Lix is a multidisciplinary artist and fetishwear designer based in Brooklyn. Their art is enmeshed in opulent queer desire and participation in collective resistance. They also enjoy writing smutty sci fi, poetry in their diary, and performance texts. They perform as a contortionist and nonbinary drag pop star. They work as an educator in textile art and sculpture.
I often imagine my husband dying. It’s morbid, but it’s true. I worry that he’ll get sick or be killed in an accident. And after I’ve turned these obsidian events over and over in my mind, most often, the very next thing I think about is what black dress I’ll wear to his funeral.
Sometimes, when I’m naked in my apartment, I feel a light electric sensation on my skin and imagine it’s gender, searching for a foothold on my body. Finding few, it slides to the floor, where I press it beneath my bare feet.
When I was younger I was incredibly frugal. I lived in a garage, worked two or three days a week, and made things: plays, dances, poems. I used to think my life then had a sort of bohemian glamour, although now, looking back, I wonder. Certainly, there were many beautiful nights, warehouse dinner parties that stretched for hours, studio visits that turned into dancing that turned into morning. Looking back now, I can see how all of this was happening in a closed circuit. No one was watching us, and so these events ultimately remained closed off from glamour, which requires, above all else, a viewer.
During that period, I was working on a show inspired by the life of a seminal gay performance artist, known for filling his plays with casts of fabulous freaks. He’d pluck them from street corners, saunas, the backrooms of dirty Greenwich village bars. He’d put them on stage, where they could stand proudly, where the point was to stare at them.
It was spring and everything felt unstable with life. The director told us to pull together outfits that would turn us into one of these freaks, garish and glowing, mixing and matching signifiers. I wore a ruby crushed velvet maxi dress, an oversize moss-colored cardigan, and huge paste diamond clip-on earrings. My nails were painted slut red. I rolled up a strip of paper for a prop cigarette and gesticulated wildly, my limbs loose and my tongue looser. My voice was free to swing up and down through its full register, and I felt that electric feeling on my skin. I felt invincible. Feeling the hem of the dress float over the tops of my feet, I had an epiphany. All of this, the dress, the nail polish, the earrings, these were tools available to me outside of the white walls of the studio. I gasped.
The next day I let a burly man pierce both my ears with a needle that was much larger than I’d expected it to be.
Luxury was never something I allowed myself. I was raised in a plains city, where luxury, if it ever appeared, was so eroded by the constant wind that it was nearly unrecognizable. Extravagance had to be secreted away, disguised in ‘simplicity’ and ‘quality’. What I find most puzzling, in retrospect, is that people still enjoyed luxurious things, but the enjoyment of them was private. Now that I understand better the deep pleasure there is being seen and watched, I think, ‘Why would you even bother?”
My lips are stained and I’m on view in the museum, can feel the tourists’ vision catch on my face, stuck for a moment. I watch them puzzle. I stiffen, project power. I want this, though it terrifies me. I do not understand it, yet I want it. I am sure.
Recently, I described a dress I love to a friend. It was an expensive dress, the most I’ve ever paid for a piece of clothing. I described how I worship the designer, how I’d seen the collection on the runway, how I’d anxiously awaited its appearance in stores. I told him how I had visited this dress in the store several times, first just looking, eventually trying it on. I told him how, when I first saw it on my body, I audibly gasped, then began to laugh. I told him how I thought about the dress when I was moving through the world, imagined living with it. When I decided to buy it, I felt such a sweet rush, as if I was gambling but at a game I knew I was guaranteed to win.
When it arrived, I put it on, looked in the mirror again, and was met with the same uncontrollable happiness, a lightness I could feel in my joints. Later, talking to him, I described it as ‘body joy’, and said one of my great recent realizations was that this feeling was absolutely worth the money.
I realize now that perhaps I’d spent that much on a suit before, or at least had that much spent on a suit for me by someone else. But the number of dollars spent, in that context, doesn’t produce the same friction.
I love black dresses, find myself compelled towards them. Upon entering any thrift store, my first stop is always the dresses, hopefully sorted by color, where I begin pawing through the black garments, looking for something long, something draped, something to mask my shape, make it mutable.
