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TABLE OF CONTENTS p g . 6/ letter from t he ed it or p g . 8/ i p ray t o m yself by talia b ennett p g . 12/ p hot og rap hy by am ar i g rey p g . 14/ p hot og rap hy by q uin m ateo car rero p g . 14/ t og et her by ysab ella g alleg os p g . 22/ p hot og rap hy by q uin m ateo car rero p g . 28/ ar t by w asim a farah p g . 29/ t he second sp r ing by and rea ng eleka p g . 31/ ar t by ar yanna chut kan p g . 32/ p hot og rap hy by q uin m ateo car rero p g . 32/ cool g ir l by and rea lopez p g . 36/ ar t by ar yanna chut kan p g . 37/ holy b ook by Anita p g . 38/ hor n of plent y by jam aica b r id g ett p g . 4 0 / p hot og rap hy by tam ira am in p g . 4 6/ t he per son i know by isis m olina p g . 4 6/ oh b aby by jam aica b r id g ett p g . 4 8/ t he kiss by jam aica b r id g ett p g . 52/ p hot og rap h by d ieg o jim enez p g . 54/ p hot og rap hy by d ieg o jim enez p g . 60 / b ouq uet by vasud ha p unyane p g . 62/ ar t by w asim a farah p g . 66/ m eet t he ar t ist s p g . 68/ m eet t he ed it or s

TRIGGER WARNINGS p g . 21/ violent hom op hob ia p g . 24/ nud it y p g . 61/ hom op hob ia



Here at Ascend , we cham pion t he intang ib le. For w hat you can?t t ouch and can?t explain, Ascend looks t o inject t hat elusive, entrancing em ot ion int o t he open sp ace found b et ween our p ag es. Ascend em p hasizes t he per spect ives of t he m ar g inalized , often b ur ied in m ainstream ar t . In t he Sum m er issue, Ascend fur t her s our desire t o explore t opics t hat are not easily defined . This t im e around , we?re tackling t he concep t of p r ide: p r ide b eyond t he b lack-and -w hite d ict ionar y definit ion, b eyond t he ver b -noun for m (?sat isfact ion or pleasure der ived from one?s ow n sense of self and act ions?). Here at Ascend , p r ide m eans t he explorat ion of one?s tr ue self and t he jour ney it takes t o g et t here. In t his issue, p r ide act s m ore as ver b t han it d oes noun, reflect ing our self-introspect ion on an ever -chang ing cour se. We under stand t hat t he jour ney t o stand ing fir m in our tr ut hs, w het her it b e our sexualit y or our g ender ident it y, is not an easy one. This issue hig hlig ht s t he m any p at hs t o self-affir m at ion and ident it y, under stand ing t hat for som e t he jour ney never end s. This issue looks b eyond t he five letter s t hat m ake up p r ide. Throug h p oetr y, p rose, and visual ar t , we attem p t t o pinp oint t he slip per y sp ace b et ween our ow n concep t ions of p r ide and t hat of t hose around us. As you jour ney t hroug h our p ag es and read t he st or ies found here, we im plore you t o d o as we d id , as q ueer * ar t ist s, and look b eyond t he ar t found here. It is your t ur n t o g aze b et ween our p ag es and search for your ow n sense of tr ut h.

W ishing you luck and a Hap py Pr ide, Channelle Russell Head Cult ure Ed it or


i pray to myself by talia bennett


ife mi i learn the wordslike a beating. i speak the words and bruise my tongue with sayingit / ife m i / save me / he saysthe words, and they?re a prayer. if we?re all listening, it?sangel-song. i. blood. mouth-wound-like-a-wound-the-mouth-opening-and-gasping-and-alwaysclosing like a knife gun entry point / close. / mouth gun entry point / close. M outh, gun, entry point. M outh, gun, knife. K nives. St arlight. W inter r iver. the cradle of your bed. forget your mother; she will not / i promise, to you / she will not understand. you look her in the eye but never no, not her daughter. you kissher goodbye at the door, 8:000000000am, you kissher at the door, 8:00000000000am, you kissher, you kissher, you wish she tasted him. you wish she?d ask why you stayed in bed today. nobody asks you why. i?m asking, after seven monthsof silence, w hy. are you asking? i want to know what happened to us. this is about us. this is about us. it?s about him. ii. question: w hat kind of girl lets it happen to her. what kind of girl longsfor it to happen again, and again. i should?ve done as he asked, i am broken & breaking down. all i have are these birds nests and berries, see? see? that?s all they give you. what they can steal and nothing more what they were given and nothing less leaving me with nothingless, than a settled down grief. for thisgirl, who carriesmy shame secret. who carriesmy body burning. who carriesthe scream / i never screamed / but how she howls, now.


(lover, did you know, if you fuck usone time too many we become wolves and burn the world?) iii ? what kind of girl beatsat her bathwater, screamsat her walls/ morphs? possessed by silence. the word you seek is Black. the Black girl, CON D EM N ED , bur ns in silence. iv. she carries Africa, swaying, like a bruising wound. silent silence. a ringing quiet. the gods ? they hide their faces / i return to the hollow home. i climb into my bed/coffin-cradle. i remember my mother. i remember a thousand mothers and a thousand girls under ivory bodies and a whip and a book that saves no-one but those that hold it, gun-like, from broad and battle-hardened hips. i emerge from the coffin-cradle? roiling/thunder-eyed? and my body is one long scream. my body isone longnote of anguish, angered, anchored, unhinged and unfurling. he _____ me. ______ me. me. he _____ me. [ no, never, never your daughter. not to your daughter. but m aybe, their son. ] so? a rose for the girl that hums the song of freedom. a rose for the boy she?syet to become. romance the notion that


she?s two halves of one coin and the space inbetween / not a rift, but an ocean. explain this: resurrection. explain this: the fluidit y of transscension. three roses, for savingyourself. four roses, for my mother. she loves me / she loves me still. she loves what was ruined, and what has risen and for you, nothing but lilies. for you think i speak of a man on the moon / and pray from swollen knees each Sunday - but. God is a Black wom an and I pray to m yself. v. from bondage we break and in the belly of the sea she singsto me? oh, oh, ife m i love of mine, oh, ife m i. com e hom e.

____________________________________________________________________________________ ife mi. Yoruba: for my love.




TOGETHER Ysabella Gallegos





I don?t know how much

longer I can hold this-?Roberta grunted as she shouldered the rusted metal door shut. Behind it, five and a half decaying bodies pushed themselves aimlessly against the door, hungry and ungodly strong with their dead weight. Roberta slipped slightly as another corpse joined the herd and began clawing its way through the growing gap in the door, its skin sloughing off as it rubbed against the tarnished metal. Sweat slicked Roberta?s thick black curls against her forehead and ran in fat beads down her face, leaving tracks in the dust settled there. W ith another low grunt, Roberta used her last surge of energy to edge the door shut, her thick-soled boots shrieked along the concrete floor. ?I just need another minute!? Across the room, Katrina, Roberta?s partner, was tearing apart the few boxes left in the factory warehouse searching for supplies. They were on day one without more than a sip of water, day two without food, and in the beginning stages of infection in the large gash on Roberta?s left thigh. W hile Roberta had about a hundred other cuts, this one, which she had acquired after leaping off the roof of the last house they raided, was particularly vicious. Katrina had told her it was a bad idea. *** ?You?re gonna be the only person in the apocalypse to die from something so stupid, you know!?Katrina yelled from the garden of a faded pink pueblo-style house somewhere in New Mexico. Roberta was perched on the roof of the pueblo, surveying the surrounding area with broken binoculars and a charred map of the southwest. The sun shone brightly on her and illuminated her pitch black eyes. ?Oh baby, you know I can?t die.?Roberta chuckled and, with long strong legs, sprung herself from the roof of the home. Katrina watched as Roberta miscalculated the distance, swiped the outside of her left leg against a jagged chunk of stucco, and landed in the grass with a dull thud.

Now the cut was infected and had bled and pussed through layers of old t-shirts and soiled scraps of bed sheets. Roberta?s red and sweating face was not just a sign of exertion, but of sickness. Katrina, who had been a nurse?s assistant before the world was juiced, had been able to figure out how to treat Roberta?s other injuries, but a lack of supplies and never ending pursuit of corpses and humans had left her with little else to do but worry. They had found this warehouse three days after Roberta had fallen and once again, Katrina?s hands were coming up empty. The warehouse boxes seemed to be filled with everything but what Katrina needed to help Roberta heal. Most of the boxes were filled with dust and glass shards and others were empty all together. W ith shaky hands Katrina tore through them as Roberta?s breathing grew more ragged and the pounding of rotted fists grew louder. Suddenly, as Katrina grabbed the last box, a window above them shattered. A body fell through the opening and landed in a heap of gore, what?s left of its molded brain exploded onto the concrete floor. ?KAT!?Roberta screamed as more corpses began pushing against the other windows that lined the warehouse ceiling. In the last box Kat found a small spool of floss, a single can of creamed spinach, and a half-empty bottle of some kind of malt liquor. W ith a surge of hope, Kat shoved the supplies into her tattered blue backpack and sprinted to the latched garage door nearby. It was secured with an old but sturdy metal lock, too thick for Kat to kick her way through. She pulled a small handgun out of her waistband and with a swift pull of her finger, shot the lock to pieces. In the next second, she was crouched and hoisting the garage door open. ?ROBBIE, NOW !?Kat yelled. Robbie tore herself away from the metal door and sprinted towards Kat. The door burst open and the sounds of the corpse?s moans were even louder, drowning out Kat?s voice. Robbie clambered under the garage door opening and, with her last bit of strength, held the garage door open for Kat to cross. W ith Kat inside, Robbie let the door slam shut behind them and together they

collapsed onto the floor of the dank garage.


