Cover art: "Karmic Joy" by Jay Kennedy @jk_inc Enamel pin: www.wokeface.com
Some days, it’s hard to find joy. When we’re angry or sad, it can be hard to stay positive and trust that things will work out for us in the end. But learning how to recognize, create, and experience joy can help us make it through the darkest of times. That’s why I named this issue “Finding Joy.” Because I wanted us to explore how we get to joy through other emotions. The collection you're about to experience features 12 poems, eight stories, and eight pieces of artwork that center on the pursuit of happiness. In just four short months, Issue 001 has come together as a diverse collection of language, shapes, and feelings. Every time I read a piece, I feel my soul reach toward happiness, lifting me up and up and up, until I am lighter. I can't wait for this to happen to you when you read it. I hope this issue finds you where you are and guides you to the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope you find the happiness you so rightfully deserve. And if you can't find joy, I hope you find the strength to become it.
With good vibes, Stephanie
Note from the Editor
Joy Cometh... by B. Elae
Bliss is Finding Blue by Nathaniel Vera
On Trend by Rey Fairburn
Wild Woman by Rey Fairburn
Never Too Old by Rey Fairburn
How the Light Gets In by Candice Kelsey
Willow, Who Refused to Smile by Jennifer Lewis
Me and Mine by Linda M. Crate
Forgive Me For I Have by T.R. San
Breakfast Lifeguard by Oliver Kleyer
Sandman by Mirjana M.
Neighbors by Zary Fekete
Here at Home by Shane Schick
Under the Mundane Luster by Natalia Armenia
Bloom by Melissa Flores
Meant to Be Series: Hailee Kaleem Wright
Drenched in Joy by Jayn Laure
The Second Day of School by Sonia Charales
Taking Space by Antoinette Damaris
We Take Our Epiphanies... by Bobby Parrott
Pockets of Joy by Thea Camille Valmadrid
Joy is in the Pallor of Your Skin by Chide
Karmic Joy by Rimi B. Chatterjee
Someone's Lucky by Leslie Cairns
Edge of Seventeen by Louise Kim
Meaning of Life by Melissa Dittrich
Sunnyside Up by Nina Miller
Heat by travis tate
Finding Joy playlist
Spring is the convergence of equilateral triangles, a diamond remnant of the work done in winter mines, unseen and refractory souvenir of soil that was, is, and will be womb again before it cracks a welcome for light. Summer is the triangle breaking free from spring’s torrid diamond into a galactic center, the belt of Milky Way, that verdant love-lace worn like a baldric to remind us all of greater warmth to come from cracks allowing the light. Autumn is the humble square, a simple quadrilateral of sides shifting red to gold to brittle and drops like the wings of tired Pegasus, a comfortable shape that bookmarks the cracks of our lives like Constable’s hay wain straddling the river Stour glow. Winter, in its midnight sky and Northern hemisphere arrogance, is a hexagon of hearts on the bias: ribbons rolled in the milk of howls like the willowy legs of Pleiades who runs from indefatigable Orion toward humanity’s tumbling Aurora.
b y C a n dic e K els e y
Once upon a time, in a chaotic land, there was an average young woman who, though naturally beautiful, preferred her value in society to be substantiated by her character and effort, rather than looks alone. Though hardly a unique sentiment amongst her gender, she was also keenly aware of her place in a world that, while progressing towards inclusivity, was largely dominated by men. This knowledge was not magical or divine, nor coveted by woodland creatures protecting its power. But it was tricky. And if wielded with blindness or too much courage, this knowledge could be dangerous. And so, she learned. To be pretty, but not too pretty — smart, but not too smart. She learned he said vs. she said and that telling the truth often brought pain, humiliation, and a general wave of skepticism. For every lesson learned, her voice grew smaller…quieter. Polite and unquestioning. Such was the price to be paid. But all the while, a rage grew in her heart until it hardened her like a diamond buried deep in Earth’s mantle. Though years passed, she found herself fighting the same battles, only now cautioned by consequence. Should she confront Hunter, her direct supervisor, as the lazy thief he was? Pilfering her ideas, he presented them to the queen of the company, as if he were chosen by God, offering prophecies to keep him in her good graces. But she heeded her lessons, as Hunter’s misogyny would only deliver unsolicited sexual advances and the threatening of her “precarious” position.
“You know…you should smile more. People wouldn’t think you’re such a bitch,” he laughed as he threw a stack of files on her desk. “Go through these accounts. I need them for tomorrow’s meeting.” Willow took a breath, carefully considering her next words. She looked up, eyes burning, teeth clenched so hard her jaw ached. Hunter leaned over the top of her cubicle, licked his bottom lip as he stared at her chest, knowing she was in his power and relishing it. Not getting the response he wanted, he added, “I don’t think I need to tell you what’s on the line,” before strutting away, whistling down the hall. But as much as Willow seethed at his privileged arrogance and the confidence his birthright bestowed, she knew there to be truth in his words. She knew all too well the delicate nature of challenging the status-quo and the balance it required. This understanding did not come as a surprise. Hunter’s threat was just another pebble in a long list of “on the lines.” Her phone rang, and to her displeasure, it was her mother. Though loving and well-intentioned, her desires for her daughter were not far from the likes of Hunter. Thoughtlessly critical. Programmed to judge. But mostly eager to mold Willow into an acceptable commodity, a facsimile of her true self, worthy of value. Worthy of a husband. Worthy of love. “I know you’re busy, but I just wanted to tell you I was watching that matchmaking show and I thought, wouldn’t it be fantastic if you went on?”
“Mom—” “Really sweetheart, you’re almost 30, you have no prospects, and you still live in my brownstone basement. I think you actively try to ward off men. Maybe just try smiling every once in a while—” “Goodbye, Mother,” she said, her exasperation heavy as she hung up the phone. Consumed by her plight, Willow took the long way home that evening. She walked, one hand in her pocket, gripping pepper spray, while her eyes darted in all directions, looking for dangers that lurked in the dark. What did she have to smile about, anyways? Crushing student loan debt? Political division and degeneration of humanity? Climate crisis? What was it that others needed from her smile? The chorus of the bustling city quieted to a hum and the lights grew distant. She stopped with a sullen, albeit swift, understanding as she gazed upward into the cosmos. A shooting star raced across infinite nothingness as she stood awestruck and alone, mesmerized by its beauty, compliant with its purpose. Suddenly, she felt her body flying through the air, her bones cracking as she landed on the hard pavement. Tires screeched in the otherwise silent night — sulfuric toxicity lingering as she struggled to take a breath. Pain flooded over her with cold indifference, and she lost consciousness. Later, she awoke in the hospital, harnessed by fear and confusion. Two dream-like voices resonated from beyond her room.
