Vol. 12

Launched June 2022

Cover Art: Inhaling l Maia Stark

Editor’s Note

Elena Bentley

untethered magazine holds space for more than just poetry and prose; it provides a home for “those strange beings in between”—a phrase that struck, and has stuck with me, since I was first introduced to this wickedly eclectic literary journal a handful of years ago. It’s also the phrase that threads this poetry special issue of untethered together.

“Is this us?” asks Kate Marshall Flaherty in “White on Green.” I find myself wondering the same: are we strange beings navigating the relationship between our old and new selves while our once familiar world shifts and moves forward—with or without us?

Yes, we are. It became clear the longer I sat with the poems in vol. 12 that our relationships are not static. Many of the speakers in these poems occupy, and explore from within, a place between what was and what might be. Relationships with ourselves, our bodies, our memories, our partners, our families, our cultures, languages and homes, and even our relationship with the planet continually evolve and change, forcing us to exist as strangely fluctuating beings.

Although I, too, am a strange being who often finds herself constantly unsure and confused by the instability of all my relationships, I am sure of my relationship with untethered. I am grateful to our managing editor, Stephanie McKechnie, for trusting me to take the lead and curate our first poetry issue. I am also very thankful for all the volunteer readers, copy editors and proofreaders, without whom this issue would likely not exist.

No matter how strange a being you are, or how in flux you find yourself, I hope you find comfort in knowing we are all “suspended / between foreground, / [and] background,” between “shovel and the sky.”

At the Friendship Store

Christine Wu

Inching through narrow, half-lit aisles,
I’m afraid I might shatter
bottles of Shaoxing wine and all the sauces: 
light soy, dark soy, black bean, oyster, fish.

I am afraid I might shatter
this longing for a haunting ghostly taste. 
Light soy, dark soy, black bean, oyster, fish, 
fermented liquids brimming with a past,

a longing, a haunting ghostly taste.
Memory trails me, urges me to tiptoe
amidst fermented liquids brimming with a past 
I have lost but not forgotten.

Memory trails me, urges me to tiptoe 
inside this tiny Asian grocery full of foods
I have lost but not forgotten.
A lapsed capsule.

This tiny Asian grocery, owned by
an old man and an old woman, reminds me 
of a lapsed capsule,
what I left behind.

The old man and the old woman remind me
of an unfamiliar home, those
who left behind
everything they knew in exchange for this:

an unfamiliar home in a place
they couldn’t belong, offering 
everything they knew in exchange for 
a whisper of hope for me

who now doesn't belong
here at the Friendship Store, where
a whisper of help from me
is in English, my Chinese long abandoned.

Here, at the Friendship Store,
I am someone who needs
English translations, Chinese long abandoned
in pursuit of seaweed, sesame oil, frozen har gow.

I am someone who needs
Sichuan peppercorns, egg noodles, dried shrimp, 
seaweed, sesame oil, frozen har gow—
a desperate attempt to nose my way back

into a bowl of Sichuan peppercorns, egg noodles, dried shrimp. 
This long-remembered comfort food
desperately nosing its way back
into my present, my thin tether

to a long-remembered comfort
found in bottles of Shaoxing wine and all the sauces, 
my thin tether to past lives
inching through narrow, half-lit aisles.

house fire

Sheri Doyle

once when my house was on fire 
I saw my face upside down
in the golden doorknob
turning around and around 
while above me a hand
held the door shut

later in a showroom
of alarm systems, locks 
fireproof safes, doorknobs
a gallery of keyholes
again I saw my face
turning in the spin of a knob 
the ghost-fire shining 
behind my shoulder
and I could smell it

the distinct aura of a blaze
that stayed in the aired-out house 
lingering, an unwanted guest
for weeks, then years
and it followed me still
not like a bonfire, or candles blown out 
not the phantom aerosols
of a forest charred to the ground
not a burnt piece of toast
or a badly burnt loaf
not the tang of a thousand burnt loaves

but the pungent whiff
of scorched sweat on bed sheets 
the trail of soft morning steps 
slippers toward the bookshelf
the singe of poetry pages
the infinite list on the refrigerator
all the luminous reasons
to keep this thing going
the dense spice of our vinyl records
all our songs molten
the sting in the nostrils
of the knitted blanket
azure, wrapped around us outside
that one night up at Balsam Lake
when a home was just the air around us

What’s Your Garden Like, Brother?

Taidgh Lynch

Do your beans climb tall? Do your strawberries 
creep over fields? Those wild limbs of yours 
can grow anything!

Do you still dig for potatoes, or have you forgotten 
their sweetness? You and your love for loads of cream 
and butter—easy on the pepper!

But what does a ghost want with a garden? 
What use, dear brother, would you have 
for a trowel, rake, or hoe?

What use is there now for green fingers?
I stand lost in you, dear brother, knee deep in soil, 
caught somewhere between your shovel and the sky.

My Mother Once Told Me Our House is an Embassy

S. Mahamud

we leave red rules and white tape at the door; 
bureaucracy has no place here
inside these four walls, we are home again.

as a representative, I must act a certain way 
she tells me. I think about it, baby politician 
frankincense smoke stuck to my blazer

cloves crushed in fingernails
at school, a reminder:
I’m dressed to return to the embassy

I think of the baaris that waits for me on the stove 
my sister clapping her hands to kill fruit flies
if I close our eyes, I can hear a mosquito’s buzz

and murder is once more justified.
I called 999 one time before I remembered 
on this linoleum soil, foreign rules are law.

Qalbiga waa mashi quriida ala helo: 
“home is where the heart is”
a phrase that doesn’t translate so well

This issue includes new work by Khaloud Al-Muttalibi, T. Best, McKenna James Boeckner, Kayleigh Cline, Lana Crossman, Sheri Doyle, Guy Elston, Rosa Fernandez, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Tea Gerbeza, Vera Hadzic, Wren Jones, Taidgh Lynch, S. Mahamud, Andrea Margaret Martineau, Jill Michelle, Pauline Peters, Lauren Prousky, Michael Russell, Dawn Steiner, Matthew Walsh, Fran Westwood, Toast Wong and Christine Wu.

Cover art by Maia Stark