Tian-Ai

 Some Time in Tailiang


昔者庄周梦为蝴蝶

Two hundred years ago the coast flooded a hundred miles inward, cities dissolved in Pacific: Tailiang swallowed kind enough to leave survivors

and our children still came, but with each flush something faded, in desperate nets fish slapped their tails extinguishing incense which refused to burn in new humidity, smoked fibers of our thousand-year poems that refused to regather from the sea back to our hands back to our mouths feeding back what we had forgotten.

 

 


栩栩然蝴蝶也, 自喻适志与,不知周也。

The consequence is now.

Buildings caterpillar to the sky flushed together,
the thickest fog demanding nothing fed by exhalations
demanding everything.

On high balconies grow lamps feed
lychee trees, staining the fog
razor purple;

looming tired tangles of concrete,
scaffold and wire hanging from air conditioner boxes
doing nothing for the condensated windows,

everything only a grey suggestion.
No cars on the streets, not today. Only the hum of the boxes
whirring fans coiling the fog disturbing

telephone wire
spider legs
above the street.

Neon signs float rectangular to a vanishing
point, fog hands over their mouths
muffling their beckoning to:


俄然觉,则戚戚然周也。

Mercy came once in an unearthed erhu,
Cradled from a waterlogged basement like an infant.
We did not know it was an erhu then but we wanted to so badly
That we knew it without name.

Tatters of snakeskin framed its wood hexagon
A cane clacked to the floor
The elder scrambled up the eucalyptus
Descending with a python
Slit down the middle with his pinky nail.

Eight sons to stretch its skin across the box
Eight more to seal it,
The old man flicked his fingernail

Two notes that drummed the river
Ricocheted across the city a million
Pulses synced to silence
Shrine to a new and fleeting God.

Once a boy stole it
Strung it with bra wire and bowed:

A soft wail traced spines top to bottom
Vibrato smoothed down vertebra with its single finger
Shivering the trees retracting their plums and the mothers
Pulled for them finally finally

A week later cityfolk found an instrument
Snapped in half
Swallowed whole by a boa;

A week later they found the boy
Shot dead in the evening,
Rosy under the traffic light.

 

 


不知周之梦为蝴蝶与,

No one admits we’ve started praying again
so the procession is quiet. The fog has thickened, but lanterns border the
streets,
orbed hearts guiding the parade: the people in black

 robes, bodiless if not for the drifting
ceramic masks of tigers monkeys dragons cranes women,
drumming out their prayer:        summon     summon

Men: frustrated, drool seawater as they sing
Women: humming mouths sticky with
lychee eyes,

stomachs full
of unripe
things.

Above the street
I watch wet-mouthed
at the window.

Grandfather smokes the long pipe on the couch,
its long crescent channels drags in quarter notes,
smoke wafts S’s out the window
joining the fog–

One time this was a snake
He says.

I lied. I don’t see him. He died years ago.
I don’t see him so violently
I see him.

 

 


蝴蝶之梦为周与?

The drums persist:
communion communion
Little girls’ heads above
dart in and out of windows, salivating for red.

My brother, mask of a crimson ox
drumming away something
dad put inside him.

He doesn’t tell me much about it, only that
in the night
dad stood over the bed

while he slept.
It slipped from the mouth
and buried into his.

I asked him what it tasted like.
He said a dog’s tongue,
loving too hard.

 

Tian-Ai (天爱) is a diasporic poet, musician, and visual artist from Seattle. She is a fellow of the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets. She appears in Asterism literary journal, with work forthcoming in Flock Magazine, Pleiades, and others. More of her work can be found at tian-ai.com.

 

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Alina Viknyanskiy

bad teeth

Alina (Ali) Viknyanskiy is a cartoonist and writer who works with traditional media to tell stories through comics. Her writing consists of short memoirs and observations and her pieces are created with heart and shameless freedom. She graduated with Graphic Design and Illustration degrees from Missouri State University in 2018 and is currently based in Springfield, MO. Ali’s work has been featured in Driftwood Press, Issue 6.2, and in Aquifer: The Florida Review Online. The best way to keep up with Ali and her work is through her Instagram page @hey.grandma.

