Will I be received? Will I be understood? In this place, do I belong? Who has not asked themselves these things, often, and urgently? There seems to be no guarantee that we will be given any of these. Still, we search for it. Ways to connect, to safely land, to belong, to hear and be heard - to be met with "original response" (Frost.) Some stories are harder to write than others. Some lives. Perhaps the closest we come to the questions above are those moments of "identification." In 12 step meetings; the nodding of heads, the mmm hmm, I've been there, done that too, felt this way. Our stories are uniquely our own, each with their own inarticulable and burning edge, and yet, there are some basic common themes that run through them all: the lasting effect that our upbringing has on us, the complicated relationship with our parents, the loss of our parents, the loss of our parents while they are still living, the good memories that sustain us, the bad memories that haunt us, the maladaptive coping mechanisms which sometimes work in our favor, sometimes destroy us, and the ways in which all these things shape how we move through the world, navigate conflict, friendships, careers, marriages, setbacks and disappointments, our own children, and the larger universal picture of our lives.
Winnicott has a book aptly titled "Starting from Home." And we do. Where we start from colors everything about our lives, in both good and bad ways. It's no wonder we constantly seek places of belonging and understanding. What we did not get we go off in search of. Or we build for ourselves and others. Home is in the work we create too. The work we share. And yet it's important to admit that perhaps we never completely belong or are understood. To stand in the space of that reality can lead to despair, but also curiosity, creativity, generosity. The times I have caught myself not listening closely enough to a friend as they talk, and I lean in to listen harder. The times when zoning out is as necessary as breathing. We seem to need those moments where we cannot be all there, for someone else or ourselves, as much as we do those moments where we feel more attentive, on call. Michael Eigen says that "we cannot take too much of ourselves." And so, community and belonging and being understood and received never quite feel exactly right. Or rather they never feel perfect. We never "arrive" at these things. There is, of belonging, no destination reached. But we keep searching for it. We are nothing without the search.
Michael Parsons writes that "An important aspect of our identities lies in how we relate to the people we didn't become." When confronted with alternate versions of ourselves, Parsons continues, "some can react only with violent prejudice that breaks down into outright madness, while others seem more able to offer their alternate self a home." It seems that we spend our lives trying to make homes for many different parts of ourselves. How could one home ever do when we are so many? Freud suggested that we repeat painful behaviors in order to master early painful experiences. But he also suggested that creativity served us well as a defense against breakdown. I believe that creativity broadens our emotional horizons and helps us to locate and navigate areas of our experience that we've left unexplored. And I believe that we all have this capacity, although we each nourish it, or fail to, differently.
Thomas Ogden suggests that "what is most fundamental to both poetry and therapy is the effort to enlarge the breadth and depth of what we are able to experience. Both at their best use language in a way that encompasses a full range of human experience - as Jarrell put it - from "the most awful and the most nearly unbearable parts to the most tender, subtle, and loving parts, a distance so great."
"Perhaps the almost irresistible impulse to kill the pain," Ogden continues, "and in so doing kill a part of ourselves, is what is most human about us. We turn to poetry [creativity] in part with the hope of reclaiming - or perhaps experiencing for the very first time - forms of human aliveness that we have foreclosed for ourselves."
And it's not just artists who possess this capacity, Ogden says. We each of us do. "What we make in that process is far less important than the experience of making it." [ibid] Far from infantilizing and reducing what we create, I think this speaks to the fact that the mere act of making something, anything, out of our experiences, traumas, and losses, does much more than merely defend us from breakdown, it broadens the scope of what we can bear, experience and put words to.
As I've spent the past couple of months sitting with the powerful and brave work in this issue, I've been struck by how the questions I began with were implicitly there in each submission and story shared with me. Will I be received? Will I be understood? In this place, do I belong? These are the questions that I myself always have when I send work out. Never do we ask it outright, but, sometimes, don't we? Almost?
