Variety Pack: Issue V

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1 EDITOR’S NOTE As times are changing we want to first acknowledge how we even were able to make it to five issues, and fathom that through a pandemic, through what has been a rough year for many of our editors, we have found the wonderful and enduring support from the amazing folks who comprise our literary community. For this issue, we had the absolute pleasure of also taking in three brand new readers in Eli, Veronica, and Lauren, and are so excited to have them aboard our team! This issue like our last four is packed with a spectrum of emerging and distinguished talent. For our fifth issue, we are kicking off this summer right! From an interview with a filmmaker whose spent a lifetime tracking down the backstories to a Jazz legend; an honest conversation on Race, Queerness, and Womanhood, between our poetry editor and previous contributor Khalisa Rae; to a wondrous Fantasy from Lana Nguyen; to ‘Teen Club’ life in the Non-Fiction of Julia Edinger; to electrifying art from Despy Boutris; and so, so, so, much more, we are humbled as ever to bring you all a mix of flash, short fiction, interviews, reviews, essays, poetry, and art that graces our celebratory fifth issue! Best from the Editors & Readers at VP, J.B., Ben, Asela, Ian, Skyler, Dior, Eli, Veronica, Lauren

A special thanks to local artiste, poetic Firestarter, crafter extraordinaire, and beloved friend, Bianca L. Period McGraw on her help with this awesome cover.

P.S. As we continue to grow as a publication, we want to ensure that our readers are shown proper respect for any triggers, so we will be starting with this, our fifth issue in issuing a blanket TW/CW for the following content.

TW/CW: the following prose and poetry contains mentions of sexual assault/harassment, topics of verbal/physical/emotional abuse, experiences with misogyny, sexism in the workplace, discussions on racism & discrimination in the South, discussions of experiences with racism, and homophobia, death, depression, neglect, and mentions of life during the Holocaust.


2 CONTENTS

Flash/Micro

Short Fiction

Erin Schallmoser

Alexander Merchant

Jamie Danielle Logan

Amy Lee Lillard Sarah Prindle Lana Nguyen Ashley Gosman

CNF/Essays

Poetry

Betsy Shevey

Bruce McRae

Mel Sherrer

Benjamin Joe

Erin Threlkeld

Darren C. Demaree

Lanie Klapac

Nonah Cagney Palmer

Winston TL

Julia Edinger

Nicole Bernadette Birkett

Hannah Kludy

Sierra Foltz

Margarita Serafimova

Katie Miano

Reviews

Visual Art/Mixed Media

Ellen Scherer

Serena Piccoli

Shon Mapp

Despy Boutris

Alex Gurtis

Kennedy Rhiannon

Interviews Asela Lee-Kemper in Conversation w/ Khalisa Rae Frank Morelli in Conversation w/ John Scheinfeld


3 COLLAGE SERIES by Despy Boutris


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5


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7 THE ART OF ABUSE AND THE ABUSE OF ART by Betsy Shevey We have recently been reading about power abuse in the performing arts by Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein. What got lost in the Weinstein firestorm of sexual assault and misconduct is the awful reality that his emotional torture, physical abuse, humiliation, and degradation of his female assistants made Scott Rudin seem like Gloria Steinem. And even as horrifying as these stories are, they are the flashing red light of a deeper problem. Life in the performing arts for many is a nightmare of structural harm that some feel is necessary to endure as a sacrifice for the desire to create. I just finished reading The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen, a memoir by the brilliant Danish writer and poet. Because her writing was her reason for living, Tove married her publisher, a much older, impotent man who let her sleep on his couch in return for keeping house for him and being part of his literary world. Once a successful writer, she married a doctor who controlled her in isolation with injections of Demerol. She was on the brink of death when she finally called for help. There are many issues at play in this tragic story. One that screamed to me was the price artists feel we must pay for doing something for passion and pleasure that is not what society considers “profitable,” “proper,” or “productive.” In Tove’s case, being an independent woman poet and writer was considered selfish and arrogant in 1930’s Denmark and her working-class family. Throughout my many years in theater, I have witnessed reputable producers and directors act in disreputable ways. It was rarely called out and it was usually considered the daily order of business in a profession known for artistic temperament, eccentricities of genius, and difficulty of finding work when the supply of theater artists greatly exceeds the demand for talent. Given the struggles of typecasting, scarcity of roles for women, people of color and mature age; the prominence of rejection and inappropriate treatment, the lack of respect and remuneration, I wondered if my theater students reacted to this system like abused children repeating their trauma over and over. Creativity is not a problem. Creativity and abuse do not inherently go hand in hand. Not at all. In fact, they are diametrically opposed. However, the structure of the performing arts in a capitalist economy enables the dynamic of power and money to feed off each other in a closed circle that can trap the artist in a cycle of powerlessness. If we want to work, we must be silent about abuse and discrimination. Silence implies consent and eventual complicity. The abused becomes the abuser.

I have known excellent artistic directors and producers who, nevertheless, defeated inclusion. One, who was prodigious in New York theater, told me that he didn’t hire women directors because, “You have to wait your turn.” I asked him what he meant, and he explained that there is a “natural order.” Those not on the top rung of the ladder, need to wait until they are given permission to move up a rung. Another powerful producer asked actors if they were homosexual at auditions and interviews. When I asked him, was it necessary and was it right? He answered that he didn’t want a gay actor playing a straight character unless they could answer that question appropriately. I was never sure which answer he thought was appropriate. A producer gave more opportunities to BIPOC actors than most, but his hires of directors, playwrights and designers was biased. A revolutionary producer was impulsive, temperamental, and mercurial. Artists walked on eggshells around him and danced attendance for his favors. This was not considered an imposition or a problem. It was par for the course and nothing was said during his lifetime. When he died, he had


8 as many enemies as friends, although he had given work to thousands, energizing the New York theater scene. This producer’s behavior was not different from others in kind, only in degree. Producers, directors, artistic directors, agents are treated as a form of artistic royalty. Coffee, sandwiches, personal appointments, deliveries made in their service by assistants and interns, considered an honor. The hierarchy is solid. Is this hierarchy itself a form of abuse? Yes and no. Clearly, some of the “power brokers” are collaborative and a pleasure to work with. But do we really need such a discrepancy in privilege, profits, and perks for the arts to flourish? Does it take a genius to conceive of a revival of Hello Dolly or The Music Man? Does it take a visionary to import another hit play from London? Famous producers critiqued my “female” directing style because I’m not overtly “the boss of my actors.” For me, directing is about nurturing, inspiring, and connecting. Leaving aside the sexist dilemma of the love/hate dynamic of the “bossy woman,” there is a deeper problem. A successful male director I consulted for was asked a question by a female actor about a complex script. He answered, “I’m not your acting coach.” Fine, except this same director spent many months auditioning scores of actors giving them lines and moves to see how exactly they fit into his prearranged patterns. That is one way of directing, yes. But there is room for other ways that involve community and consensus around stereotypes of performance. Just as the “business of show” can and should explore new models for growth and change. How does racism come into play here? I found that actors of color in conservatories critiqued for their “attitude.” It’s not color, it’s “behavior.” Once, I saved a woman of color from being expelled from an acting program because of her “attitude.” I took the steps I needed to take for her safety. Of all the students sent by the program to audition for Yale School of Drama, she was the only one who was accepted, given a full scholarship, cast at Yale Rep, then on Broadway, nominated for a Tony, and now works constantly. These directors do not think they are racist just as producers do not think they are sexist. The presumptions of behavior are built into paradigmatic ideas and standards. These ideas and standards can integrate disrespect, inequities, unilateralism, and power dynamics even from unions such as the recent dispute with Actors Equity, without batting an eye. Work is what matters to artists. We are vulnerable, easy targets. Another Danish woman, Isak Dinesen wrote profoundly in her story, Babette’s Feast, “Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my best.” Give us a chance to do our best. That is our cry. How will it be heard as theaters open in the fall and winter? Will the old hierarchies take control as before with the same privileges and abuses? Or are we ready for a new way? Can we come together as a community and find ways to create that come from our hearts and lead us to scaffolding that connects not divides? Can we hold producers, agents, managers, artistic directors accountable for their behavior? Can we think outside the Broadway box and create spaces and projects that don’t need a fortune to operate, or a power broker to finance and control? Can we find another way to pay artists through private/public partnerships? Can we regain agency over our work the way theater artists have done time and again? Will this generate new and diverse audiences excited by these initiatives who can afford tickets? This is a revolution that has already started. It’s a matter of staying on the road, traveling together.


9 THE PARABLE OF A QAAPI BOY by Winston TL White boy see me / save me invite me to your house let’s idolize a well-groomed slender Whitewashed jesus. teach ourselves to toughen up, bud to transform our beings into worthy to know but not follow his gentleness. is this enough to earn his love. did this clean, smiley, pretty jesus shame me at age 10 when i sucked in my stomach and wound a belt around constricted fat? do White gay boys hypothesize how tight are gay Asian boy anuses? small dick still function? pray to buddha? freshman year of college, aged 19: an imaginative prayer, conception White genes, Asian genes sexy man(?), no longer ugly chink i could be respected if my external was White jesus with some buddha features. does anyone respect me? in my life, only 3 (White) guys/ppl truthfully told me “you’re sexy!”... 1) we were teens; he rarely left his room 2) i was 24; he was older than 40 and married 3) i was 24; he was older than 40 and married (i liked him) in this house; what will you speak to me? damn-reprimand-punish-sham! 2009 body dysmorphic afflicted aged 14 “dermatologist: botox and chemical peels. more suggestions, please?” In The Bluest Eye, a Black girl age 11 named Pecola prayed that God grant her blue eyes so she’ll be beauty.


10 Does her prayer make jesus followers happy??? White boy love me. enlighten me about evil. tell me light isn’t always White. prove that my faithful inquisitive shades of dark . You’ll embrace.


11 PROETRY-ISH-LIKE SCENES OF THIS WRITER BRAIN (A SHORT PLAY) by Winston TL Scene 1: My hometown’s not so bad Diversity of fulfilled people, disabled people, elders, immigrants coexist in Harmony (I think?). Scene 2: It seems Chekhov’s plays revolve around Bored, privileged people in rural areas. Maybe they should’ve practiced mindfulness? Scene 3: What if I didn’t change the world, but individual lives I’ve encountered? Or are they both the same? Scene 4: Mind wanders from this Website to Website Thought to Thought Location to Location. The dogs are manageable. Scene 5: Instead of doting and attaching to other people’s children, Why not attend to the child inside you? Scene 6: “If I become famous, can I talk about you?” “Okay.” I’m not famous now, but you’ve been in many conversations, anyway, my love. THE END


12 WILD HOG by Mel Sherrer I was baptized as a little girl. I remember it well. The church had one room and a basement. The choir was a handful of Black women. The walls were pinewood paneled. The walls of the baptismal pool were tiled, a memory shade of blue. The preacher gathered everyone out back around the pool which was dug right out of the red, Georgia clay. You had to descend a set of stairs down into the earth itself to stand knee-deep in the water. I don’t remember being afraid, I could smell something cooking, you could have dunked me in anything to get to it. I had seen four men carrying it from the woods where they had hunted. All of Greensboro County must have smelled savory. The preacher dipped me, lifted me back above the surface, he said, “Good girl.” I felt good, and my mouth watered.


13 CRAB LEGS by Mel Sherrer My father was a cook though I never saw him cook, mama said he was good with seafood. He could butcher, filet, fry, and sauté, he could season and boil a perfect vat of crab legs. I imagine him that way, doing only that, perhaps the way he is, just a shell.


14 BLANK WHITE FACES by Alexander Mercant “I told you we should have bought a paper map,” Curt said through his teeth. His hands gripped the steering wheel even harder, his knuckles growing white. He pressed down on the gas pedal and the engine responded with a roar. On both sides of the car, there was nothing but walls of cornfields. Michelle was frantically tapping the GPS in her lap. “It runs by satellite, I don’t understand.” “Well, we wouldn’t have had to rely on technology if I had a map.” “Well,” Michelle said, mocking Curt, “This wouldn’t have been an issue at all if we would have flown.” Curt took his hands off the wheel and raised them into the air, “Oh, I’m sorry I thought a road trip would be romantic.” “Romantic? It’s Iowa. Have you been driving with your eyes closed or do I have to tell you that we’ve seen nothing but corn for hours now?” “The fields will end. I’m sure there’ll be a town in just a few more miles.” “You’ve been saying that for TWO HOURS. I haven’t seen a drop of civilization since we went under that overpass.” Curt pressed down on the brake, the car screeched to a halt and Michelle was pushed forward until the seatbelt grabbed her and pulled her back. The car idled in the middle of the road. Curt looked at the ceiling and exhaled slowly. “Let’s not fight,” he said calmly, the words of Dr. Luis ran in the back of his mind, “It isn’t going to make anything any better. Dr. Luis says we shouldn’t let things escalate when we can work them out together instead of at one another.”


15 “Don’t be mean to me then…” His heart fluttered, feeling bad for raising his voice and he turned to his wife, “I’m sorry. We’ve just been on the road so long… I wanted us to enjoy this vacation, ya know? Wheels on the road. Not caring when we arrived. Like back when we started dating.” Michelle reached over and brushed her husband’s hair, “You can’t yell at me then… you know I don’t like that.” “We’re both a little flustered but that’s no excuse and I apologize but… now what? Should we turn around? What do you think would be best, dear? I’ve been calling the shots and it’s gotten us nowhere.” “Like you said,” Michelle said, gesturing forward, “There has to be a town eventually. Something always has to lead somewhere.” Curt nodded and put the car back into drive and soon the car was sailing down the road like a strong gust at sea had propelled it forward. Michelle messed with the radio but all they got was static. The only sound was that of the motor humming. They could have been spinning in place had it not been for the clock on the dash that clicked the minutes by like hours. The corn was all the same as someone had copied and pasted it onto the ground. The asphalt was fresh and not a crack under the summer sun. Their real pressing concern was the gas gauge as it was slowly going down. Curt had said he would fill up at the next town and now it seemed they had all disappeared from the world. Their hearts finally sighed with relief when they saw something in the distance. It was a sign for a town. Everfield. Population 100. 5 miles. Curt slapped the roof and Michelle grabbed her knees and brought them to her chest. She was beaming. Finally, they were going to be getting out of this godforsaken ocean of corn. Curt let go of the gas. He knew small-town cops were always hungry for revenue and outsiders


16 speeding was the easiest way to pay for a new computer at the office. The sign had said only five miles. Soon they could see a section of buildings in front of them. A sign welcoming them to Everfield. Their car breezily rolled into town. They looked around and saw it was Main Street. “Hey, look at that,” Michelle said pointing. Curt followed her finger to see a mint condition ‘64 red Mustang parked along the side of the road. “Huh,” Curt admired. “You don’t see one of those every day.” “Holy shit…” Looking around, they could see there were 1960s cars everywhere. In pristine condition too. The road was packed with Lincoln Continentals, Chryslers, Bonnevilles, and a few VW beetles even. “Must be a car show or something?” Curt asked. “I don’t know baby. Look at that.” He looked over and saw one of the walls had a painting advertisement for Coca-Cola. There was a woman in a white dress. She was smiling and the wind was blowing her blonde hair back. There was a glass bottle gleaming with condensation next to her and it said Be Refreshed. Curt and Michelle knew that the advertisement had to be old but it hadn’t aged or faded a day.

“Wow it’s almost lik“Curt! Watch out,” Michelle screamed and pointed forward. Curt’s head flipped around but it was too late as a woman and a stroller were sucked under the metal and rubber of their car. They heard the bones crushed under the weight. Curt slammed on the brakes and the car came to a halt with black tire marks scratching the street behind them. Curt’s hands were shaking. Michelle’s eyes were glued to the front of the road. Curt slowly moved his head to the side to see the stop sign he had gone through. He could have sworn the street was empty before he


17 looked at the wall advertisement. He wasn’t going fast either. Who doesn’t look before crossing the goddamn road? Now the gas tank seemed to be the least of their worries. Neither of them said a thing to one another until the click of the car door filled the air as Michelle stepped outside. She got down and put her hands on the rocky pavement to look under the car.

“What the?” Michelle asked, peering under the car. Curt got out of the car too. His throat felt like a tightrope. He didn’t understand why no one was crying out for help. No one was running to see what had happened. He looked under and saw the same thing Michelle did. There was no blood, no bones sticking out of flesh, and no twisted metal. It was a white mannequin with a model stroller. Both smashed and cracked. “Maybe some art installation?” Curt asked. His throat started to relax. In the middle of the road?” Michelle asked as they both stood back up. “This is weird, honey. I don’t like it.” Curt nodded his head, “It is… strange. Let’s see if we can find someone to use their phone and call the police. I don’t know what they’ll have us do. It was an accident but… who puts something like that in the middle of the road?” They got back into the car. Curt turned his head around and backed the car up. The pieces of plastic exited from under their car and laid a crumpled mess on the crosswalk. He took a left down the intersection and drove slowly through the small town. The sidewalks were not empty. There were men, women, and even kids playing but they weren’t made of flesh. They were all mannequins. Frozen in place. In the middle of the road, there was a fire hydrant with white water still in the air and model children playing in the fiction. At the end of the road, there was a church where a man appeared to be holding a book while people corralled around him. Curt’s stomach had a bad feeling. Michelle’s did too.


18 “What about the pharmacy?” Michelle said, pointing to the storefront a few stores down from them. “Sure,” Curt said and pulled in, parking next to a Thunderbird, “You want to wait inside the car?” “Absolutely not.” Curt turned off the ignition and they stepped out of the car. Curt looked around and saw tens of mannequins. All performing the actions of real people. Men held newspapers under their arms. A man held a sign out to the road, but it was blank with no message. A woman was holding a fan. Michelle screamed again. Curt’s eyes followed his wife’s. Up high in the alleyway, to the side of the pharmacy, there were two bodies. Not of flesh but of plastic hanging by their necks from the tops of the building. The rope looked new and fresh. They had signs on their chest but those too were blank. There were flyers that had been floating around the alleyway but stayed frozen in place. With the sound of the light flapping of a bird, they could see one loose note tossing itself against the alleyway dumpster. Curt watched the sidewalk while Michelle walked towards the alley, her heart thumping against her ribcage. She looked up one at the bodies hanging above her before she shuddered and told herself they weren’t real over and over again. She reached down and grabbed the piece of paper. When she stood back up she hit one of the frozen sheets in the air. It turned back into floating paper and was whisked down the alley by the breeze. Michelle looked down at the paper. It was a doomsday pamphlet with a pastor mentioned. It confused Michelle but she couldn’t help but try and piece together what she was seeing. Maybe some military installation. A practice town. She walked back to Curt and handed him the pamphlet. He looked down at it and didn’t finish reading before he crumpled it into a ball and tossed it on the ground.


19 “I think gas is now our main priority,” he said. “I agree,” Michelle said looking back up at the two hanging bodies. Curt took the lead and walked forward towards the pharmacy. Before they opened the door, Michelle pointed to the newspaper box out front. Its headline was about Vietnam. It was dated 1968 but the paper wasn’t yellow. It looked as if it had been printed that day. Chills went up to Michelle’s spine as Curt opened the door. The welcome bell rang, and the sound almost had them jump into the air. The door slowly shut behind them. They looked to the counter, but no one was there. That was when they heard the crash of glass against the ground like someone had just dropped a bottle. They almost grabbed each other in fright but they stayed at the door. Their feet glued to the ground listening for another sound. Michelle pointed to the counter. Above it was an old tube TV with Gunsmoke playing with the sound off. Candy bars rested under the countertop but with packaging from another time. There was a scuffle of footsteps. Curt held out his hand to get in front of Michelle and he slowly walked forward. He went around the corner of the store and saw in the back another mannequin. It was bent down. A coke bottle was shattered on the ground. The liquid sizzling on the tile floor. “Hello?” Curt called out to the thing. It was frozen, bending down with a broom and dustpan. “I’m talking to you!” And he looked around the store, “Anyone?” He looked back and the mannequin was now looking at him. It stared right at him, expressionless but it strangely felt like it was glaring.


