Copyright @ 2017 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without written permission from authors and artists. Cover Art: Josh Oberlander Interior Design: Bria Goeller Printed in the United States of America. Printed and Published through Canterbury PressÂŽ in Atlanta, GA. This project is sponsored in part in by grants from the Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts, the Emory Department of Womenâ€™s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and the Emory Media Council.
MR. MAâ€™AM QUEER LIT / QUEER ART / QUEER VOICE
Dear reader, MR. MA’AM started as a whim and, with the help and generosity of so many people, whose support ranges from emotional to material, I can be no prouder than I am now, writing this introduction to the inaugural issue of our journal. I owe my thanks to many, including our brilliant staff, our deeply talented writers and artists, the CCA, the Emory Media Council and the Emory community, and so many others. What started as an Emory only publication was expanded to an Atlantabased one, and then finally expanded to what it is now: a publication containing voices from all over this country. That is what is at the heart of this project: what you hold in your hand, the celebration and preservation of the strength and beauty of the voice. And not one minute too soon. I say, gravely, that there is no better time to present this project. Work that speaks to queerness, sexuality, the body and identity, and the facets of living a tempestuous and complicated experience in America, deserves to be presented in such a way that must be upheld with respect and dignity. And this journal exists for those voices. And this journal exists for those that want to know what those voices have to say. This journal is dedicated to anyone who has felt denied, or have been led to deny themselves and this journal is dedicated to anyone who has been brutalized for daring to be truthful and open to themselves and to others. This journal is dedicated to those who were forgotten, and dedicated to those we remember. The journal is dedicated to the multiplicity of voices that ring loud and true and brave in the depth of the American soul. This journal is dedicated to those who have been rendered voiceless. To those alienated. To those made to feel afraid or alone. This journal is dedicated to the families that sustained us, the ones we were born into or the ones we found. And, lastly, this journal is dedicated to you. As playwright Tony Kushner wrote in Angels in America:
“And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.” JOSH OBERLANDER/JESSIKA BOUVIER
CO-EDITORS Josh Oberlander Jessika Bouvier PUBLISHER Justin Fogg DESIGN EDITOR Bria Goeller
ART DIRECTOR Laila Hasnain MANAGING EDITORS Talia Green Jackie Veliz MARKETING CHAIR Brady Goodman-Williams SUPPORT STAFF Liz Rivera Lisa Zhang
1 1 3 4 11 15 16 17 19 21 30 33 36 37 45 46 47 50 51
ntents Felix Chang Travis Tate Fredrick Leon Shelby Moore Terrance Daye Jalen Eutsey Katie Wallis Matt Ford Bahar Sener Laura Whitmer Bria Goeller Megan Pope Charles Jin Rachel Alatalo Sabrina Pyun Eden Sarkisian Justin Moore Laila Hasnain Benjamin Stevenson
FELIX CHANG / “Gender”/ oil pastel can you make sure we all go slow this evening? it is too cold to be wasting energy on trying to make everything look sexy if is just going to get washed away in this mighty storm. I have no gifts to leave you on the bed. I’ll text you that funny meme I saw yesterday. how can you see so well in the dark? are you used to not knowing whether something is real or not? enough questions. just hum. please. my favorite song. the one from the radio.
little torches. we have been holding torches. bc it’s so dark. lambs are waiting to be slaughtered. best take their coats first. then I’m in the cold. I hope there is a farm near by to finish this slack little fantasy. we have found a beautiful pier near a cliff. banging saltwater. the lamb meat is fresh. make a fire. I tell you to watch me burn – it burnthe lamb meat burn. we are holding each other long into the night. a field of lambs make soft noises.
dove. this bird is for the freedom of lovers. that is a bad definition. I can think faster when I have a pen in my hand. what do you call freedom? I want to win you that giant bear in this carnival game. in dallas: there is a fair. ok. let’s live somewhere else. S.F. N.Y.C. no where will be good enough. grab your favorite record. let’s shift the stars. then: breeze with wings delicate air pushing us to unknown places.
FREDRICK LEON / “The Closet” / print
My Mama Calls Me a Liar When She Doesn’t Like What I Have to Say: A Pantoum
I came out to my mama on a Tuesday. My fingers trembled as I tore a napkin to pieces And tried not to cry as I pulled words from my gullet. She said, “How do you know if you’ve never been in love?” My fingers trembled as laughter bubbled in my throat And told her I’d fallen down rabbit holes of women. She said, “You’ve never been in love with anyone.” I felt like my face was a furnace vent in January. I’d fallen down rabbit holes of women, Tripped over their sweet words and gentle hands. I felt like my heart was a furnace vent in Alaskan winter As I stumbled into soft, caressing arms and soothing sighs. I tripped over their sweet, warm words and loving, gentle hands And sought the love and understanding I had never gotten As I stumbled into caressing arms and soothing sighs. I came out to my mama on a Tuesday.
We met at a Baptist Youth Group the summer I turned sixteen. I sat with my hands folded on my lap, Trying to focus on my Bible as she applied strawberry Lip Smackers to her flushed pink mouth. She whispered To Tanja Gross on her left, but I could feel her Looking at me. Her eyes were the buzzing needles Of a tattoo gun, perpetually puncturing my skin. I bowed my head in the pew and prayed I could keep her. Iâ€™d never thought a girl could be pretty In the way that she was. Her knobby knees Showed through her ripped jeans and her tee shirt Was just a bit too tight on her flat chest. Her platform Jelly sandals made her just my height And freckles dusted every inch of her skin. After church, she whispered her siren song to me As we watched the littler kids on the monkey Bars. I clutched my Bible to my chest And stammered in my uneducated dialect. She threw her head back and laughed like a donkey, Showing off her slender neck and sharp chin. I wondered what her braces tasted like. She drove me to a party and I got drunk for the first time. Vodka went down like bile and I cried when she kissed Johnny Hermes in the bathroom. I prayed to God I could keep Her. We had sleepovers every chance we got And we would talk for hours about boys and banalities, Dawsonâ€™s Creek and Daria. She found out how Sheltered I was and taught me what tampons and condoms Were for. She would hold me close at four in the morning And nuzzle her nose into my neck. I pretended It was normal I wanted to feel her along my back Until I was on my deathbed, silver haired
And peppered with sunspots. She took me to Nikki Martinez’s Quinceañera and we spent it in the coat closet with the degenerates. We all used an empty Pepsi bottle and took turns mixing Our lip gloss and bad breath. I tasted Chanel for the first time On Josh Ryan’s lips and made a vow to myself To toss my ninety-nine cent apple kiwi Bonne Bell When I got home. She tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder And winked at me lasciviously. We snuck out of her bedroom Window and down the ivy-laced lattice in short skirts And her mother’s Esteé Lauder lipstick during the full moon In June. We stood in the woods behind the high school With the varsity football team and willowy cheerleaders. We Watched them swapping spit and stories About Dreadful Dr. Dan and his wife Miss Jan Who came to PTA meetings high as a 747 over the Pacific. We cradled our PBRs and lied during Ten Fingers, Praying no one would call our bluffs. She was dragged Into the trees by Johnny Hermes and stumbled out ten Minutes later with Esteé smeared on her face And crumpled leaves in her hair. They started calling him Johnny Herpes After that. I puked on Brian Marshall’s new kicks And he punched me in the face, stamping it with his class ring. We walked home with our sandals dangling in our drunken hands, Holding each other up in the silver moonlight. She woke me up during a storm in July and crawled into my mouth, Baptizing my tongue with her cotton candy kisses. Her saliva was acetone, removing the colorful coating Of my lips easily and seeping into my chest cavity, Eating away at my plastic heart. Her fingers were centipedes— Quick and sharp, scuttling under my nightie, and crawling Into warm, wet places that had never been touched before. I counted her golden eyelashes afterwards and prayed
That I could keep her. The summer waned and classes began And I traded her company for that of McGraw-Hill And F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her mother became a stranger, Her house no longer my home. She stared at my braids And button-downs in the halls as my gaze counted The beige tiles on the floor. She slammed me into the bathroom Stall after school in September and invaded my mouth like it was Poland. She was relentless and thorough and I surrendered, My dignity in the toilet by my knees. I realized I loved Her in October when she taught me how to drive. The afternoon sunlight backlit her smile in her Mom’s Corolla And I lost my breath catching up to the way her eyes crinkled At the sides. I drove us to a college party at Ricky Montano’s house With black X’s on the backs of my hands. She kissed me On the dance floor with beer breath and laughed As a beef cake grabbed her underage hips and pulled her away From my arms. I found her naked in the dark, dank basement An hour later. Johnny Hermes helped me carry her to the car. I didn’t go to a party with her again. She would slip through my bedroom Window smelling of sweat and liquor and boys, shimmying between My pink sheets with platitudes and lofty affection. I began locking My window and avoiding the school bathrooms, praying That I could have kept her. I burned my Polaroids of us, Donated her v-necks and short skirts, threw away Her hastily scribbled notes, and tried to forget what her braces Tasted like. Her eyes swept over mine in the halls And she slammed Melissa Piper into the bathroom stall in December, Dragging her new toy along to the varsity players’ parties. I worked on my SATs and ABCs, forcing my focus away from her. Four years, five relationships, and three therapists later, I realized why God Never answered my prayers. I was near-sighted and loving her Was driving through fog at five in the morning during deer season.
