t r A er
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S Fall 2011
Subtext Queer Arts Magazine University of Florida Volume III
Front Cover Art by: Weber LaGattuta Gainesville, FL University of Florida Back Cover Art by: Ulysses Boogard Kimberly, WI Kimberly High School
All works found in this magazine are property of the artists and writers. The publication as a whole is property of Subtext Staff. Any material therein should not be reproduced without the express consent of both parties.
Letter from the Editors Dear SubScribes, After four months of blood, sweat and tears – we would like to present the third issue of Subtext Queer Arts Magazine. Here’s a little experiment. You have thirty seconds to name as many heterosexual writers and artists as possible. How’d you do? We bet you did pretty well. Now here’s the real test: name just ten queer artist and writers. A lot harder, right? And this, dear SubScribes, is why we exist. We keep coming out (haha) with issues of Subtext because we want to promote queer art and literature. The marginalization of it has gone on for long enough. In this issue, our biggest yet, we have the most diverse set of poems, photography, drawings and stories. We really hope that all of you find something moving in here – whether it moves you to tears, laughter, or shock. Sincerely,
Subtexters P.S. A SubScribe is any fan or person who submits to Subtext. P.P.S. A Subtexter is anyone on staff.
Staff Michelle Philippe
Poetry Editor Prose Editor
Prose Editor Brad Ganoe
Public Relations Manager
LB Hannahs Faculty Advisor
Table of Contents Attributions Letter from the Editors Staff Table of Contents Unimportantly Gay by Timniyha Owens You Can Love by Peter LaBerge A Letter to Any Woman by Jazmine Davis Bones by Amanda Dier Rainbow by Gabriel Gadfly Untitled by Virginia Fortenberry The Difference by Haley Anthes The Old Bridge by Joseph Hahn A Hazel-Eyed Dream by Tre Nesbit A Marriage Proposal to the Sun by Bretagne Hatle Church Picnic by Claire Jackson Untitled by Heather Lucas My Manic Depressive Desires by Desiree Figueroa Coming Out by Mollie Lacy Dear Body by Christine Cooligan How to Bind by Nic Alea Untitled by A.J. Bastien My Gender Cartography Lessons by Joseph Varisco Essence by Ulysses Boogard Sympathy by Andre Gray To be A Southerner by Charles Ely Schooled Love by Hanna Elson The First Time I was Gendered by Rachel Swanson Helpless by Rachael Robinson God of Synth by Logan Stallings Read Between the Lines by Sarah Sofield Reuga por Me by Jess Provencio Acknowledgements
i ii iii iv 1 3 4 5 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 19 21 23 25 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 37 39 40 41 43 iv
Unimportantly Gay Timniyha Owens Denver, CO Spoken Word Artist - Author
you ain’t gotta always introduce me as your gay friend. they’ll figure it out. besides, i don’t be like: “yo - this is my homegirl with the coke problem i was tellin’ you ‘bout” i’m so tired of being stereotyped for things that are irrelevant by people who think they’re better than like it ain’t enough just being Black and being a woman and being an american all i’m sayin’ is... i already got people thinkin’ they know me at first glance so it isn’t your job to tell them my business soon as you get the first chance i’m not ashamed by any means but i have many dreams of being seen as anything other than just “the lesbian” how about the fact that i major in marketing and i speak spanish and i write and when you called me cryin’ about your man i stayed up all night and how i’m a sweetheart at heart who hates to fight but i will throw those hands if you don’t come at me right
can’t you just say “yo, this is my girl niyha and she calls me everyday just to make sure i’m smilin’ and doin’ okay. and shorty can flow
she gon’ make it someday... and by the way... she’s unimportantly... gay” i shouldn’t have to hop hurdles just cuz i don’t rock mock turtlenecks or dress like june cleaver. cuz i don’t really like melissa etheridge or showtunes either. my life ain’t all butches and femmes and studs and one night stands at eccentric clubs y’all act like i don’t take shits or eat or breathe but please believe if to y’all that’s all i seem to be then you don’t know me at all.. and did you mention to them that i’m the homie you call when you all of a sudden get curious? why do straight girls always wanna experiment like this ain’t my life that they’re interferin’ in? and will you please stop asking me how i feel about: gay marriage my relationship with my parents jesus why did i cut my hair if i agree with you about some girl’s cleavage why do you care what i do? or what i say or to whom i pray or the images i choose to portray? we could be sittin’ here talking about what we’re doin’ today and somehow the conversation will get switched to something to do with “the gays” and everybody in the room it seems points their focus on viewin’ me like i’m supposed to be the voice for the whole community all i know is what i know and what i know is what i say i’m a poet, a Black woman and unimportantly... gay.
YOU CAN LOVE
A Letter to Any Woman
Jazmine Davis Gainesville, FL University of Florida
A letter to any woman thinking of loving another woman (if you haven’t already), I think every lesbian, every woman-affiliated-woman, or every woman who loves/loved/will love another woman, shares the most beautiful secret against society. I think there’s something sexy, specific, and absolutely special in being able to make love with hands. And I think hands make the best poetry. How splendidly detailed they are, how variant. And I guess that makes sense, I guess it was meant that hands would be the medium of lovemaking/sex between women. Because everything with women is detailed, drawn out, and meticulous. Like a sketch, like every line has a life of its own, a body, with the ability to breathe, like every form of conscious is awarded its own color; every movement deliberate, every moment savored. Every penetration, intentional. And I think I’ve been handed the highest form of ecstasy to be able to say I make love to a woman with these hands I write poems with these hands I eat food with these fingers I count money with these fingers I buy groceries with these fingers I talk with these hands make plans with these hands scream with these hands and dream with these hands. I shake hands with hands that will possibly hate me if they find out what my hands’ favorite hobby is, a pastime I like to pass time with, watch the moon slip from my fingers as it enters her as I enter her and I feel stars light up her walls when I fall across her; like galaxy. Tongues are lovely too. But they’re loose. And I don’t know, I think I kind of see lovemaking with a woman kind of like one would see ice cream. The tongue is the actual ice cream and the fingers are the cone. Like, the tongue is what melts me and the fingers are what solidify me. What holds the tongue in you know. So I like to be melted and solidified at the same time. To be the cone slipping into the ice cream; to be sugar as it infiltrates and gains access to my own being. The type that is so sweet but no overly so but sweet enough to the point in which not only do you not understand which woman it’s coming from, but you cease to care. And this is not to be unfair to men, I just think that their primary concern when it comes to the mediums in which they can utilize during lovemaking/sex, is simple. It’s not really the tongue and it damn sure isn’t the fingers, it’s their dick. And how ironic, all of the things one can do with the hands and how a man can only fuck and piss with a penis. But again, I digress. I want to be the ice cream and the cone. And the right fingers can do that for me because the right fingers have control. Know when to be delicate and when to be aggressive. I guess it just depends on the woman. But for me, I like to feel like a woman is trying to find something deep in me. Or that she’s giving me something. Something really important, something she really wants me to keep. And the deeper she delves, the more sure she can be that what she’s giving me will be not only received, but kept. With all of the love in this tiny lover body, A woman lover.
