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WATERMELANIN M

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Issue One: Unfunny

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Contents

Staff

65th Annual General Aptitude Examination by Yamilette Vizcaíno

Lashelle Johnson, Editor in Chief Isaiah Anthony, Art Director ​ Christopher Soriano, Fiction Editor

Fiction The Baby’s Crazy

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by Olivia Jones

Daphnee McMaster, Poetry Editor CF Molina, Managing Editor

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Drum Circle

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by Ron L. Dowell

Cover Artist Isaiah Anthony

Nonfiction Growing Up American When You’re Yellow

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by a.m. sevin

Contributors Zara Ahmed Cimoan Atkins Michaé Baisden Dierdre Berry Paolo Bicchieri Jessica Blakley Maame Blue Christian Candelaria Karen Candelario Morgan Forde Atari Gems Stephanie Guy Sahrish Hadia Jason Harris Delilah Ho Sam Jones Lorna Likiza Prin Mayowa

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​Elle Mckenzie Joy Melody Jo Morgan Jennifer Navarro Fatima Naveed Tanya Nielsen Rae Shauneez Rigney Iván Sandoval a.m. sevin Victor Sledge Claire Soh SONGO Omar Sow Amiah Taylor Felicia Tucker Venique

If You Give a Millennial a Cubicle

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by Feliz Moreno

Poetry Marrón (Brown)

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by Jose Oseguera

Reincarnate Me by Nætiive Gcithima

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Acknowledgements

P

eople often ask why it takes so long to get literary journals out into the world—or, rather, people often ask me why it’s taken so long for us—and I have to assume it is because sitting down to write an acknowledgment or editor’s note of any sort is practically impossible unless you happen to be seasoned editor Adam Rapoport. I’m not, if that isn’t evident.

At this level, thanking people is a task I find myself taking on every day. We have been on a year-long journey of figuring out our place in the universe and it hasn’t been easy. Watermelanin Magazine is a labor of love and everyone involved gives so freely of their time and energy to push us forward. So many people have put their blood, sweat, and tears into getting our small journal off the ground, and I thank them every chance I have because this magazine wouldn’t work without them. Creating a space wherein writers of color feel comfortable experimenting and can stumble without fear isn’t nearly as straight forward as I believed at the beginning. There is no experimentation without trust, and building a community people trust takes time. Time we were glad to take even if it meant slowing down. Christopher Soriano and Daphnee McMaster—the pillars of our magazine—have spent this past year working tirelessly to make our community welcoming and happen to be two of the best editors with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. I will never be able to express just how many times they have saved me when the waters got too deep. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you to Isaiah Anthony, our Art Director, whose photography adorns our cover and is all over our website for being my best friend and giving our little corner of the internet color. And thank you to our contributors for sticking with us through this first year with all its growing pains; contributors are the life of this magazine. Thank you to my mother, who is the light of my life. Thank you to Aimee—and Recluse Roasting Project as a whole—for keeping me caffeinated and encouraged. I have left every conversation feeling like I can take on the world and I appreciate you greatly. Also, the coffee is spectacular. Tell your dad I say hi. And thank you, reader. You make it all worthwhile. See you in the next issue.

With Love and Many Thanks, Lashelle Johnson Editor in Chief

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FOR OFFICE USE ONLY: By: Yamilette VizcaĂ­no

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Assessment:

65th Annual General Aptitude Examination

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SECTION A: Multiple Choice

Directions: “If I gave it, I can take it away, so you think on that when you’re out there making dique choices” 1. Privilege is: (1 Point)

a) you’re the only cousin who never got pregnant because ever since that time you lied to Mami about playing on the wrong block all day instead of being at your prima’s house in the 5th grade you never saw the light of the non-school-yard day until you were old enough to be so gd mf scared of getting ~HeRpEs~ that you self-selected into that nunnery

b) the same TíTí who gave you a good beating in front of your teacher when she found out there was no way your ass had “computer homework” given that you weren’t even in the computer science class, you just wanted to be up to some putería on Messenger—yeah that TíTí, she never let you go hungry even when Mami saw your grades were slipping and decided you hadn’t earned dinner that week.

c) having this thing with words where, even when you’re not really trying, you nail a scholarship application essay explaining the answer to that tilted-head, squinty-eyed question people stay asking you about how “such a smart one” has “such an appalling school record,” and having this thing with luck where you give it to your ELA teacher just in time for her to read it for syntax or whatever and hand it back before it’s due.

d) getting to be the ingrate. Getting to be the ingrate the principal says you are. Getting to be the ingrate the principal says you are when you’re siting across from him, not suspended for swinging at your ELA teacher, who turned you in for plagiarism after “suggesting” you couldn’t have written your scholarship application because it contained the correctly-used word “precarious.” Getting to be an ingrate as someone—you’re seeing too much red to know who, exactly—is tossing fine blonde hair over their shoulder while being applauded for having worked so hard to earn that very same scholarship.

2. Hardship is: (1 Point)

a) when you realize that quiet and explosive don’t go, like, the best? together. And anxiety was pretty hard to explain before it went mainstream, so you don’t get a date til you’re like old enough to join the army and then when you do, he’s white, and all that adds up to make you like, Very New to all the things. And your boy’s Very Nice White Girl friends always speak in question marks? And you’re supposed to believe that has nothing to do with you? Which apparently means you’re, like, not allowed to punch them? b) what your white boyfriend calls his “member” when he’s giving that humor thing a whirl again

c) suddenly not having a culture, according to your White Boyfriend’s White Friends, when you try to point out that their aversion to flavor in their food is only normal to them, and that gold chains and box

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braids weren’t actually a pre-requisite to you’re being born, but that they probably shouldn’t get some for themselves anyway, and then just as suddenly having a culture again when it’s decided that “side hoes are, like, cultural for y’all, tho? Like, that’s why “shawties” are a thing in all those songs? There’s like, the wife? And then like, the shawty?”

d) having no words to defend the quality of the love Mami and TíTí and Sis have raised me with when I’m short on the check again and the “I can spot you this time” comments I’m met with have a condescending undercurrent, when the frowns at my much-tighter-than-last-year hand-me-down orange cami telegraph that the mere sight of me is a visual confirmation of what-the-hell-ever. No words, just hands—a language that everyone claims not to speak but nobody ever misunderstands.

3. Community is: (1 Point)

a) Mami and TíTí been saying there’s no money since before I was born, according to Sis. They say it at the Walgreens, they say it at the Forever 21, they say it at the Food Town, at the braiding salon and at the barbershop, but the week before school starts her magazine subscription stops and that book finds itself in my bag, she’s on a new diet but the arroz finds itself on the stove, her head scarf comes back out the closet but my appointment finds itself back on the schedule at the braiding salon. And I know that the week before the prom, she will wear a hole in her shoes and keep on wearing them, and a brand new dress will appear on my bed.

b) Mami and TíTí have been saying since I was born that white boys don’t know how to love but if we’re smart we’ll get with one. They say it every time Sis brings home another chamaco from the block, they say it every time some other chamaco on the street calls out to her, every time she hollers back and every time she doesn’t. But the day I bring home my White Boyfriend, they stop saying much of anything. Their raised eyebrows give way to whispers and giggles, their giggles give way to smiles and bandejas of repollo and ensalada de coditos and guisado as he alternates between sucking it all down and gushing compliments out of his wide eyes.

c) Mami and TíTí have been saying they don’t know what’s wrong with me since my very first meeting with the principal in kindergarten, according to Sis. They say it when I’m quiet, they say it when I’m loud, they say it when I tell the principal where he can shove the “discipline” he “doesn’t think” I’m “getting at home.” This time, Sis and Mami are sitting in the office with me, saying again that they don’t know what’s wrong with me. “We’ll handle it,” They say. “Don’t you worry, she’s going straight home where we will handle it.” And we do, and they do. They handle it with arroz con pollo, they handle it with arroz con leche, they handle it with stone faces that don’t waver but never fail to listen.

d) A group of people (but not too large) living in the same place (largely considered not theirs) or having a particular characteristic (skin. It’s always skin) in common.

SECTION B: Short Answer

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Directions: “Your name is muchacha del carajo until I say it’s not. “ “What was that?” “Oh, you wanna ARGUE?! Listen to that, she wants to argue!” Document Based Short Answer Question: Use evidence from documents A, B and C to answer the following question: 4. Swearing isn’t always swearing if it’s in another language, but can indecency really hide in a code switch? (3 Points) Document A: teta vs titty

H

omie in the back of the Spanish class you’re taking as a throw away has been LOUDLY using his knowledge of the word teta as an excuse not to study for a single vocab quiz. Unfortunately, when you hit him with the, you dumbass, you don’t even know what that means, you found out he does, in fact, know what that means. Unsurprisingly, he also knows puta, and madre, especially in the context of you yelling hijo de tu puta madre at him that day you just couldn’t anymore. Fortunately, it went over the Spanish teacher’s head. Less fortunately, the same could not be said for the principal.