Reclamation I wait for the sun beating down on eight menâ€™s backs, dressed in black suits, sweat glistening on their faces and soaking through their button-ups, mopping their brows with colorful pocket squares, heaving and huffing, batting away bees with gloved hands. I wait for women
in heavy dresses, over-sized sunglasses hiding their heavily made up eyes, squabbling over chairs, squinting at the choir, robes draped across strong bodies made of air and emotion. I wait for children standing stiffly, scratching at the ground with dusty shoes, tugging at collars, tugging at hems, letting out whines and cries of discontent. I wait for a man I donâ€™t want to see standing and sighing into a six-foot pit, opening the Book and spewing bullshit into every pore, into every crack and crevice of my corpse. I wait for torrential downpours of dirt and grass swallowing my body, swaddling everything Iâ€™ve left behind as insects and worms crawl through wood, twining round bone, stripping it of flesh, making my body their home. I wait for the earth to reclaim what was never mine; what I rented for twenty-two years is returned to God, nourishing His children, being broken down and distributed until everything else turns to stone, and Time grinds away, turning all to ashes and dust.
A Love Letter to My Best Friend You’re in California walking the smoggy streets clogged with scraps of metal on the sides of the road and scraps of people ground out from the Hollywood hills with that schnauzer you saved when we were sixteen. You jumped out in front of that 1973 Lincoln Continental going ten over the speed limit with no hesitation and lots of screaming in Spanish. You bruised some ribs and nearly punctured a lung, but you saved that damn dog’s life. I bet it still follows you everywhere. I bet it even sits in the corner of your Tìa’s run down mini mart with its tail wagging, waiting for you to get done pissing after your shift behind the cracked counter trading paper money for plastic goods. Your bladder always was small, like a grape seed or the eye of a spider. I don’t know how you made the five-day trek on that rusted out Greyhound. I’ve spent my summers since high school catching up on the reading and sleeping I don’t do during the semester. You send me stationery from that Daiso around the corner from your house to write you back. This time it’s a box full of paper and envelopes with little orange cats on them like the kittens we named after the Weasley twins in eleventh grade. We gave them away to your neighbors and cried when Fred got run over. We cried even more when we read the Deathly Hallows and Fred died under a wall of stone, laughing. Your mom is fine. You worry too much in our phone calls and letters. I see her every two weeks at Kroger when our grocery shopping schedules line up. She works too hard, her fingers raw and thick with callus from teaching four year olds the alphabet and that sticking your hands down other people’s pants isn’t okay. Your eldest sister spends her days in the ice cream shop with a turtle hat on her head, making minimum wage to pay for her son Luis’ PullUps and princess crowns. He still likes dressing up like Rapunzel from Tangled and making Valentina dress up like the horse. You Facetime me while I’m in the library bathroom and I hide in a stall, trying not to smile too wide. I can hear your Converse slapping on the hot asphalt as you walk to work; I can see your curls bouncing with every step. I can see how the creepy guy in the background watches you from his window, breathing into his respirator, probably praying the wind flips your skirt up. I’d deck him in his ugly mug if I were with you like I decked Brian Woods in the seventh grade when he tossed a quarter down your bra and tried to retrieve it. Your Abuela is sick, but she’s not the Titanic. She won’t go tits up at the first sign of trouble. She’s strong like the redwoods you’ve sent me photos of. Her roots run as far as the Mariana Trench, spanning miles and miles like the city you live now. Mine are smaller, like moss. Easily ripped away from the surface
they adhere to. When I’m sad, I shop for studio apartments online, praying to my God that your God will be okay with me in your bed. It’s just platonic anyway. You never cared who I loved, but it seems everyone else does. When I came out to you, you just hugged me and kissed my head like the sister I’d always wanted. Your Tìo lets snide comments about your Tìa and her girlfriend slide off his tongue like tar dripping from an animal carcass. You call me from your Abuela’s bathroom, crying about how unfair it is. I soothe you from two thousand miles away and tell you it’s okay. You go back out and try to smile. I love your smile. If I were romantically attracted to you and if you weren’t straight as a pin, I’d marry you just for your smile. Hate spews from your Tìo’s mouth like a lizard spitting acid at a particularly large bird of prey. As if you living with a queer person is like living with Satan himself. Your Tìo should have been a Jew. They believe Satan is just God’s employee who tests your will against temptation. Not like I’m tempting. I’m the steamed broccoli to your German chocolate cake. I’m the acquired taste that most people spoon onto their plate because they feel obligated. You’re the indulgence that everyone desires, but only take every once in a while for fear of getting addicted to you. Maybe your Tìo would like me more if he weren’t a Catholic. If his God was my God. If he weren’t gay himself, but hiding it behind machismo, his children, and his sheer willpower. You shouldn’t have looked for a pack of gum in his truck last year. You found those magazines with the naked men in them. You almost had a panic attack and called me so I could calm you down. Your Tìo takes his kids to school every morning in that run down, faded red truck. Carlos and Anita, still in elementary. It’s not right keeping those things under his kids’ seats, ready to be exposed like an old bandage half fused with the hairs on the back of your arm, the other half flopping around in the wind. He’s the worst kind of hypocrite. I miss your summer smiles with berry seeds in your teeth. I miss the way you snort a little when something funny catches you off guard. I miss your hands guiding mine as we make tamales with your sisters tugging at our skirts, babbling at us in Spanglish. I miss teaching you French underneath the stars. I miss twirling in the rain with you as the dogs bark at our ankles. I miss hauling Luis up on my shoulders and you hauling Valentina up on yours as we meander through the tall grass in your backyard. I miss holding secret conversations with you in our sleep, snuggled up together like kittens in our mother’s overextended womb. I miss your curls flying around your face as you rant about ethics and greenhouse gases and sustainable living. Someday I’m going to fly over miles of farmland and desert, watching the hills give way to land flat as a placid sea just to see you. You’ll complain about the cost and the pollution, but you’ll hug me tight and tuck my smell of home into your memory like a mom’s love note hastily scrawled on a Post-It tucked in her kid’s lunchbox to be found in the middle of the day when they need it the most.
TERRANCE DAYE / “BLUE” / photography
“FEMME” / photography
“MASC” / photography
Furnace listening to your mouth move in the dark i am reminded of how warm home is bedsheets as close as skin where we play make believe we haunt one another you turn the music down are you scared? does it hurt? no. you turn me over & i learn when your mouth starts moving or is it moaning you begin to hack at me what you find you whittle down to silence i bite the tongues i turn over & away making believe iâ€™m ten again in my own skin taking the fire from in between your legs in my house in my house to keep the house from burning. we speak we speak spoken to we eat our hands
we bite our hands to lessen we bite our tongues like light switches light switches all at once can I go out now?
like going off
the lightning in my belly flickers
Man Eaters “...This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24 With bare hands, my fathers shuck snow crabs Griping crab at the joint pulling back non-stop until crisp snap of hind leg Breaks bone from body they press thumbs In at center as legs & arms become overturned “U’s” Meat falling from bone pours from shell Then with fingers or sometimes tongues, they slide salty red meat from Inside & slurp warm sea food juices Chew & bite down while butter or blood drips Lips open like hearts do like fresh cloves do like bodies After much urging To taste wine singed with old bay, black as pepper or bruised skin After much urging When all your stomachs are full & protruding & the underside of your nails are sucked clean I hold out my arms for you
to begin again.
I Vote For Orgasm You are the half-life of a hundred hung jurors and your mouth is the only political climate I measure. You are the monarch of a calculated mass of erections. I catch songbirds singing vinyl from your O-mouth. Please, understand me and my insistence on orgasm. Itâ€™s 2016 and Iâ€™m a black man in America. Where else can I go to be a king if not the warmth of your palate, if not the scratch of your back, if not the music my name makes as it leaps from your throat? Where else can I go to be served, protected? I vote to make your moan my home, but I keep my hands up, just in case.