20 Curt could feel his heartbeat in his throat and his hands were shaking but he balled them into fists and hid his fear under anger, “This some kinda fucking joke?” He walked over to the mannequin, but it did not move. “I know you moved motherfucker. Say something,” he yelled at the mannequin. He knew he had to be losing his mind. He looked back at Michelle who had come to his back. “It’s nothing, baby,” he fake laughed, “Just a piece of plastic.” He got close to it and pushed it over with one finger. It fell to the ground keeping the same position as when it was standing. Curt’s shoes were wet from the spilled drink. Something had to have dropped the drink, and he caught himself saying something instead of someone. There had to be an explanation, but he was getting to the point that he did not care to find out. He wanted to be gone. He turned back to Michelle. “Let’s fucking go. I don’t like it here.” “I don’t either.” They turned to leave and Michelle screamed. At the front window of the store, they were staring at them. Ten mannequins with dead eyes peered through the windows. Every hair on Curt’s body stood at attention. He looked around the store and saw a wooden broom. He grabbed it and unscrewed the mop so only the handle was in his hand. He heard something and looked to his right and standing down the aisle was the coke bottle mannequin. “We’re fucking leaving,” he said to his wife, “And fuck you,” he said and raised the broom at the mannequin.


21 They went to the door as quickly as they could. Their footsteps as fast as their beating hearts. When they opened the door and stepped outside, the staring audience had turned to look at them. Curt walked backward, the broomstick up like a baseball bat as they made it to the car. Michelle pulled on the door. “Unlock the car babe.” “I didn’t lock it,” Curt said, still staring at the audience. Michelle yanked harder until the handle broke off. It was plastic but not the kind of plastic they made for cars. It was the kind they used for toys. Michelle began to cry and looked around. The windows of Main Street were no longer black and empty. They were filled with the faces of men, women, and children with white faces. Completely still but watching.

Curt went to his window and looked inside. The entire interior of the car had changed. The electronics had been removed. An old radio replaced what was their HD display. The instruments had been replaced with real gauges instead of LED. He put his key into the lock, but it no longer fit. He looked up and their audience had grown closer. His panic was growing, and Michelle’s face was red. They needed to come up with a plan. The only thing he could think of was to run. To where didn’t matter. Anywhere was better than here. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” “Okay,” Michelle frantically nodded her head. They ran into the street. He grabbed her hand, and they ran to the left to see a wall of white faces standing there waiting for them. Curt pulled on Michelle’s hand, and they ran to the right. The street was open. He could see the corn in the distance. Hanging above the fields was a billboard that said, “Come to Corn Fest and Enjoy a Summer That’ll You’ll Wish Nevers End.” They ran that way as fast as they could. They could hear the footsteps following them from behind, but they did not look back. They couldn’t. Their hearts and minds wouldn’t let them. They were almost at


22 the end of the street when they stopped running. The congregation from the church was blocking the road. The preacher, still holding his bible, was standing in front of them. They didn’t have to turn to know the rest of the town was at their back. They did not smile, they did not wave, and they did not move. Curt and Michelle tried to move again but their legs went stiff. Their joints wouldn’t bend. It was as if their feet were glued to the ground. Michelle went to say something to Curt, but her lips wouldn’t move. She strained as hard as she could, but her mouth wouldn’t open. Inside, she began to panic as she couldn’t breathe. Curt used all the muscles in his neck to turn and look around him. The mannequins were getting closer, encircling them, and he tried to step forward, but he couldn’t. He wanted to grab Michelle’s hand, but they too were stuck in place. The only thing that worked wer his eyes and all he could do was see their blank white faces getting closer.


23 A STORY ABOUT EGGS by Benjamin Joe

I’m bringing my son to New York City, and it’s ostensibly a trip to visit the graves of our ancestors, but we’ll have a lot of time to go do all the touristy stuff. I haven’t seen lots of these places either.

While I was growing up, my family and I would visit my grandparents and end up watching Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies and eat. We didn’t leave except to go to the graves of our family. It was kind of a drag, so this time it I promised my son and myself that it was going to be different.

This time we’ll see a lot of things. First, we’re searching for Balto, the sled dog who saved an entire expedition in the Artic Circle. He’s got a statue in Central Park. Following that there’s a big metal monument of the characters in Alice in Wonderland and on the other side of the park is Strawberry Fields, the piece of Central Park that inspired the Beatles tune or perhaps it was the other way around.

So really, this is a big deal. It’s the very first time I’m bringing my son to NYC and we’re going by bus. By 11 in the morning, we’ll be let out in the middle of Manhattan. There are subways to take and sights to take pictures of. There are museums, and ferries and bridges and parks. This is a big trip and, yes, we’ll see the graves and burn the spirit money and eat food while the spirits eat the food’s essence and get empowered by the incense smoke… I just hope it goes alright.

I’m not afraid that my son won’t feel the gravity of the situation. He’s fairly sensitive that way and I know he’ll act appropriately. As for me, I’ve been going to these occasions for as long as I can remember. They’re a cultural thing, not religious, and stem from my father’s Chinese side and it’s the only holiday my father’s family celebrates. On my mother’s side we deal with death in the usual way by worshipping a man on a cross.

Whether one is supposed to be happy or sad at these subsequent grave ceremonies is hard to say. Over the years, “the graves” had become ritualistic. It was something we did and there was very little that didn’t go according to plan.

We’d line up and one by one pay our respects, men first, the women after, generation and age being the next determinator. As a first born son of a first born son, I had a fairly honored position, and was equally looking forward to introducing my own first born son to my late grandfather who died when I was 12.


24 But my son, what I was afraid of, had the one vice that could ruin everything.

He’s a picky eater.

There are a lot of things Chinese people eat and some of it can be pretty weird. For instance, we used to eat shark fin soup, which is illegal now. The sharks were being harvested improperly and finally someone said the whole species were in danger, so we cut that out.

But there were certainly more.

Chicken heads, fisheyes, sea caterpillars, chicken’s feet are considered delicacies eaten by the elders of the family. My mother told me that my great-uncle had offered her a lobster brain once and she had refused, insulting him greatly.

But none of these things would be at the grave ceremony and the cuisine was quite tame. The thing is, it includes hard-boiled eggs, a dish hated by my son. I worried that somehow, upon our first visit to this ceremony, that he’d refuse the food and insult someone, or perhaps try it and end up spitting it out! And maybe it’d be my fault. Maybe there was something I could’ve done to sweeten or spice up the taste of unfertilized eggs. As we eat the same thing every year, it’s not like this stepping stone into my son’s quarter-Asian heritage was a surprise.

Over the years I had struggled to give him a piece of me and where our family came from, but it’s hard to explain as I knew very little myself. I know farming was a thing, that there was a village at one point in time.

I didn’t know the language, which I’d learned was a variant of Cantonese and wasn’t spoken much anymore. Quite possibly, it would die out completely in a generation.

I didn’t know how to use chopsticks the proper way, and the closest thing to a Chinese classroom was an abacus my father gave me when I was young.

I did enjoy kung-fu movies and ninja turtles. Those did make the cut for generational perusal.


25

But maybe none of that matters and now it come to this:

It’s the food that really makes a difference. The things that we are forced to eat as children then continue to eat out of sheer stubbornness and ignorance of anything else as we enter into the adult world. The food that shows how we were brought up and who we’ll be. The main difference between my son and myself isn’t how fair our skin might be or our facial features varying between continents, or even what will be the difference of our adult heights.

The main difference is that I will eat almost anything. And while that seems to make sense, it’s weird because it gets to the point, and maybe it will get that point on this trip, that we go to a zoo, look at the zebras and all I can think of is “damn, I wonder what one of them tastes like?”


26 TRANSITION (VIA THE OXFORD DICTIONARY AND A GOOGLE SEARCH) by Nonah Cagney Palmer verb verb: transition; 3rd person present: transitions; past tense: transitioned; past participle: transitioned; gerund or present participle: transitioning undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition “the network ought to be built by the federal government and then transitioned into private industry” • adopt permanently the outward or physical characteristics of the gender one identifies with, as opposed to those assoicated with one’s birth sex “once the decision was finally made to transition, she was overwhelmed with the support from her immediate family” Be the network. Adopt into the past: Sex as one’s decision participle Gender the outward government Verb the 3rd decision, finally a federal family; or immediate transition; present, built with process, Tense support associated with one’s birth or permanently transition - “ought to” was with her gerund: transitioning past or present or period One identifies of the private participle or opposed to industry or physical characteristics or: And then transitioned transitioned transitioned transitions undergo by the once overwhelmed was from the verb “cause to undergo” or the person of transition


27 EUCALYPTUS by Kate Miano To wind up in my shower the eucalyptus was ripped from its branch, sold to the distributor who brought it to the downtown farmer’s market to hawk to hipsters looking for the next trend To wind up in my shower, this eucalyptus stem left itself. pulled apart by force and resealing itself it never showed its blood and the tree kept growing like no disruption was enough to make it afraid of life. to wind up in my shower with a fresh bud growing, the eucalyptus had to first think itself dead.


28 FINDING TRANE: A DISCUSSION ON THE JAZZ LEGEND WITH DOCUMENTARY FILMAKER JOHN SCHEINFIELD by Frank Morelli It has been over fifteen years since I left my post as a NYC public school teacher and my apartment in Harlem to make a move to the rural South. At the time, I loved New York. I loved my students. I felt a kind of kinship with the city and my fellow citizens after having been through the ordeal of September 11 with them. But I needed a change. I needed to be free of the traffic, of the constant cacophony of police sirens, of the perpetually-empty bank account. I needed to see trees. I needed a yard where I could rescue pups and give them a life outside of the shelter system. I needed the head space required to live my dream and to practice my craft.

So I ended up in High Point, North Carolina, a somewhat forgotten little burg that has been shaped by the furniture industry and the surrounding tobacco fields for as long as it has existed.

The culture shock hit me almost immediately. My South Philly accent (where I grew up) clashed horribly with the slow, Southern drawl of my neighbors. My ubiquitous utterances of “yous guys” was quickly swallowed up by “y’alls” and “bless your hearts”. In a word, I was completely lost.

But then I took a stroll through the modest downtown district, lined by furniture showrooms and antique shops, and happened upon a statue that spoke directly to me. It was a man in a suit jacket and a button down shirt, his face serene and brooding, a saxophone casually tilted down below his lips. His eyes burned with intensity. A placard beside the statue read: John Coltrane.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I found out on that fateful night about the City of High Point’s most illustrious and legendary son. About a man who grew up in the same phantom borough I now called home. About a man who faced great tragedy in his life, who struggled with hardships and the balancing of his faith with the state of the world around him. About a man who overcame everything to master his craft and to become one of the most influential musicians in American history.

And on that night, I knew with certainty that I needed to learn more about this man. That I needed to understand how he found the strength to do all the things he was able to do both musically and as a human being.

And it led me to do what I do. To write. To study. To make an attempt to help young readers see the importance of a figure like John Coltrane. The resulting young adult novel, On the Way to Birdland, is set to release on June 8, and creating it has given me the opportunity to speak


29 with notable scholars who came to admire Trane in the same way that I had through my research.

One of those scholars happens to be award-winning documentary filmmaker, John Scheinfeld, who wrote and directed Chasing Trane, which is far and away one of the most in-depth and critically-acclaimed films about the jazz legend that has ever been produced. The film features Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington, as the narrative voice of John Coltrane along with a star-studded cast of interview guests such as former president Bill Clinton, musical legends in their own right like Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Sonny Rollins, and Carlos Santana, and even renowned philosophical scholars like Cornel West. Chasing Trane was an official selection of the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals and premiered in 175 theaters worldwide in 2017. Scheinfeld is also well known for his most recent film Herb Alpert Is…(2020), and his most widely acclaimed films The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006), and Who is Harry Nillson...?, which was nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award in 2010.

I had the distinct honor to sit down with John recently to moderate a wide-ranging interview that allowed the film genius to recount his experience producing such a landmark film on John Coltrane, and to connect with him on many of the observations we seem to hold in common about the brilliance of our nation’s most celebrated jazz legend.

Frank Morelli (FM): Can you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard John Coltrane play?

John Scheinfeld (JS): I was in college where I had a radio show once a week. There was a closet filled with vinyl that none of the other radio hosts seemed to use, but it drew me in and a particular John Coltrane album caught my attention. It was My Favorite Things. The music just blew me away. I decided to play it on my show because everything about it was so different and unique. I have to say that I wasn’t a Coltrane-obsessed fan when I first heard his music, and I continue to be someone who is more interested in studying the artist as a man than as a musician. That’s one of the main reasons the film (Chasing Trane) focused on these aspects, was because I wanted to produce something that spoke to people who are interested in Coltrane’s life as much as his music.

FM: When did you first start formulating the idea for Chasing Trane and what prompted it?

JS: I was first approached with the idea by Spencer Proffer, a friend and fellow film producer, and we both agreed that John Coltrane was a fascinating and historic figure with a compelling story that needed to be told. I didn’t want to do the typical documentary. I didn’t want to do a year by year retelling of John Coltrane’s life. Instead, I thought it would be more dynamic if we were to provide a critical view of what were the most consequential moments in Coltrane’s life. Of course, any filmmaker will tell you that there are a million ways to fit the pieces of a


30 film together to make a final product. In fact, a documentary is very much like a jigsaw puzzle, except it’s the kind of jigsaw puzzle where the pieces can fit together in so many ways. There’s not a single solution like a cardboard puzzle you pull out of a box. We experimented with many different approaches until we found the perfect solution to this particular film. From start to finish, it took a little over two years. It was a terrific experience.

FM: How did you manage to put together such an illustrious list of talent to speak on John Coltrane’s behalf? And how in the world did President Bill Clinton get involved?

JS: From the very beginning, my goal was to put together a range of voices that could speak to the various aspects of John Coltrane...that is, Coltrane as the man, the musician, and the icon. Folks like Carlos Santana and drummer John Densmore of The Doors were able to provide insight into the long-lasting influence of John Coltrane in the world of music. Benny Golson, Sonny Rollins, and Jimmy Heath were able to recount their personal experiences playing alongside the legend. Ashley Kahn was able to include historical accounts from his own personal research as a Coltrane biographer. Cornell West provided an important perspective on the philosophical reach of Coltrane. Common was able to give us an angle on Coltrane’s reach into current R&B and Hip Hop. Michelle and Ravi Coltrane along with Antonia Andrews were able to tell us about John Coltrane the family man. All of these people were able to come together to peel back the layers of the onion, so to say. And Bill Clinton...I sent off an email to his chief of staff and got the following response: “I think the president will find much joy in this endeavor.” I was given fifteen minutes to do a thirty minute interview, thinking Mr. Clinton would be whisked away the second my time was up. Instead, the interview lasted well over thirty minutes, and the president hung around the set for a considerable amount of time after he was finished responding. He clearly has much respect for John Coltrane’s legacy.

FM: In my young adult novel, On the Way to Birdland, Coltrane’s version of ‘My Favorite Things’ plays a major role. I think it was Wynton Marsalis in your documentary who hammered down on the main reason I decided on that specific song, when he talks about Coltrane’s ability to connect common experiences in American culture and to transform them into something new, something better--but definitely something that gave people of all backgrounds a doorway into this musical genius. It brought people together. What do you think it was about John Coltrane that gave him this unique ability?

JS: It’s hard to pinpoint that innate ability but, like most of us, Coltrane was shaped by his childhood. There was spirituality in his life from a very young age, and the spirituality he picked up in the church growing up stayed with him throughout his life and probably provided him with the general sense of the optimistic. His spiritual search became continual as he got older and his perception of it changed over time, but he never forgot the humble beginnings from which he came and I believe it enabled him to see the best in everything. What winds up being reflected in Coltrane’s music is his belief in his own ability to be better, to be good, and to impact people in a positive way.


31

FM: What do you think it is that makes Coltrane’s life and musical achievements so relevant today?

JS: I truly believe great art is timeless, whether it comes in the form of an artifact, a sculpture, or in music. The truly great artists...their music lasts beyond their time and I think we see it in the rarified air occupied by John Coltrane because his music touches people in ways we can’t articulate ourselves. In the case of Coltrane, he kept pushing the boundaries of what was possible with each new album. In fact, each album Coltrane put out was very different from the last. He was constantly moving forward and expanding his vision in ways other artists have not. It’s a concept I think continues to be relevant in any time period.

FM: Do you think John Coltrane makes a good role model for young people today?

JS: There are certainly aspects of John Coltrane’s life that are not the best for role modeling. However, his ability to recognize self-destructive behavior in himself and then extricate himself from the situation is something to be admired. Overall, as a figure and icon, John Coltrane is and should continue to be an influence because of how true he remained to himself and in how committed he was to his art and to how far he was willing to push the boundaries in that world.

FM: In my novel, my protagonist is on a personal quest. He meets many mentors along the way that shape his journey. How important was it for John Coltrane to meet and accept mentors like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonius Monk into his life, and what can today’s youth take from that example?

JS: John Coltrane accepted the responsibility to continue to learn, and he became a sponge. It was Coltrane’s innate talent that brought him to the attention of great musicians like Davis, Gillespie, and Monk, but it was Coltrane’s own willingness to take direction, to take criticism, and to absorb the best that he witnessed from these important colleagues that enabled him to grow. It shows that those who don’t want to learn, who don’t want to change, will never be open to new approaches and new ideas like Coltrane had been.

FM: In Chasing Trane, Benny Golson and Jimmy Heath share unforgettable stories about witnessing Coltrane’s obsession with practicing his craft. How much of Coltrane’s success/genius were simply products of this obsession?

JS: Well, I think that if you don’t have innate brilliance as an artist from the start you might still never be able to become great, but that goes both ways. You can certainly be born with


32 great talent and never realize it fully because you weren’t willing to do the necessary work to refine those skills. Coltrane understood that to be the core of being an artist, and it’s probably what unlocked his natural talents and allowed them to progress to the level of genius.

FM: Famous and respected musicians from all time periods seem to swoon the moment they hear John Coltrane’s name. They seem to place him on a higher plane than their own quite accomplished contemporaries. What do you think it was about John Coltrane the man and the musician that places him in this light?

JS: I think the most precise word that applies to John Coltrane is “icon”. Getting to this level is not only about producing great art, but it’s also about producing great art that makes a significant and lasting impact...and that impact grows stronger over time. That perfect combination of the powerful, the compelling, and the timeless is, I think, what places Coltrane in the category of icon. It’s possible that John Coltrane himself may have explained this in simpler terms when he said, “I don’t feel like I recognize the word ‘jazz’. I just play John Coltrane.”

FM: Jimmy Heath said the album ‘A Love Supreme’ literally takes him to heaven. Common said he listens to it more than any other album. I found out recently there is a church in San Francisco that regularly holds a meditation to 'A Love Supreme.' In your opinion, why is this album so important to music, to musicians, and to humanity?

JS: That’s a tough question to answer. The album is as spiritual a composition as I’ve ever heard, and everything that was John Coltrane went into the album. But I’m not sure the spiritual phenomenon can really be explained. I think it’s something that’s probably personal to the individual listener, and something you should listen to and interpret in that way.

FM: You open and close Chasing Trane with a Benny Golson quote: “Coltrane could get on his spaceship and it could take him anywhere he wanted to go.” Why did you make this decision?

