- Issue #04
- Yasmine Bolden :: “cottagecore death fantasy”
after janna ibrahim
what if, i propose to you after we whisper about my dying, breast implants
could pocket all the plant stuff needed to become a tree? like, maybe
when i die, you scoff at a coffin knowing nothing can contain my
overgrown-ness and return me directly to the brown earthen hands
that know how to handle me better than this tupperware-obsessed world
ever could? like what is everyone always trying so hard to save
in those tiny tubs? leftovers? compost, baby. it is a few sleepy breaths past
two in the morning and i can see the question in the curve of your neck
as you beckon me over. come here, bring the meaning closer, you say
without sound. i am always so afraid to touch you. not because of anything
you’ll do, but because of the anytime of my die. you can laugh,
that was worded funny. on purpose, i pot my fluttering asclepias tuberosa
thoughts in vases too large and ornamental to do their job properly.
you stare at me, not intensely, and i’m reminded of how good you are
with a hammer. do you want implants? you ask, splintering my abstractions
with your bare fingers. okay, stop, stop. what i mean is, i want to be a mother.
i know stems in stem who could make that happen. your eyes
are closed now, tired and so softly alive. you will be, you say, as if
you don’t know my body. as if our earlier conversation isn’t rotting between us
as we speak, silently giving itself to the silly little green shoots of the fantasy
i’m trying to flesh out for us. can’t you just let some part of me live a little?
Yasmine Bolden (they/she) is a Black American 19-year-old poet, teacher, and playwright who adores the moon from unceded Susquehannock land. They’ve been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and American Voices designation, and their poems have been planted in The Lickety Split, The Feminist Center for Creative Work, and Rootwork Journal, among other magical locales. She gushes about her writer friends and poodle puppy on Twitter @blkpunningpoet, and attends Johns Hopkins University as a Writing Seminars and Africana Studies double major. Whatever you do, don’t ask her about queering August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (they’ll talk until you’re ready to visit the City of Bones yourself).
- Ashish Kumar Singh :: “Agriculture”
Even before the sun climbs over our head,
granny soils her clothes by kneeling
in the tilled earth with the dedication
of a mother nursing her just-born.
She says, it’s ‘birthing’ what plants need,
grow, they will on their own.
As she pats the soil over the mango kernel,
she tells me how when she was little,
she would do this all day, standing
in a field with water up to her childish
knees and push green blades of paddy
back into the earth. If she stood up
and looked around, she would see
the entire village in this same occupation,
her own mother bent in the water
with her sister strapped on her back
and father somewhere in the far distance,
his body so brown crows would mistake it
for wet mud. Later in the evening
when dinner was served, father would say,
looking at his brood of children, this.
This is happiness, just seeing you all eat.
Ashish Kumar Singh (he/him) is a queer poet from India with a Master’s degree in English Literature. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in The Bombay Literary Magazine, Chestnut Review, Fourteen Poems, Trampset, Lucky Jefferson, Banshee, Channel Magazine, and elsewhere. He serves as a poetry editor at Indigo Literary Journal, reads for ANMLY and is on Visual Verse’s editorial team.
- Nora Hikari :: “Exposition on Pears, as a Transmisogynist” and “Paper Birch Lullaby”
Exposition on Pears, as a Transmisogynist
You, too, could hate pears
if you tried. You too could pick
a hatred — plump, meat-soft,
cloying, overly-earnest —
if you reached high enough.
They’re just not the right shape.
Fruit comes in shapes. Fruit comes
in rounds and oblongs
and delicate teardrop ruby cuts.
What shape is a pear? What is “pear-shaped?”
What audacity, named after itself.
A pear is too eager to be cut.
Nothing gives the way a pear does.
Gives and gives and gives and for what?
To be bright and mild and of teeth?
Nothing should want to yield
like that. To be so simple,
not even to be cut, but
like dancing, like back-leading,
the hint of a cut, the intonation
of a request, and the pear
falls apart. What a gimmick.
Where is the tartness? The way
the flesh should cleave sharp and tight?
Nothing but sweet and grain and give.
Cain himself kept
the pear for himself, knowing
nothing about it was harsh,
which is all that God beckons outward.
No, a pear is a failure. A pear
wants something it shouldn’t have,
which is for you to love it,
even though it is easy,
because it is soft,
because it asks,
and because it is all
it has ever wanted.
Paper Birch Lullaby
Summer of my youthfire,
tender liking of my token sun,
there is always a close.
A canticle of the turning susurrates
through the cattails, up the river.
Eagles leave and the birch stand empty,
waiting without knowing.
It comes, she whispers. It comes bellowing,
it comes wailing, I cannot
bear it she says, I cannot hold it she says.
The morning is crisp with settling.
Into my bones, the snap of autumn waits.
Twigs among twigs, antlers left unbloodied
and shorn. Moonrise echoes and echoes and echoes.
I see my breath for the last time.
The trout sleep below the ice, unbothered.
The gentle tumor of powder and quiet
smothers and unlungs.
Out once more,
out once more.
The air is bitter, too scorned
for her to listen to my indulgence.
I look for polaris and even she refuses me,
so I will wait for the snowmelt.
The end of silence is not a tearing veil.
The curtains lay undisturbed.
Instead the lark titters once of the salmon,
who have returned bearing tales.
The crayfish yawn before tip-toeing to their chores,
and the ice gives way with the soil,
offers me a place to unburden.
My heart pumps algae and moss,
my feet tangle mycorrhiza lovers,
who beckon them to bed.
Sunlight, when did you remind me
of your name?
Originally published in trampset.
Nora Hikari (she/her) is an Asian American transgender poet and artist based in Philadelphia. She was a 2022 Lambda Literary fellow, and her work is published or forthcoming in Ploughshares, Washington Square Review, Palette Poetry, Foglifter, The Journal, and others. Her chapbook, GIRL 2.0 (Seven Kitchens Press, 2022) was a Robin Becker Series winner. She is a reader at the 2022 Dodge Poetry Festival and a finalist for the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Award. Nora Hikari can be found at her website norahikari.com and on Twitter at @system_wires.
- noam keim :: “Thinking about na3na3”
We have been experiencing intense heat waves in Philadelphia, unrelenting warmth that doesn’t evaporate even in the darkest hours of the night. Over the years, I have gotten used to the sticky and humid summers, but lately it has felt oppressing. When the heat permeates the early hours of the day, I am transported to mornings in my grandparent’s front yard, a tiled outdoor space with a table covered in a thick plastic tablecloth, lightly dusted with sand. There used to be lemon trees along the edges, and then just tiles.
My grandparents lived in Biˀr as-Sabˁ, currently known as Beer-Sheva within the Zionist Project. A small first floor of a house, a yard on top of a sandy hill wrapped by a iron-wrought gate, in front of the city’s city hall. I fear the sandy hill doesn’t exist anymore, swallowed by constructions. My grandparents are long gone.
But back then I spent part of my summers there, with my mother and my siblings. We’d sleep in the Heder Aravi, their Arab room. An assortment of large rugs and paintings of the desert separated from the rest of the house with a curtain of wooden beads, mementos of a life left in the old country. In the Heder Aravi, the furniture was set up so that an imaginary tea ceremony could happen at a moment’s notice; the center of the room left unused for a fictional group to sit cross-legged and share warm beverages. Nobody used the room for tea drinking. Aside from the occasional guest, the room also hosted an extra fridge, holding large bottles of soda and baskets of stone fruits.
In the mornings we’d drink coffee, made the Turkish way, Nes, or na3na3 tea, the Moroccan way in those glass mugs that are omnipresent in Occupied Palestine. Early, before the desert sun burnt everything, before the shade would disappear and be replaced by blinding light. A tea bag, fresh mint leaves, a healthy dose of sugar. The cooling properties of a plant known for growing rapaciously, preparing us for the ruthless heat of the desert. We’d sit in the coolness of the early morning, around the table covered in a thick plastic tablecloth, lightly dusted with sand.
When I was younger, my grandmother would have baked us dry cookies to dip into our drink. Some covered in sesame, some plain. A hint of orange blossom, maybe. As she grew older, she would outsource that task and buy them from a neighbor. A couple of biscuits, mint leaves, floating in glass cups. Mint leaves in a mug at home, as an act of care for my mother back in Mulhouse. Continue Reading “Thinking about na3na3”
noam keim (they/them) is a trauma worker, medicine maker and flâneur freak currently based on stolen Lenni-Lenape land known as Philadelphia. noam was born a settler of Occupied Palestine in an Arab Jewish family hailing from Morocco before moving to France as a young child. They are a Lambda Literary ’22 Fellow, an RWW ’23 Fellow, a Tin House ’23 Fellow and a Periplus ’23 Fellow mentored by Grace Talusan. Their debut essay collection The Land is Holy won the 2022 Megaphone Prize judged by Hanif Abdurraqib and is expected to be published by Radix Media in 2024. Connect on IG: thelandisholy or thelandisholy.com.
- Julian Mithra :: “Mock Funeral, Petty’s Island” and “Deflowered”
Mock Funeral, Petty’s Island
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
We covered her (sic) in soil clefted by sows not far from another lost daughter (sic), or if not a corpse precise, it was punched lace, bobbined in ol’ Ulster (grubby camber and never ’nough lamp to count knots).
If not buried, then broke with traditions seldom broached by fashion alone, or if not calcified entire, then enamel placketed to her (sic) bodice, hooked-and-eyed.
If not fabric a little careworn by boar brush, calved from a whelk sopping pigment, then caretook by color. If not dye concentrate, husk where rudiments did sob from its foot-fissure at low tide meringueing purple extract for extraction.
If not salt-knuckled, then knives face-out wheedling at the edge of lixiviation, clay atop clay atop silt long sifted by walleye we never—. Depressed sediment, or if not geology,
a single fist of dirt tossed over our left shoulder in lieu of salt, and if not angels, then sprites must attend our cobalt bolt (unharvested herb) without trumpets, without anthem, toward saltpeter or onionpeter, any Peter who spirals pre-blue froth to banish a name to gravestone.
If not, not. If so, so.
A cup of boneset spilled, thoroughwort running slipshod over uneven ground, leaves shot through with stem.
Last season, Gardener doffed his cap, downed a knee.
“Sorry I stunted the pear. I’m sorry for rust,
and the morning the pigeons got loosed.
But you’ll nevermore see the likes of apples
pinkening with such lust.”
They dismissed him for insolence and
welcomed a fresh Master Florist.
Ignorant of the work of turning earth,
he’s mastered taking shears to dainty necks.
Roses fall quick, lascivious.
Flirtatious dahlias yearn for beheading.
Bashful delphiniums spear themselves on wire.
Tulips bare all for a portrait.
A fling for Hollyhocks
and pornographic spree for Lilies.
Oh, corner Heather, sutured, clever,
hiding behind the smallness of your umbels,
imagining you’re protected.
Could Master be tender?
Clasp a veined hand to still the tremble?
She fears: thirst
weeping too much sap out the cut
loneliness, bees, sunburn
crickets hopped from Jerusalem.
Heather’s afraid she’s not beautiful enough for a bouquet.
I may be gruff. I may
be overrun with weeds and cough
in spring’s pollen haze. I will look naked
without these flowers.
Please, spare me.
with Gerberas and Asters.