Document B: Puñeta doesn’t translate, but Resting Bitch Face does.

Y

ou are what both your Chem lab teacher AND your ELA teacher would call extremely careful with your words when approached by a Nice White Lady behind you on the line at Walgreens. This is only a few seconds after TíTí has rounded on you and said (read: hissed (read: stagewhisperscreamed)) PUÑETA, followed by some equally colorful words at you because she’d already said no but you still tried it. Context: This is a few weeks before the Plagiarism Thing, and a few weeks after the whole “Internet whoring and calling it homework” beating at school, and only a few days after the subsequent ACS visit. Nice White Lady wants to know if everything is okay—if this woman is bothering you. And you pick your words veeeeeery carefully. But the whole way home your stomach still twists because did you pick the set of your mouth and eyebrows carefully enough, too? Document C: Body parts associated with femmes, the level of severity that the names of those body parts connote, and how aforementioned connotation varies across languages.

Or Detention reflection for “using inappropriate and misogynistic language towards a teacher.”

A

fter they finally let him out of school to walk you home, your primo says: I dunno, man. My mom says coño all the time. Like—my mom, you feel me? How was I supposed to know that shit would get me in detention?

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SECTION C: Extended Response Directions: “And you should care what that chulito thinks because why? Mira muchacha—let me catch you saying anything about what one of these no-home-training-ass comparones thinks again and I’ll remind you where you came from.” 5. If you don’t lower your volume in the street or in your car or on the line or at the department store when you find it simply unacceptable the kind of customer service you’re receiving from homegirl who watched you elbow a couple niggas on your way to the front of the line and just sighed and let it happen but then couldn’t fix her face because she couldn’t figure it out either—if you can’t even have enough decency to fix your tone when you ask for the manager, how on earth could respectability possibly be based on you? (—Wait. They know they can’t actually write “niggas” in their answer, right? Um, Samantha? Can we add a footnote here?) (4 Points) ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________

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6. Y’all really think you can pass this one? PLEASE explain (4 Points):

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Answer Key: Ask your Auntie. Ask your Títí. Ask your sis, but don’t start with “Hey Sis, quick q,” cause then she’ll know— And you know. You know how to know; You gotta ask. Ain’t nobody ever get anywhere without talkin’ to nobody. You never heard it takes a village? Well this, right here, is the village part, booboo! Ask. Read between the eye rolls Listen closely through the curves of the sound waves of the Lawd, child! If you do NOT stop asking and get to WORK—!

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The Baby’s Crazy by Olivia Jones Editor’s note: This piece discusses sexual violence.

Saturdays started out pretty fleeting at Carmita’s house. The mornings typically included a collaborative cleaning session to some Jerry Rivera, followed by a gigantic lunch (the glucosic goodness that is white rice always on the menu), and maybe someone taking a nap. Everyone always went their separate ways in the evenings. ​ Carmita’s oldest sibling, her brother Josemaria, or Junior, was especially fond of a good nightlife activity. Every once in a while, Josemaria would host small gatherings of friends in their basement. There were always snacks, alcohol, weed, and a few other unrecognizable substances. Carmita would try to hang around whenever Josemaria’s friends showed up, because it was her one opportunity to shed her ever-present goody-two-shoes vibe— she could be adult enough to enjoy wine coolers, and bud really mellowed her out. Josemaria’s newest friend, Beto, came around every chance he got, and Carmita was certainly not opposed. Just under six feet, Beto had the prettiest, most perpetually sun-kissed skin she’d ever seen, and hair so long and thick, it made Fabio look like Gollum. Beto was also surprisingly single. During one particularly frigid Saturday night gathering, Carmita thought she might heat things up. “Junior, who’s your friend? Introduce me,” Carmita whispered sharply. “Cari, get out. You’re not even supposed to be down here.” Josemaria lit the end of a spliff and inhaled deeply. Carmita loved to watch him exhale O’s of smoke. She got lost in the ephemerality, then quickly snapped out of it. “Well, what the hell else am I supposed to do? It’s Saturday, and ya’ll got the good stuff. It’s only so many telenovelas on at this hour.”

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“Ay, Dios. You’re such a square.” “Soooo...who is he? Que chulo,” Carmita said with a mischievous smile in Beto’s direction. “If I introduce you, will you leave? Take your little crush elsewhere—he’s too old for you. That’s illegal shit.” “Mm—no promises. Besides, I’ve been told I’m...ma-toor, if you will, for my age.” She executed her most practiced hair-flip to dismiss Josemaria, and decided then that she’d do the job herself. She began sashaying over to Beto, who was languidly rocking in a ratty armchair and drinking a Corona. Josemaria grabbed the back of her shirt, and rushed out ahead of her, his long stride putting him in front of Beto in two-point-five. “Hermano mio, what’s crackin? Listen, I gotta apologize—my lil’ sister’s pretty snitch-adjacent, and my ma has no idea that we chill here every now and then so, uh, I figured I’d let her get to know the fellas so she know ya’ll cool. Beto, Cari; Cari, Beto. Now Cari, let’s g—” “Carmita,” the young sweetheart said, sticking her hand out. “My name is Carmita. And it’s a pleasure.” “Pero, papi,” Beto said to Josemaria, putting his drink down, wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve, and standing up to greet Carmita with outstretched hand. “You never told me your little sister was Selena Quintanilla. My God.” Beto brought Carmita’s hand to his mouth slowly. “Alberto,” he said sensually. “And the pleasure’s all mine.” While maintaining eye contact with her, Beto kissed Carmita’s outstretched hand as if attempting to stop time. Or dissolve her like that biblical pillar of salt Mami was always talking about. Carmita blushed, and was suddenly at a loss for words. She felt disarmed, but also admired, powerful. The six seconds of silence that passed between the two of them was thick. Josemaria shifted his weight between his sister and his friend, grossly uncomfortable. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, so...Carmita, don’t you have homework to do?” He gritted his teeth, and Carmita noted the tension in his temple. She sighed. “Beto, I certainly hope this isn’t our last encounter. Toodles.” She hoped her haughty teenage exit conveyed the sex appeal of a woman twice her age. The man raised his eyebrow, as well as his beer, and continued drinking. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind. * Three months after Carmita and Beto met, they exchanged phone numbers and started seeing each other outside of those Saturday nights with Josemaria. Their phone calls were hours long and would consist of sweet nothings, and plans to be in each other’s presence as often and as discreetly as possible. Carmita’s first sexual experience ever was with Beto. It was a Thursday. As an adult, she’d grow to reflect on her first time with considerable heartbreak: as a virgin, her fantasy of what that day should have been was romantic and serene, and though she knew Beto had an active sex life before her, she certainly never thought he’d resign what he knew was her first time to the backseat of his car, where they’d be interrupted by some neighborhood pranksters trying to break in. The pain and mess of having just broken her hymen, coupled with the urgency to sober up after being exposed to ill-intentioned strangers, was still nothing in comparison to the shame she felt every time she remembered her fail of a first-time fantasy. In Beto’s 14 | Literature Magazine


recollection, that day – “A Monday, right?” – was nothing more than a hiccup to giggle at, and certainly nothing to regret. Carmita numbly accepted Beto’s perspective as her own, as she would eventually learn to do more often. One Sunday afternoon, Carmita took the 45-minute bus ride to meet Beto where he lived on the southernmost side of town. He’d promised Carmita that once he finished work for the day, they’d watch a movie, order some food, and chill out. They both knew Carmita had school the next day, but she was an all-star student – losing a little sleep wouldn’t take her out of the game. The bus dropped Carmita off in an isolated pocket of suffering community members. By all accounts, Beto’s own residence was a certified trap house; as this was Carmita’s first time visiting Beto at home, and he’d never spoken about it until inviting her over, she had no way of anticipating the scene. She felt a tinge of guilt, because though she, too, was poor, addiction was another beast entirely, one whose consequences she’d never been exposed to. Standing a few feet away from Beto’s building was an emaciated woman, begging passersby for change in a hoarse, exhausted voice. She was scratching at several irritated and seemingly infected injection sites on her arms. Stalling outside, Carmita took in the five-story building—it had no porches, and couldn’t accommodate a closed front door due to the congested hallway traffic. She finally made her way up two poorly-lit flights of stairs, and rapped on Beto’s door, already ajar. She heard startled voices coming from inside. “Nigga, who is that?” The sound of rustling plastic weaved through the opening. “Look, man, trust me. I told you, you’ll thank me later.” Footsteps approached. “It better not be no bitch, Beto! You out here fucking all these hoes dique ‘for the checks,’ and then wanna come crawling back to my bed, like I’m one of these nasty bitches. Don’t play with me, motherfucker. Ya dick ain’t that good.” Chewing gum popped then snapped. The door was yanked open. “Mi bella baby, look at you all dressed up. Guess it’s a party now,” Beto said, leaning back to take in Carmita’s outfit, and then in to kiss her. Sweat matted strands of his long hair to his face. Carmita pulled back, partially because he stunk, but also to attempt to get a view of the other people inside the apartment before entering. Beto was too quick, though. He grabbed her elbow, guiding her into the apartment and closing the door behind them. “Beto,” Carmita whispered, refusing to walk any further without answers. “Wait a minute, wait! Who are these people? And what are you doing in here?” The gum popping and snapping continued, but nobody said anything. “Ya’ll excuse me for one second while I show our gorgeous guest around.” Beto’s cordial smile in the strangers’ direction quickly faded as he pushed Carmita into a bedroom nearby, and closed the door. ​“What the fuck, Beto! Are you selling out of here?” Carmita thought of the woman tweaking outside, and she felt sick. “And who’s that in the living room? Are you fucking her? Look, I won’t say anything, but this is not—” “Baby, shh.” Beto held a finger up to Carmita’s lips, and then kissed her neck, pushing her back against the door. “You’re stressed. And doing too much. Aight? Work went a little late tonight, but we good. And guess what? I’m gonna cut you in.” “Cut me in what, dammit?! Beto, what the hell is going on?” Carmita started to panic at not getting any answers. Beto was still kissing her neck, but she tried to use her hands to feel for the doorknob of the bedroom behind her. “You gotta relax, baby. My friends here, they don’t like none of that snitch-shit.” Beto spoke between kisses, as if to quell her anxiety. With a threat. After what felt like hours of frantic searching, Carmita got her fingers around the doorknob and turned it. She felt the door open and was just about to push Beto away with all of her might and run out of that apartment Literature Magazine | 15


