In the Company of Orphans
by R.H. Slansky

My last name hangs on me like an ill-fitting suit
clatters from my mouth
as if it isn’t mine
a nasal honk sliding
into a timid trailing vowel: Slaaan-skeee
no one has heard it before
so I have to spell it out for them

Oh, says everyone
that’s just how it sounds

My homeroom class is given an assignment
to map out our family trees
I know mine will be boring, average
Polish, probably, that’s how everyone thinks Slansky sounds
Italian, probably, Dad’s from Long Island and we eat too much pasta,
that’s just math

But Slansky is not Polish, it’s Czech
and our name isn’t Slansky, it’s Robitschek
it was changed
by a second or third great-grandfather
in order to avoid a military draft
skewed unevenly toward the recruitment of Jewish men

Lost to the Holocaust,
the European family cannot tell me this story is wrong,
we are all that’s left.
until the granddaughter of my grandfather’s aunt turns up

a toddler at the war’s end
she survived the camps and the Angel of Death
to spend the next sixty years
cursed with a photographic memory
and the belief that she was all that was left

The real story of Slansky is
a second or third great-grandfather was caught married with a child
when the legal limit for Jewish families had already been reached
the family name was stripped from us as punishment

Slansky is a Scarlet letter we still wear
and we are all that’s left

Childhood summer road trips
I pull the White Pages out from under the Gideon’s bible
in the nightstand of every Motel 6 and Super 8
by age 16 I have been to 36 states
and found my name in only one

when my father meets the famous Russian poet
he asks if we’re related to Rudolf

arrested by the Czech government in 1951 along with 13 others
charged with treason,
tortured in prison,
then publicly hanged
Rudolph Slansky was one of 11 who were Jewish
and this is no coincidence

I try and fail to find a connection to Rudolf
but learn that his name
may have also once been something else, that perhaps he
is another orphan star without a galaxy

My father told the poet no
but could have said
and yes

Somehow, in adulthood
Slansky has become my first name,
my only name
people bray it at me with joy: Slaaan-SKEEE!
as if they are grumpy police lieutenants
and I am their rogue detective

they tell me it’s just fun to say
and I smile
having grown into that suit
at last

IMAGE: (Left) Czech politician Rudolf Slánský (1901-1952); (right) author R.H. Slansky outside the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: There was a time in my life where I felt so estranged from the name Slansky that I planned to drop it when I reached legal age and use my middle name — my mother’s maiden name — as my last. Over the course of my life, as I’ve learned more about the family members, both those I couldn’t have known and those I did but didn’t really, I’ve come to love it. Somehow, without any doing on my part, wherever I go, it’s how people address me now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: R. H. Slansky, a six-time 3-Day Novel Contest entrant, two-time short-lister, and 2013 winner, has been featured in the Silver Birch Press ME, IN FICTION series, Geist literary magazine,, and the Literary Press Group of Canada’s website All Lit Up. Vancouver-based Anvil Press released her novella, Moss-Haired Girl, the Confessions of a Circus Performer in 2015. Raised in Oregon, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Johnson - Cold War
Cold War
by Nina Johnson
In memory of Nina Kulagina

At 14, Nina rose against the Nazis, operated the radio in a Russian tank.
900 days of bitter cold, bombs, becoming senior sergeant,
when artillery fire scarred, discharged her home.

Stalin banned women from marching in the Moscow Victory Day Parade.
So Nina got married, birthed a son, lived under radar
until nuclear threat shot her nerves, broke her down.

Nina sat sewing, feeling thread colors with her fingers, rousing
Russian scientists in search of paranormal human powers.
They insisted she could see the inside of their pockets,

move a matchbox, wine glass, needles with her hands hovering.
When she broke an egg in half, stopped the beating heart
of a frog without a touch, Americans feared

Russia’s new secret weapon. Doubters refuted, claimed magnets,
string, breathy tricks. And when I watch the videos
of her telekinetics, her mind over matter,

I can’t help but notice how like mine her face becomes.
Round, average and spent, arms waving with robotic
effort to move things, to break an egg, to stop a heart.

