Emerging from the quilted cocoon
of the brown monarcas
is an infant
who in silk immigrant dreams, vuela.
His oceili eyes painted
in Kahlo’s autoretrato-frontera,
a horizon hued in moretones.
Primed at his prefrontal cortex:
his brother’s Mara Salvatrucha punches.
Papá’s campesino hand ……..desperate a firmar el contrato.
Barefoot newly-widows ……..scream their sobs inside a veil— ……..Quiche dresses ……..wave copal incense ……..over a pine box.
Who determine Which Way Home*
by steadying their tarsals,
tres veces mojados,
to the cold iron of La Bestia’s roof.
They flap their limbs,
patterned in the dead-leaf camouflage
of cigarette burns.
Their diet consists of soiled dreams.
After fourteen days of hunching,
the boys will have molted into men
in the dead chrysalis of night.
Dos huérfanos entrelazan brazos encima del tren móvil.
Sus estómagos aporrean para esa Manzana Grande
cuyos rascacielos ellos solo han salivado en revistas.
By morning, the train tunnels
are rusted knives, their low ceilings
*Phrase derived from the title of a 2010 documentary that chronicles the journey of unaccompanied migrants from Mexico and El Salvador. One scene depicts two children locking arms to prevent themselves from falling off “La Bestia,” the network of trains used by US-bound bodies to traverse Mexico.
Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Antonio Lopez is the winner of the 2017 Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference Poetry Award, as well as the recipient of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley’s Lucille Clifton Memorial Scholarship. His nonfiction has been featured in TeenInk, PEN/America and his poetry is present or forthcoming in Gramma Press, Cosmonauts Avenue, storySouth, Grist, La Bloga, Acentos Review, Sinking City, By&By, Permafrost, Track//Four, the American Journal of Poetry, and others. He is currently pursuing a Master in Fine Arts (poetry) at Rutgers University-Newark.
Curtains checked for anthrax, podium erected.
The balloons will fall to the floor if elected.
The ass-groper, interloper, and false hoper
Will find themselves shoved out the door if elected.
Maple candy, aged brandy, and Tristam Shandy
Will all get restocked at the store if elected.
My opponent will eat all your brains, announcing
The zombie apocalypse gore if elected.
Please! The other party is a pity party
Part ku klux, part poo-poo, part whore if elected.
Radiate, meditate syncopate, masturbate
Lather, rinse, repeat, and restore if elected.
Go this team, go that team, ghost writers, gorilla,
Go go cage, and go go galore if elected.
Wow! What you do is voo doo that we do so well.
Baby buggy bump Babson bore if elected!
Anne Babson’s collection The White Trash Pantheon won the Colby H. Kullman prize from the Southern Writers Southern Writing Conference in Oxford, Mississippi. She wrote the libretto for the opera Lotus Lives, which has been performed in multiple cities and is slated for production once more in Montreal in 2018. She is the author of three chapbooks– Poems Under Surveillance is still in print with Finishing Line Press, and she has a forthcoming chapbook from Dancing Girl Press entitled Dolly Shot. She has been anthologized in the United States and in England, most recently in the notable collection Nasty Women Poets: an Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse released in 2017. Her work has appeared in literary journals on five continents and has won numerous editorial awards. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times. She has received residency grants from Yaddo and Vermont Studio Center. Her blog about moving south, The Carpetbaggers Journal, has close to 50,000 hits and has been picked up by Y’all Politics and PBS-related websites. She writes lyrics for musical projects, most recently a blues album. She teaches writing and literature at Southeastern Louisiana University. She writes and lives in New Orleans.
………..flash flood warning will come
through text message now, you will read ………..about the water filling narrow streets
without looking out to see ………..how high it’s risen. You will scour
the internet for what’s inside
………..the stomach, because no one
told you of the rennet, how it settles ………..lactic floods, turns milk, curdling
its casein to help digest ………..a mother’s overflow, to help
your son endure how much of you
………..you leave inside him.
Your curtains are nailed down, rust ………..in falloff, because
you never found ………..the rods to hold them and the rain
kept knocking to get in.
………..You couldn’t stand to look
at all that water, but when ………..your son flash flooded white
with bits of eggs and bread and even ………..cat hair, there was nowhere
to hide from all that rising, and all
………..the water keeping you
inside, was not enough.
He doesn’t notice the desert.
The smell of the dead rising, birds or fish, saltwater
feeding on air or salt air on the water, the sand
turning black as it wraps his ankles like a skeleton hand.
He doesn’t know why the horseshoe crab shells
are empty, isn’t old enough to ask
about their blue blood and how we harvest it.
He doesn’t wonder where the living have gone
and I’m grateful for this. For how he can focus
on the steady horizon and fall headfirst
into a wave’s undertow. For how he rises
masked in muck, his mouth full and laughing.
For how his anxious body rushes back.
For how it’s made of water, made for crossing
deserts, for not noticing the dead.
my son calls any body
of water—man, mister,
uncle water, uncle sea, uncle
ocean, dyadya, not father
but close, though we
didn’t teach him this.
Kinship, nature flowing
into family, vast
expanse into what is
already inside of him. Obnimi Dyadyu Voda,
he says, and wraps
his arms around the waves, Hug Uncle Water, and falls flat
onto the sand, palms
wide and sinking
as though into my body,
and around us
dogs, everywhere, my son
is the only toddler, your kids are beautiful, a passerby says,
she means our dog too, Dyadya, my son calls her. You should have more, she adds, have a whole litter, and if you have them close together,
his cheek is in the sand and
mouth full of salt, What’s one more? Everything, I think
and want to hold him
but he is water and no matter
how wide I stretch my arms,
I cannot hug or count
the whole of him.
As Flesh, Not Stone
Remember, I tried. Not that this is any
consolation. Even now, writing it
feels like the opposite. I guess I’m referring
to distance. I tried to keep it
better than my mother or hers. Tried
to find the middle ground where your head
can meet my chest without being bound
or sinking. Where it can rest as flesh
not stone. Tried to keep that place
where our hands reach without touch,
to be okay with the empty space between.
—me water me me water me water me—
Remember the time I asked you to kiss me
and you said, no mama! pushing my face away
with your hand’s heel and then your foot’s.
Remember how I listened. Let you choose
anything else over what you are made of.
—water me water me water water water—
Remember? The bathtub was only half full
when you slipped and asked me to kiss
your soapy ear lobe so the pain would stop.
But it didn’t. Not really. Remember, I tried.
Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon and is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, where her research focuses on contemporary American poetry about the Holocaust. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf and TENT Conferences as well as the Auschwitz Jewish Center. Julia is the author of The Bear Who Ate the Stars (Split Lip Press, 2014) and her poems appear in Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, and Nashville Review, among others, and are forthcoming from Best New Poets, APR, and Poetry International. Most recently, she won the Williams Carlos Williams University Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and New South’s Poetry Prize. Julia is also Editor-in-Chief of Construction Magazine and when not busy chasing her toddler around the playgrounds of Philadelphia, she writes a blog about motherhood.
Image Credit: Christopher Campbell on Unsplash Author photo by Ekaterina Izmestieva.
Samuel Son is columnist at North State Journal, Sojourner, and Presbyterian Outlook. He has poems published and forthcoming at American Journal of Poetry, Cultural Weekly, Ghostwood Books and Tuck Magazine. He serves as a teaching pastor at New Life Triangle.
I CAME TO EXPLORE THE WRECK: AN EPISTOLARY ESSAY by Alexia Sereti Featured on Life As Activism
I was your age the first time a man interrupted my walk home from school to tell me I was beautiful. He was around thirty-five years old. I cringed as his brown eyes roamed over my body. Regardless, he took a step closer to me, placed his hand on my shoulder, and described the particular ways in which my body brightened his gloomy day. My mom signed me up for self-defense classes after I told her, and I wasn’t allowed to walk home alone until the lessons were completed. I wonder how your mom will react when this happens to you for the first time.
I know what your parents taught you – if you’re scared, call 911. But it’s not that simple. I was your age the first time a police officer asked me to cheer him up with a smile while his partner’s eyes held parts of my body that hadn’t even developed yet. Don’t worry, it wasn’t until a couple years later that one actually asked me to get inside his car for a “pick me up,” so you’ve got a while to prepare.
I know you’ve gotten used to the catcalls and honks coming from passing cars. I’m proud of you for learning not to react outwardly. But here’s the thing, sometimes these cars will actually stop in front of you and provoke more than just a roll of the eyes. I was your age when that happened to me for the first time. The driver made a U-turn in the middle of Northern Boulevard and parked right beside me. I was too embarrassed to run away, so I tried to speed walk. But when he yelled at me to get inside his car and called me a “little bitch,” I broke into a sprint. In situations like this, you’ve got to ignore the insistence that you’re overreacting and follow that flight instinct inside you. You can’t do it every time. But when this happens to you, trust your gut and run.
If you join a co-ed sports team in high school, sometimes you’re going to have to practice outside with the boys. If your school’s field or court is in public, men from the outside world may feel welcome to watch and offer inappropriate commentary. I know it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but it’ll be more embarrassing when it happens in front of your teammates. Especially when it gets so bad that practice has to be canceled or permanently moved indoors. When this happens, do not feel ashamed. Just shrug it off and joke with the boys about how you can’t help attracting admirers. If they can tell you’re scared, they’ll get uncomfortable. You don’t want them donning their capes.
When your best friend gets raped by her boyfriend, she may not want to deal with it. Tell her that she should leave him. Tell her that she should report it. When she denies you and goes back to him, be there for her anyway. When you find her drunk in the bathroom of some random party, puking into the toilet and missing her underwear, carry her home no matter how many people yell the word “slut” from behind. When you stop getting invited to parties, try to see it as a blessing rather than a punishment.
You’ll accidentally drown yourself in shots of Jager or Vodka one night with your friends and assume that they will take care of you. You’re going to depend on them to take your puking in a subway trashcan as a sign to end the night early and go home. But they’ll continue to party without you and not notice when one of your friends decides to reach into your shirt while you’re incapacitated. Sorry, Eighteen. This is going to be a painful memory for a while. When your friends tell you that it happens to everyone and not to make a big deal of it, do not cry. When you call him out on his behavior, he’ll call you a melodramatic tease. When he explains the ways you led him on, he’ll sound so sure of himself that you’ll inevitably wonder if he’s right. Whether or not you believe him, don’t apologize.
You’re going to go on a date to some random bar in downtown Manhattan with this new guy you met over the summer. When you tell him that you can’t go home with him tonight, you’ll take a sip of beer in preparation for his protest and nearly choke when he says that it’s okay. He’ll tell you that the decision to have sex is entirely yours and that he has no desire to push you into anything. Later, when it becomes clear that he meant what he said, don’t thank him—he’ll be confused. Remember, Nineteen, having a choice in the matter is supposed to be common sense. It’ll feel like a miracle by now, but just try to act natural until the date is over and then celebrate the anomaly when you get home.
You’re going to walk home from the library one night, stressing about midterms and papers, when a group of teenage boys will stick their heads out the window and call you a slut. They’re probably going to demand that you lift your shirt up for them, and you’ll tell them to fuck off. Cross the street quickly after that because one of them is going to spit at you for talking back. As they scramble to shut their blinds, just put your headphones in and try to forget about it. Here’s the thing. I know you’ll want to take your headphones out once you get home, but your housemates will have left the television on in the living room and you won’t want to hear what will be playing— a man’s voice streaming through the speakers, saying: “I did try and fuck her…. They let you do it…. Grab them by the pussy…. You can do anything.” You’ll end up running to throw up in the toilet and spending the rest of the night on the bathroom floor. And I don’t want that for you. Just keep your headphones in, Twenty.
Born and raised in New York City, Alexia is the daughter of two Greek immigrants. At eighteen, Alexia moved to upstate New York to pursue a degree in English Literature at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Alexia recently concluded a six month exchange program in England, where she continued to work on her English degree. With her final year of university approaching, Alexia is preparing for a semester of Lyric Essay workshops and a Creative Honor’s Project, meant to build her Nonfiction Portfolio before she enters the Publishing world in New York City as a writer and editor.
A few hours in this room not much bigger
than a storage space, boxes replaced
with a teetering desk early this morning
and the heavy sound of uniformed men,
whose questions he has answered
as far as English carried him, wondered
why their eyes narrowed when he repeated his name,
this condensed version his mother once cooed to him,
once, he was smaller than he’s been,
swaddled in the ashes of birth home, his birthplace
another answer that stirs them, and now wonders
if he should fear the fat jingle of handcuffs;
on the other side, he doesn’t know this, outside the gate
a crowd is shouting, spreading around him
like magnetic fillings chanting for release,
the way worshippers seek relief from possession;
wonders if he should worry a night spent in this chair,
he has napped before in a rubble fashioned
with metal and skeleton; he doesn’t know this,
with each minute, a new mass hoards the airports
across the nation; the unison beat of outrage
mixes with winter air, halts air-trains, blocks vehicles,
headlines spill wet with new ink; wonders if they will
remove his clothes, search his body again, he has already
dipped his fingers in so many puddles of blue;
he doesn’t know this, the flock that penned
the papers rushing to a courtroom where a judge
will read their names; wonders if they will continue
to interrogate him, he has already weathered
three years of interviews, chewed on the acid of delay,
of maybe, of never and no way; wonders what is the worst
that could happen; he doesn’t know who waits for him in arrival,
unless the corpses of family and neighbors are here to greet him,
unless a cadaver country will resurrect to receive him;
he doesn’t know this, but on the other side of this gate,
is a makeshift prayer room, in Terminal Four, here
in the busiest airport, where travelers remove their shoes
and rest their palms and foreheads against maroon carpet;
he looks at the clock, it is zuhr, and where he was born,
the call to prayer will stream no matter the empty street,
will flood the air no matter the debris; a few hours
in this room and he knows this: that today is the day
he will learn what it is to make a god wait.
Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad was born and raised in New York. Her poetry has appeared in The Missing Slate, Passages North, HEArt Journal Online, Pinch Journal, and is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly. She is the poetry editor for Noble / Gas Qtrly, and a Best of the Net, Pushchart Prize, and Best New Poets nominee. She currently lives in New York where she practices matrimonial law.
YOUNG WARRIOR ON HORSEBACK by Kaitlin LaMoine Martin Featured on Life As Activism
His back toward us, he faces history
and history is armed
with AR 47s, water cannons, grenades,
Andrew Jackson, and Natty Bumppo.
They myth of water is permanence.
The myth of war is purpose.
The myth of America is America,
spilling all over our computer screens,
soaking us to the root.
Kaitlin LaMoine Martin was raised by a community of writers in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She’s been published in Bellevue Literary Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and Passages North, among others.She owns a photography business, works for a non-profit, and spends hours thinking of new ways to entertain her dogs, Frida and Adam Lee Wags II
Philadelphia smelled like Vermont today,
after light rain. A fly buzzed
four or five clusters of crocus.
The sky draped with gray.
There are no stones in the Jewish cemetery
under the new president.
Our hearts are broken in half, evenly.
Lord, teach us how to care.
The branches are blurred like webs and ask me
to come in. I am only a poet. Am I holy enough?
Republic of Ridiculous
It is trash and recycling day.
Daffodils leak from the small garden.
A man walks by with a
sign saying something about
The End Being At Hand.
But he’s been saying that
for years. The trees are classical
in the slightly furred green light.
Wind in the opens spaces is sick and
The president sits in a bulletproof
car and says his principles
are bulletproof. He waves.
He does that chummy thing
of miming his hand as a gun and firing it.
Leonard Gontarek is the author of six books of poems, including Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket, Shiva (2016), which was nominated for the Paterson Poetry Prize and the William Carlos William Poetry Award. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Verse Daily, and The Best American Poetry, among others. He coordinates Peace/Works, Philly Poetry Day, The Philadelphia Poetry Festival, and hosts The Green Line Reading & Interview Series. He has received Poetry fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Mudfish Poetry Prize, the Philadelphia Writers Conference Community Service Award, and was a Literary Death Match Champion. His poem, 37 Photos From The Bridge, was a Poetry winner for the Big Bridges MotionPoems project in 2015, and was the basis for the award-winning film by Lori Ersolmaz.
THREE SHOTS THROUGH THE WINDOW OF A SYNAGOGUE IN INDIANA by Daniel Blokh Featured on Life As Activism
Every bullet is aimed for sky.
the thin white one carrying my father and mother
only happened to be interrupted. The trajectory
was stopped by another home, a different country.
Here, no one would be turned away. Here,
every synagogue was more than a path
to an exit wound.
Every bullet aimed for the sky.
A bullet does not know it is a bullet
until blood. A year is not a year until it is emptied.
My mother and father stand over a TV and remember.
I look out at the sky that brought them here, riddled
with bright tunnels.
Every bullet is aimed for this sky.
Some are interrupted. Some miss.
Daniel Blokh is a 16-year-old American writer of Russian-Jewish descent, living in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of the memoir In Migration (BAM! Publishing 2016) and the chapbook Grimmening (forthcoming from Diode Editions). His work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing awards and the Foyle Young Poet awards, and has appeared in DIALOGIST, Gigantic Sequins, Forage Poetry, and more.
There are alternative readings; there are alternate routes;
There’s an alternative to president, which is dictator;
There are alternative realities, used to be in the movies,
There are choices we were presented with,
but demurred. As politely as possible, perhaps not,
but there was an alternative. There’s an alternative
to acceptance, handed to you by the dictionary,
somewhere around acquiescence, well, no,
but search the thesaurus, the alternativists’ bible,
under antonyms. There’s even an alternative
to persistence, just as there are options
on the menu, we realize you have many options
for your travel accommodations, and we
thank you for choosing acquiescence
to the facts that are silly putty in our hands.
Recent work by Bruce Robinson appears in Mobius, Fourth River/Tributaries, Panoplyzine, and dispatchespoetry. His poems were part of the ”Shake Your Windows and Rattle Your Walls” cabaret sponsored by the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition.
Scientist of The Lambs Scientist on the western front
Scientist I’m hunting rabbits
Scientist speak no evil
Scientist not at the dinner table
Scientist after 11pm
Scientist curfew in effect
Scientist silent majority rules
Scientist not your voice in anger
Scientist secret ball gag
Scientist John Cage 4’33”
Scientist awkward joke
Scientist leaves you hanging
Scientist frog in your throat
Scientist of the lambs
Scientist dog whistle
Scientist sensory deprivation pod
Scientist falling in the forest
Scientist sound proof room
Scientist mortgage and two kids
Scientist questionable patriotism
Scientist still says grace out loud
Scientist conspiracy theory of evolution
Scientist still gets cold in the winter
Scientist cat got your tongue
Scientist Badlands twitter account
Scientist relic of the past regime
Badlands “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied ‘til he rules everything” -Bruce Springsteen
In a dystopian future, the Badlands twitter account goes rogue 404.93 ppm / 650, 000 years / Ocean acidity up 30%
The number one driver for species loss is habitat loss
There is a darkness on the edge of your national park service Plains bison in 1880 / Standing Rock / Now hiring social media manager
Scientists have been told not to speak to the press
Back to business as usual, as unusual as it seems Pictures of mountain goats / Caption this photo / #motivationmonday
#Bats can fly up to 60 mph. #Dangerzone
Everything dies baby, that’s an alternative fact
Aaron Simm is a writer and performer living in Victoria, British Columbia. He is the author of one book of poetry, two chapbooks, two full-length fringe shows, and one hip-hop album. He is the editor of oratorealis magazine and his writing has been published internationally.
When she arrived, the sun turned black
lead-rugged upon my ragged eyes
that marked the breast-pump’s watchful click.
But as she lay upon my chest
each night, the transcendental glow
the phosphor clock, the bobbing head
bred warmth beneath the surface rust.
America, let me tell you this
your hope that languished in the reeds
can still be salvaged, let her rest,
wide-cheeked upon your weary breast. And when she does
sprout legs, your conscience,
the slurry of this brash lagoon
heave her upwards, like a dove
to soar across the saline moon.
Jo-Ella Sarich has practiced as a lawyer for a number of years, recently returning to poetry after a long hiatus. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Verse News, Quarterly Review, The Galway Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, takahē magazine and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017.
The year is 2017, and it is still young. Yet already it has managed to make me very concerned about how it will turn out as it grows older.
At present, I’m staying with my aunt Rebecca in her house in San Francisco, California, under the wing of her charity. The back of the drought has been broken by a glut of rain. Every night Rebecca watches the news. She watches the news of her own will and choosing, and I am simply there for it, experiencing its noise and light because I am in the same room while it plays. Rebecca is an American, by her own identification, and lives in America. I am simply here in it, situated physically in this spot on the earth, borrowing space in other people’s lives.
The news is a series of shocks interspersed with trivialities.
A forecaster states, “Strange and exuberant bouts of unnatural weather lash the nation.”
And I think: this is what it will be like now, a series of binges and purges.
A newscaster reads, “Xenophobia and lies in the early days of the Trump administration.”
And I think: this is what it will be like now, a series of descending rungs into dystopia.
Then they discuss a new smartphone that is spontaneously combusting.
When I want to escape the noise and light, I go to the front parlor and sit by the window, looking out onto the street. School children weighted with backpacks go by. I watch them, and I write.
I imagine that this document will be found later by generations who are digging through the wreckage trying to figure out what happened. They will be humans, but different from me: mutated by waste and radioactivity; something strange and new. Thinking of this brings me hope and comfort. Humanity should be doing something new. But, all they will learn from my writing is that I was small, powerless, and lost.
I don’t know how to feel afraid for myself. The fear that I manage to feel is disembodied, like pain in an anesthetized body part. I’ve never had any hard evidence that I’m a real person, a person who exists outside of rooms where televisions play, a person who can be affected by the things out there. But, I do feel afraid for other people. I feel afraid for the people out there; the people on the TV screen during Rebecca’s news hour.
In the last segment, images played of the protests at San Francisco International Airport. There were frightened people speaking into the cameras, lamenting the sudden barrier that has dropped between them and their loved ones overseas. I stood paralyzed, first because of the sight of them, and then because of an overwhelming sense of despair at the complete absence of will in my body to move, to act, even now.
I wish people would stop saying “I can’t believe this is happening here, in the US, in 2017.” As if this is not the same place, the same country in which they live and have lived, that has contained this reality since its birth. As if this period in U.S. history arrived sans a series of traceable steps. Then I question, am I one of those shocked people who believed that modern America was a land of moral superiority, where society is a forever-ascending staircase of progress towards… what? Liberty? Did I believe that the future was a better place and we were living the future today? Did I think that love and enlightenment could be a feature of the new global monoculture?
I move into the kitchen and begin following the images on the TV screen in glances. Rebecca and I buzz around each other, making our dinners. Here I am then, watching the news, living in America, existing as an American. The news becomes a part of my nightly routine, just like Rebecca.
Maybe this is the time she and I will look back on as when everything changed, but right now everything remains the same. Right now, we are just living our lives, watching other lives in glances, hearing things from far away but feeling them only peripherally. We are not the dry aquifers or the farmers. We will not be deported. We make our dinners and then we eat them. Still I do not believe anything will really happen, because I can’t imagine the change. Even when the change is occurring still I cannot imagine it.
If I could offer the mutated humans of the future one thought, it would be that we are gone because we let circumstances advance until they were upon us, until they were irreversible; because we did not want to step away from our ordinary lives long enough even to preserve them, to abandon our projects and our routines, even when we saw a looming threat to them in the distance. We did not want to experience change, and so inevitably change came to us.
There is one good piece of news, though: I’m not pregnant. So, I made an appointment at Planned Parenthood to get an IUD implanted while that is still an option. I have to enjoy as much fear-free sex as I can before my ovaries become property of the state.
Arden Sawyer is a genderless artist from Philly who utilizes the pronouns of they or them. They are an art student working on their BFA at Rhode Island School of design. They are currently taking time off of school to travel and pursue their writing.
I’m a prairie mongrel, not a signal
I’m a tethered satellite, never floating away
I’m Florida, I’m underperforming
I’m drinking refined,
not eating my white valley
I’m neck and neck
I’m not anymore
I’m a cliché, not a rishi
I’m the boy crying, I forgive him
I’m a raving bitch
not the interpreter screaming, I love you
I’m the peril, not the alertness
I’m trading post spawn, not the morning
flicker sparking at the forest’s edge
I’m an overland cannibal
not the mansion on the hill
I’m in agreement with this whiskey
I’m not arguing
I’m reaching through the screen to grab
a stone sphere and roll it in my hands
finding lips, a face
I’m the one who saw the eye
peeking through the curtains
not the antenna on the mountain
I’m the medium
I’m the next caller
not the rusted drum that won’t hold
I’m the next wet planet
not space junk, never floating away
I’m sentient, not repentant
I’m Galileo, a good name for a car…
I’m the butcher, not the breaker
flipping, I’m not badly hurt
I’m the hand reaching into the boat
sucking water, not the sands of Athens
I’m a margin, not a marble head
I’m climbing the panhandle
I’m 12:31 not 2:39
I’m a house of pancakes,
not a locked door
I’m the rose garden,
not the face in our hands
Jenny (Seymore) Montgomery has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Barrow Street, Tar River, CALYX, Unsplendid, the New York Times, Gathering of the Tribes, and the Cairo Times. Her poetry installations have been shown at galleries in Montana and Washington. She was educated at the Evergreen State College and Columbia University. She resides in Missoula, where she owns a distillery with her husband, Ryan.
When I wrap around your bodies, I wrap around your limestone boulders, your
mossy riverbanks, and your trees …..……sheered limbs that leave daggers
The rivers evaporate, fill the sky with water, then fall again to soak the soil. Trees grow,
pines cedars, sturdy. A system designed to give what is needed; a system that burns
When I survey your naked skins, I catalog the colors of your shedding maples, every
boisterous feathered-soloist, every ………howl erupted towards the blood-soaked moon
There’s a seismic difference between the footprint of a squirrel and the tread of
When I inhale your perfumes, I inhale twice. Your air, invading at night, retreating
with the sun; I sip your ………cindered blessings
The orange (sky) faded in ’41; it’s been black
Blaize Dicus is a graduate student at the University of Central Oklahoma. When he was eight, his family moved to Beijing, China. He lived there for five years: going to school, making friends, learning the language. This early journey sparked his existing interest to study people and culture. His goal as a writer is to translate the unheard to the unwilling.
This November blew
down to the just-reaped
fields a hectic
More golden leaves
than fevered leaves
but the fevered
claimed the land
in the way
that we call fair.
Now what rustling
what rising up
and from which points
on the compass?
Below the roar
things are worse
and same. There’s
lead in the gut,
poison in the vein,
the air’s too hot,
the cost of cure
insane. People say
what they mean
and they’ve been
waiting to say it
for years. How
this fall over
our set faces. I see
the spray paint
on the wall.
What riddle there,
dark and illegible?
