• Issue #09
  • Sasha Weiss :: “remember”

    that time i threw up on you outside the ketamine clinic
    and we lay facedown on your apartment floor
    smelling the carpet and talking about camping trips
    we have never been camping together
    but i love biting you in the forest til your knees give out
    and your thigh highs are covered in pine needles

     

    Alexandra Weiss has a fainting problem, so they have to eat like 6 grams of salt a day to keep their blood pressure at normal levels. They’ve had chapbooks published by Blanket Sea Press and Bottlecap Press.

  • Winona Johnson :: “Laputa”

    There is something green living here which does not live anywhere else. We dream of reds. But red is too many things.

    I’ve seen the riots so many times that they all look the same now and I’ve forgotten entirely what I was supposed to be looking for on the other side. It’s somewhere in the cornfields I believe. Or maybe it’s the strawberry fields, where I’ve been hurt before, but not more than twice. I swear I smelled peppermint this afternoon, or something else, sweet as rain. They say it’s a place you come from once, but that’s all they say. I know it has something to do with silk, and graffiti, the big messy pieces which pool into the grass and melt along the cobblestones. I know this is a place with weeds and dandelions, too, but I am also certain you could pile all the terrible things together and soak them in chamomile until they dissolve like sugars, little invisible outlines which used to be forms and substance but which started as only shapes. Only as little silhouettes, little liquid performers in need of new spots for rendezvousing every other century.

    We dream in red. But red is too many things.

     

    Winona Johnson is on a balcony somewhere (wishing you were here). They live nomadically, probably think too much, and prefer their nights with candlelight tinkering around art projects. Their stories have appeared in Papeachu Review, Jupiter Zine, and their debut chapbook is forthcoming with Ghost City Press. Empathy and freedom are important to them, and they are obsessed with the kind of storms that rattle the windows.

  • Seren Kilig :: “she named the plants after her exes.”

    She told me she was a cultivator first, a lover second, and maybe that’s why she always preferred flowers over chocolates as a gift. In her over-two-decades’ worth of existence on Earth, she never had a relationship last longer than the cut flowers her dates would give her. Except one, we both supposed.

    Her apartment was populated with plants—all grown with the care and affection she never gave their namesakes. I asked her if she planned on naming one after me. She smiled then; lips crooked, eyes twinkling, as if she already had a list in her head of which genera of succulent matched my jawline.

    The Burro’s Tail that hung above the television was named Aria. They met at a yard sale. Aria had eyes like mine: dark brown and dangerously astute. They bonded over Aria’s fascination with classic horror films. Each 5-star review on her letterboxd was attached to a faux documentary that bordered on snuff, and their last date was spent watching a man’s abdomen get inverted. She bought the Burro’s Tail from the same yard sale she snatched up Aria, and she told me on my first visit to her apartment that if I tried hard enough, I could smell blood on its leaves.

    An Aloe Vera named Katie sat in the kitchen, picked apart and miserable. I learned its name after burning my hand on the electric stove. Katie was beautiful, kind. Her voice lulled people to be just as gentle. She was nothing med school valued. Their lives became intertwined in a waiting room. Katie was hungry for an excuse to change her career path. She was hunting for a fool soft enough to cut open. Her memory had been bad since childhood, but she began to learn—don’t have unsafe sex, turn off the stove when not in use, water the Aloe Vera, and don’t expect a lover to do the same.

    In the bedroom, Ginger the Eve’s Needle reminded her every night that some people bloomed faster than plants. Ginger realized he was a man after their first and only night together. She barely considered him an ex. After our first night together, I told her that Ginger was a cactus, not a succulent. She said that every label a botanist gave a plant was fake, and that she was not exclusionary when it came to her love of plants. Though, she did have her preferences.

    It was hard not to remember them all. Each of their terracotta pots were labeled. The only nameless one was the most recent—a Jade Plant that she rescued from the family moving out of 14B. Its leaves were already shriveling. I knew from what she had told me that it was in need of something. From her, I knew which camera tricks Burro’s Tails considered cheap scares, which chemical compounds Aloe Veras always mixed up on their practice tests, and how scared Eve’s Needles looked when they realized they made a mistake. And I knew she was a cultivator first and a lover second, but I never knew her name. I knew Aria, and Katie, and Ginger, and Jez, and Casey, and Levi, and all their botanical nomenclature. She kept her own name out of sight, never uttered or penned down inside the apartment walls, because after all these years, she must have realized there was nothing more intimate and more dangerous to give someone than her name.

    I told her I was a writer. She asked me if I planned on writing about her.

     

    Seren Kilig (any/siya) is a Tibatib plant. Native to the Philippines, they have been replanted in North American soil, where they continue to create art. As with any uprooted, Earth-loving specimen, they call for the liberation of Palestine, Sudan, and those who continue to suffer from the toxins of imperialism, colonialism, and genocide. They encourage you to do the same. Seren has received writing fellowships from Periplus, Lambda Literary, and Roots. Wounds. Words. (among others). In their free time, they attempt challenge runs of video games. Collect mushrooms with them on social media @/SerenKilig or their website, serenkilig.com.

  • Shannon Pulusan :: “PLANT SITTER”

    At the center of your life,                                    you’re creating forest air
                   in a friend’s apartment.              You place a ceramic bowl
    beside each plant pot                 & pour water.               Humidity,

    the dewy breath of company.                                        Of imaginary beings
                    sipping from the bowl                  little by little. You refill,
    wonder                              where clouds form                       in this water cycle?

    Wonder where everyone’s gone to?                               Last night
                    you dreamt                              & remembered everything 
    come morning.                              The neighbor girl, first love,

    carpool, cousins                                        of your cousins.
                    You welcomed them                          in the basement level
    of your childhood                          home. Blurry,                      how familiar you are

    to people of the past.                                       You called everyone’s name
                      first & last,                     served water
    by collecting the stream                           from a leaking                             pitcher.

    Everything is so tedious,                                            but you stay still
                   in this place that keeps you.                         When those you dream of
    forget the skyline                           & the exact hours                              when it’s blue

    & blush & gray & coin                                              all at once,
                  know home is truly                      where
    every bench you sit on                                  faces the river                & where

    a samoyed will sniff                                         your shoelaces. It’s nice
                  to be the one                      to depend on
    to cherish                            the little reasons                            & the future

    of one’s roots.                                       You fill each bowl
                   set beside each plant pot             & message your friend
    to say                   everything’s been                       cared for.

     

    Shannon Pulusan is a Fil-Am writer, illustrator, plant tita, and arts education administrator based in Jersey City. Her poetics explore how foodways, superstition, and the natural world can offer reparative insight and joy. Her poems appear in Ecotone, Pigeon Pages, SRPR, underblong, and more. She has received support from ARTS by the People, Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, and Brooklyn Poets, and holds an MFA in Poetry from Rutgers University-Newark.

  • Robin Arble :: “Sunlight in Late Spring”

    I am standing alone in an abandoned pasture, watching a tuft of marigolds burst through a tractor’s ribcage. A huddle of brown cows graze in the shade of the forest’s edge. Once they were sure no-one was looking, the marigolds pummeled through absolute blackness with the clenched fists of their buds, exploding into golden fire as they gasped for sunlight. Now the cows swat flies with their tails, the marigolds nod and doze in a cloud’s passing shadow. Soon the cows will turn their heads and wander to watch the fully-bloomed marigolds lean a little in the bright breeze. Soon the cows and their calves, the marigolds and me—mothers, daughters, close and distant cousins, nieces, and aunts—will gather to stand in the sunlight no-one can touch. I know I will be the only creature staring across that sunlight who will see the abyss in our distances. But for now, standing in the shadow of this cloud, we are each an open secret.

     

    Robin Arble is a poet and writer from western Massachusetts. Her poems have appeared in ALOCASIAMidway JournalPoetry OnlineQuarter After Eight, and Roi Fainéant Press, among others. They are a poetry reader for Beaver Magazine and The Massachusetts Review. She holds a Bachelor of Arts with a focus on Creative Writing and Comparative Literature from Hampshire College.

  • Aerik Francis :: “An Anti-Pastoral” and “Grandma Dolores Waters the Monstera”

    An Anti-Pastoral

    It’s not the right word—wilderness. 
    Living in this dream I find little sleep.
    Instead I find myself taken

    by the sight of shitting sheep 
    that cough & simultaneously excrete
    blackish-brown blueberries
    & piss a sour amber puddle.

    Here I am simultaneously
    medicinal & poisonous—
    I make a move & artificial

    light obscures the touch 
    of starlight. Where is the Sun

    whose rays feed the greenery,
    heat the humidity, but whose 
    face turns away from me,

    whose countenance, when 
    encountered, was neither 
    yellow nor red but white?

    I want to say I admire the birdsongs
    but they deny me rest. Ducklings that flinch 
    at my gestures to quench their thirst.

    I feed & pet a dog, neglect the bark.
    A spider swings until smashed
    between a pillow & my head.

    Mosquitos halo me in the umbra
    of branches & leaves hanging overhead.
    I wax bucolic to the trees & my buccal void
    fills with insects. I am bitten & so I retreat.

    I’m afraid of everything here: the concept
    of property, the potential claims of trespassing
    by the neighboring settlers. Three white boys,

    shirtless, approach on bikes & interrupt,
    asking if I live here, where the owner is,
    if I know ash, if any of us are cops. 

    Crops. In this pasture I assume a posture
    as if confronted by hungering animals. 
    I am praying they see me as merely docile.

    How pathetic. Every day roosters escape
    their cage & I’m only concerned about blame.
    I don’t walk on the asphalt due to fear of bullets.

    I stay in my lane, the one I am resigned to.
    Forty-five acres & no mule, none of it
    mine, none of it untouched by human
    hands by now. I both desire & don’t want

    all of the knowledge of horrible histories,
    the blood that the roots have felt & drank.
    I sense something I can only call temporary,

    something simultaneously gouged & gorgeous.
    My presence here the duration of half a cycle
    of the moon I can’t find. I am making change
    & thus am also changed—but for what?

     

    Grandma Dolores Waters the Monstera

    I never forget the date of my dad’s passing,
    though I constantly misremember Earth Day 
    as 4/20 as the anniversary of Columbine.
    I don’t know what any holiday even means 
    anymore in the context of the USAmerican 
    anthropocene. I’ve survived in the context 
    of existing amidst our own complex ecosystems: home.
    Here, as the morning news buzzes more misfortune,
    we still notice new life everyday; today, sprouts 
    on the monstera, condolences from neighbors
    after my dad died. My grandma believes flowers
    will bloom from the green. Today I witness 
    what was always: my ever-resourceful grandma reusing 
    a plastic water bottle & refilling it up to the brim, 
    then shuffling across the kitchen to the thirsty plant 
    & pouring water into the soil to drink. Grandma smiles 
    & laughs when others do first so I become more animated 
    when I’m around her. Her face relaxes & her voice sings.
    Sometimes she stares off & I wonder, too. Who is she 
    remembering? So much is difficult to recall– 
    What day is it today? Who cares? Her memory 
    nevertheless holds my birthday & infant face.
    Today she called me to tell me that my dad was here
    & that he changed the television channel on her. 
    I see on her screen basketball playoffs recording;
    Denver is winning & the city will soon erupt
    in violent pride, how we celebrate any holiday here. 
    Old friends are texting how happy my dad would have been 
    to see his team win. My grandma says he was watching.
    She once told me that the dead are always talking
    so the question is: are you listening? & if you are
    listening to the dead, you can hear all the living.
    Here’s your dad, she says today. A fly lands on a leaf.

     

    Aerik Francis is a Queer Black & Latinx poet and teaching artist based in Denver, Colorado, USA. Aerik is the author of the poetry chapbooks BODYELECTRONIC (Trouble Department 2022) and MISEDUCATION (NDR 2023). They have poetry published widely, links of which may be found at their website phaentompoet.com. Find them on social media @phaentompoet.

  • Kai Coggin :: “Night Blooming Cereus / Queen of the Night” and “Amber”

    Night Blooming Cereus / Queen of the Night

    (for Selenicereus grandiflorus)

    We only ever had an apartment balcony, what my mother turned 
    into a small flourishing garden of pots spilling over 
    with what I didn’t care to know about as a child.

    After her third work shift, I remember her out there at night 
    bent over against the harsh moth-circled light, tending to quiet green 
    bodies that reached for her, as she stared out past the rows of cheap housing, 
    searching inside for her village horizon rice farm mother brothers sisters 
    back home in the Philippines.

    I remember she would wake us up, bleary-eyed children,
    and usher us out onto the humid apartment balcony 
    to show us the night-blooming cereus,
    the wild bright opening,
    a temporary queen bursting with fragrance,
    a silent star stretched out heavy on a long pink neck.
                Look              she would say          it only blooms once—
    fleeting beauty she served us with the weighted gravity 
    of losing thick in night’s air.

    We didn’t care much for plants then,
    for the display of green she quietly tended
    after her third work shift, with her lonely heart.
    Children don’t care much for the toil, the ache,
    the solitude of worry she must’ve desperately poured 
    into tender growing things,

    changing it all into growth, 
    transmuting it all into night blooming,
    into a balcony of flowering, into waking us up 
    in the middle of sleep without language to explain a love like this—

    how she tended to us
    two tender flowering things,
    the toil the light the soil 

    between her tired
    beautiful hands.

     

    Amber

    (for Ficus carica) 

    It’s golden hour in our valley and I walk through 
    late summer’s dry grass to our fig tree,
    peek under yellowing leaves in search of
    the heavy sweetness hanging purple and thick. 

    Like the smallest leather punching bags, I find them 
    one by one, ready, weighted with their honeyed song, 
    rouged with the bruising of being made
    ripe in the shortening days. 

    There is no tug needed from my fingers
    as I find each laden fruit—
    each fig waits to fall into my hands. 

    Through their soft skin bottoms, 
    tiny amber droplets of candied nectar
    harden in the crisp autumnal air, 
    and when I hold one up against the backdrop
    of the setting sunshine, a halo of amber light hugs 
    the shadowed underbelly sticky and plump in my palm. 

    Is anyone else noticing this level of intrinsic beauty right now?
    Who else is holding a fig up to the sun,
    caught in the amber droplets of decadence  
    radiant with heliotropic breath?

                                I must name this sweetness as the world 
                                burns, must hold it in the memory of words.

    I bring the supple handful up to my love, 
    this bounty of palpable pleasure—three for her, three for me.

    We bite into their supple dark flesh,
    suck and crunch the tiny seeds, 
    rush of honey, natural sugars, 
    textures of collapsible summer rain, 
    an earth of seasons held in a silken bag, 
    like tasting each other 
    again
    for the first time. 

     

    Kai Coggin (she/her) is the inaugural Poet Laureate of the City of Hot Springs, and author of five collections, most recently Mother of Other Kingdoms (Harbor Editions, 2024) and Mining for Stardust (FlowerSong Press, 2021). She is a Certified Master Naturalist, a K-12 Teaching Artist in poetry with the Arkansas Arts Council, a CATALYZE grant fellow from the Mid-America Arts Alliance, and host of the longest running consecutive weekly open mic series in the country—Wednesday Night Poetry. 

    Recently awarded the Don Munro Leadership in the Arts Award, the 2021 Governor’s Arts Award, twice named “Best Poet in Arkansas” by the Arkansas Times, and nominated for Arkansas State Poet Laureate and Hot Springs Woman of the Year, her fierce and powerful poetry has been nominated six times for The Pushcart Prize, as well as Bettering American Poetry 2015, and Best of the Net 2016, 2018, 2021—awarded in 2022. Ten of Kai’s poems are going to the moon with the Lunar Codex project, and on earth they have appeared or are forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Best of the Net, Cultural WeeklySOLSTICE, Bellevue Literary ReviewTABEntropy, About Place Journal, Sinister Wisdom, Lavender Review, Tupelo Press, and elsewhere. Coggin is Editor-at-Large at SWIMM, Associate Editor at The Rise Up Review, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. She lives with her wife and their two dogs in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.  

  • Marina Ramil :: “Mentha”

    Wilma’s friends lived in one-bedroom apartments, efficiencies off of family homes, multiple-room student housing shares, lofts above strip malls, and basement units. All the while, she still inhabited her childhood bedroom. On winter days spent hiding under her duvet, she scrolled through friends’ photos of the ways they decorated those spaces— movie posters on the walls, photobooth strips magnetted to the fridge, shelves of tchotchkes which, while cutesy and replete with personality, would inevitably end up collecting dust. On the shelves in Wilma’s room stood a purple, plastic pony with a small design of drooping flowers on her haunches, a rosy-cheeked porcelain piggy bank, and a Disney World souvenir snow globe; less so tchotchkes than reminders of a bygone childhood, same settled dust. Her jealousy led to plates and glasses mildewing, creating a sour, wet smell in the bedroom where she ate all her meals to avoid facing her parents with the building resentment she felt at having to share space with them.