Amanda Dier Coral Springs, FL Florida Atlantic University
Animal vertebrae rattled across metal. I peered into the screen, blinking to clear the dirt that rose in clouds from the bucket beneath the screen I was shaking from side to side. My eyes flicked back and forth between small fragments of bone and clods of dirt, and when nothing suspicious presented itself, I upended the contents of the screen back into the dirt I’d just sifted them out of. Across from me, my new friend Shannon-from-themuseum watched intently. She opened her mouth to say something, and then a voice with a heavy Scottish brogue cut the moment and I winced. “How are you doing, Jolene?” Rick asked as he strolled over. Jolene. I hate my given name. I go by Joe to most people unless you’re my mom or my grandma. He continued before I could say anything. “You haven’t found anything human, have you?” “No,” I replied. “Just faunal remains and a shit ton of pottery.” “Good, good,” he said enthusiastically. “Carry on.” I leaned against the hard back of the plastic folding chair with a grunt, resting the screen on my knees for a moment. Through the pretext of squinting my eyes against the dust and the sun, I studied Shannon closely. Like me, she had short hair. But where I had dark hair, smoothed back under a ball cap, her blonde hair was free to stick out in any direction that it chose, which it did. I closed my eyes further, watching her through the barest slit. “What time are you working ’til tonight?” I asked. I was willing to hazard a guess of maybe five, but since the museum was open an hour later than that, it could be much later. “Six,” she said. Shit, her tone was noncommittal, but I plowed on. “Do you maybe want to go for a drink or something when you get off?” Hopefully I wasn’t getting this wrong. I was more interested in butch women than I was in femmes, and Shannon was exactly my type of woman. “Where?” she asked. “This is a dry reservation.” It was true. The Big Cypress rez had been alcohol-free since the late 1980s and alcohol near the rez brought a ha-ha-no moment. It was out in the middle of nowhere, and the nearest reasonably-sized town was Clewiston. I didn’t think that the locals in C-town would appreciate the sight of two lesbians drinking beer together. If she came. Which wasn’t looking likely. “Um,” I fumbled. “If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, Fort Lauderdale has a couple of bars.” More than a couple. My hometown had dozens upon dozens of bars to choose from, gay and straight. “What’s a little bit of a drive?” “Kind of an hour,” I admitted. “Maybe more.” “Hmm, tell you what,” she said. Here was the letdown; the ‘let’s be friends’ speech. “If you’re up for it, the stars are really great out here—sometimes I stay and photograph them—maybe we can get pizza at Osceola’s and then beat around the rez for a few hours and then watch the Milky Way rise.”
“Sounds great,” I said in surprise. “Pick you up in the museum parking lot?” “Sure.” * * * Four o’clock rolled around and we were off the site. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum employees went back to the museum and the rest of us secured the units with plywood, tarp, and heavy buckets full of sand, and then the lab tent. When we closed out at five, most people left in the carpools that took everybody back to their respective coasts. I stayed because my car was still here and took a quick shower in the bathroom, threw on a clean pair of jeans and the button-up shirt I always keep in my car so I don’t have to drive home chafing from the dirt, and screwed around the office until it was six. Then I drove over to pick up Shannon. True to her hastily uttered word, she was waiting in the parking lot. Her museum employee polo was gone, replaced by the plain black t-shirt I’d eyeing the vee of at the site. I rolled to a stop, she hopped in, and we drove off to the more than passable pizza that Osceola’s offered. We ordered food and chatted for a while. I learned that she owned a dog she’d first named Buster, and then renamed Boomer due to his creative ability to produce seemingly endless amounts of projectile vomit. After a short but friendly argument about who was paying, I offered up a twenty to the waitress, and Shannon accepted without protest. “Leave the tip,” I offered, and she was more than generous with what she left on the table. We retired over to the video game arcade on the other side of the restaurant and killed some time playing a few first-person shooters before Shannon ran out of quarters. Once we were back in my truck, I pulled out of Osceola’s and headed north on Snake Road. Driving cautiously to avoid the ever-present attentions of the Seminole Police Department, I was very aware of Shannon’s presence in the seat beside me. Though she sat on the other side of the roomy bench seat, it felt like she was pressed against my side. It was a comforting feeling. The sun was setting in a spectacular blaze of pinks and scarlets to the east, painting the sea of saw grass to our left with the colors of fire. It was an eerie sight, given how dry the summer was and how prevalent fires are out here. The drive out was mostly quiet, punctuated by questions about the differences between museum work and archaeology. I had gotten the two-cent tour when I’d begun working, but I hadn’t known how much arcane chemical knowledge went into artifact conservation. To our right, the almost unnaturally smooth water reflected the sky above it like a mirror, broken only by the occasional bumps of an alligator. Fifteen miles north of the reservation, as the stars were wheeling into view overhead in the rapidly darkening sky, I spotted the road I’d been looking for and turned onto it. “Joe, where are we?” Shannon asked. “Sho-na-bish Ranch,” I replied absently. “It belongs to Jake Morningside—his estate, really—and it’s abandoned until it sells.” I drove through the open gate. The last vestiges of the sun vanished, trailing only wisps of clouds behind. The skies cleared, and wooden fences emerged from the heavy bushes on either side of the dirt road, illuminated by the moonlight and the high beams of my truck. A deer sprang onto the road and froze, and I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting it. My brain was screaming OhShitOhShitOhShit. Automatically, my right arm shot out
and into Shannon’s chest. We both jerked forward with the momentum, and as the deer bounded off, I was already apologizing. “Don’t worry about it,” Shannon said. “That crap happens out here all the time.” She looked me directly in the eyes. “Thank you though, for not hitting it.” Her hand came up to squeeze mine. I found myself smiling like a dope, even though my heart was still pounding with adrenaline. Now it began pounding with something else. It had been so long since I’d been with anyone, emotionally or physically. Reluctant, I let go of her hand and the brake and advanced with more caution. After a few more minutes of markedly slower—and markedly less bouncy—driving, I pulled into the weed-choked gravel parking lot of the ranch, picked a spot away from the trees, and parked the truck. We slid out of the cab, and I couldn’t smother my smile. I’d worked in the Everglades for three years, and spent enough late nights to see the stars, but the sight of the night sky never stopped amazing me. I opened the tailgate and Shannon and I hopped on. She lay down immediately, arms folded behind her head, but I remained sitting. “So, astral photographer,” I teased. “Tell me some star lore.” “Which culture?” she shot back, smiling. “Navajo, Viking, Western, Yoruba, or something else?” “Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously,” she said. “Take your pick.” After a moment’s thought, I chose Viking, and Shannon pointed at a familiar constellation. “Okay, see the Big Dipper? In Viking lore, it’s known as the Man’s Cart.” North of it was the Little Dipper, and she told me that to the Norse, it was the Woman’s Cart. It figures that the Vikings would make the smaller cart belong to women. Another constellation a few degrees away was an arc of stars - Aurvandill’s Toe. Shannon described how the god of thunder had been carrying some guy named Aurvandill in a basket from a faraway frozen land. One of his toes had been sticking out and had frozen, and Thor had broken it off and thrown it into the sky so his wife would know that he was close to home. “Wow,” I said. “You can really do this for a bunch of different cultures?” I was now lying on my back beside her, and the stars had wheeled overhead so that the Big Dipper was now near the tree line. Shannon pointed at a star to our right. “To the north, that grouping, if you connect a line across to there, they create the Lovers.” I leaned in to follow the line of her arm. “Where—oh, I see.” Her shoulder was now pressed against my bicep, and I wondered. Would it be too forward to make a move now? I’d known Shannon only peripherally for a few months, and though I now knew that she liked women, I couldn’t twig whether she was into girls like me. Shannon leaned in further and shifted her arm to the left. “I always thought it was neat,” she said quietly, “that across continents, there have always been several cultures that see the Lovers as the same thing—not the Big Dipper or the Man’s Cart—but as the same. I guess sometimes different places sometimes have the same ideas, no matter how dissimilar or similar they may be.” I was so intent on trying to
