poetry, prose, and short stories by African American Women FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org
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Torch Literary Arts was established to promote creative writing by African American women. Our online journal, TORCH, provides a place to celebrate contemporary poetry, prose, and short stories by experienced and emerging writers alike. We prefer our contributors to take risks and offer a diverse body of work that examines and challenges preconceived notions regarding race, ethnicity, gender roles, and identity. Within TORCH, we offer a special section called Flame that features an interview, biography, and work sample of an established writer as well as an introduction to their Spark, an emerging writer who inspires them and adds to the boundless voice of creative writing by black women.
Cover Art: â€œRed, Earth, Laceâ€? by Wura-Natasha Ogunji
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Flame Sharon Bridgforth Interview by Ana-Maurine Lara
Spark Shia Shabazz
Poetry / Prose Teri Ellen Cross LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs Toni Asante Lightfoot Lenelle Moïse Kamilah Aisha Moon Metta Sáma Bianca Spriggs Mary Weems
18 23 27 34 39 42 45 49
Short Story Raina J. León
Artwork Wura-Natasha Ogunji
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Sharon Bridgforth FLAME Sharon Bridgforth is the Lambda Award winning author of the bull-jean stories (RedBone Press), and love conjure/blues a performance/novel published by RedBone Press. Bridgforth is an Alpert Award Nominee in the Arts in Theatre, her work has been anthologized and produced widely and has received support from the National Endowment For The Arts Commissioning Program; The National Endowment For The Arts/Theatre Communications Group Playwright in Residence Program; National Performance Network; Rockefeller Foundation Multi-Arts Production Fund Award; and Funding Exchange/The Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media. Bridgforth is the Anchor Artist for The Austin Project, sponsored by The Center For African and African American Studies (U.T. Austin) where she teaches a course on Black Empowerment and Community Internships. www.sharonbridgforth.com
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Sharon Bridgforth, author/performer/activist Interviewed by Ana-Maurine Lara What are some defining moments in your younger years that have had a major impact on who you are today? I was born in Cook County Hospital. The first defining moment was when my mother decided to move from Chicago to Los Angeles. I was three. So actually we were evicted. And on the day that we got evicted my great aunt & uncle were visiting and we got in the car with them and ended up in L.A. `cause thatâ€™s where they were living. During that time period black Americans had migrated to many places from the South and in L.A. there were a lot of black people from the South. Walter Moseley does an incredible job of documenting that time period [with the Easy Rawlins series]. My mother would have been one of those people in that time period that he writes about in that Los Angeles. I grew up in South Central L.A. and even though it was L.A. it was very much like living in a little southern town because all the black Americans were from the South. So the sensibilities and the protocols, so to speak, had a southern tint to it. I knew one black American person from L.A.. Everybody else was from somewhere else. And their parents particularly were from somewhere else. I didnâ€™t know other black kids that were born there. So that says a whole lot. But us moving to L.A. meant that I grew up in L.A. â€“ my mother raised me with her having a certain kind of hope for having a better life. The promise and possibilities of sunny Southern California and the hopes of all the other, her peers had, too, kind of colored the experience of being there. And it was fun. I grew up taking the bus to get to where I needed to be, from a very young age. So as I went through school my bus ride got longer and longer `cause I was going to school further and further away. Eventually for high school I went to school in Echo Park. From South Central to Echo Park was a two hour bus ride. The languages, the sensibilities, the protocols, the music, the food, the smells changed drastically from neighborhood to neighborhood. I experienced the world and it was magnificent. I think it had everything to do with how I see myself and how I imagine and hope for the world to be.
6 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org [Being in L.A.] also created in both my mother and I a sense of mourning for home. That there was not a sense that this is our home. It was more a sense of “this is where we’re going to make it. We’re here and we’re going to do better because we’re here.” So a sense of longing. A sense of displacement to some degree. A sense of loss, a sense of grief and all of those things later became really important in my writing. And then I think for me the next huge thing that comes to mind at the moment is that I spent summers in Memphis, so I did get to go to the home place. I went to kindergarten and first grade in Memphis and I went back almost every summer until I was a teenager. So being able to go and connect with the big family and to be inside of what was home and to be the spoiled one inside of all that was really important. I learned how to tell stories from being in the room with them. I was able to be grounded in a sense of family, the sense of blues as a way of life, who we were and what our stories were. What does it mean for you to be an artist – a writer – in the world? Well for me initially I started doing it just because I had to. It was like breathing. I’ve always been a reader. When I was a kid I just read voraciously. When I was 15 I started writing just trying to survive my own emotions. [Then it was in] reading the Songs of Solomon and Psalms and I just thought they were so pretty, that I saw writing as something that could be transformative for me emotionally. And somewhere along the way, probably around the time I was in my early 30s it all clicked together. Now what I can say is that writing is what I’m here in the world to do. It’s my gift that I have been given. It’s what I can contribute. I see it as a spiritual responsibility; I see it as an ancestral calling. I see it as a privilege. I see it as a way for me to honor not only the reality of my life and experiences, but those who came before. A specific thing I have been given is the opportunity to tell the stories of the ancestors and to keep their voices alive. I see it as service. It’s what I’m here to offer in service to the ancestors, to the orisa, to the universe, to humanity and to my own destiny. So I take it very seriously. How would you say your work is influenced by who you are? What I know now is that life and art are not separate. As you know, my work lives in a Jazz aesthetic, so it is all about the work being work of spirit and work of spiritual revolution. The place you work from is from inside your own self, so everything impacts and informs and dictates what I write, how I move through the world with it, how I get to the next moment. And that includes all of the influences, so: my ancestors, my family, my community, my mentors, the people I mentor and my life experiences. Each moment contains everything and determines how the next moment unfolds.
