Monstering

Disabled Women and Nonbinary People Celebrating Monsterhood

In Which I Try To Fire My Body, But Before I Can, My Body Puts In Its Two Weeks

CW: Abuse

 

The disease resists diagnosis and instead begs
a description. A list of areas I don't feel pain:

Most fingers. My mouth, sometimes. The back
of my left ankle. Usually my forearms. Okay,

now a list of things that alleviate pain:
Being underwater. Biking away. Drinking.

Driving exactly 45 minutes, but only south.
Drinking. Drinking. Drinking. Okay,

how about your doctors? Not to be
dramatic, but Fuck You. Sometimes I take

lovers based on how they touch my back.
Sometimes I keep lovers based on how

they react when I beg them to be dangerous
to me. Listen, I never get to be in pain for fun.

It's always this supermarket-spasm, this
work-limp, the subtle contortion I hide

under another seat taken. Okay, I have
a theory: Once, I had a lover who only

looked at me. So my spine twisted t'ward
their hands. So my hips dilapidated in such

a way that they must have noticed how I
slowed under different weather. I mean,

I drank until I moved soft enough to glide
into them. I mean I biked so fast

their only option was to follow. I mean,
it is not my fault. Sometimes I decide

to spend the night based on the shape
of someone's bed. What is it called

if a body twists against me in the dark
and I am jealous of its ability to do that?

What if I drive 45 minutes three times over
just to be held? What if, alone

in the elevator or break-room
or single-stall-restroom, I hold

my breath until I am underwater?
Maybe that is the diagnosis working

backwards. Maybe if I stop spending
the night I will stop waking up with

so much new hurt. Listen, I threw up
the medication. The bath-water got

cold. The stairs leered when the
elevator broke. My lover's hands were

so gentle and I still bruised. Okay, a list
of things I've told to Fuck Off recently:

Every doctor ever. A memory in which
a now-ex lover tells me to stand up.

My skin and its stubborn welt. My bed,
for how I sink into it. The space between

my shoulders where once I asked
someone to punch me and they did

and it didn't help. How my desperation
rears and snakes. How a multitude

of hands reach to cradle all this
nightmare-ugly and just

the air moving between us
makes me flinch.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A black and white photo of a white trans person taking a mirror selfie in two different circular mirrors that are separated by a swath of wall. Their hair is dark and spiky on top and shaved on the sides, and they are wearing glasses and a striped 3/4-sleeved sweater. In the larger mirror, their phone covers most of their face, and in the smaller mirror, their hand that is not holding the phone is extended horizontally away from their body and partially pointed downwards.

A black and white photo of a white trans person taking a mirror selfie in two different circular mirrors that are separated by a swath of wall. Their hair is dark and spiky on top and shaved on the sides, and they are wearing glasses and a striped 3/4-sleeved sweater. In the larger mirror, their phone covers most of their face, and in the smaller mirror, their hand that is not holding the phone is extended horizontally away from their body and partially pointed downwards.

LINETTE REEMAN (they/them pronouns) is an Aries from the Jersey Shore, so they're not sure what you mean by 'speed limit.' They have work published or forthcoming in Blueshift Journal, Maps for Teeth, FreezeRay, Public Pool, and others. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Bettering American Poetry nominee, Linette is on the executive board of the Philadelphia Fuze Poetry Slam and is sort of trying to complete a bachelor's degree, but is mostly just trying to survive in small-town America.

A Crip Is

CW: Ableism, gendered slurs

 

after Tara Hardy
after Roma Raye


A crip is a bitch.
A bitch is a war.
A crip is a cry.
A cry is a tool.
           War cry.

A cry is a weapon.
Necessary. A crip
is necessary. A crip
cry is necessary song.
           Song cry.

A crip bitch cries.
Nobody wants to hear.
Bitch and moan. 
Moan means fear.
           Crip

means fear. Fear is a stone
on the spine. The weight of
life. Stone-spine bitch.
A spine is a tool.
           Witch

weighing a life. Scales.
A monster with scales. Crip
is a monster. Burn the witch. War
cry. Burn. A burn can crown.
           Crown

is a weight. A crip
is not a weight but
is crowned. A crip
bitch earns a crown.
           Bone

against bone
makes a song.
Witch bone crown.
Try to burn a crip bitch
              down.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A Caucasian femme with shaved brown hair, purple bangs and lipstick, and brown eyes smiling with her head tilted against a backdrop of trees.  

A Caucasian femme with shaved brown hair, purple bangs and lipstick, and brown eyes smiling with her head tilted against a backdrop of trees.
 

LIV MAMMONE is an editor and poet from Long Island, New York; where she lives with her parents, brother, and family of feral cats. She has previously taught creative writing at Hofstra University and Queens College. Her poetry has appeared in wordgathering, Wicked Banshee, The Medical Journal of Australia, Rogue Agent, QDA: a Queer, Disabled Anthology, Grabbing the Apple and Typo Magazine. As a spoken word poet, she has featured at Sarah  Lawrence, Artists Without Walls, Stonybrook University, and Union Square Slam. She is the first visibly disabled person to be on a New York City slam team. She's a two time nominee for 2016's Best of the Net poetry anthology.

I Don't Mean to Be Rude

CW: Ableism

 
I Dont Mean to Be Rude (1)-1.png
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

TORRIN A. GREATHOUSE (they/them or she/her pronouns) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their work is published or forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, The Offing, Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Assaracus, and Glass: Journal of Poetry. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin's first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017. When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, and trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.

Molting

 

I wake up unable to remember what my hands felt like when they could fold into soft shells; they are crispy as autumn branches, dried into curls brown as molasses. My back gnarls into spirals of muscle, clenched against the server station fridge, opulent seasonal cakes and back stock of soy and almond milk suddenly looming, headstones for the weekend doubles and clopens I pulled without hesitation.

I spend the next morning in bed until I can't justify it to myself anymore, air conditioner humming, filling July humidity seeping in behind cheap cotton curtains.

I am really afraid of dying, which is why I spend so much time thinking about my body, how to carry it around, lined with regret and brittle muscle, edging bottom, wanting to just bruise and be done with it.