    She approached the only mirror in the room, which had been hung according to the height she was at nine years old and never readjusted, and crouched to look intently at tired, puffy eyes and greasy, shaggy hair. She reflected a picture of Cece, a friend she’d known since they were in middle school, beside her face. Cece looked like she had slept at some point in the past few days. Wilma did not. Behind Cece you could see the corner of her loft’s kitchen counter and on it were four colored glass goblets she had bought at a consignment with Wilma years ago, both gushing about how cute they’d look when she finally got her own place. Wilma’s closet was filled with boxes of little nothings, cute accouterments for, as was written in bold letters on the cardboard, “THE FUTURE.” She resolved to make the future now and find a place for herself to unpack those boxes. That night, she broke open the piggy bank that had been on her shelf since she was the right height to see herself in the mirror, leaving the shards strewn about the hardwood floor.

    Forgoing an online search of real estate websites despite her proclivity for browsing them in the past, Wilma drove around the city looking for handwritten plastic signs on stakes stuck into grass. She had just enough for first and last month’s rent and a security deposit on the first unit she toured, a run-down studio in a suburb even farther out from downtown than the one her parents lived in. To get into the apartment complex, you had to maneuver from the main road through the parking lot of a drive-through coffee shop and under an archway decorated with gaudy stone cherubim. Afraid she might lose her nerve if she put it off any longer, Wilma decided to embrace these quirks and signed papers that day. She fit what she could of her childhood bedroom into the trunk and backseat of her hand-me-down SUV and tried to make the space her own. This did not involve furnishing it, naturally, as a porcelain pig could only hold so much cash. Passing a plant nursery on the drive from her parent’s house to her new apartment, she thought of the empty window box in the studio’s kitchen. With just enough money in her pocket, she settled on a bag of soil, a newly sprouted spearmint bush, and gloves, resolving to plant it with her own two hands.

    She played a record by Blossom Dearie as she planted, singing quietly to the leaves with her gloved hands submerged in the soil. While the record turned on a player on the floor, Wilma knelt next to it, bare knees sticking to the ground and being reddened by the pressure. “They say it’s spring, this feeling light as a feather. They say this thing,” she sang under her breath, “this magic we share together came with the weather too.” She carefully separated the plant’s roots and thought of her Abuela and her orchids. She would sing to the petals, convinced that’s what kept them blooming. She would sing to Wilma too while tucking her in, thin-skinned fingers touching the sheets softly. She rubbed mentholated vapor rub over Wilma’s chest and blew her Virginia Slim menthol breath into Wilma’s face. “Though they say it’s spring, it’s you!”

    When the mint’s roots grew down into the soil and the verdant leaves formed a pleasant puff of growth, Wilma invited guests over in spite of the potential for embarrassment over the apartment’s overall emptiness. Cece first for midday mojitos. She brought over the goblets and sipped the tart cocktail from one while eyeing the window box. “My mom has an herb garden,” she said, “but she never plants mint. Something about… hard to contain?” Wilma was too blissed out laying flat on her stomach in the center of the floor kicking her feet and looking at Cece, distorted and green through the glass of the goblet her portion of the drink was in, to have heard. A few evenings later, she invited her parents to discuss how the empty nest had been treating them over freshly brewed mint tea. They barely touched their steaming mugs, too fixated on the size of the spearmint bush, now obscuring the view of the moon in the window. Wilma sipped her tea happily, pridefully. She curled up in her mother’s lap and slept like a cat in the sunlight despite the room’s darkness. Her parents shared a loaded glance but opted to bite their tongues rather than risk stunting this newfound growth in their relationship. Night wind rattled the spearmint stems against the window’s glass.

    When the window was entirely covered and tendrils began winding their way between the glass and sill, Wilma recalled an early childhood memory of putting up hurricane shutters. The house was abustle with interesting activities from Wilma’s three-year-old point of view: When the power went out, it was time to draw by candlelight! Brush your doll’s hair with a flashlight balanced in the crook of your arm! Find Mommy and Daddy in the dark! When she found them, they were angry. Angry at her somehow? Yes, she and the hurricane shared a name, but certainly, they couldn’t be thinking it was her fault. They drew her in close to the Florida room’s impact glass, pointed at uprooted herb bushes at the edge of their fenced-in yard, and asked her what they were to do with their garden when the calm came. The answer, it ended up being, was nothing. They did nothing even when the bushes withered in the hot sun, giving way to a rotting smell.  Shuttered into the empty studio by her spearmint bush, Wilma occupied the time making attempts to find herself in the dark: Take an online quiz promising to tell you what shades suit you best based on the color of the veins running through your inner wrists! Dye your hair a new shade, the shade it’s meant to be, for you are a spring! Scroll through pictures of other springs online and find in them ways to make yourself who you should be!

    The overgrowth into the apartment wasn’t a terrible inconvenience at first. If anything, it was exactly what Wilma needed. The bed of stems and leavers in the center of the room’s floor could function as a couch or place to sleep. It meant she would be unable to let in friends or family again, but that was a small price to pay for the comfort of sleeping enmeshed in the smell of spearmint. The weight of her body softly pressed against the plant which released its oils leaving her slightly green and smelling herbal. She got the best rest of her life nestled in the leaves. In her waking hours, she sat comfortably reading a gardening manual she had borrowed from the library when she first bought the mint bush, passively curious about whether this was a normal amount of growth. There was a section on the many varietals of mint like peppermint and pennyroyal. She learned that plant breeders have cultivated a veritable fruit salad of hybrids like grapefruit, apple, orange, and banana mint. But could they grow entire beds of mint, indoors without the aid of the sun? The thought made her feel smug and satisfied. Continuing her reading, she was most intrigued by catmint, a close relative of catnip, with its showy purple blooms. She pictured for a moment a viridescent kitten batting at a ball of roots and felt a pang of loneliness emanating from her chest. She then placed the book on the floor beside the front door, intending to return it whenever she left the house next.

    Wilma woke one morning to find that the spearmint’s characteristic serrated sprigs and pink and white flowers had bound to the hairs on her arms and legs. They were trailing up her stomach and lower back. She had always liked her body hair, she saw it as an affirmation of her adulthood, but she especially liked the new foliage. She was now intrinsically connected to the space of the apartment so, no, she could not make that interview for the front desk at the dentist’s office at 2 PM and, yes, the molding pints of berries and freezer-burned Pad Thai in her fridge would have to be enough for now if the alternative was leaving to pick up groceries. When the fuzz growing on her teeth started taking on a chlorophyllic tint, she called Cece on the phone to ask how she was doing and inform her that she was feeling fantastic. “Your mom should really look into adding some Mentha spicata to her garden,” Wilma said coolly, “it’s life-changing.”

    Intending to show off to all those friends who had moved on before she was ready, Wilma took a picture of herself in her laptop’s photobooth, propping the computer up on a dense patch of stems against the wall with the window they all came from. She crawled on the now completely covered ground to take her place, releasing the smell of the leaves as she went. She kneeled on the ground and leaned over, emulating the posture of when she had first planted the bush in its dirt. She brought her arms together to create some cleavage and smiled wryly as the camera went off. Only as she looked at herself in the photo did she realize how much she had changed. She looked as if she’d been sleeping restfully, her hair was no longer shaggy, and her eyes were no longer puffy. Of course, her hair was vines and her once-brown irises had given way to green.

    When she posted the photos, she got three kinds of comments:

    1. “Are you alright? What happened? How can we help?”
    2. “Cool edit.”
    3. “This is so you.”

    The final one was singular and came from a friend of hers from high school, Gabby, who had gotten involved in herbalism and witchcraft in her years at one of the Seven Sisters. That was the only comment Wilma took to heart. She messaged Gabby, “Thank you for seeing me.” Cece either didn’t see the post or didn’t care to reach out. Wilma found herself at peace with that lack of response. She had the leaves.

    On the morning that the mint took her lungs, she woke unable to sit up. When she breathed in the air, it tasted different than it had before. Breathing out had become a new sensation too, it sent a chill through her body. She closed her eyes again, not hoping to sleep and wake to find herself returned, but because she could no longer see as she once had. This did not concern what had once been Wilma.

    Hungry, she tried to focus down into the stems and leaves below her. She visualized the rustling of the leaves in the eddy of the air conditioner, hoping if she used that momentum she could flow into the vines that entered her refrigerator and envelop the molding berries there. Instead, she felt herself moving against the current. She flurried up and out, through the gap between the windowsill and panes. Once emerged, she felt the sun for the first time in weeks and was filled up by its warmth. In the windowbox, she was surrounded by the city air. She appreciated its heavy humidity for the first time. She was tickled by bees coming to feed on her pink and white flowers and ants climbing up and down her stems. There was a light wind in the air that blew her leaves. If you stood in the right spot, you could smell the verdant oils off of them cooling the air. Her leaves grew and grew in the sunlight, up towards the warmth with stems open wide.

     

    Marina Ramil is a Latine lesbian whose work can be found in StoneboatOxMagAstrolabe, and elsewhere. They live in Miami with the strangler figs and paper-flower bougainvilleas. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter @thesuncomingout.

  • Francis Gene-Rowe :: “Manic Pixie Mushroom and Her Extinct Goth Tree Girlfriend”

    I’ve whispered seventeen trees,
                      now, each time
                      their musty groan
                      an exhalation of duration
                      a release
                                          years upon years of
    pollutants
                                          we’re neither the disease
                                          nor the cure
    there is no historicity, toxicity
                       is a blank space, if space it
                       can be called
    They’ve never listened, except
    really that means I really that means
    we, if we can be called.
    They’re listened to, outside the walls
    of borders of corpses of ever straightened
    lines of degradation without decay
    of ruins denied their own ruination
                     poisoned and shattered to a wreckage
                                         labour without pay
    I’d like
    I’d really, like
    I’d like to, really                            I would like
                      my desire isn’t possible.
    You’d prefer                               what would you prefer.
                       no, let’s water our garden
    If I inhale, prickled by dry grass,
                   the insects softly insecting
    It doesn’t need to be a confinement
    It can be a space
                       our space in between
                       beetles, worms, gossamer, violets
                       these are a few of my favourite names
                       ripe with decaying life

                       don’t trouble, slough off your entire skin
                       before the cruel sun of Today, malignantly
                       dominant, burns it away. Stay close,
    I’ll press softly against you, beneath your
    shade, in your lee. You, me, our friends
    the microbes, here, now, formerly before,
    not yet the not-yet. Mortar our glimpse
    of such moments, but let the bricks be soft
    and crumbling, so that foxes and other exceptions
    to our chosen aesthetic can slip in and out. The
    moss rusted, the rust mossed. A pool of
    dank pond life/murkily reflecting/your macabre
    beauty (it’s good to teem, now and then), until
                       enough of your fallen canopy
                       exhausts the oxygenic capabilities
                       of our small, small world
    don’t bother unlocking the gate, we’re
    beyond such things, really, if you think
    about it, if you feel anything at all.
    This is our last moment, I am
    not here, you are not now. You were my
    seventh, sometimes when moonlight splashes
    sweetly, just so                            I touch my hair in a way
    that’s carefully careless, hold my breath
    as I briefly remember our time together.
    dryness. I need things like you to be a part of
    it, to share conversation/in the scarce greenways.
    I grow on your ruin, hold you in my
    living death, but I can live without you.
                      Let’s keep infesting each other, just for
                      now, in this now we once had,
                      our porous dream, for as long as I can stay.
                      I miss you, and every other tree I’ve
                      Loved. The world, extinct, forgets,
                      but I’ll remember in my own way a
    short while, water the garden
                      we once had.

    Originally published in Strange Realism.

     

    Francis Gene-Rowe works with poetry, games, and science fiction, and teaches media practices at the University of Southampton. As well as ALOCASIA, you can find their poetry in Strange Realism (Future Natures) and Corroding the Now: Poetry and Science|SF (Veers Books & Crater Press). Francis is a co-director of the London Science Fiction Research Community, and has published critical work on petrocultures, cyberpunk, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Philip K. Dick. At present, Francis is hoping to think, learn, and create around speculative divination, losing in games, and goblin futures.

  • Colt Walker :: “How to Make Thross Dye”

    Stage One: Gathering

    Harvest the thross nettle as the summer wanes and gives way to the winds of fall.

    Thross is ripe when the yellow flowers hang straight down off their racemes and their petals are slightly wrinkled. It is a very small window of time. Too soon, and the dye will be green and watery. Too late, and it will be dull.

    Keep an eye on the sky as you gather. Listen for the tack, tack, tack of raindrops on the forest canopy, be sensitive to changes in the air. Don’t get caught outside if the shepherd dogs of wind and lightning come out to keep the clouds in line.

    It was storming like that when I found her, and those were my first and second mistakes, respectively. She was lying at the edge of the woods with a circle of bleeding holes in her side. “Found,” in the theoretical sense. “Tripped over,” in the practical. “Circle,” theoretically. Practically, like something had sunk its teeth in, aiming to kill.

    Thross is the last dye of the fruitful months, and it’s the most time consuming to make. Bring at least two baskets as you gather and try to fill them both every day. You do not want to encounter a large patch of ripe thross and have no way to carry it home. Likewise, you do not want to have so little you cannot turn it into anything useful.

    My foot connected with something solid-but-soft and I hit the ground. The wind ripped my baskets from my hands, trailing thross behind them. I scrambled after them, but my fingers closed on empty air as the winds lifted the baskets into the sky like dogs playing keepaway with sticks or bits of game.

    I squinted back through the rain to see what I had tripped on. A dark, irregular lump on the ground. At first I thought it was some kind of animal carcass. Then I realized it was some kind of person carcass. And then it groaned, shuddering in pain, delineating itself as not a carcass at all.

    Be careful of strangers. Thross grows in remote places. Your family depends on this dye to keep from starving during the storming months, so your safety is paramount. Keep a sharp mind about you. Don’t do anything rash.

    Hello?” I screamed, pressing my hands to the sides of her face. Rain roared all around us. I could barely hear my own voice as it left my mouth. Her jaw was slack, eyes trembling feebly below their lids. She was alive. Somewhat.

    If I left her there and ran for the town I would definitely survive, and she most definitely would not. If I took her with me, then maybe both of us had a chance. Maybe.

    Well, my baskets were gone, my hands were free.

    I took her by the arm and hoisted her across my shoulders, the way I saw men carrying wounded animals in from the pastures sometimes. I was not strong like the blacksmith or any of the farmers’ boys. My knees buckled as I tried to get to my feet.

    Lightning flashed, illuminating the entire world in sharp white lines. Every midair raindrop stood out like a shard of shining crystal, and I thought I saw a canine face in the haze. I thought I saw a huge, lurking form. A dog. A wolf. Two times my height. It prowled in tightening circles, grinned at me, rain dripping from its muzzle.

    Then thunder came on lightning’s heels and shook the very earth below my knees.

    It came so close I felt its fur brush my forearm, coarse and soaking wet. Wind blew through in its wake. It snapped at the woman’s arm and I jerked away.

    Then the lightning came again, thunder immediately on top of it and the smell of ozone singed my nostrils. Again, again, again. The wolf was gone but I heard a ferocious snarl somewhere else in the rain and a chorus of answering barks. There were more, they were fighting. The wind rose in time with their howls. Lightning seared my vision with each bite.

    I staggered to my feet, bowing under the weight of the woman on my shoulders. While the shepherd dogs were distracted, I turned towards home.

     

    Stage Two: Processing

    Continue to wear gloves as you separate the flowers from the stems. The central stems and the racemes of the plant are covered in stinging trichomes. And the trichomes on the racemes are smaller and finer: harder to remove if your skin is uncalloused.

    I wore a different pair of gloves as I stitched shut the holes in the woman’s side. I didn’t want to contaminate the thross blossoms with any blood, sweat, or dirt, and she had plenty. Her breathing was ragged, like she was having a bad dream, but I didn’t know what to do about that. Outside the wind rose and fell erratically, perfectly matched to the sporadic movement of her chest. I didn’t know what to do about that either.

    Separate the blossoms from their stamen and the petals from the pistils. Save the anthers separate from the rest in a smooth container that will not absorb the pollen. Later use it to deepen the color of the dye.

    With a needle and uncolored thread string the petals into long chains. Hang these in an environment with little moisture so they will dry without mold.

    Don’t bruise the petals. Be as gentle as you would if you were making stitches in living skin.

    After I tied the final knot and wiped away the blood, I sat back and stared at her. This wasn’t good. My mother was at her sister’s house, helping take care of her newborns. But my father was at a meeting of the Fellowship of Good Men. He would be back soon. What would he say when he found a strange woman lying on our hearth?

    Briefly I thought of putting her back outside. She had a much better chance of surviving now that her wounds were closed. Full honesty: that was an assumption. I was a dyemaker, not a healer.

