Noor Al-Samarrai

Another poem about boobs


Long after I was past being breast fed
I still sucked on my mother’s nipples in the shower.

They were big and brown,
like her hands. Not like mine,
pink and small skin I can’t grow up out of.

A woman once told me that three rivers run through Iraq:
The Tigris, the Euphrates, and Poetry.

Her nipples tasted like my own earth, like the silt of these rivers,
had the same texture as sea-softened stones.
We pretended I was still her baby,
that I still needed her like the moon needs
the ocean to mean anything to surfers, like fossils need
scientists to name them, like I still needed her body
to live in my own.


I don’t touch anyone in Berkeley.
I try to make up for it in other ways.
I go to the Berkeley Bowl,
stand among the fruit with my eyes closed and try
to learn the origins of eight varieties of plums
by their feel alone, by listening to their skin.
The stock boys tell me it’s unseemly to feel up the plums
but I pretend I don’t speak English
turn my face back to the fruit
imagine they are my mother’s breasts
whisper, “I love you, I love you,”
and wonder if she feels a tugging somewhere.
My phone rings right then –
she’s calling me.
“Hello,” I say, in Arabic, in case the stock boys are listening.
“Hello,” she says. We speak for sixteen minutes. She does most of the talking,
and I listen to her voice like it’s a plum’s skin that could unpeel the secrets of the universe
just for me. She is telling me I need to train myself in loving things steadily, that I need to
stop writing things in spurts.


Here is my country. I am living in it by living in my skin. I want to eat this earth eat rivers of silt to be these poems to have a body that makes me feel connected to yours like I’m being strangled each time my cousins are blown to bits by American bombs brains splattered on the Baghdad streets. I want the tongues of the ones I love to taste the earth I come from when they taste my breasts to taste my Tigris my Euphrates my poetry instead of this pink ocean sunset. I want to be the water inside of you an ocean brought back to the river of itself running through your mouth and back into your body so I can beat my way out again by loving you over and over my mother my moon my mother my ocean my mother my constellation of stars that are shooting themselves in the foot my mother my fossil of my future fossil of my past my mother hold me close and forget I exist forget I exist forget I exist as any body outside of you. Forget I exist as anything but your skin.

Sunflowers are my favorite flowers because of the radio

Halfway through the fifth grade, I became a latch-key kid.

The school bus, all yellow elastic, stretched-out cartoon of it, dropped me and my best friend off right in front of a known pervert’s driveway. 

He was a big man with a potbelly and skinny sideburns who invited us to taste the blueberries he grew on a rolling cart in his front yard.

She and I ran fast, in opposite directions, to our houses.

Mine was further
I pumped confetti out of my lungs as I ran
It sparkled behind me as I swept down the boomerang street
I was a comet
My legs, twin tails
I was afraid the shine would lead right to my front door like a silver snail trail glimmer.

When I opened the door,
I had the whole house to myself.

Most days I would turn on the big radio
lie down on the wood floor, press my head against the wall, smell its plaster.
I’d put my hand on my heart and feel its beat change when different songs came on.  

All the songs I knew, I knew from the radio or the old cassette tapes of classical Arabic music my mom would turn up loud in the car. Youtube didn’t exist yet. I’d find lyrics to songs I’d never heard on the internet and imagine in the melodies.

This is how I became responsible for the KROQ playing “Fuck Authority” by Pennywise on the radio.

Every day I called the radio station:

I’d like to request a song … Ummm  … “Eff Authority” by Pennywise. I know you’ve never played it before, but I never heard it before and really wanna!

What’s the song called? 

Ummmm … Effff Authority. Like, F-U-C-K … Authority.

One day, the radio operator asked why.

I told him, because I liked wearing a big yellow button with a happy face on it on my jeans, right above my right knee like that one kid in Dazed and Confused. Because I loved punk rock music. Because my mom yelled at the TV when George Bush came on until spit flew from her mouth and traveled right through the TV screen to hit his forehead.  

