Victor U CC
The words don't always settle in the right places. That's what comes to me now as I struggle to find a way to begin these remarks. It's important to try and say something. To find words. To be found by words. Whatever I would say some other way waits for some other day. What I can say is that the time I've spent with each of your words has been a gift to me these past couple of months. Hard months. Hard words. A gift. I am unashamed to say that I was brought to tears more than a few times as I read and read and read. A kind contributor tells me they have found here a place where art becomes true sustenance. That's precisely how I feel about the work you all share with us. Funny, sometimes the words do settle in the right places, just not necessarily mine. All these words here are right where they're supposed to be, I believe. And I don't mean that in some grandiose way, but in the way so many used to tell me that I was right where I was supposed to be in something. When I felt like I was doing my life wrong, or felt unforgivable/unlovable, or like I couldn't move or like I might scream: "right where you're supposed to be, kid." I may or may not have told a few of those people to "fuck off," and they may or may not have smiled knowingly at me. Had patience with me. Showed me something monumental. We're supposed to struggle with it, I understand this now. Well, no, I don't really understand it. But I'm trying. Trying to stay with the thorn that won't come out. The thorn I am. My life. Life.
But now imagine a world without any place to put it all down. We don't have to imagine too hard, many of us. As Marilyn Charles writes: "Most of us have been told too often, particularly as children but also as adults, that we did not really see what we thought we saw; hear what we heard; feel what we felt. [Our reality doubles.] We have an inner conviction that tends to be hidden as a way of safeguarding it." And we wait and wait until someone, somewhere can hear our story, our inner knowing of what we saw, heard, felt. It's important to carve those spaces out of the wide expanse of uncaring/unfeeling/unresponsive/recklessness that is much of the world. To try and be something more for each other than we can put words to. No wonder I can't always, or very often at all, find my words. I think it's the moments when people have sat in silence with me that I have felt most heard. We don't know what to say or what to do. And we try and say something.
It's a little embarrassing to admit that at 42 I still haven't much of a clue who it is I am. I'm still becoming a person in many ways. I was broken down as a person in my family of origin and I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to put myself back into some kind of order that makes sense, that feels like me. I think one of the things that has most altered the course of my life is the fact that in hell there were people who brought me water. Brought me hope. A silent sitting-with. A being there. Not giving up on who I might become, they hung in with who I was. And that meant everything to me. I don't know how most of us ever come to terms with the god awful things that happened to us in our lives. Maybe we don't. Ever. Maybe all we can do is keep telling our stories, to someone, somewhere. Find our way to those places where words are sustenance. Some stories bear repeating. Over and over again.
Right where we're supposed to be, huh. For a moment, anyway. A True North. I've always loved that phrase. Today I read in Gretel Ehrlich's The Future of Ice that "The Japanese word oku means not only "north" but also "deep," "inner," "the heart of a mountain," "to penetrate to the depth of something or someone," "the bottom of one's heart," and "the end of one's mind." The words don't always settle in the right places. We do the best we can with what we've got. It helps to know others feel it too. We're charting dark waters here. Telling the hardest of stories so that we might survive them. So that we might survive ourselves. As a sign I once saw in rehab read: "we don't believe in using pretty words to describe the ugly things that happened to us." Oh, there's beauty too. And we don't always have to look as hard for it as we think. But we must talk about all of the rest of it also. It's how we survive. Heart of a mountain. The bottom of one's heart. The end of one's mind.
Till next time, friends. Keep searching for your words. And hold on. Hold on. Hold on.
Andra Mihali CC
NUESTRA SEÑORA DE GUADALUPE
Our Lady is a brown-skinned girl
who lives in the projects, top floor, no elevator,
no A/C in the summer, patchy heat
in the winter. Her grandmother raised her
on adobo and rice and laughter and hugs
and a knowledge of dignity
in a world full of shame.
Our Lady is a black girl with black hair,
smarter than most kids on her block,
best dancer at community center Zumba,
fascinated by lava lamps, grossed out
by the smell of her brother’s joints,
feisty enough to scold him for second-hand smoke,
kind to the kid eating alone in the lunch room.
