Variety Pack: Issue VII

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Cover Image, Dear Intimacy Provided by © Shelley Valdez



Editor-in-Chief/Reviews Editor - J.B. Stone Non Fiction Editor – Skyler Jaye Rutkowski Poetry Editor – Asela Lee-Kemper Flash Fiction Editor – Ben Brindise Short Fiction Editor – Ian Brunner Visual Arts Editor – Dior J. Stephens Poetry Readers – Eli Hsieh, Veronica Niero, Lauren Peter Flash Fiction Readers – Sophie Fink, Bryanna Shaw



A brand new year, and our Variety Pack family just keeps growing, and growing, and growing, and we are loving every moment of it. With the newest additions in flash fiction readers, Bryanna Shaw and Sophie Fink, we cannot think of a more beautiful moment to kick through the doors of 2022! Whether it’s the genuine imagery of Luisa Balaban’s essay, “So How Come You’re A Morning Person” or the parables of toxic men in Corey Farrenkopf’s Flash, “Fists,” or the compelling poetics in Yue Chen’s “To Move On, The Dead Must First Be Missed,” Our seventh issue is not short of astounding work from just as astounding folks. A special thanks to our wonderful contributors, readers, submitters, and all of our fellow editors/team readers, trying to make sense of this crazy universe of ours.

Sincerely, Skyler, J.B., Asela,, Ian, Ben, Dior, Lauren, Eli, Veronica, Sophie, & Bryanna

TW/CW: The following pieces may include mentions/scenes of death, traumatic experiences and subject matter concerning and confronting issues such as abuse, suicide, depression, systematic racism, imperialism, assault, gun violence.


Flash Fiction

Short Fiction

Corey Farrenkopf 49

Susan E. Wigget 63

Wendy BooydeGraaff 3

Zachary Shiffman 9

Jessica Klimesh 7

Meredith Craig 88

MJ Malleck 118

Alan Brickman 32

Christine Arroyo 57

Creative Non Fiction/Essays


Sophie Kriegel 42

Yue Chen 52

Luisa Balaban 100

Adele Evershed 117 Eric Abalajon 40 Christian Ward 53

Vanessa Hu 31

Martin Breul 2

Alex Carrigan 59 Tiel Aisha Ansari 48 Peggy Hammond 104 Abby Kloppenburg 62 Reviews/Interviews A Review of Lannie Stabile’s Good Morning to Everyone but Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus 101 A Review of Marquise Jackson’s I Forget I’m Only Human 46 An Interview with Shelley Valdez 106

Visual Arts/Mixed Media Joseph Pete 45 Edward Michael Supranowicz 86 Shelley Valdez 4 Santucci 54


2 GLUTTON by Martin Breul Tarmac bones branch out bringing with them light and smoke cement tissue, steel sinews and brick fibre cable nerves transmit aluminum veins pump electricity all nooks and crevices sprout green growing wild on old railways carefully gardened into shape near playgrounds trains and ships and trucks suck in substance from all over as the city breathes and chokes and breathes breaks the sweat of manure and bleeds wastewater debris phlegm trash is secretly disposed of, hidden shamefully far from the fresh layer of suburban fat that grows in happiness.

3 THE DOLLAR IS A GENERAL by Wendy BooydeGraaff The grocery store with frilly lettuce and fancy timed sprinklers is five miles away. WIC provides milk, fresh vegetables, select grocery items, there. Choose lower priced foods, they say. No organic allowed, they say. No hot food, they say. All rules and measured amounts. Spend all my time counting ounces, number of yogurts in the package. Come home with still not enough to make my creamy mac and cheese with all the fixings. Dollar General’s a five-minute march from my apartment. They got what you really need, and also what you want. Canned corn, canned green beans, marshmallows, Frosted Flakes. A packet of new kitchen towels. Don’t take WIC but five dollars goes far there. Besides, fancy and fresh don’t last. Give it to me in a tin can or a cardboard box where I can stack it on the shelf in my apartment, see the pictures on the labels. Where I can step back, survey the lot and say, Why yes, Pam, why don’t we have tin can casserole tonight?






7 THE RAW, UGLY KIND by Jessica Klimesh You believe in monsters, the raw, ugly kind that wait in your closet, hidden behind the dresses and sweaters. And the skinny, slinky kind creeping under the bed. You believe in God. Every night at bedtime, you walk the rooms of the house, inspecting every closet—your sister’s, your brothers’, your parents’—but especially your own. You’ve discovered a trapdoor near the back of your closet, at the top of the deep step shelves over the stairway. You’ve told your best friend Ellee that that’s where Hankie lives. But Ellee’s skeptical. She’s imaginary, Ellee says. No, you say, Hankie’s real. She’s a year older than us. Ellee says okay, but you can tell she doesn’t believe you. Nobody ever does. But you’re determined. More than anything, you want Ellee and Hankie to meet. Your two best friends. Before your mom turns out the light—and after you’ve checked all the closets—you say your prayers. Your mom makes sure. The two of you say them together. Heavenly Father, up above… You don’t want to sleep with your back toward the closet, but you don’t want to sleep with your back toward the windows either. You lie rigid, staring up at the ceiling. Your mom turns on your nightlight. Leave the door open, you remind her. You dream of Hankie. A subtle shuffling wakes you hours later, while the rest of the family sleeps. You know where the noise is coming from, so you crawl up the deep step shelves to the back of the closet. Hello? you say.

8 You’ve learned in Sunday School that you can have conversations with God, that He is always listening. And, your mom tells you, too, that He sometimes answers in unexpected ways. You open the trapdoor in the closet and pray for strength, for courage. Like your mom has taught you. Hear me when I pray… You hear your own exhilarated breath, the eager bounce-beat of your heart. You believe in your imagination. You believe in the unknown.

9 THE DECIMAL PEOPLE by Zachary Shiffman Prime numbers are the orphans of math. Unlike those lucky composites, they aren’t products of two other numbers. This is what I was thinking when I saw Jay Ferrer return to Mallory Middle School, three months after the crash. I was outside holding the door for arriving students. Jay’s aunt dropped him off at the curb and he passed me and into the school like a dying storm, roiling with a natural anger but exhausted. His hair was curly and chaotic and his backpack sagged off of his wiry frame. Later that day, in my fifth period class, he spent the whole period drawing on the graphs in his textbook, making ladders out of y axes and toothy mouths out of parabolas. I hoped he wouldn’t flip to the pages on prime numbers and think what I had thought. In the teacher’s lounge during eighth period I ate my turkey sandwich and sat in the same chair I had sat in when we learned of the crash. That morning all of the teachers’ eyes had been wide, the backs of our chairs untouched as Linda, the history teacher, delivered the news of Declan and Harper Ferrer’s deaths. My mouth tasted dead. “They weren’t even speeding,” Linda said, wobbly-voiced. “Not even speeding,” she repeated. “53 in a 60. 53.” And now, three months later, the dead taste was back. I pushed my sandwich across the table and looked out the window. It was gray and lightless outside. “What should I expect?” asked Frannie Calvanese across from me. Copies of No Fear Shakespeare: Hamlet peaked from her tote bag. “I have Jay next period.” “Quiet,” I said. “Not engaging much. Reticent, if you want to use that SAT vocab you love so much.”

10 She smiled, but it faded fast. “Poor Jay. Even after all these years on the job, I still have trouble helping the quiet ones...” I knew she wasn’t just talking about the school. Her daughter, Sam, was a quiet kid, too. The kind of kid who had a whole galaxy in their head, one adults weren’t privy to, and all Frannie could do was hope no black holes appeared. I met Sam for the first time at the previous year’s Take-Your-Child-To-Work-Day, and I remembered seeing Frannie in the hallway with her during seventh period, her hands tight on her daughter’s forearms. I had only caught three words over the trinkle of the water fountain before Frannie lowered her voice. “...Trying to understand…” “The other students are doing their best,” I said. “There are whispers, sure. Weird looks. But they’re mostly just… avoiding him, from what I’ve seen. Eggshells all over.” “Like he’s cursed,” muttered Frannie. “Orphans tend to be.” “Hopefully things won’t be so tense after today.” “Hopefully.” The bell rang. Ninth period. “Wish me luck,” said Frannie, ducking out. I packed away my sandwich and went to teach my final class which, thankfully, was the type of class that acted as if their hands would be lopped from their wrists if they dared raise them. I blew through the lesson and assigned the homework and when it was over I went to the library. In the back there was a long oval table ringed by plastic chairs. I claimed one and waited.

11 Slowly students filtered in. One was a theatre girl in my third period class named Jennie Tozier who struggled, seemingly perpetually, with anything remotely related to fractions. I’d drawn and divided enough pies for her in attempts at visual explanations to open up a bakery from my notepad. Then there was Thomas Normand, a basketball player who wanted a rephrasing of today’s lesson. The rest were there for the same thing, or for help with one problem or another from the previous night’s homework. Good kids. They had stayed after school for this session, for help, and despite my exhaustion by this time of the day it always made me happy to see them. Today there were seven of them, but I knew that number would increase as the mid-year placement exam crept closer. Jay Ferrer, despite being a competent math student, typically attended these for one uncertainty or another, and I couldn’t help but throw glances at the seat he usually took. Empty today. I hadn’t expected him to appear— not on his first day back. But a part of me was disappointed, nonetheless. “Mr. Tiernan,” Jennie Tozier’s voice broke through my thoughts. “So, when the denominators are, like, different…” ~ Let x be a man from Cleveland, Ohio. Born and raised there, he played quarterback for his high school football team and played in college, too. Let’s say he also had an affinity for math; he liked the music of the formulas, the siren song from the other side of the equals sign. He majored in something “number-infested” (as Frannie would teasingly call my class) and, after graduating, found a nondescript job working in finance at a reputable and well-paying corporation. Let this be the place he met y who, for my purposes, has a similar background to x. She worked one cubicle over and they bumped into each other on the way to the copier and

12 this happened again and again until even the janitors knew it wasn’t clumsiness at play. Within a year they were engaged. Within two, married. Then the corporation went under. It was swallowed by a bigger fish, or couldn’t keep up with the market. x and y were cast out and struggled to find work. Their home, once a modest but comfortable suburban spot, became an apartment, then other places, the walls shrinking and molding until there were none at all. These places I can picture, because these I know. This is fictional. Brimming with variables— unknowns. It’s likely all false. I’m playing in Frannie’s realm. All I truly know about x and y is that, on August 11th, 1983, they produced a son. Me. For the purposes of fiction and math alike, let me be m. x*y = m. Alternatively: xy = Michael Tiernan, age thirty-one. m is not unknown. m went to Scranton University and, like his fictional father, graduated with a number-infested degree— so infested that when m’s boyfriend at the time snatched it from his hands and used it to fan his crotch as a joke, he could practically see the numbers fall off the paper like sand from a bathing suit. It too m until the age of seventeen to finally admit to himself, with a mix of terror and relief, that he was attracted to >1 kind of person. Until his late twenties m oversalted his meat because he was still used to SPAM, and to this day he never leaves a plate unfinished. m worked as an accountant at a major firm for three years before quitting. m was engaged to a veterinarian named Annie, a woman about whom he loved everything except her name, and, later, her decision to cancel the wedding. m solves simple exercises on a shitty math app on his phone in between things—like sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office, or in the teacher’s lounge at Mallory Middle School—just to

13 keep his mind in sight. m avoids churches and temples and mosques. And of course, m is an orphan, because x and y are fictional unknowns, and at one point in the downward slope of their lives they placed m on the porch of the first well-off house they saw, rang the bell, and subtracted themselves from the equation. The next morning, after an uncommitted sleep, I paid a visit to Frannie’s classroom. Bookshelves cuffed the walls and the desks were arranged in circles. Frannie was at her desk, thumbing through her personal copy of Hamlet. The play looked as if it had entered the honeymoon phase with a rabid dog, and Frannie’s eyes rode the pages so fast I swore she was skimming, though she’d promised me that she’d never skimmed a story in her life. “Morning, Michael,” she said, shutting the book. “Morning,” I said, setting my bag down on a desk and grimacing at my doing so. The top was open and Frannie spotted the book inside instantly, as if it glowed a bright radioactive green. “Michael Tiernan!” she grinned, “Are you reading a book? A novel, I daresay?” I removed the book from my bag and handed it to her. “Not exactly.” She looked at the cover and frowned. “The Elements?” “By Euclid.” Euclid’s The Elements was a treatise of theorems, proofs, and developments of geometry and logic. It had been recommended to me by a fellow mathematics major from Scranton named Kendall Brandon. “Trust me, Mike,” Kenny had said, three weeks prior, over coffee. “Reading the proofs and theory of what we teach is important.” “Is that right,” I replied.

14 “Science teachers don’t just tell their students that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and then hand out the exams. They talk about Newton. They show off his cradle. The American education system has thoroughly and brutally censored and assassinated the history (and teaching, for that matter) of mathematics for students. They have ground it into a flavorless factory-craft of bulimic memorization and seemingly-pointless processes. Don’t you want to know where the intrigue of math actually exists? The humanity?” Kenny was a professor at the local community college. He had an intellectual face— pointed, with calculating but thoughtful eyes. After graduating Kenny had gone on an expedition to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a mostly-solitary journey outside of civilization and other external reliances that was far beyond anything I was physically and mentally capable of. I admired Kenny more than anyone I’d ever met, and so after our catch-up I drove to the nearest bookstore. Though a sense of non-belonging is a natural cologne on an orphan’s skin, it was heightened in the presence of novels and texts that I had no intentions of reading. Regardless, I eventually found and bought a copy of The Elements, all thirteen books crammed into one volume. Frannie gave the text back. “I see. Numbers and proofs and formulas, oh my. Well, it’s not Baldwin or Vonnegut, but it has two covers and a spine, so I’m proud of you. Is it interesting?” The day I purchased The Elements I took it home, read eleven pages, fell asleep, and had yet to pick it up again. “Very,” I said. I didn’t feel bad lying to her. Technically, I had been doing it for years. I had never told her— never told any of the faculty at Mallory, in fact— that I was an orphan. Never told her

15 why I insisted on getting so drunk after parent-teacher conferences that my taxi driver would need a taxi driver after catching whiffs of my breath. Never told her why my parents were never in town for the Christmas break, or why I didn’t connect with Pip in Great Expectations after she forced me to read it the first year we met. The monster from Frankenstein, though— that was good shit. “How’s Sam?” I asked. “Same as always. She barely talks, barely plays.” She sighed. “I feel like I committed some unforgivable crime against her in a past life.” “Kids are weird,” I said. “We know that more than anyone. Give it time.” “That’s what everyone’s been saying...” she muttered, then rubbed her eyes with her palms. “Sorry, that was bitchy. I appreciate it.” The day was starting soon. I slang my bag over my shoulder. “Enjoy that book,” Frannie said. “Don’t spoil the ending for me.” “Ha ha,” I said, and left the room as the bell rang. ~ On Friday afternoon I stationed myself at the back of the library. Soon the students came, and this time, to my surprise, Jay Ferrer was among them. He claimed his seat, his eyes and pen fixed on his notebook. When it seemed he didn’t have any questions, I turned my attention to the other students. Twenty minutes into the session, after answering Jennie Tozier’s third question about how to divide fractions, Jay looked up from his sheet and asked, “For prime factorization, do we have to use exponents in the answer?”

16 “What do you mean?” I asked, hoping my voice sounded more teacher-like at the table than it did in my head. We were way past prime factorization in my class, but Jay was playing catch-up for his missed months. Jay flipped around the homework sheet he was working on. One of the exampleproblems at the top displayed the solution (the prime factorization of 18) as 18 = 2 x 32, rather than the simpler (albeit longer) 18 = 2 x 3 x 3. “No,” I said. “Ignore that.” Jay nodded, but before returning to his work his gaze seemed to catch, and when I looked to my right I noticed that two of the students— Thomas Normand the basketball player and another athlete named Aiden— had been whispering. To my left, Jennie Tozier stared at Jay before averting her gaze and reddening. Jay noticed this as well, and his eyes ringed the table, landing on each student present, and each avoided the orphan’s gaze. The milky air of the library had curdled thick and I realized that this was likely the first— and only— time any of the students had heard Jay speak since he returned to Mallory. Was there a creature in the world that attracted pity as efficiently and reliably as an orphan? In Jay’s eyes I could see the flitterings of anger, and in the other students’ there was fear. Fear of the emotional bomb they perceived before them. Fear of saying the wrong thing and setting it off. “Thomas,” I said, breaking the quiet, which couldn’t have lasted more than five seconds. “How did you do with number seven?” The session passed, and when the students left the library Jay was the last to go, grabbing his bag and scowling to the exit. Something in me lurched and I called out, “Jay. Wait.”

17 He turned to me. “You’ve got a lot of catch-up work to do,” I said. “Yeah. I think I might need a little more time…” “It’s fine. Get it to me whenever it’s done. No rush. How are you handling the concepts?” “Okay... I guess.” “You only asked one question today. One question for nearly two units of material. I expected more when you showed up today.” Jay shrugged. “Do you have any more questions?” “Yeah… I mean, I can figure them out at home, though.” “If you had more questions, why didn’t you ask them?” He shrugged again. “Was it the other students? The way they looked at you when you spoke up?” Jay played with the straps of his backpack. “...Yeah, I guess.” “How would you feel about one-on-one sessions? You could come, ask your questions, get caught up quicker. No distractions. We could meet in my classroom once the group session ends, at 4:15.” Jay scratched his head. “Maybe...” “Well, consider it. And let me know.”

18 Jay nodded, then mumbled that his aunt was waiting and trotted out of the half-lit library. Later, at my apartment, all I wanted to do was feed my cat, Oliver, watch television, and go to sleep. But I didn’t. Instead I retrieved The Elements from my bag, adjusted my glasses, and crinkled its spine against my thighs while I laid in bed. I flipped to a random page and ended up reading Book IX, Proposition 20. The infinitude of primes theorem. Euclid’s theory that there are an infinite amount of prime numbers. That as numbers ticked onwards into the perennial haze, prime numbers would generate among them. That’s another thing that orphans and prime numbers have in common. Our infinity. As long as there are numbers, there will be primes, and as long as there is life and love and production, there will be orphans. Halfway through my reading of the theorem my cheeks heated, and with an unpredicted force I slammed the book shut, tossed it to the floor, and shut my eyes. ~ I blinked and the weekend escaped me. On Monday I printed the study guides for the placement exam, which was in a month. They were the same study guides I used every year, and, like the exam itself, I hardly remembered the problems within them anymore. At 4:15, after leaving the library, I went to my classroom and Jay was waiting there. A ripple of relief thrummed within me. “Alright,” I said. “Let’s get started.” And so it went, and it went mechanically. Jay asked a question. I answered. He scribbled, his nose inches from the sheet and hand grinning with pencil lead. Another question, another answer. I wrote on the board. There were stretches of nothing but the clackings of the calculator as Jay’s fingers hopscotched over it, and I sat at the front, trying not to watch him.

