Beyond Queer Words
Thomas Oscar M iles, Stick Together
Editorial Board I an M acM enamin finished his M F A in Creative W riting at the University of A berdeen in 2019. H is play, Toothbrush, has recently been performed at the Edinburgh F estival F ringe for sold out theaters. H is first book of poetry was published in 2020 together with illustrator Claudi K essels under the name Eilandgedichten. Emma M cN amara is a 19-year-old national award-winning writer from H opkinton, M assachusetts, USA . H er novel ?Of M y M any Years of Youth? and novelette ?A Truth or a Gift?? are both available on A mazon. Emma?s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Scholastic A rt and W riting, Beyond Words, Storm of Blue, Tech Directions, Ember, Eunoia Review, and elsewhere. Emma is a triplet and her passions include mental health awareness, disability advocacy, and LGBTQ+ issues. F ollow her on I nstagramat @author_emma. Samara Landau is a recent graduate of Skidmore College. H er work is published in Beyond Words M agazine, Cathexis N orthwest P ress and will be published in The Closed Eye Open, H erWords M agazine, and The Dewdrop. I n addition to Beyond Queer Words LGBTQ M agazine, she was an editor for Six F eet, a senior project consisting of art and poetry by Skidmore College students. W hen she?s not writing, she?s rock climbing or hiking. She is currently obsessed with poets Leila Chatti, F ranny Choi, H eid E. Erdrich, and J enny X ie. Landau?s poetry explores themes of relationships, displacement, memory, queerness, lineage, formand language. Lindsey J . M edina graduated from K ansas State University with a Bachelor's Degree in English. She's either watching basketball or buying sneakers while wishing she were watching basketball. She lives in W ichita, K ansas with her wife and fluffy shih tzus. F ind her on I nstagramas @lindseymedinapoetry or on twitter as @queenadina_.
Cover A rt Titania by Tanya W ischerath. Tanya is a painter and printmaker based out of San F rancisco, California. She has been honing her oil painting skills since 2003 and is certified to teach in the A telier style of painting. A ll of Tanya's paintings are autobiographical; she uses her community as models, their depictions vacillating between literal and allegorical and depict an intimate and surreal landscape of gender fluidity and contemporary queer expression.
V isual A rtists &rea is a traveling multi-media artist, musician, and writer based in N ew J ersey/N ew York. She has undergraduate degrees in media arts, English, and education. Currently, she is working on original songs, a fantasy novel, and a poetry collection. A drien K ade Sdao earned their M F A in Creative W riting (W riting for Young People) from A ntioch University Los A ngeles, and they are currently working on their M A in Children's Literature. They are a reader and editor for V oyage, a young adult literary journal. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Drunk M onkeys, K ?in, F terota Logia, Olit, Defunkt M agazine, and more. A lexis Quintas is an architect by profession and artist. H e studied painting and developed his technique with watercolor and oil. H is work as a visual artist ranges frompersonal works to collections of landscapes, animals, expressive faces and the human figure, especially the erotic male nude. H e currently lives in M exico City. A lice Teeple is a multidisciplinary artist living in N ew York City. Christian M cCulloch (W A RT) is a prolific short-story writer with a background in F ine A rt. H e's been an international teacher in British West I ndies, Singapore (P rincipal), J apan and H ong K ong. A fter 30 years in the F ar East, he returned to UK and now
lives and creates in London. H is stories and artwork have appeared in many modest but worthy magazines. Daniel El Dibujo was born in 1992 in A guilas (M urcia). H e got his nickname fromhis grandfather and father. They were fishermen and this meant that he spent part of his childhood surrounded by that fishing tradition, the romanticism inspired by the sea, the smell of saltpetre fromthe fishing nets and a feeling of permanent but comfortable solitude. F romthe beginning, his work has revolved mainly around the male figure, but he tries to impregnate it with delicacy and sensitivity. F ear, love, lack of love, making something beautiful out of the horrible. I n addition to illustration and painting, he also works in interior design.
Gary M ansfield, The Struggle of Roy G. Biv
Gary M ansfield's works are I ntimately tied to his have deep-rooted foundations in Time, I dentity, I njustice, creating a powerful and politically charged Giulio Secondo (J acopo Bosio) is an I talian in Berlin where he works as an illustrator. inspired by the figure of the I talian pope Chapel. The focus of his work is the expression relationships and a journey through the J ames F alciano is a Brooklyn-based exploring and celebrating Queer identity, extremely important for J ames to create speaks to who they are as a person and personal works, J ames has worked on for nightlife entertainers, albumcovers
J ason Rodriguez (A rt87jr) H is works can be described Pollock. J ason is an awardBowl Gallery in P ittsburgh. J ennifer F rederick is a writer, M aryland Baltimore F rancis appeared in Spring H ill and the A sian J ournal of
early life experiences, and Empathy and Social aesthetic. artist, born in Rome and based The name Giulio Secondo was who commissioned the Sistine of physicality and interpersonal complexity of their boundaries. illustrator. Their work is centered on sexuality and expression. I t has been work that celebrates their community and an artist. I n addition to their own commissioned portraits, promotional posters and ad campaigns.
is a multidisciplinary artist based in N ew Orleans. as clash of abstract and realismor M agritte meets winning artist with works represented by Red F ish an artist, and a law student at University of K ing Carey School of Law. H er work has College's Peace and J ustice M agazine, PA X Education and e-Learning.
J iaying (F rida) Chen's paintings and drawings are inspired by modern subtle misogyny and patriarchy. They reverse the position where women are viewed as objects and toys in heterosexual pornography. I nstead, F rida?s works depict the fetish, sexuality, emotions, and vulnerability of males, gays, or other LGBTQA + members by using a childish and funny drawing tone. J oe K laus, born Long I sland, N Y and currently living and working in P hiladelphia, PA is a contemporary artist focusing on abstracting and altering compositions to challenge viewers to look past the visual and focus on the emotion it gives. J oe?s themes often focus on memories, real and imagined, and help to further understand the physical world fromthe inside out (or sometimes the outside in). K yle K M is a Queer oil painter that has captured LGBTQI A + individuals in portrait settings for years. Taking those who for so long have been told they aren't worth the same as the dominant straight cultures and place themin an immortal, prestigious, and historical place of an oil portrait painting with pride and authenticity. M argo Leonard started her artistic journey in Ukraine but took great influence fromher background as well as her last few years of living in England and travels through Europe. M ythology and erotic art are her preferred subjects. She is to offer a space for anybody to see themselves in the subjects she paints; these bold, authentic and free women and men who are ready to express who they are to the world! M atty H eimgartner is a Queer artist and writer in California, USA , and his work is at the intersection of expressionism, illustration, and psychedelic. M atty's paintings have been displayed in many art shows around the San F rancisco Bay A rea, including three solo exhibitions. H is art has been featured in the magazines: CreativPaper, Beyond Words, Content, and A rtist Portfolio, and he recently made his debut as a published writer in Reed M agazine. M iguel M artinez is a traveler. M ost of his travels are recorded on his I G page @Catching.P lanes. Sean Quinn is a gender-fluid self-portraitist who is renovating a 300-year-old house in F rance, where he bends light in his dilapidated attic studio to the sound of Glenn Gould?s Goldberg V ariations. Sexyamorata is a Spanish visual artist in the process of reconnecting with her true love: drawing. She wants to honour female energy, and distill through art, their lust, their bravery, their tenderness and their beakthroughs. Thomas Oscar M iles looks at self portraiture as a way for himto find empowerment within himself: transforming personal vulnerabilities into a visual spectrumof growth. W here once he would hide from what dwelled inside of him, photography acts as that release that frees those delicate vulnerabilities, transforming theminto dark, detailed and timeless images. Trygve Skogrand is a gay Christian artist, working mainly in mixed media and photography. The main subject of his art is the dialogue between nature, the spirit and the body. I n this piece, which is part of a series of self-portraits, he explores the subject of shame as a conflict between the natural and the cultural.
Giulio Secondo, Boy
UNTITLED Jordan Gray come dance with me, dear in the land of blurred lines for my ballroom is infinite Jordan Gray is the pen name for Ness Star, a transmasculine non-binary writer, artist, activist and founder of Give Love A Chance, an organization about bringing awareness to the trans and gender non-conforming community.
SETTING OUT C.P. Nield I’m searching for a gift for the man who has everything – but not, it seems, a milk jug. Perhaps I should snub kitchenware and flee to the florist, pick out a pink rose or two – something camp, ephemeral, ironic. There is nothing ironic about a milk jug. A milk jug has implications. Soon there’ll be a sugar bowl. A pastry brush. A voyage in a gravy boat. C.P. Nield's poetry has appeared in New Poetries IV (Carcanet) as well as journals such as The North, Ambit, The London Magazine, The Rialto, Brittle Star, Lighthouse Journal, Obsessed by Pipework, Stand, Agenda, Acumen and Magma.
J ason Rodriguez, Trinity
WRONG ADDRESS Lael Cassidy They can’t do much about their looks, poor things. The new waitresses aren't the prettiest. At least they’re trying. The best we can do is try. Old queens like me are sad things, but maybe these young ones are worse. Take Steven—now Angelina. I see her lithe young body, her unlined face and dimpled smile, and I think, poor dear. Your story won’t be different than the same one we’re all living. You get old. You love, you lose. You get beat up. Sometimes you die. Yes, I’m getting to it. Sometimes you die like Federico did, because someone hates what you are. It’s still fresh. As I take off these layers of makeup and stain the washcloth, I can see the parking lot where it happened. Just a regular night, he had come backstage, all boozy and full of compliments. He just went out for a smoke on his own, to get some air and look at the stars. Well, you can’t just go charging out of a club like this one. You don’t know who's lurking. We all wear costumes, don’t we? It’s just that some of us have to wear them to walk around out there, to seem normal. And that’s what we all do when we leave this club, this overgrown closet. We put on the outfits that don’t call attention to anything. Sheila is different, a full-time woman. That gorgeous blond hair of hers, can you believe it, is attached to her skull. She stands by my dressing table, a gorgeous in her tight sequined dress, and her incongruous deep voice comes out, “Who set the night on fire? You, always you.” I smile, an attempt at humility. But I was, if I permit myself to say, rather good tonight. Penelope comes in and leans hard into my shoulder. Studies herself in the mirror and then glances quickly at my reflection. She says in her put-on baby voice, “Hello, Mommy.” She wants me to be her mommy, sure she does. But I’m not anyone’s mommy. I want to shake her bare shoulders. She says, “How is your little boy? Have you heard from his mama?” I purse my lips. I don’t want to talk about Zane or Gina or how it was when I saw Gina last night, and she threatened to leave both of us here. I only came to this shithole because of her. Leave it to Penelope to bring that up when all she really wants to do is cry in my arms. I give her a hard look and see that her eyes are glassy, see the new bruises on her arms. “Has he been hurting you, Cupcake?” I ask her. Tears spit out of those long lashes, and her nose instantly drips disgustingly, and I hand her a tissue, but she can only pat the air around her face for fear of messing it up. She’s going to see him after this, of course. Randall is the worst kind of man. “But he loves me,” she says.
I let the words hang there. What we do for love. What I did for love! That’s a song, darling. You may not know it. From Marvin Hamlisch, that nerdy genius, no less. Yes, just as the world spins, I, too, do what I must. I take off the wig and the color off my face. I must look as drab as possible to go out there in the world. The glamour goes back in the box where it hides. Seeing the wig resting there, discarded, always stirs up sadness in me. My own hair, on top of my head cut very short, easily suggests the role of “Generic Man.” I leave by the back door trying to give the impression of someone who didn’t mean to come here at all. Wrong address. I lose my breath every time I walk by the place where Federico died and have to work to find it again. Once I’m at my car, there it is, I can breathe again. Zane is asleep like a drunkard on the couch when I get home, sippy cup still in hand. He was trying to wait up for me. Holy hell, if he isn’t wearing a tutu. “Who put him in this thing?” I say to the regrettably pimply-faced sitter, trying to sound manly, to match my outfit. That was a pretty convincing voice. Then I see her eyeing me skeptically, and I think, maybe not. Lael Cassidy has published 16 nonfiction children's books. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Headline Poetry and Press, Silver Birch, Underwood Press, and Beyond Words.
CRUSH Michael McCarthy He tells me he’s finally going to do it, and I wince at the liquor on his breath. On Christmas Day, he’ll tell him he loves him. It doesn’t matter that he is his—and my—best friend, and in a relationship with a woman. He says he loves him, and who am I to say he doesn’t? I’ve been telling him for months that this would pass, that he could find plenty of other guys, and that it just isn’t worth it, but he’s stopped believing me. I can’t blame him. My admonitions sound like self-help book platitudes, and when he doubts me, I grow angry and bark my advice at him as if it’s my duty to scold him. I like to think it is, at least regarding impossible romances. I went through it myself. It was my sophomore year at an all-male, Catholic high school. I already know your two assumptions. The first is that it was a place so masculine it was obscene, an arena where athletes, nerds, over-achievers, under-achievers, budding alcoholics, enterprising weed dealers, and a few devout believers all teeming with testosterone jousted for social prestige through sexual conquest, binge-drinking one-ups-man-ship, bullying, and physical violence. And this it was. The second is that behind the facade of machismo was a cloistered coterie of queers known only to each other through word of mouth and subtle cues invisible to heterosexual eyes. These virtuous Catholics, who could hardly admit they were gay, would provide enough of a respite to survive within enemy territory. This, however, was not the case. As far as I knew, I was the only gay person in my school, faculty included. No secret friend groups, no queer-coded clubs, just the testosterone of straight jocks. I felt as if I represented a community my classmates knew of only through hearsay, never direct contact, as if I had to act as a gay emissary to the straight world. Whenever I told somebody my sexuality, they stared at me as if I was an exotic animal at the zoo. This is how they walk. Notice the limp wrists. Listen and you’ll hear the sibilant s. Even my accepting friends had moments of insensitivity, which either passed unmentioned or were disregarded as soon as I protested because, “well, you know what I meant.” The desires that emerged from the hormonal cocktail pumping through my body had no outlet, so it figures that they'd funnel themselves into a painful, year-long crush on a charming, funny, inshape lax-bro. He was straight, of course. My poor attempts at flirting were met with either the most awkward of silences or the homosocial play-flirting that straight guys do for laughs. It was just enough to bait me on and on and on, convincing myself it might be possible if I just told him, honestly, sincerely, and compassionately how I felt. I never did. I couldn’t risk losing such a treasured friendship by admitting to my longing. The crush mysteriously disappeared when summer came, never to return. Still, it solidified my erroneous connection between queerness and guilt, humiliation, and shame. I fear the same for my crush-burdened friend. He was closeted until senior year when he came out to me, followed by his close friends, then not-so-close friends, until his sexuality became an open secret. Like me, he has never been in a relationship. Unlike me, he is devoutly Catholic. After a long struggle to reconcile his sexuality and his faith, he found a compromise in permitting himself sex, but only within a committed relationship. He wants his “first time” to be with someone special. I just wish this somebody wasn’t our best friend. What if he does what I feared doing and ruins his most precious friendship? 5
I don’t want to criticize his convictions, but I can’t help but think that if he were to do as I did— experiment with and explore his sexuality—his romantic frustration would dissolve. After my sophomore year crush faded and I endured another loveless, sexless year, I embarked on a slew of hook-ups which I retrospectively realize constituted my “ho’ phase”. I downloaded Grindr. I saw the inside of many a stranger’s home. I gained a deep knowledge of my car’s backseat layout. All of this acclimated me to a queer identity manifested through hyper-sexuality, so when I encountered for the first time the possibility of queer romance, I floundered. I remember exactly how it happened. His name was Damien, and our relationship lasted two weeks, if the word relationship even applies. A mutual friend introduced us at a party once he learned we’d been eyeing each other for about an hour. His painted nails and dyed hair spoke to a much more ostentatiously queer identity than I assumed in my jeans and flannel. When we exchanged phone numbers, I thought (dreamt?) This is it, this is what I’ve been waiting for, no more hook-ups! We went on two dates, and then we hooked up. Wasn’t even good sex. What can I say? I fell victim to old, destructive habits. Maybe sex was our mutual, mutually unacknowledged end-goal all along. Every interaction we had was just a battlefield for my two dueling desires: one for sexual experience and the other for a committed relationship. The day we hooked up showed me what mutually assured destruction looks like; in trying to satisfy both, I got neither. I remember distinctly the pervading sense of doom, the sense that we were wrapping our limbs around each other for reasons that escaped us, but that we couldn’t escape. Damien told me days later, via text, that he had just ended a relationship, and slowly, I surmised that I was his rebound. We never saw each other again after that day. As embarrassing and painful my fling with Damien was, I came to be grateful for it. Upon reflection, I saw how it revealed to me the possibility of a relationship. Even though I didn’t get what I thought I needed, the experience showed me that it was, though distant, within reach. This is the message I’ve tried to relay to my friend: he doesn’t need to torture himself with this crush, he can with enough grit move on… I still think about Damien. I imagine what it would have been like to live his life. What does it feel like to move on? How would it have felt to paint my nails or dye my hair wild colors? What would it have been like to have avoided this toxic link between sexual depravity and my innermost identity? I’m being too general (and more than a little cruel), but the sight of my pained, lovelorn friend seems only to affirm my hypothesis that a homosexual coming-of-age devoid of undue heartache is mere fantasy. All we’ve known is pining for someone - something - we can’t have. I don’t know if that longing ever passes; I hope it does, for his sake and mine. It hurts to see my pain reflected in his eyes. Michael McCarthy is an undergraduate student at Haverford College, dodging the pandemic by taking a gap year. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver, Milkweed, The Adroit Journal, and Prairie Schooner. He lives and writes in New England.
J oe K laus, Portrait on Tan with H arness
A HAUNTING Susannah Heffernan The black sky pulls me out, and I’m flying above the train. There’s only wind and my wife’s image. I need to get to her. She’s at home. She’s cooking. The steam’s rising in our kitchen as I float in. I’m looking at her face, about an inch away. I’m the steam. I’m the vapour. I let myself rest upon her skin. She feels it. She definitely feels something. She blinks, then goes back to her absent stare, waiting for the pots to cook. Her hazel eyes are level with mine, but she doesn’t see me. Her thoughts are elsewhere. She wanders into the hallway, reaches into her coat pocket, grabs her phone. I read the text message along with her: she’s moments away. She smiles. A small contented smirk of a smile. Like her old smile but not so tender, I tell myself. Her old smile was like a light going on inside me. She carries plates into the next room, and I sit on our sofa. The sofa where I used to lie with her, massaging her toes. I want to touch her. The table’s laid, the lamp’s on, and the dinner’s waiting for her new woman. Now she’s here, closing the front door and taking off her shoes. I rush at her, hard, passing through her oblivious chest and out the other side, and I fly upstairs. I can’t watch them kissing. I hover above the carpet; it’s deep and soft. I remember how it felt to walk barefoot on it, and I glide along the landing, through the closed door of the dark bedroom. Their bedroom now. She’s bought a new bed. Smaller. Our bed was king-sized. The room’s been painted: white and neat. Where are the jeans we left on the floor, the untidy piles of books, the wineglass rings I’d never clean off the bedside table? I spy inside her chest of drawers. Under the bank statements I find some of our old cards she’s kept despite everything. Christmas, Valentines, birthdays. This is all of us that remains. I stay in here for hours. I slip inside her wardrobe, I nestle in-between her shirts, her coats, her comforting jumpers. Wrapped up in the scent of her perfume and her skin. The scent of her. I want to stop time forever. She comes to bed, lies down. They cuddle briefly, say goodnight. I wait, then spoon her sleeping body with my own. Holding on to her ‘til morning. And when the new day comes, it’s too bright. I jump out of the window and wait for her in the street. She emerges in her new clothes, and starts to walk. I follow. I’m saying her name, taking hold of her shoulders, begging her to see me. She steps right through me, again and again. She walks on. ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,’ I cry. ‘Please don’t leave me’. But she’s gone, already out of view. Susannah Heffernan is an emerging LGBTQIA+ writer of literary speculative fiction. Her short stories pose questions of identity, alienation and alternative realities. Susannah lives in Deptford and is working on her first novel - an underworld quest narrative, influenced by Dante and TS Eliot.
