Wraith

CW: Violence, death

 

You cut too hard on my throat muscles:
they divvy up, go loose and wobbling,
skitter until I become concerned
about ‘death by asphyxiation’.

When I was ten I didn’t know
that a body could be locked up tight—
rigid while every joint comes apart
in some short-lived
breeze.

The air goes sour

under serpentine weight.
Pressure increases: I’m condensed
into some pseudo precious
stone.

Imagine
if someone wore me
around their
throat.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author is stood against a pale background, with crisscrossing metal bars. They have shoulder-length purple ombre hair, and half their face is obscured by a sweeping fringe. One eye is visible from behind it. They are wearing dark purple lipstick.

The author is stood against a pale background, with crisscrossing metal bars. They have shoulder-length purple ombre hair, and half their face is obscured by a sweeping fringe. One eye is visible from behind it. They are wearing dark purple lipstick.

KERRIE C. BYRNE is an autistic, queer and nonbinary writer/cat lover living in Toronto, ON. Their other fiction and poetry can be found in The Temz Review, The Hart House Review, and The Specatorial, and they have been shortlisted for the Friends of the Merril Collection short fiction contest. The rest of the time, they can be found working on Augur Magazine as Publisher—or maybe reliving their glory days as an award-winning collegiate a cappella singer in their bathroom. Find them on Twitter as @kercoby!

gutters

CW: Self-harm

 

come collect memories
from the dirt-dust corners
and from all the days you swept under the clothes
flung across your bedroom floor.
come collect me
in the places you touched my body
red: collect the blood
rush blush, the bitten skin, the flood,
and the float.
come collect the shade of your eyes in the dim
afternoon light, the tune
of your hands along
this body and brain. i hold them all
on rib bone shelves. they rattle
when i walk too quick
towards something new and too
familiar, when i stand in the kitchen
with darkened window glass,
staring
at the image of god they say resides in my body.

there is no mourning for me;
me and my sleepless eyes, awake at four a.m.
with shaking hands:
soft mango blushed orange in the right,
knife sharpened slick in the other,
and i stare
at this god mirror girl in night's window, and i

breathe,
aching,
craving blood, and
i do not make
gutters
out of these
wrists.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The femme author is seen from the shoulders up in front of a white background, wearing a tight black t shirt and a small silver crescent moon on a silver chain necklace. Light brown curly hair frames dark eyes and closed, vaguely smiling pink lips. Two freckles rest beside the mouth.

The femme author is seen from the shoulders up in front of a white background, wearing a tight black t shirt and a small silver crescent moon on a silver chain necklace. Light brown curly hair frames dark eyes and closed, vaguely smiling pink lips. Two freckles rest beside the mouth.

M. WILDER is a youth librarian and lifelong student, whose words may be found or forthcoming in Rogue Agent, thismuch, Cicada, Letters to a Young Poet, Desolate Country, The New York Times online, and more. An editor of Sprout Club Journal, M has also served on editorial staffs for New Letters and Elementia, and a handful of zines. M can be found on instagram at @hereistheend.

The Lucky Ones

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The lucky girls grow up into

monsters. We start young, running

over grass and mud and rocks, building

up the thick skin on our feet, our strong hides

growing up over our bodies. We learn Mine and

No, and we learn hunger and want. Our fingernails

grow into claws and we sharpen our teeth

into fangs and we let the hair grow wild

over our bodies.

Once that first transformation is complete, we

mature. We learn to disguise ourselves as

princesses, to paint our faces

into something trustworthy, to

rip out our fur and soften our claws

with Blossom Pink 063. We build up our

packs, matrilineal sisterhoods sharing secrets,

looking out for each other like no one looked out

for us before.

We hunt in groups, taking out our

predators before they can recognize us, defending ourselves

with teeth and nails and secret tricks

that have no names. We feed on the

hunters and the woodsmen and the princes

who would ensnare us, who would

make us soft and vulnerable. We are not for them,

we are for ourselves, and we return to our caves,

and our sisters comb out our hair and tear off our masks

and revel in our ferocity.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The photo shows the author from the chest up. She is standing in front of a grey wall at a three-quarter angle to the camera. Auburn bangs peek out from under a yellow knit hat, and she wears green tortoiseshell glasses. She has white skin, blue eyes, and her dark red lips are in a closed-mouth smile.

The photo shows the author from the chest up. She is standing in front of a grey wall at a three-quarter angle to the camera. Auburn bangs peek out from under a yellow knit hat, and she wears green tortoiseshell glasses. She has white skin, blue eyes, and her dark red lips are in a closed-mouth smile.

KAT RIDDELL is a writer and librarian currently based in South Dakota. She shares an apartment with an unfathomable mass of houseplants, an assortment of bones, and a truly overwhelming stash of craft supplies. She likes petting dogs, long walks in cemeteries, and lawns filled with dandelions. You can find her online at katriddellwrites.blogspot.com.

Capes

CW: Ableism

 

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes

—Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

It’s Tuesday night, and I wait for the phone to ring.  Wait to hear
your voice across the wires, strong or weak, joyful or frustrated
or hurting; to know that you’re still alive in this world where
crip lives aren’t valued, where our deaths might be debated as
an ethics point—but you, I, we have meaning anyway. Show up
for our living flinty and gritty and determined, show up on the line
with each other, to hold space, affirm the value of each other’s
existence, the persistence and beauty of our ticking bodies, the
nutty toughness of our minds.  You don’t bullshit that you’re fine,
you tell me about despair, yours, and I tell you mine:

the still-tender, raw, unspun silk of pain, before I have made,
before I could make, sense of any of it, held out in my cupped
palms to you.  You separate each strand, slowly, carefully,
hold it with precision, preciousness, ask normalising questions,
listen to my answers with soft attention, nodding like a sunflower,
help soothe the rawness and shame, till the sharp ache is gone.
I try to do the same for you: fumble through the fibres of your
pain, unpick the snags, ask easing questions, hold you with love.
This healing magic is ancient, but always miraculous, hard-won.
Meanwhile the world goes on,

