Nkosi Nkululeko

The Chessmen

Note: this is a Square Poem to be read both horizontally and vertically.




Nkosi Nkululeko, a 2017 Poets House and 2018 Saltonstall Foundation of the Arts Fellow, is the winner of Michigan Quarterly Review’s Page Davidson Clayton Prize for Emerging Poets 2018. His work is published and/or forthcoming in journals like Oxford Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Callaloo, The Offing, Ploughshares, and is anthologized in The Best American Poetry and Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry. Nkosi Nkululeko is a poetry, chess, and music instructor from HARLEM.




Onyedikachi Chinedu

Crevice Letter

Done plowing the fields,
the ravenous farmers doffed a cadaver

from the low branches
of a tree outlining the sky.

Their faces left no traces
of wide mouths and widest eyes;

yet, they slowly veered around their heads,
cutlassing the air

with imagined thoughts.
The low gradient of sunlight, through the gaps

of thick leafage of trees, dappled
the forest floor in uneven streaks of pearly lights,

telling of the descending sun.
The letter in the crevice

flicked like a star.
Its angle—a part of the edge. 

On a spring tree, a squirrel would unnerve
the farmers with cutlass and hoes

draped over slack shoulder blades.
A nest emptied of home smelled of

decaying innards—
of a sparrow—devoured by a heron.

The men stayed for a while,
speculating what to do with the form

festered by the breeze—
contemplating the murder of crows over the body.


Onyedikachi Chinedu is a Nigerian poet. They are a 2021 HUES Foundation scholar, a poetry reader for Non.Plus Lit and Guesthouse Lit; their works are published and forthcoming in Guesthouse Lit, Anomaly, The Cortland Review, The Hellebore, Rappahannock Review, Midway Journal, and elsewhere.




Diane Glancy

Prepare to Die

Truth is a wormy integer that can burrow into any hole.  Truth is what it wants to be.  It hears what it wants to hear.  It sets up a lemonade stand and sells apple-whizz if it wants.  Before the settlers and ongoers, truth sheltered on the open land.  The hounding world is a bucket-full of ghosts.  A shimmering world of moon-light on the pond where Elbert jumps his truck.  Frozen as the pond is.  Elbert has the skid down with marginal skill, but he completes the rotation with the stars, the moon, the circling snow coming toward the windshield.  The slippery world he knows is truth since the cavalry dispersed rations that were full of worms.  Fricatives— the sound of wind between the door frame of the house into which the anger of the ghosts blow.  Truth is not truth for everyone, but awkwardly makes its way onto the pond not conveniently frozen, but with little bumps and ridges not spotted until skated over and thrown.  Watch out for Elbert’s truck fishtailing under the moon.  A falling star.  No less hazardous.  What music coming from the all-night band?  It too is frozen lumpily.

                 Elbert called it a triple axel.  How long could his truck skate behind the wheel of his longing?  He was back in the bottom of the barrel.  What difference?  All the skaters trying to get out of the bucket— their feet with their blades in Edgy’s.  What a fit-fall.  Twirlables— all of them.  If you believe the truth they do.  When would they learn to play?— but it was music to them.  The truth of their efforts is acceptable in the beloved ear of their own head.  In their music they look for an understanding that has to conform to their idea of truth.  And withstand ideas contrary to their concept of truth they hold despite all of the blazeable words that are spoken.  That night in the club.   On the edge of the prairie.  About to fall off.  But held on by the belief in the truth that one would outlast the night. 

Elbert saved his monies in a tin coffee can.  Then it was gone.  It had slipped across the pond as if wind blowing snow in the headlights.  He looked around Edgy’s to see who had money to spend.  It was Edgy himself.  But Edgy denied the theft.  They circled with their truths and wouldn’t let anyone in.  Neither would they look at anything they didn’t recognize as their own truth.  The stars and moon told their own stories too until multiple truths twirled like ghosts on ice skates.  
                 Truth was not a shape but a motion— a transition from one form to another.  Changing from water to ice water again.  Alone on the road they remembered every accident that happened.  Every driving without headlights to see who was first off the road not knowing about gullies and aberrations in the land, but driving as though the whole earth was full of roads.  That’s how they could have taken off and not let on they hadn’t when they had.  There was trouble within and without. That was the trouble.  They could turn truth anyway they wanted.  They said Elbert buried his monies, but could not remember where.  Everyone acting as if stealing was not wrong.  None of them would come into Edgy’s with their arms lifted over their head.  They had fights and Elbert always was thrown out of the club.

