Italics Mine Double Issue 17 & 18

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Italics Mine showcases the new, creative literary voices of Purchase College students — majors and non-majors alike — through print and web. The diversity of the student population is reflected in the pieces we have chosen to share here with the entire college community.

Italics Mine is a notable addition to the Lilly B. Lieb Port Creative Writing Program at Purchase College. The program’s close proximity to the cultural life of New York City and its numerous writers in residence make it unique among undergraduate programs. Purchase College is the only institution in the SUNY system to offer such a major. Special thanks to the Purchase College Affiliates Grant for their support in the printing of this issue.

The Creative Writing Program at SUNY Purchase College, in Purchase, New York 10577, publishes Italics Mine. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of either the magazine staff or any institution. Following publication, all rights revert to the authors and artists.

Cover Art

A Gift by Mitchell Angelo


Spring 2020



























Returning Quanta: Bodies Sinking Again As They Must Haikus on the Home

A Refractory Swan Song

A Place Without Walls Buckets and Buckets East Harlem Rumble Gespenster

The Sound of a Mind Taping Over Itself; Coming to Terms with the World I Will Never Birth [Word Collage #4]

Crush The Chair

The Vulnerability of Letting My Mouth Hang Open 3218 W. PI. In My Garden Answer's End

My Language Drops Like a Snake From the Forked Tongue of Desire Playing Solitaire as Night Falls I asked to dig her up


The People Who Watch Me

Caring for Animals

Midnight Snack

Find Your (My) Mother

Mathilda Cullen

Nicholas Dinielli

Michael Schmitt

Ryan Majors

Olivia DeBonis Mars Mendez Mathilda Cullen Mathilda Cullen

Nicholas Dinielli

Lianna Lazaros Jordan Ford-Solomon Taryn Nasuta Olivia Adams Lianna Lazaros Ryan Majors Mathilda Cullen Nicholas Dinielli Jordan Ford-Solomon

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An Interview with Skylar Jennings Already Home An Interview with Ben Roffman Language is Power The Drumstick Incident An Interview with Lianna Lazaros Do Houseflies Mind the Dust An Interview with Xingyun Wang An Interview with Ravneet Sandhu

An Interview with Mitchell Angelo An Interview with Jakob Lorenzo Drowning the Sorrows of Ville Rose (Book Review) The Logic of Illogic (Book Review) An Interview with Trisha Murphy



Katie Lamar

Ben Roffman

Grace Mahony Ravneet Sandhu

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Collage Self Portrait Dazed Go, Gently For a Moment Untitled Subliminal Addiction Connected Birth Control (series) Morning Bird Stellanova (series) Waning Lady Tomato Sandwich Owani Manducate Slash Her Amsterdam, November 2019 Feverhead Comprehending

Skylar Jennings

Sonya Rio-Glick

Cerissa DiValentino Jordan Meiland Edison Caughey

Kristen Manchenton Michael Schmitt

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William Ramirez

Kalila Abdur-Razzaq Rachel Bevacqua Xingyun Wang Bailey Hummell Sarah Couture Joseph Restaino Nana Achampong Olivia DeBonis Jakob Lorenzo Stella Picuri Jasmine Yanase Sarah Couture

Kalila Abdur-Razzaq Rachel Bevacqua

Angel Ramirez Alyssa Monte Xingyun Wang Rachel Bevacqua

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Family Portrait Island (series)

White Mana Diner Business Transaction

Misbehaving Youthless

Connie Nu-T'Err: Patron Saint of Shit-Talk Florence, October 2019 Her Happiness Wanted Palace Diner


Breathing In

My Year of Celery and Carrots and Onions Tea for One

Today, the world is not ending.

Kalila Abdur-Razzaq

Alexander Atkinson

Isabel Parades

Mitchell Angelo

Nikita Gotov

Jasmine Yanase

Jakob Lorenzo

Alyssa Monte Nana Achampong

Isabel Parades

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Trisha Murphy

Trisha Murphy Trisha Murphy Trisha Murphy

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ISSUE 17 Look! A Pig Xingyun Wang Oil on canvas
Italics Mine

Congratulations to Mathilda Cullen

First place winner for her poem: "Returning Quanta: Bodies Sinking Again As They Must" & Nicholas Dinielli

Runner-up for his poem: "Haikus on the Home"

Inaugural Writing Contest on the Theme of Home

“Perhaps home is not a place but an irrevocable condition.”

-James Baldwin (American novelist, playwright, and activist)

Is home inherited or won? Is it one place, or many, or no place at all, but in the imagi nation? What does it mean to be at home, whether in body, spirit, or place? And what happens when home is lost, or remade? Whether crossing literal or figurative borders, we at Italics Mine invite your work with the impulse for home at its heart for our inaugural writing contest. Send us your poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction engaging with this theme, in however you define home.

Returning Quanta: Bodies Sinking Again As They Must Mathilda Cullen

Billboards advertise a new format of skyline and tell us it’s time to leave. A streetlamp gives way to smoke, announcing the collapse of our faith in local infrastructure. Gas leak again. A hawk softly circles over the interstate, saying that this is the only way to cope. As I lie awake, the crickets are a clock ticking toward sunrise. When the birds turn on we are reminded of what it’s like out here in the nowadays; the hot bubbling of horizon and geese. Grounding myself as in never leaving. Where else to go but the living room, but the endless strip mall that is this island. To the end of dislocation, of the miles of sewage that open beneath us. Here, in the only house we'll never own. You know what waits in the woods to keep it from us. A country is only as large as the cops maintaining it. All land is stolen. Soon it will return our theft.

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Haikus on the Home

Nicholas Dinielli

[Scene: nighttime; late, and dark. The buzz of the overhead street light is an incessantly ringing doorbell, the arrival of a thousand unsolicited guests who refuse to accept that no one is home, or, rather: those who are home refuse to answer.]

Dried up baby's breath scatters across the table when windows open.

Morning, glorious Flowers planted evenlyan unfurled, blooming, immobility. Frozen, with a lost Terror, unable to cope -

Vernacular bricks, a responsibility of preservation.

Sunny AfternoonsI once had something to doand children played There.

Great-grandpa had dreams: a tenement couldn't last, it wouldn't sustainGrandpa turned to crime as a form of expression, never writing well -

he could hardly sing, although he beat up the guys who crooned on corners.

Daddy: the last hopehe would be the redeemer, the one to succeed.

"Move him up, northbound where trees outnumber people" the teachers engaged his affinity for numbers - (came from bookies who taught him to bet

when business was slow) then, he crafted his own codes and built a desktop.

I am left with this legacy of binary in my own new form.

Faded nostalgia: the potential energy lingers in silence.

Inherited space, a story of love and lossthe heirloom; gold cross.

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The People Who Watch Me Katie Lamar

I pull up slowly into the driveway, turning my car headlights off before I even I hit the brake. It is the dead of night, and rain is lightly pat-pat-patting on the hood of my baby blue June Bug. It is the brightest of colors. Of course it has to be bright. I am so seen out here. The bushes are high around me, and the trees bend and twist over my car, simply looming. When I peer over at the front porch to my house, my throat tightens. The door must be at least forty feet away. The trek seems impossible; the journey far too great. But I know, deep down, I am too old to be this afraid of the dark.

I lock my doors from inside the vehicle and hold my breath, listening to the rain outside. I try to decipher between footsteps and droplets, but it’s so hard when my ears are ringing and my head is in the gutter. I slowly reach out and turn my key to kill the engine. Everything feels vulnerable. The windows easily smashed, my skin sliced, my bones broken. My body feels like one big eggshell.

A tree snaps above me and a branch falls down beside the car. I would scream, but I am so petrified that I cannot move an inch. So I just scan through the windows with my eyes, keeping all of it, everything, inside of me.

I reach for my phone and turn the brightness down immediately. I text Eve, “I’m home, can I call you?” and wait. Even the mere seconds between ‘Delivered’ and ‘Reply’ are excruciating. I need her to be awake, alive, here for me. Her reply is not a text, but a phone call. I answer before it can make a noise.

“Okay,” I whisper, “I am going to unlock my door and head to the house.”

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William Ramirez Digital (scanned), shot on 4x5 camera

“Alright. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” she says. There is pop music blasting in the background of the call. I hear laughter and glasses clinking. I remember that it’s a Saturday night.

“Are you at a party?” I ask, eyebrows furrowing. We have been best friends for over ten years, and have never gone to a party without each other. My heart deflates in my chest.

“Yeah I am,” she says, “but don’t stress. You’ll be okay.”

“I know I’m going to be,” I glance at the door handle, and then back out into the darkness, “It’s just that I’m worried.”

“You’ve explained before.”

“No, I know, I know, I’m sorry,” I say. The music on the other end of the line grows louder, and I hear Eve start giggling. “The door just seems so far away,” I give a small laugh, trying to match her energy. I hear no reply, “I just...gotta run to it.”

I look down at my phone. It reads 1 AM.

"Everything feels vulnerable."

“I know I’m weird,” I say. I unbuckle my seat belt and grab my purse beside me. “Even just a phone call makes me feel safe, so thanks.” And with this, my heart beats so quickly inside my chest I feel like my own instrument. I look at the entranceway to my house, and see the rain falling from the illumination of the outdoor light bulb. I wish the light reached over here.

“It’s okay. I just think you need to speak to someone about this,” she hiccups drunkenly, “I can’t keep doing this every night, Meg. I got a life to live.”

“No, you’re right, you’re totally right. Okay, I gotta go. See you soon, nighty night,” I say quickly and pull the phone away from my ear. I wait for the, “What? Are you okay?” and am met by a much simpler, “Alright, good night.” I hang up the phone and push it into my pocket, looking out through the glass at the darkness. The rain has become a downpour, but I have to face it at some point. I

can’t go another sleepless night trapped in this car. I close my eyes and try to remind myself that he has been in jail for over a year now. He can’t hurt me anymore. Only I can hurt myself. So I take a deep breath, pushing a loose sob down my throat.

I open my car door, and bust out into the night.

“Screw you,” I say to the man behind the basketball hoop. I slam the door. “Fuck this,” I hop over the man crouch ing beside the car. “You’re dumb,” I tell him.

The rain pours over me as I strut up my sidewalk, into the light of the entrance way.

“You think you’re so clever hiding in those bushes?

Well, I SEE YOU!” I tell the three guys dressed in green, eyes glued to me, unmoving. I fumble with my keys for just a moment, and terror strikes me in the gut. Shaking, I find the right one, and open the door to the house. I turn around, to everyone waiting on the lawn, all camouflaged.

“Go home,” I say. “This is my house.”

Collage Self-Portrait

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A Refractory Swan Song

Non-stop cars flood along the cracking street Encircled by gulls and a kid in need Of a character trait. The noble steeple Still pleadingly stands; bells drumming a song While the kid traces the circular bird As invisible as a traffic light.

He mounts his undersized bike, deft and light Which can outride a cop in these streetsBut only at night, “Maybe a great bird I shall endeavor towards? All I would need Are wings and a beak and a hefty bird-song!” Away, people clutter under the steeple.

He rides fast. Triangles atop the steeple Hide bells in their prism, twisting sunlight Into color and, perhaps, a sort of song. Straddled on these shapes, stories above the street, He rends the prism apart as one who needs Dimensionality. Every laughing bird

Fails to greet this strange, new, triangle-winged bird. But the people who flocked to the steeple, Mice to a sewer, can’t/won’t/don’t need To notice how, inspired by the way the light Glides through the stained glass, he swoops to the street And clamps down on a crack, tender as a song,

To create the instrument for his song. He flies back up, eager as the dodo bird Meeting hungry sailors, or a young street Performer looking to make it big, and steeples His wings. Silence. Furiously in the light, The bird/kid glares at the bells while a dark need

Bristles through his wings. “Surely, they don’t need Their inanimate music?” He savors their song in the air; sees it reflect off the light of cars humming like the termites on his birdbody. His prize is as strong as the steeple, However, and as endless as the street.

The people, in need of hope, point out the bird Battling the bell’s song from atop the steeple. Mute, he flies to the light; drowns in the street.

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Penrose Skylar Jennings

People say time feels slower when you are a child because you are experiencing every thing for the first time, constructing memory after memory, making time seem like it's moving slower. Think about times when you go on vacation and how long that first day feels or how a weekend in the summer away from your normal life can feel like a year going by. For this reason, most people have some of their most vivid memories as a child; everything is new. As we grow up, life becomes more predictable, and we fall into more patterns, which make time appear to be accelerating, producing nebulous strings of memories.

I grew up in New York City. I lived there, went to school there, and have spent the majority of my life there. My memories of growing up there as a kid are going to the park with my dad and my older brother, getting blisters from climbing on the monkey bars for too long, or the way my mom would drop me off at school in the morning, and I would cry because I didn't want her to leave. The regularity of these ceremonies has sculpted these memories together in my mind, intertwined and indistinct. But there was always Santa Fe. It was where my grandmother lived. We called her Bibi, but her real name was Baleine, which she hated because it meant whale in French and it made her insecure about her body. Bibi lived in, what I thought as a kid to be, a museum. Never-ending hallways, rooms with 20-foot ceilings, and a view of the desert and the distant mountain ranges that later in my life guided me to Georgia O'Keeffe. It had to be that large because Bibi was an art collector. Each of the long hallways and 20-foot ceiling rooms were packed with a skillfully curated

combination of Native American art and the more modern abstract expressionist pieces which she collected through out her life. She built the house for the artwork and put it on the top of a small hill, which was accessible by a winding gravel road through the front yard. In the back of the house was a little garden oasis in the desert, lined with colorful flowers. At night, the house would go black, and the faint noises from each room would echo throughout the quiet hallways, turning the long journey to the kitchen – for a late-night snack of ice cream or sopapillas with honey made earlier that day – a perilous affair where every statue became a ghost, and every mask became a face staring back at me in the dark. The walk back upstairs was always the worst part because the voice in the back of your head tells you to run, but there is something about running in the dark that only makes it scarier.

Alzheimer's is a neurological disorder that leads to the loss of nerve cells in areas of the brain that are responsi ble for memories as well as language. It's a slow death: one of those contrived statements that people say whenever the disease seems to be brought up. This statement always felt strange; at least, the choice of the word slow made me wonder if it meant it was slow for the sick or slow for the ones watching. You first see them forgetting your name, then they forget what day it is, and slowly, more and more of them is eaten away. Supposedly your oldest memories, childhood memories, are the last to go. When I learned my grandma had it, I was young and didn't know what it meant. As I grew up and we kept going to Santa Fe, I saw the impacts of the disease on not only on her, but on my mom. Luckily there were distractions for both of us.

For me, I was more than lucky that for many years all I remember about Santa Fe was how big the house was, how great the food was, and how much fun it was to go into that giant room where my brother and I stayed, with a quadruple bunk bed carved into the wall. I remember waking up in that daze of post-travel sleep where you're not quite sure where you are, but with my eyes still closed I could tell by the smell of pinion, mothballs, honey, and

fresh flowers that I was in the top corner bunk above my brother’s in that museum on the hill where my grandma lived. And early on, I would look out from my bunk and see Bibi sitting on the chair across the room, waiting for us to wake up. We would talk and tell her about school and our friends, and she would listen and occasionally read to us from Robin Hood or other fairy tales. At some point this ended, and I would wake up and look at the empty chair and think maybe she slept in, or that we had grown out of her early morning vigil. When everyone in the house was awake, we would make our way downstairs for a breakfast of huevos rancheros then run out to play knights in the garden. Later in the evening, as the sun went down, the sky turned a darker purple and the temperature dropped, creating a kind of aura only found in the desert, and we all would head out into the garden for dinner. After, my brother and I would go out into the grass and put on little performances ripped from the scenes of Monty Python. He would pretend to cut off my limbs one by one as my parents and Bibi drank wine and laughed until I lay on the grass with my arms tucked into my shirt and my legs into my pants, now just a body and head screaming “just a flesh wound!”

"She built the house for the artwork and put it on the top of a small hill..."

As my brother and I grew older, and my mother knew we would be going there more and more, she asked the caregivers if they had any kids that they would like to bring to the house. One of them did; he was around our age, and we became close friends from an early age. The three of us were inseparable when we came to Santa Fe. Many of the times we would come he had school, so we would think of elaborate ways of getting him out of going so we could stay in that giant museum and play video games or build inventions or go into the garden and play games. My parents made the times my brother and I spent

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there some of the best I have from childhood. I waited for every visit, and for the feeling that I would get after arriving late at night at the little airport, sitting half-asleep in the back seat of the rental car, listening to U2's Joshua Tree (because that was a tradition) as the desert flew by the window. The short drive only ever got us about three tracks through the album, which is probably why now whenever I hear the song "Where The Streets Have No Name", I can't help but think I am about to wake up to the car ignition turning off and my mom leaning back telling us we're here.

My parents were always busy. My mother never wanted to put her in a home and believed that keeping her in her house around people, places, smells, and objects she knew would keep her alive for longer. Each visit there were new tasks; find the right doctor, hire part-time caregivers, get rid of the car and her license because it was too dangerous for her to drive, hire full-time caregivers, childproof the house in case she falls. The house that my grandmother built transformed with her as her condition deteriorated, and when she could barely remember who we were, my mom began selling the art so that she could pay for all the expenses. Every time we left and came back, there would be fewer and fewer statues and masks that haunted me as a child, until they were all gone. I never really knew how much this affected my mom, but for every piece sold, she tried to keep the house feeling the same for Bibi, who never noticed anything changing. The antique rugs tracing the halls were replaced with ones from IKEA, duct-taped to the floor, and the paintings and murals that draped the walls were switched for knock-offs. Even in parts of the house she knew Bibi would never be going to again; someone else without her eye for art would never say a word.

For me, I didn't realize the impressions all this had until much later. I think it's what led me to writing: the greatest weapon against a disease that steals your memory and use of language. Maybe I saw it as not only a way to fend off the fear that something like this would happen to

me or someone I love, but also to use the very devices that were taken from my grandmother as a sense of tribute. Even though the fight may be futile, the fortress of memo ries I build on the page can outlast me when I'm no longer there to remember them.

Bibi lived for a while after all the artwork was sold. She had people that knew and loved her keeping her alive. When she died, we didn't know what was going to happen with the house, and for two years, we continued to go and see all the people who were family at that point and stay in the big empty museum. The last time I went, it was just my mom and I. We knew it was going to be the last time.

I had just gotten my driver's license, and my mom let me drive to the house from the airport. Seeing my dad do it so many times, I knew the way by heart. A few days later, standing in the bedroom before I left for the last time, all I could think about was that my brother was never going to say goodbye to the house, and for some reason, I couldn't cope with this fact. It was our childhood. It was the place where I remember growing up more than anything. It was my grandmother. For me, it only really felt like we were saying goodbye to someone when we left it that last time.

An Interview with Skylar Jennings

Author of Penrose

ITALICS MINE: Do you have a vision for a completed piece before you begin?


IM: When did you know this piece was done?

SJ: When adding something new didn’t feel right.

IM: Did you have any artists and/or writers in mind when you crafted this piece?

SJ: Joni Mitchell, C.P. Cavafy, Jonah Hill

IM: If this piece could have a soundtrack, what would it be?

SJ: "Seigfried" by Frank Ocean

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A Place Without Walls Ryan Majors

The field concedes to much of myself, swallowing too much of myself. Feeding my head with my head with my head, I’m sensitive and far away from everything.

The only being in the field that feels comfortable talking about me is not myself, fear of the beans. All the time in my cells in my cells to confess about myself.

Ask questions, I’ll explain them with selves and then beans, I tell myself. My bean bag explodes, taut in my fists, and it’s all confetti drooling onto my feet.

The field feels afraid of the field, alone, but myself. I feel comfortable fleeing alone in the field fearing beans and their many selves, because they’re many selves.

A lone bean gingerly in a bag of many selves. Feeding my head with beans and my head, and the field fears for me in my many cells.

The beans in my impulses confess fear of their heads. Sweeping up the wet confetti and sleeping in the field bays deceit away from my sensitive selves.

Talking to the beans with selves in hand, I heard from the comfort of my cell, and feel my head explode. My beans splatter my feet, I swallow the smell of ginger.

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Dazed Rachel Bevacqua Silkscreen (on paper)



Sonya Rio-Glick

“Where’s home for you?” is a deceptively innocuous question thrown around by college students trying to place their peers.

“Albany.” I’ve answered reflexively more times than I can count.

But after all these years, Albany holds no real place in my heart. Instead, it is the backdrop of a complex childhood; a provincial box that never really had the room to hold all the things I was.

When I went away to school one week after I turned 18, I broke up with Albany and did not look back. So no, Albany is not ‘home’ for me; not the creaky four story row house at 17 North Main I learned to walk in, with its red screen door and wood floors that splin tered tiny hands and knees. Not the perpetually damp soccer field half a mile away that I ran down with reckless abandon, red walker reluctantly trailing me each Saturday morning from 2002-2006. And not the suburban ranch house with that quaint breakfast counter we’d move to when I was nine, the one with the dining table I’d cry all my tween and teen tears to, and the elementary school just beyond the backyard fence at which I would begin to understand I was different from the other children in body and soul.

It is not Albany’s fault it is not my home- it did its best. To the unknowing eye, it had all the makings of a home: loving parents, early morning squabbles with my sibling as we shoved cereal into braces-laden mouths before school, family pets and school plays and first jobs and first periods and coming outs and wanting-to-go-back-ins. But Albany had a few fatal flaws; landmark heartbreaks too deeply cutting to come back from, or come back to.

There was a boy in Albany that was my home. Which is to say, when he was there I thought Albany was my home and then, when he was not, I knew suddenly it was not.

He had big, soft hands and big, soft eyes and a big, soft laugh. One of my earliest memories is roughhousing with him, his little brother, and my sibling in his family's back room with the colorful rug and big TV. We’d pounce and tumble until we could no longer pounce and tumble. As we grew, our roughhousing shifted to Deep Talks about crushes and the state of the world and everything in between. When I had my big surgery at 14, he came over and met the sadness in my eyes. He told stupid jokes and did not ask stupid questions. As 14 became 16, 16 became 18, and then 18 became 20 he became more distant. I rationalized college as he having stepped into a world I was unmistakably outside of. Then one morning when I myself was a college student, I was told he had died from a heroin overdose. His name was Shaiyah. He was 21. My home had died.

"To truthfully write about ‘home’

I must touch on her: the woman who was my home until she, too, was not."

I went to Albany for two days before going back to school because the fresh understanding that my home was not my home was too much to bear.

Albany cannot be my home because an old private school taught me exactly how to doubt myself. The expe rience I had there is too sad and too complicated to live anywhere but those marble halls. So while I choose not to recount it all here, the evidence that Albany is not my home lives on in the moments I hide in the granola bar aisle of the food co-op, because a former classmate and tormentor is turning the corner. Or when I have to force myself to name three things I can see, touch, hear, and smell to convince my mind I am not back there; alone in those marble halls.

In the years since Albany, I have racked up a list of places that are not home either: the multiple dorm rooms of Emerson College that I hopped from like an expanded game of musical chairs, in one of which I made up a boyfriend named Kevin to avoid the raised eyebrows of a hateful roommate; the back room of the house of a 57-year-old masseuse/alternative healer in Denver, Colorado, where an air mattress and a room divider were my resting place as I took three buses each day to work unpaid at a theatre company; the bougie downtown apartment with a walk-in shower the theatre company put me in the following summer while I played a maid in a production of Annie and worked part time at Dick’s Sporting Goods; the masseuse/alternative healer’s back room that I moved back into when Emerson cut my financial aid; the too-clean student apartment with a very small kitchen I then moved into as I worked a human ser vices job I was not qualified for; the multiple dorm rooms at Purchase College, a few of which I thought I was going to die in when the fire alarm went off and I could not get out; Purchase College at large, with its looming brick and hills made of pavement; the second-floor Bushwick apartment I sublet from an artist which was so hot I was sure I was going to melt, in which I told my best friend I loved her and then immediately saw a mouse run across the living room.

To truthfully write about ‘home’ I must touch on her: the woman who was my home until she too, was not.

I was not looking for a home when I walked through the door. We fit together so simply and so immediately, I at once had a fuller understanding of ‘home.’ Home became days-long volleys of text messages, far away Face Times after long days of hard work, and then tight hugs and park benches, matching PJs in front of Christmas trees, eyes to find in a crowded room. We created our own space when we were together. The world felt safer, more accessible. And we went on like that, in our own space for two years. I think I got stuck in that space; a little too happy to stay home. And so I told her in not so many

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words that she had become my home in a way that felt more confining than warm. The moving out and moving on that followed was painful as I packed boxes of all I had given her: secrets and and struggles and stolen moments and dreams that felt too ridiculous to come true. Time. I took so much of my time back, as she stood in a wooden door frame and watched with sad eyes.

I realize that while she may have been a safe place to land, she was not home because I cannot actually find home in someone else, in a city, in a school, or a house. I am my own home, physically and metaphorically. This disabled, at times tortured vessel is mine to inhabit in all its states. I am home when I am in my body fully, feeling every spasm and itch and fall and giggle and moment of pleasure. I am home when my mind spirals, looping around past hurt. And I am home when my mind is at peace, listening to soft music. I am home in those times when a strange voice calls after me some invasive question and I keep walking, holding myself as comment after comment is hurled. I wrap myself in the warmth of self assurance in those moments I am alone in the forest, no one to hear the sound of my tree falling. I am home when I triumph and I am home when I allow myself to cry. I am already home, and really, I always have been.

Go, Gently

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Xingyun Wang Acrylic on canvas, 20"x 16"

Buckets and Buckets

My fear is imagined, radically. Journal entries turn out to be prophecies themselves, and writers confuse to make with to say so I send you these buckets of me.

Guitar Genius Finger-Males make me storm my own phalanges. Eventually, I stop seeing fingers and start seeing knots. While 20 years clicks in my ear, You started too late.

Counting all doughy mealtimes without protein, or leaf. The Philosophy of Eating. The Philosophy of Being Hot (my cowardly competition, against Women of Clay).

I’ve stained a new hangout irreparably. Ditched the holy script for upstream improvising. My mouth, a deflating balloon, blows reputation away.

I dreamed of you, with my professor, your naked bodies. 50 missed calls and loving it. I’d love you begging at my bedside, to allow you to stay.

My fear is imagined, entirely. I send you these buckets, and buckets of me.

For a Moment

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Caring for Animals

I put on my tough gloves, which is S.O.P. in this type of situation, and get a grip on the free antler, but the other one’s jammed tight in the chain-link fence and all the while it’s making these brutish grunting noises, inelegant noises for what’s supposed to be such an elegant creature, and I’m tugging and tugging trying to dislodge the problem antler by sort of jiggling it up and down but it won’t give because said problem antler has two hooked protrusions which make extraction seem less improbable than how-did-it-get-stuck-in-thefirst-place and all the while it’s kicking and its eyes are all wild and I can smell its glands exuding pure chemical fear and I can’t possibly communicate to it that I’m not trying to hurt you dipshit I’m trying to free you. I have to brace myself and lean in with my pelvis as far away from the front hooves as possible while still gripping the antlers with both gloved hands, because if I’m poorly positioned, with soft underbelly exposed, I could sustain serious abdominal injury from a foreleg kick. For an instant I picture my entrails strewn out in the snow like a Mariana Trench grotesque, lab preserve yellow and steaming. Then I see its pupils dilate and it inhales sharply and it rears up on its hind legs and sends me flying through the air. I land on my back in some dirty snow. Then it’s me and it staring at each other for one slow-mo millisecond. Huge brown eyes, pink at the edges with animal fear that are either so fucking brain dead or infinitely cognizant, like each eye is a brown pink plan etoid older than the Earth. Then it stops struggling. And it just slides its antler out of the fence. As if it was never stuck. And it turns. And it looks back at me, nostrils smoking, and canters off into the tree line. Now I’m just lying here over-heated and panting in my soaked

flannel. My limbs feel heavy. I can’t, won’t move. All I can see is an opaque white ceiling of sky. It’s beginning to snow. I let it cover me for a while. The memory of the deer running off into the forest is playing over and over in my head. It turns and runs, white tail flashing into a black forest that grows darker each time the deer goes in, each subsequent repetition blurring the realness of the memory until it’s reduced to Playstation video quality. A fuzzy 3D model of a brown quadruped pausing in eyeless judgment and then accelerating phantom-like towards a black wall which absorbs it. Suddenly I feel very cold, in regions of my body that I didn’t think could get cold, like my brain and stomach. That day I drive an hour and a half south to see my therapist in the outskirts of Columbus, OH.

Stan arrives on time to his therapy appointment. The scene: a windowless room in the old industrial sector. Master’s degree framed and hanging on a yellow wall. No family photos. An oil painting of a southwestern U.S. landscape in the last rays of western daylight. It’s a very lonely picture. Stan can never take his eyes off it. He gets lost in its bleak, treeless expanse when eye contact with Dr. Dahlberg becomes emotionally strenuous. Dahlberg is a dizzyingly tall Norwegian with blonde hair, massive hands, and tiny spectacles. Stan finds it difficult to imagine Dr. Dahlberg doing ordinary human being-type things like washing dishes or taking a shit.

“How do you think it got stuck?” says Dr. Dahlberg. “I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes they rub their antlers on stuff.”

“Hmm. And it just… freed itself, you say?” “Yeah.”

“Isn’t that what you wanted to happen?”

“I wanted to free it.”

“And now it’s free,” says Dahlberg. “Yeah.”

“So what’s your issue?”

“There was no point in going out and trying to help it. All I did was scare it.”

“Well, I won’t deny the possibility that it was pointless, as you say, but don’t you think the impulse that compelled you to help is, on its own, a good thing? Maybe frightening the deer was the only way to get it to shake itself loose.”

“I wonder if I injured it. I was kind of rough with it.”

Dahlberg is familiar with the tendency of clients to rationalize every scenario in which everything is terrible and will never get better.

“Well, perhaps you’ll see this deer again. Then you can check. But animals tend to take care of themselves. They know what they’re doing.”

“Yeah. But sometimes they don’t,” Stan says.

Dahlberg chuckles, though Stan wasn’t looking for it. Then he stares at the ground seriously and folds his hands together. “What happened with that snapping turtle you took in last week?”

"It all seems like a distant unreality."

“It died. Yeah. I put it in a clean tank with a hundred-watt heat lamp and fed it crickets dusted with calcium powder. But it wouldn’t eat. So I had to force feed it. Which is hard to do with snapping turtles, obviously. It died over night. I came in that morning and turned on the lights and it was dead. Sunk to the bottom of the tank. There’s not much you can do when they come out of hibernation too early. I don’t know why it didn’t just hibernate with the others.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. At least you gave it a good last night alive,” Dahlberg says. He sees Stan looking at the oil painting of the western landscape. He looks down at the floor again. “It must be terribly sad to witness so much death.”

“Well, it’s a fact of life, I guess.”

“Are you used to it?”

“I’ve been doing it seven years.”

“So you are used to it? Trying to save something only to watch it die?”

Stan feels immobilized. The couch is too comfortable. Somewhere, a clock is ticking. Insane murmurings of heat pipes.

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“You don’t have to answer that,” Dahlberg says. “It’s okay. We can discuss something else. You want to talk about sailing again?”

Talking to Dahlberg is like talking to a very old tree. He lives epoch to epoch. This impression is heightened by the fact that Stan knows pretty much zilch about Stefan’s personal life, if he has one. In fact, the only thing he does know is that on the weekends, Dahlberg goes sailing. The doctor discusses his hobby like so: “I went out in the sunfish last weekend. Bitterly cold but worth it.” Or: “I bought a Gore-Tex jacket for $300, hoping it would block out the wind chill. It does seem like a lot of money for a jacket, don’t you think?”

"There are no family photos on the walls of the cabin. There are no places where they could be hung. Instead, most of the decor consists of wide, unpeopled landscape paintings."

Stan always smiles and nods attentively. There is something centering about Dahlberg’s sailing adventures. Sometimes an hour-long session will be entirely occupied by nautical discussions, and no progress is made. Dahlberg will speak for a few minutes, lost in his own recollections, before asking, “Am I going on too long? Do you want to talk about something else now?” meaning: do you want to get your money’s worth and actually talk about what you’re here to talk about, or do you want to sit there in stupefied silence and pay a hundred bucks for it? Contrary to Dahlberg’s voiced or unvoiced concerns, the sailing talk is a big part of the deal. Stan enjoys imagining his therapist waking up at six a.m., rigging his one-man vessel, tying complex sailing knots, putting up the main sail, shoving down the keel, gliding smoothly on black lake water. He enjoys picturing Lake Erie and its vast, unfettered surface. He enjoys imagining Dahlberg on his weekend

retreat, enjoying simple rugged pleasures. It all seems like a distant unreality. The unreality of it for Stan being the idea that tranquility actually exists somewhere. That he could reach out and touch one who has known peace. Peace is what you get when you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, which is never. Peace is the grave.

“Actually, I’m not used to it, to death,” Stan says sud denly, mid-Dahlberg anecdote. Dahlberg looks surprised for a moment, then adjusts his spectacles. “I’m supposed to be used to it. At the clinic we take in all sorts of injured animals; stray dogs and cats, raccoons, skunks, baby birds, snakes, eagles with lead poisoning, and vultures that crash through the windshields of eighteen wheelers. And we save a lot of them, which is good, when you fix a cracked rib or a broken wing. But then every other animal that comes in is doomed. And there’s nothing you can do. You just have to watch it struggle and die. I’m supposed to be used to it, but I’m not.”

“But don’t you think it’s a good thing that you feel so strongly for the animals?” says Dahlberg. “You do it because you care, don’t you?”

“Well. That’s the reason I started doing it, I think. I’ve always liked animals. But it’s so taxing. And I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing it. Most people go to work and it’s tiring and stressful, but then that’s it. You go home and watch TV and forget about it until the next day. It’s not like that for me.”

“Me neither,” Dahlberg says.

Why do I always think of things to say to my therapist on the way home? When I went in for my appointment, I read the small engraved plaque that says: “Dr. Stefan Dahlberg, Psychotherapist,” which I always read as “Psy cho the Rapist” regardless of how many times I look at it.

And every time I read it, I’m reminded how Stefan isn’t technically a doctor because he doesn’t have a PhD, just a master’s. And at that point, compulsively reading the plaque on my way in, the only thing I’d wanted to discuss was the deer, how it ran out of the clearing and into

Untitled Sarah

Oil on canvas

the forest. Now I’m driving back north through snowy cornfields, with billboards for fireworks and the denouncement of evolution and it’s only now occurring to me that I should’ve told Stefan about the time when I was nine years old, when I spent the summer at my father’s house in rural southeastern Ohio, and it was early evening, and my father was preparing dinner, and he told me to go out back to the woodshed to fuel the stove and I went out back to the shed, which was cool and damp, and I picked up a log from the pile and underneath, underneath the log was this big yellow rat snake curled up in a big yellow pissed off heap. Everything, the air, objects, blood, became static; the only entity that could move was the snake. It uncoiled and slipped off deeper into the woodpile. My hand moved before my mind and grabbed its tail, stopping time. Time

moved when the snake moved. Then I started to pull it in, hand over hand like a rope, the snake protesting with threatening hisses which I ignored, until its head at last came into view with that fixed reptilian smirk, bam all of a sudden whirling around and striking my hand, leaving tiny twin puncture marks. It didn’t hurt at all. I felt mas sively, carnally alive. I decided to keep it as a pet.