    But the wind was blowing so fiercely that the door was stuck shut. When I put my shoulder against it and shoved, it didn’t move. Rain struck the door like the wind was trying to force its way through to the inside of the house. The shepherds were fierce today. The sheep were wailing.

    I was halfway through the flowers I’d gathered yesterday when the wind dropped, all at once. The loose shingles on the roof stopped banging against the rafters. The rainfall outside sounded muted, gentle. 

    The woman was staring at me. Her eyes were filled with liquid black from pupil to pupil. I startled, knocking my bowl of thross off balance. Yellow petals scattered across the floor in a wide arc.

    She looked to her left, to her right, at her hands, at her fingers. She made a fist like it was a novel concept.

    “What’s your name?” I asked.

    Her head whipped up and she stared at me again. She was wearing an animal pelt as a cloak and no other clothing. The fur was a color I’d never seen before. “A name? I don’t know.”

    “Where are you from?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “You have to remember something. Anything at all.”

    Her expression grew troubled. She was amnesiac. Either that, or a criminal, hiding her past. I thought of my father and which explanation he would jump to believe, and what would follow that. I set the bowl back on the table. “Can I give you a name?”

    She pondered this, then shrugged. Okay, permission.

    “Noma,” I said. “Good to meet you. I’m Xandra.”

    “Noma.” Her top lip lifted in a minute smile and I could see sharp white teeth behind it. “Xandra.”

    Noma. Nameless Woman. Good enough for now, until her memories returned.

    Did you ever find an injured animal as a child? A bird that flew into a window, a fox kit half drowned in the rain? What did your parents say to you when you wrapped it in your coat and took it home? Sure, you can take care of it until it’s better. But don’t give it a name or you’ll get too attached. It’s a wild thing. It can’t stay with you forever. It has to return eventually.

     

    Stage Three: Blanching

    To blanche, suspend the strings of dried thross in the dye vats. Gather armloads of slow-burning wood. The vats must be kept at a constant temperature for about two weeks, and the fire must never go out.

    Fill the vats with rainwater that has been strained at least three times. Some say that only sky sheep tears will bring out true thross yellow, that all the success is dependent on the gods and their magic and not the elbow grease the dyemaker actually contributes.

    I don’t believe it. The gods contribute nothing to the dye’s success unless you can put them to work and make them apply elbow grease of their own, but what god would come down from the heavens to dry flowers?

    I showed Noma how to tease the thross apart and string the petals into long garlands. It gave me more time to scrub the dye vats over and again so nothing would contaminate the pigment. It kept her useful, and if she was useful that was one less reason for my father to throw her out.

    He didn’t like her. She was a strange woman from out of nowhere and supposedly she remembered none of what came before. To him she was undeniably dangerous. What had she done in her last community so that she’d been alone in the woods, unconscious as a storm rolled in overhead?

    Whenever she noticed his displeased stare she would bare her teeth. Noma was decidedly canine. It was a worrying characteristic. My worry exponentiated when the Elios boys returned a week early from their hunt with nothing to show for it.

    The Good Fellowship called a meeting. My stomach turned as my father lifted two skinny rabbits by their hind legs and held them up for everyone to see. The boys’ game bags lay empty at his feet. A town’s worth of eyes turned on the Elios family.

    Now there was no large store of meat to trade for. Not only would the Elios family be empty handed for the storming months, the rest of the town would be hungry as well.

    Angry murmuring turned to a rumble that threatened to spill over. My father waved his arms overhead, commanding attention.

    “We need volunteers! Another hunting trip!”

    Noma’s hand shot into the air. My father frowned at me and shook his head. People turned to see what he was looking at. I felt the weight of their gazes fall all at once.

    “Come with me,” I muttered, pulling her out of the town hall.

    Once we were outside, Noma got started. “He needed volunteers,” she said. “No one else wanted to, and I am an excellent hunter.”

    “You remember doing that? You were allowed to hunt?”

    “No, they didn’t like me. That’s why I’m here.” She tossed her head, and if her pupils were distinguishable I could have imagined her rolling her eyes. “I hate your town, Xandra. There’s no freedom here. And the sheep are always crying. You should do something about that.”

    I realized my hand was still wrapped around her wrist. I laced our fingers together instead, swinging our thross-stained hands between us. “It’s not my area of expertise.”

    She exhaled in a disappointed way, and around us the breeze rustled the grass into waves and sent the few clouds overhead scudding towards the sea.

    Interlude: Other Uses

    Do not throw any part of the thross away. The stamens can be dried and brewed into a bracing, spicy tea that clears the chest of thickness and warms the body like nothing else.

    Three days after the Good Fellowship meeting, I brought a jar of dried stamens to my aunt’s house. Her newborns had developed thick sounding coughs. She and my mother hoped that the tea would clear their throats and lungs before the storms worsened.

    My aunt lived on the other side of town. Noma came with me, morning fog rolling away from her with every step. We passed the Elios’ cabin on our way to the main road and I could see Farmer Kennedy standing there with a bucket in one hand and a limply struggling chicken in the other.

    “Farmer Kennedy,” I said. Once I sold the dye I would buy from him first: grains and flours and pickled vegetables to line the empty shelves back home.

    “Xandra,” he said. “Dyemaker. Your father back yet?”

    The chicken swinging from his right hand kicked feebly. I eyed it, and the windows of the Elios’ cabin, which were still dark. I knew what he was about to do. “No sir, the hunting party hasn’t returned.”

    “Mmph.” He set the bucket down and held the chicken over it, grasping around the neck with two hands. His right hand twisted left and his left hand twisted right.

    Noma yelped.

    The chicken was dead, but Kennedy didn’t stop twisting until its head dropped into the bucket. Then he took the bleeding stump of the neck and started scrawling obscenities on the cabin windows. Curses for bringing the town misfortune. Prayers calling down the shepherd dogs, prayers for them to use their mighty jaws.

    I inhaled through my mouth to stifle my nausea. Noma stared at the writing, transfixed. Chicken blood dripped down the glass and gathered on the sill.

     

    Stage Four: Reducing

    “There’s nothing out there,” my father announced.

    I almost dropped my fire iron into the gently smoldering embers under the dye vat. Behind me there was a thud thud thud and I turned around to see Noma sheepishly picking up the armload of wood she dropped.

    “You’re back early,” I said. “What do you mean, nothing out there?”

    He sat and squinted up at the sky, at the clouds grazing on the horizon. “There’s no game,” he said. “Nothing to hunt. It’s like the whole forest is dead.”

    “Dead?” Noma breathed.

    “We were going to stick it out. We weren’t going to come back until we had enough meat for the town, no matter how long it took. But we came back early, with our bags empty and our knives still clean.” His gaze swiveled and landed on Noma. “Do you know why?”

    She made a displeased sound deep in her throat. “Are you saying I had some part in this? I didn’t touch any of your game.”

    “Every morning we found large pawprints near our camp.” He spread his hands out. Placed them thumb to thumb. “As wide as both my hands together. They would come in from the woods, circle our tents, then disappear. And we didn’t know what was making them. But I saw it last night.”

    I didn’t like the look on Noma’s face. I didn’t like the look on my father’s.

    “It was a dog. As big as a horse. I saw it pacing through the rain, but its coat was dry.” There was reverence in my father’s voice. “It had a whole deer hanging out of its mouth. Dead, of course. Stomach hanging half open. It looked at me with black, black eyes. And then it jumped into the air. Lightning flashed, and it was gone. I thought I was hallucinating. But its prints were there in the morning, filled with water.”

    There was a moment of silence. Dread ran down my spine like ice water. A lightning dog. One of the storm gods. I felt that I knew why it had come down from the sky to hunt our forest. My father knew too.

    “Your suspicions incriminated me,” Noma spat. “Nothing I did. What are you even accusing me of?”

    “Do I have to accuse you of anything? A week after my daughter finds you alone in the woods all the wildlife disappears. We are visited by one of the shepherd dogs. My suspicions came after you incriminated yourself.”

    Noma hurled down the firewood and disappeared around the side of the house. My father’s eyes said, all of this is your fault.

    I didn’t think that was very fair.

    Once all the pigment has been leeched from the thross petals, pull the strings out of the vats. The bleached flowers have no other uses. Burn them, bury them, use them as compost.

    Now the difficult part begins.

    All the water in the vats must be reduced at a slow, gradual rate until there is nothing but color left at the bottom of the vat. The fires under the vats require frequent, almost constant attention. Prepare to lose a lot of sleep for this dye.

    I got up in the middle of the night to check the vats and felt sick to my stomach. Noma was gone. Outside, rain pummeled the windows, but the storm was relatively quiet. There was no lightning or wind for now.

    I turned up the collar of my coat and made my way to the lean-to with no walls and the makeshift roof where the dye vats were kept. The embers under the vats looked slightly sick, so I added a layer of strong kindling to each fire. In a few hours I would wake up and do it again.

    This is why thross dye is so expensive. The buyers are paying you to wake up and get rained on multiple times a night.

    Outside the lean-to the wind was beginning to pick up. I squinted against the raindrops driving into my eyes and then I saw it.

    A dog. Huge. Twice as tall as me. Static sparks clinging to its fur and lightning winding through its teeth. It was leaping onto its hind legs, frolicking through the rain, tail wagging as it snapped its jaws at the sheep clouds overhead.

    And Noma was playing with it. Dashing in circles and leaping into the air. She ran her hands along its sides and snapped her jaws at the sky in the exact same way. The wind whipped around them, part of the dance. Her face was full of delight.

    My heart punched the walls of my chest. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was something else, maybe it was both.

    Theoretically, I should have done something about this. Put a stop to it? Joined in? Gotten my father so he could deal with it?

    Realistically, I had a long night ahead of me, caring for the dye, and my bed was probably still warm.

    I went back inside.

    It was not lost on me that the lightning dog’s fur was the same color as the cloak that Noma had arrived in.

     

    Stage Five: Mordanting

    The thross provides the color, but without a base for that color to attach to, the dye will be like water. This is what mordanting does for the dye. It strengthens its color and allows it to attach to fabrics.

    My dyes are famous for their richness, their body, the way they glow on whatever they’re applied to. Here is my secret, the one taught to my mother by hers before her and so forth.

    Cobalt mussels cling to the rocks in droves, so thick there’s no space between them. The outsides of their shells are crusted with brine and algae, the insides of the shells glow with soft mother of pearl.

    The mother of pearl mordants the dye. Scrape it off the insides of the shell with a fine knife and grind it into finer powder. Stir it into the vats just before the final water in the reduction process evaporates, incorporating it well. The mix must be homogenous.

    Noma followed me to the beach early in the morning while the tide was still far out. We waded out to the tidepools sticking up from the water, surf sliding in and out around our ankles. The rocks were behemoths covered in thick carpets of mussels. The fog made a clear radius around us, rolling away with every step forward. I glanced at Noma, side-eye, but she didn’t care about the natural world’s anomalous behavior.

    Actually, her anomalous behavior.

    I couldn’t get the image of the lightning dog out of my head.

    I’ve heard of some mussel farmers who smash them off the rocks with hammers or scrape them off in great batches at the root. Don’t do this. It destroys the mussel beds and ensures that there will be none later, when you or your children are about to go hungry and you need a mordant so you can sell your bottle of dye.

    I showed Noma how to grasp the mussel near its base and rock it back and forth until it came loose and detached. She got the hang of it fast. But she shoved her hands viciously into the sharp mussel beds. It was like she didn’t care if they carved her up. When she dropped a handful of mussels into the basket, I expected to see blood dripping into the pile.

    I took her hand and turned it back and forth. Her fingertips were covered in small cuts and scrapes, but there was no blood. No pain, nothing. In fact, she said, “What?” and peered at her hands like she was expecting to find some microscopic, other issue. She bled when she first arrived. That I remembered clearly. Did this mean she was dying, or did this mean her strength was coming back? 

    “Noma,” I said. “What . . . what is wrong with you?”

    “I don’t think you’re supposed to ask me that.”

    “Well, what the hell else am I supposed to ask you?” I pulled my gloves from my pocket and shoved them onto her hands, finger by finger. “Why were you abandoned in the storm? Should I be letting you live in my house?”

    By the storm.”

    “What?”

    She scrambled up the wide of the boulder, mussels cracking under her feet, and stared out at the horizon with a weirdly intense gaze. I thought of hunting dogs whose ears tilt forward when they’re listening for something.

    “Noma.”

    She looked down at me. “I was abandoned by the storm. No- not abandoned. Excised.”

    Noma.”

    “They chased me out, bit me until I bled like mortals do, threw me down to earth.” Her face was alert, full of certain fervor. The excitement of remembering. The adrenaline of realizing who she was, what she was.

    The breeze picked up, lifting the ends of my hair. Turned into a real wind, blew sea spray against my face, whistling through the fine holes in the tidepool rocks.

    Noma was breathing hard. Without a doubt, the two were connected. “They didn’t expect me to live. I wasn’t supposed to. But you found me. Now I’m free.”

    I could feel every pulse of my heart. A certain feeling arising in my own chest. “Listen,” I said, before it could grow and I would have to parse what it meant. “Listen. I saw you with the wolf last night.”

    “I know.”

    “Noma, what’s going on? Why is that dog here?”

    The wind swirled with increasing intensity. “It came to find me,” she said. “It fought when the storm cast me out. We used to be one and they tore us apart. But we’ve found our way to earth now. We’re out. We can go anywhere.”

    She jumped down. Water splashed up to our knees.

    “Come with,” she said, so close I smelled petrichor on her skin.  “Come with me.”

    What? No- no I can’t do that.”

    “I hate this town. I know you hate it too. It’s not right for you.”

    I stepped back. “Compared to what? What other place would there be?”

    “I don’t know. We can find one. Maybe we can build one.”

    My heart, thrumming. That certain feeling in full bloom

    Some of it was terror. Somehow, I’d gone against the schemes of the shepherd dogs. And hadn’t misfortune run rampant through the town since that day? Hadn’t we been cursed?

    But more of it was something else. My own adrenaline, my own realizations. 

    The sun shone behind Noma’s head like a corona. Maybe I loved the storm more than I feared it.

     

    Stage Six: Grinding

    The Elios boys wanted to wipe the blood off their windows and atone for their mistakes.

    Noma and I were finishing the dye when they cornered the wolf. She ground the thross pigment into a fine powder and I weighed out each dose in careful measure to sell.

    I held the scoop of dye pigment above the weight balance scale and tapped the powder out until the two plates evened out. I shook the powder into a bottle and corked it tightly.

    Noma’s head jerked up. Her hand stilled on the mortar and pestle and she looked over her shoulder, staring out of the lean-to.

    “What is it?” I asked. Then I heard it too. Shouting, coming closer, and then thunder shook the air.

    Noma jumped to her feet. “I have to go,” she said. Very carefully she set down the mortar full of dye, which I appreciated, and then she shot out of the lean-to.

    I hesitated for a moment, trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t follow Noma into some undoubtedly dangerous unknown. But it was inevitable. I grabbed the pestle before I ran after her.

    The Elios boys had the dog surrounded, menacing it with spears made of hunting knives tied to long stakes. The dog snarled and snapped at them but it couldn’t get past their spears. A broken shaft hung out of its flank. One of the boys lay moaning in the grass.

    A gale roared down from the heavens, whipping my hair past my face, throwing the trees to and fro. The air swelled with rage.

    Noma sprinted up and slashed her nails across the tallest boys back. I think his name was Andrew, and he screamed terribly. The back of his shirt flapped open. So did the skin of his back.

    The dog growled. The rumble shook the earth. It spread its jaws apart far wider than any normal dog could. Streams of lightning danced from tooth to tooth. It lunged at the final Elios boy, teeth bared, mouth crackling with power. The boy shoved the spear at its chest. Somehow he missed the vital parts. Maybe because gods have thick skin. The spear drove a full foot into the side of the dog’s chest, under its fur, but the dog still kept coming. The boy shrieked once and only once. His throat spilt onto the grass. The wind filled my nose with the smell of burnt meat.

    I froze, trembling, knuckles white around the stone pestle. Noma was vicious. The dog was huge. The boy was just a boy with a long stick. Who was I supposed to hit?

    Andrew held his spear crosswise as Noma spun to face him and shoved her back, shoved her to the ground. She threw her arms up to block as whipped the knife end of the spear up. It sliced across her hand and her face. The wind stuttered. Howled ferociously and shoved him to the side. He stumbled down on one knee.

    Noma struggled to get up. There was no blood — she didn’t bleed anymore — but she was dazed. I rushed forward. I didn’t even think. I swung the pestle into the back of Andrew’s head. Hard stone. Thross yellow printed on his soft skull. He toppled face first.

    The wolf plowed into me with the force of a mountain. Thunder impacted every one of my bones. My vision burned, full of lightning. I cried out for Noma, cried out for her to help me, because what else could I do? I could hear her shouting. It should have been hard, over the roaring gale, but her voice was one with the wind.