I keep trying to dissipate, but it is harder than it looks—dissolving. I don't remember what I used to do: driving the speed limit on an eastern NC highway, my front tire dipping into a ditch just enough to render my metal skeleton immobile, my brain unfogging anew.

Most of this body marked by edges, strong edges, something inside the strongest substance, firm but forgiving. I am filled by this, leaving room for almost nothing else, but I love the tiny, empty part, the echo hiding somewhere inside, pearl in the gnarled shell of my body, its camouflage distinct and almost invisible.

When I tell my therapist I am afraid of being weak, she asks what I am really afraid of and I cannot answer, except to say dependence, reliance, everyone thinking I'm a burden. I unfold my cane in the waiting room, knowing I don't want her to know—not yet, anyway.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

JESSE RICE-EVANS is a queer Southern poet and rhetorician based in NYC. Read her work in Heavy Feather Review, Yes Poetry, tenderness yea, and in the chapbooks The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press) and Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press), among others. She's a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches writing at the City College of New York and the Cooper Union.

This Cold Day

CW: Ableism

 
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Black and white photo of a woman laughing, wearing a winter coat.  Her face is partially shadowed by the coat's hood, and she is looking off to the right edge of the frame.  She occupies the bottom left-hand corner of the picture.  She is standing inside an elevator, and the elevator's reflective walls match her silver winter coat. Photo by Kathleen Maris Paltrineri.

Black and white photo of a woman laughing, wearing a winter coat.  Her face is partially shadowed by the coat's hood, and she is looking off to the right edge of the frame.  She occupies the bottom left-hand corner of the picture.  She is standing inside an elevator, and the elevator's reflective walls match her silver winter coat.

Photo by Kathleen Maris Paltrineri.

MEGAN LEONARD's poetry is forthcoming or has most recently appeared in Transom, The Maine Review, White Stag, HOUSEGUEST, Reservoir, Nightjar, and Tupelo Quarterly. Her digital pamphlet, "where the body ends," is available through Platypus Press.

my body to my brain

CW: Ableism, abuse

 

when god forced the pit of you behind my teeth,
i thought i could handle your stone-fruit weight
crushing my jaw into sand. i thought the seeds
you dropped in my stomach could grow
anything but gnarled snakes, eager to breed
venom-brained children. i thought i could be
the tree that cradles their sweet heads until
green gives way to grapefruit orange. instead,
they fester, overripe, poison-scaled. i didn't want
to use the hammer daddy couldn't use on me,
but god knows a head is better split than sick.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

DEAN SYMMONDS is a queer poet from the South seeking zir BA in Creative Writing at Hollins University. Ze works as a Poetry Editor at Persephone's Daughters, and is an alumna of the Hollows Shout the Mountains Down Winter Tangerine workshop. Zir poems have been published in magazines like [empath], Gravel, The Album, and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find zem on Twitter @poetpersephone.

my brain to my body

CW: Ableism, abuse, body horror

 

banish me. drain my blood-water
like sulfur-thick yolk from a cracked
egg. take the hammer daddy gave us,
his initials burned in the handle
like the thumbprint birthmark
on your thigh—our only birthrights—
and splinter this skull like he
taught us. he said, one day
the killing thing will get you,
too
. he said, don't cry. he said,
you can't sweat it out. you must
pull fever-thread through your ears
until the riddle unravels.
so do it.
violence me aseptic, dig
your fingernails in my flesh
so hard they snap off. please try
to purge every dead thing, even
if there'll be nothing of me left.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

DEAN SYMMONDS is a queer poet from the South seeking zir BA in Creative Writing at Hollins University. Ze works as a Poetry Editor at Persephone's Daughters, and is an alumna of the Hollows Shout the Mountains Down Winter Tangerine workshop. Zir poems have been published in magazines like [empath], Gravel, The Album, and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find zem on Twitter @poetpersephone.

Fruit of the Earth

CW: Assault (sexual), abuse

 

Years after I choked on the rubbery sex flesh
of my mother, my father, so many strange
and familial others, after the robed hands
pushed char between my horrified

teeth clenched like a portcullis, after my throat
repeatedly opened for dirty money and gagged
and tore, years since my small soul sighed
and withered like a frost-hit tree, implacably

retreating its life sap down my branches
into my cringing centre, a little further
with each heaving year, years since
my body retreated too, the flesh sliding off

the bones, my form willowing with grief,
scooping into a cave at the abdomen where
the loss was dying-star hot, a brief daughter
having blazed through, gasp, and then

silence and murder and ash, my mouth
clenched against nutrients, strangling the
cells slowly, mindlessly, aiming for death
without will, direction having been

tortured out of me thousands of days and
heavy bodies ago; years since then,
after an unexpected friend helped change everything
one bruised wall-flung Monday night, yes

everything, as if she threw a switch on the
horror train track of my life and it opened
to bearings I'd thought closed to me, after
I travelled hours away to my first 

own four walls (sometimes I lay in bed there,
door locked, my fingers caressing the
yellow-painted brick of those walls; they felt
like love, my head quietly safe, forgiven

whatever demons my father had tried to beat
out of it), after my soul started creeping out
slowly, at first only when no one saw,
cautiously allowing me a body, a secret

package of crackers or a banana, stretching into
my fingertips and my lips pressed against
another girl's, slowly budding in my
mouth like hidden curled leaves that had

slept through winter, now new-green and sticky,
growing once again the house the tree of
taste, because it was finally safe, my stomach
filling its cave, gently unflattening from

a grief-pitted rock shard; years later, today, I eat
a quart of berries.  Don't be surprised
when I tell you that, as the taste bursts
sharp and sweet and new-green

on my tongue, I am astonished, soul-struck,
that each time I taste goodness, my face lifts,
eyes closed, that when I say the blessing
(...boreyt p'ri ha'adamah) each time I cry.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Drawing of a smiling pale-skinned person, with curly brown hair past their shoulders and round glasses.  They are wearing a lavender t-shirt with a multi-gender symbol on it, blue pants, and pink shoes.  They are standing against a white background; their hands are tucked into their pants pockets.  

Drawing of a smiling pale-skinned person, with curly brown hair past their shoulders and round glasses.  They are wearing a lavender t-shirt with a multi-gender symbol on it, blue pants, and pink shoes.  They are standing against a white background; their hands are tucked into their pants pockets.
 

