At first, we thought the black liquid was oil, that we'd struck it rich and that we'd be able to retire and live in leisure. We actually started writing down all the ways we'd spend the money. Our first choice was to purchase a new drilling rig, to explore the rest of the region. I knew Dave had the same thought in his mind. We were conjuring up unheard riches to be ours, sure of the fact that our land was going to shower us with wealth, with affluence not seen or heard of since the Great Mansa Musa.

Despite all my thoughts of great wealth and my desire to buy another drilling rig to obtain more black gold, I do not wish to be regarded as avaricious or materialistic.  It’s just that I was born with nothing, and I made my way through most of my life barely possessing anything; I do not know of shelter, I do not know of more than one meal a day, I do not know of a wholesome meal, I do not know of kindness, and I do not know for life to be anything but harsh.

I know what it’s like to come from nothing, to live in a world devoid of any hope, to lead a life filled only with desolation. I was born to Ethan and Abigail Cohen; the only memory and the connection I have left with them is their name I carry. After my baptism at my birth, the Christian name conferred upon me was Irvin. Irvin was a leader in the book of The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus; the name Irvin resonates with the thought of leadership and of a land of peace and calm, none of which I have ever been privileged to experience during the struggle that is my life. My name is also a reminder of how faith is simply being blind to the truth, how faith is a tool for the weak, and how mythology and fiction have no place in the reality of life. I am not filled with greed, all I wish for is to be able to live in a fable most privileged do to have security, to never have to return to the life of damnation.

My vision is for a certain and assured future for me and for my family, for each of our desires, longings and yearnings to be met. I don't wish for my offsprings to be to part of the invisible masses, who have no identity or refuge, and do not exist in this conglomerate of a world.

Growing up in the streets of Calgary, Alabama, I understood the world well: only those who had money had any existence whatsoever, any social standing, any individual identity and only those who were dishonest, devious, treacherous, immoral, corrupt, deceitful, unscrupulous and crooked had any money in this world. There has never been anything amoral, immoral or moral, there are only those with the balls and the conviction to take what they wish for and those who justify their own failures.

In Calgary, my favourite place was the Headquarters of the Rosemund International up at 630-3rd Avenue. It was the largest employer of thieves in Calgary; over 7,500 thieves worked there. It was the only place that gave me hope and a one-time meal. The corporate office had the biggest dumpster in Calgary. From the outside, the crystal building contained all the hope in the world, which was locked away from me. Through those cold nights and days of deprivation, I thought one day I’ll be inside and on the top floor, and once I am there, I would keep it all to myself.

As I stood there, with what I thought was oil being ejected from the ground, as I stood there being showered with black gold, with my future, as I stood there, my future of affluence and security felt detectable. As I stood there, recounting my life experiences, the lessons I have learned, recounting the things I wished for, I looked beside myself and I saw Dave with the same hope that shone within me, which both of us were devoid of our entire lives.

I found Dave in the same dumpster beside the headquarters of the Evil Corporation, left there covered in a tattered rag, barely a few months old, left to rot like everything else in that dump. I was just 13 then, I only cared about myself and I could only consider myself with my condition, but even I hadn't lost all my innocence and humanity. With no certainty about how I would provide for Dave and no prospects for the future, I took Dave as my brother, my connection to humanity, my responsibility, my family.

I looked beside myself and I saw Dave filled with the expectation of leaving behind the darkness, of using our discovery to build us a land of our dreams, of achieving each aspiration we ever longed for.

I could discern that the land I stood on contained the resolution to all my troubles, nodi, and predicaments. It meant leaving the real-life inferno that I inhabited, to be at the top floor of the crystal building I could only stare at. All my life, I wasn't certain if I would survive another passing day. Today, at this moment, suddenly, that fear went away; I knew I had the holy grail. I came from nothing and I had long decided that I will never go back to that hellhole, now I just had to secure my holy grail. I looked around to see there was no one who could threaten my destiny before I stopped at Dave, my family.

Dave was all I had.