figure out whether that was a hint or not, Shannon’s sudden gasp of delight startled me. “There’s the Milky Way!” “Huh?” I craned my head around to follow Shannon’s extended finger. There it was, indeed. We had been so focused on constellations and their meanings that we’d missed the gradual fading in of the spectacular galaxy that we lived in. “God, it’s so beautiful,” I whispered. Here in the Everglades was just about the only place in Florida south of Orlando that the sky—even better, the galaxy—could be seen. There was simply too much light pollution from the cities along the coast. Shannon’s eyes were wide, taking in the star-studded, dappled beauty. I decided to take a chance. I leaned over her, searching for some sign that what I was doing was unwanted, and found none. My hand found its way to her cheek, and I lost myself in the stars reflected in her eyes. “I hate this part,” Shannon whispered. “Huh?” “The five or so seconds before—” she lifted her face up, and I understood. I kissed Shannon on the mouth. Above, the stars wheeled timelessly, glowing the same bright light that they had for eons. Some of that light came from stars long dead, but we weren’t. Against my mouth, Shannon smiled. “I’ve wanted to do that since earlier today,” she whispered. I was surprised. “Really?” “Really. I just wasn’t sure whether you were interested. I mean, we’re both—you know, butch—and most women like us aren’t interested in other butch women.” I bit back a laugh. “Honey, I have only ever been into butch girls. No offense, but femmes are too high-maintenance to do it for me.” Shannon grinned. “High maintenance, I am not. Give me some jeans and a t-shirt and I’m ready to face the day.” I grinned. “Good. So, Ms. Jeans-and-a-T-Shirt, does that mean you’d be cool with coming back to Fort Lauderdale with me sometimes soon and grabbing some beer and a movie?” A smile crossed Shannon’s face. “I’d like that,” she admitted, “but how ‘bout we keep up this sky watching pattern?” I caught on. “The last night shuttle launch is at like two on Sunday morning. Do you wanna come out here again and watch it? I’ll bring the beer.” She nodded. “I’ll bring an old thick blanket.” She rapped on the plastic of the bed. “Truth be told, your truck bed is kind of hard.” I protested instantly. “It is not!” Then I had a thought that made me grin. My thick flannel shirt cushioned my back as I rolled over, and with a grunt I pulled Shannon atop me. “Does this work better?” Shannon kissed me. “You bet.” The stars continued their slow dance above, and the Milky Way set into the trees behind the truck. We didn’t watch it go.
Gabriel Gadfly Montevallo, AL Librarian, University of Montevallo
Never let someone tell you You cannot love your lovers. If your skin craves them, Then let your skin crave them, No matter their shape or yours. Be alive with craving your lover.
Orange. If you have been told
You cannot love your lovers, Learn that you can love them anyway. Your body constantly heals itself The heart is no exception.
Let your heart beat in the open, If you can, and if you cannot, Then let it beat in the dark; Let it bloom in the dark, until It is ready for the open and the light. Be the way you were made. Grass does not wish it were a tree. Stones do not hope to be water. Love whoever your heart decides to love, No matter their shape or yours.
Blue. The only thing that should concern
Your heart and your loverâ€™s heart Is the rhythm and cadence of Your heart and your loverâ€™s heart, Beating in response to one another.
Fuck your lover. Fuck anyone who tells you You cannot fuck your lover, No matter their shape or yours. No matter their shape or yours, You are valid; you are equal; You are beautiful in your variety.
The Difference Haley Anthes Warrensburg, MO University of Central Missouri
I think my dream has shifted. It used to be a big farm house full of dogs and kids with my husband on the porch and my studio in the attic. Not that it doesn’t sound nice anymore — just that I could be happy with something else too. An apartment with one little dog and a studio wherever I’m sitting with her lying next to me each night in the darkness. The change in pronoun is the difference. A few small letters, but enough feeling to alter the rotation of the earth and moon.
The Old Bridge
Joseph Hahn Monmouth, OR Western Oregon University
The bridge groaned under my feet as I ran across its wooden planks. A small creek ran underneath it. Occasionally, a rare bird or a colorful frog would decorate the tiny, peaceful spot I called home. A dirt path covered in goldenrod leaves led away from the bridge. I traveled down the path, kicking an occasional pebble while I whistled a small tune offbeat. He would be here soon. To finally see my own little oasis. We’ve been dating for three years now. It was a rocky start. His family was not very accepting, I had my religious crisis, and my dog didn’t like him much. But those are all in the past. His family has gotten somewhat better, Bambi learned she could have two men in her life, and I finally found spiritual peace. I continued down the path. My sneakers were just as worn down as the bridge. I was planning on wearing my best, but he wanted this to be as authentic as possible. What a guy. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and looked up at the sky. Partly cloudy, just how I like it. I loved running on these paths with my best friend as we trained for cross country in high school. The aroma of change was always in the year. I was no longer starting a new season on the team; I was ready to start a new season in life. I saw the spot. A small bench my brother and I put in when I was twelve. He was just leaving for his big life in New York, but wanted to leave me something to remember. I sat down on the bench. The red paint was peeling, and the metal had begun to rust in some parts. My brother had bought the cheap stuff, not thinking I would still be around this place after all these years. Oh well, this place is perfect. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back. Sunlight covered my tan face and body. I wore a plain blue t-shirt and a pair of worn out denim jeans. Comfortable clothes; it’s so informal, but I guess it will do. I listened to the mockingbirds sing a song that was much better than my whistling. I smiled as I drifted off to sleep to dream of him. I awoke at sunset. The incessant tune of insects filled my ears. My heart skipped, where was he? Did he get lost? Today was supposed to be perfect. I got off the bench and ran back down the dirt path. He’s never late. Ever. Something is wrong. Was there an accident? I left my phone in the car so this would be more romantic. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He might have called. I twisted down the path and picked up my speed. After twenty years of running up and down this path, it had never felt this long. I started to lose my breath; it has been awhile since cross country. But I kept running, I had to find him, make sure he was safe. If I wasn’t so paranoid, I would have found out what was about to happen way earlier. I went around the last corner and saw the old bridge. I skidded to a stop and nearly choked from surprise. There on the bridge stood my boyfriend. The sun was shining on him just right, he smiled at me. He wore a simple outfit just like mine, he was safe. I was ready to yell at him for making me panic. But then I saw my brother, my best friend, and my dog standing on the other side of the bridge. This was supposed to be a date, not a trip down memory lane. I finally caught my breath and walked up to the bridge. He read my expression and his smile widened. “Welcome to our wedding.”