KAMILA RINA is a disabled neurodivergent immigrant bisexual genderfluid poet, sexuality & disability educator, and a survivor of torture and long-term sexual violence.  Ze likes trees, books, chocolate, and people and things that smell good, and enjoys talking about being present in one's body and fomenting the revolution.  They have previously been published in Room magazine, Breath & Shadow, Sinister Wisdom, and We Have Come Far.  For more information visit kamilarina.com.

Sick Woman Theory: An Interview

CW: Oppression

Conducted by Brianna Albers

Brianna Albers: History has equated disability (or sickness, in the language of Sick Woman Theory: the absence of wellness) with monstrosity, placing shame, guilt, and self-hatred on the shoulders of those who do not conform to the world's definition of what it means to be human. You speak to this a bit in your essays, in the sense that "de-persons" are othered. They are proved less than, imperfect, inhuman—indeed, they are not allowed to be.

In "In Defence of De-persons," you discuss what "[Sara] Ahmed would call a 'melancholic universalism': 'the requirement to identify with the universal that repudiates you'." Later, you say that, "it's the throne itself that we must tear down: the throne on which the universal sits. ... [Agency] can only function by constructing against its human, the monster, the monstrosity of the Other." In many ways, this is what Monstering is all about: taking our sicknesses, our disabilities, and embracing the sociocultural "monster" they've made of us. Thus, Monstering is an identity, but it is also a mode of operating. We are monsters. We are monstering—reclaiming—our right to exist.

Can you tell us a bit about how you came to identify with the repudiating universal? What led you to embrace the monstrous other?

Johanna Hedva: When I was younger, I yearned for the universal because I thought it would save me, validate me, include me. But I don't yearn for it anymore. When I started to engage with the thinking and thinkers of Black theory and critical race studies, particularly Afro-Pessimism—I want to name a few: Saidiya Hartman, Christina Sharpe, Frank B Wilderson III, Jared Sexton, and Fred Moten—I began to understand how the entire concept, history, deployment, and institution of the Human, as such, is insolvent.

The instinct to identify with the universal is a common one because every infrastructure of belonging in our world is pointed toward it as the ultimate and only goal, and relies upon it as the core organizing principle. But I'm starting to realize it's an instinct that can't withstand critical consciousness, by which I mean, once you start to understand how oppression and domination work, you start to understand that the universal is a bankrupt subject position. Not only is it violent, and the instrument that is used by oppression and domination, but it is also a fantasy. The universal promises entry into a sacrosanct humanism, but that is an empty promise toward an empty place.

The mythic norms sutured to the universal human—whiteness, maleness, straight-ness, cis-ness, middle-class-ness, abled-ness, sane-ness, etc.—are constructs. They are just as constructed as what those categories are said not to include. And, perhaps most importantly, they are irrevocably reliant upon each other; they cannot exist without the Others. A human is not a human without the definition, and presence, of a monster.

Of course, just because they are constructs doesn't mean they don't have material effects. These are the very things that make our world. The word "construct" refers to building something, as much as it refers to ideas or concepts. So, the question becomes, how is the idea of "human" made, materially as well as ideologically? What does it require to be built? Or, maybe I should say, who does it require to be built?

BA: Is Monstering a source of power and reclamation, or is there grief in the ritual? Do you ever struggle to identify with the repudiating universal, or is it something that comes easily, if not effortlessly, for you?

JH: I like to describe my experience as one that requires constant vigilance. I like the word "vigilant" because it implies the act of keeping watch in a devoted way, like a vigil. The act is one of listening, paying attention, respecting (as in, to look again), and honoring the history, letting the evidence be seen.

BA: In "Sick Woman Theory," you propose a theory "for those who are faced with their vulnerability and unbearable fragility, every day, and so have to fight for their experience to be not only honored, but first made visible. For those who, in Audre Lorde's words, were never meant to survive: because this world was built against their survival."

Both Monstering and Sick Woman Theory seem to resist the idea that monstrosity, or sickness, is or should be equated to abnormality—that there is power in embracing that which the system deems "different" or "wrong." You write in "In Defence of De-persons" that we are "disordered, messy, incorrigible," and "in relationship to others and interdependent on each other, as much as we are each of us different—and that is fine."

Do you think Monstering and Sick Woman Theory coincide or intersect in some way? Is it possible for the two theories to complement each other, if not support each other?

JH: I can't speak to the goals of your project with monstering. The goal of my work is to interrogate not only how normatives become established as normative, but also how the categories of the abnormal shift, assemble and re-assemble, transform and disintegrate, and occupy different spaces of meaning. I think we have to imag(in)e ourselves as our own authors as much as possible. I don't think it's enough to rely on the ontological categories produced by those in power; I think we have to devote attention to how we might exist beyond, and even without, them.

When I think about how we come to understand ourselves and each other outside of the place of the normative, I get the image of a live wire in a pool of water: fluid, charged, dangerous, and requiring all of our attention to stay alive.

BA: So you're saying there is power to be found in liminality. That is, instead of aligning ourselves with the normative—even if, in the context of Monstering, alignment becomes identification with the monstrous other; "monstrosity" is still considered an ontological category, despite the negativity often associated with it—, we move beyond delineated spaces to craft our own meaning. Is that right?

JH: Partly right. But I think eventually moving beyond the binary of human/monster altogether is what I'm saying. I really dig what you say about crafting our own meaning; I guess I would place a lot of emphasis on what exactly that crafting process relies on to work.

This question made me think of a quote in Eunjung Kim's recent book, Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea, where she writes: "...in many ways liminality is not automatically transgressive. Indeed it might instead be instrumental to maintaining boundaries, if the boundaries are not destabilized together."

In other words, I think transgression is always relational and that resistance takes many forms. I think monstering as a mode of resistance can be effective within a certain context and for a certain time, but nothing should be taken for granted as fixed and stable when we're talking about political resistance. There are places and spaces where monstering would not be an option whatsoever, but then there are places and spaces where it could be the only option.

