Categories
2021 Poetry

Jacob Saenz

SISTERS AT WORK

Mother’s first job consisted of dusting
& cleaning downtown offices of men
in starched suits while she & her sister
wore uniforms slightly stained & frayed

They wiped down phones & fax machines
w/worn rags, sucked up dirt on shag rugs
using Hoover vacuum cleaners w/cords
coiling on floors like slim, limp pythons

Sometimes when changing out garbage bags
they’d find tossed out food not found
in the pantry at home where shelves held
bags of beans & rice, potatoes & tortillas

They tired of eating the same meal night
after night while their mother knitted by
the light, her mind wrapped in the pattern
of chatter, of voices never ceasing to talk

In trash bins they discovered ruby red
apples almost whole, half-eaten sandwiches
made w/turkey & cheese, a slice of uneaten
pecan pie like a carnival prize they’d pick out

to share back & forth bites of a secret
sweet treat as they sat swiveling
in cushioned chairs & kicked
their feet up on freshly dusted desks


HALF THE BATTLE
for Jesse Silva

My cousin’s crutches lean
against the white wall
as we clutch GI Joes
while lying on the floor

I hold Snake Eyes
the silent commando
skilled in swordplay
& hand-to-hand combat

He clasps Storm Shadow
a Cobra-controlled ninja warrior
lethal w/a long bow & arrow
& clad head-to-toe in white

like the cast on cousin’s foot
except for Sharpie scrawls
of a rabbit’s head w/one bent ear
& the words Two-Six Nation

I’m twelve & don’t yet know
the bunny head beyond the logo
of magazines in my brother’s closet
nor the significance of 26th street

My cousin’s sixteen & won’t say much
about gangs & guns or running away
from shots that killed his best friend
& the bullet bound into his bones

We focus on play & make
our soldiers clink swords
& bang plastic limb on limb
We grip our toys like pistols


SADE CENTO

Crown you in my heart
king of sorrow
your kisses ring
hit me like a slow bullet
I know the end before the story’s been told
& it hurts like brand new shoes


Jacob Saenz is the author of Throwing the Crown, winner of the 2018 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His poetry has appeared in Memorious, PANK, Poetry, Tammy and other journals. A CantoMundo fellow, he’s been the recipient of a Letras Latinas Residency, a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship and a 2019 Latinx Scholarship from the Frost Place. He serves as as editor for RHINO.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Elijah Hayes

PRESSING ON TOWARD CANAAN

1.

I used to think I fell too far down a hole like an acorn and would never sprout, or would sprout backward, die young and unshaven, pot-bellied in the second bedroom.

The electrician tests the fire alarm, it’s hotwired so you know, she says.

No, I don’t know, I say.

We’re searching for the man who lost his face to something in the water, the anchorman on TV says.

The nurse presses a thumb onto the patient’s cyst, It’s like a mini volcano, she says.

The way I talked to you, you didn’t want to talk to me anymore. Birds shouting uh-uh, uh-uh.

Sergei says, I smoke three cigarettes a day to keep my heart rate up.

Like Moses stepping out of the bloody river, the nurse wipes a gloved hand down the length of her scrubs, Shit goddammit.

When someone drowns, you won’t hear splashing. The body becomes too focused on floating and breathing. People will die fifteen feet away from you, and you won’t hear a thing.

I promise to always keep the bathroom floor dry, so you don’t slip.

To make a room grow quiet, talk about your medicine.

Sergei asks if we’re going home, Are we in a boat? he says.

No, an ambulance, I say.

Are we in a plane? he says.

I want the deep olive fruits, mouthful of mist. Keep me simply smiling holding a bag-full of gold. There are bad moods that make us feel joy. Shadow I’m throwing long. I should be calling you, but it’s January and not yet snowed. The fool in me brighter.

2.

The doctor uses a sharpie to draw the incision lines on my chest. This is what we’ll remove, she says. She’s eaten a large breakfast and is truth worthy. Let’s get these off! she says, raising her arms into the air like her arms are celebrating.

3.

I visited the graveyard with Grandmother. She said, Here’s my father.