Julian Mithra hovers between genders and genres, border-mongering and -mongreling. Winner of the 2023 Alcove Chapbook Prize, Promiscuous Ruin (WTAW, 2023) twists through labyrinthine deer stalks in the imperiled wilderness of inhibited desire. An experimental archive, Unearthingly (KERNPUNKT, 2022) excavates forgotten spaces.
- Ari Koontz :: “Grow”
It takes more courage to grow things than you’d think.
I kneel in the soil, dampness from last night’s storm seeping into the knees of my jeans. On the ground next to me, my tools await: spade, gloves, seed packets, a rake that seems either too long or too short or maybe both. I press my lips together and look up at the sky—cloudless— then back down to the dirt.
When I was seven, I made my first attempt at gardening in a weedy corner of our front yard, after a week of poring over A Child’s Guide to Magical Herbs and begging my mother to take me to the nursery down the street. That small triangular patch of dirt soon became home to spearmint and lemon balm and sage, wildhearted plants whose green leaves shot skyward and leapt the boundaries of my plot in just a few weeks. The summer air was perfumed with a sweet fragrance, and I was delighted by my unexpected success. This wasn’t so hard after all, I thought. But I hadn’t quite considered what I was going to do with all those herbs, and when they started taking the innocent violets for prisoner, they turned into more of a nuisance than a gift.
I tried eating the leaves raw but recoiled at the taste, then crushed them up into salves which ended up drying into dust on the sidewalk, then sewed them into magical dream pillows only to find that they smelled of mildew after only a few nights. Then I decided it was all too much work, and switched my attention to a small aloe plant that sat alone and perfectly contained in a ceramic pot on my desk. About three months later, I forgot to water it for several days in a row, and it withered into nothing.
Up until now, I’ve been lucky: I never really needed to know anything about gardening, herbal remedies aside, because my mother did it all for me. No matter where we went, it was only a matter of months before she had the front, back, and side yards all overflowing with raised beds and flowerpots. In the summer, ripe tomatoes and lettuce and zucchini were never more than a few steps away; the soles of my feet were permanently stained red from raspberries that spilled out of my small fingers. While my mom bent over for hours in the hot sun, wiping sweat from her brow and patiently pulling dandelions from the earth one at a time, I was inside the air-conditioned kitchen, drinking lemonade and waiting not-so-patiently for dinnertime.
At twenty years old, I am not as lucky. For the first time, I will not be home this summer. I am taking extra college classes, starting a job, trying to become more of the adult that I will hopefully someday be. I am trying, however clumsily, to put down some roots of my own.
The ground feels firm and sturdy beneath my fingertips as I press down, testing its strength. It seems like good soil for growing things; the massive pile of weeds behind me says that much. I pick up one of the packets beside me, break the seal with the nail of my pinky finger. A dozen seeds spill out—so tiny they may as well be dust. I bite my lip. The picture on the front of the envelope shows vibrant green leaves, and the carefully printed instructions that my mother sent along with them assure me that somewhere within the contents of my palm there is life. But the seeds are so small and to my skeptical eye they just look like pebbles and I’m nervous, the kind of nervous that defies logic and science and everything your mother taught (or didn’t teach) you.
I take a deep breath, then exhale, curling my fingers over the shriveled rocks. I reread the directions for the hundredth time: Plant seeds 1-2” apart. Cover with 1/8” good soil. Thin as needed when seedlings reach 4”. Simple enough instructions, but… I shake my head and lean forward.
If you don’t do this now, I tell myself, you never will.
I dig my finger into the earth and drop my first seed.
Ari Koontz (they/he) is a queer nonbinary writer and artist with their head in the clouds and hands in the soil. They are currently a creative nonfiction MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University. Ari’s work has been previously published in Wizards In Space Magazine, Oyster River Pages, Ruminate, and Under The Gum Tree, among others. You can find him online at arikoontz.com or on Twitter @arioctober.
- Paul Goudarzi-Fry :: “Saturated Ekphrases”
Settle, and blossom out my neck, prickly pear,
boy of the desert. Only the flowering. Keep your fruit.
Sand and sagebrush lizard will drink your inner waters.
Yes, a desert, but the plump body underneath withstands
what we think of you. What we imagine life to be.
Open your lips to the gossamer hummingbirds.
Drink, and be drunk. Bloom, and be marveled at.
When the body is eaten, only then allow withering.
I still think they’re too young to hold a cherry like that.
Still wonder how they would have chosen to go; could’ve
been me holding them like a cherry in the teeth, just barely,
just casting shadows of encouragement and half-truths.
Like a lion. No, an alligator, with a tall and squeak-filled
hatchling. From a cherry stone, they emerge, eyes closed,
and stilled—no, poised. A knowing smile of omnivore
teeth. For what else would I give my life?
They wriggled out of their eggs and ate everything in sight
together. They’re eating still. Or perhaps exploring a compound
hawkweed. We’re all tired; let them regain their strength.
Aposematism gives them the edge. Don’t you look away.
And don’t imagine your tongue against those little black claws.
They’ll tear you open and rest inside, caterpillars forever, soundly
wriggling and eating and not wondering what they would have
done if they were merely born butterflies.
The dickcissel cries in want of want, less sparseness, more
for a place in the world behind him. He is a juvenile. His
feet grasp firmly for this flight, although it is not his first time
warming himself in the summer. What an expanse, what an eye
that watches with twisting clicks, a warm-up before three direct
declamations; he can hear his unborn chicks overlaid. And
pause. He can always fly. Or he can stay here and turn his head
towards me, uncertainly. But then he twitches. Then he flies.
What’s the use of a kale leaf covering his bedenimed crotch.
Just out of frame, she might have been laughing. Still, too.
She held it up as new leaves grow, and his muscles flexed
outward, veins ridged and golden, far from farmer’s tan border.
A perfect leaf, honored and embarrassed, above a weeded
audience. When the wind blew, you could hear the blades
clapping. Just before, he was so far from Adam. Just now,
his wife knows the revelation. Her shirt read: Moonchild.
Three magpies coax each other in distant croaks, I think,
or just hopping with authority. The sandstone opens to them
in a moment of no erosion. Rain’s been gone for four years.
The canyon diffuses; or is diffused. Three magpies play in
light shadows. Animal play, a mark of intelligence. On the
fence, a magpie spoke to me, but his words were too close
to God. I forget if he joined the three magpies, together as
they picked the eyes from a doe, fallen from the high plateau.
You can’t dive in, but the boats may motor through. You can’t
swim, but there’s nothing around but cicada song today.
Such an empty sky, but empty as in clean, as in, enough, a
touch of white clouds to kiss the earth another day. The ring
of emerald shoulders the pond. Young trees, loud as the wind.
At night, each bows and drinks with a hidden esophagus. This
morning shows where the rust-colored shallows vanish and
give way to the mild threats of nowhere, summer’s nowhere.
Greatness, in the vapor’s inflorescence, seeding the water as
if fish could look upwards and envision, with uncertainty, heaven;
a breathless place that loses all its color when you accept it.
The setting sun bloomed through that night. We sat in the car
afterwards and smelled each other’s skin from opposite seats.
In a parallel season, my body reveals every shade. In this, I honed
into the perfectly level layers of the earth, what was above earth.
I painted life over truth.
Paul Goudarzi-Fry is a gay poet and amateur photographer from central New Hampshire. He is a graduate of the Rainier Writing Workshop at PLU, and his poems have appeared in Travesties?! and DarkWinter Lit. His favorite plant is Lavandula angustifolia.
- Kim Roberts :: “The Invasive Weed Syndicate” and “The Glass Flowers at Harvard”
The Invasive Weed Syndicate
A rude ring of lobed leaves cling
to the bottom of the stem, and from this stage
the actors rise in heart-shaped pods
and strip to white petticoats by the open road.
A ratchety stem with spiny leaves splays;
at the top of each spear, a green gumdrop
garbed in angry spikes wears a hot pink mohawk,
and the bees hone in and get drunk.
Tight oval buds covered in a coarse white beard
pop open to reveal a tiny white flower
like a loose corona following the sun.
Little prospector: beware the claim jumper.
Leaves like elongated spoons climb,
alternating, left and right, as if marching
in single file. The buds droop at the top
as if from shame. So much
is beyond our control.
Tri-corner stems shoot from underground tubers,
a deep blackish-red, that tunnel
under the crops. This mission is a go:
pulling them up leaves the nutlets behind,
pulling them just makes it worse.
Originally published in Blue Lyra Review.
The Glass Flowers at Harvard
The transverse section of a water lily ovary
is delicate and ornate as a snowflake
but tinged cerulean at the outer edges.
Individual balls of pollen with spikes
are magnified to enormous sizes
and resemble translucent blowfish.
Wool sower galls from a white oak,
quercus alba, the growths partially cut away,
form around a glass wasp.
Lilies in bloom have root systems
tangled as a knot of Gorgon hair.
Goldenrod crowds its tiny lobed florets.
Nutmeg stems bow low under the weight
of heavy, waxy, yellow fruit.
Button-wood, witch hazel,
the ratchety stalk of the small-flowered
Agrimony. The leggy Lord Anson’s
Blue Pea has wiry corkscrews
at the ends of each leaf stalk.
The cashew fruit has puppet heads.
A maple leaf in autumn hues wears a red-orange
it took the Blaschkas a decade to perfect.
After the father died, the son continued on
alone. Over 800 plant species, flame worked,
enameled in a wash of metal oxide.
The wetlands weed known as Floating Heart,
Pigeon-berry, also known as Sky Flower,
4,400 models in all, forever blooming.
Laid out in rows of wooden cases,
a life’s work, glass under glass.
Originally published in Pixie Dust and All Things Magical (Authorspress, India).
Kim Roberts is the editor of the anthology By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of our Nation’s Capital (University of Virginia Press, 2020), selected by the East Coast Centers for the Book for the 2021 Route 1 Reads program as the book that “best illuminates important aspects” of the culture of Washington, DC. She is the author of A Literary Guide to Washington, DC: Walking in the Footsteps of American Writers from Francis Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston (University of Virginia Press, 2018), and five books of poems, most recently The Scientific Method (WordTech Editions, 2017). Her chapbook, Corona/Crown, a cross-disciplinary collaboration with photographer Robert Revere, is forthcoming from WordTech Editions in 2023. kimroberts.org.
- Grant Chemidlin :: “Cruising,” “Portrait of a Plant on Fire,” and “Sally (When There’s Nothing Left to Sell)”
Two men meet in the middle
of a secret,
the bushes. The trees,
who see no deviance, offer
their trunks for cover.
Two men meet in the middle
of desire, slip out
of their armor, bask
in the unclad sun,
in each other’s arms,
in each other’s tongues.
In the middle
of a better world:
Two men, undone.
Two men, unbelievably soft
when they touch. Even
the stubble-studded chins
are silken moss.
A twig-crack. A gruff shout
in the distance
& two men
All that’s left—two hollowed logs
holding their breath
on the forest floor.
Originally appeared in New in Town (Bottlecap Press, 2022).
Portrait of a Plant on Fire
M came back from the hardware store today
with a big bag of soil. & when I asked
what he was up to, he gestured to the dying fern
in the corner, how its long & fan-like leaves
had turned pale yellow, spotted & droopy.