It is my hope that the parts of you all in search of your many and varied homes have found a safe place here of "original response" to land, even if for but so brief a moment. And on to the next we all must go, yes, awfully alone in our unique journey towards whatever home we might find or make for ourselves next. Alone, but somehow also not. To speak is to be heard, by someone, somewhere.
Each issue that we have together built here in this place has helped me to grow and enlarge my own emotional horizons. Is it gauche to admit that as an editor I often find myself in tears reading your work? So be it. To me it is one of the greatest gifts of receiving these stories, "identification." Identification and tears and growth and joy. It's an honor to have built this partial, ever shifting home with you all. May you perhaps find here a few rooms unexplored in your own life, and may it bring its own share of curiosity, creativity, and soul-mending. The work is never done, but it's nice to pause every now and again and marvel at just how far we've come.
Until we meet again, friends. Continue your good work.
Bill Tyne CC
There was a time when every line
I wrote was a liferaft
made to hold my sinking body.
There was a time when every line
I wrote was a knife
at the neck of the men who hurt me,
sharp enough to make them bleed
just enough to fill my lungs as I inhaled
the breath they took and tacked
to their walls as a trophy,
my breath sprawled on a wall in a room
where happened, my body
going elsewhere, into the cold
to the boy and the closet
and the drink that he offered
the next morning
of my bedroom
window open to the ice
body warming snowmelt
growing in a puddle from my boots.
There was a time when every line I wrote was meant to fill the flesh they carved from me,
was meant to write the story I didn’t know, was meant to fill the space in front of my lips where words were supposed to come but couldn’t.
I would say
something happened to me
and just saying that
took years of my life
no line can give back.
Why I’m Allowed to Sit with My Legs Spread Wide
1. When the cheerleading coach asks what song should be in the nationals routine, I almost
ask for the sound of my mother telling me once again to close my legs, the soft swish of
her hands pushing my knees together on a bus, at the movie theater, as we wait to hear
my grandmother’s doctor give us the bad news, at the funeral where the man who never
knew her stands before the congregation and says, “She would’ve offered anyone an open
hand,” and my mother leans over to whisper that her mother would’ve been gone by now.
2. When the cheerleading coach asks what song should be in the nationals routine, I almost
ask if anybody’s got a recording of the coach leaning her body weight onto my bowed-
out knees, the soundless sound of my ankles smashing the floor, the sigh of thighs
stretched so tight I forget that they’re a part of me and not just something to be proud of
3. When the cheerleading coach asks what song should be in the nationals routine, I almost
ask if I can bring my boyfriend to show them the sound I make when he pushes my leg
behind my head, how it doesn’t hurt anymore but I still pretend so he’ll cum on my face
and not inside me.
4. How this time, he cums on my face and not inside me and I think maybe if I let them
keep stretching me like this
5. Next time, I won’t break.
How We Go
for Haley Gabriella Feldmann
How the tiny paper circle guarding the bottom of the candle has, by design, holes to let the candle in. How I tried to let the candle in. How some years the candle can’t touch me where I go. How some years we can’t touch them where they go. How some years there are birds with them where they go. How some years there are squirrels with them where they go and bioluminescent algae spreading their message across the surface of the universe. How their light penetrates every plane of existence. How ours puddles at the bottom of a stone amphitheater and leaks into the cracks between bricks. How I leak into the bricks and don’t break. How our trans bodies hurt but don’t break. How some of us hurt until we break. How we break. How our bodies break against the shore, here alive and spinning, here water-tossed and gone. How the wax from this candle pools impossibly in the shape of a dew drop. How I tremor slightly in the cold but also because I want the wax to fall. How the wax falls down the side of the candle in blues and pinks and purples. How it cools at the edge of its own light and spills over the paper guard. How it trickles through the holes. How it runs down my fingers. How it burns. How burning, it makes me a part of itself. How my thumb seals itself into the candle. How I never let it go. How it never lets me go. How I go into the night. How the night lets me pass. How I pass through gates and intersections. How the drunk men watch me pass. How I pass into the safety of my car. How I worry at this passing. How I pass this worry between my fingertips. How I worry my frozen fingertip. How I worry my frozen fingertip won’t reheat. How I bite through my frozen fingertip. How it melts along my tongue. How the wax enters through my mouth. How it never leaves.