I'm not saying one shouldn't embrace an identity that's been reclaimed from a tradition of monstrosity—I'm saying that it's only the beginning. And I guess I'm saying this because I just got out of another hospitalization, and then had my birthday, so I feel a bit old and tired. I've been participating in activism for 15 years, and now I'm in the mid-30s grind and realizing that it's no longer enough to talk the talk. 

There's a wonderful exhilaration when you embrace yourself in terms of everything "they" told you was wrong, and that exhilaration is important and cathartic, and really helpful in organizing your thoughts and coming to a critical consciousness. But after it comes a lot of hard work toward figuring out how exactly to practice resistance in material terms of struggle and perseverance. This is work that feels mundane and not so exhilarating, because it's about daily life, little things, everyday all-the-time decisions and actions, and it can feel impossible sometimes, and so much easier to rely on old paradigms and strategies—but this is the work we have to do.

BA: You often speak to intersections of identity in your writing, particularly with regards to race and white-passing-ness. How has Sick Woman Theory transformed, or perhaps even recreated, the way you approach these sites?

JH: I wanted you to ask a question about this because it's something that makes me uncomfortable, and I want to talk more about it. The white-passing experience is a weird one. I often feel like an intruder, no matter what kind of place I'm in. There's a lot of confusion in how to identify, which spaces I can inhabit, and I always feel separate and apart from any group. It feels like being a spy in hostile territory when I'm in white spaces. Because I have access to their spaces, I'm like the double agent they don't know is there to take the whole thing down.

In my mind and body, I am a disabled, genderqueer person of Korean heritage. But I pass as white, which is huge and cannot be undervalued, because it bestows upon me white privilege, no matter how I feel or genotypically what I am. Also, at least these days, I'm trying to serve some femme realness, and, for the moment, don't need my chair or cane (my disability is usually invisible). So I'm just passing-passing-passing into all sorts of privileged spaces. This means there's enormous tension that constantly needs to be negotiated, in terms of my perception of myself and my experience as a political being, which is always at odds with how I am read by society and how much privilege I'm afforded.

When I started writing about my experiences of disability, trauma, growing up with a colonial legacy that was not talked about, gender, queerness, etc., it seemed like an opportunity to use this duality, this spy-in-hostile-territory place, and also, personally, to burrow into how uncomfortable it is.

To say it simply: I've been trying to use my white-passing privilege to get white people to listen to me critique whiteness; I'm trying to use my femme-presenting privilege to get cis-het people to listen to me critique cis-heteronormativity; and I'm trying to use my abled-passing privilege to get abled people to listen to me talk about disability justice. But "trying" is the key word here. I hope it's working.

BA: You talk about the need to "imag(in)e ourselves as our own authors as much as possible"—an important concept, to be sure, but an intimidating one as well. Do you have any advice for those interested in making their own meaning? How do we step into liminality, especially when we exist in a world that relies so heavily on constructs?

JH: When I say that we have to imagine ourselves as our own authors as much as we can, I mean the whole range of stories, not just the ones that affirm and embrace, not just the exhilarating moments, not just the stories that are "good" representations of disability. In this way, I really love your project of monstering, because I'm also talking about ugliness, messiness, ambiguity, difficulty, struggle, bearing witness, fucking up, being fucked up, and troubling the categories altogether. It's about resilience, not perfection.

 

A portrait, taken in low light, at night. Centered, in the lower half, is a person in stark shadow, with her head tilted back against a wall. She wears blue lipstick, false eyelashes, and has exaggerated eyebrow makeup. Her black hair is cut in blunt bangs and falls over her shoulders. She wears a gray sweatshirt that says SLYTHERIN in the style of athletic team logos. Above her heart is a small pin with black teeth. Above her head, on the wall, is a calligraphic tag that says, "Art School Dropout."

A portrait, taken in low light, at night. Centered, in the lower half, is a person in stark shadow, with her head tilted back against a wall. She wears blue lipstick, false eyelashes, and has exaggerated eyebrow makeup. Her black hair is cut in blunt bangs and falls over her shoulders. She wears a gray sweatshirt that says SLYTHERIN in the style of athletic team logos. Above her heart is a small pin with black teeth. Above her head, on the wall, is a calligraphic tag that says, "Art School Dropout."

JOHANNA HEDVA is a fourth-generation Los Angelena on her mother's side and, on her father's side, the granddaughter of a woman who escaped from North Korea. She is disabled and genderqueer, and makes a living as a witch. She is the writer/director of The Greek Cycle, a series of feministed and queered Ancient Greek plays that were performed in Los Angeles from 2012-2015, in non-traditional venues, such as a Honda Odyssey minivan for her adaptation of Homer's Odyssey. Her writing has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Mask Magazine, GUTS, PANK, Two Serious Ladies, Eleven Eleven, Entropy, DREGINALD, and The Journal Petra. Her novella, On Hell, a surveillance-dystopia sci-fi retelling of the Icarus myth, will be published by Sator Press in 2018.  She is currently working on a book called This Earth, Our Hospital, which includes the essays "Sick Woman Theory" and "In Defense of De-Persons." Since 2016 she has lived in Berlin where she sings, plays guitar, and drags it up in the noise-punk band Important Part.

How We Cope

CW: Abuse, body horror, dissociation

 
 

Artist's Statement

Having a severe mental illness is a bit like carrying around a big heavy elephant on your back. It's an incredibly heavy burden to bear that everyone notices but not many people want you to talk about because it makes them uncomfortable. It's lonely.

For as long as I could remember, something inside just didn't feel right. Since I was a child I've been plagued with various mental illnesses that evolved over time into Borderline Personality Disorder. When I was diagnosed in 2014, I felt like I finally had an answer to the uncontrollable pain and suffering I had been experiencing for as long as I could remember. For the last six years photography has been my form of therapy to release the negative emotions I had been feeling. So it was natural for me to create how it felt to live with BPD. Eventually I had enough pieces for a series.

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST

SARAH-ANN LORETH is a self taught fine art and travel photographer from New England, who specializes in conceptual portraiture. In her work she tries to convey a quiet stillness of emotion with a connection to her natural surroundings. She stumbled upon photography while working in the medical field and threw all her energy into teaching herself the craft.

When not taking photos Sarah is an avid gardener who loves to cook, write, listen to political speeches, and binge watch The Golden Girls.