JS: The opening and closing of a film either comes to me right away or it’s like squeezing blood from a stone. The opening and closing of Chasing Trane probably fell into the latter category. First and foremost, I wanted to leave the audience uplifted in a film that would end on a sad note, with John Coltrane dying much too young. The opening sequence of the film in its final version is unlike any documentary I’ve ever seen, and that’s why I thought it was perfect for John Coltrane. The more I thought about his later music--the music some people would say is hard to understand, that some people would say is “out there”--the more I started to think of that quote from Benny Golson. And the more I started to think about how many of Coltrane’s later recordings are related to space. What is space? Well, it’s this infinite, cosmic


33 thing that people want to explore. Coltrane was an explorer in his music. The result was a sound that continues to be otherworldly


34 EXILE IN GUYVILLE by Amy Lee Lillard In the Museum, I had freshly-laundered dresses laid out for me every morning. Breakfast oats and tea. Fresh water for bathing. The patron did not see all this, did not witness my bathing or eating or dressing. The patron, most usually, would see me sitting in a rocking chair behind the glass. Silent, pensive, docile. Or, they saw me moving about my room, stretching my legs as a wild creature must. Or, they saw me reading, sewing, napping, as a woman must. As a woman should. For this, the patron passed over money to the Museum. They came from Kansas City, or across the state, or other states. Even countries across the seas. They crowded into our vast exhibit hall lined with a rectangle of rooms like mine. They navigated the bustle and hustle of legs arms bodies heads, other people breathing fog onto the panes, chirping laughs and maws of mouths. All to see me and the others behind glass. A display table sat outside my room, with a historical summary and a button to push. The visitors pushed this button if they wished. The voice that came from pushing that button purported to be mine. But in truth it was some other woman’s voice. The voice let words fall from her tongue as if they were chewed and mashed in her teeth and gullet, made into a goopy paste, and regurgitated to the baby birds of her nest. All so they may swallow it easily. My name is Temple, the voice that was not me said. I come to the Museum from the year 1870. Such a small collection of words meant to tell a story. Yet still the visitors, all of them firmly rooted in their storied present of 2074, ooh’ed and ahh’ed while staring, examining, leering. *


35 One night a week, we were allowed out. All of us, off of our stages and into the vast central space of the Museum. On the other side of the glass. There was dancing, though the music was oddly heavy and mechanical, and no musicians in sight. There was drinking, tall glasses of pink liquid that made my head light. But more than anything there was talking. I’m Charity, said the egg-white socialite from 1901. I’m Willie, said the sky-black singer from 1924. I’m Fortuna, said the earth-brown seafarer from 1794. I found myself touching the other women’s shoulders, their forearms, as if to confirm they were real, and this whole Museum with them. Willie and Fortuna and Charity, and more, Sandra the widow, from 1813, and Lisbeth the actress, from 1936, and others from so many times. All of us young, no more than five and twenty. And every so often, someone new. One of the women would disappear, off to her new life in the brave new world outside, the one we were promised, the one we had not been allowed to see yet. A new girl would take her place. I talked to all of my fellow freaks, touched them, and they touched me. I grabbed their hands after a few drinks of pink, and ran in circles, danced, stretched my legs as we couldn’t during the week. As the nights grew long, I often saw men by the main entrance doors. Long, tall, large men, in gray and black suits, thick ties, trimmed beards, wide belts. Chatting with one another, drinking decidedly un-pink drinks. But mostly, looking at us.


36 They call this night of ours Friday Night Art, said Willie, on one of my first nights. Still drunk with time lag, legs shaky from this ground that seemed to swim underneath me. They’re donors to the Museum, Charity said. Guests of the Curator. To me, they appeared as all the other patrons. Giants, everyone in this time so tall and thick. Grubby hands on glass, looking upon me, us as if they could eat us whole. * There was the daily routine of oats new dress washed face sitting reading sewing napping noise evening meat chat sleep. There was the weekly routine of talking, drinking, being watched, with a different, molded intensity than that of day. There was also a monthly meeting, when a red-uniformed woman came to fetch me for a meeting with the Curator. When I’d first met her, in a green wood centuries ago, she appeared as a fairy, with golden locks, glowing skin, a dress that covered all but showed every curve. Supernatural beings – the only language I had for a woman such as her, that belonged somewhere else besides my time.

In our monthly meetings, in her office filled with chrome and lilies, scented by lavender and something musky, I sat across from the Curator. Her hair was darker here, her skin freckled, her pants trim and tight. She asked me questions. Was I feeling better? The hole could scramble us, body and brain, after all. Was I enjoying the weekly parties? Are the others enjoying the parties? What do the others say?


37 What else have you noticed? I understood that she aimed to make me watch, listen, report. Become a spy, of a sort. To what purpose, I didn’t yet know. I told her easily observable things, stories she probably already knew. Like Willie performing a dance for us at our last Friday event, one she’d said she performed on a stage in Chicago and New York. Or Fortuna, demonstrating how to puncture a jugular, as she’d done on ships she’d pirated with her husband off the Atlantic. Sometimes, the Curator would ask me about my life before. At first, the questions confused me, repetitive as they were. Almost as if she forgot the freak show, that entire night in which we met. Ratty, smelly tents on dusty ground. The land ground down by carriages and foot traffic. A no man’s land between farms and city. I’d begged the boy to take me to the show. The latest boy, his name Tristan and his name unimportant. We saw a bearded woman, and a strange reptile-like man with hands like fins, and a young girl who could contort herself as if she were made of string. We saw an enormous man as big as a house, and another man who was but bones with a bit of skin. We saw a woman with an extra arm growing from her middle. We saw bodies with art bled into them. We saw oddities and freaks, made so by outsized bodies and extra limbs, by the strangeness of their physical flesh against the norm, all of them on their own little stages. We walked through the show, oo’ed and ah’ed, tittered and pointed. I remembered that later with disgust. Then, Tristan and I snuck behind the tents. My lips soon fat from kissing, my chest wider and full of air without the restrictions of ties and bodices and corset. My womanly parts swollen and hollow from the boy plunging into me, promising me marriage and family and


38 anything at all as his body contorted. I wanted none of that, at least not from him. I wanted him gone the moment he was spent. I excused myself to squat behind a tree. That is where the Curator found me. Do not be afraid, she said as I turned. She, able-bodied, yet freakish. Because she was something other than me, of the grimy baby city of Kansas, of the community of farms and settlers and lame Confederate and Union soldiers hiding from the world, outside the city. A fact I could see immediately, yet could not say what told me so. Is this part of the show? I said, looking for a small stage, a curtain, a poorlyconcealed apparatus of some sort. The woman laughed, a thin sound that she followed with a wide smile. Her teeth, so white as to gleam in the night. Skin pulled tight against her bones, hair made of light, framing her face. Do you seek to see strange things, she said, or do you wish to have your own stage? I stared, then understood I stared, tried to stop, stared still. Your life has been hard, she said, her voice honey and arsenic. Life is naught but hard, I said, thinking of parents dying young, of running to the city to live, of stealing and sewing to make money, of the rarity of moments like this, in a peaceful copse outside this city of grit and offal. You want, she said, her bones in her face showing through her stretched skin. No harm in wanting, I said, even as I knew the uselessness of dreams in waking or sleeping. Life can be different, she said. With Jesus Christ our savior? Or perhaps a tonic of your making? I do not offer God, or poison. I offer a life of the future.


39 Ah, one of the territories, then? Gold in the hills? The Curator pressed a thin band around her wrist, and the air shifted and split. A hole appeared, a circle in the air, with what seemed to be water falling over it. A sound came with the hole, one that set my teeth against one another, and a smell, of things that should not burn.

I gather women like you, she said. Women who want more. People all over the world will come to see you. I had thought nothing of my future. Life was now, this moment and the next, and the need that connected them, the needs of the body. Food. Sleep. Fornication. The last something sinful, I was always told, yet necessary, nonetheless. The feel of hands on my body, making it real. Two hundred years from now, she said, Kansas City is clean and shining. It is a place to thrive. She spoke of time, but I only thought of place. City meant grey streets and buildings, the color of soot and ash, of steel and industry. Rusty red carving veins through the grey, the color of pig and cow blood, of the slaughterhouses. Flinty city women that dared not smile, and men with hats that let their eyes linger. But she described a different way of things. There is another path for women like you, the Curator said. I think this was the biggest lie she told me that night. * In our monthly meetings, under light made by men, the Curator appeared more human. Hair the color of peanuts, always pulled back loosely. Skin fleshier, her figure softer.


40 She would ask about the things I’d done to survive back then. Because I saw no shame in it, I told her about the things I did for money: stealing silver, thieving wallets. Occasionally mending clothing for the prostitutes downstairs in the carriage house, where I rented a small room. Did you ever… I did not take money for fornication, I said to her unfinished question. I did not judge the ladies for finding a means to stay alive, I said. But I, well. I did not wish to engage in the dramatics and playacting they must. That would quite ruin my joy in the sexual act. She laughed at that, and asked about men. I told the Curator about the things I did to feel alive: let a young man untie my trappings and release my breasts to night air. Let a young man kiss me deeply in dingy alleys and daylit streets. Let a young man pull up my skirts and find a hole to fall into. Did you not think sex outside of wedlock a sin, asked the Curator, as so many did in your time? The world would have me be small, I said. Telling me to cover myself, to wear a corset to shrink my body. Telling me to marry whoever would have me, to become his property. Telling me to feel shame at joy, at pleasure, at the feeling of freedom. I would not be small. Yet another sign you belong here, the Curator said with a smile. * At nights in my small room in the Museum, I dreamt of the travel I’d done. When the Curator showed me her shimmery watery gate to the future, I extended a finger to touch it. When I did, a force pulled at my hand.


41 I panicked then, the mechanical roar of the hole vibrating my skull, the choking smell of sulfur and charred meat. I twisted, fighting the pull, turning back to look upon the Curator, who merely smiled. I saw the freak show tents, the dark punctured with lamplight, the moon high above, and I reached myself back, if only because those tents, that lamplight, the moon, those were things I knew. But then I fell, into a chasm of light and sound. I felt a rending, as if I split down the middle, crown to toe, and were cracked open to the world. Then, just as the pain of such a rupture registered, pressed back together, and sewed hastily with the roughest of wool fibers. I arrived in a sealed white room, where men covered in white suits that moaned as they moved thrust me into a spray, water and gas, and stuck needles they called vaccines in my arms. All the light and pain. The Curator appeared, and I did not recognize her. And for days, weeks, after, a terrible sickness. I have heard of the roiling that takes one out on the seas. The Curator later told me of the floating, dunking sensation in the brain from machines that fly people from night to day. I felt both, my head and heart aflame, my stomach tied in ribbons, my legs as useless as a baby fawn’s. All that, and more, to be encompassed in one line: My name is Temple, and I come to the Museum from the year 1870. Do you see how written history is a lie? All of it. Beyond the machinery of the hole, the mechanisms of me coming here. There is so much living and dying behind the words and letters that survive. So much time. * Days and nights. Patrons behind glass, pointing, smiling, laughing. Men on the perimeters of our dances, staring. The Curator, listening, nodding.


42 Time moved surely and regularly, and I was comfortable, and warm, and safe. I did not have to hunt, for money, for food. And so it was, after several months, I could truly think about what came next. I pictured a small, cozy room, somewhere in this promised land outside the doors. A city that was now green, free of smoke and stench. A place that welcomed me, and I it. When next I saw the Curator, I told her of my musings. She smiled with those teeth and said, Which of them will you choose? Which…? You are ready to leave here and start your new life. And all of the donors who’ve attended our Friday Night Art have expressed interest in you. So the choice is truly yours. My body had grown steadier through the months of living here, the time lag a memory. But now my ribs seemed to vibrate, my arms tremble. Once you choose your husband, we can arrange everything rather quickly. You can be living in your new compound quite soon. Husband, I said. The Curator nodded. No, I said. You said the future was a place for women like me, who wanted more. On the arm of one of our very generous, very wealthy donors, you’ll want for nothing. Life will never be hard again. I let time pass between that statement and my next, weighing the feel of that time, the understanding that came upon it. You said nothing about a husband before, I said. Her mouth opened, growing wider. A caricature of a smile.


43 Is this, I said. Is this why you bring us here? To be sold to strangers? Temple, she said. You’re a smart, worldly woman. You know this is a fine arrangement. You are no stranger to men and their needs. I won’t, I said. Let me out. Just let me free, out there. I’ll find what I need. I’ll take care of myself. That’s not possible, she said. On your own, you’ll be in extreme danger. What? Let me show you something, Temple. And then the Curator took my hand, guided me out her office, through a hallway I’d never seen, up a set of metal stairs, out onto a black roof. After months of living indoors on light and air and food that seemed to come from unearthly magic, the sudden wind on my cheeks seared. I breathed deep, then coughed, hacking at something that seemed to lodge in my throat.

The Curator gave me a mask, which fit over my ears and covered my nose and mouth. The hacking stopped, and cool air, smelling of fire, flowed into me. Once I calmed, enough to hear her, the Curator, wearing her own mask, said, What do you see, Temple? We stood at a railing on the edge of the roof. I see, I said through the mask, my voice the pitch of speaking in a tin can. I see…what do I look upon? The Curator then pointed to each item in my vision and named them in turn. The sky, she said, pointing to a sickly, infected gray above. The city, she said, gesturing to a devastated ground, littered with machine parts and dust. Small, shrouded figures moved among the ash, the scurry of ants.


44 The train, she said, drawing her finger along an elevated track, covered in a giant transparent orb. What happened here? I said, pointing to the ground beneath us. What always happens, the Curator said. No matter what time you live in. Some thrive, some scrounge. I looked for the green I had envisioned. The picture of the future she had painted by omission. I only saw gray. This is a wasteland, I said. The compounds, she said, a finger extended far in the distance, to where the train led. Private communities safe from all this, she said. That is where you can live with a husband. They are nice, large homes, surrounded by gates and armed men. I wished to punch myself in the throat, to cut out the heart that had been so eager to believe. The men of the compounds, she said, they need wives. But…the women of this time? They’re all born with acid in their blood. From chemicals they breathe and eat. From the unrealistic promises of advertisers, of culture. They are polluted, and they’ll create polluted children. The edges of my eyes stung. I pushed back against the water, but it came, nonetheless. You will have a good life, Temple, said the Curator. You lied, I whispered. And you lie now. * Back to my room, back to patrons behind glass, back to routine. Safety.


45 The Curator told me I could think, reflect. Choose on my own time. So the next Friday Night Art, I watched the donors, as they watched me. I saw how they stood, chest out, spine straight, feet forward. I saw how men of this future were a bit taller, heartier, then men of my time. I saw how they were the same too, how they were the ones who truly had choices. After, I slept in my comfortable bed, with a full belly. It wasn’t difficult to envision another, richer bed. A belly filled with meats and sweets I’d never known. A safe home, far from the waste of the city. A shadowed figure, in that bed with me, one that meted out delicacies. That figure, that husband, that benefactor, he would be kind and doting, or at least careful, treating me as a beloved pet. I would be a highly-paid prostitute, and there’d be no shame in it. Or, he could be callous, uncaring, looking upon me as a piece of art on his wall, an appliance in his home. That would not be hard either. I would be a thief, his thief, stealing all I could from him, as he did me. I looked about my room, and out into the rest of the Museum. Why create this, I wondered. Why all of this, simply to snatch women for wives? Why have us spy upon one another?

I understood, as I submitted to the passage of more days in the Museum, that this was what the Curator saw in me from the start: A keen grasp for the ways of the world. A constant questioning. A view of morality that bent and stretched, as pliable as bread dough. A hunger for more than I could eat. I understood that she saw all this in me quickly, because she herself had the same qualities. And that is when I understood even more. * Have you chosen? She asked, her hands folded upon her lap, her head leaning ever so slightly to her right.


46 None of them appeal, I said, my own hands a mirror of hers, my head leaning to my right. Pity, she said. They are more than their looks, you know. I nodded. If I decline to choose a husband, will I stay here, in the Museum? She took a moment, unmoving except for a thumb patting the other. For a time, she said. But we must release you once the marks of age begin to form. Which happens sooner than you might think. Our patrons want to see beauty across the ages, not the death of that beauty. So I am to marry, I said, or be thrust out into the wasteland. The Curator let my statement stand. But there is a third option, I said. Is there? There always is. For the first time, the Curator let her mouth move on its own, let that smile reach above her lips, let the tiniest laugh come forth. Clever, she said. How many Curators are there? Her laugh grew louder. And more clever still, she said. It had taken me too long to realize the woman I’d met at the freak show was not the woman in front of me. Shock, surprise, the dark of night, the strange bodily reactions to tumbling through a hole in time; they’d all convinced me to reconcile the two women as one. I’d wanted them to be one. I’d wanted them to tell the truth, then and now, in words and presence. Once I understood they didn’t, couldn’t… Curating is a difficult task, Temple, this Curator said. You seek out rarities. Women who will not balk at being objects.


47 That’s what we’ve always been, I said. And that, she said, that wisdom, that translation of reality. That will make a good Museum display. A good wife in the compounds. And a good Curator? She spread out her hands, as if she held the world, and it was weightless. Why create all this? I asked. This Museum, these meetings. Why all of these strange games? The men want to feel in charge of their decisions, she said. They want time to view the goods before choosing. So why not use that time to make money? My turn to laugh. Always, back to money, I said. The Museum gives all the other citizens of the compounds, here and around the country, a glimpse of beauty, she said. A reminder that life now, as mercenary as it can be, is still better than it used to be. That’s what Museums always give us, yes? The sense of superiority over the simpletons of the past. The knowledge of what awaits them in the future. You don’t have to lie to the women, I said. Even by omission. You can describe what the women can expect here, what awaits them. And many will still accept. Perhaps, she said. But we are charged with gathering a quota. I leaned back in my chair. Of course the Curator reported to someone. A man, no doubt. Someone paid well by other men for their time-order brides. My confidence wavered at this. Was it better to live at a man’s behest in a big guarded home, where I wanted for nothing, and lived a life as a display of art, one the owners could touch at will? Or, was this better, this path of action? The Curator watched me as I shifted, weaved. Ask me, she said.


48 What would you choose? She seemed to let hold of herself, to let her spine curve and her shoulders relax. I come from 1895, she said. Things were changing for women, but not fast enough. So I came with the Curator before me. I lived here, behind glass, like you. And when it came time to choose, I nearly went with a man. A handsome one, if much older than me. I could have had his babies. And watched them live behind gates or glass. I wanted more. She looked over her shoulder, to a door I had not noticed previously. I live here, she said. It’s lovely, and comfortable, and mine. And I travel, back to beautiful places. I wanted more, and I obtained it. It comes with a price, I said, thinking of the betrayal, the disappointment, the self-hatred that came with understanding I’d been duped. I know, she said. But what else would you have me do? What would you do? The choices laid out in front of me, as if under glass. A Museum of options, and I, smug, certain I knew the future of each. I’ll curate differently, I said. Get more women who question, who are strong, who— Don’t lie, not to yourself, Temple. I’ll do it, I said. I won’t be used. I won’t be small. The Curator smiled. * Traveling through the hole was easier the next time. Something about going back versus going forward; my body did not object as badly.


