APIARY 11: The Essential Issue

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Founded in 2009, is a magazine of contemporary poetry and prose featuring writers from the Philadelphia diaspora. We publish work from writers of all ages and backgrounds, in print and online. is also its staff: we are a collective of Philly writers dedicated to championing and amplifying our city’s dazzling literary scene. Our mission is to further connect and inspire Philadelphians through the power of their own words, and to celebrate Philadelphia as a great literary city on the page, the stage, the screen, and in the street.

This issue was born out of necessity. When the pandemic hit Philadelphia this Spring, APIARY had just finished lining up a series of on-site workshops and a venue partner for a completely different issue concept, with a big launch party set for July. We planned to release two short print issues this year, back-to-back in a shiny new publication cycle: APIARY 11 in Summer, APIARY 12 in Winter. Suddenly all those plans needed to wait, or get reinvented from scratch. So: how to re-plan an unplannable year? In Spring, we couldn’t predict when it would be safe to meet and share APIARY in person, on paper, again: in galleries and libraries and cafés and bookstores and bars, and all the other life-giving gathering points that were rendered life-threatening overnight. We started thinking about other ways to share, and partner, and provide access to creative community space. We decided to do these things online and make a virtual issue — not our first ever, but the first in a while. We found two new literary partners in The Philly Pigeon and Mighty Writers, then re-purposed our printing funds to support two free Summer workshops on Zoom, co-led by members of these organizations and our staff. This shift allowed two groups of Philly-area writers of all ages and backgrounds to meet, share space across isolation, and develop new work together safely from home. You’ll find the results of that collective work in the pages of this issue. As we prepared to open submissions to the public, all that was left was a question of theme. It no longer felt right to push through our previously scheduled programming from “The Before Times,” and our urgent, immediate present called for an urgent, immediate response—but what should that response look like, exactly? As a team, we regrouped and asked each other: what matters most right now? What’s most needed? Then we figured: why not ask all of you the same thing? You told us, and we put your answers together. Welcome to The Essential Issue. —Alexa

When I started at APIARY some seven (or is it eight?) years ago, I never thought we would be producing an issue under the pressure and chaos of a worldwide pandemic. But here we are. This year has been one of the most challenging of my life, as both a magazine maker and a high school educator. Even when everything seemed to be ablaze, APIARY’s incredibly dedicated staff held it down through editorial meetings, workshops, endless text-chains, phone calls, shared Google Docs, and emails. Even though we have been working with one another at a distance, I feel closer and more connected to this staff than ever before. In many ways, APIARY has been my rock, my constant beacon of beauty and safety, through these last 8 months. Thank you to each and every staff member who made this issue happen. Thank you to Rob, Cindy, and the Velocity Fund team. Thank you to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. Thank you to every writer and artist for persisting, creating and sharing your work with us. I hope you enjoy this issue. — Steve




4 Poetry, Prose and Art

Steve Burns



Apiary x Philly Pigeon: Essential Magic




Apiary x Mighty Writers: My Middle School Mind



POETRY EDITORS Kai Davis Maya Arthur

FICTION EDITORS Amanda Buck Davon Loeb




Walking through Woodlands Cemetery in West Philly during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Sonnet on the Oregon Coast

John Wall Barger

Rachel Dillon

The two men before me in camo masks are not ghosts. The queen in a box ringing her bell is Cassandra. Pit bulls are strangled headcases.

We sewed the road along the coast among the farms & sheepish clouds. Our mouths ached with small talk & false adulthood. We spoke of

The Dani of West Papua, New Guinea cut off their fingers for loved ones. Oh shit, that’s nuts, right? Instead, we purchase Russian sniper rifles online, no credentials.

friends with basement faces swelled like rotting plums. The boy who leaked thick tar. His body’s dripping stench. His mother’s call, her voice un-

All trauma is preverbal. The Greek term alexithymia means unable to articulate feelings. If I mention feelings to my friend he just stares, blankly. Actually, that’s me. This poem even. The word grapples, eight-legged, trapped in a washbasin.

clear. How it felt to be alive when he was dead three days, alone beneath us. A vigil for a person no one knew. We forgot his name & drove to Mars-streaked sand

The cemetery is nice. Bees with their suicide horns. A train screams by like a sword unsheathed.

where waves curled under caves, licked rocks with thirsty tongues. We thought we knew what life could be.

How can we handle what we can’t articulate in this Golgotha of chess players and spectral bells on a Sunday evening?

We ached with goals that no one knew. We called our moms, who spoke like black roads after rain.

Isn’t the word handle great? The poem, preverbal, stumbles naked into a forest of language. Like the Knight facing Death in Dürer’s engraving. Or this sick raccoon, swaying, stumbling in the path of the men in camo masks. What the hell, I ask myself, am I feeling? I’ll handle it, says the poem. I’ll pick up what you cannot.


From “Public Language” by Katie Garth


My Brother Scarecrow K.B. Carle

I’m six years old when I find the bodies of my parents stuffed inside one of my grandmother’s trunks in the attic. I scream because their eyes are black buttons, because I can still recognize them even though their heads are made with sacks that read “potatoes” and “grain.” I lose my voice somewhere in the attic that day before my grandma finds me, takes me in her arms, and scratches my back. She tells me to hush. That they are just scarecrows. I still don’t understand because there are no crows to scare in the attic. No baby, she says, no. My grandma reaches into the trunk and grasps my mother’s hand. Some straw slips out and I reach to grab it but change my mind halfway through. I look to see if my grandma notices but her eyes are wet and sagging more than usual and the lines going down her neck like railroad tracks are moving like the strings of my cello. “Hey baby,” she says to the body of my mother. My mother, the scarecrow, who has a mouth made of purple felt triangles. “Let’s take them out,” I say because that’s what I think my grandma wants. But she closes the trunk instead. “No, not them,” and she carries my body to another trunk, “try him.” Inside the trunk my grandma lets me open, dressed in a sailor’s uniform and hat, is the body of my brother. My mom and dad told me they’d be back soon. They kissed my head, made me promise to be good. I heard my mom whisper to grandma Just three days, promise. Then, they left. It’s why she keeps their bodies in the attic, gone but not gone, she says. My brother is different because he died before I can remember. Grandma says I should still get to know him, so we take him outside, stretch his arms across a post and wrap his legs in a twist at the bottom.


“So he won’t fall,” grandma says. To me, it looks like he’s going to take off, legs untwisting like a pinwheel or propeller. When grandma goes back inside to make dinner, I pretend to fly circles around my brother, practicing for when he’s ready to take off. My grandma teaches me how to make scarecrows, how to change and mend my brother’s limbs. While we wrap a scarf around his neck before winter hits, my grandma tells me the truth. That my brother was born years before me, when my parents were tenderhearted teens. A boy who laughed, mostly to himself. A navy man because he loved the ocean, a body somewhere in the depths of the sea. I step back and stare at my brother who is still taller than me even without his pole. Think about how we’re still both here. But he’s the one made of straw wearing one of our father’s throwaway coats and pants. With a flat line mouth stitched from red thread and chipped, brown, button eyes. Yet, I’m the one my parents left behind. I stop visiting my brother after that. I get the call that my grandma has died when I’m twenty-five and grass blades start stealing frost overnight. I have a boyfriend who I might marry and a girlfriend I could marry and question which I should tell or ask to come home with me. Though I know this is my chance to tell both about the other, to soften the blow because I’m grieving and selfish, I turn off my phone and drive home alone.

throwaway things. Legs still wound like a propeller. I take him down, his large body folds over my shoulder. Still taller than me, I tell him where I think his ear might be, and we go inside. I put him on my grandma’s chair, pass him yesterday’s newspaper to read, then check on the bodies of my parents in the attic. The trunk is closed, I can see that before I’m all the way up, but my mother’s hand lays limp outside it. I hold her hand and search for my grandma but the cloth is cold in my grasp. Inside the trunk are my parents’ bodies, still folded into one another. I don’t apologize to my mother for stealing her hand, slamming the trunk closed. I take it along with my grandma’s spare materials, sit in the living room with my brother. I sew a face with sunflower button eyes, a crooked something I’m too embarrassed to call a smile or mouth. A long sleeve orange dress with a white apron on top, and a hat made of straw with a green ribbon wrapped around. When she is ready, I escort the body of my grandmother outside. She lounges on the pole, one hand raised, green ribbon blowing in the breeze. I take my mother’s severed hand, watch bits of straw escape from the bottom and elope with helicopter seeds. I place her hand in the pocket of my grandma’s apron, step away and stare at what I’ve done.

