Does your blood make the fool drunk? Do the ignorant dance on your corpse? Does a hungry child sleep on your forehead?
For the hungry child, for the dancing ignorant, for the drunken fool,
this sorrow is mute in witness, despair brains us with a length of darkness, and helplessness gets cruel.
Beauty stands and does not step as blood explodes from its two cheeks, and the shadow of a cry wanders the maze of sound.
A coward eats the mother’s flesh, her entrails scattered in the midst of wolves.
O my heart and my hopelessness, O cycle of futility where all is null, O you who are drunk with the burning of blood,
O children homeless upon the earth—
My child, Arabism is still in Egypt, despite the gore, despite the gouging, Egypt is love. Is giving.
If Egypt were not my homeland, I would plant my heart in its soil,
take the path of love like her birds, become a flower in a garden,
make the perfume of time a necklace, and weave my faith between her domes.
In this world cramped in agony, when will we restore the soul of Egypt?
Dear Egypt, dear friends, don’t leave Al Ka’ba to the idols of rabid money or careless lust. They’re not long for this world,
and this web of light deserves better than petty theft. It deserves better.
God sings in us that despite sorrow we hold to the shrine of the merciful.
O you who are drunk with the burning of blood, O you who lash this land with your rubber tongue, There is no good in money without a look in the mirror.
Your Scent Still
Even if you became a night, a pool of shadows, I still know your light.
Even if I were lashed and twirled by khamaseen, your scent is still my breath.
In every space I am a wanderer, and my heart sees no space as home.
There is no solace for this pain on the shore, no surge of renewal
as when a mariner returns to the sea, but I still adore the light.
We May Meet
Do you think the spring would return and reanimate March into smoother days?
O unknown lover, we too may break this separation and make belief of these tears.
If the days sweep us clean, tomorrow we might meet and the birds will flutter their blue against the sky’s.
Walid and I met as part of an international educational exchange program housed by the College of Saint Rose here in Albany NY, during which Walid regularly visited my high school classroom for about three months to observe, talk, and collaborate. After teaming up for a couple of lessons on political poetry from a variety of countries, we thought it would be fun to collaborate on some translations of contemporary Egyptian poetry, which has received relatively little attention here in the U.S. Walid was particularly drawn to the work of Farouk Goweda, who is a literary giant in the Middle East. It began with one poem, sometime in mid-2014, and now we have nearly enough for a full-length collection
Because I do not speak, read, or write any Arabic, Walid is responsible for the most important step in our translation process: the initial renderings of Goweda’s work into English. Parts of those initial translations need, in my view, very little or no editing or re-casting into poetic American English. I take the parts that do need reworking and edit for simple correctness, clarity, and suggestiveness. Sometimes I move lines around a bit out of their original order to emphasize or re-establish certain images or progressions. I often follow up with Walid on questions about intent, clarity of meanings, allusions, historical figures, cultural symbols, as well as shifts in tone, tense, and perspective. I always send him final drafts for approval.
I take occasional liberties with certain images or colloquialisms, but line and stanza breaks are the most consistent departures from Goweda’s poems; in fact, I do not think any of the poems we’ve published actually follow Goweda’s original lineation or stanza structures. I have approached those features searching only for a combination of line and stanza that both contains and propels the rhythm, power, and image-laden lyricism of Goweda’s work. I am fond of either uniform or alternating stanza lengths, with a small range of syllables per line (5-8 seems to be my preference), but I let lines’ content drive their shaping more than my own formal inclinations, so some poems have had small syllabic ranges, whereas others stretch and sprawl similar to those of Whitman or Ginsberg. Still others have a kind of hybrid syllabic/free verse where the line’s integrity is determined by any combination of image, breath, or music.
In terms of content, Goweda is especially well-known for his political, religious, and love poetry. At times, those lines blur or braid. Part of what has kept me so fascinated with Goweda is how his work is by turns unabashedly romantic, pseudo-surrealist, politically strident, and deeply spiritual, sometimes in the same poem. Of the three poems included here, “Gouge” is clearly the most political, with “Your Scent Still” and “We May Meet” falling neatly into the love category, one thing that binds them—and much of Goweda’s poetry—is a devotion to hope, regardless of circumstance. “[D]espite the gore, despite / the gouging,” his lyric voice serves to witness horror and still say “yes” to beauty, love, and faith.
