SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ABRIANA JETTÉ


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LIES OUR MOTHER TOLD US
By Abriana Jetté


I do not believe in the story of the virgin
but in the value of the human: the body —

because no matter what you were told
that soul is not yours. But the body,

the body is yours. The slight round
of the breast like the sun or the depth of your

toes to your crown: these are the ways
we measure ourselves. I do not want to

believe she was a vehicle. Tell me
there was pleasure; there were moans.

Tell me when she was fully grown
she remembered a wave a release an ecstasy

that entered her, that she could feel it in her
teeth. Motherhood means you are no longer

maiden but Queen. Tell me the story of the one
who smiled at the rustling of her sheets.



Today’s poem was published in the The Journal for Compressed Creative Arts, Spring 2015, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Abriana Jetté: Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York Abriana Jetté is an internationally published poet and essayist and educator. Her anthology 50 Whispers: Poems by Extraordinary Women debuted as a #1 best seller on Amazon, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Seneca Review, River Teeth, Barrelhouse, The Moth, and many other places. She teaches for St. John’s University, for the College of Staten Island, and for the nonprofit organization Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.

Editor’s Note: And then there was the poet who reimagined the Virgin Mary. Not as virgin, but as human, as woman, capable of “a wave a release an ecstasy // that entered her, that she could feel it in her / teeth.” Advocating for agency, the poet insisted, “I do not want to // believe she was a vehicle.” Reverent of the woman’s transformation, she taught us that “Motherhood means you are no longer // maiden but Queen.” And we saw her as the poet saw her. And it was good.

Want to see more from Abriana Jetté?
Hermeneutic Chaos Journal
Truthdig
Abriana Jetté’s Official Website
Stay Thirsty Publishing
Barrelhouse Mag

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A Review of Rochelle Hurt’s The Rusted City 

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A Review of Rochelle Hurt’s The Rusted City

By J. Andrew Goodman

The Rusted City is an imaginative debut novella-in-poems by Rochelle Hurt, chosen as the 2014 installment of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series, an imprint of White Pine Press. The collection follows a family living in the Rusted City where buildings, fauna, and people have corroded from disuse. Jobs and fathers are mythologized and ephemeral, leaving wives and daughters equally susceptible to corrosion. “[Rust], mothers would say to one another, will eat through anything.”

The collection follows a family of four–the Favorite Father, the Quiet Mother, the oldest Sister, and the Smallest Sister–similar to many families in the Rust Belt town amid the strife of unemployment and listlessness and their byproducts. However, Hurt’s vibrant prose animates rivers, turns scrap gardens into jewelry boxes, and rust and oils into something palatable. On one’s first tour, the city glints with old world glory.

The Rusted City subsumes color–patina and verdigris, rust and blood, snow and ash–as a metaphor seemingly changing as scenes and characters do. In one scene, the red of rust signifies the accumulation of secrets; in another, the physical redness of eyes after much weeping.

Through Hurt’s tight and deliberate language, rust, the consequence of the city’s halted production, corrodes the alloyed inhabitants. Such corrosion makes them stiff, opaque, lacking in reflection. Rust becomes a metaphor for callousness or numbness. The city’s many fathers are guilty of sexual abuse. The Favorite Father seeks reconciliation with the Quiet Mother, but she reacts as her moniker suggests:

Once you were silver,/ skin-tease and flash, // I could reach inside/ your chest, empty // as a tin canister, the air / thick with echo, I could stretch // my fingers out and tap / my nail against your heart, // which hung like a spoon / from your ribcage, // once I tapped too hard / and it clattered to the bottom // of your gut. I spent months / trying to hang it back up.

The Rusted City’s other women respond similarly, ossifying against their husband’s apologies, effectively becoming constructs. “In need of music, dancing women began to hum, // bus still refused to move their tongues. Their men resolved to hold them still until // some mouths softened with moss or crumbled.” All the citizens adopt such forms to conceal their trauma or distress. Rochelle Hurt’s clever rendering of bodies reveals the “impatient decay” of heavily tested love, how quickly silence becomes distance.

Silence exudes almost every page as a gift of reprieve, as a secret, and as a weapon. The Smallest Sister, whom the collection follows most closely, tries to recapture the language to speak of her own abuse, to give a name to her experience. She appropriates it one word at a time with help from the Oldest Sister.

Once inhabited by silence, Hurt’s characters are inert machines: cold and interchangeable cogs, the mothers are indefatigable and quiet in their “sweeping” of the past. “Often, mothers caught one another / by the river at night, eyes wide, / arms locked to brooms. Often, // they agreed to make another secret / of their sweeping, and no one knew // how much of the city’s past / the water had swallowed.” More and more, the citizens and their pasts are enveloped in rust. In concerted effort, Rochelle Hurt reveals the nature of pain: infectious and ubiquitous.