HB (they/them) is a queer, non-binary poet, artist, and friend to small children. Some of their poems have found homes in Bullshit Lit’s Horns Imprint and voidspace_, while others continue to haunt the countryside. If you listen closely, you can hear them crooning. Find HB (and their poems) on twitter @TalkingHyphae
Maxwell GS CC
Home, Tender Onus
There are cigarettes in the snow.
It is just before dawn, the day doesn’t know itself yet.
It promises the train will arrive 15 minutes late,
through the selfish snow weighing heavy on the tracks.
My breath condenses on my eyelashes,
The snow around them is nicotine yellow.
They vomit themselves in bursts of loose tobacco
and crippled filters stubbed on some departed shoe.
I am so far from home.
There, this day has yet to be born.
It is warm there, a promise never made to winter,
and the sun is serenading the sky, lamenting himself
in all of the colors of my childhood, he dies
flirting with the stars who have just awakened,
who lounge there in the boisterous, humid night.
Those stars wax unfamiliar here, the dawn is
I can see where people have stepped on them,
how they lay there at the foot of the harsh metal trash bin,
open-mouthed and demanding Tantalus.
The headlights of my train come arching towards us
rushing to meet the fetal dawn, another station, anxious
to gather its cold-nosed, early morning cargo
from the numb-toed purgatory of
I do not know how long they have been there,
how many mouths have caressed them or for how long,
what shade the fingers who cradled them may be.
I can only guess, only forget the thought
as the cold is firmly pushed out of the closing doors
with a hiss like a child’s midnight breath.
There, I would be saying goodnight,
embracing those faces that know mine,
the cartography of my life, saying I love you
with these words, the way I sweat through the heat,
the way I open wide my bedroom door,
Rauchen verboten; little missionaries of lung disease
stay nestled in coat pockets as the train screeches on
towards a city that holds today in its dirty palm.
How do they bring others so much pleasure and
pulse me rotten with the remembering, the closed fist,
the tumor of my own tender onus?
After-dinner mint of nicotine, ashen-mouthed
goodnight kiss, ashtray loneliness, smokehouse
of contentment, all heavy-lunged and somewhere else.
There, melancholy wafts into the room and the coughing begins,
my lungs with every contraction hack love, love,
this is love!
The sun has broken the horizon like a plaything or a promise.
I walk the long way, count the slim white and yellow bodies
in a city that doesn’t care to know my name, where every finger
is blue until May. I am longing for something to undo me,
open me, like a door or a window, where I can walk through
and someone will be there,
She Asks If I’m Still Grieving--
How do I speak around the inheritance
of prophecy sewed into my heirloom throat?
I ask small worded questions, they echo
We know there are too many things to name.
Where could we begin, how much more are we
willing to sacrifice to the greedy hands of time?
Perhaps she means one simple thing, one stone,
one sea, from the celestial body of suffering
that settles on our shoulders.
She casts her eyes, sends them skyward, says
When we were kids in search of better days,
instead of our whole selves, instead of this
constant undoing and questioning, this climb,
this wandering in search of the thing that will
make us finally, finally enough,
the sore throat, skinned-knee prayers,
that coming this far without it doesn’t mean
that we will never find it, never hold our whole selves
to the light and not be able to see right through.
There are too many stars, her eyes could be anywhere,
we could have been anyone at all out there.
Are you still grieving the sound of our survival song?
You remember, don’t you?
When it sounded like hope, or the future…
Have you listened lately?
Ariel K. Moniz (she/her) is a queer Black poetess and Hawaii local. She is the winner of the 2016 Droste Poetry Award and a Best of the Net nominee. Her writing has found homes with Archetype: A Literary Journal, The Centifictionist, and Sunday Mornings at the River Press, among others. She is an editor and a co-founder of The Hyacinth Review. You can find her through her website at kissoftheseventhstar.home.blog or staring out to sea.