Sometimes I rehearse for my own future griefs. I do it more since I’ve been married. I imagine losing my husband, or him losing me, imagine the feeling of living with his absence, our apartment off-balance, our dogs depressed. I imagine our dogs dying, our parents dying, our city disappearing in the white flash of a bomb, both of us made nothing in an instant. There’s a terror, to be sure, but there’s a pleasure on top of that, for it feels for a moment as if I’m living in the heightened register of poetry, which is, perhaps, another way of saying an enlargement of feeling to make room for death to come in.
On good mornings getting dressed feels like a sort of spell, one that transforms the empty ground ahead of me into a path I can walk on.
Magic is a language like any other. You start out less than adept, speaking blunt words, summoning blunt objects into being. As you continue, you learn to see and feel the useful edges of these objects, how you might sculpt or place these edges in order to make them more precise, more specific, more powerful. You apply these new knowledges, these new points of leverage, to get farther or to go deeper into the recursive space of the magic, where the articulation of itself opens up new landscapes to explore. You conjure a world and then enter it and learn from it how to pronounce more complicated spells. This continues.
For my thirtieth birthday my husband wants to buy me a dress. Of course, I want something black. My husband says that one condition of the gift is that he has to approve of the dress I pick, and that nothing black is going to meet his standards. He wants it to be pretty. I twist against this proclamation, part of me annoyed that it’s preventing me from having access to the austere black Miyake column dress, so wearable, that I saw in one downtown boutique. But another part of me likes the submission implied by this rule, that the dress must be something that pleases him. And because I like pleasing him, this gives me pleasure. I cannot see his obvious strategy, the way he is pushing me towards something I’m trying at all costs not to recognize.
We go to my favorite store. I touch everything. I’m looking for the dress that will feel worthy of this gift, which comes at a period in my life when I’m actively grappling, maybe for the first time, with how uncomfortable it makes me to receive love. We walk through floor after floor, searching, but nothing sticks. I try on several dresses, and although I like some of them, none of them give me that rush of immediate joy, a feeling in my body like I’m a field of grass after heavy rain, full of an excess that will rush out at the slightest touch. None of these dresses make me that overfull, so we leave them hanging in the fitting room, waiting for their attendants to return them to their proper place.
I wonder if my mind is working against me. If, denied its usual path of submergence and avoidance of receiving love, it has merely opened up a trapdoor I never knew was there and is now performing a series of actions out of my sight. I look and look for a dress, but nothing feels right. The neck isn’t as high as I’d like, the flowers are too floral, the cut is somehow femme in the wrong way. I oscillate between feeling as if I’m being thorough, methodical, responding to this gift, so clearly thought out, with an equal effort and diligence, and feeling as if I’m refusing the many instances of pleasure available to me, right at my fingertips, hanging off my shoulders, as a way of refusing the sentiment behind the gift. Perhaps I’m reverting to my old habits. I believe myself unworthy and so conspire, wittingly and unwittingly, to make the world confirm that belief.
I still feel uncomfortable spending time thinking about clothes, jewels, perfumes. As I’ve been shopping over the past few days, I’ve walked through mists that seem to cover the radius of a block or two, and inside these clouds I despair at what a shallow person I’ve become. I think about what else I could be focusing on, spending money on, obsessing over. But then I step out of the shadow of a building, cross the street into the sun, and something about the warmth dispels the self-criticism. I’m left with a clear view of the mystery all this seems to orbit around: my body and my mind want to meet in a certain configuration, want to move through the world wearing a specific set of armor. I know that this search for a dress is actually a search for the suit of armor that will best grant me access to the type of daily joy I seek, that I have inklings of being possible. And I know that when I see my armor, in a window display or hanging on a rack, flanked by other sets of armor perfect for other people, inside my armor will be a form that grants me access to a new set of rooms and halls within my life. I can hear the party happening inside them already. I don’t feel late, or rushed. I just feel ready.
