Honza z Krkonoš CC
“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation." ― Wendell Berry
When I have been in despair and known not where it was that I belonged or who I could turn to, when I have longed to be, in such a wretched and broken state, just taken in and heard. That there have been such places and people, so hard to describe in ordinary language, whose mere presence made the difference. I know now that true miracles are ordinary and small. We carry a pain so huge it is sometimes hard to imagine that what is needed most is so uncomplicated that any one of us can offer it to each other, and in doing so, are we not both that place of belonging and the thing to turn to?
Howard Bacal writes of a patient who was so touch starved in her youth she herself had to provide what a parent should have: “she recalled how she ached to be held, even putting her own small arms around herself, pretending they were her mother’s. She remembered many nights of her childhood where she hugged the plaster wall adjacent to her bed. After a while, the wall absorbed and held her warmth, and she could pretend she was cuddled up to her mother.” The patient felt she could only heal if Bacal were to hold her, which, of course, he could not. This convinced his patient that he was as depriving as her parents had been, and that healing, for her, was just not possible. She would forever be left alone to wrap her own small arms around herself. Abandoned. Terrified. And in terrible pain.
But then, he “came upon a blanket,” that offered a warmth, depth and yield to the touch approximating the touch of a human body. He thought it possible that the blanket, if it were from him, might provide her with the needed experience of holding.
She was deeply touched to receive the blanket, and it made a difference, imperfect though it was to her, it was a touch of something deeper than anything she had known before in bearing her pain to another, and needing to be held in it.
What prepared Bacal for that moment was another with his teacher, Winnicott, who he turned to for advice in treating a three year old whose behavior had been described as chaotic and bizarre. Bacal asked Winnicott how he should begin the treatment, as he had never worked with children before and felt lost as to how to start. “Without hesitation, Winnicott answered, “if she holds out her hand, take it.” “I have never forgotten this,” Bacal says. “It became not only a metaphor for the responsivity that enabled me to be therapeutic for my little patient, but for my work with adult patients as well.”
I have come to believe that part of the reason why we create and share what we have made with each other is because we are all, on some level, looking for a reparative experience. We need to know we can make a dent in people. That who we are has some bearing on others, that we will be felt in deeper ways than the everyday, and that when we hold out a poem, a story, a song, or a hand: someone, somewhere, will take it.
Six years ago I started this journal because it was the place that I needed. Is it maudlin and saccharine to say that doing so saved me? Because it saved me. You have all been like that blanket approximating the needed thing. It is my hope that this space has been a bit of that for you, as well. Art is that place where we are heard, held, healed, ushered in to the “feast of creation.” From such pain come these things that we have made. Where in despair we go and find our belonging to something so hard to describe in ordinary language. And so we use extraordinary means to relay our story. But I believe it is simply this: that when someone holds out their hand, you take it.
Being for someone that small presence that makes a difference is, I believe, the work that we are each called to do. Never mind that from the look of things around us, it doesn’t always feel or seem that way. Reach deep for it anyway. Believe it’s there for you, because it’s there for you. Take the hand that reaches out to you as if it were your own. We don’t just need to know we can make a dent in someone, we need to know that we are not alone.
Surely, we are not alone. From such pain, this place we have made.
Timo Newton-Syms CC
A PARTIAL LIST OF THINGS I CAN AND CANNOT PROMISE
To my next love,
On the Almost-Second Anniversary of the Last Time My Father and I Spoke
The last time I spoke to my father was through text message on Christmas morning, 2018.
He waited til the morning to drive home his point of bitter rage
his history of hurt
My father, my dad, wanted to hurt me as he had been hurt
and I let him for 29 years.
on Christmas morning two years ago
for the first time, I said: no more.
I told him to seek therapy as I have, and that this was the last time he would hear from me.
I wished him peace.
I sobbed, violent, shuddering sobs,
at the second leaving of my father.
Sorrow crept up my throat, a vise, a sickness,
it threatened to escape.
When my father left for the first time,
I was taking a nap.
I was 14.
I never slept well again.
Sorrow lives still in this one spot in the back of my throat:
A threat and a promise
How do we grieve those who are still alive?
How do we grieve?
How do we
The lesson carved into my little feeling heart since I was a child is this:
The people you love will leave you.
and life is the reason for their departure more often than death.
Now that I am older - an age I didn’t imagine myself to be -
I see myself keeping people,
I ask them to stay.
I say, please don’t leave me.
give them little gifts like a crow,
pour from an empty cup,
trying to be something like enough
I say, I cannot weather another departure.
knowing that I will weather many more if I am to continue being ages I never imagined I would be.