19 What percentage of his mind contained the math before him and not the accident? Did half of his brain solve the problems while the other half honked and skidded and wrenched metal and screamed his parents’ screams? Or did the crash take up 60% of Jay while the outside world only achieved 40%? Or was it 70/30? 80/20? 90/10 or worse? Or had I helped him— if only for an hour— to forget the fact that he was an orphan, 100%? This I doubted, but the prospect of it spread through me like hot chocolate on a cold day. When the hour ended, Jay packed up his papers and I locked the classroom door after us. His aunt hadn’t arrived yet, so I waited with Jay outside the school. The sky was crumpling into orange streaks and the school’s gutters dripped from the mid-day rain. Jay was on his phone, his hair obscuring his eyes, the beam of the screen cutting the boy’s face into a pale side and a shaded side. Divided. I watched the divided orphan and thought, Prime numbers can’t be divided like composites can. Not into whole numbers. 41 divided by 4 is 10.25. Prime numbers are divided into decimals. Jay and I are decimal people. And while there was a certain genetic sadness to this thought of mine, there was also a triumph to it, as if I had made a needed discovery in Jay. When his aunt pulled up in her car Jay thanked me— he was a polite kid, always was— and went to leave, but before he could I said, “Jay?” “Yeah?” he said. “I hope I was able to help you today.” “You did, Mr. Tiernan. Thanks again.” He moved to the car, and his aunt, a sandyhaired woman in a pantsuit, called out a thank-you as Jay got inside. I smiled and waved them off.

20 I drove home with my thoughts riding shotgun as rattling company. At my apartment, I deposited Oliver’s dinner into his bowl and watched him eat. Oliver was a deeply incompetent animal; I needed to lock my fridge whenever I left because he was inexplicably talented enough to open it and go inside, yet too weak to escape and too unintelligent to learn from his mistakes and not repeat the endeavor. He finished his dinner, mewled, and trotted to his litterbox, charmingly unaware that without me he would be dead within a week. The day, albeit long, had been good, satisfying, and I regarded the coming night with a tedious welcome. Once undressed, I fell into bed— ignoring The Elements— and slept. ~ I tutored Jay every day after school for the rest of that week, and then the next. I found myself excited to go to my classroom at 4:15pm and see Jay there, assembling papers into coherency on his desk, spiral-notebook-edge streamers aflutter from the chasm of his backpack. These hours were like little bottled weekends— winding-downs from the industry of the day and over too soon. Jay’s catch-up work, with my help, burned to the present. I slept more soundly those nights than I had in years. Then, on the Monday following these two weeks, I went to my classroom at 4:15 and found it empty. I waited half an hour before locking up, and un the parking lot I glanced at myself in the sun visor mirror. The half-light coming through my car window divided my own self into fractions, cutting off the pink of my lips from its downturned tails. The next day, I pulled Jay aside after fifth period and asked him if everything was alright. “Yeah, sorry,” he said. “I’m almost done with the make-up work, and I think I can finish the rest during study hall tomorrow.”

21 “That’s perfect,” I said. “You’re still welcome to come after school, though— either to the group session or individual— if you have questions about the study guide.” The placement exam was Friday, and I had handed out the guides last week. “Oh, okay. Thanks, Mr. Tiernan.” “Remember,” I said, reiterating what I had said to him countless times in our sessions, “if you want to reschedule the test date, just let me know. You’ve only had a month to learn everything on it, while the rest of the class has had all year. Don’t hesitate.” “I know, thanks,” said Jay, “but I just want to do it. Get it over with and move on, y’know.” In the same way Frannie analyzed Shakespeare or Kendall Brandon analyzed Euclid, at that moment I felt as if I could analyze that sentence— and its speaker— forever. “Of course,” I said. “Let me know if there’s anything you need.” Later I sat in the teacher’s lounge, bouncing my leg and eating a stringy celery stick. The dead taste in my mouth was back and the celery chewed like hair. I was furiously finding square roots on my latest math app when Frannie appeared. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Nothing,” I said. “Thank God you’re not in charge of the school play this year. Seriously, is everything okay?” I stood up, trashed my snack, and glared at her. “I said it’s nothing. Drop it, yeah?” “Jeez, okay. Sorry.” But I was already gone.

22 ~ Bell. A cacophony of slammed lockers and whoops of freed prisoners. Library. Crinkled study guides with the hard problems circled and white spaces crammed with calculations. 4:15. An empty classroom again, leading to empty evenings filled with nothing but the sounds of the dishwasher and Oliver’s occasional chirp. At night, I woke myself up with groans that crawled from the back of my throat, prompted by dreams I didn’t remember. Orphan-howls. Dark bags propped up my eyes. Friday arrived. Exam day. In fifth period, I watched Jay take the test and thought, He’s the smartest kid in this class. Months behind the rest and he’ll be the first one done. And I was right. He turned in his test only thirty minutes after I had handed it out, and I would have smiled if not for the darkness I saw pulsing on Jay’s brow as he half-tossed the paper into the basket. I swallowed. That was the face following a bad test. How much shit would I be in, I wondered, if I just gave the kid an A? These were big tests. Fudging the grade would be more problematic than a simple rounding-up of a student’s average. But then, would anyone dare question an orphan’s A? To my surprise, however, at the end of the day when I moved Jay’s exam to the top of my pile to grade, every question was correct. My relieved smile grew as I dashed check-marks next to each solution, the pen scratching the page and emanating throughout the empty classroom. Then my smile extinguished and a coldness overtook me. My eyes froze on the final problem. And I realized that, like the study guides, I barely remembered writing these problems, and I certainly didn’t remember writing this one. No, no, no...

23 The final problem of the test was a word problem. One of its characters, alongside Simon (who owned Painting Business A) and Glenn (who owned Painting Business B) was the owner of Painting Business C: Declan. The name of Jay Ferrer’s father. I shut my eyes, but Jay’s expression from class had imprinted onto the insides of my eyelids. Declan. A hilariously uncommon name. I’d never met anyone named Declan before Jay’s father and hadn’t since. What cruel, orphan-hating oracle dropped that name into my mind as I wrote the exam? I made an incredulous noise and dropped the paper onto the desk. Will ‘Harper’ show up on Jay’s fucking SATs? I squeezed the bridge of my nose over my glasses. Michael, you idiot… you should’ve gone through the test before handing them out… you should’ve insisted on the extension, then you would’ve caught it… From my bag I took out The Elements and stared at the cover, which depicted a blackand-white image of Euclid, his beard curled at the end like feelers, his thick-lidded eyes downcast and seemingly holding all the knowledge of the universe. And it struck me, then, why the infinitude of primes theorem grated on me so. It was a justification. It attempted to provide a logic, a math, to the world’s reliable output of orphans. My parents leaving me on that porch was the correct answer to the equation. The car crash that killed Declan and Harper Ferrer was a numerical necessity. The world needed orphans like numbers needed primes, and here’s why. Deal with it. Providing such an authoritative sense to the senselessness (53 in a 60!) somehow made the senselessness worse. Didn’t orphans deal with enough without Euclid telling us that it was all for a reason, and here’s the text that proves it?

24 It’s fine. He’s a strong kid. Smart and strong. Decimal people don’t divide easily. But that was a lie, wasn’t it? I did. Every day I did, bit by bit. Long and torturous division, like peeling a carrot strip by strip until you just had a pile of orange glop. Sure, there were ways to slow the decimation— marriage, teaching, cats and apps and tutoring. But it wouldn’t stop. Not until I did. So deep into my head was I that I didn’t notice when Frannie entered the room. She knocked on the desk and I started. “You okay?” she said. “Fine,” I grunted, shoving The Elements into my bag and getting up to leave, but she blocked my path. “No. Stop. You’ve looked angry all week, and now you look fit to murder. If you don’t want to talk about it with me, fine… but if something is really wrong, will you at least promise to talk to someone?” Frannie’s eyes were full of help. Teacher-eyes. Sometimes when I was helping students I could sense the teacher-eyes on myself as well, like a second set of lenses in my glasses. “The last problem,” I said, handing her Jay’s test. She squinted at the sheet and frowned. “I don’t get it.” “Declan,” I said. She looked at me blankly, and I raised my eyebrows. “That’s Jay’s father’s name.” “Oh. Oh,” Frannie said. “Yeah,” I said. “You forgot his name?”

25 “Sorry,” said Frannie. “Brain fart.” I heard myself scoff. “Figures.” She blinked. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Nothing,” I said. “I mean. Our student’s parents died less than half a year ago, and you forgot their names.” Frannie’s mouth opened and closed like a kid playing with window blinds. “Er- it’s not exactly at the top of my mind right now, alright?” “Right,” I said through gritted teeth. Frannie had parents. She’d mentioned them to me on numerous occasions. John and Evelyn Calvanese. They came to town every year, close to April 1st, to engage in a small-scale prank war with their daughter for a weekend. Frannie would pick up dinner after school and after eating the Calvaneses would admire little Sam’s drawings and watch the news before departing, not to be seen again until Thanksgiving. John and Evelyn claimed a space in Frannie’s head— a parent-space, one that had always been there and likely always would. She didn’t need to remember the Ferrers like Jay always would, or like I did. She didn’t need anything, I thought. “Look, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for me too, alright? What’s your problem?” “‘Rough couple of weeks?’ Really? We’re talking about an orphan here, our own student, and you’re making it about you?” “I’m clearly not the only one doing that, Michael. I’m sorry you fucked up the test, but it’s not the end of the world. And yes, I had a rough couple of weeks.” “What’s so wrong?” I demanded.

26 “What’s wrong?” said Frannie. “Sam’s barely even looking at me anymore, that’s what’s wrong. It’s like I’m a ghost in my own goddamn house. I’m used to being ignored by kids, but my own? Am I just a shitty mom?” Frannie’s eyes misted, then broiled with anger. “But clearly you don’t give a shit, so forget it.” A twinge of guilt singed me as she stormed out of the classroom, and with an orphanhowl I swept the tests from my desk, sending pencils flying like arrows and a hundred word problems fluttering to the ground, a hundred little Declans into a hundred little inevitable collisions. ~ I watched Oliver eat, The Elements in my hands, and thought of my friend Kenny. I imagined him on the wild Pacific Crest Trail, walking for miles, a backpack the size of my closet eating into his shoulders and sides, sunburnt and alone and strong. And a memory came to me. I was twelve. Gangly and pale, my knees like cracked baseballs and my hair greasy and falling over my eyes. I had this idea that if I grew my hair out as long as I could and then divided it into heights, something— I didn’t know what, maybe some dormant offspring instinct— would indicate to me the length that my mother kept her hair at. Downstairs, my foster parents were fighting again, and the other kids were locked in their rooms. I shared a guest bedroom with a kid we called Baby and another named Patrick. They were both asleep in the bed, but I stood by the window, listening to the fight downstairs. It was escalating, as it usually did, so I knew I was safe to climb. I reached inside my shoe and pulled out my prize from the garage: a red Coke can. We were only allowed sodas for one dinner every other week, but nobody was counting. Moving

27 quietly so as to not wake Baby or Patrick, I slipped my shoes on, opened the window, and ascended to the roof. The moon was out, and the stars gleamed across the sky. I cracked open the Coke. It was warm and flat, since I took it that morning before school, but its criminal factor chilled and carbonated it in my mouth. When I had wrangled the last drop out onto my tongue, I set the can aside and laid down, the shingles sharp and incongruous against my back. For a second I wondered if this was what it felt like on the porch— my back against the hard porous beneath, the sound of man and woman chafing against each other just out of sight. But soon that thought faded and there was just the sky and the shingles and the wormy but alive aftertaste of Coke on my teeth. Alone, parentless, facing the abyss, and… calm. My fingers were locked behind my head and my toes peaked out of the points of my shoes and for just then— just an hour, maybe less, maybe more— I didn’t hear the fighting below, didn’t hear Patrick’s snotty snoring or the neighbor’s asshole dog barking. I didn’t think of how I’d crawl back inside without potentially waking anyone, didn’t think of school or the maddeningly dogged and inexplicably balanced feelings blooming within me towards my classmates, didn’t think of x or y. I was in a reverie of 100%, the air was cool, and I needed nothing. I blinked. Oliver had migrated to the couch, where he cleaned himself, bobbing his foot in front of his face, each swing nearly connecting his claw with his eye. The Elements was on the kitchen table, and I picked up a pen and wrote a number on the inside cover. It was a prime number— the number the Ferrers had died going. 53. I divided it by 2 and, as expected, it resulted in a decimal: 26.5. This was known; prime numbers couldn’t be divided and remain whole. But there was another aspect to prime numbers I’d been ignoring.

28 I divided 53 by itself and got 1. I sat back, looking at the digit. 1. Lonely, maybe. But whole. Sturdy, like a pillar. Prime numbers could be divided by themselves and result in a number; one that’s just as whole as any other. I was a math teacher. I knew this. And yet, sitting there in my kitchen, with Oliver having fallen silent and the phantom fizz of Coke on my tongue, the fact burned new. ~ The next morning, I stood at the door to Frannie’s classroom. “Can I come in?” She nodded from her desk, not looking up from Hamlet. I leaned against the whiteboard. “I’m sorry about yesterday. I was an asshole.” Frannie didn’t respond. I shuffled my feet. “There’s something I haven’t told you. I… I never met my parents.” She put down the play. “What?” “They left me on a porch as a baby and I grew up in foster homes. I have no idea who they are.” “That’s awful...” “It’s not an excuse. But it’s true.” “Why are you telling me this now?” “Because you’re not a shitty mom, Frannie. Sam may be acting like she’s parentless right now, but she’s not. You’re there. You care. Most importantly, you’re trying. I’ve seen it. So go easy on yourself, yeah?”

29 Frannie smiled. “Thanks, Michael. You’re forgiven for your assholery. But… Jesus. Now I’m the asshole for never realizing…” “You’re not. I didn’t want you— or anybody— to know.” “Why not?” “I was scared, I guess.” “Of what?” I scratched the stubble of my chin. “I don’t know. Maybe that if I told people my parents didn’t want me, they would... agree with them. Throw me out, like they did. That nobody would need me for anything anymore.” “I understand,” said Frannie quietly. “Everybody’s needed for something, though, right?” ~ A week passed. Things settled into their factory-esque normalcy at Mallory as the school year chugged along. On Thursday I watched Jennie Tozier, Thomas Normand, and the rest of the students drain from the library as the clock struck 4:15. Yawning, I packed my bag, said goodnight to the librarian as she powered down the computers, and left. I went to my classroom to make sure it was locked up, but was startled to see a mophaired form standing over my desk through the door’s window. I entered, but Jay didn’t turn around. He was looking down, and I realized as I approached him that he was holding one of the placement exams from my ungraded stack, its page turned to the final problem. His ears were red and the test trembled in his fingers.

30 I stepped into his view and had barely spoken his name when he thrust himself against me, and I hugged my student back and decided I wouldn’t stop until he did or until the primes ran out.

31 FLOWER SELLER by Vanessa Hu he stands guard next to his sunflowers, its petals glistening with tap water shaken out of a leaky hose. i don't remember how much they cost. i never have time to observe the laminations, always scurrying by the tulips defying their plastic wrappers. i tend to rush by — one eye grazing the bamboo, the other slid towards the nearby mexican restaurant's papel picado patterns flapping in the windbursts that trail taxi drivers and stroller pushers. i can never look him nor his posies in the eye either — how could i? how could i cup their gaze in an iris without paying them to wink at me? i'd rather give triple the salary of a pocketful of peonies that could sing goodnight — to instead see a garden, pruned and clean, shaved into tight braids and forced kisses and grand choirs in unison. since that's preferable, to spread a skirt across a rosebed and snap a polaroid, instead of stroking the bush, mulching the soil, mourning the wilt. only botanists believe in the waxing of moons and poetics, not the majority of cactus-pokers that dump liquid until the spikes garble — and still scratch their heads at why it's drowned. anyway, i have enough trouble taking care of myself. drinking milk til it sours in my teeth, catching fruit flies with apple cider vinegar, arranging lace around my chest in some way that will satisfy. who has the time to snip stems tender, to rustle petals so they don't bow to the counter, to whiff rot and know it's time to rinse out the vase and toss out the shriveling bodies? and so i walk by, promising that i'll i'll finally buy a bouquet, however much it is to sell multiple timelines, when i move out: so i can take them on the drive through lincoln tunnel, all our heads bobbing in the musty air in such a sonic boom that we forget there is an end at all.

32 FRANK’S FIRST GUN by Alan Brickman

When he lived up North, Frank never considered getting a gun. Even in situations when he felt threatened, it wouldn't have occurred to him. But here in Louisiana, in New Orleans, most people he knew – men and women, old and young, every race and ethnicity – had guns. People talked about their guns all the time – 22s, 38s, 45s, pistols, rifles, shotguns, AR-15s, automatics, semi-automatics. Frank knew people who kept them safely stored and secured, and others who kept them in an unlocked drawer in the living room. He knew people who kept one in their car, and others in their purse or brief case, ready at all times. Whenever Frank read a newspaper account of another mass shooting, he became more anxious about all the guns. Nowhere felt reliably safe anymore. His conviction that there were "too many guns" seemed validated on an almost daily basis. When a random argument on a drunken Friday night got heated and someone said, "You wanna go outside?" it used to mean a fist fight, but now it could just as easily become shots fired. And yet, here he was. Frank pulled into the parking lot of a nondescript strip mall and saw the sign above the storefront he came looking for – Sportsman's Guns and Ammo. When he tried to enter the store, the door was locked, so he stepped back to see if there was a notice indicating hours of operation. Instead, he saw two posters, one with a picture of an old-fashioned six-shooter with the caption, "We Don't Dial 911," and another with a photo of a snarling teenager pointing a gun straight at the camera that said, "Second Amendment College of Art: We're Looking for People Who Like to Draw."

33 "Look up into the camera," said a voice over a scratchy intercom. He did, and a buzzer sounded. He pulled on the handle and walked in, hopeful, apprehensive, a little terrified. He replayed in his mind the series of events that got him here. Frank was robbed twice in the last month, both times at gun point. One evening, he was walking home after beer and chicken wings at his local bar when a man jumped out of the shadows, screamed unintelligibly, and punched him on the side of the head before jamming a gun in his face and demanding all his money. Frank put his hands up like he's seen in a million movies and TV shows. He tried to speak but was too nervous to get the words out. A soon as he gave the man what he guessed was about fifty dollars, the guy grabbed it and ran. Frank was thankful for three things – that he paid cash at the bar and therefore had a little less with him now, that he carried his money separately from the wallet that held his license and credit cards, and that he didn't get shot. He was still shaking when he got to his apartment. He locked the door, turned off the lights, and sat quietly in the dark. He woke up the next morning on the couch in his clothes. About a week and a half later, in the middle of the afternoon, Frank had just finished a short jog through City Park, and was walking back to his car. Two teenage boys came up behind him. "Hey, Mister," one said in a high squeaky voice. When Frank turned, he saw one boy, short and wiry, pointing a gun at him while the other one, taller and heavier, stepped around Frank, presumably to prevent an escape. "Gimme your fuckin' money, white boy!" the small one said. He looked around nervously. "Now!" Frank pointed to his gym shorts and said, "I'm not carrying any money. I'm just out jogging." He immediately regretted saying this, he thought it made him sound even whiter.

