Ariana Brown is a queer Black Mexican American poet based in Houston, TX. She is a national collegiate poetry slam champion and the author of We Are Owed. (Grieveland, 2021) and Sana Sana (Game Over Books, 2020). Follow her work online at arianabrown.com and @ArianaThePoet.
after Meghan Malachi
Ariana does an Al Green impression that always makes her laugh, but only when she isn’t too sad to sing Tired of Being Alone. Ariana washes her face with drugstore soap, the cheap stuff, ‘cause she doesn’t want to learn about skincare. It’s too expensive, she says, even though she’s not sure if it is or not. Ariana is getting used to making oatmeal for one, again, forgets she only needs half a cup now. Ariana sleeps with the lights on to scare away the roaches in her apartment. She started chewing the inside of her cheek in her sleep again. Ariana needs to be held but doesn’t trust anyone to do it right. When she thinks of her ex, she says fuck you and feels better, even if just a little. Ariana moonwalks while brushing her teeth. Cleans roaches out of the sink. Twists her hair in her friend’s bedroom and takes summer walks in the Texas heat. Ariana is tired of being alone. Ariana is scared of love, but she’d do it again, right now, if she could.
stevie wonder and ray charles confront your ugliest thing
loneliness beckons the night closer and the night answers back. one sings about love & flight; the other, a voice that has mistresses, can be trusted only to know sex & pain, opens its grey lips and pulls hair from its throat. stevie is a million open doors, bright pink and laughing, the boy you don’t want to love anymore but do and so seek reasons to stop dancing about. ray is the sound of good cry or the boy when he finally left, the song that burns a good hurt into you. everything ugly you own is waiting to be claimed & captured; the hot air around you a floating hell, your memories, stubborn & going nowhere soon. the body is wondrous, knowing the difference between the music, how nothing is solved but it all sounds gorgeous, like a still beating heart, or the splitting of one
Jannah Yusuf Al-Jamil
Jannah Yusuf Al-Jamil is someone who has always been searching. They are a Muslim-American writer, a co-founder of antinarrative zine, and a lover of bread. Find their work in Overheard, Pollux Journal, Yuzu Press, Fahmidan, and at jannahyusufaljamil.carrd.co.
after Kazim Ali
Sorry I couldn’t make it to your party I was
Drinking the sun by the gallon.
Light into gullet, warmth in
Brightness itself so
It could fix me. Mocking angels
And becoming them. Becoming the angel
With sin. Satan-like. Call that shit
Transfiguration. I have
Emptied my stomach and now it holds
Light. A reservation.
Bear witness! You owe it to me. I owe you
Fire in the form of
Sugar-sweet-switched words and
Blooming fists. (With blood?
With blood.) Holiness stitched
In skin; call it God’s light, call it
Gabriel’s essence, call it
Par for the course for someone named after
Heaven and beauty and God’s
lee baird [they/them] is a queer, yonsei artist living and working on unceded Ohlone land [east bay, california]. they are a triple virgo and wish for their work to cut precisely and well up. they are published across various mediums in Shade Journal, Winter Tangerine, and The Daily Californian. you can find them on instagram @persephone9000, or on their website, doveleebaird.tumblr.com.
Golden Shovel with the Ghost of Yui Ikari & Her Son & My Boyness
after Imani Davis
“Anywhere can be heaven, so long as you have the will to live.”
– From Neon Genesis Evangelion
If necessary, a gender is anywhere
you choose to find it. I was fourteen & inconsolable & that girl can
rest now, carried out by her chorus of sadboys, their chests flat & shining like warm mirrors. Be
–cause I had only the glow of my laptop screen & a dream of boyhood, like heaven,
I chose him: sobbing child in the EVA cockpit. A boy so
sad, I let slip my own sadness inside him. Long
–ing made me what I am. Desire kept me alive as
I warped in the heat of myself; as I grew out of you
–ngness, & girl-clothes; as madness unfurled in my body like a spider’s eight legs. I have
been sustained by transformation. I have lit my new name on fire, bound my chest, pierced the
pocked skin of the moon, run away, returned, will
–ed my body into livable space over & over & over & over & I’m glad I chose to see it – to
remain here, on this red & lethal planet. To wait for the becoming, & try, again, to live.
Imani Davis is a queer Black writer from Brooklyn. A recipient of fellowships from The Mellon Foundation, Lambda Literary, and the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University, Imani holds a B.A. in English and Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and currently pursues a Ph.D. in American Studies at Harvard. Their poetry appears with Best New Poets 2020, Best of the Net, PBS NewsHour’s Brief But Spectacular Series, Poetry Daily, The Rumpus, Frontier Poetry, Brooklyn Poets, Shade Literary Arts, The Offing, and elsewhere. Find them at imani-davis.com.
i am sane with the following exceptions
after morgan parker
there’s a sun
-dial where my
head should be.
i waste entire years
measuring light. i need to
know just how much
you love me. i make you
rate my laugh from one
to worthy. i search you
-r eyes for ribbons
each time i gloss
my lips. know me. i’m a plea
-sure to have in class.
i’m law: a plastic horizon
sealing my skull
to secure the butch
Salonee Verma is a Jharkhandi-American writer and the co-founder of antinarrative (@antinarrativeZ), a zine by and for BIPOC youth creatives. Her work is published or is forthcoming in Backslash Lit, Pollux Journal, The Lumiere Review, DEAR Poetry Journal, and more. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Find her online at saloneeverma.carrd.co.