The Rusted City is a product of collective labor. An entire city works to conceal its past before younger generations may rediscover it. In the process, one wonders if the intense corruption begins in the atmosphere or whether it is internal, spreading outward.

The Rusted City is an intimate examination of familial strife. Rochelle Hurt’s use of metaphor compounds the affect of language and implication. Her imagery is smart and wondrous, while her insights remind us that reconciliation is precipitous and piecemeal.

***

J. Andrew Goodman is the Managing Book Review Editor for As It Ought To Be, a Library Page for the Louisville Free Public Library, and a former marketing and editorial intern for White Pine Press. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Murray State University.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SUSAN RICH

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MOHAMUD AT THE MOSQUE
By Susan Rich

                  ~ for my student upon his graduation

And some time later in the lingering
blaze of summer, in the first days
after September 11th you phoned –

if I don’t tell anyone my name I’ll
pass for an African American.

And suddenly, this seemed a sensible solution –

the best protection: to be a black man
born in America, more invisible than
Somali, Muslim, asylum seeker –

Others stayed away that first Friday
but your uncle insisted that you pray.
How fortunes change so swiftly

I hear you say. And as you parallel
park across from the Tukwila
mosque, a young woman cries out –

her fears unfurling beside your battered car
go back where you came from!
You stand, both of you, dazzling there

in the mid-day light, her pavement
facing off along your parking strip.
You tell me she is only trying

to protect her lawn, her trees,
her untended heart – already
alarmed by its directive.

And when the neighborhood
policeman appears, asks
you, asks her, asks all the others –

So what seems to be the problem?
He actually expects an answer,
as if any of us could name it –

as if perhaps your prayers
chanted as this cop stands guard
watching over your windshield

during the entire service
might hold back the world
we did not want to know.



Today’s poem was published in the collection Cures Include Travel (White Pine Press, 2006), and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Susan Rich is the author of four poetry collections including Cloud Pharmacy, recently shortlisted for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize and the Indi Fab Award. Other books include the The Alchemist’s Kitchen, a Finalist for the Washington Book Prize, Cures Include Travel, and The Cartographer’s Tongue: Poems of the World (White Pine). She is a co-editor of an essay collection, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders published by The Poetry Foundation and McSweeney’s. Susan’s poems have been published in 50 States and 1 District including journals such as New England Review, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry International, and World Literature Today.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is a stunning and moving commentary on racism in America today. A thoughtful reflection, now, with the 15th anniversary of September 11th this past weekend. How far have we come in moving past anti-Islamic sentiment in America? In the world? And how many steps backward have we taken in America’s racism against black men? What of the poem’s notion that “the best protection” is “to be a black man / born in America, more invisible than / Somali, Muslim, asylum seeker”? And what of those asylum seekers? How, in a country whose emblem bears the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” have we opened our doors to Syrian refugees? And what of those Americans who are threatening to vote for a man whose response to our neighbors is to build a wall to keep them out?

Today, as much as it did when it was written, this poem asks: Who are we, America? Who are we, and how do we treat our fellow human? I, for one, fear that this America–this world–is “the world / we did not want to know.”

Want to see more from Susan Rich?
Buy Cloud Pharmacy from The Elliot Bay Book Company
Susan Rich’s Official Website
The Alchemist’s Kitchen – Susan Rich’s Blog
Twitter: @susanrichpoet
Facebook Author Page

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Three Poems by Renée Ashley

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NOT WHAT SHE HAD IN MIND

She is trying to get out of her body,
its strong tethers to the soil, its gravid
aspirations, trying to shed breasts and

belly, the great broad barrel of her torso
–some natural shift in accommodations,
something spacious, airy, something un-

hindered by bulk and bone. The yeasty
dead rise and toss out suggestions, but
they’re not what she had in mind. Rather,

something gauzy, something joy might
be eager to inhabit, the smallest open point
of absence ready to live easily in the world.

***

THE SHAME FRAGMENT

Harmony, symmetry, the slipping past
or through—and there between clapper

and bell, bottle and lip, the room of no
and every motion: shame with its wet

tongues, its aggravated eye. Shame
wound about your head like tarry air—

the stink and stymie and the damp soul
sweating it out between the skin and

what thrives—in no space at all—inside.

***

SEVEN FRAGMENTS FROM AN ASSUMPTION IN NOT QUITE REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

I

This is the day he dies.

II

The green DeSoto wrecked and
fallen from the bridge. He calls
from the jail, needs a ride home.

