Month: June 2016

Featured: Sorrows

Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Vrenios
Who would believe they could swim
in warm waters with us
brushing against our legs?
Who would believe
that they are so winged and fierce,
to peck at our bones?
They crack us open to the light
to burn away fat satisfaction.
They are the water-wings,
the darning needles, the measuring stick,
the constant tick of the clock at midnight.
They are the broken dolls, the extinguished candles.
the suitcase packed,
the train dragging its long syllable over the hill.
They live in our palms and behind our knees,
at the bottom of our prayers.
They sing with us.
They bless us. They lean
their pitchforks against the wall.
07835-xmed-ROW-2012 copyElizabeth Kirkpatrick Vrenios, professor emerita from American University, was recently featured in Tupelo Press’s 30/30 challenge. She has been published in many publications including Clementine, Cumberland River Review, The Feminine Collective, The Kentucky Review, and Edison Literary Review. Her chapbook Special Delivery, Yellow Chair Press prize winner will be published this spring.

Featured: Newlyweds, First Night

W. Vandoren Wheeler
Read the poem below:

My first time
on a motorcycle,
just after I found
the heft and swoop
of its balance, a wasp
struck, clung to,
then crawled inside
my sunglasses.
As I wobbled the machine
onto the narrow
shoulder, the insect straddled
my left eyeball. Its legs inter-
laced with my lashes.

I can still see, but
every other thin thing
looks half wasp.

My new wife, mid-sentence,
walked out—our first night
apart. I can’t sleep.
I tangle our sheets imagining
her swerving, bleary-eyed,
through our neighborhood,
through a guardrail…
Insect feet prick
my eyelids as the lights
of an ambulance I imagine
carrying her to the quiet
hospital bed I’ll wait
beside until she wakes.

I hate that
I want her
even sort of
hurt, but

it cuts away the stained
clothes she agonizes over.
Our bodies know each other.

Since my lips re-
member her skin,
I can imagine it torn…

Let’s admire these carefully
arranged flowers together!

I am sick in so many ways.

I ask our imaginary
nurse for extra gauze,
and I bind my eyes.
author photo VanW. Vandoren Wheeler has been published in H_ngM_n, Lunch Ticket, Clackamas Literary Review, Forklift, DMQ Review, and Swink. His manuscript The Accidentalist won the Dorothy Brunsman Prize and was published by Bear Star Press in late 2012. He has an English/Spanish dual BA from the University of New Mexico and an MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College. He currently teaches in Portland, Oregon.

From Issue 10: Summer Dishes

Summer Dishes

Emily Strauss
A flower in the sun
late moon setting
hum of distant cars
nothing profound here—
but notice magenta
whorls, scarlet-throated
house finch, radiant
gorget of Ana’s tiny
hummingbird hovering,
this non-working noon’s
laid at the table
lingering bay trees
ceanothus hot smells
rising, summer dishes
float down, we settle
expectantly with knives
and serviettes.
Emily Strauss has an M.A. in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college. Over 350 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the U.S. and abroad. She is both a Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee. The natural world of the American West is generally her framework; she also considers the narratives of people and places around her. She is a semi-retired teacher living in California.

From Issue 10: Lights that Grow Dim Over Time

Lights That Grow Dim Over Time

Kristin LaFollette
Midday – The Debut, the Salty Decree  

An outlook, an impression.

The beach is cool today.  Flecks of cold ocean spray carry on the breeze, a mixture.  Footprints graze the ocean line, alternating, shuffling.  I wear a sweatshirt and jeans.  Red bathing suit tops spark from bright towels on the sand, girls talk, sunglasses reflect the sun in brilliant recollections of heat.
A band plays further down on the beach.  Outside a night club.  But it’s daytime.  I pick a bottle cap out of the sand and turn it over and over in my fingertips.  The beach is filling up with college students from Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois.  And Texas.  It’s probably warmer there.  Here the sun barely skims the skin, the ocean air pulling the warmth, the heat, out of the body.
Girls bump volleyballs with their bare wrists.  Cases of alcohol sit perched under encompassing umbrellas.  Empty cans litter the sand and emerge from the ground like gravestones.  They cut the bottoms of feet, they bleed.  A group of girls walk the beach with big plastic cups filled to the brim with margarita mix.  It’s yellow, sloshing over the top.  Tiredness sits on the faces of the beach patrons like a veil.  No sleep tonight.