A Hazel-Eyed Dream Tre Nesbit Huntington Beach, CA Goldenwest College
i think there’s a point at which everything you’ve been told about being a teenager, everything you’ve heard, every teenage movie you’ve seen or song you’ve screamed becomes eternally obsolete. the sneakers fall away. the flannels. they fall off. your hair is clean. and for a brief moment on your bed near midnight with a hazel eyed dream you never would have imagined having the pleasure to even lay next to is kissing you, touching you in places that would make Mother Mary blush. the only orbit that exists is your eyes around his eyebrows. your hand around his waist. his presence around your existence. and suddenly gravity returns. bodies hit the bed. feet hit the floor. socks on. lace up. blast off… the social economics re-apply. the social guidelines, the cut-throat rules of teenage behavior slide back to the edge of the ring and you’re there with your boxing gloves with Monday in the other corner, waiting for the bell to ring. 13
I am thinking about My lips on yours. A Marriage Mine are dry, despite my best efforts. Proposal to the Sun Yours, I think, are soft. Not because I think you are perfect in Midwinter And have idealsoftkissablelips, Bretagne Hatle But because in our years of knowing each other You have yet to state otherwise. Lexington, KY When we meet, if your lips are rough, like mine, Technical Support That is fine. Your lips are idealkissable because they are yours. I am thinking about My fingertips on your lower abdomen. You are In pain once a month. Excruciating pain, and you have yet to learn how To take painkillers properly; you are scared. I understand. With my ever-chapped lips on your skin, I want to soothe you. I want to keep my fingernails cut short So that when I do my best to massage your pain away I do not scratch you, accidentally. I am thinking about your colors. You have beautiful colors. You are all sun and sky; Bright and beautiful, and perfect for me. The Cloud-white skin taut over your muscles and bonesâ€”- there are Shapes in your skin, and I hope we both see them The same. The bright UV rays of your hair, your resort-pool Blue eyes; you are my summer, and I turn darker, Darker, Darker With every day. And I wait and I wait and I wait. I am thinking about moving. There is nowhere I would rather be Than where you are, At any given time. I am thinking about directions and I am thinking about how You are my magnetic north and My true north, and My compass rose, darling In the month of rain, before flowers.
Claire Jackson Yellow Springs, Ohio Antioch University Midwest
It was her first free Saturday in over a month, and she was in the studio, with the scent of coffee and the hushed tones of NPR floating through the air. She had just finished sorting the scattered vine charcoal and was starting on the brushes when her phone rang, Wagner’s Walkürenritt blaring. Wincing, she tapped the touchscreen and put the phone to her ear. “Hey, Ma, I was just…” Her mother, never one to concern herself with anything as trivial as basic phone etiquette, barreled right over her. “And I suppose you thought I wouldn’t find out about this, Branna O’Sullivan?” Branna paused, unsure how to proceed. Her mother often did this, starting a conversation in mid-flow, and more than once Branna had found herself telling her mother things best kept to herself in an attempt to discover what the woman wanted to hear. “Well?” said her mother. “What have you got to say for yourself, then?” Branna closed her eyes and sighed. “About what, Ma? I have no idea what you’re…” There was an angry laugh from the other end of the line. “HA! As if I’d believe that. ‘Sorry, Ma, I can’t make it to the church picnic this year, I’ve loads of work to do and you know how it is, editors and agents and such.’ And yet when I call your office, that hussy you’ve got answerin’ your phone tells me you’re not in at all! Says you’ve taken the weekend off, you have, and you’ll most likely be at the studio.” Branna winced again, running her hand over her face before answering. “First of all, Ma, Carmelita is not a hussy, she’s my assistant. She’s a very professional…” Her mother cut in again “Oh, I know what profession that one belongs in, make no mistake! Do you not see her paradin’ around the place like a common tart? The last time I was there, her skirt was so short I thought she’d started knittin’ it that mornin’.” Another heavy sigh; Carmelita’s attire was a sore subject with her mother, who apparently believed women working in a major publishing house should be swaddled head-to-toe in black wool. “Ma, look, I’m sorry, okay? I’ve got a lot to do in the studio, and somehow I managed to pick up a couple commissions this week, so if it’s okay with you, I’d really like to get back to –” “Work, I know. That’s all you ever do!” said her mother. “When was the last time you set foot outside your door to go anywhere but the office or that precious studio of yours, eh?” Branna bit her tongue; this, too, was an old argument. “Look, Ma, you know I’m focused on my career right now. I don’t have time for…” Her mother was having none of this. “Well, I don’t have time, either, you know! I’d like to see some grandchildren before I’m in diapers as well, Lady Faire.” Branna could tell her mother was thoroughly incensed; Margaret O’Sullivan
only called her daughter “Lady Faire” when she was out for blood. Sending a silent prayer to whatever gods attended to the prevention of matricides, Branna forced herself to sound chipper. “OK, Ma, OK. What do you want?” Margaret sniffed ostentatiously, but her tone was lighter. “Dearest, don’t you want to meet a nice fella? Don’t you want to settle down, give yourself some stability? I hate to think of you knockin’ around that house of yours all alone, especially with your roommate Crystal up and leaving you in the lurch like that at Christmas.” Branna – who neither wanted to meet a nice fella nor wanted to think about Crystal, who had most definitely not been her roommate – said, “What are you up to, Mother?” Margaret was silent for a moment, then said, all in a rush, “Well, actually I’ve a bit of good news! Tom Wheylan’s back in town! You remember Tommy, don’t you, dear?” It would’ve taken major head trauma for Branna to forget about Tommy Wheylan – he was quite literally the boy next door – and they’d actually dated for a while back in the dark ages of high school. They’d parted amicably enough at the start of college, both of them understanding that theirs was not a romance for the ages. By then, Branna had begun seeing a girl she met at a concert, and after exchanging a few well-intentioned e-mails, she and Tommy had let each other slip into their respective pasts. She’d seen him briefly a few Christmases ago. She and Crystal were walking home from the soup kitchen they helped run each holiday; Tommy was visiting his folks, with a pretty blonde wife and a pile of packages. Their encounter was pleasant and brief, although she and Crystal had a good laugh about it when she’d asked Branna on the way home if Ken and Barbie were here in the states to shop for their Dream House. Crystal had a bit of a mean streak to her, but she could make her laugh like nobody else; in fact, Crystal had made her feel a lot of things in a way nobody else had, including the heart-shattering agony that came when Branna came home early Christmas Eve to find Crystal in bed with that tramp from the bedamned food co-op – Miracle or Hemp or Sunshine or whatever. The other girl had the decency to look chagrined, but Crystal just looked at her with those big brown eyes, mouth quirked in the tiny smile she always wore. Yeah, Crystal had a mean streak, all right, and it wasn’t always funny. “Branna? Did you fall in a hole?” Her mother’s voice jerked her back to the present. “Sorry, Ma, sorry. I was wool-gathering, I guess. That’s good news about Tommy, I’ll have to say hi while he’s in town.” Her mother laughed. “Oh, no worries about that, love. He’s back to stay, so he is, and all alone, they say. Divorced from that pretty little wife of his, I suppose. He’s staying with that friend of his, the Murphy boy. Anyway, his mother – you remember Eachna Wheylan -says that he’ll be coming to the church picnic today, and sure wouldn’t he like to see his old friend Branna!” Branna bit her lip and rolled her eyes toward Heaven. “Ah, Ma, c’mon…really? This is setup city!” Margaret was all shocked indignation. “What? Why, the very idea! I know better by now than to try to make you do
anything you’d rather not, Your Highness. Goodness, we wouldn’t want you to say hello to an old friend, would we? Stay in your drafty old painting barn, then, for all I care! Wither up and become an old maid! That distant crash you hear will be your poor mother’s heart breaking.” This was followed by a choked-back sob; Branna gritted her teeth and said, “OK, Ma, what time?” Her mother’s sunny demeanor reappeared instantly “Four thirty, and mind you’re not late. Try to fancy it up a little, would you?” A brief pause. “But don’t go borrowin’ anything from that Carmelita – you don’t want offers from strange men on the street.” * * * Branna stood in the bathroom of St. Luke’s, examining herself in the cloudy mirror that hung over the water-stained basin. Brushing her black hair back over her ear, she adjusted the silver earrings she’d picked up in Tucson a few years back, and then straightened her dress. A quick check of her teeth, then a final adjustment of the girls and she headed for the door to that led outside. Pausing beside the cool stone of the church, she slipped a small flask from its holder on her thigh and took a quick nip of liquid courage. She was fastening the flask back into place when an amused voice said, “A bit early for that, don’t you think?” Branna turned, cheeks reddening, expecting to see one of the Sisters standing there, probably with Father Pete and the Bishop himself, for good measure. Instead, she found herself looking into a pair of dark brown eyes, shining like burnished walnut. They belonged to a woman who was standing in the sunshine on the manicured lawn, carrying a large bucket of chicken. Her cafe au lait skin was dusted with tawny freckles, and her open, sunny face was framed by a nimbus of auburn curls set aflame by the afternoon sun. She was wearing a ruffled chiffon sundress dotted with abstract poppies, the nails of her hands and feet painted a dusty rose that made Branna think of the sun setting on the lake. When the woman blushed and waved awkwardly, Branna abruptly realized she’d been staring and blushed furiously in return. “Oh! Oh! Oh, my God, sorry, sorry. You’re…I mean, you weren’t…I don’t…” She took a deep breath and started over. “Hi! I’m Branna O’Sullivan, and I am easily taken aback. You enjoy chicken, and are?” she smiled, gesturing to the bucket. The other woman smiled and took Branna’s hand in hers. “Aednat. Aednat Gutierrez.” Their eyes met, and Branna found herself unable to look away. Aednat, for her part, seemed in no hurry to break contact either, but eventually Branna cleared her throat and released the other woman’s hand. “Well now, Aednat Gutierrez, have you come to our little picnic with someone in particular, or do you just roam the streets, hoping to share your poultry with random folk?” She could hear her accent creeping up, a sure sign she was nervous as hell around this woman who’d appeared from nowhere. Aednat’s smile widened and she stepped onto the path beside Branna, the scent of takeaway chicken mingling with her lemony perfume in a way that should’ve been awful but was instead oddly alluring.