Our Lady is the single mom who knows
what it’s like to be a pregnant teen,
scared, working two jobs, all eyes judging,
so many doors closing, choosing between
a jug of milk and a commuter card, going
to night school to keep going, keep going,
all her strength needed to stay on track.
Our Lady is the user who feels like she failed
the unemployed girl beaten up behind closed doors,
the sex worker putting herself through school,
and the sex worker who doesn’t want to be one,
the domestic helper assaulted by rich bosses,
the mani/pedicurist who only cries at night,
the model who makes herself throw up every day.
Our Lady is the queen of heaven and earth
or deserves to be, if people could only see her
as she really is; she crushes the serpent
under her heel, binds wounds, heals ills,
knows every sorrow, is worthy of love;
she is the undoer of knots, mediatrix
of all graces, star of the sea, cause of our joy.
Isabel Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to the U.S. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in in America, Ruminate, The New York Quarterly, Smartish Pace, FOLIO, The Good Life Review, and others.
Use This Poem to Dry Your Eyes
Use this poem like a junk drawer,
clamour of fragment- ed pieces—half-used index
cards, one-year-old receipts, seven different brands
of pens, unused record store gift card for the turn- table
your mother doesn't know you 've donated to Goodwill
—yet still enough room to tuck you r
pain away. Use this poem
as a lover—daisy-chain fragile, nocturnal neon, on-all-fours
feral. Use this poem to kindle cimmerian corners, juice
summer apples for mulled cider, burn tongue
on the pine needle memory of hot cocoa with froth
and the big marshmallows. Use this poem like a rabbit's
foot—mass manufactured & magenta-dyed, more afterthought
than amulet, dumb luck on your worst day.
Kait Quinn (she/her) was born with salt in her wounds. She flushes the sting of living by writing poetry. She is the author of four poetry collections, and her work has appeared in Reed Magazine, Watershed Review, Chestnut Review, and elsewhere. She received first place in the League of MN Poets’ 2022 John Calvin Rezmerski Memorial Grand Prize. She enjoys repetition, coffee shops, and vegan breakfast foods. Kait lives in Minneapolis with her partner, their regal cat, and their very polite Aussie mix. Find her at kaitquinn.com.
Michiel Jelijs CC
When I hear that my sister did not attend my father’s funeral
I know she has become a weather pattern,
an atmospheric river sweeping over California
turning freeways into lakes, overpasses into waterfalls,
fields into seas. She carries everything away
with a liquid wave of her arm—barking dogs
and mewling cats thrash in her turbulent waters,
crash into teapots and flashlights, plastic garbage bins
and bicycles. Her mouth is a grotto sucking
and spewing a toppled birch tree, a flag ripped
from its post, a jump rope, a rusty barbeque.
She swallows schoolyards and backyards, strawberry
fields and football fields, parking lots and graveyards.
No one can see her cry because she is Gulliver, her head
crowned with thunderclouds. All we hear is terror.
All we smell is death.
Elya Braden is a writer and mixed-media artist living in Ventura County, CA, and is Assistant Editor of Gyroscope Review. She is the author of the chapbooks, Open The Fist (2020) and The Sight of Invisible Longing, a semi-finalist in Finishing Line Press’s New Women’s Voices Competition (forthcoming 2023). Her work has been published in Calyx, Prometheus Dreaming, Rattle Poets Respond, Sequestrum, Sheila-Na-Gig Online, The Coachella Review and elsewhere. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Best New Poets. www.elyabraden.com.
Matt Casagrande CC
June 21st, 2023
tonight is the longest night
i have to think about everything
i don’t want to think about:
my body, a rotting log
the city, a failing machine
the past four years, a bruise
over my breastbone.
choose your battles
choose less battles
choose even less battles
i’m sorry it’s just that
i don’t want to be angry
anymore. i want to look everyone
in the eye and feel okay about it,
like my guts aren’t grinding against each other,
like i don’t want to scrape the inside of my skull
clean with my own nails i’m sorry.
outside the bar,
outside the art gallery that still
gathers my ghost inside its walls,
the lights sag over the streets
and the sun
is still setting
is still setting
is still setting
for what feels like hours.
my god (and i mean the marsh
and the cranes crying out in the
tall grass and the first fire fly
i’ve seen all June, i mean
a cigarette shared from a friend
on my front porch)
my god my god how
can i yearn all through the night
when even this night is too long,
and how can i not when there
is so much to yearn for?
