SPOTLIGHT: Pretty Much the Last Hardcore Kid in This Town by Brian S. Ellis

Jumping Out of Car Practice

Air whooshed into the car when Brian opened the passenger side door of my ’96 Ford Taurus and stuck his Doc Marten boot out above the moving pavement. Brian’s Doc Martens were hand-me-downs, scuffed and cracked and almost grey with age, the yellow laces laced all the way up and wrapped several times before being tied around Brian’s skinny leg just above the ankle, his cuffed jeans lifting as he stretched one leg out of the door.

                Brian wasn’t a metaphor, or imaginary, or like a hidden aspect of my fractured personality or anything like that, he was just a kid that happened to have the same name as me, because we were around the same age and a lot of people named their kids Brian in the early 1980s.

                I was behind the wheel, sitting high in the fabric seat of the Taurus. Looming my body over the steering wheel like I like to do. My long thin fingers squeezing the foam of the steering wheel, the toe of my Converse All-Stars pressing gentle on the accelerator, easing above 15 mph, coming quickly to the cul-du-sac end of Brian’s street.

                Brian had picked up a summer job working construction at a place down-Cape, and since he didn’t have a car, he intended to hitchhike to and from work each day. The problem, as he saw it, was the number of creeps picking up hitchhikers to sexually assault them. The solution to this was to teach himself how to jump out of a car moving at highway speed. He was positive he could do it, he just needed to learn how. Our process was to practice jumping out of the car at low speeds and then work our way up. Start at 5 mph, then 10, etc. If you can learn how to do it safely at 20, 25 mph, all you would have to do is adjust your calculations for 55, 60 mph.

                I thought this was a great idea.

                I volunteered to be the driver because of course I did. I’m an enabler.

                Plus, Brian said he wouldn’t trust any of the other dudes with a thing like this. 

                This was our third run up and down the street. We had first tried 5 mph, it was almost disappointingly easy. I was riding the brake, moving slower than the Taurus would have on its own, and Brian just kind of got out of the car and stood up. The next pass was supposed to be at 10, but I actually kept it more around 8. I guess my instinct to go a little easy was part of the reason I was chosen as the driver. That time Brian had to take a few steps, running alongside the car for less than a second before I pulled away.

                Brian rubbed his palm hard against the blonde fuzz of his buzzed skull, a lopsided smile on his pinched and elven face. His voice was high pitched with a kind of nasal warble, “I think the move is, man, to like have one foot hit the ground flat, and then tuck into a roll as quick as possible. I just need to keep my dome from hitting the ground, if I can curl tight enough, I can totally land on my shoulders or back, and they can take the hit, don’t you think?”

                “Makes complete sense to me,” I told him.

                Brian let out a squeaking laugh, “although we Sterlings have notoriously thick domes!”

                Brian Sterling was the youngest of the three notorious Sterling brothers, the other two of which had ambled out of the garage to watch the proceedings, along with Ben Castle. The eldest of the brothers was Dave, a kind of ogre of a man, who at turns was jovial and furious. He was tall and broad shouldered, with a square head and a firm jaw, short strawberry blonde hair and a patchy beard, and would’ve been an arrestingly handsome man if he wasn’t so puffy from drink. Dave lived in the attic above his parents’ garage and rarely could be coaxed out of his hovel. When he was tempted to come out to a party, he was the type of guy who tore his shirt off and challenged people to punch him as hard as they could in his voluminous beer belly. I once saw Ben Castle smash a square glass Jack Daniels bottle on Dave’s head and Dave did not get hurt.

                John Sterling was the middle brother, but no one called him John, he was Sterling. Even though Dave was older, Sterling was the ur-Sterling, he was cooler than his brother, had that kind of quiet vacant thing about him, chill, unimpressed. I don’t think I ever heard him say more than a handful of words in the time I knew him. He had a big, chiseled face with a prominent nose, which made him look a bit like Elvis Costello, and wore horn-rimmed glasses, which made him look even more like Elvis Costello. He was long and lanky where his older brother was thick and brutish. Sterling and Ben Castle had been friends forever, and Sterling was the drummer in every band Ben formed. The kind of music Sterling liked was that he only listened to the bands Slayer and Devo. This informed the way he played the drums, which was as fast as possible and as hard as possible, all of the time.