“I’m here with Tommy, actually. Do you know him? Tommy Wheylan?” Branna’s insides turned to ice, but her smile stayed more or less in place. “Oh…yeah, Tommy, sure. We…we were neighbors growing up, actually.” They’d begun walking toward the picnic, and her brief elation had soured into something heavy and unpleasant that settled in her midsection like one of her Aunt Cathleen’s scones. “So…so how long have you two…” Aednat looked confused for a moment, and then laughed “Oh. Oh, my good God, no! Tommy’s my cousin! My mum is his aunt Sorcha.” The Scone of Doom in Branna’s stomach began to dissolve. “Sorcha? She moved to New Mexico when I was just a…oh.” Aednat grinned, and then turned suddenly serious. “Besides, even if Tommy wasn’t my cousin, he’s not exactly my type, Branna. Do you know what I mean?” This last was said with an Irish lilt, followed by a wink that set Branna’s cheeks aflame. “Tommy and his boyfriend are letting me stay with them while I’m up here looking for work. He said his mum guilts him into coming to this picnic every year, but he thought I might like to meet a certain girl he knew from high school. Do you think she’s about?” Branna laughed quietly and glanced down at the field; her mother was waving frantically, gesturing none-too-subtly at the table where Tommy was sitting with a tall man she assumed was Marcus Murphy, Tommy’s best friend (and apparently more) for as long as she could remember. She waved jauntily at her mother, and then took the chicken from the crook of Aednat’s arm, setting it on the sun-warmed wall at the edge of the picnic grounds. “Oh, I’m sure she’s around somewhere. Tell you what – you come with me, I’ll be sure to introduce you properly.” Margaret O’Sullivan watched her daughter wave and then set something on the wall before turning to the lithe redhead she was walking with and move back up the path toward the parking lot. Tommy and Marc came up beside her, holding hands. “Did it work, Mrs. O?” asked Tommy. Margaret nodded, and then looked at Tommy fondly. “Thomas, you and young Marcus seem like sturdy lads. Have you ever considered fatherhood? I have some lovely pamphlets on the artificial insemination I picked up at the PFLAG meeting with your mother last week.” Tommy blinked. “Gee, Mrs. O, we haven’t really…that is…” But Margaret had already put the pamphlet in his hand and was now patting his cheek. “There’s a good lad. I’m sure you both will make wonderful fathers, and I know your mother would love to have some grandchildren almost as much as I would.” She left them there, stammering and blinking. Crossing the field to the drinks table, she passed Eachna Wheylan and exchanged a merry wink with her. Young people these days! If you wanted something done, you really had to do it yourself. Smiling, she poured herself a bit of punch.
The Object of
My Manic Depressive Desires Desiree Figueroa Bronx, NY Lehman College
You make me want to write. To take slow sips of your softness in the afternoon, where we try to make sense of your brilliance. It is your own particular silent brand, and no one knows why it is so elusive, so desirable. Though your skin looks better on a screen, I still want it all for me in the slow, seemingly banal waste of day. I’d take you and we’d waste away. It’s like I always say, things are better in my dreams. You are purely something I have never seen. Never experienced for myself and probably couldn’t help but to give you something to ponder in the back on breaks for cigarettes. I’d show you the need for wasted breaths. And shower you in intermittent sex. Violent, like a storm, like the intellectual fights we’d have with each other about the state of our souls arguing the same point, laughter as it gets old. You are probably a bitter representation of some truth I’ll never know, only coming close. Only coming while clothed because we like it better rushed in a frenzy. Pushed to the edge of everything, you gleam like that enlightened hook that reels me in. I would write just to sooth you, to move you, and honestly, to get you into bed with me. Because, truly, I could probably show you all of this better above you. I must have loved you somehow, on some unconscious streak of genius, I mean stroke of genius, and in my dreams I fiend for this senselessness that often hides you, but finds clever little ways to guide you to someone on your level, or at least someone more fucked up than you, someone who would find you beautiful in your madness. Someone oddly appealed by the odd. And you look like your lips are a direct line to god (even though you’re an atheist, somewhere you have a spirit), you look like your hair smells good. Like you’re fond of white powders. Like we could give into impulse and still function, because you know curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back. Eyes like yours could really mess me up. I’d like it if we’d fall in circular love with revolving doors, going nowhere, but still jumping at the 21
chance to care because we think if we somehow had another shot, we’d be better at it. We’re not, but appear as mystical creatures in our failed attempts and it’s shining, sparkling, and enough to believe. I fall asleep easy when bored or reading, and you look like you have a screenplay full of pure bullshit already written and I would love to hear it. In the morning, we’ll make jokes about the campuses we should live on and how our laziness got the best of us and how we’d be functional if they medicated us. But in love, people dance like flowers in vicious wind. Clinging to life, but it’s only dirt, and the stronger the roots, the stronger the hurt. You make me want to go too far in fantasy. It was so much better in my dreams. Slowly, I’m remembering how I thought we’d right the world. How I thought I wrote the words that explained the girl. It was all so very real to me. And now it feels to me like not believing in anything. Words belie the soul, and there are some words you’ll never know and others that you just don’t say in normal conversation. I’m so prone to digression and circumnavigation. Time’s a wasting and I’m being distracted by everyone calling. Everyone talking. No one listening. But you look like that introverted girl whose smile holds deep, ancient secrets of attraction. One who’s always hearing, one who’s always steering away from common conversation. Like the one small person who understands the maze of me and how the small things are what always amaze me. In the cold machinery of nightfall, I would call to you, deep, relentless, with reckless passion, and a need to be held. You would care, but not enough to validate it. And I know you wonder, and I know you keep it—the secrets of cat-like hearts moaning, scratching, prring. Repeating themselves because one body of work is never enough. And your body is nourished when you keep it up, persistent in the thrust. And so I am here. Waiting for nothing, desires ringing throughout my body. There is no real reason except the answer to the question.