BALANCE & OBSERVATION Evan Palmer Last night I invited the crickets inside & they were silent they cleaned their legs at the door & were silent around my bed we all laughed
they climbed through the stairs & sat
the moon oozed & bounced through the room
foolish moon, you could smell the stars
but instead you are here in this room I watched a beetle climb the lily in my yard thinking
the whole time I knew what he was
if I were a bird I would know of great heights
I could swallow myself & know of great heights there are two snails on the porch eating a leaf & I wanted you to know that I have romanticized this exchange
that I caught them blushing
I could kiss a man today & die for it I could follow a tree to the sky & spit my teeth at the sun gore & rot
the sky knows stars, needs
the mouth, already open, needs
Evan currently attends Kalamazoo College in Michigan. His work has been published in Sink Hollow, Mangrove Journal, Third Point Press & Qua Magazine. He enjoys trees, light & their adjoining functions.
FISSION, FUSION, AND MATTER Clark A. Pomerleau Reincarnation without The barrier of time A story for the ages. Fission for a future Where everything include A spark and heat. Within me, internal suns Robust soil, crashing oceans Fuse with the same everywhere. Inherent worth Needs outward expression Matter matters in our Sensory world. Through cracks I have burst Hardened, weathered Nurtured a lush Green Man I like my men clean-shaven And my mountains old growth.
Clark A. Pomerleau (he/him) is a writer and teacher from Washington State. Finishing Line Press published his first chapbook, Better Living through Cats (2021). Other poetry appears or is forthcoming in Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature, Peculiar: a Queer Literary Journal, Lupercalia, Poached Hare, Coffin Bell Journal, and the poetry anthology, Welcome to the Resistance (2021).
BONDING Rachel Ramkaran Imperceptibly bonded molecules connect us as we float by brilliant moonlight in a quiet pool Like this, we are closer than ever but still, I wish for desire to flow from your fingertips the way it swirls around us at our midnight swim Will you touch me as intimately as this water? Suspend me in your longing Cleanse me with your embrace Bring me to a new state of being here on Earth Through poetry and flow arts, Rachel Ramkaran celebrates her identity as a bisexual, biracial, genderqueer feminist. Her work has recently been featured in Beyond Queer Words, a collection of poems and she is also an editor at Blood & Bourbon Press, a literary journal published in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Follow Rachel’s work on Instagram: @watershieldpoetic.
Thomas Oscar M iles, Lost and F ound
LOST AND FOUND Elder Gideon he remembered Claudio in pilot light blue waters facing the sky outstretched floating upon his hands dancing freely to samba blaring out their apartment laughing fluently in the sun-drenched ease of love his body knew not what to do in the last boarding call they couldn’t kiss goodbye not there not then only particles collided throughout their embrace where all words fail too whelmed to speak of love at gates where all separates the touch and scent of one we’ve known woven into us appears an icon through whom we gaze beyond ourselves so briefly and then no more Elder Gideon is the author of Aegis of Waves (Atmosphere, 2021) and co-author with Tau Malachi of Gnosis of Guadalupe (EPS Press, 2017). He’s an alumnus of the 2021 Community of Writers, directed by Brenda Hillman and showing sculpture this fall with Verge Gallery’s Open Studio Tour in Sacramento. A veteran English teacher-activist and leader of a gnostic tradition, Gideon lives from metaphysical urgency. He is queer.
LOST AND FOUND Andi Brown 1. The first fancy word I found after my brain injury was “avuncular.” Predictably, I don’t remember where I read it. Avuncular. I rolled it around like a marble in my mouth, felt it rise through my skull and settle in my brain translucent and glowing. Avuncular. Avuncular. It means nothing at all, or next to nothing. Uncle-like. Avuncular. Gorgeous. 2. Gottmik is the first trans masculine drag performer to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Gottlieb, the man who plays Mik, was adopted by conservative Christian parents in Scottsdale, Arizona and sent to Catholic schools. Mik walked the runway in an intricate red latex dress that wrapped around her neck and the sides of her face, crescendoing in a pony tale of orbs. Anal beads. She slayed as anal beads. Mik also walked the runway in an asymmetrical dress cut down to her ribs, left nipple covered in a black crystal pasty, top surgery scars clearly visible. I marveled at her bravery. My wife and I hugged one another. I looked at my still full chest and thought of how lovely it must be to lose something. 3. The purple beauty berry grows on Turkey Mountain where I walk my dog most mornings. It’s a large deciduous shrub with tiny blue-violet berries, impossibly bright. The genus is Callicarpa Americana, which is a word I never knew, not one I lost. It means, “beautiful fruit.” I can’t find a Liquitex paint color that matches the hue of purple beauty berries, so I use a blend of brilliant blue and brilliant purple. Because when I lost my words, I found painting. So now I know the names red oxide, Prussian blue, and hooker’s green. 4. Some things are lost and found—a rush of euphoria and relief. Some things are found when you lose something else—scars, painting, purple beauty berries. Andi Brown started a literary magazine in High School with fifty dollars from the principal and a promise to not publish anything with curse words. He went on to Covenant College where they earned a BA in English. His most recent publications include a story for the Tulsa Review.
TOP SURGERY POEM #1 Finnegan Angelos I am reinventing my body, in all the ways I’ve always dreamt but bigger, reaching for foreign newness all over. I want to be new so you can touch me again, as to make me un-new. This beautiful birth, this clean slate! Take my born-again-form in those little hands and let it be yours untouched by the tender bodies I had once laid by. All names forgotten, buried, taken with the tide from my mind, heart, leaving no evidence behind. Never belonging to them anyhow, but soon I will be new and then, soon to be yours all over again. Yours, before and beyond any other hand. Yours and god’s and mine. We can share it (this body of mine) together if you’ll have me. Finnegan Angelos is a self-proclaimed “east-coast-love-struck-queer-awakening poet" and essayist originally from northern Baltimore County, Maryland. His work has been published in Thistle Magazine, Germinate, FRANCES Magazine, and Noble Squared Journal. He loves hibiscus tea, his dog, and the banjo.
K yle K M , H e/H im
PINK SHADOW Grace Gibson There was something in the rouge of her mother’s lipstick that caught Charlotte Townsend’s eye from a young age. The blood red of it drew her gaze like a moth to a lamp. The same red adorned her mother’s heels, a sensible 3-inches that she’d wear to church or maybe to the grocer if she was feeling particularly opulent. In emulation of the woman she so loved, Charlotte fumbled with the red heels, trying to slide them over her miniature feet. “He wants to be like his Mommy,” her mother said. Her dad would laugh it off the first time, but when Charlotte found herself in those red shoes again, impatience grew into wrath. “No son of mine will parade himself around like a queer,” he said as he bent Charlotte over his leg and turned her backside a deep shade of red. The opulence of her mother’s armoire was not meant for Charlotte’s wandering curiosity. Such things were for girls, and although Charlotte knew she fit the criteria, her parents insisted she was invisible, trapped inside the shell of a boy called Charlie who was meant to play on the boys’ soccer team and splash around in the mud and do all the things that boys did. Charlotte remained imprisoned in the expectation of who she was supposed to be, but when her sister was born when she was 2 years old, the shell cracked a bit. Jessamine Townsend, 7 pounds, 8 ounces. When they pulled her out of her mother, they proclaimed her identity to the world as if it were immutable. “It’s a girl!” the doctors announced as Charlotte’s mother and father beamed with joy. Charlotte looked at the bundle of life in her mother’s arms and felt the warmth wash across her face as tears filled her eyes. I hate you. From adolescence into their teenage years, Charlotte and Jessamine assumed the roles assigned to them at birth. While Jessamine landed a spot on the junior varsity cheerleading squad her sophomore year of high school, Charlotte’s masquerade jumped from the soccer team to the high school football team. “Soccer isn’t a man enough sport, son,” her father said as he ruffled her light brown hair, “you need something more physical.” To further lock Charlotte away, her counterpart trained harder to build his muscle. Charlie was determined to be the strongest boy on the team. Who could question his masculinity then? When their faces were bruised and their uniforms muddied, they would know that Charlie Townsend was their alpha and that there was no other man like him. As Charlie grew stronger, Charlotte faded into a whisper in his ear. The shackles gripped tighter to her arms as Charlie stormed the football field each game and asserted his dominance. When hairs prickled up from her chin, things got worse for Charlotte. Her body was betraying her, releasing a flood of testosterone into the vessel of a woman locked deep inside a husk. Charlie reveled in the power that the hormones brought as Charlotte shuddered. He grew taller as Charlotte shrank; his muscles grew stronger as hers weakened. The tether between the two identities grew more and more taut before it risked snapping altogether. Without Charlotte, behind Charlie’s eyes
would be a vast expanse of nothingness. When senior year arrived, Charlotte had all but washed away in a flood of sex hormones. The air was warm and fresh when Jessamine left for a friend’s house, leaving her door wide open for any curious purveyor of all things teen girl. When the smell of Jessamine’s intoxicating Yves Saint Laurent Opium perfume spilled from the fabrics in her room under Charlie’s door and into his nostrils, the chains slacked and resuscitated Charlotte, leaving Charlie powerless to help the nature of his soul. Charlotte hopped into the driver’s seat and piloted her host into Jessamine’s room, a pink and white paradise that hadn’t changed since her crib sat in the center. Where it had once been laid, a luxuriant white rug captured the aromas of all the perfumes and lotions that decorated Jessamine’s vanity. Charlotte fell to her knees and buried her face in the soft white tendrils of shag, inhaling each particle of lilac and rose and feeling the chains that bound her grow less and less fortified. Charlie panicked for a moment before surrendering to the nature of the woman who dwelled within. Charlotte shut the door of the bedroom and rummaged through Jessamine’s dressers, feeling the fabric of dresses she’d never get to wear that summer on vacation. She turned to the closet. As the white doors slid to the side, Jessamine’s cheerleading outfit hung parallel to Charlotte’s face as if it had eyes of its own, looking through the shell of the person before it, straight to her heart. She removed her white t-shirt and blue jeans and placed them on the puffy white duvet. Carefully removing each shoulder of the uniform away from its hangar, Charlotte examined her sister’s uniform like an extraterrestrial object, so foreign to her yet somehow familiar. Her fingers glided over the dark blue sleeves up to the orange collar. She traced downward across the white chest where the letters GHS were embroidered in orange against the snowy backdrop. Greenfield High School. Charlotte tugged on the fabric of the uniform, making sure it stretched enough to fit over her bulky frame. Upon discovering that the material had an acceptable degree of elasticity, Charlotte slipped the cotton uniform over her head and held her arms upward to find the sleeves. Pulling downward, Charlotte watched as the colors of the uniform floated past her eyes. When she reached the orange collar, she pulled her head out from the warm den and breathed her first real breath of air. She pulled the skin-tight outfit down from where it bunched around her chest. The snugness of the uniform felt warm, like a welcoming hug from an estranged relative. Charlotte placed herself in front of the full-body mirror that rested against Jessamine’s wall. She saw herself. Not the shell of a person she’d pretended to be for the last decade of her life, but the true visage of someone she’d kept locked away since the moment her parents condemned her to a life of performance. Charlie Townsend smothered to death in the cheap cotton of the Greenfield High School Junior Varsity Cheerleading uniform and Charlotte took her rightful place in front of the mirror, beholding herself for the first time. It’s a girl. The door opened. Before Charlotte had a chance to react, her father stood frozen in the doorway, looking at the corpse of his son Charlie and his killer. The piercing silence rang in her ears as she 15
searched for the words to diffuse her father’s wrath. She watched as his bushy salt-and-pepper mustache twitched. Spring came and went while they locked eyes. She felt like her father was seeing her naked. The silence broke. “What the hell is wrong with you, you freak?!” Her father lunged across the room and gripped her tight around the collar of the uniform. “Are you trying to embarrass me? Embarrass this family?” Charlotte struggled to free herself from the grip of his thick, calloused hands. They struggled as the fabric of the uniform ripped from her neck and sent her father flying backward. Charlotte seized the window of opportunity and bolted toward the door. As she leapt across her fallen father, he grabbed her around her ankles and forced her down to the ground with him. Charlotte shielded her face with her forearms as her father gained the high ground and raised his fist in the air. Her arms absorbed the first sets of punches, but when his fist came around the side and collided with the side of her head, she lost all defenses. As his hands smacked against her head, Charlotte summoned the strength of her shadow-self and retaliated the weighty blows. Her father fell back to the ground after Charlotte struck his nose. Blood spilled out onto the shredded uniform, staining the once snowy white cloth to a splotchy red and white mess like something out of a horror film. Her father fell onto his back, leaving him open to attack. Charlotte could’ve ended it there, but rage possessed her to keep going. As her father held his nose tight, Charlotte used all her strength to land several hard punches against her father’s head. At first, he attempted to shield himself with his arms just as she had before, but the jabs were too quick to defend against. Charlotte didn’t know how many times she hit her father, but by the time her arms gave out, her father was left unconscious. Charlotte stood over her father and let the wails escape as she looked at the man who was supposed to protect her, the man who was supposed to love her no matter what. Charlotte’s mother ran into the room and stalled as she turned the corner. “What is going on in here?” She ran to her husband’s side before noticing Charlotte’s ripped cheerleading outfit. “Oh, Charlie, how could you spit in the face of God like this?” The image of her mother knelt over her weak and bloodied father burned into her mind like a branding of her eternal damnation. Her mother always insisted that God never made mistakes. “Mommy,” a young Charlotte said, “why did God make me a boy?” “Because, honey, you were meant to be a boy. God doesn’t make mistakes, people do.” Her mother smiled as she put the uncomfortable conversation to rest. She knelt to tiny Charlotte’s level and kissed her on the forehead. Charlotte looked on as her mother knelt again, this time over her father. She was no longer their child. She was a stranger to them, some foreign entity that ruined their perfect life. Their son who had made them so proud when he scored the winning touchdown in the homecoming game last year, the boy that entered this world from a brutal 8-hour labor, was now nothing more than a vagrant who’d wandered in from the streets. Charlotte turned away from the bloody scene and ran out of the house in her tattered cheerleading uniform. 16
The sun sat low in the horizon as Charlotte raced down Mulberry Avenue. The thawing of a harsh winter birthed new, vibrant flowers. The April breeze passed through her short blonde hair and she shivered as if it were the first time she noticed its chilling touch. She stopped where the road met an empty field of tallgrass and let the emotion drown her. After a few minutes, she heard the crunching of gravel and the soft hum of an engine behind her. “Mom just called me, hysterical,” Jessamine said through the rolled down passenger window. Charlotte wiped her eyes before turning to face her sister. “They don’t want me there anymore. I can’t be their son, Jess, I can’t,” Charlotte said, allowing the tears to fall from her cheeks. Jessamine turned the key and the engine sputtered to a halt, letting off intermittent clicks as it cooled. She crouched next to this unfamiliar person, someone who she’d seen through cracks in a hard cement wall built of muscle and Old Spice. She placed her hand on Charlotte’s shoulder, rubbing her thumb on the tattered fabric around the collar. “You know, I’ve always wanted a sister,” she said. Charlotte met her sister’s gaze and felt the weight of her eyes. Jessamine saw what her parents refused to. She did more than see it, she made it real, like God proclaiming light. Charlotte gripped tight to her sister’s hand and buried her head into her shoulder. The warmth of her sister replaced the touch of the sun as it disappeared below the horizon, promising to bloom the flowers when its warmth arrived again. Grace Gibson is a 21 year old transgender writer from Dayton, Ohio. Using the unique lens that trans life provides, Grace writes fiction and occasionally creative non-fiction.
METEOR Hailey Neal it was there burned in long cat-scratches over the bat-squeak sky the soft glow of her iPhone screen, probably her worried fiancé “where are you?!” or maybe it was fireflies or heat lightning headlights on the highway where was all that light coming from? too dark, even, to see the sweat dripping from each other’s faces too many urgent gods signaling too fast to practice devotion and how could she say “I am here.”? and where was “here” exactly? i couldn’t have told her except i know, (and maybe you won’t believe me) that when the last touch of the sun hit the mountainside all the trout in the green bog rippled at exactly the same moment like fifty pebbles dropping out of the sky and when they sliced under the surface (our cold skin bruising) thunder struck so loud from the shadow of the wild we grasped for each other but it didn’t sound like thunder it sounded like summer pond frogs mating the throated cackle of birds the first moan of the wild orgy of the night i couldn’t tell you where it happened, but it happened and it was a kind of somewhere Hailey Neal is a writer and teacher of writers who splits her time between Beijing and Vermont. She holds her bachelor’s in professional writing and her master’s in education. Her work has appeared in From Whispers to Roars, The Closed Eye Open, Ember Chasm Review, The Finger Literary Journal, Tempered Runes Press, 805 Lit, and The Dillydoun Review.
M atty H eimgartner, Seek and K iss
WOMAN* Neah Lekan I’ll always be the man within the confines of her mind… the object of affection, the subject of the asterisks that follow with my name. Appended to each mention, every moment, every action is the spectre of my nuclei, the cells I’ve never seen. Most visible’s the cell that most confines. “Be warned! The prisoners are all our greatest threat. Why else enter the strictures of the bars that block their sight if not to stage an eager insurrection?” Yet I’m too weak to stand, let alone to stage. I’m the prey they call a predator, the sheep inside of whom they see a wolf. Mind you the enclosure, for you never know where costuming calamities can lead. Yet I’ve been in a costume for each waking day of life and know no different. And as one sister ventures on the Underground at night, or nearer merges to the sunset freeway, we navigate together all the distance from a woman* to a woman and return. The circle is a lifetime. Enquire after me in deepest night, whilst I convince myself to meet the sunrise. Turning gaze to heaven, the transports are forthcoming as I notice… my sisters are the lights amid the firmament! What alchemy is such, that asterisks may transform into stars? Neah Lekan is a student poet and Jefferson Scholar at the University of Virginia studying Early Modern English literature. Her poetry has been showcased at spoken word performances in California and Virginia, and centres on themes of trans identity, spiritual searching, and nature. 19
EGGS Megan Taylor-DiCenzo I started eating eggs when I fell in love with a woman for the first time. I was 31 years old. It turns out, there are as many ways to prepare an egg as there are to love a woman. With the first woman, I was walking on eggshells all the time. That was years ago. I’ve built a safer nest with my wife; she likes to hard boil her eggs and slice them up before work. There are yellow circles inside white circles: a goldenrod sun inside a bright, white moon, the gelatinous albumen wrapping around the vitellus, protecting it the way night protects day, the way she protects me. We eat them in the morning, swallowing slivers of suns and moons in varying proportions. We eat a poem every morning, watching eclipses take place on our plates and tasting phases of moon on our tongues: waning crescent, waxing gibbous, full, new. I like the pieces near the end of each egg, the tiniest discs of pure white. I like the slices that have the faintest whisper of a circle on one side and a cake the color of summer corn on the other. One side, a hint; the other a bold desire. I’ve come out of my shell these last few years. I tell my wife all the things I’m thinking while we eat: Honey, did you know that an egg shows all phases? An egg has been eaten, continuously, for forty million years. An egg is floating on the surface of clear blue water after three weeks. An egg has the consistency of a dozen relationships. An egg is hard and soft and centered. An egg is healthy; an egg is dropped on the floor. Isn’t that poetic? She chews and swallows. She winks. An egg is synonymous with possibility; it is a cosmos of potential energy. An egg is discarded every month. An egg is universally produced by a female. An egg can be all things to all people, and it cannot be. An egg is sitting on a wall. An egg is Schrödinger’s Cat. An egg is awaiting its fate. An egg is fragile and architecturally sound. An egg is curving and arching like a woman. An egg is writing an homage to Gertrude Stein and not the other way around. She says, “Did you remember to pick up your birth control? Otherwise, your cramps will be bad.” Did you know a bird’s diet affects the flavor of the egg she produces? I’d like to try a tea egg which is flavored with spices and tea. Eggs Benedict are my favorite—with hollandaise sauce.