Walid Abdallah is an Egyptian poet and author whose books include Shout of Silence, Escape to the Realm of Imagination, My Heart-Oasis, and Male Domination and Female Emancipation. He has been a visiting professor of English language and literature in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and the United States. His prize-winning co-translations with Andy Fogle of Farouk Goweda’s poetry have previously appeared in Image, RHINO, Reunion: Dallas Review, and Los Angeles Review.
Andy Fogle has six chapbooks of poetry and a full-length called Across from Now (Grayson Books). Other poems, a variety of nonfiction, and co-translations with Walid Abdallah of Egyptian writer Farouk Goweda have appeared in Blackbird, Best New Poets 2018, Gargoyle, Image, Parks and Points, and elsewhere. He was born in Norfolk, grew up in Virginia Beach, and lived for 11 years in the DC area, and now lives in upstate NY, teaching high school and working on a PhD in Education.
Farouk Goweda is a bestselling Egyptian poet, journalist, and playwright whose nearly 50 books have been widely influential in the Middle East for their technique and content. His work has been translated into English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Persian, and he has been awarded several national and international prizes.
I’m speaking to these faces underneath yours churches that line you identifying region grasses and people by the holes of the eyes.
Tempting to de-face you and grasp by thumb and forefinger the shallows of unknown.
What to say to tally your long lives?
To summon the leaves through them?
You are difficult like the face of God.
The harbor was barred. Under the sun rotted the sap of waiting fruit. There were thresholds, nearly black, haunted by mint and oregano. A spring was visible under the sea. It was in the island’s immobility that everything took place. The riddle was posed by an old man, whelk seller. The answer would have been homegrown. Everything disappeared in a large epiphany of waves. The town remained, walled harbor, scents, at twenty meters underwater.
Body with ancient trails retrod in every advent of pain source after source.
Our floating island intimate, at least, with the circuits of its existence does not want to believe:
tomorrow the itinerary will be cancelled? A flesh stuck in the sand then salted with the salt of the void?
And so every wound is sweet as proof of this path known since the blood-dark.
We tell ourselves: Until the death of the soul I have my whole death in front of me.
What persists? What do we have in common? The collective memory of words. Languages are different keys to the same room.
Marie-Claire Bancquart is obsessed with legends and ancient religions, which through her poetry feel eerily indistinguishable from the present (see “Ys” from this selection). On the other hand, her poems often veer into prophecy, describing the contours of an afterlife or even a second coming with a startling matter-of-factness. Or, similarly terrifying: she explores death as the ultimate finality, where consciousness, time, and sensation have no more sway over us and we join the company of objects (see “Sickness”).
These poems come from the first section of her collection Opéra des limites (José Corti, 1988), which is titled “Leçon des choses” or “Object Lesson,” and I believe Bancquart would like us to consider the experience (or non-experience) of being inanimate—as a child, Bancquart suffered from a bone disease that left her immobilized for a long period of time, an experience which suffuses her work.
In many cases, however, the comparison is made with elements of nature, particularly trees, which in Bancquart’s world must have their own sort of consciousness. How would our view of the world change if we found fellowship with a stone or an oak? How would we think about time and what would it mean to belong in this world, connected to everything around us? And then again, how can we identify and celebrate our human presence—our words, dreams, histories, ancestors, pain, loneliness?
Bancquart’s imagery is stunning, weird in the best sense, and she does not shy away from addressing the big themes—seemingly ALL the big themes: god, death, language, the body, time, nature, history—but without cliché and without pontification. This is part of what marks her poems with a French sensibility; they are philosophical and dialectical. She uses questions frequently, and her poems often take place entirely in the conditional tense. Most of the poems from this collection are divorced from individual viewpoint. There is no one “you;” instead there is often a “we.” It shouldn’t work, to have such grand themes divorced from individual experience, but somehow she achieves it.
Claire Eder’s poems and translations have appeared in Gulf Coast, the Cincinnati Review, PANK, Midwestern Gothic, and Guernica, among other publications. She holds an MFA from the University of Florida and a PhD from Ohio University. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Find her online at claireeder.com.
Marie Moulin-Salles is a French teacher and translator with 30 years’ experience. She leads individual and group French classes for children and adults. She holds a Masters degree from Caen University, France, and an advanced Spanish degree from the University of Salamanca, Spain. Her translation work includes business documents, literary texts, simultaneous interpretation in the courtroom, voiceover projects, and live French narration with musical performance. She can be reached at marieSalles1[at]gmail.com.