PHOTOGRAPH: (left) Nina Kulagina (right) Author doing her best Kulagina.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Nina Kulagina did, indeed, begin her service in the Red Army at the age of 14 during WWII. After her near-fatal injuries, I can only imagine how insulting it was when Stalin banned all female military from participation in the Moscow Victory Day Parade. At 38, after years as a mother and housewife, she suffered a nervous breakdown triggered by PTSD. While recovering in the hospital, military scientists noticed her uncanny ability to choose the correct color thread from her sewing basket without looking at it. They began to study her in earnest, seeking a new psychic weapon for their Cold War with the United States. Many videos of her demonstrations are available online. Russian scientists insisted she possessed the power of telekinesis and they continued to study her until her heart gave out at age 63.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nina Johnson is a writer based in the Indianapolis, Indiana, area. Her poetry has appeared in Silver Birch Press, the Lament for the Dead project, and The Lighter. Her short story “Headstones on Hidden Hill” will appear in the Ghosts anthology by Main Street Rag Publishing. She was most recently an Education Reporter for a local publication. Her husband and three daughters are patiently waiting for her to finish editing her first novel. You can follow her progress on Facebook.

Lady Randolph Churchill
by Jennifer Finstrom

“From too much love of living, from hope and fear set free.”—Swinburne

Her death is what initially captivates me. Tragic, avoidable, much like what I imagine happening someday when I’m walking down stairs in impractical shoes while texting. Jennie Jerome Churchill kept her collection of shoes in ornate glass cases to show them off, fell wearing new high heels, and broke her ankle. Her leg was amputated, but she died nonetheless.

I know little more than this when I begin to read the two volumes of Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill by Ralph G. Martin but soon learn of our shared literary pursuits. I read in volume one that “an increasing number of society women smuggled Swinburne’s poems into their bedrooms,” wish I could tell her how, in the late 1980s, I sought out Swinburne in second-hand bookshops, picked out the second last stanza of “The Garden of Proserpine” for my future gravestone.

“Had she only been the mother of Winston Churchill, her place in history would have been assured,” the inside front cover of the first volume tells us, and already, I have almost forgotten that he is her son. When volume one ends in 1895, she is forty years old, younger than I am now. She laments that her life is over: her husband dead, her admirers all married or gone.

She doesn’t know that she will marry twice more, doesn’t know what courage and wit she will summon at the end, telling the doctor to be sure he cuts high enough. I like to think that I might somehow share those qualities—though not the additional marriages—and her pragmatic optimism as well, when she says of her third husband, a man not much older than her son, “He has a future and I have a past, so we should be all right.”

IMAGE: “Jennie Churchill,” 1880 (artist unknown).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The more I learn about Jennie Churchill (1854-1921) the more captivated I am.


Jennifer Finstrom
 teaches in the First-Year Writing Program, tutors in writing, and facilitates writing groups at DePaul University. She is the poetry editor of Eclectica Magazine, and recent publications include Escape Into LifeExtract(s), Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, and NEAT. For Silver Birch Press, she has work appearing in The Great Gatsby Anthology, the Alice in Wonderland Anthology, and in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks.

Nine Day Queen
by Jane Burn

One month apart. Born
when autumn loosens the leaves,
fades the rose, buds all in earth —
believing we carry this gloom
of shortening days, leaving light.
Turning within, holding onto our green.
That Paul Delaroche —
he made her this pitiable thing.
I loved the touch of red
in her hair. I envied the length,
her kiss of a mouth.
How tender they are,
I used to think, with her.
She is about to die
and she is an angel’s galleon of silk.
Her ladies cry and clutch pearls —
I made a fantasy of all that delicate woe.
Named for the woman who birthed a King —
we Janes, we do our duty.
Such readers! Always
a book in our hands. Our mothers,
cold as hillstone, both.

