EDITOR’S NOTE Dear Readers, To be absolutely blunt, now is not the time for silence nor complacency. Presently, we live in a country teetering towards a fascist point of no return. One that we can all vividly and clearly imagine. This nightmarish future is not yet our reality. Though sometimes it hurts to hold, I do believe there is still hope to be found in these United States. Over the course of this marathon summer, we’ve seen the good fight spill into the streets. We have defied pigs in SWAT attire, toppled monuments dedicated to genocidal, enslaving white men, and made our demands for a more just union heard from sea to shining sea. That good fight is far from over, and as I sit here and continue to pray for Jacob Blake and his family, I am violently reminded that our enemies are relentless in their hatred and emboldened by a country propped up by a network of systems founded and rooted in iniquity. As of late, I’ve been dreaming about queer utopia and how that might exist in today’s world. Though I don’t have many answers yet, it fuels my heart to dream of a brighter tomorrow for my people— specifically, queer people of color. Guest editing this collection has been an unbelievable honor as it has allowed me to, in some minute way, begin to create a foundation for what my queer utopia may one day be. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to do something. You can start right here, right now, by creating space in your mind & heart to receive the unfiltered, raw beauty that this incredible group of writers has offered unto you. I also urge you to take a look at Variety Pack’s Variety4Justice Page, where you you’ll find a number of ways to support Black voices at this crucial moment in our nation’s history. We, Black People, are here. Listen to us. Stand with us. Black Lives Matter— today and every day. Sincerely, Dior J. Stephens VARIETY4JUSTICE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Pussy Sauce · Marceline Brown · 3 A Love Letter for Apple Cider Vinegar · Mernine Ameris · 4 Soft Move · Dior J. Stephens · 6 Years Later · Trina Young · 8 Shenanigans at 3352 Olinville Avenue · Deon Robinson · 9 … for my lovers’ other loves · Marceline Brown · 10 Bad Code · Vanessa Maki · 11 The Color of Eternity · Richmond Wills · 12 _Pillow-talk_ · Aerik Francis · 13 Winded · Brandon Logans · 14 A Case Study of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies · Keisha Cassel · 16 Good Things · Travis Tate · 18 _ True Love_ · Aerik Francis · 19 Erotomania, In Retrospect · Trina Young · 20 Sun Turns Black · Dior J. Stephens · 21
if only she could get in my skin? my heart is the ocean floor, lay my walls to rest
â&#x20AC;&#x201D;a love letter for apple cider vinegar. these are for the days where a glass bottle from trader joes can mean the world when the bottle is next to her bathtub, she knows itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s times for business. praise be to anything that can cleanse a scalp, balance a Ph, clear a throat, prevent bloating, scrub demons out with sugar and salt and oil. my apple cider vinegar bottle. is living proof that strength has a smell. just as strong as i try to keep this body. sure that i could never the word enough could never apply here and get in. catch the word in your teeth, wedged between deep conditioner and epsom salt, you rise. you rinse. you repeat. repeat. when did this become therapy when did this become routine how long do you have to raise ritual to birth tradition? if i scrub with witch hazel twice a day and end up talking to god, does that count as prayer or i still have to get on my knees for you to remind me that self-care is sometimes hazy and heavy-duty sometimes selfcare stains the bathtub. sometimes selfcare is trying not to cry or crack your smile in a facemask enough to remind you that new muscles have to hurt new leaves can bleed apples can always fall farther away from the tree. oh my love, if i could immortalize the way this feels the first time you feel clean the first time you feel life extend at the will of your own hand on purpose,
in the name of wealth of aesthetics of politics of newfound religion & symphony. they will praise your name one day. call you god and the pride will bleed. but until, you are trapped in one of my fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s smoothies. before work in between all of this greenery, daring the blades to try that again.
