Beyond Free the Nipple

 

Instagram is home to more than a billion users worldwide. The majority of them are daily users snapping latte foam art and OOTDs (outfit of the day). However, there are subsets of the Instagram population who take their platform very seriously. For such ones, this platform can equal not only their heart and soul, but also their livelihood. These content creators thrive off Instagram for activism/advocacy, businesses both small and large, atypical work, artistic creations and journals, photography and much more.

Yet there lurks an imminent threat. The threat of it all being taken away in a matter of seconds due to misunderstanding and miscalculation… or is it? Close your eyes and imagine the life you have built around you. Imagine your life, business, job, or all the art you’ve ever created. Then imagine it being deemed inappropriate and taken away from you. 

Just. Like. That.

Censorship is defined as: suppression of speech, information, or content that is considered “harmful” or “sensitive”. Sites like Instagram use moderating technology to either delete or blur (censor) sensitive content. The problem lies in that Instagram does not specify exactly what it considers to be “inappropriate.” Instagram’s stance on nudity is defined as:

“We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.”

Unfortunately these “guidelines” do not translate well into a life lived in photos. Alex Dacy, also known as @wheelchair_rapunzel on Instagram, has noted being censored several times for rather innocuous content.

“There seems to be grossly negligent “social media censorship bias” phenomenon happening on Instagram lately. I’ve been victim of this bias several times where Instagram has removed my photos and flagged my account, limiting my account functionality when I did not violate their nudity terms. Most notably, my Kim Kardashian remake was removed. When I remade her Instagram post ... mine was deleted while hers didn’t violate Instagram’s nudity terms and was left up — that’s what set the tone for this obvious ongoing social media censorship bias.”

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Dacy, like many others, has dedicated her life to disability advocacy. She has been featured on Snapchat, on Barcroft and on BBC3. Her platform is her voice as well as livelihood. She wants to show the world that disabled bodies can be sexy and self-expressive with things like her #disabledbodiesmatter campaign. 

 “I’m a 25 year old disability advocate who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) who focuses on body positivity and disabled body representation. I post “risqué” photos like millions of other models and influencers, but mine keep getting removed. This is angering the disability and Instagram community at large due to the obvious bias that’s occurring. It reeks of discrimination, in my opinion — especially when I’m sent nude photos with bare nipples on Instagram on large accounts and those weren’t removed. This entire situation encompasses an inherent problem with our societal views and how we view disabled people…”

Alex and her followers would simply like to know why her posts are deleted whilst others “more risque” than hers are kept up. Quite frankly, I think we would all like to know. It seems rather impossible to not take this sort of self-expressive gatekeeping personally. 

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Unfortunately this goes beyond artistic and sexual creative content. In the name of education and advocacy, Elizabeth Bert, Maxim model and business woman, has also faced censorship and profile elimination threats. Bert notes her mission is [“to raise awareness for invisible illnesses and disabilities— to give a voice to the voiceless”]. She has faced several surgeries and health crises. In a recent post, she attempted to educate the public on self-examinations to check for breast cancer. She reported that the post had been taken down for “nudity”.

Instagram mentions that “nudity” could possibly be removed. However, does this image constitute as nudity? Instagram’s moderating process is flawed and inconsistent. For one, there are no visible female nipples in this image and, for two, it does not take into account the actual context of this photograph. Instagram’s process fails to understand the importance of this photo and the educational purpose it promotes.

If we hypothetically entertain that it is the limited clothing or risque content of a photo that marks it for deletion, then it should prove out that fully clothed pictures of modestly dressed women should be spared from auto-censorship or deletion. This hypothesis fails in the case of Brianna, the blogger behind The Laughing Stoma. Brianna Valois, an American based in the Netherlands, is an ostomate (an ostomy bag user) who shares lifestyle posts often revolving around her ileostomy

“I created the account @thelaughingstoma — [and I have since connected with so many lovely ostomates from all over the world.] We exchange tips and tricks, commiserate over inevitable ostomy mishaps, and share the non-medical aspects of our lives to show that, despite having a bag, you can still live a “normal” life with very few limitations.”

Brianna fits snugly into an entire community of ostomates who share similar advocacy goals: to normalize medical devices. Consequently, these awareness photos have started being censored at an alarming rate. This sparked the #freethestoma movement- credited to Veronica Villanova (who runs @vees.ileostomy). Brianna adds that she was so “appalled by such [ludicrous] censorship” that she decided to take part in the movement herself. Sadly, she was not surprised to see that her photos, too, were slapped with the blurred content mark. 

“We shouldn’t have to feel ashamed about what we live with on a daily basis. When people consider stomas to be too graphic, and Instagram responds in their favor, it makes our efforts at spreading awareness feel futile. We work hard to fight the stigma surrounding ostomies, yet as long as stomas are seen as “offensive” and “disturbing,” the negative stereotypes will remain — and it’s absolutely damaging to the ostomy community. The censorship simply needs to stop.”

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Despite repeatedly being taken down, Brianna happily reports that the censorship will “[NOT prevent me from sharing another one for this cause. In fact it motivates me even more to keep posting...]”.

Sophie Mayanne, UK-based photographer, will also not be silenced. In June 2019, the entire Facebook page for her labor of love, Behind the Scars, was permanently removed without warning. Fortunately, Behind the Scars continues to live on in its Instagram incarnation. But being that Facebook, Inc. owns Instagram, BTS’s fate is uncertain, and the account has already seen censorship and algorithm-burying tactics. Sophie’s message helps promote individuals with unique scarring or body differences. She states:

“Behind The Scars is a project where people can unapologetically be themselves, and embrace the skin they are in. [It’s a place to share your stories, encourage others to feel more confident.] It’s a place where people who don’t have scars can also learn...”

Instagram does not state scarring as an off-limits posting point; the platform actually states:  [“... photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed …”]. This is noteworthy, as BTS reports that in the past they’ve had [“various images of mastectomy scars, stretch marks and others removed..”]. So where is the consistency? BTS sometimes features individuals with self harm scars to which the photographer says:

“I understand the content can be triggering. Which is why I wanted to discuss what I had noticed on my account. Since the censorship screens have arrived – Instagram have, in fact, actually made it easier to find the content if someone is actively seeking out said pictures…”

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BTS’s message is all about giving the voiceless a platform. It is understandable Instagram might want to censor triggering content like self harm scars. However, what about those who want to learn? Or those who feel alone and are seeking help or connection? There is a sense of a lost learning opportunity. 

“What I would like, is Instagram to reconsider their wording. Think about the person you are censoring, as well as the other side of the picture. Think about the opportunities to learn from people openly sharing their stories…”

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My name is Julian Van Horne (@thedisabledhippie), and I am a disabled transgender advocate who primarily uses Instragram as a platform to express my mission through writing, life coaching, and modeling. While I initially began to blog about my life as a trans patient with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, I also regularly discuss issues that people with more privileges do not consistently address. I stand up for my rights and I speak on bigotry like ableism and transphobia. 

I use my platform to educate others on the struggles I experience. However, as of recently, Instagram has shadowbanned me; my content no longer shows in hashtags. The hashtags I use are meant to reach my respective trans and disabled communities. 

Without these tags, those individuals have no idea how to reach me. Instagram has also taken to disabling my account multiple days out of the week to commenting and liking others photos, as well as to blocking my ability to promote photos. 