                As cool as Sterling was, Ben Castle was perhaps the coolest human I had met, ever, or since. I desperately wanted to be his friend, I mean I already was his friend, but that feeling remained, even when you were around him, that you wanted to be his absolute best friend and around him all the time. Ben was a guitarist and a writer and poet, he chain-smoked and wore a blank black baseball cap low over his piercing blue eyes, the bill of the cap curled into an upside-down U from being folded into the back pocket of his jeans and had the loose and sexy stance of a gas station attendant. When he was giddy and in a good mood his voice took on this faux-British accent, would exclaim “Most Excellent!” while wiggling his fingers. The rest of the time his voice was a sleepy grumble. Often, Ben seemed like he had just woke up. When he was listening to you, he would turn his ear toward your mouth, his eyes on the ground, the smooth skin of the back of his neck exposed to the air. Ben was the one that started calling Sterling Sterling, he was the reason the rest of us did.

                Neither of us, Sterling or I, as much as we wanted, could be Ben’s best friend, because Ben’s best friend was dead.

                His name was Grove, that was how everyone referred to him, and he had died of a heroin overdose thirteen months ago. He and Ben had been like brothers since they were little, had done everything together, up to and including their junk habit. As far as Ben was concerned, Grove was the coolest person he could imagine. Grove was Ben’s Ben. When Grove died the friend group had shattered, lots of people blaming each other, others clinging tighter, and in that vacuum I entered.

                I hadn’t been friends with these guys long. Six months tops. This is what I did, floated from one group to another, changing who I was in the process. I had grown up a town over, and my friends from there simply hadn’t stuck. Or maybe I was the one who hadn’t stuck. Either way I had entered this vacant space in these people’s lives, and they took me on as one of their own. I knew everything about them. I didn’t know anything about myself.

                His boot sticking out the open door, the world rolling under us, Brian’s light eyes bounced from the mouth of exposed air, back to me, back to the air. Brian was the youngest, which meant he was the cute one, the friendly one, easiest to get along with and the conciliator, the one who smoothed things over between his brothers. Also, as the youngest, he had something to prove.

                Dave lifted his fleshy face and hooted into the air, shoeless on the scraggy yard. He was holding a Budweiser loose by the top of the can, low by his thigh. Sterling was standing with his shoulders high, hands tucked into his armpits, blinking and looking cold. He shouted, voice cracking, “fucking do it already!”

                Ben held a lit Camel Light to his mouth and pulled it away with a snap of his hand, a sharp yank. His face was in shadow under the curled bill of his cap.             

I crested the slight incline of the loosely paved street, speedometer needle twitching in the direction of 20 mph. Brian had done so well at the lower speeds, I was raising the stakes, it was time.

The problem was commitment. I was one who committed too easily, I was a sucker for a moment. I was there holding your hand through a breakup or your hair while you puked your guts out, I could promise and be vulnerable, be the person you needed on the worst night of your life, but I didn’t know how to stick. From the time Ben and I had met, I felt like I had been his friend forever, but I was scared of that too, scared of what that meant over time, if I would ever be able to stop myself from being the one who left. There was that balance, of knowing when to commit to someone, to be there for them, and knowing how not to go too deep too fast. Knowing that you won’t stay. Or perhaps, learning for once how to be there for the long-haul. You had to know yourself enough to be able to trust yourself, and I was not even close to a place where I could consider myself to be at the beginning of that.

There was a sound, like a schurpt, and Brian’s body shunted out of the open door of the moving car, swirling air washing around me, now alone behind the wheel.       


SPOTLIGHT: ‘Unravel’ by ingrid m. calderón somoza y collins

Alarm Call

Hands grasp the procession, (I have walked this earth)

                the in-between

I search for what feels like every version I’ve been told I am/

A stoic face, a dented cheek

 (it doesn’t scare me at all)

Anything worth fighting for

                                (you can’t say no to hope)

In the web,

we can get specific

and when we stumble,

it’s hard to stop

A small room fills the nostrils,

I spend days counting the veins in my hands,

a small road back to wherever I’m from —or headed

 The soundtrack of severing includes gusto and secretion

 The blood of nostalgia

Where do we go when we steep?

(I’m no fucking Buddhist)

Spirits float from our hands

to the wall,

to the hands—a procession

                                                                                                                                (this is enlightenment)


he came and stole

whatever he saw glowed

and filled me with a hope,

a knowing

that whatever lived in him

lived in me too

(excuse me, but I just have to, explode, explode this body off me)

my mind keeps calling

and I refuse—

it is a temporal storm without casualties

                                                (I’ll be brand new, brand new tomorrow)

I always witnessed him as a misfire

pretending all the signs said,


instead of


Without self-reflection, there is no god.

