Current Issue :: –> Things we've agreed to out of desperation.

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Sara Jimenez

Sara Jimenez is a Filipina-Canadian artist living and working in New York. The past 3 years Sara has
shown at Space Womb, Salon, Estrogenius, Live Love Live, Nolita House and Rewind. Her work focuses on
psychological portraits, exploring the relationship between fantasy, instincts, desires, and the subconscious.
Her work is available to view at, or you can contact her at

Domestic Expectations

by Susan Davis

When the house is built
the workmen grade away
sand and stone. They lay
foundations in the dirt.

There will be an area
where clothes are washed,
sorted into black and red piles.
In the fall, just before

it’s too cold to eat outside,
the Mormon girls will
throw a bridal shower
and the mom will come

home to condoms and
panties hung from
the bougainvillea strung
with lights. Just

fifteen minutes, they say,
and it goes from sin to
something required.  A red
foil twirl hangs in a tree

and teases the room
with a random police-flash
so we don’t forget the party
or the soon-to-come

fifteen minutes.

Justin Rigamonti

Justin Rigamonti, who received his MFA in Poetry from UC Irvine, teaches composition in Portland, OR. He is currently finishing work on his first collection of poems, Songbird Disorder.

Elizabeth Wyatt

Elizabeth Wyatt drinks cheap Malbec and runs up mountains. But not in that order.

Cynthia Mitchell

Cynthia makes moving pictures, still pictures, and pictures with words.

Susan Davis

Susan Davis teaches and coordinates undergraduate creative writing at the University of California, Irvine. Her poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Pequod and Cincinatti Review. In November, a new Dallas-Fort Worth transit station will dedicate the art installation in which her poem “Farm Days” appears. She has two daughters.

Daniel Kukla

Daniel Kukla, a native of Indianapolis, Indiana, currently resides in Brooklyn, New York where he works as a freelance and fine art photographer. He is a graduate of The International Center of Photography program in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism. Prior to his photographic education he attended The University of Toronto and received his B.Sc. in Evolutionary Ecology, Biology, and Evolutionary Human Anatomy. His work has been exhibited in the United States, Canada, China, Singapore and Spain, and has been published in the New York Times, The Washington Post, On Earth Magazine, New York Post, National Geographic (website), and for the NYC Department of Transportation.

Michael Barach

After having grown up in Philadelphia, PA, Michael Barach worked as a writer and editor for Moment Magazine and for RoyalShave, a company that sells exclusive straight razors and shaving products. Currently Michael writes and teaches poetry in Tallahassee, FL. His recent projects include a book of collaborative poems and artwork.

Brandi George

Brandi George’s poems, which have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Ruth Lilly 2010, have appeared or are forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Fugue, Harpur Palate, Quercus, The Dirty Napkin, and Best New Poets 2010. Brandi currently resides in Tallahassee, where she is finishing her MFA at Florida State University.

Joe Heaps Nelson

A native of Iowa and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he has been exhibiting since 1992. He has shown at Gawker Artists, Fountain Art Fair, Governor’s Island Art Fair, Leo Kesting Gallery, Jack the Pelican Presents, Dumbo Art Center, and the Waldemar A. Schmidt Art Gallery. He has been interviewed for Gawker, Heyoka Magazine, and Trigger Magazine. He writes for Whitehot Magazine.

Natural Disaster

by Elizabeth Wyatt

The dream of our house: a poor foundation
built for collapse.  But collapse has a rule:
a passionate screw’s a valuable tool
if your aim’s to fix, fix, to fixation.


by Elizabeth Wyatt

Boxed in our stark place on Quincy
we sat stewing like two leftover meals.
I finally went out, but you stayed congealed
on the couch, watching Jeopardy!
with your dagger-clawed cat balled on your knees.

He lazed like a fat furry seal.
His wide lime eyes abraded the scene
with their acrid animal truth, part green,
part yellow, separating real
from human, from an invisible feel.

