Author Archives: pacificalit

The Key: Sarah Samudre

She handed him her key to the front door. She wanted to ask if he was sure, if it was really better, both of them being alone? Starting over seemed impossible just then, learning to breathe again without the one arboreally absorbing the sighs and rambling words of the other.

Had this been her idea? Or was she the one being kicked out? She couldn’t remember as the dull, serrated edge of the key slid over her fingers into his palm. This had to have been his idea. His fingers closed over the key. His torn nails, swollen-knuckled fist, a tan line where the ring had been, pulled away with her key, her last permission to be a part of her old life, embedded into his hand.

“Okay. Well.” She rubbed the air in between her fingers and looked at the doorknob. His hands disappeared into his pockets as he rocked back on his heels.

“Yeah,” he replied.

She frowned. This was the reason why she was leaving. Or was asked to leave, whichever it was. There was a silence that had been stretched between them like a rubber band. When it finally broke, there’d been no snap, no release, no violent explosion of the words they’d held back from the other. There was just more silence, a realization that the words they’d suppressed for so long had evaporated. She’d been afraid of that once, years ago, if she stopped talking to him she’d forget why she ever had in the first place, that one day they’d wake up, not from a dream but from the restless pre-waking sleep that follows a dream, and barely remember that once they’d filled days with single conversations that were only ever punctuated with sex and the kind of ridiculous puns that only the truly in love can bear to tell and hear from one another.
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Big Alabama and the Pearsal Bully: James Valvis

      Big Alabama barreled down Pearsal Avenue in her Led Zep jacket and Converse sneakers looking for the four punks who beat me up and when they saw her they scattered as fast as you ever saw any four bullies run, all in different directions, all screaming. So my sister went after the gang’s leader and he was supposed to be the fastest kid in all of St Paul’s but Alabama caught him like he’d spent seventy years chain-smoking and she grabbed him around the neck, and said, Apologize to my brother, you little shit.
      I had just managed to catch up to them. His name was Jimmy Stovekin and Jimmy was giving me that bully-stare like we would settle this once my sister was gone but he was also giving me a pleading look that said, Please stop this girl from killing me.
      And Big Alabama could see this eye-talking too so my sister slapped him in the face two times and he started crying and I felt bad for him even though he had just been making me cry and had beaten me up every day for two weeks. But I didn’t see the point in all this violence or the benefit in shaming him into an apology, so I told my sister to leave him be and she glared at me and said, You pansy ass; I ought to smack you around for being a pansy.
      For a second I thought she might do just it, but instead she released his neck and walked away while I stood by Jimmy who rubbed his red throat and we watched Big Alabama strut down Pearsal like a creature returning to the Black Lagoon.
      Jimmy said in a voice made raspy from choking, I wish to God she was my sister.

0609060029James Valvis is the author of How To Say Goodbye (Aortic Books, 2011). His poems or stories have appeared in journals such as Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Hanging Loose, LA Review, Nimrod, Rattle, River Styx, Vestal Review, and many others. His poetry has been featured in Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction was chosen for the 2013 Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.

Tiger Heaven: Patricia Marquez

      On December 3, 2010, thirty-one people died when a bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed into the Ohio River. That same day, outside a small town in northwest Russia, two hundred and ten Siberian tigers were rounded up and slaughtered by poachers, depleting the total number of the existing species by sixty five percent.
      Walter Rice, a recently unemployed busboy, was one of the victims to perish on the bridge. That afternoon he had driven to his ex-fiancé’s house to return a dish he had borrowed at her baby shower the night before. Walter had used the small porcelain plate to bring fudge-cake back to his apartment. Admittedly, he only returned the dish to see her again without the company of her husband, who was at work. An awful fight ensued regarding the intentions of his unwarranted presence, which ended with Walter declaring that he sincerely hoped her baby came out physically disfigured and brain-damaged, to which she retaliated with her own sincere hope that Walter die a horrible and unexpected death, after which he could burn in hell forever.
      Terribly distraught, Walter fled the house in his 1999 Toyota Corolla and decided to take the aforementioned bridge instead of the usual side streets back to his apartment. Had he decided to leave her house only five minutes sooner…well, never mind. This story is not concerned with happenstances but rather with the fates of our protagonist Walter and a few hundred Siberian tigers.
      As Walter felt the asphalt tremble underneath him, and glanced up to see the bridge’s suspension cables snap apart one by one, he had exactly four seconds to reflect on his unhappy life before his car teetered head-first into the icy water a hundred feet below. His first thought was of Mindy, the ex-fiancé, and not how she had forewarned him of this terrible demise, but instead how she had laughed while opening her baby’s presents the night before. His second thought was to curse his stupid self for even thinking of the bitch in the first place. And then he thought nothing at all.
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What Went Down With the Ship: Bruce McRae