HOW TO MOVE THROUGH TIRED THICK LIKE TREE TRUNK — GRANDMOTHER WILLOW SWAYING SIDEWAYS FOR TEARS — MOVING EULOGIES DOWN THE FACTORY LINE CAUSE FIRST — WE WERE WORKIN’ ON THE RAILROAD — AND NOW — WE — RAILED DOWN ON OPEN ROADS BEEN SITTING IN TIRED SO LONG I’VE FORGOTTEN THE SWELL OF RISING — BEEN SO STILL WAITING FOR PISTOL WIELDING TYRANNOSAURUSES TO WALK ON BY — SEEING SUPER PREDATORS IN TRUE BLUE FORM — EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE IN FRONT OF A PREDATOR — A BLESSING — DOWN THE LINE — I’VE MOVED SO QUICKLY — ASK ME FOR COMEDY — PLUSH AND ABUNDANT — IN THIS SUMMER OF IRE AND TRAGEDY — OUR SIMPLE SYRUP MILK CHOCOLATE EYES DOUSED IN MILK — EVEN IN REFUGE FROM ANGUISH — THERE IS WHITENESS — BEEN MOVING SO SO I LET GO OF WHO THE MAN TELLS ME TO BE — PRAYING TO PASTOR JONES INSTEAD OF FATHER JOHN — EXPECTING TO MOVE MOUNTAINS WITH SHEEP- HANDS — I KNOW NOT OF GREEN PASTURES — ONLY SOOT AND SORROW SERVED WITH PREDIABETES KOOL-AID TO WASH IT DOWN
BUT IF I LOVE YOU —— WON’T YOU GRAB OLIVES —— FULL OF HANDS —— RIGHTEOUSLY —— RIGHT THIS COURSE SO WE MAY —— EMBRACE IF SUCH DREAMS ARE —— VIABLE IN MODERNITY —— I SAY YOU —— I SHAN’T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK —— IF YOU STRIKE —— I THUNDER THRICE —— HERE —— I SAY YOU —— IF I LOVE YOU —— ALL MY —— FLESH —— ALL MY MARROW —— ALL MY —— SINEW AND MALEFICE IS YOURS —— IS OURS —— RIPE AND FOR THE —— CROWNING I ONLY OFFER ———— WHAT I OWN ———— LOVE ———— SMOOTH AND ———— FULLNESS ———— OH ———— BUT IF I LOVE YOU ———— I WILL ———— SET YOU FREE ———— SEE ———— HERE ———— RUBBER DON’T COME AS BULLETS ———— BATONS ———— DON’T BAT ———— INSTEAD ———— CULTIVATE VENUS FERNS ———— IN EVERY BEND OF YOUR ———— SPINE I SAY YOU ————— I KNOW HATE ————— SHE IS AN EX-LOVER ————— OF GREAT TEACHINGS ————— I SAY YOU ————— DON’T EXPECT ————— INCENSE AND ————— BLUNTS ————— IF THE ONLY LANGUAGE ————— YOU SPEAK IS ————— BLUNT FORCE ————— I ————— INVITE YOU TO THE PAN-AFRICAN ————— GARDEN RIPE WITH SWEET AND ————— SIMPLE FRUITS ————— SAVOR MY YOUTH ——————— MY BURNS ——————— MY DARKENED SCARS —— ———— SEE ——————— THE DARKER THE BERRY ——————— THE STRONGER THE PUNCH ——————— I SAY YOU ——————— COME DRINK THIS PUNCH ——— ———— BEFORE YOU THROW ——————— RADIO FISTS INTO MY AIR ————— —— I SAY YOU ——————— I DON’T KNOW PEACE ——————— HE IS ——————— THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY AND ——————— AWAY IS A PLACE THEY’LL ——————— EITHER TAKE YOU TO OR ——————— TAKE YOU FROM AND ——————— I WILL BE TAKEN NO MORE—— ————— BUT ————————— IF I LOVE YOU ————————— MY GOD ———— PLEASE —— — TAKETAKETAKE ——— (me) —— AWAY FROM A —— WORLD THAT LETS RIGHT HATE — BE LEFT FREE.
Years Later After Cate Marvin’s use of personification in her poem ‘Your Childhood’ Your laugh lines are children racing around our apartment. From the kitchen I can hear them in the bathroom. I wonder if they’re meddling under the sink; should I let them swallow the bleach? But here are their feet on the stairs and as they pass through the kitchen I ask why they’ve stayed even though you’re gone. Do you know what they do? They look at each other and giggle. Everything’s a riddle. Back when you were alive, they didn’t like to see us kiss. They pointed out the connecting string of spit from our lips, in a ha-ha-how-gross kind of way. They never stepped on the lines in the sidewalk, too innocent to cut off their mother’s tail to spite her spine. Your laugh lines dragged me down residential streets and taught me I could still enjoy hopscotch at 34. They would stare at me as I mouthed along to movie dialogue, then look away if I seemed to notice. They were only sheepish in private, like the day they purposefully swerved in and out of lanes but later whispered sorries to the sleeping wrinkles on my forehead. Or the time they made fun of my poetry, but returned the page with spots of crinkled dryness. On restless Sundays they played Candy Land and when tired of that, palm reader. My heart line was short. It broke off at both ends. I often think your laugh lines knew I wouldn’t get much longer with you and chose not to warn me, to wallow in the shocked O on every practical joke victim’s mouth. They haven’t learned a thing about privacy. They clamber into our room at 2 AM, to tell me I can’t keep sleeping with the scrap of shirt you were shot in, to stop inhaling the stripes. I feel your side of the bed sink down and your laugh lines trace words onto my back, a guessing game from sixth grade. Words I’ve never heard of: ephemeral, agelast, wanweird. They singsong that they know something I don’t know and scramble out. I’ll wake up to a dictionary on your pillow.