I used to think our minds should be playgrounds. Woods filled with moss and green. Woods piling into woods. My body no bigger than my bed. Could place myself anywhere, but I’m here.

I used to be young with scuffed church shoes, and it was fine that they were scuffed because I was young and healthy and meant to accidentally break things.

I had been so agreeable reflecting into ponds and ruined the afternoon when I spoke and hated the sound of my voice.

Yearlong rabbit under the bush feeling. Like crawdad in creek shedding guilty body under territorial stars.

I thought the world was the size of a marble and could be swallowed quickly. A fresh start. Jaw widening. Too many lost planets, pink and misty, floating in voids, excellently unraveled.

I know I’m a coward doing brave things cowardly. From a thousand rifles and behind the pine. Nothing special being relentless with the knife. These things are important. The stork does nothing for anyone but sun.

Give me soul. No longer tired and bored. I have been soft and unremarkable and clothed.

A whooping crane who migrated too early and found himself among the pelicans.

I’m removing my dumpy sweater. I clear the land of weeds and snakes.

I will be an old church pew creaking these young, bird drugged bones. Give me holy light, holy night, holy, holy niceties.

4.

I’m learning self-preservation. Been catching on well enough with the help of my rusty umbrella. But it’s missing. That’s why I’m here. To ask for it back. I’m balding and sad. Look how tortured I am feeding my hair to the gulls. I have only this paper bag and an apple. I can’t tell if your eyes are open.

5.

As if an animal is watching out for me when I peel back bark in search of honey. The gravel in the driveway speaking stupid sayings. What will I inherit like wisdom? Skin pulled back? And I’m a man? New man? Boundlessness? When the night is dumb and can only say night.

Let’s not try again, said the boy to the angel, and he became five hundred years older in a day, at once wise, and quite suddenly, a graveyard. That’s when I was born. Toadstool asking for more. But I’m being quiet about it. Like I just hid something behind the sofa. Like all my secrets aren’t easy to find.

6.

 I tie all my dismembered parts to branches after telling my doctor a lie. My face flushed red as the inside of my mouth. I lost my dignity, but regained it after I said I’m really interested in equality. All the lilacs in the world stuffed up my nose.

7.

Needle in my thigh. Weekly big grin. I slept in my face unknowingly every day a hematoma.

How’s forgiveness done the right way? The bedside lamp is on. The dog doesn’t know where to sniff. I leave one strawberry in the bowl. Another truck bed wet with rain. What part is the soul?

Here’s my arm, knuckle, earlobe. I’ll fall backward into yellow-fin, wahoo, marlin.

Sometimes my feet are containers for veins. Slivers of dumb horror. Other times my coffee. My milk and toast.

Wars in my temples. Sapped at the root. A shadow only a sea would keep. I know how to avoid any confrontation easily, diplomatically. My one, good eye twisting closed.

8.

The bumper sticker reads, THERE’S ONLY LOVE FOR YOURSELF, GOD AND BACON. Self-acceptance is terrible. There’s an attempt to make some things beautiful that shouldn’t be beautiful.

Sergei says, Don’t waste time on what isn’t in front of you. I don’t know. Someone past our understanding must pity our situation. Perhaps a great fish in the ocean.

I take out the trash. See a bit of moon. I used to wish for a big stage. I used to pretend the parts of my body were speaking to one another. I used to be spiritless, holy crawling chapel windows. I would have made a great southern wife. I know the wide, open fields. The pits where the eyes belong. A good, earthly sickness.

9.

Something is happening. There’s been a great revival. It’s all alone by the bushes. I hold sweet, southern butter role. Belly too full of fatback to find Jesus.

10.

The night we met again, I rolled my socks into one, neat pile as if I had always been organized. But there was a smell in my apartment, whatever I hid a long time ago and forgot about, and you of course found it, a man bobbing under the surface of the water. My sins under a deep stream.

How can forgiveness be given to someone so guilty? If I mean any act, what is it? Do I lie to myself by using words I don’t understand? Who will point out the treeline with my lost compass and smaller heart? Who will watch out after the parts I kill?