Life has also taught me that the strength and anger and cruelty of my fear pushes people away. It is too much.
It pushes and pours
roiling ocean waves crashing and crashing and crashing to shore
I am the sea in my despair
In the thick darkness of 4am
there are the faces of the people who are gone but elsewhere
A oncedearfriend from school
My first love
An old friend I asked to officiate my wedding.
He said yes.
A few weeks later, he stopped speaking to me for reasons that I still do not know
No warning or explanation
just another face in the vast darkness
I sent messages to him - to the void I guess - for years, telling him I missed him.
Please call, please call, I miss you
I still miss you so much
I think of you always
I am a gentler, sadder ocean
I push, I push
I search for
for my place in it
I crash, I crash
how do we grieve those who are still alive?
my waves beat against a lonely shore
nothing after nothing after nothing
then there are those who are gone but not elsewhere.
My mother’s mother, the silly charmer
who sent pieces of gum in the mail when she wrote to me
My mother’s father, who I never knew
My father’s father, who I don’t remember
apart from pennies from a cognac coin purse and silent vibrating rage
Friends, teachers who deserve more than a line in a poem
most recently there was Barbara.
Barbara was my grandmother,
my father’s mother.
She taught me to love theatre
She took me to Peter Pan at Olney Theatre down the road
where I fell in love with the living darkness of storytellers bringing life to life
I never got to say goodbye.
She came to me in a dream shortly after she died. She seemed to understand - though not approve of - my choice to keep my father out of my life.
She said, of my ability to gather a roomful of beloved friends,
he always wished he could do that.
At her funeral in the church down the road from that theatre,
I saw my father
from behind - though he did not see me -
he was so alone
his hair yellowing, his back curved with grief and something else
I heard later that he missed me
I couldn’t say goodbye to her there.
I said goodbye later in the best way I could:
sobbing in a darkened theatre,
asking forgiveness from the rafters
I love you and I’m sorry
I love you and I wish it could have been different
I love you and I tried
but I am an ocean of not knowing what to do
Life is coming and going.
I’ve always wanted to be gone and, despite everything, here I am.
an ocean and a bird
despite knowing that I cannot keep anyone
Asking them to stay anyway
Waves of love; crashing
hopeful and sad
how do we grieve those who are still alive?
TO THE WOMAN IN THE FABRIC SECTION OF JOANN’S
There was a woman in the fabric section of Joann’s
In Wheaton mall,
Who held me close
I could feel her wanting to cry
I had cracked a lame joke about wanting to buy too much yarn
We got to talking (as craft people are wont to do
She also could never resist anything soft and colorful)
I happened to roll up the sleeves of my overlarge sweater
Just because it was very warm
Right there in the fabric section of Joann’s in Wheaton mall
She saw my tattoo, a semicolon, a story I chose to continue to tell
And she Knew.
And I Knew because of the way she knew.
It is so hard to talk about,
To live through,
And I knew,
Because of the way she knew.
She said I don’t talk about this to anyone,
Not even my husband
I can’t believe I’m telling this to you
And we hugged
In the middle of the fabric section of Joann’s Fabric
In Wheaton mall
There was a woman on the streets of Philadelphia
Who had had a long day
Betrayed by the break in her voice and the creases in her suit
I had been walking in front of her, on my way to who knows where
and pushed through an unfriendly group of people
Crowding the sidewalk
(Remember when people crowded the sidewalk?)
Who just wouldn’t move
And I don’t remember what she said
Or why we started to talk
We laughed about people and the way they never move when you need them to,
Even though it would be so easy
But I know she had a long day, and sometimes when people crowd in front of you on the sidewalk and
It’s too much
I told her I hoped that she would be able to rest tonight,
she was going to skip a happy hour with friends,
And I laughed and said girl you deserve a drink, though!
You deserve to do something fun
And she stopped,
And I stopped
And I knew because of the way she knew.
And she asked me if she could hug me
And we hugged
In the middle of a sidewalk in Philadelphia
I hope she got to rest. I hope she got to drink with her friends.
I think about her all the time.
There was a teenager on the metro passing through
Somewhere or other
And I had had my own long day,
Hot and sweaty with bare arms crossed
We sat across from each other, in our own tired metroworlds,
And they pointed at my tattoo – the same one; the semicolon –
And said, “you too?”
And I said yeah,
There are all the times I’ve felt the zing of connection to a stranger
From one tired or hungry or sad person to another,
These connections with people I will never see again are holy
They are god
They are why
I check the news for news of vaccinations
I check my calendar to see what I’m going to miss
I think of all the times someone has looked at me,
Hopeful and uncertain
“You know, I’ve never told this to anyone before.”
