K. Degala-Paraíso

A History of Skin


Mama [grandmother] started coming to me in my dreams before she was even dead. Before all of her body’s organs failed at once, before her brain finally shut down, before she lost her memory, before the diagnosis, before her brain cells started degenerating. Before all of it, she came to me in my dreams. As though she sought refuge from her mind in mine. 

And then after she died, she vacated. Must’ve flown out of my ear, a bird freed of its cage. Her ghost nested in the space between the ceiling and the wall. All the time, just hovering above me, watching over me, unwilling to leave. 

Sometimes, I forget to look up. Forget to greet her. She glides down from her perch and brushes against my arm. Whispers my name reserved for only her in my ear —

She always forgives me for forgetting. 


[a kind, strong animal? pastillas? Grandma’s river? living in a dome, thousands of miles from my family? flowers from Grandma’s baranggay, one for each family in the clan?]


[tattoo artist offered it for free because she laid the lines of papa’s fish too thick. didn’t know what to get, so got this.]


[5am coffee before fishing]


[chasing the dog around the rose garden]


The problem with tattoos: the pain of being stabbed with an unrelenting needle thousands of times per minute becomes a good pain at some point. A pain that you come to crave every new moon.


Sometimes, I just really miss my Mama.


One day, my manic mother “forgets” to give our diabetic dog his insulin shot. He dies a horrific and unnecessary death. 

After seeing the body, my youngest brother comes to stay with me for the weekend. He acts normally, but I don’t buy it. Eventually he folds.

I get out my sewing kit, lighter, half-empty bottle of India ink, paper towels, small plastic trays, a cup of water. We sit on my bedroom floor with the lamp between us. Lofi beats play through my laptop speaker.  We etch matching crowns into our flesh in silence. 

We’ve always been headstones.


Things I Know About Salt:

     1) In alchemy, it’s one of the tria prima, or the three primes: foundational elements, of which all materials are composed. It is said that salt is the base element for the body; mercury, for the mind; and sulfur, the spirit. The alchemical sign for salt is 🜔.

     2) It is easier to float in saltwater because salt adds to the density of water, permitting submerged objects more buoyancy.

     3) In cooking, salt universally enhances the flavors of the other ingredients. At low concentrations it reduces bitterness while increasing sweet and sour flavors (preferable for sweet dishes). At higher concentrations, it reduces sweetness and increases umami (preferable for savory dishes).

     4) It also acts as a preservative, and is thus pragmatically essential for peoples of third world countries. In the Philippines, for example, access to refrigeration technologies is a luxury. But the islands don’t care: they remain hot and humid anyways. Pilipinxs use salt (and vinegar) to preserve their food.

     5) Pilipinxs preserve, even after they leave the islands.


[scene of former lover stick-n-poking my ribcage by the light of a lamp placed on the floor. spent all of college remembering myself just to come here and feel like i was forgetting myself again and you just can’t trust your memory because your brain will one day eat itself so it is of the utmost importance that we document as much as we can and then never forget that we documented so i’m letting this boy carve the title of my memoiric poem that i wrote in college in his handwriting onto my body in permanent ink and i wonder what i’ll think this means years from now when i catch a glimpse of it in the mirror out of the corner of my eye when i’ve forgotten how his hand held my breast and all of my own poems and how he stretched my skin and my own name]


[the plan was that i would pay for our housing with my student loans, and he would help me pay them off after graduation. but then we broke up and he never paid me back and i didn’t ask because i didn’t want anything from him. couch-surfed for a while, then posted in student email forum asking if i could pitch a tent in someone’s backyard. someone responded, said i could live in the garage for $400/mo. there were black widows nested in the dark corners of the garage; cigarette butts and empty beer cans on every surface inside the house; and a massive ditch in the backyard, where everybody claimed the pet alligator of the previous tenants lived. wasn’t expecting much, especially from this house of five cishet-yt-boys, but it was the first home i knew in a long, long time.]


Once upon a time, I ran alongside some of the fastest women on the West Coast. They called me Captain and I loved them and they loved me.