“Extensive damage.” “Jaw fracture.” “Cosmetic work.” Her recovery was difficult, to say the least. Her jaw shattered and wired shut. After the feeding tube was removed on the third day, she spent the next two weeks feeding herself with a small syringe, before moving to a “blended diet.” Drooling. Blood. Bruising. Intermittent moments of panic, choking on her own saliva, desperate for air. Despair quickly set in, and the world grew darker still. Until one day, the sun shone through a crack in the window, reflecting off her dresser mirror. She walked over, staring at the haggard mess before her. Wire clippers in hand, she snipped away at the elastics with feverish intensity, opening her mouth to reveal two rows of sharp, jagged, broken teeth. Hideous and imperfect, her transformation akin to monsters in tales that warned children not to go looking for trouble. She laughed, maniacally; her freedom echoing through the room. Later that morning, she walked into work, confident and composed, despite the hushed whispers and side glances from her coworkers. “Welcome ba—” Hunter began to say, before his skin turned pale, eyes frozen in fear. Willow flashed her monstrous smile. And she lived…ever after.
I am a rainbow full of both darkness and light, at my most beautiful when I can express both; the darkness isn't something you need to be afraid of or should hide I learned that— we all make mistakes, but that doesn't mean we're unworthy of our futures; we just have to be willing to change and grow and evolve into our highest selves— sometimes it hurts, but I find that it always hurts more to stay in the places you don't belong; so I find joy in my evolution as I find a pathway to all the things meant to be me and mine.
At the breakfast buffet in our second-favorite hotel in Hamburg (No. 1 has been closed until further notice) I suddenly see a wasp half submerged in peach yogurt, struggling to get out, but only pushing herself in deeper. I put my bowl of muesli aside, pick up a spoon, and carefully take her out of the quicksand. Unnoticed by most other guests, I sneak out of the restaurant and put her down on a junction box, where she can clean herself in peace. (Checking back later that morning, she’s gone, leaving only a small blob of yogurt to dry in the sun). Returning to the breakfast table, my wife looks at me confused and asks what I just did. And, I say, with a little bit of pride in my voice because no matter how small it is: “I just saved a life!”
I was carrying one of the last boxes out to our car when our neighbor called to me. She was the first person my wife and I met when we moved to Budapest’s 11th district three years ago. We were in our mid 20s; our neighbor was 76. “Before you leave, would you come over to say goodbye?” she said. My wife and I had been renting this row house for the last three years, but we had just purchased an apartment nearer to the city center. These past days we were in the last stages of packing, and every time my neighbor had seen me carrying a box or a furniture item out of the house she had groaned and gestured, assuring us that we were making a mistake. I said that we would come over when we finished packing the kitchen. Half an hour later we were in her living room. Of the two of us, my wife is the one who had really become friends with her…I am more of an acquaintance. In spite of their age difference, they had formed a bond. My wife is fearless and even though her Hungarian isn’t perfect, she will talk with anyone. I think it was this willingness which won her over to our neighbor who had initially seemed standoffish and confused as to why this American couple and their cat were in Hungary. We were there on a teaching visa and were hoping to live there long enough to
start a family. I had dreams of my children attending local kindergarten and elementary school classes in the 11th district. The row houses in this district were originally built in the 1920s and they were modeled after the terraced houses that sprung up throughout England at the beginning of the 15th and 16th centuries. The English houses were built after the Great Fire of 1666 as a way to hold together the family and servants in one place, and this kind of side-by-side living did forge strong neighborly connections between us. Because we shared a main wall and a backyard fence with our neighbor, it was inevitable that our lives crossed fairly often on any typical day. We always complimented her on her garden and flowers and she always asked us whether we had just washed our car. Our neighbor had purchased her row house when she moved to the capital in the 1960s when she took a job as a secretary in a local tax office. She retired from that job in the mid-80s, as the country was going through the final stages of socialism, and her pension was just enough to take care of her bills. She never threw anything out and she grew most of her food in the backyard. Her hometown was a small village in central Hungary. Last September she had invited us to go with her back to her village during the fall grape harvest. I remembered pulling into the village with our passenger was in passed by houses village, our right building.
neighbor sitting in the seat next to me. My wife the back seat. As we the low-slung country on the outskirts of the neighbor pointed off to the at an old official-looking
“Could we stop here for a moment?” she said. I pulled the car over. My neighbor got out of the car and stood still for a moment. “Is everything OK?” I said. “This was my high school.” She looked at it a bit longer before getting back into the car. That week we met several of her friends and relatives who still lived in the village. I sensed a glow of pride in our neighbor when they asked her about her life in Budapest. She was wearing a dress suit, something we had never seen her wear back in our neighborhood. Seeing her here was so different from how she appeared to us in her row house. She rarely left the street we lived on…only leaving the house when she needed something from the local grocery store. When she heard that we were moving to the city center she was properly heartbroken. “I’ll never see you again.” “Nonsense,” I had said. “You’ll visit us all the time. We need you to bring us vegetables and teach us your recipes.” She had continually promised to teach my wife how to make fozelek, a kind of vegetable porridge that most Hungarians remember their grandmothers feeding them. “No,” she said. “I’ve never been that far downtown. How would I find you?” This seemed so odd to me. The first thing my wife and I did after we moved to Budapest was to visit
everywhere. We saw several museums, crossed every bridge that spanned the Danube, and took walks far into the inner and outer reaches of both sides of the city. We did this all within two weeks after we arrived. We quickly made friends with other expats and with young Hungarians our age and everybody had an opinion about where the best restaurants were and which buses to take in order to get around. It was probably this touring which gave us the drive to eventually look for an apartment closer to the center. The 11th district is the most populous district in the city, mostly filled with young families. The district’s northern border is Gellert Hill, a leafy mix of streets and residential buildings, topped with an old Soviet era fort which overlooks the entire sweep of the Danube river north to south. Gellert Hill has some of the most expensive real estate in the city, but the apartment buildings which stretch south from there are very affordable and each block seemed to have its own local park with neighborhood butchers and vegetable stands serving to the needs of each street. Where we currently lived was in the southern end of the district which has many more Communist era prefabricated concrete apartment blocks, still neighborly but more spread out and hotter in the summer months. Our new apartment was just below Gellert Hill. We could see
the hill from our new balcony and we had already begun to take evening tram trips up to that neighborhood to walk through the streets of our future home. It was easy to get excited about this move. But I had not fully appreciated how our neighbor felt about our upcoming move until I was sitting in her living room. But why?” she asked again. “There’s more room here. Your new apartment will have no back yard.” “True,” I said. “But this gives us extra reasons to come back to visit you.” She had poured me a shot of palinka brandy and I was trying to drink it slowly, something which the fumes made difficult. Each sip felt like a streak of hot, bile in my throat. “What is the name of your new street again?” she said. I told her and then pulled out my phone to show her. “She waved my phone away. She went to the bookshelf and took out a paper city map. As she unfolded it on the coffee table I could see that it was marked with pencil lines and arrows pointing off in various directions. The map was printed in 1985 and several of the main streets and squares still had old names. I found our street and pointed it out to her. She shook her head several times as she stared at the map. Then she said, “So far." I grinned at her and said again, “Nonsense. We’ll be back here the first week we’re gone. We’re only moving things in slowly. But I did want to ask you something.”