The young life, absorbing the warmth from the sand.

My condo isn’t far from the shoreline.  Sand coats the bottoms of my feet, climbs in the crevices between my toes.  The walkway to the building is riddled with trash, aluminum.
The building stands sixteen stories high.  It’s like looking into eternity, a glance.
There is a fountain in the lobby.  A young man sits on the lip of the fountain pool, a young woman sprawled in his arms.  She wears nothing more than a green bikini.  He cradles her to his chest like a father swaddles a child.  Her head hangs loosely.  The young man caresses her hair, supports her neck with his forearm.  He looks into her face, whispers softly.  She’s like a fawn, brown with white spots.  She’s not moving, unconscious.
The young man’s name is David.  “I found her,” he says.  “Walked in from the beach and there she was—unconscious on the floor of the lobby.  She looked like an angel, although everyone passed her by.”
“Call an ambulance?” I ask him.
“Coffee, to sober up.”
I go find some coffee for when she wakes up.  If.

Don’t pass me by.

Hot coffee, aromatic steam pouring through the hole in the lid.  The woman—David’s angel—she awakes slowly, but doesn’t drink the coffee.  It’s too humid in the building for coffee anyway.  Even she knows that.
I lightly squeeze her arm as I lean down to look her in the eye.  Her eyelids are fluttering, restless.
“David didn’t pass you by.”
She nods.
I walk out the front of the building into the streaming sun.
A group of young men walk out of the tattoo shop across the street.  They brandish reddened skin, newly sketched with ink, red, blue, black.  I walk into the shop.  A man tattoos a swimming koi on a woman’s spine.  I watch an artist pierce another man’s eyebrow.  Neither of them flinch.
I walk back down by the water.  Salt laps at my bare feet and I feel my skin tighten.  Dimes drop from the balconies of the nearby building.  People shield their heads below, although I see one man pick the coins out of the sand.  I think of Jesus, hand-selecting his disciples.  But they’re only dimes.  My mouth is dry, feels full of sand.  I go to get water and to rinse the salt from my parched skin.  The salt robs my body of moisture, even when looking out at the sea.
Night – Scattered Voices, They Worship the Night
I lace up aged sneakers for the night ahead—no taxi.  My window is open to the line of cars on the road.  Exhaust creeps in, engines scream, music harmonizes like a church hymn.  The strip is my neighbor, my senses perfectly alive.  The swiftness of the breeze carries mint, sweat, something metallic.  I take the elevator to the first floor.  The streets are living, they breathe with people.  Inhale.
I walk alongside two friends—Adam and Zachary—our backpack straps digging into the meat of our shoulders, a distraction from the nervousness that haunts our muscles, shaky bones.  The street is packed to the shoulder with sports cars (red) and pickup trucks.  The tires slowly trickle over the mud and gravel that spans the side of the road.  I walk cautiously; about ten young men in the bed of a pickup call to me.
“We like your shoes!  Jump in!”
Zachary hooks me under the arm with his.  Neither of us look back.
People walk shoulder to shoulder down the road.  Thousands of them cling in groups, shuffling through to get to Sand Piper or maybe to catch a glimpse of La Vela.  The flashing lights of the clubs, bars—they burn the retinas.  My pupils widen to the flood, music crashes in the distance.  Sound is everywhere.  A car swerves off the road and almost hits Adam.  He pants anxiously and pulls me and Zachary off of the shoulder.