7 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org How do you define success as a writer and artist? That is a very important question. I had to tackle that question some years ago. What I came to is that this is my life, so it is not about the next gig, the next published thing. It is not about money and awards. It is not about who I get to walk with. This is my life. And on top of that it’s part of my ancestral legacy, so I am being given their stories. I have the responsibility of their influence as I move forward. So what I have to do is create a life that nurtures and supports and provides opportunity for me to do what I’m here to do. When I do that in a way that is healthy, that, to me, is success. When I create a life that allows me to have quality time with people and to take care of my health and to have joy in my work and to fully realize my artistic projects and vision, that’s success. So how I’m living is a reflection of my success. I had gotten to a point of burn out—and this was probably in the mid-nineties— working with the Root Women Theater Company. We were touring and it was wonderful. We had so much fun and we went so many places. We were doing very well. It was quite an amazing thing. I was exhausted to the bone all the time. I realized that I was always living in the future. If you’re touring, you send stuff out and you start having conversations about things that are going to happen in a year or two, the same with grants and mounting shows. So I realized that I was always in the future. I wasn’t even in the present moment. I wasn’t able to do everything I needed to do to keep the tours going and write to my full capacity. Once the dust settled and I figured everything out I realized that first I had to create a life based in the present moment and it had to be a life of health and joy and love and abundance and creativity. And it had to be based on the fact that I was writing. So as soon as I did that then I got the publishing deal with Lisa C. Moore (Redbone Press), which was the thing that I wanted anyway. That was what I really wanted. Could you say some more about your work? I’m proud of what we did with Root Women. I think we were very successful in what we set out to do and in what we did. It was critical and it was also experimental in terms of the discovery of what it was, but it led me to the people that knew. And then eventually I was able to work with Daniel [Alexander Jones], and I worked with Dr Joni Jones the whole time and eventually Laurie Carlos directed one of my pieces and then everything changed. And then, I became the writer that I was capable of being. I first started working with Laurie in 1998 and it was a process for me to learn what I needed to learn; I see it as a mentorship process. In Jazz you are mentored by walking with, so by just being at her side, by having her direct my shows, by being able to talk with her and hear her and see her work - that’s how I learned. It was in 2002 that the
8 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org break happened for me. That’s what Dr Jones calls it – she calls it the break. She’s writing about the jazz aesthetic and right now she’s talking about the break. It’s a Legba moment. You literally break open and you have a divine opportunity to make a choice about how you’re going to move forward with your work. And so you can either do what you know or you can go into the unknown, which is more scary, more rigorous, and more dangerous in many ways and of course that’s where you get your chops when you take that road. And so luckily I took that road. And ironically it was a piece I was writing about being on the bus in Los Angeles that that happened in. The piece is called Conflamma and Laurie directed that piece. I got a Theatre Communications Group/National Endowment for the Arts grant as a playwright – I got $20,000 and all I had to do was write and it was the first time I didn’t have four jobs and write. So I used that TCG grant to write Conflamma. I did my residency at the Old Frontier at Hyde Park theatre when Vicky Boone was artistic director; they produced the show and Laurie was the director, Dr Jones was the dramaturg and Florinda [Bryant] was in the show. It was just incredible. But we did it initially and then I did a reading of it that Dr Jones directed and then I did it again with Laurie at Penumbra Theatre Company – an equity show. By the time we finished that production, I finally finished the piece. Laurie worked with me that whole time and just basically broke my ass down. She worked me, and she worked that piece and she did it with love and respect and fierceness and at the end of that process I got it.
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BLOOD PUDDING (an excerpt) my mother paints the leaves in autumn/fans earthquakes and hurricanes beneath her skirts my mother will clean for you/but do not distrub her if you are not ready for the visit she cyclones destroys outward structures when she sweeps maw'mn is ready dancing by the tombstones till changing time come/call
the old lady walk cripple everyday shuffle here and there don't say nuthn/silence all round her cause we no better than speak she name. when her sign is out we line in crowds waiting a turn/for gris gris a charm a prayer still no talk she already know how the future holds us. they say she never died jes stay watch the livn. one gurl hang round young supple sweet
10 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org and deliberate she know her power we think silence is best for her too. it is said they can cause the dust to stir Wind raise Her head storm break loose/make lightning speak they caldron, book and Spirits that keep our stories live in the night round the house those two the old lady that shuffles and the young wo'mn supple sweet are never seen together/we know they celebrate us whispering our prayers to the Wind. if you listen carefully/you will know all there is to know Ancient breeze softly send my Soul fly home with You/i pray Heaven be here on Earth in my Heart and actions please change me clean for Thee/ THY WILL BE DONE HOLY AND SACRED ONE make me a channel of THE PEACE AND GOOD WILL OF THE CREATRESS make me a channel of THE PEACE AND GOOD WILL OF THE CREATRESS make me a channel of THE PEACE AND GOOD WILL OF THE CREATRESS/yeah!