KATIE WALLIS / “Book: A” / photography
MATT FORD / “TIMOTHY TUKES” / photography photo attribution: JOHNNY KORNEGAY
This Bitch . . . An Ode to a Dear Friend
I met Timothy two springs ago in an acid-induced vision (the same vision in which I met my future hairdresser), a very brief encounter that held unknown significance until I met them in person at Morehouse. It was not long before our budding friendship bloomed into full-blown bristahood, finding solidarity in genderless soft femme identification and a penchant for all things sassy, sexy, and salacious. The charisma unhidden in their grin and the illumination popping from their eyes makes you think twice about whether you’re being charmed or read for deep filth; I wasn’t so sure myself upon our first conversations. It’s magic. The same magic that catches the eyes of so-called Men of the House feigning straightness, who cannot help but honor Timothy upon seeing them, even when honor comes in the form of a hearty dap to suppress intrigue and assert an oh-so-very-fragile male ego. It is the same magic that creeps through their veins as they wave their hands, duckwalk and spin at the sound of Chaka Khan or Mariah Carey during impromptu self-love and productivity sessions at my house or on the Mammal Gallery dancefloor. They told me once that people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are so successful because they don’t waste time digging through their closets every morning, better able to produce when wearing basic hoodies, T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers. But that doesn’t stop them from serving cunty goodness when necessary, whether modeling Jackie Kennedy Americana in a knee-length brown wool coat, nautical striped button-ups, fitted chinos, and Chelsea boots, or giving queer comfort in their famous “white pussy coat” that looks like they skinned a lamb in their backyard, sewed up the skin, and called it high fashion. But you would never dare to question the logic behind their nonbinarist fashion. Or their dreams (read: plans) to one day be a better Oprah than Oprah. Or their conflicting aspirations to join the capitalist regime of marriage (albeit still with separate bank accounts), or to just have a Stedman, or to just have a child with the help of no nigga at all. Nor would you question their ability to run around Paris drunk on Rosé whilst making business connections with c-suite officials –– all expenses paid. And you would never know by the gold watch permanently clamped onto their wrist that they are a crowdfund. That they’ve been running for their life for years, in the name of an incomprehensible spirit, soul, and somalike no other, escaping their biological family’s misguided and self-righteous
Gospel. You might not know the art of carefully crafting a chosen family, and having the patience and faith to do after a young life of hurt. Nor might you know how they wear ancestral salvation on their skin and on their taste buds. That they walk with thunder in their stride. That they live in divine favor. And somehow, I have never seen Timothy cry. I have only heard them speak of crying, as God spoke the earth into rotation and the universe into eternity.
BAHAR SENER / â€œKoiâ€? / photography
“Diagnosis” / photography Translation: Name: Elvent Kutlug Ataman Diagnosis: Homosexuality Decision: Decision made by majority of the votes. Not suitable to serve in the military; in peace and in war.
“In Turkey, compulsory military service applies to all male citizens from twenty to forty-one years of age, with some exceptions. One of these exemptions is homosexuality. Turkish military recognizes homosexuality as a mental illness and finds homosexual individuals unfit to serve in the military.”
Greta wipes her ink-smudged fingertips on her jeans, unable to read past the headline “In Michigan, Gay Couples Marry in Mass Ceremony.” She never began a Monday morning without her New York Times, too tired after a week of farm work and a morning of church services to open it on Sundays. Now she sits alone, her black coffee cooling on the worn wooden tabletop, unable to make it past A2. Michigan, of all places, holding a mass ceremony for gay weddings. If only she lived a few states north, she could have snuck in the back of whatever chapel and seen it for herself. She couldn’t imagine something like that would ever happen in Missouri, even after the Supreme Court’s ruling. There probably wouldn’t be enough couples to consider any ceremony “mass,” anyway. She sips her coffee. Glances at the first line and skims downward. Seven couples… Greta doesn’t even know seven gay people, let alone any who are married. In her hometown of 800, she could count the times she’d heard the word “gay” on one hand, and most of those had been insults. Even Maysville had a way of revolting when forces from the outside world inched too closely to home. Last summer, the “real world” agenda had been the wind energy company demanding windmills be put at the edge of everyone’s farmland. Town Hall meeting attendance increased almost immediately and picket signs dotted front yards on every corner. Greta imagines it will be the same song and dance this summer, only the protests will start in church on Sunday mornings instead of the courthouse on Tuesday nights. But right now her husband’s out checking on cattle, and the Garden Club ladies won’t be over to help her with the strawberry patch for few hours. She keeps reading. Greta’s hometown was almost identical to Maysville, the zip codes being the only noticeable distinction. She grew up on a farm and spent every minute she could with her best friend Janet. Janet was her neighbor, and they walked to school together every day. They talked about everything on their walks, from their annoyances with their parents to the boys they liked.
Their gravel street embedded its gray powder into their clothes, and Ms. Stewart made them pound out their shoes and dust off their skirts every morning before coming inside. Janet’s dresses always faded at the knees since she spent recess kneeling over a bed of clovers, searching for four-leafs. “You found any today?” Janet smiled. “Two.” She held up the drooping plants. “One for each of us.” Greta tucked her clover in the front pocket of her dress, like always. She was careful not to let it get squished so she could press it between her Bible pages when she got home. She had almost filled every page through Exodus. In class, Greta sat in the fifth row and Janet sat in the third. She quickly got into the habit of studying the back of Janet’s head when their teacher wasn’t looking. Her dirty blonde hair couldn’t hold a curl and was always tangled from the wind. It stopped just before her shoulder blades, and she never put any bows or braids in it. Greta had never actually touched it, but she imaged it would feel like petting a human-sized kitten. “Why are you staring at her?” Tim called from across the room one morning after Ms. Stewart stepped out to speak with the intermediate teacher. Greta froze, felt the heat of her classmates’ eyes on her blushing skin. “Greta!” Tim yelled. “Quit staring at Janet.” She met eyes with the ground, digging her fingernails into her palm. “I wasn’t staring.” “You liar. Greta loves Janet!” Laughter ricocheted off the room’s brick walls. She was trapped in a cage made of the sound. “Shut up!” Janet stood at her seat, knocking down the invisible walls. “You’re all stupid. I’m her best friend, and I’m the only one who knows who she really likes. So there!” Greta couldn’t even look at Janet to mouth a “thank you.” Greta hardly sleeps that night, her memories muddying up her dreams. She takes her time getting out of bed, but she’s already promised herself she’ll clean the house that day. She starts with the living room. A picture of her and Theodore at their wedding acts as a bookend on the top shelf. Throughout their fifty-two years of marriage, Theodore and Greta liked to brag that they had never told the other one a lie. After everything they’d done together, from starting their own farm to raising three children, they didn’t have room for secrets. They’d spent too many years staying up late,
whispering stories from their childhoods to each other, working through their every frustration, tangling quiet confessions into their sheets. But there were still two things Theodore didn’t know. The first happened just before she met him, and for years she told herself that she’d dreamt it. Sometimes she still believes she had. While she attended secretarial school, Greta often heard soft giggles whisper through the hallway and drift into her bedroom at night. Her roommate Anne seemed to sleep through the sound, and if she didn’t, she never said a word about it to Greta. But Greta could never tune it out. She convinced herself that the sound kept getting louder, begging her to join. One night, after Greta was sure Anne had fallen asleep, she slid out into the hallway as if on her way to the bathroom. But when she reached the swinging door, she kept walking, pausing in front of each room. The noise was loudest outside of 203. Lucille’s roommate had moved out after the first month of school, having already found a man to marry. But Greta knew she wasn’t in there alone. She held her fist up to knock, but froze a centimeter from the wood. What would she have said? After that night, Greta paid a lot of attention to Lucille. She had never thought much of her before, but suddenly Greta saw a beauty about her that she couldn’t ignore. Lucille had dark features and wore more lipstick than anyone else in their class. Greta realized that Lucille’s breasts were almost too big for most of her dresses – especially the yellow one, which also happened to be Greta’s favorite. It made Lucille look like she should be in an ad for Minute Maid. “Greta,” Lucille said, pushing her index finger down on the top of Greta’s book in the library one afternoon. “Let’s chat.” “What about?” “C’mon. Let’s go outside.” She reached for Greta’s hand. Greta hadn’t even considered saying no. “I’ve seen you watching me, you know.” Lucille whispered as they passed through the library doors. “I haven’t–” “The garden’s a good spot,” Lucille said, ignoring her. “A good spot for what?” “Talking, of course. Why, did you have something else in mind?” Greta turned away, her cheeks splotching with red, but kept her grasp on Lucille’s hand anyway. They walked through the opening in the hedges that bordered the garden and settled for a stone bench underneath a sycamore. Greta scanned the nearby benches, but each one sat empty. “I can hear
