Helen Hofling


When the plague came it surprised us, I was

Casting my nets, minding my clepsydrae

Channeling another current and absorbing infinite hours

Of reality housewives, I was annotating

My hagiographies, rosy, stripped

Of pallor, cutting a cheese board

Uneasy in my defenses

I covered my face, then

Uncovered it, like pasting diamonds on seashells for peeling

I closed my mouth, unsure if I was

Returning from spring

Or flying toward it

Scoring my loaves and

Measuring slender horizons

Looking for signs in leaves

Waiting for them to fall

I stood still and demanded more attention

My desperation cut an edge through each utterance

Waiting for the arrival of a second

—what? Wave? Coming? Anyone who could make sense of it

The plague shed its scales generously

They flew in all directions, like debris

From a building collapsing

In slow motion, I remembered where I was

When the plague came, I was not content

In my arrangements, I was arranged

Bloated, on a table

Watching the wild explosions in the sky


Demons are destroying the earth

In the anime my girlfriend is watching.

There are swarms of demons, swarms!

They take different forms.

Some resemble bats and others are more like golems.

They are all intent on killing every last human.

Volcanoes have split the earth’s

Surface, spilling its vital forces.

The army assembles to do its evil work

Within a burning world.

We should be the only ones here! They cry,

Humans should no longer exist.

At the front of the horde

Stands the fallen angel Satan.

Satan is beautiful and feminine,

His body adorned by a dozen white wings.

But why does he have such full round breasts? I ask my girlfriend.

Because he is Satan, she tells me.


R u tired or wired

r u living in fulminance

have u stepped over threshold

corrected your being

have you found the secret to

severing bad desire

does your hard body

brim with health?

I want to be that brat

with a cherry lollypop

tell you I don’t care

arch my eyebrows

over heart-shaped glasses

pull at a strand of

neatly trimmed hair

have u read any books about

how to do that? I long for

plastic accoutrement

tell me it’s wrong I long for

faux fur spread out

like an AstroTurf lawn

that is the galaxy brain of cheap glamour

a parachute swollen with gusts of tacky want

I long for someone to notice my chipped nails

to find them sexy it could be anyone

it could be u

I want u to see me unbothered

unshowered glittering

grown over in ice crystals a new

seed it still grows in me

like a creeper

can u help me dismiss these

tendrils break me off

of this bitch

desire clasped to desire in

unending chain?


Are bats sinful

Are birds sinful

Are haircuts sinful

If I don’t pay attention to nature is it sinful

On the other side of the street is it sinful

Is dieting sinful

Is overeating sinful

Is eating meat sinful

If oil glistens on the surface is it sinful

Is overhearing sinful

Is listening sinful

Is wasting time sinful

If they know that I’m wasting time is it more or less sinful

Is email sinful

Is hunching sinful

Is being tired in the afternoon sinful

Is caffeine sinful

Is not tipping the barista sinful

Is not buying coffee at all and therefore not tipping the barista sinful

Is one slice of toast with cashew butter sinful

If not how many slices of toast with cashew butter is sinful

Is thinking about it later sinful

Is daydreaming in public sinful

Is wanting to be alone to daydream sinful

Is taking seashells home sinful

Are plumes sinful

Are hypotheticals sinful

Is fame sinful

Is living in public sinful

If I don’t leave a thoughtful comment on the distressing post is it sinful

If I do something only for recognition is it sinful

If I don’t do anything ever at all is it sinful

Are amulets sinful

Is boredom sinful

Is reality television sinful

Is asking the question sinful

Is ignoring mail forever sinful

Are all animals innocent or are they sinful


During the matrix II

I was typing.

I wrote that we fucked

after watching.

Earlier I’d listened

to a podcast in which

women spoke about

casting spells

in the past tense like,

“the pandemic

was when everything

changed for me.”

(Spoken during lockdown

or shortly after.)

I considered glittering

green columns of code

as a beaded curtain

passing over us

where we sat

on our green couch,

dog between us,

as usual.

I remembered how concerned

I was as a tween

about Trinity.

Was she a very hot woman,

or was she actually pretty

weird looking?

I was collecting

souvenirs toward

an understanding

of others.

Seeking self-portrait

amid the information,

I was fanning

the flames.

I’m thirty years old now,

and I can tell you

for certain.

She was really fucking hot.


Give me my

vanity back.

It’s a whole new world

outside the window.

I don’t know who’s

out there anymore.

For a while,

my highest aspiration

was to not appear



To stride across

the lawn,

as a bird


stomach in,

spine straight.

It’s so good

to stop caring.

It’s so awful

to stop caring

about things

like that.

Outside I live

through phone calls.

The sun

beats down.

I don’t care

who sees me.

I slouch around.

Pull my hat

low over my

face to protect it.

Fear of romantic

humiliation replaced

by fear of crow’s feet.

Of course, it never

left me.

My vanity

is the most


most transmutable

most reinforced

by the internet

little earthly thing.


Can I tell you a secret

I am without heaven and

I love this evil disaster

In this I am unto myself

In the aftermath I shall gleam

Like a 3D printed trophy

Shadow casting a jagged edge

Along my side

Everything that is happening now

Is a different kind of lie

They are good at

Making it new

My trial will be broadcast live

Even my little dog will watch

But I warn you it will be impossible

For her to condemn me

And the love of my life

She will never condemn me

Isn’t that a fucking thing

To know for sure

Isn’t it wretched to indulge

In these fantasies of martyrdom

Or worse, cancellation

When you have a love like mine

Helen Hofling is a Baltimore-based writer, editor, and artist. She is the winner of the Arts & Letters 2021 Unclassifiable Contest, and her chapbook GREEN LIGHT STORIES is forthcoming this summer from dancing girl press. Her work also appears in Berkeley Poetry Review, Electric Literature, Epiphany, Ghost Proposal, Lambda Literary's Poetry Spotlight, Peripheries, Prelude, and elsewhere. She is a member of the PEN Prison and Justice Writing Project, and she teaches writing at Loyola University Maryland. www.helenhofling.com. IG: @juniper_bush