III

A dirt road in Kansas you don’t even know.
Motorcycle, axe, ice truck, drunk tank:
the world is not a story not a logic (you’ve
heard this before) — the dogs startle the crow
who in turn scares the hell out of the dogs.
White dog, black dog. There is light
on every other leaf. Such as rises belly
to brain.

IV

You find two other wives.
And enter again. (You do this
twice.)

V

You know what you know.
(The drunk has a heart too. Full

useless it is. Full of holes. Bucket
of pins.) He does not ask forgiveness.
And yes the language breaks down.
And yes. He does not ask that once
again. You marry. And now there are
two.

VI

He is sick, he is tired, his bones
are weak, he is an old man before
you are anything. The age you are
now when he makes you. And he
makes you. And then he dies and
he makes you.

VII

Blow to the heart, gun to the side of the head.
What perfect math could save us? Memory
brings its sawblade. Brings its broken glass.
Subtract. (Subtract.) How easily spilled,
how enormous the shame of the spilling.

***

Renée Ashley is the author of six volumes of poetry: The View from the Body (Black Lawrence Press), Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea (Subito Book Prize, University of Colorado—Boulder); Basic Heart (X.J.Kennedy Poetry Prize, Texas Review Press); The Revisionist’s Dream; The Various Reasons of Light; and Salt (Brittingham Prize in Poetry, University of Wisconsin Press), as well as a novel, Someplace Like This, and two chapbooks, The Museum of Lost Wings (Hill-Stead Museum) and The Verbs of Desiring (new american press). She has received fellowships in both poetry and prose from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts. A portion of her poem, “First Book of the Moon,” is included in a permanent installation by the artist Larry Kirkland in Penn Station, NYC. She has served as Assistant Poetry Coordinator for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and as Poetry Editor of The Literary Review. Ashley teaches in the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing and the MA in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators programs at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ELIZABETH O’CONNELL-THOMPSON

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INVITATION ONLY
By Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson


When they come knocking,
I take them by the hand that had been a fist moments before
and show them something beautiful—
                                                                              a black creek in the woods,
                                                                              a doe’s skull in the field.
I lead them just far enough away that they can still see the house,
but not say if it is made of straw or stone.

While they are dipping their feet in the water
or watching how the sun sets on bone, I walk back
to bolt the door and light a fire,
holding myself as they had offered to do.



Today’s poem first appeared in Banshee, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson is a Chicago-based poet. She is the Literary Coordinator for the CHIPRC, where she leads the Wasted Pages Writers’ Workshop Series. Her work has been featured in RHINO, Banshee, and The Wax Paper, among others. Please send your truest thoughts and spookiest chainmail to EOTwrites.com.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is the perfect blend of beauty and mystery. Taking us by the hand, the poem leads us through its vivid imagery, while leaving us to imagine who–or what–is the poem’s subject. The sense of the unknown becomes a character in the poem, leaving the reader with the same chill the causes the narrator to “bolt the door and light a fire, / holding myself as they had offered to do.”

Want to see more from Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson?
Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson’s official website
‘Invitation Only’ in Banshee
Wasted Pages Writers’ Workshop
CHIPRC

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: STEPHANIE WELLEN LEVINE

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HOPE, TRUTH, FEAR, AND MY SPIRITUAL QUEST. YES!
By Stephanie Wellen Levine


Yes, I’m on a quest for truth, but only IF.
IF there’s a story behind the stories I see, I want to know.
A line of meaning running behind them.
A beam of concern.
Something.

The man in the grimy wheelchair begging for money by the Harvard Square subway
Pushing himself right up to people with his one leg, as if to ask:
Could YOU hold a job if you had a sawed-off leg
And eyes that watered from the slightest hint of sun?

The woman staring at her cappuccino at Crema Café
Laughing at the creamy heart added by the barista.
She touches the heart with her pinky
So lightly, making sure she doesn’t ruin it
And then takes out a book called On Losing a Child.

Even the little girl in the T-shirt covered with clowns
On the first warm day of the season
Running through the sprinkler in front of her house
Again and again
Happy at first, screaming: “This is so fun!”
Each time the water sprays her face.
And then looking around
Scanning her yard, then the street
As if to ask: “Isn’t there more?”

Well, isn’t there?
That’s my question —
Hokey, grandiose, absurd, and unanswerable.
Or maybe answerable.
But do I want the answer?

Um, wow. I swear I’m not making this up.
I just saved this document and the title shocked me.
I didn’t choose it; I was being careless.
The title is yes.
Just plain yes.
Not the first several words of line one
Like it usually is when I’m careless about saving.
Just yes, no “if.”
No “but only.”