Illustration of the Madonna breastfeeding.

A cute little bladder infection. Ectoplasm.

Burnished magnesium. Elongated fatwas.

A book of screams in a little red room.

Trigonometry for mummies. Hoe-downs.

A knife balanced on a knife-blade.

Walls of ghost-breaths. Mystic sensibilities.

Pillow-books and phatic salutations.

Swordplay behind the School of Dance.

The desert of the real. Light’s threshold.

The first and last of polyester newspapers.

An entire set of ant-dreams in polished amber.

The sudden realization of a universal truth.

A kiss on fire. The meaning of cancer.

Shadow-shadows, once cloistered in attics.

A series of teeth crying out for a head.

Miserable buttons. The breasts of Atlantis.

A rebel yell with toothache. Indelible bunnies.

The diaphanous domain of melancholia.

Spare savant-whistles. Pennies that sweat.

Throttled soldiers’ breaths. Bone booties.

Birthmarks, and a comic’s monologue.

Trophies for bowling. Torn spectrographs.

Thirteen bullets and world’s smallest glum.

The skull-music of handgun logic.

Thermodynamic miracles. Stygian gloom.

Aural karma. A warm impermanence.

Chaotic streetwear. Vials of oxen-blood.

Trade winds captured in a blue bottle.

One monosyllable, in Santa Claus mode.

A recipe for tears. Electromagnetic slippers.

Shot glasses in love with toxic empathy.

Dinosaurian scarf and mittens. Wing-nuts.

Brutal thunderclouds. Seasick serpents.

Essence of Runnymede. Broken cattle.

User-friendly totalitarian regimes. Pixels.

The dim recall of every passing breath.

Some old skin sloughed from this very hand.

The darkeyed junco and varied thrush.

A burning shortlist, as if a stone candle.

me black and whiteOriginally from Niagara Falls Ontario, Pushcart-nominee Bruce McRae is a musician who has spent much of his life in London and British Columbia. He has been published in hundreds of periodicals and anthologies. His first book, The So-Called Sonnets is available from the Silenced Press website or via Amazon books. To hear his music and view more poems visit his website:

A Shudder, To Think: Michael Pagan

Her cupped palm over
my mouth, then over hers,
again, as if swallowing
my spirit whole.

She asked if I believed in ghosts.
I responded: “Some,” my voice
a raspy set of scissors: “What are you?”

“What are you good at?”

I am—despite being on the side
of angels—not one of them.

I dress like a grocery store manager,
like an abandoned refrigerator
and we will carry on this feud
forever, she in her evening

dress, “Just look at it,” she says.
The floatable dusk marking the half hour,
and here was one empty room, there, the other—
that was the extent of our transgressions.

It was the history of light.

But, there are tides in the body. And once
you stumble, love transforms
into movable furniture or plastered over
grimaces, gazing out of a passing train’s
window, at the loose atmosphere

behind the pane of glass.