It was winter and then close to spring thaw and the monies stayed disappeared.   The mystery of not knowing who did the pilfering— the taking of whatever truth Elbert wanted to call stealing.
                 Elbert and Edgy were cousins in the relative-based community that wandered in and out of Edgy’s and across frozen ponds to snuffle with colds and bad teeth and coughs and whatever else ailed them.
                 Edgy and The Integers, his band, played their form of music that was not music but a loud sound that defined them.  It explained the pit-falls.  The holes in the backroads. Everyone trying to pervert truth so they could do what they wanted and not have to obey order.  The dreaded word of their world.  They would go out on the pond and fight it out with their trucks.  They would play dead-man in the hole.  Death was everyone’s truth after all.  The black hole of the universe in the black hole of the pond where the ice broke under the guilty truck.


Diane Glancy is professor emerita at Macalester College. Currently, she teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. Her latest poetry book, Island of the Innocent, a Consideration of the Book of Job, was published by Turtle Point Press in 2020. A Line of Driftwood, the Ada Blackjack Story was published by Turtle Point in 2021. Broadleaf Press will publish a collection of nonfiction in 2022, Home Is the Road, Wandering the Wilderness, Shaping the Spirit. Her awards and other books are on her website dianeglancy.com




Tori Ashley Matos

prayer for us who await state execution

i wish there was enough quiet
for me to watch for migratory birds

to smell wet trees on a sunrise
and give up my medicine for
just a breath of air.

some hymns are loud—
too nestled in the nation’s mourning
for me to access their symphony.

so i hear the great thud instead—
the instruments finding their way to rest. 

i am many creatures 
that live sick at the bottom.
we chew at the cud of the captors

and pray to stay unseen.
but like my ancestors
who walked under the water
and made their last prayers 

in the moon fire,
the faintest chord still
sets my body floating up
to the source of majesty. 


exhume the Bodies that i might make them absolve us

i was birthed
screaming     in the middle
of a nation made of fire

but my people
bubbled me out of the Water.

i pray to Death—
draw me a map. 
send me to the water
and i will find who is
left of us.

i tread the path
the stories told—
into the river.
let her lick a lie
of sleep into my ear.
drowning comfortable

when it bursts.
finally i am ready
to listen my bloodfolk
who also chose the Water.

every time
that i
have sought out silence
it has not shot me down
on the street.

in that way
it is not like


i asked the tarot why it hurts when you’re inside me

1 the craftsman

maybe i am a seed
not the soil. 

perhaps the body was right
all along. 

a joke before
the harvest
                       to find joy 
                       to let you inside me
                       without a sound.

arms undone and around the world and maybe you find your way between them too.
is it fatherly to want to take you into me?
so the streets cannot smother you? 
if i laugh will it make you uncomfortable?

let’s make light feet into the water
and i’ll let you cry when you fuck me
like men do.

2 fog and his consequences

my grieving finds cover in the fog
               the shelter made up what is left undone
               at the end of the day.

i smell it when i go to rest but
the fog’s so thick and green we only ever
get close enough to grope 
at our moaning in the dark.

my vision got blurry—i can only assume you bent time around me.
if you think i fucked up you can just tell me.
              bite my lip so it bleeds
              clean me out with your fingers even when i close my legs

mother is angry i’ve let them make my waters dirty.
but at least she isn’t subtle.

try again.
i promise i won’t yell this time.