I watched with fascination—his caring hands
as they cupped the spidered roots, lifted up
that hopeless little fern from its hollow crimson
home. Right then, I could see it: the slightest smile
spreading on his face as he replaced that dry,
that useless dirt with layer after layer
of new & fertile fluff. Is this not the perfect image
of true love? Of what life can be boiled down to
in a bright red pot? The very core of all our hopes:
that someone, someday, will come along in our most
dire moments of need, of feeling lonely,
& feed us a fresh, an unconditional love.
Forthcoming in What We Lost in the Swamp (Central Avenue Publishing, 2023).
Sally (When There’s Nothing Left to Sell)
Plants in Los Angeles look like coral,
like seaweed, which is another way to say
that every time I’m walking down the street,
I’m underwater. Look at that bush over there
with its long, pipe cleaner limbs, like a spindly green
octopus. How’d you get so deep down here? he asks,
but I’m too busy looking up at the surface,
minding my silence, wondering why every note
that dives below sounds muted, wondering
how something as violent as drowning,
as sinking to the bottom, from above
looks peaceful, looks small, looks
practically invisible to the flock of gulls
Forthcoming in What We Lost in the Swamp (Central Avenue Publishing, 2023).
Grant Chemidlin is a queer poet and currently, an MFA candidate at Antioch University-Los Angeles. He is the author of the chapbook New in Town (Bottlecap Press, 2022) and the illustrated collection He Felt Unwell (So He Wrote This). His second collection of poems What We Lost in the Swamp will be published by Central Avenue Publishing in 2023. He’s been a finalist for the Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award, the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, and Atlanta Review’s International Poetry Contest. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Quarterly West, Iron Horse Literary Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and Atlanta Review, among others.
- celina mcmanus :: “bog baby” and “prayer: a voice memo”
bog baby, you have become the tamarack. are you there, bog baby? bog baby, i am not sure how to swim through the tentacles. bog baby, i am here for you. i see you under there, slimy and giggling. bog baby, let me tell you a story. once, i was just like you. only, i was enshrined in an american sycamore. she monkey-barred my whole body until i found what skin can feel like outside of human sway. she fed me small fingers of sap and whirligigs. back then i called them helicopters, but isn’t whirligigs much nicer? there’s less possible violence in it. and why is there violence attached to a seed? not all winged things slice. when seeds take flight, they have only growth in mind: tower there, tower here, whispers of coupling in an underground internet of roots. bog baby, have you ever met a violent maple? i’m wondering now, if there is any such thing as neutrality? oh, bog baby, don’t cry, i’ll tell you sweet secrets from now on. like how i found myself on an island not meant for me, swimming with humpbacks. how i tasted the crackle of okra on my tongue that traveled over stolen seas… here i go again, twisting the root until it breaks. wait, i think i’ve finally got you free. what is it now? why are you squirming toward the bog again? why, you didn’t want to be freed at all. you were already free, weren’t you?
prayer: a voice memo
after reading World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil and navigating chronic fatigue in my church’s september garden
bees on borage / cosmos pink / the swoop dip of canadian geese bathing / the bloop of a virtual vampire squid / i collect small noticings like dandruff clung to my middle-aged black cat / the small stars that hang on the limb after gathering handfuls of purple tomatoes / the scent of vegetation / hidden cucumber / an okra plant taller than my reach / flowers flowers flowers painted as a purposeful bruise / a tear to the achilles heel after reaching for a lightning bug / a volunteer tomato plant from last years seed / i harvest / there’s still more beans / sitting among the hops / running from the rain / the enclosed mouth of a morning glory / a stranger’s faint crunches on leaves / the cucumbers wedge themselves in grates / funky but edible / it is 80 degrees this late September afternoon / there are 30 orange nasturtium flowers / the bees nibble / fuzz on fuzz / still working / unaware this excess heat is not their friend / and, still, i go to the garden / feeding mouths i will never meet
celina mcmanus (they/she) is a poet, educator, youth worker, and gardener from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, territory of the Cherokee, now living in St. Paul, MN, Dakota and Anishinaabe land. They were of the first cohort to graduate from the Randolph MFA program where they were a poetry editor for Revolute. Their work has been featured in Hooligan Magazine, Peach Mag, and others. They spend their free time tinkering at their work-in-progress, in abolitionist work, and by and in bodies of water. At the woven rush intersection of their day-to-day, they reflect on adrienne maree brown’s observation that “all organizing is science fiction.”
- Issue #03
- Chloe Chou :: “supermarket succulent”
perfect, and what does that mean? pink pot,
moist dirt, green leaves; factory made. how do you
produce a living thing? when you’re something so
beautiful under supermarket lights, when you’re
“CLEARANCE: $5 ONLY”. when you’re on the
cashier conveyor belt and then
downstairs in the living room, extending towards the
sun. stretching, distorting, finally imperfect, finally
Chloe Chou is a high school sophomore from California! She currently serves as the Daly City Youth Poet Laureate and the South San Francisco Youth Poet-In-Residence. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Elementia, The Eunoia Review, and Sine Theta. In her free time, she enjoys making mixtapes and coding random things!
- Joy Su :: “Fertilizer”
In my first home, we grew tomatoes and beanstalks
and expectations like members of the same family.
For a second, I want to be useless. I spent so much of my childhood
trying to be smart. I wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer—
but mostly I just wanted to be needed. I thought myself
a gardener of sorts. Nursed people instead of plants
all the way back to life. Remember, my mother grew up on a farm.
She can’t keep houseplants alive no matter how she tries.
I tried giving her light, water, air. I nearly forced her to eat.
We tended to each other like sundews unsure
what was stalk or flesh. She tells me now, you were a good kid.
Why get a therapist when I have you? I think of how flytraps live in bogs
but get their nitrogen from insects instead.
Remember, she grew up on a farm. Don’t forget she had to leave.
I tended to my garden with fingers and pride grew up from the shoots.
Joy Su is a queer Chinese American poet. They are an editor for Polyphony Lit with work published in Augment Review, the lickety~split, and more. In their free time, you can find them on Twitter @joysuwrites or enjoying the scent of buttered toast. Joy goes by any pronouns.
- Jo Güstin :: “Letter to Rihanna”
My dearest Rihanna,
It is me,
And 3 AM in Montreal.
I am writing to you in English because I am not sure at this point, that you would pardon my French
The language of my “je t’aime”
And all the words I sang to you
In that bedroom,
Those other ones,
On the front seat of a U-Haul,
Or when you were in my backpack
While I was riding Ruth Ryders
The old bicycle taking us
All to a place I thought was home.
It never was, I am sorry.
I had to move out all the time
Holding you tight
Scared and weary,
Kissing your leaves
To give me strength…
The tear stains on my badass shades
Looked like the bars of a prison
The ones denying you freedom
Not the ones serving you cocktails.
My dearest dearest Rihanna
Maman suffocates in her guilt
I haven’t seen you in a while,
As weeks and weeks and months go by
I just keep breaking my promise
That “take care” song behind your name
I meant every word, I promise
I’ve never loved so constantly
You’re the one who took care of me
My sweet baby, I feel ashamed
I need a home to be your mom
And I struggle with permanence
In a country so hard to love
Where nobody ever loved me
I thought I’d have found it by now
By the time I turned 35
You wouldn’t be my single child
You’d thrive in a forest of love
You were my practice of caring
For someone other than myself
And of building a family
Some pets, some plants, a wife maybe
I was told you would never die
That’s one thing we had in common
Snake plants are great for a first time
You forgave all my oversights
Will you forgive me for failing
At my one job of raising you?
I will forgive you for loving
Your plant-sitter much more than me.
He is the best, I’ll give you that
And the best choice I’ve ever made
He has the home, the plants, the wife,
My vision board? That’s just his life.
When we reunite I will have
A beautiful home of my own
What if I’m sick of “Canada”?
What if I am forever gone?
What if I’ve been gone all this time
Like a phantom in denial?
I’ll have to stop being your mom
I will have to break my own heart.
Are you waiting, my Rihanna?
Are you waiting for my return?
I am in Montreal right now,
But yesterday it was Berlin and tomorrow, back in Paris,
Then maybe, maybe Wellington.
Don’t you think I am having fun
Being a stranger everywhere!
I’m trying to find the right pot
When there’s no earth for the Black queer
Jo Güstin is an intersectionality artivist who celebrates Black and queer lives using storytelling and comedy. After Cameroon, France, Germany, and Japan, the multilingual novelist behind 9 Histoires lumineuses (2017) and Ah Sissi, il faut souffrir pour être française ! (2019) now lives in Canada, where she shot her debut film Don’t Text Your Ex (2021), created and produced the audio series Contes et légendes du Queeristan (2020), and more recently, the bilingual poetry podcast Make It Like Poetry (2022).
- Trinity Nguyen :: “There Are Roly Polies in My Monstera”
I thought about trashing it.
Like the other plants and flowers and exes
I couldn’t save.
I bought a spray from Lowe’s,
drowned them with filtered water
(per Google’s advice).
Left traps with vinegar, sugar, hand soap
all before dialing the phone number almost identical to mine.
She didn’t scold,
didn’t click her tongue.
Just: I’ll come up this weekend! It must be the organic soil!
Mom liked to say my monstera is Vietnamese.
Driving to Home Depots, scouring Facebook Marketplace, Yelping plant nurseries,
all because I wanted one.
We found it in a Vietnamese home owned by a Vietnamese gardener who grows Vietnamese plants (and monsteras).
She drove thirty-five minutes
not afraid of the 405N,
taking the monstera, dropping off phở, and whispering
I love you
Trinity Nguyen is a queer Vietnamese American author writing about messy diaspora kids and their messier immigrant families. She’s a recent graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, where she studied political science and economics. Trinity currently resides in Southern California with her cat. Her words have been featured in magazines and journals and can be found at trinity-nguyen.com. She is represented by BookEnds Literary Agency.
- Audrey L. Reyes :: “Field Notes on Remembering”
my most faithful survivor;
But which seeds of their mouths/ my mouth’s seeds have I grown/ flowered into trees/ memories/ memory trees I continue to water
Which feathers did I pluck from which bird to build/ fan my own plumage
Whose voice is it I hear when I speak/ is it mine/ if it isn’t mine?
Are these hands mine?/ If I do not recall/ how to fold them with grace/ This gait, mine?/ If I do not recognize the stance/ in the mirror
And this anger?/ If I have not spurned/ the lava spilling from my chest/ if, at all, it had seethed through my own ribs
I have built islands & monuments/ cradled each splinter of a spire/ without knowing how or when/ without souvenirs for these hands/ & the tools they bore/ & if there truly are splinters nestled underneath my palms
And if it is not mine, I cease/ to admire/ these islands I inhabit,/ these monuments/ familiar in grit/ I fall in love/ with beauty/ at times
Did I dig out those plots in the ground?/ Cracked the land open/ dirtied my hands with hurt/ in the backyard of time/ & buried these bulbs/ & watered them?
There is dirt on my boots/ does it make it true?/ & if I was only a spectator/ or a stand in/ What about the dirt I’ve scraped/ from my nail beds/ & if not from mine,/ could it mean I’ve worked hard/ to remember/ to plant a memory/ to neighbor the intimacy
Let them flourish/ take root/ embrace rot
Because they flourish./ they root./ they rot.
Everyone might’ve/ taken up hands/ to build a garden/ for the seeds/ into bulbs/ & tended them/ bled them dry/ potted/ in honor/ of what?