Of the times I’ve said the same thing back
I think of all these people I’ve hugged in the middle of the fabric section of Joann’s,
Or in the streets of Philadelphia
Or just two words on the subway that share more of my story than I could ever
I hope they’re okay.
I hope you’re okay
Natalie (she/they) is a poet, playwright, and maker. She has worked as a writer in theatres across the United States and with the zine Indoorsy. If you're looking for hopeful queer stories with a touch of melancholy, you're in the right place.
Kevin Doncaster CC
That I pretend
That we were seeds
That we were dropped and scattered far
From the flowers that had shed us
From the people who had bred us
Caught in winds
And wings of birds
And treads of shoes
And shaken loose
Left to grow
What a pretty gauze to lay
What a pretty way to say:
We were five kids
In a group home
And poetry dictates it
That I do not say my sleeves
Stuck to my arms
That they tugged away at scars
That they grew as red as mars
It was June
When seeds were roots
And petal knew the sun for food
I crawled up on the group home roof
And the yard was overgrown
Sewn with weeds that were once seeds
Eight feet tall
A perfect cushion should I fall
Should I trip and slip and fall
Should I lose my grip and fall
Just next door
The grass was trimmed
Every flower in its home
And a boy sat on a bench
With his knees up to his chin
Like a fence to hold him in
In his hands
I could see words
That he’d carried from the house
Carried from his father’s mouth
That were neither good nor kind
That he held up to his mind
Where they planted
Where they vined
Where they blended
So we talked
And planted words
Better than the ones he’d heard
Of a future that was safe
That was splendid
(Then it ended)
His father, he complained
And we’d never spoke again
But the weeds and I remained
H. E. Casson lives in a very small house in Toronto with one human, one half-sized stuffed Chewbacca, and about a dozen plants. Their words have recently been shared by Angst, Ghost Heart Literary Journal, Tealight Press, and poetically magazine. They can be found at hecasson.com and @hecasson on Twitter.
Magic Trick featuring Peonies
To the left of the house, a peony bush -
a great delight at five years old. PEE-on-ee.
Hilarious. But more than that, their milky-pink
petals bloomed round as the full moon. Ants
crawled in and through and around their powdery
layers, wound tight and countless, spiraling in.
To the left of the bush, a shed, a father inside
sawing something so that the dust gathered in
piles on his work table. Sawdust like a softer sand,
inviting. She watches the work a while in silence,
sawdust falling into anthills. He can’t play
right now, he says, not looking up. In the backyard
there is a defunct Barbie Jeep—found, spray painted
the shade of cherry skins, and left for the rain;
a treehouse the color of sawdust, but lonelier. This
memory can’t contain anyone else: it’s too quiet.
Eerie. In this memory, no one else is home
and her father keeps on cutting the once-trees. If
you never stop the saw, you never have to play.
That’s the trick. The ants just keep spiraling
into the petals and she returns to watching them.
This memory is quiet, but the peonies
will always be the loudest part.
after Mary Oliver
You’ve gone out with
your basket and pen
to collect violets, which
my mother calls Johnny jump-ups
and I kind-of-smile, kind-of-
wince because I know she wishes
those days with her cousins
picking wildflowers in western PA
could have lasted a little
before she left for California with my dad
and drove and drove and drove
into her memories; they
became the safest place.
I bought her a book of your poems
for her birthday. The big seven-oh
—I guess because I wanted her
to know you like I do, stepping
barefoot at dawn onto dew-dropped ground
and walking and walking and walking
into a world that is willing to hold you
line your basket
I wanted that much beauty for her.
You once told me
that the only life I could save
was my own -
but dammit, Mary. Dammit.
Kalyn Livernois is an MFA candidate at New England College. She is a prose editor at Cobra Milk and the managing editor of Variant Literature's journal. Her work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Dust Poetry Magazine, Stone of Madness Press, CP Quarterly, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. You can find her on Twitter @kalynroseanne.
Timo Newton-Syms CC
My birth certificate looks like forgery,
ink crooked and smudged, copy paper creased.
Blame it on my birthplace, where
everything was just good enough. Back then, I was told
again and again to be a taxidermist. Never mind
I didn’t have the stomach to skin and stuff
an animal, never mind I grieved
for creatures dead in the road.
Before snow fell, the neighbors
strung deer by their necks
in the front yard, tongues lolling out,
blood drying in fur.
I couldn’t fault them for keeping
my friends fed through winter. Yes,
we ate what we could kill.
By spring the mud gave up its bones.
Our dogs brought parts of wild
animals home, and it’s so much easier
to see dirt in the light.