PART TWO The two weren?t asleep long before the pain of hunger and infection woke them. The frantic clawing of the corpses had faded. Kat pressed her ear to the cold metal of the garage door. ?I?d say there are about four left,?Kat stated and Robbie muttered, ?assholes?under her ragged breath. W ith a shaky laugh, Kat hoisted herself upright and dragged her backpack next to Robbie to begin examining her. Kat wasn?t an expert, of that she reminded Robbie repeatedly, but Robbie trusted her and felt safe in her hands. Kat started with the gash to make sure it hadn?t been irritated during the struggle. It still had the same inflamed edges and sticky green pus had crusted around the edge of the old t-shirt that was wrapped around Robbie?s leg. Kat would use their new findings to clean it later; she needed to check out the rest of Robbie first. W hile on her knees, Kat positioned Robbie so her head lay gently in her lap. The sweat that slicked Robbie?s forehead earlier had dried now and her dark brown skin was hot and tight around her sharp cheekbones and square jaw. Her full lips were dry and cracked but the whites of her eyes were bright and clear. Dehydrated, Kat noted and combed through Robbie?s tight curls, loosening dirt and searching her scalp for new cuts. Finding none, she moved onto Robbie?s neck, grabbing her chin and pulling it side-to-side. Kat could feel Robbie?s eyes on her face, soft and kind but unblinking. Robbie did this frequently, trying to burn Kat?s face into her mind.

usual and besides a couple new bruises, the skin underneath was intact. Kat noticed that her arms and legs were thinner and more sinewy than usual. Malnourished. Next was Kat?s turn. As Robbie sat on the floor against the wall of the small garage, Kat positioned herself in the light of the overhead windows and began shifting her clothes, turning so that Robbie could look for any injuries. Kat was wearing an outfit similar to Robbie: a dark green jacket, gray t-shirt, and black cargo pants that she needed to roll up. Her boots were similar to Robbie?s: thick with a steel toe. All of her clothing was mostly intact. Underneath, her olive skin was streaked with dirt but had no new wounds. Her short frame remained slight but soft and her skin was decorated with moles, small cuts from searching through the warehouse boxes, and a large purple bruise in the middle of her back. Her short copper-red hair stuck up from her head in different directions, crusted with sweat and mud, and her once round face had become angular with sunken skin under grey eyes. Her small pink lips were chapped. Kat crouched down as Robbie lightly touched the bruise on her back and searched with hard eyes over the shallow cuts on her arms. Robbie was not a gentle person, her many injuries could attest to that, but her hands were soft along Kat?s skin. Her long exhale let Kat know that nothing looked too serious.

?Oh baby, you know I can?t die.?

After confirming that Robbie?s neck and chest were okay, save for a few scratches, Kat helped Robbie sit up and began pulling at her clothes to inspect the skin underneath. Robbie was wearing a large faded denim jacket, a red crewneck with a torn collar, a black pair of cargo pants that didn?t reach past her ankles, and thick rubber-soled boots. None of her clothing seemed to be any more torn and ratted than


Satisfied with her own condition, Kat redressed and turned her focus back to Robbie?s gash. She pulled the floss and liquor bottle from her backpack and sat cross-legged next to Robbie on the floor. Robbie grabbed at Kat?s jacket and balled the edge of it in her fist. Carefully, Kat began to pull the layers of cloth away from the cut. These were the same pants that Robbie was wearing when she fell so they were stiff with dried blood. Kat pulled on the edges of the torn cargo pants to get more access to the cut. The cut. Every time Kat saw it her breath hitched in her throat and her eyes became wet. This damn cut wouldn?t let her sleep. Kat grabbed the bottle of malt liquor, pried open the cap with her teeth, and smelled the brown liquid. ?Jesus Christ,?Kat muttered, her stomach

churning. She never liked alcohol, even before.

Japanese text and a picture of a sun on it.

Robbie laughed weakly. ?You know, I?ve never tried malt liquor.?

Kat gave Robbie the blue flannel and the metal chain; she knew Robbie would enjoy the versatility of that kind of weapon. Robbie paused for a moment and weighed the chain between her hands before storing it in her backpack. Robbie gave Kat the bungee cords and the sledgehammer.

?And you won?t be trying it now,?Kat retorted and, while Robbie was distracted, she poured the contents of the bottle onto the gash. Robbie convulsed and let out a string of obscenities while the alcohol hissed at the edges of the wound. She removed a small yellow canteen from her backpack, took a sip of water, gave Robbie a drink, and then poured the rest of its contents on the wound, clearing the liquor. Robbie pulled her 16-inch hunting knife out of her backpack and cut a strip off of the bottom of her crewneck, holding it to her leg. Kat took the spool of floss and wrapped it around Robbie?s leg, securing the makeshift bandage. Robbie grabbed the can of creamed spinach and hacked the metal lid open with her knife. Together, they scooped the warm goop from the can and cried as they chewed, their tears running into their mouth and flavoring the slime. Once they were done licking their fingers, Kat helped Robbie stand and together they stretched their tired muscles and synchronized their breathing, grounding themselves in the aftershock. Kat watched Robbie closely as they stretched, noticing her quietness. Robbie was always animated and over-confident, even in their hardest times. This silence was worrying. Kat steadied Robbie and pulled her chin so that their eyes met. Robbie?s eyes were dull and her face burned in Kat?s hands. ?Checking in,?Kat said. Robbie took a deep breath and nodded. Kat understood and let Robbie go, letting her stand on her own. It was time to leave. Together, they searched the garage. It was large, with concrete floors and cinder-block walls. A yellow rusted forklift sat in the middle of the room and industrial shelving lined the perimeter. In the back corner there was another metal door missing a handle. They searched the room from top to bottom, triple checking every shelf. Kat found another spool of floss, two empty canteens, a short but heavy metal chain, a stained blue flannel, and a small canister of oil. Robbie found a short-handled sledgehammer, two frayed bungee cords, and a can of food with

?I don?t want you to only be carrying that gun, I can?t always cover you,?Robbie said quietly, her jaw clenching. She spun Kat around and used the bungee cords to fashion a holder for the sledgehammer on her backpack. Grabbing her own knife, Robbie slowly approached the metal door, signaling to Kat. Kat stepped forward and pressed her ear against the door, listening closely for potential threats. ?I don?t hear much, just some rustling. It?s probably an animal,?Kat said and, with her sledgehammer in one hand, she grabbed the door and wretched it open. PART THREE The door opened up into an alleyway between the factory and what looked to be an old strip mall. From some surrounding street signs they had gathered that they were in what used to be Santa Fe. The alleyway was littered with gasoline canisters, broken pieces of machinery, and bodies. Kat led them both into the alleyway, being careful to step around broken glass and bodies both turned and unturned. The sun was shining brightly and a dry breeze swept the stench of death and burnt rubber down the corridor. As they approached the end of the alley, two corpses stumbled down the road; one was missing the lower half of its face. Kat and Robbie ducked behind a rusted dumpster and readied their weapons. Catching their scent, the corpses began to drag themselves down the alley towards them. As Kat was about to step out into the open, she heard two swift pops and the bodies collapsed, their molded skulls shattering. Kat retreated back into the cover of the dumpster and signaled for Robbie to stay silent. The sounds of steps approached accompanied by two voices: one man and one woman. ?Okay we?re clear,?said the man, his voice growing clearer as the pair approached to examine


the corpses. ?Ugh, lets just get the hell out of here,? muttered the woman and they turned to exit the alley. Suddenly, Robbie began to feel weak and shifted her body to compensate, accidentally bringing the hard handle of her knife down onto the metal dumpster. The loud clang it made stopped the strangers in their path.

?Just a night, please. We need food and medicine. Just a night and then we?ll be gone,? Kat pleaded, her worry for Robbie seeping into her voice. ?W hat do you think Henry??Beth asked, her face softening.

?W hat the hell??said the man, and he ran to the dumpsters to discover Kat struggling to keep Robbie on her feet.