“Walk closer to the beach?”
We do.
The parking lots are climbing with cars, the drivers holding cups of whiskey and cola, their eyes wide, bloodshot.  I pick up the receiver of a phone booth at a gas station.  The line is dead.
“Can you hear me?”  I whisper into the receiver, but I’m not sure who I’m talking to.
I walk between my two friends and the three of us watch a man get struck by a car.  He tumbles off the hood, scuffs his bare skin on the concrete, bleeding face.  He immediately rises from the street and runs to us.
“Now that’s survival!”  He spits in my face and feigns a punch.
I flinch.
Zachary steps in.  The man hits him in the face and runs.  The street collects the blood dripping from his teeth.
There is a campground across the street.  Two young men stand with their arms atop the chain link fence.  One’s name is Mike.  The other is Todd.  They smoke pot.  With each stale breath, they exhale the smoke into our faces.  It’s Mike’s birthday.
“Happy birthday.”  I speak softly.
He thanks me, tells me how his mother doesn’t love him.  I tell him about my father and how a miracle saved his life.
“That’s beautiful,” he says.  “Beautiful.”
He tells me his life.  He’s from Detroit.
“Please.”  He’s pleading.  “Save me from myself.”
He’s only nineteen years old today.  I take his hand in mine, show him I understand.
“I’m gonna change my life,” he exclaims.
I don’t know if he does.
As we walk on from the campground, a young woman is crying on the side of the road.  Her friend wraps her arms around her, pulls her in.
“Honey, this will pass.”  Her friend pats her on the back.
The two women are in black dresses.  They both shiver, quivering from the cold, or maybe from the iniquities of the streets, the air.  Adam offers his sweatshirt.  The friend takes it.
“Need help?” Adam offers.
“She’s been lost out here all night—drunk.  Some guys, they picked her up, dumped her here.  She was lost…”
She weeps.
It’s early in the morning.  My cell phone screen reads 3AM—the dim light like a match sparking in the night.  I realize we are three miles from our condo, achy feet, tired shoes.  I tug on Adam’s shirt sleeve.
“Go back?”
Instead we walk up to a 24-hour restaurant for a break.  Inside, an Australian man sings carelessly as he strums the air with his calloused fingers.  His voice is a thick blanket, a warm collar around the neck.  As I listen, I think of the obedience of Moses and how he stood atop a mountain.
Eventually, I’ll get back to my condo, but not yet.  For now, I will listen.  The music sooths and for a moment I forget the swerving cars, the alcohol, the abuse, the lost…
The broken…
And I remember it’s Mike’s birthday and that someone, somewhere, is celebrating life and what it means to be human.  Maybe the strip—these illuminated streets—will weaken, slip away.  Maybe these lights will grow dim over time.  Maybe.
Just maybe.
Kristin LaFollette received her BA and MA from Indiana University.  She is a PhD student in the English Rhetoric & Writing program at Bowling Green State University.  Her poems have been featured in Lost Coast Review and Poetry Quarterly, among others.  She also has artwork featured in Harbinger Asylum and Plath Profiles: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Sylvia Plath Studies.  She lives with her husband in northwestern Ohio.  You can visit her at

