10 editor in chief morgan martinez managing editor rivka yeker associated editor rosie accola issue writers rivka yeker terra olvr lora mathis special thanks naimonu james jb brager jerry maestas naima noguera
hooligan mag issue #21
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BY LORA MATHIS
GIVES AND TAKES Last night, I scribbled a list titled What am I doing with my life… and was brought back to the uncertainty that 15-year-old me held. Back then, my journals were tools for dreaming. There were several escape arrangements from my mother’s home in one of my notebooks. A page contained dark, inky blots that made out words like: How to cross the border? Concerns: Transportation? Food? Money? Another held a meticulous syllabus for myself, with detailed habits I wanted to adopt. These outlines for the future once kept me motivated and comforted, but they also fed my habit of trying to control life’s shifts through planning. As I write this, it is December 2017. In September, I left my home in Philadelphia and returned to the West Coast to visit my ex in the hospital after discovering he was in an accident. It is the end of December now, and my room on the East Coast remains untouched. It has grown a skin of silence, one as thick as a tomb’s. I expected to be gone anywhere from four days to two weeks. Three months have roared passed. Friends from Philadelphia text me to ask when I will be home. After telling them several return dates which have lapsed noiselessly, I have begun simply replying Soon. Once during an August storm, my roommate Terra and I pulled the blinds up in my bedroom and watched lightning illuminate the oak tree outside my window. The sharp white of it burst through the navy of night and made the carpeted ground we were lying on shake. Against this stormy backdrop, I told Terra that for the first time in my adult life, I was living somewhere without a loose plan of where I would go next. She shared with me that she felt the same way, but that deep down, she knew how special and temporary the moment we were in was. That our home, in its safety and calmness, was impermanent and eventually, the five of us living in it would travel our separate ways. I expressed to her how the inevitability of the life period we were in ending scared me. I felt as if I should devise a plan for the future, even if it was vague. With thunder rattling around us, she told me that when she was traveling through India, people would ask her where she was going next and she would grant them the name of a town, even though she did not yet have set preparations to go there. Eventually, her plans shifted courses enough times that she stopped giving definite answers to people and instead, embraced the possibility in not knowing.
We are both people who have had stability ripped from beneath us multiple times. Futures that we poured ourselves into did not work out. Life plans, which we gave our money and complete hope to, crumbled. Loves that we thought would spread over decades withered, and left us running across the country to sort through our heartbreak. We came to Philadelphia under the same sorts of circumstances: to rebuild after our long-term plans fell apart. Moving to Philadelphia in September 2016 was an attempt for me to establish roots. To find a room, save money, create stability, and give up on bouncing between temporary spaces. My bedroom in Philadelphia has a comfortable bed and a desk positioned against bay windows. The house it is contained in has a tiny rooftop garden, a basement to practice music, and a kitchen where communal meals are often cooked. It is a special place of safety and renewal for me. Lately, I have asked myself why I am remaining in California instead of returning to this soothing place. But a tiny voice in me says, Stay here for now and so I do. Grief has taken what it wants from me. It found me as an arrogant river rock, stubbornly believing I could anticipate the upcoming bends of the water, and has left me as a stone rubbed smooth. A few days after I found out about the accident, my friend Charlie and I went to see Mount Eerie perform A Crow Looked At Me. For those who are not familiar, the album is an intimate look at Phil Elverum dealing with the death of his wife, Geneviève Castrée. Much of my time in the weeks that followed the tragic text message revealing the news of my ex-partner was spent walking miles alone, aimless and overwhelmed—grief flailing—allowing the rhythm of the album to course through me. One evening, I sat in a park near my house and listened to the songs with my eyes closed as the surrounding oak trees rustled with the sound of loss. On the night of the show, I debated attending, fearing I could not handle hearing those songs while surrounded by acquaintances. Ultimately, I decided to go, as I had been looking forward to the show for months and did not want to miss out on the performance of such a critical album to me. Safe in the cocoon of the hushed theatre, Charlie and I gave each other squeezes of acknowledgment as Phil Elverum sang about Geneviève’s death. As the last song faded out and the theatre lights flooded the room, I was filled with the panicked awareness that if I engaged in small talk I would begin to sob. Charlie and I hurriedly snaked past our acquaintances, finally stopping on a street corner several blocks away to hold each other as we bawled. We buried our faces into each other’s heaving chests as the night enveloped us in its consoling humidity. Now, in California, the magic has been spilling out of moments; it passes like the steady current of a river, flowing with clear direction. I have spent two months sharing a futon in my friends, Reilly and Chance’s, shadowed one-bedroom. There are three of us packed into a small space; we breathe smoke clouds in the direction of the VCR and read silently on the couch, our knees touching. I know these are moments I will dust off on clouded days to remind myself of the possibility life can hold. And yet, they are all coated in loss. I am in California again because of a traumatic accident. My deeper bonding with friends is a result of tragedy. But this magnifies the beauty in them and causes me to hold them closer to my chest. Last month, on an impulsive trip the three of us took to the Anza Borrego desert, my nose was pressed to the backseat window as we all sang as loudly as we could. I watched our voices soar out of the window and fade into specks against the darkening hills, so quickly that I could not grab them, that I simply had to take in their leaving.
â&#x20AC;&#x153;Every time I have had the arrogance to presume I can know, for even a moment, what will be next, life has come with a pocket full of surprises and tossed them like marbles on a path, laughing as I tumbled to the ground.â&#x20AC;?
“Grief has taken what it wants from me. It found me as an arrogant river rock, stubbornly believing I could anticipate the upcoming bends of the water, and has left me as a stone rubbed smooth.” Four months ago, in Philadelphia, I felt very secure in my self-created isolation bubble, where I spent much of my time working on projects alone in my bedroom and taking long walks beside the Schuylkill river. The periods of my life where I had been transient and experienced adventurous moments seemed like distant, unattainable experiences. Every time I have had the arrogance to presume I can know, for even a moment, what will be next, life has come with a pocket full of surprises and tossed them like marbles on a path, laughing as I tumbled to the ground. In “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion wrote, Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. The text message arrived at nine in the morning and brewed panic into my chest as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. Lora, I have news. Do you want to hear it over text or a call?
Text, I typed.
Then, the flooding of words that did not make sense, that could not make sense, that filled my bedroom with fog—the room that had only five minutes before been a place of simple dreaming: Train. Accident. Seattle. Hospital. Critical condition.
Life changes in the instant.
Outside my door, a visiting friend giggled, waiting for me to walk out my bedroom door, dressed and ready to get donuts. Instead, I emerged in pajamas, my face a blank sheet of paper erased of any language, the tears on my cheeks before any story could escape.
The ordinary instant.