My late-night arrival strategy
was to silence him with tuna fish.
I scrubbed my hands while steel-wooling the dish,
but they stank pathologically
of what swam in and through my brain’s debris:

silver flesh-flashes thin as the cloud-wisps
that drifted, meshed thick, and spread calm as caulk
overhead. I lay on the couch and sulked
while you slept, as you sleep: hard, one fist
punched deep in your pillow’s puckered coolness;

but, restless, I changed. Went for a walk.
No one in the neighborhood was awake.
I walked through the park to the sewage lake
and there, where you’d always balked
at the smell, held your breath, refused to talk,

a slim white bird posed in the muck.
Its noodle-neck straightened and arched as it pecked
at some object bobbing pale in the cess—
no Wonder bread heel, no fish; but a duck.
In fury it ate. Could not get enough.

Interview with Steve Geng

I reviewed Steve Geng’s memoir when it came out and I liked it so much, I decided to interview him. We met in a Chelsea café near where he lived. The energy of the book and its subject matter made me expect –- I don’t know exactly, maybe some kind of louche, fast-talking wildman who would go through my wallet if left it on the table. I definitely wasn’t expecting the soft-spoken, thoughtful man who sat across from me eating a bowl of soup. That left me with a new question: how could this be the same guy who’d done so many outrageous things? It was only as we became friends that I realized Steve was both those people, and that writing had allowed him to direct the demons that had made the first forty-plus years of life such a (colorful) struggle. The man who’d had the energy to go on nation-wide shoplifting sprees was also the man who could evoke early-1960s Paris on the page with such gusto that you got a tactile sense of the place, from the jazz clubs to the whorehouses. — RA

1. In your long and checkered life, what are some other things you’ve agreed to out of desperation?

Once, desperate to win back a girl’s affection and make amends for smacking her, I agreed via phone to return a blanket she’d given me. When I showed up at her door and held out the blanket, she grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me thru the door, behind which lurked her brother who then caved my skull in with a claw hammer. I still have an egg-shell dent in my head and was lucky to have survived (pp 138-144 in Thick As Thieves: A Brother, a Sister–a True Story of Two Turbulent Lives).

Another time, I was an up-and-coming actor in Miami, desperate for work. I went to my agent and begged her for a gig. There’s not much, she said, except for one gig that I doubt you’d want because it only pays a hundred bucks. No, I said, I’ll take it, I’ll take it, whatever it is. Okay, she said, it’s a children’s birthday party and they want a guy to come as the Cookie Monster. She gave me an address downtown on calla ocho to pick up the costume. An hour later I showed up at a burbsville house on a Miami summer afternoon in this sweltering hot royal blue nylon-furred Cookie Monster outfit, full bodied, replete with headpiece with a little wire grille over the mouth to let air in. The living room was filled to bursting with small children in party hats running around like crazy, and I walked in growling like Tom Waits on a bad day—-Rrrrrrr, Coooooookie, rrrrrr. The kids were terrified of me. They all got very quiet and a few started sobbing, then they retreated to the kitchen. About fifteen minutes later I walked into a den where one of the parents was having a stiff-looking drink of something in a rocks glass. I was sober for about a year, and I could hear the ice clinking in the glass. Man I was thirsty. But in order to drink I’d have to take the headpiece of the costume off, in which case I wouldn’t get paid.

The guy looked at me woozy-eyed and said, Hey Cookie Monster, you ain’t drawing no big fucking crowds, are ya? Heh-heh.

I agreed to all kinds of shenanigans out of the desperation for drugs, scenarios that nearly got me killed or locked up and that I’d later regret. I don’t want to just rehash the memoir, but every time I copped smack from a stranger on the street was an agreement born of desperation, trusting that whatever he sold me wouldn’t stop my heart or freeze my brain when I cooked it up and geezed it. Sometimes the powder would bubble up and harden in the cooker—this was sadly called “a birthday cake.” One time there was a city-wide panic for heroin and we went down to Chinatown and copped little brownish crystals from a guy who told us it was “Chinese rocks.” When we shot it there was a loud buzzing in our ears, so we called it “the buzzer.” It smelled vaguely familiar when water was added to it but we couldn’t be sure if it got us high. So we went back and copped more of the buzzer. Turns out it was kitty litter. And of course there are all the times I was junk sick and gave my money to some character who’d say, “Okay, give me your money and wait here.The connection is leery of anybody he don’t know. I bring you up and he’ll cut me off.” I once caught up with one of these beat-artists, who I especially loathed because they preyed on fellow junkies. “Of course you got beat,” the guy tells me unapologetically. “I’ve been in the game ten years before you showed up like a shiny new penny. For all I know you’re a cop or a snitch. This is why everybody pays their dues in the beginning, brother. So what do you want to do—you want to fight? Or you want go make some money and go cop?” It made perfect sense. Having paid my dues, I felt a new sense of brotherhood and camaraderie.