“I know,” she says. She finishes her eggs and licks her lips. She stands to slide her small plate into the dishwasher, still listening. Did you know that birds who consume marigold petals produce a yellower yolk? Remember when I gave you a bouquet of yellow lilies and white daisies. You told me that lilies mean “I dare you to love me”. The faintest ring around your eyes glinted gold. She returns to the breakfast table and sits down. I feel like I can see that golden ring again. There’s a bit of yolk stuck between her front teeth. I reach to push it away. “I remember, sweetheart,” she smiles. Did you know that some recipes call for eggs which have not fully formed? They’re stolen from slaughtered hens or cooked while still inside them. That’s a cruel delicacy. In the Philippines, there are dishes made of eggs fertilized with an embryo. People are sitting there now, as we speak, picking feathers from their teeth! Want to go to the Philippines? She laughs and moves to kiss me goodbye before she leaves for the office. “Yes, let’s go someday, just you and me.” I am left, happy, sitting in the kitchen. I have not touched my eggs. I study them. I study their phases like the moon. I study their center like the earth. Did you know—I say softly to no one in the room—An egg breaks at fifty pounds of pressure vertically and ninety pounds of pressure horizontally. An egg is simultaneity and profundity, realized. An egg is dappled in color or texture. An egg smells of sulphur, but poached it tastes like cheese sauce. It is white and brown and beige and all kinds of flesh tones with freckles. An egg is not a fully retractable decision. She’s a good egg, I whisper to the yolks. I chew then clear my plate. I stand in the bathroom mirror and find that I have the same bit of yolk stuck between my teeth. Megan Taylor-DiCenzo earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She is currently an Academic Coordinator for college students with learning disabilities in Upstate NY. When she's not writing, Megan and her wife enjoy going on adventures in their convertible, and she always brings a gastrolith from the Jurassic Period in her pocketbook.
Thomas Oscar M iles, I nside I 'mSoft
PROSE POEM Ian MacMenamin I am little. I see bacteria floating through the light from my torch at camp. We are in a forest heavy with midnight dew. The bacteria are busy. They commute between invisible pockets of air. They live in my cone of light. I wonder if they're real so I ask the teacher, there in the dark, are these things bacteria? He doesn't know what I'm talking about. Are what bacteria? he asks. These little things in the light. I realize he doesn't see them, and it feels like I have a gift. I can see tiny particles floating around, I can see the elements of things. In this case I see the active air of the forest. I need glasses, really, though I don't think of that. I just think I've been given a little gift. I can look at the things that make up concrete life. The darkness around my cone of light scares me a little less now. Though it still scares me, because of that night, to this day. I can feel the bacteria on his skin. I can see the whiteness of his thighs, swaying through the cone of light like an angel. I have grown up to almost sixteen years old. Every memory shivers in my legs my chest my forehead and sweat is a memory too fast to see clearly. I still see bacteria. I don't call them bacteria anymore, I call them memories. Everything is made of these moving memories. They communicate, I have figured them out tonight. I am the youngest at the party by far and there's wine they say is good wine. There is bad music on and I make a comment about the music. We're sitting by the fire and everyone shows an interest. Everyone asks me why I think the music is bad. I say it just doesn't have any heart. They laugh as if I'm too young to know what has heart. I can see the memories in the fire. They're moving. The bacterial mud in my vision is performing an angry tribal dance. They are upset with what I am saying. I realize that the man the party is for is looking at me. His eyes are soft. His name is jasper. This is his house. His pants are thin. His nose is long. His feet are large. His hair is hard. His shoulders are thin. His face is young but weary. His eyes are changing. His eyes are fingers. His eyes are hard fingers and I can see the light of the campfire in his back garden emitting large memories now. I can see the light of his campfire fingering my ass. I can see the light of his campfire out in his garden pushing me against the bikes in his shed. My father lives close by, on the other side of the park. He's in his bed. If he could see me he would hate me forever and I can never tell him I'm sorry for this thing that's happening because I can never tell him. I can only watch the memories moving angrily, always more angrily, moving about within the cone of light from my little torch, the torch that I hold onto tightly for the rest of my life. I can taste the spittle dropping onto my back. I can feel the fabric of jasper's bed. I can feel the anger in his fingers even as he lies there asleep. I leave before he wakes up and I don't talk about this for eleven years. The sun is sharp today and I walk through a park before going home. I grew up in this park. Played soccer with friends. Raced my bike on the dirt track. I can't much see because of the tears in my eyes. I look up and I try to hand my memories to the birds in a tree. They scatter into the empty sky. I walk into another life. Ian MacMenamin finished his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen in 2019. His play, Toothbrush, has recently been performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for sold out theaters. His first book of poetry was published in 2020 together with illustrator Claudi Kessels under the name Eilandgedichten.
BOATWRIGHT S Pierrot A sunwashed unionblue sheet webs over what is left of my grandfather’s mahogany ribbed and plywood skinned red boat. His shed’s butterfly roof seems to hover over his handmade escape. 70s-brown pillars uphold this car port altar, this shed sheltering the remains from the elements. The rain slings sideways. The hurricanes take people out of homes. 23
We talk of windchilled eyes and airbrined mouths. We laugh, spitting kinshipivy to baymouth. And now, my father asks me to drag this other father’s life— his wood and salt, his one thing he ever really got right, and my father asks me can I roll the boat out to the street for pickup? And I say, sure, of course we can, Dad. And 20 years after my grandfather’s death I can’t help but see that rotting boat filled with Walmart bags and neverworn Goodwill clothes my grandmother hoards. What good are those blue sheets doing the boat anyway? Why does my Dad care so much about wheeling the metaphor away? Last Christmas he told me to change a cardigan because it looked like a girl’s sweater. Why can’t I write a poem about that? S Pierrot is a trans queer poet who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Their poetry has appeared in Best New Poets 2018, RHINO Poetry, Measure Review, Waccamaw, Poetry South, and Bayou Magazine, among others. When not teaching or writing, they are most likely watching PBS.
AUBURN, FIRE & COPPER-BARE Hyun-Joo Kim spring. i watch her body moving, outlined by pines & dirt. i call out but she doesn’t answer. it’s dusk & i’m weakened by her shoulders, dipping, tough, just close enough for breath but not nearly enough. with each unguarded step, she supplants me. even in the tossing, fleeting movement of her bright & burnished hair, looking too much like rain falling in & out of sunshine, & like desire—visible, then vanished. summer. she drinks too much, too long & deeply, but i don’t really care enough to mind. she’ll up & call me in the mornings, asking to see me all the time, but when i bring her coffee she whispers names & asks for things she wants of mine—i smile, but don’t reply. first loves are meant to last a lifetime, but for us, we have kissing closets, & pink wine. to me, she is only one ephemeral sun, burning hot & lusty, already running fast, undone. fall. it’s late now in the evening rush, & i know how the first leaves fall so quick & rough, & how they catch so clumsy in her hair. auburn, fire, & copper-bare. it’s colder now, & she seems happy, but i don’t seem so sure. so we try to keep on, as before. but in the deepest parts of me i know she’s still trying to catch dead fireflies, while i am falling, already, for October skies, & for future fallen snows without her. my father doesn’t know, nor winter. does my brother, but surely they would mind. she calls me when she’s high; she says i’ll save her from those guys at the bar, but i think i’ve always known, joey, that your games would push us too far apart. i don’t wonder why our imagined futures faded, or how you’ve become so frayed & unloved, because it was too much to ask of me, joey, for more than that first hug, & i’m not so sure that i was ever brave enough to shoulder you, your love— Hyun-Joo Kim is a half-Korean adoptee from NJ. Her work has been published in Poets Reading the News, The Elevation Review, eris & eros, Visible Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, and Collision Literary Magazine. Twitter: @hyun_joo_kim
-MOSQUITOEarl “Owen” Minoza Little more than a speck, this cup of life prevails in twining us in ways marriage cannot make. In this vessel miniscule, both our bloods do swim, the sanguine sac of our seed. For even in our eager efforts, I cannot conceive. Plucked from the Pearl of the Orient, Earl “Owen” Minoza is a budding writer living in Nyack, NY whose writing has appeared in such bodies of work as The Voyager, Odyssey Online, Fiction War Magazine, & Wingless Dreamer, and encompasses a breadth of topics from sexuality & identity, to voicelessness & violence, to abuse & religion. Currently, Earl ‘Owen’ Minoza is working towards a doctorate in Clinical Psychology while trying to stay sane during this recent global crisis.
M atty H eimgartner, Cupid was W rong
WHERE THE WINE HEART HAS BURST Harry Tucker I almost fell from a mountain when I was six. My tiny body skid off a corner and flew under the fluorescent-yellow protective netting. I can still see the open air beneath my skis, the clear drop that dwarfed my frame, the French villages like pastel Legos miles below. The last words I heard from my father rang in my ear: his ‘fun-fact’ that Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in Europe. “Thanks, dad,” I breathily muttered, precocious to the end. I craned my head across my shoulder back towards the path. Many passed me by. I lay frozen on the edge, snow melting down my neck, until a German couple scooped me up and took me to my parents at the bottom. “I’m glad we got to him,” they said. “He just kept shouting I want my fucking mummy.” The next summer, on a school trip to Roald Dahl’s house, my class took lunch atop a towering hill, surveying the expanse of English countryside in all directions. I remember my classmates one by one finishing their packed lunches. Licking the last jam from their fingers, they scurried to the precipice, only to leap and tumble after one another. I remember wanting to join them, as they vanished into grey cotton dots at the bottom, but vertigo had set in. I’ve struggled with edges ever since. * Somehow, I’ve always been drawn to balconies. They aren’t supposed to mix well with alcohol or mental instability, but my friends and I routinely overcome those obstacles in the pursuit of momentary peace. Most of my adolescent firsts occurred whilst quietly staring at the London skyline. My first coming out, my first argument with my best friend for dangling her legs over the edge, my first ten tequila shots and my first time throwing up from backing ten tequila shots. My first kiss was also on a balcony and like so many of these memories, it was filtered through the taste of tobacco. “Your heart,” He said, as he tossed his rolly and threaded his fingers through my beard: "It’s racing so fast.” I tend to avoid leaning over ledges but with the cold black metal of the railing and his punkyeyebrow piercing caressing my skin, the warmth of his mouth overshadowing all other senses, I closed my eyes, drunk on the sensation of falling. * “I went to boarding school, so now I’m actually really good at oral sex.” A lot of the first impressions we have of our best friends have this shocking absurdity to them, but I think this sentence that my boyfriend said takes the grand prize of regrettable openers. “Sorry, he doesn’t drink usually.” His friend said, steering him upright by his hoodie strings. 27
No shit, I thought as I refilled my drink from the sticky, stain-sodden table. It’s a teenage house party. There’s the girl broadcasting her latest mental illness that she read up about on the way over, the guy holding his crush as a conversational hostage because he brought the best mixers, the stoners staring into the void of the furniture. Ash everywhere. Everyone seems happy but the host. “Who’s playing that depressing shit?” He blurts out as his girlfriends smother him with shushing giggles. I wave the AUX chord towards them with a sarcastic smile, thinking Fair enough, Daughter isn’t exactly the vibe. I ask what music he likes. He says Disney musicals. I ask if he enjoys being a stereotype. He asks if I’ve ever heard my voice out loud. We drink on the balcony as everyone dissolves to noise. He says his name’s Joe and he doesn’t kiss smokers. I tell him I don’t take advantage of the mentally impaired. We exchange names and book a date for the next week. I show up at the pub in a velvet steampunk jacket and start stone-cold sober by spilling wine all over it. We’re even for regrettable openers. Two years of near uninterrupted sarcasm pass. * “How do you know you had a good night,” Joe says, tying up his scarf, “if you don’t remember any of it?” “Video evidence.” I say, grey as the pavement beneath our boots, mind slushing like the layer of sleet that’s cast across every surface of the park. I sympathise with the winter trees; stripped bare, still standing. I rub my aching forehead with sweaty palms: “I am not sixteen anymore.” “Then why do your friends still act like they are?” The question hangs in the air, airbrushed by chirping birds and the laughter of children playing on a nearby swing set. The pale sun clearing from the marble sky softens me before I have a chance to say something I’ll regret. Memories of faraway balconies of Bangkok, Tel Aviv and Venice wash over me, times when I’d text: Wish You Were Here. Venice was for a wedding. I emerged day-drunk overlooking the canals, panting from dancing with his outline, champagne rushing to my head as I texted those words. I don’t find myself saying that anymore, so I just squeeze his hand a little. “You need to quit smoking.” He says. I know it’s more than smoking that he wants me to change. He sees a poison in my hand, I see a guiding star to a balcony—to peace and perspective, to new friends, to so much youthful joy. I wonder how much we will always see differently. 28
* "Can I have a light?" I ask an androgyne Bowie-Baby in the smoking area of The Admiral Duncan. "You’re a great dancer, by the way.” “It’s Ashnikko’s Stupid Tik-Tok challenge, Doja Cat’s twerking and flicking weave like queen Ariana in 7 Rings.” He giggles at my blank stare. I thank him for the light, not waiting around for the rest of his name as I swerve past security and walk home asking myself when I got too old for this. I weave through the revellers of Soho, thinking about how I took Joe here once after the theatre and he danced for me, even though I knew he wanted to go home. It felt sweet but it wasn’t sweet enough. I needed someone to stake their claim to be there, to sing rather than whisper over their pint, someone to fall with. I pass the old graffiti, find it scrubbed clean, so I pick the paint flakes out of the wall, searching for what was. I get home and wander onto the balcony. Ever since I was little, I’ve been equally uncomfortable with the thought of being in control and out of it. I keep wavering between being alone at the top of the hill and diving off mountains without parachutes. Both seem to end up hurting people. Most people demand only one kind of momentum from you—to be swift or still, stable or untethered, free-spirited or grownup—and I can’t keep still long enough to grow. I don’t know how to resolve the distance between Joe and I, between myself and the ground. So I just text him: Wish You Were Here. For a moment, in his response, I feel the warmth of coming in off a cold street. I finish my last cigarette, toss it over the railing and watch its sparks chasing its red glow to the pavement. I long for a clean break, to leave room to wonder about new ways to fall, but the wind blows the ash back onto my hands. Harry Tucker is a London based writer, politics student and cat enthusiast. He writes short stories, scripts for comics, TV and film and about all things peculiar, fantastical and queer.
Trygve Skogrand, F rankincense for the Lord
WELCOMING THE LORD: YOUNG ONAN STOPS AT STARBUCKS Kevin Lane Dearinger I listen as he spills His Faith in dry seeds On the arid soil Of the chain-store Coffee shop Speaking swiftly As if fearing pursuit Or contradictions within Neat red beard and a citadel Of white teeth Ruddy and blue-eyed Religious pornography His voice incessant But bumping over static Cocksure that “God Reminded Me To Tell You,” and all about Ezekiel servant of belief Smitten and smited “Smacked in the head” By a God whose Point of view unfolds By Protestant testament As “unpredictable” The “Reality and Quality” Of Jesus-Repentance-Acceptance And Same-Sex talk hushed between Two friends—“Christianity” He reads in a rumble From a thumbed-down text “Is a Lifestyle.” Kevin Lane Dearinger’s poems have appeared in OutWrite, Nine Cloud, and Accents, and have been honored by the League of Utah Writers. Other publications: three theatrical biographies, several plays and essays, and two memoirs, Bad Sex in Kentucky and Onstage with Bette Davis (Spring 2022). His poems seek to keep time with his Kentucky heritage, his love of family, his life as an LGBTQ person, and his own erratic pulse.
Giulio Secondo, H ug
THE MAN THAT SET ME FREE Lou Storey born as ice, aching blue crystal cradle of harsh arctic squalls detached Titanic orphan berg drifted two-thirds submerged not safe but deeply hidden ~ never safe captured in swift pacific current this journey beyond control ran aground in coastal paradise to warm shallows golden-gated a land of men gone wild eyed ~ wild eyes poised and preening peacocks Babylonian backdrop splendor paradise where ice did not belong pallid cube in briny puddle paradox of sad not gay ~ but gay waiting for rescue, ice wants heat like a popsicle wants a mouth sweet and warm his on mine delicious days of languid melting undoing into liquid willing release ~ all willing fermentation in his summer sun motorcycle gin-brain on jukebox kiss spinning Motown love songs thawed to pool new body elastic then further free—evaporation ~ into space… ecstasy should last forever last forever ~
this memory pierced in daggered flaw hunter’s eyes that looked another way dark clouds cooled to dim the sun shame naked Icarus in reckless plunge I rained down a shock of waterfall ~ chilled shadow wept, pleaded, raged, then left— fled fearing heart's deep-freeze firm that nothing steal away this gentle touch of fluid living ~ liquid life green Liberty saluted my return I found a man, this solid cup steadfast he holds me still protection from winter chill shield against summer scorch a tepid zone that suits me fine ~ just fine one regret in backward glance branding him in blame, my parting gift not his fault, I know that now made of air his element sought freedom while gravity will always pull me back ~ earthbound our sky dance now framed and hung a keepsake’s distant memory—yet certain slant of sun can stir a sigh a pluming pebble drop, cascading ripples remorse and wonder melding moods ~ tender reverie. Lou Storey is an artist and psychotherapist living on the edge of coastal New Jersey with his husband of thirty-three years Steve, and a happy bounty of dogs, cats and chickens. Lou’s writings have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Tiny Love Stories, as well as an assortment of poetry magazines and various academic journals related to mental health.
MID-FLIGHT (3) Nimruz De Castro when i told my mother i was getting married she asked if i was marrying a human or a frog i could never tell whether she was serious or it was the stroke talking the mother i knew, leaking out of a ruptured vein her medications lubricating the vitriol she kept in her mouth for years and years poison she did not want to gift her children her inheritance from a mother she did not know the mother i have now i see but do not recognize laughed at the thought that i was getting married she has always loved me she would say whether i would be loved by another she has always doubted i wonder how much of her hair she would pull how much ash she would stuff in her twisted mouth when she learns how many humans how many men have offered me a grain of love how many of these i swallowed without hesitation how many i kept in my pocket for another day the mother i half-know asks me if i am happy i tell her yes without pause, without a sigh, without question she says she is too. Nimruz A. De Castro writes Fiction and Poetry. His works have appeared in print (Likhaan Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature, Lamyos: New LGBTQ Fiction from the Philippines) and online (QUEER Southeast Asia, 805+). He is a member of Strange Birds, a collective of local and expat writers based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
OUT! COAST HIGHWAY Kit Ingram sky crackles to sea / does he remember the time on the north shore / we surfed till the waves rolled limp then feasted on pineapples over the bay? / I licked their crowns & they tasted of thunder! he slows at the taunt of sirens / our windows shake in the ganging cries / rocks froth at the waves / faggot-boy-hate spit flickering on my eyelids mum explained your situation / these things happen / we give in to find our strength / I know / I’ve done it / listen! cocaine / strobe lights / 3 am doom jazz / it’s a phase I slide the belt from my neck / a prayer sputters out on the wind / giving in / I like that! as if my molecules were humming their purpose on the chests of men / they’ll love me for all the reasons you won’t / you’ll see in the end the phases of life all circle to death / until then I’ll charge into the breakers / let the flesh pummel over me / the blood somersaulting to a violence of light Kit Ingram (first published as Cory Ingram) is an emerging queer writer based in London. His recent poetry earned shortlistings for the Bridport Prize, and his fiction a long-listing for the Grindstone Literary Novel Prize, among others. In 2019 he published his first novel Paradise with Ganymede Press and in 2021 will publish his debut poetry collection Alice and Antius with Penrose Press.
CODE OF THEIR OWN Katherine Page 000-x63 deviation diagnosis, terms of homo sexuality will be simple in this individual: organic out standing
Katherine Page is a writer and third grade teacher living in Leadville, Colorado. She has poems and essays published in Open Minds Quarterly, Bluestem Quarterly, and Awakened Voices Magazine.
