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Review of Bad Ideas\Chemicals

CW: Abuse, addiction, assault (sexual), drug use, self-harm, suicide

 


Bad Ideas\Chemicals is a book for aliens.

Growing up, I often thought that I was an alien. Or maybe I just wished I were. Either way, it would have made everything so much easier. It would have explained why I never quite seemed to get the hang of The Rules. Why the humans seemed never to quite like or trust me. Why nothing they talked about made any damn sense. Why sometimes it was less irritating just to spend recess alone. Why this body always seemed just a bit 'off', as if it were a perfect disguise imperfectly grafted onto my true alien form, designed to keep me inconspicuous while I studied the population down here and waited for my ride home.

Cassandra Fish is waiting for her own ride home. She prepares for it eagerly, never removing the orange spacesuit she ordered off the Internet, and always taking care to arrive at the designated rendezvous point with plenty of time before the monthly lunar transfer window opens.

For now, Cassandra lives in the town of Goregree, Wales—the remnant of a failed experiment in urban planning and capitalist hubris, populated by bleak, nondescript buildings and their bleaker inhabitants. The preferred pastime of many of Goregree's residents is the consumption of GOTE, a destructive, hallucinogenic chemical derived from the toxic residue shed by the enormous beetles that infest the town.

Bad Ideas\Chemicals, written by Lloyd Markham, follows Cassandra and her friends over the course of a single night, as each grapples with their own traumatic history and seemingly empty future. It is perhaps best characterised as a slightly magical-realist dystopian satire of 21st century British neoliberalism; for all its more fantastical elements, this is a story with a very strong sense of place and time. A unique desperation pervades everything in Goregree—clinging like a film of mildew to the town's arrogantly optimistic historical architecture, and smothered under a layer of cheerful bureaucratic indifference. This is a portrait of the Welsh valleys—after the closure of the mines, and under austerity. Details like the Mercy Clinic for Assisted Dying, where young people on benefits receive mandatory "job placements" wherein they euthanise elderly and mentally ill patients, ring frighteningly true in an era of unprecedented cuts to the UK's National Health Service and welfare system. Taken solely on its merits as a satire, Bad Ideas\Chemicals is an important representation and critique of a particular moment in British culture.

However, what resonated with me the most—and, if I'm entirely honest, made it difficult to continue reading at certain points—were the novel's personal narratives, particularly that of Cassandra Fish. Bad Ideas\Chemicals is, at its heart, an account of what it is to be a freak. It portrays with painful honesty the many ways that society lets freaks know we're not welcome here. Two passages in particular do a remarkable job of portraying alienation. In the first, Cassandra—who is asexual and coded as neurodivergent—is interrogated about her sexual proclivities by Alice, a friend-of-a-friend, who is as outgoing and lascivious as Cassandra is withdrawn and disinterested.

'So tell me,' continues Alice. 'What's your angle?'
'Huh?'
'You playing hard to get? Going for that androgynous-mystery-girl-sort-of-vibe? I mean, I've known you for nearly a year now and I've never quite figured out how much of the spacesuit thing is an act.'
Cassandra raises an eyebrow. She shuffles back an inch, her space boots making an audible squeak on the grungy floor.
'Hey,' says Alice, a bit of spit and vomit dribbling from the corner of her mouth. 'Don't take it like that. I don't mean it aggressively. I just want to be let in a bit. Who are you interested in? Is it one of the boys? Please don't tell me it's Billy. He's lovely but he's got issues.'
'Interested in?'
'Argh. Stop playing at being dense. Who do you want to fuck? Look, I won't tell a soul. Just talk to me. In all the time I've known you, you've barely said a word to me.'
'I don't really want to have sex with anyone, Alice.'
'Oh come on. I don't buy that at all. I mean, I don't blame you if no one around here floats your boat but surely—'
'You don't understand,' snaps Cassandra. 'Nothing floats my boat. My boat has never once floated for the entire time that I've been...'

Shortly thereafter, Cassandra's best friend Fox teases her about a man who is apparently attracted to her, and she replies sadly, 'I really, really wish humans would stop asking things from me that I can't give.'