    The dog pulled back, the pressure relented. I gasped for air, inhaled the smell of bitter ozone.

    Noma pulled me to my feet. The Elios boys were down, but three of us weren’t alone.

    A few men were rushing towards us with blades drawn. My father was first among them and I almost cried with relief. He would stop all of this and put the world back upright. 

    But then I saw dark murder in the whites of his eyes. He wasn’t looking at Noma, or the wolf, though the storm bellowed with determination.

    He was going to kill me.

    Are you coming?” the wind screamed around me. Noma was towering astride the wolf. No — she was the wolf. She, the wolf, the shepherd dog of wind and lightning, was straining towards the sky. I reached upwards. I wanted to go with her.

    But my father grabbed me, and cold, sharp steel nosed my side. I swung out wildly and the pestle connected with his face. Bright yellow thross. Dark red stain. Blood flowed from both of us and we sank to the earth together.

    I caught a last glimpse of her as the storm bore her up.

    By now you must know what to do. You’ve blanched and reduced the thross, incorporated mordant, ground it into powder as fine as dust.

    Check the color. Do you have to squint to look at it directly? Pure thross pigment is like the gods — painful to look at. The human eye can’t process something so bright.

    Surely now you know what comes next? You’ve spent weeks with this dye. Every waking hour dedicated to it. Your mind consumed by it.

    The dye cannot remain in its bottles forever. It would be a waste to keep it there. It will go out with the merchants and the traders, into the world. It was never meant to be yours.

    You knew this day was coming. The wolf that fell into your forest must go back to the sky.

     

    Colt Walker (they/them) is a Filipino-American writer from the high desert. Their work is queer and speculative, focused on that tenuous place where the human and the mysterious interact. Right now, they’re pursuing a bachelor’s in astrophysics. Yesterday, they walked into some wet concrete. This is their first published work. @coltmvswalker.

  • Issue #08
  • Derek R. Smith :: “Poem as infiltrated tree”

    When there’s even a chance
    An alternative universe
    Where we end up together,
    You’ll find you have become
    One of those bugs that burrows pathways
    In the very being of my tree.
    Laborious ruts that tore away something,
    Hidden just below the bark— invisible— until I’m felled.
    There’s no telling the damage you have done.
    Moving forward as you do
    Making your own trail
    Perhaps contributing to
    My eventual demise,
    Tiny beaver gnawing at my cellulose stability.
    What resilience that a forest lineage 
    Has been instilled in me.
    My internalized tattoos force reflection
    On what I have allowed
    to let grow on me.
    As seasons change,
    The home I provide to mycelia and 
    Plume-ed aviators as they twitterpate, 
    Not to mention the rodentia I have cohabitated with.
    As seasons change,
    I see me change too.
    My glorious autumnal fire
    A dropped facade
    And naked here I stand, 
    Then spring forth
    Wearing only
    My exquisite robe of rare resilience.

     

    Derek R. Smith (he/him) is a public health professional, Anishinaabe two-spirit, uncle, sibling, partner, friend, who finds it hard to not write poetry. He has 2023 publications in Great Lakes Review, ¡Pa’lante!, euphony, Inlandia, Lucky Jefferson, and others. There is no space for distance here, in poetry, and isn’t that a beautiful thing?

  • Gretchen Rockwell :: “If I Lived on the International Space Station”

    after Gabrielle Calvocoressi

    It would not be very good 
    for the plants. The experiments 
    would become worthless—I’m sure 

    if it was up to me to care 
    for the sprouting seedlings, they’d 
    die quicker than you can 

    snap a black thumb. The scientists at NASA 
    would sigh at the staticky refrain: Gretchen 
    killed another sample today. Endless 

    data lost, thanks to someone who 
    never learned to nourish 
    growing things. My grandmother 

    and her green thumbs might 
    keep the plants alive, but me? 
    No, they’d probably hide  

    me somewhere I would do less harm—
    but where? I have no knack 
    for numbers, nor for making machines 

    run smoothly. Mostly, I could 
    communicate with Mission Control
    once I stopped overthinking 

    everything. In my off hours, you’d find 
    me staring at the Earth’s curve
    waiting to go home. And then 

    I’d miss the station. Point is, 
    I’m unskilled at being 
    the one who does the work 

    of maintaining life. Improving 
    slowly, I manage to keep a plant 
    alive for nearly a year, even if 

    its roots have rotted. Metaphor
    for tenderness: the way my cat 
    meows, knowing she’ll be fed. 

    Make that active: knowing 
    I’ll feed her. Even now I would 
    tell my therapist relationships are work, 

    even when that work is positive 
    or welcomed like water in drought. 
    Caretaking is its own laborious thing. 

    If I lived on the ISS I would be 
    careful to avoid the specimens 
    indicating how well life survives 

    in a vacuum. Just in case 
    I might bias them unintentionally. 
    Someone says I’m basically a plant, needing 

    air, food, light to survive. I can’t 
    say they’re wrong. Besides, don’t plants 
    grow best when spoken to?

    What can a plant say about our 
    chances? Doesn’t everything change 
    when observed? These questions 

    are why I don’t live 
    on the International Space Station, 
    why I don’t keep plants 

    alive for long. This is for the best, 
    probably. Just imagine
    what I’d do, given space.

     

    Gretchen Rockwell is a queer poet who can frequently be found writing about gender, science, space, and unusual connections. Xe is the author of the chapbooks body in motion (perhappened press) and Lexicon of Future Selves (VA Press) and two microchapbooks; xer work has appeared in AGNI, Cotton Xenomorph, Whale Road Review, Palette Poetry, and elsewhere. Find xer at gretchenrockwell.com or on Twitter/Instagram at @daft_rockwell.

  • Rasha Abdulhadi :: “Romancing the Artichoke”

    oh darling it’s been so long
    and you’ve been made so
    tender by time, succulent at the root,
    past prickle and thorn
    as I peel each leather leaf
    of your protective petals
    butter you up, my lips and teeth
    seeking succulence at the root
    peeling toughness tenderly,
    taking my time with your trans-
    luminescence by candlelight
    considering every fold, every
    layer’s transit, take you to me
    with the soft music on
    letting fiber be fiber, accepting
    only the cleft ridge of sweetness
    watching your colors change by candle flame
    a sunrise disrobing your pinks,
    your creams, your dusks relishing
    the almost entirely edible middle of you
    and at your sunflower heart, the delicate choke
    of finest slivers of sharpness
    silvered hairs precisely held aside, and you,
    thorny again at the center,
    a tight clutch over your seeded trove
    softly softly, I know not to tongue
    the spines or take them too personally
    or give up, no no, not me, as I press my
    nose against floret, three fingers upon a pedicel
    denude of petals, the pretty-tough tasty-sharp,
    and open wide to take you whole.

    Rasha Abdulhadi is calling on you—yes you, even as you read this—to renew your commitment to refusing and resisting genocide everywhere you find it. May your commitment to Palestinian liberation deepen your commitment to your own. May your exhaustion deepen your resolve and make you immovable. May we all be drawn irresistibly closer to refusals that are as spectacular as the violence waged against our peoples. Portrait by JJ Dumont, 2020.

  • Miriam Navarro Prieto :: “Borago Officinalis as Pleasure” and “I Am the Fire, and I Am the Forest and I Am a Witness Watching It”

    Borago Officinalis as Pleasure

    A year passed of you picking me up from class, every Friday,
    you waited for me outside, with your six-years-older-than-me pose,
    We walked to my mother’s home, had lunch together, took a nap,
    and I always complied, thought myself full enough just because you were.
    But that springtime afternoon, my hungry hand caught by accident 
    what had always been between my light green sheets, climbing 
    up my calves: unexpected scent of chlorophyll, the warmest
    flash of indigo coming up my thighs. Yes. I still don’t know how
    I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could do for myself
    was grabbing you and use you. Yes. Stamens covering my eyes blind 
    but never stop my hand. Yes. There. Sweet nothingness. For the first time
    I arrived at my destination, seventeen, starflowers flooding my mattress,
    a stupid boyfriend panicking. We lasted another year, exclusively thanks 
    to my hand learning how to use your otherwise trivial manliness. 
    Thank you. Yes.

     

    I Am the Fire, and I Am the Forest and I Am a Witness Watching It

    So today, I will wear my white button-down I can at least be neat walk out and be seen as clean And I’ll go to work, and I’ll go to sleep And I’ll love the littler things, I’ll love some littler things.

    A Burning Hill, Mitski

    The burning hill of my body is all
    the things: the fire, the forest, the witness,
    the embers, the thirsty firefighters, the clean
    politician shaking their hands, the angry remains of dead
    trees raining down, the light that warms the hands,
    the light that seduces the eyes, the warmth
    that floods the cheeks, the pine needles joining
    the sky, the paper sheets that will never be,
    the fruits not rotting anymore, the clouds
    of magpies that left, the moles that couldn’t,
    the impatient sun, the soil turning grey,
    the soil turning delivering room, the rhythm
    the holm oak leaves explode in when the heat comes,
    the moon that is not there, the moon that in fact is
    always there, the river turning air turning water,
    the threads of my fingers tied around my waist,
    the threads of my fingers pulling me up,
    the right white button-down to die in, the right
    button-down to tuck in my jeans, the littler things
    not waiting for me, the littler things I can do,
    the littler things coming after me, the littler things
    I don’t know about, the littler things that maybe want me here.

     

    Miriam Navarro Prieto (she/her), Spanish artist drifting from performance to visual arts, currently focused on life-drawing the most-diverse-possible humans, and writing poems on autobiography, ecology, gender, queerness, and the politics of memory. Her first self-published poem collection Todo está vivo is also available online in English as Everything Is Alive, translated by the author. Her poems have been featured in The Pinch and Paranoid Tree, among other journals, and her illustrations in The Winnow. Ecognosis, her second poetry collection in Spanish, was a finalist for the I Premio de Poesía Letraversal (Letraversal Publishing House’s I Poetry Contest), and refuses to be put in a drawer; it will come out someday, somehow. For the last three years, she’s been sending out a monthly bilingual newsletter-podcast on her creative process, with plant trivia, and translated literature. Right this moment she’s anxiously waiting for an acceptance for her first poetry chapbook in English, a reflection on her Post-Spanish-Civil-War ancestry.

  • Isaac Pickell :: “The scientific name for someone I used to know”

    I write to your memory from the peak
    of a warm summer rainstorm that soaks
    the day, making it gloomy yet somehow 
    becoming, like the chorus of a broken

    social scene song. It’s really coming down,
    from bright grey skies that hide the high
    noon sun, so hard it might flood the great big
    pots we leave on the back deck. So I brave 

    the rain to check on them, and that’s when I see
    something that sounds your traces in the back of
    my head: I want to write a poem, but I can’t think
    of any pretty ways to say the puckering at the heart 

    of my split-leaf philodendron reminds me of you.
    I was always too inexperienced to transform
    obscenity into something beautiful, but at least 
    you had plants like we do now, or at least 

    that’s how my reminiscence colors your space: towering 
    ferns that almost looked fake, mighty tropical
    leaves I didn’t know the name for yet. 
                                                                                  Only this,

    it’s silly, writing to someone I never really
    cared for and hold onto through nothing 
    but instagram stories and suggestive leaves, 
    someone I wouldn’t offer a slice of my life 

    today: you’re a tired resonance and the thing is, 
    we are really happy, most days, and most of 
    the plants remind me of her, anyway—even
    the comedy of human devotion can stand up

    against worn longing, against the way plants, 
    like smell, can threaten to bring you back, the way 
    my mother still talks about the hard wood of her 
    childhood horse chestnut tree. Like wisp or tendril, 

    there are old, florid words that could end this poem 
    comely, but you’re just a technicality of the past, a body
    of knowledge, a proper science. So let’s leave it at that:
    Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum, even if it sounds ugly.

     

    Isaac Pickell is a poet, PhD candidate, and adjunct instructor in Detroit. He is the author of everything saved will be last (Black Lawrence Press, 2021) and It’s not over once you figure it out (Black Ocean, 2023), and his most recent work can be found at Brevity, Copper Nickel, and Sundog Lit. Isaac’s taken a seat in all fifty states and has so much to look forward to.

  • Ester Cuervos :: “The Average Weight Of Your Organs”

    [ audio recording found in a computer, two voices are discernible ]
    Are you writing this down? Yes. Alright, then get this: the brain is 1388 grams. Got it? Yes, got it. The flowers inside are: azalea, begonia, butterfly bush pink delight and dahlia. They’re all pink. Yes, they are all pink. They are always pink. Sometimes they are red and sometimes they are purple. Are you still writing? Yes, I’m still writing. The heart is 302 grams and the flowers are zinnia and amaryllis. The lungs, two and together, are 1.3 kilograms. Christ, they are filled to the brim with stargazer. Those look like bruises. Did you write down what I said? I did, I did. Bruised stargazer. No, just stargazer. The flowers are perfectly fine, pristine, it’s the organs that are mangled. The stomach is 95 grams. The flowers are all pink too: hollyhock, peony, meadowsweet, petunia, primrose, rocktrumpet and snapdragon. Got it? Yes, got it. Alright, onto the next one. What causes this? The flowers? They just happen, they’re as natural as permanent teeth replacing milk teeth and then growing your wisdom teeth. You’ll soon find out, I’m sure. There is stargazer in my lungs right now? There might be. I’ve got calla lily’s in my brain. Right now? Oh yeah. I thought they were the result of different flavours of love. They lied to you—this brain is 1389 grams, write it down. Nothing causes the flowers, they’re harmless too, stop fretting. You only need to worry if they outgrow you before you outgrow them. Is that preventable? I once weighed a newborn that was overrun with hibiscus. Jesus. Is it preventable? Who’s to say. Maybe you’re right and it’s love the seed, they do usually start on the brain. Maybe I will starve out the calla lilies and be the first person to go back to the earth with nothing new to grow out of me. What do you mean? 1.3 kilograms for the lungs again. I have never loved anybody, not like that. Write down what I just said. I’m writing it down. I think I love too much. Then cover your ears, so the flowers don’t grow out of them. 300 grams exactly for this heart, and look at that jacaranda.

     

    Ester Cuervos (they/she) is an aroace nonbinary latina from Costa Rica with majoring in classical philology. They are self-taught in creative writing with a passion for stories that oscillate somewhere between reality, magic and horror, and are actually a forest naiad typing on their laptop from the bottom of a creek. Some of their work can be found at @cria.cuervoz on Instagram.

  • KateLynn Hibbard :: “Unblossoming”

    *

    at the last open flower market in LA,
    at the peak of the pandemic,
    a photographer buys dozens of flowers —
    lilies, roses, carnations, freesia —
    to document their slow entropic unblossoming
    which is another way to say death,
    as days turned into weeks and weeks into
    you know how the rest of this story goes

    *

    senescence:  not to bloom
                                                     flower                           open                            unfold
                                    develop               mature
    but fade

    not to progress
                                                      evolve                         flourish                       thrive
                                     prosper               burgeon
    but decline

    *

    To extend the life of cut flowers,
    add sugar salt copper pennies vinegar aspirin bleach

    *

    There is nothing living which does not breathe nor anything breathing which does not live.

    *

    When does the body leave the room?
    When does the person, the being, leave
    the body? Why does the body persist,
    and why do we sanction its persistence?
    When my brain shuts down,
    have I left my body? When I fall asleep,
    have I left my body? Where
    did I leave it? Where does the brain go
    when the body is at rest?

    *

    While still in the womb, the lungs grow like a tree from a bud, with branches sprouting from left and right trunks. 

    *

    Did you wait too long to quit smoking?
    Was that asbestos wrapped around the furnace pipes?
    Did you grow up on a farm, inhaling with pleasure
    late summer air hazy with particulate matter
    while your father harvested grain?

    *

    Church                                     in regards to the no-property theory, the dead body
                                                        was under the control of the
    Corpse                                    The term synonymous to a dead body is
    Common Law                      the major source of mortuary law is
    Cadaver                                  A dead human body used for anatomical study is a
    Decomposition                   The most positive sign of death is
    Decent Burial                      The law states that every person has a right to a
    Mutilation                              Embalming is a form of
    Quasi-property                   A dead human body is said to be
    Dead human body            is not property in a real sense
    Surviving Spouse             As a rule, the right of decent disposal belongs to the

    *

    did you actually mean unblushing or unpleasing?

    *

    A cut flower cannot take on nutrients
    so it slowly begins to die, though putting it in water
    can lengthen its life. Disturbing the flow of water
    shortens life. Cutting flowers in the air
    instead of under water
    may produce bubbles.
    Bent neck.
    Quick wilt. 

    *

    Aren’t we all going to die of something?  Well?