The things I agreed to in order to get off drugs were equally desperate—six-day detoxes, twenty-eight day treatments and rehabs. Once I agreed to a year and a half commitment in a therapeutic community called Daytop in lieu of extradition to Florida where I owed five years state time. This was during the late sixties when TCs were old-school—shaved heads and sandwich board signs hung round your neck listing the negative behavior: “I’m a sleazy dope fiend and a thief–please confront me.” (That for getting caught stealing cookies or somebody’s toothpaste.) I lasted six months in Daytop and none of those treatment centers ever helped me stay off drugs. The only thing I agreed to that ever helped was when someone suggested, in a moment of desperation, that I try going to twelve-step meetings. And finally, beaten enough to try their technique of spiritual regeneration with total williingness, I was home free. It’s been over twelve years now drug and booze free, and the real change is my ability to be useful to others instead of obsessing about myself. Or as a friend of mine put it, “You substituted self-awareness for Why did I wear this?.” I’d never been useful to anybody—I was trying to seduce others and get them stoned or wrangle money out of them for a fix. To be helpful to others caused a radical change in my perspective.

2. When did you start writing? Why? Who are some of your influences?

I began writing in the late eighties toward the end of my brief acting career. I was reading scripts to audition, and complaining “Christ, I could write better than this!” Everybody said, “Well shut up and do it!’ So I wrote two screenplays, neither of which got picked up for production, although I got very positive feedback from some very famous people and one was optioned for a year. If I had any influence in writing those scripts it was probably David Mamet’s dialogue in “American Buffalo” after playing Donny Dubrow for several months in a Miami Equity production. That screenwriting effort gave me the experience and confidence that I could tell a good story in long form. A decade later in 1998, after relapsing into heroin for seven years, then getting clean and sober again, I was going to Gay Mens Health Crisis for free lunch. One of my lunch companians was a guy I was then helping get sober, and he told me to put my name into a lottery that GMHC held every semester. If your name came up you got to take a class at NYU or the New School or several other great schools around NYC that participated. I won for NYU and took a class called Make Your Novel Happen. By the end of that semester, after bringing in a scene every other week, I was a third of my way into a novel. I won that lottery three more times, and always took a workshop on novel writing. Then another guy came to me for help getting sober, and when he got his life back together he started working as an editor at a really good publishing house. So I showed him the novel I was working on. Turns out he knew of my sister, Veronica, and though he liked my writing, he kept asking me for anecdotes about her. Finally he confessed that he didn’t have enough juice at the publishing house to bring in a new writer. But he told me that if I wrote a brother-sister story about me and Veronica that it would be an easy sell. I didn’t want to write about her. It was too sad and the memories too painful. But out of desperation to get a book published, I agreed to try it anyway, and the memoir sold and got rave reviews. So in a way, I never really set out to be a writer. I was just helping other guys get sober and sort of following my nose and walking through doors that popped open.

3. What are you working on now?

I’m now working on the novel that I started writing in those workshops, a story that my sister had for years encouraged me to write. It takes place in Paris in 1961 during the Algerian Crisis, and the impetus for the story came from an image that remained in my head after living there as an army brat, a half-page photograph in the Paris Herald Tribune that showed Algerians marching down a boulevard and gendarmes battering them with truncheons—in the background of the shot a sign over a jazz club, Bop City, gives the scene dramatic irony. Algerians were terrorizing the city in an effort to win their independence from France, and my guys are GIs stationed there, black-marketeers selling US Army goods to the Algerians to finance their own jazz club in Pigalle. The hero is an army brat whose father is stationed nearby, and his dream is to play piano in a jazz band. When I was writing back in those NYU workshops I was really just having fun, trying to duplicate on paper the textures of the time in a coming of age story with the Café Wars as a backdrop. But after the experience of publishing that memoir I gained so much confidence that I found I could really get into the heads of Algerian terrorists and Pigalle pimps, research what I didn’t know or remember, and so the story went from slice-of-life to a real thriller with narrative drive. The title, “Bop City, is all that remains the same.

