E B Joy

Blue jay lessons and spells

          I slouch low in the Adirondacks Dad built for the porch, hidden behind the juniper bushes, smoking tobacco and herbs. Mara’s thinning ponytail sweeps her shoulders, dull in the morning sun. She speed-walks up and down the block, where her parents can see out their window. Blocks gossip, but, rounding the cul-de-sac, I could’ve guessed she moved home for treatment. I wonder which program—the one that did nothing for me? The one to avoid like the plague? Her frenetic gait echoes in my legs, a memory of ache. My clothes are a bit roomy these days, but more than that, I’m sallow. Wilted as the dry, bleached remains of my curls. Does Mara know I moved home, too, another neighbor kid flunking adulthood? If I walked past, could she read synoptic history in my hair?
          My thoughts are homemade fireworks, bright and erratic, a panic of loud. Anyone who looks at me knows what I ate this morning. I don’t want to be seen. 

          Kneeling at the altar of my bedroom floor, nights pass in a fever of symbols. First, graphite and india ink, then watercolors, pastels. I string my childhood bunkbed with clearance fairy lights. Half of them don’t light up anymore and I’m too tall to sit upright in my bed. 
          Eyes prick my skin with their static. It feels the same as it did as a child, when people watched through my mirror. I locked myself in the bathroom, alone, pressing the tip of my finger to glass. A kid at school said if your reflection touches your finger, one side’s a window and someone could watch. Half a centimeter remained between me and myself. No one watched from within the walls, so they must’ve used cameras or magic.
          I made a silly face in the mirror and though: Have fun watching me brush my teeth.
          I picked my nose at them for good measure. I’m not afraid of you.
          Now, I let the moon in, blinds open well after dark. I draw a self-portrait with antlers wrapped in trumpet vines. When Mom comes in to say goodnight, she winds around art supplies on the floor to close the blinds with a twist.
          “Someone could see right in,” she says.
          I don’t say: They can go fuck themselves. I want to make art with the moon. I crack them open, just a little, when she leaves. 

          My days soar on winds separate from weather. I’m punctuated. Sudden drops impale, spikes of terror and dread. I vibrate like a tuning fork. With my parents, I try to measure my words, rapids through a sieve. I try not to think the word hospital, in case someone hears, in case thoughts bring things to be. 
          My ears ring constantly. I track the sound through the house. The high pitches get louder near plugged-in electronics, even if they’re turned off, but my bedroom is loudest of all. At first, I think I’m just hearing berms of my bodily energy built up over decades. Then, I notice the singing. It oscillates on my skin, teeny-tiny multitudes, like carbonated sound. 
          I have a set of three wooden bowls placed here and there around my room, holding sundry pretty things; trinkets I’ve picked up from the ground, old friendship bracelets, small fossils. The bowl on the bookshelf holds two handfuls of beads. Chips of quartz varieties: smoky, rose, aventurine. They sing—every stone, singing. It’s beautiful. Loud. Sonic energy lifts the hair on my arms as I approach. I pour some into my hands. A few drop to the carpet beside my bare feet. 
          They sizzle. They actually sizzle. They bubble in my hand. Eyes wide, I laugh, remembering Pop Rocks that turned your tongue green.
          It’s some dark hour. Cats and parents sleep. I secret the beads into a thin tulle bag and hide them in my sister’s old bedroom, under forgotten sweatshirts in the dresser that matches my own. When I crawl into bed, the ringing isn’t so loud as it was. Even so, my body still vibrates.  

          I’m exhausted, wide-awake in bed, fairy lights on and eyes closed. In my mind, I’m in the garage, in the Honda, the garage door closing behind me. I park and turn off the car, get out, and two men accost me. They snuck inside when I wasn’t looking. One wields a hunting rifle. They came for my mom and for me.
          How might I protect us?
          In the world we agree on, my mother serves a church as a solo pastor. Her congregation works with Reconciling in Christ, a process training them to welcome, invite, and be safer for LGBT people. The men in my mind want to punish her for it. For birthing me, too.
          The scene plays out in fractal, over and over with minor evolutions. I work through each variation: What if I scream? Fight? Jump back in the car and punch it through the closed garage door? With each run, I learn, refining my choices until it feels right, like I’ve learned something new. Like we’re safe. But no matter how I changes I make, I can’t change the premise. I’m always closing the garage behind my parked car before I get out. 
          In the world we agree on, I park in the drive way, not the garage. It doesn’t make sense. 

          My dad built a bird feeder shaped like a trough for the deck. Squirrels love it. It’s fastened to the white banister, framed by the family room’s bay window. Birds fly in to feast from our cottonwood trees and the woods beyond the swamp. Once, I saw chickadees, gold finches, cardinals, robins all eating together at once. Then, two blue jays dive-bombed the banister, expansive, territorial. They chased the smaller birds away, but ate nothing from the trough. 
          A squirrel scampers across the banister with seed-heavy cheeks beyond my mom’s heaving shoulders. She sits in the light of the window in sweatpants, Kleenex beside her. She neglects the crossword in her lap; pen doodles fill up the margins. For three days, Mom stays home from work, sits on the couch, watching reruns, and cries. 

          I can’t remember his car. Dad emailed pictures to block and cul-de-sac so the neighbors can keep an eye out. I’m no longer allowed to park in the driveway; from now on, Mom and I both shut the garage door behind us before we get out of the car and Dad parks where I parked outside. 
          I can’t remember his name, but Mom says he becomes someone else when he’s drunk. She asked if she could share that I was queer with her congregations if it became professionally relevant. I gave her permission and she preached about me, an example among other stories. Most of the poisonous rage he spat into her voicemail was for powerful women leading the church. But he mentioned me—he remembered.
          It’s dark out when I pull into the garage. I sit in the driver’s seat, car off, doors locked against the creaking silence of an engine cooling down. Bare bulbs buzz above me. Threat echoes in the emptiness. If this is too much like my imaginings, it’s too unlike them, too. In my head, I could maneuver. I could choose, reap consequence, learn. Here, alone beneath the rafters full of old sleds and cross-country skis, there’s nothing to outsmart. Only words I never heard, deleted after statements were made and evidence collected. 
          Tonight, somewhere else, a man drinks until transforms into another man, or he doesn’t. I find myself violently safe. 
          A fear-shaped space moved home with me, a door held ajar by my thoughts. Maybe that’s how his words slipped into our lives. Or maybe my third eye needs glasses. 

          My parents installed the hot tub years ago, but I use it now more than ever. I turn on the basement fireplace before I go, so it’s warm when I return. The hot tub steams up through the screens that contain it, billows caught in the floodlights that illuminate the foreground cottonwoods, middling swamp grass, the dark backdrop of woods. Anyone looking in would see nothing. Not the robe I hang on a hook by the door. Not the nothing I wear, slipping into the water.
          I imagine the man rounding the east or west corner, stomping downhill along the house to break into the basement. It doesn’t feel real. There, though, at the edge where the woods meets the swamp, that place is real. He’d stand there in boots and jeans, hunting rifle in hand, squinting to see past the lights. 
          I know he’s not there. I don’t know that at all. I flip the bird at his negative space. 
          I’m not scared of you.
          A red light blinks in the darkness. I don’t know what from. My limbs boil limp as noodles. Back inside, I stretch by fire. After a while, I turn on some music and turn off all but firelight. I dance with invisible ribbons and orbs, pulsing colors, pink, indigo, teal. Tangible, I gather and move them with gestures and breath. My body unwinds. They touch me, pull at my sternum. A sun spins. Luminous mountains climb and rise to the beat, small as stalagmites.
          Are my eyes open? Does he watch through the window?
          I climb onto the love seat and lean over its back to press my finger against window glass. It’s double-paned. My reflection touches me and it doesn’t. 