When they wilt/ from my awful green thumb,/ the poison of my forgetfulness,/ I begin to probe/ if the leaves grew red/ the petals, green/ if the pungence was sweetness/ or if at all/ there was only pungence/ or simply, the sweetness of death
Everyone has truths/ tells lies/ lives half-truths/ has little fictions they’ve accepted as real/ reels/ Was it the other way around?/ I am certain/ never certain
my most unreliable witness.
Audrey L. Reyes (she/her) is a queer Filipino poet and former early childhood educator whose favorite workplace activity is raising hell. Her work has appeared in several online literary magazines, anthologies, and print issues around the world. She resides in Manila.
- Robin Kinzer :: “Meyer Lemon Tree”
In the days after we break up,
I become obsessed with the
idea of planting a lemon tree.
I have been cautioned by all of
my plant-loving friends, one of
whom is an actual botanist:
Your balcony will not get enough sun.
You will get leaves, but perhaps no fruit.
I purchase a Meyer lemon tree.
The internet informs me they’ve been known
to fruit year-round. In winter, I do as told,
and move the tree inside, lifting my
blinds and draping the leaves in sun.
My friend the botanist comes to visit.
He examines my tree, says: You did not
pick a plant meant for beginners.
Could you not have started with a fern?
And I think of you, wine bottles
multiplying under your bed
like jewel toned dust bunnies,
an alcoholic from a family of angry
veterans and famous Republicans.
Still, I could not have chosen any
other way. Without you now,
I seek my fingers into the soil
like ten sightless, searching worms.
Dirt accumulates beneath my
pearled nails. I close my eyes and
inhale, urging the scent of lemon to
waft from, perhaps, an unseen bud.
Every morning, I peer between
the waxy green leaves for signs
of fruit. Every morning: None.
Previously published in Sad Girl Blog’s Poetry Contest.
Robin Kinzer is a queer, disabled poet, memoirist, and editor. She was once a communist beaver in a PBS documentary. She previously studied psychology and poetry at Sarah Lawrence and Goucher Colleges, and is now an MFA candidate at University of Baltimore. Robin has poems recently published, or shortly forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, Anti-Heroin Chic, fifth wheel press, Corporeal Lit, Delicate Friend, and others. She loves glitter, Ferris wheels, and waterfalls. She also loves radical empathy, vintage fashion, and carnivals. She can be found on Twitter at @RobinAKinzer and at robinkinzer.com.
- Grace Embers :: “weeds found in my garden, June 2020”
Whatever clover’s shortcomings, it adds nitrogen, nourishing the soil, and it is so beloved by honeybees. I wish I were beloved by honeybees. I guess I’m a bit jealous of its clean, simple flowers and the delicate, thorough intimacies bees take with them.
I try to leave clover intact until it’s really getting out of hand—because of the nitrogen thing.
My lover adores these, identifies strongly with them, they make her spirit smile. I have tried to make her see that they are a weed, but to no avail. Big sigh.
I always want to pull them out, but the idea of their living, defiantly, in unintended places somehow inflames all my lover’s righteous sympathies. It’s fun to see her this way, froward and simmering as I taste the fragrance on her scapular. But ripping these disobedient blossoms out of the earth right in front of her will leave her intractable, truculent. So, in the lawn they stay.
But I confess, the ones growing in the garden end up buried in the compost bin the first time she runs errands without me.
several kinds of grasses.
I love the smell of fresh-mown grass, it always means the onset of summer to me. I remember mowing lawns as a kid, how my mom thought it an affront to my womanhood somehow, but I was grateful for the pocket cash and for just being wrapped in that smell.
I don’t consider this a real grass. Its asymmetry makes it one of the few children of Nature that I know to be primevally ugly. I’m glad its root systems are so weak compared to other grasses—I don’t have to fight them. Out, out they go!
Not the same thing as a banana tree, but they’re somehow related. I can’t imagine how, with their broad, serving-spoon-shaped leaves and the fragile, pebbled towers of seed pods. I feel like I am at least this different from some of my relatives.
These seem to need very specific conditions in which to grow. they like gravelly roadsides. I can relate. I was like this once—low to the ground, self-possessed, cute but stubborn.
I showed these to my Turkish friend and she said “Oh, we have these back home, too!” It’s hard for me to believe, so far across the map, such a different place, but I would never challenge my friend on something like this. She’s been back to her home country so seldom since leaving, and every memory she must treasure like a tiny jewel. I cherish this friend, with her odd perceptions and vivid stories.
Maybe they do grow in Turkey? I know less about Turkey than the moon. All I know is, you can put purslane in soup.
I think often about climate change, habitat loss, loss of diversity. Then I look down the long swath of ‘wetlands’ beyond our property, and the forest of milkweeds that grow (in some places taller than me) and the monarchs and other butterflies that thrill to be among them come late spring. It may not look like much, but a field of milkweeds smells great.
It took me a long time to identify this plant. It doesn’t grow upstate. When I held it in my hands, it made the most amazing scent. I thought of the Turkish liqueur, raki, or its Greek counterpart, ouzo. It’s not anise, though.
Someone older and wiser told me what it is. She called it chrysanthemum weed, and I learned this means “artemisia vulgaris”. I immediately felt bad for it, to have to beat such an unflattering name. There was nothing vulgar about it.
This is wormwood, the source of the Green Faerie, absinthe, symbol of artistic rebellion and Goddess of Transformation.
I learned, only just recently, that a museum is somewhere you go to visit your muses. Ha! I should have known.
I won’t be trying to make any absinthe. But the scent is euphoric, it really is nearly overwhelming, and I couldn’t believe you couldn’t cook something excellent with it, if you could bring yourself to cutting it.
Then I learned the truth.
I feel it all.
I feel it all.
I am the green transforming fire in the eyes of a young man.
I am a young woman, trapped by a single night’s mistake, forced to choose between a life of art and the work of a mother.
I am an old woman—call me witch, go ahead—keeping ancient, hidden knowledge alive
with the fructifying soil running up my arms, embedding itself in the lines on my palms, staining my fingernails, my soul
We shut our eyes, we run our fingertips up the stem, we breathe in the scent, the scent is inspiration but the taste is liberation
a green upright stalk fragrant and potent, I am,
if you make a tea of me, and if you drink enough, I will give you back your body
let your blood flow again
and if you chop me up and till me into the soil, I will come back again and again, not as a single sprout but as a whole new crop
I will be for you a fragrant army.
indian mock strawberry.
Maybe it’s wrong to call it by this name. “Potentilla indica” then. Not tasty but not inedible.
You tricked me—I thought you were wild raspberry, collected your fruit in my old Tupperware, baked you in a tart. You’re not who I thought you were, you’re an interloper (same as me, all of us weeds somewhere), but tart and sweet and bright.
What I learned from my mother is, wherever an Iris grows, you cherish it. When an iris sprouted, tall and truthful, in the corner of my garden, I left it, as a gift to my mom’s memory, and myself. Some plants are never weeds.
Grace is queer, femme, but still in the closet about her poetry. She grew up in upstate New York, so much so as to have recurring dreams about becoming a gorge near Ithaca. She has too many technical degrees, and just wishes her engineering career would leave her enough time to write her sci-fi sapphic romances in peace.
- Nnadi Samuel :: “Still-life with Shrubs”
Autumn buzzes around us, like the killing of bees.
our youthful legs still adoring crop stains,
stampeding the dense thickets, honey-sweet with cicada & fallen grapes.
our ripest inheritance— the luscious sting of maple leaves.
osmanthus, carpeting the undergrowth of
teff grain only our bare feet stomps.
we braid a garland round our neck,
having wishful thoughts of asphyxiation.
the night Japheth held his breath,
each winged creature froze mid-air as prayer weathering a quiet storm.
April, Pa buries all his love interest:
a sack of hand trowel,
a son shouldering his name & indifference.
the harvest, scanty as a willable plot of land.
friends say Japheth toyed with wizardry,
grilled hibiscus into oat,
summoning milkweed from the throat of a borehole.
we replay the scenario,
casting characters out of the wrong plot.
In our teenage year we toiled the gutters, soakaway.
sewage pits, surrounded by thorn pikes.
the leaves reddish in autumn’s grip.
from the rust, we famed our jewelleries:
bracelets of green spinach.
trinkets of marshmallow lapped over our wrists—
bleeding as the early sugar carrots.
we harvest a mother bee from her hive,
and a swarm accost us.
tulips wreathing over a dull fence, lambent with fireflies.
the leftover glow, trailing us back to our homestead.
Nnadi Samuel (he/him/his) holds a B.A in English & literature from the University of Benin. His works have been previously published/forthcoming in Suburban Review, Seventh Wave Magazine, NativeSkin Lit Magazine, North Dakota Quarterly, Quarterly West, Common Wealth Writers, Jaggery, Foglifter, The Capilano Review, Lolwe & elsewhere. He is the winner of the Canadian Open Drawer Contest 2020, the International Human Right Arts Festival Award (IHRAF), New York 2021, and the 2022 Angela C Mankiewicz Poetry Contest. He tweets @Samuelsamba10.
- Briar Ripley Page :: “Gardeners in Hades”
Two men walk up a gravel path together. On either side of them, carefully tended rows of plants stretch into the distance. Plants of all kinds, berries and blossoms that would never appear alongside one another in nature. There is no birdsong or insect hum in the air, only quiet machine noises. The sky has no visible sun, seems somehow too close. It’s a bright, garish tropical watercolor stain of a sky. Nothing quite casts a shadow, and yet—there is a haze across the ground before and behind the ambling figures.
One man is eighteen, the other about thirty or thirty-five. The older man is handsome in a rough-cut sort of way, prematurely balding, stocky. The younger man still has a doughy, boyish look, and beautiful smooth skin. Both wear dark green jumpsuit coveralls and heavy brown boots. Both carry metal boxes with handles and hinges. They stop at a concrete ledge surrounding a sunken lake of palm trees, each tree so defined in the sky’s consistent light that it looks solarized. They put their boxes down on top of the ledge and open them.
* * *
This is where I like to sit on my smoke breaks. Here, we can share.
I don’t like menthols.
You’re taking one anyway, I see.
Almost looks like a real sunset, right?
I dunno. I’m not that old.
Shit, neither am I. But you’ve seen videos, yeah?
I guess. Things don’t look real in videos.
Look at that gradient. Yellow, gold, pink, red.
I think it looks like bloody vomit.
Don’t be gross, Cal.
The world is gross. Like, look at this. This is my lunch. Cockroach nutrient paste. They grind up those cute little bugs for it. Like, look at those trees. You know what they grow them in?
I’ve worked here for seven years. Of course I know.
I always figured it was just compost. Before I came to work at the gardens.
It is. Human compost. Potter’s field.
I thought they burned all the dead people up on the surface.
Nah. Not everybody wants that. It’s good for the trees, anyway. It gets us a nice color variation in the hydrangeas. They turn from blue to pink in the spots where the soil mixture goes from corpse-full to corpseless. Not like we take ‘em until they’re super decomposed and processed, anyway.
Gives me the creeps, is all. I don’t think I’d’ve applied for this job if I’d known. Don’t you worry those hydrangeas might be haunted?
Don’t believe in ghosts. Except maybe up aboveground, in the heat and the storms. Ooooooh, spooky. All our dead ancestors lamenting the folly that led us here. Ooooh. Whooooo. That’s the real reason nobody can go up and out if they don’t have a permit. They’d be accosted by hungry ghosts in the dry, sterile wind. Howling about what they should’ve done all those years ago, before we had to go below.
