Ysabel Y. Gonzalez

I Don’t Mourn The Dead

instead praise the pulsing, cells traveling along a heart-knock system, reminders to spend time counting brown spots & stretches of folded skin winding deep like dirt country roads. We look for ways to make magic, brand the land, prove we were here. But the body is the mark: a flesh-mound harvest, gleaned from kicked-up dust after one wild long run.

We wounds and scars, we
fingers tracing scores of
raised notes and belly’s bellows
blowing. With this body I plant
bone victoriously.
The flesh: a tree
carved on, day after day.

Author Statement

This is a praise poem for the body, a response to American ideas that we should 1) leave a mark upon our cities/countries by the time we die and 2) mourn aging.

We act as though living in itself is not an imprint. How we impact others spiritually, is our legacy. The body is the mark that we were here.

And dealing with daily crises, including watching our bodies deteriorate, should be acknowledged as feat: this wrinkle, mole, age spot, means today I am, and today I resisted & persisted. This black, this brown body, means today I resisted & persisted.

There is prayer in the exaltation of a body’s breakdown. It means it’s going through a cycle that’s the human continuum—life that will either go back to the earth and provide nutritional sustenance for other life; or burned and released to the atmosphere. It is a wondrous human connection.

As bodies of color we must remember that walking through this America every day and maintaining our sense of self, despite when we’re told we’re not [insert anything here] enough, is an act of resistance. For this, we praise the waking flesh.

New Jersey native Ysabel Y. Gonzalez received her BA from Rutgers University, an MFA in Poetry from Drew University and works for the Poetry Program at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Ysabel has received invitations to attend VONA, Tin House, Ashbery Home School and BOAAT Press workshops. She is a CantoMundo Fellow, and has been published or is forthcoming in Tinderbox Journal; Vinyl; It was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip-Hop; Wide Shore, Waxwing Literary Journal, and others.  You can read more about this Wonder Woman aficionado, and her work, at www.ysabelgonzalez.com.

Rico Frederick

The Nine Steps of a Tap Dancer

An Ode:

He said: Who knew Tap Dance
                       was the poor man’s ballet?

I said: Fuck That!
                       Ballet is the rich man’s Tap Dance.

It is the ankle’s gift to
ancient languages.
Indentured Morse code left
like a crying howl of dust.

Busy, battered, shoe,
leather, ghost, gospel–
Turned articulate prance of freedom.
Make Massah
teach you English just
to explain what you do
with your body.

Our eyes, wide as
Communion wafers
greedy and applauding
as the Knuckles
at the back of his feet
snap the ground like
a thousand startled
bear traps.

These Negros hop & skip
like spineless tornados.
I think I can sell that.

Toothpick toes tailored
to a lightning bolt.
Empty belly mischief.
Hungry man’s waltz.

In the boom of bootleggin’.
You gotta make a living, to live.
Hoofing on water,
Holy-Holy cross’ a river of sweat.

Shoelace, yawning blood.
Swollen last supper
feast eat bible-
thumping sugar foot.

When God finally comes back–
Who you think she wanna be?
The toes or the sole?

When skin looks like
a million shades of dirt.

You do what ever it takes
to make the ground
remember you.How a ngh be ah ngh in ngh compa’ny but don’t feel lik ah ngh no mo’ –Pt 2+3

O! –so ah think about my mother sometimx / an how she would feel being dis blk / around company / her son lovin dis life now / cuz he got company in blk folk arms / an he know now / dis be Trinidad on a day like today / dis be America on a dare / an dey don’t know how to handle us ya’ll / so we write all our feelings down / tell dem look / you can come close but there is ah machete in my hands / you might get cut / we might gon bleed together / come on / lets chop it up / lets talk-about da real real lets talk-about dat dirt dirt lets talk-about how we get put in dirt / under dirt in fingernails / ah see dem clawing their way up out da grave of our mouths.

O! –so dis be church / an jesus / look how many me around me / an ah don’t know wat to do wit dis love / ah mean ah seent it / in my imagination / but ah ain’t never seen it out my eyes unfoldin in front of me lik ah turnt up tapestry of history / ah did not know dis should exist / lik come on / we alive in dis mothafucka / an ah hug you cuz ah hug you cuz ah don’t know when ah might see you again / jesus christ / ah been hugging things    sometimex for all the long reasons / im just tryin to feel skin dat ain’t mine / just to feel skin dats mine.

Rico Frederick is an award-winning performance poet, and graphic designer. He is the author of the book Broken Calypsonian (Penmanship Books, 2014), Poets House Emerging Poets Fellow, Cave Canem Fellow, a MFA candidate at the Pratt Institute and the first poet to represent all four original New York City poetry venues at the National Poetry Slam, (2010 and 2012 Grand Slam Champion). His poems, artistic work, and films have been featured in the New York TimesMuzzleEpiphanyNo Dear MagazineThe Big Apple Film Festival, and elsewhere. Rico is a Trinidadian transplant, lives in New York, loves gummy bears, and scribbles poems on the back of maps in the hope they will take him someplace new

Nina Sharma

The Bride’s Goodbye

In Indian weddings, crying brides are part of the affair, an unofficial rite. After the chunni has been tied and the fire has been circled, there is one last ritual. The vidai it is called, the bride’s goodbye, where the bride bids her family farewell –that’s usually the cue for tears and heartfelt embraces of a mother, a father, sisters or brothers. Of course brides are not obligated to cry, but it kind of seems like we have to.  