          Mom goes back to work. Her community rallies after the threats, stronger than ever before. Dad’s at work, too; so is most of the block, but I can still feel someone watching. Backyard, the deck, slunk low behind juniper, someone touches my skin with their gaze. I check for Mara walking laps before I trot down the driveway. Maybe I speed-walk a little, too, just to pass faster, less chance to be seen. 
          Down where this street meets the next, I turn onto the path to the park. There’s a perpetual groove in its pavement where the swamp reclaims the land with flood every spring. I cross it and stop at the edge of the woods. The breath of the trees presses against me, an envelope. I step through still, gum air.
          My shoes rest, obscured by the base of a tree. I leave the pavement for a cold dirt path into the small wood. It’s thinner, now. Dad’s been on a crusade against an invasion of buckthorn. Their bodies line the edge of the path. I light an herby cigarette. Mullein fluffs up the lung clouds like vapor or steam. Blue lotus brightens the colors. The lavender scorches, but I love how it tastes.
          I walk barefoot on the thin fallen trunks, toes gripping lichened bark. My balance is shit, but the soles of my feet feel alive on tree, loam, and stone. The path leads me to the white rock doming up front the ground. I hop onto its turtle shell, smudge it with toe prints. The, down and around, past a buckthorn cemetery, down to the swamp across from my backyard. 
          I stand where I imagined him standing. The man whose name I don’t know, whose car I forgot. I look for boot prints in the mud. If the swamp knows this man, it won’t tell me. 

          There’s a shooting at Pulse Nightclub. I wake up to the news. Mom and Dad are already gone, off to the first Pride fest of her church’s small city, where she and other clergy are to lead a collaborative worship. The man lives in this city. I can’t leave the house.
          It’s easy to picture her out in the sun, green grass and a hill, some oak trees for shade, and Mom, in alb and stole. It’s easy to picture her smile, the glow of her freckled face whenever she’s in her element, the professional version of the joy she feels when all her babies are home. It’s easy to picture a burst of bullet, blood, my dad weeping, trying to save her. Maybe he’ll get shot, too. I hover, above and behind myself. I want to turn off June.
          Five years ago, my mom asked if she could preach about me. I’d spent the year watching posters melt off cement classroom walls, overmedicated and lost. Mom made it clear that I could say “no.” I said “yes.” Even then, still an angst-riddled teen, I knew this wasn’t about me. It was about the hundreds of people who listened to her speak from the pulpit, who struggled, or loved someone who did. People cried during her sermon. They poured into her office, seeking resources and solace. So many parents, no longer alone in their fear for their child. 
          Church changed that day. People looked at me different. Despite the broad, discrete strokes Mom painted with, strangers knew an intimacy of me, unreciprocated. They knew why I fled service to hide in Mom’s office, but I didn’t know them.
          Once, my mom told me, “I don’t know anyone else who’s helped so many people they’ve never met.”
          These words are not a pat on the back; they’re affirmation of choice. Sitting on the window seat overlooking the swamp and the woods, where the blue jays nest, I know I’d make the same choices again. Mom would, too. Madness or queerness, it doesn’t matter. We’d both do it over again.
          And I’m afraid. 
          I’m so afraid. 
          I’ve never known such fear.
          I get up from the window seat and pace the route I used to walk in middle school, gabbing with friends on the phone. The cats snooze away on the back of a couch and I give each a grief-wet kiss. Mom asked us to play Jupiter: Bringer of Jollity from The Planets at her funeral. I turn it on. I can’t pace anymore. I can’t hide or walk away from the clawing in my ribs. I know my mother will die. She won’t be murdered standing tall, but crouched to greet someone’s child, eyes crinkled up by her smile. Dad would take a bullet for her if he could. A well would fill overflowing with all this pride, this grief, this love. In a heap on the hardwood floor, I’m crying and crying and crying.
          Mom comes home sun-kissed and sunny in lime green t-shirt and shorts.
          Face dry, I ask her, “How did it go?”
          “Perfect,” she says, breathless, as though she’d jogged the whole way home. “Fantastic turnout. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day.”
          She hugs me. She smells like grass. The garage door stays open all day, breeze dusting across cement floor. 

          I walk barefoot through the woods again. The sun shimmers down between petals of green and everything smells like its growing. I’m joyful, thoughts like a babbling brook, like staring at the sun. Perched on the bright breach of pale boulder in the middle of the path, something magnetic tugs at my breastbone. Giddy, I giggle out loud to myself, close my eyes, and follow the pulling. Flickering small-lights and long strands of color lead me east, away from the rock. Pale blues overlay on the path beyond my sun-bloody lids. Feet quest, stumble, and prick. I turn. There’s a fork in the path, both running south to the swamp.
          I peek, slit-eyed. My vision says left. The tugging says right. I try left, then double back when my heart starts pounding, heavy. Still peeking, I walk down the right fork to find three feathers, blue and striped. I find another. Then, the whole bird, a blue jay, dead in the brush, as though he’d fallen right out of the sky. There’s cacophony inside me, frightened, exuberant. I dither a moment, then I race home to grab a plastic bag.
          Mom asks from the kitchen, “What are you up to?”
          “I found a dead bird. I’m want to bring it home to bury in the garden.”
          She eyes me, uncertain. I feel flush on my cheeks, but I grin, grab the bag, and run off. I try not to think the word hospital. Back in the woods, I gather every bit of the bird I can find. It seems almost sacrilege to carry his body in plastic, but it won’t be for long.
          I carry him home, sun high and hot. Neighbors work in their yards. We wave hello. I pop into the open garage to grab gloves and a trowel. My feet squelch through a soggy patch of lawn on my way down the hill to the garden by the swamp. Dad gathers fallen branches and rakes while Mom lays out fresh mulch. They’re sweating and scratched, breathing hard from their labors. They’re happy. 
          Both shoot me questioning looks, but they leave me to my toils. There, where anyone could see, I dig a hole in the dirt. I keep two feathers, the rest of the bird laid to rest. Once covered, I choose five river rocks and press them in a design above his body. Small branches are broken. I shut my eyes and incant something silent and pagan, homemade. 
          It’s dark, somehow. When did it get dark? I walk the yard’s periphery and find myself alone. Lights on, I can see through the windows, the outside looking in. Dad’s at the kitchen sink, head bent over busy hands. Mom sits at her favorite spot on the couch with her crossword, some procedural on the TV.
          At the northernmost edge of the yard, where grass meets the swamp, I press a stick into soft turf, one feather stuck upright, like a flag. East, then south, halfway up the hill, a stick pressed into the ground. South to the curb, then west, I find the southernmost point and press in a stick. West, then north, halfway down the hill, the final stick, stuck in the ground. North again, I walk until the circle’s complete, to seal in the magic.
          I hold the final blue jay feather in my hand. Overhead, first, I feel it fly, then I see it with closed eyes. It’s beautiful, loud, a little uncouth, fiercely protecting its home. 