Tectonic plates moving an average of __cm a year
[study abroad in nepal]
but Indian and Tibetan plates move at a double-time average of __cm a year
[smoking hash that my lover scraped off the marijuana plants growing along the mountainside, and rolled between his palms] 
the land folds in on itself like a paper accordion.
[the smoke tastes like his hands. we’re in one of our yellow tents and there’s some kind of magic in the fog that rolls in]
This epic collision causes a massive, devastating earthquake every 100 years along the fault line.
[my friend is stick-n-poking me in my ribcage: a tiny triangle]
A bi-product of centuries of collision: the majestic, awe-inspiring Himalayas.
[and the number 2 in devanagari: a symbol that looks like a rupture]


After the breakup. 

People ask what it’s like to get a tattoo on your sternum. It’s like somebody clawing toward your heart. Like fire consuming your flesh. Peeling your breasts away from the bones. Like the opposite of numb.


[history of expression in italics, intertwining with ode to italian host mom]


[stick-n-poke with the ink that i got shipped to my italian host family’s house from great britain (it took 3.5 weeks for it to arrive), and a syringe i found in one of the cabinets. while the family was out, did it by lamplight in my little host brother’s bedroom that i was staying in. it’s not a real constellation; it’s a symbol from the cover of an album that’s a little too nostalgic to listen to anymore.]


[stoned in portland with my college boyfriend and my best friend, going to get tattoos. one leaf for each brother, in the colors of new england fall.]


[cultural appropriation, but list what it symbolizes]


I’m 18-years-and-1-month-old, standing at the mouth of a garage-turned-tattoo-studio in East New Haven. 

My tattoo artist is a prick. He’s also a shitty tattooer: he leaves blow-outs in my skin that will still show, almost ten years later.

I don’t bother telling him that I’m getting this in honor of my friends — the ones who slit their wrists and pray that their own hearts will fall out the openings. He’s not worthy of knowing.

For years, it is my only visible tattoo. People who don’t know me notice it, and somehow always have the audacity to proclaim: “Oh, you must wear your heart on your sleeve!”

[last line: my mother always accused me of having a bleeding heart. said it would be the death of me.]


K. Degala-Paraíso (she/they) is a Filipinx-American experimental writer with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Pitzer College. She teaches creative writing through GrubStreet. Her work has appeared in miniskirt magazine, [PANK] Magazine, and Okay Donkey Magazine; and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. When she’s not writing, catch K. hauling ass up the Santa Monica Mountains. Follow K. at kdegalaparaiso.com.




Mary Zhou 周世芳

A Patient Record

Last Name:

In the United States, 周 ends my name.
In China, 周 begins it.

Grandma never touched school.
Couldn’t read her own name,
but ran numbers in her mind
like blinks of an eye.

Great-uncle was the only boy, 
the only one allowed words
as Grandma and her sisters 
brushed his room, boiled his food.

Bitter for my Grandma,
I ask what he makes 
of his privileged pen, 
his manhood, his career.

Instead I hear how
this only son’s
only son worked 
down in a coal mine

and one day got shut 
in the earth forever; 
how Great-uncle was 
not entirely there after.

Meanwhile, Grandma was a doctor. 
Barefoot doctor, trained but still
unschooled; the countryside’s answer 
to medical shortage.

She welcomed newborn 
farmers to the fields,
eased ill and old growers
on their way back into soil.

After college, I move 
to a small country town 
to learn about medicine.
I read, I run numbers in my mind.

I think of Grandma, 
how my surname is hers too. 
Later, I realize I’ve confused 
my grandmothers. 

Half a globe and two deaths away, 
they form one woman in my mind. 
In China, they are 姥姥 and 奶奶.
In the United States, they are Grandma.

My mother’s mother doctors.
My father’s mother births 
my father with her name
after my father’s father flees.

English can lack clarity,
but I refuse to take the ability  
to read and write all my family 
names for granted.

Date of Birth:

A girl dreams of a doll
A man dreams of a son
A woman dreams of a life of her own

I was in the world
I was something like air
but then I was born.

On a Sunday afternoon, the wind turns a girl sister, a man father, and a woman
mother, mine.

First Name:

When the nurse hears my name for the birth certificate, she says Isn’t that an old
woman’s name? Of course: I’ve already been here too long. I’ll live as a question 
that ages every fall.

               Whose dream did I answer? 

                          Whose dream? 

                                      Did I answer?

Mom nurses me at night and attends nursing school by day. 

