The Beast Collective
by Les Wicks
Skitchem. The boy & the dog
have picked up this imperative, chewed it. The command
was built to be thrown, has a bite deep in its vowels
& a broken-off fang lodged in its k.
How did both come to know its meaning?
Like the word has some deeper source than mere
paper & repetition. Perhaps it is a fragment
from the original contract between us animals;
when the dog came inside the cave
& our fire made instantaneous sense to it.
We will kill together. This love will never end.
Over 40 years LES WICKS has performed at festivals, schools, prison etc. He has published in over 350 different magazines, anthologies & newspapers across 24 countries in 12 languages. He conducts workshops & runs Meuse Press which focuses on poetry outreach projects like poetry on buses & poetry published on the surface of a river. His 13th book of poetry is Getting By Not Fitting In (Island, 2016).
by Cathleen Cohen
Mom wants plain turkey on rye, no extras.
In bed, she’s a heap of bones.
Dad’s eyes flicker over pictures of her
youth, all blondness and curves.
In the deli, women poke
babka with black-tipped nails.
Herring gleam behind glass.
Mounds of valencias glow
like pearls. Slitting one
with my thumb, I unwind
its peel, a little strip tease.
She taught us to dance this way
as kids, grinding our toes into
blue shag carpets.
Now she who could magnetize a room
is hooked to oxygen. Stifling.
I loosen my blouse and shift
my hips, a little tribute.
Once she moved like Marilyn.
Neighbors came by for card games and scotch.
Now all I can do now is hum and stretch
so the men notice. One drops his
cellphone, the grocer strokes my palm
when he hands back change.
Wild Sandwiches Roamed the Ancient Plains
by KS O’Neill
Before we came their numbers were uncountable
Exotic breads, coarse spices
Banana and prosciutto
Fried chicken and peanut butter
Strong crusts and spinach leaves
Inside them, mayonnaise with bits of twig
And harsh mustards and tartares
Lived and died, unseen,
An internal flora of condiments.
Now out here, in this camp
The hunter sits loose in his chair
His pack of identical rye-and-salami
pant and pad about him,
Tough and lean.
They make your four beautiful
Nervous, in the dust and wind.
But you go along. It’s your money.
You find the wide burned spot on the far plains,
And he tastes the grass:
Horseradish and vermouth.
They did it, the rumors were true.
The last of them built a ship.
And now they are free, out there somewhere,
Flavorful and wild.
The hunter is angry, and silent
On the long ride back to the city.
You bite into one of the cucumbers;
The taste of the cream cheese is perfect,
Smooth and cool.
The other three watch you with wide eyes
And you think of strange mustards,
Strong fish mixed with jam
Olive bread smothered in sweet honey.
When he’s not writing, KS O’NEILL teaches at a small college on the Texas coast. His short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Plasma Frequency Magazine, and OrthogonalSF.
Editor’s Note: The Animal Body
by Kate Lechler
The first poem I read of this group was KS O’Neill’s “Wild Sandwiches Roamed the Ancient Plains.” When I read it, I knew I had found something I didn’t even know I had been looking for—something strange and beautiful, that spoke truth to me in spite of (or perhaps because of!) being about animate sandwiches.
The other poems hit me in a similar place. They each brought me slightly off-center, helped me see old things with new eyes. I was captivated by the way Les Wicks’ “The Beast Collective” traces the sound of a word back to primitive human-animal relationships. I was equally struck by the details of the deli—the Valencia oranges “glow[ing] like pearls”—in Cathleen Cohen’s “Appetite.”
If there’s a common theme, for me it’s this: inside our human bodies, under the veneer of civilization, lives an animal. We can deny it, pretending that we are satisfied with cucumber-and-cream-cheese when we really long to indulge a taste for something wilder, “strange mustards, strong fish mixed with jam.” But the animal inside us will out.
There’s a kind of cognitive dissonance at play here. It might be a moment of understanding with a pet, capitalizing on “the original contract between us animals,” or noticing how familiar and yet alien the natural world seems to us. Or it might be a moment when we are faced with our own mortality. We know death comes eventually for each of us, but something in our bodies wants to live in the present, wants to “hum and stretch so the men notice.” To me, each of these poems celebrates our animal urges and our animal selves in a different way.
Or, to put these poems in another light: dogs and deli meats. Doesn’t get much more universal than that.
KATE LECHLER resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching at the University of Mississippi, freelance editing, and writing fiction. Her work has been published in NonBinary Review, Illumen, Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction, and is forthcoming at Podcastle. You can find her on Twitter @katelechler.