Nothing exists in permanence. My scribbled to-do lists did not save me from grief. They did not keep someone I love from being critically hurt. My plans for the future will not protect me from death or all that change continues to take. When I first arrived back in San Diego, my heartbreak was overwhelming. Memories that had over a year of dust on them resurfaced and monopolized my life. My first week back, Reilly and I sat on his futon and talked about what it was like for me to see my ex in the hospital, reuniting for the first time since we broke up. He told me, Man, you’re going to compare everyone you love to him. I told him, Yes, it sucks. Reilly explained, I mean that because he’s so great. At that point, it did not feel like a beautiful thing. I feared that I had already experienced the biggest love in my life and that I had been too young and consumed by my own emotions to appreciate it. But as the days faded into each other, I began to develop relationships with people I never would have talked to had I not come back. I realized that the belief that I would never be romantically involved again was rooted in arrogance. Life does not move in absolutes. It bends and each twist of it bringing changes — some subtle, others containing the ability to alter all plans. Shortly after I had this recognition, as if on cue, I unexpectedly began to fall in love with someone whom I have peripherally known for years. He is also in San Diego because of this accident. One night, when he slept over at the one-bedroom, we stayed up until 4 a.m. and shared secrets next to our sleeping friends — our whisperings sprouting connection. It has been a month since this sleepover and we have spent many days together since, forming a special closeness. Both of us being in San Diego is another result of loss. Neither of us live in this city. We are here temporarily, and have rooms, jobs, and friends in other places waiting for us. The last few days I have started drafting a letter to him in my head. It begins, I wish we met each other at another time, when we were both stable and living in the same city. The words linger at the tip of my tongue when we are together, and yet, I do not speak them. Moments slip through like water in my palm. Sometimes they come so quietly, the days becoming ones of routine, of going to bed early, of time given solely to work and plans. Other times they burst with color as the waves of change pass quickly, so fast that I can barely keep up with my reflection’s continual shifts. I long for things to stay the same, for all my friends to stay young forever and our days to always be sunshined and kind. And yet, I can never have the growth I crave without times that are clouded and disorienting. Without experiences that come like tossing waves and make me grip the side of the boat before deciding where to go next. In 1975, Joan Didion gave the commencement speech at the University of Redlands and said: I’m not telling you to make the world better…I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. I want to embrace the soft web of moments, to admire the intricate weavings of them and stop grabbing them off the trees. I want to allow them to spin into whatever they are, what they need to be. Nothing stays or remains as it was. The water must pass through. The current’s direction is already determined. There is nothing for me to do but tilt my head back and be swayed by the waves.
Naimonu James a conversation with astrologer / healer
/ by terra olvr / photos by NAIMA NOGUERA
Hi Naimonu! Thank you for taking the time to share with us today. Could you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and your background?
My name is Naimonu—I use they/them pronouns, I am a gender nonconforming black femme. My mother’s name is Angelique, my mother’s mother’s name is Ruth. Did you have any kind of religious or spiritual background in your upbringing throughout your life?
No, not at all actually. I think we were more of Easter & Christmas Christians. We were a Black American family descended from slaves, so Christianity was still a part of our household, it’s just that we were very removed from it. I would say that if there was any religion in our household, it was very much — at least for my mother— related to education. That became a really big focus, and there was a lot of devotion to education. If there was a spiritual tradition or religion in our household, it was really wrapped up in education and the idea of success — or, illusion of success, I should say. That definitely resonates with me, too. Did that motivation to have a strong fo, cus on education align with your life-path, or did you ever feel yourself wanting to go a different way?
It definitely aligned in the sense that I love learning. I definitely recognize that for a different household or a different kid, my upbringing could have been seen as really strict, you know? Growing up, my mom had posters of Einstein’s theory of relativity on the wall, we had to read poems in French, every summer we would have these huge packets of stuff to do. But my mind was always so hungry, and it is still so hungry. Having to keep my mind active has been really supportive of my work because my work is so cerebral. What I’ve been doing is beginning to try to integrate the other parts of my body that also want knowledge, so I think that it aligns perfectly to have had this intense focus on the intellect and the mind, and now I get to create balance with myself.
What would you say the primary focus of your work is current, ly?
My work right now, that I’m really called to be doing during this mercury retrograde, is to truly and honestly hold space for it all. If I’m writing a horoscope where I feel like I can’t hold space for it all, then I have to start over because I’ve missed something. So, that really feels like the big focus of my work right now: To remind people that they are okay. I don’t mean okay in like, don’t listen to your feelings, forget that racist fucked up comment. I mean that there’s this inherent worth that we all have, this inherent divinity, this sacredness, that no matter what happens to us, no matter what we do, it cannot be taken away. I believe that on a metaphysical level because we’re made of the universe. That’s what I love about astrology, because once you begin to really comprehend the enormity of taking form, maybe in a body, maybe not, just how big that is in the context of the universe, it becomes a little bit easier to realize that every single one of us is divine. It has nothing to do with what we do in the world, it has nothing to do with what we do in our day to day lives. We’re all divine, we’re all grieving, and we’re all dealing with different stages of heartbreak. When did you first develop an interest in astrology? and how did it guide, af-firm,,or impact your personal healing journey?
I feel like I was always interested in astrology. I don’t know if there was a beginning point, I was just always into it. I was always really curious about it. This process has almost been like sinking into honey. You don’t realize how deep in you are, but it feels good anyway. Or, maybe you do realize how deep in you are, and you realize, it’s fucking honey, so I’m good. That’s how this whole process has been feeling, whether it’s realizing how much time I spend doing this, or that I think about this all the time, and I realize I’m okay with that. In terms of my own healing process, and how it intertwines with astrology — astrology has really helped me have something to cling to. Sometimes, we can get so focused on non-attachment, you know, don’t get attached to this, don’t get attached to that, don’t have expectations, all of these things. Sometimes, I forget that this timeline we’re in is very, very long, and it moves through multiple lifetimes. So, the comfort that I get from being able to cling to something, to rely on something to give me comfort, is truly divine. It's really helpful to not only know intellectually, but to have the feeling expe- rientially, that throughout this path, there is some kind of map guiding that.
Right — this idea that the natal chart, or astrology, or reading your horoscopes, as just these moments where you can check in and remember that there is a map. It reminds you that you’re not alone. When you read your horoscope, and it resonates with you, you realize that, for example, every other Taurus may be like, wow, this resonates, I’m not alone on this journey, there are so many other people that are thinking about the things I’m thinking about, or struggling with what I’m struggling with. I think that is really powerful, and has also really helped me build my sense of empathy and compassion. Writing horoscopes for twelve different signs, I definitely realize that everyone has their unique thing that they’re working through and learning, and we’re all in different places in our journey, and in different places on the collective map together. So, there’s this individual map, and this collective map, and we’re all in different places trying to navigate towards whatever liberation may look like or feel like.
â&#x20AC;&#x153;thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s this inherent worth that we all have, this inherent divinity, this sacredness, that no matter what happens to us, no matter what we do, it cannot be taken away.â&#x20AC;?
â&#x20AC;&#x153;This idea that the natal chart, or astrology, or reading your horoscopes, as just these moments where you can check in and remember that there is a map. It reminds you that youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re not alone.â&#x20AC;?
It feels like with astrology work, and especially by sharing that as a writer, there's this responsibility there, because whichever path that you're laying, and wisdom that you're sharing, people may follow that. So, it definitely seems like it requires some element of clearing ourselves to be able to channel our highest wisdom. Are there any ways that you recommend clearing any energetic blocks so that you can do the work that is truest for yourself and for others?
I don’t know, I have my own ways, and I’ve worked to figure out those ways. For me, right now, a lot of that ability to clear is in taking time every day for meditation. I was recently called back to this practice, and for me, my meditations need to be very long. The need of them being very long is really quite joyful. It’s really pleasurable to be in meditation for 45 minutes or an hour. That is a huge part of my ability to just tap into the flow. I’ve recently returned to one of my truths, which is that I have a lot of anxiety, and I think it is something that I maybe will always have, and I think I’m just kind of coming to terms with that. So, it’s very important for me to take a lot of time to soothe all of my selves, and to really make sure that I’m doing that work, and really be able to check in with myself, and to check in with the state of my mind. That’s a huge part of the work, for me that is a part of the clearing, in actually getting into and reading into what is live and active in me—what’s subtle, what’s spacious, what’s tense, what’s agitated—and I need to check in every day, and that check in takes a lot of time. So that’s my way of clearing— your way of clearing might be completely different, and I don’t know what the best way is, and I don’t think that there is a best way. It’s so important what you touched on - just in checking in with ourselves every day, however that looks like to you.