There is a picture of my mother like this at her wedding. Even though she had a love marriage, she seems devastated. I find the shot midway through my parents’ modest, clothbound wedding album. There is a crowd of people around her and she is unabashedly clenching on to her sister fiercely, both of them crying, ugly-crying, faces twisted wet streams; this is followed by another where she is hugging her brother, he too is crying uncontrollably. They all seem so young, all the women hairy-lipped and the boys but barely mustached, too young to pretend or posture for a camera. She is seriously leaving home. Not too long after she would be leaving the country for good. This moment carried over to first-generation weddings but as one of my cousins once confessed, the tears are moreso just fatigue that can pass as fond emotion.

Who is this crying woman, I don’t know. “How is your mood now?” my mom will ask me most often after I cry. Tears are symptoms, like a scratchy throat or lingering cough. “Better, my mood is better,” I will say, which means, “I have stopped crying. I don’t need to change antidepressants.”

She and my father, as well as my two older sisters are doctors by trade. Medicine was what brought my parents together, they met in medical school and medicine is what carried them over here; their passage to America was made possible by the 1967 Immigration Act, through which those with scientific training were allowed to enter the U.S., Asians entering in unprecedented numbers.  

By the time I came into the picture, my parents had already made it. My sisters often joke that they were of the generation that ate out of Campbell’s soup cans and got stuck in stalled cars with my parents while, a decade later, my newborn body was chauffeured home in my Dad’s brand new Mercedes. I threw up in it.

Even now, status and medicine forever orbit my family, pulling at the tides of our speech. “You need to get a Mercedes of a dress,” my mom would say to me so often when we went bridal dress hunting. And when I seemed annoyed as we hunted, “Why so much tension? She has much tension, this one,” as if giving her official diagnosis to anyone who was interested. Soon the entire staff of bridal shops, Indian mom-and-pop shops in our Central Jersey town would be buzzing with these terms, “so much tension” for this “Mercedes dress,” like dutiful worker bees.  

Edison, NJ is a kind of mecca for Indian bridal shopping. If a bride doesn’t go to India, she will go to Edison. When my parents moved there in 1987, the town was mostly white. When my eldest sister got married, in 1999, there was just one Indian wedding planner/vendor to use. But by the time I got married, the competition was stiff: so many Indian wedding-supporting venues, wedding planners, horse rentals and flower garland-makers. Even the white businesses in the town knew all the customs and rituals, perhaps even the unofficial ones, what were the Mercedes items, the sources of tension and all other things that could incite ceremony-worthy bridal tears.    

A decade earlier, it was not the language of medicine but the language of spirituality that was used to understand my non-bridal tears. Coming home from my first year in college, I had spent a whole summer crying over a breakup. The tears came out like a bloodletting, the break up hitting some vein that ran deeper than the young blond boy. Some days all I felt I could do was rock and cry in my bed. “You have a bad star,” my mom said and she took me to see a priest. 

We were in his shabby quarters in our Little India, just above a sandal store. The priest put a ring on me. This was the first time a man had slipped a ring on me. It had a metal that was supposed to heal me, with the added benefit of his prayer. As he began to pray over it, my mom stepped outside to make a call. The prayer petered out and in the awkward silence the priest took me in his arms and whispered in my ear. “You have not been loved properly.” He raised my chin up to his and kissed me.  

I kept the ring on for a few days and when I could not stand it anymore, I took it off only to find a green stain there. I don’t remember if I told my mom about this. I don’t know if I considered it important or speakable. I never much wore rings after that. I wasn’t into jewelry I’d say, even prior to this visit and my imminent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Jewelry was always a violent thing to me, priest or no priest. When my mom would give me jewels for family weddings, taking a vicious tone about their cost if I ever were to lose them, I would wear them for the day nearly nauseous with their weight and the pinch of the clasps that held them in place. And I remember grimacing at my grandmother’s earlobes stretched open like little howling mouths under the strain of pure Indian gold. 

During the time of my wedding, I did not consider myself much of a “wedding person,” which to me meant not really into jewelry, dresses or any other bauble-licious part. Still, I disliked and fretted over much of what was shown to me. Why the tension and tear-shed though I could not say.  

Once my mother and I went into a bridal store. I was tired, tired from walking around all day and sore from another big weight drop in my journey to hit my “wedding goal weight.” A girl walked in, a thin wisp of a girl. She was getting married too. She seemed spry, no tension. As she breezed through the racks, my mom admired her and I did too. She said she had bought all her bridal outfits online and was just looking around. “Looking for something for the groom,” though in her hands was a set of saris — not like a fashionista, just having fun. Her husband-to-be was also American, a white American, and not too long after that day they would be married somewhere else, a destination wedding, a beach, and it seemed as if she was already there. 