When you’re part of multiple minority groups, such as being trans and disabled, your prospects can seem grim. I’ve played by Instagram’s rules to get where I am now. Yet, after all the hard work I’ve done and the career I’ve built—which wouldn’t have been possible without the platform—I’m becoming invisible. My opportunities have been halted. 

I’ve been offered a chance to make something of my trials and tribulations. And Instagram is trying to take that away.

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I work side-by-side with my best friend and emotional translator (as we joke) on tackling a lot of these issues at hand. As an attempt to push back, we posted this photo first on his Instagram (@carpe_that_diem), to see what would happen. There is no nudity or graphic content.

Yet, the very same day, Ariel was blocked from all hashtags.

It’s intriguing because we are fully clothed and the context of the photo discusses our difficulty finding Pride merch in the height of Pride month. It has absolutely no “inappropriate” content—whatever that means anymore.

 What I’m curious to understand is this: how does Instagram’s algorithmic moderating get so smart that it can distinguish my underwear-clad behind from that of a cis, able-bodied woman’s underwear-clad behind as “inappropriate” within minutes, yet it can’t seem to identify a child’s murdered body for several hours?

Every account that has been profiled here has touched the lives of many people who used to feel as alone as I did before discovering Instagram. I remember being very young, disabled, and trans… I used to never see individuals “like me”. I never saw representation. Now, imagine all the other younger individuals who want the same thing that I did. Except now they will be unable to find that existing community due to suppressive tactics. 

I fear we are seeing a decline in all artistic and educational content due to its “sensitivity”. Silencing and censorship tactics have been used for generations. It will seem like a slow burn, at first, in hopes that no one notices. This has historically been the case in the way that shadowbanning has affected sex educators and pole athletes. Before you know it… it’ll all be gone. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white non-binary individual with long brown hair smiles for a close headshot. He is wearing a light blue tye-dye shirt against a black background.

A white non-binary individual with long brown hair smiles for a close headshot. He is wearing a light blue tye-dye shirt against a black background.

Julian Van Horne is a disabled trans masc individual based in Florida and NYC. He lives with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a rare genetic connective tissue disorder. He spreads his advocacy work through writing, modeling, and multiple business avenues. Julian works hard to represent his respective communities, educate the public, and connect with his audience.

"I remember growing up and not seeing people who looked like me. My hope is that my story reaches the individuals who need to see it so that they can say, this could also be ME." -JVH

Review of Millicent

CW: Trauma, death.

 

Mariel Fechik’s new chapbook, Millicent, is a lyrical work which explores several central themes, including the speaker’s family (particularly the maternal side) and their Jewish identity.

I love the delicate way in which Fechik writes about the question of intergenerational trauma. “My family history is that of” is a brutally honest way to begin this chapbook, and I was entranced by its slow, melodic quality. In this opening poem, the speaker charts the maternal side of their family—their grandmother, mother, and themselves, and eventually their own daughter. It’s a good opening poem, setting up many of the central themes Fechik returns to throughout the chapbook—namely her family, and in particular her grandmother. But I am fascinated by this singular mention of her daughter: “waiting for the day / I am washed down / a drain / telling my own daughter / to quell her grief.” Even though this hypothetical daughter isn’t mentioned throughout the rest of the poems, I come back to her through each reread, wondering how she informs—and haunts—Millicent.

In comparison, the brief “My grandmother could not stop reading Holocaust books” felt more compact and hard-hitting, and “Other Side” is a touching portrait of grief— and moving past it—for the speaker’s grandmother. At first, the speaker spends “two years in limbo / the word grandmother puckered in my fist,” describing their grandmother as an “other side to birth,” but in those two years the other side too becomes the other side of birth, growth. There is something hopeful about this poem, as it positions the speaker on the road to recovery, growing past the traumas in “My family history is that of.”

In the next poem, “In September,” there is still that note of haunting, though more subtle. I especially loved these lines: “I took yellow streetlamps / into my chest, / housed their light / until it, too, flickered / out.” This imagery has so much warmth in it, but also a poignant sadness in its last parts.

Fechik’s poems are unafraid to converse with other poets throughout this chapbook, most obviously in her three “after” poems: “Lake St. Mary” (after Gianna Russ0), “Glow Worms” (after Claudia Cortese), and “The Woods” (after Mary Oliver’s “The Moths”). “The Woods” is definitely one of my favorite poems in this chapbook, although I acknowledge my bias since I’m a huge Mary Oliver fan and consider her poems almost to be a genre in themselves. Fechik captures that delicate attention and adoration of nature that makes Oliver’s poems so wonderful, but once more adds that note of haunting: “Sometimes you are in the woods and / the trees become a mosaic of winter sky / and other times there is only the ground.” In Oliver’s original poem, “The Moths,” the title insects are so vivid, so loud in the space they consume in this poem, “all around me in the forest” with wings “that burn so brightly” and sleeping in “dark halls of honey,” but in “The Woods,” only one of these insects inhabits the poem: “something fluttering against you in the dusk. It is / either grief or not. A moth towards the / light.”

Throughout this chapbook, animals in general, not just the moths, are treated with a certain delicacy. In her prose poem “Mare,” which follows the speaker’s childhood nightmare of a terrifying horse, I’m inevitably reminded of Henry Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare. In the painting, a woman lies prone on a bed underneath a demon, while an unnaturally wide-eyed horse stares out at the viewer from behind a curtain (yes, I get the nightmare/mare wordplay!). The horse in “Mare” feels even more confrontational, but for a moment, it seemingly disappears, replaced years later by “a nightmare with black birds,” only for the poem to suddenly end: “The horse kicks-” Two different animals, horses and birds, both known for their movement—a mobility which the speaker in their helpless, sleeping state does not have. I loved the sudden urgency of this poem, how well it encapsulates the fluid time and space of dreamscapes.

The writer’s exploration of animals further includes “Acadia,” a poem filled with nature imagery and probably my favorite in this chapbook, although it’s hard to pick. It has some of the most brilliant imagery in Millicent. This one focuses on the speaker’s mother, enraptured by the sight of a deer and her fawn together. I love these opening lines:

On the morning my mother saw the deer
and its fawn, her throat was an alarm

crying motherhood

It paints such an interesting visual, abstract as it is.

In comparison, “Appalachia,” while haunting, also makes me laugh a bit because of the way it plays on old adages, such as “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink,” instead opening, “A horse leads me to water and I cling to his / sides.” In this poem, the horse does drink, though not because the speaker makes him; he “inhales long, gasping / mouthfuls of the forest’s backwash / overflowing with bottles and pine. The horse / and I lead each other home to sleep.” Growing up so close to the Appalachians, I loved how this poem felt like it was drawing me back home, but it also carries a surreal quality, as if it exists in another universe. Again, a piece of beautiful imagery:

... A rabbit
sets itself on fire before dawn, oranges and
reds blooming like spring blossoms after a
mist. …

Fechik mentions the idea of other universes multiple times throughout Millicent. “Alternate” is my favorite example of this, and it hits hard, going outside of the limited spaces of family homes and foggy mountains to something more encompassing in its trauma: “Every phone call is the news of someone’s death.” The speaker explores different possibilities in the other world she constructs, but I still find myself struggling for the meaning. What about these other worlds are so special?