My dad approved of my new acquisition, and set up an old aquarium in my bedroom. The snake immediately burrowed out of sight beneath the wood chips. Dad said he looked hungry, and I agreed. I told him I’d read somewhere that snakes prefer live mice. Dad got one from a trap in the basement. I watched as he opened the lid of the aquarium and dropped the mouse in, and I watched it sprint from corner to corner on little pink feet, breathing hard. It froze,

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little black eyes gleaming. I tried to think of its eyes as just little cameras, its legs as just little wheels, its breathing the work of finely tuned motors. Then I watched as the snake poked its face out of the wood chips, tongue flicking, and I watched as it caught sight of its prey, and they stared at each other, and I witnessed the uncertainty of flesh, the weakness and the hideousness of flesh, and I felt Dad’s hand on my shoulder, he was watching me watch. Then I watched as it struck again, and didn’t miss, and threw its coils around the little hyperventilating body, and I watched its little pink feet struggling, kicking out for its life, so vital and pink and doomed. I watched as the kicking stopped. Then we went downstairs and had dinner. Between mouthfuls, Dad was saying that keeping a pet is a big responsibility. I said I could handle it, and he smiled. Then I said that I wanted to feed it pre-killed mice from now on, because I read somewhere that they’re safer for the snake. They came frozen in little plastic packets. Every week I’d lay them out to thaw until limp under the lamp in my bedroom.

Stefan glides out from the dock, gripping the tiller in his right hand. He pushes it away from himself, listing to portside, to slip by a rock. There’s no wind in the bay, so he sculls his way out into the open water. It’s ineffective and exhausting. He breaks a sweat under his Gore-Tex coat. Stefan is thinking about Stan, how he doesn’t think he can help him. He’s scared of giving advice. Giving advice is scary. Sometimes, Stefan observes, we give advice that we wouldn’t take ourselves. He uses 'we' and not 'I'. The mainsail flaps wildly as he slides out of the bay. Stefan pulls it in, drawing it taut against the wind. He can’t help grinning as he picks up speed. It’s one of the only sensations that stimulates an involuntary grin from him anymore. But it’s a chemical, a muscular reflex. The wind shifts north, and the smile turns into a toothy squint. Was it winter or summer of ‘98 when Natalie Briggs killed her self? It was summer, yes, because Stefan remembers what he was wearing when he got the call, one of those massive

Subliminal Addiction

Joesph Restaino

Acrylic on canvas

circa 1990s aloha shirts. That was the first one, wasn’t it? Then Christopher Alehouse. Which was... let’s see... ‘02? Then Jennings... Oscar Jennings, in ‘03. Stefan tacks up wind, ducking under the boom as he shifts his weight from starboard to port. The term “One-Man Sailing Vessel” is a stretch for someone of Stefan’s height and build. How had Jennings killed himself? He’d slit his wrists with a fillet knife, like what you gut a fish with. Why would he use a fillet knife? Stefan couldn’t stomach fish for a few years after that, more out of physical repulsion than grief. He had liked fish. What was a Norwegian without lutefisk, after all? And then in ‘05 there was that Panamanian

girl, surname Vasquez, first name... Alicia, Elisa? Can’t remember. No, Alicia. He remembers her signature from the checks. An A and not an E, followed by a squiggly line. She hung herself, with rope. There are lots of ropes on a sailboat. They’re called lines, though, when you’re on a boat. The wind is dying. Stefan heads back towards the bay. He pushes the tiller out, ducks the boom, and slacks the mainsail, a nautical technique known as running.

What if I just keep driving? Just keep heading north? I could get to Detroit in four hours. Less. Then I could head east to Toronto, or Niagara Falls. Right? Couldn’t I? I’ve never been to the falls. I could sleep in the car, eat at gas stations. I could be back by Monday. Or not. Or I could just keep going, up and up, into the great white North. Up through Quebec, to Newfoundland. I’ll live in the middle of nowhere. Find work on a fishing boat and crash on some friendly Canuck’s couch until I can save up enough for my own place. I could sell my car. Or not. Maybe I’ll just subsist on wild berries and carrion. Drink deeply from clear cold streams. Doesn’t it sound good? I’ll forget English. The language of my thoughts will be pure images, no words. I’ll make my own snowshoes, rabbit traps, ice fishing holes. Deerskin tents—they’re overpop ulated anyway. I’ll become an apex predator, finishing off the weak for the good of the strong, and when I’m weak, or old (if I live to be old), I hope something will have the good sense to come along and finish me off too. I’ll find a way to make smokeless fires so the helicopters won’t find me. They won’t search for me too long. My desertion won’t be felt. The animals will die with or without me. Why should I bear the weight of their little pains? Let stags get their antlers caught in the chain-link fence. Let them writhe and free themselves. They never needed me.

Stefan’s Lake Erie cabin is not centrally heated, so he sets about making a fire as soon as he gets back. The heat conductive slate floors are still cold under his feet as he stands in the kitchen, boiling water for his tea. He looks

freakishly tall even in his own home, but he’s so used to the size disparity between himself and regular household objects that he doesn’t even notice. The kettle boils and he pours himself a cup. He brings it into the living room and sits down in his armchair, the springs of which were shot long ago. Stefan finds it more comfortable that way, actually. There’s a pencil and a pad of paper on the table beside the chair. He picks them up and writes a stark, four-line poem. He taps his pencil on the edge of the pad in thought.

There are no family photos on the walls of the cabin. There are no places where they could be hung. Instead, most of the décor consists of wide, unpeopled landscape paintings. The only framed photo with one or more human beings as the subject is sitting on the cluttered bureau be hind him. It pictures Stefan, younger and blonder, laughing with his grad school friends. He’s sort of forgotten about that photo.

He stops tapping the pencil and starts doodling. He doesn’t know what he wants to draw yet, so he starts with long, straight lines, from one end of the paper to the other. He fills up one page with lines, then turns to a new page, and fills it up too. Then another page. Then another. The lines begin to resemble the bark of a pine tree. At first the bark consumes the entirety of each page. With each new page the tree narrows. Branches appear. His hand moves steadily; there is no hurry. At last the trunk thins to just a few lines, the branches grow sparse and scraggly. His hand is tired and smeared with charcoal. He compares his hand, which is old, to the oldness around him.

Book-shelves crammed with well-loved tomes, trinkets collected from journeys abroad. Every space occupied by old things made somehow arcane with age. It’s too intimate to be a home. It’s a nucleus. It’s the inside of his head. Stefan puts down the pencil. With the same, now cramped, charcoaled hand, he reaches for his phone and calls his secretary.

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"The language of my thoughts will be pure images, no words."

Three hours later I’m being led into a white walled room with a stainless steel table in the center. My car is im pounded outside. Turns out you need a passport to get into Canada. Fucking idiot. A burly Canuck in a tactical vest pats me down, asks me to take out my wallet, keys, phone, chewing gum, etc., and places them on the table, says, "Sorry, but this is just a formality, we believe you, we believe you’re not carrying heroin or anything in a balloon in your ass, but we take border security very seriously up here, peo ple don’t seem to realize that, Americans think they can just stroll into Windsor like it’s just more of Michigan, I deal with it every day, people like you who drive hours to cross over, with an excuse like ‘I forgot I had to bring a passport,’ as if we’re supposed to just take that on good faith and let you in." He rambles on and on, this big Canadian cop. I don’t say anything. Everything that comes out of my mouth sounds insufferably idiotic right now. "Ya know," the cop says. "It’s real easy to apply for a passport. Real easy," he says. I say maybe I will. I know I won’t though. By then the feeling will have passed. It’s passing now. I take off my shoes and place them on the table, the cop’s latex-gloved hands searching for bags of drugs or knives or nuclear warheads in there. All they find is sweat. I’m just standing here on the cold linoleum floor in my socks, feeling empty and stupid. My mind is literally blank, like the walls. "You can put your shoes back on and get your stuff," he says. I do this and am led out of the cold white room and into a waiting room. The cop is telling me that I’ll be discharged momentarily, as soon as the lady in the booth calls my name. I ask if I can make a phone call and they say yes. My phone’s nearly out of juice. I call Dr. Dahlberg. It rings and rings and goes to voicemail. I don’t leave one.

The next morning, I eat my colorless motel breakfast and drive back home. It’s one of those sunny late fall/early winter mornings where the sky is that washed out blue. Good day for a drive. There are red tailed hawks in the sky, circling on the updrafts.

'The following week felt different. A goose with a broken wing was brought in Monday. I’ve never worked on a goose

before. I improvised a larger splint for the wing out of some scrap wood and bandages, and it’s been steadily improving. I decided to not tell my co-workers about my Detroit-Wind sor border scrape. Out of shame? Maybe. I don’t know. It’s not a story that would make sense to anyone.

On Friday I got a text from Dr. Dahlberg which said: “I am taking a long vacation. Not sure quite how long as of now. Everything’s fine. Hope you are doing well. I can refer you to a few of my colleagues in the interim if you are interested.” I don’t think he’ll be coming back.

Later that day I returned to the section of fence where I’d found the deer, not bothering to convince myself that it was for any other reason than to see if he was there. He wasn’t. Why would he be. The forest is dark and the fence runs deep into it, all the way to the highway on the other side. I rattled the fence, imagining it vibrating all across its length. Animals detect disturbances that we are deaf to. But nothing happened. I stopped rattling. The forest was silent.

An Interview with Ben Roffman


Did you have a vision for the completed piece before you began?

BEN ROFFMAN: No, I made it up as I went along. I find it impossible to think up plots. I might have a scene or a picture in mind, but that's it.

IM: When did you know this piece was done?

BR: I don't think I had a moment where I knew this piece was complete. After working on it on and off for a few months, I think I lost perspective on it. I definitely knew when I was through with working on it, though.

IM: Did you have any artists and/or writers in mind when you crafted this piece?

BR: I always think about Gunter Grass when I write, because he's my favorite writer, and a master of the sentence. All objects and places are symbols to him. Also, Grass' characters tend to be strange, obsessive people, who are driven more by carnal impulses than sound reason. I was also influenced by this TV show called Patriot, written by Steven Conrad, because the protagonist has a traumatic job that he feels morally compelled to keep doing, despite how much it hurts him. The show also pays very close attention to word choice and cadence in dialogue, especially distancing language, which I tried to do in Caring for Animals.

IM: If this piece could have a soundtrack, what would it be?

BR: I wrote this piece while listening to a lot of ambient music, especially this guy Fred Frith, who does these solo concerts where he makes all of these haunting, droning sounds with his electric guitar by play ing it with bits of string and brushes and mallets and all sorts of little props. I think it would be a good soundtrack for "Caring for Animals".

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East Harlem Rumble Mars Mendez

112th between 1st and 2nd children scamper up the stairs skipping steps with dirty public school uniforms tossed over to single mothers who swim in endless papers of taxes food stamps and bills

While abuelas stir arroz con salchicha with wooden spoons older than time itself and feed the bellies of aunties cousins brothers and sisters in homes hotter than las playas de Puerto Rico

Magic potions and healing herbs brujas de las Botanicas promise wealth and prosperity while snatching Friday’s paycheck

Surfing on the 6 line watch me take off with only two dollars and seventy-five cents and the East Harlem rumble in my soul


Nana Achampong Digital drawing

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It was an hour chewed by the clock, days wedged between the brain’s teeth. It was this mind fastening to another in an attempt to overwrite its history. It was a world I’d never birth, please don’t mention it. It was how the midnight put itself inside you and said work. It was a town called Hauppauge and the land was all flat and swallowed. It was this fact I threw at every other moment of my life. It was a sapling pushing up through concrete, the waking up at the bottom of a fall. It was how the ground inverts as you pass through it. It was sitting so long in the dark our landscapes rendered bare, our landscapes not our landscapes. It was the sky, someone’s property. It was another collage against wasteland, another nail in his fucking cantos. It was a mind and the mind is not capital. Listen, we will haunt you into memory of this.

The Sound of a Mind Taping Over Itself;

Coming to Terms with the World I Will Never Birth for Như Xuân Nguyễn

I remember the first time I forgot. Elsewhere was a constant, then. Estradiol is another word for this is your body, and a needle is how the sun is spelled sown as it’s ripped into sky, how I was digging for something in my skin and found remorse — memory awake to this all too sudden somewhere. From these windows, I attempt a theory of trees, how they mushroom like these breasts I forget to remember, how the officer saw heels, dress, tears, and decided: ma’am. How do you look at me and say that when you know? Tell me, again, what you know.

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Birth Control (series)

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Language is Power: An Interview with David Means

David Means is the author of four story collections, most recently Instructions for a Funeral (2019), as well as a novel. His short fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including Esquire, The New Yorker, and Harper’s. His work has been recognized with several awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Fiction for his second collection, Assorted Fire Events, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Pushcart Prize (2001), and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award (2005), among others. He currently lives in Nyack, New York, and teaches at Vassar College.

ITALICS MINE: What writers were you reading when you first started out and how did they shape you as the writer you are today?

DAVID MEANS: That’s a huge question because I was reading all over the place when I was a student. I loved poets: Garcia Lorca, Adrienne Rich, Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and most of all, I think when I was an undergrad uate, Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. Don’t be afraid to love a writer who isn’t fashionable, or cool, or whatev er. You don’t have to talk about your influences to other people. I was also big on Stephen King and science-fiction writers and, well, the Bible and books about nature.

IM: What do you think is most important for beginning writers to know when they are trying their hand at short stories for the first time?

DM: There’s no one thing you need to know, but it’s important to read as much as you can—not just current, contemporary writers, but also all of the classic writers. And you should also know that there just isn’t a magical key that’s going to unlock your talent, one single bit of advice that’s going to make it happen. You have to write and write and write and begin to find a voice that is your own voice, something only you can create, and you need to keep thinking about stories. What’s a story? When I hang out with my friends, and we’re telling each other bullshit stories, what makes them funny and interesting. But you also have to learn to trust the power of your imagination, to daydream a lot, to listen and look, and to make things up. You have to train yourself to think differently, to think like an artist, and also you should draw from music, from artwork.

IM: The structure of your story, “Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950,” from Instructions for a Funeral is so interesting in the way it deals with time. You write, “A punch lives and dies in a flash, but continues on as a tactile memory...” and in a way this sentence summarizes the slow-motion effect

of this story and how it dives into the future, years after the fight occurred. How should beginning writers go about capturing time in their own work?

DM: That’s a good question. I think the important thing for a young writer to understand is that you can do almost anything in a story as long as you’re being truthful to the material and the characters you’re creating, and as long as you’re actually telling a story. Fiction is magical. You can leap forward months, or years, or you can slow a scene down. But again, the most important thing, of course, is that you tell a story. Something has to happen to someone. Someone has to be in a specific predicament.

"I know it’s a horrible thing, but studying grammar is important."

IM: In your story “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother,” some of your sentences run from a paragraph to a page-and-a-half. Beginning writers are often taught to avoid run-on sentences. When do you think is a good time to start breaking the rules?

DM: I don’t think you should see it as breaking rules. Those sentences in “Two Ruminations” are still grammat ical sentences. A sentence can go on and on as long as it sticks to the rules—subject and predicate. But as a young writer you should learn how a sentence works. I know it’s a horrible thing, but studying grammar is important. A long sentence draws a reader in and keeps them reading. On the other hand, a number of readers aren’t really equipped to read long sentences. The two things go hand in hand. Learning to read long sentences—to really read them with care—and learning to write.

IM: In the opening line to “Confessions,” you write: “I’ve been writing stories for thirty years now, many published, others not published but trashed, put to bed, dead in the

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water, so to speak: lost to me, to eternity, or whatever.” When and how do you know a story is simply not working and you must walk away?

DM: Like anything else, you have to trust your own taste, your internal critic. Nothing is ever wasted. You can work on something and revise it and spend a great deal of time and then realize, suddenly, that it’s not going to work. Then you take something from that story—a line, or a character—and use it somewhere else, later. The important thing is to pay attention to how you work, to the way that you, as an individual, go through the process. I know a story is finished when I’m starting to put lines back in, to go back to early drafts.

"You have to trust your heart."

IM: You said in an interview with Mr. Porter that Instruc tions for a Funeral took ten years to complete. When do you know when something is ready to be published?

DM: I publish each story one at a time, and then when I have enough, I put them together into a book. But I also have to have the right combination of stories—they have to be able to work together. I’ve said this before, but it’s a little like putting together a record release—at least back before the days of Spotify—and you want the songs to work together, to resonate off of each other; maybe you have smaller narratives between the songs.

IM: In an interview with Nyack News and Views, you said that your stories “take place in an imagined place that happens to have certain aspects of where I live….it’s an imagined sense of locations that draw from real ones.” As writers we tend to combine what we know with the imagined, but how do you approach writing place? Do you have a method?

Morning Bird

DM: I use my imagination. I mean I don’t really write stories about Nyack, or about Michigan, but an imagined place that uses things that might appear in those places. I put characters in places—along the Hudson River, out in LA, in Duluth—and the landscape pushes against them.

IM: What does your revision process look like and do you have any advice or suggestions for beginning writers in their own revision process?

DM: You want to put your work under pressure, scruti nize it from a distance, looking down on it as something that you didn’t create. Again, you have to pay attention to your own process, which is going to be unique. I see revision as a way of covering your tracks. The reader won’t see the things you remove, or edit. You have to learn to cut things away, to carve out the material that actually

allowed you to create the story. And it helps to have a really good reader, someone you trust, someone who isn’t going to lie to you.

IM: You also write in “Confessions” that, “It isn’t a mat ter, really, of being afraid to expose my family–my sisters, my mother, my now-dead-father–but because to find a way into the truth in fiction I can do so only by protecting them, working around them…” What do you suggest to young writers when writing about personal matters in their own work? How should they go about “protecting” these personal matters?

DM: You have to trust your heart. If you write some thing that is truthful, that reflects the world in a way that is real, then you’ll be OK. Certain things you might want to hold onto, to protect, but mainly because you’ll use them—and I’m talking about painful things—as a fuel for your creative process. Young writers give things away too quickly, in some cases, or they hold back on writing about things that are painful.

IM: As young writers, it is sometimes rather difficult to hear the voice of our own work or how our story sounds. How do you suggest they find and hear their storytelling voice?

DM: You want to find a voice that you like hearing. I’m not saying you should find a voice that sounds like “you.” But you do want to write in a voice that appeals to you. I’d suggest finding writers you admire and trying to imitate them if you can. On the other hand, it’s natural to not like hearing your own voice when you read some thing aloud.

IM: Do you ever feel like there are times when you’ve hit writer’s block? If so, how do you go about finding the inspiration to continue writing again?

DM: I don’t really suffer from writer’s block, although I can imagine what it might be. Mainly because I just see blank spots, and procrastination, as a natural part of life. If I’m having trouble writing, I just write anyway, or listen to music, or go see an art exhibit, or read. I think it’s important to go easy on yourself, to take care of the muse, to feed it, to let yourself become artistic in other ways; I don’t think there’s a line between, say, listening to Chance the Rapper, daydreaming, and doing the writing. One thing that a young writer has to do is figure out the right form. Sometimes a fiction writer really wants to be a poet, or a playwright, or a screenwriter, and just doesn’t know that yet. Other times—this was my case—you start a poet and then turn to writing fiction. The most important thing is to immerse deeply into challenging art. Raise the bar as high as possible when it comes to reading: don’t just read contemporary writers, or listen to one kind of music, or look at one kind of art. Educate yourself and see your own life as a long, continuous education. You’re going to hear voices all around you that say: don’t be so smart. You have to ignore those voices. Get off the inter net for a while if you can; that’s important, too, because you have to learn to be alone, completely alone, and to daydream, to conjure up stories that only you can locate. And don’t forget that the world wants you to remain stu pid; it wants you to be just smart enough to work but not smart enough to question, to have visions, to look closely. Without the language to say things, you can’t say them. Language is power.

"The most important thing is to immerse deeply into challenging art."

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Stellanova (series)

Collage #4]

redefined, pre-war: not just a place to shop anymore.

customize your transitional space, make room for mischief, explore life in the city. all featured passions & televised journeys will be attitude, forgotten. I will not leave a body once shattered.

The circus is leaving, amassing the object of the new game,

taking a fresh look at you, one not quite expected.

I only wanted to navigate the uncertain waters of the academy, and perhaps the rapid-fire personal business crisis.

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[Word Nicholas Dinielli

The Drumstick Incident


to a The Wonder Years concert is a special occasion. They’re my favorite band, so seeing them in the flesh is like Christmas to me. I get to sing along to Dan Campbell’s songs of depression, anxiety and self-loathing (the only songs I’ll sing along to). I lose my voice and strain my arms after screaming too loud and pointing too much (you do it to get the singer’s attention). I cry tears of joy during songs like “Local Man Ruins Everything” and “The Devil in My Bloodstream.” I become a different person at these shows.

Their sold-out Webster Hall show in February was special. In addition to their regu lar electric set, they played a stripped-down acoustic song. During both sets, they played songs I’d been dying to hear for years, specifically “You in January” and “The Bluest Things on Earth.” The crowd was full of people feeling the music as much as I was. I was screaming along so much that I lost my voice by the fifth song of their electric set. I had one of the best nights of my life.

As the last note rang out and the band left the stage, people began making their way to the exits. Of course, as usual, a small handful of fans stayed behind, screaming and pointing wildly at setlists and guitar picks left behind by the band, myself included. Emily, my friend who came along, held my side bag as I waited at the barricade, trying to get whatever I could.

After some unsuccessful attempts to get a setlist, I was about ready to leave. But suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a stagehand walk onto stage carrying a drumstick, which I assumed was one of Mike Kennedy’s (drummer of The Wonder Years).

It had to be his. Every other drummer thus far kept their sticks. I waved in his direction and shouted “Yo!” He saw me, nodded, and tossed the drumstick in my direction. As it flew through the air, the adrenaline kicked in and I reached out to snatch it.

I caught it. She caught it too.

A young woman about my height went for the stick as well. When she realized she wasn’t the only one that caught the stick, she started yanking with all her might, trying to pry it from my grip. For the next 20 seconds, I stood still, keeping a firm grip on my end of the stick. While she tried to get the stick, I looked around the room, making eye contact with onlookers as if to say: “are you seeing this?” I wasn’t going to emulate her and make a big ger scene. I’d hoped she’d give up and just let me have it, but she didn’t give up. In fact, she got more aggressive, to the point where she started snarling at me to hand it over.

That’s when I had enough. “You know what,” I said firmly, “Let’s play Rock-Paper-Scissors for it. Best of three.”

She glared at me before nodding and letting go.

In that moment, I could’ve turned around and walked away with the stick. But that would’ve been a cheap shot, so I stuck to my word. With the stick tucked under my left arm, I turned to face her, and we started playing. I won the first round. She won the next. Tied one-to-one, the final round would determine who’d go home with the stick and who’d go home disappointed.

As the pressure built, I got more and more anxious. I started shaking at the knees. I bit my lip hard and started breathing heavy, dreading that final round. In that moment, my world stood still, and I’d never dreaded anything more. We never had that final round, though. I forfeited.

“You know what, why don’t you just take it?” I asked, holding out the stick for her to take.

With an excited yelp, she snatched the stick and jumped forward, throwing her arms around me. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she exclaimed, hugging me. When she let go, I stood back and watched as she walked away. I turned to Emily and we started walking towards the exit.

Why’d I do it? Why’d I forfeit instead of playing one more game?

Put simply, if I lost the stick in the last round, I’d remember the concert as the one where I got cheated out of a piece of wood and went home disappointed. Instead, I remember it as another superb The Wonder Years concert where I screamed my heart out. A concert where I got to see my favorite band at the barricade. A concert where I displayed incredible kindness towards a complete stranger.

"That’s when I had enough. “You know what,” I said firmly, “Let’s play Rock, Paper, Scissors for it. Best of three.""

In a deli a few blocks away, as Emily waited on her grilled cheese and fries, I sipped lemonade and we talked about the incident. It left me confused. I couldn’t stop talking and thinking about it for the rest of the night. That incident, which couldn’t have been more than 90 seconds, has had an incredible effect on me. It has raised a number of questions I’ll never know the answers to. What would’ve happened if I won that last round? Would she have gone berserk and tried to snatch it from me again? Would she have started crying, making me look like a jerk? Would I have felt bad for her and given it to her anyways?

On the other hand, what would’ve happened if I lost that last round? Would she have snatched it from my hands with a wicked laugh and ran away? Would I have started crying? Would I have turned away and made a mad dash for the exit?

I got no answers in the deli. Instead, I had a strange feeling of relief as Emily got a grilled cheese.

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Crush Lianna Lazaros

You lie on my left side, the last time we share a bed.

Your thigh presses against mine too comfortably, sending numbing shivers through my veins.

Get off of me, I want to say. You’re making me ache.

Paralyzed by a pleasant pang from your sweet, suffocating stance, my thigh hangs by a nerve; held together with safety pins and needles.

I pry what is left of my leg out of your tight hold.

Staples being ripped from my skin linger for a minute too long; unable to shake my mind free from the agony you cause me—

You’re depriving me of sensation and I want it back now, baby.

I want it back.

An Interview with Lianna Lazaros

Author of Crush and In My Garden

ITALICS MINE: Did you have a vision for your completed pieces before you began?

LIANNA LAZAROS: Both of my poems are entirely different from their first drafts, and even their orig inal ideas. Having a set vision sometimes disrupts my writing process, so I try to stay in the moment when I write and see where my words take me. It's freeing and it allows me to make mistakes without getting frustrated.

IM: When did you know your poems were done?

LL: I knew my poems were complete when I was able to read them after countless days of revision and feel proud of what I wrote. If I continued to revise them, I knew I'd start to hate them, or their meaning would get lost upon me. It's all about knowing the right moment to stop.

IM: Did you have any artists and/or writers in mind when you crafted these pieces?

LL: Definitely Richard Siken. I titled one of my poems after his book, Crush. Later in my revision process, I included a line from one of my favorite poems of his, "Dirty Valentine." The violent eroticism in his poems is heartbreakingly beautiful and left an impression on me. I love his work.

IM: If this piece could have a soundtrack, what would it be?

LL: "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division

Read In My Garden on page 73

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Waning Lady

The only customer that night was a lady bawling her eyes out. This was hardly the worst thing that came through the doors of the McDonald’s during the graveyard shift.

“Hello. May I take your order?” asked the cashier.

“I wanna die!” wailed the lady. Her blonde hair was falling out of her updo, and her designer handbag looked like it had seen better days.

“That’s not on the menu,” the cashier replied.

“I can’t take it anymore! Everybody I know is an asshole! And my mom never understands me! She always says I’m picky and intolerable. I can’t stand it!”

“We have a special two-for-one deal on ice cream cones.”

The lady somehow managed to cry harder. “My date skipped out on me at the restaurant and left me with the bill! It was over a hundred dollars!”

“We have a dollar menu.”

“My last date was just so creepy and smelled weird.”

“What time is it?” the cashier wondered aloud.

“This is so cruel. The universe is just farting at me in the face!”

“I’m taking my break now if you’re not gonna order anything.”

This finally got through to her. The lady was speechless for a moment. “You’re not gonna listen to me?”

“You can talk,” said the cashier, “but I’m not gonna listen.”

“What the fuck kinda service is this?”

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Midnight Snack Grace Mahony

“It’s not a service that I’m offering. I don’t owe you anything and neither does the universe. It can fart on you all it wants.”

The lady’s mouth flapped open and closed like a fish. “I wanna speak to the manager!”

The cashier looked her dead in the eye. “I am in charge while the manager’s away.”

“No, you’re not. You look like a teenager,” said the lady.

“I am, in fact, fifty-one years old,” said the cashier.

“You’re fucking with me.”

“I assure you I’m not.”

She threw her hands in the air. “I don’t have time for this.”

“Good, then don’t waste it.”

“What the fuck do you know? My life is over now.”

“Is it really?”

“What the hell do you mean?”

“You’re breathing. You’re walking. You have a tongue that can taste food and warmth in your body and eyes that can see color. You have time.”

“I’m already thirty,” said the lady in a small voice.

“So what? I’m fifty-one.”

“I’m still calling bullshit.”

“And I’m taking my break.”

“Wait! Fine, I’ll order something.” The lady rubbed her arms. “I’m already here in this middle-of-nowhere McDonald’s. That stupid dinner cost so much cuz the fucker ordered down the menu like it was sorted price high-to-low... All I got was a salad.”

The cashier sighed. He actually hoped she would leave, but he ended up inputting her order and made the food himself. The lady munched her food and drank her shake right at the pickup counter.

“Will you listen now?” she asked.

The cashier tapped the tip jar. The lady dumped her change into it.

“I’ll give you twenty minutes,” said the cashier. “And then I’m taking my break.”

The lady began her story. It was so like what the cashier had heard before. She had overbearing parents,

no luck at her male-dominated job, and a recent string of bad dates. She recalled every man she’d dated in the last six months. Her storytelling could’ve used some work, in the cashier’s opinion. She had a habit of retroactively going back to correct details. While she was talking, she tore a napkin to shreds with nervous fingers.

The cashier was paid to listen, though that didn’t stop his mind from drifting to his lunch cooler that was waiting for him in the break room.

“The point is I’m miserable,” she moaned. She dunked a pair of fries into her shake.

“I got that much.”

“Everyone says I shouldn’t be though. Everyone says I should be grateful because my family is rich and I’m white and straight and my parents are still together...”

“Fuck ‘em. Be miserable,” the cashier said before he could stop himself. “Then be done being miserable.”

“If only if it were that easy.”

“It’s not.”

“I’m just so tired of it all.”

The cashier checked his watch. “You have one minute left.”

“Wait!” The lady grabbed his sleeve. “Have you ever thought about dying?”

The cashier’s lips pursed. “I’m not paid to respond to personal questions.”

“Cut me some slack,” the lady urged. “I just lost a shit ton of money.”

“Well,” the cashier started, “I am in the middle of a midlife crisis.” He picked at a loose thread on the hem of his work shirt. He should really find some scissors to cut that.

The lady let out a breathless laugh. “Ah, ha, yeah,

okay. Well, you look great for fifty years old or whatever.”

There was a lull in the conversation. The electricity in the fluorescent lights thrummed. The lady sucked on the last of her milkshake. The cashier cringed at that awful slurping sound that rattled in his eardrums.

“Is my one minute over?” she asked.

“Yeah,” the cashier replied. He took off his hat and ruffled his sweaty hair.

She let out a long sigh. “I don’t know what to do now. It was just one bad thing at a time, and now... It’s just... I’ve never felt this way before in my life. Everything all at once.”

“Do you really want to die?” the cashier asked.

She sniffed. “No... I’m just—I’m just tired.”

The cashier resisted the urge to sympathize. “Then, go home, take a shower, and go to bed. Say hi to the sun for me when you get up tomorrow.”

The lady looked at him with an eyebrow raised. Before she could reply, the cashier left the counter. He heard her heels clicking away and out the door.

He entered the stockroom and sat on the upturned crate that was his break room. He let out a long sigh as if he’d slipped into a hot bath. With eager hands, he pulled out his lunch cooler from behind a shelf and took out his food. The feeling that shuddered through his body when he finally sank his fangs into the hunk of raw, bloody meat was nothing short of euphoric.

The cashier thought for a minute as he wiped the juices from his chin. This was the last of his stash. "Kinda wish I packed that lady up too," he thought."Maybe I’m getting soft."

He glanced at the garbage bags that sat by the back door and checked the time. He had to bury the old manager before sunrise.

Then the cashier had an idea. He smiled and licked the blood from his lips.

The fire department had one hell of a time trying to contain the burning McDonald’s, and the police couldn’t wrap their heads around the human bones found buried in the rubble. Reports afterward stated that even the neighbors who lived miles away could see the flames, burning like the sun.

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"“Do you really want to die?”
the cashier asked.
She sniffed. “No... I’m just— I’m just tired.”"
Tomato Sandwich Sarah Couture Oil on canvas

they stood in a La-Z-Boy with their state and federal tax returns burning a hole through the maternity overalls that would be worn on and off for five years and then at the end of it all they would have a grey suede, wide armed recliner at first meant for twin boys, then for a little girl named Hannah, each leaving before they got the chance to be held by my mothers it was the chair I was brought home to that New Mexico September the chair I would spend every morning until I was far too big for its two wide arms and the chair I would drink tea with my mother from a honey chamomile sippy cup, until the moment that sippy cup would be accidentally sacrificed to the dishwasher until I was afraid to stay so long I’d break it and even though, one night, the chair popped a screw in the living room under my mother while she slept, no harm done just a broken piece of furniture that now even the dog is too scared to stay long in, I thank god that they didn’t buy the bed instead.

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The Chair Jordan Ford-Solomon Owani Kalila Abdur-Razzaq Silkscreen, 22"x30"

The Vulnerability of Letting My Mouth Hang Open Taryn Nasuta

Mother always told me stories of a sinister world. One filled with soot and grime. With mold and crime. She said I could open the door, but to always leave the screen shut, To keep out the pests, to keep warm and safe inside our nook. So inside I stayed as mother said. I watched the world from three steps back.

But the world I observed from behind that screen was more than I could ever dream. Birds sang soothing siren songs that tempted my escape, To lay on the dewy, chartreuse floor For the breeze to wisp itself around my frame like ivy vines pulling on a tall cedar stalk. The opal sky melts into rosy clouds as the sun disappears over the distant hill. All if only for a moment of forbidden bliss. But from behind that lattice door frame, I never got wet. I never got scratched. I never got hurt.

What was it worth? Opening the screen. Disobeying my mother's words. Was the dirt I buried myself into that night worth this worm in my ear? This worm that whispers the same sweet repetitive nothings about futurity. Was the night by the incandescent porch light worth the burns on my cheek? Or the spider bite on my neck? A bite that could poison me; could kill me

What was it worth?

To stand in that grassy field, paralyzed by natural beauty, To let insects, fly into my mouth, agape To let my teeth rot. My gums make a new home for the larva. My tongue twists around itself like a cherry stem. My tonsils grow leaves and branches. A caterpillar cocoons itself at the roof of my mouth.

The world swallows me whole, consumes me until I am nothing more than a toadstool or a dandelion. Until I am just another pest in the field kept out by the screen.

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Do Houseflies Mind the Dust

Edison Caughey

Do houseflies mind the dust? These inconsiderate insects have been the only residents of this home for several months now, spending their short lives defecating on heirlooms and old newspapers. They shit on the plates that my grandma would use to serve us chicken nuggets and the television that would play the shows we could watch nowhere else. They shit on the liquor cabinet filled with foul tasting spirits with sips stolen from each bottle by teenagers who thought they had nothing better to do. They shit on the dusty futon I slept on many times, waking up to the blaring sun intruding on my dreams and creating sweat in every pore.

They shit on the special rack that my grandfather built for drying towels and wet bathing suits after hours spent pruning our fingers in the lake at the bottom of the hill, the lake that taught me to swim, the lake that taught me to fish, the lake that taught me to dive, the lake filled with sea monsters, the lake that traps ice fisherman and snowmobilers sinking them in cold and confusion, the lake where I learned sinking rocks send you to the hospital, put staples in your skull and sit your ass on the shore because the thought of them rusting paralyzes you, the lake built by rich men to protect their factories from floods despite the families and villages settled there, the lake that holds my grandparents’ ashes, the lake with five islands, the lake where my friend Shawn died.

The flies shit on me. They shit on the sad sunken imprint in a suede armchair left by my bitter uncle, my lonely uncle, who moved in without a word after my grandmother died, who kept things exactly as she left them, who spent his military checks on lotto

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tickets and more beer, who dwelt with the dust covered objects of halcyon days, who spent years eating Subway sandwiches in front of the television, who avoided contact with his siblings, contemptuous of him living there and not paying his share of the taxes.

I lock the door behind me, leaving the house to my mother and her brothers, to my grandparents, to the flies, to ruin. It’s ours now but we don’t live there. When it’s time, the walls will come down. There will be no more days spent in the enjoyment of doing nothing in a beautiful place with people I love. There will be no more late nights spent on the front porch smoking pot and listening to records. There will be no more corn husking on the back porch in preparation of a modest feast. Our memories will be just that, intangible; no longer attached to a physical place, they will be set free.