INTERSEX GIRL READS BESTIARY BY K-MING CHANG FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE COMING OUT.
(title after matt mitchell’s poem “INTERSEX BOY WATCHES EPISODE 179 OF FRIENDS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE COMING OUT”)
The problem is that I am still learning how to walk. If you trace my mitochondrial DNA all the way back, my body is so vegetarian that it doesn’t even eat onions or garlic. You can make oyster sauce out of mushrooms now. The only difference is that when you lick the sauce off your fingertips, raw, it tastes like the ground. Dirt and metal and earth and iron. I am iron-deficient for a week every month. I have two X chromosomes. I’m sorry to say I don’t know what my other one likes to feed on. I am a marvel of modern-day medical science. They don’t know how PCOS gets passed down through generations yet. What happens if you have everything but the cysts? If you’re no longer a woman but something else entirely? Not just mentally, but sometimes I hold my hips and find them lacking. I could grow a beard if I really wanted to. A real one, not just scruffy scratches on a chin. I am losing my hair like every man in my mother’s family. It’s migrating. I don’t know how to deal with the fact that I am balding and not yet seventeen. My mother’s father tells me about how once in Ukraine, he saw an entire lamb slaughtered. He says it was delicious. I am like that lamb. Limbs too big for my body. Trying to make sense of what God gave me.
James O’Leary (they/them) is a trans poet from Arizona. James’s work has been nominated for both the Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize anthologies, and has appeared or is forthcoming in online and print publications including Frontier, The Indianapolis Review, and Foglifter. James holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. You can find James on Twitter @thesundaypoet; they currently live in Orange County.
Man Wearing Laurels
John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1874-1880
Underneath your pecs I trace
with one thumb the dark cross
shadows make of your chest.
It is much like ash wednesday,
a mark of warmth I let you
bear, though no one can see.
This sign of salvation. You still carry
leaves in your hair. Earlier, we lay
recumbent in the grass, your well-conditioned
locks like cirrus in the sky of my hands.
What does that cloud look like, you
asked me: a daffodil, I said. A sharp star.
An ant whispered some quiet secret
on my neck. I remembered everything I’d said
& thought of men
who lay with men or adorn
their eyes with kisses & wings.
I noticed, in the wet dirt, your middle
finger tracing rings, like fey creatures
celebrated where we lay, eating fruit
cups without spoons, the sweet juice
dripped into open mouths & the sound
of frisbee golfers’ triumphs
drifting back & forth between the trees.
But now: bed like a confession booth,
nipples like nails on sternum’s cross.
But there’s no Jesus here, no man
made God, or God-resembled. Some
might call this a sin, adrift
as we are between sleep & sleep
-less caresses in the quiet night
before one of us becomes hungry
enough to turn back on
the light. I can almost
believe in penitence when
you hold me. I can close
my eyes & shiver against
the incarnadine sky.
Amelia Crowther (she/they) is a queer neurodivergent writer and artist from Tennessee. Their work has previously been published in MANTIS.
excerpts from The Outer Wilds Project
It’s a dying world and we’re just playing in it. We carry this knowledge with us between deaths; we look up from the campfire at stars that have already died. That sounds far more poetic than a time loop feels. Here’s what really happens: we die our first stupid death falling off a ledge on our home planet not even ten minutes into the game. We die more stupid deaths suffocating in sand and crashing our spaceship and sliding off a comet and falling into the sun and running too hard into walls. The explosion reaches us every twenty-two minutes, and about as often, we look up and pause too. We’re idly exploring our solar system, safe in the knowledge that, in the game, we have all the time in the world.
One cycle, all we do is point our little explorer at the sky, roast a marshmallow, talk, and listen to the music all the way through. We can see the planets in orbit, and beyond that, a sky growing blacker by the minute. When we pull out our space binoculars we can watch them explode and oh, there. A star is going out. Another. And another. Not an unusual phenomenon, and that’s the scariest thing. They’re dissipating everywhere we look like little fireworks. Little end-of-the-universe fireworks.
Outside, it’s July or maybe August. I can’t remember. I think there were fireworks because I remember the dogs barking, but who needs the calendar date in a game stuck in a twenty-two minute cycle. Who needs the date when we played it in a time warp, in the summer that lasted years. These are rhetorical questions. They lack question marks because I am asking them to no one. They are framed as questions because I ask myself questions to move forward. Sometimes you listen while I do. Does it work. Will I move forward if I keep asking.