Marie-Claire Bancquart (1932–2019) was a French poet, novelist, and literary critic. She lived in Paris and was a professor emerita of contemporary French literature at the Sorbonne. Author of over 30 collections of poetry and several novels, she was the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Prix Supervielle, the Prix Max Jacob, and the Prix Robert Ganzo. Her work is anthologized in Rituel d’emportement (2002), Toute minute est première (2019), and Terre énergumène et autres poèmes (2019). A colloquium on Bancquart’s poetry was held in Cerisy-la-Salle in 2011 and was subsequently published by éditions Peter Lang, with the title Dans le feuilletage de la terre.
At the time, I didn’t know that I would use the events of that day as a watershed. As a line demarking the before and the after. Between the happy life we thought we had and the hell that awaited us. In time, I understood that it was the before and the after date. The point of no return.
It was a Saturday, and your father’s sister’s family had come to visit: your aunt, your uncle, and their little girl, who was a couple years older than you.
They lived far away, in a town in the north. We didn’t see them often, but you and your cousin always picked up exactly where you had left off, running to your room to play. You spent hours in there without ever coming out, and I would barricade myself in that normalcy, serving green tea and organic biscuits.
Nothing happened. We didn’t notice a thing.
All hell broke loose a few days later, when your aunt called your father, pulling him out of an important meeting to tell him that she would never, ever leave her little girl with you again if we didn’t get treatment for you first.
She used that very word: treatment. I remember it well. We were stricken.
Treatment implied an illness.
We discovered that during the afternoon spent in your room, you had told your cousin a secret she could never ever share with adults, a very important secret that would be your secret alone until the day you both died. She said you had told her that you were not really a girl but a boy. To prove it, you had made a hole in your panties and stuck a marker through it, that way, you said, you could pee like a boy. You were a boy, and, from that day on, you would have a boy’s name. You had paused then and said: “Alessandro. I like the name Alessandro.”
Your cousin found it funny and obviously didn’t tell anyone. Until the day a simple question betrayed her: “Mamma, can a girl become a boy and have a boy’s name?”
From there to your aunt’s hysterics was a small step.
We took some time to reflect, your father and I, before deciding what to do.
The last thing we wanted was to take you to a psychologist. But we felt we needed help. We needed someone who would tell us what to do so we wouldn’t make mistakes, someone who would say: Take the first left, then go right. That’s the road, take it, and you’ll be fine.
First, we tried talking to you about it. We wanted to understand.
One evening while your father was putting you to bed, he asked you who Alessandro was, if he was a friend from school. If that was the case, we could invite him to the house to get to know him better, and maybe show him your toys. He realized afterwards that by asking what sounded like a trick question, he had made a mistake, but your anger was, in any case, out of proportion. You screamed that Alessandro didn’t exist, that he wasn’t anybody, and that he wasn’t your friend. And that your cousin wasn’t your friend either, that friends kept secrets, and that she didn’t know how to keep a secret. You said that you never wanted to see or hear her again. Your father tried to say he was sorry, but you pushed him away, yelling. Your face was transfigured by your fury and your tears, and you couldn’t breathe past the anger that rose in your throat. You cried and screamed until, exhausted, you fell to the floor, your face on your father’s knees, your sweaty hair dangling over his legs. And there you fell asleep.
Your tears and sweat had left you soaking wet. You didn’t even wake up when we changed your pajamas and put you to bed.
Your father fell silently into a chair in his study: he was a ghost reflected in the screen of his lifeless computer.
A few weeks later, we found ourselves sitting in front of a doctor who was specialized in child behavioral problems. She was about forty years old, very knowledgeable, and she worked with children your age. She didn’t say much, didn’t give us maps or strategies; she just told us to watch and wait. Without judging, trying not to use words like right, wrong, male, female. No contrapositions. She told us to just watch and to leave you alone. And to let you choose without imposing anything on you, so that your choice would be an alternative and not the result of a contraposition.
There are children who take longer to stabilize, gender-wise. Don’t rush her and you’ll see that almost certainly everything will fall back within the norm, and she’ll realign with other girls her age.
That ‘almost,’ however, left me with a void I didn’t want her to explain, I didn’t want to know more about.