There’s a small voice in my head that speaks up whenever I whisper to myself, lips unmoving, the word genderqueer. It says, from far away, “Haven’t you gotten enough already?”
But what could be enough? At the heart of that word there’s a blankness that gathers its own momentum, feeding back on itself. Rules fall away, structures you think govern you are revealed to be two-dimensional sets, left out to rot in the warm California air. And beyond them? Blue. Space and stillness. Flowers blooming. And further still, a bleaching. Bones in the desert. The desert slowly covering them with the tenderness of a father putting his first child to bed.
There is a click. I get too stoned on accident and on the train ride to Washington my husband texts to ask if he can tell his best friend that I’m identifying as trans*. Actually, he asks if he can tell her that I am trans*, and in the train tunnel, which feels overlaid with time, I blanch internally. It spooks me. I spook myself, maybe. To hear the process I’ve been going through named so casually and so explicitly is like a jolt, like a knot, long worked at, suddenly giving way and dissolving into a sag of string.
I spend the journey alternating between experiencing my past sliding off me, checking twitter to read the latest on the newest US bombings of Syria, and wishing I’d bought Cheetos when I had the chance. I feel not allowed to be trans*, or to use that term, or to ask other people to go through the work of caring about it. But I think really what I feel unable to do is ask them to go through the work of caring about me.
I think of the power I feel, as the train rockets forward into the future. I text back that I can feel how I’m travelling forward into summer, the couple hundred miles of difference between New York and D.C. putting me in a different climate. I feel like I’m being fast-forwarded.
I’m not a man, and I don’t want to be a woman, exactly. I don’t feel dysphoria in my body, but my body is working towards something, and trans* is a label that suddenly makes sense of what’s been happening just beneath my awareness.
All the bits of foreshadowing of this moment step to the front of the stage in my mind where I sometimes go to try to perceive myself, and the lineup doesn’t just include events from the past year. It includes almost-forgotten moments from my childhood, moments when the prevailing social attitudes taught me that what felt natural was not allowed. I sit facing that stage in my mind. The light is dim but growing brighter, and as it comes up I attempt to see all of these moments as both individual and part of a whole.
I feel like crying, but I am too stoned to understand what kind of crying to do, so I just sit, feeling the almost imperceptible rumble of distance disappearing beneath and behind me.
I’m not different, but the things that rest upon me are. The things I feel passing over the landscape of my body as I walk through the world have changed. They’re more shapeless, draped. They’re accompanied by low flute tones. They like moonlight, and every kind of flower, and the movement of fabric in wind.
I wear black dresses whenever I can. Now I understand how mourning is a process shot through with celebration. Someone or something is gone. They have taken on a new form, one unencumbered by the old burdens of the body. Weeping marks this change. We see ourselves crying before we move forward into the chain of days. At the end of this chain a transformation waits for all of us.
How lovely we look as we walk.
Iris McCloughan is a transfemme writer and artist living and working in Brooklyn. They were the winner of the 2018 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from the American Poetry Review. They are the author of the chapbook No Harbor (2014, L + S Press) and their poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, juked, Gertrude, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and decomP, among others. Learn more at irismccloughan.com.
At first, a mere whisper.
Not a secret murmur through
clumsy cupped hands, but a
sigh of silk on silk slithering
over bare skin. Covering hairpin
hips, the wave of curves, small
nipples caught behind armored
chiffon. The opposite of
shedding. She casts
her natural body aside binding
new skin to someone else’s
bones. Duct-tape wound tight
wrapped like the dressing
of a wound.
Leather Speaks: II
As leather speaks, it’s
reflective lips quiver open
with tiny silver
teeth. Like the locked
fingers of clasped hands. But
now split and spread
apart. Inside a gash. A pale
skin smile. Slowly, slowly
a coy whisper slips out
of its metallic mouth, low
and soft. Does it tickle
your ear? Come
closer, lover. Lean in
when leather speaks,
Leather Speaks: III
Caught in a silent
picture, dripping in
leather’s sweet skin. This
layer an opaque veil. A
negative transparency. Velvet
curtain. Do you want
to know what goes on
underneath? To take
her apart, see what makes
her: warm light and
wavelengths, filled with
your desire. And when you
finally touch, finally feel
her on film stock, you are
stopped by a sudden
sound. The fantasy broken,
fucked by a hard gasp, a
crying out. Not from
her mouth but second skin,
now a shroud made of shadow
the leather stops your
touch, commands instead
Let her speak.
