she meant them, but rather because it put the spotlight on her.  Even through scolding, she enjoyed our focus.  It wasn’t until she was in third grade – only a few years older than Arthur was – that she said something mean to a classmate, and the classmate burst into tears.  During her teenage years, she recalled that moment as one of immense growth and clarity.  She learned that words can hurt, and that hurt is a potential with any interaction.  For this, she learned to employ the grace and wisdom that she still carries with her as an adult.

My youngest son recently went through a breakup and was beside himself with confusion and loneliness.  Night after night he made desperate attempts to understand why he felt the way he did after she left.  During the relationship, he described himself as unhappy and stifled.  Yet, after she was gone, he described himself as empty and hollow.  In his grasp was young love, and then it slipped away.  Through it all, he learned what made him happy and how to sustain happiness.  These lessons are invaluable.

My point is that every child needs to make mistakes because it is inside of those mistakes that we grow the most.  Arthur Wallace was four years old when he stabbed his mother.  Imagine that something you yourself did as a four year old that had to hang over your head forever without any chance at redemption.

In my professional experience, there is no such thing as a born evil.  He is not spawn of satan.  He is not out for the blood of the innocent, like the media would have us believe.  Now, before his 25st birthday, after a lifetime of being heavily medicated, sedated, and has been to therapy more than most people ever will.  He shows immense remorse, incredible self-awareness, and a drive to put something positive back out into the world.

I implore the courts to look within themselves and consider the circumstance.  He was a neglected child who often went without meals, clothes, or affection.  While his mother was rushed to the hospital after a fist-fight with her live in partner, Arthur met a very kind nurse who stayed with him in the waiting room.  They colored in a coloring book (a page that he still has framed over his bed).  He asked if she could be his mother.  She told him no because he already had a mother.  That night, when he went home, he made it so that he didn’t have a mother.  Inside of a four year-old’s brain, this course of action not only made sense, but could potentially grant him a better life. 

I’m not saying that the murder was an act of courage.  I’m not saying it was justified.  All I’m saying is that if we pigeon hole ideas of good and evil onto everything we do, then we fail to see the full picture.  We have the unique opportunity to see if redemption is truly possible, if the system works, if we learn from our missteps to go on and find success.

When is a debt to society paid in full?  Is it ever?  We can find out.  Arthur Wallace is our key. 

By no means am I arguing for his release into the outside world with no questions asked.  Instead, I am asking for leniency.  I am asking for implementation of a halfway house, a slow immersion.  For twenty-years he has been inside of our facility the same way an animal at the zoo looks out from behind the bars of their cage and knows something else is beyond the stone walkways and herds of people.  However, like an animal that has only known captivity, the shock of freedom could prove to be overwhelming and he could drown in the choices of modern adult life.

Consider Arthur Wallace.  See yourself inside of him. Ask yourself how much longer you might be able to last having a single choice from your fourth year be picked apart and analyzed for the next twenty years.  Give him the reassurance that life is sacred, and not something that is easily tossed away.

With regards,
Dr. Isaiah Young

With regards,
Dr. Isaiah Young

*     *     *

Dear Judge Marigold,

I am a clerk at the Forsythe County Inpatient Facility, Psychiatric Ward.  I have no opinion on the holding or release of one Arthur Wallace.  My superiors have asked me to put together Mr. Wallace’s record over the twenty years with us.  Normally, I don’t do such a thing, but I grew up in Fayetteville Arkansas and my superiors know that because of my southern hospitality, I would not say no.

Mr. Wallace wet the bed until he was eleven (11) years old.

Mr. Wallace was friendly with the orderlies, especially women of mixed descent with dark hair that reached their shoulders.

Mr. Wallace did not make friends until he was seventeen (17) years old.  This is not because he was anti-social, but because he was kept isolated from others his age.  When introduced, he overcame his shyness.

His first three friends killed themselves during their stay with us.  Two by overdose, one by hanging.  Mr. Wallace wept at their remembrance sessions.  He was not allowed to attend their funerals.