34 "This is bullshit," the bigger one said from behind Frank. Frank shrugged and braced for the worst. The little one raised his gun, then pointed it in the air and fired a shot. The blast was still ringing in Frank's ears as the assailants jumped on two small bikes that were leaning against a tree and rode off, pedaling as fast as they could. Frank walked unsteadily to the side of the path, put both hands on a chain link fence, and threw up. About an hour later, sitting in a police station lobby waiting to give his statement, he ran through all the comments about firearms he'd heard over the years from people in New Orleans. Again and again, he'd heard something like, "I'm really glad I had a gun after Katrina, when the city was empty and there was still no power. I sat on my front porch with my gun in my lap so no one would fuck around." Whenever people talked about a recent home invasion in the neighborhood, someone would invariably say, "Let 'em show up at my house. I'll blow their fuckin' heads off!" As he watched police officers walk through the halls of the station, guns on their hips, something flipped in Frank. He was going to do it, he was going to buy his first gun, his resolve was steadfast, free from any further consideration or second thoughts. Frank asked his friend Sam where he should go. Sam was a part-time bartender and Iraq War veteran who had lots of guns. He seemed pleased and excited when Frank asked him about it. "Sportsman's Guns and Ammo," Sam said, with a smile. "It's in Gretna on the West Bank. Ask for George, he owns the place. He's an Army buddy of mine. He inherited the store from his father, and he knows more about guns than anybody. Tell him we're friends. He'll take care of you." The gun shop was brightly lit and the air conditioning was turned way up. Frank was surprised that the music playing was a jazz trumpet instrumental, Miles or maybe Chet Baker. He thought it would be heavy metal. Guns of all shapes and sizes were in locked cabinets behind the counter and along the side walls. Frank scanned the room and figured there must

35 more than a hundred on display. The place was more spacious, uncluttered, and professionallooking than the exterior storefront led Frank to expect, and was well-stocked enough for a small private army to ready themselves for the siege of a distant enemy stronghold. "First time, son? We love the first-timers," said a man who appeared from the back room. He walked in front of the counter and shook Frank's hand. "I'm George. Welcome to Sportsman's." He had thick salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a ponytail and a deep raspy voice. "Hi. My name's Frank. What makes you think this is my first time?" "Good to meet you, Frank. I've been at this for a while, and you have that look. You know when country folk visit the big city and can't stop staring up at the skyscrapers?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Fair enough," said Frank with a smile. "My friend Sam Corso in New Orleans sent me here. He said you two were in the service together and that I should ask for you." "That's great! Sam's good people. So, what can I do for you?" "Well, you got any guns for sale in this place?" "Sure," said George, smiling. "I'll bet I can dig up something in the back. What are you in the market for?" "A handgun. Not too big and bulky, easy to use, … I don't know, maybe a semiautomatic?" "I got you, Frank. Let's look at some options." He bent down, unhooked a wad of keys from his belt, and unlocked the case. Without looking up, he asked, "So Frank, why are you here? What's your story? Every first-timer has a story. Did you recently get robbed or something?"

36 This disoriented Frank, someone he'd just met being so casual but also oddly prescient about what was driving his gun purchase. "Yeah, something like that," Frank said, trying to sound nonchalant. "But you're right. Twice actually, and that's what got me thinking about it. I moved to New Orleans almost seven years ago, and I have to say, when you live in this city, sooner or later you feel like you need a gun." George smiled and nodded. "So, do you think you're ready?" "Ready for what?" George pulled out half a dozen handguns, some with names Frank recognized like Smith & Wesson or Glock, and some that he didn't. George was a knowledgeable and skillful salesman, walking through specs, terms of comparison, and value for the money with practiced ease. Frank felt like this was no different than buying high-end stereo equipment, a blur of jargon, and many more features to consider than he would have thought. Frank ultimately chose something on the higher-end of the scale, a CZ-75 semiautomatic pistol. It was a nice size, and felt comfortable and substantial in his hand. When he told George that he also liked that it was manufactured in the Czech Republic and was called "The Phantom," George rolled his eyes and said, "Whatever floats your boat. But you got yourself a really nice piece of machinery. Congratulations." Frank completed and signed the paperwork, then paid in cash. He'd brought eight onehundred-dollar bills, and was happy he didn't have to use them all. Barely an hour after he'd entered the store, Frank stood on the sidewalk in the New Orleans midday heat and humidity with his new gun in a locked black hard-shell carrying case slightly smaller than a briefcase, a leather shoulder holster, and two boxes of bullets. He couldn't quite believe he'd actually done it.

37 When Frank got home, he called Sam. "I finally got over to Sportsman's." "Isn't George a great guy?" Sam said. "Definitely. And guess what I bought. A CZ-75 Phantom! You know the Czech…" "Ooh, fancy," Sam said. "What, are you joining the CIA? I'm just kidding, but really, that's a great gun. I know a guy who has one that he actually bought over there and had shipped back to the States. He loves it. Good job. Now don't go shooting anybody … unless they deserve it!" For the first few days, Frank laid the open carrying case on his coffee table and just stared at his new purchase. One weekday evening, he drove to a shooting range that George recommended for a little practice. The man at counter saw the carrying case, and asked Frank what kind of gun he had. When Frank told him, the man said, "Right on. We don't get many of those in here. Can I have a look?" Frank shot for about an hour. He got comfortable with the gun's action and recoil, and was gratified to see his aim improving. Frank kept the gun locked in the case on a high shelf in his bedroom closet. He didn't take it out for a week or so, but was always very aware it was there. When he received his conceal carry permit in the mail, he decided he would take it out for a spin. Frank put on the holster, slipped the gun in, and looked at himself in the full-length mirror. He put on a blue sport coat, grabbed his keys, and stepped outside. He felt hyper-alert and slightly euphoric. Electrified. Frank drove to Marian's, a neighborhood restaurant with great food and a cool bar scene. His friend Connie, who he hadn't seen in a while, was bartending, and he leaned in to

38 hug her. He saw her steal a quick glance down the front of his jacket. She grabbed his wrist and pulled him toward her so she could whisper in his ear. "Since when do you carry a gun? Are you out of your fuckin' mind? Take that shit out of here before Marian sees it. She hates, and I mean hates, when anybody but the off-duty cops she hires for security bring guns into the restaurant. She'll bar you and call the police." "I'm really sorry, Connie. Never again, I promise." When he got home, he locked the gun in its case, put it back in the closet, and didn't take it out for two weeks. It was a Saturday afternoon, and Frank was bored just sitting around the house. He decided to take out the Phantom so he could clean and reload it. He heard a loud car engine outside, so he walked to the front door to see what it was. He pulled the curtain aside and, although it took him a few seconds to realize what was going on, he saw a man stealing several packages that had been delivered to his neighbors' front porch across the street. Another man was waiting for him in a car at the curb. Frank opened his door, stepped outside, and yelled, "Hey, what do you think you're doing?" The man on the other porch didn't even look up. Frank still had the gun in his hand, so he lifted it above his head and fired into the air. That got the man's attention, and he grabbed the packages and started running to the car. Frank lowered the gun and fired at the robber. His first shot missed, and smashed through the front window of his neighbors' house. But the next shot hit the man in the leg, just below the knee. The man screamed, limped the last few steps, and threw the packages and then himself into the car's open door. The tires screeched as the car sped away. Frank saw several other neighbors step out of their front doors to see what the commotion was. He held the gun behind his back, stepped backward into his house, and closed the door. His mind was racing. What the fuck did I just do? I couldda killed somebody! Oh fuck

39 oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck! They're gonna come back! They know where I live. Shit. They have guns. I am so fucked. Frank turned off all the lights and drew the blinds. He sat in the dark, in a chair facing the front door, with the Phantom in his lap. Waiting for … what? Not feeling ready at all.

40 THE NEW CHEF by Eric Abalajon A bandana keeps his long hair in place in the kitchen, beside him is a childhood best friend now a sous chef of sorts, frying red peanuts while waiting for the pork to become tender. The new chef is casual and frantic, they’re late but not behind schedule. When I started, he says, I didn’t know the business aspect. I just know how to cook. Many people think, including those in the community, that our food is cheap, which is nonsense since so much love and flavor goes into it. The final step in the adobo is adding vinegar and not touch it, just because, and it comes out magic. I’m working more, now in the car to make deliveries around Toronto in time for dinner, 14 to 16 hours, a long day for 10 percent profit but the happiness in handing over an order is something else, a few tasting Filipino food for the first time, seeing posts on social media with testimonies must mean this is special. By the end you already forgot the pandemic and this all started when he lost his office job.

41 TWO FACES OF LUGGAGE by Eric Abalajon after Migration IV (2013) by Bert Monterona We often imagine the movement but not the faces. The largest are those by children, while those by adults are indiscernible. Half-open mouths, eyes, if any, avoiding contact. Bodies can barely be seen as well, the warm colors provides a pulse to the stillness as their hair merges with the background. We often imagine the faces but not the movement.

42 MY GOD WEARS AN OBAMA T-SHIRT by Sophia Kriegel

In a photograph of my mother 8 months pregnant with Ella and I, her calves are a consistent thickness from her kneecaps, all the way past her shins. Her stomach is swollen beyond what I thought possible. I’m marveling at the way she, somehow, made space for so much life when it seemed there was none. I’m marveling at the evolution of it all. Not from monkeys or sinners who sunk their teeth into whatever they could find. I’m marveling at mothers. My mother. The slow, steady slither into humanity as one entity becomes another and another. Until the world is full and bursting with warm blood. The veins on her belly speak in hieroglyphics, obvious, eloquent, and unreadable. Scribbling lessons I might someday learn. If I hold the picture I can feel the weight of her body. I’m thinking about how much it must have hurt. How scared she must have been. Carrying that globe around, waiting.

I wouldn’t take a second of it back. She tells me. -I had, what one could call, a Christian summer. I spent a week of June with no cellphone in the woods, learning about God and wearing a t-shirt in the swimming pool (because girls weren’t allowed to show their torsos). That summer, Katherine told me I’d go to hell if I kept kissing boys behind the cabins after the counselors went to sleep. Kept falling asleep during church. Kept asking questions about everything.

I tried so hard to sing at the sermons, squealing something about glory. I wanted so badly to believe in whatever it was that warranted so much crying and confessing. I closed my eyes during prayer but didn’t say amen - it never felt right. -During a car ride to somewhere I can’t remember, I’m talking to my mother about God. She doesn’t wince when I tell her that I don’t see the sky that way. By that way, I mean consumed. By that way I mean all-seeing. I mean perched on my windowsill watching me peel my body from the bedsheets and helping me pick a shirt to wear. Or choosing to make my grandmother forget my birthday, and then my age, and then my name. Or listening to Ella sing in the school variety show and making the music skip. I mean, I don’t believe that Kate losing her phone on the shuttle to Disneyland is “just part of God’s plan, you know?” Just as I don’t believe that Melissa losing her friend to suicide is equally part of the same God’s said ‘plan’.

My mother says she believes in some kind of god. She doesn’t know its name yet but she doesn’t believe that this god is dictative in their distribution of wealth and poverty, success and tragedy, love and loss. My mother’s God is a cornucopia of resources, a starting point that gifts one tools to live a meaningful life - tools with which we have the power to use to construct our own stories driven by our own choices. --

43 I Google the definition of the term ‘god.’

The word means as follows: the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being. -My mother shows me a photograph from my birth. There is blood but she is smiling. I try my best to remember what it must have been like to grow inside of somebody else. A puzzle of flesh pieces, the cultivation of my body and then my soul, accumulating inside of a small universe. My mother’s stomach, a world within itself, the home of being. She is the starting point.

My mother finds a note in my backpack that I’ve written to Ryan Jones professing my undying love. I plan to give it to him at the library after we finish in the fourth grade science lab because I believe in love the way all children believe in things that are bigger than them. Things they can feel in their bones. She tells me not to hand him the confession. There are better ways to go about this kind of thing. I don’t listen. Ryan returns the letter, wordless and giggling. Somehow, she always knows.

My mother tells me to pay attention to the television. She flips to the news. “Listen. That is the only way to figure out what you believe.” My mother is on the couch, eating a bagel sandwich and wearing an Obama t-shirt, still, I learn individually. I create opinions from conversation and the cultivation of knowledge rather than regurgitating the views of the authoritative figures that surround me. She doesn’t tell me what to think, just to do so acutely.

My mother has a box in her closet that I have to stand on a chair to reach. Inside, I find the two elves that visit us every Christmas. They play tricks on Ella and I when we’re asleep, leave us candy, and scribble notes in scratchy lettering. In this box, they are less human. In this box, they are just dolls. I shove the cardboard back on the shelf. I don’t tell my mother that I know of her secret. Instead, when December arrives and Ella and I receive a letter from Sparkle and Glitter, documenting their year at Santa’s workshop, I smile and believe. She breathes magic into things and then, there is life.

My mother, the creator of my universe. My mother, the source of moral authority. My mother, the supreme being.

And if God is all of these things, then I think my mother might be God. I think my mother is my God. I think the more times I say it out loud the truer it becomes. The more words I type in this essay, the more it begins to make sense - religion, I mean. God. How my mother was my God when I left her body. And how my mother is my God when I feel myself beginning to leave my own. I’m scared that one day I will tell her that I hate her, and mean it. I’m scared

44 that I will forget to call her on her birthday and I will grow tired and busy and swollen with my own children. I will forget about Ryan Jones and the elves and the Obama t-shirt. I’m scared of losing her, and with that, the sanctity of this realization.

Maybe then, I’ll find myself crouched in the pews of some church. Maybe then, I’ll glue my knees to the ground in search of guidance. But, for now, she is here.

Religion, faith, life, is not about belief. It is about idolization. It’s about admiration. It’s about protection. It’s singing in a school variety show and the music skipping and your mother humming the tune so that you can keep going. It isn’t praying for guidance in the dark, rather, knocking on your mother’s bedroom door at 3 in the morning to ask if you can cry in her lap about a boy. About leaving for college. About life.

Why must I seek answers elsewhere when my mother knows everything? Why search for an intangible god when my mother sleeps down the hall, creating my universe, guiding me through it?

45 STREET ART by Joseph Pete

Rustbelt Factory, Chicago Heights, Chicago, IL. Photography. 2021


Marquise Jackson. 2021. 27 pages. $11.99 Reviewed by Megan McKinley

The chapbook I Forget I’m Only Human by Marquise Jackson is full of poems that are musical, rhythmic, and speak to the innate human experience of finding ourselves in art. Jackson’s voice in this collection is ever present and uniquely his, while also speaking to a deeper black culture, rooted in hip-hop and rap. These poems do not filter themselves for white audiences or anyone for that matter; Jackson speaks to his audience in the same way he would speak to a dear friend he’s known all his life. His personality and his history is present in every word and every line on the page.

With a background in live performance and music, there is a performance quality in this poetry collection that makes it feel like you are sitting in the front row of one of a live poetry reading. The best way one might describe these poems is loud. They grip you with their volume, and the natural rhyme scheme that seems to be Jackson’s specialty propel you forward in you reading. There is no space to slow down, and no desire to either. These poems are best read at the

47 kitchen table with a glass of wine, or whilst pacing your bedroom floor at night when you can’t seem to stop the racing thoughts inside your head.

Each poems provides insight into Jackson’s growth as an artist, and a human. Jackson invites his reader to delve into vulnerability with him as he explores his relationship with art, personifying it like a lover in R, and navigate his relationship with the world post Trump-era as a black man in poems like whatchamacallit and micro*. Keep an eye out for mentions of Jackson’s relationship with God and how religion inspires him in poems like i get scared too.

“I fear my Creator. Being face-to-face with God, learning how I did not do all that I could have on earth. I fear I am not doing all that I can on earth. I fear, I am. I am and just can’t see it yet.”

These lyrical poems are a treat to the eyes and the ear; they practically beg to be read aloud. I would compare I Forget I’m Only Human to Wild Peach by S*an D. Henry-Smith, who takes their reader on a winding, spinning series of lyric poetry. These series of poems by Marquise Jackson in I Forget I’m Only Human bring his reader back down to earth and humanize us all in a beautiful journey of self-discovery.


It’s a desert but there’s a huge river running through it. The water is red and full of skeletal fish.

All the rocks have faces. But only when seen from the corner of your eye. When you look straight at them, they just look like rocks.

The city’s skyline looks like mismatched teeth framed in a diadem of lightning. Mostly it’s hidden by smoke. People here speak truth when they speak at all.

Don’t let anyone ask you to dance.

There’s a man here with stone skin and glass bones. His wife has no skin, but her bones are spring steel. They live in a house woven from shadows of trees they felled before the river turned red.

According to the law of this place, eating while standing is punishable by death. So is eating while sitting. The only safe way to eat is to let no-one see you.

In the market they sell baskets overflowing with nuts and bolts.

These people make what they call music by tapping wood against ceramic. Never ceramic against wood. That’s not music, they say: that’s just noise.

I thought I saw someone walking a giant vinegarroon on a lead, but it turned out to be a wall mural. When I looked again it was gone. This means the street should be safe to walk.

The only way out is through.

49 FISTS by Corey Farrenkopf

Jared’s goal was to fight everyone who had ever seen his girlfriend, Leah, naked. He started with the delivering obstetrician. Then it was the two nurses that rinsed the blood and mucus off her skin. Then it had to be mom and dad for logical reasons. After that it became more difficult. There were a handful of uncles and aunts who’d helped change Leah’s diapers, a cousin or two, the kids from her first swimming lesson, the boy in her playgroup that accidentally opened the bathroom stall after block time, the changing room attendant at that clothing store in the mall, the hair and make-up volunteers from her high-school production of a Mid Summer’s Night Dream, the entire female roster from eighth grade gym class thanks to a shower curtain mishap, Leah’s first boyfriend from freshman year (even though they hadn’t gone all the way), her second boyfriend from junior year (with whom she had), and the seven boyfriends stretching between number two and Jared. He kept track of each fight, tallying wins and losses. He’d only been bested twice out of the one-hundred-and-seventy-eight times he’d entered combat. The opposing side never joined voluntarily. Sneak attacks were his preferred opener. A gruff voice inside his head told him he had to keep going, tracing the list of all those who had seen his girlfriend naked without his permission (that didn’t include Ray and Bill with whom he shared a set of nudes he’d pressured Leah into sending), until his knuckles were split and he felt in control of the world around him. *** Even after they’d broken up, Jared continued to hunt those on his list, a stray uncle, a childhood friend, the neighbor’s dog who didn’t understand the concept of privacy in relation

50 to outdoor showers. His rage built, knuckles hungry for new flesh, that ache shifting through his shoulders, arthritis setting in. If he scored enough victories, she’d come back, he told himself, she’d see his glory, her regained virginal status bought with his fists. And isn’t that what she truly wanted? Dignity won by a lover lost? *** Leah had started to date a new quiet man who worked as a high school therapist. Leah had also begun taking Muay Thai lessons. Her biceps had grown wiry, her thighs solid as stone. The martial art favored leg strikes over elbows and fists. Jared only realized the first part of the equation when he leapt from the bushes outside Leah’s latest apartment (which she moved to because Jared stood on her last apartment’s porch, reciting his list and howling promises up to her closed bedroom window each night). A shin connected with forehead, then a forehead connected with concrete. Leah wiped a line of sweat from her brow. “That was definitely worth fifty bucks a month.” The new boyfriend bent to pick up a piece of paper that had fallen from Jared’s pocket, a list of name’s with his at the bottom. “What’s up with this?” the new boyfriend asked as he and Leah walked up the apartment steps. “I always thought it was a combination of insecurity, an absence of positive childhood role models, unspoken fears, and his difficulty holding an erection,” she replied. “Should we call someone?” the new boyfriend asked when they were inside, the words muffled through the door. Jared lay beneath a streetlight, sidewalk concrete cold against his cheek. A throbbing beat pulsed behind his eyes.