“Out To Dry” by Katie Garth

My crooked mouth grandma, with sunflower eyes and orange dress blowing in the wind revealing just enough of her legs to be scandalous. Knowing, or not, that the severed hand of her daughter waves to those who pass while her grandson laughs to himself while turning the page of yesterday’s paper.

But halfway there I remember: my brother. A neighbor tells me he found my grandma taking a nap at my brother’s feet. Though, instead of my brother he says, that dang scarecrow, and that my grandma wasn’t actually napping. She was still there in the evening, with ants and beetles in her hair. Mouth cocked open, he says, like she had something important she wanted to say. I thank him, I don’t know why, and he leaves me alone with my brother. My brother, in his scarf, sailor’s hat, and our father’s


I’ve Been to Georgia


Walter Hill

Khaliah D. Pitts

“God of our weary years” This immortal fatigue wears like sock fabric frays, frees our feet to slide across smooth floors never touching almost floating, so I ask: what comes after The Times, tired of running we dance down roads, two-stepping the way shotgun shells break backs, as I run down my neighborhood road lungs born fresh and made full of potholes and aged in pained labor, I am dying to rest in more friendly waters, but this blood leaks like a clock marks time and I am the dry tears at the end of black choir songs

i am in rage we are enraged i am ripping the clouds from the sky stuffing them down my throat choking feels like breathing sometimes a promise that life is validated by death we are enraged i am in rage we are ripping stone from cement and throwing at glass houses bleeding feels like heart beating sometimes a swearing that life is validated in death i / we know how to survive know how to be just barely alive but not sure what i / we need to thrive to feel — live i don’t think we need to die.

“Steel City Protest” by Shanina Dionna





For Henrietta And the enslaved women lost in the name of research Jazmyne Ledae I guide her insides back into her body

mend with permission

the same way I smooth her hair back all the white coats are dead


and take credit for the tree’s glory

bend to our own being

and good justice deserves a good song

our land now

everyday we are a new kind of nude

we know of what can be done a girl

plant them to grow

making language from laughter

that we are

neither the soil or crop

it is

we build a house on the cliff

it is

every stretch mark is a birthday gift

unsurprised by our sweet labored fruits lavender


sometimes a child

hair springing flowers with new names but the seed

living to expand


a reminder

makers of impossible magic

without interruption

“Seen” by Shanina Dionna

of endless fields of bodies

we throw their bodies

grow toward the sun’s giving glow

golden hour

we pull them from our sides

while telling a story we both know

I shot them before history fixed its mouth for another lie

before their hands pull at her roots off a cliff

braid it tenderly

without pain





Self Reflection

Shell of the Heart

Cydney Brown

Jaida Owens

I wish I knew how to move forward And forget about my past I’m always carrying baggage Why my friendships never last

You ask me how I feel I exhale my emotions Like I’ve been holding my breath for years Holding back the fears of having no one to turn to

Say forgive Never forget Given my heart to people Mistakes I regret

The first thing I told you was I’m afraid to lose you I inhale toxic friendships And swear they’re a breath of fresh air Just when I say the words “I trust you” They fill my lungs with co2

New year’s resolutions, a solution to my problems? Like writing down “don’t hold grudges” is magically going to solve them I try not to blame myself for all the pain I’m feeling Endless disgrace, tears on my face Trust issues aren’t appealing. I need to start healing You say I’m a 2 out of 10 It has to be true if it’s from a friend Sobbing to my mother Screaming “I’m not pretty” I always sound like I’m looking for pity

Hearts change from fear unknown. The walls of solid hope surrounding you, keeping you safe and becoming a home. But home doesn’t mean, stay. Forever locked inside, constantly trying to heal from your decisions. A hermit, unable to reveal itself Because it is scared to face the threat that may Crack its shell.

Who am I without a person to turn to? A journal with blank pages Thoughts filling up the night sky A girl who cries and prays to her saviour I hope I can save her Cause she’s drowning in a sea of people who don’t see her I want to see myself clearer Get some mental clarity Find safety in solitude Cause being alone doesn’t have to be lonely Being alone is just apart of the journey

Home doesn’t mean a heart’s light grows dark for caution’s sake, or panics to find stability in unsteady waves where the boat rocks back and forth, like cradling a child. “Wrinkle in Time” by Shanina Dionna

Parents protect their children from the outside world, but learning visually makes experience a textbook. Hearts need freedom, the ability to make mistakes. But with one heart in a body or many in the world, No one is alone. So allow feelings to be. Breathe and take it all in. Happiness is valued, But not always needed.





A Map for the Future


What I would have wished

Mabel Lee

Mabel Lee

Lucia Herrmann

I am: here body, limbs, lips flesh from many incidents

our creeping days, small stones of words take over tender fragments of our whole which inherits what we are when alone numb lips firing arrows into mothers’ ribs declaration by clamped teeth where burns the hurt swallowed into our storied, siphoned blood

at 11:11 magic minute, my grasp at fantastic:

eyes who, remembering, have paused between shapes of fluttering leaves, and the laughing mouth of my father, laden with rain the slow hands of solitude that have shadowed my grandfather eyelids whose wish to darken draw up to hold witness: where we converged when we laid down the bones of those we did not know, did not touch is Earth, is air, resting or roaming knuckle lines entangle with others’ colliding flesh something ached in the way soil caressed sky the sad thin beauty of empty palms



reduction of dramatic dipole temp difference, smash-record weather. storms of the century not grace two, three times a year in full-blown phenomena.

“Practical Magic” by Katie Garth

go-pass on plucking names for el niño, like maria at earlier points in the season. ignited spark not raze whole hectares turn pyre, survivors gorge found water. the lullaby to hush waves menacingly bravas, bustling close to boil. waterfront steps used to lead to sand, now gush and gurgle constant. excision of governed by immoral, economic. oil left as lubricant in farms, juice to beating heart. less straw-suck more sense in symbiotic.

propel and mend those branded, lashed to languish on land shattered, exhausted, forcibly forgotten. who populates the map fills in mass, knowingly poisons water? makes air quality worse than hearths of factory all-nighters, then tells the often coughing lungs they also sell priced-up inhalers? who builds based on stolen, always snatched then with violence (to the teeth in assault rifles) claims they’re somehow righteous? please tell me who would want to blow the dandelion ‘til every last seed drops off.



Desde el barco

My Angelia

Lucia Herrmann

Aimee Schwartz

Granular salt, can lick off. The day in taste sunspent, bailando pero no borrachos.

Face up, head backsensationless.

Siren songs have nothing, on the sound of our laughter. Sway, little lyrics of halting hiccups turn giggle.


Globules of the plague in the miasma enlarge Incapacitation. There is no longer any control.

Plastic armour, worn with presaged hope Trachea dying to be

Teeth close to decayed, perpetual gnawing, erratic crave. Saccharine of almost getting it.

intubated. Heavy anesthetic, blue circulation. Malleable tunnel bound with a slide

The land we knew is now– underwater, reduced to just smell of what evaporates after.

the only thing preventing a struggle.

This boat points to one, then another unknown, depth of immensity, each called home.

To fight, breathe, live

At helm, wood splintered by seasons of indifference. Now Yemaya guides us, makes each node known sapphire to turquoise. We safely arrive never stray too far from sanctuary.

He is there to conquer this contagion. Dying is an art, not to the ones grasping Hermes’ staff. The next suffererAngelia. Admitted on a stale white cloud shower curtain fill lungs,

“Speaking to Dolphins” from Long Distance Music by Jazmyn Crosby

Long Distance Music is a book project by Jazmyn Crosby that investigates how communication is affected by distance. The pages of the book are navigated by smartphone, each page houses a series of QR codes, as well as writings and speculations, phone numbers, and phone games. Written mostly during the pandemic, a moment when the nature of the internet as a social space has come into sharp focus, this work questions notions of space-time and obsolescence. jazmyncrosby.com/long-distance-music


ventilatory abnormality, breath through a straw. Messages will sit within the void, sustenance like a sponge. Fed on vecuroniumRod of Asclepius is now playing God. 17



Conservation of Matter Alison Lubar

No carbon decomposes. I recycle [not-love, repurpose] crumbling brick to garden path, replace pious copper pipe with plastic. [Which of twelve steps compels benedictions?] Spackle holey walls’ fist-divot, cover couch in navy velvet and linen pillows, banish tobacco tins and empty fifths of whiskey [hidden behind cookbooks or bedside table]. The next era built with Good Will and wish: resourceful as neighborhood pigeon who [nests with fishing line, dental floss, paper straw wrapper, matted spiral of white hair] makes home from nothing [everything].