4. Where do you live?

I live in a residence in Chelsea half-a-block from the Hudson River.

5. How long have you lived there?

I’ve lived there for about thirteen years. At one point when I was dying of AIDS, barely subsisitng on minimum disability, unable to pay the rent, and still throwing money away on drugs, a lawyer at GMHC suggested I put in an application for “congregate housing.” At first I thought he’d said “conjugal” but it all worked out great anyway.

6. What do you like about your neighborhood?

Chelsea is safe, attractive, and over by the river people walk their dogs every morning on the way to a dog walk and the dogs all know me. It feels very much like a neighborhood this far West. There is a little park on the corner, across from the now defunct Empire Diner, where I practice tai chi. A man approached me the other day as I was “grasping sparrow’s tail” and said, “We love what you’re doing. Adds somethng aesthetic to the place. My kids are interested now in studying, uh, what is it—Chinese?” The form of tai chi I practice keeps me turning in a circle, and the little tots love trying to sneak up on me while my back is turned. When I catch them at it they squeal little strangled Bruce Lee sounds, “Heee-yahhh!” They call me the kung fu man.

7. What do you like about the changes in New York?

I like some of the changes in NY because I don’t see drugs for sale so much out on the street. It feels safer and less tempting. But then, I’m not looking for the junk scene anymore so maybe it’s just my perspective.

8. What do you dislike?

What I dislike are all the fast food chains and mega-stores and multiplexes that have driven neighborhood diners and Greenwich Village shops and art-movie houses like the Bleeker and the St Marks and the Waverly and the Thalia and really good inexpensive Italian restaurants like Emelios out of business and have changed Times Square into a sleazy version of Disney World. It’s all aesthetically deadening and tiresome to look at, never mind eating the processed junk they turn out, or shopping in sterile K-Mart type department stores where helpful clerks are scarcer than a good bag of Harlem doojie.

9. When and where were you happiest? Unhappiest? What woman made you happiest?

Tell you the truth, I am happiest at this very time in my life, and have been for the last five or ten years. I thought romance was over with, and was content with the fact—I’d wasted half my life chasing sex and romance, and two of the women I thought I was in love with tried to kill me—one had her brother cave my skull in and another slipped me a mickey in my coffee and when I passed out she torched me with lighter fluid. So I was a confirmed bachelor who writes books and helps guys get sober. But I have a woman in my life now who is not only a writer, but shares a similar checkered past, and I’ve never had so much fun with another human being as we’ve enjoyed for the past three years. I was also happy as a child in Philly, and running around Paris as a teenager, but the past is always seen through a scrim of selective memory, so that judging happiness or unhappiness of those times in unreliable at best.

10. What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m always writing, even when I’m not sitting at my computer and cranking out text. Once I realized I could write a book that would not only get published but would get rave reviews, writing became another way of looking at life and the world around me. I read a lot, mostly novels, crime thrillers and sci fi, but also writers whose prose I admire like Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy and recently Johathan Franzen. I also do a lot of research, and go to movies and hang out with my girlfriend who is now happy to be referred to as my fiancé. The rest of my time is spent attending twelve step meetings where my experience makes me useful to others in a way that is totally divorced from career or money or getting what I want. I remember a time when my sole purpose in life was in getting what I thought I wanted, and the hell with everybody else. Every relationship was quid pro quo, “this for that.” Thing about “this and that” is that they’re quantitative like money and heroin—the more “this or that” you get the more you want, a bottomless hole that circles downward and inward. My life today circles upward and outward. I can still get needy and selfish—just start obsessing why my book isn’t selling better—but not for long. It’s much more fun to think of others and stay out of my own way.

Violent World, by Joe Heaps Nelson

Sara Jimenez

The Angry Siren

by Nicelle Davis

What my sad sister won’t tell you
are the things the half-dead man
called her as she stitched his arms
back on—licking his toes to keep
herself from eating his face. I was

there to replant her teeth when she
bashed her jaw on shores. It was I
who cleaned ash from her scorched
skin. While she battled her nature, he
spat in her eyes and shat in her mouth—

yelling whore. She plucked out every
feather and stayed silent for ten days.
But inevitably, she is air and he dirt.
What’s left of him fell under the sea
as a sunken boat. She couldn’t help

but surface—rising as summer night.
Only now she sings only of him—
never present nor future—eyes coated
in spittle—scent on tongue—the smell
of him gags me when she speaks.