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Slash Her Angel Ramirez

3218 W. Pl. Olivia Adams

I spent One year in a home of abundance, seeking Space where bedroom forts became blanket refugee camps us kids could lose ourselves in when the world became too much, refusing to stop spinning. at least we knew each other then. this christmas, we spread ourselves thin across a country divided. an abundance of bodies make a warm home, but western ny winters send snowstorm spirals blowing through bodies unaccustomed to cold. the skies are clear here,

though without heat

I am reminded that

temperature does not translate over telephone wires, that the absence of heat is Cold, that despite my desire for warmth this world owes us Nothing

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Amsterdam, November 2019

In My Garden


I wrap my fingers around the stem of a wilted daisy, ripping it from the rooted ground, taking each petal between the tips of my nails, passionately picking: She loves me.

You plant a forget-me-not that I forget-to-water. I watch the shrivel— colors drain, memories fade. My palm suffocates its bulb, disconnecting the deadhead from its body: She loves me not.

I ruin my garden for you, green thumbs turn brown: She loves me.

Piles of petals freshly plucked, I flick the last one from my finger: You love me— not.

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Alyssa Monte Digital photography

An Interview with Xingyun Wang

Artist of Feverhead, Go, Gently, and Look! A Pig

ITALICS MINE: Did you have a vision for the completed pieces before you began?

XINGYUN WANG: No. I see making art as a reacting process, so I always make new decisions while I paint.

IM: When did you know the pieces were done?

XW: When I settle down with a compatible title for a piece. I think the title to a piece is like a period punc tuation mark to a sentence.

IM: Did you have any artists and/or writers in mind when you crafted this piece?

XW: Maybe, but I could not find it out exactly. I always look at artists and poets for inspiration. But when I start making a piece, I could not think of anything else except the action of making.

IM: If these pieces could have a soundtracks, what would they be?

XW: :) I have no idea.

You can find Go, Gently on page 29 and Look! A Pig on the inside covers


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Wang Oil, soft pastels, and acrylic on canvas, 60"x60"

Find Your (My) Mother Ravneet Sandhu

To find your mother, go to the supermarket.

Take a shopping cart from the front. Be careful of the wheels running over your sneakers. Wipe down the handles. You have seen too many children slobber over them. You don’t know where people’s hands have been. Leave the gloves on. It’s still winter. Flu season.

Are you inside now? Good. Take the list out, the one you made, like your mother taught you to. Did she not? Your father, perhaps? Any parental figure?

(I should give up the second-person narrative, it fools no one. It lasts only for so long until the familiar runs out and new memories are made unwelcome. Then it collapses under its own weight. Like you in this new land you are beginning to call ‘Mother.’)


The supermarket has fresh produce on the left side. It looks green and the aisle smells like dirt. This is the closest you’ll get to the earth.

You came to America and all the produce looked perfect. You tell your mother in your head that the capsicums are called “bell peppers” and mushrooms are the fastest to cook. She doesn’t speak a word of English, so it doesn’t matter anyway.

Back in India, back in a flashback, back in an alternate setting, your mother’s feet are wet in the monsoon rain. A chunni covers her hair. The cloth end is held between her teeth to prevent it from falling. Her hair is drenched so it does not make a difference if it falls. She should let it fall.

The vegetable seller sits on a sack. His feet have dirt on them. You think he has come from a faraway field where there is no electricity, and everyone wears shades of brown. Your mother wants to bargain the price of toma toes. No one is in the mood for bargaining, not even her. His exasperation runs like the sweat on his upper lip. He says he will throw a kilo of potatoes for twenty rupees, but that means nothing because farmers have been throwing potatoes on the street. His younger associate, who is older than you—with rugged hands and darker eyes—gives him a cup of hot chai. The tea is displaced by drops of rain. You want to cup it and make it stay inside. You look up. A raindrop falls into your eyes. You blink rapidly. The makeshift shelter of a plastic sheet thrown over some branches is not protecting anyone, and if your mother was in a better mood, she would tell you to stop. You carry that sack of potatoes to the trunk of the car. Your father takes one bite of the potato-pea curry at night and pushes the plate away. He doesn’t want it. You try to eat his share after yours, trying to swallow your mother’s crestfallen look with big drinks of water that fill you up faster.

You pick up another sack of potatoes under the bright fluorescent lights. The potatoes still have small buds. It brings a small satisfaction to you. Even America hasn’t fig ured out how to make vegetables grow uniform in the dirt. ***

wanted your father to walk again after two months bedrest. When your father became so sick that the doctors couldn’t help him anymore, your mother called the pan dit’s number. The pandit told your mother to water the tulsi plant every day after her morning prayer. She had forgotten this ritual. Or her mother had forgotten to tell her. There was no tulsi around your house. Tulsi plants are pure; they don’t grow near the smell of meat. She went to the nursery alone and bought back two potted plants on the city bus.

"Microwaveable meals. The aisle your mother would love but should hate."

The cat got into a fight with the neighborhood dogs that night. As you and your family slept under the whirring fan, stray dogs broke the fence and entered the patch of grass. The cat came at night to drink from the milk your mother left outside, but it was getting old and couldn’t move as fast.

The dogs ripped the cat to shreds.

The morning light lit up the red blood on the dewkissed grass. Red on light green, red on dark green, red on concrete, red in your eyes as you closed them fast, red as you blinked, blinked, blinked, red as you screamed to your mother and your father answered instead, your mother is in the bathroom, could you please bring him a cup of lukewarm water?

The slices of packaged meat call to you. They smell like chemicals. You feel an unnatural clump of dry cells when you touch the plastic. You don’t want to eat it, but slaughter is cheaper than anything else.

Your mother told you that meat is polluted. Meat is unhealthy. Meat is the mark of an impure person. Better to eat vegetables and lentils to feed your soul.

You found the calling card nested in pleather seats of the public bus. It promised love and fortune. You wanted a spell to break the deathly squall in the household. You

The tulsi plant died that night. You skipped the meats. ***

Microwaveable meals. The aisle your mother would love but should hate. The potential of these meals—the lesser time spent, the cheapness, the decreased amount of human labor—cannot make up for the lack of nutritional value. You, who had never even had leftovers more than a day old, were

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eating food that could be stocked up for months.

When your father died, you had Maggi noodles daily. Your house was gone, sold off in a wink, and you were staying with your mother’s brother. His wife let you eat rotis rolled up in jaggery and butter.

Your mother stayed in front of the television all day, watching whatever the uncle’s wife had on. You liked to turn the bathroom tap on and stand underneath it until someone called for you. Sometimes this took hours. Your hands would crinkle up with the soft sadness that permeated the house. They have instant noodles in America, but the spices are not the same. You take a box of ramen just for old time’s sake.


The pharmacy section is wedged awkwardly between the ethnic food and the spices. You have read that, in America, the supermarket is an ingeniously designed trap to make you buy things you don’t need. You imagine psychologists manipulating miniature food models in bluelit rooms. It’s at times like this you take back the faith you put in America.

Your mother would support you if she were here. She would tell you that the Americans have made a mistake, and that those are unacceptable. Mistakes are not for the land of free, they’re for the land where the roads are cleaned when Obama visits.

But your mother also has the strength to forgive.

Your mother would tell you to forget and move on. More indignities are always on their way. She would tell

you to take the tiny dignity you have, roll it up in a capsule, and swallow it with a big portion of the humble pie.

Be grateful. You could be playing on the street with the migrant children who have no home and broken toes. Do what is asked of you, whatever the uncle says, and be grateful we still have a roof on top of our heads.


Go down the ethnic food section. You’ll see white people there and wonder if they are ethnic. Admonish yourself for judging, you don’t know their story, they don’t know yours. Look, they are smiling at you, their lips pressed tight, isn’t it nice of them to smile?

You give an honest smile that reaches your eyes and they look away.

Under the yellow Indian banner, you see the cherub with the bob cut, a style of a bygone era your mother grew up in, yellow and white lines printed on the thinnest plastic. These biscuits were treats, but the cheapest in the store, used for dipping in chai, a national habit reinforced through dark-lit advertisements that interrupted your favorite songs. Oh sorry, you mean cookies. You have been substituting them with the Spanish-titled Marie but today is your lucky day.

You mutter Ram-Ram Hare-Krishan Hare-Ram Wahrguru Allah Akbar Jezus Bless Me and then take them.


The last aisle has toys stuffed into the shelves like an afterthought. Your mother always told you to seize each opportunity, so you wheel your cart in.

Your mother won the lottery to America. This is the only thing of significance that has happened to her after your father died. You bristled under her tight grip at the airport, in the line that stretched longer than you could see.

As soon as you learned to read, she took you to the nearest big supermarket, and asked you to translate the

items off the aisle. She wanted to know what sauerkraut meant. She wanted you to know the foods you had never eaten; but you didn’t know. All you wanted were those Lunchables and the chicken nuggets, but even she knew they had meat.

"Somedays she asks you why she isn’t in America. Other days she rolls over and stares out of the window."

The friendly uncle at the Indian store met you both on the street. His eyes looked away when he asked why you hadn’t been to the shop. Your mother tried to hide the Walmart bag that held your Social Science textbook. She told him she was too busy with you to go grocery shopping anyway. It was a bad lie. You could tell. But the shopkeeper had been thugging her those months you were learning English: charging for single boxes of soap that came in cartons, high premiums on bags of rice, produce costing an arm and a leg and a nose too.

You see a collection of arms and legs folded together. They look so real that you avert your eyes. Disembodied hands call out to you. Not one of the nail polish stains are out of place on the unmoving fingers. Verisimilitude for anything but verisimilitude crumbles into shock-val ue that pleases no one. This is a big thought. You like big thoughts. Most importantly, your mother likes big thoughts. She told you to keep thinking them, that they would get you out of sticky situations, that America would value them.

You want a more broken-down doll. You want an in accurate representation of the female body with stiff arms and unblinking eyes. You want the iris off-center, no moles of any kind, a mouth that smiles and doesn’t speak. You go to the check-out aisle where there are three ca shiers and one customer. They rush to service you. Unlike the stoic mask your mother wore to work at the Indian

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jewelry store, their smiles hang like commas of inconsequential sentences.

You don’t even bother smiling.


Walking out of the automatic doors, the chill hits your face, traveling through your hood to the bottom of your heart, where it meets the loneliness you had forgotten about and sudden tears (from the chilly wind? from the hot spices?) brim over your brown eyes—the ones you share with your mother, and that is it. That is it. You wish she were here with you.

But the loneliness gets to her first, your sixteenth year, fifth year in this country. It kills her brain until she becomes soft like the molding on the roof, until she’s a body in the bed—like your father had been—until she doesn’t recognize you anymore, and you are all alone in this promise of a country.

Some days she asks you why she isn’t in America. Other days she rolls over and stares out of the window. You find your mother once again when you go back home from the grocery store. You let her hold the boiled potatoes. The room smells rancid. You will have to clean up the mess under the bed later. But for right now, the potatoes are the same as in India and she laughs as she peels them, leaving soft pressures behind on their bumpy surfaces.

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Family Portrait Kalila Abdur-Razzaq Oil and collage on canvas, 28"x35"

An Interview with Ravneet Sandhu

ITALICS MINE: Did you have a vision for the completed piece before you began?

RAVNEET SANDHU: I knew it was set in a grocery store and involved feelings of being far away from home.

IM: When did you know this piece was done?

RS: This was the first piece I have written in which I set it aside for years and then went back to look at it again. It's much more polished. When a piece doesn't make me cringe anymore, it's done.

IM: Did you have any artists and/or writers in mind when you crafted this piece?

RS: Jhumpa Lahiri and Nella Larsen. Definitely Lana Del Rey to get the quintessential American aesthetic.

IM: If this piece could have a soundtrack, what would it be?

RS: Lo-fi of the current top dance beat when you are in a party and go to the bathroom to question the meaning of your existence with the mirror.

Find Your (My) Mother starts on page 76

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Answer's End Ryan Majors

If tomorrow our sky is no longer blue and our clouds cease to linger like the drifter and the seeker, I’d follow the lumps in my throat. There’s enough to rebuild the kingdom from lamps and live on its seventh floor. Above the village a visage of creation hums biotic and furious, open fire of pleading oaths. Couldn’t tell you, but telling you all at once. Ships of fools sail across the world famous Pacific Ocean, large processions of birds whisper bigger rumors of a fickle scale being traded for exact slivers of gold. Settled in our low spirits, there’s not enough time for sorrow, but if I squint may I see prophetic poetry and dead things lying around, burred and stabbed among lovenests of bowerbirds. Here, between gin and logic: an egg’s value, four fewer infernos, sterile compromise. How would you rise? Busy lungs to breathe another funny joke and choke.

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Island Water Alexander Atkinson Film photography
Series continued on next page
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Island Tower Alexander Atkinson Film photography Island Alexander Atkinson Film photography

My Language Drops Like a Snake From the Forked Tongue of Desire

The margins are not justified. Chromatic unbecoming: Ice sheets pulled over our heads. There is a people: We, who have shoveled a great hole in the sky. Documents strewn over the table. Come again.

Thought the water sunk into us. Porous, meaning: The slow fade of city into morning. How you drink it in like any other bird: First the astonish, then, the guilt of knowing nowhere. Bending is how the sound goes around a corner. It had properties of shadow and a taste of iron and told me I precipitated time. Bumped into a memory on my way to the fridge. The enjambment of avenues and crosswalk; to lineate the city, to make it more palatable. A wolf set loose in this virginia. Skin would begin itching on contact with water and then fire spread across. A senate bored of form, organized in couplets. Why night is a curtain strung between the ordinary. Tongues wriggling on the ground aching to be embodied. It was the lyric I spilled all over the table. What sung against a hole in what home was.

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White Mana Diner Isabel Parades Reduction linocut, 22"x30"

An Interview with Mitchell Angelo Artist of Business Transaction and A Gift

ITALICS MINE: Did you have a vision for the completed pieces before you began?

MITCHELL ANGELO: I definitely didn’t have a wildly solid vision going into it - but I knew I wanted to make my friends stick their hands through the zippers of their pants. You know, for art. For both “A Gift” & “Business Transaction” I really wanted to play with bright colors and try something sillier than usual for my photos.

IM: When did you know the pieces were done?

MA: I think I knew this piece was done when I started showing people the last edits I’d done of the photos and they laughed – a good sign.

IM: Did you have any artists and/or writers in mind when you crafted this piece?

MA: Consciously, I don’t think so! Subconsciously, for sure. I really admire the work of both Ben Zank and Laurence Philomene - they both use a lot of high saturation in their work & Ben Zank’s portfolio is almost exclusively models in silly or strange positions, and I wanted to try both of those things here!

IM: If these piece could have a soundtrack, what would it be?

MA: Definitely "Crocodile Rock".

A Gift is featured on the front cover

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Business Transaction Mitchell Angelo Digital photography

Playing Solitaire as Night Falls Nicholas Dinielli

I am here alone in conversation with ghosts –their voices echo in these empty halls, the steps creak with the strain of their silent footsteps as the light flickers; as though my long forgotten family lingers here. They shuffle the cards, lightly dealing me a hand, grinning from afar.


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Nikita Gotov Film photography

I asked to dig her up Jordan Ford-Solomon

out of the soft soil left long enough to boast new grass, yellow marigolds grow on the steps of the granite castle she slipped under silently, the coroner's hands marching a road I had traced with my pinky C to shining C, Cervical to Coccygeal as he used sign to say goodbye for me years later, when her case is no longer cold, the state strings the thief of her life-light up in union square so little girls will start to fear pride as much as their mothers do

I asked to dig her up because no longer was the cause ambiguous, a cosmic wound you needed stars to stitch when they lifted the oak door that I had slammed on sadness she was waiting for me, her hair a golden yellow like the fields we almost burned

with our fireworks and weed dreams she’s all colored in chrome a pierced eyebrow, a gallery of fresh tattoos a baby brother with a coke addiction a list of ex lovers I never knew a spine I once traced with my pinky

There have been many, she says And all of them looked like you

Youthless Jasmine Yanase Pencil on paper

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Connie Nu-T'Err: Patron Saint of Shit-Talk Jakob Lorenzo Digital collage

An Interview with Jakob Lorenzo

Artist of Connie Nu-T'Err: Patron Saint of Shit-Talk and Morning Bird

ITALICS MINE: Did you have a vision for the completed pieces before you began?

JAKOB LORENZO: I had somewhat of an idea at the beginning, mostly about the general message and composition. I like to keep room for my vision to shift as I go along, as sometimes I accidentally have a better idea than I had planned.

IM: When did you know the piece was done?

JL: This is actually the second take of this piece. when I had finished the first one, I felt as if the background wasn't doing enough to tell the story i was trying to.

IM: Did you have any artists and/or writers in mind when you crafted this piece?

JL: I guess I was inspired by Wham City Comedy's "the Cry of Mann" when designing the gown.

IM: If these pieces could have soundtracks, what would they be?

JL: As on the nose to the piece's concept as it sounds, I had Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" & Mindless Self Indulgence's "Revenge" blasting on repeat the whole time I made this.

You can find Morning Bird on page 48

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Drowning the Sorrows of Ville Rose: Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light and Its Distracting Connections


Danticat, Durst Distinguished Chair in Literature for this year, is the author of the 2013 novel Claire of the Sea Light. While the story of its titular protagonist Claire is ex plored only in the first and last chapter, we are led through the twisting threads that connect the town of Ville Rose like a spider web. The narrative gets lost at times, but the side stories are beautifully composed to help set the stage. It’s filled to the brim with descriptions of the people and places of Haiti, even if it feels tangled at times. Claire of the Seat Light would work much better as a collection of short stories instead of the all-too-thin premise connecting the characters.

Each chapter of Danticat’s novel is a whole, concise story on its own, exploring the full life of whichever character leads it. It quickly moves to different characters, often briefly mentioned in a previous chapter. All of the stories are so fully explained and laden with life that it’s easy to forget about the titular character herself. Often, I wanted to hear more from these characters, only to be shuffled to the next resident of the town. The connections between these townsfolk were somewhat faint and almost trivial, however, the connection to Claire felt weaker as the story continued. Everyone felt like their own protagonists of their own stories; it would have worked much better as a short story collection that explored the residents of the town outside of the connection to the titular character. The characters are interesting enough in their own rights, more than enough to not warrant such a distant connection stringing them together.

Let’s state the obvious; Edwidge Danticat is a writer of description. Every possible setting that could be seen in Ville Rose is written down, almost catalogued to create a

perfect replica of the town, (“He had attended birthdays, weddings, and funerals, watched soccer matches and played epic games of cards and dominoes after countless Sunday dinners”) but this tone occasionally gets old. The novel’s main quirk is the different narrators leading every chapter, but every narrator tends to sound the same. While it does make the overarching narrative a bit more cohesive, that shouldn’t be one of the strongest points connecting the characters together. I found myself craving any other kind of voice from some of these fascinating characters.

In spite of the frustratingly consistent tone, Danti cat excels at her worldbuilding. You grow to hear many of these characters as if you were running around the streets and hearing bits of gossip about the lives of their neighbors, never getting the full story. Brief mentions of a friend or an interaction between two townsfolk would develop into a chapter of its own later in the book. Max Junior, a narrator in a chapter entitled “Home” has a brief role in his friend Bernard’s chapter, for instance. The reader gets to read the introduction of Max Junior, simply described in “Ghosts” and later, we get to see a much larger picture into his life with the chapter he narrates. The characters know one another but still have full, rich lives that are explored in their own chapters. Everyone in Ville Rose has a story to tell: Danticat only explores some of the more dramatic ones.

As one of the most famous Antillean novelists of the 20th century, Maryse Conde wrote, “When you write, you give your version of reality.” One of her earlier novels, Crossing the Mangrove, is eerily similar to what Danticat is attempting to do here. Like Claire, Mangrove deals with a collective trauma of a small island town in the Antilles, with each chapter being narrated by a different person that knew a recently deceased man. Where the two novels split (and this is crucial to the success) is that all of the narrators has strong opinions about the dead man; they all grow through the connection. In Danticat’s novel, Claire isn’t that important to many people. Sure, she’s known

in the small town, but no one truly knows her yet. Take notes from the master of the Antillean novel, please.

I didn’t hate this novel, not by a long shot. The worldbuilding alone is a triumph of her form, allowing the readers to truly get into the town of Ville Rose. The thread connecting the stories is slight––a missing little girl––but maybe that’s the point? We will never really know, just as the people will never know where their Claire has gone. While this book frustrated me to no end at times, Claire of the Sea Light is a story about people. The people of Haiti are varied and Danticat manages to capture their actions, their lives, but it left me wanting more. Some individuality, maybe.

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The Logic of Illogic in Dean Young’s Newest Poetry Collection

In his newest collection, Solar Perplexus, Dean Young flickers between logic and illogic as seamlessly as LED Christmas lights in a synagogue. While for some poets this rapid strobing may result in confusing and erratic poems, Young walks the fine line between these two polarities masterfully. In doing so, he creates a rich and vibrant world within each poem, wherein logic and illogic play off each other and vibrantly merge together.

The first two things one notices about Young’s poems is the lack of conventional narrative and the imaginatively disparate imagery, which are connected by a unique and inspired voice. Take the self-aware poem which adorns the back cover (a staple of Young’s), “Fair Warning." The poem starts with the question, “Have you too been taught to slow dance/ in a burning barn?” proceeding directly into another: “How about chased off/ at dawn, trousers wet with dew/ after failing to draw a nude rectilinear/ enough to get into art school?” The phrases, “Have you too” and “How about” imply a connection between both questions which, contextually, have zero logical connection. Despite this, his tone encourages connection between these differing images until the reader recognizes the juxtaposition between a “burning barn,” which introduces fire, and “wet with dew,” which introduces water.

The poem’s opening five lines also showcase Young’s masterful wordplay—for instance, using the word “rectilinear,” meaning “relating to straight lines,” in place of the more con ventional word when describing a nude (recliner). This semi-homophone appears frequently throughout the collection, emphasizing the myriad ways Young’s imagination and relationship with the intricacies of language create the world his poems occupy.

The poem “Parthenogenesis” displays this semi-homophonic relationship by morphing four words into each other in the poem’s first lines: [..] The goat eats god. Good for the goat, good for god, especially good for the cheese.

Here, Young subtly tinkers with the relationship between the words “goat,” “good,” and “god.” The three words exhibit this semi-homophonic relationship, all starting with a “g,” centering around an “o,” and ending with a “d” or “t.” Young keeps the words close together, allowing only one or two shorter words to stand between them in short, pithy phrases, emphasizing their similar homophonic qualities and how these words can morph into each other.

This homophonic wordplay is paralleled by and com pounded with the logic of illogic. While goats will attempt to eat almost anything, in a literal sense, a goat cannot eat god. In spite of, or perhaps because of, this illogicality, when the goat does eat god, it is beneficial for both. What Young pulls out from this illogic is that because the goat ate god, the cheese from that goat’s milk will be tasty. One can read these lines in a plethora of ways, with maybe the interplay between god and the goat’s cheese representing the absurdity of religion (are we the goat that eats god?). It is this freedom to choose how to interpret each of his poems, either focusing on following and interpreting the logic or the wordplay or the interplay between both, that makes Young’s poetry so rewarding.

Throughout the collection, occasional references to Young’s life pop up. For instance, Young makes explicit

his cold feelings towards English departments multiple times, asking in “Daily Apocalypse”: “Is Beatlemania/ at last dead? How about English departments?” Or in the aptly titled “The Institutionalization of American Poetry” where he declares, “My studies in human potential/ col lapsed when I joined an English department.” On the one hand, this motif can be a way to connect the wildly varied poems in the collection by repeatedly referencing one specific topic that weaves its way in and out of multiple poems. On the other hand, this motif, along with multi ple others (deceased poet Tomaz Salamun is reverently referenced multiple times) puts Young explicitly in his poetry, intertwining himself inside the logic of illogic which guides his work. This is seen clearly in the poem “Infinitives,” which begins:

To pick up where Tomaz left off.

To pick off another oniony layer down to the eye. To chomp.

The poet implicitly suggests that he will be the one to “pick up where Tomaz left off.” In what terms, though? We assume Tomaz’s poetry. But Young then flies in the face of this by continuing with his own poetry, using imagery with its own set of logical rules. Young incorpo rates Tomaz into his poetry, and in doing so, gives us slight glimpses of the poet as a person, a person who misses a fellow poet. After all, this labyrinthian collection is devot ed to Tomaz Salamun.

To say labyrinthian might place the collection in a negative light. Unlike the maze at Crete, a rope is unnecessary, for the reader does not want to escape. Dean Young’s poetry lives in ambiguity and illogic. His gorgeously absurd images and scenes both hide and reveal a plethora of emotional depth, if one has the patience and willingness to get lost in the maze.

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Florence, October 2019

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Alyssa Monte Digital photography


Breathing In Trisha Murphy

At Queensborough Plaza the world returns to me. It feels like coming up for air after diving to the bottom of a pool, it feels like coming back into my body.

I beat the sunset home for the first time this week and do not go home. On a bench in the park, watch it turn red, orange, then navy over the skyline I just left.

Last week, the heat clicked on and my downstairs neighbors swept leaves into garbage bags for the men to pick up Monday morning.

In the morning, I will hear the truck come, idling underneath my window before turning down the street, and across the street, the trumpet player in their top floor apartment playing so close to their window, I cannot tell if it is open or closed— all of Astoria stops to listen.

My Year of Celery and Carrots and Onions Trisha Murphy

For Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me a set of twelve stainless steel pots and pans because I told him I didn’t have any large enough to scream into.

Some days I cannot leave my apartment, and most days I cannot stop screaming, but if I can just make it to the kitchen, some days I can make soup.

My sister emailed me a recipe for a salad to make when you're angry, the first step is smashing cucumbers with a rolling pin the subject line was “thought of you…”

Sometimes it feels like there is an ocean of sadness just behind my bellybutton, and there is almost always spinach wilting in the bottom drawer of my fridge,

on Saturdays, I like to make Cream of Vegetable, an attempt to remedy both. Carla Lalli Music says you only need four ingredients to make a meal, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. I only really need a bad day, or two, or a week. Lately, I cannot write poetry, but I can chop onions and garlic, let them sweat in the bottom of a brand new pot.

I can make something from nothing, I can make soup.

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Tea for One Trisha Murphy

When you die, I will keep your ashes in a teapot above the fireplace. Resting on the mantel we hoped to one day own, in a house like the one we dreamed up laying on our backs, when the cherry trees were first blossoming, and your hair was still long. Painting pictures of the decade to come, closing our eyes and seeing children, small and rosy cheeked in a front yard. We would watch them from the porch, tea cups cradled in between the hands cradling our necks.

When you die, I will write your eulogy because I like to think I know you best, I know that blankets can feel too soft, and your hands get clammy when you think too much, and how it doesn’t really matter if the house has a mantelpiece or not. And a front yard can be a side yard, or a park three blocks away, and we can bring our tea in travel mugs and sit with them all the same—

When you die, I won’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know what pictures look like without you in them. And my tea won’t taste the same if I make it in a smaller pot. Maybe, if I poured you into the fireplace, I could turn you into a Phoenix, wait for you to rise out of the flames and join me on the front steps, When you die I will bring you back to me.

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Her Happiness Wanted Nana Achampong Photography

Today, the world is not ending. Trisha Murphy

I don’t mind the mosquito bites on my ankles, at least I made it outside. Left my headphones home almost-on-purpose this time, deciding to listen to the birds instead, finding not birds but 12 year olds with lacrosse sticks— running, ruddy cheeked and happy to be just where they are, and I am just across the street, ankle deep in grass surely filled with mosquitoes and they are eating orange slices. Flashing smiles full of rinds at their Mothers, making music with screeching voices, and high-fiving with sticky hands and I watch them not worrying, if the bites will leave scars this time, not worrying how long it will be until the sun sets, just waiting to watch it happen.

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Palace Diner Isabel Parades Watercolor monotype, 11"x15"

An Interview with Trisha Murphy

Featured Alum

ITALICS MINE: You worked with multiple publications while at Purchase (namely Gutter and Italics Mine). How did that influence your post-graduate work at the Princeton Review? How did they shift your perspective of publishing and what work (if any) would you like within the publishing field going forward?

TRISHA MURPHY: Working with publications like Gutter and Italics Mine while at Purchase taught me how to be a better editor. I learned how to look out for small errors, keep to a publishing schedule, and work with a team.

IM: Your poems deal a lot with self care and finding calm and small joys in what is not always a joyful, calm world. Where does writing fit into that self care routine (if it fits in at all)? How has your relationship with writing changed since you graduated?

TM: Writing for me is not self care, it more so feels like a necessity I must perform in order to continue living my life, so I guess writing for me is like doing my taxes? Editing feels a bit more like a part of my self care routine, sometimes I'll take weeks or months on a single poem, but usually it feels worth it. I have found writing more challenging since graduating because it is incredibly easy to put off, but I am learning how to force myself to do it. After all I have to do my taxes.

IM: I love your intimate images of home, especially the way you evoke light and sensations, like smell or touch. Can you talk more about why you are drawn to these things and how they become so integral to your poetry? How does a poem come to be for you?

TM: My aim is to write poetry that is accessible. If I write about the senses, then the reader can see, taste, touch, the world I am creating. Poetry sometimes gets a bad wrap, it can be difficult, and confusing, and frustrating, but my goal is challenge that. I want to make poetry feel welcoming, that way more people can fall in love with it, just like I have.

IM: Poetry often feels like an overlooked part of writing, especially with the ways instant gratification has become so common in our day to day lives.

TM: Honestly, I wish I could write fiction. I love disappearing into a good book, and falling in love with characters, but I am not very good at writing it. I do think poetry is necessary though, it has taught me how to say what I mean because it doesn’t allow you the space to not, and I think that’s something everyone should learn how to do. And besides that, what’s more cathartic than writing a shitty poem about a bad experience? Nothing.

IM: Which creatives have had the biggest influ ence on your writing? Whether books, music, TV, or other art. What are you currently reading and watching? Does this work find its way into your own writing? What would you like to recom mend?

TM: While at Purchase, I loved the Durst Distinguished Lectures. Since graduating, I have continued to attend free lectures in the city. I’ve had the chance to see authors whom I love and admire like T Kira Madden, Carmen Maria Machado, and Alexander Chee. There are few things as inspiring as hearing writers I love talk about the writing process. Every time I feel like giving up, listening to them makes it all feel worth it. I would recommend finding an author you love, then find the authors they love; chances are you will love them too.

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KALILA ABDUR-RAZZAQ (b. Brooklyn, NY 1998) is a Fine artist who works in oil, collage, and silkscreen. Abdur-Razzaq's work explores the evolution of Black Diasporic identity through genet ics and rememory.

NANA ACHAMPONG Nana is a born and raised New Yorker. She enjoys creating both digital and physical artwork. Nana is a recent graduate of Purchase and had a really great time there, making friends and learning more about herself as an artist. She wouldn’t trade her experience and lessons learned there for anything. "Every day may not be good, but there is always good in every day."

OLIVIA ADAMS is a second-year student at SUNY Purchase, where she is double majoring in Creative Writing and Playwriting/Screenwriting with a focus in Fiction and Playwriting. She’s from Niagara Falls, NY, where she spent a good chunk of time in the local library and eventually found her passion for writing. She’s very excited to be submitting to Italics Mine for the first time.

MITCHELL ANGELO (he/him) is a Senior Creative Writing major and the Managing Editor of Gutter Mag. His work has previously appeared in The Westchester Review, Gandy Dancer, and on his mom’s fridge.

ALEXANDER ATKINSON is a Photography student in his junior year looking to explore the marks humanity has left on its landscape. Color film is his choice medium when it comes to cap turing the vast landscape we are still trying to tame.

RACHEL BEVACQUA is a current junior in the BFA Photography department.

EDISON CAUGHEY is a junior Studio Production major. He’s just a man with a shaking hand and no concrete plan.

SARAH COUTURE is a senior in her final semester at Purchase College. She depicts specific personal memories with slightly warped forms to inflict an uncanny feeling upon the viewer. The subject matter is joyous, but the uncanny existence of the figures creates a discomfort reminiscent of the painful nature of nostalgia.

MATHILDA CULLEN is a trans woman, poet, and translator. Her works include the chapbook Trace Happenings and a translation of Ernst Toller’s Poems of the Imprisoned. She runs marlskarx, an anti-press dedicated to publishing queer poets of the left, and Prolesound, a podcast and archive of contemporary leftist poetry.

OLIVIA DeBONIS is a writer, musician, and multimedia artist from Los Angeles, California. She currently attends SUNY Purchase College and expects to graduate with a Philosophy degree in Spring 2021. She doesn't know what her plan is after she graduates, so don't ask.

NICHOLAS DINIELLI is a senior at Purchase with a major in Literature and a minor in Political Science. His creative writing started off in the realm of song lyrics, and has slowly branched out into other poetic structures. He holds a strong interest in form, but does not feel constrained to or confined by it.

CERISSA DiVALENTINO is currently studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing at SUNY New Paltz in New Paltz, NY. Their work has appeared in Cathexis Northwest Press, Chronogram Magazine, For Women Who Roar, Two Sisters Writing and Publishing, and more. When they're not writing queer stories, you can bet they're reading queer stories.

JORDAN FORD-SOLOMON is a SUNY Purchase sophomore Creative Writing major. Coming from western Massachusetts, she has studied both fiction and poetry since she was in elementary school. Conway is rural so Jordan didn’t have a lot to do but live in a world of her own making and then, used college to strengthen her craft. She wants to be a writer, she has always wanted to be a writer, she’s really close to being a writer.

JAKE FRISBIE (they/them/theirs) is in the Media Arts MFA and Entrepreneurship in the Arts MA programs at Purchase College and expects to graduate May 2021. Their artistic research concerns queer experience and alternative economies. They believe vulnerability allows greater intimacy, and hopes their confessional work leads to greater understanding within (and without of) their community.

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NIKITA GOTOV is a junior Graphic Design major at SUNY Purchase.

BAILEY HUMMELL is a sophomore Graphic Design and Printmaking student from Buffalo, NY whose work is inspired by street graphics, art history, current events, and their own effervescent queer identity.

SKLYAR JENNINGS is a writer and filmmaker from New York City.

KATIE LAMAR has always been praised for her writing abilities. In kindergarten, her class had to write their own sentence at the end of the year. Some kids wrote, “I like flowers,” or “Dogs are nice.” Katie wrote, “The trolls took Mrs. Fogarty and she fainted.” She has been a hit ever since!

LIANNA LAZAROS is a Creative Writing major at Purchase College. They began to write poems during their classes in high school and haven't stopped since. They love to play the guitar, hang out with their friends, and abide by the Oxford comma.

JAKOB LORENZO, also known Monoculus Rex Murum, is a multi-faceted artist/musician who is most known for their series of self-portraits. There is no solid evidence this person exists. If you have any information on the whereabouts of Monoculus Rex Murum, please contact your local Monoculus Rex Murum.

GRACE MAHONY is a Creative Writing junior. They think about 100,000 thoughts per day, which is too many thoughts for a human to have. They enjoy writing fun stories to keep the darkness at bay.

KRISTEN MANCHENTON is a senior Literature student at Purchase College with a penchant for the Sims, hiking, and occasionally cooking. She loves to read memoir, creative nonfiction of all kinds, and literary fiction with LGBT representation. She also cares for her house plants as though they are her children. Enjoy reading!

RYAN MAJORS is a Creative Writing student currently working on their senior project, Frogmouth, a collection of poems dealing with the creative process and mental illness. When they're not writing poetry they can be found deep under the ground mining for shiny things.

JORDAN MEILAND is a sophomore Journalism major from Brooklyn, NY. He serves on the Student Senate and reports on concerts on campus. He enjoys skateboarding and playing music.

MARS MENDEZ is a sophomore at Purchase College and is a BSVA major with a minor in philosophy. Mars grew up with no poetic or literary background, but instead found herself immersed with music lyrics which inspired her works of poetry. Mars's process consists of her carrying around a small notebook and jotting down scenes from everyday life and composing them with certain emotions and themes.

ALYSSA MONTE is a junior Photography major with a minor in Journalism. Along with photog raphy, she enjoys writing poetry and exploring other mediums such as drawing, graphic design and printmaking. Writing has always been her go-to creative outlet and allows her to sort through her stream of consciousness in an imaginative way.