But Dave had grown up with me in the Sheol; we belonged to the Canto XXXIV. Streets taught me to survive and I taught him all I knew. The rule of the street is everything's a game: eat or be eaten; to survive, you must strip away all inhibitions and strip down to your elementary, instinctive nature of being, to be your animalistic self. Both of us had animalistic instincts and both of us were damned to Sheol.

“I can't trust him, no one can trust an animal...I cannot go back into nothingness...I will have a secure future...I know what I have to do.”

Rudraksh Lakra will be starting law school this year. He has always had an unexplored flair for writing, and most of his work is always full of ingenious references to various critically acclaimed TV shows and movies. While being relatively simple to read, you'll always a deeper meaning to whatever he writes.

To Live, Love, Leave & Die Like my Favourite Hollywood Movie Character

To say hello like Jack Dawson:

Class-blind, convinces suicide prospect 

in the middle of merciless sea

that life’s always worth living

and love, and love alone,

doesn’t sink. 


To bid goodbye as Rhett Butler:

Wandering gambler stakes everything

for a happy home. Then,

finding love long spurned 

has vitiated his spirit thin and worn,

rejects fate of passing days as prey 

entangled in a net of cracks 

and, upon her turnaround,



Only to return as Heathcliff:

To his beloved and declare 

in her husband’s face 

that the estate singed by their secrets, 

which fields in servitude he tended, 

then left a bitter man, 

is now his.


Then sacrifice the affair à la Rick Blaine:

Lets her board plane and fly

through the grey war-torn sky, 

leaving him on tarmac grim,

convinced that a nation’s liberation 

surpasses whatever lovers

share and bear.


And finally, to die as Michael Corleone:

Old Don sits on his courtyard chair,

unreels films in his mind’s eye,

plays each scene with laboured breath.

His last thoughts on loves past and lost

haunt as unpunished crimes,

every heave crude measure 

of blighting time,

until he falls and slumps face down,

ends motionless with lips planted

on parched, sunlit ground.

Karlo Sevilla writes from Quezon City, Philippines and is the author of two poetry collections: "Metro Manila Mammal" (Soma Publishing, 2018) and "You" (Origami Poems Project, 2017). He was a runner-up in Submittable's 2018 National Poetry Month poetry contest and one of his poems is nominated by Ariel Chart for the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology. His poems have appeared in Philippines Graphic, Philippines Free Press, Radius, Eclectica, Matter, and in other literary journals and anthologies around the world. He currently studies for the Sertipika sa Panitikan at Malikhaing Pagsulat sa Filipino (Certificate in Literature and Creative Writing in Filipino) program of the Center for Creative Writing of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. 


She has a dead fetus in her purse, the third one this year, dropped from a bloody stream. Thighs. She felt a stinging cramp and then rushed to the bathroom where a blob hit the edge of the toilet seat then fell to the floor. It was wrapped in toilet paper.

Green sweaters, the mantel at Nana's – Christmas and smelly candles. Starlight mints from motels, secrets in locked trunks, and the cedar of memories. This time, Johnny never came back. Yet, she waits by the wall phone whose long spiraling cord hangs like vortex. Like time bombs. Like migrating insects found dead at the bottom of the closet next to his dusty boots. Boots of a man...always leaving. She taps her fingers on the table, heart dropping like a favorite coffee mug on tile. You know, the one from San Francisco, the last American vacation of (full) gas tanks, 2 door Monte Carlo's, and Samsonite luggage. Back when high school romance meant proms, teddy bears, underground music, and dreams of foreign lands. Pen pals in India, Czechoslovakia – she wads the tablecloth in her fist. When she realized he never came back to try again, she climbed the fire escape, planned and denied suicide, decided on shopping instead – lace up boots for long treks on bustling rainy streets. Postcards of back wood roads and farms, picturescapes of a naturist dream – tree houses, backyard wells, small town bizarres, and babies. Those elder lady bizarres of felt ornaments, knit socks, blankets, and mirrored knick-knacks. Those small towns of elder ladies, 50 years of marriage, lipstick gunking in the cracks of their lips, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and Bible societal lies. 