A year later, she stops nursing me, and starts nursing hospital babies who grow newer
as I grow older. She nurses at my birthplace, alongside the doctor who delivered me. 

Years later, he holds a reunion of lives he’s brought to the world.
Will you join us to celebrate?
I have no space for more questions. I toss the invitation.
The first man to hold me stays in the past, where he belongs.

Home Address:

As a child, I needle my mom 
for diagnoses every time I get sick–
Flu? Cold? Allergy? Bug? Curse?

Medicine is the Answer; I will treat 
it as one when I ask 
what to do with my life.

In that farm town for future doctors
I bloody my own finger 
to practice glucose checks.

I watch doctors’ demeanors
to determine who I want to be.
I feel not good enough.

If I only had a brain
is not what I wonder.
I already think too much; 

I want a heart (bigger, stronger) 
and courage
and dare I sing it–a home.

I watch tornadoes
drop old houses
onto their ghosts.

Here, ruby glitter is only
what deer do after dark,
and steel cars.

A hoof heel-clicks
in wind for a faraway field.
There’s no trace but bone
There’s no trace but bone

dry burntout self after 
the service year ends; 
I can look after

only myself the next year.
My answer was not an answer.
I move from country to city.

I scavenge a temp job
and take up a tablet 
preloaded with voter addresses
alongside other 20-somethings
desperate for paychecks.

We go home 
to home, push door
bells for hours 
and make too little money for it. 
It’s not white out yet, 
but we walk toward winter.

Going around
ing, ringing 
temple to temple 
my head is full of prayer: 
please, nobody answer the door.  

One shift, my prayer is answered
and eighty doors aren’t. 
But the boss is extra high
strung lately, 
and I start to worry 
about my numbers. 

The eighty-first door, my last: 
an old man in a wool sweater appears; 
he’s familiar with the work, 
he supports it, he smiles, he nods. 
Yes, I can hear already,
when I ask if he’ll take a survey. 

I’d love to hear your answers!

It’s dinnertime, 
he says, 
and simply walks back 
into the house.


• Brown sugar hotteok & vanilla ice cream–take 1x at breakfast before running to SEPTA station. Take last possible train to work–be almost late. Be almost fired. Be almost done with job, but instead keep running, keep ringing, keep making money to make rent and more hotteok and ice cream.

• Cheese chips–take 1x at lunch break, on any dusty For Sale stoop you can find. Substitute with beef jerky from backpack if it would take entire lunch break just to reach nearest grocery store.

• A whole tomato pie–accidentally step in 1x on sidewalk during work. Man walking out of funeral will watch you and sigh.

• Your leg–loose dog will take 3x bites during work and land you in urgent care. 

Actually, not you, but almost. Supervisor will screech up to your curb and wait until you’re buckled in before explaining what happened to your shift partner. You will never see him again. For his sake, you and your coworkers hope he faked the story to get out of this job. 

• Spicy instant ramen & fried egg–take 1x at dinner while watching any YouTube video that lets you forget who you are.

• Whatever else puts grease between you and the day–take as needed.

Phone Number:

1AM: Woken by a tidal wave; instead of the usual anxiety, it’s a contraction in the center of my chest. WebMD is awful for these things, so of course I read it on my dummy little phone and sweat. This could be a Heart Attack–or just Heartburn. I bet on Heartburn, forage for Tums, and knock back two dusty tabs. Back to bed.

3AM: Storm surge and the wave is full of sharp shell shards and it won’t recede I can’t remember if insurance covers ambulances I don’t have the money to test this I call a cab to the ER and try not to alarm the driver I silently die a little inside every time we hit a pot hole I crawl out the car and through the walk up entrance The triage receptionist is nonchalant while I hold my body together It’s so hard to speak with her through the thick glass pane THE PAIN ISN’T A THING YOU CAN SEE I think at her YOU HAVE TO TRUST ME WHEN I TELL YOU IT’S THERE

They stick me behind a curtain and forget I’m there. 
I’m patient. I fall asleep and forget who I am.

Patient Note:

Hour, hour, hour, hour: 
then the curtain parts, white enters, and I wake from a poem–
Look back into the snow and ask whether God can sing.

The white turns coat, turns man in white coat, who asks me a question. 
Still in a half-dream, I gesture at my chest. It hurt so bad I couldn’t breathe right. 