Lynn Levin is a poet, writer, and translator. She is the author of six books, most recently Miss Plastique; as co-author, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets; and a translation from the Spanish, Birds on the Kiswar Tree by the Peruvian Andean poet Odi Gonzales. Lynn Levin is the recipient of 13 Pushcart Prize nominations. Garrison Keillor has read her poetry on his radio show The Writer’s Almanac, and she has twice been a guest on the NPR show Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. Lynn Levin teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.
On my flight back to Washington at 4 am
in air marbled by night and snow
I leaned against the oval glass and saw
tiny bodies of light pushing slowly
down the mountain roads, each sphere
its own life full of sideways winds.
The flight attendant was humming
a movie score, pouring the coffee into paper cups.
I was thinking that every story I have
ever written in my head
has been about going home
when the student in the aisle seat tapped my shoulder
and said I do not want you to worry but do you mind
if I pray
while thirty thousand feet beneath his question
people plowed through a snowstorm hardly stopping
to ask for permission. As he whispered
in Arabic I imagined the white flurries
breezing into the sand gusts outside my old house
in the desert and pretended I could understand
while cars floated through the chalkboard dark
like prayers released from airplanes
granted sudden phosphorescence and instructed
not to drift upward, but to address
Molly McGinnis grew up in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and Boise, Idaho. Her work appears in Hobart, CQ Researcher, Lines + Stars, plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing, and The Adroit Journal, among others. Her short story “Better” appeared in Cleaver’s Issue No. 5. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she is a senior at American University and a genre editor for the undergraduate arts publication, American Literary Magazine (AmLit). She first read “Window Seat” through a loudspeaker outside the White House during a peace vigil in November, 2016.
Cars, packed together like cattle in a feed lot, belching noxious gases into a sky already brown with grief, circle the globe like a noose. People desperate to reach anywhere-but-here find themselves turned away again and again. Wile E Coyote continues to run down the highway, smashing into a tunnel that does not exist. Children no longer laugh at his antics.
Jayne Martin is the winner of Vestal Review’s 2016 VERA award for flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, Literary Orphans, F(r)iction, Five2One, Blink Inc, Spelk, 100-Word Story, Flash Frontier, Yellow Chair Review, Connotation Press and Hippocampus. She is the author of “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry.” Find her on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.
Two weeks before Election Day, I took a new job at a private high school in Minneapolis. Faculty passing by in the hall poked their heads through my doorway and asked, “So, are you the New Asma?”
“Kind of,” I replied.
But, I am not the New Asma.
Asma is my friend and former colleague, a South Asian, hijabi, Muslim woman and previous occupant of my desk. Before she left this job for another, she had befriended and mentored a cohort of students—brown, black, Somali, and Muslim girls—who continue, in her absence, to hang out in my office between classes. For these girls, Asma had been—and still is—a role model, a cheerleader, and a guide to the moneyed halls of a predominantly white institution that wasn’t built for them.
On November 9, when these girls flocked to my office with panic and fear in their hearts, I listened and nodded and worried that I wasn’t doing enough. In that moment, I felt acutely that, for them, I certainly was not the New Asma.
Before college, the only teacher of color I had was Ms. Morgan, a Chinese immigrant, who student-taught my ninth grade algebra class for half a semester. She spoke English with a thick accent. My white classmates complained that her verbal incompetence impeded their learning. They asked me if I could translate for her.
“She can’t even tell us apart!” They whined.
“I’m sorry!” She said one day after confusing one blond boy for another. “I have a hard time keeping everybody’s names straight. The only ones I know are Rachel Yang and Daniel Wang!”
At the back of the classroom, in my desk next to Daniel’s, I reddened as everyone swiveled in their seats to catch our reactions. They giggled at the irony: was it possible that all white people looked the same to our Asian teacher?
Embarrassed that my classmates saw similarities between me and this apparent joke of a woman, I pretended I couldn’t understand her English either—that her accent was just as much an inconvenience for me as it was for them. But at home, my dad helped me with my math homework with the same halting accent, and the same tongue-stumble as Ms. Morgan over the word “asymptote.”
Throughout high school, I distanced myself from Asian-American peers who had not only one East-Asian parent (as I did) but two. I insisted to my white peers that my family wasn’t that Chinese: we ate white people food and spoke English at home. We were average Americans living in an average Minneapolis suburb. I didn’t fuss when teachers mispronounced my Chinese surname, compromising, “Sure, you can say it with a long ‘A’ vowel. That’s easier.” If someone turned to me for help in math class, I brushed them off, “No, silly, I can’t help you with your calculus. I’m half white, remember?” When classmates made racially charged jokes, I shrugged, just to demonstrate that I did not consider myself aligned with their subjects.
As an aspiring novelist tween, I wrote stories that featured freckle-faced, auburn-haired protagonists, named Ellory or Anna Jo: girls who would never look like me or have surnames like mine; girls who represented the person I would have preferred to be, always. Growing up, I felt vividly close to whiteness. Yet, I knew that whiteness was unattainable for me, and I hated that.
In tenth grade, some friends jokingly nicknamed me “Sagwa” after a PBS cartoon, which featured a Chinese Siamese cat. Initially, I was annoyed. I had disliked the show as a child. Plus, the title character’s name is Mandarin for “blockhead.” But, I didn’t fight the nickname, maybe because I worried that my resistance would be misconstrued as race-based offense; maybe because I didn’t want to expose myself as Asian enough to be offended.
When I graduated high school, I left Sagwa behind. I didn’t think of the nickname again until last summer when Asma asked me what my Instagram username meant. Apparently, I hadn’t changed it since high school. It still read @mybffsagwa.
“That’s not okay, dude,” she said when I explained the story behind it.
Suddenly self-conscious, I scrambled to change my Instagram handle.
Last summer, teaching in a middle school enrichment program, I gave a social studies lesson on midcentury white flight from American cities. A black eighth grader raised her hand and asked, “Rachel, are you white?”
I paused, surprised. Nobody had ever asked me if I was white. More often, I’m asked variations of “What’s your ethnic background?” or “Are you mixed?” or even plainly “What are you?”
Typically, I would respond, “I’m half Chinese. My dad came to the US from China as an adult. My mom is white and grew up in South Minneapolis.” This response communicates that my dad is an immigrant, that my mother is white and a local, and that I did not grow up overseas, nor was I adopted. It’s a succinct taxonomy of my otherness.
Yet, when I delivered this time-tested answer to my student, I immediately felt certain that I hadn’t said enough. Throughout the lesson, I had been saying “white residents” and “black families,” but where was I in this narrative? I’d answered as though Asian-Americans were irrelevant; as though they had nothing to do with the course I was teaching on the history of race in America. During the 1960’s and before, in the segregated American South, which drinking fountain would the chinks have used?
Nearly forgetting that I’d spent my entire adolescence denying my Chinese half, my first thought was: Of course I’m not white.
In retrospect, I could have given her a more thorough answer, “No. I’m not white. But, as a bi-racial Asian-American, I exist in a unique, in-between space in our country’s race relations. A space that positions me closer to whiteness than you, but that too represents its own history of oppression. My identity is laced with the after-effects of that flimsy American promise called “multi-culturalism”; with America’s history of Chinese exclusion and Yellow Peril; and, with threads of anti-black sentiments sewn among Asian-American communities. I am trying to figure out how to resist and rise up. I am also learning to claim my Asian-American identity with pride.”
Would this have been a better answer to her question? I don’t know.
Ultimately, I will never completely escape my name or my almond-eyed appearance. To others, these qualities presume a wealth of Asian-American experiences that I haven’t had or with which I have refused to associate. Our bodies represent identities and ideologies beyond our individual selves, but my body codes differently depending on where it stands. As a child surrounded by white peers, I was invariably othered: perceived as a person of color by default. As an adult, over the past year, I’ve been asked more than once by black and Muslim peers whether I identify as a person of color. Do they ask because they know I’m half white? Or, do they ask because Asian-Americans’ proximity to whiteness—our “model minority” status—has allowed us to quietly benefit from white privilege; to distance ourselves from the Person of Color (POC) label? Unlike my hijabi and dark-skinned friends, my half white, half East-Asian body still affords me the flexibility to decide—to some extent—just how “of color” I want to be.
Now, it is clear that my previous need to assimilate may have put me at a present disadvantage in connecting with the young people I serve. I worry that I don’t know how to be a mentor to young women of color because I myself was never a mentee. Had I a woman of color as a mentor—someone who looked like me and who wore the full weight of her appearance with pride—would I now be better equipped for this role?
The day after the election, Asma’s girls came to my office exhausted, having argued all day with classmates who dismissed their fear and anger as melodramatic. Their steadfastness, their ownership of their otherness and outspokenness in its service, intimidated me. They wear identities that are not as readily shed as mine. They are strong in ways I never have been, in moments that I have never experienced. So, in response, I am trying to speak up more as a person of color. It is important that I wield my non-white identity visibly in the service of elevating other people of color, biting back against my long-held desire to be white enough.
I’m not sure what kind of role model I stand to be for Asma’s girls. But, so far, they haven’t stopped spending time in my office. These young women and I are figuring it out together.
Rachel Yang is an educator, writer, and emerging radio producer based in Minneapolis. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 2016 with a degree in English Literature. Earlier this year, she co-organized the publication of a zine showcasing responses to the 2016 presidential election, online at recodinghistoryzine.com. Her new Instagram handle is @r_chel_y_ng.
PHOTOGRAPHY FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Activist by Lena Popkin Featured on Life As Activism
On Election Day, I went with my dad to the polling place, although I myself could not vote. The best I could do was push the button for Hillary. At the front of the line stood an elderly Vietnamese-American woman with a ballot in her hand. Although her English was limited, she tried to get information and assistance from the poll workers. My dad and I, as well as the rest of the voters in line, watched her many attempts to communicate with poll workers, the people whose job it was to help her. At one point, the male volunteer with whom she had been speaking raised his voice the way Americans often do with non-native English speakers, as if that would help her understand. Unsure what, if anything, we could do, I asked, mostly speculatively, if she had the right to a translator. One of the election judges overheard me and answered, “I think that would be a waste of time, honey.” In that same moment, the male volunteer forced the woman to decide for herself, “button one or two!” Literally silenced, and helpless, the woman went inside the booth.
The day after the election, I went to school wearing no makeup—something I rarely do—and mourned in the company of my friends: a group of universally liberal, diverse, urban public high school students. Like the elderly lady at the polls, I now felt silenced and also—to an extent—violated. Only, in this case, my oppressor was the newly elected POTUS, Donald J Trump: sexual predator.
In near quiet, during class, my friends and I scrolled through Twitter, the silence broken only by someone sniffling or choking back tears. Teachers who tried to resume regularly scheduled classes were met with loud objections, and more tears.
A few days later, a friend showed me a Facebook event page advertising a candlelight vigil to be held in honor of women’s rights. She suggested we attend. I readily agreed, eager for an opportunity to be in the company of others who also longed for organized action. After school we bought paint and poster board, which we cut into two foot squares, and made signs that attempted to express our rising angst and frustration. On our way out the door and into the streets, I instinctively grabbed my camera.
The plaza at Philadelphia’s City Hall was jammed with people, many in their twenties. They touted signs scrawled with sharpie and held small candles with delicate flames. My friend and I joined the protest hesitantly at first, not sure how loudly we were supposed to yell, if at all. But, the longer we spent in the crowd, the more comfortable we became. We could no longer hear ourselves individually, but rather could feel the collective voice of the thousands of people marching together. Chants of “Not my President” and “Whose streets? Our streets,” flowed with mournful but angry intensity. Our voices echoed clearly against the downtown skyscrapers.
Camera in hand, I was drawn instantly to the signs: the handmade and the printed, the generic slogans, the personal reflections. Also to the quotes, the song lyrics, and the precisely executed drawings. Amid the commotion and in between captured moments, I realized that the camera isolated me from the rest of the protestors. It marked me as someone for whom they should pose. As a photographer, I became both activist and observer. The distance I gained from the lens allowed me to stand back and process the emotions of the protest, almost from an outside point of view, while still feeling completely immersed in the activeness of protesting.
When I got home that night, I plugged my camera into my laptop and discovered that the images I had shot—without any clear intention—had captured the heartbreaking intensity of the crowd. My photos—reminiscent of the images of the 1963 March on Washington that I had recently studied—made me feel as though I had done something valuable in documenting the first breaths of resistance, and as if they might give me a voice. After posting the photographs on social media, I was surprised to discover that they served as balm for many now politically-disillusioned viewers. They felt reassured that young people, in particular, would fight back.
Protests became a necessary part of life for myself, as well as other Philadelphians after the vigil for Women’s rights. Haphazard gatherings organized by groups like the Philly Socialist Alternative, Philly We Rise, and ResistTrump! began popping up more frequently around the city. Marches followed various routes, ending mostly in front of Independence Hall, the birthplace of our democracy; a place that felt symbolically and literally threatened by the incoming administration. These intermittent protests, held weeks before the inauguration, gave people something to do in a moment when no one knew quite what to do with themselves. It was real action as opposed to posted aggression: shared, liked, and tagged on Facebook or Twitter.
During this period, I began an academic research project on the 1920s fine art photographer Tina Modotti, whose earthy, honest, still life and portrait compositions gained her status among Mexican modernists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. As a young woman in her early twenties, Modotti took a chance and went to Mexico with photographer Edward Weston to join in and document the Mexican revolution. She applied her skills as a photographer for a the Communist newspaper, El Machete. Modotti put art at the service of social justice, using the classical composition skills she had learned from Weston to create compelling images of Mexican injustice. Studying her decision to pursue these inherently social subjects fueled my desire to grow as a photographer and to elevate my images into works of activism. The more I learned about the past of revolutionary photography, the more I felt myself wanting to contribute to its present and future.