She burns those postcards in back alleys; lighters and sketches of phantasmagorical horror. Sold at art festivals in flimsy makeshift booths of steel pipes and plastic clips. Beneath the tarps, the tall pines are tucked within the last botanical area within thousands of miles of city sprawl. Concrete, plaster, condo's blocking views, rush hour traffic and millions gather.

On her way to work she waves as they drop their children off at school, elementary smiles and chubby cheeks. The women protect their babies from this predator. City streets, dawn of the dead, clock in, clock out, rush home. Computer strain, fluorescent lamp tan, elevators, and parking garages. Fire escapes. Fire escapes. The fire that burns inside of her when the babies all die.

She never knows what to do with the bodies.

She would buy a wig, a new wardrobe, tell her friends to call her Jackie, sign up for screen-printing classes. Yes, make t-shirts of all the places she wished she could visit. Every day, strapped behind that desk like a matrix revival of the main-frame. T-shirts that say, “I love Prague”, “I love Berlin”, “I love Russia”, “I love France”, “I love Great Britain”, I love everywhere but this hell I'm in.

Tracy L. Lyall resides in a dungeon beneath the steamy streets of Houston, TX. Born in the 1970's during the time of roller-disco and cool, cigarette-smoking tomboys, she spent her early years travelling on Greyhound buses and experiencing life, much of which became the basis of her writing/art/photography ventures. After writing for underground zines then progressing to poetry, her writing spanned into journalistic media. Published by university presses, magazines, and small press. Currently raising a series of fiction and creative non-fiction novels along with two Joeys, she continues pursuing degrees of all kinds and running an online literary zine – while producing works of art and photographing many moments.


Greet me with suspicion when I offer these 

free poems then never mention it again : 

it’s always somebody’s five o’clock somewhere

& in its shadow I have sheltered 


whenever I’ve made the mistake of scraping

against the grain. If I had a nickel

for every time I was a dime a dozen

I’d have enough money to’ve sprung 


for the extra large organic cotton balls. 

I’ve not got a bright light in which

to hold you, but when it’s needed I’ll

still flick the switch


& wake to greet these lesson plans, 

another case of the vapours sustaining me

with only occasional 

palpitations. Heaven is nothing


but the blush of hours right before they 

rust & the brighter

it gets, the more likely I am 

to gobble my yearly allotment 


of cultural capital in one 

immodest gulp: the fear

of missing out vs. the feat of leaving 

the house just in time for doling


out of torques & war horses. 

I bought tissues & fresh razor

blades, a decongestant that makes 

my hands shake in the space 


between disassociation & 

sinus infection, red slashes across

 price tag righteous in their bargains.  

I can’t afford your anchor


& so I drift for now toward the columns 

of flame, but one day you won’t 

own me & I won’t owe you & we could 

turn blue if we held our breaths 


in the face of each others’ scant 

& immodest treasures. The temptation 

is to think of what comes after 

as a gateway when bricks are not 


cemented & so the road

continues to shift. The present

persists whether I am present for it

or not & resistance is just 


something to do while we’re waiting

for the second shoe hits the floor : 

a mountain, a river, a boatman 

& a bridge. 


In the course of things,

we coarsened.  We shed our thongs, 

sarongs & body stockings, tucked our socks 

under the sofa with our fast 


food wrappers. Tied ourselves in knots 

with enough discipline to outstrip

our masters.  

outstripping the masters until all 


was forgotten, 

ill-gotten, bought & resold 

for ten times its supposed value. Alone

in our loan modifications, 


we people in this world still have thirsts 

that steal us from sleep. The neighbourhood watch

gets supplanted by the chyron’s crawl,

but the  block captain is still shouting


himself hoars, oblivious to the bunch of us

still waiting our turn. Another woman

wearing a tiny sombrero

vomits margarita mix & neon nacho 


cheese onto the street & just as suddenly 

the ringleader of the kids who used to sit on our stoop 

obscenely heckling commuters

 is in jail for murder & stayed on the run for days 


until somebody shot the windows out of his dad’s

house around the corner. Try to render it down

until the sound is clean & round,

not the high-pitched whine I’ve emitted 


ever since I could write my name 

in giant block print. The sidewalk Brahmin 

told us that happiness is a choice 

while forcing the sacred brochure into our hands, 


so to celebrate we buy shiny shirts. Pretend 

to give two shits. Find new jeans too stiff. 