Throughout reading this short and brilliant chapbook, I was fascinated by the subtle ways in which each poem connects to each other, and by Fechik’s use of different structures and forms. For example, “Acadia” feels like a journey, punchy couplets and one-liners bloated with white space, and “Making Soup” feels similar, moving gradually rightward as each successive line becomes shorter, reminiscent of a spiral on the page. Some of the poems are blockier, including a handful of prose poems. It’s been a while since I’ve read poetry split up into sections, and I really liked both the way Fechik employs this technique, and the sense of narrative it lends to her poetry.

“Gifted Bodies,” the chapbook’s closing poem, is perhaps the most innovative in structure out of all the poems Fechik has given us. It alternates between single lines and indented couplets (picture an MLA citation with generous spacing and less soullessness), something which I haven’t seen before. It reminds me of dialogue. Fechik again questions time and space, in this poem exploring how to measure time.

There are more things I want Fechik to explore in Millicent. Who was her grandmother, really? She seems like she’s left a trauma-shaped hole in the speaker’s life, but that hole could have been filled in. And Millicent’s sense of location—I am still so enchanted by her treatment of nature in “The Woods” and “Appalachia,” haunting and sad, but also adoring. The speaker really does seem like they live in a different world from the rest of us, and I need to taste more of that world. There are a number of clear motifs—horses, rain, the grandmother—but the threads are perhaps not woven as tightly as they could be, nor as unified, and I find myself grasping.

There remains an impressive honesty which colors the poet’s voice in each poem, imagery that shifts and refocuses the reader’s perspective into the brighter and newer.  Millicent is a spellbinding chapbook from Mariel Fechik, and I’m excited to see more of her work in the future.

 

Mariel Fechik is a writer and musician from Chicago. She is a poet and writes music reviews for Atwood Magazine and Third Coast Review. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and Bettering American Poetry, and has appeared in Hobart, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rust + Moth, and others. She is the author of Millicent (Ghost City Press, 2019) and An Encyclopedia of Everything We've Touched (Ghost City Press, 2018) .

You can order Millicent here!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photo of Caroline Mao. Front facing view, looking directly into camera. Background is a window. Author is only shown from the neck upwards, with black lipstick and blonde, pink, and purple hair.

Photo of Caroline Mao. Front facing view, looking directly into camera. Background is a window. Author is only shown from the neck upwards, with black lipstick and blonde, pink, and purple hair.

Caroline Mao is a writer and student at Mount Holyoke College who enjoys fiction of all kinds, post-19th-century art, and smiling at every dog she sees. Her Twitter is @northcarolines.

A Monster Finds Herself: how Witchcraft and Monsters came to be

I know the word “monster” well.  In middle grade and high school, I researched topics like mythology, witchcraft, and folklore. In fact, I researched them so thoroughly and so openly, that a rumor had spread that I was a witch.

I felt an odd sort of kinship with these topics. Specifically the monsters; not because I considered myself one, or even because I wanted to be one. But because I understood the feeling of it.

Middle grade was hell for me—it’s hell for everyone. Like so many other kids, I was bullied endlessly, only almost all of it had to do with my disability. It's funny how creative some kids get when they're going to do something cruel. I had a care-aide with me almost all of the time, and you would think that would deter the other kids from saying anything. But, like I said, they get creative.

The 5-minute period between classes were the easiest times for people to bully me. Six hundred kids are released from their classrooms and now have to grab their books and run across the school to the next class, swarming the corridors.  My care-aide was usually at least ten steps ahead of me, and, quite frankly, it's hard to pay attention to anything when there are a hundred conversations going on all at once. It was easy to fling the words like “cripple” out the sides of mouths.

Honestly, these cruelties were easy to boil down to the insults of perpetually angry, hormonal teenagers. But still, the point was made: I was not like the others.

You expect it from the kids. It was the most surprising when it came from the adults. It was the adults in school who spread the rumor that I was a witch, concerned that I was using the fantastical or the occult to cope with my disability. But that’s where their thinking was flawed.

I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2, at 11 months old. I was driving an electric wheelchair at 18 months old. I have never needed to cope with my disability. Yes, my body will progressively get weaker. Yes, it can get a bit frustrating. But I've never had to cope with my SMA. It is as much a part of me as my skin or my lungs are.

So their assumptions of me trying to cope with my inability to do things by apparently submerging myself in a fantasy world were incredibly misguided. If they had asked then I could have explained: Yes, wicca, witchcraft and new age is very interesting to me. No, it is not what they think it is. And, as for my interest in mythology, I just like the stories. Is there something so wrong in that?

I learned to listen to the way they said “witch,” to really listen. Hushed undertones of terror, a little bit of sadness. It's the same way people say “monster.” It's the same way people say “disabled.”

I have a poem in Witchcraft and Monsters comparing myself to Medusa. Specifically regarding how people try not to look at us:

People refuse to look me in the eyes.

Like somehow,
Looking directly at my wheelchair,
Is going to turn them into stone.

I later suggest that when people do look at me, they often react as though they are going to catch my disability—a ridiculous impossibility, of course. Such behavior is hurtful, and further drives home that point my peers made back in middle school: I am not like the others.

What people don't always understand is that the term monster has multiple definitions. My favorite one is simply otherness. A monster could just mean something different. Something that people just aren't used to seeing.

I knew Monstering magazine when it was in its very early stages. So, I took part in being a student during one of their workshops, Hollows Shout the Mountain Down, a workshop specifically for writers with disabilities. Monstering was such an amazing concept, that I knew that the workshop would be well worth it. And, well… I needed the incentive to actually try to write about myself. It was therapeutic and it allowed me to create something beautiful.

What is now Witchcraft and Monsters was created during that workshop. It allowed me to talk about myself in a way where I could still connect to the fantastical and the monstrous, all while the writing would stay beautiful and lyrical.

Maybe my poetry collection Witchcraft and Monsters is actually my spell book? Or maybe it's just your reminder to look for magic in yourself?

Witchcraft and Monsters is my heart laid out before you. It is my love letter to my humanity, as well as my divinity. My beauty and my monstrosity. My otherness, and yours. It is my demand for people to look, to actually see me. Because I am no longer small. Because I am no longer hiding.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blonde girl with glasses, and facial piercings looking down at a rose. A slight smile on her face.

Blonde girl with glasses, and facial piercings looking down at a rose. A slight smile on her face.

Kala is an author living in Alberta, Canada. She lives with a physical disability and is confined to a wheelchair. She's also an occasional artist, and Halloween is her favorite holiday. She likes tattoos and chocolate, and most movies directed by Tim Burton.

Please click here if you would like to purchase Kala’s debut poetry collection, Witchcraft and Monsters.

Editor's Note

Dearest Monsters,

It’s been some time, hasn’t it? Well, now we’re back, and—in our humble opinion—better than ever. It’s been a gruelling few weeks, and the past few days have gone by in a bit of a hazy, panicky blur, but—here it is: our second issue, Resummoning.

Choosing a name for this issue proved, in the end, a simple thing. There was no theme tying it together. However, the name seemed only appropriate given our return after our long, yawning hiatus. I cannot thank our contributors enough for their patience, understanding and support over the past few months. And I cannot thank you, the reader, enough for, even after all this time, finding something in our humble enterprise to keep coming back to.