E B Joy lives in a little cottage near a river and some lakes. They graduated from Hamline University with a BFA in Creative Writing in 2020, where they contributed to Runestone Literary Journal Vol. 6 as a student editor in 2019 and were awarded the Ridgeway Fellowship for their Summer Collaborative Undergraduate Research, Summer of 2020. Forever Falling Sideways by the Icarus Project published their work in 2013 under a different name. Joy is an active member of the Hearing Voices Network’s local chapter and a Certified Personal Medicine Coach.




griffin epstein

box full of yearbook outtakes and things that survived the fire

stare at the photo of sun on dog in squares of light        sun on light with dog in sun all over in
squares of light on a page of pictures in the archive that remembers me         always turning        dog
morning sneaking through the window of the basement where I hide what I refuse to eat in a box
of pictures         the best way to loop time        capture and destroy time         ease time away like lit
birthday candles reducing themselves to wax throwing shadow on the white rug the blue chair
and the charcoal stain behind There are too many COLORS in this house THAT’S why it had to
burn        give me a photo like a benediction          the plural swing of all our hauntings passing over
the substitute house like a fleet of men like a parcel of men like MOM there’s a flock of MEN
passing over the house        no one took any pictures of that        but look here’s one where I’m in 
the parking lot with pink hair        one outside the 1998 cooper union national youth poetry slam           
one at the public pool where I never get high enough to stay casual        the air prodding the edges of my 
skin        or        here        sitting alone in the bitter kitchen        downstairs by the stacked boxes with the 
custody papers I won’t see until later 
and in this one I am laughing.                             swanned out on the couch ready for the damage 
and in this one I am dancing        skinny limbs tossed around        and in this one I am staring
down calculating a dog’s lifespan on my toes the years between then and now divided in squares
of light on the carpet in lit squares  

griffin epstein is a non-binary white settler from NYC (Lenape land) working in education and community-engaged research in Toronto (Dish with One Spoon/Treaty 13). They have been featured in Glad Day’s Emerging Writers Series, and their poetry has appeared in Grain MagazineThe Maynard and Plenitude, among others. griffin is the author of so we may be fed, forthcoming from the Frog Hollow Press disability chapbook series. They play music in SPOILS, make games with shrunken studios, and develop multimedia work with poet Shannon Quinn and artist bryan depuy.




Anonymous Philly Poet


This is how you do it!

You strip the scales from your skin, the sunlight shines in, everything returns to its origin, wild from the womb, before the human domestication process, having a body…that’s the problem! and I have one so I stare straight into the sun so sublime it eats my mind fell out of an envelope addressed to who? you?  what does blue mean to you when your feeling… blue sky blue sky envelops my mind floating on a river of light entities glistening singing softly…I remember who I am again…I remember those sweet talking  sounds of my soul…I remember growing old…I remember being free again…I remember those sun seeing beams made of me…I remember being born…I remember who I am again…I remember those sweet talking sounds of my soul…I remember growing old…I remember being free again…I remember those sun seeing beams made of me…I remember baby… a message from god maybe? a melody for me? my spiritual destiny? The quest in me came to collapsed on the concrete sobbing at the source in secret  tears the fraud of my face, this is the part where a brain splits and the sun spits sweet on my cheek like a  creek in a dream, and through the crack comes a calling…


[...] [A]nd then I saw the present sharp in perspective, it cuts my guts, it leaks in a  cup and I drink
          It was the edge of experience it was the end of the lie my eye that we are not living in a  dying city on a dying planet. It makes me sad. It makes me so sad to see it. It makes me mad and me was  overcome by madness so me was evicted from the room me was rentin, and estranged from my family and unemployed so moved into the library of my college and slept on friends floors and eventually  stayed up for days and days in a daze reading and reading and reading made me a maze and Felix Guattari made me weep with love for madness maybe me Felix and fell asleep in my car and didn’t mind  besides was on a mystical mission to save the world save the world so could not be burdened by housing  or boss and stayed up for days and days in a daze and got kicked out of the market for a body zigging  and zagging in a maze and a head hit with hammer for sciences donkey brains oozing spilling sewage  


They were  coming for me. Any minute now. imprisoned in a hospital. its all love. They don’t understand. Why are  you here breathing this air? Its all love. They don’t understand and so a hand on a gun, a gesture in my  body. It shakes. California could have been an earthquake, but it isn’t. So madness my muse why must  me messianic consciousness doing itself to me setting me free but what for? And The Empire screams why the FUCK are you here breathing this air? Sir I plead, I think they call it existentialism. I exist so I am  the enemy? Why are They trying to destroy me? Its my destiny blacked out backseat banging on the  cage blurry fragments of dreams struggling to scream I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING

And I could have been an aborted fetus but I was born instead, thrown from a womb, another body  belonging to this Evil Empire that never ends, and every body has to belong somewhere, so there I was,  where most of us are not welcome, shackled to a stretcher, pissing into a catheter, staring at the ceiling,  a white wall, that means nothing, but these blinding lights that desecrate my vision. When in walks a  white lab coat carrying a clipboard, it says here that it believes it was personally selected by the sun for a  magical mission. Check for magical thinking. Check for grandiose delusions. Hello there, we are going to  make you into a submissive member of society, how’s that sound? ….feeling shy today….well if it wants  to be a part of society it masters its animal with cruelty and it love dogs on a leash and it hallows out a  whole in its head and it lives there and it thinks it is there because it thinks it is a space and not a force  and so it is and it sits still or it doesn’t and it drinks the doctors potion and it sits still and it orders its  house and it calls it spring cleaning because spring is pleasant and it wants order to be pleasant too and  it struggles to turn its rhythms into elevator music and it tells itself it loves elevator music and eventually  it does and it always cooks itself by following their recipes precisely and it tastes itself and it tastes  disgusting and it is so ashamed of its failure but it never ever unwraps zion’s rotting bacon becoming a  beam of god unless it wants to be circled by The Empires army six guns and voices demanding to know  why it exists, and we wouldn’t want that would we? No, please, I can obey if I try. I promise. I can curl in  a crevice and hide in the whole of the horror. Please don’t murder me. Please don’t murder me. Good,  obedience is a virtue, it obeys in exchange for a gentle violence that it calls love and then it matures and  takes responsibility for forming itself and it trains a tongue and a lung to form a corporations public  relations department and it says GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! blessed are the Americans who can become  the apocalypse anytime but can’t stop dreaming about domesticity in this city that ate up their brains  and imagination a fascist dog barks I AM THE EMPEROR you brain diseased criminal its your nature  that’s the enemy is stabbing me with a needle now I fear nature and I feel nothing  