Sniff at the liver of another false prophet 

while they’re all still saying sooth 


besides the glittering swimming pool.

I would volunteer to be their sin eater 

if I could taste a hint of pleasure 

along with the ash, chew & swallow 


their pain in the name of cultivating 

a kind of scarcity lest the guest list 

be meaningless in its transitive 

glamour. I’d perform the social niceties, 


forsaking the sacred fountain for the salt lick 

at the centre of the eternal paternal language 

of behooving. On top of the storage cabinet,

the basket of plastic toys


earned by being a good boy: I memorized 

my time's tables then stapled the web of my left hand 

to see what would happen,

let my friend stab my right & the pencil


lead is still in there right now. One

punch & my entire wardrobe 

becomes a bruise. One concussion 

& I wasn’t sure why sucking 


the marrow out of life suddenly tasted 

so totally gross. No grace, no refinement, just 

the grudging acceptance of possessing 

so much cheap fiberboard furniture. 


It’s less oratory than a sketch toward an impression 

of walking in a giant arc to find the same carcass 

decaying just off of the path :

 you doubt the route but pursue it, anyway,


everything seemingly arbitrary but still nestled 

in its place. I’d thought the point was opacity 

& had been taught to be embarrassed 

by necessity’s directness,


but sincerity is everywhere & 

ear to the juice glass, 

glass pressed against the thin plaster,

I would strive to intercept their confessions


& be content, let it all accumulate, 

such as it is, until I open into an understanding 

of this moment. How he zips his windbreaker 

all the way up. How he patiently patches his vest 


one stitch at a time. How we try to decide 

whether we’re all special 

or nothing is. How they’ve found our albums, 

are playing the old songs even now. 

Chris McCreary's most recent book of poems is [ neüro / mäntic ] (Furniture Press 2014). You can find his reviews and interviews on sites such as FanzineThe Volta, and Rain Taxi. He teaches English and creative writing at a high school outside of Philadelphia. 

{ x | f'(x) does not exist }

(La Motte, Iowa)


That sky—so close

as if pressing down

on us, and this

down on this moment like

coffee grounds being pushed

against the sieve to extract

its liquid soul, brew who

we are and discard the rest.

I feel the weight of its blues

and whites on my shoulder

mimicking the solitude I

pretend to brush off, that I

pretend isn’t stalking me,

shadowing my movements

among a sea of people on

the top of this hill like

a gathered blanket, politely

tripping over the passionless

music and becoming entranced

in their own pretenses and not

noticing mine. I’m supposed

to feel something, I think.

Small, perhaps. Or hopeful.

Overwhelmed? That the field

is endless in all directions

except up, where the sky

is oppressive and suffocating

and I am questioning the way

time here is constructed,

with its vacuum singularities

dotting the sway of celebrating

voices like landmines.

It would be nice if someone

other than me would get

sucked into one of them, and

we could huddle shielded from

that sky and make remarks about

the hypocrisy and plastic gaiety

and that music that says nothing

to us, punctuated by fireworks.

And maybe afterwards we could

bury our secret with loosely

packed dirt and agree to

leave it, sealed with a handshake

and emerge, as from a theatre

of light, into the new night,

our eyes adjusting to the darkness

and the newly drunken quality of

the voices, go our separate ways

and act casually around each other

on the bus on the way home,

as if we hadn’t judged all that

was here, like small, overwhelmed,

fallen gods.

Iris Orpi is a Filipina poet, novelist, and screenwriter living in Chicago, IL. She is the author of four books of compiled poems, including Hand Painted and Rampant and Golden. Her work has appeared in over two dozen online and print publications all over Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa. She was a 2014 Honorable Mention for the Contemporary American Poetry Prize, given annually by Chicago Poetry Press.

