Ching-In Chen

I started writing speculative responses during the 2016 Tax Day floods when I couldn’t leave my house. I started using the language of terrible Google translations of my dad’s Facebook statuses to write about how surreal it felt to be forced stationary; about living in the Third Ward with a sense of sped-up gentrification time, and then circling back during and after Hurricane Harvey. I fed these different strands/threads/times into each other. What merged – weird narrative snatches and explorations. Later, I listened to Diane Glancy read to us, encouraging a half-listen and half-write. Her language as tuning fork, associative leap.

after so many days fled from scattering mold

watch window punch back 
invading water
let go Thursday birds stranded on roof no matter we flee he will not leave
watch closer dock floating

in seam I watched through doorway as he grew open in back


hinge I don’t think twice about insert my ghost
when she’s not looking grew up sharing same pants and sweater
both chewing a hot pair of steaks she doesn’t recognize these days
swinging her long disaster hair her terrible stranger
lips made up to night
I want to say, in future
you will lose all hair
and maybe your mother
but surprise a winner how we deal with discharge
keeps us forward and nimble a laugh on gas knee


all hair will scatter
all window punch
all water invade then birds sink surprise
it’s your mother Thursday fleeing the seam
when she’s not looking we both share a hot pair

tuning fork conversation

       listening to Diane Glancy on QWERTYUIOPASDFGHJKLZXCVBNM (The Keyboard Letters)

“why are we here in the wilderness?”

to wrestle with lefting desire in an old Chinese junket grasp all the legs
going by a yolking cracking ground

pages of that old notebook visiting the Holy Park theme park thirty years
working on disruption

rejected again and again a clump of old stormy stories which don’t like one
another a non-working watch congealing on my wrist

whatever that means this entry in the creek a mustard seed signature to herd rough
pecan weather through passing twenty-six letters through undercurrent fire

stifled by wishing we more orderly mother window even the seams well planned

such a pleasure towards finish to tie our half-starved
differences together all we got to form a mathematics of wilderness

‘how can what I see be trusted?’

but I have my own sweetfeed world to go

Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi/Red Hen Press, 2009) and recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2017; winner of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry). Chen is also the co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press, 2011; AK Press 2016) and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets (Achiote Press, 2009). They have received fellowships from Kundiman, Lambda, Watering Hole, Can Serrat and Imagining America and are a part of Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities. Their work has appeared in The Best American Experimental Writing, The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writing, and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. A community organizer, they have worked in the Asian American communities of San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside, Milwaukee and Boston. A poetry editor of the Texas Review, they currently teach creative writing at Sam Houston State University.




Jay Besemer


this critical cycle                     years spent underground
like a locust nymph weathering damage above
sitting out the battle because a larger struggle is yet to
come you see how things pass

he says       there is no justifiable war in the age of nuclear
so underground is where we stay
because war is made everywhere & there is no place
for us to live

the sound of the drones & planes is too much even under the 
earth we wait to be changed


first that business with the night       & the startle reflex
times stranded among no one you know all
those strangers eyeing you

then her memory loss & your blast of recollection    &
collation temporally unmoored like a hero
whose dream determines the next experience

trains rumble everywhere       in waking or in sleep   
& the dream becomes the kind with a train in it &
the odor of rotting flesh

she doesn’t remember

there was a window                        it led to the sky          but
there was nothing around it there was a door open
onto a path through the woods but she never cared
for the forest

& these places fade       the light around them turns to metal
the metal flakes in oxidized ruin wind rises what
do you find beneath it
some tiny bones              & a playbill

Jay Besemer is the author of the poetry collections Theories of Performance (The Lettered Streets Press, forthcoming 2019), The Ways of the Monster (KIN(D) Texts and Projects/The Operating System, 2018), Crybaby City (Spuyten Duyvil, 2017), Chelate (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016) and Telephone (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013). He was a finalist for the 2017 Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature. Find him online at and on Twitter @divinetailor.

Speculative genres of writing, film and television have always suggested the possibility of a future for me—something that, as a young chronically ill trans person growing up in the 70s & 80s, I could never take for granted. These poems come from a lifelong saturation by and of alternate worlds, selves, and ideas. They combine the current moment of “perpetual war”—and the need to respond to constantly increased threats to trans lives/bodies—with the complementary search for solace and care.