For a long time, I had a very similar conversation on a semi-regular basis with friends, family members, even colleagues. They simply couldn't understand why I didn't just date someone, anyone. "You'll never find anyone if you don't start looking." I could never make them understand that there was no point in looking—that the people I was attracted to were so few and far between that I truly wasn't any more likely to find one if I started 'looking'. The only thing looking made probable was a bunch of endless, boring conversations with perfectly decent people I didn't want to spend another second with.

"But what about X, don't you like him?"

"Yes, but—"

"Don't you think he's good-looking?"

"Objectively, yes he's aesthetically pleasing, but—"

"Well then what's wrong with him?"

"Nothing. I'm just not interested."

I could also never explain why this conversation always made me want to cry, and left me feeling emptier and more alone than my perpetually single status ever did.

Whereas Cassandra's conversation with Alice captures the quiet, invisible, day-to-day pain of alienation, the second passage that made me put the book down for a few moments captures a more shocking kind of pain—the kind that makes everything seem a bit surreal and removed for awhile, that you're never quite able to leave entirely behind.

Cassandra leads Mr Matthews across the fields, through the trees, to where she and Billy had only ten minutes before been eating their lunch in peaceful silence.
Everything seems to be moving slowly, as if she is a tiny insect for whom a day is a lifetime.
Billy is lying on the moist muddy ground, a bin bag over his head, his trousers and pants pulled down to reveal a flaccid penis and skinny thighs. From head to toe, he is splashed in a clear liquid she knows, from the smell, to be urine.

This is bullying as written from lived experience. It is not the vague allusion with which schoolyard abuses are typically handled, as if viewed through some lens of nostalgia by someone who has, at best, an academic understanding of what bullying means. This is visceral and immediate, and despite its sparseness of language, conveys exactly what it feels like to occupy the centre of such a moment. It is clear, too, that this moment does not exist in isolation; it follows Cassandra and her friends throughout the book, as they continue to grapple with their place in a hostilely indifferent society. And this, to me, is the central theme of the book: how do you survive in a world that has no place for you?

It is striking to me that feedback for Bad Ideas\Chemicals has thus far unanimously focused on its surreal satire and dark humour. By contrast, my impression upon finishing it was that it was both disturbingly real and terribly sad. I find myself wondering if this is a book that reads very, very differently to the humans and to the aliens.

 
 

Lloyd Markham was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, moving to and settling in Bridgend, south Wales when he was thirteen. He spent the rest of his teenage years miserable and strange and having bad nights out before undertaking a BA in Writing at Glamorgan followed by an MPhil. He enjoys noise music, Japanese animation and the documentaries of Adam Curtis. His favourite book is The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. These days he lives in Cardiff, operates synthesisers in a band called Deep Hum, and has less bad nights out. You can follow him on twitter at @lloyd_markham.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ALEX is a disabled, nonbinary writer, artist and activist. They spend most of their time glitching around in dark space, but occasionally return to this universe to yell at people on Twitter.

blue wings unfolding

'when you sing, always tell the truth' —billie holiday

the single bird, frozen in take off, portrayed on the cover of blue wings unfolding mirrors the pages enclosed within. with a self-designed cover, independently published, author michele baron has definitely proved her worth with this oftentimes lyrical debut.

blue wings unfolding remarks on the difficulties of growing up, specifically growing up different & growing up fast. written in short, structured paragraphs (as if this can somehow prevent the inevitability of angst), baron churns out a whimsical narration, a quote at the start of each chapter adding even more poignancy to each hum & thrum at the heart of her work. the book follows part of the story of an aspiring blues singer, jayleigh, & we see her obvious passion for music contrasted with some of her darkest moments—more than her fair share, it would be safe to say.

the delicacy with which baron stitches the words together to create this sorrowful tapestry is revelational at times, remarking on both the awe in & awful nature of life. we all eventually reach the point where 'we know that the emperor doesn't really have a new set of clothes; he is naked', yet some of us arrive there through the natural progression of time, and yet others are forced beyond our years, thereby making us who we are & who we fight to be.