IMAGE: “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche (1834).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Lady Jane Grey was a young woman who has fascinated me most of my life. When I was a small child, I saw the painting “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche. It became a great favourite of mine, and even before I found out the truth about her sad end, I built many a fantasy around that picture. Tried to imagine what was happening to this beautiful girl. I believe this inspired the lifelong interest I have in history and I did, of course find out what did happen to her — found out about the circumstances and people that surrounded her. As I did, I could not help feeling that there had been parallels between us — that we had some sort of connection. I did not want to make these connections obvious in the poem — rather, as the painting did with me back then, I wanted to let hints and clues come through and allow the reader to interpret from the piece what they wish.

jane burn

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Burn is a writer and artist who was originally born in Yorkshire, England, but has lived in the North East for the last 20 years. Her poems have been published in a variety of magazines, including Butcher’s Dog, Obsessed With Pipework, The Black Light Engine Room Magazine, and The Rialto. Her work has also appeared in anthologies from The Emma Press and Kind of a Hurricane Press. Jane’s first and second pamphlets are Fat Around the Middle, published in 2015 by Talking Pen, and Tongues of Fire, published in 2016 by The Black Light Engine Room. She established the online magazine, The Fat Damsel in 2015.

PHOTO: Jane Burn on her 44th birthday. Happiness is art, poetry, friends, family, outlandish necklaces and hair bows.

Hacker Headline 1
Hacker’s My Name
by Tina Hacker

Used to be uncommon,
so when it first appeared in newspapers,
“Hackers Cause Computer Headaches,”
I cut out the headline, posted it
on my office walls. Soon had enough
to post on everyone’s walls.
HACKERS, the movie, turned
the swell into an ocean.
Never thought I’d be infamous,
send emails people wouldn’t open.
Might as well type SCAMMER
on the subject line.
Considered adding a disclaimer:
I’m not a virus or a vampire
sucking secrets from computers,
just someone with a name
as dreaded as an earthquake,
bubonic plague,
winter in Fargo.
Crashing worlds if not today
surely tomorrow.
Now on Blu-ray.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION:  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see “Hacker” in a headline or article about people who steal or scam or both! My grandfather’s name was “Hacker,” of course. But it was also my grandmother’s maiden name. A double whammy. I created this photo of me holding a headline I’ve seen many times!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tina Hacker took an adventure tour last year to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. She is writing about her experiences, including tripping and falling down while crawling over bows of boats and climbing down into tunnels. Tina has been published in numerous journals and anthologies and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize four times. She was a finalist in New Letters and George F. Wedge competitions and Editor’s Choice in two literary journals. Her chapbook, Cutting It, and her full-length book, Listening to Night Whistles, can be found on Amazon. She lives in Leawood, Kansas, with her husband, Lynn Norton, who is a sculptor and valuable editor.

Very Funny
by Caitlin Stern

People have asked me
if I was related to Howard Stern (as if there
weren’t twenty-five thousand others) several times
throughout my life
I wonder if he gets jokes (too)
about the adjective spelled just the same
but even so
we don’t share much more than our (starry)
He demonstrates a willingness to be
the center of attention that I (am quite happy
to) lack. And though
I joke from time to time
I’d rather the eyes (or ears) of the crowd
were on someone
But there’s one thing we don’t (yet) share
that I aspire to—
a spot on the bestseller list—because
like him (like everyone)
I’d like to be heard and maybe win
a smile or three
If I ever get my name below that famous banner
once (or twice
as Mr. Stern did) maybe someone someday will ask
if he’s related to me!

IMAGE: Cover of Howard Stern’s 1993 autobiography Private Parts.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Though I did a search for my first and last name, I already had a famous person in mind—Howard Stern, who was the source of the second most favored joke people made about my last name when I was growing up. After a little research, I started writing the poem. While polishing the draft, it seemed to need a parenthetical aside, so I rewrote it to add in a few.


Caitlin Stern
grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where she read in trees, “published” her first book in elementary school, and had longhorns across the street from her middle school. Scorching summers and interesting juxtapositions inspired many poems and stories throughout the years. She followed her love of books to Angelo State University, where she worked as a tutor at her school’s Writing Center, and later as a Teaching Assistant while she earned an English MA. Recently, she has edited several novels for self-published authors, and had poems published in Silver Birch Press’ anthologies and online collections.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Taken in a bookstore, December 2015. Because nothing says holidays like books!


by Christopher Sloce

I stepped out in the cold, my breath showing just like my apron was, underneath my jacket. A girl I wanted all the ways you can and her friend shouted my name. I almost skipped over. She turned on “Big Poppa” and told me to dance. You wouldn’t have danced either.