    KateLynn Hibbard’s books are Sleeping Upside Down, Sweet Weight, and Simples, winner of the 2018 Howling Bird Press Poetry Prize. Some journals where her poems have appeared include Barrow Street, Ars Medica, Nimrod, and Prairie Schooner. Editor of When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwest Experience, she teaches at Minneapolis College, sings with One Voice Mixed Chorus, and lives with many pets and her spouse Jan in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Please visit katelynnhibbard.com for more information

  • J.D. Gevry :: “Queer Forest Ecology and Trans Conservation”

    didn’t you know: trees communicate
    with their offspring and         familial elders through
    chemical signals leaked from roots—
    vital substances shared among them
    sustaining lives in times
    of lack; a family-sharing system
    operating solely      underground, but
    isn’t that Us?      We
    found each other in
    tender tendrils       reaching roots       We
    rustled our leaves in        shifting winds
    until heard        in open sky
    you see that? a pale gray bird
    landing on my branch, to
    bend the swishy switch beneath
    bosoms plumped with curiosity—
    curiosity; isn’t that what they always say in the
    straight(s)-forward way
    never mending the places they break      their
    uninvited weight
    pressing in their passing
    a careless seat claimed before
    hurry burst departure        their
    dull-feathered flight home
    my family, they gather
    blue hydrangea tears in baskets woven with
    slender twigs       and
    heavier things; a nest to carry abundant blossoms in      then
    gently place the browning-petal orbs in Our        heirloom vases
    as though still beautiful—
    how they wilted so swiftly in that
    hostile sun, once cut
    revived with       gratitude     in the solace of
    familiar home       I am
    never a solitary oak     quivering
    among the lumberjacks
    I am        of your acorn
    I have been       conserved

    Previously published in Hale Magazine

    J.D. Gevry, MPH (they/them; he/him; fae/faer) is an emerging poet from the public health world, whose work has centered serving LGBTQIA+ folx. Their writing is influenced by their experiences as a queer, polyamorous, non-binary trans Vermonter with disabilities. J.D.’s work is published in The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Querencia Press’s Summer 2023 Anthology, Remington Review, and just femme and dandy, among others. Fae won the 2023 Hale Education Poetry Contest and was longlisted for the 2023 erbacce-prize. J.D. currently lives in Massachusetts with faer husband and several plants slowly preparing to meet their untimely death. You can find them on Instagram at @jd_gevry_poetry or Facebook as @JD.Gevry.

  • lae astra :: “Callus”

    There was callus tissue on our monstera propagation
    near the bottom of the cutting. I thought it was mold
    and cleaned some off when changing the water.

    I looked it up after and learned that callus are cells
    that cover a plant wound. That the tissue has the potential
    to develop into parts that the plant needs, like shoots

    and roots, an attempt to focus its energy toward growth.
    I felt bad for removing it in my ignorance. Apologized
    to this monstera who has been through so much,

    whom we first met at the plants floor of the Tokyu Hands
    department store in Shibuya, “just looking” turning into
    bringing the monstera home, the leaves facing outward

    with us as the blue Tokyo dusk and skyscraper lights
    melted into night. Our first plant together. You said
    your dream was to live surrounded by plants overlooking

    the city. A first step toward that, sharing breath
    in the living room with our paintings and instruments.
    The monstera kept going, despite mealybug attacks,

    sunburn, rotting roots. One leaf after another
    withered and dried. Despite the trauma,
    the leaves we saved continued fighting to survive.

    Energy from sunlight transformed into an expanding
    network from callus cells. Primary, secondary, tertiary.
    A few months after I first notice them,

    enough roots have grown for our monstera to live in soil.
    A shiny new leaf has just emerged. I can’t stop checking it
    every day. How incredible that they keep trying despite

    so much loss. That from the wounds, they still bravely
    send out bridges connecting them to life.

     

    lae astra (they/them) is an agender trans artist and writer who calls Tokyo home. Their writing has appeared in AstrolabeGone LawnOverheardStar*LineStrange Horizons, and elsewhere. They are a Pushcart, Best Microfiction, and Rhysling Award nominee. Find them at laeastra.com/links.

  • Raina K. Puels :: “September 21st” and “Moss crushes in my closed fist”

    September 21st

    Summer love is a dinner-plate dahlia: a tender annual that can survive one frost, but not winter’s hard freeze.  The dahlia’s concentric florets, tight in the center, spread, and grow with each row until they’re nearly a foot across.  I grew accustomed to magnificent purple, pink, and orange blooms greeting me every day.  But the temperature dropped, and the dahlias withered into a blackened mess.  I cut away their frostbitten limbs, loosened the soil around them with a fork, and harvested their tubers to replant in the spring.  You watched.  Then wandered off.  I finished the job alone.

    Moss crushes in my closed fist

    Moss crushes in my closed fist. I drop it into the blender with buttermilk. The whirr scares the cat, green eyes wide. She flattens into the floor, protecting her organs from the sound she worries will bruise or cut or maim. The noise ends. Everything is more quiet after a ruckus.

    Wet electric pulp sits in the basin. I pour it into a bucket, check again that the door is locked, and wait until dark.

    For weeks, I’ve hunted for the right wall. Brick. Centrally located, but not too public. Close enough to his apartment, but not so close he could see me on a midnight run to 7/11 for those jalapeño chips he loves. Even when his knuckles were bloody, he’d still shove his fist into the bag. He always complained of the sting, but I think he liked it: small pain as a humbling force.

    Black pants, black sneakers, and black jacket clad I say goodbye to the cat with a scratch on her head. At night, our city is alive with college kids, drinking and laughing. To them, I’m invisible. So are the bucket and paintbrush in my hand. Especially now that the skin around my eyes has healed. 

    I walk to my large swath of wall. Between a coffee shop and a real estate office, I begin to paint. I’ve sketched this enough times. Proportions memorized. No one stops to ask what I’m doing. The slurry sinks into the brick, but dries light. Almost invisible. I stop by each night to water my work, spray it down. Moist. Vibrant. 

    In a few weeks, the message is clear and green: his face above the words “Abusive Scum.” Pictures of my creation start appearing online, from people I know and from strangers. The cat purrs on my lap as the posts roll in. Some defend him. Other cheer on the vigilante artist.

    A video of him goes viral. He’s red in the face, huffing, clawing off the moss with his bare hands until his fingers bleed. After that, there’s no longer any chance he’ll come for me. The spores have already done their job, deep in his lungs.

    His body won’t be found for a few days. And when it is, it will look more like an emerald knoll than a human.

    Moss is soft and resilient. Moss has a way of consuming. 

    Raina K. Puels is a Brooklyn-based alien. You can find them shopping for vintage slip dresses or reading in dark bars with a tiny book light. Ornamental cabbage makes their heart swoon. If you want to read more of their writing, you can find it here: rainakpuels.com

  • Issue #07
  • Arya Vishin :: “LAST WINTER YOU LEAVE ME UNPLANTED”

    & when you come back I will garland, 
    I will wreath, I will carnation, I will 
    braid gendhekaphool thick & globular, 
    I will inflorescence, I will faith, I will 
    doveaglecrow, my mouth will form the 
    words you tell me, I will blossom crêpe 
    paper jasmine delicate & jagged, you 
    will flush greater flamingo whitepink,
    we will unearth with our pinnate hands 
    letting the soil imbibe & absorb into 
    frondfingers, I will not bury something, 
    I will not bury something, & I will not 
    bury something.

     

    Arya Vishin is a mixed Kashmiri-American & Jewish writer from San Jose, California. He is currently studying English & South Asian Studies @ UC Berkeley. He can be found on Twitter @thewodensfang.

  • Talicha J. :: “Another Year Sprouts”

    eager to                unfold.
    every goal i made for the last one
                                                                              wilted,
    the walking pad and dumbbells collected
    dust & dog fur, the bank accounts           withered and decayed,
    the unwatered plant purchased on a whim
                                                                                      browned
    on the side table beneath the lamp.
    i was selfish,      hungry               for aesthetics, to be       a plant girlie.
    snapping photos with a filter while my first philodendron birkin
                     dried up.           i did not know how or even if i could
    save it,                  i barely tried.
    tossed it in the trash,
                                                      decorative pot and all.

    Talicha J. is a Black, Queer, Poet, and Workshop Facilitator. She is currently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Talicha J. has competed in national slams with Respect Da Mic and Art Amok slam teams. After the release of her debut poetry collection, Falling in Love with Picking Myself Up, in 2015, she toured the U.S. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her sophomore collection. She facilitates weekly writing editing sprints and monthly generative workshops online. Talicha J. firmly believes in the power of writing with community. Her work has been featured in several literary magazines and on the popular Button Poetry YouTube channel.

  • Luke Sutherland :: “Nurselog”
    Nurselog

I take my shot in the Hoh rainforest, making sure B gets a good angle with the little disposable camera I’d bought at CVS. I’m always forgetting at home, letting days go by before realizing I missed a dose, but here I’m buzzing for it. 

My hiking bag is a temporary med kit: alcohol swabs, syringes, bandaids, two gauges of needles. I’m used to injections. Pinching the fat of my stomach, angling the needle, the one-two-three-go before the puncture. I rotate hormone days with monoclonal antibody ones. 

I forget about those shots, too. 

The Hall of Mosses loop is short, but we spend hours on it anyway. The air is damp in my lungs, spiked with licorice fern. Lichen overwhelms the landscape. The branches of douglas-firs and Sitka spruces hang heavy a fur of algaes. Signs along the path are lyrical and strangely charged:

[  moldering logs, trunks shaggy with moss  ]
[  plant on plant  ]                                               
[  lush beards of clubmoss  ]
                                                                       	                                        
And it’s true, the lush shag of it all is romantic, bacteria and fungi fucking all around us. Lichens like leaves, like cracked paint, like gunpowder. B bends their head to inspect the composite, and their hair sheeted over their face looks like a red shrub of fruticose anchored to the bark. 

I pick a spot just off the trail and lay out my supplies on a log, the glass vial of T nestled into decaying wood. I swab a spot just below my belly button while a family snakes down the path. I slide the needle into the vial and invert it, pulling thick liquid into the syringe, flicking out pockets of air. B is kneeling in the moss with the camera raised. I can hear the many small voices of the family. The point of the needle lingers over my stomach. There’s murmuring, a shower of boot disturbed dirt. I try not to notice them noticing me; I’ve spent years practicing, but I’m not very good at it. When I finally inject, B peaks around the camera to say I look metal as hell. 

The needle draws out a coin of blood as it exits my body. It sits there, tense, a blot of red amongst a stream of freckles. N, the first trans man I ever knew, taught me to hold the used syringe over my finger and squeeze the plunger one last time, swiping those precious drops across my upper lip and jaw. It helps the hair grow, he said. I have no idea if this is true. I do it anyway, always, and it is the anointment that makes me whole. 

The family is gone, maybe not knowing what they saw. B embraces me, and I forget it all. I love how they witness me. I love that they know which mountains are which. I love the sound they make when they are surprised. I love how they love the forest. I love that they stopped the car the moment we saw elk. I love when they lean their head into my hand. I love that they refuse to eat anything I can’t. For a few minutes, there is only this.  

Trans Fear

When is the right time to leave? 							        [ always ] 
Is there ever a right time? 								          [ never ]
What does that mean? 							                     [ agony ]
Where would we go?  								      [ together ]
Who would take us? 								  [ arms outstretched ]
Do we wait until the killings? 						                         [ it’s too late ]
Do we wait until it’s one of our friends? 				   		     	   [ no ]
Could we live through that vigil?								   [ no ] 
Which of us might bury ourselves preemptively? 						  [ yes ]
Do we count ourselves lucky? 								    [ … ] 
How could we leave, knowing who can’t?							    [     ]

We spend a long time in the trees, on a tree, by the river. We kiss, for lack of answers. I use their knife to carve FAG4DYKE into the wood. Which of us is which is a matter of opinion.

&on

Much, much later, a man—a coworker of mine, my building opposite his—will tell the audience at a work event that trans people are pedophiles. He doesn’t say it like that exactly, but we all know what he means. I will feel rattled, sick, jaded. I will file complaints both alone and as a group. I will despair. I will consider quitting all of the time. I will look up the cost of my prescriptions without insurance. Later.

Still in the forest, B and I stand in front of a plaque telling us that we are looking at a nurselog. The massive trunk lays prone on the floor. Nooks of its body collect detritus. Moss, needles, leaf litter and squirrel shit—a mattress of lush humus for sprouting seedlings. A colonnade of mature hemlocks straddle the log from which they grew. In another spot, the nurselog has rotted away completely. Nutrients cycle, burls break down. Its children stand on tented roots, hollow air where their parent used to be, not able to let go of the shape. 

A nurselog is like a whale fall. A nurselog is like a transsexual living past their life expectancy.

Have I ever told N that he made my life possible? That I’m still on stilts, alive over the space he made?

Image Description 1: 
A trail map of the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park.

Image Description 2: 
A black and white illustration of several trees.

    Luke Sutherland is a trans writer and librarian. His work has appeared in smoke and mold, ANMLY, Bright Wall/Dark Room, MQR: Mixtape, and more. His chapbook Distance Sequence (Neon Hemlock, 2024) won the OutWrite 2023 Chapbook Contest in Nonfiction. He was a finalist for the SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction in 2022, and the Larry Neal Writers’ Award in 2023. Luke also helps run a DC-based trans writing group and micropress, Lilac Peril. You can find him online as @lukejsuth.

  • Shannon Hearn :: “The Plants Are Farming Us”

    “Would Daisy disappoint you – no – she wouldn’t – Sir–” –Emily Dickinson, The Master Letters #3 

    tie a bag around your teeth, what are the contents, what are you carrying, pluck “i am sinking” “not
    like any garden” “wilting” Daisy tells me to eat, her insistent agenda with grins, ravenous kisses, 
    i put my thumb on her, push, her tongue backdown my throat, we watch the dying, blossoms, 
    the vase begins to brown, the stems grow rot there is such a smell, their water, now dry 
    but with her hand in mine, we watch, we understand these plants will never eat again, but how, 
    to softly tell them we are happy, they’ll never believe, these gardens who sit and wait, expending
    oxygen to watch us decompose, their next meal, however many years away, but her mouth’s flavor
    and the wet of her neck, exposes me, cruelly, to my own dehydration, i feed, drink, the flowers
    scream with heat

     

    Shannon Hearn is calling on you, reader, to join them in the essential refusal of and resistance to the genocide of the Palestinian people. Wherever, whoever you are, demand an end to this imperialist violence. This is no war. To witness this devastation in silence is complicity; the loves, the light, the souls lost will remember; we will remember; Gaza will be free. 

  • sangria :: “56 minutes, including dryer cycle”

    doing my laundry at 3 am reminds me
    of my mother clipping her plants
    brown leaves sinking to the floor with
    the chemical assurance of sweat stains
    leaving clothes. the circular motion of
    living things encapsulated in the water
    cycle and washing machines
    the shirt will be clean again just as
    love-in-idleness will grow again,
    purple potted flowers recalling 
    literature’s purplest prose, pretentious like
    nerds sitting on the field at the end of the
    school day, picking blades of grass to
    throw at each other, content knowing that
    they won’t have to get the dirt out
    themselves. growing up makes me
    consider everything around me in ways i
    would never have thought about apart
    from earth day news. such strange
    emotion: looking at the rain-mulched soil,
    reading about love-potion-plants, hoping
    for hermia and helena to leave what has
    been written and fall in love with each
    other, weaving flower crowns they could
    leave me the pattern to conveniently find
    five centuries later for botanical attempts
    at flirting. help a girl out, won’t you?

     

    sangria (she/they) loves writing little in-jokes in her poetry for all to see. She has two cats and a hammock. You can find them @expirationdays on Instagram.

  • Maya Cheav :: “lorelai in silks,” “the masochist and her lamprey,” and “lily”

    lorelai in silks

    dalliance (noun): a brief or casual involvement with something, often romantic: frivolous action: trifling

    give her a seed, and with it, she shall give way to blossom, water your roots and fold you into full bloom. give her a lump of clay, and with it, she shall mold the figure of your body, flesh and bone. she knows every dip and divot, every brazed knuckle. every softened scar. every mosquito bite. give her one night as the moon watches over you, bleeding twilight, and she’ll teach you what it means to be clean. speak to her of all the things that morph you into a small giant, of all the things you are ashamed of, and she will kiss your hips, suck the venom from your wounds.