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Shia Shabazz SPARK Shia Shabazz's works have been widely published and anthologized. Her work has been featured in From My Mother's Hands - a collection of narratives from Texas women and their mothers - and Red Boots and Attitude: The Spirit of Texas Women Writers, along with many other poetry publications. Her poem, Inquisition, was selected as a finalist in the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize for Calyx Journal. Notable screenwriting mentions include finalist placement in the 2005 Tribeca All Access Connects Program, the 2005 Moondance Screenplay Competition, the 2004 Sundance Screenwriters' Lab, and the 2004 IndieScript Screenwriters' Competition for her fourth screenplay, the MARMALADE. www.shiashabazz.com
Introducing Shia Shabazz shia shabazz is my SPARK! her ability to craft a poem/create a dance/Vision a screenplay her commitment to living as a writer/to making fierce choices/always moving forward. her laughter determination dedication to other artists/to her children. her style and flava. i am inspired i am encouraged i am challenged to be a better writer/a better person cause'a my gurl shia. she a baddd#@$ shutyo mouth Black Wo'mn Warrior Writer. ~ Sharon Bridgforth
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CYANOSIS: a bluish or purplish discoloration (as of skin) due to deficient oxygenation of the blood cold lips four sets unable to purse for kisses only house chattering teeth now tender orifice of fear this mother no longer able to oppugn the voices standing alone with her children on pier 7 in san francisco the rush of hours the hush of wind and world around her sun shining on everyone everything but her sets itself into the bosom of the pacific each of her sons wait not knowing should have wanted less cooperated more only knew how to push buttons need hugs even when she was too tired or too loved-deprived to spare them on this day she, unable to kiss another pair of starving lips or lie awake on another scrap of plastic, plywood, metal or spring strips each trusting child of possibility hurls him nude until salt envelops salt and the clap of waves silences apologies
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BELLY BOY on a good morning before the day pulls us from bliss my son who is seven and finally leaving my face for his father’s follows the instinct of his lethargy into the spaces of my bed entwines my limbs kisses and clings to the pooch of belly he left on my body seven years ago we fight for possession until his sister, now a nagsome nine arrives in her usual fashion to demand her share of this wealth of loving then shames him well enough to cease such childishness and goes back to sucking her fingers caudling her doll he resigns his kisses to my cheeks snuggles his head into the curve of my free arm slides his finger under my nightshirt presses it into the slight “y” of my belly button like he’s pointing home
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Latchkey 1. Eve home after school closes blinds then strips near nude giggles on the phone 2. Eve's mama calls her twelve going on twenty-four men come sniffing 3. they notice her now adolescence absorbed in hips wide for birthing 4. she likes attention mama chides finger waves high points long and away 5. Eve rolls her eyes smacks teeth against thumb resting between suckling lips 6. Men wait 'til mama washes shops leaves her latchkey locked in and open
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the other night they slept in other beds other shoes and clothes strewn around their other rooms with other chests of other toys other shelves lined with other books in their other house on that other street where their dad and that other woman share with them the other kisses that are not mine
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the talk do you think you’ll have another baby? if so, does that mean you’re gonna have sex again? smirk simmering at the corners of her mouth my daughter knows it has something to do with sex, which she knows between herself and her brother has happened at least two times in my life and she knows because she’s been here before here, to some version of this question and, i am certain, here, to some version of this life where i must negotiate truth and her being nine she likes to watch me squirm through the foreignism of birds and bees language i never learned from “the talk” i never had, like other girls endear / endure with parents she pushes me through the challenge to redefine my understanding of what sex is as learned from knuckle-headed boys or prepubescent girls who were passing on what some father/brother/cousin/mother’s boyfriend/aunt/neighbor/family acquaintance had already stolen it is the fire of knowing she craves the center piece of this puzzle she’s worked on since she became aware of victoria’s secret commercials remarriage and the boy at table five in the cafeteria i don’t think i’ll have anymore babies, i finally tell her kissing her forehead with a knowing look you and your brother are quite enough.
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she skips away, satisfied that iâ€™ve answered her question i am relieved that sheâ€™s gone and not asking if that means I will not be having more sex
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Teri Ellen Cross Teri Ellen Cross graduated with a MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry from American University. She is a Cave Canem fellow. She has had poems published in Bum Rush The Page, Cave Canem: Gathering Ground, Growing Up Girl, online at Beltway Quarterly, and in several Cave Canem anthologies. She currently lives in Silver Spring, MD.
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Scar Tissue: A Bop I am six and Ronald says “baby just put yo’ pinkie finger in my drink cuz it needs some mo’ sugah” He’s the one with the gun Tammy the flipped hair tight jeans and black Camaro my parents know something ‘bout having a party and we, their daughters, flit about like social butterflies, gobbling attention laughing at the dank smell of fun being blown in our faces I know I'll never love this way again So I keep holdin' on before the good is gone The arguments begin like my period early unpredictable bloody dressing for school, blasting Prince his guitar riffs muffling the cursing the punches breaking up their fights becomes ritual like bad cramps, like staining favorite outfits I know I'll never love this way again So I keep holdin' on before the good is gone when my father moves out, the wild Irish Rose, cough syrup and Kool-Aid mixture is not enough so then it’s seven or eight aspirin but I failed chem, so it’s razors- my messy maze of scars and long sleeve shirts I try to do this right, cut deep enough bleed long enough- hoping I’m enough to bring them back together I know I'll never love this way again So I keep holdin' on before the good is gone
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the blond on his arm after reading US Weekly
thereâ€™s no comparing to her lithe figure wonder if she works out all day if he pays for her trainer if she even has a job then she is blond which is a different category than white blond has its own story its own golden fabric of myth add blond to white and automatically he is out of my league always no matter how much I scrub in the morning showers the dark patches on elbows and knees wonâ€™t go away only red replaces them raw after disgust has its turn black is my soul they say black is my skin they say brown is my skin I say and the only color my soul knows is longing the weight of its opaque density
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The Adrien Brody/Halle Berry Kiss Under A Microscope When accepting the 2003 Academy Award for Best Actor, Adrien Brody surprised presenter Halle Berry with a back-bending kiss.