The Sneakers You Wear to the Hospital [Daily] Alison Lubar

rest under foyer table with peace lily, ceramic clink of keys, framed watercolor postcards, linger: blue-heathered fuschia swoop sponge-bottom wiped nightly. What hitchhikes home? What droplet sleeps in laces, what fatal aerosol nestles under tongue– treads upstairs, diffuses through hallway, past framed fingerpaint-daises, slinks under bedroom door to kiss us both goodnight?

“Simultenaety” from Long Distance Music by Jazmyn Crosby





New Terrain

After the Divorce

Susan Keller

Susan Keller

It’s quieter now

for Marie and all of us coping with trauma

We take our isolation with us

You do not need a philosophical reason to be happy. It is not a categorical imperative, or a biological one.

Venture from the curb onto a lunar landscape buffered by measured space Bound from crater to crater struggle to steady each footfall careful not to cross one another’s path We gauge steps, not progress Still we crave direction reasons to leave and return refreshed Until home base shifts fails to provide comfort as everything familiar slips below the horizon We lope across the stark surface find no solace in store shelves no strength in miles and miles of pavement Exhaust from a lone car clouds and threatens its engine backfires piercing the street’s searing solitude

Justification through faith is superfluous. You have. You are. You will— the will being a supernatural trick that works best when unattended. The current craze for mindfulness is a mistake. Mindlessness is not, out of hand, heedlessness, or even hedonism. We know how to heed, bob and weave, as we move like moths to the flames of our desire and tend to simple survival. Life is raw and scrapes.

Jolted into breathing we each bend our knees feel the bounce of our moon shoes absorb the spring and launch our next step.

Happiness is owed and owned. Take it.

“The Ground Beneath My Feet” by Katie Garth



My Next Great Endeavor Matt Goldberg

A few days after my forced retirement, I got a GoLearn visor delivered. With it, I could learn about any subject in fullyrealized virtual reality. All I had to do was put on the visor and the greatest experts and specialists and geniuses in their fields would give me, ordinary Jerry, access to lifetimes of accumulated knowledge. The first class I chose was Importance of a Diverse Microbiome because of my ongoing issues with acid reflux. I donned the visor and instantly found myself floating around a gut. I met various bacteria types, got a tour of the lower esophageal sphincter, and learned more than one could ever want to know about the colon. I whispered facts to my husband, David, who’d begun spending all of his time in our garden. “David, did you know that our gut flora co-evolved over tens of millions of years to break down fiber that our bodies can’t digest? Did you know that if I got a fecal transplant from a skinny person, I’d get skinny too? Isn’t that neat?”

in 18 BCE with a simulated Augustus Caesar voiced by a snooty British actor of some renown. By the end of the three five-hour sessions, I was first-rate at identifying columns. Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, you name it. Thrilled with my know-how, I went onto an online Roman architecture forum to chat with other GoLearners who’d taken the class. On the forum, I wrote: What we need is more amphitheaters! I had grandiose dreams of building an amphitheater in my humble town and imagined myself leading a ribbon-cutting ceremony with oversized scissors. There was even a great spot. All you’d have to do was tear down the caved-in Pizza Hut off Route 80.

“That’s neat,” he said, preoccupied by his blueberries and squashes.

My hands buzzed with excitement. I was breathless. But it didn’t last long. In reply to my post on the forum, I received numerous links to in-progress amphitheaters built by GoLearners inspired by the class, including one in-progress amphitheater right on top of that caved-in Pizza Hut.

“What’s fecal?” our daughter, Jean, asked, blueberry stains on her mouth.

How hadn’t I noticed the amphitheater construction? Where was my head?

“Poop,” I replied.

That put me into a bit of a funk, but I decided the best way to deal with rejection was to find a rebound. I proceeded to take additional GoLearn classes. Unfortunately, every time I became passionate about a certain subject, I was already too late to the game. Everything had already been done. I just kept listlessly accumulating knowledge.

Jean squealed. “Daddy said poop!” I glanced at David, hoping for a grin. But he was busy stroking a squash. After two more five-hours sessions, I graduated from Importance of a Diverse Microbiome, an expert on all things digestive. But I wasn’t acting on what I’d learned. I still drank Coca-Cola, knowing full well that the sugar would wreak havoc on my bacterial diversity. Wellness wasn’t my passion. It wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Instead, I decided to become a history buff. I’d always wanted to be wise, but I just never had the confidence for it. Or the time. So, for my second class, I chose Envisioning Imperial Rome During the Golden Age. With my visor on, I took a tour of Rome


I took off my GoLearn visor and staggered into the living room. Then I found the couch, plopped down, and spaced the heck out. The search for my next great endeavor wasn’t going very well. GoLearn had begun to feel a little pointless. Sure, I enjoyed my latest class: Happy Shrooming: Fungi Foraging in Nature. I enjoyed gathering first-rate virtual wild mushrooms. I could now correctly identify the distinctive shading of a Death Cap. But for what?

“Burnout” by Shanina Dionna


I thought of the last time I was happy. I thought of that moment often. A memory of myself coming home from work: I walk into the house and David kisses me and asks how my day was and I tell him all the office drama and we laugh about my coworker’s stupid, tutu-wearing schnauzer and Jean gets on her tippy toes and says with a pouty face: “Is that why you won’t let me wear a tutu? Because of a schnauzer?” That memory happened the day before I went into forced retirement. It was true; I missed working. Not that I loved working. I wasn’t some stooge who came to the office park with a big, happy-go-lucky smile every day. Some days were hard and boring. But I still found it satisfying. Work supported my family, gave us a good life. Now my family had a perfectly good life, and it had nothing to do with me.

Then she put her visor back on and zonked out. It made me sad seeing Jean like that. I felt even worse after realizing that this was what I must look like to David. I wiped a little bit of drool from the corner of Jean’s mouth. After that, I put away my GoLearn visor. I buried it deep in the closet behind all the other junk. I took Jean out of class, and we joined David outside in our little garden. He was happy to have us around, but it didn’t distract him from his work. We watched David caress bell peppers. We watched him pat tomatoes and whisper sweet nothings into their ripe, juicy flesh. We watched him bring new life into the world. We watched him thrive.

As I sat there scowling on the couch, Jean came into the living room. She was on break from SchoolHood and had her visor off too. “Daddy, what’s wrong?” she asked, poking my calf. “Hi, sweetie. Nothing’s wrong,” I said. “Liar, liar,” she said. “Yeah,” I sighed. “You’re right.” “What is it?” I avoided her gaze, not wanting to offload my dumb problem on my sweet kid. But then I did it anyway. “I just don’t feel like I’m doing anything important,” I said. “Were you before?” she asked. “Well, maybe not. But it felt like it. It felt like I was essential.” “You want to be essential again!” she declared. “E-s-s-e-n-t-i-a-l.” “Thanks for spelling it out,” I said. “No problem, Daddy,” she replied. Jean twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. “I’m gonna go back to class now,” she said. “I hope you feel better.” “Millennial Plant Mom” by Shanina Dionna



Our Bodies Share Pain Abigail Swoboda

My mother wants to feel her body again, so she buys a book that tells her to rediscover herself with a raisin—to roll a raisin in the round of her ear, to feel it with every little tentacle hair, and so she rolls the raisin in the round of her ear and feels it with every little tentacle hair in the white light of the front room, and maybe she rediscovers herself, and maybe she feels her body again, too, but all I will remember is the sound of her crying on her grandmother’s couch in the white light of the front room and the smell of frankincense and myrrh. And my dad tells me he’s stopped killing ants when he sees them, because he’s a surface miner, which is a lot like an ant when he thinks about it, and he would not like to be squished, and so he has stopped killing ants when he sees them— and I think I’ve started to understand what it’s like to be one of the mice dying in your walls, but I don’t know what to do about that yet. But when my knee succumbs to subluxation at the sink, and I collapse into the kitchen table, mouth open from pain, and you kiss my forehead and pick up the dishes where I left off, I want to tell you to wash the bottoms of the pots and to turn them upside down to dry—but this would be too much to ask right now.

