Writing Your Own Obituary by Jack Powers

Writing Your Own Obituary

A neighbor fell out his window Monday morning.
The paper says he was a family man, excelled at crosswords,
hoped to finish hiking the Appalachian Trail this fall.
His life shrunk to a paragraph in the back of the paper.
I’m eating oatmeal and almonds, reading the obits

while Anne catches up with the Kardashians,
fast forwarding through commercials.
She thinks I’m wrong insisting the Kardashian brother
is putting on weight for the ratings. “They’ve seen
the numbers for Biggest Loser and Dance Your Ass Off.”

“I feel sorry for him,” she says. “They just pick on him.”
“It’s reality TV!” I say. “He can choose his troubles.
Hire Body by Jake. Be known as the guy who lost weight.”
I study the smiling faces of the dead, the names
(Arnold, Alexa, Bonazzo), ages (54, 86, 25!), try

to tease out causes (died suddenly, after a courageous battle,
entered eternal rest). When Alfred Nobel
read his obit headline, “The Merchant of Death is Dead,”
after a paper confused him with his brother,
he decided to be known for peace instead of dynamite.

We regular Joes don’t get headlines –¬ just name
and narrow paragraph. In Aunt Teresa’s Ireland
you were known by your troubles – “Is that the Donnellys
with the drowned boy?” she’d ask. “Or the Donnellys
with the mother kicked by the mule?” – final acts cling

like headlines to their kin. When I was shot
while hunting quail, the local headline read,
“Man Shoots Friend, Not Bird,” rather than “Teacher Dead
at 29,” but when the blast first swung me around, when
I dropped to one knee and raised my shirt

to see forty bloody pellet holes in my ribs,
when I later peed blood, I thought, “Get married,
have children, live a life worth summarizing
in a newspaper paragraph.” Writing your own obit
is an eighth grade assignment: “President Peters

Dead at 86,” a New Age grab for all you desire:
“Million Dollar Poet Buys the Farm.” Write it
ten times a day and it will come true. But
I know the right answer: three children raised,
crosswords solved, hopes to hike some trail

some day, outline a life well lived. No amount
of headline pun will dress up “Bill Payer Perishes,”
“Kept Lawn Trim and Green,”
“Kids Stayed (Mostly) Out of Trouble”.
“Is there another Kardashian brother?” I ask Anne.

“One who opted out – teaches special ed in Ventura,
drives a Camry?” But she’s clicked off the set
and we stare at the sudden blackness of the screen.
Outside, basketballs echo off the pavement.
Neighborhood dogs bark greetings and gossip.

(50 lines)

Justin’s Note: Reality television is a tumor that hides deep within the mind, so deep it penetrates one’s soul. It starts out benign, but it grows. It isn’t merciful like some cancers; it doesn’t kill you. It makes you live out your life as a lobotomite. Jack uses it as a framing device in this insightful poem delving deep into the human psyche.

Bio: Jack Powers’ poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Rattle, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. He teaches special education and writing at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, CT. More poems at http://www.jackpowers13.com/poetry.


Jehoiakim (fire song i) by j.p. berame

Jehoiakim (fire song i)

a tribute to the faculty center fire


an hour past


and i’ve read

how our dearests

have witnessed

the burning

of an empire

of papers

of books

of blood and sweat

of lifeworks

oh amber



spitting fire


destruction is beauty

or so they say

but have you ever tried

to look into the eyes

of someone

of something


from the inside?

here’s a story:


i saw a building

swallowed by

its inner fire

fueled by its guts

fueled by its insides

i sensed the smoke


i sensed the fire

and the trees bowed down

more in reverence

than silent defiance

a tribute

to the holy ghosts

of ashes flying


the building’s



i saw a building

swallowed by

its inner fire

fueled by

its own viscera

which is to say


i saw

what i’m afraid of:

my own phoenix


eating guts

inside out


all i have ever allowed

my own dragon



all i’ve ever built

my sand castles

my white towers

which is to say


i saw Vesuvius inside me

and love


in rising

in rousing

i am burning

my empire skin.

(74 lines)


Justin’s Note: Hello, my name is Justin and I’m a Bukowski addict. “Hi, Justin.” Anyways one of the things that I enjoy is ignoring capitalization rules, well. You can’t just start using i instead of I and consider it ‘done well.’ It has to be natural and when it’s used right it adds a nuance to the poem that’s priceless. Like Bukowski did. j.p did it well. I was immersed in this poem from the very start, vivid imagery, and interesting metaphors riddle this fire poem that singes and brands your mind with its delicate verse. You will have the scars to prove it. Isn’t that what good poetry should do? Not just mark, not just change, but scar.