when she felt a piercing in her arm, followed by a sudden rush of warmth. “We could have done this the easy way, mamita. I feel like you don’t trust me. If you don’t trust me, this ain’t gonna work.” Beto closed the door again, stared deeply into Carmita’s eyes, and his voice became low and cryptic. Carmita didn’t know if Beto was on anything in that moment, but she certainly was. “Beto, I don’t feel good...” The warmth was spreading into her limbs. “Shhh, calmate, calmate. You’ll be fine in a little bit.” Beto stroked Carmita’s hair, and led her to the bare mattress on the floor. Carmita could feel her legs give out beneath her, but still tried her best to remain upright. She felt the sensation of vomiting, but couldn’t be sure if anything was coming out. “FUCK, Carmita!” Beto confirmed with a bellow and his eyes scanned down in ire to his puke-covered shoes. He then took a swift back hand to Carmita’s temple; his pinky ring connected with her consciousness, and took it away. * Leland Ponzi was Carmita’s psychiatrist. A black woman in her sixties, Leland was a pleasant surprise. At first glance, she exuded what some people call respectability – her cat-eye glasses came attached to a pearly lanyard, she wouldn’t be seen in clothing with wrinkles in them, she enunciated even the most common of words, and for her multiple degrees, Carmita was under the impression they may never have met. However, unbeknownst to Dr. Ponzi, Carmita once got a glimpse of her very tattooed midsection when she reached for a book nestled atop a high shelf. Carmita couldn’t readily identify the bigger picture, but saw lots of vines, leaves, and a huge, rooted tree trunk hiding behind the shirt in the center of Dr. Ponzi’s back. That alone shocked Carmita, but she could barely pick her jaw up off the floor (so much so that when asked, Carmita had to lie about her expression) when she spotted rolling papers in an open drawer in Dr. Ponzi’s desk. “Carmita, it’s not often that victims of sexual violence have visible proof of the trauma inflicted on them, at least beyond what their bodies may fleetingly show. It sounds like you did. Are you comfortable sharing more about that?” Carmita cleared her throat, which was still dry from the nutrient drip she’d been on for most of the 6 weeks she’d been hospitalized (she was released just five days prior to this session). Carmita shifted carefully in her wheelchair, but still couldn’t stave off the sharp pain in her lower belly. “I...I don’t remember much.” She looked around Dr. Ponzi’s office, sparsely decorated, but warm. “I understand. Do you remember the video?” Dr. Ponzi sat with her legs crossed, a sign that Reyna – in all of her pseudo-psychological wisdom – would insist meant the doctor wasn’t interested in what Carmita had to say. Dr. Ponzi’s voice was sincere, though, so that couldn’t be right. “Yes.” “Are you comfortable telling me what you remember about it?” Carmita sighed. “Dr. Ponzi, have you ever tried heroin?” “No, Carmita – I haven’t. Why?” “Neither had I before that day.” She half-smiled at the doctor, her eyes not playing along. “I think about that often.” “What makes this thought so salient to you right now?” Dr. Ponzi began to write on her notepad. “Do you know that heroin blocks pain receptors in your body?” “I do. Would you say this was your experience with heroin, Carmita?” 16 | Literature Magazine


“I would. In fact, not only did I experience it, I’m thankful for it. The girl on that tape would have asked God to kill her in that moment without heroin. Hell, the girl on that tape might have actually died in that moment without heroin. The brain is so funny...” Carmita trailed off. “What specifically is funny about the brain?” Dr. Ponzi continued to write. “Well, I think Beto—in all his fucked-up-ness—knew that I might have died if he didn’t drug me. In his own way, I think that was him showing his love for me, you know? It’s funny that the brain protects the body like that, but like, it’s also funny that the chemicals that make the brain feel love also make you do really stupid shit because of that.” Dr. Ponzi put her pen and notepad down, removed her glasses, and let them drop to her chest. “Carmita, please listen carefully to me. You are sixteen. You were drugged, raped, and maimed by an adult who decided this should all be filmed. I can promise you that love wasn’t responsible for what happened to you. I just really want you to hold that for a second. Each of those things was the result of choice, none of which were yours, and none of which were motivated by love.” Carmita sat silently. For the first time since that horrid Sunday, she thought about the two rapidly-growing uterine fibroids in her belly. She had no idea what a fibroid even was until her doctor spotted the two masses in what was supposed to be a pre-release ultrasound—that was in her second week in the hospital. Carmita had begun bleeding outside of her menstrual cycle, and heavily. The next four weeks were a re-examination of Carmita’s initial rape kit, an extensive interrogation of her sexual history, and the ultimate realization that she would likely never be able to carry a pregnancy to full term. “Here,” Dr. Ponzi said softly. She was leaning toward Carmita with pain in her eyes and a tissue in her hand. Carmita was caught off guard; she touched her face and realized there were tears on it, though at first, she didn’t feel herself crying. The memories she trained her mind so intently to trap were coming back to attack her. She sobbed in surrender. “Dr. Ponzi, I wanna have kids someday,” Carmita cried. Though shaky, Carmita committed to rolling her wheelchair closer to Leland, which alarmed the doctor to the extent of rising from her own chair, but Carmita gestured for her to sit. When Carmita made it to Leland’s side, she looked her directly in the eyes. “I always believed I could not live in this world without being positive that I would meet goodness in it even if I had to raise it myself. I can’t explain it, but I have always felt that. Then this happened to me. And proved that if I wanted better for myself, I had to make better. Now the good I could have created is gone, so why aren’t I?” Carmita believed with all her heart that Dr. Ponzi knew the answer. “Listen to me, Carmita. You are loved. You matter. I am so thankful that you are alive. Your resilience alone is greater than that of the damndest man I know. At sixteen, you have been forced to face the possibility that you have been robbed of motherhood, and for that I am so, so sorry. You should be reading, singing, playing, meeting people who make you happy to be you. And yet, this is where you are. But it is through no fault of your own. You will be a mother someday, Carmita, and guess what? That still won’t be the greatest thing you’ve ever done, and you know why? Because you are already doing it, here, with me, right now. I am so glad that you live.” Leland wasn’t a particularly religious person, but she felt God call her to wrap her arms around the child as tightly as she could, and beg Him to comfort her. She really didn’t know how Carmita survived that horrific night, but she had to believe there was a celestial reason. ​The doctor and her patient spent the next three hours in a rebirth of sorts, until Josemaria arrived to pick up his baby sister and bring her home.

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Drum Circle by Ron L. Dowell

W

e congregate here, on this little patch of Trestie Tapia Park picnic area, just as we have every Saturday morning for years in Hubiciti, a South L.A. suburb. But today we argue and don’t drum.

