ROTTEN MAN AT MY DOOR
BY ESTEBAN ALARCON
Rarely have I ever seen someone
who looks truly rotten. Even the most miserable faces have some redeeming qualities. A tattooed cross on a forehead. A smirk. The aging scars from a blow inflicted by an addict with an axe, or, hatchet, to be accurate. These things add flair, a sparkle, though they rarely create networking opportunities. Glimpses tend to be short and lips tight when that type of person walks through the bus or claims a corner on a train car. A moose once climbed on a bus and was treated with more dignity. But, I have to admit, this moose looked better than you. When you showed up at my door with your red shirt I could see that you looked rotten. Your head was nearly scraping the ceiling above you as you stood lanky, snot dripping out your nose. It seemed like you had spawned out of some slimy pore that had long
been forgotten and untended, hidden in the scalp of some Argentinian psychoanalyst with a bright imagination and a thick head of hair. You were projection. And trauma. You were a red shirt, eight feet tall and only skin was your face. I havenâ€™t seen many faces lacking orifices. That can easily be considered, by our standards, as rotten. It was said that once, in a lush grove, you had stuck your head in a hole you had dug six days before. The nearby villagers came to see it. A man with a holeless face had stuck his head in a hole. Excited children ran in circles around your body that sprung up from the ground like a palm tree. Flowers were thrown at your groin and slid sadly off. When you came back up, your face brown with soot,
Art by Cielo Saucedo
screams rang out in all directions as the villagers and their children witnessed a rotten face. This was 800 years ago, on the banks of a river. I digress. I saw your eyes covered by a smooth, oily skin, the color of mayonnaise thatâ€™s been left out in a scorching sun, flickered with the debris of a carcass thatâ€™s fallen from a tall cliff. It made my skin crawl, as yours did. A weak web of cartilage covered your mouth and I could hear your attempts to mouth out a call
to arms or a hymn. You looked like a worm. But you could move. Your arms grasped the walls. You loomed over me. You mouthed out your dinosaur salutes and although I could not understand them, I heard your sounds. They filled the empty space in my bedroom and bounced off the walls. And you slinked through my door, no longer solid matter but resembling water, and you passed through it. ***
‘Unity’ by Sunny Blue
pinched and slid it up my gorgeous ruffled rope all lubed up by bile
unravelling too is becoming i tell myself standing there wrapped in my own small intestine
i wrapped it fashionably slung over one shoulder my fine new boa soft and pink
it started as a wondering a mere wandering into thought a modest walk around in my mind until i noticed i was pacing i couldnâ€™t stop pacing so i began to cry
it kept coming on its own until fully emerged it flopped wet onto my bare chest between my two breasts breathless i took myself in my inside on the out unravelling too is becoming and how good i might actually look were i only wearing a pair of sunglasses;
so i cried until i choked until i gasped until i heaved until i felt it
becoming i thought is happening
i opened my mouth peered in into my mirror and saw the bulge of flesh that had emerged but that was not all
â€”finger gun by Emma Jones
so i reached in prodded the mass careful
BARED The first time I took booze up my ass was with Mark Giordano. We were both seventeen. It was 1 A.M. on a Saturday and we were sitting in his bedroom, eyeing an almost-empty bottle of peach schnapps that he’d taken from his dad’s liquor cabinet a couple days before. “You ever tried putting it up your ass?” he asked me. “What?” “Booze, liquor. You ever tried taking it rectally?” “I’m not gay, Mark.” “Nah, listen man. You get super fucked up with way less alcohol. My brother told me about it over the phone last week.” His brother, Jared, was twenty-four then. He’d been jailed recently for breaking into cars in the gated communities of our town. He stole high-end leather briefcases, pocketbooks, and sunglasses to sell on eBay. Mark and I were sober as hell, and we knew there wasn’t enough schnapps in the bottle to do much for either one of us. “How do you do it?” I asked. Mark said nothing. He just went over to his night stand, opened a drawer, and took out a home enema kit. It was this little blue rubber bag with a floppy straw, like a linguine noodle, sticking 5
BY JEREMY DAVID
out of it. “My mom has a lot of trouble shitting,” he said. “She’s got a bunch of these in her bathroom. I took one after Jared told me about butt-chugging. What?” I frowned. “I don’t like the way butt-chugging sounds.” “But it’s fitting,” Mark said, smiling. “You’re using your butt to chug.” “Sure, but you’re using way less alcohol than you would normally chug.” “That’s right.” “So wouldn’t it be called buttsipping?” “What?” “I mean it wouldn’t be chugging with our butts; it would be sipping. If we had enough to chug, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.” “Fuck you, man.” “Can’t you just take another bottle from your dad’s liquor cabinet?” “He put a lock on it yesterday,” he said. “Which means butt-sipping is definitely our best, and also only, option.” “I’m not gay.” “This isn’t sexual,” he said. “It’s about getting drunk.” “I just want to get drunk.”