From Issue 10: Self-Portrait


Noor Dhingra
I spend my days sketching hands and
Quaint French cafes, and scribbling on
Watercolour paper,
I spend my nights between pages of
Old sketchbooks and diaries, and
Doodling my way to sleep.
But last night when you asked me to
Draw myself, and put my being onto paper,
It troubled my fire, and turned it static,
And left me deep in thought.
I can draw the stars in the night sky, the
Dandelions and butterflies, and
The smiles on strangers’ faces;
I can create
So long as I get to be the artist,
But never,
The art.
Noor Dhingra is a 17-year old high school student from New Delhi, India. She has a passion for writing and reading – and literature in general excites her. When she isn’t contemplating life and existence, you can find her walking her dog, traveling, or painting a canvas.

Letter from the Editors, Issue 10, Summer 2016

tcissue_200x285Dear Readers,
If we had to pick a watch-word for this issue, we’d select EXPOSURE. A young artist is ambivalent about becoming the subject of her art; boys find themselves exposed to the leery eye of a stepmother at a swimming pool; girls and boys alike put on bathing suits, exchanging their staid, ordinary lives for the lives of beach dwellers. Our talented writers are mixing it up in this issue, using mixed media such as the incorporation of photographs, and at the same time they’re peeling back the layers from their characters and themselves. We couldn’t be more excited for this very summery, very bare-it-all issue.
As for Two Cities, we’ve got our fingers in many pies these days. Our audience for the TWO CITIES REVIEW PODCAST continues to grow; check us out on iTunes for our book reviews, insights into the editorial process, and thoughts on the literary life. And please leave us a review and let us know what you think!
We’re also expanding our readership by opening all pieces of the current issue to be read online. Now you just have to visit our current issue page to access all the great poems, essays, and stories of the issue. To access back issues, you can subscribe.
Finally, we’re opening submissions this summer; they are free all summer long! Send us your best work, and follow us on Twitter @twocitiesreview to hear exclusive info about our upcoming issues. We’re especially interested in pieces with the theme of DYSTOPIA for our special fall issue.
Enjoy this sweaty, sun-soaked, and thoroughly over-exposed issue, readers.
Happy reading!
Blair Hurley & Olivia Tandon

From Issue 10: Dipping-Bird (For Michael Brown)

Dipping-Bird (For Michael Brown)

Dominick Knowles
Grief could not budge me, nor joy: the false binary.
So when the time came to be dignified as old wood
varnished from rot, or a pillbottle firebrand
fetal in husk of love, I thought only of the objective
pull toward dirt, lizardlike scream preceding
the order of things, the soul that nods like a dipping-bird.
Not unlike my father, whose hair grew from a patch of blonde stone.
or my mother, rising from the feet of holy men she loved.
His features sewn together by coteries of gargoyles;
Her arms threaded thru the black manhattan skyline.
I fled from the steam heat helical off their collarbones.
My teeth wound up like bedsheets, twisted, a seizure of atoms.
Bachelard, short of breath, wrote that
‘Inhabited space transcends geometric space,’
and so must affirm the body, most inhabited,
as most transcendent. But continually we have been the glib
observers of young men shattered through violence.
Celibate as galaxies huddled in the small of God’s marrow.
Their bodies are always collapsing,
collapsing always into our bodies.
Dominick Knowles is a writer living in New Jersey. He holds a BA in English from Ursinus College and is currently a PhD student at Brandeis University. His undergraduate poetry appeared annually in The Lantern, a student-run journal showcasing creative writing and art. He also edits Aux./Vox. magazine.