I knew it hit him because right then he wiped it and squinted a little. Because boys at school beat me up for being short and dorky and foreign. Because I liked to write poems like e.e. cummings and he asked, Ever heard of Allen Ginsberg? My favorite poem is Sunflower Sutra.

I read the poem.

It starts:

“I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.”

And I’d never been on no locomotive, and I still don’t know what a tincan banana dock is, but I do know the Southern Pacific, and I do know box house hills. I know sunsets, and I know what it means to cry, and I know that there’s something about music, something about a stranger’s voice telling you you’re not some dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive but a beautiful golden sunflower inside.


Alex Gallo-Brown

Of Two Minds

Not silence or erasure
but the radical assertion
of the mind,
of some consciousness beyond
one’s ability to arrange
thoughts and emotions
into structures that have been
pre-arranged, pre-accepted
by collective habits
of obedience and deferral.
Not insane
but of course insane.
No shame but
of course shame.
The first mind
wanting to be received,
confirmed and cast under
the mantle of safety.
The second mind
resistant to all notions
of safety,
repellant to the other,
to all others.

Or perhaps not.
Perhaps the twining
simply regrettable,
the first mind lost
in its relentless pursuit.
Or both minds lost.
Both wanting that grace
that comes
with intuitive presence.
Both wanting to unite.
                 to lift


Matt Truslow


I live in the earth with all the critters
my glue traps are bought for a big spider
on a dry lime’s somebody’s gin and tonic
my apartment is too small to cry loud in
too loud yeah       whoever drew a scary spider on the aerosol
can made to kill em’ makes the imago wrong for sure
sure you’re alive in this and this picture you’re alive
all over the place in the dreams I want to have
of a lot of days I can’t say I enjoyed
in the bed I spread out in
but this isn’t real this mug of Prosecco on ice
let alone shame-like growth embarrassing me
let alone lonely enough to say I hug me and want to
so I let all the wrong stuff in and kept it
some nights I’m sad now I always sound like myself
and I sound like it did



I hate myself normally and ache that way
nothing’s there to say a cleft gear
can’ t link with the mountain dark      I can levitate
what’s just bigger than a paperclip
when I’m drunk but I’m drunk though
so it won’t

When you slip a new shirt on            I want to buy that smell
I want to take that shit because that’s
what vacay smells like—a nice time landlocked in stupid shitty hills

I barf a gum bubble and bite a flag to plant
now mouth’s a dock in the dirt-water tropics and these dolphins
their sweat is my spit I think
I saw dolphins once on vacay—snorkeled in their range
mounted and strapped a lifejacket            the boat’s bar was open
I snorkeled with the critters and returned

now grab your lantern and walk there
there’s nothing to do with a good dream
nothing that holds—there’s a gum bubble
            you blew I want
            to bite through



grey days maim things by name and I recline
with my wet drink on a soft lawn chair—breathed
oven cleaner and threw up later in my toilet
I cleaned that day too
what’s stuck like a tick in a fruit wedge won’t speak
‘cause it doesn’t do what it’s willed to at all

a medium-sized dog screamed at me and realized a wasp
was in the cola I drank is in a throat stung-closed—O
“O no! It’s dumb!” I wrote to myself I said
“but it’s summer” sweat’s the sugar from my fritter’s fruit
where the moon I chewed came from today still stays



It’s the lawn chair months—get me my party liquor and beach umbrella
fixed to hunker a beige storm under
time passes and I palm its flab—try to make me a stab-taker
make a day more now than hot than what happens by
what’s happening then in the backyard sky—to see it’s unusual
critters glom on a tree and fit the fine stub
see fruit stay in this unbit fritter      the lawn chair months end here
where no one needs to see me everyday anymore

limes go in the sink and get grey by the wedge      you get it
how the palmless grey day nicely lies—chewed through
by the neighbor dogs’ night yaps

so why not snag yourself another sparkler
it’s summer anyway

no creek’s nearby to pretend to drink from
you can’t hunt the moon at noon



fuck. I’m lonely again. Gin and tonic time
time for a lagoon of lung milk to fill with fumigant

mine’s a habit fine by hooch and critter smoke lures I fix to souse a spider
out the house’s crannies I pay for to move em’
toward my glue traps I pay for which are shit and gross
which I grab gingerly and trash