     

    the masochist and her lamprey

    the air is ripe with mildew, 
    its potent flavor percolates my lungs. 
    you overturn your leftover pizza
    to discover black mold. 
    empty amazon packaging sits in the corner of your room
    filled with soy sauce and ketchup packets
    from a week’s worth of door dash orders. 
    full bottles of medication
    that your therapist insists you take
    crowd your desk,
    along with empty THC cartridges
    and a pile of grubby styrofoam plates. 
    every other thursday
    you come back from your film class, 
    storming in with a passion, saying,
    “we should move to seattle!”
    but it takes you one afternoon to remember that
    you’re failing school and 
    you got fired last week and 
    your car registration is expired and 
    we’re two months late on rent.
    I go to sleep to the sound of your voice
    shouting while you play video games
    with your friends until four in the morning. 
    I live on your mattress, caked with dirt and dog hair, 
    confronted by the stain on your pillowcase saying,
    “this is your mess too.”
    your misery mixes with mine,
    like a blood transfusion gone wrong,
    and for a period of time 
    I forget that I am not your mother,
    that love and torture don’t have to exist within the same breath.

    I dream of a house I can call my own. 
    there’s a pot of plant cuttings by the windowsill, 
    the propagations brimming in sunlight. 
    the greenery stands tall
    against the warm birchwood bookcases. 
    beside the salt lamp and the log stool,
    a set of braided chairs sit perched beneath 
    the giant monstera in the center of the living room.
    I walk my dog in the neighborhood 
    and learn the wheel in weekly pottery classes.
    I make my pasta al dente with dried tomatoes.
    I wear the color yellow. 
    but when dawn turns to dusk,
    I turn out the big light,
    and when I pry my eyes open,
    I only wake to you. 

     

    lily

    pour her a glass of strawberry moonshine and 
    she will stand in the middle of a lavender field 
    and orchestrate the plants to sing a little symphony. 
    she sings karaoke in the back of the bar
    and when she dances, 
    everyone clinks their pints and joins in. 
    she kisses her lover on the cheek, 
    and flowers bloom where her lips had pressed. 
    she is femininity in the divine form, 
    like marble and whipping cream, 
    like lemonade and major 7 melodies.

     

    Maya Cheav is an environmental justice organizer and writer. Her writing has been featured or forthcoming in Bizarrchitecture Magazine, Scapegoat Review, and Stone of Madness Press. Cheav’s debut poetry chapbook, Lykaia, was published with Bottlecap Press in February 2023. She is a Tin House 2024 Winter Online Workshop member and Best Small Fictions nominee. She can often be found talking to sidhe fae at the Lake of Avalon. Read more at mayacheav.myportfolio.com/home or @mayacheavwrites on Instagram. 

  • Nnadi Samuel :: “Someday, I identify as a Prairie”

    Glory be to the improper plot: this acre of hand tilled hibiscus 
    & the dying raven that slants midway, in collapsed grace.
    I am thankful for everything that lays chaotic. jagged landmass. 
    raked mess of depression, inversely proportional to climate change—
    the way I discolor in summer. measuring tape laid to waste because, 
    this is a farm dispute where everyone wants to outcount the other.
    when Ma questions me on how I’d love to manage my existence, 
    I tell her I wish to identify as a desert, barren with opportunity. 
    ridges laid haphazardly—I find my loin tumbleweeding from its root.
    the shower head, gone haywire. all of my dirty-washings, heaping in 
    the ugly fold of a mountain. It’s barely summer & I have bled past two moons, 
    dressed my blood, midair—hacking at the tough ground that spoils into green. 
    hoping, my grief looks gorgeous in the face of harm. & say it doesn’t, it still would
    remain mine to keep. sorrow knew me in the early hours of my birth. here, look how I 
    wear the stench. even rain leaves petrichor as aftertaste, in the mouth of the world. 
    in the chewed minute, I observe night waste in plastic silence. branches shedding from 
    their trunk. cloth, roasting in the unforgiving heat of summer. all creature here adores 
    pain. It is one way to worship how we make something of it. even the blank page 
    adores anguish. still, I choose joy. choose to wrap my head in the moment, scream a
    purple song, mow the lawn at the balcony. I joked around the blisters in my palm. 
    thank the edges for being jagged & improper, thank the blade’s music for making a 
    mohawk of the grasses & the past that is a bunch of weed—ready for a haircut.
    I hope to make sense of my future someday. as of now, I identify as a prairie.

    Originally published in Strange Horizons.

     

    Nnadi Samuel (he/him/his) holds a B.A in English & literature from the University of Benin. Author of Nature knows a little about Slave Trade, selected by Tate.N.Oquendo (Sundress Publication, 2023). He is a 3x Best of the Net, and 7x Pushcart Nominee. He won the 2022 Angela C Mankiewicz Poetry Contest, River Heron Editor’s Prize 2022, Bronze prize for the Creative Future Writer’s Award 2022, UK London, and recently won the Virginia Tech Center for Refugee, Migrants & Displacement Studies Annual Award, 2023He tweets @Samuelsamba10.

  • Bryce Baron-Sips :: “Leave my carcass in a lilac bush” and “Grasses have joints when the cops aren’t around: A sestina for the end of the world”

    Leave my carcass in a lilac bush

    God, leave my carcass in a lilac bush
    When the world has started to rain
    And let the perfumes mix in a mist-lain fush
    To lush in wonder and horror.

    Leave my body in with the lilac bush
    Let the mush bruise in with the flow’rs.
    Let the hush of time rush out over rhyme
    To meter out its fragrances.

     

    Grasses have joints when the cops aren’t around: A sestina for the end of the world

    Come, stand between a blowout
    Breeze and tearable tallgrass that is joint-
    Ed because of a student rhyme, that sedge-
    S have edges and rushes are round, but
    Grasses blow smoke in diploidal faces
    Hybridizing as purer theories rust.

    You see this fungus, this rust?
    Ready as an engine is to blow out
    An airplane of schaudenfreuding faces.
    Shaved down features rattle, wealthy joints
    These pearls they clutch between sweating fists, but
    There are no prairie oysters in this sedge.

    There is more to grass than sedge-
    Lessness, more to time, air, and hosts than rust.
    Puccinia graminis is all but
    Wheat and barberry in endless blowout.
    As crops get used to feeling out of joint,
    We put on our more medieval faces.

    Earth does prefer young faces,
    But somehow, it’s still kept its grass and sedge.
    They evolve to the rhythm of a joint-
    Relationship, reproduction and rust,
    An airdrop arms race to nix a blowout,
    A compromise with the wind again, but-

    We can’t right the craft with a rifle butt,
    Even as the torpedoed plane faces
    That there is no breakthrough SpaceX blowout.
    There will be hybrid grasses, starlet sedge.
    Whatever cannot out-drought or out-rust
    Will see if it’s meant to bend at the joint.

    Grasses kiss wind at their joints,
    The breeze and the leaf node nod in sync. But
    Still the ragged pollen comes, still comes rust,
    Still comes the shock of forgetting faces
    Of pilots who can’t tell what’s grass and what’s sedge,
    Thinking fire, like candles, can just blow out.

    Like a parent who faces a blowout,
    We say Future went to live in the sedge.
    We joint our lives, but it’s to bend to rust.

     

    Bryce Baron-Sips is an ex-biologist, current perfume collector, and insufferable opera buff living in Uppsala, Sweden. If his writing is not over the top, he has probably been replaced by a robot. His work has been published in The Woodward Review, Revolute, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. He can also be found on Twitter (while it lasts) @bric_a_bryce.

  • Michelle Rochniak :: “One More Time”

    after Jericho Brown

    When a plant escapes
    her pot and traverses
    around the house,
    cutting her limbs
    becomes inevitable.
    I will have to approach
    her with my shears
    and snip healthy leaves
    and watch them fall
    and land like hair on the floor.
    I will go to my room, find
    the link in my Notes app,
    and fill out a form saying
    I cried again today.
    And when I am done,
    I will take the leaves
    outside and compost them.
    Because that’s what
    good people do.
    But what if I trim off too much,
    and she doesn’t know how
    to grow again?
    Why did Orpheus turn
    when he knew looking
    would kill Eurydice?

     

    Michelle Rochniak (she/they) is a mythology-obsessed poet from Connecticut (USA). She is a professional writing major and women’s studies minor at Western Connecticut State University. They also were a 2022 CT Collegiate Poet with the Connecticut Poetry Circuit. She is a two-time recipient of the Patrick Ryan Scholarship for Literary Citizenship and received the John Briggs Award for Editorial Excellence for her work this past year as editor of WCSU’s Black & White. They currently co-edit Perspective, which is the literary and art magazine for WCSU’s Kathwari Honors Program. When she isn’t writing, she likes to read about ancient history, play the ukulele, and crochet. Find more of their poems at Fifth Wheel Press, Violet Indigo Blue, Etc., and lavender lime literary, and follow them on IG: @shell.songs and Twitter: @shellroch.

  • Devin Miller :: “Guttation, Transformation”

    Lex on my doorstep, her arms wrapped around a potted monstera deliciosa, smiling. The plant’s fenestrated leaves sway in the breeze, viridescent and bigger than dinner plates. My eyes must be nearly as big.

    “Erika,” Lex breathes, almost like she’s surprised to see me answering my door. “Hi.” She hitches the plant up her hip and tilts toward me. I press forward to kiss her. Leaves shield us from the sky, brush our shoulders, unavoidably part of the kiss. Lex whispers into the corner of my mouth, “The plant is for you.”

    We make space on the coffee table for it, water it, stand back with bodies intertwined to admire it. I think back to our conversation a few weeks ago, Lex’s gentle caution: I don’t think it’s fair to give you something you have to take care of without your permission. Me, melting full of wonder, I love you for asking first.

    In the morning, Lex still sleeping, I drift barefoot into the living room to look at the plant. Droplets of liquid cling to the edges of the leaves. In the tentative morning light they are luminous, promising as crystal balls.

    A shuffle of feet, and Lex puts her chin on my shoulder, one hand on my waist. “It’s not dew,” she says, dawn-quiet. “It’s guttation. The plant pushing out xylem sap and excess moisture. I thought maybe–well, I remembered what you said about what happened with birch sap when you were a kid, how you wanted that again.”

    Monstera deliciosa. It strikes me as familiar, as beautifully queer: monstrous and delicious. Something like the way I feel when Lex presses me against a wall and says, Erika, what do you want me to do to you? 

    I kneel before the plant. It is vividly, wildly green. The drop of liquid on the rim of the nearest leaf makes me want. To see what the plant will give me, what Lex has given me, what I could become if–.

    I lean forward and stretch out my tongue to swallow the monstera’s guttation.

    Lex makes a soft noise. I look up. Her lips are parted too. I take her hand, kiss her wrist bone, and hold on while I drink every drop of liquid off the monstera’s leaves.

    Later, lying in the patch of sunshine on my bed, I feel myself beginning to photosynthesize. Lex picks up my hand, examines my forearm. “Your veins are very green,” she murmurs. I nod. She’s right.

    “Thank you,” I whisper, breath hitching on it. “Nobody’s ever been so ready to–so supportive–most people would think it’s weird.”

    “I don’t think it’s weird to want your body to be different than it was before,” Lex says, wry smile beautiful. I run my thumb over the curve of her jaw.

    “It’s probably temporary,” I say, reaching up to feel where my hair tangles with new leaf stalks, the leaves just beginning to unfurl. “What happened with the birch sap was temporary.”

    Lex shrugs. “The monstera is yours now. It won’t transpirate every day, but when you’ve watered it recently–what I’m saying is–” she stumbles, blushing. “Nobody can stop you from choosing this.”

    She traces a finger over the vines in my wrist. Overwhelmed, I kiss her, wondering if she can taste the green aliveness in my mouth. When she pulls away and runs the tip of her tongue over her lip, I know. She can taste it.

    Originally published in Factor Four Magazine. 

     

    Devin Miller is a queer, genderqueer cyborg and lifelong denizen of Seattle, with a love of muddy beaches to show for it. Their short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, PodCastle, and Strange Horizons. Their poetry received an honorable mention in the 2022 Rhysling Awards and once appeared on a King County Metro bus terminal. You can find Devin under a tree, probably, or at devzmiller.com

  • Issue #06
  • Tara Labovich :: “[A TOMATO IS A GASP]”

    a tomato is a gasp
    in the leaves. 
    a succulent, a prayer 
    in a sheaf. 
    in the august garden
    the reaching for hvn 
    never stops, it’s been built
    into me. i heard once 
    that the point
    of life is pain. 
    a shadow, 
    the darkening 
    carving out the edge of de-
    light—carving, 
    into the nectarean, like tomato 
    juice carves green’d
    rivers down my arm
    when i bite, 
    how i shiver, 
    how the cold 
    spoons the heat.

     

    Tara Labovich is a multigenre writer and an MFA candidate. Their work centers on questions of ancestry, queerness, survivorship, and creative community.

  • nat raum :: “haworthia fasciata”

    my stardew valley house is full of plants
    i am incapable of killing, pixelgreen luscious
    leaves scattering up wooden walls
    to the place where i’d put a skylight if i could
    actually see the ceiling. i couldn’t hope

    to keep a plant alive outside pelican town—
    my brain is a lemon, barely remembering to feed
    itself, let alone the fifteen bundles of tangled
    leaf and succulent limbs that used to live
    on my windowsill in college. it’s a wonder

    my first zebra plant didn’t shrivel sooner,
    its spinywhite leaves staying plump with water
    even after she once tumbled from a ceramic pot
    onto the gravelgrey surface of my dormitory’s
    nearest parking lot. i’d named her sylvia

    for no reason, and brought her along when i built
    my first makeshift home in a cinderblock cube—
    not long before a darkness glitched my skull
    and i spent the next five years forgetting
    to water the plants.

     

    nat raum (b. 1996) is a disabled artist, writer, and genderless disaster from Baltimore, MD. They’re the editor-in-chief of fifth wheel press, as well as the author of you stupid slut, the abyss is staring back, random access memory, and several chapbooks. Find them online: natraum.com/links.

  • Moni Garcia :: “Our Spider Plant” and “Mother says”

    Our Spider Plant

    every morning             he waters the plant hanging
    from the only window in the dining room
    its leaves         falter towards floor

    & attempt to reach the color they mimic

    looking out the only window in the dining room
    father ushers   winter’s sunlight in
    reaches for the yellow it lyrics
    to save a plant i abandoned    thought dead 

    father tries to usher sunlight to his mouth
                   a form of love he cannot sip

    wants to save a sorrow           he abandoned dead
                   & makes with his hands          a river

    the love he wants to sip          tastes of loneliness                
                   his sister          halved from life  /  his heart
                                  he rivers into his hands
    the grief he longs to break

                                                              his daughter    halved from his side
                                i forget to call him       in the piercing of day

                                                but father turns from his grief.           breaks
                  into the heat of the dining room        to my plant

                  where he cannot forget to call           a piercing day
    a morning        where the plant hangs and thirsts
                                        through the dining room’s heat & plants
                his feet to the floor unfaltering. unleaving. until it drinks

     

    Mother says

    flor de granada

                   lila

                                        tienes que seguir atendiendo

                                                                                                     a un jardín muerto

                              y qué podrá florecer              

                turns to me to ask

                                                                           qué harías si dejara a tu padre

                            no pudiera sobrevivir sin mi

                                                                                            just the image

                                                                                            she entertains

    learns how to swallow            lackluster bouquets

                                                                             hallmark cards

                                                              no memory of what beloved

                                                                                                                           she presses to her neck

    using only voice

                                                  she maps back

                                                                               matrilineal lonelinesses

                  mi tia mari          soporto los cuernos de su esposo

                                                                 mi papá                pegaba mi mamá

                                mother turns again     spinning carousel                                           

    cuando me vas a dar un nieto

    & the man attached to it

                                                I offer instead the garden of my body

                  how weeds frame overwhelming desire

                                               gladiolus

                                                                             lily of the valley

                                                             leaves & petals brush each other

                                               unfurl beneath                        the sun’s lips

                                               tell me             what your spade strikes

                when you begin to dig

     

    Moni Garcia (they/them) is a queer Latine artist and poet from Illinois. They received their MFA from Arizona State University, and have been published or forthcoming in Foglifter Journal, NOTHING HERE IS CORRECT AND IT IS DELICIOUS: A zine dedicated to the CW, Voicemail Poems, and elsewhere. They can be found on Twitter @rosapalagosa.

  • Natalie DC :: “dame’s rocket”

    i stop & smell the violet bullets 
    that litter an otherwise-unremarkable plot of land.
    i’m their biggest fan,

    basking in the light of their
    amethyst delight 
    ever since i first caught sight of them.

    on our dinner table, standing proudly in a crystal-clear body,
    waving their purple limbs, as if to say,
    “Happy birthday, Natalie!”

    i never knew a shoot to be so kind before,
    whispering sweet nothings in my nostrils as i 
    bend over & catch a whiff of their lavender-honey scent,

    a smell i’ll never forget.
    not even when i’m six feet under 
    where they rocket out of the earth,

    perfect as a lilac diamond.
    i don’t care that others shy away from them,
    shun them, write them off as “invasive.”

    they’ll always be Mother Nature’s saving grace,
    peppering the Earth with a fragrant, friendly hue,
    leaving me with a sad smile as i mutter under my breath,

    “i love you too.”