another topic that baron weaves in so effortlessly is that of neurodiversity. what i really liked was how she portrayed it as something natural, as if jayleigh was just commenting on a mole above her lip. baron highlights the reality for so many neurodivergent people, that they may not know—or, seemingly in jayleigh's case, even care—about the way their brains function. i found it refreshing that her slight quirks & obsessions were not made out to be wrong or damaging—in fact, it was rather the opposite! we are made to believe that jayleigh's unaffectedness & detachment (which is evident straight from the start of the book, c.f., 'i have a family that may as well be everything from soap, jambalaya, ice cream for dessert, & the compost pile of leftovers after the 'melting pot' has been cleared from the table') is perfectly typical & even with the introduction of autism & asperger's, we believe her to be nothing 'unusual'. given societal expectations, that is some truly brilliant writing.

blue wings unfolding is a coming-of-age novel brimming with electric injustice at having to come of age before you ought to. ending on a spark of hope, it is nothing short of a fantastic read & a true reminder for us artists that 'the world is both an inspiration & an audience'.

& so we fly.

 

World-traveler, former Fulbright Fellow Michele Baron currently lives in Kyrgyzstan, develops outreach projects, writes poetry, prose, non-fiction, has self-published A Modest Menu: Poverty, Hunger and Food Security, in Poetry and Prose; and A Holiday Carol; and blue wings unfolding (@amazon.com); and is a visual/performance artist among other occupations.

Review of A Quiet Roar

CW: Death

 

As a teenager, I made it a point to stay as far away as I could from disability-related memoirs. This was probably a mistake on my part—the older I get, the more I enjoy nonfiction—, but at the time, it was simply a facet of survival. I didn't want to talk about disability, read about it, even acknowledge it.

I'm older now. And, depending on who you ask, I'm wiser, too. I can no longer deny the movements of disability as they manifest in my life. I call myself "disabled." When people ask—and they always do—, I tell them I'm happy, I'm fulfilled, Im learning to forgive my body, myself for hating my body. There are bad days. Of course there are. But there are good days too, and when they're good, they're good. So disability has become a part of me. I no longer deny it space here.

Still, when someone reached out to me about reviewing A Quiet Roar, I hesitated. My phobia returned—that odd, nebulous fear. I spend so much of my free time on Monstering, putzing around on Squarespace, sending out acceptances, rejections, solicitations. There's a red heart pinned to my denim jacket, one that says "disabled." I wore it to a poetry slam a few months ago and felt nothing, not even shame, so naturally I felt like I'd passed a kind of test. I am familiar, now, with pride. I love myself, my disabled self, the complications that arise when identity consumes everything else. But apparently there was still something about—yes—memoirs.

I'd much rather review a poetry book, I remember thinking. Someone else can review it.

But I still replied with yes, of course, I'd love to write a review. I've never shied away from a challenge, and besides, would I really be worthy of Monstering if I said no?


It's not that I dislike myself, my disabled self, the only self I've ever been. It's just that—when I think about disability, I think about death, and death is something I haven't yet been able to grasp. So the solution, then, is clearly to never think about disability. Ever. Problem solved, anxiety attack averted, etc.

Here I am, though. Reading about disability, and thus death. I'm reminded of glancing in a mirror—looking past yourself; searching for the thing at your back, dark and viscous. When death is all you see—the thing that waits for all of us, yet somehow feels stronger to me, more present, harder to dismiss or ignore—, you learn to look away.

In my case, you learn to close your eyes.

I've been disabled for as long as I can remember. So while I struggle to identify with the acute onset of multiple sclerosis (MS), how Redl came to terms with it, I know her sense of loss, know it like my own body. I've never been able to walk. But I was able to sit up, once upon a time—and it really does feel like a fairytale, like the prologue to my favorite story: a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—, was able to feed myself, write using a pencil. Those things are lost to me now. And while I've adapted, their absence echoes, a place in me that will never see green again.

"I had been diagnosed with MS," Redl writes, "but I was determined not to give up doing the things I loved doing, especially writing and riding. Weak legs or not, I wanted to ride with the herd on turn-out day in June that second year of officially having MS." But after riding an "old palomino mare from the ranch herd," she admits, "I never rode again."