to be the back that bends willingly not darkened damp knees twinging elbows working washboards and splashing grimy waters to be the back that bends willingly for his kiss feel the safety of arms holding together this precarious dance part dashing part dominance part submission equals romance in his arms sartorial safety clutching turned to smoothing desired silk not seen to ruffle, sunder, stain his--- the eager enlightened hunger to be the back that bends willingly into his kiss appreciating the diagonal slash cut by two figures one yielding one driving breath held captive between capitulating and intent mouths to be the back that bends willingly she must have stood first
the iron of her back must melt this is a time-consuming process molding metal forged by diverted glances misplaced hands in pantries promising pennies more on the weekâ€™s dollar the curve acquired from plopping a brown nipple into a hungry unassuming white mouth the curve carved when floors required her special hard-earned shine the ore of her must be smelted the blond on his arm makes the Kelvin degree unreachable in one generation
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it takes two or three more to find the spore that spawned sarcasm for strength forked tongues to smell danger venom to protect the soft needy spots inside the bodyâ€™s curl the sparkle hardened into diamonds in her eye coal takes years to process its soot easily wiped from alabaster statues, the vein in marble pedestals admired as diversion, texture, never intentional but soot from centuries of belching chimneys takes scrubbing, chemical peels and can leave layers of attitudes, scars, keloids disingenuous love at best worst and still alabaster is admired for its virtue purity under the right fluorescent light coal admired only for its hardiness in the way dandelions grow thru cracks in concrete
blushed roses crimson lipped petals darlings basking in the sun bane and glory of all gardeners unequivocal in beauty until peonies lilies birds of paradise violets bend the eye until families, geniuses, branches are learned twisted, pruned and straightened horticulture as science beauty becomes application a transparent stain between glass slides the cross section of one cultureâ€™s aesthete bred over another
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LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs Writer, vocalist, sound artist and Harlem Elohi Tsalagi, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, is the author of three chapbooks which include Ichi-Ban and Ni-Ban (MOH Press), and Manuel is destroying my bathroom (Belladonna Press) and has produced an the audio project entitled, TelevisĂon. LaTasha has received scholarships, residencies, and fellowships from Cave Canem, Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center, Naropa Institute, Caldera Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her work has been published in Gathering Ground, Nocturnes, Black Belt, Long Shot, Drumvoices Review, BumRush the Page and Rattapallax to name a few. LaTasha is the poetry curator for the online arts journal, www.exittheapple.com.
24 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org IN SEARCH OF HELICOPTERS the river bloats from her meal enfolding the moon as she floats while too kind the wind takes back soundless kisses floating all the pets are safe so are penguins & turtles too so who fends off the night? girls in apple bottoms floating replayed reels quick time alone I’m fettered by it all yore feeds the television’s ruse my unease is floating we looters we refugees we insane we’ll oblige for that fix we so handily coined by polls & tricks don’t float on the fourth day the musk of failure curdles in domes Icarus James shoots the sky w/ a 38 take notice of his manhood floating a mayor delayed in homily when yellow buses make like Tonka toys
echoing wrongs does minor deeds tumbling floating
we mothers we daughters we aunties sopped in our monthly tinge cozened by the roadblocks left harrowed left floating then our heads pummel while helicopter blades slice into trails then there are bullets veiling state lines who can save us from floating? not enough hands to monitor a child’s fresh grave aerials of sand east disarrayed w/ kith see?
badges & bills will evade jetsam to lighten the hue on dry the airlessness of distress flags are hidden by hoax yet floating
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Miss Summer had to be the quickest funeral in the black history of mankind. baby bloo sheen. thin. silk taffeta sheer. semi gloss linen dolly ruffle. suppose to be more of a final attire than nightgown. oak varnished mauve finished coffin fit for a landlady. Vargas family was in attendance. so were the the Jowers. Whistle the maaaiiiil man.
Sugar Daddy the number hole runner. they all played Miss Summer’s jackpot numericals early this morning. straight y combo. combo y reeeecto displaced. dispositioned steel wool. matted curls para corn cobs afro peluca. left no shimmer to small skull of former seamtress. proud smoker of a Kool pak o dos. oooooocccccasional loud mouther. frequent flyer audio tabloid disc jockey. it had to be the quickest funeral en la historia de negro de humanidad. cuarenta y cinco minutos reverend didn’t accused anyone of going to Hell if they didn’t give their souls to Jesus. miss mackey didn’t comment on no one’s hair. no one commented on the speediness of the sermon. cotton swabbed pasta de cara. two grains replicate home video make-up artistry cheeks droop to gravity’s laws. flat foot patent black slippers leather tom and peep under night gown
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woman donâ€™t look like she did. she should be wearing her glasses I always saw her with her eyeglassesâ€Ś
 Translations for the following words are: reeeeecto, straight; para, for; peluca, wig; o dos, or two; en la historia de negro de humanidad, in the black history of mankind; curenta y cinco minutos, forty five minutes.
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Toni Asante Lightfoot Toni Asante Lightfoot is a native of Washington, D.C. now living in exile in Chicago. There she teaches in several schools, after school programs, and is currently the coordinator of WordsAlive! a program that teaches teachers how to teach poetry to 1st through 5th graders across content areas. Lightfoot has been published in several anthologies and lent her poems and voice to several CD projects. She can be heard as the voice of the only deaf poet on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. Check out the Tia Chucha Press Anthology Dream of a Word on which she was co-editor.
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Mom’s Mabley Plays a Word Game or How to Get From Joke to Paid Joke a laugh from a tear with this worn toothless grin. Give a laugh to depression struck folks separated by color and a balcony. Poke some fun at some broken folks. Reset them like bones that ain’t knit right. If they laughing it won’t hurt too bad straighten what’s grown crooked. Pole tax like pole cats ain’t never come at you straight or mean nobody no good but in a land set to be wrong change can come from talk, right? Pale becomes a starved body showing the world it’s hunger. Men become pale when you tell them they can’t make it in your bed cause you quiver only in they dreams. Pall sheets covered them million heads brought to God by the 1918 flu. The same year my hunger for comedy stopped me from being an Aiken girl. Pail of reeking rags in crusty hands. A beggar’s money is in the cleaning of scraps used to clean. He chuckles at my best funnings all day. He earns the nickel and my dollar tip. Paid is Charlie Chaplin turning tramp induced giggles into $10,000 a week. Paid is Jackie Mabley flipping an old broad into a check that lasts beyond needs, beyond the laughs.