Just follow the disorder. I say these things, but I don’t know. The fridge is stocked: apples, ground beef, a bounding pulse.

11.

I don’t like to share. I’m dancing naked in my upright hut. Mull in me the green afternoon light. Me streaked yellow fresh goodness. In my head there is weather and weather. I’m reeling without pants by the bushes. They’re pink worms grabbing at air. I will kill this year. Drop it at your door. Make it your year.

12.

Sergie says, I’m not fucking with you, it took me fifty years of pain. I don’t feel self-important anymore. Now I only love me in the real way. Truth to get you high and not pipe high, you know, speaking truth . I can’t remember falling. I can’t remember I actually did that.

13.

The longer I’m quiet the closer I am to becoming a cathedral. Moon, lead me to the center of my stomach. I will pay you back with more moons and pond-full and brimming over and happy.

Evening soon. I consumed everything. All desire grinning. My soul cut rope. What would I sacrifice?

I’m looking for a still, grey puddle. I’m not sure what I’ve forgiven. Too much or little. As a girl I was down to the shin-bone with green delirium. Shame-faced stalking any good animal to eat. Now I’m lazy and far up the road. Blueness. A triple of days. Silently eating grapes. Years went by. Where was I? In the skin of a copperhead. Sneaking glances sideways skimming down a muddy river. Ensorcelled by my face. Smiling till epistaxis. Checking the clock for home.

14.

Your postcard arrives: Just wanted you to know, I’ve finally forgiven you.

I’m a part of something large and booming, cries a blue jay. Small birds I don’t know the name of flying. How can you forgive?

I’m wandering in a wilderness instead of pressing on toward Canaan. Sergei said, Live so that when you come to the close, all you have left to do is die. I might understand. I watch and am as a sparrow upon the housetops.


Elijah is a trans & queer man living in Alabama. His poetry and nonfiction have appeared in jubilat, Hayden’s Ferry Review, BOOTH, Cover Lit Mag, Cosmonauts Avenue, Queen Mobs Teahouse and other various journals. He is the author of the chapbooks There is One Crow That Will Not Stop Cawing (Another New Calligraphy, 2016) and Mad Dances for Mad Kings (Factory Hollow Press, 2015). He earned his MFA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. More can be found here.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Olivia Muenz

[Text is inside a square box that resembles a tv with "rabbit ears"]

entertainment from the sickbed is all static

suck me in to the tv you sucker

I am all bunny ears and showmanship

I will pull you out of my hat

await my glowing mouth to feed you nicely

in niceties here i am

the world as you know it now safely in a frame

of containably contaibables of somewhere else

FAMILY VACATION

1.

I’m hitting the road with jack…
We’re going to the grand canyon…
We’re going to feel grand…
We’re going to feel alive by looking at a gaping hole…
That’ll do it…
Should I tell you what my plan is?
I don’t have a plan…
That’s either my big problem or my big solution.

2.
Listen up…
We aren’t staring into rocks like we’re waiting for coffee to brew…
I’m climbing up that thing…
I’m getting you out of my pockets…
You’re the little stone in my shoe that won’t come out…
I’m commanding you nicely, please get out…
Would the tone of my voice make a difference?
Fine, I’ll say it louder.

3.
You are not at the grand canyon with me…
You are not even in the bath tub…
I’ve sucked you down the drain…
I was sorry to do it…
You were sorry to do it…
We exchanged greeting cards…
Do you know what a greeting is?
Can it fit inside my envelope?

4.
We could only get to New Mexico…
The older version is too far away…
We stretch our arms to go back in time…
What are we leaning towards?
We’re no better than a plant by a shady window…
All my plants do the YMCA…
I’ll burst this window wide open…
I’m thirsty for something good.