?Fine, one night. And you?ll have to let us hold onto your weapons.?Henry huffed and lowered his rifle.

?Put your hands up!?the man yelled and pointed a large hunting rifle at Kat. The two froze.

?But? ?Robbie began to protest but Kat interrupted.

?Henry, what is it??the woman yelled and ran to join him, crowbar in hand. ?There are others, Beth,?Henry said and motioned with his gun at Kat and Robbie. Henry was a tall, thin man with light skin and dirty blond hair. He wore a blue bandana over his nose and mouth but his eyes shone bright green. He was dressed in what looked to be faded army fatigues with a gun holster around his waist and a heavy canvas backpack. Henry?s partner, Beth, was tiny in comparison. She was also thin but her hair was a stark black, separated into 2 thick braids that ran down her back. She had light brown eyes and the same light skin as Henry. Beth was also dressed in army fatigues with a purple bandana wrapped around her face. ?W ho are you??Beth demanded, her eyes shaping Kat and Robbie up.

?Deal,?Kat said and motioned to Robbie to give her the knife. Robbie hesitated, keeping her eyes on Henry, but conceded, handing the knife to Kat. Kat placed the knife on the ground and made them take four steps back. She knew Robbie would be upset at her for this, but she had to keep them safe. As she stepped back, the handgun in her waistband shifted slightly but stayed secure. Kat could feel a pulse at the base of her skull. Beth stooped quickly to gather the weapons and placed them in her own canvas bag. ?Well it is nice to meet you, we haven?t seen other humans out here in a while,?Beth said, approaching Kat and Robbie and shaking their hands.

Kat, with one of her arms under Robbie supporting her, raised the other and dropped her sledgehammer. Robbie weakly raised her free arm but wouldn?t drop her knife.

?I?m Beth and this is Henry, it?s just us two. Our spot is about 30 minutes outside of Santa Fe but we have a car.?Beth smiled. W ithout a word, Henry turned and began to stalk away.

?I?m Katrina and this is my friend Roberta. We just came out of that warehouse looking for supplies. We?re running low and Roberta is hurt,? Kat explained, keeping her eyes on Henry?s gun. She nodded to the bundle of cloth and string around Robbie?s thigh.

?I wouldn?t worry about him, he?s just like that.?Beth laughed and reached into her bag and pulled out a large red canteen. She handed the canteen to Robbie who took desperate gulps and passed it to Kat who did the same.

?We don?t want any trouble, but we need help,?Robbie said, working to stand on her own. Robbie wanted nothing more than to be able to lean into Kat?s arms but situations like this were difficult; they had to watch their moves very carefully. It wasn?t safe with corpses and it wasn?t really safe with humans either.


Henry looked them up and down, his eyes narrowing.

?Thank you, this is very kind,?Kat said and handed the canteen back to Beth. ?You gotta have some light in all this darkness right??Beth said, gesturing up at the sky and turned to follow Henry. Limping, Kat and Robbie followed Beth and Henry to their car that was hidden in another alleyway a couple

blocks away from the warehouse. It was an old red convertible Jeep that was missing the top. Beth helped Robbie and Kat into the back, hopped into the driver?s seat and drove them to the outskirts of Santa Fe to a small farmhouse. The surreality of being in a car again after so long kept Kat and Robbie in an awed silence the entire drive. The farmhouse was an interesting thing. Sitting on about an acre of land, it was surrounded by a tall fence made out of a mixture of chain-link and wood and metal panels standing about 10 feet tall. The farmhouse itself was average, one floor with a porch and a broken rocking chair. It was a pastel yellow but most of the paint had chipped off. The windows were reinforced with metal bars and the garage door looked to be welded shut with more metal panels welded onto it for reinforcement. Next to the house stood a small black shed, its windows and doors were also reinforced with the same paneling. Beth helped Robbie and Kat into the house as Henry put the Jeep in the shed, taking their weapons with him. The house inside looked like it had been frozen in time before the world had fallen. Unlike the burnt and barren houses Kat and Robbie slept in so often, this farmhouse looked like a normal home with the edges roughened. The house was fully furnished with family photos and trinkets covering the walls. If Kat didn?t look closer, evaluating the surroundings, she?d have thought that the world?s burning hadn?t touched this place. But that wasn?t true. Everything within the house was covered with a thin layer of grime and the carpet was blackened and worn thin with parts of the floorboard showing underneath. Chunks of the couch?s cushions were missing and the halls and rooms of the home were lined with boxes of supplies that reached the ceiling. Food, clothes, medicine; it was the most they?d seen in months. Beth lead Kat and Robbie to the kitchen, having Robbie sit at a small wooden dinner table with her leg propped up on a chair. Kat sat at the table with Robbie, her hands slicked with sweat and her eyes darting to every corner of the room. Beth refilled her canteen from a large jug of water sitting on the kitchen counter and handed it to Robbie.

?Drink all of it, I think I have everything we need to stitch your leg up,?Beth said and disappeared into another room. Robbie let out a long breath and met Kat?s eyes. ?Checking in,?Robbie said. ?I don?t think we should stay here. Just long enough to get you fixed and get some food and then we?re gone., Kat whispered. ?Okay, we?ll leave in the morning,? Robbie affirmed and placed her hand on Kat?s where it sat clenched at her side. Kat relaxed her fist at Robbie?s touch. ?This should just about do it!?Beth said, popping back into the room. Robbie released Kat?s hand immediately and reached for the canteen, taking long stressed gulps. ?We have disinfectant, bandages, thread, and needles. Now, Henry is pretty good at stitching so? ?Beth started. ?No. I will do it,?Kat interrupted. ?I used to be a nurse.? Robbie smirked. ?A nurse! Well that?s incredible, I used to be a dog groomer. Unfortunately, that hasn?t helped me much.?Beth chuckled and got another canteen of water for Kat to use. Kat set up the supplies on the table. She had actually never stitched a wound before but had watched many others and there wasn?t much else she could do. She didn?t want Henry near Robbie; he gave her a sickening feeling, one that said to be careful. Slowly, Kat removed the old rags from Robbie?s leg and washed the red wound with water, then disinfectant, then water again. She threaded the needle and steadily began to interweave it through the swollen skin on Robbie?s leg. Robbie sat perfectly still but couldn?t help the stream of obscenities that escaped her mouth. Sometime around the 10th stitch, Henry entered the house with what looked to be a large can of food and a jar of peaches and began silently cooking on the small gas stove in the kitchen. Kat paused to give Robbie a break and to marvel at the stove as the smell of beans met her nose. ?Incredible,?Kat breathed. ?Isn?t it? If it weren?t for Henry, all this


stuff would?ve broken down a long time ago. I don?t know much about repair,?Beth said. She was sitting on the table next to Robbie, her eyes glued on the wound and stitches, fascinated by it. Robbie was breathing deeply beside her, covered in a layer of sweat. Kat focused her attention back to Robbie and finished stitching the wound, 16 stitches in total. She doused the cut with more disinfectant and water and used a large synthetic bandage to wrap up the wound. It finally wasn?t a gash anymore. Kat sighed and turned to Beth. ?Thank you so much.? ?And thank you for letting me watch,? Beth replied and stood. ?Henry should be done with dinner soon, I?ll show you all where you can sleep tonight and get you some clean clothes.? Kat helped Robbie up and followed Beth to a small room stacked with more boxed supplies. The bed was small and flat but would feel like velvet compared to the cold concrete floors they?ve cuddled up to. Beth handed them a pile of pants and shirts. ?I?ll call for you in about ten minutes,? Beth said, closing the door behind her. Kat helped Robbie into the new clothes: a pair of jeans and a black long sleeve t-shirt that didn?t reach all the way down to her wrists. Kat put on a similar outfit of jeans and a too-big navy blue long sleeve shirt. Upon hearing Beth?s call, they rejoined the strangers in the kitchen. A big metal pot of pinto beans with peach chunks sat steaming on the table with an assortment of mismatched bowls at each seat. Henry was already sitting and eating in silence while Beth spooned the concoction into three more bowls. Kat and Robbie sat and began inhaling their food; it scorched their tongues but that didn?t matter. For the first few minutes they sat in silence, eating ravenously. After they had all finished their first bowls, Beth served everyone another helping. ?Henry, Katrina told me she was a nurse before? Roberta, what did you do??Beth asked. ?Art curator. I worked for some art collectors in New York.?Robbie replied. ?New York! That sure is a long way to come from. Henry used to work for a