Can Jesus Count To 10th Street?
Antacid birds swallow
health and explode.
On our street--
Kids ride deathbikes.
Skin lines steel knees.
Knitting needle spokes
on stolen wheels
Go nowhere fast--
And slow on lowrider rims.
curried lentils, meth, blackened
chicken and fabric softener--
Perfume neighborhood hijinks.
Cats got snitches' tongues
kissing too young—never-telling--
On porch swings.
See sawed-off shotgun weddings
welcome merciful abortions.
Junkies in wombs. Pushers in utero.
Mold spores absorbed by kitty litter.
Hope—like a tripwire.
Bye & Bye
When we lived
on 10th and Punk
all the rats and mice
the Bye and Bye
came to live
at our house.
Like most things,
I had to drink extra
to not care about them.
We set up
an awful trap.
Sooner than expected,
we heard squeaking
in the dark.
There she was,
plump and confused--
Her babies waiting
I sometimes still
the desperate clicking
Death, closing over--
While life tries.
Our love was
dying mother rat.
Had no chance
to reach out
to its young--
Sniffing at her--
Wondering how and why
just became some lame
someone to come rescue--
Or finish her off.
And you were always
to allow suffering.
So, I guess,
thanks for breaking
our love's neck.
Shannon Clem is a chronically ill & neurodivergent recluse residing with their progeny in California. They have pieces published or forthcoming in Our Own Coordinates (Sìdhe Press, 2023), The Hunger, Bullshit Lit, Versification Zine, warning lines, MIDLVLMAG, Rat's Ass Review, & elsewhere. They love music & comedy. @shannontantrum
for Dad, James, and Kurt Cobain
Among the ornateness and garbage,
Kurt Cobain walked into my dream
and did a concert with his back turned--
he and I couldn’t stop asking
each other if we were okay.
At dinner that night, I pleaded with my father
to please make me feel less hopeless about the world dying
before I get the chance to live.
He doesn’t know I’m pleading.
He doesn’t know that my brother said
if gods were real, people would see them more often.
I said, a little horrified, people see gods all the time,
you just don’t believe them.
My brother doesn’t know I saw the tear on his cheek,
that he is the twin I sent for.
He doesn’t know I’m still Kurt Cobain
asking myself if I’m okay.
Alorah Welti (she/her) is a Minnesota-born feminist, synesthete, poet, and artist. Her work has appeared in Unstamatic, lavender bones, Cutbow Quarterly, Lit. 202, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of the Daniel Manacher Prize for Young Artists. She lives on stolen Mohican and Wabanaki land, just north of North Adams, Massachusetts, with her family. You can find her on Twitter at @alorahsky.
Dr. Matthias Ripp CC
After Therapy, at Trader Joe’s
The crackers come in a blue box a blue seldom found
in nature. When was the last time I had
strawberries? I put them in my basket.
Making frozen orange chicken is easy even if I throw
most of it away I used to like it I will like it again.
Three things in the basket The receipt is embarrassingly small
it wouldn’t even make a decent bookmark.
Streetlights are on outside reflecting in the puddles
and the deluge of the storm drain.
A man in the parking lot has his hood up
his car won’t start tools scattered on the ground.
The howling of my hollow self against a damp paper bag
forced to watch a vehicle come apart in the rain.
I reach out to the time when I was a sexless being,
fingernails scraping the edges of my childhood–
shirt off and sunburned, slip-n-slide and baby soap
and grass stains and chunky shorts.
My mother watching, slowly marking the boundaries
of time and hips and ribcage drawing closer,
making claims, both joy and jaundice.
I am woman now, serene and straining backward,
loving my shape and sweetness (my strength
my severity) lamenting my stolen (sovereignty).