49 My feet stood on green grass, and above me, a warm orange sun. I held my face up to it for a long while. It was 1854. Somewhere, miles from here, I was a young girl, living in my parents’ farmhouse. They’d die soon, and I’d make my way to the grit of the city, and never see green like this again. I could run from here, I thought. Take this bracelet off my wrist, the one that connected me to that dark future, toss it in the weeds, and walk wherever my legs would take me. I could start again, as I had before. Steal, scrape. Make my way. But how exhausting it sounded. When I knew back in 2074 I had a spacious suite of rooms, food when I needed it, men when I wanted them. All for the low cost of a few trips a year, of doing a task that would be done with or without me. There was always later, I thought, as I laid on that soft grass and grew warmed by the sun. Not far away, movements, the sound of a young girl, humming to herself. I would lay here a little longer, I thought. Enjoy this moment. Then, I would rise up, approach the girl. Appear to her as a fairy or god, something from her dreams. Speaking in promises. Do not be afraid, I would tell her. I’ve come looking for you.


50 PRESSURE CHANGES by Nicole Bernadette Birkett I I cry before rainstorms: blotchy, salt-streaked tracks, and snot-slicked upper lip. It’s not pretty, but you know the fishing’s going to be good. II Ten goats died, four because I was on a date with a smoker who had to pause the evening a half dozen times to light up. And I came home late to a tangle of triplets. III There’s a spider in my hair I can feel it spinning playing strands of web or hair across my forehead I can’t tell the difference anymore but it itches all the same IV If you find me leaving the bed in the middle of the night, twisting into a worry of clothes, saying that I forgot to feed the horses: please remind me that I only own goats.


51 EMILY AS A SINGLE DISCOVERY by Darren C. Demaree The tenth tattoo is an ink spot among other ink spots. I was once buried in a herd of black horses. I was never alone amidst their dark hair. Now, I teach chants to chairs most of the time. There is so much hard matter in my life. There is one song. Do not follow me past the woods of this poem.


52 THE TURNBACK by Erin Threlkeld I stand under the shower head as the drops pulsate my scalp. I am not afraid of shame when flat ironed strands become a cloud of curls. I am not afraid of humidity, throwing away sixty dollarsworth of flat iron smoke and hair spray. I break the cycle of choosing hair over exercise, burning my tresses until they’re straight and submissive then adding more heat to create an ideal of perfection. My hair is now soft as wool. When twisted I adorn it with gold rings and gems like a crown. It is seasonal. Worn straight on special occasions but twisted or


53 braided during months of excessive heat or coldness. It endures all the same.


54 THE COURTS by Erin Threlkeld The polished courts Made giants of Men and women the From the moment they put On mesh jerseys to their ascension. Defying gravity to touch the rim. Then grasp it before making the Ground quake when their shoes Scuff the floor. They snatched pieces of heaven, Before descending triumphantly Praises echoing in the bleachers.


55 SANG SISTER by Erin Threlkeld

The bigger the woman the stronger the voice. Hips like mountains. Gabriel stands on blowing his trumpet to Kingdom Come. Her back arched and reared. As the notes flowing from her throat create Jacob’s Ladder. Angels stretch their hands to Jehovah. Going up and down the chords hanging in the air.


56 FAKE NOODLE by Erin Schallmoser

I wanted answers. I wanted to know if he kissed his mother on the cheek before he headed upstairs for the night, if he fist-bumped his brother or asked his sister how her day was. There were rumors that he got into a bad fight with his dad that afternoon and that was part of why it happened, but I wanted to know what the fight was about, if any insults were exchanged, what decibel levels their voices reached. I wanted to know the last words he spoke, the last bite of food he ate, the last song he listened to. I wanted to know if he was wearing socks, if his shirt was cotton and dark gray the way I liked, if his jeans were the ones with the rips in them. I wanted to know if his iPod was fully charged, and if he thought of me at all in those moments between making the plan and carrying the plan out. If he thought of the joke he told me on our first date at the Italian restaurant downtown—what do you call a fake noodle? An im-pasta. If he still had the note I’d slipped into his back pocket the day I dropped him off at rehab—please come back to me, I want so much more. I wanted to know how long it took his dad to bound up the stairs after that one and only crack issued through the air, and whether he had his cell phone on him, or if he had to run back downstairs to use the landline to call the ambulance. I wanted to know why the shotgun wasn’t locked up in one of those fancy containers, why the bullets weren’t stored in a separate location, why absolutely no safety precautions seemed to be in place, why it came as such a surprise that someone as unhappy and untethered as he was, would attempt to do something like that.


57 THEY MOVED A DAY TOO SOON by Sierra Foltz The sidewalk, by virtue, and deposits of light the stars march into violin strings never-ending pureness my shirt is blowing as I go to work. Unseasonal warmth and the family breaks up, yesterday the ballet now I feel insane. Surrounded, I was in such a hurry to see what the poets in Madrid know, love the mathematics.


58 REVIEW: MARJORIE HART AND THE TREE OF LIFE BY AMANDA VINK by Ellen Scherer Paperback, 1st Edition, 292 pages Published April 20th 2021 by Kaledena Press, LLC TRUST YOUR EYES, TRUST YOUR HART It’s 1928 in Buffalo, NY and the past year has not been easy for Marjorie Hart. Though she’s a skilled photographer with scandalous stories to share, Marjorie struggles to find an editor who values truth over politics. All the while, she is grieving the death of her father, Julian, who was found dead in Cairo the past year. Marjorie knows Juliain had been researching The Tree of Life. It was his lifelong obsession. Desperate for more information, Marjorie vows to get to the bottom of her father’s death. Was it an accident? Or was the situation something more insidious… MARJORIE HART AND THE TREE OF LIFE is a strong first release from Kaledena Press. Author Amanda Vink combines the action-packed adventures of Indiana Jones with an overarching journey of faith and self-discovery, weaving the histories of Buffalo, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka into the story. She writes an authentic protagonist to which readers will feel a strong connection; Marjorie Hart is navigating real life problems such as grief, loss, and the distrust of others while remaining confident in her ability to get the job done. Marjorie projects confidence whether she’s arguing with a colleague at home or with a stranger overseas. Marjorie is incredibly vocal during challenging circumstances and refreshingly active in moments of danger. When Marjorie requires help, she doesn’t wait to be saved. She uses her head. She also defends herself using weapons and machines that are typically reserved for men in these types of narratives. (No frying pans to the bad guy’s forehead in this book! Marjorie is equipped with guns, knives, and even aviation skills.) She maintains this independent spirit when becoming romantically involved with another character in the novel. She even questions the relationship (Does this person fit into her life? Does she fit into theirs?) and makes decisions after careful thought.


59 In this way, Vink establishes her main character as a passionate risk-taker. Marjorie may have issues trusting people and granting them forgiveness, but she also isn’t afraid to make new connections. When she meets new people, she makes a mental note to remember their kindness (or unkindness) to her. She trusts the facts and trusts her instincts, rather than relying on faith alone, giving her room to grow over the course of the story. She learns how to balance her analytical brain with her passionate heart. Though this book is a historical and fictional account, readers can envision a real Marjorie Hart traveling back and forth to Middle East, digging for truth. 5 stars! A quick note/trigger warning for LGBTQ+ folks: A character uses homophobic language that was common and generally acceptable at the time this story takes place. The text does not celebrate this character or condone the language.


60 BLOOM UNTO DAWN by Lana Nguyen

Da Xia awakes to the warmth of the morning sun pouring into her room.

Princess Da Xia was always a morning person. Even as a child, she loved to watch the sunrise beyond the garden trees. It was a comforting sight, and the view from her room was the envy of all the land (or so she liked to boast). She props herself up on her elbow and yawns, making sure to brush her bangs from her face. “My Lord?” A stiff voice from the corner of the room speaks up. “Good morning, Tao.” Da Xia yawns in response, stretching her arms out before looking towards her companion. In the singular corner of the room that remains yet untouched by the rays of the sun stood a tall, black-garbed figure. Tao’s gaze pierces the darkness, the only trait revealing an otherwise invisible presence. Da Xia was able to notice it, a skill she picked up over the many years she’s spent within the house. To any others, such a presence would terrify them. To her, it was reassuring. She knew that she was under the watch of her silent guardian, her looming shadow. “Do you ever sleep?” Da Xia asks. “I must always keep watch.” Tao answers. “That doesn’t answer the question!” The Princess flings one of her pillows at the other woman. Tao catches it with one arm, unflinching. Da Xia giggles to herself, clearly more amused than her friend. Tao was always stoic, reserved, unwilling to let her emotions show any potential weakness. Da Xia herself, on the other hand, was carefree and unafraid to express herself. Whether she was jubilant, or furious, or lazy, or even bored, she always made sure to let everyone know. Others may have been annoyed with a


61 spoiled brat such as her, but Tao never seemed to mind. None of the Lihua House did. It’s one of the many reasons Da Xia was happy to have someone like her. “I sleep after you do, and awaken before.” Tao states, dry as ever. “You must take naps at some point...I vow to find your nap spot! You gotta have one!” With that declaration, Da Xia stands up from her pile of blankets. She brushes aside more strands of disheveled hair, and walks over to the window that faced the outdoor garden. Grabbing a shining comb from the nearby desk, she begins to brush at her tremendously long, dark hair.

“So, what’s the plan for today?” Tao takes a measured stride towards Da Xia, stopping to maintain her respectful distance. She kneels before answering. “The ceremony will be in a few hours. A carriage to the Imperial Palace will be here shortly before. I will help you get dressed, and we will all depart with you when it is time.”

“Great, great. Uh, hey can you brush this part? I can’t quite reach it…” Da Xia offers her comb to Tao, waiting expectantly. “Of course.” Tao answers. She takes the brush into her hand and kneels behind the other woman. “So, I know that dinner will be provided at the Palace but…” Da Xia hesitates for a moment. “Could you um-, could you get some of the snacks from the stall before we depart? I know it’s

not proper to eat before the ceremony but listen, the food smells nice every time we ride by! I heard the city has the best food at this time of year…” Tao finishes combing with a section of Da Xia’s hair before sighing. She thinks about the day that awaits her liege, and how it wouldn’t do for her to be full before dinner at the Palace.

“...I shouldn’t-”


62 “Please? I won’t tell anyone, promise!” Da Xia exclaims, turning towards Tao and unleashing her ultimate attack: her puppy dog eyes. Tao, a normally indifferent individual, begins to feel her resolve crumble when she meets with her Princess’s eyes. Her eyelid twitches, and she sighs again. In all of her years, no amount of training had ever helped Tao build a resistance to her liege’s begging face. It has been the bane of the Lihua house for the entirety of the time Da Xia was placed into the clan’s care. The Princess quickly became the most spoiled royalty that has ever been housed. Fortunately, it has proven to be mostly inconsequential. The Princess was never one to cause too much trouble. “...I can get you something before we leave. Should I ask Sister to assist with your dress?” She asks. “Nope, I can do it myself this time! I’ll see you in a bit, then!” She flashes the widest grin. Her puppy dog eyes have always worked. Da Xia haphazardly puts a pin into her hair and shuffles out of the front door while bundling the longer part of her sleeping robes in her arms, leaving Tao behind. #

Da Xia is seated in the garden situated outside of the Lihua manor. The centerpiece of the garden is a giant Silkblossom, a rare long-lived species of tree that is native only to the Imperial Province of Xiao. It stands tall, as it has for many years, over a u-shaped pond. It is mostly known for its beautiful flowers that take many years to blossom. It is said that the petals of the Silkblossom were tears from the gods, thus giving them their remarkable glow at night.


63 The Princess herself is situated on the stone bench that lies in the middle of the pond, directly underneath the tree. She’s admiring the beams of sunlight pouring through the gently swaying branches, all while fiddling with some of the more intricate parts of her ceremonial dress. The dress is especially ornate, woven from fabric provided by the Imperial Palace. It is an outfit worn only for special occasions, and is handmade for each of the royal family members. Da Xia’s dress is a brilliant gold, with intricate patterns lining the billowing sleeves. On opposite shoulders rest two crests, one carved in the image of the tiger, her Celestial Blessing. The other is of the Lihua clan, the characters of the name in calligraphy. The look is topped off with the golden hairpin that holds her bun, an heirloom from her mother, with a red gem that brings out her own crimson eyes. Da Xia hears a soft thud sound behind her. The sound would have been nearly impossible to hear for those with untrained ears, but living with descendants of a noble assassin lineage taught Da Xia some very useful skills. She turns around in her seat, and sees Tao standing before her. On one hand, the other woman is carrying a plate of steaming barbecue skewers, above some napkins. On the other is a plate of freshly baked sweet cakes, small enough for the Princess’s petit hands to pick up and eat. Tao’s expedition into the bustling stalls of the city proved fruitful.

“Are these satisfactory, my Lord? I know that meat is your favorite, along with some sweets of course.” “Oh my gosh yes, Tao! Thank you so much! It looks so good! Come over here, eat with me,” Da Xia exclaims, patting the open spot on the bench to her. “As you wish.” Tao flashes a rare grin at that. Da Xia excitedly claps to herself as Tao strolls over and sets the two places onto the bench. The smells of the skewer meat sends a shiver up her spine. It’s not often she gets to eat vendor food, especially around this time of year. With her sleeve rolled up, Da Xia grabs a skewer and excitedly begins chewing away at her meal. Tao takes one and eats alongside her, eating much slower.. The


64 Princess devourers her first skewer in an instant, and she’s already going for another whereas Tao is still just on the second chunk on her own skewer. “Ahh, this is so GOOD!” Da Xia exclaims in between bites. “Thank you thank you thank you so much again! The Palace food’s good, but it never compares to stall food…” Tao nods in agreement, but doesn’t speak. They eat the rest of their food in relative silence, aside from Da Xia’s failed attempt to get Tao to hand feed a sweet cake into her mouth. Tao is currently taking a napkin to Da Xia’s face, cleaning off some of the stains to make sure she’s still presentable for the ceremony. Tao’s leaning closer, cupping Da Xia’s face in one hand to get a closer look. Da Xia feels a blush creeping in, always a little flustered when she sees the other woman’s face up so close. It’s not something she’s opened up to anyone about, but Da Xia has always admired Tao. She was courageous, dependable, and unbelievably loyal. This person has stood at Da Xia’s side since they were children, and the Princess was ever grateful for her. They grew up together and trained side-by-side in the art of combat, having a closer relationship than with any other of the Lihua. Despite that however, there are some things that Da Xia hasn’t had the strength to bring up. Like how Da Xia feels her heart flutters every time she meets Tao’s gaze up close. The sun was a little higher in the sky now, and they both sat quietly underneath the Silkblossom in this moment. Da Xia was staring directly at the other woman, noting how beautiful she looked, especially seeing the petals gently drift behind her. Tao had the most gorgeous eyes, a jade green that was especially prevalent to those of the Lihua lineage. She kept her jet-black hair cut mostly short, so as not to interfere with her work. Unlike Da Xia she did not apply makeup for the most part, but still managed to maintain a natural look that she admired. She was alluring, and Da Xia at the very least liked to tell her as much (without evoking a strong response).


65 Tao notices that Da Xia’s staring, with a bit of a wistful look in her eyes. It’s cause for concern, considering that her liege typically does not hide her feelings so. “There, you are still presentable... Is something the matter, my Lord? You seem concerned.” Tao questions. “O-oh, nothing’s wrong just.. Tao. Do you...remember what I asked? About how I asked you to spend the night in the Palace with me?” “I do. It would be...improper of me to do that. It is above my place to set foot within the Imperial Palace chambers... that is until you become the Emperor.” “Ok, well, I don’t know if I WILL become Emperor, but I do know that I was allowed to invite guests into bed chambers…” “Nonsense, I know full well that you are more than capable of earning your father’s favor.” Tao’s voice betrays not a single hint of doubt. “Aww! Well if you’re gonna praise me, then I guess I can’t deny you. B-but hey, that’s not the point! Come spend the night with me, when the ceremony is done! Don’t make me pull out my forbidden technique.” Da Xia tugs onto Tao’s forearm. “If that is what you wish…” Tao reluctantly agrees, cautious to overstep. To disrespect Royal boundaries is blasphemous, even aside from the fact that Tao was living by an iron code to respect and serve. Despite that, she finds it hard to say no, especially at such an innocent request. The alternative would be for Da Xia to spend the night alone, as all of the royals sleep within their own chambers. The thought is upsetting even to her, so Tao decided that she would comply with her Princess’ request. “The carriage will be here soon. Shall we go, then? I’ve heard your siblings are already preparing to travel.” Tao sits up, and offers a hand.


66 Da Xia sits up, nods eagerly, and pulls her guardian into a tight hug. # The ride to the Palace went by without much trouble. The Lihua manor is located on the outskirts of the city, and although the carriage takes a path through one of the busier routes, the streets clear out to allow the Royals to proceed unimpeded. Da Xia left the windows open and waved at all of the citizens that came out to greet her. All of Lihua clan members accompanied the carriage, so the Princess certainly felt safe enough to meet people on the way. Tao was in charge of the horse carriage itself, and did not sit in the interior to keep watch. Though Da Xia much preferred to have Tao sit inside with her, she didn't put up much of a fuss this time. She knew Tao wouldn’t accept any compromise to her liege’s security. The other Royal siblings traveled in a similar fashion Their respective clans transported them all personally, and the gathering became a sort of a spectacle in itself which preceded the ceremony. Although none of the clans treated this as a parade, the citizens definitely did. The people of the city came out in troves to watch the carriages, in hopes to see the beloved heirs of the Empire. Not all of her siblings were partial to such attention, but Da Xia loved it. She was one to spend her time speaking with the common people whenever she had the chance. The Lihua clan’s carriage is the second to arrive at the palace. Da Xia takes Tao’s hand as she’s assisted down the carriage, her dress billowing behind her. They arrive at the courtyard of the palace, a wide open venue where most of the special events take place. Many of the Palace staff and guards are already setting up for the ceremony. Da Xia spots her the siblings that have arrived already. Twin sisters, Jing Fei and Jing Hua, accompanied by their clan. The twins were being ushered to their seats, and paid their newly-arrived sibling no mind. Da Xia intended to greet them, but changed her mind at the last second.


67 Tao, with the assistance of Palace guards, escorts Da Xia to their seats. The Courtyard has a huge platform in the middle, usually where the announcements take place. The Royals are seated on the north side of the platform, closer to the palace entrance. Da Xia makes idle talk with the guards, passing the time until her siblings arrive and the ceremony begins in full. One after another, they arrive to much reception. Prince Qianshao with his clan, and Princess Ashina with hers, who are immediately escorted to their seats. When all are seated, a few more minutes are given to the citizens to allow them to find the leftover seats in the southern parts of the courtyard.

Da Xia is seated next to Tao, the two both kneeling. She’s thinking to herself, about the ceremony and how she guessed she would fare. It is a single duel between herself and her other siblings, for all of the city to spectate. To be honest, it was more a glorified show-match, but still a time-honored tradition. Like the Imperial Palace, the Royal bloodline, and the very land itself, the ceremony has persisted for millennia. The young heirs would have to prove themselves in combat amongst the audience of their subjects, the Emperor, and the Heavens. The reason that the Royal children are even split up and given to the nobles is to train them for this moment, this day. The ceremony has become one of the most anticipated events for the denizens of Xiao, as it is a oncein-a-generation experience. The sound of a large gong interrupts her thoughts. Da Xia turns her head to face the Palace entrance. It is time for the ceremony to begin. The grand doors are pushed open, each being pushed by a Palace guard. The Emperor emerges into view, an older man with broad shoulders. His hair has grown gray, tied up into a bun and his goatee is finely trimmed. He’s adorned with the grab of a war general, an extravagant set of obsidian-plated armor. At his side is his golden sword, as much of a show piece as it is a devastating weapon of war. His name is “Emperor Li Shang”, but he is only referred to as “Emperor.”