Shenanigans at 3352 Olinville Avenue Darrius came in from fall break / shouting that boys who like girls are lesbians and girls who like boys are gay / and so with the cape sloppily handed / to us by another unprepared omen the class flew / into the cafeteria to divide one another / into one of two beasts / I’m a lesbian well, nuh uh I’m a bigger lesbian / Gun Hill was like that / say what I said / but louder say what / I said but older say what I said but more / dangerous until the voices replaced / the hind leg kickback of a gun that floated / in and out of conversation like the ghost / of a dead relative / the look on our parent’s faces / when we explained / ourselves how if it weren’t for the foolishness / cradled in our dimples half of us would have / been murdered overnight.
… for my lovers’ other loves
you add water to my flowers. Thank You.
THE COLOR OF ETERNITY WE ARE BLACK ROSES WITH PETALS AS DELICATE AS GENTLE RAIN AND ROOTS SPREAD FARTHER THAN A CHRISTMAS SONG BUT DO NOT PRESUME OUR SOFTNESS FOR WEAKNESS OR OUR QUIETNESS FOR SILENCE BECAUSE IN THE DARKNESS OF NIGHT OUR THORNS GROW STRONG AND DISCERNING FOR TRUTH AND WHEN DAYBREAK COMES ONLY THE TRUTH WILL SURVIVE WE ARE THE MORNING SUN THAT RISES UP FROM THE FOUR CORNERS TO DECIMATE EMPIRES IN THE WEST PAVING THE WAY FOR THOSE WHO TRIED TO COME AND KEEPING THE FLAMES BURNING DEEPLY FOR THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE BECAUSE IF THERE IS ONE THING I KNOW IT IS THAT LIKE THE SUN OUR MELANIN HAS AND CONTINUES TO STAND THE TEST OF TIME WE ARE BLACK PEARLS A SYMBOL OF AGELESS WISDOM CONTAINED IN A GEM THAT JUST WANTS TO BE FREE FREE OF BEING LOCKED IN CAGES THAT LEAVE US GASPING FOR AIR OUR BODIES USED AS EXPENDABLE TOOLS TO FULFILL THE SHALLOW DREAMS OF THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST AND PRESENT WE ARE TIRED OF BEING TRAPPED IN SYSTEMS THAT DETERMINE THE VALUE OF OUR GEMS OR BETTER YET TRAPPED WITHIN A SYSTEM THAT UNDERSTANDS AND FEARS THAT VALUE HAVE YOU EVER SEEN ANYTHING MORE PURE HAVE YOU EVER SEEN ANYTHING MORE BEAUTIFUL BLACK IS THE BEGINNING, THE END, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN IT COILS AND DEVOURS NOURISHES AND DESIRES BUT CAN NEVER BE EXTINGUISHED BECAUSE IN THE RECIPE OF ETERNITY THE MAIN INGREDIENT IS THE COLOR OF MY SKIN
_Pillow-talk_ The honesty in the afterhigh of sex fizzling off. We lay in layers in rub -ble of broken walls in the serene thought -lessness of post-climax. Our drooped lips hang looser in the nude. We clothe in low tempo music, remembered after forgotten in play serendipitous, the sound of the clap of our thighs, our scratches of stubble. Those eyes sensual & distant the way they looked at me, not objectified but a person, a human, a particular human. Me. You told me I want to fuck you made it not feel like a fuck-you a make believe fuck You made me believe fuck is mutual ceremony is soft spoken & uncussed a whispered word a decrescendo merely an option not even the best part â&#x20AC;&#x201C;
Winded There is a myth that all hummingbirds are surveillance drones. I could believe it, because I constantly feel watched. I tongue the door frame because I forgot the sensation of coldness. Here is the ocean floor and my legs and an angler fish and a deep white shadow, splintered. I imagine teeth in motion: laughing or gnashing or falling out. Gums are bleeding and there is a river over my lip and I am falling in space like a feather which means the wind could catch me, but it’s raining. My hips kiss the pavement. I have this feeling of amnesia, I think. I feel as though everyone is watching. Someone asks if I’m fine, what can they do to help. I can’t see the state of my body, but I am wondering why the answer isn’t obvious. I smell panic, which smells like fire and I realize I’m not a vine of jasmine, but I’m dry wood in a hearth. I practice breathing, so my body remembers how to when my heart stops. I misplace my tongue. Upturned, my wrists are in the clouds I am back alongside the ocean, trying to dig graves, but the tide stalls my progress. I use my elbows like a shovel, salt absorbs my moisture. I’m thirsty, but I keep confusing water for sand. The next three days are a haze, and when I wake up I’m naked. The sun feels like an eye. The sky feels like an eye. The sand beneath me, eyes. If I could express the pressure along my sternum, I would fail for I am gasping. I try to carve my name into my hand with my fingernail to hold onto. I need a pain to focus on. But this fails, and I recoil and here are the rocks and the cliff side and static green. I try to shape words between blurring feelings with my knees and my toes. I am kicking and kicking and kicking, but there is nowhere to go. A light shines down on me. I can hear the pen across the paper and the frenzy in which they record.