Katy Haas is a queer non-binary poet, collage artist, and Furby enthusiast from mid-Michigan. Their work can be found in Reckon Review, HAD, Stanchion, and elsewhere. Their debut poetry chapbook the algorithm knows i never stopped loving you (Bullshit Lit) is rumored to be about their white noise machine. Follow them on Twitter's death throes (@katyydidnt) & Insta (@mouthshroom).
Matt Casagrande CC
Healing My Inner (Feral) Child
I miss being uncomely like there’s no tomorrow
Sand gathers beneath my fingertips
Hair caked with pizza grease
Please, let me wallow in my putridity
Mirrors crack when I wink
And I trot away yowling on all fours
When I was a child I spent most of my free time
Pretending I was never human at all
I didn’t speak, I growled, whimpered
Snorted in discomfort –
I was obviously bullied mercilessly
But still I cherish that little soul
For being so listlessly brave
To be so unbearably strange
Now in the adult world of taxes and obligations
My chaos needs to be controlled
Tempered by exercise, enough sleep
I lose my shit over discounted bagged salads
(And I still take pride in that fact)
But every so often I find an old hum within me
The absurd returns home and curls in my sternum
And I find the time to scream
Natalie Wollenzien is a fiction and poetry writer living in Louisville, Kentucky. She works at Sarabande Books as the publishing and communications assistant, and is running the Zine Lunch! series presented by Sarabande Writing Labs. She has poetry out in The San Antonio Review.
Matt Casagrande CC
I Keep Thinking About How Empty Your Fridge Was,
how poetry was what fed you.
If you were still alive, tonight’s a night
I’d drink straight from a bottle of red zinfandel
and get under the cool sheets in my dark bed and call you.
I’d read you the poem about the man pinching ants
off the floor with tissues, and the one about
the Gustav Klimt painting.
You’d read one of the classics
and the wine would settle,
softening my bones
so your voice could carry me,
gentler as the night wore on,
almost a whisper by the end
like you were fading.
I’d close my eyes and see your cigarette smoke
barely hanging on.
How many books were you reading
when you died?
How many endings didn’t you get to?
Do you remember when I cried
while reading a poem aloud?
We were so good at being lonely together.
I keep thinking about your fridge —
not even a box of baking soda or expired milk.
That time I asked if you believed in God
and you said yes, sweetheart. Yes.
I asked why and you gestured to the floor,
all your books stacked along the carpet like props.
Your empty fridge without a single egg
or slice of American cheese.
And you said because, sweetheart.
There’s got to be more
Sarah Mills is a freelance writer and editor. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Third Wednesday, Rogue Agent, Glass Mountain, Philadelphia Stories, and elsewhere. You can visit her at sarahmillswrites.com.
Dan Keck CC
the people I love best
seize the moment
value spontaneity over ceremony
turn catastrophe into laughter
and laugh from the belly
they tell the truth most of the time
hold my hand when it hurts
wait patiently for a new beginning
the people I love best
smile through angst
share hope with the forlorn
shrug at mistakes
and get up
they gain weight, lose face
go bankrupt and begin again
they smile under their umbrellas
and sob for no reason
the people I love best
share their fragile stories
over and over and over
then listen to mine
until I’m done
they’re selfish with veggies
and generous with chocolate
they don't slap my hand when I reach
for their obsession
they get it and they give it away
Bev Fesharaki is an educator and poet. Her sobriety—impossible, easy, difficult or illusive has changed her life for the better. She hopes to share her celebration and empathy through her poems.
Krystian Olszanski CC
We Could Break Forever
I scan our shared spaces for the cylindrical mouths
singing their grotesque white god song about dis-
membered fetuses and unidentifiable grade schoolers.