B. Woods is a creative nonfiction essayist and poet living in Huntington, WV. Her work has most recently appeared in Bacopa Literary Review and Storm Cellar Quarterly.
The queer community continues to be actively erased and forgotten, leaving few traces of our existence in comparison to the cis heteronormative history readily available. I picked up a film camera years ago in order to reinscribe our narratives into the history of film photography. These images are traces of friendships, encounters, and collaborations that bear witness to the fabulous resilience of our community. I’d like to thank every model for trusting me with their portraits, and for constantly inspiring me with their transformative creativity.
Antonius-Tin Bui (they/them) is a polydiscplinary artist invested in empowering queer communities through photography, hand-cut paper, performance, and community organizing. They proudly identity as a queer, gender-nonbinary, Vietnamese-American artist from Planet Jupiter.
CLOSET Something like crying but your eyes are a lock. Lazy buttons. But whether green is dirtier than choke. Or a green green dress with no sashes to whisper all a thing of raise and clock and supple and pardon warring to escape or give. If stomach impressing a band of stretch or hips to denim. A belt is a line of finely. And surely the implications of leather. How the stiff stiff yellow plus blue when out of. What of yield and yearning and boy stored comfort.
CLOSET Pressure in a body and the sense of the senses sensing. Or a thing without textile without tactile or closing or latching if always open like a gap in the wall.
CLOSET Waiting to reap in patchless denim. The time is now and the red scarf hanged in the doorframe. Death in bacon and a blue eyed mister mister. The one way out is a blue eyed boy silent and silencing. What a walk in. Troubles the time and the people feeding a feel of green. Suggesting something is a him by walking dangle. How doubt greens into. A surface sure found finding her. Oh what a wardrobe pleasure. Oh the boy is a seether. If pleasure then baked into cocksure. What is the belt like? It is not anything like pig it is not hanging from a hook it is not a green thing not a blue thing it is more hurt and has a little hoop.
CLOSET What a stench in the sleeves and the trenches of trenchcoat opening to the absence of an absence. This is most reasonable. The way a leg letting. If curves with no cure then the answer is simple. Like addressing shirk into dirty and sweatstains and silence and pursed and track marks. Deodorant. Spritz outside the uniron. It is harder. This is a mess.
CLOSET Suppose there is an I. Suppose the I is more places that are not shelves. If there is nicely it is a full closet. And sometimes an untorn. Nicely shirt nicely closet. Blouse blouse blouse blouse blouse blouse blouse. Lousy loose low shoes without loafers. If there are boots they are wide and trying. Objection to an ease without splendor.
CLOSET How red the impression of an absence.
CLOSET All slackly an attractive. A fluorescent a floral enmeshed and a chance to be hidden. How made in lace or handsome. How pretty. At any rate this room shows the whole of using. It is very likely roomy.
Elana Lev Friedland is a writer and performance artist. Their work has appeared in Cartridge Lit, Cosmonauts Avenue, Salt Hill, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. Find them online at www.elanalevfriedland.com.
Remember when you asked me
in the narrow throat
of a smoking area
whether i identified as queer
and i looked at you both
as if to ask you
Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope
tracing each careful foot
after the next
like tired butterflies treading the air
over wet leaves
on arrival Wallenda was greeted by Canadian officials
asking to present his passport
Everyday i wake up
to a feeling of
and a hard cock
There is a God of Distractions and a God of Cruel Intentions and i don’t know which of them
shakes me awake every morning
Recently i have found my new safety
gemstones painted on my hand
My students still see me
but what is my queerness
but tracing a careful foot
after the next
into the world
and begging strangers to ask me
what i have to present
This collaboration came about through personal conversations on queerness between the two artists and the different intersections they have to exist in as individuals. T’kya Taylor, a black queer man and fashion designer lives an experience of trying to find his place and expression in a complicated Venn-diagram of blackness, queerness and class. Joe Andrews, a white, AMAB, non-binary person has to draw their own daily lines between safety and gender expression, while working in the binary-gendered dynamic of contemporary education.