What I Say When People Ask Me about Quarantine in Arizona Dorsía Smith Silva

It is a time that conjugates contradictions: to see the brown and black swaddled-sheet bodies, while the sirens become a new alphabet with the names of the dying. Outside, in the many deserted spaces, the coyotes run like loose lines and mountain lions spill onto the trails like hungry sunlight. While I can only feel the blank spaces that keep me inside, reminding me that I express nothing, but loneliness littering the days.

“Becoming Smaller” by Katie Garth




What is Sex for You?

Margot Douaihy

Mateo Perez Lara

touch the face. Don’t touch the nose, the eyes. Don’t touch the mouth. Fingers away from lips. Don’t suck on your knuckle. Don’t stress. Don’t obsess. Delete the pictures. It’s not about you. Even the strongest animals will drown in their own light. When hawks make love, they chase each other up up up, to the cloud line, spiraling, until one catches, latches on, & they freefall together, toward Earth. Is that what seals a bond—almost dying? Secret rituals in the air? Finding love or fighting love? Hawks eat by tearing flesh from bone, one self from another, like the you inside you & the me inside me & the chorus of claps inside each crack of thunder. I couldn’t comprehend how you understood so quickly what my body wanted. I pay attention, you said. When will we touch each other again? What happens next? Netflix. Masks. Flasks. Birthdays behind screens. Six feet. Fix seeds to grow into colors we cannot pronounce. Hawks see colors humans cannot see. Do colors see us, with their eyes of synthesis? Seeing is a living thing, as the breath doesn’t ask the brain to lift the lungs during sleep, it just does. Ventilator means opening, an aperture to bring the air in. In my dreams, I hold my breath as I fall, down down down, to the sea floor, looking for a door. I keep touching the wound so it won’t heal, touching the nerve to free the electrocution. I want the beach to reopen just so I can write in the sand: Don’t forget me.

a boy asked me to which I paused and said “one who doesn’t hurt me”, to which he replied he ties and covers the faces of white men who he says deserve it, because we know they do, for they cover and silence and tie up every Black and Brown person they come into contact with without trying to, but what if sex was less about control, and more about us open to a freedom, entangled like a rope, splitting us into particles, or no one is about to suck the dick, just look at it. I found the essential piece of love in my crux; I found the thong in my room that I bought online and tried it on. I sparkled for a moment, because the highlighter I dusted on my body was still shining in the light. What did we imagine about love that wasn’t always taking and taking and taking. If I felt a sense of control, the orbs of identity would glow green around me, they would create runes of safety, no boy could destroy it. I talk about men so much I make myself shudder, but the men act like werewolves, after 10 PM everyone is different. unhook my body from the sinister taste of your lips, I am bloating in your aftermath, I might explode if I stay here any longer. I woke up in a ditch with chicken wire all over my hands, after a boy sucked my dick in the downtown gutter. I did not know how foolish I was about sex until I let a man bite my ears and lick my toes for fifty bucks. guess I should have charged him more, but he wanted me in ways no other wanted me. He liked the way the hair spotted my body, the way my stretch marks red-lined my body, the space for a home he wasn’t afraid to stay inside—my body.

“Best Laid Plans” by Katie Garth

I do not know how much goop remains in the air after I swallowed, I do not know the bruises if they have names or who paid for them, I only tell Daniel that I want sex to be so harmless, I also cum, I also orgasm, and if someone were to cover my face, I would know the moan was moving closer—closer.



at the trans march i asked myself

Midsummer Ultimatum (under a firelit sky)

Briar Essex

Greg Parker

how do you carry shame. is it in the backpack laden with books their jackets removed to hide their subject or in a keychain clipped to jeans cross body bags the internet shows on beautiful boys a buttoned up button up scratching the nape perhaps, it’s not that simple. is it in the names? names the white newscaster will mispronounce because he has never before bothered to make shape for those sounds. i hear the words from 12 october: that change comes at the hands of the rage’d foul and just because if love doesn’t come with anger we are as dead as the people we wept for yesterday that you were necessary before someone told you. know what you’re fighting for and work to be all the way alright so I don’t read about you tomorrow morning. shame is something we’ve been told to carry

take boy, name him, cyclone, take girl, name her, exquisite bolt of lightning, give them a child, name him, quiet roll of thunder, young family, low pressure center, holy tempest flying down 95 in a burgundy ford explorer, it is the middle of april, Topeka, lightning bugs swim through air drenched in cherryblossom petrichor. I have been called to chase storms, conjure white pickup trucks barrelling into bruised-purple skies, to conquer the parkway on my bike, steed, name it behemoth wave, swell, trough, crest, tires battle rivers of black water, and a bike becomes a weapon, should you learn to wield it, they open their penthouse windows to summer, to let the heat in, instead find revolution like storm cloud, congregation march in cumulonimbus, and stained glass shatters, they smile down on us from comfort, flash smiles of goodwill and benevolence, stone-carved, aim loaded bullet tongues bang expensive cookware out of their windows, name their protest cast iron. maybe, we were born to paint with flame, a wildfire lineage, the way our skin smolders in hues of amber and mahogany, dip paint brushes in plasma and turn city canvas, children of the sun learning to read by bonfire light, to love by the stars, we have heard our foremothers cry out, Yemaya, through glass tubes, believed them when they told us that it is okay to give up air to laughter, remind us, that should we need them, we need only find a riverbank, and there they will be, lounging in robes spun of fishing line, praying, laughing, knowing, that their longsuffering is over, teaching their daughters to love in Baby’s-breath from inside my brother’s paintball mask, I tell him I have learned to wield this bike in cast iron, that I have begun to pray to our parents’ gods again, remind him that the storm giveth, the storm taketh away, thank him for protecting me from home, apologize for stealing his mask, promise to give it back to him, “Ocean 3” from Long Distance Music by Jazmyn Crosby

my father tells me to pedal , under the midwest sun He lets go



On the last day of the first half of the longest year, Sally O’Brien

the sky behind my house comes alive with fireworks and my little boy presses his face against the window and claps for joy. When I was his age, I remember my parents complaining about the boys who used to set them off down the street— when I saw the sticks of spent illegal rockets on the ground, I felt a small danger, like you might feel when seeing broken glass. —and when my son asks, where those fireworks come from? I tell him, the neighbors are setting them off. The first Fourth of July I spent with my love, we were walking back from the park when a volley of firecrackers went off, and he shouted GET DOWN GET DOWN and shoved me to the sidewalk by my collar, his eyes glazed with real terror, the kind you learn around artillery, or under enemy fire. And so I learned to prostrate myself whenever I heard gunpowder outside— and when the bullet came through our window that night, he yelled GET DOWN but I was already on the floor.

A month ago, when the helicopters circled above the house like hornets, I crouched on that same sofa in terror— and when I saw the picture of the Bearcat rolling up 52nd St, I closed the window so the tear gas wouldn’t float in on the breeze— and when, days later, my love said he could still taste the CS in the air, I believed him— and when I asked him that night if that sound was a flashbang, and he said yes, I believed him— and when the night crackled with explosions, and the news said they were dynamiting ATMs, and the internet said it was psyops, and my love thrashed in his sleep, muttering about Black Hawks, I tell you I didn’t know who to believe. My son is five, tall and muscular for his age, born into a body whose freedom is conditional— he is only a few years out from being seen as a small danger, like those charred sticks, evidence of a threat or a potential explosion. —and when he asks me to open the window, I say “sure.” I laugh and applaud with him at every pop and fizz, every shower of sparks, every spray of red and green, every bright corolla. He says, “those fireworks are for me! They are saying, HURRAY FOR ADRIAN!” There will be time enough for terror. I decide to believe him. And I say, “yes, baby, yes they are! hurray!”

