BURNING JUST WEST, by Rachel Stempel
BURNING JUST WEST – Rachel Stempel
A sadomasochist double-fists a sippy cup of coca-cola & thirteen years of resentment toward her father for not loving her mother the way she does.
She knows California is burning for a reason, she’s sad to see her mostauthenticself separate to cross-country distance but supports her nonetheless.
Her mostauthenticself marries a San Bernardino rockstar immediately after filing for residency & the marriage lasts eight months before he discovers she’s only half the woman she claims to be. He’s not angry.
He tells her they should go out with a bang. She tells him she’ll slip into something more comfortable. He goes to finger her with his non-dominant hand & gets caught in the Chinese finger trap from their arcade honeymoon.
It’s my IUD, she assures.
We speed down Ventura for the gag, the ugliest car on the lot a muted lemon-yellow lemon. My mouth hasn’t closed in three days, my teeth crystallized in cotton. When they shatter, I pick the best pieces to send home.
“Theodore Crawford Cassidy was the only good man to have ever lived & he died at forty-six,”
I scream so you hear me over the acceleration.
You add a syllable to every iteration of Mulholland Mull-hull-land Mulled-huh-oh-lund.
I kill kitchen sink ants each morning with my fat thumb, smear the thorax like jam, & sweat enough for the both of us.
There’s nothing great here, I lied to impress you. We watch seafoam peel back like scathed skin, bury our knees into wet sand to chafe, hack out confessions like we packed enough underwear & self-hate to make it.
Now we’re in stasis ‘til the final blow. We speed down Ventura ready to slam into anything, drag it with us, the more the merrier.
slip, muddy maybe & mortal is why
we risk delight
when his ventriloquist foams at the mouth,
the entirety of Queens uses the same brand of cologne.
the boogeyman says be your own
Christ figure, completely ignore God
between couch cushions where
He is no bigger than I
& when the mohel botches your circumcision
More delicate hallucinations of dead
you are mistaken
for a small dog in the peripherals, wearing emphysemic tulle.
Tomorrow is blue
& red leaves gild filigree
beneath breastbone, I become my best liar
& you think you hear crying
or burning just west of ollpheist.
Once & once & once again, you scare yourself, the flame turned all the way up flash-frying frostbitten tuna chunks. It’s not the real thing. It’s never.
Westward you leave me, falling ass-backwards in the backwash of a love nest never realized, fatal goings percuss tables to shudder just short of étudel woe. In the school bus graveyard of somewhere’s California, I hear you steal milky breaths from purebred pups left for celebrity.
Until you’re both out of quarters, I won’t say it, but fifty foolish things later I revel in absence. I am decorum, bright & comfortable.
F A R M T O T A B L E
A therapist’s office surrounded by exoskeleton gaudy gold & crimson. An empty office chair whispers palindromes. FARMER & PIG sit too close & caked in flour, sieve their own chalk
o u t l i n e s
PIG sitting upright, her gaze remains on FARMER. FARMER sits, his legs apart, staring at the
a u d i e n c e , c r a d l i n g h i s c o m i c a l l y l a r g e r i f le .
P I G : I. t h i n k y o u ’ r e g e t t i n g a h e a d o f y o u r s e l f.
F A R M E R : I ’ v e n e v e r b e e n a n y w h e r e e l s e .
P I G : I d o n ‘ t u n d e r s t a n d .
F A R M E R : Y o u d o n ‘ t n e e d t o f o r i t t o b e t h e c a s e .
P I G : I w a n t t o u n d e r s t a n d .
F A R M E R : I t ‘ s n o t i m po r t a n t . N o t a t a l l .
P I G : S h e ‘ s l a t e .
F A R M E R : W e ‘ r e e a r l y .
P I G : N o t e a r l y e n o u g h .
F A R M E R : I t ‘ s n o t i m p o r t a n t .
P I G : I a d o r e t h e d e c o r , i t ‘ s v e r y o r n a t e .
F A R M E R : I c a n ‘ t t e l l .
P I G : W e ‘ v e b e e n s i t t i n g h e r e l o n g e n o u g h .
F A R M E R : I t ‘ s n o t i m p o r t a n t .
P I G : J u s t s h o o t m e n o w .
F A R M E R a d j u s t s h i s r i f l e , p r e p a r e s f o r t h e
s h o t .
P I G , n o w d e a d f r o m t h e n e c k d o w n , h e r
b l a c k g r a p e i n b r i n e .
B l a c k o u t .
E N D
(A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR – My apologies to the poet, Rachel Stempel, as I was unable to find a way despite over an hour of effort to format this poem the way it was intended. I know that formatting was very important to this poem, and I regret not being able to present it as intended. Attached is a JPG of the intended formatting for the “Farm to Table” section to provide the audience with the original vision.)
Rachel Stempel is a queer poet and MFA candidate at Adelphi University where she also teaches. She is a staff reviewer at Up the Staircase Quarterly and was a finalist in the 2020 New Delta Review Chapbook Contest. Her work can be found in Kissing Dynamite, The Nasiona, and forthcoming in New Delta Review, SPORAZINE, and elsewhere. Originally from the Bronx, she now LARPs as a Long Island townie.
Interview with Rachel Stempel
1. How long have you been writing?
Since 2017 out of spite toward a shitty ex.
2. Is writing your full-time job? If not, what is?
I’m an MFA candidate at Adelphi where I also teach.
3. What inspired this work?
Every crush I’ve had on a straight girl.
4. What writers or artists inspire you and your work?
My friends, poets Robin Gow and Benny Sisson.
5. Where can we find your recent or future work? (please provide links).
Evidently, I exclusively write prose in second-person: “Scales” in The Nasiona and “Rule of Three” in New Delta Review.
6. What would you advise those interested in becoming published writers?
Be inspired by this Helen Armstrong tweet (@hkawrites): “I won’t rest until every lit mag in the world has rejected this story.”