Bio: j. p. berame is a 20-something poet/photographer/producer based in Manila, Philippines. Visit her at existential-celestial.tumblr.com.

2 Poems by Evelyn Deshane

The Caribou

When I was young, I saw a herd

of caribou in a sliver of light when winter was

melting away & becoming something else.

The caribou & their hooves gnashed against rock;

their teeth chewed thick tundra grasses while their

antlers peeled away, red and ragged.

They molted. They shed. They bled.

“The female caribou have antlers,” my uncle said,

“just like the men.” & I understood though I was 9

& the moon had only shifted inside of me once.

Their molts were my molts. The caribou women bled

& were made strong.

Years later, I live in the North in my uncle’s old

cabin with new furniture & better sewage system.

I get down on the ground, & thank the tundra

with tea made from raspberry leaves to ease

the pain of contractions

from the molting of my inner antler

at least once a month.

(19 lines)

Teaching English as a Second Language

When we speak, there is

a remainder of sound left inside the air;

vibrations of particles that human ears

do not pick up. There is also the word we don’t

and can’t pronounce. An accent of missing articles

the & in & a & with forgotten about,

the typo that becomes lodged in the throat

the st-t-t-t from a stutter, a trill & a nasal sound

from our nose. But there is also a remainder

of language in a joke we missed. An idiom

without culture, a reference gone among vowels

meanings lost in translation or just

misheard. Misunderstood. The un-

of that language intrigues me. The underside

of our understanding, what slips through our cracks

of perception. It’s like walking on glass:

if you step on enough, you can glide over it;

unlanguage does not hurt you all at once.

But in the small pin pricks, the lone shard

& jagged edge of a missed meaning. I love

you and I miss you subsumed inside a vortex.

A compliment & a furious text message

gone, and not recovered. In silence

(which is never really quiet), I wonder how many

remainders I can find at the bottom of the floor.

I step quietly around others’ conversations

hoping to find some meaning lost

& to repurpose it for myself. But I am left

with accents, articles, and unheard sentiments.

A gift basket, a mirrored edge, a dangling

modifier, and my slap-dash poem. Alas

I guess,

this is it.

(33 lines)

Justin’s Note: This pair of poems just seems to go together, in a strange ethereal way. Humanity and language always go together in my mind like that, and if The Caribou isn’t a stunning celebration of humanity I don’t know what is. It’s frank and to the point, and that’s why I love it. Humanity and language. Yin and yang. Let’s all celebrate humanity and language.

Bio: Evelyn Deshane has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Strange Horizons, The Rusty Toque, and Lackington’s. Their chapbook, Mythology, was released in 2015 with The Steel Chisel. Evelyn (pron. Eve-a-lyn) received an MA from Trent University and currently studying for PhD at Waterloo University. Visit them at: evedeshane.wordpress.com

“Organic Farming” by Nicole Melchionda

Organic Farming

I. The Discovery

Fingers trekked around throbbing ear
smelling for infection.
Are you a tumor?
Sleep no longer nourishes me
or the mass, a black bean:
firm, plump, and so very dark,
rotting inside my body.
How did I become germinated?

II. The Walk-in Clinic

I arrived before the doors unlocked.
Waiting rooms make bodies
leak premature death.

III. The Diagnosis

The older man (conventionally handsome)
shook my lubricated palm.
He dove into me for only a moment
before tossing me back to the nurse.
She flushed me out twelve times
until I was clean again.
“I have this lump in my neck,” I said,
gesturing with my hand.
He pressed for half a second.
Swollen lymph node from infection.

IV. The Waiting

Is spent with drops marinating canals.
One second unraveled 43,200.
The fingers obsessively prod
my little black bean,
checking to see if it sprouted
or aborted.

(27 lines)

Justin’s Note:  Poetry is about flavor. Nineteen lines about leaves falling may be a villanelle, but it’s the words and the way they dance with one another that makes it magic. That is flavor. Nicole Melchionda is a master chef, who’s dedicated her life to creating this flavor. You, dear reader, could learn a thing or two from her. Flavor. Magic. Cover yourself now in stardust. Our master chef here has given us a mere taste, and we will all be left to wait for the main course.

Nicole Melchionda is currently a senior at Stetson University where she is majoring in English with a minor in creative writing. She recently completed an independent study on gothic poetry with award-winning poet Terri Witek. The interests that infiltrate her work include biology, human anatomy, cosmology, psychology, and interpersonal relationships.