This being the very first issue of Monstering I curated as Editor-in-Chief, you can imagine just how nervous I feel to be releasing this into the world. However, I am mostly excited. As with our inaugural issue, we are blessed to feature some absolutely spectacular writers and artists in this issue. Some will be familiar names to our readership already: the works of Cade Leebron, Bei Jie Si, Kamila Rina, Liv Mammone, and Riley Dalca have found a home with Monstering once again—and how glad we are! Their poetry and art proves ever more spell-binding, and we can only hope that they continue submitting to us in the future.

Many of the artists in this issue, however, are new faces to our magazine: Ada Limón makes an appearance, taking us to the banks of “the muddy Mississippi”; Rebecca Cross’ poetry paints a striking portrait of trauma and of disability, a portrait many of us will recognise as familiar; LC Elliott regales us with a tale of a ghostly manor—of changelings, and dark and stormy nights. These wonderful creators are only a handful of the inspired people who have made this issue of Monstering a treasure to behold—and we are sure all of you will agree.

We truly hope that you enjoy this new issue of Monstering. We hope that you glimpse something of yourself in these pieces, and we hope that you will follow us on our journey forward, wherever it may lead.

May this issue signify a new new beginning: we rise again now, and ask you to rise with us.

With monstrosity,

Zara Williams
Editor-in-Chief

Pedestal is just another word for grave, and mine is already projected to be an early death

CW: Violence, ableism

 

Do not put me on a pedestal,
because,
whether wood, metal, or glass,
it will break if dropped
or smashed
or burned
or drowned
or left to rot.

A pedestal is a thing
easily defaced,
struck,
scarred,
sprayed with
piss or
angry, resentful, bitter words that smack of hate and fear
or
scorched colorless under the sun
or settled and buried with dust
and dirt
where no archeologist will ever find it and exclaim
about its beauty and forgotten meanings
but
instead consider it
unremarkable
exhibit 47,906
before finding a home
in a crate in the back of some future museum’s
unwanted artifacts storage unit.

There are already too many pedestals out there for
tokens and well-behaved monsters with
unruly bodies or
unstable minds
or
freedom fighters who died
with justice and love spilling
from fists and lips
more powerful than
whatever my crude thoughts
and halting actions
might imagine.

I need no pedestal.

Besides,
people with statues and monuments
probably have at least something like
a fifty percent or greater chance
of being murdered
than ordinary folk,
either the kind of murder that results in death
or that other kind,
the kind of murder that happens
while still very much alive

But fuck if I know anything.

Once on a pedestal,
though,
I suppose I don't have luxuries like
feeling or
growing or
struggling,
since,
well,
people on pedestals are more
the unmoving, polished wood, metal, or glass,
than flesh
or brain matter.

There are no pedestals for people who
die in the space between
victim and survivor.

(They tell me the average lifespan for
an autistic person is thirty years
shorter than neurotypicals,
and they tell me
the average lifespan for
a transgender person is
only thirty-something.)

If they start to kill me,
and bury me while still living,
with platitudes and empty admiration,
building my pedestal while
I am breathing
and here,
kindly tell them,
for me,
to fuck off.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Headshot of Lydia Brown, young East Asian person, with stylized blue and yellow dramatic background. They are looking in the distance and wearing a plaid shirt and black jacket. Photo by Adam Glanzman.

Headshot of Lydia Brown, young East Asian person, with stylized blue and yellow dramatic background. They are looking in the distance and wearing a plaid shirt and black jacket. Photo by Adam Glanzman.

LYDIA X. Z. BROWN writes about disability, race, and queerness. They are an organizer and advocate for disability justice focused on state-sanctioned violence targeting disabled people at the margins of the margins. In collaboration with E. Ashkenazy and Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu, Lydia is the lead editor of All the Weight of Our Dreams, the first-ever anthology by autistic people of color and otherwise negatively racialized autistic people, published by the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network. Morénike and Lydia also co-direct the Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color’s Interdependence, Survival, and Empowerment, which provides direct support and mutual aid to individual autistic people of color. Lydia has received numerous awards for their work, and written for several community and academic publications. Their first published short fiction piece appeared in "Open In Emergency," the Asian American Literary Review's special issue on Asian American Mental Health. In 2018, they were a Teaching Scholar at Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace literary conference, and in both 2017 and 2018, they were a reader on panels about disability literature at AWP. They are still working on several incomplete novel manuscripts.

After Sodom Burned (Or, From the Prehistory of X-Ray Astronomy)

CW: Death, cannibalism, body horror

 

Paranoia is the sensation of being in two places at once, a particle and a wave. Reduced to a sliver of myself, I ran downstairs on an April morning with snow still on the ground outside. I entered a world transformed, one that belonged to me and me only, someone made of broken leaves and shattered trees.

The Beast of Gévaudan dragged something horrible in through the window and began to eat it on my bed, smearing afterbirth all over my Easter dress. Go away! I yelled at her, surprised by the loudness of my voice, for I was a tiny girl of only four years. You belong to the forest filled with hunger and holiness; run far from here, with your sprouting heart and pelt woven from young women’s beards. The royal huntsmen are coming for you to avenge their daughters; next time we meet face to face, I fear your glass eyes will be reflected in all the mirrors of Versailles.

(Better to be consumed somewhere underground, I figured, by the milk teeth of young wolves in the museum of liverworts and rabbits’ claws, than by my own mother and father, who never saw me as anything more than food. Could you swallow the baby in the blanket? they would ask each other. In my dreams, I am freeing all of the animals from the Jardin des Plantes into the catacombs by the light of a submarine lantern. I picture the hyenas and thylacines feeling especially thrilled upon seeing the bars of their cages transformed into endless boughs of bones, crosshatched femurs and fibulae: the unwound forest, intangible to the eye.)

One evening, the house rose from her knees and leapt away, carrying the astrolabe that I used for navigating the backyard woods in her jaws. With a low growl, her nostrils ejected all of the upholstery in my bedroom into orbit. (My first lover was asleep in the sheets when it happened, and for this she never forgave me.) Wading in memories, I looked back upon the city with the metamorphic perimeter, tracing the route through the maze marked by a handful of salt for one last time, crossing the airborne streets that continuously narrowed. From that time onward, only in dreams would I run down the staircases that led into her stomach, minding her teeth like polished piano keys with my stocking feet

and warbling the voice of the siren who held a mirror to remind us that all is gossamer. I tormented Odysseus inestimable sleeps ago, before he drowned, before the continents were forged and drowned, the Earth’s mantle stretching and contracting like the parchment of the mappa mundi.

I close the curtains and glimpse the last of the sunlight breaking against the glass of the taxidermies’ eyes. My speculative littermates and I are at play in our grandparents’ house, but the floorboards and tiny ceramic furniture are flooded, and everything’s soaked. My breath obscures the mirror, and I have a memory of slipping my hands through the water

the silvered ink on my arms

and there are silver dolphins bathing in the metal, their fins passing in silence over the kitchen tiles, never leaving the hallways of the toy house, poking for clams and fish in the rainstorm sand of windows without glass. Ostensibly, this arrangement will teach us their language. I take the armillary sphere and brass microscopes from their mahogany cabinets and read to them. A meteoric cloud hisses forth from the pots on the stove and collides with the ceiling, which simultaneously happens to be the roof of my mouth. The sullen volumes on the shelves of the library wake up, startled, and gently preen themselves before drifting off once more. I turn around to face the velvet wall, and our Nonna is there, finding none of this strange at all, retouching a dusty canvas of a pride of lions with fur the colour of red and yellow giants that she painted many years ago, the smoke-faded rosettes of the cubs like a border of acanthus leaves, the dark rings from her cigarettes like breaths of the hallucinatory ink that alters the rotation of spiral galaxies.