     

    Natalie D.C. (she/her) is a 20-year-old artist and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her writing
    grapples with her erratic mental health and paradoxical queer half-Moroccan identity. She has
    been published in The Echo, Porridge Magazine, Pile Press, Art, Strike!, and elsewhere. When
    she isn’t busy working towards her BA in Public & Professional Writing, you can usually find
    her re-reading her favorite book over and over, watching K-dramas with her little sister, or filling
    her walls with anything and everything that makes her smile. Her debut poetry chapbook, blue
    pearl
    , is available for purchase from Bottlecap Press.

  • Peach Delphine :: “macrorrhizos”

    giant borneo is how it’s sold,
    through the mail in a four inch pot,
    before the last hurricane ours,
    some three years old,
    was twelve feet tall,
    green sails of shade, 
    slowly coming back, 
    each new set of leaves larger than last,
    stems nearly a yard, for such as us, 
    our only reliable companions, old dog,
    vandas, dendrobium, cattleyas, taro, 
    for such as us, without anything else,
    understanding the wealth of shade, verdure, 
    the wild taro
    pseudo stem thicker than my thigh, 
    swelling in february warmth 
    crinkled leaves liquid thick, 
    relentless water weight,
    hydraulics silently unfolding
    jade array, wrap me in a bed
    of those leaves,
    let me sleep
    beneath wild taro, 
    let me grow 
    into sunlight,
    tongue of a different song,
    each new pup 
    an offering 
    of voice

     

    Peach Delphine is a queer poet from Tampa, Florida. Former cook, gardener quite fond of taro, bananas, and moonflowers. Has had work in Moist, Feral, Cypress, Dust, UCITY Press, petrichor.

  • Allya Yourish :: “The corn sweats”

    it’s why the summers
    in Iowa
    are so humid

    Actually it draws water 
    up from the earth 
    passing wetness
    weighing down
    open air

    I was drawn up
    from the earth
    but swamp (I wish
    I didn’t have to claim
    that) not prairie 

    Untouched prairie is 
    unfathomably rare
    so much stripped 
    turned farm turned
    CAFO 

    The stench of a CAFO
    is also unfathomable 
    as in beyond imagining 
    death on the nose

    But beyond the corn
    and the pigs
    is a swimming hole

    Horses are there too 

    And it is 92 degrees 
    and Iowa humid
    and I am laying 
    on a blanket
    with this poem

    Iowa also has a lot
    of poems but maybe that’s
    just my Iowa 
    my private collision 
    with land and sky 

    There is so much sky here
    it unfurls in every direction 
    begging poetry 

    Everyone I know 
    has written a poem
    on the sky

    Today my poem 
    sits under 
    vast blue
    and those white wispy 
    clouds that beg
    for oil paint

    Today we are swimming

    And that big sky hangs
    overhead air gold and thick 
    with early summer

    And my poem calls across 
    murky cool water 
    calls to every Iowa poem Iowa 
    sky Iowa summer 
    with corn-heavy wind

     

    Allya Yourish is from Portland, Oregon and currently living in Ames, Iowa. She has two cats that keep her heart filled with joy and a big bookcase that keeps her brain buzzing with poems. She was a nanny in Paris, France, a Fulbright grantee in Kuala Krau, Malaysia, a news assistant for the New York Times, and now she is getting her MFA in Creative Writing and the Environment from Iowa State University.

  • sterling-elizabeth arcadia :: “trans desert gender tryst / at the foot of mount wrightson”

    for aria / for evita

    my baby 
    face a cactus 
    one too far to touch 
    a succulent 
    sunset portrait

    at 5 o’clock come out 
    from your tile 
    your tucson stucco 
    take the sonoran 
    desert tread with care 
    about the sharp
    thistled shadows 
    inhuman suns 
    play on organpipe stems

    the greasewood 
    most sweet for you 
    smells of rain

    velvet mesquite most touching
    in its yielding pods 
    you find fruits you can consume

    you and I both
    know these 
    things before the saguaro 

    you seek the small the 
    soft and petaled

     

    sterling-elizabeth arcadia is a Best of the Net winning and Pushcart Prize nominated trans poet and lover of birds, cats, and her friends, living in philadelphia. Their work has been published in venues including HAD, ANMLY, beestung, New Delta Review, and Poetry Online. Her debut chapbook, Heaven, Ekphrasis, is out now from Kith Books.

  • Jerry Portwood :: “Stolen gardens”

    The cracked husks of burnt-out houses are the 
    best place to find the bright live ones.
    Drive down and see the swaying, heavy heads of daffodils,
    little, defiant jonquils among
    the crumbling windows, black ash bricks.
    You point out lily of the valley, purple iris, 
    pink hyacinth and muscari
    growing in large clumps beside melted mortar—
    huddled together, forgotten.

    Too poor to buy bulbs and rhizomes,
    You teach me how to covet these almost-wild things;
    we feel like plundering pirates
    as we dig them from under the moldy pecans.
    Leaning down low on the trowel
    my nose crouched in buttery trumpets,
    Some with ruffled centers,
    smelling their touch.
    Flowers sweet and almost sick,
    making my throat cluck and suck.

    “These trees smell like cum,” you say 
    about the flowering pear,
    and I blush, recall thick dishwasher steam— 
    which makes me wonder
    if Mom knows that I know
    the smell of sex;
    its sweet breath of bleach—
    as I choke and swallow shame.

    But before we take the bulbs home and soak the 
    papery skins, rake leaves away,
    stretch back the frozen red Georgia clay
    to create a new plot together from stolen gardens—
    we park behind the abandoned trailer 
    hidden a mile from home.
    Your big black Pontiac hulks there,
    shaking our smoky breath into patterns.

    I pull down our pants, sweat through the windows
    as you open me up on my stomach
    remember to breathe in the pain,
    dizzy from the cloying scent of daffodils beside me.
    Grit my jaw and squint my eyes,
    I see their happy faces limp, sacks of 
    long green stalks and bulbs laid bare,
    and long to mingle with them;
    eager and innocent with life,
    turn away as you thrust and grunt
    to listen as they thrive.

     

    Jerry Portwood is a queer writer and former editor at Rolling Stone, Out magazine, and New York Press. He teaches courses on writing at the New School and lives in both West Harlem in New York City and Cambridge, Mass. with his husband.

  • heidi andrea restrepo rhodes :: “life cycle of ephemeral plants”

    Every ephemeral species has a life cycle timed
    to exploit a short period when resources are freely available.

    So rare it is we all get what we need. Still,
    in each other’s arms we briefly unfurl for spring. The rest of the year,

    underground, we root & rhizome, survival strategy. 
    Deciduous, we shed our clothes, our skin. Petals, leaves, fruit.

    Teeth come in seasons. Delicate cotton of your shirt 
    fluttering in drop, an abscission. 

    As the mariposa lilies grieve so short the seasons that favor it,
    here we are in the winter of the law. An unfavorable season, deluge of delusion,

    a cold of heart against our mattering.  As wildflowers
    lie dormant as seeds, our love sometimes waits for better weather.

    All riot in the fields not without its calendars. Aster, azalea, & foxglove,
    planning up ungovernable germination and splendor, an all-weather affair. 

    Say gay say gay say gay say gay. A proliferation. Repudiation of absence
    pushing against the threshold. An invasive species, excessive in our joy.

    We return though, ready to live & die & live again. Negation of negation.
    The evidence of us, an echo reverberating on the skin. A fugacious record

    made of woven whispers & spectacular display. An invention of hours
    kissing in the dark, in the mud, in the glittering & finite minute.

     

    heidi andrea restrepo rhodes (they/them) is a queer, sick/disabled, brown/Colombian, poet, scholar, educator, and cultural worker. A 2023 recipient of the Creative Capital Award, they are author of The Inheritance of Haunting (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019). Their chapbook, Ephemeral, was the 2022 winner of the Lorca Latinx Poetry Prize and will be published by EcoTheo Collective in 2024. They want to swim with you in the raucous and joyful possibilities of crip poetics and abolition dreams. IG: @vessels.we.are.

  • J. C. Otiono :: “looking for a soft place to land”

    Love when met has little opportunity to become grief,
    and I took to burying my grief beneath the soil.

    I followed you:
    succumbed to the hushed grove. 
    Those hands, so dark and beckoning
    picked at the wound 
    and lullèd me stuck
    in amber and honey.

    Let time
    split yourself in two,
    layers peeling away.
    You pull at yourself slowly 
    until you are free.

    Flattened into dirt,
    how do I keep the leaves from curling?
    I took to watering my grief,
    for the rainwater to gather
    for the soil to suck
    most, where it hurts.

    Rained upon the aching grin,
    caught at half-gasp, half-kiss
    in horrid warning:
    Pull me in, pull me in.
    I can’t forget that
    rouge has a taste, 
    a taste for the dead and near dying.

    Let time
    wrest tenderness from 
    my nosy pry of wet fingers,
    throwing head back, 
    trying to fit lips around
    the dreadful chase.
    Bring to mouth the meat exposed;
    let grief wrap her gums
    its uneven pockmark of teeth 
    around its body
    and sink them.

    Saliva-slick melts
    entrails when they kiss
    slurping up, taking
    without asking.

    (All the soft places to land
    have been sucked up)

    And leaves behind, 
    a lonesome husk;
    a lovely
    laced up 
    candied treat. 

    In time,
    I took to raising oneself up,
    and looked again. I turn 
    to tongue the sunlight.

    The Venus flytrap
    from it’s stitched-mouth modest 
    dares, too, 
    emerge with a grin.

    Let love be at the end
    Of this new, violent flowering.

     

    J. C. Otiono (she/they) is a Naijamerican poet and writer (she is also working on queer, dark speculative fiction manuscript about a haunted AI dating app). An absurdist, she believes being silly is a humble offering to the universe. She resides in what’s essentially the wilderness of upstate New York. This is her first published work.

  • Issue #05
  • Rita Mookerjee :: “Cardboard Cutout Palm Tree”

    While you’re horizontal on canvas furniture that 
    doesn’t look the way it did in the catalog, slick can in hand 
    cold condensation, you’re supposed to say this is the 
    life when really you should be asking is this my life

    because at what point do muscled cabana boys and 
    flower-tending boys and cocktail-serving boys
    become one tan, tropical amalgam, interchangeable 
    at each location, and everyone wears that goddamn print, 

    the hibiscus with its showy pistil jutting out like a penis 
    like a magic wand pointing you to the sample area 
    where they’re offering piña colada espresso shots 
    appealing to your desire to stockpile mini umbrellas 

    and antioxidants because these are the things that
    you prioritize in Florida. You gulp the shot, and
    think that it’s the pick me up you’ve been missing 
    but when you brew it at home, the stuff tastes like mud

    and baby powder, so you toss the whole cannister 
    in the garbage and open the floral encyclopedia 
    that hurts your wrists to hold.
    you look up hibiscus anatomy, stupid fucking 

    flower that it is, and you wonder why people don’t 
    favor the pitcher plant or nightshade or gloxinia,
    which you read is a greenhouse plant so it isn’t 
    in the nursery with its paved trails painted green 

    in a bad impression of grass, sprinkled with retired people 
    who realized too late that they didn’t have any hobbies.

     

    Rita Mookerjee is an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Worcester State University. She is the author of False Offering, forthcoming from JackLeg Press (Fall 2023). Her poems can be found in the Baltimore Review, New Orleans Review, the Offing, Poet Lore, and Vassar Review. She serves as an editor at Split Lip Magazine, Sundress Publications, and Honey Literary.

  • Maya Walker :: “Carnivorous”

    once, i kissed a venus flytrap 
    to see if i could ever love something so carnivorously
    it’d tear me apart. 
    lip swollen & tooth broken, 
    i moved on to loving roses. 
    when they hug me i bleed, 
    red clots dripping down my arms. 
    //
    later, i decide to never tell a plant my name, 
    to love anonymously, in verse. 
    i call my plants in Latin; 
    i distance myself from the modem. 
    //
    know this: when you kiss a venus flytrap, 
    never look it in the eye. 
    when you kiss a man, this trick will not work. 
    he will want to love you back. 
    he will want to tie your veins together until your hearts bleed in unison. 
    eventually, this will heal your swollen lip. 
    eventually, this softness will consume you 
    & you will be so carnivorous 
    you cannot love without 
    biting back. 
    //
    the first plant I loved was darlingtonia californica & it tore me apart. 
    the first man I loved was a writer. 
    sometimes I wonder if he writes prose about me 
    while i write poems about him,
    too carnivorous for the natural world.

     

    Maya Walker is an avid reader, tea drinker, and lover of words. She is the founder and editor in chief of Fulminare Review as well as an executive editor at Spiritus Mundi Review, and a staff writer for Immortal Journal. You can read her work at The Augment Review, Ice Lolly Review, Fifth Wheel Press, and others, or find her at the abyss of ink known colloquially as the Instagram page @maya_whispers_words.

  • Guérin Asante :: “On the Other Side of Moss”

    “Simple £1.25 natural cleaner removes moss
    from driveways without using harsh chemicals.”
     

     

    And what becomes of rain returning to crevices.
    What feeds them to the amplitude of later days and suns.
    How much nitrogen must then be bought to keep an oak from dying.
    What, then, might be said about the names we lay about them.
    Which syllables collide with them; which ones caress their green (or gray or orange).
    Whether they can hear us.
    How we think about what stones have been assigned to do to spite them.
    If they tire of comparisons. Being addressed as lichen.
    If they think they form a wall between convenience and future.
    Whether they feel the world grow warmer in their shallow of their leaves.
    And if this is like the last time, or the last, or the last…

     

    Guérin Asante (he/they) is a Black, queer post-disciplinary artist and plantsperson who, when not creating, belongs to four gardens and six trees. He can be found on Instagram as @blkchmra, on Twitter as @blkchimera, or through his work at arbuscular.substack.com.

  • Rhienna Renée Guedry :: “Our gardens are just environments we pretend to control”

    So instead of another panic
    attack I repot the plant whose        
           fibers &               roots need more
    space       I borrow good
    soil from two pots, I put my          hands in     
    dirt       my hands
                 around the shoulders
                 of roots        like
    life, like death,

    Like rescue              I want to move        earth
    objects       want something        to do       with my hands to
    keep them from shaking              but it is more than that
                 I need something to
                 thrive if we aren’t, so dirt
    spills out on the
                                         counter & the floor, it gives me
                                         a woman’s purpose     to clean the      mess
    I made       my own damn self       

    &               on the parcel of land
    where I hover, I eat, I sleep & plant into
                                                      I think
                     about       which plants will
                     survive             despite my intervention how
    some fruit craves neglect      & some
    seeds     erupt in garbage

            & yet someone on the internet
    asserts that       piss  provides an excellent source of
                  nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium & trace elements for plants
                              Ain’t that the way
            drill for oil        destroy a coastline
                           blow up a levee       save one mansion
    Piss on a garden bed, it is nourishment
    I am helping 

    Rhienna Renée Guedry (she/they) is a writer, illustrator, and producer whose favorite geographic locations all have something to do with their proximity to water. Her work has appeared in Muzzle, Gigantic Sequins, Empty Mirror, HAD, Oyster River Pages, and elsewhere. Rhienna is currently working on her first novel. Find out more about her projects at rhienna.com

  • Tristan Richards :: “Pandemic Plants and Disco Balls” and “Anxiety as the Plant Dying on My Window Sill”

    Pandemic Plants and Disco Balls

    Sometimes I worry that no one knows anything 
    about me, and then, right on the bend of my spiral, 
    I remember that at least five of my friends 
    have sent me links to the same disco ball planter. 
    If nothing else, at least my brand is strong. 
    Every sun-touched spot in my apartment glitters 
    with plants, and what I mean by that is I have spent 
    this season of loss with my eyes on growth. It started 
    with a snake plant and a fiddle leaf fig on my first 
    frantic pandemic grocery run. My friends bet against 
    the third plant immediately and they were correct. 
    Now, my favorite afternoons are the ones where I’m caught 
    off guard by a spray of light against my wall. It polka dots 
    my plants and draws my eye toward the window. 
    I don’t have anything new to say about plants 
    but I want them anyway, and maybe that’s the point. 
    Maybe all I need to do is notice that the snake plant 
    is still standing. Maybe today, it’s okay to rest 
    on a simple fact and pick up the dropped leaves later.

     

    Anxiety as the Plant Dying on My Window Sill

    I know you don’t want to think
    about me but I’ve been waiting 
    to be watered for so long, for the love 
    of god, just keep me alive. You know 

    I breathe the oxygen that keeps you 
    moving forward, that without me, 
    this is just empty space. I’ve watched 
    you neglect so many others who looked 

    like me, sat on this same ledge, waiting 
    for their moment in the sun. Sometimes 
    I just want you to look at me instead 
    of the cracked parking lot below me

    and the post-it littered living room 
    behind me. You keep me in the background 
    of your zoom calls, you place me strategically 
    in your instagram posts, my leaves always 

    quietly reaching, hoping someone will notice.
    You can’t see the light without looking 
    through me first. Why do you only care 
    for me when it feels like I’m dying?