I try to still myself to make out what they are saying as if I could possibly hear their thoughts. My back opens up, and instead of wings I begin to melt. When I am finally puddle, my body thinks inhale. I shiver as I try to move air through what could be my lungs. I shiver trying to remember what to do next.
A Case Study of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies I What if I told you not a single war happens dramatically. Not the wars in your home nor the wars on your body we’re all capable of violence of destroying everyone in our path for pure pleasure of dismantling our bodies limb by limb until they’re less shameful a vessel someone would be willing to hold
Brutality ravages slowly, it is aided by proximity, not a single war happens dramatically. II Tongues are heavy and mine keeps tripping over the language of being alive this is the part where I gnaw on my tongue until it falls from my mouth III Eroica The state sang her war songs and lying dormant in her belly was an aria that rang out like a Tec through the air leaving the town square bathed in the blood of her enemies. What did you expect? IV Don’t speak ill/ of the dead there/ were no ide/ologies to/ reject no/ memories/to repress/ always the/ sun and nev/er the moon/ only hurt/ people, hurt/ people Don’t/ speak ill of / the dead. V Transfigurative Transformation I am a statement of contempt content with ugliness I am a site of loss I am a site of abundance I am a study of how institutions wreak havoc I am stagnant I am of the state
VI Anti-Pastoral You want me to be gentle to grab these men by the collar dragging them through the mud, until they’re something worth looking at speak softer wear yellows lure them with a smile let them eat from your hand VII 3 men told me I was hard to love, war is quantifying victimhood. One the day of our reconciliation I left my body 6 times in hopes of forgetting, war is quantifying victimhood. “Send help” scribbled 10 times on the back of a receipt, war is quantifying victimhood. 10 years 5 therapist, I still feel sick, war is quantifying victimhood. VIII God forgives. I don’t. My body is not a temple. IV Ode to Joy Oh, what a time to be alive! After years of waiting to be pulled to earth’s core while drinking water laced with lead Did you ever imagine you’d feel so bright? that the sun would kiss you instead of igniting the match. The future is bright! because you’re finally committed to the process of living may you feel more; may you cry you will find a life that is extraordinarily ordinary you now have permission to run through that field of flowers.
18 GOOD THINGS One good thing, a little lake of a flowers in a garden on the edge of the cement, freshly drawn in by two kids on their way home. I feel spring within me, dumb like lightning on a summer day while thesun is shining. I love you even when we are two thousand miles away from each other. I hope you’re patient with me, even when I’m not kindto myself. Each time I hear the train move across the tracks, god is hefty, shows me something that’s new. Oh, I am thankful, for blood & for bone & for grief.
_ True Love_ That was true love – Said an audience member Regarding my fucking poem About a quick hook-up With a man I’d never before met And whom I’d never see again. I can’t remember his name Or if we even exchanged, I only recall the pleasure Of watching our walls fall Down as our clothing As our scents smudged. That was true love – It’s hard to accept Such an open definition. I denied an idea of love Without romance, without sex, Without name, without love. My poem said explicitly: There was no love – It was Only the beauty of nude touch. But we could be wrong. Perhaps love isn’t relational But sensational – a queer feeling.