Despite my active participation in the local protest movement, at school, I found that I had trouble defending myself to those questioning my motivations, especially leading up to the Women’s March on Washington.
Their questions and comments were varied but all ended with the same conclusion: my efforts were a waste of time.
“What are you even protesting anyway?”
“What’s the point? It’s not gonna change anything”
“That’s such a waste of your time.”
“You’re angry for no reason, he hasn’t even done anything yet!”
I would barely stutter an answer. How do you defend something when, no matter how strongly you believe in it, others will disagree just as strongly? How do you defend something in this new alt-world where facts have so little meaning?
These questions were on my mind when I boarded a train bound for Washington, D.C. at four am on January 21st, 2017. Now an experienced protestor—at least I felt experienced—I knew the etiquette, the signs, the chants. I knew to bring water and an extra camera battery and a phone charger, as well as to put the ACLU know your rights pamphlet in my back pocket. The Women’s March on Washington, so different from the first protest I had been to over two months prior in Philadelphia, seemed to provide me with some of the answers to these questions.
When we arrived, just after seven, the sky was gray, threatening rain and hovering between comfortable and cold. Washington swarmed with women in pink knit hats and handmade signs. The slogans on the signs varied, reading things like:
“Dear Trump Supporter, you lost too, it just hasn’t hit you yet”
I observed how far the signs had come since November. While the first signs at the initial vigil had mostly to do with sexual assault and outrage at the election (e.g. “Not my President,” “Pussies Grab Back, Mr. President,” etc…), the signs at the Women’s March on Washington were often humorous, specific, and full of anger (e.g. “There are more people here today than there were yesterday. Just sayin’,” “Tampons against Douchebags,” and “Not Mein Fuhrer”). The specific slogans seemed to have universal resonance.
My shutter clicked as I tried to capture the magnitude of the event while continuing to focus on participants. There were families, individuals, hipsters, moms, babies, students, and senior citizens: people from all walks of life and backgrounds. It was difficult to capture everyone and everything. Some marchers gave me weird looks or posed in a way that was too obvious to create a natural photograph. Many were moving too quickly, or not moving at all. The overcast sky had a tendency to appear either too bright or too dark. Nevertheless, I continued framing photographs all day, running through a battery and a half, and almost filling my memory card. Despite the dense crowd, I found myself turning to capture the people behind me; squatting to feel the overwhelming presence of the signs held proudly in the air; climbing onto unstable guardrails and into tree planters; and, holding my camera as high above my head, so that I might see where the marchers stopped. There was no visible end to the marchers: only a river of loud, determined, heartbroken pink hats and defiant signs. I felt as though I had an obligation to continue to documenting the moment.
The relationship between art and activism has often been a tense one. Many art critics have suggested that political art is too focused on political ends to be considered fine art, but then too aesthetic-minded to be considered activism. Critics suggest the photographer ought to focus on creating work that can be used for journalistic or pedantic purposes—or to focus on work that can be considered art, since you’re unlikely to achieve both.
But, I disagree. To me, politics and art are inseparable. As a photographer, I have found a place in which one does not exist without the other. As I continue documenting these protests, my hopes are that I capture each individual’s sense of presence and humanity in a time that has become difficult to feel heard and valued. I also hope to reflect the impact of voices raised out of both fury and need for action. As I chant and sing and march, I am a protestor, I am an activist, and I am angry. As I shoot my camera at the stream of people marching by. As I eagerly snap photos of women and men emanating emotion, I am an artist.
so green, you forget.
It’s been raining
since Election Day.
A fine line
between sleet and hail,
understand the subtlety.
crumbles when touched.
M.C. McCoy’s poems have appeared in Apiary, The Birds We Piled Loosely, and Poetry Ink. She earned a BA in English from Temple University, and a dual Masters degree in Social Services and Law/Social Policy from Bryn Mawr College, where she is currently a doctoral student. She also serves as the director of grant research and Development for a Philadelphia based non-profit organization. She grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and on the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk. Temporarily bi-coastal, she super commutes between Philly and the Portland, OR area where she lives with her wife.
TO THE FULL PROFESSOR WHO TOLD ME, A TEACHING ASSISTANT, TO GROW A THICKER SKIN AFTER THE INAUGURATION
by Anna Cabe
Featured on Life As Activism
you are telling
me my skin
i must weave
steel around myself, must
temper it, must
who say they
let too much through their skin—but I am they. My family, my history,
written in dark ink on my
skin, my thin skin, my
weak skin, my brown paper
skin, my skin already exposed,
always exposed, my neck
bare for you. my armor is
what it is, is silk, is stronger
than it appears, but what you ask,
is too much, too much—i cannot, do not
want to build more walls.
Anna Cabe is a MFA candidate in fiction at Indiana University and the web editor of Indiana Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Toast, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, Split Lip Magazine, and Reservoir, among others. She was a 2015 Kore Press Short Fiction Award semifinalist, a finalist for Midwestern Gothic‘s Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Series, and a finalist for the 2015 Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers. You can find Anna at annacabe.com.
Time is the lightbulb burning for the first three traffic lights
And blinking after that
Is the side street slick with remainder
And a storm cloud trying to drown
Is pulling into the parking lot like today is just another sun
Just another waking up
Like things die all the time
Like we always care that they do
Is swallowing over and over
Throat lined with anguish,
Bitter aftertastes so difficult to name, and so resilient
Carve curiosity out of my neck
Make it a song
Make it a lullaby.
Dripping rose gold and honey so opulent it’s all melody
And tell them that
That’s enough to make dark a temperature
That dark will shift
That anything you do will make it less boulder
Less forthright in its fear
Follow me into the building braced for flight
Tell the students that today is just an answer
Soak their tears in gasoline
Soak this day in morning
The Mourning Wants a Name
The mourning wants a name.
Grief is limited in its reproach,
But mourning asks for breaths,
It builds a space where it may stretch its legs,
climb trees backwards,
find the ground so it can have somewhere to not stand.
Waves at the moon and the sun with equal apathy,
calls us foolish for knowing it exists and not loving it with a capital “m”.
Grief is still salient;
The one we write cards to,
The one we dress up for.
It is the one whose name demands a capital G, knowing fully well we will use it regardless.
In play clothes and the same breakfast you’ve always eaten.
Doesn’t know grief
With its contorted memories
Is backs of hands,
Shoulder blades, knuckles,
Creasing with dawn.
Mourning is wishing it were just grief.
Gemelle John is a 2015 graduate of the University of Delaware, where she studied Spanish Education. While there she served as vice-president of the University’s Resident Student Organization, S.P.I.T (Stimulating, Prose, Ideas, and Theories). Through S.P.I.T. she has had the privilege to work with poets including Andrea Gibson, Clint Smith, and Alixa and Naima of “Climbing Poetree”. She currently serves as a Spanish teacher at PS DuPont Middle school and continues to write, publish, and perform poetry in the DMV area.
“VOTE TRUMP” CHALKED ON A WALL IN MY RUSTBELT CITY
by Freesia McKee
Featured on Life as Activism
from the protest We pour
water from the bottle another marcher
gave us over this temporary
sign With my wet and dirty
hand Lifting the fist
I would vote with Taking the side
of my arm and smearing it out
I can feel my breath From my heart
When I remember to Downtown
Walking home from the protest
Many of these buildings unoccupied …for decades Many of these buildings …sinking slowly so close to the river
Freesia McKee is a working poet. Her words have appeared in the Huffington Post, Gertrude, Painted Bride Quarterly, Burdock, and Sundress Press’s Political Punch anthology. She co-hosts The Subtle Forces, a weekly morning show on Riverwest Radio in which two of Milwaukee’s wittiest, devilish non-men explore a “subtle force” that messes with every aspect of their lives.
AND SOMEHOW THE MAN ON CNN IS ASKING IF JEWS ARE PEOPLE
by A.K., Featured on Life As Activism
and horns crawl like an apology out of my skull;
my tongue splits in two and gropes the air
in front of my mouth. I need two tongues, you see.
One for me and one for my grandmothers.
One for Yahweh and one for Shekhinah.
One for the body and one for the blood
they would have you think was theirs.
How can I be a person
when I bleed for a month and don’t die,
and am not a woman? How can I be
a person when my body is a closet
for other people’s mistakes? Spit-
shined lie. Grave in a dress. No-
body’s daughter. Sentence
fragment and sentence-
d to be eaten alive, slowly,
by their own fears.
I am breaking pots in bed,
hissing and praying to prove
a stranger right. Let me be
a nightmare garbed in skin,
let me be a void big enough
to swallow every hand built
only for breaking glass, let me be
whatever I need to be to keep
all my nonhuman loved ones alive.
A.K. is a writer, performer, youth worker, and anti-violence activist from the D.C. area, currently living in Boston. Recently, (she/her/hers, they/them/theirs) competed on and coached Oberlin College’s nationally ranked slam poetry team, and wrote and performed a one-person piece about her relationship to home. They have also served as Split This Rock’s Poetry and Social Change intern, and have completed two poetry residencies with students at Langston Middle School in Ohio as part of the Writing in the Schools (WITS) program.
“Suspect in transgender slaying says ‘manhood’ was threatened” – NY Daily News, April 1, 2016
Manhood: more fragile
than the hollowed-out egg I practiced pysanky on.
More frangible than the hem
of snowbank in early March.
More delicate underfoot
than the infant sea
turtles sliding down to the muscled tide; more prone
to damage than
a woman’s skull
against pavement. As tender
as her uncounted
heartbeats in the
from her perch thinks,
too late, now,
to unwind what was woven,
the tabloid escapades of
the king of gods
who, really, if he didn’t want the bad press
maybe should have spent more nights in
watching Netflix, and less time
exploring the seductive potentials of
a raincloud, a swan, a snow-white bull.
But we still marvel at him for that – original
philanderer, glorified cheater.
Few recall Arachne’s talent
aside from its satirical bent,
and her art is
from this great distance
merely a scaffolding
for catching lunch,
yarnbomb binding together
doorjambs and tree limbs,
line-error for turning dew into a crown
of stillness and light.
Liminal animal, eyewitness at the
border between the quotidian
and the fae timeless hour of
October. If you ask who really won
in the heavy-handed smart-off
between mortal and overlord, maybe that’s
like teasing the warp from the weft.
There are acts of submission,
and acts of resistance,
one inside the other, an ontogeny,
and this is the way of women.
Ask instead, which are there
more of these days—gods,
Jeanne Obbard received her bachelor’s degree in feminist and gender studies from Bryn Mawr College, and works and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs. She was granted a Leeway Seedling Award for Emerging Artists in 2001. Her work has previously appeared in American Poetry Review,Anderbo, Atlanta Review, Barrow Street, EDGE, Philadelphia Stories,The Rumpus, and Prompted,an anthology.
i’m to blame for being
too sensitive speaking my mind feeling
too much angry to the touch i know i’m visual pollution should get a fucking boyfriendgo home
i count rhymes wash cups put away
the cutting board read dostoyvesky before
bed the idiot prince and his relentless
heart his compassion as a crime learn
how not to breathe to drink water …………..s . l .o .w
Laura Yan is a writer and sketch artist from California. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The Rusty Toque, Elastic Magazine, Lonewolf Magazine, Foundling Review, and elsewhere. Her essays and journalism have appeared in GQ, Pacific Standard, Longreads, GOOD, Southwest: The Magazine, and elsewhere. She’s learning how to be more compassionate while not putting up with your bullshit, and tweets @noirony.
INCANTATION ON THE EVE OF 2017
by Monica Rico Featured on Life As Activism
I turn bread into tortillas.
I leave dried guajillo chiles in my wake.
My hair is wild cilantro.
My footprints are poinsettias.
My tongue is an eagle whose wings will shout.
The fringe of my rebozo is made of infinite braids.
I dare you to touch.
I am a field.
My hands are dirt, my fingernails roots.
Diego Rivera has painted them.
My bones are made of corn and chiles.
My stomach is arroz con frijoles.
My lungs are comino y canela.
My blood is lemon and salt.
In my fingerprints are the spines of nopal.
Each one of my feet has six strings.
My steps are canciones, ground down cigars and ash.
La llorana leads my Mariachi band.
¡Toca la guitarra!
I paint streets the color of mangoes.
My face is all skull and a halo of carnations.
My elbows are molcajetes ready to grind and smash any fool
who tries to build a wall around me.
Watch it crack like a tostada.
My shoulders are black doves.
My eyes are Ultima’s owl, bless us.
It is my comal that will save.
Say my name!
Say La Raza!
We will sing until we raise hell.
As Emiliano Zapata chose to stand, we stand.
The statue of Liberty has stepped aside
for nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
From Her robe fall no tears, only roses.
The crescent moon offers enough light for us to be on our feet
Among the stars,
Among the holy,
Among the mole.
We are America.
Our guitars, our tongues are aimed at you.
Loaded and heavy as fruit, ready to explode.
Monica Rico is a second generation Mexican American feminist. Her most recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in After the Pause, Sonic Boom, Concīs, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Follow her at www.slowdownandeat.com.