She was all I had of home and he kicked
in and out her doors; for that loss I pro-
long every sailor’s hurt for at least one
full night before swallowing pain like
cups of sugar at a sunrise feast of bones.

The Little Siren

by Nicelle Davis

The Sea Witch gave me the face of a swordfish
to impale my sisters with. She says, if I drink
them I will grow feet and loose my wings—
then boys will like me. But to do this I must
care nothing for sisters. I remain silent with
hopes that they will forget me—and allow me
to forget them—before the sirens’ slaughter.

Waiting for the HIV Test Results

by Brandi George

Day 1:  Existential Crisis

Microbes—I can feel them playing tag
in my neck.  They don’t love

me.  The skin around my brain has lost
its chlorophyll.  Photosynthesis.  Oblivion.

I’m lava in a box of ashes.  O
skin!  Rain down on me in puddles

I used to skip through, like matter,
like I matter on this earth.

Silly me, I wrenched the nose off
my ears.  Smell me in the summer—

blistered, childless, alone.  I’ll say
I love it all.  And I’ll be a liar.  Open

the box.  Go ahead.  Worms will fly
into your face, and you’ll smile.

Thank you!  What curious worms—
death, disease, death.  Curious

as I am, the sky won’t answer me, but creeps
inside my back with its poison

tentacles.  You shouldn’t have touched
my lip with your thumb.

Then, I wouldn’t be dying.  I wouldn’t know
the things we love are luminous

because death is a streetlamp.  Light shines brighter
in one eye, right wing beats like a storm-whipped flag.

Day 2:  Prayer

A lackadaisical genome, us.  The trees throw stars on me
so bright the sun would bleed out its hydrogen
to see.  Fly!  Your wings are big enough for two.

I blew this town Debbie-does-Dallas-style after the bark fell off
the only oak that hadn’t been hewn down.  O brutal father!
Infect me from where you hang.

Prostrate on the red carpet, stained glass cut
across my back, I let the wind blow the programs
from the pulpit, throw open my soul-flask

of McGillicutty.  You know me, Lord.  I’m the one
wearing dirty underwear, creeping from my boyfriend’s house
with JBF hair.  I’m ready for annihilation.  I get it – the universe

of helices, the collage of bones in a speck of dirt –
life is beyond sacred.  Each of us contains the spark
of creation, so it makes me crazy to think about Ebola,

the Holocaust, dead soldiers in a field.  I’m ready
for angels to fly inside my eyelids and sing “Bohemian Rhapsody,”
wake everything that ever lived until this world is a junkyard

of compressed skulls.  I beg you:  please, PLEASE don’t
hurt me; my limbs are icicles and my brain is music.
I break too hard and forever.


by Brandi George

I couldn’t stand silent while my father cocked his rifle at each thing
small enough for him to own.  I had walked since I was a boy

who turned into a girl who was called a liar by everyone
I loved.  My spirit in that angular, wiry form was red and winged

like a dog’s bloody fang.  I had walked since a sparrow, cardinal
and starling lined up on my father’s windowsill and pecked the glass

together:  snare, timpani, bass.  I’ve become the owl, howling
for the heart he couldn’t give, instead siring a bastard child

who wouldn’t enter into his world until the boy dove off a cliff
into shallow water.  I had walked since proving all hollow objects

sound like the ocean, and so I gained a vacuum—a chasm
so infinite my father-dreams could wing forever without crashing.

O tiny changeling embryo, self-sculpting clay, you are a pecking mass
in the shadow of a bolt-gashed tree, a dreamonym for dust.