I’m surrounded by pissed off drum circle performers, Winfrey, and like him, a few other regulars that don’t play instruments but come to feel the vibe. Everyone else in my drum circle—the shekere player, Jamaican dundun drummer, and identical twin dancers, drum circle artists—wants to be done with this park, where there are no outdoor restrooms and one operable water faucet near the ballpark. But until now I’ve had good times here. I want to stay. Normally, the gym with the restrooms has been open for us to use, which we have, despite long lines. For the past month, though, the gym has been mysteriously closed on Saturdays. Budget cuts, claims the lying park supervisor. I’m the Djembefola, but what good is a talking drum master without the drum circle? It takes an ensemble to make the crowds smile, sing and clap, heads bob, and keep bodies moving. My throat hurts from begging them, a task I’m unsuited for. I bounced around different group homes as a kid and never wanted attachments, emotions weaken you. Next to the birth of my daughter, this is the most important day of my life. The concrete picnic table top is hard against my diabetic ass when the shekere player, an incense maker businesswoman, shakes her cowries shell covered gourd that sounds like maracas. Rasp, rasp, rasp, “Leimert Park in L.A. is gentrifying,” she says and then slaps the gourd against her palm in my face. “Liemert’s kicking the homeless people out. Let’s go over there, Gerald.” “But we live in Hubiciti.” I was raised in Hubiciti and practically live in Tapia Park. I’ve always thought our drum circle helps balance out Hubiciti’s gangsta reputation by making the park feel more inclusive, like a community. “It’s miles away. Why should we leave now?” “Why? You ask me why? Here’s a bulletin for you—there’s toilets—water faucets that work—” She hits the gourd harder, closer to my nose. “I need water for my pressure pills.” I’ve got diabetic hunger, thirst and understand the strain, she being leashed to diuretics for blood pressure and all. The twin dancers are vegan and complain of problems with excess body toxins. “Let’s move there,” says the yoga teacher twin with an Egyptian ankh necklace and dreadlocks ponytail to the middle of her back. She takes several quick breaths and in rapid succession snaps her fingers near my ear. They’re right. All around us, the air whiffs of shit and piss. Spikes of sunlight force through clusters of jacarandas and Coast Live Oak just west, over by the closed gymnasium. Nearby, a Guatemalan mother uses her brocade shawl with its horizontal and vertical yellow and navy

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stripes that match her wrap-around corte, to shield her daughter, maybe three or four, whom she’s teaching to crap while squatting in a clump of unshorn hedges. The drummer sits on the concrete picnic table bench; his drum attaches to a shoulder strap at his side, he pounds a stick against rawhide. Boom, boom, boom. The drum’s round, the size of a small barrel, its bass is so low pitched and sound so big my skin goose bumps. “Yeah mon, me prostrate useta be pea sized, now it’s big as mango fruit,” he says. His enlarged prostate stems his flow; it takes him forever to release even when he finds a private spot to urinate. The twin wearing bright orange kente cloth head wrap, a college sociology professor, laughs with a sarcastic edge, “Hell, its 2015 and we’re still begging Massa for a warm place to shit—a glass of water. It’s unjust.” Winfrey sits cross-legged on gravel, lifts his head, and exhales a cloud of weed smoke. He was a 1960s Black Panther. He was fearless, uncompromising. He knows how to protest, get shit done. “Pussies,” he says. “All y’all.” He offers up a blunt, a Swisher Sweets cigar stuffed with marijuana but I wave him off. “Get up—stand up for right.” He sips from a Gatorade bottle filled with gin. Boom, the dundun player attacks his drum, faces Winfrey. “Tell we what ya know, mon?” Winfrey takes a long hit on his blunt. A satisfied grin explodes across his mug. “Yeah!—Sweet Jesus!” I say. “I got it!” Earlier I’d passed fliers for a one o’clock Town Hall meeting, about three hours away, posted on the gym door. “Let’s protest—,” I say, “a piss-in, right here.” I don’t like confrontation but I have to come up with something fast to buy more time. Winfrey can lead it. Winfrey’s eyes widen, he blows a smoke ring. “That’s what I’m talkiń bout,” he says. The Sociology twin says, “Who do you think we are, Occupy Wall Street?—Black Lives Matter?” She does salsa steps into my chest. Dreadlocks, her sister, picks up a eucalyptus tree branch, hammers on her clapper-less cowbell and says, “I like it, toilets matter—maybe we’ll get a real restroom outta the city— eeeeeeeyah!” She’s always barefooted. On loose soil she dances an Africanized combination of old school mashed potatoes and new school Crip Walk. “One for men, one for women—no unisex.” Boom, boom, boom, the drummer, not one for long conversation, pounds his affirmation. Cell phones appear Tweets and Facebook calls go out for help. My heart rate doubles. I’d gotten nowhere before with the park supervisor, even with a petition signed by our drum circle. He’s a high school phenom known as “Big Baller,” whose red boned lanky ass washed out of pro basketball Developmental League camp his first week. He kept the number eight D League jersey which he wears always. “Hey O.G.—I got you covered,” Baller had said when he locked up the gym, rushed past me, and left much earlier than the 7 PM park closing time. He mumbled something about our wine drinking in the park. “More restrooms are on my ‘to do’ list, in my budget request. Shit takes time, maybe a year or two.” His go-slow approach was okay before, I didn’t want to ruffle feathers, but not now that the artists are threatening to leave me. “You’ve got to be patient,” he said.

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A few hundred feet north of us several stray dogs scamper across a barren parking lot. A mangy bulldog drops a load next to a dumpster overflowed with house remodeling scrap. They disappear into a vent opening underneath a shuttered baseball stadium where they begin to bark and howl. Winfrey should know what to do.

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ii.

infrey is short, with a broad chest and a large head. His eyes are small, his beard thin and sprinkled with grey; and he has a flat nose and obsidian skin, he’s grizzled, no nonsense. He likes to tell the story of how he and fellow Panther’s kicked SWAT’s ass back in the day. “I was in the 1969 shootout against LAPD’s first SWAT team over on 41st and Central,” he reminds anyone who’ll listen between swigs of Hennessey from the Gatorade bottle. “They tried to creep on us, but we were ready—blasted their ass’s right out of the building,” he says even to those that don’t want to hear it before he offers a hit from his herb sacrament. Winfrey’s always good for a scrape, had been since our high school days. Besides, he says, “Drum circles helps build community.” Twitter and Facebook calls for support swells our group to thirty maybe forty people. The scent of eucalyptus, feces, and urine wafts on top of a breeze. The Town Hall meeting starts in a couple of hours. “We need signs,” Winfrey says and points to the dumpster. A gang type guy wanders over as we head for the dumpster. He’s well tatted and wears a red ball cap sideways, says he’s Blood. His head constantly swivels as if he’s afraid. Winfrey makes a hand step to help him into the dumpster. At Winfrey’s direction, the Jamaican and I drag from the dumpster strips of baseboards, rusted nails, cardboard boxes, and near empty spray paint cans. I need to pee, hop in the dumpster, and cut loose. The vegan twins giggle. We spread the dumpster booty over the parking lot asphalt and with paint cans and the gang guy’s Sharpie’s, scrawl words onto the cardboard. “WANTED: OUTDOOR RESTROOMS” and “NO PISS NO PEACE.” The Guatemalan mother takes “Sin TOCADORES deberán utilizar casquillos,” use toilets not bushes. We use rocks to hammer signs to sticks. The Jamaican and gang guy haul the smelly alabaster toilet across the small parking lot in front of the gym entrance. It’ll act as an executive chair, a rally point to make our intentions clear. A La Raza roach-coach rumbles up and offers free food to support our cause. We breathe in carne asada, I pig-out on chorizo filled tortillas. My blood sugar will spike from the starch but it’s free. Brrrph. My stomach grumbles. There’ll be hell to pay later when it’s time to shit. I fill my water bottle at the faucet over by the ballpark and pinch my nose to smells of piss and piles of shit in park nooks dropped by the dog pack and park goers. Flies hum in clusters over park crannies. The chemical taste of faucet water soothes my mouth; diabetic itch makes me scratch my groin so I press my thighs tight against the drum stem. I’ll play standing on restless legs. By noon the Town Hall is an hour away, gym doors open, and we scramble to rendezvous opposite the gym entrance. Naked jacarandas stand stark below the overcast sky, eucalyptus seeds crunch under the feet of a growing throng of drum circle devotees, families, weekend

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warriors, Marcus Garveyites, homeless, and others who’ve responded to the call, the performers from my drum circle together for at least one more time. Winfrey is beside me on the sidewalk, one foot on the toilet bowl rim. “We’re gathered together in peace,” he calls to the crowd. “Restrooms are our human right.” Before the Town Hall start, a school of locals, gadflies, politicians, the mayor, councilwoman and their bureaucrat minions stream into the gym like horny grunions to a beach. Winfrey points them out. “The pretty dark-skinned one—that’s the councilwoman—badass—like Hillary when she ran against Obama—thinks she’s the shit, watch out for her.” Her ankles squeeze over corn-yellow designer running shoes. The mayor is lighter than a brown paper bag and wears shaved-bleached-toned hair like Raven-Symoné. Lines form for two restrooms inside the gym. There’ll be a short opportunity window to use them before the meeting ends and Big Baller locks up. The shekere player squints, the Jamaican bounces a curled knuckle against his mouth. I need to pee.