3 pilgrim

i have packed
i have not forgotten a companion
not again.


undoing is walking toward morning.
morning is to be without bed nor fellow.

unmake love to me.
unfuck me then if it makes you feel less vulnerable. 

i leave at night
and the crickets tell me where go
where they are loudest. 
there is no way past the mountains
but still i leave them behind me. 

i’m clean now. so it’s okay to kiss me.


Tori Ashley Matos is a poet and performer based in New York City. As a non-binary and Afro-Taino poet, their work is always evolving, searching, muddy, and filled with ghosts, liberation, and freedom. They graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and they’ve been published in Curlew Quarterly, beestung, Perhappened Mag, No, Dear Magazine, and more. They are a Gaze Journal Loving Gaze Poetry Prize winner, a Brooklyn Poets and Lit Fest Fellowship finalist, and a two time DreamYard poetry fellow. Follow them on Instagram @ToriAshleyMatos.




Joie Lê


There is a loop. Like drops of rain that fall against a foggy pane, leaving needles of possibility behind it. The loop continues like the sound of the rain, soft tapping on clear glass—the same sound as my finger striking the “J” on a keyboard.  


There is a clip in the loop, someone’s bad splicing, missing the zero-crossing point by just enough so sine waves no longer connect, and there is just the click where the loss is felt. I listen to the loop constantly, a steady reminder that my brain is not wired correctly and always trying to replace the missing byte with other distractions. Education. Career. Children. Saws. 

RPMs on mitres are only disrupted when I let go—not the other way around.


Sometimes the clip wakes me, and I can tell my brain is scanning through to-dos until I realize that the task will never be finished. Occasionally, I’m crushed by this knowledge, so I find something else to do—adding another item to the list of things never resolved.


I don’t think I’ve done enough.

The cat box needs changing.

I never trained the dogs, properly. Someone once asked me how I could be a teacher if I wasn’t commanding enough to train my puppy. Young adults are not puppies, I wanted to say. He was a good dog despite my ineptitude. Maybe he empathized.


Weed fabric only works if you install it properly. Otherwise, it ends up being another layer of nuisance that needs to be controlled by the proper depth of dirt, sand, or mulch. I have tried all these methods to keep the gray edges of the fabric from peeping out of the faux landscape when some persistent yerba sneaks out with the assistance of an ant colony that compromises the soil underneath. I should know better. I am the yerba. And the colony.


If I am patient, the rain stops long enough for me to exhale. The inhale is filled with the buzzing of motor-scooters around me as I walk straight into the rush, laughter from jumping off adobe walls with large trash bags—the distance too insignificant to arrest my fall, the step over a heap of mango peels littering the ground to speak a language that might have belonged to me, the sound of someone else mowing another’s suburban lawn. Clips. Clippings. Clipped.



Two Truths and a lie

Two truths and a lie.

I am an orphan of war.
I am Vietnamese.
I am grateful for being adopted.

My friend, Jesse, asks me if I am addicted to education. I can’t say yes or no because both might be right. I am not addicted to education. Education is a lie—a wolf wearing sheep’s clothing. I am addicted to finding the truth. Education is not a lie. It is not the sheep but the lamb. Its truth is ever-changing, and if it makes it past winter, it has a chance to bear the wool that gives life. The wool I’ve been harvesting is a tangled mass of fibers. The silken strands are matted down and teasing out the clumps is an exercise in patience. I’ve run out of patience. I’ve run out of time. I’ve only got the wool that continually needs to be shed, and I wonder if I’m the wolf or the sheep underneath.

Two truths and a lie.

I am a refugee.
I am Cambodian.
I am grateful for being adopted.

My mother tells me that the universe sent me to her. The universe has a strange sense of humor. Sometimes, it gives, and sometimes, it takes. Most of the time, it does both. Dinosaurs once roamed the earth. We only know this because their massive skulls became wedged in between layers of sediment, fossilized and waiting for someone to come along and kick up the dust that hid their well-worn teeth from public view. The humans smart enough to analyze those teeth could tell us if those dinosaurs were carnivores or herbivores based upon the wear of enamel and the shape of the teeth. Like ancient cows, some sauropods would pluck the grass from the tender earth only to be swallowed up along with just the right stone—a gastrolith—to help with digestion. The carnivores would do the opposite, gnashing their terrible teeth like Sendak’s wild things—a reimagining of hunger and greed without a mother to call them back home. The universe created humans in place of dinosaurs, giving them some 65 million years apart to adjust for time and circumstance. Now, we are all carnivores, giving too little and taking too much. And still, my mother drinks tea in the morning and wine in the evening, contemplating her evolution as well as mine.