 

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Amanda Holiday

A whiff of something

An artist-poet goes to a party in Hout Bay in Cape Town. The hosts are a white photojournalist and his wife. On the wall in the kitchen is a photograph of the journalist in Rwanda holding a black baby. The poet is struck by the expression on the man’s face. On closer inspection she realises that the infant he holds is dead – there is a bullet hole in the middle of the baby’s forehead. The journalist tells them how, when he returned from Rwanda, he had the smell of death in his nose. His wife nods as he speaks. He tries to get the smell out of his nose every morning; he rinses his nostrils out with soap, uses sprays, plunges his nose deep into bouquets of agapanthus. One day his wife tells him the smell is inside his head and he needs to see a doctor. Everyone nods sympathetically.

 

Notes for a chronology of smell

vernix sweat cheese / stuff of life
skin smear dank birth

saki-tomboy pepper-mash mackerel
silver sting cook / palm street pan

chewing gum powder / light sweet
car nook hides tin foil-wrap

alpha-biscuit vanilla warm
almond-heat shortbread / guests due

rubric red earth / salt tar soil
cheetah dash shapes floodlit

woman stage dances / turns
to paper strips / burns to ash

butter-white breakfast bread
rolls Elder Dempster ship

grey Chorley rain marks
pavements in coal

 

Sushi SQ¹

                                                 (eavesdrop)

Milk-white skin dished on perlemoen                        
sushi SQ in top clubs don’t-ask-pay-later

pink tuna crabsticks sashimi eat me                            
fat black fingers pluck salmon from nipples

liquid libations BEE2 Tables have turned                   
they say Fear of a black planet they laugh

Trump understands better than Obama                                 
Bombay Sapphire rinses raw fish

gold toothpicks flick spittle on white girls                   
Black capitalism don’t bend at the knee         

for who Jay Z? What hero takes rain-check               
kill their own talent?  Good-looking fool in an afro

We done with slavery, apartheid runs deep.              
Equality? Pipe dream. Folk need system and queues

Poor people rather fuck than work                            
Why those make money run to the shacks always?

Who laughs the longest stays richer               
wink at white-girl plate swallow seaweed snacks         

Baby it’s our turn now they say                                  
Gi‘em a taste of their own medicine

wear township trials as prestige badge           
high-price mouthfuls the freedom spoils      


1. on a South African restaurant menu S.Q. refers to Salon Qualitaire or quality determined by the establishment. A more direct translation is ‘subject to quotation’ due to the practice of weighing certain foods such as shellfish

2. BEE refers to Black Economic Empowerment

 

Amanda Holiday is a UK-based artist and poet. Her chapbook The Art Poems was published in 2018 by Akashic Books as part of New Generation African Poets. Her text “A Posthumous conversation about Black Art” was published in 2019 in the 1st edition of UK visual culture journal Critical Fish. In 2019, she completed the MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at UEA with Distinction. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, South Bank Poetry, and Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal (UK). In  2020, she reached the final shortlist for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and established the UK’s first crowdfunded poetry press Black Sunflowers. She live in South London with her teenage daughter.

“A whiff of something” and “Sushi SQ” previously appeared in Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal.

 

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Michal Jones

In the Wake of a Transfer

for Nia Wilson

I.
MacArthur was not supposed
to be where your
line ended –                                                                          Nia’s gone

You were to return home,
ride ricketing rails deep East,                                                           
transfer your long way Home –                                                        A liquified, river of blood

Graduate with honors, make
beats bend corners hold hands,                                        
be eighteen –                                                                                                                        In supernova brightness

You swallowed ancestral
fear to step onto that platform,                                                                         Cleft carotid rests under tarp
your sisters kept closeby –                

A scream like                                                                                       
that ceaseless, sparking grate                                                           
will spear a humid night –                                                             9-car Dublin/Pleasanton in 2 minutes

And where do you journey now?
And what sense do we make of this?
Where will your mother’s body breathe?                       She illuminates the tunnels

II.
In the morning, when Her train comes, my Nails punch lunes into my palms. In the morning, Black women gather beneath unseen umbrellas – scatter plots along gray platform – lined against the walls. In the morning, Black women downcast. Avert their gazes from oblivion, necks weighted with recall. I boomerang a rage white. Slice a crescent sharp enough to sever. Tongues that utter this:                 senseless.  Senseless.

Senseless.
when children
become ancestors.

III.
& Mama –
                I promise I’m safe on trains here.
& Mama –
                I can hear you cry-singing for me.
& Mama –
                You gonna find your way back to breathing.
& Mama –
                There’s so many colors here.
Mama –
                Colors I don’t even have proper names for.
& Mama –
                We got them dancers out here, too!
& Mama –
                Everyone, everything is conductor.
& Mama –
                Our trains don’t have tracks, just kinda glide like water.
& Mama –
                It’s warm here, warm like light.
& Mama –
                I’m alright, mama. I’m more than alright.