with its tired rotes of oppression and stereotypes and margins.
We know it sees us only as a fraction of who we are.  We know
it chops off our femininity, our clever heads, articulate tongues,
nimble skills, wide hearts, our avid interest in sex.  It paints us
as dolls, pre-pubescent, without agency, pity-arousing, to be
arranged at will by those with power.  And they do try to, feign-
ing concern and citing policies or directives, their hands supposedly
tied as they deny you respite care, a new wheelchair, the right to
hook up and disconnect your own I.V., effective treatment for pain.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

nourish you, are part of the joy they couldn’t take from you.  You
practice witchcraft, wear fairy masks, put purple gossamer wings
on the back of your power chair.  You talk sex toys and the details
of fucking-while-disabled with me anytime.  You are nobody’s
spinster aunt, nobody’s patient Clara.  You’re a femme powerhouse,
fierce, charming, tenacious, lawyerly, a force of nature in scrapes
with hospital staff, nursing agencies, billing departments—even with
a BP of 70/45.  You are indomitable, and you get shit done.  I want
to be just like you when I grow up.  Watch out: our superhero capes
are moving across the landscapes.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A drawing of a pale-skinned person, wearing a purple hoodie with a multi-gender symbol on it and the hood up, dark blue jeans, and light blue shoes. They are standing against a white background, with their hands in the pockets of their jeans. Their facial expression is maybe quizzical, maybe sullen. They are wearing round glasses, and a bit of dark curly hair peeks out from under the purple hood.

A drawing of a pale-skinned person, wearing a purple hoodie with a multi-gender symbol on it and the hood up, dark blue jeans, and light blue shoes. They are standing against a white background, with their hands in the pockets of their jeans. Their facial expression is maybe quizzical, maybe sullen. They are wearing round glasses, and a bit of dark curly hair peeks out from under the purple hood.

Kamila Rina is an autistic, mad, and physically disabled immigrant Jewish non-binary bisexual poet, a sexuality, gender, and disability educator, and a survivor of long-term violence.  They enjoy talking about being present in one’s body and fomenting the revolution.  They like trees, books, chocolate, and people and plants that smell good.  Kamila has previously been published in Room magazine, Breath & Shadow, Sinister Wisdom, Monstering, and We Have Come Far, and has produced a chapbook titled Multitasking with Feelings.  Find them at KamilaRina.com.

Access Intimacy

CW: Sexual assault

 

Try not to be ashamed as you flinch and tremble
under her warm hands.  Think of the stories
you haven’t told yet.  Tension grips fierce.
Ask her what she thinks as your hands shake

—Eli Clare, “How to Talk to a New Lover about Cerebral Palsy”

How to talk to a new lover about PTSD.  About chronic
pain.  About dissociation.  About thoracic outlet syndrome.
About MCS.  How to talk to a new lover about injured hips,
weak wrists, nerves entrapped at the elbow, arms that can’t be held
above your head, the need for floor lamps, not ceiling fixtures,
for scentless sheets, lube, and sex toys.  How to not dissemble
about the dour difficulties of having sex: the ache and
nerve-grind of repetitive motion, the cunt scars that burn when you
get wet, the parent ze might, at the wrong moment, resemble.
Try not to be ashamed as you flinch and tremble

through the explanations.  Through the fear, like a spreading
stain, that all this makes you broken, unfit, leftovers
that someone will settle for.  Through the fury that all
you expect is being settled for.  You’ll try being a hermit
for a while, forgoing the explaining, the apologies for

your brokenness, even the asking.  You’ll hide out 4 storeys
above the pavement, reading, dreaming, watching spectacular
sunrises.  Until you find a tender romance-friendship,
unexpectedly, over sharing poems like morning glories
under her warm hands.  Think of the stories

you’ll tell years from now, about how brave and broken
you both were then, and how you talked, anyway, about
bodies, sex, brokenness, dissociation, how you wrote your own
dictionary.  Your glad risking makes a blueprint; you will do this
again and again.  Next times you’ll talk disability, sex, bodies,
access, brokenness, dissociation, flashbacks, the whole pierc-
ingly glorious mess.  You’ll feel seen, contained, as you speak
of violence, then sex, in such detail, that shame is washed out
and only soft attention remains.  Every day you’ll spill fears
you haven’t told yet. Tension grips fierce

still, when something important, beautiful, twisted, fragile,
needs telling, needs making yourself vulnerable as a hedgehog
showing its belly—but then eases because love and
kindness are the order of your days now, and your every
loved one speaks disability theory, and this crip queendom
is your touchstone, makes you joyful in your ach-
ing body, where your skin, your muscles, your joints, your
lungs, your tachycardic heart, can show themselves,
where you learn to speak your body’s truths without heartbreak.
So.  Ask her what she thinks as your hands shake.

*‘Access intimacy’ is a concept named and described by Mia Mingus (https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/access-intimacy-the-missing-link/).

 

ABOUT the author

A drawing of a pale-skinned person, wearing a purple hoodie with a multi-gender symbol on it and the hood up, dark blue jeans, and light blue shoes. They are standing against a white background, with their hands in the pockets of their jeans. Their facial expression is maybe quizzical, maybe sullen. They are wearing round glasses, and a bit of dark curly hair peeks out from under the purple hood.

A drawing of a pale-skinned person, wearing a purple hoodie with a multi-gender symbol on it and the hood up, dark blue jeans, and light blue shoes. They are standing against a white background, with their hands in the pockets of their jeans. Their facial expression is maybe quizzical, maybe sullen. They are wearing round glasses, and a bit of dark curly hair peeks out from under the purple hood.

