Two boys pull green oranges from the tree
that hangs over the churchyard fence. They
throw them into the street with such auto-
matic skill that they may be the same boys
sent to kill in any war that will never be theirs […]
With Cleopatra eyes and Sadé skin her words sting clear as Noxema lather:
“Mom, I’m not pretty,” she confesses. “What?” I accuse—“What do you mean,”
I spit and sputter, my mind scrambling to organize an understanding
of this violence she commits against herself […]
I almost see myself trip and shatter
us both on the stairs. I almost see
my arms slip and tumble you over
the balcony to crack on the sidewalk
Some say the Shekhinah is the queen
of presence, pulsing upward through
the living earth, bidding us to bloom
in our skins. The apple orchard
in full blossom. But when you see me,
I am a burning flame,
blonde hair billowing behind.
You have no throne festooned with ribbons,
no needle to embroider my plastic chair,
no silks to shimmer with my light.
I am an environmentalist drinking
from a Styrofoam cup. In cafes, I am silent,
can’t chat about good coffee and bad men. In the sukkah
sleeping under the eyes of myrtle, I dreamt I
was walking in Umm Batin and from under the main street
Hebron’s sewage rose till I was wading,
waste on my face, slogging until I got to a tent
to sip thick coffee and smoke a negilah, a minyan
of black-clad men in a corner bobbing. No
sewage here. It settled back into the earth.
I awoke shivering, sick under the patchy sky,
choking on ashes. I longed to tell my friends,
to dwell in the tabernacle of fellow feeling,
to harvest some compassion, to share
how our eyes always on Jerusalem blinds us to the stranger
who also dwells here, who doesn’t need the sukkah
to know everything is connected—new settlement
bathrooms, sewage leaching into the soil, meat, and cheese.
Next year in Jerusalem the chance of a Bedouin
getting cancer up 60 percent. I opened my mouth
but bees flew out, buzzing about a village girl
molested by her brother. Silence heavy in the sukkah.
In Wadi el-Naam, the health clinic I built to help
sits on a toxic waste dump. I ring out the last drops
of my strength in that village. I now pay to protect
the solar panels. My partner
accuses me of getting kickbacks from doctors.
This land holds magic and poison,
everything that sustains, every toxin.
It gets into your blood. I burn
to be part of the tribe, harvest rainwater,
farm like Ruth and Naomi, tend grapes and olives
without grabbing from those who have so little left.
How can you break bread around the Shabbat
table with those who don’t care?
So I live in a flat in Tel Aviv
no earth between my fingers, no growth to tend,
gates to God closed. My land, my heart
cordoned off with eight meters of concrete
and spirals of wire. The Wall
where papers are checked
and compassion halts.
In Hebrew, the word for person
is adam; adama, soil, has the same root.
I want this place
to feel like home.
The Key to the Cinema
My psych of genocide
prof invited me to a Friends
of Palestine meeting.
There each spoke around the circle
of their connection with Palestine.
A woman showed an old
photo, opened a box
on the mantel, took out
a key. Outside Jaffa
Gate was my house.
It’s a cinema now.
Her son said he’d never
walk and there it is—
the Cinematheque. Not
the same walls—abandoned,
demolished—maybe what Mahmoud
meant when he said a house
dies without its owner. So
when the dead or dreaming visit,
they see old rooms;
the children’s ghosts chase
each other with a toad when no one’s
around like the day I wandered through
(why open yet empty?), red
ropes holding nothing back,
and from theatre four I heard
Grandma’s soft snore
as she took her rest before suppertime.
The Very Breath of Children Is Free of Sin
from a short passage in Raja Shehadeh’s Strangers in the House
As children were walking home from school
men kidnapped a boy
walking home from school
and shot randomly into the crowd of boys
walking home from school
who ran to the hills for cover.
Children were walking home from school
but one boy had not returned. His mother went
to the prison where she was told her son was kept
she was afraid he was cold and brought a sweater
to the prison where she was told her son was kept;
the prison guard took it from her
at the prison where she was told her son was kept
and promised to hand it to him
inside the prison where she was told her son was kept.
Aching, three days. She waited, yet
the boy was not released
from the prison where she was told her son was kept;
a shepherd found the boy
dead above the village
killed by one of the men’s bullets
walking home from school.
The granddaughter of a captain in Israel’s War for Independence, Joy Arbor grew up in Los Angeles, CA, listening to his stories of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To listen to other points of view, she joined the Compassionate Listening Project’s citizen delegation to Israel and the West Bank. Poems about her experiences have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Scoundrel Time, and Scintilla. She is also the author of the chapbook, Where Are You From, Originally? (Finishing Line Press, 2016). She lives with her husband and son in Michigan’s Thumb and blogs occasionally about genocide and racism at https://joyarbor.net/blog/.