Two months ago they played FUCK MARRY KILL
He picked me as Fuck and the other brown girl to Marry
Kill was a white girl who changed her name a lot
Anna then Ann then Anne then Anna again
Marry Girl told me, I wasn’t there
He would have been my Kill, so you know
Then when the president was elected he yipped his pitchy yip
Marry Girl shrugged and told me, don’t forget
That they think of things when they see us
And especially when they see us together and recall
There is more than one here
Sybil Kollappallil was born and raised in Queens, where she continues to live with her boyfriend and several young lemon trees. She received her BA in English writing from Pace University and her MA in Public Policy from Queens College. She is the founder of http://sadshibow.com/, a blog about depression, anxiety and cake.
this is not an essay. no, this is not that. not a poem. not a bomb. not hydrogen. this is not blackface. not a pledge to a new allegiance. there will be no cotton picking. there are signs—a cross stump stuck in a lawn, a flag burning. there may be a march, some spring uprising to coincide with fall palettes and patterns, of bodies being flung to concretes, red pastels overshadowing the grainy elements of white hoods floating in the background.
today could be titled the day the niggas came, but that sounds too glorious, too tied up, too bound, too tight. we are revolution in a Canon, redemption in hurricane, martyrs in a durag. revolution has chapters, too.
the day America died again my daughter slept calm, a cough here and there but no riot in her, not like her father. he had a carousel of Watts tumbling in ribs. a parade at the burial grounds, what i imagined, feet swelling from the sweet shit circumventing the convos — “deport illegals you do not own your body more jails please”.
pieces be unto you, America. the day you died again it was breakfast — over easy eggs, watered down OJ. hah, i remember him in those Hertz commercials. hurts, don’t it? the hearse outside smelling like 3 strikes, feeling like the Central Park Five, like all colored boys look the same in a line-up.
some will take the anger and wear it around their neck, bandana waving, weave it into a basket or bash it down into bits for breaking atoms and spirits. yes wear us down, wear it now like those rosaries the mamì’s clutch when the diablo comes, grabbing pussy or whatever. we out here catching the debris of the lost ones peddling protest, pagans packing God in a suitcase and floating the pieces upstream.
i heard they want us to drown. there is a sound underneath the gurgling of spirit tongue tapping the world of the drum. the word could be machine gun or filibuster, climate change or NRA. words are weapons; wounds are the way we tally progress. how much it gonna cost to vacate your rights? your baby ain’t yours until we decide it is. sincerely yours, patriarchy.
there are several layers to death, lengthy, longing for a reprise. digging dirt for suitors. the soot and soil that tumbles over the weeds and cobblestone paved history of us, the way we lynch ourselves dry, until the bone peaks from under the skin, breaking down the roots, scaling the walls around Mexico, the waters of the transatlantic, the covert of the Bay of Pigs.
there is no armistice here, arms legs, gone in circles, we go in to surfaces, sucking on wind, demanding acres as reparations, broken records for rhetoric.
i have died three times already and come back a pilgrim, a Malcolm, a bishop. resurrected as rook, a King. i died and came back as nigger, catching holy wars and pitchforks for the oppressors. playing chess or die nigger die, the games we play when we run out of stories to climb.
my friend emailed me because she needed something to hold on to. i wanted to pass her a lifeline. an okay, a be alright, a God bless, an amen. there are holes in this faith, though. they run parallel to freedom, pathways to pistols in schools and confederate flags flung inside the windows of churches. murder, a religion.
the condos in hell are nicer than the ones my momma thought she wanted. she be playing the numbers but America is dead again, mama. you gotta read in between the lines of the amendments that men made to mend the ways we look at law, at loss, like the structure was stiff and the way the system setup whites had to build a house to put the slaves in. minute details, i suppose. the hours here don’t match anymore.
when the dead die i will tell them after life we are not in the business of busying ourselves by selling dreams, shelling out great America fables. kitchen table got Polaroids of Tookie, posters of Bunchy. they will assassinate your character, then you. rather yours than theirs. ashes, ashes. ashé. RIP.
Joel L. Daniels is a father, writer and story-teller, born and raised in the Bronx. He was the recipient of the Bronx Council of the Arts BRIO Award for poetry, and his work has been featured in the Columbia Journal, The Boston Globe, CNN Money, The Towner, Fatherly, Thought Catalog, Phila Print, The Smoking Section, Blavity, Huffington Post, BBC Radio, RCRD LBL, URB, BRM, AllHipHop, The Source, RESPECT, and HipHopDX. He’s spoken/performed at the Apollo Theater, Joe’s Pub, Rockwood Music Hall, Columbia University, Lehman College, City Tech, The National Black Theater, NYU, Webster Hall, Pianos, and Brooklyn Bowl.
One wonders if these people are people at all —from keynote speech of Richard B. Spencer, November 19, 2016, NPI Conference, Ronald Reagan Federal Building, Washington, D.C.
The shoes are made of iron
presumably to preserve the
symbolic footwear, but they are
attached along the Danube’s
stone embankment, so
perhaps the sculptor intended
that the splashing water
would with time
have its own effect;
sixty pair, men’s women’s
children’s. Starting In 1944
the fascist Arrow Cross Party
militiamen murdered Jews and
others along the river bank, the
shoes were considered of value, the
shoes alone, the victims in their panic
hastily were demanded to remove them
as shots rang out and writhing bodies
spilling blood flooded the water the dead
and dying to be carried by the current downstream;
the victims often knew their killers,
no blindfolds were used to mitigate
the circumstances, this was slaughter
at the water’s edge. Presented now oxidizing
“remains”—oxfords maybe for wearing
by a businessman on his way
to the office, a woman’s wedges to be donned
for shopping, a child’s saddle shoes to come
home from school.
Howard Richard Debs received a University of Colorado Poetry Prize at age nineteen. After fifty years in communications, and an Educational Press Association of America Distinguished Achievement Award, he resumed his creative pursuits. Finalist and recipient 28th Annual 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, his work appears internationally in numerous publications recently in Yellow Chair Review, Silver Birch Press, Syzygy Poetry Journal, Dime Show Review, the Clear Poetry 2015 Anthology, his essay “The Poetry of Bearing Witness” in On Being—On The Blog, and his photography in select publications, including in Rattle online as “Ekphrastic Challenge’ artist and guest editor; his full length work Gallery: A Collection of Pictures and Words, Scarlet Leaf Publishing, is forthcoming in early 2017.
Image credit: “Shoes on the Danube Bank” by Nikodem Nijaki, CC BY-SA 3.0 on Wikipedia
anarchy isn’t for everyone can you hear me now
find your soul paint here on a saturday night
light is grandfathered in we sit in an ancient garden
dropping flower seeds and breadcrumbs dripping blood
beauty and music descend leaves and petals circulate
in the world the world grows dark and people grow older
x-rays float in the stream two car doors slam two doors down I sing
in silence I longed for the past and the present and when I grew tired I longed for the longing it may be that I distrust when things dovetail that I distrust endings that come and sweep us away neatly it is the story I am suspicious of perhaps lives move from desire to desire from event to event with sense survivors float on the one sea half-believing in rescue and it is enough
I heard that you asked if the reality is reality if when the crickets and night fall on the lake the soul is off if when we fall we fall like a bird if we should be patient in our own good time in our good clothes as night descends on the ruins of rain if the leaves of autumn are small favors if in the seasons of migration we live and die by prediction and dusk tinged and wrong sorry we are not here to figure out the world but to express it
Leonard Gontarek is the author of six books of poems, including Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket and He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs. He coordinates Peace/Works, Philly Poetry Day and the Philadelphia Poetry Festival, and hosts the Green Line Reading & Interview Series. He has received Poetry fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Philadelphia Writers Conference Community Service Award, and was a Literary Death Match Champion. His poem, “37 Photos From The Bridge” was a Poetry winner for the Big Bridges MotionPoems project.
The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.
The land and the sea, the animals fishes and birds, the sky of heaven and
the orbs, the forests mountains and rivers, are not small themes … but
folks expect of the poet to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which
always attach to dumb real objects … they expect the poet to indicate the
path between reality and their souls. Men and women perceive the beauty
well enough … probably as well as the poet. You shall ratchet up the moon.
You shall see the maples hold daughters and snow and redstarts and snow
beginning. You shall have secrets to give away. You shall investigate if there is a field.
Lo, come toy with my heart, toy with my heart, why don’t you, friend?
Lo, the wind is rifling through my pockets, when it is done riffling through the leaves.
Love the earth and sun and the animals, give alms to everyone that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy, hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing
known or unknown or to any man or number of men … dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in
the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint
of your body. You shall possess the little monsters and mothers of the twilight who skim the night
and sip. You will make the moon a symbol of subtlety. It’s too hard living, but I am afraid to die,
you shall say. You shall possess the last night of summer, late on the lake.
. ◊ .
The political poem reminds me
how much we are lost.
It underscores that
we are out of power.
I have not only lost out
to another man,
but he and my ex live nearby
and I have to see them daily.
The political poem makes me
want to spend nights
in the perfume of opium.
I want to listen to Desolation Row
over and over
over and over.
Hillary Clinton and Leonard Cohen died
and John Kennedy was assassinated.
It was summer on a Saturday.
By Sunday we began the sentence
of winter. Wind rattled
the metal branches. Birds
circled above the yard
and dead flowers as day
The child was not done playing president.
Leonard Gontarek is the author of six books of poems, including Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket and He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs. He coordinates Peace/Works, Philly Poetry Day and the Philadelphia Poetry Festival, and hosts the Green Line Reading & Interview Series. He has received Poetry fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Philadelphia Writers Conference Community Service Award, and was a Literary Death Match Champion. His poem, “37 Photos From The Bridge” was a Poetry winner for the Big Bridges MotionPoems project.
Giggling girls have power the radio tells me
after the election. An epidemic of contagious
laughter spread through a girls’ school
in Africa, 1962, and no one then knew
why. Hearing this carries a now-giggling
me back to my 5th grade classroom—to tiny
freckles on Eddie’s nose, sprinkled sweet
as whispers. My girl-small hands unfold a scrap
of notebook paper, where penciled print
asks, Do you like Eddie? Circle: Yes or No
I circle Yes, for I like his tiny freckles and boy-sweet
smile, the sweep of his hair, dark across
brilliant blue eyes. Thin-boy Eddie sweet-boy
Eddie early love a tender age those tiny
freckles tic-tacked on that sweet-boy Ed—but
Tic Tacs startle me back to the radio’s
blaring news, to the president-elect and
to trauma to groping assaulting abusing refuting
all thatistender and good in this world.
Oh take me back to Eddie’s sweet-breathed
boyhood face, those tiny freckles sprinkled light
and me nearby, carried away in giggling.
Wendy Marie Vergoz’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in Flying Island Journal, Ground, The Christian Century, Literary Mama, and Anglican Theological Review, and have appeared in exhibitions at the Harrison Center for the Arts, “Spirit and Place,” “Art of the Moving Image & Spoken Word,” “Wrestling with the Infinite,” and “Religion, Spirituality and the Arts.” Wendy teaches writing at Marian University in Indianapolis and a writing workshop at the Unleavened Bread Café for women recovering from injustices and traumas like domestic violence and drug addiction.
TEACHING REFUGEE CHILDREN AFTER TRUMP by Daniel Miller Featured on Life As Activism
I was in college when the twin towers fell. The TV footage was on every channel of my roommate’s little box set with its rabbit ear antennae. Before I had finished getting ready that morning, a call went out to everyone in the dorms that classes were canceled and a vigil would take place that evening in the university chapel. Later, when classes resumed, every professor began class with some kind of discussion about the towers. They tried to reassure a scared and shocked student body, though some were still in shock themselves. I was grateful for these talks. I needed someone to tell me that everything would be ok, that love and faith were stronger than fear and hate, that no matter how hard it might be, life would eventually regain some sense of normalcy.
Those discussions following 9/11 were the first things that came to mind when I opened the email from my principal this morning. I teach fourth grade at a public elementary school in Texas. The email was sent on November 11, three days after Donald Trump was named president-elect. “Please take a moment to talk with your students about the election,” my principal wrote to the staff. I was surprised by this because my school’s administration has never discussed or expressed any political leanings, one way or the other.
In keeping with that tradition, the email’s purpose was more pastoral than political. Throughout the election season, a slow growing fear had caught hold of much of our student body. After election night, it had changed into visible despair. I should mention that my hometown has welcomed more international refugees per capita than any city in the nation, and the elementary school I work at is home to many of those families. We boast a student population that speaks 20 different languages, and represents countries from as close as Mexico and Cuba to as far away as Iran and Burma. I say “boast” because we are proud of our diversity. Daily, we tell our students that our many colors and cultures make our school special and stronger than we would be separately.
As a teacher, I can think of little that is more fulfilling; little that is more truly American than watching our school family grow and learn together. At recess, the local city kids show new refugees how to play basketball and foursquare. The little girls from Burma teach the girls from Texas new jump rope rhymes and how to weave tiaras out of long grass and dandelions. In the classroom, a student who has never shown much interest in academics suddenly shines when he can partner read with an ESL student who knows little English. This is the first time anyone has ever asked him for help, and he takes pride in describing all the new words and how they match the pictures. One of my Thai students can explain long division to her struggling friend who grew up just a few blocks from the school with greater clarity than I could ever manage. We work hard to foster an atmosphere where all of our children can feel welcome and safe.
Throughout the election season, I noticed that some of my students seemed uneasy. After Donald Trump’s election, true fear had taken hold in many of them. A Congolese boy, who I had never before seen without a big smile, asked me why he would have to go back to his country. His village did not have enough food, he told me. People were very sad and hungry there. A second grade teacher showed me a picture one of her students had drawn. It showed two men with Crayola guns standing over a woman, scribbled red.
“This is my aunt,” the girl said. “Please don’t make my family go back.”
When I took this job, I knew that I might have to console students who were going through rough times: moving, divorce, the death of a beloved pet. I never imagined I would have to have a discussion with elementary students like the ones my college professors had with us after 9/11.
After breakfast, I gathered my students on the carpet. They were curious and excited because we usually began class with a review game.