Why the reaching? I am with family,
mother somewhere otherwhere, sweating in a jacket
covering my too-sheer shirt (outlines, shapes).
My cousin takes off her daughter’s sweater, and she
takes off running again like seven-year olds do.
“I’m sorry,” my cousin apologizes. “It’s not modest,
but it’s just so hot.”
Wait, I want to say. My fingers twitch.
Give her time
Give her that time
The next thing
I wake up and eat on purpose,
put on clothes that fit me
and do my work like school taught
me to, making talk small
and manageable like breath mints.
I eat on purpose, complete tasks,
crawl into the life that formed
without my noticing
and wearing it like a starched sweater.
I come back, open a window,
eat on purpose, put on worn
clothes from when school was
teaching. It is warm, I am clean,
I have enough to do.
No one told me about the loneliness
of adulthood. I don’t know
where to put my hands.
Emma McCoy is a writer, the assistant editor of Whale Road Review, co-editor of Driftwood, and poetry reader for the Minison Project. She is the author of “In Case I Live Forever” (2022), is a two time nominee for the AWP Intro to Journals project, and has poems published in places like Flat Ink, Paddler Press, and Jupiter Review. Catch her on Twitter: @poetrybyemma
Dr. Matthias Ripp CC
WHY DOES MY HEART FEEL SO BAD?
The clothes I wore when my sister died
are in a white plastic bag.
I am in the bag too,
tied in a knot for eighteen months
with the last of her breath, she carefully measured,
so I would be there when she turned
from a body to a bright blue light.
And with us is the only love I ever felt
that was love and love alone.
and our feathered hair and freckled skin
and the music we loved on MTV
and the final score of Player 1.
in a bag / on a shelf
in the closet of a beautiful house
is everything we ever were
and will be to each other
there, in the dark.
and outside, it is raining
or about to rain.
an engine breaks a blind curve.
and the road is winding
the whole way home.
SONG TO THE SIREN
in lieu of an ocean,
we drove the old highway
in a ‘78 Cutlass Supreme,
rocking and swaying
over potholes and frost heaves.
your hands on the wheel
to steady the bow.
my tiny legs stuck to the vinyl seat
you were my mother then,
a belter and a funny bird
who called the wind Mariah
after your favorite song,
the one with the lyric
writ in our blood
you sang to me
on a stage of dashboard lights
‘I’m so lost; not even God can find me.’
you lived those tenor notes
eyes lit by a blue flame.
with a voice that could turn
a car into a cage
I pray that God will find you,
and take some of the blame
for our loneliness and shattered self
to be loved and loveless with one breath.
Elisa Carlsen (she/they) grew up in Humboldt County, Nevada. Elisa is a poet, artist, and rusted metal fanatic. Their work has appeared in SixFold, VoiceCatcher, Nevada Arts Council, and Oranges Journal. Elisa won the Lower Columbia Regional Poetry Contest with the Writers Guild of Astoria in 2021; and recently completed their first poetry collection, Cormorant, forthcoming from Unsolicited Press.