Mr. Wallace has only been in two (2) altercations.  Once during puberty, he was caught masturbating in the women’s room and when an orderly tried to sedate him, he broke the orderly’s nose.  After counseling with Dr. Young, the incident was never repeated.  The second was during a string of robberies that had been occurring over several months.  A patient was sneaking into other patient’s rooms and taking their personal belongings.  Mr. Wallace had a cactus succulent by his window and woke up while the accused was trying to take it.  Mr. Wallace screamed for the orderlies and held the accused down.  Though it was never confirmed, the accused claimed Mr. Wallace had tried to stab him with the succulent.

Mr. Wallace has been polite and courteous to all staff when approached. 

Mr. Wallace has expressed interest in getting a GED, and attending an online university.

Mr. Wallace keeps a journal that is monitored nightly by staff.  Nothing in it thus far has raised an alarm.

Mr. Wallace exudes great happiness when Shep, the Golden Retriever therapy dog, comes to visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  He has expressed interest in one day adopting a dog and naming it Shep.

Mr. Wallace has a slight speech impediment that prevents him from properly pronouncing his “R’s”.  Instead, they come out like soft “W’s”.

May you find this information useful.

Amber Lynn McFarley
Forsythe County Psychiatric Clerk

*     *     *

Dear Judge Marigold,

My name is Arthur Wallace.  I will be turning twenty-five (25) in May.  I’ve been under the custody of the state, specifically Dr. Young, for over twenty years.

I am good. 

In my spare time, I enjoy reading.  Did you know coyotes have different barks and howls for different situations?  I read a lot about nature.

My favorite movie is The Lion King.  I understand Simba because I had to grow up without parents, too.  The only part I don’t like is the fight with Scar at the end, because fighting doesn’t solve things.

I know that there is a life outside of this facility.  I love it here and they treat me nice, but sometimes I watch the birds fly in the yard and wonder where they’re going.  I want to ask them, but they can’t answer me because they’re birds, silly!

My favorite job right now is to lead by example.  When new patients come in, I help show them how well things can go by listening to their problems, helping them problem solve, and being creative. 

If I got a dog, I would walk him every day and call him a good-boy, even if the dog was a girl, because they like being called good-boy.  I would pet him on the head and tummy whenever he wanted.

Sometimes I dream of my mother and I wake up crying.  Once, I got a bloody nose and when I looked into the mirror, it made me sad.  I looked like her.

The Beatles are really fun!  We like to dance and flash the lights to their albums and even people in wheelchairs like to spin around.  See?  I’m just a regular kid.

The only thing I want for my birthday, it can even be my Christmas present too, is to live in the world again.  Is that so much to ask?  I don’t remember what it is like, and I really want to know what it is like.

I like your name, Judge Marigold.  Did you know that for years, farmers included the open-pollinated African marigold ‘Crackerjack’ in chicken feed to make egg yolks a darker yellow?

Take care, and Hakuna Matata.

Arthur Wallace

*     *     *

Dear Judge Marigold/To Whom it may concern,

I’ve never done this before and don’t know what the proper format is.  My name is Suzi Florentine and I was named in the Arthur Wallace trial as the nurse who sat with him on the eve of his mother’s death.

Do not let him out, I beg of you.  He’s been sending me letters over the past few years talking about how he’s going to come and see me.  I don’t know how he gets them into the mail, or how he found my address, but I’ve alerted the authorities.  They told me to simply throw the letters away and pay no mind.

They talk of how he can be a good son again, of how he can finally be with me.  They talk about holding hands near ferris wheels, licking ice cream off my fingers when it drips from the cone, and sleeping in the same bed so that we can be there for each other if we have nightmares where “the ocean rises and we can’t grow angel wings”.

This whole ordeal has me so shaken that I can’t function.  Already medicated, I’m falling into fits at work where, in my profession, people can die.  I’m not eating, not sleeping, and every sound I hear is him coming to collect. 

It took me over a decade to get past it mentally.  I’ll never fully be over it.  I’m the cause of murder, an unknowing accomplice.  How does one live with that burden?  How does one ever recover?

The answer is simple: they don’t.  This is why Arthur Wallace will never be rehabilitated.  He’s crafty.  He was born with something that we don’t understand in that human life means nothing.  In my world, human life means everything.

I’ve tried to kill myself twice already because of the guilt.  Though I’ve been told I’m not directly responsible for any of the events that transpired, I will always feel like I am.  If I had not said those words, if I had been slightly less caring, maybe none of this would have happened.