68 The Emperor is flanked on both sides by five of the most elite guardsmen, suited for combat and armed to the teeth. He stops where two sets of stairs meet, in between the raised entrance of the Palace and the ground floor. He takes a cursory glance at the audience before him before speaking. Everyone, aside from the Royals, goes into a deep bow. Forehead to the ground with their hands underneath and palms facing the earth. A firm voice bellows through the courtyard. “For a millennia, the Imperial Province of Xiao has prospered. By my hand, we have known a lasting peace, as did Emperor Guan before I. However, my time as Emperor will come to an end. Strange times are upon us, and I will soon no longer have the strength to defend my country. It will be in the hands of my children, who will lead you all to a new dawn. It is time for them to prove themselves to you, and to the heavens!” The Emperor draws his sword and points it towards the skies. A low rumbling envelops the Palace grounds, causing everyone to point their gaze upward. From above the clouds, a divine beast appears. The Emperor’s Celestial Blessing, the Dragon, emerges into view and spirals towards the Palace. It shines a brilliant gold, and moved beautifully with serpentine grace. It flies in circles, before spiraling just above the palace guards The audience collectively holds its breath, in awe of the Dragon’s presence. The Dragon hovered above, awaiting to pass judgement onto the denizens of the Imperial Palace. “My children, it is time! Stand before us, and show us what you have learned!” The Emperor commanded. Qianshao was the first to step onto the platform, taking one of the corners. He was a young gentleman, around Da Xia’s age. He was adorned with a simple robe that had two crests on his


69 shoulders: his Blessing of the Crane and the crest of his clan, the Haishan. He had a more reserved personality, considerably more reclusive than that of his other siblings. His eyes in particular do not give any hint on what his feelings are. Da Xia does not speak to him often, but knows him for his interest in board games and medicine. Ashina, the eldest of the siblings, took her spot next. She is mature, elegant, and confident. Her dress is a brilliant blue outfit, akin to a wedding dress, refitted to be suitable for movement but still able to frame her renowned beauty. On her shoulders are the crests of the Dragon, the same blessing as the Emperor’s, and of the Xing Yi clan. Ashina is the closest person to Da Xia of all of her siblings, as she is a naturally charismatic sister that expresses genuine concern for her other siblings. Alongside her excellent diplomacy skills, she is renowned for her adept skills with magic. Jing Fei and Jing Hua followed, their steps in perfect sync with each other. They wore the same dress, both designed to give them the appearance of symmetry. On their shoulders were the crest of the Snake, as well as the crest of the Qigong clan. The two women were exact twins, who shared the same appearance and spoke in the same way. Everything they did, they did together. It was widely believed they would take the throne together as well. It was almost eerie; Da Xia wanted to suspect it was one person controlling two bodies. Regardless, if so, Da Xia was not very well regarded by either of them. Whether it was a sense of superiority from their seniority, or if it was that they saw Da Xia as spoiled, the twins were either negligent or outright hostile towards Da Xia. Da Xia, the youngest of all of the Emperor’s children, takes to the stage, in the last unoccupied corner. Jing Hua sneers at Da Xia as she approaches, to which the younger Princess offers an awkward laugh back. “You don’t deserve to stand there.” Jing Hua hissed. Her twin sneers as well.


70 “Now, now, play nice you two. There’s no need to be so mean. She’s your sister as well.” Ashina gently chides. “Do not mind her, Little Tiger. Let your skill prove your worth. I look forward to seeing how much you have learned.” Qianshao offers. Da Xia doesn’t give a response. She instead looks at Tao in the crowd, who’s standing close to the platform. Tao offers a subtle nod. It’s all the affirmation she could need. She faces her siblings, her resolve now fortified. The Dragon roars, towards the sky and draws the attention of all. Beams of light shine down upon the platform, and from them, emerge weapons. Relics, bestowed upon them by the Heavens to battle for the favor of the gods. Da Xia reaches her forward into the beam in front of her. She pulls back an exquisitely decorated polearm, her weapon of choice. It’s time to put all of her training to good use. With a swift kick she spins the polearm at her side, and readies herself. An invisible wall begins to rise around the platform, locking the combatants to their stage. It could withstand a thousand blows, and was a suitable safeguard to protect the audience from the collateral of the battle to come.

The others reach for their own weapons, and say nothing. They’ve trained for this for years. Though this fight is not to the death, no one will be holding back. Not when honor and pride are on the line. Da Xia, for all of her rash behavior, simply waited. A silence washes over the courtyard. The Emperor, the Dragon, and the entire audience watch intently, waiting for the first to strike. Jing Fei and Jing Hua dive forward, swords drawn. Da Xia, Ashina, and Qianshao follow, diving headfirst into the fray.


71 # Da Xia beckons Tao to follow her through the wide halls of the Imperial Palace. She’s only been here a few times herself, but memorized the route to her room. It had an absolutely gorgeous scene of the city below, and she was excited for Tao to finally see it. The only way she wanted to end a day like this was with her best friend appreciating the view. ...and maybe in her arms. She makes an exasperated sigh of relief as she stops before the towering chamber doors. Da Xia’s joints ached, thoroughly worn out by the events of the day. To everyone’s surprise, the youngest Princess walked away as the victor. Da Xia, completely in shock, humbly accepted her praise from the Emperor and the cheering audience. Even at the family dinner where she was being lauded by siblings, who only lost by the smallest of margins, she struggled to express her elation at the results. The twins conceded gracefully as well, leaving her completely floored. With everything that’s happened, Da Xia just wanted to spend the rest of the night in the bedchambers, with her beloved companion. Tao hesitantly follows and stands behind Da Xia. Despite the Princess’s many, many, reassurances, she still feels like she’s trespassing her normal boundaries. The Imperial Palace is a sacred monument to the legacy of the Xiao Empire, and she felt out of place. Though it was her duty to serve the Emperor, she had no desire to overstep the code that she has followed her whole life. The Princess insisted however, and Tao was there to fulfill her wish. Da Xia pushes open one of the huge chamber doors, and rushes inside. The bedchamber is a massive room, with red-patterned pillars that lined the sides of the room. In the center of the room lies a massive, red bed with a thin curtain that draped around the sides. On the southern wall of the room, there’s an open window that views the whole city beneath the Palace.


72 The city itself is situated within a valley, and some of the buildings are built into the mountainside to offer a brilliant sight during the night. One could catch a glimpse of just about any of the citizens spending their time outside. Gardeners tending to their plants, bustling food stalls producing mountains of food, street performers dancing into the night. Perhaps the most enchanting sight however is the migratory flight of the dragons, creatures native to Xiao, who lit the evening sky with their scales. They were revered by the people, who believed them to be descendant messengers of the Heavens who carried the wishes of Xiao to the heavens. The young Princess eagerly charges into the bed and plants her face into the pillow pile. Tao lays upon the edge of bed, definitely nervous at the idea of being so close to Da Xia in an intimate space. Her nerves quickly fade though, as Da Xia manages to draw another smile from Tao by frolicking about the bed like a child. Ashina took care of the young Princess’ wounds after the battle, and Da Xia did not come out of it worse for wear. “I see the dinner has rejuvenated you, my Lord. You did well, despite the competition. Congratulations on your victory.” Tao praises. “Aww.. You’re making me blush! Thank you so much! I am so grateful that you were there, cheering me on. “Of course. I have always believed that Xiao is blessed to have you.” “Pffft, don’t be so cheesy! Get over here though, I deserve a hug for all of my hard work!” Da Xia’s hand extends to the other woman. Tao stares at it for a moment, seeming unsure of herself. Physical intimacy is not exactly her field of expertise, and she’s certainly unsure if exploring that field with her liege is wise. “Is that what you wish?” Tao’s voice betrays her hesitance.


73 “It is! Tao, there is no one else I’d rather be with!” Da Xia feels a blush come to her face as she says that, but she doesn’t step back on her words. “I...see.” Tao stares at the bed for just a moment, trying to avoid looking in the other woman’s eyes. Da Xia thinks she sees a blush forming on the other woman’s face. Wordlessly, Tao takes her Princess’ hand. She slides further onto the bed, until she’s inches away from Da Xia’s face. She goes for the quick hug, before finally meeting her gaze. “O-oh, I didn’t expect to be seeing you up close like this.” Da Xia whispers. She thinks to herself about how beautiful her guardian looks, glowing underneath the light of the candles. Her own face blushes intensely. She’s momentarily unable to speak. “My apologies, I will just take my leave-” Tao stammers. “No, no please! Stay. I want.. I want to see your face...more. Can I?” Da Xia reaches out her hand and strokes it against Tao’s cheek. She sees Tao stiffen for a moment. Da Xia’s fear is replaced with elation when the other woman leans into the touch. Da Xia has longed to be close to Tao for as long as she could remember. She knows that Tao has trouble expressing her intimate side, but Tao has always gone beyond her boundaries for her Princess. Da Xia had always hoped Tao may have harbored some feelings, but most of all she wanted Tao’s inhibitions to be done away with. A chance for her to express her genuine self. For how else could she repay all of Tao’s loyalty, all of her courage, all that she has done, but with love? In all of her life, Da Xia has not known anyone she has wanted by her side more than her knight in shining armor, her stalwart protector, her valiant and ever-loyal champion. If there was a chance that Tao wanted to be closer to her, Da Xia wanted to give her the chance to show it.


74 And if Tao genuinely did not want to be with her, Da Xia could live with that, so long as Tao could say so of her own will. As her true self. Da Xia’s caught off guard when she feels another hand grasp her own. Tao’s holding onto it and still leaning into the touch, eyes shut. The sight of it makes her heart swell. She really is beautiful. “My lord, there’s been something I have meant to ask you.” Tao breaks the silence. Her heart is pounding in her chest, but she does her best to keep calm. “Yes?” Da Xia croaks out, eyes unfocused. “Why did you ask me to be here with you tonight?” “...Because I wanted to spend a night with you. Y-you’re always busy, I wanted you to relax for once. With me.” She could only laugh awkwardly at herself, becoming more embarrassed as she speaks. “I...see. It’s true that I am always occupied with my duties, but I desire naught but to serve. Everything I do, it is for my Princess and my country. I would serve you until my body breaks.” She’s forceful in her words, but Tao’s eyes tell that she’s still holding back. “I don’t want that! I want you by my side! Tao, I love you so much! I don’t know what I’d do without you! I don’t want you to die for me, I just want you!” Da Xia’s voice nearly cracks, all of her suppressed feelings exploding in an instant. Silence fills the bedchamber. They stare at each other, a little dumbfounded at what was confessed. Tao speaks up.


75 “Love..? For me? My Lord, I could never… I have thought about it. I have thought about if I could be the one for you. It is shameful for someone of my status to even think about such things, but it is true. I love you, my Lord.” Tao averts her gaze, overwhelmed by shame. “Then...Does that mean..?” “Nobody would accept it. I do not wish to cause issues for you. It is selfish of me to even consider it..” “I don’t care about any of that! I care about you, most of all. I won’t let anyone stop you from being true to yourself. So...do you want to be with me? “I do.” Tao’s eyes meet Da Xia’s again. Da Xia sees the longing in the other woman’s eyes, and pulls both of her hands to herself. Tao's face is close enough that her gentle breath can be felt on her own cheeks. Neither girl knew how to proceed from here, they just knew what they wanted. A few moments passed, and Da Xia realizes that this is her chance. She closes her eyes, and leans forward. Tao’s lips are softer than she thought. Both women lean into the kiss harder, and Da Xia throws her arms around Tao. The force is enough to push the other woman against the bed. Da Xia pulls back, giggling. Tao looks so gorgeous; she thinks to herself. Her hair’s spread against the bed, and giving her one of those rare smiles that the affectionate Princess loved so dearly. “Say my name.” Da Xia whispers out. “I love you, Da Xia.” Everything about Tao makes Da Xia want to kiss her some more, which she does .


76

# Da Xia awakes to the warmth of the morning sun pouring into her room. She stretches her arms and legs out, letting out a long yawn. When she feels her leg bump into someone, she turns her head. She sees Tao, peacefully nuzzled against her side. It’s a breathtaking sight. Da Xia has never seen Tao sleep, and to see it for the first time was incredible. She looks so peaceful. There’s no way she could disturb such a gorgeous scene. Her own appearance, on the other hand, is a little less than sightly. Da Xia has to pull her robes above her collarbone, hoping to hide the marks left on her chest and neck. She slides out of bed carefully and steps over to the window. Da Xia looks at the sun, dawning on another beautiful day. She takes a comb from a nearby stand, and begins to brush her hair.


77 BIRDS by Margarita Serafimova All of this world was white winged shoulders; a language of their own.


78 DEER DON’T WATCH CARS by Hannah Kludy two deer crossed in front of my car it was dark and i was afraid i would hit them they were babies the next day i saw a funeral procession on the way downtown everyone driving their bmws and i hated how much they wasted their lives on suvs i hated how they hired someone to escort them parade of big hats and smeared mascara

i think the deer might be dead now they don’t watch for cars sometimes i scream at stoplights just to hear what i sound like do they scream in their bmws i’m hurting and i don’t know how to tell people so i just say it’s a procession the deer the bmws the hats in rotation the stoplights turning yellow


79 REVIEW: WE LOVE IN SMALL MOMENTS BY MELISSA BOLES by Shon Mapp

Melissa Boles grapples with the unspoken nuances and emotional intangibilities of familial and romantic relationships, in her short story collection, We Love In Small Moments. Perhaps the most captivating elements of her narratives, is their ability to reveal universal truths of uncertainty, self-doubt, and personal growth in formats that are both poetic and pragmatic. From the very first line, she creates characters that are refreshingly self-aware, flawed, and full of promise. While it is difficult to develop accessible dialogue that echoes both transparency and vibrancy, she does this in her collection in a memorable way.

Boles explores love with a relatable clarity and in all of its forms. “Wishing,” the sensually charged opening story engages the reader and challenges notions of acceptance, beauty, and fear. The collection boundlessly uncovers the common ties that bind us individually and collectively, whether addressing LGBT+/non-LGBT+, family, romantic and non-romantic relationships. Boles develops characters that wrestle with self-doubt and obligation in a manner that is authentic and revelatory. “Couplet,” is a beautifully ethereal piece that teeters on the boundaries of prose and poetry, in which the women blur into themselves in a quasi-love poem.

“She scoops her smile into her stomach, and she changes her world. They are a couplet of love, the silver torso of the moon, weightless with every possible bit of light.”

The collection moves seamlessly through the gambit of relationships with thoughtful attention, resulting in a body of work that feels cohesive and interdependent; just as we experience our own lives. “Left in Valdosta,” is brief yet mighty, underscores the complexity of relationships between father and son, grandfather and granddaughter, son and home, etc. Like others in the collection, Boles efficiently examines the ways in which we love and are loved.

It would be impossible for a reader to dismiss the multifaceted roles of the women in these narratives. Boles allows space for vulnerability and doubt without sacrificing their emotional fortitude and willingness to expose themselves, regardless of circumstance or juncture. The women talk openly, even casually about therapists and emotional wellness; which is often a neglected topic in storytelling. These characters remind us that we are supposed to be works in progress and it is not tantamount to brokenness.

Additionally, the supporting male characters are anything but two-dimensional. Boles is attentive to not only the interplay between them but seeks to ensure depth and resonance for them


80 independently. “Toe Shoes,” is one such example. The male protagonist dreams of his unborn child with excitement and in a manner not often expressed by men, in contemporary fiction.

Each time that I’ve read, We Love In Small Moments, the stories provided new discoveries. These tiny timeless stories force the reader to examine their own lived experiences and what it means to love oneself and each other.


81 CLUB HYPE: TOLEDO’S PREMIERE NIGHTCLUB FOR TEENS by Julia Edinger

The year was 2010. Snooki from Jersey Shore was at the peak of her popularity, Ke$ha’s song “Tik Tok” was number one on the radio, and The Hills was wrapping up with its final season. The obsession with clubbing had permeated the culture, even for the youth.

A woman in 6-inch stilettos and platinum blonde hair greeted us at the door before we slipped inside, giggling. At 15, my friends and I were dying to participate in what we felt would be the luxurious glamour of nightclubs. We would sneak some gas station vodka before school dances or get dressed up to party in somebody’s garage or basement, but it wasn’t the same.

This was the perfect business opportunity for a bizarre, but potentially promising, venture: Toledo’s first premiere nightclub for teens.

“It’s so cool though,” described owner Stephanie Emch in an interview with Fox 36, “because teens always want to be at the cool place. They want to be where the cool people are.”

The goal, according to Emch, was to provide a safe space for teens to hang out and stay off the streets. In theory, it sounds like a quaint and positive alternative to trouble, like a soda shop might have been for another generation. Maybe it wasn’t executed properly. Or maybe,


82 management knew their target market well enough to know what they were looking for in an experience like this.

Inside, the place felt exactly like a club for adults, but it was filled exclusively with children between the ages of 13 and 17. The neon green and purple of the logo with the layout and lighting of any other club we had seen on TV let us pretend we were in another place. The place even had a bar with drink specials, like non-alcoholic jello shots (or, as some would call it, jello). Some brought alcohol of their own to add. But the main attraction of Club Hype was the dance floor. Having the freedom to dance — and even platforms to dance on — unsupervised by parents or teachers felt to us adolescents like a discotheque dream.

The place was absolutely disgusting. I can only imagine what might have been going through the minds of the adults working security. Who would sign up for a job to be a chaperone for kids? It was one glorified room with sweaty pubescent teens gyrating like we were grown. The floors were sticky with sweat, spilled jello, and Red Bull. The air was thick and heavy with the odors, hormones, and want. It was raunchy and dank, but it was worth it for us to be free to dance and not have a science teacher separate you from someone for dancing too close.

Located in Maumee, a suburb just outside of Toledo, Ohio, it seemed safe enough. Those of us who could convince our parents to take us thought it was deliciously scandalous. We treated it like a regular club. There was always some type of drama to be created. Someone made out with someone else on the dance floor. A friend of mine was crying in the bathroom over some boy


83 named Josh that she probably hasn’t thought about since. Life was still simple; the most serious concern was whose mom was coming to pick us up at the end of the night.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There were Club Hype haters. The same way that there were people who were too cool for disco, there were people who were too cool for Club Hype. The whole idea of it was quite silly, after all, so if you didn’t embrace the outrageous campy appeal of it, you would be downright miserable. There was even an anti-Club Hype Facebook page, "Club Hype is gay," with over 1,000 likes." Club Hype certainly wasn’t for everyone. I mean, it probably never should have existed. But it did, and I can’t deny that I was one of the people who went there — and loved it.

Only a couple of months after it opened, the place took a hit when hired photographers posted photos on Club Hype’s facebook page. Basically, these were a bunch of professional photos of scantily dressed teenagers grinding on each other. To make it worse, the photos were from Halloween, so the dress code had been more lax that night. The owner fumbled her way through the media fire, saying the photos had been posted before being approved. Either way, the secret was out that Club Hype was not the safe sanctuary it had been described as, but rather the last place you would want your kids spending time. For many of the kids who attended Club Hype prior to the scandal, their parents decided they were much more comfortable leaving their kids to the suburban streets.


84

The place went downhill from there, and a couple of months later it was the scene of gunfire. Some teenagers had gotten a gun illegally and fired it from their car outside of Club Hype. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the incident. Still, the owner decided to shut it down immediately and indefinitely, and it was never opened again — nor have there been any other attempts at a teen nightclub in the area since.

The place was only ever open for 6 months. Looking back as a 25 year old, I think I would have gotten in the same amount of trouble with or without a designated space to do it. I could blame Snooki or Club Hype or the culture, but the truth is that we were just kids, desperate to feel free at any cost. Still, in some ways, it was a formative part of my developing, for whatever misguided reason. Club Hype prepared me for many similar nights in adulthood, drinking spiked jello shots and dancing with sweaty people on sticky floors — pretending to be grown up.