Movements of the Uncontrollable Body Part One

 

When I walk the uncontrollable body there is no joy unless I walk alone for the body alone is not a public body and the body with other bodies is no longer private

Stillness is better / stillness is the most controllable for all factors under all circumstances / for stillness is breathable and forgettable and the body may be forgotten without reason to remember

I am always with spina bifida but in private I can hide and I can disappear


My mom refused to call me disabled or to let me call myself disabled / there is good intention here / to empower and take away limits / to refuse pity and erase difference / to equalize all bodies and uphold the humanness of every body 

But there are shadows here too / a deep submemory reaction and revulsion / a desire to fix imperfection and eradicate inconsistencies and disruptions of pattern / to solve problems of deviation 


It has been three weeks and the body is still menstruating / the body's cycle has always been irregular and therefore uncontrollable / the body has often gone several months without shedding the uterine lining but never has it shed for so long 

I drink mugwort tea to remind the body when it's time to shed / I massage the belly to stimulate the uterus into action / I masturbate to release the body from itself / but I don't know what to drink or touch to tell the body that it's time to stop 

I say to the body this is a normal function that you're supposed to do yourself / but so far the body resists the normal things and says nothing back that is not more blood


Do you understand that spina bifida is always a disability / disability: a form of impairment which limits the ability to live within the expectations and parameters of normalcy / spina bifida: a congenital disability with multiple possible impairments

Spina bifida is always a disability / but whoever said that disability must by definition be corrected was wrong / I tell you that liberation comes when we recognize the body of disability as inherently a good body / still deserving of the full state of humanness and worthy of adoration


I would like to be friends with the body but I don’t know how / I am afraid of the body's potentials and signifiers / of pregnancy and non-pregnancy / of being a parent and never a parent / I am afraid of my own blood and how I bleed 

The period is an example of the cyclical movements of the body / the ways in which the body regulates itself / but when the body is irregular—meaning outside of regulation—it is cause for great concern and an indication that something is wrong    
    
I should see a doctor but I am afraid of the doctor / for the doctor has always had the power to tell you how you are wrong and how you are dying / I do not want to hear how I am dying / I do not want to be the body / I keep this irregularity private and I dwell in the shame for it is a shame of the uncontrollable body 


When I walk the uncontrollable body it is the public showing of my fat body and my body of spina bifida together / the fat and disabled body is a misbehaving and uncontrollable body and therefore offensive to the public / reviled and disgusting and rejected 

When I walk the uncontrollable body there is an acute anxiety that the body will misbehave / the body is already bad—fat and with spina bifida—and the world is waiting to punish and shame the bad body for bad and good bodies exist only in public / in private the body may be its own ungovernable animal at rest and there is no shame


I have always had and will always have spina bifida / but in my childhood I lived in the poison dwelling of perfection / I punished the imperfections of spina bifida by refusing its existence and its limits on the body / it was only that I didn't try hard enough / that I failed in the body / that spina bifida was the enduring failure of the body to be a good body

If you raced horses in the nineteenth century you would sometimes load your horse with weights and this was called a handicap and the goal was for each horse to finish the race in a dead heat / neck and neck / the best horse—the strongest the fastest horse—would carry the heaviest weights and succeed the disadvantage of its burden / you won the bet if you could guess which horse could overcome its handicap 

In the seventeenth century we find the root of handicap in the hand-in-cap barter game / a game in which two people pull objects from their pockets / the value of the objects judged by a third person / the forfeit determined by whether or not everyone agrees on the value

Handicap became a metaphor for disability in the twentieth century / the closest anyone had gotten to contextualizing disability and locating it in the world / but it was never quite right for a person is not a metaphor / handicap: a burden of the body or a person who carries a heavier load 

In childhood we tried to equalize our bodies / we tried to determine our right value / we reached into our pockets and pulled forth the object of our personness / is it worth this much or this much / is it worth as much as yours / I never seemed to have as much personness / I lost every time


In walking the uncontrollable body there are rules for keeping the body in check:

go to the bathroom before you leave any place with a bathroom for there may or may not be a bathroom anywhere you go in the world / go to the bathroom again and maybe even again for you can never be too sure / do not make eye contact but if you do you must smile and be polite and behaved to show that you are in control of your uncontrollable body / remember to breathe evenly and steadily and do not allow yourself to be observably out of breath and if you cannot be in breath just stop breathing / do not slow down for the weakest animals are picked off first / do not ever stop / do not sweat for sweat is a sign of exertion and of trying too hard and the body should be effortless and easy / keep going / keep going / there is so much danger when exposed in public / at any moment a shame or humiliation or some other badness / at any moment you may lose control of the uncontrollable body / even when the body begs you to stop / keep going


The thing about the uncontrollable body is that it will break every rule you set against it for the thing about the uncontrollable body is that it is uncontrollable


What if a person is not a horse or like a horse nor a game or like a game / what if a person is a human and only a human / what if the game and the race and the competition between bodies is a lie / what if I don't play this kind of game with you anymore

In my body of spina bifida I am asking you to name me as I am

To let a thing be what it is / to call a thing by its rightful name / to say disability is a reclaiming of the body / an action of the body and a disruption to so-called normal / to say disability is to claim agency in our personhood / to disassemble the machine of normal 


When walking the uncontrollable body any movement and especially the movement of walking will eventually trigger the muscles of the bladder in such a way that the uncontrollable body will feel the urge to urinate whether or not there is urine / no matter how often the bathroom was used in private / in the uncontrollable body there is no telling what is a true or false urge and so the panic is the same and so is the shame

The uncontrollable body is also the incontinent body for continence itself is a holding back of the body / the incontinent body knows what it means to control but refuses to enact the habits of control / the uncontrollable body is a body that is out of control / the uncontrollable body carries with it the implication of willful and knowing and intentional uncontrol / this is also a lie 


When I'm on my period I use the same pad for blood as I do every other day for incontinence / there is no disruption to the rules of my routine / the pad holds my blood and my urine at the same time and there is no difference 