I read this and feel the spaces in me—the empty ones, charred with grief—, writhe contentedly. For the first time in quite a while, I allow them to be seen.


The first passage I highlight:

I swear, in that moment, when I was in tears and in front of my computer screen on a grey, miserable and rainy day in June, the clouds parted and a shaft of sunshine broke through my window and bathed my computer and me in warm, golden light. A feeling washed over me, like a feeling of being hugged, and something said, 'It's going to be alright. You're going to be alright.'
I admit freely that in the intervening years when I've struggled with this disease, particularly when I've taken a fall and can't get up, I've looked to the sky and said, 'You promised. What's with this, then?' There's never been an answer to my accusation but deep down I know that I'm heard.

I've never considered myself a country girl—I am drawn to the city, that massive flurry of sight and sound—, but Redl writes with fondness overflowing. We return to a simple image, that of a "tall white horse," and through Redl's love of riding we come to understand just how devastating her diagnosis was, continues to be. "The delight in that sensation of flight stayed with me," she says, "always accompanied by the smell of warm horsehair and the feel of coarse, wiry mane clenched in my fingers. Later, much later when Lucky was gone and I was riding in the woods behind a different ranch on a different horse, I would always search vainly for a log to jump over."

A Quiet Roar reads like poetry, in that Redl's voice speaks to lyricality, to the self-knowledge that informs it. She doesn't shy away from the difficult things—from pride, stubbornness, which are incidentally things I share with her. Instead, Redl takes us through the life she's lived—the life she still lives—, and so we are privy to an interior life that seems almost boundless. We come to know her. We come to love her. And so we are drawn into this narrative, so achingly personal.

I find myself wondering what would happen to Redl if I were to stop reading. If I were to close the PDF, switch to something less personal, striking—maybe a poetry book, because God knows I have enough of those laying around—, would I stop time? Would I prevent Redl's diagnosis? It occurs to me that this is what tragedy does, what tragedy makes of us. We become hopeful creatures—in spite, despite.

Redl doesn't dwell on MS. But she does weave its presence, pre- and post-diagnosis, into the narrative. I'm reminded of the rods in my back, how they're twined so completely with my spine, indistinguishable from what remains of my natural body. I'm reminded of my reflection, how that thing hovers, how even in moments of life there is still a kind of death.


"I was already having dreams of me unable to walk,” Redl writes. "A recurring vision of myself, stumbling onto my knees and unable to get up again, haunted my nights and occasionally even broke through my daydreams."

How disability haunts. How sometimes it feels like it was always there, even when it wasn't, even when the shadow parted and the sun shone through.


There are moments of lightness. Humor. And I recognize myself in them, recognize the way I negotiate and inhabit the spaces my disability contains. Rationing energy. Releasing expectations—forgiving myself for losing strength, for losing my grip on the things I'd so desperately wanted to retain. When Redl admits to fear of the future, of becoming a burden, I think, Yes. When she trips and falls—when, to her dismay, her symptoms worsen—, her grief pierces me, and I think, I see you.

Redl's anger is my anger, her victory mine. She speaks of a "spontaneous and heartfelt determination" that "[her] disease [was] NOT going to get the better of [her]," and my heart grows 10 sizes. When she says, "I am not a passive person. I'm not content to watch life go by. I have to live it," I'm reminded of all the times I've journaled something similar—and there are many. These realizations are passing things. They come and go. But I've come to take comfort in that, that I will always find the strength in myself to begin again, to dig my heels in the soil of this ouroboros and start anew.

I feel there is kinship here, in the pages of A Quiet Roar. Redl reaches out. Redl writes her own reflection, which is also my reflection, which is also yours. I never used to believe in community, solidarity, group therapy, but now I understand. Now I see a desire, which is also Redl's desire, in myself, to somehow and in some way be seen.


"My life," Redl writes, "is, in many ways, no less uncertain, but it is still beautiful, and it is still mine."


How we rise. How Redl reminds us of that, of buoyancy, her life and words a testament.