 Precious planet 
 where I sleep  
 seed of my dreams  
 temple of trees  

 talk to me sweetly  
 blessedly your child  
 welcome me wild  
 as the wind  

 swept away my soul  
 and gave me a new one  
 sunlight on my skin  
 its easy to begin  

 learning to be alive again  
 when you wake up  
 sleeping on the beach  
 weeping at the sunrise 
 you could die  
 one thousand times  
 for a love  
 they don’t understand  

 the universe  
 is spilling  
 when I weep  
 for tujunga canyon 
 to die
 made the river dry  
 where a creek  

 could be a crack  
 comes a calling  
 my consciousness  
 washed in exstasy
 by our madness  
 my muse  
 for the messianic age  
 before the genocide 
 and I
 love you
 so much
 that I
 want to
 so I’m drinking
 malt liquor  
 in this candy coated  
 day dream  
 to calcify my soul so  

 four loko  
 green apple  
 of my eyes  
 sobbing at the sky 
 we are all going to die  
 I cry 
 I’m going home  
 I’m going home  

 dew drops  
 on the moon  
 love fell  
 out of the room  

 so numb numb dizzy  
 up with
 can you
 save me  
 from becoming an earthquake 
 so them humans  
 don’t murder me  

 all I am  
 is these negations  
 make nations  

 of our earth  
 of trees
 speaks to
 sweetly, says  
 I got put in my place  
 for the aesthetic  
 of a sterile city  
 and you  

 got put
 in your
 too in a
 box on
 a box  
 with no windows  
 that you pay for  

 and you pay  
 and you pay  
 and you pay for  
 do you not believe? 

 in the beauty  
 of your nature  
 made of magic  
 could be the kindest cosmos…  

contact at [email protected]




James Macaulay McManus

Spectrums of Madness

social worker <- -> psychiatric patient   
I am a social worker, a psychiatric survivor, and current consumer. My clients do not know this. They do not know that every morning and night I take a handful of pills to make sure I can meet the demands of society and capitalism. The world has no place for me when I’m not well. When I’m hypomanic, I will take days off work so that I can write, fuck, and spend money. When I’m depressed, I will take days off work to lay motionless in bed for hours on end. At its worst, I end up admitting myself to a psychiatric hospital. My finely tuned cocktail of meds allows me to approach each day with the clarity and patience I might not have if I swing too far in either direction. 
What does it mean, then, for me to exist as a social worker, a future therapist, and a patient simultaneously? In Exploring Identities of Psychiatric Survivor Therapists: beyond Us and Them, contributor Kristina Yates writes that therapists “are only as good as the work they have done on themselves.” I have done the work and I am still doing the work to be the best James I can be. I engage in therapy twice a week with two of the best therapists I could ever dream of.  I believe that my history as a psychiatric survivor will allow for a more authentic empathy. To be clear, this does not necessarily mean that I will self-disclose my past to all clients. 
I self-disclosed recently to a client who has a bipolar II diagnosis—just like me. She lamented about how she will never be able to do the two things she most wanted: hold down a job or maintain relationships. I remember panicking for a second before I said, “hey, listen, I have the same diagnosis. I have a job. I have meaningful relationships. It’s possible.” What ensued was a powerful dialogue about how the world labels us as “sick,” or “crazy,” and so we go around calling ourselves exactly that when in fact we are so much more. Yates goes onto say that an alternative narrative exists within the psychiatric survivor moment; a narrative about the “possibility of wellness or a good life for many people who have been given psychiatric diagnoses.” Through strategic self-disclosure, I demonstrated to this client that it is indeed possible to be “well” and bipolar. 
Even still, occupying the space of psychiatric survivor and patient feels precarious to me at times. I worry: what will happen when I, inevitably, have another bipolar episode? How will I be able to maintain a private practice full of clients with potentially high needs when my own needs are quite high as well? How can I help other people when there are days when I can barely help myself? These are all questions that other survivor/therapists have in common—it is important for me to remember that my past does not dictate my future.  

self harm as self-destruction <- ->  self-harm as survival 
I have an extensive history of self-harming behavior, going back almost 14 years. It is a hard habit to kick when it is sometimes the only source of comfort and release during a distressing time. I had a really unprofessional, unhelpful, and cruel therapist growing up as a teenager. When I shared with her that I was cutting, she would invite my mother into the room and make me show her. She threatened to institutionalize me—a threat that was very real given I had already one inpatient stay under my belt before the age of sixteen. I came across a journal entry from December 2nd, 2010 in which I write that if I wasn’t allowed to cut, then I would not eat. I had already been starving myself at that point. Like cutting, it felt good. My therapist told me I was “refusing treatment,” but looking back on it now, I do not know what treatment she was even offering me. My cutting, to her, was significant in terms of the risk of suicide, and yet, she did nothing to ease my suffering.
“You’re mutilating yourself,” she would tell me, but I begged to differ. For me and individuals like Clare Shaw, a contributor to Searching for a Rose Garden: Challenging Psychiatry, Fostering Mad Studies, self-injurious behavior is done more often than not as a means of survival and is a conscious decision to stay alive: “it’s a uniquely powerful decision to make…there is immense hope and strength, and that in engaging with death we also engage with life: what it means to be alive; what we want from our lives.” If you had asked me why I was cutting back in 2010 I would only have been able to articulate that it simply felt good. Now I see that cutting was a powerful coping skill; a way of “preserving and affirming life.” Cutting, of course, preserved me by keeping me alive during period of suffering. More than that, though, cutting affirmed me by being a physical representation of my internal distress. 
In her efforts to prevent me from cutting, that therapist of mine only further put a wedge between us. She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me. She tried to remove my agency and stop me from exerting the only control I had over my life at that time. She simply did not understand that cutting was not a means of destruction, but rather, survival. I rarely cut these days, although it happens sometimes. What has helped me the most is my network of supports. I have two therapists who make me feel safe, cared for and heard, and a psychiatrist who has spent more time listening than prescribing. We have all put in the work to make sure I stay alive.

Katie <- ->  James 
          Katie lives inside of me and she doesn’t even have to pay rent. Katie is James; James is Katie. I am a transgender man and Katie was the short version of my birth name. Katie exists, even in this moment in time, as a teenage girl. She’s not an ordinary teenage girl though—she’s crazy. She hurts herself compulsively and worries—if not scares—others in her life with her frequent extreme emotional states. It is Katie who comes to visit when I, James, am lying peacefully in bed at night mere moments from sleep. She creeps into my psyche and pokes and tears at all of my sore spots until I desperately need a release from the pain caused by trauma. The thing about Katie, though, is that she doesn’t mean to hurt me. She’s usually trying to lead me to something deeper within myself. 
          In my past musings on Katie, I have asserted that she had to die so that James could live. Upon further reflection I have realized that Katie and James can coexist. I am okay with sharing this space with her. My Gestalt therapist pointed out that it appeared that the battle between the Katie and James was like two waves competing for who got to be the ocean. Indeed, on many days, it does feel like a battle. Katie is traumatized, timid, and not able to appropriately self-regulate. James is at peace, thriving and has deep insight into his moods. There are days where Katie wins, and that’s okay; I simply set the bar lower on those days. It is important to note that Katie, also, cultivated a life worth living for James. It is Katie who pursued psychiatry, therapy, and social work. It is Katie who pursued the social and medical transition into James. 
          My therapist recently posed the theory: what if Katie was never actually suicidal? “It’s plausible,” I told him. He went on: what if Katie was simply responding to the external stimuli around her? That landed for me. Katie wasn’t “too much.” Everyone else was simply not enough. So no, perhaps Katie was never actually suicidal. Perhaps she was simply after something far richer than what was offered around her.  