All Is Full Of Love

It is only me identifying,


                                                                                                (you have to trust it)

the gentleness that I butcher while tending to its garden

I want to tell you a story of will, (maybe not from the sources)

how limbs are animated by the thought of allowing them

How Venus follows me, but Zeus sets me on fire

                                                                (maybe not from the directions)

How I funnel what I’ve discovered and run away from the asterisk

I am detached, a severed head/ a vigil

                                (your phone is off the hook)

I see you as the tree, its branches, the soil, roots, and the rain that made it grow

(all is full of love)

The hands that tended it, the fruit it will design, the mouths that will speak of it,

the sky that watches it and the lovers who will wince underneath it

                (all is full of love)

It’s a solitary thing

                (twist your head around)

SPOTLIGHT: avian aria by Michelle Cicillini

first crush

heavy in stolen sediment
tickled by lacey fingers
Atlantic fog forms dew+decay

gray plays it cool
under barren moonlight
sun’s bygone swan song

we are bones breaking glass
even shore birds learn
to crave long shadows

second (thinking)

you are (best) mid-horizon
lemon honey butter thumb
(forgetting) seed+bee+cow

we are (not) broken records
skip | tease | (promising) play

(ducks) follow ripples to lead
parents surviving traffic years
slow / fast / waddle (stop)

we are (not) broken waters
circles (becoming) circles

once upon that line of sky
whales could (not) drown
I never saw you (falling)

third eye

yearning for silence
quiet rolls in
missing every sound

wartime warble
upon phoenix skin
ink plumes

His gaze—
my guidepost
when astray

SPOTLIGHT: Show Me The Way Into Exile by Damien Posterino

Show Me the way into Exile

Surrender by
your teens.

Stand still
on tip toes.

I don’t want to be
in their tribe ¬–

hands shake
when I try

to tie a perfect
Oxford noose.

Picket fences
speak in tongues,

suburban schemes
eat my brain.

Remember when
they laughed at me –

is an open grave.

Scribbled screams
on toilet walls

as philosophy.

The old lightkeeper
stays still –

prays for the lost.
Each ebb of the tide

another riddle
to be solved.

The sea’s wind whistles
a homecoming song

for men in exile.
Shipwrecks are everywhere.

The last dance saloon

Voices in your ear draw it closer –
a crowded world
with everyone but him.

Conversations with strangers about the weather.
How you wish
torrential rain would stop.

Dreams leave a ransom note behind.
Try to catch those
stars that shoot away.

Alone tonight to stare into a mirror –
slow dance
with another broken heart.

There’s never been a better time to cry.
Even the fortune teller
has surrendered.

The fall of the Roman Empire

Stood on top of the swell ¬–
the world seemed smaller than you.

Oblivious last days.
Arms stretched up as a rockstar,

naked on its peak.
Fingers caressed the skies’ toes.

Crowds watched you as a god.
Birds sang your name

for a sprinkling of summers.
Temptation lifted you up,

carried you on its shoulders –
weekends went for years,

stretched out like elastic.
Negotiated jobs and last warnings.

Nose fuelled –
you jumped off cliffs

into rocks.
All-night benders

at alley-way dives –
the real world stared in disbelief.

In a flash the ocean’s crest collapsed –
you tumbled into the deep.

A crash test dummy
smashed into oblivion.

Hold your breath
inside the wreckage.

Light stings.
The party is over.

People used to applaud when a plane landed

A can of dreams
breaks fairy floss clouds –

a drag queen
landing on stage.

Feet and tears
swell, children yell

at mothers who haven’t
had a wink in years.

Shot gun weddings,
reconciliations and

unhappy endings hang
suspended while we wait

for trolley dollies –
company cloned and cheek boned,

to serve up second best.
Business class couples

hold each other,
hand to glove under

blankets of, whatever it is
those people have.

The rest of us
retreat into window seats

to manage our turbulence
and search for runways

which never seem
to arrive.

Andre F. Peltier as Alien Buddha’s Featured Artist for February 2023

ABP- Thank you for taking this interview, Andre. Last summer, ABP had the privilege of publishing POPLANDIA, and it was one of the season’s bestsellers. What can you tell us about the book?

AP- Andre Peltier’s “Poplandia” is an eclectic and wild ride of fun fandom constructed with touching personal memory, and irreverent speculations. Peltier reaches the reader with well-crafted homages to iconic fixtures of popular culture. He exalts the commonplace with his poetry— but not without surprises— expect spiritual visits from John Coltrane, Peltier even makes his own garage a “Dagobah” during a father/son moment while exploring the passing of time.