Fuck you, Sam. God, I hate menthol. I hate it.
And yet, he smokes.
If I didn’t, I would get hungry enough to actually eat the cockroach paste.
I’d offer you some of my lunch, but I don’t have one. Just the cigs. You’re right; the paste ain’t great.
It’s so fucked up that they still even make cigarettes. When you think about it.
They still make all kinds of shit. That’s capitalism, baby. Besides, we gotta have our little vices so we don’t succumb to any big ones. And so we don’t get too dissatisfied with life. Anyway, who wants to live past sixty or seventy down here? Not me, I can tell you that.
You got a favorite plant?
Well, there’s a more pleasant question. Hmmm. I suppose I’ve always been partial to that mulberry tree over yonder. Black mulberry. Only one left in the world. Bitter little fruits, bark’ll make you shit yourself for days. That tree has over three hundred chromosomes, did you know?!
Is that a lot, for a tree?
God, it’s a crazy number. Damn polyploids. Love them.
My favorite’s the prickly pear. I don’t know a damn thing about, like, the science, the chromosomes or the ribosomes or whatever, but I like saying the name. I like the spikes.
You’re drawn to the difficult ones. A kid after my own heart.
I wish there were more cactuses left.
Yeah. Pity they couldn’t rescue ‘em.
They’re an honest thing in the world. If you touch them, they hurt your hand. Some of these trees are too pretty to be down here. They smell too good. They’re all soft and dripping petals on the walkways, and the petals are made of rotted corpses. The corpses get sucked up from the mulch through the roots, you know, and turned into flowers. And don’t make fun— don’t you dare, Sam— but sometimes I think: what if ghosts got sucked up out of the dirt that way, too? What if the tree is drinking up human souls and turning ‘em strange, into some kind of haunting that’s not quite a dead man’s whisper and not quite the sex of a plant? What would those creatures even look like? What might they want from us?
Cal, come on. Don’t be an idjit. Finish that smoke. Break time’s up in a few minutes.
Already? That’s practically nothing. Geez.
We get two more before shift change. Don’t complain. This is a cushy gig. Would you rather be in one of the factory sectors?
Only if I got to be in management.
Dream on, buddy. Make sure you put the butt in a safe disposal bag.
Yeah, yeah. I’m ahead of you, old-timer.
* * *
Sam and Cal rise from the concrete ledge where they’ve been resting. Cal runs a hand through the black scrub of his hair. It’s still a tender hand, uncallused; Cal is from a relatively well-off family, has not had to work until his recently bestowed legal adulthood. There is thick black crud packed tight beneath each of his fingernails. He carefully puts two cigarette butts in a plastic bag marked with the biohazard symbol. He puts the bag inside his lunchbox, beside the container of food he’s barely touched.
Sam’s hands are filthy, the skin so thick he can put his cigarettes out on the meaty part of his palms and not feel it. He cracks each knuckle with relish and stretches them high above his head. Artificial night will arrive in this part of the garden soon. Sam and Cal will do the next part of their shift in a starless twilight; for the last leg, they’ll move on to a sector where it’s electric blue day. This work plays havoc with a person’s circadian rhythm, but everyone’s used to that by now. No one remembers when it was different. A person might as well sleep in light as in dark.
The two men head back down the gravel path the way they came. Noises of human activity begin to drown out the quiet machine sounds. More people in green jumpsuits come into view, and some old helper robots with kindly, un-sentient faces. A few of them call out to Sam, or Cal, or both.
Behind them, unnoticed, strange pale nude figures creep through the palm trees. They stay well clear of the concrete ledge. There are perhaps a dozen of them— human-looking, and not. Their figures resemble ours. They even have genitals. But their faces are distorted, peeled open in delicate layers of soft pinkish-gray. They don’t appear to have any eyes or teeth or skulls back there, behind the layers: it’s just ruffle after ruffle of moist flesh, like the petals of a washed-out marigold. Still, they must have senses, and thoughts. It’s obvious from the way they avoid the ledge, the way they grow still when the next workers come to sit upon it and take their smoke break. It’s obvious in how they bend their petalled heads together in conference and entwine their long, nail-less fingers. Sometimes they turn to watch the smokers. Sometimes one reaches out a long arm and points at one or another of the jumpsuited people, and the others shift to point their flowers towards that person. (The figures don’t seem interested in the robots at all.)
What grows in the underworld? Even those who tend it don’t know. What do the flower-people want? Are they ghosts? Are they vengeful or kind? Will they seduce Sam one day as he removes malignant fungus from the roots of a white oak? Will they leap upon Cal one night and drag him, wild-eyed and kicking, into the palm grove? I can’t tell you these things. I can only show you the mystery. I can only show you that there will always be a mystery, as long as there are human beings with minds to contemplate it.
Briar Ripley Page grew up in Appalachia and currently lives in London with their spouse, cats, and a friend or two. They have a giant raspberry bush in their back garden but cannot keep houseplants alive. You can find Briar and their (prolific! acclaimed!) work online at briarripleypage.xyz and flameswallower.itch.io.
- Umang Kalra :: “REMEMBER WHEN THEY TOLD US THE MUSHROOMS COULD TALK”
to each other & here we were wondering what they would say to us. I am wondering
what they’d think of bipolar disorder in their limited vocabulary. I am wondering if they
know what a funeral is. Consider sunset: surely they know the absence of
vitality, surely they touch each other at nighttime too, surely they know what
I’m talking about when I name lust a problematic emotion. Consider rain: do they know
they are drinking it? At the end of the next apocalypse when all the people are gone, will
the internet try to kill everything else? What do the mushrooms think? Do they want
to live? Do they know what an evolutionary instinct is? What do we do with all this
capitalism, so deep that we are surveilling the fungus. Picture the afterlife:
intelligence is only artificial when the people who made it are still alive /
intelligence is a construct of humanness / mushrooms will probably exist long after
we do. Picture the afterlife: the wires have taken over our buildings and cities, roots
crawling over their crevices, the mushrooms using their 50 “words” to tell them
it’s okay that they lived despite us.
Umang Kalra is a writer from India and the founding EIC of VIBE. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Wax Nine, Lucy Writers’ Platform, and elsewhere. They are a two-time Best of the Net Anthology finalist and a Pushcart nominee. Read more at umkalra.persona.co.
- Issue #02
- Ashely Adams :: “Prescribed Burn”
Wildland Fire Use: The management of naturally ignited wildland fires to accomplish specific prestated resource management objectives in predefined geographic areas outlined in Fire Management Plans.
There is a scrub preserve south of Tampa Bay where the grass kisses at your legs with ungentle tongues, growing up golden-brown between the tooth-edged saw palms. Compared to the concrete buildings and exotic trees, the scrubland feels exposed. The naked sky’s brushed by scattered groves of pine, the trees all maintaining a polite distance from each other. Time it right and you can watch the slow drift of the sky into the magentas of sunset along with the silhouettes of whippoorwills sweeping overhead.
Despite the relative proximity to the city, almost nobody uses the trail. It’s one of the few places I have been able to find in the city that gives me any sense of isolation. No traffic, no emails, no roommates forgetting to take out the trash.
No man tailgating me, laying into the horn because my bumper stickers displeased him.
No man refusing my help on a paper because he doesn’t think I know what climate change is.
No man screaming bitch at me for the crime of not looking at him while we pass on the street.
Yes, only me and the armadillos crashing through the undergrowth, unafraid in their pursuit of all the rewards of the soil.
Continue Reading “Prescribed Burn”
Ashely Adams is a queer swamp-adjacent writer and okay birder. Ask her about the weather.
- H. Pueyo :: “Paula”
It started as a tiny leaf prickling her toe inside the sock, minuscule and green, then a longer stem sprouted from it, twirling around the hallux. Paula stared at it. It’s probably a fungus, she thought, then held the stem with two manicured fingers painted light pink. She pulled the leaf like a weed. The discomfort was back the next day, tangled around her two ring toes. It’s the plants, she told herself. I’m spending too much time with the plants.
She decided to go to the flower market anyway, wallet hidden inside her purse. Paula dressed up like she would have for a lover: wavy blonde wig she used to wear during performances, red lipstick, a golden necklace under her Adam’s apple, heavy earrings, heels, and a beautiful emerald dress. See you soon, she told a line of cacti, making kissing sounds.
The leaves stung inside the shoes, breaking through a piece of skin to sprout another leaf. Paula ignored the pain and admired the sparkling flowers smiling back at her. Just like home, she thought, touching a terracotta vase. The sole of her feet blazed like she had a rash. She chose a baby’s tears to hang over her bed and another sunflower for the living room.
When she was young, Paula lived for the stage—rehearsals and dances, feathers and sequins, hours and hours of not knowing if the military would come this time or not. Those were violent times, she thought, arranging the plant above the headboard. Her bedroom had other vases; on the floor, on the shelves, on the window, on the balcony. Two potted ferns hung from a golden chain, their soft green roots looking darker under the afternoon light. Forty years later, things were different, calmer, perhaps. Not always, Paula muttered to herself, lying on the mattress. Not yet.
One heeled shoe fell on the rug, revealing a foot that was covered by patches of moss. Paula touched the varicose veins dancing in her legs, purple and blue, and covered the green fuzz with a wrinkled hand. Decades had passed, and she couldn’t move as freely as before, but at least she had her plants. Dracaenas, palm trees, violets, succulents. Two windows of cacti of varying sizes and a kitchen of pepper, rosemary, basil, peppermint, sage. Sometimes, she barely had space to walk, and many of the plants now slept with her.
Paula removed her wig, and closed her eyes. From her head, little flower buds sprouted and begun to flourish, one by one, bathed by the setting sun. Paula felt herself getting weaker, like she had danced the entire night. The baby’s tears gazed at her from above. Good night, they seemed to say. Foliage covered her thin arms, and petals fell onto the pillow, yellow and white. The sweet smell of pollen filled the air, and Paula closed her eyes. Good night, she said too, and the flowers bloomed at last.
Previously published in Apparition Lit.
H. Pueyo (@hachepueyo on Twitter) is an Argentine-Brazilian writer of speculative fiction. Her work has appeared before in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Fireside, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, among others. Her bilingual debut collection A Study in Ugliness & Outras Histórias will be out by Lethe Press at the end of 2022. Author illustration by Dante Luiz.
- Anam Raheem :: “Ethereal Yawn”
Have you ever seen an orchid wither from the living?
After months of lying dormant—molting to a literal stick in the mud—there’s a temptation to cut your losses and toss the orchid in the bin. It’s easy to forget that the stick has a root system—a subconscious—an invisible governing force that, with the right conditions, can generate and regenerate buds.
And when those buds appear, they spark joy. The remembrance that there’s life after all—that the promise and potential of the future perseveres. If we didn’t know better—if we thought the buds were the full expression of the orchid’s offering—it would be enough. More than enough, actually. Ethereal tear-drop shaped green fists with streaks of lacy pink. The buds are travelers on their way to somewhere else, and, even in their liminality, they are perfect. Tight and sturdy, protected from the harshness of the outside world. If the buds stayed as buds, they would be beautiful.