There, the sun hides for five long months.
Sam Stebbins is a poet from Michigan. Her work has previously appeared in "Barren Magazine," "Crab Fat Magazine," "Cease, Cows," and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @samstebbins_.
Timo Newton-Syms CC
I used to count the silence between
each of your steps – my room
in the basement, I had the entire
house mapped by the way the floors
creaked under the weight of your feet.
I walked as if the concrete itself
was slowing me down to ensure
I stepped on every crack
in the sidewalk. Not to break
your back, but to even everything
out. I made sure to step on just
as many cracks with my left foot
as I did with my right. I hoped
if I could keep everything balanced
I could keep your temper tethered.
My sister pushed my finger onto a piece
of glass and I bled crimson drops
on the stairway on my way to find
you. Your hand printed purple stars
on her backside. The social worker
pulled me out of recess to ask
if it was true. I fucking lied
for you, Dad. I didn’t know what else
to do. You drove me to high school
so early the sky was still bruised
black. I’d watch lights flash
by from your beat up car, speeding
to match the violence racing from
your lips, daggers steered
in my direction. A single silent
salty tear slid down my face
and you said that’s right, cry, smart ass,
cry. And you know what? I do.
I cry all the time. I even have a shirt
that says crying is good for you
and I wear it like a big fuck you.
I have grown into my bad behavior.
I stole the bitch from your bite
and bent it backward until it broke
under the weight of my becoming.
The thing I love most about love
is its defiance. Love is active in its refusal to stay buried.
It grows into something whole
through every obstacle -- chooses not to end.
It is ever evolving and turns into something new, sure,
but overall it just stains itself into a blush
that rejects a watering down. That blush
paints my chest and ears when I’m around my love
as we walk around the park, wishing it was the shore.
Someday they’ll take me there to show me where they buried
the memories of their family in the sand. They send
me love letters while I’m dancing in the whole
of the life we’ve built together, while I’m building a whole
other relationship with my wife - who I blush
around, still, after 8 years. No end
in sight. How fucking sweet is it that love
is an expansive case of brilliance? I never have to bury
any of the honey seeping from my chest. I am so sure
of the wonder I have for both of them, and they assure
me they are both in love with the whole-
ness I’ve found in loving more than just one. I don’t bury
who I am, but completely fall into the tender blush
of both their hands holding mine, embraced in a love
whose eternal vastness ceases to end.
My love lives in the building across from me and my wife. The end
of the street is the farthest I’ll have to reach for them. It sure
is a treat to be so close to the overflowing nearness of their love.
I grow a plethora of plants to propagate in both spaces, whole
gardens flourish with the snips we share, the leaves are blush
colored and print reflections in the glass windows. I bury
the scarcity radiating from the haters, bury
their belief that this abundance of love must end,
and revel in the elephantine blush
of this too much. I bask in the shore
of my love as they build me a bath tray, the whole
thing covered in glitter because they know I love
baths and glitter. Loves, bury
me whole in the excess of your never ending
kiss, and sweep me up into the shore of your blush.
Tyler Elizabeth Hurula (she/her) is a poet based out of Denver, CO. She is queer and polyamorous, and is cat mom to two fur babies and a plethora of plants. She has not been previously published and her poems feature love, polyamory, family, growing up, and being queer. Her top three values are connection, authenticity, and vulnerability and she tries to encompass these values in her writing as well as everyday life.
Timo Newton-Syms CC
Ryan Doesn’t Want Closure
Down so bad ur cumming thru the cruelty, backshots here so he can’t see your face when you, tell him you miss him - fuck, we’ve all been there - I’m feeling sorry for you, I’m feeling sorry for myself… it hurts all over. You don’t know the difference between regret and remorse; you catch an apology with your teeth, you catch a fist with your jaw. You swallow his spit, you cry on his cock. You are, if nothing else, a performer. Where’d you learn that, dirty girl, where’d they teach you how to spread your legs and sigh? Who held your hands and told you to rock your hips like this? Which boy? Show me the boy. Show me the boy who taught you.
Show me the boy who hurt you.
I will take you down the hall of mirrors and you can learn to touch yourself again.
God, he’s gorgeous. Evil is supposed to make you rot.
You think you’ll be sick over what The Men do forever, the way they splinter your spine, the violence of it all. Your pussy craves that violence now, your lips shape themselves around an apology to your abuser you carved into his red eclipse with the knife on your keys, his hand on your thigh in the passenger’s seat: we all have a Ryan.