Olivia Muenz is an MFA candidate in creative writing at Louisiana State University. She received her BA from NYU and is currently the Nonfiction Editor for New Delta Review. Her work is forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal and Heavy Feather Review. @oliviamuenz

Categories
2021 Poetry

Fargo Nissim Tbakhi

INDICTMENT FILM
after Solmaz Sharif

and my mother playing me Fast Car
while somewhere my father tries to be
an animal somebody can tame
his hair thin as a wraith now and my mother’s
falling out in clumps like snow
and my hands caressing my own head
while i shave it losing my hair to be close
to my baba to be at peace with him to know
him beyond his own afterimage beyond
the indictment text even when it speaks
in my mother’s voice and this the only document
i can find of my family my baba only
defendant and never any tenderness to taste
and my mother whiter than poison tenderer
than brussels sprouts while i write towards
something, anything wilder than my self
towards some animal which won’t be
and my mother cleaning toilets and my father
blessed with unanonymity in eyes which won’t
see him hands that won’t touch his beauty
and i am asking for love in all the wrong pages
and i am a document of some tenderness beyond
any text of power my baba dying my mother dying
and all of us weeping and no one stops watching
and i am talking about a revolution sounds
like a whisper


Fargo Nissim Tbakhi (he/him) is a queer Palestinian-American performance artist. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, he is a Halcyon Arts Lab Fellow and works at Mosaic Theater. His writing has appeared in Foglifter, Mizna, Peach Mag, the Shallow Ends, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Dustin Pearson

A DIFFERENCE

I wish I could explain the danger that lies in a look
through a window. People will say, Why not
draw the shades? It’s a beautiful day outside.

Having seen, I’ll agree, but left alone with the view,
the beauty tugs so strongly on my eye that
the vessels inside it break, and so the beauty bleeds.
The sky stirs. Red leaks into the blue. The sky turns
purple marvelously, but the red keeps leaking until
there is only red, a red so rich so high in the sky,
and the wind blows. All the trees lose their greens.
The waters wash over the grounds, and then in the sky,
there’s lightning. It strikes in straight lines then arcs
and branches, then the branches become limbs
that swirl everything together. The window
I look through and the room I’m sitting in are fine,
and at some point, the world interrupts. This time
it’s my brother. I recognize his knock even if
it’s different. When I open the door, his hand
is a fist hanging away from his arm and himself
like a bird feeder, wrapped and bound by a loose
stretch of skin. It seems to swing a bit and twist as if
someone were giving it a gentle spin. It occurs to me
my brother used it to get my attention. He wanted me
to see. Had he experienced the day like I had, only
to this difference? His room was just up the stairs.
By the light up there, he’d also drawn the shades
and stared in. His wrist was broken, but he’d gotten
both of us away from it. He hadn’t said anything
and wouldn’t answer, even as I popped him in place,
even as I wrapped the bandages around him.


A SCHEME

My brother and I used to scheme
to make money. It was our way
of coping with the tiny allowances
our father gave us, a coping
he didn’t realize would make us
creative, my brother less so
because his allowance was always
double mine. Those days
were adjacent to digging for treasure
in our backyard, of looking into
a blue sky and dreaming of being
sailors discovering large chests
of jewels under the ocean.
The world had so many limits
back then, imposed by a man
who became a dad so the grudge
he held against his family
would pay attention to him,
but even looking at the perimeter,
the ordinary, localized possibilities
of a house whose backyard
was marked by a boundary
of gray wood, we became masters
of projection. We never sold
lemonade in the street. It was what
the other kids in the neighborhood
and the kids on TV were doing,
but perhaps they were happy,
perhaps they didn’t know selling
sweetened citrus in a Dixie cup
full of vital liquid for a quarter
or 50 cents was no amount of money
that could take them anywhere, perhaps
under their houses wasn’t a fire
whose fingers curled around them.


SOULS SIDE BY SIDE

My brother and I
had souls
to swirl
vast darkness.
To that debt,
we gave our dad
everything,
his hands locked
around our faces
until he left.
He’s come back
to two men
who can only move
to knife the other
who can only reach
to cleave.
He creeps
around us
pining
like he hadn’t died
when he first left.
Father, why
are you dying?
We killed you.
You should be dead.