 

MJ is a poet & parent living in Oakland, CA. Their work is featured or forthcoming at Kissing Dynamite, Rigorous Mag, & Borderlands Texas Poetry Review. They are an Assistant Poetry Editor at Foglifter Press. MJ has received fellowships from the Hurston/Wright Foundation, SF Writers Grotto, VONA, & Kearny Street Workshop. They are currently the Community Engagement Graduate Fellow in the MFA program at Mills College.

 

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Stephanie Jean

Insomnia

Hibiscus, slim in hand, smoking what ought be spoken. Trite tripe transcending bitterness into tribalist peacekeeping. Boorish convulsion inserting pleonastic adieu to quidnunc’s deathbed. Transversal transparency performing pas de bourree for audience of boors.

 

Assommant  

Nesting song on a balcony of sun distilling the partiality of the I into the sonority of clarity.
Absentminded softness instinctually awakening ball gowns and verdure on rail of elements.
Thinly veiled imbalance freeing primordial flight through a looking smile of retenue.

 

With

Taut onde dramatizing urgency towards an inelegant incandescence /wood in lubricated machine of cultural insignificance and filial splendor.  Seared gradient districts justifying intrinsic values of divisible accord/ consensus for mea culpa of none and suppression of all sense-acute partiality.  Sheet of race marching in one kindness/spear the reversal of millenia of conflation from/of/at board of social constructors.  Dashing sore of ominous baseness barking a purr at the balance of a glorious high noon firmament.

 

Stephanie Jean is the winner of the BOMB Poetry Contest 2020 Judged by Simone White and a Cave Canem Fellow. Her poems have appeared in [PANK] and The Southampton Review.

 

 

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Ima Odong

afterlife of flood

fermented
unearthing reveal-
ing a      reckoned we
orderly unneat sheathed            
catastrophe
long-ago fenced-in saccharine                 
catastrophe—

our home’s miasmatic air
ruptured bellyswell
              relic and harvest
              of augmented hurt

air as putrid corruption               or
transatlantic theft                           or
               antiblack.

                this pre-bedrock             this       
                national sustenance       and

                i want my skin to remember
                how it feels to drink clean air

the poem as defunct weather map
flood as post-sacred disaster    
post-god tribulation                      leaving only
               some kicked-up dust-rust                          
               swept-up plugged-up                  
               air-tight air-blight          air, air  

my breath is the contradiction                 a present absence gone viral
and why should i have to tell you
why i deserve to breathe?

this flood as recollection of ourselves
               as           there is nothing left for you here
               and        either improvise or pretend                
               and        there’s no one to call in times like these

                               these are all of the times.

 

Ima Odong is studying social justice and interdisciplinary writing in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rookie Mag and Arts & Letters. She is committed to learning how to love and be loved in preparation for a future free of state violence. You can find her on Instagram: @scantima_.

 

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Noʻu Revilla

When You Say “Protestors” instead of Protectors

I would call it a trick, if it wasn’t so terrifying, the way your mouth doesn’t move when you speak. Your smile, shiny as a church, but what kind of prayer could ever be trusted without evidence of a free tongue? On the rare occasion sound shakes loose, words, no matter how unmuzzled, words still go to die. In your mouth, even womb is wound. Sometimes I dream of tearing your throat wide open and finding there, where stories should be born, only bleeding bleedingbleeding. The wish to desecrate. We are, yet again, portrayed by you, the girl  the Native  the water the mountain who was “asking for it.” Your lips so Sunday still. Sometimes I almost believe you. So it’s best I keep hiding knives in my hair, the way my grandmother – not god – the way my grandmother intended.

 

Mercy

This  morning  I  kissed  a woman  with  a  brick  in her  clay hands. I am building a house, she said. Brick in her hands, tongues  in her mouth.  Somewhere a door  ajar.  We kissed  &  I went searching  for other bricks she brought this way, one by one in her clay hands. She smelled like a house, the one I saw built from scratch near the water tower in Waiʻehu. Did you find more bricks? I was young, a ten-gallon bucket clanging with nails. Who was I to say what was mine & not mine? Did you find the water tower? Over & over I searched. Bricks in hand. Ready to sleep in the roof of her mouth, ready to build a home and call her mine. Did you find the door you tore open and ran from mine the door you buried in bricks not mine one by one Waiʻehu torn one by one Waiʻehu built again. Memory made from scratch. Did you find me there? This morning I kissed each brick of this woman. Her name was mercy.