Masc-in-tape is a reactionary piece: As a black queer man I often find myself hiding parts of my identity to fit more securely into queer culture and its inherent expectations of me. It presents me with a system that both fetishises certain features of my blackness while also rejecting the parts of me that do not fit nicely into the constructed systems of white queerness. The mask itself is a hyperexpression of tradionally fetishised aesthetics, while hiding my ‘less desired’ features and obstructing my vision, and hence my agency as a publicly black queer man.
Jamaican Margiela is after the notorious SS ‘91 collection of Belgium designer Martin Margiela. Margiela’s opulent, jeweled masks were designed practically, with the intention of hiding the models faces as he couldn’t afford to pay them. This luxurious anonymity felt like a glamorized reflection of my own experience, growing up in a poor, working class household and having to DIY all of my own clothing – whether that was spray painting chains or painting repurposed jeans with acrylic paint. This reimaging takes the original, material opulence of ‘91 and inverts it, replacing the threaded, white diamonds with PVA-glued cardboard gems in the colours of Jamaica’s flag. Contrary to Masc-in-tape’s self-blinding aesthetic, there is a sense of self-love in adorning Jamaican Margiela, a mask that doesn’t completely hide my features and allows them to peak out in a form of celebration.
What resonated most through our conversations of queerness and fashion, was the lack of a true separation of the two. Being queer and presenting ourself everyday gives us little choice within the structures of fashion. Living as queer and performing fashion, makes any of our actions inherently queer.
T’kya Taylor is a 19 year old Afro-Caribbean and English artist, fashion student, and the textbook Leo of the 1525 collective at the Nottingham Contemporary. His work is a reflection of his own personal experiences and issues in today’s climate. You may find his art on Instagram @fromtkya, where he uses the platform to share his own art, but also celebrates under-represented people, such as young designers and photographers, on his story.
Joe Andrews (They/Them) is a Nottingham based poet, maths teacher, and absolute snack. Their work mainly explores their relationship with gender and family, and has been featured in Homology Lit, Aesthetic Apostle, and in Bad Betty’s Alter Egos Anthology. You may find them on twitter @BigOofAndrews.
We are the cheap girls, holding
corner store slushies, wearing
second-hand miniskirts and
last night’s eyeliner. We make
a raccoon-eyed reconnaissance of
environmental apocalypse, take
a scavenger’s view of devastation.
Nothing is precious. Even our
hearts are made of cinnamon and
we trade them away for dimes.
Infatuation is a kind of survival.
A new crush every week,
a new hair colour for every crush.
Greedy, slutty, psycho, skittish,
indecisive, sociopathic, uncommitted—
we’ve heard all the adjectives
but they are not our names.
We will take the world for a kiss if
we can get it, but we do not ask for,
and we do not expect, the luxury
of time. We are the dayfly girls,
our genders suspended in intervals
of incomplete maturation. We slip,
thick and fast, between girl and
boy and void. Never woman,
even when someone wants a wife.
We do not pine for diamonds,
do not try to make our flings
into either heroes or men the way
some of their exes did. We are the
unmending femmes, forms unfixed as
moving flame. We are the easy girls,
the ephemeral girls—and we vanish
just as quickly as we came.
Jade Wallace is currently pursuing an M.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Windsor. Their poetry, fiction, and essays have been published, or forthcoming, internationally, in journals including Studies in Social Justice, Room Magazine, and The Stockholm Review. Their most recent solo chapbook is Rituals of Parsing (Anstruther Press, 2018) and their most recent collaborative chapbook is Test Centre (ZED Press, 2019). They are an organizing member of Draft Reading series and one half of the collaborative writing partnership MA|DE. Find their website at jadewallace.ca.