J ason Rodriguez, Powerful
BUMPER CARS J Brooke What a funny idea Bumper Cars pleasure via violent collision—deliberate accident between strangers allegedly safer with extra rubber where there usually is not. Sounds a little too much like sex with a man involved
while female body with female body more merges than collides languid surges devoid of violence fluid, sacred, sublime float towards the locus forgetting every carnival ride has its dangers. J Brooke is an essayist who sometimes writes a decent poem. E lives with their political activist spouse along a river in Connecticut where the adult children they raised together come and go. Brooke’s essays and poems appear in journals e reads and respects including, The Maine Review, Harvard Review, The Bangalore Review, TSR-The Southampton Review and (upcoming) in The Fiddlehead. Brooke’s essay ”Hybrid”, about their gender, won Columbia Journal’s 2020 Womxn’s History Month Special Edition Nonfiction Award. Brooke was previously the Nonfiction Editor of the Stonecoast Review while earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine. Also a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, where they majored in Creative Writing at Haverford College, Brooke’s misspent youth was spent in advertising.
HER BODY THE SEA Jess Rawling i want the salt spray, the crushed velvet of sea foam whispers in my ear. all petrichor and pearl beads; from saline breeze or her tongue, i don’t know. i want her tangled, brine-weed hair to spread, cling; crash waves against me. we are dripping touch inside nautilus shells. Jess is an interdisciplinary artist working/playing in new haven county, CT. Jess received her MFA in creative writing from southern CT state university. When she isn't composing emails for a living, she can be found in her studio making messes.
J ames F alciano, A methyst
SHE KISSED ME FIRST McKenzie Hurder None of my previous partners had ever peed in front of me. Not even the men. I was standing in front of Franziska’s tiny bathroom mirror trying to rub my mascara away with just water while I listened to her pee behind me in small patters, and then a steady stream. The moment felt really intimate, and I had this overwhelming desire to lean down and kiss her cheek while she reached for the toilet paper. Your hair reminds me of daffodils, one kiss, and she would laugh. The pale yellow kind by Harmarket, another kiss for the other cheek, and she’d shoo me away. But this never happened. It would have been too much of a together-together thing to do and she had a boyfriend. She had a boyfriend who, in the morning, would see the purple blooms I planted on her neck and I half-hoped he would guess that it was me. Franziska flushed the toilet and I blinked myself out of my reverie. We went back to the living room to get our clothes. She had tugged everything off of me except my socks. I feel this was an important detail. She had tugged my clothes off instead of me taking them off on my own, which means she wanted me naked. Our clothes were flung everywhere. I picked my dress up off the floor and gave it a good shake as if that would get the wrinkles out. I found my underwear in a couch crevice, and slipped everything back on as quietly as possible. One of my gel-pasties had stuck to her thigh. She chuckled and handed it back to me, and I didn’t even feel embarrassed as I slipped it into my dress and over my nipple again. It felt natural, like maybe we’ve done this before, like maybe we’d do it again. Next time I’ll say Remember when my pastie got stuck to your leg? Remember you had to peel it off of you and I had to wear it to class the next morning? Remember? and I’d hold her a little tighter and let our shared joke enclose us like we were together-together. But this would never happen. She swapped out her plunging tank top for a loose-fitting white t-shirt. It was her apartment, so she could do that. She didn't offer me a change of clothes, and I didn’t ask. I’d have to take the train back to Berlin in the same tight dress I had left in. This white t-shirt had a year on it from before we knew each other existed and said something in German too complicated for me to translate, though I’ve lived here for four months. She asked me if I would mind if she had a cigarette and I said no. I followed her to the balcony where she leaned against the railing. The sun was only just beginning to work its way through the smog. She had leftover makeup and grey shadows under her eyes from drinking earlier and not sleeping. Her neck was already beginning to bruise. Even in the lowlight of very early morning the pink and blue splotches were visible. She had her glasses on, had kept her glasses on the whole time, and her ponytail in, though it was now a little crushed and ruffled. I liked this about her. Her peeing in front of me and unkempt appearance was like a pale shade of domesticity. I imagined this becoming a routine for us; waking up together, her having a cigarette while I put the coffee on, comfortable enough in love to just be without trying. Franziska never had to try to be beautiful. The vision of her unabashed sprawling on the couch flashed behind my eyelids every time I blinked, how the streetlight from the window cast a shadow over her soft ribs when her neck arched back. I replayed her un-shy whines in my head like a radio song, deathly afraid I might forget and never hear them again. 38
“It almost feels like this didn’t really happen,” she said in her German accent, looking right at me and holding the orange-tipped cigarette flippantly in her upturned hand the way Europeans do in that cool blasé way of theirs. The thick yellow street light made her eyes shine in a way that struck me dumb and mesmerized. I don’t smoke, but sometimes I’d steal cigarettes from my friends at the bar, hold them in a mock rendition of the way I see Franziska and her friends hold them and say I’m a real writer now, I smoke like Camus. I’d flick my accessory cigarette after a pretend-drag, ashing it the way I’ve seen Franziska do a million times. Casual. Like she’s not even thinking about it. “Yeah, it feels kind of like a dream,” I agreed, because she was right. I licked my lips where the taste of her still rested. I had purposely not washed my mouth in the bathroom, only my hands and the smudges around my eyes. I knew that if I read about this in a book, it’d probably be a boy talking and I’d think he was a disgusting creep for commenting on the way a girl tastes. I wondered if Franziska would maybe think I was a disgusting creep if she knew I didn’t wash my mouth on purpose, if maybe she’d use a towel to wipe herself off my lips and say You don’t get to keep this! I was glad she wasn’t paying much attention in the bathroom, and noticed that she hadn’t washed her mouth either, though I guessed this wasn’t on purpose. She probably forgot. I knew that when the sun was fully up and I took my seat in class, this entire night would feel even more like a dream than it already did, and partly I wanted to prove to myself on the train ride later that this really happened. I wanted evidence that I held Franziska. And partly I wanted to memorize everything about her. She didn’t kiss me goodbye when I left, just said the bus stop was across the street and a little to the right and to call her if I got lost on the way back or took the wrong train. I didn’t get lost or take the wrong train, but thought maybe I should. The last month of my semester abroad was a whirlwind. I’d see Franziska in class and maybe we’d grab coffee, but our conversations were limited to our favorite types of cheesecake (always two separate slices, never shared), and her impersonations of an unpopular professor at uni. I didn’t know what she was saying, her German was too fast and full of too many colloquialisms, but I would laugh all the same when she’d strain her neck so that all the tendons stood out in a fit of academic passion. That one night hung between us silently, pushed aside like a giant, weightless balloon. I stopped asking her to get coffee with me in hopes she’d say she missed me and ask me out instead, but she didn’t. My days went by Franziska-less, with every half-hearted hallo in passing sending a whole family of frogs to coagulate in my throat. She didn’t even wish me a safe trip back to Boston. I crossed the ocean and blipped out of her world completely, tschüss! I tried not to call her when I got home. I enrolled in a poetry class. Once, Franziska said she liked how much I loved poems even though she didn’t really get them. I changed all the pronouns of my poems to Franziska that I never showed her and my classmates say my boyfriend is so lucky. My eyes prick when I read them out loud during workshop, but nobody notices. My class got out late. I waited for the elevator on the eighth floor, acht in German, and I remember Franziska laughing because I had pronounced it oct drunkenly trying to impress her with my German 101 skills the night we fucked. I decided to call her even though she probably wasn’t up. 39
It was nearly 3am in Potsdam. I didn’t expect her to answer and was startled when I heard her raspy German accent. "Hello?" “Franziska?” “Ellie?” I knew she only knew it was me because of my contact picture on Whatsapp, or my obnoxious American accent, and not because she waits up at night trying to bring it back to memory, or hopes beyond reality that it’ll shout her name on campus. “Yeah.” Silence. Then, “Why are you calling?” I was too surprised to speak, and caught myself before I said I miss you. I miss you and how you bob your head when you dance. I miss eating cheesecake with you. I miss your kisses and the softness of your cheeks. I miss hearing you pee behind me. “Do you remember the night we ki-” “My boyfriend is here,” she interrupted. “Oh.” I swallow my broken heart like glass shards but it refuses to go down. “Yeah, he’s asleep.” I could hear rustling on her end and I imagined her thighs sliding across the sheets and tried not to be jealous of them. Or her boyfriend. “Just- hang on a minute. I’ll go to the kitchen.” I sucked in a big gulp of air but it wouldn’t go past all the glass pieces. “Yeah?” “I was just wondering if you wore your glasses the whole time we, you know, when we-” “What?” “Were you wearing your glasses that night we… you know? I mean, while we were kissing... and everything, or did I imagine that you did? Did you take them off first?” A pause. “Why does it matter?” “Because I can’t remember.” “Ellie, I’m gonna hang up, I don’t see-” “No! Please! Don’t go, not yet. Can you try to remember? It’s for something I’m writing.” She sighed heavily and lowered her voice. The elevator doors opened. I stepped in alone. I wished I could crawl into the phone and across the ocean to get back to her… sieben… sechs… fünf... “I don’t know. When we were kissing, do you remember if your face bumped into my glasses at any point? Or maybe your hands touched them or something? I don’t know, it was a while ago.” And of course I remembered. I remembered how her eyes closed behind the frames when I touched her, how I tucked her hair behind her ear and the metal of them was cooler than her skin. I remembered her ponytail, and the way she smelled like high-end department store clothes and cigarettes, the way she sounded when she moaned and whispered I hope my roommate doesn’t hear us.
Vier… drei… zwei… The elevator dinged. “All I remember is explosions. And how warm you were. And that you kissed me first.” The doors opened again and my temples throbbed. “For Christ’s sake, I have a boyfriend, Ellie. Bye.” McKenzie Hurder is a poet and fiction writer currently residing south of Boston, Massachusetts. To them, writing is both a healing process and an act of gratitude. Their work has been published in Allegory Ridge's poetry anothology Aurora, Drunk Monkeys, The East Jasmine Review, among others.
J oe K laus, Portrait on Blue
I WAS IN THE STORE WITH A BEAUTIFUL BOY Dante Silva and I wouldn’t tell him that I loved him but I loved him, I did, and I had the lingering suspicion that this love was unrequited, or worse—that it wasn’t, that he loved me and also could not voice it aloud, that it was no longer an afterthought and was surfacing and choking up his throat, too. And maybe he also could not speak because he did not want to say something ugly, did not want to pervert the way this moment would be preserved in both of our memories. Or he also felt so devastatingly terrible—like the moment was not his to keep, that it was already distorted and fading because it was something stolen. For surely this thing, the one I lacked the proper words for, was the result of the stained skin of my own mind, sleepless nights and swallowed soda and Sorry about my hands there and when he did speak it was in broken syllables It’s summer. It was summer so I continued to touch him and my skin could hardly keep me inside, and I held my breath in case it would cave inwards and collapse, though somehow it didn’t Dante Silva is currently studying at Columbia University, and has worked with V Magazine in the past. He has an interest in poetry, Proust, people, etc.
BODY LANGUAGE Katherine Orfinger The answers to the body’s question lie without, not within. What is the difference between pulley and pussy? between lever and leave her? When loneliness obstructs my airways, my lips tinge blue, and I fantasize color back into my cheeks by imagining the ecstasy of being filled, filling the whole feverish, squalling thing. Enough beating around the bush or the topiary or the spiny aloe vera plant glinting in the burning sand. I embody enamoration with excesses: pineapple, cucumber, frozen grapes, tears, truth, bald and painful. Completely naked, stripped, lacking even a cherry on top. Katherine Orfinger is a writer, visual artist, and student at Stetson University where she is pursuing her B.A. of English. Her work has appeared in Touchstone, Aeolus, and an anthology curated by Quillkeeper's Press, among others.
J ames F alciano, Lil N as X
THEY CALLED ME GIRL, SO I WORE THE DRESS Juniper Ash Romig I broke out of my chrysalis like a moth searching for flames in the shape of sunflowers and when they told me that butterflies don't like the light I believed them. And when they called me a tortoise as they drug me out of the water I did not say a word about how I loved the feel of the current on my face. Juniper is a non-binary, pansexual, autistic, disabled individual, all of which informs their poetry. They have been writing since they were a child.
WILDFLOWERS Lydia Trethewey I let her in her voice like weeds outgrows mine I fall wild and hungry for the thin slip of skin her pierced ear with studs that glitter and split the constellation of my notice I chase her through my glacier dreams imbibe her distance in the mornings thrash in kitchen sink blinds I dissolve her in bleach but she seeps into my fingertips and forms her own prints now I press her into everyone I touch Lydia Trethewey is an artist and poet based in Perth, Western Australia. Her poems have been published in Australia, Canada and the United States, in journals and anthologies such as Meniscus Journal, The Ekphrastic Review and Cathexis Northwest. She is currently undertaking a PhD in poetry, exploring the ways ekphrasis can be queered in writing a verse memoir about late-bloomer lesbianism.
ALL THE BEAUTIFUL FACES Lawrence Farnsworth The bookstore in the Hayes Valley was a popular meeting place. It was well located just a couple blocks away and around a corner from the San Francisco opera house. Richard was kind, knowledgeable and wise. He and his shop were popular far, wide and locally through the Gay Grapevine. It was a hub of activity set in the center of a commercial neighborhood with a gym across the street and several cafés and restaurants nearby. His was a diverse clientele, ranging from out-of-town day trippers, like myself, to the occasional wandering tourist. His fame and reputation were the result of his activities in the community and his association with architects and interior designers. It was in this setting: a book signing. One handsome young guy was surveying the Arts & Architecture table across from me. We nodded and continued looking at the display of coffee table books. I felt a presence by my elbow, nudging for my attention. “Say hello to Toby,” Richard said. Caught momentarily off guard, extending my hand, I looked into clear hazel eyes set in an almost feminine face. He responded politely as we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Resisting impulses to evaluate on other than appearances, I consciously avoided archway appraisals. Still, there is always that sort of beauty a mixture of curse and blessing that is often misleading and unfair. The sky was an intense blue, breezes soft and moist born on random zephyrs from the ocean and bay. “Hello, Toby. Happy to meet you,” I ventured. We chatted briefly. “How long will you be here?” he asked. I did everything to keep from staring. These looks in a man are just not fair. “Back to Los Angeles on the four p.m. flight tomorrow,” I said. The party moved, shifted and began to thin as people said their goodbyes and wrapped up meaningless chats and party rap. Richard, in a final closing round, collected several guests, including me, to make up a dinner party. We were a group of five. We continued our earlier conversation over dinner. I found him poised and articulate with a gift for conversational invention. He piqued my curiosity. “I’ve known Richard and have done business with him for a long time," I said. "We date back to his days at Tillman Place. How about you?” “I work as an intern at an architectural and interior design firm. We’ve been friends and done business for a long time.” After several glasses of wine and a hearty dinner, he asked: “Where do you live?” “Los Angeles.” He volunteered that he lived alone in the Castro. Invitation to the dance? Be still my heart! As the evening wore on, he revealed more than handsome features. He was bright, open and forthcoming. Several men came by to chat. I couldn’t miss the attention and furtive quick stares Toby caused. None of it seemed foreign to him. He was about thirty, poised and unselfconscious. “If I give you my number, will you call me?” he asked. “Yes, with Richard’s approval. I don’t like poaching mates’ friends.” 46
He smiled and said: “Agreed. I’ll get your number from him.” Yeah, sure. Be kind to the old-timer. I decided to keep a distance. I sensed our generation gap called for it. My gaydar needed an emotional zone free of sexual expectation, open, as it was, to someone in the full bloom of youth and desirability. Our evening appeared to have been mutually compatible leading me to feel I was in for a pleasant ride with a possibly interesting friendship. I couldn’t, then, imagine such a handsome face carrying a death sentence. We became telephone buddies through our mutual individual interests centered around books. I was impressed with his adventures in fiction and, in fact, his tastes in literature were catholic, whereas mine tended toward non-fiction and biography. He was impressed with Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier and sent me a copy, and I sent him copies of works I liked. Our tastes and ideas usually met somewhere in the middle. Over a period of several months, it became a hybrid relationship discussing shared interests, future meetings and possible trips. My trips to the City were over long weekends when I'd be Richard’s houseguest. He was always neutral, circumspect and did not indulge in gossip. Although Toby and I shared many conversations during our all-too-brief interlude, we were never physically intimate due to differences and distances we both, tacitly, acknowledged. However, once again on the Gay Grapevine, the buzz leaked that he was overly-busy making the most of his popularity. Was he on a louche sexual odyssey with dangerous consequences? I was concerned that his abundance of physical riches might prove dangerous. He was moving toward a career in the arts. I was moving to France to live out a dream. Note from Toby dated December, 1989: Dear One, I trust this note finds you not too obsessing on your move to France remember, nothing is permanent except love although it does last it stings like a bee rests like a butterfly on an autumn leaf so like the reflection of the sunrise on Annapurna when witnessed from a Nepalese savannah and how else does it look… it has millions of faces we cannot see or touch it just is and is not... until is once more... it’s just a bagatelle. The skies were an intense blue, breezes soft and moist born on random crossing zephyrs from the ocean and bay. Bridges and streets bore their usual weighted traffic. Cable cars creaked and groaned over ancient hills much as they had for decades. There was an atmosphere quilted and 47
stitched hovering over the City from the Castro to a small private bookstore in Hayes Valley. Yes, it was an ideal Pacific Coast souvenir blanketed in sunshine, a moment in time. Until the unthinkable Plague descended with a dark and deadly cloud. Leaving only a fabric and thread memorial to what could have been. Quilted, blanketed... shrouded. He was young, beautiful and vulnerable like many of his mates and contemporaries. He loved life, loved to read. He loved being. Would I bring him back—if I could? Would anyone ask? Lawrence Farnsworth is an 88-year old Air Force veteran who has lived in Los Angeles for many years. He’s an active member of the UCLA Wordcommandos Creative Writing Workshop for Military Veterans and currently finishing up his first collection of short stories, Homo Noir.
HOW WE DEAL WITH IT Alan David Pritchard They threw stones at us, threw rocks and boulders, bricks and logs, toasters, a hairbrush, plus a lot of crap we didn’t need, or couldn’t use. Take that, they shouted, And that and that and that! They even wrote letters of complaint in the strongest possible terms and would have demonstrated had the weather been less miserable. They go to bed seething and sneering at us. and when it gets really bad, and the elements conspire outside – we toast marshmallows, and keep warm, brushing each other’s hair in our little home made with boulders, bricks, logs and stone Alan David Pritchard is an award-winning LGTBQ novelist, poet and playwright. He is also a video poem maker whose works have been screened at various international poetry and film festivals worldwide.
THE ART OF LEAVING Charles K. Carter When I left him, I made sure to water him and tilt him to the sun. When he left me, he dug up my roots, trampled me. He left me withered. But I will survive, will untangle myself, find holy ground again. Charles K. Carter is a queer poet and educator. He holds an MFA from Lindenwood University. His poems have appeared in several literary journals and he is the author of Chasing Sunshine (Lazy Adventurer Publishing), Splinters (Kelsay Books), and Safety-Pinned Hearts (Alien Buddha Press).
A drien K ade Sdao, Self-Portrait
SPICE BOY Matty Heimgartner “So, how did you sleep last night?” My mom asked me through the landline telephone. “Good,” I said as I walked from the occupied kitchen to my empty bedroom. “Do you have your own bed?” “Yeah, there’s two bunk beds in my room now.” “Is there room for everyone?” “Yeah, we have the biggest room.” “Are they making you share a toothbrush?” “Ew, mom, no,” I giggled. “Ok, so everything went well for the first night with the new family?” “Yeah, I like them.” “Ok, I’m going to get ready for work. I love you.” “I love you too, Mom.” “I love you more.” “No, I love you more.”
My father remarried just after my seventh birthday. His bride had four kids. My older brother and I made room in our late great grandmother’s house to share with our two new brothers and two new sisters. From the oldest to the youngest, there is a six-year-and-three-month difference. My father and stepmother met at a kid-friendly pool party thrown by a member of our church. I really wanted to swim but we didn’t bring a life jacket. I asked the cutest boy if I could borrow his. Little did I know that he would be my brother a year later. Truthfully, I have very few memories preceding their wedding. From stories I have been told, my own parent’s divorce, which began before my second birthday and dragged on past my fifth, was a nightmarish hurricane. My brother and I lived with our paternal Grandparents for a few years before moving in with our father and his much older girlfriend, who is substituted in my memory with an image of Reba McEntire. I remember being mesmerized by her pearls, her jewels, her perfumes, her fluffed red hair, and her wooden vanity. But her words often hurt. I was never smart enough, fast enough, and most certainly never boy enough for her. As my mother pulled her life together, earning one sobriety chip at a time, she gradually gained more access to us as the years passed–one hour on Saturdays at the YWCA, two hours in her apartment with a social worker present, eventually we were able to spend the night unsupervised. Three beds fit snug in her little one-bedroom apartment across town. Sometime around the 51
marriage, my mother was granted custody every other weekend. My father drove my brother and me to her house before dinner on Fridays and picked us up after lunch on Sundays.