Kamila Rina is an autistic, mad, and physically disabled immigrant Jewish non-binary bisexual poet, a sexuality, gender, and disability educator, and a survivor of long-term violence.  They enjoy talking about being present in one’s body and fomenting the revolution.  They like trees, books, chocolate, and people and plants that smell good.  Kamila has previously been published in Room magazine, Breath & Shadow, Sinister Wisdom, Monstering, and We Have Come Far, and has produced a chapbook titled Multitasking with Feelings.  Find them at KamilaRina.com.

tired girl howls, act three

CW: Addiction, sexual assault

 
tired girl.png
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The femme author is seen from the shoulders up in front of a white background, wearing a tight black t-shirt and a small silver crescent moon on a silver chain necklace. Light brown curly hair frames dark eyes and closed, vaguely smiling pink lips. Two freckles rest beside the mouth.

The femme author is seen from the shoulders up in front of a white background, wearing a tight black t-shirt and a small silver crescent moon on a silver chain necklace. Light brown curly hair frames dark eyes and closed, vaguely smiling pink lips. Two freckles rest beside the mouth.

M. WILDER is a youth librarian and lifelong student, whose words may be found or forthcoming in Rogue Agent, thismuch, Cicada, Letters to a Young Poet, Desolate Country, The New York Times online, and more. An editor of Sprout Club Journal, M has also served on editorial staffs for New Letters and Elementia, and a handful of zines. M can be found on instagram at @hereistheend.

ANATOMICAL DEFINITIONS OF A BROKEN BODY

CW: Body horror

 
anatomical def.png
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Black and white photograph of a smiling woman in front of a brick wall .

Black and white photograph of a smiling woman in front of a brick wall .

JENNA NEECE is an Oklahoma native. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and is working on her MFA in Poetry Writing at Oklahoma State University. She works as a GTA for Oklahoma State University English Department, is an Editorial Assistant for the Cimarron Review, and teaches Freshman Composition at OSU. When Jenna isn’t working, reading, or writing, she loves spending time with her friends, family, and miniature dachshund, Winston. Recently, Jenna’s poetry has been published in Rising Phoenix Review, Quail Bell Magazine, Eunoia Review, and she has work forthcoming from Collective Unrest.

Thirst

CW: Hospitalization, sexual assault

 

Last she heard, someone would be coming for her any minute. To her. She waits beautifully, thinks of what she’ll say when they arrive. Every pair of footsteps reminds her of hope she promised not to feel, but the prayer in her breath betrays her again. Heart skitter of longing as the curtain sways with the momentum of passersby. Mouth so dry every vessel in her body pulls at her, begging for relief.

There is a sink opposite the bed in this three curtained room drawing her in. Mouth so dry she can taste herself, can taste him. Mind skids to a halt, suppressing the feelings trying to surface. Held under, like a beach ball trying to float. She leaves her body to keep it down, mind poised above. Patient. Corners of the tongue feel sharp as knives, edges softening as she licks her lips. The small gesture brings her back into the room.

This thirst keeps her here, breathing. Mind cycling again and again, ball turning over under her weight. A body parched and cracked as dry earth, surrounded by murky water. Taste surfacing, becoming too much. Finds herself nowhere. Tongue sharp, lick, brought back. Repeat.

Footsteps, fade.

In the cloth room next door it sounds as if a woman is screaming with a hand over her mouth, grunting. Heart rate rise, reminder evokes a gag. Back to the ceiling with her.

This girl next door has animal noises stuck in her throat, tries to speak but cannot be understood. She learns through muffled conversation that the girl’s name is Tatiana. Hears the nervous laughter of her mother, trying to lighten her daughter’s heavy heart. True worry in her voice, spliced with guilt. The daughter is failing to thrive. Failing to talk, to eat.

She has lost 20 pounds this week, skinny wrist bone girl. Her mother asks all the wrong questions, has all the wrong answers for her little girl. Gives these answers years too late, should have seen the danger coming. Words fall awkwardly from her mouth trying to soothe but rest on the surface, unable to address the heart of her. She should be in bed stroking her daughter’s hair, holding her close.

Words go nowhere.

Mouth so dry. It has been hours since the promise of care. Thinks of the intake nurse, of how it didn’t even register as pain, still hasn’t. Numb. How her body is always a scale, tipping. “Rate your pain from 1-10.”

She can feel how swollen her body is, but cannot feel the break in the bones. Only her thirsty throat. Tries to ignore the damp heavy feeling flooding her every place else. Swamp of womb infiltrates the nervous system, spreading faster than thought. Where the body came from, what the body deserves. Sinking. She was told she can’t drink anything until the exam has been complete. “We don’t want you to drain any evidence down.”

How quickly the body becomes evidence, how quickly what it carries. She wants to spit what is not hers out before it is absorbed into her bloodstream, becomes a part of her. She asked for an example of what a 10 is. Nurse looked at her impatiently: “I just have to put something down.”

She gives them a 3, wonders what weight this carries. Wonders if this slowed the process down. How much weight does each hurt carry? Last summer she broke her wrist and knows this hurts less though it is damaging her up more. Knows the numbness has to weigh more than the broken ankle and scratches she carries now. She’s had to give so many numbers in this life of chronic pain. What does each hurt weigh and at what cost? Does 5 mean balance? Thirst bigger than the pain, it cannot be measured. Pain is the only anchor to her body, it keeps her sane.

Footsteps, and pass. Damp, recede.

She lies down on the cold checkered floor. Prays for the pain to become too much to bear. Waits to notice herself. Prays to lose herself like the girl next door, lose self lose name lose voice. For only laughter to be left. She waits to be dropped back down into her body. To be carried by her bloodstream, for the memory to be washed away. It is 2 am and no one has come. Dull thud at the base of her skull. No one is coming. Don’t think of where you have been. She tries to forget being forgotten.