 

Heidi Redl lives and writes with multiple sclerosis in Williams Lake, BC. Her columns and stories have appeared in Canadian Cowboy Country magazine, in the MS Kamloops Chapter newsletter, in Canadian Geographic and in MacLean's magazines. She continues to write, to teach writing, and to struggle against the effects of MS in her life with the help of her husband, Tom, and her family and friends.

 

About the Author

BRIANNA ALBERS is a storyteller, located in the Minneapolis suburbs. In 2016, she founded Monstering, a magazine for disabled women and nonbinary people; she currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief. Her début chapbook, Why I'm Not Where You Are, was a finalist in Where Are You Press' 2015 "Where Are You Poet" contest, and was published in 2016 by Words Dance Publishing. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in DIALOGIST, Guernica, and Word Riot, among others. Find her online at briannahopealbers.com, and on social media at @bhalbers.

Review of Mannish Tongues

jayy dodd's full-length poetry book, Mannish Tongues (Platypus Press, 2017), undoes the contradiction of violence and soft.

To get a feel for the book, check out what jayy said they were doing while writing Mannish Tongues in a recent installment of their newsletter, "saythat!":

"A blxk question mark from los angeles," dodd's book is a sacred text for those in the church of black and queer. Divided into six sections (CONFESSIONS, PRAYERS, INTERROGATIONS, TESTIMONIES, MYTHS, EULOGIES), dodd examines the world's danger and the seemingly impossible but necessary act of finding and creating solace in any place and any way you can.

In church, you come in search of answers and, in this book, dodd preaches—giving you answers, yes, and yet still more. They give you a way to name, hold, and carry survival. They give you the key to opening the door to more than survival as black, as queer: they give you a chance to free. 

With form that doesn't let up, you don't know how they will deliver the next message, and yet you sit on the edge of your pew, excited for the deliverance about to come, ready to jump up and catch the holy they're about to throw to you. dodd considers and reckons with the resurrection, the audacity to continue creating even when death is guaranteed. We need their words now more than ever.


Some favorite lines from each section:

Confessions ("Trick")

The only deception / I am unable to master: / the vanishing act.

 

Prayers ("Speak Louder")

if afterlife is making it home safely, are we not / immaculate enough?

 

Interrogations ("Ars Poetica")

every poem is a death

 

Testimonies ("A Returning")

[...] How is knowing end times / as regular occurrence gonna get kinfolk free?

 

Myths ("Ten Sons")

She say he been real his whole life, / that when she finally catch up with God, all her sons gon' be alright.

 

Eulogies ("A Eulogy For Myself, The Night after Pepper Labeija")

Ends on: / "He only ever wanted to be real / to be whole & full for all to eat."

jayy dodd is a blxk question mark from los angeles, california– now based on the internet. they are a professional writer & literary editor. their work has appeared / will appear in Broadly, The Establishment, Assaracus, Winter Tangerine, Guernica, & Nashville Review among others. they're the author of [sugar in the tank] (Pizza Pi Press 2016) & Mannish Tongues (Platypus Press 2017). their collection The Black Condition ft. Narcissus is forthcoming on Siren Song / CCM Press. they are a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-editor of Bettering American Poetry & a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow. their work has been featured in Teen Vogue & Entropy. find them talking trash online or taking a selfie.

to hire jayy for editing, find out more here

to hire jayy for graphic design, find out more here.

click here for a full CV / RESUMÉ.

contact: jayy@jayydodd.net

find jayy online: twitter | facebook | instagram.

 

about the author

ALEXIS SMITHERS (LEX LEE) is a queer black creator based on the East Coast. Featured in wusgood.black, Glass: Poetry, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Freezeray Poetry among others, they volunteered for Self Care After Rape and currently work for 365daysoflesbians, Winter Tangerine Review, and Voicemail Poems. They are a 2015 Pink Door Fellow and 2016 LAMBDA Literary Young Adult Fiction Fellow. They tweet at DangerLove12 and you can find more of their work at youhavethewritetoremember.me.

