title from Oliver Baez Bendof's "We Congregate" 2019
Hill the shape of those massive slides at fairgrounds.
Aden, in heels and mesh, pushes my pace.
The sun falling below the horizon casts
a magenta net hovering above our destination.
I rest my head on CJ’s new suit jacket.
They’ve been holding my hand, explaining
their day finally getting a suit especially fitted for themself.
Their smile conveys their joy beyond the beauty
of the suit. Chrissie stands leaned against a wooden post.
She bragged about the suit earlier, but stands aside
as CJ keeps talking through their smile.
Monday: I am reminded of the biological you,
the way you produce a hormone that I combat with
alcohol, testosterone, needles,
Tuesday: I get called your name, Felicia.
Wednesday: your chest needs to be bound,
to be controlled, to be hurt,
as it hurts me.
Thursday: I am told that I can’t sit that way
with a dick. You fail me with nothing
in these pants. I can’t measure up.
Friday: I shave the fuzz you have on
your face. A man walks by with
A full beard. Did you see him?
Saturday: she her you ma’am miss
Lady, you could be so pretty if you got
rid of me.
Sunday: you start church
in a pink and purple plaid shirt
that constricts my breathing
your dad thinks you look nice.
I have left everyone’s mind.
Walks in crop top jersey and nerf football.
He makes himself laugh (very loudly),
giddy around his big soft cuddly family.
Offers cuddling like a glass of water,
we need it more than we take it.
He recognizes tears about to run
and brings attention to your erasure.
He bounds through reclaimed boyhood,
in every conceivable way,
becoming any friend’s Your Biggest Fan.
Keagan Wheat (he/him) writes poetry focused on FTM identity and his congenital heart disease. His work can be found in Glass Mountain 24, Shards 4 & 7, and Sink Hollow 8. He lives in Houston, Texas collecting odd facts about dinosaurs and listening to way too many hours of podcasts.
You kneel on the bank to cup the water
because you want to forget
but you could swallow half the river and not still
the stories in your head.
All night it runs
churning the random
possessions of the dead.
In fits, you imagine the last steps
of those who loved you
how they ambled
in the pitch of night
towards what they hoped
You tilt your face
and there on the river’s a swallow
dipping its beak
to scoop up striders
scuttering across the surface
There’s a terrible thirst to be found
Maggie Sawkins lives in Portsmouth and delivers creative writing projects in community and health care settings. Her live literature production ‘Zones of Avoidance’, inspired by her personal and professional involvement with addiction, won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Maggie is the founder and organiser of Tongues&Grooves in the Community. www.hookedonwords.me
Alexander Rabb CC
I overhear an old-timer defending my forklift skills
to his buddies huddling in the receiving department,
fists in pockets, frayed baseball caps framing flat eyes.
They dip Copenhagen, while waiting for me to make a mistake.
The forks screech on the way out, close against the skid slats,
30 feet up. The men chew and chew. I stop, lower and tip
forward a fraction, and the forks slide free with calculated
precision. My red manicure’s smeared with grease, sweat
pearled on my neck. There’s an exact moment, when I get it
just right, between the 3” of wood — an inch above, an inch below,
forks hovering in the limbo of a spare inch — a sweet spot, safe.
This is important: I can breathe now. Pallet placed, I pull out slow,
bring the arms back, oiled chains rolling down-shaft, my steel
descending, an extension of concentration, will. The men disperse,
show over. I want to tell them that this isn’t about men versus
women, no sex-war; it’s about the work of a rigorous, terrified
mind, of fitting difficult packages into neat places, so they may be
governed. I want to tell them it’s about controlled emotion, a way
to sort the dangerous and the heavy, those shrink-wrapped pallets
of pain, a way to parcel a scarred, battered heart, but I won’t,
because they’re hard men who already understand this is never
uttered. They know these storage spaces well: all the insults
ever received, stacked on shelves; aisles of divorce; supermarkets
of childhood suffering; entire warehouses of fear, dark and sealed.
Everything in its place. They may even understand there’s nowhere
on earth big enough to store the death of a child. I take that horror,
bit by bit, on covered skids, 4’ x 4’, every damn day, and raise it
to a shelf, lay it on steel racks, and go back for more, hoping it never
falls. I want to tell them that women can close themselves off, too,
that this isn’t tied to gender. I want to tell them I know this is hard work.