construction company. How do you two know each other??Beth asked. ?We met after. I found Roberta holed up in a shed somewhere in Ohio almost dead,?Kat said, her eyes shooting to Robbie. W hat she didn?t say was that she had found Robbie surrounded by five empty bottles of various alcohols with a broken shard of glass in her hand. W hat she didn?t say was that she had went to that shed with her gun for a similar reason. Beth nodded. ?Me and Henry knew each other before everything happened, he used to bring his dog Jake to the pet grooming company I worked for. We found each other after the world exploded with a group of others but now it?s just us.? Robbie and Kat both nodded. Henry continued to eat silently, staring at his bowl. His knuckles turned white as he gripped his warped metal spoon. They all sat silently again for a moment, lost in faint memories and phantom pains. ?Did you two have husbands before?? Beth asked suddenly. Kat and Robbie had this rehearsed, as it was a question they always got. Robbie was widowed before the burning and Kat lost her boyfriend to a corpse in Cleveland. ?That?s too bad.?Beth sighed and stood to begin collecting the dirty bowls and spoons. The sun was setting and now that their stomachs were full, all Kat and Robbie wanted was to sleep. Kat stood and helped Robbie onto her feet. ?We should go to sleep, we will be leaving in the morning. Beth, Henry, thank you again for being so welcoming. This is the most kindness we?ve seen in a long time,?Kat said. Beth nodded again and began lighting candles around the house. ?Rest well.? Henry didn?t respond but stood and began gathering the can and jars in the kitchen. Kat and Robbie limped back to their room and collapsed onto the bed, facing each other. They both said ?Checking in,?at the same time and laughed quietly. Now that Robbie had had some water and food, she looked brighter and more alert. Her big smile returned. Kat sighed with relief and closed her eyes as tears

began sliding down her cheeks. W ithout a word, Robbie kissed her tears and massaged large circles into Kat?s back. Robbie always joked that Kat had the heart of a hummingbird, but she had learned how to soothe her frequent anxieties over time. Robbie could feel Kat?s shaking cease. Suddenly, the bedroom door flew open and cracked against the boxed supplies along the wall.

growled, ?Don?t. Get. Up.?and gave a swift kick to Beth?s broken arm. Beth cried out again and passed out from the pain. Robbie straightened up and began grabbing cans from the floor and shoving them into her backpack. ?We need to go. Now,?she huffed. Kat had also been shoving cans of food into her bag and moved onto searching Henry. She pulled a box of matches from his pocket and, with a sigh of relief, the keys to the Jeep.

PART FOUR ?I knew it.?Henry huffed and stormed into the room carrying Beth?s crowbar. The door caused a tower of boxes to come crashing down and cans of food rolled around the floor of the small bedroom. The crash brought Beth into the room, running with a knife in her hand. Kat and Robbie had sprung up from the bed and readied themselves, Robbie moved from her side of the bed to stand between Henry and Kat.

?Okay, I?m ready,?Kat confirmed, and they left Henry and Beth on the floor of the bedroom. Kat ran to the kitchen and began collecting the leftover medical supplies. Robbie pushed one of the huge stacks of boxes to fall in front of the bedroom door.

?Fuckers,? Robbie muttered.

?W hat?s going on??Beth demanded, watching Henry square his shoulders and ready her crowbar. ?Henry, what the hell are you doing?? ?You let two dykes into my home!?Henry shouted and lunged towards Robbie, raising the crowbar. In a flash, Kat bent down to grab a large can and, ducking under Robbie?s outstretched arms, smashed the can into Henry?s face, breaking his nose. Blood spurted from his mouth and nose and he fell limply onto the floor, knocked unconscious. ?No!?Beth shouted and ran at Kat, waving her knife wildly. Robbie wretched the crowbar from Henry?s hands and knocked the knife from Beth?s with a hard swipe against her arm. Kat could hear Beth?s arm splinter and she fell onto the floor, crying out in agony. Robbie retrieved Beth?s knife from the floor and stood above her. ?Don?t,?Beth choked out. Robbie stooped down to put her face right in front of Beth?s. W ith tears in her eyes she

?That should give us some time,? Robbie called and ran to join Kat in the kitchen. W ith backpacks full, they paused to look each other over and check for new injuries. Finding none, Kat grabbed Robbie?s hand and they fled from the farmhouse. The shed was chained shut and with a quick blast, Kat shot the chain and kicked the door of the shed open. ?Thank God,?Robbie muttered. Inside the shed, the old Jeep looked like a chariot from heaven. Like the house, the shed was lined floor to ceiling with boxes of food. In the front seat of the Jeep sat their weapons. The sun had set so Robbie and Kat began blindly grabbing boxes and throwing them into the open backseat. W ithin seconds, the backseat was overflowing. It was time to leave. Kat helped Robbie into the passenger seat and got behind the wheel, kissing Henry?s keys before putting them in the ignition. The Jeep rumbled quietly beneath them as the two stopped to look at each other for a moment. ?Fuckers,?Robbie muttered, letting her head fall back onto the torn seat. Her breathing was slow and even. W ith a sigh of relief, Kat threw the Jeep into ?drive?and hurled them away from the yellow farmhouse.







the second spring by andrea ngeleka when did i turn into this person? when did i start tracing the lines under her eyes when she smiles? a smile that?s just mine, just as secret as the words between our words when did i start pronouncing her name like the songs that play in your head when you see something decay in the best way and most miserable way? when did i start stealing glances of her eyelids waiting for an eyelash to fall on her cheek like the first snowflake of the winter? i?ve started trying not to watch her breathe because it sounds too much like spring and that reminds me of the way the sun looked on her skin when we met for the first time i?ve started mapping my worries and fears and expectations on her face i?ve started counting sheep to stay awake she?s so close to me i can almost touch her i can almost see the inside of her mind i can almost feel the heartbeat of her thoughts we?re so stuck in almost the space between us is suffocating, but we can?t move frozen by everything we know we can never hear out loud so we just remain almost almost together almost not so lonely








calls them

bitches?the buh a blunt whip, then the ch, the shape of a mouth contracting, teeth catching on something vile? but it?s nothing I haven?t heard, nothing I don?t already know myself. I?ve seen them out on the soccer field once, during the incident (small i for now? the big I would come later). There they were, lounging under the mango trees: Keziah and her girls, passing gummy bears and one can of soda between themselves. It?s a story everyone knows: barely third period when the four girls disappeared. It was Kat the class president who took it upon herself to drag them back in line, a line they so often breached with a dedicated, careless fervor. I watched Kat approach, stopping where the canopy?s shadow fell. Inside Keziah?s extended palm was a red gummy bear - truce or trap?I imagined the gash of her smile, sickle-sharp. They said Kat was a reasonable girl with a good head on her shoulders, and it was true. Barely a moment passed when she decided to shove the hand away, the gummy falling into the grass. The magic collapsing. This is the part of the story where details go a little askew. In one retelling, Keziah lures Kat to reach out for the offering before lunging for her jugular. In another, Kat resigns to taking the gummy bear and steps into the shadow with the rest. W hen Home Economics comes around, Kat walks into class with a frayed collar, the smell of wildflowers on her uniform, and one eye gone odd. In my version? the real one, mind you, I?d seen it happen, I was watching from the second-floor balcony? Kat was spitting out grass after Keziah had shoved the rejected treat back into her mouth. There was a four-fingered scratch ripening on her arm, and she was crying? Fucking bitch, you crazy fucking bitch, out of your fucking mind? while the four of them pitched crumpled candy wrappers after her tail, Keziah?s dark laughing eyes following her all the way back in the building, the safety of her territory. If anyone had a lick of doubt left to be wary of those four, they knew better now. Something was displaced about the girls. Like if I?d seen them somewhere out in the wild,

just four girls on the grass in their school uniforms with their heads on each others?laps, faces warmed by the sun, I wouldn?t blink twice. And Keziah, always: all sharp teeth and dirty camisole, her hair fried from red dye, an acidic red that singed the edges of all my daydreams. Everyone calls them bitches, crude and crazy bitches, The Four Horsemen themselves. I?m not obsessed, and I don?t care. I want to be part of it. I swear I will. ?Don?t you love yourself??Les asks me when I tell her this. Les is my neighbor and childhood friend, raised by a pious woman who taught her girls like Keziah were no good, that sometimes it was better to be by yourself than incubate with other bad eggs. W hich is how she ends up barricaded in her room every night, orbiting over beautiful Korean men on her computer screen like a satellite, no authority to speak of self-love whatsoever. Incredible how one person can induce such an acute sense of pity while simultaneously making me want to sprint ten miles away from her, like if I stay long enough I?d be sucked into her swirling quicksand of loneliness with nothing to leave behind. I tell myself staying is more a matter of survival and less a matter of our inexplicable likeness. It works, until it doesn?t. During club period, while everyone disperses into their groups, the cool girls slink into the fourth floor bathroom to paint each others nails. I was a freshman then and didn?t know any better; a black leather shoe outside the door sent a clear message: Stay out. But I?d needed some water to soften the bristles of my new paintbrushes. It was for art club. We were doing lighting practices with lemons. I nudged the shoe to the side, stepped one foot in and felt, instantly, the air bristle, uninviting. Suddenly, there were four pairs of eyes on me, and I felt their gazes like a hot knife through butter, pinning me to where I stood. There was Sharon in the corner, bent over her to


