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Fiction Feature: “The Stray Curse” by Karen Heuler

This is the kind of thing that happens all the time, though not to everyone and not everywhere.

Gina had long brown hair and brown eyes and smooth skin and a mother she didn’t see every day; she was grown and had her own world and that was the way it should be; Gina’s mother had left her mother, who had left her mother, a long string of mothers being left and knowing they had done it in turn, and turn again.

But all of a sudden Gina felt a strange tug at her back. It began with an itch, then a bruise, then a feeling like there was a hook in her spine. She turned around to see what it was, and as soon as she turned the pain went away. But when she shrugged and turned again, it came back fierce and strong. She couldn’t move forward; it hurt her back; she turned around and took a step then a hurried step. She was sure it was her mother pulling her home.

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Poetry Feature: “The White-Haired Girl,” by Sally Wen Mao

1945

I will return your spurn with a curtsy
whipped in boiling water.
Cut the red ribbon from my hair,
what’s left of my youth. Lotus seeds slide
down your throat—does it taste chaste?
The fugue of winter casts shadows
on the furnace—how it glowers
like the limpets buried in my hair,
handfuls of which you pull
towards shore, toward stagnation.
My destination is not this village,
where boars shear off bad skin
in the river, dung and alderflies
thirsting for flesh. Am I maid
or mendicant? The unwrinkled bed
is not what sky aches for. I am no swooning
debt. Next I say escape and small gullies
bloom before me—dendriform paradise:
mountain, grotto, kindling. The lightning
in my temple wards off wolves. I bow
only to pick the ticks off my shoes,
brand them clean across your cheekbones.

*

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Online Feature: “The Usual Spots” by Ira Sukrungruang

1.

Every morning, the dogs look for Katie in the usual places. When I open the bedroom door, they burst through the house in tongue-wagging hopefulness. Perhaps the one they truly love has returned from whatever mysterious place she disappears to most of the week. I wonder what that place is to them, wonder if they have created a second life for her, where she wakes and loves and pats other dogs. Are these the dreams they have when they snarl and twitch and sometimes howl in their sleep?

The morning always brings hope, and it is a mad dash into her empty office, then a rumble down the basement stairs, and finally a quick peek out the front windows where she would spend time filling birdfeeders or watering the flower beds. Once they have confirmed that she is not back—not yet—they do not despair. Never despair. They rush out the dog door to tend to morning routines, while I fill their bowls with food.

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Microreview: Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties

Review by Tessa Yang

In the opening story of Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection, the narrator, stealing into the woods to have sex with her boyfriend, offers the following reflection: “I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them.” “Unafraid” is an apt descriptor of Her Body and Other Parties, released yesterday from Graywolf Press. It is a book that pushes back: against literary conventions, against the stigma and silence surrounding queer sensuality. In these eight stories, Machado bulldozes the barriers between sci-fi, fantasy, literary fiction, horror, and erotica, and makes us wonder how we ever could have dreamed of separating them. Read more…

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Online Feature: “Leaving Pyongyang” by Bora Lee Reed

This is what I remember:

 

A man was at the river, ferrying people across.

“Pali wah! Pali! Hurry!”

The line of people snaked alongside the bank, matching itself against the curve of the river. Those near the front jostled for the best spot. Those behind hunched over against the cold, bundles and bags hanging off of them like ungainly appendages. Ropes of black smoke rose up from Pyongyang’s low-slung skyline and billowed across the winter sky, obscuring the foothills.

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