TRISHA MURPHY graduated in 2019 and is currently working at The Princeton Review as the Editorial Assistant. Her work has been featured in Italics Mine in the past and she is overjoyed to be part of the magazine once again.

TARYN NASUTA is in the Screenwriting/Playwriting BA and she has immense respect for all collab orators and creative thinkers. She’s been writing down her thoughts ever since she learned to express them. She believes sharing all kinds of work connects the artistic community in a beautiful way.

ISABEL PAREDES is based in White Plains, New York. She is currently studying to attain a BFA at Purchase College, School of Art and Design. While the majority of her studies are focused to wards printmaking, she is trained in several aspects including drawing and painting, paper making, and book arts. Her work focuses on domestic life and themes of blue collar work. Her recent works explore the shared culture found in diners across America and NASCAR.

STELLA PICURI is a wanna-be designer and creative from Upstate New York, who loves the color red and making no sense.

ANGEL RAMIREZ lives in Brooklyn, NY and is currently working to obtain a BFA from Purchase College School of Art and Design. While he is trained mainly in contemporary and traditional printmaking and fine art, his practice ranges from photography, video, and sound, to graphic design, installation, and drawing.

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WILLIAM RAMIREZ is a senior studying photography. He is currently commuting from Bush wick, Brooklyn and his work is based on hidden moments he discovers when wandering around in his neighborhood, documenting the mundane but also what feels nostalgic. Brooklyn will always be his home.

JOSEPH RESTAINO is from Stony Point, New York, is studying Communications at Purchase College, and considers himself to be a self taught painter and visual artist.

SONYA RIO-GLICK's Already Home is a personal essay in which she chronicles finding home within herself through an ongoing process of elimination and trauma reconciliation. A senior Arts Management student, Rio-Glick authors Where She Stands, a blog about disability and queerness.

BEN ROFFMAN is a Creative Writing major at Purchase College. They are from Yonkers. They first started writing at a young age, when they discovered that using big words made them seem smart.

RAVNEET KAUR SANDHU is a graduate student who loves thick novels and sugary coffee. She is originally from India. Her short stories have been published in The Offing, Gordon Square Re view, and The Rectangle.

MICHAEL SCHMITT is a third-year student and is originally from Queens. He is double majoring in History and Literature and occasionally writes poetry and book reviews. He is bad at short bios.

XINGYUN WANG is a Painting and Drawing junior.

JASMINE YANASE is a classical violinist, with a love of all arts. She is thinking about how having a cat could possibly boost her creative juices. She has been planning out how to successfully kidnap the bodega cat down the block.

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2012-13 ALISON BECHDEL 2013-14









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CAROLINA ORTIZ (she/her) 21, is a multimedia artist who likes to create in all the ranges she can get her hands on. Her goal is to touch and have people be moved by her art in both a comforting or self-reflecting way. Her main influences come from fantastical fairy tales, nature, identity and psychology.

ELEANOR OSBORN is an 18 year old poet currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina with an affinity for overusing semi-colons and impulsively cutting her own hair in the bathroom at un godly hours of the night. Inspired by the likes of Richard Siken and Mary Oliver, her work tends to focus on her own relationships with love, queerness, faith, and loss. She is currently a freshman in the BFA Acting Conservatory at SUNY Purchase.

JACK PALMIOTTI is a Senior in New Media, minoring in film production at SUNY Purchase. A producer of experimental storytelling, working in the medium of digital photography, video, and graphics of nonlinear editing. Currency working on his Senior Project, A video perspective piece on how minds with dyslexia associate information with affecting sensitivities and disruptions. Putting the viewer in the eyes of Dyslexia.

BAILEY PEABODY is a junior studying playwriting and screenwriting and history. She focuses her writing on historical fiction and small, contained drama that focuses on interpersonal relation ships. After graduation, she hopes to have a career writing for the stage and screen.

LILLIAN PEREZ is a second year THP major from Queens. She has a concentration in acting but started to pick up writing more during the pandemic. With this newfound love for writing, she uses it as an outlet for her emotions and hopes that her poems will make people feel less alone.

CASEY PURTELL is a junior photography major at Purchase currently residing in Warwick, New York. The work shown in this issue is a 4x5 of the guest room in her house. Her work focusing on common surroundings in order to make them seem more extraordinary.

WINNIE RICHARDS is a senior Literature and Creative Writing double major. She is graduating alltoo-soon and wants only to say that she cherishes the Purchase literary community so dearly, and she hopes you all know how very much you have meant to her. Winnie is from Delaware County, NY, and she likes to look at birds.

NOAH RIGBY (he/him) is a junior creative writing Major at SUNY Purchase with minors in both theatre performance and playwriting. When he’s not writing he’s either walking through nature, lounging about, or using the term “vibing” in semi-professional emails. His poetry has been pub lished in Gutter Mag and Chaotic Merge, and he has won multiple awards for his playwriting.

AMANDA SANTIAGO is a Queer & Genderfluid poet, playwright, actor, and experimental artist. Their written works are solely focused on identity, family, love, and spirituality. The metaphysical approach they embody is represented through all of their artistic mediums. Santiago seeks freedom and boundless creation in the world, and to be free of labels, assumptions, and stagnancy.

JAMES SKEHAN is a 23 year old photography major in the fine arts conservatory. Their work fo cuses on themes of hereditary inheritance, not only in the forms of genetic features, but in regards to traditions, culture, and timeless consciousness. Their most recent work examines the structures of the body, of plants, and natural phenomena such as light while simultaneously considering notions of home, etymology, and generational duty.

JOHANNA SOMMER is a Journalism and Literature double major who loves writing about music's deeply personal qualities. She hopes to one day go into arts criticism, but right now is just looking forward to being back on campus.

KATHERINE SPAZIANTE is a junior in Screenwriting/Playwriting BA living in Bronx, NY. She has a passion for all the arts from painting to writing. Ever since she was a child, she would create stories based on her drawings.

HALLIE STEPHENSON (she/her/hers) is an aspiring author, artist, and actor living in Manhat tan with her big theater family. She is a lover of all types of storytelling, and dreams of becoming a playwright, filmmaker, and owning her own arts business. She absolutely adores portraits depicting human emotion and uses art to understand the world.

CLAIRE TORREGIANO is from Rochester, NY and is currently studying Creative Writing at SUNY Purchase College. She predominantly writes historical fiction, but loves reading poetry and nonfiction as well. She also enjoys film, television, and music as other forms of artistic expression. She loves her dog, Lily, with her whole heart.

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NATALIA FIORE is from Long Island, New York. She is currently a junior at SUNY Purchase, ma joring in Creative Writing and minoring in Literature. In her spare time, she likes to draw, not write poetry when she should, and waste time on the internet. She loves her friends, her family, and her girlfriend very much and hopes that whoever is reading this has a good day.

MICHAEL GILROY is a senior from Long Island majoring in creative writing with minors in lit erature and history. He's been writing since late high school and thinking of his own stories since childhood. His preferred genre is fantasy with some interest in science fiction as well. Michael hopes to be a full-time writer in the future and to have his senior project, Vanguards: The World Waits for No One, be the start of a popular fantasy novel series.

ARIELLA GREEN (she/her) is a senior psychology major from New York at Purchase college. She has also always been very involved in creative writing as a means of expressing herself; as she deals with the debilitating chronic illness Epilepsy, along with depression. In Highschool she had a poem published, and is currently working on a manuscript for a memoir. She enjoys spending time with friends, and playing piano, guitar and rock climbing when she is not doing schoolwork or writing.

ADEN HURST is a movement and visual artist from Chicago. In his visual artwork, he explores self-image, the physical body, and abstraction of movement. He spends his time at purchase in the Conservatory of Dance and is currently on a gap year due to COVID-19. He hopes to collaborate with other dancers and artists in the future, to create work for the stage, exhibition, fashion, and video.

LASSITER JAMISON is a junior at Purchase double majoring in literature and creative writing. He enjoys writing people who don't say what they mean, characters of a morally dark gray persua sion, and the feeling in your hands when something is going horribly wrong just out of sight. He hopes that one day his books will be found in strip malls across the country.

RAVEN KARLICK is a freshman Screenwriting/Playwriting major. In addition to pursuing their major, they enjoy creative writing, reading comics and spending an unhealthy amount of time on Animal Crossing New Horizons.

MEGAN MCDONALD (@sireelist) is a literature major at Purchase and an artist who does digital and traditional surrealism, abstract art, comics, and character art as a hobby. Out of love for the game she also curates a virtual punk art zine that she posts every Friday the 13th!

AMY MIDDLETON is currently a student at SUNY Purchase double majoring in Graphic Design and Creative Writing. She has previously been published in Gandy Dancer and Soupstone. She loves silly poetry, the color green, and black coffee.

SHANNON MITCHELL is an antisocial butterfly in the zodiac sign cancer. She enjoys driving and working on classic cars, breeding reptiles, watercolor painting, gardening, hiking, and writing poet ic prose. Above all, she appreciates life’s simple pleasures like catching the moment streetlights go out at dawn and when the stars and planets align just right for her to experience the “veggie rain:” when the timers click, the refrigerators hum, and the produce gets misted in grocery stores. She has been vegan for over seven years and can’t whistle or blow bubbles with gum.

ALYSSA MONTE is a senior photography major with a journalism minor. She is currently working on her senior project, which is a photobook about landscape and memory. Along with photography, she enjoys writing poetry. She is interested in creating a dialogue between text and image to inform her work in various ways.

MADISON MORSE's love of writing began at age ten, when she used to write Harry Potter fanfiction. Over the years, she started to grow a repertoire of her own characters and build her own worlds. Nowadays, she dabbles in many other forms of writing: screenwriting, playwriting, and, if you catch her on a day when she's feeling strange, poetry! (Which is definitely not her preferred avenue of writing!)

GWIN MOSHER is a genderfluid first year double majoring in Literature and Anthropology and minoring in Linguistics. In their free time, they love to read, hike, and drink copious amounts of black coffee. Currently, their post-college plan is to move into the publishing field while writing novels and/or fronting an angry punk band on the side.

MAGNOLIA MULVIHILL is a Junior Photography and Literature double major. They are interested in capturing the natural world in a way that feels spiritual and personal to the viewer. They want their work to be read as visual poetry.

MARGARET O’MALLEY is a junior in the Film BFA at Purchase. She is currently exploring doc umentary and experimental fields. A lot of her work revolves around space and the feeling of home. Her Instagram is @maggieomalleyy.

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LIZ ABRAMS is from Rochester, NY and currently studies Creative Writing and French Language & Culture at SUNY Purchase. She has a love for fantasy and coming-of-age stories. She has also made a habit of making useless things, as there is no better avenue of expression than that which is removed from expectations.

STEPHANIE ALIFANO is a senior Painting/Art History double major who works primarily with large scale, acrylic, abstractions. This year she has been creating works about the human body through abstracted/imagined ideas of what the inside of a human body could look and feel like. She explores these ideas through material experimentation, incorporating mud, hot glue, plastics, papers, spray paints, wire, pours and pebbles into her paintings.

ELI ALTZMAN is a creative writing major currently living in Linden, New Jersey, a city whose meandering highways and mud-lined mouth of the Rahway River serve as his inspiration. He writes primarily short fiction with a focus on characters’ personalized internal conflicts and a common theme of interpersonal detachment. For further influence in his work, Altzman draws from film and video games, and writes in the quiet company of his pet rabbit.

AJANI BAZILE graduated in 2018 and is currently working at BuzzFeed as a staff writer. He is based in Brooklyn and is excited to have his work featured in Italics Mine again.

THERESE BIAZON (she/her) is a Filipino-American writer from upstate New York, who studies biology and creative writing at SUNY Purchase. Her work has appeared in Brown Sugar Lit and Chaotic Merge Magazine. She enjoys looking at the sky while walking despite the danger this entails, and continues (even now!) to perse vere in writing her novel.

AMY BOCHNER is a junior Creative Writing major and Journalism minor at SUNY Purchase. She lives in Scarsdale, NY, and is one of five daughters. She has been coming up with stories for as long as she can remember and has always been an avid reader. Her favorite books are The Catcher in the Rye and A Clockwork Orange.

JONATHAN CARR is a Creative Writing Major and Economics Minor at SUNY Purchase for Spring 2022. He is adaptable to any style of writing and has been published by Purchase's Expose journal for non-fiction and put on display by Dirty Laundry for poetry, both in 2019. He plans to one day build a new generation of skilled readers and writers. Carr currently lives in Long Beach, California, where his main hobbies are writing, exercising, and eating tacos by the beach.

KUNGA CHOEPHEL (20) is a writer, director and cinematographer hailing from Queens, NY. His works have all carried strong undercurrents of identity and family. By showcasing the hyper specific and unique experiences of a Tibetan immigrant living in America, he hopes to oxymoronically also explore the universal lows and highs everyone faces.

ABBY COLLINS is 21 years old and currently resides in Buffalo, New York. She plans on returning to the city as soon as possible to further her dream of writing. Abby is inspired by the many faces that have come in and out of her life and how they have affected her. She typically likes to focus on relationships that ended in heartbreak, as this is her way of healing. She would like to thank you so very much for taking the time to read her work. Much love.

AMAYA CONTRERAS is a junior Creative Writing major and Journalism minor at SUNY Purchase. She lives in Scarsdale, NY, and is one of five daughters. She has been coming up with stories for as long as she can remember and has always been an avid reader. Her favorite books are The Catcher in the Rye and A Clockwork Orange..

RUNE DAVINO-COLLINS (they/them) is a senior at Purchase College, studying cultural an thropology. They are interested in posthumanism, becomings, and fictive worlds. Rune's biggest passions lie in the creation of lived-in, breathing fictional worlds in the styles of J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin, drawing further inspiration from conceptual frameworks of posthuman anthropology, semiotics, and affect theory. In their spare time, they study martial arts, play violin and guitar, fold origami, and play Dungeons & Dragons with their friends.

SHANNON DENATALE is a Creative Writing major at SUNY Purchase with a concentration in poetry. She finds inspiration in leaf-littered backyards, that just-rained-smell and the complexities of marine life. Shannon’s Long Island upbringing played a large role in her affinity for the fauna and flora of the Northeast.

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An Interview with Ajani Bazile

ITALICS MINE: What was the genesis of this story? Did a particular character, image, moment inspire it?

AJANI BAZILE: At the time I wrote this, I was writing a lot of things around the theme of communication. I remembered having a conversation with some friends about family “secrets” that we found out when were older, so I was inspired from there.

IM: Silence is an important theme in this story, not only between your protagonist and his uncle, but also with (and between) the rest of his family. Particularly, your choice to leave his mother’s explanation—when he finally works up the courage to ask her about his uncle’s insinuation—off the page. The choice is a bold one and it works well, but I’m curious how you arrived at it?

AB: I didn’t want the story to be totally focused on finding out the exact truth of the family secret. I really wanted it to be about the lack of communication in this family. To me, it’s more interesting to see the protagonist and his uncle dance around the subject in the last scene than it is to hear the mom’s explanation because that last scene is more telling about their future relationship.

IM: Do you have any current writing projects that you’re working on?

AJ: Right now, I’m not working on anything specific. I’ve been writing very randomly lately. I’ll think of a theme, character or line I'm excited about and write a couple paragraphs exploring it. If I really like it, I’ll come back to it and try to expand it into a story.

IM: You’re currently a staff writer at Buzzfeed. Does your training as a creative writer inform your profes sional writing work in any ways? How do you balance between the two?

AJ: is a very voice-y website and they really want writers to have fun, so having a creative writing degree definitely helps me write more colorfully when I’m making a post. I don't find it too hard balancing my professional work and my personal work because they’re two very different types of writing. Things I write at BuzzFeed follow a specific formula, guidelines, and structure while my personal writing allows my creativity to be completely unfiltered.

AJ: I would tell myself to get more involved in campus clubs and activities earlier on. I didn’t join any clubs really my first two years at Purchase. I was very focused on my classes and just hanging out with friends, which was great, but later on I got involved in things like theatre stage man agement and the QPOC club which gave me new interests and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I think if I’d got involved sooner in my college career, my experience at Purchase would’ve been even better.

IM: If you could travel back in time to your college years, what’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self?

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on the bed half-heartedly flipping through an O magazine; the TV was on.

“Is everything okay?” She asked.

I sat at the foot of her bed.

“Are you cold?” She looked at my hands, which up until that point, I hadn’t realized were shaking. I crossed my arms to stop them.

“No,” I smiled because I didn’t know how to go about it. “I just wanna ask you about something.” I became a kid again, too embarrassed to look her in the eye.

She ended the silence. “About what baby? You’re scaring me.” I looked at her then and just found the words to ask. She clenched her jaw, but she did not hesitate to answer, and to do that, she had to start at the beginning.


Tonight, I accept Uncle Eddie’s offer to smoke on the front steps; my dad is not awake to hear us. We shoot the shit and it’s the most we’ve interacted ever since he moved in. He exhales smoke in my face before asking me when I’m moving out of my parents’ house. I tell him I’m working and saving for a place in Brooklyn or Manhattan with a few friends. He tells me about growing up in Crown Heights, how at my age, he was as skinny as me but not nearly as shy. “You gotta speak up, bro,” he teases me. “Some people think you’re a pussy.” When he says ‘people,’ he’s referring to him self, but I just nod and fake laugh when he talks. I get a little antsy because I worry my mom will find us. I take another hit anyway. I want to keep talking since he leaves tomorrow. Now I’m completely stoned, and I can’t avoid glaring at his face: we have the same full lips, bushy eyebrows, and chin dimples. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed, but now every thing is different.

“Man, what the fuck? You startin’ to creep me out,” he says and I realize I’ve been staring too long.

I laugh and shake my head. “Sorry. I was just thinking about the resemblances between you and me and my dad.”

“Ah,” he says.

“I feel like I have a little bit more of your features.”

He grins briefly, but it’s obviously forced. “Eh, genetics, man. I got your grandpa’s face, you got his face, but your dad has more of your grandma’s face. You looked more like them when you were a kid.”

“Hmm. What about Kenan and Sam? Do they look more like you or their mom?”

“Uh, they’re a good mix.” He points at his nose. “Sam’s got his mother’s fucking beak though. I used to tell him he could crack seeds with that thing,” he chuckles. “I can show you.” He pulls out his beaten-up BlackBerry and shows me a picture of Kenan and Sam as teens wearing soccer uniforms on a field. I look for my face in theirs.

“How old are they now?”

“Er, I think like 21 and 18.” He puts his phone back in his pocket.

“They’re in Georgia right?”

He nods.

“Is that where you’re going after you leave?”

He sucks his teeth like I said something offensive. “No way. I haven’t been there in a couple years man.”

“Really, why?”

He shrugs. “I don’t have a lot of friends there. My wife hates me, my kids are grown. The fuck is there for me now, you know?”

“Well Kenan and Sam aren’t that old.”

“If we’re keeping it real, they kinda hate me too. Boys a lot of times are very protective of their mothers and they did not like how I treated her. I last talked to them, like, five, six months ago.”

“Wow. Do you feel like you’re missing out on their lives?”

“Nah, not really” he scratches his stubbly chin. “Like I said, they’re grown now. Their lives are their business. Honestly, I think I only had kids because I was married and that’s what you do. I know that’s fucked up but, hey, that’s, uh, the reality. I don’t think I ever should’ve been a father. I think my parents felt that too and I know your parents did.”

“Really? Why do you think that?”

He shakes his head. “They’re just more responsible.

They have that parental instinct I don’t.” He takes a hit.

“Do you think you’ll mend things with them?”

“Eventually, sure. But for right now, it’s better this way. I know they’re fine.”

“I actually used to want a brother when I was really, really young.”

“Huh.” He looks away from me, lights the joint, and takes another pull. “Be glad you had a sister.” He exhales, passes the joint to me, and then starts talking about how stupid he thinks marijuana laws are.

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Men of Few Words

My parents were both displeased about the idea of having Uncle Eddie stay with us. “But what can you do?” mom said. “He’s family.” She didn’t ask me or my sister Simone to give up our rooms for him. “The couch is fine for Eddie.” And so, for the past two months, that’s where he drank Heinekens ‘til he knocked out. Other nights, at 2 a.m., I’d start down the stairs for a glass of water and freeze, then turn back after hearing him say “Oh, I can make you come twice,” to a woman or, maybe, different women. At the end of each month, when the Verizon Fios bill came, my mom huffed into the living room to tell him to stop buying porn On Demand.

More than once, in the middle of the night, Simone has caught him on the front steps outside smoking a joint. It is the only time he smokes because my mom is not awake to smell it. Simone’s only sixteen, but she’s told me he offered her weed. She’s always refused and reminded him she’s too young. It’s all bullshit because she usually does smoke, but a couple months ago she did five dabs of marijuana wax in a row and had the worst high of her life. Since then she’s been on weed detox.

Uncle Eddie had lived in Georgia most of my life. We visited him twice, once when I was four months old and again when I was six. Now I’m 23. He would always boast about the girls and antics he got involved with when he was a teen, but he never talked about the antics or women he got involved with as an adult that resulted in him living on our couch. He spoke so little of his family that I always forgot he had two grown sons.

When my dad spoke to Uncle Eddie, it was mostly to ask if he’d eaten or to talk about a basketball game on TV. I’ve asked my dad before, once as a child and once as a teen,

why he didn’t speak to Uncle Eddie. “We’re just not close,” my father said when I was a kid, and by the time I was a teen, “cause he’s a fuckin’ asshole.” My mom said Uncle Eddie envied my dad because his own life was a series of failures and missteps.

My dad is very private. He’ll throw on a jacket, grab his keys, and head towards the door. When you ask him where he’s going, the answer is almost always the same: out. If you insist where, he’ll say, the store. If you ask why, he’ll say, to buy something. What he does, no matter how trivial, isn’t our business. It’s from my dad I learned to speak vaguely about friends, boyfriends, work, and losses.


One night, my mom and Simone go out, leaving the three of us men to have dinner together. My dad picked up food from our favorite Haitian place in Valley Stream. With our mouths full of black rice, mac and cheese, griot, and tassot, we barely spoke. Afterward, we slumped in our chairs, my dad and me sipping at beers while Uncle Eddie funneled them. He was louder and more rambunctious than usual. Though he was speaking Creole, which I didn’t understand, I could still tell he was babbling nonsense by the way my dad rolled his eyes. So, I just smiled at my uncle as he driveled, pretending to understand. It took him too long to catch on.

In English he said, “If you were my kid, you would’ve known how to speak.” He took another swig, then let out a riotous laugh. “Shit, who knows? You might be, right?” He continued laughing and playfully slapped my dad’s shoulder. My dad glared at him, shot me a quick look, then looked down at his plate.

“Eddie, shut the fuck up,” my dad snapped.

“Oh c’mon, he’s—”

My dad cut him off, berating him in Creole. My dad was enraged, but his eyes were also wet, which made me anxious. My uncle fumbled to defend himself, but chided by my dad, he got up and stumbled into the living room, defeated.

I looked to my dad with confusion. “What happened?” I asked. He told me not to worry about it. And because veins were popping out of the side of his face, I didn’t ask more questions. I had trouble sleeping that night. I couldn’t stop thinking about my uncle’s comments from dinner and my dad’s reaction. I wondered if their argument was about me, or another issue they had. Or maybe both.

When I told Simone about it the next day, she said, “the vibes are always fucking weird with Uncle Eddie.” It was stupid to even entertain the possibility of him being my dad, she said.

She made sense. Or at least I tried to reassure myself she did. But at midnight, I saw my mother go into the living room and talk to Uncle Eddie while he was laid out on the recliner. I’d never heard whispers sound so volatile.

The next day when I came home from work, my mother was doing the bills at the kitchen table and told me that Uncle Eddie would be leaving in two days. “He just lies around drunk all day; I don’t want that in my house anymore. All he does is cause problems.”

“Where’s he gonna go?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” she shrugged.

“What does dad think?”

“Please,” she scoffed, “you know your dad will gladly give him the boot.”

“Then why did you guys let him stay here in the first place?”

She sighed, “Because when family needs help, you help. But at this point, he’s taking advantage of us; he’s not thank ful. Sometimes you just can’t help everyone.”

I stood there for a moment. She might’ve known what I was curious to know. My curiosity kept growing and so did my fear. It was embarrassing enough having him as an uncle, but it would be humiliating to have him as a father.

I didn’t even think of bringing it up to my dad again because I knew I couldn’t. Whether it was true or not, he’d just serve me an angry look and be offended that I had the gall to ask him. So when he and Simone stepped out to go to the store, I went to my parent’s room where my mom lay

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reach into the drawer closest to the toilet and pull out a pack of alcohol wipes, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and some boxes of bandages. He tore the top off of the pack and used the first wipe to clean his hands of blood.

“Tuesday, I saw her. It was her niece’s birthday so our session ended short. She showed me a picture of her. Real cute.”

“Mn,” Max hummed. He tossed the used wipe on the bath mat and took out a new one. This one he brought to Jack’s forehead and kept it firmly pressed even when Jack flinched back in pain and let out an involuntary hiss, causing his stomach to churn. The last thing he needed at the mo ment was to throw up on Max. “When’s the last time you took your meds?”

It took him longer than he expected to come up with an answer despite having crafted the lie the moment he flushed his last batch down the toilet.

“Last night.”

“Mn,” he hummed again. He changed out the wipe for another. “You’re really bad at lying, you know that?”

He near fell off the toilet seat in his hurry to place his head in the bowl. Max, of course, stepped in immediately to help, and placed a firm hand on his back as all the alcohol came back up, setting his throat and nose and head on fire. As Max steadied him in his new kneeling position, and his body convulsed in its struggle to rid itself of everything it contained, Max continued to clean his wounds and Jack choked out a couple of words he didn’t believe.


are you talking about?”

“I found two empty bottles of Haloperidol and Dival proex in your cupboard. Both issued a couple of weeks ago. You should have them both nearly full.” He thought he hid them better than that. Thought he hid his behavior better than that which would set Max looking. He threw up some more. “Plus, you take your meds in the morning. It was Lith ium you took at night. They took you off after you stopped showing up to work after your last episode.”

He hated calling them episodes. He was bipolar, he wasn’t putting on a show.

“Why’d you look?”

Both of them knew. He heard rather than saw Max sit next to him on the ground.

“Last time you went out every night was when we first started dating. Going out, spending a lot of money, barely sleeping. You were the definition of manic. So, I checked your cards. Saw you rented a car. We both know you’re too unfocused to drive when you’re taking your meds, so I assumed, apparently correctly, that you stopped.”

In the first minute of silence Jack only breathed with his head in the toilet, trying to stop everything from coming up. In the second he batted Max’s hand away from his head, which retreated without contest. It took him five minutes to be sure he wasn’t going to throw up again and lower himself down across from Max, leaning against the bath for balance. Most of the time was spent looking for words— what words Max said, what words he should say back, whatever nonsense words were spiraling around his mind. He was supposed to be good with words, but he couldn't land on anything with substance. He knew he had to speak soon, though. He knew what a come down felt like, sliding from the manic to the depressive, and he was coming down hard.

“What’s the point, Max?”

More silence. The unpeeling of band-aids in preparation.

“What’s the point of what?”

“Everything? The shit they put me on just… mutes everything. I’m not happy, I’m not sad. Yeah I’m not manic or laying in bed for weeks but I’m practically a fucking zom bie, you’ve seen it. All I do is sit here. I don’t exist. Nothing… interests me. Everything is nothing and I’m tired of nothing. I want something new.”

Max sighed loudly, his breath echoing off of the cramped bathroom walls. Not dramatically, just tiredly, as if he was the one who had been up the past couple of days. He heard Max stand and turn the sink on, then begin to wash his hands. Jack forced himself to look up at him.

“So, you cheated on me?”



Looking up at him was the worst thing he could’ve done. Jack couldn’t remember the last time Max had looked at him like that. They got together during the period of time when Jack was still accepting that bipolar wasn’t just a word thrown around by tween boys when their girlfriends didn’t want to dry hump behind the bleachers, so Max had seen the worst of him, and to Jack’s surprise, stuck by him as Jack figured himself out. They learned to live day by day and give as much to the other person as possible without sacrificing themselves. Jack found out how to be happy with himself, and then happy with Max. They grew. Looking into the inky black of his eyes now, he saw none of that growth. He felt none of the love.

This wasn’t his mental illness or whatever the fuck— this was all Jack.

“Why are you still with me?” he asked.

Max turned the sink off, the harsh rushing of the water calming to a soft drip in the bowl. Some car screeched by outside. Jack pictured Brian in the rental, racing down back alleyways, tangled dark hair blowing in the wind as the terrible song from the diner blasted in the background. He pictured Max in the passenger seat, all of his stuff packed into the back, leaving Jack and their life together behind him in a trail of dust on the pavement. The breath Max slowly let out sounded like it was tearing his body to shreds. He hoped it didn’t hurt.

“I don’t know what you’d do to yourself if I wasn’t here.”

He didn’t look back as he closed the door behind him. Jack threw up in the toilet.

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breaking his sobriety. The waitress actually wasn’t coming towards them after all, but rather to the bathroom, and despite the low density of people, very few of the stragglers had food. There was no way he was going to get anything good out of a diner he’d never heard of, plus he suddenly had an overwhelming urge to get drunk out of spite and never go home. Brian was still staring at him.

Jack leaned in as close as he could bear and put on his most coercive smile. He knew he was hot enough to con vince the wooly mammoth to tag along with him no matter where they went. Plus, he had a nice car. Brian would probably be easier to stomach drunk.

“You drive here?”

Brian shook his head no.

“Good. Pleasure to meet you, Brian. I’m Jack. Let’s go get a drink.”

Jack pocketed his phone, collected the keys in his palm, and tossed them to Brian. Jack wouldn’t have been surprised if the guy’s eyes ended up falling out of his head with how quickly they darted from the keys to the Maserati starting up outside. Jack tilted his head.

“Wanna go for a ride, pretty boy?”

The twenty-minute drive to the closest bar was cut down to ten with how fast Brian drove, not counting the solid two minutes the guy took salivating over the car. Jack would’ve been itching to go, and would’ve left him altogether, but that was his first time seeing someone practically cum in their pants, and it was an interesting sight.

Once they arrived he took Brian’s hand in his and led him to the first barstools he could find. The bartender was quick to serve them whatever they wanted when Jack flashed his card, and Jack found Brian was easier to tolerate when drunk. Ten times easier once he offered to pay for Brian’s alcohol.

After a few drinks, then a few more, sloppy kisses in the bathroom, and a shot for good luck, he decided to leave the car where it was and call a cab. He found himself babbling about something or other during the ride and assumed Brian must’ve told the driver an address because soon they

were back in the biting night’s air and stumbling towards a pair of stairs with bodies intertwined.

Brian’s body hitched against his.

Jack faintly noticed the sensation of gravity becoming nonexistent for a moment. He was flying, the world turned on around him, and then the pavement below him was so so close, and then his head began to bleed. It took a couple of seconds for him to process that they tripped, fell, and that Brian used him as a cushion. It took a few more for the pain to set in.

“Oh my god,” the klutz slurred out, prying himself off of him and standing shakily from the ground, hands spread out for balance as if he were walking a tightrope. “I’m so sorry, I have no idea how that happened. My foot just caught—- I’m sorry.”

“Fuck,” Jack cursed loudly, pulling himself up from the side of the street to the curb, placing a hand against his throbbing head to steady himself. As he went to comment on how the lucky bastard seemed to have gotten away

No Face(from 5 pieces doc)

without a scratch, his tooth caught on the split lip he hadn’t noticed. Great. He couldn’t call the night uninteresting.


Through the fog building in his brain, Jack looked to wards the person who called his name. Any persona he was trying to play along with tonight or new thing he wanted to experience all came crumbling down around him as his boy friend stood in their apartment’s doorway, hair and clothes disheveled from sleep. The city blocks seemed familiar as the cab toted them around, but he assumed it was just because Brian lived somewhere in Pittsburgh.


Max’s surprised face went pale. A flurry of emotions Jack could never even begin to describe flashed across his face in the few moments it took him to take the situation in, before a familiar look settled in place. Acceptance.

As Jack shrugged off his particularly expensive jacket and brought it to his head to staunch the bleeding, Max shuffled from the apartment out onto the street and ex changed a few words with the lumberjack. Jack wanted to know what they were saying, but his head was becoming dizzier the more he tried to focus. Whether it was the alcohol or the more than probable concussion, he wasn’t sure.

He distantly noticed the caveman excusing himself, and within seconds he slumped fully against Max, wishing to fall asleep to both calm the aching in his head as well as the slowly but surely building guilt of bringing a date to his boyfriend’s place. Upsettingly that wasn’t the plan, because he was still begrudgingly awake as Max began to usher him upstairs into the apartment.

Once they got through the doorway and headed towards the bathroom, Jack felt around for his apartment keys, then his wallet, his ID, his rental car keys. The tips of his fingers felt a bit numb, and he couldn’t tell for sure if he was finding anything in his pockets. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Brian nicked them on their way out of the bar, or even more conveniently during the fall. Sneaky bastard might have staged it all. Someone had taken his stuff before. He’d given people his stuff before. He’d figure it all out once

he came down.

Max sat him dutifully down on the toilet seat and closed the door behind him, handing Jack a towel from the rack to hold to his face to stop the bleeding. Max wasn’t talking. Instead, he set about unearthing the first aid kit from under the sink. Jack watched him in silence, processing his recent change in setting and trying to figure out what Max was thinking. Whatever it was, it didn’t look like it was coming up pro-Jack.

After bustling around the bathroom for a couple of min utes, gathering ice from the kitchen and coming back, Max pressed a dampened towel that Jack usually used to shower against his lip. Max refused to meet his eye.

“What? Is bloody not a sexy look on me?” he tried.

Max rolled his eyes and finished wiping the blood off of Jack’s lip before tossing the towel into the laundry basket. Jack distantly processed the thud it made, landing heavily into the overflowing bin and wondered when the last time he did the laundry was. Probably not for a couple of weeks. Honestly he kind of just planned for Max to get sick of it stinking up the place and do it himself. He didn’t.

“If you don’t wash it immediately it’s going to stain,” Jack prompted.

“It’s not my towel,” was all that Max responded with, focusing his gaze onto Jack’s face after turning to make sure the projectile met its mark. Jack felt like he was being stared down, and he was, but not by Max. Max was simple to deal with— he wasn’t anything new. This, this was different. He felt like he was being stared down by doom— an embod iment, a figure, a looming shape preaching the end of the world and the beginning of the final days. It made a lump collect in his throat that he couldn’t swallow down, but it wasn’t bad. It was a sinking feeling which he could only embrace because the thought of doing anything else was nonexistent.

It was more intoxicating than the alcohol.

“When’s the last time you went to see your therapist?” Max asked flatly. All Jack could manage in his dizziness was to follow Max’s movement with his eyes, watching him

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thing over and over again expecting different results, and he wasn’t about to be one of those people. He was reaching his early thirties— he couldn’t afford to go crazy yet.

Dating was simply his new obsession.

With cheating it was always different. A movie tavern in Greensburg with John or Joel or whomever, a bowling alley in New Kensington with that guy he saw at the grocery store, and tonight a diner in the far more rural Delmont with someone he met on some hook-up app. The guy he was supposed to meet up with was good-looking enough, he supposed, in a gay lumberjack kind of way. A little buff, a little chubby around the edges, a beard, and hair just long enough to pull if he got too boring. Nothing he’s been with before. A shiny new number. Perfect for a short night. He slammed the door of his rental convertible shut as he checked his phone to see if “Brian” was there yet. Brian. Not the nicest name in the world, but at least it wasn’t Dan. He’d been with so many Dans eventually he just started introducing himself as Dan to freak the guys out. His notifications read that Brian grabbed a seat somewhere in the back. He wondered for a second how much space a guy so big would take up, and if people would stare. Jack wasn’t a giant fan of the attention that might bring, but he’d been out of work and the social scene for months, and no one he knew lived nearby, so it was unlikely anyone would snitch to Max. Not that it would be a bad thing necessarily, Max was too trusting to believe he’d cheat, but he wasn’t about to risk it. Max was the nosey type.