This whole process, for me, is really remembering to be kind to myself. Some days I just want to lay on my couch and drink wine and watch Netflix — which sounds really good right now actually — those days are going to happen, and I might not make it to my altar. My altar will hold. The magic will hold. The universe will hold. The universe is in no rush. I think that sometimes I forget that. Definitely. Something I'm only recently realizing is that no matter how far off we might feel from our own path, there's always that space to return to—- whether it's an altar space, or that center in ourselves.
Absolutely, and I think that it takes a lot of work to even realize that you want to access that space within you to amend your journey. I think it’s a journey, and I always try to dance around questions that deal with routine or ritual like, What do you do? What should we do? Your journey is going to be completely different than mine. I think it’s important to have a sense of a trial and error and adventure when it comes to finding how you are able to dance with the divine, and dance with your divine self. As a healer, and with any kind of work in channeling, I find that a lot of people that are drawn to that kind of work, it's common to have a high sensitivity to the energies of other people, and to take on the energies of other people. Are there any important ways that you protect your energy and set boundaries for yourself around others?
I definitely have a lot of times where I take on a lot of energy, but I think that I’m coming to it in a different way where my work is to constantly open up, open up, open up, be present, absorb. That’s what my work is right now. I think that coming to healership can look a lot of different ways. You don’t necessarily have to be a sensitive person that is constantly absorbing energy. That is definitely a cue that you are probably able to gather information that is kind of divine or magical, but I felt that growing up, and surviving in my body, I couldn’t access that sensitivity. I couldn’t survive and also be as sensitive as I’m actually now allowed to be. My work is in returning to that. Right now, I’m more like, feel it! Feel it all! And when that becomes too much, or that becomes a problem, I will balance it out. For right now, I’m just trying to be present.
It definitely seems like through survivorship, there's a way that people do have to turn off certain sensitivities. and there's so much important work in asking ourselves how we can shed a lot of these layers and see what's there. Then, we become a better healer for ourselves, and more attuned to what's going on around us. It's really great that you're doing that.
You also learn the parts of you that need protection, because there are parts of us that need protection around certain environments and around certain people. I started to learn what parts of me can release, and I’m always learning that I get so conditioned to a certain kind of self-protection. Then, I realize that: Oh, actually, I don’t really need to have that boundary quite so tight there. But then, there may be another place, where I do actually need boundaries in this part of my life. I think it’s this constant dance, where we’re constantly moving through these different states of asking ourselves: Where am I sensitive? Where am I protected naturally? I think that changes over time. It sounds like you're maintaining this level of flexibility through that level of awareness of the present by seeing in this situation, if I have to reel myself in more, in that situation, I can open myself up more. That's really powerful that you're cultivating that. How do you envision your practice evolving over the next year or so? are there any major projects that you're working on?
For right now, my site and this work that I’ve been doing is young — it’s not even a year old. I’m just trying to build capacity, and to take responsibility for what I’m putting into the world with what I’m writing and what I’m trying to do. That responsibility is really calling me to routine and schedule. This is also the first year of my life where I’m coming into working for myself, so it’s a whole other learning curve. That is really what I’m cultivating. I’m the kind of person that wants to do ten things at once, you know, and how many things I can do in one period of time. I’m actually trying to stay pretty still, and just root, and root, and root myself in my site. [I want to] build capacity, streamline, see what’s working, see what we can keep putting energy towards, and what needs to go. I’m also going to launch a couple products. I got to work with a local letterpress to make some goddess cards that really honor the goddesses. I think they turned out so beautifully, and it was really awesome to work with someone that was right down the street. So, I’ll be releasing those, and then I’m also going to start selling the collages as fine art prints, because people are into them, which is really something I didn’t expect — they have kind of grown into their own thing. I’m also going to be having those available for folks who want to cherish them. Amazing to hear that you're going through this foundation setting, but also slow expansion phase with your work!
Yeah! Send me good vibes because sometimes I get really rattled up and think, Oh my god! I need to do like 15 more things! I’m just really trying to find some peace with where I’m at. It can often feel like once we finish one thing, we're like, Oh, what can we do more? What's next! what's next! Rather than asking ourselves how we can work the best with what's here.
It’s so gross because when you think about it, we’re surrounded by these corporations where that’s literally exactly what they’re thinking, all the time—How do we expand? What do we need to do? I really feel like there’s something important to being like, I’m not trying to do much at all. Definitely! I'm just learning to acknowledge that whatever is happening now, that's what I have to work with, and it's good.
Yeah! I’m not going to sit there and pull my hair out over asking myself, How can I produce more? How can I work more? My ass is like, How can we work less? How can I work less? That’s also a big part of the horoscopes — a lot of it is that we have been told that our worth and our value is wrapped up in the number of hours that we work every day.
â&#x20AC;&#x153;I think the real work with astrology is inviting you to know yourself at such a deep level that you choose how to act at any given moment.â&#x20AC;?
We have been, for a million different reasons, some of which are completely out of our control, trapped in these cycles of work that do not nourish us, do not nurture us, do not provide for us, do not allow us to set a life that is full of thriving and abundance. I’m fucking over it. There’s so many subtexts of my work. There’s rage in my work. It’s a rage that I’ve really learned to not put out so blatantly. But there are certain weeks or certain times where I’m just fucking tired of this presumption that someone is entitled to my labor, my brilliance. I decline. A lot of the work that I’m doing is a very gentle and subtle ask for more and more people to join me in declining. Like, No, you don’t get to have the best of me. You don’t get to have all of my hours. You don’t get to have all of my emotional labor. No. There are so many ways that our energy can either be honored or exploited in serv, ing someone else's vision. It's important to take all of that huge potential that you have and focus that into your own work if there is the room for it.
When Uranus enters Taurus, I think we’re going to really be called to be thinking about the fact that at the end of the day, because we are all sacred and divine, there are certain things that we need provided for us.. Because of the abundance that exists in the world, and in the universe, we should not have to struggle for those things. I really think that that will be an important thing over the next couple of years because a lot of people are really tired. In terms of my work, there’s a part of me that’s just like, fuck this noise. Let’s restructure our lives so that we can figure out new ways of existing and doing this work. Do I have answers? No, but I want to be in conversation with people that are wondering and that are thinking about the same things I am. Maybe they’re also really tired, and they also decline. I think we’re going to really need to collaborate with each other, while also doing our own work. In what ways do you think that community can come together more?
I think that the most important thing is for each of us to do our own work. That’s the first step. Before the moment where you realize that you don’t consent to the way the world is, I would hope— and I also really want to cultivate this into the work I do — that may you have the wisdom to immediately begin doing your own work. To realize that the stuff that you need to do, the stuff that you need to unlearn, is a mirror for the liberation work that you envision on a grand scale. So to me, the first step of building community is sitting down and figuring out what your shit is, and committing to the work. That is also coming from a hermit, so take that with a grain of salt. But to me, I’ve been having all of these really luscious conversations around folks gathering around land, and returning to the Earth. This is another big thing with my work, to imagine life—what would a healthy, reciprocal, pleasurable, joyful relationship with our planet, our divine Earth Mother — what would that look like? I think that if we were to take that seriously, if we were to really ask ourselves that question, we would have to restructure our entire lives.