Dustin Pearson is the author of A Season in Hell with Rimbaud (BOA Editions, 2022), Millennial Roost (C&R Press, 2018), and A Family Is a House (C&R Press, 2019). He is a McKnight Doctoral Fellow in Creative Writing at Florida State University. The recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, and The Anderson Center at Tower View, Pearson has served as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review and a Director of the Clemson Literary Festival. He won the Academy of American Poets Katharine C. Turner Prize and John Mackay Graduate Award and holds an MFA from Arizona State University. The recipient of a 2021 Pushcart Prize, his work also appears in Blackbird, Vinyl Poetry, Bennington Review, TriQuarterly, [PANK], The Literary Review, Poetry Daily, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere.

Categories
2021 Fiction

Colleen Mayo

WITH SUSANNA

Susanna and I sit like queens outside her restaurant on South Congress. She’s ordered us oysters, ham, and plates of tiny salted pickles that cost more than a pack of cigarettes. The windowsills are lined with baskets of cacti.

We’re different now. Grown, although acting like teenagers as we flirt with Paul, one of her waiters. Paul’s a coy Texas boy from Lubbock. Everyone around here, Susanna tells me, calls him Buddy after Buddy Holly. She hired him six weeks back. She says he knows his wine and how to charm the wives of all the fancy couples who frequent her restaurant.

Susanna winks at me while Paul gets us another bottle of champagne.

“You know those east coast wenches,” she says. “They can’t get over a cowboy smile.”

I wink back and remember how, fifteen years ago, Susanna was loud and thick-wasted. I made fun of her for all the words she mispronounced. But if I needed a dollar, Susanna had five. If I needed a drink, Susanna had Lone Stars and water bottles full of liquor. If I needed a ride, she had a black Toyota with weed in the console and a glove box stashed with condoms for safety. We used to joke about the condoms because we never used them. Instead, she’d drive her Toyota around Austin and we’d find roads shaded with live oaks to kiss one another under. It still excites me to remember first lying against her long stomach, how much difference there was to discover between our bodies—two shapes that, before Susanna, I’d assumed would be too similar to ever make sense as a set.

It’s eleven at night. Heel after heel clicks down South Congress. The women around us have skinny legs and handbags smooth as butter. Paul arrives to refill our champagne flutes and we toast to Susanna’s success. She bought this place out from an organic grocery store. Before that, the space was a bakery. Fifteen years ago, it was a metal shack that sold the best greasy hamburgers in town.  

Now she leans back with her fingers woven together on the table.

“You’re a businesswoman,” I tell her. “A total boss.” 

Susanna takes my hand and squeezes it three times. 

I want to say a corny line—let’s get out of here or follow me—then grab the champagne and lead her down an alleyway out back to light cigarettes and pass the bottle. I want Susanna to drink it all before getting closer. I want her to say, “now this feels good.” 

And then I want us to find some Lone Star. I want a plastic water bottle of liquor. I want to be sixteen and stoned in the back of Susanna’s Toyota. She’s left a handful of condoms in the glovebox for safety, knowing full well that’s not what we’re after at all. 

“It feels good to have you here,” she says. 


Colleen Mayo’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, The Sun Magazine, The Rumpus, Hobart, The Chattahoochee Review, and elsewhere. Colleen lives in Denton, Texas where she is a PhD student in Creative Writing at The University of North Texas.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Irène P. Mathieu

haibun in the year of return

the ocean                     I cried drunkenly        is my mother

you tipped your head              sea spray slipped into your throat

I wanted to walk into the high tide–              not to die, exactly,

but to feel better

                                    the aftershocks of becoming

oscillating       in the dark century   –

                                                            two months later

on another coast, we gorge on salted shrimp and crab

legs                  I hate myself for judging the mom way

all the mothers clasp their toddlers’ fingers with wet wipes

and twist                                 we go home where all

we want to do is drink water after water

in Ghana I saw sheets of sardines spread out to dry

along the road like metal earth shields deflecting

the equatorial light—                reminded me of my mother

protecting us from ourselves              at the end of the

dust road, waving with fingers the size of continents for

me to keep walking, that she’d meet me on the other—

I remember you kept losing a shoe to the water

as she chased us up the beach, back toward the

safety net of palms      and as we scuttled you

murmured nauseously,

do you love me? are

you sure?