All of My Selves 
I have spent years agonizing over whether Katie and James can share a body, and I have spent nearly as long wondering if my tendency for self-harm totally discredits my work as a social worker. What if I could simply, just be, and relish in the plurality of myself, my body, and my work? I am reminded of my undergraduate thesis on Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. Orlando, the central character, exists across centuries, and survives heartbreak, war, and a fantastical gender transition. Above all else, Orlando takes interest in the fact that one does not have to live as the same self for the entirety of one’s life. 
It is true that after 22 years of living as Katie, I was utterly sick of her. After beginning my transition in 2016, I did everything I could to banish her from my mind and body. 2020, for me, has been about making my peace with Katie. I looked to Orlando for advice. Orlando’s life spans four long centuries and by the 17th century, Orlando is “sick to death of this particular self. [She] want[s] another.” The use of “another,” does not mean death of the old self, but rather a coexisting of identities. Every day I work to become the best version of myself. I realize, now, that my best self is equal parts Katie and James. 
Katie might not be how I present anymore, but she is still inside of me. I want to be the social worker and therapist that Katie needed when she was younger. I want to show up for other queer and trans folks, for the bipolar kids and teens, and show them that it is possible to live a full life and do meaningful work. I will come to these folks as James, with Katie’s scars on his arms, but I will come ready and willing to fight for them.  

James Macaulay McManus is queer/neurodivergent/trans man/social worker who hopes to open a private therapy practice.




Enrique S. Villasis translated by Bernard Capinpin


Translated from Filipino

You pin your faith to the levity of feeling, and like dawn ushered in by the iridescence of the rusted roof, the belief that, at times, not all suffering comes from sorrow; but the truth is I often want to say that this holiness too can gash, that the connections these things share are fragile—that even the wind drowns in the waves, that it is not only the changing season the flock of wild ducks flee from, that even the most constant star can lead astray. Look for the breeding grounds of locusts and find the nest of primordial fears. While, out in the open sea, the dorado’s agile darting—repetitive, thrashing against the line—changing its color at the brink of death: blue, green, yellow. It is often for beauty that our violence is concealed. All I want to say is, magnificence does not lie at such throes. Here, the newly mown grass can abrade. Here is a handful of salt and tell me the pain of being stung in the eye.


Translated from Filipino

 She was again seized by wonder. She saw
 Two long braids of cloudscape; white threads
 In the sky’s forehead. She knew the seagull and pelicans
 That pecked at the barnacles which had drifted, clinging
 To her body but it was not the wings that unfurled what so
 Astonished her. She longed to introduce herself.
 She suddenly let out a geyser from her blowhole,
 Taking chances at the abrupt turn. But further it went. 
 Before submerging herself again, she felt the sprinkling
 Water coming back and while looking up, it was as if 
 The cloudscape itself had unleashed the rain. 


Translated from Filipino

 At the end of it all only your eyelids shall remain. Here
 By the coast. Flies examine the map you have left
 From your journey. Its moss gradually fading.

 There is no sadness in going on one’s own. You are
 Like an unexpected pilgrim succumbed to a town’s mysterious
 Plague. A bag clings on your shoulders and the burden

 To heal your wounds, you bring nothing else but
 Five petals of jasmine, four strands
 Of cat fur, two bands of broken

 Rosaries and a pair of clouded goggles. 
 One by one you erase them from yourself while the language
 Of those you meet changes, oaths erased

 In the name of countries. Until you forget
 Where you have come from. How many times have you shed off
 Your scabs and scattered islands remain by your body before

 Having told yourself you’ve toiled enough. So you disrobe yourself.
 At the first instant you realize that the horizon
 Was within reach, you say never have I left.


Translated from Filipino

“We are attracted to every aspect of life that represents a last illusion yet unshattered…” —Barbara Cully

Watch, the catfish are crawling on their knees, crossing the newly soaked asphalt, the weather herding them to the unknown, and at a glance, they are like heirlooms handed down and lost: tickets from a departure and a homecoming, a bottle filled with sand, a dried stingray whip. The clouds’ reflections are still shadows in the field that had been flooded. In other words, this is what remains. Later, by the wick still unlit, the grandchildren will sit around their grandfather, begging for stories. Before, they used to pass the days harvesting and cooking spinach. From the mire, they dug out a helmet, after a while, a boot and later, a bayonet. The old man decides not to tell what else they’ve seen. And after, he will shift to his dazzling romance with their grandmother. Their storytelling will be interrupted by the gargling of the transistor radio: tomorrow will be clearer. Tomorrow as though a promise.


Translated from Filipino

 This is how large we know
 Of death: like a galley
 Subsumed by hunger or war. 
 As it beached by the shore,
 We became pirates in search
 For whatever we could exploit.
 But what might we find beneath
 The scales of which we know not of?
 The unease caught us in a net,
 That a curse might befall anyone
 Who tasted its flesh. The sea held
 Countless secrets and here, one lay.
 Someone said, this one swallows up
 Those who have disappeared and drowned
 Whenever a storm reaches the sea.
 It is but a child, he said,
 Compared to Jonah’s whale.
 Many nodded at his words.
 Another added, this beast
 Is the sea spirit’s mystical steed.
 It might be its horse or if not, its elephant.
 Like a superstition in cooking,
 Some were convinced we might end up
 Finished like the fishes once we ate it.
 So it was with a picture taken
 That we were content
 To share this one memento. 

Enrique S. Villasis is a poet and a scriptwriter. His first book of poems Agua was published by Librong Lira and a finalist for the National Book Awards. He worked for ABS-CBN as a television writer before the Philippine government politically harassed and denied the franchise of the network. 

Bernard Capinpin is a poet and translator. He is currently working on a translation of Ramon Guillermo’s Ang Makina ni Mang Turing. He resides in Quezon City.




F. Jordan Carnice


 No one can be cruel or too shy
        for you, blooming hedgehog,
 sea urchin on dry land.
 You are a living relic, a myth
        with all the colors, one with
 a tarsier of a flower.
 Globose or tubular you
        are nothing short of cosmic  
 with posies this spectral.
 Prickly, yes, but what isn’t,
        when only you can unclench
 secrets from radials of corolla
 whether or not anyone’s ready
        for your many fanged edges.
 Equal parts rhythm and spikes,
 you deserve ceremony, eyes.
        We will hold you up high
 like a trophy or sundial
 even if our fingers hurt. For
        everything that captivates must
 require sacrifice, a little danger. 