June Strawberry Moon

the surgical glue in my sister’s sewn jaw. the single 

meat, the lipid unsought, in my styrofoam box. the 


tourmaline stone, electro-formed, rutilated quartz

and druzy slice. the pomelo tangled, a tablespoon of


grenadine in my hurricane, down the face of my silk 

faille, dove-coloured and gummed. the pharmaceutical


running low, to the ground, running out, smelling of

vinegar, unhelpful, expired. I aspire to be worshipped,


coveted like a coven of junegrass, discoloured cartilage 

out the oven. I am arranged, prostrate, under a cylinder, 


lucent and pocked. I lock myself up for the year—no 

longer a sister, not a person, not able to be in motion, 


red florid, an angiosperm, a morsel of sucrose, 

erotic as an eye dropper, almost letting slip.

Emily Corwin is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Indiana University, as well as the former poetry editor of Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, New South, Yemassee, Gigantic Sequins, THRUSH, and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press) which were published in 2016. Her first full-length collection, tenderling was just released from Stalking Horse Press.


I took the form of so much noise––

blip, tussle, squeam. it seems as though

my room, however temporary, the room

pops bodily––rheumatism, arthritic and

brutal. in a crawlspace, in many pits of

blotted dirt, you wallow along me, request

for contact, with an implication of clutching

under my dresser. I fling back a crystal whiskey

decanter, I can't believe you––not even your

endearing hair behind the earlobule, behind a

neck susceptible, the disease arose, soldered me

to a cylinder of beads, dusted lozenge. I shelled

off these human clothes, horrid and mortal,

like an emotion, inarticulate and with spark.

Emily Corwin is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Indiana University, as well as the former poetry editor of Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, New South, Yemassee, Gigantic Sequins, THRUSH, and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press) which were published in 2016. Her first full-length collection, tenderling was just released from Stalking Horse Press.


The asp still coiled around my wrists,
I cradle it even now, 

another subject to nurse –
to love. 

Its final kiss, its magic strike
a marvellous thing. 

My salad days wither and wrinkle
at its sinful touch. 

A refusal to kiss a conquering hand,
to obey, to kneel as a queen. 

Infinitely Isis, my love
pours out across the land – 

rebirthing a nation,
swaddling them in gold cloth. 

Not an enchantress,
a mother – 

Not another Shakespearean tragedy,
a victory.

Kirsty A. Niven is from Dundee, Scotland where she lives with her husband and cats. Her poetry has appeared in a number of places including Artificial Womb, The Dawntreader, Dundee Writes, Cicada Magazine and Laldy.

I Am

I am…











I am…

a refugee,

a homeless veteran,

a Native American.


I am…

a woman.


I am…

from shithole countries

and broken-down palaces.

My face

is all the colors

of the rainbow

in shades of brown.


I came here from Naples

as Antonio,

a young man

on a steamship

called the Giuseppe Verdi,


and alone.


I came here

on an airplane from Havana

as Lydia,

a young girl of eleven

with my father

to Idlewylde Airport,

wearing a scratchy crinoline slip

underneath my stiff, new dress

with no winter coat

and saw snow

for the very first time.


I came here

as Juliette,

a young woman

on a boat

from Haiti.

I became an American citizen

as soon as I could

and I celebrated that day

every year of my life

until the day I died.


I am…


but I am also you.


I am everyone

who has ever yearned

to breathe free.


I am…

wretched refuse

and tempest-tost.


I am…

that golden door,

beckoning you

to come inside

and stay awhile,

inviting you

to build a new life

in me.

Catherine Gigante-Brown's poetry has appeared in Ravishly, Art & Understanding and Downtown Express. She has been featured poet at BookMark Bards, Brooklyn Poetry Outreach and Green Pavilion Poets. She and Darryl Alladice have performed “My Brooklyn, Your Brooklyn,” their spoken-word coming of age piece, at the Cornelia Street Café, the Park Slope Barnes & Noble, and the Italian American Museum. Her novels, “The El,” "The Bells of Brooklyn," and “Different Drummer” are published by Volossal. Her poem, "Namaste," appears in the anthology "Eternal Snow."