What?” she said. “We were wondering if we could leave our cat with you. We don’t think she would like being in a small apartment.” My neighbor’s eyes grew wide. “Well, I don’t know,” she said. “Where would she sleep?” “Anywhere,” I said. “You’ve seen her. She’s very friendly.” We spent the next few minutes talking about our cat, and I could see a slow smile spreading across my neighbor’s face. Then my wife went next door and brought the cat back with her. Within moments she was stretching her back against my neighbor’s legs and exploring the pantry. Two days later we moved. We had invited our Hungarian students to join us and help us move in the furniture. More than 30 students showed up and the entire day went very smoothly. We ordered everybody pizza and ate them on paper plates off of our unpacked boxes in the new living room. There was a cool breeze that day, and I glanced up at Gellert Hill several times with a quiet sense of joy. One week later we visited our neighbor again. She had already created a sleeping perch for the cat on the top of the kitchen radiator. We heard her talking to the cat when we knocked on the front door.
I’ll leave a light on for you, even when the power’s out or I’m stationed somewhere that normally depends on the sun rather than circuitry. See the bright in the sheets that are not so much blank as open to accept any color. Listen to my breathing after the day’s weight has given up trying to make it work so hard. Smell the breeze that heaved off its sarcophagus lid of humidity. Taste the hummus and crackers I put out that will barely float in your stomach. No, none of this may glimmer or shine, but it might disturb the darkness enough that when you crawl into bed with me you’ll realize you have been guided by a beacon you can gently squeeze.
Under the mundane luster lay unrecalled our rituals to which attention was not given yet obsession is not subtle when I start to conjure a life in which the sun is not you and the witness is not the one who is speaking In the bath of everyday light I try to reminisce about the lavender air that gets to be gasped by someone else but me How dared I ever not see you when all you ever greeted was my thorny truth? Under the woods of the prosaic room are carved the words that once thought themselves unique Looking for air in the dusty windows still are printed my scarlet lips and the touch of the palms that always knew where to press for me to feel love lust or loss
How helpless would I be if I never loved you? To whom would I sing had your ears chosen to leave, to forsake me, as you probably should have Somber as the night can be my heart remembers to smile when every light is turned on by the grace of your eyes Joy is as easy as to see you breathe.
Bloom When I grew up, all my cousins had plain, white last names, like Potter, or Cameron, or Hart. Even my Mexican cousins, whose mothers had married white men, had bland names, pronounced with a hint of an Oklahoma drawl, a place that was as foreign to me as the states of Sonora and Baja from where my grandparents were rumored to have come as babies. My sister and I bore the same name as our father and our grandfather, and possibly our great-grandfather, but we had no records that went back that far. The name meant flowers, as all my friends who took middle school Spanish told me, as though they were explaining something to me about my own heritage that I didn’t know. Though I didn’t speak Spanish because my grandparents spoke it to my father only when they had secrets to tell, I knew what Flores meant. I wished for so long that it could just be Flowers. Simple. English. A name that didn’t come with judgements and brown skin. But even the English word did not fit. Flowers were delicate, bold, the brightest thing in the room, meant to draw all eyes to them, before they crumpled underneath
their own weight. In middle school, I sprayed Sun-In across my dark hair, lemon scent filling the bathroom of the rental house I lived in with my family. I wanted to fit in with the white kids in the gifted and talented education program I’d joined. The blonde model on the bottle promised golden highlights, but instead my hair turned a brassy orange unlike any color found in nature. Partway through the year I got a call asking for me by first and last name, and it turned out to be from a weight loss center. I knew it was some prank by the kids with whom I would never fit in, whether because of my name, my color, or the shape of my body. By high school, I wore dark clothes to camouflage the expanse my body took up in the world and I pushed myself to the edges of public spaces. I had three best friends, and an endless line of boys who called me to talk about them. When the Associated Student Body sold flowers as a Valentine’s Day fundraiser, it was no surprise when my friends all got roses to take home by the end of the day. I went home empty-handed and said I hated flowers anyway. Who wants a gift that is meant to wither? The year I turned 25, someone sent me flowers for the first time. I sat at my desk job when a delivery guy walked in with a vase brimming with stargazer lilies and roses, accented with baby’s breath. I assumed they were for someone else. But the card read,
"Have a great birthday, Melissa. Don’t let them make you work too hard.” The card had no name signed on it. I was single then and asked friends and family if they had sent the flowers, but no one ever took credit for them. I left the flowers on the corner of my counter, the lilies opening up one at a time, orange pollen littering the message pad near my phone. I let the flowers sit for weeks after they wilted, and then took the vase home. It would be years again before I received another bouquet with a card signed by a boyfriend who would become my fiancé and then my husband. This man sends me flowers on special occasions and just because, and sometimes comes home with bouquets from the grocery store when our son askes to give momma flowers. We let them dry and toss them in the compost bin where they turn into rich soil for our own garden that is home to tomatoes, peppers, corn, sunflowers, cosmos, and black-eyed Susans, along with a dozen other plants that we try to keep alive even during a worsening drought year. Here is what I did not know about flowers when I was young. Not all flowers are annuals that live for a season and die off. Perennials come back year after year, as the petunias and calendulas I planted last summer showed me this February when the earth warmed in my backyard.
Across the street from my house sits a 57-acre park that is partly a floodplain managed by a local water district. I have watched for two seasons as the blooms come and go. Yarrows, poppies, lupines. Wild flowers survive despite everything that tries to crush them. They grow in abundance each spring in the splay of land above the creek I’ve known all my life, trampled by suburban dogs and deer that creep down from the foothills and careless middle schoolers who leave litter on the trek to the school down the block. The flowers die in the arid heat of summer, or more accurately, they hibernate until the rain returns and they push through the clay into the sunlight. Year after year, with no man to tend to them. Free from a garden. And in rare years, when the conditions are just right — enough rain, enough sun, enough warmth — seeds that have been dormant for a decade or more burst into a super bloom. In my own time, I have come to embrace my namesake, to abandon the darkness and reach toward the sun, no longer dormant. I wear bright colors that mimic the pinks, yellows, and teals from the blooms in my yard. I speak up. I ask for what I deserve. On the cusp of a super bloom.
series with Hailee Kaleem Wright You might recognize her from MTV's True Life, The Black Clown, or Paradise Square. Now, rehearsing for her second Broadway show this year, Hailee Kaleem Wright is a decorated triple threat. From singing and dancing on theater stages, to acting in commercials for Terra Chips, Book of the Month, and Samsung, Wright continues to follow her creative calling, surprising us with a new playbill, year after year. I got a chance to catch up with her life and her career in a recent interview. Here's what she had to say. SN: "Thank you so much for agreeing to be in issue one of my magazine! Like I’ve told you before, you are my sun friend, so there's a reason why I'm leaning toward you for this issue. I think you're an incredible person and you've made it so far and done so many things and just who you are is so beautiful, so I'm shining a light on you. Now, I know you wear a lot of hats and you do a lot of things, but without using your job title, can you tell me who you are?" HKW: "Wow, thank you so much. Well, first and foremost, I'm the great, great, great granddaughter of Clara Walls and I have a beautiful connection to my ancestors. I'm a granddaughter, a sister, and a daughter, and I take those titles very seriously. I'm also a healer and storyteller. I’m really here to bring love and light and healing and joy to people, to serve people in that way with my skills."