But the buds don’t stay that way. They dare to proceed past the mysterious threshold of what lies beyond beauty. When the time is right—when the root system is properly triggered, or perhaps, empowered—the bud cracks and within 24 hours the delicate layers peel back in an ethereal yawn. Each bud on its own timeline, paying no mind to who’s first or last. When it’s time for an orchid to bloom, it blooms without hesitation, as if it’s overcome by a sudden and unexpected joy, as if it’s experiencing the beginning of love. There is a fearlessness that exudes from orchids when it’s time to bloom. It’s as if orchids know that joy is not made to be a crumb. It’s that knowing—buried somewhere deep in the subterranean root system—that fuels the risk to bloom.
And when it’s time to bloom, the buds transform to an otherworldly blossom, filling this world with a presence that lies beyond beauty. An orchid’s captivating oddities would tempt any outsider to pluck, pull apart, demystify this creature. Just by fully expressing itself, the orchid opens itself to peril, to nazar, to the gaze of so many. Just by being itself. Such dangerous unwanted intrusions. The orchid has every reason to stay a bud—to exist in this world like a tightly bound, impenetrable fist—to be beautiful and safe.
But the orchid proceeds to a realm that lies beyond beautiful and safe. It unfurls its insides so that they become its outsides. Who could have guessed the shape and parts of an orchid are what they are? Probably not even the orchid. An unimaginable, divinely constructed architecture that could only be known through the unfurling. By exposing what was once inside to the nourishing sun, the orchid—like the joyful stretch of a newborn being freed from its swaddle—takes up more space in this world.
On the one hand, the former bud foregoes safety by inviting predators to feed off its generosity. On the other hand, the present blossom invites divine collaborations with the likes of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds. To be a bud is to be beautiful and safe. To be a blossom is to sing in the call and response of life’s interconnectedness.
Life is in the unfolding—the intuitive path to blossomhood. Life is also in the retreating—the release to death. Orchids know when it’s time to bloom and when it’s time to wither, and honors each part of this dance without judgment. Just like how a wave’s ebb is no better or worse than its flow, the time of life and the time of death are symbiotic peers. Vulnerability is the mysterious, risky force that transforms bud to blossom—the force that fuels the cycle of life to death back to life again.
Have you ever seen an orchid rise from the dead?
Anam is a writer and social justice activist. She lived in Palestine for five years, leading a coding school in Gaza and the West Bank. Anam has been shortlisted for the 2021 Wasafiri Emerging Writers Prize for her first work of fiction, and is currently working on her first book, a collection of personal essays reflecting on her time in Palestine. She is the youngest daughter of Pakistani immigrants. Subscribe to her newsletter: anamraheem.substack.com.
- Robin Arble :: “Second Spring”
Laying in bed last night, I looked down and saw my body was a field of wildflowers. I ran my hands through the deep grass, careful not to touch the fat bumblebees feasting on each sunflower’s spiral of seeds. Stems of Queen Anne’s Lace opened their discs to the sun, dotting the little hills of my breasts, and I closed my eyes and listened to the rise and fall, rise and fall of their one breath. The pale mountains of my thighs were covered in snow. I threw the hem of the field over my knees, blanketing my body in summer’s dress, and every bud that held itself tight through the spring—lilacs, lilies, anemones, trilliums—finally burst into bloom, as new and old as anything in this world.
Robin Arble (they/she) is a poet from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. Their poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Door Is A Jar, Anti-Heroin Chic, Pøst-, Brazos River Review, and Overheard Magazine, among others. She studies literature and creative writing at Hampshire College.
- Mair Allen :: “In Spike, In Bloom”
The edges of the orchids’ frilled petals ripple.
Thrilled. It lives a little. Until.
Did you ever kill an orchid? Of course I did.
Did you love it? Obviously. Oh—The killing?
Or the thing itself?
Would it be wrong to say yes to everything?
I filled the window with plants and my love
said it was too much, but it was me
who let them dry up. I didn’t know
how to care for so many at once, they all
under saturated and me, over committed.
Have your plants ever gotten gnats?
No, I love them with benign neglect.
And the yellow flowers tremble at that.
Not you though. Feel how
absorbent the moss,
how rich the thick chipped bark. This all
will hold your vellum roots. I will
love you different. Here, a bottle of mist.
Here, a silver bowl of spring fed water
for soaking on Sundays.
I have never loved anything
like I love your tender petals. I will learn
to care on time, in time, for you.
Mair Allen is a writer living in Minneapolis, MN. A current MFA candidate at Antioch University, their work can be found in Hooligan Mag’s Spilled Ink feature, Griffel, Kithe, Oroboro, and Aurora. They were the 2020 Mikrokosmos Poetry Prize winner, and placed second in the 2021 Penrose Poetry Prize. Their prized plant is a vanilla orchid that just sent out a second vine. When not writing they can be found.
- Jody Chan :: “naturalization” and “species loneliness”
—after Zaina Alsous
there was haddock baked in a metal tray
& a buffet of tiny square desserts, there was a view
of peaks, there were canyons & icefields & paths
descending steeply into graveyards, there were plastic
bags pledged to the wind & a black bear staring down
an orange flare, behind the verb & verb bars, the organic
olive oil boutiques, there were two humans
making their way slowly across the southward
rock face, sometimes kissing, there were park passes
to pay for & British flags splayed open on
the breeze, across from which the verdant slopes
boasted several golf courses, monocultured
for their insipid greens, there was the quiet drift
of continents, there were endangered minnows, algae
garlands in the sulphur ponds & tropical fish
released by aquarium enthusiasts, a faint lilt
of mist yielding to an orchestra of weathers, throughout
the designated conservation areas, the occupied
hands of labourers, numerous as mosses
& prone to erosion, there was moss, there were firs
& emboldened marmots, beyond the trail markers,
the gravel lots, at dinner an oil executive remarking
on his surroundings, sucking the meat off
a slab of bones & four floors below, a fawn
mere hours old, staggering into the woods
to vibrate borderlessly. to decay systematically. to stay against. to belong in a way not
predicated by state. to pine and ash. to be an old stone. to tree
boldly, to recall the greenest leaves of one’s past without rancour. to stutter
ozone, to bleach one’s mouth
or sound an ecology of bone, of hammer and hatchet in the hawk’s red beak.
banner pronouncing a grammar of no and we will protect it
and we will protect it. is it a you. is we a fact. is fact static
or a charge to move. to shore upon the toes of time. to defect
via river routes. via saltwater. sutured by evening rain.
a reign of roots. a noon of fireflies, of fire
fomenting the forest anew.
Jody Chan is a writer, drummer, organizer, and therapist based in Toronto/Tkaronto. They are the author of haunt (Damaged Goods Press), all our futures (PANK), and sick (Black Lawrence Press), winner of the 2018 St. Lawrence Book Award, and 2021 Trillium Award for Poetry. They are also a performing member with RAW Taiko Drummers. They can be found online at https://www.jodychan.com/.
- Addie Tsai :: “SWOONING FOR SUCCULENTS”The first time I fell in love with a succulent was the first time I fell in love with a woman. She had a mess of bright orange curls the same shade as my favorite summertime drink. By the time she introduced me to succulents we were no longer in love, but in complicated friendship. I’d like to think that I was her most prized subject, even though I’m well aware that this was what led to our dissolution. Either she or another woman she loved to capture, a well-known belly dancer, in the round black lens, her magnified eye, gained temporary access to a house that belonged to the rich. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what they did to acquire such treasures, but I remembered that the house they owned had a magnificent pool surrounded by succulent gardens framed with wood. The red-headed girl took photos of the belly dancer and me, separate, and also together, nude except for the sweat that dripped down our pale skin, the sun determined to redden it by the day’s end. I couldn’t tell you what it was that drew me to the succulents’ bulbous leaves that looked animated, or at the very least, edible, soft yet durable. When I proposed to a man a few years later, I spent hours scouring the internet for succulent bouquets—I was thrilled there was such a thing!—but ultimately ended up going with a small bouquet hand-picked at a farm a drive’s distance from where we wed, and more affordable. My mother had always had what she called a “purple thumb,” killing every growing thing in her path. She was prone to believe that every tragedy that befell her was genetic, and so even as my father’s green thumb transformed our backyard into a tropical paradise, I never did buy plants, except for a grocery store orchid or two. But then, when my marriage wilted slowly, and all at once, and COVID kept lives out when I most needed them to be in, I drove myself to my favorite nursery and bought the succulent that asked for me to come closer. A friend offered me a cactus plant, and a couple of other succulents, but it was this one that decided to thrive, alongside me, slowly, steadily, like all of us.
Addie Tsai (any/all) is a queer nonbinary artist and writer of color. They collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie has an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is the author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin. Unwieldy Creatures, their adult queer biracial retelling of Frankenstein, is from Jaded Ibis Press. They are the Fiction Co-Editor and Editor of Features & Reviews at ANMLY, Staff Writer at Spectrum South, and Founding Editor & Editor in Chief at just femme & dandy.
- BEE LB :: “ode to each life within sightline”
kalanchoe pumila – o flower dust,
your soft grey body stretching and
stretching and curling and weaving.
o, you poor sundrenched thing.
you would push your way through
the window if it were possible, and i’d let you.
i’d watch your trailing arms curve through the grass,
put down roots in endless soil, grow as far as you can
reach. but come winter, you’d wither, if you made it past
fall. so i will let your body lean this way and that,
perpetually stuck in your sway, body growing taller,
an unmoving dance to music that settles your dust.
heartleaf philodendron – o heartleaf,
forgive me for thinking you pothos
at first. surely you know your own name.
the second my mistake was pointed out,
you shot up, nearly a dozen coiled leaves encased in—
what is it you encase your new growth in? all i see is film,
in time turned gold and dropped as a husk.
o philodendron, forgive me naming you frank.
forgive me calling you leggy. forgive me constantly
trying to teach you to vine. i am not unconvinced
you’ll never learn. at the least, you’ll get more sun
pinned to the length of the window than trailing the table’s top.
tradescantia zebrina – o zebrina, forgive me as well,
another mistaken identity. to be fair, in the harsh light
your purple wasn’t so vibrant as to stand apart.
your leaves covered in peachfuzz, i thought gave you away.
o inch plant, forgive me trying to give you away. i wanted
a teddy bear vine, and each of your pointed tips led towards
the wrong conclusion. i did not want the association
of your most common name, did not want to call you dude,
did not want you to die in my mother’s hands.
you may still die in mine, we’ll see. your longest vines
fell, now arranged a faux-bouquet in water,
the smallest of roots growing each day.
dracaena trifasciata – o snake plant, you know
i’m trying my best. we both know you’re only here
because you cost next to nothing, but i promise,
i’m doing my best to revive you. i’ll admit,
i’ve already failed once. let one stalk turn to mush
in my rush to water, then let it crisp in my days away.
o mother-in-law’s tongue, i’ll cut it off once i’m sure
you’ll survive. til then, i’ll let it be the closest to the sun,
keep the rest of your foliage from scorching. i’ll admit,
i’d like to hurry you along. like to cut your chopped stalk
at the base, see if i can get more of you to take. your endearing
v-cuts so you root right way up. how long will you take to settle in?
i’ll assume we’re both counting the hours of sun.
kalanchoe fedtschenkoi – o lavender scallops, do you know
how long i avoided you? your name brought to mind sliced starch
or the chewiest tasteless orbs. neither held much draw
in the form of a plant. but you are a smoother version
of my flower dust, and when the small body began putting out roots
in water, i wanted a pair to pot it with, and there you were
if not a twin, a close cousin, the red lining each of your edges
not far from the purple of their base. i can admit, the propagated pair
didn’t take, but you alone have pushed out aerial roots,
one already curling down your pot, the others standing straight,
pink-tipped, the newest; a pair of twins. o kalanchoe, o stonecrop,
none of your names fit you, but i’m glad to call you mine.
ceropegia woodii variegata – o string of hearts, my first love,
the introduction to my latest obsession. you came to me
in a pot the size of my thumb, found after four phone calls
and something like forty minutes pouring over the smallest
selection to pick the perfect plant. you with your pink flare,
your green splash, your vines curling like string.
the moss in your soil didn’t last, but the clovers have kept growing
for nearly a year now. from green to purple to pink to yellow
and then a new patch coming back again. o rosary vine, i promise,
in time, i’ll let you trail. but for now i’ll keep you piled on the windowsill,
untangle your tendrils every few days, let the light seep into
your waiting body. o sweetheart vine, how you’ve grown for me.
how wide your hearts have gotten.
how much growth you’ve yet to give.