And so, a period of extreme liberty began for you. We brought you with us to choose your clothes and often even your toys. You always went straight for the boy’s department: you chose sweat-suits, pants, hoodies. You asked us to cut your hair, and I watched it fall to the ground, lock after lock, under my hairdresser’s scissors. You said, cut more; I tried to intervene; and the hairdresser stood motionless between us, scissors in hand, and waited. He was a smart young man: I think he knew we were carrying out a transaction about something totally different. You were almost unrecognizable when you came out of there.
In kindergarten you invented a male twin. That way you could be everything without people asking you for explanations. You could be Eva, and you could be Alessandro. The other kids thought your double personality was fun. In the morning when you entered the school, they’d ask:
“Who are you today?”
The teachers supported you and left you alone. They couldn’t explain it, but they didn’t pass judgment either. They learned not to ask me any questions. They understood that something huge was stirring inside you, and they didn’t have the courage to invade our already precarious, delicate space. They were happy to go along with your double personality and made sure the other children, especially those in the other classes, didn’t make fun of you. Your classmates had learned to love and accept you just the way you were. One day Eva, one day Alessandro. Then Alessandro more and more, and Eva less and less.
As for me, I had stopped inviting girls home to spend the afternoon with you. It was humiliating to have to call other mothers and beg them to come over with their daughters. They understood what I was trying to do, and sometimes they even played along. But you would offend them and mortify them because they were girls, and they wouldn’t come to play with you anymore. You did to them what you would have liked to do to yourself, if you had only known how.
Slowly, your girl’s clothes, including the beautiful embroidered things your grandmother had made for you and that you had started to hate, ended up in the bags I donated to the church. In just a few months, you had changed completely, and when, much later, we signed you up for first grade, the teachers found it difficult to identify you with a girl’s name.
You were Eva, but you didn’t look like it.
La madre di Eva
Avevi da poco compiuto cinque anni. Era poco dopo l’estate.
Allora, non immaginavo che avrei utilizzato gli eventi di quel giorno come spartiacque. Come linea di confine tra il prima e il dopo. Tra la vita felice che pensavamo di avere e l’inferno che ci attendeva. Lo capii col tempo che quello era stato il giorno del prima e del dopo. Il punto di non ritorno.
Era di sabato ed era venuta a trovarci la famiglia della sorella di tuo padre. Tua zia, tuo zio e la loro bambina di un paio d’anni più grande di te.
Abitavano fuori, in una città del nord. Non li vedevamo spesso ma voi bambine riprendevate in fretta la vostra confidenza e scomparivate nella tua stanza a giocare. Stavate ore lì dentro senza mettere il naso fuori e io mi barricavo dietro questa normalità servendo tè verde e biscotti biologici.
Non successe nulla. Non ci accorgemmo di nulla.
Il pandemonio scoppiò qualche giorno dopo quando tua zia chiamò tuo padre tirandolo fuori da una riunione importante per dirgli che mai e poi mai avrebbe lasciato la sua bambina in tua compagnia se prima non ti avessimo fatta curare.
Usò proprio questa parola: curare. La ricordo bene. Ci colpì.
La cura presupponeva una malattia.
Pare che nel vostro pomeriggio in camera, tu avessi confidato a tua cugina un segreto che mai avrebbe dovuto rivelare agli adulti, un segreto importantissimo che doveva restare tra voi due fino alla morte. A quanto pare, le avevi confessato di non essere una femmina ma un maschio. Per provarlo avevi fatto un piccolo buco nelle mutande e ci avevi infilato dentro un pennarello.
Così, avevi detto, anche tu facevi la pipì come i maschi. Eri un maschio e dal quel giorno avresti avuto un nome da maschio. Ci avevi pensato un po’ su e poi avevi detto: «Alessandro, mi piace Alessandro».
Tua cugina l’aveva trovato divertente e ovviamente non ne aveva fatto parola con nessuno. Fino al giorno in cui una domanda innocente la tradì: «Mamma le femmine possono diventare maschi e chiamarsi da maschi?»
Da lì alla furia di tua zia il passo fu breve.
Ci prendemmo un tempo, io e tuo padre, per riflettere prima di decidere cosa fare.
Portarti da uno psicologo era l’ultima cosa che volevamo.
Ma sentivamo di aver bisogno di aiuto, avevamo bisogno di qualcuno che ci dicesse che cosa fare per non sbagliare. Che ci dicesse prendete la prima a destra, la seconda a sinistra. Quella è la strada, seguitela e andrà tutto bene.