                        do you remember?

I ask, my hands

still smelling like Old Bay and shrimp shells, but

you shake your head no.

                                    a better question would be,

how?   though nothing I summon would explain the

sequence of events nor fully recollect the ships,

the planes, all the near-death twisted from our finger-

tips before being released from mother’s grip.

I can’t fathom it                      I mean I cannot

plumb this kind of depth                     I’m six feet under

the surface and still not sure

what my mother means.


there are days

rage burns a hole through both hands.
I hear my descendants more loudly these
days, asking for answers. one use of a
uterus: anger machine, hot fist in my belly.

there will be a day I’ll have to explain where I was,
which insects I sheltered, what I did with my money.
my chest a witness. in the documentary they forgave
the murderer – something something religion

but all I could pull up after were cramping sobs,
three-day panic – a kind of birth. in slow motion
my anxiety is actually grief. suddenly I can’t
imagine a comfort other than saltwater.

these days bumblebees have become
precious – sweet fumblers of fertility
bobbing around my tomato flowers.
no, I didn’t ask to be angry. yes, I knew

it would settle along my bones and under
my spleen. yes, in those days medicine was
lavender steam, mugs of tea, and begging
forgiveness of the future. my congested bloodbag.

I don’t want to be a murderer but I still
pay taxes. now my palms are windows.
I plunge them into the bowl of my pelvis.
there are days I stir and stir and never cool.


the forest fire of family trees

the problem is we don’t know
that many ways of doing things
for instance, neither of us can
fry an egg without public radio
chattering in our ears, & there
are worse blueprints for a home,
like what my grandfather taught
my uncle. we think we know
people until we see the way
they eat a banana, totally unlike
how we peel and devour the fruit,
only instead of eating a banana
it’s something way bigger,
like loving another person.
as the snowflakes get thicker
I hear myself say exactly
what my mother would say
when faced with this same
situation, and I say it
in her voice. it’s not that I’m
ashamed to share all my DNA
and most of my life with these
two people, it’s just that I worry.
it’s not easy to recognize
the odor of toxins you
release, day after day,
which, when rearranged,
spells door. you cross
the threshold & think it’s just
the cologne of the world,
not the smoke in your
blood, not grass burning
from the little fires ignited
by your feet.


Irène P. Mathieu (she/her) is a pediatrician and writer. She is the author of Grand Marronage (Switchback Books, 2019), orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, 2017), and the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press, 2014). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry ReviewNarrativeBoston ReviewVirginia Quarterly ReviewCallalooTriQuarterly, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from Fulbright, Callaloo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia.

Categories
2021 The Boiler Prize

Aimee Herman

this is how to remove yourself from a body

I told myself that I didn’t know.

I just needed more work to afford living in a city that had a cover charge just to walk down the street. When I was eighteen, twenty, twenty-five, I dreamed of living in Brooklyn. I romanticized its graffiti, poetry flung in the air like bird wings flapping. I thought it would be easy. I thought I could just insert myself into this city and become.

Craigslist was my realtor. It was also my dating service. It wasn’t until many months later that it also became the hook that gutted me from my body. It wasn’t until months later that it drew me in to the seedy world of      It wasn’t until months later that I used it in ways which would later remove me from myself.

Here is what I knew. I knew I was going to Queens to clean a man’s office. I knew I did not need to bring any supplies; he would supply everything. I knew that I was heading into a before and after. I had already had several of these already in my life.

Before.

I am in fifth grade and the only thing that matters to me is Michael Jackson, fruit roll-ups, Milli Vanilli and Barbie dolls. (I know, all problematic.) By this time, I had already received my first “D” in school, fallen in like with several boys, and became a fixed member of the low self-esteem club run by the school guidance counselor. I am in sixth grade, I am in seventh.

There is nothing organized about memory. It is a jumble of disordered notes. It is a William S. Burroughs cut-up. Can it be trusted? Has it been manipulated? My memories mumble inside me. I can understand every sixth word and even that is blurry.