As expected for a Friday night, there were few people in the joint, so the lumberjack was hard to miss. An old couple there, some rurly teens here, a woman taking orders with an unusual amount of pep from people who responded in the usual amount of disinterest. Nothing out of the ordinary for an eight o’clock dinner. Brian’s fingers were anxiously drum ming along the Lazy Susan he was seated at in the corner, his lip swollen from prominent biting.

He looked better in his photos.

Jack announced his presence by placing his hand that showcased the expensive watch he nabbed from his ex-boss

down on the table in Brian’s line of sight. Brian startled slightly, shoulders lurching forwards, grotesquely large Adam's apple bobbing. His visible anxiety melted a bit once meeting Jack’s eyes. The last guy did the same thing.

“Josh?” Brian asked in a way of greeting, voice mildly grating in its bass, worried lip disappearing in an openmouthed smile. He reached his hand out to shake, and Jack obliged after a second’s hesitance, offering back his widest grin.

“Jack,” he corrected, sliding into the chair directly across from him, careful not to touch the mysterious sticky substance on the side of the plastic number, and ignoring the faint buzz in his jeans’ pocket. Max was probably asking where his favorite pair of jeans went. Max’s wardrobe was leagues nicer than his and he was getting low on cash, so dipping into his closet was becoming routine. His recent impulses to splurge to impress were quickly eating at his sav ings, since his journalism career hit rock bottom once he was fired. Improvisation was unavoidable. Jack ignored the text in favor of placing the rental keys on the table and leaning forward slightly, fingering the convertible’s automatic opener with the brand's logo so it caught the light. “I’m sorry for not telling you earlier. I use a fake name on these apps. Ya know, privacy and all that. I should’ve cleared this all up when we decided to go out.”

Brian nodded eagerly in response, as if it was something that happened to him often.

“Oh yeah, man. I totally get it. No worries.” He smelled like cat piss and pine trees. “How was the trip here? Not far, right?”

Jack shrugged, turning his attention to the mini jukebox bolted to the wall at their table, eyes flickering over the poor selection. While deciding on a song he’d never heard before and sliding a quarter in, he noted the way Brian’s eyes glued themselves to the convertible’s keys.

“It was fine. A bit chilly, though.”

“Oh,” was Brian’s response. He vaguely remembered Brian’s profile stating that he was a big luxury car guy. Renting something expensive for a guy he probably wouldn’t

even spend the night with was something he’d admitted wasn’t his best idea, but it was nice to watch the guy squirm at the recognition of the car’s brand. At least he’d get a fuck out of it. “Not too far, right, man?”

“You already asked that,” Jack told him. “Sorry, man. Must’ve spaced out for a second.”

“Am I that boring?” ,man?

His phone buzzed again. He ignored it as Brian’s face started to blush, and the music that he put on finally started to play. It was a bit abrasive for his taste, but it was manage able. He was hard to annoy.

“No, no no no. Of course not. First date jitters, I guess. Mind starting over?”

Three buzzes in a row. Bzz, Bzz, Bzz. Fuck.

The woman with the big hair coughed explosively over someone’s food.


If Brian hadn’t noticed the first two notifications, he definitely caught the last round. His bushy eyebrows came together in a way that reminded Jack of those annoying caterpillars that catapulted themselves into the way of bikers or distracted passersby, only to be quickly squashed. Brian nodded towards him.

“Popular guy?”

His breath was worse than his general smell.

“Of course.”

Jack scrounged around his pocket for a second, two, before pulling out his phone and checking his messages under the table, away from wandering eyes. His five year old phone didn’t really match the persona he was going for that night.

You’re out drinking?

You know you can’t drink on your meds.

You’re gonna run out of unemployment soon. Are you okay?

Call me.

Jack rolled his eyes and pocketed the device. That particular genre of text, the controlling and berating was

nothing new, but it got on his nerves nonetheless. Max always had to know.

Turns out he was easy to annoy.

"This wasn’t his mental illness or whatever the fuck— this was all Jack."

His lie about drinking was a knee jerk. Easy as breathing. Sure, Max was intuitive and whatnot, but the fact that he was paying enough attention to catch him in his lie for once was both annoying and a possibility that hadn’t occurred to him before sending out the text. Honestly, Jack wasn’t planning to go drinking. He knew people like him and mood-altering substances did not mix, he wasn’t dumb. The thought of heading out and downing a couple whiskey sours was only tempting because he knew Max would hate it, he managed to subdue the urge by looking to his date, who was smiling confusedly at him.

“Anything interesting, Jack?

“I wish,” he shrugged, placing the phone on his thigh rather than sliding it back into his jeans, the fact that they were Max’s slithering back into the forefront of his mind. He didn’t feel guilty about taking them, but the thought of Max as a whole when he was supposed to be having fun made him uncomfortable enough to remove his hands from the fabric. “Just some spam. Nothing important.”

“Oh, okay… so, how do we restart this conversation? Wanna go first?”

A nasty twang of some instrument played from the jukebox. He could hear the slow click-clack of the waitresses’ heels as she moseyed her way towards them.

Another buzz.

Jack looked down. Come home. Fuck that.

He was going to get a drink.

Jack turned in his seat and scanned the restaurant, searching for anything that would try and stop him from

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An Interview with Therese Biazon

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while writing/working?

THERESE BIAZON: I don't typically listen to music while I work, but I'll work with the window open. When I'm truly focused, I'll stop registering anything going on outside, which is always such a wonderful feeling because it means I've been lost in the idea.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

TB: A friend I once knew would tell us a fun fact before every gym class. I really appreciated this, be cause I was bad at sports and wanted her to stall and also because her facts were always so captivating. When we were older, I heard her say that she memorized all these facts because she thought it would make people want to befriend her. The seeds of "Pond Creatures" started with more focus on the Carter character, who was totally different then, and the psychology behind using knowledge as a means of connection.

One aspect of that first draft just wasn't clicking, and that was this character's best friend, Isobel. She came off lonely and reserved, and I didn't know why. I started a new document and decided to try writing the story from Isobel's point of view. It was then that I realized Isobel was hiding something, the kind of something that she worried would scare her friend away if he ever found out. In that moment, I wrote the scene when Isobel first kills a frog, and the rest of the story wrote itself from there.

IM: What was your favorite line of this piece?

TB: My favorite part of this piece would be when Isobel looks at the second frog, the one she wants to give to Carter, and realizes how beautiful it is. She's finally emerging enough out of the dark place she's in to experience awe and wonder.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

TB: Definitely the feeling of being lost in an idea, of letting it pull you away from the present moment. Emerging from the Pond at the end of the story felt a little bit like waking up, but better, because I'd helped to brighten the world that had welcomed me in.

He had a problem with lying. He knew it, and everyone else probably did too. He never tried to hide this from anyone, except for when he lied about it. Sometimes he’d say he had an underlying problem. A mental disorder, a messed-up childhood, a trauma too scarring to talk about, anything to get a new reaction, and all of them had some sort of truth to them. He’d usually get away with it, and sometimes he’d even start to believe it himself. He must have a problem, right? There had to be a reason why the truth was so hard to say. But there wasn’t.

It was just fun.

Jack was on his fourth date of the week while his boyfriend of two years, Max, lounged away at home, having just got off from his overtime shift at the office. Jack never cared about the comings and goings of realty lawyers, except for the fact that Max was able to snag them a nice flat in Pittsburgh for cheap. Max texted him as he drove into the diner’s parking lot, asking him where he was.

Just getting a drink. Get some sleep— I’ll wake you up when I get home. There, easy. Nothing to it.

Now, he had no real interest in cheating on his boyfriend. It wasn’t like he was unhap py or anything. In fact, Max was probably the best guy he’d fucked in years, always came after a couple of good rounds on Jack’s part and wasn’t a cuddler, but after a while, he started to get bored. It was the same thing every night, and what was he supposed to do with that? Nothing fun was going to come with doing the same thing again and again. Jack remembered reading some article on Buzzfeed saying that only crazy people do the same

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Hi, Gwin. How was your week?”

Krista is in her big armchair, smiling because she notices I made my own shirt. She likes when I wear things I made; she says it’s “proof of internal motivation” or something like that.

“The usual.” I sit where she can see me.

She laughs and the diffuser next to me puffs out clouds of essential oil. Lavender, I think. “I’ve known you for two months and I already know exactly what kind of week you had just from that. Tell me some highs and lows.”

“Well, I had one day where I went for a bike ride and ate a lot of healthy food and it made me feel good.” There’s a little table with a pot on it next to her chair. A bonsai with a bulbous trunk lives in the pot, cheerful and bright from the tiny fairy lights draped in its branches. There are thirty bulbs. No, thirty-two.

“The low was probably seeing one of those before-and-after workout photos and the before was my exact body type.” Thirty-five fairy light bulbs in the bonsai tree. The walls are not quite beige, just a shade darker than beige, and Krista is nodding. “I had a friend who posted her own before-and-after pictures and a personal trainer stole the images to use for self-advertisement,” she says

“That’s fucked up.”

“It is fucked up. So just keep in mind that what you’re seeing is probably fake.” Her hair is different today, completely down instead of her usual half-up half-down. Krista didn’t say it but no matter what the after will always be skinnier than me and I know this.

“Is that a singing bowl?”

“Yes. Here.” It’s black with white flowers spiraling toward the center. “Have you ever played one?” “Once.” I smile to myself at the low bell tone that pulses in my ears, a sound that is felt more than heard. I know Krista is letting me play it so I can feel accomplished, in any small way, and it’s nice. I give her back the bowl and she sets it on the table.

"She’s doing that again, staring at me with a sort of half-smile and two blank eyes, and she’s cutting me open."

“So, both of your highlights this week seem to be about body image. Should we focus on that today?”

“Sure.” A salt lamp glows in the corner. A while ago, Krista told me she licked it to see if it was really salt. That was the first thing I’d done when I got my own salt lamp last year. We’d had a bonding moment over that.

“What don’t you like about your appearance?”

“Anything. Everything.”

There’s another couch, empty now, which once held my mother, at my first session. She told Krista all about her childhood and she told her what an “ungrateful difficult child” I am and the shelves nearby are packed with books and there’s a sign on the wall with a fish on it and Krista is talking about how the BMI chart is wrong and the rug under my feet is soft and brown and I am an ungrateful diffi cult child and I can’t stop thinking about the time I showed my mother a picture of myself where I thought I looked good and her response was “Sucking it in, huh?” The lamp is on and I wish it were a more interesting lamp because, because,

I’m breathing too fast. There’s a box of gel pens next to the couch. I doodle on my hand. Flowers and butterflies in glittery green. Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

“Interesting how the only part of yourself you want to fit with society’s norms is your figure,” Krista says. Breathe in, hold, breathe out. Repeat. Repeat. I shrug and say, “I guess. I don’t know.” What is she trying to say to me?

“Has anyone ever made you feel bad about your weight

or is it just you?”

“My mom. She’s the only one who ever pressured me to lose weight and stay that way. I remember specifically, I was five years old when she started to tell me how I had to start watching myself or I’d ‘end up looking like Jabba the Hutt’, she said, I’ll never forget it. And I didn’t want to look like Jabba the Hutt. I guess that’s when it started.”

Krista nods again. I want to thank her for filling her room with so many other things to look at, but I don’t. I know she’ll just tell me to focus on talking to her instead of retreating into my fantasy world. That’s what she calls it, my fantasy world, the place I go in my mind when I don’t want to think about anything.

I’m staring at the granite turtle nestled in the soil of the bonsai tree. “Throughout most of middle school, all I had for lunch every day was a bowl of lettuce and maybe a few grape tomatoes. Then I just refused to eat much of anything when I got to high school. My mom was always on me about it, y’know. ‘You look fat in that’, ‘I can’t believe you gained five pounds this month’, y’know. That kind of stuff. I mean, I love my mom and I know she just wants what’s best for me, but it hurts sometimes.” The turtle is pinkish, grayish, mottled. A tear lands in my inky palm.

The walls, the walls, they’re a shade darker than beige and two of them are full of window panes. Krista has a soothing voice but sometimes she stares at me for too long and it makes me feel like I’m being dissected. I guess that’s what she’s doing, that’s what we’re paying her for, and I don’t know a thing about therapy or my brain or myself so I’m not a worthy judge.

She’s doing that again, staring at me with a sort of half-smile and two blank eyes, and she’s cutting me open. I focus on her shoes. Slip-on Vans, maybe knockoffs, covered in cartoon dog heads. I count the dogs. Over and over, I count those dogs. Thirty, maybe thirty-one, and they are all wearing eyeglasses.

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This valley folded like quilts under close sky. Evening’s body rising over home and the town filtering home into its valley, back into its body. Standing at the porch folding the low sky into baskets. Into quilts.

Here lies my old life, quilted into memory. The home is more sky than it was before. The valley folds my great body into its recesses. Its great body in my familiar hands, quilting myself as a fold of its topography. Homing myself as the valley’s limb. A sky refraction. A sky in firelight body, tethered to that deepest valley. Strangled into quilts—

into language. Say “home” little one. A life folded

into its own folds to nuzzle its center—its sky. The whole world points homeward. Pulled, always, back to the body. Back to the great round quilt. The soft edges of my valley.

The cows shift home over the body of the folded horizon. The wide sky. their routine quilted bodies rambling valley-ward.

4pm (from Nature)

Magnolia Mulvihill Photography

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head, citing an impossible number of religious practices it could’ve been used for, including cannibalism for some reason. I told her to cool down while I poked around some broken, rotting chairs. Even in this one room, I felt a regal air. Amin took more interest in the fireplace with an empty, rotting picture frame over it and jotted down some notes. He always got caught up in the details first and foremost. As for me, I decided to go with my standard starting procedure and started drawing a rough map. Before any de tailed work, I need to map out the whole area or I just can’t focus. Even if we weren’t ready for exact measurements yet, just getting the rough layout felt like putting together a puz zle. I always feel accomplished after fully mapping out the layout of whatever I’m exploring. Amin and Xi Lin spread out their area of interest slowly while I explored elsewhere. The building seemed rectangular as a whole, with rooms north and south accessed by the hallways going hor izontally down the middle. Such a uniform design, but each room was a different size and sometimes a different shape too. I had no doubt it wasn’t a normal house; someone rich lived here for sure. I never liked exploring rich guys’ houses; it was always more rewarding to see how the common people lived. The differences between the lives of the rich and poor told night-and-day stories about how this land was lived on. Still, something about the opulence made my hair stand on end, like I was watching an old 4D adventure movie where they’re in the tomb of some long-forgotten king. While I didn’t know if my team shared the sentiment (until our excitable discussion once we discovered the identi ty of these ruins), even Amin and Xi Lin could agree to my assessment on who might have lived here, and I wasn’t even sure if they could even agree on the time of day.

Hours passed and my map was filling out more and more. Meeting rooms, many bedrooms, large storage areas on the north side—everywhere I went, I found terraces of art and culture. Paintings and portraits faded beyond recognition, shattered busts, statues in shards; the house could tell us a million things about the people who walked its halls. Amin desperately wanted to bring a painting faded by age

to almost nothing back to be analyzed while Xi Lin posited theories about living burial and decapitation regarding the bits of statues and busts. With wild ideas like that, I wasn’t sure how she got through college, but deep in my gut, I felt something not unlike what she must have felt—a strong urge that this wasn’t the home of a sagely councilman, but the seat of ego and wrath. We were standing somewhere flash frozen in the time of nuclear catastrophe—bygone era of clashing interests that swept away billions of lives. Whoever lived in here close to a millennium ago, they were capable of brutality far beyond what Xi Lin posited.

"After years of sending out pulses from the GPR into the sands of this desert, far down to the remains of the monolithic swamp calcifying below, we found something amazing."

We explored from morning until night with more to be found in the coming days. The size of this house felt magni tudes larger on the inside. I had made it to the western wing of the estate, finding a more business-like atmosphere. Desks and boardrooms and even a podium, though that room wasn’t especially huge. Some kind of broadcasting room? It wasn’t just someone rich, they were important too. I had to keep a lid on for the time; the sun was going down, anyway. Even if I wanted to keep going, we’re of no use to this place if we’re too tired to think straight. With the amount of bedrooms we had found in the estate’s center, I joked over our radio that we could’ve spent the night in there, but that got me a long lecture from Amin about the irreparable damage that could cause and a new theory from Xi Lin about rich members of this society having separate beds for assorted mistresses and consorts. I was ready to call it a day, but as I was leaving, Amin and Xi Lin had appeared in the west ern wing with me. It was clear on their faces—they found something big.

They took me south to a room on a corner. I hadn’t spent much time there, but those two evidently had. Amin took slow breathes the whole walk, holding in excitement in the most obvious way I had ever seen. Xi Lin was practically skipping. When we reached it, I took stock of my surround ings. Everything seemed the same as before; an ovular room with a mighty desk near the back, and behind were three large windows. It was an office, clearly enough, and held plenty of dust and clutter. As I wondered what my team was freaking out over, Amin pointed me towards something I had overlooked. “Xi Lin found it,” he was able to gasp out. Their nerves were infectious. I felt my knees nocked as I crossed the office, passed the desk, and in front of the window, I looked over the rotting cloth that hung on a flag pole. A square containing many stars in the top left corner, and thirteen stripes of two alternating colors that time had washed away. “So,” I said, “do you two know what this is? Where we are?”

With the pride of absolute confidence, the history buff Xi Lin told me the name of this place that time had kept intact, but hadn’t touched in nearly a millennium – “The Oval Office.”

tomato (from 6 pieces)

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An Interview with Lassiter Jamison

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while writing/working?

LASSITER JAMISON: If I listen to any music I listen to either Glass Animals, The Lumineers or sometimes lo-fi mood music. I usually start off with some kind of music to get me in the mood of the piece and imagine a little video with my characters. Then the lyrics get a bit too much for me to con centrate so I switch to mood music or silence.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

LJ: My inspiration for Woe Was I was that my father always told me I had a “Woe-is-me” face when ever I was upset with him or the world. So I wanted to center a piece around an instance of that. I also thought the topic of periods and gender the horror surrounding them both was relatable.

IM: What was your favorite line/part of this piece?

LJ: My favorite line of the piece is “I was androgynously ugly, I decided. I washed my hands.” I remember actually deciding that. That I was ugly and it was good that I was - that’s a pretty big and terrible decision for a thirteen year old to make. I think the fact that I just washed my hands after that was pretty powerful to me. It’s also a bit of a joke to me, I literally washed my hands of the matter.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

LJ: My favorite part of the writing process is when I stop just writing words and feel like I’m writing a story or a scene. When I really start getting into it it feels like running downhill, the momentum carries you forward. Sometimes I don’t even feel like that until the middle or end of the story or even while editing, but it’s such a rush when I do get there. It’s like I’ve been zoomed in the entire time and then I zoom out and realize I’ve made something! I haven’t just been putting letters in there to fill the space.

Passed to Future

Journal of Yazmin Al Hadid May 15th, 2948

Today was day 62 of our excavation and finally—finally—we touched ground inside. After years of sending out pulses from the GPR into the sands of this desert, far down to the remains of the monolithic swamp calcifying below, we found something amazing. An entire building, preserved by an air pocket and held shut inside the fossilized muck, like a treasure chest shut in waiting. Two months straight of shoveling out sand, dirt, and our own sweat was well spent because just days ago, an opening was made at the top. Even more than finding it, seeing it with my own eyes filled me with something indescribable. All I knew what that I would’ve dived in head-first if I were just a bit more reckless. The time had come to see what we had found.

Since we didn’t know how fragile and cramped it’d be in there, the team had to be small—just me, Amin, and Xi Lin. Amin wasn’t too hot on the idea, but his curiosity outweighed any butterflies in his stomach. On the opposite end, Xi Lin was more excited than me. She was the first on the rappel line down into the hole, the first to comment on the punishing darkness of the buried building, and soon enough, she’d be the first to learn its name.

I was second to go in, and I had tingles up and down my back already. We had landed on a balcony that led into a room Xi Lin insisted was circular, but Amin measured it and proved it was ovular instead. Xi Lin was quick to spout theories as they popped into her

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Michael Gilroy

You Think Therefore You Are Raven Karlick

You wonder if it’s something you did in a past life that made you deserve it. A crime so severe that some higher being decided to punish your soul forever. Maybe you were a serial killer, or a crazy evil nurse like the ones in horror movies, or maybe, the world just hated you for no reason at all.

You think it’s the way you talked back to your parents as a child that made you deserve it. You were a bad kid, and maybe all he wanted was to teach you a lesson on how to become better. He had raised a daughter before you were born, so he might’ve just wanted to teach you some proper manners like all the good men do. But then the door of the pantry locks, it’s cool and dark and tears begin to form in your eyes, it doesn’t seem like much of a lesson anymore.

You think it’s the clothes you wore that made you deserve it. You had just recently bought your first crop top and you thought they were really pretty, you thought you were pretty. You hoped that finally, people would notice you. But then you were noticed, and it sucked. Because the only person you wanted to look at you, the only girl you wanted to truly see you never peered back. But those who did, they wanted you to know they looked, with their sneers and hungry eyes as they brushed their fingers against your body. They wanted you to feel afraid and alone. You spend the night wishing you could burn every single crop top you owned.

You think it was because you like girls that made you deserve it. You tell yourself that the mocking and exploitation of you is what acceptance looks like. “Don’t wish for more”

you tell yourself, “You’re lucky that they don’t want you dead.” So you let them use you for their games, you let them dress you up like a barbie doll and you laugh along with them. You read the messages of harassment sent to you and you play the role of the obedient queer that you were meant to be. The world feels like it’s crashing around on all sides, but you resign to not say a word because you know the truth, that nobody should care about the feelings of a filthy lesbian.

You think because you smile too much (or not enough, you aren’t quite sure) that made you deserve it. He seems like he cares, but that’s what he’s paid to do. He’s 20 and you’re 14 and he stares at you like you’re a glowing star, hid den amongst the clouds. You don’t notice it until later, until he takes the time to personally message you. Your friends think it’s funny, that he wanted you. His photo pops up in your messages and you’re supposed to laugh at how silly he looks, how you can easily beat him in a fight, but you can’t do it. You still feel his fingers on the camera taking pictures of you, and that in itself is more powerful than your fists will ever be.

You think because you’re stupid that made you deserve it You think because you’re ugly that made you deserve it You think because you’re annoying that made you deserve it You think because You think of nothing Nothing but pain, nothing but hurt and all the things that will never be the same Worthless Crybaby Weak Weak Weak

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I don’t know how to want correctly. I kiss you and forget to eat; I touch myself until I am afraid I might spill over and then I stop. I hope you think of me when you look at the sky, the whites of your eyes like two lonely moons. print 24x5

An Interview with Madison Morse

Author of Cicero

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while writing?

MADISON MORSE: Honestly, it depends! Almost always, it matches the mood of the piece. For example, last month I was writing a screenplay for a Macbeth modernization set in the 80s and I had I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston on repeat for the entire thing. Other times I'll have something like a "study ambience" on. I really like the Harry Potter Library Study Ambience videos! They keep me really focused, like I'm Hermione or something!

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

MM: Whenever a friend or family member outside of my hometown, Cicero, asks about it, I always speak about it with disdain. I think I really despise the monotony, routine, and history behind Cicero. It's your basic majority white suburb. Very rarely, if ever, do I acknowledge what I actually like about it. I think when Covid hit and I had to return back here full time, I really needed to write Cicero to remember that, at the end of the day, there are things here I genuinely like, despite the town being essentially "frozen in time" (as I say in my piece). It's a love hate relationship.

IM: What was your favorite line/part of this piece?

MM: I think this is probably the general sentiment among my friends who I've shown this piece to, but the horse bit has to be the most memorable and favorite!

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

MM: This is probably because I grew up reading fantasy, but I love how I can create worlds. I can dictate what the sky looks like (it's red). I can choose the way trees grow (upside down, by the way). It's things like this, small minute details, that create an immersive world for the reader. I also like how world building is an intimate thing. The reader has to trust me, the author, to make the intricacies of the world coherent. It's a really trusting position to be in and I quite enjoy it.

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(from 17 pieces)
Casey Purtell Photography

Returning to a house where you no longer live Eleanor Osborn

I don’t write much anymore, not like I used to. I scribble in old journals and listen to the forest hum. I kiss my own bloodied knuckles. There’s something about the geese. I watch them without meaning to, I step in their shit and have to scrape it from my boots. They call to me and I pretend to listen. There’s something about being young. I want to cradle this life tenderly in my hands like the face of a lover; to push it against the damp tiles of the shower and kiss it breathless. I eat a peach. I stab myself in the stomach. I bite my lip, I bite your lip. I lick the juice from my fingers.

I have a license plate from Georgia pinned to my bedroom wall. 245 miles away, the magnolia tree where I grew up. The dogwoods of my old neighborhood, but not really. Hands like lemon and gardenia, soft and sweet. Cinnamon oil. Hair of the dog. I come home and I am bitten by fleas.

I touch myself. I drink tea and thumb through paperbacks and miss you. Longing lives in my belly like a hungry animal. My rib cage stretches and whines. Heartbeat like an explosion. Green leaves turn to yellow leaves turn to no leaves. I wore your hands like gloves all last winter, and now they are threadbare from overuse.

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then I go back and re-write the first chapter while pushing myself into the second chapter, and then I go back and re-write the first chapter again while pushing myself even further into the second chapter…It’s this process where I am kind of revising as I go along, so by the time I get to the end of the first draft, it’s still terrible, but it’s been somewhat re-written. In an ideal world, I would do what E.B. White did with Charlotte’s Web: he put that novel in a drawer for a year and didn’t touch it. He called it ‘letting the heat go out of the body.’ Then, you can return to it and you have a fresh, dispassionate eye; you aren’t quite as attached to everything you’ve written. I have never been able to do that because I’m usually on a deadline. I haven’t always had the luxury of being able to set a book aside for very long. Even a month can make a difference. You can finish the first draft, go off and do something completely different. Clear your head. When you go back to it, the errors and the flaws are a little easier to pick out. They kind of jump right out at you. But typically, I just dive back in and start revising after I’ve finished the first draft.

CT: What are your obstacles when writing your first draft and how do you overcome them?

HVF: I do get stuck sometimes. I used to write for Publishers Weekly magazine. I did book reviews and author interviews and all sorts of things. It was great fun. I interviewed a writer by the name of Brian Jacques. He wrote the Red wall series. They were novels about medieval heroes and adventurers who were animals. He’d grown up in blue-collar Liverpool, England. He’d had all sorts of different jobs: a bouncer in a bar, a radio announcer. I remember asking him about writer’s block and he said, ‘Heather, this is my job. What if I went to the grocery store and the cashier said, I can’t ring you up, I’ve got cashier’s block! I can’t say that either. This is my job. I sit down and I write. I don’t put up with writer’s block.’

So, I just kind of always adopted that and thought, you know, this is my job. If I get stuck on one part, jump ahead to

a scene that’s coming seven chapters in the future. Or go back and work and revise. Something just to get the words flowing again. Because I think if you can just keep that going, eventu ally the problems will sort themselves out. I think people get tied up because it’s not coming out right. The thing with first drafts is, none of it is going to come out right. It’s generally crap. It’s generally terrible. But just get something down on paper, because then you’ve got something to work with.

CT: Do you have any advice for students who are working on a novel and are trying to finish a first draft, or those who have finished one?

HVF: Don’t get discouraged. That’s the main thing. If you’re struggling along with something and you’re just try ing to push it through, don’t get discouraged or sidetracked. Just keep at it. There’s that great quote about persistence by Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” Sometimes it’s great to just get up and do something else. I often find if I can get my body busy, it frees up my mind to begin thinking through things. You know, wash the dishes, take the dog for a walk, or something. It just clears the cobwebs, as my mother used to say. You can come back and continue with it. If you’ve just finished a first draft, you give yourself a big pat on the back because you’ve probably done something that 95% of writers never do. A lot of people will say, ‘Oh I’d love to be a writer someday. I’d love to write a novel.’ Do they ever actually sit down and accomplish it? No. Life has a lot of distractions. If you can persevere—even if your first draft is the biggest ball of knotted yarn anyone has ever created—that’s okay because now you’ve got something to work at. Take a breath, go on a nice long hike, give yourself some time, and then come back and experience the joy of re-writing. Because, really, the real writing happens in the re-writing.

I'm crying clownfish— they fall into my miso soup; you’re playing with chopsticks

Sundays are meant for hungover love, high by myself, between fever dreams, sweating through baby pink sheets— you slept with a blue-haired bitch, we were just kissing, on a tile floor that felt like jelly keep breathing silence into the phone— because I’m thinking about how miso soup will forever break my heart, might peel off my skin again as I watch the stars scream, shut my mouth with fingers, I’ll suck them like lozenges; you’d never know I was sick

sitting here on windowsills, filling our lungs with wedding cake, all I do is cough up strawberries because the world looks so much better pink, my hooked hands made my legs bleed; the room is already dripping red and I’d talk until you wanted me to stay I’ll make love to Winter, but leave my heart back on the sun with Saint Cassidy

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Clownfish tears at a Japanese Barbeque Abby Collins Romantization Katherine Spaziante Drawing

The Icicle Method: An Interview with Heather Vogel Frederick

Heather Vogel Frederick is the author of a number of children’s novels, including the seven-book Mother-Daughter Book Club series, the three-book Pumpkin Falls Mystery series, as well as six other children’s books and three picture books. Set in the slightly fictionalized town of Concord, Massachusetts, The Moth er-Daughter Book Club series (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) follows the lives of five young girls who bond over their shared love of books as they navigate the perilous trials of sixth grade through the summer after their senior year.

I first read The Mother-Daughter Book Club series in grade school. After reaching out to Heather Vogel Frederick on social media to express how much her work meant to me, I decided to further connect with Vogel via her website in September of 2020. She graciously replied with her phone number, and this interview was conducted over the phone. To speak on the phone with an author whose books I had read throughout most of my childhood was both nerve-wracking and exciting, but Frederick made me feel at ease by asking me about my own writing and initiating a conversation that felt like I was catching up with a friend from the past. We discussed her unexpected writing journey, her drafting process, her writing career, and her advice for aspiring young writers.

CLAIRE TORREGIANO: How do you feel the first draft serves you as a writer, especially in a series like The Mother-Daughter Book Club?

HEATHER VOGEL FREDERICK: I didn’t know that The Mother-Daughter Book Club was going to be a series. The way that the book came about was kind of interesting, because I was working on these books called “The Spy Mice” and I was having great fun with that. But I got a phone call out of the blue one day—it’s my edi tor—and she says, ‘You know, Heather, there are mother-daughter book clubs all around the country. I think it would be really fun to write a novel about a mother-daughter book club, and I thought of you.’ There was dead silence on my end of the phone, though, because I have two boys. In my head I was thinking, ‘Why on earth would she be thinking of me?’ At the same time, I didn’t want to ask that because I was flattered. She said, ‘You know, I remembered that you spent your middle school years in Concord, Massachusetts. That’s where Louisa May Alcott lived when she wrote Little Women. You could have the book club read Little Women.’ At that point I was hooked, because I used to ride my bike past Louisa’s house and just dream about being a writer when I grew up. I would save up my babysitting money to take the tour of the house and see the desk where she wrote. Really, it was my editor’s idea; I agreed to do it, then hung up the phone and basically panicked. My other books had just organically bubbled up from who knows where all stories come from, and this one was more of an assignment.

I re-read Little Women to quell my panic, at least temporarily, and thought, ‘Well, okay, we’ve got four very different girls.’ What if I have four different girls in this book club—some who want to be there, some who

don’t want to be there. They’re really different—so the girls are very, very loosely based on Louisa’s girls, and it just grew from there. We didn’t know the book was going to be as popular as it turned out to be. Of course, when a book is a hit, your editor almost always comes scampering back and says, ‘Hey, do you want to write another one?’ With each one, I really never truly guessed it would be seven books by the time it was done. It was a universe I really loved inhabit ing, and I miss them from time to time.

The first draft of any novel is you just crawling along in the dark. Even if you are a planner or a plotter, there are still curveballs that happen and things that you thought were going to work [but] don’t. For me, the first draft is very painful. I just hate writing first drafts. It’s hard because the writing for me—the fun part—happens when I’ve got something on paper, and I can start picking it apart and start re-writing until it’s something beautiful and it glows. The first draft looks like something the dog wrote. It’s just a mess. You’ve got this blank page in front of you, and you may have a vague idea. In your head you’ve got this beautiful novel, this shiny sparkly thing, but getting it down onto paper? Ew. Yuck.

the right name; but then “Jessica Delaney” had such a nice ring to it, and I knew that was the right name. I toyed with the idea of not having Jess’s mother come back, but there’s something in me that always pulls toward a happy ending, and it just felt so right to have her come back.

"Take a breath, go on a nice long hike, give yourself some time, and then come back and experience the joy of re-writing. Because, really, the real writing happens in the re-writing."

CT: From the initial draft to the final, how much changed in the first book of the series? What stayed the same?

HVF: So much changed. I literally probably write half a dozen drafts before my editor even sees it. Maybe even more. Tons and tons and tons changed. There was a minor name change: Jess was originally named Joy. I got through the entire draft and turned it into my editor, knowing it wasn’t

The very first novel I wrote, The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed, [also] changed tremendously. Two big things happened. I turned in the first draft—all hopeful, [having] never been published before. A friend suggested a particular editor at Simon & Schuster. I sent it off. One day, I get this phone call from him: ‘I love your book,’ he said, ‘but in the first hundred pages, nothing happens.’ I had kind of forgotten to put the plot in. I was really great at description and setting the scene. So, he gave me this forty-five-minute lesson on plot and tension over the phone. I had this girl who wanted to go to sea, and he said, ‘What if she doesn’t want to go to sea and you set it up right from the very beginning that there’s this tension between her and her father?’ The other thing that happened was I’d written it in the third person. It worked, but it was kind of flat. It just didn’t quite sing. One day, just trying to get into this girl’s head, just thinking about having her be at heads with her father, I tried writing this scene between her and her father in the first person, and all of a sudden, everything came to life. She came to life. The pages came to life. The story came to life. That was an enormous change. It taught me a good lesson: to just be open. That the story might need to be told in a completely different way. And it wasn’t wasted—all those first months writing that first draft—because that’s how I got there.

CT: What is typically the next step for you after you’ve finished the first draft of any manuscript?

HVF: It takes me a long time to finish the first draft. I dis covered there’s a term for the way I write: the icicle method. You know how an icicle on the gutter of your house melts a little bit and drips down, and the icicle gets longer and longer and longer? For me, I write the first chapter, and

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The first time you take off my shirt, I make you do it in the dark, as though this will make me easier to stomach. I tell you I don’t hate my body but I still shower with the lights off— glimpse myself like a lover in the mirror; bare my teeth and clutch my rot to my chest.

The morning after, you stand in the kitchen and watch as I cut a peach for our breakfast: My fingers, damp and sticky, the purplish hue of skin squeezed too tightly. See how my hands are good at this? Look how I carve away the bruise.

The knife slips and I nick the pad of my finger by mistake: you press the strawberryjam drop of blood to your lips and say I taste like copper pennies.

Once we found a rabbit caught between the teeth of the family dog and we placed it in a shoebox: fed it milk from an eye-

dropper, microwaved old socks stuffed with dried rice

It died in my lap a few hours later. Last week, the dog snapped a sparrow’s neck and I left it on the sidewalk I think maybe my hands just aren’t meant for good things. Can rotten fruit still taste sweet? Let me ferment on the vine; drink me like Merlot Tell me the aftertaste is worth it. I stand in the kitchen and I gorge myself on plums by refrigerator light

I eat until my stomach is swollen and my fingers stained purple, juice dribbles down my chin and I think about the sparrow I make myself sick

Is this what it’s like to feel full?