Prima cercammo di parlarne con te, volevamo capire.
Una sera mentre tuo padre ti metteva a letto, ti chiese chi era Alessandro, se era un tuo amico a scuola. In caso, avremmo potuto invitarlo a casa per conoscerlo meglio e magari fargli vedere i tuoi giochi. Riconobbe dopo di aver commesso un errore facendoti una domanda che sembrava un tranello, ma la furia che ne seguì fu comunque spropositata. Urlasti che Alessandro non esisteva, che non era nessuno, che non era un tuo amico. E che non era tua amica neanche tua cugina, che gli amici mantengono i segreti e lei invece non ne era stata capace. Che non volevi più vederla né sentirla. Tuo padre provò a scusarsi ma tu lo cacciasti via urlando. Il tuo viso si era trasfigurato nella rabbia e nelle lacrime, non riuscivi più a respirare tanta era la furia che ti saliva in gola, piangevi e urlavi sempre più affannata finché crollasti esausta per la fatica col viso sulle ginocchia di tuo padre e i capelli che penzolavano sudati sulle sue gambe. E lì ti addormentasti.
Le lacrime e il sudore ti avevano lasciata fradicia. Non ti svegliasti nemmeno quando ti cambiammo il pigiama e ti mettemmo a letto.
Tuo padre si accasciò silenzioso sulla sedia del suo studio: un fantasma riflesso nello schermo del computer spento. Poche settimane dopo, ci andammo a sedere davanti a una dottoressa specializzata in disturbi dell’età infantile. Era una donna preparata, di circa quarant’anni che lavorava con i bambini della tua età. Non ci disse molto, non ci diede mappe né strategie, ci disse solo di attendere e osservare. Senza giudicare, cercando di non utilizzare parole come giusto, sbagliato, maschio, femmina. Nessuna contrapposizione. Ci disse solo di guardare e lasciarti fare. E lasciarti scegliere senza importi nulla per evitare che la scelta fosse il frutto di una contrapposizione e non di un’alternativa.
Ci sono bambini che hanno bisogno di più tempo per stabilizzarsi nel loro genere. Non mettetele fretta e vedrete che quasi certamente tutto rientrerà nella norma e lei si riallineerà con le bambine della sua età.
Quel quasi, però, mi lasciò una voragine su cui non volli chiedere spiegazioni, su cui non volli sapere di più.
Così cominciò per te un periodo di estrema libertà. Ti portavamo a sceglierti i vestiti, e spesso anche i giochi. Tu puntavi sempre i reparti da maschio, sceglievi tute, pantaloni, felpe.
Chiedesti di tagliarti i capelli e li vidi cadere sotto le forbici del mio parrucchiere ciocca dopo ciocca. Tu dicevi di più, io cercavo di intervenire, lui restava fermo nel mezzo con le forbici in mano e aspettava. Era un ragazzo molto intelligente, credo che avesse capito che stavamo facendo una trattativa su ben altro.
Uscisti da lì quasi irriconoscibile.
All’asilo t’inventasti di avere un gemello maschio. Così potevi essere tutto senza che nessuno ti chiedesse spiegazioni. Potevi essere Eva e potevi essere Alessandro. La tua doppia personalità divertiva gli altri bambini che all’ingresso, di mattina, ti chiedevano: «Oggi chi sei?»
Le maestre ti assecondavano e ti lasciavano fare. Non avevano spiegazioni ma nemmeno giudizi. Impararono a non chiedermi ragioni. Capirono che qualcosa di grande si muoveva dentro di te e non avevano coraggio di invadere il nostro equilibrio già così precario e delicato. Si accontentavano di assecondare la tua doppia personalità e far in modo che gli altri bambini, soprattutto quelli delle altre classi, non si prendessero gioco di te. I tuoi compagni, loro, avevano imparato ad amarti e ti accettavano così com’eri. Un giorno Eva, un giorno Alessandro. Poi sempre più Alessandro e sempre meno Eva.
Io, da parte mia, avevo smesso di invitare bambine a casa per farti passare il pomeriggio con delle femmine. Era umiliante per me chiamare le madri e pregarle di venire a trovarci con le figlie. Loro capivano i miei tentativi e qualche volta mi assecondarono pure. Ma tu le offendevi e le mortificavi perché erano femmine e quelle non ne volevano più sapere di venire a giocare con te. Facevi a loro quello che avresti voluto fare a te se solo avessi saputo come farlo.