The man from New Mexico said I could write but my grades sucked. All the teachers who never thought I’d amount to nothing, etc.

My shrink wanted a journal of what I felt so I wrote it and named it after your line in “Suicidal Thoughts”: Remo in Beat Street. I was having them, so did you; but I just threw myself against walls. It didn’t matter who Remo was. Just that I knew what it was and no one else could figure it out.

Beneath the Falstaff appetite and frames and putting words together to describe our world, there was always the question: are we worth anything? Is there any point to this we put ourselves through everyday? What if we’re the problem? And there were times we had the definitive answer: this isn’t worth it. Sometimes we felt victory. It was never just the sky’s the limit or an everyday struggle and it’s a waste to parse ourselves down complicated personalities to extremes. We were bigger guys who loved to drink dark liquor and play Super Nintendo who had questions we could never answer about the people around us and the lives we led, and the best shot at answering them came through words; the right detail to create the exact meaning.

My parents found my shrink journal. They were forced to kick me out no doubt but didn’t. Who’s to say I didn’t deserve it?

IMAGE: Illustration from The Notorious B.I.G. t-shirt, available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote about Christopher Wallace, also known as The Notorious B.I.G. The parallels are all metaphorical and emotional to the characters and world he created with his music. Rap music is not allowed to be subtly emotional or artful by a large portion of our populace. I think the underlying darkness of Biggie’s music is a poignant metaphor for mental disorders I suffer from and ways of coping. I weaved together moments that bounced from emotion to emotion and wrapped up with analysis and a question that adheres to what I get from Biggie’s music.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher Sloce is a writer and nonprofit coordinator from Wise, Virginia, currently living in Richmond, Virginia. He attended the Virginia Commonwealth University and graduated with a degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing. They haven’t paid rent yet.

PHOTO: Christopher Sloce, Hirshorn Museum, October 2015.

Echoes of Alexander
by Alex Simand

while you reach
for the Edge of the World,
the Outer Sea as vast
as your ancestral echo,
I shrink to the size a pea,
wonder what spears
I might drive into the urban dark,
what armies I’ve inherited
from your Persian bedfellows—
gruff men with fur hats,
impatient as the blood of bears.

my dreams gallop at times,
coloring my childhood atlas:
my tongue lolling from my mouth,
a red crayon in fist.
mine, I say, as you must have,
filling a kingdom with ambition,
flooding the world with it,
enraging the gods with your self,
casting your ego into coin,
imposing your phalanx like a phallus—
and I wake with your regal velvet
draped across my brow.

but it’s only my dog
for breakfast.

IMAGE: “Alexander the Great” by Rembrandt van Rijn (1655).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Alexander the Great is a pr**k. Having a name that is so broadly associated with greatness has always felt like an imposition on my life; the opportunity to look the damn name in its deified face was just too much to pass up. The contrast between the much-mythologized historical character and the miniscule me was a fun space in which to play.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Simand makes his living as an engineer, but will sometimes muster the courage to call himself a writer. He lives in San Francisco, hails from Toronto, and probably talks about poutine too much. Alex has worked on Lunch Ticket for the past two issues in various roles, including copyeditor, CNF editor, and, most recently, blog editor. His work has appeared or is set to appear in Angel City Review, Ash & Bones, Ultraviolet Tribe, Drunk Monkeys, Mudseason Review, and Red Fez. He has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net Award. Alex writes good essays, bad poems, and vice-versa.

PHOTO: Alex Simand in Burlingame, California, on Thanksgiving, 2014. Photo credit: Jessica Shamash.

The Last Muse
by Jacqueline Kirkpatrick

Pablo met Jacqueline when she was 27 and he was 72.
Though Picasso was known for having many mistresses, he only      married two women.
Jacqueline was the second.
In their 20-year relationship he created more than 400 paintings of her.