I was not like her. That sandal store was still on the corner. Everything felt like a green stain. 

Author Statement

Almost every day of my married life, I wonder why I went for a very large and traditional South Asian wedding ceremony. It’s not me or my husband. But I realize too, that was the point. My husband is African American and I’m South Asian American. At the start, my family was not accepting of our relationship. When we got not only to a better place but to the point of marriage, I wanted to go big. But, as big as this vision was, I did not anticipate a reckoning with the sacred and all its contradictions in the diaspora. 

NINA SHARMA is a writer from Edison, New Jersey. Her work has been featured in LongreadsThe Grief DiariesBanango StreetThe MarginsThe Blueshift JournalTeachers & Writers MagazineThe Asian American Literary ReviewDrunken BoatCertain Circuits MagazineThe Feminist WireReverie: Midwest African American Literature, and Ginosko Literary Journal. Her essay “The Way You Make Me Feel” won first place in the 2016 Blueshift Prizes for writers of color, judged by Jeffrey Renard Allen and appears in The Blueshift Journal’s Brutal Nation feature. She is formerly the Director of Public Programs at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and with Quincy Scott Jones, she co-created the Nor’easter Exchange: a multicultural, multi-city reading series. 

Sharon Franklet


And  past  the  cellar  door,  the  creek  ran  and  ran.
Sharon Olds


                                                                                                          The   door

creaked  open      unhinged       screws   ripping  slowly   from  the                              jamb

the  old  wood  tearing     the  threads  pulling  out     like  strands  of                           hair

long  weavings  of  pine  cones  and  silence    it  is  an  open  crystal                          book,

the  brook,     running  through  the  cold  cellar     the  springhouse                                ice

water  that  makes  your  jaw  ache     makes  her  head  burst     into                          flight

                                                               wings  a  whirrr  in  the  bright                                air.


                                                                        I   am   a   misplaced                                 person,

is  that  like  a  misplaced  object,      when  the  keys  aren’t  in  the                            bowl,

not  on  the  hook,   no one  knows where  they  are   and  the  bird’s                        throat

                                         moves  violently  in  and  out,     making                               sound.


My  chest  moves  in  and  out  violently,     making      sound

        that  runs  out  and  out     like  the  creek     brook     rivulet

                      tidal  wave    flash flood    hurricane    beating the tin roof

like a     heart.




I  can  hit  and  be  hit     but  can  i  sit    still.    out  in  the  pasture 

the  creek  comes  gurgling  and  past  the  cellar  door  the  baby  is  crying 

and  the  basement  floods.    every  house  i  lived  in  growing  up  flooded.

there  is  much  to weep for.

i  am  silent  and  hiding  my  head.     do  not    speak  to  me.


And  past  the  cellar  door  the  creek  ran  and  ran  like  blood  until  the heart

heaves  fierce    and  empty,     the  spurting  stops     the  trickle  fades     scabbing

the  sidewalk.     i  pray   for  hashim   that  his  blood  

will  scab  no  sidewalk.     i  pray  for  ivory   that  his  blood  

will  never  scab   another  sidewalk.     i  pray  for  ruben   

that  his  beauty  will  outlast   

his  torture.


you  have  the  gift  of  laughter  she  said.

do  you  know?    i  also  have  the  gift  of  tears.


The  door  is  swinging  on  its  hinges     it  doesn’t  know  which  way  to  go,    

i  am  waiting  for  the  wind     i  have  a  knife   in  my  hand     if   the  wind 

doesn’t  come     i  can  whittle  it  down,     the  bright  sharp 

blade     the  angry  old  wood     the  knots     the  screaming  hinges.     open

the  door           step  through    

into  the  creek,     into  the  misty  flooded  cellar,     into  the  sunlight,    

into  the  whirrr  of  birdwings  and  the  violent 

beating  of  hearts.


when  i  knew  i’d  left  my  knife  in  the  car,    i  looked  for  a  heavy  rock.

eyes    throat    groin    knees.


If  you  know  the  whole  thing  you  don’t  need  to  do  it     she  said

stepping  soft  into  pollen     into  blood     into  the  rain    

and  running  with  high  steps     running  uphill

running  past  and  past  and  crying     like  a  bird.


I  don’t  know     she  said  laughing  and  unfolding  her  knife     but  it’s  time

to  cut  open  the  loaf,    its  heart  pumping  like  the  heart  of  the  world.   

the  sun  slipped  behind  the  moon,    slit  open     cut  in  half,    its  door 

only  half  ajar.

Author Statement

While thinking about the Sacred Americas theme, I read these words from Pema Chödrön, which I offer with gratitude, as one window on my piece and the overall theme: “In the midst of loneliness, in the midst of fear, in the middle of feeling misunderstood and rejected is the heartbeat of all things, the genuine heart of sadness.” (from When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön.)

Sharon Franklet was born on the coast of Texas, and lives in rural northern New Mexico where, in her favorite moments, she sits and watches. Her writing, threaded through by Earth’s beauty, often focuses on how we both are subject to and resist the forceful control of our bodies and lives, from rape and lynching, to hunger and captivity. 