The children pick
the peeling yellow
paint from the bathroom
pipes and lick it
while Mama is gabbing
on the phone with
her sister. Papa returns
from work at four
and takes the yellow
plastic strap out of
the second dresser
drawer and whips
their thighs since
Mama has delegated
punishment for their
during the day:
failure to put toys
picking at sausages
at lunch, plucking
on their walk
Tomorrow they’ll go
to Headstart and tell
the teacher the first
thing in the morning
they see is rets and
she’ll inquire, “Is
rets your dog?”
Jan Ball has had 285 poems published or accepted in journals across the globe in the Atlanta Review, Calyx, Connecticut Review, Main Street Rag, Phoebe, and Verse Wisconsin. Her two chapbooks and first full length poetry book, I Wanted To Dance With My Father, were published by Finishing Line Press. When not writing, Jan likes to work in the garden at her farm and work out in Chicago at FFC with her personal trainer. She and her husband travel a lot but like to cook for friends when they are home.
in college, the men i
gave trembling permission to
scurry inside of me, would,
more often than not,
send me hobbling to the
student clinic. the nurse, as incandescent
as a light bulb with rage,
tells me that sex is not supposed
to require three tylenol. my
roommate, eyebrow raised at
the troupes of grubby-nailed
students, asks if i even
enjoy myself—and so
i allow myself to let them all go,
except for him.
he is so unlike the others in his stillness:
curled over as a comma at the back end
of the bar, hair rapunzel long
and perfumed against the heavy
leather of his jacket. i come to
him on purpose, duck my head
and listen to confessions:
how he misses the touch of newborn
animals now that he has
left the farm his mother raised him on,
how he wakes up with the
scent of birth in his nostrils
and finds it a comfort.
i remind myself
that nothing good has come
from boys who reverently speak of blood
under their nails but
maybe this one is permissible,
this outlier with eyelashes
stark and gentle, who passed a hand
over the flag on his jacket and
spoke of needlepoint with reverence,
who does not hide a soprano giggle
when i tuck a crocus behind the
conch of his ear and whispers,
sweet-eyed and limpid, that he
feels as if i am his
husband, in another universe,
in this one, i close my eyes
and kiss him open-mouthed against
the side of his car, hands sure
and calloused on the curve of
a hip, warn him
that my body greeting his
is nothing short of a
magic trick turned miracle,
never repeated twice.
Levi Cain was born in California, raised in Connecticut, and currently lives in Massachusetts. Their work can be found in The Hunger, Red Queen Literary Magazine, and other publications.
1. noun. presence, as in constant
ex: “the mother is here.” see also: mama, mommy
see the child cry out in fear, in loneliness
see the presence quiet the child
see presence beyond himself
2. verb. to rear, as in to create
ex: she mothers and mothers and mothers
until she is no more and the child is
overwhelmed. see also: to tend, to weed,
as in gardens, as in minds, as in impulses
3. noun (archaic). one, as in symbol
ex: the gravestone was engraved simply
mother, as in “she longed to be—”
as in “they longed for her to be—” see also:
blessed; see also: have mercy, mercy on us
Andrea L. Hackbarth lives in Palmer, AK, where she works as a piano technician and is a mother to a rambunctious boy. She holds a BA in English from Lawrence University and an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Some of her work can be found in Mezzo Cammin, Gravel, Measure, and other print and online journals. More information about her poetry can be found at www.thelostintent.com.
Christine Imperial is a queer Filipino-American poet. She is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at CalArts. She won the Loyola Schools Award for the Arts for her poetry in 2016. Her work has been published in NoTokens,Heights,Rambutan Literary,among others.
Triptych of the Adobe-Cotta Army
East Palo Alto, Circa 2000 AD
My fingers are desperate
to unearth the ruins
of my countrymen.
Only to find a Tesla
on the second floor
of our apartments
—now a parking garage.
The Amazon logo
smirks above me,
like a biblical cloud.
Out here, hooded saints
tore the covenant
of earthly silence.
Passed out Zig-Zag
leaflets, to preach
the gospel of skin.
in long white tees,
at a bautizo. Pressed
against my lips,
the cholo chalice
kill it blood.
My chest flushed
at watching boys bronze
A driveway floodlight,
the barrio’s moon,
casted their bodies.
As they placed bets
against the armors they carried.