paint them orange. Anika, flushing something once living down the toilet, a perfect deadpan on her face. Arranged on the floor was Hannah, who everyone swore had one eye behind her nest of black hair; as if to confirm this, she didn?t turn around. The back of her head turned as if it were a sensing thing. Then, of course? Keziah, perched delicately on the sink, her heels swinging, soles ghosting over the tiles. She?d been gazing at herself in the mirror, but now her eyes had slid towards me. Before my mind could catch up and recall her expression, I rushed in, opened the tap, collected water in the flap of my watercolor case, then rushed out, quick as I came, heart in my mouth, feeling the world tilt. My lungs expanded again, and my body felt giddy from the lack of air or perhaps my brush with the unreal, I don?t know. Memories of Sunday school made a visit? was this what Moses felt, when God stirred beneath his heels? The day they chose Hannah as their fourth, people say she had to accomplish a few things: piss in a bottle; dance in the shadow of the school chapel?s spire while clutching petals in her fist from a flower that burned the skin; bite Keziah?s shoulder? enough to break the skin, then lick it clean after. Then, she was to wait two ovulating nights; by the time her period arrived, her right eye had transformed into a brilliant hue. A not-quite color. Lately this is all I can think about. How I?d do it, if I?d been chosen in her stead. How I?d want it. In my nightly phantasms, I emerge beneath the mango trees sporting bruises like brands, red scratches down my arms, one eye testament to who I am and who I belong to, and no one could touch me then, not anymore. I imagine sucking on lollipops warmed by their mouths, witnessing the violent kiss of each punch when they fight boys for good meat and other girls for scraps. I think of taking Keziah?s offered gummy bear into my own mouth, feeling the shape of her fingers over my tongue, her shock of red hair billowing around us: a vision. W hile the rest of the world clamors to survive, I rest my head on warm thighs beneath the shadow of mango trees, safe, above it all. I know where they hide in the winter. I run


alongside them in the night? guarding, being guarded in return. The day Benny decided he could touch Hannah, put his hands on her like it was owed him, the girls messed him up so bad his mom cried. I know this because I was there, in the second cubicle while she phoned her husband from the bathroom and made a pitiful sound that shuddered across the tiles. They messed him up so bad his eyes were different after, and little children started stopping him to ask him if he?d seen a ghost. Older kids asked who he was running from. Both times he could not speak. They messed him up so bad and didn?t bother to hide the evidence, so school administrators suspended them for three months. It?s the fourth month now, and they?re back to occupying their usual spot by the mango trees. Nobody looks at Benny anymore. Nobody dares to touch Hannah. And all the while I feel something frantic growing in me, like vines. Like longing. It?s this same feeling that unfurls in me when I walk down Bede Hall and find Les pushed back against her locker, Nico looming over her, something erratic in the shape of his smile, in the joints of his fingers as they rest on her elbow. Nice Nico is a vague wisp of a boy. His plain face blurs in my memory, where he smiles eternally. Now, every small motion is a shout. Cold fear pools into indignation: how can Les just stand there?How can she allow him to walk all over her?Another voice leaps out: How could wemissthesigns? For one terrible moment, I imagine myself walking past? I?ve seen nice boys like Nico shed their skins like this, I know what happens next? but then my limbs betray me, and in the next moment I find myself standing right before him. Easily, my eyes find his smiling mouth, but I don?t recognize the words that come out of it. My own sledgehammer of a heart jars me. W here is Keziah?My eyes meet Les, and I recognize myself: sheep-girl, trigger-happy nerves reacting to ghost-pain. I imagine Keziah materializing behind us, claws ready, and we?re safe. Then Nico touches my hair. Jerking back, I look up into his

?Oh my god, what were you thinking, you?re crazy, you crazy bitch? ?

toenailseyes. They?re the brown of the earth, and so terribly human. In my fantasy my foot connects to his stomach, at the center where it?s most tender. W ith a flick of my wrist Nico hovers, then crashes into the opposite wall. I remember the fearful spasm that overtook Les?face when Nico tipped her chin up. Poor Les, my Les. But I mirror each time she shivers. My silence must seem to him a sweet offering. I imagine biting the hand on my chin, hard like I want the bone to break. I imagine Keziah, shrouded again by mango trees, her dark eyes calling. And me, stepping into her shadow.[ I am taken aback by my own thoughts until I notice the copper water on my tongue; belatedly, I register a shriek. I realize it?s Nico?s voice. The hand on my chin dissipates. Nico staggers back, hunched over his curled fist. Something wet trickles down my chin. Les is pulling me by the arm down the hallway, then two rights until Nico disappears from view, and I hear her frantic voice in my ear: ?Oh my god, what were you thinking, you?re crazy, you crazy bitch? ?part fear, part unfettered triumph, and I don?t flinch.



on the third day Goddess made trans girls and the freshly birthed oceans made the first wave stretched salty fingers to get the girls?attention to tickle the girls?feet with playful touch then fall back again the girls laughed and their laughter blessed all of the young and dewy world when the sun heard she blushed red held girls in her light until they glowed as golden as Goddess Herself this is brown trans lesbian creation story sister girl take off your heels this is holy ground land of tgirls and honey land of the good lesbian sun land of brown girls and laughter land of golden light and flirting waters land of the blush and wave Goddess bless this

holy book (after Safia Elhillo) by Anita

blush and wave like She willed this awkward flirtation and so it will beautifully be i pledge myself to Her blush and wave to Her golden and glow i pledge myself to no thing that does not love me because what holy thing would hate anyone with Goddess' fingerprints on her skin? i choose my girlfriend?s fingerprints all over my good brown skin i choose by my damn self who lays their fingerprints all over this good brown skin i pledge myself to the pepper spray to a small burning a small damnation a small hell for anyone who forgets my sister girls and i are holy ground i pledge myself to my sister girls to their crooked and brilliant smiles i choose the reddening blush that blooms on my lesbian cheeks and the golden light that brown girl cuddling makes of me i choose holding hands in the daytime i choose kissing in the daytime i pledge myself to sex in the daytime to threesomes with my girlfriend and the blushing sun i choose holding and being held by bodies that will not bruise me i choose soft skin i choose lips i choose legs i choose alive i choose laughter when we laugh i swear Goddess sprouts wings






I. I can?t r emember t he col or of her eyes, but I ?m al most cer t ai n t hey wer e br own. Li ght er t han mi ne. Am I al l owed t o say I have my mom?s eyes? I want t o cl ai m a par t of her and keep i t al i ve. I want


t o have her

by i si s mol i na

nar r ow. I

eyes. I know f or sur e t hat I don?t have her nose. Mi ne i s bent and r ounded, but her s was poi nt ed and r emember t he way her nose cr i nkl ed when she l aughed, and her eyes got r eal l y smal l . I al ways made her l augh t he har dest .


II. The hol i days wer e t he per f ect chance f or my mom t o f or ce ever yone t o


dance. We put on l oud musi c, and she got up,

When I was younger , my mom had t hi ck, cur l y

cl appi ng her hands t o t he

hai r . The smal l br own af r o she had was t he

beat of t he song. She went

most pr omi nent i mage i n my mi nd when I

ar ound t he r oom and pi cked

t hought of her . Si nce my hai r i s bl ack and

out her f i r st dancer ,

cur l y, I t hought i t was a common t r ai t we

whi ch was usual l y my

shar ed. I t was onl y unt i l I got ol der t hat I

l i t t l e nephew. My mom

r eal i zed she used t o per m her hai r . When she

l oved danci ng wi t h hi m

st opped, her hai r became st r ai ght and t hi n.

because he knew how t o

The di scover y hi t me har d because i t occur r ed

keep up wi t h her

t o me t hat I di dn?t know ever yt hi ng t her e was

exci t ement , even t hough

t o know about her . Of cour se I di dn?t . But

al l he knew how t o do was

t he t r ut h hur t .

j ump up and down and cl ap al ong wi t h her .

I t was even har der t o r eal i ze how many l i es my mom t ol d me t hr oughout t he year s. She

I was next . She woul d dr ag me f or cef ul l y unt i l I was on my f eet , st i f f as a pol e. She woul d swi ng my hi ps si de t o si de, encour agi ng me t o move. I was f ar younger t han her , but onl y i n age. My mom event ual l y gave up on me and moved on t o someone el se, unt i l t he whol e r oom was danci ng and l aughi ng.

st ol e al l of my gol d j ewel r y and sol d i t wi t hout t el l i ng me. She swor e she woul d l eave my dr unken st epf at her , but she al ways l et hi m back i n. She pr omi sed me we woul d st op movi ng al l t he t i me, and t hat she woul d buy us a house, but t hat never happened. She al ways sai d, ?I know bet t er t han you. I ?m your mom. I know what I ?m doi ng. ? And so when I got upset about l osi ng t he gol den key pendant my gr andma had gi ven me, she yel l ed at me, ?You?r e j ust l i ke your dad! Sel f i sh and gr eedy! ?