It’s not that I’m not hungry. It’s just that no one ever taught me how to want. It’s not that I’m not hungry. Please don’t leave me empty.

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HUNGER Eleanor Osborn Grandmother's Pomegranates Hallie Stephenson Charcoal Drawing

the dog in Beckett’s arms, May leading the way as they heard more commotion from the trees. They ran until their hearts refused to beat, seeming to expand with each breath until the organ pressed against their ribs and bleed on the bone. Until the hot air burned their throats. Until their legs gave out and then crawled behind a neighbour’s barn, Duke licking sweat and tears off their faces. May looked out into the darkness and watched it shift before her eyes. The man’s voice could be heard from across the thicket but his words were lost to the distance. Flashlight beams joined fireflies and the sun would be out in a matter of hours. She was changed. She already mourned the old her. She wanted to go back and walk through the trees and find herself in that yard being held by that man and tell herself to close her eyes, not to look into that man’s and if she didn’t listen she’d snap her own neck. She was changed and she was worse for it. She turned to look at Beckett.

Beckett’s breath was ragged, fear rattling in his chest. He was a wreck, shaking so hard he was curling in on him self. The search party had reached their side of the road and May worried for a moment about her family. She wondered if the man really knew her.

“I’m so scared.” Beckett whispered, voice jagged as he hugged Duke to him. “I’m so scared.” She wanted to tell him that he didn’t have anything to be afraid of. She wanted to tell him to shut up and stop crying and thank you for saving me and fuck you for not letting me die.

She kissed him instead. His lips were dry and cracked with salt. Her newly formed chest remained hollow. He pressed a hand to her cheek and she felt the blood make it stick a bit. She didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t want to see whatever look he was giving her. She’d keep them closed for hours. She’d walk home blind and imagine what she looked like. She focused on the hand. She focused on the handprint that was surely there, marring her cheek. Bright red and perfect.

An Interview with Jack Palmiotti

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while working?

JACK PALMIOTTI: Recently I’ve been listening to hip hop instrumentals mainly lo-fi hip hop radio on YouTube. At that time of making the "MJ tiny world MBS” piece, I was on the phone with my friend trying to keep alive studying with friends during covid at home.

For Tiny pink house probably listening to WFMU’s MORRICONE ISLAND a weekly film and television soundtrack radio program.

For "A walk for a Sunday" - probably County Fair music.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

JP: For "MJ tiny world MBS," the aesthetic of lens used to film skateboarding and optical illusion was an inspiration. Having a whole landscape in the center to see with a 360 camera creates a story of its movement and depth blended.

For “The tiny pink house of summer” - street photography was an inspiration capturing a subject in the right moment that couldn’t be seen from a different perspective or time.

I was driving for the first time after I hurt my knee when I noticed this new tiny pink house for the first time it being such a unique structure in contrast to the wooded area I wanted to photograph it of its almost magi cal-like quality.

For "in line for a Sunday, - capturing its natural moment to share how it was seen in person.

IM: What was your favorite line/part of this piece?

JP: For “MJ tiny world MBS, its sense of fast moment it gives off.

For “The tiny pink house of summer” how peculiar but yet so welcoming and warm it draws.

For "in line for a Sunday” that it's a piece that could fit multiple eras, timeless to its year taken in 2019.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

JP: What’s always exciting about the creative process is developing an imaginative thought from my head into reality. Getting it exactly right and being able to share it with people is a great feeling. Especially if it relates and makes sense to them.

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Photographer of Pink House of Summer, and In Line for a Sunday

he’d be fine with dying. Maybe he wouldn’t even have to die. Maybe he could be one of those priests that came in and told the dying to embrace God while caressing their furrowed brows. He thought May would be a good soldier if she weren’t a woman and black. He could picture her leading troops into battle and coming back unscathed to tell him about all the blood and gore she’d seen while he tried to focus on leading the soldiers into God’s arms.

“Preachers can’t go around picking at the difference between one and five. Once is enough,” May insisted then paused, lowering her voice even further. “Or are you a whore?”

Beckett balked, face coloring. “Men can’t be whores,” he spat.

May shook her head. “You’re not a man, you’re a boy. Boys can be whores no problem. Let me see your hands,” she said, reaching for them.

Beckett took a step back. “What? No.”

May scowled. “Why?”

“Why do you-” He began.

May interrupted him. “Because if you’re a whore you’ll have hair on your knuckles, everyone knows that. Let me see your hands.”

Beckett balled his hands into fists and pressed them against his chest. He tried desperately to remember if he had hair on his knuckles. He’d gotten some on his legs recently and his armpits had begun to develop a sour smell. He thought of the difference between Hailey’s limp blonde locks and May’s bushy black curls. He thought of how both would feel in his palm. He imagined Hailey’s tooth - would it look different too? Whiter?

“Beckett-” May began.

“Shut up. I don’t need to do what you say.” He straight ened and pointed to a patch of flowers. “Pull those up, I’ll do the talking.”

May nodded, glad he wasn’t going to chicken out. She got down on her knees, reaching into the soil and uproot ing flowers at a devilish pace. Dirt flew in all directions as Beckett walked onto the porch and began throwing gnomes

and stone angels down the stairs to hear them crack. A head rolled to May and she tossed it into the thicket, laughing. If they could suffer, so could Hailey. She’d learn from it. They were helping her grow.

A venomous glee ran through them and they lost them selves in it. They screamed with laughter, threw everything that wasn’t nailed down, banged on windows, kicked the door and shouted bible verses and marching songs at the top of their lungs. They sang in rhyme about whores and harlots and demanded God strike the house with famine and flame. At one moment they were all joy and the next all justice, praying for her repentance and her punishment.

Then the light came on.

They quieted.

There was no shouting or disturbance from inside the house. Just a light, then another, then both were gone and the door was creaking open.

The man standing there looked like the man in the pic ture. May recognized him from town, a car salesman who stood in front of twisted scraps of metal and tireless frames and called smoothly that they purred like kittens.

Beckett recognized him from the parking lot in school where he’d wait for Hailey impatiently, checking his watch and growing redder and redder until she appeared and he was all sunshine, loudly calling “There’s my Tulip! There’s my Sunflower!”

He was dressed in a suit despite the hour and he was smiling despite everything else. His hair was the only thing out of place, sticking up at odd angles. A clump of dirt fell from the roof. Something that had been motorized whirred uselessly somewhere in the yard, too broken to identify.

“What can I do for you kids?” The man asked, warmth dripping from his voice. His eyes bore into Beckett as the boy took a step back, feeling his heart begin to hammer in his chest. May took a few steps forward, grabbing his wrist again. He twisted his hand to grasp at hers.

The man tilted his head. “...Nothing to say now?” A step forward, two steps back. “You two don’t seem the shy type, see here-” Before either of them could react his hand shot out and smacked Beckett across the face so hard the boy crashed into the ground, hissing with pain as his back was stabbed by flower pot shards. May stumbled, letting go

of Beckett’s wrist and being picked up by her shirt collar, legs dangling uselessly in the air.

“-You for example. I’ve seen you around, got quite the mouth.” The man’s breath was heavy, misting her face. He pulled her closer, looking at her lips and licking his own. May’s stomach dropped and she stopped fighting for a moment, recognizing that look. It was one her mother got as she tugged May past stoop-sitting white men smoking cigarettes and drinking down the day’s news. She’d seen it on Beckett once too as he watched Hailey laugh so hard she retched, tears streaming down her pink eyes. Lust and revulsion.

Something clicked in her mind. Something had risen to the surface. She was irrevocably changed. She wondered if she was a woman now. She hadn’t even started her period yet, Hailey had. She knew because she saw her in the bathroom trying to open the packaging with sweaty hands and breathing weird. It was the only nasty thing about Hailey she’d never tell anyone.

She wondered if this man would kill her and her eyes began to sting. She bit her lip as her mom and dad’s names filled her hollowing chest. The man leaned in.

Then he went down. Beckett stood behind him, bloody shard of something clutched in his hand. The moment couldn’t have lasted more than a second but May could recall it perfectly, a snapshot. His eyes were wide and furious, teeth clenched. Blood was dripping from his hand where he held the broken thing and he was standing at an angle, all pain and fury. For that moment he was an angel.

Untitled (Body Series)

His divinity was abandoned with the weapon in the tarnished grass. He grabbed May’s arm and ran into the thicket of trees, hissing for her to hurryhurryhurry as they left the screaming man behind. He was a wriggling thing in his ruined yard. A maggot in the depths of rotten fruit as he roared threats and obscenities towards the now-silent woods, lumbering upwards, calling others to him.

Beckett and May ran until they reached the other end of the thicket, scrambling up the incline and waking Duke from where he slept by the side of the road. They ran with

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Stephanie Alifano Painting

Castle Doctrine

They called themselves The Public Morals Society; Beckett because it sounded lofty and May for its initials which she found amusing. They were the least liked people in any room they entered and when they were alone they turned on each other like rabid dogs. Adults used to croon at their violence, whispering behind their hands about crushes and wedding bells. But pulling hair was different than pulling teeth - or so they said.

Beckett had once pulled out May’s tooth using a string attached to his bicycle. When he turned back to see what he’d done he found her face covered in dirt and blood. She wasn’t crying, which disappointed him. He liked the thought of all three mixing together. He liked the thought of her being so affected by him. Later that day May pulled out his tooth with her fingers, anchoring him with a knee jammed into his stomach. The teeth sat in sock drawers now, one keeping the others’ and getting a little thrill every time they saw the pink bone hidden amongst clean cloth.

They met at night, sneaking out of their houses and following Beckett’s family’s old hunting dog Duke wherever he decided to take them. He had a shuffling gait and his head swayed with every step, ears dragging along the dirt roads and muddy fields.

“Where’s your dog taking us?” asked May. She hoped it was the school or the ice cream shoppe. Both had wide windows. The ice cream shoppe’s owner had recently gotten a divorce, which would easily convince Beckett to throw a rock or two. Justifying the school would be harder but not impossible. She’d convinced him to do more with less.

“Wherever he needs to.” Beckett told her, nodding to himself. He was content to wander aimlessly until dawn, taking satisfaction in his exhaustion. He would sleep through

history and it would be earned.

The fireflies were out in abundance. The air was filled with the trilling of crickets and invisible clouds of gnats. The heat was heavy, uncut by the sun’s rays. When either of them opened their mouth they felt it on their tongue. They were proud of their southern heat even as it dragged at them. They were church-raised children who knew of growth through suffering.

“That’s Hailey’s house.” May said, pointing at a chim ney peeking out over a patch of trees. Beckett stilled his dog and squinted, tugging on an ear.

“So?” He asked, twisting the skin under his nail. May scowled. “So? So, I heard some things.” She said, crossing her arms as she squinted at her friend. Beckett shrugged. “What, you like her or something?” May asked. He did. He often laid awake at night with his hands pressed to his stomach, thinking of her. He thought about the times she touched him on the shoulder or the arm, jabbed him with her elbow and hissed for him to get out of her way. She had tangled blonde hair that she chewed on when she thought no one was looking. Sometimes he saw strands of it stuck between her teeth. He kept thinking and pressing until he felt too sick to continue. Until he threw up sometimes.

“No,” he said, gritting his teeth.

“Then come on,” May demanded, grabbing his wrist and pulling him through the thicket as he hissed for Duke to stay.

It was even bigger inside. A ditch had been dug to give the trees more room. Branches brushed against their ankles, agitating mosquito bites. May could feel the bone in Beckett’s wrist; he was a delicate looking boy but not soft. It was why she liked to grab him. She feared that one day he’d grow into a man that was strong and broad-chested like their fathers or the field workers that always smelled like sweat even after a shower. And that one day her own chest would expand and expand until she couldn’t see past it. Until she only knew where she was by the change of light and the whistle of wolfmen on the street.

Hailey’s house was beautiful, butter yellow with tulips in the yard. It was something she bragged about incessantly,

how her family didn’t need to grow anything that wasn’t beautiful. She made people smell her hands, touch them to feel that they were sticky with sap and honey, no dirt caked under nails or in surface level wrinkles. She told May last week that her hands were dirty.

“No they’re not.” May’d insisted, smelling them and nodding. “They’re fine, I just washed them.”

“They’re dirty.” Hailey asserted, the group of girls behind her giggling and looking nervously for a teacher, ready to run at any moment but hovering close enough to hear.

“Why don’t you wash? Look at your hair, it’s all tangled up. It smells.” She took a step back, pressing a nail between her teeth and grinning around it.

“You get in a fight? Your lip’s all swole up. I know why! I know why!” She continued, turning to her for-now friends and laughing. “God made you black so we don’t see the dirt on you! Say thank you, huh? Say thanks to God for that, but he can’t hide that smell!”

"She wanted to tell him to shut up and stop crying and thank you for saving me and fuck you for not letting me die."

The two stood in her front yard for a moment, waiting for any sign of activity. Every window was dark. There was an American flag puncturing a patch of dirt. Underneath sat what seemed to be a memorial. May picked up the framed picture, a young man with a strong jaw and a wandering eye.

“That’s her brother.” Beckett said, not knowing who he was.

“Did you know Hailey gave blowies to some soldiers the other day?” May asked.

Beckett winced. “I heard-” He paused. “It was just one,” he said confidently.

May tossed the picture into the thicket. “So? What does it matter? Aren’t you gonna be a preacher?” she asked.

Beckett looked up at Hailey’s window and wished he were old enough to go to war. If Hailey would touch him

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Move Towards Pleasure: An Interview with Monica Sok

Monica Sok is a Khmer poet and the daughter of refugees. She is the author of A Nail the Evening Hangs On (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). I was introduced to Monica Sok by poet Brenda Shaughnessy, who recognized my own desire to connect with not only a Cambodian writer, but a woman with roots in our shared ancestral land of Cambodia. Sok and I were able to connect through video chat in September 2020 to discuss the emotional and mental work of drafting and revising the poems in her collection, A Nail the Evening Hangs On. This book explores an intergenerational conversation about trauma, grief, loss, and recovery—and the importance of writing with purpose while taking the time to practice self-care.

CLAIRE TORREGIANO: When did you decide you were going to write a book?

MONICA SOK: I didn’t really know that I was going to write a book. I knew I liked writing poetry, but I wasn’t really sure that anything I was writing would be worthy of an entire book. I started to prioritize my writing and my creative process when I was doing these writing residencies. I would lay out all of my poems on the floor and then see how they were talking to each other. Then I would rearrange them and toss some of them—the ones that didn’t fit. Then I would kind of just keep cutting down how many poems were going to be in the book. I saw a structure there, a kind of common theme around being a Cambodian American, daughter of survivors going back to her ancestral homeland, inheriting that history, and what navigating intergenerational trauma felt like in the United States.

Once I started realizing that the poems were speaking to each other, I tried to just take the strongest poems and put them side by side. Then, I tried to figure out if there were sections in the book, or if the book was supposed to be 80 pages versus 50 pages. So, I took a lot of things out and then I realized that I had something to submit as a manuscript. It was a whole process of discovery with me.

CT: Are there any poems that were included in what you would consider your ‘first draft’ that didn’t make it into the final book that you wish had?

MS: I was working on a couple poems that I hinted at in my chapbook, Year Zero. Because so much had hap pened in my life while I was trying to write the first book, I wasn’t really able to bring into fruition the poems that I had to cut. Those poems required a very different kind of psychic space. I needed to expand my imagination in a way that I didn’t actually have the capacity for. I wish I’d had more support, more resources, more financial stability at the time to even be able to write those particular poems. I kept them in the manuscript until I had to completely cut them out and it was almost at the last minute. I had to really think about it and tell myself very honestly, ‘These poems, as much as you want them to be in the first book, are not supposed to be in the first book. You need to take time with these.’

CT: When did you feel that the collection was finished?

MS: We have our relationship to the work that we do…I’m not the kind of writer to rush. I had to learn that over time. I think there’s a lot that happens when you’re quiet with your work and you’re just doing the writing. When I emotionally felt that the book was done, it was when I finally wrote the last poem, “Ode to the Loom.” I wrote that poem when I was in Ithaca, New York. I was with my friend, Peter Pa, a Cambodian American visual artist. It was a really great re treat. It was a rejuvenating kind of retreat. We visited gorges, we ate Ethiopian food, we talked about our creative projects. I was just in my room, making sure that I could spread out all of my drafts, and I put everything up on the walls just to see what I could work on. Once I wrote “Ode to the Loom” in Ithaca, I was done. I had to start writing it there. I knew something was missing in the book.

So much of the book is about having these really difficult, complex conversations about what it means to inherit a history of genocide. But I also wanted to make sure that celebration was part of the book. “Ode to the Loom” allowed me to enact that kind of praise while still acknowl edging grief or depression or pain or suffering. I’m praising this beautiful instrument, the loom, which my grandmother used, which was a friend to my grandmother. It was a different way of entering celebration while talking about depression or sadness.

CT: After you decided on all the poems that were going to be in the collection, what was the next step?

MS: I was really picky about my manuscript, maybe even more than my editor was. I felt like I needed more time to revise. The next step for me, once the whole book was finished, was really about resting. I had done so much work. I had done a lot of labor. A lot of it was emotional labor. I think that I found myself thinking all the time about the things I was trying to say, that it was difficult for me to find periods of rest, which was why I was going to Ithaca in the

first place. I think the kind of book it became required a lot of psychic energy. When it was complete, it required rest. I had been engaging in such difficult conversations. I think self-care was a really important part of the process.

CT: Any advice for young poets in college who want to publish a book or are working on their first drafts?

MS: I think one of the greatest insights I can give to young people exploring writing and figuring out if they are writing a book would be that it’s important to move towards pleasure.

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“Sea otters. They hold hands. Because they’re not like river otters, they’re out in the ocean, right? And they don’t want to lose each other. So they hold hands while they sleep.”

“Oh.” Isobel squinted down into the pit and saw that the frog’s skin was still the same deep, miraculous earth-tone brown. “Where’d you learn that?”

“In a magazine at the library. I can show you.”

Carter took his butterfly net and pushed the mound of dirt into the hole. Isobel took her giant stick and helped him, and together, they patted down and stomped on the soil to make sure it was packed firmly into the earth.

“Tomorrow,” said Carter once the grave was complete and the golden sunlight grazed it from between the trees, “don’t catch the frogs until I get here, okay? I’ll show you how to hold them.”

“And they won’t die?”

“No. They won’t die.” He turned around, began to walk away.

Isobel ran after him. “Wait, where are we going?”

“It’s sad here,” said Carter. “We’re going to the field.” A trace of his bright grin stretched across his face. “Did you know that Meghan J. is looking for you?”

Isobel wrinkled her nose. “She thinks I’m bad at singing.”

“Really? She said you’re really good at kickball.”

From beyond the trees, the kickball field was steadily filling with their classes, and with Meghan J., and Harvey G., and someone had a bright, red kickball, and everyone was already choosing teams, picking sides.

Meghan J. turned around and saw Carter and Isobel, standing at the edge of the woods.

She waved her hands. “Hey, Pond Girl! You’re on my team!”

Carter looked back at Isobel. “Are you coming?” When she hesitated, he nodded slowly, understanding. “I can tell her to stop calling you Pond Girl.”

Isobel looked once more over her shoulder at the Pond. Along the bank, five graves dug over the past two weeks kept watch over the shore. She thought she could almost see something in the water, another little creature, ready to be

scooped up with a butterfly net.

But in front of her was the field of her classmates, and Isobel found herself taking a step forward, another step forward.

Meghan J. started jumping up and down and cheer ing. Isobel thought she heard her shout the words, “You all better watch out! She broke Harvey’s nose!”

Even from this far away, Isobel thought she saw Harvey G.’s face turn bright red.

“It’s okay,” said Carter. “He knows you didn’t mean to.” He tilted his head to the side for a moment. “You said you cut those earthworms, right?”

Isobel nodded, and Carter’s face broke out into a grin.

“You only killed half of them.”

Her eyes widened. “What?”

“The way you cut them, the tails die, but the heads grow back a new tail.” Carter shrugged. “Somewhere in the dirt, some things you tried to kill are still alive.”

Isobel looked at him, waiting for the moment when he said that he was joking, that this just was like saying frogs were full of acid, that it wasn’t real.

But Carter only nodded, telling her that yes, some of those squirming pieces of worm had squirmed because they hadn’t died at all.

Isobel was still holding the giant stick in her hand. She dropped it, and stepped forward once more, past the woods, onto the grass of the field. She looked up at the sky, the sun for once blocked by a cloud.

“Hey, Pond Girl!” Meghan J. hollered from the kickball field. “You’re kicking first!”

Isobel stepped forward, and forward, and forward, and soon she was running for the field, and everyone was getting ready to play, and Harvey G. was the pitcher about to roll the ball, and Carter was running behind her, telling her to hurry, and the red rubber ball hit the ground, and the sun came out newly born, and in her rush to make her first kick Isobel didn’t even realize that somewhere at the bottom of the Pond lay her plastic knife.

Walking Through Walls

Things fall. Are falling. Structure not as crumbling, exactly, but something more like dissolving. In the upstairs of an emptied building, my father is walking through walls. In the last light, in a swaying dust, he steps through a wall. He stands and stares ahead into evening, the sifted light, the next skeleton room. He turns to the wall, pauses, and steps back through again.

This is how the light goes, not with a clap but with a slow-moving sureness, a watchable decay. My father tests the boundaries of this new world, shifts his body through the memory of margin. The promise of order. For now it is all discovery and fear. But when the summer comes, he will fill these spaces, insulate out the winter, outfitting each lonely room with the memory of furniture.

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Winnie Richards Up from Below Hallie Stephenson Charcoal Drawing

Isobel saw the frog the next day. A new frog, maybe a friend of the one she’d killed. It was sitting on a rock by the Pond, throbbing in the strange, throaty way frogs did. It was beautiful.

She risked leaning in closer, from where she was crawl ing on her belly in the dirt. In the golden light coming in from between the trees, the slick of the frog’s slime shone, radiating energy. The muddy brown of its skin was rich and deep as earth; its little eyes were bright black, as if all the light it saw was trapped there, glowing wet and infinite. Carter would like it.

She lunged forward, just missing a firm hold on the frog as it slipped out of her grasp. It jumped into the Pond, and without stopping for a second to think, Isobel dove in after it. She was wearing her least favorite pants, with tiny pockets that could barely fit her plastic knife, so it was okay. She rolled around with her belly in the water, the frog hopping up out of her hands once, twice, before she firmly sand wiched it between her palms and drew it close to her.

The frog was still pulsating, straining, its little limbs flailing about. Isobel gave it her best and brightest smile.

“It’s okay,” she said, and she walked it to the hole in the ground she’d already dug, except this time, there were twigs stacked to make a barrier around it. Gently, she placed the frog in the center of the hole.

“Don’t. Move. A muscle,” she said, pointing at the frog the same way her mother used to point at her, before her grandparents took her in. Her mother used to come home tired late at night, and to cheer her up, Isobel would make her a painting, or dinner, or a mural on the wall. Even when her mother told her to stop, to stay in her room, to stay put, Isobel always thought she could do better next time, and the time after that, and the time after that. All her mother ever saw was a giant mess.

The frog looked directly up at her, and then hopped over the barrier of twigs and into the grass.

Isobel scooped the frog up and sandwiched it between

her palms once more.

“Are you going to be difficult?” That was the most favorite thing her mother liked to say. “Are you going to be difficult? Be quiet.” In her hands, the frog squirmed and squirmed. If it could speak, she figured that with the way it was being pressed flat, it would be screaming. “Be. Quiet.”

The frog moved so much that, in a moment of searing anger, Isobel squeezed it even harder—until all at once, it went limp in her hands.


Quickly, Isobel made her hands into a cup, a nice, wide, harmless cup, like she knew she should’ve done before, she knew she should’ve…

“Wait, wait, wait…”

The frog wasn’t moving. The frog wasn’t moving, she’d ruined it, she’d ruined everything, just like she always did.

On her mother’s birthday last year, Isobel had ruined all her mother’s clothes in the laundry, and knocked over three glass frames with a duster, and broke the dishwasher overloading it, to the point that water spilled out onto the kitchen floor. Her mother had come home late again, and tired. Explosive.

“Isobel? What happened?” Carter ran down to the bank, throwing his net to the ground behind him. Isobel wouldn’t look at him. She only unfolded her hands, and revealed another ghastly white belly of a dead frog, its little rubbered limbs splayed out from their writhing.

“Oh my gosh,” said Carter, “it’s those otters!” He picked up his butterfly net, a dark cloud setting the sudden lines on his face. “Where are they? I’ll show them!”

The night of her mother’s birthday, Isobel had tried so hard to hide everything she’d done. But the hiding only made the finding worse.

“It’s not the otters, Carter.” Isobel made herself meet his gaze, shaking her head. “It was me.”

Slowly, the butterfly net came down to rest at Carter’s side.

“What was you?”

“I did it. I killed the frog.” Isobel quickly looked down, wiped her nose with her sleeve. “It was going to be for you.”

“Oh…” The way Carter’s voice changed when he spoke, that was the worst part. “Isobel, what did you do?”

She laid the frog gently on the dirt, belly pointed up ward at the sky.

“I held it too tight.”

Isobel had never cried in front of anyone before. She cried the day Meghan J. made fun of her singing—but that was in a bathroom stall. She cried the day her mother left her with her grandparents for good—but she’d been alone in her new room. She’d almost broken this rule when she gripped her mother’s wrist tight, squeezing it red, and finger by finger, her mother had pried her hand away—but she’d managed to keep the tears in, even then.

Now, Isobel sat hunched over with her knees tucked in close to her chest, trembling and trembling. Carter moved forward, maybe to say something nice, but she knew she didn’t deserve it.

“I killed all of them, Carter.”

Her face was still buried in her sweater; her words came out half-swallowed by cloth.

“What?” Carter asked.

Isobel sat up straight and looked him in the eye. “I killed the other frog too. And the millipedes. And the earthworms.”

She expected him to run. To run far, far away, from someone like her who could take a frog in her hand and squeeze the life out of it, even on accident; who could break someone’s nose without meaning to; who could send all these little lives soaring over the treetops. Instead, Carter sat down crisscross applesauce beside her.


Isobel looked out at the Pond.

“Do you know what an animal sacrifice is? When you wish for something, but you have to hurt something else?”

“I know.” He shook his head. “I don’t think those are real.”

Isobel took a deep, shaking breath. “Did you know... frogs aren’t really made of acid?”


“Really. And they don’t explode.” She looked down at the frog at her feet. “I’ll prove it to you.”

“No,” said Carter quickly, “let’s just bury it.” He took the frog into his hands. “When you...kill animals…” The words sounded strange in his voice. “What do you wish for?”

Isobel shrugged. Sometimes, she could still feel her mother’s wrist in her hand.

“A lot of things.”

Carter walked to the hole in the ground, where Isobel had sought to keep his new frog safe. He placed it belly-up at the center of the pit, took up his butterfly net, and was about to push in a mound of dirt when he froze.

“Did you know,” he said, “that otters—”

“Kill garter snakes,” said Isobel. “You told me.” “Yes, and otters—”

“Kill birds. And fight beavers.” Her voice grew quiet. “And they kill frogs, too.”

Carter started scratching the side of his head. “I was going to say,” he insisted, his voice higher than usual, “did you know that sea otters hold hands?”

Isobel slowly crawled over to the pit where the frog lay, and sat at its edge. “They what?”

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Untitled Stephanie Alifano Painting

Taking her plastic knife from the pocket of her corduroys, she sliced the first millipede clean in two. She squeezed out the halves of its body into the pit, one in either hand.

Couldn’t she feel it? The evil soaring away above the treetops, with every drop of blood that fell into the dirt?

Meghan J. loved her singing now. And maybe Harvey G.’s nose would be all better tomorrow. Isobel closed her eyes, and her mother was standing beside her, for the first time in eight months, two weeks and five days.

She had just dropped the halves of the earthworm into the dirt, her knife safely stowed away in her pocket, when she heard the snap of twigs behind her.

“Hi, Isobel!” said Carter, waving a butterfly net as tall as he was. “We have twenty minutes. I asked Mrs. Humphries!”

Mrs. Humphries was the nice noon aide, the one least

likely to write you up for jump-roping with a hula hoop, or talking in line on the way to lunch.

“She knows we’re here?” asked Isobel.

“Yeah, and she said to be safe,” said Carter. He bounded up to the grave and leaned over the edge. “Hey, what’s this?”

The glistening bodies of millipedes, the halves of worms still squirming, spots of dark dirt from the blood. Carter’s face scrunched up, as if puzzling something out. He turned to Isobel. “You’re burying them?”

Isobel nodded.

“Well, that’s nice of you. You’re good at finding dead things.”

Isobel picked up the giant stick and pushed the pile of dirt she’d dug up back into the hole, and Carter helped with his butterfly net. They packed it into the earth, and stomped on it afterward for good measure.

“Okay,” said Carter. He held up the watch on his hand. “Mrs. Humphries said be back at 12:30.”

Isobel spotted the minute hand on the big three, which meant that if three was fifteen and if six was thirty, they had thirty minus fifteen...

Carter tilted his head a little. “What’re you doing?”

“Math,” Isobel said.

Carter nodded and nodded. “Look,” he shoved the watch in her face, “six means thirty minutes, and three—”

“I know.” Isobel’s voice was clear and sharp. “We have fifteen minutes.”

Carter looked down at his sneakers. “Sorry. So where’d you find the dead frog?”

Isobel had found it alive. On the shore of the Pond, beyond the new spot she’d marked for a grave.

“Right there,” she said, pointing to the edge of the water.

Carter marched down to the bank with his butterfly net, and stuck it into the Pond. He started stabbing at the water, causing the dirt to swirl beneath the surface.

“Stop it,” said Isobel, “you’re scaring the frogs away.”

“Exactly! If I scare them enough, they’ll want to get out.”

It wasn’t a very good idea, but it sounded fun. Isobel picked up the giant stick and went to the other side of the Pond.

“Where are you going?” asked Carter.

Both hands around her stick, Isobel thrashed at the water, swirls of gray rippling outward.

“The frogs,” she said between stabs, “will try to hide here, too.”

It was like playing a game. The frogs would go where it was safe. They had to make the water not safe, and Isobel started walking up and down the bank of the Pond, making all the water not safe anymore. Can’t hide there, can’t hide there, can’t hide there. Each new stab was an explosion, the dirt rising to the surface, catching the light. She began to work faster, faster, chasing the invisible frogs, running from one spot to the next to the next—

Isobel jammed her giant stick into the dirt so hard that the bottom of it flew upward out of her hands, and flicked the water across the Pond into Carter’s face.

Carter froze and looked up at her. Isobel took a step back, then another, but she didn’t get far enough away before Carter’s butterfly net sent an arc of muddy water raining on her head.

“Hey!” yelled Isobel. She hadn’t yelled this loud in a long time. Suddenly, they were both splashing water at each other, Isobel slapping at the Pond’s surface with her giant stick, Carter slinging mud with his butterfly net. By the time the big minute hand on Carter’s watch pointed at six, they had emerged from the woods covered in mud and grime, two strange and feral creatures from the pond. Under the film of sweat on their skin, their faces were beaming.

“What on earth happened to you kids?” asked Mrs. Humphries, as they got in line at the blacktop to go to lunch.

Both Carter and Isobel pointed and shouted aloud, with equal gusto, that the other one had started it.


The next day, Isobel sacrificed three earthworms. Their halves were still squirming, but she made herself watch them, little fingers writhing in the dirt pit. She was no longer afraid. Her stone altar was covered in worm juice.

Right before recess, Meghan J. hadn’t said a word about her singing in music class, so the sacrifices were working.

After filling in the hole and stomping on it, Isobel sat by the edge of the Pond. She kept looking over her shoul der, toward the kickball field. Where was Carter? Wasn’t he coming to find his frog?

She leaned on the giant stick beside her to stand. It was a good walking stick. Slowly, she trudged away from the pond, through the trees, and then out under the bright blue sky, the blinding sun.

Carter was out on the kickball field, pitching a red rubber ball. His team stood out in the grass, while the other team was lined up behind the chain-link fence. One by one, their classmates kicked the ball high into the air, where it made a perfect arc up to the clouds before coming down to hit the grass, or to be caught in someone’s arms. That was how Isobel had broken Harvey G’s nose. She’d kicked so hard, sent the ball so high, that when it plummeted back to earth, it hit Harvey square in the face.

Mrs. Humphries told her it wasn’t her fault. But Harvey G. was mad. He didn’t like people saying a girl had broken his nose.

Isobel took the walking stick and edged closer to the field. When Carter spotted her, he stopped the rolling kick ball with his foot and waved.

“Hi, Isobel!”

Everyone turned to look.

“That’s the Pond girl,” Meghan J. in left field shouted to her friend in center field. “She plays with bugs.”

Harvey G., on the sidelines, made a face.

“Hi, Carter.” Why was Isobel’s voice so small? She tried again. “Hi, Carter. Are you going to look for frogs today?”

Carter shook his head. “No, I wanted to play kickball.”


Quickly, Isobel turned around with her giant stick and first walked, then ran to the line of trees, to the protective cover of the branches, to her little gray Pond, where not even the burning sun could find her.

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Sea of Stars (from 3 pieces folder) Carolina Ortiz Digital

Pond Creatures

Therese Biazon

Isobel held the wriggling frog in her hand, daring herself to hold it tight, feeling the slick of its slimy limbs as it squirmed for release. The frog strained forward, outward, in the direction of its home just beyond her fist—an expanse of dull water tucked between trees, wide as a trampoline and deep as a moon crater. Her fifth grade class called it the Pond. The Pond appeared after Carter Q. spent two weeks digging a hole in the ground with a plastic shovel, looking for fossils. He’d slowly unearthed a mouse skeleton from the soil, and the hole had filled with rainwater ever since.

Isobel clasped her other hand over her fist, blocking the frog’s view. Could she feel its heartbeat? She didn’t want to think about it. The hum of the late May cicadas pulsed gen tly, expanding and deflating, and she steadied her breathing. Her grandparents had taken her to Sunday School last week, where she learned about animal sacrifices. In the book she was given, there was a cartoon picture of a smiling lamb on an altar. The Sunday School teacher had said it would be sacrificed to take away sins, to remove all the evil and the pain.

Yesterday, Isobel had found worms along the shore of the Pond. She had picked the largest one to be her sacrifice, but she ended up running away without filling its grave. It wouldn’t die. Even when she’d cut it in half with her plastic knife from the cafeteria, the halves wouldn’t stop squirming.

She squeezed the frog tighter. The frog was hers now. It didn’t belong to the world or to its family—oh, did frogs have families?—and when it stopped moving, when its life soared up over the treetops, a little bit of the awful in the world would disappear with it.

What pain would she wish away this time? Would she wish for Meghan J. to stop laughing when Isobel sang off-key in music class? For Harvey G. to finally forgive her for break ing his nose? For her mother to finally visit, with a smile on her face?

Isobel brought her fist down to the ground and pressed her knuckles into the dirt, all of her weight crushing the frog in her grasp as its legs thrashed violently. She clenched her eyes shut; she could feel a whole life bleeding through the gaps between her fingers, and she started chanting in her head, Please go away please go away please go away, and the frog moved its leg once, twice, and then fell utterly still. Slowly, Isobel opened her hand. Her classmates’ shouts from the distant kickball field faded into silence. The frog lay belly-up, its webbed front feet up at its sides, facing outward like hands. Its little toes were so small.

“Is that a frog?”

Isobel whirled around, fist clenched tight around her offering, to see Carter Q. from the other fifth grade class standing with a giant stick in his hand, his bright blue shirt covered in dinosaurs. “Is it dead?”

"did you know that sea otters hold hands"

Isobel unfurled her palm, the frog’s upturned belly a greenish-white.

“Oh.” Carter’s face fell. With his stick, he pointed to the hole in the ground from yesterday, where somewhere under the dirt there still squirmed the halves of worms. “Is that what the grave’s for?”

Isobel walked up to the shallow pit and dropped the frog inside.