A fist tucked
inside a hoodie,
his knuckles spelling
the names of ex-lovers.
Each letter tatted
with a rusted clip.
whose colors shouted
to the block
who he fucks with.
Until asphalt swallows
him again, and Marías
now mourn Jesús
outside a sagging fence.
Wreathe his chain-
link with lit candles,
cardboard signs saying
“We miss you.” Streamers
without the heated balloon
that promised flight.
Consider the clothesline as a bandolier
slung over weathered soldiers,
whose uniformes still clung
to apartment balconies.
Quien cedieron sus tierras
to raise the wrinkled flags
of blusas and neon vests.
Consider this Aztec sacrifice:
a father offers an empire
his daily flesh. Kneels
on the melted tar
of its tongue, winces
at the body turned legal (tender).
All to nurse the newborn
with this vision,
una vida mejor.
And so Father cradled my head
inside asphalt. Prayed
for our rite
to simply wade.
los frijoles ya se quemaron
as suitcases chuckle
through our home.
in gabinetes, cash
mamá inside her black
es que ahora,
that in reno
or fresno, or
the broad shoulders
of a califas carretera
a fitted red dress,
botas de tacón,
freshly dyed hair
at the nights
con la misma fé
she once had
for these walls,
that is to say,
i wish i’d been there
by your side
in the courtroom,
when apá buried
inside the bench.
realizing then, he
wasn’t the sole owner
of this house
para que viera
the broken pieces
on car seats
where the water broke
from your eyes,
& see, the exact moment
Apology to Her Majesty, Queen Cardi B
Whereas Jimmy prolly can’t pronounce
your name; whereas that green mink’s
mad loud for primetime yuppies; whereas
pasty mugs quietly sipped the Bronx
in a canned Q&A; whereas tickle-me-
white, the color they blushed
after you hollered, Eyyuum!;
whereas was it with, or against you?
Whereas dey prolly ain’t ever seen
homegirls wreathe you
as their patron-saint—
lil’ Lauras wit dey laurels,
whose mouths run the block
searing chisme over hot concrete
and toe straps; whereas blessed b
the scented velas of acetone and plugged-in irons;
and still you trill
the hymns of jainas;
You who told the limelight,
Don’t get too close cuz I ain’t put
no lotion on my hand; whereas se ríen
as you explain your name, how Henny’s
the suture of Black and Brown hands
who killed a forty for each hour
on the job, who lick wounds
with liquor’s promise of numb;
whereas the smh tías who gawk
at the peacock tat running your thighs,
and sigh, cómo hemos caído; whereas
that part in “Motorsport,” where you bent
in front of butterfly doors, hollered,
I’m the trap Selena!; whereas the bark
that tickles my skin, as it does in the shade,
when me and the fellas untuck
the gaze we’ve longed to spliff all week;
whereas errtime I aimed homeboy’s head
like a slingshot, a young women-turned
pair-of-legs passing through the quad,
and eyes carve onto bare flesh;
whereas I chewed a human being
with a dangling mouth,
and called her redbone, feigned
to stare at the dead men
she hefted; whereas I respected
the spine of a book, the tattered
cloth of hardcover,
more than her own.
Whereas these temples of Hoteps
whet teeth with passed-down
stones, our crumbling masonry,
beret down plazas chanting
freedom, yet in dorm parties
bite off a brother’s tongue,
so he speaks nothing
but our worst hungers;
that snarl, who’s the lookout
today, as we try to outsmoke
each other, for the dogs we is.
May I catch the fang she spits
back, chew on my own question
No, are you with or against?
And I too am inside that studio,
clapping with them.
Therefore, be it resolved, Cardi,
Queen of the Bronx, this apology:
may the two-legged perros
claw this gangrene out,
so the tender vespers
that flock our word
not recite our catechisms.
May you, and all the women
who’ve guided my life,
never see the eyes
I once hawked.
Antonio López received his BA in global cultural studies and African-American studies from Duke University. He’s received scholarships to attend the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, the Home School, Tin House Summer Workshop, the Key West Literary Seminar, and the Vermont Studio Center. A proud Macondista (2018) and CantoMundo Fellow (2019), his nonfiction has been featured in PEN America and his poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Palette Poetry, BOAAT Press, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Acentos Review, Permafrost, Huizache, Tin House, and elsewhere. He received his master of fine arts in poetry at Rutgers University in Newark.
I am not a girl who is pretty in all seasons.
With the russet of fall painted on my mouth
the scar across my face (climbing from the lip)
Splits the silence with a noise less like Mozart,
Closer to clanging;
Rock metal, metal and rocks.