Shortly following the new living arrangement, my mom gave both of us presents for handling the adjustment so well. Her love language is gift-giving. My brother probably got something from the WWE franchise because that was what he cared about as a ten-year-old. My mom gave me three Spice Girls magazines. This was the summer of 1998, just a few months after Ginger Spice quit the band. The remaining four were touring America for the first time. It was the height of their fame and I was enamored by their Girl Power. One of the magazines had an underlying emphasis on the fashion of the Spice Girls. The magazine broke down selected looks and taught the reader how to draw them step by step. I remember practicing drawing Victoria in her signature little Gucci dress over and over. By the end of my mother’s custody weekend, I was quite proud of the successes I made. On Sunday afternoon, when we were packing to go back to dad’s, my mom saw me putting the magazines in my backpack. “Hey Madagascar,” she leaned against the doorframe a few feet from where I sat on the bed, “Are you sure you should bring those with you?” I nodded. “I just know that sometimes some of your toys go missing when you bring them to your dad’s house.” “Yeah, but these aren’t toys. These are magazines. He’ll be happy that I’m reading. He always tells me to read more,” I zipped my backpack closed. She didn’t stop me. On the drive from one home to the other, my brother excitedly talked from the front seat about the presents our mom got him. When he was finished talking, my dad asked what I got. I told him she gave me magazines to read with tutorials on how to draw. “Yeah, draw the Spice Girls,” my brother added. “She got you Spice Girls magazines?” I nodded as I made eye contact through the rearview mirror. “I want to see those when we get home.” “Ok,” I said as my stomach flipped below my seatbelt. The two guys up front talked for the rest of the drive home as I zoned out and began to pray that he wouldn’t take the magazines from me. I was raised in a church and I found comfort in praying. It wasn’t until years later that I learned everybody is welcome didn’t include me. At age seven, I was still a strong believer. When dad parked the little green slug bug, I waited for him to say something about the magazines, but he didn’t. I went inside the house, threw my backpack on the bed, pulled the magazines out and put them under my pillow, just in case. I spent the rest of the evening playing outside with my new siblings. 52
After a couple days passed and he did not ask about the magazines, I saw it clearly that my prayers had been answered. I eventually found the courage to show my two sisters the magazines. Posh Spice’s name pre-marriage to the extremely famous (and gorgeous) soccer player David Beckham was Victoria Adams. Being seven, six, and four years old, we found that to be funny and revised the Adams Family song to include Victoria’s name. Like best friends in a schoolyard, we sang that jingle on a loop broken up only by laughter. On Thursday of that week, with five of the six kids squeezed into dad’s slug bug after school (our youngest sister was still at day care), my sister and I began singing the Victoria Adams jingle. Hyped up on youth and possibly sugar, we sang it much louder than we needed to in a cramped car. We were enjoying ourselves, hot with laughter. But our oldest brother, my biological brother, had an infamously short temper. “Shut the fuck up!” He yelled from the front seat. We didn’t. We kept singing. Dad told us to stop, and we childishly continued to sing under our breath. Our brother rolled into angry grunts up front. Dad asked what we were even saying, who was this Victoria? “She’s one of the stupid Spice Girls,” our brother said. “Oh,” Dad looked up in the rearview mirror, “Didn’t you have some magazines you were going to show me? I need to see those when we get home.” My stomach began to do flips again. This time my heart sank. I felt betrayed all around. I thought God took care of this already. I thought I was protected. I was angry that my brother brought attention back to the magazines. I was upset that I opened the door by singing that song with my sister. My legs began to shake, but all I said was, “Ok.” This time he didn’t forget. He reminded me to go get the magazines as we all marched through the front door to drop our backpacks off in our bedrooms. I ran to my room and grabbed the magazines from under my pillow. I anxiously flipped through them to see if there was anything I missed as I fought against my tears. My brothers all dropped their backpacks on or near their bed and left the room. I heard my father call for me from across the house. I walked the long hallway from the back bedroom to the kitchen, hugging my magazines with my head hung low. I handed them to him as some of my siblings sat at the kitchen table, opening their homework folders. Dad flipped one of the magazines open. “Jesus, do these girls not wear any clothes? They are dressed like sluts. These magazines are for girls, Matt. Not young girls either. For women. And their music isn’t even good,” he continued to flip the pages. I stood still, afraid to make eye contact with him or my siblings. I wanted to fight back, I wanted to say that the magazines were for anybody, for me. And their music made me happy. But I didn’t. I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t say anything. It was like I forgot how to talk. “I’m not giving these back to you, Matt,” he closed the magazine. “This is too mature for you. They are going in the recycling bin and that’s where they are going to stay.” He took the half-a-dozen
steps to the recycling bin and dropped them inside. Without a word, I turned around and went back to my room. I buried my head in my pillow and silently cried. After dinner that night, when all my siblings were winding down with television or video games, I put on my backpack and walked into the family room where my father and stepmother were cuddled on the couch. My heart raced as I made my last effort. “It’s Thursday night,” I said, “Can I take out the bins?” There was a brief pause. “Sure,” my dad said. I turned around and headed toward the kitchen, thinking I outsmarted him. Just before I reached the doorway he said, “Those magazines better be in the bin when I check before work tomorrow morning.” I wanted to scream, I wanted to say it wasn’t fair at all, but it was his house. His rules. “They will be,” I said without turning around. I grabbed both the garbage bag and the recycling bag and carried one over each shoulder to the larger outdoor bins. I knotted the garbage bag and threw it inside; I carefully placed the recycling bag into the designated bins and then pulled both bins to the curb. I lifted the recycling lid, stuck my hand into the bag and pulled the magazines out. I sat on the curb near our property line, just below the street light, and turned the pages to soak in every last image. The longer I sat there, the harder it was to see through my blurred eyes. I didn’t have access to MTV or Google images, so I had to burn the magazines into my mind. I heard the front door creak open. “Matt, it’s getting late, get in here.” I wiped my eyes, gently set the magazines into the recycling bin, and ran inside the house. Matty Heimgartner is a Queer artist and writer in California, USA, and his work is at the intersection of expressionism, illustration, and psychedelic. Matty's paintings have been displayed in many art shows around the San Francisco Bay Area, including three solo exhibitions. His art has been featured in the magazines: CreativPaper, Beyond Words, Content, and Artist Portfolio, and he recently made his debut as a published writer in Reed Magazine.
Thomas Oscar M iles, Unprotected
OUROBOROS Charlotte OBrien All summer, I considered leaving, drawn to the window where the rosebush bloomed and the oak extended its long arm draped in moss. I told myself,
the branch wouldn’t shuck its yellowing hair, nor the house its cement, nor the rosebush its thorns.
I’d built this home from the dust in my mouth— a nest for the fledglings,
thinking this was my desire. Not knowing my desire
would be turning them loose. * Late summer gave way to rain. At the market, pomegranates spilled from a basket. I held one. Its skin, split. Seeds bulged. I made bread, thinking of her my spine scooped into
thumbs pressed against my clavicle; the crescent of her body.
I cooked the bitterness from cranberries, summer’s heat dissolving on my tongue— but my secret was a snake. It coiled from me hissing its intent, wrenching itself from my chest— scales shimmered
In this way,
it became its own reason. * I stayed hours bleeding into weeks, long enough to watch winter press its face to the glass— woke to the wishbone of his back, smoothed my palm in the flat land 55
between his shoulders,
the fetal-curve of a human spine resembles a spiral. God of a golden ratio, of the flowering artichoke; of the nautilus shell; of the fern unfolding in the darkest forest; God of the deciduous tree
twisting itself, ever hopeful, towards the sun;
God of the double helix I thought I knew arching back on itself towards zero,
what is the ratio between love and grief?
* After harvest, when the farmers burned their fields we walked in the dry air. Our breath, heavy, each step becoming the sum of our past. In an olive overcoat, hands thrust deep into pockets the light in his hair was autumn. Oak trees strained against the faltering day, and I understood— even the trees knew what they needed. Fog rolled across the bay. Crows strutted and cackled, picking their way through blackened soil. Hunger climbed the hollow beneath my breastbone; the taste of ash in my mouth;
hot embers rising
It was hard to name what was ending—
what I would fell and what would burn.
Charlotte OBrien is a queer poet living in Oakland California. Mother to many irreverent mammals, she has recently branched out and is managing to keep her plants alive too. She would take looking at the moon over looking at the ocean but prefers to do both at the same time.
Sexyamorata, Poetry in Bed
TWIN FLAMES Lily Mayo You who light the votives, but do not include me in your prayer, It hurts to love someone who loves like you. You who depend upon the flame for its light, but despise its nature to burn. It hurts to love her and leave you in the dark But I incinerate and you fear that. Lily Mayo is a young writer from Texas. Her work is featured in various reading anthologies and is being published in the Dillydoun Review.
VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL Sarah Vance As a child raised right on the buckle of the bible belt, each June I could be found buried in the basement of a church singing Jesus loves me, and stringing salvation bracelets. One strand of leather, six tiny, shiny beads, and a room full of small children being casually introduced to the depravity of man and the threat of eternal damnation in a lake of fire. Fear being firmly planted in our hearts, our task to take and wear our bracelets, and strike the same shame and fear in the hearts of our friends. Each bead a weapon to wield in our struggle against sin. A blue bead for baptism, a dip taken in the brown waters of the Tennessee river, me, a 6-year-old child “buried with him into death” before ever having lived. Brown – like her eyes starting up at me, asking what we were going to do with this forbidden love. A black bead to show the sin we carry, that separates us from God. Black – like the sky that July night my lips first touched hers. A green bead to represent the growth of your faith, not the growth of your mind, not the asking of questions. Green – like the back of my mom’s shirt as she walked away after I told her I loved a woman. A red bead for the blood of Jesus spilled for sinners, so long as they are not gay. Red – like the blood dripping from my knuckles as I punched my steering wheel again and again that New Year’s night I told him I was leaving. A yellow bead to represent the golden streets of heaven, greed being eternal. Yellow – like the leaves covering the ground when I whispered, “Will you be my wife?” A white bead for purity, pastors being obsessed with who is in their congregant beds. White – like her dress on the day we shed our shame and shared our vows beside that mountain stream. Sarah Vance is a striving poet from East Tennessee who spends their days teaching justice and diverse literature to high schoolers and their evenings loving their wife and kids. They are a justice seeker, word crafter, coffee drinker, and mountain hiker. While Sarah dreams of west coast towns, with ocean breezes, they are southern and believe there is merit in staying and sharing these words.
Sexyamorata, Street K issing
COMING OUT (BY THE WINDOW) Mai Ly Hagan i am a bird, perched on the branch against the third floor of a wooden home watching the lilac walls. once burdened by a weight that crushed my wings. feeling my joints shatter, grinding to dust I say two words and fly. the cold clasping me like sleek metal. the air caressing my broken wings, sensation returning in dispersed pangs, reminding me of how flowers will rise in the spring. Someday, my scars will fade and become memories. someday, my heart will heal and know how it feels to live, to love someday. Mai Ly Hagan (she/her) is a seventeen-year-old from Hanoi, Vietnam. Her favorite ice cream flavor is matcha green tea.
Christian M cCulloch (W A RT), H istory Repeats I tself
ON FINDING VENUS Carina Stopenski 1. here, she has a new mythology. they pulled her from the rib of man and gave her the right to feel pleasure. i leave violets on her neck— and she feels herself between my fingers. i am nestled in her pelvis and she is beautiful. when i kiss the insides of her thighs i am reminded that she is not a flytrap. she opens her heart up, peels back her skin and cartilage so i can finally see her. 2. i trace the spindles of her spine. i wait for gravity, her fragile form falls. i pin back her wrists like butterfly wings. she shifts her weight against the vessel creaking below her. i will have to be enough.
3. i’ve forgotten what it feels like— to get lost in her edges, to be the lump in her throat, to know that beneath the surface, she does care. but, under it all, i can’t help but believe that i am nothing. 4. night has never been a good time for me, but wrapped in her bed sheets, tangled up like webs, constellations, i have comfort. i trace the scars on her thighs— pathways to her pain. she offers light in the swirling purple dusk. when she puts her lips to the base of my wrist, the dark feels less like a prison and more like a tender embrace from the girl she was in a past life. 5. here, we encounter her rebirth. the overhead lamp beams hot against our skin, heavy like the burden i felt before i touched her. 61
our hipbones are concentric. i can feel us fusing when she holds her hands against my neck. i pray to aristophanes before i close my eyes. 6. i heard her heart in my stomach and through the spaces between our interlocking fingers, i saw her smile: pure bliss when our twin flames finally merged to burn together, a single wick flickering every time our pulses synchronized. 7. clutching for breath in a space filled with dead air: she brought me the sea, wiped away the corners where blood had dried. i didn’t ask her to. when she brought her flood, i hoped it would wash off the sins i had gathered. the heaven we were going was no different than hell. we are two-spirit, uncleansed, ready to face whatever the gods have planned.
they can pull apart our limbs and shove us into bodies that we never wanted, but they can’t stop us. 8. here, we fall asleep in her twin bed and dream about how we’ll change the world. the air hangs thick as we float. we have become the mist, angels beating in a smoke cloud. from fire to water, we evaporate. we no longer have our bodies. there is really no need for one if we both can’t fit inside. Carina Stopenski is a queer writer, librarian, and humanities educator based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They are currently in pursuit of a Master’s in Literary and Cultural Studies, with hopes to translate their love for queer media and animation through the written word.
HARRY Edward M. Cohen Harry was tall and thin, elegant looking, silver white hair. He was an older man, maybe 55, but what did I know? I was 13, maybe 14. It was hard to tell how old adults were. My father’s name was Harry, so maybe that was why I felt safe with him. He started talking to me on the subway and I immediately responded, telling him how I wanted to be an actor, how I was coming home from rehearsal. Then it turned out we lived on the same block on the lower east side of Manhattan. Made sense. That’s why we were on the same train. My father was fat and ugly, a mean man - and it showed on his face. He hated me, hated that I was an actor. It was a sign that I was a fairy. He was an unhappy man and it showed on his body, hanging flabs of fat, loose floppy muscles. I would never have leaned forward and talked so easily to him as I did to Harry on the subway. Harry was interested. Harry listened. He smiled. He was nice. He thought it was wonderful that I was an actor and had a good part in a school production. But I knew there was something else. Even now I know I knew. Back then I didn’t know I knew. But I knew. I didn’t know what gay meant. I didn’t know that I was. This was in the 1940’s when people didn’t talk about such things. I don’t even remember that we used the term “gay.” Queer, faggot, fairy; that’s what I knew Harry was. Once walking with my father, he pointed out a mincing man in a bright red wig. “Look, Eddie,” he said, “That’s a fairy.” The first day I went to a new junior high, one tough kid told me, smirking and scary, that he and the other guys had decided I was the biggest fairy in the class. I didn’t know enough to be insulted. I wouldn’t have fought back if I knew. But I asked Phyllis Finkelman, who came with me from our old grammar school, what a fairy was. She said it “was like a male prostitute.” I didn’t understand at all what that was or why anybody would say that I was. But I knew Harry was. So, when he invited me up to his apartment as we walked home from the subway, of course, I agreed to go. It seemed inevitable. I was drawn to his door as if by a whisper. I knew I shouldn’t go. I knew I would never be able to tell my mother about this, even though I told her everything. As I was walking beside him, his long, long legs stretching out with each step so I had to shuffle to keep us, I knew this was wrong. This was dangerous. My mother must never know. But I could not resist. I could not turn away. Days later, my mother’s best friend, Mildred, told her she had seen me walking with Harry and that everybody knew he was a nogoodnick. I shouldn’t be hanging around with him. I told my mother it wasn’t me. Mildred had mistaken somebody else for me. I had never met this nogoodnick Harry. I was a good actor. My mother believed me, or at least I convinced myself she did. And it started me on a lifetime of lying, which pains me even now.
He had a strange apartment, with hanging drapery and tassels and a miniature statue of David. Harry had money, that was clear. Nobody in my family had an apartment like that. But I settled into an easy chair and kept talking and, when I stopped, he started. He got a telephone call and 64
responded with annoyance. He explained, after he hung up, that it was from a neighborhood kid who wanted to come over. The kid had just been there, said Harry, and had spent the entire night. He told the kid in no uncertain terms that it was too soon to come again. By then, I knew for sure. And Harry knew that I knew and we could really get comfortable with each other in a way I had never experienced with a man, in a way that I really liked. I felt I could pour out all my secrets to Harry but I did not know what those secrets were. He began to describe the rules of his visits with these neighborhood boys. He said the guy took a shower first in the bathroom at the end of the hall. He pointed it out so I could see where it was and picture the adventure, step by step. He said they proceeded down the hall naked, or maybe wrapped in a towel, and I pictured the tough guy in my new junior high like that. Then the guy stretched out on the bed in the darkened room and Harry said he went in and “did his magic.” So there it was, the invitation I had known was coming but I pretended I didn’t understand and just kept smiling. Harry was very nice. He didn’t go any further. He didn’t pressure me. He made no further offers or explanation. He left his phrase about magic hanging in the air floating among the tassels. I was preparing to leave because my mother would be worried. He said I could come back whenever I wanted. After all, we were neighbors. Then the doorbell rang. Harry had forgotten he had an appointment with a neighborhood guy who had a business proposition to discuss. I could have gotten up and left but I didn’t. Harry made no gesture that indicated I had to. He answered the door and I stayed. It was Louie, a guy from the neighborhood. A good looking Italian with a head full of curly dark locks. He was older, maybe nineteen or twenty. But it seemed he didn’t work. He didn’t go to school. He was always hanging around the playground, kidding with kids my age. What was he doing there? He never played ball. Maybe he wasn’t so smart. But he was handsome and charismatic and funny and always having a good time. He was just Louie, another nice guy from the neighborhood. As soon as he entered and looked me over with a glance that said that Harry had found a new boy, I knew at once that Louie was one of Harry’s regulars, wrapped in a towel, or probably not, because I imagined that Louie was not shy. I knew I had to get out of there. Now things were getting dangerous. Now more people knew. So when Louie started talking about this fantastic opportunity he wanted Harry to invest in, I scooted out and never called Harry again. But I have been dreaming since then about Louie and Harry and the guy from junior high in a towel, and I am now 84 years old. Harry and gorgeous Louie and the guy in my junior high were all in on the secret. I raced home to my mother for some consolation but, eventually, she told me what Mildred had told her and, even though I was a good actor and lied like a pro, I knew she didn’t believe me and nothing would ever be the same. Edward M. Cohen's story collection, "Before Stonewall," won the Awst Press Book Award and was published in June. His novel, "$250,000," was published by G.P. Putnam's Sons; his novella, "A Visit to my Father with my Son," by Running Wild Press. His chapbook, "Grim Gay Tales," is forthcoming from Fjords Review.
THE QUESTION NEXT TIME Edward Gunawan At the consulate to renew my passport I arrive an hour early Un-opened book by my side, feet tapping I stare at the forms in my hands I’d filled out the details of my particulars: Name, sex, occupation Married? Check Emergency contact? Jake Stopping at: Relationship? I haven’t declared in any official capacity in my home country I haven’t had to Until now No Spouse in my native tongue to hide behind Called in to a room where a scowling man collects my face and fingerprints I sit and wait and wait To unleash with full force of indignance the counter-arguments I’d rehearsed all week No, I’m not the Wife! And Yes, I’m husband to a man. But the questions never come I’ll be ready next time A queer immigrant from Indonesia and of Chinese heritage, Edward Gunawan is an MFA in Creative Writing candidate at San Francisco State University. His work has been featured in Sweet Lit and 'Intimate Strangers', an LGBTQ+ anthology.