From Issue 10: Run Away

Run Away

Beth Konkoski
Anna hid in a cave of sumac branches, made airy by the August breeze. The hours turned red and fat while she stayed missing.  No one called or searched or knew how she stared alone at the swaggering limbs and pulled sticky, feathered seeds from milkweed pods, brushed at the dust of monarch wings, all pulsing like late summer hearts.   She was less than a half mile from her house.
On a nestled bed of damp milkweed innards, she nursed her anger.  The attention she had always known from her parents and the other adults in her life had become an empty carton, soured and upsetting.
The egg-laying, full pupa growing days were now behind her family.  At home, orchestra bright with cries, her mother kissed and worried new babies, changed and continued on without checking on Anna, playing the games they had made up together or cutting off crusts.  It was all the worst sort of hurried, careless attention. So this afternoon, she was having her revenge; she was not just a part of the house to be shushed or sent on errands.  This would show Anna’s importance to all of them, the adults who stared and smiled, snapped photos and kissed pink toes.
Her stomach growled, but her bitterness filled the space where food should be as she swatted mosquitoes and imagined her parents realizing she was gone, for they must have noticed by now.  Soft wings whispered past her head as she sat in full dark.  Tears and a hushed call, “Daddy, Daddy.”   She had brought juice in a thermos, but had finished it long ago, and she couldn’t remember exactly where the creek was that ran along the edge of the field she had crossed.  The trees were familiar from afternoon trips with her friend Rachel, but the darkness settled like heavy wool, and she could not even see stars when she peeked out through the branches.  The fear of what she had done grew, until she couldn’t stop her tears or the shaking in her legs, no matter how hard she tried.
And then she felt her body picked up by the skin at the back of her neck, right where the hair stopped growing.  It was a gentle mouth, but a sharp pinch where whatever thing that had grabbed a hold of her did its clamping and lifting.  The air was thick with breath that tucked in and out of her ears as she bounced along in the dark, dangling and suspended like the fish she had once pulled out of the lake on the end of a pole.
She was placed on the ground beside small mounds of fur and the thickness of breath again, great gusts moving over her like searchlights close to the skin.   There was warmth and the heavy weight of a body lowering and shifting her in the small space.  She slept.  Her lungs slow in exhales as she matched the rhythms that surrounded her.  And then feathered claws, a sharp touch, hints across her face.  Without opening her eyes, she reached and tangled herself in furry parts that rolled and blended.  A mouthful of bristles, the papery nudge of a nose and she was upside down, on her back, spun and embraced, nipped and explored in a frenzy of warmth and the dead leaves of a den.  When at last she looked, two brown noses hung before her, behind that, eyes black, but shifting, glints of light angling as they stared.  The heavy liquid of breaths continued, and she screamed.  Fully awake, she scrambled to her knees and burst out toward the small crevices of light nearby.
Morning shadows and strips of light fell around her as she rolled away from the noises and paws.  Her own breath echoed now in her ears, but the feeling of fur and claws and noses had vanished.  She worked to put her shaky legs beneath her; looking up toward the tree tops and the light, she stood.    Turning a slow circle, she felt the word forest deep in her mind without using her voice.  It made no difference which direction she looked, the trees were identical in their sentinel height.  The morning sun felt warm, but a breeze lifted the ends of her hair and she shivered.  All the parts of her that were summer exposed and had stayed warm in the rolling of fur, now cooled.  For a moment she wanted to crawl back where she had been, sneak in and root in the tight space that had held her through the night.  But the memory of the mouths and fur so tangled and mixed, the scream she could not control, made her abandon this idea immediately.
In the quiet of the trees, she listened and heard the faint dancing of water across rocks.  When she reached the stream, she put herself face first in the cold, copper rush.  And then for the second time, she was lifted and carried, this time by arms rather than teeth, as the sound of “Anna, Anna, Anna” replaced the noise of the stream.  Her father squeezed her as he walked.  She loved the smell of soap and his sharp coffee breath as he murmured into her cheek, rocking her and holding with a strength she had never felt before.    Looking up from his shoulder as they moved with steady bouncing beneath the trees, she saw a flash of brown, a shrouded sense of something watching that would not leave her, even though, from that day forward, she stayed away from the woods.
Beth Konkoski is a writer and high school English teacher whose work has been published in a variety of literary journals, including: Story, Mid-American Review and The Baltimore Review.   Her work was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two kids.

From Issue 10: Fields


Larry Eby
Dust is frightening. It hangs in the air, slow motion above a wheat field, the sun in particle light. It’s the vanishing of it that frightens me the most. Could it sink and never return? Could the crows freeze midair and never return to motion? Fragility in movement. I imagine death seeking the town like a fog—does it roll?—over another empty lot, so many of them vacant, but what does the vacancy mean when we know nothing of darkness?
More questions: if I were to build a swing from this town to another country, would they accept me as their own? Why do we still believe in borders? Wouldn’t a field feel more colorful in spring? Do you understand what I’m saying? A field only seems odd between tall buildings and I’m a field in the eyes of a deer terrified by bulbs of light traveling across a dark road, not understanding how the sun doubled in its attack.
Larry Eby is the author of two books of poetry, Flight of August, winner of the 2014 Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and Machinist in the Snow, ELJ Publications 2015. His work can be found in Forklift, Passages North, Fourteen Hills, Thrush Poetry Journal, and others. He is the editor in chief of Orange Monkey Publishing, a poetry press in California.

From Issue 10: Romaine Lettuce

Romaine Lettuce

Christine Aletti
the heart is the bitterest part,
you say. And i, idiot body,
am so wrapped in leaves and laughter
i can’t stand to hear the crunch.
you always want to keep me
from undressing entirely.
it’s the cocoon that interests you,
the passageway you whisk
with platitudes while i, bitter brain,
silently beg for something simple:
garlic, lemon, and olive oil.
with you, it is as it is with shallots:
we lose soil as we root into the earth.
Christine Aletti has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared in numerous online journals, including r.k.vr.y, and Two Hawks Quarterly. She teached literature to teenagers, yoga to adults, and serves drinks to rowdy bar patrons. She’s always searching for stillness.