“As you know,” I said, “we voted for a new president a couple days ago.”
Their demeanor immediately changed. One boy leaned his head against the wall with an audible thunk; another student cradled her face in her hands. I needed a new starting place.
“Our school has students from all over the world, right? Just look at your friends in this classroom. We have different skin colors and some of us speak different languages,” I continued.
They looked at one another and smiled sheepishly.
“That diversity is was makes our school special. We are lucky to have friends like this and we help each other out and care about one another. We are kind of like books. Would you want to read the same book over and over all year long?”
“No,” they said.
“That would be boring,” one boy shouted.
“You’re right,” I said. “It’s much better to have a library full of different books. Each of your lives are made up of unique and important stories, and we are lucky that we get to share those stories with one another.” Now for the hard part, “I’ve noticed that some of you have been worried about having to leave our school or this country. I, along with all your other teachers, want you to know that you belong here. Being a refugee means that you and your families have been legally brought to America to get away from situations in your countries that were not good. We are glad that you are here and you make our school better.
“Just like kids can sometimes say things that are not nice, sometimes adults say mean or scary things too, even presidents. But, we all know that just because you hear something on TV, that doesn’t make it right. Being nice to each other and treating everyone with respect is better than being rude or mean. Love is stronger than hate. I know you may hear things from some adults that make you feel sad or scared, but at this school we know how to treat one another. We know how to speak kind words. Remember that each of you has an important story to tell and each of you is a valuable member of our school family.”
We talked for a few more minutes about their questions and fears. Mostly they shared good memories about meeting new friends and playing with one another. To them their different races, religions, and cultures were not cause for fear or distrust. These were merely facts of life that gave more color, fun, and even humor to the stories they told of one another. I knew that soon they would have to leave my classroom and go out into a world that did not always see them the way they saw one another: an adult world guided by different rules. I was thankful they felt safe here, and proud to have cultivated such a little community. I also felt ashamed that I could offer them so little. I wondered how my college professors had felt when they had tried to comfort their classes. I wondered if they felt then that their words and assurances had been enough.
Daniel Miller is a Texas-based writer and teacher. He holds degrees from the University of Edinburgh and Duke University. He has published one book, Animal Ethics & Theology (Routledge, 2012). His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in journals such as Alfie Dog Fiction, Amarillo Bay, Riding Light, Rock & Sling (forthcoming), Short Story Sunday, and The Tishman Review.
is how I hate my face. is how my face is amnesia. is how i love my face. is how my face is still amnesia. is waking up at 4am feeling like there is someone in the room, someone saying don’t forget me. is saying, ma, you know what the really effed up thing is, is how knowing where you come from is the privilege $99 and a mailing address gets you. is that the effed up thing is it isn’t a right. is buying your mom a dna kit for christmas. is what the hell is christmas anyway. is collective amnesia. is wanting to know if her estranged father had royal blood in him. is rethinking what is royal. is what is blood. is colonialism. is sitting in a lecture hall while a professor talks about post-colonialism. is post what now. is funny sounding names. is feeling funny. is what is funny. is north africa. is the caucuses. is the iberian peninsula. is the americas before the americans. is how my hand shakes too much to draw a straight line. is how a circle means there is a point to return to. is how i can’t draw a circle either. is wondering what was the name of my ancestor, i mean the last one to live in a world without government borders. is wondering what the hell is a name. what the hell is a border. is not wanting to co-opt anything from anyone, just wanting to report back to my visitors at 4am that we’re ok now. for now. i think. is starting to write this 100 times and stopping the first 99. is still feeling round though. is how one thought can make me feel belly full of child and at the same time like a child. is who in my bloodline has been waiting 500 years for me to mother them. is please take a number. is what is belly full. is sing me to sleep ma, sing me to sleep. is ma tell me where you and me came from. is we came from everywhere and right here. is the truth is baby I came from you. is feeling like a fraud. is knowing a fraud doesn’t worry about getting in the door, a fraud worries about someone showing them the door. is living in a city where not even the snow stays white for long. is not knowing which thoughts come from inside my body and which are pressed on my body from the outside. is wondering what it is like to be the flame instead of the wick. is reading minds. is only wanting to report back, I’m sorry no one told me. is you only get one first language. is i was averse to english as a child. is it was all I had. is wondering what’s the matter with me. is feeling ungrateful. is fainting spells. is sunday drives. is officiants of amnesia. is sylvan manor and fork in the road esquinas and google maps. is never learning to find my way by the stars. is stowing away. is 4am. is everywhere.
Susan Fedynak’s work has appeared in Stork, Blood and Thunder, Fiction Fix, the speculative fiction anthology A Field Guide to Surreal Botany, published by Two Cranes Press, and is forthcoming in Paper Darts. Since 2012 she has been a trained NY Writers Coalition workshop leader, facilitating free outreach writing workshops throughout the city for LGBTQ seniors, senior women, women in recovery, community healthcare workers and prison educators. She earned a BFA from Emerson College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at Pratt Institute. She lives in, and makes art in, her hometown of Queens, NY.
Abide with me the night shadows
caterwauling on the walls—Lava Lamp Red
as the squad car pulling up to the curb.
Inside, a fish tank shifts—precarious—Colors dizzy
in a kitchen of bodies without form. Pot partying, ………..I made-out with my boyfriend, our friend gave
his hands to be cuffed into silence—Whispers in
the next room. All said and done, Willy sat
in jail for an ounce of stale attic
mouse-weed. We went to college to cavil
in a dormitory of freshman. ……….My smoky boyfriend kissing me prickly
as hemp—Now, a country soured and stomped
down the road—Some hungry, some cold, someone
shot dead—for a joint? Truth be told, only a shade
of pale and a lawyer’s lunch between us— ……………..While my boyfriend edifies
me on a study pillow, Willy salves in jail for four
scorched years— Only a bag o’ weed and a lawyer’s
hunch between us—Bodies losing forms in trees,
where prayers are blazed on fire. A car drives slow …………………through a neighborhood, throwing
caution to stoops, headlines blur, not with ink,
but with suffering—Shadows lose form, embalmed
to a smoky room—As the world thrums into one
long conundrum. I am dizzy in a room …………..with many doors, and a lava lamp,
and a boyfriend who takes matters into
his own hands—On a study pillow, a different
perfume on his navel. Under the radar,
the snare-drums of the quietest kind
of war, “Just say no.” Poverty’s train went to jail
with Willy, his mama sobbing on the rail.
And where were you the night in question?— I was tying my shoes with a scissors, sweeping pine-needles under a tree. …………….My boyfriend rolled a fat one
and checked out like a dog gone missing
about the town, if to cavil at the moon.
A book and a telephone rests on
my belly—A shade of pale and a lunch.
The newspapers wrapped in skin and bone.
Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and In The Event of Full Disclosure. Her poems have received many honors and awards and have appeared in numerous journals, including, Alaska Quarterly Review, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Del Sol Review, Florida Review, Green Mountains Review, Harpur Palate, Hermeneutic Chaos, Le Zaporogue, North American Review, Seneca Review, Tampa Review, Thrush, Tinderbox, Valparaiso Review and Verse Daily. She is currently teaching and developing a Lit-Arts Initiative at Blue Ridge Community College. She lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, VA with artist, Phillip Welch and their family. More info at: www.cynthiaatkins.com
The week has been long, one of the longest
in my heart’s slim record-book. But the moon
is at its perigee. It hasn’t come this close
in years, more than you and I have known. So rise
and go to the window, the one that faces the canyon.
Tonight, as red as Mars, it will ascend, round
and smoldering, through the dust.
As if we need to be reminded of our smallness yet again,
our near-nothingness once all the votes have come in. Look up
at the moon because this world isn’t just a dull-rubbed
penny after all. It can run you off the road, take everything
you own. But would you look at that? the thief shouts
from your driver’s seat, points up, and your breath’s
a stilled pendulum in the gold-lit dust.
Autumnal Equinox, Washington, D.C.
The Libra sun loves nothing more than beauty,
and by loving beauty, it gets to romance everything
it touches: the statue of Justice, the Washington
monument, peach-tinted now in the late lilac
sky of the reflecting pool, the national mall a bouquet
of brilliant pastel. Light and dark are equal
today, but this is the moment they marry
each other, and the tourists, the schoolchildren
and the civil servants pause to watch the ceremony.
Earlier, we visited the Vietnam memorial, the wall
that climbed into a larger and larger darkness as we walked.
I read somewhere that it was designed to elicit a gasp
when you realize the magnitude of it. But a moment later,
I felt another invisible wall twice the size, the names
of those like my father who came home to die.
But this light, I have to say before it fades,
is a presence that makes me want to be everywhere,
to see how it must be to forgive everything. You ask me
if I still have hope in spite of what could happen, and though
I’ll forget this feeling in a few weeks, I say Yes, I have to, as you flip
a new penny into the water, and it catches the last of the sun.
Jackleen Holton Hookway’s poems have been published in the anthologies The Giant Book of Poetry, and Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life, and have appeared or are forthcoming in Atlanta Review, American Literary Review, Bellingham Review, North American Review, Poet Lore, Rattle, and others.
The city guys are stringing Christmas lights on the locust trees.
The men are lifted up in buckets. First, any old witches come down.
And then the forgotten paper pumpkins. The bats.
The city guys shake loose the dried up locust pods: brown and curled
they land on Essex Street like snakes dropping. Finally, the white
lights can go up and stay up past the New Year.
If there’s a God, His indifference has settled deep within
my ribcaged country. Last night, on television, I saw a woman shorn
of make up give a speech. And I read about a woman who screamed
for her life but no one came. All over her body: fatal mouths
opened wide with a knife say aaah, say aaah. The city guys string
these white lights on the bare branches, and wind them around
the fat trunks tight and soon, all of Salem will glow.
Jennifer Martelli’s debut poetry collection, The UncannyValley, was published in 2016 by Big Table Publishing Company. She is also the author of the chapbook, Apostrophe. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Thrush, [Pank], The Baltimore Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Pittsburgh Poetry Review. Jennifer Martelli has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes and is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is a book reviewer for Up the Staircase Quarterly, as well as a co-curator for The Mom Egg VOX Blog Folio.
The first time Salva Dut and his drilling crew flushed water through the pipes from the aquifer deep beneath the Sudan desert, all of the villagers danced and sang. Most of them had never tasted clean water in their lives, and here it was gushing out of the ground twenty feet above them—a cool and beautiful geyser in the dusty heat of midday. One elder approached Salva after that first well was capped and said, “I can’t believe that all of this time, people have been dying and we’ve been sitting right on top of the water.” Salva told that story the first time he came to the college where I teach, and I’ve retold his story many times.
I met Salva for the first time in 2005. I teach literature of the Holocaust and genocide as an English Professor in upstate New York. A dark subject for sure, but I’ve learned over the years that students taking courses about genocide find themselves compelled to engage more purposefully in their societies. They learn that historical lessons, especially those that are emotionally painful, have contemporary obligations. So in 2005, a group of us went looking for an organization that was making a clear and conscious difference in the world. We found Salva Dut, founder of Water for Sudan, and we asked him to speak to our little group.
His story was a powerful message, especially for those of us whom water scarcity is mostly unfathomable; our own city’s water supply is some of the cleanest water in the world. We knew then that helping Salva meant making a real difference. It wasn’t long before I joined the board of directors for Water for Sudan, and in 2008, I travelled to the country, which back then was still Sudan, with five other people to see that beautiful geyser moment for myself.
Everywhere I went in Sudan, people offered me things. I was the foreigner in their country and they could tell the minute they saw me that I was different with my lighter skin and my long hair and my rounded body. They understood that it was me who needed their help. They knew that my system wasn’t used to the extreme temperatures, that I had not sufficiently acclimated to bacteria-ridden water, that my skin was too soft for hard work, my eyes too sensitive to the dust.
In January 2015, I made a second trip to the region. This time, South Sudan had separated from Sudan making it the newest country in the world. During my two-month trip, I visited eighty villages where the organization, now Water for South Sudan, had dug its 250 wells. I visited each borehole to interview villagers and to record the impact of clean water on their lives.
The author in South Sudan
Even in 2015 after a recent civil war in the new country, whenever I arrived in a new village to do an evaluation, people were still offering me their generosity. A chief might send a child to find a chair for me. An elder lady would escort me out of the sun under the shade of a tree. Kids offered to climb trees to harvest honey for me. People brought me mangoes and peanuts and eggs. In one village, a woman came running towards me with a chicken. She shoved it into my hands before I knew what to do. Lion, our Director of East Africa Operations and Evaluation leader, intervened and gave the squawking chicken back to the lady; he explained to her that we had a long drive ahead of us, that we could not take the chicken in the car, that we wouldn’t have time to cook it. Reluctantly, she settled for giving me a hug. Another time a local elder who was a member of his county’s parliament gifted me a goat to show his appreciation. In a place where three meals a day consisted of rice, lentils, and okra, it was a luxury to have meat. On the last day in camp, he came again to offer us another goat to take with us to the next camp.
And it wasn’t just food that people gave. They gave their time too. Whenever I had to walk into the bush to go to the bathroom, someone offered to accompany me to make sure I didn’t get lost. One day, near Salva’s home in South Sudan’s remote north, we got lost locating a number of villages. We found a couple of teens in a market center who offered to navigate us to the nearby villages. People gave their labor too; in the village where the elder man had given me the goat, one woman stayed in our camp from dawn until dusk helping to prepare meals, wash dishes, cut wood, and start fires. When I asked her why she spent her days with us when she had her own family to take care of, she said it was because we needed the help.