51 Without his list, he felt naked, purposeless, his fists useless hunks of meat. When the strobing lights of an ambulance flickered over his skin, Jared inclined his face towards Leah’s front door, surprised she’d shown him such mercy. She’d had her own list, one he’d never heard aloud, one he’d tried to ignore for years. He fought to remember Leah’s words as the EMTs lifted him onto a stretcher. His mind was muddy. The sensation of liquid sloshed within the folds of his brain. He tried to ask for a pen and paper, but his tongue felt swollen, teeth shifted out of place. The first responders shrugged in confusion, slamming the back doors into place. Jared had always struggled to express himself articulately, even without a broken jaw.


I’ve repined too long in the underbelly of the dark. I crawl into the light and drink of the hard cold. It is not yet January, and so I will not begin again. Instead, I count the leaves left on stubborn old oaks, the pines christening slopes of spurious snow. It is not cold enough yet. December is a time for burial. I dig a grave shallow enough to watch a fawn lose its spots. It tests my mettle in curious clouds of breath, wet & warm, silken nose touching to mine. That itself may be reason enough. Tomorrow, I may try again. Today, I may give in. I have always wondered who might come alive, perhaps into a grove of violets, or a violent burst of birdsong, should I choose to die. Yesterday, I already let myself abate into silt, soft beneath a tender crust, lingering for another chance.

53 AND THE FORECAST IS RAIN, RAIN, AND MORE RAIN by Christian Ward The morning's pyjama weather makes you want to put a warm onesie on your to-do list, give it a hot water bottle and put it to bed. Not you walking across Vauxhall Bridge while the Thames is the colour of weak tea, tea not steeped like you half awake, out early to fetch IKEA blinds for someone who won't even notice the cyclists trying to outrun the seagulls bringing winter on their wings.




57 EL DELIVERYBOY by Christine Arroyo

Asphalt and steel, trash piled Empire State Building high, taxi cabs out to kill you, pedestrians that taunt you crossing the street against the light, gunman on motorcycles trying to steal your electric bike – your lifeline, your everything, you saved for that bike one two-dollar tip at a time, you’ve tricked it out –LED color-changing strip lights on the rear rack, Honduras flag flying blue and white, stars swishing in the frigid wind, racing from Washington Heights to Industry City – someone wanted a Filipino pastry for eight dollars, you stand there in the rain, waiting for them to answer the buzzing intercom, you discover there’s no elevator and hike up four flights of stairs, dripping wet, hand over the pastry bag, guy calls you a hero but won’t look you in the eye, no tip, you race back down to your bike praying it’s still there – it is, thank god – insulated backpack with more deliveries clanging against your back – it’s 11pm, four more hours to go – all these people who never have to leave their apartments, swaddled in blankets, Netflix and food handed to them in bags, the furthest they ever have to walk is to their front door – you’ve given yourself the goal of making ten thousand deliveries this year, maybe then you’ll be like the guy up in apartment 504 – on your couch pushing buttons on your phone, food appearing out of nowhere, more like sending money home for your wife and daughter, maybe one day they’ll be able to join you, but for now you race on your bike - wind, sleet, rain slapping against your face, arms aching, back cramping, Honduras flag flying, they call you El Deliveryboy en la Gran Manzana delivering an ice cream cone in the middle of Hurricane Ida – furious wind knocking your bike from side to side, handlebars nearly ripped from your hands, you don’t worry about your life, your safety, or construction beams flying across and decapitating you - you worry

58 about the ice cream cone in the insulated pack, is it melting, are the sprinkles still there, has it fallen off its cone?

59 DIRTIER COMPUTER by Alex Carrigan I’m placed on top of a marble countertop and appraised by a man with coke-bottle glasses and the imprint of a bite on his lip. I’m not that special. I’m broke inside. I’m searched all over for any flaws or bugs hidden deep within my coding and my function, hounded by my creator. I was kicked out, said I'm too loud. Kicked out, said I'm too proud. I’ve been sent to market like a robotic toy pig because I was found to be a bit dysfunctional, something within me threatened them. Ooh, say your goodbyes (say 'em now). I was built to serve a function. I was deigned necessary and useful, another in a long series of models each coded to imitate the previous and passed out like alms at church. I live my life on a TV screen. The man with moonlike glasses tells my former keeper that I’m only worth half of what they made me for. A pig not even worth butchering. Do anybody got it? Do anybody got it? I say anybody got it? I’d be more useful as a doorstop or to be buried in a landfill than for what returns I can

60 generate. Not even to make sausages. I wanna fall through the stars. Getting lost in the dark is my favorite part. I paint my face blue and scream my protest. You hit my side, the other man taps my keys. The sounds only increase in volume. You keep on asking me the same questions (Why?) and second-guessing all my intentions. The man’s glasses shatter like a coke bottle dropped on the moon’s surface. You feel your eyes sting and wince. You demand I stop. You can break me, break me down, if you want it, you can get it. I increase the volume. The countertop splits and you both collapse to the ground. You forgot pigs always cry at the slaughterhouse I don’t really give a fuck if I was just the only one Who likes that. I’ve proven my worth, my existence, my necessity for life. I’ve proven that you still need me, if only to stop the flow of blood. I know I got issues, but they drown when I kiss you. I silence the sound and step down from the countertop. I lay myself next to you, trying to force myself into the arms you’ve covered your head with. Turn them into words of expression, That can be understood by using words of love. You built me to serve a purpose, but you never asked me

61 to fall in love with you in this form, to demonstrate it in the only way I can. I’m fine in my shell. I'm afraid of it all, afraid of loving you. Maybe you never expected intelligence from this artificial form, but you generated it, even if you won’t make room for me in your arms. Love me, baby, love me for who I am.

After Suzi Q. Smith and Janelle Monáe

62 NEW YORK by Abby Kloppenburg first there’s the couple crawling across the white tablecloth just to deliver the punchline, heads back in hilarity before the joke’s even finished. does the pavement remember all the dinners it’s caught the drops from? the flood of people leaking out their front doors every morning, just trying to find each other? next there’s the bouquet of older women at the farmer’s market bowing to the tomatoes like minor gods, and to the model pinching closed a designer bag filled with nothing but tissues and Vaseline. which is more beautiful? and then, doesn’t the subway deserve more than all that spilled beer and spit? after all, it’s cradled so many bodies as they’ve cried, planned and slept, and didn’t the doors open that one time the man jammed his hand in when he thought he recognized his mother? all i know is there’s something about how the storefronts on 5th Ave leave their lights on long after closing time, the quiet nighttime street flanked by hundreds of mannequins, still lit.

63 PORTRAIT by Susan E. Wigget

Veronica and her friend Edith entered a capacious studio containing many stools and easels and two bare tables surrounded by simple ladder-back chairs. Edith had persuaded Veronica to ask the renowned painter, Charles Harpring, for lessons. Now that she stood in the studio where he taught, she shook with nerves but at the same time relished the thought of painting here. Deep shelves supporting props lined one of the walls, while sketches and paintings by the students covered others. In the center of the room, a space was cleared away for sitters and for objects to paint: a Persian rug covered the floorboards, and a great overstuffed armchair stood next to a miniscule table holding a vase full of sunflowers. No students occupied the room, and Veronica concluded that Edith and she stood alone with the great artist himself, for a tall man stood with his back to them, as he gazed out the window. She felt glad she had persuaded Edith to accompany her, and she determined to not seem missish, despite how timid she actually felt. Now that they had arrived, she almost wished she had not acted on such a bold decision, but she edged slightly closer to Edith, glad to have her moral support. The door closed behind Veronica and Edith. The man at the window turned around to face them, while they still hovered in front of the door. He walked toward them at a leisurely pace, while Veronica stood still and grasped her handbag with both hands in front of her. He was close to forty years old, she estimated, about twice her age. She was surprised to see that he was handsome, with thick dark curls touching his shoulders and a somewhat square face ending in a cleft chin; his eyes were wide, dark, and candid. She had half expected him to have a balding

64 scalp and a squint, since many of the artists she met turned out to be quite homely, as though they meant their artwork as an apology for their own lack of beauty. “How do you do, Miss—I’m sorry,” he said, looking back and forth at each of them. “Ah, Mr. Harpring…m-my friend here… is Edith Morrow, and I-I am Veronica Amaranth,” Veronica said in a high-pitched voice. “Please forgive us for dropping in on you like this. I hope you can help me.” “Please sit down,” Mr. Harpring said, keeping his eyes unblinkingly fixed on her, while he gestured toward seats. The two young women sat close together. Disconcerted by his fixed gaze, Veronica’s eyes repeatedly wandered away from him and back. He sat on a chair facing them and leaned forward slightly, placing his hands on his knees. “What is it I can do for such a beautiful young lady?” he asked her. She felt her cheeks grow warm, and she lowered her eyes to her navy blue striped skirt. So much for not acting missish, she thought. He could have at least included both of them in the compliment; he seemed impertinent to do otherwise. Edith was comely herself, with a sweet heart-shaped face, creamy skin, and thick dark braids wrapped around her head; she wore spectacles, but behind them were intelligent violet eyes. She was also taller and more slender than Veronica, who felt simultaneously flattered and appalled. “Please, I did not come here for extravagant praise. Miss Morrow here has urged me to come to you for drawing and painting lessons,” Veronica said. “I have been drawing all my life, but no professional has trained me, and I don’t know where to begin with painting.” “Well, then, I am glad you have come to me,” he said with an attentive smile. She felt terribly self-conscious under his gaze, and she wished he would pay some heed to Edith, who pursed up her lips and crossed her ankles.

65 “I noticed your work has created quite a stir,” Veronica said, hoping he could not perceive her awkwardness and bashfulness, “and I saw your new exhibition, but I did not until recently know that you teach aspiring artists.” “Yes, three days a week I teach a total of twenty students who are at varying levels of skill,” he said, sitting up. He had a proud little smile. “On what days does the class meet?” Veronica asked, imagining that all twenty students met regularly at the same time. “Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. It is not necessary to attend every class; I allow each student to progress at her own pace.” “That sounds wonderful,” Veronica said. “If you attend the class tomorrow afternoon, I shall see how you do and ascertain what direction your instruction needs.” At the first class Veronica attended, Mr. Harpring introduced her to the other students, whose reception toward her, she thought, seemed somewhat cold. She generally was overly sensitive, however, and she could not expect strangers to always ooze charm as though they were calling at her parents’ house at Washington Square, or as though they were attending a ball. This was neither a parlor nor a ballroom, but a studio for students, all of whom were female. Since universities did not allow females to attend classes, women often took private classes taught by professional artists. On this first afternoon with the other students, the only time Mr. Harpring criticized Veronica’s sketching was when he leaned over her drawing board and showed her the proper way to hold her drawing pencil. Her formal education took place entirely in a seminary for young ladies, at which her well-meaning drawing teacher had never trained her to hold a pencil

66 other than how she held it for writing. This bit of instruction proved to her that she was starting from scratch. After Veronica attended the class for two weeks, Mr. Harpring began to criticize her work more. He had broken her in by this point, and she had already noticed that he judged the work of the other students more sharply, since they had come to his classes much longer than she. A few days after she noticed this shift, she became somewhat nervous as the instructor circled the room to look at each student’s drawing one at a time, and as he came closer to her. When he finally stood over her shoulder, she could scarcely grip the charcoal. “You have to ask yourself from where the light source comes,” he said. “The way you’ve shaded and highlighted it, it seems to come from three different directions.” As he spoke, he raised a finger in front of the left end of the drawing, then the center, and then the right end. “Oh, I see,” she said, feeling foolish. She wondered what terrible impression she made on the other students. “In reality, a lamp hangs just above the sitter,” he said, nodding at the young lady who sat stiffly in the armchair centered in the studio. He continued, “The light should therefore come from above and mostly toward the center.” He leaned a bit closer to her, so his head was next to hers, invading her space and giving her a fluttery nervous sensation. He said, “May I paint your portrait?” She leaned slightly away from him. Remembering his comment about her supposed beauty when they first met, she trembled and dropped her stick of charcoal. It hit the floor with a subtle clank and broke in two. “You want to paint a portrait of me?” she whispered, not knowing what else to say. She wondered if he painted the portrait of every new student, and she felt flattered, though scared at the same time. She also imagined him moving his head away from her.

67 “Yes,” he answered. “Let’s discuss this after class.” ”Yes,” she said, and he stood up straight and walked to the student on her right. Once he was no longer too close to her, she relaxed and took a breath of relief. As she bent over to pick up her charcoal stick, Veronica glanced to her left at the young lady next to her and wondered if she had overheard. The woman returned the look over her spectacles, with a pert little smile, and Veronica felt worse, for the smile certainly meant she had heard. What if, Veronica wondered, the entire class discovered that Mr. Harpring was painting her portrait? She had detected a certain rivalry for his affections among the students. Handsome as he was, her only interest in him was that of a student for an instructor’s vast knowledge, and she was determined that no amount of flattery or portrait painting would change her opinion. She could already sense he had far more ego than he needed. Despite his looks, she found him strangely repellent, especially when he spoke condescendingly to any female. Nonetheless, she did not want to make a bad impression on her instructor by refusing to sit for a portrait. She wanted his approval as a teacher, and she wanted to thus become a more professional artist herself. Whatever his shortcomings in personality, he was a great painter, and for that reason alone, she could not refuse to let him paint her portrait. At the end of the afternoon’s session, Veronica took her time putting away her paper and charcoal, as she waited for the other students to drift out of the studio. Either she imagined it, or some of the students looked back at her suspiciously before they exited. Until now, she had not considered the fact that she would be alone with Mr. Harpring. A fluttering panic rose in her chest. She did not think it entirely proper, for even though artists were generally unconventional, or so she heard about artists who lived in Europe, she had a very proper upbringing and could not

68 entirely dismiss deportment. She remembered the studio across the hall, and she took comfort in the thought that it usually contained a class in session at this time. After the remainder of the class had departed, Mr. Harpring gave her what he considered a charming smile and closed the studio door. Veronica gulped and looked at the floor. “And now, as for this portrait,” he said. “I would like to paint it at my studio, and I normally make many preliminary sketches before I embark on the actual painting. I could do the sketches here, after the next class meeting, and that would spare you a trip to my studio.” His tone and smiles seemed soaked in condescension. “That is considerate of you,” Veronica said, briefly raising her eyes. “It is not far from here, of course. However, you will find yourself making many trips there when I begin to paint the portrait.” “If it is not far away, and not in a questionable neighborhood, then I do not mind.” “Oh, the neighborhood is certainly respectable.” “Wonderful. Well, this is exciting, now that I begin to think about it: I’ve never had my portrait painted.” “It would be no expense for you, of course,” he said. “Indeed, I might sell the portrait afterward.” She was surprised he said might, as though he did not think it would sell, or as if he wanted to keep it. Perhaps he would decide to give her the picture, but she suspected otherwise. “Very good, Mr. Harpring. Is that all? My mother does not expect me to be gone this long.” She felt that mentioning her mother would remind him, if he had any silly notions, that she was a respectable young lady and her parents could protect her. Such suspicions, she thought, were probably absurd, but she thought it best to be safe. “Ah. That is all, yes, Miss Amaranth.”

69 *** Although she had sat for him after the past two classes, Veronica’s hands shook the first day she showed up on Mr. Harpring’s doorstep, and she took a deep but shaky breath. The house was a tall, slender brownstone with thick drapes at all the windows. She thought it bad enough when Mr. Harpring and she occupied the class studio alone together and he said things that she interpreted as flirtation and flattery, while his eyes were on her most of the time as he sketched her. But for her to visit his private residence, all by herself, was that much more frightening. She still did not like him, despite all his oozing flattery and attempt at charm. She did not find him in the least charming, thanks to his overbearing ego and something else repellent about him that she could not define. A manservant opened the door and immediately knew who she was. “Please come this way,” he said with a slight bow. She followed him into the hallway, and he led her into Mr. Harpring’s studio, where he announced Veronica’s name to her instructor. As the manservant left, Veronica could not but gaze around in wonder at the enormous room, in which paintings and unpainted canvases took up any space they could. Rugs lay scattered on the hardwood floor, along the edges of which leaned rows of canvases, some plain white, some painted at least partially. Many of these were enormous, such as an eight-foot-long painting of a black horse, but others were a more conventional size. A marble fireplace stood to her right, and yet another painting hung over it, a stunning self-portrait of Mr. Harpring. The mantel displayed a mess of things, a clock, tubes of paint, rags, and little boxes. Sofas, chairs, and small tables stood centered in the room, as though it were a sitting room. The opposite wall housed full-length windows, and pulled-back brocade drapes let in the afternoon sun. An overstuffed fainting couch sat by a window. Wicker boxes, no doubt full of paint and brushes,

70 sprinkled the room, as did several easels. Throughout the studio stood small tables holding colorful palettes and cups from which peeked paintbrushes and drawing pencils. Vast framed canvases covered much of the walls, so Veronica could barely see dark paneling behind the paintings, which all reminded her of those she had seen at Mr. Harpring’s public exhibit. This was hardly surprising, since the pictures were all his work. Most were portraits of highly respected New York citizens. One exception was a full-length picture of Mr. Charles Dickens; another exception was of the British actress Ellen Terry. In a far corner, Veronica espied piles of various oriental rugs, and fringed silk draperies hid the corner of the wall. Before the draperies stood a wooden pedestal and a pair of velvetupholstered chairs; these, she surmised, were meant for sitters. “What a delightful studio,” Veronica said, wondering if she might someday have a similar studio. “Thank-you,” Mr. Harpring said, walking toward the draped corner. “Is it customary for a successful artist to have his studio inside his home?” “It is not unusual, Miss Amaranth, and it is very convenient for me,” he said. “Keeping my studio at home saves me the bother of carrying supplies across town. Let me rearrange this corner a bit, and I’ll be right with you.” He picked up one of the velvet chairs off the platform and set it next to a sofa in the center of the room. Then he scanned the room for a moment, saying, “I want it to be just right, to set the mood. I am thinking something avant-garde would be fitting.” He walked toward the fireplace and grasped what appeared to be a marble pedestal.