We all consist of genes trekking through our provisional carcasses like cars rambling along a freeway. The genes are like coded directions; they are the words written inside us. They are branded into us like a ranch owner brands his cattle. We live with these genes ruling us everyday, but remain blind to their jurisdiction.
Chromosome seven is inverted: you have a lobster claw-hand where a normal hand could have been, and a cleft where your ghost middle finger isn’t. Chromosome eight is rearranged: you have excessive hair on the shoulders, face, and ears. The “Werewolf Disease” has come out to play. The LMNA (Lamin AC) gene mutates, and your body grows at an alarming rate. It is called Progeria. You have about thirteen birthdays ahead of you.
In college I observed a fly lab in the biology floor of the science building, where I had never been before as an English major. The room and floor were both white, the room was smaller than I assumed it would be, and the twenty students crammed in and acted like flies themselves as they roamed from microscope to notebook to sink to cabinet to table. The fly lab’s purpose was to generate mutations through breeding. The students were supposed to find the dominant gene and multiply it. I thought the smell would dissipate after my nose inhaled the sterile formaldehyde, but every time I walked into the room my nose told me to walk back out. Every breath in was a gust of sterilization, or the maggot food necessary for amplifying genes.
Their eyes are white. The students expose the flies to X-ray machines to create this white-eye mutation. Once the students succeeded, the next assignment was to create as many white eyes as possible.
There are more than four hundred breeds of dogs in the world. It’s not enough though. We breed dogs to create mixes that will benefit just as we have evolved the iPhone from three to X. Do you want a non-shedding labrador? Maybe you want a smaller version of a Saint Bernard? Or the loyalty of a German shepherd mixed with the cuteness of a golden retriever?
We craft fashionable dogs, but at a cost. Dogs that are susceptible to eye problems are bred with dogs that are inclined to have hip dysplasia. The puppies are prone to have both. Bigger dogs are bred to be even bigger, and they lose years off their life expectancy. Golden retrievers on average live twelve years, same as the poodle. But goldendoodles live ten years.
animals are the result of interbreeding between two animals of a different unit
or taxa. Ligers are built from tigers and lions. Zorses are generated from
horses and zebras. Zeedonks are fabricated from zebras and donkeys. While these
animals captivate, and are even more exotic than the normal tigers, lions, and
zebras, most of them don’t survive past adolescence. In the rare case that they
do transcend puberty and reach adulthood, they often can’t produce their own
You find out you are a carrier for cystic fibrosis, and so is your spouse. Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease where thick mucus forms and affects the lungs and digestive system. There is no cure, and while many learn to live with it, the average life span is shorter than a normal human.
dream of yours is to have a child. A cute, bundled-up, fat baby boy wearing
blue to match his blue eyes, perhaps. But you and your spouse are both carriers
of a hereditary disease. Are you willing to pass that gene along?
is used for discovery, to find developments that will benefit us. We experiment
to find for x, whatever x may be. We found out bats use
echolocation to navigate after cutting their eyeballs out and deafening their
ears. An arthritis drug was safe for monkeys but harmful for humans. Mice,
rats, bird, and reptiles are exempted from the minimal protection law under the
animal welfare act. They go uncounted.
On the last day of my fly lab observation I glanced across the room and saw a lone surviving fly make its way toward the window, trying to escape to freedom. Someone walked in front of me, the fly was out of sight, and my eyes strained but I couldn’t find the buzzing black dot.
fruit fly in the wild lives forty to fifty days. In that white room, the flies faced
death on day sixteen.
Rebekah Morris lives in the midwest. She is currently pursuing her MFA in nonfiction at Goucher College, and works for a propane company to feed her cats and sustain her library. Her work has been featured in Make MN.
The blood made a smile—an impudent rictus of parabola set on the Formica. The blood was a Thursday. The blood said Let’s go to the leisure centre or How about we see the latest Mamma Mia film. The blood preferred apples over nectarines. The blood liked a good clean murder mystery, would rather dog-ear a book than split a spine. The blood would like two sugars in her coffee, thank you kindly. The blood likes chop suey over chow mein, and would rather you didn’t stack the dishwasher, because the blood will do it later. Go and watch the telly, said the blood. Change the channel if you like.