With astrology, it's a big way to tap into the ethereal nature of things, and in talking about reconnecting to land and Earth. what are some practices and ways that you develop that relationship to the physical realm through the Earth?
Astrology is integration, so it’s not just ethereal or ephemeral. When we think about Saturn —what is its structure that will last lifetimes? It’s about the integration and the balance of, Can we find a way to be in this ethereal realm, and do you know how to root? I think that’s the major work of astrology. It’s not reading your horoscopes every day, which is a great practice —I think the real work with astrology is inviting you to know yourself at such a deep level that you choose how to act at any given moment. It’s this deep presence and awareness because you have in some ways just studied yourself, and learned yourself. At some point, this idea of what the planets are doing no longer has an impact on you, because you get to choose. As far as practices, nature, for me, is helpful. To be outside. My best healing happens when I am camping, and away from everything basically. A part of some of those check ins that I’m doing every day, is that I invite the Earth Mother — I sing to her, and give thanks to her, so that Earth Mother is definitely a part of my flow, and my ability to feel safe in moving through my day. That's so important to tap into that idea that even if the ground beneath our feet in our personal lives can get shaken up, to feel protected by the Earth is such a great feeling. Do you have any final thoughts that you want to share or hopes for the future?
I hope that we can be nice to ourselves, and nice to each other. I hope that we continue working towards deep tenderness, and radical care for ourselves and others. I hope that we allow our hearts to be attuned as they are, and to keep finding ways to find safety in that. I don’t know, I hope that we can be friends. Not to be that bitch but yeah, I’m so here for heart connection with other folks right now. It’s so healing for me. It seems like all of that work you're doing is contributing to that heart connec, tion, and opening up the space for others to tap into that in themselves, too.
I hope so. I can’t ask for much more. That right there is a blessing. Keep up with Naimonu James at naimonujames.com or keep up with them on their Instagram at @naimonujames.
/ BY RIVKA YEKER / PHOTOS BY JERRY MAESTAS
I met Jaboukie Young-White unexpectedly when I went to get lunch with a mutual friend of ours. He was visiting Chicago, his hometown, but was living in New York at the time. I didn’t know Jaboukie personally up until that point, but I had seen his face before and couldn’t figure out why or how. I assumed it was through DePaul, the university we both attended, or maybe just through friends’ online feeds. Later, when I got home and looked him up, I realized that he was a hilarious Twitter personality and someone I’ve probably retweeted before.
Regardless, the minute we started talking, there was an instantaneous bond that lead us to conversations about coming from immigrant families, queerness, and trying to make it. After brunch ended that day and Jaboukie was going back to our friend’s apartment to rehearse for an upcoming audition, we promised to stay in touch and I wished him safe travels back to the East coast. Over the last couple months, Jaboukie moved to LA to work on season 2 of Netflix’s truecrime parody American Vandal and has been gaining further recognition as an influencer, writer, comedian, and actor. Jaboukie recently appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon performing a set of his that he described as, “his own material, but finessed a little bit to make it cleaner”, which blew everyone away, along with Jimmy Fallon himself. Jaboukie’s future looks exciting and filled with opportunity, and yet he remains one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. When we got on FaceTime, I felt nothing but excitement to catch up with someone I had such a great connection with the first time we hung out. This time was no different; it was a conversation that left me even more inspired and motivated.
Jaboukie came out as queer to his parents on late night television. The first time we spoke back in August, he mentioned that he was still not yet out and that he didn’t know if he ever could come out because his parents, two Jamaican immigrants, would not be okay with it, especially his father. “When your family is homophobic and you’re relying on them as your only safety net and that safety net already has holes in it because they’re broke, you’re bottomed out. You tell yourself you can do this until you’re at a point where you don’t need them anymore. So, when I got to the point of being on TV, I was like, ‘well I’ll never to sleep on their couch again, so I can do this.’” At a certain point, there is no escaping an identity that encapsulates the way you navigate through life. Especially as a comedian, leaving out that part of yourself is eliminating an entire voice that lives inside of you, one that should be breathed into the art you make. I asked Jaboukie if he ever saw himself doing what he’s doing now and he said, “I never saw it happening, but I knew it was possible.” 30 Rock was his favorite show when he was 16 and he found out that Donald Glover wrote for it when he was around 22 and he thought, “Oh shit, Black people can do this.” He said, “I didn’t even know TV writing was a job, and I didn’t even know they “let” black people do that. When I saw that, I started working towards it but didn’t know if it’d actually happen.” Jaboukie originally went to DePaul University for Political Science and then Public Relations/Advertising, and then finally Digital Cinema, to which he joked, “I slowly got lazier and lazier as the years progressed.” I asked him if his parents ever berated him with making sure he secured a job, as most immigrant parents do. He shared a story about his mom working in an office for most of his life until one day she went back to school and got a Bachelor’s in the US
(even though she already had one from the University of the West Indies) and then got her Masters here, was an intern at 40-something, student taught, and then became a 5th grade school teacher who is now thinking about becoming a principal. He said, “She totally switched gears and went to do some other thing. Coming from her, she was like, ‘You can pick the safe route and when your safe route fails, what do you do? What are you left with when your compromise doesn’t work?” So, I had the mindset that I might as well go for what I wanted to do because if I go for the thing I barely tolerate and that doesn’t go well, what would I do with myself then?” I asked him if he thought that creating a ton of back-up plans and safe routes is an immigrant mentality, to expect change and know that anything can shift at any moment, but to prepare for it. He said, “I think the immigrant thing is two-fold. My parents were more okay with me pursuing comedy because I had shown that I was so serious about it from a young age. In high school, I did speech & debate and my senior year I won both comedic events I was in. If you show you’re incredibly passionate about something, they’ll be like, ‘okay’, but you have to be rich! As long as you’re rich. They’ll be hesitant and then when they see money is coming they’re like, ‘We supported you all along!’” We laughed but we know it is true because there is no generational wealth and that their concerns are legitimate. We empathize deeply, but are also confronted with conflicting feelings in how they deliver their worry and love. Jaboukie recently moved to LA and he’s been posting on social media about his disdain for the city. I asked him what that was all about. He told me about the first time he visited New York, and the first time he realized he loved the city. He said, “When I was seven, my cousin lived in the Bronx or Harlem and it was like eleven or something at night and I was like, ‘Oh my god Burger King never closes in NYC.’”