71 “I would certainly be happy with that,” Veronica said truthfully enough. At this stage in her life, she wanted to somehow be eccentric and respectable at the same time. She was not entirely sure how she could do this. Mr. Harpring picked up the pedestal, carried it to the dais, and placed it next to the remaining velvet chair. Veronica concluded the pedestal could not possibly be solid marble. He then stepped down from the platform and stood in the center of the room with his hands on his hips. He looked at the dais and then looked around the room, turning around slowly. His eyes stopped at Veronica, who cast her eyes to the floor. “I shall have to paint you wearing something decidedly more avant-garde, more bohemian than the conventional concoction you have on right now,” he said. Veronica felt her cheeks grow warm, but she did not think Mr. Harpring noticed, for he had turned away from her for more inanimate objects. She glanced down at her bouffant white cotton skirt and the white bodice that buttoned up the front and included bishop sleeves. “I do have an Artistic gown,” Veronica said quietly. “Have you? Now, that‘s the spirit!” “I have not worn it yet, though I’ve been wanting to for some time. I don’t think my parents would approve. It is so unconventional, and they are, well—” “Yes, no doubt,” he said dryly. She did not appreciate his interruption, but at the same time, she knew her parents were not the most loving or understanding. Finally, he approached the fireplace again and took down from it a large Japanese fan. He then walked to one of the many small cluttered tables and picked up a blue porcelain vase. He

72 took the two objects and set them on the pedestal, and then he stepped back to look at his work with a satisfied smile and crossed arms. “Please feel free to seat yourself on the chair,” he said, gesturing to the armchair on the platform. When Veronica ascended the platform, she felt like a princess on a dais. Smiling faintly, she sat stiffly on the blue velvet chair and placed her hands on the arms, as she watched Mr. Harpring gather up painting supplies: brushes, paint, a rag, a water dish, and a colorful, messy palette. It was rather exciting, Veronica thought, to see a professional artist at work and to immerse herself in the studio atmosphere. Someday, she thought, she would have her own cozy and cluttered studio. Mr. Harpring placed all the painting supplies on a small table several feet in front of the dais. He pulled up the largest easel Veronica had ever seen and placed it next to the small table. He walked to a far corner of the studio and flipped through an assortment of blank canvases, till he came to one that was six feet tall and only a few feet wide. He grasped it at both of the narrow sides and slowly carried it across the room toward the easel. “Oh, my, are you sure you don’t need help carrying that?” Veronica asked. “Ah, not at all, my dear. I have muscles.” Veronica’s smile disintegrated. She mentally told herself it was trivial of her to find offence at his calling her “my dear” and bragging about his strong physique. Such trivial things added up, supporting the dislike she had developed for him and that she tried to brush aside at every class meeting. He placed the massive canvas on the easel and began to sketch on it. “Fortunately, I have already painted the entire canvas white. The next step, that I am doing now, is to draw the basic picture, as sort of an outline.” She imagined drawing an outline of a seated figure, and she hoped the class would work with paint and canvas soon. Finally, when he put down his pencil, he said, “About these conventional parents of yours. What do they think of your becoming an artist?”

73 “Truly, I do not know what my father thinks,” Veronica said. “But my mother is appalled.” Moving her eyes without moving her head, she watched as he picked up a paintbrush, dipped it in water, and formed the tip into a point. “Upper class types,” he said with a smirk. “I’m not at all surprised.” “She doesn’t respect artists—she thinks artists want to change the world. Which of course is true, and goodness knows the world needs changing, but she doesn’t think so, and I don’t feel I can say such things to my parents. Our house is full of artwork, so I rather think my mother, like so many people, does not understand that art requires artists to create it.” Mr. Harpring barked out a laugh, thus proving he was listening while he seemed so concentrated on his work. She hoped she was not babbling, but she would rather babble than contend with awkward silence. He looked intently at her while he painted, and she had to remain calm somehow. “I always begin painting the background before I paint the foreground,” he explained while he worked. “It gives it the right three-dimensional illusion.” He paused before he asked, “Doesn’t your father talk to you?” “Oh, he talks continually. But he doesn’t say anything. I don’t think he ever thinks of me really, as though I don’t matter to him and he doesn’t know I exist.” “How appalling! A beautiful girl like you—a father should be proud—he shouldn’t ignore you. He must be an idiot.” Beautiful, indeed, Veronica thought, while her cheeks warmed again. She felt that he was condescending, not flattering, whether or not he realized it. Her own physical appearance, including her unfashionable red hair, struck her as trivial compared to her artwork, the center of her existence. As her instructor, he should know better.

74 “I do have three older brothers,” she finally said. “My father seems to believe that boys are more important.” “And well he should think that,” Mr. Harpring said, to Veronica’s utmost disgust. Anger rose from her heart, up her throat and into her face, which she knew was flushed. “My mother is the controlling one, at least where I am concerned,” she said, speaking too quickly but attempting to hide her indignation. “She wants to marry me off to a wealthy man, not to see me become an artist. I cannot show disrespect to my parents, of course, but neither shall I let them ruin my life.” “Yes, yes, you should not let respectability get in the way of art,” he said while he painted. At least they agreed on one thing, Veronica thought, but she sensed he was ridiculing her. At this first sitting, Mr. Harpring did the preliminary work and let her go till the next session. When she showed up at his door on that occasion, Veronica felt like talking as little as possible, for she did not wish to hear anything disagreeable if she could avoid it. Nonetheless, she anticipated that dead silence would make her exceedingly nervous. She did not have to worry about that, for Mr. Harpring began a conversation as soon as he settled down in front of the easel. “You perhaps do not realize,” he said, “that I honestly admire your work. I have never thought a woman capable of becoming a great painter, and I certainly do not expect it of my other students. After all, why else would women not be accepted into colleges?” Veronica’s grip on the chair arms tightened. “Obviously for the very reason that the men who run those colleges are prejudiced fools,” Veronica said. She clenched her teeth.

75 “Ah, really, my dear,” he said, with a condescending little smile that disgusted Veronica. “Whatever the reason, I do believe that you are not like them—you have a real talent. I believe I might even mold you into something great.” “Please, sir, keep your molds to yourself,” Veronica said, as she pictured green fuzz on a slice of cheddar cheese. “What is this? Do you mean you have no wish to be a great painter after all, when I offer you the opportunity?” “Mr. Harpring, I do not think I flatter myself in believing that I can become a great painter without your offering me the opportunity. I can do it with my own determination and practice, and I have every intention of doing so.” She could scarcely believe she spoke so frankly with this man, of all people, but her disgust with his odious words inspired her to speak up. However, when she shifted her eyes in his direction, she saw his intent gaze on his own work, with his brush on the canvas, and she sensed that he hadn’t listened. Perhaps he didn’t think anything she said was worth listening to, despite his claiming to respect her talent. Next time she arrived at his house, she wore the Artistic dress she had mentioned. It was pale green, printed with a subtle pattern of white branches. Although it was not the bloomer costume, it nonetheless was more comfortable than respectable, for this dress had no crinoline or ruffles or bows. It looked somewhat medieval, with many puffs in the sleeves and a square neckline. She also wore her auburn hair loose and flowing, completing the Pre-Raphaelite style. When Mr. Harpring first saw her, his mouth dropped open but for once he was speechless. When he finally spoke, it was to say, “Magnificent! I couldn’t have picked a better dress.” After many sittings, Veronica had become increasingly more appalled with her painting instructor, since he proved extremely egotistical, overbearing and misogynistic. She concluded

76 that such traits formed the previously undefined quality that repelled her from their first meeting. She felt awkward about the situation, for in spite of his continually repelling her, he occasionally seemed flirtatious, as though he seriously thought he could attract her. In gloomier moods, she suspected he might propose marriage or even kiss her, but usually she dismissed the notion that he might truly find her attractive, for he had yet to prove that he respected her. She evaded the topic whenever he complimented her on her appearance or otherwise seemed flirtatious. She hoped that if she acted as though she had no idea he was flirting, he would instantly know she was not remotely interested in him, and he would put an end to his futile pursuit. She suspected that if he married her, he would submerge her personality in favor of his, much as he attempted to do with her art. *** On a bright afternoon in the month of May, when Veronica wished she faced the window so she could observe the sunlight, Mr. Harpring stepped back from the painting and stared at it for several minutes. He dipped the paintbrush in lavender and touched up some little spots, and then he stepped back again. “At last!” Mr. Harpring said, smiling and splashing his paintbrush in a can of water, “It is complete!” “Are you certain?” Veronica asked, widening her eyes and gripping the chair arms. “May I step down and look?” “Yes, yes, my dear, get over here and take a look at yourself!” She stood up, stepped off the dais, and walked swiftly over to see the canvas. Veronica gazed at the painting and thought she never looked better than in this life-size portrait. Her auburn hair flowed in waves to her waist, and she wore the pale green dress that she

77 had worn during most of her sittings. She stood next to the pedestal, with her hand placed on it and holding a white rose, while her head turned slightly away from the pedestal. She wore a far away, dreamy look in her wide, green eyes, perhaps, she dared think, the look of a visionary. It certainly suited her introspective and dreamy nature; the artist had in effect brought her to life on canvas. The painting and the painter duly impressed her. As she continued to gaze at the painting, it unsettled her. She realized that this capture of her personality meant Mr. Harpring knew her better than she had thought he did, and certainly better than she knew him, as though he had stripped away her mask and seen part of her soul. She was a good person and had little of which to feel ashamed, but she didn’t think she knew or liked her instructor enough for him to discover her soul. It seemed wrong for this arrogant and worldly man to know her in this way, without her permission, as though he had broken into her house and read her diary. *** In class, Veronica felt fluttery-nervous while Mr. Harpring stood over her shoulder, too close to her, and she reluctantly continued to paint. She felt uncomfortable with anyone watching her at work even during the best of times, and Mr. Harpring was the last person whom she liked watching her at work. “Hmmm,” he said thoughtfully. “Here, you can give it more life this way.” With a paintbrush in his hand, he reached toward her canvas and added bits of purple and green and orange where they weren’t in real life, and he proceeded to change the shape of the subject’s flowing golden locks in her painting. He made several changes that, by the time he backed away from her canvas, had given the painting his style more than hers. Veronica stared, as though he had slapped her, and her heart beat wildly. She had her own distinctive style that came through in

78 every painting and sketch. Looking in dismay at what she had minutes ago thought of as her painting, she felt that he undermined her work and did not respect her style, and her heart sank. Her former enthusiasm about taking his class did not mean she wished to mimic his style. She recalled how his portrait of her seemed to bare her soul. And yet, she wondered, if he genuinely understood her, how could he not respect her aesthetic style? For that matter, how could someone who considered women inferior understand her soul? It made absolutely no sense. Perhaps, she thought, it was time she stopped attending his classes. When she first started coming to his classes six months ago, she had desperately needed instruction. She had progressed a great deal since then and now knew the basics and additionally knew she had great talent. She was torn between gratitude and disgust, and now it looked as though Mr. Harpring had outlived his worth as an instructor. “There,” he said. “That’s much better.” He then leaned slightly toward her and said quietly, “I wish to speak with you alone after class.” It was not a request, Veronica noticed, but a demand. She continued to look at the painting, not at him, and picked up her brush. “Very well, sir,” she said coolly with a small nod. She hoped her façade was dignified, while she felt as though a butterfly were trapped inside her chest. She had no idea why he wanted to speak with her alone, now that her portrait was finished. She still dreaded tête-à-têtes with him despite their many sessions. While the other students filed out of the room, Veronica put her things away at a leisurely pace. She placed her canvas against the wall, in the same spot it had rested when she arrived for class that day, and she returned to her seat and packed her paints and brushes and palette into her

79 bag. She wished to appear calm to him and to thus indicate that she was not and never would be impressed with his personality, no matter how great an artist he was. She seated herself in a ladder-back chair facing the windows, where she watched squirrels running up and down and chattering at each other in a clump of trees. She did not look at her instructor when he sat down next to her. “I have something very important to ask you,” he said. She finally turned to him and noticed his confident smile. “And what would that be, sir?” she asked with a faint smile, only for the sake of courtesy. “Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?” he asked. Her eyes widened and her cheeks burned. How, she wondered, could he think she would be interested in marrying him? She turned back to the trees and squirrels. “I don’t. I don’t know what to say,” she said. “That is, I shall have to give it some thought. This comes as a complete surprise.” “Didn’t you suspect my feelings?” he asked. She glanced at him and saw that he sat back with his arms crossed. She grasped her hands together and turned away. “Yes, but I thought I was perhaps mistaken. I’ve tried to convince myself… that your feelings were otherwise, and I misinterpreted your behavior toward me, or at most that you were flirting, that was all.” “You thought I was trifling with you?” When she dared to glance at him, she could see that he frowned at her, as though he had given her a detailed lesson on perspective and she had completely misunderstood.

80 “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. But it seemed silly of me to think… to think you’d feel that way about me. I’ve never expected anyone to feel like that about me, really.” He smiled faintly, as though she were an amusing child. Realizing she had spoken too quickly and shrilly, she turned away and admired a painting to her left. “You mean, to fall in love with you?” he said, making her even more uncomfortable. She disliked this discussion and wanted it to end as quickly as possible. She glanced at the closed door. She spoke to him with her eyes cast to the hardwood floor. “To be quite honest, I don’t need to think about it. Please take me seriously when I say the answer is no. To your, ah, question. That is, no, I shan’t marry you. I must depart. Goodbye.” She rose and ran out of the room. Veronica walked all the way home and paid no attention to people she passed, although she could see their inquisitive looks through her tears. She surmised that Mr. Harpring’s wish to paint her portrait had been a lure to get her alone with him for long periods of time. That certainly explained his preliminary drawings: she had wondered that he didn’t settle for one, but must have sketched at least twenty. Now she wondered: where had all those sketches disappeared? For all she knew, he could have hung them in his bedroom. That seemed demeaning, and her cheeks warmed at the thought. She stepped out onto the street and heard horses whinny and a coachman yell, but she only glanced in their direction for a second. Veronica recalled that she had, since she was fourteen years old, dreamed of going away to Europe and pursuing an artistic career in Paris. This dream seemed more realistic now that she had had professional lessons in drawing and painting and in her heart more truly knew that

81 painting was her calling. A pair of women in sunbonnets stared at her, but she faced forward and did not falter in her rapid steps. Away from New York, she would never see Mr. Harpring again, for such encounters would embarrass her, though probably not him. He was obviously shameless, and his indignation when she did not leap at his proposal only proved that he assumed she lived for nothing but to have a man, particularly him, take her under his wing. She would leave before he further affected her life or her art. He did not fit into her scheme of things, and nor did any other man, so far as she foresaw. By leaving, she wished to also escape Harpring’s formidable influence on her work. As an artist, she now knew the techniques of painting, what she had really wanted to learn from him, and that was the positive side to his teachings. At the same time, she had her own unique style, and to continue living under his imposing shadow would stifle her work’s originality. She had for some time observed how he tried to make her work mimic his. If she lived on a different continent, he would not visit her or be present to see her true work and to criticize it for not mimicking his. She could take some lessons from at least one instructor in Paris, perhaps a woman, to acquire an alternate perspective and to eliminate any possibility of Harpring’s work influencing hers too much. *** Veronica paced alone in the front parlor at Mr. Harpring’s home, where she had come to tell him, without the prying eyes of his other students, that she no longer wished to take lessons with him and she would leave for Paris soon. He had said he would meet her here, but he was certainly

82 taking his time about it. Perhaps his tardiness was his idea of punishment for rejecting his hand in marriage. Veronica stayed, willing to wait and speak to him first, in order to tie the ends to their relations. Overcome with boredom, she looked around the room. She spotted the door leading into the hallway, and she stepped out. Across the corridor was the door into her instructor’s studio, where she was fairly certain he kept his portrait of her. She had not set foot in it since he finished the painting, at which she had not cared to look again, since it reminded her of his unwanted attentions. She had always assumed that he kept the door locked when he did not occupy the studio, but when she grasped the floral handle, it turned completely, and she pushed the door open. In the studio’s near right corner, Veronica saw disarray reminiscent of what she imagined her own future studio resembling. Fringed rugs draped over two small tables, and on the tables leaned many unframed paintings up in rows against the wall. Next to one table stood a large plaster statue, a copy of Michelangelo’s David. She walked to the tables and idly pulled a front painting away from the row it started. Behind it appeared a painting of three children in lacy white frocks and with a spaniel sitting among them. She noticed large paintings on the floor and leaning against the wall, and she continued to look at the pictures, most of which were portraits of people, though she found a couple of dog and cat paintings. A few of the paintings were female nudes, which made her blink, and some were theatrical portraits, with figures in medieval-looking garb. Almost all the paintings were finished and ready for framing. She espied a large canvas draped over with burgundy velvet. It seemed odd to cover the painting with a cloth, as though the painter did not want anyone to see it. Perhaps the picture did

83 not please Mr. Harpring, or maybe he felt uneasy about it merely because it was not finished. He might have given up in the middle of the project, something she periodically did herself. But it seemed to her out of character for Mr. Harpring to ever feel unsure of himself: he brimmed with confidence and too much arrogance by far. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have assumed that the first woman to whom he proposed marriage would swoon at his feet. Or, she wondered, was she the first woman to whom he had proposed? He had been alive long enough to have met many women and to have been disappointed in love previously. He had never mentioned another, but she told herself that, since she did not remotely love him, it didn’t matter what she knew or didn’t know about his past. She petulantly decided she didn’t care if he wanted nobody to see the mysterious canvas, and she pulled away the velvet. It took her a few seconds to recognize the painting, and when she did, she could scarcely believe it possible. This was Harpring’s portrait of her, but at the same time it was not the same painting. Someone had altered it, and she knew he must have altered it himself, after she rejected him. The painting was no longer of a young and innocent nineteen-year-old woman. He had painted lines around the eyes, across the brow, and around the mouth, which now curved downward instead of slightly upward. The green eyes were no longer gentle and dreamy and looking far away: now they were cold, hard, a paler green, and they stared fixedly at the viewer, as though angry at her for daring to look at this painting. The eyebrows above this stranger’s eyes were thicker and messy. He had even made her nose wider and given it a crook in the center. The cheeks were subtly narrower, as though the woman in the painting wasted away. The auburn hair still flowed loose in a style reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites, but grey streaked it, and she could see knots

84 and strands of hair that flew outward as though affected by static electricity. The simple gown that had been the palest of greens was now a sober black. Staring at this painting in shock, Veronica breathed faster and trembled with anger. She wanted to think she was mistaken—that this was not how he saw her now, but it was definitely the same painting, for she recognized most of the brushstrokes in the draped background and in the skin that he had not touched up with lines. Also, the hair and dress were essentially the same. She could not believe anyone, even this arrogant fool, could see her in such a way. She had always thought of herself as harmless: she never meant to hurt anybody, and she felt horribly guilty and apologized if she thought she hurt someone. To think she could have married this treacherous monster! He apparently thought she was treacherous, for not following his orders, for not catering to his desires, for not giving herself up to him and negating her own personality till death did they part. She was gladder than ever that she had not been weak and foolish enough to say yes, that guilt over hurting his feelings or pressure from her parents had not brought her to that. While the mocking painting infuriated her, she also felt deeply hurt, and tears started in her eyes. She heard a floorboard creak behind her, and she quickly turned around. There Mr. Harpring stood, with his arms crossed, glaring at her. She glared back. “Would you care to explain this?” she asked. “I think it is self-explanatory,” he replied in a deep, cold voice. “You are a horrible, malicious man,” she said. “I came with the intention of informing you that not only shall I no longer attend your classes, but I shall also leave New York for Europe. As for this abomination, it only makes me that much more thankful I shall never see you

85 again.” She walked up to him and swung her hand, giving him a resounding slap across the face. He stared at her in utter astonishment but did not speak. She turned around and strode out of the room. As soon as she stepped outdoors into the sunlight, she emitted a deep sigh and felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted from her chest. Paris beckoned.