In 1989, pushing at around 170 miles per hour, the Shinkansen speeds out of a tunnel as if announced with an explosion. Its exit carries a sound so thick and full that crowns of trees quiver like a thousand boneless fingers. The Japanese then turn to birds to perfect the train: owl feathers for rigs, penguin belly for pantograph, kingfisher beak for frontispiece. Machines continue to stir quieter as man move swifter, as if possessed by the impetus of wind. So what do birds turn to us for? What does kindness owe us when we name our conveniences with violence, comforts with terror, like bullets out of something graceful, alive?

* * *

I still wish we are kinder, even in a world poorly designed.
Statement of the Problem
Is it worth pursuing those that evade us?
Current State of Technology
Perhaps? Perhaps.
Off the coast that could be any other coasts in the world—the Atlantic, maybe, or Bantayan—scientists mimic shark skins to create antibacterial plastic and study patterns of schools of fish to ascertain wind turbine compositions. Meanwhile, the glaciers have lost another monument, and like the death of a star, no one could hear a sound.
Theoretical Framework
The devil is in the details. As well as in everything we want.
Performance Analysis
We know too well this deep and subterraneous urge to uncover: this breaking, this peeking beyond the clam’s lips.
Some pearls must be worth more than the others. 

* * *

Sometime in the future, we see cars that are becoming more cars than jaguars or horses or beetles, disbanded across streets like alien urchins. The din takes a different octave all around us. We’ve been here before: Gears and bolts taking over elegant muscle. The symmetry of thoraxes giving way to shellacked hoods. Antennae going wireless. Keyholes becoming the last semblance of mouths to be fed. Listen now. The highways are no longer breathing.

F. Jordan Carnice holds a BA in creative writing from Silliman University and a BSc in information technology from STI. His works are published in Philippines Free Press, Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, among other places. He has released two poetry chapbooks—Weights & Cushions (2018) and How to Make an Accident (2019). He is also visual artist who is currently based in Bohol with his three cats. 




Levi Masuli interviewed by Ivan Emil A. Labayne


In an interview, Levi Masuli of Pedantic Pedestrians talked about his project of recording frog sounds across the metro, the sonic dimension of ecosystems and how the pandemic might have changed soundscapes.

Ivan Emil A. Labayne and Levi Masuli are part of Pedantic Pedestrians (PP), a laboratory for experimenting with modes of cultural production. PP has launched four folios online, held a book launch without a book, released an Oncept Series and helped organize a small press expo in Baguio City.

Ivan Emil A. Labayne: Early this year, you mentioned your plan to volunteer as a research assistant to record frog sounds in Southern Luzon. Is it correct—Southern Luzon? The task is part of a research of an office based in Los Baños, Laguna where you also planned to relocate from Quezon City. What drove you to make this decision—both the recording of frog sounds and the relocation to a city outside Metro Manila?

Levi Masuli: Recently, I became interested in frog sounds. I was reading something about acoustic ecology when I came across a hypothesis that when animals share the same habitat, they tend to exploit vacant spectrums to avoid spectral or temporal overlaps. For instance, flycatchers (Empidonax minimus) insert their short songs between the longer songs of the red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus). In short, animals and insects don’t sing over each other, and they don’t just sing whenever they want. They make space for others, either through leaving lulls for others or by vocalizing in a particular spectrum range.

This explains why when a certain frog species creates a bass-y croak, you won’t find another species in the vicinity with a similar croak. You’ll more likely find another species or creature with a higher-pitched vocalization. Thus, nature is literally a self-orchestrated orchestra, or a well-balanced surround mix – in high definition!

This hypothesis also posits that more established ecosystems have more complex interspecies coordination. Newer ecosystems or those recently disturbed have less complex soundscapes. This is because the species need time to figure out how to organize their vocalizations and make everything harmonious.

Following this hypothesis, I wanted to move away from the metro to look for more complex soundscapes where there is more interspecies coordination. Nonetheless, I recently realized that it would also be interesting to listen to the changes in the soundscapes in the urban areas, given that the dramatic change in human mobility (due to the lockdown) may have led to the flourishing of certain urban ecosystems. To be honest, I don’t want to put too much emphasis between urban and rural ecosystems, as it implies one is more ‘pure’ or complex than the other. Nature changes may it be in the city or the countryside. Ecological disturbances happen everywhere. It’s just a matter of paying attention to the details.

Ivan: I find nice the point you made about animals “avoid[ing] spectral or temporal overlaps,” as if making way for each other; it’s opposite sense in Filipino, hindi sila nagsasapawan; they do not try to top each other, as if competing. This rhymes with your later point about nature being “a well-balanced surround mix” and perhaps also to your quest for “more complex soundscapes where there is more interspecie coordination.”

Speaking of coordination and balance, I’d like to ask you about “disciplines” or “fields”—words that tend to smack of connotations of segregation. Your academic background is on literature, language, the arts and now you are transitioning—if you approve of that term—to this new field, this new undertaking. 

How was it like: what do you think helped in redirecting your interest from the arts to the natural environment? Or, to follow a different premise: how do you think your literary and arts background relate to your current interests in the natural environment and sound?

Levi: The segregation of disciplines is a recent phenomenon. After all, the firsts naturalists in the Philippines were priests. I don’t see it as a transition. Scientists also write, and poets live in the same natural and sonic world as everybody else does. The only difference is the training, the technical knowledges, things that can be bridged by collaborating with others and doing your own research.

Ivan: I want to know more about your familiarity with, and deployment of the scientific names of species. You evinced this in your first response, in relation to flycatchers and the red-eyed vireos. In a video you uploaded weeks ago, I noticed how you gave the scientific name of the frog whose croak you recorded. Is this deliberate on your part—becoming familiar with scientific names, and using them, where possible? If so, what significance do you attribute to these?

Levi: It’s deliberate simply because it is practical to know them. It also helps to know the local names.

Ivan: Are you currently pursuing other projects that relate to, or inspired by your interest in the natural environment, or the natural sciences in general?

Levi: I am looking to record as much frog sounds as I can during the rainy season as this is when they are most active.

Levi Masuli, currently based in the Philippines, works primarily with sound and text. He is part of the writing group, Pedantic Pedestrians. His work can be viewed at https://levimasuli.com/.

Ivan Emil A. Labayne is a researcher, teacher and freelance writer, maintaining columns in local weeklies Northern Dispatch and Baguio Chronicle. His creative and critical works are published in journals Kritika KulturaThe Cordillera Review, Entrada, Hasaan and Katipunan and in online platforms ChaJacket2 and New Mandala. He blogs here.