Two truths and a lie.

I am 48.
I am Chinese.
I am grateful for being adopted.

My friends ask me to tell them my story. The only thing I can share is verisimilitude. There is a war. There is a baby. There is an orphanage. There is survival. There are soldiers. There is rescue. There is salvation. There is saviorism. There is assimilation. There is dissimilation. There is fiction. There is fantasy. There is gratitude. There is loss. There is spectacle. There is the sense they want to know more.
So, do I.

Two truths and a lie.

I grew up in poverty.
I grew up in wealth.
I grew up in cultures that are not mine.

My seatmate in first grade sent me his grandmother’s recipe for biscochitos ten years ago. You could tell it was hastily typed because it’s written in one paragraph. His grandmother may have mumbled the directions to someone who transcribed it as she mixed the masa for tamales. There is no formal outline. There are no return carriages for ingredients and process. The instructions are simple: mix these ingredients together and bake. Don’t forget to use lard. Biscochitos remind me of Christmas. They melt on the tongue, and the taste of anise, cinnamon, and brandy lingers long after the cookie is gone. I used to make batches of biscochitos for my students at the end of the semester. Most had never tried one and were cautious in their selection from the bin. That one has too much sugar and cinnamon on top. That one, not enough. Most were polite enough to pick just one, but a few asked for two or came back at the end of the day to see if there were leftovers. The students in the back of the classroom, those who knew the origins of the biscochito, renewed their respect for my work as a teacher. They had an ally, and they knew it.

Two truths and lie.

I am brown-skinned.
I am white-skinned.
I am thick-skinned.

My father took a lot of photos. They were thrown into an old ski boot box before my mother moved out of our home in the North Valley and was transplanted to the West Side. Her new house was also stuccoed but not made of adobe like the house we lived in before. In the process of starting over after their divorce, there was no careful consideration of these memories and after finding them stashed on a shelf nearly ten years later, I put them into photo boxes and discarded the crushed, Nordic box folding in on our family’s timeline. I recently found a photo of myself wearing a long, kimono-like robe. It was made of Chinese brocade, light gold with frog clasps going up to the neck. The robe used to belong to my grandmother when orientalism was a fashion statement and not appropriation. When I used to wear the robe, it was way too long for me and pooled around my feet like a mermaid’s tail. Still, it was the closest thing I could find that made me feel Asian, and so I shuffled around the house wearing it until common sense got the better of me.

Two truths and a lie.

My name is Joie.
My name is Lê.
My name identifies me.

My life in Vietnam before my life in America does not tell a singular story. The family members I found live a legacy of culture and tradition of which I am not a part. I was the only one transported to a distant land to carve out my own identity. The rest of the biological family, with their generations of dynasty names handed down by others, prepare handraised emaciated chickens for dinner and eat elaborate meals sitting on the floor. I once asked my niece why they did not use the tables often seen in the background of their photos. She said it was easier that way, and I did not have the cultural context to disagree. 

Two truths and a lie.

I have two brothers.
I have eighteen siblings.
I have eleven sisters.