H

iii.

ome. That’s it. Something about drum circles transports me home, to Africa, the goblet shaped djembe drum, the goatskin drumhead. It’s no heavier than two large cantaloupes and made of lenke hardwood because the Malinké people, West African descendants of the Mali Empire, believed in its superior spiritual energy. Nine beats, jackhammer rhythm, fingers taps and hand slaps drive birds from trees, ricochets off park structures, talks to people like Lamba orators, and moves them. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. It’s a spirit our four-hundred-year American sojourn hasn’t killed though my day job has tried when I dress up like Lady Liberty in a turquoise ground length smock and star shaped tiara, dance around, and flip signs at busy intersections for Libertine Tax Service™. I keep moving to control weight and diabetes since a vegan twin said I’m digging my own grave with a spoon. Add my Social Security checks to Libertine minimum wage; life is good except for when I need to pee at Tapia Park. This brings me back to our protest today, to get outdoor restrooms. There’s strength in numbers, technology brings about thirty more men, women, and several children here to hash out the protest plan. My finger rims the neck of an orange dashiki, sweat flows from my bald dome into the short afro that runs around my head from one temple to the other like Bozo the Clown, and then I talk the drum with my hands. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. Hubiciti, nicknamed the Hub City because of its shipping lane location between seaports and the L.A. Civic Center, is not known for protests despite street potholes as big as craters after bombs dropped on Baghdad, a history of politicians jailed for graft, and water utility

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bills so high that many of its one hundred thousand people only shower once maybe twice a month. “Sure this’ll work?” I say to Winfrey while I drum. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. “Just talk the drum, Gerald,” Winfrey says. “You don’t know how to deal with these people like I do—you can’t be a pussy.” The drum circle is too important to let leave; it’d be my fault if it did. “You’ve got this,” I say. “Save the circle.” Winfrey’s top lip draws up at one corner. “I’ll do the talking,” he says. My fingers twitch, I nod to Winfrey. “Whatever—Huey,” I say as in Huey Newton. Mouth dry, I swig park water from the bottle and pressure my bladder. The shakere player rolls her eyes, possibly sensing my irritation with Winfrey. “Let me have some,” she says, and I give her some water to swallow pressure meds. “Don’t let him bully you.” Winfrey turns to the protestors. “Before we start this glorious event,” he says voice gravelly. Silver hair escapes from underneath his red, green, and gold Rastafarian styled knit cap. He scans faces. “Stay together—bureaucrats will try to divide us—they’ll look for excuses to turn us down or form another committee to explore their options—keep shit like it is.” The Jamaican drummer, now in a leopard print loincloth, looks like a fake African from an old Tarzan TV movie. His chest is closed in upon itself with several skin indentations and stitches from past surgeries. He says he was once a pin cushion for prison shanks before he discovered the healing power of drum circles. He helps the Sociology twin in the orange kente head wrap chain her ankle to a Welcome to Trestie Tapia Park sign, positioned under droopy trees several feet from the alabaster executive seat. “Hmph! I feel like a slave in the Jim Crow south,” she says. The breeze blends eucalyptus and disinfectant scents that drift across from the gym restrooms. The line reaches outside beyond the entry door and includes Town Hall attendees and users who’d all eaten roach-coach breakfast. My stomach grumbles, I keep drumming, Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. “When I was a kid,” Winfrey says to the crowd, now close to a hundred people, “Hubiciti used to be run by White folks—we had Boy Scouts, Little League—park toilets before they took the money and ran after the 65 rebellion.” “Preach!” someone says. ”Tell it like it is!” “Don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying we should catch white supremacy disorder. They’re no respectability standard—too many are fucked up and don’t know it. I say we redefine Blackness, what it means to be Brown—select leaders that value and respect us and hold them accountable.” Winfrey is interrupted by sounds like buzzing hornets, and we duck. A desert-camouflaged clover-shaped drone floats on air; it’s the size of a cornflake box, each leaf a propeller, a big sheriff’s star in the middle. Winfrey cowers, holds up his hand to create a shield. The machine flies in close enough for me to see the “Nikon” logo above the camera lens.

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I face him. “Scared?” Is it the weed? “Drones carry C4 bombs dude—remember MOVE in Philly? They killed women and children in ‘85.” “It was a police helicopter, Win.” “Same difference Gerald.” Is this the guy who’d shot it out with SWAT? I expected him to throw a rock, moon it, or something. Instead he sucks on the Gatorade bottle. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. I stop drumming and angle away from the drone, but it follows me. I’d had a few run-ins with police before: Driving While Black, Sitting While Black, Breathing While Black, the usual stuff. My belly knots; if I drink I pee and if I hold it, bladder troubles. I dance on tiptoes. “We’ve got to get this done, man,” I say to Winfrey, who looks like he just got bitch slapped by Imp the Skimp, the dirty ho’s pimp. “We gotta get someplace for us to pee. You okay?” Before he responds the shekere player bangs the beaded gourd, “Shoot the drone,” she says. The others chorus, “Shoot the drone—shoot the drone—shoot the drone—kill it!” We clamor enough for Big Baller to leave the climate controlled gymnasium office. He hustles outside. “Hey!” arms stiff at his side, corn rowed hair strands jangle on his shoulders, he’s a bull in a blue windbreaker with the city logo on it. “You people need permits to assemble,” he says. We are quiet like a first grade detention class, the drone hovers. Winfrey sits on his ass. He’s supposed to be our leader. I grab his elbow, get in his ear, “Say something, man.” Winfrey snatches away, cuts an eye to the crowd, and back at Baller. “You people?” he scoffs. “Doodley squat—if you’da moved that fast in camp you’da made the basketball team.” His fist balled, he pushes his chin into Big Baller’s chest. “We don’t need no permit to gather in a public space, a public park.” Big Baller peers down at Winfrey. “We don’t want yáll disrupting things,” he says. “We?” Winfrey’s nostrils flare. “Who the fuck is we?” All I see is you.” I flip-off the drone, look into the Nikon, and form my lips, “Fuck you!” The others follow suit. It ascends pauses and barrel rolls backwards above willowy trees into the dreary sky. Winfrey swipes his brow as if relieved. Several protesters leave maybe to avoid violence. The others flank Winfrey. I crack knuckles and roll up my sleeves. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. The shekere and dundun player’s blasts Baller with sound. Rasp, rasp, rasp. Boom. Boom. Boom. The dreadlocks twin with the Egyptian ankh clangs the cowbell and screams, “Eeeeeyah!” Big Baller recoils, he looks startled. I curse him again with beat. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap.

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Shaken, he hesitates, turns head down, “I’m callin’ Po Po on you niggas,” and vanishes back into the gymnasium, which is the only thing left in this park that’s fairly well maintained, and that’s only because it houses a meeting room with a couple of staff that rarely venture outside its walls. Shit. First the drone, then Big Baller, all we need now is cops. The restroom lines snake outside and away from the gym entry. I hold my balls.

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iv.

t’s one o’clock, the Town Hall starts inside the gym; we march in a circle outside around the parking lot in front. What if we get arrested? I swallow hard. At least jail will have toilets. Winfrey is right. Treste Tapia Park is not what it used to be when it was named Ezy E. Park. That was before some politician decided the politically correct thing was to change the name to a Mexican one, to placate the Latino population by naming it after a woman killed by Killer Kane, the local public hospital. She died from a perforated intestine writhing on the emergency room floor like a fish flopping around on the pier while nurses watched and did nothing to help. The same politician had Tapia’s outdoor restrooms torn down because of crimes committed in them he’d said. He’d managed to criminalize shitting. Big Baller distances himself from Winfrey and directs traffic for the restroom line that hooks around on side to the back of the gym next to tennis courts with no nets. Even deodorizer chemicals aren’t up to the stink challenge. I drum on. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. “We got to make this work, today—I can’t wait no more,” I say to Winfrey. I pull in my abdomen to keep from pissing my pants. I breathe in slow, grip the djembe in one hand and reposition the dummy executive seat on the sidewalk with the other. I want to piss in the mock toilet, bad, but everyone will see me. Massed together, we march past the gym entrance for an impromptu drum circle. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. The dancers prance; the Dreadlocks twin screams, “Eeeeeeeeeeeyah.” She feels my staccato beats, alternates the same arm and leg behind her several times, swings arms above her head and chicken scratches, stops, pushes off one foot, then pivots off the other, pulsating hips hypnotize, arms cross above her head and snap down behind her—bare feet on asphalt. Protestors smile, sing and clap, heads bob, and bodies move around the small lot to the rasp of the gourd, boom of the drum, clang of a cowbell. This. This is what we’re trying to save. Back at the executive seat Winfrey sits with his sign. We circle again, again, and again, each time we dance past the restroom line, I pause at the executive seat that looks so enticing I almost piss myself. Faces in the gym cue look hardened so I don’t break ranks and cut in. I squeeze my thighs tighter around the djembe, bend over, nauseated; I suck up the urge to pee. If I don’t go soon, the backload will squeeze off the urinary tract which leads to bladder infection. I’ll take one for the team. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap In the distance police sirens wail until up screech three two-deputy patrol cars, hook 24 | Literature Magazine