But I will not turn my poems to ash for gunshot
choruses while our kids turn to stone in dark classrooms
or forget that beauty matters: the rippling sheen of a horse’s
muscled haunch or my daughter pointing at the bluest fish
jumping out of the pinkest water in a painting. I know how
easily we could break forever. Keep playing at ghosts in malls,
theaters, grocery stores. Become a fucking nest of apparitions.
For so goddam long, we’ve recklessly othered and forgotten
the true skin of terrorism, which has always been the color of
privilege. We have to fly down from the moon now. Flock
back to this gutted country. Show up with our throats shining.
Natalie Giarratano is the author of Big Thicket Blues (Sundress Publications, 2017) and Leaving Clean, winner of the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Waxwing, McNeese Review, Superstition Review, and Whale Road Review, among others. Originally from rural southeast Texas, she edits and lives in Fort Collins, CO, and was the city’s 2018-2020 poet laureate.
Greek Class Mourning Poem
In which Antigone returns
to Western Mass / Polynices
returns to Western Mass and
I am there too / where
Polynices taught Antigone
how to drag the smoke out
of a cigarette and later
/ years later / taught her that she was blackening
her lungs / he would
know, wouldn’t he? And he quit / for a time /
but she never quite could,
Antigone is stubborn / that blood /
is stubborn / in class they call it fate /
or curse / but I always called it
addiction / regardless
/ they’re all passed down /
through our bodies / our bodies / just vessels /
for the generations to pass through
In which Polynice’s body
was left out / for days and /
the Michigan cold picked
like ravens / at his eyes
un / wept / un / returned
In which Antigone took a red eye
back to Thebes which still hung
with Jocasta’s wintered silence /
all these years later it stays
in the blood / in the highways
In which Antigone and I
slice apples /
and when she buries him /
she mourns in the Greek way /
tearing at the hair,
my mother’s soft hair, covering
the face in dust,
her face / which I see rising
up through mine these days
In which Antigone survives it,
and I do too,
and she takes me away from
the Dirce’s springs /
the Theban groves /
the smoke /
The Black Lake
When I was fifteen I decided that I was finally done carving myself into the world. I decided that I had become myself. That I belonged to my body and my body belonged to me and everything was this single selfness. When I was fifteen my body and I took a red-eye across the country. My mother was there too. We took a red-eye across the country and I woke up in the carcass of autumn. I was fifteen and the world was rotting leaves and birch trees that arched like ribs and an icy black lake like a pupil that had burst and swallowed the iris of an eye. The world was rotting and we had come to bury my mother’s brother. I was fifteen and I had just finished carving myself into the world. I was fifteen and I knew the boundaries of my selfness. Ice traced along the boundaries of the black lake and melted under a sticky white sun. My mother drove me along roads that you can’t ink into paper. She unfurled them. I was fifteen and she was forty-nine, or maybe fifteen, or maybe six. The boundaries of her selfness twitched and tangled there, like someone had snapped a taut wire and it had coiled in and in and in on itself. Autumn was rotting but frost came and tried to stitch it together — mud hardened at the graveyard, ice traced along the boundaries of the black lake. We buried my uncle with his mother. I was fifteen. My mother’s hands shook. Next to my mother, I shook. I was fifteen and time was no longer a thing bound and stitched. Time was the lake’s burst pupil, and time was my mother unfurling backroads along her arms. I was fifteen and I was finally done carving myself into the world. In the graveyard, snow flurried around my head. Or maybe it didn’t. But I see it that way, now. When I was fifteen, time was rotting among the birches ringing the black lake. When I was fifteen, I walked away from my body and became my mother, my grandmother, my aunt. When I was fifteen, we buried my uncle with his mother and I tucked my selfness beside them in the frost dirt. When I was fifteen, I belonged to my body and my body belonged to the black lake and my selfness was eaten by winter.
Emma Janssen is a 21 year-old queer poet from the Bay Area who reads books and does math at the University of Chicago. Outside of school and writing, she can be found swimming in cold water, doing environmental journalism, and chasing after street cats.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.