you laughing in your room at night,” she blurted. Lucille smiled. “I’m sorry for disturbing you.” “No, it’s not that, it’s…” Greta paused. “You aren’t alone.” Lucille shrugged, her smile inching further up her cheeks. “Well, who’s in there with you?” “Honey, I can’t tell you that.” She paused, then raised an eyebrow. “But I will say, it’s not the same person every time.” “But they’re… They’re all girls?” Lucille erupted with laughter. “Oh sweetie. Of course they are. Why would I waste my time with boys?” Greta pressed her palms into her tight-covered knees and shrugged, staring at the ground. Lucille leaned over, forcing Greta to meet her eyes. “You ever been with a girl?” Greta shook her head. “You’ve at least thought about it though, right?” Greta looked away, tugging at a loose string on her skirt. “I don’t… I don’t know.” “I’ll show you how. You’ll be less shy about it after.” That night, Greta waited for Lucille’s laughter to travel down the hallway and into her bedroom. But the whole floor was silent. Her own heartbeat echoed in her eardrums, like she’d just run a mile. She listened for the sound of Anne’s steady, sleeping breaths and tried to match them with her own. In no more than five minutes, she was tiptoeing down the hallway. Lucille had left her bedroom door cracked, and Greta slowly pushed it open, praying it wouldn’t creak. The room was nearly dark, but she could still make out Lucille’s silhouette thanks to the streetlight seeping through the window. Lucille grabbed both her hands and pressed Greta into her body. Greta could tell that Lucille wasn’t wearing a bra. “I can feel your heartbeat,” Lucille said. Greta could hear the smile in her voice, one step away from that soft giggle. “Hold still. She was the first person Greta had ever kissed. As if summoned by her wavering thoughts, Theodore’s truck rolls into the driveway and makes Greta jump. She dusted the entire living room on autopilot, entirely entranced in her own memories. She slips into the bathroom, wanting to collect herself before Theodore’s inside. Before sunset each night, Theodore decides what hay bales to take out to the cattle the next morning. Greta watches him weave through the cluster of potentials from the swing on the back porch. In the last few years, his belly’s
rounded out past his belt and deep lines have found a home above his brow. His gray hair wisps in the light wind, almost in time with the porch swing’s squeaks. Even now, she knows she loves him. She’s always known that. They met the same way most couples met back then. Once a month, Greta’s school would host a social event with the men’s college in the next town over. That month happened to be a dance in an academic building’s basement. Lucille wasn’t going, but Anne insisted, and it would have been harder had Lucille been there, anyway. Greta knew she had added someone new to her after-hours rotation. Anne helped her roll her hair in curls and let her borrow a dress, blue cotton with a belt at the waist and a skirt that twirled when she spun. He stood across the linoleum floor, his hair darker than her typewriter ink and deep chestnut glasses to match. She learned quickly that he pushed the frames closer to the top of his nose when he was nervous. “Thought you might like to dance.” He smiled. Anne pressed the small of her back forward, a silent “go on.” Greta offered a sly smile. “I don’t dance with strangers.” “Lucky for you, I don’t intend to be one for long.” He held out his hand. “Theodore.” “Greta.” When she reached for his hand, he immediately sent her into a twirl, the skirt of her dress blossoming like an upside-down flower. She let out a laugh, and he started to sway with the music. He felt exactly like Lucille had, only when he pulled her closer to him, nothing told her that she should pull away. Three months later, they danced to the same songs at their wedding. Just like everyone else in school had done or would do before the year was out. Everyone except Lucille. Her second secret was worse because it happened after they were married. Since they lived in such a small town, the high school paired up with other country schools in the area to throw one prom for everyone. When Greta’s oldest son Jason was a senior, she volunteered to help on the parent committee to fundraise for the dance. Greta was late to the first meeting and sat in the back, her eyes traveling aimlessly around the room while the school counselors took turns speaking. Her eyes fell on a red haired woman with long, spiraling curls. She wore a cream-colored top tucked into light green pants. Greta ran her fingers through her own hair, already graying and chopped short. She wished she hadn’t decided to cut it, then fished through her purse for a tub of lipstick.
She caught the woman’s eye after the meeting. “I’m Greta.” She immediately regretted offering her hand, sweaty as it felt. “Christina.” Freckles decorated her face like stars. “I was just headed to grab some coffee,” Greta smiled. “You care to join?” Greta and Christina quickly fell into a pattern of following parent meetings with coffee shop chats. Christina grew up in the city and only moved to the Midwest after she met her husband Marvin, so she told stories that sounded more like movie plotlines to Greta. Christina made her laugh like none of her other friends could. Sometimes Greta would wake up thinking about her, even if they hadn’t seen each other for days. Greta had never felt guiltier. Whenever she spent time with Christina, she would give Theodore more and more attention when she got home. They were having sex more often than they had in years, and Greta really did enjoy it. But she couldn’t keep Christina out of her mind for long afterward. She was nearly ready to come clean with Christina about her feelings after the last parent meeting before prom. “So, I have a proposition,” Christina said before Greta could confess. “Oh?” She traced the rim of her mug with her index finger, working hard to hide her nervous breathing. “Well,” she giggled, “I was talking to Marvin last night, and we think it would be so fun if we all had a foursome this weekend.” Greta’s finger froze. “If– what? “While the kids are at prom.” Christina let out another laugh. “You and Theodore could come over, have some wine… Really, I think it would be great. For all of us.” Greta sipped her drink, wishing she could stop time. “I… I don’t know what to say.” Christina reached across the table and put her hand on Greta’s shoulder. “That’s okay. You just think about it and let me know.” She let go. “But I wouldn’t mention it to Theodore unless you’re sure you want to do it. I’m sure he wouldn’t like you turning down an opportunity for him to watch you with another woman.” She winked. “I know Marvin wouldn’t.” Greta wished she could make herself sick right there at the table. Anything to get her out of there. She didn’t see Christina again. Later in the week, Greta drives to the closest thing her county has to a city, a town thirty-five miles south on I-35. She’s shopping for her friend Nadine’s birthday when she notices the heading “Gay and Lesbian Studies” along the back wall of Barnes and Noble. Her palms feel sticky. She wanders over to “Self Help” and inches toward “Philosophy,” the “Gay and Lesbian Studies” section just beyond it. She pretends to look intently at a few titles in “Philosophy” while scanning the “Gay and Lesbian Studies” book spines closest to her.
How to Be Gay. Fun Home. This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids. She checks to see if anyone’s near the shelves around her, then reaches for the third. The book is formatted in a series of questions and answers. Her eyes catch sentences like When should I tell people? Is this my fault? Should I have been able to tell? Greta wonders why she’s even doing this. She knows she’s not a lesbian – a lesbian wouldn’t have stayed happily married to a man for over fifty years. Maybe this is the midlife crisis she never had time to have before. Maybe she’s becoming delusional with age. She’s a fool, an absolute fool for thumbing through this book. She has no business being here. Then she notices the word “bisexual” and pauses, the corner of the thin page pressed between her thumb and index finger. Attracted to both men and women. Her grip strengthens. Being in a “straight” relationship does not mean they are not bisexual anymore. The corner of the page tears off in Greta’s hand. Bisexual. Had she ever even heard that word before? She can’t remember. She leans against the bookshelf, the book in one hand and the torn-out page corner in the other. She feels like she’s found adoption papers in her mother’s cedar chest or learned that her husband’s a Russian spy. What was she supposed to do with this? A woman emerges from behind an adjacent shelf and Greta panics. She stuffs the book onto the shelf, breathing heavily and turning toward the door. The entire drive home, she can’t keep from picturing the book’s pages. Line after line of questions she had never thought to ask herself, a list of possibilities she never let herself consider. She wouldn’t be able to ignore them now. Should I have been able to tell? Greta catches Nadine walking up the driveway and heads into the kitchen for two glasses of iced tea. “Hey sugar,” she calls from the open window. “I’ll met you on the porch.” “Slip something stronger in my glass, would ya?” Nadine’s laugh echoes of the house’s paneling. “Coming up, birthday girl.” Greta emerges with the spiked teas and hugs her friend. They’ve hardly exchanged three sentences when Nadine blurts, “I have to tell you something about Bryson.” “He alright?” Her grandson didn’t have the smoothest transition to college
the year before. “Yes, yes. But he was over last weekend, you know, since his parents had to go out of town, and he… What is it called?” She paused. “Oh, right. Coming out. He came out to me. Apparently he’s bisexual.” Greta felt her heart turn to lead at Nadine’s words. “Oh.” “I know, I know. I had no idea what to do. I mean, have you ever even heard of that before?” “You know… I might’ve.” “Well, I certainly hadn’t. He says he likes boys and girls. Then he tells me he has a boyfriend right now. I don’t know. I didn’t think that was possible.” “Me neither…” Greta watches a fly dancing around the rim of her tea glass, pressing her toes into the front of her sneakers. “But I told him, I said, I don’t mind one bit. You love who you love. And that’s okay.” Great meets Nadine’s eyes across the table. “You did?” “What are you grinnin’ about?” Nadine laughs. “Of course I did! Not the first time one of my babies has told me something I didn’t know a thing about. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” Greta nods. “I’m glad he told you.” Nadine sets her hand on top of Greta’s. “Me too, honey. Me too.” For months Greta carries the sentence “I am bisexual” around in the front of her mind. When she tends the garden, reads the paper, drinks tea with Nadine, she’s always humming her one-line song. She loves the way it sounds, wonders how she’s made it all these years without learning it. Finally, one Monday morning, she writes it down in the margin of her New York Times. She tears the sentence out and places it against her breast, ready to hold it where it belongs.