Review of Bone Light

CW: Violence

 

Part of ten chapbooks in the latest New Generation African Poets box set—a collaboration from the African Poetry Book Fund and Akashic Books—Bone Light by Yasmin Belkhyr is wistful and lush. Although this collection is parted into three sections, to me, the chapbook moves cohesively as one long poetic sequence. The connective use of prose poem blocks, short and lively phrases, and associative movement from image to image makes Bone Light feel like one gorgeous piece. I am gripped by this chapbook, by the longing and ruin that pervades the poems here.

Across dreamscapes, across landscapes of Morocco and America, across layers of memory and emotion, Belkhyr deftly writes through complicated imagery and reflections. I am especially interested in the ways in which Belkhyr describes pain—the speaker often gravitates towards representations of decay, violence, and absence—hurt things, things disappeared or disappearing. The speaker states early in the collection: “Everything we do to one another can be explained by love. Even violence. Especially violence,” and it is this violent love, this tender violence that is everywhere: men slaughtering goats, the mother’s miscarriages, a burst peach, worms, violent action movies that the speaker watches with her brother, dogs dying, dogs biting the speaker in dreams, a man on a bike getting hit by a car. The speaker’s meditations on violence are highlighted especially in the poem, “Interlude with Forgotten Myth, or, Portrait of Ibrahim’s Daughter”:

I have a recurring dream in which my father breaks the neck of every pigeon in the park. I help: a good daughter. I snatch them from the air & tear out the feathers. Bloody. In the stories, there was a king named Ibrahim & he loved his god. No one calls me foreign but I know that’s what they mean. In the stories, girls like me sweat out the fevers, drop dirty guns in the trash chute. We rip the rabbit’s heart right out of its fucking chest. All that red-soaked skin under our fingernails. All I do is think about stories. About history, or his story, or her story, or my story. They’re all the same story really. Someone always ends up holding something mangled.

There is an anxiety around these nightmarish images—“I wince at the idea of anything entering my body,” the speaker admits in a later poem, expressing a vulnerability, an uneasiness of the viciousness in the world, these “little fears and aches, the stupid rust in my chest.” It seems that Belkhyr uses the framework of dreams to explore these subjects of ruin and pain—many of these poems begin with a statement with regard to sleeping and dreams, such as: “I have a recurring dream,” “In dreams,” “I don’t stay up late anymore,” “There are moments when I don’t know if I’m sleeping or not.” This framework allows a whimsy to the language, a flexibility to express these aches with a wild, surreal power.

In the compact space of a chapbook, Bone Light demonstrates Belkhyr as a bold and necessary voice. I am excited by the work done in this chapbook and will be certain to follow Belkhyr’s writing in the future. I read Bone Light in one sitting, with an avidness and need—if you have not read Belkhyr, get excited.


Yasmin Belkhyr is a Moroccan writer and editor. She is the author of Bone Light (APBF & Akashic Books). Her poems have appeared in Salt Hill, PANK, Muzzle, and SOFTBLOW. She is the founder & EIC of Winter Tangerine. She currently lives in Brooklyn. You can buy Bone Light as part of the New-Generation African Poets: NNE chapbook boxset here.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

EMILY CORWIN is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington and the former Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared in Gigantic Sequins, Day One, Hobart, smoking glue gun, and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press) which were published in 2016. Her first full-length collection, tenderling is forthcoming in 2018 from Stalking Horse Press. You can follow her online at @exitlessblue.

Review of Instinct to Ruin

CW: Abuse, assault (sexual), suicide

 

Nice girl. What happened to her?

Killed her. Cursed her.
Pushed her aside and cared for poetry.
Gave in and grew into something scalier, hungrier.

—Lora Mathis, "The Self-Portrait," Instinct to Ruin

 

Lora Mathis' second full-length volume is a bold exploration of trauma, mental illness, and femininity. In Instinct to Ruin, they discuss their experiences with rape and domestic abuse, depression, and gender, sparing their audience no comfort. The visceral nature of the poems is refreshing, yet jarring, in its brutal honesty. What is often considered taboo becomes second nature, and any presumed etiquette or politics of writing are foregone. These poems are not beautiful: these poems are the makings of a soul, wrung out. They are the fruits of self-exploration, of reconstruction—of having taken control of one's identity and fashioned themselves into a weapon.