I want to gather all of my memories and hook them up to a lie detector test. Only then can I know what is true. Only then, can I recognize that everything I forget does not stop me from remembering.

Before.

Every sentence I ever spoke cracked open spitting blood and wound and howl and pain when my mother

I’m not ready for that.

After.

I am hungry for papercuts. I crush up my dog’s medicine because I want to consume everything wrong for me. I hunch over my desk where homework is meant to be consumed not nose bleeds, but I snort it up anyway. Repeat. Repeat (in different variations).

After.

I coat every breath in lies. I feel more honest that way. No one understands how painful this is. It is 1993. It is 1995. It is death of River. It is death of Kurt. My friends grow breasts and I grow scars. It is easier to fade away when a body is made of tracing paper and empty mechanical pencils.

A week or so after my sixteenth birthday, I swallow as many pills as my throat allows. The balloons from my birthday are still in my bedroom when they find me. I don’t remember anything besides the hospital. The syrup of ipecac. I stop writing because I need to spell check and learn that syrup of ipecac is no longer available. Apparently, it didn’t work. Wikipedia announces it was “ultimately ineffective at purging the body of poisonous substances.” Could all this poison still be inside me?

After.

I am in my twenties in Brooklyn with a subway map sewed to my wrist. I still get lost; maybe I want to get lost; but to be lost means you had a plan of where to go and I lost that plan.

why are calendars so tragic.

When you feel unsafe, build a metaphor out of your body and watch it become something else. A cash register. A rent payment. An elevator. A garbage bag. A potato chip. A chalk outline on the sidewalk people walk over and the rain removes. A tumbleweed of hair. A cigar box full of scabs and fingernail clippings. A broken seatbelt. A discarded subway map.

I didn’t learn until years later that I could say no to some things. I did not know that I could come with rules. I did not realize that I could hammer DO NOT ENTER signs to parts of my body and still get paid. So, I said yes to everything. I said yes to no condom even though I carried enough with me to feed a country full of penises.

After.

I clung to the remains. And then I climbed to the rooftop of my body and dangled.

After.

I discarded all of my metaphors, let them bloody the ground below me and began to find my way back in.


Aimee Herman is the author of the novel, Everything Grows (Three Rooms Press) and two full length books of poems, meant to wake up feeling (great weather for MEDIA) and to go without blinking (BlazeVOX books), in addition to being widely published in journals and anthologies including BOMB, cream city review, and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books).  Aimee is a queer writer and educator and a founding member in the poetry band, Hydrogen Junkbox.

Categories
2021 The Boiler Prize

A. Shaikh

ASSIMILATE & FLOURISH


This is one method of queerness.

Two bodies undressing like fruit.

A wish: her palm against my palm, fingers drenched.

Picture me, my hopeful-love says on the phone, at my desk painting.

I do, ignoring the news.

Twelve days to the election and I’m girlcrushing.

I had always felt kind of tough, but now I am just a faggot.1

Forgive me, beloved, for the hours between doomsday and now.

I hunger to lick, bite, bruise.

I don’t want to be political.

In Dallas, the weather is a wet drum tune.

My mother is a poet, but without the privilege of language.

Memory and time.

Scared Sacred.

I invoke prayer in the bathtub. Look at me god, I cry out.1

I gnawsuck on the shape of my knee—Peach pits and apple seeds.

My horoscope shrieks!

Everyone I know tweets about their IUD.

I spend nights on the Am I a Lesbian? Masterdoc.

My angel-love can’t relate.

I fortunately have no interest in men with clarity

I envy her sureness, seduced by it.

Ask yourself if you can be truthfully happy, the document suggests.

With men. A man. America.

Oh crisis, she comments.

Soon we will be uninsured, unmarried, unemployed.

I remain parched after inhaling a bowl of milk.

My mother says make good choices, quiet and upset.

Older and older, I unfurl away from my old country.

Night time, I let the good dream bob in my throat—the one with my ocean-love’s dark curls soaped back.

She says my name, a foam soft syllable, a fragment.

I spoon my sticky womanwound. Numb to what cannot save me.