ever burned before. This was the first time anything had been up there too, save a stray finger in the shower, and in that moment, I felt closer to Mark than I’d ever felt to anyone. He was wrong; it was sexual. And I was instantly drunk. Too drunk, in fact, to administer Mark’s enema. So he went to the bathroom to do it himself. I pictured him bent over, one hand pulling an ass-cheek back, the other guiding the tube into his sphincter, with his head cocked back gracelessly to watch the process in the bathroom mirror. And I felt a seemingly infinite tenderness on the floor of his bedroom. But this only lasted a minute. Suddenly, my face went pale and my insides cramped. I had to shit badly. So I got up and stumbled to the bathroom, the only bathroom in Mark’s house besides the one in his parents’ room. The door was open, but Mark was already on the toilet with his pants around his ankles. “I gotta shit,” I said. He put his finger to his lips and shushed me, eyes mostly closed, laughing. “Be quiet bro, you’re gonna wake up my parents.” “But Mark, I really gotta shit.” “Go in the backyard then,” he said. “I’m gonna be in here for a while.” Wearing only my Slipknot t-shirt and a pair of boxer-briefs, I waddled into the living room. It was there that a pair of old, sliding glass doors led to some patches of grass and dirt. Since I was, by then, frantically shuffling through
“Then let’s get drunk! When you take it up your ass, it doesn’t have to go through your digestive system, you know? It’s direct, streamlined, elegantly economical. The schnapps goes right into your bloodstream.” Maybe it was Mark’s unfaltering composure that convinced me. Or maybe I was just bored. If you want me to be honest though, I think I was curious, excited even. At least a little bit. He filled the bag. In the meantime, I fidgeted with the shaggy brown hair of the carpet, nervous about showing him my asshole. When everything was bared and ready, I half-expected Mark to just call me a faggot. But he offered to do it for me—you know, administering the enema. And he went about the operation with an air of professionalism, like a surgeon really. I grabbed the bag, rubbed some spit on the tip, and handed it to him. He was concentrating intensely, I could tell. His forehead was all greasy, his yellow teeth were clinging to his bottom lip. I lay on my back, with one hand holding my legs over my head, and the other pulling my dick and balls up toward my stomach. My jeans were strewn beside me. Their legs formed a jagged arch. “You’ve got a pretty clean asshole, buddy.” “Fuck you.” Apparently understanding this to be the cue, Mark shot the syrupy stuff into me. It burned like nothing had
Art by T. Harris
the Giordanos’ house in the dark, I knocked into a little couch-side table with a lamp on it. The lamp made some indecisive wobbles then fell to the floor. Luckily there was no shatter, since Mark’s family had that same shag carpet from Mark’s bedroom all over their house. I didn’t take the time to pick it up, though. I had to get outside. I was so close to bursting when I finally reached the door, but I couldn’t get the damn thing open. I fiddled with the lock and yanked the door over and over, sweating and swearing, but it was rusted shut. Finally, bereft of control and all at once, I fell to the floor and relieved myself, feeling my briefs inflate like a fucking water balloon. The situation’s gravity didn’t occur to me then. I felt so relaxed and relieved that, given my blotto state, I even fell asleep for a moment. Then the lights came on. Then the sound of Mark’s mother retching.
And for the next hour or so Mark’s father urged me to get up, speaking brashly and cracking his belt from the other side of the room. I kept half-consciously telling him “five more minutes…” Later on, still mostly asleep, I heard Mark and his parents in the kitchen. “Should we call an ambulance?” “We should call the cops.” “He’s just tired. Let him sleep it off.” “Something’s wrong. He went all over himself.” “God it smells like shit.” “It is shit!” “Have you two been drinking?” “Not exactly…”
I worked all summer to pay for their new carpet—three months of washing dishes at the TGI Fridays by the movie theater. I didn’t hang out with Mark much after that. Last I heard, he was cleaning houses up in Gainesville. Well, whatever it’s like on his end, I still drink often. In
college, I even took more booze up my ass to impress my fraternity brothers. I’ve been staying at my parents’ house for a few months now, working some data entry gig in a business plaza by my old high school. The other day I was at Publix buying some tall boys when I saw Mr. and Mrs. Giordano. They acted like they didn’t see me, but I know they did. I resigned to not say anything, but then I changed my mind when I saw them again in the parking lot, loading groceries into the trunk of their SUV, clearly hurrying so they could drive off sooner. But it was too late for those slick Giordanos. Right as they were about to get into the vehicle, I called out to them. “Mr. and Mrs. G! How’s Mark doing?” They looked at each other through the windows. The parking lot was so quiet, I swore I could hear Mrs. Giordano gulp. “Oh,” she said. “Wayne, I thought that was you,” Mr. G said. “I graduated, you know.” “I should turn on the car,” Mrs. G said, opening the passenger-side door. “Or the ice cream will melt.” “How are your folks?” Mr. G said. “Aw, they’re great, just great. They love me, you know? It’s nice to feel loved.” Mr. Giordano gave me a tight-lipped grin and nodded. I could tell he was having trouble looking at my eyes. He looked at my hairline for a second then
down at asphalt, where he was kicking around pebbles. I let the silence go on just a bit longer then. Then I started. “Look, Mr. G, I’m not gonna small talk with you. I just want to say…it’s really shitty how you pretended not to see me in there, trying to put a measly Band-Aid over my whole fucking face. You were with me at my most vulnerable moment. My body, my soul, my thighs all bared for the Giordanos. And you ignore me in the grocery store.” “Wayne…” “Sure, it’s awkward. I fucked up your living room and I stole your liquor. But we should be closer for that. We should be able to laugh it off, smile, and know that there are no hard feelings for what happened. Because I paid for my mistakes. Don’t you remember? A whole summer in the TGI Friday’s dish pit, all while you were having barbecues and going to Rapids Water Park. I never even got to see the new carpet I paid for. Me and Mark, you know we don’t even talk anymore, right?” “Just what is it that you want, son?” Mr. Giordano asked. In that moment, I knew. All I wanted was a drink. I opened one of my Rolling Rocks and took a big gulp, and then another and another. Within a minute, I’d already chugged an entire tallboy in the middle of the parking lot, right there behind the Giordanos’ car. Mr. Giordano didn’t know what to say. It was clear he couldn’t just leave without backing into me. I threw the empty can down and cracked another. * * *
Art by Ruby LaPorta
brown like me by Nia Tipton see a girl on tv and she is dull, mean, ugly. comedic relief, she is brown like me. the protagonist is intelligent, humble, witty. charisma undeniable, she is pale and lovely. liked a boy once, tragedy from the start. think he liked me too, but he said he did not go for girls who were brown like me. said it wasnâ€™t personal, but i took it so. been told by relatives and strangers that iâ€™m pretty for a brown girl (but stay out of the sun!) understand how venomous such a sweetly coated compliment can be brown is impure? dirty? white synonymous with sacred? holy? from the age of 9. reflections told me my nose was too flat, my hair too wild, my eyes too big, my skin too brown too brown? golden skin, a deep bronze glow kissed by the sun so lovingly. the color white girls pay hundreds of dollars for, only to end up an oxidized shade of orange. the color passed down to me by generations holding so much knowledge and history i may never know due to the erasure of culture in exchange for
fair and lovely. again i say too brown? there is no such thing. greet the sunâ€™s kisses with a warm embrace and marvel at the way emerald green and red flatter your every movement. nose fits so nicely, eyes sparkle, skin glows. theyâ€™ll tell you brown is dirty, how unlucky, how ugly. remember this: brown is lovely. brown is lovely. brown is lovely.
