Winter 2023 Web Edition Now Available!

Featuring new work from May-lee Chai, Nathan Erwin, Lupita Eyde-Tucker, Ryan Habermeyer, Sonya Lara, Frances Ogamba, Jennifer Pons, Regan Puckett, Lindsay Sproul, Jen Grace Stewart, Isabelle Stillman, and Eric Scot Tryon

Latest in Print: Fall/Winter 2022-23

Featuring the winners of our 2022 Literary Awards and the winner of our 2022 Regeneration Contest! Plus new work from Lindsey Godfrey Eccles, Adam Grabowski, Megan Kim, David Wright, Saddiq Dzukogi, Alicia Mountain, Jennie Evenson, and more, including our special experimental poetry feature, Brazen.







Anders Carlson-Wee


For a couple of years I volunteered  at the prosthetics center in the south wing  of St. Mary's Memorial. Every Thursday  I pushed the lab equipment up against  the walls, mopped the floor, moved it back.   I was basically a janitor, but they called  me a Lab Assistant, trying to make it  sound important. All the patients who  came in were missing something. Usually  it was an arm or a leg. A clean loss.   A stub that still moved. The kind of thing  you would think of. But other times  it wasn't. This one guy had skin where his nostrils should be. A fire maybe.   This girl was missing three fingers and part  of her palm. Probably an accident  with a handgun, but she was so young.   I would mop the floor and try to guess  what had happened to everyone. Watch  as they practiced walking across the room  with silicone toes. Listen carefully  as they dropped spoons on the clean floor  from experimental hands.

C. Dylan Bassett



This is the scene in which the devil is played by one woman and one man. First, it is very  clear. God may or may not exist, says the man. The woman seems to be sleeping. She wears  a white hospital gown. A voice enters but is not responded to. Not even the birds know  where they’re going.         


This is the scene in which the lake is a red door waiting. A child’s hammer. No one else for miles. Emptiness as a vehicle etc. Or, perhaps there is no mystery at all. No thunder.        


The curtain opens and the audience almost recognizes her. The world at night, hands  gesturing to illustrate a sinking ship. What’s lacking in the silent version? What’s felt  in the invisible world? The water does not exist until she steps into it. “Would you rather  be invisible or never born?”

This is the scene in which she eats feathers. October brings its grammar. Early sounds of  waves, gradual loss of meaning. She does not leave the room, or else she cannot. She is not  who she wanted to be, as if behind her mouth a second mouth pushes through.        
A scene with always one more window to look through. The distance between light and dark  is two birds. She’s been shaking her head no for twenty years, speaking her own language.  Stairs, a door. All the points from which a departure can be made. There’s not enough time  for her to forget.            


In this scene, gravity is depicted as angels falling. The audience applaud when death
  addresses them directly. I want to show you how I disappear, she says.                  


This is the scene in which no one knows what to photograph. There is only the image of  people. An explanation of tide patterns. (They won’t find the body until much later.)  A room leading to a smaller room. And then another.                          


This is the scene in which the bodies are not well defined. Imagine a barn with a single  wooden chair. The terror of a firetruck in the middle of the night. It’s a familiar song  repeated. He leans over to kiss her, but kisses a bottomless map.                        


In this scene: he wakes to an explanation of music. A fruit falling on a field. It’s worse  to hear the dogs and never see them. The world was orange since Tuesday. Not even one idea.  More waiting than ever thought possible. More than the usual number of crows. Was it a  dream? He doesn’t notice.


Hannah Leob


Valentin, can you take your hands off your ears and see how the nice ladies are making you a swimming pool?   Madame is weary. Her charge hums  and stands on his toes, which we assume means he is afraid of water – but still she strips him  down to his makeshift diaper, a miniscule pink penis caught between two layers of gauze.   He hops back and forth with his legs apart while we wrestle with the hose.  Cruel! Cruel to make him wait! When the water finally comes, we  kneel and let him spray us too. For twenty minutes he screams and screams and drenches our heads, even Madame's –  Is that you, Valentin?  Madame is fooling around, but Valentin drops his hose and turns to look for himself in the pool.  Are you there under your great curtain of water?