She hears laughter from the room beside her and laughs back. She wants to be a part of something. Pleasure registers now, pleasure of being right. She knew no one would come and they didn’t. Twisted satisfaction, pride standing tall. The nurses tired quickly of her company, dark reminder of cruelty that she is. How predictable. How predictable the hope she would for once be proved wrong. Proved worthy.

They insert a feeding tube to help the wasting girl. Taking child, taking throat, taking voice. The only thing left of her; her mother, her body, brain, heart. Her throat issues softer sounds, almost purring now. Her mother strokes her hair, “That’s right. That’s right.” As if anything about this is right. As if it is right that her muted voice implies consent.

Tatiana, all she is lacking. Named bipolar at age 13 after being beaten, named brain dead at 16 after driving drunk. Girl is an empty box. Girl is screaming, tuck and thrust. Girl wants no more, left with only resistance. “Hush now, calm back down,” her mother commands her, suggesting she was once less trouble. This girl a gift, girl left, girl leaving.

She keeps hearing things she shouldn’t be hearing. She is pretending she is not there.

“The nurse should be in with you in a minute.” But they’ve said this before. No comment to her body on the dirty ground, no pause to see if the words have been understood. Bones so dry they must be bleached white by now. Opens mouth to let out the tightness in her throat, only rust remains. Squeaky piping. No animal left in her. There are many pathways to this place, she knows. Pain is only one of them.

The hospital ceiling dances in patterns when she looks at it for long enough. Ragdoll on the floor, cold as ice. This place a doorless cage, extended pause. She is the scream caught in the muted girl, the dance in the paralyzed. She is a lack of sound, cold as tile. The girl next door so explicitly her inverse they could be two sides of the same tarnished coin.

She picks at the white wristband on her arm, feels trapped by it. She could get up and leave, she could place her bare feet on the floor beneath her and walk out. Laying here, she is not convinced the world could catch her if she falls. There is nowhere to go, and yet she is sinking. She imagines her body as a weed, growing between the cracks. Parched. The thirsty plant emits a sound so high in pitch the human ear cannot hear it. She wonders now if the same is true for a body, if there are ears to hear this silent scream. Or perhaps something deeper than the eardrum. A rumble in the chest of things, felt in the sternum of every one that passes her by.

The nurse comes in at last and asks unthinkable things of her. Clippings of hair and nails, swabbing every entry place. Every opening, the boundary which is not, between the world and her skin; the boundary she feels nowhere. Skin, the vaguest barrier.

The longer she doesn’t speak the more weight lies on what she will say. Voice box dry and splintering, she stays silent.

It is 4 am when all is said and done. She is discharged to go home.  She is offered water and refuses it. Thirst becomes a small price for herself.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A black and white photo of the author against a pale background. She is wearing a white t-shirt with dark horizontal stripes. She has long dark hair, and is looking off to the side.

A black and white photo of the author against a pale background. She is wearing a white t-shirt with dark horizontal stripes. She has long dark hair, and is looking off to the side.

Cosi Nayovitz is a writer, massage therapist and trauma sensitive yoga instructor based in North Carolina. She has a degree in literature and serves as Flash Fiction Editor at Hematopoiesis Press

The Medical Model Enters the Scene

CW: Ableism

 

I’m naming this disease before other

people jump on my bandwagon. Welcome

to Diagnosisland. My fault here: sure,

let’s say it’s compartmentalization

of the heart-brain. Can someone please shrink

me, fix me, my harlot ways. Like one man

in one lobe, you in another. The pink

of me divided. Brains, I mean. On scans

this shit doesn’t show up. Do I love like

a psychopath (and other questions I

haven’t asked my doctor)? Do I kiss like

your dream girl, because I try. Yes, that guy

from Brooklyn bought me nice pizza, but who’s

keeping track? I’m yours, I’m his. It’s lose-lose.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman with reddish hair and thick black eyeliner looks at the camera. She is wearing a black and white pattern top and light blue earrings.

A white woman with reddish hair and thick black eyeliner looks at the camera. She is wearing a black and white pattern top and light blue earrings.

CADE LEEBRON lives in Columbus, OH. She holds an MFA from The Ohio State University, where she served as an editor at The Journal. Her work has appeared in The Boiler, American Literary Review, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She exists online at www.mslifeisbestlife.com, and on Twitter, @CadeyLadey.

About the Decorations

CW: Sexual assault, violence

 

In the city of frost and wine we buy because it has a first name, we’ve found our way to the warehouse version of the famous bakery. Nothing is as golden as we’ve been led to believe. We take our croissants to-go in thin, brown paper pockets and head back to stony academia, satisfied by our success in almost finding something we’ve been told is authentic. This weekend, we means four of us, here for the kind of conference that lives in small rooms in a building on the edge of academia. In these rooms, we listen to amplified voices tell us that we are free to move about as we need.

Mine is the only body of our four to have openly tried out refusal, to have decided not to conform to ability. We came here together in a small but sturdy car and in that racing vehicle we joked that if the car crashed, if we became buried in the surrounding blizzard, our own city would be almost devoid of bodies or brains who think about this foreign concept, disability. In the city of frost and wine, our host comes home after midnight and asks if we’d like some gin. She has a beautiful woman on her arm and they look down at us, sitting in a circle on the floor. None of us like gin. We hold up our empty cups anyway.

*

Under a bridge in a rainstorm in my city, I am contemplating apocalypse love. The man holding my hand is new to me but not to the world, which is almost a joke about his age. Other humans are younger and shiny but I like them less; their brains are less beautiful, more hollow and stuck on the wrong words, bodies that careen predictably into plot lines that play out into nothing. I like the way this man tells me stories I haven’t heard before.