Art by Julia Hornedo
‘Dinner Party Dream’ by Amy Huske
gender is a fairytale by Liv Meyer man and woman and nothing and everything something built by the hands of people who could talk to gods made of something as animal as a spider’s web of eggs a quilt of latex and yarn and human hair of tampon strings and vaseline the arrow and the cross and the circle here is your shape and your shell you smell like salted sweat and cotton you smell like green leaves and shower sex sit in the turf and listen to them whistle sit on a loveseat and watch them spin on TV if you’re felt on the train, if you dance fast, it’s your fault, it’s always “it’s always been like that” the virgin, the pink, the pure, the snake with the fruit mistress, adulteress, tart and sweet and acidic sugar and spice and you have to be nice or they’ll literally fucking kill you close your stupid mouth and polka-dot your cheeks with blossoming fat blush make do and let go and pull paper out of your high heels. femininity isn’t anything, it’s a flower stem, it’s the hot breath of bathroom stories, it flows through everything with a belly button. still in male, man, macho, mustache still in need, dark brown and wooden skin, scary safe here are diamonds that mean you’ll never starve. the prince extends his veiny hand and fills the glass slipper with her foot she gets on his horse, she gets in his car and they drive and ride away.
it’s been a whole summer by B. Oke and you still here, poster-girl-child, with them burnt out candles around your name. i thought one day i’d catch you sliding on the ground underneath slick with wax that rolled down our faces and hardened in the rain while our eyes raged on, small fires to show you home. but it’s been a whole summer and still, here you are, viral and shapeless, my baby-girl-child, slipping right through my hands.
Art by Golda Pinals
‘My nail polish smells like grapes’ by Alison DiPofi
Art by Hayley Shannon
ambrosia bath by Liv Meyer gladiolas, areolas, my mind is spotted pink my armpit hair grows like forest ferns, a green stalk stink. i take a shower, i take a bath, my band-aid goop is never clean my heart and hands are kind, my ears and lungs are mean. if i pickled my fingers would they get stuck reaching for something to hold my familyâ€™s fridge is full of milk, strawberry peaches growing mold. there is power in my rose spray, it keeps my cheeks alive my tongue is drenched in honey, feminine bee hive. i dance to disco, i wear dirty socks wish i knew how to be quiet, wish my door had a lock.
‘Nighty Night’ by Ora Margolis
sex by Liv Meyer watery eyes in bathroom stall beaded eyelash sex can you please be quiet, i need to lay on my belly boiling banana milk sex butterflies mate and bite into ficus cakes dancing light on sunday sex church concrete bends under sky fogged window angel sex seaweed dawn sings solange kiss me before the show sex ibuprofen bass, flooded sink sweating orange pill sex morning breath tequila falling into venusâ€™ pubic hair sex
GARDEN OF OROBAS BY JACOB BUTCHER
‘The Well’ by Olivia Wallace
abrupt assault by R.T. dear pigs, why do you think you know me? talk down to me when I don’t know if you’re happy, pretend to believe in G-d for your wife, have a scat fetish, ever been alive you think you’re strong -er than your daddy’s hands, lack of a prom date, the blue eyed red cheeked kid who took your lunch money, your momma’s disapproval, or the demons you summoned in the womb bully your way to the top class traitor, commie hating, you’re the silent majority who makes more than a librarian but issues bullets instead of books you steal Black girls’ lives when they’ve laid down to rest for the day mock a trans person’s confidence when you haven’t ever seen self-love in the flesh eating the moldy lies of our government and expend your stomach acid into a handgun you ignore domestic abuse, pounce on the chance to arrest one too many teenagers in a parking lot all while yelling at skaters, mocking Black women, crying to yourself, and avoiding accountability
ARE YOU GONNA DROP THE BOMB ON US?
Art by Trevor Slavin
Luke figured it was because he was
live a dream and dream a life. He was a child, completely indifferent, and naive to the postures of living. One afternoon, a group of boys passed Luke as he was thinking and feeling the day. They were a group of boys his age led by one older boy named Matt. Matt was blue-eyed and sharp. His lips were chapped from incessant licking and the back of his throat was scratchy and hoarse. “Hey Luke,” Matt said. “How come you never chill with us?” “I’ll chill with you,” Luke said. “How come you never have before?” “I didn’t feel like it before,” Luke said. “But now I do.” He joined the posse and quickly learned its only rule: Do What Matt Says. If there were to be any harmony, it was through obeying Matt’s orders, laughing at his quips, and agreeing with his opinions. This was easier to do than Luke thought. Matt possessed a power. It was a terrific, sour force. The boys strutted through the neighborhood with their noses in the air. They opened mailboxes and trampled flowers. They pissed in gutters
like his father. Every morning he woke up at 3:30 like his father did for work. There was no time for bonding so Luke just rubbed his eyes and observed. His father bathed, ate, and was out the door. His mother told him that 3:30 was the witching hour when all the ghosts would come out to communicate with the living. This made Luke think that maybe he was waking up because of his mother’s father, who had died years before he was born. But for what reason would a ghost wake him up? He could never know. All he did that early in the morning was sit in front of the television and watch Gilligan’s Island. When the sun began to rise, Luke would sit outside and feel the day warm up. A million thoughts would race through him. He’d think about the infinity of space, about his cells, and about death. Sometimes he would doze off into a dream. Other times he’d wake up inside another dream. The dreams were beyond his control. When he woke up, he’d wonder if life could be any different. He wanted to
and rang doorbells. They were a true blue, white collar, spoiled gang of rabble-rousers. One of its members, a short boy named Joshua, complained of being hungry. “You ain’t hungry,” said Matt. “All I’ve had to eat today is one banana,” said Joshua. “Mmm, bananas. I love bananas,” said another boy, Dana. “I love them when they’re yellow and spotty,” said Luke. Matt punched Luke’s shoulder hard. “You’re disgusting,” he said. “Green bananas are the best and everyone knows it. Green like fresh spring grass.” He sniffed the air, eyes going off someplace. “When they’re green, I’ll eat two of ‘em. Green, green, green.” The rest of the boys nodded in agreement. Matt checked his wristwatch and cursed. They were late, he said, for a meeting in the forest. He ran down the sidewalks and the rest of the group followed. Luke was spry for his young age and ran ahead of the group with ease. But when he tried to run beside Matt he was pushed back. With a frown, Luke slowed his pace and jogged near the rear of the herd. The forest lay behind a stretch of railroad track. When they got to the rails, Matt turned and pointed at Luke. “You’re still uninitiated,” he said. “The train comes through in ten minutes. The rest of you meet us at Dev-
il’s Hollow. We’ll be there in fifteen.” The posse obeyed. Luke followed Matt. He led them to a part of the tracks that bridged over a small creek. Matt explained that they were to sit under the tracks while the train passed above them. If Luke wasn’t afraid, he could be in the posse. Luke agreed. He had sat beneath the tracks many times before. He was an intrepid fellow and went on many adventures without the need of a posse or friends. But he did not tell this to Matt for fear of being hit again and nervously followed him beneath the tracks. As the train’s rumble approached, Matt explained the final rule. “You have to bend over with your hands over your head and your eyes closed,” he said. “Why?” asked Luke. Matt shouted something but the train was too close. Luke bent over and waited for the train to pass. It roared over him and shook the pebbles in the creek. The metallic whine pierced the innermost drum of Luke’s ears. As the locomotive screeched above, he felt Matt straddle him and press his finger into his rear. Luke shook him off and raised his fists up in front of his face. The last car of the train rolled by, leaving silence in its wake. “If you tell anyone you’re a fucking faggot,” Matt said. “You’re a weak, fucking, faggot and I’ll kill you. Now come on.” “Alright boys,” said Matt. “Drop