slide into the curb perpendicular to the gym in a fog of smoke and smell of burnt rubber. Doors slam shut. Five uniforms gather around a sergeant, who stands arms folded as locals, gadflies, and politicians continue to arrive for the Town Hall. My hands and feet tingle. I don’t trust police, plus I’m on summary probation for disturbing the peace when I twirled the sign and drummed on a strip mall corner. It worked for Matt’s Fish Market, business shot up but the accountant next door didn’t like the noise and put a restraining order on me. Several more protesters leave with hands jammed into their armpits, thinning our ranks even more, some squirmed with ashen looks on their faces, afraid that police might shoot first and ask questions later. “No good can come of this,” I say loud enough for Winfrey to hear. My stomach squeezes. I lock and load. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap Winfrey calls out, “What do we want?” On cue our group hoists signs up and down in waves of organized chaos and responds. “We want restrooms!” “Bring them back—bring them back—bring them back.” Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap “What do we want?” “A place to shit!” “Bring them back—bring them back—bring them back.” Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap The chained Sociology twin cups her hand to her mouth, “Don’t want a tree for me. Don’t want more Black Code slavery,” she says. She raises one leg like a dog would, pantomimes urination. The Jamaican drummer pretends to catch her piss with a Styrofoam cup. The sergeant slides over, pulls Winfrey aside, the two animated like a silent movie. Winfrey points his finger in the sergeant’s face. “Hell, we’ve met with Big Baller—sent letters—got on committees—nothing.” Winfrey taps the sergeant’s chest with his forefinger. Why’d he do that? The sergeant back steps, eyes Winfrey like he stole something, unfasten his holster strap. Winfrey looks rattled. Was he having a flashback to the 1969 shootout? He was cleared of conspiracy but served prison time for a pipe bomb with his fingerprints on it. My head feels light, mouth goes dry. The sergeant turns to a female deputy who fidgets on her toes, knock kneed, one hand on her Taser, the other on her abdomen. She’s pee dancing. He then faces Winfrey and lowers the tone, “Hey—I feel you—my deputies too need shitters on patrol—it’s criminal to treat people like this—no goddamned toilets.” Really? Winfrey sees an opening. “You should sweep city hall— Rodney King ém—put ém all in jail.” “Put them in jail—put them in jail—put them in jail,” the protesters chant, like church call

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and response. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap The councilwoman boobs flop up and down when she lumbers out of the gym straight for Winfrey on the executive seat. “Y’all must leave—now,” she says, akimbo. “You’re disruptive—got people inside asking us about park restrooms.” Winfrey grunts and weaves side to side on the toilet. “You’ve made people afraid to protest for their own good, Madame Councilwoman.” “You need permits to protest. Did you get one?” She turns to the sergeant. Technically she has authority over the deputies since cops work for the people of Hubiciti. “Please remove them from the park.” My body tenses and curbs my urge to pee. A few locals, gadflies, and others from the Town Hall crowd around us. The female deputy separates herself, hands on her knees; butt on the patrol car hood. My throat is dry. A squirt squeezes from my overloaded bladder. Not good—besides, our new deputy partners might flip on us. I’ll ruffle feathers, speak truth to power. I shove Winfrey aside and shout over him. “What do we want?” “To. Pee. Now!—To. Pee. Now!—To. Pee. Now!” “What do we want?” “A warm place to shit!” Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap The councilwoman stamps her sneaker to the pavement, raises her voice to the sergeant, “Do something.” The sergeant shrugs. “It’s peaceful, lawful.” He leans against the patrol car door. “Nothing we can do.” She pinches her lips together and stalks off. We march on, play instruments, and dance. Town Hall ends, the mayor approaches, her Susan G. Komen ribbon pin sparkles, her shaved-bleached-toned hair sharp against Tapia’s dreariness. We march toward the mock toilet. The gang guy sits on it sees us coming, pulls up his pants, and skulks away. “What exactly do you all want?” she says, pinches and pulls at a silk blouse stuck to her bosom. “We have restrooms in the gym.” Winfrey sighs, adds agitation to his slurred speech, “Yea, it’s always closed—AND, we ain’t in the gym.” Flies circle a banana sized turd piled like chocolate Frosty Freeze in the waterless toilet; the mayor scrunches her face. “You’ve been drinking,” she says. Winfrey, pants up, plops onto the toilet, oblivious to the turd left by gang guy and the mayor’s call-out. “Nowhere to shit,” he says. “Fire department next door won’t let us in.” In a 26 | Literature Magazine


most exegesis manner he tells the mayor, “Drum circle musicians refuse to come to Tapia Park. People, especially old ones like Gerald, get sick holding onto urine and feces. Do you know mothers train small daughters to squat in bushes?” Then he scowls. “It’s cold, messy until they get the hang…they bring extra clothes.” I nudge the sergeant. “Sheriffs are full of it too,” I say my elbow pressed into his side. The sergeant’s head bobbles agreement. “Our Know Your Purpose youth mentees and mentor deputies need restrooms when the gym is closed. How can we teach kids to make good life decisions when they have to run off behind buildings just to pee? ” says the sergeant. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap The mayor glares at my djembe, skin bunched between her eyebrows. “That’s not in your budget,” she says to the sergeant. “Your job is to arrest people—not play social worker.” She flashes a cold smile. “A committee can address this problem, you all should be included. I’ll put Big Baller on it right away.” The sergeant raises his palms, “Hey. I try to love and respect people we serve, that’s all—” he backs off, “I can’t understand why you don’t.” “We got ideas,” Winfrey sputters. He wobbles to his feet and takes a quick glance to the restroom line, then shoves hands into his pockets. “We’ll form the committee.” His voice is weak. Put Big Baller on it? Oh hell no! Winfrey loses his edge. The shekere player lowers her head, dundun drummer mouths no; the vegan twins both break eye contact. The Guatemalan mother slowly shakes her head. Protest signs tilt. The dog pack howls by. I take a deep breath. I’d been afraid of attachment, but in this moment I find that what I fear more is losing my drum circle family, our ensemble, and our community. Our love. By now I’m tired and I need to pee so bad I can’t see straight. I can’t wait no more. I shove Winfrey towards the mayor, unzip, and stream dark yellow piss into the tank-less toilet, right onto the Frosty Freeze turd. The Sergeant is right about it being criminal not to have accessible public restrooms in Tapia Park as there had been years before. It is easier to control a robot on Mars than to piss in private in Hubiciti’s public park. But the drum circle must continue to bring peace, to remind us of what we’ve lost, to bring spiritual energy that causes crowds to smile, sing and clap, heads bob, and bodies move. The two o’clock ocean breeze sweeps leaves from the trees, a glint of warm white light sneaks between branches, eucalyptus scent overtakes shit smells for the moment. The trap inside the toilet fills; a brownish blob seeps from underneath the bowl onto the sidewalk. “Ahhhhh.” It takes a while for me to finish. The mayor steps back. She pulls up a silk collar, covers her mouth and nose. “Shame on you,” she says. I re-zip my pants and face the drum circle performers and regulars. “No toilets, no piss, no peace.” “EEEEEEEEEEEYAH,” the dancers shout and dance, the cowbell clangs, the shekere rattles, the dundun booms. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. Tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. Tap-tapslap-tap-tap-slap-tap-tap-slap. Literature Magazine | 27


Growing Up American When You’re Yellow by a.m. sevin

I

n the middle of a blistering June, I sat sandwiched on a bench with forty other mostly white American middle and high schoolers in the belly of the largest enclosed tropical botanical garden in southern China. Although the greenery surrounding us was very much real, the giant “tree” that made up the walls of our dining space was fake, carefully molded to look like the bark of a real hundred foot tree. Chinese caterers bustled around us, talking to each other in rapid Cantonese while they pulled white box after white box of prepackaged lunch out from large plastic trash bags. There were almost sixty people, including my mom and myself, packed into the stifling plastic dining room. The majority were teenaged musicians, travelling for the first time out of the United States to take part of a privately organized youth orchestra tour that charade itself as a cultural exchange program. The conductor of

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the orchestra, who was also the conductor of my community youth orchestra in Colorado, was ethnically Chinese and had enough connections to pull a few strings with the Chinese government. Between the musicians and their chaperons (primarily parents), the overall makeup of the group was overwhelmingly white. Only a handful of the youth musicians were of actual Chinese descent, and I was one of them. That trip marked my second time being in China since I had been born, but as I tossed my half-eaten soup, which hadn’t agreed with my American stomach, and heard the Chinese workers mutter disapprovingly in my direction, there was no sense of belonging. I was in a room half filled with people who looked like me, and half filled with people who lived like me—two halves that could make a whole. But I couldn’t find a place to stand.


filled with the idea of the “lucky child” like there’s an element of fate to the story.