Lentamente, i tuoi abiti da bambina finirono nei sacchi donati alla chiesa, compresi i meravigliosi vestiti ricamati che ti aveva fatto tua nonna e che tu avevi preso a detestare. In pochi mesi, ti eri completamente trasformata e quando, tempo dopo, t’iscrivemmo in prima elementare, le maestre fecero fatica a identificarti con un nome da femmina.
Eri Eva ma non lo sembravi.
“I’m here Eva, near you. I’m sitting in this cold hallway just outside the operating room where you are lying, naked, a woman, a girl, female, for the very last time.”
These are the very first lines of the book La madre di Eva (Eva’s mother) by Silvia Ferreri; and the minute I read them I was hooked. I read the book, which is a mere 195 pages (but you wish it were longer) in a heartbeat. I couldn’t put it down.
It’s hard to say why books attract us, why they engage us, why we want to share them with everyone. Reading is personal, loving a book is personal, but thinking a book is great, is not necessarily personal: Eva’s mother is beautifully written; it is the product of research into a world few of us know; and it takes us into that world, mothers, fathers, children.
Eva is the strong child we cannot help but love; Eva’s mother is the parent we cannot help but admire and want to be, and she is every mother: “Very few of them know me by name. They simply call me the mother. As if I were an archetype, the matrix, everyone’s mother, of all the creatures, men and women who need to be carried to safer shores.” And that’s what she does, she accompanies Eva to safer shores, out of the body she was given at birth to the one Eva has always known was Alessandro.
The book is written in a series of flashbacks, memories that retrace the protagonists’ steps as Eva’s mother sits in the cold, colorless halls of a state-of-the-art hospital in Serbia, where Eva is about to undergo gender-confirmation surgery: Eva has just turned eighteen, and this is her birthday gift to herself, for Eva was given the wrong body at birth and she refuses to live a lie.
In the silent dialogue with her child, Eva’s mother takes us by the hand and strips us of all the things we thought we knew about gender transition: she teaches us about the pain and the frustration that comes with not recognizing the body that is reflected in the mirror; she teaches us of the senseless prejudice of others; she walks us through the difficulty of parenting, where love and fear can lead us to make huge mistakes.
Statistics on transgender people in Italy date back to 2011, and they refer to a period that goes from 1992-2008. In that estimate Italy is said to have 424 transgender women and 125 transgender men. But if international studies set the percentage at 0.5-1.2% of the total population, there are most likely 400,000 transgender people in Italy; and this gives us an idea of how difficult the situation still is for people in Italy where some steps have been made towards guaranteeing gender equality but certainly not enough, especially socially. So this book is dedicated to all those people who do not have Eva’s strength or Eva’s family and support; and it is for all of us who no longer want anyone to have to live a lie.
I think translation is always difficult, when choosing words, when searching for solutions, but it really is most difficult when you are trying to reproduce the emotions that the original gave you and trying to be faithful to both the author and the protagonists, who deserve to be heard in a voice that is not theirs, but with emotions that are universal.
Matilda Colarossi is a Canadian literary translator and ESL teacher living in Florence. Her translations of poetry and prose (fiction and non-fiction) can be found in literary journals and online magazines such as Lunch Ticket, AsymptoteJournal, Poetry International, Ilanot Review, Sakura Review, and AzonaL. Her books in translation include Fiamma by Dana Neri, and Leonardo da Vinci: Fables and Legends (MutatuM Publishing, 2018), and a forthcoming translation of Pirandello’s Excluded (Noumena Press). She manages the blog parallel texts: words reflected.
Silvia Ferreri, author and journalist, was born in Milan and lives in Rome with her husband and three children. She has worked for Rai Tre and Tv2000, collaborated with the journals Io donna, the newspaper Corriere della Sera, and RaiNews 24. In 2007, she published Uno virgola due. Viaggio nel paese delle culle vuote (Ediesse). She is currently a writer at Rai Radio 1: Mangiafuoco, i bassifondi della notizia. From 2009 to 2017 she managed the blog materetlabora.com in which she dealt with the lives and trials of working mothers. La madre di Eva (Eva’s mother) from Neo Edizioni is her first novel.