SN: "That's beautiful and I love that you called yourself a healer ‘cause I feel like you both heal because of the things I know you’ve gone through, but then you also heal others through your music and spirit." HKW: "‘Cause I feel like I can help others because I have empathy at the core. I'm still working on it. I'm not perfect, but I feel like having an empathetic ear, heart, mind, soul. And conversely, whether it’s me storytelling on the theater stages or in my music, I speak to the experiences I know, and if you can relate, I hope it makes you ask yourself something or inspires you to do something similar." SN: "I feel like it's morals and values that align at that point too. You being a storyteller and being around other creatives who are also telling stories and just living in this world and navigating it like anyone else, I feel like empathy is the key."
HKW: "Yeah, exactly. And it's weird because, you know, especially in theater, having it now as a monetized thing is what I'm learning right now. I feel like I'm in my Chadwick Boseman era, like in the beginning, cause there was a point in his career where he had to say 'no' to certain things in order to be available for the things that he knew he wanted. And this is a pivotal moment in my career where I'm having to make a decision which comes with a great deal of risk, but it also comes with a really high reward when it pays off — and I know it will pay off. I operate in the knowledge that it will pay off, so I always have to keep that in the forefront of my brain. I'm sometimes doing little things here and there that I know aren't in alignment. I know I don't want to stay with them, but they are supplemental and they are higher than the other steps that I took to get here. So, I'm trending upwards." SN: "Even if it looks different than what you had imagined. I feel like part of what's happening with you is you're learning to live even more authentically. And your goal is deepening and your mind is becoming enlightened. And so I feel like with that, you learn about yourself. You just shed an old self and a lot went into that. So can you tell me about that?" HKW: "That is really the best way to depict it. I guess I was maybe in my caterpillar stage when I made music under the pseudonym 'Sapphire Hart.' I'll start back like four years ago. I started working on this show with the running title of Hard Times, possibly Paradise Square. It was a production contract, which means the end goal is to have this show up. People are buying tickets, and we're performing eight shows a week. That's the goal of that contract that I took on. I was working with Bill T. Jones, who is a world renowned choreographer in the contemporary dance space.
"Ask the universe directly, 'What am I meant to do with my life? What is trying to express itself through me?'" I was also working with Moises Coffman, who is also a world renowned director; both of them are Tony Award winners. So these are really, highly credible people in the room and I'm very young, just kind of starting, and I'm really learning as I go. Paradise Square was the first time it was like, 'this is a musical' for like two hours! We were making two hours worth of work, multiple times a week, with music and dance, lyrics, and storytelling all at the core of the whole reason we're here. To tell this story. I really just had to get over my fear really quickly. Now fast forward all the way to taking the show to Broadway, May 22nd, and performing at the Tony's and having all these people that I admire come to the theater after the show: people that I've watched on my television, heard on my radio, listened to my whole life, are coming to see me." SN: "That's incredible! I love that you’re getting your flowers while you can still smell them. Your career path is inspiring, and I can’t wait to see how far you’ll go. With that being said, what advice do you have for someone who’s trying to discover their own purpose and passion?" HKW: "Hmm, I would say ask yourself questions; constantly ask yourself 'What brings me joy?' Ask the universe directly, 'What am I meant to do with my life? What is trying to express itself through me? What can I do for free that would make me feel rich on the inside?' Those are life affirming questions that will guide you on your path to your higher self."
The first day of elementary school was exciting and terrifying all at once. Your mom talks about how much she will miss you but is excited for you to make new friends. I learned the hard way that making friends is a lot harder than I thought. A lot of the kids didn’t look like me and gave me mean looks. One girl called me “ugly” and another one called me “stupid." One boy pulled my hair and another one tripped me during recess. The teacher told me that they just thought I was pretty, but my bruised knees said otherwise. I ran to my mom’s car the moment the bell rang. She looked sad to see my puffy, red eyes. I still remember that look. The second day of school started with the feeling of anticipated disappointment haunting me. My mom placed my backpack and lunchbox in the backseat and buckled me into my seat. She fixed my pink skirt with embroidered strawberries and talked about what she packed for lunch. A turkey and cheese sandwich. A bag of barbeque potato chips. A handful of strawberries. My water bottle was secured into its spot on the edge of my backpack. She stroked my head and tried not to cry when she saw my eyes welled with tears. I gave it away when I blinked and they trickled down my cheek. My mom wiped the tears away with her thumb.
She reassured me. “You are going to be fine.” She was right. I was fine. It took me about a week to make some friends. We would pick the little white daisies that grew at the edge of the fence around the track where the highschoolers ran. We would go on to share crayons and even snacks after naptime. Sometimes, we would braid each other’s hair and decorate them with the flowers we picked. I still remember my mom’s smile on the days I would get into the car with a messy braid covered in daisy petals and pecks of pollen. *** The first day of optometry school was exciting and terrifying all at once. I was excited to start the next chapter of my life, but I knew I would struggle to make friends like I always had. I walked into orientation happy to see a diverse bunch of fellow students. Some of their eyes scanned me up and down. A familiar scan trying to find out what ethnicity I was. Funny how some Indian people can’t even recognize their own. I was tired from traveling and struggled to stay awake during the first day of orientation. I had to keep my head up, it was the first day after all. I spent the day with one girl I met who was also from Texas, but I was too worried that I was bothering her more than anything else. My mom picked me up from school and knew it wasn’t the best day but also that it wasn’t the worst.
The second day of school started with the feeling of anticipated disappointment haunting me. I set my tote bag with a container of strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple and a snack bag of Harvest Cheddar SunChips in the back seat of my car. I placed my black blazer next to it and closed the car door, fixing my hair based on my reflection in the car window. My mom hollered how I looked fine from the driver’s seat. She could tell that I was irritated. I basically gave it away with my aggressive hair brushing, complaining about how frizzy it was. She reassured me that I looked great about 20 times. She drove us to Dunkin’ Donuts earlier that morning, since I talked about how much I was craving it last night. I ordered an iced pumpkin swirl latte and sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin. The smile of the Indian man helping us at the drive-thru stuck with me. The happiness of seeing a fellow member of the culture was a delightful comfort. My mom dropped me off towards the front of the school since she also needed the car that day. The tired look on my face was enough to convince her that she needed to say something. She reassured me again. “You are going to be fine.”
A flower, that little sex-crazed jewel box eruption, syrupy yolk of light, quantum trance my altar, nocturne performed like moonlight's trace perfume through my open window on love's greenish beams. Our gig? Not to muscle grids over worlds but to nurture innate connection within the network. To glow, is all. Nothing real can ever die in this hover of giving birth. Yet we focus our light through the lensing prism of words, rumple waves into photons, optical nerve a portal of mist. Everywhere the biosphere exudes cold stones who live deeper than we warm hopefuls. A memory of lifeless can never forgive us, only embody the irony, a caress of phrase we softly evolve. Galaxies blink inside our photovoltaic eyes to the moss green light filtering through the forest's crown, leaves we incorporate who know. Who adore flowers. Who see themselves as us.
s o t f e k J oy c o P T a
Like yarn, balls of colored wool twisted, tangled together, a mess; my mind. Reaching for thread ends, for an emotion, for sense in this blinding fog; reaching for the bubbling in my heart, like the day our toes sank in white sand and our lips sank in each other, reaching for the color of my frock on the day we found the joy of love. But joy is not yellow, no, neither is it the beautiful blue of the sky that blanketed us, joy is a yarn of sombre grey, its ends tangled and frayed. Joy is the color of your eyes, the pallor of your skin on the day you died, buried in the days you lived. Joy is a loose thread that I pull and pull, a song I never knew until you happened to me.