 

Noʻu Revilla is a queer Native Hawaiian poet, educator, and aloha ʻāina. Her poetry has been featured in Poetry and Literary Hub as well as the Honolulu Museum of Art. Her latest chapbook Permission to Make Digging Sounds was published in Effigies III in 2019, and she has performed throughout Hawaiʻi as well as Canada, Papua New Guinea, and the United Nations. In the summer 2019, she taught poetry at Puʻuhuluhulu University while standing to protect Maunakea with her lāhui.

 

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Eunice Kim

postmortem for chaos theory

here i am, thinking about the summer
              collapsed around you. the leonine 
days, the sullen nights.              my body  a
                             cascading series of monsoons.
i watch as you dismember me. my wrists wrung
from my hands and each rib carefully pendent
on the ceiling.   the wreck
             -age of light strewn around myself,
              my leftovered body. the heatwave 
              breaks unevenly 
this year. so it’s             summer, it’s
                           salvageable, and i am
thinking about quantum mechanics. the
uncertainty of it all, the truth that there is
a universe where
we learn to                      float. where the
                             horizon isn’t wide enough, and
we chew up the syllables like goldenrod.
              like
                                         desire.
              so now we’ve widowed the lip of the
change  and i am still searching
for you in the breath-smothered glass,
              in 
the digital glow of the beautiful night. 
                            i am a violet-shaped wound, but 
                            dimly. by the smallest margin.
and already the body grieves,
apocryphal.       the laws of physics  break
down
the universe into           body-sized  pieces—
the kind our hands can         
                                                         bear to hold.  

 

Eunice Kim is a Korean-American writer living in Seoul. Her work has been published in Polyphony, The Heritage Review, Vagabond City Lit, and more. She currently works as a staff reader for The Adroit Journal and a volunteer writer for Her Culture.

 

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KL Lyons

I thought I was going to drown

One day I fell into a coffee cup
and I thought I was going to drown
and my first thought was
“They’ll think that I jumped.
They’ll think I gave up and gave in and gave out
and jumped into the first ocean I could find.”

Speaking of oceans, did you know
that sometimes, when a whale dies,
it creates something called a whale fall?
That’s when the whale’s body settles
deep enough on the ocean floor
that it feeds organisms there for decades.
It becomes an ecosystem all its own.
That’s what I hope happens to me when I die.

But this is not the ocean
and I am not a whale
I am the woman hanging
off the edge of a coffee cup
trying to summon not only
the upper-body strength
I need but also the will to live

Because they say if there’s a will there’s a way
They say you’ve got to know your why
They say “What do you want to do with your life?”
and you say “I wanna rock”
or at least you used to.
Now you say “I don’t know,
and every day I feel
like I have fewer and fewer options.”

sometimes I think we lay the worst traps for ourselves
sometimes I think my brain is broken
sometimes regular life seems so impossible
that I don’t know how anybody does it

And the only reason I ever
work my way out of the coffee cup,
out of the ocean, all of which, of course,
is just a stand-in for depression,
is because six years ago a human being
burst through the earth of my body
and no matter how broken my brain gets
it never convinces me that
he’s better off without a mother.

And when he’s old enough, I’ll tell him so,
how he was an ecosystem all his own,
my will and my way and my why.
But for now I will just keep showing up
even if I’m covered in coffee stains.

 

scrapbook

My grandmother is a bowl of unshelled pecans on the table.
My grandfather is a glass of milk with ice cubes in it.
My mother is a cloud of hairspray that stings if you breathe it in,
and my father is a hug goodbye.

My grandmother is young-Clint-Eastwood-Rawhide-reruns on TV.
My grandfather is overalls and the smell of insulation.
My mother is a cashier at Dollar General,
and my father is a visitor I barely know.

My grandmother is a pantry that always has bread.
My grandfather is reading the Bible at 4AM.
My mother is blues music on Sunday nights
and my father is a birthday card, it says “I’m sorry.”

My grandmother is the engine that keeps the family running.
My grandfather is the steering wheel.
My mother is driving without a seatbelt,
and my father is a story I tell myself.

 

KL Lyons is a poet from Tulsa, Oklahoma and enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Her poems have also appeared in Wards Lit Mag Issue 05: Native. You can find her online on Twitter at @dystopialloon.

 

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