      There’s a song, “My Kind of Woman,” and yes, I want to be placated
younger and dumb, dumber and fun, a done-for dummy made so.
      There’s a lot of song in Sprite commercials, “is my lime a lemon?” I don’t worry,
“have I made another no-soul ghost?” of course
      my spirit’s bound fog and beverage—a sparkler in the lawn chair dark
slunk over a bunch of mountains I could give a fuck for
      my constant railing’s just      worth nothing as the lime reclines
softly in the light I make grey in the day I say took work
      with nothing hurt to show

Idaho’s on fire now—more so than any other state
      some natural gestures make your nature blatant—so it does
      the forest gets noticed for burning—so I see it
less so than the smoke in the valley I hear about
by lime and fumes, glue and booze      my critters all recline

show me a day longer than another and I’ll look like you
but then you’re right though
you’re right-somehow-now


Sultana Raza

Bacterial Berserker

The bacteria on Cloud Nine
Laced with potassium
Induced unseasonal euphoria
In the octogenarian’s rust-lined brain.

The airline stated unequivocally
It was not to be blamed.
Scientists of alloyed fields
Are still working on the
Ratios of probability
Of the docile church-parading granny
Lurching into break dance at landing.
Thrumming the neighbours
With her parasol
Secretly jammed under her seat;
Slapping hapless stewardess too soundly
For the other passengers’ comfort,
For attempting to strap her in.

Was it the potassium compound?

A protest against violence
Plain looniness (on a moonless night)
Re-merged jealousy of a rival’s look alike?

A bet of the Bored Golden Girls Club
Of getting x number of hits on FaceTube?
Just purified spite?
Or the idea of flying out with a semi-funny bang?

Meanwhile, industrious scientists
Like ants after an evaporating sugar drop
Are still working the bacteria factor
To get the court case off
The airline’s back;
Smooth as a smugging duck.



Finn Menzies

for the burnt angels

I will say your names in the snow
please don’t take my body from me

you didn’t belong to me, but I belong to you

I know stealing sadness is the ugliest of thefts

please don’t take my body from me

burnt angels
I know stealing sadness is the ugliest of thefts
we found your crisp thin arms around each other

burnt angels
please love me enough
we found your crisp thin arms around each other
the fire can keep me

please love me enough
I will say your names in the snow
the fire can keep me
you didn’t belong to me, but I belong to you


for Ari Banias

people like poems about their day
poems with food and birds with
quick tempo changes and quick thoughts
because they are coping

mirrors are for coping
& not for living

no one wants to deal with the endless
wet of ugly here
nobody wants to get on their knees
take the towel and soak it up

I don’t either,

but I write that I’m breaking

or the poems break from humanness

each poem saying please love me
please love yourself
maybe this will bring you to me
we’re lonely

maybe I will never write a poem you want to read
because they are all made with tangled dry mouth
and always the river of bees
who fill every word with their fur berries
all the bees who
dance me in this horrible life
I must love


Pantoum 4

wear an invisible guilt for my transition
you raised me that men were monsters
when the child fell over
& now anger is in the spaces where my breath used to be

you raised me that men were monsters
but they climb me with weak bones, wet coughs and kisses
& now anger is in the spaces where my breath used to be
I repeat like a rosary, I will never forgive myself

but they climb me with weak bones, starved for love
they use me for heat use me for strength
I repeat like a rosary, I will never forgive myself
I used to have more love than mind

they use me for heat use me for strength
wear an invisible guilt for my transition
they hide in my coat and clutch both my legs for a home
when the child fell over


Cole Konopka

one sparrow, two sparrow

eight million more in
New York City. A girl full of stories
names them Icarus. One Icarus, two Icarus

eighty thousand pennies drop
from skyscraper observation decks.
A month’s rent up state, in places named
Syracuse, Troy, Ithaca. One month, two month

eight hundred travels here and home,
home and the next, where most are tuned
into survival. A suitor dies long enough to name
the Swan and the river Eridanus. One star, two star

eight subway cars shooting through
the night like birds in dart.
A group of tourist names
το ιερό.