Winter blues recall the time,
Drowning in surgery, waves of wire
The blood didn’t beat strong enough to bat back the tide
of the specter of grief cast on a child struggling to grow a face
acceptable to Polite Society
Nursing a lifelong fear of the sea.
In the peach blush of spring, here I am Alive.
Flowers bloom open-lipped
And no picnicker cares if a cleave in the petals
Reveals bees too far apart, whisper-whistling.
Too focused on flitting licks of honey,
Brief inevitabilities; flirted dreams.
In summer, it is Ivy.
Roasted skin pock-marked in daylight damages
Remade, remarked as Cute, Youthful,
Have hidden away the red thread, a stuck floss.
And those sweetly glinting late-night sunsets
Draw all eyes, momentarily, to greater climbs of color. Mottled, Perfect.
Then the dark. The sky glittering freckles.
Madison J. Salters has been published internationally in outlets including Armstrong Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, HuffPost, United Nations Press, TripAdvisor World Guides, The Untitled Magazine, Wanderlust, and more. She is editor-in-chief at The Toolbox, nonfiction editor at Ruminate, and fiction editor at Ragazine.CC. Named the 2019 Uncomfortable Revolution Writing Fellow, a UNESCO Ambassador of Cross-Cultural Dialogue, and a “Wunderkind” by Westchester Magazine, she also serves as a JOLT and Speakizi lecturer on storytelling. She helped translate the documentary “Queer Japan,” and her first play, An Infinite Resignedness, was produced in Paris in 2018.
אמר רבי יודן Rabbi Yudan taught:
פעם אחת חזר על כל המניקותOnce, Mordekhai searched but
ולא מצא לאסתר לאלתר מיניקהcould find no wet nurse for Esther,
והיה מיניקה הואso he nursed her himself.
My breasts judge a handshake,
have five-o-clock shadow.
I know the proper verb
for a deal with God is To Cut.
The first time my hair stuck
in her soft baby gum,
I simply extended downward
my morning shave.
I fondled the swelling
above my heart
and named it glory
instead of shame.
Only once, after she’d dozed off
I lodged her head
in the crook of my elbow
and stretched my neck down
tugging the nipple up
to lick a drop from the tip.
I regret knowing that I taste
nothing like a woman.
Joshua Sassoon Orol is a trans Jewish poet from Raleigh, NC, writing with the texts, tunes, and stories passed down from their mixed heritage family. Joshua completed an MFA at NC State University, and received an Academy of American Poets prize while at UNC Chapel Hill. Their poetry can be read in recent or forthcoming issues of Driftwood Press, Mud Season Review, Nimrod International Journal, and Storm Cellar.
Today I find comfort in the thunder’s holy growl.
Hunger sometimes smells like petrichor: dead
bacteria awakening our most primal sense to the promise of replenishment.
All this while, I’ve been singing along: Honey, please try to understand
it’s time to love
your woman. Maybe it is time to make me your woman,
to let the soft animal of your prayers become mine for devotion.
Today I mourn the way you corner my gaze in your eye,
waiting for me to reach deep into you and fish out some requital.
My love is leaking like Dali’s time and I deserve to be loved back
Into myself. I wonder if this giving is a loss or an echo
and what I am to do with
Your lips breaking a harmattan open and pronouncing black boy joy
The bottom of my heel cracking at the joke
Your tongue grazing down my spine
and my breasts sagging to meet yours…
Knowing I should be held not as meteors are discovered:
long after their time, funneled by obsolescence
but fondled as ribbons in the sky do each other:
stretching a graze to an entanglement, whatever which way the wind blows.
Immaculata Abba is a Nigerian writer and photographer studying history and comparative literature at Queen Mary University of London. She was selected for the 2017 Writivism Creative Writing Mentoring Scheme and has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba, Popula, and others.
—Do you have a fear of losing people?
I once rustled moonlight underneath the blanket
and threatened to keep it. I unwrapped it slowly
like sand loosed by waves, a child with one present
come Christmas morning.
—Do you feel that being black makes you a target?
If shooting holes into darkness was not a sport,
then each glow, each bend and arc, each reach
and fiery flicker of stellar assortment would be a lie—
—Who did you vote for?
All I wanted were bodies back.
—Why do black people run from police?
The concrete is hot. These are new shoes.
As sons and daughters of Mercury, we are partial
to wind sprints, Julys and Junes.
—Slavery was such a long time ago. Why can’t you just get over it?