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Losing Loretta Aiken Moms Mabley tells the mythology of her name I left Brevard , North Carolina for Cleveland . Holy house missionaries who took in my brother then me, led us to their church. Was but 17 when vaudeville strangled godly hymns in my heart, tore loose raging laughter, made my troubles fall away like an old man’s hair. By 1918, my choices were to live like my dead parents, sell what some men stole years ago, or turn tricks on stage. Jokes was my magic. Turned the burning of living into money I could keep but my brother laid laws. Flashing lights for me meant I couldn’t keep my name. Didn’t wanna cause more shame to the Aiken side of me and besides a woman wasn’t meant to keep what she was born with no how. Jack Mabley, father of my Bonnie. never gave me the whole heart he promised so why not snatch his whole name. Dressed in my granny’s house coats, floppy hats, cloppity shoes I came to tell the serious funny stuff. At 20, I told truths mumbled by women too old to make a man swell with pride or desire. Wearing the fragile armor of age I won battles pretty girls didn’t even know they could fight. Loretta was a sweet girl with a sorrowful tale. Jackie is a woman with more possibilities than a mosquito in the Dismal Swamp or a virgin in a whorehouse.
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Jack Johnson Speeds to Death Moms Mabley ponders power I knocked out the notion of race supremacy one “great white hope” at a time. Jack Johnson I followed you from time I was barefoot in Brevard. When you were not a picture but a punch told by a radio announcer. We heard you punish each white boy. Enlightening each one to how race can determine how much you suffer in life. Every Negro in town high stepped with joy-tipped fear knowing your win could loose rebs into punctuating our yards with crosses fired by their blazing shame. Birth of a Nation was their an answer to your unquestionable might. Don’t know what you held in your gloves but you plowed and reaped power in darkness for that I’ll love you like you was my daddylike you knocked out the sheriff who decided I was nothing but a little dark thing to pee and scream inside. Yeah, White women thorned your roses but no Colored woman need blues cut deep enough for a girl to die from. I still loves you, our enemies win if I don’tlove you for all the fighter man you were and all the man you’d never be.
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Jet Arrives with a Monster Inside Moms Mabley thinks of her own son My Gregory could have been you. You were 14, will never be more than 14. That night didn’t nobody cry out, This boy is 14! We are humans. We don’t beat death into kids. I guess somebody coulda but screams of righteousness get drowned by the whispers of demons. Oh Emmett! We ain’t human to them. We just leaves made to dangle and kick from branches of trees. If justice ain’t a bitch then I ain’t crying. I weep a mother’s tears over her never straightening your tie at your graduation or telling a woman to go back to you after you or she done acted the fool. I weep as rainbows dull to the shades of your final picture. You laying broken faced your momma stoic color everything I see. What will turns a mother cut short from mothering into a maker of change? Yeah, things changing but I been told I still have to do a show tonight. Folks come for me to douse their wounds with rage fermented sweet like Southern Comfort. I tip a bottle to the microphone for them who ain’t here. With each stitch I leave them with I wonder if my boy made it home without a cop, mob, crazed soul killing him. I’m the funniest woman in the world cause I need to laugh myself.
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Watching Mary Walk Through The Front Door Upon Mary McLeod Bethune entering the White House, when a white guard addressed her as "auntie." She stopped and asked him in her most earnest tone, "Which one of my brothers' children are you?" This friend from the same southern nowheres where I grew into laughter from the soil of being ruint. This gorgeous dark cloud called ugly, dreaded bulldagger just like me. Heard a negro man say “she ain’t ugly. she just don’t favor nobody.” Well brother, I favor her just fine. Want a whole world of her lips, voice, the smile that cracks hate off men blackened hard toward the softest of us. Wonder which hell trial built her Ain’t have to be the same piece of satan that turned me from north carolina school girl into “the funniest woman in the world” ‘cause a brick from a house is as hard to chew as a brick from a shack. That’s a truth dark as Mary’s hat. If I was back in church I’d sing all kind of hallelujahs. Instead, I sit in my living room looking at Life. The broad backside of Mary McLeod Bethune walking up to the front door
33 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org to parley with the President and First Lady. Think they hear the contention behind each pause, tremble, each forced but necessary smile?
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Lenelle Mo誰se Lenelle Mo誰se is a self-identified "culturally hyphenated pomosexual poet" who creates personal political texts about the spirits in sexuality, masculinities, being bicultural (Haitian-American), and the intersection of race, class, gender & resistance. She recites from scrolls, from memory and with movement. In addition to featured performances in a number of cafes, bookstores, and theatres, Lenelle regularly performs at universities across the U.S. She induced standing ovations at both the 2000 and 2001 National Poetry Slams and is New WORLD Theater's 2003 Poetry Slam champion. Recently named the 2005-06 recipient of the Astraea Loving Lesbians Award for Poetry, Lenelle is currently touring WOMB-WORDS, THIRSTING, her acclaimed autobiofictional solo performance. Her debut CD, Madivinez, is forthcoming. www.lenellemoise.com
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letter to my father (in English) this language i intend to master this language i use to sculpt a liberated life, to fight like haitian for my art, for my wife this is the language that stole your time, your dreams, your daughter and so i speak lesbian and you speak unnatural, american and we stop speaking to each other. father, love is my favorite word i write it with you in mind as i live with a woman in my heart.