We Know

by Susan Davis

Back from the stairwells and bedroom doors of Philadelphia,
our friend wants to have a child with a man who has his own partner.
How can it work?
O, could we go back, she says, knowing what we know now!
Knowing we know nothing?
Things I knew at 10 and 17
I no longer know.
It came from being 10 and 17.
My daughter says, I love this one, Mom. What do I do?
Why is she asking me?


by Justin Rigamonti

Three old ladies across from me ate soup
and spoke methodically of soup while I
pounded through lines aimed fixedly at death.
In my verse a party of lost hikers were earnestly
considering the consumption of their fourth,
Charles, who was fast becoming a blue
brick. When I looked up for some respite from this,
the lady on the left was gesturing with her
wasp-paper wrist out toward the idea of a
very good goulash. What I wanted to say
about bodies, about Charles’ body, about
what exactly vanished in transit, wasn’t coming.
The lady on the far right tapped her wrinkled
index finger on the tabletop and said, “Soul!
It’s the salt, ladies.” None of us spoke while
sunlight momentarily filled our café corner,
and I could feel them suddenly conscious
of my presence, of what it is that hustles through
these coffee shops, by this body, by my name.

Window Sill

by Justin Rigamonti

Three men waited while the fourth died.
Lost among the winter rocks going on
six days now, the company had found
less and less to say. Hungry as hell,
they eyed each other. Could you make food
of human flesh?, their guts asked
as they slouched beside the bluish brick
their friend became. They’d heard of it
being done—some sad, lost group like theirs
eating limbs & buttocks of departed pals.
His name was Charles. What was left
of Charles? Part of him seemed present
yet he wouldn’t speak, wouldn’t respond
and they began to think that Charles
had never actually been a 200 pound bag
of calories—that in fact, he’d only leaned
through its window for awhile and this
was the gift he’d left on the frosty sill.

The Piss Test Cathedral

by Evan Peterson

A clinical detachment at the altar:
Sudden drop in body mass.

The hospital doubles as cathedral,
triples as soundstage.

The perfect set: it even smells
Scenes on the gurney–

Unlikely uses for rubber tubing.
Certain worship under lock and key.

patients are restrained
to prevent incidents.

The click/    clack
of toggling switches.
The censer swinging like a pendulum,

smoking the bacteria
out of the room, sterilizing
the dropping blade.

Simpletons rate flesh on a scale
of disgust to arousal,

stomach contents to rippled muscle,
as if the two exclude.

Fear is but misplaced desire,
bodymeat merely weight,
salt-jacketed and served.

Vermillion cells
tumble through tubes—

let them out
and it’s outsider art:
hot scarlet sinking into snow,
scent of copper.

The cathedral provides
creative freedom
seldom found in surgery:

of tendon,
unheard of structures
blossoming from the backs
of knees.

The body excites the catheter.

Fixed into position:
the butterfly spreads his legs
to receive the jeweled pin.

My Cannon

by Michael Barach

Now the sky is pulpy with ash, and with gentle encouragements
we’ve lifted each other against the lead blanket of post coital
ruminations and showered, long in the shower, meadow-like

in its misty gloam.  The time she spends straightening her hair
is time I get to watch her through the doorway.
We’ve led each other all around this place; by now

there’s no reaching for her without her in my lap,
or I’m snuck up behind her, hung on her like a dumb cape.
Patience she must have learned from Buddhist monks

she visited in college, outside Lansing, when she felt God
as a twanged bow string about to snap inside her,
keeping her up at night.  Their moccasins

swish in the trees. Or maybe in the gorilla lap
of my favorite chair, where I’ve nodded off already.
At the party we’re late to, our coworkers tap

box wine, line ranks of cheese cubes
on paper plates no bigger around than CDs.
Fingernails skate across backs and biceps

like shadows flapping on frozen lakes.  With more wine
there will be dancing, the porch lights will blaze
witch-eyed into the backyard stubble.

I don’t think I can do it tonight.  She might offer
her best mind to be foraged in that scrum,
and I’ll be sunk right here under the lamp,

writing a note that begins

Dear Purse-and-Underpants, Mirror Crier,
Butterflier, Owl Eyes, Thumb-Smudged Cheek,
Farm Angel, Salted Finger, Waydown, Water Critter,
Easy Baby, I-Thou, Lost Sitting Down,
Whiskey Slinger, Buzzer Beater,
Sweet Apocalypse, Fuzzywonder,
You Powerful, Cactus-Aflame-in-Blackest
January, Spell Flinger, Nonsequitur
One Who Makes Words Live,
One Who Makes Words Live,
One Who Makes Words Live,
My Hornet, My Folded Tabernacle, My Cannon,