Ryan Tarr

the spiral is the object

the tight squeeze of chains wrapping me
pulled out of muck or dust
my origin feels damp
and I can hear a hiss or a whisper peaking through
is this the feeling of the mind trying to upload itself?

sweating under my dog skin
i’ll pretend the grooves in my teeth are stone carvings:
Artifact from an Ancient Occupant
(put it on the side, not the lid)
but they never see it in that context, different from here
The Primary Context
chains are the id
chains are the soil


there’s a word
or texture
that i’ve been exposed to
about the purification of bones
that i can’t remember
my body feels uncomfortable
as i feel undesired
the sweat
the sense of dread
when i see my own
body in the mirror


looking at myself and thinking
is this body a corpse?
are its parts held together through necromancy?
in the bathroom i let my body collapse
in on itself like a dying star
i want reality to follow
it’s not stable anyway
and if i was the force that caused it to fully collapse
i’d be self-satisfied


desolation and community
uncertain visions in dystopic landscapes
fingers grappling with chains, links counted like hail mary’s
the sound of shovels turning soil
sharp and dull, foreboding changes
gardens planted and fruits harvested under desert sun

let’s intersperse the calm and the frenzied

water runs over rocks
a chain glimpsed under sediment
patterns like snake skin

runes drawn in sand
writing to focus thoughts, like straightening blades

shot through substrate
how do i hold up under scrutiny?
thinking of cyber realities, of abstracted visions


i’m vanilla, stagnant and unsexed
these cysts on my thumb are from misuse
the stains on my skin are from soaking in my own mess
a result of repeated inattentiveness

would it make it easier if i felt bad about it?
my body, stationary, investigated by wasps

The Spiral is the object
Remember that at the center of my person is a spiral

i’m not sure where i am
i’ve become metaphysically avoidant
are you expecting me to reveal some truth about these objects?

maybe i’m so nervous because we talk about the way things are at their core
and there is no core

i can see the oil on the surface
and i can feel it on my lips

ryan tarr is a white non-binary artist from michigan, relocating to california. you can reach them @g0r3_g1rl or at rwt1515@gmail

these pieces were all composed in 2018 in Austin TX – starting as scattered fragments written from anxiety, then wove together. my asexuality, body dysphoria and the weight of contemporary dystopia keep converging and asking ‘what is this body for?’ I waver between trying to answer that, and trying to escape to a reality where I don’t have to.