I t was never a dul l moment wi t h her .


I V.

At ni ght , she was r est l ess. My mom never sl ept bef or e mi dni ght , and she made ni ght s her own l i t t l e haven. Fr om t he qui et ness of my bedr oom, I of t en hear d her r umbl i ng i n t he ki t chen, maki ng her sel f a snack. The TV was al ways on as she was cat chi ng up on a t el enovel a or wat chi ng a l at e- ni ght act i on movi e. I al ways want ed t o j oi n her , but I knew I had t o be r esponsi bl e and get some sl eep. I al ways made school and wor k a pr i or i t y over spendi ng t i me wi t h anyone, especi al l y my mom. She made wor k her onl y l i f e, t oo.

V. I convi nced her t o wat ch Br eaki ng Bad wi t h me. I had al r eady seen t he ent i r e show, but I want ed t o see i t al l over agai n wi t h her . My mom sat wi t h me ever y ni ght wi t h a cup of cof f ee and a pan dul ce as we wat ched epi sode af t er epi sode. Ther e was not hi ng l i ke wat chi ng her r eact i ons t o t he most i nt ense scenes. She was al ways at t he edge of her seat , eyes wi de, wai t i ng t o see what Wal t er Whi t e woul d do next . Ther e was not hi ng l i ke me scr eami ng ?Yeah, bi t ch? al ong wi t h Jesse Pi nkman, and smi l i ng because I got t o cuss i n f r ont of my mom and she di dn?t mi nd.


VI .

I was t wel ve year s ol d t he summer my mom t ol d me t he way t he wor l d wor ks. The f at ef ul day st ar t ed wi t h me cr yi ng at my mom?s door when she r ef used t o j oi n me on an act i vi t y I can?t r emember . Af t er l ong hour s of cr yi ng, my mom f i nal l y opened her bedr oom door and l et me i n. I sat on her bed, and she l ooked me i n t he eye wi t h a bl ank l ook on her f ace. I t was a no- nonsense ki nd of l ook.

?I want you t o l i st en t o me car ef ul l y, ? she sai d. ?I am your mom, I si s. I am not your f r i end. You need t o make f r i ends wi t h peopl e your own age. I wi l l not be t her e f or you al l t he t i me, no mat t er how much you want t hat . One day, I won?t be wi t h you at al l . You have t o l ear n t o l i ve wi t hout me. You need t o be i ndependent . ?

?Okay. ?

And j ust l i ke t hat , I never bot her ed her agai n. My mom, my best f r i end, my conf i dant . That day, she di dn?t st op bei ng any of t hose t hi ngs, but she al so became an ent i r el y separ at e ent i t y. I n my hear t , my mom was st i l l my ever yt hi ng, but she woul d never know i t . Fr om t hat day on, I hi d my l ove f or her as much as possi bl e.

And on t he day she t ol d me, ?I have cancer , ? I l ooked her st r ai ght i n t he eye and sai d, ?Okay. ?

I never t ol d her how much t hose f i nal weeks ki l l ed me. I l ear ned t o keep i t i nsi de. For her sake. For my sake. Because t hat i s how t he wor l d wor ks.


VI I . My mom bought al l her cl ot hes and shoes at t he t hr i f t st or e. She wor ked ever y si ngl e day of t he week doi ng har d physi cal j obs, and she ear ned enough money t o l i ve comf or t abl y. But she never spl ur ged on her sel f . Cl ot hes and shoes wer e meani ngl ess t hi ngs t o her . I f anyt hi ng, she spent most of her money on j unk f ood? spi cy peanut s, cot t on candy, Coke, i ce cr eam, por k r i nds, chocol at e cake. But never on t hi ngs she needed. Thr oughout t he year s, I f ound my mom r ai di ng my cl oset pl ent y of t i mes. She al ways cl ai med t o l ove my st yl e i n cl ot hes, and we wer e somewhat t he same si ze, so she bor r owed what ever she want ed f r om me. I was usual l y t her e t o st op her f r om maki ng bad f ashi on choi ces, and I hel ped her choose t he best shoes t o mat ch. Tal l shoes wi t h a t hi ck heel wer e her f avor i t e t hi ng t o wear . On a ni ght when she went out , she wor e bl ack sl acks and a l oose col or f ul shi r t t hat hi d her st omach r ol l s. She t ur ned and t ur ned i n f r ont of t he mi r r or , maki ng sur e ever yt hi ng was cover ed. ?You l ook f i ne, ? I t r i ed t o t el l her , but she j ust shook her head l i ke she t hought I was l yi ng. ?Hel p me do my makeup, ? she sai d. I spent a l ong t i me pul l i ng out al l of my makeup, even t hough she onl y ever want ed t o wear r ed l i pst i ck and a bi t of f oundat i on. ?Ever yone says I have gr eat ski n, ? she sai d. ?I t ?s because I don?t wear a l ot of makeup. I don?t need t o. I l ook young. ? ?But you?r e r eal l y ol d, ? I sai d. ?Hi j a de t u madr e, ? she sai d.


VI I I . On Monday November 30, 2015, my mom was r ushed t o t he hospi t al i n an ambul ance. The pr evi ous ni ght , my mom had ar r i ved f r om t he hospi t al af t er a maj or sur ger y t o dr ai n t he l i qui d t hat had f i l l ed up her ki dneys. The cancer was vi ci ous and i t had spr ead qui ckl y and mer ci l essl y t hr ough her syst em. As soon as she got home, my mom was al l smi l es. She came home t o a spot l ess house t hat I had cl eaned. Her f ace was sof t and peacef ul as she wal ked t hr ough t he house, admi r i ng t he changes I ?d made. When she ent er ed her r oom, she gasped at t he new bed and comf or t er my si st er and I had bought her . I hel ped her put on her new f uzzy sl i pper s, and she showed me t he new scar s under neat h her shi r t . ?Does i t hur t ?? ?No. But I have medi ci ne i f i t does. ? ?Okay. Good. ? My mom smi l ed, cuppi ng my cheek wi t h her hand. She t hanked me agai n f or cl eani ng t he house and sur pr i si ng her . She?d never l ooked so happy. Most of al l , she l ooked heal t hy. Even wi t h t he cancer , I was sur e we had a good t en year s ahead of us. We went t o bed, and t he ni ght was shor t and r est f ul . That Monday, ever yt hi ng changed. Not t en mi nut es af t er I ar r i ved t o t he hospi t al , f our peopl e came i nt o t he wai t i ng r oom. One of t hem was a chapl ai n. ?Ar e you Rosa Mar i a?s f ami l y?? one of t hem sai d. ?We?r e doi ng t he best we can, but t her e?s f l ui d i n her l ungs. Ther e?s a f i f t y- f i f t y chance she?l l make i t . I f you l i ke, you coul d come and see her . But I have t o war n you t hat i t ?s goi ng t o be scar y i n t her e. I t ?s a f ul l r oom and ever yone i nsi de i s t r yi ng t o save her l i f e. Her hear t j ust st opped, and we?r e t r yi ng t o get i t beat i ng agai n. ? I t ook i t i n st r i de. ?I want t o see her . ? ?She won?t l ook l i ke t he per son you know, ? t he man sai d. He was r i ght . My mom was asl eep i n t he hospi t al bed sur r ounded by dozens of peopl e shout i ng or der s. Ther e was a l ong t ube st i cki ng out of her mout h, whi ch r eached down t o her l ungs. Bl ood was spl at t er ed al l over her body. Her gr ay hai r was messy and l i f el ess. A dr y t ear dr op r an down her t empl e. Had i t f al l en bef or e t he anest hesi a? The moment I t ouched her hand, t he col dness st ar t l ed me. She wasn?t gone. Not yet . Her hear t f ought t o cont i nue beat i ng. I t spr ung t o l i f e over and over , unt i l i t di dn?t .


I X.

Ther e ar e empt y spaces al l ar ound my l i f e. The l at e- ni ght phone cal l s t o my mom on t he wal k t o my car ar e l ong gone. The movi es and books we shar ed, al l done. The obnoxi ous car songs I bl ast ed whi l e we r an er r ands t oget her , when she j ust l ooked at me and r ol l ed her eyes, t hat ?s done, t oo. The l ong t al ks we had about t he wor l d, our exi st ence, hi st or y, and God, t hey won?t happen agai n.

I have onl y memor i es t hat f ade and f ade. I have pi ct ur es, ol d home vi deos, and l i t t l e gi f t s she gave me t hr oughout t he year s, t hi ngs she knew I ?d l ove.

I have one song on r epeat : For Bl ue Ski es by St r ays Don?t Sl eep.

Const ant . Never - endi ng. I mmor t al .


X. My mom wasn?t a bi g r eader . Her f avor i t e novel was Wut her i ng Hei ght s. To t hi s day, I have not r ead i t . But she al ways accept ed my book r ecommendat i ons. Fi r st , I made her r ead Pr i de and Pr ej udi ce. She wasn?t t hr i l l ed about i t at f i r st , but t hen one day, I r ecei ved a t ext f r om her .