“No, no, you have to be careful with it!” Carter ran up to the grave. “Did you know frogs are filled with acid? If you throw them too hard, they explode!”

Isobel didn’t think that sounded right, but she didn’t correct him.

Carter picked up the frog and placed it gently at the

center of the grave. “There.” He straightened back up, and stood for a second with his brow furrowed before nodding again. “Did you know otters can kill frogs? Maybe an otter got to it.”

Isobel picked up a handful of dirt from the pile she’d made yesterday, and threw it over the frog. Carter took his stick and pushed the rest into the grave, and together, they packed the earth flat with their feet.

“It’s sad,” said Carter, and Isobel looked down at her shoes. “I always wanted a pet frog. If you’d caught it alive, I could’ve taken it home.” He sat crisscross applesauce on the dirt ground and looked out at the Pond. Small patches of sunlight edged in from between the trees, turning the water a murky gray. “Did you know otters can kill garter snakes, too? And birds? And they can fight beavers, sometimes!”

Isobel shook her head. She’d just remembered something about the blood of the lamb from Sunday School, about blood being important. She hadn’t bled the frog.

“Can I come back tomorrow?” Carter asked, placing his stick on the ground. “To look for a frog?”

If Carter found two frogs, and let her keep one, she could redo the sacrifice. She would do it right, and use her plastic knife to draw blood, instead of fearing the way the frog looked at her. Instead of closing her eyes and holding on tight.

Isobel shrugged. “Okay.” ***

As soon as Mrs. Maloney let her class out for recess the next day, Isobel ran for the woods. She ran past the playground, the blacktop, across the field with its dirt kickball diamond, beyond the fence, and through the trees to the Pond.

She stopped at the water’s edge. Carter’s class wasn’t outside yet; she had time to make some quick sacrifices. Isobel picked up the giant stick that Carter had left behind yesterday. She dragged it across the ground over and over until it made a hole, revealing two millipedes and a worm.

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An Interview with Kunga Choephel

Photographer of Am American Too 1, 7, 8, and 9


What music do you listen to while working?

KUNGA CHOEPHEL: Generally, I don't like to listen to music when I'm working because I find my focus shift towards the music more than my work. More importantly I find the work to be heavily influenced by the music I would be listening to at the time...which I hate because I want my work to be completely origi nal and made in a vacuum completely untouched by anything else (Which is impossible, but this is my futile attempts at pursuing that goal). But to not be boring, when I'm feeling a little crazy I like to put on MF Doom, Strokes, Beatles, Kanye West, FKA twigs, LCD Soundsystem, Frank Ocean, Ryo Fukui, Nina Sim one, any movie soundtracks (shout out to the Bladerunner soundtrack [The original]) and on and on and on.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

KC: The idea came when I was on my way to set somewhere upstate. On the way there we stopped at a dinner to get some food, and I couldn't help but notice that almost all the customers had some sort of an American flag symbol on their clothing, whether that be on hats, shirts, hoodies, belt, etc. I couldn't help but feel scared being at that place, and that fear was coming from almost everybody around me wearing the American flag, being so far away from the city, and being the only POC group there. I realized that the American flag had turned into a symbol of hate for me, it represented racism, bigotry, and violence. What was especially troubling to me was that it was once meant freedom, hope, and a chance at life for a younger me who had just immigrated to the USA. I made this photo series in an effort to reclaim the imagery of the American flag. Made to showcase an idyllic a hopefully achievable America, as a true melting pot of cultures where all coexist peacefully.

IM: What was your favorite part of this piece?

KC: One thing I really adored about working on this project was being able to work with my dad. I had never worked with him on that level and the novelty of it was super cool to me. The other favorite part of the process was watching my dad pose proudly in his traditional Tibetan clothing in front of the American flag. Watching him do that really gave me a sense of history both me and him shared as fellow Tibetans. I felt extremely proud of our ability to power through harsh prosecution by the Chinese government, being kicked out of our homeland and not only survive in different countries, but also thrive.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

KC: The most exciting part of the creative process for me is when the idea comes to me at it's earliest stage. The possibilities of where it can go, how I can approach it, and honestly how much fun I can have with it just really excites me.

Am American Too 1 is featured on page

Am American Too 8 is featured on page

Am American Too 9 is featured on page

Am American Too 7

Kunga Choephel Photography

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Exercise In Lonliness: The Breakup Song

The breakup song is its own artform. Generally falling somewhere on a spectrum ranging between dismissal and melancholic to anguish and utter despair, chances are a breakup song will either make you want to set something on fire or cry off all your makeup if played at the right time. Rarely do I come across pleasant breakup songs, or those not drenched in a thick coating of blame and remorse. To be fair, breakups don’t generally end pleasantly, but I still feel the art revolving around them is often cast in an unrealistic, negative light. I don’t see how one can curse the existence of someone they used to share a life, or even just a bed with. But maybe that is because I have yet to be hurt by love. There is certainly a maturity that is to be demanded when finding neutrality in a situation associated with past hurt. Art has the ability to reach this understanding, or at least some version of peace, with the things in the world that cause pain, no matter if it’s wide-spread suffering or the loss of an innocent fling.

Hüsker Dü’s “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely,” for example, is a realist’s breakup anthem. It doesn’t accuse and it doesn’t regret. It looks forward while acknowledging the situation for what it is: “decisions have been made/ the die has been cast.” The faithful belief of “what’s meant to be will be” is the song’s undercurrent, which is much healthier than the general “fuck you and die” mentality of a hardcore band. That is why I find this song as satisfying as it is: it expresses frustration through power chords rather than the dismissal of another human being. Their hurt manages to be expressed while taking the higher road, a notion I believe to be extremely admirable.

Despite having “lonely” in the title, the song doesn’t directly address the loneliness of the subject. Rather, it discusses the loneliness of the other. I find this to be a more painful examination than the general self-revolving quality that is a side-effect to heartbreak. To think of someone, you once cared for and were attached to as now having a separate existence to your own is plainly crushing. So, when in the chorus Bob Mould confesses, “Don’t want to know if you are lonely/ Don’t want to know if you are less than lonely,” it voices the lose-lose situation of an involuntary breakup. I don’t want you to be dwelling on my absence, but I don’t want you to have moved on from my absence. A troubling dichotomy that Hüsker Dü delivers without an answer, (your author very much doesn’t have an answer right now either), but we do know time heals all wounds, right?

“Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” is an example of a song working towards acceptance. By avoiding blame and acknowledging a breakup for what it is, a change, the speaker reflects an understanding that could easily be overlooked. Al though it still acknowledges pain, the song attempts to come to terms with the hurt of separation rather than attempting to hurt the one once loved, indicating a maturity that is seldom traced in punk rock’s history. I find comfort in the confliction of this song and the simple addition of “less than” into the chorus that makes a world of difference. “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” may be the auditory equivalent to the phrase “ignorance is bliss,” yet it remains sharp, understanding, and ultimately individual. It’s a case where if heard at the right time, it can deliver a catharsis, which sometimes can be the best thing you can ask for.

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An Interview with Winnie Richards

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while writing?

WINNIE RICHARDS: It’s funny, I’m such a big music person in my daily life, but for writing I feels like it only distracts me. Either that or it dictates the mood of the poem in a way that I don’t like. I think it takes enough focus and courage to even sit down and dig into your head to find the poem at all. I don’t think you need any extra distractions from that process. That being said, Billie Holiday definitely gets me in the writing mood. Or Otis Redding.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

WR: “Walking Through Walls” was very much a reaction to the beginning of the pandemic. It was written in a time of some real uncertainty, but also of new and kind of thrilling discovery. It felt like everything might change and we might be stepping into a new world we hadn’t been able to see before. That, and my dad was working on a building in Kingston that had no walls yet. “February Sestina” was written more re cently. I was thinking a lot about re-entering the culture and landscape of my hometown and in a way that I never thought I would again. It’s about figuring out how to do that, with necessary gentleness, I think.

IM: What was your favorite line from this piece?

WR: My favorite line from “Walking Through Walls” is probably the penultimate and final lines: “outfitting each lonely / room with the memory of furniture.” To be honest, I think I mostly like it because it’s a pretty direct steal from Auden’s “September 1st, 1939,” but whatever. In “February Sestina,” I like the second stanza a lot: “Standing at the porch folding / the low sky / into baskets.” It feels, for me, like the most successful vocalization of the quiet, pastoral situation I was trying to get at.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

WR: I think for me the creative process is so exciting because it allows me to communicate honestly in a way that I am not able to in the rest of my life. Language is so intense and cool but also feels really limit ing in so many of the ways we use it in the day-to-day. As one of my coolest professors says, “poetry is the closest we get to seeing language working at 100% capacity.” I think that’s what I love about the creative process, particularly the poetic process—it does the most with language that can be done, and that feels crazy exciting.

I smoked all the weed you gave me and I now call another man baby dreamt of my daughter last night, she looked a lot like us

running fast and far either to, or away from you, I haven’t decided yet still can’t figure out why the universe would have lied about you being one of my forevers your brain keeps reaching its arm out and I get trapped in those eyelashes that collect the stars when you’re happy

I didn’t mean to get my hair wet, or think of you at all though I am here and there as you sit in those blue chairs on your porch and care for the babies, when you put a joint out, and touch your sheets you touch me

still, I slink around your apartment slow dancing behind you cooking dinner I’ll be on our hill if you need me, and I love you, even though the last time you said you didn’t love me yet; too bad you made me go before you could

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My heart is still under the welcome mat of 61 Ketchum Abby Collins Teardrops (from 3 pieces folder) Carolina Ortiz Prints

Spirit Guides

Samhain Dreams are sycamore veins steeped in deep red grass, romantically drowning, dripping bittersweet Rosé for amber fae. Persephone’s swan song echoing in the ripened fern as pomegranates crack and burn. Shroud in smoking sugar and sage, wet chai ravens and ginseng crows will preen by ritual candlelight under wild berry moons like spirit guides

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MFinal-11 (from Nature) Magnolia Mulvihill Photography Shannon Mitchell

Somos Algo James

Fireflies make me think of my grandmother, gone six years now.

On the shores of our small yard, with the now replaced dead tree and small feet in its grass.

And I blink.

Paradise is the smooth chill of checkered green and white floor tiles.

Hair dining on the grass of a midday’s delight.

New path (from 5 pieces doc)

the mad leafcutter ant


you dream of a great city. It stands between a range of hills and a basin full of aspens. You walk through the city’s streets, noticing fruit trees on all sides of you, gardens of moss and herbs and fruits hanging in mats and from vine growing down from the walls of the buildings. And you feel this strange manipulation of scale as you continue to walk through the city. You feel tiny as you notice outside the city walls these blades of grass the size of enormous tree trunks, blocking the sunlight briefly as they cross between you and Chaat’s brilliance. And you enter a building, a great temple library. It’s full to the brim with holy texts and lit by magical lanterns floating above desks with your fellow holy men reading and debating theology in hushed voices. The stairs go down into the depths of the earth, and you enter this maze of tunnels filled with books. The walls smell pleasant but musty, and the light dims further and further, and you find yourself relying on the smell. You want nothing more than to find a particular book. As you’re hunting for it, you find it difficult to remember the title of the text. This bothers you immensely. Finally, in a bolt of recollection, it comes to you – but in that instant, a shadowy figure steps out of the darkness, puts their hand over your mouth, and slits your throat. You wake up sweating.

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Teeming Tresses

Future Self Amaya Contreras Digital

An Interview with Amy Milddleton

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while writing?

AMY MIDDLETON: I don’t really listen to anything when I’m writing, I prefer silence, I’ll even turn off Netflix if it’s playing so I can focus.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

AM: My inspiration for this poem was during the fall semester I was living at my grandparent’s house and I haven’t lived there since I was little, so it was about me walking the streets and re-experiencing this place at a new age.

IM: What was our favorite line/part of this piece?

AM: My favorite line is "A man in the pharmacy said he thought / he had met me before, and when I tell / him “No,” he looks so upset I almost / feel bad.” I think it’s really funny especially because it actually hap pened a man asked if he knew me and he seemed really really genuinely disappointed I wasn’t the person he thought I was, I really felt kinda sorry.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

AM: Everything excites me about the creative process! I feel much happier when I’m defining myself as a creator or a maker rather than a designer and a poet, though it’s true I’m a designer and a poet the specific ity feels constraining. Everything about the act of creation is always valuable.

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Megan McDonald Digital


I’m bad at finishing journals and going to bed and kissing slowly. & it’s not that I don’t write & it’s not that I can’t sleep & it’s not that I don’t want to savor kisses like maple syrup but baby tell me, do you ever think to taste the air before you breathe it?

& I can still remember the wine bottle I knocked from the shelf when I was twelve; the flash of red on the checkered tile & on my cheeks. A careless elbow & a scarlet baptism. I eat glass for breakfast, baby. Every day I wake with these same shaking hands. I want a bull-

in-a-china-shop kinda love; I want you break it you buy it & spilled milk without crying because honey, I know what it is to be a sinking ship so god help me, I will not sink any body’s but my own. teach me how to love both tender & fierce. Walk me home from the inevitable fallout. Let’s dance in minefields, baby.

Let’s love like we’re doomed.

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Untitled (Body Series)

or ‘right’ from you to fuel it.

He took the cap off and placed it backwards on his bald head, squinting and grinning in our direction. After a beat, Paris shook his head, but dad was already talking again.

“Son, you can’t just ask a girl about that. C’mon, she doesn’t wanna talk about that. Right, Booka?” I nodded though neither he nor Paris were looking at me anymore. My dad sat up to lean against the other couch in the room. It was an odd room divided into two areas. The carpeted living room where we slept and a games space where the carpet stopped and became near-frozen white tiles. The space behind the couches was cavernous in the dark of the moment. There was a pool table somewhere back there. And a dart board and weights growing dusty in the corner.

“You see- here. Bring it here, Ma.” He held out a hand and I stayed frozen until he looked at me. “Bring it here.” he repeated softly, and I did, placing my pad in the palm of his hand. He nodded and I took an awkward step back as he unpeeled the plastic and unfurled the length of cloth in his hand. He gestured for Paris to move closer, and he did, leaning down to get a better look.

“This sticky side- you see it? You stick it on the panties and this cloth here soaks up all the blood.” My stomach lurched and something in me separated. It was more than the normal daydreamy not-there I often retreated to whenever I was forced to listen to my dad. It felt like I was watching the moment happen, like I could be anywhere in the room. I remember a part of me being behind it all, in the dark space where the pool table sat. My feet were cold. I grit my teeth together as a cramp knotted itself into my side.

“There’s enough blood for all of it?” my brother asked incredulously.

“How much blood do you think there is?” my dad asked.

pink house of summer (from 10 pieces doc)

Paris shrugged. “Like when you get a cut.”

My dad laughed, setting my pad down on his lap. I looked at the space it had been before forcing my eyes downward. I remembered - maybe not in that moment but over the years of remembering that moment - opening the door to my dad’s bathroom/study and seeing him naked. The memory is contextless, only a few seconds long and in serts itself into this period memory as if I wrongfully taped over something for just a few moments before realizing my mistake. My dad laughed, setting my pad down on his lap and I remember(ed) that he had a cock between his legs while I had a blood-soaked cloth between mine.

“Oh there’s a lot more than when you get a cut.” he said and then told him that girls bleed all day every day for a week every month.

“All day, even at night?” Paris asked, dawning horror bleeding into his hushed voice. My dad nodded.

“That’s right.” he confirmed, looking at me to nod along with him. I tilted my ear towards my shoulder, feeling my chest tighten as my brother’s eyes fell on me with pity so sincere I was surprised we didn’t both burst into tears. Him with guilt for being unaware of my affliction and me with sorrow for what I was. The divide between us was that of a boy and a girl. Here another memory tries to surface but my mind clicks helplessly, lingering on the empty moment and my little brother’s brown eyes until the stutter vanishes and we’re allowed to continue.

“Here, Ma.” my dad said, handing me back the pad. It stuck to my palm and I struggled to come back to myself. My flat feet stumbled across the cold tile and onto the stiff carpet. I made it halfway in, phantom limbs akimbo.

I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror while the tips of my fingers were blushing with blood and thought that I did look messy. There was dirt under my nails - I had mos quito bites - my acne hurt. I looked unhappy in a sunken way. I felt it too, like there was something heavy in my bones. I was androgynously ugly, I decided. I washed my hands.

At the bottom of the basement steps my dad bumped into me on his way up. His blue eyes squinted down at me and I felt myself being ugly and heavy. I leaned against the banister to give him room, staring at the dark space behind him.

"I felt it too, like there was something heavy in my bones. I was androgynously ugly, I decided."

“Don’t stay up too late.” he told me. I nodded.

“And hey, stop with the woe-is-me face, ok?” he said. I

didn’t have to look at him to hear the smile in his words. Coagulated blood slowly fought its way out of me and I adjusted my hips to help it along. I nodded.

He paused as if he wanted to say more but decided it wasn’t worth it, wishing me a goodnight before climbing up the creaky stairs and out of my sight. I looked at my brother through the banister. He was playing something on his Nintendo, and I remembered when we used to play together. When we were flat chested and sexless and the body was only used for verbs and sleep. We used to play out conversations between Naruto characters before we fell asleep with him on the top bunk and me on the bottom.

“Lee kicks Shikamaru.”

“Hinata punches Sakura.”

“Neji kisses Gaara.”

“Why?” Paris asked after a moment of silence.

“Because he’s in love with him.” I said.

We stopped playing after that.

In my little basement room, I laid in bed and waited for my dad to check in on me. The stairs creaked, then the door, then the floor, then silence. After I was sure he’d gone to bed I pulled my phone out from under my pillow and read fanfiction for hours. The men in it were beautiful and suffering and for those hours I pretended I was one of them. I pretended that my pain was being poisoned, being shot, stabbed, penetrated for the first time. Anything was preferable to a period.

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Untitled (Body Series)

Woe Was I Lassiter Jamison “

How do you use those?” my brother asked quietly, pointing to the pad I had hidden in my semi-closed palm. I looked down hoping to find something different there and shrugged with my eyes still locked on the light green flowers adorning the package. I worried about staining my pants or my aunt’s mattress with blood. She was upset at me for it the day before, saying that her girls weren’t so messy. It was true. I couldn’t imagine either of my cousins staining anything. They had pure white names; Brittany and Chelsea, and cheerleader smiles though I didn’t know if either of them were on a team. I, in compari son, felt dour and skittish. Messy. I didn’t want to be a girl, but I wanted to be pretty.

“How does it get the blood out?” Paris continued his questioning, leaning over the back of the couch where he slept while my dad laid on the floor with his basketball cap over his eyes. I shivered and rubbed the back of my foot against a mosquito bite on my ankle. Me and my brother slept in the same room at home. In recent years he’d started playing xbox with his friends from school, taunting them with; That’s so gay that’s so gay what’re you, a fag? Ayyooo, Ayyooo chill with that! While I stayed silent in the bottom bunk grow ing gayer and more resentful. I shrugged.

“You don’t know?” asked my dad, revealing he was awake. We both looked at him instead of each other, hollowing ourselves out to listen to whatever he had to say. Whenever my dad spoke it was long and coiling. Simple questions could keep you rooted to the spot for hours as the topic changed and changed and changed with only an occasional ‘uh-huh’

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Stephanie Alifano Painting

They’re in support of it. I always think in terms of what’s the poem’s project, or, what does the poem want people to take away from it? For example, if you want people to be thinking about migration and distance and how they travel—instead of having to say that, maybe I can have this factoid about monarch butterflies do that work for me so that I don't have to be expository about it. And I’m sure there’s many other kinds of ways to use factoids.

SD: As I was reading your collection, Asylum, one of the first things that struck me was the many references to wildlife and vegetation, specifically wildlife that’s native to the setting of the poem. I saw a lot about wild rice, for example. Since it was such an overwhelming presence in this poetry, did you see these references as strictly a means to create a metaphor or were these references serving their own identity? For example, this wild rice, it’s a staple in the poem, it serves its own purpose, or do you see it as like a leverage point to create a metaphor?

QB: I would hope that these things are doing both, right? I actually think that images work best when they’re working both descriptively and metaphorically. It's not just setting for setting’s sake, but it’s setting that somehow is creating tone, or it’s creating atmosphere, or it's doing something larger. I do like to work with things that work on more than one level like that. The title of the book is Asylum and the very first poem is called “Asylum.” I hadn't really thought about the idea of animals and plants and those kinds of things in the entire collection. But I heard a story on NPR that sometimes when natural disasters happen, they can be the best thing to ever happen to animals and to plants. For example, when Chernobyl happens in Russia, because the area is radioactive, human beings have to leave. But animals don't realize that it's radioactive so actually animals come back because people are gone. It's true that it's not great for animals to be hanging around in radioactive spaces, but it's quite common. There are various places all over the world where man has used

atomic testing, and then because people had to leave all of a sudden, these [places] become amazing wildlife refuges because animals come back. It is true that I was thinking in that particular poem about what asylum means. You think it means a place of safety, but obviously, if these places are radioactive—it's a complicated safety.

SD: That actually lends very well to my next question, which is about the poem, “If dy/dx = ([4x]^3+ x^212)/√(2x^2-9).” There’s a line in this poem that goes: ‘Let the constant be the gold earth / waiting to envelop what re mains.’ And that line made me think of this idea that I hear a lot, especially in poetry, about nature being this apathetic force that does what it pleases, and it supersedes the will of humans, that sort of thing rather working in tandem. In the context of this collection, did you view nature as this ap athetic force? People say nature is evil, nature doesn't care about humans. Or if you feel nature takes as well as it gives. We give off Carbon Dioxide, they give off Oxygen. Do you view nature as this domineering force that does not connect with humans in a substantial way?

QB: I am interested in the literary theory about posthumanism. So posthumanism is a world post human, right? And some people can interpret that as being really kind of broken, this idea that the world will go on without us and it doesn't need us. It can sound bleak: posthumanism. [But] I actually find it comforting because to me it's the idea that it’s life, life will go on, right? It's not human life, but it’s Life. I do see the Earth as both giving and taking, and I don't think that the Earth necessarily is here to foster just human life. I think it's here to foster Life, right? If it turns out that the Earth does not need humans, if it turns out human life is detrimental to the Earth, I believe Earth will get rid of human life in whatever shape or form it choses to. I'm interested in that idea. I'm trying to think of other collections where I've looked at them more, because it's something that I’ve thought about, this idea of being posthuman. Like I said, to me it is a hopeful thing. Some times people think that it's humans at all costs and we have

to survive. I don't necessarily think that. There would be a lot of suffering if human beings die off. I can imagine the level of suffering, but ultimately, I do think that Life is right, and Life will figure out what it needs to do.

SD: I’m curious if you’re writing more poetry or fiction right now, and also whether your reading more of one or the other?

QB: We constantly really pride ourselves on folks working on many different genres. I was primarily a poet, then I wrote these two novels, and I have another novel coming out next year. And then last year I started writing plays. My first play will be produced next year, assuming that theatres will be open, and everything goes okay. I’ve writ ten about four plays. And what's fascinating about plays is you need stuff. You need people, you need a director, you need a theatre, you need money, you need people who have money who believe in your work and believe that people will come see it. It’s fascinating and humbling to realize how much it’s really collaborative. Like, you can do what you do, and you hand it over, and people interpret it for you.

Also, this past winter, I wrote my first screenplay, which is crazy. I have no idea what's going to happen. Somebody is looking at it right now. The thing about the world of screenplays (and these kinds of things in general) [is that] so many get written, and it's a teeny tiny number that people ever see. It was fun though, and it was harder than I thought because I’m used to creating whole worlds and writing things out. [With] screenplays you have 120 pages, and you have to get everything done, and there’s also like time markers; it's very structured. And so that's something.

As far as what I’m reading…I’m teaching right now. When I teach, I don't have as much time to read, so it's mostly what I’m teaching my students. For example, we looked at an oldy, but goody called Quantum Lyrics, a book that I love by A. Van Jordan. It's about science and comic

books and Albert Einstein. I think it's just a really cool book for students to read. And then next week we’re read ing a book called Oceanic by a poet named Aimee Nezhu kumatathil, who is Filipina and Indian. And that's just a really great book and students really respond to it.

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QB: I actually—wait, did I date him? I don’t know if I did—anyways, there was this guy a long time ago who, in his friend circle, had a Boy Cory and a Girl Cory. I always thought that was funny, that that was how all the friends re ferred to them, like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s Boy Cory, it’s Girl Cory.’

CT: How much changed from the first draft you ever wrote of We Ride Upon Sticks to the final version? What do you think was the biggest change?

QB: For this book, I knew what the structure was going to be. I knew how each chapter was going to follow a dif ferent character, I knew it was going to follow them over the course of their season, all those kinds of things. So, when it comes to how much revision I did once that draft was done, I didn’t do any significant structural revision. Most of the revisions I did had to do with just tighten ing—like the level of tightening going back into actual language and reworking things. I’m trying to remember because it’s been a couple years. Sometimes when you’re writing, you’ll begin to realize things you should have put in earlier, like ‘Oh yeah, that character should have done this.’ For example, I do think that I had always known that there was going to be an element that one of the girls or a school teacher was maybe seeing one of the students—there were rumblings about it. There was an inappropriate relationship between a member of the staff and a student. I think maybe I had written an entire draft and I wasn’t sure who that was going to be or what that arc was, or as I was writing it, I began to realize ‘Okay it’s going to be this person and that’s how it’s going to work out.’ But that’s definitely something that I had to go back and rethink, and to plant little seeds earlier, and just show how that was going to resolve itself. Similarly, towards the end, I began to realize things specifically about the moth er-daughter relationships and the ways in which they were going to be dragged in; I realized I had to go back and then rework crumbs so later when you get the payoff, you realize that these mothers and daughters have specific ten

sions between them that you’ve seen hints of beforehand. That was basically the kind of thinking I did. Once I feel like I have the structure in place, it turns into re-doing all the little things.

CT: Which character did you find the easiest to write and why?

QB: Ooh, that’s a tough one…I kind of…I don’t want to say it’s because she’s the most like me, but it’s the char acter of Heather Houston, you know, the ‘brainiac.’ Her backstory probably aligns the closest with my backstory. Her interest in Latin, the fact that she was raised Unitari an, the fact that she played the oboe; she’s also a singer. A lot of her backstory is very similar to mine. For example, the small thing about her song, ‘Born in the USA’? I was in Italy and I heard the song, and it was as if I heard it for the first time realizing what it’s really about. I’m not sure if that necessarily made her easier to write, but she’s definitely the one that I had the most connection with. Sometimes that doesn’t translate to ease of writing. In some ways it wasn’t necessarily that a character was easy to write, but that I really knew them. Like Abby Putnam: I knew she was a go-getter and positive. I always knew what she was going to do.

CT: I was really interested in the concept of Julie Minh Kaling’s character arc since I was adopted from Cambo dia, and we’re seeing a larger representation of writers of color emerging, so I found her story arc particularly heartwarming, seeing her discovering herself and sort of rediscovering her own cultural identity, which I am just beginning to fully realize for myself.

QB: Thank you for that. It’s interesting. I graduated from my undergrad in the mid-90s, and one of the reasons I started writing was because I felt that there were certain holes in literature. It’s true that now, happily, there are so many more women and people of color writing and being

published. Back in the day, there weren’t as many to turn to. I remember feeling like there was this hole that I could identify. Not that I necessarily had important stories to tell, but I thought there should be people like me telling these stories. I’m half-black and half-Vietnamese, and I’m also transracially adopted, so I know what [it] is to be in various spaces, having people not know what to make of you, and being unsure about yourself. Hopefully going forward there will be more of these kinds of stories from people so that we have a range to choose from.

SHANNON DENATALE: In your poetry collection, Asylum, I noticed that a lot of your work offers historical context, and it’s woven very homogeneously in with these very personal stories. I noticed a blending of references to hard science and astrology with these personal stories. Not just references, but direct language, language about even math (I’m thinking of that one poem—it’s hard to repeat the title because it’s an algebraic equation. How did you go about this in such a seamless way that doesn’t draw the reader into some different mindset, sends them down the rabbit hole thinking about math, but interlaced with your imagining of it? Is it difficult, does it come naturally? Because it reads very natural.

QB: Something I’m always talking about with my students, with my poetry students in particular, is this idea of [what] I call ‘factoids.’ I’m always trying to get them to think in terms of ‘factoids,’ and how they might use factoids in their own writing. Factoids are just facts [with] an ‘oids’ added on so it sounds funny, lighter, as opposed to facts, which sounds really hard and fast. I’m always trying to get my students to think about ways in which they could incorporate ‘factoids’ into their work—to enlarge a poem [for example]. [Say] you had a poem and it was all about snow and all of a sudden you add a factoid about monarch butterflies—it can take the poem in an unexpected direction, if you want the reader to go somewhere slightly different. I think of them as supporting whatever it is the poem is trying to do anyway.

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of naturally lead you in this direction from the beginning, or was it something that only really came in later?

QB: I think I had it in mind all the way through. In my very first poetry collection there’s a poem called intramurals, which is about girls and their moms, and about field hockey, and about sports. In my next collection there’s actually a poem about Salem and the excavated site, so I’ve always been thinking about it and I always knew that if I wrote about it, I wanted to do it in a way that was factually accurate. I didn’t want to be making stuff up about Salem. There are some other books that I’ve read about teen girls and witchcraft in which, for example, they’ll make up a town, and they’ll maybe call the town New Salem or something like that. I knew that I didn’t want to go that route. As I might have mentioned during our larger talk on Monday, I had originally thought about actually setting it in Salem. [Had] I decided to do that, I would have had to do a lot of research in order to make it factually accurate. I know a lot about Salem, but I don’t know the ins and outs of like, where do kids get pizza, what did the high school look like, all that fun kind of stuff. Then I was talking to a friend of mine who’s also from the north shore of Boston, [and] I was telling her about my ideas for the book. She was like, ‘Well why don’t you set it in Danvers?’ And I said, ‘Because nobody knows anything about Danvers, about the history of the witch trials,’ and she was like, ‘Well, why don’t you tell them?’ And I was like, ‘Wow, yeah, that would be good.’ It was also important to me that I actually include the names of the people who were hung during the hysteria because, as I mentioned, I was really fascinated by the idea of choosing their honor over life itself. I knew I wanted to be factually accurate when it came to that, too.

EA: You mentioned in your Durst lecture that rather than doing a lot of research, you prefer to write about places that you’ve been, or from your own experiences there. You have a book that’s set in Vietnam, and I believe your next

book is set in Mongolia—I was wondering how your writing process adapts to the fact that travelling is not always viable, and it’s also quite expensive.

"I can imagine the level of suffering, but ultimately, I do think that Life is right, and Life will figure out what it needs to do."

QB: Obviously now, thinking about COVID and various restrictions, I had been hoping to go back to Mongolia, and I haven’t been able to do that. I have been reaching out to folks—for example, I’ve been in contact with some body who’s Mongolian, who lives in Mongolia; he actually got his MFA in fiction from Temple University here in the States, so even though he’s Mongolian, he’s fluent in English [and] knows a lot about American fiction. I would ask around people who have various connections like, ‘Can you put me in touch with…’ There are also people here at UW, where I teach, who are professors in Reli gious Studies. I reached out to them to ask about experts I could talk to. I was in touch with somebody in California who was a Mongolian monk and has since left, and now he’s in California as a graduate student. I was in touch with somebody else who’s just a scholar of Buddhism. I definitely reach out to folks to ask them specific questions, also to have them read and to tell me, ‘Does this seem authentic? Does this not seem authentic?’ I would also say that I don’t want to seem like—because I know that some times people now, when they want to be writing outside their own perspectives, turn to sensitivity readers—while I’ve been doing that, I recognize that if my book is still a failure, if it still doesn’t read as being ethical or it doesn’t read as being authentic, that’s on me at the end of the day. I can only reach out to so many people, but ultimate ly, it’s my book and if it has failings I can’t be like, ‘Well I had these other people read it and they told me it was

fine.’ No, it’s my failure, so I recognize that part. That’s an important aspect of it.

The other thing that’s kind of amazing now—it’s terrible to admit—is YouTube. Because I couldn’t go back to Mongolia, there are lots of people who’ve been and posted videos. For example, I had never gone to an Eagle Festival. I’ve read about them, I’ve watched them in movies, but I can also go on YouTube. I can watch clips of people (like tourists) who’ve gone to the Eagle Festival in Mongolia. I think when you think in terms of research, research can be place, it can be reading, and now, because of the way the Internet works, you can do a lot of placebased research thanks to the Internet. That’s something that I’ve been fortunate to do. And then finally, it’s true that research is really, really, super expensive. That’s why I think that the Internet is great for younger authors who don’t have support. One of the reasons why I can go to places like Mongolia is because I have funding through the university to be able to do those kinds of things. But I don't think you have to have that. Like I said, I do think that you can do a lot by talking to people and, again, through the Internet.

EA: I don’t know that I would say that he was my favorite, but the one character I kept my eye on throughout the book was Boy Cory. There’s a line towards the beginning of the book where they essentially say there wasn’t a problem with Boy Cory joining the team because they kept losing anyways. I was wondering if you had thought about, for example, Caster Semenya, who has had strug gles trying to get into women’s athletics because she has a high testosterone count—I wondered if you had thought about things like that at all as you were writing.

QB: Definitely—again, because you’ve all read the book, so spoiler alert—the idea that Boy Cory is obviously a trans woman. That’s another great example where I reached out to people. There was a tweaking I did, actually; I showed an earlier draft to a friend of mine

who’s a trans man because I understand that for a lot of trans people, it’s very traumatic to have them referred to by their previous identity, before they transitioned. And yet, the book is set in 1989, and that’s who Boy Cory was in 1989. It’s true that in 2020 they’re obviously a woman. It was definitely something on my radar, ‘How do I do this sensitively?’ And yet, I also wanted to do it in a way that seems realistic. Speaking to friends of mine that are trans, the idea that in the 1980s there really just wasn’t the language for it, people maybe thought that they were gay. People weren’t sure because there was nobody in the culture to look to, ‘Oh, that’s what it means to be trans, that’s what I am.’ It was really important to me to get that right. So, the comment my friend gave me—it’s a tiny tweak and it only happens in one place—but my friend said that once it’s stated that Boy Cory is a trans person, that from that moment on their pronouns should switch to ‘her.’ Even if they themself haven’t transitioned, the pronouns should switch after that moment. Because it happens in the final chapter, but I realized they were absolutely right—that Boy Cory becomes ‘she’ instantly, even if when we see Boy Cory it’s 1989 still, they should be ‘she’ because now we know this fact. It was definitely something that I did—I did reach out to folks, I talked with folks, I tried to be as careful and as sensitive to it as possible. I’m glad the reception it's gotten has been mostly positive, I haven’t heard people feeling that it didn’t—that somehow it felt disrespectful or anything like that, because in many ways I wanted this book to be an exploration of girls and women. That means everybody, including trans women, so I wanted to include that as well.

EA: There’s kind of a double play on the phrase ‘Boy Cory.’ Obviously, it’s there to distinguish between Girl Cory because they have the same name and they’re on the same team. But then, looking back, it’s like a—a little nugget that’s nice to look at and say, ‘Oh yeah, that works in multiple ways.’

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Life is Right: A Conversation with Quan Barry

Elizabeth Abrams, Claire Torregiano, and Shannon DeNatale

Born in Saigon and raised in Danvers, Massachusetts, Quan Barry is the author of two novels and four collections of poetry. Her most recent novel, We Ride Upon Sticks (2020), was named a best book of the year by NPR, Time, Book Riot, Kirkus Reviews, and Literary Hub, and was the 2021 Alex Award Winner. Her 2011 poetry collection, Water Puppets, won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and was a PEN Open Book finalist. She has received NEA Fellowships in both fiction and poetry, and her writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the Kenyon Review, and Ploughshares, among other places. She lives in Wisconsin and teaches at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Sponsored by the Durst Distinguished Lecture Series, award-winning author Quan Barry was in conversation with Creative Writing Professor, Mehdi Tavana Okasi on March 15th, 2021. They discussed her latest novel, We Ride Upon Sticks (Pantheon, 2020). Set in the coastal town of Danvers, Massachusetts, where the accusations began that led to the 1692 witch trials, We Ride Upon Sticks follows the 1989 Danvers High School Falcons field hockey team, who will do anything to make it to the state finals—even if it means tapping into some devilishly dark powers. In chapters dense with 1980s iconography—from Heathers to big hair—Barry expertly weaves together the individual and collective progress of this enchanted team as they storm their way through an unforgettable season.