If he gets let out, I’ll kill myself.  I’m fully prepared.  This time, I’m not mincing my words to sound kind.  I’m being direct.

Proceed with caution and wisdom, Judge.  My life hangs in your blind balance.

Suzi Florentine

*     *     *

Dear Dr.’s Amanda Pothanos and Henry Schill,

It has come to my attention that a nurse in your residency has been experiencing an alarming amount of mental duress.  One Suzi Florentine wrote me a letter expressing suicidal intent, and so I sent local law enforcement to collect her.  It appeared that she was upset about the idea that one Arthur Wallace might be released into society, which he will not.

Suzi has been formally checked in to the Forsythe County Inpatient Facility, Psychiatric Ward.  Her stay is indefinite.  She will be working with Dr. Isaiah Young if you so need to get in touch with her.

Please contact our office for any further questions or clarifications.  We are happy to work alongside our hospital’s chief of staff to generate the most suitable resolution.


Hon. Judge Deborah Marigold
PS – Tennis soon?  The weather is becoming most perfect for a doubles match.

W. T. Paterson wrote the novels Dark Satellites and WOTNA. His work has appeared in Fiction Magazine, The Gateway Review, and several anthologies. He is a current MFA candidate at the University of New Hampshire. 

My Tumor’s Hunger

This selection is paired with “Son of Celluloid” by Clive Barker. Get NonBinary Review #20 at Zoetic Press.

There was a man who collected little bits of me. Strands of my curling hair, a piece of my menstruation, a scraping of my arm. My underwear, the papery shedding of my favorite ovarian tumor (which had a mouth and stomach of its own), an eyelash. This man kept all these parts in a little box beneath his bed. It was his box of totems and he prized it above all. When the man slept above this box, he dreamed of being consumed, piece by piece, always painlessly. He dreamed this eating was done by my mouth, not my tumor’s, although it was my tumor’s hunger. My tumor devoured him without pause, sucking my dry, tossing him down her stomach like he was nothing. My tumor did not even need to gulp. When my tumor ate too much, she slept, and then I went to the man, slipped him inside myself, and just held him there, his body trembling within mine. I wanted to feel every bit of him, his tremors and spasms, and without doing anything, I milked him into me. When the man finally slipped out, my thighs were wet and my cunt dripped. I smelled the chlorine, the musk, of him and then my tumor smelled it, too. She woke within me, stretched out, came creeping along my flesh to reach him. She touched his throat, scratched his tongue, directed him between my legs where he did as she insisted, although he was so tired. I wanted to protect the man from my tumor and I also wanted to take him back into myself, cram all of him within me so that I was stuffed fat. Come inside me, I said and so he came, his hardness hurting me as he thrusted. He did not have to fuck me for long. He slipped in, twitched once, and it was over, his body buried inside, already emptied. My tumor ate him from within me. She extended her tongue, licked slowly, and took all of him. I tasted him through her. I swallowed and my tumor swallowed and together, we swallowed the man up, left him voided within us. My tumor tried pushing him out but I held him where he was, held him tight, did not want to let go because I did not want that hole to open again, could not stand its vacancy…

But this man could only stay within me for so long before he began rotting away. Poor him. How he wept and pleaded but I could not let him go, would not scrape him out. I left him where he was, his flesh melding with mine, turning liquid. I pet his head, caught his tangled hair in my fingers, rubbed his eyes, and he dissolved, his flesh reddening, darkening, blackening. He smelled of old meat, my menstruation, sour milk, all my old pregnancies that went watery with failure. My tumor crept down to him, buried her face in him, sniffed and licked, took his rancid self into her body, ate with full mouth and cramping tongue, ate with sour throat and sour stomach, ate until she could not eat anymore, and then she did, because she was my tumor and nothing was ever enough. She took more than I was able and together, we tore this man to pieces. His taste was on my teeth and his taste was on her gums. This man tasted like chlorine. When he finally slipped from out of me, I caught bits of him in my hands. I held them to my face and I cried while my tumor nestled herself comfortable within my meat. Do not cry, she said but I could not help my grief. How I wanted him to stay a little longer, to keep me stuffed. They never stay, my tumor said. They only ever go away, my tumor said. We must use them, my tumor said. We must eat them up, my tumor said. We must eat and eat and eat…