—and when my son says, “Mommy, tell the fireworks to come back,” I whisper, “fireworks!” and when he says, louder, I call FIREWORKS and when he climbs up on the back of the sofa and says, “I feel so happy!” I ask, “do you want me to pick you up so you can get a better look?”

“Fortune” from Long Distance Music by Jazmyn Crosby




MELAN-IN L’tajh Carter

What is essential is the will to survive To triumph over the fallacies of patriotism To have oxygen amidst drowning in capitalism and injustice What is essential is to keep on keeping on For the first life that matters is the African The backbone of the white house depends on hands that held the sun To hope for centuries when royalty arises unto the oppressed in demand of retribution What is essential is to remember; Carry the wonder of achievement, yet withstand the trauma of every scar sun-kissed Until every body is marveled as art and truth The importance is conveyed in the communication of existence In the snares and hi-hats, the bass that demands ears to witness bearers of the sun The slang that evades colonialism For a bonding of fighting for another day The language holds no sonic barrier: The protests of thousands of footsteps felt beyond the concrete The stampedes of shoes stomping in harmony The orchestration of each fist and planted foot The sights of labored survival Smiles in the face of discord Laughter as infectious as goodwill Dancing in the joy of embracing every minute alive In such work is the eye-opening awe for the art of revolution For the sun to write the narrative in truth To replace the deceit of falsehood history with the glow of brown skin Within such implications are the anchors of ancestry How history never forgets those beholden to time and energy How Africa will always be home and our future, holding more than what fallible textbooks can deceive The striving of freedom and happiness


In every ritual dance and block party in concrete jungles In acting against the status quo of being forever oppressed, every bird will feel the swoon of singing beyond the cage Cherish the compositions conducted to cope and convey Embrace the layers of brown upon the feathers To summon an upheaval against what is enforced and inspire a realization of what is embraced Cast away the imprisonment within the bars, and what will be witnessed is what is truly essential, hence the kings and queens of melanin flying towards the sun to embrace being a star

The Muses are Teen Girls Ally Blovits

They invited me to a sleepover at their house at the top of Mount Elikonas. Dressed in patterned pajamas and fuzzy slippers, we fought over the corner seat on the couch and who got to use the best pillows. We dimmed the lights, pressed play, and shushed each other even though the movie hadn’t started yet. It ended happily but Melpomene still cried. Clio and Euterpe tried to teach me to play the guitar but my fingers weren’t strong enough to hold the chords. When the stars came out, Ourania taught Polymnia and me the constellations. She giggled as she told us our horoscopes. Thalia and Calliope prank called Homer. When he asked who was calling, they stifled their laughter and said “Nobody”. Erato and I wrote love poems for boys we wouldn’t think about by morning. Terpsichore taught us all to dance, or rather how to trip over our feet to the beat of the music. When yawns forced themselves into our singing, we hunkered down under blankets and played “truth or dare” and “never have I ever”. They poured complaints into my lap how Zeus is an absent father and Apollo is too busy to visit and none of the paintings look like me. When we ran out of stamina and secrets to tell, we slept like a litter of kittens: piled together, laying on one another, limbs jumbled, chests rising and falling as one.




The Secret

A Pillow

Life Lessons

Soph Moore

Mateo Nevin

Jaelyn Walker

Tears spilled out of Emi’s eyes as she carefully read the slip of paper trembling in her shaky hand. Crumpling to the floor, she reread the note, looking for a glimmer of hope. But no, the meaning was simple. The paper fell to the floor, as gentle as a feather, but to Emi it felt like a stone sinking to the bottom of a pond.

A simple pocket of leather full of feathers. To most people it’s just that. But what if you were to think beyond its simple structure? A pillow to me is a simple source of comfort a way to burn off hours of stress and work. More than that a pillow can have more than one structure: to certain people a rock is a pillow, a token of relaxation. So a pillow truly isn’t just a fun thing for comfort. It’s a tamer of emotions and a warm hug to the mind.

Her classmates sprinted down the hallway, clearing just enough space to avoid Emi and her daily breakdowns. Every day was a new problem, whether it was war halfway across the world, or an Amber Alert two towns away. Still, no matter the problem, at 3:02 exactly, every day, Emi has been torn apart and always will. However, today was different. Most days, the bad news comes from articles, her phone (which her parents had taken away due to her tear-aparts), and her classmates. Today’s “tear-apart” was from a note with six words on it: “Sorry, I’m not interested in girls.”

In life I have learned that there is a time to live, a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to cry I learned this life lesson starting at the tender age of five, slowly but surely watching the one I love drift away and Out of the ashes of the ground she turned into little dust particles, bones, and decay

I was devasted, I could not talk and felt like I could not breathe But after I realized the love that I had, I proudly proclaimed my VICTORY! I’ve learned how to get back fun, I’ve learned how to control the thoughts in my head because in my heart I had already won

The only person Emi had ever actually liked, Lea, was not like her. Emi had a secret. Well, not a secret anymore. Lea was probably telling all of her friends. The thought weighed Emi down. The more she thought about it, the less confident she became. She knew everyone thought she was being dramatic, but she had just told her crush her only secret.

BUT STILL…I’VE LEARNED In life there is a time to know and grow in wisdom and then there is a time to stop, breathe and take in what life has to offer And then there is a time to simply just go

“Zzzzz” by Katie Garth

Whatever. It didn’t matter now. Emi’s secret was out. Then all hope of inspiration left her, and she collapsed against the cold linoleum floor, lonely and lifeless.




On Being Essential

The Word Havdalah Means “Separation” in Hebrew, but I’ve Never Been Closer to My Faith

Maggie Wang

Abbie Langmead

My mother used to tell me about her mother, a perfumier, who grew up on a farm in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and how she tried to capture the scent of the sky in a bottle like a coded message sent to wash up on a foreign shore and catch the eyes of children searching for shells.

A braid of wax and wick Melts onto my fingertips.

When she was a girl, my mother would climb onto the counter in the studio and open, one by one, the cabinets filled with castor and musk and ambergris and marvel as each scent penetrated the room and then dissipated through the steam-printed walls or the roof, which hung low like clouds waiting to capture the tears of dead flowers.

Three stars in the sky rise, This is one of the few times we can count in this space. I roll the metal box across my palm Smelling the cinnamon, cloves, and blood of my past upon it.

When her mother died, my mother opened the cabinets one last time and lifted the bottles from their places and cradled them in her palms, then lined them up in an old leather trunk and closed the lid and touched fresh glue to the torn corners, as if that would make the leather last longer or teach it to ring forever the harmonies her mother taught her to listen for.

And I knew this is the way things are done As we keen our past in melodies. Customs. That echo because they were written That echo through my veins and try to feed my soul

My mother used to tell me it was essential I know my own history, which is why she would open that trunk, which she still kept in back of her closet, and pull out the bottles and line them up on the windowsill, as if her mother were hovering outside, watching as her daughter pointed out the tints of rose and clementine sparkling in the sunlight.

That echo that resounds over the high ceiling That echo, because we’re alive. I asked my mom why We look for candlelight in our fingernails.

But my mother doesn’t teach me these histories anymore. Now, each day hangs on a brittle clothesline worn down by decades of the same pins clipped and unclipped into its weave, and she says they’re not essential. I try to convince her history is essential. I remind her of the summer we spent together in the foothills of the Pyrenees, searching through old archives for the essence of her mother, but she has lost that memory now, and she even the scent cannot restore it.

“It’s just what we do,” She responds. Custom. I wish she said something more poetic Like the Russian Folk Tales that say it’s a call to the future. But in our case, it calls to the past. We see the flames go backwards into ourselves, lighting us.

“All The Smells I’ll Leave Behind” by Katie Garth

So we sing and raise our hands Carry candles, and smell metal interlocked with spice. We create the echo So it ripples out in waves. Until next Saturday, at least.