How she loved visiting the zoo; I think of her joining the other animaliers, looking perplexedly inside the empty pavilions and putting their ears to the ground. Naturally, there are dozens of families with young children out today, albeit hardly noticing the vanished fauves, preferring instead to watch all of the illusionists most famous in those parts: Henri Robin; the Magnetic Lady, with her homing pigeons; and Blanche Wittmann, the Queen of Hysterics, who threw fits and received the stigmata on command…

who replaced her arms and legs with the praying mantis limbs of interplanetary modules after radiative phosphor silenced her unquiet skin. By that time, her hair had long since melted away like autumn, even her lashes, and she thought, I’m all worn out

Yet, remembering by physical sensation the grammar of insect flight, her convulsions sang as she fell to Earth, frozen perfectly in each of her glass eyes.

In the afternoon on Christmas Day, I dream about an enormous asteroid, a planet, or some analogous celestial entity forcefully slamming into the Earth, reducing most of the surface to rubble and sending a great shockwave through the underground room that I am taking shelter in. Although I am immediately experiencing and registering everything, I simultaneously imagine that I am watching a film, so I am detached, both there and not there. The impact does not completely extinguish life, however, and a handful of survivors slowly emerge from their hiding places, although I find myself wondering how long it would be possible for them to breathe an atmosphere rendered toxic by the object’s ensuing exhalation, which heavily resembles a pyroclastic flow. I assume that significantly extended survival is probably futile. Yet, they begin to build a new environment among the ruins of the city, interspersing the walls of decimated highrises with bright bubblegum-plastic shapes resembling pill capsules, oblong balloons, and translucent breasts with veins and protoplasmic forms reminiscent of egg yolks visible inside. In hollows and refuse pits, these shapes appear to gradually overtake the wreckage, accumulating densely in certain places, flattening and forming colourful strata. The absence of natural flora and fauna slightly disconcerts me. Upon waking, I immediately recall the descriptor of “bubblegum-plastic,” which I heard from a woman who I met in the psychiatric hospital (Womb 303, to be exact, deep in the abdomen of Tiamat, the many aisles of beds lining her viscera like beribboned fish roe). She used it with reference to a painting that she was working on at the time. I think of her every so often. I sleep in the shadow of the gaudy toy-like engine floating above the burning city in Alberto Savinio’s Sodom, for I had dreamed about Pasolini’s Salò last year’s Christmas.

Looking out over the bridge through the window, you can see the partially-submerged city of Sodom, filled with cars, derelict subway cabins, train tracks, and highways covered in clay silt beneath a clear layer of water, like crayfish in a shallow pond. My station approaches:

WHITECHAPEL

I fly against the unfolding sky, screaming myself into being. Volcanic ash emerges from a violet bloodstain. I will stay in my body for the rest of this lovely afternoon. The young rider and hunter trailed by a pack of greyhounds leap through the kitchen doorway, following the scent of the Beast of Gévaudan into the Florentine thicket of eternal dream. Passe avant! the hunter shouts.

The hunting party stops to have their luncheon on the grass in the countryside, near a glen of insomniac ferns. After packing again and continuing through the woods that never give way for one hundred thousand years, the horseman comes upon a place where it appears that the curtain of the forest has been opened, exposing a brilliantly-lit sky. He sobs, remembering the isolated and sunless eons without seasons, and the greyhounds pace the edge of the clearing and bark furiously. A large soapstone skull lies before him, a pink dianthus growing from its left eye socket. Just beyond it, a row of satellite dishes stands, like those used by astrophysicists to listen for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations; the young rider wonders if they belonged to a structure that stood there before the iridescent rains came. The skull and satellite dishes guard a seemingly endless plain of long, flat megaliths laid out horizontally across the earth, covered in lichens. The rider and the dog handler intuitively realize that their ancestors intended to warn them that this is the place where Jack the Ripper hunts and devours his victims, and they leave immediately, knowing that the forest has been patiently stalking them.

When I am older, I will insist that the architects endlessly add new rooms to my library, until the physical space resembles the shape of my body as accurately as possible. Tomorrow, I swim in the polar sea, making love to permafrost. Today, there are raindrops in the windowsill, looking out onto a vast land of pigeons, loving plains of fire, and Antarctic snails stuck onto the hulls of ships and carapaces of whales. There are no mornings any longer now; only a word formed of water that contains my entire memory. Un mot, une goutte. Only the rose-coloured iron filings that dust the tundra when the gulls, puffins, and gannets that nest in the northern and southern lights sail their way back.

Five million years hence, the rider returns on a path that only grows more treacherous as he advances, the horse’s hooves clattering on unused sidewalks erupting from the rim of an extinct crater cradling a stone sea in her arms. Drawing the mappa mundi in the black sand, he tells me of Gargantuas and women with the heads of boars, gravitational fields that cause the sky to shred its skin, entire cities of which no trace remains except for a single hieroglyph surrounded by unforgiving foliage. Prester John’s wives, he says, are women who never tire of eating, and they are the most splendid creatures. The horse breaks loose, leading me in the direction of the last glacial slope; your expiatory breath pulls me near, reverberating from beneath the atlas apparatus overhanging unfinished buildings. You—the lunar-caustic, surgical-steel empress of arthropods. Magic daguerreotype. For there is nothing more beautiful than the diamond light reflected in your glass eyes as we make love in the forest of gelatin prints and X-rays constituted from the bones in the Paris catacombs.

 

About The Author

Picture shows the head and shoulders of a white woman with medium-length brown hair, seated against a cream-coloured wall. She is wearing round glasses, dark red lipstick, pearls, and a lacy shawl draped over a pale purple blouse. The edges of a framed painting and a lamp can be seen in the background.

Picture shows the head and shoulders of a white woman with medium-length brown hair, seated against a cream-coloured wall. She is wearing round glasses, dark red lipstick, pearls, and a lacy shawl draped over a pale purple blouse. The edges of a framed painting and a lamp can be seen in the background.

VITTORIA LION is a Surrealist writer, painter, lesbian, unrepentant psychiatric survivor, and academic working toward composing her PhD thesis on Surrealist animal representations, speculative evolution, and psychoanalysis. She holds an MA in Art History from the University of Toronto. Her other interests, besides Surrealism and various (un)natural history topics, include medieval art and representations of disability. Her fiction, poetry, visual art, and academic work have been featured in Peculiar MormyridFeral Feminisms, and Knots: An Undergraduate Journal of Disability Studies, and she has authored chapters in two forthcoming scholarly anthologies. 

Serenade to Surrender

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A black-&-white side shot of a young brown woman in a dark grey sweater. There's a ring on her middle finger & her hand is raised, curling her short hair behind her ear. She is smiling slightly & looking downwards.

A black-&-white side shot of a young brown woman in a dark grey sweater. There's a ring on her middle finger & her hand is raised, curling her short hair behind her ear. She is smiling slightly & looking downwards.