Janssen Cunanan translated by Glenn Diaz


Translated from Filipino

A tiny bottle was born in a sweltering factory. He was wrapped in a package, given a name, then placed in a box with his fellow newborns. All of them were brought to stores all over the city, arranged in a cold room where they await being purchased. The bottle wonders why his parents would just abandon him, and withhold their care and affection. They pushed him toward a clear glass that contained a strange world. The refrigerator door opens and a hand reaches for the bottle. Placed in front of a cashier who weighed its value. The man takes out ten pesos. He takes the bottle and outside quickly gulps down its contents. The man then throws him onto the open sea where he floats not knowing where the current would take him the next moment or the next day. Noon came and exposed the bottle to its scorching light. The bottle tried to weep but his mouth had already begun to dissolve, to disintegrate into tiny pieces. Then his body. Finally his head. His tiny parts dispersed into the water. So tiny that fish failed to see him. A tiny one came by. Opened its mouth and ingested him. The fish didn’t know. It just went on to eat whatever bit it could from the sea. A day into playing with his fish friends a huge net descended upon them. They were all hauled unto a ship. Brought to a factory where they were unloaded, moved around, and rolled over again and again. After going through a number of hands, its head wad removed, the rest of him canned. Wrapped in a package, too, and given a name. The cans were brought to the grocery store, then picked up by someone cooking sautéed sardines for some workers’ lunch. But that day no one wanted the dish so the cook took it home for their kids. The kids didn’t want sardines, too, it was always fish day in and day out. This kid got a good scolding. The rest of the brood cried. The sardines were put in a plastic bag and thrown outside. Another group of kids was waiting by the garbage bin. By now they knew what time the cook would throw something out. They opened the discarded plastic bag. Sardines—what a lucky day. Quickly they dug in but the eldest seized the fish and moved away from the frenzy. He devoured the fish he held in his hands. It remained in his stomach for years until he felt hunger anew. His companions had been frolicking by the shore when he, now a young man, felt a pang in his midsection. A sharp pain where he put the sardines. The others, swimming farther away from him, didn’t notice. He tried to come closer to them so they’d hear his cries for help. But that day the waves had been heavy, leaden. They dislodged his feet from the seafloor. He stumbled. Set adrift beyond what was visible from the shore. In this state the sun found him. The sun saw how his body began to disintegrate, broken apart by the water into tiny pieces. Broken apart until it was as small as drizzle. From the tiny breaks in the flesh emerged the plastic and their siblings.

Janssen Cunanan lives in Makati City, Philippines. He is currently a member of AUX (Artists in BPO Unite for Social Change), a cultural organization that utilizes art in fighting for labor rights and advancing national democracy. His works appeared in Plural: Online Prose Journal, ALPAS Journal, and SmokeLong Quarterly

Glenn Diaz‘s first book The Quiet Ones (Ateneo Press, 2017) is set in the Philippine call center industry. He lives in Manila.




nessi alexander-barnes

Esoterica/Ethos: Critique; for personal use when editing the work of others-


my experiences are complex and alien, and thus my voice is complex and alien;

i am excruciatingly aware that many contexts cannot support the weight of that alienness, and thus i often shave off my idiosyncratic edges to accommodate the access of others, as necessary.

in my personal writing, i do not make this sacrifice. my personal writing is complex and alien.

Thus, my personal writing is hard is hard to read.

i have allowed it to remain hard to read.


On black cords, two hangings of sheer cloth or transparent paper are shown. On the front hanging, there is an image of mostly abstract linework. Yellow, green, and blue hues predominate above; a darker and warmer tangle occupies the lower half. All of the hanging is printed with text in black Times, of which evident phrases include "through their repetition within commodity culture", "carries market value. The effort to name the", "will always fail and ought to", "how do normative gender presump", "which we come to see", and "Gender Trouble offers to explain the". The rear hanging is completely covered with hand printed text.
i am *not* a prescriptivist;

i am more of a descriptivist, but i am not *really* one of those either.


On two black cords, before a pale wall, hang sheets of sheer cloth or transparent paper. The front hanging is marked with an image: before a brick red wall, an incarnadine humanoid figure stoops toward a vermillion barred rectangular portal. The figure has a tail, feathered arms, clawed feet and hands, and serpents, feathers or fur, and blebs or pustules upon its back and head. The figure walks with a black cane or walker. In the red wall, above the figure in a round black niche, sits a white cat, facing away. In a larger rectangular cavity to the right, a dark tree is visible upon a lighter void. The figure stands upon light lavender ground; before which proceed rectangles of black and pink, framed with white lanes. On the back hanging, there is hand printed text, largely illegible.
i believe that the technical aspects of writing, such as grammar, are tools intended to do the work of conveying meaning to a reader;

i believe that there are multiple kinds of reader, and that all of them will bring different needs and experiences and interests to their practice of readership;

i believe that the technical aspects of writing are growing and flexible things, that they are never static, and that recorded strictures of their use are necessary, but that such strictures are also ossifications, always a step behind the alive-things as they move between the spaces of our interactions, and so that to replace the living entities with ossified strictures is to remove the source and potential of their continued vitality;

i believe that language and grammar, and the control of one's voice more broadly, have long been tools of violence and oppression, and that to address that brutal history, we must actively make room for multiple ways of being and writing and speaking;

i believe that 'universal' and 'singular' have limited applications, and that there is no one 'true' or correct form of writing –– rather, there are multiple ways of writing, and vastly different contexts may require vastly different modes and styles to adequately address their needs;

i believe that specific technical and conceptual features of writing, from vocabulary and grammar to the use of literary devices and rhetoric, are tools and *only* tools –– they are deployed to make the thing happen, they are neither the thing itself nor the appropriate universal goal –– they are invoked to call the thing to fruition, and if they do not meet that need, then either old forms need to be uncovered/reinvented, or what exists need to be changed/added to;

i believe there are both different levels of need and different kinds of taste, and that there is no form of writing that is universally accessible to every reader, and that what one reader finds unbelievably dense and opaque, another might find as vital and refreshing as air, and further that neither of these readers are *correct* and that they both deserve to be served;

i believe that other approaches to the technicalities of writing are *as valid as mine* and *do not supercede mine*, and thus i recognize that my style of writing and editing is not appropriate for every audience –– should the person seeking guidance [from me] be one of those i cannot serve, i *actively* encourage them to pursue the guidance they need from a more conventional practitioner;

i believe that the way i can best serve the writer i am critiquing, their readers, and social justice as a whole, is to *preserve and bolster that writer's voice* as best i can;

i believe that words mean vastly different things according to context, and that synonymous words are *not* identical in definition;

i believe that to encourage someone to file off their idiosyncratic edges in the name of an idealized archetype of Generic Audience is to create a caricature that represents no one accurately and thus serves no one effectively;

i believe that it is important to be generous to one's audience, but that there is a difference between generosity and self-erasure, and that audience members are often smarter than they're given credit for, if one takes the time to be careful and patient and, indeed, generous –– that it is generous to write honestly and to honestly share one's experiences –– and that it is *okay* if the only audience a writer seeks to address is themself;

i believe that precision, accuracy, and clarity are very important, and that sometimes those things are *not* at odds with simplicity and can be conveyed simply, but that the resolution of conflicts between those standards involve the prioritization of the former (accuracy, precision, clarity,) because the removal of information in the name of simplicity is *neither* neutral nor more clear, and tends to create distortions and erasures, particularly over many generations of data processing and the subsequent collation of that data into text.


