SPOTLIGHT: Half an Owl in Garden Light by Michael Sikkema

Dark Start

Problem is

I’m afraid

We’re surrounding us

In this former plant nursery

turned park, an old circuit

box yawns, connected to nothing

All the leaves halo trees

Rich, rich, rich

Some fliers, some swimmers

Some walkers, some rooters

Some of them glow

Sometimes these others make

the signal glow too

Trailsiders travel in

animal wind

Little hooks catch

coats or rabbit fur

Spores spin in

the exosphere

Weather is sex

Weather’s a way

for places to become each other.

Native or invasive depends on

the timeline. Right here in

a teaspoon’s worth of dirt

miles and miles

Rich, rich, rich

Smiles for oysters

golden or winter

or underwater

How many acres is

a mushroom song?

Rich, rich, rot




Mud Witch

this pit’s everything a mouth of sky

Mud Witch dreams me in her teeth

it all vibrates wrong when the pain stops

this pit’s everything gathers worms

moles beetles so I don’t starve I cup

mud it all started with the sinkholes

we lost the whole golf course Mud Witch

grabs the rope over my pit leans out

grips her mound with one hand and pisses

down on me the stars change faster than

they should she says a pit’s a walking

tunnel everything a mouth

I thought Mud Witch’s hands around

my throat while I had to milk her

into a half gallon mason jar stars so fast

it all vibrates wrong the milk greenish

howling dogs collapse the distance

it all started with the sinkholes the baptist

church was gone this pit’s birthing me

I guess I could make a little nest to fuck

some leaves I have to bleed

some more she drops in

a rake head I press it to my chest and drag

she says the pit’s just walking

I lick the shadow of the rope she thinks

me with her teeth faster stars I hear with

the dogs sucking down into the mud

Mud Witch names me as the sun rises

names me cup-spit rat-fish waste-face

throws in a ladder to set me free maybe

now that I have a name I step up

the rung breaks it turns to mud

the rung’s on fire gone it turns to water

the rung grows a mouth and names me

it takes all day it all started with a

tunnel that fell on the golf course near

the baptist church I thought her hands

gripping my spine planting me

she leans out and waters me in my pit

I’m born when she picks me my legs have

fused gelatinous skin my feet a spike

my spine cracks I’m a scorpion I sting myself

in the back of the head if Mud Witch

would toss in a fresh friend

I’d have somewhere to keep my songs

moles worms a shrew the worms are

the worms are barking when the rain cleans

me too far Mud Witch throws in rocks throws

in burlap doll parts that erase my body as

they land in the pit hands feet legs splash in

the mud-suck and I’m mostly

gone floating voice it all started when I had

to bleed more in the baptist church

the walking tunnel made a little nest

a mouth of sky is everything a pit a half

gallon mason jar thinks me in her thighs

it all started with

the sinkholes I was going to get

to the bottom of it now here I am in

full dark Mud Witch tossed down her

eyeball the left one I think it burst into flames

shed light on a tunnel forming right

beside me I took two steps towards

it and saw platters of food inside

fried chicken fresh fruit gallon jugs

of water my ankles

exploded tiny bits of bone everywhere

pain like air around me I collapsed

the tunnel was gone then I looked back

at Mud Witch’s eye still glowing it had

turned into a silver sphere it split open

and out came hundreds of tiny Mud Witches

they crawled all over me biting pinching

hissing singing I tossed one into my mouth

felt the bones crack and everything went

white I was sitting at my breakfast table

clean dry hungry my kids were playing

cars and dolls and stuffies I  had coffee

hot still in the blue mug a plate of eggs

and bacon steaming the light outside

pure summer I grabbed a handful of eggs

shoved them in my mouth got under

the table hugged my daughter Anna but

she got smaller as my arms tightened

she turned into a grasshopper smaller than

a penny she jumped into

the keyhole of the front

door I chased after opened the door

and it all started with the sinkholes

this walking pit fell on everyone I had

to eat them I’m all that’s left Mud Witch

comes to the edge again fucks herself with

a femur human probably O’Connor

the hardware guy she bled into my pit

I remember to make the roses grow the roses

hundreds of colors they covered me thorns

ripping as they grew filled the pit blocked

the light and Mud Witch whistled them into

snakes cackled as I screamed then

they were skins just skins their bellies covered

in words a list of everyone I’d ever hurt

this pit’s everything  it started growing in

the baptist church when we lost the golf course

that walking tunnel ate a lot of people

for a long time a thick nothingness