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Malden, Massachusetts My mother won’t feel the knives inside her tomorrow. A hysterectomy requires general anesthesia. We are severed from each other these days. I work in Portland. Art. She looses sleep so watches cable in Malden, Massachusetts. She called to say she’s proud of me, that my little brother’s now using Trojans, and the doctors told her the fibroids cyst, fisting her uterine walls, hungry like an unwanted child. It’s all over with, she mumbled. Her birth-giving she meant. Will you miss the blood? I asked. I miss you, she said.
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wolf there is a wolf in my bed but i don't cry. the boy cried. they called him a sissy, ignored him. i learned from this. wolf be slobber all over me. canine teeth like needles pricking my pointer finger. blood. there is so much blood. i don't point. i just stick it in my mouth and suck like i'm told. wolf growl bitch do what you're told and don't tell. if i bark, he will murder my mama. she has been chased and bitten. now she ignores wolves. when they sense fear, they attack, she tells me. i learn from her. i stay still through the sniffing and clawing, the gnawing and grunting. he don't wear sheepskin or granny dresses. no collar, no tags, no latex. he got big
38 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org teeth the better to devour me with so i am dying but i won't yell. no one will hear me howling inside his gut. here, side this doggone crying boy.
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Kamilah Aisha Moon Kamilah Aisha Moon is a Cave Canem alumna, a Paumanok Award semi-finalist and an Emily Dickinson Award Honorable Mention. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in several journals, magazines and anthologies. A native of Nashville, TN, she received her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Slowly becoming a wicked bass player, Moon is currently working on the manuscript She Has A Name, a collection of poetry themed around her sisterâ€™s journey living with Autism.
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BATH She baptizes in porcelain womb, curls up, remembers as faucets deliver sacred lather. The water’s warm hands cascade her limbs. A mini-Jordan of suds slide into the gorge below her navel. An hour, she prays. That’s all she wants. We learn not to knock, plague her with the day’s problems before the patient towel slips from silver rod, a cotton benediction.
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INSIDE AN EX'S HEAD i'll never forget how you look naked, glossed in my sweat…summers spinning vinyl, tongues tossing inside marvin gaye's ocean voice. after, i would stay there, docked in our roux, simmering. then i'd rise and paint nude, dash your scribbled lines in lilac, crimson, indigo. endless smoke and wine, hours without rest, bodies as meals, avoiding hunger. There was a holiness, hallelujahs rising out of us like steam. i miss the world only my dusty, attic apartment could contain. in the end, i could only love you in relief, hang us on yesterday's wall, feed you from my wife's table. spin those old songs while you bounce my son across the spread of your lap, that altar i refused to burn on.
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Metta Sรกma Metta Sรกma lives in upstate New York where she is learning to risk quietness in her poems through meditation, music, painting, & photography. The haibun with an extended haiku form of the poem here is her first attempt at language that is at once brazen, fractured, dissonant, and quiet.
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Ghosts ghost: a haibun, extended Twice-over married, he. An egg scrambled to burnt, mere crumbs from month-old bread, dregs of Southern coffee. Milt. Curdled, 57, material for a story. The story? Milt took a deep breath, leaned over Ida, sitting on her mother’s porch swing, surrounded by the seductions of the south—dogwoods, doe-eyed willows, whistling kettles, medallion, meddling mothers, showstar, showers, derby melampodiums, yes, magnolias blossomed, viburnum, hydrangea, Jim Dandy, lemonberry pie, iced tea, hair grease, church girl smells, serviceberries. Seduced, Milt, muttered in a purr: “Why don’t you go on & marry me, gal?” Ida at eighteen fanned her face, batted her eyes, acquiesced. A virgin for he, Milt nearly lost his carefully combed come hither smile. That Ida: no evidence of male matter coating her pores or the deep places in her throat. Impressionable. She? The real ache: a white man has ruffled her skirts, placed his hand in spaces gaspable. A quick dip of his quill into her inkpot, stained, blurred, he forgot to blot. Oh, the hardships that will ensue, the church pews whispered, sidewalks crackled with gossip, hand fans singed, the sun conducted morning hymnals composed of stage dramas & teeth-sucking rumor-mongering. Ida cried as much as she bled. With greengrey eyes, red-checkered bowtie, Milt, another product of a white man who’d stepped (read: raped, begged, promised, sauntered) in Milt’s momma’s property. Ida traced Christ across her belly for this man. No need to explain how that baby she was already carrying came out so fair. * Milt’s sperm, palimpsest, write your sign across Ida’s uterus, no blooms. * She of the secret tryst with white man, sperm lands; snow before melting. * Wander into you, I pick through a forest of family tales. Seek
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* you. Did he take you? Did you give yourself to him? Did you watch your heart * die, the way cotton turns dark, shrivels, refuses to bear dusky white seeds?
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Bianca Spriggs Bianca Lynne Spriggs is currently an English Instructor at Bowling Green Technical College. She received her Bachelor's Degree in History at Transylvania University and a Master's Degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is currently pursuing a second Master's in Folklore at Western Kentucky University. An Affrilachian Poet and Cave Canem Fellow, Bianca has enjoyed growing up and living in the Bluegrass Region mostly because of the inherent qualities of rich lore and tradition that thrive among the people here.