Double Shadow

The bricklayer of twilight

is busy, laying down the colors

at right angles, the moments

as big as ultimatums.

There is a catch, when

the night resolves to allow

another reluctant embrace

before rattling off

everybody’s names.

The two-way glass slowly

transitions from flat oxygen

to mirror,

gatekeeper of contrasts.

I am looking at my own

eyes now after

the pothole-riddled street,

becoming pashmina patterns

cast across buffed wood,

bleached regret,

sorrow in a paper cup

with a plastic lid.

Iris Orpi is a Filipina poet, novelist, and screenwriter living in Chicago, IL. She is the author of four books of compiled poems, including Hand Painted and Rampant and Golden. Her work has appeared in over two dozen online and print publications all over Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa. She was an 2014 Honorable Mention for the Contemporary American Poetry Prize, given annually by Chicago Poetry Press.

Beauty Parlour

Step inside my parlour,

my pampering parlour. 

You will be remade, reborn,

stroked and smoothed,

petted and prodded,

cosseted and curled,

given the attention you deserve

as well as a new face

and shiny new hair.


In Pampers Parlour we’ll recreate you.

We’ll reboot your confidence

and give you a new chemistry

as we gloss your hair and lips.

As we shape your face

with new shadows and glows.

As we apply layer upon layer

of chemical shit topped by

nose retching fragrances.

You won’t know yourself when 

you step outside 

dolled up to perfection,

protected in your new mask.


And what then?

Will you go home 

and comb it all out

and wash it all off,


after all, 

the person,

with the old skin

and fresh air colour

to the new robotic doll.

The pampers product is 

designed to be disposable, 

after all.


Or will you keep it 

as long as you can...

Try not to move your new face.

Try not to upset your new hair.

Place a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign

on your forehead.

Keep it as long as you can.

Even if stinky and crusty,

you’ll still have your face on.

You feel 

so bland,

so pale,

so wan,


without it

on the journey back

to the beauty parlour.

Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dreams, fantasy and reality. Her poem 'A Rose For Gaza' was shortlisted for the Theatre Cloud 'War Poetry for Today' competition 2014. This and many other poems have been widely published in recent anthologies and journals such as Apogee, Firewords, Pilcrow & Dagger, Indie Soleil, Light and Snapdragon.

Tree Burial


Texas Deputy John King Fisher was interred under an oak, loving father and husband ripped from his wife by bullets torn through his body by those who didn’t convert from crime to law like him, torn from the roots of his grave-marker by the moving of a cemetery, his cast iron box un-ensnared by roots that only wanted a companion, laid to rest beneath dirt and stone as the gnarled tree waves its limbs longingly at its former cohabitant. 

The Ojibwa and other forest tribes swaddled their parents and grandparents in blankets and placed them in the forked limbs of cottonwoods, the loving arms protecting their charges from the mouths of predators and scavengers. Children and grandchildren could sit at their feet and listen to the dead whispering the leaves, taking comfort as those messages loosened and fell in their asking hands.


When a tree dies naturally, it usually happens slowly. Something, a fungus or other parasite, takes up residence within the roots, sapping its nutrients. We can’t see the effects of the parasite until it’s too late. When we do finally notice, it’s usually because the leaves blacken and fall too early, the air-gatherers shaking free in one long cough. When the tree finally succumbs, it can stay upright for years, bony fingers frozen in the sky, marking its own grave. Squirrels may still use it as a pantry. Birds may still perch on its branches, singing. 

These dead-standing trees are called widow makers. They dry out, whitening in the sun, brittling. A strong gust of wind from the right direction can push them to the ground, like an older sibling playing too rough. When the tree lands it becomes a log, but anyone resting under its sparse shade is unlikely to survive the transformation.