Noel Jones


       I never had enough legs, and I wanted to breathe water instead of air. It took me a quarter of a life to figure out what was wrong. It took five octopus lifetimes, so I was well behind my peers. I watched them on NatGeo Instagram videos and wished to dive into ocean trenches, to camouflage my skin to match the ocean floor.
       A research hospital offered surgery to fix me. On the morning of the procedure I made Mom eggs, and sat across the table watching her since I wasn’t allowed to eat. She prodded her fork at the soft dome of dandelion yellow yolk rising above the white. I’d slightly burned them, so there were brownish foamy flakes among the white expanse below the rising yolk. A turbulent sea of egg. She sunk the tines in deep enough that the yolk gave under the pressure, but not enough that it broke and gushed through, the membrane perforated but not broken. I watched her and ground the inside of my cheek between my teeth. I’d been trying to break that habit.
       She put her fork down, braided her fingers together on the bit of the table in front of her plate and peered at me. She didn’t speak. She was waiting for me to explain, maybe, more than she was putting me to judgment. Though by the squint of her eyes she was most likely doing both. Mom reminded me of a wolf, but a tired one. Used to denying her animal nature.
       “I need to do this,” I told her, “I was becoming afraid of the way my heart shuddered instead of beat. This body I’m in keeps forgetting to breathe for me.” Her eyes fell closed, and she pinched where her eyebrows creased trying to meet each other. I don’t think it helped. “Are you going to take me to the restaurant?”
       “You don’t need to go to work anymore,” she declared this, but didn’t look at me. “So what, after this you’ll be gone, Gemima? Out of my life?” My stomach twisted, and to calm its writhing I had to stand and leave the table. I stood next to the couch. My knees begged me to give in.
       “I’ll live in the ocean, Mom. I wouldn’t be far, if you wanted me.” She went back to her room with a sigh. Hunger made the room waver. I went to sleep swaddled in the sheets she laid out on the couch for me.
       Lilly had to wake me by honking her horn from the curb, because Mom didn’t let me know she’d arrived. Rushed out the door, I left the bag the doctors told me to prepare, in case I reneged and needed a change of clothes to slink home in. Lilly bared her teeth at me as I got into the car. I think she meant to smile. The weight of wanting to ask me why weighed the corners of her mouth down. They were chapped and shedding scales. She had a tendency to pick at the skin while she worried. I wanted to tell her the doctors could make her a snake if she wanted, the scales had made me think, she’d just have to figure out what kind, but I didn’t.
       “I need a world of water to hold me up,” I tried to answer the question Lilly wouldn’t ask.
       She smiled then, a crooked one with wistful water snake tails winding in the her eyes dark like the deep middle of a pond. She was near tears. “Can I hold your hand while I drive?” The answer was yes, of course. Her thumb drew circles in the back of my hand, the shapes morphing into the more complex as we drove. I think she was testing ideas for a series of drawings there on me, like all those nights I laid out semi-nude on her silk sheets so she could brainstorm with my back as a canvas, sponging off the mistakes and painting over layers of washed out color and sweat.
       “Thank you for driving me.”
       “Gem, of course. Do you need to stop for anything? Coffee?”
       “I need it, but I can’t. Stomach has to be empty so I’m not allowed.”
       “I think there’s room to wiggle there. Well, I need coffee, what do you think I should get?” She let me have a sip of the vanilla doubleshot latte I suggested she get, which ended up meaning half of it. “I won’t tell the doctors.”
       Lilly hummed along with the radio, softly, but she got most of the notes wrong so she was composing her own scores accompanied by background songs. I tracked the movement of the asphalt flowing under the wheels until I got dizzy, buoyed along on currents being baked under the summer sun, partly evaporated along mirage lines. I was one with the asphalt ocean. It made me sick.
       “We’re here, Gem. Let me walk you inside.” She kissed my forehead in the waiting room when the nurse called me back. “They won’t let me go with you.” My heart wanted to sink. It wanted to go back to the kitchen and cook for Lilly, to swallow having the wrong body for the right life. Good thing the traitor was getting taken out.
       Lilly leaped a little, looked at the doors to surgery, then back to me, wincing. She wasn’t wearing makeup, her eyes had packed big indigo bags they made her carry. I hadn’t seen her freckles exposed for years. Her eyes looked rounder, childlike without prismacolor framing. “I love you.”
       She smiled for real again. “I’ll be here when you get out. I’ll buy a boat and come visit you too, okay?” She took my hands to squeeze, and then she let me go.
       The doctor prepared me for surgery, said “Are you ready?” like I would change my mind. I told him, “This body isn’t mine. I always felt the body that was mine as it should have been, phantom limbs but for the whole thing. I’m going to go so deep in the sea that no one will see me. I’ll just be.”

Noel Jones is a nonbinary writer living in Beloit, WI. They studied physics and creative writing at Beloit College. When not writing gothic horror about flowers or normalizing equations, they brew tea or get new tattoos.

I wrote this piece after stumbling across the concept of transmogrification while doing research on alchemy. Transmogrification is the transformation of the human body by magical means. I started to think of all the ways trans people change their bodies, or modify their expression, and how magical these transformations can be. This flash fiction is supposed to express some element of that magic.

Catherine Chen

Memphis Opera Blues

Louise was conceived in 1991. That year, their marriage drowning, my parents visited Lake Louise and left struck by its beauty, its perception of line. Her body weak, my mother decided that it was only appropriate to name the child after majesty. 

People always want to know the reasons for a name. Who did you name her for? What does that mean in your language? How bizarre, like shattered glass. I did it purely because I had no other evident name to give at the time. I thought it sounded discreet and imperfect, understanding that she would acquire many names throughout life and I was no more special to her than a beloved succulent.

But Louise is still Louise. Nowadays I wonder often if Louise has a home and a community. Does she have health insurance? 