Ellen Munro CC
for the man called Blue
In that story I read, the afterlife was
a waiting room
and souls only could leave when someone
said their name for the last time
Last night, over drinks, they said your name
(without knowing it is yours)
six times, I counted
There will never be a time on earth
when someone doesn’t speak of you
i am wearing a dress that used to belong to my favorite singer’s ex girlfriend, there’s a song about her now so it’s relevant
i’m wearing the dress that used to belong to my favorite singer’s ex girlfriend because today is the birthday of a woman who is made of the moon but shines like springtime and she too loves this singer, because the singer is the sound piece for the sad girls, and if i am wearing the dress of her ex girlfriend maybe moonwoman and i can kiss a bit of the sadnesses off of each other
i bought the dress from the sad singer’s ex girlfriend because she was selling clothes in order to afford the court fees to escape a man who abused her, and today on the birthday of the woman who is carved from the moon, i was asked to applaud the man who caused me cold sores, who was the reason i could not sleep for nine days and the woman i turned to for protection led the applause and the woman who used to own this dress was sued for so much money because we must always instead of each other protect the fragile men in positions of power, his feelings have more social currency than my emotional well being, there can easily be a new me, the last time i wore this dress i was in new orleans with my ex boyfriend and he asked why i was wearing it, what was the special occasion? and i said i thought it was you, but maybe i was wrong
And Still it Is So Good to Cry
it’s easy to look at the tears and say they’re for you but in truth
they belong to time
they belong to the 60 degree fluke february day that made the tulips bloom too early and therefore
they belong to the porcelain hours spent trying longing trying waiting trying
cracking, splat, oops - mosaic
to the words your smile used to mean i am slow to
relearn the language
an offering to all the unfairs that would have a hand in a double-heart demise, if i show them i see them
maybe they will
they are for the stories whispered overnight over years that steal one’s own sense of worth
those hungry hungry thieves
if there are rivets in my cheeks they are asking to be filled by me as well with real effort real love, the
kind that comes in hues dip-dyed rather than a monochrome try, the kind you want to catch in a
polaroid and pin to your fridge
with real butter real leather but only if the cow was killed several years before we were born and the
memory of the pain has long left the jacket
if there are bags beneath my lashes it’s because i have to hold the confused crocuses that sprout from a
shrinking of self
Tallen Gabriel is a Brooklyn-based poet, writer, and musician. Catch them behind a typewriter as part of the poet collective Ars Poetica, writing custom poems on the spot for event guests, or onstage performing original pop-folk tunes with their trio, Camp Bedford. Previous poetry publications include Grand Little Things, The Rally, and Groupie Mag.
On the way back from Appalachia we
are carsick: the mountains are a mirage
and a miracle: my stomach is a
bird dog in a field of burs: your stomach
is a mason jar of moonshine: still, the
leaves changing is just a rumor where I’m
from: here the land is littered with its own
death: the cicadas seem to sing a hymn
for it: nor pain nor death can enter there:
Miss Dolly on the speaker is a pray
-er for this place: my heav’nly home is bright
and fair: you are steeped in Smoky Mountain
solitude: I feel like traveling on.
IN TENNESSEE, I CROSS A CREEK
Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise:
Yellow-spotted salamanders sleep through thirty winters. Let the cool
silvery water make me old.
Hundreds of millions of years of smooth stones and birds
still find time to dance in the distance. Let the cool
silvery water make me new.
Mountain water only ankle-deep and John the Baptist
still finds Jehovah in it. Let the cool
silvery water make me pure.
Hundreds of millions of years of life become
the creek and sweet trillium still springs from the sandbank.
Let the cool silvery water make me mud. Let it make
me its own. Let it take me to the rainbow.
Stephanie Holden (she/they) is a Halloween-loving queer living in New Orleans, Louisiana. She writes about love, trauma, gore, and the self. Her interests are fantasy books, body modification, and the South. Find her work at or forthcoming in Ghost City Press, Kissing Dynamite, The B’K, Dollar Store Mag, Voidspace, Bullshit Lit, The Madrigal, and elsewhere, or her narcissistic tweets at @smhxlden.
Nenad Stojkovic CC
The first time I heard my best friend play viola, I cried.
How strange it is to know someone in one context, but not another,
how a housecat knows a lark only for her flesh, and not her song.
I watched as shaky fingers turned suddenly sure on strings,
vibrating only with intention.
He told me about his anxiety disorder after we graduated from high school.
I can’t remember if he knew about mine,
if he knew that I played practiced bowing with a razor in hand,
that there was a reason I covered my wrists.
I can’t remember if I ever told him I loved him. If I told him
that our after-school practice sessions were the (high)light of my week.
That his metronome kept my pulse in time.
Kristin Gustafson is a poet and editor from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Her work can be found in Contemporary Verse 2, Progenitor Art and Literary Journal, Meniscus Literary Journal, Something Involving A Mailbox!, and various other journals.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.