YOU, AFTER THE APPLE Ry J Brooks The day we met was endless pale cream— white and infinite— static that refused to break. Afraid, I close my eyes. Trade dangerous wild magenta for vast purple-black night sky. The moment that wants you is strong— The moment that widens— pink and red and white and pulsing. Mouth held open, wet and yours. The taste of rupture on my tongue, my lips— full, between my teeth— salty. Orange haze. Vein of red. You are a sunset: cold, alive. Everywhere. A white gay man of trans experience, Ry J Brooks grew up listening to Christian radio in central Minnesota. He first learned to write from strangers on MySpace. He’s fascinated by madness, bodies, power and liberation.
M atty H eimgartner, Bubblegum
RE-QUEERING MY LIFE Julia McDonald When I was a baby dyke, 16 or 17, I paraded around my college campus in leather and boots, campus in leather and boots, carrying a whip (a fact I had completely forgotten until I ran into a classmate twenty years later). I plastered myself with rainbow accessories and attended all the Pride events, grinding with Drag Queens and Butch Kings alike. My parents were not happy that I was a homosexual (yes, we used those words back then – gay, lesbian, lezzie, faggot, homosexual), but they lived a thousand miles away. This was in the 90s, so letters took several days to travel, telephones were attached to walls and answering machine messages could be ignored. I came of age—and came out—during the AIDS crisis. Being gay was NOT cool, but instead seemed synonymous with death, not only from this confusing virus which fueled bigotry and religious judgment by virtue of decimating certain communities like gays and drug injectors, but also because we were actually being murdered for being gay: Harvey Milk, Charlie Howard, Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner on the Appalachian Trail, Brandon Teena, Matthew Shepherd… But, while being gay might equal death by murder or virus, Silence=Death and I couldn’t – wouldn’t – go back into the closet. I read queer literature, drank red wine and had orgies that I can only remember as a pile of limbs moving in candlelight. I debated love and relationships late into the night, while smoking European cigarettes and drinking bourbon, then fell onto mattresses with lovers. My days were filled with painting, dancing, acting, and music. I used a chest binder when I dressed in a suit and tie with a faux-hair beard and a bustier when I put on heels and a dress with mascara. I was utterly comfortable in my own skin. With the naïve certainty of youth, I knew I would never marry or settle down, for how could I? I was a homosexual! I met my future wife in the Peace Corps. During our first few weeks in country, we snuck behind the training school and smoked forbidden cigarettes while taking nips off my whiskey-filled flask. The villages in which we lived for the next two years sat on opposite borders of the country, an overnight bus ride and two days of transport away from each other, so we wrote letters back and forth and planned bi-monthly secret weekend rendezvous in a central city. In a gender-separated Muslim country, we learned it was far easier to be closeted lesbian lovers than heterosexual and unmarried. Our straight colleagues couldn’t even rent a hotel room together! But she and I could travel, sleep, and bathe together without question. She returned home with me and we clung to each other in post-9-11 culture shock, loving and fighting. We found an apartment, started jobs, and adopted a dog. We fought, and made up, went to therapy again and again. I planted a garden, we had a wedding in front of 200 friends (this was before legal marriage), adopted more dogs, then cats, and years passed. I went to medical school and got sober, grew my hair out and traded my rainbow accessories for a mortgage. We continued to love each other, fighting about travel and kids and about what appeared to be diverging paths of life desires. We witnessed the country and world change around us until we could go to our local, very rural town office to sign a paper that granted us legal marriage. We loved each other, I am sure of that, but ours was not a calm or peaceful affair. We tried like hell, but ultimately met the same fate as 68
50% of other (straight) married couples in the US. We filed for divorce and went our separate ways after seventeen years together. Sometimes, in the hospital, health care providers spend hours trying to bring someone back to life. A code is called and we run to the bedside, do chest compressions and breathe for the patient who has died. We inject medications and shock the body with electricity. Sometimes, knowing when to stop is as important as the initial efforts. This is easy when the patient is an elderly, sick patient or someone with a terminal illness. Twenty or thirty minutes into the code, the team can discuss what has been done, what we haven’t yet tried, then come to consensus that stopping the resuscitation and allowing death is actually the most ethical course of action. But, sometimes, the stakes seem too high to stop. A child? A young, otherwise healthy patient? A mother? A trauma situation? Admitting defeat by realizing that there is nothing more we can do is devastating. Even though I had never even wanted to be married, ending my relationship felt like stopping the code effort on a beloved. (Now, I can see that it was a terminal case which had already outlived its prognosis with the assistance of artificial life support.) At my clinic, the day after I moved out of our house, I saw a patient of mine who had been with his lover, George, for twelve years. This was his third longtime partner; the first two relationships had each lasted—would you believe it—17 years! I felt a tiny rise of hope inside me. “What’s the secret to love?” I asked him. He smiled and said, “I think you have to respect each other and be true to yourself.” That night I thought about how many ways I had sacrificed myself, my queer self, to become a wife. I realized that I had bought entirely into the societal expectation of what a partnered life should be. The unwritten queer curriculum of my youth described marginalization and rebellion, protests and passion. But even more than leather and lovers, I learned the painful importance of speaking and living my truth. Is it possible that legalization and social acceptance of gay marriage created heteronormative expectations for life? I accepted this playbook without question. As a kid, watching my friends waste away and die from AIDS (and seeing my otherness, my own queerness in them), I did not think I would live past 21. I had no guidance for what a queer adulthood might look like. I unquestioningly slid into mortgage, career, and discussions about children, AND stayed in an unhappy marriage because I thought these external trappings of a partnered life were more important than personal freedom, non-traditional relational loving, and happiness. I spent eighteen months mourning the loss of something I had never expected to have, then started re-queering my life! I transformed my one room apartment into a painting studio, shaved my head, and took dance lessons. I bought a leather jacket for $4 at a thrift store, pierced my nipples (my ex-wife would NOT have approved) and rode my motorcycle everywhere. I even tried to take up smoking again. (Then quickly quit realizing it was stupid to engage in such self-sabotage while supporting an industry that had specifically targeted me as a queer youth.) I dated people, including couples, and rediscovered what I loved about bodies, sex, and partners. I started thinking about consensual non-monogamy, and consensual monogamy, about commitment and love. I stayed sober.
One of my favorite set of questions to ask others on their birthdays is: What would you say to your seventeen-year-old self? What would she/they say to you? And what would you say to your eightyyear-old self? What would she/they say to you? Now that I am a middle-aged, divorced dyke, I would turn to my 17-year-old baby-dyke self and cheer her on! You go, girl! Make good love and good mistakes. Speak your truth. You’ll be okay. And, what would she say to me? Wow. You’re so cool. Julia McDonald (She/They) is a sober, tattooed, motorcycle-riding family medicine physician in central Maine. They love their medical work which includes abortions and gender-affirming care. They are currently on leave, working for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders in east Africa.
J ennifer F rederick, Gilbert Baker P ride F lag
MY MOTHER LOVES ME Dick Altman She just doesn’t like me, he says, whenever our talk circles around gender. It comes up now and then over a lunch or a long evening walk. He’s a global thinker, studies languages, works in the sciences. Gender most times lies somewhere on the periphery, behind a low wall. He manages lots of people. People who talk of wives and husbands, children and ballet, soccer and piano. He listens, intently, smiling at life’s unceasing, straight routines. No, he replies, I don’t have kids. Steering the conversation back to business. An arena, he says, where his mother loves him for its normalcy. She’ll never ask how things are at home or how he is. Or the two of them. His uncle, he recalls, doesn’t mind his partner. Says, as if out of Shakespeare, did he have to be a Jew? My friend, I love him for who he is not what—a cliché that sticks like a blade in a mother’s heart. He taught me how to hug. Nobody gets past my front door without one. If I like you, I love you, I wish I could tell his mother. Dick Altman writes in the high, thin, magical air of Santa Fe, NM, where, at 7,000 feet, reality and imagination often blur. He is published in the Santa Fe Literary Review, American Journal of Poetry, Haunted Waters Press and many others, here and abroad. He is a poetry winner of the Santa Fe New Mexican’s annual literary competition. His first collection of poems, Voices in the Heart of Stones, is being considered for publication.
Thomas Oscar M iles, There's N o P lace Like H ome
TAXONOMY OF MOVING IN WITH YOUR PARENTS IN QUARANTINE Alex Aimee Kist Kingdom: Plantae Holly is a dioecious plant. There are male hollies. There are female hollies. Subkingdom: Tracheobionta Consumption of the leaves or the berries may result in vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and in some cases, death. Superdivision: Spermatophyta Female hollies will only bear fruit in the presence of a male.
Division: Magnoliophyta Holly berries are especially fatal to children. As few as twenty can stain a coffin red. Class: Magnoliopsida My father only plants evergreens, specifically holly, around this house that
has never been mine. Once, roses and strawberries, but no, too fragile. He wants beauty even as the leaves frost over. Subclass: Rosidae How many handfuls of crimson have I plucked out of bushes
to mix into mud pies and rain water soups? How many females did I rob for my own pleasure in my youth. How many times 72
had I casually brushed poison across my lips? Order: Celastrales I know my parents want to be supportive, but I have been here for six months and the habit has remained that their tongues launch berries at my feet. Take this toxin, love. I did not mean to give it to you, so I know you’ll forgive it. Family: Aquifoliaceae I have always been embarrassed by the red patches that bloom on my skin. My cheeks ripening, splotches on my arms and legs, as though entering anaphylaxis from my inner nature. Genus: Ilex L. “She goes by ‘they ’now” Species: Ilex aquifolium L. Sometimes, I want to dig myself into the earth.
No foliage. Hibernate until this pandemic is over. Both theirs, and the world’s. Alex Aimee Kist (they/them) is a non-binary poet and theatre artist from Salem, MA. Working in Chicago, they became a founding member of The P*ssy Paragraphs, a queer artistic ensemble, and a proud recurring spoken word performer with Resilient: A Celebration of Survivors. Aimee is a proud member of Neil Hilborn’s Writing Circle and will be featured in the Season One Anthology connected to this workshop.
Sean Quinn, Dowry
RABBIT GOD, HEAR MY PRAYER Toan Tommy Lee The folk tale of the Rabbit God interested me as a child, though the difficult conversations that would arise from such a tale were kept from me. Asking the sorts of questions one maybe should ask about a tale of this sort was unwelcome, and the blindness of youth is all-encompassing. In case you have not heard it, according to the book, Censored By Confucius, a collection of metaphysical and supernatural story of China, A soldier in 17th century Fujian falls in love with a provincial official, and snuck a peek at him through his bedroom wall. The official catches him, at which point the soldier professes his love for him. The official sentences the soldier to death by beating, but he returns in the form of a young rabbit in the dreams of a village elder. The soldier in the form of a rabbit demands that local men build a temple to him where they can pray and burn incense in the interest of the “affairs of men”, and to be a divine matchmaker between all men. Why would a soldier spy on his superior? What exactly does he gain from seeing the man? And why was the punishment so harsh? What were “the affairs of men”? These are questions a child cannot ask, and so I was left burning in ignorance for many years. Little did I know then that the story would have a lot more relevance to me. I was in high school. Eighteen years old and soon to be responsible for my being. I had known I was gay for a while; thankfully my own experimentation was well hidden and anonymous. Here I'd like to thank the internet profusely. Without the internet, I never would have had the freedom to explore something so taboo in my own household; without the internet, I never would have heard the stories and testimonials from others in similar situations which would eventually give me the courage to label myself, if only to myself. Gay. Homosexual. It felt a little uncomfortable, but it grew on me. However, this isn't to say that I didn't repress it. I felt it was vital to my own safety and my sense of self to hide it, and I went so far as to date a girl in my class in order to hide my secret. Looking back, who knows if the class would have cared. But it wasn't the class I was worried about. And so it happened that by night, I would be reading through forums of people who felt similarly to me, other gay people and LGBTQ+, sometimes conducting further experimentation with men anonymously to see how it felt (though experimentation only goes so far; after a certain point I can admit I was indulging myself). And during the day I would mask it, and play nice, and go on dates with this poor girl who had no idea. Hiding it from classmates was easy; or, at least, easy in comparison. I don't think my parents ever
suspected, but if it was a secret to be kept from my class, it was absolutely top-secret, classified, buried on a desert island to my parents. Thankfully they didn't have to deal with it, and they didn't have to know yet; my laptop took care of that. We had the internet from the time I was an irresponsible preteen who would mess around on the family computer. The online video games were pretty terrible then, but to someone seeing them with fresh, young eyes, they were individual 74
artistic masterpieces; I was obsessed. I praised the interne, until my parents thought I was spending too much time and hogging the PC. Thank the Rabbit God they got me a laptop for schoolwork during my teen years. Though I kept this secret from my family, I still heard their opinions. Well, my father's opinion. He was rather loud, and passionate on the subject; one couldn't help gauge him in this manner. I remember hearing him oppose our state senator, David Wu, who by all accounts was a great man, except this one little thing; he supported rights for homosexuals and he supported gay marriage. The rants I had to listen to on that man I hope to never revisit. My father would shout at the TV, would grumble at the newspapers whenever this man appeared. To this day I don't know why my father felt so emotionally involved in the subject. Sure, I've heard “unnatural”, “against tradition”, “marriage is only a man and a woman”, yada yada yada. Et cetera ad infinitum. But they're buzzwords, they're easy. Anyone can spit those out. The real reason is often buried deep, and my father had never given me the shovel to his own consciousness. He wasn't that sort of father. So I put up with it for a while. A long while. But when I was turning eighteen, graduating high school, and becoming responsible for myself and my own identity, I made a choice; I didn't want to live in secret any longer. If I was going to be answering for my own choices out in the world, and feeling the consequences, I was going to do so on my own terms. And so I chose to tell him. It wasn't a decision I made lightly; that I can assure you. It took hours and hours of anxiety ridden conversations with myself, often in the dead of night when everyone was asleep. It was a post online that eventually convinced me. It was stupidly simple looking back on it, but often it's the simple things that give clarity in the darkest moments. Simple thing #1; “If not now, when?” And simple thing #2; “It's better coming from you.” I didn't know when else to do it. I also didn't want him to find out from my mother, or a friend of his, or one of our neighbours, or a shopkeeper. I was backed into a corner and I chose the only way out. I chose the day carefully. He wasn't working that day, and I had finished my studies. I approached him with caution behind the couch, and I called his name. He could tell it was something important, and he asked what had happened. I assured him nothing had happened, but I wanted to tell him something. He was silent. And I said the words. “Father, I'm gay.” As a Gay Asian American, Toan Tommy Lee feels like our voice is pretty much unheard. He wishes to help spread the words about the life of Asian Americans.
ORLANDO Anna Snider Hundreds of queer bodies flood the streets. There are rainbows and glitter and drag queens. I am seventeen and watching the pride parade with my girlfriend. Everyone thinks I’m at a restaurant with a school friend. I know that lying for survival is different than lying for deception— but sometimes it still feels like lying. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Me: sitting in the closet, still. There was a speech planned. A whole list of comebacks. I wrote them in green pen. In June. During pride month. I learned how quickly a song can shatter into gunshots. How the twitch of a finger can paint a whole nightclub red. It wasn’t supposed to be like this: me, ashamed, and holding my queerness at arm's length as if babysitting somebody else’s child. Like I swear— this screaming body does not belong to me. Does not know grief and all the ways she cannot pull heartbreak from my body. Like my body is not a battlefield of bullets and dumb luck. Have you ever noticed how quickly a rainbow fades when the whole world is staring at it? How devastatingly mortal we are. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But sometimes lonely is the safest word I have for survival. Anna Snider is a poet, activist, and college student. Her work has been featured in her school’s art and literature magazine Iris: art + lit as well as on a Minnesota public radio station, The Current. When she isn’t writing, Anna can be found making an obscene amount of cookies, spending time with her pets, or talking about how much she loves the moon.
APPLICANT: CORPOREAL DELINQUENT Kay E. Moore
Kay E. Moore (they/she) is a queer non-binary poet, educator, editor, and reviewer from Cincinnati, OH. They hold a BA from the University of Cincinnati and are currently an MFA Candidate at Randolph College. You can find their writing in Cotton Xenomorph, Longleaf Review, The Rumpus, and more. Explore their work at kayemoorepoet.com
POLAR BEARS Yael Veitz As though we’d invented it, women on women, we plunged crackling cold on our flesh ice picks in our bloodstreams plush lips, plush breasts the longing wakened in the water so many years in hibernation I didn’t know it was still there. for a moment, I didn’t think about what my family’d say the many ways they’d disinherit me there was only us, The gooseflesh greeting January the rainbow snaking down your spine The hands on hands in supplication two patient hunters tearing in. Yael Veitz is a New York-based poet. Her works, which have appeared in The Ogilvie, Coffin Bell, and Castabout, among others, reflect her geographically-diverse background, her work in mental health, and her love for her cats. Her website is www.yaelveitz.com
M argo Leonard, Red Shoes
WHAT IS GENDER BUT A HAUNTED HOUSE? Dshamilja Roshani I was brought up in a haunted house that pretended to be a home. There is a room in my memory that reeks of unburnt ashes. With ghosts of men disguised by white walls, with screaming smoke but unnoticed sparks, the past burns most of my futures here. There is a window in the entrance of history that presents a broken vision. A double blind view, just pink and blue curtains hung on two sides, the gaze of hardened colours petrifies my fluidity here. There is a door to my sanity that creaks every time the darkness breathes. Its edges scratch at the resistance of light, a tired sun consumed by patriarchal gloom, my fears gather like unhinged clouds here. The horizon roars, and all my doubts are compressed to one question Why have I tried to cleanse this place for so long when this house will always be haunted? My body outgrew this curse long before its birth, this place is meant to be hollow. I’m beginning to see through its emptiness, my vision contains now more than a view. I turn the doormat around and summon the witches, we burn a bush and burn a few bridges, leave ashes like breadcrumbs and trust the winds to disperse the fears and plant something fertile. Learn to break hardened habits like a prism breaks rays. Stay if you want, leave if you like, but never dim your light in the face of this blaze and stop being afraid to abandon a house never built to be home for us anyway.
Dshamilja Roshani is a 25-year old Berlin-based poet, writer and performer of German-Iranian descent. In their work, Dshamilja paints vivid yet fluid images that examine the complexity of self and social relations. Emerging from a compassionate and honest place, their poetry confronts, critiques and questions, it explores possibilities of healing and embarks on constant journeys of transformation.
Giulio Secondo, Legs
IN EFFIGY Cullan Maclear My father has been an effigy. Gathered once from sawdust in the corners of his father’s workshop, my father has been an effigy— given to his time to be burned. Silence is a flame. As is war. All the soft bits blacked from him, now sometimes all he knows is huddling over a workbench turning wood to bowls to cup the emptiness that is every man’s inheritance. Since the tree gives us the page, I too am a woodworker— though gathered from something softer, perhaps: the petals of my mother’s hydrangeas, perhaps. Fallen under the weight of my own blooming, I am most fragrant in decay and perfume the fields of dead faggots who came before me. My father has been an effigy and I am an effigy— a stand-in for the men who died to hold off my burning. Silence is a flame. As is forgetting. And I sometimes forget my father reading letters by moonlight on the border, my brothers sucking cock by moonlight in order to hide the targets painted pink on their backs. Sometimes I want to burn the queer in me but how do you burn divinity? Yes, my hands are fragile but I pressed my fingertips to my throat and calloused them on the strings of my vocal chords. 80
I learned the music of speech to make a song of man’s smoking history. I’ve no bowls for the emptiness so I gather it in poems and burn it in effigy. Cullan Maclear is a multidisciplinary artist and writer from Cape Town, South Africa, currently exploring the connections between manhood, mysticism and ecology. An active member of the Berlin spoken word scene, his work has appeared in the quarterlies of poetry collectives there and abroad.