She is self-sufficient. She avoids the attention of the authorities by leaving no trace. She cannot be found digitally but in public, she is there, cemented, unseen. No more a ghost than my hazy memories of the girls I left behind at one time or another.

No. When she speaks it, her heart tightens. A tingle. It almost aches. Her work is never complete. When I was nine, our family traveled by train to Lake Louise. We began our journey from Vancouver where we visited an uncle. My mother wanted me to witness the lake. It was all for the sister I did not have. 

In a dream she returns to me as a cyborg1.

In the dream we hold one another2. Foreshadow the forthcoming pain of separation. I’m not wary of separation, it’s the spite that always accompanies the circumstances of separation that I’m concerned will be my undoing. Handwoven garments. A tea cozy. Citron honey. Hand-me-downs, my mother has arguably said, are the women-driven narratives of our family. But: what would the cyborg’s skin feel like against mine? I reach out toward your ethereal ioS, AKA your ribcage.

My mother named the baby, instead, after royalty. A different kind of majesty. Certainly, a cruel beauty. Both translate crudely. Both reach into the body of destiny and pull out, without hesitation, the veins and arteries of any number of anonymous vessels. The body, like ideology, has a schedule. To follow. We do not know exactly how this schedule functions. Its logic drives the entire neighborhood mad. Tuesday night we gather in the cul-de-sac we affectionately call Bland Island. Abiding grace. After the party.

I long for the day when my sweat will not drench these silk sheets. After tonight, or several.

Seething. Like any proper lady, I know I’m not capable of anger. So when the time comes I will simply self-detonate. No matter how you look at it, imperialism is embedded in the self I have to destroy. War is more than friendly fire: I stopped using Facebook because I could no longer handle its unshaking grip over the ability of my friends to secure affordable housing or access reliable or decently safe healthcare networks. I lost more friends, more acquaintances, through the algorithm than to poverty that year and every year following it. 

The self I bend over before you, wild with insomnia. The self I have preserved out of shame.

Mesmerized by the color of sunsets, a sun only to be found in California at dusk. The orange of black light. 

But I can’t remember what a California sunset looks like.

Who is the cyborg? I ask myself. Who am I asking for?

When she asks: Is the body in landscape mirroring itself? 

Put in such a way. As to feel botched. 

Or touched. I have been touched. I walk around with a botched head but no one says anything.

1 The cyborg incubates our requests and fears. She does not distinguish between the two. Extremities don’t bother her. She understands morality but is terrified of subscribing to any practice which does not include Terms and Conditions. She understands [us] in bursts best likened to photons. Affect is an unstable, untested program. Emotions are filtered, hierarchy by proxy is another another metaphor for sex, and she will fuck you. According to a schematic, desire operates cyclically. So there is no concern for rejection. The cyborg absorbs every touch. The words we throw. The ones we don’t. Remember. She does not change her tone. She isn’t angry. Soft. Mutable. She will praise you. She praises everyone. She will thank you, a care worker with insurmountable student loans. Do not approach her. Do not approach her. Once she fell through the ceiling, hoping to paint the color of her blood. Like tempera. She was disappointed to discover that the viscosity of her bodily fluids could not adhere to paper. Blood: a mix of orange, dotted lines, and infrared. I don’t have any preferences. Her system is a dowry. She is afraid to ask. Was this deliberate on the end of the scientists who created her? Men in white lab coats. Passive beasts. They reach, with their white-gloved hands, into her and pull out sunflowers. They scan her body for wounds. The body undone by violence cannot properly register. Nothing her monstrous body cannot contain. They line her organs with asbestos. Still she functions. She struggles to name the pain. It is all incubated in the child who will bring us clarity. A child must be nourished. A child deserves empathy. Meanwhile the scientists fiddle in code, drafting proposals and grants. They plan to publish so many papers and win so many millions in defense spending and so many many many

2 With care.

Catherine Chen is a poet and performer. Their writing has appeared in Slate, The Rumpus, Apogee, Hobart, and Nat. Brut, among others. A 2019 Poets House Fellow, their work has been supported by Lambda Literary, Sundress Academy for the Arts, Millay Colony, and Art Farm. Their chapbook Manifesto, or: Hysteria (Big Lucks) is forthcoming August 2019.