And what could it be? I walk a lot. I’m out in the cold. I wonder how dark and quiet God can be. I eat things not right for me. I am lonely. I think too much. I think about money, or not enough of it. I sleep badly. I am heartbroken.

I scatter a handful of this into his coat pockets.

Past Medical History:

A boy, 
though I should say man, 
from that farm town of future doctors
is training to be one in this city.

He broke the heart of a friend,
another farm town doctor-to-be.
I broke mine on one 
who was his friend, and her friend, 

and once mine.
I was about to say I love you. 
It rattled against my ribs
and as if sensing it

this friend read me 
a Davis story that ended
with heartbreak and an old shirt.

In it, I love you was an awkward 
obligation, to hear it back,
or to awkwardly not.
In it, pleasure did not make 
pain worth it. Love was a mistake
one kept committing anyway.

I remembered visiting a patient
at church the other week;
the pastor had us all hug
and say I love you, 
and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I did it then, but here I balk. 
Speak now, or forever hold my piece.
I hold it in.
It shatters.

Physical Exam–Tenderness: There is no guarding or rebound.

As I blink off my poem and look at the doctor,
I can’t help but see him, old boy, in the dark 
beard, the gold-rim glasses, the soft voice.

The year must be too new;
I must have asked the cab for the wrong day.
The driver pushed the gas 

and left me at the future.
My brain said, say any hospital but that, but that
so my throat simply repeated the that.

This must be him,
(not the one I loved, but still a mutual connection point, a tangential reminder, like almost anything is–any cloud, bossa nova song, blue sedan, yellow shirt, old pair of sneakers, spiral shell, jar candle, blackberry bush, fine-tipped marker, tomato seedling, rolled sleeve, plate of scrambled eggs, burned CD, old kayak, receding figure in the rearview mirror)
a medical degree, a gold ring, and fine-lined decades later.
Here, he’s known me longer than I’ve been alive.

The white coat, old, old friend, turns his pockets inside-out.
And what could it be? 
Acid Reflux. Heart Attack. Kidney Stone. Stomach Flu. Pregnancy.
Hard to know at this moment, he says, like a stranger.

He doesn’t know me after all.
He doesn’t know who we are, or when.
This is the stupidly correct hospital. Not his. It is today. It is this hour.

Mental Status: Memory normal. Patient is alert and oriented to person, place, and time.

Procedures Performed:

The doctor touches an ankle and there is pee in a cup and there is a wire everywhere he feels a pulse. Ribs, wrists, throat, feet. 

The body stays still,
still, it stays–
not time to go back 
into the earth, and everything.

All this to hear Your heart is fine. Something went wrong, he admits, but he can’t figure out what. There’s no pain to fix right now, which means


Go through the sliding glass and it turns out the world is morning and near-freezing. Wind dries tears still in the eyes. Clutch discharge papers and shirt to the skin. Current property: more paper, another question.

In the mind: Cold, and Dying, but mostly, God, So Hungry

Bus home, record dream-poems, boil miyeok and miso in a big white pot, and go back to bed.

Review of Symptoms:

At the follow up, I tell the nurse I don’t think it was the food–I ate sweet hotteok and spicy ramen a few weeks later and slept fine. 

You’re brave, she says, without admiration. 

Mental Status: Judgment normal. 

She has no answers and sends me home with a printout. At the top, a cropped two-body picture: a hand clutches its headless chest while the other torso, expressionless, notes this on a clipboard.

Treatment / Refused Treatment:

Fresh from the hospital, from hell-edge, I gather my pieces and hold them holy. The
chest pain never returns.

I toss out the calls for proton pump inhibitors and laxatives. I find a new job that lets 
me stay home for winter, and break my canvassing contract a luxurious two days 
early. You look like you’re going to cry, the boss says at my last shift debrief. I’m about to,
say, from relief, I think. I nearly fly out of that 52nd Street McDonald’s.

I prescribe myself new rituals. I close my eyes and open to a page in Rilke’s Book of 

                Through the empty branches, 
                the sky remains.
                It is what you have.

My first snow in the city falls a month later and I listen closely to the rattle-radiator,
the shake-glass, the drip-ice. I name them on the page, and they are full of questions.
They are what I have.

Test Results:

Whose dream? 
My own.