Lauren Tivey is the author of four chapbooks, most recently Moroccan Holiday, winner of The Poetry Box Chapbook Prize 2019, The Breakdown Atlas & Other Poems, Her Blood Runs Through Me, and Dance of the Fire Horse. Tivey is a Pushcart Prize nominee (2016, 2019); her work has appeared in Connotation Press, The Coachella Review, and Split Lip Magazine, among dozens of other publications. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Flagler College, in St. Augustine, Florida.
Alexander Rabb CC
a sharp breath / a nose bleed / your eyes water and wipe what drips / "this happens a lot" / it shouldn't /
your nails are longer than mine lately / and painted white, only on the underside / i only said yes because
you asked so nicely / nice guy / i don't know if you remember / night guy / you said one is enough to
start with / but we'll just see where the night takes us / night guy / you taught me not to fear snowstorms
/ or a beating heart / bigger pupils / big guy / skyscraper / i think in that moment i was shrinking / when
the breathing returns to normal / when the dark circles set in / i see we are both shrinking / so small / so
afraid / i thought you might kill me / i thought i might i let you / and look now / how we have both died
/ side by side
i watch as you wipe your own nose
and pat dry your own eyelashes
and cough up your own blood -
point your finger to the white spots -
cough up your bad night
telling me how it doesn't make a difference
once you've reached this point
- i'm trying to learn from you
Miah Clark is a young queer poet currently studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa and working towards the publication of her first collection of poetry. Other works of hers have been published by Elementia Literary Magazine, Poets Globe & Poets Tribe, Stonefruit Magazine, Haloscope Magazine, and can be found on her poetry specific Instagram, @miahwrites.
Chiara Cremaschi CC
Sleight of hand
I've been looping Pink Floyd
to drown out the dark. Waging a war
with three-pronged trident to find wall socket,
forgetting to add water.
Letting the burnt bitter linger and leaving
these hotel curtains all the way open.
(Drawing them closed: burying a body
and pulling the shroud over bloodless feet.)
Time rushes at me in great globules
through a sieve--
the present moment nearly here and then
A game of cards you lose
before riffling through the trick deck—mud & bad hair cuts
& clean sheets & spam calls & strawberries & triggers
& burnt toast & birthdays & kids & taxis
& Tuesdays & nails & leftovers
your hand a fish out of water,
a trick of light, straining, straining,
coming up empty.
Rachel Chen studies neuroscience and creative writing at the University of Rochester. Her work has been recognized nationally by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and received the American Voices Medal in 2019. She drinks excessive quantities of lukewarm tea.
Mitchell Hopkins CC
the looking church
It is raining and there is a phoenix on the street corner selling tickets
To a show no one will ever see his red plumage scattered at his feet
While his neighbor the hound avoids his own tawny complexion in
The mirror a group of ibex run past with branches cradled over their
Heads startling twenty-three conspiracy pigeons and one assassin cat
The badger behind the wheel of an expensive beetle with silver horns
Locked together with a short orange giraffe suffering from a mad god
Complex she won’t ever make the front page run by some sort of scarab
Cult and their fascination with spiders and their snatched snip politics
Printed off the hides of the pups who lived in that alley once upon a time
It is raining and there is a peacock carrying too many feathers in her arms
To the office where she is devoured by asking blue eyes and unwanted
Claws in another block a fox slipping an emerald into her coat pocket
She’ll sell it to that jackrabbit the white one covered in gold body glitter
Living above a deli with druggie bluegills and their grey water cameras
The lonely black bear sitting on that empty stoop his ears cropped to
Perfection once upon a time but now limp like the old sloth too slow for
Change who was gobbled up by that tricky adder in the city’s basement
While the weasels stood on their hind legs and watched with petty grins
As a sparrow pushed a stroller past a group of smoking leather stallions
It is raining and the flamingos go to school with their ballet shoes they all
Look the same at least in a cluster the neon panther hurrying them along
While a raven flies overhead her talons filled with love notes from her
Lover a pretty quetzal more queer than she is cousins with the lion who
Rents downtown in a flat made of skin and stolen yellow beehives.
(In) Over My Head
don’t listen to
a word I say it cantbreathecantbreathe
doesn’t seem don't believe me / malignant
like the t r u t h self - my mind - destruct
is truth a thing I want it to be or is that just me
m ind reading? remind me.