(Sisyphuses. Gluttons for punishment,
you’d joke.) Because some of us swam
to the sea’s depth, told us this secret:
—Michael Brown is in so many of your poems. Did you know him?
I often viewed the Arch’s bend over a small piece of St. Louis
like it owned the city. I, in my school bus, passed—never able
to connect both ends.
—Who is Icarus to you?
A canary on the heels of antelope. A Pegasus without wings.
—What have you learned from protest?
I’m in love with the sound of freedom, the way the top teeth
sink into the bottom lip, the way the tongue hovers in suspense,
before bouncing suddenly to the roof of a mouth
like a mallet striking a lever; the puck rising to toll the bell,
the last consonant ending in a kiss.
—What do you hope to accomplish by writing this poem?
I hope to release a hummingbird from the palm of my hand,
watch it fly off on little wings.
Raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and San Bernardino, California, Chaun Ballard is an affiliate editor for Alaska Quarterly Review, a Callaloo fellow, and a graduate of the MFA Program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Chaun Ballard’s chapbook, Flight, is the winner of the 2018 Sunken Garden Poetry Prize and is published by Tupelo Press. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in ANMLY (FKA Drunken Boat), Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Chiron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Frontier Poetry, International Poetry Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Rattle, and other literary magazines. His work has received nominations for both Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize.
Light folds around her yellow-silk
like a pillar-candle
Shadows round her cheek curve
press below her nose
On her left
a thickened impasto
of fading paint
and varnish layers obscure shapes and
it’s hard to see a dark boy
brown skin black hair without a stroke
to wash over him so he remains
vague as a footnote
in a language
that I barely know
Is he the slave-boy beaten
by her husband?
Brutal is the imagination
seeping through generations
like a sweep of paint that could
be a smooth yellow
gown or a puddle
or yellow light
from torches waving in the night
Aileen Bassis is a visual artist in New York City working in book arts, printmaking, photography, and installation. Her artwork can be viewed at www.aileenbassis.com. Her use of text in art led her to explore another creative life as a poet. Her poems have appeared in B o d y Literature, Spillway, Grey Sparrow Journal, Canary, Amoskeag, Stone Canoe, The Pinch Journal, and Pittsburgh Poetry Review. She was awarded an artist residency in poetry to the Atlantic Center for the Arts.
My floor could possibly be coming apart
but I’m hanging on for now
& for good reason
Catastrophe should only be used
as the name for a fragrance
that only exists in a fictional universe
One where a person starts every day
with a montage full of clues
I’ve spent the past week
trying to remember any particular moment
from my middle school existence
I’ve got nothing
except a general feeling
that my t-shirts were too big
& the thought that
I should’ve taken every opportunity
to garden with my grandma
Why would you say this is sad
Without anything to look forward to
the world isn’t affected much
It says right here this is blesséd
Aretha Franklin Has Died
that anybody is able to think about anything else
But I’m being unreasonable
even about myself (eye-roll upon eye-roll)
That’s what the edges of memory are for
Covered in foam
Hoping to be jumped in
though prepared for the inevitable slip & fall
Glory be what makes us love the ground
as much as what floats above it
When I think of dying I think
about where I’d like to be forever
I’ll forgive you for guessing incorrectly
I’m dancing in the kitchen I’m making a meal
for a person I love a song is playing & what a song it is
Oh I wouldn’t mind being here for a long time
Dalton Day is the author of Exit, Pursued (Plays Inverse) and a preschool teacher. He lives in Atlanta, and can be found at tinyghosthands.com.
Rally (n.) 1650s, originally in the military sense of ‘a regrouping of renewed
action after a repulse’
I confuse the armored buses for deliverance a line of colored
steel some tarnished some spit—
shined My surprise at this release of white
bodies Their flocking together
Their delivery of renewed action
the guns hanging from their waists
so many baseball bats even,
one wrapped in rusted barbed wire
I imagine their knuckles exhausted from tight-gripping
all that power Their revival from this
banding together— one moving mass
of enthusiasm I am standing:
a body radiating in the stilled heat
no clouds to encase a sliver of the sun
Sweat trailed my thighs my jawline
I wished to be rinsed washed away
I wished for a different kind of fragmenting
I never recognized the buses’ departure
The fade of roused bodies I was left
in still silence The city ate up by the quiet
Kiyanna Hill has roots in Petersburg, Richmond, and Charlottesville, Virginia. She is a MFA candidate at the University of Maryland.