Mannequin fingers are soft if you can unwind them into realness. Plastic has a place in my household. What’s a plastic flower? Delicate and immortal all in one. I love a created thing. I love fucked-up things just a little too much just because they’re fucked-up, y’know? I love a fucked-up looking doll with a big head and broad shoulders. In the beginning we were asked to name the world. It’s the part of creation we were given. I get to say what a thing is, you know, as my birthright. I get to draw the lines.
I write my name. I write my own name, over and over, in the Book of Life.
I call this one “letting me see myself in the mirror.” I call this one “self-honesty.” I call this one “an act of vicious rebellion.” It goes like this: I love you. I love you and I’m not afraid of saying that. I couldn’t bury your bones even if I wasn’t sobbing and I thought I could dig. I couldn’t. There’s something desperate and unkind about coveting snowflakes as they fall, in all their spindly and wavering tragedy. All of this could be gone in a second. All of this could melt in my palms but I’m sorry, I just need to hold it close to my lashes, let the crystals see my tears. This is what I mean when I say “we need each other more than we need ourselves.”
Before there were names there was the water — the water that hadn’t been allowed to name itself. The water is old, and bitter, and wants to make us like her. The water would like to drown us one by one, it would love to seep out of our bones, where we buried her, like a child. It would love to hold us down by our throats and smother us while we thrash and thrash and apologize to our fathers. Look at me. I’m in the water with you. I’m right here. Have some of my breath; it’s why we kiss.
Nora Hikari is a poet, artist, and Asian-American trans lesbian based in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming at West Trestle Review, Perhappened, and Ogma Magazine, among others, and her poem “Deer-to-Fish Transition Timeline” has been nominated for the Best of the Net award. Her debut chapbook, Dead Names, is forthcoming at Another New Calligraphy. She can be found at @norabot2.0 on Instagram and at her website norahikari.com.
“I wouldn’t leave it for nothing only a crazy man would So, if you catch me in your city, somewhere out in your hood just say…”- Nelly
If I’m brought back in a new act as anything, let it be some mean mugged, black lipped,
thicken mouthed man’s gold fronts. Let me know the spoils of being in a black body
without cessation. I want to be like Trayvon’s grill all gilded and gleaming, proof of our stunt
both nuanced and ancient. In this life let me know the front of a nigga’s prayers. The floured
will float to their god and go to war. And whatever they’ve shut their eyes to envision some sort of end to
will do that. End. Cause who could say no to gold dusted prayers. Every word worth something then.
In every picture you’ll know me. Don’t care what they say we ain’t supposed to do. We’ll eat
together. Even when the world rather his jaw hinged I will rip apart things in the fashion that teeth do.
only this time in luxury
Jo’Van O’Neal is a Black poet, content creator, and teaching artist currently based in Savannah, Georgia. He is a fellow of The Watering Hole and a Hurston/Wright Foundation workshop Alumnus. In 2018, he was an inaugural Open Mouth Readings Writing Retreat participant. His work is featured in Foundry Journal and Tahoma Literary Review.
Many years now owned by you. [ x ] picked from close clone family on high shop shelf of safety; bought and brought to your lonely low home; packed up dragged across countries; used; and now, [ x ], a holey tri-eyed matted grey jagged tooth torn tired worn out case; now, just because Maggie gave poetic exercise, you think it’s OK to come invade [ x ] silent protection; OK to get all up inside and colonize [ x ] headspace; think, speak for [ x ]; steal [ x ] only pot- ent power? Your human and humane God given right, right?
But all this stretched time [ x ] been a quiet sentinel of your life. Since High School when [ x ] watched you fear filled and freaking out in science, the vitriolic H2SO4 carbon snake experiment gone wrong, burnt [ x ] first hole. [ x ] pencil pen eraser compass logged all lessons. Scribes of your life journey in journals, they highlight highs, depressed points, then whisper your noted secrets back to [ x ]. [ x ] knows all you write, rub out, choose to forget. Silently sees and listens.
[ x ] was background there when you discussed Popa’s Little Box. [ x ] bristled. [ x ] knew what Box had felt: all talking about Box; forcing formed thinking into onto Box; another powerless portal that swallows the world; takes inside what ever is shoved in. [ x ] knows that universal emptiness; knows all about wishing really hard. You imagine what [ x ] dreams too; freedom, flight, a new skin, colour, different shape, a simple bubble bath by candlelight…with a sentient [ y ]; a say in when [ x ] is opened and closed; unguarded sleep. All eyes open watching worried when stationery protections are plucked out of [ x ] safe warm womb and forced to work against their will.