Mollie Lacy Rochester Minnesota University of Minnesota
Ok, let me tell you my side of the story. I was sitting in my room, when my mother came in, her arm draped across this other girl’s shoulders. I gasped: the girl looked exactly like me. No identical twins looked more alike. My mom didn’t seem to notice. “Honey, I’d like you to meet Mollie.” She closed my door and left us alone in my room. The last thing I remember is Mollie’s wretched smile before she snapped like a cobra with her hands, grabbed me, and my head was against the back wall of my closet, and she slammed, slammed, slammed, slammed, slammed. Then there was darkness. Darkness but for a small hole at my mouth the size of a Kennedy fifty cent piece. I was inside my wall. I slowly lowered myself down only to see my own eyes staring back at me. My own smile; and then I watched myself walk away. I banged on the wall, but I guess no one heard me because she closed the closet door. Do you want to know how long I was in there? Trapped in a wall? I can’t tell you in time--there aren’t any clocks in the darkness-but I know I grew four inches. Four inches I had to painfully descend so my mouth could reach the hole so I could breathe and eat. When I was hungry, and she waited till I was starving, she brought me her garbage. And when I was thirsty, she brought me her bathwater. She poured it right into the hole for me to lap at like a dog. Then she’d giggle and go to sleep in my bed. But I guess she fed me enough for me to grow strong. “Do you know what day it is?” she asked me one day. “It’s our birthday.” I subjected myself to the pain of lowering my eye to the hole. I watched her sit at my dresser gazing into the mirror as she applied eyeliner like a sorceress painting symbols for a spell. “All of our friends and family are down there, waiting for me.” She stood up, strode across the room, and crouched in the closet by the hole to whisper to my listening eyeball. “Do you know what it would be like to come out and go down there? You’d be surrounded by friends you don’t know. Greeted by a boyfriend you don’t love. Your parents haven’t even seen you in—” She stopped mid-sentence 23
and started laughing, her laughter swishing back and forth like poison in a vial. She leaned back against the wall, laughter swelling. “It’s better that you stay in there.” The room began to spin. Laughter and blood and my hammering pulse. And my hands remembering fists. And my fists on the wall sounding a lot like my pulse. Time chopped up into pieces by my swift, sharp pulse. I had no life—she took it!— nobody, no body. I was one eyeball at a time and a pair of nostrils and a mouth and a beating, biting, gnashing, burning pulse. Feeling it in my fist, my pulse. The wall buzzing and chanting that frantic chant- my pulse. She was leaned against the wall, and through the wall I could hear my pulse. I put my fist through the wall. Through her. And I wrapped my fingers around her heart. And I squeezed. And I ripped my arm out of the front of her body, and I pulled her laughter with it. Smash and smash again. Then I emerged. I rose from my rubble, and I stood straight up for the first time in my new life. And so now do you see why I ran downstairs, the filthy disgusting creature you see before you? Why I leapt onto the table like a misbehaving dog and seized your steak in my mouth? If you can’t see that, then why don’t you climb the stairs and look in my room and see your friend whose life I took? Take a good look at your murdered friend. This is obviously none of your faults, but I have nothing more to say to you. How about you just wish me a happy birthday and farewell? I’ll be going now. I turn and walk out the door. I walk down the street looking around at everything, my eyes thirsty to see green grass again. I breathe deep the cool evening air. I forgot how good it tasted to be outside! I walk toward the setting sun. I close one eye and I make a circle with my thumb and index finger, about the size of a Kennedy fifty cent piece, and I look through it at that orange disk. I smile. I keep walking. Everything is beautiful, and even blaring sirens sound musical to me.
Christine Colligan Babylon, NY SUNY Binghamton student
This is a love letter to you. I’m sorry, I know that I haven’t written to you in years. Please forgive me. In this love letter to you, I shall start from the root: the base, my feet. My feet with yellowing toe nails, aching arches, calloused heels, ticklish, blunt, and too wide; I love you. I love you in the sense that we can sympathize with each other. Squeezed into shoes too small, confined much like I am confined. Yet you don’t let this entrapment define you. You take me places even if those places pain you with fatigue, sharp rocks, fallen arches, and blisters. You never complain even though you support the whole weight of my body, the weight of the world. You take me places. For this I am grateful. My weak ankles and hairy calves, I love you as well. Even when you cause me trouble with a hobble-inducing sprain, or the incapacitating, painful clench of muscles; I love you. You cannot help it; it is not your fault. My dear knees and thighs, I love you. I am sorry for the occasional bruised or scraped shin. I am sorry that you are no longer attached to the body of a child. To my groin and hips, don’t tell the others (one more secret to hold), but I think I love you more than the rest. Or hate you more than I can stand, I can never tell which. I am sorry for the scars left when I carved so lovingly, so hatefully into your flesh. But you should know, you are the place where self-love is born. I am sorry for rejecting you for so long and for the coming future, where I will probably reject you once more. This self abuse, this loving caress, it must be confusing. But I promise, I do love you. My stomach, ribs, and breasts, I’m sorry that I place so much expectation upon you. But I do this not to hurt you or watch you fail, but for love. My stomach, you are round and fleshy with curving sides flowing to my hips. My ribs, you are steps leading up to my other most beloved, most hated part. My breasts, I may struggle to say I love you, and I know that this love must seem like 25
abuse, but I do. I love you, I love you, I love you. And I am sorry. I am sorry for the discomfort you must feel every time I reject you or attempt to mold you against my spine. Just know that rejection is a form of motherhood and in that we have a commonality. I love you my neck and shoulders in a way that must seem perverse. I love you in the sense that much like my feet, you hold me up. Yet I also love your softness, your curves, your vulnerability. You know how often my fingers trace the length of my jugular, which leads to that organ pumping behind the cage of my breasts and ribs? You give me the comfort, the disappointment of knowing that I am still alive. My shoulders, every day I pray that you might be, will be stronger to hold the burdens that I bear. And for your unwavering servitude, I love you. My arms, wrists, hands, and fingers, I hope that you all as well will forgive me. Forgive me for not showing you as much love as I should. I love you arms and the powerful form of muscle beneath the skin. My wrists I love you much like my groin or breasts, and as such I should kiss you every day for the wrongs you have suffered against me. Hands and fingers, I could not live without you and you know this, so take care. Take care and be cautious among sharp blades and burning stoves. I love you too much to lose you. Ah, my face, oh, my face. You have no idea how grateful I am or how great my love is. So I shall be brief. My dearest lips, nose, ears, eyes, even forehead five fingers wide; I love you. Dearest body, I hope that in this individual loving of your joints, you know that I also love you as a whole. I love you; full of dark hairs like wires, scars and callouses, swelling curves and flesh. So please, I hope that with this love I have shown you, as I accept your flaws, that you may accept the flaws of my soul and in turn, lovingly reply. Sincerely yours, Me
i know it’s hard to sleep with the mirror glaring, you know you don’t have to but you don’t have the heart to shatter, you shattered, sew it back together;
i. bandage: like the ones you would wrap your paper cut wounds; like the ones you would wrap your stormy adolescent scarification, like the ones you would wrap around your body to keep your broken heart in; ii. hold one end over your left breast, slowly wrap: across to your right breast, under your armpit, across your back, under your left armpit, and on and on and; secure with a safety pin; iii. this is an evolving binary star that blushes your cheeks, red raw, leave your lungs to face all the restrictions;
How to Bind
iv. Nic Alea this is a gift to your body; San Francisco, CA this is a secret with your body; S.F State University you recognize your body now when the mirror is melting in front of your face and the apartment’s water has been turned off, you forget how to clean yourself, gnaw on bathroom tile of white, lick at your own teeth enamel; you were saving this body for some place and time that would turn those little sparks into comets bursting from your fingertips what part of you is whole now; what part of you wishes the secrets were only scraped into bone still; what moments do you spend pounding all ten finger tips into your chest like the pulse of a djembe drum trying to clear all the hate from your heart; where are you;
v. your father tells you you’ve crushed his dreams of a daughter; some days, you forget how to write; you bind too tight and your back cracks like white wicker spine brushing dust onto your diary of what you know about yourself; you are two spirit wetted with spit of your own acid reflux, tell your body you are sorry for the weapons against it, for the psychology against it, for the fists against it, tell your body you are sorry for the heavy explanations, for the abuse, and the forced love; and your body will hold all your apologies in its clenched jaw until you’re done explaining yourself; vi. tell your body you are sorry; tell your body you are sorry; vii. have your lover remove your binding before sleep; because your lungs need air to breathe.
