Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Oh, love, oh, girls. What makes us what we are. What changes us and when and how does the transformation take place? I can say that these things happened slowly, or that they happened all at once. Both would be true. We were girls, we three, and then it changed. And what do I mean by change, by transform? The obvious changes, yes, bodies grown fleshier, blood and fur appearing between our thighs. Bones stretching so fast at times it seemed they would come splintering through our skin. But other changes, also, hidden things — secrets twining vine-like around our…

So a boy finds a sparrow. So he bends down to look at her tiny tufted body prone on the pavement. So he thinks she’s dead, so he nudges her gently with the toe of his boot. So he sees a stirring, a papery flutter of heartbeat beneath her tiny breast. So he picks her up.

The boy’s hand is warm and rough, smells like coconut and motor oil. The sparrow, not knowing of coconuts or motor oil, feels the scent as sweet darkness, oozing into something sick. The sparrow wakes a little in the boy’s sweet dark palm, moves…

The traffic is waiting. Outside,
we’re walking through town. We walk like
a ghost, keep on shuf-shuf-shuffling to this ghost
dance beat. Up, down, turn around. Please.
Don’t let me hit the ground. Oh, I see the light,
and the heated couplings in the sun.
Or is that untrue? Somewhere on my body,
if you look real close, you’ll find you.
When you were mine, you were
all I ever wanted to do. Now I would do
most anything to get you back by my side.
If you were a pill, I could feel — at the time,
there was no way of knowing; a heartless hand
on my shoulder. A push and…

1. Most poems come from brilliancy. Hang your brilliancy upside down from a gambrel on a meat pole to skin it.

2. In the morning before dressing, punch a hole in the skin between the poem’s knee and rear tendon. Light incense, then hoist it up and meditate.

3. Receive a poem with the same attitude you have when alone.

4. Begin your initial cuts around the bends of each leg. Join these cuts with longer cuts along the interiors of the legs that meet your field-dressing cut on the poem’s belly.

5. The idea is to prepare the poem…

Dearest husband,

Other loves I have known. One
an impossible song of desire,
lush and electrified.
Another —
the heart within its glossy feathers.

I have known
so much of vagrant love;
a pile of fur and feathers, leather and oilstain,
bejeweled heartbreakers.

They went away.

* * *

Beloved husband,

Good people do terrible things.

I am always going to drag my heart into the ring,
with red-rimmed “loves”
stubbornly ready
to burst into flame.

* * *

My red circus,

Sometimes, I think you get the worst of me —
my piques, and ups and downs,
the tears,
jagged cutthroat…

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,

One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing

Material place.

— Emily Dickinson

Tell me your ghosts. The things that follow you down hallways like a whiff of lavender hidden in the folds of your grandmother’s scarf, the things that flicker among the shadows when you glimpse them from the corner of your eye. Make me a list of things that haunt. Things that make you wake, gasping, in the small, cramped hours of the night.

Tell me your ghosts, and I will tell you mine.



Are You Leaving for the Country?

Fifteen years ago, I lived two blocks from one of the coolest bars in Chicago. By day, Seanchai’s was an Irish pub, whose clientele was mainly old men. By night, it was a punk bar — specifically on Punk Rock Wednesdays. St. Patrick’s Day that year fell on a Wednesday, and was the first time I ever went there. I drank rounds of Guinness and Jameson, and sang along with the tunes spun by the DJ — the usual punk rock fare, plus a lot of Pogues and Dropkick Murphy’s. At one point, a drunk kid started wobbling his way…

So there’s this girl. Well, woman — young but not barely-legal, not jailbait — getting ready for a girl’s night out with her besties. She slicks on her favorite lipstick, deadgirl blood red, shimmies into her favorite skirt. Short, but not too short, almost too tight — she has to suck her stomach in, just a little, as she zips it. She puts some product in her hair — her red, blonde, brown, black, blue, purple, pink hair, whatever color your hair is. That’s her hair color, too. Straps on her dancing shoes and click-clacks to her car. It is…

[The following was written in December 2015. You can listen to the accompanying soundtrack here.]

The Future is Unwritten

I tell the same stories, write about the same things, over and over. I’m always saying that telling our stories is revolutionary, that it can change the world, and I believe that. But the reason I write is more selfish than that. I write to explain things to myself. Memories, ideas, feelings, topics, people and places and songs that haunt me — I write about them again and again, in different ways, to try and make sense of them. To try…

Jessie Lynn McMains

punk poet, beat zinester, small press publisher (more at

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