Quite happy? You think you have animated me? Last night, green ball point told me about the lines copied from Gibran; You and the stone are one. There is a difference only in heart-beats. You may still remember the separated solid illusion of science. Quiet, you still might learn my true atomic universal lingua franca. Listen! Let me be now. I thought I had a constitutional right to remain silent. You go ponder more on what you read. Your heart may beat faster than mine but whose was the most tranquil?
Celia A. Sorhaindo was born in The Commonwealth of Dominica. She migrated with her family to England in 1976, when she was 8 years old, returning home in 2005. Her poems have been published in several Caribbean journals, ANMLY, New Daughters of Africa Anthology, and longlisted for the UK National Poetry Competition. She is co-compiler of Home Again: Stories of Migration and Return, published by Papillote Press and her first poetry chapbook collection, Guabancex, was published in February 2020, also by Papillote Press. Celia is a Cropper Foundation Creative Writers Workshop fellow and a Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop fellow. celiasorhaindo.com
There are no bars in my eyes, see. My experiences keep staring at the arts made by my footsteps. Above this statement sits a history asking for a recall: moments that became keloids. My great grandmother’s lineage has the marks of abandonments and her palms are memories of skived poppies. I keep asking for the meaning of love and progress and institution and preservation and memories and gardenias and reformation and librarians and reinstallation and liability and functionality. My people have known the whips of wadding in water. Where should I character in this story? How should I tend and tender these mistakes? The godheads and ghosts in collared coats keep burning the evidences, burning the facts, and clipping the anabasis. Is knowing the golden handle of voice? Is knowing a rebellion conceived? Our children are shielded from the colour of our teeth. Our children don’t know. And our children are walking with eyes open yet blind. At my backyard I am growing a garden where flowers remember. I can mail you the scents. I am arranging the un-deductibles into catalogues. It’s such a burden caring alone, asking alone. It’s such a drowning that you don’t care about these things and pasts.
Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto (@ChinuaEzenwa) is from Owerri-Nkworji in Nkwerre, Imo state, Nigeria and grew up between Germany and Nigeria. He has a Chapbook, The Teenager Who Became My Mother, via Sevhage Publishers. He won the Castello di Duino Poesia Prize for an unpublished poem, 2018 which took him to Italy. He was the recipient of New Hampshire Institute of Art’s 2018 Writing Award. His works have appeared in Lunaris Review, AFREADA, Poet Lore, Rush Magazine, Frontier, Palette, Malahat Review, Southword Magazine, Vallum, Mud Season Review, Salamander, Strange Horizons, One, Ake Review, Crannòg Magazine, The Question Marker, and elsewhere.
It’s true. I cannot kill a pig with my bare hands. It’s a hard rule to live by— not distancing ourselves from the terror that brings us joy. I want to feel good after a meal without the smell of death on my hands. After all, unfortunately, the pig gives me so much pleasure. Every morning, I wake up & offer myself humanness. What does it mean to be human? To be the opposite of a machine, of course.
I want to be as flexible as my glass-covered father. Instead, I bend to the mistake of the habitual; mess up until the messiness compounds into something I can’t ignore. I gave up womanhood to be a cyborg. I want to be as impulsive as a computer program—everything all predetermined & bending
to human composition. Every need thrusting into me long enough to drain the womb from my palms. Let’s continue lubricate my vessels & store my emotions in a blender. Pick a task for me to do over & over— wash the dishes— fetch the remote—
suffocate the girlhood from me— I’ll shoot up any microchip if it makes me into a god. The god that I know even said I look more like him.
It’s true. I cannot kill who I used to be even with technology. What does that mean for me then?
KB is a Black queer genderless poet, educator, organizer, and student affairs professional. They have earned many fellowships and publications, most recently from Lambda Literary, Cincinnati Review, The Offing, and Equality Texas. Catch them talking sweetness and other (non)human things online at @earthtokb.
Clayre Benzadón is an MFA graduate student at the University of Miami, managing editor of Sinking City, and Broadsided Press’s Instagram editor. Her chapbook, “Liminal Zenith” was published by SurVision Books. She was also awarded the 2019 Alfred Boas Poetry Prize for “Linguistic Rewilding” and has been published in places including SWWIM, 14poems, Crêpe and Penn, and Fairy Tale Review’s Gold Issue. You can find more about her at clayrebenzadon.com.