And she had felt glad
she’d done it: swallowed, down,
then thrown the last inches
away, then wiped her fingers, her
thick fingers, then finally said:

“I don’t pity myself.”

photo (1)Born and raised in Miami, FL, Michael J Pagán spent four years (1999-2003) in the United States Navy before (hastily) running back to college during the spring of 2004. He currently resides in Deerfield Beach, FL with his wife and daughter where he continues to work on his poetry, short fiction, and his first stage play. He is a contributor to his alma mater’s blog, The MFA at FAU, as well as his own, The Elevator Room Company.

Springtime: Kristen Steenbeeke

Spring is dizzy; it salivates. You know how this has gone,
will go. The mulch, the acrid honeysuckle, the girls and boys

daubed with pheromones. Even the nose hairs flinch
in excitement. But a sweet joy comes when I eat an avocado

alone in the kitchen, and the breeze blows past me through the open
window, a sheet passing softly across an arm. We’re all being

reupholstered. You with me. Me with this sheen
of hot sweat. I’m munching on the fruits of your labor, the neurons

in my head. The lakes are full now, robust. The trees fill in
like hair. Your intentions are wide like arms, or roots, or

bad ideas. I hold the corona of the sun in my mouth. As I write this,
May arrives. And yes, come to think of it, everything is wide:

the silence that hangs around the lone metal chime.

pacificaphotoKristen Steenbeeke is an alumna of the University of Washington creative writing program, where she was runner-up for the Charlotte Paul Reese prize for fiction. Her work is forthcoming in Mare Nostrum. She currently works at the Richard Hugo House, a literary arts center in Seattle, and has a cat named David whose name is an amalgamation of all great writers named David.

Red Planet: Jo Ann Heydron

      At the San Francisco airport, I keep my seat near the Crab Pot as the first passengers from Vancouver hurry around the security check. My sister, Mars, will be, as always, the last one off the plane. She’ll drift into the terminal in a shapeless sweater and her Battlestar Galactica cap, blinking as if emerging from a cave.
      When I spot her, she’s dressed as usual, but she’s in the middle of the pack, wedged into a posse of suits speed-talking into their headsets—to their families, I hope, since today is Christmas. She sees me and comes running. “Ron!” she whispers, more relief in her voice than joy. She hugs me around the waist, cheek against my chest, her thin body fragile and chilly. I’ve gained twenty pounds since I turned fifty, but Mars seems to have skipped middle-aged spread and passed, in the year since I last saw her, into shrinkage.
      I step back. “Mary Margaret?”
      Through thick lenses encased in elephantine frames, she stares up at me. “I’m perfectly fine.”
      She’s carrying only a blue hemp purse. “Where’s your duffle?” I say. “Did you check it?”
      She never checks baggage. “Don’t pack a bag you can’t carry,” our mother has advised us, and Mars, in this one area, has obeyed—although in the past she’s made a point of handing me her carry-on when she arrives and saying, “Don’t pack a bag your little brother can’t carry.”
      “I didn’t bring a bag,” Mars says, adjusting her gray ponytail, thrust through the back of her cap.
      She’s due to leave at 7:00 this evening for Atlanta, where Mom is dying. “Did you ship your stuff ahead?”
      She says nothing. Maybe Wendell, her fiancé, did the shipping.
      “Are you hungry?” I say as we cross the pedestrian bridge to short-term parking. “I thought we’d run home—to my place—and eat some turkey with Deborah and the boys.”
      “No, Ron. I want to go to the zoo.”
      “The zoo? Is it even open on Christmas?”
      “It is,” says Mars.
      I make a show of checking my watch. 2:00. Mom is expecting Mars tonight, and since it’s the last thing Mom is expecting, I’d hate for my sister to miss the connection.
      Mars never wears a watch. “We have plenty of time,” she says.
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292: Owen Lucas