?I ?m r eadi ng Pr i de and Pr ej udi ce and I can?t st op. I ?m goi ng t o be so l at e f or wor k, but i t ?s so good. Mr . Dar cy j ust t ol d El i zabet h he?s i n l ove wi t h her . I can?t bel i eve i t . Why di d you make me r ead t hi s??

I bought her t he Kei r a Kni ght l ey f i l m adapt at i on f or Chr i st mas t hat year , and she made me wat ch i t t wi ce i n a r ow. I l ost t r ack of t he t i mes she saw i t af t er t hat .

When I f i nal l y convi nced her t o r ead my f avor i t e novel , Ar i st ot l e and Dant e Di scover t he Secr et s of t he Uni ver se, she onl y had t wo comment s f or me.

?I l oved t hi s book. Dant e was my f avor i t e. ?

Maybe she and I had mor e i n common t han I t hought .







BOUQUET BY V A SUDHA PUNYA NE Two weeks ago, Amal had come home with a bouquet of flowers in his hand, a smile etched deep in his face. The lines around his eyes crinkled with joy, and she saw a light she hadn't seen for years in them. The flowers were simple: baby?s-breath with some carnations, light pink, white and orange. He had chatted excitedly about the girl who had given them to him on Valentine's Day, saying how beautiful she was and how lovely her smile was. Being the mother she was, she was overjoyed. The thought of her son finding love fed into the new dream she had conjured of a big family. The thought of grandchildren running about her house made her giddy. She made a note to herself to go to the temple and pray for their health. He had dug up the old vase from the spare room. It was a plain white porcelain piece, perfect for the delicate bouquet in his hand. He had washed it, filled it with water and arranged his flowers. He proudly took them to the window placed them there and turned to give her a wide smile. *** He had come home from the library the next day, a Saturday, after a hard session of study. His bag sagged under the incomplete work, and his heart with the lies he told his mother. He walked into his room, past the kitchen, where the spices danced together in the air.


'Amu, I looked up how to look after the flowers. It says to keep them in a cool place, I moved them into the shade,' she called out. He walked into the kitchen, dropping himself into the chair. He stared at the home shrine, the light from outside dancing on the gleaming idols. Anxiety coursed through his veins. 'Can you light the incense for the shrine, Amu?' she called. He jolted, forcing himself back into reality. He stood, dragging himself to the shrine. They'rejust idols, he told himself. They don't exist. They can't tell you whotolove. He lit the incense. The lavender scent burned as he inhaled, settling heavily in his lungs. *** She had been walking by Amal's room, when she heard him speaking. He lay on the floor, feet kicked up on the bed, phone pressed to his ear. ?No, I have to go. I love you,?he laughed into the phone. He was in the process of standing up when he saw her standing by the door with a small smile on her face. 'Mama? ' he began, his voice weak. 'No! It's okay. Don't worry. I'm happy for you.' She smiled. *** His friend Christopher was a lovely young man. Well behaved and polite, she was grateful that her boy was associating with other good kids. Christopher would always greet her with a smile, tell some anecdote to brighten her day, and then drag Amal outside to kick a ball around until they both collapsed on the couch. Sometimes, when she

wasn't looking, Christopher would trail his hand across Amal's arm, or trace lazy circles on his back. It was a secret which he had hidden for two years. 'We shouldn't do this,' Amal sighed quietly. 'It's too risky.' Christopher's hand dropped away. A week had passed since the flowers had graced the living room. The late evening sun filtered through the window and caught the petals. Amal had changed the water, trimmed the stems, and cared for them every day. *** The flowers stood on the coffee table near the window, the low light of the dipping sun illuminating the full-bodied bloom. A gentle breeze was ruffling through; the baby?s-breath swaying peacefully. Christopher and Amal stood in the hallway next to the living room, entwined in a hug. They relished in the warm feeling on an oddly cold February evening. The sound of their breathing was even and synchronized. The bell in the shrine tinkled in the wind. For the first time, both young men were at peace with who they were. It was a feeling neither had relished in since the moment they became conscious of their own aging. It had been quite an ugly shock for her when she had come home, and looked through the front window, with its curtains drawn. The two boys were wrapped in each other?s arms, lulled to sleep by the wind. *** 'Indian boys aren't gay,' she had said. 'We aren't in India,' he replied, his voice detached.

'You're still Indian,' she snapped. She took a deep breath and began again. 'You're too young to know, Amu? ' she trailed. 'How long am I too young? Until you force me to marry a girl I don't want to marry?' he snapped back. An angry smack resounded through the house. Christopher stared, eyes full of sleep and fear. He ran into Amal's room, hastily shoving on his shoes, whispering a tearful goodbye to Amal. For the first time in years, he could not meet the eyes of the woman who had become his second mother. The door slammed shut. Amal ran to the window in the living room. The flowers still swayed in the wind, undisturbed. *** She watched as her son's silhouette shook silently in front of the window. His knee rested gently on the low windowsill. The cold glass around his hand fogged up. A sharp pain coursed itself through her heart. 'Sorry for disrespecting you, mama,' he said softly, voice cracking. He turned on his heel, arms sagging. The print of her hand was embedded in his cheek, an angry red welt glistening with the tears falling. The door of his room clicked shut with a soft thud. She walked to the window and glanced out. Trees swayed in the wind, and she shut the window. The flowers stilled on the coffee table. She cast an angry glare towards them, so full of life and colour. They only served to mock her when she heard the muffled cries echoing through the house. It was a sound a mother never wanted to hear.

'Amu, does it have to be like this?' she pleaded. 'Didn't you see?I'm gay,' he said firmly. His eyes were narrowed, jaw set. He stood rigidly next to door of the kitchen, the incense burning in the shrine behind him. The lavender fought with the turmeric, cinnamon and red chillies floating through the air. It made him nauseous. 'You're only young,' she repeated. 'Did you ever wonder if your parents would come to your wedding?Did you ever wonder if your family would come?' he shot at her, words dripping with pain. 'You're 17! You won't get married for years! You're being stupid,' she cried. 'Unbelievable,' he said, voice cracking. His fists shook in anger, his olive skin flushed. 'Find a girl, Amu, please,' she begged. 'It'll make our lives easier.' 'Make my life easier, or yours?' She could only stare as he turned and walked down the hallway. She stood still for countless seconds after she heard the front door slam. *** Three days ago, her son had told her he was gay. Today, the flowers wilted, rotting relics of their former glory.



KEEP UP W I TH ASCEND ascendzine @

MEET THE ARTISTS Quin Mateo Car rero is 23 year s old and cur rent ly resid ing in Oakland , Califor nia. They are a q ueer trans per son of color from Colom b ia w ho fell in love wit h p aint ing a pict ure t hroug h a cam era lens. Their p hot os have one sole p ur p ose: t o rem ind q ueer trans people of color how resilient , rad iant , and m ag ical t hey are. Vasud ha Punyane is a 17 year old q ueer Ind ian. She w as b or n in Ind ia b ut now lives in Australia, and is cur rent ly an under g rad uate st udent in Ad vanced Science. You can find her on Instag ram @vas_p n. Dieg o J im enez is a 17 year old b isexual Mexican b o y from San Dieg o. Som e of his pict ures have b een in Pure Now here Mag azine and Sea Foam ing Mag azine. You can find him on Instag ram @jieg op hot o. And rea Lopez w or ks as a d ig ital content creat or and p rod uces a video ser ies ab out local sub cult ures. She cur rent ly lives in Metro Manila, Philip pines wit h her fam ily. Her w or k has ap peared in Heig ht s Ateneo, The Thing Online, Cyb er r iot , and ot her m ag azines and ant holog ies. Isis Molina is Mexican and p ansexual. One d ay, she w ould love t o b e a TV w r iter. Isis loves lear ning ab out relig ion and sexualit y. Ang els are ab solutely fascinat ing t o her and she loves rom ant ic com ed ies, tea, chocolate, and her d og s Shrek and Fiona. You can find her on Twitter @t ism eab ird . And rea Ng eleka is a q ueer b lack Afr ican im m ig rant exist ing in m any d iasp oras. She w as b or n in Cong o, b r iefly lived in Sout h Afr ica and t hen Or land o, Flor id a b efore b ecom ing t he fir st ever per son t o m ove t o Los Ang eles t o b ecom e an ar t ist . And rea d ab b les in var ious m ed ium s and t heir fir st shor t film is p rem ier ing at Out fest Los Ang eles t his sum m er. She also w r ites for a few online q ueer m ag azines includ ing After Ellen and Go Mag azine. And rea sem i-reg ular ly d oes stand up b ecause she?s only sem i-reg ular ly funny. She d on't have a p od cast , yet . You can find