Once the man’s taste faded from my mouth, I was free. I did not want him anymore, I did not think of him. I did not sleep because my tumor’s howling was so loud. I did not eat because my tumor ate enough for us both. I did not shit because my tumor and I did not produce waste. It was only that my stomach growled with false hunger, with the need to put something between my teeth, and when I hesitated, my tumor directed me to the woods, where the trees bent towards me, raked at my skin, tore me apart (tore me so deep, even my tumor was cut up), and I bled there in the earth, spilled myself to the roots and mud, waited for the men to come creeping from the shadows (that was where they lived, hidden away in those places my tumor and I could not see). When they came, they thought they would be the ones to hurt me. They surrounded me, laughed and hooted, sounded like great beasts, except they were so small to me, so deflated. They grabbed my wrists and squeezed but I felt no pain. They spread my legs but found that they could not get hard enough to enter. These men thought they could scramble my insides, bleed me out in the dark, spread me flat on the ground, riddle me with holes, bash me open, leave me weeping with the pain of what they did, and how disappointed they were when they could not hurt me, not even a little. Then my tumor and I rose high above them, tongues salivating, eyes narrowed, hair like snakes, and we rose up and up, silhouetted against the moon, and warned these men to run. They did not listen and so I swooped, knocked them to the ground where they choked upon the earth. My tumor and I ate them from their spines and throats, ate them from their cocks and mouths, ate them while they spewed and spasms, ate until our mouths were filthy with them, and my breasts were heaving with them, and we were red with them, and we were sopping with them. There were so many men and my tumor and I took our time but then it was over. The ground was soggy and the trees were close together and the dark was heavy and nothing felt like enough. My tumor held me and I held her. We breathed into one another, listened to the slow rustle of the dark over those spent bodies. Are you sad, my tumor asked. And I was not…

Alana I. Capria is the author of the novel Mother Walked Into the Lake and and the story collection Wrapped in Red. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. 


This selection is paired with “Dread” by Clive Barker. Get NonBinary Review #20 at Zoetic Press.

In the absence of God,
there you are.
Crouched on your bar stool,
brandy in one hand,
Bentham in the other,
haloed by your own smoke.
Eyes so pale
they conjure milk,
cold and sustaining.
Train them on me.
To everyone else,
I am scarce of scariness.
Only you see its slight vibration
undermining the foundation.
Take me to Pilgrim Street
and lock me inside
that stifling room,
plain and holy as your face.
Lay out my father’s edicts
and my mother’s denials.
Lay out the friends’ rejections
and the lovers’ ridicule.
Lay out my husband’s mistresses
and my children’s future therapists.
Lay out what my boss stole from me
while I sat – like this – in silence.
Lay out the stinking fish
of my own ego,
its fragile scales gleaming
now good enough, now assuredly worthless.
I won’t waste time in avoidance,
raring to wrap my tongue
around that fetid meat,
longing to lap at the maggots.
Take my fervid hand,
and let me touch the beast.
Only in the presence of dread
is there salvation.

Morrow Dowdle’s publication credits include River and South Review, Dandelion Review, and Poetry South. She was a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2018, and writes graphic novels, most recently with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Ink and Flame

This selection is paired with “In the Hills, the Cities” by Clive Barker. Get NonBinary Review #20 from Zoetic Press.

The cost of everything, 
value of nothing;
Sun shines, 
and moon cries:
Without you, 
There ain’t anything free. 

Rain tapering us, 
and we’re travellers;
How we move, 
A rhythm inside us,
and my wings carry me, 
where I can’t predict:
Indeed, the marvellous fate. 

Love, you make me, 
fall again, 
and the strangers, 
Call me back to you. 

Bare children, 
holding my fingers, 
touching the wind:
Place to place, 
looking for home, 
and a roof. 

Ink and flame, 
Birds inside the cage, 
Ticking clocks, 
Blaze the rage. 

Ravishing thoughts, 
and empty carnivals, 
Stay with me, 
while I hold you, 
It’s autumn time, 
under falling leaves.

Hanan Muzafar is a research scholar in MTech Electronics & Communication Engineering at Cochin University of Science and Technology, Cochin, Kerala. For him, a poet is a trash bin of the society, who converts junk into fragrant flowers.

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.