trou.” All the boys dropped pants to ankles and dangled their strange mushrooms. When Matt eyed Luke, he hesitantly followed suit. In the center of the group was another older boy. He was bony and effeminate. The posse had clumsily decorated his face with lipstick and purple dimples. Matt pulled a black wig from his knapsack and plugged it on the boy’s head. The girlboy tucked his junk between his legs and danced around like a fairy. Matt was first. The girlboy knelt down and did the deed. The rest of the boys followed. When it was Luke’s turn he was afraid and couldn’t move. The posse made fun of him. When he was unable, they chastised him, so he backed away and ran home, followed by their taunts. He had not wanted to do the deed in the first place, but when he couldn’t he carried within himself a giant shame. The shame was too great and terrifying for him to describe. To call it shame was not enough. The right words were not available. That night he and his parents ate grilled chicken and fruit salad. The bananas in the salad tasted like vegetables. “What did you do today?” asked his mother. “Nothing,” Luke said. His eyes were in his salad.
“Dull day. I walked in the forest.” “You be careful in those woods now,” his father said. “Yes sir.” “I’m serious. Don’t you be no idiot in those woods.” “Yes sir.” Luke forked his white chicken and wished he could grow up. He wished he could grow up and leave his childhood far behind and forget about Matt and the posse and Devil’s Hollow. He wanted to be an adult and eat his dinner without concern like his parents. He looked up and saw their faces hanging sad in their salads. He too looked down. They ate in silence.* * *
‘Globitch’ by Cedar Martinez
BAD LUCK BY KALEENA MADRUGA
You can come up with a bunch of
You have done bad things, but that doesn’t make you evil. You hurt me, but I hurt you in smaller, less obvious ways. We are young people who want love and comfort and acceptantance and that is ok. Forgiveness is very hard. It’s harder than people say it is. I didn’t have a car then, I had crashed it, and that was one of the things on my list of reasons, but I only lived a few blocks from PetSmart, so I patted Mia on the head and said I would be right back. When I stepped outside I felt like a traitor. My apartment was dingy and old, but it was surrounded by palm trees and was less than a ten minute bike ride to the beach. Every day the sun came out, and every day the temperature rested around 70. My life now has seasons, snowy days, rain. I’m warm and cold and comfortable and sweaty and chilly all in a year. But when I was living there, facing every day, I would squint at the sun like a vampire, deciding to stay in my room with the blinds drawn. I didn’t feel like I deserved the warmth. I don’t know if I looked sad but I was always lost and alone, on my walk to PetSmart, in my room
reasons to do something, and then a bunch of reasons not to. For me, it was because my cat Mia was hungry. She had been meowing at me from the foot of my bed, her green eyes pleading and angry. I think it took me a long time to recognize that my marriage was just an attempt at normalcy, the same way I thought I could will things into existence, the same way I thought I could force things into place. I remember thinking that everything would be so much easier if I just gave in and lived the way everyone on my phone did, the way all the girls from my high school did. I wanted to make my ex-husband into this evil person, this person who hurt me. I had only allowed myself to be the victim, to publicly be the one who had been hurt. It was so easy to point my finger at him and say: he cheated. It is much harder, it hurts more, to point a finger in a different direction and say: I am difficult. I am depressed. I am anxious. I am selfish.I have done bad things. I take up too much space. I need help. I look for validation. I want to be comforted.
writing, wandering out for errands, going to the bank. I’d forget what I was doing all the time. I’d look around like someone else had plopped me there, not remembering why I had started to move my body. My grief had made me self-centered , unable to be present or aware. If tourists asked me for directions, I’d point them the wrong way . Maybe I did it to be mean, maybe I did it just to see if I still knew how to speak. When I got to PetSmart I went to the cat section and found Mia’s favorite food, a $16 organic brand with glittery packaging. I had $50 in my bank account. I stayed to meander around the store because I liked the smell, the sterile-ness of it, but also probably because I was putting some things off. I had spent the day before Googling how to kill yourself, and how to kill yourself the easiest, and how to kill yourself the fastest, and when you start to kill yourself do you want to change your mind? But the thing is, when you Google things like that, you won’t get answers the way it normally works. You will instead get numbers to hotlines and therapists and articles with lists about why you should stay alive. But I was scared. I had always been able to master physical pain fairly well. Sometimes I feel like my small body was built for it, with the endometriosis
and the skin disorders and the tangled hair and the aching feet. My body was always reminding me that I was going to be hurting, that things were going to be difficult and there was nothing I could do about it. When I got to the front of the store I looked through the glass window into the room where they sometimes had dogs and cats for adoption. That day, there were seven black kittens playing together on the floor, jumping and rolling around. I pressed my face closer to the glass to watch them. Do you want to see the kittens? A man in a polo shirt said to me. He had a sticker on his shirt that said volunteer and Ethan. Oh no that’s ok, I said and stepped back. I was just looking. Are you sure? He asked. All the adoption fees are waived today. He smiled at me. Why? He shrugged. Black cats are the hardest to get adopted. Maybe because people think they’re bad luck. He laughed and I probably scowled; my face was always in this unpleasant mask, tense like a rubber band pulled too tight. I kind of have something to do, I said. I moved Mia’s bag of cat food into my other arm and looked outside. Ethan nodded. Just for a minute I guess, I decided. He took his keys out and walked over to the door where the kittens were playing. I followed him inside. There was an old woman sitting on a plastic
chair that I hadn’t seen earlier. One of the tiny black kittens was sitting on her lap, its little body moving up and down, breathing and purring. Have fun, Ethan said and left. He doesn’t even know me, I could be a cat killer, I said as I sat Mia’s bag of cat food down. The older woman didn’t acknowledge me. She was in another place, a happy place. I wondered how long she had been sitting there. When my marriage was in the good parts, when we were feeling in love and having parties, wearing rings, sharing things, I remember that I had gained a lot of weight. Sometimes I look at pictures of that time in my life and my face is so round, so fleshy. But no one ever told me I was fat or that I’d gotten bigger. People just kept telling me I looked happy. One of the black kittens had attached itself to my shoe, attacking the laces like it was a wild animal. I kneeled down and scratched its head. Ethan came back in a few minutes later. How’s it going in here he said. Is this one a girl or a boy, I asked, pointing at the one that was still on my shoe. He picked it up and swiped it on this machine like a store item. They’re all microchipped, he explained and I nodded. She’s a girl he said, handing her back. Ok, I said. I will take her home.
plans to drive to Las Vegas for Labor Day weekend, just for fun. We were having sushi and drinking and laughing and I said what if we got married while we were there. He said ok, yes, let’s get married. I remember sitting in the back of this ridiculous white limo in a seven dollar dress holding his hand wondering how I was supposed to know if I was doing the right thing or the wrong thing, or if I was just doing a thing. It was hot and sweaty in the desert. Everything was passing me by so fast, but I felt like I was moving slow, inside. I sat in the waiting room of the chapel looking at my chipped nail polish, feeling like a child. On the drive back to the hotel I squeezed my new husband’s wrist and I said, are you ok? Our driver groaned, thinking I had been asking him, and said I’m alright, it’s been a long day, and we laughed and laughed about it. Ethan had me sign some papers to take the little girl cat home. She came with a packet that told me how old she was, that she had gotten all her shots, and was healthy. She and her siblings were found under a flooded house covered in mud, Ethan said. They were very sick and almost dead. He gave me a bag of kitten food and a cardboard carrier that kind of looked like a small house. I paid for Mia’s food and I said thank you and I left. I felt happy that I still had $34 dollars. I tried to hold Mia’s food and the
My ex-husband and I had made
new kitten’s food and folder under one arm while I carried her house box with the other. There were little air holes for her, so I kept peaking inside to make sure she was ok. She seemed fine, quiet. I got home and filled Mia’s dish. She devoured her food loudly. I opened up the little cardboard house and the little black kitten poked her head out. You live here now, I said. Mia hissed at the little kitten, then looked at me like I was some kind of idiot. I don’t know what I’m doing, I said to the room, and I felt like I was going to cry. It didn’t take much to make me cry then, I was always on the brink of melting down, feeling hysterical, irrational. The black kitten had already begun to explore, inking her little body under and over furniture, smelling the air. Watching her, for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t embarrassed of myself or my home or my life. There is this memory I have that is particularly hard to revisit, but it plays on a loop in my mind whenever I hear Ofege’s “It’s Not Easy.” My ex-husband and I had rented a motorcycle when we were in Thailand, and we drove all around the city, laughing in the sun with the wind in our hair. I remember holding onto his waist and feeling like we would be ok, that I could forgive him, that we could keep each other safe in this way. My fear is not so much that the
pain won’t subside, or that I’ll supplement one pain for another. My fear is not being alone in my room with my cats, or not knowing how I’ll pay rent. My fear is the knowledge that I can be so happy and so wrong at the same time. I walked into my room and let the little black cat follow me. I guess I need to give you a name, I said as she crawled under my bed. On my desk there was a letter, an unfinished letter to my friends and family, apologizing for a lot of things, explaining things that were not their fault, saying goodbye. I didn’t finish it then. I never did. Instead I crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling and thought about what I was going to name the little black cat. I know that cats are not the same as people. I know that the little black cat likely didn’t have memories of her life under the house, covered in mud, sick and almost dying. I don’t know why she had trusted me to make her life better, but she had. That night I went to bed without a drink, without crying, and the little black cat without a name hopped up and under the covers with me. She fell asleep purring next to my heart. * * *
Art by Julia Hornedo
crawling through walls by Honeyshot and she petitions the water, “will fresh dew become crystallized in my baby’s belly button? nestled between the folds of their plump thighs, dimpled rock salt molded by the magma coursing through their veins?” energy is recyclable, so her eyes thumb into the clay of her past when a mirror meets their gaze bits of pumpkin stain their fingers with their scent muscle memory the wind answers her back from time to time vertebrae by vertebrae her calcium activates and the weight of her belly hardens surrender, it says for puffs of smoke coat your bones get on your knees she dives into a well headfirst, fresh pearls peppering her eyelids her skull meets the dull palm of a drummer’s rhythm fainting, swooning her cheek endures the cool, perfumed tile melts as quickly as an anointed candle drip drip drip naked, never alone take hold of who they truly are! tissue bound together by amulets, red threads, maternal embrace sees herself dressed as a statue when she sleeps feels the thundering charge in her fibers fragrant, her head always covered living on the lee side of this island, our medicine tastes of bitter herbs and solid butter
sober tendrils of a meal well fought for throwing their heads back to the rhapsody delicious cackling indulging silver coins and brooms that declare they’re hers and only hers que son míos, solamente míos we’re due for a cleansing, they say scrubbing up until the flesh is sensitive sealing with syrup the sharp powdery sound of glass bottle wind chimes echoing, howling PAY ATTENTION pounding the ground until the bed stops shaking sleeping under fresh blades, on bleached sheets awake she sees the portrait of a shadow who leads her to a microscopic part of herself her tia’s gaze rests on her, or at least, the inhabited abalone shell of her body toasty with the sulfur of a new host slipping into portals smooth as coconut flesh returning just in time for the bath licking herself clean she mops the floors with eggshell she braves the marsh, wades in the lagoon suddenly her roots sop up the nutritious memory of my birth
Art by Julia Horneado
‘Northern Lodge’ by Ian Ruppenthal
Succumbing to Lake Michigan BY CLAIRE BENTLEY It was one o’clock in the morning
and the dark lake at Montrose Beach did not move, just stretched out until it blended into the horizon. To the south there were skyscrapers, and the lights from inside their glass windows shone bright in the sky. Summer was ending, but it was the first time I had gotten to jump in the lake, properly, from the cement ledge and into the depths. I was the first to break the water, careful of the algae that made the ledge a Slip n’ Slide. I plunged into the mirror and came back up quickly, sputtering. No one knows when I panic in water. Every time my heart hammers in the same way, always in deep water, when I’m suddenly unable to find the floor. This moment is no different. “Come in!” I cheered anyway, gasping, treading, pushing threads of hair out of my eyes. My friends take a while. All of me is submerged in the lake except for what lives above my bottom lip. I can feel the water, sipping at the crease of my mouth. I am level with the lake, and the nearly invisible horizon. Level with the foundations of the skyscrap-
ers that stand tall so far away. I can feel my legs moving in the rhythm that keeps me afloat. I cannot see a single thing below me. I yell again for my friends to come in, eager to break this feeling of seclusion; me in the water, all of them upon land. Last summer, I walked into the lake at night from a small beach in Michigan. I stumbled down the bluff on the rickety wood stairway. Once I reached the bottom, everything surrounding me was black. I was guided by the sound of the lake breaking against the shore. My eyes soon adjusted to the natural glow of the sky and moon, and I had night vision, finally, like the animals. I am always struck by the lakes’ serenity after sundown, brought on by the subtraction of bodies and daytime commotion. There are no boats to break the water, no splashing children, no family encampments. Instead, it is I who chooses to become the disruption, and surely, I have entered Lake Michigan more than any other body of water. Besides my t-shirt, I left the rest
of my clothes sitting on top of my shoes, folded neatly, awaiting me at the shoreline. The water was especially colder than normal, too cold to dunk or splash or submerge, so I just stood there, wading in circles. The ends of my t-shirt bloomed around me, weighing me down. I stretched my arms out from my sides and grazed my hands above it all, to touch the water but not quite. I wanted to go under, but I didnâ€™t. Unlike Chicago, there are no nighttime laws in rural Michigan. No rules for trespassing, for the beach closing, for swimming at the wrong time. There are no angry neighbors to file a noise complaint or patrolling law enforcement.There is only the
Art by Molly Sheffield
dune and the dune grass, the hum of crickets and cicadas; the wind in the trees; the North Star to lead the way into the water. The lake is never-ending and unforeseeable. There is no skyline in the distance, but maybe a beam from a lighthouse, or a disembodied pinprick of light coming from town, or someone having a bonfire that flickers in the night, far far away. In summer, itâ€™s beautiful and so simple. Easy and rule-less. Soon, September comes and goes, and the summer tourists head back to the city. I stay. I watch the leaves change color and the air turn cold and brisk. The lakefront transforms into an apocalyptic hellscape taken by Nature and the beach remains untouched. In October I walked down the coastline, treading on hundreds of dead ladybugs embedded into the sand. Garbage and junk had washed up on the shore, leaving trails of plastic chairs and beach toys, driftwood, and branches long separated from their tree trunks. The beach had become a burial ground, a home for all the items that had wandered off and disappeared in summertime. When sub-zero temperatures take over winter, the lake will freeze solid, and waves are halted mid-crash. After the snow falls and mixes in with the wet sand, the shore turns into muddy brown sugar. During one of the coldest winters,
I walked on the lake. I walked half a mile out, stood on top of the water and looked back upon the land from no boat or floatie. The lake had frozen solid. Another winter I came across a dead deer, decomposing in the sand. I presented the deer with the last living flowers and greenery from the slowly-dying brush, and continued on my walk. Every time I visit the lake, my presence breaks the rhythm of Nature’s unyielding grasp, and I witness it. I think that maybe one day I’ll be united with another body of water. There are all the other Great Lakes I’ve never seen, although I don’t know how much more Midwest I can go. Then there’s the oceans, so vast and full of salt-walter, and the seas that reside cross-country. No matter my future, I’ll take what I can, pocketing Lake Michigan when it allows me, when I am able to break its solitude. It’s seasonal, often deliberate, an exclamation of Let’s go to the lake! Suddenly, there we are, yet again: treading water in Lake Michigan. Back at Montrose Beach, with the ten other bobbing heads who eventually join me in the water, all of us trying to stay afloat. Inevitably, the cops show up: in the form of a bright white pair of headlights which flash in our direction, illuminating us. They sit parked by the barricade in intimidation. We float and watch, debating wheth-
er to stay and wait or grab our bikes and go. I imagine all the possible scenarios; leaping out of the water sopping wet, accidentally biking straight into the lake with worry, falling into the depths, or something more predictable, like being apprehended by the law. But nothing happens. Soon enough we are fed up with the stand-off. One by one, we climb up the metal ladder to throw our clothes back on, all dripping. We move on. Our bike gears tick and rattle, going, going, gone. The cop car stays, lights still bright. I can’t ignore the fact that they have joined in on the disruption of the silent lake, the disruption we caused, the disruption I always come back to, welcoming to the Great Lake Michigan. * * *
‘A.G.O’ by I.L. Smith
‘Apple’ by Natalie Costello
MUSEUM PESTS BY KELSEY KEATON
what's a pest? I grew up very Roman Catholic. In the book of Revelation, John’s jung’ ian - & to his credit, quite poetic - depiction of the apocalypse, pestilence is one of the four horse’ men leading the char ge. A pest is a symbol of divine destruc’ tion. A pest is an omen of wrathful conclusion. @@@@Pissbabyrevival
When you can’t seem to scratch the itch that can’t be scratched @@8hours
T o me, a pest is any living thing that continuously performs some action, the byproduct of which is the frustra’ tion of whomever is being...pested (pestified?). An unexpected example: “Ugh, that grapevine keeps trying to sneak to the roof from the arbor! I don’t know why it’s being such a pest.” @@jahooda 49
The ur ge to self censor is a damn pesty one! It's really annoying to want to do some’ thing or say something but then decide that you ought not to. We learn to do this so young and then continue to teach our’ selves it throughout. @@@emisnoo A malignant nuisance that is not easily removed, and by pests are people who sheer numbers politicize can be over’ being a whelming. decent person, - shut
up and put on a mask! @@liney
k k k
Misogyny, for example. @@Natalie G Jackson
a pest is when your thoughts speak to you as a separate Person------the air becomes saltier than the moment before. a pest is what makes home inside your home a pest is breaking into the lunchbox and finding nothing for twelve days straightrealizing that things you can’t touch are sticky and realizing that they can touch you. mania is the pest that fuels life. when ener gy goes pounding and every pore opens up to embrace a nail. a pest is always moving. a pest is looking for a place to lay it’s eggs. @@E-nid
ASK AND YOU SHALL NOT receiVE BY RACHAEL MURPHY
Ask and you shall not receive. Once I asked a fish how to get to the cloud dotted horizon. The fish replied “How would I know that? I’ve always been here —you should ask a winged creature.” I took their advice and went to the sky to ask a savvy-looking bird. I seemed to have made it to the horizon though, so I decided to instead ask the bird how to get back to the jewel capped sea. They replied, “How would I know that? I’ve always been here. You should ask a finned creature.” At least I made it to the sky.
Art by T. Harris
how to be born: dreams that BYwere real first PEYTON SAUER glossy green/glossy red 2006-7 this is the mornings when i was six and set my red alarm clock for ten minutes before my mother and i needed to wake for school. because my momma and i are connected at the palms i climbed into her bed and she hugged me close to her body and for those ten minutes i felt smaller and younger than i was expected to be. the white tub always looked green and felt cold as i sat and watched my momma put on makeup. she did my hair afterward, even though it tangled easy and hurt every time she brushed it. her red, red nail polish danced through my dark hair and looked glossy in the dim bathroom light. blue/pink 2005 this is laying against the grass in the place where i remember being five. although not a great gardener, my mother had a strong connection to the flower beds outside. she was their tender. to her, my name is petunia. the back of my neck and hands hurt from the itchy grass, but i kept still and let the faint sounds of palms forming the earth lull me into false sleep, sun hitting my face and turning the inside of my eyelids bright pink. the smell of soil familiar to me; i have many memories like this. everything still and calm and the sky was blue and clouds passed by and i felt like i was blowing them away with each slow, tiny exhale. yellow/orange 2003 this is a warm yellow wood kitchen with a white island in the middle. learning how to make bread, how to make cookies, how to make soup; i stood on an orange chair as my momma kneaded dough and showed me how to shape food with my hands. the windows were always open to let in the wind and the sound of birds. my small feet stood on tip-toes, hopping. hoping to one day reach the counter without the help of the chair, tall like my mother. we were alone in this moment, momma and i. Art by Oli Bentley
Frijoles en La Olla by Gira os frijoles en la olla, chillando mi mamá, en la cocina, seis de la mañana —suspirando de amores pasados— tortilla con limón y sal agria es la vida, dulce son las manos que me vieron nacer.
Art by Julia Hornedo
DREAMS IN THE ETHERpart one
BY CHLOE HARRINGTON
The cats and the snakes wouldn’t
I might add, remained as young as they had ever been…the entire time attempting, rather unfruitfully, to ignore that those hands were sprouting sixth fingers like weeds from either palm. Once again as it was before, and never as it would be again; everything came into brilliant focus as I descended the old wood stairs. These stairs led directly to the front door, as there wasn’t enough of a reason for anything otherwise. Our door had glass panes, and it probably still stands the same as it did then, but probably not in red. Through the door I could see out to a fleetingly, fluorescently lit street. A black pitch, separated by thin strips of sidewalk and gated, in our case, from the adjacent addresses by an iron trellis laced delicately with angel’s trumpet. A bus had parked on the road directly beyond this iron archway. It let off passengers, the likes of which I could not understand how I came to recognize—or further, how they each came to be there—and further still, all simultaneously at the very same time. Indirectly opposite my perch on the landing there came from that
stop fighting, resulting in what became a rather uncomfortable living situation for the rest of us in the household. My mother had hoped to appease the snakes by appealing to their fondness for the taste of toad; and, unfortunate as it was, my bedroom was where she decided to house the fish tank full of frogs for feeding. This was due, of course, to the bedroom’s prior propensity for flies. Consequently, it then became even more of an unfortunate ‘it’ for me when those reptilious amphibiousities made their escape. And although from the ensuing chaos I, myself, fled through the hallway, my reflection managed even still to catch up with me in the mirror. A mirror which had at one time, as it did in this one too, taken up our hallway almost entirely. The world reflected inside that massive thing felt in that moment wholly unsteady. I realized with each tremulous glimpse of my face that the reflection would age and age, and it aged until an old woman stood wobbling in front of me. Unable to keep her gaze any longer, I was relieved to look down at my hands which had,
Art by Jordan Roth
bus a young man, descending his own separate and smaller set of stairs. Likewise, I departed my respective doorway, and coming closer I saw him exit from the bus a second time, much older now, with the aid of cane, and then again, running, as a child. I was introduced to his entire life, and he, along with all of his entireties, entranced my singular self. But I sensed an attempt to possess in embraces he gave really but one time, though felt thrice, and there were still many others whose acquaintance I had yet to make. The scientist stood away from the flock, leaning on the hood of a car which had parked itself across the street. His smile was sad and his eyes far away as we sat together, looking toward my house but never at it. I tuned in to his streaming and consistently constant jumbled mumbling, which was revolving himself around the complexities of the universe. But, only every now and again as the scientist’s banal timbre lent its listeners toward idle attention. “Did you know… that everything exists in The Spiral?” “How nice,” was my perennial reply. Running slowly I made my way back to the bus, calling out to those recognizable and unrecognizable faces of the glamorous, both adorned in the costumes of their character and shed from them; attentions, the likes of which I could never afford. “Why are you here, what are all of you doing here?”
In that moment I could consider only one way to know for certain. I boarded the bus ticketless, avoiding a visibly frazzled, and, altogether bedraggled woman. Her attention was focused solely on emptying the vehicle of a number of passengers larger in their entirety than a bus that size could conceivably carry. Instead, I turned my attention to the bus driver, whose attention was, in turn, turned straightforward, unflinchingly attuned to the road ahead; which lay unmoving in either direction. I am not sure of what I meant to say when I opened my mouth, regardless, it leapt out of me like frogs from a fish tank; in a manner ill-conceived and entirely without reason. “Are you God?” I asked her.
I CAN FEEL THE HOLLOW CORES OF MY BONES, MY NECK A TWISTED APPLE STEM. TO COME UNDONE AT THE FIRST LETTER OF A NAME...
LA CRISTIADA BY SUSANA CĂ RDENAS-SOTO
Though the government could prevent her daughter from receiving a birth certificate, there was no preventing her baptism. And so, upon hearing the news that churches were to close indefinitely by nightfall, she wrapped her daughter in a lace tablecloth, gripped her tightly in her arms, and ran from her home to the nearest open parish. Underneath the heavy toll of the church bells and the rumble of paramilitary tanks was the quickening clacking of her short heels on the cobblestone. In front of every still-open church in Roma were lines of mothers, each woman anxiously waiting on exasperated priests to perform hurried ceremonies. Every child donned last minute estimations of baptismal dress: kitchen towels, stockings, their fatherâ€™s dress shirts. She, a callous woman, spent most of the time narrowing her eyes at the other mothers, especially those who cut in line, or cried, or had husbands, or begged the priest to hurry. She turned her nose up at their anxiety, resolute that God would favor the steadfast in faith. Exhibiting no signs of desperation, even as armed guerillas passed by the church, even as her daughterâ€™s shrill cries broke through the patience of the priest. She remained stoic, and while bullets rained down just a few blocks over, my Abuelita was dunked in holy water, as the sun, rosy at its corners, melted just in time.
Art by Molly Sheffield
I'm Sorry I Love You by TOR WAR
Sedation by R.T. 400 mg of lies, post traumatic slave syndrome, baby cries, nazi symbolism, trauma porn, empty eyes, ableism, sewn shut throats, touch deprivation, batons, bride burning, lynchings in the morning 200 mg of mental health suppression, misogynoir, empty belly, misgendering, misgendering, misgendering, kashrut juice, outdated magazines, flashbacks from my first boyfriend in the evening 1 ativan upon arrival Enough ketamine for a 220 lb man
‘Rabid’ by Cedar Martinez
‘Being Dead’ by I.L. Smith
Elenaâ€™s Mind BY ORA MARGOLIS
MIGRATION of When I was four I won two gold-
fish at the state fair. The next day one of them died. “Not enough oxygen in the bowl.” My mom said. “It’s too small.” So we bought a bigger bowl and used a thin green net to transport my single, surviving goldfish from one home to the next. Later that year my family bought a condo. I had spent my earliest years at my grandmother’s house, but we moved so that I could be closer to the elementary school where I was to start kindergarten in the fall. I sat in the back seat on the way to our new home, strapped in next to my baby sister’s car seat, clutching my goldfish in a bag. I went cross eyed checking up on my fish, my sister, and the new road racing by. When I was five I experienced my first wildfire. Less than a mile from my house the dry canyons of eucalyptus trees burned, turning the sky murky orange. The air was choked with the smell of smoke. One minute I was watching Blue’s Clues, the next
I was in the car, our essentials packed to the brim. My goldfish sloshed around in its bowl on my mother’s lap, journeying with us to find safer ground. In third grade we went on a road trip to Telluride to see my cousin graduate high school. My mom made me leave my goldfish at my friend Logan’s house. Logan owned a huge fish tank of guppies that were constantly reproducing, but I did not entirely trust her skills as a caretaker. The babies were always getting eaten by their parents. I was worried about my fish the whole trip, but when we got back, my goldfish was fine. It was my grandfather who had died when we were gone. In fifth grade the fires forced us to evacuate our house again. We anxiously waited for my dad to get home from work, and watched his car on the news, driving back on a highway bordered in brush flames. We got out in the nick of time, and ended up staying at my grandmother’s house. My little sister and I slept on air
mattresses in her living room. During the day we would sit on the couch and watch QVC. At night we fed my goldfish his flakes, kept safely on my grandmother’s kitchen counter In eighth grade we moved into a rental, and so did my goldfish. He was growing bigger, so we bought a tank with all the works. Filter, plants, castle, aquarium gravel, everything. I think we both liked our new houses. There was more space to breath. My mom would confess to me years later that we moved because we lost the condo. She blamed the recession, but I realized years later, when my father bought a motorcycle we couldn’t afford, that maybe our house would’ve been better off in my mom’s capable hands. In my junior year of high school my city faced a string of mysterious arsons in the midst of the dry season. I came home from school to see smoke over my neighborhood. We hurried to gather all of our things before the fire reached our home. But we would
have to leave my goldfish. The new tank was too heavy. I panicked and cried, frozen in fear, but my mother haphazardly scooped him into a water pitcher and rushed us out the door. We made it to the end of the block before firemen put out the fire and cleared us to go home. It was a false alarm, they said. Just a bunch of kids smoking in the canyon. In college three years later I woke up to a text from my mom. “Call me when you’re awake. We need to talk.” Never good words to hear. My mind raced as I dialed her number. She picked up immediately. She told me, as kindly as she could, that when she went to feed my goldfish that morning, she found him belly up. I went to class that day, it felt silly not to. But when I got back to my dorm I cried for him, and all that we went through together. * * *
WORDS BY KC. SMITH, ILLUSTRATIONS BY T. HARRIS
i knew a rat who wore gloves he had a missing finger and a tiny bit of temper he bit and tore the ear of his brother named kind grub kind grub and glove lived long in a double decker hub hateful glove bit my nail off he’d bite anyone for fun friend or foe, blood or beau (even poor, kind grub) to avenge his missing nub no one’s ever safe from glove
i knew a rat like a worm t’was a friendly little germ he pissed his sheets he pissed on me worm’s worm swung like a tree a gentleworm t’was he a gentle rat in the sheet swaddled up, a gross baby roused, he’d waddle for a treat smile sweet with yellowed teeth kindly wormrat with big meat a friend to all of whom he’d meet (even gloves who was a freak)
by Oli Bentley
The Pests welcome the inaugural issue of Pest Control Magazine! Issue 1 features eighty pages of visual art, creative writing, poetry and co...
Published on Nov 30, 2020
The Pests welcome the inaugural issue of Pest Control Magazine! Issue 1 features eighty pages of visual art, creative writing, poetry and co...