I’m trying I swear
dying the words are blurry again
obsessive stop. r
I’m crying vulnerable up
cantbreathe feelings make your mind over
c h oking me here/ up whelmed
keeping me here the mind’s make fear
damage malignant ; contagious is this what I am un hinged is a dangerous
thing to be figure out how to this mind viper
I’m looking at their faces. At their purely naked
bodies and their ability to push and be pushed.
I’m blown away. Rainbows didn’t exist then,
but the presses did and they were hot and wild
and they were lovely. I’m reading their words
and holding them up to my own heart to see if
they match; I will never be as brave.
I came out to my dad
we were sitting on the couch
watching television. I’d written a lengthy
in the notes app of my phone it
had seemed the right thing to do
at the time.
They pushed and pushed and were pushed out
of windows and onto the spikes of pitchforks
and I didn’t know. I arrived too late to have
known before. I’m looking into the faraway
eyes of a likely-dead lesbian with a sign that
I am your worst fear.
I am your best fantasy.
She’s beautiful. I would have loved to meet her,
to speak with her. I want to meet them all, every
single one. They are all of them courageous and
lovers and lovers always win. Even then.
I felt foolish reading my dad
the memo. like reciting
dramatic / I felt
really just me
trying to explain,
to figure out
how I should do this
all I should have done
was just say it.
They were selling LGBTQ postcards in the gift
shop. Though I could see a pair of rotten capital
-ist hands all over of them, I bought four in black
and white. In one, a class photo of transgender men
and women. One of the women wears an apron and
carries a rolling pin.
My dad was quiet
“okay.” what I expected
from him the next morning
he had “googled me” so he
for sure what pansexuality meant
when I was so afraid that
I still didn’t.
I’m looking into their faces, wondering what kind of
people they were. I’m assuming they are all long gone
now. Still they are bold and beautiful and I hope that
they died in bed as someone loved and not at the end
of a pitchfork or a burning pyre. I could probably find
out their true fates but somehow that seems disrespectful
to their memories. Or maybe they’d want me to know.
Respect has to be earned.
I was so scared it was fear.
Fear that I was making this
up (to belong) or trying
to be something
I wasn’t I stayed awake all night
thinking and doing “research”
trying to make sense of it
I’d never thought about it
I was ______ or this
since the beginning
sex wasn’t something I ever
really thought about but love
was and attraction I was learning
fluid for me. That was a relief
I didn’t know I needed
the framework wasn’t so rigid
I could be with X/Y/someone all
of a sudden I could know
Brittany Coffman is a 20-year-old poet and fiction writer based in New York. Her writing explores dark corners as a way to portray language. She enjoys creating weird and wonderful expressions of the mundane and fantasy.
Chiara Cremaschi CC
Ode to My Mother's Overdose
can i show you night's shape without exposing the black root
of blame? no other way to tell this story. the child
twisted by the woman's shame. her stillness: grotesque,
open-mouthed on the living room sofa. no way, no
mama! get up! i’ll be good now. please. my baby-self bargaining
with God. just how long did I stand there shaking
her arms? terror competed with awe in her loveliness. the poster-girl
for heroin-chic modelling death. was an hour enough
that she might at last wake? gasping, she sat up. but after
thirty years, i still hear myself screaming through the throws
of our same re-birth in terror. that night
was the last of my childhood. ever since, I think
I've always known what Leonard Cohen meant
when he sang the holy dove. and still
the cry that splits the starless night above--
the cold and then the broken hallelujah.
In the Event
I read about the maloxone kit. I
read about it, I thought--I need
to call Mum. I need
to warn her. I need--
I will tell her
in the event of an overdose. Get this
thing, the kit. Open the box,
the saving of your life. Inject grace
and breath, until such time
as you can put the needle down
for good. I need
to call her. But what’s this
busy signal, the abrupt closure/
click of the line. The number
you have dialed has not been assigned.
FJ Doucet's poetry has most recently been published in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, Beliveau Review, Yolk, Martin Lake Journal, and Literary Mama, while her work in Prometheus Dreaming magazine was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her prose appears in the Retellings of the Inland Seas anthology from Candlemark and Gleam press, with more fiction forthcoming through Endless Ink Publishing House. She is a member of The Wild Nellies women's creative collective and the newest president of the Brooklin Poetry Society, just outside of Toronto, Canada.