“Comment t’appelles-tu?” “Je m’appelle Analie.” “Et d’où est-ce que tu viens?” “Je suis chinoise.” My ninth grade French teacher pulls back with an exasperated look on her face before clapping her hands twice to get the room’s attention. “Class,” she says, standing up. “This is a mistake I need to stop hearing. Your nationality is where you live, where you grew up; where you’re a citizen. I don’t think most of you have another citizenship other than American. Do you?” She turns back to where I am still sitting at her desk. “Do you have Chinese citizenship, Analie?” I am conscious of the fact that months earlier, she had met my white parents at parent-teacher conferences, and that she knows I am adopted. I press my legs a little tighter against the edge of the chair, self-conscious of the class’ attention. “No,” I say. “Right,” she nods. “Chinoise is your race. Américaine is your nationality. Understand?”

I was born in a rural mining city that sits on top of a mountain in China’s southwestern Yunnan province. The city, Gejiu, is the largest city in the autonomous Honghe prefecture and located over a hundred miles from Yunnan’s economically backwater capital, Kunming. Although Gejiu takes a spot on the map primarily for its tin deposits, it is also home to a well-known orphanage, which serves as one of the main adoption organizations in the entire province. When I was less than a year old, I was left on the steps of the Gejiu Children’s Welfare Institute, swaddled in a thin blanket. The orphanage officials told my parents that on the night I was abandoned, it was raining.

It’s hard to not make adoption a fairytale when it comes up in the media. The ingredients for it are all there: tragic beginnings; selfless heroes; far off lands and happy endings. Narratives about adoption in the news and in creatives are

By no way of my parents’ doing, I’ve known since I was young that I was one of the “lucky children” in the world. That my adoption—which came less than a year after I was placed in the care of the orphanage—was a good draw in a sea of statistics about adoption. What’s more, I was fortunate to have been matched with parents who cared; parents who, because they had each experienced their own hardship in having to grow up, were finally and genuinely ready to bring a child into their lives. Mom had known for years that she would adopt. She’d grown up surrounded by a large family and by the time she met her second husband—my dad—she knew that it was time. Papa, on the other hand, had been against the idea before he’d even met Mom. His previous marriage had come with a teenage daughter that he’d cared for deeply, but the idea of having his own child--his own child—had felt as palatable as the thistles his older sisters would dare him to eat when he was younger. But on the day the adoption agency first sent them my picture, a grainy, wallet-sized photo of a dark-haired, unblinking infant, he cried. And on the day my parents finally held me in their arms, they promised that they would try to give me the best life they could.

“You know, I always thought I would adopt, when I was ready to have kids.” The head chef of the German restaurant I work at stands next to me behind the bar, polishing the inside of a wheat beer glass. Because of its shape, you need to carefully jam the white polishing cloth down the inside with the long handle of the bar spoon. She then grabs the cloth and twists it a few times before pulling it back out to finish polishing the outside. “Oh really?” I say. There are hardly any customers in the table-crowded dining room, the restaurant at its lull before dinner. “But then I met Alex, and I thought to myself, well, maybe it would be interesting to see what

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the two of us would make.” She glances at the door to the kitchen when she says this, to where her husband, the manager of the restaurant, is still unloading Restaurant Depot supplies from the van. She chuckles at her own joke and we continue our rhythm of washing and polishing glasses from lunch. The stillness of the bar is offset by the cheesy, D-list covers of German pop music playing overhead and the heavy Bavarian motifs of the dining room feel nothing like the Germany I had experienced in Berlin the year prior. “Do you think,” she ventures, after a few moments have passed, “that your mental problems are because of your adoption?” Cindy is the only person at the restaurant who knows about my issues with suicidal ideation. For all of her stark, German, logic-based mindset, she’s the only one I can let myself open up to after I have a breakdown in the restaurant right before my birthday the month before. “I don’t know,” I say. “I’ve thought about it, but I just…I don’t know.” She nods, and leaves it at that.

Because I’ve always been one of the “lucky children,” there is a part of me that, even today, hesitates on turning to adoption as the source of my mental health and identity issues. Despite adoption’s fairytale glitz, a wide body of research shows that adopted children are consistently more at risk for mental health and behavioral problems. The media likes to talk about trauma as the source of an adopted child’s issues, but far less attention is given to the issue of identity. For children adopted out of “non-white” countries in particular, their lives are placed into a question of belonging as soon as they step foot on American soil. My parents have never given me reason to question whether or not I “belonged” in their family. I grew up in a house brimming with love and patience for figuring out how three pieces of a puzzle would fit together. But no matter how certain my parents were that I was their child, all of their love could not stop the questions of, “Where are you originally from?” and “Those are your parents?” from entering my life. How could I belong when my body didn’t?

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At the beginning, my parents struggled with confronting the issue themselves. As a child born in the southwest region of China—a region known for its high level of ethnic diversity—my darker, southern skin clearly distinguished me from my mostly white peers in Boulder County, Colorado. I had dark almond eyes and when I was younger, fine, Chinese ink hair that fell long down my back. My mom tried to find a balance. For years, she signed me up for calligraphy lessons and cultural camps where adopted children from China could learn more about the far off place they had come from. I spent most of it miserable, and introverted. I struggled with making friends with the kids who looked like me the most, and struggled further with the realization that maybe I didn’t even want friends who looked like me. At the age of five, I couldn’t understand why I was learning about a country I had, for all intents and purposes, never been to. How I understood it, I had left China behind when I’d been adopted. And yet, China had never left me, as far as other people were concerned. Because I was born into a yellow body, people saw me as yellow. Try as I might—and I tried the hardest when I was at the impressionable stage of early childhood—I could not divorce myself from my Chinese heritage. I could ask my mom to stop bringing mooncakes to class, to stop enrolling me in Chinese heritage camp, to stop hoping that the other girls adopted from China would become my best friends—but the problem existed before all of it. And I didn’t have a way out. When you’re adopted, the common narrative states that you’re either the type of adopted child that resents your biological parents, or you’re the type that will scour the world to find them. But for some adopted children, it’s neither. Perhaps because I grew up loving my parents, I never felt any need to find out the origins of my story. I knew that it was likely they’d given me up because they were poor, and that I’d likely been the second child at a time when China’s One Child Policy enabled the abandonment of thousands of baby girls across the country. But why would I look for my biological parents when my own parents were already with me? Having been raised by my white American parents since I was a year old, there was no separation for me between


biological and adopted. My parents never tried to hide my adoption from me, but as a family we never discussed the repercussions or not looking like your mom and dad. Another part of it came from my own anxieties about my adoption. The creeping feeling that I was only borrowing my yellow body. I was Chinese without being Chinese, and as much as I tried to live in ignorance I simply couldn’t escape the face that stared at me in the mirror every day.

I was desperate to be someone other than the little Chinese girl living down the block or sitting in the classroom. For a long time, there was genuine confusion as to why the color of my skin was the biggest mode of identification people had for me. Couldn’t they see that I was white, just like everybody else? Mom came from an upper class family in Ohio. Papa was raised by unwavering Catholics in Louisiana. I loved my country and celebrated every Fourth of July with red white and blue tarts and fireworks set off illegally in our driveway, just like everybody else. I wanted to believe that who I was began when my parents had first brought me home, ill from living in an under-funded orphanage for too long and exhausted on that July day in 1996. I wanted to believe that I was American because the Chinese part had never happened. Consciously or not, I worked to live my life as any other white, middle class American, and by high school, I had gotten pretty good at living within my own fictive dream. It helped that by ninth grade, kids were beginning to get over their school yard taunts of ching chong! ching chong! and pulling the corners of their eyes into narrow slits. Or maybe I was just getting used to it. Growing up, only a rare fraction of my everyday friend group was of color. The school district had a significant number of Latinx students, but as I entered the IB program and got shuttled away into separate classes, that population began to dwindle. The IB program did, however, attract the majority of the Indian and Asian populations at the school, but my relationship with them was stunted with the fact that although I may have a yellow body, I was not truly like any of them. And even then, we were all caught in the cogs of racial politics; we were all desperate to be white. We were all desperate to fit in.

W

e were all caught in the cogs of racial politics; we were all desperate to be white. We were all desperate to fit in.

By the time I got to college I’d lived almost eighteen years of avoiding my past. I’d always been an independent person, and I was confident (as confident as any eighteen year old is by the end of high school) about who I was. But in college, the person I had been building from elementary school didn’t matter anymore. Thousands of miles away from the eastern slopes of the Rockies, I found myself back at square one and this time the solutions didn’t seem so simple. It didn’t help that at the time I was entering college, stronger movements for racial consciousness in the country were brewing. College was the first place I ever heard the term “person of color” being used—and by the time I was starting university, I no longer could fool myself about being one. But did I really fulfill what being a POC meant? The weight of the word, when abbreviated and when nominalized into its lowercase poc, felt foreign on my tongue. What right did I have in calling myself a poc when the only thing poc about me was my skin? What did it mean when, at the end of the day, I’d been raised white all along?