A.J. Bastien Middletown, OH Wright State University
Snaps and buttons A tail coat and a stiff white shirt Red striped-patterned tie And black shiny shoes. A girl in a man’s suit. Because beneath the pockets and buttons, and the material of the stiff white shirt is the skin of a woman. The shape of a woman. The body of a woman. But who’s to say, they wondered, examining their reflection in the tall mirror on the wall, what exactly defines a human as anything but that? Just human. So they adjust their tailcoat and admire their flatchest, give one more quick once over, and step away from the glass.
MY GENDER CARTOGRAPHY Joseph Varisco Chicago, IL LESSONS Jane Addams School for Social Work What do you mean I can never go home again? The roads are flooded? There are ghosts blocking the way? Fires are raging everywhere? In search of a new place. In search of a new me. I can undress in my room and see the brilliance of a feminine line down the small of my back and ass. I can shower in the morning and feel radiance of a goddess. I can crawl under my covers and smell the scent of sweat and sweet. I want them both. Can I have them both? There is this brilliant new dress that reminds me of a photograph of my grandmother dancing and I want to wear it. I want my beard and my eye shadow. I want to feel sultry and safe. My heels make me feel like a fucking gazelle, like I can pike my way up a mountain, beat my chest and pucker cherry tinted lips and lavender glazed eyes and breathe. Breathe the mystery of our organs and our every changing shapes. Breathe the mystery of father son mother brother sister daughter church and tongues, lovers and trials. I am all of these things. Each spiral of sand and quasar, each cycle of moon and menstruation, each birth of flower and death of star. In my jewelry box is my toolbox. My belt has room for both a hammer and lipstick. Fuck me or be fucked or just breathe here with me.
Ulysses Boogard Kimberly, WI Kimberly High School
The senses are misleading One cannot trust what they show. Vision is only tunneled One must look without the eyes. Touch is only paltry One must remember flesh is flesh. The body is tangible But the mind is most accurate. Organs are only tissue They do not make the soul. Torsos are only structures They do not deem any trait. The spirit is sacrosanct It is what defines the being. Appearance is only superficial Personality is the deep and innate. Biology is only coincidental Psyche is the truest human form.
Andre Gray Laguna Niguel, CA Capistrano Valley High School
Look at the rows of anguished faces, perfected in years of practice, Scattered in unison, they are like great stones, held fast by Twisted roots. How I Pity those who shed a tear, for the things others lost. For it seems the World does not flame with a seething luster, Nor does it shiver in the bite of icy winds; Instead we must be cruel or illusioned in its terrifying neutrality. And so those skilled entertainers slip into a stranger’s skin, Conjuring a dramatic performance to fool the fools in a despaired audience. Oh, How those faces mock me! Once Strong, the Feather of the Egyptian Goddess lies jagged and broken, And apathetic Heracles looks upon unlucky Atlas with a callous. All the while each wretched tear and troubled look chuckles quietly to itself. Of course, Why concern yourself with a man of the masses? Let him cry out to the deaf crowd, let him yearn to catch their avoiding gaze Only to be received by a handful of distressed looks. But when the dark tides close in on You, Lapping hungrily at your feet, You too will see the anguished faces, Shaking their distracted heads as you drown.
To Be a Southerner for A. Van Jordan
Charles Ely Gainesville, FL Santa Fe Community College
It’s easier to identify with the Southern myth of sleepy moss than the Florida myth of hotels and plastic palm trees, tourists and retirees. I grew out of this soil. They did not. The slow pace can feel like a blessing, the stillness of the air and the stillness in the long pauses between our words. We’ve neglected the hectic stress of city life, the double-time march to modernization; our trees line the sides of our roads, which stretch, open, like an invitation. The limestone of neighborhoods dusts the cars. But the high school I attended freshman year did not desegregate until 1970, sixteen years after the Supreme Court ruled that in education separate could not be equal. And gay is still a controversy even in this college town. It’s not a sin so much as a secret, something we don’t mention much. The one time I ventured into the nightlife of my town I overheard a young guy say he ought to burn the gay club down. He looked so normal, a white polo and jeans, and his friend, who suggested the club, looked about the same, but the quality of his silence shared something with mine. I couldn’t see their faces, only the press of their shoulders to the tension of white cloth. Something hot like frozen metal, and quivering, grew in my stomach and vibrated through my wrists, and I wondered how much worse it must be for your difference to be something carried in your skin. I, at least, could hide even if I thought maybe I’d like to be seen.
Schooled Love Female, boulder on the beach, legs long and painted red. She touches her feet to it: wave over wave washing over. New texture, neutral color. She reconstructs a life— turquoise ‘round her neck, faceless parents. One by one, her memories slip into the ocean. Surrealist baby, letters in the sand. Her stomach curves, striped, a trail of black hair. I trace shapes over the skin, imprint the way she feels in memory. I paint her body on the boulder; small breasts, silver jewelry, fabric in place of the hair she shaved off. Her thigh, the muscle, her calf. Parallel lines printed on the skin. They read like a love letter— “Move to the city with me.” Always a man she loves, he gets in the way.