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THE SWITCH PICKERS she would never braid three together the way our aunts did for our cousins but weâ€™d always have to pick our own and strip the broad green leaves ourselves blubbering spit and salt even before the first thin welts drew the blood up close welding lean hot lines tanning the underside of our young hides that left no pulsing stains of discipline minutes later we grew to dread summer months because of the supple reach of a ripe green vine that could lick us like some poisonous lizardâ€™s sticking stinging tongue and reach all the way from the pulpit to whistle its own hymn against our un-baptized flesh but she was soft her limber and disposable rods were always merciful in their swiftness and stuttered over every stroke her eyes never quite turning the same color required for the vintage pre-meditated methodical tortures of her own home training
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the remnants of which she only ever spoke of in huuuuuuuusssh
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HEIRLOOM in the old testament prophets chose men who found favor with the Lord and anointed their heads as a mark of divine rule they drenched these common men with oil from olives and sweet-smelling herbs until their blood turned to dusk and forget-me-not you give me a vial of the same complexion lassoed with gold lattice it murmurs with organic oil cold-pressed from olives mingled with your sweet-scented prayers to anoint my living space my temples and everything I love in this same manner of prophets your mother her sister their aunt her mother
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Mary Weems Mary E. Weems, Ph.D. is a poet, playwright, performer, and scholar of Urban Education from Cleveland, Ohio. She has had four chapbooks published: Blackeyed, (Burning Press, 1994), Fembles (Bowling Green, 1996) white (Wick Chapbook, 1997) and Tampon Class (Pavement Saw Press, 2005). Her work has also been widely anthologized most recently in Boomer Girls (Iowa University Press), and Spirit and Flame: An Anthology of African American Poetry (SUNY); and published in journals like Obsidian III: African American Literature in Review, xcp: Cultural Poetics, and the African American Review. She also teaches in the English and Education departments at John Carroll University. Dr. Weems designs and implements literacy, cultural, and self-esteem based programming in public, private, urban and suburban k-12 schools through her consulting business Bringing Words to Life established in 1996.
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“Self-Portrait” Jean Michel-Basquiat, 1980 Painted himself inside out Black as the middle of the night. Deformed hip, too big foot, impotent as George Washington Carver. Shot horses a black-on-being-black pain killer. Canvassed the world in living color. His work just-us on brick walls, wood, napkins, toilet paper. Used useful in white folks’ basements work, work, work, jerk work, work, work, jerk—the sound of snatched wet paintings living on rich walls next to Warhol now that he’s dead.
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Jemison’s Face Photographer: Andrew Eccles A black and white photograph. Her dancer’s hands curved around midnight cheeks smooth as new obsidian, her eyes a prayer. Her opening answers the mystery where do we go from here? I bought a huge book on dance because she was in it, because she’s a poem in progress, because she made me want to move graceful as stars, Bill Robinson, Ginger wearing one red shoe, Savion—who Gregory Hines called a genius.
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Raina J. León Raina J. León, Cave Canem fellow and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective and the Friday Noon Poets, is currently a doctoral student in education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her poetry has been featured in New York City through the LouderArts Project Cave Canem spotlight at Bar 13, Cornelia Street Café, the Nuyorican Poets Café, and Bowery Poetry Club. She has also been featured around the country: at bookstores, festivals and conferences such as Quail Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh, Virginia Festival of the Book, and the College English Association Conference 2006. She has been published in Poetic Voices without Borders, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade, Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces, AntiMuse, Farmhouse Magazine, Furnace Review, Constellation Magazine and Tiger’s Eye Journal among others.
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Brine “These are the seductive voices of the night; the Sirens, too, sang that way. It would be doing them an injustice to think that they wanted to seduce; they knew they had claws and sterile wombs, and they lamented this aloud. They could not help it if their laments sounded so beautiful.” -- Frank Kafka We lived by the water, in the slums by the water where the fishermen slammed their bounty on well-worn wooden planks. Briny fish, some still flopping, but most glassyeyed dead. I used to pluck the eyes and string them, as if to make a shield of seeing, but that never stopped anything. Just because you see what’s coming, doesn’t mean you can stop it. He worked at the market, hauling the loads and setting them out in ice. He wore thick, floppy boots and a slick black apron. When I think of my father, this is the image I have: him leaning hard to the left after the day was done, against the streetlight at the foot of the pier. A cigarette hangs from his dry lips while the smoke rises with the wind to toss his hair. Quite cinematic. *
“Have you been sneaking down to the pier, Alex?” my mother said, her brow furrowed and her mouth pursed. “No, Ma’am,” I said, eyes down, lost in the soup of cornbread crumbs and marinara sauce, leftovers from dinner. “Well, it’s something, girl. You smell like fish. Are you not cleaning yourself down there?” “No.” Defiance. She smacked. I didn’t move. I had stained the chair’s cushion from fear.
54 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org At 13, I had the first of 3 abortions. Wire hangers, soapy water, blood, cold tile. Mrs. Tyler, a church friend of my mother, would lean over me, caress my face, brush away my hair. What a friend we have in Jesus. She sang it like a lullaby, like a prayer. I almost believed in God. I was just the little colored girl from the docks who kept “getting into trouble” with the boys at the dock. That’s what she thought, because that’s what I told her. When she would wipe me clean, I forgot what it was to be touched by him. *
In the pink carpet. The lacy curtains. The embroidered pillow with scalloped edges. In the cream sheets. In the pretty silk nightgowns my mother bought me for “growing up”. In white school stockings. The starched white shirt with the missing button at the top. In hairties. In the curls of my hair. All my hair. Brine, salt, and cigarette. He filled me with rotting fish. What a friend we have in Jesus. *
“I’m pregnant,” I said while my new husband choked on his coffee. I was just twentyone, and he was four years older, already on the tenure track at Widecliff University. “How far along? How do you know?” he stumbled. “It’s pretty obvious. Stop bleeding and means something’s up. I went to the doctor yesterday. I’ve an appointment tomorrow.” “An appointment?” “An abortion.” It was as simple as that. “Alex, what made you make a stupid decision like that? What are you thinking?” His face had gone from red-faced surprise, his hands open and inviting, to twisted anger, fists on the table. So quick, the change of men. The kitchen seemed small. I began to pace.