A happier, simpler person might rejoice now.
Isn’t there more?
Yes. Yes!
I got my answer, the one I wanted
In the guise of a word processing glitch.

Before this happened, I was going to say
That “yes” is the only answer I can handle.
The only one I seek.

“Yes” carries many possibilities.
God, like in the Torah.
Or an organizing energy uncapturable by any existing religion.
Or the dazzling power of individual and collective consciousness
Creating the world as we know it
Like some physicists believe
And some New Age types.

Or all of the above
Or something else entirely.
Or, or, or.

On one level, the details don’t matter
As long as “yes” is unmistakable.
As long as there’s something beyond the people in the street
Hurrying to their destinations while checking their phones
Not thinking, not once, that one day they won’t be well enough to hurry
And another day, later on, no one in any street, anywhere,
Will remember them
Or care whether they reached their appointments on time
Or even that someone cried after reading their poem.

Now, let me add a caveat, since I’m self-centered like that.
The details of “yes” don’t matter
As long as they include immortality for my consciousness
And the consciousness of everyone I love.
(And I love everyone who isn’t mean.)
I’m just not a “self pales in the face of the all” kind of soul.

But what if the true answer is “no”
Like many of the most brilliant minds insist?
No, there’s nothing mystical, or magical, or godlike, or transcendently loving.
Nothing beyond what we ourselves can do for each other, and for the earth.
The beauty of one soul reaching out to another
Doing their work, growing their passions
And then their time is up
And it’s time for a new generation.

No, there’s nothing “beyond”
No side door in the sky
No world hiding within the air
No time beyond the clock’s harsh tick
No heart beyond our smashed and battered hearts.

What if all my diligent searching brought me there
To “no”?
Would I want to realize that?
To remove all doubt?
If the actual, capital “T” truth is “no,”
Do I want to know?

NO.
No, no, no.
Some would say: Yes! Yes, of course!
Let me seize every moment with the fullness of infinity.
If that’s all I have, let me know, and savor all I can, now.
Because now is the prize, and that’s OK.
Now is good.

For me, now is only good if it carries at least a hope of then, or after.
Something else, something beyond.
Just plain now is horrifying.
It’s the man in the café rubbing his face until it bleeds
Because he’s nervous.
Because now is everything and nothing.

So why do I search?
What is my quest
If I want no part of a real possibility?

Why am I not one of those who leap and sing
At every piece of evidence,
Who embrace all those pride-filled spiritual leaders
High-fiving them and joining their circles?
Why am I the one who sits in the corner
Stewing, questioning, finding holes in all their answers
Alienating myself from all the peaceful souls?

I want the truth that I want
But I want it to actually be the truth.
I want to cross-examine and put it through a million paces
And then I want to smile. And know.

I’ll take the “yes” I received today as a hint.
Not proof. That would be crazy.
But a hint. A piece of hope.
It’s not the first I’ve received.
All those slices of hope add up to something.
Not proof, not peace, not joy
But a real thing
As real as, say, your memory of the wind against your face
On a warm night, at a barbecue, while your aunt told you tales
Of her first year at college.

Was the wind actually cool like you remember it?
Was your aunt really eating a chicken thigh and laughing about her roommate
While you battled a bee that came dangerously close to your plate?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Regardless, there’s truth in the overall flavor your mind creates
As it conjures the scene.

Hope is like that.
It carries a kind of truth.
Not provable. Not logical.
But sane and even precious.

Hope is the wind that carries my dreams
Even in the harshest weather.



Today’s poem previously appeared in Hevria, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Stephanie Wellen Levine is the author of Mystics, Mavericks, And Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls: winner of the Moment Magazine Emerging Writer Book Award. She contributes regularly to the online magazines Hevria and The Wisdom Daily. Stephanie brings lifelong passion to her current book project, which explores her spiritual quest. She teaches at Tufts University and lives in Cambridge, MA, but she misses NYC more and more.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is an honest inquisition, probing into the depths of existence while admitting there is only so much we are willing to know, to learn, to hear. I am particularly taken in by the vignette stanzas early in the poem, the vivid little moments that so clearly illustrate how human it is to wonder, in life, whether there is more than this. The poet’s inquiry is urgent, insistent; “Isn’t there more?”