We in the West sometimes see South Sudan as a place of conflict, strife, and poverty. And to some degree that’s true. The country has experienced civil war most of its independent life, even when it was still part of Sudan. There is no real infrastructure to speak of, no paved roads in most of the country and no electric anywhere. Even in the big cities, the buildings run on generator power, and in most places in the country there is no potable water. In extreme heat and across harsh terrain, people spend hours walking, pounding grain, chopping wood for cooking, and tilling the earth by hand. It is one of the hardest places in the world to live; yet through all of this, there is a humanity in the South Sudanese people that strikes me as deeply unique and necessary in our global world.
Now in this post-election climate where fear, anger, and divisiveness have welled up across the country, I’m reminded of something people kept telling me the second time I visited to study those wells. In each village, I asked a question about equal access to the borehole—whether everyone in the village, even those just traveling through could share the water equally. Most of the respondents didn’t understand what I was asking. “What do you mean?” they would say, and I would rephrase the question. And then they would laugh, as if what I was asking was ridiculous. “Sister, of course,” they would say. “What kind of person would deny access to someone who thirsts?”
Indeed. What kind?
Over the past months in the United States, we have heard calls to deny immigrants safe shelter behind our borders. We have seen people vilify whole groups of “others.” In my own, fairly progressive city, we’re hearing about racial slurs being scrawled across local high school walls and gay pride flags being burned. I have myself sensed a gritty stream coursing beneath our feet on the verge of gushing under the pressure of hate. And instead of slaking our thirst, the change in our country feels like we’ll be swallowing sand. It has been enough to make me want to shut my doors and stay in bed.
But then something happened to me last week. I had read about the rare super moon rising, so I walked my dog to the park to watch it. When we arrived, the sun had given way to a bruised and fiery sky. My dog and I walked around the reservoir, the city’s water supply on top of the hill, while we waited for the moon to appear. Because the reservoir sits on the highest point in the city, there were hundreds of people waiting up there too. As we walked, I noticed something on the sidewalk. In intervals of about every fifty feet, someone had chalked words of hope: “Believe the future is bright and you and I can be the light.” “Be the change.” “Spread love, Spread light.”
In the midst of our grief and despair, my neighbors and I had gone to the park on the hill, thirsty for something beautiful in the setting of the sun. As I read those words marked on the concrete, and as I glanced around me at the people who had joined me on the hill—the city’s skyline in the distance—Salva’s words came to me again. I realized that if there is a darkness rising from within our country, it is also joined by a stronger current of hope and generosity that has always been there. I remind myself that human kindness must and will prevail, and that it is up to each of us to do the work of digging deep in order to bring it to the surface.
Angelique Stevens teaches Creative Writing and Genocide literature in Rochester, New York. An activist for human rights, she has lived in Chiapas, Mexico, to be a witness for peace with the Zapatista Rebels; volunteered in an elephant refuge in Thailand; studied Holocaust education in Israel, writing in Paris, and she spent two months evaluating water wells in South Sudan. She has traveled to 12 countries on three continents. Her non-fiction can be found in The Chattahoochee Review, Shark Reef, Cleaver, and a number of anthologies. Her essay, “Exposure” won second place in the Solas Award for Best Women’s Travel Writing. She is currently writing a travel memoir about her life growing up and her experiences in South Sudan. She is a member of Straw Mat Writers and an MFA candidate at Bennington College who finds her inspiration in travel—being in places that push the boundaries of comfort, experience, knowledge, and hunger.
Accounts coming due, enunciated in
The mumble of feet. Coathangers,
The electric eye of catechesis.
Populism blushes in a frenzy
Of bared teeth, biceps swelling
With the ripple of Confederate flags.
Manacled in a pageant of
Disconsolate shotguns, the echo of
Self-confident dice, the public figures.
Amputation kin to the succulence of Crow.
Outhouse Blues #2
Everywhere there were signs of ruin
there were also signals of relief,
horror padded into the room like a thief,
familiar with the surroundings of kin.
Minus her blindfold, Justice makes a tight fist;
the scales set aside in a rush of white rage.
Have we entered a new age?
Or traveled back to a time people missed
when they saw Twelve Years a Slave?
Forget about the news, minstrelsy’s the new rave.
Outhouse Blues # 3
Once speech fell into a tight orbit around pith,
the people lost all interest in the sky. Not
right away, slowly, their attention water
leaking from a tiny crack in a cup. And when
words entered rooms once locked and forgotten,
when a vocabulary of damage danced
on the tongue, sugar laced with a toxin brighter
than desert sunlight, some believed they’d come home
from a war mangled by a cease fire imposed on
combatants in love with their Kalishnakovs,
anxious they would miss their chance to make each round
proof necessary words always hit the mark.
Herman Beavers is Professor of English and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He teaches courses in 20th Century African American literature and poetry writing. Most recently, he has published essays on Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, August Wilson, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. His most recent poems have appeared in The Langston Hughes Colloquy, MELUS, Versadelphia, Cleaver Magazine, The American Arts Quarterly and been anthologized in The 2014 Anthology of Featured Poets and Obsession: Sestinas for the Twenty-First Century. His scholarly monograph, Geography and the Political Imaginary in the Novels of Toni Morrison is forthcoming from Palgrave McMillan in 2017 and his chapbook, Obsidian Blues is forthcoming from Agape Editions, as part of the Morning House Chapbook Series for 2017. He serves as an advisory editor for The African American Review, The Black Scholar, and Modern Fiction Studies.
Image credit: “Up House Down” by Alan Greenberg, 1996; Abington Arts Center Sculpture Garden
Silver gelatin print by Karen Rile, 1997
I spent most of election night locked in my room. If I had to contend with outside voices that night, I wanted each to be of my own choosing, but I wasn’t successful. Like many over the course of that night, I watched Trump ascend to the elected head of state and government. Having taken in the concrete data that was coming from the poles and reckoning with the collective anxieties of friends and fellow writers I admire on social media, I misguidedly left my room to collect myself, to pour an emotionally charged amount of red wine into the tallest tumbler I could find. My short trek to the kitchen was interrupted by my housemate, who eyed me suspiciously.
“Who’d you vote for?” he asked.
“You don’t have the right to ask me that question,” I said.
Stunned and not understanding, he changed his tactics.
“Do you support gay marriage?”
“Why wouldn’t I support gay marriage?” I asked.
“You’re conservative,” he said.
What my housemate will never understand about me is that I’m reserved. Part of that reserve has been built into me ever since my childhood. So much of it seemed to be about minding my business and making sure to be aware of everything and my place in everything as a black person. It was about staying safe. Knowing safety when I saw it. And only when I was sure of that safety could I consider disclosing myself. I’ve never been nor do I ever hope to be conservative in the ways that my housemate implied with his line of questioning.
My housemate, on the other hand, is always disclosing himself. Voluntarily, he’s offered up intimate details of his past sexual relations, financial history, and unstable life philosophies, citing that I’m distant enough for it not to matter. His openness is incredible. His safety is all but guaranteed.
In the aftermath of the election, I overheard a phone conversation my housemate had with his friend, a conversation that was casual enough to be had while he was on the toilet. He explained he was bummed that Trump had been elected president but that he was also excited. He had plans to go out and buy a gun. He’d always wanted to play out a survivalist scenario, even if he would hate it when it finally came.
I was disgusted. It was all a game to him, and with such low stakes. Just that quickly he’d gone from being a white liberal to what I’ve always imagined as a dangerous white conservative wanting to play out his post apocalyptic American fantasy at everyone else’s expense.
He cited concrete features of his fantasy: killing and eating possums, living off the land, being forced into the mountains. He had other details and conditions, conditions that many marginalized groups in America have normalized in their daily lives. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking how privileged my housemate was for entertaining his thoughts so easily. His privilege had removed him from reality, had made him completely oblivious and ignorant and selfish. His understanding and “liberal” action in the election seemed so shallow, like he was just going through the motions.
Perhaps some would argue that my housemate is an extreme case. I would argue that even inside the academy, where I spend most of my time as a teaching artist, people like my housemate exist less overtly but are every bit as damaging. I’m reminded of such presences every time there’s a conversation about art, empathy, and political writing.
Oftentimes, what I see in the academy is a turning of literature’s historical and social importance in the world against itself, and into what feels like some highbrow entertainment, which has its own politics, and which is why so often I have to fight against my own cynical leanings. Sometimes I set myself on some morbid autopilot. One that says go ahead. Make literature about Art. Entertainment. Make it apolitical. Sterile. Write another depressed person at a bar who thinks about seeking out a prostitute. Don’t forget the pool tables, the jukebox. Make sure it’s playing a tune everyone reading can hear and has heard. Have your protagonist smoke a cigarette. Make sure he’s drinking a beer though nothing fancy because we need this to be taken seriously. Take it to workshop. Let it be praised for its gritty realism. Or, get a bit adventurous. Write another insightful piece about empathy, about how writing outside yourself increases it, rather than provide another means for you to empower yourself to do what you’ve always done: whatever it is that you want, regardless of the cost. Forget about reading the works of the groups you’re supposedly trying to empathize with. Your “research,” if you decide to do any, will be enough. I mean, if that kind of thing was effective, wouldn’t we all be getting along better by now? Wouldn’t a difference have been made?
Growing up, I struggled to understand there was a self I could write about. In grade school, I learned about the white writers and the white generals and the white scientists. When I came home and turned on the television, I watched programming that featured all white casts. During the commercial breaks I watched white men and women run their fingers through their hair, run super sharp knifes through big hunks of meat, run ads about their law firms, run me right out of my empathizing with myself and into empathizing with them. I still struggle. Of course, there was black programming, but that representation fell far short of the spectrum of blackness even within my own family. So when criticisms arise about the “political” writing of marginalized groups, I can’t help but equate those criticisms with being told that my politics, the circumstances of my art and life aren’t wanted. It’s another erasure. Yet I still exist. What would they have me do with that existence?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve engaged earnestly in these conversations, how many times people have tried to (mis)quote some prominent black writer and make it seem as though that writer would support further marginalization of marginalized writers and writing. I can’t tell you how many times someone has tried to insert the voice of a marginalized person who, for whatever reason, doesn’t feel marginalized to support that kind of negation, as if the thought process was, “that’ll do it, that’ll make me right. Even so and so is saying it.” White people disagree with each other every day over lesser and greater things, but that’s not going to reflect on them how they so often claim it reflects on “us,” right?
Then there’s the conversation about anger and the productive presentation of ideas. This complaint typically comes from “allies” whose efforts have been criticized or other well-meaning groups who have been paralyzed by the anticipation of the criticisms their well-meant actions might receive based on the criticisms that have been handed down to allies or other groups who dare to try. Oftentimes people can’t handle feeling as though they’re being discouraged with every word they hear or read when they’re already doing, have done, or imagined the perceived failures of their best (some even under the impression that their best in this context is completely selfless, as if contributing to the cause wouldn’t enrich all of our lives). I’m sensitive to that, minus the parenthetical. That’s been my experience for far too long. I’ve gotten used to it, then had to break that record of resignation.
But really, this piece is catching me at a bad time. Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have been willing to talk to anyone this way, even having gotten it much worse for a longer duration of time. I hate writing about whiteness. I hate reading “white” in pieces of writing, even as it seems to be the social currency of the world. I’d rather not spend it. I only hope to speak to the damage. Usually around this time in this particular conversation people start to think they should just ask me what I need them to do to get us all out of this mess. Maybe in every other context I would think, “yes, I’m very happy you’ve waited until now to believe I’m a genius,” and regardless of the truth of that idea, I certainly don’t have the answer. I do know, however, that the solution, convenient as it has been portrayed to be, is not to be silent.
Trump is (will soon be) our president. We don’t know what that will mean. What’s already showing is awful. At least for me, at least for the people I know and love and care about. It’s not a game. If my housemate is correct, and we’re headed toward a revolution, I certainly don’t want to go down that path having held anything back.
Dustin Pearson is an MFA candidate at Arizona State University, where he also serves as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. He was awarded the 2015 Katharine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets for his poem “The Black Body Auditions for a Play.” He is the recipient of fellowships from the Watering Hole, Cave Canem, and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Born in Charleston, he is from Summerville, SC.
I am not sure now, the right or wrong way to post on Facebook. I attempt feebly my own brand of humor, certainly misunderstood. I surge with so much caffeine that the days go by in a blur. Then, binge drink, nights hazy and filled with whiskey, wine, spiked seltzer and even one time, a Twinkie. I do not eat things like Twinkies. So, this is therefore in and of itself the perfect metaphor for America really going to shit right now.
I am no longer afraid to say exactly what I feel. I am so miserable that I would proudly die on the street shouting for what I believe. I am angry. I feel assaulted by all men to some degree. All I want is a nice girl who will go see plays with me, have passionate discussions, and kiss me to make me forget. Maybe I would feel loved, if I was lucky. Instead I have Anaya, my manicurist. Today I did the additional twenty minute massage, and when she started rubbing my head I nearly started to cry. I was filled with so many sensations. She said “10 more minutes?” and I didn’t hesitate. At the end, I was compelled to ask her to marry me, she was so sweet. I could suddenly understand why sad men pay for sex.
It’s sad, this…I fill my fridge with food then come home and eat only a few rice crackers dipped in Greek cucumber sauce. I call my ex-husband and try to find comfort in familiarity. But, he too is now a stranger, and his tone stirs up old anger with the newness of a very changed reality.
My chest feels numb. I look up things on Google like “couches that are also tents” and “canopies for beds that make it seem like you are in a tent.” I find images but no actual products that are for sale. I become discouraged and give up. I do, however, go to bed in my sleeping bag underneath my comforter, several nights in a row.