My mom likes to tell the story of when I was first delivered to them in the dingy, two star lobby of the hotel their adoption group was staying in. For the first 72 hours, I refused to smile. While other families were being united with gurgling infants and wails of hunger, I continued to stare at them with a careful gaze that was clearly try-

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ing to gauge whether or not to trust the man and woman in front of me. When I think back on that story now, I wonder if I was trying to find myself in my white parents’ eyes. Where did I fit in with my mother’s murky blue-green eyes? My father’s greens? When I think back on that story now, I wonder if it was the beginning of an identity crisis.

Despite all of its fairytale-like components, adoption places children in a limbo. You’re caught between growing up American and growing up Yellow, existing as both one without the other and as a queered assemblage. Although it can provide a space to forge one’s own identity, a space to move beyond the circumstances of one’s birth and choose the path of one’s own life, it also dogs you with the question of Who You Are. It asks you to keep rolling the boulder up the hill—and then forces you to watch as each time, without fail, it comes rolling back when you think you’ve reached the top.

The German restaurant I work at hits its busy period during the fall, when it puts on a two month celebration of Oktoberfest despite the actual festival in Munich having a commercial runtime of two weeks. But regardless of any slip in authenticity, the festival brings a rush of popularity to the restaurant alongside its regular crowd. Although nearly the entire kitchen staff come from Latin America, there are enough white servers on the front end of the house that tables are usually taken by surprise when I come up to take their order. By the end of the second week of Oktoberfest, I stop keeping count of the comments. “So, what part of Germany are you from?” the bearded man sitting at table thirteen asks, clearly already hearing the punchline in his head. He later tells me (in quite a few words) that he is a professor of international economics down at Georgetown. With his wide belly and tweed jacket, he looks exactly like Professor Unrat from Der Blaue Engel, but there is nothing in customer service that promotes making comparisons between paying customers and unpleasant German cinema characters who meet their ultimate demise after falling for beautiful cabaret singers.

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“I’m not from Germany myself, but I studied there all of last year in Berlin. Actually, Berlin has a rather significant Southeast Asian population in the city,” I say, but I can tell that he’s already uninterested. For him, it doesn’t matter that I studied in Germany for a year, living with a Mexican woman who was more German than she was Latina. It doesn’t matter that I’m working at a German restaurant to continue improving my German, that I’ve been studying German history since I was a child. All that matters is that I am in front of him, and I am yellow. And if I can’t be German, I can’t be American, either. So, what part of Germany are you from? Well?


If You Give a Millennial a Cubicle by Feliz Moreno

It’s like this: if you give a millennial a cubicle, she may ask for push pins to hang her vision board, a map of the countries she wants to travel. If you give a millennial a cubicle, she may ask for an ergonomic keyboard, a ball chair, a mouse, too. The baby boomers will scowl and complain about their wilted backs, their looming Lasik surgery while they drink their pour-overs and ignore their email inboxes. If you give a millennial a cubicle, she will believe that she is entitled to some money. If you give her money, she will ask for enough to pay her rent in this overpriced city. If she makes enough money to pay her rent, she may then ask for health care and dental. If you give the millennial benefits, she might also want to take weekends off – maybe holidays, too. “She hasn’t earned paid vacation,” the baby boomers will grumble in the kitchen, before plodding off to their chilled, gray work dens. If you give her all of this, she will begin to believe she is deserving of a decent boss, a team of coworkers that appreciate her. When she feels appreciated, she may ask for more non-entry level tasks. She might ask to be taken off kitchen duty, that she be assigned to something slightly more complex than answering phones and sorting mail. When you teach her to write copy and schedule media posts, she will confirm that she can handle it, and she will expect a proportional amount of respect and compensation. If you give a millennial a cubicle, eventually, she may grow a back bone. She might start to wear a disgruntled face at meetings or go silent during conference calls while she skims through other job listings. If you give a millennial a cubicle, she may eventually refuse to get stuck sorting the mail again, and when management threatens her with a no-fault termination, she might just take it. Because if you give a millennial a cubicle, she might eventually box up the books and the plants on her desk in search of the sunshine she missed from nine-to-five. And the baby boomers will scowl and sip their cold afternoon coffee. “Millennials are a dime a dozen anyway,” they will say, and they will throw her vision board in the trash to make room in the cubicle for the next one.

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Marrón (Brown) by Jose Oseguera

Brown is the color of shame; Brown is the cross nailed to my nose and brow. Brown is my blindness; Brown is the darkness that shrouds injustice. Brown is the color of not-being-white; Brown is a wall looming heavy and wet on my back. Brown is the past I can’t detach from; Brown is a future that will always seem unattainable. Brown is not being quite what they’re looking for. Brown is the smell of their laughter, the taste of my failure. Brown is what I hear in their rejection; Brown is the dividend in the equation— Dividing the nothing you get with the nothing you’re told that you are. Brown is mourning every loss, though there are many; Brown is knowing that to not hurt is to not live. Brown is modern genocide ribbon-tied as comprehensive immigration policy; Brown is whatever you need these refugees to be and do that you wouldn’t want to do yourself. Brown are the bedtime stories of exploradores outwitting indios pendejos into sharing their lands for free, forever; Brown was the look in their eyes, sweet and naïve. Brown was their benevolence when they welcomed white immigrants off their boats, and gave them food, shelter and wives; Brown is the soft spot every indio has in their hearts for blonde hair, light eyes and skin that pinks in the heat. Brown was their tierra with no walls or borders where you could be free, Where you could be new; Brown was the freedom to take and give nothing in return.

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Brown is the conquistadores defeating the indians into giving up more than their property, And names and bodies and their children’s freedom, And their children’s children’s hopes and dreams Of ever being more than dumb brown people; Brown was all there was left when these royal pirates raped the land and ripped out the veins of gold and silver from earth’s sinews. Brown is the Spanish that’ll never be proper enough; Brown is the English that switches “sh” for “ch” and “ch” for “sh.” Brown is making peace with a past that is unchangeable; Brown is a race I run in, yet one I can’t run away from. Brown is the color of dirt, bountiful, worthless if left uncultivated; Brown are the rolling hills of unheard prayers Too high for us to overcome, Too low for God to care. Brown is the stain that is a whole people; Brown is fighting over the crumbs That fall from the corners of mouths that laugh at our “spick espanich?” Brown is the fear to fail in a world designed for you to fail; Brown are the blueprints that read: “You’ll never try anyway And if you ever do, you’ll give up in the end, Or, better yet, fail.” Brown is the hope I’ve seeded in the vast fields of my soul That the brown on our skin will no longer eclipse The brown bright in our minds; Brown are all the shades of humankind, With ours as the richest. Brown is just a color we always wear As indios were the first people on this land we call home; Brown means that we came from them And it is our duty to continue to protect these lands-Their lands, Our lands. Brown is teaching those who fight To own them as if they could own the wind That even if brown was dirt, Dirt is earth and earth is life. Brown is the color of love, Of forgiveness, compassion, and healing;

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Brown is the fountainhead of resilience and survival. Brown is immortality in spite of our silenced history; Brown is the time to write a new story, a better one Because we’re better than whatever others think brown is. Brown is you as brown is me; Brown is as undeniable as breath. Brown is no longer a curse; Brown is as beautiful as it has always been. Brown is a promise of a future in which we no longer blame our ancestors; Brown sets their spirits free from the bonds of sin. Brown are these inconsolable children Whom nobody remembers; Brown is the comfort that only we can provide Their memories will die if we don’t. Brown is the price our border-crossing parents paid with their sweat; Brown are those who maimed their hands with work— Made peace with never having enough, And the shit they learned to take pride in. Brown were those who fell in love, laughed, cried to build this nation; Brown is not owing anyone anything. Brown is our ability to overcome adversity; Brown is remembering who you truly are.

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Reincarnate Me If ever the world swallows me whole, reincarnate me. Cover me in shimmering excellence and drape the memory of me in the shades of my people. Bathe me in rough Indian seas and rinse my feet in the gentle Ethiopian coast along the north. Caress my expired existence from head to toe, make poetry of my obituary, love me in my absence and wax lyrical about my character. If ever the world swallows me whole and I forget to speak love unto my people, make it rain lead with soundtrack symphonies of shell casings hitting suburban pavements. Recreate me in the image of my mother. Mould my heart in the wrath of my father. Shape my breath in warmth and humility and carve my curves in a fine baobab trunk. Stain my lips with the taste of good food. So if ever the world swallows me whole and I forget to speak peace into you, Our history repeats itself like ‘76 with pressing footsteps, crackling fires and angry hearts. Recreate me in the essence of my grandmother and mould my heart in the humbleness of my grandfather. For souls tend to stray away from their purpose.

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THANK YOU FOR READING

Profile for Watermelanin Magazine

Watermelanin Magazine: Issue One  

Theme: Unfunny Contents 65th Annual General Aptitude Examination by Yamilette Vizcaíno The Baby’s Crazy by Olivia Jones Drum Circle by Ron...

Watermelanin Magazine: Issue One  

Theme: Unfunny Contents 65th Annual General Aptitude Examination by Yamilette Vizcaíno The Baby’s Crazy by Olivia Jones Drum Circle by Ron...

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