Marwa Helal

poem for the beings who arrived

zuihitsu for group c

if you ask me where i come from i have to converse with broken wings. this is a line. and all love is agreement, each day of living: an agree or a disagree. and love is not what we think it is. what we have been told it is: agree or disagree. i am telling you how to read me. neruda wrote: if you ask me where i come from, i have to converse with broken things. with the beings who arrived. who had the glasses of the heart. we are the beings who arrived because we had the glasses of the heart. we are the broken beings who arrived with glass for hearts. poetry is instrument; allows us to see through thought. thank you for saying my work does not sound like it is in translation, thank you for not saying my work sounds like it is in translation we are all the proof i need as singularity approaches us they ask with intrigue: how did you construct your blackness in america? each question requires a reconstruction. and i am always re never    constructed in egypt, they ask: do they hate us? i pretend not to know who they mean by they what they mean by hate but i know because i live with they and aint they. aint they? we have to stop pretending we are not [capable of] winning and i know you know we know when i dip you dip we dip this one goes out to all the women in the world you see me everywhere i go they want to know which one i am and more of? still, you see me. the mask i wear is not leo rising but the colonizer’s   falling and still, you see me. and when i say you see me, what i mean is: you feel me. we, we: the beings who arrive. 

poem for palm pressed upon pane

i am in the backseat. my father driving. from mansurah to cairo. delta to desert,   heliopolis. a path he has traveled years before i was born. the road has changed but the fields are same same. biblical green.
                                    hazy green, when i say: this is the most beautiful tree i have ever seen. and he says, all the trees in masr are the most beautiful. this is how i learn to see.
            we planted pines. four in a row. for privacy. for property value. that was
            ohio. before new mexico. before, i would make masr
                        my own. but after my mother tells me to stop       asking her what is wrong       whenever i see her staring
out of the living room window. this is how trauma learns to behave. how i learn to push against the page. i always give hatem the inside seat.
            so he can sleep. on the bus.                             his warm cheek against the cold window. when i am old enough to be aware of leaving. it is raining hard.                                                                                                                       5000 miles away, there is a palm. in a pot. its leaves pressed. skinny neck bent. a plant seeking light in an animal kingdom. Author Statement

Both of these works came to me while I was at Cave Canem Retreat in 2016. The first is written for my CC cohort, GROUP C! and is in the form of the Zuihutsu. It is meant to address the feeling of belonging in unbelonging; the variation that exists in Black diaspora; the arrival and departure of being, and the peace that can be found in community; it travels through time and the world, borrowing from Neruda and yes, Freak Nasty, too. The second was inspired by a skinny-necked palm in a window that seemed to stare me down each day as I walked to workshop. I developed a deep empathy for the palm as I saw what it saw. It was the only of its kind, looking out at the beautiful deciduous and coniferous vegetation on University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg campus.

Marwa Helal is a poet and journalist. Her work appears in ApogeeHyperallergic, TheOffingPoets & WritersThe RecluseWinter Tangerineand elsewhere. She is the author of I AM MADE TO LEAVE I AM MADE TO RETURN (No, Dear/Small Anchor Press, 2017) and Invasive species (Nightboat Books, 2019). Helal is the winner of BOMB Magazine’s Biennial 2016 Poetry Contest and has been awarded fellowships from Poets House, Brooklyn Poets, and Cave Canem. Born in Al Mansurah, Egypt, Helal currently lives and teaches in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School and her BA in journalism and international studies from Ohio Wesleyan University.

Kyce Bello

The Washerwoman Maps Her Body Before Death

I taste flowers by stepping on them,

Flor de Maga on my breath.

I speak hurricane and palm frond,
take in laundry to scrub and hang

like ghosts on a line—

men and women walking, bodiless,
through the tropical night.

On the day a needle pierces my palm,
sharp in the folds of washing,

emerald beaked birds cry
Boriqua, boriqua quien quien quien?

The broken needle’s course is tracked
                        as it rivers upstream—

marked each morning
           at the clinic with an x-ray.

Quicksilver bright
                       against my bones.

Length of arm. Bend of shoulder.
The twin wings of my breath.

While I wait for death,
          birds sing their questions to me.

I embroider red buds on the rumors
                        my daughter will wear

as rain tattoos the tin roof to sleep.

The Washerwoman’s Daughter

I whisper to the tiny bundle
buried beneath a bougainvillea crown,

hurry to light a candle
before the relics of Mother Cabrini.

Her blue gaze a veil
when I press against the light.

The city fills with the umbra of gray
birds rising, their wing beats

a shadowy corona above me.
My son lived long enough

to announce his sister.
In the nighttime rain,

our faces are sequined
by lights and luminous ground.

Author Statement

When I ask my grandmother to tell me stories about her mother and grandmother, she sometimes tells me about her grandmother Epiphania Vega, a Puerto Rican washerwoman who was indeed pierced by a needle stuck into the dress she was washing. According to my grandmother, the needle entered Epiphania’s hand and traveled through her bloodstream, apparently tracked by x rays as it moved towards a vital organ and killed her. My poems sticks to these details, but also explores the ways in which memory and inheritance are fluid, shifting to fill whatever container—or generation—happens to be holding them. In the end, the speaker is not Eufemia, but whatever it is we hold in common across time and space.