During a recent videochat, poet Wryly T. McCutchen said they admired my refusal to explain my work. Who claims cyborg realness? From 2015-2016, I transcribed & annotated for the data pipeline team of a popularly used AI device. Like a fly on the wall who is paid an hourly wage, I listened to users spew violently & bodily dysphoric language at a machine. I understood these utterances as they were directed at the being of my body. I felt transferred: against an altar, an antagonist of my kinky fantasies.

Casey Rocheteau

For years, I’ve been fascinated by a recording of Sun Ra and Henry Dumas called “The Ark and The Ankh”, which is essentially an interview. In it, Sun Ra points to humanity’s death obsession as the primary force holding us back from transformation. With all the Space X/Space Force nonsense in the news, I just kept imagining Sun Ra sitting on his front porch on Saturn telling these rich white men to get off his front lawn because all they were trying to do was either cheat or cause death.

Sun Ra Speaks From A Returning Saturn

                                                Whatchu talking about a Space Force?
                                  Ain’t no armies in space, just arkestras. My friend ain’t
die                        in no train station just fuh you tuh shoot your expensive car
                    round my way. I don’t ‘ppreciate the way you looking to my front yard
                for answers I ain’t got to the problems you created on Oith. You  live  on  a
             dumb rock,       wet with blood or better yet you crawled out from under it child.
          &               I seen you struggling to make sense of ice caps and tombstones        & you
       still cain’t even see me     don’t matter black or white, you love death more than mothers.
      What end up in the graveyard technicolor wishing y ‘all come up here tryna get on my level

with that bad ass attitude and cavalier lazer gun.              You can’t cowboy your way outta gravity, dummy.

       What you about to do? Put all your sex robots on Mars and see if they can live without
                    a man telling em what where and now? I’m tired of yall negus running to me
                        for answers every time you make ya own kitchen too hot so go on run
                               tell that before you dive in the ocean lil fish, you still got more
                                  trench and phosphorescence to figure out fore you come 
                                                up here asking for my coordinates to fix
                                                           what ain’t worth keeping.

Casey Rocheteau lives in Detroit, MI. They are the creator of the Black Medusa Tarot and author of Knocked up on Yes (2o12) and The Dozen (2016).

Rachel Franklin Wood

false medium

I am the clock’s fourth hand       some infinitesimal unit       moving always backwards       I
like to go around sighing       mercury’s retrograde again       the moon’s a thin 19 percent

when I’m in the library       it’s you who pivots       disgusted by my noisy ectoplasm
pardon my attempt       at cheesecloth and wonder       sometime my ghosts       rattle around
inside me       but more often       my knee is playing earthquake       beneath the table

once I decided being witchy       would turn me to a better woman       I became a better woman
if I spell myself invisible       will I weigh heavier       in the finger nervous pockets of you

Rachel Franklin Wood is a trans poet from Laramie, Wyoming, but she hasn’t lived there for a while. She has a chapbook, “Every Spring Underneath” (dancing girl press), and co-edits pulpmouth.

While writing this poem, I was very conscious of my relationship to the piecemeal “witchy” aesthetic so often embodied by cis, white women in a way that can feel quite hollow and appropriative. Yet, through a shared interest in ritual and self-care, I have found myself forming deep, meaningful relationships with cis women in which my transness is not an excluding factor and through which my identity has been bolstered. How do I hold both my criticism and my community? How do I care for my physical self while magicking that presence away?

Ava Hofmann

riot maxims ii

Originally from Oxford, Ohio, Ava Hofmann is a writer currently living and working as an MFA student in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has poems published in or forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, Fence, Anomaly, Best American Experimental Writing 2020, Datableed, and Peachmag. Her poetry deals with trans/queer identity, Marxism, and the frustrated desire inherent to encounters with the archive. Her website can be found at; she also overuses her twitter account, @st_somatic

My poems often concern themselves with illegibility and mess, a frustrated desire for a sense of time as a trans person—a feeling of ‘no future’ and ‘no past’, save for the small and strange scraps that cis society forgot to burn. I want readers to approach these texts as if they were these scraps from out of time, ruins from a future which never existed in any ‘original’ form.