My brother and I once emptied a can of minced meat onto a rock to see what would happen to it over time. Every day we would go to check on it to see if it would lose shape or be consumed, the dark puck an offering to the environment. I do not know if we asked my mother permission to use the meat for scientific study, but I suspect she did not even know it was in the pantry, a massive, eight-foot-high cupboard with 2-inch-thick wooden doors and black, wrought iron handles. A single can of minced meat could surely get lost within its depths. We could use the pantry as a hide-and-seek spot if we wanted to, but no one really wanted to tuck themselves into a bottom shelf with the mealy bugs that sometimes found their way into our oatmeal. Near the minced meat rock, a Mojave yucca grew. Every season it sprouted white flowers that looked like octopus tentacles and was as tall as me in the third grade. Its spiky leaves jutted out like urchin spines and were thick and pointed at the tips. When I returned to the house one winter in my mid-thirties, the yucca was still there, grown over ten feet tall and still standing next to the rock whose surface once held a can of potted meat that did nothing notable even over six months’ time.

Two truths and a lie.

I feel guilt.
I feel anger.
I feel lucky.

My silence came after I realized that being abandoned in a maternity hospital would afford me no comfort. The cries of a newborn searching for lost connections was a futile attempt at vocalizing need. Conserving energy for the long haul seemed to be a better way to go, and so I kept my thoughts to a minimum until I was old enough to write them down. Sometimes, the silence creeps in again as I search for my origin story. It still feels futile, and my tongue is often immobilized by my feelings on the matter. Even though I have permission to speak, I sometimes feel like an unreliable narrator whose facts are obscured by fiction.

Two truths and a lie.

I am a blend of culture.
I am a mix of experience.
I am not grateful for being adopted.


Joie Lê is an MFA candidate at Regis University, working on a memoir of her experiences as an adoptee from the Vietnam War. Her work can be found at Dear, Adoption, The Adoption Exchange and on her website: speakingfromthemargin.com. She is an educator at the Watershed School in Boulder and teaches courses in technology, writing, and humanities. She loves to ruminate about ontology, epistemology, existentialism, post-structuralism, and is an avid builder and visual artist conceptualizing an exhibition about transracial and intercountry adoption.




KT Herr

why are my hands wet

Content Note: This audiopoem is a ritual meditating on the internal expression of trauma activation; please exercise care in listening and reading, particularly if you have experienced trauma, PTSD, sexual assault or self-harm.

                                                                  the tears.                                                                                                                                              where did the tears come from? the eyes.
                                the blood.
where did the blood come from? an opening.                 the ducts.   what wrings the ducts?
                                                                         the dishes.
what made the wound? the knife.                                  
                                                                                                                 where is the grief now? pickled.
             where is the knife now? clean, in the dish rack.
    where is the wound? top of the thigh.
                                                                                                                 what made the chest tight? the heart.
what does the thigh want? to be touched.                                               
            what does the thigh want? to be touched.
                                                                                                                  what made the chest tight? grief.
                                                                                                                             what made the grief?

            what does the thigh want? to never be touched.

                                                                                                                             how does relief come? pickled.

where is the knife now? the drawer.
            what does the drawer want? an opening.           
                                                                                                                 how does relief come? clean, in the dish rack.
  what made the hands clench?
                        what made the grief?
                                                                                                 where is the wound? hidden.     where is the wound?

the eyes.    where do the eyes go? my hands.                                  
                                                                                                what does the thigh want? an opening.
                                                                                                                     what made the grief?

    how does relief come? the knife.
           how does the heart come?
                                                                    the blood.
                                                                                                  where is the knife now? my hands.
                                                                                                                           what does the heart want? an opening.

        where do i go now? grief.                                          where do i go now? an opening.
                           where do i go now? my hands.                            where do i go now? to be touched.


Ars poetica as / Self-portrait as / Late Heavy Bombardment1

consider the picaresque of one woman (told to another woman told to another woman told to another)
                                                                                                                       whose mind traps her in a room for hours
                      at a time—lost to reason / she’s back
                                                                                                              at the cataclysm / fragile crust caving
                           under each concussion

                                                                                               as I / too / have been tumbling back—
          down into that same old crater
                                                                                                    with my sample jars / this incessant arm
of curiosity / scraping at hoary lunar soil
                                                                                                                    for buried memory / I’m hankering

     to know how we’re propelled                       
                                                                                                   / can’t stop searching for some engine / a ballistics
thru the firmament / to twin these tiny motors
                                                                                                    of my fears / which rumble at the limits of my senses
   like starships on unseen screens—