I guess that’s why I was watching Jeremy Kyle when the Council drainage consultant knocked at the door. The blood and I stayed very quiet. We put the telly on mute, and watched vexed Mancunians gesticulate at each other. The drainage consultant stood at the door for a while, adjusting his name brooch and clicking his biro. He would be subpoenaed, later, by a Crown Prosecutor. Was the television on or off, he would be asked, but, for the time being, the blood grinned, and I watched the panel van reverse back up the driveway, apprehended by my external camera. In court, they would play nine hours of the spooling footage. The jurors would consider each frame earnestly, their rectums nearing prolapse with the sheer solemnity. The blood had gone to lurk on swabs and transport tubes and drying boxes. It was a lonely feeling.
The blood was blood group O-. The blood was a philanthropist. The blood baked lolly cake for school fundraisers, and made lamingtons for the Hospice’s “Last Supper” programme. The blood was a serial giver. The prosecution would ask me why I waited —all that while, bunked down with the blood, overdue library books, and an axolotl in a green-rimmed tank. Why did I wait with the blood under my fingernails, the blood on the lanyard I wore over my dressing-gown, the blood worked into the crook of my elbow? I guess it was love, I’d say. I guess it was my turn to give back. My blood group is AB+. I’m a barnacle, a lamprey, a deep sea sponge. Suck-it-up, buttercup, folks would say, and yes yes I did.
The day the blood arrived was humid as Cambodia. What do you remember, the prosecution would say. I could see the Norfolk pine trees tussling on the beachfront. I could see a grunge of dogs. Salt teeth. Grit eyes. I remember it was the day Prince carked it. I remember the elevator at the local mall malfunctioned, and we thumped up the stairwell swinging supermarket bags. I remember it was we, and not me and the blood. We, in the kitchen. We, carrying laundry baskets. We, mopping the patio mosaic like it was okay. There was no gore in the grouting, no erythrocytes bunging up the fine spaces between one tile and the next. What do you remember, said the prosecution, and I said All of it.
I sat with the blood for eight days. I became a couch, a chair, the stoop of a table. The axolotl moved so slowly, in its tankweed. Locusts amassed on windowsills. The Norfolk pine treetops played out Punch and Judy, through the panes. Coupon brochures and lawn mowing flyers clogged the letterbox. The blood browned on the Formica. I picked at it with my thumbnail—so close to requited love.
When the sixth juror picked at his left nostril I could feel my blood boil. When the prosecution leaned over his pew and asked Did you not have better things to do on that 21 April 2016? my blood ran cold; my heart thumped in the cleft my tonsils made. I rolled up my shirt sleeves, my armskin a shock of red grooves, like weatherboard. It was a happy home, I said. We had a magnolia tree in the yard, an axolotl, and red cedar cladding. I held my arms over my head. A juror unfurled a toffee from its wrapping, and sucked. The blood was Exhibit E. The blood tightened on the synthetic swabs, like a fist. The blood was premeditated, and knew how to swing a breadknife. The blood loved me the way I loved myself. The blood had insight, and when the blood was read the Miranda Rights, the blood smiled patiently like a small god.
This is like getting plasma from a stone, said the lawyer, looking out the courthouse window at the yellow afternoon light falling on a park rotunda. He would buy sushi with pickled ginger on his route home; he would take his old lady a bushel of oranges; he would walk the dog in small circles about the carpark. The moon would rise, the alley cats would mewl for metalwire, rodents and everything that bleeds.
Auckland writer Elizabeth Morton is published in places like Rattle, The Moth, Narrative, Poetry New Zealand, and PRISM International. Her poetry collection, Wolf, was published with Mākaro Press in 2017. She twice came second in the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition, and was included in Best Small Fictions 2016. When she thinks nobody is watching, she writes bad rap, and lip-syncs to The Talking Heads.
I’m eighteen, writing in a notebook about hackers in a queer love triangle overthrowing an oppressive oligarchy. The story is fiction.