Once I tried to separate the modes of absorption / I bought a menstrual cup to make one part of the body keep the normal rules of having a body / I tried to live inside normal but I didn't stay there long / though I did like the cup for it felt godly to control the blood collection of the body / I would water down the blood and feed it to my plants / their greens were the most alive and in the nighttime I could feel them leaning towards me / I could feel them feeling me and knowing the body in the way that a body can only be known if it is inhabited / we shared a communion of body until I lost the menstrual cup and never bothered to replace it / for the act of separating blood from urine was a redundancy and a lie and I did not belong there 


We inherit our bodies and the memories of body / my mom did not believe in her enoughness / my mom blamed herself for my body for she believed that spina bifida was her fault and to rectify her fault she did what she could to take away the disability / what my mom was ashamed of and what I am also ashamed of is that we understand enoughness in terms of how we are or are not normal / that the body is a continual failure of normal / my mom still believes in the failures of herself and I also hold this belief about the failures of my own body / my body of disability and my body of spina bifida

Something we have inherited is how to exist inside of normal / how to disappear so that we might survive


Dis: apart asunder away a force of reversal / disability is to be parted from ability / to be away from ability / to be forever divided from ability 


We inherited rules so that we might attain ability and perform normal and inhabit personness and be unburdened and not a burden 

Consider always the rules for the uncontrollable body / such as what to eat and what not to eat and when / such as exercise / such as bathrooms and schedules and planning for access / such as how to avoid infections of the bladder and the kidneys / such as catheters / such as medications / such as pads / such as layers of clothes to hide the shapes and the leakage of the body / such as whether or not everything that is needed can be brought into the world when the uncontrollable body goes into the world / such as what can be left behind and what must be carried / such as what can be forgotten and what must never be forgotten

The rules try to predict for the uncontrollable body / to diminish the misbehaving body / to hide the badness of the bad body / to pretend to be a good body among good bodies / to be a public body in control / the body may not forget that it must control for the public body even when it is not public


I may say body I want us to be friends / but this is not what the body knows / it only knows how I am afraid of it / how I revile and dread it 

If I go to the doctor in the malfunctioning body the doctor will tell me the ways in which I am failing to maintain the body / I will feel this failure in addition to the inherent failures of spina bifida / I do not want to feel my monstrosities 

I keep imagining a future when the body is a regular body and I can take it to the doctor and the doctor will admire how behaved the body is / how good it is at being a body / but so far I keep waking up to blood stains on my sheets / when I stand up from the toilet I think please let me not see blood but so far there is always blood / I lay in bed and think please body stop bleeding but my body keeps bleeding

Every day I think today is the day I will find liberation in the body / but every day it is still my body / still uncontrollable 

And the uncontrollable body exists and has and will always exist / for the uncontrollable body is every private body / whether or not it is a body of spina bifida / whether or not it is a body of disability / for any body may become disabled / and all bodies will always die / death is far beyond our control and we are already dying / this is the terror of the public body / that all bodies are uncontrollable whether in public or in private / that the public is a function of control and therefore a construct to deny our coming and present death / therefore the public is not real / and if there is no public then there is nothing to control / nothing to shame / maybe this is liberation

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A close-up photo of a fat white woman's face. She is looking directly at the camera and is not smiling, and is wearing a white shirt and orange necklace.

A close-up photo of a fat white woman's face. She is looking directly at the camera and is not smiling, and is wearing a white shirt and orange necklace.

BRONWYN VALENTINE has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama. Recent work has appeared in Quarterly West, Birdfeast, Jellyfish, and elsewhere. She lives in Ohio.

Their Hell

Lucifer peeled her                                        
                                            an orange, fed her girl-mouth                      
                    kept strangers away.                                                
                                                                    Some things he could give.

There were blue jays.
                                                        He birthed them for her,                                                                                                                                                                barely made the subway
home.

                          An old woman slept
                                                                                            on his shoulder, gathering ruin.
                    He loved these children—               
                                                                    his shadow wives.                                                                           

                                                                                 Only during mercury retrograde
                    under a shut-off moon would he bring
                                                                                            newcomers as tribute,
                                kept dark

                                              distant from her bedroom.
                                                                    Grew azaleas & wisteria inside
        her bookcase, fastened Christmas
                                                                                                        lights around the canopy.

                                Mary loved his pocket watch
                                                                                its bone fingers would skip
                    like a record, remind her
                                                                    of hurricanes taking whole

                                 cities as tribute, shredding pulses
                                                        like packages. Lucifer came back
        with the clipped wings
                                                                                            of a dove, her lover

                                                    climbed on top of her                      
                                                                             a candle in each hand.
        Left in a room of her own                                                               
                                                        she mourned her mother's

                                                        belly, brewed a fear
                    that she loved a void.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A femme person is wearing a floral dress in a park.

A femme person is wearing a floral dress in a park.

JOANNA C. VALENTE is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016) and the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.

To Be a Monster

CW: Assault (sexual)

 

I.
Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome:

Before I was born, my spine was a needle & thread.
God
or
Mother Nature
or
Genetics
sat at her window,
tied up her fly-away curls,
& stitched spine to backbone.

II.
How I Became a Defective Marionette:

My insides were a puppet show,
all taught strings & tension.
Tendons, nerves, and tissue
twisted into crevices they should not have twisted into.
The seamstress tied a string to each of my cells,
pulled on them from the inside
until I was a wooden pile of ache.

III.
When My Doctor Used the Word "Deformed":

I was beginning to believe my body was a discarded tapestry
sewn raw & wrong.
They gave me a thousand new names,
all of them tattered,
none of them akin to beauty.
I was led to a table where a man would touch the deepest parts of me,
splay me open like a book
& rewrite my insides.

IV.
Surgeons are like Lovers:

We all expect the first one to fix us,
expect the touch of another to release us from all this hurt.
But our first is rarely our last,
isn't that right?
It will take another man several years & three tries to hold my body,
listen to the vibrations from those thin fibers within me,
figure out which strings to cut, which to leave intact.

V.
Recollections:

I am as fixed as I will ever be,
but I still remember being torn to the thread
crimson embroidery
in a straight line down my back.
Remember the dissolution of hope
as the surgery was repeated,
repeated,
repeated.