having grown used to formlessness I woke

to Mud Witch sitting in a chair across from

me her feet up on a wooden stool her

skirt hiked up high and one

of her legs was a huge dildo bulging rubber

veins I was tied to my chair with

someone’s tendons I was so thirsty it

started raining and I opened my mouth leaned

back Mud Witch

stood then grabbed my hair pulled my

head back and spat into my mouth “every

little bit helps,” she said for a while I could

see through crows so I did I couldn’t

steer we flew out over top of my

pit in loops tree tops I could see the city in

the distance just lights really I looked

down or the crow did I saw rows and rows

of pits like mine Mud Witch was standing

over every one these were houses once

an ice cream place a liquer store that

hole was a coffee shop that one a muffler

place each pit had someone inside I thought

I’d eaten them all when the food ran

out after I had the fevers it’s hard to

remember we all just did what we

had to it started with the sinkholes

I was counting frogs for the state the survey

the ground shook the whole golf course

caved I was safe on the edge I saw all

the bones the bodies from before the stories

were true I learned the mass grave

was real from my crow I saw the bones

fuse and flesh out  all of them into one

body into Mud Witch the size of a field

some flowers a tree growing through then

another she opened her mouth and shouted

a tunnel into the cloud cover it twisted

through itself pulled in water and trout from

the stream to the south pulled in burning

garbage from someone’s backyard in

the north the shingles of a house a mile

east a small flock of wild turkeys from

the west it all twisted and spun turned into

a dull light fell down into her mouth it seemed

her arms fused to her sides legs fused together

her whole body sealed over with scales except

her head Mud Witch’s head with the body

of a snake now 300 yards long going slowly

towards the lake then finally circling it finally

submerging she inched across rocks her eyes

blued skin dulled she scraped her skin on

the rocks her face slowly pushed through her face

split down the middle her face drug her body

behind it she pulled all the way through her

old skin inside out behind her all the birds

fell from the sky mine too I woke up in the pit

it all started in the pit here where I’m becoming

the fevers help it all gets clearer I can hear

their blood at all the pulse points throat’s the easiest

you’ll never starve if your mouth reaches some

part of your body but the others they taste better

it all started at the golf course I was safe

just fine then I woke up with the fevers so thirsty

I saw those kids all those throats to be fair one

called me zombie weeks ago it was already happening

right around the time of the sinkholes they called

me zombie then their little throats burst I burst

their little throats for christ sakes we eat

the brain last you can’t bite through a skull

I wasn’t a zomie just had the fevers I was counting

frogs thirsty for weeks I woke up in the pit

splayed out tied to stakes in the ground

Mud Witch was standing over me I could hear

the blood in her throat things vibrate right

when I’m fed on time I started eating the others

doing the world a favor those kids

were the first normal ones then I was in the pit

Mud Witch has built a door up top it’s dark all

the time time changed I guess the speed mostly

must be night now stars falling no

fireflies land on my ribs burn through

embers maybe it hurts

right and makes these little tunnels I pull away

the meat the rib bones and see a pair

of wings hanging inside me I try to fly

but they just rattle and buzz til the crows come

to confuse them for food and pick them clean

Boing, Extinction VS Wow! Signal

Kenning is shadowy paragraphs illicit

                Bernadette adjusts

                the pitch of

                the headtake

Mahalia is rotary asteroid barnacles

SPOTLIGHT: Morsels of Purple by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar

The Watchmaker

I lose time—my watch stops and my phone dies as I’m hiking the trail across Cinque Terre, the cluster of scenic seaside villages in Italy. Tired and sun-burnt, I rest in an air-conditioned restaurant. When the waiter approaches, handsome in a crisp white shirt and black vest, I ask him the time,

“Time is good, Signora. I meet you,” he winks before looking at his watch. “Four pm.”

I’m not annoyed at his blatant flirting. Instead, I’m buoyed that a handsome man with his foreign accent, aquiline nose, angular face, and piercing black eyes, is hitting on me, an average middle-aged woman.

 “American?” he asks.

 “Si,” I say, and tuck stray hair behind my ear.

 I order lemonade and a tomato-basil Panini. He leaves a whiff of his woody cologne before heading to the kitchen. 