J iaying (F rida) Chen, M en's Dream; N ice to M eet You
PODS Brian Skillman A month into sixth grade, my science teacher Mr. Lippman assigned a new seating chart. To keep us as patient as possible during this five-minute task, he informed us that we would be watching another episode of The Voyage of the Mimi, an educational miniseries about whales which featured a young Ben Affleck as our pre-teen conduit to the wonders of marine biology. Regardless of how well we received the content of the series, we took the bait. After all, a video is a video. One by one, he read our names and students took their seats. By the time he got to my name near the end of his list, most seats were already taken, and the reality of my fate began to dawn on me. What few spots remained were near a group of—popular, athletic, callous— who had taken immediate pleasure in causing me endless discomfort and congratulating each other on their efforts. Mr. Lippman—or Lippy, as we called him—was tall, lanky and completely bald, with few discernible features other than a pair of crisscrossed incisors. Middle school lore had it that Mr. Lippman was “a gay.” Though there was no concrete proof to this rumor, his slight lisp and lank, effeminate mannerisms were confirmation enough for a roomful of sheltered, midwestern sixth graders. While I would not begin to formulate an understanding of myself until I watched Ellen DeGeneres come out on national television three years later, I knew well enough that I was different from the rest of my peers, and, if their treatment of me was any indication, they were also aware of this fact. For this reason, I had held out hope for a hesitant kinship with Mr. Lippman in the coming year. Lippy read my name and pointed to the one empty seat in the dreaded center of the group of boys. In the first four weeks of middle school, I’d come to expect such horrible luck, but this moment was still disheartening. One of the boys, Chris Smith, spoke up. “Mr. Lippman, does he have to sit here?” Without missing a beat, Lippy responded, “Yes, what’s the problem?” An invitation for a response and rationale. “Because he’s a queer.” Several students laughed. “Why can’t Shane sit here instead?” Brendon Shane, a member of their crew who, no matter the phase of his life, has always looked like a senile grandfather lost in a parking lot, was seated at the opposite end of the room and oblivious to the scenario playing out. I glanced to my teacher, hoping for the defense I so desperately needed. Instead of reprimanding Chris, Mr. Lippman was smirking, and for the briefest moment that smirk flashed into a grin which displayed the incisors and lent him the appearance of Nosferatu a moment before an attack. Was he so uncontrollably elated that the student body’s homophobia had suddenly targeted someone 82
else for once? Quickly, he regained a modicum of self-control and offered a generic reply: “The seats are this way for a reason.” While Mr. Lippman finished, I took my seat in front of Chris who hissed another slur into my ear before flicking it so hard a wave of pain and heat erupted across the side of my head. I didn’t flinch; I expected it. My teacher swiveled the television’s rolling cart toward us and powered it on. I’m sure there were directions for taking notes on the episode’s central lesson, but I didn’t hear them. My mind was stuck on a loop of numb disbelief: Why didn’t he say something? Why didn’t he say something? Why didn’t he say anything? I wanted to run to the door, kick over a trashcan, and shout “Fuck you! Fuck them! Fuck Mimi!” before flipping off the entire class and storming out. But I didn’t move. Feeling alone in that darkened room, and with my head still burning, I watched Ben Affleck count humpbacks off the port bow. Brian Skillman is a data analyst for the Indiana University School of Medicine. Once an English teacher, Brian maintains his love of writing through his creative non-fiction and poetry. He currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his husband and faithful dog, Lucy.
LOVING OWL Mon Malanovich-Gallagher Enchanted, dangerous journey to get the golden fleece, the scent of moss off the well’s wall, the pale petals of violets from your windowsills. Your mimosa leaves fold in under the pressure of my hands. Between your legs is where I hide from the night, that bloodthirsty deity of your uninhabited islands, and that is all I am allowed; for even the glint in your eyes I secretly steal to bring them the flame they need to light up caves, to warm up meals, to burn witches…
Mon Malanovich-Gallagher is a non-binary queer poet currently based in the UK. Touching on relationships, parenting, pleasure and mental health, their work is primarily focused on navigating the in-between of gender, culture and privilege, and offers an intimate account of a search for identity and belonging in the face of a continuous unfitness of labels. Mon's work has been published in Queer Writing for a Brave New World and is forthcoming in a number of other publications. You can connect with Mon on Instagram @mon_m_g
PLANETS, ON VIEW James White Full city moon takes its seat between radio tower and rooftop stars Naturalizes a neutered skyline before the paint dries I am a moon too pivoting around other planets of bone, blood, and concrete I give tours to a party of one seven blocks down, up and around the Presbyterian on 15th and the gay bar on 14th Cigarettes sit in faceless hands and it smells like an island I used to live on Stale and secondhand cliché and claustrophobic a favorite talking point on the tour of me Maybe everywhere I’ve lived is smoggy and stained vestigial and violent like words from a man I dated last winter A heart can be a comet or a crater and I am a rock in infinity and I am also alive like a full city moon This is how I try to bend the city into orbit See each office cubicle like fluorescent planets frozen in lonely space time James (Jay) White is a queer poet whose works represent his emerging love for poetry that is quirky and expressive while reflecting on family, identity, and the natural world. Jay earned his BA in Communications from the University of Maryland and lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.
M atty H eimgartner, Out Back
THE ORANGE DOOR Siarra Riehl Whenever a relationship of mine lasts for longer than what my mother calls ‘the probationary stage,’ she invites me and my partner for dinner. This time, I get the call three and a half months into the relationship. Her timing is impeccable. Just when I want things to advance, my mother finds a way to threaten the foundation. I warn Frances in advance of my mother’s peculiarities, but she doesn’t seem phased. I’m not sure how to properly express to her what she is about to get herself into. Frances is thick-skinned, but I can’t help fearing she might run the opposite direction after attending dinner at my mother’s. Four days after the call, we pull into the driveway of my childhood home. The fake lawn is a bright, summer hue, despite the autumn chill. Plastic geraniums and pansies topple out of the pots leading up to the front steps. A brash, wooden pineapple hangs on the front door. These markers of what my mother deems beautiful distract from her deviations from the candy gloss façade. I give Frances the speech one more time, hoping it will deter her from going through with the dinner: “She’s not your typical mother, France. She’s strange. You have to be comfortable with discomfort to spend any time with her.” “I’ll be fine, San. I’ve met many mothers before,” she replies. “Oh, you’ve been around, huh?” I kiss her to quell my worries. “It’ll really be fine, San. Trust me,” she says. She squeezes my hand. “You really don’t understand. Please, just don’t ask her about the orange door, okay? I’m nervous enough as it is.” She nods, and we knock on the door. My mother answers dressed in an aqua coloured teacup dress smattered with tiny red cherries. Rollers in her hair. Lipstick to match the small fruits. “Santana! You didn’t tell me your friend was so beautiful.” “Girlfriend. Frances, this is my mother.” “It’s nice to meet you, ma’am.” How Frances can remain calm and collected, I have no clue. “Oh, you can call me Santana. We’re all friends here.” Frances looks at me, confused. I glare at my mother. “I’m not named after her,” I explain to Frances. My mother’s China glass laughter splinters. “Let me show you around,” she says. “Supper’s in the fridge, so we have plenty of time to get acquainted.” She grabs Frances’s hand before I have a moment to think. My mother’s words become breathless as she rushes up the stairs with Frances. I steal the breath my mother leaves behind. Breathe it in deeply through my nose. Close my eyes. I really hope Frances gets through the night unscathed. When I think of my childhood, I think of plastic covered furniture. Jelly moulds. Hot rollers. Fake plants. And the orange door. My mother repainted the door every summer. Pilon orange with a brass knob on the right-hand side. It led to a room I wasn’t allowed to enter. I’ve imagined its interior many times. Bright white walls with living plants. A soft leather chair with a wool blanket draped over the side. Books lining the many wooden shelves. Or deep red walls with ink black trim. 86
A day bed and a gramophone playing smooth jazz. I don’t live in this house anymore, but each time my mother has me over for dinner, curiosity becomes me. Hearing my mother awkwardly avoiding the hallway with the orange door brings me back to the present. “I’m sorry, dear. I can’t show you down this way just now. I wouldn’t want the fumes to get to your head,” she says to Frances. I’m baffled by the many excuses my mother has come up with to avoid that room. “You know, I’ve heard a lot about that door,” I hear Frances say. “Oh, have you?” My mother challenges. “And what have you heard?” I rush up the stairs. This time my words lacking breath. “She’s only kidding, Mom. Don’t worry.” We stand in a triangle, eyes moving between each other and the door. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry Santana. I know you’ve never been in there. If you had, you wouldn’t be here today, would you?” Her laughter tinkles again. I’m never sure if she’s joking. “No, I’m not kidding,” Frances continues. “What’s so special in there that you can’t show your only daughter?” “Have you seen the vase collection, yet?” I ask the air, attempting to direct the conversation anywhere but here. “That can wait, Santana. Let’s go down for dinner,” my mother states. As we descend the staircase, I think back to stories my mother used to tell me about the orange door. About the room behind it. She once told me I had a sister that she kept behind the door, so we wouldn’t fight. She told me another time that she baked special desserts in there that I wasn’t allowed to eat because they were too decadent. Too delicious. One time, she even told me that there was an entire house behind the door where she went to get away from being a mother. I was too young to consider the architectural implications of an entire house hiding where there was only enough space for a small room. Most often she would hiss at me for asking at all. She told me it was none of my business. Told me I could appreciate the paint from afar but never get too close. We take our places at the table, and I feel the familiar sensation of disappointment. My mother places the jellied lamb on the hideously vibrant tablecloth to join the jug of fruit punch already sitting there. The mould looks as shiny and unappetizing as my mother’s couch. Little bits of meat are suspended in the jelly, and what looks like jagged bones piercing through their flesh seem to hold them in place. It’s hard to believe my mother still thinks of aspics and concentrated juice as a decadent meal. I notice Frances adjust her posture, assuming she now understands why I made her eat before we came. “I have a second mould in the fridge, if we’re still hungry after the first.” “How fabulous,” Frances exclaims, as though this dinner is exactly her taste. My mother puts too much on each of our plates. The grey meat and perfectly cubed vegetables inside each glob are trapped in chartreuse gelatin. Each of our portions wriggle and echo my disgust. I plunge my fork into the bouncing mould and pray to the gods my insides don’t end up feeling the way the mould looks. “Tell me, Frances, how long have you been a lesbian?” My mother always pronounces the word like its hush hush. 87
“Mom!” “Well, Santana, it’s only fair I ask. You keep bringing these sorts of women to my house. Keep trying to convince me you’re one of them. So, I may as well hear what they have to say.” Frances shoves an oversized bite of jelly into her mouth and lets it dribble down her chin. She laughs uncharacteristically and begins to speak. The temperature in the room becomes frigid, though I’m not sure if I’m the only one who feels it. “Well, Santana,” she says my name to my mother with the utmost sarcasm and disrespect. “I chose this life a while ago after attending the circus. I saw a woman in a leotard crossing a tightrope and thought, hey, she looks good up there, I might as well give up on men forever.” My mother gapes at her. “Well, ma’am, if you ask stupid questions, you get stupid answers.” It takes all I have not to choke on my food in laughter or cry in terror. Frances could have politely given the coming out story I’m sure she’s had to tell many mothers before mine. The same story we all tell again and again. Instead, she challenges my mother in a way I’ve never had strength to do. My mother eagerly devours her gelatinous meal, huge bite after huge bite. Smudging her lipstick onto her chin. Finally, something within me snaps. I think of the orange door. “Mom, I don’t think I should be expected to share so much of my life with you, if you don’t offer me that same courtesy.” “I’m your mother, Santana.” She gets up from the table to get the second mould, even though she’s the only one truly interested in consuming it. This one is magenta, with tiny slices of what look like marshmallow, kiwi, and banana floating in static positions throughout. A large portion of blush pink whipped cream in the centre. Surprisingly, it looks a lot more appetizing then most of the moulds my mother has made. “I hope you don’t mind, but dessert isn’t optional in my house.” My mother points her words at Frances, though I know they’re meant for me. I think back to childhood, when my mother would threaten to lock me in the room with the orange door if I didn’t eat dessert. A threat that appealed to me because I believed there might be better sweets on the other side of the door. I wasn’t sure though if different sweets would interest me either, having always had a savoury tooth my mother’s cooking never satisfied. I felt no child could relate to my disinterest in dessert, particularly the peculiar concoctions my mother thought up. That was when I feared the orange door. When I thought only terrible things hid behind it. I know my comment has set her off, so I take a generous bite of the pink gelatin. It tastes much fishier than I expect it to. I spit it onto my plate and begin to cough. “Jellied shrimp with salmon. Your favourite, no?” She’s tricked me with the colour and the fruit. She is a very particular kind of bitch. I’d rather drink the liquid out of one of her air wicks then eat anything with seafood in it. “Frances, let’s go,” I say. “It was nice to meet you, ma’am.” Without a word, my mother starts angrily cleaning up the table as we begin to leave. I’m not sure why today’s the day I feel brave. Maybe it’s the way Frances inserts herself boldly into every conversation. Maybe it’s my body finally retaliating against my mother’s disgusting recipes. Maybe it’s the fact that I’d rather keep ties with Frances, my friends, anyone in my life other than my
mother. But as Frances takes my hand to leave, I follow her as she pulls me along toward the stairs. Places a finger over her lips and smiles. As we ascend the staircase, Frances squeezes my hand. “I can’t believe we’re really doing this,” I whisper closely into her ear. She mimes the words fuck her and lifts a disgustingly pink hairpin with the opposite hand which I can only assume came from my mother’s head. When we get to the hallway, the many coats of orange paint catch the rays from the sun. It looks garish and unappetizing. Though I’d like to believe the answers to my childhood curiosities lie behind it, I know that nothing can make my mother feel less foreign to me. At this point, I’m less interested in what’s behind the door and more interested in pissing my mother off. I think back to a day when I was young and still wore the handsewn dresses my mother made for me. I had ventured down this very hallway. Glossy orange door staring down at me. I remember reaching for the brass knob. It was locked, so I pulled harder. Pushed harder. I had put my hands against the sticky paint and dirtied my palms. I heard a jangling and looked behind me. Hear it now and do the same. There she stands. My mother. Shaking the ring of keys. A smile on her lips that never travels to her eyes. This time, I walk toward her and outstretch my hand. Siarra Riehl (she/her) lives and creates on Treaty Six land in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with her wife and two cats. A transdisciplinary writer, performer, and teacher, she holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Siarra’s fiction received an honourable mention in AWP’s 2020 Intro Journals Project and has appeared in in medias res, Zone 3, and Fatal Flaw.
J ames F alciano, Tender M oment
PORTRAIT OF US AT KAMAS COUNTRY STORE, UINTA MOUNTAINS Jessica Challis We were driving through the forest late September, the aspen leaves turned lemon, rust, and scarlet, when we came upon a little country store. I’d never noticed it before. A small log cabin, just two rooms, one for selling and one for cooking. I roamed the aisles, picking up smoked mozzarella here, a sasquatch sticker, a stuffed deer, and a piece of pecan turtle fudge. Instead of the Redd’s I wanted I found hard kombucha— even better. The prices were high which made sense considering the sky blue topless Porsche in the parking lot, the overpriced trinkets and souvenirs for those out-of-towners visiting Park City. We weren’t tourists per se— we lived just an hour away— but just as foreign, two women holding hands, standing so close my hip touched the small of your back, sneaking a kiss in the beef jerky section, in a town where Trump swept the election. My mind went back to the girl I was, staying in Kamas every summer at our family cabin, reading the Book of Mormon by day, hoping I won’t be bad anymore if I pray hard enough. Now here I am, in line with my hard kombucha, in a tank top and short shorts more like the tourists than the good 90
Christian farmers like I could have been, would have been. As we drove back home, I devoured the fudge, wishing I didn’t feel ashamed of us. Jessica Challis is a poet and art teacher. Her passions include painting watercolor portraits, playing with her three children and traveling the world with her partner.
M iguel M artinez, A dobe F reedom
TRAVELING IN A SMALL TOWN Randall Potts In a house I cannot leave, I discover for a person like me—traveling between one pronoun & another—there’s unseen value in this forced seclusion. I do as I please: I wear a wig & a skirt—no one cares, no one stares on the street—risk reduced in more ways than one. I should’ve done this long before, but I was desperate to be seen— cooped up here, I’m ripening my dysphoria like a Rose in a hothouse—forcing a bud to bloom— wearing my flowering heart upon my sleeve— Sleeping less, feeling more; making my new self & owning it as mine—yet still desiring to be seen, tossing pictures online, watching who “hearts” them, coming out of my closet in my closet—going further by going nowhere. Randall Potts is the author of two poetry collections 'Trickster' (Kohl House Poets Series, University of Iowa Press, 2014) and 'Collision Center' (O Books, 1994) as well as a chapbook 'Recant (A Revision)' (Leave Books, 1994). Their work has appeared widely in periodicals such as American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, The Colorado Review, Interim, Poetry Northwest and forthcoming in The Bennington Review. They have also published work under their chosen name Cass Trystero.
BREAKFAST WITH GRANDMA Alexis Cooper I had my grandmother over for breakfast today, seated At the table where I had pressed out the crisp white napkins and lined Up the silverware straight like railroad tracks, golden sunlight Refracting through the crystal glasses like a kaleidoscope on the wall. I serve her breakfast and she smiles warmly at me through the centerpiece of yellow sunflowers, blue hydrangeas, and magenta sprigs of heather. She asks me about my work, singing, kickboxing, how I like to cook and we laugh because she really hated cooking (but made damn good lemon bars). I tell her how I am searching for something in my life, how sometimes it feels empty and other times it feels so full, and how I chase that meaning wherever I can find it, and lately that has been in listening to children tell me that they want to kill themselves. She nods thoughtfully and pats her lips with the napkin, her gray-blue eyes meet mine and she opens her mouth to say-My phone buzzes, and she is gone. She died before I was born and all I know are the stories I’ve heard, the pictures I’ve seen, how she loved silver-threaded tights. But they don’t share the Valium addiction she had until she left my grandpa and her children and ran to be with a woman she knew, staying with her until she died from cancer two years before I was born, or how she hated herself so much that she inadvertently gave her children eating disorders which they passed down to their children. My own struggles with my body and her recipe for lemon bars are the only legacies I have from her. And now I wonder if she hated herself so much because she was stuck in a heterosexual marriage society pressured her into, into a heterosexual family she was told was the only point of her existence, that the only way to cope with that depressing reality was to escape through a drug-fueled haze. Until one day she chose herself so violently that everything broke, and to go back meant a betrayal of herself that she might not survive. Her voice strangled by homophobia, hurt, and patriarchal trauma, she ekes out only whispers I’m allowed to know, but I crave to know all of her that I might stand on her shoulders, meet her ghost and tell her I’m grateful for her legacy of choosing yourself and reclaiming your one bright life, no matter the cost. Alexis Cooper is a poetry enthusiast and bibliophile. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Brigham Young University.
El Dibujo, M anila
AMEN Mikal Wix I sent an atheist a valentine, a man cloaked by moderation. Later, he shared a roach outside his birthday party at the edge of a circular pool behind his guru’s home. He and his husband romance the church. They asked Jesus before cutting the cake. I could not say amen; I winked at the atheist instead. Sacrifice was the evening’s theme. But John, the disbeliever, kept his head. The husband said he knew no other heathen still dying of AIDS. The hot tub gurgled urgent cries to be fomented. Sometimes I feel like an atheist, too, until the spiritual jokes provoke a rage echoed back by the black trees. His hands and feet inspire as we move down the way with coffee, balloons, and cigarettes, our arms locked in a lazy, oozing pose. In the night’s frost, I kissed his neck to find the scar. But his head rolled off in my hands, eyes still narrow with mirth. Mikal Wix was born in Miami, Florida, of green-thumbed, hydrophilic parents. He attended several colleges, receiving a BA and an MA in literature and creative writing. When not collecting books or chasing his chihuahuas around, he can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains fixing up an old ski chalet.