VI.
Rainbow Monster:

As a child, I always thought my last surgery
would be the end of grief.
But with red stitches on my back,
purple bruises on my foot,
yellowed skin on a thin leg,
I believe myself a beast.
I am too ready to believe him when
he says he loves my body.
I put myself in his arms
& do exactly as he says.

VII.
A Haunted City:

He's raped me in every part of town.

(ice cream shop bathroom)
(Dee's apartment)
(Gary's apartment)
(dorm)
(motel)
(my car)

I convince myself that abuse
is a better fate for this wreck
than lack of touch.

VIII.
This Isn't About Him or His Hands:

Though it took dozens of attempts,
I've left them behind.
This is about my body
& my hands
& my hands touching my body.
& maybe that's all a monster is:
a body that's survived
& has the scars to prove it.
& maybe when a monster
touches her own savage skin
that is its own kind of ceremony.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A headshot of a woman with brown curled hair, brown eyes, and thick eyebrows. She is half-smiling and is wearing bright purple lipstick. Her face is round and she's wearing a necklace with a silver pendant. 

A headshot of a woman with brown curled hair, brown eyes, and thick eyebrows. She is half-smiling and is wearing bright purple lipstick. Her face is round and she's wearing a necklace with a silver pendant. 

JASMINE C. BELL is a poet and artist in Austin, Texas. She currently attends the University of Texas with plans to major in psychology and minor in Mandarin Chinese. She was a member of the UT Spitshine slam poetry team that went to CUPSI from 2015-2017, and will co-coach the 2018 team. In 2016 she also competed in Rustbelt 2016. She is Co-President of the only poetry organization on UT's campus (Spitshine Poetry) where she leads workshops and organizes open mics. She has her poetry published in Apricity Magazine. She spends her time writing, studying, drawing, singing, and eating.

Sideshow

CW: Ableism, death

 

when you run into an old friend / for the first time in years /
smile wide / call them by their name / ask them about these
lost days / all the things that have passed / like rivers
between you

when their eyes wander / across your body like tourists
rediscovering a city they once knew / pretend not to notice
pretend they do not notice / the tree that has grown / its way
out of your palm / twisted in the dirt / the way that you walk
crooked / slowly / on one more leg than you used to

when they open their mouth like a palm / snatch their
questions from the fingers of their teeth / your lips are
chapped with answers / jaw heavy with this story // 
fathers boot on chest / ribs cracked like wishbones / boy
grows crooked / like trees in the wind

when you speak this story / feel how light it becomes / how
you have learned / to amputate the unnecessary / cut
vestigial words like cloth / till sentences trickle / off the
tongue / as broken as this body

when they keep staring / [like the three legged man / is only
a side show / in this one-man circus] / be patient / maybe
they are just trying to understand // scarlet lips / eyelids
sprouting black wings / stubble jutting through soft skin / like
a bed of nails / you are the bearded lady / they never
expected you to be

when they open their mouths / to speak / fill them with the
word freak / let it echo around the room / like gunshots / like
a lion tamer's whip / let it keep filling up the room / until both
of you are drowning

when their words swim to you / across this ocean
you have poured into their throat / play them back
with the needle scratch of your eardrums // it's good to see
you again
// agree / as if you never expected them to say
any different

when you go to sleep tonight / play back the words again
remember how easily you imagined pitchforks on their lips
how a moment of silence can stretch / long enough to hang
yourself on

when you wake in the morning / remember their kindness /
again / remember the noose of silence / remember that so
often / you are the one who kicks the chair

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

TORRIN A. GREATHOUSE (they/them or she/her pronouns) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their work is published or forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, The Offing, Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Assaracus, and Glass: Journal of Poetry. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin's first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017. When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, and trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.

Rain, Glitter, Rain

after Frank Ocean

You kept looking at me like you wanted to touch me
I thought it would be worse: the seams of my body
tearing in secret, an addendum unfiled, unfiltered

The way my body hurts doesn't require anything from you
           means nothing                       needs nothing
is like that long wailing whale sound, 
only from inside me, and sliced into fragments
thinner than a tooth, but just as wary and vibrating at a frequency
you can't touch, spiralling, but too slowly
to even notice, a broken orbit, an okay metaphor
for the stretching and thinning
is rain
is glitter
is rain

Not always pretty, but full of tongues and
girls and whichever slices of me you'd like to see, 
the same crimped guts you've come to expect, 
shaded swirl, something ruined about my face

I wanted to be cornered

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

JESSE RICE-EVANS is a queer Southern poet and rhetorician based in NYC. Read her work in Heavy Feather Review, Yes Poetry, tenderness yea, and in the chapbooks The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press) and Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press), among others. She's a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches writing at the City College of New York and the Cooper Union.

Changeling

The human parents, afraid to say I am wrong,  
tuck me in at night. I watch
streetlights shape the ceiling. Sometimes I cry, 

and sometimes the human child, the stolen
child, remembers for me: painting butterflies,
pancakes at dawn, her mother's palm. 

She shares my memories too—patterns of lichen, 
chill caves, day-long drips of water, 
and myself as I was: a tree-root, 

an empty burrow, a bat's shadow. Stolen. 
I was stolen too. Unformed, I belonged only to myself
until shaped into arms and eyes and scream, 

given a hairband and a schoolbag. Ballet slippers. 
The human child, wild and laughing now, 
she's always laughing, those dances 

around peat-lakes never blister her feet.
I'm no longer made from rot and dark, but not
human, either. Under a pink duvet, wakeful. 

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The image is portrait style. It shows the upper two-thirds of a woman in her twenties. She has her head tilted slightly to the right and is smiling. She has long wavy brown hair, pale skin, and wears glasses. Her hands are by her sides. She is wearing a dark green long-sleeved t-shirt and black trousers. She is standing in front of an elder bush and is surrounded by green leaves. Tree branches can be seen behind her, and to her right small white flowers are visible among the leaves.

The image is portrait style. It shows the upper two-thirds of a woman in her twenties. She has her head tilted slightly to the right and is smiling. She has long wavy brown hair, pale skin, and wears glasses. Her hands are by her sides. She is wearing a dark green long-sleeved t-shirt and black trousers. She is standing in front of an elder bush and is surrounded by green leaves. Tree branches can be seen behind her, and to her right small white flowers are visible among the leaves.