This country, with couples kissing and necking in every nook and alley, is cruel to someone like me who hasn’t dated anyone in more than a year. Not since the divorce.

Claudio, I read the waiter’s nametag when he returns with my food. Some gray in his beard peeks out when he bends down to set the tray— he isn’t as young as I first thought. I ask him if he knows a place where I could get my watch repaired.

He laughs and the sound of his laughter makes my blood dance, my pulse quicken. A full-hearted laugh, the kind I haven’t heard in a long time.

“You, lucky, Signora. You find me,” he says, bending his knees in a little bow. “I repair and make watches.”

He invites me to come with him to his place after his shift to get the watch mended. I say yes instantly, my tongue an automaton. What’s wrong with me? I’m not looking for a fleeting fling in Italy. But, I do need the watch fixed to track time in this foreign place.

Claudio’s place is a tiny studio on the second floor of a quaint pink-and-yellow house. Once inside, he takes off his shirt, without asking for permission or pardon. Black hair carpets his chest. I can’t imagine how it would feel—coarse like wire or soft like corn silk—under my fingers.

He pours us Chianti and starts looking at my opened-up watch through a loupe lens. I watch him, and he knows very well that I am watching.

After scouring through his many boxes and canisters, he declares he doesn’t have the part my watch needs but could arrange to have it in a day. I agree to return the next day, and he walks me to the train station.

As I am about to board the train to Rome, where my hotel is, he grabs my shoulder and kisses me, slowly then hungrily. I love his long nose resting on mine. 

As it turns out, my watch can’t be fixed the next evening—the part isn’t available after all—but he pulls out, from a velvet pouch, a beautiful, white-dialed pocket watch with filigreed hands. He says he assembled this one himself while learning the trade from his father.

“It is, I think, the last of its kind,” he says, curling my fingers around it. “You, keep it.”

I kiss his hands, the hands that have given me the gift of time I’d lost. I sleep in his bed that night, the night after, and the one after, my fingers caressing the hairs on his chest—softer than wire, harder than corn-silk.

“Stay in Italy,” he says, on the tenth night, kissing my cheek. I’m scheduled to depart for Boston the day after.

“You come with me,” I whisper in his ear, and nibble at his lobe.

Claudio invites a bunch of his friends for drinks the evening before we plan to fly out. “Farewell, amici,” he raises his glass and tilts it towards mine. “I leave for America.”

“This Signora, with green eyes,” one of the men winks at me. “Your green card to the USA.”

“Lucky bastardo!” All his friends whoop and cheer.

I dunk the pocket watch into Claudio’s wine glass, and flounce out of the house.

SPOTLIGHT: Motherfisher:  A haiku-story of grieving in the time of COVID by Theodore George

How do those fish feel?
Is it an urge or longing
For origin grounds?

Is what makes them run
Perhaps rather anger at
The meager time left

The locks were alive
With hope-filled travelers
This stream is empty

Autopilot now
The hum of folding waters
Pilgrim hears progress

Empty and alone
This salmon takes time to think
What is this all for?

Under the full moon
Shafts of light refract and dance
Salmon wants Potlatch

At the hatchery
Some flop against the ladder
While others wallow

At the hatchery
One pilgrim jumps the ladder
Onlookers applaud

The hatchery is
One thing but the older haunts
Are a thing apart

Remote spawning ground
It must be a pristine place
How can they find it?