Want more Stephanie Wellen Levine?
Buy Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls from Amazon
Hevria
The Wisdom Daily
Facebook

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A Review of Agustin Aguilar’s Leonora Come Down 

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A Review of Agustin Aguilar’s Leonora Come Down

By Nate Ragolia

Where lies the line between myth, falsehood, and reality? That is one of the central questions buried amid, gorgeous, poetic prose in Agustin Aguilar’s novella Leonora Comes Down, recently published by We Heard You Like Books. This work of fiction, elegant and lush in its descriptions, its mythos, and the world it creates revolving around small town  Wiskatchekwa is a challenging yet intimate read. Focusing on a boy named Arturo who one day finds and befriends a pyramid that is simultaneously his shadow, a chalice of lore and history, and a living entity (perhaps a goddess), Leonora Come Down invites readers to observe, absorb, and untangle an otherworldly puzzle.

Aguilar’s writing style finds a comfortable footing somewhere between William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, and Harper Lee. His xenophobic, conservative hamlet of Wiskatchekwa is as fully imagined and populated by quirky characters as Maycomb or the small, gossipy town from “A Rose for Emily.” The novella requires intense reading, which may not work for everyone, but those who choose to will find the long, river-like sentences to be short poems themselves:

Sand was a fearful thing, like bobbleheads of the high school’s mascot, Red the Warrior, but they felt secure, they could sleep over a shapeless ghost of the past–though townspeople did not go in for flowery comparisons–because it wasn’t as if Wiskatchekwa were waves of drift, they also had silt and clay, great ingredients for growth, and the restrictive feature wasn’t far below.

Such sentences are frequent in Leonora Come Down and they typify the novella’s pleasures and pains. Though short, parsing through the many details in a single sentence may be challenging.

When I asked Agustin Aguilar about his influences, he replied, “The writer most on my mind when I began this story was Leonora Carrington, who of course lends her name. She is somewhat of a spiritual presence, a companion, in all of this. I’d count her novel, The Hearing Trumpet, as a particular influence. Stylistically, the influences vary. I wanted the language, at the line level, to read sort of effortlessly (though I realize some might take more than a little effort!). To be fairly simple, in terms of the imagery, the sentiment, the action. This is the fairy and folklore influence. And yet many sentences have a run-on quality, this sense of uncertainty and unnerving forward momentum. So there is tension in the narrative voice. This is also due to the task of weaving extraordinary events into a seemingly mundane setting–it was important that I keep the story rooted in a semi-recognizable place.”

Aguilar’s story deals primarily in the ways people doubt the new, fear change, but eventually come together. The town, Wiskatchekwa, wishes to remain small, fears the South and the people of the nearby lake. It is a world couched in revisionist history and superstition. Wiskatchekwa is less a setting than a character itself–reminiscent of Harper Lee or William Faulkner’s places. Aguilar’s fictional berg is a lively, opinionated, and occasionally antagonistic place. Wiskatchekwa resists change, while making revisions to its own history. Wiskatchekwa is pan-optic in the way small towns are: nothing escapes its gaze and no issue goes on without comment. The book’s main characters, Arturo and Leonora, are scrutinized, labeled, and qualified by the town’s magical collective consciousness. Wiskatchekwa is a character ripped from time, misplaced, but also stone-set, serving as both lens and parrot for common and universal fears and superstitions. Arturo’s worldview is motivated and limited by what the town and townspeople think. The town’s perception is a primary source of conflict.

Magical realism is also prominent in Aguilar’s world. Only Arturo remains consistent, serving as an innocent but knowing proxy for the reader; he takes the world at its face. Arturo is a vessel, willing to learn, repeating the prejudices and fears of the other townsfolk as a conveyance for sharing them with us.

Leonora Comes Down is about humanity and community, about what we choose to believe and the things we choose to deny. Aguilar’s novella is an exploration of truth, pondering the impacts of gossip, misinformation, and xenophobia. Readers will explore the ways we build our egos–and the egos of our communities–on believable, repeatable fictions, and the way that we often blindly trust whatever culture is handed down to us from generations prior.

Leonora Comes Down is also a self-reflexive study of myth and storytelling. The novella often focuses on the ways that we use stories to control each other, to change reality, and even to improve this world. Much of culture comprises the ways we look at the world and the stories we tell ourselves to try and understand it.

Suffice to say, Leonora Come Down is a brilliant work of magical realism, poetic prose, pseudo-Gothic fiction, and epistemological philosophy. The journey from page one to its satisfying and poignant ending will leave the reader with much to think about. Aguilar’s work is stunning, beautiful, with its own elaborate and believable mythos. His is a story of stories and storytellers, and despite its intricate, challenging form, one of the most rewarding books you may ever read.

***

Nate Ragolia is the author of the novella, There You Feel Free; Creator of the Illiterate Badger and Lark & Robin webcomics; and occasional chatterer on music, film, &c on Medium. He is also editor-in-chief of Boned: a collection of skeletal fiction, poetry, essays, and more.

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