Marie Derrien Lagadu, 1890

She sits in a fauteuil of light wood
Backed in mauve, with embroidered
Flowers. Behind her, a side table on
Which rests a large canvas of green
And brown foliage, a cotton napkin,
A table knife with an ivory handle,
A formal glass of a clear blue. Fruit
Seem to balance on the edge of the
Napkin : a russet apple, a guava, an
Innocuous and overripe avocado. It is
As if each object had been stationed in
A condition of absolute independence,
No relation seeming to subsist between
One facet and another. Our lady wears
A long skirt and a flamboyantly violet
Jacket pulled in softly at the waist by
A ceinture buckled in silver. A bloom
Of white extends across her awkward
Chest, and her hand lies passively at
Her side, three of its fingers joined by
A kind of preoccupied tension. The
Same shows in her homely visage,
Where overlarge ears ride alongside a
Face constructed as if to give the sense
Of a constant slight irritation. Madame
Wears her lips as if longing to be rid
Of them. If there is a soul of maladroit,
It lives in the frail casing of her skull.

And yet she is tender : there is a certain
Florid beauty to her. Love overcomes,
Wherever there is a body to command.

Owen LucasOwen Lucas is a British poet living in Norwalk, Connecticut. He grew up in rural Cambridgeshire, and began writing as a student at the University of London. His work has featured in Petrichor Machine, The MacGuffin, Psychic Meatloaf, Lines & Stars, Clinic, You Stumble Into a Room Full of Poets, and Third Wednesday, with poems soon to appear in The James Dickey Review, Electric Windmill Press, Clarion, 94 Creations, and Vector Press. His first chapbook, containing twenty-five poems inspired by the paintings of Daumier, Serusier, Gauguin and others, will be published in 2013 by Mountain Tales Press. Photo: Kathleen Telesco 2011

Typewriter: Olga Vilkotskaya

A beautiful machine
in the act of inking. The squid
accomplishes more
but with less precision. (Still,
our human feat is grand.) Animals
are all trial
and trial again. The human kind
just has a way with error. Consider
thought: beside intention,
it will disagree. Ink intent,
it falls flat
into place. The squid likes
his own dimension.

Photo 76Olga Vilkotskaya is a graduate of the University of Washington, where she published in Bricolage, the on-campus literary arts journal. She’s the recipient of the Arthur Oberg Prize for Poetry and the Innis Arden Friends of the Arts Scholarship. She lives and works in Seattle.

Life on Mars + Devil’s Racetrack

Life on Mars

July, 2012. If we look to the west shortly after sundown, we can see Mars from our front porch, a faint red glow in the twilight. The astronomy website tells us that “Because Earth in its orbit is traveling away from slower-moving Mars and Saturn, these planets will fade in brightness and will sink lower in the evening sky. Even so, these planets will still shine as brightly as first-magnitude stars…” Mars will disappear from view in about a month—right about the time that I have to leave you.

Barsoom–Abbot and Costello went there; Ice Cube fought ghosts there; it’s where Dr. Manhattan exiled himself; Yvonne Craig was one of its needed women; its natives grafted Sarah Jessica Parker’s head onto her Chihuahua’s body; Santa Claus conquered its inhabitants.

I wasn’t much of a David Bowie fan, before I met you. Like everyone else, I knew he was a rock and roll legend, and I appreciated the fact that he produced Lou Reed’s best albums. But I didn’t really appreciate him until that first time we danced together, at that club’s “Retro 80s Night.” The song was “Modern Love.” We were only friends at the time, just getting to know each other, but you said, “It’s Bowie—I have to dance.” So we put our drinks down and went to the dance floor. That was when things began for us, a decade ago.

In October of 2010, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story about two researchers—Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Arizona State University and Paul Davies of Washington State University—who proposed sending two humans to Mars on a one-way trip. These hypothetical explorers would go to the red planet and begin construction of a habitat that would, one day, house 150 people, decades after the explorers’ own deaths. At the time, we were frustrated at our jobs and with small-minded, small-town living. “So let’s go to Mars,” I suggested, joking, but also secretly longing to get away from work, away from people, away from the stress of writing and teaching and worrying about tenure and the mortgage and student loans and getting old and realizing I hadn’t done anything significant. “They probably wouldn’t let us take the cats,” you replied, knowing that would cause me to lose interest. You’re sensible like that.
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