55 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org Apples on the table. One looks soft. Have to throw it away. “I told you when we got married that I didn’t want children. I’m on birth control. You’re still wearing condoms after a year. Don’t you remember two months ago when the condom broke? I was in the shower for an hour. Didn’t you think I was serious?” Teapot pushing out steam. It’s going to whistle soon. “Of course, I did, but … sure, it’s not planned, and we’d have to make some sacrifices, but we could have a baby now. I’m earning enough, and you’d be able to spend more time on your writing when it comes.” Chipped tiles, chipped tea cup. No way to fix. “Sure, after I throw up every day for nine months, I’ll work on my essays. While I’m changing diapers, I’ll be working on my grand opus of poetry! How many female writers make it once they have children, Robert? How many? I have no desire to procreate and lose myself in the creation.” “Well, we’ve procreated, so that’s that.” I picked up the teapot and poured the water into the teacup, burning my thumb in the process. The smell of chamomile tea hushed my scream. I rushed to the faucet for cold water. “I’m going tomorrow. I don’t even know why I told you.” “Why did you tell me? You know I want children. I told you that.” “And I told you it wasn’t happening, and you still married me” “I still married you, although now I don’t know why.” “There’s no way I’m having it.” “Why? What did I do?” I turned to him, sucking my burned finger like a child. “The world should have less fathers.” I caressed his back with my other hand, while he stared into his coffee.
56 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org *
I went to a nice, white clinic for my third abortion. Robert wouldn’t go. I had to take the bus. There was a pretty little Black girl in the seat in front of me. She had this beautiful curly hair, like mine but with red highlights and pink bows. She must have been four or five. She knelt on the seat to face me and prompt me to play peek-a-boo. We played for a few minutes while her mother sat, collapsed beside her, hugging a bulging bag of groceries. “Don’t humor her. She’ll play that game forever,” she turned to me, but we still played. When my stop came, I left. Her eyes were closed. *
I think I killed my father and my husband. It was not on purpose, though if I had known that I had such power, I would have killed my father more viciously, would have gouged him out of my body with scissors and barbed wire. I would have tried to save Robert. I would have given him a goldfish, a pretty child, with enough life to twinkle in his eyes. He’d never look for children in the arms of children. I am fifty-nine now, and the halls are all whispers: Professor Delacourt was sleeping with a student, and now she’s pregnant. Only 19. Professor Delacourt may lose tenure. His wife wanders the halls. What will she do now that the divorce is final? Robert Delacourt loses tenure. Leaves wife of over 35 years for younger coed. Soon-to-be father. Whispers. I stand before the mirror often. First, I touch the glass with my nipples and then I pull back to see the sagging flesh, the pot belly that never held a child longer than a few months. I see my father’s cigarette burns on my thighs, though the scars are long gone. I see laugh lines from a life with my husband, happy when he wasn’t out having yet another affair. I smell myself: a mixture of strawberries and peanut butter. I touch and do not fear. I am alone, and I am afraid. Somehow I link all this together: the smell of fish, those lost children, blood and nonbelief, lullabies, my husband’s affairs, the divorce, the whispers of my life.
57 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org I think often of sirens. I am drawn to the mythology as I have been drawn to the image for years: the woman on her rock, combing out her hair, singing her songs of loves lost, let go. I imagine the constant desire for a lover, a sailor with his briny hair, a longing so manifest in song that he comes sailing and many come to die suckling on her scaling breasts. My breasts are empty sacks. They had bled in the teeth on father and husband. They have bled, too, for those little fish I still imagine swimming inside me. I will walk silent through the halls, where Robert once taught and I remain. I clamp down my wailing. Who knows what would come if I sang?
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Wura-Natasha Ogunji Wura-Natasha Ogunji is a sculptor who sews on paper. Her current series of handstitched works is entitled Monuments. The images, embedded in paper, create monuments to the sacred, to the ephemeral, to the intangible aspects of shared human experience. Ogunji has been an Artist-in-Residence at Altos de Chavon in the Dominican Republic. She has received grants from The Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Brooklyn Arts Council. Selected exhibitions include: The Oakland Museum of California, Intersection for the Arts and GalerĂa de la Raza in San Francisco. She lives in Austin, Texas. www.wuraogunji.com
59 FALL 2006 | torchliteraryarts.org Past Contributors: Sharon Bridgforth, Shia Shabazz, Teri Ellen Cross, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Lenelle Moïse, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Metta Sama, Bianca Spriggs, Mary Weems, Raina Leon, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Patricia Smith, Cherryl FloydCONTENTS Miller, Remica L. Bingham, Lauri Conner, DeLana Dameron, Melanie Henderson, AnaMaurine Lara, Venus Thrash, Arisa White, K. Deneá Stewart-Shaheed, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Crystal Wilkinson, Mwabi Murdock, Monique Harris, Samiya Bashir, Jane Alberdeston Coralin, Camille Dungy, Parneshia Jones, Bettina Judd, Katy Richey, Nicole Sealey, Evie Shockley, Christina Springer, Anastacia Tolbert, Demetrice Anntía Worley, Natasha Trethewey, Krista Franklin.
SUBMIT TORCH is published twice a year online. Our reading period is April 15 through August 31. TORCH accepts online submissions of original unpublished. Check website for guidelines. Poetry: Submit three to five poems for consideration. Prose: Submit two prose pieces, double spaced, max 500 words each. Short Stories: Submit one short story, double spaced, max 2,000 words. Questions? Email us at email@example.com
Inaugural issue of TORCH, the online journal of Torch Literary Arts.