When two people part, it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches.2

My mother hasn’t seen her mother unpixelated in four years.

I confess to my American-love: I don’t know who I am with or without you.3

I slide the fat off whatever we are.

I imagine myself shivering at the nape of her neck.

There is nothing more sexual.

Some thousand miles away from her blue state.

My passport is a hoax.

I research. Pragmatic solutions to unpragmatic problems.

The internet is a spell, my poet-love translates.

On the playground, children saw me as a citizen.

The thing is it wasn’t long ago when I was a little girl.4

Assimilate & Flourish, advertises whitehouse.gov5

I don’t know how to afford this perfume, but I guess I will have to.

I can be killed in a nightclub. I can be detained like a dog.

I listen to my mother fear monger. Straight-laced but brain out of order.

Badqueer. Goodimmigrant.

A daughter, I was made impossible.


A. Shaikh is an immigrant poet raised in the tangerine summers of Texas. She is an associate and intern for The Kenyon Review, Editor-in-Chief of Sunset Press, and an Aquarius who loves the color blue. You can find her poems in Underblong, Poets.org, and elsewhere. Her internet thoughts reside @apricotpoet.


Notes:
1 Excerpts from Inferno by Eileen Myles
2 A line by Marcel Proust
3 A lyric from could just cry thinking about you by Troye Sivan
4 A line from The Idiot by Elif Batuman
5 A phrase from what the Trump Presidency says about Immigration as found on whitehouse.gov: These reforms will advance the safety and prosperity of all Americans while helping new citizens assimilate and flourish.

Categories
2021 Poetry

Despy Boutris

EMOTIONAL CHECK-IN WITH DISASSOCIATION

She is not the fire but the smoke.

She is not the fallen spruce but the ground.

She is not the cricketcall but the echo

of the cricketcall, the steady screech

persisting even in sleep, unable to flee from.

Even I want to flee from her, and she is me.

Like disease she makes a home in me.

Of me. She smells of exhaust, and dirt

perpetually stains her knees. She knows

there are men out there who want to sweep

her off her feet. They want to love her,

to try their luck with her. She wants to buy a bus

and drive cross-country on her own.

To cut off her feet and sew them back

straight. She wants to be brave enough to speak.

She wants to speak in first-person again.

To say what she’s thinking: I want to be brave

enough to speak.


ANNIVERSARY

This meadow
used to be our meadow.

Now       in the raindrizzle
at sundown
my fingers grasp
fistfuls of grass, yank sodblades
from sodden roots                          
and crush clovers in my grips. 
A plane jets overhead,
  tilts
toward the lantern-
light of the Moon,
and braids into gray clouds
soft as autumn gossamer,

and I’m warring
against this whirling, twirling
                               earth
to keep alive,
for that butterfly
still flutters in ribs
somewhere—somewhere
where every bud
(of every flower)
blooms and blossoms
like a bruise,
where threads aren’t unra-
veled, where trusts aren’t bro-
ken,        where wings
(and hearts) aren’t torn,

              where our landings
aren’t       crash landings.


PALMISTRY

after Stevie Edwards

In this story we’re middle-aged, sitting
on the shoreline in the rain, the tide
more hiss than hum. Like crabs, our feet
burrow in the sand, toes flushing
in the cold. You turn toward me, start
talking about the past, that lunar eclipse,
the year the mustard blooms bombed
the hillside. In the beginning, you say,
I offered to read your palm
just so I could hold your hand. The wind
bellows, telling the future
of an incoming storm. We start
making a mound, cupped hands full
of sand, and it feels good to make
something together again. In this story
we’ll go home and assemble root beer
floats and watch the sky turn to fire.
We’ve lived long enough to know
how beautiful flames can be—sunset
a whirr of reds. We know the value
of these little moments: this breeze,
this seaside, sassafras root, the past,
this hand, reaching out—


Despy Boutris’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, American Poetry Review, The Journal, Colorado Review, The Gettysburg Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Currently, she teaches at the University of Houston and serves as Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast, Guest Editor for Palette Poetry and Frontier, and Editor-in-Chief of The West Review.