Quan Barry graciously agreed to meet with us the following week over Zoom for this interview.

ELIZABETH ABRAMS: Your novel uses a collective first person, but it does follow, in each chapter, a different character. I’m curious about your process of balancing the ‘we’ narration while developing eleven distinct characters, each with their own struggles.

QUAN BARRY: I always knew from the get-go that I wanted to have a first-person, plural speaker telling the story. I didn’t know originally who it was going to be. The first time I tried it, I thought maybe it was gonna be the freshman girls’ team, and it didn’t work. Then I thought maybe it was going to be the entire school telling the story of these girls. Then I realized, ‘Wait a second, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’! It’s the team, right?’ Although I think it’s broad er than the team—that's a whole other story. I also knew that structure-wise, each chapter was going to be a different game. I also knew that there’s eleven characters on the team, and that would give me eleven chapters. Once I figured that out about structure, I knew it was going to be first person plural, [and that] each chapter was going to be a different character. I think it’s just one of those things that shows intuitive thinking. If I had thought, ‘Well wait a second, could the first-person plural actually be in this situation and actually know this?’ I would have gone nuts, right? But I will say, finally, that one of my great models for it was The Virgin Suicides. I think there’s something about teens and teen life in particular that works with that ‘we,’ you know?

CLAIRE TORREGIANO: The story deals with race, generational gaps, class, gender identity, sexuality, misogyny, and religion on the precipice of a decade in the 80s. Each of the players are dealing with different versions of the same struggle involving these topics in trying to find themselves. In the process of writing, how did you find each character’s internal conflict and how did you work that into the larger arc of the story?

QB: I wish I could say, I had a plan all along! But I really

didn’t. A lot of it is—I’m sorry to say it one more time— intuitive. A lot of it I knew going in. I knew there was go ing to be an African American character and I knew the kinds of struggles that she was going to have. I knew there were also going to be Asian characters: one who’s adopted, one whose parents are Korean (she’s not adopted), and I knew that they were going to have different issues. I knew that in general, what I wanted was to think of the team as a single person. A single entity. I wanted to show all the things a person might go through. For example, there’s the character, Becca Bjelica. For her, it’s simply the fact that she develops early. You all probably remember some body who, as a nine-year-old girl, already has the body of a woman. I think oftentimes those things were always thought of as being sort of the butt of a joke. But friends of mine who have been like, ‘I was that girl,’ have told me stories about what that meant for them. I knew I wanted to have that be represented in some way. I wanted to rep resent all different kinds of things. The one thing I didn’t represent—I was thinking about this the other day—is somebody who actually has bad skin. Because as a teenager, I had terrible skin. My acne—don’t even get me started! I realized I didn’t have any characters who had acne! Like, terrible acne! If I were to rewrite this, I would somehow try and work in a character who has terrible acne. Your question also goes back to what Mehdi had said before about this idea that I knew. Because I think when people think about the 80s, they’re like, Oh, it’s funny hair and funny songs and haha. But there’s a lot of darkness there, and I wanted to do my due diligence. Just do it justice. That’s why I ended up having the time jump that happens. It allows me to create spaces where you get a distant voice that looks back and says ‘Wow, that’s not right.’ That’s what I was trying to do. Some of it was mapped out, but a lot of it was just sort of about the journey.

EA: I observed a trend of truth and history intersecting throughout the novel. Did your experiences, having lived in the area and absorbing that historical background kind

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I Lasso The Sun

She hid like a kid crouched behind the cupboards of the milky way. Darkness fell heavy on my furniture ‘til the wood began to bend and crack.

I lasso the sun back to the front, melting the night into summer and I water my drooping flowers ‘til they are upright and flouncing like the pleats in a skirt.

I reel in daises and lemonade wavy hair, coconut shampoo, poolside french fries and striped cotton towels laid out on grass.

Her golden beams drape the trees of my backyard descending from space like the sky is a window. Summer ends, but the sun is where she’s meant to be, cloaking the world from the echoes of midnight.

I hold the day like a baby, cradled and safe.

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Untitled (Body Series) Stephanie Alifano Painting


If you were so upset with me that night, why didn’t you take Mason with you. You don’t care about him.

She grabs her things.


This was a huge mistake. If you want to talk about Mason or anything revolving around custody of him, you can take it up with my lawyer.

She goes to exit. He grabs her arm.


Wait. Wait.

She pulls her arm away. They stare at each other. She breaks the stare first and exits. He sits down and runs his hand in his hair. Blackout.

Will there ever be enough Lillies Abby Collins

I still have funerals inside my head amongst the lilies, and tiny coffin— he’s in Utah looking for stars stuck in cement, I beg you to think of me and our Brooklyn baby when she died, you should have bought me lilies

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woman holding Aden Hurst Drawing


I don’t remember saying he shouldn’t spend his time with you. I just want equal time. With my son. I don’t understand that being a big deal. He’s eight years old, it’s not like he isn’t going to ask to see me.


Is she gonna be there with you?


I’m living with her. I don’t see a reason why she wouldn’t be.


That’s just the problem. I don’t want her hanging around my son.

They’ve met.


Beat. She closes her legal pad and sits up straight


When? JAMISON Don’t get angry. It was only for a little bit.


Why not? She is a perfectly fine woman, and she’s great with kids. Nothing bad is gonna happen to Mason.


It makes me uncomfortable, Mason being around her. She’s the reason that our marriage broke up and now... she doesn’t just get to be around my son.


She already has been, what are you talking about?



LEE-JAMISON When? JAMISON We just went out for ice cream. She stands.

LEE-JAMISON (Condescending, Mockingly) When?! When? When did Mason get to meet your special little girlfriend?


The night that I told you I wanted a divorce. And you packed a bag and went home to your mothers. I took Mason out, she met up with us and we had some ice cream.


Jesus Christ. Did you even wait until I got to my mom’s house?


We weren’t supposed to be talking about this. This is about Mason—


Nothing that you’ve ever done has ever been about Mason. Or about me. God-forbid it be about me, one time. It is always about you and who can push you ahead. And this girlfriend of yours, and this story of your little ice cream extravaganza with my son just proves that.


I am his father. I have rights to see him.

She slams her chair against the table loudly.


Yeah. Sure. Rights. Well, you were “right” about one thing. I do have the best lawyers and you’ll be LUCKY if you EVER see your son again.


Sit. Down.



No! I’m glad that I got that prenup. And not only will I be walking away with my money, I’m going to be walking away with MY son. And soon enough, your little toy will realize what a loser you are and walk away too.

He stands up fast, the chair falling behind him. She takes a step back.

"No. No. You had a thought. I want you to actually vocalize that thought. That’s what Pauline said we had to do."


You really wanna do this? Really?


You started this.

Sit down.


So, you can walk all over me again like you did for eight years? No.


He only seems to be your son when you want to wave him in front of my face. He’s just your little toy that you can take pictures with and seem like the perfect mother.



Excuse me?

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Nothing, I didn’t mean to start a fight. Forget that I said anything.


No. No. You had a thought. I want you to actually vocalize that thought. That’s what Pauline said we had to do.


Well, Pauline didn’t work, right? That’s why we are doing this.


...what did you want to say?


Nothing, it’s just that, it’s funny that you are the one to say that you don’t want lawyers when you’re the one who treated our marriage like a business.


That’s not really a fair thing to say.


I’m just vocalizing the thought that I had, like Pau line told us to do.


Yeah, well, Pauline didn’t work, did she?


I just meant—


How did I treat our marriage like a business venture?


You have a family with the best lawyers. You’re the one who requested the prenup. You’re the one who brought the legal pad to this meeting.


That prenup was supposed to act as a safety net in case something went wrong.


And it drew a line in the sand before we even got married. So how did that safety net actually end up treating you?


Well, it appears to have netted me safely. He goes to speak, then stops himself. He does it again.


We shouldn’t be arguing about this right now. That’s not what we are here for.


I agree.


We’re here to talk about Mason and what’s best for him.


I agree. So, would you like to start first, or should I? JAMISON

Well, I think that we can agree that we should get an equal amount of time. Fifty-fifty. Split down the middle.

She looks down at the legal pad and lightly flips through the pages.



What was that?



You looked away from me. What, you don’t think that I deserve equal time?


I agreed with you, didn’t I?


Yeah, but you looked away from me. You dismissed me, as if I didn’t deserve equal time with my son.


I never said that. I just… I think he should spend time with his mom.

Unmoving Hallie Stephenson Charcoal Drawing

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He pauses, choosing his next words very carefully.


I mean, hopefully, we can settle all of this now.

Divorce: A Short Play


Jamison The Husband 30’s Male

Lee-Jamison The Wife 30’s Female SCENE

Lights up on a dining room table.

There is a bowl of fruit in the center, slightly rotting like it’s been forgotten about for a time.

JAMISON and LEE-JAMISON enter and walk over to the table.

She’s carrying a legal pad. He goes to pull out a chair for her, but she opts to take the other seat.


Thanks for meeting with me today. I appreciate it.


Yeah, it’s no problem. We had to get this over sooner or later.



You laughed.

He sits down. She goes to take a piece of fruit from the bowl, then stops herself.


I have to make a trip to the store sometime soon. You were always the one that went shopping. I don’t even think I know where it is.

I didn’t laugh.



You think I don’t know what a laugh sounds like?

He stands up. JAMISON

Okay, if you are going to be like this, I don’t have to-

She smiles very quickly, then it disappears. He’s uncertain he really saw it. She flips through her notes.


As much as we can get done between us and as peacefully as possible, the better I will feel about the whole thing. I just don’t want to have to call any lawyers.



What was that?



Wait, wait, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to jump down your throat. Beat.


I’m sorry.

He sits back down.


I’m sorry. I did laugh and I shouldn’t have. I just... it’s really funny that you would say that you don’t want to go to any lawyers.


What does that mean?

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Blue Dream

An Interview with Margaret O'Malley Photographer of Blue Dream, No

Face, and New Path

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while writing/working?

MARGARET O'MALLEY: I listen to a lot of Phoebe Bridgers or hyperpop.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

MO: The summer and how I feel out of place in it sometimes.

IM: What was your favorite line/part of the piece(s)?

MO: I’ve been working with film photography a lot this past year so the trial and error and being more technical with things has been really fun.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

MO: Being able to change what I like and want to do constantly.

No Face is featured on the front cover New Path is featured on page

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Margaret O'Malley Photography


I wake up in the middle of the night. The first thing I do is tap my apple watch to see the time. How long have I been asleep? It says 12:47am so only a little over an hour. I picture my past seizures when I could not get to my midazolam spray in time. Knowing what’s about to happen, my heart speeds up as I flip over onto my left side and I grab the midazolam spray off my nightstand. The writing on the bottle is worn off from me constantly clenching in my hands so tightly as if it’s the only floating piece of wood keeping me from drowning. I know I’m not supposed to do more than six sprays, but I don’t care. I can’t let my hands turn into the immovable, warning, red blinking light. I can’t. I won’t. Vigorously shaking the spray, a desperate bid to make certain I get every possible effect from it, I hope my hands won’t suddenly be unable to stop me from drowning. I’m now solely reliant on my right hand, for the large dose of 10 sprays. As my hand approaches my face it freezes. The spray falls. I can’t believe this is happening again. Thoughts and visions that I can’t put into words pass through my head for what feels like hours, and then I’m gone. I don’t mind when I’m gone because I am unaware of it. To me, I am not drowning at this point; I am just submerged under water. Maybe someone will drag me out of the ocean; maybe someone won’t, a concept I can’t grasp until I can grasp again.

Reality begins to seep into me in parts. First the nausea, then I see my mom looking at me and feel my dad holding me. I take my hand that belongs to me and feel my shirt and pillow. They are soaking wet. I feel my heart speed up and my face get hot. I notice a pile of tissues next to me covered in blood. My tongue hurts almost too much to

speak. It did not just happen again. I did not have another seizure. No, absolutely not. How did this happen?

With wide open eyes I look down at my hands. Close them. Open them. Close them. Open them. I observe the redness of my palms, the shininess of them, the indents from my soft fingernails that constantly break from my fists. My wide eyes begin to drift around the living room. I wish I could make it into somewhere it’s not: a place that my first seizure didn’t occur in, and where so many more were to follow. At least there was the new couch, one I hadn’t yet lost control of my hands on. The new couch is so large we had to get rid of the black stool that I had my first seizure on. It is a different environment. Different shadows, different

pillows—it is the only “different” that I don’t resent. Open close. Open close. Open close. My hands, how could my hands that I play the piano with, that I play the guitar with, that I type for hours with betray me? How could they cause me PTSD?

When you lose control of your hands, how do you save yourself? You can’t drive without hands, you can’t pick up the phone to ask for help without hands, you can’t feed yourself without hands. If you’re drowning without hands you will die. Hands are a lifeline, a lifeline that I lose, every month. Instead of a lifeline, my hands become a big bright blinking red light, or a code I heard over the intercom in the hospital. No one wants to hear that code, nor to see that ambulance light. No one wants to be rushed to the hospital in that ambulance. It is normal to develop PTSD from just witnessing these events, without even having to experience them. That’s normal. So, if that is normal, then it is accept able to develop PTSD from losing control over your hands, your lifeline, right?

"When you lose control of your hands, how do you save yourself?"

No one understands it, my fear. It is not the seizure itself that I fear so strongly; it is not being able to stop myself from drowning, not being able to push the help button. Yes, it lasts for only a second, but in that second, I cannot save myself from the 1000-foot-deep water that engulfs me. In the middle of the ocean, no one can see me. The sky is the clearest it could be with all the shining stars; will I become one of them this time?

I loathe my hands-despise them. My long fingers that freeze so suddenly, they are not my hands, and they never will be. Looking down at my hands with my wide eyes I open them. Close them. Open them. Close them. Right now, I can pass the red blinking light. I can ignore the code. I can save myself from becoming a star in the clear sky. But, it’s not always like this. It’s never always like this.

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Handscars (from 6 pieces) James Skehan

am i allowed to love her?

Lilian Perez

my feelings are never shown, never put out into the world. always buried beneath the soil deep down— she’ll never know.

when she says my name just right, my feelings start to erupt. they try to push past my lips like a sprout emerging from a seed— but i never let it blossom.

i take my shears and cut those feelings away, throw them into the compost.

am i allowed to love her? i ask my grandma as she combs through my brassy hair. her perfume chokes me, yet the sting brings me comfort. we all love our friends, she replies. my leaves wilt as her words pluck every last petal of hope from my body.

i want to ingrain my roots into the ground.

i want to say, no, i love her more than that. please let me bloom. perhaps one day, a wind will blow away one of my seeds. perhaps it will land next to her. maybe then, we’ll grow into a garden. a rainbow full of poppies, tulips, marigolds— and i’ll be allowed to love her.

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Dipping (from 3 Pieces folder) Carolina Ortiz Digital

An Interview with Stephanie Alifano Body Series

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while writing/working?

STEPHANIE ALIFANO: It differs all the time, an artist that I keep returning to specifically when I paint is Bjork. Usually music with a lot of little sounds in it, or very peaceful music like choir music.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

SA: I thought a lot about anatomy and biology; mostly about the fleshiness of human bodies and the cellu lar structures within us. I also get a lot of inspiration from trees and the dirt beneath them.

IM: What was your favorite line/part of this piece?

SA: The colors probably; usually it's hard to call a painting done if I don't like the color relationships.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

SA: Just being able to express feelings and almost expel them from myself.

Untitled is featured on pages

Untitled (Body Series)

Staphanie Alifano Painting

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Am American Too 1

Kunga Choephel Photography

Am American Too 9

Kunga Choephel Photography

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"On Earth, We're Briefly Gorgeous" [Book Review]

In “On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong, Little Dog, a Vietnamese American man, writes to his illiterate mother. The story covers their history together and the impact it has had on his life, growing up in Hartford, Connecticut.

“On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous” takes the seemingly uninteresting life of Little Dog and makes it compelling and emotionally powerful through his unique narration. Vuong’s storytelling flows with the waves of heartbreak, emotional confusion, sexuality, and acceptance of the past that all come crashing onto the pages, much like the author’s first name. Little Dog’s relationships with others keep the story alive and reveal their effect on his life.

The most important relationship involves him and his mother. It is complex, yet the brighter moments give light to both the story s and the reader’s heart. Little Dog writes “You’re a mother ma, but you’re also a monster. But so am I, and that’s why I can’t get away from you.” In a few sentences, he confesses his strained love for his mother, acknowl edging that without her, he would not be who he is. Little Dog’s interactions with his mother, his family, his love interest, and others, place him in the part of both an observer, and a participant. An example being when he learned to speak English on behalf of his mother, after witnessing her struggle to buy groceries in her native tongue. Little Dog is presented as a curious and thoughtful person growing up slowly in a fast-paced country, hearing the lives of those around him, and relying on his letters to describe how he really thinks and feels. A good comparison of this character is John, the protagonist of Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. Both were involved in their families’ lives, but mostly

to tell their stories and the impact they had on the narrators. The story is a mix of curiosity, tragedy, fate, and endearment, not only shown through Little Dog, but also through the life of his mother, his grandmother, his love interest, and the people he tells stories about. His mother is a hard-working immigrant from Vietnam, struggling to stay on her feet while raising a child in America. Because of this, she has many sides to her: loving while harsh, energetic while exhausted, hopeful while crestfallen.

Being unable to speak good English, let alone read, Little Dog’s mother had failed to adapt to the culture. This leaves her vulnerable and challenges her to give 110% in her everyday life, fearing her son will face an even harsher fate. Ultimately, she loves her son and her family, but that love is complicated by the traumas, physical exhaustion, and imperfection in herself that lead to us wishing the best for her throughout the story.

It is worth noting this is Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, as he previously wrote poetry. Every paragraph demonstrates a passionate understanding of imagery and language that make the narrative stand out from standard fiction. While some readers of both poetry and fiction may enjoy this, some who prefer fiction may find a lot of the language to be overly romanticized. Vuong’s language would need to be more accessible should he hope to attract a wider audience in future fiction endeavors.

Sometimes, the narrative would tell stories that felt irrelevant to the main plot. When Little Dog is discussing a Vietnamese soldier and his relationship with Tiger Woods’ father, and how the golfer got his famous nickname. It made me wonder if the stories were really necessary to include and where Vuong was really going with this.

On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a passionate and heartfelt tale of immigrant life in America, mixing familial and romantic love with every emotion that complicates it. But, when that same love endures, it becomes all the more beautiful.

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happiness there. I feel as though I am betraying that spot on the pier where I honed and refined my writing skills, then going on to claim I could not be satisfied in Cicero. I feel bad for the people who have never left. It’s very strange to return to Cicero and see people simply “frozen in time”, as though the town has a strange spell cast upon it.

What I thought was once a vast world withers to just a little speck on each return to Cicero. Each venture back, there’s a mingle of resentment and nostalgia. I want to relive my memories all again. However, at the same time, I feel an urge to escape. I feel the necessity to disappear before Cicero’s chains can close around me and imprison me there like the rest of the Cicero residents.

Past the Last Stop on the M Train Amy Middleton

The scent of an ex somehow finds its way to Queens. I walked beside the cemetery for an hour and got nothing from it. The ghosts watched me, making jokes about how I will get lost on the walk back home. Each crack in the sidewalk trips me. A nearby child laughs when they see me stumble. The bus passes by so quickly I think, for a moment, we touch. As it drives away I shout, “I miss you,” but no one responds. They are headed to Bushwick and will probably never see me again. A man in the pharmacy said he thought he had met me before, and when I tell him “No,” he looks so upset I almost feel bad. As I leave I say a prayer for him. As I leave I say a prayer for my ex and wonder if it smells like me in Yorktown.

1 (from Black and White Photography)

3 (from Black and White Photography)

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Alyssa Monte Photography Alyssa Monte Photography

If you were to be placed in the middle of Cicero, New York, with no context or even an inkling of where you were, you might assume you were in the rolling hills of Idaho or a small town in Montana. The town bears more resemblance to the former two than the label “New York” ever could. It would be a jarring change for any city dweller to observe the lives and day-to-day of a Cicero resident.

Summer mornings in Cicero are nothing short of cinematic. Sticky summer air filters in my family’s home with a golden morning glow, the rustle of trees and wind sends a refreshing aroma of sap and heavy pine wafting in. Surrounding, a small creek rushes with water, giving life to varying sizes of bullfrogs.

Venturing outside, there’s one long main road, about a twenty-minute walk from my house that guides you out of Cicero and into civilization. On this road, it’s possible to drive through the whole town in under fifteen minutes… that is, if you don’t get caught at the occasional stoplight peppered about the streets.

Dense trees wind around the slight bends in the road, a medley of high grass and thick, sturdy trunks. This greenery obscures the bustling wildlife; foxes, rabbits, coyotes, and skunks all come to life in the wake of the summer’s warm, tepid, night air. These fellow animal residents make up for the lack of activity when Ciceronians lie down to rest in the early hours of the night.

On this spanning road, there are often squashed rabbits and raccoons, their carcasses adorning the place where sidewalks should be. A few years ago, as residents drove on this road to their nine-to-fives, they were greeted with someone’s escaped horse, curious and

wandering down this expanse. The horse was, without a doubt, disappointed with the lack of anything interesting as its owner was notified and promptly swung by to retrieve it. Excruciatingly hot temperatures and overcast weather in the sunny seasons are common, prompting everyone to complain. However, the moment August hits, the complaints quickly become a muted thought. Even the once escaped horse, disappointed with a lack of anything, quivers with an ticipation! Upstate New Yorkers shift their attention to the biggest spectacle of the year: The Great New York State Fair. Imagine the carnival stereotypes you see on television: Ferris Wheels, cotton candy, fried dough, jumbo chicken legs, horse shows, carnival games - you name it, the fair has it. Picture children playing penny games on the Midway, the kids begging for next week’s allowance in advance so they can get the plushie that, conveniently, is always just one more game away. Picture concerts in the warm August air, bodies moshing the closer you get to the, very rarely, known artist on stage. Picture colossal, neon signs visible from miles away, with buzz words like SLUSHIES and HOT DOGS which, despite tasting good, are perhaps the reason for my poor metabolism nowadays. The New York State Fair is, surely, the one escape from the monotony and routine that is Cicero.

entrance, exists a small wooden pier. The pier is wobbly and shrieks when any amount of weight is put on it. It smells of vinegar and dirt, and it’s pillars are weathered and coated in a green film. At first glance, you’ll probably write the pier off, questioning how the view could get any better at the end of the decrepit dock.

However, if you’re brave and decide to weave your way through the thicket of branches, the answer becomes clear. The way the lake catches the stars and reflects them by the handful is worth the cuts and bruises. There’s no better spot to watch how the calm water inexplicably reflects the gray moon and all its craters, how the vastness of the lake amplifies the song of frogs, how the small, hurtling lightning bugs dance around the shoreline.

In contrast, as winter rolls around, the trees rush to become naked, shedding their dressings which gives life to a canopy of vivid orange and red across the dying grass. Immense amounts of snowfall soon follow. And, akin to summer, prompting people to complain. These mass snow storms result in school age children receiving a generous number of days off during the bleak months. Last year, nine days. Usually, an average of six.

"I feel as though I am betraying that spot on the pier where I honed and refined my writing skills, then going on to claim I could not be satisfied in Cicero."

During summer nights, under the blanket of unmistakable silver starlight, the big city’s lights are muted as the cosmos brandish itself proudly, their glow fiending for your affection. Nights like these, when the streets are empty and the air is clear and crisp, remains the best spot in all of Cicero. Hidden about a mile from the main street, through traversing a dirt footpath with tall trees encroaching on its overgrown

In the bottomless potholes the harsh winters produce lies a somber history behind Cicero of which the effects are still present today. The town, during the fifties and sixties, was created as the idealistic suburban dream. In light of this, redlining reared its ugly head. Over fifty years later, even though Cicero never became more than a dozen houses sur rounded by woods, the manifestation of this can still be seen. With plain street names like “Jane Lane” and “Sandra Ave”, the extreme lack of diversity has festered for generations, allowing for the perpetuation of narrow-minded, compla cent residents. Many families have been there for genera tions, their last names cemented on plaques and gravestones, shamefully bound to the town’s history.

The picture I have painted sheds light on the beautiful (and dark) aspects of Cicero.

However, and morosely, I feel regret for not finding my

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Peach Man Alyssa Monte

I hope that tomorrow when I go to the market, there will be ripe peaches to pick and the man who sells them won’t call me sweetheart and when I walk home I will be safe and my dog will be happy to see me and tonight when I make dinner I will slice up the peach I got from the market and place three slices in a glass of red wine and tomorrow when I wake up and open my yellow journal I will put words on the pages and if the words don’t flow I will pour wine on them and when I walk to the cafe to take a break I will order a chai latte but not before I look over my shoulder three times and try to reassure myself that nothing is wrong and then look over my shoulder once more and when the man who sells shoes next door smiles at me and says good morning I will increase my pace and give a short wave and when I walk up the four flights of stairs in my building I will remember the night when I tripped on the seventeenth step and got that scar on my knee and when I finally make it to my door I will push it closed behind me and sing on the top of my lungs but only after I check the lock and tonight when I lay down and say goodnight to the sky I will hope that tomorrow when I go to the market, there will be ripe peaches to pick.

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An Interview with Alyssa Monte

ITALICS MINE: What music do you listen to while writing/working?

ALYSSA MONTE: To be honest, I rarely listen to music when I’m writing. the silence is nice; it allows me to focus in on each word and I usually read my poems aloud as I write. However, when reading, I can only concentrate when there’s loud music playing. Aside from writing, I always have music playing when I’m editing photographs or working in the studio/darkroom. It depends on my mood, but I like to listen to any thing that I can move my body to. I think it helps my brain flow when I’m moving around physically.

IM: What was your inspiration for this piece?

AM: “Peach Man” highlights the anxieties and fears that people, mainly women or female-identifying individuals, face every day because of men. Women are cat-called, approached, and stared down by men who objectify them, and it can make simple tasks like walking to the grocery store seem dreadful. My poem also shows that despite this aggression and unwanted attention, women are still taught to be polite and shake off these stressful experiences. I wanted to show how these interactions can interfere with the places and things that bring us comfort and thus skew our perception of safety and the world around us.

IM: What was your favorite line/part of this piece?

AM: My favorite line of this piece is, “Tonight when I lay down and say goodnight to the sky I will hope that tomorrow when I go to the market, there will be ripe peaches to pick.” The speaker is looking forward to feeling comforted and excited to buy something she loves, but she is also aware of the anxiety and un wanted attention she might face when she leaves the house. This line is the last line in the poem, and mim ics the first line, creating a cyclical pattern. It implies that this is a habitual train of thought for the speaker.

IM: What excites you about the creative process?

AM: The creative process can be exciting, frustrating, magical, and exhausting at the same time—but it never feels boring. I love that I have complete creative freedom when writing or making art and the end results are always different. I am constantly learning as I create, especially by collaborating with others artists and exchanging ideas.

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Photographer of 1, 2, and 3 2 (from Black and White Photography)
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Alyssa Monte Photography

Do You Have a Light?

He asks if she has a light. When she answers, her voice stays in the air with her pale breath, noticeable for a second before dissolving. She digs deep through the contents of her bag. Just as he starts to think he’s wasted her time she produces a lighter and offers it to him.

As if plucked from the sun, the lighter flicks on, an orange minaret of warmth in an empty expanse of winter. The wind is howling to summon its pack, the flame shimmers, swaying this way and that, burning high and diminishing, dodging the swirling lashes of the wind. He inhales his cigarette as he slogs back to his apartment, wading through fatigue. She remains at the station, standing in wait for a late-night train to drag itself into the hollow cathedral of a station.

The smoke warms his chest. It gives him something to burn. It has an old warmth that casts the mind back into the soft embrace of memory. He thinks about the woman with her lighter as the winds shove him around as he walks. He thinks about having to walk the same route through the cold every night, braving the hostile chills, or maybe letting the wind carry him off on its drafts to an unknown place and future.

It’s burned down into the filter by the time he reaches the front door, so he flicks it away into the night before he swings it open. He trudges up the stairs to his apartment and prays to whoever is listening that his legs don’t collapse under his weight. He prays that there is someone to listen. He opens the door and makes small talk with the woman whose side he has vowed to be at years ago. He has stood there like a sentinel but they both have been worn down. The heat in the apartment stings his cold-tempered face and makes him

wince. His breath is still smoldering, and he tastes it in his food. He smoked when they were wandering in their youth, back when the wind couldn’t budge them with hurricane gusts. Now the air feels heavy. He knows she can smell the smoke on his breath, but he has grown out of trying to deny it. Outside, the clouds are diving and billowing into each other in the dark sky, riding the air like buckling steeds. Inside, the warmth has grown stifling, the air still, the silence undying. They’ve said next to nothing tonight; they’ve had nothing to say for years.

They have fenced themselves in with each other. They want to run against a wind that’s unable to move them. But not now. Now, the air will stop in its place, and they will walk back to their bedroom in silence. A window is open there, and the chilling wind from outside has nested comfortably, swirling about like an eel through water. Come the morning, the air will have the old warmth, but the man and his wife both know that it will soon dissipate like smoke in the wind, back into the infernal heat that haunts their apart ment like an ancient specter.

At the station, the woman with the lighter will raise her heavy eyes to see the anticipated train barrel in, blowing gusts of air into the cavernous station. The doors slide open, and she moves along.

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In line for a Sunday

sweet everythings

stun me // electric eel sting ray thunderbolt fuzzy feelings from the tv screen jellyfish my knees buckling my hands sweating fork in the outlet toaster in the bathtub satellite antenna Frankenstein me awake I am twitching in your arms warm sizzling alive

you burn me // fire starter how can we prevent forest fires from your eyes the passion blinding sun falling icarus melting your mind bending everything twisting into place caught red handed from robbing me of my heart the cavity fresh in my chest you are beaming I am beaming running wild I am living in your light you let me steal your own pumping muscle of blood and love

sit with me // neon light dripping into puddles on the asphalt sitting on the curb a smirk in the moon sliver of the latest hour you hold my hand and I am soaring galaxies your eyes sparkling water quenching my thirst for our future together of plants and dogs and babies and smiling holiday cards

ponder me // think me wild and awake running through fields with you a period piece painting of bonnets and big skirts and weeping willows caressing our cheeks in gingham picnic baskets cherry stems giggling hiccuped howls I won’t let you go if you hold me tight and dream with me through any seas of doubt

the only lost we will ever get will be in each other’s arms

Untitled (Body Series)

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I want to say it’s easy but it can be quite difficult. That saying, “what happens in this house, stays in this house” is already self-revealing.

You hear all sorts of things, I mean, the landlady knows how thin these walls are. And the media don’t tell you how distraught we’ve become until we take it too far.

Let me remind you, we don’t know ourselves as much as you think we do. This confidence? This attitude? It’s a defense mechanism, keeping you from the actual view.

Am I not allowed to say I’m Afro-Latina unless I follow through? What does it mean? Latin? Latinese? Can I claim my title if I don’t know my history? Where does that leave me?

Somewhere, on an island, stranded, on my knees with no particular identity. No, sir, I cannot translate for you, you do not even know what I mean.

They tell me to use my voice, use it to speak then they get angry when I mispronounce

my native name englishly. I can’t help what I know, I’m trying to cross to your side repeatedly. But you won’t let me. You won’t help me.

Please teach me. I ask for your guidance, your helping hand, But then you leave me. I’ll gladly follow you into the dark in a heartbeat. However I ask that you believe me when I say I’m continuously finding ways to know you. I know you didn’t travel all this way to ignore my truth. Can you teach me to be like you? Can you teach me to be like you?

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Teach Me

Italics Mine

American Too 8
Kunga Choephel Photography

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Untitled (Body Series) In line for a Sunday pink house of summer (from 10 pieces doc) MJ tiny world MBS

2 (from Black and White Photography)

1 (from Black and White Photography)

3 (from Black and Whte Photography)

Dipping (from 3 Pieces folder)

Teardrops (from 3 pieces folder)

Sea of Stars (from 3 pieces folder)

Handscars (from 6 pieces)

tomato (from 6 pieces)

Blue Dream

New path (from 5 pieces doc)

No Face (from 5 pieces doc)

Unmoving Up from Below

Grandmother's Pomegranates woman holding Future Self Teeming Tresses MFinal-11 (from Nature) 4 pm (from Nature)

Romantization print 24x5 (from 17 pieces)


Men of Few Words

An Interview with Ajani Bazile


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Ajani Bazile Mehdi Tavana Okasi 121 125

Jack Palmiotti Alyssa Monte
Carolina Ortiz James Skehan Margaret O'Malley Hallie Stephenson Aden Hurst Amaya Contreras Megan McDonald Magnolia Mulvihill Spaziante Casey Purtell



Teach Me sweet everythings Peach Man

Past the Last Stop on the M Train am i allowed to love her?

Will there ever be enough Lillies My heart is still under the welcome mat of 61 Ketchum Clownfish tears at a Japanese Barbeque I Lasso The Sun



Returning to a house where you no longer live Somos Algo Spirit Guides

Walking Through Walls February Sestina

Amanda Santiago

Natalia Fiore

Alyssa Monte Amy Middleton

Lilian Perez

Abby Collins Amy Bochner

Eleanor Osborn James Skehan Shannon Mitchell

Winnie Richards

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An Interview with Alyssa Monte An Interview with Amy Middleton Cicero

"On Earth, We're Briefly Gorgeous" [Book Review] An Interview with Stephanie Alifano Hands

An Interview with Margaret O'Malley An Interview with Kunga Choephel An Interview with Jack Palmiotti

An Interview with Lassiter Jamison Life is Right: A Conversation with Quan Barry Woe Was I An Interview with Winnie Richards Move Towards Pleasure: An Interview with Monica Sok

The Icicle Method: An Interview with Heather Vogel Frederick An Interview with Madison Morse Exercise In Lonliness: The Breakup Song You Think Therefore You Are Corpulence An Interview with Therese Biazon

Sally Camara

Madison Morse Jonathan Carr xxxx

Ariella Green Synovia Roberts

Elizabeth Abrams

Claire Torregiano, Shannon DeNatale Lassiter Jamison Claire Torregiano Johanna Sommer Raven Karlick Gwin Mosher Skylar Gikas

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Do You Have a Light?


the mad leafcutter ant Pond Creatures Castle Doctrine

Passed to Future Jack

Eli Altzman

Bailey Peabody

Rune Davino-Collins Therese Biazon

Lassiter Jamison Michael Gilroy Noah Rigby

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Am American Too 8

Am American Too 1

Am American Too 9

Am American Too 7

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Untitled (Body Series) Untitled (Body Series)

Kunga Choephel

Stephanie Alifano

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Spring 2021






















































Letter from Managing Editors

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Italics Mine showcases the new, creative literary voices of Purchase College students — majors and non-majors alike — through print and web. The diversity of the student population is reflected in the pieces we have chosen to share here with the entire college community.

Italics Mine is a notable addition to the Lilly B. Lieb Port Creative Writing Program at Purchase College. The program’s close proximity to the cultural life of New York City and its numerous writers in residence make it unique among undergraduate programs. Purchase College is the only institution in the SUNY system to offer such a major. Special thanks to the Purchase College Affiliates Grant for their support in the printing of this issue.

The Creative Writing Program at SUNY Purchase College, in Purchase, New York 10577, publishes Italics Mine. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of either the magazine staff or any institution. Following publication, all rights revert to the authors and artists.

Cover Art


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