The Body Of Jade Jones

Every pain I have ever felt has made me think of God. How one time my family and I drove six hours down Confederate highway to stand at the gilded gates of a megachurch we’d seen on TV, and I knew I was entering heaven early that day, because who else but God could draw such a crowd? Grandmothers using tambourines as noisy fans and babies sucking on ice cubes to stay cool. All us crowded under a purple awning. The line crawled as people in front of us, one-by-one, disappeared through glass doors tall as skyscrapers. I didn’t mind the heat outside because I was being healed that day. I was favored and God had finally realized He’d made a mistake after all. That the tumors could be undone with enough money and faith—but mostly money. With all the funds the church was taking in, He could finally buy that Benz He’d always admired but wasn’t corporeal enough to drive. That afternoon, we both agreed— God and I—to forget about the sickness and my surgeries. He’d made a blunder all those years ago. So when the doors shut and a man in linen announced the church was full, I was confused. I hadn’t gotten my healing yet. The tumor in my femur still thumped like bass, and hadn’t I been good? The stranger in a wheelchair one spot behind us bowed his head in prayer and cried, streaking the white button-down I knew he wore to look ethereal and holy. If he and I were next to each other now, and I wasn’t a child desperate at the foot of an altar, I would have asked him why we were sad when we should have been angry. We should’ve left that church knowing that if healing could be earned like high marks, we would’ve been made the honor roll. We weren’t undeserving of health. We were just us. But since I couldn’t take it up with God, I wanted to be mad at my parents, whose silence I now realize was fear because they learned that day that God’s love didn’t stretch into the parking lot. And I learned, too late and too young, that capitalism and televangelism share a Bible and prosperity prophet. It’s been fifteen years since I tried to love an ableist god, and now I’m not sure how to pray when I read Black death in every headline, articles that say we’re dying more from Covid-19

because you can’t drive a bus at home or make money washing your own dishes. I see my Black neighbor sneaking van-loads of parishioners to church on Sunday morning despite the quarantine, and I want to scream at them in their wide-brimmed hats to go home. But then I think of how I can’t offer any better comfort and how weary/powerful/faithful Black people can be. And I know my neighbor will just stare at me like I’m still that confused little girl waiting outside a sanctuary in South Carolina for her saving, and he isn’t wrong. Because I don’t know how to pray through a pandemic or how to feign peace. I’m lost.

Last Saturday before his saints-mobile departed, I thought of approaching my neighbor, but I flinched and kept on my side of the fence. He is skinny as straw and wears wingtip shoes that refract light like pearls, so what did I have to fear? I know he would’ve been kind. “It’s alright, sweetie,” he would have said, recognizing my panic, comforting me. I want to tell him I’m not afraid of him. That I’m not mad anymore at his church or his God. I just don’t want any of us to be sick again. That for our own safety, we have to love and Black-smile and worship from a distance. I want to tell him about that afternoon in that Carolina church when I’d shown up one way and left just the same. That if he keeps driving believers in masses during a pandemic, he may be shuttling church mothers to a lonely death. We haven’t talked about it, but I know he believes in miracles, that if someone is unwell, they’ll trial-and-tribulation back to health. I’m not trying to disrespect that belief, but I’m scared. He slips into the van wearing his suit, a diamond cross visible around his neck. I know firsthand that God is stingy with healings, I should’ve said before he left, but maybe you’ll be protected. But if you’re not? Then, I want to ask, what else can we do?

“Art Chess” by Shanina Dionna




On the Morning After the Apocalypse, Coffee

Stephanie King

Matthue Roth

Back in the day, my grandpa gave all directions by the houses that he’d worked on. “Turn right by Thatcher’s red barn – you know it burned down in ‘83 – and then at the top of the hill, bear left past the Spencers. I put in all those windows in the summer of ‘86.” Every summer of my childhood, he’d turn brown as a paper bag from all the hours spent building in the sun. After he retired to take care of my grandma, he got a part-time job as a mail carrier. He wore the absurd shorts in the summer as he delivered letters and parcels, the younger housewives letting him coo at their babies and the older ones offering him iced tea. He never delivered things to the wrong houses because he’d built half of them. He kept doing it even after my grandma died because he was thirstier for company than lemonade.

After everything, the biggest shock is the world’s still standing

It seemed much heavier than the similar box that had been my grandmother, and he had been a wisp of a man by the end. I wondered if they had gotten careless with the cremains, if perhaps gramps was bringing home some new friends to pal around with for eternity, collecting others’ ashes the way he’d collected fruitcakes at Christmastime along his mail route.

Spoiler alert: the earth’s not flat nor, we must admit, is it perfectly round

I thought about how many times he had walked up to the front door of a house, first heavy with tools to do their labor and then with an infinity of boxes. How many cobblestone paths, how many doorbells, how many menacing dogs. We carry on living with the optimism of a tree growing around a chain-link fence. Driving back from the funeral home, I turned left at the house that had once been the Halpins’, the heavy ornate door my grandfather installed now painted a bright cobalt blue by the new owners, then left again into my own driveway. I walked up the steps weighed down by the heft of the box I carried, delivering him home.

When I lost everything, went to bed on a sidewalk & woke with gravel imprinted across my cheek, the biggest surprise is that I woke up at all A man asked the Rebbe how he could say the sun revolved around the Earth and not the other way round It’s not about motion, he said, but rather which of them gives us our center

From “Public Language” by Katie Garth

When he couldn’t take care of himself anymore, we booked him into the absurdly named “Cyber Village” senior center. Their gimmick was free internet, which my grandpa used to send us emails typed with one finger pecking like the sparrows that hopped on his Cyber Village windowsill, and the rest of the time for looking at pictures of naked ladies. When I was little, he had a coffee mug of an old-time pinup girl, wearing a red halter dress that melted away when you filled it with hot liquid to reveal an equally old-timey bra and panties, her breasts as armored as the Titanic. I found it scandalous at 7 but eyeroll worthy by 11. The cup had been lost to time by the time when, at the age of 37, I wheeled him into his last home.

When I picked up his ashes at the funeral home, the box weighed so much more than I expected.



Anniversary Tryphena L. Yeboah

In eight days, I shall celebrate my feet landing on the grounds of LAX, its asphalt firm underneath my jet-lagged self and its weather, hot and bright, slanting right across my face. Twentyseven hours flight-bound, contemplating my fate in the event of a turbulence, contemplating my fate anyway because the thing about leaving your homeland is this jab of foreignness, this bizarre sense of loss nothing prepares you for. Especially when you’ve never had to leave home until you’re awarded a fellowship and your family dances around you to the good news and you memorize every possible answer for the visa interview. What are your plans after school in the States? Choose to always return. “To come back home,” I say, looking straight at him. Everything between that single moment until the last goodbye at the airport happens so fast it’s almost like all of it was imagined- like borrowing money for your plane ticket or gripping tightly the manila envelope that holds your passport, your proof of alienation- all did but unfold in small, urgent ways. This morning, a chipped glass that I chose to recycle as a stationery holder came toppling off my nightstand. With a mug of coffee in one hand, I tried grabbing hold of it, but I was not fast enough as it shattered on the floor. Coffee splashed and spilled down my hand. For a moment I did nothing. Barely stood there and watched the pieces amid my black pens and highlighters, darting my eyes to see how far they shot through the room and then instantly, like a button had been pushed down my response mechanism of what-to-do-when-the-worldgives-you-what-you-don’t-see-coming, I grabbed a napkin and squatted to gather the pieces in one place. “It’s okay. That’s okay. You’re fine.” I repeated the words under my breath as I drew my arm in a sweeping motion, the whole time hoping one of the shards pierces me in the thumb to set off an emotion so buttoned up I should fall apart easily if I heave. 357 days in America has been like that- my palms cupping the warmth of a mug, the smooth relief of coffee down my lungs, acclimatizing to its taste, its caramel and nutty fragrance rising up to my face. I swing my tired, long legs over my bed and get a refill, thinking to myself, this is it. This is the good life. What my mother would call America and its abundance, and my- do I submerge myself in its ease, until it comes running over, filling me up and drowning me in its flood.


What I should be celebrating is my survival. I remember my friend telling me, “Be prepared to make a fool of yourself.” He had been in the states for over a year. On the phone we talked about push-pull doors, water fountains, an accent so thick you want to bring your ears to people’s lips to hear every word. My plan was simple- watch and learn. If only we could be well acquainted with the patterns of a new world, we can overcome that world. If we could learn not just to assimilate but to question and accept the truths that are closest to our values, we should sail through the sojourner’s plight, barely scathed. Lies. The assault comes anyway, and is persistent too.

by a presence so strong it manifests itself in even the little things. In the swell of lonely nights, I want to cradle my middle. Firm and steady. And I want to remember how it feels to be held. I should celebrate making it through my first eye appointment. My knees shaking under. The weight of my head on a chin rest, eyes open wide with uncertainty. The whole time thinking about the medical bills and wondering the worst that could happen if I’m unable to afford it. I should celebrate growing so used to the quiet around me, going days without contact and refusing to shrink to nothing. In this small space, I should raise a glass of carbonated drink to nights I have been curled up, utterly aware of the pitiful emptiness lurking inside my body and around me. But first, what I really want to do is mourn this broken glass. I text Lisa: I broke a glass this morning. It made me really sad, all those pieces.