Let me… pull the petals off that flower, let me peel back your eyelids, expose those veins. Call me baby - one more time - I will scream so fucking loud the cops will come again. I want all your sugar and gasoline, all your gold. Spit in your palm and shove your fingers down my throat, one more time, wrap my bleach-broken hair in your fist. Let’s go ahead and fuck up these sheets, baby, one more time…
Down so bad the desperation chokes you, down so bad he’s beautiful now, down so bad...
Tessah Melamed is a writer from New Jersey. She enjoys bad and beautiful things. Tessah has been previously published in Crooked Arrow Press, Trampset, As It Ought to Be Magazine and Soup Can Magazine. She is anticipating beginning her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago this fall. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @_wherestessah.
Timo Newton-Syms CC
across our brown tiled living room floor
my parents are dancing Salsa
their bodies becoming a call and response
my mother shines the smile she uses when she wants something
my father gives her his everything
In those rare moments, undoubtedly, I feel like I came from love
we sing along as Frankie Ruiz sings about infidelities
the secret calls
the scheduled meets
We relive past and future memories
my father sweats of Obsession
his thick gold chain sliding across his chest
the heavy cross dangling pulsating to the beat
my mother’s hips/a figure skater
I hold up six fingers
giving her a perfect score
my father’s right-hand spins my mother from corner to corner
his left hand on her lower back
his silverback chest thumping
this time she dances just for him
a grey thunderous cloud, our normal yelling and breaking is asked to wait in the dining room
it hovers over the door frame like a child that is used to getting all of the attention
The lamp in the room becomes a spotlight
on a 12-year-old daughter’s wish for a song that never ends
I begin all my planting with an apology
In the in-between
My mother meets me in my yard
In her hands she holds a brown paper bag of seeds
I slow down time to look at her
Like an energetic child she pulls out an avocado seed
A plump brown memory of home
I tell her “Mami, it won't survive”
She ignores me with a smile
Takes extra care when planting
Says “acuerdate de mi” every time I bite into an avocado
She chuckles while asking me if I remember the time, I killed my grandmothers’ plants
Calls herself “dramatica” for telling me I had “bad hands”
She doesn’t know since then
I begin all my planting with an apology
She playfully reminds me not to overwater
Tells me “Too much love can drown”
I disagree, on the inside and offer her a drink from a bottomless glass
Vanessa Chica Ferreira is an NYC educator, poet, playwright, fat activist, poetry editor for The Ice Colony, and founder of theWORDbox. A featured poet at various events throughout New York City. She co-wrote and performed in a 3 woman play titled “Live Big Girl” which debuted at The National Black Theatre. Her work has been published in The BX Files, The Abuela Stories Project, The Acentos Review, and Great Weather For Media. For more info visit www.vanessachica.com
Timo Newton-Syms CC
somedays the sky
above my house is enough -
framed by a fence we erected in winter
i could sing but i don’t
i just breathe in the knowing that all of this blue
inhaling up forever
will still be here after i die
that my scheduled pain and anxiety
will eventually expire will drop upward
in a floating vortex like ashen seeds
from a charred stalk
that hopefully every bright morning
i spent with my wife and children
will remain somewhere unaltered
as i go
Scott Ferry helps our Veterans heal as a RN in the Seattle area. His third book of poetry, These Hands of Myrrh, will be published by Kelsay Books in late 2021. You can find more @ ferrypoetry.com.
Vodka And Cigarettes
My mother chose
a nightgown all day
the pattern worn off in places
My mother chose
never looking up,
My mother chose, "What?" and a glass.
My mother chose
the little dog around her feet,
it's yapping as a reason not to talk
My mother chose, "What?" and a deeper puff.
My mother chose a silence
all her own
with no way in --
but sadly too,
no way out.
My mother died on page 323
not seeing the ending,
half a pack of menthols unsmoked on the table,
eight bottles of water-clear forget-me-not.
My mother didn't realize it --
the book was closing
My mother didn't know
it would go with the rest:
the valued, the recipes, the mink,
the shoes, the still useful
to the Goodwill.
My mother didn't see any of it clearly
not like vodka,
but more like cigarette smoke,
blue and soft and enfolding -- no sharp edges.
None, except for the vodka when it showed it wasn't water,
and she said, "What?".
Erich von Hungen currently lives in San Francisco, California. His writing has appeared in The Colorado Quarterly, Cathexis Northwest Press, The Write Launch, The RavensPerch, From Whispers To Roars, The Closed Eye Open, Bombfire, and others. He has recently launched three collections of poems "In Spite Of Contagion: 65 COVID-19 Poems", "Kisses: 87 Love Poems", and "Witness: 100 Poems For Change". Find him at https://twitter.com/PoetryForce
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.