Prey some days I curse the day I enjoyed someone who was not a boy you see boys are big and they are tall and boys are men boys know what they want and boys can take what they see fit boys can prey because boys are men who can sit at the top of the food chain you see I am like boys I am big and tall and I can prey like men it scares me to think that I can be intimidating to my own kind it scares me that I am too big that I am too tall that I am too much like men some days I look at the delicacy that is a woman and all it makes me want is to be prey
“Give and Take” / collage
To My Father
To my father, who so graciously accompanied me on a weekend visit to Manhattan, I want to begin by saying thank you. Our time in New York was exquisite, something I will keep close for a long while. The Italian dinner, the bread pudding, our laughter at the Broadway show– I will remember it all. I am curious to know if your memories are the same as mine. What moments have you revisited? What images still circle your mind? I remember the hotel room. Cool shadows liked to spread themselves over the walls. I can still smell the paint and soap of the place. The bedside lamp refused to cooperate. The mattresses were frosted with thick linen. Do you remember the bathroom? The whole thing looked as if it had just been glazed; heated and removed from a small pottery kiln. Pale blue. Glassy. But tiny. It was impossible to change inside the space. The shower and sink were tucked too close to the door. And so I prepared for our night out in the closet. The walls were tight, but after a lengthy battle with my dress, I managed to pull it over my head. It brushed against my knees and settled nicely above my hips. I reached for my shoes, ensuring not to knock your suit from its hanger. There was no mirror, but I felt put-together. Proud, almost. You made a comment when I emerged. Do you remember? A quick and fleeting joke.
“Coming out?” you asked. I cracked a smile. “Of the closet...Get it?” I had gotten it.
I have picked this moment apart hundreds of times now, cracking it open, spreading it out in front of me and attempting to make sense of the jigsaw pieces; it seems they are all corners. At the time, I managed to write off your comment as nothing spectacular. Sure, it quickened my heartbeat, but I told myself it was just a little joke to accompany the silliness of my getting ready alongside our closeted coats and umbrellas. Did you know? Who told you?
Was it obvious? Why did I care? We left the hotel room and stepped out on Lincoln Square. The city met us with a certain grace and grime that only New York can manage. As building lights teased us with their overhead flashes, we pulled on our raincoats to avoid the same, slick fate as the streets. After our dinner, you offered to take me to The Village. We navigated the outskirts of NYU with no plan or direction; at least, that was the way it seemed. And yet, with two sharp turns, we landed somewhere familiar. You inhaled: “I think we’re right by The Stonewall Inn. Do you know what that is?” I nod, “Uhm yes, it’s very famous.” Sometimes I feel like you seriously underestimate my awareness. But then again, I may have seriously underestimated yours. We pass the memorial first. White statues of men and women holding hands. The night’s wetness had polished the figures, and the moon set their limbs aglow. I fall back and stare for a little while. It was a strange but systematic scene, as if the preserved people had been plucked and dropped onto the stoney street corner. Worrying that my pause was too obvious, I doubled my pace. When I caught up, you point out the Inn on our right. Vibrant flags draped the front entrance. The place was bustling. I managed to choke out an “oh cool” as we passed. Before returning to the hotel, you reminded me that I needed earplugs. That I had forgotten to pack them. That I had been having trouble sleeping. We stop at the Lincoln Circle CVS, and I pick out a colorful box. The checkout line is short– just me, you, and the two women behind us. I eavesdrop on their conversation. Some man named Justin is an asshole. They yell about him. They are drunk; and yet, in their distressed and intoxicated state, they exude confidence. Their ripped jeans and heels look fantastic, feminine, fitting. You see me studying them as we leave. You say that “they were sluts”.You “hope that I am never like that”. I can tell you right now, I won’t be. I may not know exactly who I am, but I do know that I am nothing like them.
I return to the closet to get ready for bed, and this time, when I open the door, you do not say anything. Perhaps you had figured things out. There was nothing left to be said. Or maybe you were just tired, the nightâ€™s events had stifled your ability to come up with another cutting quip. I wrapped myself in the hotel sheets and shivered. The next morning promised to be stressful. I had to navigate Penn Station alone, find my departing track, and board ontime. What if I didnâ€™t catch the train? What if I never made it back to school? As usual, these worries never came to fruition. I made it back to school, and I am writing to let you know that I am home. Safe.
Looking Thirty yards away from him I sit under the torching sun just to look at him. I’m just looking at him – not gazing, staring, imagining or dreaming – just looking. I’m looking at him, because in him, I see a beauty that I ache for, that I must have, that I can’t have. For a brief moment, I picture myself having that beauty; but not for too long, for too much indulgence can’t be good for my soul, so I kept on looking, discretely – for a shame that I can’t even name. For another brief moment, I drive myself into the street gutter to punish myself for having such irrational wanting. I kept on looking – for in between this thirty yards of infinite gap, the beauty lives.
Thirst RACHEL ALATALO
He read the ice right out of her glass. Sydney caught brief glimpses of the poet through the crowd that pressed so tightly against the gallery walls they threatened to crack the plaster. The poet clutched the paper printout of his poems in both hands as he raved, jerking his head and stomping his feet as if the words were fighting their way out of him. Everything was dripping: his fluttering lips, the bare shoulders rubbing against hers, the sides of her glass, continuously shedding beads of condensation from the ice that rattled in sympathy with each intake of the poet’s breath. A slick hand snuck into Sydney’s free one, and Dana pulled herself through the crush of bodies to stand next to her, with James close behind her. Wordlessly, she grinned and clinked her glass against Sydney’s, knocking another chunk of ice free. They didn’t hear it hit the floor—it was swallowed up by the poet’s words, or else evaporated in the swampy heat of the room. They were packed together in the tiny gallery, a white-walled room hidden within a former warehouse somewhere in Queens, to hear the poet share his work in public for the first time. It had been years since Sydney had been to church, but when she reached for words to name the feeling blooming within her, she could only grasp transcendence. The poems were incantations, the poets, preachers—or better, oracles, inhaling the vapors percolating in the room and exhaling the words of the gods—and she, one of the chosen, granted access to this sacred space and light-headed with the grace of the words. Then her phone vibrated in her back pocket. She could feel the floor again, the scratchiness in her throat. She raised her glass to her lips and bumped her elbow against the woman in front of her; she took a half-step back and caught someone else’s shoe. Somewhere, there was a cough.The poet cleared his throat as he shuffled his wilting print outs. The room steamed. Slid slid her phone out of her pocket to check who’d texted her. Christine. She made to unlock the phone, tap a response, but Dana saw the name, caught her gaze. Everything alright? she mouthed. Sydney flashed a grin, sank the phone back in her pocket. The poet continued. After the reading, the crowd poured out of the gallery like spilled coffee beans and proceeded in a jumble to a riverfront bar down the street—a tiny place, little more than a glorified carnival stand, where one of the poet’s friends worked and had promised free drinks. It wasn’t much cooler outside
than in the gallery, but the breeze off the Hudson bore away some of the sweat, leaving the ghost of relief. Sydney rolled the outside of her glass against her temple, transferring the condensation to her skin. She had replenished her gin and tonic at the gallery’s bar—a tiny card table shoved between a water pipe and the bathroom door—on her way out, and finished it before she made it down the stairs. A second and a third refill followed at the next bar—both complimentary. They were a bit heavy on the gin, and every sip burned. Her body kept generating heat; she felt like she was filling with hot air that pressed against her temples, stirring the beginnings of a headache. Sydney let herself slump back against the bar of and watched Dana and James weave through the crowd. They were such a natural couple, Sydney thought—like leaves floating on the surface of a stream, they drifted independently, but it was clear they were borne by the same current. Though they didn’t make eye contact, didn’t even face the same way, Sydney could tell they were perfectly aware of one another. The way James’ near-constant smile snuck a bit higher whenever Dana laughed, the way she shifted her feet in his direction whenever he moved, displayed their connection as strongly as any hand holding could. Sydney’s phone was back in her hand again before she’d even really thought about it. Two more texts, both from Christine. Babe is that poetry thing done yet? When are you coming home? Sydney jerked her thumb across the screen, started typing Soon. “Hey, wallflower,” Dana said, walking back over with James by her side. Sydney hit Send and quickly tucked her phone back into her pocket. “Why don’t you come back over to the party with us? It’s been forever since we’ve been dancing.” “Oh, I was actually thinking of heading home,” Sydney said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ears. “What? Already?” Dana said. “It’s only 10:30,” James added. “Come on, the night awaits!” Dana laughed, grabbing Sydney’s hand to pull her up from the bar. “I have a headache. I think I’m dehydrated,” Sydney said, slipping her hand out of Dana’s grasp. She hadn’t meant to lie, but there it was. “They’ll have water behind the bar,” Dana said. “I really think I should go,” Sydney said, eyes on the sidewalk. A dingy orange cigarette butt lay a few inches from her left shoe. She prodded at it with her toe. “Why don’t you just stay for a few more minutes? Don’t you want to see if you can talk to that poet? He’s got to be somewhere in the crowd!” “Yeah,” James added, “And maybe you can slip him one of your manuscripts.”