Kyce Bello’s poems have recently appeared in Heron TreeThe WayfarerSonora ReviewWritten River Journal of EcopoeticsTaproot, and elsewhere. She edited the anthology The Return of the River: Writers, Scholars, and Citizens Speak on Behalf of the Santa Fe River, (Sunstone Press, 2011), a work of literary activism which received two New Mexico book awards. Kyce earned an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico near four generations of her family. oldrecipe.wordpress.com

Leah Silvieus

Matthew 19:14

after Jericho Brown
for the camp girls

Heaven belongs to such as these,
             your apostle taught us, Lord –

therefore, let me not forget those six Junes
             of girlhood summers down

that two-lane highway, left – past
             the seven-foot, plastic Hereford bull 

at Clearwater Junction, dreaming under
             cast-off army tents where forty-miles-away

might’ve been a different country, those
             faraway towns’ names exotic:

Philipsburg, Frenchtown,
             Wisdom, Choteau —

and bless those mouths red with praise
             and Fla-Vor-Ice from the canteen.

Give me to singing, as we did,
             rise and shine and give God the glory,

glory waiting for the supper bell
             outside the mess tent where counselors

decreed: the last shall be first
             and the first shall be last

and we all turned ‘round in line
             ‘cause we believed

that one day it’d be true,
             so Lord forget us not in our hour

of need: those who fished trashed Kool-Aid cups
             to tear into visions of the Blessed

Virgin, who stole change from Right to Life
              to buy ring pops for our little sisters.

Bless us, Lord, we dirt-road orphans, grown now
             as we are and miles from the closest home:

women-once-girls named for virtues          
             mothers hope’d we’d hold true:

Faith, Joy, and daughter after daughter
             called Mercy. 

Elegy for Daylight

Midsummer’s 10 o’clock dusk had us
           ditching swings, twisty slide ’n jungle

gym for the beyond:  boneyard, field, forest,
           the mountain ash’s galaxy of orange berries –

stinging hard as BBs if you knew how
           to put a spin on ‘em. Ducking behind

gutted-out combines ‘n coils of chicken wire,
           we counted each scrape ‘n scab testament

to grit, tough shit, truth
           or consequence – scraped up

seed potatoes with sticks ‘n fingernails
           fooling ourselves they were gold enough

to buy our way out of town. As night tucked in,
           our harvest turned

to dirt-clod fights: o how
           a little spit and dirt 

could make some mud
could hide a stone
could hide a bruise 

as if to say, witness here
our skin

            welted but unbroken – 

Author Statement

Though I practice my faith much differently now from when I was a child, I’m still haunted by the songs, prayers, and scriptures that immersed my evangelical upbringing in rural towns in the Mountain West. These poems lean into fragments of those texts to revisit and explore the physical and spiritual landscapes (which I think are closely intertwined) of those communities and the tensions between the impulses that shaped them – for example, between violence and tenderness, stoicism and sentimentalism, self-reliance and belief in divine providence. These poems are also an attempt, in part, to revise, reframe, and sometimes subvert these texts to ask how they can speak to me now. Perhaps, in a way, they are prayers themselves–intercessions on behalf of the child I was then, struggling to make sense of my experience of the divine. 

Leah Silvieus is the author of a chapbook, Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press), and the recipient of awards and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, Kundiman, VONA, and US Poets in Mexico. She also serves as books editor for Hyphen Magazine and holds an MFA from the University of Miami. You can visit her at leahsilvieus.com.

Katherine Agard


It is in white spaces – the gallery, the museum, the university, the diploma, the page — that I begin to understand myself as an artist.

But it is in the dark that I understand what art is, or might be.

These are also the spaces that I began to understand myself as black.

Often these ideas — of white and dark, of light and black — seem in conflict.

Many of these conflicts seem oppositional or binary but many are unnamed, something else entirely.

In a darkened theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts I listened to the Lebanese artist Walid Raad tell a story where, in summary, a group of artists from the future send him messages of the names of various dead and lost artists.

(I am sorry that I don’t remember it as well as I should — I have decided not to let that stop me any longer.)

Raad first thinks he is crazy, that his mind is falling apart, but he eventually commits himself to writing the names streaming through his head in white vinyl letters on a white wall. Raad said: This is the only way an artist can come to understand things — shows them, and waits for people to tell him what it means.

People come to see this wall. No-one has any answers, except one cranky old journalist who says something like “You asshole, haven’t these people suffered enough? And him of all people.” The critic points at a name. “He does not deserve this!“ The man continues and tells Raad that these are artists of the past long forgotten for all the various reasons that have to do with class and religion and disability all those indexed reasons for why some people get written in and others do not. The critic takes a can of red spray paint and sprays the correct name on the wall, marking it like blood against a unnaturally sterile white surface.

At this moment, the voices cease. Raad knew that these artists from the future had got what they wanted. They made him do this the whole operation, the wall in the gallery, the misspelling so the critic would get angry and so that they could get this red. You see, they had lost the colour red in the future, lost access to it and they wanted it, desperately wanted it again.

I took two things from this story:

It is possible to spend your entire life searching for something that you miss.
That thing can be a color.


An artist shows things to others and waits for their responses
This is the only way an artist can come to understand the world.

I am thinking of making a painting and putting in a white space.

A white painting, maybe.

Milk paint is inexpensive and easy to make.

Martha Stewart tells me I will need:

a lemon, a quart skim milk, a sieve, a cheesecloth, dry color pigment or artists’ acrylic paint

She says to

1.     Mix the juice of a lemon with 1 quart of skim milk in a large bowl. Leave the mixture overnight at room temperature to induce curdling.

2.     Pour it through a sieve lined with cheesecloth to separate the solid curds from the liquid whey. Add 4 tablespoons of dry color pigment (available at art-supply stores) to the curd; be sure to wear a mask, and stir until the pigment is evenly dispersed.

I know from experience that this recipe is insufficient.
She has neglected to mention an important chemical — hydrated lime.

But I understand the aesthetic impulse: such simplicity is seductive, aspirational.

To think you could make full bodied-color from milk.

In practice, it produces a thin, sour and sickly whiteness.

milk (noun)                    an opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein, secreted by
                                       female mammals for nourishment of their young

milk (verb)                     extract sap, venom or other substances from

To make a white bath for a cooling head, I was first instructed to use a combination of milks.

This instruction is not private — it came to me by paying for it, from two white women who, I see now, as more than their whiteness. I am no longer angry; but I was.

I told my mother later, angrily, “I should have not to pay for this information!”
She said only  “I did not think I had to tell you such a common thing.” 

You will need:

Coconut milk, goat’s milk, cow’s milk, white flowers (or lucky flowers of any
type), honey, cocoa butter, white soap, cascarilla, Florida water.

Mix this while in bath or shower in a bowl or bucket. Pour over the head.
Scrub self with white soap in a downward direction. Think of what you wish to clear.

After bath, soak skin with cocoa butter.

Take this residue and throw it at the crossroads, behind you.

If this is not possible, down the toilet.

An addition for clarity:

White candle, sharp smelling herbs. Light candle, breathe in.
Imagine a white veil or mist around you. Imagine smell making tear in veil. Continue tearing until reality seeps in. Resist the encroaching white.

If milk is not available, any white powder pasted to the skin and rubbed away will do.     Scrub self with soap.

If you do not wish to through away the residue, put it all behind you, you may
produce your own milk and use it as you wish.

For self-milking:
     retain bath water, particularly concentrate of flowers, milk and cascarilla.

If no bath, retain whatever residue is available.
Press the pulp in your hands.

You may spread veil of confusion or doubt.
You may use to encourage impossible empathy.
You may use to make them see what they say does not exist.

The residue can be used in whatever form is most convenient.

I imagine a choreography:

     Milk rots. It is a horrible smell, says my mother, when it rots.
     Milk is cleaned up immediately. We are forever predicting its spillage.
      “Sit at the table!” “Sit upright.” “Be careful.” 

It could happen at any time.

     A woman is shot and her body remained in the street for observation for days.
     A young man is covered over with police tape and cameras.

     Deaths are notes in the middle of the newspaper, where the tourists will not
     be deterred.

Fill a pool with milk. A pool: a tub. A pool: a hole in the ground, the pit of your stomach.

Bring friends who mourn the people who are now bodies, colors, flesh, smells.

Invite those who do not think they mourn, are simply haunted, see deaths on
a reel or a loop, cannot think to own this grief.

Take this bath together.

It may take a long time, possibly forever. You may never leave this bath.
It will become the world around you, a mist, a veil, although you do not understand
its source.

Scrub each other’s backs. The milk may rot. Dance in this congealed yellowing

Lie there.


Lay in the sun. Spread your legs with fat.

Take the residue and leave it at the prime minister’s house.

The president.

The mayor. Your neighbor.

The woman who laughed loudly during the film.

The people who seem to be just fine.

Anyone who says there’s nothing to do about it.

Watch them experience this.

The responses may be overwhelming, contradictory, in conflict, painful.

You may grow weary. There’s nothing to do, rings in your head.

Repeat this bath for yourself, in private, alone.

If you didn’t before, now you know what it means to wish for a cool head.

Author Statement

I embrace and trouble ambiguity and the in-between.This piece is part of a longer cross-genre piece – actively questioning the space between artistic disciplines, prose and poetry as well as the spectrum of positions of privilege, power and oppressions. It does not attempt to pinpoint or label, but to explore – with the perversity that it sometimes requires.The piece as a whole includes painting, performance and criticism, all revolving around differential aspects of material culture.

Katherine Agard is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago currently based in California. She travels frequently. Her writing has been supported by Lambda Literary, Kimbilio, Callaloo and VONA/Voices. She is currently an MFA student in Literature at the University the University of California – San Diego where she holds a residence in the Visual Arts Department. She writes and performs her relationship to color – material, socio-cultural, spiritual – and the language which allows us to perceive it.

Isabel Balée

From “Land of Eroded Womb”


what else lies
in this ruin —

i birthed

from my
second self

who carries
the deluge

& asks
for complete
erasure —


on a granite

found in
the lawn

of a cremated


i etched
her name

with the

i held

where milk
once flowed —


enclosed center —

porous drain —

ancient stars
lose their

& loss is





& finally


at all—




tombs —

i wake to

what is this


ravine —

glass city—

wrought iron

lungs sewn
shut —


skin my


the knife
to my center

who will clean me

& come ripping

the aorta
out & resew


of failed

where i lie
prone —

Green Fields


in which shape
is my body

not knowing
where to look            



am i

like this


to walk over              

i must be

dimensionality —


harbor —        
birds rustle                       


in pear trees —

within a series
of buildings

& a single

there lies

a closure

not meant
to be read

not entirely.



from the 9th floor window

we unburdened the room’s


onto barges floating

viscously along

the crescent,


& sunken


land became

Gulf & algae

as we looked to

vast blue

for an answer

to the death

we tried

to medicate

dredging  faith

to prevent further


what arises


white flowers

emerge on stalks

in dead cypress


nothing can be done

lungs effuse

& pogonia trembles

below               screaming


into the phone

& open water,

skyline, lung,

salt water intruding

estuaries & river

reaching wetlands

we drank the

flooding from runoff


do not resuscitate


i was still holding

her hand

Author Statement

Language fails.

My work has always been interested in failure.

I break open language to process my own losses: that of my home, New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina; that of Louisiana, due to coastal erosion and the failure of the state; that of my mother. My body remembers grief and trauma. My text is a projection of this lacerated body. I subject my work to depression.

I hope to shape language around the void, to map slippages between impulses, to ask the reader to investigate what’s missing. This inclines me to the divine – the inexplicable.

We do not have language for this.

Isabel Balée was born and raised in New Orleans and has roots in Belém do Pará, Brazil. Her work is forthcoming in Cosmonauts AvenueGhost Proposal, and Littletell. You can find her at ibalee.tumblr.com

Esmé-Michelle Watkins

How to Wage Some Unholy War

If the landlord cuts off the hot water on New Years Day, you can shower at the 24-Hour Fitness on Van Ness early in the morning, depending on who is working the door. Remember: this is the busiest day of the year for gyms across the city, all of which will take extra measures to enhance security. This means the bald security guard will be there, the old guy who works mornings with an omega symbol tattooed on his wrist. Don’t let him intimidate you—he’s just a casual racist. Plenty of patrons heard him call you a high yellow bitch the last time he caught you sneaking in without a membership. The Twitter storm you fueled as a consequence was enough for him to receive a stern warning. Given the he-said-she-said nature of the encounter, the incident wasn’t grounds for termination, but it was enough for management to tell him to look the other way when you sneak in. Yes, you will be evicted if you fail to seek help from the San Francisco Tenant’s Union and cannot come up with this month’s rent—this danger is imminent. But for the present moment, you are the queen of the Twitterverse with a free shower pass. 

            When you finish, walk carefully around the scattering of bodies sleeping inside the service entries of businesses along Van Ness, but don’t count yourself among the homeless yet. Instead, lift a copy of Back to Black when you get to Amoeba Records on Polk Street. Listen carefully: there is only one way to process to track number nine, “Some Unholy War.” Take the advice offered in the song full stop. Go home and lie down on your kitchen floor and replay the track. If the kitchen is too dirty, the bedroom floor will do. Adjust the nobs on the radio until you successfully slow down the tempo—the song should transform into a ballad after a few tries. Close your eyes and press repeat. Play it twice more and memorize the words on the last pass. Resist the urge to obsess over the fact that you haven’t written in months, that you feel extraordinary pressure to produce a manuscript of novel length, to take a job in any field other than writing that pays a decent wage, so that you won’t fear losing your apartment each month. According to the stale fortune cookies you cracked open last night, you will finish writing a book this year. This is your year. Only it doesn’t feel like anyone’s year yet because the early morning hours of New Years Day feel too new to be believed and your jean pockets are so well worn, they are thin as tracing paper. Repeat the mantra to yourself anyway. This is your year.

        The more you listen to the track, the more you think of loving someone as fatuously as the song commands. Reflect on the rhetorical lyric that asks who you write for. Even though you can’t picture a particular person or crowd, don’t let your mind wander. Create a space for the question in your journal and imagine yourself as a person with answers, someone who marches into the Tenant’s Union and reports the landlord for cutting off the utilities, someone who writes and writes and cuts herself over unanswerable questions.

When They Heard About Oscar

They walk nine deep across two city blocks towards the Powell Street Metro Station, a handful of teenage boys. The previous evening, they’d come from Oakland to the Embarcadero and wrestled their way through a large crowd to watch fireworks on the waterfront on New Year’s Eve. Afterward, they’d stayed out all night in the Fillmore, crashing house parties they weren’t invited to, only now making their way home in the early morning hours. They stomp around in puddles, gutter water turning the edges of their jeans a deep indigo. Once they reach the station, they elbow and shove their way to the front of the line on the escalator and take turns hopping the turnstile. The squares—older folks who grow tomatoes and avocados in urban, backyard gardens, and say things to each other like “quite lovely” about wine and food—turn away and clutch their belongings to their chests. The gesture does not go without confrontation. “You scared?” The oldest boy asks a silver-haired man again and again and louder each time until the man cuts his eyes at the group of them, his scowl big enough to carry all of Oakland.

       Out on the platform, the boys split into two groups and howl battle rhymes at each other. The tallest of the group shakes his dark dreads loose from a tattered rubber band and steps into the center of the huddle, his arms extended on either side. He doesn’t want it to get too heated. There are plenty of plain-clothes officers ready to spring out of a quiet corner to slap cuffs on boys like them for less. When their train arrives, they sit and become window percussionists, pounding out beats with their palms and fists.  They stretch their t-shirts over their knees, mindful not to let anyone step on their white sneakers. The cuffs of their jeans dry out on the train, but to be sure, the jeans are cheap—the kind sold three for twenty dollars at the Ashby Street swap meet, the kind that transfers dark blue pigment to their socks, shins, and ankles.

      There are few passengers on the train at this time of morning on a holiday weekend. The boys bore quickly. They rise and stagger single file to the next car as the train begins its passage through the Transbay Tube. The three and a half mile tunnel runs through the bay between San Francisco and Oakland at a depth so low, the boys’ chests tighten involuntarily, and their ears pulse from increased atmospheric pressure. Still, they keep moving and shout out to each other about some girl’s this, and another girl’s that; but mostly, despite the chatter, they speak to each other like strangers. They don’t speak of the night before, their hopes and fears for the New Year. How the soiled fabric on the train seats carries the briny scent of vomit. How some of them will go home, and no one will be there to greet them or worry that they’ve been away all night. How they refer to each other using nicknames because they can’t be sure who is listening. How some of them have been shuffled back and forth between relatives, thrust out of their grandmothers’ apartments when they did not respond to discipline or threats from truancy officers. How these rejections form a slow growing cancerous mound eating at them by degrees each day.

        A small, red-haired woman balances her body against a pole and opens the San Francisco Chronicle. She does not notice two boys standing behind her, quietly reading over her shoulder: “Unarmed Black Man Shot by Police in Subway Station.” The details are scant and contradictory. Some witnesses confirmed the young victim was cooperative with police before the shooting. Others claimed he was a resistant thug rightfully subdued with a knee to the neck. In grainy photographs, the victim lay lifeless on the platform, his thin brown arms handcuffed behind his back. His mother had been tearful, when interviewed—choked up with grief. Investigators released the young victim’s name but were careful to withhold the officer’s. It would be leaked to the press later that day: “Officer Johannes Mehserle Kills Oscar Grant III.”       

         Before the red-haired woman finishes the story, one of the boys, the smallest, whispers to her: “You’re a little far from North Berkeley, aren’t you, snow bunny?” He draws an imaginary line on the floor with his toe. A moment of silence stretches between them. The woman sucks her teeth and holds his gaze for a time. When she opens her mouth to say something, other boys flank her, blocking her path. She closes her mouth and folds the newspaper under a thin, freckled arm. She slides through the semi-circle of boys, a stiff gait all the way to the opposite end of the train car. They do not follow her with their eyes. Instead, they jam fingers inside their ears to relieve the pressure as the train exits the Transbay Tube into Oakland. They say nothing as silver sunlight streams through the windows, into the bay beyond.

Author Statement

I once heard E-40 say something to the effect of “first the Bay Area, then the world.” I can’t find the lie in that sentiment. These somewhat connected stories arose out of a profound love for the Bay, as well as an internal dialogue with a new America I often struggle to understand. When I think of the Sacred Americas, I find myself orbiting New Years’ Day 2009—which, for me, was somewhat of a harbinger of the America we have become. I was living on the edge of Nob Hill in San Francisco at that time, and will never forget waking up to news that a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer “accidentally” shot Oscar Grant. The backdrop to Oscar’s murder was the beginning stages of a tech boom, which materialized from the ashes of the mortgage crisis, wherein unscrupulous loan officers swindled black grandmothers out of their homes in Hunter’s Point. The byproduct of this loss and growth, arguably, was an influx of outsiders and capital that drove up real estate values and inversely affected many communities—most acutely, artists and families of color—who soon found themselves priced out of the city. Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and others followed Oscar.  Rancor and duplicity emerged from our national dialogue around the intersections of race, money, and privilege.  For its part, Oakland grieved and roused resistance. Some say it reclaimed its position as a leader in counter-culture, that it is responsible for the birth of new social activists the world over. How, in many ways, the Bay foretold today’s America.

Esmé-Michelle Watkins is an attorney from Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in BostonReviewIndiana ReviewWord RiotVoices de la Luna and elsewhere. She has worked on the editorial staff at Apogee and Blackberry: A Magazine, and is the recipient of fellowships from the Jacob P. Waletzky Fund, Callaloo, Kimbilio, and Columbia University. You can find more of her writing at www.esmemichelle.com.