He continued about LA, “The thing that gets me is that it’s so sheltered in a way where I’m in my apartment, I get in a car, I go to work, I get in a car, I go home, I go to a friend’s maybe; you’re not experiencing life on the street or on a subway. The things that you take in on accident in New York are so magical and deeply human; I’ve been transformed just by a subway ride, like ‘I just saw some shit that changed my life and I’m a different person now.’ Those little happenstances don’t happen in LA.” I talked about Chicago and how it can sometimes feel both isolating and vibrant, the same way he described LA and New York. But there is something good about LA for writers -- the jobs. He said, “As much as I miss New York, I’m not going to say no to not struggling. I guess I haven’t learned to appreciate that you don’t have to constantly be struggling to feel alive.” Since we were talking about jobs in LA, I asked if he wanted to continue pursuing writing or standup as of right now. He said, “Both. The great thing about being in a [writer’s] room is that the room moves towards a group sense of humor, where everyone is contributing their voice to something that’s greater than themselves. It helps my standup at times, not that I’m writing in someone else’s voice, but it allows me to hear other funny people that can open my mind to new material.” Jaboukie is considered an influencer, which means at one point he was treating Twitter like a job. Now that he’s working in more professional settings, his tweets are less frequent but definitely just as present. When I was at a party and talking to someone about the upcoming cover, he said that he got a lot of his political updates from Jaboukie. I told Jaboukie that, to which he joked, “When I was doing my show in Chicago, someone said ‘I prefer to get my news from someone like you than CNN or MSNBC’ and I was like “That’s so dope, but also … I’m dumb…’”
He continued, “A lot of the stuff that I post politically is stuff that’s plaguing me, or bothering me, to a point where I need to get it out of my head, so I’m just going to turn it into a joke and then distance myself from it.” He said, “I do think it’s cool that it started out as as basically a selfish thing, like something that I’m trying to come to terms with, has been able to reach other people, and that’s awesome, but at the same time, I would really like it if people got their news from reputable sources straight from the source. I am a viewpoint but not the viewpoint.” I mentioned that as someone who is automatically seen as political just by existing with his identity, it’s almost impossible to escape what people expect from you. They begin to look at you as a person who knows exactly what to say and when to say it. He said, “I think everything is a political choice, especially when the world is so globalized. Everything you do or say is politicized. And you can try to ignore that reality and to opt out of that, but that’s also a political choice. We’re at a time where everything is at that level of importance. I don’t think I’m moreso a political person as I am an intentional person and I just try to stay aware of actions having implications. People brand it as ‘political’, but I don’t think necessarily that I’m more political than the next person, I just try to approach my decisions with self-awareness.” Intention is an integral part of comedy. I mentioned the different kinds of people in comedy and what people can get away with: being purposefully offensive, pushing boundaries, making other people feel uncomfortable for the sake of a joke. I asked him what he thought about that sort of culture within comedy and if it is something that will always exist in stand-up in general. “People will say fucked up shit and aside from that being a poor moral choice, I think you’re just a bad comedian. A lot of the time, people will go out of their way to say something offensive, or accidentally say something offensive, and it’s like, clearly you don’t know how to read an audience. It goes beyond ‘I should be able to say whatever I want’ No, you’re kind of just bad at your job. It’s getting in the way of what you’re trying to say.”
“I don’t think I’m moreso a political person as I am an intentional person and I just try to stay aware of actions having implications. People brand it as ‘political’, but I don’t think necessarily that I’m more political than the next person, I just try to approach my decisions with self-awareness.”
We discussed how in comedy, you are writing for other people. It’s not just for you, but rather, it’s about connecting with an audience and relating to one another. He said, “It’s one thing if it’s a podcast where people actively seek whatever you’re talking about out, but as a comedian, If you’re bringing your thoughts and ideas to a group of people and you’re not willing to consider the overarching social mores and taste of the time, well, what are you doing?” He brought up two comedy legends, Lenny Bruce & Richard Pryor, saying that they were, “at the time challenging prevailing social norms.” While they were performative in being over the top offensive, Jaboukie said, “They revolutionized what stand-up is. What made them so radical was the conservative mores that they were pushing against. It’s not that Lenny Bruce was fighting against people trying to say the “N” word, like, he was saying ‘I should be able to say motherfucker’ because that’s how people talk. Richard Pryor was bringing Black culture to a level that it had never been elevated in the American Zeitgeist before, but people like to think of his bits that were wildly misogynistic and fucked up as just as crucial if not more crucial to his legacy. The people who push against PC (politically correct) culture like to look back at those acts and pick out the parts that did not make them legends and icons and use that to justify why they should be able to say the “n word” or be misogynistic in their jokes.”
He laughed because the frustration lies in how bad these jokes usually are. He said, “If these jokes were even good, then I’d be like, ‘Well, ya got me! I don’t agree with you but you wrote a joke and people laughed,’ but what’s so annoying is that these people are just regurgitating mid ‘2000s shock humor, like this was already a South Park episode! People try to write it off as edgy, but it is perfectly the status quo. It is the American culture. I am lucky enough to have received a liberal arts education and I have the language to dissect these things and point out what is problematic, and there are people who don’t get that. I was also lucky enough to be young on the internet during a time where there was a huge dialogue going on, almost 24/7, but at the same time...keep up with the times.” The topic of “safe spaces” came up as we were talking about his upcoming tour and where he’d personally wish he could do shows. Coming from Chicago where the DIY scene is thriving and active, we talked about the term and how people get angry at concepts like it. He joked, “Who doesn’t want a space where they can feel okay and not like they’re being attacked?” I laughed and said, “That’d be a good joke.” He continued, “If I don’t think I can get stabbed, then I’m not going.”
I asked Jaboukie what he thought about identity politics in comedy, since it can be filled with a lot of people, like previously mentioned above, who make efforts to be offensive. I asked if he thought it is up to marginalized people in comedy to represent their identities in their titles and in their work. He said, “I don’t think you can divorce stand-up from identity. Out of all the art forms, stand-up is the one that is purely identity-based. It is literally just your identity and your point of view. In a way, I think that’s what makes it such an American art-form. It is an individual, in an individualistic society, talking about their individual experience and point of view — you cannot remove yourself from it.” I told him that I don’t believe in describing someone based on specific identities because at a certain point, it begins to sound like you’re marketing that person. “Sometimes I get angry when people are cherry-picking which identities they want to use to describe me i.e queer comedian, black comedian, millennial comedian. I’m always all those things at once, it’s not like I change from joke to joke. At the same time, that representation can get sticky because then you enter the territory of being the spokesperson for that identity, which! I don’t think is always a bad thing.” Jaboukie said, “Comedy to me as a queer black kid was the only way to gain access to social capital.” It was a coping mechanism, “In my neighborhood I was seen as the lightest person so I was read as white and at school I was seen as the darkest person, so I was trying to navigate multiple confusing identities. Because of that, it was always easiest to say I’m funny because that’s my place — I always felt safe as the funny person.” Being that funny person became not only a skill, but a way to combat potential homophobia or racism. It became a tactic to fit in, to be treated like anyone else no matter who surrounded him. He says for some reason people think that, “things that evoke joy are not seen as important or meaningful as things that evoke sadness of grief. People think joy is our cheapest emotion.” He said, “Comedy is a mass art form --- it is trying to reach as many people as possible.” In knowing that, we look at the ways comedy transforms a society and how we reflect on laughter for growth. What does it do for us in time of emotional turmoil? In political distress? In seeking happiness? Jaboukie said, “When you laugh at something, you are accepting that thing into your reality.” Not only is comedy a coping mechanism, but it’s a tool. Comedy guides society, it teaches people, it informs us on what is typically hard to swallow and makes it a little bit more digestible. For Jaboukie, it is how he navigates his life as someone who once used it as a way to be accepted by people he felt alienated by. He now uses it to impact others, regardless of whether his words are perceived as political, the fact that he is speaking his truths, getting positive reactions, and doing it all with intention, shows that comedy can be powerful in a time where the ability to laugh not only becomes optional, but it becomes crucial. Stay updated with Jaboukie Young-White on Twitter and Instagram at @jaboukie.
“Comedy to me as a queer black kid was the only way to gain access to social capital.”