Down Chris’ right arm is my nickname, “Que.”
On the inside of Jon’s right arm is “Jack” in a heart.
He also has the sign of Cancer (my astrological sign) on his back.
He also has the date of our anniversary on his inner left arm.
Though he later covered it, Robert had the sign of Cancer on his      sternum.

An ex once wrote a song for me. It was simply titled, “I’m F-ing Your      Girlfriend.”
Another ex wrote a song about my name. It was called “Jacky.”

He called to tell me he felt like he was dying and that I had to come over to help him. I skipped class. I rushed over. He was kneeling in only a
t-shirt over the Bible opened in the middle. He had painted my face on one side and a bloody fetus on the other. He apologized, wiping acrylic paint down my arms, and told me that he couldn’t live without me.
I forget who I am.
I often look at myself through the eyes of those who look at me.
I don’t know where I am.
I don’t know how I got here.

And then they come
And I have purpose.
And then they leave
And I am alone.

IMAGE: “Jacqueline with Flowers” by Pablo Picasso (1954).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I was named after Jackie O. but I never identified with her or even considered her as someone I’d ever relate to. At 13 I watched a special about Pablo Picasso, and I was introduced to the woman who inspired hundreds of his works — Jacqueline Roque. Since that documentary, I have had an obsession with the woman who became, but, more importantly, stayed Picasso’s muse until his death. To have that power to inspire is quiet a beautiful, striking thing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jacqueline Kirkpatrick is a MFA graduate from The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York. She has recently published in Creative NonfictionThought Catalog, and The Rumpus. Follow her on Twitter @thebeatenpoet or at

bathing-woman miro
Same Name — Sort Of
Joan Miró and Me
by Joan Leotta

As a child
when introduced to Miró’s work,
I thought he was a woman.
After all, his name was Joan.
My name.
I did not reckon with the Catalan
spelling of the Spanish, “Juan.”
As an adult, learning of
my mistake
invoked laughter and a study
of Miró at various DC museums.
I felt a bond with this
Catalan nationalist artist
through our almost-same names.

On a recent mother-daughter
jaunt to Turkey
my daughter booked for us—
writing, as always,
Joan Leotta, as her travel mate.
When we arrived at the hotel,
obviously mother and daughter,
our hotelier was visibly embarrassed.
“We made up a double bed,”
he mumbled.
We laughed at the mistake.
It’s ok, Mom and I can share,” she told him.
I agreed.
By the time we reached our room,
I realized what had happened.
Miro had taken his revenge!
On seeing the name, Joan
The hotelier,
More a fan of art than U.S. spelling,
The clerk had thought me, male!
Jennie and I chuckled.
Miró had taken his time,
but the great artist, so thinly related to me by name,
surely now was enjoying the last laugh!

IMAGE: “Bathing Woman” by Joan Miró (1925).

Jennie and Joan Leotta in Ephesus, Turkey, 2015

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I thought and thought about famous folks with my name. Sadly, I do not feel much of a connection with my patron saint — I have not been toasted for any cause. I was not named for Joan Crawford. Then I recalled that for sooooo many years, even after learning Spanish, I had thought Miro to be a woman! Not a fan of abstracts, I did not bother to investigate very much — for many years. It was not until I lived in Washington, DC, and visited several exhibitions of his work that I realized his spelling was the Catalan version of the Spanish “Juan” and that his most abstract works were a form of social protest. So, I came not only to know about him, but to love and appreciate his work — all because of our “shared” same name. And, truth be told, this past spring in Istanbul, I did truly wonder if the great artist was “tweaking me” for all the years I had thought him to be a woman.

PHOTO: The author (left) and daughter Jennie in May 2015 during their mother-daughter trip to Turkey.

joan leotta2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Leotta has been playing with words since childhood. Joan recently completed a month as one of Tupelo Press’s 30/30 poets. She has published or has work forthcoming in Red Wolf, A Quiet Courage, Eastern Iowa Review, Silver Birch Press, and Postcard Poems and Prose. Joan also performs folklore and one-woman shows on historic figures. She lives in Calabash, North Carolina, where she walks the beach with husband Joe. She collects shells, pressed pennies, and memories.  Visit her at and on Facebook.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,464 other followers