The water in the river is high and there’s an abandoned backpack on the wall we lean on, my dress is soaked and heavy. We wait it out until we can’t anymore, I’ll be late to my dinner. I take my wrung-out hair back into the pouring water, the heavy air. It’s not beautiful, at his place the dryer will be too slow and my dress will slip back onto my body still full of rain. My contacts get rained out of my eyes and my hair is tangled. He has a first name like a bottle of wine slipping out of my price range, he has eyes like unphysical love, like the ducks struggling their way upstream only to be blown back past us, water and air ruining all their big plans.

In some distant and dismal future, he and I will carry my mother’s kayak to her green car and slide the yellow body onto the roof, tilting it and struggling until one vehicle caps another, knifing itself into the air at an angle I will always see as unlikely, untenable. When I call it a body I mean it is open and hollow enough to hold our two breathing bodies inside it in our nation’s longest unnavigable river. When I call the future dismal I mean the rest of you, the bodies that fill the space other bodies might need to move. The boat hasn’t climbed the car yet, it is an imagined life, glinting up at me from my newly-decorated left hand. Last summer I fell into this river twice, and the water was barely chest-deep, the suffocating algae a reminder that we can live even in the most submerged circumstances.

*

Once when I was a child in a different and dismal city known for its thriving banks, a teacher told my parents that she thought my brain must be slower than others, I was too fond of sitting on the couch and not making friends. Later at a conference in a cold city known for its frost and expensive coffee I will consider my slowed brain a point of disability pride, of proof that I must get it more deeply, in a way that some of my compatriots here in this small section of academia don’t. Of course my brain didn’t slow in the way my teacher thought it might, of course this a drawn-out story compressed and dragged into a straight line when in fact it meandered across the world: through twisting neurons and rays of ineffective sunshine and glasses of unhelpful milk, never quite delivering their promised vitamin D—apparently my body couldn’t process what was right inside of it. One day a long time ago I learned the body needs that kind of vitamin to avoid turning self-digging, sclerotic.

The teacher’s husband was relocated to Guam and she went along, to a place filled with snakes and known for its low altitude. I retained my brain cells for the moment, my bored and frosty attitude, my friends from couch-bound days, one of them a model, the other leading an eponymous indie band. The snakes in Guam were eventually poisoned by dead mice stuffed with Tylenol. I get stuck on this, an empty body, a vehicle, a vulnerability pushing reptile bodies out of trees and into the streets, where they maybe gasped one last slithering glittering snake breath into distant sky.

*

Sometimes I do get angry about the ways bodies with their various vulnerabilities are used by others, mostly men, to make a point. I feel bad because I use snakes and mice but men use women and girls, I’m angry about the girl shot by her father because he was mad about his divorce. I know her name, it is Claire, but her last name could also be a man’s first name, it was her father’s last name too, he killed her anyway. There is nothing I can say for the girl locked in a room at a frat party who climbed out because she was afraid, she fell and shattered her pelvis along with almost every bone in her body, but the news mostly talked about her pelvis. What else is a woman good for? She is a container, a friction of fabric or a body against a body, one small body climbing out of another. I saw that frat house every day for four years and never saw the future of her body knifing through air into bushes.

But once I did pick up a tiny girl from under those same bushes where she was lying alone, she wore a child’s boot around her neck as some jewelry decoration, I picked her up and I carried her until I couldn’t anymore, and then she held my hand like it was a mitten, and she couldn’t find me the letters to tell me her name, must have been the wine or maybe just her brain cells. When I say tiny I also do mean she was an adult, I also do mean she was big enough to make carrying her small body a difficult task, she came up to my chest, she made me feel like I was suffocating. And I’m mad about a different girl whose name remains a mystery to me, her stepfather raped her and killed her once she became pregnant, her brain worked in such a way that nobody believed her when she said whatever words she could push out of her mouth.

I’m mad about the hollow bodies and the violences and the way nobody braids your hair when you’re alive but they do your makeup when you’re dead and on display within a casket, a hollow body, a vehicle knifing itself into a sky and then the ground and whatever comes after. I make a point of believing nothing. I make a point of inscribing rage onto each body exploration, something about singing the body disabled and too electric, each boat cutting through water needs to also be a violence, this is the closest we can ever come to authenticity or something like it, something golden, and do you see it, and do you see it.

*

When I was young I used to stand onstage and spell words from my magic brain, the letters coming to my little lips from my camera lens eyes, my vocabulary photographic and telescopic. When I was small and only chest-deep in some liquid metaphysical understanding my brain was still fast and full, there was no apparent need to think about vitamins.

Later and later and later I make jokes about love as disease, affliction, dating as something necessitating a medical model of understanding. People think I mean my own complicity not because it lives in the words but because their own brains have tricked them into it, this strange idea that violence and promiscuity are diagnosable diseases of the female body. It lives nowhere in the definition, though at another conference in a small academic room the panel facilitator says she finds it odd that there’s nothing about women in the definition of hysteria and yet it is often a concept associated with women.

I want to say it’s right there in the word, hysteria and uterus have the same roots, words grow like leaves hanging from branches until like snake bodies they plummet earthward and hit our understanding, my eyes are telescoping but I close my lips and smile in a way that perhaps suggests shared confusion, or just anger, refusal to allow a violence to remain unrecorded, uncommented upon. There is solitude and crusade and self-righteousness inside me, of course, but don’t forget that in academia there are always some compatriots to keep my angry brain in golden company.

*

I don’t know what to tell you when you think a body like mine is the kind that enacts violence other than yes, sometimes, but mostly not. All kinds of bodies can buy guns in our nation which is known for its guns and mass shootings, sometimes my own body wants to as well, given the not-so-distant but very dismal future. My lovely newly-acquired man like a bodyguard says that someday he’ll take me out of the unending rain to a firing range and teach me how to defend myself. But no, mostly it is the disabled body that falls victim, it does not victimize. That’s the statistics talking, that’s not my little bright mouth speaking for just my brain. The brain is flawed, yes, but surely numbers can tell truths that words can’t quite get at, neither can neurons, not bodies, there is of course the water of unknowing that surrounds us, but only up to our breastbones, and our heads remain dry, and our mouths are full of our own saliva, and then we struggle our way back onto our kayaks, our bodies encased in other more durable bodies, and we steer toward land.