/ BY RIVKA YEKER
through art I was first introduced to JB Brager’s work through my circle of radical Jews that were stoked on the “We will outlive them / Mir veln zey iberlebn” patches that they created and distributed through Instagram and their online store. This immediately got me excited; the sheer thought of the community I am so closely connected to having physical representation of our fight, especially in the most DIY punk fashion, was exhilarating. I immediately followed JB’s Instagram, only to find that their illustrations ranged from radical Jewish comics to intersectional feminist discourse to queer empowerment, all coated with an empowering self-reflexive tone. JB is originally from Baltimore, Maryland and received their undergrad at the University of Maryland in American Studies & Creative Writing. What soon would become a common pattern, they started drawing because the creative writing program they were in needed illustrations for their literary magazine. They’re a self-taught artist, inspired by zines and comics from Women in Comics Collective and A History of Underground Comics. While involved with these communities, they also grew as an artist and as a political thinker with the help of folk punk (the genre) and Riot Folk, a collective that was made up of political activist folk musicians. After receiving their undergrad, they pursued a dual MA / PhD program in Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University, where they will present a dissertation on Photography & Human Rights. More specifically, they focused on meaning in images and how those meanings change given the context or perception of the image. While they try to keep their academic life separate from their artist life, a lot of the research they do permeates through their work, just like their Jewish identity does. They grew up in an observant Jewish household and attended an orthodox synagogue. Like many American Ashkenazi Jews, they are more interested in Jewish culture rather than religion itself -- but Jewish culture can mean Jewish learning and even torah study, especially through a radical lens. At a certain point after finding themselves disconnected from organized Jewish life after feeling alienated in Israel with the youth group they were with at the time, they reconnected with Judaism when they were able to find it in a queer Jewish community that shared the same political views as them.
This is when they found themselves illustrating Jewish art because there was a demand for it. The same way their literary magazine once needed an illustrator, they stepped up the plate to provide for a community that helped them find solace in their identity again. The search to feel connected to something that sometimes feels intangible is rooted in the strength of a diaspora. I related to JB in that I, too, was reconnected with Judaism when I found the right community to celebrate it with. We exist everywhere, but it is the active search to bring us together that can sometimes require time and energy. Creating art like the art they make allows for a bond that is universally understood by Jews. It is what allows us to embrace how spread out we are, yet how close we are as a community. For JB, creating art like this not only ties people together, but it allows them to fundraise for specific causes they believe in. They said, “I’m not out organizing so it feels important to find ways to contribute politically for the ‘struggle.’” Originally they used the word “activism” instead of “organizing,” but I told them that I think creating art that is actively responding to people’s struggles and allows for marginalized groups to come together and celebrate one another is in itself a form of activism. The shape that resistance takes isn’t always being out on the streets, sometimes it is telling those that want to tear you down that you are untearable, that there is art being produced in the name of your identity and it is impossible to stop that. The way they speak on their academic research is fascinating. It also helps that I, too, am passionate about the social science behind selfies and the way a photo can make someone ontologically restless. They point out the contradiction of perception and how politicized an image can become based on who looks at it. I asked them about their opinions on the importance of captions, especially on their own Instagram. They said, “I’ve been looking at images of violence where the same image is used by the people who caused the harm as a trophy and those same images are recirculated by activists to point out the harm through another lens as a tool to rally people against that violent thing.” They elaborate on how an image can be skewed based on who views it and what that person’s own political views are. They continued, “What an image means is based on the caption.” Since a lot of their work is influenced by their own academic background as well as their cultural one, I asked where else they gather inspiration from. They said, “I’m a typical Mileniall on Instagram -- I look at my friend’s work, what my friends are posting about. I try to remain topical; I’m all over the news, constantly reading what’s relevant and, of course, reading a lot for school.” This shows because these political thoughts and rich ideas are intertwined with the images that JB illustrates; their words and illustrations are almost always coupled together. I asked them about advice they could give to aspiring artists and potential academics. They said, “Do your research and expect to make your own path. You’re not going to make money from one thing. Read Naomi Klein. Read a lot or listen to audiobooks if you don’t like reading. If you want to be an intersectional feminist, read Kimberlé Crenshaw. Go straight to the source.” JB’s art speaks on many different levels, yet it embodies radical theories that are entrenched with self-reflection and honesty. Their comics explore the ways that we question thoughts themselves. They examine how we navigate underlying fears and insecurities, and how we position ourselves amongst others. Their work is political yet deeply human; they show what it means to embrace flaws and to work on them all at once. Keep up with JB Brager at jbbrager.com and on Instagram at @jbbrager.
SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK
by Michaela Flores
You know When the snow falls fresh —so cold we choose to ignore it. A white bright like a toothache and nostalgic like the death of a small town cheerleader or overblown bubble gum— plush and mauled like rubbery flesh. Like all things unbearably fragile; It seems so inviting the way it creams and gushes at any squeeze and it seems so violent the way is makes blood easier to see. but when you laugh I can see it all wispy in the cold blue air and I like that— a tangible sublimity for once. Because what is a cherry on top of anything but cream? What is a coat if we still feel cold? I can see a heart still beating and the snow melting around the red mess of it all, but at least I did not have to worry about bugs that bite— or suck.
by Katie Lafond
i want to feel beautiful on the inside so i swallow stones slipping each slowly down my esophagus spewing a vicious splash in my stomach when the rocks rip through the stomach lining and roam to my ribcage i hope they form stalactites from the dripping stomach bile i know that the rocks will molt their skin and create crystals so when the morticians crack my ribs open they will find my homemade cave they will say she was so beautiful on the inside
by Anna Szilagyi
On Easter Sunday in fifth grade, I braved the not-yet-Spring of our backyard and grasped for the monkey bars, determined to use the open hours of our half-hearted, agnostic celebration to master the essential jungle-gym skill I lacked. I gripped the splintery wood with raw-red hands, reaching quickly for the next bar, still unable to swing with ease like the playground gymnasts. Instead, it was leftright, breathe, leftright, breathe, hang, until I slipped, fell the short distance to the hard, packed dirt and landed on my shins with a THWACK like a comic book burst. There was no cracking sound, like my mother asked later, but my right leg screamed immediately and refused to walk. I had never considered the bone inside before that moment, beneath the dusting of hair and skin smattered with scars, the leg that pushed the sidewalk while the left one rested on my orange Razor scooter, the one I used for kickball when I had the misfortune of taking my turn in gym class, which seemed to sulk with me when the back-of-the-line trick failed us. I sat for a moment, shouting HELP for the neighbors I heard bustling outside as they took out the garbage to look presentable for their families, and once I realized no one would come for me, I crawled from the swingset to the back door, knocking for my mother. On the couch, the pain rung persistent in my shin, which knew before my brain that we were broken. I tried to walk at my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s beckoning, but before my foot could touch the ground, my pain pressed me, not gently, to rest. When the cast cracked open at the orthopedistâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s office, dead skin clung to my leg in between patches of now-dark hair, deprived of sunlight for weeks in its cave, and my mother started scrubbing away at it with a damp paper towel
while I thought for the first time how I’d like to see it shiny and smooth like in the razor commercials. I dragged it, with its sore, stiff ankle, to the fifth grade pool trip, where I considered not for the first time how my child’s belly would spill out in my old two-piece, and to field day, even though I couldn’t play the games, and I prayed that summer––or just wished hard–– for the growth spurt the orthopedist promised, the one that would stretch my body into a string bean, a form unlike my fuzzy legs and almost-breasts not yet wanting to appear, my lovely, in-between body that I had just started to question––its size and shape–– its healed leg that begged me once to listen to it. If only for that moment, to listen, and not think that I knew better.