With a bowl of spicy ramen noodles and Coke in a wine glass, I plan to celebrate the steady beating of my heart, pulling my body each morning from bed- despite being separated from my folks, from the one place I’ve known to be home. Despite seeing my mother aging on a Facetime call that lasts a minute or so, her wrinkles burrowed deep in her skin. Despite saying Amen and Amen to long prayers of Aunties who insist I close my eyes while we seek the protection of God. That He may build a shield around me, keep me safe from this strange place of newness, of dissociation, of a cultural shock that, regardless of what people say, does not die down, does not disappear with time. Protect me from the insanity of seeking to belong. Amen. And yet, I want it desperately. To be seen, to have my presence registered in the minds of others such that I walk into a room and people can take me in as one of them. But I cannot make myself blend in, no matter how hard I try. My Africanness is the first mask, the first thing that speaks on my behalf before I can utter a word. I’ve never had to be this self-conscious my whole life until coming here and suddenly I make myself the subject of autopsy- I experiment with my fractures, break open and interrogate parts of my identity, seal it back up and knife a thin line of condemnation over my susceptibility, my loneliness mapped with grief, my stitched-deep vulnerability that leaves me open, endlessly. This devastating longing creeps into everything.

And silly me- I should celebrate three bubble dots. The sweetness of friendship. Fingers typing letters on a screen, thinking of me. And a message that smoothens the crease between what we don’t see coming and the grace of recovery: Oh no! Did you cut yourself ? I have cups. Coming over with some.

“Safe Space Part 3” by Shanina Dionna

I think of ways I can remain thankful. What we forget to cherish, we risk neglecting. I want to flutter between all the memories, good and bad. I want to move through my days unbounded by time. Feel the texture of everything with the tips of my fingers. Dig a fork into Polish sausage and rings of onions. The melting of butter and apricot jam on my tongue. To move and be moved


Cobwebs: A Study Travis Chi Wing Lau

I take heed less to take than to pay more attention to the work of spiders: so I follow the lines of safety, the loose architecture of living together alone, a reclusiveness challenged only by beak by rain by hungry luck, they who mend house, who mend home with silken life after every catastrophe douses them with waters, swollen with the smells of a dog’s joy lost and found because both know to bury things now and trust they will find them again.

“Instructions” by Katie Garth



Quarantine Procedures Travis Chi Wing Lau

1. Pinch just above the calyx. 2. Pull to expose the style. 3. Watch the nectar pool at the stigma. 4. Quaff this, closest to ambrosia. 5. Continue until it honeys into hardness. 6. Bear that hardness as a consequence but not a loss. 7. Honor that consequence as worthy after the petals fall. 8. Hold that worth against the cruel tread of the hours. 9. Be tender with the hours even as they spin in place. 10. Trust that we can be in place but still moving. 11. Respect the many bodies that you move among but never know. 12. Recognize how much you have in common with them. 13. Move carefully because contact is more than touch. 14. Relearn how to touch as an act of faith. 15. Practice faith until it becomes second nature. 16. Realize your nature will overflow. 17. Name that overflow abundance. 18. Tend to that abundance until it is plenty. 19. Satisfy yourself with that plenitude which will never be lacking. 20. Note how much else is lacking and who lacks it. 21. Share with them your nectar, your hardness. 22. Let them savor it even if they do not find it sweet. 23. Make space for their (your) bitterness. 24. Create more space because you are abundant. 25. Refuse to take back that space even if it turns bitter. 26. Forgive the bitterness because it is not permanent. 27. Taste it again to discover you have at least seven tastes. 28. Name this new one that is unique to your encounter. 29. Commit this encounter to memory. 30. Relinquish control over it, for your body remembers. 31. Remember that the body may remember what you may not. 32. Reward your body for this unspoken work. 33. Acknowledge that bodies continue working, sometimes on your behalf. 34. Give thanks that your body continues to work. 35. Implore your body to rest. 36. Allow your body to resist you. 37. Admit that you sometimes resist your body. 38. Concede to a dreamful sleep. 39. Dream of that nectar again. 40. Dream of that nectar we may all share again.

“Safe Space Part 2� by Shanina Dionna



John Wall Barger’s poems and critical writing have appeared in American

the first-ever TDC20 Grant presented by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz. In

Typescript. She received her MFA from Bennington and serves on the board of

loved writing, from writing lyrics to make songs and short stories for school

Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Hopkins Review, Alaska Quarterly

Spring 2021, she will receive certification in Expressive Arts Therapy with the

the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference.

assignments. Poetry is something that she recently came to love through a club

Review, Rattle, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Best of the

Person-Centered Expressive Arts Institute of Sonoma, California.

Best Canadian Poetry. His fourth book, The Mean Game (Palimpsest, 2019)

she joined in high school called Poetry Out Loud, where she was able to recite Mateo Perez Lara is a queer, non-binary, Latinx poet from California.

and analyze poetry to really appreciate and understand every word that was

is currently in its second print run. He lives in West Philadelphia, and teaches

Margot Douaihy, PhD, is a native of Scranton, PA, now residing in

They received their M.F.A. in Poetry as part of the first cohort to graduate

written. Owens writes to tell stories, to be shared or kept to herself, whether

Creative Writing at The University of the Arts.

Northampton, MA. She is the author of ‘Scranton Lace’ (Clemson University

from Randolph College’s Creative Writing Program. They are an editor for

it’s her own story or one that she would create.

Press). Her work has been featured in PBS NewsHour, Colorado Review,

RabidOak Online Literary Journal. They have a chapbook, Glitter Gods,

Ally Blovits is an undergraduate student at Michigan State University

Madison Review, The South Carolina Review, Tahoma Literary Review, The

published with Thirty West Publishing House. As a queer, latinx person, they

Greg Parker is a poet, artist, and student currently based in Philadelphia,

studying creative writing and theatre. When not in East Lansing at MSU, Ally

Petigru Review, and The Adirondack Review.

hope to elevate not only their voice but the voice/s of the communities in which

PA. A senior at Temple University pursuing his BA in Visual Anthropology

they are from and hold solidarity for. They have been honored to work with

with a minor in Community Development, his writing is born of family, light,

Briar Essex is a writer and reader who thinks a lot about how bodies move

amazing mentors and friends such as Layli Long Soldier, Phillip B. Williams,

queerness, blackness, PG County/ Baltimore, Maryland, god, and heritage. He

Cydney Brown is the 2020-2021 Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate. She

and move through spaces. They recently relocated to Lincoln, NE for Grad

and Paige Lewis. Their poems have been published in EOAGH, The Maine

is the current Treasurer and Technical Director of Babel Poetry Collective,

is currently a Junior at Abington Friends School. She grew to love poetry by

school, but these poems were all written in Philly.

Review, and elsewhere.

through which he has performed in various open mics, events, and showcases.

limitations with writing. She wrote a book of poems entitled “Daydreaming”

Katie Garth is a print-based artist in Philadelphia. Her interdisciplinary

Abbie Langmead is a Queer Jewish writer currently attending

khaliah d. pitts is a writer, curator and culinary artist. a philadephia native

and is currently working on another. Her poetry explores the topics of love, self

practice investigates tensions between the everyday lived experience and the

Emerson College in Boston, MA. Her works have previously been

+ lifelong artist, her work is dedicated to preserving health + culture, building

image, and social justice. She won first place in The Hip Hop workshop poetry

otherworldly and sublime. Garth received her MFA from the Tyler School of

published in various editions of SPINE, along with Boston Book

community + documenting the stories of the African diaspora. in 2016 she

competition in 2020. Cydney wishes to inspire people to stand up for what

Art and a BFA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She has exhibited

Festival’s At Home Boston campaign.

co-created Our Mothers’ Kitchens (OMK), a culinary + literature project for

they believe in and to share her poetry with the world. She is supported by her

nationally and internationally, and her work has appeared in the Washington

mother, Angelita Brown, and her two older sisters, Kayla and Briana Brown who

Post and Print Magazine. She enjoys teaching, and pursues opportunities to

Travis Chi Wing Lau completed his Ph.D. in English at University of

courtesy of A Blade of Grass. khaliah is currently working on a food memoir

have sculpted her into the poet and activist that she is.

write and present on topics related to contemporary print practice.