I did it again last night. I woke up so sad that it took me two hours to get out of bed. My body ached of hangover and regret. Then later, when it was time to leave work, I almost cried as I went back out into the cold. But then, I saw Anaya. I tell my cashier at Trader Joes after my massage that I might want to marry my manicurist. She cooly insinuates that Anaya would only marry me for a green card. I think she doesn’t realize that I’m kidding, but also, kind of not. I tell her she’s cynical.
For the first time in my life I’m not afraid to die. I know I will need to stay strong and I should eat some green things and drink herbal tea but I am angry and feel the timing couldn’t be more personal. I question what it will mean, to be a writer, to be a woman, to love women, to be a sensitive woman in the arts. My whole world has changed and I know from here on out that my anger has changed me: I would die to defend my basic human rights on the street. And, I do not feel afraid, not of that, at least.
Everything around me escalates. SNL drowns it out. I want Kate McKinnon to marry me. Laughter is a healer. Whenever I walk down the street, I note all the things that could crush me: Trucks, cars, trains, buildings, other people. I stomp past, cloaked in black and in mourning for my life.
Cleaver Senior Radio Play Editor Grace Jordan has developed, staged and performed work(s) at venues including LaMama E.T.C (script development with Obie-Award winner Ping Chong), Primary Stages, The Wild Project, Dixon Place, Bowery Poetry Club, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, The Krane, The Fresh Fruit Festival, Great Lakes Theatre, Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Freddy’s in Brooklyn. Training and Professional Development includes: UCLA, Primary Stages and Kent State University where was the only person ever to complete a year long independent study on Women in the Restoration. Her literary publications include Never Apologize/Year of The Pig (Bluestockings), Flying (Cleaver Magazine), The Fool (Blackheart Magazine), and The Real Bourgeois (The Commonline Journal). Twitter @reforminghpstr.
THE BODY POLITIC written by Nathaniel Popkin photos by Lena Popkin
Featured on Life As Activism
At the center of a novel I just completed, Everything is Borrowed, is the story of an anarchist Jewish immigrant of the 1880s who, seeking to repudiate religion, opens his produce stand across from the Love of Mercy synagogue on Yom Kippur. With no customers on the holy day, the anarchist quietly reads the “pure prayer” of Johan Most. Mid-day, the religious men emerge from shul to get some air. Their eyes flash on the anarchist, who pays them no attention. Their hands become sweaty. He reads. They try to look away. He is taunting them with his own radical freedom. What right does he have, defying God’s will? Who can ignore such a transgression? And so on they worry, drawing closer to the anarchist, whose own voice, reciting lines of radical freedom, must be tightening, cinching up, even as his voice rises. The words come and they fall like stones on the faces of the pious.
Who can endure this pelting?
If I tell you they can’t—that they lose their minds on a day of solemn prayer dedicated to cleansing of sin—would you be surprised? The religious men attack their quiet oppressor, and in turn get hauled off to the lock-up. Is the anarchist responsible for their behavior? Has he lured them into violent action? These are questions for the novel.
But in real life, what happens when we lose our minds in ideological rage, when someone or something conditions a thoughtless response? We lose our moral authority. We betray our best selves.
On Saturday, for the second week in a row, I attended a protest march against the election of Donald J. Trump as President. These marches here in Philadelphia, as they have been around the nation, are meant to bring people together to assert their anger, their betrayal, and their worry over the direction of the nation under Mr. Trump. To press for action. They provide an instant sense of camaraderie and communal feeling, and, yelling righteously into the cavern of towers, or the granite of monuments, or, in our case, the sturdy brick of Independence Hall, a heartfelt outlet for protest. The marches allow a person edging toward hopelessness to feel alive again, if only for an instant, and to sense oneself melding into the body politic. After despondent days, they come as a relief.
My daughter Lena, who is 17 years old, has been actively pursuing the protest marches as a way to assert some influence over an election in which she could not vote; and, as a young woman who feels threatened by having a sexual predator in the White House. She’s been documenting the protests, paying particular attention to the individual and the individual’s message, writing on signboard; this nascent movement has produced an extraordinary range of personal poetry.
Together, we marched on Saturday. Nearing the end of our route, I caught a man along the sidewalk’s edge videoing himself with his phone.
He was chanting, “sore losers! sore losers!” and goose-stepping like a Nazi clown. I couldn’t look away. Later, I learned the man’s name is George Gallo. He may be a man, but he is also a troll.
George Gallo was goose-stepping, but my conscious mind barely noticed (a fellow protester confirmed what my subconscious knew). Apparently, I could not ignore this transgression. And so I went over to him, thinking—I think—“put your body in front of him, take him out of the scene.” But all I did, really, was yell nonsense in his face as he gleefully chanted, “sore loser!”
I knew, of course, that George Gallo was hoping to incite reaction… I wasn’t even surprised when a friend, who had seen Gallo’s video posted somewhere, texted me the video with a note, “I’m sure you’ve seen this…”
In that moment, though, I couldn’t stop. I betrayed my highest ideals, my sense of reason, and the peaceful, positive defiance of the march. Worse, I lost an opportunity to ask Mr. Gallo if he thought that perhaps Freedom of Speech, voted into law just a few blocks away, wasn’t my right. Or, what specifically did he think of the right to Freedom of Religion, memorialized in a sculpture and placed directly across from Independence Hall, which also stands in front of the National Museum of Jewish History. Or even, as he goose-stepped along Market Street, what did he think of Jews in America?
I might have asked him if he believed the election was a kind of contest in which one side is vanquished and the other side goes home. If his side won, why does he care what I do or if I choose to blow a Saturday afternoon on a march? Does our disorder offend? Does it remind him that democracy is a living, moving thing? Perhaps he wishes it closed up and locked away?
Mr. Gallo, do our signs offend you? Are you afraid of queers? Are you troubled by clean air, auto safety, headscarves? Have you lost your own in-born sense of mercy? Of empathy? Will you join the deportation squads? Will you register Muslims? Will you continue to mock, to offend, to belittle? Have we, with our hand-drawn signs, our peace flags, our rainbow flags, our voices in unison undone something inside you? Have you been provoked? Have you, poor troll, betrayed yourself?
Or have I?
Cleaver reviews editor Nathaniel Popkin is the author of five books, including the 2018 novel Everything is Borrowed, and co-editor (with Stephanie Feldman) of the anthology Who Will Speak for America? His essays and works of criticism have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kenyon Review, LitHub, Tablet Magazine, and Public Books. If you are an author or publicist seeking reviews or a writer hoping to write reviews for Cleaver, query Nathaniel.
Lena Popkin is a junior at Philadelphia’s Central High School. She is a news editor of the Centralizer Newspaper and a Cleaver Emerging Artist.
I am watching the election results with a friend that I’m kind of in love with. He texts me after the first polls close. I join him at the Women’s Center where they are holding a viewing party, a nonpartisan event in name only. Early numbers look bad, and then they begin to look dangerous. People leave the party visibly upset. The Friend and I decide we need a drink. I call a local Mexican restaurant to ask if they’re showing the election results on any of their televisions.
One girl suggests we come with her to a fraternity where they are watching CNN. The frat has hard liquor, and we could buy mixers on the walk over. I bite my tongue. I don’t want to come across as judgmental, but I have always hated boys’ clubs. And besides, I want to be alone with The Friend.
“The love of my life is in that fraternity,” he says. “Just kidding.”
The Friend continually cycles through moments of revealing (if exaggerated) honesty followed by sham retractions. We continue to discuss specifics.
“Do you want to go, Cody?” he asks.
“I’d be willing, but it’s up to you,” I say.
I’m hoping he’ll see the hesitation in my eyes, but he decides that we will join her.
Walking over, he inevitably tells me about the guy in this frat who he hooked up with after a Halloween party. I do not tell him how I feel like a pawn in this plan; how this night that was meant to end in celebration has taken a turn for the depressing.
Inside the frat house, there are chairs and couches filled with rowdy guys drinking cans of PBR. The Halloween Lover sits in the front of the room wearing a white baseball cap. He and The Friend don’t acknowledge one another. While I pour myself a drink, he tells me how The Halloween Lover blogs for the Huffington Post.
“His posts are really bad,” he says.
I am a good writer, I tell myself. I would write the shit out of some Huffington Post pieces.
“But he’s such a cutie,” The Friend says.
I don’t tell him I agree.
We sit together in the back of the room. A guy walks in with a girl on his arm.
“Your country is fucked!” she screams.
“Go back to Australia!” someone yells.
When Hillary wins Virginia, one frat brother cheers like he’s at a football game, and it almost starts to feel possible again.
“She has to win Wisconsin and Michigan now,” he says fervently.
I ask The Friend how he’s doing after his recent breakup with his boyfriend of over a year.
“I’ve actually never been better,” he says. He talks about his newfound freedom. He mentions his family and looming financial issues. “With all this going on, it’s just made me realize that I can’t have anything serious right now. Only casual relationships.”
I wonder how adeptly I hide my emotions.
Trump continues to pull further ahead in North Carolina and Florida.
“Fuck Florida,” I say. “I will never forgive them for this. I want them out of this country. Do you think Hillary is throwing a total tantrum right now?”
“She’s probably washing down Xanaxes with white wine,” The Friend says.
“This country fucking hates women,” I say. “Can you believe that a former Secretary of State and Senator is going to lose this election to a guy who’s never even held public office? This is fucked up. I want that asshole at the FBI’s head on a pike outside the White House.”
Numbers continue to flash on the screen and they keep getting worse. I chug my drink. Being surrounded by these strange men as they joke and get angry has lost its already minimal charm.
“We need to leave,” I say.
The Friend agrees. So we walk to a local pizza place and order a pitcher of Heineken to share.
A cashier looks distressed. “If I don’t come in tomorrow, you’ll know why,” she says to her co-worker, eyes on the television screen at the back of the restaurant.
We sit down and watch. I wonder if my dad has been following these updates. He’s probably loving it, I think. He and I had been butting heads over this election for months. He had even unfriended me on Facebook after I told him I was losing respect for him over his political posts.
In a group message I have with my brothers and parents, I text rapidly “This is a disaster right now. Dad, if you voted for Trump and he wins I might not be able to talk to you for a while!”
My brother responds that I’m being dramatic. “You act like California’s 55 votes aren’t going to Hillary,” he texts.
“The fat lady hasn’t sung yet,” my dad texts.
The Friend’s eyes grow red with frustration. Occasionally he shakes his entire body like he’s about to have a fit. I reach out and touch his hand. Maybe he retracts his hand. Maybe I retract my own hand as soon as I do it. Things are getting blurrier now and my limbs are feeling heavier. He talks about how white people, “your people” he says, have done this to America. I tell him I know. When Hillary loses Florida, we can no longer stomach being in public.
We walk to his house. He makes us drinks with gin and lemon juice. We sit on his couch watching the results on his laptop, and I black out soon after mispronouncing Antonin Scalia’s name and lamenting that Trump will be nominating justices to the Supreme Court if he wins.
I wake up in The Friend’s bed. I am wearing his sweatpants, which fit despite a significant height difference. The Friend is awake too. I am still drunk from the night before.
“Do you remember throwing up last night?” he asks me.
“Wait, are you joking?”
He assures me he isn’t. I hide my face behind my hands.
“It’s okay. Really, it’s not a big deal.”
He gets up from the bed and gathers up a ball of bedsheets to take to the washing machine.
I lie in the bed for another half-hour, still embarrassed and too exhausted to manage the walk home. A consummate morning person, The Friend showers and gets dressed. When I sit up again, I am dizzy.
“Please tell me she didn’t lose,” I say.
The Friend is digging through his closet for a sweatshirt, “She conceded last night.”
I moan, “America has fucked me up.”
“I know,” he says. “But just think, one day you’ll be able to write something really great about this.”
I don’t tell him that the thought had already crossed my mind.
The Friend leaves me to collect my sweater, jeans, and backpack. When I walk downstairs, he is sitting at his living room table in front of his laptop.
“I’ll wash your sweatpants and get them back to you,” I say.
“Well, you did vomit in them,” he says not unkindly. “So, that would be nice.”
“And thanks again for dealing with my buffoonery. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s fine. Honestly, it distracted me from my sorrows.”
He suggests we start a book club, “just the two of us.”
As I walk out the front door, he suggests a Colson Whitehead novel.
I walk home. I charge my phone and turn it back on. I have a text from my dad, “The fat lady has sung,” he says. I can’t respond to him and I don’t know when I will feel able to respond. I climb into my own bed, still in The Friend’s sweatpants, and I sob. I miss a meeting at noon because I am still drunk and still sobbing. Friends text me to check in. I fall into melodrama.
“I have never been so disappointed in humanity,” I respond to their texts, and I mean it.
I watch Hillary’s concession speech. We have failed her. She was too good for this shitty country. I scroll through litanies of mournful Facebook statuses. I just want everyone to feel loved today. Anger has won, but we can fight back with love. It sounds clichéd but it’s true.
I send an additional two apology text messages to The Friend two hours apart. I think about everything I might have said last night while under the liquor’s influence but don’t remember how I might have embarrassed myself, how I might have told him, how he might have rejected me. I recognize that I’m becoming paranoid.
“No need to apologize,” he texts me hours later. “I’m glad we got to watch the elections together. Wouldn’t have wanted to watch it with anyone else :)”
It feels like a paltry victory in the face of such loss. So, I lie in bed and continue to sob.
And eventually, I stop.
Cody Smith is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying English literature. He is from Frederick County, Maryland and is currently working on his senior thesis about spinster characters in nineteenth-century novels. He likes pop music and desserts. This is his first publication.