How to reach first grounds
People of the Large Lake
Might still remember

But where to search now?
Past Kirkland and Bothell
And Issaquah too

Perhaps in Gold Bar
In Carnation or Snoqualmie
I will never know

SPOTLIGHT: Our Tiny Little Lives by J.I.B

Television and Oncoming Traffic

You’re a child. Your mother started drinking coffee. The lights are out and the windows are blind. There are things you don’t understand. Your father is asleep on the porch. You eat your breakfast. Get dressed. Watch television. Honor thy mother and thy father. Your mother drinks her coffee in the dining room alone, every morning. Every morning, when your mother drinks her coffee alone, she asks you not to talk. Your mother wants to drive her car into oncoming traffic. You’re a child and you don’t know. Your mother tells you other peoples’ mothers shoot dope. Other peoples’ mothers drowned them in bathtubs. You’re lucky, your mother tells you. You’re a child and you have a problem sitting still. You have a problem not talking. You’re a child and you have a problem. Your father falls asleep on the porch/in the kitchen/in the bathroom/in the backyard/in the dirt/in the mud. In his piss. In his shit. To say he falls asleep is inaccurate. Your father doesn’t sleep. Honor thy mother. Honor thy father. There are things you don’t understand. You’re a child. There’s a television. You’re a child and you watch a lot of television. There are things on television that you don’t understand. You’re a child and you don’t understand most things. Other peoples’ mothers drive their cars into oncoming traffic or off bridges into rivers. You’re lucky to be dry. You’re a child. Your mother tells you that you hardly know anything. You know that. You’re a child and you have a problem. Your mother drinks her coffee alone and wants you not to talk and wants to drive her car into oncoming traffic but she doesn’t. You’re in the car with your mother and she’s taking you to school. You’re a child going to school. You have a problem. Matt Lauer told you someone else’s mother left them in a hot car so long they died. You’re lucky. You’re a child. Your father doesn’t sleep. Your father passes out and your mother doesn’t drive her car into oncoming traffic, so long as she drinks her coffee alone, every morning. So long as every morning you don’t talk. You’re a child with a problem you don’t understand. You’re a child and you understand almost nothing.

A Dead Horse

You’re a child and there’s something wrong. There’s always something. Always crying and never stops talking, the teachers say. The doctors say there’s medication for this, and your mother says nothing. Your mother nods. A horse breaks a leg. Your mothers fills your prescription. Your mother tells you to take by mouth twice daily. On a full stomach only. The horse takes a bullet to the skull. You. A child. There is something wrong. Always something. Wrong. There’s the smell of vomit always and never crying. Or talking. Or sleeping, eating. Or thinking. Nothing. Only fragments. Only vomit and medication and wrong. You were a child who was always crying and never stopped talking, and now you aren’t. You avoid conflict, any cost, the teachers say. The doctors say the medication is working and you’re a child, or you were. You are no longer a child. You’re still taking medication. You’re taking anything given. An empty stomach. You avoid conflict. Avoid conflict. Avoid conflict. You avoid conflict. Avoid conflict. Avoid conflict. Avoid. Conflict. Avoid. Conflict. Until there’s nothing but. Avoid. Conflict. Vomit. Medication. Nothing. Wrong. A dead horse.

7up and Adderall

Carbonated water. Citric acid. Potassium. Corn syrup. Natural flavoring. This combination is supposed to make the vomiting stop. It’s in a glass, sitting on your nightstand. It stopped bubbling hours ago. You sipped it in between dry heaves, until the dry heaves weren’t dry. There’s a mop bucket beside your bed. It’s threatening overflow. You are a child and you talk too much. You have a medical card. You have a t.v. in your bedroom. You watch it in between dry heaves and vomiting. You wait to go to sleep. You watched the glass on your nightstand until the bubbles stopped. The glow of Adult Swim floods the room. Some nights you wait and nothing happens. 7up is supposed to stop the vomiting. Adderall. Active Ingredients include dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate and amphetamine sulfate. Inactive Ingredients include colloidal silicon dioxide, compressible sugar, corn starch, magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose and saccharin sodium. This combination was supposed to stop the talking. It worked. There’s a mop bucket beside your bed. It’s always beside your bed. Adderall. A medical card. A child that’s always talking. You stopped talking. You can’t talk if your mouth is full of vomit. You can’t sleep if you’re always dry heaving. Can it be called a mop bucket if it’s always full of vomit? You’re a child and you take Adderall by mouth twice daily, on a full stomach. You wash it down with 7up to stop the vomiting.

One of God’s Hideous Lessons
During my last two years on Earth as a child, I suffered a sudden and horrifying transformation. My once disturbed but perfectly terrestrial body was now two separate and distinct specimens. The first and most viable was the bucket of bedside vomit, somehow breathing despite a lack of lung. The second consisted of a brain rotten with Adderall and images of the crucifixion of Christ, the skeleton my muscles once used, what used to be my skin, now like a nursing home blanket, covering something that spends most of its time dying, eyes that are difficult to sleep and impossible to dream with. This is the body they expected me to praise God with and for a while I did. For a while I prayed without ceasing for God’s big hands to come down and mold my two halves back into one. He answered with a deafening and absolute silence. Ultimately these horrid vessels I was drowning in were good for only one thing, teaching surrender.