“No, no, he’ll hate my stuff,” Sydney said, grinding the cigarette into the concrete. James put a hand on her shoulder, and Sydney looked up. “Hey, I was joking! Seriously, are you okay?” He and Dana were looking at her with a concern that made her stomach twist. “I’m fine, I just need to leave,” Sydney said as her phone went off again. She pulled it out and tilted the screen away from them—too slowly. She saw Dana see the name on the screen, watched her eyes narrow, her mouth compress into a thin line. “Is this about Christine?” Dana said. “No,” Sydney said, but she could feel how false her protest sounded as it left her lips. “Syd.” “Fine, yeah, I just, I think I really should get back to Christine. It’s getting late and I haven’t seen her all day, and…” “Wait, why didn’t she come to the reading with us?” James asked. Dana shot him a look and rolled her eyes. “Because Christine hates poetry and isn’t a supportive girlfriend,” Dana said, with the ease of well-rehearsed phrase. Sydney knew she’d heard it plenty of times before. “You don’t have to come to someone else’s poetry reading to be a supportive girlfriend,” Sydney said. She kept working away at the cigarette butt on the ground, which was starting to tear into pieces. “If it were my own reading, that’d be different.” “Do you really think she’d go to that?” “Of course she would.” Sydney stopped digging into the cigarette with her toe, but kept her eyes on the ground. “Oh, really?” Dana said, her voice taking on an edge. “Last you told me, she doesn’t even want you to be writing poetry at all.” Finally, Sydney looked up and locked eyes with Dana. “Why are you bringing that up?” She darted a glance at James, who, thankfully, seemed to be furrowing his brow in confusion. Maybe Dana hadn’t told him everything. Dana sighed and crossed her arms. “I’m just sick of watching you being constantly put down by her! Your poetry is really good, Syd. You should be up there giving readings, but instead you’re letting Christine convince you you’re horrible just because she’s too busy looking at supply-demand curves to get poetry!” “Supply-demand curves are Econ. Christine’s Finance.” “God, whatever! The point is you’re letting this bitc—” Dana cut herself off, took a deep breath, and James placed his hand on her back. She looked back over at Sydney. “I’m not trying to be mean, you know.” “I know,” Sydney said, crossing her arms and squeezing her triceps.
“And I know hearing about how Christine doesn’t like poetry makes you mad.” “It’s not that she doesn’t like poetry. It’s that she doesn’t like your poetry.” “And that’s fine! I don’t exactly love her finance spreadsheets, either.” “That’s different.” “I don’t think it is.” “But poetry’s an art, and—” “Finance is an art, too,” Sydney said, using Christine’s words. She hated the tone her voice took on—like a child arguing to stay up past bedtime—and the hurt in Dana’s eyes made her chest ache. But what was she supposed to do? Let Dana attack her girlfriend when she wasn’t there? Again? Sydney’s phone buzzed. “I have to go,” she said. She slipped past the gate enclosing the bar’s patio, leaving Dana and James to each other, their mutual interests, their poetry. The artificial light in the subway gave everything a yellow cast. It was too early for the daily commuters, too late for the revelers, and the car was nearly empty—just a man in a straw cowboy hat standing by the doors, and a couple that couldn’t be older than fourteen making out in the corner. As she watched them, oblivious to the rattling of the cart and the presence of other people, Sydney thought back to when Christine first found her poetry notebook. “You wrote about me?” Christine said, stalking bare-footed into the living room of her tiny apartment, where Sydney was lying on the couch. “What?” Sydney asked, putting her Comparative Politics notes aside. The anger on Christine’s face was so sudden, so unexpected, that it took her a moment to recognize it. “Poems. You wrote poems about me?” Sydney sat up. “Yeah, of course I did. I write poems about everything I care about.” “Well, not about me you don’t.” “What do you mean?” Sydney laughed, reached out for the notebook, Christine’s hand, but she snapped it back. “What? I only wrote good things.” “Yeah, but that doesn’t make it okay.” “I don’t understand.” “It’s just that—” Christine sighed, tossed her hands in the air. “You can’t just write about people. It’s invasive. And ‘her breath feels like the purple mist over the cornfields at dawn?’ What does that even mean?” “I just meant that—” “I don’t want people to see me like this.” “What, like a cloud of mist?” Christine crossed her arms. “No, like not as myself.” “But it’s how I see you,” Sydney said, twisting her pencil in her hands. “Exactly. I don’t like existing in a way I can’t know about.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll let you read it next time I write one.” Christine let out an exasperated sigh. “That’s not the point.” “Then what is? Controlling your image?” “Yes!” Sydney looked down at her homework, glanced over at her notebook, still in Christine’s hands. “But that’s impossible,” she said quietly. “What?” “I said, that’s impossible,” Sydney said, looking into Christine’s brown eyes and sitting up straighter. “You can’t control what other people think. I can’t control what people think of my poems, even the ones about me. Whatever I write, I release. Once they’re on the page, I can’t control what other people bring to them.” “And doesn’t that terrify you?” “No.” “Well, maybe it should,” Christine said. “And you’re wrong. There are some things I can control.” She tossed the notebook on the table. It landed on top of Sydney’s textbook with a force that made her glass of water tremble. “If you love me, you won’t write any more poems about me.” She left the room as quickly as she’d come in. Sydney sat still for a very long time. Sydney’s phone started vibrating again before she’d made it halfway up the stairs on the way out of the subway. She pulled it out and leaned against the railing. Five messages, two from Dana—I’m sorry for being a bitch. Text me when you get back?—one from James—Hope everything’s ok. U know u can always talk to me if u need—two from Christine—On your way back yet? Hello? Sydney sighed, let her head fall against the wall. She was suddenly exhausted. But she couldn’t go back to Christine’s apartment just yet. She pushed off the wall and headed up the stairs. The 24-hour convenience store was just two blocks away from Christine’s apartment. The shock of cold fluorescent lighting after the darkness outside made Sydney dizzy, or maybe she was still a bit tipsy. She headed straight for the freezers in the back—the heat outside necessitated something cold. First priority was an iced green tea in a glass bottle. Next, iced cream: Sydney grabbed a pint of chocolate, Christine’s favorite. As she walked up to the register to pay, she looked down at the cylindrical pint and smiled, thinking of the last time she and Christine had been at this particular shop. It was in early June. The stress of their junior year was far behind them, Christine’s outburst over the poem a distant memory. It was 3 a.m. and still sweltering. They’d gone to bed hours ago, curled in on each other beneath the sheet, but had since rolled as far apart as they could, cast the sheet to the
floor. Sydney stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. She reached over and put her hand on Christine’s damp ribcage, gave her a gentle shake. “What?” Christine grumbled. “Are you awake?” “Obviously,” Christine huffed, rolling over. “Don’t touch me. It’s too hot.” “Christine,” Sydney said, this giving her a little pinch where she knew she was ticklish. “What?” Christine repeated, this time with a giggle. She rolled back over and looked at Sydney with one eye open. “It’s so hot.” “I know.” “Let’s get ice cream.” “What?” Christine laughed. “I’m serious,” Sydney said, sitting up. “Neither of us is going to fall asleep anytime soon. Let’s go get ice cream.” “Where? It’s 3 a.m.” “The store. Down the street. I can’t believe you don’t know your own neighborhood,” Sydney teased. When they got to the store, they couldn’t stop giggling. There was something so ridiculous of the idea of them, walking around the store in flip flops and rumpled T-shirts, looking for ice cream. Christine pulled Sydney behind a shelf of granola bars out of sight of the register and kissed her. She still tasted like mint from when she brushed her teeth. In that moment, Sydney felt, how youthful she was, how feminine. She felt full of light, as if she would burst into a billion photons at any second. Now, leaving the store alone, the tea bottle and ice cream carton tucked under her arm and weeping condensation into her shirt, she couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to those nights. When Sydney opened the door to the apartment, Christine was on the couch, typing furiously on her computer. The semester hadn’t started yet, but Christine was constantly on the hunt for job opportunities as senior year approached. Sydney kicked the door closed, accidentally making it slam shut, but Christine didn’t look up. “Look who made it,” she said. “Sorry,” Sydney said, walking over to the couch. “But look what I brought to make up for it!” “What?” Christine said, furrowing her brow as she dragged her face away from her screen. When she saw the ice cream, she lifted her shoulder in an involuntary shrug. “Oh, thanks. You can put it there.” She pointed to a corner of the table. “I’ll get us spoons,” Sydney said, padding into the kitchen.