                                                                                                    where nothing grows / I’m tempted to believe
in stasis / not the wheeling gyration of bodies
                                                                                                                   I can still call / heaven / though I know it as
                     / up / or / around / ––
                                                                                                                                        a hollow myth––     
                         last night / I dreamt again of
                                                                                                                    being entered in darkness / roving under
my bombarded skin / & there I froze
                                                                                                again / my dream screams soundless as space—
                           scrabbling out of sleep
                                                                                                                      I’m ravenous / fumbling for any theory
    to sate my evidence / tonguing at mined shards
                                                                                                                 from a mind knocked loose as teeth—

        I wonder how any of us consent to
                                                                                                 say: keep loving / knowing the next impact could
                  come at any time / like this:

                                                                                                                   —suddenly young again / at the shore—
              I tire / of playing catch / with a partner
                                                                                                       but covet the ball itself / a small red
 satellite / I can raise / aloft in one hand /
                                                                                                               slam / over & over
                                  against soft / white sand

                                                                                                                     where the wallowing tide slacks &               
                   shaved clean of kicked phosphorescence
                                                                                                               longs to become high
                                         / sky-slaked & violent with stars

1 Also known as the lunar cataclysm; a theoretical spike in asteroid collisions with planets and moons of the inner solar system hypothesized to have occurred roughly 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago. Experts remain divided as to whether there is enough evidence to conclusively prove a heightened incidence of damaging impacts.


KT Herr (they/she) is a queer poet, songwriter, and curious person with an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. KT has received creative support from G.L.E.A. and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Currently, they are a board member with Four Way Books and an Inprint C. Glenn Cambor PhD Fellow in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. Their recent work appears or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Frontier, Barrow Street 4×2, and elsewhere.




Jae Nichelle

Maybe: God

the existence of bad words implies good ones. you believe
saying yes is good even when you don’t want to. if there are
bad girls who curse and spit and sit like men then there are
good girls who don’t. you wonder if girls and words are ever
just those things without dichotomy. you spend a lot of time
closed—your legs and your lips—trying out goodness. god,
like any parent, will be very nice to you until displeased, you
learn. you say yes, you don’t have much space to take up
anyway. it is before the iPhone and you only have 200 texts a
month to use sparingly. you make each one count so as not to
spark a back and forth you’d have to pay for. never I feel only
yes okay sorry. all arguments cost you something. plus, you
learn, anyone bigger than you can tell you what to do. a boy
bigger than you says be a good girl, don’t say a word. you
reassess—there are no good words. girls are good when
silent and open at the command of someone bigger. god is
good, see how god is silent? you should be smaller than
everyone. parents, like any god, speak in parables. bad girls
end up dead or on the streets.
they do not mention who killed
them, who closed their doors. your phone bill comes, rewards
your lack of questions. your parents call. you are scared to
pick up.                                                                                                     


a good listener is just a bad conversationalist. so my
arguments with god are one-sided long paragraphs to which I
see read at [day/time]. I am proud to admit I speak enough to
have my phone determine my frequently used words. so by
now I can use predictive text to pray—



Sanctity: An Exposé

           Historically1, divorce rates have increased.2 Thesis: like gym membership, marriage be seeming like a good idea at the time. Then after a while you look at it and go—ehhh. They look at me expectantly and say we are ending.3 I am wearing cargo pants and a tank top4 sitting on the edge of my puffy comforter. I wonder what this means in terms of dinner. This time I have nothing to say,5 though I have been through more devastating things.6 My father’s eyes are begging.7 I refuse, trying to look busy, I scan the app store for another virtual pet.8

1 as of yesterday
2 there’s one more divorce in this family
3 marriage
4 a phase, unlike the girlfriend
5 who would
6 in my lifetime, after the end of Webkinz
7 give me something
8 to hold on to


Jae Nichelle’s work has been featured in Vinyl Poetry and Prose, Muzzle Magazine, The Offing, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She was a 2020 Watering Hole fellow, and her chapbook, The Porch (As Sanctuary), is available from YesYes Books. Find her work on her website jaenichelle.com.




sam kemp

ZX Spectrum


Sam Kemp teaches creative writing at the New College of Humanities in London. He’s an experimental poet who enjoys appropriating and misappropriating found texts and messing around in Photoshop. You can find more of his work at www.samkempoetry.com.