TOPAZ WINTERS (they/she) is a poet, essayist, editor, creative director, speaker, scholar, actress, & multidisciplinary artist. Their internationally award-winning & critically-acclaimed creative credits include working as the author of three books (most recently poems for the sound of the sky before thunder, Math Paper Press, 2017), writer & star of the short film SUPERNOVA (dir. Ishan Modi, 2017), creative director & editor-in-chief of the arts organisation Half Mystic (est. 2015), speaker of the TEDx talk Healing Is a Verb (2017), & creator of the digital art installation Love Lives Bot (est. 2018). Their peer-reviewed research on poetry, identity, & the sociopolitical underpinnings of queerness in Singapore is published in the Journal of Homosexuality. They are the youngest Singaporean ever to be nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the youngest writer ever to be published by Math Paper Press, & the youngest scholar ever to be published in the Journal of Homosexuality. They were born in 1999, reside at topazwinters.com, & study literature & film at Princeton University. They enjoy chai lattes, classic rock, wildflowers, & the colour of the sky when nothing is dreaming of it.

. . . Flinch

CW: Abuse

 

When it’s everywhere, you give up/ and what you once called pain,/you start to call yourself.
            – Fleda Brown, “The Devil’s Child”

 

I drag it   around with me
I stow it    in the pocket    of my middle
Like I might    need it later
Like my grandmother    carries   the Depression   
In drawers full   of sugar packets   rubber bands
A marsupial    who thinks pain   
Is her baby   tuck, tuck     there, there     I consume

Coffee    like gasoline   pills
With the most careful   addict's   math   
Counting hours   like a pharmacist...tick...tick
I feel it   percolate
Or is it   the caffeine
Or does the earth    quake
The body learns to cringe    inward

Translates pain
Memory like    tripwire across
The kitchen   my trigger   son who is
Only autistic   not actually
My father   shouting   brother   mother
Pouring out life    by the glass
A body can’t tell   the difference

His face becomes   other   when he doesn’t
Like something
   there was always something
   to shrink from.

I’ve been guarding
Against so much   my eyelids   mimic it
In bed   or in my soft chair   my body
Sparkles like   Christmas lights   left leg   upper left thigh   a flutter
Not mine   like a fetus   right finger   twitch
The whole hand sometimes, stop

In that last hour
Before sleep   before the baby cries
Or the smoke detector   detects   nothing real
Faulty batteries   faulty synapses
Before the cat yowls   the alarm
Or the boy   wanders out
Before my husband wakes   hunching
Into his clothes and I am   afraid
Of the effort    my heart makes

There is no quiet even   in quiet except   
   in that space
Where the house   and the others   are all   at rest
And my body whispers   to itself   
    ... alert…... alert…... danger
   ... flinch.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author is centrally-featured in an whitewashed photo nearly devoid of color except for spikes of auburn hair, a hint of blue eyes, a pink almost-smile (or is it a smirk?) and a red-polished thumb resting on the author's chin (much like an artist surveying their work). The thumb sports a clunky silver ring which, upon closer inspection, reveals itself to be an owl perched upside-down. Abstract lines suggest a shoulder, a plunging neckline, the chain of a necklace, a freckled hand, and the cuff of a sleeve; also, the lines of a face content to gaze directly at the viewer, even as the viewer gazes upon the face.

The author is centrally-featured in an whitewashed photo nearly devoid of color except for spikes of auburn hair, a hint of blue eyes, a pink almost-smile (or is it a smirk?) and a red-polished thumb resting on the author's chin (much like an artist surveying their work). The thumb sports a clunky silver ring which, upon closer inspection, reveals itself to be an owl perched upside-down. Abstract lines suggest a shoulder, a plunging neckline, the chain of a necklace, a freckled hand, and the cuff of a sleeve; also, the lines of a face content to gaze directly at the viewer, even as the viewer gazes upon the face.

Writing by SHANNON CONNOR WINWARD has appeared far and wide in places like Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, The Pedestal Magazine, Lunch Ticket, Rogue Agent, Argot, The Monarch Review, Cider Press Review, Literary Mama, and Rivet: the journal of writing that takes risks. She is a Delaware Division of the Arts Emerging Artist Fellow and author of The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press, 2018) and the Elgin-award winning chapbook Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Shannon shares her body with chronic illness of the physical and mental persuasions, but her spirit is doing pretty well, all things considered. In between parenting, writing and other madness, Shannon edits Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal. Visit www.shannonconnorwinward.com.

Sick

CW: Oppression; themes of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

 

The first day, I wore blue pajamas
because I was sick. A woman who worked
in the psych ward softly asked me to change.
There are men here, she said. In the courtyard,
we stretched and did yoga, until a young black man
fainted, hitting his head which dripped with blood.
I offered him my cup of water, and John, a handsome
white man in the ward for drug addiction, made sure
I didn’t take the cup back— he was afraid of AIDS. The doctors
weren’t quick to label me, they asked me about percentages
of certainty when I spoke of the coming apocalypse.
I showered with rose soap my aunt gave me,
and when I set it on the windowsill to dry,
the scent filled the room. A few of us were allowed
to go to a grocery store nearby to shop for ingredients
to bake our own lasagna. I loved creative writing hour,
when a volunteer who said she struggled with something
herself came to teach us and inspire us. I made little gifts
for my new friends before I left. For John, I wrote writing prompts
on strips of paper and placed them in a gold cardboard box.
One was Write from the perspective of a woman.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A smiling blonde woman stood against a plain background looks into the camera. She is wearing a blue top and a grey cardigan. She is wearing a long necklace.

A smiling blonde woman stood against a plain background looks into the camera. She is wearing a blue top and a grey cardigan. She is wearing a long necklace.

Sarah T. Jewell is a Jersey poet who runs a weekly writing workshop as a part of Jersey City Writers. She won The Writer’s Hotel Sara Patton Poetry Prize in June 2018, and her poetry chapbook How to Break Your Own Heart was published by dancing girl press in April 2017. Her poems have appeared in Bird’s Thumb, Halfway Down the Stairs, Barking Sycamores and other journals. Links to her work can be found at www.stjewell.com

the fall

i am defeated by a cat's yawn
by the first long cold breath of morning stealing
     through the gap under the window-pane
by your blueness of eyes

i who swallowed the stars whole & felt them burning
     down the gaping maw of my throat only to suffer & spit
     into nothingness in the quench of my belly
i who drank the black of the night
     like wine, ocean-dark, & sour like old memories or
     the taste of sweat on your skin
i who held the moon in the palm of my hand
     & pulled the tides around me like a long cloak, the hem trailing
     foam & bird-feathers & the distant crashing of waves
     still barely audible beneath my cowl

i held another name:
a powerful invocation
whose syllables could wrap around the globe
& sink venom into the vocabularies of sinners
     & priests
     & starving poets
     & small children looking for beetles in city gutters
          but finding only my name tucked into the earth
          written in veins of glowing ore
a name so vast & heavy upon the tongue
that it would take a year's rotation of an unkind star
to utter in its entirety…
     i have forgotten it now. that name was too large, too uncanny,
     too thunder-&-lightning. i left it behind me.
you knew my name, i think, but you did not know that it was mine,
or of the ancient power that you had robbed me of
to wield, unknowing

i hid my scales from you
& blunted my fangs on the curve of your hipbone
     exchanging wings for wheels, relearning flight
         wanting only to drown in the hot crunch of your laugh
          steadying myself against the muscle of your thigh
          your hand on my brow, trailing through hair like seaweed
     sinking slowly into half-remembered darknesses…

i was no longer the eater of worlds
my soul was quiet, & full, & very small
     i had borrowed it from a bird (which explains
     my fondness for pumpkin-seeds) & the soles of my feet bled only rarely
     glass splinters & shards of obsidian working themselves out of my body
to the beating of my blood  
all loved up

had my blood been quieter
i might have noticed before the wound reopened
your heart leaving me through scar tissue, well-worn grooves, the gouges
     where my wings had withered into black ash
     upon contact with an alien atmosphere
heart falling from my throat, i sank into gravedirt
     touching my hand to my mouth & then
     to my heart again & again

listening & hearing softness in the space between breaths
     knowing defeat in every inch of me & in my core a longing
    for lost heartbeats          & yet knowing one day there will be

      the reflection of moonlight on rushing water &
     birdsong

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Image shows a white genderqueer wheelchair user with rainbow hair reading into a microphone.