My best friend strokes my thigh with the backs of his fingers to comfort me or himself. We’re supposed to dorm in the fall. I won’t, and our relationship will splinter.
“I need to write,” I say. It seems simple. My life will be fiction.
I write stories about white women, unconvincingly. I’m masking myself, someone who’s queer and polyamorous and recently married to someone who’s not. She is careful never to ask how much a story is about me.
The closest I come is about a boy fascinated by a rock star in drag. The boy buys a wig off the internet. It’s slick and black, very Pulp Fiction. For a week, he takes the wig out of the box for a laugh. He then wears it while Dad is passed out and Mom works nights. He looks homely and lumpy headed in the bathroom mirror. At one point, he paces for twenty minutes outside a FOREVER 21, debating to buy a black dress in the window and lie that it’s for a girlfriend.
A girl enrolls at school with a face out of a dream. Months later, she doesn’t know he exists, though they have mutual friends. She’s goth-y and bold, sent to the Principal for wearing spiked collars and T-shirts with slogans like KILL YR IDOLS. Rumors say her parents do drugs, another suspension and she’s expelled. The boy mentions her to a buddy at lunch. “Mannish-looking weirdo, eh?” the kid says.
Before winter break, the boy decides to hang himself. Or to slip a note into her locker. He can’t remember what he wrote except: You’re just so real and I’m not. Folded on his chemistry book the next morning is a reply: Midnight at the lake.
That evening, hunting beer money, Dad discovers the wig. The man rages in tears. Is his boy a sissy? He slaps his son for an answer. The boy runs without a jacket. He wanders town, a ghost. He’ll freeze. He goes to the lake.
The girl isn’t at the benches. She’s a shadow on the ice. More afraid of never knowing, he steps out to meet her. The wind blows across the lake. He can’t feel his body, his burning face. There’s a long whistle of a passing train before he hears her speak.
I don’t have the guts to share the story but can’t delete it.
I’m 178, up from 125 from weightlifting. I cut my hair short. I shop at Banana Republic. I learn how to shave with a straight razor, how to make craft cocktails, how to respond assertively, how to talk about Infinite Jest without reading it, how to talk dirty.
I take fiction workshop at the community college and write stories about boys becoming monsters:
We’re kids, picking teams. A boy teases, and little brother cries. I run for help. Dad sticks a whiffle bat in my hands. “Never let anyone talk about your brother like that.” I wave my yellow warning on the playground. The bully cries, and little brother is smiling. I’ve helped.
My marriage fails. I regularly consider diving off a parking garage.
Like it happened to someone else, I hear myself saying to a close friend, “I’m not attracted to men anymore. Like at all.”
I workshop my stories. I collapse into me-ness. Repeat.
I meet a working-class Latinx swinger couple at a bar. The conversation is jerky. We go back to my apartment. I don’t have beer or wine but can fix old fashioneds.
“Your place is very clean,” the wife observes. “Such big books.”
“Are you sure you’re not gay?” the husband asks a second time.
Is he fearful or hoping?
“I’m very into women,” I say.
None of us are relieved.
The page is a mirror. There is a kid on the ice. There is the bully and the boy with the bat.
A snake chews its tail, vomits words sometimes.
My essay on Gabriel Conroy as cultural colonizer is rejected again. The editor comments: Your application of identity politics is a reach.
Crying makes following my first YouTube makeup tutorial pretty difficult.
My parents visit, and I mention applying to universities, as if this time writing will save me. They’re proud, relieved. I’m the son they wanted.
We’re out to breakfast on the eastside, and Dad pushes away his plate. He grimaces at a gay couple across the restaurant.
“I can’t eat and watch two men kissing,” he says.
Never let anyone talk about your brother like that.
“I’ve kissed a man like that,” I say. My words knock the wind out of him.
Levis Keltner is the editor-in-chief at Newfound and author of the novel Into That Good Night. His work has appeared in Entropy Magazine and Bull: Men’s Fiction. From Chicago, he lives in St. Louis. Find him on Instagram @leviskeltner.