The hopper opened her eyes. What were these strange things stuck to her stomach and thighs? Her fingers scrabbled at them. “Seemani, hold her hands. Don’t let her break the vacuum seal on the bandages,” Mira whispered urgently. She had an oblong patch of blue gel in each hand, about the size of her palm. Zigsa held the hopper’s ankles. She struggled on her gelbed, moaning weakly, as Mira stroked the patches onto the soles of her feet. They let her go, and her moans subsided into sighs. “Is that 'Walking on Water?'” asked Seemani, the youngest of the three. “That’s right,” said Mira, pleased that her young friend had identified the blue juice she was using. “It’s a slow-release sleepbringer. It should keep her peaceful for the rest of the night.” When morning came and the lights softly rose, the hopper awoke and stared up at the ceiling of the tiny rock-cut room. Then Zigsa’s face swam into view, kind, unruffled. “Where am I?” whispered the hopper. “You’re safe.” “Am I dead?” “Only to your masters.” “Who are you?” “We’re people just like you.” “Wait, what’s happening to me?” “Shh, you’re healing.”
The hopper had no name, for the corporation that had owned her had assigned her a number at birth: one that she was already forgetting. Her name would come with the healing; she would choose it for herself, in time. Weeks had passed since she’d first opened her eyes in this tiny room, and she could now wake without being chased by nightmares out of the dark. Nightmares from a life of labor without love that had ended with her being dumped by her corporation’s Human Resources downsizers in the radio-poisoned desert, like empty packaging, all value sucked dry. Zigsa’s people had found her and, creeping through the desert night, had given her sleep juice and carried her here, to their rock-cut refuge deep under the earth, unknown to anyone but themselves. Now, they could begin to help her piece her soul together. “So you people don’t use money?” the hopper asked. “What do you use?” “We use karma,” said Zigsa. “It’s how we reward our work and right wrongs. We have no law, either, not like there is in the cities. Karma replaces both of them.” “How?” “You earn a thread of karma every time you make someone smile. On the other hand, every tear you cause to fall is worth one shamesticky, which you have to peel by mending the happiness you broke. There are ten colors of karma to match the ten kinds of smiles we can make.” “Why so many?” “To keep the codes of conduct straight,” Mira interjected. She was unpacking the day’s blue juices. “A shame-what?” Zigsa looked across to her youngest companion. “A shamesticky. Seemani, show our hopper the sticky you got this morning.”
Seemani smiled and looked up from the tablet she was holding. She turned it so the hopper could see and on it was a tapestry of many-colored threads. There was a red splotch on it, which kept jumping up and down and blowing raspberries. It was time-stamped two hours ago. “I was in a hurry to get here and start my shift,” Seemani said, “I went too fast on my board, so I got a red sticky. If I go slow for the rest of today, the sticky will get peeled at midnight, and instead I’ll have a shame-jewel to show everyone I made a mistake and fixed it.” “What happens if you speed again? Do you go to jail?” “No we don’t have those.” Seemani shook her head emphatically. “If you get stickied too many times you get redflagged. It’s like a timeout where you get help to figure out what’s wrong and fix it.” She turned her attention to her scroll. “Hey, I’m pushing you a yellow thread for asking questions, and a purple thread because you asked so nicely.” “So if I talk to you I get paid in karma? What can I buy with it?” "We don’t buy and sell,” said Mira, lining up the bulbs filled with liquids in various shades of blue. She’d made the colors from butterfly pea flowers she grew in her garden. “Once you have a thread, it’s yours, and everyone can see it. It shows the colors of your soul. Seemani has lots of violet, because she’s great at skating, but she has to learn there’s a time and place for speeding.” “My friend got red-flagged in the orange for shoving past people and scaring them,” said Seemani. “To peel her sticky, her Redflag Responders made her keep a baby safe who was learning how to walk. She learned how hard it is for some people to move about. So now she has a very pretty shamejewel with a picture of the baby on it and everyone knows she did wrong and made it right.”
“Oh.” The hopper thought about what she’d just heard. “What’s violet for?” “It’s the wow karma. We give it for arts and crafts and sports and all the many things people do that make us go ‘wow.’” “But what if I just think they’re so ‘wow’ because, say, I have a crush on them?” “It’s anyone’s wow,” said Zigsa. “For you to have a crush on someone, they must be wow to you.” “I don’t know,” said the hopper. “It sounds dodgy.” Zigsa stroked her hair. It was thin and brittle from years of starvation. “Don’t worry about karma now,” she said. “You’re in the first stage of the Hopscotch. It’s a game of ten levels that you play while you’re healing, because healing is tedious, challenging, and sometimes painful. Stage Two is the Questions, when you’ll learn about Antisense, the thinking that shapes our world. All this can wait till then.” “Please don’t touch my hair. It’s...so ugly.” “It’ll get better, now that you’re eating proper food.” Zigsa held out a bowl. “If you finish this strawberry ice cream, you’ll get one pink thread of karma.” “Gah. What’s pink for?” “It’s for eating, sleeping, bathing, and exercising. When a baby drinks milk and pees for the first time, they pull a pink thread.” "So I’m a baby now?” The hopper looked dubiously at the bowl. “And what’s a strawberry?” “A little sweet fruit that grows on a vine.” Zigsa pushed the head of the gel bed on which the hopper lay. It rose, taking her with it. Now that she was sitting up, she could see around the tiny room, cut from the living rock and coated with the same
soft absorbent gel on which she lay. It was slightly bigger than her cell had been in the service territories, but here the walls were covered with drawings and murals etched into the gel. “Karma is Antisense is Love!” said one, and another, bordered with flowers, said, “Pull the Pink!” The hopper squeezed her eyes shut. Her last memory had been of collapsing face-down in the toxic sands of the radio-poisoned desert, filled with the trembling peace of oncoming death. Now she was here, wherever “here” was. They’d saved her, these strange beautiful people. Or had they? She still wasn’t sure. “Strawberry ice cream?” asked Zigsa patiently, holding it out. The hopper took the bowl, licked a spoonful and moaned. “How does it taste so good?” “Because some of us pulled a lot of pink making it the best strawberry ice cream they could possibly make.” “But how do I buy the food? Or is it like rationing?” “You take what you need and give karma for it. And if you take more than you need you get shame-stickied in the red.” “What if people lie about their karma? What if two friends make a pact to give each other fake threads? You said you have no jails. Do you fine people? Or throw them away in the desert?” They all grinned at this. “Why would we kick you out and undo all our hard work of healing you?” Mira asked. “The only ‘jail’ we have is people getting annoyed and temporarily not talking to you. If they do it after you’ve peeled your sticky, they get purplestickied in turn for ignoring you when you speak to them. We don’t let bruises fall on bruises.” “So people don’t cheat?” Yeah they do. That’s what stickies and redflags are for,” said Seemani. “In the beginning, when we were still figuring it out, we would lie and cheat all the time,” said Zigsa. “But we talked to each other, and the cheaters peeled their stickies by inventing fixes.