“How was the poetry?” Christine called from the couch. “Worth the slog to Queens?” Sydney came back with two spoons and plopped down on the couch next to Christine. “It was incredible,” she said, offering Christine a spoon. Christine didn’t look up from her typing. Sydney put the spoons down next to the carton and twisted the cap off her iced tea. “Sweltering in the gallery though. I swear I’m dying of thirst.” She took a sip and glanced over at Christine, who frowned at the screen and slammed the escape key with more force than necessary. “Okay, what’s wrong?” Sydney said. “What? Nothing,” Christine said, flicking her eyes in Sydney’s direction. “Come on, I know something’s up.” Christine closed her laptop with a click and put it on the table. “Fine, I’m just kind of upset, is all.” “What? Why?” Sydney said, taking another sip of the tea. “It’s just that you spent the whole night with Dana and James. I haven’t seen you all day.” “What? I told you that you could come with me. I thought you didn’t want to go.” “Yeah, I said that I didn’t want to go to the reading, not that I didn’t want to hang out. I wish you would listen to me more.” “I’m sorry.” “Every time you hang out with that crowd over me, it hurts, you know.” Sydney put the bottle down. “I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you tell me that before I went? Then I wouldn’t have gone!” “I’m your girlfriend, Syd,” Christine met Sydney’s eyes and she felt her heart drop. “I shouldn’t have to tell you things like that.” “Chris, I’m so sorry,” Sydney reached out to take Christine’s hand, but she pulled it back. “Babe, is there anything I can do?” Christine shrugged and squeezed her arms to her chest. Sydney felt like something was being torn out of her chest. “I think I need to be alone for a bit,” Christine said, getting up suddenly and scooping up her laptop. “You don’t have to rush when you’re getting ready for bed,” she said over her shoulder. “I’ll probably be asleep when you get in.” Christine disappeared behind the bedroom door. Sydney sat in the silence she left behind, shaking. She didn’t know what to do with her hands. She sprang up, grabbed the bottle and the ice cream carton, walked into the kitchen. Put the carton in the freezer. Took a gulp from the bottle, slammed it down on the wood grain counter. She jumped at the sound it made, glanced back at the bedroom door. It didn’t budge. Making a conscious effort to steady her breathing, Sydney picked the
bottle up again, ready to finish it, when something in it caught her eye. She flicked on the light over the sink, waiting as it clicked and sputtered to life, fading in slowly like stage lights after the curtain is drawn. There, the bottom of the bottle was definitely darker than the rest of it. Sydney tilted it and brought her face closer. What was that? Was it there when she bought it at the store? The shape was uneven, lumpy, like a malignant mole. It smelled musky. She tilted it up toward the light, and the wet something in the bottle glistened. Sydney dropped the bottle and let it clatter against the metal bowl of the sink. It was mold. She put her hand to her lips, feeling bile pool in her mouth and fighting the urge to vomit. Something about the way the tea was manufactured, or stored in the back of the convenience store for god knows how long, allowed it to cultivate a thick film of brownish-green fur, with long tendrils that stretching toward the lip of the bottle. And all this time Sydney had been drinking from it, and gone back for more.
The Asexual Person’s Lament “Sometimes I wish I was asexual” she says. “I wouldn’t have to worry about dating y’know?” He laughs and nods even though there’s nothing really funny about it. He feels like “I wish I was asexual” is the new “I wish I were gay!” It’s the new “Guys are such a hassle anyway” She goes on, and he thinks “Please stop talking.” Still, the “benefits of asexuality” tumble from her lips like broken wood from burning bridges. Questions simmer on his tongue; ones he already knows the answer to. “Did you mean you want to feel invisible in your own skin?
Did you mean you want to feel confused in your own home? Did you mean you want to feel out of place in a sexual world that makes a joke of your lack of desire; that compares your existence to a potted plant; that infantilizes you as if sex is the only thing that separates the naive and the mature?” She would give him a look. “I didn’t mean it like that. It would be convenient for me, that’s all.” So, the words bubble in his throat never to boil over. Instead he laughs and sympathizes. “Yeah, I get it.”
The Name is Clementine, but People Call Me Tish: (Re)claiming Black Identities “Let’s face it. I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name” (Hortense Spillers’s Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe). What does it mean when someone is misnamed? How does this misnaming affect the victim, their self-identity, and personhood? “That’s my baby boy,” my dad once proclaimed. High school was the time I began to come out to my friends. It was also the time I was introduced to Grindr, a dating app that I would soon find out wasn’t for dating. Fresh to the scene, I created a profile, including details about myself, such as height, weight, age, and a profile picture. At the time, it didn’t cross my mind that friends or family members would see my profile. Much to my surprise, my half-brother, who was transparent about his sexuality, visitedthe profile and messaged me. I panicked. I begged my brother to secrecy. I told him that I would come out when I felt comfortable. He didn’t listen. He outed me to my dad. I became unrecognizable. My dad said, “I didn’t raise no sissy.” (He hadn’t raised me at all.) My dad’s words taunted me. I was no longer myself: the kind, curious mind who was daddy’s “baby boy.” I became a “sissy.” I couldn’t figure out how something that felt so natural prevented my dad from loving me. Why wouldn’t he see me? Why did he no longer love me? This name somehow became my existence. I felt I was no longer myself, but a sissy—someone who was chastised for embracing both his masculinity and femininity. My confidence and self-identity were tainted—I was (re) named. In my dad’s eyes, I was no longer Justin. My dad committed a violence that many black and brown, LGBTQIA, gender nonconforming, poor, and disabled folk experience everyday by marking our bodies as failed spaces—something that is deemed pathological, or seen as “other.” Naming can be used as a means to define, acknowledge, or deny one’s existence or identity. What happens when someone is redefined, unacknowledged, or denied? While reading James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, I found myself thinking about this question. Baldwin opens the novel with protagonist Clementine saying, “I know I was christened Clementine, and so it would make sense if people called me Clem, or even come to think of it, Clementine, since that’s my name, but they don’t. People call me Tish.” To begin the novel with this statement was powerful. Yes, she is not called by her birth name, but the sentiment extends further: by opening the novel with these lines, Baldwin emphasizes the pervasiveness with which
Clementine’s identity and personhood, as a black woman, are disrespected and ignored. I couldn’t help but reflect on my own story and how I was misnamed by my father, only seen as the “sissy” instead of Justin. From the first page, I appreciated how Baldwin shed light on the power of naming and how black folk, especially black women, have to negotiate their identities in a society that refuses to respect their existence. Naming has had a stifling effect on black communities. Nigger. Faggot. Jezebel. Ho. Boy. Gal. Uncle. Mammy. These names have demonized and dehumanized black folk as a means to reassert white power or dominance. As Ben L. Martin explains, ‘Until the 1960s, black was an insult. Black was starkly confrontational and militant.” Black folk were not only forced “to accept but to embrace theretofore undesirable racial qualities.” The Moynihan Report (1965), written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan on “The Negro Family,” describes black women as “reducing” a black male’s “role to that of errand boy to and from the relief office.” Lastly, for some black households, black LGBTQIA folk are portrayed as mere abominations or non-existent. Said sentiments voice how misnaming not only has divided black families and communities, but also interrupted healthy conceptions of self-identity for black folk, forcing onto us false truths of ourselves, such as blacks are lazy, unintelligent, and “prone to criminality.” Marking black bodies with these false truths has allowed white, patriarchal supremacy access to our power: our autonomy, self-governance, and self-identity. Police forces—the henchmen of the [white, patriarchal supremacy] state—have capitalized on these false truths through their consumption, violence, sexual exploitation, and slaughtering of black lives: Emmett Till. Fred Hampton. Harry and Harriette Moore. Sandra Bland. Tanisha Anderson. Maya Young. Korryn Gaines. Michael George Smith, Jr. Hortense Spillers writes, “[Names] are markers so loaded with mythical prepossession that there is no easy for the agents buried beneath them to com clean...I must strip down through layers of attenuated meanings, made in excess over time, assigned by a particular historical order, and there await whatever marvels of my own inventiveness.” I was not born “black” or “queer.” White, patriarchal supremacy has defined me accordingly. This naming was forced upon me the moment I escaped normativity—white, heterosexual, and hypermasculine. White, patriarchal supremacy has forced me to see blackness and queerness as “other.” I have had to come to terms with these names, because my humanity is questioned and deemed invisible. However, channeling Spillers and Baldwin’s “Freaks and the American Ideals of Manhood” where he writes, “once you have discerned the meaning of a label, it may seem to define you for others, but it does not have the power to define you to yourself,” I choose to (re)claim my blackness and queerness in search for my own “inventiveness.” Asserting my existence threatens white, patriarchal supremacy, a parasitic ideology that
has infiltrated my community: some black folk chant, “Black Lives Matter,” but failing to include all black lives—women, LGBTQIA, gender nonconforming, etc; some black folk prefer light-skinned folk over dark-skinned folk; some black men demonize his own community by silencing and erasing the voice of black women and black LGBTQIA folk. Naming, rooted in white, patriarchal supremacist ideologies, has exploited black folk’s bodies and psyches to the point where we must negotiate what it means to be recognized as failed identities, or to be born into a predetermined social status. Misnaming has disrupted humanity—innocent souls lost, identities exploited, and communities divided. I say all this to say that black, brown, and LGBTQIA identifying communities have to come together now more than ever. We must realize that we are more similar than we are different because we share a common humanity. Strange fruit remains the norm, and that just shouldn’t be the case. I decided to not let white, patriarchal supremacy gain authorship over my humanity. I am unyoking myself from the pejorative undertones of thesnames and finding my own “inventiveness.” Change starts within and with us, and we must continue fighting and (re)claiming our black identities.