Jessica Lawson

lung volume

OPEN       as a window of a message      as a door to a daughter       as a line of
communication punctures     as mama can i tell you      something    as yes
looking up     from the window of the message       as yes you can tell me as
mama i need you to look at me   do this move     as don’t stop     looking as
one-hundred and six days and   counting             at home where the rule is OPEN
the door so i know you are safe in there       as OPEN         mama keeps the glass
coffin of each    message      window         ajar for her    daughter     to crawl 
inside with her         this fairy tale of life      outside this story of a woman 
who lived      with small men in the woods and stood    too close to a stranger 
so now she no longer breathes         OPEN as a vein to each question.               retract 
a little blood first and then       push through

CLOSE as a store we do not go to anymore as a lock the bolt
as nightmares set wrinkles in my unwashed face as a safety
measure as a minimum safe the word safe means secure the
word safe is a box that you can CLOSE to render something
you love distant from air & its many eager fingers. CLOSE
which is proximity and CLOSE which is proximity’s defeat
a clipped reel stop baby mama needs a moment yes mama’s
cheeks are wet you are okay we are okay come CLOSE to
me CLOSE to me as an anti-social distance.    CLOSE to me
       as a no               that never            names my face           

the morning OPENS with a monitor hemmed to my gut              this string of need.
i walk to the room where my children hit me.             she had a nightmare again.
this one about a deep fat fryer built into her stomach.             i cut apples and hide
the knife after.            our home is glass and breathing and this          is too much for
the children.           we OPEN our devices.               learning is a removal of thread
remote stitching back the broken skin            of another room.          i tell my girl
yes this is so hard and you are doing great               at being in this impossible. 
we are OPEN to the possibility of full in person learning this fall. full is a word
for drawing complete breaths. person is a word for the smallest coffin. learning is 
a removal of needle from glowing stone. fall is this, is what we do. an OPEN future
of obedience to gravity.

the evening CLOSES with this gut sunk
knuckle deep in worn claws to the sound of
constant urgency. whimper in the monitor i
walk a quiet hallway to the room where my
children hit upon notions of everything
somehow ending.              none of us sleep
we only CLOSE our crying for the day
that this changes. sometimes the whimper
never stops and i lie      alongside my son
until my breathing lets him sleep again
CLOSE to a candle for his fifth birthday
there’s an eclipse on           the fourth of july 
i don’t blame the sky for not looking not
even now, just to check on his sleep make
sure he’s still breathing.                                  

the function of a lung is to constantly undo its own work. 
closing to open. opening to close.

the function of a state is to constantly undo its own. 
too close to opening. barely open to closing.

a lung can OPEN 
the top hatch of the bar graph that has more death to name

a lung can CLOSE 
to a needle line of conversation, a heartbeat’s second wave

a lung can OPEN 
like a home for someone else when rent gets missed

a lung can CLOSE 
like a bank account when there’s nowhere left to bleed

a simile can mimic the work of a machine that breathes for the penultimate line
a word is not a ventilator because there can always be more of these

Jessica Lawson (she/her/hers) is Denver-based writer, teacher, and queer single parent. Her debut book of poetry, Gash Atlas (forthcoming 2022), was selected by judge Erica Hunt for the Kore Press Institute Poetry Prize, and her chapbook Rot Contracts was published summer 2020 (Trouble Department). A Pushcart-nominated poet, her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Entropy, Dreginald, Yes, Poetry, The Wanderer, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere.