*

My doctor is a man with neatly coiffed hair who, for all I know, lives in a brightly lit office. His office is in a city known for its nicely-seasoned crustaceans, which I buy for lunch at a bar with a first name after I see him and have time to kill. He tells me about the unhelpfulness of milk or sunshine and the help that can be brought to my slowed brain and hole-ridden body with a colorful variety of pills, vitamins and medications. They get stuck throat-deep inside my body and I drink endless water to flush them down, which I hear can drown you if you do it very diligently, for hours and hours. After I see him I always invent time to kill. Otherwise I just end up crying in the car with my parents back to the house in the town by the shallow river; there is only so much saltwater a moving vehicle can bear.

After I see him I sometimes go out seeking ink to be skin-embedded, because what other decoration could be more permanent in the body known for its dissolve. He disapproves of the ink like he disapproves when he decides I might be seeking medication. I do find this funny or frustrating or violent depending on my mood—because of course he is the one who seems to be seeking my medication, and am I taking it, and am I calling for refills as frequently as I should be, and do I let them stick me and take my blood as often as he’d like. He asks the questions and does not like my answers. He calls me by my first name and I demur, pretending I’ve never heard of his. He pokes me with safety pins which doesn’t seem to be the right word for the way he uses them: sharpness, perception of pain. What is safe in that kind of space, and can I move about it as I need? Maybe he is ability and I am the refusal.

He tells me not to drink too much alcohol and of course I hold out my empty cup anyway, and the rain fills it, and the snakes try to eat the ducks but they dive under, bodies paddling desperately away from or into the coming apocalypse, the golden fault line opening up underneath, swallowing us all like we are only friendly frost and wine.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman with reddish hair and thick black eyeliner looks at the camera. She is wearing a black and white pattern top and light blue earrings.

A white woman with reddish hair and thick black eyeliner looks at the camera. She is wearing a black and white pattern top and light blue earrings.

CADE LEEBRON lives in Columbus, OH. She holds an MFA from The Ohio State University, where she served as an editor at The Journal. Her work has appeared in The Boiler, American Literary Review, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She exists online at www.mslifeisbestlife.com, and on Twitter, @CadeyLadey 

All the Muses I've Been

What a terrible, messy thing to be given a heart.

You walk along, maybe humming, maybe wandering and wondering - then -

a sudden red mass, thrust into your palms: its sodden weight dripping

with thumps, an unrelenting reminder of its hereness, its belonging

to someone who liked your smile, who even heard you read a poem on mute,

their pulsing drowning out the words to focus on the curving

of your lips, let their mind wander without wonder.

 

To be a muse is to be decided for. To be posed, to still your body

if not your whispering instincts: that you should have been asked,

that “subject” is a verb and not a noun, there’s a crack

in the pedestal and you didn’t struggle

out of your mother to be an ornament in someone else’s story.

 

So soft the alarm bells clink, like toasting glasses.

Soft because they have been sanded down like your edges

and called love, they have been painted over like your mouth and called love,

they have stretched blank canvas across your name, as if your ancestors never fought

to pass it onto you, as if you sprung from sea foam,

from a holy skull, a handmade reward for that wayward beast beating

its escape route from its cage of bone.

 

You, of course, say nothing. Use your best manners, glow when you’re told,

carry whatever names and attributes they give you. You try not to look

at the bloody lump in your hands. It confirms what you know:

a gaze that can behold and not see makes a monster as easy as a maiden.

Every love story is a witch hunt on its best behavior.

 

///

 

Old habits don't have to be your own

old habits to die hard.

 

I render myself at a distance. Board up the cracks

where a personality might wriggle through.

 

Let me try again: once I had black hair.

Once I was a man, empty and incapable

of love. Lies made laurel by

their weaving into ode, song, promise.

 

Sometimes I lie. Sometimes I fart

in my sleep. I sleep alone. I like that.

Sometimes I feel my body's edges,

nosebridge to knuckles to knees,

make flesh the reminder

that however indefinitely imagined,

I am bounded in skin.

 

Sometimes I recite the facts of myself:

my birthday, my allergies, the mole

on my back. Each certainty a pin

through everything named

up for debate, for declaration

by any pen-wielder in eyeshot.  

 

When I shake the pretty off

I become the one the wisemen

warned you of in whispers.

 

///

 

The whole of me is sharp,

silver and slowly turning

outward, dancing spiderwebs

through the display-glass.

 

 

About the author 

AKheadshot.jpg

ALISON KRONSTADT (they/them and she/her) is a writer, youth worker, and anti-partner abuse advocate currently living in Boston / on stolen Wampanoag land. Their work is featured or forthcoming in The Breakwater Review, FreezeRay, Cosmonauts Avenue, and HEArt Online Journal, among others. Find her on twitter @flalymagee. 

Part III - Stress // Arousal

CW: PTSD

 
part iii.png
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AKheadshot.jpg

ALISON KRONSTADT (they/them and she/her) is a writer, youth worker, and anti-partner abuse advocate currently living in Boston / on stolen Wampanoag land. Their work is featured or forthcoming in The Breakwater Review, FreezeRay, Cosmonauts Avenue, and HEArt Online Journal, among others. Find her on twitter @flalymagee. 

Bred in Captivity

CW: Violence

 
bred in captivity.png
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AKheadshot.jpg

ALSION KRONSTADT (they/them and she/her) is a writer, youth worker, and anti-partner abuse advocate currently living in Boston / on stolen Wampanoag land. Their work is featured or forthcoming in The Breakwater Review, FreezeRay, Cosmonauts Avenue, and HEArt Online Journal, among others. Find her on twitter @flalymagee. 

