Banner design by Jason Wright


Dirty Living

I haven’t washed my clothes
for thirty years. I wear rags.
I am ashamed of myself.
Isn’t it right that I should feel
ashamed? Only God’s rain has washed
my mother’s grave stone. I am a bag
of apples with a rotten heart. I am
a lace kerchief of ectoplasm
gushing from a medium’s nose,
ears, and mouth. I am a baby’s face
in linen, guilt and agony, in a rented
hotel parlor on all souls eve. I
make the bereaved woman cry tears
of chicken broth. I am
the parasite of nourishment,
a soda straw stuck in a jar of Skippy,
a raw slice of potato replacing
a wedding ring, a song of mourning
doves with three notes missing.
Tornadoes are on patrol for my truancy.
The school nurse has emptied
my kindergarten ash tray into a clean
pile of moth balls. The sunlight shines
through me and reveals my skull,
my hidden stash of gold teeth,
the transistor radio parts
in my broken chest
with a tinny speaker where my heart
once was, singing, keeping everyone



Bone cracker, skull stitcher, he had
a pretty nurse who held my hand
as I bled. Say hello to the jar
of cotton balls, say hello to the tongs.
I a boy of seven with his head
cracked open at school, a fall straight
down from the top of the jungle gym
where I was surfing to wild guitar
music, wipe out! Can you see the letter
“E”? he asked. Which way are its legs
pointing? I painted the letter “E” in blue
with its wind on fire. Tell me,
what am I king of? asked the doctor.
Who paper bags the nurse’s house?
asked the doctor. Sheila held my hand.
The doctor tweezered pebbles from my brain
and dropped them in a kidney shaped pan.
He began to sew my skin with fish
hooks and black thread. I was Frankenstein’s
nephew. The firelight breached my eyes.
How many fingers am I holding up?
Too many. The nurse leaned in
and breathed hotly in my ear
and kissed me slowly there.


Rustin Larson’s writing appears in the anthologies Wild Gods (New Rivers Press, 2021) and Wapsipinicon Almanac: Selections from Thirty Years (University of Iowa Press, 2023). Recent poems have appeared in J Journal, The Phi Kappa Phi Forum, The Briar Cliff Review, The Galway Review, London Grip, Poetry East, Puerto Del Sol, Oddball Magazine, The Penn Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Alien Buddha, North of Oxford, The New Yorker, Verse Daily, and Lothlorien Poetry Journal. His chapbook The Cottage on the Hill was published by in April of 2022. He is on faculty in Maharishi International University’s MFA in Creative Writing program.