In 2017, ROSAMUND TAYLOR won the inaugural Mairtín Crawford award and was nominated for a Forward Prize. Most recently, her work has appeared in Agenda, Orbis, BansheeCrannóg and Magma. She has been twice short-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, won joint second-place for the Patrick Kavanagh Award 2015, and is currently working on her first poetry collection. You can read more of her work on TheLearnedPig.Org (http://www.thelearnedpig.org/author/rosamund-taylor) and HeadStuff.org (https://www.headstuff.org/literature/typhoid/).

Spider slayer

A ghostwhite spider haunts Zev. Every time she opens her driver's door, gets ready to put her key in, there she is, crawling across the windshield. Zev kills her with the windshield wipers, wisps of eight white legs smearing.

Zev thinks she's rid of her, but she keeps showing up while she's driving to work. Zev stops driving as often. Her door handles sticky with silk. She wipes the enemy fiber off on her jeans.

Zev gets in her car and presses the gas hard. She goes 45, 50, 65 mph, sees if she can fling the ghostwhite off. But her centimeter body stays hunched on Zev's driver's-side mirror, mocking her.

Sometimes, when Zev's falling asleep, the ghostwhite rustles in her ears; its tangled threads clogging her nose, so she has to breathe through her mouth. She checks the time on her phone throughout the night. 11:30 p.m. ... 1 a.m. ... 4 a.m. The disrupted sleep sinks her eyelids. In the morning, she swallows her pills and skips breakfast.

Once Zev gets to work, she pleads for the ghostwhite to stop haunting. She doesn't want to keep killing reincarnations. The ghostwhite doesn't seem to listen. She darts under the hood, out of Zev's view.

Maybe a mother spider lives in her engine, warm and cozy. Laying millions of eggs, so they can spread throughout the entire blue body of her car, threads covering her tailpipe, webs so thick she can't see through her windows.

At lunch, Zev daydreams about poisonous bug bombs and sticky fly catchers. She'll build a miniature mousetrap and glue it to her mirror. Dangle strips of krazy glue from her tailpipe. Word will spread that she's the spider slayer. All the ghostwhites will avoid her car, their eight legs freezing when they see her parking. None will dare balloon a web parachute from the trees to her hood.


It's becoming fall—the air smells like crunchy leaves. Zev hopes the ghostwhite will stop infiltrating her sleep if it becomes the smallest iceberg. But she remembers first seeing a spider, stark white on her bathroom mirror, last winter, crawling on her reflected cheek. The same one still haunts her. Zev smooshes one crawling across her radio with napkins from her glove compartment, makes sure she's dead.

Maybe in her past life Zev was a witch, the spiders a visible path of where she walked every day, the bathroom, the grocery, the library. She must have liked them. They kept her company during her long drives into the countryside, where she'd find a space to set up her magic circles.

The witch trained the spiders to balance her weight on their tiny bodies. They lifted her as she whispered chants and secrets to them. Their many legs like thousands of caresses. She took off her crystal earrings and necklace, her skirt, and floated in the river. The water was frigid on her powerful skin. She ate wild berries while her skin dried, spiders nestling on her hairy legs.

Zev wants to feel like that for once. She wishes rolling out of her warm covers every morning wasn't like getting stuck on the ghostwhite's sticky silk: the more she struggles, the more bundled she becomes.


Months later, Zev wakes up to gray sun meagerly filtering through the fog. Thousands of yellowing exoskeletons scattered along the covers. They float to the blue carpet as she makes the bed, their bodies drowning in the fibers.

Zev takes her pills and looks at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, spiderless, a faint smile. Spider carcasses are on her toothbrush, in the toilet bowl. She tosses them all in and flushes them away. Their eight legs sucked into the pipes.

She finishes getting ready, washes her plate from breakfast, pulls on a scarf and hat, goes out to the car. No ghostwhite on the windshield. None clogging the tailpipe. She drives slowly to work, since she doesn't need to shake off her body.

Zev parks and looks in the trees. There must be thousands sheltering up there in the leaves, weaving warm webs to survive the winter. She thinks she sees one trailing through the wind on its string. For a moment, threads itch the back of her throat. She finishes her tea, scalding any remnants of web, and walks in the door.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A young white woman with her arms raised. She is smiling and standing in front of a mural of wings painted various shades of pink, purple, blue, and white. She is wearing a green cardigan, jeans, and a T-shirt with triangular prints.

A young white woman with her arms raised. She is smiling and standing in front of a mural of wings painted various shades of pink, purple, blue, and white. She is wearing a green cardigan, jeans, and a T-shirt with triangular prints.

MARLENA CHERTOCK has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She lives in Washington, D.C. and serves as the poetry editor of District Lit. Marlena is a graduate of the Jiménez-Porter Writers' House and uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. Her poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Breath & Shadow, The Deaf Poets Society, The Fem, Paper Darts, Wordgathering, and more. Find her at marlenachertock.com or @mchertock.

stop eating my shit

CW: Body horror, death

 

i froze a pomelo to throw through your window
            i eat the glass and let it slide between my teeth
sometimes i like it
sometimes i watch Jim Bakker and his new wife
                        open barrels of imperishable food
 
it reminds me that i can't breathe
            when my head's out the car
window, going 90 down 580 east. sometimes
 
i wish for death, other times i'm just hungry
 
like that time i took a circular saw to my chest
for an overpriced hamburger and all you did was film me screaming
            WORLD STAR WORLD STAR WORLD STAR
a stranger on the internet said the embarrassment
would pass and to regulate my moods, so
 
don't ask me if i know about David Koresh
            don't make me Amo Bishop Roden
i'm not here to be put on trial
 
i just want the six-pack of Top Ramen you stole
            
            before i fall asleep forever
surrounded by trumpets and pale horses
i want people to dream of this day
                        and subsequently catch fire

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SIERRA VENTURA is a queer performer and writer slumming it in the East Bay. She currently attends Mills College in Oakland, CA where she is studying English, with an emphasis in creative writing. She has been published in The Forum, The Walrus, and Odd Compulsion. Her work has been compiled in the following chapbooks: Subhuman Sprawl and STYLE IS A FRAUD. Her first full-length poetry collection, Rituals, can be found under your local freeway overpass.