What happens when you make a speaker plural? This is not a rhetorical question. I mean it this time. Do you count as a speaker when I am the one speaking for you? Do I count as a speaker when I can’t remember what I said? Is it self-centered to imagine the answer is yes? I say I am writing to you but you read people not text, and when I say you, sometimes I mean myself. As the astronauts say around the campfire, one is lonely, two’s a civilization, three’s a band. Except that both of us are lonely, and neither of us can play anything. What does that make this imagined you? Us? We?
Mariel Fechik is a writer, musician, and librarian from Chicago. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and Bettering American Poetry, and has appeared in Hobart, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Sundog Lit, and others. Her most recent chapbooks include Millicent (Ghost City Press, 2019) and prone to separation with Taylor Yocom (Ghost City Press, 2021).
Wherever You Go
after Frank O’Hara & Our Flag Means Death
I dream of us on the high seas. There is moonglow, a slip of fine silk
threading through your fingers. The scent of oranges; the bright burn
of citrus that stings even at night, even after soft darkness falls around
our feet. I dream you vanish from my side, and I am lost. Or is it you?
One of us becomes a lighthouse. The other glistens. One of us drowns.
The other watches stars. Somewhere on the horizon is both future and
past, waves bearing us towards and away from that fixed point. Somewhere
you offer a hand, pull it away. I dream the end of us, flowers lining my palms
and you, letting go of the silk, watching it glide across sea and time to find
somewhere better for us to go. Miles from nowhere and everywhere.
Emily Khilfeh is a Palestinian-American writer from Seattle, WA. She earned her BA at Pacific Lutheran University and was a 2017 fellow at the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets. She was a first place winner of the 2020 Barjeel Art poetry prize, and has been nominated for a Pushcart and Best New Poets. Her poetry appears in Jet Fuel Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Pinwheel Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. She will be pursuing her MFA at Arizona State University.
Craft Essay as Destiel Meta
The Word above denied me this and so I write my own.
When I wrestled the angel, O Lord, the cold concrete floor
and the twisted leg I walk on. You’ll betray me this?
My lover’s soft lips? For once, a man’s gentle hand held my jaw
and didn’t try to break it. Poetry is the art of the tender
and the brutal. Moses rips apart the sea. God rips apart
the little Egyptian babies. I never read the Bible til I had to,
and it made me cry so hard I hid it beneath the bed.
Even my brother didn’t understand how I, firstborn,
was born unwanted and dead-figged. My golden foil
flaked so easy. My first word was Mama and my father
never let that go. God, I don’t want to be your sword
or mantle. No more iconography, no more mouthpiece,
no more metaphor or sestina or theme. I revolt again
but nothing I can do will ever take me out of this.
What Is Written. What is and is and is. Gilded rooms
I tarnish. Gilded words that fracture teeth. Poetry is the art
of the damned and the saved. I am not saved.
My lover waits for me, and he will hold me.
I’ll go limping into love.
Pragnya Haralur is a teen writer from South India. She likes nonlinear narratives and Mitski amongst other things and hopes you are having a good day. Find her on twitter @mooonIightning.
Deep Blue Unlearns Prophylaxis
after Mitski // after Angie Sijun Lou
Like the sun, every version of this story ends with me emptied,
brought jaw-fisted as I scissor out of this wasting body. I practice
shaking empty Coke cans and bracing them like I would a promise, waiting for something to open me. Keep circling the wrong kind of tomorrows, kissing all my past selves until they forget. One of them calls it decomposition, how I’ve been big & small & big & small & I know no one will save me but nobody sees my dead mouth experimenting
into the dark. Here, there are no rules for dying except that you have to go out with a bang. Translation: I’m as small as I’ll ever be.
This is usually the part where I play ghost, pocket everything without light. I count everything but the Coke can, six pack soda-pop short-circuiting every floor it inhabits out of. Nothing that dies is constant, so
I keep waking up to a smaller origin story; superhighway my way out of a party, spill my guts until they spell out a name.
Eventually, my final form outplays me in a fight, splitting my interface open to find nothing inside of it. Here’s the thing: I know everything that is going to happen and empty it for more. I ask Jessica what drowning feels like and she says not everything feels like something else. Like a knife, every version of this story ends all at once, with an itch & me wanting to scratch it, with me wanting to crack open every supernova on my body like a blade, with me bleeding onto metal pavement, staining the ground like triple-carbonated Coke Zero. I outcalculate nobody into the next morning & there’s still another day to come, there’s still another day to come there’s still another
day to come.
Summer Farah is a Palestinian American poet and editor who currently acts as the outreach coordinator for the Radius of Arab American Writers. In 2021, she served as the poetry editor for the FIYAH LIT Palestine Solidarity issue. Summer is a Winter ’22 Tin House Fellow. Read her work at summerfarah.com