The rarest and most difficult karma is the white or black karma, which we give for growing the system of karma itself. It’s like writing a bit of our constitution, so those cheaters ended up being very respected for the white threads they pulled.” The hopper sighed. “Okay, so besides pink, violet, and blue what are the other colors? I’m assuming blue is for health,” she guessed, wiggling the transparent blue gel between her toes. “Actually, blue is for human communication with touch, and it spans everything from passionate lovemaking to the most delicate healing with surgery. Then, purple is for human communication without touch, so words, gestures, expressions, stories, and conversations. Indigo represents exploration and mapping, whether real or virtual, and—” ” “Wait, what?’ The hopper interrupted, still stuck on the blue. ‘You put health and pleasure in the same box?” “Well, you can’t perform surgery unless you’re very perceptive and experienced in touching people,” said Mira gravely, “So we only let the deepest of blue karmics do it.” The hopper stared at her, speechless. Zigsa said, “We call making love ‘dancing the blues’ in our world. Shall I go on?” “Yes, I’m following,” she replied, “though I still think you’re all crazy.” “Green karma is for caring for plants and animals, yellow is for learning, inventing, and coming up with ideas, orange is for staying safe and protecting yourself and others against threats, and red is for cleaning, correction, and putting stuff where it belongs.” “Guarding against threats, huh?” the hopper said, thinking about the orange. “So you have guns? Armies?” “No,” Zigsa grinned. “Mostly it’s about reminding the kids to wear helmets when they’re on their skateboards.”
“What about theft? Murder? How do you punish criminals?” “We never let anyone get so helpless they think they have to steal and kill,” said Zigsa very quietly. “What’s the use of punishment if it doesn’t wipe away the tears of the victim?” asked Mira a little sharply. “Our wrongdoers get all the help they need to mend the happiness they broke. And when they’ve done it, we throw them a party and tell them they’re a hero!” “But happiness comes at the cost of others,” cried the hopper. “If I eat all I want, others will starve. Won’t they? Someone must do without. Isn’t happiness a scarce resource?’ ‘No.’ Seemani looked at her with deep compassion. “Happiness is when you look with your eye and your heart and your mind and all around you, as far as you can see, there is only peace, beauty, chosen-tasking and love.” “That’s impossible.” “It’s real. Your masters say, to get that world for yourself, you have to fight everyone and be alone,” said Zigsa, “but the truth is, that wonderful space, which we call your pleasuredome, has a whole bunch of people in it who are just as happy and loving and peaceful and busy as you are. Otherwise, if you were truly alone, you’d be sick and worried and hungry and lonely, and no one would make you strawberry ice cream.” “I remember,” said the hopper, her voice trembling. “I remember what it’s like.” Her eyes seemed to be scanning the desert that had tried to swallow her. “Exactly. We’ve all been there. So if you want to get to the pleasuredome, you have to protect and nurture everybody’s happiness, and they have to do it back to you.” “I believe what you’re saying is true,” said the hopper. “What I’m asking is, how do you stop the strong from taking all the happiness for themselves?” “They can’t take it,” said Mira. “Any more than you can steal someone’s thoughts. When you say ‘take the happiness’ what
you’re really saying is ‘take the food and shelter and things you need to survive.’ That’s a shameful act in our world. When you try to take happiness, you break it.” “You think karma is given after you do something, as a reward, a payment, maybe a compensation,” said Zigsa. “But actually karma comes before, because when you do happy-making things, you’re already a karmic, a person who cares about happiness. You just don’t know it. So when we give you a thread of karma, we’re not paying you, we’re saying, ‘We see you.’ We see the awesome thing you did, so here’s a token so that everyone in the world can see it and say thank you.” The hopper looked at the soft gel coverlet over her knees. Great tears rolled down her cheeks and vanished into its velvety surface, leaving pink stars where they had fallen. “Why are you saving me? You could have stayed away and never seen my face. I’d have been dry bones in a week.” “Because you, my friend, are someone who needs to be made happy, so you’re giving all of us a chance to pull threads. You’re the heart of karma. You’re the reason it exists.” The hopper closed her tired eyes. All this was a lot to take in. She told herself again and again that it was true: she had escaped that evil world that was already folding into a memory, one that maybe she might never unfold again. She’d been waiting, she had thought, for death. She hadn’t died, but she’d reached heaven all the same. Tears gathered once more under her eyelids. Tears, she discovered in wonder, that sprang from joy. She had thought that joy was gone forever from her world, but here it was, flowing like a river down her face.
Someone's Lucky We enter the places we cannot keep with awnings, our eyebrows slanting like fingers on piano keys. Ushering a song, a saga: wait for me, please wait for me. The one you love most in the world already hugging her dress tightly, as she waltzes down the stairway before you can even get the pitter patter of leaving right – There was brain neurons depleting, and there was leaving moms who wanted you gone, and you get going and you feel incomplete – and there are trips in cars with grandmothers where you contemplate if you can fit under that abandoned shed – & you wonder if you languish in tears, we can just stop all this madness & we can go grab a spoon for soup, without stirring up anything – just stop and love me, you almost said – & so, when someone asks you to fill your boots with twigs, and to feel moss as if it's blankets, and to remember how to let that guarded fence of ivies and money pinching and scrunching of brows open, just for a moment – my therapist says joy is like seeing if the shoe will fit. But that was a child’s story, I said. She looked at me, gleaming.
Isn’t childhood the point of all of this? Gesturing around her textured, curliqued chairs, and her notepads, and the copays – and yet, I knew what she meant. To dream for my grandma to stop for soup spoons. For me to wonder where we went. To throw my head back and laugh, and watch the laughter echo back, and to stop repeating and repenting. But barrel roll myself down the canyon with my dog flopping beside me, tail curling. To actually take in the kid’s laughs in my apartment complex, when they say, it’s a cinnamon roll tail! It’s just so sweet, like tia’s cardamom! & we stop and we wonder if all the abuse stops when we don’t let my mom’s almost vice-like grips or soup spoons spinning and slats overflowing, make a mess of any of – These tails now curling, of these storms that come in and go so differently from the place where I was born, wailing to be soothed. To not lessen the mess, but to add to it by wanting To go back to who I was before I was thrown away like a frisbee, thinking I was a boomerang Curling Curling Towards the curvatures of the people who didn’t want me to come back. There arms were throwing on purpose, a game without points – Be a frisbee, I say to my dog. Snout on my cheek, she licks me.