Up the stairs coiled around the hotel
my new friend Frank and I are
lamenting that there is no
gym after all—he lamenting—
I going along—at my door I half
stick the key in, he asks again about how
to iron his pants, I have these pants with
a crease—he uses his hand
to saw the air between us
So I’m kind of tired flash a smile, nod
jetlag ha-ha- but I can just tell you how
it’s really self-explanatory or youtube
is the best teacher on and on, until
ok good night and I go in
and make the curtains meet.
Tomorrow he tells me he is on 9 p.m.
curfew for his first special-approved trip
from home, six weeks out from being
locked up, and when he first ate
strawberries after twenty years he cried.
In the night, beyond the curtains, he touches
all the things in his hotel room, cold
sink, coated hangers, blade of the blinds,
grabs his keys and hops in his rental, pulls
into the gas station. The moon wide-faced
in the sun-damaged sky, the smell of gas, vibrations
through his palms, his black footsteps inking the black
night, many directions pointing from him like arrows.
I wish I had been out there with him, and the night
opening, the taste of the strawberry, the feel of the mouth,
I could have offered more of what coming home had
to offer, I should have taken what the night
swallowed, cupped his heels in his inky footsteps.
Take the freedom, I’m here, look
around, night all around, for the taking.
You Li is a law student and poet who lives in New York. Her work has appeared in the Nassau Literary Review and Two Cities Review. She has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
Not a pyre, but a chimney,
a beetle shaking mercilessly
on top of my doormat
to the sound of its own catharsis
a tongue my neck both hands
shaking exactly the same.
My teeth as antenna
& my cords wings
I watched a beetle die today;
not a crate not a crypt not a pyre
fire fire fire fire
Clara Paiva is an undergraduate student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Her work has appeared in Occulum, FIVE:2:ONE, Rag Queen Periodical, and Moonchild Magazine.
Real boy the love I have made to you is unremarkable,
as it should be in a perfect world, impossible to tell
where you end and I begin.
Real boy I have recessed in your nation,
your looted land, pronounced it dead,
& closed the borders I once bled for.
Real boy I dream of fist un-flung,
forever boy, I have wept on your behalf,
I have wept for the rifle that fires flowers.
I have wept for your father, his secret sorrow
I have wept for your god locked in a bottle
I have wept for the ghost you never knew.
Real boy what do you call a wolf without teeth?
a wolf without fur, exiled by bigger wolves,
a wolf greater than the lack of his parts.
What do you call the boy refracted? His salted sea,
his rivers Jordan, John, and Luke
he who must be touched to be known.
What do you call a cancer by any other creed, that
which consumes the flesh, consumes the need,
what do you call a boy by any other name?
Real boy I have missed you every morning,
your funeral of a face, your
box of shattered pearls, your
mourning for the sake of
all real boys.
No house worships you, no house builds itself.
Real boy I have prayed for your forgiveness,
I have prayed to change you,
I have divided art from artist, divided
truth and nature,
I am bruised blue and pink,
my stomach soured by the fruits of your labor.
Real boy I have been the kindling,
the kerosene, I have been the underbrush,
the evergreen, I have been the root of your disdain,
your soiled seed, Real boy I have taken you
as Hades took Persephone, made you queen
for sake of starving, made
your mother ill with worry, brought
you to the edge of ruin.
I have imagined you in the mirror,
I have imagined our bodies intermixed.
I have disguised you
for fear of reckoning, quieted you
for fear of possibility.
I have made you the object
of my unrest. Real boy,
the boy of my invention, the boy
with ten fingers and ten toes,
always I will be here,
stirring the same pot, wearing the
same shoes, missing the same people.
And you will be here, too
regretting nothing, not even
the hair you grew. Fantastic boy,
with your edgeless axe, your petty thunder;
I hold your breath anchor heavy in my arms
and let the burden bring us under.
C.J. Strauss is a transgender writer and artist currently pursuing their BA in English at Barnard College. Their art and writing has been published both internationally and domestically by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, The Claremont Review, Vade Mecum Magazine, GREYstone Youth Litmag, Echoes Literary Magazine, The Free Library of the Internet Void, RATROCK Magazine, and the Barnard Bulletin. C.J. presently interns at the Poetry Society of New York and the Visible Poetry Project where their responsibilities include social media management and community engagement. They tweet @cjsxyz.