    Tristan, you know you’re not really 
    writing to a plant. Don’t you understand 
    that it will always feel like we are dying 
    together until you give me a name?

    I’m not going anywhere. You’ve sat 
    with me long enough to know that 
    by now. The winter has been so long and 
    I just want to help you learn to breathe.

     

    Tristan Richards (she/her) is a poet and student affairs professional from Minnesota. She is the author of two self-published chapbooks: Not All Challenges Are For Us (2022) and The Year Was Done Right (2019). Her poems are forthcoming or have been published in ALOCASIA, Writers Resist, trampset, Preposition: The Undercurrent Anthology, on the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride, and in Firethorne. She facilitates Unfold: 30 Days of Writing in Community (a daily Zoom poetry writing workshop throughout April for National Poetry Writing Month) and other writing workshops. Tristan holds an MA in Leadership in Student Affairs from the University of St. Thomas and a BA in Communication Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College. You can find her on Instagram at @tristanwritespoems or at tristanwritespoems.weebly.com

  • narinda heng :: “planting”

    My parents’ hands
    understand something 
    about making paradise 
    that mine are still 
    trying to figure out. 

    They’ve coaxed 
    growth from tiny seeds 
    and hard earth, brought 
    forth colors from brown dirt 
    in the form of green leaves, 
    red, yellow, orange fruit, 
    vegetables whose 
    English names I still 
    haven’t figured out. 

    There was a year 
    when the whole rear 
    of the yard hosted 
    home-grown corn 

    there’s still a patch 
    of sugarcane in the 
    corner behind the 
    makrut lime tree 

    they planted 
    dragonfruit just 
    to see if they could 
    (it grew) 

    it took years, but the 
    cherimoya trees now 
    bear heavy, juicy 
    bounty—my favorite.
     
    My grandmother would 
    wistfully keep mango and 
    longan seeds, sprout them 
    in old cans, discarded paper cups,
    then plant them, hoping 
    they’d somehow take to the 
    less than ideal climate, 
    find what they needed 
    in the unfamiliar soil. 

    After ten years, one 
    small mango sapling 
    still survived, bearing the 
    tiniest mangos I’d ever seen 

    it made us all giggle, 
    this tree holding on
    so valiantly to life and 
    putting forth all it could.
     
    Somehow they turned 
    their modest plot of land 
    in Santa Ana into a 
    lush bit of Cambodia 

    I remember sitting on 
    the roof one day 
    and looking over 
    the tops of the trees 
    and thinking that 
    I could almost forget 
    what country I was in.
     
    My parents—their hands
    have a habit of making 
    paradise wherever there is
    a patch of dirt and a hose 

    I used to wish they’d get
    rid of a tree or two, dig up
    the yard, put in a swimming pool

    I’m glad they never did.

    I understand now 
    that they were never 
    trying to make paradise 

    they were making 
    home.

     

    Originally published in Eleven Eleven Journal.

     

    narinda heng is a queer, Khmer American writer, climber, and potter living on Ohlone land. Her work centers the complexities of history, place, and identity. Find out more at longcoolhallway.com.

  • Margaret Saigh :: “THIS IS AN AUTOMATIC REPLY”

    I text my friend, I’m an alienated worker in a brutal city.

    On a podcast I am told to imagine

    all the roads in all the cities

    filled with plants and trees and paths for people to walk.

    I imagine this, and it depresses me. I used to be fascinated

    by the border between the natural world

    and the human one

    how one world

    contains one world           contains one world          contains one world—

    On the way to work the bus passes several parking garages. 

    I try to look at the sky instead and reflect on the intimacy

    of touching thighs with a stranger. 

    After the rain I take the collar off Zadie

    and imagine the nakedness she was born into, and my own nakedness, too. 

    Before I merge on a highway I prepare for emotional disassembling.

    I make eye contact with a robin.

    I take Zadie out for a walk and the streetlight elongates our shadows on the pavement, 

    and there is also the moon.

    When snow falls for the first time, I go to the woods and pick three aborted entoloma

    which are actually two fungi, one parasitizing the other.

    I cook them, pushing them around the pan gingerly with a wooden spoon

    Everyone knows parasite means eating at the table of another 

     

    Margaret Saigh is a writer, dancer, and educator. She is the author of the chapbook CROSSED IN THE DARKER LIGHT OF TERROR (dancing girl press 2022), a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh, and the creator of circlet, a virtual poetry workshop. Her poems have been featured in Peach Mag and Poetry Online, and are forthcoming in Calyx and The Champagne Room, among others.

  • Myra Scott :: “Helice, My Darling”

    When Maer’s wife died, she left behind a single seed. She didn’t know it was a seed at first, that strange little thing—a tight green, cone shaped pod that later split into snowy white tufts. Willow seeds, the internet declared. The internet also demanded she sweep away their soft downy feathers, strip them to their tiny, embryonic cores. She kept one. A wind scattered the rest.

    “Helice, my darling,” she’d say, watering the dark cup of soil with her tears. “My darling.”

    The soil sprouted, and the seedling became Maer’s only respite from hospital bills and funeral arrangements. She opened the window blinds so Helice could see the sun. Day by day, the shadow cast by the seedling grew longer and longer. When she measured six inches, Maer transplanted her to a 1-gallon container. 

    Maer carried her love in her arms, taking Helice out into the garden for the first time. Her garden. A stone path cut through raised beds of lavender and zucchini and asparagus. The expert, minimalist design of its creator had turned gross with floral overflow, vegetation exploding across the yard.

    “I dropped the ball, I guess,” Maer whispered, pushing the pot into the half-shade. The dark filled her eyes. She studied the thin, tender green sapling for any kind of reaction. “Does it disgust you, Helice?” 

    The care of the sapling was the only absolute in Maer’s grieving, but the more time she spent in the garden, the more the yard violated her with its spoiling, its overripe waste of life. Hugely gleaming butternut squash caught on her toes, tripping her as she walked. The birds pecked holes in the soft orange skins of her apricots. Maer watched the juice drip from its curves and wondered what gave this place the right to continue its bleeding, to continue its twisting and its thirsting and its sun-soaking. Its creator was dead. Her heart didn’t work anymore. By all logic, her remains should have been left bloodless, too.

    But it felt worse to watch all the little bodies just rot.

    Maer cut bunches of lavender, tied them in twine, and hung them to dry in the window above the kitchen sink. She went from going days without feeding herself, to eating like an animal with her knees in the dirt. Maer bit into cucumbers, stuffed romaine lettuce into her mouth, snatched slightly unripe apricots before the birds could get to them. The salads came next. She chopped up whatever she could find and stabbed her fork into big great bowls of greenery. No time for groceries. No time for going out. Maer sat and ate and cried until the willow’s size demanded it be moved to a more permanent location.

    She hired contractors to uproot the fence and make room along the edge of the garden’s little pond. The ideal time to plant it outside is in early spring, after the danger of frost has passed, said the internet. Get back to work, it added, in the form of a politely worded email from HR. Her grief money paid the mortgage on the house that she and Helice had bought together, paid for the burlap sheet and wooden frame and stakes she needed to cover the sapling when the weather turned cold. Maer followed Helice’s old recipes and roasted butternut squash before peeling the hard skin off and boiling it into soup. When she wasn’t toiling at the computer, she bundled up and sat on the edge of the icy pond and sipped the stew through numb lips. 

    “Doesn’t taste the same,” she admitted to the air.

    The warm breath of spring came and blew life back into the garden, back into Maer’s dragging routine. No longer even attempting to follow Helice’s orderly patterns, Maer wantonly planted fresh lavender, fresh zucchini, fresh asparagus. She tied long strips of flash tape to the branches of the apricot tree, smirking at the birds all the while. Gone was the winter of takeout food and grocery rotisserie chicken; Maer julienned carrots for stir fry and simmered tomatoes into pasta sauce. She saw ghosts of her wife with every mistake she made—Helice could have reminded her to salt water before boiling pasta, could have bandaged Maer’s fingers when they split on the edge of the knife.

    God, the ghosts. Maer longed to be touched by the dead, to be cradled in cold hands. She’d planted enough to know that there was nothing to fear in the earth. They could be bedded together in the soft and in the dark. Rot into the grit.

    A wind shook the glass of the thin kitchen window. Out the window, there were branches. The thin woody shoots spread out from the bough, spilling through air, palming the light. Look at me, the willow seemed to say. Look at what I can catch now.

    The shape of it, framed above the sink. Finger-trembling. Lung-gripping.

    Maer followed that green rippling silhouette out into the garden, backdoor clattering behind her. The young willow had grown an exorbitant amount over the course of the year; it stretched taller than its caregiver, standing at nearly six feet of radiant, draping curtains.

    Maer stood under its boughs for the first time, and the willow was everything. The roof. The walls. Fistfuls of caught sun spilled over her cheeks, her shoulders, her cut hands. A wind pushed through the leaves. Sensations of warm and cold swam over her skin. With her eyes closed, it was all shifting patterns and uncertain figures. It was all just a woman and a willow and no ghosts, no ghosts in the air.

     

    Myra Scott is a neurodivergent queer writer based in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. She received her BA in English Studies at California State University, Chico, where she shares an apartment with three lovely roommates. When it rains, they like to circle up and do crafts together.

  • Rituja Patil :: “Elegy”

    All I ever wanted was to cultivate cherry tomatoes with you. Mix
    the coarse sand with diatomaceous earth and vermicompost. Put
    some dry moss at the bottom of a plastic pot. We could’ve soaked
    the cocopeat brick overnight. I wanted to break it with you.
    The trouble is, I just cannot forget you. The memory begins and ends
    at the same place – had I given the seed time, would it have grown to be
    four feet tall? Would it then have chains upon chains of cherry tomatoes?
    Would we then pluck them together? What kind of baskets
    would we pick them in? Would we then eat them? Would they be juicy,
    tart and crisp? Would you make sourdough bread and put flaxseeds on it?
    Would I drain the cottage cheese with a muslin cloth? Would we drink
    buttermilk?
    Would I feed you with shaky hands and heart that beats like a wedding procession?
    Would my lips part in unison with yours? The memory begins and ends at the same
    place. The reach across the table leaves me empty handed. Would we have cultivated
    a garden together, my darling? Would it have blossomed and dried up as we aged?

     

    Rituja Patil is a queer poet from Mumbai, India. Her poetry has been published in Violet, Indigo, Blue, Etc., the licktey split and LiveWire. She tries to write poems that feel like a longing gaze at the ocean at night—sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes stormy. She’s also a law student on the side with research interests in intersections of personal liberty, bodily autonomy, and health care.

  • Jacob J. Billingsley :: “Something for Tomorrow” and “Heteronomous Cellulose / Autonomous Skeleton”

    Something for Tomorrow

    I have been trying to type
    “responsibilities”
    but Siri writes “tapestries”

    and I picture 
    like
    woven tarot cards

    I am saving seeds
    from a favored plant
    but I cannot get them all

    on this deck
    the wind takes the chaff

    and the crows are chanting again
    of everything they have gotten

    with their beaks in the clay
    they talk and talk

    clamoring for something
    unlike these seeds
    in the soil

    later this year

    chanting again
    of everything they have forgotten

    so many seeds fallen in my lap
    how wonderful-

    -ly they adorn me

     

    Heteronomous Cellulose / Autonomous Skeleton

    There is a gomphothere stalking somewhere beyond my time just waiting to be pulled from the ground. I ignore yellowing needles for cradle scythes, laying down my numbing magic. None of this should make any sense. There is a kind of echoic laughter that brings the morning down alongside itself. It goes simply “haha.” That is what we call the internet. It’s a kind of metempsychosis but you get to go on living your own life. I put up my duck lips pictures without shame. I mean I wish I could, but still. They are waiting. I learned once about how tusks evolved, that it was not for defense but like the scythe, a blunt instrument to harvest treetops. They are killing some trees to save a prairie and I am proud. I want to be more like that. Stiff embezzlements of life. You take a little for yourself, I mean those around you. The carbon is burnt into the ground. The rotten orange beckons again to me.

    “It is a pre-therapeutic culture” one psychologist said to another psychologist, revealing their own heady overconfidence. I mean they are supposed to be real doctors I think, but that was just TV. I am writing because I feel bad not working. Because there is someone working on my behalf. For once it isn’t D—. How do people do this every day, writing I mean not working. There is a guy in the yard. I should be putting my prairie plants in the ground. He is just mowing. But his equipment outmatches mine anyway. Where do they go that they can fit all those big pieces of prose together. Is there some kind of special tool they use.

    I read about how cognitive scientists think perceptions of perception are getting out of control. I mean they think that ideas like word processing or whatever are part of the problem. Or like the visual cortex, that there is a lot more involved. The brain doesn’t know what a word is, it’s just a kind of doing. They think we need to derive new categories of thought directly from the data, but that then perhaps we wouldn’t be able to interpret the results. What a conundrum, but who knows, maybe the person who explained all this to me just didn’t do a good job. Scientists are always looking for concepts that don’t exist. Intelligence. Even in the phloem and the slime mold getting together to feast on rotten wood. The whole world is intelligent if anything is. 

    At least the man who mowed is not having to dig anything. I hate digging. I miss it. I wish I could decide what to do with all my plants. They are just doing their thing on the deck somewhere beyond my sense of time. Still potted from the half-wild place that sold them. It’s like I know enough but don’t believe it, or that I don’t know enough but I just think I do. The question like so many is undecideable for me. I said yesterday that I was trying to push my mind through jelly and it’s like that but spread out over a longer time. They don’t want to know what kind of tea I am drinking. There is no reasoning with them. I will put it in the compost so they can find it later.

     

    Jacob J Billingsley is a queer poet, worker, and amateur naturalist in Missouri. His performance of H.D.’s “The Garden” was featured in the latest Empty Room Radio anthology. This is somewhere on the internet, which may as well be underground. Look for more work in EcoTheo Review, ANMLY, and Stone of Madness. Find him on Instagram under the name @GatheredIntoArtifice, on iNaturalist at /jajobi, or on cool days with knees down, tending to wildflowers in the yard.

  • 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). 


  • celina mcmanus :: “bog baby” and “prayer: a voice memo”

    bog baby

    a transidyll

    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.”


  • 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.

     

    Deflowered

    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
                                                     looking plain
                                                     winter
                                                     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.

                                                                                                                {gulp}

    Dear Master,
                    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. 
                    Content yourself 
                    with Gerberas and Asters.
                                                                                                                {gasp}

                    Master?

     

    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”

    —I 

    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. 

    —II 

    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? 

    —III 

    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. 

    —IV 

    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.

    —V 

    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

    —VI 

    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. 

    —VII 

    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. 

    —VIII 

    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

                   Shepherd’s Purse
    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.

                   Bull Thistle
    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.

                   Chickweed
    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.

                   Fleabane
    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.

                   Nutgrass
    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)”

    Cruising

    Two men meet in the middle 
    of a secret, 

    hide behind
    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 

    disappear. 
    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
    passing by.

    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 WestIron Horse Literary ReviewTupelo Quarterly, and Atlanta Review, among others. 


  • 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
    alive. 

     

    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 Reviewthe 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,
    Maman, 
    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 
    before leaving.

     

    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”

    She is 
    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 

    I am  
    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”

    clover. 

    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.

     

    dandelion.

    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.

     

    crabgrass.

    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!

     

    plantain.

    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.

     

    purslane.

    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.

     

    milkweed.

    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.

     

    mugwort.

    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.

     

    wineberry.

    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. 

     

    iris.

    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. 
    Yeah, well.

    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. 


    Hey, Sam?
    Cal?
    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”

    naturalization

    —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

     

    species loneliness

    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”

    I

    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.

    II

    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.

    III

    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. 

    IV

    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.

    V

    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.

    VI

    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. 

    VII

    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-
    bright, beet-bright.

    From our bed, I hear the squelch
    before she carries it, carefully,
    to the sill in the sun.

    Originally published in Ecotone Magazine.

     

    Nomi Stone (left) and Rose Skelton (right)

    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 
    biodegradable. 
    Birch is 

    sustainably made
    ethically sourced
    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.

    uprooted
    by hands that have never known how to find comfort
    in soil but who wanted you to live. you didn’t live.
    I’m sorry.

    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” 

    Gardening Alone

    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
    in novena.

    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.

    After all,
    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
    Eternal garden

    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
    reflection. Your
    saucer eyes plate

    for bake off, not
    the substance behind
    a potluck.

     

    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
    hardworking immigrants
    .
    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,
    edible fire.

    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.

    Nomi Stone (left) and Rose Skelton (right)

    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.