BEE LB is an array of letters, bound to impulse; a writer creating delicate connections. they have called any number of places home; currently, a single yellow wall in Michigan. they have been published in Revolute Lit, After the Pause, and Roanoke Review, among others. they are the 2022 winner of the Bea Gonzalez Prize for Poetry. their portfolio can be found at twinbrights.carrd.co.
- Nolan Lee :: “Irises”
His first visit to the art gallery deserves no remembrance except that he glanced at the photograph of the irises (Irises) on his way out, and that this was his first encounter with them.
Compelled by something unknown, he visited the gallery again. This visit, he stood before the irises for about thirty seconds, noting the symmetry of the titular flowers, the straightness of their stems, and the blocky patches of shine on the vase. That is the extent of what he noticed, but his noticing was admirable for a person. Again, the flowers were the last piece he observed.
This visit lasted for two minutes. That morning’s fresh sun had opened his mind to clarity, and he knew he’d not given the irises their fair due. He learned them to be the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, so he fastidiously studied the photograph for perversion. The irises were phallic and the vase yonic, or the irises yonic and the vase phallic. He attempted to see both the irises and the vase as phallic, wanting to entertain Mapplethorpe’s androphilia, but could not, at that point. He dreamed of the irises in their gilded black and white, that night.
He only read the description of the irises once, because their description angered him. He would have vocalized his disturbance, but found he could not indulge sound. He instead narrowed his sight to the irises alone while banishing his other senses. The curator or someone had connected the temporary beauty of flowers to the temporary beauty of people, specifically those poor victims of the AIDS epidemic. He disliked on principle that humans would think of themselves as relevant to irises, the idea that their preoccupation with meaning had anything to do with the irises, which had nothing to do with any person. He reached his hand out towards the flowers, wanting to feel their skin under his fingers, but was gently led out by a guard, which he disliked on principle.
This visit he came to view only the irises, swatting away birds and insects on his journey to the gallery. He picked a feather from his hair. (His trip had been treacherous.) He planted himself before the irises, swaying gently in the gallery’s ambient air currents. He noticed that the petals ascended an angular matterhorn of light formed by the sun penetrating some out of frame windows, that the shadow of the irises in the bottom left corner was like the shadow of a bushy and vital tree, and that the photograph would make a lovely still life, yes, by some Impressionist master, but had already achieved perfection in simply being the irises themselves. He was in front of the irises for many hours.
This visit he picked petals out of his hair as well, circled by a confusion of bees, arriving at the gallery at the moment of its opening. The inside of his mouth tasted sweet. A woman who looked like Diane Arbus had photographed him on the walk. He did have some idea of what was happening.
He neglected noticing the unevenness of light on the vase, or the shadow cast on the right side of the wall behind the irises, or photography, because those things had become frightening. He had had a job, yes, but by then he didn’t much care about how to reach it, and so he spent the whole of his day with the irises. He realized he was in the gallery, and not looking out at the gallery, after some time, and left once he was required to.
The irises did not stay and they did not leave.
He would have left bed to visit the irises again, but he did not have to. He was not in bed. A rush of nonspecific bloom was seeping out of his mattress and searching for chinks in the loam of its foam chunks, from which old hairs were being expelled.
Nolan Lee is a poet and short story writer from New Jersey who wishes he wasn’t from New Jersey. He has previously been published in Elán magazine, Vext magazine, and indicia literary journal.
- Alex DiFrancesco :: “The Voice of Living Things”
One of my books on witchcraft tells me that everything living has a voice and can tell us what it needs, we just have to learn how it speaks.
For years, I have killed every plant I touched.
My first plant that survives is a gift from my friend Christina, who is also the person who initiated me into witchcraft. The initiation ceremony was in my backyard, and involved rose petals and spoiled wine. An unsuspecting 7-11 delivery man, laden down with cheap but drinkable wine, walked into my backyard in the middle of it, while three of us were screaming in laughter, singing “Put it in My Mouth.” I still have the piece of paper that Christina wrote the date on in the inside pocket of my leather motorcycle jacket. There are rose petals wrapped inside it.
The plant Christina gave me was a small succulent in a tiny pot that read “YOU ARE LOVED ALL THE TIME.” It was two inches tall when they gave it to me. Now it stands at six inches. It has outgrown the pot that reminds me I am loved all the time. It reminds me itself, in its quiet voice.
The second plant I did not kill was given to me by my former friend, Dani, who was also at the initiation ceremony. I don’t know what kind of plant it is, just that she named it Martha, which happens to be the name of one of my favorite Tom Waits songs. Our friendship is over, but the plant still thrives, spilling out of its pot, hanging down the window sill it sits on. It reminds me, in its quiet voice, that we keep love even when it ends.
On the solstice, I went to the Family Dollar and got an ornamental pot, potting soil, and basil seeds. You don’t need expensive things to make magic. I sat in my backyard, drinking lemon water, basking in the sun, and wrote all the good things I wished for in my life on pieces of paper. I buried them at the bottom of the pot and planted my seeds over it. Now, they grow in my kitchen window. They speak quietly to me about this growth. They speak quietly to me about nurturing: theirs, and my own.
Alex DiFrancesco is the author of PSYCHOPOMPS, ALL CITY, and TRANSMUTATION. They are a 2022 recipient of the Ohio Arts Council’s Individual Excellence Award, and the first transgender award finalist in over 80 years of the Ohioana Book Awards. Photo by Christina Ramirez.
- Issue #01
- Nomi Stone :: “Little Starts”
My wife secretly took
a bunch of cuttings this fall
while I stood watch: two leaves
of a succulent from IKEA, a tiny nub
from the Milkcrate Café on Girard,
and that other dangler
at the boring party in the room with the coats.
It sent out two beet-red roots! When it did, my
wife yelled out to me just before breakfast: Wife!
The terrible part is holding your nerve,
and leaving it on the sill alone
until it has lost all its inner water. Only
then it sends out roots
like a wandering mouth.
How careful plants are with each other:
when the deer feed
on the branches of the beech trees,
the leaves of their neighbors
become bitter. Little start,
breath-start, it is so hard
to do everything over from nothing.
My wife came by herself
to this country for me. She didn’t even have
her winter boots. She feeds
the tiny starts blood
from her own Mooncup, root-
From our bed, I hear the squelch
before she carries it, carefully,
to the sill in the sun.
Originally published in Ecotone Magazine.
Poet and anthropologist Nomi Stone is the author of three books, most recently the poetry collection Kill Class (Tupelo, 2019), finalist for the Julie Suk Award, and the ethnography Pinelandia: An Anthropology and Field Poetics of War and Empire, finalist for the Atelier award (University of California Press, 2022). Her poems recently appear in The Atlantic, POETRY Magazine, American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, and elsewhere. She is an Assistant Professor of poetry at UT Dallas and co-founder, along with her wife, Rose Skelton of Field Studio: A Place for Writers Online and On the Isle of Mull.
- Conyer Clayton :: “today I put my hands into dirt, and it was warm” & “I always hope it’s a turkey”
today I put my hands into dirt, and it was warm
what a good day
I always hope it’s a turkey
When I hear footsteps on dry leaves
in the woods by my house, I always hope
it’s a turkey. Did you know
wild turkeys can fly up to 200 meters?
Their bodies being built for bursts of speed.
We saw one perched high in a birch tree,
the garbage tree, my arborist called it, though
what does it say that that’s the tree I think I’d be —
going too hard and falling over early. I wanted to argue
with him, but their trunks do litter the forest floor.
But birch is
paid a fair wage.
The mushrooms made an Instagram page about
their repurposed birch homes.
A turkey once lived here, the caption reads, but now
instead of someone stacking logs to burn, my spores
and I have repopulated it.
The mushrooms wear flannel, and raise their kids
free-range. They travel on the weekends to the roots
of other trees. Did you know there is a market
for everything? A bottle of the way trees
shimmer movement in light wind.
A turkey in a tree grounds me.
A turkey on the ground lifts. I’d rather a startling gobble
than a man with an Instagram account burning
through his worn jean pockets, starting fires
in my yard, sending smoke across the country, making
the sun seem a far off thing. Did you know that man took
a photo of the dim, red sun and sold it for millions?
Even though he started the fire? The caption reads
we have to do more, and by more, he means
start more fires, burn more garbage, breed more
turkeys that we designed not to fly.
Conyer Clayton is a writer, musician, and editor living on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe land. She is the author of We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite (Guernica Editions, 2020, Winner of the Ottawa Book Award), But the sun, and the ships, and the fish, and the waves (A Feed Dog Book by Anvil Press, 2022), and many chapbooks. Her poetry, essays, and criticism appear in Room Magazine, filling station, Canthius, Arc Poetry Magazine, CV2, The Capilano Review and others. conyerclayton.com.
- Ally Ang :: “Invocation”
Let the moon wobble.
Let the basil plant flower.
Let the poets discombobulate.
Let the verbs noun.
Let the nouns verb.
Let the grief howl.
Let the emails unread.
Let the land speak.
Let the oceans revenge.
Let the people free.
Let the people free.
Originally published at The Lickety Split.
Ally Ang is a gaysian poet based in the occupied Duwamish and Coast Salish lands known as Seattle. Ally is a Jack Straw Writers Program fellow and an editor for Game Over Books and Floating Bridge Press. Their work has been published in Muzzle Magazine, Foglifter, The Journal, and elsewhere. Find them at allysonang.com or on Twitter @TheOceanIsGay.
- Nikki Wallschlaeger :: “Mother of Thousands”
“Bryophyllum daigremontianum, commonly called devil’s backbone, mother-of-millions, mother-of-thousands, alligator plant, or Mexican hat plant is a succulent plant native to Madagascar.”
Underneath the fields is where our stories are buried. The monocrops were decisions made about our past, so I ask you to take the batteries out of the clanging wall clock before I go to sleep to prevent the supremacist art of domestication from permeating my dreams.