by Amanda Waters
You found me in December Barren and leafless. Kept me in your Airtight mason jar Called it poetic Stunting my growth Secluding me from Getting to know The blooming that would Become of me Without you. Are the Clippings You took from my Flightless spirit Rotting in your Garbage bin? Does the Chalk-outline Of my body Still stain Your futon? Are these visuals Burned in your brain When you think Of what You did to me? (Do you Remember it At all?) You only took The foundation Of my body. You donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know I still own my clawing roots I grew in secret; Buried and safe From you and Your chainsaw hands.
die mound / mine
by Alyssa Gould
split down the middle, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve lied to them before, when your eyes were barely open the world still aflame around you, reminding them that things unwatched are not unnoticed though unaccounted for, untroubled, bound by what youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve seen but not felt
by Davie. & Tiffany
Simpler times - parcel of delicate childhood recollections, flaking by the sweet, solemn whisper of remembrance. A longing seed who seeped from my juvenile soul and drug itself directly below the feet- feeding into the loose dirt of our starving earth, giving animation to the trees that mutate into robust vines who burgeon and persistently haunt the hollows of my head- thriving ceaselessly. I stand barefoot among the roots in the midst of bloom wallowing in the muck of my mind. Shouting timber at theories that drip from deathâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s head because they took up the sunshine during my darkest hour. Butchering cords of song at the ears of angels that sought out my wicked soul for refuge. I have never known peace but only the idea of it. Withering away from my innermost vulnerable causing the scars to show. Blinking moments flashing by. The soil has crept over my buried toes. This must be the place of my righteous. Outcrying the rain, outlasting the sun. Blood sucked away from pricked fingers. Raw marrow sprawled about to nurture. I am here above all else and I will remain.
by Summer Farrah
i want to go to the dead sea / “where all wounds heal” / dad says looking at my knuckles / cracked from eczema / kept open by nails / tells me of how he would float / uplifted by salt / tells me teta and sido would float / tells me our family history of floating / it is not like us to drown / but then, baba, why does it feel like i am drowning? / the salt enters my knuckles / i am still drowning / the saltwater does not sting as badly as everything else / our family does not have a history of drowning / everyone gets a little sad sometimes / words hiding medical records / words weighting my ankles / salt water may not save me now / take me to the dead sea where i will always float / mama puts salt in my bath / tells me my wounds will heal / my ankles tingle / i feel water touch the spaces between my toes / i feel porcelain against the soles of my feet / i remember when i wanted to play dead / so i leaned back / let water enter my ears / wetness slowly covering my cheeks / touching my nose / i heard the language of the sea / tasted salt on my lips / it stung / i heard the door open / i heard my mother scream / her voice mixing with the language of the water / her voice mixing with the language of the salt / i wondered if this / too / was healing / but don’t worry mama / you said we do not drown / i want to go to the dead sea / i am always drowning / throw me in water / watch me sink / watch my wounds repel salt / watch my body absorb salt / watch my body attempt to become new / we do not drown / i will not drown / remember summer we do not drown / remember we never drowned / remember none of us drowned / i will not drown / we will not drown
by Sydney Smith
make an offer tender something an i across the parquet: the management’s radio proximate almond soap and it’s faint but faint is a particularity that confirms it’s real a dusky brevity over quiche lorraine at adjacent tables another me goes there head first and possibly arrives i want to be big and more but also a perfectly smooth pebble in your pocket you can throw me across the river you know
Hot Air Balloons
by Alyson Gines
Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? You feel weightless, free, held up by the wind and fire and sun. You become, for a moment in time, infinite; at one with the universe. Sometimes, though you are not gifted weightlessness; the sky and sun and winds and your lungs cannot hold you up. Sometimes you become gratefully dependent on pills and needles and machines that read your bones. For while you are no longer weightless, you are, at least, alive.
Nighttime In My Room
by Mary Kate Crowe
It occurs to me now, At 1:37 am As I lean forward Back curved lids heavy from reading in the dim lamplight That I have stopped thinking of you. I think about work, time off and the coffee grinds under my nails how I should play my new guitar, still with a birthday gift sheen, more often and my unused ice skates dad just gave away I think of that girl in Florida I hope sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s doing alright And I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think of you Or your soft wet curls Or your boring eyesI do not try and divine meaning from the night I gave you my sweater and held you as you shook
Why Get Out Of Bed?
by Emily Dubin
When your heart is a rock that sits in your stomach and your brain is a swirling whirlwind that leaves you dizzy in darkness and your skin is on fire with the desire to escape it, why get out of bed? Get out of bed because maybe you are full of magic. Maybe the world is brighter than it looks through those blinds or maybe the brightness in the world is you. Get out of bed because you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know. Change is the only constant there isâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; we wander through waves of wonder and wreckage, floating and sinking and floating and sinking and sinking and sinking and sinking but you will float again. You are wildly beautiful and enormously important, with gold in your smile and wonder in your bones; outside your door is a flood but you will float so get out of bed.
by Jocelyn Rockhold
We never did smell that sea air or feel the sun hit our skin like the touch of a lover But we did go to the mountains and play in the snow as children, the snowflakes glowing in the sky like the lightning bugs that live in my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s home state Your dry lips on mine were heavy when I licked into your mouth What did you taste? My salty tongue? My remorse? Whatever I had for lunch that day? I think you said you tasted the sun and maybe the oranges I was always eating Remember when you pressed me up against the wall and stuck your finger in my mouth, Breath hot like a savannah breeze Eyes dark as beetle wings You said I was the most delightful thing you had ever felt As you kissed me hard on that crumb-filled bed After, I was ashamed for what we had done You smiled, teeth shiny like coke bottle glasses and I Choked on hot, hard air But then you smoothed your dark hand over mine Words leaving your mouth like a hot air balloon taking off â&#x20AC;&#x153;my lover, my darling, there is nothing more pure than two women a bed and a train to the coastâ&#x20AC;?
by Heather Bell
I held you like a pebble but you were a boulder on my chest I have found a safer way to seduce the cold than by burying my breath beneath your weight I have tip toed in the fairest parts of your rigid soul and I have found that we are synonymous with trickling drops of weighted rain waiting for some great hand to wipe us away if you are happier with speckled features then hold me to all accounts for my foreboding tongue has a way of twisting knots out of fragile situations and my fabled feet have made a living at evading I once saw us in starlight and now on brighter nights I trace a skyline sewn together by empty verse and I can almost taste the breath that I had captured with the cold I can almost feel a pebble where stone met flesh and bone
by Anna Stenka
The earth never settles; it moves, constant. Fresh soil dug up, replanted where new life grows or the dead forever lie. Edward Sotomayer Jr. ~ Stanley Aldomovar III Luis Ocasio-Capo ~ Juan Guerrero Eric Rivera ~ Peter Gonzales-Cruz Luis Vielma ~ Kimberly Morris Eddie Justice ~ Darryl Burt II Some see rows of freshly planted peonies, sprouting from restless earth. We see columns of headstones crowning graves of kings and queens. Deonka Drayton ~ Alejandro Martinez Anthony Disla ~ Jean Perez Franky Valazquez ~ Amanda Alvear Martin Torres ~ Luis Wilson-Leon Mercedez Flores ~ Xavier Rosado Why were they, Mother Natureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s royal offspring, made to settle in this shifting earth? Now, we are left to fathom why their reign ended. Gilberto Menendez ~ Simon Fernandez Oscar Aracena-Montero ~ Enrique Rios Jr. Miguel Honorato ~ Javier-Jorge Reyes Joel Paniagua ~ Jason Josaphat Cory Connell ~ Juan Valazquez These kings, these queens, these rulers were shot down, forced from land once ruled with rainbow scepters and an iridescent love of life. Luis Conde ~ Shane Thomlison Juan Chevez-Martinez ~ Jerald Wright Leroy Fernandez ~ Tevin Crosby Jonathan Vega ~ Jean Rodriguez
Despite weapon-like fear ensnaring her kingdom, the restless earth never ceases. Her humble, dancing children rest deep within her breast, and we fear she has lost her pulse. Yilmary Sulivan ~ Christopher Leinonen Angel Candelario-Padro ~ Frank Hernandez Paul Henry ~ Antonio Brown Christopher Sanfeliz ~ Akrya Murray Geraldo Ortiz-Jemenez
over pasta and fruity soda, my oldest friend asked me if any of it had worked. standing in neat lines, shortest to tallest, reciting surahs before we went inside and learned geometry, deen, gardening, etiquette. we went to kindergarten together and there she scratched my cornea by accident when she was twirling around with her arms out. when we met in cologne we hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t talked for eight years we both had a new first language and our farsi paused and stumbled and lost its syntax. she remembered so much that i felt insecure. how does a person go so far for so long and still remember? behtarin zamane zendegie man bood, she said, when i asked. it was the best time of my life. i remember the red brick, the window frames painted yellow, then dark blue. i remember the echo in the staircase, white stone of the courtyard names but not faces, the smell of fried onions hovering around the prayer room where we had yoga class after school. it gave us discipline, i told her, standing in the lines. it gave us the sort of neurosis that makes you successful once youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re here. she showed me around her city. i couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t help but feel embarrassed when we said goodbye under the cathedral with the soot black towers.