News – 8/9/16

I have a lot of insights whispered to me in hushed tones from within the sanctum of The Chaotic Review to report back to you fine people of the outside world. Have the Olympics always been this boring? Or has my mindset changed so much over the last four years that certain national fixations have become somewhat pointless to me?
Go America! And god bless the rest.
We are now accepting poetry submissions again. I’m not sure why we stopped accepting them. One of my decisions made late at night that I’ve been too lazy to change.
If you’ve submitted to us in the last month or so, and still haven’t received a response, don’t worry, we’re working our hardest to catch up, and we should be back on schedule by the time our next call for submissions is up on the first of the month.
We. Yes, we should be back on schedule. I’m not saying we as in, me and the website. Not this time. I’m saying we as in The Chaotic Review has another editor! (In case you didn’t know, I ran this thing alone up until our new editor accepted my plea for help.)
Would everyone please welcome ANNA KEELER to the Chaotic Review as Assistant Editor! An absolutely fantastic writer and person, who’s skills and ability have long since risen above most other people’s. She had a fair share of poetry published here a couple months ago in this very review.
Also, Katie Manning, a great poet whose poem “The Book of Men,” appeared on the Chaotic Review a while back, has released a chapbook through Agape Editions called A Door with a Voice. It’s a collection of poems using the bible as a word bank. The Book of Men appears in the chapbook, and here’s the best part. It’s available for free download! Link below. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I have.
That’s all, for now, folks.


“What Good Does the Truth Do?” by Juliet Cook

What Good Does the Truth Do

What do you do when you find out
that trying your best to be honest
just ruins everything?

The fakers seem to score the most points
and gain ongoing momentum and power
to continually increase the stash of their own fake truth serums
shoved into a hidden closet full of pockets full of pills
bitten in half behind your back and then swallowed like candy.

Do you join the crowd of fake and grow a whole sweet arsenal
of sticky secrets leading towards your latest secret fan base?
Or do you just quit expressing yourself to anyone
except for inside your own head? Do you refuse to tell
what you really mean, how you really feel,

who you really are to yourself or to anyone else?
Does the real you even exist?
Nobody really cares anyway.

(16 lines)

Justin’s Note: Juliet Cook is a true talent. Showing a strong understanding of bitter truth in her poetry, she doesn’t hold any punches. Her poems will scare you at times, but more often they’ll leave you in tears. Read at your own risk, and I suggest you do.

Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared in a small multitude of magazines, including Arsenic Lobster, Diode, FLAPPERHOUSE, and Menacing Hedge. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, recently including POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press, 2013), RED DEMOLITION (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014), a collaboration with Robert Cole called MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015), and a collaboration with j/j hastain called Dive Back Down (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Cook’s first full-length poetry book, “Horrific Confection”, was published by BlazeVOX and her second full-length poetry book, “Malformed Confetti” is forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press. Find out more at http://www.JulietCook.weebly.com.

“Fashion” by Philip Kobylarz


He walked through the hallways of work, if not to say his house also, with a veil of sadness that hung from his head, his shoulders, his eyes, his thin-lipped mouth, invisibly. It might have been related to the color of his lime-green shirt, that is, merely a reflection caught and reflected back to us, of melancholia, certainly not envy, perhaps only insomnia, but surely something was on his mind- perhaps his recently (gingerly) accepted promotion, an upcoming move and all the stuff he’d forget into boxes, the failing health of his dog who was more so consistently hungry than loyal, the recent death of ****, the unusually bad weather that posted its calling card on the bulletin board of sky, the awful boxed pastries he had to have for breakfast (from now unto . . .) because time and traffic would allow him only that, the insistence that his new haircut did look good by his (he thought) closest friends, his co-dependency on the ATM machine’s calculation for his balance, a shoe that routinely defied his foot, a feeling that he’d been here before, that the rut he was stuck in was really a hill to more hills ahead, an inability to come up with an inspired string of numbers for his daily lottery ticket, a growing distrust of food served in styrofoam, a loathing for the school bell ring of the alarm clock, an abhorrence for the cheery harkening of the telephone, a notion that his cologne made him not smell good but merely like someone else, the full fledged idea that the hip and somewhat retro- outfit he recently bought and was wearing this very day was his own living breathing walking shroud of Turin.

(288 words)

Justin’s Note: Great art is a portrait. A sketch of a person. A self-portrait in a way. We see bits of ourselves in our writing. This piece draws the picture of a man whose loneliness chills the reader to the bone. Each word a brush stroke.