And the first words out of my mouth
do not buck into a shield, do not blast his ears
with refusal, not never, in my quiet defense
something un-proud: it’s not even Muslim,
as I convert that s to a z, and twist, twist my hair
all of it uncovered for his ease and a reminder,
it’s Persian, not Islamic, so uncommon
it is untraceable; I hook my fingers around the plate,
make a roof with my palm and cover it, I designed it,
I explain, release the rose-gold letters so they swing
and impress a thud against my neck; I cannot
even get a nail grip on the clasp, I laugh, at the self
so quick to condemn, to chant in blocked streets,
recite the outrage of my signs until here, this interview,
where the question is asked in the politest tone,
so courtly and elegant, that I deliver a fumbling excuse
instead of no, and each time an image of my parents,
tracing my mother in the hospital bed, pressing it—
now a precious metal heated and cooled—to her firstborn,
and I jump down her throat and pull and pull and pull
everything, my name, out of her postnatal breath
Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad is the daughter of Irooni immigrants, a worshipper of space and hyacinths, and an Oscar the Grouch apologist. Her poetry has appeared in Asian American Writers’ Workshop, The Missing Slate, and is forthcoming in Waxwing. She is the poetry editor for Noble / Gas Qtrly, is a Best of the Net poet, Pushchart Prize, and Best New Poets nominee. She lives in New York where she practices matrimonial law.
perched in a cricket cage
the canary waits to read
you stand, sunbound
eating mamey, guanaba
favas con chile, pan dulce
drinking agua pura y piña
drop a few pesos in the guira
the marimba comes to life
two men like a wind-up toy
or well-trained spider monkeys
play Guadalajara, two mallets
in each hand, fingers spread
to catch mahagony notes
as they fly by
some buzz, some clunk
loose on the stand, worn
as the steps to the iglesia
shading the mercado
gaps between the brown
bars reflected in spaces
where teeth once shone
blares the shirt of the one
playing melody, New York
graces the other one’s hat
the guira hungry but no longer
fed, the song winds down
a moment of smile
wrinkles shadowed faces
before the return of cloud cover
as your hands come together
but your pockets stay closed
but give a peso, and
the canary will select
five slips of paper
to tell you who you are
where you will be
who you will marry
when you will die
brought out of her bamboo hut
put on its roof, feathers pale
on her head like stalks
of harvested corn, she chooses
her vision peck by peck, forgets
she knows how to fly
James K. Zimmerman is an award-winning poet and frequent Pushcart Prize nominee. His work appears in Pleiades, Chautauqua, American Life in Poetry, Reed, Miramar, and Nimrod, and among others. He is author of Little Miracles (Passager, 2015) and Family Cookout (Comstock, 2016), and winner of the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Prize.
without permission or probation. if you can judge the pedigree
of a windy day in April you may just get this.
the same boy endless and radiant and doing
exactly what a title as smooth as shea butter would suggest.
sprinting across what little grass the west side has
to brandish the opening of the passenger-side door like any velvet would.
both undead chivalry and coefficient of liberty. without a shadow of doubt,
the sky was made to play the auxiliary role of paparazzi and what a luxury
we have from this angle. spectators to baptisms. if it weren’t so obvious,
we would only have ourselves to thank, impressed by our own attendance.
i’m unaware of where this custom began, the one without canary-colored caution
tape, perhaps it was a window ledge or a fire escape, dark as a cloud
of exhaust, it could have just as well been as mute as a subpoena,
making quick work of the questions. in fact, i don’t have any.
for all i know i have no use for the ls in collateral, for all i know
this is why you should support black business–
because there is a kid down the street arrogant as a swift prayer
thinking their chores to be done, basking in the glint of permanence.
if the cops were to come tomorrow could you blame them? All of us children,
daring and brilliant with the certain kind of charm every baton envies.
Olatunde Osinaike is a Nigerian-American poet originally from the West Side of Chicago. He is Black, still learning and eager nevertheless. An alumnus of Vanderbilt University, his most recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Apogee, HEArt Online, Hobart, Glass, Anomaly Literary Journal, Puerto del Sol, and Columbia Poetry Review, among other publications. He is currently on the poetry staff of The Adroit Journal and can be found online at www.olatundeosinaike.com.
She wishes she could beat the dust mites out of the rug
of this world. But she’s a woman, and her body is the inherited
fabric men wipe their boots on, woven and patched by generations
of furious women. Her hands are an ancestral tree, she names
each branch of herself on her fingers: wife, mother, grandmother,
student, professional worker, housewife, cook, maid, nurse.
She says poverty is not unusual, but a woman bears it like an anchor
in her uterus, cooking during blackouts, working all day in an office
while recipes to last the week bloom in their heads like math equations.
“Am I a good mother?” settles like dust, flies up under a nest of feathers,
settles again. I promise you, her fist attacks the air, the revolution worked!
She watched her husband sail off on a shoddy raft, her three children
at her side, growing steadily like vines along her hip, despite him.