And what could it be? 
Maybe looking into snow, maybe holy song, maybe riding into the future.

Did I answer? 
Unknown. For now, I wait and listen. 

I begin to sing along.


Mary Zhou is an artist based in Philadelphia. Their work is published or forthcoming in Oversound, Philadelphia Stories, and Philadelphia Contemporary’s Healing Verse Poetry Line.





Mira Cameron



It’s snowing and I’m lying in the incoherent noise that is me asking what
you think. I don’t expect to understand what I’m doing but I know I
understand that you’ve been on my mind.

                           You’re laced into my thoughts, curled into the door 
                                                   each time I come home
                           from walking the dog. You don’t know / where I live. 
                                       I know
                           the exact movements of each time I’ve bled to kiss you
                                                                     in re/creation 
                           and every single word I need to remind myself 
                                                   why I don’t want that.


Who am I in a world without language?

                  I’m the one who follows a shadow’s sliver
                  believing it to bloom into a hollow secret. 

                  Outside of Big Timber, Montana, 
                  I realized I’d left you alone
                  in the tail end of a dark winter
                  after driving all night fleeing us but more so, 
                  fleeing after us, my failing ability to stand 
                  on my own, spun out by red wine morality,
                  questions that slashed without hesitation or
                  concern for the threads that held grasp 
                  between what was here and what was delusion, 
                  where was I; where a change, a tree suddenly there, a
                  gargoyle sconce, sent me past the silent walk I took
                  everyday to a blank space haven. 

                  Fleeing did little besides save my life 
                  which was more than enough reason
                  to work with myself to try.

                                    I let myself get away
                  and woke up to the first day of a new life.

A cup of coffee with one sip out of it somehow won’t splatter
                               as my car veers out of control,
                                         having hit black ice.

                  In at least one reality, this is how I die.



What am I looking for besides the way you say goodnight? 

             When we talk, time becomes 
                  a river you hardly notice has a current
                         running both ways.    

                      I’m rambling down the edge 
                      of the field I crashed into,
                 watching amber halos linger through the air;
                their glow a coal igniting the bare winter 
                crops, a casket of flame that will itself die,
               ash falling, faint into mud before sunrise, 
                flame waiting for the exhale of cinnamon 
                                           on your breath.


                          How can I separate greed from understanding
                          that you are always
                          on my mind?

                 How can we define who we are in relation to the other, 
                                                  without the other?

              I would never leave you alone
                                                                      in the winter,
                                                                      but I did.
                                    You weren’t alone 
                             and I’m not the savior;
you were alone,
                                                      I can still save.
                                                      Come near my heart.
                                         Let’s watch the crops burn tonight.
                  I’m warm from the glow of want 
                  in a way that contradicts the bitterness
                  of your perennial roots sprouting out my throat.


                  If not the way an anonymous figure kisses me,
                                      then how their fingers make me blush

                          wrapping their way back around my jaw.

                               Who am I talking to
                               besides the snow
                               that caught my body?

                          I miss lips against my neck.

Waking up to light melting through the windowpane
    as I taste my favorite smile streak across my face.



                                Imagine my childhood hallway.

                        My parents destroy each other
                        so I step over my brother’s dog
                        and go up the staircase, stopping halfway
                        to march in faux removal of self,
                        sit and idly listen to the screams,
                        the shaking rafters and whimpering dogs.
                        I do this just in case.
      The horrid part of me wants to laugh
           at my however old self: quivering, unable
       to refuse my own incapacitation
           lacking any ability to be what could change
                     the situation
           but needing to witness it the same.

                               I can’t see or be seen from the angle
                                    so focus on a few scattered marbles
                                  across the light wood below,
                   the peeling black paint on the grate
                          of a heating vent.

          Light’s coming through the forever unused front door,
                                stiff with antique glint.

                                 This house feels like hell
                                 and I’ve never let anyone in.

                   But when I close my hallway’s eyes,
                         you’re the one the door makes an exception for

                                                     because you’re the one I trust,
                                                  here for the eventual day we talk

          about whether ‘despondent’ is in the past tense,

                     the sins of striving for something better,

                                                                do you ever plan

                                                  to swim across the styx?


      On my walk to watch the wheat burn
      I take two pink candles. I light them
      once I reach an ember;
      watch false twin flames still try
                                 to dance; learn.