— Melanie Maria Goodreaux, author, Black Jelly

Andre F. Peltier’s Poplandia, populated with popular culture references from Elvia Presley to Godzilla and Superman to John Coltrane, issues forth real and fictional characters in visuals that when combined create a narrative not unlike an old-time hand crank film. The still images flip “over and over, / nostalgia” replete with sensitivity and daring. While the references are both woven through and center the poems, there is always a sense that Peltier’s renderings are both memorializing and saving what might one day be found discarded in a “dirt mall.” As Wyatt Earp ropes the moon and Coltrane is discovered among the rigatoni in a pantry, readers are set to wondering, along with the poet, “how many records,” films, artists, and creators “have saved our lives?” Joy and hard truths rub against each other racking these narrative poems up like pool balls aimed for a pocket in clipped lines most often of three to five words. Near the book’s close, we are made most aware that popular culture has consistently “carried our hopes for the future in our hearts” yet the “fear of the bomb lives in our souls.” Readers are sure to carry Poplandia’swords and images into their own futures with a longing now not only for the cultural icons themselves, but for Peltier’s poignant renderings of them.

– Deirdre Fagen, author of Find a Place for Me and Have Love

ABP- Can you share one of the poems from the book with us here?

AP- Let the Rigatoni Be My Reeds

The ghost of John Coltrane
lives in my pantry.
He steals chickpeas,
long grain brown rice,
red lentils,
& black-eyed peas.
He comes out
once in a while
to stretch his translucent limbs
& rattle his transatlantic chains.

At night, I hear
Alabama, Lazy Bird,
Lulu Se Mama
float through the kitchen.
I’m laying in bed
and My Favorite Things
echoes off of a canister
of granulated sugar.
Sara asks me to
turn off the music
so she can sleep.
I say, “It’s not me;
it’s John.
He’s up to his old tricks
Haunted by a
sax player/
mad genius/
lover of licorice:
it could be worse.
Sometimes, during the day,
when he thinks no one is
he glides outside
to see the garden
and watches the progress
of the tomatoes and herbs.
Neighbors have whispered,
“Hey, I saw a creepy,
old guy in your
back yard yesterday.”
“It’s only Coltrane’s ghost,”
I reply,
“checking the meter
and tapping his toes.”

This is the year of the
This is the year of the
everlasting jam.

When that tumor
consumed him,
only forty years old,
fans and critics
thought it was the end.
Loving wife
& loving kids
lowered him to eternal rest.
No rest for the wicked though.
He was live at Birdland,
live at the Vanguard.
He is live behind the pasta and marinara.

The ghost of John Coltrane
still searching for the
perfect al dente tone.

ABP- What do you have planned for 2023?

AP- As always, I’ll be teaching a lot, but other than that, lots of writing. I try to write a few poems every week, but recently I’ve been working on a long one so I’ve been dedicating more time to it. I have a new collection from Alien Buddha coming out in the spring called Ambassador Bridge. While my first book is a collection of pop-culture-oriented stuff, this one is more political/environmental poetry. I also have a collection from Finishing Line Press coming out this year called Petoskey Stones. It collects poems of mine with a nostalgic focus on growing up in Northern Michigan.

Favorite writer? Favorite book?

AP- Obviously, this is a tricky question. I guess Leaves of Grass was the poetry collection that really got me into poetry. It’s the first book of poetry I ever bought, followed quickly by Ginsberg’s Kaddish. That was back in the summer of 1992, right after I graduated from high school. I love the 19th Century French poets like Rimbaud, Verlaine and Mallarme and a lot of the 1960s Black Arts writers like Baraka, Giovanni, and then June Jordan from a little more recently. I’ve recently been reading a lot of Ada Limón and Joy Harjo too.

As far as fiction is concerned, I teach African American Lit, so a lot of what I read comes from that tradition. I can’t recommend Paul Beatty enough. He is absolutely amazing. Of course, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin too. Lately, I’ve been reading a ton of William S. Burroughs as well. He’s just so weird.

ABP- What is the art/lit scene like in Michigan these days? Have you been to any readings or events?

AP- Along with teaching, I also, until recently, worked at a local indie bookstore, so I had the opportunity to attend many local readings and meet a few of my favorites. I spent an evening with Alice Walking just chit-chatting while she signed books, and I got to introduce Nikki Giovanni before her reading in Ann Arbor.

I’ve participated in three or four local events since my book came out last fall, and I will be hosting an open-mic poetry night at a local store starting in a couple weeks. I’m planning to do some reading further from home in the summer, specifically in Cleveland, Chicago, and in the town of my youth, Petoskey, MI.

ABP- Thank you again for taking this interview. If there is anything else that you would like to announce, promote, share, or anything else, please do.

AP- I guess I’d just like to thank Alien Buddha for the support and encouragement. The last few months have been a dream come true. I got into publishing my poems a little later in life than a lot of people, but it’s always been something I wanted to do. Thanks for having me and keep a lookout for my new books throughout 2023.

POPLANDIA now available on Amazon