Inside of my raised fist is a struggling livelihood: there is sugar cane, corn, and certainly cotton. I’ve come here to climb the spiral rope back to the knowledge of the land, holding a scythe branded with the name i gave myself & my hands ache so much from having to dig you out,
I stop at every county cemetery no matter who is resting there. I am a gatherer of thousands,
how you said we don’t have to buy seeds driving past a town named Coon Valley as I inwardly flinch about a strange joke E. used to make about not seeing a relative “in a coon’s age,”
and the day i realized what she meant by that when she said it, how my fist in the will of my
stomach began to wilt, all their freshly mowed lawns burning with the crosses of their wickedness. a mother ushering her children to safety a story carried on by the next generation of plantlets,
since water has been proven to secure history, when public wailing feels like you’re a conduit for someone else. Caring for an unmarked grave on her lunch hour, autocratic fields you can see from an airline window seat. We touch our callused feet together. Underneath this land is a
succulent downpour we are building from the lives calling to be excavated. The fists of black & brown women throughout the ages in a controlled heirloom heat. Seeds taking flight from the ancient fields of our wildflower palms for we are the mothers of thousands
Originally published in The Feminist Wire.
Nikki Wallschlaeger’s work has been featured in The Nation, Brick, American Poetry Review, Witness, Kenyon Review, POETRY, and others. She is the author of the full-length collections Houses (Horseless Press 2015) and Crawlspace (Bloof 2017) as well as the graphic book I Hate Telling You How I Really Feel (2019) from Bloof Books. She is also the author of an artist book called Operation USA through the Baltimore based book arts group Container, a project acquired by Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee. Her third collection, Waterbaby, is out from Copper Canyon Press. She was a Visiting Associate Professor of Poetry at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop from Spring 2021/ to Spring 2022.
- M.P. Rosalia :: “sapling, taken from the northern pacific coast, kept in a jar.”
you grew so valiantly, reaching for California sun and the
branches that had made you, seeking to belong in a
copse of your brethren, but you will never belong, choked
by the mother—that is nature after all.
by hands that have never known how to find comfort
in soil but who wanted you to live. you didn’t live.
you were so young, just a little sprout, and I didn’t
know how to love you. that sun you strove for choked
as much as mottled roots below the surface and,
parched, you wilted in the drought of a place where you
never had room to grow.
M.P. Rosalia is a writer and artist of many forms, enjoys exploring ideas about gods, identity, and time, and when not writing, likes to pet cats and climb trees.
- Jose Luis Pablo :: “Gardening Alone” & “Cutting the Tree”
We were born as thorns
when we lived together
in marshes concealed
in darkened bark
where you left
a seed in a plot of clay,
shallow as the bed you dug.
I lay my roots down in loam
you’ve long sifted through
with the edge of your spade.
I hear the crunch beneath your boots,
of stones we arranged,
slipping by each water’s reach,
slipping like the rosary beads
you held up uttering all my first names
When space encroached on our landfills,
I thought you would lift the latch on the gate
but I watched the evening clouds
take the tails of your shirt;
you had drowned in that chalice-colored sea
as you wanted.
Look for me sometimes, no plant of guilt
has ever dared sprout in your place.
the pages lining the book you read every night
are children of the home
you surrendered the keys to me.
Previously published in Likhaan: The Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature.
Cutting the Tree
After the storm, my father and I investigate the scraping that had haunted the house while the typhoon lashed Manila for days. The culprit was the rambutan tree that had dared extend its trunk past its prison plot. Shouting an apology to the duwendes out in the blank air, we shake it first and the leaves fall as the rain’s afterthought. The thick body bends toward us for a few inches, then recoils to sound a gong against the galvanized sheets. My father asks me to fetch the saw and rope.
My father is pleased because my hands are no longer idle, after making the week my sabbath. I am a version of a carpenter; I transform the wood. Soon this house will be like the fruit-bearing tree, and the work will reside in the minds of their creators.
The Bible says the body is a temple, there is shelter for the spirit. / The body, it worships in labor./ The house, the body of a home. / O temple, our tenuous tenement, make yourself known. Canyou stand as the Earth spins to a new age?
We build around what we want to remember. I am dodging the hail of fruit resembling sea creatures.
Essence of the tree flying as sawdust,
Sudden and gift-like
Our own version of first snow
Previously published in smoke & mold.
Jose Luis “Nico” Pablo is a communications manager for a non-profit. Their work has been published in Likhaan: The Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature, Cordite Poetry Review (Australia), My Gay Eye (Germany), Busilak: New LGBTQ+ poetry from the Philippines (University of the Philippines Press), The Pinch (USA), and elsewhere, as detailed in joseluisbpablo.wordpress.com. Nico was awarded by the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 2018 and won first place for poetry in the 2021 Normal Awards for Gender-Inclusive Literature. They are based in Rizal, Philippines.
- Ellie Howard :: “Seedbombing a Golf Course”
A pine walking-bridge traces the country club fairways
like a nervous finger on a hem. Above the wetland,
I watch the men pared to a pendulum,
their golf carts fixed around buzzcut lawns.
Laborers trim the greens on even-numbered days,
brush and sterilize the bunkers weekly.
White polos and ironed khakis patter
about the manicured grass.
I glide across the sidelong path each day,
considering the best-suited plants
to seed along the fairway—succulents for the sand,
shallow-rooted crops for the putting greens.
Beside the course, briars deluge the sinking marsh
like blackberry bushes snaring my childhood home.
The irrigation systems are robust.
A few of the lakes are shallow enough
for a paddy field, the deeper waters
could be stocked with fish. The men spurn
the hazards that creep into their argyle socks.
I worry that I will always be this:
A container for play outlined by men,
unnatured, defertile trap,
set of holes, no trespassing nailed to an oak.
A view from the balconies edging the boardwalk.
Ellie Howard is a trans-nonbinary poet from Georgia. They were previously published in the Eclectic, Lammergeier, and beestung, and are a 2022 Rhysling Award finalist. In their spare time, Ellie is learning to mimic the different bird calls heard around their apartment complex.
- Keagan Wheat :: “Our Breakup Plant”
You picked a name
without a square of sunlight
for a fucking succulent.
Your mezzanine superiority
left my gift for dead.
Maybe gleaming eyes &
upturned voice aren’t
as honest as I believe.
Maybe these eyes mark
something as real as
saucer eyes plate
for bake off, not
the substance behind
Keagan Wheat, a born and raised Houston poet, writes about FTM identity and congenital heart disease. His work appears in The Acentos Review, Kissing Dynamite, and more. They are the author of microchapbook, Come to the Table (Black Stone/ White Stone 2022); Ghost City Press will be publishing Working Transition in their 2022 Summer Series. Check out his interviews with Brooklyn Poets and Poets and Muses. Find them @kwheat09.
- Chen Chen :: “Set the Garden on Fire”
for Jeanette Li
My friend’s new neighbors in the suburbs
are planting a neat row of roses
between her house & theirs.
Her neighbors smile, say the roses are part
of a community garden project, that’s all.
But they whisper, too—whisper plans for trees,
a wall of them. They plant rumors
that her house is hiding illegals, when it’s aunts
& uncles, visiting. They grow tall accusations
fed by talk radio, that her house was bought
with drug money, not seventeen years of woks
sizzling, people serving, delivering, filing,
people scrubbing, refilling, running—her family
running the best restaurant in town.
Like with your family, my friend says, once we
moved in, they stopped calling us
Friend, let’s really move in, let’s
plunge our hands into the soil.
Plant cilantro & strong tomatoes,
watermelon & honey-hearted cantaloupe,
good things, sweeter than any rose.
Let’s build the community garden
that never was. Let’s call the neighbors
out, call for an orchard, not a wall.
Trees with arms free, flaming
into apple, peach, pear—every imaginable,
Come friend, neighbor,
you, come set the garden on fire
with all our hard-earned years, tender labor
of being here, ceaseless & volcanic
making of being here, together.
Originally published in Split this Rock and subsequently, Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press, 2015).
Chen Chen’s second book, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in September 2022. His debut, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017), was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the Thom Gunn Award, among other honors. His work appears in many publications, including Poem-a-Day and three editions of The Best American Poetry. He has received two Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from Kundiman, the National Endowment for the Arts, and United States Artists. He was the 2018-2022 Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University and currently teaches for the low-residency MFA programs at New England College and Stonecoast. Photo credit: Paula Champagne.
- Rose Skelton :: “Little Starts”
When my wife and I marry in autumn, the seasons are all wrong. On our Philadelphia rooftop, spinach sprouts in the heat of late September and in early October, basil flourishes in pots. Summer flowers—petunias, fuchsias, geraniums—gush from other people’s window ledges. Tomatoes, fat and misshapen, line the counter of the vegetable shop across the street.
On the island in Scotland, where I am from, at this time of year I sleep under one, two, thick quilts, and rain slants sideways across the windows. The shops are void of all summer fruit. There, it is the season I gather mushrooms from the woods, when the cool wet weather pulses black trumpets from the loam. Horn of plenty, birch bolete, chicken of the woods, cep.
But in Philadelphia, the days are a humid stench that won’t let up. The woods, though I scour them, give up nothing to me.
The night before our City Hall wedding, we sleep with the windows thrown open. At 5 a.m., the bin lorry wakes us as it thunders past our bedroom. My wife, to-be, throws a leg into my sprawled crook, insists her body into the shape of mine so that her beating heart, tiny, hot, thrums against my scapula. I know I should use the American terms for things—trash, truck, fall—but it isn’t a reflex yet. Only my wife understands me in this new strange country where I didn’t mean to end up.
I hadn’t dreamed of getting married either—I had watched my parents suffer their own twenty-four years before divorcing—and by the morning of our wedding I am forty. N., a poet, and I met in a writing program at grad school two years before, and were within days talking of a life together. She captivated me, the way she seemed to be one thing, but also another. She was brought to tears by blossoming trees, and by Marx. She complained of feeling cold, but her body burned with a heat that felt electric to touch. She had spent two years researching in a military special-forces training site, but she only wore cowboy boots, didn’t own a rain jacket. She had published two books of poetry, but her poem tattoo had a punctuation error, something she showed me the first time we met, both of us laughing as she pulled up her T-shirt to show me her slender naked back. She didn’t give a damn for convention, actively sought out the other. I had spent my life being bored by people, but of N., I never tired.
In time, I noticed that a change had come over me, a softness that grew as she burrowed into my life. People said I was nicer when I was with N. I started to like dogs, and children. I began to believe in myself, I wrote more. I learned to fight away the harsh words I had always tormented myself with.
At City Hall, my details are in the groom column, though we are to each other wives. A judge has us repeat the vows, to have, to hold, till death, the end.
In Scotland, my succulents sit on the windowsill of the flat I bought five years before. They overlook the bay, the boats, the seals slathered across the rocks. These plants that I grew from cuttings taken from friends around the island, brought to maturity from the smallest of snips: a leaf, a tiny bloom pinched from its host. The plants that now tumble in giant fat thumbs down the side of terracotta pots and beyond, below the windowsills: bear’s paw, pork and beans, princess pine…Continue reading “Little Starts”
Originally published in Ecotone Magazine.
Rose Skelton is an award-winning writer, reporter, and editor from Scotland. She is currently working on her first book, Homescar, a collection of short stories set on an island in the Inner Hebrides, which won the Larry Levis Fellowship for Fiction in 2017 and an Elizabeth George Foundation grant. Her fiction has been published in Four Way Review and Waxwing, and her recent non-fiction essay, “Little Starts” (Ecotone 2021) was a Pushcart Special Mention. She is the co-founder of Field Studio, a place for writers Online and on the Isle of Mull. Previously a reporter in west Africa, and a member of an ocean search and rescue crew on the Isle of Mull, she now lives and gardens in Texas.