85 AS EVER by Bruce McRae There was always a forest to become lost in. A dwindling path you idly followed. A storm coming on. The sense of impending peril. There was always night and voice of an owl telling you a bedtime story. The tale of the axeman's son. That boy who wandered off one day and never existed.


86 IN CONVERSATION: AN INTERVIEW WITH KHALISA RAE Back in April, Our Poetry Editor Asela Lee-Kemper had an interview over Zoom with Khalisa Rae on her upcoming poetry collection (Which is now available for order, and suggest you check the link at the end), Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat (Red Hed Press 2021).

In this in-depth conversation, with Asela, Khalisa opens up about her experiences as a Black, Queer Woman, living in the south, and correlates her intersectionality, and her trauma with parts of our nation’s history many are so afraid to talk about to this day, but in this interview Khalisa gives us a first-hand and second-hand perspective that in many ways acts as a preview of shat to expect from her debut body of work:

Asela Lee-Kemper (ALK): I'm here with Poet, Editor, and Queer Activist Khalisa Rae, whose work has appeared in many publications, including our previous Issue, Issue IV (which you should definitely check out!). She is a force in the literary world and will be releasing her debut collection of poetry titled "Ghost in a Black Girl's Throat," which was released earlier this past Spring, on April 13, and was focused on the experiences, and realizations living in the Midwest as a Black Girl. Ghost in a Black Girl's Throat is just a phenomenal piece of work. I'm still surprised that your debut collection because I got a chance to read some of your works before leading up to this release. It's you have such a way of lyrically just being able to express yourself. And it just goes beyond storytelling, to be honest. Can you tell us more about ghosts and how it came into fruition? And I'm just wondering, how and why is it this time now?

Khalisa Rae (KR): Yeah. Okay. So I'll break those into kind of two different answers because where the name of the book came from, and then like the why now are kind of two different answers. So okay, so the name everybody always asked me that. And the name actually was taken from the title poem, which was crafted from my time at the poet's house in New York, back in 2017. So after my MFA program, I was awarded the Winter Tangerine Residency and Fellowship in New York. And I studied with Sofia Helio, who also edited my collection. And it's ironic because she was my professor at my time at my residency, and we walked into the Poet's House library, if you know anything about it, it's this huge library in New York, ran by PLC folks. And that's where they host the residency and the prompt or the homework for the day was walking to the library and you had the choice to choose a book and choose seven different words out of that book, to craft a poem, or you could choose seven random objects. And I chose to open a book, and do you know, in that book, were words like ghosts, I think it was an othering that was just like, all the magical words that I needed were in this book, and I knew that, you know, how they say some people poetry speaks through them, and other people. Poetry speaks to them. I believe that a poem speaks through me because sometimes I just have poem vomit, I guess, for lack of better words, where it's just like the words come to me and they spew out on the page,


87 and I can't control it. And I think that that's what a lot of the great authors say, where you just take your hands off the wheel and just let the poem do its thing. And so that's what I did. Those words just sparked this idea for the whole base of the collection, which is the connection between ghosts and generational trauma, and other rain, and the South. And I started thinking about what all those things have to do with each other. And then I thought about my own life. And I was like, duh! If you need to write a book about your experience, being a transplant from the Midwest, from outside Chicago, and then come into the south, and how big of a culture shock that was, and how many traumas I brought with me from growing up as a survivor of childhood sexual assault, and then going to the South, and then being confronted with so many ghosts and traumas there, because if you know anything about my college town, it was the birthplace of the only historical coup d'etat where the government overthrew the black folks that were in power and kicked them out of their homes, and slaughtered all of them, and threw them in the river. And so it's called the Wilmington 1898 race massacre that happened in the college town, where I went to school for a couple years, and I ended up transferring, but that's what the book is about, about how my trauma was so overwhelming, like having been a survivor and dealt with, you know, low-key microaggressions of racism when I was growing up. But, I was totally oblivious, and then going to the south, and then dealing with so many traumas there. And there were so many unspoken ghosts, and things that I was told to hush about. And silence, because this is the crazy thing in the city. They didn't talk about this historical event, people just like swept it under the rug. So that's what the ghosts are. Until that's how the poem was birthed. And that's how the title for the collection was birthed. Because I have so many things that I was told to my family never to talk about, about my abuse, and then when I got to Wilmington, people were like, No, no, no, no, don't talk about sexism, and racism, and bigotry, don't talk about those things. Like we're not going to talk about these historical traumas, and things like violence against Black bodies, we're not going to talk about it. So I was just like, What is going on? Like, why are we keeping all these things silent and hidden, when they're just haunting us? We need to confront the ghosts, instead of silencing the ghosts. And so that's what the book is about, and, the many, many intersectional identities that I live, being a Queer Black Woman, and not being comfortable saying that I was Queer for so long, because I grew up in a religious home. And then I went to the Bible Belt in the south, which was very impressive as well. So that's what the title poem is about. That's what the entire collection is about. Then, the book came together. Before that, because I had studied in my master's program with I was just so lucky to work with Edelman, Knapp, Patricia Smith, Claudia Rankin, in my MFA program at Queen's University in Charlotte, NC, and the book came about, because I wrote the majority of those poems with Claudia and Ada, and they helped me edit the collection, and Claudia and Ada were my thesis advisors for the collection. So I really have them to thank. That was how was after my master's program was ended. That's kind of like the culmination of your master's program, you create a book, essentially, and so this goes into black girl's throat before it was named that it was named something completely different. It was my book.

ALK: When hearing you talk about it, it's just kind of sounds like it really took from your own experiences really inspired this collection as well, right?


88 KR: The entire collection is based on my own personal experiences. And, you know, I know that I'm not the only person that experienced this, of course, racism, bigotry, and sexism in the South, the trauma there, has existed for centuries. In the south, I know I'm not the only one. But yes, the book is based on my own personal experiences. So, I was gonna say that when you asked me, how it came to fruition? It was all fake, because after I left my master's program, the AWP conference happened. And I randomly just walked over to the Red Hen, the Red Hen table, and I didn't even know who they were. And the guy who doesn't even work for them was like, Hey, what are you working on? And when I told him, who I had worked with at the program, he was like, Oh, you need to send me that! And I thought he was joking. Like I thought he was kidding. And I waited, like I said on that his card and my husband was like, Why have you waited to contact this dude? Like, you need to reach out to him ASAP. And I waited like six months. And I because I was like, thought it was a joke. And the guy was like, Yeah, I've been waiting because I'm an acquisition or for redhead we've been waiting on your collection. And I was like, What? So and then ironically, the George Floyd stuff happened and Breonna Taylor, and so the book became so timely, and that it was it was needed, it was so needed, and like Red Hen even had its own, you know, like, a lot of work to do with inclusivity and equity, and we had to have that conversation. And it was timely. And it needed to be published now, because of all of the conversations that are being had had about what it means to be equitable, what it means to give the justice that is due to Black folx everywhere, not just in the South, but especially those living in places that have had historical events of just massacre and trauma, there's a different kind of like mental health deterioration that happens when you're living in that place. And that's sort of what the book talks about. So I think the time is like: it needs to happen now, because the conversation is just so urgent and relative. So yeah, that's a little of the backstory about how it came to be.

ALK: Just reading and I was just wondering about that, and especially your first, the title of the first poem that's like the titular book, “Ghosts in the Black Hole.” So it was, it was just so powerful. It really packs a punch. It’s not just baggage, it's almost like a straightforward sense conversation, this is what we're looking into, this is what you're going for. And I want to hear from you as to why you choose to have this particular poem be your opening for the collection.

KR: I moved this poem around a lot in the collection. And when I did my ordering, we decided to order my book by the earth elements, so fire when water spirit, and with fire being the first so the book title was going to be something like Southern girl burning, or something with burning, to play off the Mississippi Burning movie or whatever, just to play up the metaphor of that, then when I chose to change the title, to the title of this poem, I don't know what other poem in this collection would be best to start off the Fire section. But the title poem, I don't know, there was something that spoke to me that was like, yeah, you need to open the book on this to set the tone,


89 because I feel like the title poem goes to black girl's throat sets the tone for the entire collection, because it gives you context about me, it tells you a lot about me. And what I've seen and experienced, being in the south for so long, because I mean, I've been in the south since 2004. So now I've been in the south longer than I lived in Indiana, and the time I spent in Chicago, and so my time here has surpassed my upbringing. So I think that that poem really starts you off with a lot about me and says, oh, wow, like, this is what Khalisa has seen, what she's experienced as a black woman. These are the conversations that her and her activist groups are having in the south and the things that are happening in her community. So that's why I needed that poem to be first, just to lay the groundwork for the rest of the book. ALK: So, yeah, and when you put in Section A - Fire, it really made sense because it's not holding you back. It's just this is the fire, this is what it is, this is going to set up if you don't like it go. And I just really love how you set that up. And I have so many favorite poems, bookmarks, so many of them. There's also so much historical context in Mermaids, and Ghost Ships, and Bone Collector is as if it's you’re reclaiming a part of yourself and Black culture. It also kind of reminds me of the scene in Black Panther where we are first introduced to Kilmonger. I want you to talk a little bit more about how those two pieces, especially since they carry historical context in tone and structure, especially when you are talking about how there's so many ghosts in ancestry and once you it throw under the rug, nobody wants to talk about it, and especially my favorite, which is Mermaids and Ghost Ships, I'm going to read a little bit off the coast of Cape Town, deep sea divers discovered remnants of our bodies stuck to the roof of the mouth of the ocean, their gemstones, a treasure chest of bones choking on saltwater. Can you talk a little bit more about those pieces? Because I just love how it's just so much rooted in this so much historical context into it.

KR: Yeah, so my mom called me and said, you know, me and some of the family members are going to go to the African American History Museum, and it even makes me emotional talking about it now, because she called me I wasn't able to go, I had been living in Greensboro because when I left Wilmington, it got so bad, the racism got so bad, I transferred to a historically Black college in Greensboro, and if you know anything about Greensboro, that's where the historical Greensboro sit-in happened, and it was the first-ever sit-in that happened in the civil rights movement. So then I moved to another historical town. And then my mom calls me, already been there for a couple years, and I think I was just about to graduate. And my mom was like, yeah, we're gonna go visit the new African American History Museum that opened up and I said to myself oh, man, like, I'm so hopeless that I can't go on here. You know, in my college town, I got the job, I start working all these things, and she calls me and tells me about this exhibit. That is they've collected remnants of a slave ship. And I don't know why, but her painting that image for me, then me going to Googling what she was talking about, well, I wept openly for days just thinking about, one, how mad I was that was on display. At first, I think that I was taken aback that they chose to put the slave ship on display. And then I thought about how important it is, because what we erase a lot of in the book is ratio, right? So this poem is about a ratio and the ratio of history. And so, I changed my view, because I was like, nope, this needs to be on display, because we take it out of history books, we don't talk about it, we cover it up, we change


90 history, we lie to students. And then those students grow up to be people and then those people grow up and vote and then those people put people like Trump in office. And so it's a trickledown effect. It's generations, and generations, and generations of learned behavior and learned hatred. And I'll tell you, I wept more when I dove into the artifacts, the graphic horrific pictures, the remnants of slave ships and bodies. And then I dug more about the history of chattel slavery because when I was in college, and in high school, they didn't, and it wasn't until I got to an HBCU, did I get the details of what actually happened during slavery. And that's a shame that I had to go to an historically Black college just to get my history. You know what I mean? So that's why this poem is so important to me, because it was just so unbelievably enraging that it wasn't until I was in my 20s, and I had taken the time off school. So now I'm a non-traditional student growing, graduating with my bachelor’s, and going on to get my master's in my late 20s. And I'm here like, why did it take this long for me to get information about my ancestors? And so that's what this This poem is about just the history of our ratio, and what we claim is not true, because we're ashamed of our history in America.

ALK: Really one of my favorites, and I just love reading about electric cars, it kind of connects to as well too. It's almost as if they intersect in a way. One of my other favorites is Body Apology, seems intentionally spaced it out, in a way, seems to mirror how so many people color especially Black people, tried very hard to make white people specifically comfortable. There's just people who grew up with this racist narrative. And not knowing about this history grew up and also vote for their Cheeto man to be President. It makes me feel like we had to make the space and make it feel comfortable. Can you talk more about Body Apology?

KR: Yes, a friend, one of my friends, you may know them, Zora Satchell helped me make it visually beautiful on the page. But the poem really came from another real life experience. So I was at the National poetry slam, I've been a part of the national poetry slam, since I met my husband in college, which was like 1112 years ago. So we were, I think, in Denver. And if I'm not mistaken, and I walk into this coffee shop, he is at one of his performances, his poetry slam performances, and I shout No, he's rehearsing, and I choose not to go, I choose to go to another coffee shop, and I go to this coffee shop, this quaint, little, cute coffee shop in the mountains. And these white people had the audacity of sitting there. And these fools had the audacity to stand behind. Like, everything I say in the poem has happened to me. These fools stand behind me. And their whole big family just like crowds my table, as if I'm not even there. And once again, like I said, I am extremely sensitive to that because I spent must much of my life into my middle school going to like a private Christian school being the only black girl then in college, UNC Wilmington, being invisible, and erased. So I'm hypersensitive, because that was much of my lived experience. So, when I walk into a coffee shop in a city that is quote, unquote, ‘progressive,’ like, you know, Denver, Colorado, which is bull-crap. And right, this whole progressivism, and like, I sit there, and I'm erased and invisible once again, because this family crowds my table with our backs to me, and don't even ask me to get up. Yes, I'm one person at a big table, but you could ask me to get up. They did not. And they kept moving back, and back,


91 and back, and back, and back, until I just got up. And I was so angry. Like, I can see myself right now. Like, I remember this, like it was yesterday, I got up out of my seat. And I was so mad, my face became really mad, and I just started crying. Because I was like, why did I get up? Why didn't I say something? I was like, bullied into, getting up out of my seat with these people's backs to me. That's the part that I, still to this day, can't understand. How you treat somebody like that? So I had to, I had to put this in a polling because I kept asking, how do you raise your kids to think that's okay, how is that okay? To push somebody out of their seat, and not even acknowledge their presence. I was astonished that grown people were like, raising their kids to think that was okay. So I walked out and I immediately, had to write Body Apology, and a lot of people told me, because my friend Sonya, Renee has her book, My Body Is Not An Apology, and I love her. She's a friend. But I had to write this poem, because that day, I felt like it was that day, and that my body was an apology. And I went back home, and reflected on how getting cut off in line in Wilmington, and in my, like, brown towel, you know, like, even in Greensboro, like getting cut off by people in target, or like them standing hella close to me behind me in line at like the supermarket and not saying anything. It's just everywhere you go. It's not just big, progressive Denver, you know? It's not just in racist Wilmington, North Carolina, it's everywhere you go that those microaggressions are always there, and we have to be bold enough to confront. So that's what that poem is about. That's what happened to me.

ALK: I can vouch, well, I was born and raised in Colorado, so I can vouch for that. I can do my check and yeah, that pretty much sounds like I feel a fault to this to saying, I have to apologize for everything, even to extend on my own existence. And just the way you row and space out.” You mentioned that they were posting like my body's not apology, but yet in real life, we still apologize for things. Yeah, no, it's not our fault, and that's what I really appreciate. And this just I want to list like so many other like, it's just so much I even wrote on your poem, Southern Louisiana Librettos I & II. I hope I pronounced that right. It's just so strong, and the storytelling, the connections and just the way the language that you have, and even separating different sections like fire, water, and earth, and it's just like, wow, the nerdy me, wow, this is like Avatar The Last Airbender. I want to know, would you say that ghost presents you and your voice in a way that's just saying, This is who I am?

KR: Yeah, it does. It's funny, because I was reading it yesterday, my mentor was over here. And a courtroom mentor was over here yesterday. And I was reading it before I gave him a copy. Because I'm like, so self-conscious and a perfectionist. And I was reading the book, and I'm nervous to give it to him, and I said, Oh, shit, this actually, really encompasses all of who I am! My queerness, my family trauma, my life in the south, being the only black girl growing up a lot of the times, being told that I look like Raven Simone, and her having the audacity to say that she's not African American, and how much that hurt me. And I felt personally attacked by her saying that. The book in a snapshot. It's funny, because I don't know if you've read my poem recently about my grandmother, and like her body and sexuality. Because I grew up in such a Christian home, and it's funny that I chose to put the libretto poems in there, but they needed to


92 be in there, because I think, again, you can't separate the generational events, and those matriarchs and even the traumas that you had. You can't separate that out from your story. And so like, That's why, you know, those two poems to my maternal grandmother, and my paternal grandmother, both of those poems are so important because those women influenced who I am. But also both of them are from the south originally. We lived in Indiana, then the Chicago area, but they're originally from the south. And I found out that my ancestors are from slavery, they migrated to Louisiana, Louisiana on my father's side, and they owned islands off Louisiana. And that's where my people come from, like when they were freed slaves. They owned an island off of Louisiana, which is why I wrote that poem for my grandmother. That's a part of me, too! So I think the book really encompasses all the nuances of my lived experience and who I am, and what makes me up, you know? You can't just piecemeal it out and be like, yeah, I'm a daughter. Well, no, you have to look at me from all the many intersections at which I exist! And so that's what the book is really about: take me for everything that I am, look at all of my intersections, and really examine them.

ALK: I know we talked a lot about like how there's just not only the historic context, but also the trauma, and how we experience it, but what I would love to know from you is what do you hope for your readers to learn from Ghosts In A Black Girl’s Throat?

KR: I first hope that they learn what I was just talking about a second ago. I think we use the word intersectionality a lot, because our culture loves buzzwords, and that gets on my nerves that we use words like intersectional, inclusivity, equity, woke. and I'm like, shut the heck up y'all! First, you don't know what that means. Second, you like the way it sounds, and you like the idea, but you're not really, really ready to do the work, and so the first thing that I want people to know is like to be truly intersectional is to respect and see someone like truly see them for who they are, and all the many identities that they carry around. As a Black, Queer Woman, there's this, I always bring them up, because this always comes up in conversation, the Combahee River Collective, and I don't know if you know them, but they're a famous activist collective, and they have this part of their mission statement that says, If we were to solve the problems of the Black Queer Woman, because she is like the lowest on the totem pole, we would solve every other humanitarian problem that we have, if you just handle her, make sure that she is healed and satisfied, then everybody else would be good. So, I hope, through this collection, they see that there is such pain, and trauma that comes with being a Black woman, a Black Queer woman, and a Black Queer Woman in the south, and I hope that they not only get a piece of who I am, but I hope they see that this is just not my experience, that this is like a global experience that needs to be solved, an issue that needs to be solved due to the ratio of violence, and the invisibility of Queer Women, but also, just what it truly means to see somebody for their fullness and wholeness. Also, what it means for that Queer woman to that Black Woman to get the healing needed. And I think that's interesting; talking about healing, because in the book, I don't really mention healing a lot, but my hope is that through people reading this, they see what's needed. I hope that they read all these, these poems about pain, and trauma, and identity, and grappling


93 with that, and the historical generational curses and historical events that are hard to talk about, and the empowerment of the Black Woman, and all these things. I hope that they see this and say, you know, we do need to be centering the healing of the Black Woman, the Queer Black Woman, because that's, you know, what we've consciously, over and over again for centuries, that's what's been attacked. So yeah, I hope that people get that, that it's like, what's I hope they asked, What's the next step, if she's talking about in this book, that she's grappling with all of these ghosts, because, you know, the country she lives in, has constantly tried to attack her and silence her and erase her and make her visible, then what's the action that comes from this, the action is centering her, centering her healing, and I hope that's what people get, I hope there's movement, and that they do something better. I hope they're changed after reading this. And that was a long winded way of saying, I need there to be some type of shift or change. I hope people just don't read it and say, Oh, that was cute, those poems were really cute.