t hem on Instag ram @m am a.afr iq ua and on Twitter @m am a_afr iq ua. J am aica Br id g ett (she/ t hey) is a Black q ueer st udent , ar t ist and w r iter b ased in Toront o. They are interested in t he relat ionship b et ween hum ans, land and ener g y. They can b e found on all social m ed ia plat for m s @yikesjam aica Ysab ella Galleg os is a 22 year old Chicanx ag ender w om xn st ud ying at Nor t her n Ar izona Univer sit y. Her w or k center s around t heir exper iences as a fat b row n w om xn as well as issues related t o inter g enerat ional traum a, m ental illness and chronic illness/p ain. She is cur rent ly star t ing up a b log for t heir w or k at g ord aenelsol.w ord p ; she also p aint and create d ig ital ar t w hich you can find on Instag ram @ysab ella.m p 3. Anita is a pink d oor alum na, sister, Gir l wit h Em ot ions(t m ) and resident hom osexual from ... shey d oesn't know. t he w ater s, p rob ab ly. She w r ites st or ies for her sister s and sib ling s and cares w ay t oo m uch ab out car t oons. Anita is a t w o-t im e Nat ional Poetr y Slam sem i-finalist and a m em b er of t he 20 18 Belt w ay Poetr y Slam Team . Holy Book has alread y b een p ub lished in t he Black Gir l Mag ic Ant holog y ear lier t his year. Sup p or t her on Patreon @p /g od dessx Talia Bennett is a 19-year -old trans, q ueer, J am aican-Nig er ian and Black-Br it ish w r iter and creat or. Throug h t heir w or k, t hey find w ays t o constant ly explore and p ush t hem selves p ast t heir per sonal and ar t ist ic b ound ar ies and achieve t heir ult im ate g oal as m uch as p ossib le: t o tr uly connect t o and challeng e t hem selves, and t heir aud ience. I PRAY TO MYSELF w as p reviously p ub lished in XX Poetr y Volum e I w hich you can find on p ayhip . Am ar i Grey is a young , q ueer creat ive w or king t ow ard s a decolonized for m of exp ression. His w or ks explores t he influence of p ower str uct ures b ot h explicit ly and im plicit ly in per sonal develop m ent . Am ar i uses he/ him and t hey/ t hem p ronouns.

THE MODELS Annakay W r ig ht / @annnenah on Instag ram and Annakay W r ig ht on Faceb ook June Kuoch / @g ucci_kuochie on Instag ram Dylia Neg us 67

MEET THE EDITORS m alak shahin, ed it or -in-chief /

Malak Shahin is a Palest inian-Am er ican w r iter and creat or cur rent ly b ased in Minneap olis. She is an aspir ing hum an r ig ht s act ivist wit h t he g oal of b uild ing Ascend int o a lar g er m ed ia collect ive for people of color t o create w or k for us, wit h us, and by us. / @pett yp alest ina on Twitter

tam ira am in, m anag ing ed it or /

Tam ira Am in is an under g rad at t he Univer sit y of Minnesota Twin Cit ies. She w as t he Ed it or -in-Chief of t he online p ub licat ion Fresh U Minnesota. In b et ween classes, Tam ira per for m s sp oken w ord and is developing a chap b ook of her w r itten p oem s t o p ub lish. / @tam tam _t weet s on Twitter / @tam tam _pics on Instag ram

d iana khong , creat ive d irect or /

Diana Khong is a Viet nam ese-Am er ican p oet and ar t ist of color. She inhab it s d ream s and t ig ht sp aces. / @unam used leo on Twitter / @deer t hr um on Tum b lr / @d ianaxkhong on Instag ram

channelle r ussell, head cult ure ed it or /

Channelle "Chei? Russell is a w r iter from J am aica. Her w r it ing explores t he deconstr uct ion of t he hum an cond it ion and t he im p act of t he sur realist w or ld view on t he m ar g inalized . She is 18. / @cosm icb lackg ir l on Twitter / @channeller ussell on Instag ram

ayam e keane-lee, sub m issions ed it or /

Ayam e Keane-Lee is a 16-year -old Asian Am er ican slam p oet and visual ar t ist . She resides in t he Bay Area. She is t he p oetr y ed it or and r uns t he Instag ram for Kerosene Mag azine. She recent ly per for m ed at Yout h Speaks Br ing ing t he Noise for MLK at t he Nour se Theater in San Francisco. / @akeanelee on Twitter

step h w ang , sub m issions ed it or /

Step h Wang is a Taiw anese-Canad ian hig h school st udent , w r iter, and act ivist . Her w or k has b een p ub lished in t he likes of Nob le / Gas Qtr ly and Vag ab ond Cit y Lit . W hen she's out d oor s (w hich is rare), she's p rob ab ly tr ying t o t hrow plast ic (play fr isb ee).

elisa luna-ad y, social m ed ia ed it or / 68

Elisa Luna-Ad y is a

18-year -old Chicana living in Sout her n Califor nia. She likes w r it ing p oetr y t hat exam ines in-b et ween sp aces and t he hum an b od y as it relates t o ident it y. / @astronom yhoe on Twitter

len m ora, social m ed ia ed it or /

Len Mora is a Colom b ian/ Puer t o-Rican g ender non confor m ing ar t ist . Len is 17 and from New J er sey. Their ar t focuses on p oetr y, p hot og rap hy, p aint ing , and m usic. They hope t o one d ay st ud y song -w r it ing or m usic p rod uct ion. Len is also a m em b er of Lat inxs 4 Chang e.

valer ie w u, cult ure ed it or /

Valer ie W u is a st udent at Presentat ion Hig h School in San Jose, Califor nia. She is an Asian-Am er ican act ivist w ho t hr ives at t he inter sect ion of et hnicit y, m ig rat ion, & hum an r ig ht s. Her w or k has p reviously b een recog nized nat ionally by t he Scholast ic Ar t & W r it ing Aw ard s, and has b een feat ured on t he Huffing t on Post , Susan Cain's Quiet Revolut ion, and We Are Three Dim ensional. / @valer ie_w u on Twitter

m ustafa ham m ad , cult ure ed it or /

Mustafa Ham m ad is a q ueer, b row n trans p oet and ar t ist of color from Flor id a. Her w or k focuses on p ost colonial ident it y, decolonial aest het ics reg ard ing deconstr uct ionism of per fect ion, t he fut ur it y of d iasp ora and how it feels t o b e b row n trans fem m e tr ying t o exist in a w hite sup rem acist w or ld . She is 19 year s old . /

b r ittany ad am es, p oetr y ed it or /

Br ittany Ad am es is a Dom inican-Am er ican w r iter resid ing in easter n Pennsylvania. Her p oetr y has b een reg ionally and nat ionally recog nized by Scholast ic W r it ing Aw ard s and has b een p ub lished in literar y jour nals such as CALAMITY Mag azine. She revels in t he w ay p oetr y soaks int o her skin and often leaves shor t st or ies half-finished .?

m in m arcus, p rose ed it or /

Min Marcus is an aspir ing Korean-Italian aut hor planning t o m a jor in Asian St ud ies wit h a m inor in Creat ive W r it ing at Colg ate Univer sit y. W hen she?s not sleeping or p rocrast inat ing , you can find her w at ching d og videos, w r it ing fir st chap ter s of novels she?ll never finish, or ad vocat ing for t he socioeconom ically d isad vantag ed . / @m in.uscule on Instag ram .

w asim a farah, layout ed it or /

Wasim a is a 17 year old Som ali st udent at Hig her Ground Academ y b ased in Minnesota. Her w or k var ies from vib rant visuals t o p oetr y. She is an aspir ing act or, g rap hic desig ner, and one d ay wishes t o com plete her ow n com ic ser ies. IG/ TW :@Sunbvib es

jianne, assistant d irect or of p hot og rap hy /

J ianne is a Hong Kong -b or n Filipino and aspir ing p hot ojour nalist . A sm all g ir l wit h b ig d ream s, she str ives t o cap t ure und iscovered st or ies t hroug h her lens t o tell t he w or ld . Also suffer s from incurab le w ander lust . Shares p hot os in Instag ram and t weet s @jiannem sor iano

ar yanna chut kan, ar t ed it or /

Ar yanna Chut kan is a 17 year -old Ind ian, J am aican, and Am er ican ar t ist . She is a st udent at ASU's Bar rett Honor s Colleg e, and is cur rent ly m a jor ing in p olit ical science. Her w or k deals wit h t hem es of ident it y, p olit ics, b eaut y, and love. She is @lig htand ar y on Instag ram / @achut kan on Twitter


Vol 2 Issue 1: Pride  

This issue looks beyond the five letters that make up pride. Through poetry, prose, and visual art, we attempt to pinpoint the slippery spac...

Vol 2 Issue 1: Pride  

This issue looks beyond the five letters that make up pride. Through poetry, prose, and visual art, we attempt to pinpoint the slippery spac...