SPOTLIGHT: Thunder, Lightning and Urban Cowboys by g emil reutter

30th Street Station

Here on the west bank of the Schuylkill
Shaw’s eight stories of steel rise above train
tracks and Bridgewater. Encased cathedral
windows in travertine walls catwalk across
porticos of classical columns, sun streams in.

Hancock’s archangel rises from Tennessee
marble, a soldier in arms, looks to coffered
ceiling, rests between art deco chandeliers.
Gilded ornamented columns glisten above
dark wooden benches where signs of blue
lead to tracks of steel as the destination board
clicks and clacks on trains arrival.

In the north hall, aged brass images of Atterbury
Gibbs and Thomson keep eye on commuters
rushing to and fro. Embedded on the west wall
Bitter’s century old Spirit sings out in the grunts
of oxen, horses, of ornate carriages, pioneers
weary mother of children, the youngest carrying
an airship into the future.

On the concourse they open and close books
newspapers, tap on keyboards, whisper sweet
nothings into lovers ear, make business deals
greet family, travel in all directions in this last
great temple of what were once the railroad gods.


I walk through the early morning mist
jacket begins to soak with each step
In this walk I see things I would have
never noticed otherwise. A fresh look
at the everyday, of the spectral, of the
kaleidoscopic. I have become a walking
man, not like Reznikoff who walked miles
through the caverns of New York City.
I walk the small community I live in
three miles along the edges and down the
main arteries. I breathe in the cold air
take in all the sights of this neighborhood
in my adopted city. I walk.

Meditation along a Creek
-for Walt

As on most days I walk the banks of the creek
caught up in thought as I watch the rapids by
the sandy beach. It is times like these I think
of you and the heartbreak I carry of your passing
four decades ago. On this creek in the city I live
my thoughts drift to another place along Mill Creek
in the neighborhood of my youth. It was here we
climbed trees, constructed rock bridges caught
minnows and craw daddies, swung on ropes and
dreamed. We ran the park in the hollow, played
ball in the fields of the orchard; became teenagers
when we weren’t looking. And in these new times
unbridled hope leaked from our pores your
suffering began and no matter the diagnosis you
held out faith and gave us the strength to travel
the path with you. When things got bad, I always
thought of you and through you believed there was
nothing we couldn’t do. At 19 you were taken from
us, there was no cure and with your departure our
hopes and dreams departed. It was never the same
along Mill Creek as everything splintered; I left.
So here in another town I watch the rapids in another
creek as your sweet smile and peaceful aura come into
focus yet again and all these years later I miss you my
friend, look at the rapids through watery eyes, pat
my chest and know I carry memories of you that will
stay with me all of my life.

Mascaro’s Alarm

I hear the announcement of morning’s arrival
diesel engine revving and revving as if a struggle
to stay alive. Birds go quiet in the trees as alarms
pierce the air; echo off the buildings. Arms unbend
steel forks slap the ground, alarms go quiet as the
forks pierce the channels in the box Glanz invented.

Constant revving and revving as the arms lift the box
over the man in the cab and then the bang and clang
bang and clang of items falling into the steel bed of
the truck, revving and revving as the packer blade
compresses along bronze shoes. The bang of the box
booms as it is dropped back into place. A brief moment
of quiet. Alarms sound again, revving and revving as
as the engine struggles once again in reverse.

The large red truck navigates its way through the small
parking lot, revving and revving, lurches onto the street.
Birds in trees sing once again, sound of leaves kissed
by wind fills the air as does the patter of rain against


On the dark lonely hill covered with snow
pieces of granite, marble, cement line up
as if dominos ready to fall. All that remains
of the church that was once here is a hole
in the ground and unlike the other holes
that have been filled, this one remains empty
except for watery mud and the skeleton of
an Oak tree in the center. I am sure if you
could find an old timer here on the hill they
could tell you the name of the church, even
the name of what might have been a town.
There isn’t anyone within miles of this place.
As the loose snow is wiped from the stones
I find some mayors, councilmen, reverends
wives and husbands, children gone too soon
and many stones whose names have faded
into time as have those who occupy the hole
beneath. Some stones barely poke through
the ground, others are tilting and yet others
lay flat sinking into the earth. There was a
time when all these people mattered but for
now and forever they rest forgotten on a
dark lonely hill covered with snow.

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He has been published widely in the small and electronic press. Fifteen collections of his fiction and poetry have been published. He is a contributing editor at North of Oxford and published The Fox Chase Review. He can be found at: