Photo by Emily Krumberger
Selections from Queer Voices Writing Circles ‘21-’22 Co-edited by Sherrie FernandezWilliams & LM Brimmer 1
Copyright 2022© Queer Voices Reading Series Minneapolis, MN
Foreword | Forward
Mimi Iimuro Van Ausdall Almost Breasts
Kara Olson What Kissing is For The Red Flower The Order of Blooming
19 19 21 23
Celina McManus V elm family a return to breath we walk the pieces
24 24 25 26 27 28
Kelly McLennon THE RECONSTRUCTED SELF Response to a Missed Connection ODE TO A WATER BED
1 1 2 3
Emily Krumberger MILKWEED IN OCTOBER SCORPIO RISING HOTLINE THIS TAPESTRY
5 5 7 8
Carla-Elaine Johnson The Year When Everything Went to Hell: 2020 (An Excerpt)
Kymberlay Hafner Autopilot Negotiations
14 14 15
Sherrie Fernandez-Williams Goddess of the Integrated Lesbian
Trisha Collopy An excerpt from Mouth Music
Jason Buchanon Heron Queen Mirrors Yeast
21 21 22 23
LM Brimmer unmoonlightenment
Christian Bardin Phosphor Bronze
Mair Allen I Meet Myself Next to the River A Prologue in Ice The Grand Cafe Eleventh Century Recipe for Preserved Lemons Promise
30 30 31 32 33 34
Foreword | Forward In late 2019, when Sherrie & I first took on the Queer Voices Reading Series, we were especially grateful to co-curators John Medeiros and Andrea Jenkins for their years of artistic & programmatic leadership, thankful to Carolyn Holbrook who was integral to the series 1993 inception, and happy to partner with Quatrefoil Library and Hennepin County Library’s Pride Committee on a forward vision. As we developed plans, the unthinkable happened and Covid-19 changed our worlds. Full stop. Our first reading, planned for March 2020 pivoted to digital contributions as Quatrefoil posted short videos of writers Aegor Ray, John Medeiros, Andrea Jenkins, Merle Geode, and Carson Faust, reading. Our first “Book Talk” with newly published Queer Twin Cities authors – Ty Bo Yule, Junauda Petrus-Nasah, and Roy Guzmán was a great balm and success. As the year turned so did we towards loosely- scripted ‘writing circles’ could support LGBTQIA+ Writers with an opportunity for fellowship and craft development. This time we were pleasantly surprised. Which brings us to these pages. Working Title contains fresh writing from our writing community. Many of these voices attended one or many of our Writing Circles. Thank you to each and every writer and administrator that made these pages possible. Gratitude to Ocean Voung, Gabrielle Civil, Tommy Pico, Danez Smith, and the many others read in our time together. Our experience, stories, tears and reading recommendations aren’t reflected here- but stay posted to our social media @queervoicesmn. Reader, we hope that you can find medicine in this wild wheel. Working Title reflects the heat, grief, joy, and histories. From the emotional wit of Mimi’s “Almost Breasts” that launches the collection, Carla-Elaine’s subversive field notes “The year everything went to hell: 2020” to Mair’s earnest “Promise”, May we find new visions for our selves and our work- pushing towards progress, equity and full livelihoods in a time when Trans, LGBQ & reproductive rights are so increasingly threatened. With much love, --- LM Brimmer & Sherrie Fernandez-Williams @queervoicesmn
Mimi Iimuro Van Ausdall Mimi Iimuro Van Ausdall is a mixed-raced, queer writer and teacher. Her writing has appeared in Catapult, MUTHA, #MinneAsianStories, The Journal of Lesbian Studies, and Feminist Formations, among others. This submission is part of a manuscript of essays entitled Almost: Essays from an Almost Asian, Almost Lesbian, Almost Blind, Almost Mom. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter: @writer_mimi.
Almost Breasts I’ve known my breasts for a long time. The three of us go way back. We got along pretty well during childhood, peacefully coexisting in various corduroy or polyester outfits. But we had a falling out when I turned thirteen or fourteen. They didn’t grow as breasts typically do for cis women. They didn’t even come out when I was sixteen. I watched my female friends’ figures become curvy, while my chest just lay there like the flatlands of Western Kansas. By age eighteen, my breasts and I were at war. I wouldn’t even touch the things I was so mad at them. I wish I could say that I simply have a petite frame with small perky breasts that coincide well with my stature. That’s not the case. I have my dad’s broad German shoulders and tall height. Apparently, I love my dad so much that I inherited his male chest right along with his toes, toes that my mom always said let everyone know that I wasn’t, as my dad taught her to say, “the mailman’s daughter.” My chest didn’t signal to anyone that I belonged to either of my parents, or to the human adult female species. My mom had perfectly lovely A-cup breasts that fit her frame. My sister had exactly perfect, perky breasts. I guess one aunt on my dad’s side had quite small breasts, but, again, they fit her willowy frame. Mine were just flat.
One might think me a lucky girl to have such a small chest because I could perhaps go braless and let my breasts be free. Unfortunately for me, while I have no roundness to my breasts, I do have nipples, ridiculously pointy nipples that social graces suggest covering. Yes, I have seen plenty of women go braless and even allow the tip of the nipple to show. But nothing I have seen compares to the pointiness of the nipples that rest upon my strong chest. As an adult, I lamented to a friend, who suggested I use special little stickers that dancers often use to cover their nipples. The stickers are shaped like blossoms. I gave them a go. Trying to hold my nipples down with these little petals was like trying to hold up a wall hanging with a speck of cheap masking tape. My nipples were still extremely prominent, if not more so because they now looked as if two miniature worms had laid themselves down for a nap beneath two sticky blankets. They were having a little rest, but would be up any minute. One of my high school teachers, who knew my mom and I fought a lot, had offered to take my little chest shopping for a dress for the winter formal. I had never been to such an occasion and can’t even remember being asked to go. But I had agreed to go with a guy who was sort of a friend and sort of more than a friend. My teacher was so kind, but, at one point, accidentally let slip, “Man, you just don’t have the boobs for anything.” I laughed, but was crushed and in total agreement. All the dresses would just sit on my chest—the fabric either sagging inward or resting on my body the way a masquerade mask is held to the face without the person’s face filling it out. Sure, I could stuff my bra, but I just wouldn’t because that also looked weird and this was before the bras that promise to make you look two cup sizes bigger. And I wasn’t a lingerie kind of
young woman. I made fun of my friends who went to Victoria’s Secret. I noted to myself that I would never sleep with anyone who gave a crap about what underwear I wore. Not that I ever wanted at that age to show my breasts to anyone. Since I had been made fun of a handful of times for my breasts, which were not a handful, during such formative years, I began to feel my breasts were inadequate and that no one would find them attractive. This kind of body shame runs deep in American culture for those bodies who don’t fit the norm. The norm is very restrictive for all of us. As Lindo Bacon puts it, “It’s hard to convey the all-encompassing brutality that comes with learning over and over— at four, five, twelve, fourteen, and every day of your life—that you do not belong in your body. A lifetime of slow-burning self-immolation is ignited by the realization that your body is an enemy to be coerced, controlled, and transformed into something else— ideally, something not you” (15). The alienation from one’s own body makes connection with ourselves and others deeply challenging. The only time I ever stuffed my bra was on Halloween. I was in grad school and dressed with a group as the characters from Scooby Doo. I was Velma, the smart one with the blunt bob cut and the long orange sweater. I put on the sweater with my regular bra, and poor Velma had lost her signature curves. So, I stuffed in sock after sock into each bra cup. I looked the part, and my sock chest kept me warm in the cool October air. To the high school dance, I ended up wearing a long flowy skirt and a sheerish, button down shirt with a camisole underneath—all black. I also put aside my usual
combat boots and put on little cloth slippers. Everything was black in protest of how I felt about school dances and because I was on the emo side of crunchy. I attended the dance with said boy. I did not feel comfortable in any way. The dance itself felt like a pony show at which people displayed their clothes and dates and engaged in small talk. There was lot high-pitches “hi’s” from one popular blonde girl to another as they hugged and complimented each other’s poufy dresses. “Oh my God, your dress is SO cute,” they might say to another girl in pink lace. I despised the word “cute,” In fact, I banned it from my vocabulary for three years unless describing an infant or child. The word felt fake to me, or as Holden Caufield would say, phony. My date and I left within an hour. But, my boobs and I survived—untouched. Then, we went to college. I gained weight, but the fat didn’t land in my breasts. I just had a round face and a belly. I think I left out the fact that this whole time from thirteen onward, I had bad acne, as in go to the doctor lots of times to try to address said pizza face. Good times. I felt unattractive, even unfeminine because not “beautiful” by very specific cultural norms. Nonetheless, I managed to meet a young woman who I liked and felt attracted to. We kissed and that part was okay. I didn’t feel desire exactly because I was so damn nervous. Why do people touch tongues? I asked myself as we kissed. That is how nervous I was. Who thinks this while trying to connect with another human being in a sexual way? She was super fit, and I was mentally suffering from the freshman 15 (or 20) that people joke about gaining. (Did I mention there was a Baskin’ Robbins shop on my campus that took my campus card payments?).
Then, she reached for my breasts. I kept thinking about my breasts and how the nipples looked as if they had already breast-fed a small army of children by the age of 19. She and I are shirt-free but pants bound. She’s kissing my right nipple and trying to gather my breast in her hand, but there is nothing to squeeze. So, she, poor girl, moves her hand to the side of my chest and pushes up on it to try to create enough tissue to make a breast. At first, I thought I was sort of imagining it due to my own insecurity about being boobless. Nope. She kept right on with the other side and throughout the fun. It was actually physically uncomfortable. I am completely mortified that this woman still walks the world and likely remembers this as one of her intimate experiences. Looking back on this experience, it was both exhilarating to connect with someone, but there was also shame. And it wasn’t at all about being with a woman. It was about my body. I tried buying different bras and eating foods that supported growth. But what I most needed to heal was my shame about feeling that my body was not “right,” was not “feminine” or even “female.” This shame, while personal, is deeply cultural—prescribed. Shame that is profitable to peddlers of various supplements and quick-fixes for losing weight, gaining weight, enlarging sex organs, adding hair, eliminating hair, redistributing fat, cleansing the organs, elongating eye lashes, tattooing eyebrows, waxing, lasering wrinkles, firming loose skin. With time and experience, my breasts and I became better friends. Once I was able to relax during sex, associating my breasts with pleasure has helped me feel less at war with my small chest. I now find sex to be the place where I feel the best about my
body because it is helping me feel connection and joy. I’ve had only one odd instance in which a woman told me that I wasn’t her usual type and she “would have to get used to my strong chest.” And every man I have chosen to be with has always been just fine with my chest, even preferring it. As I wrote this essay, I asked my wife if she noticed my breasts when we met. “I’m more of a butt person,” she laughed. “But, yes, I noticed that you had breasts, which is good since I’m gay.” She swears that other women would kill to have the sensitivity that my breasts have. Now, I buy my little breasts pretty bras and praise their perkiness. I still require those little modesty pads though so my nipples don’t make people stare. Nonetheless, I think about breast augmentation. Late at night, I scroll through ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of plastic surgery patients. I imagine myself having B- or Ccup breasts and feeling better in my clothes. Then, I think of the money and how wasteful it would be to spend on an elective surgery. I wonder how I would explain surgery to my kids. But, honestly, if someone dropped $8,000 in my lap and said, “This is for your surgery,” I’d likely do it. That’s how entrenched the pain of not fitting in goes. Not fitting as a woman, one of the most fundamental categories in our human culture. When babies are born, we say, “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” It’s the very first thing we say to an infant. Well, unless you are me. When our babies came out, I got to announce the sexes, and I hesitated and said something like, “Oh, it looks like this baby might be a girl.” One nurse looked at me like it was a damn good thing I was not in the medical profession. For me and Jen, we just didn’t want to define our kids’ sex or gender with any certainty as one of the first things we ever said about them. It’s really odd when you
think about it. Shouldn’t we say something like “Welcome! Great job making the journey, little one” or anything that isn’t about whether they have a penis or vagina or not? Or XX or XY or other variety of chromosomes. Parenting has also made me better friends with my breasts. My breasts grew a little roundness. One friend said it’s from sympathy hormones, but I’m pretty sure it was from gaining more weight or putting collagen in my morning coffee. I want my kids to feel really chill in their own bodies. I’ve read that kids learn how to feel about their bodies by age three. That is, if the adults talk about and react to their own bodies in a particular way, the kids will likely internalize these ways. I’ve been very careful to not make negative comments about my body, and I try not to hold in my middle-aged belly. My kids are still small enough that we take baths together now and then. My own kids have helped me feel better about the parts of my body that have been negatively judged. At 2.5 years old, they spoke with the same tone of neutral acceptance about my breasts as they did about the parts of me that I am prouder of, such as my hair or long legs. “Mommy Mimi has breasts. I don’t have them. I just have two nipples,” my daughter would say. Or, “Mommy’s hair is very down [long]. Mine is short like Mama Jen’s and curly like Tio Jimmy’s,” my son would declare as he brushed my hair with great force and then patted it gently. I look at them and think every cell in their little bodies is perfect. My wife and I tell them “We love you both just as you are.” I’m sure my breasts would love to hear this said to them.
Kara Olson Kara Olson's (she/her) poems have appeared in Water~Stone Review and TAYO Literary Magazine. Her poem 'Last Night' was selected by Donika Kelly as the winner of The Sewanee Review's 2020 Poetry Contest. She lives in Minneapolis.
What Kissing is For In the beginning, there was kissing behind a closed door. At kitchen sinks, women whispered to one another you’re beautiful. When no one was looking, fingers ran along the backs of necks. There was kissing for not holding hands in front of the others, kissing for what two bodies could make as one shadow, kissing for the long fire of causation and cure that raged in the hallway. And because none ran toward the fire, there was all manner of whisper. Your kind of women were a kind of whisper. Those who died behind the door and went to heaven were a kind of whisper. Any woman behind the door kissed both the living and the dead. Women of the past, discredited or dead, shared secrets. The living travelled to places their bodies had never been. Knees touched beneath tables.
Eyes followed, gestured where to go. Women folded like flowers behind the door, nourished on dreams. There was kissing for standing, a stranger in your own mouth, kissing because the first and second telling were never alike, kissing for not listening when the others said they couldn’t imagine it. Any woman behind the door only had to touch another woman to find what lay inside herself. Behind the door, women found the root of other women. They exchanged the natural use– what their bodies were made for. When no one was looking, your kind of women wiped star-matter from their hands.
The Red Flower Listen. You will always dream. The way your beloved will leave will be dreamlike. And all of the dreams that follow, like waking life. You will see her eyes in almost every animal. You will know she’s thinking of you when the cardinal rests in the juniper outside your window. And you will rub your chest like the back of a crying child until it turns amaranth. Inside of you will be a scarlet hole. Don’t worry. You will stagger out of it. Or you will fall into it, the red couch on your birthday, just before rain. Your dreams will keep filling it, making love to you in the night. Don’t think too much. Let them fill you. You were born feeding the earth with your dreams. The land with what moves through you. With this old talk you do. Belovedness between heart and mind. Between you and the dreaming earth, talking as you do to the bees, the plants, the trees. You will look back on your decades, fading into crimson.
No one, not even this love, will contain you. You will need your God alone. Not the ones who told you they were righteous. You, sick. To feel the shades of regard fading like a reddening as hot as the flushes of passion. The pear glowing vermillion, yellowing out of its green into a soft bulb, as soft as a heart. What color would you like put inside of you? The dreams will ask. To the hands that took the fruit from your chest, forgive. The dreams will give you back your errors with beauty.
The Order of Blooming If you prune the raspberry bush in February, run your finger down its stems and find her legs, the cut of their few-day old shave, you can rest assured you will never have to look for love again. You can trust the sounds you make when you touch what’s green in June. If rain softens your face, you can belong to its lilac taste. If love, or safety, or the place you called home leaves you or is taken from you, or you must flee it, or you must flee the people who bore you, you can rest assured the cherry trees will blossom before the violet irises, the wild roses, before the peonies, and the hollyhocks before the asters, you can rest knowing each burning core will be a beautiful ear for the thousandfold fervor of your longing. No matter how terrified they are of you, of how you break each other open, heart in hand, solely upon scent, you will thrive at your seat among furred beasts both kingly and queenly. You can rest assured god seeks you, looks for you holds sacred office for you in this green month where what’s natural is a woman’s perennial hunger to be filled by recognition beyond logic. God seeks that eternal part of you, redolent of wet fruit.
Celina McManus Celina McManus-Tinney (she/they) is a poet, gardener, educator, and childcare worker. They received their MFA from Randolph College. Their work is featured in Hooligan Magazine, Peach Mag, Cobra Milk, and others. She is from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
V the chunky lumps and crystals cracking in our shoulders & neck stiffen because we still wage too fast, and yet, we’re immobile when the truck ran me down, i squished flat like a cartoon pancaked and this mummy to screen, hilum of country, stems to unlearn how i’m told to exist but there are no kind ways to put it: our bodies are packaged for profit the shape of this severed poem is the shape of thumbs writing spangled worlds as the shape of geese surviving south in the shape of the valley, curved wings in shape of body, you remain good the sun and moon outline the new ground we birth ourselves: the stars
elm family After “The Defense” by Sharon Olds at the yurt, we are surrounded by a landscape i cannot name. i palm an alien pod. i yelp to my lover— look! have you seen such a thing? he says, if you keep on ripping, it won’t stay alive. akin to trypophobia, i’m brimming with the feel of over-caffeination simply by the release of milk in my hands—the damaged parts liquidating, wild cotton togethering. i fear the way we multiply, but i come back. again, again. later, i discover we were surrounded by milkweed and goldenrod. i hold in my hand the hows of all that i do not know. how we know names but not their matching shapes. how there is violence in wonder: the dissection of house cats, swiping the petals from a peony. will the monarchs still nibble? all that i know is while propped against a trunk, a leaf fell into my hair. i took the leaf and identified its home— elm family. elm, i mistake for the edge. the dichotomy of standing on a cliff in awe and the wild urge to topple over.
a return to breath i stole hydrangeas from the catholic church. i snipped them quick, but gentle, and walked away, hammers in my chest, a head of blooms in my clutch, for drying. if stopped, i’d mention the plaque i just passed: “for the body of christ.” i’d stand erect, tight fisting the genitalia of a water vessel, and explain myself with the shape of me. though, if i’m being honest, i probably wouldn’t do that at all. instead, i would mumble incoherently and bouquet into rock. i go home, lotus, and repeat: i am alone, and i am connected to all things. i am lonely, and i have everything i’ll ever need. first, the wind touches me. then, the breadth of me drowns in watercolor. next, i zipline between gut and nostrils. finally, i land at the breath in the mountain of my exhale, above the lip. the base of my thumb and forefinger become two trekking poles. within the nostrils, i climb into the clouds. each step, closer to the small village where llamas bring lunches, the diaphragmatic breath, the blistered soles of my feet. i yogi toe until i’ve found what i needed: a body to love, my own.
we walk we walk on the remains of shell we love the ocean like a postcard we forgive our fathers and then we forget to forgive ourselves we find that sunshine is a happening but we turn moonshine into a commodity we are fleshy biomes of vulnerable constitutions we break into each other’s skin, an achoo of nectar we are the combines plowing to till and we are the otters water dancing we thunder ourselves to sleep, turn god into a man we mother we mother we mother we forget
This is an on-the-page representation of my physical poem of the same name, which was assembled on jenga pieces.
Kelly McLennon Kelly McLennon writes poetry and fiction. She earned her B.A. in English from Sonoma State University and is currently working toward her MFA at Concordia St Paul. A former intern at Copper Canyon Press, the California native now lives in Minneapolis and is an assistant poetry editor for Narrative Magazine.
THE RECONSTRUCTED SELF There is a cobweb where my bed used to be & a ragged hole in my throat. Colored light emanating from the gash, prism wrapped around my vocal cords choking First night back I dreamt of kissing a woman & god it felt right. I dreamt of abandoning my friends because I was sad, wanted to sulk couldn’t decide if I wanted them to find me. I punctured the sky coming home, the plane a piercing in the cloud’s face. It wears me reluctantly. The books I buy tether me to the world, as if the weight of paper and ink can be enough to keep me from wanting to die. Perhaps the guilt is all it takes to carry on, a need to make myself worth these words. On death row the inmates receive a final meal before the chair. I will feed myself on books, hope they never run out.
Response to a Missed Connection
Dear X: I remember you. Our words halted before our mouths, Beaten down by the force of music Filling the space between us with concrete sound. You found me. Mouth full of brass rings you shot your cursor into the nothing & missed your mark But barely Three degrees of separation— The closest long shot yet seen in these roots. I feel it in my tonsils, you were so close, but too far, slinging past me & boomeranging back I feel your shadow on my ground, a half-step out of sync in time, and wonder. If my moon had lined up with your comet would we have collided? Were I a more lurid voyeur, Could I have seen you there? Waving your arms with decreasing fervor? Could I—would I—have swiveled my spotlight onto you? The hotspot brightening your face? And if, blinded but realizing, you Squinted past the beam to see me, hidden though I tried to be in my theatrical black, What would you have done? What could we have been?
ODE TO A WATER BED
Probably the last one in existence, the holdout from an era long gone. It was a thing of wonder. Our aunt let us sleep on it when we were hers, those elementary spring breaks, relegating herself to the couch. It was like sleeping on Jell-O. It was sleeping on a raincloud. It was sleeping on goddamn water. It was waffles for breakfast and pizza for dinner, movies and the beach and the bowling alley. It was Pop-Tarts and stuffed toys and the coveted Gamecube. It was the chicken-themed kitchen, the refrigerator full-body-tatted with magnets, the old pipes in the old house that smelled like cinnamon apple —air freshener, mind you. It was a week without nutrition. It was a week, every year, of the water bed. Artificially heated, cradling our half-grown bodies. There is nothing like the privilege of a wiggle, the subsequent slosh of the very bed beneath you. Rebounding back and again off the wooden sides, and, when it dies down, doing it one more time. It went like all balloons must— the decades wore it down to the treads, 3
until it sprung a leak, the opposite of a doomed lifeboat. No one can bale their way back into the vessel. And thus it bled to its end, hospiced out— my aunt the death doula helping it go. The last one in existence, must be, gone before I knew its worth. It was too old, and I am too young. This is the way of these things.
Emily Krumberger Emily Krumberger was born and raised in Minneapolis. She is a teaching artist, media professional, youth worker, and guest on Dakota & Anishinaabe land. She is an emerging writer and audio producer who believes in the power of storytelling to create and illuminate possibility. In another life she was either Morticia Addams.
MILKWEED IN OCTOBER
You are rupturing Ribbed mahogany felt buttons of a dress. Small dancers soon to be lifted from your gossamer being Soon to be cloud. How much sunlight did it take to spin you into eyelashes of smoke?
I am not sure there is even this much sunbeam in my right arm. What is it to break open, while dying? What is it to be bursting and lavish, as your mother branches bend towards dirt? What can you teach me about welcoming death as a taste on the tongue? You are dazzled flight and perishing hands Silver dusted chocolate, light-tinged blue Clasped in a bow, leaf tip to leaf lip announcing your final surrender.
SCORPIO RISING HOTLINE Hello, you have reached the Scorpio rising hotline. Press 2 if you’re depressed. 8 if you need a good phone fuck. 9 if it’s just another Tuesday and you want to pierce the night’s shoulder, stripping away skin until you are sensation, swallowing a head between your legs. Press 1 if the back of your neck ripples, needing someone’s fingernails dug into your trapezius. For them to claw their way back and drink you. Press 6 if you are a bruise. 4 if your back arches along the darkening horizon, dripping pearls of elastic hydrogen, taught with oxygen. Or 7 if your fist is tasting dirt below a barren tree. Press 5 if you’ve pissed someone off. 3 if this – all of it – just isn’t enough. We know.
THIS TAPESTRY I see a Midwest woven with softly decaying basketball courts traversed by squeaking shoes. With slouching park benches of rotting wood. And shadowed letters on abandoned strip malls, crass colors and crisp shapes still flickering. With charred hamburgers on backyard grills. And chain-link fence parks where kids exchange knowledge about the local pervert, the school ghost, how big so-and-so’s ass really is and how much eyeliner to wear. Here segregated neighborhoods are forgotten every Fourth of July by elders and mothers and fathers who share my pale skin when all of America’s children dress in their finest and play instruments riding floats down pot-holed streets. A smiling fiction masking violence. I have pulled this tapestry over me many times, when traveling in the backseat of that Honda civic, Minneapolis to Racine. Slowly rocking to swollen highway, radio static and front seat murmurs. I know geometry shadow cast onto August afternoon mainstreets. I know Mississippi maple limbs cradling January snow. This land, where my mother ushered me into being on the fifty-ninth push and left it days before the thirtieth anniversary of that nudge - this land that is not mine - whose brittle grass crunches below slow strides in dry heat cicada choruses - is also home.
Carla-Elaine Johnson Carla-Elaine Johnson, MFA, Ph.D., writes essays, poetry, and fiction. A columnist for The Wild Hunt since 2017 (as Clio Ajana), she has contributed to the anthologies - Shades of Faith: Minority Voices in Paganism (2011) and Bringing Race to the Table: Exploring Racism in the Pagan Community (2015). Her day job wrangling books and people brings love and light to her life.
The Year When Everything Went to Hell: 2020 (An Excerpt) INVISIBLE My own father worked the blast furnace at the local steel mill, taught as a substitute teacher after retirement, and raised money for a much needed church elevator. Better yet, he was one of the few black supervisors or “white hats” at Bethlehem Steel. He smoked, drank, ate anything, and died of pancreatic cancer in 1996.
My father’s grandfather was a fisherman, married three times, and fathered at least 20 children with two of his three wives. He kept the bar open every Saturday night until my father walked in to take his hand and lead him home. He died in the blizzard of 1966 when he slipped on the ice while heading back from the liquor store to his latest girlfriend. He was 96.
Both men were large, strong, and compassionate men. Skin color dictated their career paths. My father wanted to be a lawyer, but he was too dark for the color bar. His grandfather tried to change by moving states, but he was stuck with the sea.
Strong black men are invisible. They exist for families, friends, lovers, and spouses, but never to the ruling majority. My father helped his black co-workers learn to read by using the newspaper because you could get a good job at the plant even if you didn’t know how to read. Most wore yellow hats, as workers. Crane work led to many heart attacks and strokes. Occupational hazard, they said.
On the steel mill plantation, black men are invisible. I did not understand this until a decade after his death. Worse, my cousins still worked there. I don’t make mention of the plantation thought. They just want to support their families. Money runs the plantation.
JUNE 25 In the month since George Floyd’s murder, I wonder if our country transcending into a chaotic demise worse than any imagery of hell. Each day One month since George Floyd’s murder, my soul wallows in a pandemic of grief. My voice rises in protest; sometimes the loss of one does more than affect the loss of all.
I cannot watch the video of his murder. The images are seared into my brain after the first time I saw it play out on the afternoon news. Seeing the life drain out of the eyes of a man I never knew floored me. He looked like so many of my cousins, uncles, and friends. He was the son I never had.
It’s like when someone asks where you were on 9/11. I remember seeing the second plane crash into the towers – live. Now, when someone asks me where I was when George Floyd was murdered, I remember the horror of that video. I cannot sleep. My dreams are chaotic. Who is the next black man, the next Latino man, the next trans person of color to suffer needlessly?
I don’t know the answer. I don’t want to watch the news. KINDNESS Self-care begins with being kind to each other, but most importantly to ourselves.
Friday, May 29: After yet another campus town hall session grappling with the COVID-19 response, we take turns being open about how we and our students are affected by COVID-19. Then we tackle the big issue: George Floyd’s murder and the reaction.
As a queer black woman, I am not surprised at the eruption. The previous night, I saw the Third Precinct burn on live television with no fire trucks or police presence in sight. Order gave up. Burn baby burn.
Every day since Tuesday morning, someone texts or asks “how are you doing?” During the town hall, the question comes up again. In the mostly white area, I speak in general terms.
I stop counting the times someone says, “how are you doing?” I am just tired of it.
I wallow in grief, yet I say little. I don’t want to be the token person of color who can explain the effects of centuries of slogging through repeated micro-aggressions, literal and metaphorical lynching of black culture with each death. I don’t understand how to be kind to myself when I am hurting in a way that I cannot explain.
This is one time too many and my self-care, my kindness begins with allowing myself space to say nothing. In the past, I have been the optimist, the happy person with a smile for everyone.
Now I have no smiles for myself. I fight to re-learn kindness and what it means during this pandemic.
I find others who do not need an explanation when I cannot speak.
LOVE During a pandemic, love is tricky. We can’t see each other or touch one another. Because we don’t know enough about the virus, we play it safe. Date by Zoom, deciding when it is okay to risk meeting in person, and when to actually touch one other is a big decision. Nearly overnight, we have regressed a century, only a chaperone is not needed. Instead of meeting at a restaurant or bar, we attend Zoom happy hours with BYOB. We have drive by or Zoom weddings where the newly married couple drives by the nursing home to wave “hi” to Grandma
who safely views them from the sidewalk or behind the glass barrier. We spend time getting to know the person we might find attractive. If one-night stands are happening, no one knows because no one wants the shame of admitting that they care less about their own health.
Taking the leap is not eloping; taking the leap is surviving quarantine with a new love. It was bad before the pandemic.
UNCOUPLING Before COVID-19, breaking up was fairly easy. Under a pandemic, quarantine makes uncoupling a difficult task. While a few long-married celebrities stress how being so close made their relationship stronger, others headed to divorce court as soon as reasonably possible. The stress of living with someone 24-7 is rough during the best of times.
Friendship matters during the worst of times. One of my co-workers is married to a divorce attorney who started a divorce app during the COVID-19 pandemic. The attorney-spouse figures that living in quarantine will either drive couples closer together or bring out issues that will lead to the desire to divorce.
I think of my last girlfriend/fiancée. She wanted to move in, with the possibility of her adult daughter occasionally living with us whenever she was kicked out of her boyfriend’s place. We never moved in together. We got along great as friends and lovers, but the COVID-19 quarantine would have tested the divorce waters hard. I need space to sleep, to teach, and to dream. She needed the attention of a 9-5 regular job kind of gal.
We nearly broke up over our first tax season together, when I wasn’t around for dinner at six on the dot most evenings or when I worked overtime to put money aside to pay for summer expenses. I wonder what she would think of my current schedule where I attempt to be more flexible to meet my students ’needs? I wonder if she would have quit her job out of fear of catching COVID-19 at the nursing home where she worked. I wonder if we would have become
more strangers than partners. When I see yet another celebrity couple announcing a divorce, I wonder….
Would that have been us?
Kymberlay Hafner Kymberlay Hafner is a lesbian writer and filmmaker in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a labor activist and proud membership secretary and steward of her local union. Currently navigating her first Saturn Return her work continues to probe the nature of queer love and heartbreak.
Autopilot I drifted precariously along accumulating bad habits balancing consequences gorging myself, filling a void I could not heal Naked, bleeding on the rocks picking apart my insides contemplating when would be a good time to interrupt my sure-death maybe try for something with a little less suffering I came to understand that she loves the chase, but wastes the spoils she watched. not sure why I was still alive, crying.
Negotiations I’ve made a living working in cemeteries but I wasn’t prepared for maintaining ours. We took turns burying our grief in each other then burying each other while we grieve. It felt like we were finally on the cusp and we decided to pick the scab as if to measure the healing Witness the blood, call the bluff Maybe the ache from mourning the what if’s are more reasonable of a concession than the ache of my boundaries breaking. Reflecting on what has sustained me previously in relationships the exhausting oscillation between crumbs and abundance I do not know how to love or be loved on a plateau we soar or we plunge but never to completion.
Sherrie Fernandez-Williams Sherrie Fernandez-Williams earned her MFA from Hamline University. She is a 2021-2023 Jerome Hill Artist Fellow and a 2021 Black Voices in Children’s Literature winner. Author of Soft: A Memoir, Fernandez-Williams has published poems in journals including New Limestone Review, Aquifer: The Florida Review, and Duke University Press, among others. Her essays can be found in the anthologies including, We are Meant to Rise: Voices for
Justice from Minneapolis to the World, How Dare we Write: A Multicultural Creative Writing Discourse and The Poverty and Education Reader.
Goddess of the Integrated Lesbian You want to deal in salubrious ways. Listen to Pema Chodron on audio books as you fall asleep. Function out of the body. Name gratitudes. Go to a church. Not one that puts ache in your ligaments. Go to Gay Church/ Not Gay affirming Gay emodying aka: a group of queer writers who are not afraid to use mirth like witch-hazel for minor afflictions. Not afraid to use the word Lesbian. And certainly. Not afraid of the anima who lives over your right shoulder. You spend time thinking about how the word triumph is played out. You think of the term, played out. And remember that time you were at Debbie Isaac’s birthday party, and you heard her whispering loud enough to hear her talk about your played-outness– hairstyle, outfit, all-around essence. You don’t know why you believed another girl, was it Gina who persuaded you? Said, of course you were invited. No, you are conflating two prickly events that happened years apart, Debbie Issac’s birthday party when you were eleven, Gina Clark’s baby-shower when you were sixteen. Either way, Debbie Isaac was there for both and whispered sour nothings about you on both occasions. Had you wondering, both times, how to sneak out of a circle of girls who would have been afraid of the word Lesbian. For a moment, you contemplated trends and that only drained you, so you embraced her. Sometimes embraced her. 16
Sometimes tried to asphyxiate her. Sometimes allowed her to be the shero she always desires to be. The woman who lives over your shoulder is all the way played out. And so are you. The two of you. Together. And sometimes you cherish that, give yourself the biggest, brightest blue ribbon for how extraordinarily integrated you are! In those moments, if your therapist issued grades, you would get at A++. You were very young and trying hard not to become a victim of your circumstances–poverty and what not, feeling like everything was your fault and so forth, and so on. When you are young and your dial is naturally set between sad and not that bad, how could anyone take plain and simple triumph away from you? Who would do such a thing? When you are older you know triumph requires acceptance of the unacceptable, or suffer forever. These are the choices. Choose wrong and you understand where that saying comes from, you be doin’ too much, too much binging on pacifiers to overcome afflictions that are meant to be lived with. You spent much of your life trying not to be played out as if it isn’t your default, so afraid of hearing sour nothings being whispered behind your back, jack hammering yourself into powdered cement needing to be reset. You now know, Gay Church will one day affirm this: Make something of yourself is an unnecessary maxim, since you already are something. Who knows if you will ever believe this, even though at your core, you know you are the woman who lives over your right shoulder, and she is a Goddess.
Trisha Collopy Trisha Collopy is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis. She is a past Loft Literary Center Mentor Series fellow. Her work has been published in Ploughshares, Lambda Literary Review and Blithe House Quarterly, among other places.
An excerpt from Mouth Music The Wild Rose Beauty Shop was a little shack at the end of Main Street, where the wooden sidewalk ended and the row of storefronts tumbled into houses and weedy lots. Gus passed it on her way from the hotel to her boarding house every morning and night. A hand-made sign below the name said, “Hair Bobbing Our Specialty” and a picture in the window showed the styles: Orchid Bob, Coconut Bob, Brushed Back Bob, Tousled Frizzy Bob, Eton Crop, Shingle. On a Tuesday, her only half-day, Gus lingered over a photo in the window, a movie star with cropped hair that came to a vampire’s point on her forehead, her full lips painted into a lacquered smirk. A girl in a white smock came out and lit a cigarette. “Leatrice Joy,” she said, exhaling. Gus startled back from the window and almost tripped over a dusty planter next to the door. “That lady you been eyeballing. You got a thing for her?” A stab of fear bloomed in Gus’s chest and she felt her ears flame. She should move on, she knew, but her feet were rooted to the spot in front of that window. “Is she famous?” “Yah, she’s in the movies. ‘Eve’s Leaves,’ ‘Clinging Vine.’ Bunch a them.”
“I never saw them.” Her heart raced as if she had just been caught looking at a risqué photo. She had walked by the Rialto on Main Street many times with its bright, running lights, but never paid the dime to venture inside. “You want a cut or you just gonna stand there, staring at pictures all day?” The girl stubbed out her cigarette in the planter and Gus followed her inside. The shop was cluttered and dusky with a thick, yellowish light that came in through half-closed blinds. A ceiling fan batted away a few lazy flies, but not the thick, distinctly feminine smell of singed hair and peroxide. There were no other customers. Another hairdresser was sitting in one of the barber chairs, reading a fashion magazine. “What we got, Suzy,” she said, licking her finger to turn the page. “Ole Horse-and-Buggy’s getting the big chop,” Suzy said. She shook out the faded ribbon tying Gus’s braid and began combing the snarls out with short jerks. She stopped to light another cigarette, then worked her way around Gus’s head gamely, sheering the hair in short ripping bursts. With her eyes closed, memories surfaced. The farmer’s hand, closing on the back of her neck. The jerk of her head every time her braid fell into sink of dirty dishwater. Busboys tugging it as she passed. And now these warm, practiced fingers on her neck. Tears leaked out of the corners of Gus’s eyes. When she finally looked in the mirror, she didn’t see the polished gamine in the photo, a girl masquerading as a petulant, pretty boy. The haircut had left a soft wing of chestnut hair over one eye, a dip of wavy hair that ended at her ear. Gus noticed her eyebrows, the only
punctuation in her long, pale face. Full lips, steady hazel eyes, and a round, dimpled chin. And something open, waiting in her broad, pale face. “There ya go,” Suzy said, brushing the tiny, needling bristles off her neck. “Ready for night school.” Outside, Gus felt light-headed and acutely self-conscious. She had forgotten a hat and was sure that every woman she passed was staring at her, frowning at her too-short cut. Every step she took down Main Street took an effort of will. She could barely lift her eyes from the wooden sidewalk. The block to her boardinghouse was the longest block she had ever walked.
Jason Buchanon Jason recently moved to Minneapolis from Northern Virginia on a whim for the cold, the queers, the arts, and because Spirit wouldn't leave them alone about it. They dabble in a variety of art forms, but most enjoys writing, making pottering, and playing the mandolin.
Heron Queen I weave thorn luxuries into skin holes to remind. I am earth, fallen stars. I come from beyond wrapped familiar in clay where I impacted. I tie feather crystals into keratin threads to remember. I have escaped, landed, left again, alighting any branch or burr I become in that moment. I am heron queen, eagle empress, spirit shaker; my duty, my dominion is movement. Heart, hand, head.
Mirrors What is me? How do I connect the strands of all the little neural networks in my head battling for dominance over this body? Am I all the thoughts I don't identify with? Feelings, swirling this teacup mind: me, not me, me, not me? Together, not apart but not together all the same. I steep in these moods till water runs cold. I don't drink, but spirits drift, their steam tendrils writhe in release. They call this ecstasy, I think, but it feels more like mirror shards piled up like that would make them whole. On a scale, no difference. These rhythms don't feel as predictable as sines suggest. What is Forward Time? All I feel are moments unfixed, pearls unstrung.
Yeast I bought yeast for my heart. It hadn't risen, just flopped there, bleeding lacklusterly into arteries, pumping life as required, without joy. Counters floured, hands flowered, elements in place, I expose it, push it around, punch it, knead it. It swells with something like love-I dunno. It must be that. I love midnight blue. I wait for it to prove itself. Then I try again.
LM Brimmer LM is a writer and educator living on Dakota Land. They are a two-time Givens Foundation Fellow for African American Literature, a Many Voices Playwright Fellow from the Playwrights’ Center, and in their MFA at Randolph College. Their poetry and essays have appeared in Impossible Archetype, Gasher Journal, and The Public Art Review.
unmoonlightenment One can see how color is particularly hard to manage in a personal way - June Jordan i Again, I said, Go on, Tell me how you found me on blue moon river the rock, my body pulled from the glistening, leaning against your phantomed honeyed legs and knobby knees. Between the edges: the ball in the nook of the red red lake. What a blood moon & wished for balloon: your short sleeves and the smallest hand coaxing nobility: my boy, shaking me open. ii Again, it came, from inside my hollowed face: Carribean rum still my fluttered step.
Once you walked in on me. Using the speaker as a pillow & oh, my cries; my terrible yawping: brown butter melting in a summer of heat.
iii For you I tried to be the child & the mother, too; some combined monster-creature. The colors bled as I had expected: a loneliness: on parting. The way cecilia cried at night when tomás left her for another country or woman or distance. Fled rock. Fled moon. Fled feeling. iv Loneliness, a moonlit night in a colorless town, where you, alone in the flash-lit doorway, the breaking of the light in the doorway & it striking 25
against your bare chest, colorless. Tell me What or Who do I hear? Is it your promise to disappear? Knowing your faint beam & my dry gullet throat, don’t touch the worry stone. Leaving: a loneliness. The late train through a backwater trains won’t run.
Christian Bardin Interdisciplinary artist and teacher originally from Houston, Texas. As a musician, they composed and directed the short opera YR GOD MY GOD under Minnesota Opera’s MNiatures commission, and will release her first full-length album, Shorts, later this year. Member of the Works-in-Progress cohort 2022 at Red Eye Theater. @c_bard @ceebard
“You deserve strings that can go the distance. Only D’Addario strings are sealed inside and out to ensure high performance. …The result is consistent, long-lasting tone with excellent intonation.”
Phosphor Bronze I brush my teeth before sitting down to map out what I don’t want to forget At the table from Jenny who didn’t need it anymore Where we had Thanksgiving dinner last year When you shared our relationship for the second time on social media with a picture that said so full Two intangible times when you were not afraid to share me, to share you with me. Near the spot on the floor where on the night before my 30th birthday we burned every year I’d been alive so far and every numerical age too, one by one by one, 29 times times two. You told me you were so glad I was alive, and embraced me while I cried, (I was so afraid to keep starting a new life) and held me gently by washing the dishes I had heaped in two piles Until we purified my past, on the living room floor, with fire Smoke pluming in the house wrapping us in the dissipating exhalation of what came before now remnants of 16 and 1995 and 23 and 7 and 2018 unseen but sticking to our clothes, our hair the insides of our mouths, unseen but the smell sticks Matter cannot be created or destroyed. (I am so afraid to keep starting a new life) You were the only one who showed up to what was supposed to be a party, and you brought champagne. I brush my teeth before sitting down to map out what I don’t want to forget
Monday we will speak for the first time in a month I want my mouth to be clean then too Toothbrush at work, unbelievably vibrating right next to my brain I think restringing a guitar will be a better use of my time. The satisfaction in making a change that can be seen Wishing for replacement for affirming bright phosphor bronze to shine Strung, by hand Where your hands once were (The front porch where you heard so many songs for the first time)
E A D G B
Winding up and down and around paths together Near each other Sounded together and apart Delicate healthy tension Strong materials made supple E Softening over time
Giving new voice to a worn instrument You lent it to me Two houses ago Before Cam and Sam tried without success and then kept trying and then got pregnant and Hello beautiful beautiful Marion Kumar Lee Bailey Two houses ago You lent it to me For an indeterminate amount of time Full of your music Full of you Phosphor bronze renewed voice Phosphor bronze renewed union Can we Keep seeing Restring 28
Mair Allen Mair Allen is a writer living in Minneapolis with their large cat in a small house. Their work can be found in Hooligan Mag, Griffel, Oroboro, and elsewhere. They won the 2020 Mikrokosmos poetry competition and placed second in the 2021 Penrose Prize.
I Meet Myself Next to the River The litter of little orange sharps caps are the only thing left not gray, not white, not brown, those and the red sumac skin; and maybe a cardinal, if there is a cardinal here in this winter heat wave that tosses tornados into factories filled with workers, tracks cirrus wisps which wrinkle the sky’s blue flesh like so many stretch marks that swirl in on themselves, each its own little acid trip, broken by mid December sun rays that crack the river’s ice into deco slashes; hexagonal gray shapes glittering like the backdrop of an eighties prom; that mirror the deep cut diamond pattern in the bark of cottonwoods, while the thawed and frozen, thawed and frozen lip of the river shoves against the trapped bank—down the steps blocked by a chain to keep unsure feet from falling, down the path with the tire swing limp over the sandy drop, down the path now remade by boots so it is easy to see how few visit the tired river; down to a black painted bench where I lay on my back with no coat, just a green sweatshirt, considering my heart's mirror: the sun—weak, but still producing ill augered heat. My scarf, thin woven brown wool, bought at a friend's garage sale when they moved to Michigan—bought for another friend, and then kept—hangs off the edge of the bench and puddles in the thick inches of new snow below, yesterday we got more than a foot and today it’s already melting; all this snow after the long summer drought. No one is near the river with me today; no black dog running off leash with a Japanese man meandering the path behind her; no white college students hanging off the tire swing, smoking weed and talking too loudly. There are not two young women laying in a hammock together like there were in July. I’m the only person here to see the heron floating on one of the islands of ice. It lifts one foot, then the other, to keep them from freezing. Do I think of thin ribbed polar bears? Rising sea levels? No. I think of the curl that coils a little tighter at her left temple; bring to mind the ridge of her jaw and small dips in her brown skin left by the chickenpox that almost took her out; the rough pad of my thumb pressed against her lip. I think of those lips on other lips. I close my eyes. Maybe fall asleep. I open them again and the sun sits lower in the sky. Someone says my name behind me, but when I turn, no one’s there.
A Prologue in Ice Start with the photo of us standing behind the well of the bar: Start with her slipping one silver cylinder into another; shaking and pouring the once disparate spirits and ice into a top heavy glass. I rip the garnish, bright bitter skin of grapefruit, twist it over the pink surface; the spinel in my ring shifts from blue to gray in the low light. We work like this for years. Waiting to touch. Over these glasses we find breaths in the press of bodies. When those breaths become gasps—and when they become sobs—it’s hard to say. Under a sky before a storm, the same gray as her bed sheets, I dream of her body pressed against another body: nearly smash against the concrete freeway barriers. This person a new category of storm. The weather always changing. What do you want from this anyway? We melt the question between our hot hands. Anxious to see what answer is frozen in the middle; afraid the answer is—obviously—nothing. Maybe once it’s gone it’s gone. She marks the fluid nature of all relationships as I flow downstream. It’s possible having started with a glacier we would have still schismed sheets of ourselves into the ocean. Will anything survive this climate? Love, for me, has been the habit of erasing the edges of myself. Taking the pink end of the pencil and roughing it against the one photograph of us I have, I think I am softening my features, opening a blank space of possibility where my heart should be, but when I look down hers is the figure no longer in the picture. I put the photo in a zip-loc bag filled with water. Leave it in the back of the freezer. It sits next to a slice of wedding cake, some questionable acid, ice-burned green peas. It’s snowing outside and there’s something I forgot.
The Grand Cafe Eyes take time to adjust to dim-lighting, scan the room for tense shoulders, familiar curls—I find the joy stuffed in my pockets runs up my nervous finger-tips to stretch my lips across my face. This smile half a cracked shell. We have never been here before. But we have been here before. We order six oysters each. No, that would be silly. We order twelve and she counts them as we eat.
Eleventh Century Recipe for Preserved Lemons On the freeway this warm citrus day dream may end me. Licking my fingers I swear the ghost of the yoke of her shoulders presses behind my thighs. My tongue carries a knife bright acid; no appeal for clemency. What is it they say—If I could bottle this? Inevitably the essential expression of bitter rind and restlessness will shift; textures soften, floral notes deepen— sharpness dull to velvet in our sleep. There are only three ingredients: Lemon. Salt. Patience. There is no replacement for time in the recipe. There is no replacement for anything. The lemons are ready when words dissolve their meaning. When waiting sets the table for death. Cut open the fruit, allow a flood of juice in the blue bowl. Fingers urge flesh apart. Tenderly spread salt between segments. Pack the jar tight; try to forget it.
Promise Memories formed in unmade beds are worth more than family dinner. A body itself; wholly naked here & also unmade. If nobody saw two people kiss I still won’t erase their redred lips and faces. A photo is just how people eat us. Pretend my robe is a gown, hard boiled egg now sword fish. Please don’t be bored— someday we’ll all be gone. Except me. Not me. Not me.