Lauren Scherr

Hapa: Half

CN: mentions of murder, violence, and racist speech

An Uber driver finds my eyes in the rearview and asks
Are you from my country

A dark-haired man, featureless in the dusk of the bar, 
kneels like an old friend and says
You are one of my people

A guy on a city sidewalk shouts


Strangers squint at me while we stand with our shopping carts between us
We went to high school together
from Milwaukee right

They turn toward me while we smell candles at an airport gift shop
You look just like her
Swear to god, exactly alike

I have learned to say: I have one of those faces
I have learned to smile and walk away.


The not-quite strangers, a friend’s roommate or a distant in-law, 
ask me outright:

What kind of 
Do you speak
How did your parents 

She grew up in Hawaii, I explain, 
Half-Japanese, I say, and the words are flimsy with overuse.


Are you… is it… your mom?

Sir. What the fuck, I do not say, because we are networking

My wife is from Japan, he announces, 
and I feel a twinge of pity for her, or maybe me

She’s from a town near Nagoya, and we talk as if that’s relevant, 
as if that’s somewhere I know.


A coworker finds a subreddit where mixed-race people talk about dads colonizing their moms’ bodies, 
an idea that sticks in my throat like a half-swallowed pill

I find r/halfieselfies, which seems safer
until it isn’t

Herdaddy80: You’re a gorgeous mix! I’d say Korean and Mongol?


I know the urge to be categorized, 
as if the answer could unlock something

For the first time in Census 2000, individuals were presented 
with the option to self-identify with more than one race

Choose one, says the man processing my background check, 
and I take too long, and he chooses for me

Choose one, I ask of anyone who will listen.


No white person would buy tatsoi in Chinatown at this hour,
but still, it is a relief when the cashier speaks to me in Cantonese.


Who am I without measuring my distance from whiteness?

Does standing next to my mom make me more Asian, by association, 
or less Asian, in contrast? 


Home is halfway between Japan and California, 
an exceptional place where I am unexceptional

It is a paradise where white people are haole
which means without breath 


I had haole classmates for the first time, and I was intimidated, 
my mom says about high school

Probably my bizarre confidence, 
my dad says about his greatest strength

Maybe I am not a mix of my parents, 
but the midpoint in the distance they had to cross.


At 18, I escape to a college where kids row crew, 
where I become Asian for the first time

I savor it — the enraging flattery of a fetish

In that flickering moment, it feels like power. 


This guy has a map of Japan taped beside his bunk bed, and he is nearly fluent because of anime, 
and I don’t realize that this guy lives in every dorm, in every college, so I gasp when I see the katana.


In an alternate timeline, I grow up without Asian friends, 
without fighting over who is the Yellow Ranger

In an alternate timeline, I grow up without Asian women,
without knowing they are the most beautiful women in the world.


It is not until I visit an onsen near Tokyo that I see my body’s sisters

Sturdy legs, delicate forearms,
half-handfuls of breasts, nipples more brown than pink

How had I not noticed?

We bathe with wooden buckets, crouched over plastic stools

We occupy every bench and pool,
and our bodies unfurl like fortunes.


Hey, China doll,
says a man in a button-down
and all I can think to say is 
She’s Korean, you asshole

A thread comes loose, 
and I keep pulling, and the man keeps laughing

When I’m with white women, we are assumed to be valuable.


Does it always start and end this way —  
with the question of who sees us
and what they decide? 


Women are murdered, grandmothers are beaten, 
and what right do I have to be heartbroken?

But I am whitepassing, says my half-Filipino friend, 
and in that phrase is the question I can’t answer:

Is it still trauma if it doesn’t belong to us?


The world keeps moving, and we stay here, 
on the side we chose long ago

How else would we become whole?


Lauren Scherr is a half-Japanese writer and left-handed Scorpio who lives and creates on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Her writing is informed by turbulent feelings and a childhood spent dreaming of Jupiter’s red spot. Her nonfiction is published in SixbyEight Press and ANMLY, and you can sometimes find her on the portal: @laurenmariko on Instagram and @lauren_scherr on Twitter. Lauren also writes in collaboration with biologists, engineers, activists, founders, and other experts. Those articles have appeared in WIRED, Quartz, STAT, Fast Company, and elsewhere.