J Doug Paul Case

Aubade with Brad Pitt on a Tractor

this is long-haired Brad      chiseled Brad            when was he not                  Brad       with the sun in his eyes & on his chest & glinting off his belt buckle & between us      & this is a distance that seems farther than it is            Brad                   drive your tractor in my direction         Brad      stick it in gear      you know the direction & how long it will take & how I’ve waited for your chiseled body to rumble over these stalks            Brad             has anyone ever looked so delicious      Brad riding across land built to feed            this distance Brad      can only be crossed by your steed      glinting  as fire does      reflected on still water      glinting       as fire did      reflected on last night’s lake      what direction Brad      is that from where we are      what is the distance             Brad      from where we were      how chiseled       the map      the route      why did you leave      Brad when the water was so cool & the breeze steady      Brad  why with my head so comfortable on your shoulder      Brad       did you run off into the woods      the fire glinting                   then against the water over my body      Brad my clothes on the bank      floating & searching for your direction             until certain it could not be found      chiseled       determination could not overcome your distance              Brad      what is distance       & why did you create it & what did you find      Brad that could not be found with me      what did chiseled determination get you when you ran      glinting       under the starlight      caught in your hair      in the direction                   we would all take if we could   Brad  my body was too cautious to leave camp      Brad to follow yours away from shore      so it was the distance       of depth that took me      for a time      the only direction was there & then & without you            & Brad             the chill was barren      & glinting       firelight is not real warmth      nothing like chiseled  muscles      Brad      nothing like pistons running      Brad       won’t you drive your glinting body across this distance             the chiseled stalks collapsing in my direction


J.P. Grasser


with a line by Justice  

We ingest the photographs of a Tanzanian lake   
so reflective, so salty, that birds crash and bleed 

underwater and are calcified, no ossified, and turn up     
as stone animals. We know the one about showing
Medusa the mirror. We have heard about avocados           
the size of seedless watermelons. Potential energy
stripped like dirty linen, the bed-sheets that were              
the very handkerchiefs of grief, wrapped tightly,
wrung and unwrung, pealed and repealed. You are petrified;          
so am I. That’s the toll. I will die, and you will still 
be there, with birdy-bones reformed as pencil-lead           
and eyelids past rigor, in rictus, like a beak could
ever be a mouth.


Javier Zamora

El Chillon Means Crybaby

All I was was a chillón.  Neighbors lined up against our fence  while the nurse checked for fever.  Mamá Pati called me her ear’s fruit fly.  Backyard mangos begged god, ¡Callá este chillón diosmío!  This is what Abuelita tells me.   She says everyone brushed ash-toothpaste  with horsehair toothbrushes, that  Mamá Pati had a baker’s sleep schedule,  that before 4 am, bakers once baked bagels  for tourists. My town hates bagels. I’m nine  and I’ve never seen a bagel.   I don’t remember how tourists tipped.  Abuelita still does. Before I was born  she says the dawn’s locomotion of troops  was the town’s alarm. She says  the aftertaste of ashes is moth wings— arid powder where names are buried.   Those gringos wore uniforms and threw coins  into the tide, she says, and boys reached for copper  from El Norte, where she knows  dusk is like honey. She says mangos begged god, ¡Callá estos gringos diosmío!  I know no one slept before my birth.  For years after,  still, no one slept.


Javier Zamora

Pump Water from the Well

This is no shatter and stone.  Come skip toes in my chest Salvador.  I’m done been the shortest shore.  ¿And did you love all the self out of you for me?  I want you to torch the thatch above my head.  To be estero. To be mangroves.  There are mornings I wake with taste of tortillas in warmed up milk.  There are mangos no one listens to.  ¿Is this the shatter you imagined for me?  Everywhere is war.  I want to scrape your hair as wind asks from stars.  Hold my hands above mine. Whistle the patch of dirt I pumped water from to bathe.  Simmer down to chickens, dogs, parakeets.  This was my block.  The one I want to shut off with rain. Where I want to plant an island. Barrio Guadalupe hijueputa born and bread cerote que onda.  The most beautiful part of my barrio was stillness— A rustling of wings caught in the pattering soil that calls me to repair it.  Don’t tell me I didn’t bring the estero up north where there’s none.  I’ve walked uptown. I saw Mrs. Gringa.  The riff between my fingers whispered in whirlpools.  Silence stills me. Pense quedarme aquí I said.  I don’t understand she said. From my forehead, the jaw of a burro, hit on the side and scraped by a lighter to wake the  song that speaks two worlds.  The kind of terrifying current.  The kind of ruinous wind. 