Pennsylvania and is now Assistant Professor of Eighteenth-Century and

and embarking on a new project, investigating the culinary traditions and

Romantic British Literature at Kenyon College. His poetry has appeared

collecting stories from far reaches of the diaspora.

lives in Grandville, Michigan with her parents and her twin brother.

reading poems by Maya Angelou and Robert Frost. She loves how there are no

Black folk, which was awarded a 2018 Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art

K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is t

Matt Goldberg is an emerging writer and MFA candidate at Temple

in Barren Magazine, Wordgathering, Glass, Foglifter, Rogue Agent, and in a

he Associate Editor at Fractured Lit. and Editor at FlashBack Fiction. Her

University in Philadelphia. His fiction has previously been published in The

chapbook, The Bone Setter (Damaged Goods Press, 2019). He now resides in

Matthue Roth is the author of the novel Rules of My Best Friend’s Body

Hoosier Review.

Columbus, Ohio. [travisclau.com]

and the picture book My First Kafka. His work has appeared in Tin House,

stories have appeared in CRAFT Literary, CHEAP POP, Jellyfish Review,

Ploughshares, and the Saturday Evening Post. He was shortlisted for the

Milk Candy Review, and have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. She can be found online at kbcarle.com or on

Lucia Herrmann is a Cuban-American artist-educator from Miami, Florida,

Jazmyne Ledae is a Northside of Pittsburgh born and raised author of all

Best American Short Stories 2018. By day, he’s a writer at Google. He moves

Twitter @kbcarle.

living on the hyphen. She studied English at Bryn Mawr and Haverford

tricks and trades. Her work explores the metaphysical, existential, historic,

between Brooklyn and the Philadelphia area.

Colleges and now teaches in Philly. Forever grateful to supporters, especially

and futuristic experiences of living in a black body. As a youth, she attended

Mama Luz and T. This is her second publication. See luciaherrmann.com.

Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 where she was able to hone her skills and talents,

Aimee Schwartz is an undergraduate Criminal Justice major with a minor

dabbling in poetry, fiction, journalism, playwriting, and more. Later, she went

in Psychology at Widener University, who plans on joining the FBI as a

L’Tajh Carter is a poet, performer, person, Philadelphian. Born and raised in New Mexico, Jazmyn Crosby is currently living

Walter Hill is a software developer by day and always a student of the world.

on to attend Temple University where she had the honor of joining BABEL

profiler. Her first poem ever published is titled Me Too which was published

in Philadelphia and received her MFA from the Tyler School of Art and

He resides in Austin, TX and finds poetry in the art of traveling distances long

poetry collective. Though she has been writing all of her life, she has been rarely

by Moonstone Arts Center in their New Voices: Emerging Poets Vol. #2. She

Architecture. She got her BFA from the University of New Mexico, and

and short.

published. She is excited to begin a new journey of confidently submitting more

is a forensic photographer and has had her artwork displayed in museums and

works and joining more writing communities around the world.

government buildings. Schwartz was also selected to travel to four countries

attended the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland and The Academy of Art

in Europe to perform with American Music Abroad’s jazz band as an electric

Architecture and Design in the Czech Republic. She has worked as an educator

Jade Jones was born and raised in Southern New Jersey. A former Kimbilio

and an event facilitator, creates music under the name Glitter Vomit, and is a

Fiction Fellow, she is a graduate of Princeton University and the Iowa

Mabel Lee is a native of Philadelphia, where she teaches middle school

bass player and in the choir as a soprano singer. She currently participates in

founding member of Graft Gallery/Collective.

Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow. Both a writer

Spanish, engages in literary and poetry groups, and meditates by sketching

Widener University’s marching band, jazz band, wind ensemble, and several

and educator, Jade has taught all levels including elementary, college, and

her surroundings. She is a language, travel, and beer enthusiast who enjoys

other musical groups.

Rachel M. Dillon received her B.A. from Brandeis University. She is

adult learners. A winner of the 2019 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize

backpacking in different countries whenever she gets the chance. Her work has

currently living in New York City, where she teaches High School English. She

for Emerging Writers, her work has appeared in The Rumpus and Catapult.

been published in Aji Magazine, The 5-2 Crime Weekly, Metropolis, and the Sips

Dorsía Smith Silva is a Professor of English at the University of Puerto

is also a Book Reviewer for Publishers Weekly and the creator of Shelf Life, a

She is currently a staff writer for Dipsea. You can find her on Twitter at @

Poetry Cards series. Find more of her work at mabel-lee.com.

Rico, Río Piedras. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Portland

monthly newsletter of literary criticism. Learn more at rachelmdillon.com.

jadereginajones and on Instagram at @jaderjones.

Review, Stoneboat, Storyscape, Pidgeonholes, Eclectica Magazine, and Alison Lubar teaches high school English by day and yoga by night.

elsewhere. She is also the editor of Latina/Chicana Mothering and the coeditor of six books. She is currently finishing her first poetry book.

In 2020, Philadelphia Magazine recognized Shanina Dionna as the Philly

Susan Keller grew up in suburban Detroit and now lives in East Lansdowne,

She is a queer femme of color whose life work (aside from wordsmithing)

artist “creating a positive space for mental health conversations.” Both a

PA. She has worked as a book editor, high school English teacher, and

has evolved into bringing mindfulness practices, and sometimes even

visual and performing artist, her art for social change practice is rooted in

communications coordinator for a literacy nonprofit. She started writing

poetry, to young people. Most recently, her work has appeared in Rowan

Abigail Swoboda is a queer, nonbinary writer based in Philadelphia, PA,

the exposure of her own mental health journey and recovery. Since 2011, her

poetry at a young age and is grateful to be writing again after a long dry spell.

University’s Glassworks, Giovanni’s Room anthology queerbook, and

where they are currently pursuing their M.A.

“Embryo” art exhibition series has helped build a platform raising awareness

She is active in the voting rights movement and is one of the organizers of

Fearsome Critters’ Quaranzine.

in English at Temple University.

currently supported in-part by DBHIDS (the Department of Behavioral

Philly Poetic Resistance, a local poetry sharing group. Sally O’Brien is a high school teacher who lives with her family in the shadow

Tryphena Yeboah is currently a fellow in Creative Writing at Chapman

improv performances, dance/movement, botanical therapy and “safe space”

Stephanie King’s stories have won the Quarterly West

of the Market-Frankford Line. Her poetry first appeared in APIARY 8, and has

University. She grew up in Ghana and holds her degree from the Ghana

installations all help convey her intent for communal wellness and healing. In

Novella Prize and the Lilith Short Fiction Prize, and have also appeared in

since been featured in Rattle Poets Respond and Duende Literary Review.

Institute of Journalism. Her fiction has appeared in Narrative Magazine, and

2016, Shanina Dionna helped found the youth art program, @artbudsphilly (on

Entropy, Every Day Fiction, Loch Raven Review, and Lumen. Her education

Instagram); and in 2018, she became one of twenty artists worldwide to receive

writing has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Penn Capital-Star, and The

Health and Intellectual disAbility Services). Life-sized acrylic portraits,


her poetry chapbook was selected by Kwame Dawes for inclusion in the NewJaida Owens is a freshman in college from South Jersey. She’s always

Generation African Poets series from Akashic Books.


We teach kids to think and write with clarity. During this health and economic crisis, we have boosted our regular food program to ensure that no child goes hungry. You cannot write well if you do not have enough to eat. mightywriters.org | @mightywriters

The Philly Pigeon aims to elevate and popularize the art form of performance poetry, while serving the people. We strive to foster a sense of community across gender, color, religion, sexuality, and class. We believe in empowering both poets and our audience to participate in shaping the art form. thephillypigeon.com | @thephillypigeon 52

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