When I die, I don’t want to lie in a tree, or underneath one. I want to become one: a seed buried, watered by rain, softened until I split, sifting through dirt like a child, a finger poking through the earth, hand raising slowly not in uncertainty, but in quiet determination. My arm bends, splits, limbs stretching toward the sky’s belly, lifting up, up, up. Time speeds as I slow, my children watering me, grandchildren reading under me, great-grandchildren swinging from my branches, their laughs rustling my leaves. 

I will remain standing for years, eventually weakening and cracking, my leaves thinning as I sicken. In this way, I will teach my family patience, and resilience, and that losing things is a part of life. And when the parasite finally takes me, I will teach them that sometimes it’s best not to linger.

Danielle Hale is an English Instructor and emerging poet. Her poems have appeared in The Citron Review and Helen Literary Magazine. She received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of North Dakota and currently resides in Wausau, WI. You can connect with her over Twitter, @DanielleHale1.


Birth Chart

For Faye Kempe

Your doctor’s hands
slide over your neck, his thumb pressing
into your lymph nodes, asks
I see your moon is in Scorpio,
have you been feeling

more vicious lately, impatient
for touch, a river carving into
your back and sliding down into
the concaves of your void?

You shrug, say maybe. You aren’t
sure what you’re feeling but know
it isn’t your normal, whatever your
normal is these days. I want

stability like train tracks, you say.
He nods, puts on his glasses, studies
your chart for a second longer
than the car horns whimpering

outside, their voices like dead
ancestors, ancestors you’ve stopped
listening to even though it’s the only
thing worth doing.

Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.

Genetics in Scribbles

I have been told by numerous people over the years that I look exactly like my mother. Your eyes, they say, have that same glint of amusement. It’s something about her mouth, others say, how it always has a secret hidden behind its smile. To me, these were always compliments that held no ground. Just conversational, empty comments that people fished around for when meeting me for the first time.

I could never associate my clumsiness to my mum’s lyrical grace. My lacklustre hair couldn't possibly hold a candle to her rich, luscious locks that never seemed to age. Her soft curves and supple back peeking out from beneath her embroidered saree showcased transcendent beauty. I looked nothing like her.

Even though I knew that these words were vain attempts to connect our shared genes, I still treasured them in the form of crumpled paper pellets at the back of my mind. Every time a relative or a well-meaning friend would tell us of our physical similarities, I would smile shyly, adding another piece to my pile of these false compliments. 

It was only after a certain age, perhaps past my preteen years, that I began to notice my mum’s sad, silent smile contrasting lightly against my sheepish one. It wasn't until another few years later that I attempted to unearth the meaning behind it.

She just looked into my eyes before she kissed me on the cheek. That was the moment it dawned on me. For the first time, I noticed creases underneath her eye that were always invisible to me before. Her cheeks took an effort to match her smile.

I went and looked into the mirror. I pulled at my eyelids and scrunched up my nose. I analysed each feature, putting it under the microscopic lenses of my judgement, to find similarities to my mother. There were none.

I hid this disappointment behind my stolen collection of false compliments, but didn't contemplate on the matter further. My mother continued being her composed, flawless self, while I, the shadow gratefully hidden from view. I liked that instead of forming a judgement of my beauty, people noticed my mother in me. I felt that it saved me from the scrutiny that I might have otherwise been subjected to. To be my mother’s daughter, however? Well, of course, she looks just like her.

Yesterday, someone made a nonchalant comment on garden vegetables. It was thrown in in the middle of the conversation, perfectly obscured amongst the other syllables surrounding it. There was absolutely no intention of a joke in it.

Still, a smile escaped my lips. My eyes fell shut in an attempt to contain my laughter. When I opened them, my mother was looking at me from the corner of her eyes, half-covering her mouth that gave away her obvious giggle. As I looked at her, my grin widening before we both burst out laughing, it suddenly made sense.

Nandini Goel is a writer whose work often focuses on metaphors, abstraction, and vague endings. She shares an explosive relationship with coffee, spends her time making mixtapes, and always has a book in her hands. You can follow her on Instagram at @thebrokencassette.