Justin Carter

And Science is a turtle that says that its own shell encloses all things 1

Albanian scientists drink rye whiskey and claim the moon is not a moon anymore. We are  circles of smoke in the eastern sky. Pluto is sad, still, which must be expected. Expect rows  of dead corn, a researcher says. Dark spots on the sun’s surface. Broken glass in the ocean. A  list of things discovered in the stomach of a bull shark: seventeen teeth, a package of AA  batteries. A theory for the disappearance of stars: blood. A theory for the disappearance  of self: blood. Teenagers in England drink cans of paint on porches and look through broken  telescopes. Pluto slinks into corners. The sun has many bruises. A government study finds  empty cigarette cartons floating in the space around our bodies.
  1. From Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned  


Katie Moulton
Getting in at the Dead Dad Club

There will be a password. It's the pet name he stopped calling you  the second time you emptied  your little yellow bucket over the lip  of the tub. You were two. You looked him straight in the eye. You did it anyway. In the first dark vestibule they will stamp your soft underside  of wrist, and it will be the shape of his red right palm, the angry imprint he left on your skin after lifting you from the bath, laying you out on his long knee   and later how he wept and vowed to never mark you again. Unlatch the rope yourself, brush the velvet backwards. In the long hall there is only noise, the PA buzzing brown haze, and below  that, the two-line lullabye he made up and never wrote down. When the room opens there will be the bar, recently burned,  and the stained vinyl booths, lamps in amber,  and everybody already in their places. Next table over, men teethe swollen knuckles, overpour their pitchers, listen hard  to the lyrics and believe that one person can speak   and another can make shapes with their hands  and make it mean something like escape, from the inside out. See them try to hold thumb and middle finger together  as though the joints never hurt. There, see the dudes in lensless frames professing: Everyone's dad is dead, and everyone has had to kill them. Sure, those folks got in with fakes, but they're in.


Leslie Marie Aguilar

Creation Myth

In this version, skin is a mask for Satan & corn tortillas are hostias of fire   stacked on a rusted iron griddle. Here, my mother is Eve. Standing half-naked  beside the ceramic sink in our kitchen, she washes a clay bowl with both hands.  She whispers, a man can carry an apple between his legs. One day I’ll understand,  I think, but I don’t I want to understand. In this version, I’m  what-comes-next. My lover says,  babies are failed periods. When I tell  my mother she refuses to laugh.  It’s a cultural thing. This “white thing”  that dulls the color of his freckled skin. She always warns, you shouldn’t laugh,    when lighting prayer candles with portraits  of la Virgen de Guadalupe etched in the glass.  It’s generational like knowing the difference between Papa & Papá. I tell her I know,  as I lean over her trembling hands to take the earthen bowl from her wet palms. 


Sarah Giragosian

Mummified Baboon, Unburied

When they come for me, they come with shovels,  augers and picks. A cloth still holds dermis  to bone, but barely, and when they raise me  from an oven of hot sands to daylight,  I'm a dazzlement of husk. They lay out  my face, my hips, the undeveloped strip  of my spine, all turned to anthracite hues.  Their catalogue—bone by bone—deems me whole,  and, amassed and outlined against the earth,  I’m turned from corn doll to brittle city. They map and flag my parts, then break me up to store me. And later, I am encased and placed on display. What is this devotion? A child peers inside the glass and strains to find— beneath some bindings—fellowship in death.  But my face is in tatters. Someone says,  It was preserved so its soul would live on  after death. The formula's miscarried,  though; it's a far more cryptic sapience  that saves me now. It’s unguent and heat,  and years of subsoil basking that keeps me.  It is for these all too precious splinters that I’m not received, but not forsaken.


Sarah Giragosian

The Queer Creatures that Rise at Dusk

 Out of her burrow,                                               
             the long-eared hedgehog girl,
 to get her girl, comes at dusk,                      
        wobbling along the cooling sands                                          
                to find her lover, 

compact and flac-soled,                                                     
                 with a pinprick mole
on her chin. With others, she pulls herself                               
            in like a drawstring, but the long-eared girl                                                      
                       draws her out,  
and her back, once quilled                                                
                       and bristling, the size 
of an enlarged heart,                         
                 relaxes, growing as soft-textured                                                    
                       as a doll’s brush.                              
When they meet,                                                   
                       their foreplay is gentle; each takes turns sliding                                
             their back beneath the belly                                                  
                        of the other; 
they nip at their spines                                     
                        and rub their snouts 
along their warm fur,                        
             anointed in musk                                                       
                        and sweet tufted grass.















Announcing the Winners of our 2022 Literary Awards!

We are pleased to announce the winners of our 2022 Literary Awards:

Poetry: Rose Zinnia, for “Constituting Mayhem (Derealized in the CVS),” “Look (Nonbinary),” “God Wifi Earth Ong (Nonbinary),”  “Ancient Wind, Empty Skyscraper, Golden Bear (Nonbinary)” 

Creative Nonfiction: Jodie Noel Vinson, for "Self-portrait after Covid-19"

Fiction: Carly Rae Zent, for “The Girl Boss” 

More information about our winners and honorable mentions can be found here

Featured Writer: Thammika Songkaeo


  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.