ALK: Yeah. Or like, like saying, Oh, I feel bad for this person.

KR: Yeah, exactly.

ALK: Exactly. And no, I feel, maybe from my own personal experience, I may sound a little bit biased, but I think I definitely got that shift. You really just made me understand more of how we can really center around Black voices, and that they're here, and not to use them, and not to exploit their trauma. They're just a person at the end of the day, with different stories and different experiences, and I'm just so excited for it to really come out! You've been so amazing, and I love reading your work, and I absolutely encourage everyone to go and get your copy of Ghost In A Black Girl’s Throat by Khalisa Rae, as it is worth the read! Be sure to order your copy at Red Hen Press.


94 REGRET by Lanie Klapac The one day I chose to go outside and play in the snow was the day where the rest of my winter was ruined. It was 7 at night on a Thursday of winter break and my friends and I decided to go sledding at my neighbors house. The snow fell down to the ground at the speed of lightning and the earth looked like a big, white fluff ball. As we walked to her house, the wind picked up the snow and it covered us from head to toe. Little flakes of white spread across my eyelids and eyelashes and the snow kept pelting me directly in the face. When we arrived, our boots were already soaked and our faces were as red as tomatoes; however, we were so excited to go in the snow. I, especially, was eager to throw my body down the hill and glide across the soft surface. That said, the night finally began!

My friend and I piled on a sled and flew down the hill, while my other four friends were right behind us. We all fell into a pile and laughed so hard we were all crying. I quickly grabbed the sled and rushed back up the hill to do it again. This time all six of us jumped onto two sleds and tried to go down, but only made it half-way down before falling straight on our faces and onto each other. Now tears were literally dripping from my eyes because I was laughing so much. We quickly got up and hopped back onto the sled. This time we made it fully down the hill, but flew straight into a pile of slush and snow! Again, we ran back up the hill, but we wanted to try something different. My two friends, Ava and Alyssa, asked if I would ride down on my feet, acting like I was snowboarding. I said yes, but this is the part I regret.

I slowly got on the sled and attempted to go down, but failed the first time. To make it easier, we had the idea to link arms as we went down. This would give us more stability and balance to successfully ride. So, we grabbed each other's arms and rode down, but hit a bump halfway down. We fell on top of each other but as I hit the ground, I heard a crack and my ankle twisted nearly 90 degrees. I yelled out in pain and tried getting up, but couldn’t feel my leg for a minute. I tried moving it forward, sideways, and backward but it felt so stiff and hurt so badly. My friends helped me up and I hopped to the house to grab my phone; I called my mom and told her about the situation. It was still very snowy, to the point where it looked like a blizzard, so my mom couldn’t come pick me up. The only solution was to walk, but it hurt so badly to even move an inch. My friends took my sled and we slowly walked home. When we arrived, I took off my snow boot and my mom looked at my ankle. It was the size of a balloon and a bruise spread across the surface of my foot. She said that tomorrow, if the roads were clear, I needed to get it looked by a doctor and make sure nothing too terrible happened. In my head I said, great, this is just perfect!


95

The next day, the snow finally stopped so my mom drove me to CHOP Brandywine to get an xray. It looked even worse; the bruise spread all around my foot and every step felt like a sharp pain shooting across my foot. As I took off my sneaker, the doctor made a weird face and at that moment I knew I was screwed. He said that the crack I heard wasn’t actually from my ankle, it was from my tibia. I had a boreline fractured shin and a slight broken ankle. The doctor said I needed to stay off it for a month and wear a boot in the meantime. This was the only way it would heal properly, but I was so upset and frustrated with myself. Of course the only time I hurt myself was from the most dumb situation; a sledding incident.


96 HOW TO LOVE YOUR WOUNDED ONE by Jamie Danielle Logan You don’t know when it starts, only how it ends. On certain nights, she shifts. She becomes drowsy. Melancholic. Slurs her words. Sprawls on the living room floor, cup in hand. The older you get, the more you notice. The episodes, like something you’d watch on TV, only happen in the dark. Your father shares your confusion. Is she sick? What’s in the cup? Is an experience real if only one party remembers? You might be tempted to close your eyes. To shut yourself in your room. To leave your family alone their respective hiding places. But you are the one who watches. Remembers. You pass through the empty kitchen. She’s on the back porch with the puppy. The dog’s long, white hair is a mockery of the show dog she was bred to be. The dog is beautiful and dirty. The details are murky. There is a fight. One of many. One parent yells, and the other clenches teeth. He shuts down. She redirects. But she’s already moving like there’s water around her, like she can’t touch the ground. You stop watching—for a moment, just one moment—as she takes the dog out onto the porch. She flips on the light. She pulls out the trimmer—tremor, two words you will always associate. The dog screams. You’ve heard many dogs. They bark. Once, your beloved male mutt slipped through the door behind you and his tail got caught. He screeched. This dog screams.


97 You run. You find your mother bleeding from her nose. She’s fallen, slammed her face against the covered grill. She’ll have two black eyes for weeks. This dog is missing a third of her left ear. Your mutt is nowhere to be found, hiding in your room, where he hunkers down and waits out the fights. Your father cries. You have never seen him cry before, but in this moment, you can’t bring yourself to feel. There is only the stickiness of the night. The weight of your sweatshirt on your shoulders. You see blood and hair and you can’t see the ground. You will lose memories. You will keep only images, never scenes. This is for your own good. You must let them go. This is how you will stay when your father and brother have gone. Her face is already purpling as she wraps a hair tie around the dog’s ear to staunch the flow of blood. You clean their mess. Years later, a feral cat will live on this very same porch. The cat will bring you a fully grown rat, sans head, and you will cringe as your mind returns to brick and fur and loss.


98 LETTER ROOFS – NYC, 2013 by Serena Piccoli Medium: Kodak Z812 camera Year: 2013, NYC


99 RAIN MIRROR – NYC 2013 by Serena Piccoli Medium: Kodak Z812 camera Year: 2013, NYC


100 NO VENUS, BUT BETTER by Serena Piccoli Medium: Samsumg J5 Year: March 2019, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania


101 RAVEN MOUSTACHE by Serena Piccoli Medium: Panasonic camera DMC SZ9 Year: April 2021, North West of England


102 ACT OF KINDNESS by Sarah Prindle 1947, New York City “What’s the point of living?” Krystyna slammed her cup of coffee on the table and looked around the café scornfully. Not waiting for Annelise to reply, she went on in a bitter torrent. “What’s the point of anything? People are evil. The world is a cruel place. If future generations learn nothing else from World War Two, they should at least learn that!” Annelise winced as other café-goers stared at them, but she let her friend rant. She’d only known Kris—as she nicknamed her—for a few months. The women had met on the boat taking them to America and struck up a friendship despite their different personalities. Kris was a self-described pessimist, while Annelise tried to look on the bright side of everything. She did so now. “Not everyone is as evil as the Nazis, Kris. Most people are good when you come right down to it.” “What proof is there that most people are good?” Kris shot back. “I haven’t seen it.” Annelise was quiet a moment, considering the things she knew about her Polish friend. They

met for coffee often, talked about their new country, and sometimes, about the homes they’d left behind. Inevitably, this led them back to the war, led Kris into another rant that people were inherently evil. The other café-goers might have thought Kris was insane, but Annelise knew her story. A devout Roman Catholic who had never questioned her faith, Kris had been faced with untold destruction when her home in Warsaw was bombed, when her Jewish friends and Romani neighbors were taken away, either to be shot to death or killed in concentration camps. Six years of war had ruined Kris’s faith in humanity.


103 Annelise understood Kris’s anger and fear. She’d been a Jewish girl living in Austria, after all. She’d seen the Nazis march proudly past her house. She’d seen neighbors scowl and spit on her family with disgust. She knew how it felt to live in fear of roundups and death. “Kris,” Annelise said gently. “People will learn about the horrors we saw. We have to remember those who died and hold the ones responsible for killing them accountable. But we should also remember that there were courageous people who worked to fight the Nazis, people who saved lives. They’re proof of goodness, aren’t they?” Kris was quiet for a long time, stirring her coffee with a spoon. Annelise knew she was thinking of her loved ones. Kris had lost everyone in the war, her parents in the bombings, her friends to firing squads and Nazi camps. No wonder she didn’t think humans were good. “Let me tell you how I survived,” Annelise suggested. “Maybe it’ll illustrate what I mean.” Kris raised an eyebrow as if to say, good luck with that, but was polite enough to nod. Annelise began. “I was a teenager when Hitler took over Austria. Almost immediately, everything changed. Our neighbors stopped talking to us and would look right through us like we were not there. When we were forced to wear yellow stars, it signaled to everyone on the street that we were Jewish.” Annelise winced. “I won’t repeat the names they called us, the things they threatened to do. Worst of all, the authorities didn’t help us, they encouraged Austrians to hate us. We lost our rights one by one, and just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Once my parents saw how badly we were being treated, they decided we had to get out. They took my little brother, Max, to England, but I refused to leave. I wanted to stay and help fight the Nazis. They were upset, of course, and worried for me, but I felt like it was something I had to do. I knew someone in the resistance, and she helped me get false identity papers. I moved to Vienna where no one would recognize me. To make a long story short, I survived by using those papers,


104 pretending to be a Christian. And from time to time, I helped pass coded messages for the resistance. I told no one I was Jewish. But I made a mistake. I kept my Star of David necklace in my coat pocket. I just wanted to keep part of my real self with me. But it almost cost me everything.”

1944, Vienna, Austria Nineteen-year-old Annelise escaped the cold air outside and ducked into the nearest grocery shop. She stood there a moment, rubbing her chilled hands together. Annelise knew there was little point coming here, since there was hardly any food. The Nazis were forcing everyone to use rations. But it gave her somewhere to go after she’d finished up her secretary job. It was a small reminder of the days before the war. The shop was mostly empty—empty shelves, empty-eyed customers, empty stomachs. The war was turning against the Nazis, and Annelise prayed they’d soon be defeated. But the closer the Allies got, the more desperate the Nazis seemed. They kept searching for victims, even as the noose tightened around their own necks. Everyone in Vienna thought Annelise was a young Christian secretary. No one knew her true name, no one knew she was Jewish. But every day, Annelise lived with the fear that she would be discovered. And then…? What happened after that? She’d heard stories of everything from labor camps to simply being resettled in Poland. There were worse rumors, that the people who were taken were killed. Annelise had even heard one horrific rumor about people being locked into a big room and gassed to death, then their bodies being burned in a furnace. Could that really be true? All she knew for sure was that the Allies were coming, but danger was still everywhere.


105 “Ah, how are you doing?” The owner of the store, a bald, paunchy man with kind blue eyes, smiled when he saw Annelise. “I’m afraid there isn’t much to buy today.” “I figured. I’m just looking.” Annelise paused longingly in front of a box of flour. She’d love to bake fresh bread with this, but it was way too expensive. “Look out.” The owner’s face darkened as he looked over her shoulder, towards the front door. When Annelise turned, she saw Frau Sterling come in. Middle-aged, dour-faced, and generally unattractive, Frau Sterling made no secret of her dislike for anyone who was Jewish. Annelise guessed she was happy with the occupation, could possibly even be a Nazi collaborator. So, when she came in, Annelise subtly moved to the other side of the store and pretended to study the few boxes of rice that remained. She would have left altogether, but she had a right to be there, and she wouldn’t let some old witch scare her off. But that idea turned out to be a bad one. Because when she looked towards the front of the store again, a Nazi officer in a sharp uniform and knee-high boots was just coming in through the doorway. As always, Annelise’s heart slammed to a halt when she saw a Nazi. “I need to check everyone’s identity papers,” he announced loudly, as if there weren’t just three other people in the store. “Now.” Annelise swallowed and dug her papers from her purse. The resistance had done an amazing job forging these, but she was always worried the Nazis would see it for the fake that it was. She walked over to the officer and handed it over. He studied the papers closely. A bead of sweat trickled down Annelise’s back. Time stopped. The Nazi handed the papers back to her without comment and turned to Frau Sterling, who wordlessly produced hers as well. Annelise stifled a sigh of relief.


106 Satisfied that the women’s papers were in order, the Nazi turned to the shopkeeper. Annelise took a few steps back, letting out a breath now that the Nazi’s back was to her. She put her hands in her pockets. And then she felt like she’d been struck by lightning. There was a hole in her coat pocket, the same pocket she’d hidden her Star of David necklace. She scanned the floor quickly and froze when she saw the gold charm lying on the floor right beside her. As Annelise looked up, panic rising, she spotted Frau Sterling looking at her. The older woman’s eyes went from Annelise, to the floor, and back again. She knew. Oh God, not her! Not now, not now! Annelise looked around frantically. Should she run? Where could she hide? What would it be like to be arrested, to have someone point at her and say she’s Jewish, you’ve been looking for her all these years? Annelise was too stunned, too scared to move. She was frozen. The Nazi started backing away from the shopkeeper. Any second he’d look down and see the Star of David lying on the floor. Any second Frau Sterling would turn her in. But as the Nazi turned, Frau Sterling strode over to Annelise and plopped her purse right on top of the Star of David, hiding it from sight. “So, dear, how are your parents?” Frau Sterling asked Annelise in a friendly voice. “I haven’t seen them since Christmas.” Annelise was stunned. What was going on? Why was Frau Sterling acting like she knew her? The Nazi neared them, and Frau Sterling’s eyes widened. She smiled brightly to hide her fear

and said, “Come now, dear, please don’t be angry with me for not visiting at New Year’s.” Suddenly, Annelise realized that Frau Sterling was covering for her. Frau Sterling was protecting her.


107 “Oh,” Annelise swallowed away her nervousness and tried to match the older woman’s friendly tone. “I could never stay mad at you for that. Besides, you’ll be coming over to see us soon, won’t you?” “Absolutely.” Frau Sterling sounded so confident; it was a safe bet anyone listening would assume they were good friends. “Ladies,” the Nazi interrupted their conversation. “You really ought to be getting home. It’s not safe for women to be out so late, especially with the partisans causing so much trouble.”

It was only late afternoon, but he was right, it wasn’t safe. But that was because if him and other Nazis, not because of the partisans. “We’ll be along directly, I just wanted to finish talking to my friend.” Frau Sterling smiled pleasantly, and then, unbelievably, the Nazi smiled back and left the store. The second he left, Frau Sterling knelt, picked up the Star of David, and pushed it into Annelise’s hand. In a low, serious voice she said, “Don’t ever be so foolish again. Don’t you understand? They’ll kill you.” Annelise nodded and hid the necklace in her glove. “It won’t happen again.” She meant it. From then on, she kept the Star of David hidden in the small apartment where she lived. She wouldn’t take it outside or carry it around anymore. Now, she studied Frau Sterling intently. The shopkeeper had gone into the back room to unpack some boxes, leaving them alone, so Annelise risked a question. “Why did you help me? I thought you hated us.” Frau Sterling shrugged. “I let people think what they like. Just be careful from now on, all right?” Annelise still didn’t understand. She’d heard Frau Sterling insult Jews more than once when she passed her in the streets. Why would Frau Sterling help her? The woman’s answer about


108 letting people think what they liked made no sense, and it sounded like there was a hidden meaning Annelise wasn’t picking up on. The only thing she knew for sure was that Frau Sterling had saved her life. “Thank you.” Annelise whispered, before hurrying outside into the cold, snowy air.

1947, New York City “I didn’t find this out until after the war,” Annelise told Kris, “But it turned out Frau Sterling had been hiding a Jewish boy in her apartment all along. She kept him alive, and at the end of the war, he was reunited with his parents. I never once suspected her! Or guessed that she would save me. But she did.” Kris was quiet again, considering this. “I have to admit, when you started telling the story, I expected Frau Sterling to be the villain, not the hero.” She sighed and leaned back wearily in her chair. “Look. I understand what you’re trying to say. A good person saved you. Good people saved others. That’s all great. But it doesn’t change the fact that there were so many evil people, who let their neighbors die.” “Of course not,” Annelise agreed. “That wasn’t my point. We need to teach future generations about the horrible things we saw so they know not to let it happen again. But we should also teach them about the people who risked their lives to save total strangers.” Kris shrugged. “I wish I could believe in humankind again. But I don’t know if I can.” Annelise understood this; she’d struggled with it after liberation. “Do what I do,” Annelise advised. “Every time I find myself thinking people are evil by nature and we’re destined to be nothing better than animals, I make myself remember that day in the shop. How Frau Sterling hid my necklace. When I think about that, it doesn’t magically make me optimistic about humanity.


109 But it makes me feel grateful for one person’s humanity. And then I tell myself there are more people like that out there.” Kris shrugged again, but her eyes had softened in a way Annelise hadn’t seen before. Perhaps she was remembering an act of kindness that had saved her life, something that had given her the strength to go on living despite the war’s horrors. Perhaps Kris was realizing that there was still hope for humanity, after all. As the two women returned to their coffee and watched the people come and go, Annelise knew that she couldn’t completely restore Kris’s faith in humankind. That was far beyond her power. But helping Kris believe in one act of kindness was a start, and that was enough for now.


110 REACHING FOR THE STARS By Ashley Gosman There once was a girl who reached towards the stars… The sun is approximately 93 million miles away from the earth- roughly how far away Lyra wished she was from her parents at the moment. Lyra had just received an invitation to an astronomy camp for teenagers. It would be a week of learning what it takes to become an astronomer, viewing the stars and planets from an actual telescope, and listening to astronomers who had studied for years in the fields of astrophysics, astrometry, astrogeology, and astrobiology. Lyra wanted to go, but her parents wouldn’t listen to her. “We just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be alone for so long. You’d be halfway across the country. Your mom and I don’t have time to be away from work that long, either, so we wouldn’t be able to be with you.” “I know, but-,” Lyra started to explain, but her father cut her off. “Besides, how were you planning on paying for this trip? You know we don’t have the money for that laying around. It’s over $1,000 just to attend, not to mention travel costs. It seems way too expensive for just a few days of stargazing.” “It’ll be more than just stargazing. Some amazing astronomers are going to be at the camp, including stellar astronomers. Walter Lewin, Valerie Thomas, Lawrence M. Krauss, and Geoffrey Marcy. You know I want to study astronomy when I go to college,” Lyra said. Her hands clenched as she rested them on the kitchen table. “I know you say that now, but dreams change. You’re sixteen. What if you spent money on the camp, then decide a few years from now that you didn’t want to be an astronomer, and you


111 wanted to pursue a different career? You would have wasted time and money for nothing,” her father said. “You have to admit, you do have a couple years before you have to start making any concrete decisions about your future. Why not go to the camp a few years from now when there’s more likelihood of you sticking with that interest?” her mother asked. “I’ve been saying that I want to become an astronomer for as long as I can remember. On my fifth birthday, I asked for glow-in-the-dark stars to put on my ceiling. On my tenth birthday, I asked for a telescope. I don’t think my interest in astronomy is going to go away in a few years. Besides, I am planning on earning the money to go, so it’ll be my money I would be ‘wasting.’ And I can’t wait a few more years to go to the camp. I’ll be too old to go after this year.”