Image shows a white genderqueer wheelchair user with rainbow hair reading into a microphone.

ROBIN M EAMES is a queercrip poet and historian living on Gadigal land in Sydney, Australia. Their work has been published in CorditeMeanjinOverlandUncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, and Deaf Poets Society, among others. They are currently working on a PhD at the University of Sydney examining madness and trans pathologisation.

Glioblastoma

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ABOUT THE ARTIST

A colour photo in portrait orientation of the artist, wearing an unbuttoned grey jean jacket exposing a black shirt with a portrait of Dracula in red, with Dracula's name spelled out under the portrait in red letters. A favourite outfit.

A colour photo in portrait orientation of the artist, wearing an unbuttoned grey jean jacket exposing a black shirt with a portrait of Dracula in red, with Dracula's name spelled out under the portrait in red letters. A favourite outfit.

RILEY SERGIA DALCA is a Hispanic & Native Hawai'ian person, currently living in Portland, Oregon and on the internet at https://www.instagram.com/rileydalca/

10 Cent Boots

At night, I dream of girls with 10 cent boots:

that carry the scent of hotel shampoo/
and boys who twirl flowers/between their fingers/
like satin.

In the morning I wake:

to age old bones/muscle fibers that stretch/
like the strings on/the old Yamaha in my/living room/
as the notes dance/out of tune.

If I'm good:

swallow my pills/with just a tiny swish of water/
even though my body always/
seems to crave more.

And if it's good enough:

I can get out of bed/without a feeling/
that everything is speeding/
to a metronome that I haven't set.

And I can ignore:

the subtle crackling in my lungs/
of missing air and the way/I feel like a bellows/
on a bagpipe.

I can ignore the press of bile just behind my throat:

the scissoring of my esophagus/
As the diet of a fastidious toddler’s/wildest dream slides down/
Ignore the way my tongue bristles/
at bright flavors.

A girl walks by:

with coffee bean eyes/and a ring in her nose/
and I feel my heart/heavy in my chest/
craving something new/exciting/
sweet like pomegranates.

But instead I know:

time wouldn't keep us/a warm hearth.

I go to sleep
and dream of girls
with 10 cent boots


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Person smiling with short purple hair, blue eyes, and hoop earrings.

Person smiling with short purple hair, blue eyes, and hoop earrings.

BRIAR PRONSCHINSKE is a queer undergraduate English and environmental science double major at Indiana University-Bloomington. Briar is a serial pun-maker, wheat enthusiast, and vigilante hole digger who has on multiple occasions been described as fae adjacent. A recent Fibromyalgia diagnosis inspires much of their poetry. They have previously been published in the Lighter.

Wednesday's Child

CW: Childbirth, birth trauma

 

As for giving birth, I know only what my mother told me.
It’s like coming to after your own martyrdom.
Surrounded by blood, excrement, gauze.
No sainthood in your future, but an etherized bliss
if you thought to slip the night nurse a twenty.

It’s pure butchery. The speculum, the hook, the clamps.
It’s a marvel anyone chooses it. She only had the nerve
to do it that once. I am lost in her telling of it.
She recalls the hospital bed. Her wedding ring
on the table. The husband there for decoration only.

The doctors breathing heavily under their masks,
wrestling with something. The butterfly tongs.
Not the mountain that moved between her legs.
That soiled the bed. Not its heft. Not its silence.
Only that after, there was nothing for her

to hold. She’d been split down the middle, and the thing
she was so eager to meet, a black-and-blue lump—
her pound of flesh. Thirteen pounds, to be exact. Taken away
by a nurse. After all that labor she had not a person but a wound,
and no poultice for it.

This is what ruin looks like, she says, touching her body.
Here is her broken tooth. The zipper-shaped scar climbing
from white hair to navel. The shift in her gait. She bled
forty days after. Her bladder tilted and stayed.
What do I know of birth?

I, who have done only the leaving, not the losing?
Who have had no surgeries, no hospital stays?
My very health an insult. What do I know? I know
what it is to be severed. I know the sweetness of milk,
the weight of a hand, the havoc my body brings.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

REBECCA CROSS is a disabled poet who works as an editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Woven Tale PressBreath and Shadow, and Always Crashing.

Advice for the Marvel

CW: Violence

 

First, know they will take your hair, your nails, maybe your hands.
     They’ll take the wood from the stake you were tied to, the screws
in your coffin, your stockings, your shoes. There will be forgeries:
     the cup you last drank from, the panties you died in. They’ll be
mass produced and sold at exorbitant prices. Multitudes will believe
     these objects have miraculous powers. A farmer’s wife with a lock
of your hair will give birth to rabbits. A single pot stirred with your hand
     will produce enough food for a famine. Your promoter slash husband
will preserve what’s left of your body and display it in Europe. There,
     you’ll be not a saint but a scandal. People will protest your exhibition,
but they’ll still want a peek. All of this will be beyond your control.
     No marvel is in control, in death or life—the second thing you must know.
Third, expect many proposals. They’ll come with bouquets of roses.
     They’ll come stuffed inside beer bottles. They’ll be graffitied onto
your trailer. Full-page ads will be taken out in the paper. There’s something
     about women like us that makes men lose all sense of decorum.
Reject them outright, and you’ll never be rid of them. You must delay
     your response until they lose interest, even if it takes months,
even years. Last, understand you will witness some miracles for yourself.
     Not the kind anyone asks for. A lame child will see resurrection
and be punished with whips. A beautiful girl will cry blood when she
     sees you. And when you ask God for mercy, your own voice will say no.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

REBECCA CROSS is a disabled poet who works as an editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Woven Tale PressBreath and Shadow, and Always Crashing.

Meeting the Myth

CW: Sexual assault; mention of bodily fluids

 

What a draw!—The Modern Medusa.
Everyone’s heard of the girl
who can stop men dead with her looks.

The barker knows how to sell it, too.
He hands every caller a mirror, tells them,
Don’t look directly. It’s like looking

at the pudenda of God. They enter my tent
backwards, all titter and sweat.
In their mirrors they see sallow cheek,

mud mouth, an ear and dark
writhing hair. They quiet down after that.
They’re imagining what I could do

with my tongue. Husbands blush,
picturing me in their bed. Wives tremble,
wondering how my hair would feel

brushing their thighs. Instead
of fulfilling their fantasies, I tell them
what I know about monsters:

That fishy god, all brine and sperm,
who forced himself on Medusa
on the floor of Minerva’s temple.