&rea, V elvet
TIE ME UP Themo H Peel "It starts with the eyes," you say, locking mine. Your hands reach for my neck, slowly, and I gasp. The sharp intake of air sets mind racing, microscopic detail my only anchor; your wide nimble fingers, nails perfectly manicured, strong blonde hairs jutting from each knuckle rustling beneath constricted breath like antennae signalling anticipation. With parental intimacy you tug away the poorly made knot unwinding my carelessness and expectation. “You have to picture the knot you want” – the soft swish of silk pulling through silk. “Visualise the man you want to be, the man you want people to see” – the gentle rub of fabric sliding back and forth, a sensual halo around my neck. I watch you work in the mirror, hands spell casting, weaving fabric in and out. I hope you don't see me blush, swooning at you, shifu, lama, master commander. You cantor and homily about artistry and the splendour of artifice in a world loathsome of deviance. “You’ve got to shape the knot. You're crafting a fantasy.” Blood crescendos as your work abates, hands firmly secured at my collar. You place one finger above my jugular notch and press, gently squeezing the sides of my binding. A perfect dimple forms at the centre, and the lingering scent of you – talc and saffron – the finishing touch. “This is a man,” you say, your hands braced on my shoulders.
And you leave me there, bound, ready for work, this perfect knot - a monument to tenderness. Themo H Peel is an LGBTQ writer and illustrator based in Edinburgh. He has published two young adult sci-fi novels, and has poetry published in Arlington Literary Journal and Dillydoun Review. He holds a BA in Fine Art from Yale and an MSc in Creative Writing from Edinburgh University.
THIS MORNING, LIKE EVERY MORNING James Cook I could tell you I love you, and list the multitude of things that make that true, your eyes like fresh cut aquamarine (my birthstone), the sandy ruffle of your hair after your shower, how you must perfectly flatten the top of every pint of ice cream between servings. But I’d rather tell you about how, this morning, when I was sitting on the dock where I sit every morning, where my thoughts inevitably Bob along with the ducks to your grin when your hands dance across the keys of your piano, my back on other hazy mornings; I want to tell you that this morning, I wanted to pull the sky from the sky and wear it like a shirt. And instead of telling you how something in me quivers on those same hazy mornings when I wake up to you with my pillow covering all of your face but your lips like thrushs’ breasts, I’ll tell you that this morning, the capitol peaked over the trees to watch me run and it felt like falling into soft grass and the tickle of its fresh cut fingers. I won’t say I like Ginsberg now because of you or that I’ve never allowed anyone else to force air from my monkey cheeks. I won’t even say what I mean by monkey cheeks. Just let me tell you one more time how the sun parts the clouds like your fingers on piano keys. James Cook was born in Chicago, Illinois and is currently living and working as a cook in Madison, Wisconsin. James has special interests in history and the uncanny and was published in last year's Beyond Queer Words.
A lice Teepel, P lant Spectre
IN THE GARDEN Parker Riann Flynn there is a future / in which / i step out of my womanhood / shed it / like a too-small skin / leave behind / some glossy exoskeleton / for someone to find / under the scrub / a relic for / someone else’s windowsill / sun-pierced & crumbling / these things always break apart in the light / break / my womanhood like / a fever / shed / this womanhood / make/ a break for it / lift / my womanhood from / this body / like a curse / but god / has nothing to do with it / here, a garden / is just / a garden / full of life / empty of metaphors / the paradise / does not end / at the gates / no borders / & nowhere to be cast out from / because / there is no “out” to come of / there is just / all this freedom / no other / world / but the otherworld / ever-becoming / and dream-cusp’d / and what of me / my body in this garden / freshly shorn / and sacred / left / ineffably glistening / holding all of this fear. Parker Riann Flynn (they/them) is a queer bookseller, mutual aid volunteer, tarot enthusiast, and theatre nerd based in Boston, MA. They are also a writer, but mostly in private. Their work reckons with queer ways of being, love, and liberation.
THE FALL Pavel Frolov Fall colors – Candy A blessing to have eyes To taste it Leaves rustling – A whisper A blessing to have lips To kiss you As we walk on by Sunlight’s angle – Golden A blessing to have ears To hold it in Leaves falling – A dance A blessing to have balance To stand still with you As we watch the fall Originally from Moscow, Russia, Pavel is a queer-identified New York City-based performer and writer. He recently completed his BA in Communication at CUNY Brooklyn College.
MASK Megan Stephenson I pinch the wire of my face mask to the cusp of my nose bridge. That is how I want to be loved. Molded by your body and pressed into the very curve of your being. I want to be folded to your ideals, bow you at the edges of my form and call you a protective surface. I want to be loved like the way our masks smother our lips when we breathe in. Breathed in by you. Breathing in and pressing to the tip of your tongue. Because that is where you exist in essence. Naked and untattered by our world, held up by only your unborn thoughts. Megan is a lesbian writer based in Boston. Her style is influenced by Ocean Vuong and the limited impulsivity of her own queerness and disability. She posts poetry online and writes for those who love too easily and break too often. She was raised in Miami, Florida by her Latin American mother and now writes every Sunday in a Café on the corner of her Boston neighborhood.
HAPPY CHING MING Daniel Lam “What’s this?” my husband asks. He’s nodding to a chimney sitting on the edge of the grass. A dozen or so more are scattered along the circular driveway that arcs through the cemetery grounds. They’re made of thin sheets of tin rolled into cylinders that have been cratered with dents and charred black over time. None of them are lit this morning, so they look like miniature trashcans waiting curbside for collection. I explain to him how chimneys are used to commune with the afterlife—a way for people to send money and messages to their ancestors. I say “people” and not “us” because we’ve actually never burned anything ourselves (“We’re not that Chinese,” I told my dad once while watching another family toss handfuls of joss paper into the flames). I look inside the chimney. Any ashes that were there have already been emptied, and in the dense mist, a small puddle has formed at the bottom. It’s late morning on a Saturday in May with an overcast sky, typical weather for this part of the Bay Area pretty much any time of year. Time is nebulous here, and it’s difficult to say how long we’ve been waiting for the rest of our family to arrive for ching ming. At least long enough for the wet from the grass to seep through the bottom of my shoes. While we wait, my dad pulls out the folding card table from the trunk of his car. The groundskeeper drives by in his green flatbed Jeep again. He’s the only other person here, and it’s hard not to feel embarrassed as he passes. Ching ming was over a month ago, but our family missed it. So instead—like celebrating the Fourth of July in August—we’re doing it today. “Ching ming is like the Chinese version of Day of the Dead,” my dad tells my husband, who’s Mexican. He’s like this, my dad, always in search for a common vocabulary. “Though, we really should’ve done this a month ago,” I add. It comes out snarkier than I intend, and I immediately regret it. It’s become so automatic, how I’ve learned to discount my heritage as a way of proving it, twisting myself in such a way as to puff my chest and be selfdeprecating at the same time. I have the urge to describe the fanfare we’ve missed—the sprawl of families, the slow procession of monks, the trays of jai and bowlfuls of oranges and pomelos laid out on stretches of red linens—but I stop myself. My sisters are next to arrive, followed by my cousins, and then a few of my aunts and uncles who are in town. They park their cars behind ours and come out in parkas and hoodies. A couple of them bring out camping chairs with thermoses of coffee tucked beneath their arms. We make our way through the damp grass to where my dad’s parents—my ngeen ngeen and yeh yeh—are buried. Their shared headstone is slate grey with flecks of white. It’s newer compared to the rest, so it looks glassy and clean, like the surface of a pond. The small, rounded portrait of them still shines, and none of the paint from their dates has chipped yet. My older sister has placed fresh flowers in the small metal cups dug into the ground, and beneath the dull and muted sky, they seem to shine as well. 101
My grandparents died long before even I knew I was gay, though their disapproval isn’t hard to imagine—I distinctly remember how my ngeen ngeen used to chastise my dad when I cried, blaming him for what a sensitive boy I had become. Even so, I can’t help but want to wrap myself in my fondest memories of them, to tuck myself back into their kitchen and pull candies from their pockets and fill my belly with food. I’ve come out more times than I can count in the past four years, and yet, it’s always jarring how closeted I feel when I think about my grandparents—these people who I adored yet, death notwithstanding, never knew me for who I truly was. We take turns bowing, three times for my ngeen ngeen and three more for my yeh yeh. When it’s our turn, I take my husband’s hand and step forward. He’s never met my grandparents, so this feels like an introduction of sorts, though neither of us says anything. As we bow, I feel him squeeze my hand, and I’m curious who he’s bowing to—if it’s the young, smiling couple in the photograph on their headstone or something more abstract: the plight of immigrants, the generation that raised us, or, perhaps, the act of tradition itself. Regardless, he is here by my side, and I am proud of him. After we’ve all bowed, we step back out to the curb where the folding table is filled with boxes of pastries as well as some clear plastic containers of dim sum my parents bought from Chinatown. My uncle passes around cups of hot coffee and tea while my mom is busy putting food onto peoples’ plates. We open our trunks for more seating and talk eagerly between bites. I learn about new jobs and new apartments, vacation plans and birthday parties. I haven’t been home in so long, and there is a lot of catching up to do. I meet my cousin’s daughter for the first time. She’s two already, and she almost flips over the entire table of food while reaching for a doughnut. When we’ve all eaten our fill, my aunts and uncles push leftovers into each other’s arms while the rest of us clean and fold up the chairs and table. The mist has burned off and, finally, thin rays of light start to peek through the overcast sky. One of my cousins is the first to leave. “Happy ching ming!” he says from his car. It’s cheeky and sincere at the same time, and, somehow, it makes this all feel like the holiday it was supposed to be—not the one we missed a month ago, but another one, something new we started today. We wave as he takes off. We leave shortly after, saying goodbye to the rest of our cousins still wrangling toddlers who have managed to wander farther up the shallow hill. As we make our way around the driveway, the rows of headstones blur past us like fixtures in a carousel. I take my husband’s hand, and he gives me a quiet smile. I often forget that a part of coming out is rejecting the weight of other peoples’ approval. It just feels so woven into my skin, impossible to step out from without losing a part of myself, too. Especially on days like today, when the past is made to feel so present and close, it’s easy to slip into old habits, to feel dictated by memories and beholden to the traditions that made them meaningful. As we exit the cemetery gates and pull onto the interstate, rejoining the land of the living, I imagine what I might say to my grandparents—not as a child in their lap or through a note written on joss paper and burned in a chimney, but as a yeh yeh myself, speaking to them one day in whatever language unites the afterlife. I wonder if my words will still bear an edge of resentment, 102
or if, somehow, I find a way to hold the best and worst of them simultaneously. Maybe then I will see that they were neither good nor bad, proud nor ashamed—family is hardly so simple. Instead, like celebrating ching ming in the middle of May, maybe I will find in them something far more human and familiar—something akin to close enough. Daniel is a physician, writer, and knitter who lives in Colorado with his husband, their dog, Sylvia, and about a million pounds of yarn. To see more of his work—written and knitted—visit www.masculiknity.com.
THE JEWELED LOBSTER Lloyd Stensrud The two kings ruled two northern countries that shared a long, vertical internal border. The outside edges of the countries were jagged cliffs overlooking frigid seas teaming with fish. The nations were a lot alike and even shared the same language, except for slight differences, but don’t tell them that. At various times in history one country ruled the other, until they both gained independence. A team of beautiful gray horses brought King Erik in a grand carriage to visit King Olaf’s castle. The state dinner was arranged by Queen Amaranth. The 400-year-old gold candelabras were decorated with angels and nymphs and held dark-blue candles the color of the country’s flag. At each place setting, gold-rimmed china depicted historical incidents, except the faces of the men and women were worn off. Next to each plate were gold spoons, knives, and countless forks. Numerous titled persons sat stiffly along the endless table that was decorated with vases of white roses, though the king hated flowers. A famous modern dancer was there. She had once been the girlfriend of a composer, a philosopher, and a nervous poet. Everyone toasted King Erik, their honored guest from the country next door. After five courses came the customary exchange of gifts. The visiting king, Erik, opened his long, thin box. It was a polo mallet. “I don’t know what to say,” said Erik the Silent. King Olaf hoped his gift would be athletic equipment. Opening his box, he pushed the colored tissue paper aside to find a pair of pearl eyes on long stalks staring at him. Many feelers came out of the mouth, two of them curving as far back as the tail. Resting on seaweed carved from jade was a lobster made of gold, encrusted in diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls. It had been specially made for Olaf. It was a work of art. He hated it. “The best present I have ever received!” King Olaf forced himself to say. The Queen thought about using the lobster for jewelry, but being life-sized, it was too large for a brooch or necklace. Their majesties were worn out from a day of polo playing, walking purebred dogs, and political hedging, so they retired early. In the hallway, King Olaf handed his box to a footman. “Take this useless lobster away and toss it in the junk room.” Tucking him into bed, his nanny told young Prince Nicky of the arrival at the palace of a jeweled lobster. The prince had cheerful dreams. Waking early the next morning, he ran down the grand staircase barefoot in his pajamas. He just hoped his friend Lieutenant Utrillo was on duty at the door of the palace. He was. “I wanna see the lobster! I know you know where it is. Please, Lieutenant!!” Lieutenant Utrillo rolled his eyes. “I will get it for you, Nicky, but don’t go in. I am not supposed to let anyone in that room.” 104
Using his big ring of many keys Utrillo unlocked the three locks. He loosened the lobster from its jade stand and handed to Prince Nicky. Carefully, the boy placed the lobster on the marble floor. Utrillo gave him some string and Nicky made a leash, tying it around the lobster’s larger crusher claw. As the prince pulled, the creature slid across the smooth marble on its fanned tail. Nicky ran. It followed and then passed him. It was so much fun. He picked up the lobster and held it to his chest. “I love you, Mr. Lobster!” The smell of cigar smoke meant his father was coming. He put the lobster down and stood in front of it in an attempt to hide it. The king entered the room wearing tall riding boots and a dark-purple, quilted smoking jacket over his riding outfit. “Why are you playing with that stupid trinket?” The king asked, the cigar wagging up and down in his mouth. “You should be outside getting fresh air watching the polo players practicing. You’re going to have to play the sport of kings one day. You’ve got to get out there and compete! Get out of the way.” Frightened, the prince stepped aside. The king marched forward and stomped. Colored comets flew in the air and rained like hail on the floor. The lobster was flat as a newspaper. “Nicky,” the king said, “just look at the mess you’ve made. Scoop all these jewels up and put them in a vase. If you do a good job cleaning up, I will let you have some ice cream.” In bed that night, the prince could not sleep. His hand hurt so much. He discovered a ruby embedded in his palm. He kept this a secret from everyone. Over time, skin grew over the jewel. It did not hurt unless he pushed on the bump very hard. “Now I will never be able to hold a polo mallet,” thought the prince… and smiled. An audience favorite performing short stories at LGBT open mics in San Francisco, Lloyd was featured at Smack Dab Queer Open Mic along with musician Shawn Virago. His short stories appeared in an anthology edited by Andrew Pelfini called Imprints: The Voices of Intergenerational Writers (2014).
Thomas Oscar M iles, The A rt of Being an A rtist
AQUARELLE Jeremy A. Rud we meet so you can paint me. a nude, sprawled out on the bed of my hotel room, the perfect gift for my lover. it’s barely noon, and it’s hard not to get hard when you put on your glasses. I barely manage but i’m pleased with the size of my cock floating down the river of summer skin still wet on the page. he’ll love it. at the beach we wonder why men with no tan lines stand silently facing the sea. i try it and understand. the cove is sandless and the algae grows soft but the rocks it clings to break skin, blood flowing thin and wide down our heels. you say you’re not that into sex. i understand but can’t relate. at dusk it rains enough to rinse your hair with neon. i commission more work because i trust the shade of your charcoal eyes refracted in the sweat of my gin glass. we agree it’s special to trust a stranger so, but then again, how else did i end up with a boy in every port. on the way home you say you’re romantic, ask me to tell you how i seduce. do i have a way with words or are you just as horny as me? we shower until steam sops the linens. Your fumblings only humble me, despite my own muscle memory. on the train i get sick because each jostle and sway takes me away from yet another artist, though in my musings i’m content (he loves it). despite the disorderedness i can organize amours by time, space, and circumstance. can you? after all, we made a deal. now my own eyes follow me around the room. Jeremy A. Rud is a linguist, writer, and poet from South Dakota. His scholarly work has been published in Narrative Inquiry and his poetry in Pasque Petals. He was shortlisted for the Gulf Stream 2020 Summer Poetry Contest.
A lexis Quintas, P lacer
…IN BED Emilio Williams The sky is the limit. El Buda Feliz, Madrid, 1985
If you want to feel free, you will have to love in silence. El Buda Feliz, Madrid, 1988
The truth is that he also died of AIDS. More will follow. Restaurante Dong Feng, Madrid, 1991
You will soon be traveling to a distant land. El Buda Feliz, Madrid, 1992
Death is only one broken condom away. Grand China, Atlanta, 1994
Test. Wait six months. Test, again. Tasty Asian Restaurant, Chicago, 1996
Men’s dimples will be your perdition. Tasty Asian Restaurant, Chicago, 1997 This is not the end of the tunnel but the beginning. Orient Express, Baltimore, 2000
When more becomes too much, it also becomes not enough. Orient Express, Baltimore, 2003
Reset. It will save your life. Orient Express, Baltimore, 2005
What all your ex-boyfriends have in common is you. Restaurante Chino Los Leones, Guadarrama, 2005
Men are like cats. If you ignore them, they will come to you. Orient Express, Baltimore, 2008
Equanimity tastes like happiness. China Palace, Chicago, 2013
You’re capable and competent. Prove it. House of Hunan, Chicago, 2015
The rest is not history, yet. Home delivery, Chicago, 2021 Emilio Williams is a bilingual (Spanish/English) award-winning writer and educator. His queer, fragmented essays have appeared in Hinterland Magazine (UK) and Imagined Theatres (USA), with upcoming publications in Brevity (USA), and The Writing Disorder (USA) He researches forgotten queer histories, later deploying them in essays and on his performative/college lectures. www.emiliowilliams.com
Giulio Secondo, Library!
1 J ordan Gray 2 C.P. N ield 3 Lael Cassidy 5 M ichael M cCarthy 7 Susannah H effernan 8 Evan Palmer 9 Clark A . Pomerleau 10 Rachel Ramkaran 11 Elder Gideon 12 A ndi Brown 13 F innegan A ngelos 14 Grace Gibson 18 H ailey N eal 19 N eah Lekan 20 M egan Taylor-DiCenzo 22 I an M acM enamin 23 S P ierrot 25 H yun-J oo K im 26 Earl "Owen" M inoza 27 H arry Tucker 30 K evin Lane Dearinger 31 Lou Storey 33 N imruz De Castro 34 K it I ngram 35 K atherine Page 36 J Brooke 37 J ess Rawling 38 M cK enzie H urder 42 Dante Silva 43 K atherine Orfinger 44 J uniper A sh Romig 45 Lydia Trethewey 46 Lawrence F arnsworth 49 A lan David P ritchard 50 Charles K . Carter 51 M atty H eimgartner 55 Charlotte OBrien 57 Lily M ayo 58 Sarah V ance 59 M ai Ly H agan 60 Carina Stopenski 64 Edward M . Cohen 66 Edward Gunawan 67 Ry J Brooks 68 J ulia M cDonald 71 Dick A ltman 72 A lex A imee K ist 74 Toan Tommy Lee 76 A nna Snider 77 K ay E. M oore 78 Yael V eitz 79 Dshamilja Roshani 80 Cullan M aclear 82 Brian Skillman 84 M on M alanovich-Gallagher 85 J ames W hite 86 Siarra Riehl 90 J essica Challis 92 Randall Potts 93 A lexis Cooper 94 M ikal W ix 95 Themo H Peel 97 J ames Cook 98 Parker Riann F lynn 99 Pavel F rolov 100 M egan Stephenson 101 Daniel Lam 104 Lloyd Stensrud 106 J eremy A . Rud 107 Emilio W illiams Edited by Gal Slonim Editorial Board: I an M acM enamin, Emma M cN amara, Samara Landau and Lindsey M edina Cover art: Tanya W ischerath V isual artists: &rea, A drien K ade Sdao, A lexis Quintas, A lice Teeple, Christian M cCulloch, El Dibujo, Gary M ansfield, Giulio Secondo, J ames F alciano, J ason Rodriguez, J ennifer F rederick, J iaying (F rida) Chen, J oe K laus, K yle K M , M argo Leonard, M atty H eimgartner, M iguel M artinez, Sean Quinn, Sexyamorata, Thomas Oscar M iles and Trygve Skogrand I SBN 978-3948-977-955
Beyond Words P ublishing H ouse, Berlin, Germany