Silly human, she thinks. Her cinnamon shaking all over me, as the rain pelts us towards a spot of sanity. & I think of when I lost my tooth, and how it felt like the world could change so instantly. Gapped, where it once seemed shiny. Maybe childhood is just that: the underbelly of changing, finally someone who takes the time to flip over To the side of the shiny penny. The side that wanted to be seen, and to be held, and to be Someone’s lucky.
by Leslie Cairns
Sevent f o e ee g n d E teetering on the ledge of something new. of a new age. the snow can’t stop me from breathing again. and every birthday could be my last there were swathes of time when i never thought i’d make it past twelve then thirteen then fourteen then fifteen then sixteen when every minute alive seemed a minute wasted and every hour was an hour of agonizing pain or earth-shattering numbness. even now i find myself alive and wonder how that is. it means that i am alive and perhaps i am destined to be alive and perhaps the fates made a mistake but i should not have my own hands go against me i’ve survived so much yes today is another day and it is mundane for some an exciting snow day for others but today, for me, is a day of joy: i cry because i am alive. i cry because i am loved. i cry because i create. i cry because today i have another chance to live
L o u s e Ki m
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We were in the car on the way to the boardwalk. It was summer and getting dark. The sun was down but not quite out. Its light over the ocean was a heavy red, a flame hovering on the horizon. The stars were up above us, ready to go, and I was at an age where I was beginning to appreciate that in-between space in time, when the sky was a pink and a purple and a baby blue and a navy all at once. Our tired summer plan was to arrive at the park an hour before it closed, ride a ride, then go back home. Just to have something to do. Dani and I were sitting in the back, Dani’s sister Luna driving, Luna’s friend Anna riding shotgun. Anna looked back at us. Through the dusty windshield I could see stars growing brighter, their white light like sprinkles in the sky. Anna’s face lit up intermittently as we passed under streetlights. “What do you guys think the meaning of life is?” she asked. Her question sounded rhetorical, and made me assume she knew the answer. I was looking forward to hearing what it was. Dani and I were in eighth grade, and I thought these older girls, high school juniors, must have found out the meaning of life long ago. Next to me, Dani closed her eyes and touched her seat belt, strapped diagonally across her chest. “I know the meaning of life,” she said. I felt my eyes widen. If she knew the meaning of life, why hadn’t she shared it with me? “So, what is it?” Anna asked. From the driver’s seat, Luna
swerved and swore at a pedestrian. “It’s just to be happy,” Dani said. She opened her eyes and looked at her sister’s friend. “Right?” Anna smiled, big. “Exactly,” she said. I was silent and faced my window, looking out at the palm trees swaying with the wind. All I had to do was be happy? Really? I touched the cool glass, wondering how I was supposed to manage that, for my whole life. The car smelled like a skunk, and I wondered if Dani’s sister had run over one recently. I wondered if the skunk was happy, before it died. Luna pulled up to an empty spot along the sidewalk in front of the boardwalk sign, lit up with great big yellow light bulbs. Parents and children were exiting, unattended teenagers running past them into the park. Anna dug into a messenger bag at her feet and pulled out a blue and white glass pipe. “Do we wanna...or not?” she asked, nodding her head toward us. Luna sighed. “Oh, God,” she said. Then turned around. “Get out and wait for us.” “What! Why?” Dani protested. I was already unbuckling my seat belt, opening my door. I’d heard about the dangers of marijuana in health class and I didn’t want to find out if they were true or not. Dani and I stood outside her sister’s scraped-up silver hatchback, Dani with her arms crossed, me wondering which ride we should choose once we went into the park. The bright lights and music cut through the night like knives and made
me feel like it was paused for just a little while. We watched as the car filled up with smoke. We heard Anna and Luna laughing, coughing, their voices muffled through the glass. “Hey,” Dani turned to me and whispered, her face flashing from green, to yellow, to blue, against the lights of the rides. “Let’s open the car doors and take a deep breath. Then we’ll get high too.” I shuffled my feet. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never done that stuff.” Dani put her hand on my shoulder. “It’s really fun,” she said. “You’ll love it.” I heard, again, the older girls laughing through the haze in the car. And they were older and so smart, I thought. Maybe health class was wrong. Dani bent down below the car’s window, then opened the door and dove into the backseat. “Hey, get out!” Luna screamed, all the laughter gone from her voice. She had transferred it to her sister, who was cackling and calling my name. “Joy, come on!” Dani yelled. I took a deep breath. The outside air in my lungs felt cool and greasy, a mix of mist and funnel cake. I jumped in after Dani and closed the door.
The heat is approaching a stalemate, stuck in the thick blanket of wet air. And I’ve been having these little mood swings. In the morning, less sad or more sad, or the opposite. And as the day reaches over itself, then things change— I wander into the future, where the sun rises over the east. I calculate myself like an unwelding river, determining how strong the currents go, swiftly towards something bigger than what I envision myself to be. In the future, there are so many rivers. In the future, the brackish water, now running clear, small animals near the surface. In the future, the air bears the same kind of heat, but I am happier than I’ve ever been in all my life.
Each song on this playlist was carefully selected to represent a different part of joy. See if you can fill in each blank using the hints provided. The first person to email the correct answers to firstname.lastname@example.org with a paragraph about what they liked about this issue will win a prize in the mail! Party Up the Street by Miley Cyrus ft. Swae Lee
the light is coming by Ariana Grande ft. Nicki
Minaj Lights by Ellie Goulding Good as Hell by Lizzo Enjoy Yourself by Pop Smoke and Burna Boy Break My Soul by Beyoncé
__i__ _o__ _oo_ / _i__s __w__
Towards the Sun by Rihanna
Border by Years & Years
Happy & Sad by Kacey Musgraves Happiness Over Everything by Jhené Aiko ft. Future & Miguel
__p__ / ___r_ __p____s_
Natalia Armenia is a French-Peruvian writer based in Paris. Her work has appeared in French and Latin American magazines. She holds two BA in literature and languages (Montpellier - Barcelona) and a MFA in literature and creative writing (Montpellier - Cape Town). She is currently writing a travel book that blends fiction, prose and non-fiction. She founded LePhareCollectif, a writer's collective based in Paris, where she teaches writing workshops in three languages. Leslie Cairns is a writer holding an MA degree in English Rhetoric from upstate New York. She has upcoming poetry in Pink Plastic House, Cerasus Magazine, Day Job Journal, Broken Poetry Magazine, and others. She is an upcoming honorable mention in Exposition Review's Inheritance Flash Fiction Competition (2022) for her work titled "The Moths Are Caught There."
Sonia Charales is a South Indian American writer and artist. Her work involves exploration of South Indian culture, the beauty of nature, nostalgia, and healing. Her work appears most recently in antonym, Suspension Literary Magazine, Perfumed Pages, The Firefly Review, and elsewhere. She is in the process of becoming an optometrist.
Rimi B. Chatterjee is the author of three novels: Signal Red (Penguin India 2005) The City of Love, (Penguin India 2007) nominated for the Crossword Book Award 2006 (India’s Booker) in 2006 and Black Light (Harper Collins India 2010). The first two are free to read on https://jadavpur.academia.edu/RimiBChatterjee. She is currently working on a utopian project called the Antisense Universe.
Chide is a Nigerian student who loves to read psychological thrillers and listen to music. She loves to travel and take long strolls just after dark.
Linda M. Crate (she/her) is a Pennsylvanian writer whose poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has eleven published chapbooks, three microchapbooks, and a novella. You can connect with her on Twitter @thysilverdoe.
Antoinette Damaris was born in Rochester, NY in 1992. Her first experience as an artist was ironically during the COVID-19 quarantine. Art was just a hobby at the time, but developed into a passion of hers. Her influences are Daria Callie, Melissa Falconer, and Ergo Josh. It was then that she realized she wanted to pursue her career in this field and expand her knowledge in digital art and NFTs. She went on to study through practical experience, self-learning by studying the work of her influencers. She now has a website dedicated to her work and over 8,000 NFTs.