The young men, all swagger and heat,
who went to Medusa’s home, intending
to blind her and cut off her head.

It was Ovid who said her looks were
a punishment from Minerva—a myth
from a man who couldn’t believe

a woman might consider ugliness a gift.
Truth is, we’d all love some of that
open-mouthed, serpenty dread—

a repulsiveness that can kill. In all the stories
about her, Medusa never harms a woman—
make of that what you will.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

REBECCA CROSS is a disabled poet who works as an editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Woven Tale PressBreath and Shadow, and Always Crashing.

I Am the Answer to the Question, What Makes a Body Wrong?

What do you make of me, father?
A child born with ten fingers, ten toes,
but with one hand that’s stuck, fingers curled
as though holding something. What does it hold?

What do you make of me, mother?
My back curves and sways,
my heart is too small.
I am not what you wanted. No poultice at all.

I’ve a mouth that can cry and can kiss.
When I smile, the tongue thrashes inside.
When I laugh, you’re reminded
of bees in their hives.

You’re unnerved when I stand, mouth to mouth,
eye to eye, with my sorry reflection.
I’m proof of something, I must be,
some sort of lesson.

It’s that, you believe, or a curse.
As I age, I only get worse.
Nerves flare and contract, the spine twists,
the hand stiffens and shuts itself tight.

All these years, and what have I proved?
I lie under heaven’s lewd eye and I dream
what it’s like to be lovely,
what it’s like to be loved.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

REBECCA CROSS is a disabled poet who works as an editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Woven Tale PressBreath and Shadow, and Always Crashing.

Wheelchair

End over end
The boy pivots in slow motion
Airborne
Furled like a flower
In snow
A parabola whose arc begins at shattered windshield
And ends with crack of collagen
On gored asphalt

Now the sirens
Slice the clothes
Haul him through the blue
To the chopping block

The boy lives through pains he won’t remember
Cutting and pasting his body
In a montage of grafted bone
While he dreams of deserts
Whose sands vanish
In vacuous sinkholes

Behold the boy remade
Enthroned on his steed of aluminum
Captaining his broken body
His wheeled ship adrift
As though at sea

I set out into the waves

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ocean writes animist literary fiction, nightmare fairy tales, poetry based on recording devices left by ancient sentient species found in the fossil record, surrealist realism, postcards to no one, erasure novels, and abstract erotic literature, and has lived with a C-6/7 Spinal Cord Injury for the past 18 years .

Some Love Notes on Ableism

CW: Ableism

 

Most first dates tell me I am not
disabled, or they don’t see me
as "handicapped."

I try not to twitch, resist
the urge to see them as
naive. I add their imploring

to the paper cranes I've made
from old lovers' quotes, proving
I am not

broken when naked, or
ugly when standing, or
different. How I should believe

in their fiction, saccharin and easy.
If only I could unspasm my throat.
Maybe I want to believe

that they won’t miss
my legs curling around
the small of their back

when they are just trying  
to fit themselves inside of me,
whispering normal, normal.

That they will not care
if we never dance the samba
in a sweaty night club.
That their eyes do not
crumble like the Berlin Wall
when I fall down. Later,
they’ll insist they fall in love
with the bruising every time
they experience it.

But I know your compliments are just soft lies

your mother taught you. Some offhand lesson
on acceptance she hoped you wouldn’t need
to use.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author sits on a blue bench in front of some palm trees in Florida. The photo is cropped so you can only see part of her black shirt. She has reddish shoulder-length wavy hair, gray tortoise shell Warby Parker glasses and a toothy smile. 

Author sits on a blue bench in front of some palm trees in Florida. The photo is cropped so you can only see part of her black shirt. She has reddish shoulder-length wavy hair, gray tortoise shell Warby Parker glasses and a toothy smile. 

Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington DC. She is a recipient of 2 Poetry Fellowships from the DC Arts Commission, a former Jenny McKean Moore Fellow and a nonfiction editor for The Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She was a founded board member of mothertongue, an LGBTQA open mic that lasted 15 years. She competed on the National Poetry Slam circuit and was the 2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion. Her work has appeared in various publications, and on NPR’s Snap Judgement. She is currently a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Natalie has an MFA in Creative Writing from American University and is a Teaching Artist for Poetry Out Loud. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox, and as one half of All Her Muses. Natalie also enjoys Joni Mitchell, whiskey and giraffes. 

Apple Trees

CW: Trauma; childhood trauma

 

They say if you swallow apple seeds
a tree will take root
in the depths of your gut
and it will grow and grow
until you’re more wood than human
more bark than flesh
and the apple’s acidity
is all you can taste.

It sounds like a transformation
from one whole being
through hybrids, mutations,
to something hard, steadfast
but still alive, still growing.
I’d rather grow in the sunlight
than change beneath
the wolf’s full moon.

Just like the childhood appleseed
my trauma took root
somewhere deep inside
and perhaps my growth has
stunted, stuttered, stopped
or perhaps it’s changed
direction, like the root
that upturns concrete.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author is stood in front of a plain wall. They are smiling into the camera. They have brown hair, cut short, and are wearing a white t-shirt with black text and a black hoodie.

The author is stood in front of a plain wall. They are smiling into the camera. They have brown hair, cut short, and are wearing a white t-shirt with black text and a black hoodie.

MAX PERRY is a queer non-binary writer, student, and activist. They have a degree in Politics from the University of Southampton and are currently studying an MA in Conflict, Security, and Development at the University of Sussex. They write poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in their free time, as well as dabbling in cross-stitch and fandom, often at the same time. They are fuelled by chicken nuggets and rage at injustice, and they aspire to change the world through both words and action. Their tweets can be found @maxlper.

Living Ghosts

CW: Death; death imagery

 

This is a poem about my dead friend:
she’s not dead,
not really,
but I was, for a while
and she wouldn’t visit me in hospital.

I think she had a sickness
because her words slide out too easily.
When I see her next
slurred,
mouth too wide
she’s exaggerated
a cartoon in motion.

It’s a while before the dam breaks,
not too long,
I’m still
recovering
and they reveal:
they’ve had a meeting.

It had an agenda,
someone took minutes,
they’re killing me
killing us
placing a clear divide
between life and death
the alive and the dead
and i’m not a part of their puzzle
anymore.

I don’t remember my food
(dead girls can’t taste)
but i remember crying
and how emotionless she was
maybe dead girls can’t feel.

One
or both of us
was missing some senses
severed at the root
to stave off the infection
I felt her death
like a phantom limb
but she’d gone numb
to mine.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author is stood in front of a plain wall. They are smiling into the camera. They have brown hair, cut short, and are wearing a white t-shirt with black text and a black hoodie.

The author is stood in front of a plain wall. They are smiling into the camera. They have brown hair, cut short, and are wearing a white t-shirt with black text and a black hoodie.

MAX PERRY is a queer non-binary writer, student, and activist. They have a degree in Politics from the University of Southampton and are currently studying an MA in Conflict, Security, and Development at the University of Sussex. They write poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in their free time, as well as dabbling in cross-stitch and fandom, often at the same time. They are fuelled by chicken nuggets and rage at injustice, and they aspire to change the world through both words and action. Their tweets can be found @maxlper.