86 ARTWORK By Edward Michael Supranowicz A BOX OF LIGHT


88 BREADED FROG LEGS by Meredith Craig

The day Emma Hutchison realized she had ESP, she had dinner plans with the Druckers. She went in for a simple sinus surgery that afternoon, and when she was released from the operating room, breathing freely, she had the bewildering side effect of precognition. In the stark white room, the resident nurse in pastel scrubs touched her arm and asked how she was feeling. Emma was taken aback by a vision of the nurse hanging posters for a missing dog, who, unbeknownst to her, was safe in her apartment building’s basement. “I’m okay,” Emma said, catching her breath. “And so is Trumpet. He’s napping in your laundry room!” The nurse laughed and explained ESP was a common side effect. Yes, it was sure to wear off, nothing to be scared of, only happens when you touch someone, usually lasts about five hours, but call tomorrow if it persists. “Is your husband picking you up today?” the nurse asked. Emma shook her head. She walked home in a daze, wrapping her camel coat tight around her neck while smelling, for what felt like the first time, the stale air of the city. She wondered if another husband would have offered to pick up their wife after an operation. Probably. Her imagination conjured up a faceless man waiting patiently for her procedure to be over, (with flowers!), and insisting on ordering chicken soup and a car service to bring her straight home. Bumping into a crowd at the crosswalk, she was distracted by visions of strangers rolling through her mind like beach balls; people with lives and problems, who made a variety of choices resulting in desires, death, or disagreements.

89 At 5 pm, the buzzer rang. Emma pulled open the prewar apartment door to find the babysitter, a cheerful college student who the kids adored. The girl smiled and entered, hugging Emma. Emma froze, staring at the girl, with her mouth hanging slack, as a scene appeared of a wedding party with the girl as the blushing bride. “Congratulations,” Emma said, gripping the younger girl’s shoulders, as a jolt traveled through her body. “You’re getting married.” “Mrs. Hutchison, are you alright?” the babysitter asked. Her pretty hazel eyes grew big with concern. “Are you having a stroke?” Emma breathed through her recently extricated nostrils, taking long inhales as she had learned in her yoga studio. The babysitter walked her inside the apartment, sat her down in a settee in the living room, and ran down the hall for a glass of water. Emma focused on the Persian rug, trying to find stability in the swirling pattern. At that moment Jonathan Hutchison, whose close friends called “Than,” stuck his head into the room. “Was that the sitter?” he asked. “Are you ready to go?” Emma took in her husband’s frumpy blazer and collared shirt and momentarily forgot her immediate predicament, seizing the opportunity to rage at his inadequate choice of dinner wear. “You won’t be wearing that wrinkled mess?” Emma asked. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” Than asked his wife. The Hutchisons had been married for eight years, and in that time produced two children. They lived on a better than average income, mostly due to an inheritance that Than’s uncle willed them, giving just enough of a security blanket to handicap their joint ambitions. Emma

90 couldn’t help but remember the pre-children days as happier ones, when she used to lie in her husband’s lap and listen to jazz on Sunday mornings, instead of waking at dawn to soothe panicked cries with servings of mashed bananas or by powering on high-pitched puppets on the iPad. She missed how her husband used to plan exotic trips for the two of them to take before he had a job that required long hours on the road, making him too tired for travel. “I’ll change,” Than ducked back into the bedroom. Emma thought of her husband as a blister; thick-skinned and rubbing her the wrong way. “He has absolutely no verve,” she said to herself. A seed of contempt had been planted and over the years the feeling bloomed until it felt she had married the wrong man. The babysitter returned with the water, and Emma waved it away. She was fine now; it was just a side effect of her earlier sinus operation, she explained. By 6 pm, the Hutchisons hugged their two children goodbye, left money for the pizza, and copied the number of the superintendent onto a pad of paper in case of an emergency. Emma was in a hurry to leave her jewel-box of an apartment, which after so much time inside felt suffocating. They found their Uber outside, and looking as pressed and polished as marble statuettes, set out to meet the Druckers. The driver [about to find out he would be having a longawaited first son] brushed past Emma while opening the door and then drove confidently, but not recklessly, over the Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan. “How long has it been since we’ve seen the Druckers?” Than asked. “It seems like just yesterday we were at their wedding in Mexico, dancing to mariachi…” “That was years ago, Than,” Emma said, rolling her eyes in the dark.

91 “Time flies,” Than said, laughing. “And to think we haven’t changed a bit.” They arrived at the restaurant at 6:45 pm, with fifteen minutes to spare before the reservation. Emma stepped out of the car onto the pavement. Laughter and warm light reflected off the windows of the Spanish tapas restaurant next door, while their usual Italian bistro felt dark and meek in comparison. She wondered aloud if they might have chosen the wrong restaurant. “It’s too late to change plans now,” Than said. He steered Emma inside the restaurant towards the bar. The walls of the restaurant were stone and sconces held blinking electric torches. Years ago Emma found this charming, but now it seemed cold. The familiar bar stools were the comfortable kinds with backs, and Emma hung her beaded purse on a little hook under the bar. They both ordered Kentucky Mules and commented on the good fortune to have a drink before their friends arrived. “I’m still feeling off from the operation. Will it be alright to have a drink, do you think?” Emma asked Than. “Off?” he asked. Emma explained about the nurse and the side effects, getting more worked up the more she spoke. Than said he thought she’d be fine, otherwise, the nurse wouldn’t let her leave. “How would you know anything about it? Other husbands would have gone with their wives,” she said, raising her voice. “Should I have left the kids home alone?” Than said, offended.

92 “It was irresponsible of the nurse to let me leave on my own,” Emma said. “With the side effects.” “Then don’t drink. Want some water instead?” “No, I don’t,” Emma said. She took a large sip from the brown drink. By 7 pm, the Hutchisons finished their first cocktails and the Druckers arrived (“Lydia! Paul, over here!”). Lydia was tall and thin, with cropped blonde hair, while Paul looked like a linebacker. Both of them wore expensive wool coats layered over cashmere sweaters, so similar it was clear Lydia did the shopping. They were hard to miss, although tonight they looked simultaneously pinched and flustered by an acerbic cab ride from Harlem. “But we survived,” Paul Drucker remarked as he signaled for two more Kentucky Mules. To catch the bartender’s attention, he leaned his beefy torso across the bar like a stallion at the starting gate. “And you both look fantastic,” Emma said, as she gave an air kiss to Paul and then hugged Lydia. An electrical shock stunned her. “Oh-- you’re planning to move to Westchester!” Lydia and Paul smiled and looked at Emma with surprise. “Why yes, we went househunting in Hastings this morning,” Lydia said. “We’ve just returned.” “It’s only fifteen minutes from our current place, and we can get so much more space,” Paul said. “It’s almost a rite of passage: to dream of and simultaneously regret moving to the suburbs,” Than said, ready to philosophize.

93 “I can’t imagine that I’ll like the community much, but is an identity solely attached to a neighborhood?” Lydia looked at them for an answer, her blonde hair silver in the light. Emma was happy for her friends but felt a stab of jealousy. They were headed for a new experience, and so soon after purchasing and redecorating their Harlem apartment. “You’re so lucky,” she said. “We just need a change,” Lydia said. “We’ve been here for seven years.” “Seven-year itch!” Paul said, pushing his drink in for a toast. “We’ve been in our place for eight,” Emma said. The hostess [who will find a fourth roommate for her Bushwick sublet, a soft-spoken boy she’ll seduce a week into the occupancy] tapped Emma on the shoulder. Their table was ready, and the foursome descended the stairs into the cavernous wine cellar for dinner. The lighting was soft and generous, giving them all a youthful glow. The restaurant was overbooked with reservations so they were forced to sandwich around the end of a wide plank communal table, with the two women on the end and each man flanking the sides. They had about three inches of personal space and shifting a leg cross needed to be coordinated with all attendees. Emma berated Than in her head for not agreeing to try a new restaurant. “It’s cozy,” Lydia said doubtfully. They were finished with their first course and their second bottle of wine by 8 pm. “We all want to be the type of person to order the breaded frog legs, but which of you will actually eat them?” Emma asked, throwing down the menu. Her face was flushed. Than said, “I don’t even know what they taste like.”

94 Emma threw her husband a mean smile. “You never try anything new!” The restaurant was loud, and Emma didn’t hear Than’s response. Paul belched. “I’m game,” he said winking at Emma. The waitress [whose mother would pass away from cancer before the end of the year] hovered over Emma writing down their main course orders and retreated back into the kitchen. “Waitaminute, waitaminute, waitaminute,” Paul said. “You remember John Solder?” Emma had a vague impression of an architect or engineer that Paul worked with. Lydia leaned forward with a reckless smile. “Oh yeah, sure I do,” Than said. “Drinks good scotch.” Paul nodded. “That’s right. Well, I heard something exciting about our John Solder.” “This is really good,” Lydia licked her teeth. “He is in... what’s the term?” Paul reached through the alcohol fog. “A polymorphic relationship.” “Sister wives?” Emma asked. “No. They have a duplex, and one side can be used for both of their extramarital relationships,” Paul said. “You’re kidding,” Than gawked. “An open marriage,” Lydia said. “The French have been doing it for years.”

95 The waitress signaled for the server [who will move to Los Angeles next year to become a songwriter and win a Latin grammy] to set down the cuttlefish spaghetti, lasagna with three cheese, pork shoulder risotto, and pumpkin ravioli. No one had ordered the frog legs. While the server layered the plates upon the small space, the waitress uncorked another bottle of Chianti. Paul tasted the wine and nodded to the waitress to refill all of the glasses. He turned back to Than. Emma asked Lydia about the logistics of raising children in a polymorphic environment, while Than asked Paul about the sexual stamina one would need to withstand this living arrangement. “We’re having the exact same conversation on two different sides of the table,” Lydia said. “Why wouldn’t they just divorce?” Emma asked. “That’s the thing! That’s just it! They don’t want a divorce,” Paul said, ripping some of the bread from the basket and wiping it in the juices on his plate. “Because they still love each other,” Than said. He pulled on his beard. “They lost each other somewhere along the way.” Emma dabbed some wine that spilled on the white tablecloth. A losing battle. She looked at her husband, eyes narrowed at the particular way he was twirling his black spaghetti, neat and unrushed, against the spoon. Why couldn’t he just take a normal bite? With her opened nasal passages she could already smell the garlic on his breath. “Maybe it’s the woman’s idea. She needs more than what her husband can give her,” Emma said.

96 Lydia smiled. Her teeth were turning red from the wine. “Ding, ding, ding!” she said, meaning Emma had the right answer. “It’s not a dynamic I’d be able to handle,” Than said. Emma seethed. “You can’t even handle a mortgage,” Paul laughed, as he sawed a hunk of meat off the pork bone. Emma covered her laugh with a napkin. “There will be lots of this sort of thing in the suburbs, I suspect,” she said. “I’m not a joiner,” Lydia said, shaking her head. “I won’t even join their book clubs, never mind their key parties.” Paul reached across the table and grabbed Emma’s hand. “Don’t let that prevent you from visiting. I’m sure we can convince her.” A vision focused between Emma’s eyes: the Druckers’ new house, a three-bedroom colonial built into the hill, overlooking the river. Paul stood in the bedroom, tanned and healthylooking in a Christmas sweater and slacks. He pulled a woman in with a kiss, laughing as they tumbled onto the king-size bed. Emma recognized the woman’s blue wool dress and the awkward way she yanked down the zipper. This woman wasn’t tall like Lydia; the physique was petite. Paul pulled away to discard his wedding band on the nightstand. The woman’s face was guilt-ridden in a familiar way. It was Emma there in Westchester, disrobing in the Drucker’s bedroom. She watched herself kiss Paul, his lips parted, his eyes closed, his hands groping under her dress. He was

97 panting, and his tongue was thick and aggressive. She listened for voices and heard only holiday music, conversations, and laughter from another part of the house. The perspiration stinging her body was no match for Paul’s roving tongue which threatened to vacuum up her skin. Paul felt heavy lying on her, but her hips pressed urgently against his waist. The smell of whiskey on both Paul’s and her own breath was suffocating, and she thought for sure someone would interrupt. She couldn’t stop herself and no one else did either. But how--? And why--? Emma blinked her eyes open and a blush spread like wildfire across her face. She squeezed her sinuses to shut off the tear ducts, feeling regret for something that hadn’t happened yet. Or had the events already started in forwarding motion? She was all mixed up. “Are you okay?” Lydia asked. “I had a-- sinus surgery today,” Emma said. She turned to her husband, who went to refill her glass. “No. Than-, Oh, Than-- I think, I-- we need to go home.” Emma put her hand out towards her husband. “Is this Than’s trick to leave us with the check?” Paul asked, joking. “Shut up, Paul,” Emma said, louder than she meant. “What are you compensating for with all your bullying?” Than stood up, confused. “I’ll get the check.” “My sinuses--,” but she was helpless to explain to Paul and Lydia. Upstairs, Than ordered an Uber and Emma buttoned up her camel coat with the pearl adornments, and she remembered how surprised she was last Christmas when Than gave her the

98 box. Other memories stepped forward auditioning for a leading role in her mind: how Than took her hand under the starlit sky on a camping trip to Maine, the way he laughed goodnaturedly when the dishwasher exploded on their first night in their new apartment, or when her mother was diagnosed with MS, how he told her, “We’ll weather this storm just like all the others.” Emma took Than’s arm as they left the restaurant. The streetscape disappeared with another vision. In this one, her husband pressed their apartment buzzer, his breath misting the air. A minute later, Emma came outside with her children. Than was much leaner and wore a thin arrow of disappointment directed towards her. Regret turned to a coil of shame wrapping through her body and chilling her bones. A woman in the driver’s seat of an SUV waved, and Than and her children drove off in the car, leaving Emma on the curb, fumbling for her apartment keys. Outside the restaurant, Emma shook her head to clear the vision. A sob escaped. The tears came then, streaking the mascara down her face like skidmarks on wet pavement. Than pulled her into him and she smelled the familiar earthiness in his beard as she nuzzled against him. “Should we call the doctor?” Than asked. “Oh, Than, do we need a change? Should we move?” she asked. Than stroked his beard and said, “Possibly. But let’s leave the suburbs to the Druckers.” “Do you think our future is set in stone?” Emma asked. “I don’t think it works like that,” Than said. “It’s ours to mold.” Emma dabbed at her eyes. She held hope this was true as tightly as she held onto her husband’s hand.

99 An Uber pulled up, and to their surprise, it was the same driver they had before. They laughed in astonishment. The driver got out of the car and shook Than’s hand like they were old friends. “What a night! And to think, I just found out, I’m going to be a father!” “Unbelievable,” Than said to Emma: “You see, you never know what will happen.” “Going home already?” the driver asked. It was 9 pm and as the side effects of the surgery medication were wearing off, Emma’s thoughts were becoming more clear. “Yes,” she said. “Turns out, it’s where I wanted to be all along.”


The curtains in room 136 cover the windows as the blanket on my back covers my night dreams. They seem to get more and more intricate as I have to wake up earlier than the day before. The deep phthalo blue makes the room feel heavy when the 7 am alarm rings, and the fact that I’m sharing it with 3 other people doesn’t help.

My mom went to the local haberdashery, ran her fingers over dozens of fabrics, and chose this one herself. She searched through the shop to find something that fulfills the 2 conditions I demanded: be cheap & keep the sun away. So she brought home these 4 square meters of Pepsican-blue textile web, ready to pass it on to the seamstress she’s loyal to. She’s familiar with our vampire tendencies, as she’s been the one transforming uneven fabric shapes into living-room rod-pocket curtains, bedroom eyelet curtains, general use wave curtains. She’s well aware of our sun intake, and how our house plan looks like in terms of natural light. How little we like to see the sun in our sleeping rooms, and how we tease it with a see-through drapery in the living room.

I need thick curtains because I sleep less. So every moment that can be spent with my eyes in the dark is a victorious one. But others take pride in sleeping less. Others wake up early in the morning and demand the curtains be opened wide, let the sun come in, the breeze refresh the room, and the day start. The others that live in my room have alarms earlier than mine, that fail in waking them up, but succeed in starting concerts in my dreams, forcing me in a half-awake state that seems more tiresome than being fully awake.

The first thing I see when I fight to open my heavy eyes are the curtains. The room is so small that there’s no way you’d miss them, no matter where you’d be looking. They seem to be wet, dripping in a thick liquid, spilling over the floor, waving in fluctuating forms towards my bed. The sun pierces through spots where the weaving machine failed to deliver to its standards, and I’m so pissed my face wrinkles into crying.

Someone yawns loudly as if this is a movie intro and I know I have to prepare for impact. I close my eyes tight, pull the duvet over my head, curl into a ball and wait for the sun to hit me with full force. It’s a very tiresome game I play with the curtains, and they win this round. It’s time to switch roles.


Cephalo Press, 2021. 101 Pages. €9.99 Reviewed by Alex Gurtis

In Lannie Stabile’s latest poetry collection Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dog Zeus, lovers of Greek mythology will recognize the recurring character of Zeus but maybe not the perspective in which he appears. Stabile’s latest poetry collection sets out to question how society perpetuates toxic behaviors while refusing to hold men accountable for their actions. This isn’t good dad Zeus of Disney's Hercules who is happily married to Hera (the audacity) that all 90’s kids fondly remember. Zeus of mythology is a sexual predator.

“Zeus Was Called Daddy” reminds readers that this Zeus raped 18 other gods and “those were just the deities.” Stabile hammers home this is a god that should make readers question why society has pedestals that continually hoist monsters up for all to worship throughout the collection. This obvious portrayal feels fresh and insightful in the face of what has become the normal interpretation of these deities. In recounting the personal cost of this trauma in poems like “Depression Wakes Me Up in the Morning” that hammer “today/ I will not survive/ with my knees/ between my teeth”, Stabile reminds us that our propensity for hero worship comes with a physical and emotional cost.


In one of the collection’s most powerful pieces, Stabile delivers the speaker’s own experience being assaulted. The piece, “The Effects of Lightning on the Human Body,” is a standout hermit crab poem that substitutes the word “lightning” for “rape,” and utilizes impactful, vivid imagery that sticks around long after setting the book down.

“Like a gunshot, it causes both exit & entrance wound,

marking the victim. White-hot substances

burn. Clothing shredded, shoes & socks thrown off.

Many survivors do not remember being struck.

The only evidence is burnt, displaced clothing

& marks along the body. ….. All of which last decades after the initial strike.”

“God Help Us, Another Douchebag Has Named His Dog Zeus” slyly critiques the lies society perpetuates. Phrased like “Dogs will be dogs” could easily be substituted for boys will boys and followed by an easy leap into lines still heard spoken by a grandparent to their grandkids or even an older parent brushing off their teen’s concern over an unwanted sexual advance.