He could leave, and good riddance, because now she had school,
the antidote to the poison of patriarchy injected in men since birth.
Women have always been a revolution within a revolution.
Still, the blockade cast its wide sticky net, and when she didn’t have
water to bathe, she daydreamed of pools in Miami, her pores drunk
on chlorine and her fingers wrinkling into a soft gauze.
She shakes her head, the gluttonous fantasy falls away, her steel eyes
polished with tears: she asks if we’re upset by her stories, if we realize
what she’s endured for five decades, if we understand
that solidarity must always stretch its reach towards women
until its socket pops. Pick up the broom and begin.
Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Crab Orchard Review, Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Epiphany Magazine, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient. She currently teaches writing and literature in Boston, MA.
Most mornings I deliver my child
into the arms of strangers
who will lead him through passages
papered in apples and rainbows,
pencils and stars, each holding
a single name, the names’ owners a crush
shouting cascades of syllables, furious energy
heating the room, swallowing my joyful son.
Not safe to play outside today
—shadows hoard snow, perilous footing—
so they’ll gossip and make messes, grow
irritated with each other in a room
where one side is all glass, spilling
light over their worksheets and books,
their backpacks and tissue boxes
their chairs with grimy tennis-ball feet.
Their teacher is winter-tired. I feel it too,
walking home in the keen wind
through the silent neighborhood.
Behind me the school looms lightly
jutting out from a hill like a glacial castoff,
red boulder among pebble houses.
I don’t know the grit in my neighbors, just
their placid shells: yards and sensible siding,
cat under a pergola, dutiful recycling bins.
Landscape painted with smoke and pine sap.
Potted cypresses guard a red door.
Here’s a garage left open, a crisp flag,
a stack of pallets tenderly grazing a gutter,
old oak arresting the downward press of sky.
This afternoon, a shell cracks: something
brackish spurts. Fighting, maybe guns.
Police come. At the school locked doors,
lights turned out. No help for windows.
Later, my arms shaking around
the luscious weight of not this time,
I listen while my six-year-old explains,
calmly, as if there is no other way,
how they turned their desks into shields
“like Captain America,” how they huddled
near the sink where they wash away
paint and glue, how they were oh so quiet,
how today, they needed to be perfect.
Carolyn Oliver’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in FIELD, The Shallow Ends, The Greensboro Review, Booth, Gulf Stream Magazine, Tar River Poetry, Frontier Poetry, and elsewhere. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, she lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.
Three minutes before the mudslide,
I sit in the gardenshed of you—
given to the carpenter ants.
I peel at plywood,
name my body a townhouse
built to be the walls of someone else.
One minute after the mudslide,
I am asked to qualify what happened
give it a name:
this is the passing, remembering
of something being built.
Three minutes after,
you name me stilt house,
call my body leggy and sound
not much to rebuild.
You ask me how I survived:
I show you the blueprints
pulled from your shelf.
Mariah Perkins is a poet originally from Grand Rapids, MI, where she came up at the best open mic around—The Drunken Retort. She is an MFA candidate at Wichita State University. Mariah is currently the Nonfiction editor at WSU’s literary magazines Mikrokosmos and mojo. Her work has appeared in fugue and Crack the Spine. You can also hear her work online through WYCE’s Electric Poetry.
Picture the big
rinsing the windows of
the San Fran hospital
where it’s the goofy
John Cage’s job
this afternoon to babysit
a roomful of kids whose
doors down are
dying, so silently
with his spindle arms
he mimes first
a fast breaststroke
against the window’s
even better, strikes
the roboto pose
of a broken clock,
his sputtering, spastic
back and forth between
5 and 3
o’clock, then 9 then
3 again, 11, and all
to get these poor
and they like it,
they do—haywire, wilder,
the crackup pace
slinging sweat now
across the dimming room,
his face flush,
the effort of enforcing
time in its ludic,
time of no
and no one bereft, a kind
the kids rising to the sudden
lip of laughter now,
cinching their eyes and
stuffing shirt fronts
into their small
to stifle a sound
the rushing sense-
lessness of which
if we heard it
would strip us
utterly of custom
and warrant, like the sighing
by stretcher tracks in ash
like the racket
when startled impossibly
But these kids, Amy,
they can’t make noise,
they’re in a hospital,
they know that, so
what are we
Originally from Cleveland, OH, and a graduate of Oberlin College and Purdue University’s MFA program, Matt Kilbane is currently a PhD candidate at Cornell University. His work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Jacket2, DIAGRAM, the Best of the Net anthology, and elsewhere.
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