Her father sighed and said, “All right. If you earn the money and prove to us that you are responsible enough to be alone for a week, we’ll consider letting you go . This thing is in four months, right? That should be enough time for you to show us you are ready.” “But-” Her father held his hand up, “End of discussion.” Lyra agreed to her parents’ conditions realizing it would be pointless at this point to fight them on it. She had to let the camp know a few months in advance whether or not she was attending. She only had two months to prove that she could handle being on her own and make money for the trip. She climbed the stairs and went into her darkened bedroom with glow-inthe-dark stars and the window as the only lights to guide her steps. The plastic stars glowed a dull yellow where they were taped on her popcorn ceiling but did not radiate any extra light. She opened her window and climbed out onto their roof before laying down on the towel she kept up


112 there. She could see Vega and Betelgeuse easily from her perch. Goosebumps covered her skin from the below-freezing temperatures, but she ignored her body’s reaction. She wrapped the towel around her and watched the stars while considering how to go about making money. I could take up tutoring in science class again. I’m sure some students are desperate enough to pay me to help them get their grades up. I don’t know that that would be enough, though… I could go around offering to clean driveways off when it snows. Maybe cars, too. Then, when it’s spring, I could offer to mow lawns or help with any gardening that needs to be done. I’d need to buy tools, though…I wish I could find money like I can find Sirius. There’s more money to be made working for people in the neighborhood than there would be tutoring. She sat up. If I work for 4 hours max for like $10-$15 a day, I should get the money I need in no time. It shouldn’t interfere with my schoolwork at all and would show that I can be selfsufficient. “That’s it!” She stood up in excitement before squatting down when she remembered that she was still on the roof. She laid back down and looked at the stars until her mother poked her head out of the window to let Lyra know it was time for bed. The next morning, Lyra went to her dad and asked if she could borrow some of his tools to do some work for people in the neighborhood, and he agreed after being sure that she knew how to use them. After school, she walked around to the neighbors’ houses and asked if they needed help either around the house or in their yards. Several of the neighbors were more than willing to allow her to do work for them both outside and around the house. Mr. Brown, an elderly man who had lived on his own for a long time, quickly became her favorite customer when she went


113 into his house for the first time. He had asked her to come clean his attic, so she was following him through his living room when she noticed a familiar telescope by the window. “You have an Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope?!” “Yeah, I’m surprised that you know what that is, though. I used to be an astronomer, and I still enjoy observing the heavens, so I invested in one when they came out.” “That is so cool! I want to be an astronomer when I’m older, so I’ve been looking at telescopes a lot. I wanted one of those, but I knew my parents wouldn’t want to pay that much for a telescope.” “Well, you’re welcome to come use it whenever you like. I could use the company of a fellow space enthusiast every once in a while.” “That would be amazing! Thank you so much!” “No problem. Now, off to the attic. It needs cleaning. I’ve been putting it off for far too long.” The following two months were a blur of schoolwork, scraping ice and snow from cars and driveways, planting, cleaning other people’s houses, and visiting Mr. Brown to talk about astronomy and use his telescope. As April 15, the day she would need to contact the camp, approached, she finally sat down at her desk in her bedroom and counted out her earnings. She had managed to make just enough for the fee for the camp. She raced down the stairs to talk to her parents, who were sitting at their kitchen table. “I did it! I have the money for the camp fee!” “Good job! You’ve earned it. What about money for the plane tickets? We told you that we didn’t have time to take you there ourselves, remember?”


114 “But, I have to give the camp a call by Tuesday to let them know if I am coming or not. There’s no way that I would be able to make that money before then or between now and when I leave. What am I supposed to do now?” Lyra sat down at the table and slumped in her seat. She had been so excited; she hadn’t even thought about how she would make her way there. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw her parents looking at her in concern. Her father set his newspaper down and wrung his hands while her mother started chewing her lip. “It’s okay. There’s always next year.” “I’ll be too old to go next year. The oldest you can be to go is sixteen. I’m barely missing the cut-off date as it is,” her eyes started to fill with tears, but she looked ahead, trying to hold them back. “Tell you what. You can go on upstairs. Your mom and I can talk through this and try to come up with a solution. You deserve to go on this trip. We feel you’ve proved you are responsible enough to be alone for a week. We are always hearing from the neighbors about how good of a job you’re doing with the yardwork and cleaning.” “Okay.” She climbed back up the steps to her room and went out her window. She lay down on her towel once more and looked at the stars. She sat in silence for a while, thinking about what she should do, when she noticed a flash of light across the sky that she realized was a shooting star. “I know that this is probably pointless. Wishing on a shooting star is such a kid’s thing, but… I wish that I’ll somehow get the money to go to the space camp this summer. Or find another way to study astronomy with other astronomers.” The shooting star shimmered for a split second


115 before disappearing. She closed her eyes, becoming lost in thought once again. She eventually crept back in through her window and climbed into bed. The next day as she was on her way home from school, Mr. Brown stopped her. He had almost become like a grandfather to her. Since he used to be an astronomer himself, she spent hours talking to him as she helped him around the house. They discussed the planetary status of Pluto; the possibilities of terraforming Mars; their favorite constellations, Lyra’s being Lyra the harp and Mr. Brown’s being Cygnus the swan; and if there were extraterrestrial beings somewhere out in the universe. Mr. Brown had taught Lyra many things during their time together. “Did you manage to collect the money you needed for the trip?” “I thought I did. I didn’t consider how I was going to get there or back home, so I don’t have the money I need,” she said as she slumped down. Mr. Brown thought for a moment. “Well, I’m sorry about the camp. I’d help you get there myself, but I don’t have the money or driving capability I once did.” “It’s okay. It’s not your fault that I forgot about that part of the costs.” She started to say goodbye and leave, but he stopped her. “How about you stop in for a bit? I made cookies a bit ago. They’re still warm. I need to call one of my buddies real quick, but afterwards, we can sit and talk for a while.” Lyra decided eating cookies and talking to Mr. Brown sounded better than flopping onto her bed and crying, so she followed him inside. She went straight to the kitchen while he headed to his living room to use the phone. She decided to give him privacy and eat at the kitchen table


116 while she waited for him. She couldn’t hear what was being said, but she was able to tell when he said goodbye. He walked into the kitchen with a grin on his face. “Well, I don’t know what you’ll think of this. It may not be something you’d want to do, but I think you’d enjoy it. The guy I was talking to is a local astronomer. Turns out he had to let a few people go a few days ago and is in need of assistance with his research. He’s willing to offer you an internship if you’re interested. I had told him about you in the past, and he is very excited at the prospect of meeting the girl who is so obsessed with the stars.” “Wha-?” Lyra had to take a moment to process what had just been offered to her. “Seriously?! He’d be willing to take me on as an intern for the summer? That’d be amazing! I need to talk to my parents right away. Is it okay for me to do that and call you?” “Sure, go tell your folks the good news. I’ll be waiting for your call.” “Okay! Thank you so much again, Mr. Brown!” She sprinted out the door and headed for home. “Make sure you get home before it’s too dark out!” he called after her. Lyra raced home and flew through the front door, nearly running into her mother as she sped into their living room. “So, Mr. Brown has a friend locally who is an astronomer. He called his friend, and he was willing to offer me an internship for the summer to work for him. Isn’t that amazing?! I told him I’d have to check with you before I made my decision, but I want to do it if I can’t go to camp. Would that be okay with you guys?” Her father looked at her mother for a moment before turning to her.


117 “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be okay with it. We trust his judgment of his friend. Plus, if he’s local, you’ll be able to stay at home, which was one of our bigger concerns with you being away at the camp. You can go tell Mr. Brown that you accept his friend’s offer if that’s what you really want.” “Awesome! Thank you so much. I’m going to go call him!” She bounded up the stairs with her phone in hand towards her sacred spot. As she dialed Mr. Brown’s number, she looked at the sky and traced constellations. A star overhead seemed to glimmer brighter as Mr. Brown picked up the phone and greeted her. ...Little did she know, the stars were reaching back.


118 MICRO REVIEW: “BLOOD VINYLS” BY YOLANDA J. FRANKLIN by Alex Gurtis Yolanda J. Franklin's "Blood Vinyls" cranks the volume to 11. "Blood Vinyls" is a poetry collection that is laid out like the tracklist of a vinyl album and divided into four “tracks.” Dripping with tenacity and urgency, each poem sings with a lyrical voice that energetically engages the reader to dig deeper into the world around them. Franklin takes the reader, no, the listener, on an emotional sojourn across a landscape shaped by both the humorous, light-hearted memories and the sorrow and pain inflicted by a cruel society. Make no mistake, this is a soundtrack that doesn't pull its punches. As Franklin writes in "Suicide: An Addict's Hymnal:"

"She laid her burdens down offered God ransom: her soul, a note inserted into an empty bottle of vodka, drained after rallies held in alleyways, walking with lovers, oxygen thieves"

While Florida set, most of Franklin's poetry responds to the trauma experienced by Black America and women nationally. Take, for instance, "Manual for Still Hunting a White-tail Deer in a Gated Community," a piece dedicated to Trayvon Martin. This poem could just as easily be about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the numerous Black Americans murdered by white supremacists.

"(Suspect or target animals). Active includes random investigating

Of a hunter-harvested deer. The challenge will be to provide an array of opportunities that deer harvest will continue

as a necessary and desirable practice for many years. Whether a hunter prefers to harvest only mature bucks, or chooses

to harvest any deer within range is a value judgment. It is considered the most popular game in Florida."


119 DEREZZED by Kennedy Rhiannon


120 CONTRIBUTORS Amy Lee Lillard Amy Lee Lillard is the author of Dig Me Out from Atelier26 Books. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize and named one of Epiphany’s Breakout 8 Writers in 2018. Her short stories appear in Barrelhouse, Foglifter, Angst, Epiphany, and Atlas and Alice. Amy is the cocreator, co-host, and producer of Broads and Books, the funny and feminist book podcast.

Sarah Prindle Sarah M. Prindle received an Associate Degree in English from Northampton Community College. She loves reading everything from historical fiction and memoirs to poetry and mysteries. She hopes to someday publish her own novels and poetry collections and has already had some of her work published in several literary magazines and websites. Kennedy Rhiannon Kennedy Rhiannon is an Atlanta-based artist. Her work seeks to visualize a confusing narrative through the lens of her own biases. Discussing vulnerable topics from touch aversion to `emotional isolation. Her pronouns are she/her and you can find her work on Instagram @ monochromespecter and Twitter @ monochromespctr.

Sierra Foltz Sierra Foltz is an MFA candidate at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, CO. Her work has been published in Dream Pop Journal, Cyril. V Journal, and Dead Alive Magazine.

Mel Sherrer Mel Sherrer (She/Her) is a writer, editor, and educator. She received her B.F.A. from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, and her M.F.A. from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Mel teaches and conducts Creative Writing and Performance Literature workshops. Her work is/will be featured in Storm Cellar, SWWIM, Interim Poetics, The Racket Journal, Limp Wrist Magazine, and others. She currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nicole Bernadette Birkett Nicole Bernadette Birkett (she/her) pursued veterinary medicine at Michigan State University but instead ended up with a bachelors’ degree in English. To the great delight of her parents, she actually uses her education to raise goats and write poetry while assisting the Michigan Education Association from a field office. She also leads the Michigan 4-H creative writing program in Mason County, the Ludington Writers group, and the literary journal Making Waves:


121 a West Michigan Review. Her work has appeared in MSU presses the Offbeat and OATS. Learn more about her work with Ludington Writers at LudingtonWriters.org or @nbbirkett

Margarita Serafimova Margarita Serafimova is the winner of the 2020 biennial Tony Quagliano International Award for innovative poetry 'recognizing an accomplished poet with an outstanding body of work', 2020 and 2021 Pushcart nominee, a finalist in nine other poetry contests. Her collections in English include ‘A Surgery of A Star’ (2020) and ‘Еn-tîm’ ('The Forest') (2021). Her work appears widely, including at Nashville Review, LIT, Poetry South, Steam Ticket, Waxwing, Reunion Dallas, and Trafika Europe.

Alexander Merchant Alexander Mercant (He/Him) is an emerging writer based in Colorado. He's a former drug addict and trying-to-recover alcoholic that found writing as a means of healing and an exploration of the human experience and condition. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2018 where he managed a group of writers and poets. His Twitter handle is @alexmercant.

Lane Nguyen Lana Nguyen (she/her) is a 21 year old Junior working on a bachelor’s in English at the University of Texas at Arlington. She’s got quite ambitious dreams of making her name as a writer and published author, aspiring to tell grandeur stories like the ones that have inspired her since childhood. In the hopes that she’ll even come close to that dream, she’ll look to work on more pieces similar to Bloom unto Dawn in the future. Can be found on twitter @lesbian_emperor

Ashley Gosman Ashley grew up in the country in southern Indiana and owns two horses named Comet and Blaze. Ashley goes by she/her pronouns. Some of her previous works have been published in Pine Tree Poetry Collection, Young American Poetry Digest, The America Library of Poetry, and others. Her Instagram handle is @ashleygosman and her Twitter handle is @ashleyngosman. Serena Piccoli Serena Piccoli is an Italian poet/playwright/photographer/charlatan/cyclist/performer/feminist lesbian human rights activist traveler swimmer chocolate lover. Her political chapbook silviotrump was published by Moria Poetry, Chicago, USA. Her poems and photos are featured in anthologies and magazines in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Nigeria, Italy, India


122 and Romania. She writes both in English and Italian.wixsite.com/serenapiccoli and you call follow her on twitter @piccoli_serena.

Despy Boutris Despy Boutris's writing has been published or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, AGNI American Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere. Currently, she teaches at the University of Houston and serves as Editor-in-Chief of The West Review.

Kate Miano Kate Miano is a waitress/editor/writer. She has an English degree from Suffolk University. She has previously been published in Overheard Lit, Goat's Milk Magazine, and WriteNowLit, among others. She enjoys yoga, rooftops, and art museums. She can be found on Instagram (@kate.c0m) and Twitter (@_katemiano).

Winston TL Winston TL is gayasian American poet of Taiwanese and Indonesian descent. He attended Seattle University & studied Interdisciplinary Arts, and he is currently an MFA in Creative Writing student in Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop. His writing has been published by NonBinary Review, decomp, EcoTheo Review, The Lit Pub, The Waking (Ruminate’s online publication), and elsewhere. His published work includes poetry, essays, & reviews, has been translated into Spanish, and has appeared in journals across three continents. Interests that complement his love for art include health, social sciences, and comparative theology & philosophy. Learn more about him here: http://about.me/winstontl

Bruce McRae Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician, and multiple Pushcart nominee, has had work appear in hundreds of publications around the world. The winner of the 2020 Libretto Chapbook Prize (20 Sonnets), his books include ‘The So-Called Sonnets’; ‘An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy’; ‘Like As If’; ‘All Right Already’ and ‘Hearsay’. Darren C. Demaree Darren C. Demaree is the author of sixteen poetry collections, most recently “a child walks in the dark”, (Harbor Editions, November 2021). He is the recipient of a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Best of the Net


123 Anthology and the Managing Editor of Ovenbird Poetry. He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

Hannah Kludy Hannah Kludy writes most mornings and edits for Nocturne Magazine. Her work has been published in magazines such as Neuro Logical Literary Magazine, Sledgehammer Lit, and 34th Parallel. Follow her on Twitter at @KludyHannah.

Alex Gurtis Maryland born but Florida bred, Alex is a poet and journalist based in Orlando. His work has appeared in the EcoTheo Review, Rejection Letters, Variety Pack, Montana Mouthful, among others. A believer in leaving the world a little better than we found it, Alex is the founder of the Orlando Chess Club, a local 501(c) that strives to change lives through the facilitation of chess. Alex is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida.

Shon Mapp Shon Mapp writes about queer intimacy, kinship, and multicultural immigrant identities. You can follow them on Instagram @Shon.Mapp and on twitter @ShonMapp, and you can check out more of Shon’s work over at http://www.shonmapp.com/.

Jamie Danielle Logan Jamie Danielle Logan holds degrees from Tulane University (BA, English & Classical Studies) and the University of Memphis (MFA, Creative Writing). She has served as Managing Editor at The Pinch and now holds the same position with BreakBread and Product magazines. She is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Southern Mississippi where she writes on themes of myth, the South, and generational trauma. Her work can be found in the New Ohio Review and El Portal.

Frank Morelli Frank Morelli is the author of the young adult novel, No Sad Songs(2018), a YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming of age story. The first book in his debut middle grade series, Please Return To: Norbert M. Finkelstein (2019), provides young readers with a roadmap to end bullying. His upcoming YA release, On the Way to Birdland, is now available for preorder. Morelli’s fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including The Saturday Evening Post, Cobalt Review,


124 Philadelphia Stories, Boog City, and Highlights Magazine. Connect with him on Twitter @frankmoewriter and on Instagram @frankmorelliauthor.

Nonah Cagney Palmer Nonah Cagney Palmer is a PhD candidate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, down in the swamps and heat, where she studies queer literature, transfeminism, ecopoetics, and creative writing. She sees alligators on the reg. She has been published recently in The Erozine and Clitbait, and less recently in MockingHeart Review, The Wide Word, and Adelaide, all under an older, deader name.

Erin Threlkeld Erin Threlkeld received her Master of Fine Arts from Columbia College Chicago in May 2021. She is a journalist and aspiring author with interests in visual story telling through film. Threlkeld’s poetry won the Editor’s Choice Award at Arkana Magazine in 2019 and was published in the Eco Theo Review.

Ellen Scherer Ellen Scherer is a writer, director, and co-founder of Green Buffalo Productions (GBP), based in Buffalo, NY. Recent publications include I’ve Got Nothing (Too Well Away), A Year of Fruit (Spirited Muse Press), I'll Drink to That (The Literatus), and RCVI: Gun Violence (Rosen Publishing). Other writing credits include 2020 Was My Year (A Moment of Your Time), When the Party's Over (Cone Man Running), I Was Here (Equity Library Theatre, Open Space Arts, Inclusive Theatre of WNY), I've Got Your Back (GBP), Scary Monsters (GBP, Inclusive Theatre of WNY) Ellen has directed and produced several pieces for GBP over the past 3 years and has recently added to her bag of tricks as a film editor for the company’s Spooky Film Festival. Twitter: ellen_gbp IG: green_bflo

Benjamin Joe Benjamin Joe (he/him) lives in Buffalo, New York. His first novel, Nirvana Dreams, was published by NFB Publishing in August 2018 and excerpts from it can be found in the March 2018 Ghost City Review and Issue 14 of Riggwelter Press. Short stories can be found on BlazeVOX, Riggwelter Press, and Burning House Press. He works as a reporter for The Lockport Union-Sun & Journal and has freelanced with IPwatchdog.com and has poetry at Ghost City Review and The Greenlight Journal.


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Julia Edinger Julia Edinger (she/her/hers) is a writer from Northwest Ohio, currently living in Southern California. She works in publishing. She has had poems and personal essays published in several literary magazines. Find her on Twitter: @julia_edinger.

Lanie Klapac Lanie Klapac is a student at Downingtown West High School who takes a Creative Writing 1 class. Writing has always been a passion of hers, but it expanded in 2017 when she was involved in a beginners writing class. Lanie lives in Pennsylvania and enjoys writing fictional short stories.

Betsy Shevey Betsy Shevey (she/her) has been a professor, presenter, producer of theater for many years. She was Producing Director of Teatro Latino, Lehman Stages, CUNY, Stage South and Lighthouse Theater. Ms. Shevey was theater faculty at Bennington College, NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, Juilliard and Goodman School of Drama and is a founding member of Women's Project and Productions. She has directed productions at Playwrights Horizons, Actors Theater of Louisville, Public Theater, American Place Theater, Pittsburgh Public Theater, Berkshire Theater Festival and more

Erin Schallmoser Erin Schallmoser (she/her) lives in Bellingham, WA, works by day as a naturopathic clinic manager, and delights in moss, slugs, stones, wildflowers, small birds, and the moon, when she can see it. She’s also a poetry/prose editor and staff contributor at The Aurora Journal and is still figuring out Twitter @dialogofadream. You can read more at erinschallmoser.com/.


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