103 While the only solutions Stabile offers is in what if’s and pointed remarks throughout her poetry, the impact levied on her work demands accountability. This verbal unwillingness to confront trauma displays why “full-grown mutt / who rejects commands like wait and no.” still exist and damage trust in society today. In challenging “the boys will be boys narrative,” Stabile reminds readers that men grow up in a milieu of complacency that supports such behavior.

“A God is Not a Good Man” echoes this thread with “if the woman cannot sense the beast/in the gentle animal/ the beast will borrow himself/into the gentlewoman'' showing that trust issues are warranted when societal contracts allow men to revert to bestial instincts at the drop of a dime. Stabile makes readers question what if parents would take their kids aside or be willing to put their foot down at the onset of such behavior unanswered instead of downplaying red flags. “Ready to strike,” men, whether they are gods, tv personalities, athletes or even your average joe “will do this to prove this goldiness/ the reaving of an innocent” and more often than not suffer no consequences or ostracization when they assault someone. Yet, in the questions “Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus” asks readers to answer, men are held accountable, something might signal the end of rape culture’s perpetuation.

Unaccountability and the trauma it leaves in its wake that the speaker inevitably flows back to time and time again, asking if “Every day am I misrepresenting myself: am I the apple, the serpent or the whole damn rib cage?” The speaker often returns to the idea that they are “honestly rubble at this point” and wondering “what is about her body that calls to all the winds.” Men plunder fields as they please, never questioning, while the women they harm face a trauma that seems to haunt the clouds like thunder stalking a clear blue sky. Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dog Zeus is a feminist collection that feels timeless as it challenges Greek mythology, sexual assault, and how society’s obsession with power and celebrity passes these learned behaviors on to next generation.

104 COLD COMFORT by Peggy Hammond

Ingredients: 2 – 3 years of graduate school dash of persistence handful of humor 5 generous bunches of patience, shredded pinch of disbelief active shooter drills, several Preheat blood pressure. Steps: Season years of graduate school with persistence and humor; stir until nicely blended and degree in hand. Find job as teacher. Note: full-time may be hard to locate; substitute part-time as necessary. Discuss plagiarism, documentation, poetry, short stories, semicolons, apostrophes, commas. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. In a steady stream, add in patience, making sure it is evenly distributed. After years pass, gently fold pinch of disbelief into mixture. Incorporate active shooter drills into classroom routine. Texture will not be smooth. Do not startle when the warning bell screams in the hallway. Immediately halt discussion of Araby; using a calm voice, instruct students to stay low and huddle in the back left corner. Quickly lock the door. Join students in corner; crouch in front of them, keeping your body between them and door. Remind students this is only a drill. Meet their eyes.


Repeat reminder: it’s just a drill. Do not allow fear to boil over. Stop images of Virginia Tech, UNC-Charlotte, Northern Arizona University. Stop images of your husband safe at home. Now right now meet their eyes.

106 AN INTERVIEW WITH SHELLEY VALDEZ Back in February 2021, Poetry Editor Asela Lee Kemper sat down with poet Shelley Valdez on writing poems through poetry slam, love, and just being a total badass.

Asela L. Kemper (ALK): Tell me a little bit about yourself! How did you get into poetry?

Shelley Valdez (SV): Well, I guess I’ve been telling stories since I was a little kid. I didn’t know that I wanted to write poetry. When I was a little kid, my hero was Britney Spears. It was very silly. (Laughs) And then in the fourth grade, we had to write little books and my teacher was like, “Hey Shelley, you should be a writer! Did you ever think about that?” So from the fourth grade, I was like, “Oh! Well! I guess this is something I like. This is something I want to do.” I’m still in touch with that fourth grade teacher. Her husband is Gene Yang [writer and graphic novelist of critically acclaimed graphic novel, American Born Chinese and Avatar: The Last Airbender comic books]. He is super cool! He worked at my high school and the reason why I went to my high school was because of my fourth grade teacher. She said, “My husband works there! You know who he is. You should go!”

It was high school was when I really started writing poetry. I was part of the poetry club, it was called “Es Esoterikos” They made little zines, had little poetry readings, or little days where you sit in little rooms and write poetry. That was when I really knew that this was something I wanted to do. I would carry a little notebook around and write little poems in them. I didn’t think I would want to do it forever, but it was something I really cared about. And then my junior year, I had to become the head of that poetry club because the head of the club graduated and was like, “You can do it! See ya!” I was like, “Well! I guess I will!”

And that’s what I did. It was a lot of fun. Around that time, I discovered this publishing house called, Write Bloody Publishing. Before then, I had been writing a lot of rhyming poetry because

107 I’d been reading sonnets and Shakespeare, whatever! I was like, “That’s what poetry is supposed to do!” But then I discovered this publishing house because I had gotten a Kindle and I could buy books of poetry. So I discovered other kinds of poetry, not poetry just have to rhyme and that you could do all sorts of things. To this day, Write Bloody Publishing is the place I dream of being published by because they publish spoken word poets— not always spoken word poets because I feel like there are poems that are meant to be on stage and poems are meant to be on the page and poems that could be both. I think they try to look for poets that do both. They have been my guiding lights for a long time, especially when I was kind of a depressed and suicidal high schooler. I feel like that was really the thing that… I don’t want to say that it saved my life because that’s really cheesy, you know? I mean, I tell that to any of those Write Bloody poets when I meet them because I met couple of them at AWP. Sometimes they will tour and I will make sure to go see them then say, “Hey, you saved my life” because I feel like poets need to hear it. Fiction authors can get it in their head, “Of course, my novel was great!” But poets, kind of, don’t get that as much. I’ve met more stuck-up fiction writers than stuck-up poets who are real poets. They don’t get enough appreciation! They often don’t realize that people walk around with their words in their head. You can never know just how many people still think about that one line you wrote that got posted on Tumblr or that they read it somewhere or that they saw you perform somewhere. So I always try to give poets some extra love because they need to hear it, I think, more than all the other writers. Maybe I’m a little biased but…

ALK: You’re speaking so much truth. You’re right! Poets, we don’t really hear [compliments] a lot. I hear stories of friends who say to the other poets like, “Oh my god, you’re amazing!” And they just start shriveling into this shell going, “Really?!” I totally understand that! And what’s so interesting from hearing your story is you were so encouraged at a young age from your teacher in fourth grade! You mentioned that you didn’t start writing poetry. What transitioned from what you originally started writing [fiction] to where you are right now?

SV: I think, eventually, I still want to write fiction. I started out writing stories, but I think it’s really gratifying to write a poem and then have something finished. I’ve worked on some poems for years, but if you can do that for a poem, could you imagine how you can do that for a novel or even a short story? I feel like there is something really gratifying about being able to finish something.

I liked poetry a lot in high school, but I think college is when I really decided that I was going to do it forever. Part of it was because I had really good professors and I got to take poetry classes and realized, “Oh, I can do this!” I’m getting really good feedback and I can grow. But I also eventually became the poetry editor of Santa Clara Review, which is where I went to college. I think being the poetry editor really put me in a place where I was reading a lot of poetry constantly and then also writing constantly and then meeting a lot of really good writers. We get to go to conferences like AWP and it was like a big dream! I got to sit at a booth and say, “Here!

108 Buy our magazine!” And also meet all these writers I never thought that I would get to meet or maybe wasn’t prepared to meet. I met Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye! They were so sweet! I think working for the Santa Clara Review made a big difference.

The poetry scene in Santa Clara and also in the South Bay and Sane Jose was a really big influence on me. There is a poet named Mike McGee, he goes by the name Mighty Mike McGee. He was the Santa Clara County Poet Laureate for a couple years before the current Poet Laureate who is a Filipina American which is super cool! Mike McGee was really influential for me because he was everyone’s beloved bearded uncle. If you were in the art scene in San Jose, you would know him! He fostered community and was always very kind and very generous. He is still dedicated to creating space for artists of all kinds especially poets and musicians. One of the poets was the editor-in-chief of the Santa Clara Review before I joined the team. He met Mike McGee at one of the art crawls in San Jose and he invited him to host our our poetry slams. I think it was just going to be a one time thing, but then eventually, I think, either the English department or the Santa Clara Review magazine would pay him to host those events. He would come in and host poetry slams. I would sometimes help organize the event. My friend was the one who really run it, but I would perform and make the flyers every time. I would doodle an octopus with a microphone or something. He would invite us to other open mics in the city and sometimes in coffee shops. The open mic that was really informative for me was called The Burning Tail. It was in this coffee shop that was also an art gallery. It was closed at the nights most of the time, but if The Burning Tail was happening, I think it happened once a month and it was open at night, musicians, poets, and comedians would perform. I remember I was a sophomore and I had a broken heart. I was afraid to go by myself and I didn’t have a car, so I Uber-ed there by myself. I didn’t even have a poem prepared! I just have this story of being harassed at work— I used to work at a book shop. I don’t know if you ever experienced this, but I really hate when white men will flirt with you but will flirt with you on your race! So I told this story off the top of my head of that experience I had with this random middle-aged white man bothering me at my job and how it felt. Honestly, I don’t think I did that great that first time, but I was so welcomed and embraced. I was like 18 or 19? And all these great poets, comedians, all these artists were like, “Come again! Keep coming! We love you! That was great! Do it again!”

So I did! Over the course of my college career, I had a space that was safe but also challenged me to bring my best work. There would be other really great artists and I would want to live up to that. I would want to live up to being one of The Burning Tail artists. The Burning Tail doesn’t happen anymore, for now, because the coffee shop did end up having to close. It was really sad, but they [all of the artists] had like a funeral reception for it and had a big swung, swung party where everyone gave their final performances. I did one about the end of the earth and it was really sweet. I miss it very much, but I think that it was exactly the kind of space I needed. I’m still interested in poetry slams, but in order to cultivate your work, it’s important, as a performer, to go beyond wanting to perform for a score. I think in poetry slams, because you’re performing for a score, that kind of is overwhelming and that hinder you also. I recently learned

109 this from another poet named Jeremy Rayden. I just got out of a workshop with Derek Brown, who is the head of Write Bloody Publishing. He [Brown] had Jeremey Rayden come in as a guest and he said, “Your job as a poet if you’re going to perform your poem isn’ to obey the conventions of poetry performances and it isn’t to perform for a score. It’s to communicate what you have to say in the best way you can. In the way that YOU can do it and in a way that is most appropriate for the poem.” So if your poem is about a secret or a secret moment, it’s okay if you lean into the microphone and whisper the poem to us as if you’re telling a secret. Or if you’re speaking about joy, the way you speak about joy would be the way you would perform the poem. If you’re telling a story, it’s okay to tell the story like you’re in a barn in Philadelphia, smoking cigarettes. You do the thing the way that you can do the thing and in the way that is most appropriate for the work that you did. I think that’s not always possible at a slam because that’s not the priority. But my favorite kind of performances when that IS the priority! And you are in a room with people who appreciate art and you do your best.

ALK: Hearing your story makes me miss performing in poetry slams! When I heard you read your poems at the Chopsticks Alley Pinoy Art Gallery, it was amazing! It just resonates and hits you in the heart, you know? It’s so honest. You’re not afraid to be honest and that’s what I appreciate about your work. I even read your poems and I actually have my favorites— I read one from Santa Clara Review! It takes my breath away. I also found out that your poem was featured in, which so—you’re such a badass!

SV: Oh, thank you! (Laughs)

ALK: There is one poem, ENGKANTO. I want you to talk more about that poem as well as Love and Other Fire Hazards because that poem seems like…there is a certain style that, I don’t say this a lot, only certain writers can pull off and I feel like you were able to pull off because there were so many breaks in those styles that it needs those pauses to be there to let it sink in. I have a follow-up question which is, for those who are poets and are still searching for their style or their voices, how did you, in your experience, able to find a style or a way to write your poems that says, “This is who I am”?

SV: For ENGKANTO, I wanted to retell one of my favorite Filipino fairytales. So that was the premise for the poem. And the structure is called a pecha kucha. I don’t know if he invented it, but the first time I saw a pecha kucha was from this poet called Terrence Hayes. He has a book called, Lighthead that I read in, I think, one of my first poetry classes in college. I think a pecha kucha is a presentation style that was created in Japan, where they have 30 powerpoint slides and you have 30 seconds to talk about each one. It’s supposed to be like a quick presentation and so he was so inspired by that and turned it into a poem format. It might be 30 or 20… I don’t remember, but that was what he did in couple of his poems. If you look up “Terrance Hayes a

110 pecha kucha,” you can find one of his poems. That was the format that inspired me to write ENGKANTO because I wanted to retell the fairytale. But I didn’t know if I wanted to just write as a short story. I wanted to turn it into a poem and the format give me that because I can write sections of the story into sections of the poem that each had their own little title. That’s how I did that! The poem is based on the fairytale of how the banana tree came about in the Philippines — supposedly. I remember, I think it was in the 5th grade, where we had to find some sort of folklore that was related to our culture. I live in California, I live in the East Bay— I guess now I live in the South Bay but I went to a little Catholic school and there were a lot of Filipino children. I was very lucky in that way, I guess. A lot of us looked up Filipino fairytales and my favorite one was about the story of the banana tree. It was about a human girl falling in love with an Engkanto, a forest spirit. They fall in love and before he dies, he either gives her his heart or his hands. There were multiple versions but that’s what he does. And so she plants either his heart or his hands and that turns into the banana tree. […] Supposedly, that’s the origin of the banana tree. That’s whole point of the fairytale. They had this lovely love story and before he dies, he gave her an essential part of himself. She buried it and it turned into a tree, a tree that is now very beloved and we all benefit from. We all have eaten a banana in our lives. (Giggles)

I wrote that poem to retell the fairytale and also to feel closer to my culture.

I think I sometimes worry about how easy it is for people of color to get pigeonholed into like “ethnic” poetry or “ethnic” fiction, you know what I mean? But then other nondenominational art gets to be considered as high art. I think about how many writers have been sidelined because of that. Or how we only have small number of, I don’t want to call it ethnic literature but, literature written by people of color. When we think of the great writers, how many are them are people of color. I dream is to bridge the gap, I guess. I want you all to know that I’m a queer Filipino American writer but I’m also a WRITER. Consider me for both! I am both!

ALK: I totally understand that, which actually transition to this next question: as someone who is Filipina in the literary world where Filipinx and Filipinx American representation is very difficult to find, how do you navigate yourself as a writer of color?

SV: I guess, in some ways, I feel like… the journey is just the beginning. I’m sure going to find a lot more difficulty, but I haven’t had to deal too much prejudice. But I got lucky that I was kind of a big fish in a small pond at Santa Clara and also in high school. Every time you have to forge a path in another space, you have to start all over again. In high school, I knew everyone and then in college I have to re-know everyone. I have to keep re-inventing myself or reasserting myself. I think, I don’t know, the way I navigate is to just be myself. If I experience difficulty, it

111 doesn’t really change my goal and it doesn’t really change who I am. Obviously, I’ve experienced racism. But I don’t think it’s been like a huge part of my experience as a writer. Maybe I’m just lucky in that way. I’m sure that it’s out there and maybe I just don’t know about people being weird about things. I think that my mission is to be myself in the best way I can be. Write my truth in the best way I can and I think if I do that, that’s inevitably both a reflection of a universal human experience but also my specific human experience and also the experience of being queer and experience of being a Filipino American. It is very specific! Like if someone were to say, “go back to where you came from,” where I came from is fucking California. And if I went to the Philippines, and I have been to the Philippines, they can smell America on you. It’s not like you could ever really simulate back there. You’ll always be in between. It’s a beautiful place but also a painful place. I will never be Filipino enough in the Philippines because I’m American and I’ll never be American enough because I’m not white. It’s a touchy subject but it’s also the truth. It is a constant in-between space. There is always going to be parts of myself that rub against each other and bleed, irrevocable parts. I can’t stop being Catholic or Filipino or queer, but all of those things are interconnected. And they don’t like each other, but I have to carry it around with me! It was a lot worse in high school and the crisis is never averted, it just changes. I also change and I also grow. I find different ways of carrying those pains and parts of my identity with me. Luckily, writing is a way I can do that. I guess that’s how I navigate my Filipino American woman identity! I live it, I write about it, and I try to be my most authentic self in my writing.

Also as I meet people, as I interact with other writers, I think that’s the most important thing. I guess that also answers your question about developing your voice. I think, really, read a lot and write a lot. And you experiment. I think it’s a good place to start, to be inspired by writers that you like. I like Terrance Hayes, so I wrote a poem and was inspired by his poem format. It was still my poem, but it was a good place to start. Eventually, it became also mine. Not just me copying him. I like certain cadences of some poets. I think, overall, we’re all of course special and unique but we’re also all amalgamations of everything we ever loved and everything we’ve ever encountered and consumed. I feel that way about all of the poetry I’ve read and I also feel that way about fucking Sailor Moon, you know! I feel like the media I loved as a kid raised me just as much as my parents did. That might be a cheesy thing to say, but I remember watching Dragon Ball when I was 5 or 6. Goku has this little cloud that he rides on, but only the pure-ofheart can ride on the cloud. I remember being a kid and being like, “I wanna to be pure-of-heart, so then I can ride on the cloud!” That part of me that wants to be worthy of the cloud has not gone away. My mom and Catholicism maybe influenced that, but also fucking Goku?!

Those are all irrevocable and important. They live in myself and they’ll also live in my writing.

You also asked about the poem Love and Other Fire Hazards? My friends and I had a running joke that was “love is a scam until you’re in it.” And then I was in it. (Laughs)

112 I’m pansexual and I like people regardless of gender. That was very hard to find out in high school when my first love was a girl and one of my best friends. It was weird because I fought so hard to be like “this is me.” I had to come to terms with that, I guess. But the three times where I’ve been really in love was once with a girl, once with a non-binary person, and once with a boy. So I’m like, “Well, at least I still collected the whole set.” (Laughs) But yeah, that poem was about him and coming to terms with finally having the really good love that I longed for.

Do you know the song “Nobody” by Mitski?

ALK: Uh, I know “No One” by Alicia Keys.

SV: Well, that’s also a really good song! But I recommend you listen to Mitski because she really, fully knows that Asian American woman experience and she’s like, “Guess what? I’m going to scream about it and you’re gonna cry!” (Laughs)

But I was so deeply lonely. I was just so convinced that I was always going to be the kind of person who would be the one giving love forever and not receiving it. Or I would end up being the one who loved more. That’s what I thought would happen. I had been in love, at that time twice before the third big time. I think, part of it, was I wanted love immensely because, you know everyone wants love. Romantic or otherwise, everyone wants to be loved, to be known, and to have a companion. Life is hard! We need companions! We’ve evolved this far and, I don’t know, I guess humans are the apex predators but we got here because we have fucking friends! Because we had family! We made connections that last long term. I don’t think they were meant to be truly alone. But I was in a place where, no matter how much I wanted and no matter how much I maybe please God I deserve it, it still might not happen. I had gone to the point where I was going to make peace with this. And my grandma died and she was the person I loved the most in the world. I personally think Filipinos love their grandparents. I feel like, I don’t know maybe I’m biased but, I love the shit out of my grandparents and it wasn’t just me. It was we all really love them. I feel like in other cultures or other families maybe grandparents are more of distant figures. It’s not always an immense, intense relationship because maybe you don’t see them that often or they live in another state or another country. For us, my mom was the youngest of eight and I had a lot of cousins, a lot of aunts and uncles, and very, very loving grandparents and I was very well loved. When she [her grandma] died, I lost the person I loved the most. I was too distracted by this grief to worry about being so romantically alone. And then in the amidst of that grief, I met my person. It was very strange! I mean obviously of course I wish I could have both of them but, it was like God made a little exchange, “I know now that the person you love the most can’t be on the same, plain of existence as you, but… here’s this!”