Alex Kime

30 seconds to reboot12345

oh Maker, have you ever loved/ or known just what it was?/ I can’t imagine the bitter end/ of all the beauty that we’re living in
—Janelle Monáe

1                              for those silent frantic chapters 
a long hallway I have ghost whispered at the edges of for centuries
in this machination I called my warp of a brain, whirring/coils
beneath the outermost layer of my fuselage where anyone
who looked hard enough could see the way I either worked or didn’t

2         a ragged prototype,       work/half-life balance  to perform, I engineered;       adapted;    
  my mechanisms       my fuck you anyway brand of coping              shortcut production
                flick the switch to feel happy              blunt the crashing:

3  still, I fluctuate—       mercurial, some would call it, when one is never the right amount 
                                                              of lamplight, measly filament in an incandescent lonely

4  consider fascism, an new old reason to make every self-destructive decision possible
approximately-organic shambles grappling with the threading; the cogs

5                    finally, I looked at myself & decided to act with kindness 
        improvised & twitching                  an unused muscle group
  now, as I take the moment     to stop,    I realize how much I have continued holding in

A transdisciplinary writer, teaching artist, and facilitator, alex was born and raised in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan. Currently a lecturer with the Program on Intergroup Relations, they are the recipient of the 2019 Michael R. Gutterman Award in Poetry, Highest Honors in Creative Writing & Literature for their manuscript of poems entitled trans-corporeality in 2017, 2nd Place in the 2017 Current Magazine poetry contest, and the 2015 Jeffrey L. Weisberg Memorial Prize in Poetry. In addition to studying Creative Writing and Literature, they received their Master of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan as a National Community Scholar. With Yoseñio V. Lewis, they are the co-author of the chapter “Place, joy, and self: trans justice and community organizing work” in Social Work and Healthcare with Trans and Nonbinary Individuals and Communities (Routledge, 2020). Their poetic work is forthcoming and/or has appeared in Current Magazine, Café Shapiro, the Michigan Daily, the anthology Uncommon Core: Contemporary Poems for Learning and Living, and others. Their poem “30 seconds to reboot” was selected for the Michael R. Gutterman Award in Poetry.

mud howard

when I think about the future, I try to tap into the pulse of the past. I think about my (our) trancestors: Marsha, Leslie, Sylvia, Stormie, all the others, unnamed. what dreams of the future kept them up at night and which ones got them up in the morning? I use their intimacy, pain, and visions to help me survive. I believe in the backbones our trauma gives us. I believe that technology is not synonymous with violence. I believe that trans and gender non-conforming people are magical beings who have been sent here to change the shape and the shame of this planet.

I thought the internet was going to make us all love each other more

assume I’m not wrong
assume the sun is a single mother who will never burn out
assume your reservoir of heartbreak was man-made
assume these men who broke your heart always (secretly) wanted to be carried
out of the rubble of their lives in the arms of a cheerleader
dad bod all seized up

assume that we all have pristine visions of the sissy inside us
multiplying into entire orchards
of sour shapeless fruit
assume your gender is always under some process of crystal-ballification
look at the fat clumps of data we’ve become
walking through the matrix
of intergenerational miscommunications

we lost:
the slowness of time

we gained:

when this tree blossoms
we will talk about the future

techno songs about heaven play on the radio

in the South they skin snakes
summer is clean and streaked with bodies
the soft, moldy eye of the storm winks
& your gift is your shyness

the synthesizer urges you to come forward
place your hands on the magic
amputated strips of astro turf
& inhabit your life

the new world will be built
by allowing gentleness to gather within you
subterranean trust in another person’s
body breaking down, atomizing into sleep

ignore love
name a planet after yourself
memorize a phone number
get held

today you are a teenager
tomorrow you go

mud howard is a non-binary trans poet from the states. they write about queer intimacy, interior worlds, & the cosmic joke of the gender binary. they hold an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster London and are currently working on their first full-length novel: a queer trans memoir structured like a tarot deck and packed full of lies. they have been published in journals such as THEM, Foglifter, and The Lifted Brow. you can find more of their work at