by Kennedy Horton
I wanted to move to New York To the city Because it was dirty and hot and pretty Speaking to me through the awnings and lights, it said “This is the place your dreams come true” I wanted to move to the country Sweeping and silent and sound I’d be able to see every star in the sky No soul would know my name I wanted to move to the water Waking up to softness and breeze Aquatic rhythms, I dance on beat In and out. One with sea. I wanted to move to the jungle Unfurling my roots through the earth A feral woman, dressed in nature Doing as the animals do I wanted to move to my home Where it’s golden all the time Where love is always in my hair And I don’t want to move anywhere
conjugal visits with space oddity
by Sharon Akosua
you’re always flying with those leftover cream soaked wings you sunset renegade, you lightning-strike chaser you’ve caught ultraviolet with your gnawed teeth gleaming and fast crimson gums bleeding you’ll hit the sun before you hit absolute zero and you’re not interested in becoming a star as much as you are in introducing yourself to dark matter i don’t have to leave the atmosphere i’ve experienced the constellations buzzing in your 4am sleepsong devoured enough of the milky way frothed at your edges before you leave sing a song for me in Orion that coyote-weeping asteroid hymnal you tell me there is no god but i feel It in your rhythm back snapping before flight back snapping the other night all you do is worship come back like you usually do cheeks softened and out of place your nakedness dusted with moon skin damp with your stardust you tell me that a black hole has been born and suddenly i am a universe and always i believe it
by Caitlin Wolper
Pea-sized splotches purpled his shirt when, draped in its blue, I cut a pomegranate open. The halves split, splattered to reveal a bloody mouth separated into caverns of glistening teeth. The seeds squirted, struggled to fall softly into my palm: streaked a rich pink wine across the counter. Arms rashed by fruit, table still slashed with juices, I scrubbed his shirt furiously in the sink until all the stains Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d made washed out.
Fire and I.C.E.
by Eva Galindo
my body does not know borders. its longing stretches across a continent, across two countries, across rivers, mountains, deserts across empires, colonization, genocide, conquista. I left my heart en el naranjo de mis abuelxs, it took root there. distance makes the oranges grow sweeter. distance makes the heart grow fonder. on quiet nights, I can hear it calling back to me. the morning I watched my mother watch her father be buried on screen through facetime, watched her eyes close against tears so she could go to work, that is when I knew. my body does not know borders, but my rage and fury do. mi ama crossed a border for me. I am going to burn it down for her.
by Ben Donkor
I turned on the lights. I rolled over, nudged him awake, “What do I sound like?” I whispered to him. He looked at me, and he said,
“You sound like thunderstorms, Like thunder passing through the city, Disrupting all voice, all noise, all consciences, A roar, an uproar from the crowd at the stadium, Shouting with pride, beating their chests in awe, Spectacular sights, waterfalls, crushing rocks, crashing on rocks with nowhere to go but south. You sound like clatter, like hurricanes and cyclones hunting for blood, with destruction in mind, Bloodshot eye, dark skies, thunder and lightning, Rain pouring over open wounds, Winds so strong they envelop oaks and eagles and falcons, In a cold embrace. You sound like violent death incoming, Fracturing your lungs, squeezing your heart out in one hand, Holding your body still, still, consciously unconscious. You sound like powerful gods and like the voodoo priests that bind them and worship them and prostate before them praising their holy goodness and praising their holy evil. You sound like life and death, You sound like God and Devil, You sound like noise and silence, You sound like everything and nothing, All at once.“
I turned off the lights.
by Jensen McRae
1. My first impression of you is that you would look better with short hair. Crammed in the back seat of your Prius with four guys I don’t know well enough for this kind of proximity, You and your first mate navigating the back streets of South Central from the front, Blasting The Life of Pablo because it is March of last year, Which is to say that El Niño is an empty threat of flood, You have to listen to it through better speakers, Okay, I will, I promise This is the loudest, warmest claustrophobia I have ever felt— I wonder if your girlfriend would mind if she knew that your voice is only sandpaper as long as my edges are rough. We park a half-block from the party and disappear into the sidewalk. I lose sight of you just as I get smooth. 2. I was right. You do look better with short hair. It is September of last year, Which is to say that summer is clinging to the doorframe with all the strength in her sweaty hands, Which is to say that you look better without a girlfriend, Too. 3. I can’t take it. Watching you watch her like that. Her voice—so smooth. Like her vocal cords have years of practice singing for a filter of grit and polish. You’re so full of pride it’s almost pornographic. Five of us sit around a table, Two couples and me. One of the guys remarks that I’m “a strong, independent black woman who don’t need no man.”
Between that and the adult movie of fondness playing across your projector of a face I have to get the fuck out of here. It’s February of this year, Which is to say that it’s still raining. I seek cover under an awning and cry shamelessly in front of the stranger who chain-smokes beside me. Both of us would rather risk respiratory illness than be in there, Him without his nicotine, Me without my martyrdom. From what I can gather, Your tongue can’t distinguish between nicotine and self-pity with your nose plugged and your eyes closed. I’ve been senseless since you kissed me. Onion. Garlic. Apple. Amen. 4. There is a saying in science that to remember is to recall only the memory, Not the thing. That every time you remember you are polishing the edges of the moment until the rough parts are too level to reckon with. Which is to say that it is still October of last year, Which is to say that it is cold and dry and I am dumb enough to think that villains lose elections and Los Angeles can go another winter without rain. That the look in your eyes runs deeper than the legal limit. We are living in this moment and you are already smoothing it down. When you kiss me it tastes like a riot. How could I not foresee the day I tried to burn down Pershing Square? The storm that would flatten my city? The quiet rebellion I stage when you return to the girl with marble in her throat?
cigarettes are bad, kids
by Claudia Vera
heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll turn your lungs to dust make a forest fire out of your veins your heart will quake and your liver will flood until all thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s left is the ashen site where he nestled you between his lips only to set you on fire