Hanna Elson New York, NY
The First Time I Was Gendered
I tried hard to remember the first time I felt like a girl, but in reality from the first time, I knew I was a person, I knew I was female. The thing was I never conformed to “traditional” feminine gender roles. I never wanted to pretend to be Spice Girls, paint my nails, or talk about how cute Justin Timberlake was with the other girls. The only kind of makeup I ever had an interest in was face paint, and that was for its artistic merits. And so in elementary school all the girls hated me; it didn’t help that I was giant with bigger feet than my teacher. At the tender age of eight, I was already bemoaning my existence and wondering why I was even alive. Kids can be cruel, mostly because they haven’t learned to hide it behind smiles and backstabbing words. That kind of thing comes later in middle school. Fortunately, with the advent of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh, I found common ground with the boys in my grade. At first, they were wary, but then I proved that our interest in video games, trading cards, and soccer were similar enough for me to be welcomed in to the fray. And so I talked trash, shoved, kicked, and played Bridge Troll Invasion instead of Britney Spears Concert (who I liked but couldn’t talk to the guys about). And it was great. I knew I was a girl, but I wasn’t a prissy wimpy little bitch like my sister. I was just as badass and awesome as any of the boys. But there came a time when I realized I wasn’t as manly as I thought. It was the first time I felt like the female stereotype that I had come to loathe. It was the fourth grade on a cold slushy day in the middle of winter. There was too much snow on the ground for the teachers to let us play on the playground, but it was warm enough for us to be outside for recess anyway. And so they made us go play soccer and four squares in the side parking lot. I remember drifting away from a game of H.O.R.S.E. when I spied the class jerk, Richie, giving one of my friends a hard time. Sammy got picked on a lot because he had a high girly voice and acted fairly feminine. To my shame, I’ll admit that I wasn’t immune to making fun of him for acting “gay” either. But even so, he was a friend, and if any one besides my group of guys made fun of him, they were in for it. I had decided several years earlier that if I was going to be a hated outsider, I 34
might as well be a force for good and justice—like Batman. And so I had made it a personal mission to stand up for kids who were being picked on or ignored, mostly because I wanted some one to do the same for me. I went up to Richie, who was throwing ice at Sammy and calling him a “faggot” and, demanded he leave Sammy alone. I believe my line was something cliché about picking on some one your own size. Richie did stop harassing Sammy, but moved over to me saying, “What do you think you’re going to do about it?” I can’t remember my exact words, but I know they were a threat because the next thing I know he punches me as hard as he can in the stomach. It wasn’t like how I imagined it was going to go, mostly because I got the air knocked out me and I went down like a complete loser. I remember lying on the ground gasping for air and the sound of some one yelling for a teacher. But really, nothing else mattered except the fact that I had failed epically. I was a lightweight girl who couldn’t even stand up to a bully properly. I felt weak, helpless, and painfully, stereotypically female. I had to go to the office to explain what happened, but I was in the right and all the kids on the playground backed me up on it. But the damage was already done. When I got home, my Mom knew about what had happened because the school called, but mostly because all of my guy friends had called while I walked home. She said they were all asking if I was okay or if I wanted them to beat up Richie for me tomorrow. I muttered to tell them I was fine and that they didn’t need to do that. That was really the icing on the cake. Not only had I discovered I wasn’t invincible, but now all my guy friends were treating me like a damsel in distress. It took a long while for me to regain my self-esteem, and I ended up spending most of my time in middle school kicking guys in the nuts to prove to them they weren’t invincible either. I tried to remain strong and tough and not fall prey to anyone, let alone a boy, ever again. But by high school I had started to realize that one could like girly things, like girls themselves, and still not be the stereotypical weak, emotional, woman figure, that really even the dainty-looking girls could be just as badass as any superhero, maybe more so, and that acting stereotypically feminine didn’t mean you were weak. Girls could come in varying degrees of toughness and still never be the weak creatures society had taught me they were. And that belief had made me hate them. But like most stereotypes, that woman doesn’t really exist. And she never has. 35
Rachael Robinson Atlanta, GA Georgia Gwinnett College
Had she seen the wildness glinting in my eyes? Was she actually balking at the idea of taming me? The worst that could have happened was that she wasted a lot of time, but my freedom was almost always at stake. What do I always do wrong? Each laugh was an insolent honk. I tittered wildly, like a schoolgirl at her jokes, while grossly contorting my face into something I thought might’ve been coy. Inwardly, I huffed a sigh at myself and buried my face in my hands. Inwardly, I threw myself and my futile attempts at flirtation in front of a bus. It was missing something. It was not who I was. It was not working. I woefully thought of the low cut top that I left at home. She made me acutely aware of my blunderings. She made me feel obtuse. We sat perpendicularly on the sofa. We never seemed to be at the right angle. The idea of breaching the garish line between sitting close and staying comfortably apart squeezed me until my breaths came out in short gasps. My hands shook violently as I held her lighter up to my face. Somewhere below—a murderous stampede of butterflies. I inhaled, cross-eyed. The air around us was repugnant with asexuality, and I felt the irresistible urge to hack through it with a machete. I was violent with disappointment. She sat before me like a promise, and I realized that she had retired herself to being an adult. Sitting there, darkened by the shadow of her overbearing maturity, I resigned to never grow a day older. Her bluntness sat crouched on her tongue, and I gripped the sides of the table in preparation. Order a drink quick, so that alcohol will soften the blow, I commanded myself. And don’t, for the love of god, panic. But I could feel my heart tumbling from my chest, to my stomach, to my feet. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could be normal. I was pregnant with the inevitable fuckup. I could feel it fighting toward my mouth. I could feel it recoiling. “Can I kiss you?” I asked, helpless.
God of Synth
His car had liver spots The breeze that blew was ours We prayed to the moon And were sent to the land Of beer and pitas Because milk and honey is boring Unless it is also served by A cut girl with a septum piercing Logan Stallings And I get my fill of that at home Gainesville, FL It’s vulgar. It’s obscene. University of Florida It’s soothing. It’s serene. We roe the breeze He left the lights on We spoke of the finer things in life Like what if Edward had penises instead of scissors You’re just so nice and considerate and cute and caring That is kills my meter and my legs and my art and my rhyme scheme Its blood pours down its face Dripping onto my grin The breeze blows a little his way And we are of the same color We are of the same build Well, not entirely He gets to four with three and one Where I prefer to take two doubly We’re men of occasional makeup When it’s right for the occasion Teach me to dance Step on my toes Drop me on the dip But pick me up for more Our hair would look perfect together I know, I know, I’m happy And I know some think that’s shit art But fuck the cynical skinny puppies And double fuck me for having a heart.
Read Between the Lines Sarah Sofield Titusville, FL University of Central Florida “We love you, really, we do …it’s just that… (god hates f**s). Please, our doors are open: Open minds, open hearts. …but what kind of place would let people like that in? …they must not be saved. Jesus died for your sins, you know. …and trust me, you have plenty of them! Don’t hang out with them, you’ll catch it too. You are our daughter, and we will always love you. …but you disappoint us sometimes… and don’t tell me about the Bible.” I have made my peace with God. I just want to make my peace with you.
Ruega por Me
Jess Provencio Los Angelos, CA California State University
mama kneels in her shawl and prays for my salvation as la virgencita looks down and smiles at her prayers but mama doesn’t see her sin she doesn’t know where i am the cold wind bites no matter the layers but i know where she is it’s time for five o’clock mass the candles in the church flicker and the heat turned up warm wafers and wine on the altar more than i have eaten in days all i have to do is renounce my way of love and i will be the prodigal son welcomed home instead of living in this rat hole where there is no water and the toilet is down the hall shivering in my boy shorts la virgencita around my neck but she doesn’t see me ruega por me señora because i don’t know how much longer i can hold on because the meds ran out and so did the health insurance because i’m too sick to work preexisting medical condition mama tells her friends i’m away at school people think she is amazing to have raised such a son why wasn’t she amazing when grandpa was in my room why did she throw me out when i turned him in ugly stench of breath as he whispered his love his cold hands froze my baby brother my cousin me my soul is frozen still i have always hated winter freezing in this motel turning tricks to survive frozen death of my life perpetual numbness of long term pain i look at the dusty cockroach dead in a spider web in the corner will i soon be curled up on my back frozen in rigor mortis like him while the world goes on warm in its wealth
Johanna Cleary , Ph.D. Special thanks to all those who also contributed to the production of our magazine!