113 And so… yeah! I got to have that and I still have that! I think I’m… I don’t know how to exist without being overwhelmed and I feel things really deeply. I’m always afraid of being a burden on someone. I feel like sometimes it’s easy to only let people see the magical part of me, especially as a poet. It’s like I’ll show up and I’ll be super nice. I’ll read you or perform this poem and you’re like, “wow! What a magical human!” I get too afraid to let you get close enough to see that I also hurt deeply. Like I’m afraid to ask for help sometimes. Part of it is just what happens when you ask for help from the wrong person and that’s not your fault and not even their fault, really. If someone doesn’t have the emotional capacity to hold you in a way that you need to, you can’t fully blame them but you also can’t blame yourself. You have to forgive every party because it’s no one’s fault but the pain of the experience still exists, it still follows you around. You’re still like, “can I ask anyone for help? Can I open up to anyone even if I wanted to so bad? Can I have this real, nourishing intimacy that I want to give and receive?”

And when I had it, I panicked a little. I was like, “Are you sure? I’m fire hazard! Are you fucking sure?” But it’s been four year, so I guess he was sure. (Laughs) So that was what the poem was about. It was acknowledging the worthiness for love. Acknowledging that it had arrived and that I am still all of the things. Sometimes I am still scared of all of the things that I am, but also what’s happening is real. I guess it’s not supposed to be a poem about eternal love, but it’s just about accepting that I am worthy of love and there’s this person who does loves me despite… I don’t know I’m a scream on legs.

ALK: Reading that and ENGKANTO, there is a growth in your poems. There is this level of growth just… your views on love, even through your inktober— I was scrolling through your Instagram— there’s so much emotion towards love. It’s so upfront and there is so much going on but in the most beautiful way. That’s what I love about your work. It’s not only honest, but it’s emotional to talk about love. Listening to your story, it just makes me feel proud to be a poet.



SV: (Laughs)

ALK: I know you touched on this earlier but what advice do you have for folks who are interested in getting into poetry or just want to start performing in slams?

114 SV: Well, I think before going to slams, I really recommend going to open mics. The pressure is way off because you’re not getting a score and it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about sharing. I think that’s a perfect place for you to cultivate who you are as a performer. I would say find a community that feels safe and welcoming but also has other writers that you respect. Try to get into that scene. Most likely they’re going to be kind. Maybe I definitely got lucky, but definitely open mics are a really good place even with just your friends. But I think what’s important is surrounding yourself with people who are welcoming but also good writers. You need both. And then naturally, if you do get into slams, getting into open mics first will lead you there eventually. I think another thing would be attending slams, attending really good slams. Don’t jump in right away because it can be intimidating. And as I said, read a lot. Write a lot. Don’t be afraid to suck. Suck first and then go back and work on it! I also think it’s really important to finish things. I definitely have to take this advice myself. I’ve had drafts of poems, what I do is have a draft of a poem and sometimes I’m too afraid to delete stuff forever. So what I’ll do is I’ll copy the poem and then I’ll have a page break and go one page above that draft. So, at the bottom is draft one and then at the top of the document is draft ten. It slowly building on each other so I don’t lose anything and then I can go back be like, “Oh that sucked. I’m glad that I cut it out.” Or I can go back and be like, “Why did I cut that out? Good thing I saved it in this here document so I can bring it back.” Have as many drafts as you want, but also try and finish things. I think having a goal of finishing it is the most productive way to get your writing where it needs to be. Finish it but be willing to take good feedback and be willing to go back on it. For me, I feel like a poem is fully finished finished if it got published somewhere. Or if I’m gonna put it in, one day, my debut collection when it’s in there that’s the version. For me, I can get stuck just in the draft of the poem and it is fully, truly draft because there are all these places where I’m like something needs to be here but I don’t know what it is. Or if it doesn’t have an ending. Sometimes, I’ll have the title of the poem. I feel like I got the reverse curse because some people will write a poem and not know what to call it. But for me, often, I get a title of the poem and then I’m like, “Well… what’s it about?” Some people don’t know how to end it. I also struggle with endings but sometimes I’ll have the last line and I’m like, “Well how do I get here? How do I make this make sense?”

I think it’s good to get all sorts of encouragement. Obviously, your mom who isn’t a writer is gonna be like, “Wow, good job.” And sometimes you need someone to fucking tell you, “Wow, good job!” The process of writing can be really lonely, but you also need someone to say, “Hey, you don’t need this line.” You need someone to check you a little when you need to learn how to take it. Obviously, some people just write for themselves and that’s also valid and important and sacred. But if you want to write in a way where you want a lot of people to read it or a lot of other people to interact with your poem, then you have to finish things or at least working drafts of things. And then get eyes on it! Get trusted eyes on it. That’s one thing I missed from college that I can easily access trusted professors and I can be like, “Hey! What do you think of this poem?” And I knew that they wouldn’t be afraid to be like, “…work on it!” Also if they told me that it’s good, I trust it. You need that balance of trusted validation and trusted criticism. Slowly, I think, in that process you’ll develop knowing when to agree and disagree with the feedback. I

115 think that the question you need to ask yourself is did you do this on purpose? Because that’s what really sets really good artists above, I guess. That’s what really determines really good artists if they did something on purpose, if their choices were deliberate. If someone said “Hey, I don’t get this. Maybe you should cut it” but you know that’s actually the red hot center of the poem like you know this is what the poem is about, you don’t have to cut it but you have to make it better than. You have to make it more apparent that that’s the beating heart of the poem. That’s something you develop. You develop your own judgement and as you develop your own judgement you also develop your own voice. In the knowing of yourself, in the knowing of your writing.

ALK: What is next for you?

SV: After doing the workshop with Derek Brown who works for Writing Bloody, I was able to get a lot of that trusted criticism and trusted feedback. Talking to my partner also opened my eyes to realizing what I want to do next is maybe work on a manuscript and trying to get that published. I think, especially because I was living in my parents’ place for a while, I recently moved out and so all my time is mine. I wad able to start really putting more time into my art and into my writing. I was able to take a workshop and not be worried about showing at dinner on time with my mom or worrying about if she was lonely because I didn’t pray with her. My goal, at first, is to write poems and to get published in magazines. But I feel like if I really want to be in a place where I want to be, I have to have a book. So that’s what I want to do. I’m really beginning to work on that, going through my poems and seeing what I want in it. Looking through my half-finished poems—there are a lot of them—but now having motivation to try and finish them, trying to keep in touch with some of the cool people I met in my workshop. So then I could have those trusted eyes. So! Working on a manuscript and I realize if my mindset is write the fucking book, eventually I will have my other goal of having poems I can submit out to publications. So, it’s two bird one stone! But a bigger dream will get fulfilled in the end other than just having my poems in places even though I want to. I don’t want to only submit to magazines. I want to have my own book. Hopefully, I will submit that out to places [small presses] and we’ll see where the dream takes me!

ALK: I totally believe in you!

SV: I’m gonna work on it! So that’s the next step is to give it love and work and valuable time. I don’t know how long it will take, but that’s the next part of the dream that needs to happen.

116 ALK: Once you get that published, the manuscript, definitely let us know especially me. (Laughs) I’m going to close the interview with one more question and it is where can readers find you and support you?

SV: So far, I just have my art Instagram (@fire.hazards). That’s what I’ve got! One of these days I will put together a website that will have, hopefully, links to all the places where you can read my poems. Until then, I’ve got my art Instagram, I’ve got a poem published by Quiet Lightening, and I got a couple published by the Santa Clara Review. But that’s it for now!

Check out Shelley Valdez’s poems mentioned here including Love and Other Fire Hazards and ENGKANTO. Follow Shelley on Instagram for more of her art!

117 SNUG by Adele Evershed

Snug / the warmth coming from the open oven / but even in the refuge of words / lurking violence / snug backward / g-u-n-s / so I speak the letter names / and the word deconstructs/ I will make my own words/ kafkamorph/ become a hawk moth / reddish brown body, fast, acrobatic / flitting backward over the long lines / trap-lining / coming back to the same ghost orchid / uncurling my tongue / drinking from a can of Pepsi with an overlong straw / and the sticky pools are just soda puddles / sparkling in the dying sunlight / I’ll swarm across the Channel / a lucky charm / wings effecting a haze in an English country garden / a possible imposter / mistaken for a humming bird / reminding them about the small things in life / like eating each day / and being safe and warm and / snug.

118 EATING LESSON by MJ Malleck It’s noon, I’m hungry and we’re an hour from home. The car window is down, and this strip mall, where the therapists’ office is hidden, smells great. Shawarma, curry, burgers. There’s all-day eggs and bacon. My daughter raps the passenger window, and I quickly unlock, embarrassed that she walked past, and I didn’t see it was her. Didn’t want to recognize the angled cheekbones and bony wrists. “Can we grab something for the drive?” I ask. “What?” Her head is shaking, her face to her phone. “No, wait. I don’t know any of these places.” “Let’s just try one. They all seem busy. The locals know them.” “Wait.” Google maps, full of red flags. She scrolls, reads. I close the window. “I don’t need a review for take-out.” My hangry voice. She looks over at me, pinpricks of red on her pale cheeks. Points. “That place thinks all lives matter.” Points. “That place steals tips from their employees.” Points. “That place had two health violations this year.” “Rats,” I say.


Vanessa Hu (she/her) is an avid latte-sipper, occasional ballroom dancer, and serendipitous writer. She has been published in Doublespeak Translation Magazine and The Wave Asian Arts Magazine, with work forthcoming in Corporeal and Bullshit Lit. She studies Computer Science and English at Harvard University, and you can find her ruminations on Twitter @vanessahwrites.

Tiel Aisha Ansari is a Sufi warrior poet. Her work has been featured by Fault Lines Poetry, Windfall, KBOO and an Everyman’s Library anthology, among others. Her collections include Knocking from Inside, High-Voltage Lines, Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare’s Stable, The Day of My First Driving Lesson, and Dervish Lions (forthcoming from Fernwood Books). She works as a data analyst for the Portland Public School district and is president emerita of the Oregon Poetry Association. She hosts the Wider Window Poetry show on KBOO Community Radio, Visit her online at Yue Chen studies politics, economics, and literature. She is an editor at Sine Theta Magazine. Her work has been recognized by the Academy of American Poets and Bridport Arts Centre, among others. Her Twitter is @togekisskiss.

Martin Breul currently lives and writes in Montréal. His works of poetry and flash fiction have appeared in print and online in Wet Grain, The Wild Word, The Riverbed Review, Speculative Books, The Honest Ulsterman, and others. In 2021 he received the Mona Elaine Adilman Poetry Prize at McGill University. He Tweets @BreulMartin.

Alex Carrigan (@carriganak) is an editor, writer, and critic from Virginia. He has had fiction, poetry, and literary reviews published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Empty Mirror, Gertrude Press, Quarterly West, Whale Road Review, 'Stories About Penises' (Guts Publishing, 2019), 'Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear' (Et Alia Press, 2020), 'ImageOutWrite Vol. 9,' and 'Last Day, First Day Vol. 2.' He is also the co-editor of Please Welcome to the Stage...: A Drag Literary Anthology with House of Lobsters Literary.

Adele Evershed is an early years educator and writer. She was born in Wales and has lived in Hong Kong and Singapore before settling in Connecticut. Her prose and poetry has been published in a number of online and print journals such as Every Day Fiction, Free Flash Fiction, LEON Literary Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, High Shelf, Hole In The Head Review, Monday Night Lit, Eclectica Magazine, Tofu Ink Arts Press, Wales Haiku Journal, Shot Glass

120 Journal, Sad Girls Club and Green Ink Poetry among others. Adele has recently been shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize for poetry and the Staunch Prize for flash fiction, an international award for thrillers without violence to women. Visit her website

Peggy Hammond’s recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Pangyrus, The Comstock Review, Waterwheel Review, San Pedro River Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, For Women Who Roar, Fragmented Voices, Eunoia Review, Scissortail Quarterly, The Sandy River Review, Moonstone Arts Center’s anthology Protest 2021, Dear Reader, Burningword Literary Journal, Boats Against The Current, and elsewhere. A Best of the Net nominee, her chapbook The Fifth House Tilts is due out fall 2022 from Kelsay Books. Her full-length play A Little Bit of Destiny was produced by OdysseyStage Theatre in Durham, NC. Find her on Twitter at @PHammondPoetry. Abby Kloppenburg is the only writer living in New York. Her work has been featured in Human Parts, Bodega Fiction and Words Dance, among others.

Christian Ward is a UK-based writer who can be recently found in Stone Poetry Journal, Discretionary Love and Red Ogre Review. Future poems will be appearing in Dreich, Uppagus and BlueHouse Journal.

Eric Abalajon is currently a lecturer at the University of the Philippines Visayas, Iloilo. Some of his works have appeared or are forthcoming in Revolt Magazine, Loch Raven Review, Ani, Katitikan, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, The Tiger Moth Review, and elsewhere. Under the pen name Jacob Laneria, his chapbook of short fiction Mga Migranteng Sandali (Kasingkasing Press, 2020) was included in CNN Philippines’ best Filipino books of 2020. He lives near Iloilo City.

Susan E. Wigget (she/her) has an MS in Writing from Portland State University and a BA in Creative Writing. Her travel memoir Every Day is Magical: A Buddhist Pilgrimage in India and Nepal, her novel Skeleton from the Closet, and her fantasy series Rowanwick Witches are available on Her novella Witch’s Familiar is in the Wormhole Electric Anthology. Aphelion Webzine and published a couple of her stories. You can find her on Twitter @sewiget or on Medium at

Zachary Shiffman (he/him) is a fiction writer from New Jersey. He is currently studying Creative Writing at Susquehanna University and has been published in the undergraduate literary magazines RiverCraft and Catfish Creek. You can find him on Twitter at @zack_shiffman.

121 Alan Brickman, when not writing, consults to nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and program evaluation. Raised in New York, educated in Massachusetts, he now lives in New Orleans with his 17-year old border collie Jasper, and neither of them can imagine living anywhere else. Alan's fiction will appear in The Ekphrastic Review (November 2021), Literary Heist (December 2021), JONAH Magazine (January 2022), Oracle (spring 2022), SPANK the CARP (April 2022), and The Evening Street Press (summer 2022). He can be reached at

Meredith Craig (she/her) is a writer based in Brooklyn. As a journalist, her work has appeared in countless magazines and newspapers including Delta Sky, Lonely Planet, Times Union and Vice Magazine. She is co-founder of Word!, a self-organized workshop for women, following the Iowa’s Writers Program MOOC, and also is a reader for Uncharted Magazine. Recently, she was a participant in the Marin Better Books writer's workshop and had a short story on hold for an anthology with Outcast Press. IG: @meredithcraigdepietro TW: @meredithcraigde

Sophia Kriegel (she/her) is a junior at Emerson College where is studying Creative Writing. She works as a staff writer for Em Mag, a dynamic on-campus literary publication, and she founded a poetry collective in her suburban hometown that fostered creativity and curated a space for artists to feel comfortable sharing their work. Her writing centers around themes of girlhood, the complexities of familial relationships (Sophia is an identical twin!), and the intricate innerworkings of her post-adolescent(?) brain. She can be found on instagram @sophkriegel.

Luisa Balaban (she/her) is on her journey to discover what her interests and callings are. She has written essays and interviews for multiple online/print magazines in Romania, her home country, and now she's exploring new literary terrains such as Non-Fiction, Flash Fiction, and immersive journaling while based in Spain. She tweets at @wilxluisa and writes on Medium at @balaban.luisa

Megan McKinley is the Texas Review Press Publicity Fellow and the nonfiction editor for Defunkt Magazine. Her work has been published in Variety Pack and forthcoming in Gutslut Press. They are completing their MFA at Sam Houston State University in Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing. They currently reside in Huntsville, Texas with their cat.

Alex Gurtis, Maryland born but Florida bred, he’s a poet and journalist based in Orlando. His work has appeared in W&S Quarterly, EcoTheo Review, Rejection Letters, and others. Alex is a MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida and currently serves as a reader for HASH.

122 Corey Farrenkopf (He/Him) lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. He is the fiction editor for The Cape Cod Poetry Review. His work has been published in The Southwest Review, Catapult, Tiny Nightmares, Redivider, Wigleaf, Hobart, Flash Fiction Online, Bourbon Penn, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at

Wendy BooydeGraaff’s work has been included in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Popshot Quarterly, Five South, The Brooklyn Review, and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in Brink and Lost Balloon. Her short fiction and poetry has been nominated this year for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Best Microfiction anthology.

Jessica Klimesh (she/her) is a US-based technical editor and proofreader whose creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brink, Jersey Devil Press, Bending Genres, and Ghost Parachute, among others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Cedar Crest College and an MA in English from Bowling Green State University. She is currently working on a novellain-flash. Follow her on Twitter at @JEKProofreading.

Christine Arroyo (she/her) has had her work published in X-R-A-Y Magazine and Flash Fiction Magazine. She loves wandering through Brooklyn and New York looking for street art. On Instagram you can find her @christynicky.

MJ Malleck is a first-generation university graduate who grew up on the Canadian side of the US border and still likes her weather in Fahrenheit degrees. Her work has appeared in The Temz Review, Entropy, and Wrongdoing. She is working on a story collection and her first novel.

Santucci is a writer and artist living near Cleveland, OH. His work can be seen in Roanoke Review, Star82 Review, and Ponder Review. His work is also forthcoming in Poemeleon Review and Barzakh.

Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, the author of three books, an Iraq War veteran, an Indiana University graduate, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio. He is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee who was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer never accomplished. His literary work and photography have appeared or are forthcoming in more than 100 literary journals, including Stoneboat, The High Window, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Steep Street Journal, Beautiful Losers, New Pop Lit, The Grief Diaries, Gravel, The Perch Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, Chicago Literati, Dogzplot, Bull Men's Fiction, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Prairie Winds, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen,

123 The Rat's Ass Review, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Euphemism, Jenny Magazine, and Vending Machine Press. Like Bartleby, he would prefer not to.

Edward Michael Supranowicz is the grandson of Irish and Russian/Ukrainian immigrants. He grew up on a small farm in Appalachia. He has a grad background in painting and printmaking. Some of his artwork has recently or will soon appear in Fish Food, Streetlight, Another Chicago Magazine, The Door Is a Jar, The Phoenix, and other journals. Edward is also a published poet.

Shelley Valdez is a queer Filipino-American writer, artist, and editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has won multiple prizes, and has been published by, The Best Emerging Poets of California, Freezeray, and elsewhere. When she’s not working with words, she loves making soup for her friends.