On Reading Thoreau

CW: Violence

 

Midtrail the carcass of a rabbit

half-hidden on the side. Death is

disconcerting in natural camouflage—

all the blood’s seeped into the moss

and the needles stir with the light

stench of rot. There’s an invisible

bird and it won’t stop singing.

Upward - the pull of blue sky      the top

of the hill framed in yellow leaves.

I walk on, trailing the bell-like tune.

In the shooting yesterday the police walked

away leaving the dead and the wounded

glinting in the thick silence of the sun. O,

heady burning mirages. How warm can September get

in these parts of the land? Hours

passed and then the street was

bustling with people who watched

where they stepped.

I get out of the forest before it closes on me.

The afternoon sprawls on the fields, reddening

at the fringes. I look back to see the bird

appear out of the bushes. It’s quiet  

here on the hill, a chill running through the bone,

the dull pain of a dilating soul. White bird

on singed foliage. And I wonder how much it takes

to aim and      flick the switch or pull the trigger,

face untwitching. How sweet the blade. Is that inside

all of us? The urge to rip apart      the bird

flew up to a higher branch and left

me with my own madness

of invulnerability.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Close-up of AK's face in front of flowers and a building. They're white, femme-ish-presenting, with dark brown hair. They're looking to their left and slightly smiling.

Close-up of AK's face in front of flowers and a building. They're white, femme-ish-presenting, with dark brown hair. They're looking to their left and slightly smiling.

AK Afferez is a queer writer currently living in France. They’d like to have you think they spend their days sipping wine and scribbling in notebooks at a fashionable café, but they are most likely trying to either survive grad school, write a book, or parent a cat with a God complex. They work for Winter Tangerine & Vagabond City, and they blog for Ploughshares. Favorite small talk topics include the apocalypse, tarot, and lesbian history. They tweet @akafferez.

Little Lies

CW: Sexual assault, rape

 
little lies.png
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

BEI JIE SI is a poet and artist in Austin, Texas. Jie Si has competed as part of the UT Spitshine CUPSI team from 2015-2017 and coached the 2018 team. She is Co-President of the only poetry organization on UT's campus (Spitshine Poetry) where she led workshops and organizes open mics. She was a 2017 Write Bloody Contest finalist, a Pink Door fellow, a poetry reader for Bat City Review, a Writing Advisor for Barrio Writers, and has been published or is forthcoming in Vinyl, Nat. Brut, Bird's Thumb, Kweli Journal, and Muzzle Magazine. She spends her time writing, studying, drawing, singing, and eating.

Skirts, From Above

CW: Sexual abuse, violence

 

I.
A lift and a  fall
   out  of place / I  am having unbearable  difficulty

in being a Poet

Who holds the crown while I wait? The first god
   of mine: a beast 
              with impeccable taste

              his hand on my neck affirming
              that  there was enough

                        of us 
to mean something

II.
In order to make yourself comfortable
you are allowed to do whatever is needed
even murder, thieve and rape
Be our guest, welcome in
We have been anticipating your arrival
full of dreadful excitement 
We have made the beds and set the table
and prepared our bodies   so well

III.
For    the poem
           I would make any sacrifice 

For you:      I would sacrifice
               the poem

IV.
                 Father: fuel and fire

             He has given me nothing
             other than my beautiful
             madness

V.
   Twirl! The bells sound
   I spin spin am dancing
      but not a dancer 

              of course: a spectacle

          brilliant, unprofessional

VI.
Don’t you love 
   who I  become          don’t you 

  become, love

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Black and white photograph of Aditi in front of white background.

Black and white photograph of Aditi in front of white background.

ADITI NAGRATH is a poet, art therapist, and part-time monster based out of New Delhi, India. She believes that the only way out is through. All of her poems are dedicated to you.

Human Heart, or Else

the animal harsh wild unforgiving
its ache an instinct a must-have-been-
real thing cannot deny its loud loudness
or hunger the wrong mouth in the right
place makes for a great story the right
mouth in the wrong place makes for
an even better one the wrong mouth
in the wrong place makes for only the
two of us suspended in an intolerable
narrative inside whose body we swim
gracelessly blind with suffering
but at least our hearts are held hands
held hours held in horribly fantastic
unhuman ways the speaking is not
easy but at least the dance is
entirely effortless

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Black and white photograph of Aditi in front of white background.

Black and white photograph of Aditi in front of white background.

ADITI NAGRATH is a poet, art therapist, and part-time monster based out of New Delhi, India. She believes that the only way out is through. All of her poems are dedicated to you.

Colossal Light

Truth be told, the endless spark

of pain that jolts me awake each

morning is as indispensable

as the morning itself: sharp blade

of blue, through the trees

the most intricate commandments.

Days are long; the months bring

with them a repetitive grief. I tire

but keep interest in our routine–

the ants of September, memory

of violence, anticipatory anxiety

full flush. In the sun, it is difficult

to believe that summer is gone.

What is this now? this drawn-

out sigh, the curtains meeting

shyly at the window. As lovers

once we were wild but this year

we find our hands writing

small, tame letters that motion

towards the sky but never

speak the name of love.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Black and white photograph of Aditi in front of white background.

Black and white photograph of Aditi in front of white background.

ADITI NAGRATH is a poet, art therapist, and part-time monster based out of New Delhi, India. She believes that the only way out is through. All of her poems are dedicated to you.


 

Wonder Woman

CW: Ableism, drugs

 

Standing at the swell of the muddy Mississippi

after the Urgent Care doctor had just said, “Well,

sometimes shit happens,” I fell good and hard

for New Orleans all over again. Pain pills swirling

in the purse along with a spell for later. It’s taken

a while for me to admit, I am in a raging battle

with my body, a spinal column thirty-five degrees

bent, vertigo that comes and goes like a DC Comics

villain nobody can kill. Invisible pain is both

a blessing and a curse. “You always look so happy,”

said a stranger once as I shifted to my good side

grinning. But that day, alone on the riverbank,

brass blaring from the Steamboat Natchez,

out of the corner of my eye, a girl, maybe half my age,

is dressed, for no apparent reason, as Wonder Woman.