The Breeders

                        in fucking dead dead rock
                                                            without moving

                        i rip off your glasses
& whip them out
to the                                    skull/OR
by our pink baby pods                        pick up the
microphone Kim now a guitar
                  play                  put them away

now i am bubbulegum in you am i a
gun                  distress
of                  different orders
ash                  and elm

split yew aways the yellow meadow

let’s get dark in these rocks                  give
me your arm                  mine is separate logs

                        at the same time
                        there’s style before                  we go
How many days this time have we eloped here,
but not enshrined love, here?

How many days, how many yards, how many feuds,
how many yards from
the remnant fence are we, are we a we here?

Kim, where’s your guitar? I think the microphone
is, ok I don’t know, but there’s a bass hooked into
my other arm. There’s also daylight between us where
rabid flies gain. Shadows of tears masquerade
in your next song of ragged baggage dreaming
hard, the rock cave floor becoming yellow meadow.

Thank you.
We are the Breeders.


Vikrant Sunderlal Chandel

Corner House

Still life in a leafless north’n forest, while
the house grows fat and way past picking.

Tick tick tick pa pa, saw the wheelchair in the
street, chose the cane and slowly eroding feet.

Wheat    coloured    eye    lids    clo    sing violent
as we carved negative spaces out of your childhood.

The Banyan hides the ants.

She appeared at the window, spent the hour, repulsed,
watching your face register mine between her limbs.

Now they say they have one daughter, was not on me to
forget her; the means can you find from the conclusion.

Spent    the hour    look    ing through wire,    pres    crib    ing    heal    ing
your        mind        could never experience.

Children who were told they were soon to be family taking
freely from each other until their best memories were gone.


Al-Samarrai, Gallo-Brown, Truslow, Raza, Konopka, Menzies, Chandel

Noor Al-Samarrai is a Californian poet and performer with Mesopotamian roots. As a Fulbright Fellow, she is currently based in Amman, Jordan, where she is working on a book about urban life in mid-20th century Baghdad through the memories of Iraqis in diaspora. Her debut poetry collection is forthcoming in 2018 from Inside the Castle Press. See more of her work and follow her adventures here.

Alex Gallo-Brown is a writer living in Seattle. His essays have appeared in publications that include Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, Vice, The Brooklyn Rail, and Lit Hub, and his poems can be found in Tahoma Literary Review, Muse/A Journal, Seattle Review of Books, and City Arts magazine. In 2016, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is currently a writer-in-residence with Seattle Arts and Lectures' Writers in the Schools.

Matt Truslow is a poet living in Brooklyn, NY.

Finn Menzies is an out transgender Pre-K teacher in Seattle, WA. Witnessing young children become conscious, open hearted people is his daily practice in resistance. He is grateful to have his first full-length collection of poetry coming out summer 2017 by Fog Machine Press. His work can also be seen in Open House, Gigantic Sequins, The Shallow Ends, and various other journals.

Of Indian origin, Sultana Raza has an M.A. in English Literature. Her articles and fiction have appeared in numerous publications, and she’s received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train. Sultana Raza’s poems have appeared in 25+ journals, including London Grip (UK), Literary Gazette (USA), Caduceus (Ed. Yale University, USA), and The New Verse News, Catch and Release (Columbia’s online Journal), and Indiana Voices Journal

Cole Konopka was born in 1988. He is a translator, musician, painter, and poetry MFA candidate at Colorado State University, where he serves as assistant director to the creative writing reading series. 

Vikrant Sunderlal Chandel split his formative years between Bangalore and Boston. He currently resides in New York, where he writes, acts, sculpts, and attempts to make music. Find him sipping ice tea at your local Thai restaurant. 

Photograph by Sierra Stinson


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