                                                         How will they learn?

                                 The candles end the night caught
                                 in an unexpected song of hope.

                          Decisiveness is what separates catastrophe
                                 from a fermentation process.

                          Can you promise me we’ll end up anywhere
                          besides a perpetuity of inferiority and lust,
                                        drowned and tossed around
                                 the cyclic motions of another’s eye?

        — Particles entwined find their way.

        — I don’t want to offer each other false promises,
                               I want our lives to be warm and full.

                          I truly believe this world can be happy,
                                       and I want you to know.

                                        Would that mean forgetting
                                      or feeling better, forgetting hope?


                                   Curiosity pulled on me one sleepless night,
                                     asked me to follow them to the bathroom
                                                                to reenact a role.
                                     I shut the door quietly and struggled
                                     to look myself in the eye before falling
                                    into my blood, river of indigo drifting out
                                    crimson through the tributary creeks of the
                                                linoleum floor.

                                                I saw if I could,
                                   but woke to the knowledge
                                    that I may just feel poisoned
                                    or never get better,
                                                                 or go away,
                                    only half-aware as to whether or not
                                    I’m causing the world a problem.

                             In another world, I won’t wake up
                              and the blood will immerse me,
                              and this will be how I die. I imagine
                              it will feel like floating through saltwater
                                      on a summer day
                               or when the world in my head debates
                                                                   between flare

                               and monotone wavelength. I was a corpse
                                                       and when I closed my eyes,
                               I saw death cloaked in nighttime red.
                               She swung her blade as I moved closer.

                                       A dream I used to have rains overhead.

                                                    For the rest of the night
                               I can’t stop myself from feeling like a sin,

                               like my own resolution to a sleepless night.


                                                      My feet are covered in blood
                                              and you would say I’m alone,
                                                            and I would say I’m not,
                                            that the ensemble in my head
                                                                           have built a stable
                                             enough rapport to
                                                           carry their own presence.

                             This is a literal message that means nothing
                                                                         which is most of life.

                                       The blood from my feet has left a trail
                                               that ruins any hope of anonymity I have.

                               It’s a heartbreaking ultimatum I’m terrified to lose.

                               I am who I am as I jog across the street to kiss you

                                                                          a coincidental hello.


I take a simple mixture: herbs and warm spices, then grind them into oil, mixing in tree
resin to make a salve for the gashes scattering my skin. I strip my clothing and prepare to
be anointed, repeating manifestations for the world to hear. Holy work is for when you
need it to. Hope is a ritual of learning time and action. The buzz, a humming chant, our
worlds and we are all singing. I stand up tall, take the paste and seal the gaps in one full
moment of bliss as I watch it mix into my blood’s routine drip. My reflection in the
mirror falls away, replaced by my family’s mulberry tree                  
                            struck by lightning.     

                                                                   Fire burns from the inside out.
                                                           My last sight is my body cracking open.


The bark is scarred but I surprise myself and move back
into the burrow beneath. Heat weeps from my roof
and I struggle across the years, finding a way to live
a happy life. I regain agency walking the woods;
find life by watching it, reenacting it, acting as myself,
an evolving mind, a mutant body. Rejoice.

I go to bed one night and the ceiling collapses.
Again, I learn my lessons of massive death and rebirth.

Flames dominate my life, loominate over my sleeping body,
so I join them, burning out radiant shafts of light; and we share

                            our sentience alive in the sun.
                       My new life warms herself from our burning body.

             I hear the birds gossip in the smoldering morning;
             through them, I know it’s time for me to leave.

I feel an immense amount of guilt despite no real pressure,
                                                                   but still manage
to leave behind the charred remains of a life I can no longer

Mira Cameron is a 26 year old trans feminine, masc for masc darling of a poet. They tend to call Chicago their home, or the central Illinois cornfields, but at various times, Washington state and an Illinois state minimum security prison have filled the role. They work for a food justice based urban farm as a farmhand and grant writer and attend Roosevelt University where they double major in Sustainability and English-Creative Writing. Their poems can be found in JABBER, Anti-Heroin Chic, Corvus Review, and Boats Against the Current; a chapbook length sequence is in Slippage Lit. Connect with them on Twitter @nonsensetheimp.