She struts by in all her strength and glory, invincible,

eternal, and when I stand to clap (because who wouldn’t),

she bows and poses like she knew I needed the myth,

—a woman, by a river, indestructible

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A black-and-white photograph of the author, who is staring into the camera, with a neutral expression. She is wearing a white t-shirt, and has her dark hair tied up.

A black-and-white photograph of the author, who is staring into the camera, with a neutral expression. She is wearing a white t-shirt, and has her dark hair tied up.

ADA LIMÓN is the author of five books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her new collection, The Carrying, was released by Milkweed Editions in August of 2018 and was named one of the top 5 poetry books of the year by the Washington Post. 

Ambulatory: How the Little Mermaid Shaped My Self-Image with Cerebral Palsy

CW: Ableism, body horror, death

Like many other little girls born in 1989, the year that The Little Mermaid was released, I was obsessed with Ariel. I never saw the movie in the theater but watched the VHS obsessively starting when I was two or three. At that age, I was far too young to understand the romance between her and human Prince Eric. I identified with her fun-loving curiosity, musicality, and independence. But long before I knew what a metaphor was, I also unconsciously related her desire for legs to my cerebral palsy, which affects my balance, gait, and coordination. "She has feet!" I told my babysitter, thinking hazily of my own goal of one day walking independently.

However, unlike Ariel, I didn't really want to change anything about myself. I imagined that Ariel could stay in the sea with me and be my friend. When my aunt and uncle bought me a Prince Eric doll to go with Ariel, I was inexplicably appalled. My mom understood this implicitly when she said to me, "Ariel's our friend, right?" My view of Ariel had shifted subtly. Instead of relating to her desire for legs, I now wanted to stop the story before Ariel could change herself.

At the time, I had an Ariel doll that I brought everywhere. She had a removable, green tail that I could pull over her legs, transforming her from a mermaid to a human and back. One day, I accidentally knocked Ariel's leg out of its socket. Spooked, I immediately threw the doll and all its accessories into the trash. My mom retrieved it from the trash and explained to me that Ariel was not broken.

In 2009, when I told my college roommate this story, she joked, "You threw away a doll for being disabled!"

In a complicated way, dolls can reflect or reinforce whom society considers attractive or even "normal." All children should have access to dolls and characters that reflect their identities, such as race, disability, and body type. I received catalogs offering to custom-make dolls resembling individual children but found it off-putting and creepy.

I noticed that most characters were white, like me, but almost none were disabled. As an adult, I discovered that disabled authors of color are doubly marginalized, even in the disability community, due to this lack of representation. I think that some of us as disabled children identified primarily with our race or gender but not with our disability. Or we unconsciously found metaphors for disability, like I did with the little mermaid. Although I never thought that anything was "wrong" with me, the eerie feeling that something was wrong with Ariel had been unshakable.

I wasn't the only disabled student in my school, but even in preschool I began to realize that I was different from most of the other children. My desire to stay under the sea with Ariel was inseparable from the idyll of my parents' house and the radical self-acceptance that they helped teach me. Ariel moves from one world to another, which is how I often felt navigating between disabled and non-disabled people.

Today, due partly to countless hours of physical therapy, including therapeutic horseback riding, and exercising at home with my parents as a child, I'm ambulatory. I can walk semi-independently, either with crutches or a walker. My dad used to say that someday I would reach what he called "step three" and be "a community walker." Despite his good intentions, we learned and realized that this wasn't a realistic goal. Although I can get around semi-independently, there are certain places, like the subway, where I'll travel with family and close friends only, never alone. My gait will always be distinctive, and I'll always need some type of assistive device. My family and I never considered total assimilation, or eradicating any trace of my disability, a healthy goal. It's part of my identity and always will be. This is why I find popular narratives of curing or "overcoming" disability both inaccurate and insulting.

Despite my strong sense of self, as an insecure teenager, I sometimes used to wonder what a non-disabled version of myself would look like: more developed muscles, straight posture and gait. Now I realize that there's no ideal version of anyone. This is how I'm supposed to be. Why disavow or wish away the source of my art and some of my most fascinating, unique experiences and relationships?

In high school, I revisited the story of "The Little Mermaid." I read Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tale and realized that it was much darker and more visceral than the sanitized Disney version. The nameless mermaid not only loses her voice; she also literally has her tongue cut out. Her new feet bleed each time she takes a step. Whether you interpret this as representing the physical pain of menstruation or the way that some people sacrifice and silence parts of themselves for their partners, the symbolism is rich. Imagine: all that for a man who doesn't even like her back! At the time, I vowed I'd never change for a man. I often made pronouncements like this.

When I was nineteen and a sophomore at Stonehill College, I took a creative writing class and used Ariel as a metaphor in my story "Categories," eventually published in Deaf Poets Society. As I've become more involved in the disability community, both in-person and online, I learned that I wasn't the only person to use mermaids as a symbol for disability. Disabled artist and activist Annie Segarra recently used the amphibious nature of mermaids as a metaphor for being an ambulatory wheelchair user, sometimes walking and sometimes needing assistive devices.

The little mermaid's self-abnegation—her attempt to destroy what makes her unique—will always disturb me. In the original story, the mermaid fails: instead of staying human and gaining an immortal soul, she dies and turns into sea foam. The little mermaid briefly succeeded at assimilation—at becoming something she was not. But the cost was her voice and her life.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

GRACE LAPOINTE is a freelance contributor at Book Riot. Her fiction has been published in KaleidoscopeDeaf Poets Society, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. Her essays have appeared in Wordgathering, as part of Grub Street's "Why I Write" series, in The Body Is Not An Apology, and elsewhere.