Erotomania, In Retrospect At a literary event I was staring at a woman two rows in front of me. She was sitting directly under this giant light and I thought of what would happen if it fell on her. And I wondered if anyone else was thinking this. Are my thoughts comfortable and common? Or just weird? Which exactly do I want them to be? The fall would kill her instantly. People would scream; a panelist would pass out. I would slip out of the side exit and go home wide eyed, and live wide eyed with her crushed skull reflected in the blacks of my eyes. People would wave their hands in my face and ask what was wrong with me, seeing only her bone diamond fragments in my gaze. Everyone in that room would look this way; we would all be holding that secret of how we turned into deer. Unaffected Others would visit that room for speeches or presentations. They’d joke about the dark spot on the carpet, thinking some bumbling executive spilled coffee, unaware it was actually spilled brain. If I could ask that woman anything it would be, “How does it feel to be reduced to a stain?” She’d be pissed and I’d assure her I meant no disrespect but she’d still curse me, vow to haunt me forever. I would laugh. “Don’t you realize you already do that?” I would laugh in a way that makes her fall in love with me, just a bit at first. She would float alongside me, her body in white cloth a string and her collapsed red head the balloon. Then one night the ones who saw it with me would jump me, spitting out, “Why should you get something good out of this?” “I couldn’t sleep for weeks!” “I can never enjoy a hamburger again!” Being a ghost, she wouldn’t be able to do anything but watch this birthing scene of resentment. I’d have betrayed the Trauma Club, and I’d have to go through this to get out, or die. I wouldn’t. Death would fall asleep and miss the alarm to come get me. My belle, balloon, would force me to the hospital, despite my hatred of fluorescent lights making me look sallow; to readings, despite looking like a child wandering into a grown up party; to my mother’s eventual funeral, despite my needing guidance with eyes swollen shut. She would refuse to leave me alone with my fears and I would stop feeling the need to turn every light in the house on. All this just from a woman gasping out of her body. From a falling light, so fatal, somehow turning into a halo.
SUN TURNS BLACK,
ONCE, THERE WAS A CHAOS, UNCHECKED. LEFT FOR ASH, MY PEOPLES CHOKED ON FUTURES HAPPILY CONSTRUCTED.
SIMPLE SLURPING ASH SMOOTHIES, TELLING MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS TO COME OVER FOR GUT-SHOT SPIKED TEA.
LETTING BASTARDS OF ECONOMY KNOW AIN'T NO RENT GETTING PAID THIS MONTH. INSTEAD, WE WILL LOTION DOWN THE ASH OF NECK PULSES, CREATE OUR NEGRO SOLACE ON THE TILLED FIELDS OF OUR RIGHTEOUS ANCESTORS, ALSO KEPT IN CHAOS.
AND STILL, THE ONLY FUTURE I’M INTERESTED IN IS ONE IN WHICH OUR REPARATIONS ARE REPAID WITH SOFTNESS, UNTEMPERED. PAINTED WIDE AND BOLD WITH WILLING HANDS, UP THROUGH AN ATMOSPHERE LINED WITH CHAOS, OUR KUMBAYA’S WILL BLOW FULL! FULL & FIRE &
FORGETTING BILL PAYMENTS, LASHING OUT AT WHITE GAZES, HANDING THE FUTURE TO OUR YOUNG.
STILL, SWEET MOTHERFUCKER, AIN'T NO FUTURE IN THIS. KNOW THEY THROW ASH ON YOUR ASS JUST AS THEY SMOKE YOU OUT — SOWING ———— CHAOS INTO GENERATIONS — LOW BUZZ DRONES FIRING EXPLICATIVES OF OLD AT YOUR BROWN SKIN ———— MMM-MMM— AIN'T IT GOOD? — TO WATCH THE SMOKE RISE? — WATCH TARGETS BE FIRED UPON? — TARGETS WHITE — TARGETS NOT US — MY — FUTURE CONTAINS VIOLENCE, MOTHERFUCKER — R E PA R AT I O N S DEMAND JUSTICE — JUSTICE HAPPY — JUSTICE SMOOTH ———————
YOU WILL NOT TALK YOURSELF INTO SOLACE, AND YOU KNOW THIS.
THERE WILL BE HEALING BUT THERE WILL ALSO BE RENT SMOKE, HANDS UP, PARALYZATION, INCANTATIONS, AND VOODOO DAMNATIONS OF THE DEVIL AS WEKNOW THEM — WHITE, HOT, AND PALLID.
THEY SAY BLACK DON’T CRACK BUT WHAT THAT SHOULD READ AS IS; BLACK DON’T CRACK TIL YOU ATTACK (OUR PEACE) AND THE NEXT CRACK YOU’LL THEN HEAR IS THE CRACK OF BLACK TIMBERLANDS AGAINST CRACKED WHITE TEETH.
IVE GROWN TIRED OF NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. I BEG OF YOU TO STOP ASKING FOR PEACE, I BEG OF YOU— ASH, FIRE, GUT SHOTS AND COIL-BUTTERED DOWN VENGEANCE — BABY, THEN! I’LL SHOW YOU THE HEALING OF LAUGHTER.