Melissa Dittrich is a writer and educator from Santa Cruz, CA, currently living in Brooklyn. She is an MFA in Creative Writing candidate at Sarah Lawrence College and can be found online @melissedittrich.
B. Elae is an author, poet, performer, and small business owner from a small town in Indiana who's carried out her long existing passion to serve youth and survivors of crime while writing poetry. Longing to create a safe space for the seemingly unseen and overlooked, B. started sharing and performing her poetry over nine years ago with hopes her work would offer comfort, support, honesty, and connection. Currently working on her third poetry book and new merchandise and art, you can read more of B. Elae's work on Facebook (@B. Elae), and/or Instagram (@b.elae).
Rey Fairburn (she/they) is a queer, neurodivergent writer and artist studying psychology at Università di Padova. She has been published by Lupercalia Press, Fauxmoir, Plants and Poetry Journal, and t’ART. You can find more of their work on Instagram @reysenchantments or on their website www.reysenchantments.com.
Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia. They currently live and work as a writer in Minnesota. Some places they have been published are Goats Milk Mag, Journal of Expressive Writing, SIC Journal, Reflex Fiction, and Zoetic Press. They enjoy reading, podcasts, and long, slow films. Twitter: @ZaryFekete.
Melissa Flores Anderson is a Latinx Californian and an award-winning journalist. Her creative work has been published by Punk Noir Magazine, Maudlin House, Variant Lit, Roi Fainéant Press, The Write Launch, and is forthcoming in Daily Drunk Magazine. She served as a coguest editor of Roi Fainéant Press’ first special issue, HEAT (6.26.22). Follow her on Twitter @melissacuisine or Instagram @theirishmonths. Read her work at: melissafloresandersonwrites.com.
Candice Kelsey is a poet, educator, and activist currently living in Augusta, Georgia. She serves as a creative writing mentor with PEN America's Prison & Justice Writing Program; her work appears in Grub Street, Poet Lore, Lumiere Review, Hawai'i Pacific Review, and Poetry South among other journals. Recently, Candice was chosen as a finalist in Iowa Review's Poetry Contest and Cutthroat's Joy Harjo Poetry Prize. Her third book releases September '22. Find her @candicekelsey1 and www.candicemkelseypoet.com. Louise Kim is a Korean American student at the Horace Mann School in The Bronx, NY. Their writing has been published in a number of publications, including Brown Sugar Lit, Green Ink Poetry, Gypsophila Zine, The WEIGHT Journal, and Panoply Zine, and is forthcoming in Paper Crane Journal, Book of Matches, Liminal Review, and more. Her work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the National High School Poetry Contest.
Oliver Kleyer teaches German as a Second Language in a refugee camp in Northern Germany. He writes in German and English. His poems and prose have appeared in magazines (WORTWAHL, Das zerbrochene Wort) and in anthologies. When he is not teaching or writing, he is probably traveling around the world and drawing.
Jayn Laure is, at heart, a storyteller. Though they received a formal education in interior design and find joy in fabricating the dreams of others into 2D & 3D spaces, they feel most at home when weaving worlds with words, images, and emotions. At first just a form of self reflection, Jayn now aims to share these experiences with others.
Jenny Lewis is an emerging writer with a B.A. in English & Literature from The University of Tampa and is preparing to query her debut novel, Everything is Fine. She is a happily married, stay-at-home mom to two fledgling adolescents and the best Labradoggo ever. When not writing or absorbed in existential crises, you can find her daydreaming of Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, reading stories that keep her from sleeping, and sweating in the Florida humidity. Her work is forthcoming in Erato Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @WriteJennyWrite.
Mirjana M. (they/them) are a digital artist and writer from Belgrade, Serbia. Their work focuses on exploring the juxtaposition of various elements through mixed media of photography, double exposure, textures and light. Their work most often explores concepts of duality and has appeared in “Gulf Stream Literary”, “The Good Life Review”, “waxing & waning” magazines and other places. You can see more of their work at their blog olorielmoonshadow.wordpress.com, https://ello.co/oloriel, get in touch on Twitter (@selena_oloriel); they are also the creator of Suburban Witchcraft Magazine (https://suburbanwitchcraftmagazine.wordpress.com/) Nina Miller is an Indian-American physician, epee fencer and micro/flash fiction writer. This is her first published photography since high-school. Her written work can be found in TL;DR Press's anthology, Mosaic: The Best of the 1,000 Word Herd Flash Fiction Competition 2022, Bright Flash Literary Review, The Belladonna, Five Minutes, 101 words, and more. Find her on Twitter (@NinaMD1) or ninamillerwrites.com
Bobby Parrott has obviously been placed on this planet in error. In his own words, "The intentions of trees are a form of loneliness we climb like a ladder." His poems appear or are forthcoming in Tilted House, RHINO, Rumble Fish Quarterly, Atticus Review, The Hopper, Rabid Oak, Exacting Clam, Neologism, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. Immersed in a forest-spun jacket of toy dirigibles, he dreams himself out of formlessness in the
chartreuse meditation capsule known as Fort Collins, Colorado where he lives with his partner Lucien, their house plant, Zebrina, and his hyper-quantum robotic assistant, Nordstrom. T.R. San (they/them) is a queer poet based in Yangon, Myanmar who writes horror without meaning to. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Travesties?! Press, Mister Magazine, Tigers Zine, Sweet Tooth Poetry, and Diphthong Literary. They tweet at @trsanpoet.
Shane Schick is a journalist and the founder of a publication about customer experience design called 360 Magazine. His poems have appeared in Juniper, Stanchion Zine, Blue River Review, and many other literary journals. He lives in Whitby, Ont. More: ShaneSchick.com/Poetry. Twitter: @shaneschick.
travis tate (they/them) is a queer, Black playwright, poet and performer living in Brooklyn, NY. Their poetry has appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Underblong, Southern Humanities Review, Vassar Review, and Cosmonaut Avenue, among other journals. Their debut The Broiler poetry collection, MAIDEN, was published on Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in June 2020. The world premiere of Queen of The Night happened at Dorset Theatre Festival in August 2021 and began its second production at Victory Gardens Theatre this January. They earned an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. You can find more about them at travisltate.com.
Thea is a sister, friend, and bear admirer. She greatly enjoys capturing nostalgia, wandering thoughts, and encouragement in her illustrations. Outside of drawing, Thea likes running on hilly paths and testing her witcher skills. You can find her on Instagram @theavalmadrid.
Nate is a writer, artist, and teacher from Brooklyn, New York. This is his first published piece. You can more of his musings on Instagram @veraathletics.
First, I have to thank the God in me. As a creator, I'm able to bring my imagination to life through my art. I'm having the most fun with this magazine and I've loved getting lost in your stories and my designs. Next I want to thank my mom and siblings for encouraging me to take this magazine to print. Now Issue 001 can really be the pocketful of sunshine it was meant to be. From the size and color pages, to the illustrated covers and texture, this magazine was made with nothing but love. I'm so thankful that I can build a community and connect the world through art — and thank YOU for supporting this issue! Stay tuned for Issue 002.
Want your work in the next issue? Read more about writing, creating, or working with KCB the mag at www.kcbthemag.com and stay tuned for Issue 002 updates on Instagram and Twitter:
© Karma Comes Before the magazine