On black cords, two hangings of sheer cloth or transparent paper are shown, up close, from the side, and obliquely. In the hanging in front and rightmost, a humanoid figure is shown, of incarnadine color, with feathered arms, clawed hands and feet, and blebs and serpents upon its back and head. The figure stoops toward a gray portal barred with vermillion. Above the figure, in a round black niche in a brick red wall, a white cat sits, facing away. The figure walks with a black cane or walker. In the leftmost hanging, hand printed text predominates, largely illegible. The first line might read "This personal truth makes".
i am trained as an artist, which significantly structures my approach to the technicalities of writing: these are to me the same as color and line and paint: tools to be arranged to achieve a specific purpose or goal, and for which the approach will be different according to the specifics of those purposes or goals;

they are also tools whose appropriate use has been governed by very different strictures according to temporal and cultural contexts, and whose governing strictures often have far more to do with the advertisement of social position on the part of those enforcing them, than they do with any intrinsic characteristics of either the tools or the works generated by those tools.


i believe in, and admire, complex and/or ornate writing.

i also believe in and admire many other kinds of writing, including simple ones.

i do not believe that all writing needs to be complex and/or ornate, but rather that these kinds of writing have a place, at all. i have a theoretical grounding for this (and many of my other) position(s); many thanks to José Esteban Muñoz specifically, for the queer possibilities of the ornamental.1

it is my intention to advocate that more room be made at our tables, not that any who operate under more conventional constraints be excluded in our stead.

if this seems impossible, then it is our job to be more creative, with regards to our approach.

and possibly to get a bigger table.


i am a disabled reader, whose disability often necessitates *more* complexity in writing for things to be accessible to me –– not a terribly common state of affairs, and thus not a well-served one, either;

i also often need more grammatical/syntactical cues, not less –– it is inelegant, but commas as pause-notations *really make a difference* in my ability to read something coherently; this appears to be unusual enough i try to actively ignore this need in my role as provider-of-critique, but i think it is good for people to keep in mind, as an illustration of the way that syntax and grammar differently address different needs for different readers;

i am exquisitely aware of accessibility conflicts, and that often the only solution is mitigation. My job as provider-of-critique is to partially mitigate that mitigation, as much as is possible.

i do not demand that it be read by anyone but me –– only that it be allowed to exist, so that i, too, may know what it is to reach for/into a cultural repository and to hear the echo of a voice like mine, even if that echo is only actually *my* voice preserved in boolean amber.

i am selfish; i am ravenous; i am starving; i have been hungry for so long; this is a source of food.


critique is something different; critique is not about me; the approach i take to critique is not governed by the specific approaches i take when recording my own voice in boolean.

critique is about the person i am advising.

my writing and my voice exist independently to critique, as much as i can make that so; my job as someone who is critiquing someone else is *not* to impose my voice on them, but to listen for their voice, and to help them make that voice more resonant.

if i can prevent them from starving, i have done a good job.
if i can help them to feed themselves, i have done a good job.


These are the same tactics i employ when critiquing artwork,
casually and professionally.


My decision both to eschew caps in reference to myself and to use the lowercase 'i'
is intended to pay homage to a line of scholars who i deeply admire and from whom many of my thoughts are descended.2

Works Cited

boyd, danah michele. “What’s in a Name?” Accessed January 6, 2021. http://www.danah.org/name.html.

Loyal Jones Appalachian Center. “bell hooks: Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies.” Berea College. Accessed January 6, 2021. https://www.berea.edu/appalachian-center/appalachian-center-home/faculty-and-staff/bell-hooks/.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. Kindle. Sexual Cultures. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

1  Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 1–3, 6-7. 104, 132-139

2  i am here referencing scholars such as bell hooks, danah boyd, and micha cárdenas. This presentation is both homage and  strong agreement with their work and their reasoning.
Additionally, in fine art, we are visual authors, and we are authors who are very much not dead-- the discipline broadly leaves no room for an empowered reader to argue for the validity of their own interpretations, there is only room for the meaning we meant to impose on the world through the work, which is understood to be intrinsic to the work itself, and which must always be obvious and universal and available for public consumption.
 But to argue that there is one universal interpretation to anything is to exclude anyone whose context does not grant them the intuitive access necessary to ‘read it correctly’, and to further mark them implicitly as catastrophically deviant as the work’s meaning is thought to be intrinsic. That argument-- that the meaning of a work can be universally understood (that there is one/one set of correct interpretations)-- would also deny the means by which i survived for decades, by ravenously devouring every piece of media that i thought interesting and intuitively altering it as necessary to see myself in it, regardless of the author’s preference. (No apologies to Ms. Rowling, whose magical school will *always* be full of trans kids for me.)
bell hooks says that she eschews capitalization “to emphasize the substance of her writing as opposed to who she is.” i cross-apply the same convention, making a slight deviation: i am operating within a discipline that only makes room for who i am, and that also thinks it understands what that means, that demands my who-ness be instantly legible on normative, neurotypical, cishet terms. 
But my work is my a personal mythology, developed privately for decades with a rich and idiosyncratic iconography, put to pictures: i do not need to sign it to be present in it, and its legitimacy is not determined by a stranger’s ability to read it accurately. 
or at all. 
So, in homage to-- and in the spirit of-- bell hooks, i am visibly removing myself from the work by means of non-capitalization, and i am doing so to strengthen the function of my work and the theories behind it. In the context of my discipline, that means making room for other people.The work is already of me; it is not conventionally *for* an audience, in the sense that it was not made to serve them and it will not be altered for their comfort, *but* they are welcome to it - to engage with it-- on its own terms and their own.
For similar reasons, i try to remove myself from the process of critique-- because critique is not about me, and it’s not for me-- it’s about and for the person i’m critiquing, and whatever they’re trying to do with their work.   

boyd, “What’s in a Name?”
“bell hooks: Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies.”

nessi alexander-barnes is an interdisciplinary artist who draws its thoughts in allegory so as to make sense of the world. It is anxious, neurodivergent, transmasculine nonbinary (yes, simultaneously; yes, that is possible; gender is not math and is thus under no obligation to follow linear logic), genderqueer, and generally queer. It accepts many pronouns (xe, they, he), but the one it uses –– and has always used –– internally is the one used here.




Alix Anne Shaw

I could not hear the other side / the other side could not hear me

The body runs its applets

as apples shyly glow

through the dusk beneath the trees

so, too, there is a gear in us
nimbly clicking

in foreshortened air

I hear the arc and whirr of it
ratcheting the nil

the empty shaft—

meantime, the river stretches out
the single silver fiber that it is

and the body with its silver threads

halflit in the armchair (lavender or
avocado green)

flickers, intermittent
attempting to connect

with something it could wish for




as the river snarking past the house
fidgets with its lake

its dirty bank—

If only I had been
some other kind of self

if / then
would you skype me

until I sky myself

because this dark is a variant
of every other dark

a spindle of intent that I must nightly choose to wind

Alix is shown, the left side of the face and shoulders, lying upon brown and yellow leaf litter. Alix has pale skin, and red or auburn hair of several inches length. Alix wears narrow oblong glasses with black frames, a red collared shirt, and a mint green hooded jacket.

Alix Anne Shaw is the author of three poetry collections: Rough Ground (Etruscan, 2018), Dido in Winter (Persea, 2014), and Undertow (Persea, 2007), winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Prize. Her work appears in Harvard Review, Fence, Denver Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, New American Writing, and online at www.alixanneshaw.com. She is also a sculptor.