One poem, "High Water," evokes emotion and imagery like Kate Chopin's The Awakening:

& the wave is pouring under the door
& I lick my plate clean
& the tips of my hair are dripping down my chest & I
swear the sea is shaking with laughter & water rises
above my head
&
I do not hold my breath

This piece, a striking commentary on the struggles inherent to femininity, makes a neat package of all of Instinct's themes. It is at once a chronicle of abuse, oppression, and suicidal ideation, as well as a resounding testament to feminine resilience. The drowning metaphor is bleak, naturally, but many—particularly within Monstering's demographic—would argue there's an undeniable degree of empowerment in choosing one's own fate, whatever the case may be. The poem ends there, but the stories it and its sisters could tell are innumerable. Likewise, the individuals this book may grant a voice should not go unmentioned. In sharing their story, Mathis recounts the experiences of many.

In their own words, Lora Mathis is a Cancer from Southern California who believes in poetry's healing ability and the power of friendship. They coined the term "radical softness as a weapon," an idea centered around the strength in sharing oneself honestly. Much of their work focuses on trauma, femininity, and combating mental illness stigma. They are the author of chapbooks and the noise does not stop... and Bigger Bolder Less Pathetic. This is their second full-length collection of poems; their first is available through Where Are You Press. They currently live in Philadelphia.

ONE ACT PLAY IN WHICH WE REVIEW DALTON DAY'S EXIT, PURSUED

[ME sits in the middle of the high school stage. The house lights are off and there is a dim light coming from the production shop behind the curtain.]

ME: Do you have time for this?

[pause]

[YOU's footsteps that were trying to be undetectable have been noticed. YOU's footsteps have poked holes in the silence ME has gotten used to. YOU considers lying. YOU decides not to, not all the way at least.]

YOU: I have to get going but not yet
ME:  I didn't know it could look like this
YOU: What?
ME: Universe in such small packages
YOU:
ME:
YOU: He created his own universe?
E: Yes. No. All of them. Some of them. Maybe more. He made so much and they all live in the same house. I did not know there could be this many rooms inside. I didn't know their hands reaching for one another could be this terrifying and kind and rumble and gentle
YOU: Are we invited?

[the audience starts to file in]

ME: I think so.
YOU:
ME:
YOU:
ME: He does this thing. Magic seems too common a word for it, but it's the one that fits best. Like your favorite sweatshirt from five years ago, how it's snug around the edges but it’s more home than anyone else that holds you
YOU:
ME: Why did you come here?

[the audience waits]  

YOU: My teacher told me once: we come to the stage to find truth or at least stop running from it
ME: You were running when you came here
YOU: Yes
ME:
YOU:
ME: Did you want to stop?
YOU:
ME:

[YOU sit down next to me. ME and YOU's legs are over the lip of the stage. ME and YOU's heels kick the front of the stage as ME and YOU swing our legs.]

ME: Dalton gives us many stages
YOU:
ME:
YOU: Is it safe?
ME:
YOU:
ME: It's never safe to stop running. I don't think.
YOU:
ME: I don't know how to end this
YOU: Maybe things don't end like we think they do

[A radio plays in the distance. ME and YOU aren't concerned with who turned it on. Maybe someone in the audience.]

ME:
YOU:
ME: Maybe
YOU: Like what he showed us. There is a light that never goes out, like that Smith song.
ME: Like the Smith song. I think they got it from Dalton, though.
YOU: Perhaps
ME: Perhaps

 

Dalton Day's Exit, Pursued can be purchased here. You can follow him on Tumblr and Twitter.

 

About the Author

ALEXIS SMITHERS (LEX LEE) is a queer black creator based on the East Coast. Featured in wusgood.black, Glass: Poetry, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Freezeray Poetry among others, they volunteered for Self Care After Rape and currently work for 365daysoflesbians, Winter Tangerine Review, and Voicemail Poems. They are a 2015 Pink Door Fellow and 2016 LAMBDA Literary Young Adult Fiction Fellow. They tweet at DangerLove12 and you can find more of their work at youhavethewritetoremember.me.