Matthew Paul Argall CC
MRJ & KEW
I tried not to ask about the steel molds
we put in the oven this morning,
the dough that needed to proof,
about why you clenched keys in your fists
in a doughnut shop down south,
in your hometown, and why
you purposefully mispronounced kolache,
cool-ach-e. Until you let the diagnosis slip.
It’s all hard on the kidneys this first year
so we overflow with too much sugar
and whiskey that you’ve flasked away.
Instead, I asked if the initials on the picnic table
across the street were yours:
whether we should scratch them out or add mine,
like this is all we’ll ever leave behind.
Kristin Entler is a disabled queer writer who grew up in rural Alabama. She received her M.A. in English from The University of Alabama at Birmingham but now lives in Arkansas where she’s working on her M.F.A. in Poetry at the University of Arkansas. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as The Bitter Southerner, Poetry South, and Gulf Stream Literary Magazine among others. When not working on her thesis, she is probably trying to train her service dog-to-be, Azzie.
Michel G. CC
Persistence pays off, they say, and you grit your teeth, thinking of it: Grit, that thing that is supposed to get your through the winter, to the other side but I wonder, what if the other side is just more of the same ole’ thing? The same ole’ shit. How long can I persist?
Have you felt that way? Not everyone has. Some really haven’t. I’ve met them. And wondered whose ass they must’ve kissed in our past lives.
I carry on. Because even if the other side is hell, too, well, at least I fucking tried, right?
I understand the ones who don’t.
I saw an ad on Craigslist: Lookin for a room. Just tryna start over, get my life right. I was an addict, but God done took that from me and I be here today. I need a small room, not much, just a place to lay my head and a place close to some gas station I can work at.
And thought: If someone can put there laundry out there like that, granny panties and all, speak with pride, call on the Lord for a fresh start, then I can mop my pity off the floor.
Then, I think that whoever wrote that ad is probably high right now and whoever responds to such an ad may just be who they got high with. Fuck it--
I keep chugging down the sorrow in this ole’ heart, like acid, feeling the weight, heavy and blanketing, like too much jelly on bread.
I yank my chin up, ripping red lipstick across my lips—thinning, cracked from wind, slapping--
Grit my teeth and drag one foot, the other drags along. To
See what this other side has to offer.
Tiffany Lindfield is a social worker by day, trade, and heart working as an activist for climate justice, gender equality and animal rights. By night she is a prolific reader of anything decent, and a writer. (https://www.tiffanylindfield.com/)
Alexander Rabb CC
Survival Merit Badge
Start with the cruise up Route 119, the highway hilly
like a roll of paper compressing inside a closing fist.
Our careless joy turned three dimensional at a 711,
buying cigarettes, blunt wraps, and the cheap vodka
from a trunk out back, because Eric was already 21.
Consider the banter of boys can be twig-like. A whistle
of air in the car as it accelerates. Name it harmless
as dead branches, found on the ground and always there.
The surface of the lake broke by a bottle cap like a fish
spine snapping against a rock. Is all violence practice?
I regret how something feels good about kindling giving
way to a force, such as when the sun sinks like alcohol,
an orange ball resting inside the body and each sparring
forearm is a log angled together into a triangle, bold
as an arrowhead pointed up at the fur of the night sky.
Do you know the most important ingredient needed
to build a fire? Time. A slab of it, clear as Caldwells
we called nail polish remover. I want to scrape it off,
who I grew up as, bury it under paint. A ghost story
that cannot be shelved. The night we danced, drank
the whole thing, you, me, and the fire, pouring shots
onto the blue tongue. No one will believe it woke up.
I’m getting better at talking about feelings, but some
things remain double vision and unholdable. Seriously,
we literally talked to a fire for hours, until we were
too drunk to leave our seats and it died and we
understood we were actually alone. Then a dread
descended. Addiction can be like that. Brotherhood
as well. They grow and grow, crackling in the same
stone pit. They can lean together, each the other’s fuel.
Christian Arthur is a poet, teaching artist, and public health social worker in recovery from addiction. His poems have been published in Meat for Tea and The Watermark. Currently he is a Staff Poetry Reader for The Adroit Journal and previously he received fellowships from the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Incubator and DreamYard’s Rad(ical) Poetry Consortium. He’s on Twitter: @ChrisColdWater
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.