LAILA HASNAIN / “Her” / colored pencil and acrylic
EBBING (of an emotion or quality) to gradually lessen or reduce.
With every touch comes a question, and with every answer comes uncertainty, but it didn’t stop me from taking more than he could give. A tear can drip from a fingertip if a man lets it. Each caress wets the body more than before, keeping in mind the ocean takes her time to come. A boy on the beach sinks back until the tides meet the shore of his body. He waits for her to bubble up between his thighs and speak. Time has been unkind to you, she says. I can see the traces of salt where she left him. Yesterday’s memory fled as the white head spilled from her mouth. We used to swim out into an endless sea filled with not water, but thick, golden honey. Tired and sticky we would crawl onto the boat, and rest our mouths. I begged. Let’s just stop rowing for a second, lay our heads over the boat, on the surface, into mercury’s retrograde, and not watch but see. Scrubbing away at his pruned freckled flesh, he will not wash away what we saw in the night. He cannot erase the mistakes of our summer in Casablanca, out of sight from the gardener, where all of my words were warm and everything felt new. Like the ocean washes away her mistakes, he washed me far from clean.
Sirens don’t reach the depths of a broken man’s well. I think you promised me something. Have you seen the dead birds in the garden? They flew into the walls. My name is mafqud- missing. My father gives me crutches to nestle underneath my wings and hold myself up. I wish I could I could bash them against his skull to teach him the meaning of penance. But, I know that God takes care of her sparrows, and that even crows can be kind if you touch them.
My mother was too drunk to give birth, so I was never born. I was delivered. He always reminds me, When you swooped out of your mother’s pussy, you were silent. Remember that. He says not to name a baby until you hear the screams chirping from its mouth and into the air. I didn’t cry until he hit me so can you tell me what my name is? My house has many rooms, I occupy only a few of them. The rest go unvisited. I cannot forget the spaces on the walls where a window should have gone, or the absence of light, and it reminds me I do not have a name, and of the few thoughts my mind refuses to set free. I go home, and hear the whispers of bloodstained carpets, the snapping of bones, the sparrows, the gurgling of waters that used to fill the tub. Little red floaters in my eyes start to fly through space like a warning, but the cords were cut years ago.
Contrib FELIX CHANG
is currently an undergraduate graphic design student at North Carolina State University. His experience as a queer POC has had a very large impact on his work, especially now living in the South.
is queer black playwright, poet and performer from Austin, Texas. They is a M.F.A. candidate at the Michener Center for Writers at The University of Texas at Austin studying playwriting and poetry. Their writing has appeared in The Matador Review, Vanilla Sex Magazine, Reservoir, and Girl Blood Info and is forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. Their one person show It’s A Travesty! will be presented in the 2017 Cohen New Works Festival in Austin.
is a second-year undergraduate student at Emory University, although he wonders how he will finish his degree since he spends most of his time on Reddit. He enjoys studying health sciences while using art as an escape from the occasionally monotonous nature of his studies. But mostly just Reddit.
is a Kentucky-born literature student, writer, and Episcopal lesbian residing in Woodstock, Georgia. She spends most of her time writing sapphic poetry, trying not to kill her houseplants, and searching for the perfect pink lipstick.
is an award winning poet from Long Island, New York. He is currently obtaining his BA degree at Morehouse College for Cinema, Television, Emerging Media Studies. As an aspiring poet and scriptwriter, he aims to create content of color that highlights the vast spectrum of black life and explores subjects such as race, gender, identity and mental health. His short film, “V”, was selected for official screening at this year’s Black Web Festival in New York. Terrance will continue his education in the Fall at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where he will earn his MFA in Filmmaking.
butors JALEN EUTSEY
received his undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and is currently a first year graduate student in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. He hopes to graduate in May of 2018 with his MFA in creative writing. Jalen most admires works in the surrealist tradition by authors like Andre BrĂŠton, Robert Desnos, and Dean Young. He continues in their tradition of trying to find the right word to be used at the unexpected time.
is a sophomore studying Business at Emory University. She makes analog photography, and is inspired by photographers like Sally Mann and Francesca Woodman.
is a blaqueer genderless blob with funky hair, born and raised in the Motor City. You can find Matt at Morehouse on domestic exchange from Vassar College, where they study Anthropology. Matt likes tattoos, Janet Jackson, and orange cream-flavored anything.
is a sophomore at Emory University studying Psychology. She is from Istanbul, Turkey and she likes photography, filmmaking, and dance.
is a rising senior at Hamilton College majoring in creative writing and minoring in art. She works as a freelance editorial assistant for the Scholastic Kids website. You can find her writing in Hamiltonâ€™s Duel Observer, Spoon University, and on her personal blog: laurawhitmerblog.wordpress.com.
is an undergraduate at Emory University studying English/Creative Writing and Interdisciplinary Studies with an interest in visual art, film, music, and writing. She is currently exploring the way that art can forge bonds of empathy and increase cultural
is a junior at Brown University where she concentrates in English Nonfiction as well as Modern Culture and Media Studies. While Megan has a particular interest in television, pop-culture, and feminist aesthetics, her writing spans a wide range of disciplines and subject areas.
is a third-year undergraduate student who is currently studying mathematics at Vanderbilt University. A Korean-Chinese born and raised in China, Charles has been writing poems in different languages from a young age. Inspired by luminaries of Modernism and Harlem Renaissance, Charles Jin seeks to authentically and creatively channel his inner thoughts and emotions through his works.
is a current student at Hamilton College, where she is an editor for Red Weather and the Duel Observer. She writes prose and nonfiction and likes to let them overlap. She posts small thoughts @rachelalatalo and longer ones at poisedfortheleap. wordpress.com.
is currently a Writing Seminars major at Johns Hopkins University. Her work and interests can be found online at filetmignonwrites.tumblr.com or on her Instagram @smileikelightning. Her poetry has also appeared in Thoroughfare Magazine. She is very passionate about the lives and well-beings of her many loved ones and therefore makes their multitude of rights her personal business.
is a student at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
is a writer, artist, and mentor. He is interested in discussions around the intersections of race, class, and gender, with special attention to the lives of black queer folk. He enjoys talking about love, relationships, and ways to bring forth visibility to black queer voices. Justin is an Atlanta native and is a senior at Emory University, majoring in African American Studies. He has also served as a staff writer for Emoryâ€™s first and only black publication, Black Star Magazine.
is a sophomore at Emory University majoring in Neuroscience. She has been making art her entire life and is involved in many art organizations on campus. She is grateful to be involved in this amazing project.
is an activist, dancer, and writer currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. He has a B.A. in Political Science and Arabic from Emory University. He began writing while living in Morocco and working on a creative research project with the queer community of Rabat. He currently enjoys using creative writing to explore perceptions of the self, gender expression, sexuality, race, trauma, politics, and the human experience.a
ISSUE 1 SPRING 2017 EMORYâ€™S QUEER LIT / ART JOURNAL
Issue 1 Debut issue of Emory's Queer Literary and Art Magazine, featuring prose, visual art, poetry, and more from college age artists and w...
Published on Apr 26, 2017
Issue 1 Debut issue of Emory's Queer Literary and Art Magazine, featuring prose, visual art, poetry, and more from college age artists and w...